Author's Notes

This is the result of a procedural marathon that lasted me on and off through the past few years. I'm a big fan of crime dramas and procedurals, and I've watched a bit of practically everything. I also like the less vanilla procedural format series, such as White Collar, Person of Interest, and The X-Files. CSI:NY is one of my favorite straight crime dramas. I finished running through all nine seasons over the holiday season of 2013. So, there are spoilers for the entirety of CSI: New York, be warned. It is a great crime drama and I highly recommend it. If you ask me, it was the best CSI, and I've seen enough of all of them to judge.

This is a crime drama story, but it still reads like a romantic slash drama, predominantly. It centers around Mac Taylor, Danny Messer, and Don Flack. It begins in the canon world, but then switches to Alternate Universe, where the bulk of the story takes place. It is set around the time of the middle part of Season Six, which took place in early 2010 (think around the time Danny's badge was stolen and he decided it was a good idea to keep that fact to himself). The "B-Version" label for the Alternate Reality is a little nod to "Fringe". Two canceled shows coming together in one fan fiction! It isn't a crossover, though, and the CSI team won't be solving any crimes on a Zeppelin. Much to Adam's regret, no doubt.

The Alternate Universe is vastly different from the canon, however. Most changes will be explained throughout the story, but some worth noting are: Flack's sister committed suicide, Flack still isn't over the Angell murder and his subsequent shooting of an unarmed suspect, Mac and Danny have been in a relationship for a while, the stolen badge plot is being replaced by another case, Danny never had the injury that half-paralyzed him temporarily, and, of course, the sexual preferences of the three main characters. Mac Taylor never married, but he lost a partner in the '90s during the fallout of the AIDS epidemic. B-version Mac is gay, but severely closeted, one of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell leftovers. B-version Danny Messer is a bisexual, pretends to be comfortable with who he's with regardless of their gender, but still refuses to bring anyone home to his family that isn't a female. B-version Don Flack (Faux Flack?) was in love with Jessica Angell, he considers himself straight, but he has had one 'experiment', and he is still bi-curious (whether he admits it to himself or not). He is also pretty kinky. They all have their Out Of Character moments, but this is intentional: these are alternate universe versions of the characters, so their personalities do vary from the canon. They would have to, to put them in these situations. I do believe changing any character's sexuality automatically makes them OOC. So, for me, further tweaking them doesn't seem so far a stretch, or an option that should be outside a fanfic writer's arsenal. The purpose of fanfic is to bend the characters just enough to achieve your personal fantasy of them, after all. Not a defense on my part, only an explanation. A necessary one, given that I did tweak these characters a bit more than even is my usual.

I realize it's a rather obscure desire to see the world of CSI slashed, but I have obscure ideas. There is mature language, sexual themes, and kink. There is a murder case in this story, so there will be some descriptions of violence. Given the nature of the villains of this story, there will be homosexual slurs. Obviously, these do not reflect this longtime slash fan's views, they are purely for the sake of depicting realistically hateful intolerant extremists.


Useful Terms

Vic : 'Victim'

COD : Cause of Death

TOD : Time of Death

Premortem : Occurring before death

Postmortem : Occurring after death

Chain of Command

Mac Taylor : Detective, 1st Grade : Director, NYC Crime Lab

Stella Bonasera : Detective, 1st Grade : Day Shift Assistant Supervisor

Danny Messer : Detective, 3rd Grade : Crime Scene Investigator

Lindsay Monroe : Detective, 3rd Grade : Crime Scene Investigator

Dr. Sheldon Hawkes : Detective, 3rd Grade : Medical Examiner

Donald Flack, Jr. : Detective Specialist, 1st Grade : Homicide Investigator

Adam Ross : Laboratory Technician

Dr. Sid Hammerback : Medical Examiner


00

10:12 PM, January 12, 2010

Tavern on the Avenue, New York, New York

The city was a study in contradiction. Detective Mac Taylor had been to many places in his life, but he had yet to find a place to rival New York's delicate layers of convolution. At once, the city could envelop and expel you, isolate you without giving you a moment's privacy. It was nothing like the brutal honesty of war, where intentions were swift and succinct. In war, the lines were drawn clearly and definitely. In the city, one's footing was not so sure. New York could love you to an ecstasy of pain, it could also pleasure you into numbness. It was a city with a million concubines, not one of which could ever own its heart.

Perhaps it was that aloofness of the city that made moments like these so precious, Mac reflected. People in small towns cherished the familiarity, the certainty of knowing their neighbors. Mac could understand that, but he found it did not compare to finding familiarity in this apathetic place. It was so much rarer to look around a room and know nearly every face in it, and that much more significant.

Mac watched them all in the reflection of the window for a minute, before joining the crowd. Danny Messer was engaged in a drinking competition with his wife, Lindsay. Sheldon Hawkes and Sid Hammerback were regaling some young techs with tales from autopsy. Stella turned from her place at the bar, sensing his entrance, apparently. She flashed him a warm smile of greeting. It was a scene of enjoyment, of hard-earned peace. Fleeting as he knew these moments tended to be, Mac was all the more grateful for it.

"No! No, no, no! No way!"

"Look, would you just listen to me for a minute, I'm not saying-"

"I don't care what you are saying, I'm tellin' you, that's not possible!"

"Would you just-"

"No! Stop! I don't wanna hear it!"

Mac sighed, searching out the voices in the crowded bar. He should have known there could be no peace unless he had mediated it personally. He found Donald 'Don' Flack, Jr. at the bar, glowering at Adam Ross. Mac stood before the two men, a bit amused by this odd pairing. Neither one noticed him.

"I'm not saying anything about science," Don went on. "All I'm saying is, just because some theories have been proven, doesn't mean any crazy idea is going to turn out to be true."

"But it isn't crazy!" Adam protested. "If you would just let me explain it to you-"

"I'm not an idiot, I get what you're saying," Don retorted, a bit defensively. Though he was great friends with most of the CSI team, Don, a Homicide Detective, was sometimes irritated by their condescension, whether intentional or not. "And I'm saying that it's ridiculous."

"No, no, no, no, no," Adam said quickly. "I don't think you do understand. If you did, you wouldn't just jump into this baseless denial of simple-"

Mac saw Don's eyes flash, widening just slightly. He decided to intervene before Flack's temper was riled.

"I always wondered what a conversation between the two of you would look like," Mac said, causing the two to finally notice him. "I guess I should be more careful about what I wish for."

Adam started, "We were just-"

Flack jumped in over him with, "It's not my fault, this guy's just-"

"Okay, okay," Mac said, waving his hands at them both. "Why don't you start with what it is that you're arguing about?"

"The Multiverse."

Flack rolled his eyes. With a cynical snort, he picked up his beer from the table and took a lengthy swig.

"The what?" Mac asked.

"The Multiple Universe Theory," Adam explained excitedly. "You know, in physics, there is a hypothesis that reality is multi-layered, maybe even infinitely so."

"That for every possible outcome of circumstances and events, there exists a separate universe that is the sum of those outcomes," Mac said. "These sets of dimensions are the links in the chain, so to speak, of a super-universe, hence the 'Multiverse'. I know the theory. But why are you arguing over it?"

