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Under the tree at Christmas

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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.
Original characters are my own invention.

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Mac packed the evidence bags into his CSI kit before locking it securely. He glanced across the corridor to the hospital room where a young child was surrounded by her family. This had been an unexpectedly good resolution to a case. A missing child had been reunited with her family and without any apparent trauma from the experience. Mac and his team had worked round the clock, but as he watched little Kylie Webster get yet another hug from her parents, he knew that it had all been worth it.

Mac had a smile on his face as he started to leave.
“Detective Taylor?” Mac turned around to see an elderly woman approaching him.

“Can I help you?” Mac asked.

“I’m Florence Webster,” the woman said as they came face to face. “Kylie’s grandmother. I just wanted to thank you from the bottom of my heart.” She reached out and took Mac’s in both of her wizened ones and shook it with a strength that belied her age. “You have given my son and daughter in law the greatest gift that they could have asked for this season. Thank you so much.”

“You’re very welcome, Mrs. Webster,” said Mac. He nodded towards the room, “How is Kylie doing?”

“She’s tired and hungry but thank God there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with her, bar a few scratches and bruises.” Florence smiled, “She seems to think it was all one big adventure, but she’s glad to be home.”

“Well, I’m glad we were able to help.” Mac tried to pull his hand away, but Florence’s grip was firm.

“You’ve given us such a gift; I just wish that there was something that I could give to you.” Florence looked at Mac intently, “Detective Taylor, what would you most like to find under your tree this Christmas?”

“I don’t usually put up a tree,” said Mac, “I find that I spend a lot of my time at the office even during the holiday season. Criminals don’t tend to take any time off.” He found himself transfixed by Florence’s gaze for a few seconds more before she suddenly smiled and let go of his hand.

“Buy a tree this year, Detective Taylor,” said Florence. “I have a friend who runs a Christmas tree lot. Tell him that I sent you and he’ll find you the right tree. And who knows what you’ll find under it on Christmas morning.”

Mac took the address that Florence had pressed upon him but didn’t really intend to follow her suggestion. And then a day or so later he had found himself only a few blocks away from the lot with some time to spare, and on a whim had decided to check it out.
He had thought that with less than a week to go until Christmas Day, that there wouldn’t be that many trees left to choose from, but as soon as Mac had mentioned Florence’s name to the owner, Nick, he’d been led to the back of the lot where there had still been a good selection.

“I always keep a few trees back here,” Nick had told him, “For those who need them the most. Take your time, you’ll know your tree when you see it.”
As far as Mac was concerned, a tree was a tree, but he looked carefully through the selection and less than half an hour later he found himself back on the road, a Christmas tree tied to his roof rack and the scent of pine needles clinging to his coat.

The next day, Mac ended up going directly to a crime scene and hadn’t realized that more than just the pine scent had ended up on his coat until Don greeted him, “Yo Mac, that must be some really expensive pine scented aftershave you’ve started wearing.”

Mac had looked at him in some confusion as Don continued, “It’s such good quality that I can almost see the pine needles.”

Mac glanced at his coat and realized with a little chagrin that there were indeed pine needles clinging to it. “Thanks for the heads-up,” he said, as he brushed them to the ground. “I bought a Christmas tree yesterday,” he added. “It must have been shedding more than I thought when I carried it indoors.”

“You bought a tree?” Don’s face lit up. “You gonna have a decorating party? I’m an expert with a roll of tinsel!”

“I think I can manage it on my own,” said Mac, with a wry smile. “But thanks for the offer.” He shifted his kit to his other hand. “Now, what have we got?”

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By the day before Christmas Eve however, Mac’s tree remained as bare as it had been in the lot.
Work had of course taken precedence over such trivial tasks as tree decorating, and Mac had been working round the clock on a particularly difficult case. It hadn’t ended well, and while Mac had had the satisfaction of knowing that he’d accumulated sufficient evidence to keep the perpetrators in prison for a long time, the fact remained that more than one family would have an empty space at the table this holiday.
Mac finished his reports, signed off on the last of his paperwork and left the office, knowing that the next morning, or even sooner if a case came in, he would be back to repeat the whole cycle again.

Returning home, Mac glanced guiltily at the tree in the corner of his living room but just couldn’t summon up any interest in decorating it.
“I should have left you for somebody who might have appreciated you a bit more,” said Mac, raising a glass of wine to the tree.

The knock on his door a few minutes later, startled Mac somewhat. He was even more surprised when he opened the door to see Don standing there, a box in his hands and a Santa hat on his head.

“Ho ho ho!” said Don, a wide smile on his face. “Jo said you’d told her that you hadn’t had a chance to get decorating yet. And since it’s bad luck to have an undressed tree in the house at Christmas, I rounded up a few bits and pieces that I had left over.”

“Jo told you?” Mac had mentioned it to her in passing but was surprised that she’d passed it on to Don rather than just showing up herself.
“Yeah,” said Don. “She was going to come over as well, but she’s got some last-minute stuff to do with Ellie.” He shook the box and Mac heard a tinkling noise, “So, youze just gonna leave me standing here?”

