A/N: Hello, and welcome to my new story! If you've read my other one, I may as well tell you that this one starts much slower paced, so you'll have to wait a few chapters until the action starts. I'll be doing updates every two days again, unless things happen. Reviews are always very much welcome! Kate x
Disclaimer: Recognised characters belong to CBS. Title I took from a wonderful poem by Dylan Thomas, then... altered it. Altered it with love. Sorry, Dylan.
Don't Go Gently
He woke in the middle of the night with tears on his face. He wasn't sure exactly where they came from. He had taught himself not to remember his dreams.
He got up. Dressed in black loose clothes and his running shoes. There was nothing else to do, really. If he lay still, sleep would not welcome him, as he knew from long experience.
He jogged along the empty streets. The steady rhythm of the steady beat of his rubber soles hitting the pavement filled his mind as he breathed in and out in time to the pulse. One, two, one, two. He jogged between the orange pools of streetlamps, blending into the shadows. Cars passed him but he ignored their harsh searchlights which picked him out in white, focusing instead on the muted beat of his footsteps and on his breathing.
After a while he stopped for a break, sitting on the stone steps leading up to someone's front door. He rested his elbows on his knees and dropped his head into his hands, breathing heavily. The cold crept up on him now that he was no longer moving, and he shivered.
In a minute or so he looked up. No cars were moving on this quiet street, and curtains were drawn in all the windows. An affluent neighbourhood. Not one he was likely to be called to. He smiled slightly at catching himself thinking these thoughts. He could never really turn off, but at the moment he didn't want to. Something to focus on. Something outside of him.
A shape disconnected itself from the shadows and padded across the street to him. He let the cat approach and stroked its warm body as it pressed itself against his knee, feeling the soft vibrations of its purring against his hand. The thought idly floated through his mind that perhaps he and the cat were the only two creatures awake in the world, in this strange painted world of black and orange.
The cat left. It didn't look back at him as it melted into another patch of shadows. He stood up, continued running.
He came to an all-night Starbucks a while later. The girl behind the counter smiled tiredly at him when he placed his order. She wore a hooded college jumper with the sleeves rolled up, but her green regulation apron hid the name. He collected the mug of black coffee she poured out and sat at a table in the corner, next to the plate-glass window.
The door chimed gently as another customer entered. A woman with bobbed fair hair, late twenties. She spoke quietly to the girl serving, and sat at a table across the room from him. They were the only two people who wanted coffee from this place at this time. They met each other's eyes and looked away.
His phone rang, the harsh tones shattering the stillness. He pulled it from his belt. "Taylor."
"It's Stella. I didn't wake you?"
"No, I'm not home. Have we got a scene?"
"Yeah, in the park. I'm on my way there now."
"I'll find a cab."
"Tell me where you are, I'll pick you up."
"Ok." He looked out of the window, and saw a sign with the street name which he read out to her.
"Yeah, I know it. I'll be about five minutes."
"See you then." He returned his phone to its holder. The woman across the room was watching him. She had very dark eyes. Sad dark eyes. She dropped her gaze, and he also looked away and out of the window; the quiet clinking of ceramic mugs, as the girl tidied behind the counter, sounding in ripples through the peaceful silence. When Stella's car pulled in on the street outside he stood up, the door chiming again to mark his exit. He crossed the road, and glanced back before he opened the car door. The woman was looking at him through the window, just watching him quietly with those sad eyes. This time it was he who looked away first.
He climbed into the car, still held in the spell of the silent streets and orange lamps. Stella smiled at him, but said nothing just yet, giving him the choice to break the silence. They drove past two blocks, and waited at a set of traffic lights, at which no other cars were trying to go in any direction.
"What do we have?" he asked.
"I don't know yet," Stella replied. "I only got a page, not a call."
"Thanks for the lift."
"Not a problem, it wasn't much of a detour."
They fell silent again. Mac had been expecting Stella to ask him what he was doing in the middle of the city in the middle of the night, but she didn't. She probably knew, or could guess. Sometimes she seemed to be better at reading him than he was at reading himself.
"Couldn't sleep?" she asked gently, as he tried to think of a topic for conversation.
"I woke up. I wasn't feeling tired anymore, so I went for a run." It was mostly true. In fact, it was exactly what had happened. She would know what he'd left out without him having to say it.
