?

Log in

No account? Create an account
do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

CSI NY fic: Learning to Breathe (2/2)

December 12th, 2015 (09:59 am)
frustrated

feeling: frustrated

Continued from Part One



PART TWO

It had been a long day.

Most of his days were long, and truthfully, that was the way Mac preferred it. He was good at a lot of things, but being idle wasn’t one of them. He enjoyed a few hobbies, but mostly he found that hard work and discipline kept him from thinking too much.

From remembering.

Besides, in a city that hurt as much as this one did, Mac always felt like providing whatever closure he could was part of the greater good.

Still, it made for long days.

He was settled down, light jazz playing as he read the latest book, just starting to feel drowsy, when the phone rang.

It wasn’t uncommon, though it was his night off. And he wasn’t on call. But for high profile cases or if the team was overworked--

He sighed, picking up his phone. “Hello?”

There was a pause on the other end, then a ragged inhalation. “Mac.”

Head tilted, Mac frowned. “Flack?”

“Yeah, Mac,” Flack said before his voice faltered. “We’re trying to serve the Greggory warrant, but he wasn’t home.”

“Yeah,” Mac said, waiting for more.

Flack paused again, and Mac could hear him audibly swallow. “Something’s wrong, though,” he continued, his voice hinging uncertainly. “I...something’s...”

Flack’s voice trailed off, only this time he didn’t continue.

“Flack?” Mac asked, sitting up straight and feeling worry start to build in his stomach. “Don?”

There was no answer, though.

Mac was sitting on the edge of the chair now. “Don,” he said again, louder and more insistent. “Can you hear me?”

Pulling the phone from his ear, he looked at it, noting that the call was still active. Flack hadn’t hung up. He was still there--

But he wasn’t answering.

He’d asked Danny to help serve the Greggory warrant, so that was probably the we. Chewing his lip, he got up, leaving Flack’s line open while he used his landline to dial Danny’s cell.

After a moment, he heard the ringer over Flack’s line.

So Danny was there.

Only he wasn’t answering either.

That didn’t make sense. The only feasible conclusion was that something was wrong.

Something was very wrong.

Mac hung up the landline, looking uncertainly at his cell for a moment longer. It looked like his long day just got longer.

-o-

It was standard territory with his job. Like all police personnel, his unit worked on shifts, but New York City was big and sometimes the cases stacked up. On-call was something they were all used to, and Mac had always accepted that he was never truly off duty. If something came up -- if something was needed -- he was always ready to make that happen.

Before his wife had died, that had been a point of friction. She’d complained sometimes about how he was married to his job first, and she just got the leftovers. They’d argued about that, about the nature of duty and which obligation came first. He made it up to her as best he could, though, but it had never been easy.

That wasn’t a problem now. If anything, sometimes Mac found the late night calls to be a reprieve from the sleep he wasn’t getting.

That didn’t stop him from harboring some exasperation, though. He was willing to do his duty, but he didn’t like to pick up after his team. There was no indication of what had gone wrong for Flack and Danny -- but since Flack wasn’t answering his phone and Danny wasn’t picking up his either, he had to find out.

His team.

His responsibility.

He threw on his coat, dialing his phone again just to be sure. He zipped up and pulled on his mittens while Danny’s voicemail kicked in.

Sighing, he pocketed his phone, grabbing his stocking gap and picking up his keys. He locked the door behind him and made his way down the stairs to the front door.

On the outside, a cold blast of air greeted him as snow swirled in his face. He winced pulling his zipper up higher as he waded out onto the front stoop of his building. It had been snowing all day, and while it was nothing more than flurries now, the damage had already been done.

At his car, he shuddered, looking down the street. He was lucky enough to be close to one of the maintenance garages -- it meant his block was always plowed first. And his building’s parking was better than most, which meant he’d have to scrape his car but he wouldn’t have to dig himself out.

Still, if Flack and Danny were still out serving the Greggory warrant, there was a good possibility they weren’t this lucky. Which could mean they were stuck.

But getting stuck didn’t cut out cell phone reception. And it wasn’t like they were in the middle of nowhere. This was New York City, snowstorm or not. They weren’t truly at risk from the elements. Even if they did get stuck, they could call for backup or just find a nearby store or restaurant to hang out until the worst passed.

If this were a case, the evidence would suggest that there was nothing to pursue. One piece of disparate evidence could be dismissed as inconsequential.

This wasn’t a case, though. This was Mac’s people, and he didn’t have anything to prove. He was the one who told Danny to go with Flack. He was the one who put pressure on them to do it tonight, not tomorrow. That had been his call, and if something had happened in the process...

Well, then Mac was going to find out.

-o-

It was a slow drive, and he spent most of it on the phone with the team on duty while he got revised directions to Greggory’s apartment. With so much snow, there wasn’t much traffic, but portions of the city still hadn’t been touched by the plows, making it a slow and stressful trip.

At the red lights, Mac tried his phone again, but there was no change.

Mac took some pride in being methodical and patient. He was always willing to go about things the slow and steady route in order to get the best results. But that didn’t mean that he didn’t know when to go faster -- and now was one of those times.

But every time he pressed down on the gas pedal, his wheels slipped and he found himself lurching down the streets at an agonizing pace.

Speculation at this point was ineffective. He didn’t have enough evidence to even form a workable theory. His only choice was to wait until he had more evidence to start building a case.

