Never look back 4

 

Autora: anmodo

 

This is a continuation of the Never Look Back series. I should’ve come up with a new title, but I kind of like the continuity. Most of Danny’s back-story fits in this series. The only thing I’m changing in this new story is that Danny went to law school. I didn’t include that before because I didn’t know about it yet. This story takes place late in season 2 and progresses very quickly to the events that happened late in Season 3 (Off the Tracks, Endgame).

Obviously, it helps to read the first 3 parts of this story, but to catch you up: Danny has re-connected with his high school love, Katie Mason. She’s from a rich, powerful family who has just been brought down in a high-profile missing person’s case. Katie’s been severely traumatized by the actions of her parents and by her mean, soon-to-be ex-husband. This story will start just weeks after Never Look Back Pt. 3.


Her hands resting on the keys of her laptop, Katie sat at the kitchen table and quietly watched Danny rushing around his apartment in a frenzy. He was looking under seat cushions, checking coat pockets, and sifting through stacks of mail and newspapers that he’d never had time to read.

Catching her staring at him, Danny tossed her an exasperated smirk. “You could help me, you know. I think finishing your resume can wait a few minutes, especially since you can’t figure out where to begin anyway,” he said in a slightly annoyed, but joking tone.

Katie smiled sweetly at him. “What exactly are we looking for this morning?”

“Handcuffs,” he said in a distracted tone. “I usually leave them right next to my gun, and they aren’t there.”

“Hmmm. Maybe you left them at what's-her-name's." She paused and made an exaggerated gesture of putting her chin into her hand to think. "What was her name, again?" She paused again, her face scrunched thoughtfully. As Danny rolled his eyes, she straightened and exclaimed, "Heather! That's it. Heather!"

Shaking his head, Danny answered. “I didn’t leave them anywhere. And I haven’t seen Heather in over two weeks. You should know that, since you’ve been here for two weeks.”

Sighing, Katie stood up to help with the search. Danny was right. She didn’t know where to begin on her resume. She had a BA in English from Columbia, but no real job skills to go with it. She’d always planned on going to Oxford for graduate work, but her marriage with Eric had gotten in the way of that. Now, faced with trying to live without the support of her wealthy family, Katie was having a hard time deciding what kind of job to pursue.

“Let’s see,” she said as she started checking in the kitchen. “If I remember correctly, last night you came to the kitchen right after you walked in the door saying you were starving because you’d been working hard all day.”

“I did work hard all day. And I thought there was leftover Chinese in the fridge—because that’s where I left it the night before—but it was gone,” he responded in an overly dramatic tone.

“Sue me. I was hungry and you were late, so I ate the rest of your sesame noodles,” she said defensively. “As I was saying, you came straight to the kitchen, and you usually take your gun and put it away as soon as you walk in the door. So, I’m thinking you did that just like usual, but you neglected to put the cuffs in the same place because you were so anxious to eat said sesame noodles. Therefore, Agent Taylor, I deduce that your handcuffs are…” pausing Katie opened the refrigerator door and pointed to the small leather pouch containing the handcuffs. “Case closed, Agent. And here I thought you were this expert at finding the missing.” Katie couldn’t help but laugh as Danny walked toward her looking more and more annoyed with her teasing.

“Good work,” he said grudgingly as he took the cuffs from her. “Let’s not forget that you have the benefit of getting a full night’s sleep. I, on the other hand, stumbled in here last night after working twenty-four hours straight.”

“Excuses, excuses,” she said still smiling as they stared at each other for a moment. “Can’t you take the morning off or something? I mean, they haven’t called with a new case. You could use the rest,” she said as her playful tone turned concerned.

“That’s not how it works. We work hot cases until they’re solved or they turn cold, and then we go in at 8 am the next day no matter what. There’s this thing—in the real world—called paperwork and it doesn’t get done by itself,” he said in a slightly sarcastic tone.

This time she rolled her eyes at his dig about her former well-to-do life. “I’m trying to live in the real world now, Danny. I just have to find someone to hire me, first.” She knew he was joking, but she couldn’t help but sound a little defensive.

Sensing she had taken the dig a little too seriously, he tilted her chin so she met his gaze. “I know. And I know it’s hard. You’ll find something. You’ll get your life on track. And until then, I’m more than happy to share my sesame noodles with you,” he declared with a sweet smile.

For a moment, Katie thought he was going to kiss her. They were caught up in each other’s stare, as his finger traced along her jaw line. But instead of a kiss, he leaned in and gave her a peck on her forehead. “See you tonight,” he said in a low voice before backing away and heading for the door.

“Be safe,” was all Katie could say as he waved at her before closing the door.

The kiss on the forehead wasn’t unusual. While he was still somewhat affectionate with her, Danny had set up unspoken boundaries between them after that first night she’d spent in his apartment. It’s not that they hadn’t talked about it. He’d told her that they should take it slow. He’d said that he was terrified of hurting her after all she’d gone through. It didn’t help that she’d basically frozen up on him when they tried to have sex that first night.

So now they were basically just roommates until Katie could find a job and a place to live. The strangest part for Katie was that they still slept together. There was only one bed in his apartment. They’d never even talked about one of them taking the couch. They’d just automatically started sharing the bed. It had reminded Katie of when she’d hidden Danny in her bedroom when they were teenagers—except back then, they would have at least made out before falling asleep. Now, sometimes he’d hold if she were feeling particularly restless, but most of the time, they just slept side by side. It was the most oddly comforting and intimate thing Katie had ever experienced.

There had been a flurry of activity that had occurred after Tracey had been found. Both of her parents had been arrested. She’d spent the last two weeks giving police interviews, depositions, and dodging the media circus that had surrounded the high-profile case. Being at Danny’s apartment felt like being in a cocoon. No one knew she was staying there. She hadn’t felt this safe in a long time The only time she left his apartment was when she visited the therapist she's starting seeing after she'd separated from Eric. Her marriage to him had truly left her a shell of her former self. She was slowly trying to rebuild her self-esteem through her therapy.

How’s the job hunt going?” Dr. Hanson asked.

I don’t think it can be considered a hunt until I actually start looking. Right now, just leaving the apartment to see you is a chore. Baby steps, remember?” Katie said, restating the advice Dr. Hanson had given her early on.

You’re right. Baby steps are good, but you don’t have the same financial security that you did back then. At some point, you have to start supporting yourself. Otherwise, you’ll be caught in the same cycle you’ve just gotten out of.”

I don’t see how that’s possible, Mary. I mean my life is completely different than it was when I was with Eric or when I was dependent upon my father’s money.”

How is it different?” the doctor asked.

I’m not with Eric anymore. I don’t speak to my father and I haven’t used his credit cards, or his houses or cars—“

Maybe you aren’t dependent on your father or Eric, but can you say the same for Danny?”

Katie shook her head emphatically and responded in a frustrated tone. “That’s completely different. Danny would never—“

I’m not saying he would ever treat you like Eric or your father treated you, but maybe you are in danger of falling into another dependent relationship with Danny. You’re living with him. You said your life lately just consisted of coming here and being at his apartment. Are you going to try to tell me that you hope this living situation won’t become permanent?” the doctor asked in a very calm yet direct way.

Taking a deep breath, she answered, “I love Danny. Of course, I would like it to be permanent, but we’ve talked about it. I’ve told him that I plan on finding a place of my own.”

Do you really believe that? Or are you hoping that things become so comfortable with him that you never have to leave? A relationship started in this type of circumstance may not be the healthiest choice for you—no matter how nice Danny may be. He’s still just a man. He’s not perfect.”

I know that. I know he isn’t perfect, but he does care about me. And we are building toward something together.”

And I’m saying maybe you need to focus on building yourself before you build with someone else. He can’t save you, Katie,” the doctor counseled in a sympathetic tone.

Look, I’m sending out my resume. I’m making an effort to get my life on track. I fully plan on charting my own course, but I don’t want to let him go again. I can’t let him go again.”

The doctor looked at her for a few moments before changing the subject. “Okay, we’ll table that for now. Have you heard from Eric?”

Katie shook her head as she stood up from the chair and walked to the window. “You like going from bad to worse, don’t you?”

I’m just covering all the bases.”

I haven’t heard from him. Thank God. I don’t think he knows where I am—another good thing about staying with Danny. My lawyer says that since I’m not asking for alimony and I’ve given up my trust fund the divorce should go through fairly fast. I can’t wait to get the papers. Then this horrible chapter of my life will really be closed,” she said in a small voice as her eyes filled with tears.

Have you and Danny been able to be intimate since that first night?”

I thought you were against things moving forward with Danny, and now you’re asking if we’re intimate?” Katie countered sarcastically.

I’m not against your relationship with him. I just think you can focus on yourself as well. I also think we still need to explore how what happened with Eric is affecting you in this new relationship.”

Danny and I aren’t having sex. He hasn’t tried anything with me since that first night. He says he doesn’t want to pressure me. He says we should take it slow.”

He sounds like a smart man.”

Yeah…maybe. Or maybe he isn’t interested in trying to have sex with someone with sexual hang-ups when he can sleep with 20-year-old aspiring actresses,” Katie replied, her voice dripping in sarcasm.

Katie, in my experience, men don’t take women into their home and give them a safe place unless they care. I don’t know, Danny, but from what you’ve said, I think it’s pretty clear that he cares a great deal for you.”

I know he cares. I’m just not sure he’s really in love with me. I’ve had sex with him before. He’s patient, but he’s also someone who has a very healthy appetite. I’m just not sure how long he’ll wait if for some reason I can’t…” Katie didn’t finish the statement. The thought was too difficult to verbalize.

This is all new to him as well. You’re back in his life after ten years apart. Figuring out feelings can take some time. And Katie, if someone really truly cares for you, he’ll wait for as long as it takes.”

I never stopped loving him, Dr. Hanson. I never stopped thinking about him. I have journal pages filled with how much I missed him and how much he meant to me. I don’t think he’s been pining for me in the same way for the last ten years. And now, I just hope he isn’t doing this, helping me, to fulfill some obligation he thinks he has to me.”

Sounds like you two have some talking to do.”

Rolling her eyes, Katie responded, “Yeah. Now we just have to find the time to do it. He works all the time. And when he comes home, he’s exhausted and I don’t want to bother him with discussing the state of our relationship. This is all so complicated.”

Let me uncomplicate it for you,” Dr. Hanson said matter-of-factly. “Focus on yourself first. Get your house, for lack of a better word, in order. Then talk to Danny. I have a feeling he’ll be more open about talking about the future with you if you’re feeling more confident about yourself. Got it?”

Got it.” Katie replied quietly.

That night, Danny got home at a reasonable hour. Katie, of course, wanted to talk, but all Danny seemed interested in doing was sitting in front of the TV to watch a baseball game. He’d told her that he hadn’t been able to watch one in ages,so she didn’t bring up wanting to talk to him. Instead, she sat next to him on the couch and worked on sending her resume out via e-mail.

“Do you think it’s wrong that I’m sending my resume to some friends of my parents? I mean if I cut myself off from my family, then maybe I shouldn’t contact their friends.”

Not taking his eyes off the TV, he answered, “If you subtract all of your family’s connections from your job search, then you’re not going to have a lot of luck finding a gig in Manhattan. Whether you like it or not, your father knows just about everyone in this city. If I were you, I’d use it to my advantage. I mean you can’t change that fact—you might as well use it.”

Katie nodded. “You’re right. Maybe someone will take pity on me, but God knows, I have no idea what anyone would hire me to do.”

This time, Danny glanced at her and gave her a small smile. “Give me break. You’re smart. You went to an Ivy League school. I think someone will have a good job for you.”

Katie returned the smile before Danny went back to watching the game. They sat in a comfortable silence until Katie read an e-mail that had just appeared in her inbasket.

“Hmmmm. That’s interesting,” she said to herself.

“What’s interesting?” Danny asked even though Katie thought he wasn’t listening.

“I sent an e-mail to an old college professor a few days ago. She’d contacted me after all the press my parents got. She, you know, offered her support and sympathy. When I e-mailed her back, I mentioned I was on a job hunt, and she e-mailed me back with an opportunity.”

Danny looked up with more focused attention. “What’s the opportunity?”

“Well, I mean, it’s not really something I’d be interested in now, but at one time in my life—”

Oxford?” Danny asked.

“How’d you know?” she asked in a surprised tone.

“It’s the only thing you ever talked about the first year I knew you. This professor says there’s an opportunity there for you?”

“Well, I’d have to apply, but yeah, there’s a grad assistant program. I’d work as a grad assistant and take graduate classes.”

“That sounds perfect.”

“It does?” Katie asked in a surprised tone trying to hide the hurt in her voice.

“It was your dream, Katie. You wanted to study there and then come back here to teach. When you talked about doing that back then, it’s what made me think I should go to law school.”

“Dreams change, Danny. You went to law school right after college. I’m not a kid anymore. I can’t be a student forever.”

“You’re not even thirty, Katie. How long is the program?”

Katie glanced at the e-mail again. “You can commit to it a year at a time. So if I applied and was accepted for this term, then I would be there for the coming fall and spring terms.”

“I think you should talk to this professor. You should apply. What could it hurt?”

Katie was speechless. She didn’t know what to say. She wanted to scream at him and say, “Us…it could hurt us.” But she didn’t, she just smiled and nodded and Danny went back to watching the game.

A few weeks later, Katie returned to the apartment after a Saturday appointment with her therapist. Her emotions were pretty raw from their intense session,so she just wanted to go home and take a nap. When she walked in to the apartment, she saw Danny sitting on the floor with his back against the sofa,pouring over law books and study guides. He’d been doing this almost every free Saturday he’d had since she moved in with him. He’d told her that ever since his brother had been paroled, he’d been thinking about taking the bar exam.

“Hey,” he called out to her looking up from the mess. “How was your session?”

Katie walked in, got a water bottle out of the refrigerator,and took out two aspirins from the bottle in her purse.

“That good, huh?” Danny remarked as he watched her movements. “You want to talk about it?”

“You look busy,” Katie finally responded. “I’m really tired. I’m going to lie down for a while.”

“Okay,” he said hesitantly. “Before you do that, though, you may want to take a look at your mail. You got something from Oxford this morning.”

Walking over to the kitchen table, she let out a deep breath as she picked up the envelope. “I can’t believe they’re getting back to me so soon,” she said almost to herself.

“You said that professor had connections. Maybe she pushed your application through.”

“Maybe,” Katie said as she opened the envelope. Sitting down on the kitchen chair, she started to read the contents of the envelope. She could feel Danny’s eyes on her as she read the letter. Biting her lip to hold back her tears, she said, “They’ve accepted me. I can start in the fall, if I want it.”

Before she finished, Danny was standing and walking towards her. “That’s great, baby. Congratulations,” he said as he pulled her up into a warm embrace.

A few tears fell from her eyes as he held her, she quickly wiped them away so he wouldn’t see how upset she was. She’d been hoping that Oxford wouldn’t accept her. As great of opportunity as it was, she couldn’t imagine being away from Danny for a year.

He finally pulled just far enough away to meet her eyes. “I’m so happy for you.” Noticing that she didn’t look very happy, he asked, “What’s wrong? This is great, right?”

She pulled away from him completely and paced into the kitchen. “Yeah. Really great,” she said turning away from him.

“I don’t understand. You were looking for an opportunity. This opportunity just fell into your lap like it was meant to be - and you aren't happy about it?” he asked in a confused tone.

“What about us?” she uttered in barely a whisper with her back turned to him.

“Us? What do you mean what about us? We’re talking about a year, right? That’s nothing compared to the distance of the last ten years, and this time, we’ll keep in touch.”

“You don’t love me, do you?” she asked finally turning to face him.

“What? Of course—“

“You care about me. You feel obligated to me. You love me because we’ve been through so much together, but you’re not in love with me. So it’s easy for you. It’s easy for you to just let me go,” she stated with her voice full of emotion.

“It’s not easy. Nothing about this is easy,” he said, his face filled with concern and shock. “How can you say I don’t love you? I love you so much that I want you have everything you ever wanted. I love you so much that it’s been painful to see what you've become the last ten years. I want you to get your life back, Katie. The girl who’s been moping around here for the last month isn’t the girl I remember. And I know there’s a reason. I know what you’ve been through, but it doesn’t mean it has to be that way forever. The only way to get out of this rut is to take a chance. Oxford is that chance, baby,” he said as he reach out and stroked her arms.

As Danny spoke to her, the expression on her face changed from heartbreak to anger. She abruptly shirked out of his light grasp and stepped away from him. “Thank you, Dr. Taylor. So you don’t want to be with me because I’m not the girl I was when I was sixteen? People change, Danny. I’m not moping. I’ve just given up everything I’ve ever had. I just lost my whole family in one day. I’m sorry if I’m not chipper enough for you. Why don’t you head down to Starbucks? I bet Heather would be more than happy to be that girl for you. She probably has an outfit for it and everything,” she said in a hurt tone as she grabbed her purse and headed for the door.

“Katie, don’t leave. You don’t understand—” before he could finish, she was out the door.

Danny collapsed onto the kitchen chair and raked his hands through his hair. He really thought he’d been handling the situation in the best way. He hadn’t wanted to put pressure on Katie. He’d wanted her to be free to do what she wanted. She’d spent the last ten years living a life that wasn’t really hers. And Danny knew it was partly his fault. He knew if hadn’t gotten drunk that night that she would never have married Eric.

Keeping his distance hadn’t been easy. Every morning he’d watch her sleep and ache to take her in his arms. But he knew he couldn’t. When she first came back into his life, he wasn’t sure how he felt about her. He knew he cared for her, but he wasn’t sure he felt the same way about her that she did about him. But in the last month, everything changed. He loved coming home knowing she would be there. He loved talking to her and making her laugh. He could see himself with her forever. The more they were together, the more he realized that his feelings for her never really died. He’d just buried them so deep that it took spending time with her again for him to remember. Despite this realization, he knew she was too vulnerable to become involved in a new relationship so he’d kept his distance and just tried to be the best friend he could to her.

Being just her friend went against every natural instinct Danny had. His instinct told him to do everything he could to make her want to be with him all the time. His instinct told him to be charming and flirtatious, and to do everything he could to make her want to be physical with him. Deep down, he loved the fact that she hadn’t forgotten about him. He loved that he’d had that affect on her. Katie was wrong. He was in love with her. The last few weeks had proved that to him. Coming home to her had been the best part of his day. Rising from the chair, Danny decided he had to go after her. He had to make her understand how he really felt.

A half an hour later, he walked up the steps of the New York Public Library. This trip felt very familiar to him. Katie had tried to convince him that she’d changed, but finding her in the same study carol in the Shakespeare section showed him she was still the same.

“You were wrong,” Danny said as he approached her.

Startled, Katie looked up, but then her expression softened. Danny knew that she was remembering when he’d tracked her down in the same place ten years ago.

“Wrong about what?” she asked trying to keep a cold expression on her face.

“I am really good at finding the missing. I tracked you down in less than twenty minutes,” he said with a smile.

“I’m not so sure it’s about you being good as much as about me being predictable.”

Danny flashed a mock hurt expression. “What ever the case may be, I’m glad I found you. We need to talk,” he said as pulled up a chair and sat next to her.

“What’s there to talk about? You want me to leave—“

Taking her hand in his, he tilted her chin so that she was looking at him. “I don’t want you to go anywhere. I want you here with me all the time. Moping or not, I’ve loved having you in my life the last month. I’ll admit, at first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about you, Katie. I wanted to help you, but I had buried all those feelings I had for you back then. I had to do that so I could survive. I had to let you go. You understand why, don’t you?” he asked earnestly.

“Yes. I understand,” she whispered.

“Then you also need to understand this. I am very much in love with you. I’m not just saying this to help you through a rough patch. Its how I really feel. And Katie, you are the only person I’ve ever said those words to. I’ve never felt like this about anyone else but you. And that scares the hell out of me, because the thought of losing you is just…” he couldn’t finish.

Tightening her grip on his hand, she put her other hand on his stubbled cheek. “Then why do you want me to go? If this is how you really feel, how can you let me walk away? I want to stay, Danny. I want to be with you all the time.”

“I don’t want you to have any regrets. I don’t want you to wake up in ten years and regret not taking this opportunity,” he said with the slightest hint of insecurity in his tone. “I’m not going anywhere, baby. I’ll be here when you get back.”

Katie sat back in her chair and stared at their intertwined hands—Danny’s thumb gently caressing the back of her hand. “How will this work? Will it be a long distance relationship or do you want to keep things open?” And now she was the one who sounded insecure.

Danny smiled as he shook his head. “You’ve got nothing to worry about with me, believe me. I’m ready to be committed. I’m tired of the life I’ve been leading. I’m tired of feeling empty all the time and finding temporary solutions to fill the emptiness. When I’m with you, I don’t feel like that. But I don’t want you to go to Oxford with some kind of tether on you. You missed out on experiencing that carefree time. If something happens over there, I wouldn’t hold it against you.”

Now Katie smiled. “You really are out of your mind. I won’t miss out on anything, if I end up being with you.”

As they held each other’s gaze, Danny leaned in and kissed her—lightly at first—but then it became more intense, their mutual attraction, tension and affection coming out them on the third floor of the public library. They both got lost in the kiss until they heard someone clearing her throat in a very obvious way.

Danny looked up and met the eyes of a very disapproving librarian. Without missing a beat, he said, “It’s this Shakespeare stuff. It does this to us every time.” He gave the librarian a charming grin and her lips curved into a smile as she walked away from them.

Danny and Katie broke out into a fit of laughter and he pulled her into a warm embrace.

That night, they lay in bed together facing each other. Danny’s first thought when they’d returned home was that he wanted to make love to her. He’d wanted to show her how he really felt to affirm the words he’d said to her in the library. But the more he thought about it, the more he realized that it had to be Katie’s move to make. She still hadn’t told him everything that happened between her and Eric, and until she did or until she let him know she was ready, he couldn’t put that pressure on her.

“You’re starting to give me a complex, Agent Taylor,” she said quietly as she watched him watching her in the darkness.

“Why’s that?” he asked in barely a whisper.

“We were practically making out in the public library, but now that you have me in your bed…” she didn’t have to finish her statement. He knew where she was going.

“I guess I just don’t quite know where you’re at, with therapy and everything. It’s not that I don’t want you, Katie.”

“I’m fine,” she reassured.

“Are you? Because a month ago, you weren’t. And you never want to talk about it.”

Katie closed her eyes for a moment. He could tell she was struggling for the right words. “He didn’t rape me, Danny. I know you think he did, but it wasn’t like that. When Eric and I were first together, well you know that he was my first. Looking back, I know Eric was just pretending. He wanted me to get to my father. So he seduced me. He said all the right things to a vulnerable girl who had just lost the love of her life.”

Swallowing hard, Danny took her hand in his. “Keep going.”

“After we got married, things changed. He didn’t have to pretend anymore, and he was angry that I cheated on him with you. He would say really awful things to me. He told me that I didn’t satisfy him. He said the reason you didn’t fight for me was because you didn’t want me either. So I started to believe him. My therapist tells me that Eric mentally beat me down so that I wouldn’t have the courage to leave. I completely shut down, so when Eric would want me – it would be painful and humiliating for me. Eventually, he gave up and started having affairs. I was left questioning if I’d ever felt anything sexual in my life. I actually started thinking that the two times we had sex were just because you felt sorry for me.”

Putting his hand on her cheek, he caressed her gently. “That couldn’t be further from the truth. I didn’t feel sorry for you. I’d missed you so much that I wanted to be as close to you as possible. Don’t you remember? I didn’t want to let you go, figuratively and literally. I didn’t want you to go back to him.”

“Eric did everything in his power to make me forget what happened between us back then. I want to believe it wasn’t me, but—“

Leaning in close to her, Danny cut her off with a kiss. He gently rolled Katie onto her back as he continued to kiss her. He took it very slow with her to make sure she was really ready. Before going any further than kissing and touching, he whispered breathlessly in her ear. “We can wait. I can wait until after you get back from Oxford, if that’s what you want,” he said before trailing a kiss across her jaw line and then looking deep into her eyes.

“No more waiting,” she said before arching up to meet his lips again.

After that night, they spent a blissful month together. They literally seemed to try to make up for ten years of distance in one month. Danny even took two long weekends so they could get away together before they left for Oxford. Jack had been completely surprised when Danny asked for the time off. In all the years Danny had worked for him, Jack usually had to force Danny to take annual leave so he didn’t lose it. Jack had asked Danny what was going on, but Danny hadn’t elaborated. He wasn’t ready to share his relationship with everyone yet, especially since he was about the say goodbye to Katie again.

The day before she was due to leave, Danny rushed out of the office at 5 p.m. on the nose since they didn’t have a hot case going. When he walked into his apartment, his heart sank a little when he saw her suitcases lined up neatly by the door. He still felt confident in his decision to support her dream, but that didn’t make watching her leave any easier.

“I see you aren’t wasting any time,” he called out as he removed his coat and tie and draped them over the couch and then removed his gun and handcuffs from his belt.

“You’re home early!” she said in a slight panic from the bedroom. “Don’t come back here yet.”

“What’s going on back there? It looks like you are finished packing,” he said as he looked at the suitcases again.

“I’m mostly finished. I didn’t want to waste time doing it tonight. We have other plans for tonight.”

“Other plans, huh?” he said as he walked into the kitchen. From the aroma coming from the oven, it smelled like Italian. He opened the oven to confirm that Katie had indeed ordered takeout from their favorite Italian place. “I see you’ve been slaving away in the kitchen all day, as well.”

He heard Katie giggle from the bedroom. “I wanted to leave you with a good memory. If I cooked for you tonight, you might not want me to come back.”

“That’s highly doubtful,” he said as his eyes fixed on the bedroom door. “How long are you going to make me wait, anyway?”

“Mr. Impatience. Give me one more minute,” she said in an exasperated tone.

Danny smiled as he looked down at his feet. All he could think about was how much he would miss her being here every night. He wasn’t quite sure how he was going to get along without her.

“Okay. Come on back,” she called out.

Quickly making his way to the bedroom door, he opened it to find a mass of glowing candles surrounding his bed, which had new sheets and a comforter. Letting his eyes wander around the room, they finally landed on Katie. She was a vision in a pale pink night slip and matching short robe bathed in the glow of candlelight.

Walking toward her, he started to say, “You look…” but couldn’t finish before covering her mouth with his. Finally pulling away from her, he looked into her eyes. “…beautiful. So beautiful. You’re seriously making me reconsider letting you out of my sight.”

Katie smiled as she let her hands tangle in the back of his hair. “Now I know why you asked me if I wanted to wait until I got back to have sex. I literally can’t imagine not being with you every night. Just thinking about it makes me…” she started to cry.

Pulling her into an embrace, he stroked her hair and whispered, “Shhh. Shhh. It’s going to be okay. I promise. We’ll talk on the phone. We’ll write, or more accurately, you’ll write. And just like we planned, you’ll come here and I’ll go there at least once. It will work.”

Nodding against his chest, she responded. “I know. I promised myself I wouldn’t get upset tonight. I thought I could light the candles and wear this, and we could just pretend that tomorrow wasn’t going to come.”

Danny pulled back to look at her in full view again. “I’m more than capable of living in the fantasy,” he said with a mischievous smile.

This made her smile as she wiped her tears away. “Are you hungry? You probably haven’t eaten all day.”

“Not even a little,” he whispered before kissing her again and backing her up toward the bed. After they collapsed on the bed, Danny pulled back from her. “What’s with the new sheets?” he asked with a confused expression.

Shrugging, Katie gave him a wide-eyed look. “Something to remember me by. So every night, when you get into bed, you think of me.”

Giving her a sexy smirk, he responded, “I won’t need the sheets to remember you. Rest assured, I’ll be thinking of you like this, every night.”

“Good to know,” she replied before he started to kiss her again.

As quickly as possible, she removed Danny’s dress shirt and t-shirt. When her hands traveled to the top of his trousers, they were both startled by the high-pitched ring of his cell phone. Silently, Danny cursed himself for not taking the cell phone off when he removed his gun. Katie unhooked the phone from his trousers and handed it to him as he caught his breath above her. Taking the phone from her, he looked at the display. If it would have been anyone other than Jack, he wouldn’t have answered.

Taylor,” he answered while still looking at Katie beneath him.

“I need you to meet me downtown at Barrington Daycare. We’ve got a possible kidnapping there that happened less than an hour ago.”

Closing his eyes for a moment, Danny considered telling Jack he couldn’t meet him.

“Danny…Danny…you still there?”

He opened up his eyes to find Katie’s filled with tears. “Yeah, I’m here. I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”

“Okay,” Jack said before ending the call.

Closing his phone, he reached down to wipe a few of Katie’s tears away. “I’m so sorry. I know you put a lot of work into this.”

Shaking her head, Katie tried to control her emotions. “It’s happened before, right? I should be used to it. I just thought you’d be able to take a night off.”

“Usually, I could, but this is a missing child, baby. I couldn’t even have asked in this case,” he replied as he finally eased off the bed and helped pull her to her feet. “Look, maybe it will be nothing. Maybe it will be a parental custody thing, and I’ll be back here in an hour. I won’t know until I get down there,” he said as he pulled on his t-shirt and dress shirt.

“Okay,” she said quietly as she sat down on the bed.

“I’ll call you as soon as I can.”

Katie nodded as he leaned down and quickly kissed her forehead before heading out the door.

As soon as Danny got to the scene, he knew it wasn’t a parental custody issue. Both parents were breaking down as they spoke to Vivian. Jack nodded to Danny as he approached.

“Hey. Three-year-old boy, Jason Grant. He was taken at gunpoint from one of the daycare workers while she waited for Jason’s mom to arrive in the pick-up line. I need you to talk to the daycare worker. She was and still is quite hysterical. In addition to getting whatever you can out of her, escort her back to the office and help her work with a sketch artist. Sam is checking her background right now to see if she’d have some kind of motive.”

“Got it,” Danny said as he quickly focused on Jack’s orders. He immediately went to find the daycare worker. It wasn’t until three hours later that he finally got a chance to call Katie.

“Hello,” she answered warily.

“It’s me. I’m sorry, but I don’t think I’m going to make it home tonight. The kid’s been missing four hours, the daycare worker was so freaked she couldn’t give us a good sketch, and we’ve yet to find anyone with a motive.”

When he finally stopped rambling, there was no response.

“Baby, I’m really sorry. I’ll be there at the airport tomorrow—if not before.”

“I understand. I do. It’s just…” she couldn’t finish.

Danny’s heart broke at the sound of her wounded voice. “I know,” was all he could say knowing that this would have been their last night together for a long time.

“Be safe, okay? And, hopefully, we’ll see each other before I leave,” she responded trying to sound more positive.

“I’ll definitely see you before you leave. There’s no question—“

“Just do what you have to do. Find that little boy. I love you, Danny,” she said as she tried to stop her voice from cracking with emotion.

“I love you, too.” Right after he said those words she hung up the phone.

Twelve hours later, they still hadn’t found the little boy. Glancing at his watch nervously, Danny sat at the conference table as they discussed their theories. He didn’t have much time. Her plane was due to leave in one hour. He’d already called her and said she should get to the airport without him and he would try to meet her at the gate.

“Okay, Danny and Martin, I need you guys to check this lead in Bristol, Connecticut. This guy matches the description—“

“I can’t,” Danny said after he processed Jack’s order.

“What?” Jack asked not believing his ears. Samantha, Vivian and Martin all looked up in disbelief.

“I…um…I said I can’t. I have to take care of something, something personal,” he said as his eyes traveled from one member of the team to the next.

Samantha glanced at Martin before looking at Jack. “I’ll go with Martin. Danny can finish these phone records when he…uh…gets back.”

Under different circumstances, Danny would have hugged Samantha at that moment.

Jack looked at Samantha and then back to Danny. “Fine. Martin and Sam, Connecticut. Viv, go update the parents. And Danny, my office,” Jack said not waiting before heading to his office.

Danny sighed as he followed Jack to his office. He took another look at his watch as he stood at attention in front of Jack’s desk.

Personal business?” Jack asked incredulously. “We have a missing three-year-old.”

“I know that, Jack. Come on. You know me. I wouldn’t be asking this if it wasn’t important.”

“More important than a missing child?”

Danny rolled his eyes. “I’ll be back in two hours. I’m sorry, Jack,” he said before walking quickly out of the office.

He’d wanted to tell Jack more. He’d wanted to tell him that for the first time that he could remember, there was something more in his life than just work.

Getting to the airport was nightmare. There was traffic everywhere and with each minute that ticked past, Danny knew that he would probably miss her. He’d promised her that he’d be there, and he wasn’t coming through. When he finally made it to the airport and double-parked, he literally sprinted to the security area. Knowing he would probably get into serious trouble, he flashed his badge and told the security officer that he was pursuing a suspect. When he finally arrived at her gate, his breath caught as he watched the gate agent shut the boarding door.

Katie sighed heavily as the flight attendant announced the plane doors were closing, and they were preparing for takeoff. Rubbing her eyes, she took a deep breath to stop herself from crying again.

“Are you okay, dear?” the elderly woman sitting next to her asked in a thick, British accent.

“I’m okay. Thank you,” Katie responded in a low voice.

“Airport goodbyes are the worst,” the woman said, patting Katie’s hand.

“Yeah. I’ve heard that,” she replied with a little bitterness.

“What takes you to London? I’m going home after visiting my son and his family.”

Oxford,” Katie replied. Her first thought when the woman had started talking to her was that she wanted to be left alone. But now, she was grateful for the distraction to keep her from dissolving into tears. “I’m spending the year studying there.”

“And you’re leaving someone behind here?” the woman asked sympathetically.

Katie nodded, biting her lip.

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

“That’s true, but we’ve had more than our fair share of absence,” Katie replied quietly. “And we didn’t even get to say goodbye. I thought I’d get to see him one more time, but—“

She was interrupted by an announcement from the flight attendant. “We will be experiencing a slight delay before we can leave from the gate, ladies and gentlemen. Please be patient and stay seated with your seatbelts fastened.”

“Delays, delays, delays. It seems like nothing happens on time, anymore,” the older woman complained.

Katie smiled before looking out the window. Trying to put the fact that she’d missed Danny out of her mind, she tried to focus on the excitement of going to Oxford. Her focus was disrupted when she heard some commotion further up the aisle. As the flight attendant opened the curtain from first class, Katie’s heart almost leapt out of chest when Danny followed behind.

“Oh my God,” Katie whispered.

“What is it?” the older woman asked. “That man looks like he is looking for someone.”

Watching him anxiously make his way down the aisle, Katie wasn’t sure what to do. She wanted to call out to him, but instead she nervously unfastened her seat belt and stood up. “He’s looking for me,” Katie exclaimed, barely containing her joy.

When Danny caught sight of her, his anxious expression softened into a smile. Stopping at her row, he took her hand and pulled her to him a passionate kiss. They were completely oblivious to the gasps and whispers all around them.

Finally breaking from the kiss, Danny whispered in her ear, “I told you I’d be here.”

“You’re crazy,” Katie responded in disbelief, shaking her head.

“You have no idea,” he said and then kissed her again.

The flight attendant finally poked Danny on the shoulder. When he broke from the kiss again, he turned to her. “Sir, what about the suspect? You said there was someone you had to apprehend on this plane,” she whispered not wanting the passengers to hear.

“I don’t see him,” Danny answered as he turned back to look into Katie’s eyes. “He’s not on this plane. Give me thirty more seconds, and you guys can be on your way.”

The flight attendant didn’t respond. She just watched as Danny gave Katie a light kiss as he held her face.

“We’ll see each other in a few months, okay?”

Biting her lip, Katie nodded. “I love you so much.”

Danny smiled. “I love you. One year, and then we’ll never be apart again. I promise.”

Katie laughed thinking about how far he went to keep his promise to see her before she left. “You’re going to get into so much trouble for this,” she said in a worried tone.

“It’s worth every bit of it. Don’t worry. Call me when you get in,” he said, kissing her one more time before stepping away.

She nodded again as she watched him walk up the aisle with the flight attendant. She heard the flight attendant say, “Sir, this is highly irregular. You can’t stop an airplane under false pretenses.”

Danny didn’t let up. Katie heard him respond, “I was pursuing a suspect, but then I saw the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen and I couldn’t let her go without kissing her.”

Katie didn’t hear the rest of the exchange, but she was fairly certain if anyone could talk his way out of this kind of trouble, Danny could.

“Now I know why you looked so sad before,” the older woman said. “I don’t know if wild horses could force me to spend a year away from him.”

Katie laughed. “He’s making me do it, believe me. I don’t know if I will make it through the next twenty-four hours without him,” she replied as the sadness returned to her voice.

XXX

Later that night, Katie called Danny as soon as she made it to the boarding house room she was renting.

Please tell me you haven’t been fired,” Katie said instead of saying hello.

“Hello to you, too.”

“I’m serious, Danny. Not that I don’t appreciate one of the truly most romantic moments of my life, but if it means—“

“It was the most romantic moment of your life?”

Katie sighed. “What do you think? Having a man sprint through an airport and stop a plane from taking off, all to kiss me one more time? It’s a story I’ll be telling our grandkids.”

“I’m glad it had the affect I was trying to achieve.”

Katie could practically hear Danny’s smile through the phone. “So spill. What kind of trouble are you in?”

“You need to remember who you’re talking to. I had the flight attendants and gate agent eating out of my hand. They loved my grand romantic gesture, even though it caused them a slight delay.”

“So you didn’t get into any trouble for stopping a major airline flight?”

“Nope,” he answered, sounding very self-satisfied.

“Unbelievable,” she responded shaking her head. “What about your case? I didn’t even ask you on the airplane?”

“The kid’s mom finally broke down and told Viv that he was probably lifted by his real dad. Apparently, she never told anyone about this guy. We found the boy unharmed a few hours ago with his natural father.”

“Wow. Thank goodness he’s safe.”

“What about you? Did you make it in safe and sound?”

“With the exception of a crazy man delaying our departure, I had no troubles. I’m going to get unpacked and then crash. My orientation to Oxford starts bright and early tomorrow.”

“Good luck. I know you’ll love it.”

“I wish I could stay on longer, but this boarding house has a time limit on their phone.”

“It’s probably for the best. Neither of us can afford the long distance phone bills. And I’ve never been good at long phone conversations anyway. I’m much better at face-to-face communication.”

Again, Katie could practically seehis smirk through the phone. Her heart beat faster just hearing his voice. “And here I was looking forward to long hours of hot phone sex. But since you don’t like the phone—“

“If you put it that way, I may have to rethink this.”

“Well you rethink it, I’ll see if I can’t find a phone where we can have a longer conversation.”

“Sounds like a plan. Get some sleep. I love you.”

“I love you, too. And Danny, today really was incredibly special for me.”

“It’s just the beginning, baby. Talk to you tomorrow.”

“Good night, Danny.”

The next day, Katie started her life at Oxford. Despite missing Danny terribly, the experience was everything she had expected and much more. She completely immersed herself in academia and learned to love every minute of it. She and Danny established a routine of talking on the phone once a week. The rest of their correspondence consisted of e-mails…

Aug 15, 2004

Danny,

My first week has been fantastic. It’s so much better than I ever dreamed it could be. My days have been so busy that I barely have time to think, but fret not; my nights are filled with missing you. Did you happen to notice you’re missing several t-shirts, including your favorite one? Hope you don’t mind. Right now, those t-shirts are the only things that help me sleep at night.

How are things with your boss? Is he still leaving? I know you understand he needs to go with his family, but I also know it’s hard for you. We can talk about it on Sunday, if you want.

You’ll never guess who wrote me. My father got my address from my lawyer. I’m sure he’s feeling very self-satisfied since I am finally at Oxford. I have half a mind to write him a letter telling him this is all your idea. I have to say, I feel sorry for him. The letter came from the ChesterCounty Correctional Facility. My lawyer says he’ll probably be there at least six months before he can be paroled. No news from my mother. She’ll probably be appealing her case to the Supreme Court.

Enough about them. I know you want me to put all of that out of my mind.

Hope you are doing okay. I do miss you terribly.

Love always,
Your Katie

Aug 16, 2004

Hey – I thought I was going crazy wondering where those t-shirts were. I know you’ll take good care of my 1989 Mets World Series shirt. It’s nice to think of you wearing it. Glad to hear you like it there. I knew you would. Enjoy this time.

It’s awfully quiet when I go home at night now. I never noticed that before.

Jack’s still on his way out. I am happy he is going with his family, but I’ve known him and Viv since I started at the FBI. It’s just hard to see him go. The good news is that Viv will probably get Jack’s job. The bad new is that we’ll get a new team member. I’m not always good with new people.

I don’t want you to do anything you don’t want to do. It’s okay if you still care about your parents. They’re your parents. I just don’t want them to hurt you anymore. That’s all.

Take care. Love, D.

XXX

Aug 21, 2004

Danny,

My divorce papers came today. If you were here, we could celebrate. I’m going out with a few people tonight so I might just celebrate in silence. No one here knows anything about my history. They don't know who my parents are, what happened in New York, or about my debacle of a marriage. It’s nice starting with a clean slate.

I’m learning so much here, Danny. It’s funny. I always thought I was such an expert, but I had just scratched the surface. I think I’m really in my element here. When I get back to New York, I may have to go for my doctorate. Although, I have no idea how I’ll be able to afford it.

How are you? Any news? Been to Starbucks lately?

Love always,
Katie

Aug 22 2004

Starbucks. Very funny. The last I heard Heather got a gig on soap in LA so the jokes can stop any time now.

Clean slates can be a good thing. I’m living proof of that. I wish we could celebrate tonight as well. You never have to think about that bastard again.

If you want your doctorate, then don’t let the money stop you. You can add your school loans to the law school loans I’m still paying for, and we can be knee deep in debt together. If I ever pass the bar, maybe I’ll get one of those high paying law firm gigs, and then we won’t have to worry about money.

Talk to you soon. Take care. Love, D.

XXX

Sept 7, 2004

Danny,

I loved our conversation last night. I might have to get a second job to pay for these phone bills, but it is definitely worth it. Has anyone ever told you that your voice is just…it’s the best thing to hear before a girl falls asleep.

I’m glad Vivian got the job. Sounds like you had a good time celebrating with everyone. I know you’ll miss Jack, but at least you don’t have to get used to a new boss.

I’m literally counting the days until Thanksgiving. I can’t wait to see you again.

Love always,
Katie

Sept 7, 2004

Don’t have much time today. We had a tough case today and I have a major headache. I’ll tell you about it on Sunday. The big news is that Jack isn’t going anywhere. His wife wants a divorce. Not sure what is going to happen, but this can’t be good for Viv.

Take care. Love, D.

XXX

Oct 25, 2004

Katie,

We just finished a case that I can’t get out of my head. Martin and I interviewed this scumbag of guy who completely used this very vulnerable girl. We ended up finding her and she’ll be okay, but this guy just shattered any sense of self-esteem she had.

What’s scary is that I think I’ve been this guy before. I know I was him when I was drinking. But even after that, I know I’ve made judgments in past relationships that have hurt women I’ve been with. I know I’ve stayed in relationships before when I knew it wasn’t going anywhere, and it took me a long time to realize what that was doing to the other person.

Maybe the reason we weren’t together for the last ten years is because I would have screwed it up by being a complete jerk.

Sorry to vent like this. I’ll be more upbeat later. Love, D.

Oct 26, 2004

You’re being too hard on yourself. You’ve grown a lot, Danny. You couldn’t have been more sensitive and patient with me the two months we spent together before I left for Oxford. That should tell you that you aren’t anything like that “scumbag” you interviewed. People make mistakes all the time. They do things that hurt other people. But it’s the people who never learn from those mistakes who we have to worry about.

You always learn from your mistakes, and you aren’t afraid to make changes within yourself to be a better person. Remember that.

Can you tell I’m still going to therapy? I’m seeing someone really good here. I know you get support when you go to meetings, but maybe you’d benefit from therapy. You see a lot of awful things in your job – maybe it would be helpful to go to someone to help you process it. I can almost see you rolling your eyes while you read this. Just think about it.

Love always,
Katie

XXX

Nov 28 2004

Danny,

That was the best Thanksgiving ever. I can’t believe you were here. I just wish there was more time. I miss you already. Love always, Katie.

Nov 29, 2004

It was hard coming back to work today and it was torture going back to my empty apartment. I can’t wait until you are back in it.

