Disclaimer: All original characters and such belong to CBS. I own the characters I created as well as the new plot.

Summary: Fourteen years ago, Mac Taylor made a mistake. As he tries to cope with the aftermath of the bar shooting, he receives the shock of his life when the past catches up with him by way of a phone call from a hospital in New Jersey...

Chronology: Minus flashbacks, shortly after episode one of season six, "Epilogue."

Pairings: None right now.

Rating: T for situations and probably some mild cursing.

Author's Note: As you may have noticed, I've updated my pre-story info format. Change can be good. I hope this will be helpful both to my wonderful readers and myself. Speaking of which, thank you so much for reading!! I would like to request that you please reread the first chapter, as I think I've slightly adjusted the timing and a few other minor details. Reviews would also be lovely for the first chapter as well as this one so that the first chapter doesn't get jealous, haha. Thank you so much for reading!!!


Responsible

Mac did not fully grasp what the woman from Child Services was telling him. "What do you mean?" he finally managed to get out.

Wendy Fairbanks gently tapped the photocopy in front of him. "Just what this says."

He forced himself to look at it closely, his head swimming and refusing to comprehend what she was trying to tell him. That's not possible…

And yet there it was in black and white.

Name of child: Mackenzie Grace Faulkner

Date of birth: September 17, 1995

Name of mother: Cassidy Renee Faulkner

Name of father: McKenna Boyd Taylor Jr.

The last line from that section kept running through his head. Name of father: McKenna Boyd Taylor Jr… Name of father: McKenna Boyd Taylor Jr… Name of father: McKenna Boyd Taylor Jr…

"Are…are you sure this is authentic?"

"I've seen the original, Detective Taylor. It's real."

"This…this isn't possible."

"I'm guessing you had no idea she existed?" Dr. Clara Young asked, looking from him to Wendy.

"Of course not…but she can't…she's not…mine…" He shook his head, as though that would erase the confusion and the numb, shocked feeling.

"You didn't know her mother?" Wendy's gentle insinuation was clear.

"I…" The name was just barely familiar, but he couldn't place it. "I don't know."

Wendy nodded calmly. "Ok. We can run a paternity test to be sure."

Mac looked up at her. "And then what?"

"If she is yours, you have sole custody."

He rubbed one hand over his face, still trying to process the information he'd just been given. "What…what does that mean?"

"Do you have a spare room?"

He looked up, startled.

"I realize this isn't the ideal situation, Detective Taylor, but she has no one else. I'd love to be able to send her home with some of the wonderful friends that have been in to visit her, but her mother didn't make any arrangements to that effect. Therefore my hands are tied: custody legally goes to the next of kin. In addition, she won't have a home to return to, even if she could. Her mother was going back to college. The loans she took out for those classes, as well as some other items, need to be repaid, so the bank is selling their house and most of the mother's belongings."

He nodded slowly. He still didn't believe there was any way this mysterious child they were talking about could be his. "What happens if I can't take her?"

"She'll have to go into foster care."

Damn. If she was his, she was coming home with him. He knew all about the abysmal state of the foster care system, how it was overburdened, how kids slipped through the cracks, how many foster parents were less than qualified. After hearing what Stella personally had gone through in foster care, there was no way he could, in good conscience, let another child end up in the system. Especially his own.

"A paternity test shouldn't take too long," Wendy was saying. "The hospital's lab can run it as soon as I take samples.

Mac nodded again.

Wendy headed for the door. "I'll go get the kit."

Clara Young also nodded and added, "I'll give you a few minutes." She kindly placed a hand on top of one of his before she followed the other woman out of the room.

Alone with the piece of paper and his thoughts, Mac tried to come to terms with the strange series of events unraveling around him. It still felt like a very weird, confusing dream.

The birth certificate was staring him in the face. He picked it up, and this time tried to place the mother's name. Cassidy Faulkner…Cassidy Faulkner…I can't be this girl's father—I don't even know her mother!…Cassidy Faulkner…Cassie Faulkner?…Cass Faulkner?

That's when it hit him. Cass Faulkner. December 25, 1994. He hadn't thought about that night in a very long time.