It wasn’t that simple, though. It wasn’t really simple at all.

That was why Mac liked his job. It was making order out of chaos; it was putting the pieces of the puzzle together into a coherent whole. It wasn’t just the challenge he liked; it wasn’t just the fact that it was civic service. It was about completion.

Mac didn’t like loose ends.

That was why he’d pushed Danny to finish this case. The evidence probably could have waited, but they’d be better off with it ready to go in the morning. And besides, he was still gauging Danny’s ability to do the job. He had potential, but he was still reckless in his own way. Mac had wanted to see if he could follow orders, even when he didn’t like them.

The loose end of a case. The loose end in Danny’s personality profile. Mac didn’t like either of them, and he’d decided to fix them by whatever means possible.

But that was the thing about loose ends. If you pulled one too hard, it could all come unraveled and then there’d be a mess.

Like a snowstorm and two employees unaccounted for in the line of duty.

Mac grinded his teeth.

A mess, indeed.

-o-

Mac wasn’t one for road rage, but he couldn’t deny the feelings of pent up frustration by the time he finally pulled onto Greggory’s street. The area had been recently plowed, and the mounds of snow were high along the curb, effectively blocking off all the street parking in the area. He was already moving slowly, but Mac reduced his speed even further, squinted out his window as he made out the street numbers and found Greggory’s building.

Parking was another issue. There was no place legitimately available, but Mac wasn’t about to drive around looking for a spot. It wasn’t exactly legal, but he pulled as far out of the way as he could, killing his engine and getting out of his car.

The air was still frosty, but the snow had almost stopped by now. Uncertain of his next move, Mac scanned up and down the street, looking for any sign of disturbance.

It was still; silent.

Cautiously, he climbed over the snow piles, moving toward Greggory’s apartment. It was the front apartment, second floor. There were no lights on, not even the glow from the television. From what he knew of Greggory, that wasn’t likely unless he wasn’t home.

Frowning, Mac looked back at the street. Greggory wasn’t in custody, so that meant that he probably hadn’t come home. With the weather, he could have worked late or crashed a friend’s house. Both were entirely plausible.

So where was Flack? Where was Danny? It was possible they’d given up and gone home, but for them both to ignore multiple calls? And he knew they hadn’t been been to the office or picked up by any patrol.

He looked down the street again. There were no obvious signs of distress, but then he noticed something different. There were cars along the street, all deeply blanketed in snow.

Except one.

It was still covered, but the snow on top was only an inch or two thick, unlike the four or five inches on the rest.

Moving closer, Mac tilted his head, picking up on an expected sound. It was a low whir, like the sound of a car running.

He glanced toward his own car, which was parked with the engine off. Looking back at the misplaced car in question, he realized the sound was coming from there.

He closed the rest of the distance now, his heart beat just starting to quicken. The engine was still running -- how had he missed that?

The snow, he realized. At the trunk, he brushed off the white layer, bending over to scoop handfuls away from the exhaust pipe. The plows must have covered it, and the additional snowfall likely hadn’t helped. It took a moment to expose it, and exhaust immediately drifted into the night, visible against the inky sky.

With no fresh tracks around, this car had been running for a while. With the exhaust covered, whoever was inside could be sick or worse. Carbon monoxide poisoning wasn’t common, but it wasn’t unheard of. Mac had dealt with more than one case over the course of his career, usually a handful each year. Sometimes intentional.

Sometimes just tragic.

With the exhaust exposed, he made his way back to the front of the vehicle. Covered as it was, it was impossible to fully identify. He pounded on the window. “Hey!” he called. “Anyone in there?”

He wasted no time in brushing the snow away, exposing the window and then the dash. He pounded on the glass. “Hey!”

It was fogged up -- so someone was inside. And that someone was still alive.

He brushed more snow away, exposing the passenger side door now. “Hey!”

There was no answer, and the cop in him took a moment to mentally note that there was a clear and present danger that justified him in opening the door. He tried the handle, but it didn’t give -- clearly locked.

Frustrated, he went to the back door, trying it on a whim, too. This one popped open, and he almost fumbled as he tried to catch the body that slipped toward him.

The sudden weight was startling, but he got his feet quickly, dragging backward as he caught a sight of the dark hair.

“Don,” he said, feeling his chest clench. “Don.

Flack didn’t respond, and Mac hauled him back over the snow until he could lay him out on the ground. The light was poor, but Flack’s color was bad. His face was dusky, and Mac was moving his fingers past the high collar on Flack’s coat to check for a pulse when the man stirred.

The twitch spread through Flack’s body. His face scrunched, and he moaned as his eyes fluttered.

“Flack?” Mac tried again. “Don?”

Groaning again, Flack’s eyes opened, blinking up at the sky in confusion. When they finally tracked toward Mac, he furrowed his brow. “Mac?” he asked hoarsely.

Consciousness was a good sign. Carbon monoxide poisoning started with mild symptoms, but extreme cases quickly led to unconsciousness, coma and even death. If Flack could be roused, then the effects probably wouldn’t be permanent. “What happened?” he asked.

Flack swallowed, eyes flicking about. He took an unsteady breath, shaking his head minutely. “We were...serving a warrant.”

Mac nodded. “Greggory.”

Flack’s eyes settled on him with fresh vitality. “That’s right,” he said. “But we got snowed in.”

