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Memento Vitae

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Disclaimer: I don't own any of the CSI NY characters, I'm only borrowing them, and I promise to return them in minty fresh condition when I'm finished.
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When he was a kid, Donald Flack Junior, like many kids his age, would carry a multitude of random objects in his pockets as he wandered round the block with his friends. A lot of it was junk, at least that’s what his mother used to call it when she’d check his pockets while doing laundry. Gum wrappers, old subway tickets, random stones, or nails that he’d found on the street. Anything and everything would end up there.

And then there were the things that his mother had insisted that he carry in his pockets at all times when he left the house. Enough coins for a phone call, a clean handkerchief, and of course a St. Christopher medallion to make sure he came home safely.

The St. Christopher usually made it home in one piece. The coins however, ended up in a cash register or the slots of an arcade game more often than a phone box. And as for the handkerchiefs, they rarely returned home in as pristine a fashion as they had left it. But then again, neither did Don.

The handkerchiefs were used as makeshift bandanas to keep the sweat out of his eyes when he was playing with his friends. Or to bandage the inevitably scraped knees. To wipe a bloody nose or wrap around bruised knuckles after a fight. To sneeze into when Don got too close to a cat. And of course, to wrap up any number of treats and treasures and stuff them into his pockets for safety, only to forget about them until his Mom yelled at him on laundry day for not emptying them before tossing the clothing in the hamper.

Now that he’s an adult, Don doesn’t have as much faith in St. Christopher. He’s pretty sure that his service weapon is more of a guarantee of his safe return home every day than any holy medal. He also rarely worries about having coins for the phone. Don figures that he’ll likely always have his cellphone handy, and if that gets lost or damaged, well he can always cite his badge number to an operator if he needs to put through a call in a hurry.

But he still tries to carry a clean handkerchief with him. That is, when he remembers to grab one from his dresser, and of course has done laundry recently enough to have a clean one. He doesn’t mean the pocket squares that he’ll wear occasionally, like when he’s trying to impress a date or maybe a jury. Just a plain and simple white square, the type he buys in packs of a dozen when he runs out.

But for the past few years, Don has also taken to carrying a shoelace around.

Not *the* shoelace of course. Not the one that Mac Taylor had commandeered to stop him bleeding to death all that time ago. That one is, well Don isn’t really sure where exactly it ended up. It might have ended up being chucked out with the rest of the surgical waste after his surgery, swabs and dressings and the like. Or more than likely it had been bagged up during his surgery, along with all the other bits and pieces that didn’t have any business being inside his insides. Either way, Don was pretty sure he’d seen the last of it.

Don hadn’t believed it at first when Danny had told him about it a few days after he’d regained consciousness.

“A shoelace?” Don had been skeptical. He wouldn’t have put it past Danny to try and wind him up by telling him a few tall tales when he was still a little out of it from all the drugs.

“Scout’s honor!” said Danny, “I swear, I wouldn’t a believed it myself if I hadn’t seen it there in black and white in Mac’s report. He gets a shoelace from a guy who’d been trapped with the two of youze and then uses it to tie off an artery or something. Man, if he hadn’t managed it, you’d have probably bled out right there before we’d reached you. Whoa, Donny boy, you okay? You’re looking a bit pale there. I mean, paler than you was a minute ago.” With surprising tact, Danny had quickly changed the subject to one that was less likely to make Don want to throw up.

Don still hadn’t been sure if Danny had been exaggerating or not, but Mac had confirmed it a few hours later on his next visit.

“It wasn’t an ideal solution, I’ll admit,” Mac had said when Don asked him about it. He’d seemed almost embarrassed about it, “But in a situation like that, well I just had to use what came to hand.”

“Ah,” said Don, a half smile on his face, “So Mac is really short for MacGyver then!” He sighed, “I don’t know what to say to you Mac. I mean, saying ‘thank you’, really doesn’t feel like it’s enough.”

“It’s enough for me,” said Mac, firmly. “And the best way you *can* thank me is by listening to your doctors and taking as much time as you need to get back on your feet again.”

It hadn’t occurred to Don at the time, to ask about the current location of the shoelace, the little thing that made such a difference. He supposed that it and all the other detritus removed from him was sitting in an evidence lockup. Not that he could imagine it would have been of much use in a trial, even supposing that Lessing had been fit to face a jury.