And with good reason. He and Claire had been good for each other. They rarely had problems. But Christmas night in 1994 was one of the very rare exceptions. He couldn't even remember what the fight was about anymore. It had turned ugly, with the two of them screaming at each other, faces red, fists clenched, beyond all reasoning. It had ended with him grabbing his keys and stalking out the door, Claire chucking a lamp at his rapidly retreating back. He drove for what could have been minutes or hours before he came across the glowing lights of a bar on the outskirts of the city. He wasn't a drinking man, but it felt like the right place to be. Before he left his car, he stuffed his wedding band in his pocket. It just reminded him of why he was out. The inside of the small bar was dimly lit and vaguely smoky, with a few limp strands of red and green garland pinned around the windows and taped to the edge of the bar. There was less than a dozen people seated around the area, including a woman with a black eye and split lip huddled alone in a booth crying silently into a beer, two exhausted-looking young men conferring in hushed tones over empty shot glasses with a large bottle of whiskey nearby, a scruffy, old, grizzled gentleman with dog tags hanging around his neck, two drinks sitting nearby, one empty and one full, staring off into the distance with another set of dog tags in one hand, and a blond girl in a short, tight pink dress who barely looked old enough to drive and had one arm threaded through the arm of a much older man who didn't seem very steady on his barstool.

Mac seated himself at the opposite end of the bar from the couple, a few seats away from another woman, this one with shoulder length chestnut hair. She stared blankly into the bottom of her nearly empty glass. The bartender, a short, balding, middle-aged man, asked him what he wanted.

Mac shook his head, not really trusting himself with anything at the moment.

The bartender gave him a wry smile and set a can of beer and a can of Dr. Pepper in front of him. "Give it a couple minutes. You'll know which one you need." Then he left.

He waited, looking alternately around the bar and the sleeves of his shirt. He didn't realize his left hand was drifting towards the beer.

"Don't do it. Then you have to call somebody to come get you, just when you're in a state where you don't want anyone to see you."

Mac looked up, startled, and realized that the woman sitting a few stools down had spoken to him.

"Trust me. I'm regretting it." She indicated her glass. "This isn't my first, and I have a feeling it won't be my last. And by the time I'm finished I won't have money for a cab, which just leaves him as a method of transportation."

"Ex?" Mac asked, hoping he wasn't being nosy.

"Yep. Scumbag." She drained her glass. "And you, you've got breakup, or something, written all over you."

"Fight."

"Ah. Christmas fight. Those are the worst."

He nodded.

She stuck out her hand. "Cass Faulkner."

"Mac Taylor." He shook her hand.

She refilled her glass from a bottle the bartender had apparently left. "I know better…" she murmured. "But I am way beyond the point where I care." She took another swig and gave Mac a long, careful look. "You don't look like the drinking type anyway."

"I'm not…it just…I…Honestly, I don't know why I'm here."

"I bet I do." She paused and picked at the label on the bottle before she continued. "Somewhere in your subconscious, you feel like you need the atmosphere. Nobody questions your motives because they're just as messed up as you. In fact, no one's gonna ask questions because most everyone has bigger problems than you do. No one's gonna be judgmental. No one you know is gonna see you, and anyone you see here is never gonna see you again. Basically, as stupid and clichéd as it seems, you feel like you're supposed to be in a bar."

Mac was quiet for a moment, then gave a short hollow laugh. "Yeah, pretty much."

"I don't mean to be intrusive, but how bad a fight?"

"Really bad."

"Shouting bad, or throwing stuff bad?"

"A combination of both."

"Ouch."

He nodded and pulled back the tab on the Dr. Pepper. "Our first real fight."

"Double ouch."

Mac Taylor was not the type of man to spill his guts to anyone, let alone to a strange woman in a bar, but there was something indefinably comforting about this woman. Honest and real, this was the type of person he really connected with.

"We've known each other forever, but tonight…it was just like…"

"You had no idea who she was."

"Exactly."

