Summary: The most important things between them weren't being said, but understood anyway. Because they were friends, and looked out for each other. Even at the worst of times. CSI New York. Flack and Mac. Episode 8 Season 6.
He didn't know what to say when he looked up and saw Mac there, in Terrence's living room. Of all the people he would have expected to see in the gangster-turned-CI's apartment, Mac wasn't one of them. Certainly not in his work uniform, badge on his hip with his gun, still wearing his suit and jacket. Not in a neighborhood where the sight of a cop either sent people to the wood-works, or brought out the knives and guns. Not where being a cop, or harboring one, was a good way to get yourself roughed up, or worse, dumped lifeless in a ditch on the other side of town. But...Mac was there, watching him with the dark, hooded gaze that meant the other man was controlling his emotions, and holding on tight.
He wasn't surprised for long. It was Mac. Shame at being tracked down replaced the surprise, and a kind of edgy restlessness that bordered on anger. Anger that they'd interfere in his personal life. Anger that he was being caught, and at the feeling that he was about to get chewed out like a teenager caught bar-hopping on a school day. He didn't need it. But Terrence had left them alone, so there was no recourse to 'not wanting to involve a third party' and he didn't know enough about where he was to just leave.
He settled in a chair across from his friend of several years, too embarrassed and angry to look him in the eye. "I don't know what to say. It's just one of those days."
I don't want to talk about it. I know you can smell the alcohol, and that you can see I'm not moving right. I know you know this isn't my kind of neighborhood. But I don't want to discuss it. Not now. Ease up. Leave it alone. I'll get back to you.
He and Mac had both had 'those days'. The gray, ugly days where talking was an effort, and being civil was like pulling your teeth out by the roots. Those days when anything that wasn't the job was strictly off limits. They'd learned to give each other space and time. A little room to work out the kinks. Mac was better at hiding them. More determined when he tried. With Mac, it was a tightening in the eyes, a clipped way of speaking. A retreat to his office, or home to his guitar. Or a walk to Ground Zero, sometimes with an all-night stay. He was a little more explosive, a little more revealing.
"You can do better." Just that, and a shake of the head, and he knew he wasn't getting out of it so easily.
We are going to discuss it. Because we have to. It isn't just today, and it isn't just one of 'those' days. We'll discuss it...Because I need to know what's going on, and I'm not giving up until I have a real answer.
He didn't want to do better. Didn't want to try and explain the tangle of emotions under the surface. "Fine. It won't happen again."
There. Sorry I screwed up. Promise not to be here next time. Are we done yet?
Even inside his own head, he sounded like an annoyed teenager. A kid getting called on bad grades and wanting nothing more than to get away from it and back to his stereo and his buddies. He didn't really care that Mac was pissed, or that Mac was there. Didn't feel like admitting he'd screwed up, and certainly didn't feel any need to react, to change things. Shit happened. He'd gotten jumped. End of story.
"Damn right. Next time, I'm making it official."
And Mac sounded like a parent. Threatening. Or an older sibling.
Next time, I'll ground you. Next time, I'll get the department head on your ass, or IAB. You'll answer me and shape up, or I'll take it higher.
He didn't need it. How could Mac, or anyone, understand how he felt? What it meant to lose Angell. What it had felt like to shoot that guy, in cold blood, where no one could see him. How could Mac possibly understand? What gave him the right to police him, to hunt him out and challenge him over how he chose to cope? What he chose to do to escape his demons.
"Fine. You do what you gotta do." He rose from the seat, wondering how far he'd have to go to find Terrence. Or maybe, he could just duck out the back window.
We're done here. I don't have to explain myself to you. I don't want to. You don't understand what I'm going through. You don't understand what I'm feeling. And this crap is none of your business. So butt out,okay? Get off my back. Go shove your interfering nose somewhere else. That's your job,right? Go do it.
