Danny stared down at the lifeless form sprawled on the floor. Her pale green eyes stared back at him not seeing as her blood congealed beneath her body staining the drab green carpet bright red. He had already taken photographs of the crime scene and given the body a cursory look over.
She was young and had been pretty in life, but staring down at her Danny could see the visible ugly bluish tint of finger marks around her pale neck where someone had tried to choke her. Based on the defence marks on her arms and hands, Danny guessed she had tried to fight back, had may be even escaped and tried to run. But she had been felled with numerous blows to the back of her head. Once down on the floor, the murderer had continued to hit her in the face. A blood stained large glass paperweight had been discarded next to her body. "I'll dust and bag that next," Danny decided.
Continuing to stare down at the body Danny tried to concentrate on the job in hand, but the now familiar feelings that had been plaguing him for weeks began to creep up on him - the tightening in his chest, the difficulty in breathing and the cold sweat. Rubbing at his chest and taking deep calming breaths, Danny closed his eyes for a moment afraid to look down knowing that he would probably see the dead body of Officer Minhas staring up at him. "Deep breaths," he mumbled to himself trying to settle the panicky feelings that were threatening to engulf him again.
A movement to his right - someone else was in the room. He opened his eyes, feeling slightly calmer. Danny risked looking down -she still stared up at him. He shivered feeling a sharp stabbing pain behind his eyes, another headache brought on by sleepless nights and his constant fretting. Pushing his glassed up onto his head, Danny rubbed at his tired eyes willing the pain to go. As always, his mind drifted to recent events always ending up at the same place - the subway. In the background, he vaguely heard Flack telling him about the victim, his voice seeming to drone above the incessant traffic noise from the street.
"Danny," he was startled out of his moody reverie and had the distinct feeling that Flack had called his name more than once.
He pushed his glasses back down and turned towards the detective. "Heard you the first time," Danny countered forcing himself to concentrate.
Flack pulled a face, a frown, but decided not to pursue the matter. Shrugging he pointed towards the wall. "Did you see this?"
Danny nodded but knelt by the wall slowly flicking his torch up and down the blood splatter. He looked back to the victim calculating distances in his head. "Most likely from the vic," he stood up looking around the small dingy apartment.
"I'm gonna talk to the neighbours," Flack said. "I'll let you know how I get on."
"OK," Danny muttered distractedly as something caught his eye in the corner of the small living room.
Flack frowned again as he watched Danny squat to investigate what had caught his eye. He went to say something but decided against it; turning he ran into Mac Taylor. "Mac," he nodded. "Just gonna get the story from the neighbours. They called it in."
"Let me know," Mac said as Flack moved past him. Mac stepped into the apartment looking around. Remaining silent Mac watched Danny meticulously move around the room, his back to him, his torch flicking up and down and over objects looking for evidence that would lead them to the murderer.
Mac studied the young man - they had subconsciously been avoiding each other in recent weeks and Mac hadn't noticed before how pale and tired Danny looked. It alarmed him and he felt a stab of guilt. Deep down, he wished that he could have assigned Stella or Aiden to the case, but he had already sent Aiden out on an assignment in Central Park when the call came in, and he had persuaded Stella to take some leave. So it was down to him to partner Danny. Mac chastised himself for his cowardice. May be if they worked together on a case, they could work things out, he thought to himself. "So," Mac said.
Danny turned to see Mac standing in the doorway. It surprised him - he had expected Aiden or another technician. He looked back to what he had been bagging and marking up. A feeling of dread rose in his stomach. He hoped that the case would be wrapped up quickly knowing that he wouldn't be able to keep his panic attacks a secret from his boss for long. "Why couldn't he just stay avoiding me," Danny thought angrily to himself.
"What have we got?" Mac asked as he started his own circle of the apartment.
Danny had an uncontrolled urge to scream that she was just another dead girl who wouldn't see 25. That she had been pretty until some perp had tried to choke her and then had bashed her head in and had dumped her in the middle of her own living room like a useless sack of rags. Like she meant nothing. But instead Danny bit at his lip staying silent fighting to get his ragged emotions under control.
Mac looked up from his own investigation when Danny didn't answer. "Danny," he repeated irritated at being ignored.
"Sandy Lang. Lives alone. Age 23," Danny heard himself answer repeating the information that Flack had given him. "Neighbours heard shouting and called 911. When uniform got here, they found her like this," he waved a hand at the young woman. Officer Minhas' face popped into his mind again. Shaking his head he tried to rid himself of the now familiar image. Danny suddenly felt tired, his headache had returned and for the first time in his career, he just wanted to go home and be alone. Danny turned his back on Mac so that the older man couldn't see his distress pretending to study the blood splatter on the wall.