They talked for at least an hour, speaking of their partners in vague terms to keep the conversation somewhat light. They discovered they shared night-owl tendencies and an affinity for blues music, and that they both had ended up in New York not quite by plan but loved the city anyway. They shared a laugh as they discussed their nicknames and full names and why they went with the former as opposed to the latter. As they talked, Cass kept drinking. When the bartender started shooing people out so he could close up for the night, Mac felt that the only gentlemanly thing to do was to offer to take Cass home. She gratefully accepted.

Once he helped her to his vehicle, she directed him to an apartment complex. He then helped her up the stairs to her apartment. She fumbled with her keys and dropped them three times before Mac took over for her. He realized he couldn't just drop her off and leave, so he helped her to the couch and got permission to go through her kitchen in search of things to make coffee. He brewed a pot, and poured them each a mug. He sat next to her on the couch and helped her steady the hot beverage as she took a few tentative sips. Before he had a chance to try his own mug, Cass did something that shocked him.

She turned to him and kissed him.

She pulled back, apparently shocking herself. She began stammering apologies, citing the alcohol and her recent bad relationship. And then Mac shocked himself.

He kissed her back.

Neither of them really knew what they were doing or why, but there was something that they both needed that was fulfilled by the other. It was intoxicating, it was passionate, it was real. They kissed on the couch, which slowly led to kissing in the bedroom, and things escalated from there.

Mac awoke several hours later to the first faint appearance of sunlight breaking through the dark violet sky. There was a lingering feeling of incredible passion and understanding hanging in the air. He rolled over in bed to find Cass Faulkner asleep next to him, her pretty chestnut hair spilling over the pillow.

He suddenly realized who she was, where he was, and what they'd done. He leapt out of bed and started searching for his clothes.

The sudden movement woke Cass, who blinked sleepily and looked up at him.

Mac felt a terrific wave of guilt and knew it showed on his face. Cass was looking at him, slightly confused and maybe a little hurt.

"I'm married," he mumbled simply, unable to look her in the eye.

"Oh." She watched him pull his pants back on and retrieve his shirt from the floor.

"I am so sorry." He tried to make eye contact, but kept thinking of Claire. He felt sick.

Cass vehemently shook her head, realizing what he was thinking. "It's ok. I was drunk, neither of us was thinking straight. You didn't use me, and what happened last night was just as much my fault."

"I…"

"Mac. Really. It's ok. This never happened." She smiled at him, not a fake attempt at reassurance, but a genuine understanding. "Thank you for driving me home."

He finished buttoning up his shirt and shrugged on his jacket. He finally really looked at her. "You're very welcome, Cass. And…thank you."

She simply smiled.

He left the apartment and never saw her again. He returned home to Claire, fully prepared to make a complete confession, as much as the truth would hurt them both. But when he found her in the kitchen and she ran from her chair and threw her arms around him, sobbing and apologizing and promising they would get past this, he couldn't bring himself to do it. He assured her the fight was just as much his fault, but she wouldn't let him continue and suggested they not talk about the previous day. Then she pulled him into their bedroom.

After that, there was no possible way he could bring it up. They moved on, he tried to forget, and he never took off his wedding band again.

Mac's flashback to that Christmas Day ended just before Wendy returned and carefully swabbed the inside of his cheek. She promised to expedite the testing, shook his hand, and left once again. Clara Young was leaning against the frame of the doorway.

"Are you ok Detective Taylor?"

He looked again at the birth certificate and the names inscribed there and felt the remnants of that sick, guilty feeling that he hadn't felt since December 25, 1994. "No," he finally admitted quietly. "No. I'm not."


It took Stella all of thirty seconds to figure out something was wrong when he returned to the crime lab that afternoon.

"Mac, are you even in the same zip code as the rest of us?" she said, waving her hands in front of his face.

"Yeah, I'm here…" He rummaged through a stack of folders on his desk.

"Mac."

Her tone of voice made him look up.

"What's going on?" she asked gently.

He stopped pretending to look for a folder and sighed, rubbing a hand over his face. "It's…"

"Do not tell me that it's nothing, Mac."

"It's…extremely complicated."

"It would probably help to talk about it."

"I can't. Not…not yet."

"Why?"

