A/N:For some strange reason, I can't quite shake the image of sad Flack after having his first love (read: food) displayed in such… uh… unfavorable light. Can't say I can't relate: I haven't eaten chicken since I witnessed how Pio-Pio and Cloc-Cloc met their untimely (IMHO) death in order to be served as main dish at my grandmother's birthday brunch when I was 5…
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"I don't think I'm ever gonna be the same again…"
Flack's words rang in his ears over and over again. He had made a huge manly effort not to throw up in front of Stella right there at the carts court, and he was proud of his self-control. He really was. But that was then and this was now and right now he was having a very hard time controlling his stomach's contents… what little was of them. He was sitting at his favorite dinner, his favorite bagel sandwich sitting in front of him, tempting him, calling to him… but every time he picked it up, images from earlier that day flashed in front of his eyes.
Flack was a rational man. As a rational man he knew that street food was not the most hygienic of choices when it came to feeding oneself. As a rational man, he also knew that food prepared in restaurants had to adhere to strict codes of cleanliness and the cook knew better than to mess with New York's finest. But his rationality didn't seem to be able to govern his gag reflex, and his gag reflex was furiously working overtime at that moment.
After a third attempt, and with a discouraged sigh, Flack pushed his food aside and contented himself with sipping his iced tea. His BOTTLED iced tea. He hated the damn thing with a passion, as he found it far too sweet even for his taste, but he wasn't willing to risk the chance of another fat rat cavorting around the ice that ended up in his glass. Waiving to the waitress, he asked for the check and the food to go. Maybe, just maybe, if he waited until he was practically starving, his mind would stop playing games with him.
Several hours later, Detective Jennifer Angell was urgently called into the bullpen at the precinct. His coworkers had summoned her in hopes she'd be able to tame Flack some, or at least, figure out what kind of bee had gotten under his bonnet, as his temper was wrecking havoc among the detectives.
If foul mood could be measured in terms of colored clouds, the one surrounding Flack would have been a very dark one, almost completely hiding him from sight, Angell mused. She couldn't understand why he was in such a bad mood; from what she'd heard, he and Stella had gotten their guy and cleared up a very high profile case, so logic would dictate him to be in a cheerful disposition. Perhaps his perp had been a runner? Angell knew Flack hated those types, as he usually ended up getting dirty and his dry cleaning bill was already murderous as it was.
The expletive caught her by surprise. Flack wasn't one to swear easily, being almost gentlemanly in his choice of vocabulary. Angell was starting to fear that whatever was bothering Flack was something really, really bad.
"Don?" she asked timidly, keeping a safe distance between them, just in case.
He didn't even bother turning around. "Whatcha want Jenn? I'm busy, can't you see?"
Jenn thought that "bother" was perhaps too mild an explanation, and the truth was that her friend was really upset about something. She decided to press on.
"Is there something bothering you, Don?"
"Is that how you made detective, Angell? By asking stupid questions like that? Or was it your honed observation skills that led you to that conclusion?"
Now it was her turn to be pissed.
"You know what, Flack? Screw you. Here I was, idiot me, worrying about you, trying to figure out a way to help you with something that's obviously gotten you in a rotten mood, and all I get is attitude…"
Flack finally turned around to look at her. He opened his mouth to give her a piece of his mind and then snapped it close again. She wasn't responsible for his present state of mind, and he was taking it off on her. A quick apology was in order, quick cover up work and get out of there ASAP following close behind.
Best laid plans, however… He opened his mouth again and blurted out a pitiful "I'm hungry!" before he could stop himself.
Jenn looked at him, perplexed. She knew as well as anybody else, if not better, just how Don Flack Jr. felt about food. What she couldn't understand why was, if he was hungry, why wasn't he eating the take-out sandwich sitting conspicuously in the corner of his desk?
"Want me to reheat that for you? Maybe get you a soda as well?" she asked carefully, weighing his response.
"NO! You don't get it! I can't eat… because of the rat… I saw… a rat… I saw the street vendors and their carts and how they handled the food… and the rat there… and the man sneezed on top of it… and there was dirt everywhere… and did I mention there was a fat rat sitting there nibbling on leftovers?"
Jenn looked at him, trying to process the information, carefully avoiding forming a mental picture of what he was saying lest she ended up like him. She could understand how such an event could traumatize a man who loved food more than life itself and whose personal relationship with street vendors was the kind of stuff legends are made of.
"Should I call the department's shrink? Maybe Andy will be able to…"
"No!" he interrupted, "I don't want Andy's help. It's no good, I simply cannot see food the same way ever again. Trust me, I've tried everything and it's not working. Nothing works! I'm gonna starve to death…"
"Don", she tried her best soothing voice, the one she reserved for potential suicidal jumpers atop tall buildings, standing on tiny ledges. "You need to stop thinking about it… you need to let it go. Just because you saw something unpleasant today it doesn't mean that all the food in New York is unpleasant…"
He interrupted her. "Did you know there are 6 rats for every human being in Manhattan? And they don't feed only on leftovers in smelly trashcans… oh no… they actively seek food whenever they can find it and they never ever rest. Can you imagine it, Jenn? A whole family of rats living off MY food and MY leftovers and prancing their dirty fat selves all over the places where I eat…"
He left the idea unfinished, and shuddered. Jenn looked at him with compassion, wondering what would be the best way to help him before he became a real danger for any unsuspecting suspect who happened to get on his bad side before Don had something to eat.