Mac frowned at the action. Kneeling beside the body he cursed himself for his irritation. "Good start," he silently berated. Danny had always been hard to fathom, but even Stella had remarked that he had been quieter than usual and that he seemed to be distancing himself from everyone. When Danny had asked if they were alright, he had taken the coward's way out and answered we'll see. He had regretted the words ever since and hadn't been able to shake the look of disappointment and hurt on Danny's face at the words. Mac sighed - this was going to be harder than he had thought.
Flack appeared at the door. "Mac. Danny," he called. "I got a friend of the vic out here. Do you wanna talk to her?"
"Sure," Mac got to his feet. Danny followed him into the dingy corridor where a thin red haired girl was standing next to Flack. Arms folded, she fidgeted nervously. "Is Sandy really dead?" she asked Mac as he approached. "Yes, I'm sorry," he said. "Did you know Sandy well? Miss....?"
"Jo... Jo Anderson," tears welled up in the girl's eyes. "Sort of," she answered. "We moved in on the same day. Hung out together sometimes.... you know watched movies and stuff."
Mac nodded. "Did Sandy have any friends?" he asked gently. "Or a boyfriend?"
"I don't know about friends," Jo sniffed. "And her parents are dead," she wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand. "But I think she had a boyfriend," she screwed up her face as she thought hard. "Only met him a couple of times.... Andy something. Bit of a sleaze," Jo sniffed again. "Sandy never said, but I think he was mean to her.... you know hit her about," she looked at Mac earnestly.
"Why do you say that?" Mac probed.
"She had a black eye a couple of times... and a cut lip," Jo replied. "Said she had walked into a door, but I didn't believe her."
"You know where we can find him?" Flack asked.
Jo shook her head. "I don't know where he lives, but I think he hangs out most days in those warehouses... you know the new ones near the docks where they have live bands." Tears sprang to her eyes again. "Sandy told me she had been there with him once." Jo started to cry and Mac motioned to the female officer standing close by. The officer stepped forward putting her arm around the crying girl.
"Thank you Jo," Mac touched the girl's arm. "You've been really helpful. Officer Anderson will look after you and take a statement. OK?"
Jo looked up nodding slightly as Officer Anderson shepherded her towards her own apartment. Jo turned back towards the men again. "Walters," she said. "Sandy's boyfriend is called Andy Walters." "Thanks," Mac smiled. "You know the place?" he asked motioning Flack and Danny aside, out of ear shot of Jo.
"Oh yeah," Flack scowled. "Got a rep as the place to be. All the kids hang out there. Loud music and lights. Behind the main place is where all the action is and the low lifes hang out. Drugs, guns.... you name it. Everything that is bad in this world."
"Found this in the vic's hand," Danny held up a plastic bag which contained a gold coloured badge with the letters TH in the centre. "Could have belonged to Walters."
Mac took the bag studying the badge. "Sounds like we should pay them a visit," he looked to Danny, who apart from this one comment had remained unusually silent during their conversation with Jo. "You finished in there?"
"Yeah," Danny answered. "All done."
"Good," Mac replied with a small frown. "We'll get Hawkes' report on her later," he started along the corridor with Danny and Flack following. "You OK Danny?" Flack asked falling into step with his friend. "You seem kinda quiet."
"Yeah," Danny replied with a small grin. "Just giving you a rest from my voice," he joked.
Flack's car drew up outside the converted warehouses. A large red and blue neon sign advertised "The Happening". "See what I mean," Flack indicated the sign as Danny and Mac joined him on the sidewalk.
"Let's see if they know Andy Walters," Mac started into the complex, Danny and Flack behind him. They headed towards a large ornate reception desk.
"We're closed. Unless you're a gold member," a young scantily clad woman barely looked up from the magazine she was reading. "But if you wanna join, there's an application form over there," she waved vaguely at a pile of forms on the desk.
"We don't want to join," Mac said evenly noticing an identical badge to the one they had found pinned on her t-shirt.
The young woman glanced up studying Mac closely. "No I don't suppose you do," she shrugged as she looked past Mac to Danny and Flack. "What about your two friends?" she smiled hopefully. " They wanna join?"
"No thank you," Mac answered stonily not missing the stifled laugh from Flack. "We're already members of a club," he produced his badge flashing it before the young woman's eyes. "Gold members."