But Mac was rising too. And to his shock, more than rising. It was surprise, more than force, that stopped him and rocked him back a step when Mac stiff-armed him, shoving him backward with one hand. He looked up, found true fury in Mac's face, something he rarely saw. Fury, laced with something else, something, perhaps, much more terrible. Then Mac shook it back, controlling it as he controlled all his other emotions and all his actions. But the anger was still there, lacing his words. "Let's be clear. A part of me wants to take this badge off and settle this another way."
We're not done. I'm not done. I know you're not listening. I know you're brushing me off. I know you think I don't have a right. But damnit, I don't care. You're gonna talk to me. You're gonna listen to me. You made this my business, and now, we are going to deal with it. Even if I have to pound the answers out of you, and knock your head on the floor until you listen. I should already be doing it. I almost wish I was.
He didn't like the tone. Nor the implications. Didn't like the challenge, still locked in those hooded eyes. And all of a sudden, Mac was too close. Too close to his secrets, too close to his heart. All of a sudden, it wasn't about not caring about what the CSI was doing, or about annoyance at being tracked down like an errant teen. It was too close, and Mac wasn't letting him go like he usually did. There were shadows in Mac's eyes that he didn't want to face or understand. And it was the mix of desperation and anger that spoke. "Get out of my face!"
Leave me alone! I don't care!
And Mac broke. Unexpected, because he'd never seen the other man truly lose control. He didn't have time to react, before the other man seized his shirt in a double handful of fabric and shoved him backward into a post, hard enough to wind him. The tightly controlled emotions broke over his face, twisting it with that terrible mix of anger and unidentifiable emotion. His arm, solid and far stronger than he would have thought, pinning him in place.
A silent struggle, and then words snarled out through Mac's clenched teeth. "We're in the middle of a murder investigation, and you go AWOL?"
Damn it! I said, we're not done. And I'm not letting you off this time. You're listening. Don't you know what you did? Do you realize the position you're in? Do you?
His anger shuddered under the assault of emotion, of that tightly controlled strength. He didn't want to think about it, even as his mind began to process what he was seeing and hearing, as the anger began to fade. He only had one more chance to break the hold. "I can handle myself!"
I'm fine! What more do you want from me? I'm just fine.
"Is that what you call it? Is that what you're doing here, in this apartment? Is that why I had to get this off Terrence?"
The sight of his own back-up weapon in Mac's hand shocked the last of the anger from his system. So did the realization that he had no clear memory of how it had come to be in Terrence's possession. And only foggy memories of the mugging where Terrence had saved him.
Mac's words rolled over him, and he went still, realizing he did recognize, now, the other emotion that twisted his expression. The emotion that had written itself into his face and burned into his words, making them sting like fire. Fear. Mac was afraid. Terribly afraid, more so than he had ever seen the other man, except when Danny had been shot. And it had nothing to do with Mac's own presence in this place, but with him.
Mac's fear burned away his anger, holding him still, forcing him to listen. Mac's furious tirade rolled over him, and he found himself listening, not just to the words, but the tone, with all the skills he'd honed in years of police work, and teaming with the CSI's. With Mac himself. All the years they'd been friends and colleagues.
"We're in the middle of a murder investigation, and you go AWOL?"
Where the hell were you? We need you, now, more than ever. I needed you. And I needed to know you were okay. You could have been anywhere, in any condition. I didn't know. And it cost me resources I don't have to find out. And it could have cost you so much more. Don't you realize, there are a dozen ways or more we could have lost you, aside from lost contact? And that I know, and am aware of all of them? What if you'd been like Stella, nearly killed in Greece? Or like Aiden?
He was AWOL. The department had every right to fire him for it. But Mac was here, and he knew, without asking, that Mac had covered for him, protected him, and come to his rescue. In more ways than one.
"Is that what you're doing here, in this apartment?"
He knew, somehow, that Mac knew what had happened. Why Terrence had picked him up. And what condition he'd been in. What condition he was in now.