Viv asked me how my vacation was and what London was like. She kept asking me if I saw all the sights of London. I tried to be vague. I could hardly tell her that the most I saw of London was from the window of your bedroom. I’m not complaining. It’s the only place I wanted to be, but it’s kind of hard to explain that to Viv.

I haven’t really told everyone about you and me. I mean I’m sure they know that we are together, but I don’t like talking about it mostly because you’re not here. I’ve never been one to talk much about my personal life here at work. It just brings up too many questions. I guess it’s good that everyone else is like that as well. Although, like I told you this weekend, I’m still pretty sure there’s something going on between Martin and Sam. I hope they both know what they are getting into. I want them both to be happy, but I can see this whole thing getting very complicated – especially if Jack finds out. He and Sam have always had a special connection.

For now, I’ll keep my mouth shut. Although it’s killing me not being able to tease the hell out of them.

Now all I look forward to is your visit in the spring. I can’t wait to have you back. Love, D.

XXX

December 25, 2004

Danny,

Call me tonight when you get home from your brother’s. I know we talked earlier, but I want to hear how it went. I wish I could have been there with you.

I talked to my dad today. I know he’s done a lot of questionable things, but part of me really wants to forgive him. When I was a little girl, he was truly my hero. When we talked today, it felt like it did when I was younger. He’s so proud of me for coming here, Danny. He’ll be getting out around the same time when I get back to New York. He wants to see me when I get back. I’m conflicted about it, but I think I want to let all the anger and resentment go. The past is the past, right?

Merry Christmas. This will be the last one we spend apart. I love you.

Katie

December 25, 2004

Hey. I didn’t get back until late, and I knew you were probably asleep so I didn’t call. I went to a meeting after being at my brother’s.

When I’m around my brother, I feel like I’m coming out of my skin. I don’t know what to say to him. The funny thing is that he seems to be doing really well. He and Sylvia and Nicky are doing really well together. He has a good job. They look happy, but all I can think about is what is going to happen when he lets them down. I still have so much anger inside when I am around him. And I don’t think I’ll ever be able to trust him.

I actually admire you for being able to forgive your father so easily. Forgiveness and trust just don’t come easy for me, I guess. Are you really sure you want to come back to me?

I call you tomorrow. Love, D

XXX

Feb 25, 2005

Danny,

Bad news. I have to cancel my trip to New York in March. I was going to call to tell you, but I haven’t been able to stop crying since I heard. This sucks. I have to finish several requirements to finish the program, and I won’t be able to complete them if I come home. I actually almost called my father to see if he would send his jet to get me for a quick weekend trip, but then I thought better of it. He’d want to see me if I did that, and all I want to do is see you. My heart is aching, Danny.

Feb 25, 2005

You’re still coming home the first of May, right? That’s just a couple of months, and then you’ll be back for good. Just focus on that. I’m busy with a case right now, but I’ll call you. Stay positive. We’re almost there…and then we’ll never be apart again. I love you. D.

XXX

April 2, 2005

Danny,

Less than a month, and then I’ll be home. I’m counting the hours now. I’ve loved my time here and I’ve learned so much, but now I just want to be with you again.

I’m sure you heard about my mom. I guess she had the best insanity defense money can buy. She’ll spend one year at Shady Meadows. I just hope she gets the help she needs. I’m hopeful that my dad and I can reconnect when I get back, but I’m not sure about my mom. We’ll see.

How was Nicky’s birthday?

Love always,
Katie

April 2, 2005

Nicky’s a sweet kid. I enjoy seeing him and Sylvia is good, too. Just like at Christmas, Raffi seems to be doing really well. Sylvia is even pregnant. If things were bad, I don’t think they’d be having another kid. So maybe I am being too skeptical. Maybe he has turned the corner. But it still doesn’t feel right when I am around him. Of course, that could be because this is only the second time I’ve seen him in a year. I know I need to make more of an effort. Maybe when you get back, I’ll bring you to meet them. Safety in numbers, right?

Less than a month? This is going to be the longest month of my life. Are you still thinking about moving in with your friend from Oxford? I want you with me, but I understand about wanting to date for a while. We’ve never really done that before, have we?

Talk to you soon. Love, D.

April 3, 2005

I’m glad you understand about not moving in. If you would've asked me to move in with you a year ago, I wouldn’t have hesitated. My therapist thinks I need to experience a normal, dating relationship, but let’s not kid ourselves. I fully intend on having plenty of sleepovers. My friend is getting a place by NYU. It’s not far from you. We’ll be like a normal, dating couple, at least for the time being.

672 hours until we are together again.

Love always,
Katie

Sitting in the back of the room, Danny stared down at his hands as if they had an answer to a question he was trying to figure out. He looked up every so often to offer some kind of non-verbal support to whoever happened to be speaking at the time, but then his gaze would immediately go back to his hands. This was his AA meeting routine. He’d stopped making eye contact with people a long time ago. He never liked feeling like as though people were checking him out to see why someone like him would be an alcoholic. And he didn’t particularly like to see himself in the faces of all the people there.

He usually didn’t go on Friday nights, but he hadn’t had a chance to make his usual meetings all week. So he found himself slipping in late to a meeting on a cold, rainy late April evening. Before he knew it, he heard the familiar chant echoing around him. This was his cue to leave. He never liked staying after to chat and eat cake, like everyone else. Slipping on his coat, he made a hasty exit out the back door and started down the hall of the drafty community center.

“Danny, my man. Long time no see.”

Stopping in his tracks, Danny sighed heavily before turning around. “Ray. It’s been a while,” he replied. “How’s your family?”

“They’re great. Thanks for asking,” Ray responded and then hesitated before continuing. “Friday night isn’t your usual time. You okay?”

“I’m fine. I’m great, in fact. But work has been busy so I didn’t get a chance to come earlier in the week. I forgot that you lead the group on Fridays.”

“I’m sure you did,” Ray replied in a slightly cynical, but playful tone. “You’ll do anything to avoid talking to your sponsor.”

“Come on, Ray. That’s not true. I’m not avoiding you. Unlike you, I happen to have a life so my Fridays are usually booked, amigo,” he responded, also playfully.

Ray laughed. “You have a point there. My life consists of soccer games and youth basketball. Other than that, I got nothing. But I thought you had a girlfriend? Don’t tell me it’s over already?”

“Not even close. She returns next week from studying at Oxford, but I still manage to get out a little even though she’s not around.”

“Sounds like things are going well.”

“Yeah. They’re okay.”

“How about your brother? How’s he doing? Still clean?”

“The last I head, he was fine. And still clean, as far as I know.”

“Good. Good to hear,” Ray said optimistically. “Listen, it’d be nice to actually hear from you,even if you aren’t having problems. I’m not just here for the bad times, Danny.”

“I know. But things get so busy, and there’s not a whole lot to talk about. I’m going to my meetings. I’m working. I’m studying for the Bar. And I’m anxiously awaiting Katie’s return. That’s about my life in a nutshell. Not much to talk about. But if you ever need to talk, call me,” Danny said with a smile. “I should get going.”

Ray laughed. “I’ll remember that. Have a good weekend, man.”

“You, too,” Danny replied as he walked down the hallway. “Say hi to Karla and the kids for me.”

Taking a deep breath, Danny tightened his coat as he walked out the door into the unseasonably cold April air. He contemplated hailing a cab instead of walking the twelve blocks to his apartment, but instead he just quickened his pace into almost brisk walk/jog. After making his way into his building and up to his apartment, he shrugged off his coat as he casually scanned his mail. Unbuttoning his dress shirt, he slowly made his way back to his bedroom.

He hadn’t been completely honest with Ray when he’d told him that he usually had plans on Friday nights. Since Katie had left Danny hadn’t had much of a life outside of work. It was safer for him not to go out. He hadn’t wanted to give Katie any reason to not trust him. He also hadn’t been completely honest when he said things were okay. They weren’t okay. Viv was sick, and Danny still hadn’t had a chance to process it. Just thinking about losing her made his mind spin. He definitely wasn’t ready to talk about that with Ray or anyone else for that matter.

After taking a quick shower, Danny collapsed into his bed and very quickly succumbed to the fatigue that had been building after a week of long hours at work. When Katie had first left, he’d had trouble sleeping—his bed feeling cold and empty. But as the months passed, he’d adjusted to not having her next to him at night. He’d always been able to adjust to changes because that had always been a part of his life.

Just as he drifted off, he was startled by high-pitched crying.

“Son of a bitch,” Danny exclaimed as he turned on his side and put a pillow over his ear. His next-door neighbor, Sandy, had a newborn baby, and the baby had been making a habit of waking him several times a night.

Minutes later, the baby calmed, and there was blessed quiet again. Danny started to drift off again. Before falling into a deep sleep, he suddenly had the strangest feeling that he wasn’t alone. He didn’t feel threatened by the sensation. Instead, a sense of warmth traveled over him as he felt a soft form mold into his side. Restlessly, he stirred a little as he shifted to find out what was causing the warm sensation. Opening his eyes to half-slits, he gasped slightly as he saw the form that was currently enfolded in the crook of his arm.

“Christ,” he breathed in a startled but sleepy tone. “Am I dreaming?”

Smiling up at him, Katie planted a soft kiss on his cheek. “Nope. It’s me. In the flesh.”

Opening his eyes wider, he realized she’d slipped into bed next to him and was wearing absolutely nothing. “What…How did you get here?”

“Finished up early and I wanted to surprise you. Surprise,” she exclaimed softly as she leaned up and they kissed.

Still not sure he wasn’t dreaming, Danny propped himself up on his pillow and looked down at her. He traced his fingers down her face and neck before leaning down to kiss her again. “You should have called.”

“Then it wouldn’t have been a surprise,” she said simply as she caressed his cheek.

“What about—“he started to say, but she cut him off with another kiss.

“We haven’t been in the same county, let alone the same bed, for over six months. Is there anything you have to ask me that can’t wait until later?” she asked in a seductive tone.

Danny didn’t have to answer; he just continued to kiss her. He still wasn’t sure this wasn’t just an extremely vivid fantasy he’d invented because he’d been sleeping alone for the last year, but he was willing to go with the moment.

XXX

Two hours later, he awoke to the high-pitched crying again. The only thing that made it better was that Katie was still in his arms. It wasn’t a dream. She was back and feeling her body against his was almost more than he could handle.

“What the hell is that?” he heard her ask, not moving from the spot curled against his stomach.

Tangling his fingers in her hair, he answered, “Sandy had her baby two months ago, and I haven’t had a good night’s sleep since.”

“Mmmmm,” she groaned as she pulled herself up to face him. “You’re kidding? Don’t they realize that I’m extremely jet-lagged?”

Probably not,” Danny replied as he kissed her neck and slowly rolled so he was hovering above her.

“Boy or girl?”

“Huh?” he asked in a distracted tone lifting his head from her shoulder.

“Did Sandy have a boy or girl?”

“Oh. A girl. Madison. She’s cute when she’s not screaming her head off”

Katie smiled. “How long does it usually last?”

“It’s 4 am, so this is usually the long one. Thirty minutes or so.”

“What could we do for thirty minutes?” Katie asked as she traced her fingers down his chest.

“Maybe we should talk. Hearing a baby cry doesn’t really inspire me, you know?”

“Oh I don’t know. Babies aren’t inspiring?” Katie asked with a smile.

“You’ve been back all of three hours, baby. I’m thinking we should take it a little slow.”

“Oh okay. What do you want to talk about?”

“How the hell did you get back here? I thought your flight was booked for next week.”

“When I finished early, I couldn’t imagine spending another minute in London when I could be with you. So I made arrangements to get here sooner,” she said matter-of-factly.

“But how? The ticket was paid for. I took the day off to come get you at the airport and everything.”

Smiling again, Katie hesitated for moment and then finally answered. “I called my dad. I didn’t know what else to do. He sent his plane for me and had a car waiting for me at the airport.”

At the mention of her father, he rolled back against his pillow. His eyes widened as he smiled. “What does he want in return?”

“Nothing. You know we’ve been communicating. We’d planned on reconnecting when I got back. There weren’t any strings attached, Danny.”

“There are always strings attached. People rarely do anything like that without expecting something in return – especially someone like your father.”

“God, you are the most skeptical person I’ve ever known. It’s brunch, okay. He wants to meet me tomorrow for brunch. Not such a big deal. And completely worth it as far as I’m concernedsince I am here with you right now.”

“I guess so,” Danny answered. “We should probably change the subject, talking about your dad is even less inspiring that hearing a baby cry.”

Katie laughed. “Okay,” she said and then thought for moment. “Hey, how’s Viv? You never told me exactly what happened to her.”

Sighing heavily, Danny glanced at her. “You really want bring this little welcome home party down, don’t you?”

“Just tell me. I know you’re worried about her.”

“She has some heart condition that I can’t pronounce. She’s on bed-rest until she can have heart surgery in a couple of weeks.”

Katie raised her hand and touched his cheek. “She’ll be okay, Danny. Have faith.”

He looked into her eyes and swallowed hard. “I’m trying,” he whispered. Shutting his eyes for a moment, he tried to shake the thought of Vivian from his head. “So besides brunch with your dad, what are your plans for the weekend?”

“Besides staying right here with you?” she asked her voice full of concern.

Danny smiled. “Don’t you have an apartment to move into?”

“Yeah. I do. Hey, why don’t we meet my Dad for brunch and then, after that, we can swing by my apartment. It should only take me a couple hours to unpack, and then we can come back here and hibernate for the rest of the weekend.”

“Except for the ‘meeting your Dad’ part, that sounds great. How about I meet you at your apartment after you guys finish?”

“I want you with me,” she said sincerely.

“Your dad hasn’t seen you in a year, baby. He doesn’t want me with you. There will be plenty of time for him and me to deal with our issues, but tomorrow isn’t the time.”

“Okay then. We’ll meet after,” she said as she laid her head on his chest. “Hey, do you hear that?”

“What?” Danny asked as he traced circles on her back.

“Exactly. Silence.”

Very quickly, Danny rolled her on to her back and kissed her.

“You don’t want to catch up on your sleep?”

“No,” he mumbled against her skin as he trailed kisses down her neck.

XXX

The next day, Danny helped Katie unpack after she had brunch with her father. And then they went back to his place and spent the next twenty-fours in bed. It took every ounce of energy Danny could muster to get out of bed on Monday morning to go to work. He’d spent so much time missing Katie that he didn’t want to let her go.

“So what are your plans for today?” he asked as he put on his dress shirt.

Still lying in his bed clutching the pillow he’d just slept on, Katie answered. “Are you kidding? I think I’m still jet-lagged. Between Madison waking up every two hours and us making up for lost time, I’m quite exhausted.”

“Sorry about that,” Danny replied as he sat on the edge of the bed.

“Mmmm, don’t apologize. I think I’ll head over to my place today and try to catch up on sleep. I have a meeting with a doctoral advisor at NYU to discuss continuing my education and maybe teaching a few classes. I need to get rested so I can actually form coherent sentences tomorrow.”

Rising from the bed, Danny leaned down to kiss her forehead. “So I probably won’t see you tonight?”

“I wouldn’t go that far, Agent Taylor. Maybe you can come over to my place, though, so we can actually get some sleep.”

“Sounds good. I’ll call you later,” he said as he gave her a little wave before walking out the door.

Their evening plans were foiled that night because Danny had to work late. They didn’t end up seeing each other again until the next night when Katie stopped by his apartment after her advisor meeting.

“Hey,” Danny said as he breezed through his front door. “You beat me.”

Katie rose from the kitchen chair and practically ran into his arms. “How did we ever spend a whole year a part? I swear I went through ‘Danny withdrawal’ today.”

“That’s not uncommon. I affect people like that,” he said with a mischievous smile as he leaned in to kiss her. “I missed you, too. How was your meeting?” he asked as he momentarily released her so he could remove his jacket and tie.

Productive. Very productive. I can start teaching in the summer session, and I’ll start the doctoral program in the fall.”

“That’s great news, baby. I’m happy for you,” he said as he took her back in his arms. “We should celebrate. You want to go out?”

“No. Let’s just stay here,” she said as she leaned in to kiss him. Very quickly, the kiss became more passionate as he guided her over to the sofa. They eased down not breaking contact for a moment. When Danny let his lips travel from her lips to her neck, Katie remembered something. “I…um…I forgot to tell you,” she started in a breathy tone. “Your brother’s girlfriend called right before you got home.”

As soon as he heard Katie mention his brother, he stopped kissing her. “Did you talk to her?” he asked looking into her eyes.

Startled by the abrupt tone of his question, Katie hesitated for a moment.

“Did you talk to her?” Danny repeated.

“No. She left you message on your machine. I just overheard it. She sounded like she really needed to speak to you.”

“She left me a message at work, too, but I was too busy to call her back,” he said as he pushed away from her and sat back on the sofa.

“You can call her now. It’s not too late,” Katie said in a mild tone.

Rubbing his eyes and then raking a hand through his hair, he shook his head. “I don’t feel like dealing with it tonight. Did she say what it was about in her message?”

“No. She just said she needed to speak to you.”

“I’ll call her tomorrow morning. I don’t want to think about it tonight,” he said as he rose from the sofa and held out his hand. “Come with me.”

Taking his hand, Katie followed him into the bedroom.

XXX

Danny watched as Katie slept peacefully against his chest. She seemed to have gotten used to the baby’s persistent cries because they didn't always wake her up any more? . He wasn’t so lucky. He’d always been a light sleeper, so any little noise would keep him up. It was the only thing that bothered him about living in the city. Noise never stopped in Manhattan.

Rising from the bed, Danny decided he should make more productive use of his time since he obviously wasn’t going to get sleep. He showered and changed into a suit, and then slipped out into the living room. Gathering his law books and study guides, he didn’t hear Katie come up behind him.

“What are you doing?” she asked sleepily, rubbing her eyes.

Danny looked at her and smiled. She was wearing his Mets t-shirt and nothing else. “I was going to go into the office, but I’m rethinking that now.”

Katie laughed. “The office? At four in the morning? What can you possibly do at this time of morning?”

“Study. I was supposed to study this weekend, but someone surprised me, and I haven’t cracked a book since. The Bar is in less than a month.”

Putting a pouty look on her face, she drifted in his arms and wrapped her arms around him. “I guess that is a good excuse.”

He kissed the top of her head before breaking away from her. “I’ll call you later. Have a good day.”

“You, too, and don’t forget to call Sylvia.”

Danny smirked. “What did I do without you? I’ll call her first thing this morning.”

“Good,” she said in a self-satisfied tone as she started to walk back to the bedroom. “Love you!” she called out.

“You, too,” he said before walking out the door.

Walking into her apartment a couple of hours after Danny left for work, Katie instantly felt empty. This wasn’t home. Home was wherever Danny was. She had half a mind to tell her new roommate that she was going to have to bail on her, but she knew she needed to talk to Danny first. She also knew she needed to give it time. She’d spent thousands of dollars on therapists who told her that she shouldn’t rush into a new relationship – no matter how happy she was when she was with him.

Quickly immersing herself in preparation for her summer classes, she spent the day trying to focus on something other than Danny. It wasn’t an easy task, but by late afternoon, she’d actually gotten quite a bit done. Satisfied with her productivity, she reached for the phone to see how Danny’s day was going.

Taylor,” he answered in a rushed tone.

“Did I catch you at a bad time?” Katie asked hesitantly.

“Uh, yeah, actually. It’s not a good time,” he said in a distracted tone.

“I won’t keep you then. I just wanted to remind you to call—“

“I called her. I called Sylvia.”

“Oh. Good. Is everything okay?” she asked hopefully.

Katie listened, but Danny didn’t answer right away. All she heard was a deep sigh in the background. Finally, she heard his voice again.

“He’s…he’s is some kind of trouble. Raffi hasn’t been home in two days. That’s why Sylvia called.”

Looking at clock, Katie noticed that Danny had left for work over twelve hours ago. She silently wondered why he hadn’t called her, but she didn’t say anything. Instead, she asked, “Is there anything I can do? Can I help? Does Sylvia need anything?”

“No. There’s nothing you can do. Sylvia has family helping her.”

“What about you?” she asked quietly.

“I’m just trying to find him, baby, but it doesn’t look good,” he said in a broken tone.

“I’m sorr—“

“Listen, I have to go,” he interrupted abruptly. “We’re about to interview someone. I’ll call you later.”

“Okay. I love—, “but she didn’t finish because Danny had already hung up on his end.

Pacing around her apartment, Katie wondered what she should do next. She knew most of Danny and Rafael’s history. Danny had opened up to her about almost everything when they were kids. For a long time, Katie hated Rafael for not being there for Danny after their parents died. So much of Danny’s childhood trauma was caused by Rafael’s drug use and abandonment. But now, Katie realized how powerful forgiveness could be. She’d hoped that Danny and Rafael could patch things up so that Danny could find some closure to that part of his life and learn to trust more easily.

Rubbing her eyes, she sank into the sofa. She felt completely helpless and didn’t really know what to do next. Her indecision was interrupted by a knock at the door. Looking through the peep hole, Katie sighed when she saw her father, Tom Mason, standing outside.

Opening the door, she greeted him warily. “Hey, Dad. I wasn’t expecting you.”

“I really wasn’t expecting you, either. I, uh, I just wanted to drop this off. Thought you might need these,” he said as he handed her a small box.

Taking the box, Katie stepped aside to let her father in the apartment. “What is this?” she asked still distracted by her thoughts of Danny.

“I was going through some of your old things and found all of the writing you did in high school. There are papers and journals that you kept on all your reading. Since you are headed back to school—“

“I wrote this stuff in high school, Dad. It’s not going to be much help now,” she interrupted in an unintentional agitated tone. Sensing that she’d been rude by the hurt look on her father’s face, she said, “I’m sorry. That was incredibly rude. Thank you for bringing this. It will be interesting to read. I’ve just…I just heard some bad news so you caught me at a tough time.”

“Is there anything I can do? I noticed that you look upset.”

“I, um, it’s nothing,” she replied quietly not wanting to discuss Danny with her father.

“Are things moving forward with school? If you’re having any trouble getting in or coming up with the money, then I can—“

“Everything is fine with that, Dad. Don’t worry.”

“Then it must be Danny. Is that why you’re here? Is there a problem with him?”

“No. No problem. I can’t—“

“You can tell me, sweetheart. I want to be here for you. You can trust me.”

Biting her lip, Katie suddenly had the urge to tell her father what was going on if for no other reason, than to just pass the time until she heard from Danny again. “Danny has a brother, and his brother may be in some kind of trouble.”

“I know he has a brother. Is he still in prison?”

Surprised by her father’s response, Katie frowned. “How did you know that?”

After taking a deep breath, her father explained. “I got a complete history on Danny when you were involved with him at Brentland. And then I did another check on him when you saw him before you married Eric.”

“Jesus, Dad, you did a background check on an eighteen-year-old kid? What did you think you’d find? And why on earth would you check up on him again?”

“I don’t necessarily think it’s productive to rehash all of this now, but at the time, I was only concerned for your safety. Imagine if his brother wasn’t in prison at the time, then you could have been in danger.”

Shaking her head, Katie sat down on the sofa. “You’re right. We shouldn’t rehash it. It will only make me more upset.”

Taking a seat in the chair across from her, her father asked,” What’s going with his brother?”

Katie looked up at her father and was surprised to see genuine interest and concern. “I don’t know. He didn’t say much on the phone—just that Rafael was in trouble and that he was looking for him,” she said with a hint of desperation. “Dad, Danny sounded so distraught on the phone, and there is nothing I can do about it.”

“I know some people. I could make some calls—“

“No! Absolutely not,” she stated emphatically. “I’m not even sure Danny would want me to tell you about this.”

“Like I told you the other day at brunch, I want to get to know Danny. I want to put the past behind us. Clearly, he makes you happy and he’s supported your dreams. For that, I am grateful to him.”

“I want that, too, but now isn’t the time – especially now. I appreciate the offer, though, and thank you again for bringing my things,” Katie said as she stood up. She was afraid that if she talked to her father any more that she would fall a part, and she didn’t want him to see that.

Standing up hesitantly, her father followed her to the door. “Call me if you…or Danny need anything?”

“I will. Thanks, Dad,” she said as she leaned up and kissed him on the cheek before he walked out the door.

After her father left, Katie desperately wanted to call Danny again, but she didn’t want to bother him. She decided the best thing she could do was go back to his apartment and wait for him.

Going back to his apartment didn’t make her feel any more useful. She just nervously paced around until she finally settled onto the sofa. It was very late in the evening and he still hadn’t called. Finally, she pulled a blanket over herself and stretched out on the sofa. Despite the barrage of thoughts going through her head, she fell into a restless sleep.

At 2 am, her eyes opened wide at the sound of baby Madison’s high-pitched cries. Katie had to take a moment to remember why she was on the couch. Then she jumped slightly when she noticed the bedroom light on and heard the shower being turned off. Slowly, she stood up and wrapped the blanket around her body as she made her way into the bedroom. Stopping in front of the bathroom door, she watched as Danny leaned against the sink - his hands bearing down as if supporting his entire body. His head bent, he inhaled and exhaled deeply, in an obvious attempt to stop himself from breaking down. Katie felt her own eyes fill with tears. As much as she wanted to go to him and hold him, she knew this was a private moment for him and didn’t want to interrupt it, so she quietly walked out of the bedroom and sat back down on the sofa.

About ten minutes later, Danny walked out of the bedroom and stopped in surprise when he noticed she was awake.

“Hey,” he said in a hoarse, wary tone.

“Hi,” Katie said as she stood up and walked toward him. “Did you find him?”

Danny nodded as he lifted his hand to her cheek. “I was going to call you, but there was never a good time.”

“It’s okay. Don’t worry. Just tell me what happened,” she said taking his hand and leading him to the couch.

“He started using again. He got denied on a loan to start this auto shop business so he just fell a part.”

“Where is he now? Is he okay?”

Shaking his head, Danny ran his hand through his hair. “He’s in jail. He tried to get the money for the auto shop by packing some meth into a car, and the deal went bad. He’s in a lot of trouble, Katie.”

“Oh my God. How’s Sylvia…Nicky?”

“Nicky doesn’t know anything yet. Sylvia is a wreck. She didn’t see this coming at all. I tried to warn her, but she really believed in him,” he said as his eyes drifted away from her gaze. “Maybe if I’d believed in him too…” he whispered but didn’t finish.

“This isn’t your fault, Danny,” she said taking his hand.

Meeting her eyes again, he shook his head. “I, um, I’m really beat. I need to get some sleep. Jack gave me the day off tomorrow, but I have to find Raffi a lawyer and see if I can get him out on bail. I promised Sylvia I’d get her in to see him so I should probably see if I can sleep for a little while,” he said as he stood up and then helped her to her feet.

Realizing that Danny didn’t want to talk anymore, Katie just followed him into the bedroom and laid down next him. She knew he was still awake as she started to drift off to sleep. She could tell by his breathing and the tension in his shoulders. It didn’t surprise Katie at all when she woke up the next morning and he was already gone.

Barely able to sleep because his mind was racing with things he had to do, Danny got up after being in bed for only for a few hours. As he dressed, he watched Katie sleep peacefully. He knew he's been short with her, when she'd only been trying to help, but he really didn't know what more she could have done to help him. Just seeing her there when he got home helped him enough. Shaking his head, Danny realized he should have told her that when they’d talked earlier.

His first stop was to pick up Sylvia. He hadn’t expected Nicky to be awake, but he was. So he sat next to Sylvia as she bravely tried to explain to Nicky what happened to his father. He had a hard time understanding that Rafael probably wouldn’t be coming home, but Danny assured him that he’d do whatever he could to get him out soon. Danny knew that after the shock wore off, Nicky would probably feel resentment toward his father,so he vowed to do whatever he could to make Nicky understand that his father was just very sick and needed help more than anything. Danny knew from experience, however, that that explanation wasn't always enough.

After they’d talked to Nicky, Danny took Sylvia to the courthouse where Raffi was being arraigned. It took over an hour, but he finally convinced the detective to let Sylvia see him before his arraignment. He looked on in amazement as they tearfully greeted each other before stepping out to give them some privacy.

Danny’s next task was to instruct the assigned public defender on how to plea Raffi’s case. He hadn’t had time to find Raffi a decent lawyer so he told the green public defender to file a continuance when he entered a plea of not guilty. Hopefully, that would give Danny enough time to find a good attorney. He still wasn’t sure how he was going to afford a good attorney, but he pushed that to the back of his mind.

When the arraignment ended, Sylvia gave Raffi one final hug and Danny gave him a supportive glance before he watched them lead him away in handcuffs.

Finally, he took Sylvia home and then headed back to his apartment to start cold calling every good defense attorney he knew. Wearily making his way up the stairs, he sighed heavily upon seeing Tom Mason at his front door.

“I don’t think Katie is here, Mr. Mason.” Danny knew this because she’d left him a message earlier 'telling him that, if he needed her, he'd find her working from her apartment

“I know. I was looking for you,” Mr. Mason replied.

Closing his eyes, Danny raked his hand over his two-day old stubble. “I’m sorry, but now isn’t a good time—“

“I know. I know that you are dealing with your brother’s latest legal issues. That’s why I’m here.”

Danny couldn’t help but let out dry laugh. “Yeah? That’s why you’re here? I’m sure you’re loving this – finally some more proof that your daughter is too good to be with someone like me, right?” he asked sarcastically. “You know what? Right now, I could give a rat’s ass what you think of my family or me. So just save it. I have a lot of work to do,” he said as he moved past Mr. Mason and put his key in the door.

As Danny opened the door, Mr. Mason pleaded, “You’re wrong. I’m not here because of anything like that. My God, Danny, Katie’s mother is serving a year sentence at a mental facility for attempted murder and I just got out after serving a six-month sentence for covering it up. I don’t think I’m in any kind of position to judge anyone.”

Standing in his doorway, Danny shrugged. “Then why the hell are you here?”

“I saw Katie yesterday right after she spoke to you. She was very upset. This morning, I made a few calls and found out what the charges were against your brother. And then I contacted my lawyer to see—“

Rolling his eyes, Danny backed up into his apartment. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Now you want to help me? You’re going to have to excuse me for being a bit skeptical, Mr. Mason. Every time you’ve ‘helped’ me, there have always been massive strings attached and I never had any choice in the matter,” he said, accentuating the word ‘helped’ with air quotes. “Let’s take a walk down memory lane – shall we? First there was, ‘I’ll get you kicked out of school and take away your college scholarship if you ever go near my daughter again’. Then there was, ’I’ll give a place to live if you do whatever you can to stop her efforts from seeing you’ And finally—and this is my favorite—you offered me a hundred grand to break up her wedding so then you could turn around and tell her that I could be bought. Did I get all of them? There were so many strings, it’s hard to keep track.” He collapsed onto the sofa as he rubbed his eyes—the fatigue of the last two days catching up to him and causing him to launch into the tirade.

“That was over ten years ago. I realize now how destructive my actions were. All of my efforts back then cost me my daughter’s love and trust. Now that I have her back in my life, I won’t do anything to screw it up.”

“Fine. Don’t screw it up, but leave me out of it. I don’t need your help and neither does my brother.”

“How can you be so arrogant? I bet if I called your brother and made this offer directly to him, he wouldn’t hesitate to take it. I know a thing or two about putting together a good legal defense. Hell, I’ve done it twice in the last year alone. The kind of defense I can buy for your brother, a three-time offender, will be the difference between him doing two years or twelve. The kind of defense I can buy is the difference between Riker’s and some county facility where he actually might be able to get some help.”

Seeing the genuine look of concern and remorse Mr. Mason’s eyes, Danny’s wall started to crumble. “How do I know that I can trust you? How do I know you won’t pull the rug out from under us when you lose interest or if you decide, once again, that you don’t want me with Katie?”

Taking a seat in the chair across from Danny, Mr. Mason looked down at his hands. “I finally have my daughter back. When I saw her after she got home last weekend, I was overwhelmed with the look in her eyes. I know that is thanks in large part to you. You could have kept her here, but you set her free. That’s a lesson I had to learn the hard way,” he said quietly as he still didn’t make eye contact. “I never hated you, Danny. In some strange way, I kind of admired your resilience, but I thought I was doing what was best for her at the time.”

“I don’t know,” Danny replied quietly still not sure.

Reaching into his breast pocket, Mr. Mason pulled out a card and handed it to Danny. “This is the number for Walter Miller. He’s—“

“I know who he is,” Danny said taking the card, recognizing the name to be the senior partner of one the best law firms in Manhattan.

“Call him. Don’t call him. It’s up to you. But if you like what he has to say, he’ll put one of his best associates on your brother’s case.”

“I can’t afford this,” he responded in almost a whisper as he read the card.

“I know you can’t. I’m more than happy to cover it, but if you still don’t trust me or if your pride won’t let you take the money, then feel free to think of it as a loan. We can even draw up a legal agreement so you’ll feel more comfortable that I won’t be able to pull the ‘rug out from under you’,” Mr. Mason said as he stood up from the chair and headed for the door.

Danny followed and called out before Mr. Mason could shut the door. “Thank you,” he said hesitantly. “I’ll…I’ll give Mr. Miller a call right now,” he said as he held out his hand.

Mr. Mason firmly shook his hand. “Hang in there. I know it looks bad now, but Walter will do whatever he can. Give Katie my love.”

“I will,” Danny said quietly before closing the door and letting out a deep breath.

XXX

Danny spent much of the afternoon on the phone with the associate in Walter Miller’s law firm who was going to handle Raffi’s case. The attorney was guarded but optimistic that he could work out some kind of deal.

When he finally got off the phone with the lawyer, he called Katie, but she wasn’t home. He left her a message saying that he’d stop by later that evening. Before he could see her, he knew he had to get to a meeting. He’d been running on adrenaline since getting the call from Sylvia after Raffi called her. Now that he was coming down, thoughts of drinking were swirling in his head.

After taking the short subway ride to the community center, Danny walked into the meeting just as it was getting started. It was the difficult times like these that made him realize how comforting the meetings could be. He felt like his internal clock was being reset so now he’d be on time again, instead of running behind like he had been for the last two days. He was so focused on the meeting that he didn’t notice the person who sat down next to him until he felt a nudge in his side. When he looked over, Ray gave him a knowing glance.

After the meeting adjourned, the majority of the group gravitated toward the refreshment table, but they didn’t make a move to get up from their seats.

“I’m sorry about yesterday, man. I went with my son’s class on this field trip and forgot to turn on my cell phone.”

“It’s okay. I got through it,” Danny replied quietly, eyes still fixed straight ahead.

“How’s Rafael?”

Shaking his head, Danny shrugged. “I found him strung out. He wanted to kill himself.”

“So what happened to you yesterday?”

“I had an overwhelming urge to give up looking for him and find the nearest bar. I wanted to forget about everything. I wanted to forget that the closer I got to him, the more I felt like him.”

“What did you do when you couldn’t get hold of me?”

“I called Viv. I just needed to talk a few things out, and she just listened. Of course, now I feel crappy for bothering her – she’s sick at home with a heart condition.”

“I’m sure she didn’t mind,” Ray responded as he stared straight ahead as well. “Did you talk to Katie about it?”

For the first time since Ray walked in, Danny glanced over at him. “About wanting to drink?”

“Yeah. Did you think about turning to her?”

“No. Not really, but I was glad to see her at my place when I finally got home.”

“Look, you know you can talk to me anytime. And I’m sure Vivian feels the same way. We care about you. But if you are going to be in a relationship with this woman, then you can’t hide this part of your life,” he said looking around the room.

“I’m not hiding it, Ray. Katie knows all too well about my problem. I just knew that if I went to her yesterday, she’d want to fix things. She’d want to make it better, and I didn’t need anyone to make it better. I just needed—“

“You needed someone to listen.”

“Yeah,” he replied quietly.

“You told me once that she was the one person who you told everything to. You told me that she knows more about you than anyone else.”

“That was a long time ago. Things have changed. I don’t want to scare her away. And I think if she would have if she had seen me yesterday…I almost lost it a few times.”

“I don’t know her, but I think she deserves a little more credit than that. You have a nasty habit of pushing people away when they get too close. Don’t use this thing with your brother as an excuse to ruin the best thing that has ever happened to you. You’re going to need her to get through this. And Danny, she needs to be a part of this,” Ray said as he looked around the room. “She needs to be a part of your recovery, if she’s going to be in your life.”

“You know I really hate it when you start making sense, man.”

“It doesn’t happen often, but when it does – watch out.”

Danny laughed for the first time since he could remember, and then he quickly went somber again. “Do you think…do you think if I had been there for Raffi this past year that this wouldn’t have happened?”

“You know the answer to that better than anyone. You can’t beat yourself up about this, Danny.”

Nodding, Danny rose from his chair. “I’m going to go to daily meetings for a while, until I get my head right again.”

“That’s a good idea. Just call me, and I’ll meet you here anytime.”

“Thanks, Ray,” he said as he walked out the door.

XXX

More tired than he could remember, Danny quickly made his way down the busy sidewalk. Before turning the corner, he stopped at a street kiosk and picked out the best of the wilted roses in the display. Then he made his way to the quaint brownstone apartment building. Instead of using his key, he knocked on the door.

Opening the door, Katie smiled when she saw him and it was the best feeling he’d had all day.

“Hi, I didn’t expect you so soon,” she said opening the door wider to let him in.

Bending down, Danny gave her a long, lingering kiss. “Is it possible that I haven’t kissed you in over two days? That’s almost criminal,” he said in a low voice before brushing the rose against her cheek. “This is for you.”

Katie couldn’t help but let out little giggle. She hadn’t expected Danny to be like this. Taking the rose, she leaned up to kiss him again as she ran her across his cheek, which had gone from two-day stubble to almost a beard. “Thank you,” she whispered. “But…um…are you okay?”

“I will be,” he said taking her hand and leading her to your couch. “Where is your roommate?”

“Still visiting her family in LA. She won’t be back here full-time until the summer term starts,” Katie replied. “So how…how did things go today?”

“As well as can be expected, I guess,” he said and then put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her to him. “I’m sorry.”

Frowning, Katie laid her head on his chest. “Why on earth are you sorry?”

“I shouldn’t have shut down on you like that yesterday. When I walked in last night and saw you sleeping on the couch, just knowing you were there meant so much to me.”

“I’ll always be here…no matter what.”

“I know,” Danny replied quietly. “I’ve known that since I was seventeen years old.”

He held her for a few minutes in silence, and then he began to the recount the last two days’ events to her. After he told her everything, she pulled him up and led him into her bedroom. He fell asleep almost instantly with his head nestled against her neck and her body so close to his that it was as if they were connected.

XXX

Two weeks passed as Danny quickly fell back into his routine. The only difference was that much of his free time was now spent dealing with Sylvia, Nicky, and Raffi's legal defense. Katie helped him as much as she could, but their schedules limited the amount of time they could spend together. Because of work and other commitments, they’d spent almost three days without seeing each other. So Danny was thankful when he got home very late from working on a case on Friday night to find her asleep in his bed. Getting in to bed, he had to resist the urge to wake her up.

The next morning, she wasn’t as considerate when she woke him up at the crack of dawn.

“What the hell?” he said as he squinted against the light she’d just turned on. “It’s Saturday, right? Why are you turning on the light at 6 am on Saturday morning?”

Hopping on the bed, Katie straddled his stomach and leaned down to kiss him. “Good morning to you, too.”

He kissed her back enthusiastically before pulling away. “If this is what you want, then we didn’t need to turn the light on, baby.”

Katie laughed as she pulled away from him. “We don’t have time for that. You have to get to Javits by 9, and I thought you’d want some time to prepare before you head out, and of course, you need to eat a healthy breakfast,” she said pointing to the small meal she’d prepared and set on the nightstand.

Completely confused, Danny looked at the breakfast and then back up at her. “Javits? What—“

“The bar exam is this morning. I happened to see it on your calendar yesterday so I decided to stay the night last night to make sure you remembered.”

“You’re crazy. I can’t take the bar exam this morning. I haven’t looked at a book or a study guide in weeks. I’ll fail it for real this time,” he said in a sleep-filled voice and rubbed his hand over his face.

“Danny, you’ve been studying for a year – every Saturday for a year. How prepared do you need to be?”

“More prepared than I’ve been the last two weeks. I can’t go in to that test today after not thinking about it in weeks. Besides that, now isn’t the time for me to do this, not with everything going on with Raffi,” he said in a very negative tone.

“I can’t believe that I am hearing this from Danny Taylor. The Danny Taylor who practically forced me to go an ocean away to fulfill my dream. What kind of girlfriend would I be if I didn’t do the same thing for you? If I may paraphrasea very wise, but hardheaded man, ‘I love you so much that I want you to take this test.’”

“That’s not the same thing.”

“It’s completely the same thing. Why are you fighting this?” she asked wearily.

“Because…because,” he stuttered before pausing to move her off of him and sit on the edge of the bed. “I don’t think I could handle failing right now.”

Katie didn’t respond for a few moments as she watched Danny go from being incredibly confident to extremely insecure within a matter of seconds. Instead, she carefully thought out what she wanted to say next. “You wouldn’t be failing if you take the test. Failing would be not taking it all. I know lawyers who’ve taken the bar three times to pass it, Danny. I’ve never seen you not try something. I’ve never seen you give up on anything. Don’t start now,” she said as she leaned into in his bare back and kissed his shoulder.

Shaking his head, he responded. “You’re not going to let me get out of this, are you?”

“Did you let me get out of going to Oxford?” she whispered in his ear.

XXX

Danny took the test and then he had good-natured arguments with her about how awful he did on it. After going back and forth about it all weekend, they decided to stop talking about it until the results came in six to eight weeks.

Early Monday morning, they found themselves making love before their busy weeks started. Katie was spending more and more time at Danny’s now. Baby Madison had adopted a healthier sleeping pattern, which made it very hard to ever leave his apartment at the end of a night. Waking up together was their favorite thing to do. As Danny held her, they watched the sun rise through his bedroom window.

“I’m thinking you should take the day off,” Katie said quietly.

“You think?”

“Yep. I start classes next week. We won’t have many mornings like these when that happens.”

“Mmmm. I wish I could,” he said as he trailed kisses down her neck and shoulder. “Since Viv has been out, there hasn’t been much opportunity to take days off.”

“Is she still scheduled for surgery today?”

“As far as I know,” he replied with a hint of fear in his voice.

“I’m sure the surgery will go well, and she’ll be back at work soon.”

“I hope so.”

“Will you see her today?”

Shaking his head, he said, “Probably not. She asked us not to come down. She just wants her husband there. I can understand that, and I’m not sure I want to see her like that – hooked up to all those machines.”

“Maybe tomorrow when she is feeling better.”

“Yeah. Maybe,” he whispered.

Then they fell into a comfortable silence, neither one wanting to get up to start their days. The silence was abruptly interrupted by the sound of Danny’s cell phone.

Reaching over Katie to grab his phone from the nightstand, he answered, “Taylor.”

“Morning. It’s Sam,” she said in an agitated tone.

“Did you wake up on the wrong side of the bed?” Danny asked in a sarcastic tone.

“No, I just wish we’d get these calls after I’ve had my coffee.”

“That hardly ever happens, my friend. What’ve we got?”

“A missing data analyst, Paige Hobson. Jack and Martin are interviewing her co-workers. That’s where she was last seen. Can you meet me at her apartment? We need to interview her roommate. It’s 2025 105th.

“Got it. I’ll be there in a half hour,” he said before hanging up the phone.

“You’re co-workers really know how to ruin a moment,” Katie stated, disappointedly.

“Tell me about it,” he replied as he stood up and headed into the bathroom.

After he finished in the bathroom, he came out and noticed that Katie had fallen back asleep. He dressed quickly and then leaned down to kiss her forehead. Lately, he’d had the weight of the world on his shoulders with the trouble with his brother, worrying about Sylvia and Nicky, and now being scared to death that he would lose Viv. Looking at Katie, he realized he could face just about anything with her in his life.


A/N: I know this kind of sounds like an ending, but if you watched Season 3, you probably know that it's just the beginning. Thanks for reading and reviewing. As always, thanks to Mariel for the help.

Even though her morning with Danny had ended abruptly, Katie stayed in a great mood all day. Her father commented on her mood when she met him for dinner at her favorite upscale restaurant, Nobu.

“Look at that smile. You look radiant, sweetheart,” he said as he pulled the chair out for her before sitting down.

“Thank you. I’m feeling fairly radiant.”

“Is Danny going to join us?” her father asked, looking around the restaurant.