"Right," she chewed at her gum bored. "What have we done now?"
"Nothing that I know off," Mac countered. "We are looking for an Andy Walters. Do you know him?"
"Nope," the girl shook her head. "Never heard of him."
"We're told that he's here most days," Flack said. "Perhaps he's one of your gold members."
The girl shrugged again. "If he's here, he's most likely in the main complex," she indicated towards double doors at the end of a corridor. That's where they all hang out during the day."
"Mind if we take a look?" Mac started towards the door.
"Be my guest," the girl turned back to her magazine.
Flack nudged Danny as they trailed behind Mac. "So when you gonna quit being the strong silent type?" he teased in a whisper.
Danny looked sideways at Flack. Not being able to think of anything to say he grinned at the detective. "Damn," he thought to himself. He must be more tired than he had thought - he had let the guard he had been trying to maintain for weeks slip. "Gotta be more careful," he decided. "Oh any day now," Danny quipped back.
"It speaks," Flack countered with a smile as they caught up with Mac.
Mac pushed the doors open. Loud heavy rock music and bright white light immediately assaulted them from all sides. They took in their surroundings - the walls of the large room had been painted completely black with only the odd splatter of red paint here and there. There was no other decoration. Bright white lights, flashing on and off in time to the music, completed the effect bathing the mass of dancing bodies in an eerie glow.
"Nice," Flack shouted. Mac raised an eyebrow as the three men started to circle the room looking for Andy Walters. They questioned, climbed over sleeping bodies slumped in large red leather couches and fought their way through the dancing youngsters. "How can they sleep?" Mac shouted to Flack and Danny as they eventually reached the other side of the large room. Both men shrugged.
"Guess our man isn't here," Danny looked around the room again - the lights and the music weren't helping his headache.
"Or may be we're looking in the wrong place," Mac nodded towards a door behind the staging area. Danny and Flack nodded in agreement following Mac to the door. Flack put his hand on his gun as Mac cautiously pushed at the door.
It flew open leading them into another vast room which was obviously under development. The decoration in this room was in stark contrast to the one they had left behind. Huge marble pillars rose up to the high ceiling and marble blocks had been positioned randomly around the room, presumably to act as seats. The floor was an intricate mosaic pattern, half finished. The wall to the left was created entirely of glass making the room seem much larger than it was. The wall to the right had been boldly painted with a mural depicting an ancient Roman banquet. Construction rubble, paint tins, floor tiles and tools littered the ground. In silence, the three men started to circle the room.
"Wonder what kind of music they'll play in here?" Flack mused uncovering a sign yet to be erected - Caesar's Place.
"I dread to think," Mac answered with a small smile.
Danny was trying to focus on his job, but the marble pillars made some of the room seemed familiar to him and he felt a rising panic he couldn't control. He shuddered. "Focus Danny," he kept mumbling to himself over and over.
A concealed door to the right suddenly opened and the three men turned. Dressed in torn jeans a young man sauntered into the room. He didn't notice them as he was preoccupied in pulling off his stained t-shirt. They watched as he pulled on a clean shirt casually discarding the old one in an empty container laying nearby. Visible red stains on his jeans told them he was most likely their man.
"I think we just got lucky," Mac nodded at Flack.
"Andy Walters," Flack shouted. "NYPD," he took out his badge holding it in the air. Andy looked up startled. He took one look at them and bolted ducking behind one of the pillars. A gunshot. The wild bullet hit the glass wall to the side of the CSI men. Part of the wall shattered showering the men with small shards of glass. Flack and Danny dodged behind pillars, Mac behind a stack of cement bags. "Don't be stupid man," Flack shouted from his hiding place. "We just want to talk."
"Leave me alone pigs," Andy shouted. Another gunshot hit the floor kicking up a cloud of dust. "I don't wanna talk to you."
"I'll go call for back up," Flack said edging towards the exit. Mac nodded and looked sideways to see if he could see Danny. But the pillars shielded his view. He sighed hoping that Danny was alright.
Danny could hear Mac calmly talking to Andy trying to coax him to give himself up. But he didn't really hear the words - his head was spinning. Danny was back in the subway. In his mind, he could hear the screaming, the gunshots and the unbelieving accusations of the uniformed officers. "No," he whispered to himself. "Not now," Danny leaned heavily against the pillar breathing hard. His mouth was dry, his heart was pounding and he could feel the sweat running down the back of his neck. He wanted to run but his legs wouldn't move. Danny closed his eyes trying to calm himself glad that the pillar he was hiding behind shielded him from Mac's position.
