Sunday Morning Coming Down
Danny runs with the setting sun in his eyes, along the elevated track of the N line through decaying city streets, past crumbling buildings. At times his route takes him directly under the track, and the steel girders looming all around him always make him feel like he's in the urban equivalent of a canyon, or maybe a cave. Every now and again a train goes by overhead and the whole structure shivers like a skyscraper in a high wind, and he has to make a conscious effort to shake off a childish conviction that the whole damn thing is just going to come down on his head one of these days.
Once the train has gone past and the street is quiet again, he gets a sudden, irresistible urge to try out the echo. After rejecting a chorus of "I Shot the Sheriff" as a bad idea all around, a less contentious song suggests itself, and after a quick glance to make sure no one is there to hear, he jogs in place for a minute and sings the lines as loud as he can: "There'll be peace in the valley for me someday, oh Lord, I pray..."
And then stops and laughs at himself, blushing even though there's no audience (would have been just his luck if some unseen observer were there to hear, though), and nods approvingly at the echo quality, and takes off at a fast clip so that he can make the other side of the avenue before the light changes. After that he turns down a side street so that he's running past two-family row houses and pre-war apartment buildings instead of the bodegas and laundromats on the main drag, and the silence here is even deeper, the train a distant rumble in the background and only the occasional car cruising past, an old man taking out the garbage here and a teenager smoking a cigarette on a front stoop over there. He listens to the pounding of his feet and the steady rattle of his breath, and to his heart pounding in his ears.
He wonders, now that he can pause to think about it, at his laughter back there under the elevated tracks. Runner's endorphin high, maybe, or just the absurdity of his random impulse amusing him in spite of himself, but that's the first genuine laugh he's had in ages. In weeks, at least. He's smiled, of course, and even laughed out loud at Aiden's wisecracks or Flack's bad jokes, but not once has it felt genuine, not since the beginning of spring, anyway. Everything to him has felt forced and off-kilter, and has since back before the rains started. He's tried to tell himself that it doesn't matter, that just because one area of his life had suddenly gone haywire, it didn't mean the rest of it had to follow, but he's been unable to shift the weight from his shoulders. Not even his usual methods of forgetting, of burying a problem, have proven effective, and he's spent one too many nights, by now, sitting on the couch and feeling the walls slowly close in on him.
Which is why, of course, he's out jogging in the first place; he's not normally real big on exercise, but tonight it was either get out and run, or punch a hole in his living room wall. On the subway ride home earlier, it had been all but impossible to keep from pacing up and down the length of the car, and only his disinclination to terrify his fellow riders had kept his ass planted in one spot. As it was, he had fidgeted in his seat the whole way, knee bouncing up and down and fingers tapping hard against his quadriceps like a junkie in need of a fix. When the train finally pulled into his stop, he was up and out practically before the doors even opened, and by the time he slammed through his front door and dropped his keys and the mail on the kitchen table, he was gasping for breath after speed-walking the three blocks.
He stood there for a minute, practically chewing a hole through his lower lip, then said, "Motherfucker" under his breath, and then "Motherfucker" again, louder, and then he did slam his fist into the back of one of the chairs, probably hard enough to leave a bruise across his knuckles. It was then he realized that it was going to be the wall next, and he can't afford either the repairs or the explanations. So he went and changed into sweats, cursing a few more times along the way for good measure, then got the hell out of Dodge and started running.
Now, at the corner of 39th Avenue, he realizes that he's had enough healthful exercise and fresh air for one night, that he's burned off enough of the fury to be able to...well, maybe not to sit quietly and relax, but to go back to the apartment and stay there without deliberately breaking either his hand or the wall. So he turns around and heads back across the street, and slows his sprint to a jog and then to a fast walk. He has a couple of bucks in the pocket of his sweatpants, and stops at one of the bodegas for a bottle of water.
"You were working out?" the woman at the counter asks, and offers him a handful of napkins along with the water.
He touches his forehead and realizes that he's dripping with sweat, and thanks her with a somewhat abashed smile. After chugging about half the bottle in one gulp, he wipes down his face and then tosses the soaked napkins away, thinking absently what a great evidence find that would be if he were a suspect in a case. He walks the rest of the way home at a somewhat slower pace, sipping from the bottle every few steps, and of course now that his mind has touched upon the matter of DNA, he can't stop thinking about work, the very topic he's been trying to avoid ever since he stomped out of the lab and got on the subway, nearly two hours ago now.
It felt great to look Mac in the eye and finally say all the things he'd been biting back for the past few weeks, but he also knows that he's going to pay for it, eventually. There's no way that Mac isn't going to let that kind of insubordination go by. Maybe he won't be able to write Danny up officially, at least not without either revealing way too much about his part in the whole affair or dancing around the truth in a way he's not accustomed to doing. (Not accustomed to doing when he's acting in an official capacity, anyway, Danny corrects himself snidely.) But Mac will make sure that he pays for it all the same. He'll criticize every move he makes, or he'll assign him to the worst shit-detail cases he can dredge up. Danny will spend the rest of his crime scene unit days crawling around in Staten Island garbage barges, or picking through medical waste in some basement lab. He'll never see daylight again, and will eventually get so pale that people will mistake him for a vampire, or an albino.
Then again, maybe Mac will do none of this. Maybe he'll decide, once he gets past the initial anger, that the whole thing isn't worth it -- that Danny's not worth it. They'll go back to the same old shaky status quo, and not only will Mac never raise his voice in anger, he'll keep right on never looking Danny in the eye again. And they'll never, God forbid, make the slightest reference to the fact that Danny once gave him a blowjob in the locker room. Because that's how we handle things around here, Danny thinks, here at NYPD CSU: we sweep them under the rug. We ignore 'em if they're too uncomfortable or inconvenient to deal with, and figure they'll just go away.
When Danny gets to his building, he pauses at the bottom of the front stoop to finish the rest of his water. The worst part about all of this is that even now, even before Mac has exacted whatever form of subtle retribution he may have in mind, and even though he knows that everything he said was true, and even though Mac had it coming to him...even with all of that, Danny still feels guilty. And hates himself for it. It's irrational, for one thing. And weak; guilt means you're weak. Danny hasn't been weak for a lot of years, and he's not about to start now. Especially not over Mac, who is, he tells himself, not worth it. He drains the last swallow of water and tosses the empty bottle into the nearest trash can. To hell with it; he'll worry about all of this in the morning. For now, a shower and TV and then bed sounds like a pretty goddamn good plan for the rest of the evening.
The phone is ringing when he gets to the top of the stairs on his floor, and he flings himself at the door, fumbling to fit the key into the lock. With the mood he's in right now, his first and most natural impulse would be to let the machine pick up, but it might be a crime scene, and he's technically on call tonight, so he can't let it go by. With his luck, he thinks, shoving the door open so hard that it rebounds against the wall, it'll probably be a telemarketer -- or, worse, one of his relatives. So much for the quiet evening he'd been hoping for, either way. He leaves the door open and grabs the phone just as it begins its third ring, thanking whatever powers that be for the gift of quick reflexes, and jabs the "Talk" button. "Hello?"
There's the barest pause on the other end of the line, not even long enough for him to toss in a second, and more impatient, greeting, and then, "Hi. It's -- it's me," Mac says.
Danny stands stock-still and draws in a breath. He's realized this much already, even from those few words: whatever this is about, it's not a scene, not another rape or murder for a fine spring night. Mac wouldn't sound so hesitant if it were, not even in light of their earlier exchange. Possibly any other human being on the planet would if they were forced to make a legitimate work call so soon after being called out and cursed at by one of their employees, but Danny has been around long enough to know that Mac doesn't do hesitant. Mac is not, Danny suspects, subject to the normal range of human emotions or fears, and even if he is, God knows, he's nothing if not capable of putting work before anything else.
Mac also doesn't start phone calls with such a familiar, if nervous-sounding, "It's me" identifier. He always gives some version of his name; Danny has heard, so often, the way he barks out "Taylor" when answering his cell, in a fashion that Danny can only attribute to all those years with the jarheads, that he can do an almost note-perfect imitation of it when pressed, or sufficiently drunk.
So Danny has no idea what the point of this phone call is, but it can't be anything good. Because of that, and because he has no idea what to say -- although a suicidal, and mercifully brief, impulse to either pretend he's the answering machine or simply hang up does cross his mind -- he simply waits on the line for Mac to get to the point.
"I wasn't sure if I'd be able to catch you at home," Mac says, still with that funny nervous rise in his voice. "I'm glad that I did."
Danny wishes for a phone cord to fiddle with, but it's a cordless, so instead he walks over and shuts the front door.
"I've been thinking things over," Mac goes on, "and I...well, I wanted to talk with you further about our earlier discussion."
"Mac, look." Danny leans against the wall. "I know I was wrong to swear at you like that, and to raise my voice. It was very, very unprofessional. I know that, and I'm sorry, and it won't happen again." There, he thinks; that sounded pretty nice. And not overly rehearsed, either -- which it wasn't, so actually that makes sense.
"That's not it, Danny," Mac says.
"No. Of course, you're right. You shouldn't have yelled at me like that. It was out of line. And I do discourage the use of profanity in the lab, as you know."
Yeah, good luck with that one, Danny thinks, but fortunately doesn't say. However, he can't help feeling a bit more relaxed at the authoritative tone that has crept its was back into Mac's voice. It's not that he likes getting lectured, God knows, but this at least is familiar territory. The awkward hesitancy in Mac's voice at the start of the call was not.
"Yes, I know," he says. "So, what? Am I on suspension or something? Too late for an apology?" Might as well cut to the chase, since it doesn't seem like Mac's going to any time soon.
"No. Nothing like that at all. I just..." Mac stops, and Danny hears him clear his throat, and then he's quiet for so many seconds in a row that Danny is just beginning to wonder if they've lost the connection when he finally starts to speak again. "I just wanted to call to apologize," he says in a lower tone.
"Apologize," Danny says, and tightens his grip on the phone.
"Yes. I -- I've been doing some thinking since we spoke in my office, and I've been realizing that I've handled the situation...poorly. Since -- since everything that's happened, that is. And I wanted you to know I'm sorry for that."
"Mac, wait." Danny shakes his head, even though Mac can't see him. "You have to be patient with me, I'm a little slow. I'm not gettin' this. You're telling me that you're callin' to apologize."
"Yes," Mac says.
"For the way you've dealt with it since we -- " Danny bites back the obscenity that's on the tip of his tongue. " -- Since we had our little get-together."
Mac sighs. "Yes."
"That's...well, I, okay." Danny swings a fist at the wall several times without actually making contact with it. "That, that's good. I guess. But, you know, if you're worried about my professionalism, I can promise you that there'll be no more little outbursts. Or big ones, either. Despite the little temper tantrum I had in your office, I'll get over this whole thing. Hell, I am over it."
"It's not that," Mac says.
"No. I'm not concerned about your professional conduct." Mac pauses, and clears his throat again. "I'm just...I'm not happy with the way things have been. With the way I've been conducting myself, I guess you could say."
"Oh." Danny, for once in his life, honestly has no idea what to say.
"That being the case," Mac goes on, "do you think we could talk about this some more in person soon? Maybe we could finally have that beer."
"I..." Danny stares down at the knuckles of his free hand, watches them go white and the veins pop out as he makes another fist. "I don't know," he says.
"It's not an order," Mac adds. "I'm not saying this as your boss."
"Yeah, I know." Danny blinks hard, and drags himself to an upright position. "Can I think it over some? Maybe see what my schedule is like tomorrow, or...whatever."
"Sure," Mac says quickly, and now Danny thinks there's a touch of eagerness mixed in with the hesitancy. "Take all the time you need. Let me know how things look once you get in tomorrow."
"Yeah," Danny says. "I'll do that."
"Great. I -- "
"So, listen. I'll think that over and let you know. In the meantime..." Danny has no idea how to end that sentence. "...I got some stuff to do, and I'm sure you do, too. So I should probably -- "
"So I'll catch ya later? Yeah. Okay. G'night, Mac."
Danny clicks off the phone, and drops it back in the charging cradle. That's the lousy thing about modern phones, he thinks; you can't hang up on someone with any degree of satisfaction. He stares down at it for a minute, then tilts his upper body slowly forward until his forehead is resting against the wall, and closes his eyes.
I don't need this, he thinks. I don't need this at all. He could have gone into straight police work like the rest of his family, and could be sitting around with Flack right now making jokes about the spooks and nerds down in the crime scene lab. Or he could have joined his uncle in the awning business. He could have stayed in baseball and moved onto the majors, and made a fortune. He'd be retired by now and living a life of leisure down in Palm Beach, or maybe doing sportscasting on ESPN or something. Anything. Any of these career paths would have prevented him from feeling the way he does right now. Would keep him from having to deal with Mac Taylor ever again.
Or you could have just not fucked the boss in the first place. There's a wacky notion for you.
"Fuck off," he mutters aloud, and then heads for the bathroom and a nice, hot shower.
Danny gets signed up for Little League when he's seven or so, because his dad says it will keep him out of trouble after school. Danny shrugs and figures it's something to do, anyway, and baseball should be pretty okay. At seven years old, Little League is mostly a bunch of little kids running around and trying not to fall over. A game during which no one accidentally lets go of the bat while swinging or knocks anyone else down is a success. But it also turns out that Danny has a good, fast right arm, and by the time he's ten he's pitching regularly for the team, because he's been able to usually strike out the private school kids for awhile, and he's getting so that he can strike out almost anyone, period.
After Little League, it's junior varsity and then varsity, and even after he starts running with Tanglewood, he keeps on with it, and manages to show up to almost all of the practices. Sometimes he has a hangover, and sometimes he has something worse than a hangover, some drug-induced fuzziness that makes him feel like he's wrapped in cotton wool. He thinks at the time that he's such a good actor no one even notices, none of the adults anyway, but later on he'll think that they just didn't much care, not so long as he was still scoring for the team. If he'd fucked up his game, then he might have heard more about it.
Baseball is also a surefire babe magnet, and he thinks that's one reason that Sonny doesn't object to the time he spends out on the field. Sonny never comes to the games, and sometimes he'll make a sniggering joke about snapping towels in the locker room, but he never actually says that Danny can't play anymore, and Danny's glad for that. He doesn't want to have to choose.
In gratitude, he's always willing to share his girls with Sonny, although they're not always willing to be shared. The cheerleaders aren't, but Sonny isn't interested in those types anyway. He likes girls with teased-out hair and eyeliner an inch thick and tight, shiny shirts. Danny will fuck them or tongue them until they're wet and pliant, and then he'll look deep into their eyes and ask if they'll do him a favor, please, won't they just be nice to his friend for one night. Sometimes he'll make up a bullshit story about how Sonny has just been dumped, and how sad he is. He's surprised at how often this works. But when they come back to him afterwards, expecting praise and some more sweet tongue action, he finds he doesn't have time for them. He laughs with Sonny, instead, about sloppy seconds, and starts in on the next girl who catches his eye.
He's a senior, and the team's win record means that he's a golden boy all over again, when he's approached one day by a man who hands him a business card and explains that he's a minor league scout. Danny's tired of academia, and is secretly starting to itch to get the hell out of New York City for awhile, so he attends tryouts, and that fall he starts playing for the Danville Braves. Sonny is surprisingly accepting of the whole situation, and Tanglewood sends him off in style, so his first practice with his new team is spent in a cocaine fog.
At first he's the newest and the youngest kid on the block, and is hazed accordingly, but he establishes his place with little trouble. Of course, he thinks, unsurprised. They want him; they all want him. There's even a certain amount of slap and tickle with some of his teammates, in the locker room and showers, but it never goes any farther than that. It's playful and comradely and Danny thinks that's fine. He doesn't need any entanglements that he'll have to live with.
They spend a lot of time on the road, mostly in the team bus, mostly along the Eastern Seaboard and in the South, and Danny realizes for the first time what true freedom is. He's far away from home, and there's nothing hotter than a baseball player, and it's a rare night that he can't find someone to spend a little time with, either outside the ballpark after a game, or in whatever roadhouse bar or dive he and his fellow players end up in to either celebrate or commiserate, depending. He's not of age, and there are strict rules in place about that in the League, but it's also incredibly easy to circumvent these rules, to play the innocent boy with those who actually care about enforcing the morality clause, and to run wild with those who don't give a damn, and who are more than willing to turn a blind eye.
So he goes home, or at least goes to bed, with strange boys and girls all across the South, and up and down the coast, in small towns whose names he's never heard before (and which, a decade later, he wouldn't be able to pick out on a map if his life depended on it). He can fuck a girl in a bathroom in Pigeon Forge one night, and get her to suck his cock while he sits spread-legged on an upturned keg; and two days later he can be jerking off a guy in Athens in the alley behind a nightclub.
It's good times, sweet times, and the team's got a pretty decent record, and best of all is that it seems like the good times really are going to last forever. He's eighteen, and nineteen, and then he turns twenty, and he's still the golden boy. His stats are good enough that there are beginning to be murmurs that, sooner or later, he's going to have a major league scout sniffing around, and after that it'll be goodbye Danville.
Everything goes perfectly, in fact, right up until that night at the pool hall in Memphis.
The steady pounding of the water against his head is soothing, and he stands still in the spray with his eyes closed, not bothering with soap. He'll be taking another shower in the morning, anyway, so right now all he really cares about is cooling the sweat that still clings to his body, and maybe getting his head back in order. He dismisses Memphis like a bad dream -- stop it, it's over and done with long ago; it's pointless -- and tries to do the same with Mac. The unexpected phone call is something he can't get out of his mind no matter how hard he tries, and he knows that he's going to be awake all night if he doesn't manage to chill out.