"Because it's insane!" Flack burst out. "There's one reality, one life, one world. God created-"

"Oh, oh, come on," Adam interrupted. "Seriously? You're going to bring God into this?"

Flack, raised Catholic, blinked in affronted surprise. Mac could feel a headache coming on. He took a seat beside Flack and motioned to the bartender for a second beer.

"I mean, really?" Adam laughed. "You really believe that, that God- what? That 'He' created the world in seven days, and-and threw humans down here for eating an apple?"

"I … I don't know!" Flack exclaimed.

Mac eyed Don with surprise. The man's face was slightly flushed, and he turned to frown into his beer and take another long drink. Was he actually sheepish? Embarrassed?

"I don't know what happened to create reality, for God's sake!" Flack said, braced by the swallow of beer. "How the hell should I know? But I do know that He, or whoever or whatever started this whole thing, did not just make everything possible! What would be the point? If our choices have all been made somewhere else, all our lives lived as differently as possible somewhere else, all our deaths already done, what would be the point of just one of those lives?"

Adam took a moment to sort through this unscientific rebuttal of his precious hypothesis. He shook his head fervently.

"It isn't a question of morality, it's mechanics," he said. "If I created the universe, I would want redundancy."

"Why?" Don asked, thoroughly baffled by now. "Redundancy is … it's boring."

"I mean redundancy of data, of existence," Adam explained. "And even if nothing is by sentient design, that doesn't matter. Nature itself is redundant- redundant, but minutely varied in millions of ways. It would make sense that reality would follow that same, universal pattern."

"No, it doesn't!"

"You're just saying that!" Adam said in frustration. "You're just insisting on fighting the idea, because- Why are you so opposed to it?"

Mac raised his eyebrows. He knew he should intervene again, but he was curious. Flack looked between them both, and drained his glass of beer. There was another emotion in his eyes now. Sorrow? Mac thought so. Don's eyes were hard and cynical when he was working, but entirely transparent when his guard was down.

"You think I wouldn't want that?" he asked quietly. "You think I wouldn't want there to be some … some reality where Jess was still alive? Some other dimension where she was never hurt?"

Adam's eyes went wide, and he shifted in his chair. Awkward, he thought, flooded with shame.

"Ah, hey, dude, I didn't mean- I mean, I didn't think about- I'm sorry."

"All those worlds with all those lives … 'Infinite', you said," Don said wistfully. His cynicism returned, and he snorted softly. "Yeah right."

"But if it were true … "

"Even if it were, it's no resolution," Don said stubbornly. "Where do all those existences end up when they're over? Are they ever over, or do we just keep existing in some other set of circumstances? No, no. For better or worse, this is it, this is what matters. And as for what happens when this is over, well … I … "

Mac and Adam were staring at him in expectation. Don frowned deeply, looking almost shy of the attention. He wondered how he had ended up spilling all this personal garbage while simply refuting some geek fantasy theory. He glanced at Mac for support.

"I believe Jess is in a better place," he said firmly. "Not some better version of this. No. A real, better place."

Adam opened his mouth, but Mac shot him a stern warning look. Flack turned back to his drink. Adam shut his mouth, scratching the back of his head anxiously. A glum silence fell over the men.

Don ordered another drink, this one stronger than beer, and shrugged off the seriousness. "Well, hey, but what do I know?" he said, trying to smile. "It is something to think about, another me running around out there. Another Mac."

Mac chuckled, shaking his head. "You don't think one's enough?"

"I'll bet in every version, Mac's a soldier or a cop," Don said. "Same here. A cop, I mean. I can't imagine being anything else."

"I don't think it would work like that," Adam persisted. "Every version could not be the same, there would be variations ranging from minor to major. When you consider the vast range of complexity involved in determining who a person is and what they do-"

Don ignored him, pondering out loud, "I wonder if there's a Danny that turned out to be a hoodlum."

"That's a horrible thing to say, Don," Mac chided him.

Flack only grinned. "You could see it, though, right?"

"Anyway, I'm sure that if there was a Multiverse, each reality would be balanced with the same ratio of give and take," Mac reasoned, avoiding answering Flack's question. "I can't speak to the afterlife, but I have a feeling that life, in any dimension, would never be perfect. A loss in this existence might not be a loss in another, but there may be other losses just as significant, if not more. And at the end of the day, even if we had a choice of all those different versions, I think we would all choose the very one we're living in."

"Why do you say that?" Adam asked.

"Because it's home," Mac said. "It's who we are, the sum of our choices and our circumstances. I would think any person would want to stick by what they've built out of their lives."

"Not any person," Adam murmured.

"Yeah, I don't know," Don agreed. He stared at his hands. "Things could always get worse, true, but … but if there were other circumstances, they could also get better. At least in the things that matter most, right?"

Mac squeezed his shoulder. Don gave him a weak smile, and resumed staring into his glass.

"Or they could just get batshit insane," Adam said. "People have been using the Multiverse concept for years. I mean, if you would read some of the Alternate Universe fan fiction that's out there on the internet, just some of the stuff they put in there is so-"

"We get it," Mac said flatly.

Adam grimaced. "You haven't read it. No, boss, I don't think you get it."

"Then, thank God for that," Mac said.

Don chuckled. "Amen."


01

10:12 PM, January 12, 2010

McCullen's Avenue Tavern, New York, New York (B-Version)

The city was a mess. Stella yanked her mass of curly hair back into a hair tie, using her elbow to shove open the bar's doors. The crisp night air gave way to an overwhelming bouquet of cigarette smoke, liquor, and closely-packed humanity. Stella blew out a sigh and breathed through her mouth, as if she were at a crime scene. This was the city, she reflected, the whole of it: one mass of angry, contentious, unsatisfied people, half-stupefied by whatever substances they used to escape.

She noticed Don Flack at a table in the corner of the pub, nursing a glass of liquor. Her heart sank a bit for her friend, but she knew better than to disturb him. At least Sheldon Hawkes had a date tonight, although it was the fourth girl he had ended up with this month- and the date appeared to be going no better than the previous ones had gone. Online dating, the enemy of romance, Stella thought bitterly. She knew that particular disappointment from experience. The job left little room for any other kind of human contact, even in this overpopulated corner of the world.

It might be better to be disappointed quickly than having one's hopes dashed after they were firmly in place. Stella eyed Danny Messer chatting up Lindsay Monroe, and felt a flutter of anxiety. She did not want to see their pairing as a bad omen, but she could not help it. She had seen Danny in love, real, romance novel love, and this was not it. Lindsay was beaming at him, charmed and flattered by their closeness. Stella shoved her own opinions down. There was enough doom in this city without doling it out personally.

Still …

Stella sat down at the bar next to Mac Taylor. He greeted her with a smile, and she ordered her drink. The sight of the bartender/owner Sean McCullen, a constant fixture, was reassuring. It may not be home, but the CSI team spent enough time here to make it a small home away from home. With so many places to go in the city, the average New Yorker could build up a number of these small havens.

"Is that jealousy I see, Mac Taylor?" Stella teased Mac, watching him watch Danny and Lindsay out of the corners of his eyes.

Mac was startled from his spying. "What?" He glanced around. "Who?"

Stella gave him a look. Once Mac had pushed Danny from his mind, he got it. He gave Stella a rueful smile.

