A/N: Episode tag to "Strays", because really, who wasn't completely mindfucked by that last scene? There are things I really should be working on instead, but I couldn't leave this alone. Obviously, spoilers for season 3. First Shield fic... be gentle ;)

Feedback: Makes me happy

Shades of Man

The sound grates on his nerves and sends him from his worn bed to stand and let the tense feeling wash from him. Groggy with deprived sleep for too many days and no warm body next to him to comfort and soothe and make him feel alive. He wouldn't demean himself to say he felt empty because there had to have been something there first, deep inside in the pit of his stomach. What he does feel is a sense of bewilderment. About how he can still function the same way.

He will though, because he always does. Sometimes he reaches a slump, things don't connect but there's one thing he admits himself to be and that's persistent. Too much so sometimes, his partner might remind him from annoyed but caring eyes.

The yowling wont end, so being the type that finds solutions he shuffles to his small kitchen, grabbing the cold jug of milk to pour out in a bowl. Finds himself calling out as he bends to his knees and puts the milk out as an offering of peace. Sees the bright feline eyes track him, coming hesitantly at his soothing nonsense calls.

Drinks. His hands carefully go to pet the ruffled and dirty fur, the cat much too scrawny and awkward to ever be housetrained. A little too familiar if he thought about it, but at this hour he doesn't want to. He gets paid for thinking in the morning.

He pets and strokes, but this scrawny excuse for a living creature is almost humiliating. Pathetic. And one thing he knows he will always be, so he strokes harder, his fingers tensing and kneading. Put it out of his misery, or would that be its own misery? A word he is intimately familiar with and maybe he had gripped too hard, but it doesn't occur to him that he should stop, so he twists and the struggles stop and the dirty, matted, hairy creature goes limp.

And he really doesn't like the feeling of a body in death so he drops it with a sudden sickness in his empty stomach. Stares at the lump of fur and thinks of how his entire world was turned askew before tonight. Men do things for reasons, and that's one thing Dutch has always counted on. A dark creeping fear hits him and he doesn't want to touch it but can't leave it there. Certainly it will rot and smell, and someone is bound to notice. Goes inside with his mind carefully blank but nothing is ever easy, let alone for him, and for once his mind wont listen.

Nothing is for certain, people are never predictable. And Dutch knows he has seen a terrible side to humanity in his years as a detective, it shouldn't be surprising but it never stops being just so. That capability for evil, and really it is evil isn't it? But either way, it resides there and it festers in those that suppress it, or is given free reign by those who don't.

Not everything is in a textbook.

That confuses him perhaps more than everything because there is always logic in every case he's investigated. Sick and twisted maybe, but its there and he holds on to that. Its with logic that he knows he can be cocky and self assured since there is no better crime solving material than that. He can deduct with the best of them.

A plastic bag and then he's back and he puts it in and ties it shut, into the trash can that will be picked up tomorrow. He stands for a while outside, and it's a bit warm and muggy. Picks up the milk and walks back inside.

Sometimes reason is never simple.

At his desk, another case for him to obsess over, but this one isn't new and he feels himself ease into the familiarity of it. Armenians, missing money, this he can deal with, this isn't something where he can peel away the layers to find out the twisted psyche behind it. This is just a cold cut mystery of missing mob money, and he grins at the alliteration in his head.

A bald head in a sea of hair, and a grim face with it that couldn't belong to anyone but Mackey, pushing the door to his little club and disappearing. He supposed things were a lot simpler for a man who never second guessed his decisions, wrong or not and Dutch doesn't seem to remember a time Mackey had ever been wrong.

It grates, of course. Mistakes lead to more mistakes and there was a certainty in his life that he could never afford a big one. Bringing down a child-porn ring had been his triumph, yesterday another serial killer was caught and convicted because of him. It didn't phase, there were still so many more mistakes to come.

What was the measure of a human soul, he remembered wondering once. Just having made detective at 35, young enough to have ambition that many claimed refused to die. Profiling killers to perfection, quoting the scenario and circumstance of each murder, stringing them together to form a theory. This was the way his shiny and happy persona had expected things to go.

This was how he had let things go, until it stopped and the formula didn't fit.

Claudette tosses a casual question at him about the cat, and he brushes it off. But what scares him even more is the lack of guilt or cold fear in his veins. Regret yes, but that sudden and impulsive reaction was gone with this mornings garbage.

He turns the conversation to the case in his hands.

Later at night, when he lies awake in his empty bed and his eyes drift shut to the peaceful silence of the night, he worries that this is something he has dismissed too quickly. But he doesn't think about it further. Fear and self-doubt have plagued him too many quiet nights, this one he sleeps fitfully for the first time in days.

A/N: Yay for psychotic-ness.