"Andy," Mac said calmly. "We know about Sandy. There's no way out. Put your gun down and come out."
"No," Andy shouted. "I got plenty of ammo." Another wild bullet made Mac duck back down behind the cement bags. Mac groaned -he knew that they were losing control of the situation and he hoped that Flack would return with the back up soon. "Danny," he whispered loudly, hoping that Andy wouldn't be able to hear him. "Can you see Walters from where you are?" No answer. "Danny," he barked a little more loudly.
Danny's eyes snapped open at the sound of his name. His panic was subsiding but he still felt shaky. He risked peering around the pillar. He couldn't see Walters and tried to answer Mac, but nothing came out. "Calm down Messer or Mac will have your ass," Danny told himself firmly.
"She got what she deserved," Andy continued to shout, bravado appearing in his tone. "I made her pay for not giving me the money for my stuff. She'll never say no to me again," he snarled.
"Police back up is on the way," Mac threatened. "Throw down your gun," he persisted, his voice remaining calm and even. Where the hell was Danny he thought angrily.
"Pigs," Andy spat as another gunshot hit the glass wall. And another.
The sound of the glass shattering shook Danny back to his senses. Forcing his legs to move, he shifted position slightly and peered around the pillar. Danny now had a clear view of Mac, who was edging sideways in an effort to get around behind Walters' position. Danny still couldn't see Walters. Inching around the pillar cautiously something in his peripheral vision caught his attention. He squinted at the cracked glass of the wall and saw Walters. Somehow he had moved from his original position and was now creeping towards an oblivious Mac, gun drawn.
Danny put his hand down to his gun his fingers brushing the cold steel. He shuddered and pulled his hand away as though he had been burnt. Terrified, he couldn't bring himself to draw the weapon. His chest started to tighten again and his breath came in sharp short gasps. He could still hear Mac talking calmly to Walters. Walters was shouting obscenities back distracting Mac as to where he was. "Mac," his mind cried. "He's not where you think he is." Danny glanced towards the glass again - Walters was taking aim at an unknowing Mac.
Gathering all his strength and willpower, and shaking off his panic Danny launched himself out from behind the pillar. "Mac," he shouted. "Look out."
Startled Mac looked to his right to see Danny running towards him. A gunshot rang out and Mac felt himself being shoved roughly to one side. He stumbled and fell backwards, the wind knocked out of him. A grunt from behind him somewhere told him that Danny probably had landed hard on the ground.
Another gunshot. Then silence. Mac took a deep breath and sat up in time to see Walters fall to his knees, a surprised look on his face. He looked down to see blood staining his clean shirt red. Walters looked towards Mac before slumping forward, dead before he hit the ground. Swivelling around Mac looked up to see Flack and four uniformed officers behind him. The officers surged towards the fallen Walters. Flack re-holstered his gun and walked over to Mac. He offered his hand pulling Mac to his feet.
"Where's Danny?" Mac asked looking around.
"Here," a wobbly voice answered. Mac and Flack hurried to where Danny was sitting upright. He was drawing his legs up and down, cradling his right arm to his chest, left hand clamped over his upper arm. Blood was seeping through his fingers and his expression was pained.
"Danny," Mac said concern tinged his voice as he leant forward.
"I'm fine," Danny snapped pulling away from Mac. He winced at the action. "Bounced off me. It's more blood than anything else," he said stubbornly. " The slug hit the wall over there."
"Go get the paramedics in here," Mac shouted to one of the uniforms. He turned back to Danny. "Thanks for watching my back," Mac said with a grateful smile. Flack groaned at the comment and Mac gave him a puzzled look before turning back to Danny.
Danny glared up at Mac. "It's what anyone would do," he murmured as he hauled himself slowly to his feet in an effort to prove he was OK. Once on his feet, Danny wished he had remained sitting on the floor. Swaying he pitched forward as his knees buckled. Mac managed to catch Danny before he hit the floor, and with Flack's help they manoeuvred him onto one of the marble seats.
"Stay there," Mac ordered. Danny scowled but remained silent not being able to look at Mac or Flack. He pretended to concentrate on his arm - he had a feeling that he had broken his wrist when he had fallen. He wasn't going to admit it to either Mac or Flack but the pain was becoming unbearable, and he couldn't stop himself shaking cursing himself for his weakness.
