Payback

 

Autor: anmodo

 

Danny had asked for a couple of hours off that afternoon. Although they were in the middle of an active case and Vivian was still on leave, Jack hadn't questioned his request. He knew that Danny had had a lot on his mind ever since he’d found Rafael in that garage. Any moment Danny hadn’t been at work, he’d been doing something to help Rafael or Sylvia. Jack worried that Danny was becoming too consumed by helping his brother. While his work wasn’t actually suffering, he was fairly certain that Danny had all but abandoned studying for the bar exam. To make things worse, he’d basically stopped talking to anyone about his brother. The day after he’d found Rafael, he’d made a point to thank everyone for their help, but since then he’d refrained from talking about Rafael even to Vivian. Anytime he, Martin or Samantha asked how he was doing, he’d say he was fine and not to worry. Taking the hint, they left him space to deal with his family issue privately.

Danny entered the Manhattan courthouse at noon. Walking into one of the courtrooms, he took a seat in the back. His attention focused on the defense council who was in the middle of grilling a witness for the prosecution. Maddie McGrath stood in front of the witness box and drilled question after question at the flustered witness. Danny watched her completely pick a part apart the witness’s testimony and had to smile. She’d grown even tougher with age, but she still looked exactly the same— dark hair with a few dramatic highlights in the front that she kept tucked behind her ear, with a slender face and a brilliant smile when she chose to flash it. She wore black square-framed glasses that she took off and on as she paced in the courtroom. Danny knew for a fact that she was a regular wearer of contacts, but she always broke out the glasses for the courtroom. And then there was her height. In heels, she was close to six feet tall. She had a long, willowy frame that reminded him of a gazelle. He remembered running with her in the park and always being impressed with her grace. Secretly, he knew she was self-conscious about always being the tallest girl, but she always used it to her advantage in the courtroom.

He’d known Maddie McGrath since law school. She was the girlfriend and eventually the wife of his law school roommate and former best friend, Jason Williams. After law school, she had made a name for herself as an aggressive public defender before eventually joining a high-powered Manhattan law firm. She supported herself defending high-priced, over-privileged clients, but her heart and her reputation were in her pro bono work. She specialized in working with defendants who were victims of their environments. She represented battered women who killed their husbands, fathers who resorted to theft to feed their families, and children who turned to violence because it’s all they’d known in their lives. Danny knew she was his only hope. He prayed she would be willing to talk to him.

After Maddie finished with the witness, who had now completely dissolved into tears, the judge adjourned for lunch. Danny rose from his seat as Maddie made her way down the aisle. She was busily giving orders to her paralegal who was trying hard to keep up with her. Before she could pass by him without even looking up, he called out, “Hey, McGrath, you could have gone a little easier on that last witness. You’re going to get a reputation as a hardass.”

Maddie looked up quickly, meeting his gaze and trying hard not to smile. “Too late. I think I passed that a long time ago,” she replied as she stopped in front of him. Then she addressed her paralegal without taking her eyes off Danny. “Thanks, Laura. Just have those files ready this afternoon.”

The paralegal looked from Maddie to Danny curiously before continuing to walk out of the courtroom.

“Did you get my fax?” Danny asked as he smiled with his arms folded casually.

“In fact I did. I have it right here, but I haven’t had a chance to read it thoroughly,” she replied and then paused as she searched for what to say next. “I must say I was surprised to hear from you.”

Danny nodded. “It’s been a long time, I know. But I could really use your help with this,” he responded as he walked out of the courtroom with her. “I brought more information with me. Do you have a few minutes?”

Anna shook her head as she guided him into a conference room. “Not really, but consider my curiosity peaked,” she replied as she sat down and pulled out the fax from her briefcase.

He dropped a file folder on the table and took a seat across from her. “This case is right up your alley. He got out of prison a year ago. After being incarcerated for nine years, he got out, got a job and became a family man. Then he tried to obtain a loan to open his own auto shop. He was denied.”

“Why am I not surprised,” she stated sadly.

“Right, well, he’s also a recovering drug addict. When he was denied the loan, he spiraled out of control and started using again. He got mixed up with the wrong guys, and now he’s looking at a drug trafficking charge--not to mention a parole violation. But he only did it because he owed these guys money. And he wasn’t selling or dealing. He just hid the meth in a car.”

“Can’t he make deal?” she asked as she read over the fax. “Couldn’t Alvarez could give up the dealers in exchange for immunity?”

“No one in Vice or the DEA is too high on that option. They see a three-time felon and aren’t talking deals.”

“Have you been handling his case?” she finally asked curiously. “I thought you were still a fed? And I thought for sure if you ever did start practicing, you’d be an ADA not a defense attorney. You never had a lot of sympathy for those who ignored the letter of the law.”

“I’m not practicing. I’m still with the FBI. A public defender handled Rafael’s arraignment.”

Pled him not guilty?”

Danny nodded. “Yep. And I convinced him to file a continuance.”

“Good thinking. No bail though, right?”

“No. The judge wouldn’t even hear an argument on that. He remanded Rafael to county jail. The only solace is that he is used to Riker’s, so county jail is probably a picnic.”

Maddie smirked. “Well, I just have one more question for you.”

“What’s that?”

“Why the hell is Danny Taylor interested in the saving the ass of the three-time loser? You never had any sympathy for guys like these,” she said as she looked up from the file to meet Danny’s eyes and removed her glasses. “As I recall, you were a lock ‘em up, throw away the key kind of guy. I wouldn’t think that working as a FBI agent would really change that attitude.”

Danny hesitated and took a deep breath. He knew she was going to ask this question. “It’s personal.”

“You’re friends with this guy?”

Danny shook his head. “He’s my brother.”

Maddie sat back in her chair and gave him a surprised expression. Danny also noticed hurt flash in her eyes. “Your brother. Wow. We always knew you had secrets, but this is a surprise.”

“I wasn’t in touch with him back then. I didn’t plan on ever speaking to him again. But last year, I got a visit from his fiancé and his son,” he said as he opened Rafael’s parole file and slid it in front of her.

“You testified for him,” she said as she read the file.

“Yeah,” he responded as he rubbed his chair self-consciencely.

As she glanced at the file, she noticed words like child abuse, alcoholic father, and parental death. She let out a breath she didn’t realize she was holding and then looked up at Danny, who looked more uncomfortable than she had ever seen him. “How long is the continuance?”

“I think we have about four months.”

“I should wrap my case by the end of this week. I’ll…uh…I’ll rearrange a few things so I can focus on this. In the meantime, I’ll see if I can’t get Rafael transferred to a treatment facility for thirty days. He’d be better off there than at County.”

Danny nodded appreciatively. He’d thought convincing her would be much harder. “Thank you. And I’ll do whatever I can to help. I’ve already been researching similar cases. I have a few examples. I know you have a lot on your plate, but I wanted him to have the best.”

Maddie finally smiled and rolled her eyes. “Still squeezing every ounce of that charm, aren’t we?”

“I do what I can, McGrath,” he replied returning the smile.

“I remember,” she whispered with a sigh as she rose from her chair. “I have to grab a bite so I don’t faint in court this afternoon.”

“Right. Thank you again.”

“Don’t thank me yet. He’s up for this third felony conviction, Danny. This is going to be an uphill battle, and if he gets convicted—he’s looking at twenty years.”

“I know. But he really was close to turning everything around. He has an eleven year son and another baby on the way. He wants to get clean. I know he does. He just made a bad choice.”

Prisons are literally overflowing with guys who can’t seem to make the right choice, but we’ll see what we can do. I’ll set up a meeting with Rafael and his wife by the end of this week. Do you want to be there?”

Danny hesitated. “I…uh…I’ll leave that up to him, but maybe we can get together after you meet with him?”

Now it was Maddie’s turn to hesitate, but then she responded. “Sure. I’ll have my secretary call you. We can meet at my office on Friday.”

“Sounds like a plan,” he said.

Danny returned to work after that and worked late into the evening. He finally called it a night at around 10:00, but he knew he had a stop to make before going home. Each night since finding Rafael, he’d stop by his brother’s apartment to check in on Sylvia and Nicki. He figured it was the least he could do. He’d call before he got there to see if Sylvia needed him to bring anything. Most of the time, he’d end up sitting with Sylvia on the couch and letting her vent her worry and frustration. He knew exactly how she felt. He’d been lied to and let down by Raffi more times than he could count, but he didn’t tell that to Sylvia. He’d just listen to her.

“I’ve got some good news for you,” he said as she greeted him at the door.

“I could use good news right about now,” she said wearily as she took a seat at the kitchen table. “I made coffee, if you want some.”

Danny didn’t want any, but walked into the kitchen anyway and poured a cup. “You okay?” he asked as he walked over to the table and took a seat.

Sylvia let out a tiny groan. “I’ve been feeling more tired and I can’t see m to catch my breath.”

“Did you go see a doctor?” he asked in a worried tone.

She nodded. “High blood pressure. He said it could be brought on by stress and then he asked me if I’ve been under more stress than usual,” she said with a bitter laugh.

Danny smiled sympathetically. “Can they give you medication even though you’re pregnant? What can we do to fix it?” he asked genuinely.

Her bitter laugh transformed into an appreciative smile. The only good thing she’d experienced in the last couple of weeks were these visits from Danny. She didn’t know what she’d have done without him. “Are you ready for this? Bed rest. My doctor says I should stop working. The problem with that is that if I burn all my leave now, I won’t have any extra to take when the baby comes. The hits just keep on coming,” she replied in a wary tone.

“Do you have anyone who can help you here? Your sister?”

“Yeah. She says she’ll bring her kids over every day. She’ll look out for me. But Danny, I need money. We relied on both Raffi and my salaries. Now he’s gone, and I can’t afford not to work.”

“Don’t worry about that, okay? I’ll make up for whatever you need until we can get Raffi out.”

“I can’t ask you—“

“You’re not asking. I’m insisting. As long as your sister can help you out around here, then I’ll take care of the rest. I promise,” he said earnestly even though he wondered how he would deliver.

Sylvia shook her head as she smiled again. “It’s funny—Raffi always said you had this big heart and I’d always wondered why he’d say it—since you cut him off. But now, I know exactly what he meant. I don’t know what we would have done—“

“I should have been sooner, Sylvia,” Danny interrupted taking her hand. “I should have been here for Raffi before he got into trouble. This is the least I can do now.”

Sylvia squeezed his hand appreciatively before changing the subject. “So what’s this good news you promised me?”

“I got a Rafael a lawyer today,” he said reassuringly. “A good one—she’s the best.”

“We can’t afford the best.”

“Right now, she’s doing it as a favor. She’s an old friend from law school, and she specializes in cases like Raffi’s. I trust her completely.”

“If you trust her, then that is good enough for me.”

After spending an hour with Sylvia, Danny finally made it home and collapsed into bed after taking a quick shower. Instead of succumbing to his overwhelming fatigue, his mind raced with how he was going to be able to help Sylvia and what he could do to get Raffi out of jail.

 

Since Danny was involved in a case, he wasn’t able to meet with Maddie again until the weekend. He understood that she still insisted on meeting at her office. He knew she couldn’t afford to make things too personal with him. So on Saturday morning, he met Maddie in the lobby of her high-rise office building.

“Nice digs, McGrath. I always knew you’d end up in one of these places,” he said as he approached her in the opulent lobby.

She gave him an annoyed smile and responded, “I just wish I actually spent time here. Most of my work is done at the courthouse and at the Legal Services of Manhattan. I think the partners here are about to start charging me rent. The only time they are happy with me is when one of my cases makes the papers.”

“Well, they should be pretty happy then,” he said as he followed her into the elevator. “I read the piece in the Times last year.”

“That was one of my finer moments. Unfortunately, most of my cases aren’t sexy enough to break through too often.”

Danny smirked as his mind immediately trained in on her use of the term ‘sexy’. He was about to make a suggestive comeback, but then decided against it. Instead, he changed the subject. “How did the meeting with Raffi go?” he asked as he followed her onto the 55th floor and down the corridor towards her office.

“Fine. He and Sylvia seem very committed, but I don’t think that’s enough,” she said as she took a seat on the couch in her office. Danny took a seat in the chair next to the couch and started to take out files from his bag.