“No. He was called in for a case early this morning, and I haven’t heard from him all day. That’s not unusual, though,” she replied, still smiling as she took her surroundings. Then she turned to her father and said, “Thanks for getting the reservation, Dad. I tried to get in here a few weeks ago, but didn’t have enough clout.”

“My pleasure,” he said as he looked over the menu. “That’s too bad about Danny. I was afraid he was avoiding me. He never seems to be able to make it to our dinners.”

“He’s not avoiding you. He’s just been really busy, and he’s genuinely thankful that you put him in touch with Mr. Miller’s firm. According to Danny, they are close to making some sort of deal that will limit his brother’s jail time to a year. He could get out in six months with good behavior.”

“He actually called me last week to let me know as much, and to thank me again. Of course, he is still insisting that he pay me back.”

“That doesn’t surprise me,” she responded, shaking her head. “He’s beyond stubborn about stuff like that. He’s just not used to having things easy or getting any kind of handout. On the other hand, I respectfully accept your generosity with my student loans.”

After enjoying dinner, Katie’s cell phone rang while she was waiting for her father to get his car. Looking at the display, she answered, “Hey stranger. Guess what you missed out on tonight?”

She heard Danny laugh before he answered. “Let me guess. Your Dad finally got you into Nobu.”

“Yes, and it was fantastic. We’ll have to come back and use his name to get a table.”

“Sounds good.”

“How’s your case? Everything wrapped up?”

“As much as a case involving international terrorism can be wrapped up.”

“What?” she asked in a confused tone.

“Nothing. I’ll explain later. I was just calling to check in with you. Martin and I are about to transport someone to lockup, and then I’ll be headed home.”

“Any news on Vivian?”

“Not yet. I think Jack is going over there, so maybe we’ll know something soon. Hang on a sec,” he said and then she heard him say something in a muffled tone before returning to her. “Listen, baby, I have to go. You want to meet me at my place in about an hour?”

“If that’s what you want, unless you’re tired—“

“Never too tired for you. I want to see you. I’ve got to go, though.”

“See you soon. Bye.”

“Bye,” she heard him say before hanging up the phone.

As Katie put her phone in her purse, her father walked up to her and commented, “There’s that smile again.”

XXX

When Danny hadn’t made it home within an hour, Katie wasn’t very worried. She just assumed that he was running late. When he hadn’t made it home in two hours, she started to worry, because he was usually pretty good about calling her. Yet she hesitated to call him because she knew that he could have gotten called back in to the office for some reason. Sitting on his couch with her knees pulled up to her chest, she turned on the evening news to pass the time.

“We have an update on the late-breaking story that we reported on earlier. According to our reports, two federal agents exchanged gunfire while transporting—“

Her mind going blank after the word ‘transporting’, Katie shook her head to try to focus on the reporter’s words.

“One of the agents was hit and has been transported to a nearby trauma center. One of the assailants died on the scene, another died en route to the hospital, and the third is still at large. We continue to receive updates on this story—“

Standing up, Katie hurried into the kitchen and picked up the phone. Her fingers trembled and her heart raced as she tried to dial the numbers of Danny’s cell phone. Just as she was about to dial the last number, the front door opened.

Dropping the phone, she rushed to the door and gasped when she saw him. He hurried in the door not bothering to take his key out of the lock. Before he could go past her, she grabbed his arm.

“Danny, Danny, oh my God. What happened? Are you okay?” she asked as she almost became sick at the sight of all the blood on his shirt and hands.

As if just noticing that she was there, he stopped and looked at her with the most haunting eyes she’d ever seen. “I…I…I can’t talk now. I have to…” he started, but then he just continued back to the bedroom.

“Danny,” she said with tears falling from her eyes as she tried to keep pace with him. “Are you okay? You look hurt.”

“Martin’s hurt,” he said in almost a whisper as he took off his bloody shirt and trousers. “I’m fine. Martin’s hurt,” he said again. “I need a shower. The blood…I need to get the blood off…”

Walking into the bathroom, he didn’t say anything else to her before getting into the shower. Katie sat on the edge of the bed hoping he’d be more coherent when he got out of the shower. Minutes later, he rushed out of the bathroom as he dried himself off. Again, he seemed to not even notice she was there. Hurrying, he grabbed clothes from drawers and his closet and started to dress.

“What are you doing, Danny? Tell me what happened. Is Martin okay?”

When he heard Martin’s name, he stopped for moment. “I don’t know,” was all he could say.

After he put on his trousers and undershirt, he sat on the bed to put on his socks and shoes.

Kneeling in front of him, Katie tried again. “What are you doing? You’re hurt, Danny. Your head is hurt, baby. You need to lie down.”

Looking up at her sharply, he replied, “I have to get back out there. I have to find him. I can’t explain anything now. I just have to get back out there.” After he tied his shoes, he stood up and grabbed his shirt, coat and tie before going into the living room.

Following close behind, Katie watched as he put on his shirt and jacket. Looking in the mirror by the front door, he ran his hands through his hair to tame it and rubbed his eyes. Taking a deep breath, he then exhaled as he started to open the front door.

“This isn’t right. The news said there was a shootout. You shouldn’t go back out there,” Katie pleaded.

Taking another deep breath, Danny turned to her and put his hand on her face—the crazed, haunted look from moments earlier replaced with a calmer more focused stare. “I’m fine. Don’t worry,” he said. And she couldn’t help but think he was practicing those words because he knew he’d have to say them again. “I’ll call you later,” he said and then walked out the door.

As he closed the door, Katie collapsed onto her knees. Feeling a combination of shock, worry and elation, she tried to stop herself from completely losing it. She almost felt guilty for the relief she'd felt felt when she'd seen Danny walk in the door, especially knowing now that Martin was hurt and that it must have been his blood on Danny’s clothes. Not knowing what else to do, Katie just sat in that spot on the floor, desperately hoping Danny would come back, but knowing that he wouldn’t. At least not for a long time.

After sitting there for an hour, she finally found the strength to get up. She went to the bedroom and gathered the bloody clothes from where Danny had taken them off. She put them in a plastic bag and set it by the door. Seeing the blood on his clothes made her think that she needed to do something. He was in no condition to be out there right now. Remembering that he kept of list of telephone numbers by the phone, she rummaged through the mail and other papers trying to find it.

Picking up the piece of paper, her finger traced along Jack Malone’s name. Knowing Danny, Katie realized that he would never let his co-workers see how panicked and in shock he actually was. She knew she should tell them. She wanted to tell Jack Malone that Danny wasn’t as strong and together as he always tried to appear. Biting her lip, everything inside of her was telling her to call him, but she knew Danny would never forgive her. Putting down the piece of paper, Katie sat down in the nearest chair and once again, started to cry. There was nothing she could do to help him.

XXX

He didn’t call her. Hours passed, and she didn’t hear a word. The only updates she received were from intermittant television reports about a manhunt for a mercenary named Emil Dornvald. Katie vaguely processed other details about a far away country called Makeeba and a suspected international terrorist named Adisa who died in the shootout. None of that made much sense to Katie, but it was her only link to Danny. Her breath hitched every time she heard a new update because she feared they would report another agent down.

And then late in the afternoon, a wave a relief swept over her when she heard the report that Emil Dorvald had been killed while being pursued by law enforcement. Taking a deep breath, she looked at the phone and willed it to ring, but it didn’t. A few more hours passed and she was beginning to think he’d never come home. That’s when she heard a knock on the door.

Hurrying to answer it, and sure it was Danny, she flung it open without even looking through the peephole. Her heart sank when she saw it wasn’t him.

“Katie?” Samantha asked in surprise.

Nodding, Katie couldn’t speak at first. And then a sense of panic overwhelmed her. “Oh God. Is Danny…is he?”

“He’s fine. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have…I didn’t know you’d be here. I mean, I knew you were dating, but I didn’t know you’d be here,” Samantha stammered. “So Danny isn’t here?”

“No…no…I haven’t seen him since he stopped by here to change his clothes. I…I don’t know where he is.”

Samantha’s face changed from concerned to calming. “I’m sure he’s fine. He was with Jack when Dornvald was…,” she stopped, not wanting to go into detail. “And then, I thought I’d see him at the hospital after that, but he never showed up there. I shouldn’t have come here, but when he didn’t answer his cell phone, I figured he just turned it off when he got home. He’s probably back at the office. I’m sure he has paperwork to file on the shooting, and he just wants to get it done while it’s still fresh in his mind,” she reassured.

“How is Martin?” Katie asked as she suddenly remembered what Danny had told her about Martin and Samantha.

“Better. It was rough for a while, but things look good right now. I’m headed back there. Like I said, I just thought I’d see Danny at the hospital. When he never showed…” she didn’t finish.

“Maybe I should call him,” Katie said hesitantly.

Samantha nodded. “I’m sure he’s at the office. I…um…I should get back to the hospital.”

“Okay. I’ll tell him you stopped by when he gets back,” Katie said still trying to keep her emotions in check.

“Bye,” Sam said as she walked away.

Katie closed the door and slid down onto the floor. She knew she should just be thankful that Danny was alive, but she couldn’t help but feeling like she’d just lost a part of him.

Standing outside Martin’s hospital room, Danny watched Samantha as she held Martin’s hand. He’d had every intention of going into Martin’s room after giving Sam a few minutes alone with him, but something stopped him from going in. One minute he wanted to go in, and the next he wanted to run away. He finally made up his mind when he saw a doctor and a woman that had to be Martin’s mother approaching. Quickly back-pedalling away from the window and around the corner, he hoped that the woman hadn't noticed him staring into the room.

He didn’t stop until he made it into the stairwell,where he collapsed onto the top step and put his head in his hands. Taking a couple of slow, deep breaths, he tried to slow his heart rate down. It had seemed like it had been pounding all day long, ever since that moment when the ambush started. He wasn’t sure how long he sat in the stairwell, but for some reason, he felt safe there. As long as he didn’t move, he couldn’t cause any more damage. And then he thought of Katie and how worried she’d been when he had come home earlier. Taking out his cell phone to call her, he shook his head when he realized his battery had died.

Even though he couldn’t call Katie, he still didn’t want to leave the stairwell, too afraid that his weak state would lead him to the nearest bar. Instead, he mentally catalogued all the events of the day: the ambush, a bloody and near-dying Martin, leaving the hospital against the doctor’s advice, scaring Katie, almost killing that woman, watching Dornvald die and wishing he could have been the one to pull the trigger, and finally, Jack’s abrupt tone the last time he'd spoken to him.

Go home, Danny. Get some sleep and then I’ll need you to give a detailed statement about the ambush first thing in the morning,” Jack said wearily as he stood in front of the car outside the train station.

Got it,” Danny replied, as if on automatic pilot. Starting to turn to walk away, he heard Jack’s voice again.

I’m not going to file a reprimand about your carelessness today. I’ll chalk it up to bad judgment on my part for letting you back in the field,” he said with a hint of annoyance. “Clearly, you should have stayed in the hospital.”

I’m fine. I made a mistake—“

You almost killed a woman. That’s not just a mistake, Danny. I won’t document your ‘mistake,’ but I am going to send you Dr. Harris.”

Jack, no. I’m fine.”

I won’t put you on a desk, if you go to three sessions. After three sessions, if she clears you, then you won’t have to see her again. This isn’t negotiable.”

Rolling his eyes, Danny nodded as he walked away from the car.

You want to ride home?” Jack asked.

I’ll take a cab,” Danny replied as he continued to walk away.

The thought of seeing a shrink made Danny’s heart beat even faster. He didn’t want to talk about what happened. He wanted to forget about all of it. Taking another deep breath, he rose from the stairs and made his way down to the ground floor. Looking at his watch, he realized he’d been sitting there for well over an hour. Katie would be crazy with worry, he thought, so he asked the lobby attendant if he could use the phone.

“Hello,” Katie answered, before the first ring ended.

“Hey,” he said weakly.

“Oh God, Danny. Are you okay? Samantha was just here looking for you. I tried to call your cell phone and the office—“

Hearing the panic in her voice, he interrupted, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t call. My cell phone died, and I kind of lost track of time. Sam was there?” he asked, surprised to find out that she’d left the hospital.

“She was worried when she didn’t see you at the hospital and couldn’t get you on the phone. She’s headed back to the hospital now. She says Martin is doing better.”

“I heard,” he whispered.

“Are you coming home?” she asked not even trying to hide the desperation in her voice.

“Yeah, but I…um…I…need…I need to go to a meeting or call Ray. I’m feeling kind of mixed up right now. I just…” he couldn’t finish, not sure how to describe the guilt and frustration he felt.

“It’s okay. It’s going to be okay. Martin will get better, baby. Go to a meeting…call your sponsor…just do whatever you need to do. I’ll be here when you get back.”

In that moment, a sense of relief washed over him. It was like Katie just gave him the strength to get through the next the few minutes until he could get to meeting. “I’ll see you soon,” he said quietly, his voice breaking slightly before hanging up the phone.

He went to a meeting. He’d called Ray who told him that there was a meeting place very near the hospital. Ray met him there, but they didn’t talk much. Danny didn’t know what to say. He wasn’t sure what he was feeling. He thought he should be feeling better because he’d found out that Martin was going to be fine, but he still felt awful. He couldn’t shake the sense of helplessness and guilt.

Ray dropped him off at his apartment. Slowly, Danny made his way up the stairs. He felt like he hadn’t been home in ages,even though he knew he’d been there after the shooting. Thinking Katie would be asleep, he walked in quietly. As soon as he closed the door, he saw the light by the sofa illuminate. Watching Katie rub her eyes as she stood up from the sofa, he realized that he’d never had this before. He’d never had someone to come home to. In the past, if he’d had a rough day, he might call someone—an old girlfriend or someone that he’d hooked up with before— so that he wouldn’t have to go home to an empty apartment. He didn’t have to do that anymore, because now he had her.

She hesitantly walked toward him and then reached out her hand to touch his face. He let his fingers tangle in her hair as he moved closer to her. Brushing his lips against her forehead, he felt her arms wrap tightly around his neck. The same relief he’d felt earlier washed over him again. He silently cursed himself for not coming home sooner. This was what he needed. He needed her. Feeling her in his arms grounded him and helped him momentarily forget the horrid events of the day.

They didn’t really say anything to each other. She didn’t make him explain why he’d been so distant earlier or why he hadn't come home right away. She just let him fall asleep in her arms after they made their way over to the sofa.

XXX

Restlessly, Danny tossed and turned trying to get the images of Dornvald and Martin’s blood out of his head. He abruptly woke himself up to stop the nightmare. Surprised to find himself still on the sofa, he looked around the room. He smelled coffee brewing in the kitchen. Katie had taken off his shoes and socks and covered him with a blanket. Slowly, he sat up and rubbed his eyes as he tried to will the pounding in his head to stop. The ambush kept running in his head in a constant loop. He kept asking himself what he could have done differently. He’d thought maybe if he’d checked Martin before he'd gotten out of the car, then maybe Martin wouldn’t have gotten shot. Or he should have covered him while Martin backed up the car. There were a million things Danny could have done differently. Ultimately, he just wished it had been him instead of Martinthen he wouldn’t have to feel this feeling that he couldn’t shake.

“You’re awake,” Katie said as she came out of the bedroom toweling her hair dry. “I made coffee and some toast. You should probably eat something,” she continued as she went into the kitchen and started to make him a plate.

“I’m okay. I need to take a shower, and then I have to go to work.”

“Work?” Katie said as she turned to look at him with his full coffee cup in her hand. “You’re hurt. You have a head injury. You need to take some time off.”

“I have to file a report on what happened, and we’re 2 agents down now. My head is fine.”

Walking over to him, she set the coffee and toast in front of him as she sat down on the sofa. “You’ve just been through a nightmare. On the news, they said it was some kind of ambush. I don’t see how you can just return to normal like nothing has happened.”

Sighing heavily, he shook his head. “Baby, reporters make everything sound much more dramatic than it actually is,” he lied. “I’m fine. I freaked out a little because I thought Martin-,” he paused, “but he’s going to be fine, and it’s over. I promise. There’s nothing more to worry about.”

“You really scared me the other night. The way you just shut down like that. You did the same thing when you were dealing with your brother. I’m here, Danny. I can help you. Or maybe you should talk--,”

For an instant, he thought about telling her about Jack’s order for him to see the FBI psychiatrist, but then he knew that would worry her even more. “I’m not shutting down. I’ll tell you anything you want to know. I told you everything that happened with my brother. I haven’t kept anything from you,” he said with a pleading look in his eyes.

“Will you go see a doctor today and get your head checked again?”

“My head is fi—“

“Danny.”

“If it will make you happy, then I will go get my head checked again.”

“Good. Now please eat something,” she said handing him the toast.

XXX

The first thing Danny saw when he got to work that morning was an e-mail from Jack telling him that his appointment with Dr. Harris was at 10 am – just enough time to write his report on the ambush. He was surprised at how cold and detached he was while accounting for what happened that night. Running through his head like a filmstrip, he just typed the details: the van stopping in front them, two men jumping out of the back, machine gunfire, Martin accelerating and taking out a man, then reversing and crashing, coming to after the crash to more gunshots, exiting the car and firing on instinct, killing the driver of the van, gun jamming and watching Dornvald flee in the van. He pulled all the facts out and that just left all of his questions about what he could have done differently swirling in his head.

At 10 am, he took a deep breath outside of Dr. Harris’s office, and then formed a small smile on his face before knocking on her door.

“Dr. Harris,” he said entering her office. “Jack said I should meet with you at 10. Is this still a good time?” he asked in an even tone.

“Of course,” she answered as she looked up at him. “You looked surprisingly well for someone who has just been through hell.”

Widening his smile slightly, he responded, “All’s well that ends well. Martin is getting better. Dornvald is dead. And I’m ready to keep working.”

“How’s your head?” she asked pointing to the butterfly bandages near his temple.

“It feels much better after a good night’s sleep. I have a bit of a headache, but it will pass.”

“As you know, you are required to come to three sessions. This isn’t unusual considering the circumstances of an agent-involved shooting and the fact that you killed one of the assailants. Jack should have taken you out of field immediately.”

“We were two agents down, Dr. Harris, and I was fine. I returned fire after we were fired at…continuously. I did everything by the book,” he said with as much confidence as he could muster.

“No one doubts that, Danny. That’s not why you’re here. How are you dealing with what happened to Martin?”

“Now that I know he’s going to be okay, I’m handling it fine.”

“Jack said that when he arrived on the scene you were basically trying to stop the blood from running out Martin’s body. That must have been a horrible experience.”

“It was…horrible. I thought he was dead,” he replied in a rare moment of honesty.

“Have you seen him?”

“Martin?”

“Yes, Martin.”

“Not yet. No.”

“Why not?”

“Well, he…um…he has a lot family. You know, his parents, sisters, cousins and I knew Sam would want to spend some time with him. I just know he has a lot of people there who want to see him. I didn’t want to interfere with that, and last night, I had to see my girlfriend. She was worried, as you can imagine. Then this morning, I had a report to file and Jack told me to come see you so I haven’t really had time to see Martin. Plus, I’m not sure if he has even regained consciousness, so he wouldn’t even know if I was there,” he finally stopped realizing he was rambling. He took a quick breath to try to remain composed. He couldn’t let Dr. Harris see how panicked he still felt.

Dr. Harris didn’t respond right away. Instead, she just seemed to process all of the information he’d just given her. “You have a girlfriend?”

Smirking, Danny realized he probably shouldn’t have said that. Now Dr. Harris had even more to analyze. “Yes. Her name is Katie.”

“How long have you and Katie been together?” she asked as she made a note in her notebook.

“Uh…a little over a year, but she spent most of the year studying at Oxford, so really we’ve only been together for a few months. We’ve known each other forever, though.”

“She must have been relieved to see you.”

“Yeah. She’d been watching the news. That kind of freaked her out. But she’s okay now.”

“Good,” she said and then took a look in the file folder on her desk. “You mentioned Martin having a lot of family. As I look at your file, I notice you don’t have that same kind of support.”

“You mean I don’t really have a family.”

“You have a brother, right?”

“Yes. He’s in jail. He has a girlfriend and a son. I guess they are my only real family, and I have Katie. They’re actually more than I’ve ever had before in my life.”

“Your parents died in a car accident?” she asked like she was going down some list of questions.

Danny hesitated as he swallowed hard. He didn’t want to get into this. He mentally prepared himself for trying to gloss over this part of his life as quickly as possible. “They died when I was eleven. It was a long time ago.”

“You were in the car?”

This time Danny almost laughed. “Geeze, how detailed is that personnel file, Dr. Harris? Are you going to tell me what we had for dinner that night?”

“I only bring it up because you’ve suffered two major traumas, both involving car crashes and both times you walked away with barely a scratch. Sometimes when people experience something similar to a traumatic childhood event, the experience compounds itself and can lead to difficulty in dealing with both events as an adult.”

Danny smiled and shook his head. “I barely remember the car accident with my parents. And nothing that happened in that car with Martin even remotely resembles what happened with my parents. First of all, there was no hail of gunfire when I was eleven. The situations couldn’t be more different, so there is nothing really there to ‘compound’ the two events.”

“Okay,” she responded, seeming satisfied with that answer. Then she pondered another item in his file before asking, “Do you mind if I ask you if you are still in AA?”

“No, I don’t mind. As I recall, I was pretty open about that when I first started here. I’m not surprised it’s made it into my file,” he said in an easygoing tone. “And yes, I still go to AA. Nine years and counting.”

“Good for you. Have you been to a meeting recently?”

“Last night,” he replied matter-of-factly.

“Were you feeling weak after the shooting and seeing Martin like that?”

“I go to meetings twice a week, Dr. Harris. On any given day, I can feel pretty weak, which is why I have a pretty tight routine. Last night, I was tired and a little amped, all at the same time. I needed to feel a little more grounded so I went to a meeting. That’s not that different from the way I feel after a lot of cases, not just this one.”

Danny could tell he was winning her over. He could tell that she was impressed with his responses. He only hoped he could keep it together for the rest of the session.

XXX

Shutting off his desk lamp, Danny shrugged on his jacket in preparation to leave for the day.

“Ready for the evening hospital update?” Samantha asked as she walked into the bullpen.

“Ready. Lay it on me,” Danny replied as he turned to her.

“Vivian has been conscious most of the day. Jack just talked to her husband on the phone. She’s already talking about coming back to work sooner, since Martin will be out for quite a while. Jack told her we’d just have to muddle through without her.”

“We’ll manage,” Danny responded with a smile. “Martin?”

“Vital signs look good. Heonly regained consciousness a couple of times today. I’m headed over there now. You wanna come with?”

Shaking his head, Danny said, “I…I…uh…I promised Viv I’d swing by there when she was up and around. I’m sure there are a lot of people who are in line to see Martin. I can stop by when he is a little more alert.”

“I’m sure he’ll want to see you, Danny,” Samantha said quietly. “Listen, I…I never got a chance to apologize to you about the other day. I know you were just trying to help—“

“No apologies, Sam. It was a crazy day, right?”

“Yeah,” she replied. “Are you okay? I mean…you seem okay, but I can’t imagine—“

“I’m fine. It’s over, and I’m fine,” he said again. He felt like he’d said it a thousand times. “I promise. Go see Martin. I’ll check in on Viv and tell her you say hi.”

“Great. Thanks. ‘Night, Danny,” she said as she turned to walk out.

“Goodnight,” he said and then took another deep breath. He seemed to be doing that a lot lately.

After gathering his things, he walked out into the hall, just missing Sam’s elevator on purpose so he wouldn’t have to talk to her again. He regretted that when he saw Jack approaching.

“Hey, Jack.”

“Hey,” he said stopping in front of him. “Good report of the shooting. I sent it up to Olzcyk. There shouldn’t be any investigation.”

“Good. Thanks,” Danny said, shifting his weight from one leg to the other and wishing the elevator would come faster.

“I talked to Lisa Harris.”

“Yeah?” Danny replied trying not to sound as nervous and agitated as he felt.

“She was also pretty impressed with your progress,” he said with a hint of skepticism. “You must have really kept your cool in there today.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Danny asked defensively.

“Lisa says you are in the clear. She’d like to follow up with you in a couple of weeks, but you don’t have to continue with the two other sessions, unless you want to, of course.”

Danny nodded. “That’s good. I…uh…I mean everything is fine now, Jack. It’s over.”

“Yeah. I hope so,” Jack replied as the elevator doors opened.

“I’m going to see Viv now,” Danny said as he got on the elevator. He noticed that Jack still looked at him with doubt in his eyes. “I’ll tell her you say hello.”

Looking out the window, Katie hugged her knees as she sat on Dr. Hanson’s sofa. Having found comfort in going every two weeks, she’d continued her therapy after she’d returned from Oxford. On this particular day, she had more worries than usual.

“Do you think it’s possible for someone to be like two different people, but not be mentally ill?” Katie asked, not taking her eyes off the pigeon that had taken up residence on the park bench outside the window.

“I guess that would depend on what you mean. I’d need to know more. Usually, if someone has two different personalities—“

Glancing up at Dr. Hanson, Katie interrupted, “No. That’s not what I mean. Not two different personalities. Not like one is good and one is evil. It’s almost like one minute he is there and the next…” she didn’t finish. Instead, she just looked out the window again.

“Which ‘he’ are we talking about? Danny?” Dr. Hanson asked.

“Danny,” Katie confirmed in a whisper.

“Okay. You told me a couple of weeks ago that he’d been through quite an ordeal, but you said that he seemed fine.”

“He did seem fine. At first, it seemed like everything was back to normal, but something is different. He’s different,” she responded quietly.

“How do you mean?” the doctor prompted.

“One minute, he is the same Danny. He’s engaged in every moment. He jokes and he smiles. Then the next minute, he’s a million miles away. And he swears that nothing is wrong. Right after the shooting, I was staying at his apartment. I had to wake him up because he was having the worst nightmare. I asked him if he wanted to talk about it, and he said he couldn’t remember what he was dreaming. Ever since then, he either makes a point of taking me back to my apartment so we don’t sleep together or he just doesn’t sleep. The other night, I woke up and he was sitting on the floor of the bathroom just staring off into space. I’m really worried.”

“It definitely sounds like something is wrong. It’s not unusual for someone to suppress PTSD after an event like that. I’m surprised the FBI didn’t send him to mandatory counseling.”

“They did,” Katie replied. “He told me that he saw the FBI psychiatrist twice, and she cleared him for the field. But that doesn’t surprise me. Danny can make anyone think that he is okay. It’s just because I spend so much time with him that I catch him when his guard is down. So now, I think he is trying to put distance between us. The last two nights, he’s told me that he’s too tired or too busy to see me. That just isn’t Danny, Dr. Hanson. The man I was with four weeks ago would have spent twenty minutes with me if he was too busy or would have just wanted me in his bed if he was too tired.”

“It’s only been a month, Katie. Maybe he just needs some time.”

“Maybe, but I can't shake the feeling that I'm losing him.”

“Is he still going to AA meetings?”

Nodding, Katie answered, “As far as I know, but he’s never really talked about that a whole lot – even before the shooting. He comes home from them, I ask him how it went, and he says it went fine. That’s it. He told me about his sponsor, Ray, once. But it seems to me that AA is almost like a habit for Danny. It’s like jogging or going to the same place for coffee every morning.”

“That’s not unusual. How about coming here? Do you think Danny would come to a session with you? Maybe you could talk to him more easily about all of this here.”

“I’m sure getting him to see the FBI psychiatrist was like pulling teeth. He wouldn’t want to come here unless he thought there was something wrong with me.”

Frowning, Dr Hanson said, “Listen, Katie, it’s only been a month. I’d give it a little more time. And maybe he does need some space to work through the trauma. Not every one deals with these things in the same way.”

“I’m just afraid that space will lead to distance, and then one day I’ll wake up and we won’t be together anymore,” she said as her eyes welled with tears.

XXX

After her session ended, Katie decided to go see Danny. It was Saturday morning so she assumed he’d be home, and they really hadn’t seen each other much all week. During her session, she’d made the commitment to just be there for him. She wouldn’t force him to talk or deal with anything. She’d just try to be a light place for him while he seemed to be going through a dark time.

Using her key, she opened the door to his apartment and called out to him. “Danny?” But there was no answer. “Danny? Are you here?” she asked walking back to the bedroom. Entering his bedroom, she was caught off guard at seeing him still in bed, wearily rubbing his eyes. Clearly, she’d woken him up. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you. I just finished my session downtown and figured I’d catch you here. It’s almost noon. Are you okay?”

Nodding, he sat up in the bed, still rubbing his eyes and raking a hand through his bed-head. “I’m fine. I just didn’t get much sleep this past week. I got home late last night,” he said in a slightly annoyed tone.

“I’m sorry. I should have called,” Katie said starting to back out of the room. “I’ll just go and you can call me later when you are feeling better.”

“Wait. You don’t have to go,” he said as he hesitantly stood up.

Stopping in front of the bedroom door, she took a moment to appreciate his appearance. She’d never seen him look like this. Bags under his eyes, it looked like he hadn’t slept in days and with his boxers barely clinging to his hips, it looked like he’d lost ten pounds. “Have you eaten anything?” she asked her voice full of concern.

“What?” he asked in a confused tone. “I just woke up.”

“I know, but have you eaten anything in the last few days? You look really worn down, Danny.”

“Of course, I’ve eaten. We ordered in pizza last night when we were finishing the paperwork on our case. I’m fine. Don’t worry,” he said in an even more annoyed tone.

“You’re fine,” Katie repeated in barely whisper. She’d heard that phrase so many times from him in the last month; she thought he should have it tattooed on his forehead. She wanted to tell him as much, but she tried to remember what she’d committed to in therapy. “Do you want to go lunch or something? As I recall, the last time I was here there wasn’t much in the fridge.”

“Maybe later,” he replied. “I think I’m going to go for a run,” he said as he made his way to his dresser and pulled out a pair of track pants and a t-shirt.

“A run?” again she wanted to say something more. He shouldn’t be running when it looked to her like he was in bad shape. “Okay. I could come with you. I think I have my running shoes here.”

“No,” he responded a little too quickly. “I mean, maybe another time. I just wanted to go on my own this morning.”

“Okay,” she replied, trying to hide the hurt in her voice. She watched him walk into the bathroom after he finished dressing. While she watched him brush his teeth, she wondered what she should say next. She wanted him to respond to her. She wanted him to act like her Danny and not like a stranger. Remembering a conversation they’d had earlier in the week, she asked, “Did you see Martin this week?”

Splashing water on his face after he finished brushing his teeth, he took a moment to towel off his face before answering her. “No. I didn’t get a chance,” he replied in a barely audible tone.

“So you really haven’t talked to him, have you? I mean, when we stopped by a few days after-,” she paused not wanting to mention the shooting, “well, he was asleep. So you really haven’t talked to him at all.”

“I guess not,” he said in a short tone as he sat on the edge of the bed to put on his socks and running shoes.

“So maybe we could do that this afternoon. After your run, we could go see Martin and then grab some dinner.”

Letting out what Katie could only describe as a disgusted sigh, Danny rose from the bed and headed for the door.

“Hey,” Katie said, touching his arm to stop him from walking away.

Shrugging her away, he raised his hand as if to tell her that he didn’t want her near him. The gesture was very quick, but Katie was very aware of the intent behind it. Just seeing the cold look in his eyes made her eyes fill with tears. “What is wrong with you?” she asked desperately.

Shaking his head, he continued to back-pedal towards the door. “Nothing is wrong. I’m just tired of constantly having to answer to everyone: you, Jack…everyone. I don’t need you or anyone else to tell me when to see Martin or when to eat, for Christ’s sake.”

“That’s not what I’m doing, Danny. I’m just saying—“

“Can we please talk about this later? I have to get out of here. I need some air,” he said as he opened the door and walked out.

After he walked out, Katie collapsed onto the sofa as she replayed their conversation in her head. She’d intended to keep things light. She’d intended to do whatever she could to not make him feel worse, but she’d failed miserably. He was angry with her now. After taking a few moments to collect herself, she dried the tears that fell as soon as he walked out the door.

Knowing that he wouldn’t want her there when he returned, she left his apartment and walked down the stairs. As she walked out of the front door of the building, a man, who was struggling with the intercom button panel outside the door, stopped her.

“Excuse me, ma’am, but does this buzzer thing work? I press the button of the apartment I’m looking for, but I don’t think anything is happening,” he said in a frustrated, but polite tone.

“Sometimes, it doesn’t work very well. My boyfriend says it’s easier to just yell up at the window of whoever you are looking for,” Katie responded, smiling as she remembered Danny’s little joke about his run-down building.

“I have no idea what window is his,” the man replied. “Maybe you can help me?”

“I’ll try, but I don’t know many people in the building. Who are you looking for?” Katie asked, almost thankful for the diversion from her emotional state.

“Danny Taylor,” the man stated.

Smirking, Katie shook her head at the coincidence. “That’s actually my boyfriend, but he’s not here. Can I help you?” she responded.

“Katie? You’re the “Katie”? the man asked.

Starting to feel slightly uncomfortable with this man who clearly knew who she was, she responded, “Um…who are you?”

Holding out his hand, the man explained. “Ray…Ray Williams. I’m a friend of Danny’s. He’s spoken very highly of you.”

And then it clicked—Danny’s sponsor—Ray was Danny’s AA sponsor. “Of course, Ray. Danny has told me about you as well,” she replied, shaking his hand.

“How’s he doing? I haven’t seen him around in weeks and the guy has forgotten how to return a phone call.”

Biting her lip, Katie suddenly felt a sense of panic. What if Danny had stopped going to meetings? But she didn’t communicate her panic to Ray. “Um…busy…very busy,” was her only response.

“I can imagine. I hear they are two agents down on his team. I’m a detective with NYPD so I know how stretched things can get when people are out.”

Smiling, Katie tried not to show her worry. “I’ll tell him you stopped by. It was nice to finally meet you,” she said, wanting to ask so much more, but knowing it wouldn’t be appropriate.

“You, too,” he said, starting to walk away, but then stopping abruptly. “Hey, do you have time for a quick cup of coffee?”

“Um…I…um…I don’t know if I should. I mean, I’m not sure you and I should talk about Danny.”

“Who says we are going to talk about him?” Ray asked with a carefree smile on his face.

Feeling instantly at ease, Katie accepted his offer and they went around the corner to a coffee shop.

XXX

“You know I’m the reason Danny is an FBI agent.”

“Really?” Katie asked with genuine curiosity. They’d spent about five minutes talking about things other than Danny, but they both knew they wanted to talk about him.

“Yep. Let’s not beat around the bush. I know you know Danny’s in AA, and that I am his sponsor.”

Katie nodded.

“Well, we met at his first or second meeting. He looked like he wanted to be anywhere else but there. I’d been sober over five years then. I’d never sponsored anyone before, so I thought he looked like a good candidate. I’d been about his age when my wife told me to either sober up or she’d leave me. She was pregnant at the time. Anyway, I felt like Danny was a kindred spirit. It’s pretty awkward to be 24 years old, addicted to alcohol, and trying to commit to be sober for the rest of your life.”

“I can’t imagine,” Katie said quietly.

“At least I was family man. I wasn’t going to bars and going out with friends. For the first couple of years, Danny was so afraid of temptation I don't think he left his apartment. And that's where the FBI came in.”

“How do you mean?” she asked, fascinated by this new glimpse into Danny’s life.

“He’d graduated law school, but missed taking the bar, and for some reason, didn’t want to take it. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life. I suggested law enforcement. He told me there was no way he was going to be cop – something about running from them too much as a kid. So we compromised. He applied to the FBI. Training for any kind of law enforcement job is demanding, but training for the FBI is almost like the military.” Ray shook his head, remembering. "He really excelled at all of it: the order, the routines, everything. He threw himself into it the first couple of years so he wouldn’t have time to give into temptation.”

“AA has almost seemed like a routine for him in this last year that I’ve been with him.”

“That’s exactly what it is. It’s has to become a part of you for it to work.”

“Are you here because Danny isn’t going to meetings?” Katie asked suddenly, knowing that Ray couldn’t answer.

Giving her a small smile, he patted her hand. “I’m here because I care about him and I know he’s going through a rough time. But I also know he’s a resilient guy. He’s overcome a lot in his life, and he’ll get through this, too. It’s nice to know he has someone like you. Danny’s always been such a loner, even when he’s been in relationships. For the first time since I’ve known him, I know for sure that he isn’t alone.”

This made Katie smile as her eyes filled with tears. “Thank you,” she said, her voice breaking.

“Listen, we’ll both keep an eye on him. If he falls, we’ll be there for him. That’s the best we can do.”

XXX

After her conversation with Ray, Katie felt a little bit better. And then Danny called her later and apologized for being so cold to her. They went to dinner the next night, and things got better for a few days, but he was still distant with her and hadn’t wanted to talk about anything that was bothering him.

A couple of weeks passed and it was harder and harder for Katie to keep pretending that everything was okay. They seemed to be going backwards in their relationship. She hadn’t spent a night with him in weeks. To make things worse, she’d started to teach a couple of night classes in the fall term. Because she had to teach the previous night, she missed going with Danny to see Sylvia and her new baby daughter. So, she called him first thing the next morning.

“Taylor,” he answered.

“Morning,” she said hesitantly. “I…um…I thought I’d hear from you last night.”

“Right. I’m sorry. I…uh…I brought Nicky back to my place last night. He was getting kind of tired of staying with Sylvia’s sister. I guess I just got sidetracked – we had an Xbox tournament, of sorts.”

Despite being slightly annoyed with him, Katie smiled at the thought. “How’s the baby?”

“She’s perfect. She and Sylvia are both doing great and should be released today.”

“Does Sylvia need help or anything?”

“I think she has enough help. Her family has been really great. She did appreciate the gift bag. She said it was the best gift she received. Thank you for doing that, by the way. I know you put a lot of thought in it. I tried not to take too much credit for it.”

“It was my pleasure, Danny. Maybe we can see them tonight?”

“I hope we can. I just got a call about a missing boy. I’m on my way to pick up Sam.”

“Okay,” she said and then suddenly remembered that it was Wednesday. “Hey, Martin is due back today, right?”

“Yeah. He is,” he answered in a distracted tone.

“Well maybe things will be a little less hectic now that he and Viv are back. I know things have been tough at work lately.”

“We’ll see, I guess. Listen, I have to go. I’m getting another call.”

“See you tonight?” she asked hopefully.

“Come over after your class. If this case winds down, then I’ll see you tonight and we’ll go see the baby,” he replied.

“Great. Talk to you later,” she said before he clicked over to his other call.

Knowing that Martin and Vivian were back gave Katie hope that Danny would get back to normal. She was also glad that Sylvia had given birth to a healthy baby. Danny had been worried about all the stress she was under because of Rafael. Now that things were calming down maybe he would be less preoccupied and more engaged in their relationship.

XXX

Katie received a message from Danny late that afternoon saying he wouldn’t make it home in time to see Sylvia. So Katie decided to visit Sylvia and the baby on her own. Afterwards, she went back to Danny’s apartment in hopes that she’d see him later that night. Knowing that after having such a long day all Danny would want to do when he got home would be to shower and go to bed, she got ready for bed and laid down.

After finally drifting off to sleep, she was startled to feel a dip in the bed. Opening her eyes, she saw Danny sitting on the edge of the bed. Clad only in his boxers, he was just staring off into space again. Still half-asleep, she reached out to run her hand down his bare back to let him know she was awake. At the feel of her hand, he shuddered a little and then looked down at her with the same haunted, lost eyes that he’d had after the shooting.

As she tried to wake herself more so she could ask him what was wrong, he laid down next to her and then rolled to hover over her.

“How’d your case—“she started to ask, but was interrupted when he started to kiss her. The kiss deep and hungry—Katie was caught off guard by the intensity and pace. When his lips and tongue trailed down her jaw line, she took a moment to catch her breath and then tried to say something again. That’s when he stopped abruptly and looked in her eyes, as he gently put his finger against her lips.

“Shhhhh,” he hushed her, with a pleading look in his eyes.

Feeling unsure of what to do, Katie didn’t say anything else—so Danny proceeded. While kissing and touching her, he next tugged at her t-shirt and pajama pants. Katie couldn’t help but feel that he was different, like there was more urgency. It was like he wanted to focus all his thoughts and energy into sex so the thoughts would stop racing in his head. So Katie let him—she just let him make love to her until he was spent and couldn’t do anything else but fall asleep. But she didn’t fall asleep after—instead, she lay awake most of the night trying to figure out what to do.

The next morning, Katie pretended to be asleep when Danny's alarm sounded. After he rose and left for the shower, she took his pillow in her arms and reached over to turn on the morning news. It didn't surprise Katie to hear reports on a missing boy that had been found in his school the night before. She listened to the reporter give details about the explosives, a failed detonation, and a child’s life ruined. Taking a deep breath, she realized that this was what Danny had been dealing with the night before. She wondered if she had been an alternative to drowning his sorrows in alcohol.

When he got out of the shower, the silent, brooding man from the night before seemed to disappear before her eyes. Bringing Katie her coffee with a warm smile on his face, he said, “Morning, baby,” and kissed her on the forehead just like always.

Grabbing his hand before he could get up, Katie asked, “Are you okay?”

Putting on hand on her cheek, he kissed her again and then nodded. “I just missed you.” The look in his eyes pleaded with her to accept his excuse for not talking to her and for the intense, physical encounter of just hours before.

Rising, Danny walked over to the closet to pick out his suit. Katie watched as he went through his morning routine as though nothing had happened, as though nothing was wrong. Wrapping the sheet tightly around her body, she sat back against the headboard. Watching him move around the room, her heart started to feel heavy. Towel wrapped low around his hips and a soft smile on his face, he was still the most beautiful man she’d ever seen—on the inside and out. Knowing that made what she was about to say all the more difficult.

“I can’t do this anymore,” she stated softly as she wearily raked her hands through her hair.

At first, Danny wasn’t sure he’d heard her correctly so he just stood there in front of the closet and didn’t answer.

“I said, I don’t think I can do this anymore,” Katie repeated.

“I heard you,” he answered, without looking back at her. What else should he have expected? Jack had basically threatened to fire him less than twelve hours earlier because he continued to ‘screw up’. And now Katie wanted to leave him because she wasn’t happy with him anymore.

“Are you going to say anything?” she asked, her voice full of desperation.

Finally turning around, Danny tossed the suit he’d taken from the closet onto the chair next to him. “What do you want me to say?” he asked quietly, feeling fear surround him.

A clear look of frustration crossed Katie’s face. “I want you to react. I want you to care about this…to care about us. I want something more than what happened after you got home.”

Sighing heavily, he hung his head as he responded, “If you didn’t want—“

“It’s not that, because I did want to be with you. Lately, I’ll take anything I can get, because I never know how you’re going to be from one minute to the next. But it would have been nice to know why you were so distracted. I would have appreciated hearing that you were hurting because your case didn’t go well, or because you were nervous about Martin returning. But instead, you don’t say anything. You just expect me to accommodate you. And I do it because I love you, but that isn’t enough anymore. I haven’t spent the last two years trying to rebuild myself, just to feel like a doormat in this relationship, too,” she said, her damned-up emotions finally breaking forth.

At first, he allowed himself to consider her frustration, but soon, he felt only anger. He looked up to face her, his eyes stormy. “How dare you. How dare you compare our relationship to your marriage? I’ve never treated you like that. I’ve done nothing but support you. You know that. I’m sorry I haven’t had the time to be your cheerleader lately, but I’ve had some stuff to deal with in my own life.”

Rolling her eyes, Katie stood up from the bed while holding the sheet in place. “I know!” she responded in a raised voice. “Don’t you see? I wanted to be there for you. I wanted to help you just like you helped me, but you wouldn’t let me.”

“I don’t need any help!” he yelled back. “I’m fine!”

“You’re not fine!” she screamed as though she’d been waiting to say that for weeks. “You’re scared. You feel guilty about that night, just like you feel guilty about your brother. And you can’t stop thinking about it. And just like when you were left at that shelter when you turned eighteen, you think you can handle it on your own. You think you can get through it by yourself. But don’t you remember? You let me help you back then. So why are you shutting me out now?”” she asked as tears flowed freely from her eyes.

He remembered. He remembered being scared, lonely and extremely cold until Katie forced him to come home with her.

Danny sighed, and kept a tight rein on his emotions. It wasn't that he didn't want to talk to her; it was just that he was afraid if he verbalized everything he was feeling, it would make it all too real. Suffering in silence, he thought, was like doing penance. Talking it out would bring closure, and that was something he didn't feel he deserved.