"I'll go and see what's holding the paramedics up," Mac continued glancing down as his pager beeped. Despatch was paging him to another crime scene. He bit at his lip not wanting to leave Danny, who was now deathly pale and visibly trembling. "Make sure he stays put until the paramedics get here," Mac instructed Flack, who had taken off his jacket laying it across Danny's shoulders. "If he moves, sit on him." Flack couldn't help chuckling at the face Danny pulled.
Mac stared down at his paperwork trying to fill in the report, but he couldn't concentrate - Danny was on his mind. Something about Danny's behaviour today was bugging him and it wasn't just the unusual silence. He just couldn't put his finger on what was nagging at the back of his mind. With a defeated sigh, he threw his pen on the desk. Looking up he saw Flack talking to Aiden. He waved catching the detective's eye.
"Mac," Flack appeared at the door.
"How's Danny?" he asked. "Got called to another dead body and haven't had a chance to make it along to the hospital."
"Wouldn't let me go with him," Flack frowned. "Kept saying he didn't need to go. Although you could tell he was in pain. So I helped the paramedics get him on the stretcher. Even escorted him to the ambulance and closed the doors," he leaned on the door frame arms folded. "He was not a happy man. Gonna check in with him after I finish up the paperwork on this one."
"Mmmm," Mac mused looking back to his own paperwork.
"He'll be OK,"Flack said. "Danny's tough."
"Is he?" Mac asked frowning.
"Yeah," Flack tried to sound convincing. "You know Danny?"
"I thought I did," Mac countered. "But just lately....," he let the sentence trail off.
Mind made up, Flack pushed himself off the door frame and slumped down in the chair opposite Mac's desk. "Danny's having a real hard time dealing with the Minhas shooting," he steeled himself against Mac's anger. "Perhaps he feels that nobody has his back," Flack shrugged.
"What?" Mac said sharply.
"Look Mac," Flack leaned forward. "After the shooting, Danny told me that he felt alone. Felt like he had been hung already. That nobody had his back."
"That's ridiculous," Mac stared at the detective shocked at the words.
"Not to Danny," Flack replied evenly.
"So that's what he meant this afternoon," Mac said quietly. "And you knew how he felt."
Flack nodded. "Look I tried to get through to him. Tell him that we all had his back. But it only made him angry. And he sounded kinda desperate." He leaned back into the chair. "And I'm kinda worried about him. Worried that he is giving up on everything.... including himself."
Mac narrowed his eyes - it had suddenly struck him, like a lightning bolt, what had been nagging at the back of his mind - Danny hadn't drawn his gun. He leapt to his feet making Flack jump in his seat and headed for the door.
"Where you going?" Flack swung the chair around to face Mac even though he already knew the answer to his question.
"To the hospital," Mac said. He had questions and he wanted answers. But more importantly, he wanted desperately to help Danny and let him know that they all had his back. "Danny is not giving up on himself. Not on my watch." The door swung shut.
Danny perched on the edge of the bed idly swinging his legs from side to side. Staring distractedly at his shoes he could see blood spots from the wound in his arm peppered on the black leather. His favourite jacket torn and blood splattered was discarded at his side. His hand was still stained red where he had held his arm to stem to flow of blood.
The warm fuzziness of the painkiller the paramedics had given him had worn off and he was now in agony as his whole arm throbbed with pain. His still cradled his arm to his chest - the paramedics had confirmed his suspicion that his wrist was broken. His headache was back and he felt sick. Danny eased his legs up onto the bed and sunk back into the pillows, stretching slightly. He winced in pain.
Reaching down with his good arm Danny took out his gun, the cold steel icy in his hand made him shiver slightly. He hadn't been able to draw his gun, had been afraid to draw his gun. He could have got them all killed because he was terrified to draw his gun, afraid that he would find himself back in the subway shooting a policeman. Danny studied the gun in the dim light - black, shiny and deadly in the wrong hands - his hands.
He holstered the gun, but could feel it heavy at his side. Danny suddenly felt desperate and had never felt so alone. He could feel tears stinging at his eyes. His life was falling apart and he felt out of control. He wanted to run, but had no-where to run. Removing his glasses, Danny lay his arm over his eyes shading them from the light wondering how long this nightmare would last. Wondering if he would ever be free of the pain.
"He did what?" Mac exploded angrily. His sudden anger was borne out of frustration. Frustration at the New York traffic that had made his journey an hour longer than it should have been and frustration at Danny's behaviour. "He discharged himself against his doctor's orders," Sheldon Hawkes repeated evenly surprised at the uncharacteristic burst of anger from Mac, who was now pacing up and down the corridor.