“I found a few cases that are similar to Raffi’s. This guy got off with time-served and six months in a half-way house,” he said handing her a file.

She took a minute to review the file and then looked up at him. “This was his second offense. There’s a world of difference between a second and third offense. And this guy never had a violent act on his record. Rafael did nine years for aggravated assault. Juries see that and they won’t want to set him free with a slap on the wrist.”

“I know, but we are talking about a trafficking charge—a non-violent offense. He wasn’t dealing, and he was the one who was assaulted. Luiz Vega hit him over the head and took off with the drugs.”

“And Luiz Vega is looking at hard time,” she responded while nodding her head. “Unless we can perform some sort of miracle, so is your brother.”

Danny sighed deeply. “Don’t say that, Maddie. I have to help him. He can’t go back inside for twenty years. He won’t survive.”

Maddie looked at him sympathetically as he raked his hands over his face and hair. She couldn’t remember the last time he’d called her by her first name. McGrath wasn’t even her legal name anymore, but he still used it. “Our best shot is to make a deal,” she responded hopefully. “The DA’s office is shuffling his case around, but I’m hoping they nail down an ADA soon. Then I’ll know better what kind of leeway I have. And I still haven’t given up on Vice or the DEA. There have to be much bigger fishes involved in those drugs than your brother and Luis Vega. I believe that if Rafael could roll on someone that they would be appreciative. It all depends on what Vega has already told them.”

“I know you’ll do everything you can,” he responded quietly.

“I did get him a slot in a locked down treatment facility. I even got him in a sixty day program. At least he’ll get some help,” she said reassuringly.

“How’d you swing that?” he asked as he smiled appreciatively.

“I know someone who owed me a favor,” she replied with a sly smile and then asked a question she’d been waiting to ask since meeting Rafael. “Can I ask why this is so important to you? I mean I was impressed with Rafael, but after looking at his record and what happened to you because of the trouble he was in when you were kids—I wonder why you care so much now.”

“Raffi’s gotten some bad breaks. He’s never been able to get on track. And lately, I’ve kind of felt responsible for that. I shouldn’t have ignored him after he got out.”

“He has a support system, Danny. He has a girlfriend and a son. He had a job. A lot of parolees come out with a whole lot less.”

“Sometimes I think that made it harder. There was too much pressure on him.”

Maddie nodded. “Well, I seriously doubt that you are the reason he is in this mess. I think what you’re doing is pretty admirable considering your history with him.”

Danny gave her an inquisitive glance. “How much do you know?”

“A whole lot more than I ever knew when you were one of my closest friends,” she replied with a little sadness.

“I’m sorry—“

“Don’t. Don’t apologize. That was a million years ago. I shouldn’t have mentioned it.”

“It does seem like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it?”

“Yep.”

“How is Jason?” Danny finally asked referring to her husband.

She closed her eyes for moment and nervously tucked her hair behind her ears. “He’s fine.”

“Does he know you’re helping me?”

She smiled. “I haven’t told him.”

Danny gave her an uneasy glance. “You should tell him, McGrath. I don’t want to cause any—“

“We’re divorced, Danny,” she said bluntly.

He sat back in his chair. “I had no idea,” he said he glanced at her ring finger which still wore a gold band. “Since when?”

Maddie looked at her hand. “I haven’t taken it off. I’m not pining for him or anything. It’s just easier this way. I hate dealing with the questions. It’s been almost a year.”

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” he said genuinely.

“Oh please, Danny. I know what you are thinking. You’re thinking it is probably seven years overdue. You never thought we were right for each other.”

“I was a cynical bastard back then. And most of my thoughts were completely self-absorbed. I really am sorry to hear about this, McGrath.”

Maddie smiled slightly again. “That’s another thing I haven’t done. I haven’t changed my name back to McGrath. When I hear you say it, it makes me want to change it back.”

“You’ll always be McGrath to me,” he responded quietly before continuing, “What happened with you and Jason?”

She sat back against the couch and swallowed hard. She wasn’t sure she wanted to go into it, especially not with Danny. Something about the way he looked at her, though, compelled her to tell him.

“It wasn’t one thing. It was my career. It was his career. It was two years of trying to have a baby with no real luck. And truthfully, I wasn’t ready to have a baby so I wasn’t trying very hard. When he realized that, he couldn’t take it anymore.”

“So he left you.”

She nodded. “And his job. And Manhattan. He took a teaching job in New Hampshire. The last I heard, he’d met a Women’s Studies graduate student. They are engaged and she is pregnant. He and I have actually stayed friends, which was important to me.”

“I wish I could say the same. I always wanted to re-connect with him, but the last time I saw him he seemed more than uncomfortable. He was the US attorney in a case I worked a few years ago. He was still pretty pissed off underneath his professionalism.”

“I remember. He barely spoke to me during the whole trial. I knew the days he had to deal with you because he wouldn’t speak to me at all.”

“Sorry—“

Maddie held up her hand and shook her head. “It’s over. We’ve all forgiven, but clearly it’s much harder to forget. We shouldn’t look back, Danny. Let’s just focus on Rafael.”

“Okay,” he replied while nodding his head and pulling more files out of his bag. “I have six more cases that we can reference, and—“

“Why aren’t you practicing yet, Danny? Why are you still a FBI agent?” she asked suddenly.

Danny looked up from the files at the table. “I like what I do. I like working missing persons.”

“Yeah, but you loved litigation. I can’t believe I haven’t met you across the table as a prosecutor. Did you ever take the bar?”

“No,” he replied shaking his head. “I’ve actually been studying to take it for the last year, but now with Raffi—there just aren’t enough hours in the day. The test is in two weeks.”

“Take the test, Danny. I’ll help you study. I’m sure being an FBI agent is exciting and fulfilling, but you are a lawyer. We used to love watching you argue cases in mock court.”

“You always prepared me very well.”

“Oh please, it was all you, Danny. Take the test. It took me two times to pass it.”

“I’m really strapped—, “

“Hey, no excuses. I’m doing this case pro bono. You owe me.”

“I thought pro bono meant no fee required,” he responded smiling.

“In your case, I’m expanding the definition of pro bono to include taking payment in trade,” she replied returning the smile.

Danny laughed and leaned forward before he responded. “Then I can think of more interesting things to trade than tutoring sessions,” he said in a low voice as he locked eyes with her, momentarily forgetting their complicated history.

Maddie held his gaze and got lost in the flirtatious banter, just like she used to, before finally coming to her senses. “Let’s just stick to the tutoring sessions, Danny. We’ll call it my contribution to the enhancement of the judicial system.”

He raised his hands in surrender. “Okay. Okay. I guess I don’t have a choice.”

“No you don’t. Now show me what you got,” she said pointing to the files on the table.

That night, Danny had trouble sleeping—which wasn’t unusual. What was unusual was that he couldn’t get Maddie McGrath out of his head. His mind kept wandering back to when he’d first met her his second year of law school.

Are you sure you don’t mind, man?” Jason asked as he nervously paced around the apartment.

Mind what?” an extremely hung over Danny asked in a annoyed tone as he tried to shield his eyes with a pillow from the sun streaming into the living room.

She’s coming this morning. Maddie will be here any minute. She’s officially moving in with a friend of hers who lives in a dorm, but she’ll basically be here all the time. We just don’t want our parents to know since we’ve only been together for two months. I know I kind of sprung it on you—,”

It’s your apartment, man. I’m just renting a room. You can have whoever you want here,” Danny replied in a sleep-filled voice.

I know, but I want you to like her. And I know you will. She’s great. We had the most amazing summer together clerking in D.C. And now she’s decided to go to law school here. It’s just…amazing.”

Danny took the pillow off his face and squinted to look at his best friend. “You really are gone. You know that? You’re beyond saving. We have a year of law school to get through. A year of hooking up before we have to grow up, and you want to tie yourself down. She must be ‘amazing’,” he said as he opened an aspirin bottle, took four out, and washed them down with his morning concoction of vodka and orange juice.

Danny, man, that stuff is lethal. It’s 10 in the morning,” Jason said pointing to his drink.

It’s the breakfast of champions, my friend.”

Could you at least put it away while Maddie’s here?”

Danny rolled his eyes. “Don’t tell me you’re dating a prude. That will piss me off. Am I all of the sudden going to have to follow rules to live here?”

She’s not a prude at all. But I’d like you to make a good first impression. And more often than not, I’d like you to try to take your ‘dates’ home to their place and not your bedroom.”

Danny rose from his laying position on the sofa and rubbed his eyes. “You said nothing would change, man.”

It won’t change. I’m just saying—since Maddie will be here—maybe you’ll keep it quiet.”

Danny smirked. “What? Are you afraid she’ll find out what sex should really sound like?” he asked laughing.

Very funny. No. I’m more concerned about what she’ll think of your inability to sustain one relationship. I want her to like you, Danny.”

Don’t worry. All women like me until I date them,” he said as he yawned and leaned back on the couch. “And since I don’t plan on dating your girlfriend, she shouldn’t have a problem with me.”

Just as he finished that statement, they heard a knock at the door. “That’s her,” Jason said excitedly.

Danny watched as Jason opened the door and greeted Maddie privately before guiding her into the apartment. He stood up from the sofa and smiled his most charming smile as Jason introduced them.

Maddie McGrath, this is Danny Taylor.”

Maddie smiled and extended her hand to Danny’s. “It’s nice to finally meet you. I’ve heard so much about you,” she said enthusiastically.

I could say the same,” Danny responded finally letting go of her hand. “Sounds like you two had quite a summer, if you're willing to come here for this guy.” Jason hadn’t done her justice, Danny thought. She was absolutely beautiful.

I applied to NYU, but I didn’t really have a reason to come until I met Jason. It’s a little overwhelming to think about moving to Manhattan and not knowing a soul. I just hope you’re okay with this. I don’t want to impose,” she said as she looked at Danny with concern.

No imposition at all. I’ve known Jason since our freshman year, and I’ve never seen him this happy. So, our apartment—or rather his apartment—is your apartment,” Danny said graciously.

And with that, Maddie became an integral part of their day-to-day lives. The three of them became inseparable friends. They ate together and studied together. Maddie was even assigned to Danny’s mock court work group. And since she was a runner, Jason suggested she run with Danny since he didn’t want her running alone. It was on these run, that Maddie and Danny became even closer, but Danny was very careful to never

over-step any boundaries with her because his friendship with Jason was the closest thing to family he’d had in a long time and Maddie was now a part of that family.

Just as Danny drifted off to sleep, his telephone rang. He groaned as he turned toward his nightstand and grabbed his phone with his eyes still closed. “Taylor,” he mumbled.

“Danny, there’s something really wrong!” a panicked voice responded.

“Sylvia?” he said as he sat up quickly and rubbed his eyes open. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“I think…I think I’m having contractions, but it’s way too early. I just started my third trimester.”

“Have you called your doctor?” Danny asked in a worried tone.

“Yes. He said to get to the hospital right away. My sister is on her way over to stay with Nicky. An ambulance is coming to get me, but Danny…I’m really scared.”

Danny nodded before answering. “I’ll meet you at the hospital. Where are they taking you?”

Sylvia gave him the information and Danny quickly got dressed and headed to the hospital. After several hours of trying to stop the contractions, Sylvia’s water broke so the doctor had to deliver the baby. Danny called Rafael to let him know what was going on.

“Yeah,” Raffi answered in a frustrated tone. He was still at the locked down treatment facility.

“Hey. It’s Danny. I…um…I have some news for you.”

“How is she?” he asked in a panicked tone. Danny had called the facility earlier, but could only leave Raffi a message because telephone privileges weren’t allowed until morning.

“She’s hanging in there. They couldn’t stop the contractions. They had to deliver the baby by cesarean. You have a little girl, Raffi. She’s really small, but the doctors say her breath sounds are good.”

“And Sylvia?”

“She’s sleeping. She’ll be fine. She’ll be here for at least three days. Your daughter will probably be here for a couple of weeks. They want her to weigh a little more before they let her go. It’s was scary for a few hours, but I think everything is going to be okay.”

Danny listened as he heard Raffi sigh deeply and then clear his throat. Danny could tell he was crying.

“They’re going to be okay, Raffi. That’s the important thing,” he said softly.