Do you know where you are? Cops die in this neighborhood. You could have died on that train. If you can handle yourself, you should be at your job. Be working with me, not lying on your CI's couch. You should have at least known to come to me. Why aren't you at the office? Or, if you couldn't go there, why not at home? Or, if you couldn't stay home, you could have at least gone somewhere safe. Even my place. Didn't you realize that? I would have helped you, covered for you, if it was so bad.
"Is that why I had to get this off Terrence?"
You're never without your back-up. How can you say your handling yourself, when you can't even keep hold of your weapon? Do you know what it did to me, when he gave me your gun? Do you know how close you came to dying? How could you have let it get this far? What would you have done, if he hadn't picked up your gun? If you hadn't been so lucky .Did you think what I would have done, had to do, if I'd been picking your gun up as evidence in your murder?
"Is that why I had to have Stella triangulate your phone?"
We couldn't find you. You didn't even call to let us know you were okay. There's a killer on the loose, and we didn't know where you were. For all we knew, you were already in some maniac's dead in the street. It doesn't matter if you'd lied to me. You should have at least answered when I called, so I'd know you were safe. Even if you lied. I shouldn't have had to find you with a satellite, and chase you into the ghetto to make sure you were somewhere safe,alive, and out of harms way.
"Is that why I had to have Danny check the ER's, to see if you'd turned up dead?"
It's so easy to go from cop to victim. From investigator to body. You came so close. Until I found you, I didn't know what happened. I didn't know, damn it. You could have been lying in your own blood, like Angell. You could have been a body in a back alley, like Aiden. Or a James Doe, like dozens we see come through our lab every single day. You almost were. You almost died. If Terrence hadn't saved you, Danny would have found you before I did. And I'd be pulling back a sheet to identify you, or escorting your sister and father to do that task. Did you think of that, when you were 'handling' yourself?
Mac let him go, and the silence fell between them. A silence filled with his own shock, at the depth of Mac's fear, at the concern and care for him that had driven the CSI all the way here, that had broken those steel-strong walls he kept around his emotions, and burned between them like white hot fire. The fear, bordering on anguish, that sent a man so in control over the edge.
He staggered to the chair, looked up at the strong, solid form, still clad in his working business suit. Looked at the badge gleaming on Mac's hip, a badge that was more target than shield in this part of town. And he saw, abruptly, what Mac had done for him, and why.
He'd protected him, searched for him, come to find him. The middle of a murder investigation, and Mac had walked away from his duty, simply out of concern and care for him. For their friendship, and the deep, protective love he knew the other man held for all those who were a part of his team. And even angry, the man still cared. Cared enough to be angry, and to let him see it.
For him, the other man had come here. His clothing, his badge, his mannerisms, they screamed cop. Even if he hadn't been the most celebrated CSI in New York City, his face periodically plastered all over every newspaper and tabloid. He was a city legend, with a target a mile wide on his shoulders. And yet, he'd knowingly walked into a neighborhood where all of that was against him. Where the wrong eyes meeting his was a death sentence for him. But he had come, for all the reasons that hung unspoken in the air between them.
The last anger and defensiveness melted into shame, and shock, and contrition. Almost pain, at the realization of the danger he had put his friend in. And what he had done to the man who had his back, still, after everything.
He watched Mac breathe, then raise a hand to rub his face, physically wiping away the strain, as he pulled all the simmering emotion back into himself, locked it down, controlling it once more. When he spoke, his voice was calm, only the hot, storm-tossed eyes revealing the turmoil that had so nearly consumed him moments before. "You can keep telling people that you're fine. But that won't work."
You can't run forever. Someday, it'll catch up to you. Someday, you'll have to tell someone what's going on. It can be me, or whoever you like, but you can't keep going like this. Hide in the bottle, run to hell and back, it won't matter. There will still be a reckoning. And you'll have to face whatever it is that's made you do this.
There was no force now, only anger, and hurt, and concern. And it was the hurt and concern that pushed his anger away, pushed away his fear and his reluctance, and let the words leave him.