"Come" she said finally, taking him by the hand and dragging him behind her, as several dozen eyes followed them, their owners holding their breaths, hoping against hope that the whole "Flack-is-pissed-cause-he-can't-eat" ordeal be done and over with so they could carry on living without fear. Jenn pulled Don to the third floor, where a vast array of vending machines lined the wall separating the stairs from the elevators.
"Here", she said, firmly. "I don't see any rats in here, do you?" Don shook his head. "And all that food is wrapped, isn't it?" He nodded again. "So there is no way a rat, big or small, got anywhere near it, is there?" He opened his mouth to protest, his mind going back to the time BEFORE it was packaged, but Jenn held out her hand to stop his protest. "We'll start with something simple. And since you haven't had anything to eat in over 8 hours, the fist thing we need to do is get your sugar levels up."
Without another word, Jenn slid a couple of coins in the slot, punched a couple of numbers and produced a small package of chocolate covered raisins. Ripping the package open, she placed several pieces on Don's hand.
Don took one look at them and his stomach hurled once more. "Rat turd" he mumbled nauseated before dashing for the nearest bathroom. Jenn watched him go, sighed, and proceeded to pick up the chocolate bits from the floor. Dropping them into the waste basket, she headed for the men's room. Knocking softly on the door, she pushed it open.
"Don?" she called tentatively.
Jenn carefully peeked inside just in time to see Don splashing water on his face. She had no way of knowing if he had thrown up or not, but judging by the look on his face, it made no difference whether he had or not… the expression "death warmed over" suddenly popped into her mind and she had to agree that her friend did in fact look like that.
Don approached the female detective with certain trepidation. He was starting to really worry about the situation. What if his mind refused to let him eat ever again? What was he going to do? He wasn't rail skinny, but he didn't have much extra weight to be loosing in an impromptu hunger strike. He figured he had ten, fifteen pounds tops, he could stand to loose before people noticed something was wrong. Twenty pounds, and his health would start to be compromised. He wondered if these were the kind of thoughts bulimics and anorexics had running through their minds… it wasn't as if he'd made a rational decision to stop eating, dammit! His stomach just seemed to have a mind of its own…
"Come one", Jenn told him, as she gently led him out of the room. "Let's tell the brass you're heading home. I'll drive you there."
Don nodded, gratefully. Home seemed like a very good idea. He certainly was in no position to be dealing with work right now. He'd shower and get a good night's sleep and by morning he'll be a good as new. He decided that first thing tomorrow he was going to buy the biggest box of sugar donuts and bring it into the bullpen as an apology to all those he had chewed their heads off during this God-awful day. He quietly waited for Jenn by the door as she explained to their supervisor, and he followed her to her car without saying much. The ride home was equally silent, each lost in their own thoughts.
Once they got to his place, he turned to say thanks, but one look from Angell made him think better about it. She rode the elevator all the way into his place, and sat patiently in the living room, leafing through a magazine and surfing the channels while he took a quick shower. He came out looking slightly better and Jenn allowed her hopes to rise, at least momentarily.
"Do you have anything to eat in your fridge? From scratch, I mean." She asked when she saw him come back into the living room.
"My sister came by yesterday and dropped off some crock-pot stew" he replied. He seemed to ponder his next question carefully. "Would you like to stay for dinner? It's the least I can do after all you've done for me…"
"Don't mention it, Don. You'd do the same for me if the situation were reversed… although I'm sure you'd be rubbing plenty more salt on my wound…" Angell smiled as she said this, and was relieved to see a hint of a smile on his face. "I appreciate the invite, darling, but believe it or not I have a date tonight…"
"A date?" Don's eyebrow reached mid-forehead. "Really?"
"Yes, a date. You know what they are, don't you?"
"Funny, Angell. Who's the brave guy?" he asked.
"If I didn't know you better, I'd be offended... what do you mean "brave"? Am I that daunting?" she asked, good-naturedly.
"Does he know about your brothers?"
"I rest my case."
Angell threw a pillow towards him in a playful manner and went into the kitchen. She saw Flack pale a bit as he approached the fridge, and for a second she wondered if Ray would mind much if she gave him a rain check and stayed with Don instead, making sure he ate something.
"Don't" he said, as if sensing her thoughts. "Go to your date. I'll be fine. See?" and as if to prove a point, he opened the fridge and took out a crystal container filled with the homemade meal. His smile faltered, and he quickly tried to cover it up, but not before she'd seen the look of disgust that crossed his face at the sight of the food.
Jenn looked at him and considered what to say. In the end, she chose no to say anything, hoping that he'd end up reheating a tiny portion. She was sure that once he started eating he wouldn't stop until he had stuffed himself silly, and there was enough food in the container to keep him satisfied for the night. Putting on a too bright smile, more for his peace of mind than hers, she approached him and kissed him goodnight, and cheerfully let herself out of his place. Once the door had closed behind her, the smile vanished and she held her breath. The crashing sound from the kitchen came before she'd reached twenty-three. Sighing, she headed for the elevator and took out her cell phone. Things needed higher-up intervention, and they needed it fast.
"We have a problem" she said to the person who answered her call.
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A/N: This was intended as a one-shot, but….oh well, you know how it is.