Raffi took a deep breath and then answered, “I know. It’s just…I can’t believe I’m not there. I can’t believe I screwed it up again, Danny. I mean what if I don’t get to put my arms around my little girl for ten years like it was with Nicky. I can’t…I can’t live like this, Danny.”

“Listen to me, Raffi. We’re going to get you out of there. You’ll see your daughter soon. Just have a little faith, okay?”

“Thank you. I don’t know how I can thank you enough. You’ve been a rock for Sylvia and Nicky. And the lawyer you got me is really great. I’m not sure why you’re doing this for me, but—”

“We’re family, right?” Danny answered reassuringly. “Just hang there. Listen to Maddie. She’ll do the best she can for you, and you’ll be home soon. In the meantime, I’ll do whatever I can to help Sylvia.”

Rafael got choked up again. “Kiss my daughter for me, okay?”

“Will do. I’ll call you later today.”

They said goodbye to each other, and then Danny took a deep breath as he hung up the phone.

He went home after that to take a shower and change clothes. Part of him wanted to collapse into bed and sleep for the rest of the weekend, but he didn’t allow himself that luxury. Instead, he returned to the hospital to see if Sylvia was awake. When he got there, he found Nicky and her sister visiting Sylvia. Deciding to give them time alone with Sylvia, he headed to the nursery.

As Danny stepped off the elevator, he was surprised to find Maddie looking in the nursery window at baby Angelina Alvarez.

“You know Nicky would probably be the better character witness. I’m thinking this little one won’t be able to help with your case anytime soon,” he said with a smile as he walked toward her.

Maddie glanced at Danny as he stopped next to her and looked in the window. “I met with Rafael today. He told me the good news. I stopped in to check on Sylvia and couldn’t help myself. I had to come down to see baby Angelina. That’s a beautiful name.”

Danny nodded. “It was my mother’s name,” he responded sadly before continuing, “It’s very nice of you to come, but you don’t have to—“

“I’m doing this because it’s you, Danny. When I take a case like this, I need to feel committed. They can’t just be names on a deposition. If I fight for someone, then I have to know him. This is all a part of getting to know Rafael and his circumstances,” she said as she nodded toward the baby in the window.

“If I haven’t told you enough, I’ll tell you again—thank you for taking his case. We’re lucky to have you on his side.”

“You’re welcome. I just wish I could get him out to see his daughter, but I don’t think it will be possible.”

“I talked to him earlier. He was pretty broken up about not being here.”

Maddie nodded. “How are you doing?” she asked as she turned to look at him.

Danny met her gaze and shrugged. “Me? I’m fine.”

“You look exhausted. Were you here all night?”

“Yeah. I went home for a couple of hours and just came back.”

“Sylvia’s lucky to have you.”

He shrugged again. “I don’t know how much help I was. I just didn’t want her to be alone.”

Maddie stared at him for a few moments and then shook her head. “You really are a completely different person now,” she said without even thinking.

Danny smirked as he looked down at floor. “I guess I was pretty awful back then,” he replied in an ashamed tone.

“No. That’s not what I mean. I mean…you weren’t awful. I knew that deep down you were the person you are now, but you just never showed that side of yourself. I can tell you are in a really good place right now.”

“You think? I haven’t slept in two days. I can’t stay focused at work because I’m thinking about what I have to do to help Raffi. But I have to do well at my job so I can keep it because I promised Sylvia that I would help her pay the bills while Raffi’s gone. Two months ago, I had no commitments other than my job. Two months ago, I was probably in a good place. Now I am hanging on by a thread and I’m terrified of letting my brother’s family down,” he said while running his hand over his face and hair. He didn’t plan on venting like that, but he couldn’t help it.

“You’re not alone, Danny. This isn’t all on you. You have to think about yourself or you will burn out,” she responded as she grasped his arm reassuringly.

“How do you suggest I do that?” he asked in a slightly frustrated tone.

“For starters, go home. Sylvia is in good hands here. Her sister has Nicky covered. I’m working on Raffi’s case. Go home right now and get some sleep. Tomorrow is Sunday. You can stop by here to visit Sylvia in the morning on your way to my place.”

“Your place?” Danny asked with confused frown.

“Tomorrow, we're cramming for a certain bar exam you have in two weeks, remember?.”

“No way, McGrath. Not now…with the baby…and Sylvia in the hospital.”

“Yes, now. There’s nothing you can do for her here. There’s nothing you can do for the baby. You need one weekend to rejuvenate. And there’s nothing more relaxing than studying torte reform,” she countered as her lips curved into a smile.

Danny laughed for the first time all day. “I guess you have a point there.”

“My place. Tomorrow. Noon sharp. I’ll even provide you with brain food for a day full of studying.”

“That’s an offer I can’t refuse,” Danny replied feeling slightly relieved to have someone else take control for a while.

“Nope, you can’t,” she said as they turned back to the window to watch tiny baby.

On Sunday morning, Danny did as Maddie directed him. After a good night's sleep, he stopped by the hospital first thing in the morning and then went to Maddie's small, one-bedroom apartment on the upper West side. She met him at the door wearing a pair of well-worn jeans and a Chicago Bulls sweatshirt.

“Over ten years in New York and still not a Knicks fan? That’s almost blasphemous, McGrath,” he said as he greeted her with a smirk.

She laughed. “Well neither team has been much to cheer about lately. I’m still basking in the glory days of the 90’s.”

Danny remembered they’d watched countless games together. Jason was never a basketball fan. The Knicks would almost always lose to the Bulls back then. “Those were the days—not that I remember them that clearly,” he responded with a smile as he walked into the apartment. He noticed a pizza on the coffee table surrounded by mounds of law books and study guides. “Isn’t it a little early for pizza?”

“It’s never too early for pizza. Don’t you remember? We’d always order pizza when we had to study for anything. It was like a necessity.”

“I remember thinking tequila was more of a necessity,” he responded with a wry smile.

“Right. I modified your regime this time. I honestly don’t know how you did it back then,” she said as they both took a seat on the couch.

“Oh, well that’s easy,” he said as he sat down on the sofa. “I’m what AA calls a high-functioning alcoholic. Apparently, my motivation to succeed and not to fail allowed me to drink myself into oblivion without flunking out of law school; although, I came close at times. I had to talk to a few professors into letting me retake exams I slept through.”

“I do remember that,” she replied taking a seat next to him. “Jason and I used to get so mad at you. We’d spend weeks studying and take our test on time, and you’d charm some grad assistant into giving the test at a later time.”

“I guess that’s what they mean by high-functioning,” he said matter-of-factly.

“How’s Sylvia?” Maddie asked changing the subject.

“Good. She’s good. She’s tired, and she can’t wait for them to bring Angel into her room, but other than that, she’s good.”

“How are you? Did you get some sleep last night.”

“Yes, ma’am. I followed your orders to the letter.”

Maddie smiled. “That’s nice to hear. What do you say we get started, then?”

Danny nodded as he took a slice of pizza. They spent the rest of the morning, afternoon and evening studying. The only breaks they took were to talk about Rafael’s case. Before they realized it, it was close to 10 p.m, and they were sitting on the floor with their backs against the sofa surrounded by books and papers.

Danny rubbed his eyes after looking at his watch. “You realize we’ve been at this for twelve hours? You’re a slave driver, McGrath.”

“I know, but I think you are really ready. You know this stuff,” she said genuinely.

“Knowing it now and knowing it when I take the exam are two different things,” he replied shaking his head.

“You’re going to do great,” she responded sincerely as put her hand on his leg.

Danny smiled as he put his hand on top of hers. “You know, underneath your hard as nails exterior, you’re really one of the sweetest people I’ve ever known.”

“Don’t tell anyone. You’ll ruin the rep I’ve built the last few years.”

“My lips are sealed,” he responded quietly as he removed his hand from hers and gently tucked a piece of her hair behind her ear. He let his fingers rest on her neck as he leaned into her.

Because it was late and she was tired, her lips parted as her eyes locked with his. They stared into each other’s sleepy eyes for what seemed like several minutes before leaning closer to each other. While still staring at each other, precariously on the verge of kissing, Maddie bit her bottom lip before softly stating, “This isn’t a good idea.”

Danny traced his fingers down her neck and whispered, “I tend to agree, but for the life of me, I can’t think of a reason why it’s not a good idea right now.”

Maddie smiled as she took his hand from her neck and kissed it lightly. “I can give you two fairly good reasons. First, I’m a woman in severe rebound mode. I haven’t had sex since Jason and I separated. It would be too easy for me just to get lost in this. Second, you are under a lot of stress, and you want to escape. I’m kind of vulnerable here—

we both are. I don’t want either of us to get hurt.”

“I won’t hurt you,” he replied. “I thought we were getting closer—“

Maddie shook her head as she interrupted him. “I want to help your brother and his family. I want to be your friend again, but we can’t be anything else. You’re needy right now. You’re going in twenty different directions, and you want to connect with something…someone, so you’ll feel grounded. I know you, Danny. I can be your friend, but I can’t be anything else.”

Suddenly feeling the need to put distance between them, Danny nodded his head as he quickly rose to his feet. “You’re right. It’s late and we’re both tired. Thanks for helping me today.”

“You’re welcome. You’re going to do great, Danny,” she said with a reassuring smile.

Danny returned an uneasy smile to her and gave her a chaste kiss on the forehead before walking out the door.

Maddie hadn’t meant to hurt Danny, but she knew she couldn’t afford to be anything more than friends with him. As she cleaned up the mess of law books and papers, her mind wandered back to the days of living with Jason and Danny.

During the Christmas break right after she’d met Danny, Maddie had gone back to the apartment early—the day after Christmas. She’d thought she’d have the apartment to herself because Danny had told them that he was going home with his current girlfriend – a vapid eighteen year old aspiring model whom he met at the gym. She thought he could do so much better, but hadn't said anything to him.

She settled into bed for the night when she heard someone come in the front door. Grabbing the baseball bat by the bed, she opened her door a crack and was surprised but relieved to hear Danny's voice in the living room. He wasn't alone, but he wasn't with the aspiring model, either. Watching through the crack of the door, she saw Danny guide the girl over to the couch as they kissed passionately and removed their clothes all at the same time. She knew she should close her door, but for some reason, she was spellbound, watching until Danny had finally led the now nearly naked girl into his bedroom. After, she'd tried to sleep, but it had been impossible. She'd heard Danny's conquests before, but for some reason it was louder this time. The girl moaned and grunted every time the headboard hit the wall, and then she started to scream his name and say other things that made even Maddie blush.

With each passing moment, Maddie felt herself grow grew angrier and angrier. She couldn’t understand why Danny always drifted from one girl to the next, leaving a trail of broken hearts. She’d consoled a few of them when they called or stopped by, wondering why they hadn’t heard from him. Whenever she’d confront him about his behavior, he’d told her it was none of her business and she should focus on her own relationship. Maddie had known he was right, but she’d grown to care for him. She had known that Danny had so much potential, but he seemed destined to drink himself into oblivion.

Eventually, the sounds of sex ended. Not more than five minutes later, she heard Danny's door open. Disgusted at the thought that he was going to make the girl leave in the middle of the night, she rose from bed. When she opened her door, however, she saw him walking towards the kitchen by himself. Remaining in her doorway, she watched as he opened the refrigerator and took out two bottles of beer and felt thankful he'd put boxers on, considering he thought he was alone in the apartment. Still, her stomach felt queasy as she watched him. His chest and back were slick with sweat, and his hair was sticking out every which way. Focused on staring at him, she didn't notice he saw her in the doorway.

What are you doing?” he asked as he looked at her in surprise.

Finally snapping out of her dazed state, she'd met his eyes nervously. “Um…I…um…I came home early. I thought…I thought you were going away for the holidays. I didn’t know you were here until…” she trailed off as she looked at his bedroom door.

I decided not to go. You should wear a bell or something. I had no idea you were here. Sorry about…,” he said as he motioned toward the bedroom.

Maddie nodded. “What happened to the model?”

How do you know she’s not in there?” he asked with an amused glance.

I saw you come in with her. It’s a different girl.”

A slight smile came to Danny’s lips as he looked at the couch where he and the girl started their encounter. “Did you enjoy the show, McGrath?”

You’re really pathetic, you know that? I guess I should be thankful you’re not sending her home in the cold.”