“That’s pretty obvious,” Mac said. Then he continued carefully. “Do you remember what happened next?”

This was the important point. Mac had deduced as much as he could, but an eyewitness was always a useful tool to finishing the story.

Concentration showed on Flack’s face. “I don’t know,” he said. “We were just going to wait it out, and Danny got sleepy. He said he had a long day so I didn’t think much of it, but then I started getting drowsy. And--” His eyes widened. “Danny.”

Mac looked up, back toward the car.

Without wasting another moment, Mac was back on his feet moving to the car. He went through the open back door to manually open the front, almost slipping as he finally got the front side open. Danny was slumped against the seat, head lolled away from Mac.

It was a matter of training that kept Mac under control, calm and efficient as he scooped Danny up under his armpits and dragged him out. Don was struggling to sit up, making room on the pavement while Mac hastily laid Danny out on his back.

On his knees, Mac tilted Danny’s face toward him. “Danny?” he asked, giving the younger man a small shake. “Danny.

The light was bad under the streetlights, but it wasn’t hard to see that Danny’s color was worse. Too pale and dusky lips.

Clenching his teeth, Mac pulled his glove up, snaking two cold fingers up under Danny’s collar.

“He’s alive,” he announced, as much for himself as Don.

Splaying a hand on Danny’s chest, he leaned over, putting his ear close to Danny’s mouth. He wait for a moment, hoping to feel the faint tickle of breath, but it never came. He adjusted his stance, feeling the sluggish cadence of Danny’s heart but his chest didn’t move.

“Damn it,” Mac muttered.

Don watched, wide eyed. “Is he--”

“Not breathing,” Mac informed him curtly. He sat up, moving himself into position next to Danny’s head. He glanced at Don. “Can you call it in?”

Don nodded numbly, fingers fumbling for his jacket while Mac pinched off Danny’s nose and leaned over. Mouth to mouth -- it was about as awkward as everyone expected it to be. But that wasn’t the hard part.

No, the hard part was knowing that the person beneath you couldn’t breathe, that you were literally the only thing there to prevent them from dying. That was a hell of a responsibility, even with a stranger.

With a friend?

Well, that was a different kind of fear.

Breathing once, he was pleased to see Danny’s chest rise and fall, and he waited a beat before trying it again. Nearby, he could hear Don talking haltingly into the phone, demanding an ambulance to their location.

He breathed for Danny again, his own chest starting to ache. He could still hear himself, chewing Danny out. Not that he’d been wrong, not that Danny hadn’t needed the discipline, but the lingering words were still an expectation he knew Danny was trying to reach. That had been the point, to give Danny something to work for, to live up to his potential.

This wasn’t living, though.

Tragic accident, bad luck, whatever it was -- Danny was here for Mac, because was trying to make Mac see that he was serious.

Mac had seen it; he’d seen it all along. That was why he’d come down so hard, because Danny needed the push. He needed the motivation, the structure, the discipline.

We’ll see
had never been as much for Mac himself as it had been for Danny.

Because Mac could see it, pretty plain right now.

He breathed for Danny again, wishing like hell the younger man would just take a breath already.

Because Mac had seen enough, now. Enough work, enough sacrifice. Enough.

“Come on, Danny,” he muttered, not sure if it was an order or a request.

He bent over to breathe fro Danny again.

All he could hope was that Danny had come too far to start ignoring him now.

-o-

Of course Mac was relieved when help finally arrived. As far as he could tell so far, this wasn’t a police matter but a medical one, and Mac was inherently a practical man. If his people needed medical help, he wanted only the best for them.

That said, it was easier said than done to sit back on the sidelines. Mac didn’t consider himself a control freak, but he liked control, and although he could lay it down as needed, that didn’t mean he ever liked it.

It really was for the best, though. After nearly ten minutes, Mac was breathless with the exertion, heart pounding and palms sweating despite the cold and snow.

He kept his eyes trained on Danny and corrected that assessment. He wasn’t breathless -- not when air was still moving in and out of his lungs. No, breathless was an adjective he had to reserve for Danny. After transferring him to a backboard, the medics had immediately covered Danny’s mouth and nose with a mask attached to a bag, which they squeezed consistently to deliver fresh puffs of air to Danny’s lungs.

Breathless shouldn’t have to be quite so literal, Mac thought, his gut twisting with worry he didn’t want to fully acknowledge.

As they started to load up Danny, Mac swallowed back his thoughts and cleared his throat. “Detective Flack needs to be looked over, too,” he said.

Flack, who was upright but still pale next to him, shook his head. “Messer got it worse.”

“This isn’t a contest, Don,” Mac said. He made eye contact with one of the medics. “They both suffered from prolonged carbon monoxide exposure.”

One of the medics nodded as her partner secured Danny to the gurney. “Sir, if you could come this way--”

Don sighed. “Mac, I’m fine--

“That’s not for you to decide,” he said, stepping aside while the medic came closer. “Besides, you cooperate and you can hitch a ride with Danny.”

She nodded, pulling out her tools. “Easier than calling in another rig,” she said. “Spread pretty thin on a night like this.”

Don closed his mouth, pursing his lips tightly. “I still think this is unnecessary.”

“It’s better to be safe,” the medic said diplomatically.