He can't figure it, no matter how often he replays the conversation. Mac insisted that he wasn't speaking as Danny's boss, and Danny wants to believe that his apparent contrition was genuine, but he just doesn't know. He knows very well how concerned Mac is with appearances, and with making sure that the lab runs as a well-oiled machine; he knows that Mac has, more than once, clashed with NYPD brass and with Internal Affairs, though he doesn't know (doesn't want to know) the details of these disruptions.
He's also had it brought home to him very clearly over the past few weeks how poorly equipped Mac is to deal with anything outside of work, with anything resembling personal interaction. Not that he didn't know it before, because he's been around long enough to see the man in action, and to see how he buries himself in cases. How he closes himself off from normal human relations. Even before the locker room, Danny frequently found himself wondering how Stella has managed to put up with him all these years, and how she could call him her partner without blinking, how she could continue to treat him as a friend even after everything she must have gone through since 9/11, and maybe before it. Danny knows they have some kind of special bond, one that's not unlike -- he's thought on occasion -- the one between him and Aiden. But still. There are limits. He also wonders how Mac ever managed to get his shit together enough to actually get married, once upon a time. Claire must've done all the work in that relationship, he thinks, and then gives a guilty little flinch. The thought feels disloyal, like speaking ill of the dead, even though it's really one of the survivors that this idea targets.
Because of all this, then, Danny can't shake an ongoing suspicion that, no matter what Mac may have said on the phone, his sudden need to make amends has much more to do with the reputation of the department than with Danny himself, or with any real sense of guilt.
Maybe he won't give in to Mac's request for a beer at all, then, he thinks, if that's the case. And he just won't mention that he's decided against any further discussion until Mac brings it up. Let Detective Taylor twist in the wind for awhile, for a change. It would serve him right, and God, it would be satisfying. The thought makes Danny get out of the shower with a smile on his lips.
After he towels off, Danny wanders back out to the living room, and parks himself on the couch in front of a Law & Order rerun. He's seen this episode before, he realizes a little way into it, which is usually the way it turns out on the rare occasions when he has a chance to catch up on his TV viewing, but that's all right. Even less work required on his part, that's all. There's something comforting about the unreality of the show, of the neat way cases are always wrapped up in an hour, always with definitive answers and end points. He wishes.
He wonders briefly if Mac ever watches cop shows, and decides that he probably doesn't; the inaccuracies would probably drive him into an anal-retentive fit.
Show over, he shuts off the television and decides to go to bed; he's not sure, still, if he'll actually be able to sleep, but he figures that he'll at least give it the old college try.
45 minutes later, lying in bed on his back and muttering bitter imprecations at the ceiling, Danny figures that there's one surefire method of lowering his stress level and falling asleep sometime before dawn, and slides a hand down the front of his sweatpants.
He wraps his fingers around his dick and starts pumping slowly, and before he's more than even half-hard, he can feel some of the tension start to drain out of his body. So maybe he is the sex maniac he's been accused more than once of being after all, but he honestly doesn't care. It's a primal instinct, and one of the basic human needs, and to hell with Puritan guilt. He pushes his sweatpants down and then leans back against the pillows with a happy sigh, and begins to consider his fantasy options as he coaxes himself erect.
One scenario occurs to him almost immediately, but he tries to push it away. Not that, he thinks; anything but that. The last thing he needs to do right now is borrow any more trouble, and he was under the impression that this particular fantasy no longer had the power to bring him off as quickly as it used to, at least not with anything approaching unalloyed pleasure. Think of Springsteen, he tells himself. Think of Mike Piazza. Anything but this. But no matter how he tries to focus on his favorite old image of the Boss putting down his guitar and flipping Danny over so he's on his hands and knees in the back of Bruce's old pick-up truck somewhere in New Jersey by the banks of a river, the other images keep intruding. And the more they do the harder he gets, even though he's just barely touching himself right now. Finally, with a sigh, he gives in, and starts jerking off in earnest.
And in his mind, it's Mac's hand on his dick. Not the Mac he knows in real life, at least not precisely. Not the Mac who jerked him off fast and rough (and God, that was good; if not for the way it all ended, the memory of that would be enough to get him hard at a snap of the fingers), who kissed him in a hard, brutal, almost businesslike fashion until he came. Mac, in his imagination, kisses him and strokes his cock in agonizingly slow fashion until he's cursing and thrusting, and then turns him over (and Mac's naked, too; not only has he taken off the jacket and tie, but everything else along with them) and fucks him fast and deep until they both come, and then after that he lets Danny do him in return. And he smiles. He smiles like a spring afternoon, like he really means it, not the way he usually smiles in real life, which is tight and tense and seems to have nothing to do with actual happiness.
Danny comes in a burst, arching his hips off the bed, and in his head Mac slides down his body after he does so that he can lick the come off his stomach. He sinks back down with a soft sigh, gasping for breath and waiting for his heartbeat to slow.
Jesus. Yeah. Now he'll be able to sleep. He thinks vaguely that he should get up and wash himself off, at least change into a different pair of sweats, but he can't bring himself to open his eyes, much less move. So he just pulls his pants back up and rolls over, and he's asleep before the wet spot has a chance to grow cold and uncomfortable.
Walking through the lab door the next morning is a lot like the way Danny imagines murderers on Death Row must feel when they take that final walk down the corridor to the chair. Then again, at least when you get executed, it's all over in a few minutes. Danny can't imagine any such convenient escape for himself. He still has no idea what he's going to say to Mac, or even if he ought to say anything at all. On the subway ride in, he spent some time musing that maybe he should just pretend that last night's phone conversation never happened, and carry on with business as usual. After all, it's what Mac would do.
He comes inside, tugging at his collar, and glances around: it's the usual morning scene, murmuring co-workers and ringing phones, and a bunch of lab techs whose names he can never keep straight bent over microscopes or computers. But no Mac; when he looks up at the office, it's dark. For a minute he's filled with an irrational and inarticulate fear that something has happened, and then he finds out that Stella's not there, either. She and Mac have been called to a murder scene up near Columbia, and they'll probably be gone most of the morning. He should have anticipated something like this, he thinks, and gets to work.
Around noon, Aiden comes in and asks him if he wants to grab some lunch. By now, his eyes are burning and his back aches, and so he accepts without hesitation. Mac and Stella still haven't resurfaced, but he can't help a lingering glance up at the office anyway.
At the nearest Original Ray's, they stand at one of the tall tables with greasy slices and too-sweet Cokes, and eat in silence. Danny watches the rest of the lunchtime crowd and wonders which of them he'll one day face across an interrogation table, or tag for evidence as they lie sprawled in a pool of their own blood in an alley or on a bathroom floor.
"So what's goin' on between you and Mac?" Aiden asks.
"What?" He turns and looks at her in surprise. "What're you talking about?"
"You and Mac. You know, our boss?" Aiden licks oil off her fingers.
"Yeah, I know. I just don't...Nothing's goin' on."
"Coulda fooled me," she says. "You shrink down into this fuzzy little bundle of nerves every time he's in the vicinity, he tenses up like he's about to get sucker-punched every time you come in the room. And neither of you'll look each other in the eye, but you eye each other whenever you think the other one isn't looking." She sips her drink. "What, did you two get in a fight or something and not tell anyone?"
"Naw." Danny picks up a paper napkin and wipes off his mouth. "Nothing like that. We just both been busy, that's all. It's been a crazy spring, you know that. When have any of us had a chance to even breathe, these past few weeks? C'mon, Aiden, this is the first time you and me have sat down -- well, okay, we're not sitting down -- to lunch since there was still snow on the ground."
She stares at him, doing that slow blink that annoys the hell out of him.
"What?" he asks. "What do you want me to say? There is nothing going on. Capisce?"
"Capisce yourself, Danny," she says, and gives him a shove. "I was just askin'."
He doesn't say anything.
"Danny." She tilts her head, trying to look into his face. "Danny boy, c'mon, talk to me. I know when something's not sitting right with you. You been on edge ever since Sonny Sassone's trial." Her eyes widen, and she lowers her voice. "Is that it? Are you afraid he's gonna rat you out or somethin'? Maybe try to reduce his sentence in exchange for information?"
"Aiden, no." He shakes his head. "Nothing like that. If he was gonna, he'd have done it by now. The time for his lawyers to play that card was two months ago."
"I know that," she says. "Just wasn't sure if you did."
"I do. Trust me, I do."
"Then what is it?" She looks at him, all honest concern, and for one wild second he wants to tell her, wants to blurt out the whole sordid story and see what she has to say. An outside perspective might be just the thing he needs, and who better to spill his guts to than Aiden? Aiden, who bosses him around and insults him and slaps him in the head when he deserves it, and who always has his back no matter what trouble he gets himself into. Who cares enough about him to always tell the unvarnished truth.
But then he reconsiders, and remembers that telling would cause far more problems than it would ever solve, and he bites his tongue. "It's nothing," he says, and now he looks her in the face, because only liars can't meet people's eyes when they talk. "Really, I promise. I'm just tired, and maybe a little run-down. Maybe getting a cold or somethin'. As for Mac, I dunno. Who ever knows with Mac? I'm just, you know, making an effort not to piss him off unnecessarily. As I have a tendency to do. That's all." He crosses his heart. "Scout's honor."
Aiden studies him for a long minute, and then she finally says, "Okay."
"Okay," he says, and breathes easier. Dodged a bullet there. Again.
"Were you ever even a Boy Scout?" she asks.
"Nah," Danny says, and grins at her, suddenly feeling more cheerful. "That was for the little nerdy kids. I used to beat 'em up at recess and try to steal their fancy neckties."
She snorts. "Figures. Like to see you try to beat me up for wearin' my Brownie uniform."
"Aw, but it was different for girls. It was okay for you to be Scouts."
"Yeah, plus the little short skirts were way sexy. Well, when we were all eight, they were. 'Specially if we could peek at your panties on the stairs or on the swings."
Aiden rolls her eyes and punches him, and tells him to go buy her another Coke, and he swaggers off to the counter with a smirk on his face.
Danny is bent over his microscope again, and cursing the fact of Gregor Mendel's birth, when he hears a familiar footstep at the lab door and looks up. He reminds himself to breathe, and doesn't say anything, and Mac says, "Hi, Danny," in a quiet voice that wigs him out as much as the "It's me" sally did on the phone last night.
"Hey, Mac," he says, and then adds, "Bad scene?"
"Yeah," Mac says. "Triple homicide. Doesn't seem to be drug-related." He blinks, and for a second Danny knows he's looking at something else, is replaying the details of the crime in his head even if he maybe doesn't want to. It's a look Danny has seen before on Mac's face, and Stella's, and Aiden's; it's a look he imagines he wears on his own face from time to time.
"We did recover the murder weapon," Mac adds.
"That's good -- "
Danny can't help flinching. "Jesus, Mac."
"Yeah. Homicide found it in some bushes on the Columbia campus. It took us all morning just to account for the body parts. And it's going to take the M.E.'s office at least until tomorrow before they have anything for us."
"Christ." Danny shakes his head. "Guess I know what's gonna be the lead story on the news tonight."
Mac nods. "Fortunately, we got in before the media could contaminate the scene. How about you?" he asks, and Danny recognizes this, too: the deliberate change of subject when talking about a case becomes too much; it's something else they all do.
"Ah, okay." He shrugs. "These DNA samples are for shit, though. It's like tryin' to read Braille. Which is appropriate, 'cause I think I'm going blind. Aiden had a breakthrough on those carpet fibers from that Battery Park thing, though, didn't you, Aid -- Aiden? Um, she was here a minute ago."
"That's all right." Mac picks up an unused slide and examines it. "I'll catch up with her later this afternoon."
"Okay." Danny glances back at his microscope. Let me get back to work, he wants to say, even though ten minutes ago he would have done anything for a reprieve.
"Okay," Mac says, but he doesn't move.
Danny is tempted to ask Mac what the hell he wants, even though he's pretty sure he knows, but he opts, instead, to play the waiting game. He who talks first loses, he reminds himself.
"Okay," Mac says again, after what feels like an eternity, but is probably, in reality, about ten seconds. "I should go see how Stella's doing with our murder weapon."
"Sure," Danny says.
Mac starts to walk away. Danny watches him, and then curses at himself under his breath, and calls out, "Hey, Mac," before he can stop himself.
Mac stops and turns back. "Yes?"
"You still interested in that beer?" Dammit, dammit, goddammit.
He sees surprise flicker briefly through Mac's expression, but all he says is, "Sure. If -- if you have the time, that is. I don't want to -- "
"Mac." Danny holds up one hand, unable to bear any more of this verbal fumbling. "I got the time. What looks good for you?"
"Maybe around 9:00 tonight?" Mac asks.
"9:00," Danny says. "That's good. That works."
"Sure. Sullivan's is fine."
"I'm glad you're able to make the time," Mac says, and the gratitude in his eyes and voice is something that Danny can't bear for another second longer.
"Me too," he says, not looking at Mac. He gestures toward his work. "I really gotta..."
"All right, then." Mac glances at his watch. "I really need to get going now, but I'll see you at 9:00, then."
"Yep." Danny lowers his eyes to the microscope, and stares into it without moving until he's sure that Mac has left. Aiden returns a few minutes later, and neither of them says a word about anything other than work for the rest of the afternoon.
There's no question in Danny's mind that, barring some sort of work-related emergency, Mac will arrive at Sullivan's at the precise hour of 9:00 p.m., or possibly even a few minutes beforehand; the man's nothing if not punctual. Danny has a more flexible approach to the keeping of social engagements, but tonight, he finds himself more aware than usual of the passing of time, and when it gets to be about 8:30, he gives up all pretense of productivity and just barricades himself in the closet that passes for his office, where he can clock-watch in peace and quiet. He's also promised himself that, no matter how fidgety he gets over the next half-hour or so, he's not going to put in an appearance at Sullivan's until 9:15 or so. Long enough to make Mac sweat a little, he figures, and to make it clear that Danny isn't in the least overeager even though he's agreed to this meeting; not long enough for Mac to give up and decide to go home.
At 9:00 exactly, Danny shuts off his computer and the lights, and heads out for Sullivan's, forcing himself to walk at a normal pace and not at the half-jog his feet seem inclined to. He's not surprised in the least when, walking through the front door of the pub a quarter of an hour later, he spots Mac almost immediately. He's sitting on a stool at the bar, sipping at a beer and looking around. Danny takes a deep breath and squares his shoulders and reminds himself that he's not afraid of anything, least of all this, and he goes over to join Mac at the bar.
Mac looks up at his approach, and gives a jumpy-looking little half-smile. "Danny," he says.
"Hey there, Mac." Danny leans against the brass rail. "Sorry I'm late. Had some stuff to finish up."
"That's all right -- " Mac starts to say.
Danny catches the bartender's attention. "Guinness, please." He has a feeling that Mac wants to say something more, or that he's hoping Danny will say something more, but he's not ready to play yet. Not ready to deal with Mac. Let him get his beer, get some of it down his throat, and then they can have their little chat. For now, he just stands there with his hands in his pockets and scopes out the room.
It's the usual after-work crowd, a mix of neighborhood old-timers, cops from the 12th and firefighters from Ladder 1 over on Chambers, and a few scattered hipster types from the nearby Soho art galleries who have decided that Irish is the in thing this year. There's sawdust on the floor and Johnny Cash on the jukebox and Christmas lights up all year round, and Danny likes the place for the most part, although it's not his hangout of choice when he's looking to get laid: too much chance of being seen by someone he knows professionally. On his hunting nights, he usually goes farther afield. Fortunately, he thinks with a private smirk, getting laid tonight is the last thing on his mind.
The bartender sets a pint glass of Guinness on the bar in front of him, and he reaches for his wallet. "I've got it," Mac says.
"Mac, no, I -- " Danny begins, but Mac has already handed over the money. "I didn't want you to -- "
"Look, I asked you here. The least I can do is buy you a beer," Mac says.
Danny shrugs uneasily, but doesn't protest further. Fine, whatever; if it'll get him through this with the minimum amount of trouble, he'll go along with it. "Thank you," he says, and takes a sip.
"Sure." Mac picks up his beer and stands up. "Do you want to grab one of the tables in back?" he asks. "Probably a little better suited to conversation than this crush."
"Fine." Danny follows him to the back, resisting several random urges to just drop the beer and run like hell. He's pretty damn fast, but he's not entirely sure that Mac couldn't catch him, even so.
"Is this all right?" Mac asks, indicating a corner table.
"Fine," Danny says again, and flings himself into one of the chairs. "A cozy little table for two," he adds, and Mac shoots him an uncertain look as he sits down.
There's a pause then, and Danny takes another swallow of his beer; he's not looking at Mac, but he's not making any special effort to avoid looking at him, either. He's just having a drink, that's all. Waiting to hear what Mac has to say.
"Pretty crowded tonight," Mac says at last.
"I suppose." Danny gives the room a cursory glance. "Looks pretty average for a weeknight."
"Was there a lot to finish up at the lab?" Mac asks.
"No more than usual. Just had to run some reports. And those damn DNA samples still aren't giving me what I need."
"Something will turn up, I'm sure."