"Why can't Danny ever do as he's told," Mac whirled on Hawkes not really expecting an answer. "And what are you doing here anyway?" he snapped.
Hawkes raised an eyebrow at the tone of Mac's voice. "I was on my way back to the office. Heard that Danny had been hurt so thought I would swing by and check on him," he answered calmly.
Catching the look on Hawke's face, Mac's anger started to abate. "Sorry ... didn't mean to take it out on you," he said.
"No problem Mac," Hawkes grinned. "Look I managed to talk to the doctor and get the low down on Danny. He probably shouldn't have said anything, but he's a friend of mine," he continued.
"And?" Mac demanded impatiently.
Hawkes sighed. "Danny has a broken wrist and a bullet ricochet wound that needed some stitches. Other than that he's OK, but they wanted him to stay the night for observation, but he refused point blank. Got quite upset apparently."
"Mmmmm," Mac mused remembering the last time he had seen Danny - he had looked ill, tired and in pain.
"Look Mac," Hawkes put a hand on Mac's arm. "Danny's tough. He'll be OK."
"You're the second person today who's told me that Danny is tough," Mac replied over his shoulder as he headed towards the door. "And I'm becoming less and less convinced by the minute."
"You heading to see Danny?" Hawkes jogged to catch up with Mac.
"Yes," Mac replied. "We have some unfinished business."
Hawkes pulled Mac to a stop. "Mac," he said. "I don't know what's happening here and it's probably none of my business..."
"No, it's not," Mac interrupted irritated again.
Hawkes stared at Mac exasperated. "Just take it easy on him. OK?"
"You know something I should know?" Mac narrowed his eyes at Hawkes who shook his head. "We have some hard talking to do. Something we have both been putting off since the Minhas shooting," Mac explained. "And it's time we talked about it."
"OK," Hawkes nodded. "You might want to give him these," Hawkes held up the bag he had been holding. "Danny forgot to pick up his meds in his hurry to leave."
Danny slammed the apartment door shut. Leaning against the door and holding it closed with his weight, he shut his eyes listening to the sound of his ragged breathing echo around the silent apartment. His heart hammered in his chest and he felt like he was drowning in cold sweat. Danny rubbed at his chest with his good hand willing himself to calm down, but the familiar feeling of panic seemed to prefer lingering. Suddenly and irrationally afraid, he swivelled around turning the key in the lock. Tossing his key to one side and with a relieved sigh, Danny slid down the door to the floor. He cradled his arm to his chest trying to alleviate the pain. "Get a hold of yourself Messer," he scolded dragging himself slowly to his feet. He didn't bother turning on the light preferring the company of the darkness although light from the street insisted on bathing the living room in a yellowish glow.
Not able to settle, Danny started to pace his apartment like a caged animal with nowhere to go. He felt trapped and totally alone. On the twentieth circuit of his living room, he finally slumped onto the couch. Danny winced in pain as he tried to get comfortable with the sling and cast. Throwing his glasses to one side, Danny covered his eyes from the dimming light.
Danny was desperately afraid. He was spiralling out of control and knew that he needed help, but he had no-one to turn to and ask for their help. No-one cared about him enough to want to help. He was trapped. Trapped in a nightmare he couldn't escape. Hot tears stung at his eyes again and he angrily wiped at them.
Mac sipped at his coffee. He glanced over to the couch and Danny's sleeping form. Pale and drawn, pain was etched on his usually relaxed features. He murmured softly shifting as he slept.
Mac got up quietly circling the room careful not to disturb Danny. On leaving the hospital, Mac had driven straight to Danny's apartment set on confronting the younger man. But he hadn't been able to raise Danny. Worried he had fetched the landlord ordering him to use his master keys. They had found Danny asleep on the couch and Mac had decided, rightly or wrongly, to stay.
He continued his silent circuit of Danny's living room as though it was a crime scene - it was a habit he found hard to break. The room was medium sized with large windows dominating one wall. Plants, both living and dead, were arranged on the window sill. There were two doors at the far end of the room, one leading to a small untidy kitchen diner, the second to the bedroom with presumably an en suite bathroom.