"No, no, that's done," he said. His posture relaxed, and he seemed to remember his beer. "Believe me, Stella, that is over with."

Stella leaned her face on a hand, studying him for a moment. He avoided her eyes, those uncannily piercing spheres. Nonetheless, he could feel her reading him.

"You don't feel anything at all, watching them?" Stella persisted. "You can't honestly think Danny is being sincere?"

"It's none of my business, Stella."

"Since when is Danny's business not your business?"

"Since we broke up," Mac said, a bit shortly. "You do remember that blessed event, don't you, Stella? It was, what? Nearly three years ago?"

"I remember, Mac," Stella said, not apologetic in the least. "I also remember all the times you two have gone back and forth since then. I get it, you can't forgive him, let alone trust him again. You know damn well I've had my own issues with trust."

"Those haven't exactly been comparable to mine," Mac reminded her. "You were betrayed by a criminal. You're free to go on hating without remorse."

"So, you do have remorse."

"Yes, I do," Mac admitted. "I regret what happened with Danny every day. I always will. But that doesn't mean that I'm going to allow that regret to draw me back into an impossible situation."

"Is it really so impossible?" Stella asked. "I mean, you and Danny had what few of us ever get a chance at."

Mac took a deep drink. Stella put a hand on his arm, and he was forced to look at her again.

"You had love, Mac," she said. "The real deal, not whatever Danny is faking with Lindsay Monroe."

"Why are you so certain he's faking it?" Mac asked. "Do you think that just because he loved a man, that he could never love a woman? Danny has always been bisexual, Stella. That was one of the first problems we had: his refusal to give up women completely."

"Yes, and you tried that atrocious 'open couple' philosophy, I know," Stella said. "It has nothing to do with sexuality, though, Mac. It has to do with … Well, just look at him! Does that look real to you?"

Mac could not help glancing over at Danny and Lindsay. He was laughing far too loudly, and everyone in the lab knew Lindsay was not a particularly funny person. Stella gave Mac a look that clearly said, You see?

"It's still none of my business," Mac said stubbornly.

"Oh, Mac," sighed Stella. "You know how this is going to end. He's going to break that poor woman's heart, and you two are just going to end up back together eventually."

"No. No, Stella, we're not," Mac said. "Danny and I tried everything. We went against all the enormous odds stacked against us. I'm surprised that we even lasted as long as we did, with all the crap he pulled."

"All his fault, huh?"

"I made mistakes," Mac said. He rattled the ice in his glass, gazing into it. "I won't deny that. But I never betrayed Danny as senselessly, as shamelessly as he betrayed me. I understand what he's been through, I understand him, but I can't … I just can't take him back. He's hurt me too much, Stella. It's just been … too much."

"So you're just going to let him do this?" Stella asked. "Wreck his own life just to prove a point? Hurt Lindsay in the process? That isn't like you, Mac."

"No, it's not, because being 'like me' is what's caused all this mess in the first place," Mac said heatedly. "I don't have Danny's luxury of being bisexual, Stella. I've lived with this my entire life. I went through the military, being this way. Don't Ask, Don't Tell was more than a policy to me, it was my way of life. And whatever the modern sentiment against it may be, it worked for me. I was kept from scrutiny, from hatred, and from judgment. Without the world shaping my opinion of myself, I was able to accept what I was, to judge myself without anyone else's bias clouding my mind."

Mac motioned for a refill of his beer.

"It was Danny who wanted to come out, at least to our friends," Mac said. "I did it for him. He wanted to end the open relationship, and let our friends know that we were a serious couple. I jeopardized everything about my lifestyle so that I could give him that freedom. And then, after all we had been through because of that decision, after everything we've built over these past years, he betrayed me. After I chose to embrace our lifestyle for him, he cheated on me with a woman. When he needed me the most, after his young neighbor was shot, he didn't grieve with me, he shut me out. I still don't know why he couldn't mourn with me, why he turned to Ruben's mother instead of me. He broke my heart, Stella, as cliché as that sounds."

"Well, that's Danny, isn't it?" Stella said, watching him. "A real heartbreaker."

Mac allowed himself to turn in their direction and watch Danny and Lindsay again. Finally, he finished his drink, and climbed down from the bar stool. He draped his jacket over his arm.

"You were right, Stella," he said. "Danny may not be my business, but my team still is. And if I can keep one of my team from having their heart broken the way mine was, I will."

"That's the Mac Taylor that I know," Stella said with a smile. "Give Danny a little extra hell for me, would you? I like Lindsay."

Mac returned her smile, though it faded the moment he turned in Danny's direction. He walked up beside Danny. Danny was too busy talking to notice him, but Lindsay looked startled by his sudden appearance. Danny followed suit when Mac grabbed him by the arm, mid-gesture.

"What?" Danny inquired, looking around. "What the- Mac? What is it?"

"We have to talk," Mac said. His grip on Danny's arm tightened. "Now."

Without answering any of Danny's questions, Mac pulled him out of the crowded bar. Fortunately, Danny was intoxicated enough not to put up a struggle. He huffed at the cold on the street, slinging on his jacket. Mac maneuvered him around the building to the alley between the pub and the neighboring building. There were some homeless people scattered up and down the tiny street, and it smelled like vomit and piss, but the spot was as private as one could hope for.

"What is this, Mac?" Danny asked. "What is this? What's the problem?"

"Danny, what are you doing?"

"Doing? What?" Danny shrugged, but he was suspicious and guarded. "What are you talking about?"

"Don't play dumb with me, I know you too well."

Danny's lips tightened into a line of grim defiance, and he raised his head just slightly. His eyes met Mac's with feigned earnestness mingled with caution. The look was so familiar that the night seemed to dissipate around Mac. It could have been any one of their nights arguing in the dark corners of the street, but it felt suddenly like the one that had started it all.

I wrestled the grip of Danny's brother to claim Danny, and I won, Mac recalled. I freed him from the poisonous influence of his family, brought him back from the edge, nursed his wounds into healing, and … and found myself in love at the end of it all. I thought we both did. Was I wrong? I'll always wonder …

Mac's palm felt warm from where he had grabbed Danny's arm. He closed the hand into a fist, whether to hold onto the warmth or submerge it, he did not know.

"I know you, Danny," Mac repeated. "And I know why you're doing this with Lindsay."

"Going with her, you mean?" Danny asked. "Why wouldn't I be? She's smart, she's beautiful … She's great, you know? I don't see what's the problem."

"The problem is, you don't love her, Danny."

Danny shifted his gaze aside briefly. "Well, it's still new. I mean, it's not even a year yet. Who knows how they feel that early, right?"

"You know," Mac said. He suppressed a nostalgic smile that tugged the corners of his mouth for a brief second. "You're passionate, Danny, you always have been. You fall in love easily, and you're always completely sure of how you feel. It's why you do so many stupid, destructive things."

"Mac, that's not fair."

"Yes, it is," Mac said firmly. "You know it's the truth, and the truth may not be comfortable, but it's always fair. So tell me, truthfully, what are your intentions with Lindsay?"

"Montana? We're just having a good time. You remember what that's like, Mac?"

Mac ignored the jab. "You're not stupid, Danny. You see the way she looks at you, you know what it means. Has she said it yet? Has she said that she loves you?"