Danny sets down his beer and studies Mac. All this eagerness to please is starting to make him nervous -- and not a little irritated. It's as out of character for Mac as the awkward attempts at small talk are. And Mac doesn't do small talk any more than he does hesitant. Danny didn't come here to chat about work and he didn't come here with any desire to make this easy for Mac. Cut to the fucking chase already, he thinks, and drums his fingers against the table top. He's starting to feel like a suspect in the box, the way Mac is studying him, and thinks that maybe that's what this is all about: Mac is trying various psychological gambits, seeing what approach will best draw Danny out and make him talk, make him say things he would otherwise keep to himself. Then again, Mac usually goes in for bluntness and brute force when he's got someone in interrogation, so Danny should maybe consider himself lucky -- he would, if only that realization weren't suddenly adding to his confusion.
"It's been a busy spring so far," Mac says, and Danny thinks of his earlier evasive comments to Aiden.
"Pretty much," he says.
"I think I went about two weeks there without ever seeing daylight," Mac says. "Unless it was at a crime scene, that is." He sets his beer down, and then picks it up again and takes the coaster it's been resting on, and starts to turn that around in his hands after replacing the beer on the bare wood. "I've barely talked to Stella or anyone about anything that isn't work-related."
And how that's different from what passes for normal with Mac, Danny will never know.
"I've hardly spoken to you since -- since that night," Mac says, and looks up, biting his lip.
Danny leans back in his chair, letting out a long breath. Here we go, he thinks. He doesn't feel anything, he tells himself; he's not going to feel anything, no matter what Mac may say in the next few minutes. He's sharp; he's all hard edges. Mac isn't going to fool him again, and he's absolutely not going to make him lose his temper. Or feel the least little bit of hurt.
"That night," he says, with no particular intonation.
"Yes." Mac creases a corner of the coaster. "As I said last night when we spoke on the phone, I wanted to apologize to you for -- for my subsequent behavior. I'm sorry for the way I handled the situation."
"Yes, the -- what happened that night between the two of us. I never meant for it to turn out the way it did."
"Okay, sure." Danny shrugs. "I guess I can believe that. I just don't..." He pauses, and tries to collect his thoughts. Tries to think how to put this with some degree of tact.
Fuck it, he decides, after several seconds of consideration and no ideas at all. Fuck tact. Tact is for pussies, as Flack always says.
"So what is this, Mac?" Danny asks. "I mean, if we're bein' honest with each other here, okay. Here's some honesty for you: I don't get this. I don't get why this sudden change of heart and all this act of contrition stuff." He gestures toward Mac. "I mean, what? You worried I might shake up the status quo in the lab? Run squealing to the brass that you got off on having your cock down my throat? Or maybe it's just, you know, me in general. Maybe you don't want the honchos to start sending love notes about the little queer boy you got workin' for ya. I mean, take your pick, Mac. Any or all of the above. I can handle it. Hell, we could do with a little unvarnished truth around here."
Mac looks at him with a set jaw, and Danny can see a muscle pulsing in his cheek. "Unvarnished truth?" Mac asks. "You're right, we could use some of that. So here's some for you: If you think that any of those reasons are why I called you last night, or why I asked you for a beer tonight, you are way out of line. Way more than when you raised your voice to me in the office last night. I may not have been ashamed of you before, but I am now if that's what you think of the way I run my lab."
"Mac. Mac." Danny holds up one hand. He's a little nervous at this sudden flare of temper -- you do not want to get Mac Taylor angry, oh hell no -- but he'd be lying to himself if he didn't admit that he was also taking a certain amount of pleasure in it. Finally, a reaction. And all he had to do was insult the man's professional integrity in public. "At ease, already. You can't deny that you take a great deal of, of professional concern in the way the lab runs. Which includes the way it's viewed by IAB and the rest of the hotshots. You mean to tell me that none of those things ever crossed your mind?"
Mac glares down at the table. "No," he says. Danny waits. "Briefly, perhaps," Mac says after a long pause. "At least the part about you saying something. It would have been very easy for you to go to IAB and file a sexual harassment complaint. You must realize that." (The thought hadn't occurred to Danny, actually.) "As for your...your orientation, that's of no concern to anyone else, as long as it doesn't affect your work."
Danny can't help being amused by the way Mac blushes when he says "orientation," but he also feels a twinge of something else. Respect? Relief? Either way, he doesn't like it, and so he tries to push the emotion away. Tough guy, he reminds himself. "Okay," he says.
"Now, don't get me wrong," Mac says. "As your supervisor, I do have to be concerned about our professional relationship. But I'm not...I'm not speaking as your supervisor right now." Danny would swear that Mac is blushing again, but Mac also isn't looking directly at him, so he can't be sure. "I'm speaking as -- I'm concerned for our personal relationship, too," Mac finishes in a low voice.
Danny studies him for a minute, thinking this over. "So you're not talking as Detective Taylor right now?" he asks at last. "This is just...you. Mac. Talkin' to me one on one."
Mac looks at him. "Right," he says.
"Okay. That's cool. New thing, kinda weird. But I can adjust to it."
"So?" Mac asks.
"So," Danny says, and leans forward with his elbows on the table. "Well, as your friend and colleague, then, and we're talking to each other on a personal level here, what you did really sucked."
Mac studies him without blinking.
"Yeah, I know." Danny waves a hand. "That ain't the most eloquent way of putting it. But it's the truth. I get, you know, one-night stands and after-the-fact regrets. That happens. Shit, for some of us, it's a way of life. But all you hadda do was say, 'Danny, I don't think this was such a good idea.' Now, would it still have been awkward and uncomfortable? Sure." He pauses, and stares around the room, not wanting, all of a sudden, to go on with what he's saying. With what he's been wanting to say ever since that night. But he has to, he thinks; it's now or never. "But at least..." His voice starts to crack, and he stops, and clears his throat. "At least I woulda felt like you hadda lil' bit of respect for me as a person. Instead I ended up feeling fucking stupid. Like -- like you used me to jerk off and then tossed me away after." His hands are clenched so tightly into fists that they ache, but he doesn't ease up. It's this or hit something.
"It wasn't like that," Mac says, and it's all Danny can do not to laugh right out loud. Something must show on his face, though, some skepticism or bitter amusement, because Mac goes on. "I didn't mean it to be like that. I thought -- I didn't know what to do, so the best thing seemed to be to just act like everything was normal. I -- "
At that, Danny does laugh out loud, and irritation flashes across Mac's face. "Normal. Right," Danny says. "After we had just -- "
"Yes," Mac says, fast, and crumples the coaster, which by now is in several pieces, in his fist.
"Sorry." Danny takes a sip of his beer. "Go on ahead with what you were saying. Interrupting is kinda a bad habit of mine."
"Oh, you don't say." The sharpness in Mac's voice makes Danny blink in surprise. That's not a tone he hears from Mac too often, and right now, in the midst of these badly-worded attempts at conciliation, is the last time he ever would have expected Mac's badly underused powers of sarcasm to put in an appearance. He suddenly feels more cheerful, for no reason he can put a name to.
"Well..." he begins.
"Can I finish my statement now?" Mac asks.
"Go 'head." Danny mimes turning a key in a lock. "My lips are sealed."
Mac eyes him with suspicion for a moment more, then says, "I just thought -- thought you would have wanted to know that I wasn't going to let what had happened affect things between us. It's..." He frowns. "It's what I would have wanted."
"And you didn't know how to handle it," Danny says.
"That too," Mac says, and looks away again.
Danny looks at him, at the set jaw, the hands that are still creasing and shredding the much-abused coaster into nothing at all, and suddenly he realizes he's just tired of the whole thing: not tired of Mac, which has been his dominant emotion for the past few weeks and would be par for the course, but tired of the tension. Of this endless drama. That doesn't mean he forgives Mac, fuck no, but it does mean that right now he doesn't have the energy to keep needling him. "You're really not good with this emotional stuff, are you?" he asks.
"Never mind." Danny looks at his glass, which is empty, and at Mac's, which is nearly so. "You want another beer? I'll get this round."
"Sure," Mac says.
Breathe, Danny reminds himself as he threads his way through the crowd to the bar. You're keeping your shit together very nicely so far, and this isn't going badly at all. Comparatively, anyway, and he thinks that everything is relative.
Patrons are two deep at the bar by now, and Danny elbows his way closer to the front of the crowd bit by bit. He finally manages to put in the order for two more Guinness, shouting to the bartender over the chatter and the pounding bass guitar from the jukebox, and then leans against the railing to wait. Bored, looking around, he spots Mac, and figures he'll catch his eye and give him a little wave to let him know that the ale's on its way. He gets his hand halfway raised and then he stops, and just looks.
Usually, when Danny sees Mac in a crowd of people, it's within the familiar context of a crime scene; Mac tells people where to go and what to do, and it's easy to see, in his bearing, the Marine Corps officer he once was. There's something inherently military about his attitude in those situations, Danny thinks, something which expects and demands immediate obedience, that his orders will be carried out promptly and accurately. He's self-assured and in control, and God help anyone who tries to cross him.
Now, even though Mac isn't doing anything more than sitting at their little table and glancing around the room, a half-blank, half-bored waiting-for-my-beer kind of limbo that is as common as dirt, Danny is struck by how lost he looks. How at sea. He doesn't look comfortable and he doesn't look confident, and even though this is a cop bar, he sure as hell doesn't look like he fits in with the rest of the people here. He looks -- Danny tries not to think the word, but it comes anyway -- lonely.
Don't start that, Messer, don't you start with that sentimental bullshit. Danny has to shake his head at himself, because that's all it is: bullshit. He has no reason to feel sorry for Mac; it's not his fault if Mac doesn't know how to relax or how to behave around normal people. If Mac doesn't know how to do anything else but play cop or soldier? That's his problem, and one of his own making, not Danny's fucking lookout.
Danny pays for the beers and hardens his heart, and bites back a wisecrack about drunken sailors as he sets the glass down on the table in front of Mac. Mac thanks him and Danny nods, and the two of them sit drinking in silence for awhile; Danny is appalled to realize that the silence is bordering on comfortable, and once again finds himself biting his tongue, this time so that he won't say anything that will increase the table's overall discomfort level.
He's just beginning to wonder if he should maybe try to find a neutral topic of conversation, ask Mac about a case or something, when Mac takes a drink of beer and then looks across the table at him, and says, "You know, I really don't think it's fair to characterize me as 'not good with emotional stuff,' Danny."
Danny can't help it; he bursts out laughing and has to set down his beer, for fear that he'll choke to death if he tries to take a drink now. Mac is staring at him, and the expression on his face is a mixture of mild dismay (his default expression) and confusion (far less usual). Danny pounds on the table, laughing helplessly.
"Danny," Mac says. "Would you mind telling me what's so funny?"
"Sorry, Mac," he manages to say. "Sorry, I just -- " But then he thinks of the utter seriousness with which Mac offered his little protest, and that sets him off again. By the time he gets himself under some semblance of control, Mac appears to have abandoned confusion for pissed-off, and is watching him with clenched fists and a raised eyebrow.
Danny grins down at his hands and lets out one last little chortle, and then clears his throat. "I just mean to say that you're really not good at the emotional stuff, that's all."
"And that's what's so funny?"
"Well, yes. It's just...well...you know." Although, looking at Mac now, he's not sure that he does know, which sort of proves his point in the first place. Not that he would dare to say that. There's blunt, and then there's suicidal. "It's all right," he says, and raises his glass to Mac in a little mock toast. "I'm not, either."
There's a long moment of silence, and Danny is just beginning to wonder how much of a head start he could get if he dropped the beer and bolted right now, when Mac -- to Danny's everlasting surprise -- suddenly shakes his head and leans back in his chair.
"Emotional stuff," he says, and lets out a little chuckle.
Danny eyes him warily. "You really think it's funny," he says after a minute, "or are you just thinking about how much fun it's going to be to hit me so hard I end up in Jackson Hole?"
Mac shakes his head. "You sounded like Stella there for a minute, railing on at me about not dealing with people very well." He considers. "Only she usually says it in Greek."
"Hey, Stella's great like that," Danny says. "I mean, you wanna little bit of that unvarnished truthtelling stuff, about anything, Stella's your girl."
Mac, who Danny suspects has been on the receiving end of more of Stella's rants than all the rest of them put together, sighs. "That she is," he says.
"Say, um..." Danny hesitates, then decides to plunge ahead. "This may be kinda a dumb question, but...you haven't said anything to Stella, have you? I mean, about...you know. All this stuff." Danny doesn't think that Mac tells much of anything to anyone, certainly not anything involving sexual shenanigans with employees (not that he thinks Mac does that on a regular basis, either), but if he were to spill his guts to anyone at all, it would be Stella.
"Stella?" Mac asks. "No, I didn't tell Stella anything. She'd be relentless if I did."
"I figured as much," Danny says. "I didn't tell Aiden or anybody either, 'case you were worried."
"I wasn't," Mac says. He pauses, then asks, "Would you like another round?"
"You're buyin', I'm drinkin'," Danny says. "Hey, Mac?"
"See if you can get some peanuts or some of those little pretzels or somethin' while you're at it."
Somehow (Danny doesn't ask how) Mac manages to procure both peanuts and pretzels, and by the time he's gone through both bowls, he's also managed to lose track of just how many rounds they've had. What he does know is that he's feeling no pain, and that Mac is a very agreeable drunk.
To any outside pair of eyes, it wouldn't be obvious that Mac is drunk at all; he's not slurring his words or babbling nonsense or trying to sing along with the Leonard Cohen song that's currently playing, or groping anyone inappropriately (or even appropriately). All he's doing is sitting and drinking his fifth (or maybe it's his sixth) beer, and talking to Danny. But there's an almost imperceptible relaxation in his posture, and a new expansiveness to his gestures, and Danny is aware that he seems to be concentrating just the tiniest bit harder than normal on forming his words and getting his sentences out in the right order, and on not knocking anything over.
They're not talking about anything important, just about cases past and present, and exchanging the odd story about various of their co-workers. Even in this current relaxed state of his, Mac isn't the kind of guy Danny feels comfortable asking about anything more personal, even though there are a number of things he would like to hear more about: his Marine career, for one, and how he got from there to NYPD, and what it's like for him to be running the whole damn lab.
Only with Mac would questions about career be considered too personal, Danny reflects.
But he doesn't think about that for too long, because in doing so he just runs the risk of getting himself all annoyed at Mac all over again, and he doesn't want to do that. They seem to have achieved some sort of fragile equilibrium over the course of their conversation tonight, and Danny isn't about to do anything to jeopardize that, no sir.
Mac has just finished explaining to him the importance of a well-organized filing system, and how he arranges his own personal system in his office, and Danny has been nodding in all the right places, though he hasn't absorbed a word of it -- he thinks, though, that color-coded stickers and an Excel spreadsheet are involved. "Yes, absolutely, I agree," he says, because Mac seems to be waiting for an answer, and that seems like a safe one.
"Great." Mac nods. "So I can come down to your office whenever you and Aiden have some free time, and I can get you started on the reorganization. I have to say, Danny, I'm very pleased; I didn't think you'd be interested in such a big project."
Danny wonders, with a sinking feeling, what the hell he's just gotten himself (and Aiden) into, but all he says is, "Well, anything to keep the ship running smooth, ya know?" With any luck, maybe Mac is drunk enough right now that he won't remember this part of the conversation in the morning.
"That's my philosophy." Mac studies the dregs of his beer, and Danny is about to ask him if he wants another -- he's pretty sure it's his turn to pay -- when something seems to occurs to Mac, and he pulls back the cuff of his sleeve to consult his watch.
"I don't mean to end this so abruptly," he says, looking up, "but it is getting late, and I should probably get home."
"Yeah, good idea." Danny tosses back one last swallow of beer, then sets the glass down with some reluctance. "I gotta long day ahead of me tomorrow."
"Tomorrow?" Mac asks.
"Yeah, tomorrow. You know."
Mac smiles a little. "Try 'today', Danny. It's long past midnight."
Danny pushes back his jacket sleeve and studies his own watch, squinting at the numbers in the gloom. "Huh, so it is. Well, then, my friend, watch me vamoose before I turn into a pumpkin."
Danny trails after Mac as he exits through the back door of the bar, near the bathrooms, which aren't too far from their table. Danny wonders vaguely why they aren't going through the front door, then realizes that Mac probably doesn't want to deal with the crowd, which, at this hour, is very noisy and very drunk. Good idea, that, he decides, and stumbles out into the alley, wobbling only slightly, and glad, suddenly, for the cool night air after the stuffy closeness of the bar.
"Well, Mac," he says. "Thank you for the beers, and I'm gonna go try to stay awake on the subway 'till I get home. You be careful on that long ride to Brooklyn, ya hear?"
"I will be. And -- I'm glad we had this conversation, Danny."
Danny hesitates, and ducks his head, and fights down a brief urge to say something dismissive. He wants to, and in some corner of his mind thinks it might even be better for him, but in the end he can't. "So am I, Mac," he says, and he does mean it, which is the hell of the whole thing.
"Good, I...good." Mac holds out his hand for Danny to shake, and Danny takes it. And he thinks again about how it's only liars who don't meet people's eyes, so he looks into Mac's face while they shake hands, and Mac's eyes are very clear and very bright in the neon glow of the Budweiser sign on the door, and by the time Danny realizes that he's been holding onto Mac's offered hand for several seconds longer than is socially acceptable, it's too late; he's taken one fatal step closer to Mac, or maybe Mac has moved closer to him, and the hand resting in his has turned into a hand on the side of his neck, and he's got his arms around Mac and is kissing him hard.