“This is different, Katie. You saved me back then, but I don’t deserve to be saved now,” he said quietly as he slumped down on the bed.

Feeling Katie kneel down next to him, he met her eyes as they looked up into his. “Martin’s injuries aren’t your fault,” Katie told him softly. "You didn’t shoot him.”

“I could have reacted faster. I could have covered him when he backed up the car. I could have checked to see if he was okay before I got out of the car,” he said desperately, his voice cracking with emotion. “It should have been me.”

“No. It shouldn’t have. It shouldn’t have happened to either one of you.”

“You didn’t see him yesterday. It’s been six weeks and he’s still walking with a cane. I’m walking around like nothing happened, and he’s-“ pausing, Danny took a deep breath to stop himself from breaking down. “The worst part is that I couldn’t make myself see him. And he says not to worry about it, but he saved my life that night – and I couldn’t make myself visit him in the hospital. I don’t deserve to get over this. I don’t deserve to have someone like you help me through it.”

Her hand ghosting over his cheek and then tangling in the back of his hair, she pressed her forehead against his. “Yes. You do.”

A few moments passed, and neither said a word. Katie rose so she could sit down next to him. Feeling her hand make small circles against his back, he finally felt able to speak again.

“What happened to that kid yesterday was my fault, too,” he whispered, almost feeling like this was confession.

“How?” she asked in a confused tone.

“Jack told us to sit tight. He told us not to confront him if we found him in the school. We were supposed to wait for the bomb squad,” he responded, his voice breaking again.

“What happened?” Katie prompted, her hand still resting on his back as she gave him a light kiss on his shoulder.

“I saw him in the cafeteria with his finger on the bomb detonator. I thought I could save him. I thought…” he trailed off.

“You did save him, Danny. He’s okay. He’s safe.”

Hesitating, he glanced at her before shaking his head. “He pressed the button, but the detonator was faulty. I backed him into a corner and he pressed the button. I almost got us both killed. My mind…I wasn’t thinking clearly. I should have stayed back, but I thought…I thought I could handle it. All this stuff was running through my head, and I said all the wrong things. I think Jack thinks that I wanted that kid to set the bomb off.”

“No. No, Danny. Maybe you made a mistake, but you didn’t want that child to die. I know you didn’t.”

“You’re right. I didn’t want him to die. I just wanted everything else to end. I just…” his voice finally broke and gave way to a gentle sob. Katie turned him toward her, taking him into her arms as his face buried into her neck.

XXX

Nervously, Danny rode up the elevator. He was late. Taking a few deep breaths before the doors opened, he stepped out of the elevator. Glancing towards the bullpen, he saw Martin sitting at his desk. Viv and Sam weren’t there. Then he turned toward Jack’s office. Speaking into his cell phone, Jack looked tired and agitated. Danny’s first instinct was to bypass Jack all together and go to his desk, but that would just prolong the agony.

Slowly entering Jack’s office, he stood at attention in front of the desk until Jacked ended his call.

“Sorry I’m late,” Danny started.

“I’m surprised you’re here at all,” Jack said in an exasperated tone.

Danny could see he was still angry. He could see that Jack was disappointed in him and it was killing him.

“I shouldn’t have talked to that kid last night. I wasn’t in the right frame of mind, but he saw me first. I couldn’t just walk away from him, Jack. I couldn’t just leave him alone. But I am sorry for not following your orders and for causing that boy any problems or pain. I never intended—”

“I know,” Jack interrupted. “I know you would never intentionally do anything like that. But it doesn’t change what happened. It was my mistake, too. I’ve been trying to run this team like nothing happened. We’re still short-handed, even with Martin and Viv back, so maybe an extra body will ease the stress a bit.”

“What?” Danny asked, not sure he heard Jack right.

“I’ve decided to add a new agent to the team.”

“Jack, that’s not necessary. We’ll be fi--,” he started to say ‘fine’, but then remembered his conversation with Katie that morning. “Actually, you know what? That’s probably for the best,” he said, not wanting to cause any more conflict.

Nodding, Jack said, “I think so.” It was apparent by the tone in Jack’s voice that he was surprised Danny wasn't putting up more of a fight.

“So are…are we okay?” Danny asked in a shaky tone.

“If you can show me that you’re the same agent you’ve always been, then we’ll be fine. I’d send you back to Dr. Harris, but you seem very adept at pulling the wool over her eyes.”

Danny had to stop himself from rolling his eyes. “I’ve just had a tough few months, but things are getting back to normal now. I haven’t changed. I’ll show you I haven’t changed.”

“Fine,” Jack said simply as he stood up. “Viv and Sam are interviewing the family of a missing grandmother. I’m pretty certain she just wandered off, but there was blood in her apartment. Martin is running her financials and background. You and I are going to talk to her ex-husband.”

Nodding with his usual eagerness, Danny followed Jack out of the office.

XXX

A few days later, Danny still seemed to be holding things together. Jack even told him that he’d done a good job on their latest case. Seeing approval instead of disappointment in Jack’s eyes made all the difference to Danny.

Things with Katie were better as well. He’d been more open with her than he was with Jack, but he knew that wasn’t enough. Part of the reason it was so easy to shut her out was because he had kept her out of his recovery process. Even though Ray had told him that he needed to bring Katie into his AA recovery, he’d hesitated to do so because he didn’t want to show her how weak he really was. He was afraid of scaring her away. But on this particular night, he decided he had to make her a part of it.

As he walked quickly toward the community center, he noticed her standing in the doorway. She was talking with Ray and his wife, Karla. Danny’s stomach started to turn with nervousness at what they must be talking about.

“Sorry I’m late,” he said as he approached them. “I had to finish up some paper work.” After giving Katie a quick kiss on the cheek, he continued, “I see everyone is getting to know each other,” he said in a nervous tone as he also greeted Karla with a kiss on the cheek and shook Ray’s hand.

“You bet,” Ray replied. “Actually, Katie and I are old friends now.”

“Really?” Danny asked suspiciously. “Why does that scare the hell out of me?”

Smiling, Katie took his hand. “Actually, I think it's Karla that you have to worry about. She’s just been telling me about all your old girlfriends. I had no idea.”

“Oh, this is just a bad idea all the way around,” Danny said shaking his head. “We’d better get in there before I lose my nerve.”

As Ray and Karla entered the building, Danny pulled Katie back. When she turned to him, he gave her a soft, lingering kiss. With his hand on her cheek, he pressed his forehead to hers. “I’m really glad you’re here, baby.”

After kissing him again, Katie replied, “Me, too.”

They walked into the room together and sat by Karla. Keeping hold of Katie’s hand, they watched Ray start the meeting.

“Good evening, everyone. My name is Ray, and I am an alcoholic. I’ve been in recovery for almost fifteen years. For those who may be new, don’t be alarmed. There usually aren’t this many people at the meetings. Once a month, we ask our families and loved ones to join the meetings. This is a special day because it gives us a chance to celebrate birthdays with our families. Families, friends, and loved ones are such an important part of our recovery process. Personally, I would have been lost without my wife so I’m particularly happy that she is here tonight, as she has always been here for me.”

As Danny glanced at a tearful Karla, he also noticed tears come to Katie’s eyes and gave her hand a squeeze.

Ray continued, “I’m also particularly happy tonight because a very special young man wants to speak. His birthday is in a few months, but he really wanted to talk tonight. There’s really no stopping him when this guy wants to talk so I couldn’t say no. I say he’s special because he happens to have one of the best sponsors around. Yes, I’m talking about me,” he said as the group laughed. “I’m kidding. He really is special, despite the fact that’s he not always as communicative as I’d like him to be. He’s had kind of a tough time the last few months. He’s gone through things that have greatly tested his sobriety, but he’s here today celebrating his 9th year. Come on up, Danny.”

Turning to him with a surprised look on her face, he gave Katie a kiss on her forehead before standing up. He hadn’t told her that he would be speaking. After walking up to the podium, Ray gave him a quick hug.

“Hi,” Danny started. “My name is Danny, and I’m an alcoholic.” After waiting for the group to greet him back, as usual, he continued, “Um…I guess I should start out by saying that despite having Ray as a sponsor, I’m still here today,” he joked and the group laughed with him. “Seriously, Ray’s great. I don’t have to tell any of you that. He’s taught me so much about conquering this addiction. I know I wouldn’t be here without him.”

“I started drinking so early in life that I don’t even remember my first drink. I did it because I saw my father and brother do it. There was a time in my life when I wanted to be just like them. But I know now that I didn’t continue drinking because of them. I learned pretty quickly that I didn’t want to be like them so that couldn’t be the reason I continued to drink. I drank because it was the easiest way to numb the pain. It was the easiest way to forget who I was and how crappy my life was. But then there came a time when my life was getting better,” he said as he looked directly at Katie. “I had a clear direction. I had supportive people in my life, and yet, I continued to use alcohol. I knew I had a problem then, because I just couldn’t stop.”

“In college, I think I quit drinking a thousand times. Every day, I’d wake up and say, ‘Danny, you idiot, you have everything going for you. You have a shot at the future. Don’t drink today.’”

“But by late morning, I’d be adding vodka to my orange juice just to get through the afternoon. During this time of my life, I told a lot of lies. I used a lot of people, especially women, to try to make myself feel better. I hurt a lot of people.”

“My life followed the same destructive patterns through law school. A lot people wonder how I made it. I became an expert at hiding. I could put on a happy, carefree face and convince everyone that I was okay. I could sleep through exams, and find a way to convince the instructor to give me a retest. I was so good at it that I thought I could do anything, as long as I could drink my way through it.”

“The night before I was supposed to take the Bar exam, I crammed for it. Just on a side note: You can’t cram for the Bar exam. What’s worse is that, once again, I actually thought drinking would help me. When I got in my car that morning, I was drunk. My parents died because my father drove drunk, yet I thought I would never get into an accident. Thankfully, my ‘accident’ just caused me to get arrested and miss the Bar. I very easily could have killed someone or myself that morning.”

“That’s what did it for me. I knew I had to stop. I knew I'd end up hurting someone if I kept drinking, knew if I didn't stop right then and there, there'd be nothing to stop my downward slide towards following in my father and brother's footsteps. So I went to rehab and started going to meetings. I wish I could say it was all my choice, but part of the reason I didn’t go to jail for driving drunk was that I agreed to go to rehab. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. By going to AA and with Ray’s help, I got my life on track.”

“I know I make that sound really easy. It wasn’t easy. It was hard as hell. And I thought about quitting every day. Sometimes I still think about quitting. I’ve thought about it a lot lately. This past year has been the best and one of the worst of my life. It was the best because I found my soul mate again,” he said as he looked at Katie, who had tears streaming down her face. His voice breaking as he continued, “It was one of the worst because I didn’t help my brother soon enough after he got out of prison. I wasn’t there for him. Ray says it wouldn’t have made a difference, but that’s hard for me to believe. He’s back in prison now, and it’s hard to not to feel responsible.”

“In addition to that, I had a pretty awful thing happen at work. My partner almost died. I haven’t really worked through all of that, so I’m not ready to talk about it. But when this awful thing happened, I almost lost the best thing that’s ever happened to me because I was so afraid of her seeing the weakness in me. Every night, I’d wanted to drink so bad I could taste it. But I was too afraid to tell her how close I was to giving up. Maybe I haven’t worked through everything that happened with my partner, but I have realized that I can’t shut Katie out. As my wise sponsor once told me, she needs to be a part of this," he said as he looked at Katie again. “Baby, I’m really happy you’re here tonight. You’re so important to me, which is why it was so important for me to share this with you,” he said as he gave her a supportive smile.

Wiping the beginning of a tear in his eye, he said, “I should probably end this. If you’re new tonight, I just want you know that it’s possible. It takes work, but sobriety is possible and it will change your life. It changed mine. I wish I could say it gets a lot easier, but it doesn’t really. Sometimes it’s even harder, but if you let yourself be loved and supported – that does make it easier. That’s one of hardest lessons I’m still trying to learn,” he said before wiping his eyes again and stepping away from the podium.

The group applauded as he made it back to his seat. He took Katie in his arms for a moment. “I love you,” he whispered in her ear. “Thank you for not giving up on me.”

XXX

They went to dinner with Karla and Ray after the meeting. They laughed and talked for hours. On the walk home, Danny saw Katie shake her head as she laughed to herself.

“What’s so funny?” he asked pulling her a little closer as they walked arm in arm.

“I can’t believe what a great time we just had, considering how our evening started. I don’t think I’ve laughed that hard in months.”

Smiling, Danny responded, “Take it from me, it’s much easier to get through these kinds of problems if you can joke about it.”

“Karla and Ray are pretty amazing.”

“Yep,” he said as he opened the door to his building and let her in.

Grabbing the mail from his mail slot, they quickly made their way up the stairs. After letting her into the apartment, he encircled her waist and backed her against the door as he closed it.

“What are you doing?” she asked in a teasing tone as he inched closer and closer to her.

“I’m about to thank you again, in a more demonstrative way,” he said before leaning in to kiss her.

They hadn’t been together since the night he had come home after the Ryan Wallace case. He’d wanted to wait until this night, so they could be together again after he’d told her all the things he’d been hiding from her. He never wanted her to feel the way she had that night ever again.

Kissing her deeply, he let the stack of mail drop to the floor so he could use his both of hands to undress her.

Laughing softly, she looked down at the pile of mail as he kissed the curve of her neck. “Did you even look at that?”

“Look at what?” he asked while continuing to kiss her as he finished unbuttoning her blouse.

“Your mail.”

“The mail is kind of the last thing on my mind right now.”

“I can see that, but don’t you want to know if the test results are back yet?” she asked in a breathy tone.

“Test results?” It took him a minute to remember. The Bar exam. It had been over six weeks since he’d take the exam. The results were due any day now. “It can wait. Believe me, it can wait until later,” he said as he removed blouse.

“Danny, it will just take second, and then we’ll know. I’ve been on pins and needles all week expecting it to come,” she said as she pushed him away lightly and bent down to pick up the mail.

Rolling his eyes, he followed her over to the sofa as she sifted through the pile. “That’s funny because I haven’t thought about it in weeks. Good thing I have you around,” he deadpanned, but silently was thankful that she seemed so excited and concerned for him.

Ignoring his comment, she started to scan through them. “Bill. Bill. Student Loan Association, probably a bill.”

“It’s always nice to be reminded of my ever-growing amount of debt. Thanks for that. That’s really keeping me in the mood.” Sighing deeply, Danny leaned back into the couch cushion. Closing his eyes, he tilted his head back while he listened to her ramble on.

Suddenly grabbing his arm, he heard her exclaim, “This is it! This is it! The Manhattan Bar Association. This has to be it, right?”

Opening his eyes, he looked at the legal-sized envelope in her hands. That was it, he thought. Swallowing hard, he leaned forward and took it from her. Raking a hand over his face, he read the front of the envelope and wondered if he was really ready to handle whatever the results would be.

“Are you going to open it?” Katie asked, almost giddy with anticipation. She’d been watching Danny stare at the envelope for a good two minutes.

Tilting his head, Danny sighed lightly. “Maybe I shouldn’t. I mean, not tonight,” he said in a shaky tone. Taking a deep breath, he looked at Katie with a calmer, resolved expression. “We’ve had a really good night. Let’s just go to bed; we can deal with this in the morning,” he said as he curled his hand around her neck and leaned in to kiss her.

Getting lost in the feel of his hands and his kiss, Katie almost let him convince her to drop it. Leaning back on the sofa, they continued to kiss as he dropped the envelope on the floor. It took her a few moments to regain her composure, but the she reached down with her free hand. Picking up the envelopment, she let out a pleasurable sigh before speaking again.

“As good as this feels right now, I can’t wait until morning,” she said as she looked at the envelope again.

At the sound of her voice, he stopped the kisses he was trailing down her body. Shaking his head, he looked up at her with uneasy eyes. “It’s not going to be good news.”

“Let me open it. I’ll read it and then you can look at it in the morning.”

Moving off of her and sitting back on the sofa, he responded, “Yeah, right.”

Giving him a soft smile, she sat up and started to open the envelope. “You are such a pessimist, Danny. Have a little faith,” she said in an encouraging tone.

Smirking, he replied, “Have you forgotten the last few months?”

“No,” she said as she took the letter out of the envelope. “I haven’t forgotten, but I firmly believe in the light at the end of the tunnel,” she said as she watched him roll his eyes and tilt his head back. “Okay, here we go.”

“Let’s here hear it. How bad did I fail?” he asked, not opening his eyes.

“Dear Mr. Taylor,” Katie started. “We are pleased to inform you that you have passed…OH MY GOD!” she exclaimed.

Opening his eyes at the sound her shriek, he took the letter from her hands.

“I passed,” he said quietly.

Throwing her arms around his neck, she practically tackled him. “I knew it. I knew it. Of course, you passed,” she said as she gave him a kiss on his cheek. Looking into his eyes, she could see he was completely stunned. Smiling, she said, “I never thought I’d see the day where you would be at a loss for words. Let’s see how well you did,” she said taking the letter from his hands.

Taking a moment to look at the numbers, she laughed with excitement. “You did amazing, Danny. You scored in like the 90th percentile in every category.”

Rubbing his eyes, Danny still didn’t speak.

“Did you hear me? You didn’t just pass; you nailed it.”

“I can’t believe it,” he said whispered.

“Believe it. You did it, babe. Wow!” Katie exclaimed as she kept rereading the letter. “So what do you do now? I mean, is there like a ceremony or something?”

Laughing, Danny responded, “No ceremony. If I want to, I can apply for my Bar card, and then get sworn in.”

“If you want to? Is there even a question of wanting to?” she asked curiously.

“I don’t know. I guess not. I just…I haven’t really thought about what I’d do if I passed. When things went south with Rafi, I kind of put the whole notion of passing the Bar out of my mind. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t even have taken the damn thing.”

“At least it’s done. At least now you have another option.”

“Yeah, but it’s almost too much to think about. I mean, I’m glad I passed. I’m incredibly thankful that you made me take it, but maybe just knowing I passed is enough right now. You know?”

“Yeah. I mean you should do whatever feels right,” she replied, but still not completely understanding his rationale.

XXX

A week later, Katie and Danny met her father at a very upscale restaurant in Tribeca. Her father greeted her with a kiss on the cheek and Danny with a handshake as they sat down at the table.

“How’s business, Mr. Mason?” Danny asked as he opened his menu.

“Doing very well. We took a hit last year, but we’re recovering nicely. And Danny, I’ve told you before, please call me Tom. When you call me Mr. Mason, I can’t help but think of you two as teenagers.”

“Right, sorry,” Danny replied sheepishly.

“So what’s the news, Dad? You said on the phone that you wanted to talk about something,” Katie asked curiously.

“There are a couple of things, actually. Let’s get the most controversial topic out of the way first. Your mother is on her way to being released. The parole board has agreed to let her finish her sentence at home, provided she wears an ankle bracelet.”

Katie exchanged an almost horrified look with Danny. “How can they possibly let her out so soon? She almost killed a woman.”

“Her doctors say she is much better. She’s on anti-psychotic medication. She’ll be under a doctor’s care for the rest of her life. She’s sick, sweetheart.”

“And you’re just taking her back? I thought you were getting a divorce?” Katie asked incredulously.

“We are getting a divorce, but she still needs a place to live. I can’t just desert her, sweetheart. Part of what happened was a direct result of my carelessness.”

“People have affairs all the time, Dad. If every betrayed spouse attempted murder, it would be happening a hundred times a day.”

“If it’s any consolation, she’s moving into the Hamptons house. She’s not coming back to the city, at least not right now. You won’t have to face her if you don’t want to.”

“I don’t want to, not after everything she’s done,’” she responded and suddenly felt a bit calmer when she felt Danny’s hand make circles on the small of her back.

"I understand completely, but remember, you were able to give me another chance."

"That was different-' Katie started. She stopped abruptly when Danny's hand tightened around her waist.

"It just takes time," Danny interrupted. "Forgiving, forgetting...it all takes time. The important thing is that your Mom will continue to get the help she needs. If she didn’t have your Dad in her life, she might not get that kind of care,” he said in a quiet, reflective tone that surprised both Katie and her father.

“I couldn’t have said it better myself,” her father stated. “Thank you, Da…, or should I say thank you, counselor.”

Biting her lip, Katie closed her eyes as she felt Danny’s hand leave her waist. “I told him. I was just so happy for you,” she said as she looked over at Danny, who still had a surprised expression.

“Of course she told me. That was great news. Congratulations, Danny.”

“Thank you, sir,” Danny replied, humbly.

“That actually brings me to my second reason for asking you here this evening,” he said as he motioned their waiter. “I thought we should celebrate. It’s not every day that someone passes the Bar on the first try.”

A waiter came to the table with three champagne flutes and a bottle of non-alcoholic champagne. After filling the glasses, Mr. Mason made a toast to Danny. After the toast, Danny put down his glass and shook his head.

“I do appreciate this, but it really isn’t a big deal. It’s about nine years overdue.”

“It is a big deal,” Katie countered, taking his hand in hers. “And it deserves to be celebrated.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” her father said. “In fact, I did one better. I called Walter Miller. He says that his associate, who worked with you on your brother’s case, was very impressed with you. Walter would love to talk to you about joining his firm.”

Katie could almost feel Danny tense up as the words came out of her father’s mouth. Removing his hand from hers, he ran his hand across his chin. “I…um…Mr. Mason…I mean Tom…,” Danny started, but then stopped to gather his words. “First, I really do appreciate this. I’ve never…I mean I graduated high school, college, law school and even FBI training, and I never went out to a celebratory dinner after any of those. So this means a lot. And I’m flattered that you called Mr. Miller about me, but sir, I’m not sure what my next steps are going to be. I’m pretty happy where I’m at right now.”

A look of disbelief crossed Mr. Mason's face. “You’re happy?” he asked. Glancing at Katie, he continued, “Weren’t you involved in…in an ‘ambush’ as they called it on the news, not three months ago? And then wasn’t there some sort of failed bomb detonation just a few weeks ago? I have no doubt that your work is challenging and rewarding, but Danny, you could be just as challenged working as an attorney without contending with flying bullets and possible explosions.”

Katie watched as Danny’s mouth curved into a polite smile. “Those things are actually fairly unusual. In nine years, I can assure you that most of what I do has more to do with research and paperwork than bullets and explosives.”

“Well, I just—“Mr. Mason started, but Katie interrupted.

“Dad, please, okay? Let’s just drop it, and have a nice dinner,” she said as she shot her father a discreetly pleading look. She knew her father was thinking about her well-being, as well as Danny's. Her father knew she'd be devastated if anything happened to him, and he wanted to do something to prevent that.

“You’re right, sweetheart. I got carried away in my excitement, as I’m prone to do. I apologize, Danny.”

“No apologies, sir. I appreciate the thought,” Danny replied in a warm, but guarded tone.

XXX

After leaving the restaurant, Danny hailed them a cab and held the door for Katie as she got in. As soon as he sat in the seat next to her, she let out a deep breath.

“Sorry about that. I had no idea he’d go overboard like that. I thought he just pulled that kind of thing with me,” she said in a hesitant tone.

“I guess that’s his way of welcoming me to the family,” Danny dryly. “Don’t worry about it. No harm done and I know he means well. He’s always meant well.”

Riding in silence for a few blocks, Katie finally asked, “Can I ask you a question?”

“Of course,” he replied as he slid his arm across her shoulders and pulled her close.

“Why wouldn’t you want to explore your options? I mean, what would be the harm in talking to Mr. Miller or someone in the DA’s office if you want to be a prosecutor?”

Tilting his head back, he pondered the question for few moments. “I don’t know. It just doesn’t seem like the right time.”

“After everything you’ve been through, the shooting, the stuff with Jack and Martin, and there’s no part of you that wants a fresh start?”

“It’s hard to explain,” he said as the cab stopped in front of his apartment. After paying the fare, he opened the door and let Katie out. They walked in silence up to his apartment.

Deciding not the press the issue, Katie changed the subject when they entered his apartment. “Do you realize I haven’t spent a night in my apartment in almost a week? At this rate, it’s becoming a very expensive closet.”

Smiling, Danny put his arms around her and pulled her back against his chest. “I like having you here. It honestly didn’t even occur to me to give the cabbie your address. Maybe we need to have that living arrangement talk again.”

“God, Danny, I love how romantic you make it sound,” she joked, as she enjoyed the kisses he trailed down her neck.

XXX

Just falling in a sated sleep after they’d made love, Katie suddenly stirred when she felt hot breath against her neck. Then she heard Danny’s soft whisper in her ear. “Hey. You awake?”

She wasn’t anywhere near awake, but she forced opened her eyes to half-slits. “Danny, I just fell asleep. You’re making me question the heartfelt “living arrangement” proposal,” she replied sarcastically.

“I can’t fall asleep,” he said in a sleepy tone that sounded like a little boy. “Our conversation from earlier just keeps playing in my mind like in a loop.”

Opening her eyes wider, Katie looked up at him. “About living together? If you aren’t ready—“

“Not that. I’m ready for that, even though I have no idea where we will fit your clothes. I’m talking about the whole ‘exploring my options’ conversation.”

“Mmmmm, that. I’m sorry. I wasn’t pushing. I was just curious. That’s all.”

“I know, but I thought I should try to explain why I don’t think I’m ready to leave.”

“Okay,” she responded, suddenly more alert as she propped her herself up on the pillow next to his.

"That place gave me a purpose and an identity that I'd never had before. The FBI gave me the routine that I needed so desperately back then. I've come to rely on it. I know that sounds strange, especially considering how erratic the job can be, but I've come to count on it. It would be hard to start something new and continue feeling strong, especially when I've been feeling so weak lately. Can you understand that?”

“Yes. Of course,” she said, taking hold of his hand.

“Good. I know things were strained with Jack and the stuff with Martin is still unclear, but those people are the closest thing I have to family. They have no idea how important they are to my routine and to my life in general. That’s part of the reason I got so freaked about Martin. And then there’s the job itself. We always have hope. Going to work everyday and knowing there’s a chance that things will work out okay makes everything a little more worthwhile. I’m just not sure I’m ready to give any of that up yet.”

Leaning forward, Katie planted a soft, lingering kiss on his lips. “They’re lucky.”

“Who’s lucky?”

“The people you work with and the missing people you look for. They’re all lucky because you are a part of their lives, even for just a short while. But I'm the luckiest of them all."

Danny had been putting this off for at least a month. It’s not like he didn’t have other things going on, but he knew he’d let too much time pass since he’d last seen Rafael. Visiting him at the Rockville County Correctional facility was much different from visiting him at Riker’s. There was no imposing boat ride that made Danny’s heart beat faster or a through-the-bars meeting full of tension and anger. This time, they met outside on a picnic bench on an unseasonably warm October afternoon. If Rafael hadn’t been wearing an orange jumpsuit and high barbed-wire hadn’t been surrounding surround them, they could have imagined that they were in more normal surroundings.

“You look better, Danny. When I saw you over the summer, you were looking pretty awful,” Rafi said as he sat across from Danny.

“Thanks, I guess. I was just going through a tough time. Nothing to worry about. Things are better now.” The words just came out before Danny really thought about what he was saying. He winced when he heard himself. Things wouldn’t be getting better for Rafi anytime soon. “Sorry,” he apologized. “That was a stupid thing to say. I just meant—“

“I know what you meant. I’m sure it hasn’t been easy for you – dealing with my situation and my family on top of everything that happened at work.”

Shaking his head, Danny responded, “I’m happy to help you. And I’ve enjoyed getting to know Sylvia and Nicky and your precious new daughter.”

“She is precious, isn’t she?” Rafi replied proudly. “That lawyer you set me up with arranged for me to see her. Sylvia’s brought her and Nicky the last couple of visits. They never let me see Nicky at Riker’s.”

Danny smiled. “I’m glad things are a little better for you here. Mr. Cummings says you could be up for parole in six months.”

“Yeah. I can’t believe it, and I can’t imagine how much all of this is costing you. From what I understand, Cummings is from one of the best firms in Manhattan. How can you afford that? Sylvia says you haven’t taken any of the money she’s offered.”

“I have a very liberal payment plan. My girlfriend’s father is very well connected. He got me in touch with the firm.”

“I’ll pay you back when I get out. I promise,” Rafi said sincerely.

Nodding, Danny smiled. “We can worry about that later.”

“So what’s the deal with the girlfriend? Sylvia says she’s nice.”

“She’s very nice. I’ve actually known her since high school so things have progressed kind of quickly now that she’s back in my life.”

“Sylvia also told me about the bar exam. That’s really great, Danny.”

Sighing heavily and feeling very uncomfortable, Danny shook his head. “Katie mentioned it the last time we visited Sylvia. It’s really not a big deal.”

“Sure it’s a big deal. You’ve always been successful, Danny, even as a little kid. If it wasn’t for my bad influence, you probably wouldn’t have gotten into any trouble back then.”

“Rafi, don’t,” Danny responded, solemnly. “We didn’t exactly have the best example to follow. You did the best you could at the time.”

“Well you made it, despite the bad example we had and my bad influence. So I’m damn proud of you,” Rafi said as he voice broke a little.

“You have a lot to be proud of, too. Your family is beautiful, Rafi. Nicky’s a great kid. Sylvia’s-“

“Sylvia’s patience is wearing kind of thin,” Rafi interrupted. “She comes around every week, but I can tell that she is pulling away.”

“I doubt that. She loves you, man. She’s very committed to seeing this through until you can get out.”

“I don’t know. I don’t think so. She sees you and how successful you are, and she doesn’t understand how I could have screwed up again. I had it all, Danny, but it wasn’t good enough. And now, I don’t think she’ll want me back when I get out this time,” he responded in a desperate tone before adding, “You know I asked her to marry me. The chaplain here said he’d do it for us on one of her visits, but she said she wants to wait. I’m losing her.”

“You’re wrong,” Danny said. He used as convincing a tone as he could muster, but he knew that Rafi was right: Sylvia was losing her patience. He had seen it in her eyes the last time he’d seen her. Still, he continued to try to convince Rafi otherwise. “She’s been through a lot lately – with Nicky, the baby, work, but she’ll come around. Just stay focused on your recovery, and everything else will take care of itself.”

XXX

Danny’s visit with Rafi was interrupted by a call from Vivian. They had a new case, and he was needed at the office as soon as possible. It took him over an hour to make it back to the office. As he walked in, Martin nodded a hello from his chair at the conference table while Vivian approached him, clearly in a hurry.

“Good, you’re here,” she said in an exasperated.

“Sorry. I was in Rockville and traffic back into the city was awful. What do we have?”

“Karen Reynolds. Twenty-eight, and a mother of two. She was last seen dropping her son off at soccer practice. Her husband reported her missing when she didn’t arrive to pick him up afterwards. Sam and Jack are with the husband. I’m on my way to interview her co-workers. Martin is doing her background and financials. If he comes across anything, you’ll need to be here to run those out.”

Nodding, Danny responded, “Got it. I’ll help him with it.”

“Great. Keep me posted,” she said to both of them as she walked out of the office.

Draping his jacket across the back of the chair, he sat down next to Martin. At first, Martin seemed lost in the data he was reading. Finally, Danny said, “Anything interesting in there?”

“Not yet,” Martin replied in a distracted tone. “Her cell phone calls are mostly to her husband and mother.”

“You want me to take half of those?” Danny asked when Martin didn’t volunteer any more.

“Sure,” he replied, giving a stack to Danny.

“You okay?” Danny asked, taking the stack.

“I’m fine,” Martin replied in a short tone.

Nodding at Martin’s abrupt response, Danny tried to continue the conversation. “The rookie starts in a couple of days so maybe we’ll get to hand off some of this stuff to her, and you can finally get back in the field. I know this isn’t your favorite part of the job,” he said lightly as he started to scan the records.

Martin kept his eyes focused on the data. “We’ll see,” was all he said

“Yeah, I guess so,” Danny replied in a low tone.

They worked in silence for several minutes. Danny had an urge to say more. He and Martin hadn’t had a real conversation since he’d gotten back, but he really didn’t know what to say to him. All he could ever think to ask was how Martin was feeling and he knew Martin was sick of getting that question all the time. And then suddenly, as if Martin was hearing his thoughts, he spoke.

“How’s your brother? He’s at Rockville, right?”

At first, Danny didn’t even know how to respond. It was the first personal thing Martin had asked him since he’d returned to work. Finally, he replied, “He’s as well as can be expected. Rockville is little more bearable than Riker’s.”

“I bet, but it’s still prison,” he said, his eyes still focused on the reports.

“Yeah, it is.”

With that one little exchange, Danny felt a little better. He felt as though maybe things could eventually get back to the way they had been between him and Martin. When he’d had to find his brother, Martin had been there for him. Danny remembered feeling almost surprised that Martin had been so concerned at the time. Silently, he tried to remember if he had ever really thanked Martin for all he had done that day. Looking up at Martin, he was about to tell him just that, but Martin spoke first.

“I got something. She made four hotel room charges six months ago.”

“So?”

“So the rooms were booked one week apart, and the hotel is a mile from her house.”

Leaning back in his chair, Danny smiled a knowing smile. “Possibly a brief affair? And now the guy wants her back?”

“Maybe. You want to check it out?” Martin asked, handing Danny a slip of paper with an address.

“Yeah,” Danny replied, putting his jacket on.

XXX

Using her cell phone records, Martin tracked down the man Karen Reynolds had been having an affair with. Jack and Sam found them at the airport, and discovered that Karen had been intent on deserting her family. Shaking his head at the sad thought, Danny trudged up the stairs to his apartment. The only consolation was that he was getting home at a decent hour. He and Katie could at least eat dinner together before she had to go to class. Walking through his front door, he was surprised to hear voices coming from the kitchen.

“This is a surprise,” he said as he entered the kitchen to find Sylvia and Katie talking with baby Andrea sleeping in Katie’s arms.

Looking down at the baby, Katie exclaimed, “Here he is!” She turned her gaze back towards Danny. “We were hoping you’d be home soon,” she said, accepting Danny’s peck on the lips before he leaned down to kiss Andrea’s forehead.

“Case wrapped up earlier than I thought.” Turning to Sylvia, he gave her a warm hug. “It’s good to see you. Is Nicky here, too?”

“No. He’s finishing a school project at a friend’s house. I thought I’d stop by here before I go pick him up,” Sylvia replied.

“Hope you weren’t thinking about a quick visit. I don’t think Katie is planning on letting her go,” he said as he looked at Andrea.

“If I didn’t have a class to prepare for, you’d better believe I’d stay right here, but I really have to go,” Katie replied in a disappointed tone.

“So soon? I thought your class didn’t start for a couple of hours?”

“I need to do some research before it starts so I should really get going,” she replied turning to Danny. “You want to hold her?”

“Absolutely,” he said taking the child in his arms.

After gathering her things. Katie kissed Danny and the baby and then addressed Sylvia as she opened the front door. “I’ll call you tomorrow about those books, and I’d be happy to stop by and help Nicky this weekend.”

“Thanks. It was nice visiting with you,” Sylvia replied as Katie walked out the door.

“Let’s sit down,” Danny said as he motioned toward the couch. “What’s she helping Nicky with?”

“Reading comprehension. He has a standardized test coming up and his teacher says that he needs help in that area. I was supposed to get him a tutor. I asked Katie if she knew someone, but she offered her services instead. It’s a blessing, really, because I can’t afford a tutor right now. I hate to bother her though. I know you guys are busy with your own lives.”

“Katie lives for that kind of stuff. She actually tutored me in high school.”

“Really?” Sylvia asked, laughing.

“Yeah. She saved my ass. I had to keep up a 3.5 GPA to stay at that fancy school. If it weren’t for her, they would have finally found a reason to kick me out.”

“I guess the benefits of that tutoring are still paying off,” she responded in a playful tone. “She’s a really sweet girl.”

“I agree,” he replied quietly as he repositioned Andrea into a more comfortable position in his arms. Glancing at Sylvia, he said, “I saw Rafi today.”

“Yeah?” Sylvia replied hesitantly. “How was he?”

“Pretty good. He loves your weekend visits when you bring the kids,” Danny said looking down again at the baby.

“I know,” Sylvia replied. “It’s hard going out there every weekend, but the look on his face…”

“It’s what he lives for,” Danny said, completing her thought.

Looking down, tears filled Sylvia’s eyes. “It’s so hard, Danny. It’s so hard to stay connected to him, when I feel so much anger.”

“I know,” he replied, because he knew only too well.

“I don’t know what I could have done any better. I supported him. I encouraged him. I never pressured him. We didn’t need for him to buy his own shop. I told him we’d be fine with the way things were, but he didn’t listen. And now…” pausing, Sylvia turned to Danny and looked him in the eyes. “Sometimes I think I should have listened to you when I came to see you before Rafi got paroled. You tried to warn me. You knew he couldn’t stay clean,” she said shaking her head.

“No. I was wrong. Rafi is different now. He’s sick and he needs help. He needs our help.”

“How is he that different from you? You grew up in the same house. And maybe he took more crap from your father, but you lived in that house, too. You suffered, but you don’t use it as an excuse. Why should Rafi get a free pass? All he had to do was be happy with working at my brother’s shop and with Nicky, and me but it wasn’t good enough. He flat out lied to me, Danny, and now, I have to wait to start my life with him again. I waited nine years before. I completely understand why you gave up on him all those years ago. You had to do it to survive.”

“You can’t give up on him, Sylvia. He loves you so much. And I know you love him. You wouldn’t have come to see me before his parole hearing if you didn’t, and you wouldn’t have been so supportive of him after we found him. It’s hard now, believe me I know, but it will get better. He’ll do better when he gets out again.”

“How do you know?” Sylvia asked desperately.

“Because we’ll both be here for him next time. I promise. I’ll be here,” he said sincerely, taking a hold of her hand.

XXX

That night, Danny lay awake thinking about Rafael, Sylvia and even his conversation with Martin. It was strange how so much had changed in such a short amount of time. A few months ago, he rarely thought about Rafael’s family, and now his family was a major priority in his life. A few months ago, Martin had helped him through one of the most difficult days in his life when he had been looking for Rafael, and now, because of Emil Dornvald, even a simple conversation with Martin seemed awkward.

Interrupting his thoughts, he heard the front door open. Smiling, he listened as Katie’s heels clicked on the floor on the way to the kitchen. For a moment, he thought about getting up, but he knew she’d be so exhausted that it wouldn’t take her long to get to the bedroom. Minutes later, she padded quietly into the room, having taken her heels off in an effort not to wake him up.

“I’m awake,” he said, turning on the bedside lamp as she entered the room.

“Don’t you ever sleep like a normal person? If I were you, I’d be fast asleep.”

“My mind is racing tonight. I was waiting for you. My mind seems to go blank when you’re in my bed.”

Blushing, Katie took off her jacket and unbuttoned her blouse. “What’s your mind racing about?”

“Everything,” he responded quietly. “Sometimes I think we should get away for a couple of weeks,” he said as he watched her take off her blouse and skirt. Wearing only her bra and panties, she had no idea how much she took his breath away when she looked like this.

“I’m all for that. We’ll talk about it in a minute,” she said as she slipped into the bathroom and closed the door.

Wearing a black tank top, she emerged from the bathroom five minutes later, her face scrubbed clean. “Are you thinking about Cabo at Christmas?” she asked in whisper.

“Mmmmm. That sounds like a good plan,” Danny replied as she lay down on her side of the bed. Turning toward her and pulling her into his arms, he kissed her shoulder. “Anything will beat last year’s cold, lonely Christmas when we were apart.”

“Just say the word, and I’ll make the arrangements.”

“I need to work out a few things first. Jack usually counts on me to be around for the holidays. I’ve always kind of been the go-to guy when everyone else goes home for the holidays.”

“You’ll always have someone to spend Christmas with now,” she said smiling as she turned around in his arms and kissed him. “Did Sylvia seem a bit down to you?” she asked, suddenly changing the subject.

Danny nodded. “Yeah. I think she is frustrated with the whole situation. It’s a lot to deal with, especially when she waited for him for nine years.”

“She’s stronger than she probably realizes. We’ll help her through it,” Katie said sweetly as she laid her head on his chest.

“You’re pretty amazing; you know that?” he asked, tickling her back with his fingertips.

“It’s easy helping someone like her. God, and any opportunity to see that baby is worth it. I think I’m a little in love,” she said with a giggle as every muscle in her body relaxed against his touch. “You know you looked very natural when you held her, Danny. I think you are definitely ready to be a daddy.”

“You think?” he replied with a smirk.

“Absolutely. And I can’t wait to have your baby. Just so you know,” she replied with a yawn and she snuggled into his chest.

“Duly noted. I’ll keep that in mind.”

“So has your mind gone blank yet? Or has my baby talk sent it racing again?” she asked in a sleepy tone.

“No. It’s pretty blank,” he responded, sounding just as sleepy. Tightening his arm around her back, he closed his eyes and drifted off.

While unbuttoning his dirty, blue shirt, Danny hit Katie’s cell number on his speed dial.

“Hey,” she answered before the phone had the chance to ring a second time.

“Hey, yourself. How are you doing?” he asked as he shrugged off the nearly ruined shirt.

“I’ll be much better if you tell me you’re on your way home from the airport,” she replied hopefully.

“Well, I’m not exactly back yet, but the case is over. We got our guy back, and his nutty wife is in a Mexican jail,” he said, while removing his also dirt-caked jeans.

“So she was up to no good, huh?” Katie asked in a playful tone.

Laughing lightly, Danny grabbed the bag that he’d brought back to his room. Deciding to make the most of his day off in Mexico, he’d bought a pair of swimming trunks from the hotel gift shop. “Not only was she up to no good, but she was downright evil. She actually made the kidnappers cut off her husband’s finger to throw us off her scent. She’s one cold-blooded senora.”

“Sounds dangerous. Are you okay?” she asked in a worried tone.

“Yeah. No worries. I’m safe and sound back at the hotel,” he responded, careful not to expound on his earlier motorbike escapade while rescuing Mr. Costin. “As a matter of fact, we can’t get a flight out until tomorrow so I’m stuck here for another 24 hours.”

“Poor you,” Katie countered sarcastically. “Sounds like you're getting an early start on our Mexican vacation. How will you ever entertain yourself down there?”

Putting on his sunglasses, Danny looked at himself in the mirror. Wearing the new swim trunks and a t-shirt, he looked much more like a tourist than a federal agent. “Well, Jack isn’t exactly a barrel of laughs, but I plan on making the most out of our little detour.”

“Should I be worried?” Katie asked jokingly.

“Nah. We’ve been up for the last two days. Most likely, I’ll be asleep in the next hour, but I’m going to enjoy the sunshine until then.”

“Good for you,” Katie deadpanned. “Think of me freezing up here. They're calling for a mix of sleet and snow tonight.”

“If it’s any consolation, you’ll be with me in my thoughts. I’ll be back before you know it. Just think of it as me scoping out our next vacation destination.”

“Just make sure that’s all you scope out,” she said jokingly before adding, “Hey, I miss you.”

“I miss you, too. I’ll see you tomorrow, baby.”

“Bye.”

“Adios,” Danny said before hanging up the phone. He did miss Katie, but he was definitely looking forward to sitting out in the sun for while.

XXX

Walking towards the pool, Danny smiled when he saw Jack sitting under the shade of an umbrella. Noticing that Jack had dozed off, he quietly pulled the extra lounge chair from under the umbrella. After taking off his t-shirt, he laid down and took a deep, relaxing breath.

Minutes later, a very attractive waitress in a very small bikini approached Jack and put an icy Corona on the table next to him. Pushing his sunglasses on top of his head, Danny smiled at that waitress.

“Hola,” he greeted.

“This must be for you?” she asked in English, referring to the club soda she had on her tray.

“I took the liberty of ordering for you,” Jack said wearily as he sat up in his chair.

“Gracias,” Danny said to the waitress, taking the club soda from her. She flashed him a sweet smile before he watched her walk away. “You even had her put an umbrella in it,” he said to Jack.

“I’m thoughtful like that,” Jack said, taking a sip of his beer. “You know what isn’t thoughtful?”

“What?” Danny asked, glancing over at him as he put his sunglasses back on.

“You, returning to work with a perfect tan. You actually brought swimming trunks with you?” Jack asked in a disbelieving tone.

