It had not been a good week.
If Mac had said that out loud, Stella would have rolled her eyes at the understatement and made a teasing comment about the predictability of Mac's taciturn nature. But Stella isn't around and Mac could mince words as much as he liked without risking her commentary. He isn't in the mood for flippancy anyway.
He isn't in the mood for anything, except for maybe a stiff drink or a good, long, dreamless sleep. Mac had enough shadows haunting his waking hours. Shadows of an uncertain future, shades and ragged edges fluttering hints of an uncertain past. A dark past that threatened to put out the tentative flickering embers of trust that Mac and Danny had sheltered between them since the last time Danny had proven himself fallible and suspect. To have that possibility raise its head again shook Mac more than he cared to admit, and when Danny had asked him to be a friend and not his boss, Mac hadn't been prepared for the maelstrom of emotions that had churned in his mind.
It wasn't Danny's pleading voice, the slight shaking and sheen of sweat on his brow, that had troubled Mac as much as his own instinctive desire to do what Danny had asked: to be Danny's friend rather than his boss; to remove that bureaucratic wall between them, and Mac had spent a long few moments fighting that reaction and striving to retain his professional stance. He *needed* to be professional, they both needed their actions to be nothing short of by the book. Still, a part of Mac is shaken and stirs restlessly in the back of his mind as Mac relentlessly pursues the evidence and coldly nails Sassone in his proper place.
Mac tries to tell himself that he's disturbed by the idea that he's lost his edge and that one of his underlings can actually ask him to not follow procedure without Mac sternly putting them in their place; that this is just another symptom of Danny's disregard for authority and need to have things his own way, something that Mac had tried to get Danny to work on. Mac wants to believe that what bothers him so much is having to doubt Danny again. But that part of Mac, left unfettered by Danny's raw emotions, knows that what has Mac so unsettled is that, despite all logic and all evidence otherwise, he trusts Danny and believes what he says to be true. He shouldn't trust Danny, but still, he does.
That realization stays with Mac as he finishes up the paperwork and leaves his office for the night. He's so preoccupied that he doesn't even notice where he's driving until he finds himself turning into the hospital parking lot. Mac sits in his car for a moment, thinking he should just turn his car right around and go home to that much-needed sleep. Even as he steps out of his car, Mac thinks this is a bad idea, that he shouldn't go to Danny and offer him hollow words of awkward comfort. Danny shouldn't ask Mac to be his friend because Mac is not a very good friend, as much as he might wish it to be otherwise. Especially to Danny, who not only tests Mac's authority but also his self-control from time to time, tempts Mac in a way that can only lead to rejection and hurt, though he's not sure who would reject who.
His footsteps crunching the wet gravel of the front entrance walkway, Mac can see Danny in the distance as the younger CSI slowly walks outside. Danny moves like a caged lion, all tension but little movement, and the rational part of Mac's brain makes one last desperate plea to leave things be. He helped Danny keep his job, he found the evidence he needed to exclude Danny as a suspect, so there isn't anything more anyone could expect of Mac. He should reassert their relationship as boss and employee, put that distance back between them before he succumbs to anymore of Danny's glittering, dangerous charm. Mac worries Danny will take advantage of any slack, take that inch and pull Mac in for a mile's worth of unknown road. When Mac's inner voice becomes silent, then agrees and suggests that still, the polite thing to do would be to inquire about Danny's brother, Mac thinks he's won.
Feeling secure, Mac comes to stand in front of Danny and asks that polite question, pleased that his tone is concerned and nothing more. He knows his reassurances of Louie's help to the case should give Danny peace of mind. But then Danny meets Mac's gaze and Mac's solid ground evaporates at the pain in Danny's blood-shot eyes. Mac can't think of a time he's ever seen Danny this unguarded and hurting. Even when Danny knew he was close to being fired and outcast after accidentally shooting that beat cop, he had not shown anything other than nervousness, fear, and anger. Danny is a defensive person, using sarcasm and New York clichés to cover up his worries, and seeing him this stripped bare without a smart-ass remark in sight undoes all of Mac's proper intentions. When Danny takes a shuddering breath and tries to speak, only to have his words splinter into sobs, Mac feels like something inside himself is splintering as well. Seeing Danny this defenseless and scared hurts Mac, makes his oh-so-professional concern seem inadequate and small.