He sighed again and stared absentmindedly at a corner of his desk. "This is…I…it's just complicated. I don't even know what I'm doing."

She gave him a small, encouraging smile and rested a hand on his shoulder. "You know that you can talk to me about anything, right?"

He paused for a moment. "Of course, Stella…In fact," He looked up. "I'm counting on it."


It took three days for the hospital to get back to him. During that time, he used every ounce of effort he had to keep focused on the crime scenes they worked and the evidence they processed. However, by the time he finally got the phone call, despite his best efforts, even Danny and Sid could tell there was something a little bit off about him.

The phone call was made by a young woman, likely a receptionist, who did not disclose or know the results but simply instructed him to return to the hospital that afternoon. Stella gave him a knowing look when he told her he was taking the afternoon off, but she didn't press him for details.

He drove to the hospital, where he was greeted by a different receptionist and instructed to go to the same room where he'd met with the two women last time. He spent two tense minutes there alone before Dr. Clara Young entered, holding a large manila envelope.

"Detective Taylor," she said with a gentle smile. "I'm sorry about the wait."

All he could do was nod.

She opened her mouth as though to say something, then paused. After a moment, she handed him the envelope. "She's yours," she said quietly.


The whole thing seemed incredibly surreal. Mac stared at the printout from inside the envelope. He'd seen paternity test results before—his team had worked several dozen cases where paternity played a part in motive or was a wild card thrown in to the mix. But seeing his own name on those sheets of paper was a shock he was utterly unprepared for, even after seeing the birth certificate and remembering Christmas of '94 and having three days to get used to the idea.

"Detective?" came a soft voice after several minutes.

He looked up at Dr. Young, who was sitting across the table from him.

"I'm sorry, I realize this must be very difficult for you. But we had the results double-checked."

"I…remembered her mother," he confessed.

"I see," she replied softly, in an understanding tone.

There was another minute of silence.

Finally, Clara Young broke it. "Would you like to see your daughter?" she asked gently.

Once again, he could only nod.


She led him down a hall on the same floor as the room they'd met in. The recovery ward was mostly silent, and Mac caught glimpses of people in various stages of healing resting inside the rooms as they walked along.

He was so preoccupied with his thoughts that he nearly ran into the doctor when she stopped in front of a room. She gave him an encouraging smile as she opened the door and ushered him inside first.

As soon as he saw the young girl in the hospital bed, he realized they hadn't needed the DNA test.

Despite all her injuries and discoloring bruises, she undeniably belonged to him. Dark brown hair rippled over her shoulders, the same color as his. Her face was more delicately shaped and feminine, but there was no denying the resemblance in the general shape. She had her mother's nose, but his sharp features. Dr. Young gently called, "Mackenzie?", and the girl opened her eyes. His eyes, medium hazel. It just about took his breath away.

Mackenzie stared in confusion at the two of them.

"Mackenzie, this is…Detective Taylor. He's going to talk to you, ok?"

She continued to stare, looking from one to the other.

Clara Young rested a hand on his shoulder and whispered, "Take it slow."

He watched her leave the room before he turned his attention back to Mackenzie. His daughter.

There was an uncomfortable silence. He offered a casual, "Hey."

She didn't react.

Mac pulled a chair away from the wall and slid it as near her hospital bed as he dared before he took a seat. His heart was racing and he had no idea where to start. Was he supposed to break the news to her, or should he wait for the doctor or the woman from Child Services to do it? He stared around the room for a while, almost as unwilling to converse as she was.

A small voice, croaky from crying and lack of use, startled him into paying attention. "Can I see your badge?"

He met her eyes, surprised. "Yeah, sure." He fumbled to unclip it from his belt and placed it in her outstretched hand. She rubbed her thumb over the shiny gold surface, and he took advantage of her distraction to take a really good look at her.

Her wavy dark brown hair was parted down the middle, and fell evenly over her shoulders and onto her chest. Her gentle face was terribly marred, mostly on the right side, with dark bruises and a criss-crossing web of cuts, some stitched and some taped. Her right eye was black and swollen. She looked especially pale among the various floral arrangements placed around the room. Her right arm was in a sling and lying across her stomach. He could see a great amount of gauze poking through the collar of her hospital gown on the right side. She was very pale and seemed slightly dazed, maybe still suffering some lingering effects from her concussion. She was also obviously still heartbroken and in shock.