Danny laughed. “No. I bought them at the gift shop. I wanted to blend in,” he said as he looked at Jack who had changed into a clean pair of jeans and a t-shirt, but still looked like an FBI agent on a stakeout. “And I wasn’t going to waste this opportunity. But what does that have to do with being thoughtful?”

Jack grunted. “Plenty. You go back to New York with a tan, and I’ll never hear the end of it from Sam. She already complains I never send her on anything but cold weather assignments. Our having to stay here an extra day will be bad enough; you returning with a tan will only add fuel to the fire.”

Danny threw up his hands in mock defense. “Hey, is it my fault she didn’t pay attention in high school Spanish? I think not,” Danny replied. “And besides, I doubt it will be that noticeable. Don’t worry so much.” That said, he settled back into his chair, and tilted his face towards the sun.

They sat in silence enjoying the sun and warm air for close to an hour. Over the course of that time, Jack couldn’t help but notice the stares Danny received from just about every female tourist that walked past him. Every so often, Danny returned the gaze and said a friendly ‘hello’, which often elicited a giggle from whoever was passing by.

“Maybe I should head back to my room so you can actually make the most of this.”

Smiling, Danny looked over at Jack. “No need. I have absolutely no desire to make the most of anything.”

“Really? Because you could probably look up Marissa from last night. She seemed pretty interested in your line.”

“That was just to get her to talk to me about driving the Costin’s. I don’t have any interest in that either, but I still have her number, if you’d like to call her. She likes gringos.”

“Thanks for the tip, but I’ll pass,” Jack said in a slightly grumpy tone. “So clearly, you’re still seeing Ms. Mason.”

“You could say that,” he answered definitively.

“It’s serious?”

Danny smirked as he, once again, realized how little Jack knew about him. He’d barely talked about Katie to Jack or anyone on the team since she’d come back from London. If Viv and Sam hadn’t occasionally asked about her, they wouldn’t have known anything at all.

“Yeah. It’s pretty serious. We’re talking about moving in together.”

“Really? That’s kind of wacky family to get involved with. Isn’t her mother still at some lockdown facility? And wasn’t her father just paroled?”

“Yes, but the prison thing is actually the one thing we have in common with our families,” Danny replied with a smile.

Jack laughed. “Touché. I hadn’t thought about it that way. How are you getting along with Mr. Mason?”

“Surprisingly well. He actually seems to like me now.”

“You’ve treated his daughter very well. He should like you.”

“So what about you?” Danny asked, because he figured he didn’t have anything to lose, and Jack was being fairly open.

“What about me?”

“You should get back out there,” Danny said as he looked at all the different women that surrounded the pool. “You can’t keep that ring on forever.”

Jack shrugged, and looked away. “It’s not that easy. I mean, clearly, it’s easy for you, but when you get past a certain age, and you have an ex-wife, and two daughters you barely get to see, it’s kind of hard to find time for someone new.”

“It doesn’t have to be someone new,” Danny muttered under his breath.

Jack heard him anyway. “You’re full of advice today,” he said, as he rose from his chair.

Danny looked up at him, hoping he hadn’t gone too far. “You leaving already?” Danny asked in a disappointed tone. “I’ll shut up if you don’t want to talk.”

“No, actually, I’ve enjoyed the talk, but I need to get some sleep. I’m going to head upstairs. Please don’t stay out in the sun too long. It’s only been an hour and you look like you’ve been here a week." He smiled briefly. “I can already hear Sam now.”

I’m going to stay down for a few more minutes. We don’t get many days like these up north,” he said. He settled back, feeling like a kid again, soaking up the Florida sun.

“See you in the morning,” Jack said as he turned and walked away.

“Yeah. In the morning,” Danny replied, closing his eyes.

XXX

A few weeks later, Danny found himself back in chilly New York – his day in a Mexico a distant memory even though Sam had done her best to make him feel guilty about it for days afterward.. Standing under the hot spray of the shower at 6:30 in the morning, Danny tried to wake up to face the day. Leaving his warm bed with Katie curled next to him had been hard enough.

When he finally felt ready, he turned the water off and grabbed a towel. After fastening the towel low on his hips, he opened the shower curtain to find Katie sitting on the bathroom floor looking very green.

Stepping out of the tub, he bent down next to her. “Are you all right?” he asked as a brushed her hair out of her face.

Still seeming half asleep, she answered, “I…um…I must have eaten something bad or maybe it’s the flu. I woke and felt sick.”

Her voice sounded weak. Putting his hand on her forehead, he checked for a temperature. “You don’t feel too warm,” he said as he stood and wet a washcloth in the sink. Kneeling next to her again, he gently placed the washcloth on her cheek. “What’d you eat last night?”

“Not much, actually. I didn’t have an appetite. I don’t know what is wrong with me, but several students in my class have been out sick. That must be it. You should probably stay away from me.”

Shaking his head, Danny replied, “Not a chance. Come on. Let’s get you back to bed.” Helping her to her feet, he guided her back to the bed. After securing the washcloth on her forehead, he asked, “Anything sound good? I think we have ginger ale in the fridge.”

Katie shook her head. “No thanks. I just want to go back to sleep for a while. I have class this afternoon. I can’t miss it.”

“Okay. I’ll leave the drink by the bed, if you want it. If it is the flu, you need fluids, right?”

“I think so,” she answered wearily.

“Go back to sleep. I’ll call you later this morning to make sure you’re okay.”

“Okay. Thanks, Danny.”

“Sleep well, baby.”

Danny left for work. By afternoon, he’d wished that he’d caught the flu himself. The day had started with the team looking for a missing man, but the ante had been risen when they’d discovered a load of child pornography in his home. When they’d discovered him in a hotel, his story led to another case, involving a missing girl. It was this girl’s story that had made Danny sick. Her parents had died, leaving her in the care of an uncle who had made money off of her by putting her into a child sex ring. When she’d become too old, the uncle had wanted to sell her to someone else. Just thinking about it had made Danny want to come out of his skin. He had tried to keep his feelings well hidden, however. In fact, when he’d explained to Elena what might happen to the girl once her uncle didn’t want her anymore, he had been matter-of-fact and unemotional. He’d explained the unspeakable options with such ease that it had scared him. As he’d ridden home on the subway late that evening, he’d started to re-think the law career that he’d back-burnered just weeks ago. Anything would be better than looking through that stack of missing and exploited children again

After he got home, he immediately took an unreasonably long, hot shower. In some way, he was trying to wash away the stench of all he saw and heard that day. When he finally got out, he dried off and then immediately collapsed into bed next to Katie. He’d spoken to her earlier in the day before their case took the dark, unexpected turn.

“Hey,” she mumbled as she scooted herself towards the middle of the bed to fit in the crook of his arm.

“Feel any better?” Danny asked in the darkness as he snaked his hand around her waist to pull her closer.

“A little,” she replied, still half-asleep. “I tried to wait for you, but was just so tired.”

“That’s okay. I’m tired, too,” he said, knowing that he’d be reliving this last case in his mind all night long.

“We need to talk in the morning,” Katie said as she drifted back into sleep. “Be sure to wake me.”

“Okay,” he replied. As he kissed her neck, he felt her body relax into a peaceful slumber

XXX

The next morning, Danny quietly showered and dressed as Katie slept. He didn’t want to wake her if she was still feeling sick. As he sat on the bed to put on his socks and shoes, Katie woke up in a shudder, like she was waking from a bad dream.

“What are you doing?” she asked as she looked at him with sleepy eyes. “You were supposed to wake me.”

“I couldn’t do it. You looked so peaceful. And I figured if you have the flu—“

“I don’t think I have the flu, Danny,” she replied quietly.

“So you’re feeling better?” he asked as he glanced back at her.

“Yeah, I guess, but there is something we need to talk about. Do you have a case this morning?” she asked as she ran her fingers through her tangled hair.

“No. We finished last night,” he said solemnly.

“Is everything okay?”

“It will be, but let’s not talk about it. What have you got?” he asked as he turned on the bed and faced her.

She smiled. “I’m not sure, but when I felt so bad yesterday I tried to figure out what was wrong. It didn’t really feel like the flu.”

“What’d it feel like?”

“Um…well…after I thought about it yesterday, I realized that I’m kind of late.”

He was about to ask late for what, but then it clicked. As soon as the realization hit him, his stomach knotted up and his heart started to beat faster. “How late?” was all he could manage to get out.

Inching closer to him on the bed, she answered, “Almost a week. I bought a pregnancy test last night.”

“Was it positive?” Danny asked as if on automatic pilot.

“Um…well…I didn’t want to take it alone. I wanted you to be here. I’ll take it now, if you have time,” she said, her voice a mixture of uncertainty and excitement.

Swallowing hard, Danny nodded. “You should take it now. We need to know.”

Before getting out of bed, Katie leaned in to him and gave him a kiss. “I love you.”

Closing his eyes for a moment, Danny kissed her back. “I love you, too,” he said as he forced himself to give her a supportive smile.

After giving her a few minutes to prepare the test, he walked in to the bathroom and sat next to her on the edge of the tub. “How long?”

“Um…five minutes. We should know in five minutes,” she said, taking his hand in hers.

Danny nodded and then asked the next question with out even thinking. “How’d this happen? I mean I’ve been picking up your birth control prescription for the last few months. You’ve been taking it, right?” he asked as he thought about their sleepy conversation about having babies a few weeks ago.

Glancing over at him, Katie frowned. “Of course, I’ve been taking it.”

“Well then, how?”

“I’m not sure. A couple of months ago, my doctor changed my prescription because I’d been feeling kind of depressed. She said my hormone levels were probably affected by the pill I was taking. So there were a few days where I didn’t take them.”

“Why didn’t you tell me? Did we have sex while you weren’t taking them?”

Tears filled her eyes as she let go of his hand. “It was when we weren’t seeing a lot of each other so I didn’t tell you, but yes, we had sex. I thought we were okay. I mean the timing—“

“You should have said something. I would have used a condom or we could have stopped before…” pausing, Danny shook his head. “We agreed that you would take the pill. We were very responsible about the whole thing, as I recall,” he said, knowing he sounded way too harsh, but feeling frustrated and scared all the same.

Katie wiped her eyes and ran her fingers through her hair in complete frustration. “It was a mistake. I can’t believe you are acting like this. I thought—,” her statement was interrupted by the beep of the egg timer next to the test. Taking a deep breath, she pushed herself off the edge of the tub as Danny nervously chewed the inside of his cheek.

Danny watched as she looked down at the test. Letting her finger trace over the small device, he saw a few tears escape her eyes as she slightly gasped for breath.

Turning around quickly, Katie tossed the test in Danny’s direction. “You can breathe now. It’s negative,” she said, right before walking out of the bathroom. As quickly as she could, she pulled out a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt from her drawer in Danny’s dresser. As he walked out of the bathroom, Katie was putting the clothes on over the tank top and boxers she’d worn to bed.

“What are you doing?” he asked in a slightly exasperated tone.

“I’m leaving,” she said as she stuffed a few things in her purse.

“Don’t leave. We should talk about this. It didn’t occur to me that you would want this now.”

Turning to him, she rolled her eyes. “You know for a smart guy, sometimes you can be so dim. I’m crazy about you. I’ve known I’ve wanted to be with for almost half my life. I’m thirty years old, and it didn’t occur to you to think that I’d want to be pregnant? God, Danny, I told you I did only a few weeks ago.”

“I know that, but I didn’t think you meant right now. We aren’t married. We aren’t even technically living together. It’s too soon.”

“Yeah. That came in loud and clear a few minutes ago, when you looked like your world was ending. But what worries me is what you would have done if it had been positive,” she said, before turning to walk out the door.

Following her out to the living room, he caught up to her in a few long strides. Taking hold of her arm, he gently spun her around before she could open the front door. “If it had been positive, then I would have been fine with it. But I’m not going to lie to you and say I’m not relieved that it was negative.”

“Thanks for your honesty. Now let me go. I can’t talk about this right now.”

“Let me explain—“ he started, but then was interrupted by the ring of his cell phone. Rolling his eyes, he grabbed the phone from his belt clip and answered, “Taylor.”

It was Vivian. She needed him to get to a crime scene right away. They had a possible identification on one of their cold cases. As he closed his phone, Katie shrugged out of his grasp.

“You better go. It sounds important,” she said, sounding almost relieved to not have to hear his explanation.

“We’ll talk later. I promise,” Danny whispered as he leaned in to kiss her forehead before walking out the door.

XXX

“You should have seen his face,” Katie said as she pulled her knees up to her chest and sat back on the couch. She’d returned to her apartment and was pouring her heart out to her roommate, Camille.

After handing Katie a cup of coffee, Camille took a seat next to her. “I’m sure he would have been fine if it had been positive. He was just momentarily freaked out. That’s not an unusual reaction for a guy.”

“I know. I just thought he would have been more supportive, you know? It’s Danny, for God’s sake.”

“You wanted it to be positive, didn’t you?” Camille asked.

“Honestly, in that moment, I did. I mean, at first, I was a little freaked, too, but when I saw that it was negative, I was really sad. I guess I wanted Danny to be sad, too. But after the way he reacted, I know that he was just relieved.”

“Are you sure he wants kids?” Camille asked. “Some men don’t.”

Glancing up at Camille, Katie shrugged. “I thought so. He likes kids. He’s crazy about his niece and nephew. But after this morning, who knows?”

XXX

That afternoon, Katie had dismissed her class ten minutes early. She’d been in no mood to lecture on the romantic symbolism in Pride and Prejudice. Sitting down at the desk in front of the room, she rubbed her temples to try and rid herself of the headache she’d had for most of the day. Suddenly, she heard a desk chair squeak. Opening her eyes, she saw Danny sitting directly in front her.

“You know I always hated these lecture hall desks in college. No leg room,” he said quietly, clearly trying to gauge if she was still angry.

“What are you doing here in the middle of the day?” Katie asked. “What happened to your case?”

“We found our guy, but he was already dead. We were too late,” he replied in a disappointed tone.

Nodding, Katie said, “I’m sorry.”

“Thanks,” he responded quietly. And then they both stared at each other for a few moments, not sure what to say next. After taking a deep breath, Danny finally continued, “You shouldn’t have tried to run away this morning. Weren’t you the one who told me we needed to talk about things and not keep things in?”

“I was angry, and I didn’t think there was anything you could say in that moment to explain why you were acting like a cold bastard.”

Smirking, Danny ran a hand over his chin. He’d never seen Katie quite like this before. “There are reasons why I had that reaction—”

“I know why you reacted that way,” she interrupted. “You’re not sure if you want kids. You’re happy with the way things are. We have this very comfortable life and you don’t want to mess with that. I get it. I either have to adjust to it or—“

“Where did all of that come from?” he cut her off in a confused tone. “This is why you should have let me talk to you this morning. You had all day to invent all of that. Now I have to deprogram you,” he said with a slightly sarcastic smile.

“Don’t even try to make a joke out of this, Danny. I’m not in the mood. If I’ve really invented it, and it’s not true, then please enlighten me on why you acted like an insensitive jerk this morning.”

“Because it was a surprise,” he said emphatically, “and it was also bad timing. Yesterday, we spent the better part of the day looking for a little girl who’d been forced into a child pornography ring. Her parents died when she was five or six, and her uncle took custody of her. He’s the one who did that to her. She was still a baby. And she’s lived like that for years. It makes me question whether I want to bring a child into this kind of world. The stuff I see in my job, the stuff I went through as a kid – is that any kind of life for an innocent child? That’s what I started thinking about the minute you said you were late.”

Sighing deeply, Katie rubbed her eyes. “That wouldn’t happen to our child.”

“How can you be so sure? What if something happens to us? Hell, on an even more basic level, what if I started to drink again? I would never want you or our child to go through that.”

“Danny-“

“Don’t say it can’t happen, because it can,” he said simply.

“I’m willing to take the risk. I have faith that we will be able to protect our child and that you will be okay. I can’t imagine the things you have to see in your job. It’s hard enough to read about those things in the newspaper, but knowing all of that – I still would never sacrifice the opportunity to bring a life we create into this world. Isn’t that what life is all about?” she asked quietly. When he didn’t respond, she stood and walked towards him as she folded her arms across her chest. “Maybe I’m the one who needs to deprogram you.”

“You really wanted it to be positive, didn’t you?” he asked, looking up at her.

“I don’t know,” she answered, shaking her head. “I did feel sad when I saw that it was negative. I know that it isn’t the right time and it’s not what we’d planned, but I need to know that it’s still something I can hope for in the not-too-distant future. Otherwise…” she trailed off as she looked down at her feet.

Standing, Danny slid his arms around her waist and pulled her close. “It’s something we’ll both hope for. I do want kids, especially with you. I just wasn’t expecting to have one so soon. But I promise we’re headed in that direction. And I'm sorry that I was an insensitive jerk and a cold bastard,” he said as he leaned down and gave her a soft kiss. "Forgive me?"

Nodding, Katie looked up into his dark, puppy-dog eyes. She couldn't imagine ever being able to look into those eyes and not forgive him.


Note to reviewers: Based on feedback, it sounds like most wanted Katie to be pregnant. Allow me to explain my rationale for not going in that direction: In order to continue this fic, I really need it to be as parallel with the show as possible. Otherwise, I’ll have trouble weaving this story with the actual episodes in the show. See I think it’s possible that Danny would have a girlfriend that doesn’t get mentioned in the actual show because he’s fairly private and they tend to not talk about their personal lives during work hours. But I don’t think it would be possible for Danny to have a pregnant girlfriend without hearing about her on the actual show. I’m fairly certain that Danny would marry her right away, which would then make it difficult for me to keep the fic true to the actual episodes. And I’ve already written Danny as a father in An Unexpected Love and HappyEnding Interrupted, so I feel like I’ve already done that kind of story. I like building the chapters around what is happening in the actual show. That keeps me interested in what I’m writing. Hope I didn’t disappoint anyone too much.

Danny trudged home in brisk, January air, thinking that if he’d ever needed a quiet night at home, tonight was the night. He’d spent most of the day completing his reports on Cole’s case. The reports had been made more complicated because he’d died, and because he and Elena had taken out Orlando after he’d shot Cole. It had been the third time Danny had shot someone in the last year, and he was beginning to wonder if he was cursed. While doing his reports, he’d gone over his actions over and over. Maybe they shouldn’t have let Orlando leave. Maybe he should have waited until SWAT had arrived before confronting Orlando. Danny knew he was in for several days of second-guessing himself. It had seemed like his habit lately. The only good decision he’d made in the last 24 hours was to go see Trevor. Giving Trevor his card and trying to follow through on Cole’s dying wish was the only thing that made Danny feel even a little bit good about himself.

He should have gone to see Trevor first thing in the morning. Maybe if he’d done that first, then he would have had a better handle on his whole demeanor when he’d gone to the mandatory post-shooting session with Dr. Harris. Instead, he had still been feeling raw and hadn’t really had a chance to prepare what he’d wanted to say.

As Danny approached Dr. Harris’s office, Elena walked out.

How’d it go?” Danny asked as she approached him.

Fine. You know, she just wants to make sure we don’t have a hair trigger finger.”

Yeah. This is my third time talking to her in the last year. At this point, she probably has hair trigger finger written across my file.”

We didn’t have a choice, Danny.”

I know. Believe me, I know,” he said with a sigh. “I better get in there.”

Good luck,” she said as she walked down the hall.

Dr. Harris!” Danny greeted her in a warm tone as he walked into the office. “It seems I can’t get enough of you lately.”

Nor I of you. What gives?” she asked as he took a seat across from her.

I don’t know. You know? I mean, wrong place, wrong time?” he shrugged. “Elena and I didn’t have a choice. Orlando had just shot our missing person.”

I read the report. I don’t doubt you, but I can’t help but think that this affects you. The kidnapper in the Costin case—“

He lived, actually. He’s still in the hospital, probably still glad to be in the hospital since he’ll go to prison once he gets rehabbed.”

Even so, it’s a lot of violence to have to endure in a short amount of time, especially after what happened last spring.”

Last spring, Danny thought, everything had changed last spring.

You’re right,” he answered pensively. “It is a lot to endure, and sometimes I wonder if I’m still cut out for this kind of work.” He said it without thinking. He could see Dr. Harris’s wheels turning.

Thinking about a career change?”

Realizing he couldn’t turn back now, he continued. “I passed the Bar exam a few months ago. I thought I wasn’t ready to leave this place, but I’m getting kind of tired of watching guys bleed out in front of me, and looking for children who are being abused. Some cushy, uptown law gig is looking better and better.”

Congratulations on the passing the Bar. Does Jack know? Usually, those kinds of things make it into your file,” she said as she flipped through the pages on her desk.

I haven’t told him. I haven’t told anyone here. Like I said, I didn’t think I was ready to leave.”

I’m surprised you didn’t tell them. Except for Elena, your team has been together for a long time. I thought you guys were fairly close.

We are close, in some ways. I mean, I’d take bullet for them, you know? But lately, we’ve kind of been all business with each other. I think with what happened to Viv and then…Martin…, we just kind of distanced ourselves. I don’t know. It just never occurred to me to tell them.” The moment he’d had with Jack at the hospital flashed in Danny’s mind. He’d just wanted to tell Jack how sorry he was had been about his father dying, but Jack hadn’t seemed to understand or appreciate his support. Jack hadn’t even asked them to come to his father’s funeral. No, Danny thought, they definitely weren’t the close-knit group that they had once been.

Speaking of Martin, how are things with him?” Dr. Harris asked.

Shaking his head, Danny answered, “Okay, I guess.”

You don’t know?”

Shrugging, Danny said, “Like I said, there’s more distance between all of us now. I’m not sure he trusts me in the same way that he used to.” Why should he, Danny thought? It was like his mouth was working independent of his mind. He couldn’t control it, and he knew he was just adding fuel to Dr. Harris’s fire.

Because of the ambush?”

Nodding, Danny ran his hand over his chin. “And what happened after. I don’t do well at hospitals. I didn’t really go to see him. We’ve never really talked about any of it. It’s hard to get back to the way things used to be when…” he trailed off, not sure how to articulate it.

When you can’t get past what happened that night?” she finished for him.

I guess, yeah.”

How are your meetings going?”

Great. Twice a week, like clockwork.”

Good. That’s an amazing accomplishment, Danny. You have a lot to be proud of,” she stated with a supportive smile.

He could tell what she was doing. Positive reinforcement at its best. He felt like one of Pavlov’s dogs.

Thanks,” he replied in a humble tone.

Are you still with-“pausing, she looked in his file, “Are you still with Katie?”

Yeah. We’re good,” he replied with a small smile.

Good for you. Being in a healthy relationship can be very helpful in getting through difficult times at work.”

It’s made all the difference. She keeps things in perspective for me.”

She does keep things in perspective, Danny thought as he continued his journey home. He hadn’t seen Katie in three days. Cole’s case had made for a couple of very long nights. He’d told her she might as well stay at her place because he knew he wouldn’t be home. But he knew she’d be at his place when he got home tonight. She’d told him that they had something to go to with her father, but he couldn’t remember what. Whatever it was, he was hoping to convince Katie to skip out on it and stay home with him. He didn’t have the energy to go out, especially not after his session with Dr. Harris. He’d completely lost his cool and revealed way more than he’d intended, leading Dr. Harris to suggest more sessions for him. He’d told her that he’d think about it, but for now, he just wanted to focus on going to his meetings. She hadn’t pushed him, but he knew that if he had one more shooting in his file, she’d probably take her concerns to Jack.

Walking through his front door, Danny heard music coming from the stereo. After making his way back to the bedroom, he caught sight of Katie standing in front of the bathroom sink. Her hips swaying to the music as she applied her make-up, she was a vision in a form-fitting bustier teddy.

Casually leaning against the doorframe, Danny resisted every urge to take her by surprise. “To what do I owe this pleasure?” he asked as he continued to gaze at her.

Smiling, she met his eyes through his reflection in the mirror. “You like?” she asked in a sexy tone.

Considering he’d found her irresistible in her usual after-work attire of a tank top and track pants, he responded, “To say the least. What’s the occasion?”

“You don’t remember?” she asked in a less-than-surprised tone.

“I don’t remember,” he confirmed.

“It’s a charity benefit at the Met.”

Still not quite remembering the details, his brow etched into a frown.

“Dad’s being honored. Remember? It’s his first big public appearance since he got out. I promised him we’d be there.”

“You promised him we’d be there? I’m betting it’s only important for you to be there. I mean, I know he doesn’t hate me anymore, but I’m pretty sure he’d like to escort his brilliant, beautiful daughter to this thing, considering his wife is under house arrest in the Hamptons,” he replied, trying hard to stifle a laugh because he knew this wasn’t Katie’s favorite subject.

“That’s not funny. And he did ask that we both be there, and I’m very much looking forward to us both going, considering the only time we ever go out is to pick up our takeout orders.”

“I took you to a movie two weeks ago,” he responded defensively.

Sighing heavily, Katie finally turned around and walked toward him. “You said you’d come. I asked you a few mornings ago, and you said you’d be there if you weren’t working.”

Finally remembering the morning in question, Danny nodded. “That was a cheap trick – asking me at that particular time. I probably would have agreed to anything,” he said as he snaked his arm around her waist and pulled her to him.

“I think you should keep that morning in mind, just as a reminder of how appreciative I would be if you come with tonight,” she said and then rose up on her toes to plant a soft, lingering kiss on his lips.

Pulling her closer, he nuzzled her neck and inhaled her scent. She was intoxicating, more intoxicating than any drink he’d ever had. “Is that a bribe?” he asked before kissing her again. “You know that’s considered a federal offense.”

“It’s whatever you want it to be,” she replied in a breathy tone. “I promise we’ll have fun. There will be dancing,” she said as she swayed against him.

“Dancing’s good, but I hate to burst your bubble. I don’t exactly have the threads for a benefit at the Met.”

Giggling, Katie grabbed his hand and led him to the closet. “I’ve taken care of everything.”

“You rented me a tux?” he asked with another frown when he saw the garment bag hanging from his closet door.

Giving him a horrified stare, Katie shook her head. “No. Not rented,” she responded as if the thought would never have entered her mind. “Being a former Manhattan debutante still has its privileges. I have an old friend who works at Armani. The tux is on loan. And she even hooked me up with the most beautiful gown. I can’t wait until you see it.”

Unzipping the garment bag, Danny ran a hand over the tuxedo that was easily worth a month’s salary. He’d bought some expensive suits in his life, suits he really couldn’t afford, but this was way out of his league. As he looked at it, an image of Cole flashed in his mind. They both had come to live lives that they never thought were possible when they were young. And suddenly, Danny felt guilty because he was still living, and Cole had died right in front of him the night before.

“What do you think?” Katie asked, rousing him from his thoughts.

“I think this is probably way too much, and an evening at the Met probably shouldn’t be in the cards for me.”

“The tux isn’t too much; it’s a loan. And don’t be silly. You’ll have a great time. We’ll have a great time.”

Turning to her, he let his fingers tangle in her hair. “This is important to you?”

“There will be a lot of people there that I’ve known my whole life, people I haven’t seen since before I got divorced. I want everyone to see that I am happy and you are the reason for that happiness. So yes, it is important to me, but I’d never want you to be uncomfortable. If you don’t—“

Leaning down, Danny kissed her in mid-sentence. “I’m going to give the tux a spin, and see if it fits.”

Her face brightening with a wide smile, Katie nodded in appreciation as she turned to finish getting ready in the bathroom.

After taking a quick shower, Danny carefully dressed. As he shrugged on the tuxedo jacket after tying his tie, he looked at himself in the mirror. It fit perfectly, and for a moment, he forgot that he really didn’t belong in a suit like that. Clothes always did that for him. They’d become like an armor. He’d always felt like people wouldn’t be able to see his past, if he just dressed the part of someone who came from somewhere other that the hell he’d been brought up in.

“Wow,” Katie said in almost a trance-like state as she walked out of the bathroom. “Wow,” she repeated as he turned to her.

“You think it fits okay?” Danny asked adjusting the tie a little.

Katie sighed. “Um…I think it more than fits okay. It looks like it was made for you,” she said, biting her lip as her cheeks flushed a bit. Walking towards him, Katie reached out and ran her hands over the lapels. “Maybe we shouldn’t go out. Maybe we should just stay right here,” she said looking up at him in earnest.

Smiling, he leaned down to kiss her. She hadn’t dressed yet, and Danny wasn’t sure how she expected him stay focused. “Don’t tempt me,” he said as he absently unclasped the top three buttons of her bustier.

Returning his kiss, Katie mumbled, “Maybe we could be late.”

Unclasping two more, Danny was coming to the point of no return. “It’s your call,” he said catching his breath as he pressed his forehead to hers.

With a dramatic sigh, Katie pulled away. “We probably shouldn’t. At least not right now. Now later in the limo is a completely different thing,” she said in a playful tone.

“You better get dressed quickly,” Danny said as he carefully helped her re-clasp her bustier.

XXX

An hour later, they walked up the steps of the grand building. Katie seemed to be floating up the stairs in the flowing, black, strapless gown. Danny had never seen her this beautiful or this vibrant. Her father said as much when he greeted them at the top of the stairs.

Walking into the benefit, Danny felt his Armani armor start to fail him. His heart beating faster, Danny looked around the room at the richest and most powerful people in the city. Thinking of Cole once again, Danny was re-thinking the decision to accompany Katie. He didn’t have anything in common with any of these people. Even without his checkered past, he was still just a federal employee. He knew it was silly to feel like this, so he tried very hard to keep his cool, confident exterior on display.

Dredging up the last bit of his waning strength, he smiled as Katie and her father began to introduce him to their friends.

It hadn’t taken long for Katie to be separated from Danny once inside the benefit. An old friend of her mother’s had trapped her near the bar, clearly wanting to hear all the nasty details about her mother’s incarceration. In the meantime, her father had taken Danny over to meet Walter Miller, the managing partner in the firm that had handled Rafael’s case. As the woman rattled on, Katie watched as Danny engaged Walter Miller in conversation. She'd known Danny had felt out of place the minute he'd walked into the room. She’d felt the clamminess of his hand as he held hers. But then, just like always, he’d seemed to get control of the situation—her father and Mr. Miller laughing at whatever Danny was telling them.

Katie knew that Danny didn’t give himself enough credit. She knew that he didn’t think he was quite good enough or worthy, but Katie knew different. She’d known since the first moment she’d met him. Feeling compelled to be near him again, Katie excused herself and made her way over to Danny and her father.

“It looks like you guys are having more fun that me. Mrs. Willingham had me cornered,” she said playfully as she joined the three men.

“Walter is extolling the virtues of his firm to Danny. It appears they’d like the inside track a federal agent might give them.”

“Absolutely,” Mr. Miller agreed. “Any advantage is useful when it comes to putting on a federal defense, and we have more than a few cases where we could use his expertise. As I said before, we’d love to have someone like you join our team.”

“I appreciate that, sir, but Katie here already thinks I’m avoiding her with the job I have. With the hours I’d have to put in as a first-year associate, she’d leave me for sure,” Danny replied with a charming smile.

“The hours are long, but that doesn’t last forever,” replied Mr. Miller as he clapped Danny’s upper arm.

“Maybe we can discuss this further on the dance floor. You promised me a dance before dinner,” Katie said smiling as she looked up at Danny. She could tell he was relieved to be saved from further career conversation.

“Excuse us. It was nice to finally meet you, sir,” Danny said as he led her onto the dance floor. Taking her in his arms, he smiled as he looked in her eyes. “Your Dad and Mr. Miller are pretty persistent.”

“They can tell what an asset you would be, but I’m sorry if it makes you uneasy.”

“It’s fine. It’s more than fine, but I just find it hard to believe,” he responded in an unsure voice.

“I know,” Katie replied simply, even though she wished he could understand he deserved these sorts of opportunities

Letting Danny lead her in time with the music, Katie’s heart beat faster and faster. When he leaned his head down and brushed his lips against her neck, she felt a surge go through her entire body.

“I can’t even tell you how happy I am that you came tonight. I feel like I’m in a fairy tale.”

“That’s a good way to put it, because I never thought I’d ever be at something like this with someone like you,” Danny said.

“When we walked in tonight, I could tell you felt unsure—despite your brave face.”

For a moment, Danny didn’t respond. He just looked at Katie with uncertainty, as if deciding whether to cop to his earlier attitude. Finally, he explained, “We had this case the other day. It was this guy who turned his whole life around. He went from being a gang banger to being this well-respected EMT who tried to help the kids who were going down the wrong path.”

“Did you find him?” Katie asked hopefully, although she could tell by the look in his eyes that the case didn’t end well.

“One of his old gang buddies shot him right in front of me.”

She stopped dancing abruptly and stroked his upper arms in reassurance. "Oh, God, Danny. I'm sorry."

“His past caught up with him. It just makes me think that is bound to happen to me, and I don’t want you to ever suffer from that. You know?” he asked with a slight hitch in his voice. “I’ll never really belong in your world, Katie. I can put on a borrowed tux and do a good job of pretending that I do, but part of me thinks these people will see right through me.”

Sliding her arms around his neck, Katie coaxed him into moving to the music again. “All they see is a great guy who I am completely in love with. I’m pretty sure I know about all the stuff in your past, and it doesn’t scare me in the least. The only thing that could ever make me suffer is if you left me. You belong here because we belong together.”

Smiling, Danny kissed her forehead as he tightened his grip around her waist. They continued to dance for another song, as they got more and more lost in each other. Almost losing track of time completely, they were both startled when Katie’s father tapped Danny on his shoulder.

“I hate to interrupt you two, but I was hoping to dance with my daughter before the ceremony starts. It’s been a very long time since we last danced, sweetheart. Do you mind, Danny?”

“Not at all sir,” he said as he laid Katie’s hand in her father’s hand.

Taking her hand, her father continued talking as they started to dance. “You know, part of the reason I wanted you to come this evening was so that you could talk to our friends. You haven't seen any of them for ages," he said. "If you spend the whole night dancing with your boyfriend, that’s not going to happen.”

“Sorry, Dad. Danny and I haven’t seen much of each other this week. We were just catching up.”

“Do you remember the last time we danced?” her father asked suddenly.

Shaking her head, Katie responded, “Honestly? No, I don’t.”

“Your wedding. You did your duty and danced with your father even though that was the last thing you wanted to do.”

“I’m not surprised I don’t remember. I’ve done my best to block that out of my memory.”

“The look on your face that day pales in comparison to the way you look tonight. I’m so happy for you, darling.”

Katie smiled. There was a time when she never thought her father would say that about her relationship with Danny. “I’m happy for you as well. I’m happy that you have your life back, and things are getting back to normal. We went through some rough patches, but things will only get better for both of us now.”

“How much better? Dare I hope for another chance to dance at your next wedding? This time I won’t be so bitter about giving you away. I know that Danny will take good care of you.”

Biting her lip, Katie felt herself blush a little. “That’s a little soon. We haven’t talked marriage yet, Dad. And believe me; I won’t make you throw me the wedding of the century this time. I hope when the time comes that we can do something small and special.”

She felt uncomfortable talking about a wedding when Danny had barely mentioned marriage yet. Just as she was ready to be pregnant, she was also very ready to be married. She’d been thinking about it ever since Danny had taken her to the AA meeting. In many ways, that had been their final hurdle to get through, as far as Katie had been concerned. But Danny didn’t seem to have the same urgency. He wasn’t pushing her to move in with him or for them to find a place together. And he had been very honest with her about not being ready for a baby. Katie was doing her best to be patient, but their current holding pattern had made her more than anxious.

Shaking her from her thoughts, her father continued, “When you were sixteen, I thought he was the last person I wanted to see you end up with. I remember when I first met him; I thought he was the embodiment of all things that fathers feared for their daughters.”

Katie laughed. Danny had looked like the quintessential brooding, bad boy back then. ‘I didn’t exactly handle that in the best way. Hiding a boy in my bedroom for two weeks – you were bound to have that reaction. But I didn’t think I had a choice at the time. I was living out my own little Romeo and Juliet fantasy.”

They continued to laugh and dance before they finally settled down for dinner and the ceremony. Katie and Danny looked on as her father was honored. After dinner, they were cornered, once again, by Walter Miller and a few other high-level legal types. As Danny talked with them in legal terms that Katie barely understood, her eyes glazed over. Rising up, she whispered in his ear that she was going to powder her nose.

After doing just that, she stepped out onto a small balcony to get some air. At first, the cold January air felt good against her skin. She hugged her arms against her chest to try and enjoy the air for a few moments longer. Just as she couldn’t take the cold anymore, she suddenly felt a jacket slide onto her shoulders. Smiling, she leaned back thinking that Danny had found her, but when she felt hot breath against her neck and the touch of a foreign hand on her shoulder—she knew it wasn’t him. Turning quickly, she gasped.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Katie asked, as she looked into the eyes of her former husband, Eric Matthews.

“It’s good to see you as well,” he said sarcastically as he his eyes traveled the length of her body.

Shrugging off the jacket, Katie let it fall to the ground as she started to walk away.

“Katie, wait!” Eric said as he bent down to pick up the jacket. “Just give me a minute. Give me one minute to apologize.”

Hesitating, Katie couldn’t believe she could almost hear sincerity in his voice. “I don’t care to hear any apologies from you, Eric. I’ve done fine without them.”

“Yeah, I can see that. First, you go off to Europe to follow your dream, and now you finally have the life you always wanted with Taylor. I’m happy for you, Kate, but I still want to explain.”

Katie winced at hearing him refer to her as Kate. It was something he’d done from almost the moment that he’d met her, and she always wondered if he’d called her that because it was what her father called her. “What is there to explain? You used me to get back at my father, and then you tried to destroy me.” Katie wasn’t sure why she was still standing there in the freezing cold. She knew he couldn’t say anything to make her feel any differently about him, but there was something in his voice that seemed genuine and she still felt that same sense of fear that she’d felt around him when they were married.

“For once, I wish you could have felt what is was like to be in my shoes back then—before we got married. When we first met, you were like this wounded bird that I tried to fix. It wasn’t about you father. I was in love with you, and I thought you loved me.”

Katie shook her head. “You never loved me, Eric. You couldn’t have treated me like that, if you loved me.”

“Think back, Kate. We were good together that first year. You were happy…thrilled when I asked you to marry me. But then you saw Taylor, and within an hour of seeing him, you were in his bed. Can you really blame me for feeling the sting of that?”

“Yes, I can blame you and you know why. You more than made me pay for feeling the sting of that, Eric,” Katie said sarcastically as she turned to leave again.

“But I wanted to marry you in spite of it. When he didn’t have the courage to fight for you, I stuck around because I couldn’t live without you. It was my mistake for loving you too much.”

Turning around again, Katie sighed. He did look genuinely sorry. “It’s all in the past, Eric. It’s over.”

“I know, but I was hoping we could get to a place where we could be friends,” he said as he took a few steps towards her.

“No. We can’t be friends, Eric. Being your friend would mean I’d have to trust you, and I could ever trust you again,” she said as she felt a shiver trailed down her spine. She wasn’t sure whether the chill was from the cold air or the slight fear she still felt being in the same space as Eric.

When he noticed her shiver, Eric reached out to her. Katie tried to back away, but his hand still made contact with her arm.

“Get the hell away from her!” Katie heard Danny’s voice ring out from behind them.

As Danny listened to Walter Miller and a few other attorneys talk shop, his mind began to go numb. Suddenly, he remembered his least favorite parts of law school and why there were so many lawyer jokes. While he’d loved practicing litigation and researching court cases, there had also been endless amounts of seemingly useless information that he’d never found interesting. Listening to these men drone on and on made Danny realize that things hadn’t changed. While he’d always found the law fascinating, he’d come to realize he was not necessarily the lawyer-type. So, when the opportunity presented itself, he excused himself and went in search of his date. He figured Katie had to be ready to go by now. They’d danced, they’d been there for her father, and now that they’d done their duty, Danny was ready to take her home and continue what they’d started earlier in the evening.

Walking out of the ballroom and down the hall, Danny smiled in the anticipation of seeing her again. The evening hadn’t been nearly as bad as he'd thought it would be. He’d actually enjoyed himself. Making a mental note to tell Katie just that, he turned the corner to check the area outside the ladies' room. Stopping abruptly, he caught sight of two people through the double doors leading to the balcony. Katie’s back was turned to him, but taking a closer look, Danny was sure it was her and Eric, her ex-husband. Without hesitating, he charged toward the doors and quickened his pace when he saw Eric touch her.

“Get the hell away from her!” he ordered as he stepped onto the balcony.

Danny watched as Katie shrugged out of Eric’s grasp and turned toward him. He could see fear and frustration in her eyes.

“Relax, Taylor—,” Eric started.

But Danny didn’t give him a chance to finish before lunging toward him. Before he could make contact with Eric, Katie grabbed his arm and stood strong between the two men. “Danny, it’s okay,” she said in a timid, but reassuring voice.

“Just relax, man. We were just talking,” Eric said as he raised his hands and backed up.

“Did I not make myself clear the last time I saw you? You don’t talk to her. You don’t come near her,” Danny spatted as he took Katie’s hand and backed away.

“She’s a big girl. She can talk to whoever she wants to talk to,” Eric responded defiantly.

Glancing at Katie, Danny frowned.

“Let’s just go. Okay?” Katie pleaded as she pulled Danny towards the door. When they walked into the hallway and closed the door, she said, “He took me by surprise. I didn’t know he was here.”

“Why--,” he started, but then stopped as he ran his hand over his chin. This wasn’t the time or place to get into this. “You know what? It doesn’t matter. Can we get out of here?”

“Sure,” Katie replied in a small voice. “Let me just say goodbye to Dad.”

Danny and Katie said their goodbyes before making their way to the waiting limousine. As soon as the car started moving, Katie continued to explain.

“He wanted to apologize.”

Frowning again, Danny looked at her. “And what? You want to forgive him?”

“No, I—“

“Because I get you wanting to forgive your father. And I have a better understanding of letting go of the past when it comes to my brother, but for the life of me, I can’t imagine you wanting to forgive that son of a bitch.”

“I said no, okay? But when I heard the things he said—“

“What? What could he possibly have said to make you question that? He treated you like crap, Katie. He used you and did everything he could to make you feel like you weren’t strong enough to leave him. No one who does something like that deserves forgiveness,” he said emphatically.

“I did cheat on him, Danny. We slept together while I was engaged to him.”

Shaking his head, Danny closed his eyes. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “You were nineteen. You never should have been engaged in the first place. He manipulated you.”

“Look I didn’t forgive him. He just wanted to talk to me. I think it’s important to not feel scared anymore. I have nothing to be scared of.”

Danny wanted to understand what she was saying and he didn’t want to feel angry, but he really hated seeing Eric Matthews so close to Katie. “You’re right. You have nothing to be scared of. He can’t hurt you now, but I still don’t like seeing him anywhere near you. And seeing him again just makes me wonder what you ever saw in him to begin with.”

Sighing deeply, Katie rolled her eyes. “We’ve been through this before, Danny. You know what lead me down that path. And I don’t think I have to remind you that you’ve had your share of unhealthy relationships, too.”

Danny didn’t have answer to that.

They rode in an uncomfortable silence all the way back to his apartment. Danny was afraid if they talked any more that one of them would start a fight. He still felt irritated about the whole situation even though he knew that Katie had been very honest with him. Sometimes he really hated his relentless, stubborn streak.

After walking up the stairs, Danny let her in to the apartment and turned on the light. As he closed and locked the door, he watched Katie pause at the kitchen counter. He knew she was debating whether she should take off her wrap and stay, or leave because she thought he was still irritated. Deciding to take the ball out of her court, he walked up behind her and slowly took the wrap from her shoulders. As he carefully laid the wrap on the chair, he noticed that she visibly exhaled. To relax her even more, he gently massaged her tense shoulders as she leaned back against him.

“It was one of those moments that you’re in, and you don’t want to be there. But I thought if I ran away, he would think I still feared him. I didn’t want him to think that for some reason,” she said in a quiet, pensive tone.

Danny kissed the top of her head as he continued to rub her shoulders. “I’m sorry that I overreacted. I didn’t want to make you feel bad. I just don’t want him to feel like he has the right to go near you.”

As she turned to face him, Danny encircled her waist. Rising up, she kissed him softly on the lips.

“I appreciate the overprotectiveness, but Eric isn’t worth the trouble. And I know that I can take care of myself when it comes to him now.”

Danny smiled as he saw the confidence dance in her eyes. “I’ll keep that in mind,” he whispered in her ear before kissing her earlobe. “So I guess since these are borrowed threads, we should be kind of careful.”