"What does this have to do with you?" Danny asked, skirting around the question. "Last I heard, we were over. You thinking of forgiving me, finally? Is that it? You want me back, but you're worried I'm taken?"

"Are you taken?"

Danny faltered. He bowed his head to hide his expression, muttering something. He looked back up, and the walls had fallen from his face. He looked younger, with his eyes so searching and needful.

"Not for you, Mac, you know that," he said. "If that means I'm wronging Lindsay, well, there it is."

Mac shook his head. "Danny-"

"I haven't misled her, I swear," Danny said. "She knows about us. She knows what you meant to me. Whatever she's hoping for, I've made it clear that … that if there's a chance for you and me, I'll take it."

Mac grunted, arms crossed.

"So is there, Mac?" Danny asked. "Is there a chance for us?"

"Danny … I can't," Mac said resolutely. He had to look away from the pleading look in Danny's round, expressive eyes. Their blue was inky in the dim winter moonlight, making them look almost dark. Mac swallowed. Even without seeing that look, he beheld it in his mind's eye. "I can't do this with you. Not again. Not ever."

"So you dragged me out here just to see what my intentions with Montana are?" Danny asked, partly amused and partly resentful. "I didn't realize you felt that fatherly protectiveness towards her."

"I try to look out for all my people, you know that."

"Huh."

Danny walked a step closer to Mac. Mac's first instinct was to back away, but he knew this would only encourage his ex-lover. Danny met his eyes evenly. He walked closer still, straight up to him, and put a hand on his arm. The touch stirred a miniature lifetime's worth of memories, all the moments of a life-changing love affair. It was a natural motion, a seamless, chaste joining of two bodies. Despite all that Danny had wronged him, his touch still managed to feel right.

"This isn't about Lindsay," Danny said knowingly. "You can dress your intentions up all you want, Mac, but we both know what this is about."

Mac was exasperated, but still mildly amused by Danny's confidence.

"And what is it about, Danny?" he asked, humoring him.

"Us," Danny said. His other hand rested on Mac's other arm, caressing slightly through his coat sleeve. "You're out here because you haven't given up on us, and you were worried that I have. Well, I'm telling you, Mac, I haven't. I never will. So now you know. And what are you going to do about it?"

"Nothing, Danny," Mac sighed. He removed Danny's hands from his arms, giving one of them a short squeeze. "Absolutely nothing."

Danny opened his mouth to argue, but a phone ring interrupted him. Mac was grateful for the opportunity to distract himself from the dangerous territory of the conversation. It turned out that they both had calls. Minutes later, the team began to exit onto the street from the pub. Mac moved to join them, but Danny stopped him, grabbing his sleeve.

"Hey," he said. "This isn't over, Mac."

Before Mac could argue this fact, Danny went around him and strode out of the alley. Mac glanced at the night sky for help, but there was nothing above but the buildings and the stars.


"You're sure you're all right to handle this?"

Before getting into the unmarked car, Mac had been told by Stella that Don Flack had gone through a very unprofessional amount of drinks. This was the reason that Mac had let Stella take the rest of the team in the SUV, while he rode with Flack. He had offered to drive, but Flack had insisted that he was 'fine'.

Flack had been 'fine' for a while now. The previous year, his sister had committed suicide following an alcoholic downward spiral. Not very long ago, he had lost his girlfriend, Detective Jess Angell. The fallout of that incident had shattered all their lives temporarily, but Don's had completely fallen apart. He began showing up to work unshaven and in clothing slept in several days over, sometimes going missing while on duty. Even his trademark cynical sense of humor was absent. Nonetheless, he always met inquiry as to his state with an insistence that he was 'fine'.

"I'm fine," Flack said now, for the millionth time. "I only had one drink. I'm good."

"You're sure?"

"Yeah, I'm sure." Don glanced at Mac long enough to hold his eyes with a challenging glare. "You think I don't know how much I drank?"

Mac said nothing. Satisfied, Don turned his rather bleary blue eyes back to the road. Mac was always surprised at how easily Flack not only challenged, but outright fought with him whenever they disagreed. Given their history, he kept expecting Flack to finally end up intimidated by him, or respectful at the very least, but Flack remained obstinate.

As if he had read Mac's eyes in one of his glances, Don said, "What? You considering beating the truth out of me?"

Mac smirked, but shook his head. "No, I'll trust you. Don't make me give you a breathalyzer tonight, though. It may not end in your favor."

Flack glowered at him, though the look did not last very long. He broke into one of his grins, and turned his eyes back to the road.

"Damn you, Mac, don't threaten me," he said. "It makes me want to kiss you."

Mac chuckled, feeling a flush of warmth. His eyes went to the hand that had gripped Danny's, but the guilt had gone. He leaned back in the passenger seat, watching the road but seeing the past.

[Four Years Ago]

"I've had it with him."

The declaration jarred Danny Messer from his work. He lifted his face from the microscope he had been peering into, and looked around the lab for the offending party. It was late, and the room was empty save for himself and Mac Taylor.

"Who?" he asked.

Mac turned to him from the evidence he had been going over. "Who else? Flack."

"Oh." Danny returned to the microscope, not very surprised at the news. "Is he still pissed over you busting that cop of his?"

"Yeah," Mac said wearily. "He's taking the passive aggressive approach, ignoring me at crime scenes, making remarks, being sarcastic- You know how Don is."

Danny grunted in agreement, unable to hide a touch of amusement. Mac Taylor and Don Flack were his best friends, he knew them well enough to have anticipated a situation like this coming about. Both were strong men that were used to giving orders that were obeyed without question, but other than that, they were as different as night and day. Danny had seen it before, men just alike enough to be worthy opponents, and different enough to make the path to reconciliation a long one.

"If he rolls his eyes at me one more time, I swear, I'll-" Mac stopped himself, grimacing. He returned to the evidence that he was processing. "I won't tolerate it, that's all."

Danny looked up again. Mac had a severely stern expression on his face, his mouth a thin, tight line. Danny shuddered, hastily returning to the microscope's less threatening view. He had seen that look before, and it never boded well. Mac was even-tempered and patient, until he felt unjustly wronged. When that happened, his righteous temper was a thing to be feared.

At least that look's not for me, Danny thought. For once.


Don Flack did not end his passive aggressive grudge against Mac. In fact, he became all the more sarcastic and troublesome. Danny tried as best as he could to mediate the situation, but neither man paid him much attention.

"Never mind, Danny," Mac finally told him one day in the lab. There had been a glint in his hard green eyes. "I've thought of a solution, and you are going to help me carry it out."

A few days later, Flack was called to the lab late one night. He was planning on reading Mac the riot act about summoning him to and from the CSI labs at will, but he met Danny first.

"Hey, Don, can you help me with something?"

Flack was barely getting through the end of this very long day, and he was exhausted and frustrated. The last thing he wanted to do was waste his precious off-duty time assisting the CSI team with one of their ridiculously complicated tests. He could have sworn that every day at the CSI crime lab was like entering a science fair, and he had always hated science projects.

"Can't it wait?" he asked irritably. "Mac just called me to pick something up."

"Yeah, Mac's there anyway," Danny said. "Come on. It'll just take a minute."

Danny tugged him by the sleeve, and Flack followed him. He didn't really know what else to do.