Are you kidding? The night’s still young. No sense in sending her home just yet,” he said callously. Maddie could tell Danny was drunk again. He was always more hurtful and inconsiderate when he was drunk.

When are you going to stop, Danny?” she asked with a concern-filled voice.

Stop what?” he responded as he walked towards her. “You think there’s something wrong with me because I like having a good time? Because I’m not tying myself down like you and Jason? Doesn’t it ever get old McGrath? The same person, the same conversations, the same sex every night. Life’s too short and we’re way too young to live like that,” he said as he stopped just inches from her.

Maddie crossed her arms self-consciously suddenly very aware that she was only wearing a t-shirt. The stench of alcohol was thick on his breath. “If I thought this was really making you happy, then I wouldn’t say anything. If you are really happy living like this, then why can’t you go a day without getting wasted? You’re not acting like this because you are carefree. It’s because you hate yourself and don’t think you deserve any better,” she stated matter-of-factly. “It wouldn’t be so bad if you were just hurting yourself, but you bring others into it, and that’s not fair.”

Danny smirked. “Stay out of it. This isn’t your concern,” he said as he leaned even closer to her. “I’m not your concern.”

Maddie softened as she looked in his hurt-filled eyes. “It is our concern because we care about you. We love you, Danny and we don’t want you to screw up everything that you have worked so hard to accomplish. And you will screw it up if you keep acting so carelessly.”

We’re concerned? Who’s we, McGrath? You and Jason? Spare me. I think you two like looking down on me because then you don’t have to look at your own problems.”

Jason and I are fine.”

You and Jason are a cliché. You’re together because you both think you have the same goals. Can you really say you are as excited about being with him now as you were when you first met him?”

I love him. We’re committed to each other. I wouldn’t expect you to understand—,”

What’s going on?” a tired voice interrupted.

Maddie and Danny looked to his doorway to find a young woman wrapped in his sheet.

Nothing, baby. Go back to bed,” Danny replied.

Who’s she?” the girl asked as she looked at Maddie. They were still standing conspicuously close to each other.

Danny sighed heavily. “She’s my roommate’s girlfriend. We’re just talking. Go back--,”

I’m Maddie,” she interrupted as she rolled her eyes and stepped away from Danny. “And you are?” she asked as she walked toward the petite girl with long dark hair and exotic-looking features.

Amy,” the girl replied with a smile. “Um…I didn’t know anyone else was here,” she continued in a slightly embarrassed tone.

Neither did I,” Maddie responded. “Are you student at NYU?”

Amy giggled. “Gosh no. I…uh…I tend bar across the street.”

Maddie nodded in polite recognition assuming that Danny just picked her up that evening at the bar. “Well, nice meeting you, Amy. I’m going back to bed,” she said as she looked at Danny one last time before shutting her door.

Maddie expected to hear them in the next room again that night. She figured Danny would take the opportunity to make a point, but she didn’t hear another word or sound out of them. They were both gone by the time she got up the next morning.

Later that day, she went for a run in the park. She completed one lap around the water when she heard someone behind her. Her heart-rate quickened even more until she looked behind her and saw Danny running towards her. They fell in step with each other and ran their usual route. Afterwards, they caught their breath while sitting on a park bench.

Do you hate me, McGrath?” Danny asked suddenly interrupting their comfortable silence.

Maddie shook her head. “How can you even ask that? Of course, I don’t hate you. I am worried about you.”

I’m sorry about the way I spoke to you last night.”

You don’t owe me an apology. You owe that girl an apology. You owe the model an apology. You can’t treat people like that. It’s not right.”

I never make any promises. Amy wasn’t with me last night because she thought we’d hit it off and start dating. She was with me for one reason.”

That’s enough for you? I’ll never understand that, Danny.”

I would never expect you to understand,” he replied in a whisper. “Look, I know I have…issues, but I don’t lie to anyone. I never make any promises. But if my lifestyle is hurting you or Jason, then I’ll be gone—“

No!” Maddie interrupted. “We don’t want…I don’t want you to go,” she said taking his hand.

I don’t want to go. You two are really important to me, and I think what you have together is really great,” he said remembering the things he’d said the previous evening. “Still friends, McGrath?”

She squeezed his hand and smiled at him. “Always friends.”

Maddie smiled as remembered how close they had once been. Her smile turned to a frown as she thought about the way their friendship had ended. She and Jason had always regretted not taking a harder line with Danny. In so many ways, they had enabled his self-destructive ways. Danny had always been able to talk them into forgiving and forgetting until he did the one thing that Jason could never forget.

After the baby was born, Danny spent more and more time at Sylvia’s. He tried to be there for Nicky as much as possible, and he was also there for Sylvia as well. In many ways, developing his relationship with Raffi’s family was filling a void that had been inside of him for a long time. He enjoyed spending time with them and coming through for them when he could. Even though it stretched him very thin, he’d basically been paying many of Sylvia’s bills while she was on maternity leave. He made sure that she didn’t have to worry about anything.

A month after the baby was born, Sylvia threw a birthday party for Nicky. She’d invited Danny and all of her family and friends over to her house for the celebration. Danny had helped her pay for the party as well.

Running late for the party, Danny dashed up the stairs of Sylvia’s building. As he entered the hallway, he noticed Maddie approaching Sylvia’s door with a gift in hand.

“Hey,” he called out as he came up behind her.

Startled, Maddie turned and smiled. “Hey yourself. I was wondering if I would see you here.”

“Of course, I’m here. I wouldn’t miss it. I’m glad you could make it. Sylvia said she hoped you would come so she could thank you again for all you're doing.”

Maddie shook her head as the smile disappeared from her face. “You haven’t been returning my calls, Danny. If you had, then you’d know that I haven’t been having much success with a deal.”

“Sylvia told me about it, but I know you, McGrath. You’ll make it happen.”

Sighing, Maddie gave him a cautious smile. “I’ll do everything I can.”

Returning her smile, Danny shifted his weight from one foot to the other. He hadn’t seen her since she’d help him study for the bar. He’d been avoiding her on purpose,to not distract her from helping Raffi.

Finally, Maddie broke the silence. “Did you take the test?”

Danny nodded. “Yeah, I did. I most likely flagged it, but at least I got there this time.”

“So have you been avoiding me and my calls on purpose?” she asked suddenly.

Biting his lip, Danny shrugged. “After what happened the last time we saw each other, I didn’t want you to think that I had any kind of ulterior motive to all of this. I shouldn’t have crossed the line like that.”

“I may have overreacted. I—“

“You had reason to overreact. But that was me being a jerk. I’ve learned my lesson. The most important thing in all of this is that we help Raffi. I don’t want to do anything to distract you from that.”

Seeing the genuine remorse and guilt in his eyes, Maddie reached out and stroked Danny’s arm. “You weren’t being jerk. I, um, I’ve actually kind of missed talking to you, going over Raffi’s case. I hope we can still work together on this.”

“Sure—" Before he could finish, the door opened.

Danny and Maddie turned towards the door to find Sylvia. "Hi," she said, giving the two of them an inquisitive glance.

“It’s good to see you Sylvia," Maddie said warmly. As Maddie made eye contact with Sylvia, she could see the other woman’s smile turn into a frown as her eyes focused on the hand Maddie still had resting on Danny's bicep. “The party looks like it is in full swing,” Maddie continued, not sure why the encounter all of the sudden seemed tense.

“Did you…did you two come together?” Sylvia asked as she looked squarely at Danny.

Very quickly, Danny stepped forward breaking contact with Maddie’s hand. “No. We just met in the hall,” he said as he leaned down and kissed Sylvia’s cheek. “She was just filling me on the latest with Raffi.”

Maddie frowned. From the tone of Danny’s voice, she could tell that he was acting strange, like he didn’t want Sylvia to get the wrong idea.

“This is for Nicky and the baby,” Maddie said as she stepped forward into the apartment.

“Thanks,” Sylvia replied with a sudden lack of warmth in her tone.

“How is the baby? I can’t wait to see her,” Maddie asked, trying to engage Sylvia.

“She’s sleeping,” Sylvia replied in a short tone before turning to Danny, “Would you help me in the kitchen for minute?”

“Of course,” Danny responded, following Sylvia, essentially leaving Maddie to fend for herself in the room full of strangers.

Walking further into the apartment, Maddie’s gaze settled on Sylvia and Danny. She was leaning in to him and talking in whispered tones. Suddenly, Maddie had a realization. The look Sylvia had in her eyes was familiar. She’d seen it before on a number of girls who’d encountered Danny when she’d known him in law school. Even she had probably been guilty of looking at him like that a time or two. The more and more she looked at them, the more confused Maddie became. She’d wanted to believe that Danny had changed, that the way he’d been in college was because of the drinking. But seeing the connection he seemed to have with Sylvia and remembering the awkward pass he’d made in her apartment that night, Maddie wondered if he really had.

Realizing that she had to stop staring, Maddie turned to find Nicky and wish him a happy birthday. Nicky was really the only other person at the party that she knew. When she found him, she wished him a happy birthday. With that done, she decided that it probably wasn’t the best idea for her to stay. Surveying the apartment, she saw Danny still in the kitchen, while Sylvia had gone into the bedroom to tend to the baby.

Walking into the bedroom, she lightly knocked on the door. “Thank you for inviting me, Sylvia, but I should probably get going. I was able to say hello to the birthday boy.”

“Leaving so soon?” Sylvia asked, tone still lacking warmth.

“I, um, I have a lot of work to do. I should know more about Raffi’s case this week. I have a meeting set up with the ADA handling his case.”

“Good. Just let me know when you find out something,” Sylvia replied.

“Right,” Maddie nodded, before asking, “Did I do something wrong?”

Caught off guard, Sylvia finally smiled at her, albeit a bit uncomfortably. “No. I can’t think of anything. I’m just crazed because of the party, but I think I have it under control now…since Danny’s here now.”

Eyes widening, Maddie returned the smile. “Yeah. It sounds like he’s been a lot of help. I’m sure Rafael appreciates it,” she said pointedly.

“He does,” Sylvia replied. She nodded towards her little girl. “I need to finish changing her. Thank you again for coming and for all the time you’re spending on Raffi’s case.”

“I’ll call you next week,when I know more,” Maddie said as she backed out of the room. Taking a deep breathshe quickly walked to the front door and walked out without so much as a look back. Making her way to the stairwell, she stopped when she heard the door open behind her.

“You’re leaving?” Danny asked as he came up behind her.

“I just wanted to drop the gift off. I don’t really know anyone here. It’s a family thing,” Maddie replied.

“McGrath—“

“I have to get some work done anyway. I’m meeting with the ADA this week. I’ll let you know what he says,” she said quickly before turning and walking down the stairs.

XXX

As Maddie left the apartment building, she felt a nervous feeling growing in the pit of her stomach. It wasn’t actually a nervous feeling, but more a feeling of frustration that she’d been wrong – wrong about Danny. Seeing the way Sylvia looked at him painted a disturbing picture. She was under his spell. How could Danny not see it as well? Maddie’s mind flashed to the night in her apartment after they’d studied for his bar exam. He’d needed someone that night, and she’d had the strength to deny him. Maddie doubted that Sylvia could be as strong since she was in such a vulnerable state. Shaking her head, Maddie stepped into a cab. Leaning back, she closed her eyes as she thought of why it was so easy to think the worst in Danny.

After their argument about Danny’s lifestyle, he and Maddie spent the next week enjoying New York during the holidays. Maddie dragged him to all the city’s winter tourist attractions. He’d lived in New York for years, but never had any interest in visiting them. They skated at Rockefeller Center and went to the top of the Empire State Building. She even made him go to Barney’s for an after-Christmas sale. It was after this exhausting day that they found themselves on the couch drinking spiked coffee while trying to stay warm. The apartment’s heater was once again on the blink so Maddie had on three layers of clothes.

You’ve got to get the super to fix it, Danny.”

What more can I do? I threatened to sue the guy. I told him he was dealing with an apartment full of soon-to-be lawyers. I don’t think he was very impressed. Besides, it’s not that cold.”

You don’t feel the cold anymore because you are about four drinks ahead of me.”

There you go,” Danny replied grabbing the bottle of Jack Daniels. “Need a refill?”