"We're here." They got out of the car and Stella pulled her kit and camera from the backseat. She passed the camera to Mac. A squad car was parked along the kerb nearby, but there was no one to be seen. The blue and red lights flashed silently in sequence against the darkness of the evergreen leaves.
"That was quick," Flack said as he appeared around a bend in the dirt path. "I wasn't expecting anyone to show for another ten minutes at least. Don't either of you ever sleep at night?"
Stella smiled. "They do call it the 'City that never sleeps', after all."
"Well, this poor girl isn't going to be waking up. C'mon."
They followed him under the dark tree canopy. After three bends in the path there was an open space, a purposely placed old-fashioned lamppost shining through the branches of a cherry tree laden with pale pink blossoms. They lay on the close-cropped grass beneath, large petals, far less cold than the snowflakes they resembled. They lay also on the girl under the tree.
She was wearing a ball dress. The petals perfectly complemented the pale pink of the soft silky fabric. Her blonde hair was long, and loose. It lay spread around her shoulders, collecting dew. The makeup on her face was perfect to the last detail. She had the appearance of an infinitely delicate porcelain doll. Her feet were bare.
"She's beautiful," Stella said softly.
Mac crouched down to next to her. "Did you find a pair of shoes?" he asked.
"Nope," Flack replied. "I had a look around the area while I was waiting, it seemed odd to me too, but I couldn't find any."
The soles of her feet were clean, and free of any indents or discolourations to show she'd walked over the rough ground. But then, if she'd kept to the grass there wouldn't be any anyway.
"She's cold," said Stella. She rested the back of her gloved hand against the girl's cheek. "She's been here for a while. No obvious cause of death, I'm thinking maybe poison. She doesn't look older than eighteen."
"No signs of a struggle," Flack commented. "It could be suicide."
"Who called it in?" Mac asked.
Flack shrugged. "It was anonymous. About half an hour ago someone called 911 and reported a DB at this location."
"Could have been someone who just happened across her," Mac suggested. "Or, if it is murder, it could have been her killer."
They fell silent, collecting evidence and photographing. A few times, Mac had a strong feeling that there were eyes watching him, eyes which raised the hairs on the back of his neck. Every time he looked round, however, there was no one there. He concentrated hard on the job, ashamed of being so nervous. But he couldn't stop the unease.
It was a quick scene to process. The only piece of evidence they could find was a plastic photographic film capsule, a few yards away from her. There were droplets of a dull, opaque liquid inside. When they finished it was still dark, with only the first pale hint of light to the East. "Do you want a ride back to your apartment?" Stella asked.
"Don't worry, I'll get a cab. I'm out of your way."
"I don't mind."
He thought of the eyes he was almost sure he was imagining and shrugged gratefully.
The three of them walked back to their cars. The girl had been taken by the coroner's van a few minutes before. The dark streets were still empty. Stella was trying to stifle a yawn as she started the engine, and Mac looked out of the window, lost in thought. Something about the woman who had watched him in the coffee shop stayed in his head and he couldn't seem to shake her out. He suddenly realised that Stella was talking.
"I asked what you think happened to that girl."
He thought about it for a second. "I don't know. I'm leaning towards suicide, but something keeps telling me otherwise. I'll wait until after the autopsy."
"Mmm. Same, I think. We're here."
He let himself into his building, and then his apartment. Everything was exactly as he'd left it, of course. No reason why anything would have changed.
Somehow, that was the one thing he'd never managed to get used to. That during times when he was gone, no one would move objects from logical to illogical places, no one would rearrange cushions or use mugs as paperweights for important documents. It was a long time now since he'd missed it consciously, but this strange night was bringing deep-buried thoughts to the surface.
He'd joked to Peyton, once, that he could only get the women who were so untidy, they drove everyone else to distraction. She'd laughed, and told him that to a Marine, every woman would always be untidy. She was probably right, but he missed the clutter which had reminded him that his life was no longer empty. Now everything was neat again, nothing out of place. Nothing superfluous. Nothing that didn't have a function.
He lay on top of his bed, fully clothed, and stared at the ceiling until he could get up and pretend to himself that he'd had a good night's sleep.