Author's Note: About the bell ringing in the last chapter: Some of you got it, others didn't, and I apologize. Generally, I footnote my culture references, but I felt that would have lost something if I did. The bell ringing is taken directly from the Jimmy Stewart movie being watched in the last chapter, It's A Wonderful Life. The script includes a "saying" which I have never heard anywhere outside of that movie, but ALMOST became the chapter title to last chapter ("Every Time A Bell Rings"). In fact, I might just change the title now. Anyways, the saying is, "Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings" and the "angel" in question in the movie was Clarance, who helped George Bailey see that he had a great effect on people and stopped him from killing himself. After George's daughter says this, (or before, I don't recall), a bell on the Christmas tree randomly rings.
About Nick/Cath: You may be disappointed (or happy depending on your ship) to know that there is no Nick/Cath section in this epilogue (insert sad emoticon here). But it IS referenced on what the two are doing now, and I ALMOST included a scene with them at the airport but inevitably decided against it. Probably because of my aversion to writing Nick/Cath scenes. Hopefully the news on what they're doing now will suffice and let you know what they inevitably ended up deciding to do about their complicated relationship.
About More from Me: I have a number of projects in the works. I don't want to preview any of them, for fear of letting you down if you see something good (IE, pull another "Nevada Devil"). Know that I will not post something unless I intend to finish it but I may mention a project I'm currently excited about that never ends up getting finished. Hopefully, it will be either So Close To Home or Defining Death or something completely different and out of the blue. Maybe the Inbetweens. If I feel like it...
On an (somewhat) related note, the fan fiction awards are in process over at livejournal, so go nominate/vote for stuff. Sept. 15 is the last day to nominate (I know, way to tell you late, huh?) but voting begins soon, so YAY. Oh, and I'm nominated. So that's cool too.
Epilogue: One Year Later
The flame burnt his fingers and he cursed under his breath as he shook out his hand and dropped the match, but the candle was lit and burnt dimly in the surrounding dusk that spilled in through the window of the tree house. Danny smiled.
Still wearing his bright orange community service vest, he hadn't even gone home to Susan yet. He had to make a stop here, to his old haunts, back in the day when this tree house was his only sanctuary, the only place he really felt safe. He knelt down in front of the candle and wiped his hands on his jeans, looking through the window at the setting sun skeptically. Clouds were rolling in. It could rain. Maybe even snow. Most probably a combination of both, which would turn into slush on the streets. It didn't snow last year. He kind of hoped for a white Christmas. It would make things different this year. It would mark the things he had done right this year.
He bit his lip and looked at the candle. Did he have time? He looked at his watch. He didn't have to be home for half an hour. He would risk it. She wouldn't mind if he was a little late for dinner. She never did.
He took a framed picture out from his jacket and propped it up behind the candle, which flickered off of the glass. He had stolen this picture from the yearbook room before he and Mickey had been expelled. Mickey had him in a headlock, teasing him again, like he always used to do. Danny's smile broadened to hold back the tears he felt gathering in the back of his eyes.
He somehow knew inherently that Mickey loved him very much. He didn't know why. Mickey had never said the word "love" to or about anyone, and yet if Mickey had ever loved anyone, it had been Danny. Whatever else Mickey may have been, he was not inhuman. All he had really wanted from Danny was Danny's love in return. Danny figured it was a bigger blow to him than he had let on when Mickey had figured out Danny was straight. It was probably why Mickey had acted out like he did, why he wanted to kill Sara and Catherine and Greg. He was angry. And an angry Mickey often did things that Danny regretted.
Mickey rarely spoke of anything personal, let alone his feelings. Danny never really knew what exactly happened with that teacher. He had assumed molestation by the way Mickey had coldly described it.
"He did things," Mickey had told Danny reluctantly. "He did things that… that I didn't want."
In truth, Danny was never sure of anything that happened to Mickey. Mickey had never spoken of his family, of his brother and sister, only that they had abandoned him and were ashamed of him. And he rarely ever said the word 'love' about anything other than beer and video games.
And when Sara had suggested that he loved Danny…
He knew it was true. Somehow, he just knew. In the looks Mickey would give him. In the way he had faced the tyrannical Kyle Denton after Kyle had stolen Danny's sweatshirt. Mickey hadn't gotten the sweatshirt back, but he had succeeded in giving Kyle a broken finger and a split lip, though Mickey himself had come out of the brawl with a black eye and some bruised ribs. Kyle had never bothered Danny again after that.
It was strange the things Mickey would do for him. The way Mickey acted around him. Mickey was coarse and rugged by nature, but around Danny his demeanor always softened, and he always seemed to let down his guard around Danny. Danny never really noticed it until after Mickey was gone how different Mickey acted around him.
