Brass and Blue

Chapter 8

The commotion behind the closed door made Danny hesitant to knock. He stood in Mindy's hallway with a paper bag in one arm as he listened intently, trying to guess the apartment's current occupancy before entering and committing to the night. Trivia night sounded like a much smaller gathering originally. How many adults could she convince to spend their evening playing board games on their free time, even with the promise of booze? Eight, tops?

With an ear pressed to the door it was very clear that there were more than eight people on the other side, laughing and socializing. It was an awfully daunting sound. He wouldn't know a single person aside from the host and he couldn't expect to just hang around her all night - not that he would have minded.

Just as he contemplated turning around and leaving without a trace the door swung open with a blond woman carrying a small garbage bag, an apartment full of wandering guests behind her. She stared at Danny questioningly, which filled Danny with momentary relief. This was clearly the wrong apartment.

"I'm sorry," he said, trying not to smile to widely. "I think I'm at the wrong-"

"You Mindy's partner?"

The question was so abrupt that Danny almost forgot to answer. When the woman's eyes narrowed expectantly he snapped out of his surprise long enough to answer. "Oh, um, yeah. I'm Danny. Danny Castellano."

He had enough manners to hold out his hand for a handshake, which the woman took while still keeping her eyes on his face. "Wow, Mindy was right. You are a very beautiful man. She might have even downplayed it a little bit."

The compliment genuinely flattered him, especially knowing that it came from Mindy. Danny smiled and gave her a small nod. "That's very nice of you. Thank you."

"I'm serious," she continued, now leaning against the doorframe with one arm while the other still gripped the bag. "Why the hell are you a cop? You should be an underwear model on one of those billboards outside of my gynecologist's office. You're that handsome."

"I don't, um…" Danny tittered nervously. "I have no clue how to respond to any of that."

"Maggie!" squeaked a familiar voice from behind the blonde. Danny peeked around the blonde to find Mindy rushing towards them, looking mildly embarrassed. In a knee-length plaid skirt and sleeveless blue top, she looked beautiful and mortified. "Can you please stop torturing him and let him in?"

"Sorry, sorry," Maggie stepped to the side enough to allow Danny to enter. "Mindy, you said he was a looker, but you were being weirdly modest! Maybe if we had a few guys like him at our precinct you would have never ended up with Tom, right?"

Tom? Danny thought and quickly looked to Mindy for some sort of elaboration. Instead he found her rolling her eyes in a way that almost looked painful.

"We don't talk about him, Maggie," she warned. "And I thought you volunteered to take out the trash."

Maggie sighed dramatically. "Alright, your highness. Oh, can you make sure my husband doesn't eat any more of those mini quiches? I refuse to listen to him moan about Tums and his delicate digestive system tonight. No patience for it."

"Sure."

The woman left and Mindy turned to Danny with a short, uncomfortable laugh. "So, you met Maggie."

"That's your old partner, right? The one you were a bridesmaid for."

"You remembered!" Danny eased a little at the sound of wonder in her tone. "Yeah, that's her. Believe it or not, she hasn't had a drop of alcohol yet."

"Oh, so that's all her?"

"Mm-hm. That's just her incredibly shy, clearly introverted personality."

The pair laughed as Mindy took the paper bag from Danny's possession. She looked inside. "Chips and salsa! Thank you so much!"

"Not a problem." Danny eased his jacket off and finally took a look around. There were possibly thirty people milling around, chatting a drinking. "This is a big turnout for a game night."

Mindy looked proud as she extracted the snacks from the bag. "My game nights are pretty legendary. You'll definitely want to make sure that you're on my team if you care about winning at all. Hey, do you want a beer?" She turned around and quickly extracted an untouched six pack from the deep recesses of her refrigerator. "I've been hiding this. Carl was eying it earlier before he got distracted by the mini quiches."

Smiling, Danny accepted the bottle Mindy offered to him. "You really didn't have to go through the trouble, Mindy. But thank you! I do like this particular beer a lot, actually."

"Good!" She seemed genuinely pleased with herself as she grabbed a cup and prepared herself a drink. "I just looked for labels that had an American flag, a bald eagle, or an arrogant-looking Colonial era guy on them. This one had all three!"

Danny laughed and shook his head as he took a sip from his bottle. When he pulled the bottle away from his lips he asked, "So, did you work with most of these people at your last precinct?"

"Some." She took a few gulps and pointing her free pinky towards a group of people in the corner. "Those are friends I made in the academy, the people on the couch are neighbors, and there are one or two people here that I don't like all that much, but they just kind of find their way into these things regardless."

"Ah."

"And I should warn you..." She came around the counter in order to get close enough to talk more discreetly. "You're getting heavily gawked at right now. Like, seriously checked out. And there are a few here who are pretty intense, so I'd tread lightly."

