Disclaimer: I don't own the characters related to CSI:NY

A few notes! I haven't forgotten about Old West, sorry for the length between updates. I've completed this story before starting to post, so there aren't months between chapters.

Many thanks to Ballettmaus and suallenparker for their help with the story and keeping me in touch with reality :D Thanks also to LostinNewYork, sarramaks, brinchen86 and DNAisUnique for their really helpful comments on many of the chapters.

Most importantly... this story is for my friend, afrozenheart412. It is a very, very late birthday present. I started this in February, having figured out the plot while swimming one evening (at The Concourse, West Kirby if anyone's interested :P) but it's grown from being a oneshot idea to a 15 chapter story...

Dori, I'm sorry this has taken so long, I hope you enjoy it. It's been a lot of fun to write, this is what was being written in my notebook in the Cafe Man's cafe for all those months! Lily x

Chapter 1

Moments before he saw her reflection, he heard her approach; the heavy, careful tread that could belong to only one person.

Don turned towards the housekeeper. "Everything okay, Mrs H?"

The worried look on her face was answer enough. "Are you sure you'll be all right, my love? I can quite well postpone my visit to Elizabeth a couple more days if you..."

He held up his hand, a smile blooming at the consideration behind her words. "Absolutely not," he said. "You've been looking forward to this for weeks, you've told me so. There's no need for you to go postponing anything. Besides, think how she'd feel. I bet she's been looking forward to seeing you as much as you have her. I'm fine."

When he had arrived in his battered old Chrysler with an equally battered suitcase in hand, both Martha and her husband had hurried out to welcome him; Dr Hammerback carrying his suitcase for him and Martha leading him to his room where refreshments had been laid out for him. After only a few days of acquaintance, Martha had gained an everlasting place in his heart.

A grin crossed his face as he slipped his arm round her plump shoulders, leading her back towards the door. "You know, even a bachelor such as me can manage to look after himself and a few friends for a weekend while you're away."

Martha's expression wavered. "I'm not suggesting you aren't capable, my love," she said, just as Don caught the sound of a horn tooting from outside. She ignored it and continued, "far from it. It's just, well, I feel like I'm abandoning you, what with all your friends arriving in a few hours." She gazed up at him, anxiously, and he hastened to relieve her of the feeling.

"You're not abandoning me, Mrs H." The shortening of her name had slipped from his tongue on his first day there. Martha had simply laughed and pinched his cheek, handed him a plate of cookies and shooed him out of the kitchen. The years had melted away from him faster than the cookies had disappeared into his stomach.

Now he patted the well-padded top of her arm, continuing in a light-hearted tone, "Think how much you'll have to tell me when you get back. I'll be fine. And you know what? If the mood takes me, I might run the vacuum cleaner round, do a little dusting..." The last was said with a sly look, as he was well aware of her possessiveness over her duties.

"You'll do nothing of the sort!" she retorted and then sighed. "As long as you make sure you keep on getting plenty to eat, Mr Flack, and make time to rest. Rosie Hudson from town was going to come in for a couple of hours each day to see to things, making up your beds and the like." A dubious note sounded in her voice as she added, "But seeing as she's been taken poorly, she won't be. Taken to her bed, she has, though maybe it's for the best. I certainly wouldn't have trusted her to have kept a check on your food situation, seeing she isn't one for much cooking herself. How her poor husband keeps body and soul together I do not know." Martha's opinion of Rosie gave Don an inner smirk, though he said nothing.

As well as Martha herself, he would miss the meals she had created for him. They had, even in the short space of time of his vacation, begun to fill the dips and hollows left in his face and ribs after the privations of the war and his recent, protracted illness.

"Still, there isn't too much will need doing: your rooms are all aired and made up," Martha continued, checking items off on her fingers, "there's clean linen on the beds, I've freshened up the flowers and I've made sure the pantry's stocked up nicely."

"Enough to last us for a few weeks, huh? In case of a siege?" he teased her. The pantry was replete with food and even the dining room table had been laid out for dinner with a salad pulled fresh from the garden and garnished with herbs from the same.

Martha shook her head at him with a sigh while he chuckled, by which time they had reached the door. Outside on the front drive her husband sat in their car drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. The horn had sounded for a second time and judging by the expression on his face, was about to sound again.

Stopping for a moment, clutching her large black purse, Martha studied Don's face. "You're a capable man, Mr Flack. I have no doubt about that." She gave a small nod, satisfied at last. "Well, I'd best go my love, or dear Sidney will be getting impatient." She tipped her face up and kissed his cheek. "Have a wonderful time with your friends. I'm looking forward to meeting them when I get back."

Don returned the kiss and gave her a salute as she hurried out of the front door, grabbing her hat on the way. With a hasty wave over her shoulder, she departed in a waft of lavender and a scent of baking.

Chuckling, Don wandered across the black and white tiled hall and through into the wraparound porch, in time to see the departure of the Hammerbacks' ancient Ford. With a backfire and a jerk, it lurched forward across the gravel and jolted on its way down the drive, Martha's hat just visible as she waved it through the window.