The couch had been placed in the middle of the room facing the television and stereo unit. A guitar was balanced on one of the two other chairs in the room along with a scattering of sheet music and a battered looking teddy bear. Numerous books were haphazardly lined up on a shelf - Mac glanced at the titles, mostly poetry and painting. His attention was drawn to vivid oil paintings of the city which adorned the wall behind the couch. Mac squinted down to find the artist's name - he stood back surprised glancing down at Danny. Everything about the room - the paintings, the music, the books all served a further reminder that he didn't really know the younger man at all. The only thing that the room was missing, and Mac looked around him again, was family pictures - there were none at all. His circuit of the room completed, Mac slumped back down into the chair to wait for Danny to wake.
Mac had wandered into the kitchen to make himself another cup of coffee. A loud crash sent him running back into the living room. Danny was awake. He had fallen off the couch and was sitting on the floor looking around wildly. His arm was hugged to his chest.
"Danny," Mac said quietly crouching down. Danny didn't acknowledge him appearing still to be trapped in the midst of his nightmare. The sound of Danny's heavy breathing filled the apartment. "Danny," Mac repeated moving nearer to the younger man. Danny turned his head towards the voice, glazed eyes staring at Mac confused as he struggled to escape his nightmare. "Let me help you up," Mac reached out touching Danny's good hand.
Danny recoiled violently at the touch. "Don't," he cried backing away his face shiny with perspiration, his breathing continuing to come in short sharp bursts. From the confused look on Danny's face, Mac knew that he was still caught up in his dream not aware of where he was.
Mac decided the best action was to back off. "OK," he soothed. "I'll just stay here. OK." Danny half-nodded pushing himself further away from Mac. Mac watched as Danny's breathing calmed and recognition seemed to register in his pale eyes.
"What are you doing here?" Danny squinted up at Mac, his confusion suddenly disappearing.
"Bringing you your meds," Mac held up the bag. "You forgot to collect them," he placed the bag on the chair behind him.
"Thanks," Danny murmured reluctantly. Retrieving his glasses, he pushed them on.
"Are you OK Danny?" Mac asked concerned.
"Yeah," Danny stammered. "A stupid dream, that's all," he levered himself back onto the couch. He moved his arm to his chest and sucked in a deep breath wincing in pain.
"Can I get you anything?" Mac offered.
"No," Danny shook his head, hoping that Mac would take the hint and leave. He sighed when Mac perched on the armchair. He picked distractedly at his sling avoiding looking at Mac.
"Danny," Mac asked. "Where's your gun?"
Danny's head snapped up surprised at the question - it was not the question he had been expecting. "Why?" he asked defensively.
"I need to see it," Mac pressed.
"I didn't use my gun," Danny replied silently hoping that Mac wouldn't ask him to fetch the weapon - he didn't want to touch it. He couldn't face touching it just yet. He shuddered at the thought and clenched his good fist in an effort to hide his uneasiness hoping that Mac wouldn't notice. "Yeah right," his mind screamed.
"No," Mac said quietly noticing that Danny's breathing seemed to have become more rapid and he was trying to hide that he was trembling. "Why was that? You had a clear shot."
"Not really," Danny lied as a feeling of dread washed over him. He should have known he couldn't fool Mac. Danny stared towards the window avoiding Mac's gaze knowing he had slipped up saying that he hadn't used his gun. He desperately racked his brain trying to think of a reasonable excuse for his actions that afternoon. "I couldn't see him clearly."
Mac continued to stare at Danny hoping that he would open up to him. Danny remained stubbornly silent. "Don't lose it now Messer," he thought to himself struggling to remain calm.
Mac sighed defeated. "OK," he decided to leave it there sensing that Danny was getting upset and he didn't want to push him too far today. "But I do think we need to talk, perhaps tomorrow."
Relief flowed through Danny and instead of panic, he felt irrational rage welling up inside him. He glared at Mac. "There's nothing to talk about," he snapped angrily.
"I think there is," Mac persisted.
"Well you're wrong," Danny snarled. "You've said everything that's gotta be said."
"I don't think so," Mac said calmly. "We have to talk about the Minhas shooting as well as you not being able to draw your gun this afternoon. You could have got yourself killed."
"Would have been the end to all your problems. Me out of the way," Danny accused. He knew he was being unreasonable, but Danny was terrified. Mac had guessed about the gun and probably knew about the panic attacks. He was terrified of losing the job that he had worked so hard to get and loved so much. Danny glared at Mac again. "And the reputation of your precious department would be all shiny and intact," he spat.
"Danny," Mac protested alarmed at Danny's words.
"No," Danny interrupted. "I wanted to talk.... asked you if we were OK... but you, the high and mighty Mac Taylor who doesn't care about anything or anyone... tells me we'll see," he yelled angrily. "We'll see.... what the hell does that mean?" "I'm sorry," Mac started to say.