Rather than risk any unintentional eye contact, he simply leaned forward and replied "If it makes no difference to you, I'm just going to hold back on the mingling for now. I wouldn't want to drive any of your friends wild with my unmatchable charm."

Mindy punched his arm playfully at the sight of his roguish smile and led him into the living room where there were more guests before continuing her role as hostess. One of Mindy's neighbors had a lot of interesting opinions regarding the Daniels case, including the belief that Christina Porter hired a teacher-turned-hitman to kill Josh as a major statement. Another woman gushed over his eyelashes for five solid minutes, which started out flattering until it turned wholly uncomfortable. He eventually moved on to the snack table, where Carl was still stationed. Danny looked over the array of food, from a slow cooker half filled with meatballs to an array of seemingly homemade dips.

"Man, I really half-assed it with my jar of salsa," Danny confessed to the man who had moved on from mini quiches to miniature weenies speared onto toothpicks.

"Yeah, Mindy's snacks are usually pretty stellar," Carl responded. "Maggie gets upset when I relegate myself to the food, but I'm so bad at the games they play and heck, I don't know what to talk about with these women. I gotta say, it's nice to have another guy here."

"Yeah, I bet."

"I used to have Tom to commiserate with during these things," Carl explained around a mouthful of chips. "Sure, he turned out to be a jackass, but he was company."

Danny looked up for a second at the second mention of Tom. "Tom was an ex-boyfriend of Mindy's, right?"

Carl shook his head while preparing to inhale another miniature quiche. "No, ex-husband. Cheated on her. Mindy was devastated, but she's a tough woman. She and Maggie were at the gun range a lot for a while during the divorce, though."

The news that Mindy was once married stirred a number of conflicting feelings. It was certainly not, he understood, information that he was at all entitled to. He could count the number of in depth, personal conversations they've had on one hand, so he could understand how the topic of her divorce simply never came up. Simultaneously, he had this inexplicable desire to have known this sooner. Seeing first hand just how much divorce effectively tore down and rebuilt his mother, he held a special respect for women who have had to deal with that particular brand of betrayal (especially after briefly dealing with infidelity himself). It seemed like each day he was reminded at least once just how much he had underestimated her when they first met.

Danny hadn't detected the long silence until he heard Carl say in a panic, "Darnit, I'm not sure if that was supposed to be a secret or not. Maggie's always telling me that I've got a big mouth. Don't tell Mindy, man. I have a feeling she barely likes me as is."

"Oh, uh.." Danny looked around and was relieved to see Mindy heading towards the snack table. "Mindy!" he yelped desperately. "Carl here was just telling me how great the food is at these things!"

"Hell yeah, the food at my parties rocks," she replied with a confident smile. "And now you'll know for the next time. I also give out cute little gift bags, but I totally forgot to put them together. The downside of actually having an eventful work day, I'm afraid."

"It's no big deal, Mindy. I'm sure nobody will notice."

"But I'll notice, which is why I'm going to slip away real quick and put them together."

At that moment, Carl stuffed a meatball into his mouth and really did not look like an optimal choice for socialization. "You know, I can help you out."

"Oh!" She smiled. "Thanks, Danny! The stuff's in my room. It shouldn't take too long."

They squeezed between guests and quickly made their way to the back of the apartment. Mindy turned to Danny with her hand on the knob. "You're not allowed to judge me. My room is adorably cluttered."

"Got it."

Laughing, Mindy flipped the bedroom light switch and led Danny into a room almost entirely covered in discarded clothing. The walls were light and adorned with pictures and framed certificates. Underneath a gaggle of gift bags, candy, and mini wine bottles was surely a bed, but Danny couldn't be sure. He briefly wanted to tease her about the state of her quarters, but decided that keeping his mouth shut would be better than being forced out of the room and back into the party.

"So everyone gets one of each mini chocolate bar and a tiny bottle of wine," she immediately instructed as she reached for the gift bags.

"Geez, you really go all out," Danny marveled, pulling out a large bag of Twix.

"I do! I can't help it, I like hosting. It's a nice way to focus all of my energy into something that isn't work or family drama or…"

"Tom?"

He hadn't meant for it to slip out. The beer wasn't potent enough to blame it on any degree of intoxication, so all he could blame it on was his burning curiosity. The look on Mindy's face – one that shifted from shock to irritation – made him immediately remorseful.

"I'm sorry, Mindy, Really –"

"- It was that stupid Carl, wasn't it?" she spat. "God, I barely like that guy."

"I didn't mean to pry, Honestly, I didn't. It's just that I watched my mother go through the same thing when I was a teen…I totally admire you. It took ma a long time to get past it all. I don't know how long ago it happened, but it's nice to see you so upbeat. I mean it."

"I thought you hated that about me," Mindy challenged.

"I don't. I couldn't. I might have been annoyed by it before getting to know you, but I was being a real moron. I'll probably never admit that again, so..."