Mac nodded his approval, moving away only when Don appeared to be accepting treatment. For the sake of Don’s privacy, Mac made his way back toward the other medic, who was still squeezing air into Danny’s lungs. “How is he?”

“Still no spontaneous respirations,” the medic reported. He glanced to his partner. “You ready to pack up and load?”

“Yeah,” she called back, putting her pen light away, and taking Don by the arm. “This one is stable; we can fit them both.”

“Fine by me,” the other said. “We need to get in ASAP.”

Don allowed himself to be walked toward the ambulance, and both medics worked together to move Danny’s gurney over the snow while pumping his oxygen bag. Mac followed, keeping a hand on the gurney out of principle, helping as they kicked up the legs and slide the gurney inside the back of the rig.

The female medic helped Don inside while the other took a seat near Danny’s head to continue mechanic ventilation. Sitting gingerly, Don cast Mac a wary eye before settling back and keeping his gaze on Danny’s still form.

Mac swallowed again, feeling inexplicably guilty as the medic closed the door. Before she made her way around to the front, Mac stopped her. “They’re going to be okay,” he said, trying to sound more certain than he felt. “Aren’t they?”

Her smile was thin across her face in the moonlight. Her eyes were tired and sympathetic. He knew that look; it was the same one he gave to the families of victims all the time. “We’ll see,” she told him.

The brevity of the answer was weighted down in the implication. Numbly, Mac watched as she turned away, climbing into the driver’s seat before turning on the siren and pulling away from the curb.

She wasn’t trying to be mean; she wasn’t trying to be vague. This wasn’t a kindness or a cruelty; it was simply the truth.

The ambiguity of life was often the truest thing they ever had to offer, and Mac had always understood the implicit uncertainty, but sometimes he forgot what it felt like. What it felt like not to know.

The times when we’ll see was more of a promise than a curse, when the weight of your entire life seemed to be hinging on factors outside of your control.

How often had he said it?

How rarely had he understood it?

We’ll see.

Good or bad, there was no way to know. Don was pale, Danny wasn’t breathing, and all Mac had was we’ll see.

He tightened his jaw, reaching his hand into his pocket to pull out his keys.

Today, we’ll see was his challenge.

And Mac always met his challenges head on.

-o-

Going to the hospital was slow with the weather, but Mac was grateful that the rest of the city at least had the common sense to be battening down the hatches for the night. Mac didn’t want to get into an accident, but he also didn’t want to take any longer than he had to with two of his own in the back of an ambulance.

This job, the things they did, it was inherently dangerous. After being a cop long enough, he had learned to take that as part of the job, and injuries in the line of duty weren’t as common as crime dramas might have one believe, but they happened often enough to make it seem too often.

Hell, he could still remember tying Flack’s insides together with a shoelace.

The problem was that it wasn’t just the job, it was life.

Who would have thought it, after all? A running car in a snowstorm wasn’t exactly a high risk procedure they trained you on at the academy. But Mac couldn’t get the sight of Danny’s unmoving body out of his mind.

By the time he got to the hospital, he could feel the tension building along his shoulders, and he had little patience for pleasantries. Moving through the front door, he went straight to the desk, glancing around anxiously at the nurses who scurried through and the two receptionists who were both taking what appeared to be urgent calls.

Tapping his foot, Mac looked at them expectantly but one of them didn’t even make eye contact. The other held up his finger, indicating just another moment, before turning away and continuing the conversation.

Frustrated, Mac glanced around. He’d been here before -- he knew where the ER was. He was about to abandon his attempt at following the rules entirely when he saw a familiar face.

He would have preferred to see Danny or Flack, but Stella’s small smile was enough at a moment like this. He crossed the lobby toward her. “Hey, you made good time,” he said.

“The crime lab is pretty close,” she said. “And I wasn’t about to sit around doing nothing when I got your call.”

“Any word?” he asked.

Stella nodded toward the doors. “They’re both being evaluated right now,” she said. “Don’s awake and alert -- I got to talk to him.”

“He must have had a lesser exposure, somehow,” Mac explained. He hesitated, just barely. “What about Danny?”


The polite smile faded entirely. “They didn’t let me in,” she said. “I just got a glimpse.”

“Is he breathing yet?” Mac asked.

She shook her head, a little grim. “Didn’t look like it,” she said. She pressed her lips together in concern. “Carbon monoxide poisoning?”


“Accidental, I think,” Mac said, rubbing a hand through his hair with a sigh. “They were out to collect a DNA sample and got caught in the snow. I guess they thought they could wait it out, and didn’t realize that their exhaust pipe had been clogged.”

Stella drew her brows together seriously. “No signs of tampering?”

Mac almost smiled at that. They were cops, Stella and him. Second guessing the obvious just came naturally. “Nothing to indicate it at the moment, no,” he said. “But I did have other priorities at the time.”

Stella was already nodding along with him. “We should get out there, canvas the area a bit.”

“The snow would have buried any footprints or other circumstantial evidence,” Mac said.

“But we might still find something wrong with the car,” she said. Pausing, she tilted her head. “You want me to run with this?”

It never failed to make an impression on Mac, just how good Stella was. Not just as a cop, but as a friend. She knew what was needed on both fronts, and was entirely willing to act on both. She didn’t even make him choose between his need to find out the truth and his desire to be here for his team as they recovered.

This was why Stella was his second in command.

More importantly, this was why Stella was one of the few people he truly considered a friend.