"Where's 'there'?" he asked. "And why does it have to be me? Isn't anyone else around?"

"Nah, it's a slow night," Danny said. "It's down in the garage, but it's not a car. We're just trying to figure out how it figured into the crime scene."

"How what figured into the crime scene?"

Danny didn't reply. Flack shook his head in annoyance. Danny usually seemed like a regular guy, but he was still a lab guy, and lab guys were always at least a little weird. He wondered if cramming all that dubious knowledge into your brain made it function differently, or if these people were simply born that way.

The garage was quiet, the expanse lined with the autopsied bodies of cars involved in crimes. Some of the cars were worth Flack's yearly salary, others were worth more. Drug dealer's rides, he figured. He wondered if these hunks of metal and plastic really did seem worth spreading filth and death to the men that bought them. He was reminded of the cop that Mac had turned in for stealing cocaine from a bust, and he felt a jab of anger. The anger was unfocused, spread between Mac and himself. He was embarrassed that Mac had seen through one of his own people, that he had not, and the stigma it put upon the precinct. Damn it all! And damn Mac, too!

"Here we are."

It certainly was not a car. The object Danny had brought him to was a long bench. It was tall, reaching up to Flack's midsection. The frame was made of heavy, thick wood beams, stained a dark chestnut color, and the top of the bench was cushioned with leather-covered padding.

"So … what?" Flack inquired, baffled. "What? You want me to sit on that thing?"

"Not exactly," Danny said dryly. He walked around the bench and knelt before the front. He unbuckled leather straps that were bolted to the bottom of the front legs of the bench. There were also identical straps on the back legs, Don realized.

"What are those … Oh. Oh!" Flack exclaimed in realization. He gave a nervous laugh. "No way, man. I'm not getting near that thing."

"What? You scared?" Danny teased, standing. "Come on. I've been trying to figure out the positioning the whole day. Help me out."

"Are you kidding me? No!" Flack protested. "Where's Mac? Did he put you up to this?"

"Of course not!"

"Why do you people always have to recreate everything?" Flack asked peevishly. "You take measurements and tons of pictures and do all your tests, and you still feel the need to recreate everything?"

"Some things have to be seen directly, right?" Danny said.

"Then why don't you get on it directly?"

"Because I'm not the victim's height," Danny explained, lifting a hand to Flack's forehead, some inches above his own. "You're about his size."

"This guy died on this thing?" Flack asked, eying the bench warily. "For real?"

"Yep."

"That is messed up," Flack marveled. He laughed. "What a way to go, right?"

"Little bit more pain than he paid for, I guess," Danny said. "Come on, look, you can have my cellphone. I won't take any pictures or anything. I just need to see someone on it to figure out, ah, directionality."

Fortunately, Flack was not forensic-minded, and did not ask what directionality Danny was referring to. He was by the bench, gingerly prodding the top with his fingers. Danny watched him, studiously suppressing the urge to laugh.

"Fine," Don finally relented. He began taking off his jacket. "I'll do it. But just for a minute, all right? And if you take any pictures or call anyone, Danny, I swear to God, I will end you."

Flack awkwardly walked around the bench. To his chagrin, he felt his heartbeat speed up, and a light flush creep up his neck. He climbed onto the bench, lying across the padded top on his stomach. His stomach fluttered, and the flush deepened. As he settled his top half across the bench and let his lower torso hang over the end of it, he felt his slacks tighten across his backside. He felt unfathomably stupid.

Danny felt an unwanted surge of blood course through his body, throbbing harder in some places than others. He grimaced, trying to stamp the feeling down, but it was a physical reaction, as unmovable as nature itself. Flack was pretty tall, but the bench accommodated his length perfectly. His limbs fell in perfect lines along the front and back legs, ankles and wrists hanging before the restraint straps. The end of the bench lilted upwards, propping his buttocks up just enough to display the fullness in a curve of vulnerability.

"Nice," Danny murmured.

The intonation in his voice made Flack look back over his shoulder at him. With the startled look in his blue eyes, his hair fallen a bit across the forehead, he looked surprisingly boyish. The flush had finished suffusing his neck with color, and was pinking his cheeks now.

Danny cleared his throat. He was in an open relationship with Mac Taylor, but they were very comfortably closeted to everyone they knew. He did not want to blow their cover now, and certainly not to Flack.

"I mean, that's exactly it, how the victim was … was found." He collected himself and came over beside Flack. "Yeah. Okay, put your head back down."

"Look, can't I- hey!"

Danny put a hand on the back of Flack's head and pushed his head down onto the bench. He knelt and looked up at him with a grin. Flack's expression was a mixture of glumness and resign.

"Just a minute, I just gotta make sure it's exactly like the scene."

"Hurry up, will you?" Flack grumbled. "If someone comes in and sees this, I'm done."

"Don't worry, I locked the elevator down here," Danny assured him. "Now, the restraints. They were done like this."

"Danny, don't!"

"You still scared, Flack?"

"No! It's just- Hey, cut it out! I never said you could do that!"

Danny had strapped Flack's right wrist to the bench frame, and was working on the other one. Flack struggled, shaking the bench frame. The leather cuffs were very durable, and buckled too tightly to slip out of.

"Cut it out! You wanna fall with this thing?" Danny warned. "I'm just trying to recreate the crime scene as closely as possible."

"Then why are you strapping me in so damn tightly?" Flack asked through gritted teeth.

"To see if the victim had a chance of escape," Danny said smoothly. "Can you get out of those?"

Flack tried the struggle once more. Danny could see the muscles of his arms tightening through his white shirt. When he failed to pull the straps off the bench, he tried to get at the buckles with his fingers. After three minutes of this, he heaved a heavy sigh.

"No," he admitted.

"Fantastic."

Flack scowled at him. Danny stood up and left from his view.

"Now, he couldn't kick his way away, because the ankles were strapped down, too."

"Danny-"

"Just a minute."

"You're getting off on this, aren't you?" Flack muttered as Danny buckled the straps around his ankles.

"I know that I am."

Flack started at the voice, craning his neck to look over his shoulder. Mac Taylor had appeared, and stood behind him, a very satisfied smirk on his face. A hot wave of panic rushed over Flack.

"What is this!" shouted Flack. "Danny! You lied to me?"

"No, all he told you was the truth," Mac said. "We did need the visual help with the scene recreation. You are about the height-" He raised an eyebrow, eying Flack's bottom. "-and size, of the victim."

"Yeah, I never thought you had that padding, under those bad-fitting suits you always wear," Danny remarked thoughtfully.

Flack turned scarlet. "You sick, disgusting freaks! Get me off this thing! I swear to God, I'll-"

"You're not going to do anything, Don," Mac said. "Not for a while, anyway. You see, there was one more recreation we needed some help with."

Mac slid out a metal rolling table akin to the ones used in autopsy. Instead of surgical equipment, however, this one bore an array of S&M instruments. Flack paled beneath his blush, his light eyes round with disbelief. Mac picked up a leather riding crop, studying it.

"There was a unique bruising pattern on the victim," he said. With a chuckle, he explained, "It isn't exactly something we can figure out on a dead pig, of course. Dead bodies don't-" He flicked the crop across the seat of Flack's pants. "-bruise."