Mindy exhaled and softened with a small smile. "Thank you. That means a lot."

They returned to their individual tasks - Mindy unfolding the small gift bags while Danny dumped the candy onto a cleared portion of the bed - and silently worked for a few moments before Danny felt it was safe to move the conversation forward.

"Did you work with him?" he asked cautiously.

"Yeah," Mindy replied. "We weren't partners, but we were colleagues." She didn't talk for a few seconds as she started to arrange the bags in a line. "She was a bagel girl."

Danny looked up with raised eyebrows. "Wow, really?"

Mindy nodded. "There was a bagel shop around the corner and she would bring bagels to us a few days a week - boxes and boxes of them - and Tom would always volunteer to help her get them from the car. The shop didn't even deliver!"

Her last sentence came out rather passionately, like she was experiencing the fresh anger all over again. He opened his mouth redirect the conversation, but she continued.

"There were all these signs that I knew in the back of my head weren't right, but I just kind of excused. Like, he would always volunteer to grab lunch if the place was near her, or there was always a reason to go back to the station or stay late. I'd beg to go out on dates and when he finally caved, there were only a few places we could go. We didn't visit any places that were close to where she lived or worked. He was super protective of his phone and would get crazy defensive if I even stared at it for too long. And he always seemed so distant or irritable...unless he was feeling particularly guilty. Then he couldn't keep his hands off me."

In that moment Danny didn't know what to do with his hands or eyes. He just kept filling the bags, fighting the urge to wrap an arm around her shoulder and hug her close to his side. "That's...he's a coward."

"I agree," she said brightly. When he looked up she was smiling, but there was a certain hollowness to it. "The stupid bagel girl finally decided to confront him outside of the station. Law enforcement saved the both of us, because I'm pretty sure I would have murdered one or both of them and started a new life in prison if I wasn't a detective. To my credit, though, I think I'd fare pretty well in the clink."

"Oh, you do?" Danny replied with a slight chuckle.

Mindy smiled and nodded. She reached for the four-pack of mini Chardonnay bottles. "I just felt so foolish. My job is to spot clues and make sense of them, and I'm pretty damn good at it. Why didn't I see this coming?"

Danny sighed. His mother had lamented the same way the one time she had allowed herself to break down in front of him, years after his father's affairs were uncovered. He had no clue what to say back then, but he had a better idea now.

"You did what you were supposed to do as a wife," he said, dropping more candy into the bags. "You vowed to trust him and you did that. You're supposed to look for clues from the bad guys because that's their job as bad guys: to be untrustworthy. You're not supposed to look for clues from the guy that promised to be honest and faithful to you. He didn't do his job, and I'm really sorry for that, Min."

Mindy stared at him in a blank fashion that made him self-conscious, like he had stepped over the line. Was she still in love with him? The possibility made him sick to his stomach. Then, the corner of her mouth slowly turned upward until she was donning a questioning half smile.

"You know, my brother, parents, and Maggie are the only ones in the world who've called me 'Min.'"

"Oh!" He could feel his cheeks growing hotter with embarrassment. "I'm sorry."

"No, don't be," she replied instantly. "I like it when you call me that."

The moment that they shared then, simply staring at each other and both trying their best not to smile too grandly, was both intense and liberating. He would gladly call her Min if that meant that he, in her festive bubbly universe, was special. It had been a long time since he cared about his place in another person's world, and that little bit of confirmation meant everything.

They finally returned to their task, the air around them just a little bit thicker.

"So," Mindy continued. Danny could detect a tiny nervous squeak in her voice. "I never asked you what made you decide to be a cop."

Easy question. "It runs in my family. Both of my grandfathers were cops. So were my parents. My brother decided to go to law school, but it's still law, so...us Castellano really love justice. How about you?"

Mindy plopped a wine bottle in a bag, then reached for another small plastic bag near her pillows. "My dad told me I couldn't."

Danny nodded. He was heard similar stories from Gwen and Shauna about rebelling against their families and sexism. "Did your dad want you to be a doctor or a lawyer?"

"Actually, he wanted me to be a chef," Mindy revealed as a pulled out a sheet of glittery stickers. "My parents met in culinary school and opened a restaurant when they were young. Now they have a successful chain and just expected my brother Rishi and I to continue the legacy. My brother has always been fascinated with the business but I just wasn't. I was proud of my family's success, clearly, but wanted to pursue my own dreams. And for as long as I could remember, I wanted to be in law enforcement."

"Wow, walking away from guaranteed success to put your life in danger for a living? You're kind of a badass, Lahiri."

"Is my badassery still a shock to you, Castellano?" She bumped her shoulder into his with a grin.

"No, it's been very evident to me for a little while now."