Mac smiled, “Come on in Don, you know you’re always welcome.” He stood aside to let Don in, noticing the stray flakes of snow on the younger man’s coat. “Has it been snowing long?” asked Mac.

Don shook his head, making the bell on the top of his hat jingle slightly. “Was just starting when I got outta the car,” he said, holding the box in one hand as he shrugged out of his coat.
Mac took the coat from him, brushing away the flakes before hanging it up.

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Don followed Mac into the living room and whistled in admiration when he saw the tree in the corner. “Whoa, that’s a beaut!” he said. “I kinda figured you’d have ended up with the runt of the litter you were so late getting one, but that’s real nice. Tall but skinny enough so you don’t got any wasted space in the middle.” He nodded approvingly, and then glanced at the box. “Just hope I have enough here to do it justice.”

“We can always go for the minimalist look,” said Mac.

“Where’s the fun in that?” grinned Don. He put the box down on Mac’s coffee table and removed the lid. “So, where do youze want to start? I got lights, baubles, tinsel…the works.”

“We’ll start with the lights,” said Mac. “Unwind them first and we’ll see if they work before putting them on the tree.”

“Yes Sir!” said Don, snapping off a mock salute. He rummaged through the box until he felt the string of lights, pulling a face as he lifted them from the box, bringing a string of tinsel and a few baubles with them. “How the hell did they get this tangled?” He shook his head in disbelief, the bell on his hat tinkling in accompaniment.

“There is a scientific explanation for it,” said Mac, “But the usual cause is bad packing.”

Don stuck his tongue out at Mac, who smiled in response.

The lights were eventually disentangled from the other contents of the box, tested, and then wound around the tree.
“Now that looks better already,” said Don, standing back and nodding approvingly. “Okay, ornaments next.” He held out the box to Mac, who picked a few at random, arranging them to his satisfaction before letting Don place the next few.

They worked their way through the box, until Mac reached in without looking and instead of shiny colored bauble, found a small plastic piece of mistletoe in his hand. He looked at it in amusement, “I’m sure you’ll be needing that more than I will,” he said with a smile.

To Mac’s surprise, Don didn’t return the smile and there was a troubled look on his face as he replied, “I don’t how that got there, Mac. I haven’t put any up since…” He swallowed hard, forcing a smile on his face, “It’s probably been stuck at the bottom of the box for years. I guess I should have tidied it up before now.” He took another drink from the glass of wine that Mac had poured him and shifted uneasily on his feet.

“I think we’re nearly finished anyway,” said Mac, “A few strings of tinsel should do the trick…once we’ve untangled it all!”

Untangling the tinsel gave Don a chance to collect himself and his normal good humor had been restored by the time he and Mac finished winding it around the tree.
“Just one more thing,” said Don, as he reached into the box, pushing aside the remaining few decorations, carefully ignoring the mistletoe until he found the star shaped tree topper and pulled it out. “You want to do the honors? It is your tree. And I can always lift you up if you can’t reach.”

Mac shot him a mock withering glance and took the topper from Don’s outstretched hand. He turned it around in his hands and noticed some needles sticking to it. Mac shook the needles into his hand and frowned as he took a closer look at them. “These are fresh needles,” he said, a note of surprise in his voice. “Don, did you take this off your own tree?” The look on Don’s face was answer enough. Mac felt a wave of annoyance come over him, “What, do I look like a charity case to you?”

“No,” said Don, quietly, “You look like a friend who needed a helping hand. That’s what friends do for each other.”

Mac sighed, the anger fading as quickly as it had arrived, “I’m sorry Don, it’s just, it’s been a long week…that case…”

“It’s always a long week, there’s always a case,” said Don. “But I figured that for at least one night, maybe I could help youze focus on something else for a while. Even if it meant stripping my tree a bit.”

“What happened to undressed trees being bad luck?”

“Didn’t figure you for the superstitious type!” Don smiled at Mac and was relieved to see the smile returned. He hadn’t been working that case with Mac, but he’d known enough about it to know that Mac had taken the outcome hard. And when Jo had mentioned Mac’s lack of decorating, Don had suggested that they help the guy out with an impromptu decorating party. Jo had reluctantly pleaded a prior arrangement with Ellie, so Don had ransacked his tree to provide the necessary excuse. “Come on, let’s finish this.”

The star did add the final touch and Mac admitted to himself that decorating the tree had taken his mind off work, but the mood had been broken somewhat and he wasn’t entirely surprised when Don checked his watch a little while later and said that he should be going.

“Of course,” said Mac, “I’ll get your coat.” He glanced out the window and stopped in his tracks. The light scattering of snow that had left traces on Don’s coat, had increased in intensity and the drifts were already piling high on the decking. Mac moved closer to the window and looked out. “I’m not sure you should be going anywhere,” he said to Don, who pulled a face when he saw the amount of snow.
Mac quickly checked the forecast on his laptop, “It looks like it’s not going to ease off for a few hours at least.” He looked up at Don, “I can make up a bed for you on the couch. By morning, the streets should be starting to be cleared and it’ll be a lot safer driving in daylight.”