And I've been here before, he thinks, but can't focus on that thought with any real coherency, not for the moment, because he's too preoccupied with other things, like the heat of Mac's mouth on his, slightly sour taste of beer that he doesn't mind at all, and the feel of Mac's jawline under his fingers, just a hint of stubble against warm skin. He lets out a shaky breath into Mac's open mouth and slides his hand around and up into his hair, and pulls him in close as he keeps on kissing him. Mac returns the kiss and holds Danny tight, arms around him now and hands pressing into his spine, not even any chance to draw a breath in between and Danny doesn't care, especially not as Mac backs him up. He has no idea where they're going -- probably Mac doesn't either, is just trying to get some sort of balance -- and then his back hits the wall of the building, and little bits of brick catch at his hair, and suddenly he knows where here is; he's been here so many times, and even as he arches his hips in reflex and pushes his wet mouth into Mac's, he's already thinking of someone else, somewhere else.
"Good boy, D, you're my good boy," Sonny mutters into his ear. "Huh? Ain't that right?"
Danny grits his teeth and bites his lip, and his fingers scramble for purchase on the brick wall. There's nothing to hold onto, nothing he can get a decent grip on, so he just spreads his palms flat and presses in, and bites his lip harder every time it starts to hurt more. He wants this; what's more, he wants Sonny to know that he's man enough to take it, and so he refuses to do anything pussy like cry out, or God forbid ask Sonny to slow down, or to go easier. Men do this, he thinks. Men can take the pain, and they can let Sonny Sassone fuck them in the ass without turning fag.
"Danny, answer me." Sonny slaps him in the side of the head, not missing a stroke, and there's a warning tone in his voice that makes Danny snap to attention. "I said, ain't you my good boy?"
"That's right, Sonny," he says, and sucks in air through his clenched teeth. The pain ratchets up another notch as Sonny pushes in harder, and he tilts his head, blinking up at the little bit of night sky he can see in between the buildings. It's 'cause it's my first time, that's all, he tells himself. That's the way it is when you're on the receiving end. At sixteen, of course, he knows nothing about lube or about relaxing enough to be able to enjoy this; to be fair, he realizes years later, Sonny, who is nineteen on this particular night, probably doesn't either.
He's had sex before, of course: he's fucked pretty girls on parents' couches and in the supposedly off-limits balconies of the local movie houses, all of them grateful for and surprised at the way he knows how to touch them, how he'll unbutton their blouses and spend an hour tonguing and rubbing their nipples, and how he'll slide a hand between their legs and push their panties to one side and fondle them in that great spot he's discovered, the one that makes them arch up into his searching hand and moan and blush. (He's never heard the word clitoris, but is well aware of its magic properties, and will experience a moment of eureka! years later in a John Jay anatomy course: So that's what that is.)
He has also given blowjobs to boys without number, not just Sonny, although just Sonny lately, because he's Sonny's these days, and he's not going to fuck any other guy unless Sonny says it's okay -- girls are free for the taking, of course. He learned the tricks to that trade quickly, too, and knows how to get down and suck, how to tease a guy into a gorgeous hard-on before he even realizes what's happening, so that by the time he tweaks to what's going on, he's so turned on that all he wants to do is get off, and is happy to have Danny help him along in that area. He can jerk them off, too, if that's what they want, has discovered all the little secret sweet spots on an average guy's cock and balls that can make him come in sixty seconds flat. For this, he's employed the time-honored tradition of thinking of what he likes, and then proceeding accordingly. Who says all those lazy summer hours spent jacking off in his room were a waste of time? Not Danny, no sir.
And since joining up with Tanglewood, his special set of skills have come in handy more often than ever. Not just the sex ones, either; he's good at planning things, and at distraction, and at finding out whatever they need to know about a particular area or person or store. The sex is a part of that, too, of course, because sometimes it's the best way to distract somebody. But the sex mostly comes into play when Sonny is around, as he discovered one night months ago, when Sonny came over in a bad mood and they went driving around the neighborhood, and Danny was honestly afraid that Sonny was going to kill someone that night, maybe him. Until they pulled over in an alley near St. John's Road, and Sonny grabbed his hand and shoved it down the front of his pants, and Danny jacked him off hard and rough, just the way he could tell Sonny wanted it. After that, Sonny was calmer.
After that night, and one other night in which he played his part to perfection, came up to the guy from the Crazy Eights and talked nice and calm and dumb and then swung the bat at his head when the dumbshit least expected it, after that and ever since then, he's been Sonny's good boy. Sonny's special boy. No one will ever dare to fuck with him, not now, not unless it's the good kind of fucking and he says that it's okay.
But this, tonight, staring at the brick wall close up and biting back the gasp that hovers in his throat, is the first time he's ever been fucked himself. A couple of times before, when he's been very good and Sonny is particularly pleased with him, he's given Danny a handjob, jacking him off in the dusty backseat of his '78 Crown Vic, or in the hallway outside the john at one or another of the neighborhood bars that will turn a blind eye to how clearly underage they all are. But this is a rare thing: a treat for Sonny's best boy to keep him happy. To keep him in line.
Sonny has never fucked him before, and, in fact, though Danny hates to admit to ignorance of any sexual matters, he never really knew before now that a guy could be fucked like this. Sure, he's heard all the same jokes the rest of them have, about prison bitches and don't drop the soap, but he always laughed along without understanding what any of it really meant. But Sonny, who'd been edgy and horny all evening, finally grabbed him by the belt buckle outside the john, and said, "C'mere," and dragged him out to the alley. Danny was expecting he'd give Sonny a nice blowjob, and was caught completely by surprise when Sonny unzipped both of their jeans and turned him around to face the wall, and the next thing he knew he felt Sonny's hard cock up against his bare ass. He figured it out then, and didn't have time to puzzle out whether he wanted to do this or not before Sonny sucked rough and hard at his neck, and asked him if he'd ever been around the world before.
Then he pinched one nipple roughly through Danny's thin shirt and grabbed his ass and shoved it in, and Danny bit right through his lower lip at the pain. For the first few thrusts he was convinced that he really was going to scream, real man or no, and after that it got a little easier. He's still not exactly enjoying it, but the pain has receded to a manageable level, and he thinks that if he can just get through this tonight, he'll like it the next time, or the time after that. He is, after all, hard despite the pain, and tempted for one wild instant to hump himself against the wall, but good sense wins out, for once.
"Good boy," Sonny mutters again. "That's right, D. You're my good -- " Sonny's strokes are getting sloppier and faster, more erratic, and his breathing has speeded up. " -- my good -- " He pushes in hard, and comes, and his words are lost in a groan. Danny can feel come trickling down his ass as Sonny goes soft inside him, and even before Sonny has pulled out and patted him on the shoulder and praised him all over again for his goodness and loyalty, Danny is grinning up at the cloudy night sky. Made it, he thinks. Made it and didn't scream.
Brick walls are all the same, but Mac Taylor is not Sonny Sassone, and he kisses with more finesse than Sonny could ever have hoped to achieve even on his best day. Danny is well aware that it's Mac's mouth on his, Mac's solid muscles under his hands, Mac's erection pressed against his belly. But the wall, and the neon-lit night sky against the brick that he can see when he opens his eyes, is enough to make Danny remember those long-ago alleys when he was a teenager, and that's enough to make him pause and reconsider. Not like this, he realizes; he doesn't want it to be like this, not even now when he can barely focus through his buzzing head. "No, wait, hold up a sec," he mumbles before he can lose his resolve, and breaks the kiss. Mac's hands drop away from his back, and he takes a step away, blinking at Danny in guilty surprise.
"Danny," he says, and he sounds almost as if he's just waking up from a long nap. "Danny, Christ, I'm sorry, I -- "
"Mac, time out," Danny says, and puts up one hand to stave off the apology he knows is forthcoming. "It's okay. You didn't do nothin' wrong."
Mac puts his hands in the pockets of his trousers and turns his head away. "But -- "
"No no no. Don't start with the fumbling again. We both had enough of that for one night." Danny stands up straight. "I just don't wanna do it in an alley, ya know? It's kinda..." He looks around. "Not the most private place in the world. 'Sides, might not be such a good idea, 'least not right now."
"Of course." Mac still won't look at him.
"Not that I don't wanna, but after last time...well. Considering we just got things all squared away, maybe any extracurricular activities oughta wait a bit, ya know?"
"Sure," Mac says, and Danny sees him bite his lip. "You're right. I'm sorry if -- "
"No no no." Danny takes a step closer to him, and puts a hand on Mac's shoulder. Mac looks at him at this, finally. "Ain't nothin' to feel sorry for. I was right there with ya. I was just one step ahead 'a ya with the thinkin' part, for once."
"Is that so?" Mac asks.
"Yeah. 'Sides..." Danny grins at him. "You kiss nice."
Mac turns bright red.
"Just wanna wait on this a little," Danny goes on. "See how things go. You know. Wouldn't wanna repeat any of our mistakes."
"Okay," Mac says, and Danny isn't sure, but he thinks that some of the tension, just a little bit of it, disappears from Mac's posture.
"Okay," Danny says. "Now, that bein' the case, I bid you a very good night, thank you again for the beers and...stuff, and I will see you again in the morning. Unfortunately, my train's in the opposite direction 'a yours, but I assume a big tough guy like you can find his way with no problem."
Mac's smile is slight, but very nearly genuine. "Yes," he says. "I can. Good night, Danny."
"'Night," Danny says, and waves, and strides off in the direction of the Prince Street station. His confident swagger lasts him until he's sitting on one of the platform benches, peering up the tracks for a train he's sure is going to take for-fucking-ever to come at this time of night. He leans back in his seat with a muttered curse, drawing a glare from the snuggling college kids at the other end of the bench, and settles in for a wait.
It's not that the evening didn't go well, he thinks an hour later, clattering down the steps of the 36th Avenue stop; it's the fact that it did go well -- better than Danny had ever expected, actually -- and now, as a result, his thoughts are in a worse muddle than ever. Even leaving aside the fact of his little alleyway make-out session with Mac, he's completely confused by how eager Mac seemed to make amends. Though Danny still can't shake the suspicion that this is mostly work-related, no matter what Mac says, his stronger sense is that it does, indeed, have a great deal to do with their personal relationship. And that's the part he can't figure: why that would suddenly be so important to Mac. Mac, who has probably never had a human emotion in his life that didn't involve anger or frustration or stress.
Danny also doesn't know why he didn't just tell Mac to fuck off, but that's something he'll kick himself for later.
And then there's the alley, which is something to consider in and of itself. He doesn't know why he gave in, why he kissed Mac -- or why Mac kissed him, for that matter. After the ill-fated blowjob session in the locker room, Danny would have sworn up and down that Mac didn't want him, that what had happened was just the result of Mac giving into a fleeting physical weakness. He's still not sure that's not the case, actually. But that doesn't explain why Mac kissed him the way he did in the alley, like he was drowning and Danny was his only lifeline, or why he held him so tightly while he did it.
Shoulda just let him fuck me in the alley and get it over with. Mac was so much easier to deal with, Danny thinks wearily as he walks up his front steps, when he was an idle thought, a passing fancy on a dull afternoon. Dealing with the reality of him is something altogether different, and Danny has no reason to think that, just because things went all right tonight, they'll continue to do so over the course of time.
Oh Christ, oh fucking hell, what is he getting himself into? He lets himself into his apartment and lets the door shut with a bang, not caring if he does disturb the neighbors.
He knows he shouldn't do this. He knows that. No one needs to tell him. He's not walking into the situation with his eyes shut, or practicing an act of willful ignorance. What he should do is walk away right now, metaphorically speaking. He should get up in the morning and go to work and do his job, and treat Mac as a boss and colleague and maybe even a friend, and that should be fucking it. He's crossed enough lines for one lifetime, and anyway, hope hurts. Even though he doesn't know what, precisely, he's hoping for.
But Danny's never been one to take the safe route, or the easy one, or the path of least resistance. And avoiding trouble is...it's for people who care, he thinks vaguely. He's a cool boy, and he shouldn't be bothered by any of this. He isn't. Whatever happens, he can handle it. In any event, he'll neither help nor hinder; the next move, if any, is Mac's.
Wait and see, he tells himself. Just wait and see.
Sweat pours off him like he's running a marathon, or engaging in a marathon sex session; he can feel it trickling down the back of his neck and pooling in his armpits, softening the collar of his shirt and no doubt staining its underarms. He takes a deep breath and tries to blow cool air onto his upper lip, and tells himself not to worry about it: so he sweats a little, so what? He can cool off once he finishes up and gets the hell out of here, and he can do that just as soon as he manages to pull these goddamn son of a bitch prints. But there's sweat running into his eyes now, too, and it stings, and it's all he can do to keep the tape from sliding right out of his hands, hands which are probably sweating right through the goddamn gloves and contaminating the scene anyway.
Stop, he tells himself. Just stop and breathe and try to focus. You can do this. You know damn well that you can't sweat through the gloves, not unless there's a rip in one of them, and there's not. If all you can get from here is partials, then that's the way it is. Can't do nothing about it, so just work with what you have. He does take a breath then, and shifts his position so his knees aren't aching quite so much, and takes a rough wipe at his face with a corner of his jacket sleeve. After that, he studies the tabletop for a second, where he's laid down careful swirls of powder, and presses the tape to it gently, the way he's done a thousand times before, and tamps it down with care, letting out all the air pockets. Once he's sure it's as tight as it can be, he lifts it up in one swift motion -- like ripping off a Band-Aid, the Academy instructor said -- and presses it down on the lifting card. There: one partial thumbprint, and now he goes after the index finger, which he's got even less of to work with, and...there.
"Gotcha, you bastard," he mutters, and starts to label the cards. It may not be enough to do him any good, but he'll run the prints through AFIS later and see if anything pops. At least he got something, finally: he'd spent nearly an hour going over what felt like every inch of the living room, and hadn't turned up so much as a stray hair, or any prints except for these.
Once he's done with the prints, he puts them away and goes back into the hallway outside the apartment, where Flack is conferring with two uniforms. "Flack," he says. "How you doin' out here?"
"Hey, Danny." Flack excuses himself to the other officers and comes over to join him. "No witnesses," he says. "I got one elderly shut-in on the third floor who thinks she mighta heard something, maybe, that sounded -- " he consults his notebook -- "'sort of like people shouting at each other.' That's it. And the way she had the volume on Oprah cranked to eleven, I'm not sure I'd call her our most reliable witness."
"Yeah, but apparently she's our only witness."
Flack sighs. "Apparently."
"Great, that's just fuckin' great." Danny feels the familiar frustration building again. "Nice bloody murder scene, no witnesses, perp apparently was smart enough not to leave a whole lotta evidence behind. This is gonna be a fun one."
"You manage to get anything from the scene?"
"Far as I could tell, all the blood was the vic's. I pulled two partial prints off the coffee table. Christ knows if it's even gonna be enough for AFIS."
"That's assuming our perp is in the system in the first place."
"Fuck, don't remind me." Danny rubs his forehead. "I'm gonna have a sweeper team come in here later and see if they can pull anything that I missed, and who knows what Hawkes will turn up in the autopsy?"
"Guess that's our best hope now, huh?" Flack asks.
"Yeah." Danny strips off his gloves. "Fun never stops around here, right? I'm gonna head back to the lab."
"Okay. I'm gonna stick around a little longer, see if there's any other angles I can cover." Flack gives him a shove. "Don't you work too hard now, Messer."
Danny has to grin at that. "You know me," he says, and heads outside, hoping the fresh air will stave off the incipient headache he can feel pulsing at his temples.
The pain's mostly receded by the time he gets back to the lab, thanks to the Excedrin he finds in the glove compartment of the Explorer. He parks and grabs his evidence kit, and goes inside after he checks the vehicle in, wondering if the day is ever going to end.
"Hey, Mac," he says a few minutes later, leaning in the doorway.
Mac looks up from his microscope, and Danny isn't surprised to see that Mac looks as worn out as he feels. There's a haggard look in his eyes that Danny has seen there before; he knows from intra-department rumor and Stella's mutterings that Mac doesn't seem to sleep a whole hell of a lot, but he hadn't looked this bad this morning when he'd called Danny into his office and told him to head on up to East 76th to see about a murder call they'd just gotten. Long day for him, too, Danny decides; probably too many hours of staring into that microscope, and not enough breaks to clear his head or give his eyes a rest.
"Danny," Mac says. "How did it go?"
"Shit-lousy," Danny says. "I really hope Hawkes or the sweeper team manage to find something useful, 'cause right now all I got is two partial prints, and you know what's gonna happen when I run 'em through AFIS? The computer is gonna laugh at me, that's what's gonna happen."
Mac looks guardedly amused at that, but all he says is, "Why not run them first before you start ascribing human emotions to the database?"
Danny snorts. "Yeah, sure."
Mac gathers the papers spread out on the table in front of him into a neat stack, then starts to unbutton his white lab coat. "I'm about to go see Hawkes myself," he says, "but let me know if anything does turn up. If not, we'll wait for autopsy."
"Okay," Mac says, and for a moment Danny thinks he's going to say something more, but in the end all he does is give Danny a brief nod before taking off. Danny watches him go, then turns to the computer with a sigh. Back to the saltmines.