“If you could, that’d be great,” Mac said. “I’d like to rule out anything suspicious.”

“Of course,” Stella said. “I already got the address, and it shouldn’t take me long. Will you call me? When you hear anything?”

“Yeah,” Mac said. “And Stella?”

She waited for him to finish.

“Thanks,” he said. Because it was as simple and complicated as that.

Stella didn’t need it explained; she never did.

Her smile was answer enough. “Any time,” she said, reaching out to squeeze his arm. “Going to be a long night, it looks like.”

Mac sighed in agreement, watching as she went. “Yes,” he said to himself as he turned back toward the ER doors. “It definitely is.”

-o-

In all honesty, long didn’t even begin to describe it. For all that television wanted people to believe that hospital were fast-paced scenes of life and death, they were much slower than that most of the time, more monotonous. The machines and monitors were a painful metronome, keeping the beat to a song that no one wanted to dance to but everyone was afraid would end.

Despite the very real struggles that happened in every hospital room, there was very little to do. These fights, they were private, which was the worst part of all. At a time when you wanted to fight for someone most, all you could do was sit and hope for the best.

Hope, Mac knew from experience, was a perilous thing. He believed in it, he really did. But he didn’t believe it needed to be idle.

And God help him, sometimes flashing a badge got him a little of what he needed. That was how he got himself into a small curtained area, where Flack was stretched out in a bed with his eyes closed.

Mac hesitated at that, not sure if he wanted to disturb the other man. No matter what Flack said, he’d still been through something tonight, and although the doctors clearly didn’t think Don was an life threatening case, that didn’t mean that it wasn’t going to require some recovery -- emotionally, if nothing else.

His hesitation was enough, though, and Don stirred on the bed. Taking a few steps in, Mac drew the curtain closed behind him. When he turned back around, Don was watching him tiredly. “Hey,” he said.

Mac managed a smile. “Hey.”

Wetting his lips with some effort, Don took another deep breath. “How’s Messer?”

It wasn’t that Mac had expected small talk, but maybe he’d hoped for it. He looked at his hands for a second before forcing his gaze up again. “No word yet,” he said. “But I’m sure we’ll hear something soon.”

Don did not look particularly comforted by this. “He wasn’t breathing, Mac,” he said. “He wasn’t breathing.

Mac’s stomach knotted tightly, and he did what he had to do to maintain his composure. He was the one who had preferred rescue breathing for ten minutes. He knew the reality of Danny’s condition better than anyone.

Still, that wasn’t what Don needed right now.

“His heart never stopped beating,” Mac reminded him gently. “That’s a good sign.”

The muscles in Don’s jaw tightened. “Not good enough,” he said, fists clenching at his sides. “We should have just gone home.”

Mac didn’t know what to say to that.

Don shook his head, face twisted bitterly. “He was so damn determined, though,” he muttered. “Wanted to stick it out.”

“You were just doing your jobs,” Mac started.

But Don looked up at him, frustrating burning in his eyes. “We were off the clock,” he said. “We could have done it in the morning, and Danny would be fine.

The vitriol wasn’t directed at anything in particular, but Mac still felt it like a barb in his chest. Because he’d been the one, not to give the order, but to make the insinuation. He was the reason Danny had gone out there with Flack. Mac had worked as a cop long enough to know that if you look for blame, you’re going to find it, but there were some connections that were just hard to live down. If, to no one else, then to yourself.

Clearing his throat, Mac refocused their attention. “Can you tell me more about what happened?”

Don looked at him, renewed clarity in his eyes. He knew this wasn’t idle concern; he knew because he’d been on this side of the bed more often than not. “You already know,” he said, a little stiff. “Serving the Greggory warrant.”

“Did you find him?” Mac asked.

“Greggory? No,” Flack said. “He never came back, and after we waited long enough, we figured it’d be easier to wait it out.”

Mac nodded, because that did make sense. “And you left the car running.”

“We had a full tank, and it was cold out,” Don said. “Checked in down at the corner store for some snacks.”

“Both of you?” Mac asked.

Don shook his head. “Messer was tired, so I went by myself.”

“Being in and out of the car would lessen your exposure,” Mac said. “Explains why…”

He trailed off.

Don snorted. “Why I’m lying here with a headache, and they’re still pushing air into Danny’s lungs?”

Collecting a breath, Mac retained control of the situation. Don was his friend, but at the moment, he was also a witness. “There was no suspicious activity?”

Don’s face contorted. “It was a snowstorm,” he said. “There was no one on the streets. Only car that went by was the snowplow.”

“Which was probably what clogged your exhaust pipe,” Mac said somberly.

“So, what then?” Don asked caustically. “Just bad luck?”

It wasn’t hard to misplace the bitterness in Flack’s voice; it was easier still to understand it. “You and Danny were out there because you were good cops doing your jobs,” he said. “That’s what matters.”

“Does it, though?” Don asked. “If Danny doesn’t wake up, is that really all that matters? Because I don’t know, Mac. I’ve bled for this job more than my share, and I believe what we do is important, but it’s got to be more than that.”

“That’s the hardest part,” Mac said. “At the end of the day, no matter what good or bad comes, it all comes back to how we do the job.”

Don looked away, eyes bright. Even if they could justify the risks they took, there wasn’t much solace to those justifications. “He begged me to come along,” Don finally said, voice quieter now. “I told him it could wait, but he insisted.