Laughing, Katie closed her eyes as a shiver traveled down her spine. “This is a ten thousand dollar dress. They’ll be no bodice-ripping tonight.”

Very gently, Danny started to unzip the dress. “I can handle that.”

XXX

A few weeks later, the drama of his and Katie’s night out flooded back to Danny’s memory as he sat at his desk completing paperwork on Gina Hill’s case. Two hours earlier, he’d been out in the field looking for Gina when Jack called telling him to get over the Gina’s fiancé’s. Minutes later, Jack had called him back saying not to bother. Martin had charged in and taken Gina’s kidnapper out. So Danny had returned to the office while Jack, Elena and Sam went over to the fiancé’s to process the scene.

As he looked over the pieces they put together to find Gina, Danny found himself feeling sorry for her. Some might say that she asked for what had happened to her. She’d invited the danger into her life, but Danny knew that Gina’s tendencies were just like any other addiction. She’d gotten out of control, and when she finally was able to reign herself in, her past had come back to haunt her. No, Danny thought, he really couldn’t judge her, but her case did make him worry about Katie. Eric was a dangerous man, just like Vince. At that moment, he felt vindicated in feeling overprotective of her the night of the benefit, and he vowed to do whatever he could to keep her safe.

“I thought Jack said you went home,” Sam said as she walked to her desk.

Completely startled, Danny looked up from the paperwork. “I thought I’d get a head start on this,” he responded as he watched Sam take her purse out of her bottom drawer. “Martin and Jack back yet?” he asked, and to be honest, this was the real reason why he’d stayed. When Jack had told him that Martin had shot Vince, Danny felt a certain obligation to make sure Martin was okay.

“Yeah. They’re in Jack’s office. You know, Martin is getting the whole “in the line of fire” spiel.”

“I know it well,” Danny replied. He’d heard it only weeks ago. “Wasn’t Elena with you?”

“I dropped her at home before coming back. She wanted to get home to tuck her daughter in.”

“That was Viv’s excuse, too. She wanted to make it home for family dinner.”

“Well, I don’t have any family dinner to get to or a kid to tuck in, but I think I’ll head home anyway. After a case like this, I think a hot bath is the only remedy,” Sam said as she put on her coat and slung her bag over her shoulder. “You want to split cab fare and forego the cold subway?”

“What about Martin? You think he’s okay?” Danny asked, wondering why Sam wouldn’t want to stay. He knew she and Martin hadn’t been together in a long time, but he thought Sam would still stick around.

“I tried to talk to him at the scene. He wasn’t saying much. You know Martin, stoic as ever. It was a clean shoot, even though Jack told him to wait. He made a judgment call, and saved Gina and her fiancé. If I thought he’d want to talk about it, then I would stay. But--”

“I understand, Sam.”

“So, cab fare?” Sam repeated.

“Katie’s got a late class tonight. So I’d rather just finish this,” Danny replied. This was true; Katie did have a class. But Danny also wanted to see for himself that Martin was all right. He’d seen Martin get pretty rattled on that rooftop during Max’s case and just want to make sure that wasn’t the case tonight.

“Okay. See you tomorrow.”

“Goodnight,” Danny said as he watched Sam walk out.

Twenty minutes later, the sound of footsteps coming into the bullpen made him look up. Martin nodded to him before retreating to his desk. Jack was following, but stopped in front of Danny’s desk. “I thought I told you to go home hours ago,” he said gruffly.

“Yeah, you did, but I decided to get my paperwork done tonight. I wouldn’t be able to sleep anyway. I’m pretty much done so I’m headed out in a minute,” he replied, glancing over at Martin.

Nodding, Jack responded in a less gruff way. “Okay. Good work today. I’ll, uh, I’ll see you tomorrow.” Turning slightly, he addressed Martin. “Don’t forget about your 10 o’clock tomorrow.”

“I got it, Jack,” Martin replied wearily as he zipped his backpack.

“See you guys, tomorrow,” Jack said as he walked to the door.

“’Night Jack,” Danny said as he stood up from his desk and cautiously approached Martin. “So is that 10 o’clock appointment with Dr Harris? I feel for you, man. I just went through it a few weeks ago.”

“It’s pretty senseless, you know? We wouldn’t shoot people, if it wasn’t absolutely necessary,” Martin replied in an agitated tone.

“Well, I guess they just want to make sure it was absolutely necessary," he responded with a sly grin.

“Yeah, I guess,” Martin replied as he put his bag on his shoulder. “I’m headed out.”

Nodding, Danny stepped away to let Martin through, but then reached out to touch his arm. “Are you okay?” he asked, trying to hide the concern in his voice.

“I’m fine, Danny. Just like I told Sam and Jack, I’m fine. I had no choice but to go in that house.”

“I know, man. I’m not questioning that. I just…I...” Danny trailed off. He had no idea how to talk to Martin about this. He wanted to tell him that he knew how much more intense these situations were since the ambush, but he couldn’t bring himself to say it.

“You what?” Martin questioned in a more than agitated tone.

“Nothing. I just went through it a couple of weeks ago, so if you wanted to talk—”

“Thanks, Danny, but there’s nothing to talk about. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Right. Tomorrow,” Danny replied as he watched Martin walk out. There was something different about him, but Danny couldn’t put his finger on it. He'd seen Martin stressed out before, but there was a tenseness in him now that never seemed to go away, and which seemed to have grown increasingly difficult for him to hide.

It was Saturday. Danny didn’t have a case, and Katie didn’t have any classes to prepare for or papers to grade. When they woke up together and realized they didn’t have any plans, they both smiled and proceeded to stay in bed for most of the morning. They would have stayed that way all day, but hunger pains, a need for coffee and the bright sunshine streaming through the window convinced them to do otherwise.

“You have two slices of pizza that I’m pretty sure we ordered last week, and an apple in your refrigerator. When’s the last time you went grocery shopping?” Katie asked, glancing over at him. Rubbing sleep out of his eyes with one hand, he sat down at the bar stool by the counter. She couldn’t help but smile at his appearance. His hair was truly out of control and the look in his eyes when he first wakes up had always reminded her of when he was younger.

“The answer to that would be: when’s the last time you went grocery shopping?” he answered as he absently tried to tame his hair.

“Awww. Have I been neglecting you?” she asked as she walked to him and put her arms around his bare shoulders.

“Definitely not. And it’s not your job to take care of me, but you are the only one of us who seems to take the time to make sure we eat. Before you, most all my dinners were of the takeout variety.”

“What if I want the job of taking care of you?” she asked, planting a kiss on his shoulder.

“I could handle that,” he said as he turned to kiss her. “In the meantime, why don’t you let me buy you breakfast?”

“You mean lunch, right? It’s almost noon. Somebody wouldn’t let me get out of bed this morning.”

XXX

An hour later, they found themselves walking through the park after having eaten brunch. Katie smiled as she felt Danny’s arm tighten around her shoulders.

“So, what are we going to do today? We could go to a movie, or—“

Glancing over at him, Katie interrupted. “I think we should just do this.”

“What? Walk? All day?” he asked in an exaggerated voice.

“No. I mean, we should do nothing. We shouldn’t make any plans. We shouldn’t think of something we’ve forgotten to do and do it. We shouldn’t do grocery shopping or clean your apartment. In fact, I think we should sit down right here and just talk,” she said as she stopped at a park bench that overlooked a reservoir.

Looking at her skeptically, Danny asked, “What do you want to talk about?”

“Nothing and everything. We never just talk anymore. Remember when I was in London? I’d find a phone and we’d spend two hours just talking. Those phone calls almost put us into bankruptcy, but they were fantastic. We don’t do that anymore. Every conversation seems to have some kind of purpose. Today, I think we should throw purpose out the window, and just let go.”

Danny’s skeptical expression didn’t falter, but he sat down next to her on the picnic bench anyway. “So, I’m still a little confused. What…what do you want to talk about?”

Smiling, she took Danny’s hand in hers. “How’s work going?”

His expression went from skeptical to curious. “Work? We always talk about my work. When I see you at night, you always ask, ‘How was your day?” and I say 'Good," or ‘It sucked," or ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’ I’d say that conversation always has a purpose because then I ask you how your day went,” he rambled.

“That’s not what I mean. I’m not talking about your latest case. I mean, how are the people you work with? How do you feel about your job? Are still feeling like you don’t want to pursue law?”

Sighing dramatically, he responded, “I think you need to cut down on your therapy sessions. They’re making your overly analytical. Things are fine at work.”

Shaking her head, Katie rolled her eyes. “There’s that word again. Every time things aren’t fine, you say they’re fine. It’s your pattern – in my personal analysis of your psyche.”

This time, Danny rolled his eyes. “My pattern? You’re killing me, Dr. Mason.”

“How’s Vivian doing? Is she okay?” Katie asked, still pressing.

He hesitated for moment before responding. “Viv’s better than ever,” he sighed, finally resigned to playing Katie’s game. “Last year, her world was falling apart, and now she’s back to the same Viv. She’s one of the strongest women I know.”

“See, that wasn’t so hard, was it?”

“It wasn’t hard. It just seems pointless.”

“How’s Jack doing since his Dad died?” she asked in a concerned tone.

“All right, I guess. I don’t think they were all that close, and his dad was pretty sick there at the end, so maybe it was blessing. His father’s suffering ended. But with Jack, you never know. He didn’t even ask us to come to the funeral. He's enigmatic like that. I don't think he really understood the condolences behind my sending him that deluxe fruit basket,” he said with a sheepish grin.

Katie smiled. “Like I said when you ordered it, it was a very sweet thing for you to do, but what would he do with ten pounds of fruit?”

Danny shrugged. “It was the only thing I could think of at the time. I just wanted him to know that I was really sorry.”

Reaching out, Katie laughed as she laid her palm on his cheek. “You’re the enigma, Danny.”

Smiling, Danny kissed her palm, and they gazed into each other’s eyes for a few moments before Katie finally remembered what they were talking about.

“What about Samantha?”

“What about Samantha?” he questioned as he eyes narrowed into a deep frown.

“What’s your relationship with her like? I’ve always kind of wondered about that.”

“What do you mean?” he shrugged, frown still firmly in place.

“She’s really beautiful. Did you ever hit on her?” she asked in almost a mocking tone. “I mean, back before she and Martin had their thing.”

“No. Absolutely not,” he said emphatically.

“Why not?”

“Why not? Why not? Because…because it never occurred to me. I’ve never been a ‘mix business with pleasure’ kind of guy. It makes things way too complicated and besides, it was never like that between me and Sam. When she first started, she kind of gravitated toward Jack. They had this connection.”

Raising an eyebrow, Katie looked intrigued. “Really? Did they—“

“I don’t know what happened between them. I mean, something happened, but it’s none of my business, and they never let it affect their work. That’s all that matters.”

"What a soap opera!" she exclaimed. Knowing better than to probe deeper, she asked, "So, after Jack - she and Martin?"

“That happened much later. Martin always had a thing for Sam. I guess it kind of grew into something between them, but that didn’t last either. Sometimes, I feel sorry for her. She doesn’t know what she wants, or maybe she does know, but she doesn’t think she deserves it. I actually understand that feeling. It took me a long time to realize that I deserved someone like you.”

“Mmmm.” Smiling, Katie leaned in and they kissed for a few moments. Pulling away, she continued. “Would you say you and Sam are friends?”

A perplexed look returned to Danny’s face. “What is this? Where are going with this?”

“It’s just a question.”

Sighing again, he answered. “I would say that when you work that closely with someone, you become friends by default. But there are always boundaries. I don’t know much about her outside of the office. She wouldn’t know much about me, either, except that they helped me when we looked for Rafi, so that kind of laid everything out on the table. The thing about Sam is that sometimes I think she doesn’t understand my sense of humor. I made some comment the other day when we were looking for that teacher. I said something about her and that kid going on a romantic getaway. Sam didn’t think it was funny. She was icy the rest of the day." He shrugged. "I just don't really know how well she and I know each other.”

“Defense mechanism,” Katie mumbled.

“What?”

“You use humor as a defense mechanism. You’ve done it for as long as I’ve known you. Sometimes you can come off as downright insensitive, but I know you don’t really mean it. You would be just as horrified as Samantha if that woman were really seducing that kid. But that’s how you cope. That’s how you do that job everyday. You want everyone to think that those things don’t affect you. When in actuality, they are tearing you up inside.”

“Are you going to be charging for this session, or do you plan on taking it out in trade when we get back home?” he joked.

“There you go again,” Katie responded quietly.

“Where are you going with all of this?”

“How’s Martin?”

Leaning back, he sighed. He should have known this was coming. This is what Katie had been leading up to ever since they had sat down.

“We haven’t talked about him or the shooting in a while. Are things back to normal?” she continued.

“What’s normal? The way they were before? No. I don’t think they will ever be that way again.”

“Would you say you and Martin were friends – before the shooting?”

“Yes.”

“And now?”

Danny shrugged. “I don’t know. When he helped me look for Rafi, there was something so unconditional about it, like he’d be there no matter what. I mean, Jack and Sam helped, too, but Martin…,” he trailed off not sure how to complete the thought. “It still bothers me that he got hit that night and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I think he’s still suffering from the effects of it. It’s not fair.”

“You still have nightmares about it. I can always tell. You get so restless. You two need to talk about it to bring closure. Have you ever tried talking to him?”

Shaking his head, Danny answered, “Not exactly. But I would talk to him, if I thought he wanted to. I’m actually kind of worried about him. There’s something not quite right, but he says he’s fine.”

“There’s a shock,” Katie replied quietly. “Men! I don’t think either of you will truly be fine until you get things out in the open. You don’t trust a lot of people, Danny. It would be a shame if you let this distance grow.”

Me? It’s not me. It’s him.”

“I bet he looks at you, sees that you seem unaffected, and doesn’t want to bring up the past. But what happened last spring will never really end, unless you deal with it.”

“You’re not going to let this go, are you?”

Katie shook her head. “Not until I know you’re really fine.”

XXX

“You’ve never skated at Rockefeller Center?” Katie asked her voice full of surprise. They’d moved from the park bench and were now in a coffee shop. It was a sunny day, but the chill in the February air had gotten to them. They’d moved to more lighthearted topics once inside the coffee shop. Now Katie was quizzing Danny on his favorite New York moments. She’d gotten the idea from a movie.

“We worked a missing kid case there once, but I didn’t have the opportunity to actually skate. Jack probably would have had a problem with that,” he joked. “Besides, look at me, do I look like someone who’d be caught dead in skates? I don’t think so.”

“How can you say that this is your city, and not participate in the wonder that is Manhattan? Ever been up to the Empire State Building?”

Tilting his head back, Danny thought for a moment. “I’ve been in the building, but never as a tourist. I bet I know what your favorite thing to do in the city is.”

Katie smiled. “What?”

“Shakespeare in the Park. Shakespeare at the theater. I still remember going to my first play with you. That’s definitely at the top of my list of favorite New York moments because it made you so happy.”

“I wanted us to go to Shakespeare in the Park this summer, but we didn’t get the chance. You’re almost right. That’s my second favorite thing to do.”

Frowning, Danny asked, “What’s your first if it isn’t that?”

“Spending the day with you.”

Danny laughed. “Good answer. We’ll definitely do the park thing next summer. I promise.”

“I’ll hold you to that, Agent Taylor. So what about Florida? What was your favorite part of living down there, besides the weather?”

“It’s funny, because I don’t remember a lot. I remember bits and pieces, but I don’t have solid memories. I remember playing baseball at the park outside our apartment building from morning until night during the summer. I remember my mom taking me and Rafi to the beach after the early mass on Sunday. Those were probably the best moments. She was really happy on those days. Looking back now, I know she was just trying to keep us out of the house until my father could pass out,” he said with a pensive look in his eyes. Taking a deep breath, he shook his head as if to erase the bad memory.

“Hey. I think we should end this day with a lasting New York memory of our own,” Katie said as she took his hand.

“What’d you have in mind? I kind of liked the memories we created this morning,” he responded as he leaned in to give her a lingering kiss.

“I’m talking about a new memory, something you’ve never done before,” she said as she stood up from the booth and pulled him up with her.

XXX

“I’m not doing this,” Danny said in a definitive tone.

Rolling her eyes, Katie paid the attendant as he handed over two pair of ice skates. They’d made their way to the skating rink in Central Park.

“You can’t make me go out there. I’ll make a fool of myself,” he stated emphatically.

“You’ll do great, Danny. I promise.”

“Can you promise I won’t fall on my ass?” he said as he took the ice skates from her.

“As long as you fall forward,” she said with a sarcastic grin.

“Ha-ha. I’m serious, Katie. This is not my thing. I’ll go to the top of the Empire State building; I’ll go to any play or musical you want to take me to. But this, this will be disastrous.”

Katie didn’t budge. After helping Danny tightened the laces on his skates, she guided him out onto the ice. She laughed as she felt his death grip on her arm.

“I have to say this is a new side to Danny Taylor,” she said as they got their balance.

“What side is that? The scared to death side? Are you enjoying this?” he asked, his voice cracking with nerves.

“Your vulnerable side,” she said as she skated in a circle around him.

Taking a firm grip of both his hands, Katie guided him with baby steps around the rink. She laughed when she saw the smile come to Danny’s face as he started to get the hang of it Katie wasn’t surprised. It was Danny, after all. Within a half an hour, they were skating side by side as they held hands.

XXX

They ended the night by stopping by her apartment so she could get a change of clothes for the next day. As they started to walk toward to the subway, Danny suddenly stopped her.

“Hey,” he said as he turned her to him.

“Hey,” she said smiling up at him.

“I had a great time today,” he said genuinely.

“Not too much psychoanalysis for you?” she asked in a hesitant tone.

“No. It was all good. Every moment. Every moment with you is amazing. I’ve never been this happy before. Not ever,” he said in an almost disbelieving tone.

Biting her lip, her smile widened, but she didn’t say anything.

“I love you,” he said as he brushed her hair out of her eyes.

“I love you, too.”

Danny looked down nervously and tightened his lips into a thin line. “Move in with me,” he said finally as he leaned down and pressed his forehead to hers.

Her eyes widening, Katie took a deep breath. “Are…are you sure?”

Nodding, Danny kissed her. “Positive. The way we’ve been living is crazy. This day was amazing. I want every day to be like this.”

“Me, too,” she said as she leaned up to kiss him again.

Chapter 19


It hadn’t taken Katie long to move in to into Danny’s apartment. A few days after he’d asked her to move in, she’d borrowed one of her father’s SUVs and she and Danny had proceeded to move all of her clothes and personal belongings into his apartment. Hours after they'd begun, she found herself sitting Indian style in the corner of his living room, literally walled in by her books.

“Where the hell are you?” Danny called out in slight irritation as he walked in carrying the last box.

“Down here,” she answered in a distracted tone. She’d been leafing through one of her favorite old stories and had quickly become engrossed.

“It seems as though you’ve lost some productivity. You’re supposed to be sorting through this mess, not doing book reviews,” he said in an annoyed, but playful tone.

Looking up, Katie gave him an innocent smile. “Sorry. I always forget what I have until I’m forced to look through it.”

“It looks to me like you need to do some major purging. I mean, all of this stuff can’t still be useful to you?”

Giving him a horrified glance, Katie responded. “I can’t purge any of this. They’re books, not junk. This isn’t stuff you throw away,” she said, motioning all around her.

“You could give it away. Judging by the weight of the boxes and my aching back, you could probably stock a whole library with this stuff.”

“Are we feeling a little grumpy after a long day of moving? I told you that I could have asked my Dad to get some help for us.”

“You didn’t have any furniture. I didn’t realize there would be so many boxes. And the clothes – where are we going to put all those clothes?” he said as he sat down on the floor next to her because the couch was covered in said clothes. “My clothes already fill up the bedroom closet. That’s it. That’s the only closet in this place, and it’s tiny,” he finished in a dramatic tone.

“Having second thoughts?” Katie asked in a hesitant tone.

Shaking his head, Danny reached out and massaged her neck. “No, but maybe we need to look for a bigger place – as much as I’d hate to move.”

“You really are this freakish creature of habit. Normal people often find it necessary to move every once in a while.”

“I don’t like change. I love having you here, but I don’t like change.”

“Well, Agent Taylor,” Katie said as she inched closer to him until she was in his lap. “I’ll do my best to make this change worth your while.”

Danny smiled in response right before they started to kiss. Very slowly, he leaned her back onto the hardwood floor as they continued to kiss. As he maneuvered them down, he accidentally kicked a large stack of books.

“Sorry,” he said as he looked away.

Putting her palm against his cheek, she focused his eyes back on her. “Don’t worry. I’ll deal with it later.”

“I’d suggest we take this to the bedroom, but I don’t think we can get back there right now.”

Laughing, Katie shook her head. ‘Here is good,” she said as she leaned up to engage him in another kiss. “I want you to feel really good about this whole decision. I’ll even rub your aching back later, if you want.”

Hovering above her, Danny smiled as he kissed her forehead. “I’ll take the back rub, but I am fine with all of this,” he said as he looked around the cluttered room. “Any change that involves you is a good change. We’ll figure it all out.”

XXX

The next morning, they still hadn’t moved from the spot on the cold floor. Danny had pulled a blanket from the couch on to them, but neither had had the energy to actually get up. Having both fallen into a deep sleep after making love, they were startled when they heard the shrill ring of Danny’s cell phone.

Sitting up abruptly, Danny winced and gasped loudly at the deep, intense ache in his back that had been made worse by spending time on the hard floor. “Phone…where’s my phone?” he asked, still not completely awake.

Snuggled comfortably against Danny's chest, Katie was forced to sit up abruptly when Danny moved quickly. “I think your jeans landed over there,” she said motioning over a mountain of books with her eyes still closed.

“Great!” he exclaimed in distress as he maneuvered up and over the pile. Grabbing his jeans, he pulled the phone from the belt clip. “Taylor,” he answered in a grumpy tone. “Hey….Yes….okay. I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”

“Work?” Katie asked as she pulled on Danny’s sweatshirt. She already knew the answer.

“Work,” he said as he slowly stood up and stretched out his aching back. “I hate to leave you with all this.”

“Sure you do. It’s better this way. I’ll do the best I can to get it cleared out before you get back. And I still owe you the back rub.”

Despite the pain and the irritation of the early morning phone call, Danny smiled. “Don’t worry. I wasn’t going to let you forget. At this rate, I may need a chiropractor as well.” Leaning down, he gave her one more kiss before heading to the shower.

Leaning back against a box, Katie pulled her knees to her chest and closed her eyes. Inhaling deeply, she took in the scent of Danny from his sweatshirt. Looking around the room, she had no idea how she was going to fit all of her stuff into his tiny apartment. But in that moment, she realized that it didn’t really matter. What mattered was that she was here with the man she was crazy in love with.

Katie wasn’t delusional. She’d realized in the last year that they both had their issues. Sometimes Danny could be so stubborn and distant that it drove her crazy, but it was all worth it. Their simple quiet moments together made it worth it. Their passionate, intense moments, like making love on the hardwood floor, made everything worth it.

XXX

“Thanks for the truck, Dad. We got everything in three trips.”

“You should have let me hire movers. Or at the very least, I would have been happy to help.”

“I think we underestimated how much I actually had. By Danny’s tenth trip up the stairs, he was wishing we’d accepted the help. But it’s done now.”

“Where is Danny?”

“Work. They called him in earlier – a missing stay-at-home mom. Hopefully, it’s nothing serious. But it would be nice if I could actually get things organized before he gets home.”

“Having trouble fitting everything?”

“That’s an understatement. He definitely has a bachelor apartment.”

Katie watched as her father shook his head in response.

“What?” she asked with perplexed expression.

“I have buildings full of great apartments – with plenty of room.”

“I realize that, Dad, but we can’t afford a place like that. I’m barely making enough to clothe myself right now. And they aren’t really paying federal employees top dollar these days.”

“I don’t mean to pry, sweetheart, but I can’t help but question your and Danny’s choices lately. I mean, he could be making double what he makes now, plus bonuses, at Walter’s firm. He’d be putting in roughly the same hours he puts in as an agent.”

“He’s not ready to make that jump right now.”

“Okay, well, what about the two of you? You’re moving in together, but wouldn’t it make more sense to get married? When I saw the two of you at the charity benefit, I thought for sure that was where you were headed. I half expected Danny to show up at my office to ask for your hand. If you were married, then maybe it would be easier for both of you to accept one of my properties as a gift.”

“For not meaning to pry, you sure are jumping right in. Don’t hold back, Dad.”

“It just doesn’t make much sense. I like Danny, but I question his choices right now.”

Shrugging, Katie smiled sadly. “Danny’s had an unbelievably tough life. He seems to constantly operate on the assumption that everything could be taken away from him at any moment. My moving in is a big step. Doing anything that involves any level of trust is big for Danny.”

“He’s afraid of having the rug pulled out from under him,” Mr. Mason said quietly, remembering a conversation he’d had with Danny several months ago.

“Exactly. He comes from a completely different place than you and me. And life experience has taught him to be very cautious in his decision-making. Danny needs routine. He needs to know what is coming next. Yes, he could make more money as a lawyer, but he’d lose this whole support system he has come to depend on. I’d never want him to give that up.”

“Okay. I guess I can understand that, but what about an apartment? It wouldn’t have to be one of the luxury properties – just something simple with a bit more room.”

“Tell you what? I’ll talk to him. Knowing Danny, he’ll see it as a handout, but maybe we can work something out. In the meantime, I’m going to do my best to fit my life into his world.”

XXX

After returning from her father’s office, Katie worked non-stop on organizing and reorganizing her and Danny’s things to try to fit everything. She’d stopped by Bed Bath and Beyond and found a portable wardrobe and some large storage bins. By the end of the evening, she’d done a fairly good job of merging their things together.

Deciding to reward herself with a hot bath, she’d been soaking in the lavender-scented bubbles for almost an hour when she heard the front door open. She’d expected Danny to call out to her as he usually did, but he didn’t this time. She suspected that he was taking in the new look of his living room. She’d taken a painstaking amount of time stacking her books against the wall to try to make them a part of the room instead of just cluttering the room. It had helped that Danny hadn’t had a single thing hanging on any of the walls. He was a minimalist to the say the least.

Finally, he appeared in the doorway with a small smile on his face. He didn’t say anything at first. He just watched her for a few moments as he casually leaned against the door frame.

“So I take it you aren’t irritated by the changes?” Katie asked as she tried to gauge his reaction.

“What changes?” he asked in an airy tone. “Currently, I’m completely distracted by this beautiful woman in my bathtub.”

Laughing, Katie closed her eyes for a few moments as she suddenly felt her self blush. “I’d ask you to join me, but the water is almost cold. I haven’t had the energy to get out yet, though.”

“Allow me,” he said as he stepped toward the tub and grabbed a towel.

After flipping the drain switch, Katie stood up and let Danny wrap her in the towel. “I could get used to this.”

“You and me both,” Danny replied with a sexy smirk before kissing her softly. “Everything looks great, by the way.”

“Not too dramatic?” she asked as she stepped out the tub and followed him into the bedroom.

“No. It looks great. Sorry I had to bail on you.”

“Did you find her? The missing woman?”

“We did, sort of. She and her son are safe now. And we closed about ten open homicide cases.”

“That’s good, I guess,” Katie responded with a frown. “What happened to her?” she asked as she slipped into her robe.

“It’s a long, scary story,” he replied as he took off his tie and unbuttoned his dress shirt. “I’ll tell you about it over dinner. I’m starving.”

XXX

“After seventeen years of marriage? Oh my God!” Katie exclaimed.

Taking another slice of pizza, Danny nodded. “She had no idea. He’d been going on these hunting trips for years. From the outside looking in, they looked like this completely normal family.”

“Well, all couples have secrets, but that is unimaginable. I mean, I can’t imagine being with someone, sleeping next to someone, having a baby with someone, who is pure evil. My marriage was bad, but at least I knew he was jerk pretty early on. That woman won’t be able to trust her own judgment ever again.”

Danny shrugged. “She was pretty tough while she put together all the pieces of the puzzle to figure out what he was doing. She has her son to look out for. I’m betting she’ll be okay.”

“Still…I mean, how well do you ever really know someone? It’s frightening.”

“Well, rest assured, you already know all the skeletons in my closet.”

This made Katie smile. “Really? Because when I was reorganizing and making room for my stuff today, I found some pretty interesting pictures in one of the kitchen drawers.”

Frowning, Danny asked, “Pictures? Pictures of what?”

“Not of what. Of who. And I don’t know who she is, but she’s awfully flexible.”

Sighing, Danny rubbed his eyes as he shook his head, clearly embarrassed. “I don’t still have those, do I?”

“Yes. You still have them. They were buried in a drawer underneath old bills and bank statements. Not such a shocking secret, but a secret nonetheless.”

“It’s no secret. Her name is…her name is Paula. We dated, and I use that term loosely, about five years ago.”

“Why didn’t it last? She looks very talented,” Katie joked.

“It wasn’t ever a serious thing. That was during one of my ‘unhealthy relationship’ phases.”

“Oh,” Katie replied. “Well, I didn’t throw them away, in case you want to reminisce later.”

“That’s quite all right,” Danny replied dismissively. “Did you find anything else interesting?”

“Not really. It would be hard to find anything out about you by being in your apartment. On the other hand, you’ll probably find out a lot more about me now. I realized today that I am a pack rat. It’s a sickness, and I’ve brought it into your apartment.”

“Our apartment. It’s our apartment now.”

Katie smiled at that statement. She’d planned on bringing up the earlier conversation she’d had with her father about a bigger apartment, but decided against it. There was something extremely comforting to her about Danny asking her to live with him. That was a big step for him, and she didn’t want to put additional pressure on him.

“My heart really breaks for that woman, because I can’t imagine waking up one day and realizing that I don’t really know you,” Katie said suddenly. “I don’t need to look through things to find out more about you. The best things I’ve learned about you are just from being with you.”

“Really? And what have you learned?” Danny asked curiously.

“You treat people with this innate politeness. You know that woman you buy the morning paper from when we walk to the subway?”

“Gladys,” he replied matter-of-factly.

“Right. Gladys. Her eyes light up when she sees you because you are always so nice and respectful to her. You even know her name. You make her a little bit happier every time she sees you.”

“I’ve been getting the paper from her for years. It would be wrong for me not to know her name.”

“We live in Manhattan, Danny. No one ever gets to know anyone’s name.”

“So you’re certain I don’t have a dark side because I’m courteous?”

Katie continued as if she hadn't heard his question. “You always put your hand on the small of my back when we enter or leave a room. And at night, you trace these patterns on my back when you think I’m asleep. You always try to call me when I’m leaving my classroom at night so you can talk to me until I get in a cab. You do so many little things for me and for people you come in contact with that are just so…so genuinely sweet. I can’t imagine ever finding out that you are any different.”

“Sweet? You think I’m sweet? You’re going to ruin my reputation. I try to give off a cool, tough guy vibe.”

Katie laughed. “Sorry to ruin the illusion, but anyone who really knows you, knows that you are softy at heart.”

“Oh well. What am I going to do?” Danny asked, throwing up his hands in surrender.

“Don’t ever change,” she replied simply.

Danny was angry. Really angry – so angry that he knew if he didn’t leave the office right at that moment that he’d say or do something he’d regret later. So he walked out, leaving Martin to absorb his accusation. His adrenaline still pumping and his mind spinning, he took a few deep, cleansing breaths before stepping into a cab. After giving the cabbie the address, he flipped his phone open.

“Hey. Sorry to call so late, but I need—“

The other voice cut him off before he could finish.

“Yeah. Thanks. I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”

XXX

Sitting on the porch front steps of a quaint, two-story house in Brooklyn, Danny rubbed his eyes wearily. Hearing the screen door open, he glanced back to see his sponsor, Ray, coming toward him with a steaming cup of coffee in hand. Danny looked at Ray skeptically before accepting the cup.

“Don’t worry. Karla made it before she went to bed.”

Nodding, Danny accepted the cup and then looked straight ahead.

“You could come inside so we don’t freeze our asses off. Everyone’s asleep.”

“I’d rather stay out here, if that’s okay,” Danny responded quietly. He liked the feel of the cold air on his skin. It kept his mind alert. “Sorry to call so late.”

“No worries. Everything okay with you and Katie?” he asked, taking a seat next to Danny.

Nodding again, Danny answered. “She’s fine. We’re fine. She actually moved in with me a couple of weeks ago. This isn’t about her.”

“Does she know that you’re here?”

“I called her earlier to let her know I was okay. She watched the news and heard that there was a shootout in our kidnapping case today. I knew she’d be worried. I told her that I was going to stop by here. She understands what that means now.”

“So this is about your case?” Ray asked. “Everything okay with the kid? I watched the news, too. They said he was returned to his parents unharmed.”

“He was…unharmed. Thank God. But things got a little intense at the scene.”

“You were there?”

Danny nodded in response.

“Did you take the kidnapper out?”

Nodding once again, Danny wiped the corners of his eyes. “I know this was a bad guy, but he didn’t have to die. If we had followed procedure—“

You didn’t follow procedure?” he asked in a surprised tone. “That doesn’t sound like you. You’re always by the book.”

“I know. Believe me, I know. It wasn’t me. It was Martin. He…he shouldn’t have been there. I should have seen it sooner. Maybe I did see, but I just ignored it.”

“You’re going to have to fill in the blanks here, Danny. I don’t understand.”

“Martin’s been erratic lately. He seemed okay when he came back to work, but then a couple of months ago, it seemed as though he regressed. I remember noticing a few times, but I never really said anything. I should have asked him about it sooner. That little boy almost died tonight. Martin almost died again tonight.”

“So what’s the deal with Martin? What’s wrong with him?”

“Painkillers, I guess. He was showing withdrawal symptoms all day. He looked like a man in need of a fix. He told me he was sick, but—“

“Did you confront him about it?”

“I had to. He denied it, of course.”

“Of course. You going to turn him in?”

“I don’t know. I guess that’s why I needed to talk to you. It’s complicated.”

“He needs help. Before he can get help, he needs to admit he has a problem. You know the drill, Danny. Sometimes the only way to get an addict to admit the problem is to blow his cover.”

“He has a lot to lose, Ray.”

“Really? Well you could have died, too. I can think of a few people who would have lost a lot tonight. A lot more than Fitzgerald would lose if he were reported.”

“I guess I should have given him an ultimatum. I was just so pissed. I had to get out of there.”

“You have to think about your co-workers and yourself. He puts lives in danger everyday he comes to work like that. If you tell Jack, then Jack can make sure he gets the help he needs. They won’t fire him, Danny. I see this all the time at work. If we fired every cop who had a substance abuse problem, we’d be extremely short-handed.”

“His father will find out, and I’m not sure Martin could forgive me for that,” Danny responded, obviously conflicted.

“We can’t control things like that. You know that.”

“I know.”

XXX

When Danny got home, he knew he wouldn't be able to sleep. Since Katie would probably wake up if he tried to lie down in bed, he decided to sit on the couch and stare at silent images on the TV screen

At four in the morning, he heard something stir in the bedroom. Then he saw the bathroom light turn on. Minutes later, Katie walked out of the room with a blanket wrapped around her.

“Why didn’t you come to bed?” she asked, sitting down beside him.

“I can’t sleep and didn’t want to wake you.”

Sighing, Katie took his hand. “How much more of this can you take?”

“What do you mean? We got the kid back.”

“You shot his kidnapper, though, didn’t you?” she asked, her voice full of concern.

Biting his lip, Danny nodded as he rubbed his eyes. “I didn’t have a choice.”

“Of course, you didn’t, but all of this is taking a toll on you, baby,” she said as she caressed his cheek. “Come here,” she said as she guided his head on to her lap as he stretched his legs over the length of the couch. Very lightly, she ran her fingers through his hair in an effort to help him find sleep.

They stayed like that for several moments in silence until Danny spoke again.

“You were right about Martin. I should have talked to him,” he said suddenly.

“What happened?”

“He’s in trouble, baby,” he said with a slight hitch in his voice.

“What do you mean?”

“Painkillers or maybe something else. He’s on something, though, and he messed up. He almost died today. That little boy almost died today,” Danny replied, clearly trying to contain his emotions.

After taking a sharp intake of breath, Katie exhaled as she leaned down and kissed his head. “You almost died today.”

“I was okay. Martin was out of control.”

“What did Ray say?”

“He says I should turn Martin in and not cover for him,” he responded in a quiet, hesitant tone.

“I’m inclined to agree if it means you’ll be safer. What are you going to do?” she asked as she traced her fingers down his cheek.

“I want to see if what happened tonight wakes him up. Maybe he’ll see that he needs help. I need to give him a chance to get help on his own. I owe him that.”

“Because he got hurt in the shooting?”

Danny nodded. “And because I took the path of least resistance. You were right. I should have tried to talk to him about the shooting and everything that happened after. But I just wanted it to be over. And I thought that’s what he needed, too – just to get past it and get back to work. But clearly, he hasn’t gotten past it and is trying to deal with it by using.”

“I know this is futile saying this, but this isn’t your fault. Martin could have still gone down this path, regardless of what you did or didn’t do. The important thing is that you are in a position where you can help him through this now. Focus on that, Danny.”

“He may not want my help after tonight. I let my anger over what happened at the scene cloud my judgment when I confronted him. And when he denied it, I kind of lost it. I mean, he could probably lie to Jack, Viv or even Sam, but I can’t believe he lied to me about this and expected me to believe it,” he said, voice full of desperation.

She let her fingers glide from his hair to his neck. “You need to try to get some sleep, baby. You’ll have a better perspective on this in the morning, which is only just a couple of hours away. Close you eyes,” she said in a gentle, soothing voice.

Closing his eyes, Danny tried his best to focus on the feel of her fingers massaging his tense neck. He tried to put the night before and Martin’s problem out of his mind. He needed to get perspective on all of it, so he’d be better prepared to know what to do when he returned to work. Feeling himself calm, his final thought before falling asleep was remembering what he’d told Trevor after the Cole Warren case. “No one makes it alone. No one.”

Not even Martin.

 

Fin cap 20

After nearly a year of dating Danny regularly and almost of month of living with him, Katie had learned that sometimes Danny needed space. Not necessarily physical space, because more often than not, he wanted to be as close to her possible when he was going through a tough time. What he needed was emotional space to sort things out. He had opened up to her the night after he’d discovered Martin was in trouble, but since then, he’d said very little about it. Sometimes he acted as though nothing was wrong at all, but Katie knew he was still struggling with it.

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, just a couple of weeks after the incident, Katie noticed that Danny was doing his best impression of someone who didn’t have a care in the world. Walking to the baseball field to meet Sylvia, Nicky, and baby Andrea, they were both looking forward to watching Nicky play in a little league baseball game.

Catching sight of Sylvia by the bleachers, Danny and Katie walked towards her.

Before they could even greet her, she said, “I can’t thank you enough for this. I have to be at work in less than a half hour, and I didn’t want Nicky to be here alone for his first game of the season.”

“It’s our pleasure,” Danny said as he leaned down and kissed Sylvia on the cheek. “It’s a great day for a baseball game, anyway.”

“And a great day to spend some time with this little one,” Katie said as she leaned down in front of Andrea, asleep in her stroller. “Any instructions?” she asked looking up at Sylvia.

“Um…everything she needs and a list of instructions is in her diaper bag. Nicky has the key to our apartment so he can let you in after the game. I’ll be home after 8 – hopefully plenty of time for you guys to salvage your Saturday night,” Sylvia replied in a slightly frantic tone.

“Are you kidding? This is the most excitement we’ve had on a weekend in a long time,” Danny replied with a smile. “We’ve looked forward to it all week.”

“Don’t worry, Sylvia. Everything will be fine,” Katie added.

“Thanks guys,” she said as she kissed Andrea on the forehead, and then waved to Nicky as he practiced on the field, before hurrying toward the subway.

“Think you can handle the little one on your own?” Danny asked as he gave Nicky a wave. “I promised Nicky I’d help his coach out today. They’re a little short-handed.”

“I think I’ll be okay,” Katie replied, sitting down on the bleacher seat next to the stroller. “I really have been looking forward to this all week.”

“Let’s see how you feel eight hours from now. I’ll see you in a bit,” he said, giving her a quick kiss before heading over to the field.

While Andrea slept in the stroller next to her, Katie watched Danny help Nicky and his teammates get ready for the game. She smiled at how animated and into it he was. She hadn’t seen him that genuinely happy and relaxed in weeks.

Right before the game was about to start, Katie noticed a woman approach Danny and start talking to him. Taking a closer look, she recognized the woman as Vivian Johnson, Danny’s co-worker. They conversed with each other in a warm and friendly manner for a several moments before Danny finally pointed over to Katie and gave her a slight wave. Smiling in response, Katie waved back. She was happy, but a little nervous when Vivian started to walk her way after Danny jogged over to coach first base.

“Hi there,” Vivian called out as she approached Katie. “It’s good to see you again.”

“You, too. These are much better circumstances. Is your son playing out here today?” Katie asked, thankful for the warmth in Vivian’s tone and smile.

“Two fields over. My husband is helping him warm up. It’s the start of another long season. I swear these kids today have more of a life than I ever did when I was young. I’m constantly coordinating my son’s after school activities.”

“I don’t know how you do it. During the week, I’m lucky if Danny gets home at a decent hour twice a week.”

“My husband and I have a system. He’s a college professor, so he can schedule his classes so he’s around more during the week. I pick up the slack most weekends so he can have time to prepare for classes.”

“He’s a professor? What does he teach?” Katie asked curiously.

“History and American Government. You’re on the English track, right?”

“Yes. I’m trying. I’m just finishing my first year of doctoral work. I have a ways to go.”

Before Vivian could respond, they were interrupted by the Andrea’s cry.

“Who is this?” Viv asked as she kneeled next to the stroller.

“Andrea. Her mom had to go to work, so Danny and I are babysitting for the day.”

“May I?” Vivian asked as she motioned toward the baby.

“Please. She may need changing. It’s good you’re here. I’m not the most experienced in that department.”

“Oh, it’s easy,” Viv replied as she calmed the child in her arms. “She’s beautiful.”

“She really is. Danny and I have really enjoyed getting to know Rafi’s family this past year. The circumstances are so unfortunate, but somehow because of it, Danny has found this family that he never had before.”

“Any news on when Rafael will get out?”

“Not lately. We’re hoping in the next few months, but it’s hard to gauge since he’s serving for his third offense. The parole board could decide to set an example.”

“Hard to believe it’s almost been a year since all of that happened,” Vivian responded pensively as she smiled at the baby.

Katie knew Vivian was thinking about a lot more than just the search for Danny’s brother that had occurred a year ago.

“How are you feeling?” Katie asked on impulse and then thought better of it. “I’m sorry. It’s none of my business. Danny had been so concerned for you. I remember I felt helpless because I was out of the country at the time.”

“That’s okay. I’m feeling great. I have a new appreciation for taking advantage of every day. Days like today are a real blessing. I know how worried Danny was. He tried to put on a brave face, but I was truly touched by his and everyone’s concern. Looking back on that time, I wonder how we all made it. I’m just thankful that Danny and Martin both made it through their ordeal. Life takes these unexpected turns. It’s nice to be able to look back and say everyone is better from the journey of it,” Viv responded in a wise tone.

Katie’s mind flashed to Danny’s concern for Martin. Clearly, Vivian had no idea. Yet another burden that Danny was carrying only on his shoulders.

“She does need a change,” Vivian said, stirring Katie from her thoughts. With great expertise, Katie watched as Vivian laid down a blanket in the stroller and set Andrea down. Within seconds, she had the baby changed. Picking her up gently, she handed her to Katie.

“Sometimes I still missing doing that,” Vivian said thoughtfully.

“I bet,” Katie replied, taking the baby in her arms. “Spending time with Andrea makes me baby crazy. It makes Danny a little nervous.” Katie wanted to ask Vivian if she ever thought about having another, but then decided against it. It was too personal a question, but wanting to ask it was a testament to how comfortable Vivian made her feel.

“Well, if it’s any consolation, if that ever happens, Danny will be a great father. He’s got a heart of gold.”

This made Katie smile because she’d thought the same thing for a very long time. “I couldn’t agree more.”

“It’s good to see him happy. He seems at peace, and I think that is thanks in large part to you.”

“Thank you, Vivian.”

“My pleasure,” Viv replied with a smiled before adding, “You have the magic touch.”

“Pardon me?” Katie asked, startled by the statement.