Flack stared up at him incredulously. He looked over at Danny, as if for help. Danny shook his head, though he looked sympathetic. Flack broke into an anxious grin. Mac had noticed before that he often dealt with insult and injury with that smile: sometimes it was cynical, other times it could be angry, wry, or defiant. Mac normally found it endearing, but given the fact that Flack had been jeering at him with it for the past weeks, he now found it obnoxious.

"Okay, okay, you got me," Flack gave in. "Very funny, guys. Really. You had me going. You're probably taping this, right? I get it, Mac, I've been … I've been pissed off and I guess kind of unprofessional. We'll put it behind us, all right?"

Mac smirked at Flack's choice of words. "Oh, we certainly will."

"I didn't mean- Come on!" Flack repeated, the sheepish humor leaving his face. "You're not really going to do this. I mean, you're not … You can't possibly … "

"Oh, he's gonna do it," Danny informed him. "Trust me. I know."

"You can't just assault people like this!" Flack told Mac. "This is sick!"

"You know what's sick, Don? Blaming me for doing my damn job!" Mac snapped at him. "Laying the outcomes of someone else's wrongdoings at my feet, that's sick! It's sick, and it's unfair."

"Mac!"

"No, I'm through talking," Mac said firmly. "You are wrong, and I think you know it. You're angry at me out of spite, and that's a petty, childish way to act. It's disappointing."

"Are you scolding me right now?" Flack asked, dumbfounded. "Seriously?"

"Yes, I am, seriously," Mac retorted. "And I'm going to do more than that. You've earned this, Don. Don't you dare try to say that you haven't."

Mac moved out of view while Flack was still gaping at him. Danny came before him. He put a reassuring hand on Flack's shoulder.

"Sorry about this, but Mac wouldn't take 'no' for an answer," he said. "Honestly? I really didn't think you'd fall for the setup so easily."

"I trusted you," Flack said. "Damn it, Messer! You'll pay for this!"

Danny shrugged. He knew that Mac would protect him from any revenge Flack might try to exact, and that Flack would be inclined to obey Mac's command henceforward. He patted Flack's shoulder one more time.

"What can I say? I'm sorry."

With that, Danny left them. His footsteps echoed in the garage until there was the sound of elevator doors opening, then shutting. Angry as he was with the man, Don wished his friend had not gone. He was alone with a very angry Mac Taylor now- alone with him, and completely at his mercy.

Mac's hand slid under his waist. Flack writhed, but he was too tightly bound across the bench to move more than an inch or two in any direction.

"Well, if I'm going to study the bruising pattern, these are going to have to come down, aren't they?" he said, deftly unzipping the man's fly.

Flack pressed his face into the bench cushion, and the dead-alive, musky smell of leather flooded his nostrils. He was suddenly alight with sensitivity. He could feel every crease and pore of the leather, every tendon in every arch of his body, and the cool, static air of the garage on his skin. Yet despite the clearness of his physical reality, his mind still denied the situation. This simply could not be happening. He could not be bent over a fetish bench with his ass in the air, awaiting any variety of spanking from Mac Taylor.

"What did Danny mean when he said that he knew you'd do it?" he asked suddenly. The silence was too ominous to bear. He did not know if anything could be accomplished by talking, but nothing could make matters much worse now. "He sounded like he was speaking from experience."

"He was. When he had all that trouble with his brother, I was furious with him," Mac said. Nonetheless, there was an affectionate, nostalgic smile on his lips. "He drove me absolutely crazy. I was worried for him, more worried than I had been for anyone in a very long time. Finally, it just got to be too much. I couldn't let him fall, not after all I'd invested in him, not after he was so settled into this good life. I didn't want to hurt him, but I wanted to hurt him. It happened very quickly, I hadn't even realized what I was doing until it was nearly done."

"You spanked Danny?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I did."

Mac let his mind wander to that night. He could still see Danny's shock, could still feel the violent struggle he had fought to restrain. Then, the tears, the apology, and it was done. Danny had been his, from that moment on, his to keep safe, his to guide, his to watch out for … his to love.

You won't be so easily conquered, will you, Don? Mac thought towards the helpless man. He brought down his slacks and boxers with a tug. His hand grazed Flack's skin, and he felt him shudder. Danny was looking for guidance. He wanted, needed, to be saved. You're just trying to be right, because you're used to being right. Well, we'll see how confident in your judgment you are when it's gotten you a well-tanned hide.

"Mac, don't do this, you gotta know this is crazy," Flack was pleading. "I'm a grown man. You don't just do this to a guy!"

"You know, I wouldn't have expected a homicide detective to whine so much over so little," Mac told him. He picked a rattan cane from the table, tested its flexibility briefly. "Your father was a cop, he must have believed in stern rules. Haven't you ever been spanked before, Don?"

"Yeah, of course, but-but not for years!" Flack said. He pulled against the restraints, to no avail. He swallowed, subdued by the memories of punishments long since past. "And not like this, tied down. And-and besides, you … you're not my father, Mac. I don't know who the hell you think you are to do this, but you're notmy father."

"I'm not trying to be your father, Don," Mac said, his voice surprisingly gentle. "All I'm trying to do is get your respect."

"You think I'm gonna respect you after you pull something like this?" Flack asked angrily. "Maybe I did respect you, when I thought you were a normal guy, but I'm not gonna respect a freak show! You do this, and I swear to God, I will never respect you! You're a lunatic! A freaking pervert!"

Mac's open hand slapped across Flack's buttocks, leaving a bright handprint on his right cheek. The sound resonated like a gunshot through the garage. Mac had not intended to hit the man in earnest anger, but he should have known this resolution would not last; Don Flack could grate on the nerves. Mac smirked, satisfied at the sight of the mark on Don's pale skin. He removed his jacket, and began to roll up his sleeves.

Don stared at the floor in helpless shock, a faint tingling warmth spreading from the handprint. There was no way of denying the situation now. He had the brief impression that he was a child again, hanging off his father's knee, staring at the kitchen linoleum while a hand patiently spanked whatever lesson needed to be taught into him.

"How can you do this to me, Mac?" he asked. "You have no right to do this to me!"

"You really are whiny, aren't you? You're a brat, Don. That's really all you are, isn't it?" He prodded Don's fleshy bottom, adding, "In the end."

Don looked back at him with a miserably furious expression. Mac almost felt sorry for him. Nonetheless, he lifted his hand, and laid a matching handprint on Don's left cheek. Don flinched, his head collapsing on the bench top in defeat. Curiously, he did not look away, but watched Mac as he began the spanking proper.

"I never thought you were the kinky type," Flack said. "Hell, I never thought you were gay. Does this do it for you? Having a guy half naked and spanking his bare ass? Really? The father figure routine? You're that much a stereotype, you sick bastard?"

Mac could not help but observe the part of anatomy Flack had mentioned. Flack was fit, but his buttocks were still a bit soft (due to sitting at his desk for such long stretches and fast food, Mac had no doubt). Danny had been right in his remark about padding; in his daily clothing, it was not possible to tell, but Don did indeed have a healthy amount of meat on his haunches. Mac could not deny that the feel of that springy flesh quivering beneath his palm was pleasurable. It was all the more pleasurable to see the expanding circles of red forming on each cheek, incredibly bright against all the rest of Don's unexpectedly smooth white skin.