That detail hadn’t exactly been one that Mac had expected.

When Flack looked up, his look was even more tired than before. “He just wanted to get ahead for once,” he said, then his lips turned up in a wry smile. “And look how well that ended up for him.”

His stomach knotted again, harder than before. Despite the heat pumping through the hospital vents, he felt cold as ice. “Why don’t you get some rest,” he suggested.

Don shook his head, almost petulant.

Mac preempted the protest, though. “You rest, and I’ll go check on Danny.”

“And you’ll tell me?” Don asked. “As soon as you know.”

Mac smiled reassuringly. “As soon as I know,” he promised. “But first, you rest.”

Don was already yawning, eyelids sagging as he settled lower down on the pillows. “I’m holding you to that,” he said, half mumbling at the end.

Chest tight, Mac tried to keep smiling. Weak and tired as he was, Don was still the lucky one this time. Mac hated that he could do nothing but offer platitudes. “Don’t worry,” he said with one last nod at the drowsy detective. “I’d count on nothing less.”

-o-

Don was the lucky one.

Danny, on the other hand, was not.

When he flashed his badge a second time, he was finally directed up to the ICU, where Danny had recently been transferred. It was no easy process finding him there, and the nurse glared at him sternly, wholly unimpressed by his badge, as she explain the visitation rules inside of the ICU. Mac promised to be quiet, brief and unobtrusive to the point where he felt relieved to finally make it inside Danny’s room.

That was, until he actually saw Danny.

Danny was laid out in the bed, covered hastily by a sheet. There is an IV running from the crook of one arm, and there are a handful of leads snaking away from his body to the bank of machines by the bed. This isn’t without precedence -- Don had had similar interventions -- but Danny doesn’t stir as Mac gets close.

To the contrary, Danny stays painfully still as the tube down his throat forcibly breathes for him.

The doctor had explained this as a precaution more than anything, assuring Mac that Danny was showing signs of regaining his respiratory function. They just wanted to keep his oxygen levels high until the carbon monoxide was purged from his system in order to give him the best shot at recovery.

When Mac had asked if Danny was going to be okay, he got a familiar answer.

We’ll see.

There were odds and factors and all the rest, but it all came down to that: we’ll see.

Mac was starting to hate that answer, especially where Danny Messer was involved.

After all, Danny should have been at home, staying warm and dry tonight. His shift had ended hours ago, and while Mac believed that his crime unit had to be willing to go above and beyond, the job wasn’t the only thing, no matter how much Mac tried to make them believe that.

And Mac didn’t begrudge his people a life -- a happy, full, productive life outside of the office. He wanted that for them, he really did.

But damn it all. Mac had asked Danny to go on that DNA run because he wanted to give Danny the chance to prove himself. The we’ll see had hung between them for weeks now, and it had been apparent from the start that Danny intended on earning his way back. Danny wanted to be the cop Mac knew he could be, and Mac had wanted to give him that chance.

He’d never thought, though, that when he asked Danny to jump, the younger detective would oblige so willingly -- right off a cliff.

Tonight was a mistake, plain and simple. Mac hadn’t lied to Flack about that. This wasn’t Flack’s fault, and it wasn’t Danny’s fault. It wasn’t even Mac’s fault, not in any real sense of the word. Some things in life were just bad luck, and Mac had to account for that when it came to his team.

He was a man of science, so he didn’t like to talk like that. He didn’t like shades of gray. He hated to admit that sometimes you couldn’t always shoot straight, no matter how hard you aim. But as much as he hated to admit such uncertainties, he had no way of denying them now.

For Danny’s sake, he couldn’t deny them tonight.

We’ll see
could be a punishment.

But it could also be a hope.

Sighing, Mac stepped closer, putting a gentle hand on the rail of Danny’s bed, watching as the younger man continued to breathe.

Sometimes, Mac had to admit, he had probably seen more than enough.

-o-

The nurse chased him out after fifteen minutes, and Mac was too tired to fight her. She told him that he could come back in the morning, and Mac left his card with explicit instructions to call if there was any change.

She rolled her eyes, but took the card.

On his way back downstairs, he almost walked right into Stella coming out of the elevator.

“Hey!” she said, far more energetic than Mac felt. “I was just looking for you.”

“I just got out with Danny,” Mac said, motioning back toward the elevator.

“He awake yet?” Stella asked hopefully.

“Not awake, but stable,” Mac reported, rubbing the back of his neck. “They’ve got him on a ventilator for now, but it should be out by morning.”

Concern creased Stella’s brow. It clearly wasn’t the news she’d been hoping for, but Mac didn’t have any energy left to dwell on that.

Instead, he sized her up. “Did you find anything out?”

She clearly didn’t want to discuss work, but this was Stella. She drew a breath, nodding as she let it out. “No signs of tampering or anything amiss,” she said. “We could wait till the snow thaws or run a wider search for prints, but it looks clean, Mac.”

“So an accident,” he said, unsurprised.

“I had the car towed in for closer mechanical analysis, just in case,” she said. “But there’s nothing to warrant further investigation.”

“Bad luck,” he sighed, shaking his head.

“The worst,” Stella agreed. “What were they doing out there anyway?”

“The Greggory case,” Mac said.

Stella shook her head. “That’s not a pressing case.”