"It's been eatin' at me Mac." He swallowed, looking away, then back. "When Angell was killed, all I wanted to do...was make things right."
It's tearing me apart. Guilt. Hurt. Grief. Everything. But...guilt now. That I couldn't save her, that I did what I did out of vengeance. But...also what I've done to you. You were mourning too. You cared. I heard it in your voice. And I...I'm here, and you're here, because I forced you to be. I put that look in your eyes. That hurt, angry, concerned look. That haunted look that's making you clench your teeth. It's tearing me apart, what I've done. What I haven't told you. What I should have.
"We did that. Justice was served, because we did our jobs."
I know. I felt it. But we did what we had to do. We got the bad guys. I just don't know what you did, to make you like this. But this won't help. You get through it by doing what you need to,not like this.
And finally, finally, he lost himself in the unspoken words, and cried out the confession of the event that had haunted his nightmares.
"You weren't there! You weren't there with me and Simon Kaine. I was with that bastard. I stood over him! And I looked him in the eyes and I...!"
"What happened is between you and your God." Harsh words, cutting him off.
He felt shock again. So close to a full confession and Mac blocked him again. Cut him off.
I thought you wanted to know. Wasn't this all about getting me to confess? I thought you needed to know what was going on. That you were worried about me.
"I'm not your priest." Mac watched him with those dark concerned eyes, and the part of him that wasn't shaking inside from the explosive emotion heard him, and understood.
I do. I want to know what's wrong. I want to know you're facing whatever happened. I want to know you'll deal with it. I don't want you to tell me something I may have to act upon. I'm still wearing a badge. It's my duty to report it if you did something wrong. Something out-of-line or criminal. I can't...I won't violate that. But I have to have evidence, or a confession, first. I'm not going to let you tell me something that may destroy you. Tell it to someone who can keep it confidential. Someone who won't report it. Someone who can protect your secret. You know I can't. I just want you to face this.
They watched each other for a long moment, his words and Mac's hanging in the air. Then the CSI pulled back. "What I do need to know, is whether I can count on you."
Are you going to face this, or run? When I turn around, will you have my back, or will I be catching you as you continue to fall? I don't know, and I need to. Because there's only so much I can do. And we can't hope to get as lucky as we did this time. Next time...it may not end like this.
He couldn't answer, knew Mac didn't expect one. He waited, unable to look up, unable to watch as Mac left, quietly exiting the door of Terrence's apartment. He wanted to watch Mac go, to know he was safely out, but he couldn't move. His head and his heart were too full.
He remembered the last time he'd been seriously injured. On the job, when they'd both been caught in an explosion. He didn't remember much of it, noise and heat and stunning pain. And waking up in the hospital about a few days later, with an aching abdomen, and Mac seated in a chair by his side. His first solid memory after the explosion was that awakening, and seeing Mac, dozing in the chair beside him with a day's worth of stubble, a rumpled suit, and a bandage snaking from beneath his shirt, up the side of his throat.
He tried to remember more, later. But everything was blank, save for one hazy memory that occasionally inserted itself into his mind. The memory of a voice, speaking to him. "If you can hear me, squeeze my hand. Don, I need you to squeeze my hand. I'm right here."
A strong voice, so commanding, and yet, those words had been full of so much pleading. He'd tried to do as he was asked, even in the darkness of dreams, because that voice should not have sounded like that. Not begging, not pleading. That voice shouldn't have held so much pain.
Stella had told him later. Mac had taken a glancing blow to the neck from debris. But it had also been Mac who'd preformed an emergency procedure to keep him from bleeding out before the rescue teams found him. Mac who'd escorted his body to the ambulance, even staggering as he was, with his throat still bleeding. The CSI hadn't even considered medical attention until his body had been loaded into the ambulance and rushed away.
It had been Mac, who'd stayed by his side almost constantly in the hospital, after they'd solved the case. And it had been Mac, whispering those words, begging him to show some sign of life.