Maddie covered the top of her coffee. “No thanks. One of us needs to stay sober to guard against hyperthermia.”

Danny laughed. “At least you’re out of here tomorrow. What’s time does your plane leave?”

Maddie smiled. “Two o'clock. I should get to Cabo just in time to meet Jason before we go to the New Year’s Eve party. Just thinking about it makes me feel warm. What are you going to do?”

I guess I’ll try to find a warm place to welcome in the New Year. Maybe I’ll hang out with Amy at the bar, and then bunk with her until the heat is fixed.”

So you haven’t burned that bridge yet, I see.”

He smirked. “I told you she’s not in it for a relationship. I think she has a boyfriend.”

Maddie rolled her eyes. “You’re going to get yourself seriously hurt some day. Some jealous boyfriend is going to--,”

Your concern is touching, McGrath. Don’t worry. I’m discreet,” he answered quietly. “Enough about me. What are you guys going to do in Cabo?”

As little as possible, I hope.”

You two are really headed down a very serious path. You’re basically living together. Now you’re vacationing together. Pretty soon, you’ll probably be--,”

Don’t say it,” Maddie interrupted. “I love Jason to death. And there’s nothing I want more than to be Mrs. Jason Williams one day, but I have plans, Danny. I’ve worked my ass off the last four years. This is the time for Jason and me to focus on our careers. We’ve talked about it a lot. We’re not getting married anytime soon.”

Is this about Texas?” Danny asked.

That’s part of it. The Innocence Project wants me to work with them this summer. I’ve even thought about transferring to finish law school down there. They are doing some really great work.”

I don’t know how I feel about you going to Texas to fight the death penalty. Sounds dangerous. I, myself, look forward to doing something much less futile.”

It’s not futile. There are innocent people and mentally disabled set to die in that state right now. If I could save just one…”

Maddie McGrath – idealist 'til the end. I admire that about you, but I think you may be wrong about Jason.”

What do you mean?”

He won’t want to lose you to your ideals, even if it is just on a temporary basis.”

Jason and I are very clear about what we want. And right now, we want to focus on our careers.”

Danny smiled as he shook his head. “Okay…okay…I believe you. And I hope you get to do everything you want to do, because I know you’ll make a difference. I wish I had an ounce of your idealism. Sometimes, I think I’m drowning in cynicism.”

That’s not what you are drowning in, Danny,” she replied as she looked at the bottle of Jack Daniels.

Sighing heavily, he stood up from the couch. “Thanks for your concern.”

Where are you going? Don’t get mad.”

I’m not mad. I’m just tired. I’m going to bed.”

Don’t go to bed yet. It’s freezing. I’ll never be able to fall asleep. Just stay up with me for a little while longer,” she pleaded in desperation.

His first instinct was to say no, but she was giving him this cute, pouty look that he couldn’t refuse. “Just a little while longer. And then I should crash

Sitting on the couch together, they inched closer and closer to try to take advantage of their body heat while watching television. Danny unconsciously slid his arm around her shoulder. She let her head rest in the crook of his shoulder as she slowly started to fall asleep. Before she let her self completely pass out, she heard Danny’s voice and felt his fingers in her hair.

McGrath, time for bed,” he whispered in her ear as he removed his arm from around her neck and tried to help her to her feet.

She unsteadily braced herself against him as she stood up. He put his hand on the small of her back to keep her from falling. Suddenly, Danny was very aware of how close he was holding her. She couldn’t help but look up into his eyes as she felt his warm hands on her back. Taking a deep breath, she let her hands rest on his chest. The shots of Jack Daniels were seriously clouding her judgment. Secretly, she’d always found Danny attractive, but she rationalized that most women found him attractive. Seeing him with Amy that night had stirred feelings in her that she had never felt for him before. The nights since it happened, she’d found herself fantasizing about being with him. So as she stood there in his arms, part of her wanted to let go.

Danny ran his fingers through her hair. This was what he’d always promised himself he’d never do, but his judgment was clouded by the alcohol and his body was telling him to go for it. He let his fingers rest on the back of her neck as his other hand pulled her flush against his body.

Maddie let out a little moan upon feeling the contact. She watched as he bent down to kiss her. She felt like everything was in slow motion as her lips parted to accept his kiss. She closed her eyes thinking it would make the moment easier, but instead she saw Jason’s face. Just as she started to feel Danny’s lips on hers, she pushed him away.

Oh God…what…what are we doing?”

Danny kept his hands on her back and neck making it very difficult for her to pull away completely. “You want this. I know you do,” he said in a low, slurring voice.

Maddie realized in that moment that he was much drunker than she thought. “Danny…no…this is wrong. You know it’s wrong. You’re drunk—“

He leaned in to try and kiss her to get her to stop talking so she summoned all her willpower and slapped him as hard as she could.

Christ!” he shouted, holding his stinging cheek as he staggered back. “Are you out of your fucking mind?”

She backed away from him quickly as tears welled in her eyes. “You know this is wrong, Danny.”

Watching her recoil from him in fear, Danny slumped down on the couch. He held his head in his hands as he realized what almost happened. “I’m sorry. I…I…don’t know what I was thinking. I’m sorry.”

It was my fault, too,” she said meekly.

Feeling an incredible sense of shame and guilt, Danny quickly rose from the couch and started to head for the front door. Even though it was late at night and freezing outside, Maddie didn’t stop him.

Danny didn’t come home that night or the following day. He waited to return to the apartment until after Maddie left for Mexico. Instead of hooking up with Amy, he stayed home alone and drank himself to sleep in the freezing cold apartment.

A week later, Danny made a point of not being home when Maddie and Jason returned from Mexico. Since he wasn’t ready to face Maddie, and especially Jason, after what had happened, he left them a message saying he was staying at a friend’s for a couple of days. He finally came home the day before classes were due to resume.

Where the hell have you been?” Jason asked as Danny walked through the door.

Didn’t you get my note? I was with a friend.”

So I guess things worked out with the model? I thought Maddie said things cooled off with her.”

It was another friend. It took forever for the super to fix the heat. I got tired of waiting.”

Guess it’s a good thing you have so many friends,” Jason replied sarcastically.

How was the trip? Did you guys have fun?” Danny asked, trying to hide his discomfort.

Fantastic. Amazing. Better than I ever could have hoped. We have some great news, Danny.”

What’s the news?”

Wait a sec. I want Maddie here for this,” he said as he turned to their bedroom. “Babe, Danny’s here. Let’s give him the great news together.”

Danny’s stomach knotted up in anticipation of seeing Maddie. He swallowed hard as he desperately regretted not picking up a flask of something before returning to the apartment. He watched as Maddie hesitantly walked out of the room.

Welcome back,” he said in the warmest voice he could muster to try and make her feel at ease.

Smiling slightly, she took Jason’s hand as she walked towards them. “Thanks. I could have used another week, but we had a great time.”

So I hear,” Danny responded with a slight smile of his own. “So what’s the news?”

Jason held Maddie’s hand up to show off a simple gold band with a small, but brilliant square-cut diamond. “I asked our friend here to marry me, and she said yes.”

XXX

After the party, Danny stayed to help Sylvia clean up. Coming in from taking the garbage out, he saw Sylvia come out of Nicky’s room.

“You finally calm him down?” Danny asked with a smile.

“Nothing like sugar and presents to keep a kid up all night. Angelina was easier. She couldn’t keep her eyes open,” Sylvia replied as she collapsed on her sofa. “Tell me again why I decided to have this party?”

“Don’t look at me,” Danny said as he sat down next to her. “I told you it’d be too much for you. But it was a nice party. I think Nicky needed it, after everything.”

“He deserved. No kid should have to go through what he’s been through.”

“He’ll be okay. He has a great mom,” Danny said as he smiled at her again.

Slowly taking his hand, Sylvia turned toward him. “You know I don’t know what I would have done without you. You, um, you’ve been my rock, Danny.”

“I’m glad to be here,” he said as he gave her hand a squeeze.

“Can I ask you something?”

“Sure,” he replied.

“Are you and Maddie…?”

“We’re just friends. There’s nothing going on.”

“Oh, it’s just… you seemed—“

“We’re old friends. We have a lot of history. But I want her to focus on Raffi.”

“Right, Raffi,” Sylvia said as she let go of his hand. “Raffi would have been so freaked out if he’d been here today. He doesn’t like this kind of stuff: parties, family get-togethers.”

“He’s just not used to it. We never had days like this growing up. And he’s been inside for so long—“

“You were great today. Everyone loved you. My mother thinks you hung the moon.” Danny smiled as Sylvia laid her palm against his face. “I don’t know what I would do without you.”

At first, he didn’t respond. Sylvia was looking at him with these lost and needy eyes. Danny got lost in the moment with her at first before gently taking her hand from his face. Taking both of her hands in his, he finally responded. “I promised you and Raffi that I would be here this time. I’m not going anywhere.”

Leaning in to him, Sylvia kissed him on the cheek. The kiss was soft and lingered. “I’m glad you’re here.”

XXX

Later that week, Danny was in the midst of a busy case. He’d barely had any time to think about Sylvia and Raffi, and he was thankful for that. Things had gotten complicated and he wasn’t sure how to uncomplicate them.

As he was reviewing files on the missing person’s computer, his desk phone rang.

“Taylor,” he answered.

“You have a visitor down in the lobby, Maddie McGrath,” the lobby receptionist said.

“Great,” Danny said as he took a deep breath. “I’ll be down in a minute.”

After making his way downstairs, he approached Maddie in the lobby. Before he could say hello, she launched into a mini-tirade.

“I’ve called you three times in the last twenty-four hours. Where the hell have you been?”

“I’ve been here, working. We have a case. I was going to call you back,” Danny replied defensively.

Shaking her head, she smiled in annoyance. “It’s nice you were considering fitting me in. I’ve been working my ass off on Raffi’s case or have you forgotten? I pushed other cases to the back burner to make this my priority. Is it still your priority? Do you still care or is he already off your radar?”

Frowning, Danny almost laughed. He didn’t understand what brought this on. “Um, he’s my brother. Of course I still care. And I was going to call you back. Relax. Take a breath.”

Rolling her eyes, Maddie continued. “Is there some place we can talk?”

“Sure. In here,” he said guiding her into a conference room. “So you had the meeting with the ADA?”

“I met with the ADA and the DEA. I think we’ve worked out a deal,” she said cautiously.

“A deal? That’s great, McGrath. Really great.”

“Well, I think it is. In exchange for Raffi’s full cooperation, the ADA is willing to give him two years in the lockdown treatment facility. With time served and good behavior, he’ll be out in six months.”

“Six months?”

“It’s the best they could do. Raffi’s waiting to hear from you. He’d like your opinion before he accepts the deal.”

At first, it seemed like Danny was going to take a moment to consider Maddie’s words, but instead he blurted, “I’ll tell him not to take it. That’s not…that’s not good enough. He won’t survive in there for six more months. It’s not Riker’s but it’s still prison. He’s miserable, McGrath. He’s wants to be with his family.”

Not even trying to hide her frustration anymore, Maddie responded, “How many ways do I have to say this? It’s his third offense. Most three-time offenders would be going away for ten years. If we were in a three strikes state, he’d be going in for 25 to life. This is a gift, Danny.”

“I want to talk to the ADA.”

Sighing deeply, Maddie shook her head. “No. No way. You begged me to take this. I’ve worked my ass off. You are not going to ruin this deal or my reputation.”

“He needs to get out now, Maddie,” he responded, his voice rising.

“Why?”

“Why? Because he does. Because—“

She interrupted sharply as she looked directly in his eyes. “Because you’re up to your old tricks and Sylvia is getting a little too close and you’re afraid of what will happen, right? I knew it. As soon as I saw you two at that party, I knew it. You haven’t changed, Danny.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about you. You may be sober, but you’re still a selfish jerk who never thinks about his actions before they blow up in your face. You need Raffi back now because you’ve crossed the line with Sylvia, and now she thinks you actually have feelings for her.”

Voice still escalating, he responded, “I want Raffi out because he’s at the end of his rope. I want Raffi out because he never should have gone back in the first place. This has nothing to do with Sylvia, other than wanting their family to be together again.”