Mac, however, was the master of the poker face. He met Don's eyes directly, even as he gave him a particularly hard spank, and declared, "This has nothing to do with sex, Flack."

"Oh no? 'Cause it's kinda turning me on, even."

Mac glanced between his legs. "Well, judging by the evidence, you aren't lying." He was gratified to see a look of pure mortification overtake Flack's face. "But I doubt that you'll be very aroused by the time I'm done with you."

Flack turned his face away, but went on talking, "Are you really some kind of queer or something, Mac? I mean, not that there's anything wrong with being a sadistic fag, but I'm curious."

Mac paused in the spanking, pondering Flack. He had to admire Don's efforts to remain cynical. He had thought that lying helpless through a spanking would still his tongue, but despite the blush that colored his entire body, despite the hitch of desperation in his voice, he kept on.

"You just have to be a smartass, don't you?" Mac said. He picked up the riding crop. "Well, the smarter the ass, the more it'll smart."

The crop snapped out and cracked straight across Flack's behind. He yelped at the unexpected burn of the stripe. It layered over the dull sting of the handprints Mac had laid on him, and his buttocks began to throb painfully. Just as this new level of pain began to register, there was another booming crack, and a fresh burst of heat sank into his exposed skin. Tears sprang to his eyes, making shame well up inside him like bile.

"It hurts," he said, rather stupidly. "That actually hurts."

"I didn't set all this up for your entertainment," Mac reminded him. "Or for mine. I brought you down here to be punished, and that's what I intend to do."

"But why, Mac?" Don asked. His voice was smaller, and he cleared his throat to restore its force. "Why? I mean, I know we have this disagreement, but-"

"It isn't about disagreeing," Mac said. "What kind of a man do you think I am? I wouldn't punish you for not agreeing with me. But you've been holding the disagreement against me. You've been unprofessional, even dangerously uncooperative. You have to realize that I cannot tolerate that behavior."

Crack!

"You're not even my boss, you- Aahh. Mm." Flack barely stifled a shout, clamping his mouth tightly shut. He squirmed, though the wriggling only stuck his backside further out into the air, much to his detriment when the next strike landed. This time, the yelp escaped. "Aow! Aaaaow! C'mon, Mac, please, this hurts!"

"Not exactly the right kind of pattern," Mac observed. He laid down the crop. "Let's see. It's too narrow. The cane would be even narrower. How about we try the ruler? You should be familiar with the ruler, being a Catholic school boy and all."

"Mac, look, I'm sorry," Don said grudgingly. "Just cut this out. I'll stop bitching at you about the whole thing. All right?"

"I appreciate it, Don, but there's still the bruising pattern to finish," Mac said smugly. He allowed himself to squeeze Don's bottom briefly. "The ruler. It must have been at an upward angle, though, something like-" He swung the flat wooden stick. It connected with Don's bottom like a bat hitting a baseball. "-this."

The ruler struck across Don's lower buttocks with an uplifting motion. Don jumped, wincing visibly. The tears in his eyes threatened to spill over, and he blinked them back furiously. He gripped the legs of the bench tightly, knuckles going white. His heightened senses were all focused on the spanking now. He fancied that he could feel each separate bruise, the stripes feeling like strips of burning nettles, the handprints a flat, broad expanse of warmth that was almost pleasant by comparison.

Mac liked the effect the ruler had, and did not hold back as he continued to spank Don with it. Wide, flat red marks neatly lined Flack's buttocks, the edges white against previous bruises, which had darkened to a deep scarlet. There were a few individual little bruises here and there, dark purple. Don's pointless struggles became more pronounced. Mac could feel his attempt at stoicism coming apart. Still, Don kept his misery predominantly contained. Pure stubbornness, Mac thought, not unaffectionately.

"I may not be your father, but how do you think your father would feel about you acting so unprofessionally?" Mac scolded. "Do you think he would want you compromising your investigations by trying to shut me out? Would he be proud of you trying to keep me quiet about a dirty cop, just to save your pride?"

The lecture served its purpose. At the mention of the father he had spent his life trying to measure up to, Don wilted. The tears were leaking out of his screwed shut eyes, and he felt himself losing to the maddening urge to burst into sobs. He took the next few whacks without moving, perversely clinging to the pain that seared into his skin. His anger at Mac had faded, replaced by a confusion of self-loathing and self-pity.

"Answer me, Don," Mac demanded. "Would your father be proud?"

"No," Don answered, choking on the word. His voice was thick, and his breathing was shaky. "No, he wouldn't. I was wrong. I had no right to treat you like that, Mac. I know that. I-I just … I- Oh God, Mac! I still think it was a mistake, what you did. But it wasn't only that. I was so pissed off that you came after my guys, it was like you were going after my precinct, after-after me. I just want to … make my dad proud, you know?"

"I understand," Mac said. "I've done the same. But our fathers were not perfect. Even if they had been, just because we want to live up to perfection doesn't mean that we can, Don. The less time you spend insisting that you're right about everything, the more time you'll have to learn how to be just that much closer to your father's legacy."

Don sniffled, and Mac realized that he had been crying for some time. Mac set the ruler aside. He sympathetically rubbed a hand over Flack's buttocks, feeling the heat rising from the bruises, his pulse racing inside his body. Flack eased into the touch, doubtless appreciative of the coolness of Mac's palm.

"I'm sorry, Mac, I really am," Don said sincerely. "I'm not saying you were right, but I shouldn't have acted like … like … "

Mac was unfastening the straps holding Flack's ankles to the bench frame. "Like a sullen brat."

"Yeah." Flack gave a small, heavy laugh. "Yeah, we'll go with that."

Mac came around in front of Flack, and lifted his face up by the chin. Flack's face was streaked with tears and snot, his eyes red-rimmed from crying. His expression of unguarded misery made him look like an overgrown boy. Mac ruffled his hair, and then knelt to unfasten the last of the restraints.

The first thing Don did once he was free was scrub his fists across his eyes. He drew a few huffy breaths, trying to calm himself. He slowly lowered himself off the bench, pulling his boxers and pants back up. He felt raw and foolish. He sank weakly down onto the bench, wincing as his sore bottom hit the cushion. Mac put a hand on his shoulder. Don could not quite meet his eyes.

"There's no shame in crying, Don," Mac said. "Hey. Look at me. It's okay, Don."

Don managed to meet his eyes, but the effort crumbled him. He burst into sobs again, and suddenly threw his arms around Mac. He sobbed heavily into his shirt.

Mac was shocked, but he managed to put his arms around the other man. He patted his back, murmured senseless words of comfort. The outburst was heart-wrenchingly intense, but mercifully brief. Don soon pulled back, sniffling again, trying to wipe his tears away on his sleeve. A hand lingered on Mac's arm, gripping him.

"I can't believe this," he said sheepishly. "What am I, five? I can't believe I'm cryin'."

"You never cried before?"

"Well yeah, I always cried when my father spanked me," Don said with a small chuckle of nostalgia. "Yelled my head off. He didn't do it often, and stopped early on. My ma used to joke that he was afraid he'd go deaf if he kept on. One time-" He laughed. "This one time, some people in the apartment downstairs called social services. They thought it was child abuse, or murder, I don't know. All over a few whacks, can you believe it?"