He sat, remembering it, and thinking of what Mac would have done, if he had died on the train. If Terrence hadn't come, and the mugger with the knife had finished what they'd started.
He knew what the CSI lead would have done. He would have come. He would have escorted the body back to Sid himself, called his sister to let her know, and led her in so she could make a formal ID. Would have called his father, to tell him as well. And then, he would have gone on to find the murderers, the men who had attacked him. Whether it took him days, or years, he would have looked until he had answers.
He would have done all of it. But he would also have suffered. Suffered the grief, the anguish. Endured the struggle of holding his team together through the loss. Lived with the agony of telling his family, and standing at his graveside. Mac had cared for Angell, and mourned her, but...he and Mac been friends for years. Almost a decade. They were practically family. He knew, without really even thinking about it, the pain his death would have caused Mac. How much it would have hurt him, to be investigating his best friend's murder. Worse even, than Aiden's, and he had seen what that had done to his friend. The helpless, furious grief that had driven him, and his department. The same terrible emotion that had driven him after Angell's death and the bar shooting. The kind of pain that gave the CSI sleepless nights, and nightmare memories. And he could have driven Mac to it again.
The click of the door startled him out of his thoughts. He looked up to see Terrence sliding into the room, shutting the door carefully behind him. "Mac?"
"Left the building." The CI nodded.
He bit his lip. "Is he safe?"
Terrence shrugged. "Safe out of the building? yeah. Out of the neighborhood, who knows? But that's one slick dude. Bet he'll make it okay." Another shrug. "Don't want him here, but I sure as hell wouldn't want to tangle with him." The other man gave him a nod. "You two solved your issues?"
He frowned, thinking back. "No. But we will." And he would. He knew that. Because, after he'd thought about it, he couldn't subject Mac to this again.
Terrence nodded. He glanced back at the door. "Dude must really care about you, to come down here like that. Takes some serious stones, a guy like him running into this neighborhood."
A small grin crossed his face. "Mac's got stones for sure. Nobody's got more." He rose. "It's been fun Terrence, but I got places to be, and I'm betting you don't need more trouble with your boys."
"I don't." Terrence shrugged. "You did me a favor, so I don't mind, but it'll be nice seeing your back as you leave."
"I bet. So, how do I get out, without getting jumped again?"
"Back door's down the hall." Terrence moved, picked up a slightly bloody hoodie, and threw it at him. "Put this on. Make you less obvious." He started to refuse, but the other man shook his head. "Come on, Flack, already has your blood on it. I don't need the laundry, or the hassle. And you don't need anyone seeing that white face of yours and markin' you as a target. I can't save your ass all the time."
He nodded, put it on, and listened as Terrence gave him directions for the best way out of the neighborhood, his wallet, and just enough cash to catch a cab back to the decent side of town. Then they exchanged a last thank you and handshake, and he left.
An hour later saw him home, tossing the sweatshirt into the laundry. He moved, went to look in the mirror, and grimaced. He needed a shower, a shave, and some new clothing. He pulled his cellphone out of his pocket. And after that...he had a call he needed to make.
Several hours later, he was cleaned up, and he'd taken the time to stop by his local church. A few minutes with his priest had left him feeling...not better, perhaps, but relieved, to have finally gotten everything into the open. Which left only one thing to do. One person he still had to make it right with.
He called ahead, because he knew Mac was still involved in a murder investigation. If the voice that answered him was a little cooler than usual, it was only to be expected. But Mac still told him to come on in, so he did.
He stepped into the office, looking at his friend. Still wearing the same suit, no signs of the struggle they'd had. The lean face was guarded, but not unfriendly, as he invited him into the office. He couldn't say anything, at first, looking into that face.
Mac nodded. "I got your message. You wanted to talk?"
There's something on your mind. I can tell. What is it? You know...I'll listen. Even after everything.
He swallowed. "Actually...I wanted to apologize." He caught the flash of confusion, of surprise, in that gaze.