“I wanted to start the DNA analysis so we could get a jump on it,” Mac said.

“Tonight, though?” Stella asked. “There’s no reason you’d need to get that far ahead.”

“Well, I wasn’t the one who needed to get ahead,” Mac said, weary.

“Danny,” Stella realized.

Mac shrugged one shoulder. “He’s been looking for a chance to prove himself,” he explained. “I’ve been trying to give it to him.”

“So he can get back on the promotion grid,” Stella said. “He has been working hard.”

“Very hard,” Mac said. “Since our talk after the shooting, I’ve seen a real change.”

“Yeah, he’s giving everything he has to get back on your good side,” Stella mused.

Mac frowned. “I don’t have a good side.”

She gave him a look.

He licked his lips, properly chagrined. “Not really,” he amended. “I just give credit where credit is due.”

“That’s my point,” Stella said. “You’re hard, but fair, and sometimes getting even a nod of approval can feel monumental, especially when you’ve been reprimanded.”

“I’ve been doing this for Danny,” Mac said. “He’s a good cop, but he’s a loose cannon, and if he doesn’t get that in check, the first person he’ll take down is himself. He has what it takes to be a great cop.”

“Agreed,” Stella said with a matter of fact nod. “But you have to make sure he sees the love of tough love eventually.”

Mac shifted, feeling his ire rise just a little. Stella was never intentionally mean, but she was honest. That was why he trusted her, but sometimes it wasn’t always what he wanted to hear. “You think I’ve been too hard on him.”

She shook her head, resolute. “No, because I’ve seen him grow so much over the last few months, just like you,” she said. “But he went out there for you tonight. He stayed out there for you. And it’s not your fault -- the whole thing, it was a fluke -- but Danny needs to know you’re on his side otherwise he’ll start fighting against you instead of for you. At some point, he has to realize you’re tough because you care, not because you don’t.”

It wasn’t an easy truth, and it wasn’t a light reality. It wasn’t anything he didn’t know exactly, but it was probably something he needed to hear.

He smiled tiredly. “Sounds like you know what you’re talking about.”

“Well, I have worked for you for a while,” she said, smiling now. “I have some experience.”

“I guess Danny and I will need to have a talk when he wakes up,” he said.

She patted his shoulder supportively. “Speaking of that, do you want me to wait with you?”

“No,” Mac said. “I’m going to crash in the chair in Don’s room, just to make sure.”

“And Danny?”

“I’ll call you,” he said. “Can you--”

“Handle the lab in the morning?” Stella finished knowingly. “You know I will. Just take care of our guys, okay?”

Mac rolled his shoulders, preparing himself mentally and physically for the hours to come. “Try to stop me,” he said. “Danny isn’t the only one with something to prove tonight.”

-o-

Don was soundly asleep by the time he got back, and this time he didn’t stir. That was a good thing, because Mac was pretty exhausted himself. He knew how to go without sleep, but that didn’t mean he liked it, and the extra adrenaline from the medical emergency earlier had taken its toll on him.

He settled down, watching Don sleep for a few minutes. His breathing was steady and deep, and his color was back to normal. He’d be back on the streets in no time, like nothing had changed.

But things had changed.

Cops, they liked to pretend like things could always go on, be like they were. Like you could take a bullet and survival was all that mattered. Don had survived being blown up, and how easy was it for Mac to take that for granted because he couldn’t see the scars?

It wasn’t that simple, sure, but it also wasn’t as hard as Mac made it sometimes. He had to be professional to do the job he did, but these were good people he worked with. Men and women who he knew better than anyone. After losing his wife, the crime lab had been his home, the NYPD his family.

That had to be the good with the bad.

The strength and the weakness.

He needed to take Don out for a drink, have a talk with him, too. See how he was coping and make sure that things were still okay.

That they were all okay.

The job, after all, wasn’t just DNA and evidence.

The job was the people and the connection.

The job was here, right here, between two people.

And Mac needed to remember that just as much as anyone else.

-o-

Mac woke stiff and bleary-eyed when the shift changed, and he imagined he looked worse than Don did as the nurse prepared his discharge papers.

With a clean bill of health, Flack didn’t look particularly relieved.

Mac didn’t have to ask to know why.

He also wasn’t quite ready to talk about that just yet.

“So, you need a ride home?” Mac asked, doing his best to straighten himself up to look presentable for the day.

“Home?” Don asked, looking over the sparse ziplock back of things he’d been returned by the hospital staff. “Thought I’d check in on Danny.”

“That’s no way to recover,” Mac said.

“I can’t--”

“Leave him?” Mac asked. He arched an eyebrow. “What do you think I’m going to do.”

“But I was there,” Don said.

“All the more reason you need to rest,” Mac said. “Go sleep for a few hours and come back this afternoon. He should be awake by then.”

That wasn’t exactly what the doctor had said, but Mac was feeling optimistic this morning. For his own sake as much as Flack’s.

Flack, though, still didn’t look convinced. “Have you heard anything new?”

“Haven’t been up there this morning,” Mac said.

Flack swallowed, face paling slightly. “He scared me.”

“You both scared me,” Mac reminded him.

“Even before this,” Don said. “He was wiped, Mac.”

“I know,” Mac said patiently.

But Don wasn’t done. “Like, really,” he said. “He’s been working himself ragged these last few months.”