“She’s fallen back asleep,” Viv replied, motioning to the baby. “Maybe she’ll make it through to the end of the game. She’ll probably be starved when she wakes up,” she said as she rose from her spot on the bleachers. “Reggie’s game is starting. Tell Danny I’ll see him on Monday.”

“I will. Thanks for coming over. It was lovely talking to you.”

You, too. Take care,” Vivian said as she strolled away.

XXX

“So what were you guys talking about for so long?” Danny asked as he sat next to Katie on the floor of the bedroom. He’d gotten Nicky settled in the living room playing the latest Xbox game that Danny had bought him.

Katie, who was playing with the baby on a blanket, asked jokingly, “Who?”

“You and Viv. She was over there forever,” he said in an exaggerated tone.

“I’m surprised you noticed. Has anyone ever told you that you take your sports a little too seriously?”

“No such thing. But I wasn’t so focused that I missed your lengthy conversation.”

Katie sighed heavily and smiled. “We talked about her son, her husband, the trials and tribulations of the last year, this beautiful little girl right here, and babies in general,” she said as she playfully tugged on Andrea’s legs.

“Babies in general?” Danny questioned.

Laughing, she responded, “That long list, and you focus on the baby part? Relax, Danny. She showed me how to change a diaper in less than five seconds. Vivian’s multi-talented. I can see why you think so highly of her.”

“She’s pretty great,” he agreed as he watched Katie with Andrea.

Katie hesitated for a moment before making her next statement. They’d had such a wonderful day. She didn’t want to bring Danny down, but she decided to take chance. “I bet she’d be able to offer you some pretty solid guidance with the whole Martin thing.”

The carefree expression that he’d had all day quickly etched into a frown. As soon as she saw the tension return to his face, Katie regretted bringing up the subject. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t—“

“It’s okay. I know I need to deal with it. I’ve tried to keep an eye on him, you know? We haven’t had any cases in the last couple of weeks where he’d actually put lives in danger, but I know I have to deal with it before it happens again. He hasn’t said a word to me about it since that night. He’s been avoiding me like the plague, but he seems okay. I don’t know if that is because he’s gotten help or if he’s just gotten more pills. Every time I think about confronting him, I think of an excuse to put it off,” he said, shaking his head.

“Maybe you should talk to Vivian,” Katie said as she picked up the baby and put her in the playpen next to them.

“No,” Danny replied, shaking his head. “If I tell anyone, it has to be Jack. Getting Vivian involved could possibly lead to covering it up, and I wouldn’t want to put her in a position like that. Besides, I’m fairly certain I know what she’d say anyway.”

“I just hate that you are dealing with this on your own,” she said, her voice full of concern.

Danny shrugged. “I’m the best prepared to do it. I mean, part of being in AA and believing in those principals, this is what I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to reach out to him.” Taking a deep breath, he then whispered, “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we try to carry this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”

Katie’s eyes filled with tears. “You’ll find the strength, Danny. I know you will. I don’t know Martin or what he’s going through. As well as I know you, I’ll never know what it’s like for you to struggle with your addiction, but I am here for you. Whatever you need from me, I am here.”

Danny smiled and opened his arms for her. Holding her tightly, he stroked her hair gently as she repeated softly, "Whatever you need from me, I'm here."

 

Fin cap 21

 

 

Notes: This is kind of pre/during-Check Your Head. I wasn’t going to write another chapter until after the next episode, but this just came to me. I hope readers find these glimpses interesting and not boring or repetitive. Thanks for the reviews. They do encourage me to continue this. Thanks to Mariel for all her help.


Stifling a yawn, Danny resisted the urge to stretch as he approached the coffee area. It was Monday morning, and he wished he'd taken Katie's suggestion to take a sick day more seriously. In retrospect, staying in bed with her a few more hours would have made him feel a whole lot better.

"Keeping you up?" Jack asked as he suddenly appeared beside him.

“Hey. No. I’m fine. Just a Monday, you know?” Danny replied sheepishly. “We finished the paperwork on the Henman case. Sam took it up to Olzyk a few minutes ago.”

“Good. How was your weekend? Viv said she saw you at the baseball field.”

“I’ve been roped into helping coach my nephew’s team. It was fun,” Danny replied as he finished pouring his coffee. “I’m going to get back to work.”

“Hey, before you go, there’s something we need to talk about. Come to my office for a second,” Jack ordered as he finished pouring coffee into his cup and began to walk away.

Sighing, Danny fell in step with Jack back to his office.

“Dr. Harris left me a message last week saying that you've cancelled on her twice,” Jack said as they entered his office and he took a seat at his desk.

“Things were busy last week. I saw her once after the shooting. It went fine.”

“This time, you really need to complete the three required sessions, Danny. I can’t let it slide like I did before. This is the fourth shooting incident in your file in less than a year’s time. We have to cover all our bases. I’d hate to have this elevated to an OPR inquiry.”

“An OPR inquiry?” Danny replied, slightly taken aback. “Jack, those were all justified and in the line of duty. I didn’t—“

“I know. I read all the reports, but I do think that you guys went in a little too quickly in that last case.”

Resisting the urge to tell Jack that he agreed and that he’d told Martin to wait for backup, Danny replied, “The kid was out in the open. We made a judgment call to secure him.”

“I understand that, Danny. But the fact remains that you shot our suspect and he died. We have procedures to follow. Part of the procedure is to get cleared by Dr. Harris.”

“Fine. I’ll make an appointment with her,” Danny replied, trying not to sound agitated, but failing. “Did you send Martin to Dr. Harris as well?”

Giving Danny a perplexed look, Jack asked, “Why would I do that?”

“He was there that night, too. I just thought—“

“He didn’t shoot anyone. You did. You’re the one who needs to get cleared. If you don’t finish your sessions with Dr. Harris by the end of the week, I’ll have to put you on desk duty.”

“Right. I’ll talk to her today.”

“Good. I saw her a few minutes ago. She said she’d be happy to talk to you this morning.”

“I’ll head there right now, then. Thanks a lot, Jack,” Danny said, again trying to mask his agitation and sarcasm.

As Danny turned to walk out, Jack stopped him. “Is something else going on? Is there something you need to tell me?”

This was it. This was his chance. Jack was opening the door, and all Danny had to do was tell him what had happened that night. But he hadn’t had a chance to talk to Martin again. What if Martin had gotten help? What if Martin was okay now? Maybe Jack would understand. Maybe he could tell Jack and Jack would give him the leeway to help Martin.

“Danny? Danny? What’s going on?”

Taking a deep breath, Danny turned. “I…um…I—,” he started, but was interrupted by the ringing of Jack’s phone.

“Wait a second,” Jack said before answering. “Malone. Yes. Just four hours? That’s hardly…Oh….Okay….We’ll definitely check it out. I’ll send someone over right away.”

“What is it?” Danny asked.

“A missing advice columnist. She’s disappeared from her apartment.”

“For only four hours? They ever heard of going out to grab lunch?”

“She’s agoraphobic. She hasn’t left her apartment in two years. I’m going to send Viv to check it out.”

“I’ll go with her,” Danny said as he headed for the door.

“No. You stay here. Talk to Dr. Harris. If this case has legs, there will be plenty to do from here.”

“Got it,” Danny replied, resisting the urge to roll his eyes.

XXX

The moment with Jack had passed so quickly. Danny had wanted to come clean. He was sure that Jack would understand, but that didn’t mean that Martin would understand. Sitting in Dr. Harris’s office, Danny was once again faced with opening up, but for some reason, he couldn’t seem to talk at all.

“You’re awfully quiet. That’s unlike you. Usually, you talk non-stop even when you’re not really telling me anything.”

Danny laughed. “You sound like my girlfriend,” he said, shaking his head. “Sorry. I just don’t have much more to say about this. I was faced with a situation where I had to make a very quick decision.”

“It’s just happened a little too frequently lately.”

“Maybe I just like spending all this time with you,” Danny said with a charming smile.

Returning the smile, Dr. Harris shook her head.

Danny continued when Dr. Harris didn’t take the bait. “In each of the shootings, lives were in danger. This last time, the guy would have taken out the kid and Martin. I didn’t have a choice.”

“That’s not so much my concern, Danny. My concern is how you are dealing with what happens, and how these shootings are affecting you. Do you think the reason you may react more aggressively in these situations is because of what happened a year ago? Maybe the aftermath of the ambush has caused you to—“

Danny interrupted vehemently. “No. Absolutely not. My first instinct is always to follow procedure. I don’t let my emotions get involved. That wasn’t my decision,” he replied defensively.

Danny stopped. He didn’t mean to say that out loud.

“You wanted to wait?” Dr. Harris asked, leaning forward slightly.

Shifting in his chair, Danny stuttered a reply. “No. I mean, Martin and I decided…”

“Did Martin do something? Did he—“

“He didn’t do anything.”

“You can tell me. It will just stay between us. My focus here is to help you with this.”

“Martin tends to take more chances than I would, in general. That night wasn’t any different.” Technically, Danny knew he wasn’t lying, but he also knew that Martin would have been more reasonable had he not been in some kind of withdrawal.

“So Martin took a chance, got into trouble, and that’s why you had to shoot your suspect?”

“That’s fairly accurate. Yes.”

“That’s not what your report says, Danny. It says that you and Martin decided to secure the little boy before calling for back up. Is it safe to say that you wanted to call for back-up?”

Rubbing his chin nervously, Danny took a deep breath. “According to our official report, we both agreed. I’ll stick to that.”

Dr. Harris regarded Danny with concern for several moments. Just as the silence started to make Danny uncomfortable again, she asked, “Do you think that Martin is reacting more aggressively in certain situations since the ambush?”

“You’d have to ask him. He’s had sessions with you recently, right?”

“I’m not at liberty to talk about that.”

“Well then neither am I,” Danny responded matter-of-factly.

“Okay. I think I understand. I’ll make a note in your file that clears you. You don’t have to come back again, unless you want to.”

“Thanks,” Danny said, rising from his chair. He hesitated for a few moments before walking toward the door. “I’m sorry if I was difficult. I don’t mean to be. It’s just—“

“I understand, Danny. You’re in a difficult position, but I think you know what you have to do. I just hope that you do it before someone really gets hurt.”

XXX

Returning to his desk, Danny saw that Martin was on his phone and Elena was reading through newspaper columns at the center table. After making brief eye contact with Danny, Martin turned away to continue his call.

“So apparently, this case has legs,” Danny said as he approached the table and sat down.

“What?” Elena asked in a confused voice.

“Nothing. Do you need some help with this?”

“Yes. Jack said that you could finish this up when you returned. We just need to see if there are patterns in any of these columns. I need to go to meet an evidence tech. He’s bringing some of the threatening letters that he found in the missing person’s apartment.”

“All right. I’ll keep going through this. Is it interesting reading, at least?”

“Oh yes. You could probably learn a lot,” she replied, rising from her chair.

“I’m sure,” Danny replied with smirk.

After Elena left, Danny noticed that Martin had finished his phone call. Without so much as a look back to Danny, Martin left the bullpen. Shaking his head, Danny did his best to re-focus his attention on the columns. Maybe he’d get lucky and this advice columnist would have the perfect column telling him what to do.

 

Cap 23

 

They hadn’t really talked in over a week. There had been brief conversations with Danny not saying anything of importance, and cryptic voicemail messages where he’d say he was too busy to talk. Halfway through Katie’s impromptu spring break vacation, she’d almost regretted leaving Danny at home alone.

Her father had sprung the idea on her at the last minute. After telling him that she had no plans for her spring break vacation, he had surprised her with a trip to the South Pacific. He’d invited Danny as well, but Danny could never just take off from work like that on a moment’s notice.

At first, Katie had said she didn’t want to go without him, but of course, Danny had insisted. He’d told her that he would feel awful if she missed out on the opportunity because of him, and it was only a week. They’d been through far longer separations and Danny had made the point that going on a vacation with Katie’s father his new girlfriend as chaperones wasn’t all that romantic. Katie had finally agreed to go when Danny had said that they would take that long-promised vacation during the summer.

Danny had seemed fine when she’d left. She was fairly certain he still hadn’t dealt with the Martin thing, but he had seemed close to doing so. Katie was confused as to why he was so hesitant. His friend and colleague were in trouble. His co-workers were in danger because of this colleague, and yet, Danny seemed determined to drag his heels. He’d talked a good game saying that he was in the best position to help Martin, but he seemed almost unwilling to take action. Katie didn’t understand it and was beginning to wonder if he had just told her what she wanted to hear. She wanted to help Danny, but had no idea how to do it. The man she was supposed to know better than anyone in the world had these hidden facets to his personality. He always seemed okay on the surface, but something was going on inside of him that made him pull away from everyone, even her. Katie’s concern had grown by the minute on her vacation.

It didn’t help that her father had this passive aggressive way of talking about Danny. Whenever he could, he’d drop in comments about the fact that they weren’t married yet and that Danny was wasting opportunities by staying an FBI agent. At first, Katie had felt defensive, but eventually she internally started to question Danny’s actions as well. Why was he so hesitant about getting married and starting a family? He still seemed to get tense whenever Katie talked about the future and kids. Why wouldn’t he consider a career that would be more beneficial for their future? She’d always tried to be supportive of his choices, but now his choices were directly affecting her, and she wanted what was best for both of them. She appreciated the fact that Danny had a difficult upbringing, but at some point, she’d hope he could leave the past in the past and focus on what was best for their future.

These were the thoughts swirling through her head on the airplane ride back to New York. She knew she was probably overreacting. She’d get back to New York and find out that Danny had done the right thing. He'd usually always do the right thing when it had mattered the most, but Katie still couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that he’d been avoiding her calls the past week for a reason.

After her father dropped her off at their apartment building, she made her way up the stairs. As she walked through the front door, she was disheartened to find that Danny wasn't home as he'd said he'd be. Figuring that he got caught at work again, Katie started to unpack.

After unpacking, she proceeded to start the shower. After spending all day on planes, she desperately needed it. She spent what felt like an hour underneath the hot spray. Finally finding the willpower, she stepped out, dried herself off, and put on one of Danny’s dress shirts that was hanging on the bathroom door. He’d likely worn it the day before and she found his scent slightly intoxicating. Smiling to herself, she momentarily forgot about her lingering worries about him.

The worries returned when she walked out into the living room to find Danny sitting on the couch, still dressed in his suit with his tie loosened around his neck. Wearily rubbing his eyes, he looked like he hadn’t slept.

“Hey stranger,” she called out quietly with a hesitant smile.

Looking up quickly, the weary expression from seconds earlier transformed into a welcoming smile. Immediately rising, Danny crossed the room in just a few long strides.

“Hey, baby,” he said, taking her in his arms and kissing her lightly. “You’re a sight for sore eyes.”

“I can see that. Are you feeling okay?” Katie asked voice full of concern as laid her palm against his stubbled cheek.

“Me? Yeah. I’m great,” Danny responded, shrugging off her question. “Just had a long day, that’s all. How was your flight back?”” he asked, still keeping a firm grip on her.

“Long. Very long. But I feel better after a shower. You should have joined me,” she said, giving him another peck on his lips.

“I just walked in the door, or believe me, I would have,” he said before leaning down again and kissing her more passionately.

Feeling his hands make contact with her skin under his dress shirt, Katie immediately felt weak in the knees. God, how she missed him when they were apart. Even though part of her wanted to get lost in the way he was making her feel, the nagging voice in her head wanted to find out how he was really doing.

“Hey,” she said as she tried to ignore the soft feeling of his lips on her neck. “You left me a message earlier that said you’d be here when I got home. Where were you? Working late again?”

Pulling away from her slightly, he answered as he looked into her eyes. “No. I…uh…I went to an extra meeting tonight. It ran later than usual.”

“”Oh,” Katie responded and then asked hopefully, “Does that mean that you are helping Martin? Was he with you?”

Frowning, Danny shook his head. “No, but I couldn’t tell you that even if he was. That’s not the way it works.”

“Right. I’m sorry. I know that,” she replied, voice remorseful.

Smiling slightly, Danny pressed his forehead against hers. “Let’s go to bed. I’ve missed you like you wouldn’t believe,” he said, taking her hand and heading toward the bedroom.

But Katie didn’t budge. Biting her lip, she stood her ground as he turned to face her.

“What’s wrong?” Danny asked with a confused expression.

“Nothing. I just…I think we should talk,” she stammered. “I think we have some things to talk about.”

“About your vacation? Were things uncomfortable with your Dad and the new girlfriend?” Danny asked with a playful smile.

Shaking her head, Katie sighed. “No, and she’s not his girlfriend, Danny. That’s just weird. She’s just a companion, of sorts, who thank God is age-appropriate. I was terrified he was going to introduce me to some perky 22 year old.”

Danny laughed. “You should be more terrified of your mother finding out. I know she agreed to a divorce, but something tells me she’d flip out even more if she finds out he’s moved on again.”

“I don’t even want to think about that,” she said, closing her eyes and shaking the thought out of her mind. “No. I wanted to talk about you. You barely said anything of substance to me on the phone all week.”

Danny laughed again, as his forehead creased in confusion. “You were a million miles away. What was there to talk about that we couldn’t talk about when you got back?”

“Have you dealt with the thing with Martin?”

Sighing heavily, Danny sat down on the sofa. He didn’t respond. Instead, the weary look from before returned to his face as he ran his hands through his hair.

“Danny. Talk to me,” she urged.

“Look, I don’t want to talk about that. There’s nothing I can do for him,” he finally replied, agitation creeping into his voice.

“That’s not what you said two weeks ago. You said you were the one best prepared to help him.”

“I was wrong,” Danny responded, careful not to make eye contact with her. “It’s not my concern. It’s really none of my business. Martin doesn’t need my help.”

“Is he still using or not?” Katie asked as she sat down on the coffee table across from him.

Looking at her sharply, he responded, “I don’t know. I told you I haven’t talked to him.”

“But if he is, then aren’t you guys still in danger? I mean, you were almost shot that night.”

“It wasn’t that bad. I overreacted. I never should have talked about this with you,” he replied, sounding annoyed.

“Sure you should have. Danny, you were ready to confront this before I left. What the hell happened?” she asked desperately.

“Nothing happened,” he responded, voice rising. “I just realized that this isn’t my problem. It’s his. And I can’t do any thing to help him if he’s going not going to admit that he has a problem.”

“Isn’t that why you should talk to him? To make him realize he needs help?” Katie asked, not backing down despite the anger in Danny’s voice.

Clearly trying to contain his temper, Danny took a deep breath before shaking his head and looking down at the floor. “This? It's not your concern. It’s not our concern. It has nothing to do with us. So drop it,” he countered, standing abruptly.

“Drop it? How can you expect me to drop it?” she replied, looking up at him.

“Because it’s none of your business,” he yelled as he walked towards the kitchen. “My work, the people I work with, are none of your business. I didn’t open up to you that night so you could throw it back in my face every second of the day.”

“I’m worried about you, Danny,” she responded as she stood and slowly walked towards him. “I’m worried that you’ll be in danger. If that doesn’t affect us, I don’t know what does” she said, her voice betraying her with emotion.

“I’m telling you not to worry. I’ll be fine,” he responded in a more even tone as he turned to face her.

“My God. What is wrong with you?” she asked, her voice continuing to crack. “It’s like you can be doing so well, and then all of a sudden, you revert back to this person who just shuts down. Don’t do that to me, Danny. You don’t have to do that with me,” she pleaded as she reached out to touch him.

Before she could make contact, he raised his hand and backed away. His quick motion might as well have been a slap in the face as far as she was concerned.

“I’m not shutting down. I’m just tired of talking about this with you,” he said as he slipped past and headed for the front door.

“Yes. You are. It’s the same thing you did last year, and I thought we got past it. You have to deal with the way you are feeling. You can’t just ignore things and expect them to go away,” and now her voice had risen and she was feeling more angry than emotional.

Turning around to face her again, the anger and disgust in Danny’s face was palpable. “Christ!” he yelled. “Spare me that psychoanalytic crap. I’ve had enough, Katie. You’re not my therapist. Why do you have to make everything so damn complicated? We haven’t seen each other in over a week. Why couldn’t you just come home and let us be together?”

Now she was hurt and angry, his words triggering every thought and emotion she’d been pondering for the last week. “Because I’ve spent the better part of this past week wondering how I’ll be able to live like this for the rest of my life,” she screamed. “I’m tired of being scared of talking about the future, and always tiptoeing around our relationship. I always accommodate what you want: where you want to live, the fact that you choose to keep a job where I constantly worry about you when you have better, safer options, and oh yeah, the fact that you don’t seem to want anything more than a live-in girlfriend to keep your bed warm,” she continued, disgust brimming in her voice as well. “The thing that confuses me, Danny, is that you talk such a good game. You make me believe that you are committed to our future, but then you don’t deliver. Just like you said you’d come through for Martin, but now you’re backing out of that, too.”

Katie watched as Danny’s anger fleeted momentarily, his eyes showing his hurt and pain. Just as quickly, the look of the little lost boy was replaced with boiling anger again, but he didn’t respond. Instead, he grabbed his jacket from the back of the couch and his keys, and walked out.

Collapsing on the couch, Katie felt helpless as the tears started to come. She wasn’t sure what made her feel worse: that he’d just walked out or that she had no desire to go after him.

 

Danny really didn't need more reasons to be angry with Martin, but adding his fight with Katie to the list seemed like the right thing to do. He was literally steaming, and the only thing that seemed to keep him calm was walking - which he'd been doing for blocks. Still not sure where he was going, he thought about calling Ray, but knew Ray would ask about Martin, and quite frankly, if Danny heard Martin's name one more time, he was going to explode.

So Danny continued to walk, the night’s events still swirling in his head. When he’d seen Katie come out of the bedroom, a sense of relief had washed over him. He’d missed her. He’d missed coming home to her every night. He’d missed talking to her. He’d missed sleeping with her. All he wanted to do when he saw her was get as close to her as possible. Doing that helped make his thoughts go away. Katie: his ultimate distraction.

The problem was that Katie wasn’t hip to his plan, and she’d had her own agenda – which was why Danny wanted to kick himself for not being careful about what he’d told her. He shouldn’t have told her about Martin. There was nothing she could do to help him with this - and over the course of the last couple of weeks, he'd convinced himself there was nothing he could do for Martin, either.

Which went back to why he was angry in the first place: he felt he shouldn't have to do this again. He was no good at it. He hadn't been able to stop his father; he'd done a lousy job of helping his brother - and it had taken almost going to jail for him to finally help himself. So how the hell could he possibly help Martin? Martin, who had everything. Martin, who had family he could turn to and Samantha, if he needed to. No, Danny assured himself. Martin doesn't need me...

Two weeks ago, when he'd talked to Katie about what he should do next, he'd thought he was in a position to help Martin. But then opportunity after opportunity came and went, the more time that passed making it harder and harder for Danny to say anything. Not to mention the fact that the thought of seeing Martin through recovery seemed more than daunting. Danny had been through it and remembers it being awful and painful, and God, he didn’t want to deal with that again. What if it didn’t work? What if he helped Martin and Martin ended up using again? He couldn’t stand the thought of that. It made him remember finding Rafael in that abandoned garage, a used needle beside him. And that was just the last time. How many times before had he tried to help Rafael when they were younger? How many times did Rafael promise he’d do better only to fail, with Danny suffering the ultimate consequences?

No. Danny didn’t want to go through that again. He didn’t want to watch someone else fail and feel helpless. Why couldn’t he have just explained this to Katie? He’d thought about it, but then she started talking about their relationship. What their relationship had to do with Martin’s problem, Danny had no idea, but once again, it was like he couldn’t do enough to make her happy. He thought that asking her to move in with him was had been a big enough commitment. Clearly, that wasn’t enough for her.

Spending a week with her father hadn't helped either. Danny knew that even though he got along with her father that Mr. Mason still didn’t understand Danny’s career choice. Katie had obviously been listening to her father – one more thing that Danny didn’t want to deal with.

Wasn’t this year supposed to be better than the last one? Danny thought that nothing could be worse than last year, and yet he was beginning to feel just as hopeless and lost as he as he had back then.

Eventually, Danny made his way back to the apartment. It was 2 a.m. when he walked through the front door and faced the dark living room. After turning on a lamp, Danny quietly made his way back to the bedroom. Katie was sleeping, curled into a ball clutching his pillow. Resisting the natural urge to slip into bed next to her, he grabbed a pillow and blanket from the end of the bed and headed back to the living room.

XXX

Two days, and he and Katie hadn’t spoken again about their argument. They’d barely spoken at all, and Danny had spent a second night on the couch. The strange thing was that neither seemed willing to work through their argument. Their wounds still raw, it had seemed as though they both needed time to heal before they could go to round two.

Tired and aching from another night on the couch, Danny walked into the bullpen on Tuesday morning.

Sam, at the center table doing paper work, looked up and regarded Danny closely before her lips curved into a smile. “Another late night?”

Smiling, Danny shook his head. “Not even close,” he responded as he took his jacket off and laid it on the back of his chair. After picking up his coffee cup, he turned toward Samantha. “I just need coffee. Bring you a refill?”

“Thanks. I’ll go with you, though. My eyes are crossing looking at those phone records.”

Nodding, Danny waited for Sam to rise and then followed her out towards the coffee area.

“Where is everyone this morning?” Danny asked as they passed Jack’s empty office.

“Jack and Viv had to meet with Olzyk this morning about the quarterly reports or something. Elena’s due here any minute. She usually runs late on Wednesday because her mom can’t take her daughter to school. I don’t know where Martin is. I’m sure he’ll be here soon.”

“I’m sure,” Danny said in a more sarcastic tone than he’d intended.

“You sure you’re okay? Sam asked as they reached the coffee area.

Danny shrugged as he filled her coffee mug and then his own. “I’m great. Do we have anything new this morning?”

“Nope. Not yet, anyway.”

They made their way back to the bullpen and took seats at the table. Danny took a few minutes to read the Sports section of the newspaper as he drank his coffee, while Sam continued her paperwork. After putting off the inevitable for another twenty minutes, Danny finally joined Samantha in reviewing the stack of paperwork. In the meantime, Elena had arrived and was busily catching up with a few things at her desk.

Shortly after Elena arrived, Samantha’s telephone rang. Backing up to her desk, she answered the phone.

“Spade…Hey, Jack, what’s up?”

Danny looked up, watching Sam as she spoke to Jack on the phone.

“Okay…Okay,” Samantha responded as she jotted down some notes. “We’ll head out now,” she said before hanging up the phone.

While Sam was on the phone, Elena had joined them at the table, anticipating a new case. “What’s up?” she asked.

“A missing bike messenger hasn’t reported to work in two days. Jack and Viv are still stuck upstairs for at least an hour. Jack wants us to head over to this kid’s work to see if this is actually a case or if he just took off,” she responded as she looked at Danny.

“Let’s go,” Danny said, rising from his chair.

“See what kind of background you can dig up.” Sam ordered, handing Elena her notes.

“Got it. What about Martin? Is he here?” Elena asked.

Glancing at Danny, Sam responded, “No he’s not, but Jack wanted him to come with us anyway. I’ll call him…see where he’s at and he can just meet us there.”

Resisting the urge to roll his eyes, Danny shrugged on his coat. “I'll pull the car around and meet you downstairs,” he said as he walked out of the bullpen in full stride.

XXX

“Why is helping Martin my responsibility?” That question kept going through his head as he rode back to the office with Samantha. She didn’t say anything else to him about it. On the ride up in the elevator, they glanced at each other a couple times—Danny noticing that Samantha almost seemed nervous. Asking him for help couldn’t have been easy for her. It had taken a lot of courage, actually, especially considering her history with Martin.

After they both packed up their things, Sam started to walk out when Danny stopped her.

“It’s not that cold out, but we could still share a cab. Riding the subway at this time of night is always so depressing,” he said in a purposefully light tone.

"Okay," was all Sam said in reply before they wordlessly walked out of the office together.

For the most part, the cab ride was just as silent. But then Danny took out his phone. Sam, who had been staring out the window, looked over to see him hit a number on his speed dial.

“Fitzgerald,” Martin answered on the third ring.

“Hey. It’s Danny.”

“What’s up? Something with the case?” Martin asked as he yawned. Danny could tell he had woken Martin up.

“No. We got the kid back,” Danny answered and then hesitated. God, why was this so hard?

“What is it, then?” Martin asked in a confused tone.

“Do you know where St. Mary’s is on the upper West side? It’s just a few blocks from where you live.”

“Yeah, I know where that is,” Martin replied hesitantly.

“I’ll be there in an hour and a half. They have a nightly Narcotics Anonymous meeting there starting at 10 sharp. It’s in the basement.”

Danny listened for what seemed like an eternity until Martin finally spoke.

“Okay."

“Okay,” Danny replied before closing his phone.

The cab had stopped in front of Sam’s apartment building, but she hadn’t gotten out yet.

“Thanks,” she said quietly, voice full of appreciation.

“Don’t thank me, Sam. He still has to show up. And after that, there are no guarantees,” Danny replied solemnly.

“I know, but still, thank you.”

Danny just nodded as he ran his hand across his chin.

“See you tomorrow,” she said as she started to fumble for her wallet.

“Don’t worry about it. You can get it the next time,” Danny said as he gave her a small smile.

“Thanks. Tell Katie I said hello,” she called out as she got out of the cab.

XXX

Katie. He still had to work things out with Katie. His heart started to beat faster as he ascended the stairs to his apartment. He didn’t have much time to shower and change before meeting Martin uptown. He didn’t look forward to experiencing another awkward silence with Katie or explaining that he was going to have to leave again.

Walking into the apartment, Katie looked up from a stack of papers at the kitchen table.

“Hey,” she started.

“Hey,” Danny responded, smiling slightly. “Mid-term papers?” he asked motioning toward the stack.

Nodding in response, Katie returned the smile with a very small one of her own. “Another late night, huh?”

“Yeah. But we found our kid, so all’s well that end’s well, I guess.”

“Right,” Katie said as she looked down at the latest paper. “Are you hungry? Sylvia brought over this fantastic, but very spicy casserole this afternoon as a thank-you for tutoring Nicky. I left it in the oven for you.”

“I’m not hungry, but thanks. I actually have to go back out again. I just came home to shower and change.”

Frowning, Katie let out a small sigh. “Do you have a date or something?”

Ouch, Danny thought. Maybe he deserved that. “Not tonight. No,” he countered with an involuntary smirk. He couldn’t let that go without a comeback. “I’m going to a meeting.”

Katie nodded.

“I actually need to get going if I’m going to be on time, but maybe…maybe we can set some time aside tomorrow and work through whatever it is we need to work through. I can’t keep living like this,” he said, motioning toward the sofa that had been his bed the last two nights.

“I don’t have class tomorrow night. I’ll be here when you get home. We can talk then.”

“Fine. I’m going to grab a shower and then head out,” he said as he back away towards the bedroom.

XXX

A sense of relief washed over him when Martin walked through the door. Danny had to stop himself from smiling. Moments earlier, he’d had to stop stop himself from storming out in anger because Martin hadn’t shown up yet. Danny couldn’t look at him as Martin sat down next to him. He knew exactly how Martin was feeling, and he didn’t want to remember it: the nervousness, the embarrassment, the humiliation.

After the meeting, the meeting leader asked any new people to stay behind to talk one on one. Danny watched as a couple of people went up to the leader, but Martin stayed in his seat.

“I can talk you through what he’s telling them, if you want,” Danny said, keeping his eyes on the bulletin board at the front of the room.

“Okay.”

Finally looking at Martin, Danny asked, “First, do you have any pills left?”

“No. I mean, I threw them away before I left, but they’re still in my apartment.”

“That’s not going to work. I’ll stop by your place after this and take them out of your apartment. You have to be really honest with me, Martin. You can’t hide a stash for emergencies. You have to get rid of everything.”

“I understand.”

“Second, make an appointment to see your personal physician for tomorrow. You might not be able to quit those things cold turkey. Narcotics are different than alcohol. There could be something your doctor could do to help you.”

“But that means—“

Danny interrupted in a deliberately firm tone. “It means admitting what you’ve been doing to your doctor. Believe me, he’s heard it before, and he’ll keep it confidential.”

Martin nodded, but still looked uneasy.

“Your doctor may suggest a treatment program or something. Those definitely help, and most of them are based on the same 12-step philosophies.”

“That means telling Jack,” Martin responded, voice full of dread.

“Not necessarily, but that may come later. You could probably participate in an out-patient program. Your doctor can talk you through that as well.”

‘What’s next? After that.”

Danny frowned at Martin’s sudden eagerness. Suddenly, it seemed like Martin was treating this with the same enthusiasm he’d treat a new case.

“There’s a lot after that,” Danny responded, trying to hide the agitation in his voice. “This isn’t something that can be cured, Martin. It’s continuing to go to meetings. It’s getting a sponsor and working through the steps. It’s a lot of work.”

“I understand,” Martin said, trying to sound like he was in control.

Danny nodded, but he knew that Martin really had no idea how hard it was going to be.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­“I…I feel like I should apologize, but I’m not exactly sure what for,” Danny stated, his voice uneasy.

Leaning against the kitchen counter with crossed arms, he stood in bare feet, wearing the pair of faded jeans and dark blue t-shirt he’d changed into after getting home from work. Katie found it very difficult to stay angry when he looked like this and when he’d come home earlier than usual to cook dinner for them. Danny was actually a very good cook, but he didn’t really enjoy taking the time to do it – which was why they usually ended up eating takeout all the time. So the fact that he’d taken the time to cook dinner was making it awfully hard to remember why she’d been so mad at him.

“I guess that’s the problem. We’re on two completely different pages,” she replied in a sad, desperate tone.

Rolling his eyes, he shook his head. “You said that I ‘talked a good game’, like I deceived you in some way, but I’ve never lied to you. I do want to be with you, but I get tired of feeling like what I do isn’t good enough. It’s not fair, Katie.”

“I just want us to grow, and I feel like we…no…you aren’t doing that in any aspect of your life.”

“Why? Why? Because we aren’t engaged? Because we don’t have kids? All of that will come in time,” he said with a hint of frustration in his tone.

Shaking her head, she paced to the other side of the kitchen. “That’s what you say, but I don’t—“

“This is your father talking, not you,” Danny interrupted, as he took her arm and turned her around to face him. Looking in her eyes, he stated, “You know I’m committed to you and to us. He doesn’t understand why I’m not taking some five hundred grand a year law gig, but I don’t know if that will ever be me, Katie. Do you remember when I told how important routine is? I was honest with you about that. That has to be a part of my life.”

“I remember, and I’m not saying that staying with you has anything to do with getting a better job. I just…” she trailed off, finding it hard to articulate her thoughts when he was looking at her with such intensity.

“You just what?” he asked desperately, keeping a hold of her. “The problem is that you forget who I really am. You forget what I really am. I am and always will be an addict. Making changes in my life, helping Martin, hell, even having kids…all of that scares the hell out of me. Look at what happened to Raffi when he got in over his head. He fell apart when the pressure got to him. You have no idea how close I am to being like him. You have no idea.”

Pinching the bridge of her nose, her head started to pound. She didn’t know what to say.

Danny let her go when he saw her reaction, but he still continued. “This is why I brought you to that AA meeting. This is why I introduced you to Ray and Karla, so you could see what the reality is. I don’t want to lose you, but I also don’t want to force you to live a life where you aren’t happy or feel unsure. I have to live my life one day at time,” he said solemnly, before shaking his head and smiling to mask his sadness. “God, it’s so cliché, but it’s true. I want you in my life, but if you can’t live like that with me, then…”

All at once, everything for Katie became clear. This is what he’d been trying to adjust her to this whole past year. She knew exactly where he stood and exactly what type of life he had to lead. This was more about her, and if this is the way she wanted to live for the rest of her life. Looking at him standing there with intense, pained dark eyes, she couldn’t believe she still felt conflict. This was the man she’d wanted to be with ever since she was fifteen years old, and yet she couldn’t make herself give a definitive answer.

Finally, she forced herself to say the hardest words she’d ever had to say. “Will…will you hate me if I tell you that I need time to think about this?”

The look in his eyes as she asked him this question changed from pained to something she could only describe as terrified, but he still managed to reply. “Of course I won’t hate you. That’s probably for the best,” he said as he tried to give her a small smile.

Nodding, Katie wiped a few tears from her eyes. “I called my old roommate earlier today. She offered to let me stay with her for a while.”

She’d only seen Danny really get emotional a handful of times. His eyes brimming, Katie could tell he was doing all he could to hold in his emotions. “Do you have to leave tonight?” he asked, his voice cracking.

At that, Katie almost said no. She hated seeing him like this. She hated causing him any pain, but she had to answer, “Yes. It would be so easy for me stay, Danny. But if I did that, it wouldn’t be fair to either of us. I don’t want to make you feel like you’re disappointing me anymore.”

After quickly wiping his eyes, Danny took a deep breath. “I got it. I mean, I understand. I’ll walk you down when you’re ready to go.”

Biting her bottom lip, Katie quickly turned and walked back to bedroom so he wouldn’t see the flood of tears that threatened to fall from her eyes.

XXX

She’d only been gone for a week, and Danny felt like he wanted to come out of his skin. He didn’t know what he was going to do if she actually moved out. Trying to distract himself by watching a preseason baseball game, he restlessly squirmed on the couch trying to get comfortable. The problem was that, usually, she’d be next to him. Even though she wasn’t particularly a baseball fan, she’d be curled up next to him with a nose in a book or grading papers.

Switching off the television, he stood up and paced around the apartment. Noticing that the clothes hamper was getting full, he decided to do a load of laundry. He just had to go downstairs to the laundry facility, but at least he’d get out of the apartment.

After putting the clothes in a basket, he then went into the bathroom to gather the towel he’d used that morning. Grabbing the towel off the door hook, he caught sight of soft, pink material hanging loosely from the hook. Running his hand down the material, he realized it was one of Katie’s cotton tank tops that she regularly wore to bed. Taking it off the hook, he couldn’t help but take in the scent. It smelled like Katie right after she got out of a bath – almost citrusy. That wouldn’t be a scent he’d normally be fond of, but on her— it drove him crazy. Glancing into the bathroom mirror, Danny caught sight of himself sniffing the pink material. Laughing to himself, he rolled his eyes at how pathetic he looked. At first, he tossed the tank top into the basket, but then he rethought it. Taking it out of the basket, he carefully hung it back on the hook.

After getting the detergent, he got everything together and opened his front door to find Katie on the other side with her keys in hand.

For a few moments, they didn’t say anything. After just finding her tank top and now seeing her at his door, Danny thought he might need a cold shower. She looked, in a word, amazing. Her dark blonde hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail with a few highlights sticking out. She had on her glasses—which Danny always found incredibly sexy. Dressed in a pair of low-rise, hip-hugging jeans and a cropped jacket, Danny’s breath caught a little bit as his eyes floated over her unintentionally bare stomach. He was definitely going to need a cold shower after this.

“I thought Nicky had practice on Friday nights. Um…I didn’t think you’d be here,” Katie finally said, not noticing the way Danny was taking her in.

“Cancelled. The rain,” Danny replied as he motioned toward the window.

“Right. I wasn’t thinking,” Katie responded with a nervous smile.

Danny returned a small smile, but didn’t say anything.

“Um…you’re doing laundry on Friday night?” she asked, motioning toward the basket.

“What?” Danny asked in a confused tone before remembering what he’d been doing. “Yeah…you know…I figured I’d get a head start.” They usually did their laundry together on Sunday night. More accurately, Danny would do their laundry and Katie would help fold after. Growing up, she’d never done her own laundry, so she never quite grasped what should go in hot or cold water.

“Well I won’t keep you…I just…just…” she stammered.

“You just what?” Danny asked, almost too hopefully.

“I need a book that’s here,” she finally said, glancing at the stacks of books that lined the far wall. “I’m preparing a lecture for next week, and I didn’t realize I left the book here. I was trying to come at a time when you would be gone.”

Shrugging, Danny opened the door wider to let her in. “No worries. Get your book.”

“Thanks,” she replied walking in.

Danny watched her intensely as she scanned the stacks. He took a deep breath before he finally had to look away.

“Here we go,” she said as she started to pull a book out from the middle of a tall stack.

Looking up, Danny saw that the stack was really too tall and was wobbling above Katie. “Be care—“

Before he could finish, the stack of books started to tumble down on top of her. “—ful,” he finished as he rushed towards her.

In an effort to get of out of the way of the falling books, Katie gracelessly fell backwards onto the floor – hitting the hardwood with a loud thud.

Leaning down next to her, Danny asked, “You all right?”

Looking up at him, first she smiled through the sharp pain as her cheeks flushed red in embarrassment. In the next moment, a swell of laughter followed. Soon, they were both laughing at the mess that surrounded them, breaking the uncomfortable tension that had surrounded the situation. Finally, Danny began removing the books that had fallen on Katie’s lap and then he absently brushed a piece of hair out of her face. Extending his hand, he helped her to her feet. As she rose, they ended up standing very close to one another.

“Told you these books were a death trap,” he said in a low tone, breaking the new tension that now seemed to be more about attraction than discomfort.

Biting her lip, Katie shrugged as she started to move away. Before she could get too far, Danny grabbed her hand.

“Don’t go,” was all he could think of to say.

“Danny…I—“

“Don’t go,” he repeated. The conflicted look on her face started to soften so Danny gently pulled her closer. She floated towards him as though he had some sort of magnetic power. Before either of them was actually ready, there was no space between them. He could feel her heart beating in time with his.

She kissed him first, which surprised him. The kiss, needy and emotional, lead to a fast stumble to bedroom and a tumble onto the bed that was rougher than either had intended.

“Sorry,” Danny said as he heard her wince beneath him.

“S’okay,” she replied breathlessly, before pulling him down for another kiss.

The intense encounter continued, both of them trying to focus on the physical attraction and trying to forget all the emotional baggage. But the baggage came roaring back when they unintentionally made eye contact with each other. Danny had just finished helping her remove his shirt, and their eyes met as he leaned in to kiss her again. Kissing her passionately, their eyes locked and the truth they both couldn’t avoid was evident in their gaze.

Very slowly, Danny pulled away from her and rolled onto his back. Glancing over at Katie, he watched her pull her jacket tightly around her.

Neither was really able to speak – both afraid of what the other would say. But then, Danny turned to watch her as he propped his head up with his hand. Almost unconsciously, he reached out and let his fingers lazily drawing patterns across her bare stomach.

Stifling a smile, she finally returned his gaze.

“I knew it had rained all day,” she whispered, after several minutes of quiet.

This made Danny smile. Gently, he pulled her closer to him as she rolled to her side.

“I hate not being with you,” she said suddenly.

“I hate not being with you, too,” he said as he exhaled lightly against the shell of her ear.

Shivering at the arousing feeling, Katie said, “Maybe…maybe we could just be lovers. Just have nice, uncomplicated sex for a while.”

Smiling against her shoulder, he answered, “It’s never really uncomplicated, and I could never do that with you.”

“What are we going to do, Danny?”

Sighing, Danny held her a little tighter. “I want you here with me. I want you in my life. I want things to be the way they’ve always been. I’m really happy with you here. I thought you were, too,” he said, fear and insecurity evident in his voice.

“I was. I just…I don’t know. I don’t know.”

They didn’t say anything else. Eventually, they both just fell asleep—neither of them had been able to fall asleep that easily in over a week.

In the morning, Danny woke and the first thing he noticed was the emptiness. His heart sinking, he wasn’t sure what would be worse – if last night had been a dream or if she’d really left him in the middle of the night. Rubbing his eyes, he sat up in the bed. Opening his eyes again, he smiled when he saw the bathroom door open. Katie stepped out, her hair wet from a shower and wearing a pair of track pants and one of his FBI sweatshirts.

“Morning,” she said with a small smile.

“Morning,” Danny replied. “You’re up early.”

“Actually, you slept late. It’s almost nine. I have to conduct a writing workshop that starts at 11.”

“It’s almost nine?” he asked, looking at the clock. “Christ! I should have set the alarm,” he said, hurrying out of bed.

“Plans this morning?” she inquired curiously, as she slipped her shoes.

“Um…yeah. I need to get a shower and get out here,” he said as he stood in front her.

“Well, I’ll put on some coffee before I leave,” she responded as she noticed the uneasiness in his voice.

“Thanks, and thanks for coming over last night. It was…nice,” he said, glancing at the bed.

“Yeah. It was,” she replied, leaning up to kiss him on the cheek. “You better get in the shower. I call you later.”