I want to apologize. For everything. For what I did to you. I know I hurt you. I know I betrayed your trust in me as a friend and a colleague. I know I put your life in danger. I know, now, what I nearly did to you, when I let my carelessness get the better of me. When I let myself get jumped on that train.
But there wasn't an easy way to speak those words. He swallowed again. "These last couple months, I've been...I've been messed up. And you...you've shown me a hell of a lot of patience and support. You didn't have to."
I screwed up. I lost my head, and you were right there beside me. Even when I fell off the wagon. But, you were grieving too. You were hurt. And you had a job to do. You could have left me alone, like most of the department did. You could have tried to knock sense into me, slapped me out of it. But you didn't, and even when I did things you had to question, like joining the investigation into Angell's death...you let me. And you had my back, the whole way. You should have reported me AWOL, but I already know from the chief that you covered for me, that you called in my 'sick day'. Saved my ass and my job.
He spread his hands in a helpless gesture. "Thank you. I'm sorry."
Thank you for watching over me. I'm sorry I added to your burden, especially when you have so much to do. I'm sorry I made you worry. I'm sorry I betrayed you, even if I didn't mean to. I'm sorry I caused you pain.
A long moment, then Mac nodded. "Everyone mourns differently, Don. I know a lot of your...behaviors, had to do with Angell's death."
I know you're grieving, and I understand. I do.It's okay. I forgive you, for that. I know you aren't like me. I bury myself in work, or my guitar. It's not your way. I understand that. I forgive you.
The look in the eyes changed, ever so slightly, as Mac came around the desk. "But there's also been something else." He held up a hand, his movement revealing the gold shield still on his hip. "I don't need to hear about it. I just need to know that you've dealt with it, and it's done."
Are you going to be okay? That's all I need to know. I don't want you to confess and get yourself in trouble. Just tell me you're okay. That you've got a handle on it. For real this time. Tell me, that you're safe now, that I won't turn around and find you drinking yourself stupid again, or in trouble again. I don't know what you did, and I don't care. I just want to know you'll be all right.
He held his best friend's gaze, seeing the concern and the compassion there. "I crossed the line, Mac. And I'll live with that. But it will never happen again."
I crossed a lot of lines. But now, I understand. Shooting Simon Kaine will rest on my conscience forever. But not as much as seeing that look in your eyes. Not as much as the line I crossed against you, when you had to come save me from my own stupidity. This won't happen again. Because I won't do anything that can put me back in the dumps like that.And because I don't want to see that look in your face ever again for me. I may be a jerk, but I will never, ever, put that look of pain and fear and anger in your eyes again, not if I can help it.
There was a slight softening of the eyes, and he knew Mac, like him, was reading between the lines, the unspoken words that flowed between them, the communication that came from years of knowing each other.
He spoke softly. "What's most important to me now, is that I re-earn your trust."
I want you to know I have your back. That I'm beside you. That you can chase the killer without fear, cause I'll be with you, to protect you. I want you to know it's okay. I've got your back. And nothing's going to hold me back this time. I want you to believe that, and I'll do whatever it takes, to prove that to you.
Mac watched him for a long moment, and then the last of the darkness, the guarded expression, fell away from his eyes. The eyes warmed, kind and strong, filled with the warmth of friendship, and the trust of long association. Then Mac held out a hand.
I know. It's okay. You've got nothing to prove, now. I trust you. I know you've got my back, this time. That everything's okay.
He took Mac's hand, and in that instant, the last piece snapped into place.
He'd always feel a little guilt at what he'd done. But Mac was there, and they were still partners. And whatever else happened, that was all he needed to know. All he'd ever really needed, to make things right with his world.
The tiniest of smiles creased the stern face. "Let's go. We've got a lead on our Compass Killer."
I've got a murderer to catch. You're coming, right?
His own smile felt wonderful. "Lead the way."
Let's go. I'm right behind you.