That had been something else that Mac had told him that day. Whether by accident or design, all of Don’s previous visitors had glossed over the specifics of the case. They’d told Don that the city was safe, that the bomber was in custody and that he didn’t need to worry about anything. The first few days he’d been feeling too sick and exhausted to question them further. But once the sedation was out of his system and the painkillers had been reduced to a level that allowed for more coherent thought, he’d naturally wanted more details. And even more naturally, it had been Mac who had broken the news to him that the man who had killed a security guard, injured several people, and had put him in the hospital, wasn’t going to end up in jail.

“It’s unlikely that he’ll ever be considered fit to stand trial, Don,” said Mac. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault, Mac,” Don sighed wearily, “You did the right thing…talking him down like that. And he’s not gonna be able to hurt anybody else, right?”

“Hopefully, he’ll get the psychiatric help he needs.”

“Yeah.” Don’s gloom over the news was somewhat tempered by the fact that Mac hadn’t come empty handed to see him that day.

Don’s face lit up when he opened the paper bag that Mac handed to him. Inside it had been what looked like everything he’d been carrying with him that day.

“I sorted through the evidence that was sent over from Trinity,” said Mac. “Anything that belonged to you and wasn’t pertinent to the investigation, I separated out before sending the rest for processing. Your phone was damaged beyond repair, but I had Adam copy the sim card to a new one. And Danny got replacement keys cut from the copy you gave him last year. There wasn’t too much blood on the wallet, and hopefully all your cards will still work.”

“Mac, this is just…” Don looked in the bag again and frowned, “My service weapon…”

“It’s safe,” said Mac, reassuringly. “Both it and your backup were made safe before you even got to the ambulance. It’ll be waiting for you on your first day back.” He saw a cloud pass over Don’s face before a smile was forced back. “Oh, and one more thing.” Mac reached into his pocket and pulled out Don’s shield, newly cleaned, but still almost as battered as its owner. “You’ll be issued a replacement as soon as you’re cleared for work, but I thought you’d like this one back.”

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Don kept the badge with him throughout his stay in the hospital and carried it in his pocket on the occasions he left his apartment afterwards. Oh, he knew that damaged as it was, damaged as *he* was, that it wasn’t going to get him into any crime scenes any time soon. But it was something to hold on to, something to remind him through the dark nights and the even darker days, that someday, one day, he’d be back on his feet and back on the job.

On the day that he was due back to work, Don put the shield away in a box in his dresser, knowing that it had served its purpose. He knew that once he reached the station, he’d be issued a new and undamaged badge. One that together with his reissued service weapon would protect him from most ills. But then, he thought as he stood as his front door, willing himself to open it and go through it to resume his normal life, his gun and badge hadn’t exactly saved him all those months ago.

That was the day that Don started carrying a shoelace with him. He knew that it was a dumb thing to do. He knew that the odds of him being caught in a situation where a shoelace might be needed to save his life again were pretty damn low. And the odds of somebody being around who’d be able to use that shoelace to save his life were even lower. He knew that carrying a shoelace around with him was likely to make absolutely no difference whatsoever to his continued wellbeing. But he also knew that having it tucked away in the back pocket of his wallet – in the space where his younger self used to optimistically carry a condom – made him feel just a fraction safer than he did without it.

If anybody had noticed it, Don was well prepared to pass if off as just being prepared. “I don’t know my own strength somedays,” he was ready to laugh. “The amount of times my shoelaces just snap when I’m tying them in a hurry.” And indeed, he has done that more than once. But he never uses the shoelace in his wallet as a replacement.

Don knows that he’s being stupid about this, but a part of him feels that the one day he doesn’t have it, is gonna be the day when everything goes to shit, and he’ll be cursing himself for not having it. And fuck it, he thinks. If a two-dollar bit of string helps him get through the day, then it’s money well spent. It’s certainly less hassle to deal with than the mandatory psych appointments he’d grudgingly attended before being cleared for duty.

And then one day, Don watched as Mac Taylor opened up his wallet in front of him to pay for a shared meal, and he saw among the cards and notes, a battered shoelace in an evidence bag.
And Don looked at the shoelace and looked at Mac, and Mac saw him looking at the shoelace and looked at Don with a rueful expression on his face. And Don just smiled at him because it was good to know that maybe he wasn’t the only one who needed a little talisman to help him get through the day.

The End