Mac doesn't even realize he's moved forward until Danny stumbles in his direction, and then suddenly, his arms are around Danny, and Danny's lean frame is shaking and clutching at Mac's jacket. Danny is crying in quiet, hysterical little hiccups that he keeps trying to muffle, burying his face into Mac's shoulder. Mac holds him close, one hand holding the back of his skull and the other rubbing Danny's shoulders in a soothing motion, overwhelmed by the sensations of Danny's shivering form against his chest and in his arms. He knows he shouldn't let the embrace last this long. It's not appropriate behavior. But all Mac can think of is that he knows what it's like to feel the way Danny does, that Danny shouldn't have to go through that alone, like Mac did, even if Mac did it by choice, and that Danny needs somebody to help him hold on. Danny hurts and Mac hurts with him, his mind flashing between thoughts of Claire and Danny's brother and countless other moments of unvoiced grief and loss. For all his worrying about risks and the future, Mac thinks that maybe the reason he trusts Danny is because Danny finally trusts him in turn. This isn't like the Minhas case, where Danny blinded himself with panic and Mac was forced to punish Danny for refusing to follow Mac's orders. The past few days had Danny going along with Mac's directions, even when it meant giving up his shield and gun, stuck doing paperwork under an officially-suspicious eye, and yet Danny had submitted without protest. And even now, Danny returns Mac's trust with Danny's own vulnerability, trusting Mac to not turn him away, to let Danny grieve and fall apart if only for a little while. Mac knows Danny wouldn't do this with anyone else, would rather suffocate than give anyone else the slightest hint that Danny Messer was anything other than one hundred percent.
So Mac holds Danny and lets his terror run its course until Danny's tendon-popping grip starts to slacken and his shuddering subsides into slow, even breaths. Mac can feel the warmth of Danny's exhalations on his neck even if his jacket is too thick to feel the damp spots Danny has certainly left there. A moment passes, and then Danny slowly pulls away from Mac just enough to be face to face, and Mac lets him go except for a comforting hand on Danny's shoulder. Mac is somewhat startled by how young Danny looks right now: his eyes still red, his face flushed, and without his glasses on. All their talk of Danny's younger days and for a moment, Mac has no problem imagining an impressionable and uncertain Danny Messer following his older brother around, hoping for some form of acceptance and approval. Yet he still defied his brother and risked alienating the Tanglewood boys for good just to try to get them to leave alone some drug dealer Danny had never even met. Mac knows that side of Danny; saw it in him on the first day they met when Danny was so certain that Mac would never hire him. Even now, when Danny thinks Mac regrets taking Danny on and keeping him in Mac's lab, Mac never forgets that part of Danny that silvers the core of Danny's being, like his spine is plated with stainless steel. Feeling only approval and sorrow where Danny is concerned, Mac doesn't regret anything and knows that Danny wasn't wrong to look to Mac for friendship as much as he does for guidance.
Danny sniffs and blinks, trying to get himself contained again before his parents arrive.
"Thanks, Mac." He says with a little self-consciousness but relaxes when Mac smiles.
"Not a problem. That's what friends are for." Mac replies, and when Danny digests this, a shy smile of his own slowly blossoms across Danny's lean face. He nods and gives Mac a look of gratitude that leaves Mac feeling warm and vaguely pleased. He squeezes Danny's shoulder and gives him a last pat before letting the younger CSI go, putting his hands in his pockets.
"Better get back inside before your parents get here. I'll redo the shift schedule in the morning to give you the day off tomorrow." Mac tells Danny, unable to resist reverting back to professional manners. Old habits die hard. But Danny doesn't seem to mind letting their private moment pass and merely nods again, looking more at ease now than before Mac had arrived.
"I appreciate that, Mac, I'll see you bright and early on Tuesday, don't you worry." Danny replies with some of his normal bantering attitude. He gives Mac a salute that's slightly shading towards mocking, but his eyes are serious and respectful, like Mac has always known them to be. It's that look that stays with Mac long after Danny has left and Mac is alone in his car, making his way back to his apartment for the solitude that he no longer really craves.