“Oh I’m sure. Look, it’s not worth discussing anymore. I never should have let you back in to my life. I’ve done what I can for Raffi. If that’s not enough for you, then feel free to call ADA Baylor. But I’m done,” she said as she walked out the door.

As much as Danny wanted to disagree and explain himself to Maddie, he couldn’t. He couldn’t erase the past, and that would be the only way she’d ever forget the person he had once been.

It was all Danny could do not to look at Maddie with confusion considering their conversation the previous week. Instead, he pasted on his most excited smile as he took her hand to appreciate the ring. “This is a surprise,” he responded.

“Congratulations. That is really great.” Then he leaned in to give Maddie a kiss on her cheek and shook Jason’s hand.

I got inspired over the holidays; otherwise, you know I would have told you, Danny. I actually tried to call you a couple of times, but you were never home. I planned on waiting until the summer to propose, but I just couldn’t wait,” Jason said as he looked into Maddie’s eyes.

Maddie still hadn’t said a word since Jason had made the announcement. Finally, she said, “And I couldn’t wait to say yes,” she said as she kissed Jason.

Danny and Maddie didn’t let on that there was any kind of problem between them. They did their best to avoid each other, but still act as normal as possible when Jason was around. However, Danny couldn’t help but be curious about Maddie’s motivations for saying yes to Jason when she’d seemed so against getting married before. A few weeks later, Danny saw Maddie running in the park at lunch-time. She’d stopped running with him in the mornings. Sitting on their bench, he waited for her to make her way around the path.

Slowing up upon seeing him, she jogged toward him as she cooled down. Taking a seat next to him, she took a few deep breaths.

What are you doing here?” she started.

Danny flinched a little as he heard the coldness in her voice. “Why are you doing it, McGrath? A month ago, you said you weren’t ready to get married. Are you still going to Texas?”

Maddie sighed deeply. “This isn’t any of your business. I’ve been staying out of your life, just like you asked me to. You should stay out of mine as well, especially considering what happened.”

Nothing happened. I would never have let anything happen. I just got caught up in the moment.”

It would kill Jason if he knew. You’re like a brother to him, and I love him. We have to respect that, Danny. And to do that, we need to keep our distance.”

I feel the same way. I’ll keep my distance, but that doesn’t explain why you all of a sudden want to give up your dreams. Do you think if you’re married it will be easier to stay faithful? That’s crazy—“

God. You are such an egomaniac. This has nothing to do with you. I just realized that I want to be Jason’s wife more than I want some career pipedream. I can be his wife and still be a good attorney. I can help people here. I don’t have to go to Texas or anywhere else to make a difference.”

Danny shrugged a little. “You’re right. I just don’t understand what the rush is.”

You wouldn’t understand because you don’t understand commitment. You don’t understand love. All you want to do is live in the moment. I feel sorry for you, Danny,” she replied, shaking her head as she stood up. “But it’s not my problem anymore. I can’t let myself get wrapped up in your issues.”

Her words struck him like a dagger. He could almost feel her building the wall between them. “Do you want me to leave, McGrath?”

Honestly? Yes, I do. But then Jason would have questions, and I could never tell him what happened that night. So we have to just keep doing what we’ve been doing. I’m sure you’ll spend your fair share of nights out, just like usual. We can get through the next few months,” she responded, before turning to walk away.

At first, their relationship was uncomfortable. Jason even noticed the distance between them, but Maddie just told him she was tired of Danny’s drinking and womanizing—which was partly true. While they didn’t completely reconcile in the following months, they did re-build a relationship that was based on their love for Jason. Secretly, they’d both missed each other’s presence. They’d grown very close, very fast and then suddenly the closeness was gone. Danny missed talking to Maddie and she missed that way Danny had made her laugh.

At the end of the semester, Danny and Jason graduated from law school. A week after graduation, Jason and Maddie were getting married. There was a flurry of activity around the apartment. Danny even refrained from over-drinking the last month of law school so he could be a dependable best man for Jason. Maddie appreciated Danny’s show of support so she was much warmer to him as the wedding approached.

Danny’s abstinence from over-drinking ended on the night of the dress rehearsal. There was something about seeing Jason’s and Maddie’s entire families congregating together. He’d never felt more alone in his life. He felt that once they got married, he really wouldn’t have any kind of family…so he took quick drinks out of the flask in his breast pocket all through the rehearsal dinner.

Feeling she was in full panic mode, Maddie was having her own issues with the wedding. She loved Jason, but the closer they got to the wedding the more scared she felt. At the rehearsal dinner, she took to calming her nerves with red wine. It didn’t help that she was all of sudden pre-occupied with the woman Danny had brought to the dinner. She watched them on the dance floor as they danced dangerously close to one another, Danny’s hand tracing up and down the woman’s curves. Shaking her head, Maddie rubbed her temples.

You okay?” Jason asked as he sat down next to her.

She looked at him feeling slightly guilty. “I’m fine. Just a little headache.”

Then Jason saw what Maddie had been focused on just seconds earlier. “Do you have a problem with the best man tonight?”

She returned a surprised gaze. “What? No, there’s no problem. I mean,clearly Danny’s attempt at sobriety is failing him tonight. That concerns me a little. He kind of has a big job tomorrow.”

Wedding’s not until 4 tomorrow, babe. He’ll sleep it off and be fine. He’s been really great the last couple of months. And Danny always comes through, hangover or not.”

I hope so,” Maddie responded quietly as she watched Danny lead the woman off the dance floor to the side exit. She shook her head again as she finished off her glass of wine and poured another.

Danny lead Angela, his rehearsal dinner date, out the side door. He hoped that Jason didn’t need anything more from him because all he could think about was taking Angela back to the apartment. Jason was staying at his parent’s place, and Maddie was staying at the Ritz with her family and bridesmaidsso he had the apartment to himself. He and Angela made it back, and they proceeded directly to his bedroom. Things were getting pretty heated between the two of them when the telephone rang. At first, Danny was going to let it ring, but then he thought about Jason. Figuring that Jason may need something for the big day tomorrow, he decided to answer it.

This better be good,” Danny answered as Angela smiled from her straddled position across his stomach.

I really need to talk,” a weak voice replied.

Are you okay?” he asked, realizing it was Maddie. Guiding Angela to the other side of the bed, he quickly sat up.

I don’t know. I don’t know, Danny. I just…everything is happening so fast.”

He could hear the tears and emotion in her voice. “Where are you?”

In the hotel lobby. Everyone have gone to their rooms. I came down to the bar. I can’t sleep. I feel sick, and I don’t know what to do.”

Do you want me to come?” he asked willingly.

No, but do you mind if I crash there tonight?I just need to clear my head away from all this wedding stuff.”

Of course. It’s your apartment. Just get in a cab and I’ll meet you downstairs in fifteen minutes.”

Okay. I’ll see you soon.”

Hanging up the phone, Danny looked over at Angela. “That was the groom,” he lied. “He’s having some last minute cold feet. I guess this is where the best man stuff comes in.”

Should I go?” she asked in a confused tone.

That would probably be best. I’m sorry. I’ll…uh…I’ll walk you down and get you a cab.”

No sooner had Danny told Angela goodbye, Maddie’s cab pulled up. Watching her step out of the cab, he had a sudden urge to take her in his arms. She looked emotionally and physically worn out. Rubbing her eyes, she approached him hesitantly.

I know I’ve been a bitch to you these past few months, but…but…I don’t know where else to turn. I can’t talk to my friends; they don’t understand. Hell, I don’t even understand, Danny. I love Jason.”

I know you do,” he replied, resisting the urge to stroke her arms reassuringly.

But what if it’s too soon? What if I regret not doing all the things I wanted to do? What if I end up resenting him?”

You won’t. Just talk to him, McGrath. He’ll understand. If you want to go to Texas or finish law school somewhere else, he’ll understand. He wants you to be happy,” Danny responded, guiding her up the stairs.

After entering the apartment, Maddie collapsed on the sofa as she ran her hands through her disheveled hair. “He’ll be so disappointed and hurt if I call off the wedding,” she said quietly as Danny took the seat next to her.

I’m not saying call of the wedding. You love him. You want to be with him. So marry him, and follow your dreams—all at the same time. Jason will support you.”

You think so?” Maddie asked hesitantly.

I know so. Jason doesn’t expect you to marry him and stay home to have his babies. He knows that he’s marrying someone who has incredible ambition. That's one of the reasons he loves you so much," Danny replied. He realised as he said it that it was how he felt about her, too.

Upon hearing his reassuring words, Maddie let out a deep breath and even smiled slightly. “Thank you.”

That’s what I’m here for,” Danny replied as he finally put his hand on her shoulder and massaged gently.

Maddie relaxed a little as she felt the warmth in his touch and then turned to him to give him a hug. Danny returned the hug as he rubbed her back.

I’ve missed you,” Maddie whispered with her head buried in the crook of his neck.

I’ve missed you, too,” Danny replied as he inhaled her scent. Liking the way she felt in his arms a little too much, he gently pulled away from her. “How about a drink?”

She nodded with a smile. “Yeah…maybe a drink would help me sleep. I thought I had enough at the rehearsal dinner, but the red wine seemed to have an opposite affect on me. My mind has been racing all night.”

You have a lot to think about,” Danny reminded her as took out two small glasses and a bottle of tequila.

Oh God, Danny. Not tequila. I’ll never function tomorrow.”

A couple shots and you’ll be out like a light. I’ll make sure to wake you up with my surefire hangover remedy. You’ll be good as new and ready to get married,” he said as he poured the two shots and handed one to her.

She looked at him skeptically, but took the shot and tipped it up. Her eyes squinted as she felt the liquid burn down her throat. As her stomach got warm, her head felt lighter. Just that one shot seemed to relieve the remaining tension in her shoulders,so she motioned Danny to pour her another.

An hour later, they were laughing playfully on the couch as they finished the bottle of tequila.

Are you sure your hangover remedy will fix me up tomorrow?” Maddie asked, slurring her words. “Because, you know, I have to look my best. We literally have everyone I’ve ever met in my life coming tomorrow.”

You’ll be fine, McGrath. Trust me,” Danny said with his eyes half-closed.

Are you bringing Angela tomorrow?”

Yep,” he replied hazily.

Mmmmm. She seems nice. That reminds me—why isn’t she here tonight? I saw you two dancing. It was pretty clear where that was headed.”

Danny laughed as his head rolled back against the sofa. “Where was it headed?”

Maddie looked over to Danny’s bedroom. “Where all the girls seem to go after going out with you. Tell me something, Danny. Do they all end up in bed with you?” she asked as she inched closer to him.

Danny’s eyes met hers. “All except you.”

She smiled as she reached out to touch his face. Her mind was hazy to say the least. Her head was spinning, but something about looking into his eyes made her feel safe. He smiled back at her as his fingers traced her wrist.

Thank you for being here,” Maddie whispered as she leaned her head back against the couch and met his intense gaze.

I’ll always be here for you…for whatever you need,” he whispered back, sounding more seductive than he’d intended.

Maddie took a short breath as her eyes drifted from his eyes to trace the pouty curve of his mouth. Biting her bottom lip, she studied his face as he continued to watch her.

Without saying a word, Danny leaned in closer until his lips met hers. At first, their lips barely touched as if they knew what making contact would lead to.

Danny…,” Maddie said breathlessly as she pulled away slightly. She desperately tried to form the word “no,” but no sound came from her mouth.

Finally, Danny couldn’t take it anymore. Pressing his lips to hers, he initiated the contact that had been simmering between them since that night before New Year’s Eve.

That one kiss lead to a chain reaction that neither could have stopped even if they’d wanted to. They were both too drunk to care about the consequences. Within minutes, they were in his bed. Maddie felt like she was out of her body. She didn’t have any control. She wanted to hate the way he was making her feel, but she didn't.

Even though Maddie clearly didn’t want him to stop, it wasn’t how she’d imagined it to be either. She’d imagined some passionate, lengthy encounter, like something out of a trashy romance novel. Instead, it was quick, extremely physical, and they both ended up passing out right after.

The next morning, Danny woke up in a fog. One glance to his right, and the previous evening came crashing back to his memory. Maddie was lying next to him, naked and tangled in his sheet. He was about to wake her up when he heard the front door open. Soon after, he heard Jason call out his name. Darting up, Danny rubbed his eyes as he responded.