He was alone. He was confused. He was scared. And Danny had betrayed him. And not by talking to Sara, no, that betrayal was forgivable. Danny had betrayed him by giving up on him the moment Sara had been shot. When Mickey had shot Sara, there was no good left in him that Danny could see. That's why Danny hadn't immediately run to his body. That's why he'd had eyes only for Sara. That's why he hadn't cared that Greg had killed him.
But now he did.
Now that he had time to reflect on all the things Mickey had done for him…
They had been each other's only friend in the world. And Danny had turned his back on him the minute Mickey had made his last desperate mistake.
He smiled sadly at the photograph, the flame of the candle reflecting in the glass of it. He looked up at his wooden sanctuary, his makeshift house of worship. This tiny little tree house was the best home he had ever known, before he had gone to live with Susan. And in a way… he missed it. He missed the feel of it. The cold nights sleeping in it, next to Mickey. The smell of it. The smell of Mickey.
In his own, strange way, Danny felt that he had loved Mickey too. Maybe not in the same way that Mickey had loved him and yet… maybe so. Danny would never be sure. All he knew was that he missed him. And that he was sorry.
There was a sound behind him of someone climbing the ladder and for one brief moment Danny's heart leapt up into his throat because he thought it was Mickey coming to ask him to go steal some beer from the local 7-11.
It wasn't Mickey.
But it wasn't a disappointment.
She folded her arms on the floor of the tree house, her feet still on the ladder as she rested her head on her arms and smiled at him. "Hey. Susan told me you would probably be here."
He grinned. "I'm sorry— am I late? I thought I still had time…"
"No," she replied. "I just wanted to see how you were doing."
"What's for dinner?" he asked her.
"Roast beef," she replied. "I mean, for you. I'll stick with some string beans and mashed potatoes."
"I don't know how you can stand to be a vegetarian," he said. "I love roast beef."
"Gil sure makes a mean one, too," she said. "Or, so I hear."
"I look forward to trying it," he returned.
"What have you got there?" she asked, looking at the photo behind him.
He sighed. "Mickey," he replied. "I… Is it bad that I miss him? I know he nearly killed you and your friends but I just—"
"No, Danny," Sara interrupted her eyes sincere. "No, it's not bad at all."
He smiled again.
"Susan tells me you're going to UNLV next year? On a scholarship no less?" She sounded impressed.
Danny nodded. "I wrote an essay… about living with Ian. And Mickey. And my crimes. Apparently, I impressed them."
"Well," she said, "you have cleaned up your act a lot in a year. You and Ian both. I hear he's ready to take you back? Are you ready to go?"
"Ian means well…" Danny began slowly. "But he doesn't… He didn't understand before. He was only bad when he drank. And now that he's not drinking… Still, I can't go back until I finish my community service and Susan tells the courts I'm OK. She's kind of like my parole officer and my foster mom. It's weird."
"It's a far better deal than juvy, wouldn't you say?" she returned.
He nodded with a grin. "Oh, way better. Glad to be out of there."
Sara looked at her watch. "Come on," she said. "Greg will probably be over there by now."
"Greg's coming?" Danny sounded nervous. Greg had held him at gunpoint, though for good reason. And Greg had been the one to kill Mickey, though also for good reason. He hadn't seen the young CSI since last year. Had Greg forgiven him? Moreover… Had he forgiven Greg?
Sara didn't seem to understand his concern as she nodded eagerly. "Mm hm! And he's anxious to see you, so let's get out of here."
" 'Anxious to see…' I'm not sure if I'm so anxious to see him," Danny said, warily.
She rolled her eyes. "He's thought about you too, believe it or not. We talk about you sometimes. He asks me how you're doing, if you've gotten better since last year… if you've found better friends…"
Danny looked back at the candle that burned in front of the picture of Mickey and his heart lurched. He remembered watching Mickey turn. He remembered their eyes had met. And Mickey had raised his gun and…
He could forgive Greg.
He could forgive Mickey.
He wondered now if he could forgive himself.
"Better friends…" he mumbled, then looked at Sara again. "I found you, didn't I?"
She nodded. "You sure did."
"Is anyone else going to be there?" Danny asked. "I mean… other than you and Gil and Greg? Is… is Catherine going to be there?"
"No," Sara said. "She's…" She smiled broadly and laughed slightly. "She and her daughter are spending Christmas in Texas."
"What's in Texas?" Sara asked.
"Apparently one big family that's been dying to meet her," Sara replied. "She's there with her boyfriend."
"Oh…" Danny said. "Good for her."
Sara agreed with a nod. "But Captain Brass will be there. You remember Captain Brass, don't you?"
"Sure," Danny said. "He seemed… OK…"
Sara chuckled. "He takes some getting used to, but you'll love him, I promise." She looked at her watch. "We should really get going. Come on, slow poke."
He watched her climb back down the ladder and made a move to follow when he stopped and looked back at the candle and photograph. Taking a deep breath, he held it a moment before blowing out the candle and tucking the photograph into his jacket. He then followed Sara down the ladder and to a warm Christmas dinner with friends. And family.