Don bit his lip as he considered his options, then he shrugged, knowing that he didn’t exactly have any plans for the rest of the night anyway, “If you’re sure you don’t mind a house guest.”

“You’re always welcome.”

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A few hours later, Mac was wakened by a crashing sound. Instantly alert, he hit the lights and slid out of the bed, pausing for a second to listen for any further noises, before making his way towards the door.

There were no signs of intrusion, the front door was still secured, but Mac could hear muffled noises of what sounded like a struggle coming from the living room. “Don!” he thought, throwing caution to the wind as he flung open the door and hit the light switch.

To Mac’s relief, the only occupant of the room was the person who he had expected to see there. To his surprise, Don was flat on his back, barely visible beneath the now horizontal Christmas tree.

“Don!” Mac rushed forward and crouched down beside a somewhat dazed looking Don. “What happened? Are you hurt?”

“I’m okay,” Don grimaced, “Little help please?”

Mac stood up. “What happened?” he asked again as he got a grip on the tree and started lifting it.

“Went to take a leak,” said Don, rubbing a hand over his eyes. “Took a wrong turn in the dark on the way back, next thing I know, the tree jumped me…ow! Watch it with those branches!”

Mac had started shaking with laughter and nearly dropped the tree back on top of Don, but he managed to control himself and pull it upright, settling it back securely in its stand. He reached out a hand to Don, and seconds later, he too was upright.

“The tree jumped you?” asked Mac, a twinkle in his eye. “Should I arrest it for assault on a police officer?”

“Oh yeah, very funny,” said Don. He brushed his hair impatiently, sending pine needles flying.

“Wait, you’ve got something caught in it.” Mac frowned as he reached forward and tried to dislodge a larger piece of debris from Don’s hair. “What the hell?” He pulled back his hand. “How on earth did the mistletoe get in there?”

“What?” Don reached up and felt the shapes under his fingers. He pulled at the plastic and yelped slightly as it pulled on his scalp.

“Let me,” said Mac, “I can see what I’m doing.” Mac reached up with both hands and tried to disentangle the sprig from Don’s hair. “It would be easier if you weren’t overdue a haircut!”

“Yes ‘Mom’!” said Don, grinning. The grin faded slightly as Mac pulled on the mistletoe.

The mistletoe was stuck as firmly as if it had been glued in, thought Mac as he tried to tease it out. “This might hurt,” he warned Don as he took a firmer grip. He tugged sharply at the mistletoe, but all he managed to do was pull Don off balance and making him stumble forward. He would have fallen if Mac hadn’t caught him, at least that was how Mac had justified it to himself, even as his arms encircled the younger man.

Don had instinctively grabbed at Mac to stop himself falling and now he found himself staring into Mac’s eyes. They held each other’s gaze for a few seconds before Don said, in a carefully neutral voice, “Well…seems like a shame to waste it…” He shook his head and made the berries dance.

Mac made no argument, instead he leaned forward and brushed his lips against Don’s, almost hesitantly at first, and then with more confidence as Don reciprocated, his tongue pushing against Mac’s lips seeking access. Access that was willingly granted.
It could have been seconds or even minutes later, when Mac felt Don’s hands moving around his body, one snaked up to caress the back of his head, the other moved downwards, cupping his ass. Mac came to his senses and let go of Don, pulling slightly away from him. “You can’t stay here…”

Don’s face fell and he let go of Mac, “Dammit, sorry Mac, I didn’t mean to go too far. Maybe I just had too much of the Christmas spirit.” He backed away, “The storm sounds like it’s eased up. I can probably get a cab…”

“Shhh,” said Mac, reaching out to lightly caress Don’s cheek. “I didn’t mean that.” He took a deep breath before continuing, “There’s a time and place for everything. This may be the right time…but we’ll be much more comfortable in a mattress than the floor…” He stepped back and held out his hand in as clear an invitation as any Don had ever received, “Besides, I don’t fancy getting pine needles in any intimate places!”

Don’s resulting laughter was like bells to Mac’s ears as he took Mac’s hand and let himself be led away from the tree.

Somewhere along the way, the sprig of mistletoe fell away, but it had already done its job.

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The next day, Don smiled as Jo approached the crime scene. He was a little disappointed that it wasn’t Mac’s call, but he consoled himself with the thought that he would be seeing Mac again later that day and – in the absence of any other commitments – they would be spending Christmas day together in the shadow of Mac’s tree and Don’s decorations.

“Morning Jo,” said Don, raising the crime scene tape to let her through.

“Thanks Don,” said Jo as she ducked under the tape. “You seem in a very good mood today.” She sniffed the air, “And is that a new aftershave? I love that pine scent.”

“Let’s just say it was an early Christmas present,” said Don.

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Meanwhile, Mac was driving to another crime scene, his thoughts split between the case and his Christmas plans with Don. A wry smile appeared on his face as thought that while technically it had been Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day, Don Flack had indeed been a most wonderful gift to find under his tree.
The thought amused him so much that Mac didn’t even realize that he was driving past the lot where he’d found the tree in the first place.

But it was no wonder he didn’t recognize it as it looked as it if had been closed for years.

 

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The end