She looked up to find him looking her over, but she didn't say anything more.

"Well, ah, Dr. Young suggested I come talk to you..."

After a long pause: "Why?"

"That is a…very long story."

Mackenzie didn't ask him to elaborate.

He didn't know what to do. She seemed very disinclined to talk at all, especially with a random cop, and there was only one other thing he could say. He cleared his throat. "Has…has anyone talked you about…your situation?"

Her eyes watered and she nodded slightly, but she didn't say anything.

He could think of no reason anymore for postponing the inevitable. So much for taking it slow… Quietly, he asked, "Mackenzie, have you ever seen your birth certificate?"

She wiped at her eyes with the back of her good hand and looked at him. "No," she answered in a soft, suspicious tone.

He slowly withdrew two folded pieces of paper from inside his jacket. His heart was actually racing and his hands, despite his best efforts, actually shook. "My name is Detective Mac Taylor," he said as he unfolded them and smoothed them out, trying to belie any nervousness in his voice. "You're fourteen, and I think you should know the real reason I'm here." He laid the papers on top of the blankets on her bed where she'd be able to read them. "I don't want to do this to you now, with all that's happened, but…apparently, according to your birth certificate and a DNA test…I…I'm your father."

Mackenzie stared at him in shock, disbelief, and maybe fear, and then stared down at the documents. She ran her fingers over the lines where his name, her name, and her mother's name were listed, both on the copy of her birth certificate and the copy of the paternity test. She started to shake her head a little.

"This is as big a shock for me as it is for you…"

She looked up suddenly, her face wet with tears, her eyes tight with anger, and spoke with a surprising amount of strength. "Get out."

"Mackenzie, I—"

"GET OUT!" she shrieked. She violently brushed the papers off her bed with her good arm and flung his badge against the wall.

Dr. Young came running inside as Mackenzie rolled onto her side so that her back was to them. Her shoulders shook violently with the sobbing that wracked her body.

The doctor escorted Mac from the room as soon as he retrieved his badge from the floor. "I'm sorry—" he began.

"No, I'm sorry," she sighed. "I thought she would take it better than this, seeing how afraid and alone she was. I misjudged her reaction and her grief, and that is my fault. Look, I'll talk to her, and I'll have Ms. Fairbanks talk to her, and one of the hospital's child psychologists. Are you going to take her in?"

"Yes," he answered, barely pausing. He knew that his answer would change both their lives permanently, but he felt he owed her, her mother, and even, somehow, Claire, at least that much.

"Good," the doctor smiled. "Despite her reaction in there, I think she really needs you right now. That's probably the most she's talked in weeks. I'll get you the address to their home in Roseland so you can pick up some of her stuff. Ideally, I'd like her to stay here another four or five days, but we're cutting it close with the insurance as it is. How soon can you move her in?"

"Um…" He hadn't thought that far ahead.

"Do you think three days will give you enough time to get adjusted?"

He mentally calculated the excess of unused vacation days he'd accumulated. "I think so." He paused, then asked, "Will that be enough time for her?"

"It'll have to be," Clara sighed. "Like I said, we'll all talk to her." She checked her watch. "Look, I have to get back to work so…" She shook his hand. "Thank you, Detective Taylor. I know this is a lot to take in, and a huge change, but I do believe that in the end it'll make all the difference in her recovery."

Mac was left standing in the hall, a little dizzy and a little uncertain, wondering just where he went from here.


Author's Note: Thanks so much for sticking with me through all this background. I know it can get a little tedious, but it's important to set this stuff up as a foundation for the rest of the story. I hope I've come up with at least a semi-believable situation in which Mac would behave in an un-Mac-like manner that would result in his daughter's existence. It was hard with a character as upstanding as he is. Also, I took some liberties with the timing of the test results and the procedures and such, but only to move the story along. Thanks to everyone who favorited this story or added it to their alert list. Reviews are also greatly appreciated. Thanks again!!