Family Ties

by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)

AUTHOR'S NOTES: The New York Connection is set in the centaur universe originally created by zortified and wolfling. The originating fic series is a Houston Knights AU called Horses of Different Colors.

Don didn't open the door for Mac, but he did settle a hand in the small of his back as they stepped into the Italian restaurant. The interior was dimly lit, save for a pool of light in one corner that illuminated a small stage where a live band was playing something bluesy.

"This place has to be expensive," Mac commented after Don had given his name to the hostess.

"We're celebrating," Don said, smiling at him. "And the owner is an old friend of the family."

Apparently they had a reservation; the hostess smiled at them and, gathering up a couple of menus, led them to a table for two near the dance floor. They settled in and ordered a bottle of wine and waited for the waiter to step away from the table before continuing the conversation. "Your family or our family?" Mac asked, raising his eyebrows.

"My family," Don said. "My Dad's known him since college. He doesn't know about our people, but he's a friend."

"You have a lot of friends," Mac observed.

Don grinned. "You say that like it's odd."

"I haven't met many like us--" lone stallions, he meant, "--but I always thought it was common for us to have trouble making connections that don't involve dominance in one way or another." Or maybe, Mac thought, that was just him.

"Who says my friendships don't involve dominance?" Don asked, smiling wryly.

Before Mac could answer, a lean man with steel gray hair and a broad grin hurried up to their table and took hold of Don's shoulder, shaking him a little. "Donnie! It's good to see you again. You don't come by often enough."

"It's good to see you, too, Gitano," Don said warmly. "How have you been?"

"Eh, business is a bit slow," Gitano said, but waved off Don's concern. "Not too bad, Donnie, not too bad. Things will pick up again." Suddenly his gazed fixed on Mac. "But I'll never live to see it if I die of curiosity. Introduce me!"

Don's eyes were twinkling. "Gitano, this is Mac Taylor." He paused. "He's family. Mac, Gitano owns this place."

"Family, hmm?" Gitano said shrewdly. Mac met his gaze squarely, painfully aware that this man, who'd known Don's family since before Don had joined them, would know very well what sort of family he wasn't, and was. "Well, family is always welcome," the older man said after a moment, nodding firmly and resting his other hand briefly on Mac's shoulder. "I'd better let you boys contemplate the menu. But I'll be back!" Gitano squeezed Mac's shoulder briefly before heading over to one of the restaurant's other tables.

Mac watched him go for a moment before turning back to Don. "Did I just pass some sort of test?" he asked, smiling slightly.

Don laughed. "No, no test. Gitano just wanted a good look at you before he headed off." Don's smile softened a bit. "I don't bring dates here, Mac."

Understanding dawned almost immediately. "Just family," Mac added, and Don nodded.

They turned their attention to the menu and Mac found his mouth watering just reading about the dishes available. But as good as the food was when it arrived, he quickly found himself distracted. Gitano dropped by their table three more times, brief visits all. Yet, despite their brevity, Don somehow managed to bring their conversations around to Gitano's wife and daughters and grandchildren and the state of his business, though the latter took a bit more negotiating. It was eerily similar to a dozen different conversations he'd had with Mac, whenever more than a couple of weeks had passed between calls.

When Gitano had departed the last time, Mac set his dessert fork on a plate bare but for streaks of blackberry coulis and leaned forward. "Does he know you're watching out for him?" he asked, nodding after Gitano.

"Sure he does," Don said, dividing the last piece of his apple-caramel coffee cake in two with the edge of his fork. "I wasn't so subtle when I was fifteen, the first time Dad brought me here."

Mac chuckled at the thought. "And he doesn't mind?"

Don swallowed before answering, shrugging as he forked the last piece of coffee cake. "Why should he? I'm not in his face every day. And Gitano's a little bit old world; kids are supposed to take care of their parents, and he doesn't have any sons."

"You make it--" dominance in all its myriad forms, he meant, "--sound easy," Mac commented as Don finished off the coffee cake.

Don pulled the bite of coffee cake off the tines of his fork with his lips, eyes holding Mac's, and licked his lips briefly, as if to catch a crumb. "Some parts of it are easy."

Mac cleared his throat, but his voice was still a little deeper than he'd meant it to be. "Oh, really?"

Don's eyes twinkled and he put his fork down on his plate. "Dance with me."

Mac blinked. "Don, we're in public."

Suppressed laughter was obvious in Don's voice. "I noticed." He stood and came around to stand next to Mac. "Dance with me."

"I just ate a four course meal," Mac protested, looking up at him.

"I'm not expecting the quickstep," Don teased. "Come on, before I start looking conspicuous."

Mac glanced around self-consciously, but stood and followed Don onto the dance floor. True to his word, their dance wasn't much for than a sway and shuffle, for all that Don pressed his palm to the small of Mac's back and clasped his hand. The dance floor was too small for anything much more complicated, really. Slowly, Mac relaxed.

"I wouldn't make a spectacle of you," Don said softly into his ear.

"I know," Mac murmured back. "I'm just not used to about this."

Mac could feel Don's smile against his cheek. "It gets better."

From across the room, Gitano caught Mac's eye; his gaze was warm with approval. Mac smiled and settled more snugly into Don's arms. "I find that hard to believe."