At first, he's just as frustrated and tense as he was back at the scene, although at least he's not perspiring quite as heavily, but eventually he gets into the dull rhythm of the work, and once he does, his thoughts are free to wander. And they wander, predictably, to the same place they always do these days whenever he has a free minute (or even when he doesn't): to Mac.
It's been nearly two weeks since the night they went out for a beer, and in that time nothing more has happened between them. It's the same old limbo, Danny thinks, like living in a halfway house, neither one thing nor the other. But then, it's not, either, not precisely. The tension and bad feelings that existed between them after the night of the locker room are gone, for one, although there's now tension of a different sort. A waiting kind of tension, maybe, because that night wasn't the end of the story. One of them is going to have to make a move sooner or later, and Danny has no fucking idea how, or which one of them it's going to be. He thinks there's no way that Mac will ever make the move, but Danny can't think how he's going to, either, and if that's the case they're pretty much stuck.
Danny has considered simply jumping Mac in his office one night, coming in after hours and pinning him up against one of the lightboards and making him see stars. But further consideration has forced him to reject this idea as impractical; even after hours, doing it in Mac's office would feel too much like doing it for an audience, or in one of those glass boxes like that magician guy lived in for a month or whatever it was. Ain't no way, Danny has decided.
Maybe he should just fall back on an old reliable method, and get Mac drunk one of these fine spring nights. That'd show the bastard. Then again, sloppy drunk isn't generally conducive to artful seduction, and Danny would probably manage to get hammered himself in the process, and end up falling down or, worse, falling asleep.
So much for that bright idea. He turns back to the computer, ordering himself sternly to focus on the task at hand.
It's hours later when he finally comes up for air, coffee-buzzed and dry-mouthed and with loops and whorls dancing in the air in front of his eyes. Aiden has long since bolted for home, he knows, because she stopped in to say goodnight before she left, but he's surprised when he looks up at Mac's office and finds it dark. So much for checking in with him, Danny thinks, and since when does Mac go home before the crack of midnight? He turns for his own office with a sigh, thinking he'll just check his e-mail and then clear out of here.
"Danny!" Stella calls out to him before he has a chance to move, and he turns to her.
"Hey, Stella," he says. "Where you been all my life?"
"Doing reports," she says. "Reports that suck, and I don't want to do them, but Mac says I have to."
"Yeah, ain't that always the way?"
"Listen," she says, and comes up close. "Mac left a little while ago. He said he didn't want to disturb you because you were in the middle of something, but that when you finished, I should tell you to check your voicemail."
Danny raises an eyebrow at her. "He did?"
Stella nods. "Mmm-hmm. He did. He was very emphatic on that point, actually."
"Emphatic, of course." Danny returns her nod. "Well, thank you very much for passing the message along. I'll go do that right now."
"Would you like me to pass him a note during study hall?" Stella asks, and flashes him one of her predatory smiles.
"Oh, that's very cute, Stella."
"Yeah, I thought so."
"We were consulting on a case," Danny says. "And if you say, 'Is that what they're calling it these days?', I'm going to be very disappointed in you."
"Damn," Stella says. "Am I getting that predictable? I need to work on some new material."
"Yeah, yeah." Danny pats her on the shoulder. "You go do that. Now leave me alone."
Stella wanders off, muttering under her breath about people who don't appreciate her sense of humor, and what's wrong with everybody around here, anyway. Danny watches her go with a grin, then heads for his office to see what Mac wants.
"Danny," Mac says on voicemail. "It's Mac Taylor. Listen, I'm sorry I had to leave without touching base, but you were still in the middle of some things, and I didn't want to disturb you. However, I'm going to be at the East Side Firing Range until about 7:00, so you can meet me there, if that's convenient. If you're listening to this message and it's past 7:00, or if there's any reason you can't, just call my cell. Otherwise...well, I hope to see you there. Goodbye."
Danny plays the message back once more, glancing at his watch. It's just barely 6:00, so he should have no problem meeting Mac up there. He wonders what Mac's doing at the Range, but chances are it has something to do with a ballistics test of some sort, he decides as he hoofs it out the door to go find a cab. He'll ask Mac when he gets there, but he's not too worried about it; after the day he's just had, any excuse to get out of the lab is a good one, and as meeting places go, the Firing Range is a damn sight better option than Mac's goddamn terrarium or, God knows, the locker room. Fuck me if I'm starting to find humor in that situation, Danny thinks, and steps up to the curb as he sees a cab pull into view.
Mac is braced in a perfect Weaver stance, all of his concentration focused on the target in front of him at the end of the firing lane. Danny, who has already put on his safety vest, sits down on one of the prep benches to load his weapon while he waits for Mac to empty the clip. By the time he finishes, Mac is shucking off his goggles and calling the target back, and Danny walks over to join him. "Nice shootin', Tex," he says, and wants to kick himself for the stupid, stupid fucking cliche that he just had to blurt out without thinking about it first.
"Danny." Mac turns and gives him a nod. "Glad to see you could make it. I assume Stella passed along my message?"
"Yes, she did," Danny says. "She also had several things to say about you making her do reports that, and I quote, 'suck.' She was pretty put out about it."
"So I noticed," Mac says. "Why do you think I left?"
"Good point." Mac pulls the target down, and Danny nods at it. "How'd you do?"
Mac studies it for a moment, then hands it over. "See for yourself."
"Wow." Danny tries not to let his jaw drop. All of the bullet holes are grouped very near the center of the kill zone. "Did you, like, make a nice little circle on purpose, or was that just a happy coincidence?"
"I just aimed for the target," Mac says.
"Yeah, but this...I mean, people are usually at least a little off. This would be a perfect score at the Academy."
"No, it wouldn't." Mac taps the target. "This one is too far left of center. It was probably the first bullet I fired, because I adjusted my stance after that."
"Yeah, but Mac..." Danny shakes his head. "This is, like, sharpshooter quality."
Mac raises an eyebrow. "Well, yes."
"Whattaya mean, 'well, yes'? Don't just say 'well, yes' like it's nothin'."
"Haven't you ever noticed the medals in my office?" he asks.
"What, you mean the ones on the wall?" Danny asks. "Yeah, but I thought they were just...I dunno, general good service or something. They're for shooting?"
"Wow," Danny says again, and feels like an ass.
"The Marines taught me to be a sharpshooter, not NYPD," Mac says. "It's...it really comes with the job. It's no big deal. I could name half a dozen guys I came up with through Parris Island who could shoot rings around me."
"I guess, but..." Danny shrugs. "This is good work, that's all I'm saying."
"Well, thank you." Mac glances toward the firing line. "You ready to fire a round yourself?"
"Me?" Danny asks, and he can't help laughing. "After that display of skill? You gotta be kidding. You'll laugh at me. And take photos, and show them to Stella and Aiden and everyone."
"No, I won't," Mac says, more seriously than Danny thinks the moment calls for.
"Okay," he says after a pause. "I'll go. But please do not be diving for cover while I do. I ain't sniper-quality like you are, but I can hold my own."
"You went through the Academy. I would hope so."
Danny straps on the rest of his protective gear while Mac sets up a new target, and as he does, he finds himself wondering if Mac has ever killed anybody. This is, he realizes even as the thought passes through his head, almost certainly a stupid question, because Mac has been to war, several times over. Some of his sojourns with the Marines may have technically been termed as "peacekeeping missions," but Danny knows what that means, and knows that the USMC isn't in the business of turning out conscientious objectors. Mac was a soldier; Mac knows how to kill.
Mac has also never talked about this, at least not in Danny's hearing, has never said much about his Corps service, period. Danny thinks now that he could never bring himself to ask; it's too personal and too private, and asking would feel too invasive. It's not something Mac would brag about, he's sure.
"Ready?" Mac asks, and Danny nods, and lets the headphones fall into place. Mac retreats to one of the benches to watch, and Danny, after doing one last quick check to make sure all his gear is in place and his weapon is ready, steps up to the firing line. He braces himself and then brings the gun up, and as he fires his first shot, the smell of gunpowder hits his nose, and he can remember the first time he ever did this, the thick smell of cordite coating the inside of his nostrils and making him believe he was a real man at last, instead of a skinny kid who only thought he was king of the world.
Sonny's backyard is tiny; anyplace other than New York City, it wouldn't be properly termed a backyard at all. Here, this narrow square of concrete and scrub grass, just barely big enough for a couple of plastic lawn chairs and a dusty, rusting barbecue, means that Sonny's place is the hangout of choice on days when they decide to stick close to home. There are no parents around, either, which helps. Sonny's Ma works the dayshift at the local Waldbaum's and doesn't get home until long past suppertime. Sometimes, rarely, there's Sonny's Pop, dozing away the forenoon on the sticky plastic-covered sofa in the front room, and on days like this Sonny holds a silencing finger to his lips when he comes to the door, and they follow him to the backyard in hushed single file. But even though the elder Sassone supposedly works the nightshift at a die-cutting factory, more often than not he's absent during the day, off on mysterious errands of his own, and there's no need for quiet.
Like today. They have the place all to themselves, and Danny leans back against the fence, taking long drags of beer as he watches Sonny. The others -- just two of the Boys today, Sal and Angelo -- push and punch at each other, and keep up a running stream of tired jokes about bagging sluts down on Myrtle Avenue. But Danny isn't their point man for nothing, isn't Sonny's good, smart boy just by chance. He's the one who notices things, whose observational skills get them out of trouble or danger again and again. And what -- who -- he's observing right now is Sonny, in lieu of joining in or even listening to the ceaseless bragging.
Sonny crouches in the patchy grass and dirt, and he arranges a careful row of aluminum cans in front of his grandmother's statue of the Virgin Mary. (His grandmother died year before last, but the statue remains.) The cans, all different sizes, are all empty, and used to hold things like coffee and corn and string beans. Danny has no idea what the fuck Sonny is up to, but his concentration as he shifts the cans into a perfect line suggests that it's something Danny is doing well to pay attention to.
At last, Sonny sits back on his heels and studies his handiwork, and gives a satisfied, pursed-lip nod. It's only then that he looks up and flashes Danny a smirk, and Danny says, "Sonny, what the fuck you doin', man?", rolling the word fuck on his tongue the way he rolls the beer.
"Jerkin' off my dick, what the fuck does it look like I'm doin'?" Sonny says. "Thought I'd see if my jizz could give this garden a little jump-start."
"You'd need about a gallon of it for that," Danny says, and Sonny laughs. "Actually, looks to me like you're doing somethin' weird with your Ma's trash, I just can't figure out what. What is that, like, art or somethin'?"
"What am I, a fag?" Sonny asks, and of course he isn't, Danny thinks, not even when he sticks his dick in Danny's ass. Being a brother has nothing to do with being a fag. "Help me up, Messer, you pussy."
Danny takes another swallow of beer and peels himself off the fence, and holds his arm out to Sonny. Sonny grabs him by the wrist and hauls himself to his feet, and Danny doesn't flinch even when, for a second, Sonny is dead weight on the end of his arm. He's rewarded by a quick clap on the back, and "Art, my ass," Sonny says. "Hey, 'least you noticed I was doin' something, though. These guys -- " Sonny raises his voice " -- these guys wouldn't notice nothin' 'less it was hangin' off their dicks."
"Maybe not even then," Danny says, and Sonny lets out a guffaw. The others stop scuffling and look over.
"What?" Sal says.
"What?" Sonny mimics. "You hear this, D? What, what, what?" He walks over and slaps Sal lightly. "What the fuck you think? Ain't any of you numbnuts the least bit innarested in what I'm doin' here?"
Angelo studies the line-up of cans. "Keepin' the snails out of the garden?" he asks, and shrugs at their surprise. "You know, for when you have tomatoes? You fill 'em with beer, and the snails crawl in and drown?"
"I thought that was for slugs," Danny says.
"What the fuck's the difference?"
"Hey, who the fuck cares, anyway?" Sonny asks. "You see any tomatoes here? But at least that showed a little bit of thought, Ange. Good boy."
Angelo puffs up, and Sal rolls his eyes and lights a cigarette. "No," Sonny goes on. "None'a you here 'cept Messer so much as noticed a thing. And even he don't guess what the cans are for. So I'll tell you." Sonny gestures expansively, a carnival barker in a gas station shirt. "What we got here is our very own personal shootin' range."
With that, he reaches into the pocket of his jeans and pulls out a gun, and for one second Danny feels the world tilt, until he realizes that Sonny is holding it pointed at the sky, and that his finger's not on the trigger. Sal and Angelo are saying things like "Fuckin' awesome," and "Where'd you get that, Sonny?", and Danny makes an effort to join in.
"Wow, sweet," he says, and then the enthusiasm becomes easier to fake.
"Nice .38," Angelo says.
"No, it's a .45," Danny says. It looks like the police specials his uncles carry, and it's too big to be a .38, he knows that much.
"Very good, cop boy," Sonny says. "That's exactly what it is."
"Fuckin' showoff," Angelo mutters.
"Whatsa matter, Angelo, you feelin' a little stupid again?" Danny asks. "Don't worry, you're good at somethin', I'm sure."
Angelo curses under his breath and starts to step forward, and Sal puts a restraining hand on his shoulder.
"Knock it the fuck off, all'a you," Sonny says, and is silent until they settle down. "Now," he goes on once he has quiet, "Messer got it right, so he gets to fire the first round." Sonny holds the gun out to him.
"Me?" Danny says, and is relieved when his voice doesn't crack.
"Yeah, you," Sonny says. "See how many of those cans you can hit." He pauses, then adds, "'Less you're afraid."
Sal and Angelo burst out laughing again, and Angelo hisses, "Pussy, pussy."
"Me, afraid?" Danny says. "Naw." He drains the last of the beer from the can; he can already feel his head buzzing from it, and he doesn't think that's going to help his concentration any. On the other hand, maybe it'll keep his hand from shaking. He takes the gun from Sonny, and turns it around, trying to find a comfortable grip.
"Cop boy, ain't you never held a gun before?" Sonny asks.
"Nah," Danny says, and wonders at himself for the lie for only a moment. "My uncles are all serious about that shit. You know -- " He drops his voice to a lower register. "'Even an unloaded gun is a deadly weapon, son. Never forget that. You can't treat it like a toy.'" He grins. "They woulda skinned us all alive if me or my cousins had ever even thought about playin' with one of their service pieces."
(And his father has a gun for protection, kept loaded on the top shelf of the closet, that he bought five years ago and that Danny only once dared to touch, once on a long afternoon with nobody else home. But he doesn't say this.)
"Awright." Sonny shrugs. "You're an honest man, D. Now let's see if you're as good with your hands as you are with your mouth." Sal and Angelo hoot, and catcall obscenities; Danny takes no notice of them. He thinks, briefly, of Sonny leaning back on the couch as Danny kneels down and sucks him off, and then he clicks off the gun's safety.
Up until now, his heart has been racing, almost fast enough to make him sick to his stomach; now, everything slows and steadies. He's a fucking stud, yes he is. The afternoon sun is warm on his bare shoulders, and he has no pockets of fat gut or wiry, pube-like hairs poking out of his wifebeater the way Sal and Angelo and even Sonny do. He's the golden boy when he's here, gold like his hair and like the cornucopia on its thick rope chain around his neck. Gold, and now he's a golden boy with a gun. What I've done for Tanglewood, for Sonny, he thinks. What I'll be able to do. He will be Sonny's good, clever boy. Always, always, always. He doesn't think about what will happen if -- when -- the targets Sonny presents him with are no longer meaningless tin cans.
He feels cold now. Not just chilly, not cool as a fuckin' cucumber, but cold, a spreading sensation of nothing at all in the pit of his stomach and across his sweating forehead. It feels good; it makes him feel like he's above all this other bullshit. He doesn't have to worry about what will happen when he pulls the trigger, or what will happen tonight when they go out hunting, or what will happen...well, ever, really. Tonight or tomorrow, or next week, next month, next year.
There's just this, just him, and with the gun in his hand and the golden glow on his brow, a half-articulated thought occurs to him: he doesn't have to care anymore. Doesn't have to care about what anyone else thinks or feels, or wants, not as long as he's the man in charge. (Not in charge of Tanglewood, no, because that's Sonny and he would never try to take Sonny's place, but in charge of him, of Danny.) No more cringing, no more begging for acceptance or forgiveness. It's all good. All he has to do is fire this gun, and he'll be beyond anyone's reach, beyond the chains of his former petty concerns.
The safety is off. He's golden. He's cold. He can do this. He bares his teeth in a grin as he brings the gun up and pulls the trigger, and the afternoon explodes in a quick hail of bullets.
"You're aiming too high."
"What?" Mac's voice comes to him muffled through the headphones. Danny realizes that he's emptied his clip, and he pulls the headset off as he calls the target back. "Sorry, didn't quite catch that with the..." He waves the headphones.
"I said you're aiming too high," Mac says, and comes over and stands next to him in the shooting booth.
"Am not. What're you talking about?" Danny asks. "I aimed for the torso, just like we're supposed to. Just like you did."
"Right, but..." Mac pulls the target down and shows it to him. "Look where most of your shots ended up."
One bullet has pierced the target where the nose would be if this were a living person. Four more are scattered around the perimeter of the head; one apparently didn't hit the target at all.
"Oh," Danny says.
"Your stance is good, but you have a tendency to pull your hand up at the last second," Mac says, and demonstrates. "And it gets worse as you fire successive shots. Keep doing that, and you can see the results. Didn't they call you on this at the Academy?"
"Maybe." Danny shrugs. "But that was a while ago."