Looking at her once more, the embarrassed smile and nervous chew of her lip gave him enough encouragement to flirt a little heavier. "So...I know you didn't have the time before, but now that we're here...how exactly would you describe me?"

Mindy's eyebrows immediately slumped downward as her head tilted back. "Huh?"

"This afternoon in the car," he clarified, dumping the last of the candy in the few remaining bags. "I called myself an enigma, you said that was just one of the many ways to describe and that you'd have more time to elaborate during your party. Well...here we are, so...how would you describe me?"

Her smile returned, only this time it was more apprehensive. "You first."

"No, that's not how this works," Danny denied weakly. He knew refusing her was futile, but he couldn't resist the opportunity to bait her.

"My home, my rules, Danny," she replied in a soft, yet chillingly commanding voice. Okay, she knows what she's doing, he thought resolutely. Maintaining their eye contact, he obliged.

"I think you're incredibly stubborn," he began. He waited for her to get offended, but she remained steadfast and unflinching. "And bossy, which is a good thing. Umm…you're also one of the smartest people I've ever worked with. And really kind. Almost nurturing in a way. It's nice."

Mindy beamed pulled some of her hair over her shoulders. "Wow," she responded dreamily, stroking her dark mane. "I'm flattered that you think so highly of my personality. It really is nice to hear your personality so beautifully touted."

Ah.

"Subtle, Min," Danny retorted sarcastically, a tiny smirk quirking the corners of his lips.

"I'm not sure what you're accusing me of, Daniel."

Danny shook his head and smiled. "You're gorgeous. You know you are. Everyone calls you my beautiful partner and they're absolutely right."

"Well…it's nice to hear that you think so, too."

It was getting harder to breath and Danny had a hard time stopping his body from inching itself closer to her. "Okay, your turn."

Mindy tilted her head to the side as her hands dropped from her hair. "Well…you are also very stubborn. And cocky in a way that I've grown to appreciate. I think at times you've shown me how protective you can be. And you're still a little mysterious, but you don't seem quite as closed off anymore. Not to me."

He was too busy looking at her face to notice her fingers gently tugging on the end of one of his sleeves. Even a small pull managed to bring them closer. Mindy cleared her throat, then added, "And I'm not too shy to say that you're crazy hot. Like, whoa, man."

They laughed together while Danny rested a hand on Mindy's hip. "You know, your friend Maggie told me that you thought I was really handsome when I got here."

Mindy shrugged as her eyes remained locked on his. "I can't even find it in me to be mad at her right now, to be honest."

As her hand traveled up the contours of his arm, he finally allowed himself to wrap an arm fully around her waist. When she stepped right into his space and settled a hand on the side of his neck, he blew out a grateful sigh. He wanted to say something else – possibly thank her for being so wonderful to him – but his lips were suddenly occupied by the Mindy's as they kissed him firmly. They fit so perfectly that there was no need for hesitance or adjustment. Danny breathed her in and clung to her frame while he kissed her deeply, cataloguing the softness of her lips and the assuredness of her tongue in his memory. He could hear a satisfied hum from the back of Mindy's throat and it somehow reminded him that they were in her room, very near her bed, and totally and unequivocally into each other. All of this made it difficult to pace himself, especially when he could feel Mindy's hands roaming his neck, scalp, back, and rear in such a small window of time. Her movements felt almost frantic, and that spurned him on more. He kissed her harder and she quickly reciprocated, nibbling each other's bottom lips and firmly gripping each other. Just as their lips broke apart and he began to trail kisses along her jaw line, the bedroom door swung open. They quickly looked towards the flood of living room light to find Maggie, who looked greatly amused.

"Well!" she cried, remaining at the frame of the door. "I was going to suggest that we start the game before people got too drunk, but I don't think anyone here would mind if we downgraded the night to a tipsy hang out. I'll just leave –"

"Uh, no!" Mindy blurted, still in Danny's embrace. "No, that would be totally rude of me. The bags are done, I'm just gonna, uh…"

Mindy began to step back while she kept one hand on Danny's elbow. "I totally didn't get to put the stupid decorative stickers on the bag, but fuck it. Just give me a minute, Mags. I'll be right out."

Maggie said nothing, opting to simply look at Danny with wiggling eyebrows as she exited. Danny looked at Mindy, at a loss of what to say. He wasn't sure if he should apologize or ask her on a date. "Min –"

"Tonight's clearly a bad night to talk about…" she gestured sloppily between them and grabbed a few bags haphazardly. She hurriedly made her way to the door, each step knocking a little more wind out of his body. He thought she was going to walk out of the room completely and never acknowledge the kiss again until she turned around with a barely contained spark in her eyes.

"We're talking about this tomorrow, Dan," Mindy assured him demurely as she quickly fixed herself. "I hope you don't mind if I call you 'Dan.'"

A slow smile crept across Danny's face as he replied, "Not at all, Min. We'll talk tomorrow."

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