“Great,” he said. After kissing her on the forehead, he headed into the bathroom.

XXX

After starting the coffeemaker, Katie gathered her books and purse. As she opened the door to leave, she ran straight into a man who had his fist up ready to knock on the door.

Startled, Katie asked, “Can I help you?” And then taking a moment to really look at the man, she recognized him. It was Martin Fitzgerald. She hadn’t recognized him at first because he was dressed in jeans, a sweatshirt and a baseball cap.

Glancing at the number on the door, Martin squinted in confusion. “Yes? I guess. This is Danny’s apartment, right?”

“Right,” Katie replied, “Um…he’s here. He’s running late. Is he expecting you?”

“I was supposed to meet him a couple of blocks from here, but I got to this neighborhood sooner than I’d thought. I tried to use the buzzer downstairs. When it didn’t work, someone just let me in. So I figured, I’d just come up. Sorry if I’m interrupting.”

Katie smiled as the pieces slowly came together in her mind.

“I can leave. I’ll just wait downstairs,” Martin volunteered when Katie failed to respond.

“You’re not interrupting. Please come in,” she said graciously. “I’m actually on my way out. He’s in the shower, but he’ll be out in a few minutes. I just put on some coffee. Help yourself.”

“Thanks. Katie, right? It’s been a long time,” he said as he walked through the door. “I’m Martin.”

“I remember,” Katie replied. “I…um…I was actually with Danny once when he went to visit you in the hospital last summer, but you were sleeping.”

Martin smiled politely in return, but didn’t respond—seeming nervous and uncomfortable.

“I’ve got a class to get to, so um…make yourself at home. Danny will be out in a minute.”

“Thanks,” Martin replied.

Before Katie could turn toward the door, she saw Danny walking out of the bedroom, running his fingers through his wet hair.

“Hey,” he said, clearly very surprised, with a frown etched in his brow line.

“Hi. I…uh…I got here sooner than I thought. Um…I offered to wait downstairs--,” Martin stammered.

Smiling slightly, Danny interrupted. “Don’t worry about it. I’m almost ready. I just need some coffee. Did you guys meet?” he asked as he looked from Martin to Katie.

“We reintroduced ourselves. Yes,” Katie answered with a polite smile. “It was nice to see you again, Martin. And now, I really must go.”

“I’ll walk you out,” Danny said as he walked to the door. “Be right back,” he said to Martin before following Katie out and closing the door.

They didn’t say anything as he walked her to the stairwell, but he shook his head when he saw the smile beaming on Katie face.

“Don’t get too excited. Okay?”

“I’m not excited. I’m not anything. It’s none of my business, right?”

“Exactly,” Danny reiterated with a nod of his head and arched brow.

“Have a good day,” she said, leaning up to kiss him.

After kissing her back, he responded, “You, too.”

XXX

Walking back into the apartment, Danny’s eyes widened a little as he acknowledged Martin again. “So how are you doing?”

“Honestly? I’m about to come out of my skin. The prescription my doctor gave helps, but…”

“It doesn’t stop the psychological need to self-medicate,” Danny said as he poured a cup of coffee and topped Martin’s cup off. “You’re used to reaching for a pill every time you feel anything. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what to do from one moment to the next without being high.”

“Exactly,” he replied as he marveled at how Danny had somehow read his thoughts.

“Staying busy helps, but that’s hard because being around people kind of sucks right now.”

Martin nodded in response. And then they both drank their coffees in silence for a few minutes before Martin decided to change the subject. “So, can I ask…can I ask about Katie? Is she living here?”

Danny nodded. “Technically, yeah, she is.”

“That explains all the books,” Martin responding glancing at the wall of books with the errant pile still strewn all over the floor from the night before. “I never really figured you for a Classics kind of guy – let alone reading in general.”

“Geeze, Martin. It’s good to know you still have that sharp sense of humor,” Danny deadpanned.

This made Martin smile – his first real smile in a while. “Seriously, though, it seems like you have a bit of a storage problem.”

“You think? This apartment isn’t made for two people,” Danny replied before saying under his breath, “but that might not be a problem for long.”

“What?” Martin asked.

“Nothing. I just…I had intentions of fixing the storage problem, but haven’t had the time to do it. I’ll get to it eventually.”

“So how did I not know that you and Katie had gotten so serious? Does everyone else know?”

Tilting his head, Danny shrugged. “Viv and Sam definitely know. They always find ways to ask me about her. I may have mentioned it to Jack in passing, but I’m pretty sure Elena doesn’t know. I can’t recall ever talking to her about Katie.”

“Well, then, I don’t feel so bad. Maybe you’re just telling people in the order that they joined the team.”

Danny laughed for a moment, but then got serious because he sensed a hint of uneasiness in Martin’s voice. “It just never came up, Martin. We haven’t talked a whole lot since—“

“Yeah, I know,” Martin replied solemnly, cutting Danny off.

Realizing that this wasn’t an area Martin was ready to discuss, Danny changed the subject after drinking his last swallow of coffee. “Listen, we should get going. That meeting starts in a few minutes.”

“Right. I’m ready,” Martin responded.

XXX

After her workshop ended, Katie gathered her things quickly to leave for the day. As she hurried out the door, she was surprised to run into her father.

“Dad? What are you doing here?” she asked in a confused tone.

“Don’t you remember?” he replied. “We made plans earlier in the week to get together for dinner – after your class ended. We haven’t had a chance to talk since getting back from vacation. I’m sure you’re brimming with opinions about Charlotte.”

Suddenly, she remembered when he referenced his new “friend”. “Right. I completely forgot.”

After her night with Danny, she’d been barely able to focus on anything. “I can’t do it tonight, Dad. I…um…I have something I have to take care of. It can’t wait.”

“Sweetheart, we made plans. I cleared my Saturday evening for you. Danny is welcome to join us if—“

“No. He won’t be joining us, and I won’t be joining you either until we can get a few things straight,” Katie blurted. She hadn’t intended to talk about this with her father, but now was as good a time as any.

“What are you talking about? What’s this about?”

“I’ve allowed myself to be influenced by you and the things you say about Danny. I know you aren’t being malicious, but really, you shouldn’t have an opinion at all about my relationship. It’s my business. And what Danny decides to do with his future, our future, shouldn’t be commented on by you.”

“Where is this coming from? All I’ve said is that he should take advantage of great opportunities – opportunities most young men with law degrees would kill for. And that he should marry you. I know how much you want that, sweetheart. It bothers me that he would ask you to move in with him in that poor excuse for an apartment, without even discussing the notion of getting married,” he said in an exasperated tone.

Katie started to argue back, but he interrupted before she could speak. “None of this would bother you unless you were thinking about the same things. You wouldn’t care what I had to say about this unless you were feeling insecure. So there is merit to all of this.”

“You’re right. It has bothered me, but your passive aggressive commentary doesn’t make me feel better or supported. It just makes me question something that I’ve already committed to. Danny and I may not be married, but we have an understanding. I let the things you said influence that, and I shouldn’t have. That was my mistake. But you’re at fault, too.”

“My fault?” her father replied defensively.

“I need you to stay out of it. I need you to support me…and Danny. He loves me. He makes me happy, no matter what career choice he makes, where we live or whether we’re married or not. And I wouldn’t be in your life today if it wasn’t for him. You should remember that the next time you criticize our choices.”

Her father stared at her for a few moments before shaking his head. “I apologize for being critical, but I won’t apologize for wanting what is best for you. The best I can do is assure you that I won’t discuss Danny’s career or your marital status again.”

“That’s all I want, Dad.”

“Okay. Then can we please go to dinner like we planned?”

“I really can’t. It’s not because I’m upset with you. I just have to do something.”

“Maybe tomorrow then?”

“I call you,” Katie said as she rose up to kiss her father on the cheek and then hurried out of the classroom.

XXX

Nervously standing in front of their door, Katie wasn’t sure if she should knock or not. Deciding it was better to err on the side of caution, she knocked on the door. Moments later, Danny answered, looking worn-out and slightly out of breath.

“Hi,” he greeted her in a surprised tone. “What are you doing here?”

Frowning, Katie sighed. He was standing in the doorway, blocking her view of the apartment. “I…um…I thought we should talk again, after last night and this morning. I didn’t want to go another day without…,” pausing, she started to feel slightly panicked by Danny’s strange behavior. “What the hell is going on in there?”

“In here? Nothing. Nothing’s going on. In fact, maybe we should get out of here to talk. Let’s go for walk,” he said as he grabbed his keys from the side table and started to walk out.

“Whoa…whoa,” Katie exclaimed. “We’re not going anywhere.”

“Baby, it’s a mess in there. We should—“

“I’m not moving from this spot until I get to go into that apartment,” Katie responded, holding her ground.

Tilting his head, Danny lips curved into a small, exasperated smile. Taking a deep breath, he opened the door to the apartment and ushered her in.

Stopping abruptly, Katie’s breath caught at the sight in front of her: most of her books were now carefully housed in a beautiful set of unstained,wood bookcases.

“I wasn’t finished putting them away yet. I wanted it to be completely done the first time you saw it.”

Speechless, Katie shook her head as she walked toward them. Scanning the titles, she noticed that he’d put them in alphabetical order, just as she'd had them arranged against the wall.

“After what happened the other night, I figured we should do something more permanent and safe, for that matter,” Danny continued.

“You did this all by yourself? This afternoon?”

“Actually, not all by myself. Martin was feeling a little restless today and needed a project so I put him to work.”

“They’re beautiful. It’s beautiful and incredibly thoughtful.”

“I’d been thinking about for a while, but hadn’t had the time or the extra set of hands to help get the materials from the wholesale place down the street. It just seemed to work out today,” Danny said in a self-satisfied tone. “But I didn’t do it to make you stay or anything. In fact, if you go, you can take them with you. I just wanted you to have them – no matter what you decide,” he finished, voice now brimming with insecurity.

“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. That’s why I came here out of the blue,” she said, turning to him. “I’m not going anywhere, Danny.”

Biting his lip, he wearily ran a hand through his hair. “Don’t. Don’t rush into this. I shouldn't have pushed you to stay last night. AndI know you were encouraged when you saw Martin here this morning, but don’t make me into something I’m not. He started to hit rock bottom and Sam talked me into helping him.”

“It doesn’t matter how it happened, and you were right. The thing with Martin has nothing to do with us. You should be able to tell me things…to talk to me about anything without repercussions. I wasn’t very fair to you. I let my frustrations go overboard.”

“You had a right to be frustrated. I know things aren’t progressing the way you want them to.”

Shaking her head, Katie walked towards him and took his hand. “That’s not the way it works with us, right? We don’t look too far into the future. We take it one day at a time.”

We do?” he asked in a skeptical voice.

“Yeah. We do,” she said as she let him take her into his arms in a warm embrace.

One Year Later

“Thanks again for doing this, Martin.”

“You don’t have to thank me, Danny. It’s an honor. I’m glad I can be here for you,” Martin replied genuinely as he helped Danny put on the black tuxedo jacket.

Taking a deep breath, Danny looked at his reflection in the mirror as he straightened his tie.

“You nervous?” Martin asked.

“I didn’t think I would be. I mean, Katie and I have been together for a while. We’ve been living together for over a year. I’m not really sure why I’m nervous,” Danny said as he turned and looked at Martin. “The marriage part doesn’t make me nervous. I guess it’s everything after that.”

“Well, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from you in the last year, it’s that you take things one step at a time. Right?”

Danny smiled. “Right. Very good, Martin. But you know now as well as I do that it’s a lot easier said than done,” he said, looking down as his smile faded.

“Yeah, I know,” Martin replied in a sympathetic tone. A few moments of silence passed between them, before he added. “I’m sure that your brother would have been very proud to stand next to you today.”

Nodding, Danny responded solemnly. “Yeah, maybe. I just hope he’s finally at peace now. He could never seem to slow things down enough.” Running his hand through his hair, he took a seat on the couch in the church rectory.

Sensing that Danny needed a moment alone, Martin excused himself saying that he would check to see if how close they were to starting.

Leaning back on the sofa, Danny took another deep breath and closed his eyes. So much had changed in the last year. After he’d helped Martin, Danny had decided to work even harder to get his brother out of prison. He and Raffi’s lawyer had spent hours putting together documentation to petition the courts for Raffi’s early release. As they got closer and closer to getting Raffi out, Danny had sensed that Raffi felt more and more pressure about living life on the outside again. He’d pleaded with Raffi to talk to him or someone more qualified about his feelings, but Raffi had assured Danny he’d be fine. And then the day came when Danny finally got the news that Raffi would be released in a month. Danny remembered being so happy that he’d finally been able to deliver on his promise to Sylvia.

The elation was short-lived, though. A week before Raffi was due to be released; prison guards found him hanging in his cell. When Danny had gone to the prison to claim his brother’s body, the warden had given him the note they’d found in Raffi’s cell.

Danny,

You’ve been there for me and my family more than I was ever there for you. I’m sorry for the way you suffered because of me.

Tell Sylvia that I love her more than life, and that it’s better this way. I couldn’t stand it if I hurt her again.

Don’t lie to him, Danny. Tell Nicky about who I was so he’ll never make the same mistakes I did. I know he won’t – because he’ll follow your example.

I know I’m leaving them in good hands. Protect them and love them like I couldn’t.

Te quiero, hermano del bebé

At first, Danny was angry, so angry because Raffi had left him again. And angry because he was now responsible for his family. Danny spent weeks in a deep depression. Katie gave him the time and space to deal with his grief. She didn’t get upset that he wasn’t confiding in her. She just waited until he was ready to talk about it.

Danny had done a lot of thinking during that time. He’d thought about his life and what he valued. And he’d realized that time was precious. He hadn’t wanted to waste anymore time being scared about the future.

On a whim, he’d surprised Katie with a trip to Miami. He’d shown her where he’d spent his tumultuous childhood and together they came to terms with his past. Danny had even spread part of Raffi’s ashes on the beach that his mother had taken them to as children. Finally, the day before they were due to leave, he’d proposed to Katie as they walked along the beach at sunrise. With tears in her eyes, she’d accepted without hesitation.

Smiling at the memory, Danny heard a knock at the door. Before he could say “come in,” the door opened and Jack poked his head in.

“How you holding up?” Jack asked with a sly grin.

“Jack! You’re here,” Danny exclaimed, rising from the couch. In two long strides, he got to the door and opened it wider. Then he greeted Jack with a warm hug, not caring that Jack still wasn’t a hugger. “Katie said that you RSVP’d, but I still wasn’t sure you’d be able come all the way here for this.”

“Are you kidding? Danny Taylor, Special Agent Casanova, finally settles down, and you think I could miss it?”

“Thanks for coming, Jack. It means a lot.”

“Besides, after Kate got over her disappointment that you weren’t going to wait for her, she got very excited at the thought of buying a new dress and coming to a fancy wedding. Hannah’s thrilled, too.”

Danny laughed. “Maria let the girls come? That’s great, Jack. I can’t wait to see them.”

“We tried to get here sooner, but Maria didn’t want them to miss school. But we’re coming back this summer for a vacation, so we’ll get to see more of you then.”

“Sounds great. How’s Chicago?”

“It’s Chicago. I’m happy to be with the girls. The job is pretty flexible so I get to see a lot of soccer games and Kate’s ballet recitals. Those girls keep me very busy.”

Six months ago, Jack had moved to Chicago. After the girls had spent their summer vacation with him, he’d realized that seeing them one weekend a month wasn’t good enough. He’d come to the decision that he needed to be a better father to his girls than his father was to him. So he’d taken a job in a private security firm and moved to Chicago. Vivian had been promoted again and flourished in the role. Danny had just lost Raffi so losing Jack had made it harder, but he put on a brave face while at work. While Sam had been disappointed that Jack was leaving again, inside she’d felt he was doing the right thing for his daughters.

“I’m glad things worked out, Jack.”

“Yeah, I made the right decision, even though I miss this place like hell,” he responded emphatically.

“We miss you, too. Viv’s great, though. You’d be very proud.”

“I am proud. I’m proud of you, too. This is a big step.”

“No kidding? I think I’m starting to freak out a little,” he said in a nervous tone.

“You’ll be fine. Just breathe. Once you see her walking down the aisle, you’ll do just fine,” Jack said as he extended his hand to Danny. “Congratulations.”

“Thanks, Jack. It really does mean…,” Danny started, but couldn’t finish.

Giving Danny’s shoulder a squeeze, Jack winked. “I’m going to find the girls and take our seats. See you at the reception.”

XXX

Jack was right. As soon as Danny saw Katie walking down the aisle on her father’s arm, wearing a strapless champagne-colored gown, all the fear melted away. When he kissed her at the end of the ceremony, he felt as though they were the only two people in the church.

“We did it,” he whispered in between kisses.

“I love you, Danny,” she responded before they turned to walk up the aisle.

The reception was an elegant, but lively affair. They’d kept their guest list fairly small, so they got to spend a lot of time with all of their guests. After Danny and Katie danced their first dance together, they spent the next hour dancing and talking with everyone else. Danny danced with Hannah and Kate. And then he cut in on Marcus so he could dance with Vivian.

“You know, Danny, I found myself actually crying during the ceremony. I’m going to need serious help when Reggie gets married.”

Danny smiled as looked down at Vivian. “Reggie’s a lucky kid,” he responded as they looked over at Reggie and his father.

“I’m so happy for you, Danny. I know you’ve had a tough couple of years. I hope this is the start of something wonderful for you.”

“You know what, Viv? As hard as things have been, I’ve had so much to be thankful for: Katie and Raffi’s family,” he said as he looked over at Nicky and Sylvia on the dance floor. “Not to mention that I have a great job with the best boss in the whole world.”

“Please Danny. You’re just buttering me up so I’ll give you more time off for your honeymoon.”

Danny laughed as they continued to dance.

Samantha was next. Danny had a hard time coaxing her onto the dance floor.

“I never thought Samantha Spade would be wallflower. You’re really surprising me, Sam.”

“Weddings make me nervous,” she said as they danced. “Although this one has been especially beautiful – I have to say.”

“Yes. You do have to say. Hey, where’s your plus one tonight?” Danny asked with a smile.

“These are hard times for a girl. I couldn’t buy a date,” she replied sheepishly.

“Actually, you probably could have, but that would have been a little weird,” he said with a smile.

Sam tried hard to stifle her laugh, but failed. “You’re a funny guy. So what’s up with Martin’s date?” she asked as she glanced over at Martin dancing with an attractive young woman.

“I’m not sure. He hasn’t said much about her. I think he’s taking it slow, which is a wise decision.”

“Yeah. I can’t believe it’s been a year. So much has happened.”

Nodding, Danny arched an eyebrow. “Speaking of, have you talked to Jack?”

“We said hello before the wedding,” she replied.

“Hmmm. It was good to see him. I’m glad he came.”

“Yep,” Sam replied, with a nervous smile.

Just as the song started to change, Danny felt a tap on his shoulder.

“May I cut in?” Jack asked. “Your wife requests your presence over by the cake.”

Smiling, Danny let go of Samantha. “My wife? God, that’s weird. Thanks, Sam,” he said as he leaned in and kissed her cheek.

“Congratulations, Danny,” Sam responded.

Before Danny turned to walk away, he watched as Jack took Samantha in his arms for a dance. They seemed almost awkward with each other, which struck Danny as odd, but very quickly his attention turned to his new bride.

“Hey,” he said coming up behind Katie and kissing her neck. “What’s up?”

“The photographer wants to take some pictures of us with the cake.”

“Okay, but I think this photographer guy must be charging your dad by the picture for as many as he’s taking,” Danny joked.

“Ha. Ha. Someday, we’ll be very happy we have a picture with the cake.”

“Oh believe me, I know. Hey, I don’t care how many pictures he takes. I’m good with all of it. You know why?”

“Oh this will be good. Why?” she asked as she rolled her eyes.

“I hear there’s going to be a hell of a honeymoon after this. And that, quite honestly, is the whole reason I’m going along with this dog and pony show.”

Katie couldn’t help but laugh. “Just a few more hours, and then we’ll be on our way. I’m looking forward to it as well.”

After the photographer finished with the cake pictures, Danny got an idea. “Hey, man, would you mind taking a picture that’s not on your list?”

“Not at all,” the photographer replied.

“Great. Meet me over in that corner over there. I’m going to get a few people together.”

As quickly as possible, Danny tracked down Martin and Vivian sitting at one of the tables, and then found Jack and Samantha still dancing on the dance floor. They all followed him over to the photographer.

“I was thinking…I was thinking we should all take a picture together. I mean, Jack’s already officially left us. It may be one of the last times we’ll all be together.”

“I doubt that,” Viv interjected.

“Well, maybe not, but still, humor me,” Danny replied with a smile as they all lined up for the picture.

XXX

Three Months Later

They’d been working for almost forty-eight hours straight looking for a missing four-year-old girl. They finally tracked her and her kidnapper down at a house in Queens where a shootout ensued. Once again, Martin and Danny found themselves in the midst of gunfire in their efforts to secure the girl. Luckily, this time they were able to disarm the man before he could do any damage.

After returning to the office, Danny wearily collapsed into a chair in the hallway after watching Viv reunite the girl with her family. Minutes later, Martin approached with cup of coffee in each hand.

“I thought you could use this before you head home. I, for one, don’t think I can make it home without it.”

Smiling slightly, Danny took the coffee as Martin took the seat next to him. “Thanks, man.”

“I should thank you. You tackled that guy today before he had a chance to take a shot at me.”

Shrugging, Danny answered. “It was nothing. I’m just glad it all ended well.”

“Yeah,” Martin said quietly.

Nervously chewing the inside of his mouth, Danny glanced over at Martin. “Um, I um, I want to tell you something, Martin. I wasn’t going to tell anyone yet, but—“

“What is it? Is something wrong?”

“No. No, nothing’s wrong. I’ve just made a decision, and I need to tell someone before I lose my nerve.”

“Okay.”

“I’m quitting,” Danny blurted.

“What?” Martin asked voice full of surprise.

“I’m leaving the FBI.”

“What? Why? When did you decide this?” Martin asked, voice escalating.

“Katie and I have been talking about it pretty seriously for the last month. But honestly, Martin, it’s kind of been on the table for me ever since I passed the Bar. Walter Miller, from the firm that handled Raffi’s case, has this great job lined up for me. And I just think now is the time to do it.”

“Now? Jack hasn’t even been gone a year. We’re still getting used to two new agents, and now’s a good time? I thought you loved this job.”

“I do. But the thing that happened today – it’s not so exciting anymore. I used to get such a rush – pulling my gun and apprehending suspects. But now, it just turns my stomach every time it happens. I need a change, Martin.”

“I understand that, Danny. I do. But there’s more to this job than just that. I just don’t think you should rush—“

“Katie’s pregnant, Martin,” Danny interrupted.

Martin’s eyes widened and small smile formed on his face. “Congratulations. That’s great.”

“She’s not very far along, just a couple of months, so we aren’t telling people yet. But I don’t want her to worry about this stuff anymore. And this opportunity with Miller’s firm is pretty great. I mean, I wouldn’t have many forty-eight hour workdays anymore. ”

“I understand. I mean, I hate to see you leave, but I do understand.”

“You, Viv, Sam…you guys are the reason it’s been so hard for me to make this decision. I’ve been doing this for over ten years. I can’t imagine not having this in my life anymore,” Danny said as he looked toward the bullpen.

“You’ll still have us, Danny. You aren’t doing anything crazy like leaving town, are you?”

“No way, man. I could never leave here.”

“Then nothing will really change,” Martin responded definitively. “Now what’s this great opportunity?” Martin asked with enthusiasm.

“The firm funds this legal aid clinic downtown. They work a lot with social services and DCFS, and they do great things for child advocacy. I’ll be working out of that office, mostly. But then I’ll also be working out of the main firm a couple days a week. Mr. Miller wants me to consult on some of their criminal cases. That part might not be so fun, but that’s where I’ll earn my money.”

“Sounds great, Danny.”

“Yeah, I’m pretty psyched about it. Katie’s crazy happy. And her father is over the moon.”

“Viv won’t be so over-the-moon about it.”

“No, she won’t. The thought of telling her is literally making me nauseous. I don’t think I can face it today. You think you can keep this under your hat for another week or so?”

“No problem, man. Thanks for telling me.”

“I wanted to tell you first. I figured it was the least I could do after everything…”

“Yeah,” Martin replied with a little sadness before his lips curved into a smile again. “God, it’s going to be so quiet here now. I mean, really quiet. Like now we’re actually going to get a chance to get a word in edgewise.”

XXX

A year and a half later

“Vivalina!” Danny greeted warmly as he walked into the coffee shop and approached her at a table. “You’re a sight for sore eyes,” he said as he bent down to kiss her on the cheek.

“It’s so good to see you, Danny,” she responded as he took a seat across from her. “It’s been too long.”

“I know, Viv. But you never warned me how crazy things would get after having a baby. Katie and I are barely able to find time for each other, let alone other people.”

“Oh, how is she? How’s Lucy?” Viv asked happily.

“So good. She’s beautiful, Viv,” he said as he pulled a recent picture out of his pocket. “I’m telling you, we can’t take our eyes off of her.”

Taking the picture, Viv smiled as she looked at it. “Is she already six months old? She’s getting so big. I have to come see her.”

“You’ll see her soon. Katie and I will bring her to Reggie’s birthday party at the end of the month.”

“Oh, good. Glad you got the invitation,” Viv said as she continued to look at the picture. “Look at those brown eyes, and all that hair. She looks so much like you,” she said as she handed the picture back to him.

“I’m hoping that means she’ll be like Katie in every other way. We’ll be in good shape if that happens.”

Sighing, Viv rolled her eyes. “How are you doing? You look great.”

“I feel great. Things are good. The family’s good. The job is good. I’ve got no complaints. How are you?”

“Well that’s actually why I asked you here. I wanted to talk to you about something.”

“Oh God, Viv, are you okay? Your heart—“

“It’s nothing like that, Danny. I didn’t mean to alarm you. No. It’s about the job.”

“What about it? Have you had a tough time replacing Martin?”

Martin had transferred to Washington, D.C. two months earlier. He’d applied for a supervisory position on a whim and was actually surprised when he had been selected. Danny hadn’t believed it when Martin said he was surprised. Danny had to remind Martin of what he’d told him after he had first me him. Missing Persons was just a stepping stone because, “He’s off to bigger and better.”

“I had tough time replacing you. I had a tough time replacing Martin, and now I’ll have a hell of a time replacing Samantha.”

“Sam? Sam’s leaving?” Danny asked, completely surprised.

“She told me yesterday. She’s transferring to Chicago.”

“Chicago? Chicago?” Danny asked with a sly smile, as he arched an eyebrow.

“Don’t go there, Danny. She says she wants to be closer to her mother and sister. Her mother’s been having a tough time, and she wants to be closer to her. Chicago is just a short drive to Kenosha.”

“I’m sorry, Viv. That sucks. I mean, I’m happy for Sam if this is what makes her happy, but I know it makes it harder for you.”

“You have no idea how much. That’s why I asked you here.”

“Really? Why?” he asked in a confused tone.

“I know the FBI can’t pay you near what you make now, but I have to ask: You want come back and help me out for a while?”

“Viv…I…”

“Before you answer, they want to disband my team. The higher-ups have decided that Violent Crimes doesn’t need a specialized missing person’s team anymore. But if I can tell them that one of my experienced agents is coming back, they might let me keep the team intact until I can get the other agents up to speed.”

“What’s going to happen to you if the team disbands?” Danny asked in concern.

Shrugging, Viv responded, “I’m not sure. I think they’ll just put me over a random group of agents. We’ll take on duties as assigned. We could work kidnappings, drug trafficking, federal murders, but no more specialized work.”

“But you’ll still be a supervisory agent? They can’t take that away from you again, can they?”

“No. They can’t.”

They sat there in silence for several minutes as Danny pondered the situation. “I never thought I would ever be saying no to you Viv, but I can’t. I like my job. I even get a chance to work from home a day a week. It’s worked out really well for me and Katie.”

“I know it was silly to even ask, but I figured I’d take a shot…just in case you missed the action.”

Danny smiled. “I don’t think I need any more action in my life. You’re not going to believe this, but Katie’s pregnant again.”

“She’s pregnant again? Danny, I thought you just said you didn’t have time for each other?”

Danny smiled sheepishly. “It’s crazy, I know. Katie’s freaking out, but we’re happy about it.”

“Congratulations. You’ve never been on to waste time!” she responded as she laughed. “I guess I’ll go back and just go with the flow at work. I just can’t believe everybody’s gone. It’s not the same there anymore.”

“So when is Sam’s last day?”

“Two weeks. I’ll call you about her going away party. I’m sure she’ll be calling you soon as well. Maybe we can get Martin to come up for her send-off?”

“I’ll call him and let him know. Katie and I actually saw him a few weeks ago. He was up here visiting family and stopped by to see Lucy.”

“Is he still engaged to the doctor?”

“Yes. I believe they are closing in on a wedding date this summer. I’m betting the Fitzgerald’s will make it the social event of the season in DC. Maybe we can all get together again.”

“Oh yes. Let’s plan on it.”

XXX

Two Years Later

Danny looked on in concern as Katie took a couple of deep breathes. Gently rubbing her back, he leaned down and asked her, “You want me to ask the flight attendant for a ginger ale or something?”

Looking up, Katie shook her head. “I’ll be fine. It’s just the change in altitude. The doctor said the morning sickness would last longer this time.”

“Yeah, but you’re in your fifth month. This is crazy. With Lucy and Rafi, you were okay by this time.”

“Well there are two babies in there now, so I guess it will just be twice as long,” she said in an irritated tone.

“I’m sorry. I’m really sorry,” he replied guiltily.

“It’s okay, Danny. I’ll be okay,” she said, taking his hand. “How are you doing?”

“You know I should fly with you more often. I’m so worried about you that I don’t have time to worry about crashing and burning.”

Shaking her head, Katie tried not to laugh. “That’s a nice thought. Now I feel really good that we both decided to go to this wedding. Maybe I should have stayed with the kids.”

“No way. This will probably be our last moment alone until those two go to college,” he said pointing to her stomach. “We need to enjoy it while we can. Besides, we’ll be fine and your Dad and Charlotte have been dying to spend time with Lucy and Rafi. It’s all for the best.”

After they landed, Danny took Katie to the hotel. All she wanted to do was take a nap, so after he got her settled in, he decided to pay a visit to the bride and groom on the day before their wedding.

Walking the short distance to their brownstone, he ascended the stairs and knocked on the front door.

Samantha opened the door with a flourish and almost jumped when she saw him. “Danny! It’s so good to see you!”

Embracing her tightly, Danny kissed her forehead before letting her go. “You look beautiful, Sam. This whole marriage thing agrees with you.”

“Can you believe it? I still can’t,” she said as she led him into the kitchen. “Where’s Katie? I know Viv said you weren’t bringing the kids, but I was looking forward to seeing Katie.”

“She’s here. She’s just exhausted from the trip. She’s resting. This pregnancy has really been tough on her.”

“Danny, has she gone a year in your marriage without being pregnant?”

“Yeah. Last year. I guess she didn’t like it much, because this year she’s at it again,” he said jokingly.

“I don’t know how you guys do it.”

“She’s an amazing mom. I just go along for the ride.”

“Somehow I doubt that.”

“Hey, enough about me. The last I heard, you moved here to be closer to your family. You confirmed that when I saw you at Martin’s wedding. Were you and Jack together when you were at Martin’s wedding?”

“Sort of, yes. But we were taking things slow so we didn’t want to make big deal of it or take away from Martin’s day.”

“So how did it all happen?”

“We danced at your wedding, and it just felt right.”

“My wedding? That was over a year before you moved here.”

“Like I said, we took it slow. He came to New York a couple of times. We talked on the phone quite a bit. And then my mom’s latest husband left her, so I went to Kenosha to help her because she had to move. Jack drove up and met me there. I didn’t even ask him. He just came. I knew then that my place was here.”

“How are things with the girls?”

“They were rocky at first. I don’t think Maria gave them the best impression of me, not that I can blame her. But over time, they’ve gotten comfortable with me and I think they accept me now. I don’t try to be their mother. It’s kind of fun just being their friend.”

“Good for you, Sam. So did Jack like get down on one knee?” Danny asked with a grin.

This made Sam laugh. “Not quite. He has bad knees. I never thought we’d get married. I was just happy when we moved in together. That was enough for me. But he asked me, and I thought “why not”? So here we are. It’s a nice opportunity to get everyone together again. Martin’s coming, isn’t he?”

“He wouldn’t miss it, but he’s coming in tomorrow. His wife is in her last trimester so he just wants to make it a day trip.”

“You and Martin have stayed close, haven’t you?”

“Yeah, we have. I go to DC on business quite a bit. I stay at their house when I’m there. They come up to New York a lot to visit family. It’s good.”

“Yeah, it is good. I’m so glad you’re here, Danny.”

“Me, too.”

Just then the front door opened, and the house filled with laughter.

“That would be Jack and the girls,” Sam said with a smile.

Rising from his chair, Danny followed Sam out to the foyer.

“Danny!” Kate screamed as she ran into his arms. “You’re here!”

“Who is this?” Danny joked. “Where’s the little girl I used to know?”

“It’s me. It’s Kate. Just a little taller, that’s all.”

Danny then gave Hannah, who was always more shy, a warm hug. And then greeted Jack with a hug as well.

“Jack, you look…you look great,” Danny said sincerely. And he did. He looked relaxed in a button down shirt and blue jeans. “I never thought I’d see you out of a suit on a week day.”

“Very funny. Gotta love casual Fridays.”

“So Sam here has been catching me up on the last couple of years, and Jack’s been a busy boy,” Danny teased with a sly grin.

“You don’t know the half it, but not nearly as busy as you. Viv tells me Katie is pregnant with twins. God help us if there are two little Danny’s running around at the same time.”

“We could only be so lucky,” Kate blurted without thinking.

At that, they all broke into a fit of laughter.

XXX

The wedding was small: Hannah and Kate; Danny and Katie; Vivian and her family; Sam’s mother, sister and her sister’s family; and Martin finally arrived with only a few minutes to spare before the ceremony.

“Nice of you to show up, man,” Danny whispered as Martin slipped into a seat next to him and Katie.

“Things are crazy back in DC. Between the job and my wife’s miserable state right now, I’m lucky I got out at all.”

Katie snorted next to Danny. “Imagine if you were inyour wife’s miserable state right now. You wouldn’t be able to handle it,” Katie interjected as she laid a hand on her protruding stomach.

“Don’t mind her, Martin. She has a bit of a problem with anyone who doesn’t have a uterus right now. I’m in for a fun few months.”

They all three laughed at that before Viv shushed them as Samantha appeared at the door to the chapel.

Samantha was glowing in simple off-white dress. Her eyes danced in happiness as she walked up the short aisle to meet Jack and the girls, who were their witnesses. Glancing in Martin’s direction, she smiled widely when she saw him and squeezed his hand before continuing up the aisle.

When she met Jack and took his hand, Jack’s eyes filled with tears.

“I never thought of Jack as an emotional guy,” Katie murmured in Danny’s ear.

“He’s layered like that. He’s not the badass he wants everyone to think he is,” Danny responded in her ear. Then he kissed her cheek and took hold of her hand as they watched the short ceremony. Taking his hand, she laid it on her belly and breathed deeply as she listened to Jack and Samantha recite their vows.

After the wedding, they all went to a beautiful restaurant overlooking Lake Michigan. It was a picturesque setting. They spent hours talking, laughing and catching up on old times. As the night started to wind down, Sam’s family left to drive back to Kenosha. Marcus and Reggie decided to head back to the hotel, but Jack, Sam, Martin, Vivian, and Danny weren’t ready for the night to end. It was like they all knew that there might not be another time to get together again in the near future. They wanted to take advantage of every moment.

“Are you tired, babe? You want me to take you back to the hotel?” Danny asked when he noticed Katie stifle a yawn.

“I’m okay. I don’t want to cut this evening short. I’m having fun listening to all the stories – especially all the ones about you,” she said with a smile before kissing him.

“We have a million of them, especially about Danny for some reason,” Martin commented. “But since things are winding down, would you mind if Danny and I excused ourselves for a few minutes? There’s just something I want to run by him.”

“Not at all. I bet Viv will tell me all the incriminating stuff while you guys are gone.”

“You bet I will,” Viv said as she raised her glass to them.

“Be right back,” Danny said as he kissed her forehead and rose from the table.

“What’s up?” Danny asked as he and Martin walked out onto the veranda and took seats that overlooked the lake.

“I’ve, um, I’ve been thinking about making a change in my career, and I kind wanted to talk to you about it.”

“A career change? You? You’re on the fast track now at the bureau. You’ll be leapfrogging your father to Director in no time.”

“I don’t think I want that anymore. We’ve talked about this before. Nothing ever changes, Danny. These horrible crimes happen every day, and nothing ever changes.”

“The crimes happen, you go after the bad guys, and the streets are safer because of it,” he replied simply, in typical Danny fashion.

“Are they? Really? How many bad guys have you helped set free by defending them?”

Sighing, Danny shook his head. “I’m not going to argue about this with you again, Martin. The Justice system is set up so everyone gets a fair trial. Sometimes bad guys go free, but sometimes not so bad guys go to prison when all they need is to get some help to prevent them from becoming career criminals. That’s what I try to focus on.”

Nodding, Martin understood where Danny was coming from. In many ways, his defense attorney work was his way of honoring his brother’s memory. “I know, and you know I respect that. But I still think I can make more of a difference in another arena.”

“What arena would that be, Martin?”

“Politics. Cassie and I are thinking about moving back to New York. I plan on re-establishing residency and running for a state congressional seat.”

Danny couldn’t help it when a laugh escaped his lips. “Seriously?”

“Yes. Seriously.”

“Have you told your Dad yet? Because I thought I would have heard his giant sigh of self-satisfied approval from DC by now,” Danny responded sarcastically.

“This isn’t about him. This is about wanting to do something more with my life. I never feel like we make any progress, Danny. The same awful things are happening today that we saw when we worked together. I just want to see if I can make things better at a higher level. I want to give it a shot.”

Smiling, Danny nodded in approval. “Well, you know you always have my vote.”

“I was actually hoping to have more than that,” Martin replied expectantly.

“What do you mean?” he asked with an arched brow.

“I need someone in my corner. I’ve already talked to some of the best people about running a campaign and getting the right support to put a platform together. But what I don’t have is someone I trust completely. Someone who knows the law and can advise me in an honest way. And also someone who has the ability to talk his way in and out of everything.”

“Me? You want me to work on your campaign?” Danny asked, completely surprised. “Martin, I’m a lawyer, but I wouldn’t say I am all that political. How much help could I possibly be to you? I’m sure there are much smarter guys in DC when it comes to this stuff.”

“You don’t give yourself enough credit. You never have. You have your finger on the pulse of major social issues because of your work in legal aid. You can guide my way in areas that I’m not as strong.”

“I don’t know, Martin. I just made partner not too long ago.”

“You wouldn’t have to give that up, at least not right away. At first, we have to see if we can even get a campaign off the ground at all,” Martin said skeptically, before adding, “We’d be a team again, Danny. It’s not selling shoes, but it’s something.”

This made Danny smile. “Since you put it that way,” he said, extending his hand to shake Martin’s, “I can’t promise anything, but I’ll definitely talk about it with Katie.”

“What are you going to talk about with me?” Katie asked as she approached them.

Danny and Martin both rose after hearing her voice.

“Oh…it’s…a long story. We’ll talk about it on the plane tomorrow. It will take my mind off flying and yours off morning-sickness.”

“Speaking of morning-sickness,” Martin said as they walked back into the restaurant, “I probably should head to the airport if I want to catch the last flight out tonight.”

“Before you go, Sam wants me to take a picture of all of you. That’s why I came out to track you down.”

They all lined up for the picture: Jack first, then Sam, Danny in the middle with his arms draped across their backs, then Vivian and Martin on the other end. Katie smiled and tears filled her eyes as she took the picture. It reminded her of a moment not too long ago, when Lucy was looking through their wedding album. She came across the picture Danny and the team had taken at their wedding almost five years ago. Lucy asked her, “Who’s that?” And Katie replied, “That was your daddy’s family before he had us, baby.”

XXX

Epilogue

After Jack and Sam’s wedding, the team didn’t have many opportunities to all get together. Of course, Vivian stayed in close touch with everyone because she lived in New York where Danny and Martin still resided and, after she took early retirement and Reggie went off to college, she and Marcus traveled often to Chicago. Vivian and Jack’s bond had remained long after they’d stopped working together.

But Jack and Sam didn’t get back to New York nearly as much as they would have liked so they didn’t get to see Danny, Martin and their respective families very often. Jack and Sam lived a quiet life in Chicago. Shortly after they got married, Sam was promoted to supervisory agent for the Chicago FBI Missing Person’s unit. Danny, Viv and Martin were all so proud of her. But no one was more proud than Jack.

They never had children of their own. Sam was content to have a challenging career that she never imagined she’d having growing up in Kenosha. And they were both just very happy to have finally found each other again – the unlikely love story of the team.

Martin ran a successful campaign and was elected to state Congress. He was a candidate that all constituents seemed to get behind. He had the brains, compassion, good looks and the picture-perfect wife and two beautiful children to go very far in politics. It also helped that Danny had advised him every step of the way – even taking a leave of absence from the law firm during the campaign. When Martin had first met Danny, he’d never imagined they’d become friends – let alone trusted confidantes with a bond almost as strong as brothers. After he’d won his first campaign, he asked Danny to be his chief of staff. Danny had to decline. Instead, he stayed Martin’s trusted advisor throughout his political career – which eventually lead to a New York Senate seat.

Danny declined Martin’s offer because he could never uproot his family to go to Washington, DC. Katie gave birth to twin girls shortly after Jack and Sam’s wedding. They took a break from having more for a few years after that, but were surprised to add a fifth child, another girl, when the twins turned five. By that time, Danny had left Walter Miller’s firm and had opened his own practice, Taylor and Associates. He worked tirelessly on child advocacy cases and other cases involving less fortunate people who couldn’t usually afford good defense council.

While the team didn’t get together very often, the bonds between them stayed forever. They had grown into a kind of family and would forever be intertwined in each other’s lives, in one way or another. Danny had come to realize that their lives intersected for very specific reasons.

Jack wanted to save everyone, but mostly had needed to save himself. When all was said and done, the team he had assembled became his saving grace.

Vivian never wanted to be the den mother, but she didn’t have much of a choice. They all looked to her for guidance and hope in their own ways. Once she accepted it, she realized that it didn’t really bother her because she got so much out of her relationships with each of them.

Samantha made so many mistakes in her personal life that she wondered if she’d ever get it right. Work and the team were her refuge, despite the fact that she let her personal conflict seep into that refuge. She took pride in knowing that it never affected her ability to help people. Work and the people she worked with validated Sam. It made her strong and it healed the many wounds of her past. In many ways, Sam and Danny were so much alike. They had both come to New York to run away and start over. It eventually worked for Danny, but Sam had to go home again to really find her missing piece.

When Martin walked into the office of the Missing Persons unit for the first time, he had just wanted to make a difference and do his best. Subconsciously, he’d wanted to show his father that he could make it on his own. In the end, Martin accomplished his goals, but that’s not what he thinks about when he remembers his work in Missing Persons. He remembers that someone was always there for him. When he faced the hardest moments of his life, he was never alone: Jack standing up to his father, Viv offering a kind word when he wasn’t sure he could cope with what he’d seen and done, Sam reaching out to him when he needed her the most even though their romantic relationship hadn’t worked, and Danny. Danny, who always seemed to crack a joke at the exact time he needed to laugh. And who saved his life on more than one occasion. And who got past unspeakable personal demons to guide him through one of the most challenging periods of this life.

Danny knows he wouldn’t be where he is today without them. He knows it like he knows Katie’s smile. Jack and Vivian eventually filled the void for Danny that had been there since he lost his parents that fateful day. It’s not as if they had acted like his parents, but they gave him support and injected him with a sense of confidence that no one ever had before. He and Sam were never all that close, but without even knowing it, Sam helped Danny realize the true meaning of friendship and being there for people. And after a rocky start, now Danny can’t really imagine Martin not being his trusted friend.

Danny often finds himself missing the days of looking for the missing with his team. He wouldn’t trade what he has now for anything, but he looks back on those times as some of the best of his life. Growing with the team is what made him into the man he had become.