"Sorry," Danny jumped to his feet pacing up and down. "You hung me out to dry," he accused bitterly the pent up anger and hurt of the recent weeks spilling over. "You never once said you had my back," he whirled on Mac. "Not once. I was alone in this," he stabbed a finger at Mac. "I should have let Walters shoot you." Mac stared up at the younger man shocked at the icy words. Danny held his stare not flinching; finally he slumped onto the couch instantly regretting the harsh words.
Still stunned at the words, Mac sat silently trying to overcome the anger and hurt he felt. Biting at his lip he was barely controlling the fury he felt inside. Mac took a deep controlling breath knowing that losing his temper wouldn't help matters. "I'm sorry you feel I didn't have your back," he finally said. "But I can assure you I was doing everything in my power to help you. We all were. Flack told you that." Danny pulled a face and went to say something, but Mac put his hand up stopping him. "But you didn't help things by going off and taking matters into your own hands."
"It felt like no-one was doing anything," Danny retaliated. "I had to do something. I couldn't just sit and do nothing."
Mac ignored the comments. "I think you need help Danny," he said firmly. "And I think you're smart enough to know that you need help."
Danny glared at Mac. "You don't know me... or anything about me."
"That may be the case," Mac agreed. "But you don't make it easy for any of us to get to know you." Danny glared again stubbornly turning his head away from Mac. "And for the record," Mac continued. "I do care. I came here today to help you."
"Too late," Danny countered. "You're too late," he leaned back into the couch suddenly tired. His arm hurt, his headache was back and the feeling of desperation had returned threatening to overwhelm him. "It's too late for anything," he whispered.
"I don't believe that... and neither do you," Mac got to his feet deciding that it was best for him to leave for the time being. "You're on two weeks sick leave starting today."
"Fine," Danny scowled at him. "And for the record I don't need... or want your help."
"That's your choice Danny," Mac replied calmly. "If you change your mind. You only have to ask. OK?"
"Go away," Danny said miserably. "Leave me alone."
"Don't give up on yourself," Mac patted Danny's shoulder. Danny flinched from the touch. "I haven't," he opened the apartment door. "And take your meds."
Mac let the door close behind him. As he moved away along the corridor, he could hear the bolts slamming home. Mac sighed hoping that Danny would come to his senses and soon.
It was a bright sunny day with clear blue sky. Mac stood alone staring up to where the twin towers had once risen regally into the New York skyline. His thoughts turned to Claire; he felt close to her here. He could see her face, smell the light fragrance of her perfume and almost feel the silky smoothness of her hair as it brushed his skin. Mac chuckled to himself - he was getting fanciful in his old age. He smiled as he thought about their life together, the good and bad times but mostly he remembered the laughter they had shared. He sighed knowing that he would have to move on with his life take that first step but it was hard giving up what had been wonderful. "I still have my memories," he thought to himself knowing that they would never fade. "Mac," a quiet voice behind him startled him out of his reverie. He turned to see Danny. He looked tired and pale. Dressed casually in jeans and a cotton short sleeved shirt, something Mac hadn't seen him wear before, Danny shifted from foot to foot nervously.
"I....," Danny stammered letting the sentence trail off. This was harder than he had thought. After spending a miserable two days locked in his apartment ignoring his telephone and cell phone trying to fight his nightmares and inner demons alone, he had finally admitted defeat in the early hours. Mac had been right, and he had known deep down, that he needed help. But he didn't want a psychiatrist, he wanted someone who would understand him - Mac. Danny stared down at his feet kicking at a stone distractedly, then up at Mac his expression earnest.
"Danny," Mac nodded walking towards the younger man. "Something I can do for you?" he smiled encouragingly guessing that it had probably been hard for Danny to search him out. He hoped that Danny had come to ask for his help.
Danny took a deep breath gathering his resolve. "I need help," he said looking directly at Mac not flinching. "But not some shrink's help," Danny added quickly. "I need your help." He looked hopefully at Mac. "But...," he stammered looking down at his feet again. "I'd understand if you didn't want to help me .... after what I said."
Mac narrowed his eyes at Danny nodding slightly. "What's past is past. OK?"
Danny nodded relief showing on his face. "So.... you'll help?" he asked again.
Mac nodded. "You've come to the right place," he patted Danny's back. He looked back over his shoulder to the city skyline. "This is the place for new beginnings."