Mac returned his smile, rubbing his shoulder comfortingly.

"But I'm an adult," Don said. "I shouldn't fall apart like this. I mean, I shouldn't be being spanked, either-" He gave Mac a pointed look. "-but if I was, then I shouldn't have been crying over it."

"Why do you think you cried?"

Don shrugged. "I don't know. All that stuff you said about my father. Remembering what it felt like to be a kid again, to feel that level of shame and guilt and stuff. It's been a long time since anyone took charge of me, Mac. I'm always the one running the show, so to speak."

"Ah, you got used to that, huh?" Mac said with a knowing smile. "Being in charge, not being told anything, not being challenged?"

Don grinned. "You gotta admit, it's a good way to live."

"It is." Mac sat on the bench beside Flack. "It can also be harmful. Honestly, I'm not used to being challenged, either- except by you. I have to admit, I've been wanting to take you over for a while."

"Oh yeah?" Don raised his eyebrows, then knit them together in a frown. "Am I that hateful?"

"No, no, you're not hateful," Mac assured him. "Just difficult."

"And this is how you deal with difficult men?"

"Sometimes."

"I still say it's a sex thing," Flack insisted. He turned more fully to Mac, edging closer to him. The motion sent a fresh throb of pain through his bottom, and he shifted uncomfortably. "You sure it's not a sex thing?"

"If you're asking whether I am attracted to you, well, yes, I am," Mac said. "You are a very attractive man, personality flaws non-withstanding."

Don stared at him for a minute. "You're gay? Jesus, since when?"

"So much for don't ask, don't tell," muttered Mac. "I always have been, Don."

"Huh. How about that."

Don puzzled over this for a while. Mac watched him, curious as to how he would react once he finally processed this information. As minutes ticked by, Mac had to force himself not to reach out and pinch him.

"So?" he asked when he could no longer stand the silence. "What do you think?"

Don looked at him again, but his face betrayed nothing. There was the hint of a smile about his lips, but Don's smiles could mean anything. Without warning, Don moved even closer to Mac, their thighs pressed together through their pants. He leaned his face close, and then closed the minute gap between their profiles. He pressed his lips to Mac's, a sweet, shy kiss. Stunned, Mac could only stare at him. Don's eyes swept closed beneath his dark, thick lashes, above a face that was once again blushing.

His lips were firm and tender on Mac's mouth. He smelled lightly of sweat, soap, aftershave, and his own unique chemistry. There was a salty taste on his lips, most likely the remnants of whatever food he had eaten on the go that day. The taste of him sparked a rush of desire that broke Mac out of his stupor. He reached around Don, a hand ruffling into his hair, wiry and thick, holding him close. He opened his mouth around Don's, his tongue forcing its way into his mouth. Flack jerked at this, but Mac held him in place. If this was the only kiss he would ever get from the man, he wanted it to be memorable.

Don's body eased, tension melting away as he yielded to the kiss. The salt was from french fries, the taste of them still lingered in his mouth. Mac ran his tongue along Don's slick teeth, familiarizing with the shape of the rows, bumping into a slightly crooked one on the bottom. Don was hesitant, but he tentatively explored back, his lips tightening on Mac's, sucking, and then parting for breath. His heart was racing so fast that he was surprised it hadn't worn out, and his skin felt alight with fire all over. Mac's touch was no longer cool, but equally warm. One hand stroked the back of his neck, just at the base of his hair, and the other rested gently on his arm. Flack's awareness had spread to encompass Mac, as if they could feel through one another's bodies as well as their own.

They pulled apart at last. Don was gasping for air, and he gaped at Mac for a minute. "Um. Uh. Wow, I … What just happened?"

"Well, ah, Don, if you have to ask … "

Don gripped Mac by both arms. "No, really, what just happened? I'm not even gay. I mean, I never thought I was. I guess I could be?"

"Don, Don." Mac shook him. "Calm down. It was just a kiss."

Flack blew out a sigh. "Yeah, right. Right. Just a kiss." His eyes met Mac's, and he frowned slightly. "That's all it was. Just a kiss."

The link had not been severed just yet, though. Their hands were still on each other's arms, and their legs were still touching. Don leaned forward, stopped, and then went ahead and kissed Mac again. It was shorter, more succinct, but far less shy. Afterward, Mac gave him a smaller kiss on the side of his mouth, then kissed the tip of his nose.

"Oh hell," groaned Don. He bowed his head, his forehead touching Mac's. "Hell, Mac, I think I'm … I think I want you."

The astonishment in his voice did not please Mac very much, but the words did. He drew a breath, caressing Flack's arm lightly. "Really?"

"I guess?"

Not the sharpest tool in the shed,Mac thought. It's a good thing he's cute.

Mac stood from the bench, taking Don's hands into his own. Don looked up at him expectantly, an oddly dog-like expression. Mac patted his head, then ran his hand down Don's face.

"Listen, Don, I want you, too," Mac said. "But you're emotional, you're confused, and I don't think it's a good idea for us to-"

Don was on his feet then, and kissing him again. Mac could feel him submitting to his desire, submitting to Mac's will and body. Having Flack so pliable in his arms drove all rational thought from Mac's mind. He took the taller man into his arms, and kissed him with such force that it was nearly violence.

Inevitability took over from that point, and neither man did a thing to fight it.


[Now]

"Are you flirting with me, Flack?"

"Men don't 'flirt'," Flack said, still smiling. The flash of memory had brought color to his face. "I wouldn't know how to 'flirt' if my life depended on it, anyway."

"It sounded like flirting," Mac said simply.

"Hey, I never asked you, but were you with Danny back then?" Flack asked. "When we got it on in the crime lab garage?"

"We were in an open relationship."

"How come you never said anything about him to me?"

"Because an open relationship by its very definition is something uncomplicated," Mac said. "What we had that day was just sex, and we agreed it was a one-time thing. If it had ever threatened to get serious, of course I would have had to tell you about Danny, and him about you."

"But you guys got serious later, right?" Flack asked. He had spent the night in mournful silence, and was happy to lose himself in someone else's messed up life. "You came out to your friends, moved in together."

"Yeah, the 'uncomplicated something' got too complicated," Mac said dryly. "So we agreed on no secrets, no disloyalty, and it worked for a while. We were happy, very happy, until … "

"Until what?" Flack asked curiously. "What happened?"

"That is between me, and Danny," Mac said. The only person he had confessed the cause of their breakup to was Stella. "Suffice it to say, it ended."

"At least you guys ended it." Flack's knuckles whitened on the wheel. "You know? You got to live the relationship through to the end. You got to get everything out of it that you could. You controlled how it went out. It wasn't just taken from you. Wasn't just snatched away right out from under you. At least you had that, right?"

Mac did not know what to say to that. He had the urge to reach out and touch Flack in comfort, but he refrained. Though he felt sorry for the man, he could not help a streak of annoyance. Four years later, and here Flack was, being irresponsible again. He was in no shape to work tonight, and Mac knew he would never admit it.

As long as we get to the crime scene in one piece, Mac thought, eying Flack dubiously. I'll give him a break if we don't crash. And if we do crash, whether he's in mourning or not, he's going to get it.