Give me a minute, Jason. I’ll be out in a minute.”

Upon hearing Danny’s voice next to her, Maddie’s eyes opened and then immediately shut again when the sun assaulted her eyes. Seeing that she was awake, Danny leaned down and put his hand over her mouth.

Jason’s here. Don’t make a sound. I’ll take care of this…like it never happened,” he said as he gazed into her clearly confused, panicked eyes. Then he rose quickly from the bed and pulled on his jeans.

Hey, man. What are you doing here?” Danny asked as he carefully closed his bedroom door.

Looking for Maddie. She’s not at the hotel. She was supposed to meet her bridesmaids at this spa a half hour ago, but she hasn’t showed yet.”

She’s not here?” Danny asked innocently as he motioned toward the other bedroom. Lying had literally become second nature to him. “She came home last night because she couldn’t sleep at the hotel. As soon as she came in, she crashed. I didn’t see her for the rest of the night.”

She’s not here, Danny. The bed is made. If she was here, then she’s left already.”

Right. Well, she probably is on her way to the spa. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s already there. Don’t worry, man. There’s a logical explanation, I’m sure. Saturday traffic is a pain in the ass. Maybe she had trouble finding a cab…”

As Danny rambled, Jason’s eyes set on the empty bottle of tequila and two shot glasses. “Is someone here with you?” he asked in a distracted tone.

Uh, yeah, you know, Angela from last night,” Danny lied again.

Angela?” Jason asked as his eyes stayed glued to the coffee table.

Yeah, she came back here last night,” Danny replied as he tried to figure out what Jason was staring at, and then all of a sudden, he saw it – Maddie’s engagement ring lying on the coffee table.

Jason had wanted to kill him that day. He’d literally wanted to kill him. At first, he’d wanted to kill Maddie as well, but then Jason had realized that Maddie had been no match for Danny’s cunning ways. By making Danny the villain, Jason had somehow been able to forgive Maddie for her indiscretion. Not wanting to suffer through the embarrassment of calling off the wedding, they had married as planned . Danny remembered spending that day moving out of the apartment while nursing a very bruised face.

Considering their history, it was no wonder that Maddie had jumped to conclusions.

XXX

Maddie had been in a bad mood for days. She’d wanted to forget about Danny, but all she did was think about him. She questioned herself on how hard she was on him. She knew he wasn’t the same person he had been ten years ago, but that didn’t change the things she'd witnessed with Sylvia. The whole situation left her feeling nauseous.

Sitting at her desk, completely distracted from her current workload, her telephone rang.

“Maddie Williams,” she answered.

“Hey. It’s Simon Baylor. I, uh, I’ve kind of been waiting for you to finish out the Rafael Alvarez case. We need to the file the papers.”

“Papers? What papers?” Maddie asked in confusion.

“The plea agreement. I drew them up as soon as Alvarez accepted the terms. I’d like to get this one off my desk before the judge leaves on his annual hunting trip.”

“He took the deal?”

“Of course he took it. I thought your office called my office a couple of days ago. Did my secretary get it wrong?”

“No. No. I’m sorry. I was just confused.” Maddie realized that Danny must have convinced Rafael to take the deal.

“So when can you stop by?’

“I’ll be there in an hour. I’m anxious to be done with this one as well.”

“You did a hell of a job, Maddie. In most situations, this guy wouldn’t see the light of day for years. I hope he doesn’t prove you wrong in six months.”

“It’s not me I hope he doesn’t prove wrong,” she replied in a sad tone.

“See you in hour.”

“Yeah. Thanks, Simon.” Taking a deep breath,Maddie hung up the phone. Danny never ceased to surprise her.

XXX

Two weeks later, Rafael Alvarez’s case was almost a distant memory to Maddie. She’d become embroiled in a new high-profile murder trial. Stuck in the office late at night, Maddie poured over evidence in her new case.

A gentle knock on her door startled her from deep thought. The nervous, frustrated feeling that had consumed her at the end of Raffi’s case returned upon seeing Danny at her door.

“Hey,” she said as she met his gaze.

“Hey,” he replied walking in her office. “Um, we need…I need to talk to you.”

Maddie shrugged. “There’s nothing left to say. I’m glad you did right by Rafael. It’s over now.”

“It’s not over. It’s not over for me if you really think that I’m still the same person I was…the same person who hurt you…and Jason.”

“I told you, none of that matters anymore. We’re different people now, in different places. Why do you care what I think of you, Danny?”

“Because I do,” he said softly. “Nothing happened with Sylvia.”

“You don’t—“

“Nothing happened. I just helped her through a tough time. And maybe she confused my helping for something else, but I set her straight as soon as I realized what was happening.”

The Night of Nicky’s Birthday

After Sylvia kissed his cheek, she brushed her lips towards his. As soon as Danny realized what was happening, he pulled away.

Whoa. Whoa. We, um, this isn’t a good idea,” Danny as he let go of her hands and backed away.

Actually, I think it’s the smartest thing I’ve done in a long time. You’re a great guy, Danny. You take care of us. I never worry about anything when you’re here. Raffi never made me feel this safe.”

You love Raffie. He adores you. And when he gets out, he’ll take care of his family. I know he will.”

What about how I feel about you?”

You’re confused. You’ve been through so much. You don’t have feelings for me…not like that.”

Is this because of Maddie? Because you and she—“

No. No. This is because you are the mother of my brother’s children and he wants to marry you. I care about you and Nicky and Angelina. And maybe I let myself get too close because it’s been so long since I’ve been a part of a family. But that’s all this is.”

“Part of it was my fault. I liked being a part of their lives and coming through for them. But I never did anything that would betray Raffi. I wouldn’t do that again,” he said in a definitive, strong tone.

“I guess I owe you an apology,” Maddie replied when she saw the conviction in his eyes.

“You don’t owe me anything. Because of you, my brother will be with his family in six months. I knew I could count on you. Even when you had every reason to hate me, you came through for me once again.”

Taylor!” the guard called into the holding cell.

Danny looked up from his seated position in the far corner of the cell. “Yes, sir.”

You can get your one phone call.”

Rising slowly, Danny walked out of the cell. The guard led him to a bank of phones on the far wall.

Dial 9 for an outside line. You have five minutes,” the guard said as he stepped away.

From the moment the cops put him in the back of the squad car, Danny had been wondering what he should do and who he should call. Actually, he knew whom he should call, but he had no idea how to get a hold of the most high-powered attorney he could think of. There was really only one person he could think of who would even considering helping him.

Slowly, he dialed and then prayed she’d be there. “Hello,” the voice answered.

Sighing in relief, Danny said, “McGrath, don’t hang up. It’s Danny.”

She didn’t respond right away, but she didn’t hang up either.

I’m in trouble,” Danny said.

Trouble? You’re supposed to be taking the bar exam right now. Jason left hours ago. What trouble?”

Just listen. You’re the only one who can help me. I need you to call someone for me.”

What’s going on, Danny?”

I was arrested this morning…DUI…”

He could hear the disappointment in her sigh over the phone. “Christ, Danny.”

I don’t have time to go into it, but I need a lawyer…someone good.”

Who?”

Sandra Stevens,” Danny replied.

Sandra Stevens wasn’t just good. She was the best. Maddie, Danny and Jason had attended several of her guest lectures at their school. At a reception after one of the lectures, Danny had struck up a conversation with her and they’d proceeded to flirt with each other the rest of the night.

You really think she’ll take my call?” Maddie asked.

I need you to do whatever you can to see her, and then tell her what’s happened. I think she’ll help once she knows it’s me. She’s the only one I know who can make this go away.”

For several moments, Maddie didn’t respond. “McGrath, I only have like two minutes left before I have to hang up.”

Why should I help you?” she asked desperately.

You really have no reason to, but I don’t have anyone else.”

XXX

That night when Maddie got home, she pulled out a letter that she’d kept for years in a small cedar box with a few other mementos from college. When Jason had found the letter once, he’d blown up at her and threatened to tear it up. But she begged him not to. To her, the letter was a sign of friendship and forgiveness.

McGrath,

I know I told you that I’d stay away forever, but I just need to get this out. Actually, I have to do it. I’m at the making amends step in AA. I’m even writing a letter to Jason, although I doubt he’ll ever read it—not that I can blame him.

I know that Jason, and maybe even you, think that I intentionally set out to ruin your relationship. He thinks that I pursued you and always intended on seducing you. But that was never my intention. I really did want both of you to be happy, but that didn’t stop me from feeling jealous and alone. And when you needed me, I took advantage. For that and for so much more, I’m sorry. If I had it to do over again, I would have been a better friend to you. That’s what you needed from me at the time. I failed you miserably.

I could go into why I did the things I did, but the reasons don’t really matter now. I’m just sorry. I know I ruined any chance of us being friends again that night before your wedding, so I’m not asking to be in your life again. Just know you’ll always be in my heart.

You and Jason were my family, McGrath. I love you both. I wish you only happiness. Take care of each other. Maybe someday you can forgive me.

Danny.

After refolding the letter, she carefully placed it back in the box. Usually, reading the letter gave her a sense of peace that she hadn’t just imagined the close friendship she’d had with Danny all those years ago. But this time, it triggered confusing emotions and feelings that she couldn’t avoid anymore.

In the recent months since Danny had been back in her life, she’d been adamant about not wanting to talk about the past and what had happened between them. But now, she felt she needed to talk about it. She needed to deal with why it happened, and ultimately, she needed to take responsibility for participating in the most despicable thing she’d ever done – cheating on her fiancé with his best friend.

Taking out her phone, Maddie dialed Danny’s number.

 

Danny had just fallen asleep. He’d had trouble sleeping for weeks, maybe even months, but on this night, sleep had come easily. For the first time in a long time, he felt settled. He’d straightened things with the Maddie and Sylvia, and Raffi would be home in six months.

Suddenly, his blissful, dreamless sleep was disrupted by the ring of his cell phone. Groaning, Danny rolled toward the nightstand and grabbed his phone. Certain it would be work; he didn’t bother looking at the display.

“Taylor,” he mumbled.

Not hearing a response, he sighed heavily thinking it was a wrong number. Then he tried again. “Taylor,” he said louder this time.

“Did I wake you?” a small voice asked on the other end of the line.

“McGrath?” he asked, recognizing her voice. Sitting up quickly, he rubbed his eyes. “Are you okay?”

“Um, I didn’t realize how late it was. I’m sorry, Danny. I’ll call you—“

“Whoa. Whoa. What’s going on? Are you okay?” he asked in a very worried tone.

“I’m fine. I just…I just…” she stammered as her voice quivered with emotion.

“Just what?”

“I just think we still have some things to talk about, and I didn’t want to lose my nerve.”

“I thought we were okay. After our talk tonight, I thought we were okay.”

“We are. I mean. I understand what you’ve been dealing with. I’m not talking about your brother or his family. I’m talking about us.”

“Us?” he responded, completely caught off guard.

“What happened between us before my wedding,” she confirmed.

Eyes widening, Danny fell back on his pillow. “You want to talk about that? Tonight?

“Not tonight. Just…sometime…soon. We never dealt with anything. We just swept it all under the rug and ignored each other for ten years. I, um, I think about what I did that night, and I…”

Hearing the guilt and desperation in her tone, he cut her off. “It wasn’t your fault. It was me. It was all me.”

“No. It wasn’t,” she replied definitively. “Look, we shouldn’t try to hash this out tonight. I’ve got pre-trial motions for the rest of the week. Do you think we could get together this weekend?”

Rolling his eyes, Danny almost laughed. He’d finally gotten the weight of the world off his shoulders, and now he had to think about his past mistakes for the next week.

“Danny?”

“Yeah. I’m here,” he responded, wearily rubbing his eyes. “This weekend is fine. Unless something comes up at work, I’ll be around.”

“Great. See you then.”

“Goodnight, McGrath,” he said before closing his phone. Rolling onto his side, he clutched his pillow and shut his eyes. As soon as he did, his mind started racing with memories of all his bad deeds in his past. Moments later, he reopened them. “Son of a bitch!” he groaned as he punched his pillow. Once again, the possibility of a peaceful sleep seemed very far away.

XXX

"So what's this all about?" Danny asked as he took a seat on his sofa. Maddie sat across from him in his large Lazyboy recliner.