"And what are you supposed to do to fix that?" Mac asks.
Danny thinks he should be annoyed or embarrassed, but he's not. Mac actually sounds like he's having fun, and there's none of that Danny fucked up again tone in his voice.
"Aim lower to compensate," Danny says, and resists an urge to click his heels together and salute.
"Good." Mac nods, and smiles.
"Do I get a gold star?" Danny asks.
"No, but you get to try again after my round." Mac straps on the headphones and protective goggles, and sets up a new target, and Danny walks back to the benches to watch.
"Oh, just you wait 'till then," he mumbles.
Mac, about to step into position, pauses and looks back at him. "What?"
"Nothin'." Danny tries to hide his grin. "Go on ahead with what you were doin'."
This time, Danny doesn't even bother to spin himself into a top over the precision of Mac's shooting. He just says, "Nice work," and leaves it at that.
Mac nods. "Are you ready to go again?" he asks.
"Sure, but..." Danny hesitates, and runs a hand through his hair. He doesn't really want to ask, but he's thoroughly confused by now, and he's going to just keep on feeling that way if he doesn't ask Mac to clarify a few things for him. "Well, what exactly are we doing here?" he asks, and Mac looks puzzled. "I mean, is this related to a case or what? We doin' some kinda ballistics test, or..." He shrugs. "Or is this some kinda warning about what'll happen next time I fuck up an assignment?"
The puzzled look on Mac's face turns to one of surprise. "Oh...no," he says. "No, nothing like that. I just..." His voice trails off, and he looks away from Danny. "I just thought you might enjoy it," he goes on after a pause, and now he sounds almost shy, which isn't something Danny ever expected to hear from Mac, not in a lifetime. "I come here regularly to keep myself in practice, and I figured that it might be easier to touch base with you here, rather than go all the way back to the lab or keep you waiting around for me."
"Oh, hey, that's cool," Danny says, suddenly very eager to reassure Mac on this point. "I just didn't know, and since we were talking about testing before...well. Anyway, that's good. I didn't know you practiced so much, either."
Mac looks back at him. "Don't you?" he asks.
"Well." Danny scratches his head. "Not so much as I should, I guess."
"You should make it part of your routine," Mac says. "If you're lucky, you'll never have to discharge your weapon in the course of your career. But if you ever do -- "
"Best to be prepared," Danny finishes.
Mac nods. "Right."
"Well, that bein' the case," Danny says, "how 'bout we go a few more rounds? I mean, now that I'm all warmed up and know some new tricks."
"Are you sure?" Mac asks. "That you want to, that is. We can -- I can always..."
"Nope. Hold up there, buddy. I know what you're trying to do."
"Yep, and you ain't gettin' out of it that easy. I know you're scared now, thinking that I'm totally gonna show you up here on the range. And I'm not gonna kid you, Mac: that's looking like a very real possibility. But you gotta just face up to that, and give me my chance." Danny hooks his thumbs through his belt loops and hums a little tune under his breath, rocking back and forth on his heels.
"Oh, you think so?" Mac asks.
"Well," Mac says, and Danny is pleased to see that the shy, almost ashamed look has faded from his eyes. "Let's just see about that."
"Let's," Danny says. "And I believe it was my turn, thank you very much."
Mac, shaking his head, goes to sit down, and Danny sets up a new target, unable -- either during set-up or while he's actually firing -- to wipe the wide, pleased grin off his face.
"You know, I would have won."
"Yeah. If you didn't have a leg up on me thanks to all those years in the Marines? You betcha I woulda won."
"Danny, it wasn't a contest."
"I know that. I'm just saying that if it had been, and if you didn't have all that fancy special forces training -- "
"Then you would have won?"
"By a country mile, my friend."
"I'm sure you would have," Mac says mildly.
Danny stops in the middle of the sidewalk and stares at him. "Really?"
"Of course. Assuming that we had actually been keeping some kind of score, and that I didn't have many years of intensive sharpshooter courses under my belt...and that you actually ever thought to practice on your own once in awhile, then I'm sure you would have won." There's something a little too innocent in Mac's face when he says this.
"You're making fun of me," Danny says suspiciously.
"No, I'm not," Mac says.
"Yeah, you -- ah, fuck it." Danny waves a cheerful, dismissive hand. "I know when I'm bein' hoodwinked, Mac, don't even try it."
"Well, Danny, those are quite a few 'if' statements, you have to admit."
"Maybe," Danny says.
Mac just shakes his head, and changes the subject, but Danny thinks that he looks amused. "How are you getting home?" he asks.
Danny shrugs. "Took a cab up here. I don't hafta go back to the office, so I guess I'll find the nearest subway stop and work from there."
"I have a department vehicle signed out," Mac says, fishing the keys out of his pocket. "Could I offer you a ride home?"
"All the way to Queens?" Danny asks, and Mac nods. "You sure you don't mind?"
"This is one of the advantages of being the boss," Mac says.
"True. I'm not saying no to going home in style for a change."
Danny climbs in after Mac unlocks the doors, wondering how many more times the man is going to be able to surprise him in the course of a single evening.
Mac decides to take the bridge instead of the tunnel, and traffic flow is slow but steady, no gridlock. Danny is quiet at first, staring out the window at the city streets, but eventually the silence starts to get to him. It doesn't seem like uncomfortable silence, he's pretty sure of that, but it bugs him all the same. Mac doesn't even listen to the radio while he drives, and that's just unnatural. If they can't have music, Danny thinks, they can at least have some conversation, and so he plunges in the way he usually does, without bothering to first come up with a good opening line.
"You never asked me about that case," he says. "You know, the one with the lousy prints?"
Mac glances at him. "I figured that if anything had popped, you would have mentioned it. I'm guessing that AFIS was a bust?"
"Yeah. Fuck," Danny says.
"Well, wait and see if Hawkes turns up anything."
"Yeah, I know. I just...well, you know how it is. It's fucking frustrating to know the answers are right there and you just can't figure out how to get at them."
"We'll work the angles in the morning," Mac says. "See what Hawkes has to say. Something will turn up."
Danny looks over at him. "You know, you ain't usually this relaxed about my cases," he says.
Danny has to laugh. "No," he says. "No, you're not."
"I trust you to handle it," Mac says calmly. "You've taken point a few times now. You're doing fine."
Danny feels a sudden swell of pleasure in his chest, half embarrassment and half pride, and for a second he understands all the old cliches about being fit to burst; he feels like he wants to jump or shout or scream, or launch himself across the front seats at Mac in very undignified fashion. All he says, though, is, "Is that so?"
Mac nods, not taking his eyes off the road.
"All right, then." Danny nods a few times, thinking this over. "Pretty sweet," he says. "So when do I get the big glass office?"
Mac's look of raised-eyebrow bemusement is perfectly familiar even in profile. "Don't push your luck," he says.
"Yes, sir," Danny says happily, and leans back in his seat, smirking to himself.
Danny points out the apartment building to Mac, and Mac pulls into a parking space before he finishes what he was saying. He parallel parks with authority and without second-guessing himself, and Danny, who almost took out a fire hydrant during this portion of his road test, is silently impressed. "...So my feeling is that he's well aware of the potential consequences of his actions," Mac concludes. "Unless he directly interferes with your ability to do your work, let him go about his business, and you stick to yours."
"But, Mac," Danny says. "He's just so..." He waves his hands, unable to find the words he needs to articulate his point.
"I know. Believe me, I know. If the erratic behavior continues, I'll speak to him."
"Okay," Danny says, and then, sick of the subject, looks around. "Well, here we are," he says.
"Thanks for, you know, inviting me up to the range. I had fun," Danny says.
"Any time," Mac says. "We should do it again."
"That's just a ploy to get me to practice, isn't it?"
"Well, even if it is, I'll consider it. Can't let you keep showing me up, after all." Danny realizes that he's babbling, and doesn't know why, but he's got a sudden bad case of nerves creeping up his spine. "Well, I should go in," he adds, after a moment.
"You probably should," Mac says.
Neither of them moves.
Danny stares straight ahead at the bumper of the car in front of them, and bites his lip, hard. "Mac -- " he begins, and later he'll wonder what he was going to say just then; at the moment he really has no idea. It doesn't matter, though, because he turns his head and suddenly he's halfway out of his seat, as far as his still-fastened seatbelt will let him go, and Mac's mouth is pressed to his and he's kissing him for all he's worth.
That kiss in the alley was nothing compared to this, nothing, he realizes through a fog. That was good, but this is...Jesus. Danny kisses him hot and desperate and pushes his tongue into Mac's mouth, slides it over his, against his teeth, and Mac kisses him back wet and fervent and with no finesse at all. Danny tries to lean forward, to get a better grip on Mac, and is yanked back by his seatbelt. He lets out a frenzied volley of curses and fumbles with it wildly until -- more by luck than by skill, he suspects -- he manages to find the release button.
He's halfway to climbing out of his seat when Mac, who seems to have unfastened his own seatbelt at some point along the way, presses into him and kisses him again, and Danny slides his back against the passenger-side window and grabs onto Mac's shoulders. They kiss; Danny gets one hand beneath Mac's jacket and tugs at his shirt buttons, just wanting to touch bare skin. He bites Mac's lower lip and then slides his tongue back and forth over the spot, and Mac actually moans into his mouth.
Danny's so hard already that he aches, and the angle they're at, there's no chance of getting his dick up against Mac's anytime soon. Not unless he's some kind of acrobat, which he isn't. But even if Mac would just touch him, he -- Mac breaks their kiss and works his wet lips over Danny's jaw, and mutters, "Danny. Upstairs."
Danny reaches out blind for the door, and Mac backs off long enough for both of them to get out of the car and for Mac to lock it. Danny stands panting at the passenger door, watching Mac as he walks around from the driver's side, and Mac doesn't say anything, but he follows Danny up the front steps of the building.
They don't touch each other all the way up the stairs, but even before the door closes behind them in the foyer, Mac puts his hands on Danny and pulls him over to him, and Danny kisses him again and presses against him, and Mac's just as hard as he is. "Please," Mac mutters, and slides one hand down Danny's back.
"C'mon," Danny says, barely recognizing his own voice. "C'mon upstairs, don't wanna give the neighbors a free show," and the two flights have never felt as long as they do tonight, not even when he was moving in and had to haul a couch up by hand because there was no goddamn elevator.
Lube-soaked fingers press into him, and Danny gasps and pushes back into the touch.
"Okay?" Mac whispers against his ear, and his other hand slips along Danny's bare hipbone.
"Yes, please, just Jesus fuck do it now." Danny is all for being careful with your partner and making sure that everyone is on the same page and ready to go, but he's been pressed up against the wall for-fucking-ever, and Mac's cautious touch is starting to feel like sheer torture. There's a pause, and the hands stop moving on him, and he experiences one wild moment of fear that this isn't going to happen after all. Then Mac pushes into him, and the breath he draws against Danny's cheek as he does is shaky, just this side of being out of control. He doesn't move at all at first, and then Danny moans and mutters, "Fuck," and Mac starts to thrust.
It's slow and deep and Danny arches into it, and Mac reaches around and puts a hand on his dick and starts stroking him, nice firm touch that makes him shudder and jerk his hips hard. By now he's moaning so loud that he'd be embarrassed under any other set of circumstances, but as it is he just doesn't care, not the way Mac is panting into his ear and the way his rhythm is getting a lot less controlled. Finally Danny comes with a groan, and just after he does he feels Mac go absolutely still for a second behind him, then thrust hard and come, digging his fingers into Danny's thigh, and right at the end he presses one soft kiss to Danny's cheek.
They both stay where they are for a minute or two, Danny collapsed against the wall and Mac a solid weight at his back, breathing harsh and shaky. Danny makes an effort and pulls himself upright, and Mac takes a step away. "Bed," Danny mumbles, because if he doesn't lie down he's going to fall down, and he gets himself over to the bed and flops down with a grateful sigh. Mac lies down next to him, and Danny lies there with his eyes closed, buzzed and loose-limbed.
After awhile he opens his eyes and turns and looks at Mac, who's lying on his back staring up at the ceiling. He's wondering if he should say something, and wondering what that something should be, when Mac turns to him and touches his shoulder and kisses him. Danny returns the kiss, sliding one hand around the back of Mac's neck.
"I should go soon," Mac says as they break the kiss, and he sounds regretful.
Danny nods. "Sure," he says. Mac's not going to try to pretend this didn't happen, he realizes, and that's a very good thing. He also realizes that Mac isn't ready yet to consider spending the night, and that, Danny thinks, is fine; he's not sure that he's ready to wake up in the morning with Mac here, either.
Mac kisses him again, not making any move to get up, and Danny nuzzles into his neck and kisses him deeper, and he's just starting to get hard again when Mac pulls away. "I really do have to..."
"Sure," Danny says again, and sits up before he can give into the temptation to pin Mac down and work him over good.
"Could you get the light?" Mac asks.
Danny reaches over and turns on the lamp, shielding his eyes, and Mac sits up and starts to collect his clothes. Danny reaches over the edge of the bed, finds a pair of sweats and a t-shirt on the floor, and pulls them on. He can't resist the urge to sneak a peek at Mac as he's getting dressed, and he looks over; Mac is standing on the other side of the bed pulling on his pants, his back to Danny. Danny thinks he notices something in the half-light, and leans forward to look, and then is unable to suppress his delighted exclamation. "Hey, you got ink!"
"I -- what?" Mac turns around and looks at him.
"Tats. Tattoos. Can I see?" Danny comes around the side of the bed.
Mac looks embarrassed again, but he leaves off putting on his shirt and holds out his left arm. Danny had been looking at the one on his back, and hadn't even noticed that there was one on his arm as well, and is surprised all over again as he steps up to take a look.
Inked across the side of Mac's bicep, in formal black block letters, is "USMC." Below that, a number. Danny reaches out and touches it gently, and he thinks that he feels Mac shiver, just a little bit.
"It's nice work," Danny says. "Very dignified. Who did this for you?"
"Guy down near Camp Pendleton in California. A lot of tattoo parlors down there cater to the military crowd, so he was used to it." Mac studies the tattoo along with Danny. "I got this done around 1989, I think. One weekend when I was on leave."
"What does the number mean?" Danny asks.
"My battalion," Mac says, and something in the way his voice drops to a lower register makes Danny look up at him. "Well...one of my battalions, anyway. I had a couple over the years."
"Was this your first?" Danny senses suddenly that they're treading on thin ice; it's the tone of Mac's voice or the way he seems to suddenly be looking at something or someone that Danny can't see, but Danny follows his instinct in asking the question, which is to proceed with caution.
"Not my first," Mac says, and he's still looking at something far off. "Just my best, that's all." Danny is quiet, nodding, wishing like hell he knew what to say just now, and then Mac looks up. Now he is looking at Danny, looking right at him and seeing him. Not looking off at some distant phantom. He smiles, and the melancholic nostalgia in that smile makes Danny hurt in an inarticulate, helpless way.
"Beirut," Mac says. "1983. Good bunch of men. Smart men." He puts a hand on Danny's shoulder. "Like you."
Danny presses a hand to Mac's cheek as he kisses him, and when Danny is the one to finally break the kiss a moment later, he trails his fingers down Mac's jaw as he pulls away.
"Okay," he says. "What about the other one?"
Mac hesitates, then says, "Here," and turns his back to Danny.
It's the classic Marine Corps logo, emblazoned on Mac's shoulder blade in the same black ink that marks his arm: the eagle, the globe, and the anchor, and "Semper Fi" just above the eagle's head. Danny's seen the symbol before, though never on anyone he's slept with. And usually it shows up on soldiers' forearms, he thinks, done in a variety of colors. This is starker, more simple, and somehow perfectly suited to Mac.
"Camp Pendleton?" Danny asks.
"No. Camp LeJeune. 1978."
Danny blinks at Mac's back. "1978, wow. You musta been--"
"Near the end of basic training."
Really young was what Danny was going to say.
"This is the standard Corps tattoo." A note of amusement has crept into Mac's voice. "I don't think it matters whether you want it or not; your fellow recruits are going to be happy to get you drunk and hold you down, if they have to."
Danny grins at the image, trying to imagine a much younger Mac, a boy just barely out of high school and sporting a buzzhead military cut, drunk and reeling in a tattoo parlor. "That what happened to you?" he asks.
"I wasn't feeling too much pain," Mac says.
Danny chuckles. "Nice." He pauses for just a moment, then gives into the urge he's been fighting since Mac turned around, and presses the fingertips of one hand against the dark lines of ink.
Mac's skin is warm, and he has a nice, firm layer of muscle in his back that Danny thinks he could spend ages just running his hands over. But there are a lot of things he'd like to do with Mac; all tonight did was whet his appetite for more. He moves in closer, instead, and rests his mouth against the tattoo. He holds still like that for a few heartbeats, not quite a kiss, and opens his mouth and traces the inked edges with his tongue, and this time there's no mistaking the shiver that passes through Mac's body.
"Danny..." Mac begins, and Danny tongues the tattoo again, counterclockwise this time. "Danny, I really have to..."
"Go?" Danny asks. "Yeah, I know. Am I making it hard for you?"
"Yes," and with that Mac takes a step away and turns around to face him. His eyes are heavy-lidded, cheeks red.
Danny shrugs, and smiles. "Sorry," he says. "Just couldn't help myself."
Mac finds his shirt, and buttons it up in a series of quick, determined motions.