Working hard, working ragged. It was a distinction Mac needed to make note of. “Don, I know--”

Flack sighed heavily, shoulders slumping. “I just -- I don’t know,” he said. “He’s a good cop.”

“I know,” Mac agreed quietly.

When he met Mac’s gaze, his eyes were steady. “And he’s a damn good friend.”

The breath Mac drew in his chest was tight. Both of those things mattered.

Mac needed to remember, sometimes, which actually mattered more.

He smiled, small and painful. “I know.”

Tired as he was, Flack understood. He scrubbed his hand through his hair, getting to his feet with a wince. “I’ll call a cab, okay?” he said.

Mac nodded.

“But I will be back this afternoon,” Flack continued, looking at Mac seriously. “And you’ll call me if something changes?”

“He’s going to be fine,” Mac assured him.

“All the same,” Don said. “I’m not sure I’m ready to take this one for granted.”

“I’ll let you know,” Mac said. “And Don?”

Don paused, looking back at Mac.

“When you’re better, you and I should get a drink,” he suggested.

There was a strange, uncertain look on Flack’s face, just for a moment.

Then he smiled. “Yeah,” he said. “We’ll see.”

Mac smiled as he watched the other man see.

We’ll see.

-o-

Going upstairs, Mac prepared himself for the worst.

And was pleasantly surprised by the best.

Danny was not only extubated but he was sitting up with his eyes open, talking to the doctor. When Mac came inside, Danny made eye contact, eyes widening in recognition.

The doctor noticed the shift immediately, looking back at Mac. Getting to his feet, the doctor smiled back at Danny. “The nurse will be around soon with breakfast,” he said. “I want you to eat, and I want you up and about within an hour.”

Danny nodded. “You got it, Doc.”

The doctor turned, hesitating by Mac. “He’s still very tired, and a little confused. His memory is foggy from last night, but I imagine he’ll remember most of it soon,” he warned. “I don’t want him exerted--”

“Don’t worry,” Mac said. “We’ll take it easy.”

The doctor nodded, taking one last look at Danny before he headed out. With the doctor gone, Mac smiled broadly as he made his way over to Danny’s bed.

“So,” he said, beaming down at the younger man. “You’re looking better.”

Better, yes, but up close Mac could see that he wasn’t 100 percent. He still looked pale and exhausted, eyes just a little clouded. It was an effort, quite obviously, for him to stay awake, but he was making what appeared to be a valiant effort to meet Mac’s eyes.

“Yeah,” Danny said, voice rasping audibly now. “I don’t think I got the DNA yet--”

“Whoa,” Mac said, holding up his hand. “I’m not here about the DNA.”

Danny’s brow furrowed almost comically. “But the job,” he started. He shook his head, a little confused. “I’ll get it today.”

“No,” Mac said. “You’ll be here today. Recovering.”

“No, no,” Danny wheezed. He sat up a little more, trying to swing his legs off the bed. “I can do it--”

“Whoa,” Mac said, putting a gentle hand on Danny’s shoulder to keep him in bed. “You heard the doctor.”

Too weak to fight, Danny looked up at Mac, confused. “The doctor?”

Mac smiled patiently. “Do you remember what happened?”

Danny inhaled raggedly. “The Greggory DNA,” he said. “I had to get it with Flack.”

“And?” Mac prompted.

“And…,” Danny said, his frown deepening. He glanced around the hospital room, before looking apologetically up at Mac. “I screwed up.”

“No, you didn’t,” Mac said, a little sterner than he intended.

“But what--”

“Carbon monoxide poisoning,” Mac informed him.

Danny blinked up at him. “Carbon monoxide poisoning?”

Mac nodded. “You and Flack both, but you got the worst of it,” he said. “It was a fluke.”

Danny thought about this, clearly still a little confused. “Flack’s okay?”

“Flack’s fine,” Mac said. “I just sent him home.”

“And the DNA?” Danny asked.

“Stella will send Sheldon over this morning,” Mac said.

Danny nodded seriously, still looking anxious as he perched on the side of the bed. “I’m still sorry,” he said. “For everything.”

“For nothing,” Mac corrected. “This -- all of it -- wasn’t your fault.”

“But the job--”

Mac shook his head. “The job isn’t the only thing that matters,” he interjected forcefully.

Forceful enough to make Danny stop.

Forceful enough to make Danny understand.

“It’s not?” he asked finally, voice sounding incredibly small.

Mac’s own expression softened. “No,” he said. “Danny, I know your priorities.”

“You do?” Danny hedged, sounding genuinely surprised.

“I think you’ve made them perfectly clear over the last six months,” Mac assured him.

“Oh,” Danny said, then he visibly relaxed. “Oh.”

Mac grinned, patting Danny on the shoulder. “So for today, let’s just focus on getting you back up to speed.”

Mollified, Danny eased himself back, pulling his legs back on the bed as he sank into the pillows. “You sure I can’t get out of here?”

“I’m sure,” Mac said.

“Tomorrow, though?” Danny asked, sounding far too young. “Maybe tomorrow?”

Mac pulled a chair up to Danny’s bed and sat down in it. “We’ll see,” he said.

This time, Danny smiled, tentative and hopeful. “We’ll see,” he repeated, nodding to himself. “I think I can live with that.”

Grinning now, Mac felt the pressure in his shoulder ease as he settled down more. “For once,” he said. “I think we both can.”