After they’d both had busy, exhausting weeks, they’d finally found time to get together on Sunday afternoon. At first, Danny had suggested they meet somewhere for lunch, but Maddie had insisted on something more private. This had made Danny nervous. He hadn’t wanted another big, emotional confrontation with her, but he hadn’t had much choice.

Now that they were in his apartment, she was the one who looked nervous. Her hair pulled back in a ponytail, she wasn’t wearing any make-up and looked like she hadn’t slept any better than him lately.

“Um, well, I –“she began to respond.

Before she could continue to stammer, Danny cut her off as he leaned forward with an intense, concerned gaze. “It’s over, McGrath. It’s in the past. I mean, you and Jason aren’t even together anymore. Why are you tearing yourself up over this now?”

“I actually called him last night. I told him that you and I had reconnected. He said he wasn’t surprised. He said that he always thought that you, um, that you wanted me.”

Danny closed his eyes for a moment. Clearly, Jason still didn’t have a great of opinion of him.

“How did you feel about me back then, Danny?” she asked suddenly.

Biting his lip, Danny looked at her. “I thought you were amazing. I thought Jason was incredibly lucky. Was I attracted to you? Yeah, I was. But I never wanted to hurt your relationship.”

“But you did. We did.”

“I was out of control. You were right when you said that I never thought about my actions until they blew up in my face. I was arrested, for Christ’s sakes. I almost ruined any chance I had for a future at all.”

“So that was your excuse. What was mine?” she asked desperately. “The more I think about it, the more I think I wanted to sabotage my wedding. Why else would I call you that night? Why else would I agree to drink with you? I used you. I just didn’t follow through the morning after by leaving Jason. I said as much to him last night,” she admitted, voice full of shame. She sat silent for a moment, almost waiting for Danny to dispute her claim. When he didn’t, she continued, “Jason says we enabled you. He says he should have thrown you out long before even I came along.”

“He probably should have,” Danny replied solemnly. “But then you wouldn’t have been there to save my ass after I got arrested.”

Maddie smiled. “I really didn’t do anything. It was a good thing you, um, you had a connection with that lawyer.”

Shaking his head, Danny smirked. “Yeah, well, that’s another thing I’m not very proud of. But nothing ever really happened with Sandra Stevens. She got the case knocked down to a misdemeanor, open container violation. In return, I had to check into rehab. When I got out, thirty days later, she was there to pick me up. I think she thought we could, you know, go from there. She lost interest pretty quickly when she realized I wasn't nearly as much fun sober.

“I guess everything happens for a reason. I still married Jason that day. We spent seven years trying to make it work, and after that, he ended up finding the love of his life. Who are we to question fate? But it makes me think that there’s a reason you’re back in my life now. Everything that happened between us before…maybe it all happened for a reason.”

“Maybe,” Danny responded in a low tone. “So what do you want to do?”

XXX

Six months later

“You ready for this?” Danny asked as he looked over at Raffi who was sitting next to him in the cab. He’d been there to pick Rafael up this time, instead of avoiding his return home the way he had the last time his brother had gotten out of prison.

“I honestly have no idea.”

“I’m sure it’s overwhelming, going through all this again. But Raffi, just take things one step at a time. Don’t look at the whole picture right now. Just focus on getting out of the cab and greeting your beautiful family. They can’t wait to see you,” Danny responded in an encouraging tone.

“Who else is up there?” Raffi asked, sounding worried and apprehensive.

“I told Sylvia to keep it simple: just her, Nicky and the baby. She’s not making a big production like the last time.”

“Am I always going to be this messed-up?” Raffi asked desperately. “Will Sylvia even want to stay with me?”

“You’re going to be fine. You’re going to go back to work with her brother. You’re going to take things slow. Sylvia loves you. Your kids love you, man. Focus on that, Raffi. Don’t lose sight of it. All they want is for you to be here. That’s it,” Danny responded in the most supportive tone he could muster.

Raffi nodded.

“Ready?” Danny asked again.

Taking a deep breath, Raffi nodded again as he opened the car door. Danny stepped out of the other side and they both proceeded to walk towards the building.

The reunion with Raffi and his family was emotional and intense, and Danny almost felt like he was intruding. As much as he’d helped Raffi in the last year, Danny still felt a distance between them. It was still hard for him to trust Raffi. So Danny had taken to treating Raffi like a fellow addict instead of like a brother. That made it a little easier.

Not sure of what to do, he watched Raffi embrace his family, not wanting to let them go. Danny was almost relieved when there was a knock at the door.

Opening the door, he smiled widely when he saw her. “Hey, McGrath,” he greeted as he leaned in to kiss her cheek.

“Hi,” she responded as she walked in. “You bring him home?” she asked as she looked at Raffi and Sylvia, now sitting on the sofa with Nicky and the baby.

“We just got here, actually. And now I feel like a fifth wheel.”

Smiling at him, Maddie gave his arm a squeeze. “He wants you here.”

Nodding skeptically, Danny looked her in the eyes. “What brings you here?”

“I have some parole information for him. I was supposed to get it to him yesterday, but I was stuck in court.”

“Give it to me. I’ll make sure he gets it later, but I don’t think he can deal with hearing about parole officers right now.”

“Okay,” she said, handing him the papers. “You know the drill. It just says he has to make contact within two days and all the other basic stuff.” Hesitating a moment, Maddie wasn’t sure what to say next. Finally, she continued, “Um, I’ll go. I really am intruding.”

“I’ll walk you down…give them some time alone,” he said as he guided her out the door.

“So how have you been?” Danny asked as they walked down the stairs.

“Busy, but things are good. You?”

“Same,” Danny responded as they walked out into the chilly air.

After their talk six months ago, they’d decided to take things slow. They’d admitted that they’d always been attracted to one another, but they hadn’t wanted to ruin their rediscovered friendship by falling into a relationship too quickly. The friendship since then had consisted of long phone calls where they commiserated over their frustrating jobs and going for runs in the park or meeting for coffee every once in a while.

“So how’s what’s-his-name?” Danny asked with a hint of biting sarcasm as he blew warm air into his cold hands.

“His name is Robert, and I thought we said we weren’t going to talk about him,” Maddie replied.

She’d met Robert two months ago. A friend of hers had set her up on a blind date with him. Maddie hadn’t wanted to go, but felt like she had to do something to jump start her social life. She’d been completely surprised when Danny had gotten a bit jealous. Ever since then, they hadn’t seen much of each other. She and Robert had continued dating which made it hard for her to find time for Danny.

“I know. I know. But I still don’t see what you have in common with a stockbroker.”

“About as much in common as you had with that dancer in the Cats chorus line,” Maddie replied with a giggle.

“She’s in chorus line for Chicago. Cats closed years ago,” he informed her, returning her smile. “And that was months ago. It’s kind of hard to start a relationship with someone who can only see you after midnight.”

“Exactly, nothing in common. At least, I had a similar schedule to Robert.”

“Had?” Danny asked with an arched brow as he trained in on her use of the past tense.

“We’re taking a break.”

Danny smiled widely. “That’s too bad.”

“Give me a break, Danny.”

Raising his hands, he replied, “Okay, okay. I’ll leave it alone. I should get back to the welcome home party anyway.”

“Before you go back up, I have a proposition for you. I was gong to see if we could get together to talk this weekend.”

“What kind of proposition?” he asked curiously.

“It’s, um, it’s a long story.”

“Well, give me the highlights,” he said, blowing into his hands again. “I left my coat upstairs so I’m freezing here.”

“Right. Sorry,” she responded nervously. “Okay, um, I’m, um, I’m going to Texas.”

Completely surprised, Danny responded, “What? Texas? What?”

“I’m revisiting a dream I had a long time ago.”

“The Innocence Project,” Danny nodded as he remembered. “When do you leave?” he asked trying to hide the hurt in his voice.

“End of the month.”

“Why now?”

“Why not now? I was thinking about it after Jason left, but then—“

“Then I showed up.”

“Right. It’s just something I’ve always wanted to do.”

“I know. I remember. So what’s the proposition?”

Maddie smiled widely. “I want you to come with me. Don’t respond now. Just think about it. You’ve passed the bar. You could help a lot down there. And…” she stuttered, not sure how to articulate her next sentence.

“And what?”

“Maybe the only way we can see if we’re anything more to each other is if we get away from this place and all these memories. It could be a great opportunity for both of us.”

XXX

Danny had told her that he’d think about it. At first, he was just humoring her, but the more he thought about it, the more intrigued he became. A fresh start had worked for him before, so maybe that was what he needed now: a new career and a new relationship with someone who he has always cared about.

He spent a week weighing his options, all the while helping Raffi get acclimated to life outside of prison. He even accompanied Raffi to some NA meetings. Sometimes they’d start talking about the past: their parents and their lives after they’d died. But the conversations never went anywhere—the memories still too painful for both for them.

At the end of the week, Danny stopped by Maddie’s apartment.

“I brought pizza,” he said after she opened the door for him.

“A man after my heart!” she replied, opening the door wider.

“I even had them load up half of it with veggies, just like you like it.”

They spent the next hour eating pizza and talking about Raffi, neither wanting to be the first to bring up Texas.

Finally, Maddie couldn’t take it anymore. “So have you…have you been giving my proposition any thought?” she asked, sounding insecure.

“That’s an understatement. I haven’t thought about much else all week.”

“Well?”

“There’s a part of me that thinks starting over would be a good thing. And I did pass the bar. There’s really no reason why I shouldn’t start practicing law. But the Innocence Project and death row reform was always your dream, McGrath.”

“It’s a great program, and you would be so great at it, Danny. With your law enforcement background—”

“But leaving New York?” he interrupted. “And the people I work with? I mean, this place is my home. It’s all I’ve known my whole adult life. It’s the only stability I’ve ever had.”

“I’d be there,” she stated in a small, but hopeful tone.

“You’re the only reason I’ve been giving it so much thought all week.”

Maddie smiled a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “But I’m not enough, am I?”

Sighing slightly, Danny ran a hand through his hair. “I can’t leave him again, McGrath. I can’t leave Raffi and Sylvia.”

“You’ve helped him. He’s free. At some point, you can’t be responsible anymore.”

Danny laughed. “That’s just it, McGrath. I’ve spent the better part of my adult life not being responsible, even after I stopped drinking. You were right. I was selfish. That’s why I can’t leave him now,” he replied, voice betraying him with emotion.

Her lips tightening into a thin line, Maddie swallowed hard to stop herself from crying.

“I’m sorry,” Danny said as he leaned forward and put his palm against her cheek.

Smiling sadly, Maddie put her hand on his. “I guess we just aren’t meant to be.”

“I think the last six months have proved that we are meant to be the best of friends. I know I gave you a hard time when you started dating what’s-his-name, but that’s just because I want the best for you. Follow your dream, McGrath.”

“What about you? Are you going to stick with the FBI?”

“For now, I am. Maybe the future holds something different, but right for now I just want to focus on making sure that Raffi stays clean.”

XXX

A month later, he took her to the airport.

“Be careful. Don’t piss too many people off. There are a lot of loose cannons down there who aren’t big fans of what you’re trying to do,” he said, voice full of worry.

“That’s why I wanted you there with me: my own private security detail,” she said with a smile. “Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.”

“You’re doing a great thing, McGrath.”

“So are you. I’m so proud of you, Danny,” she said as she reached out to him.

For several moments, they embraced, and neither wanted to let the other go.

When they heard the announcement to board her plan, Danny groaned and Maddie’s eyes filled with tears.

“Look at me, McGrath,” he said, tilting her chin up.

“No matter what, we’ll always be there for each other, right?” she asked looking into his eyes.

“Always friends, remember?”

Smiling, she nodded through her tears. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” he said as he kissed her forehead.

Finally stepping away from him, she turned quickly to board the plane.

XXX

As he walked out of the airport, Danny took a deep breath to keep his emotions in check. He’d always hated goodbyes.

As he slid into a cab, he took out his cell phone and dialed a number. After a few rings, an answering machine picked up.

“Hey, Raffi. It’s Danny. I’m on my way back from taking Maddie to the airport. I’m running a little late so I’ll just meet you and Nicky at the Garden. I can’t wait for Nicky to see his first Knicks game. See you soon.”