"Think your jacket and stuff's all in the living room," Danny says, and he follows Mac out and watches as he collects the rest of his clothes. Even after he puts the jacket and tie back on, and steps into his shoes, Danny thinks that the professional cop facade hasn't entirely returned to him yet; he's too rumpled, and he smells like sex.
"Well, I..." Mac straightens his collar and checks his pocket for his wallet and keys, and then looks at Danny. It's obvious that he has no idea what to say.
"I had a good time, Mac," Danny says. "Thanks for the invite to the range, and...all the other stuff."
"You're welcome," Mac says. "Thank you for...for joining me."
"Oh, any time."
Danny realizes that he has no more idea than Mac does about what to do at this moment. Usually people don't leave his apartment like this; they slip out in the middle of the night while Danny is still asleep, or immediately after they've finished fucking, and either way Danny doesn't walk them to the door or try to make conversation with them. The same holds true if he's at someone else's apartment, which is really what he prefers: he gets up and gets dressed and leaves, and makes himself scarce as quickly as he can. But none of his usual stealth tactics are going to help him now.
"Good night, Mac," he says.
"Good night, Danny." Mac hesitates again, and before he can change his mind, Danny leans in and gives him one last kiss. Mac kisses back and puts a hand on his arm, but Danny breaks it off before either of them can deepen the kiss. "Well," Mac says. "I'll see you at work tomorrow, then."
"Yes, you will," Danny says, and he waves to Mac as he goes out the door, then closes it before Mac gets to the top of the stairs, and goes back into the living room.
Goddamn, he thinks. Goddamn. Never expected the night to turn out like this, no sir. Not by a long shot. He should get to bed, really he should, but he's way too wired to sleep. Instead, he goes into the kitchen and finds a spoon that's not too dirty, and sits down at the table with a jar of peanut butter.
Things sure went better tonight than they did the last time, and Christ, getting fucked like that was beyond great, but Danny wonders what's going to happen in the morning. He doesn't think that Mac is going to flat-out reject him, but then, he didn't think that the last time, either. For all he knows, he'll walk into the lab in the morning and find the same old dead-eyed Mac, the one who stares through him and tells him to get his reports in on time or else, and who never talks about anything other than work. Not that he expects or wants Mac to greet him with a kiss or anything like that; discretion is the byword here, and he understands this, and is fine with it. Finds it preferable, actually. But if Mac tries again to pretend that nothing happened...
He sighs. Actually, he's not sure that wouldn't be the preferred course of action, after all. Much as he's wondering how Mac is going to react in the morning, he's wondering how he, himself, is going to react. Does he really want this to be something that continues? So he's had the hots for his boss for the last four or five years, so what? That itch has been scratched now, and maybe there's no need to go to that well ever again.
He doesn't think in terms of relationships; he doesn't think of the long-term. He thinks of who, what, now, and when he turns his bedroom eyes and lazy smile on any number of guys (and the occasional woman) in any number of bars stretched across the breadth and depth of New York City, he never has to think about the next morning, much less the next week or month or year.
His only worry, from time to time, is that he'll pick the wrong target and end up with his very own boil-the-bunny, every-breath-you-take personal stalker, but he believes his instincts are well-honed enough that he can avoid this. He picks the targets of his fleeting affections with a skilled eye; he only wants someone, on any given night, who's interested solely in that night, in what they can do in five minutes in a bathroom stall or alleyway, or what can be accomplished in an hour or two in an unmade bed. Put his skills to use, give them a happy, get a little happy for himself, and then move on. That's it; that's all she wrote. And he's very good at spotting counterfeits, at people who say the blowjob or the zipless fuck is all they want, when a closer look at their eyes, at something desperate and eager there, reveals them for the liars they are. Danny knows the difference, and won't go out to any alley with someone who looks at him like that, much less take them home or let them take him home. It's all about boundaries.
He's the golden boy, has been since he was fifteen, and the golden boy is the cold boy. The boy who's in charge of his own destiny. The boy who can look people in the eye and tell them exactly what he wants from them, because he isn't ever a liar. He tells the truth with his eyes and with the touch of his hands. And with Mac maybe things are a little different, because of the professional relationship, but that doesn't mean that Danny can't be truthful with him, too.
After all, Danny thinks as he goes to put the spoon back in the sink (where maybe one of these days he'll even get around to washing it), he's gotten Mac to face up to what he really wanted, and has even gotten him to do something about it. And that worked out well, didn't it, because what he wanted was what Danny wanted too. He wanted to get fucked; Mac wanted to fuck him, and Mac needed to fuck somebody, Danny's sure of that. He doesn't know (and doesn't care) how many women Mac has slept with since Claire died. He doesn't think it's many, though, and it's almost surely been a long time in any event. If Mac has ever fucked a man before -- and Danny does wonder about that, because Mac didn't seem to find what they were doing an entirely foreign process; but just the way Danny could never ask him if he's ever killed anyone, he sure as fuck isn't about to ask him if he's ever sucked cock before -- anyway, if Mac has ever fucked a man, it's been even longer since that last happened. He needed this. It's the same old philosophy: get a happy, give a happy. Quid pro quo, and Danny can't help hearing that phrase in his mind in a smooth Hannibal Lecter purr, glass wall cage between him and the world, and a frightened little FBI trainee staring at him from the other side of the barrier, trying to profile him before he can profile her.
Danny goes into the bedroom and shuts off the light, and lies down in bed. Quid pro quo. Maybe Mac really is just a means to an end after all, and in that case, no matter how he acts tomorrow, Danny can consider this case closed, all scores settled. So he'll still have to deal with Mac at work every day, instead of being able to shuffle him off to the same place most one-night stands go after their one night is up. God knows he's managed to pull it off every day since their night in the locker room; no reason in the world why he can't keep on with that. But he'll see.
No reason in the world, either, to decide how he's going to play this before he's even up at bat.
Mac attends to the business of making coffee much the same way he approaches the handling of a crime scene: with care and thoroughness, but with a certain underlying blithe disregard for anyone with a more delicate constitution.
It's early morning, and Danny watches from just outside the door of the breakroom as Mac pours grounds into the filter and sets the pot to brew. Before Danny has the chance to back off and go down the street to the Korean deli instead, Mac turns around. "Danny," he says. "Good morning."
"Mornin', Mac." Danny walks into the room.
"The coffee should be ready in a minute," Mac says.
"Good. That's good." Danny shifts back and forth on the balls of his feet for a moment, then goes to get his mug out of the sink.
"Any problems with the commute?" Mac asks. "Radio said there were delays on some of the lines."
"Nah, nothing much. Sat in the tunnel for twenty minutes, they never bothered to mention why, then we crept from Lexington all the way down to 49th. Same old, same old. You?"
"I still had the department vehicle from last -- yesterday."
"Oh, right. Forgot about that." Danny holds up his mug. "Think I can get some of that coffee now?"
"Of course." Mac steps back to let him get at the coffeepot.
Some sixth sense tells Danny that Mac is about to make another attempt at conversation, so he says, "Man, I always forget how dangerous your coffee is."
"Dangerous?" Mac asks.
"Yeah, look at that. I'm surprised it's not eating a hole in the mug. It's like acid rain or somethin'." Danny has, on occasion, wondered how Mac manages to drink this stuff every day without developing an ulcer. He must be inured to it by now, but Danny has learned the hard way that too much Mac-brewed coffee will have him clutching his chest and wondering if heartburn can actually be fatal. Stella swears up and down that she was once able to stand a spoon straight up in a mug of coffee that Mac had made -- "And it didn't fall down or tilt at all! Not even a little bit." -- but she has no witnesses, and no one exactly believes this story.
"Danny, that's perfectly good, expensive coffee," Mac says.
"Yeah," Danny says, and dumps a packet of sugar into his mug. "Like I said, dangerous. You must have a cast-iron stomach."
Mac sighs. "You know, you could always get your coffee somewhere else."
"Naw, this is here. And it's free." Danny takes a cautious sip, then says, "By the way, I have to go see Hawkes this morning about my vic from yesterday."
"Good," Mac says.
"So, you know, I'll probably be out a lot today. In case you were thinking you'd need to reach me or anything."
"Of course. But you should stop by my office at some point, just so we can touch base."
Danny, knowing Mac is watching him, stares down into his coffee. Mac wants to touch base about more than the latest murder, and they both know it goddamn well. That edgy, eager-to-please nervousness has made a return appearance in Mac's demeanor. Not overtly or obviously, and it's not even the most dominant facet of his mood right now, but it's there. And Danny doesn't want to turn and face him, doesn't want to take the chance of seeing it in Mac's eyes, too.
"Sure," is all he says, and then he excuses himself, and doesn't breathe easier until he's halfway down the street clutching his casefiles.
The status remains quo over the next few days. As far as Danny is concerned, everything is normal; he's not going out of his way to either talk to Mac or avoid him, and he's mostly consumed with the latest round of cases. Only once, when they're alone in Mac's office reviewing the evidence in a murder case in Chelsea, does Mac bring up the subject of the other night, in roundabout fashion.
"Yeah, I had fun," Danny says.
"I'm glad," Mac says. "We should do it again sometime."
At that, Danny looks up from the blueprints he's been squinting at, and can't avoid meeting Mac's gaze head-on. "Yeah, we should," he says after a pause, and then goes back to what he was doing.
Day after day, Danny walks around the lab or works in the field, and this is the way it is. He's fine with it; he feels cool and in-control, a good boy. Sometimes he thinks that not only is he fine with it, but he's enjoying it. Maybe just a bit too much, and every now and again he feels a tiny pang deep down in his chest, usually right after he's sidestepped one of Mac's attempts at conversation, or when he becomes aware of Mac on the sidelines: Mac, who will never say an overt word on this subject, but who's very much there, all the same.
Danny thinks about the firing range sometimes, too, and about how stepping up to the firing line is not entirely dissimilar from stepping onto the pitcher's mound during a game, or from looking around a bar and spotting the one he knows he's going to be sweet-talking into doing what he wants.
It's a chilly night in Memphis, this night when everything goes wrong and Danny's world tilts off its axis; he can remember his breath coming in puffs in front of his face through the whole game, and walking back and forth in the dugout when he wasn't on the mound, slapping his arms and pacing to try to keep warm. The cold felt good later on in the game, in the bottom of the ninth when he was sweat-soaked and thinking more about beer and sex than about his pitching stance or what kind of curve to put on his next ball. But walking onto the field after the sauna heat of the locker room was, at first, like stepping into one of the cold spots in a lake.
Now it's not cold; the pool room is, if anything, painfully overheated, and Danny can feel sweat clinging to the small of his back, right where the edge of the pool table digs into it. He's not aware of the temperature of the room so much, though, as he is of the smell of sawdust and the bright light overhead, blinding him, and the sour taste of blood running down the back of his throat. He swallows hard and tells himself not to gag, and tries to suck in air through a nose he's pretty sure is broken.
What happens, happens fast; when he thinks back on it later, he's sure that the whole fight couldn't have taken more than a minute or two from start to finish -- if "fight" is even the proper term to use when he was so clearly outmatched, when he was so unfairly not even given any chance to defend himself. But he also knows, or will learn, that time is a subjective thing, and in his mind it feels like it took a very long time to happen, and a series of small details stand out in his memory with brutal clarity, though he's hard-pressed to string them together into a coherent whole. If this had happened later in life, it probably would have been something he'd think of in terms of DNA and evidence and epithelials when he viewed it in hindsight; as it is, he mostly thinks of it in terms like not fair and undeserved, and in quick bursts of light and color and sound.
The events leading up to the fight are something else, though, and these he remembers with perfect calm detachment.
It's the oldest of stories, and happens for the simplest, smallest, most clichéd of reasons: he finally fucks the wrong girl. He fucks a girl who has a boyfriend; more specifically, he fucks a girl whose boyfriend is at the pool hall with her at the start of the evening, and who doesn't overlook the fact that Danny is flashing sweet bedroom eyes at his girl from across the room, and that she's noticing. Danny has had plenty of practice by now in knowing what buttons to push and, in his team jacket, he draws groupies like bees to honey even when he's not trying.
The boyfriend leaves, for what Danny, going by overheard conversation, believes is for the evening, and the girl stays. Danny doesn't even wait five minutes before swooping in to stake his territory; it's getting late, and he's bored, and most of his teammates are either back at the motel already, or on their way there. She's pretty enough, but what he really likes is the risk of it (he went so far as to brush up against her earlier, when the boyfriend was still there, on the pretext of needing to get past her to the bar, and the boyfriend may not have seen his hand brush her thigh, but she certainly felt it), and the idea that he can worm his way into the center of an established relationship without half-trying.
So he sits with her and he talks, and he touches her arm, and he tells her stories about New York and baseball, and she's a little too impressed, just like they always are. It takes very little effort on his part to get her into the back hallway, into a dark little corner down past the men's room, and he rubs his thumb over her lipstick-smeared mouth and dry-humps her as he undoes his pants. He's got her hand on his cock and his hands all over her tits when suddenly there's a shouted curse, and he's grabbed from behind.
The boyfriend is yelling at the girl to go wait in the car, and Danny's doubled over in pain from a sucker punch to the gut, and then he's being dragged out to the main room. His head slams hard against the felt top of the pool table as he's shoved down. He rears up against the hands that are holding him down (the boyfriend has brought friends with him, worse luck), curses through a split lip and tries to throw a punch, but he can't get any leverage and can't get his arms free, and the boyfriend looms over him and asks him if he knows what happens to men who go around fucking other men's girls.
He should maybe apologize or start begging now, swear up and down that he didn't know, that he would never have gone after the girl if he'd known she was taken. He should look the boyfriend in the eye as he says these things. But he doesn't; that's never been his style. Instead he says something cruel and cutting about the size of the guy's dick and how he probably can't get it up, which is why his girl was so happy to get her hands on Danny, and he gets another punch, this one straight to the center of his chest, for his trouble. It leaves him gasping for breath and unable to speak.
And this is the point at which things start to happen in jump-cuts, where time grows elastic and where the little details begin to overwhelm the whole. So: There is the hard wood edge of the pool table pressing into his kidneys, and the rough green felt against his cheek. There's a faint chalk mark right in his line of sight, and he keeps staring at it even as he gasps and twists and tries to get away, and strong in his nostrils, stale beer that's been spilled on the table over the years and cleaned up, and sawdust, and smoke, and he can see little puffs of sawdust in the air, like dust motes in sunlight. He thinks of the alley back north in New York and the gun in his hand in Sonny's backyard, the kick and the smack against his palm as he fired, and that boy was not ever supposed to end up like this, that boy is golden and can fuck anyone he wants to, anywhere he wants, that boy has a golden arm.
There's laughter and muffled curses and someone saying Hold him down, good, like that, and he's punched again and he gasps and his nose hurts like fire because it's broken and there's blood all over his face now, he can feel it running down his cheeks. And the boyfriend, who disappeared from his view for a moment, rears up again and this time he has a pool cue in his hand and with his other hand he slaps at the hanging light above the pool table, setting it spinning and throwing crazy arcs of light across the room. Now in shadow, now out of it, he grins down at Danny and says How much do you like your pitching arm? Danny gets an inkling then of what the guy is going to do, and tries to fight but he's still pinned, and the boyfriend says Keep a good grip on loverboy's arm.
Danny wonders why no one is stopping this, and he imagines all of them, all of these goddamn Tennessee rednecks, gathered around and staring at him like he's the goddamn freakshow, not them. There's a song playing on the jukebox somewhere in the background, crazy fiddle music and he hates this, hates it. The words to the song come to him like something out of a nightmare, and he's glad they don't play this kind of music back in the city, because he's never going to want to hear this song again, not ever. Well, you're pretty good, old son...
The pool cue swings up and high and Danny thinks that this boyfriend has a pretty good pitching stance himself. But sit down in that chair right there...The pool cue seems to take forever to fall, to find its mark, and in his dreams it hangs above his head for years on end, not even held in someone's hand, but suspended in air as if it's been powered by some malignant entity. And then it falls and he watches it fall toward his face even though his face isn't the target, and at this point he doesn't even think he's fighting anymore, but is just waiting for it to be over.
There's a crash then, one that seems to have very little to do with him, and he hears the crunch of bone before he feels it, hears the grinding, crackling sound of his wrist being broken. And let me show you how it's done...
And then the pain hits and he screams and it's like nothing he's ever felt before. Not even his tattoo hurt this much, not getting fucked by Sonny for the first time. None of it. And it hurts, like a motherfucking son of a bitch, but what's worse is the humiliation, and he wonders what a sight he must make, sprawled across the pool table like this. The last thing he's aware of before he passes out is that he's crying, and that's the worst part of all.
He doesn't remember anything after this until a day later, when he wakes up in the hospital to find that time has become linear again, and that his entire right arm is in a cast. And not until the following March do his coach and team manager sit him down and tell him the truth that the doctors have been keeping from him during all these months of physical therapy: he's never going to play baseball again.
Danny stands by the window as he zips up his pants, looking down at the parked cars and streetlights. If he looks at the glass instead of through it, he can see Mac on the couch behind him. Mac has already zipped his own pants, and is now concentrating on buttoning his shirt and straightening out the sleeves.
It's a Saturday night and they've just finished fucking; Danny thinks this may have been the last time. It's too bad he didn't think about that earlier. If he had, then maybe he might have taken advantage of the opportunity, and fucked Mac, or made him get down on his knees. This had, in fact, been the vague thought in his head when they first came back here together: get him down on his knees. See how he reacts when he's the one bent forward and taking it up the ass. But he'd forgotten all about that the second he put his hand on Mac's cock and Mac kissed him hard on the mouth, and then kissed him over and over again, working his way slowly from Danny's lips to his throat.