He watched until the last view of the feathers on Martha's hat had vanished. A sigh escaped his lips as he remained motionless gazing out across the view of unruly flower beds and far distant undulations of hills and trees, wavering in the heat. His watch showed a little before 2 o'clock, so for two hours the time was his alone. The Messers had estimated their arrival at around 6pm; the Taylors, however, were due to arrive at 4 o'clock and Don knew without question that they would arrive at the time Mac had stated. In all the years of their friendship, he had never known the former lieutenant to be less than punctual. In contrast, Stella was a little more lackadaisical about timekeeping and took a mischievous delight on occasion in stretching punctuality to its limit. However, she cared for her husband's idiosyncrasies and had never yet made him late.

Ambling along the porch, a brief laugh came from Don as he pictured the scene at the Taylors' home, imagining it to be similar to one he had witnessed a year or so ago when he had house-sat for the couple. Mac had been called to attend an out of state conference, accompanied by his wife, and Don had been tickled by the sight of him in the driver's seat of their car, the passenger door open, calling to Stella, who was upstairs, swithering between several choices of hats and shoes to bring with her.

Although, he thought, reviewing the image, considering their current circumstances, things might now be a little different. Certainly, Mac would still be keeping strictly within time limits, but he would likely be escorting his wife down the steps and into the car, carrying all there was to carry and making several checks that she was safely and comfortably seated before they departed.

His smile a little wistful now, Don wandered along the porch and out through the open doors at the far end that led into the gardens of the house. Built in the last decade of the previous century, it sat alone, though not lonely, content amongst its gardens and grounds. Nestled amongst the hills and heights of the landscape, it seemed secure and at ease. Despite the sorrow that had encumbered the previous inhabitants, Don had felt a welcome from the house. The peace of the afternoon made him wonder again about the history of the house; when here and now, the tragedy of its past seemed so far away.

Steps idle and idling, Don wandered along, plucking a blade of grass here and a leaf there, admiring again the aspect of the building. Catching the afternoon sun, the mellowed clapboard sides of the house were honeyed with the molten light and its windows shone amber.

His steps slowing and his thoughts beginning to haze, Don felt the lazy heat settling over and swathing him. Tired, he wended his way back indoors, ducking his head to avoid the tangling trails of wisteria that swept low from the eaves of the porch. Something close to the ground made him stop. With a wry smile he bent down and plucked the small bachelor's button flower that had snagged his attention, and poked it into his shirt buttonhole before making his way round to the back of the house.

The scent of the flower tickled his nostrils as he entered the kitchen. Inside was cool, its red-tiled floor glowing in the sunlight that slanted through the windows.

"Bless you, Martha," Don murmured to himself at the sight of a pot of coffee on the stove and a plate heaped with cookies on the table covered with gauze to keep off the flies. Grabbing a handful, he made his way back to the porch.

In the sultry air sleep beguiled Don as he plumped down into one of the cushioned cane chairs. Having eaten his cookies, he decided he had time enough for a short nap before the Taylors arrived and he lay back, wriggling amongst the cushions until he was comfortable. Stretching in front of him the vista of the gardens and landscape wobbled in the heat. His gaze blurred as he stared, mind slipping into a dream-like lull until he blinked and re-focused his eyes to the present and his thoughts about the forthcoming weeks with his friends.

He had invited both couples here for their enjoyment and for his; to share the pleasures of an upstate New York house in June. His friends had done much for him during his illness: it pleased him to be able to return them some happiness, the Messers particularly. Knowing that the family's constant money worries meant that they had never enjoyed a vacation together, it had given him a secret happiness to see the joy on their faces at the invitation.

They, in contrast to Mac and Stella, he expected to arrive at least several hours later than scheduled. His younger friends lived a haphazard life after all they had lived through during the war, and with their daughter who had celebrated her fifth birthday several weeks ago, they had many challenges as a family.

But, thinking of the little girl who called him 'Uncle', Don grinned. Being Lucy Messer's favourite Uncle brought him tremendous pride and he looked forward to also being the favourite Uncle of the Taylors' long-yearned for and now imminent arrival.

And yet, he felt just a shadow of regret as he thought of all his married friends; a shadow that had appeared on the horizons of his happily single life only recently.

More and more he realised, even though it scared him, that to have his own companion, someone who was lover, wife and family; that was what he wanted. As time passed though, it was what he had begun to think he might never have. And that scared him even more.

Fingering the petals of the wilting bachelor's button, he sighed, and then shook his head, dismissing the gloom. A bachelor, yes, but he was not discontent with life. While not fatalistic, he took what came and remained philosophical.

Having reconciled his thoughts for the time being, Don shifted once more amongst the cushions, finished off his cookies and swept the crumbs from his shirt and pants, and then lay back in the chair, toeing his shoes off as he stretched out his legs. As he closed his eyes, silken, sunlight fingers stroked his skin and soothed him to sleep at last.

The sound of tires on the driveway disintegrated his dreams. In an instant, he jerked awake, stumbling out of the chair, uttering a curse as he almost tripped on his shoes. Still groggy and fumbling with sleep, he nonetheless managed to tug them back on, one hand clutching the back of the chair before he hurried out to meet the car and its occupants. A glance at his watch as he rushed through to the front door showed him that the Taylors were dead on time. Some things could always be depended upon, he thought wryly, trying to swipe the creases out of his pants. By the time he reached the hallway he had recovered himself enough to swagger nonchalantly out of the front door, hands shoved into his pockets, ready to welcome his guests.

And finally... I'd love to know what you think so far! Many thanks, Lily x