That might have actually turned into cocksucking, Danny thinks now, if only he hadn't gotten impatient and pulled away from the kiss, and dropped to his knees instead. He'd sucked Mac off until he was moaning and on the verge of coming, then pulled him over to the couch and gotten Mac to fuck him while they were both kneeling on the narrow cushions, not bothering, this time, with removing any more clothes than were strictly necessary.
Too bad about the missed chance, Danny thinks, but it had been good anyway. He tugs at his shirt collar to even it out, and watches as a car moves slowly down the block. If he shifts his gaze back to the glass, he can see that Mac has finished with his clothes and is watching him. He's pretty sure that Mac is gearing up to say something, and he's wishing with all his heart that he won't.
"Danny?" Mac says.
Danny bites back a sigh and turns from the window. "Yeah."
Mac is sitting on the edge of the couch with his elbows propped on his knees, and his eyes are sharp and watchful. "I -- I probably should go," Mac says. "It's getting late."
"Yeah, prob'ly," Danny says. "I'm feeling kinda tired myself."
Mac gets to his feet, and glances around until he spots his jacket on the floor. He bends to pick it up, then says, "I was wondering...since tomorrow is Sunday -- "
"Yeah, Sunday all day." Danny is about to add something about guess that's why Mac is in charge of CSU and not him, but manages to refrain.
"And maybe if you're not busy -- I know how our days off tend to be pretty full -- maybe we could, well, get some breakfast?"
Danny grits his teeth for a second. He hates it when Mac gets hesitant like this. At first it just confused him, and maybe worried him a little; now all it does is make him tense up. "I dunno, Mac," he says after a minute, and shrugs. "I'm not real big on breakfast. Anyway, like you said, it's a day off. Gotta cram in all that stuff I don't have time to do during the week. You know how it is." He looks right at Mac as he says this, even though he would really like to look away. His eyes keep being drawn to the window, even though he knows that there's absolutely nothing interesting happening down on the street.
"Yes, I do know," Mac says. His voice is calm and emotionless now, much more the way Danny likes it.
Danny nods. "So we're good, then," he says.
Mac pulls on his jacket and smoothes down the front of his tie before buttoning it. "Yes," he says, and meets Danny's gaze directly. "We're clear."
I didn't say clear, I said good. Once again, Danny bites back his words. "Sure," he says. "So I'll see you Monday, then?"
Mac nods. "Good night, Danny."
"'Night." Danny watches him go, not bothering to walk him over to the door. Mac doesn't come over or try to touch him again before he leaves, much less kiss him one last time; Danny wouldn't have expected him to. He remembers the first time Mac came over here, that last lingering kiss at the door, and the kiss Mac gave him in bed when he admitted that he had to leave, and the kiss he gave Mac after he'd looked at his Marine tattoos. How he'd stroked his hand down Mac's face -- he shakes off the memory.
Danny stands where he is for another moment, then goes to lock the door. He puts the chain lock on and flips the deadbolt, and then, instead of going to turn on the TV like he'd been intending to, or maybe heading into the kitchen to grab something to drink, he just stands there and stares at the door, and suddenly he's too tired to do anything but keep on standing there, and rest his burning head against the cool wood. It's too late now to go after Mac, he thinks, to catch up to him on the street. And so what if it is? That's not what he wants to do anyway.
This is the way things are supposed to go, he reminds himself. You get them in, you get their pants off and get what you want, and then you get them the hell out. Anyone who does anything else is a chump who's asking for trouble. Problem is, this isn't just anyone. He should feel triumphant, or at the very least pleased with himself: he's made the situation clear to Mac, and at no time has he given him any reason to think that this brief affair is something that it isn't.
And he managed to make Mac Taylor want him. That's a Houdini-worthy trick in and of itself, he thinks.
He lifts his head, feeling sick to his stomach, and turns to look at the apartment. He didn't...maybe he didn't exactly intend this to turn out this way. He wasn't thinking about anything like this the first night he went down on Mac in the locker room, or when he reacted to what he saw as Mac's cold dismissal of him with self-righteous anger and hurt. And he wasn't thinking about this when he agreed to meet Mac for a beer, or when he went to the firing range with him, or let Mac take him home afterward and fuck him.
He and Mac both got what they wanted, is what he told himself that night. And if he didn't exactly intend to treat Mac like a one-night stand, he didn't exactly intend not to, either. He told himself then that not leading Mac on was only fair, only honest, because he needed to tell him the truth, just the way he always has with all the other people he's slept with. But there's one giant flaw in this plan, and it's been gnawing at him for days, even as he's gone ahead with his promise to himself that he wasn't going to let Mac think it meant any more than it did, that it was nothing more than two horny people getting their rocks off. He's not so sure that is the truth.
He's not sure it's not, either, but the fact that doubt exists at all is enough to give him pause.
It was never like this before, not with Sonny and not with any of his pick-ups over the years, and not even with baseball itself. He's always known when to walk away; he's always wanted to walk away. He was the one who made the decision to quit Tanglewood, and consequently Sonny, and go to the Academy in the wake of the disaster his baseball career had turned into. He didn't make the decision to walk away from baseball, that's true, and in an indirect way it could be argued that the end of that first career was a result of his need to not let anyone get too attached: to not only prove that he didn't care, but to go out of his way to prove to himself, over and over, that he could have anyone he wanted.
In a movie, he thinks, that would have been the case, and that incident would have been some kind of turning point that would have set him back on the straight and narrow. He would have given up his old, bad ways and found someone to settle down with, and become a team manager or some damn thing. Or maybe he would have miraculously overcome the injury and gone on to pitch again, and moved up to the Show the way he was supposed to. They could've filmed it and called it Brave Danville.
He goes into the bathroom and runs the water in the sink, and then splashes some of it on his clammy face. He looks up and into the mirror after he shuts the water off, and it's not the golden boy who looks back at him, but an ordinary guy with a sharp, pale face. A clever boy, still, he thinks. A boy no one can touch. Cold, solid, safe, he tells himself. But maybe he's also too clever, sometimes, for his own good. He can still fire a gun. He can still, sometimes, pitch a baseball, though he's lost all of his old skill since what happened in Memphis. He can still have anybody he wants, at any time. He just doesn't know what to do about this particular anybody, or about an anytime that may encompass a span of longer than an hour or a night. If that's even what he really wants -- and he could bang his head against the mirror just to let out some of the confusion.
That clever boy, that cold boy: he's still there. Danny knows how to be that boy. But he also knows how to be this other person, this criminalist with his name on the promotion grid, who Mac Taylor says he trusts now to take point on cases. And there's this man he could be, maybe is, this man who is also this criminalist, and who sucked Mac Taylor's cock in the locker room -- but who also kissed him in an alley, and went to a firing range with him, and who listened to Mac talk about his tattoos after they'd slept together.
There are times, Danny thinks, when you don't see your choices, or when you don't realize that the choice you're about to make (which could be some small, seemingly inconsequential thing, as minor as deciding to grab that extra five minutes of sleep and missing your normal train) will have far-reaching consequences. Then there are other times when it's very clear that you're at a crossroads, and that the road taken will make certain things irrevocable, for good or ill. They say that Robert Johnson sold his soul at the crossroads, and that suicides and murderers should be buried at crossroads.
Danny's not selling his soul to anyone, not ever again, but he thinks he knows what he's going to do, all the same. And he has to do it now, quickly, before he can change his mind. The thought of it tightens the hurt in his chest, and makes the dull pain behind his eyes become sharp and stabbing.
"What're you doin', Messer?" he mutters, still staring at his reflection. The stranger's face, its lips moving in sync with his, provides no clues.
Danny comes down his front steps, and when he gets to the bottom, he pauses and blinks up at the sky in wonder: so this is what Sunday morning looks like. He hasn't seen this side of noon on a Sunday since...well, since he stopped getting dragged to church as a kid. It's a warm, sunny day, and what he notices most as he walks to the subway is how quiet it is, at least on his block. When he gets to the next block, to where the deli and newsstand and bakery are, it's a different story. He breathes in the smells of fresh ink and butter and powdered sugar as he dodges around the early joggers and the people already coming home from church.
The subway, though, is just as deserted as his block is. When the train comes, there's one other person in the car, a short guy in chef's whites dozing in a seat at the far end. Danny sits down by a window and settles back for the ride. He watches the scenery until the train pulls into the tunnel, and after that he just gazes out at half-glimpsed walls and at the station platforms. He still can't quite believe that he's up this early in the morning; he also can't quite believe why he's up this early.
He gets off the train at Canal, and begins to walk east. He could have transferred at some point, to a line that would have let him off closer to his destination, but he decided to stay on the N all the way downtown. He needs the walk, needs a little more time to get his thoughts in order. Not that this really happens, of course; he's too keyed up, and too constantly distracted by looking around and wondering why the people he passes are out at this hour, what their stories are. Some of them are obviously worship-bound, or going to work, but others are less obvious in their intentions.
Finally, he turns onto the avenue, and now he starts watching the building numbers. He's on the right side of the street, okay. Should be up here somewhere, before he gets to the corner...There. He stands on the sidewalk, breathing in and out, and can't resist a quick glance at himself in the plate glass window before he opens the door and walks in.
Mac, of course, is already there, and as Danny slides into the booth across from him, he's about to make some wisecrack about punctuality by way of greeting, but then Mac looks up from the Times crossword, and the smart-ass remark dies a painful death before it ever sees the light of day.
"Good morning, Danny," Mac says.
"Mornin', Mac," Danny says, and then gets a better look at him as he sets the paper aside, and stares. "Um. Hope I'm not late."
"No, I was early. Did you find the place all right?" Mac asks.
"Yeah, no problem." Danny keeps staring.
Mac looks down at himself. "Is there something wrong?" he asks. "I haven't ordered yet, so there can't be food stains on me already." He brushes at his shirt anyway.
"Nope, no food stains." Danny shakes his head. "It's just, um, you're wearing a t-shirt. And -- " He boosts himself up by the edge of the table to look over. " -- sweats, too."
Danny is very familiar with Mac's patient look. "Yes?" he says.
"Sweats," Danny repeats. "Like, casual clothes. I've never seen you in...you know. Anything that doesn't have to be dry-cleaned. Except, of course, when we're going down into the sewers or something, and you put on the department coveralls. But that's not by choice. This is."
"Did you think I worked out in a suit and tie?" Mac asks.
"Naw, well..." Danny leans back in his seat, and waves his hand at Mac. "I just, I dunno. Good point. I never really thought about it."
"I also own gym shorts," Mac says. "And I'm wearing sneakers."
The real question, of course, is whether or not Mac owns any pairs of jeans, or any shirts that are neither for the office nor for working out. Danny is about to ask this, but manages, once more, to think before he speaks. "That's good," he says instead, and nods. "Very good. You're just full of surprises lately."
Mac blushes, and looks out the window.
"Sorry, I'm sorry," Danny says. "I didn't -- didn't mean that the way it sounded."
Mac looks back at him. "I know."
"It's good," Danny says again. "It's just a new look for you, at least for me. I like it, though."
The waitress comes over then to take their order, and they're spared any more awkward moments, at least for a good minute or so. When she leaves, silence descends once more over the table. Mac looks out the window again, and Danny picks up his fork and starts pressing the tines against his fingers. Say something, he tells himself. Anything. But for once in his life, nothing comes to mind.
It's Mac who breaks the silence, by saying, "You know, I wasn't expecting you to call and ask if the breakfast offer still stood."
"Yeah, well." Danny shrugs, trying to make it sound casual. "I'm full of surprises myself."
Mac shoots him a hard look.
"You know what I mean." Danny looks away this time, watching the waitress at the coffee station. "I just, well, I guess you could say I had second thoughts." And third thoughts, and fourth thoughts, and...well, there's no need to mention any of that to Mac. Calling him the night before had used up most of Danny's nerves for the foreseeable future, he thinks; there's no need to let Mac in on every last detail of what Danny is beginning to think is some kind of weird nervous breakdown, or early-onset midlife crisis.
Mac doesn't need to hear how he paced around his living room muttering to himself for fifteen minutes before he was able to pick up the phone, or how his carefully-rehearsed speech about wanting to grab breakfast after all fell entirely out of his head the second he heard Mac say, "Hello?" And Mac really doesn't need to hear about how, when he wasn't lying awake and swearing at the ceiling last night, he was having strangely erotic dreams involving Mac and a gurney cart, or Mac and the balcony of a movie theater where they were watching a revival of The Poseidon Adventure.
"Second thoughts," Mac says.
"Yeah, you know, about..." Danny coughs into his hand. "About the way I was handling stuff," he finishes, before he can chicken out and say something flip.
"I see," Mac says.
Dammit, give me something here, Danny thinks. Help a guy out. But Mac is just studying him, and again it's awfully similar to the way suspects must feel when they're in the box with Mac, trapped in a small space with that stare of his all but boring holes in their foreheads. The trick, of course, is that Mac doesn't talk so that the suspect will talk. Danny knows it's a trick, and knows how (and why) it works, but he falls for it anyway. On the other hand, this could also be viewed as the same thing as talking out a case, working through the evidence verbally and finding your conclusions as you go. And that's something else he knows how to do.
"See," he says, "it's like...Okay. At first, when you called me that night -- that night before we went out for beer? I didn't know what to think. And then, after we did, and we...well...I was tellin' myself: Danny, don't expect anything. Don't let yourself get in any deeper. 'Cause, you know, it coulda ended up badly, same way it did the, um, the first time."
He pauses, and Mac nods at him. He's trying like hell to read Mac, but he can't. All he can make out is that -- so far, anyway -- Mac doesn't seem particularly pissed off. Which is a good thing. "Right," he goes on. "Okay, so then we seemed cool, and we went to the firing range, and I had fun doin' that. And then, after that...well, that was cool, too. And, like, no one was trying to pretend after that nothing had happened or nothin'. And I..." Danny stops, and tries to think. He's gone over all of this what feels like a million times in his head, but he's never before tried to put it into words. He swore to himself, though, that if he came to this breakfast he was going to be honest, and lay all his cards out on the table. That's exactly what he's doing.
He pauses as the waitress sets down coffee and orange juice for both of them, then takes a long drink of juice to wet his throat before he continues. "I dunno," he says. "I just...I didn't wanna be the guy getting screwed again. You know -- fool me twice, shame on me? I don't mean that any of what happened the first time around was on purpose, just..."
"I know, Danny," Mac says, and sighs. "The thought did occur to me that your response was some sort of revenge for my own behavior."
"No," Danny says, shaking his head. "Well, maybe it was subconsciously. I don't know from any of that Freud shit."
"You know, some of Freud's theories are still -- "
"Sorry." Mac pauses. "Was I starting to lecture?"
"Maybe just a little. Anyway, it's just...I always been like this, kinda. Being seductive is the one thing I'm good at that I ain't never really fucked up. I was good at all that gang stuff when I was a teenager, but...And then baseball got screwed when I got -- when I broke my wrist. But when it comes to, like, doing stuff for people, I know what I'm doing. Just, not for more than one night or anything. And you I gotta see every day." Danny takes a deep breath and leans back again.
"You might say it's a form of control," Mac says. "You get to decide the parameters of the...the time you spend with people."
"You might say that," he agrees. "You might also say that old habits die hard."
"I know," Mac says. "I was also thinking that you weren't entirely off-base about something else you said that night at Sullivan's."
"Oh?" Danny asks.
"That I'm not good with...how did you put it? 'Emotional stuff.'"
"Oh, yeah. That. You're not." Danny shrugs. "If you remember, I also said that neither was I." He taps his fingers on the tabletop, and decides on a whim to go for broke. "Hell, I'm not good at any of this. I don't even know what 'this' is."
Mac doesn't flinch; Mac doesn't ask for a definition of "this" or stare at him blankly. Mac just looks across the table at him, looks into his eyes, and nods. "Neither do I," he says.
"Great," Danny says. "Ain't we just the genius criminalists?"
"I don't know that one really has much to do with -- "
"So what now?" Danny asks.
"We wait and see," Mac says, after a pause.
Danny feels something in his chest unknot, just a tiny fraction. Before he can process this, though, the waitress returns and begins to set down plates in front of them.
Neither of them says anything more on the subject until she leaves, and then Mac picks up his fork. "For right now," he says, "we have breakfast."
"I can do breakfast," Danny says, and grins. "Breakfast's good. Waffles are very good," and he reaches for the maple syrup.
Mac smiles at him suddenly, a wider smile than Danny's seen on him ever before. It's wistful and shy, but there's something else in it, too, some emotion that's as unfamiliar to Danny as the smile itself. He can't quite get it at first, and then, as he watches Mac arrange his toast and scrambled eggs, it comes to him: Happiness, or something very much like it. Something like hope. And if that's the same emotion that's currently causing that little knotted place around the area of his solar plexus to go all funny, it's something he thinks he can live with. He doesn't feel cold right now, and he doesn't feel golden, and he takes note of the fact that he doesn't seem to miss either of those things.
He picks up his own fork and digs in, and half-listens to the clatter of silverware and other conversations as Mac talks to him about some of the crossword clues that are giving him particular trouble at the moment.
If this is Sunday morning in New York City, Danny thinks, it's really not bad at all.