“How is he?” It isn’t hello and it isn’t who is this—Steve has a good idea who and the rest doesn’t matter.
“He won’t stay in the house.” Rachel’s voice only quavers if you’re listening for it. He can hear her sniff and all but see the hard drag of a tear being hidden away, but she’s strong, and she makes sure it comes through in her tone. “I’ve tried reasoning with him, we have plenty of guest bedrooms. But he doesn’t want Grace to see him like this, and frankly I don’t think he’s in any condition to drive.”
“I’ll be there in ten,” he says, compassion pressed into every syllable. He makes it in five.
Danny is out on the steps, Rachel beside him, hip to hip and her hand on his back, heels of his palms pressed against his eyes. He isn’t shaking; he’s unearthly still. Still in a way that Danny Williams has never been. Should never be. It makes Steve’s skin crawl, brings him up shorter than he meant to stop.
“Hey, Danny,” Steve gets out, pushing himself forward again. Rachel sits up and meets his gaze, calculating but not unkind. Steve squats down, tries to get Danny to look at him. “How you holding up?”
He wants to punch himself the moment the words fall out. The urge doesn’t exactly go away when Danny’s instant retort of How the fuck do you think? doesn’t happen.
“I’m here to take you home, buddy,” Steve tries, awkwardly jingling his car keys.
It’s like Frankenstein’s monster lurching to life—Danny’s hands drop, and he pulls himself together, and his eyes are completely dry. He looks like he has a centipede inside him, chewing on his soul. Steve’s heart aches.
“Yeah,” Danny rasps out, “Okay, home.” And it’s like he can’t even see Steve, for all he isn’t looking at him.
Rachel stays right there for him when he stands, braced to catch him just like Steve is, and she meets Steve’s gaze like it costs her something. She says, “Be careful with him,” like Danny is something rare.
He is, Steve isn’t arguing, but Danny has never held himself like something that could be breakable.
“I will,” Steve says, because Rachel looks like she needs to hear it, but Danny’s already at the truck and climbing in, passenger’s side, obedient in a way that makes Steve want to shoot people. They both need to leave. Rachel nods, understanding, arms wrapped around herself. She makes no move to head inside until Steve jumps into the truck and gets them to the end of the driveway.
It’s surreal. Steve has never shared space with Danny and suffered any kind of silence. It feels like suffering now, like something is sucking the air out of this car, like there’s a void sitting next to him instead of his partner and best friend.
“Danny, you okay?” Steve asks, because he cannot take it, and he can’t keep his eyes on the road with Danny breaking into pieces beside him.
Danny blinks, like he just realized where they are. His hand is hovering up by his mouth, rubbing his lower lip raw. “Not really, no.”
“You’re coming home with me.” Steve isn’t sure where that came from, but he has never known something truer than this. He never had the intention of driving Danny to his apartment. Rachel probably knew that before he did.
And it gets a reaction out of Danny, which is more than anything else so far. “What? No.” Danny’s tone is a shadow of its usual vigor; Steve hates it. “Don’t—Go to mine. Two-star motel,” the huff of air is supposed to be a laugh, maybe, “Like the good old days.”
It takes everything Steve has in him not to pull the truck over and—he doesn’t know what he’d do. Shove him, shake him, just get his hands on Danny and hold on, because Steve is so bad at this. He’s failing Danny already and they haven’t even started.
“No,” Steve grinds out, white-knuckled on the steering wheel. “No, Danny.” And because he can’t say what he needs to here, not in the car, not while he’s driving, he just says, “My place,” and steps on the gas.
The house looks dark and empty when Steve pulls up, but he ignores it, falls out of his truck and all-but vaults the hood to get to Danny’s side, where Danny isn’t getting out. At first it seems like Danny might just be acting stubborn, but he looks…checked out. Not there. Steve has to get his seatbelt for him, and Danny pulls back like he doesn’t know what’s going on, or what Steve’s hands are doing.
“Just,” he starts, stalls, that hopeless feeling trying to crawl up the back of his throat. “Come on inside, Danny. I have beer.”
Fuck, he didn’t mean to pitch it like that, like he has beer too, like he can be that for Danny. He wants to be, god he wants to be, but he shouldn’t have said it out loud. Danny is staring at him like he grew another head, and Steve swallows something bitter and braces to get socked in the jaw.
Then Danny drags a hand over his face, thumb digging into the bone arch just under his eyebrow, and it’s the most human Steve has seen him in the last twenty minutes. “Beer, you say?” Danny asks, and Steve nods even though it’s mostly rhetorical. Danny takes his hand away and waves it, a little exhausted flourish that means lead on and also please move, so Steve does, backs up to let Danny have enough space to get out of the car, but not too much that Steve can’t catch him if he starts to fall.
It earns him something like a shadow of a glare, but Steve will take what he can get.
“One beer and I’ll be out,” Danny warns, hand back up at his forehead like something’s pounding inside. “So, uh. Plant me where you want me to stay.”
“Alright!” Steve makes sure his tone comes out encouraging, maybe borderline exuberant. He even claps his hands together, for Christ’s sake. “Party’s in my bedroom.”
Danny stares at him, still only a shimmer of his usual intensity but getting stronger. “What?” he gets out, “No. I meant. Sleeping. Where do you want me to sleep.”
“I answered that question correctly, then.” Steve grabs two bottles from his fridge and turns around, ready to physically usher Danny up the stairs if he needs to. Danny looks like one strong breath would send him toppling, still incredulous, hasn’t moved. “I’m not letting you sleep on the couch,” Steve warns, “The guest beds are covered in power tools, and I’m also not leaving you alone. Alright?” he says, gentler as he holds out a beer for Danny to take. “I’ve got a fold-out cot I can set up. Come on, Danny…” because he’s wavering, and what Steve wants to do more than anything in the room is wrap him up tight and just hold him, but he doesn’t know if that’s what Danny needs.
“You don’t even have to talk if you don’t want to,” Steve promises, and that’s harder, but it’s true. “I’ll just be there, okay? Whatever you need, I can…I can do that.”
But Danny’s face twists like Steve is breaking his heart. “God damn it,” Danny chokes, “You think I don’t—You told them he had a boat. You’ve already done so fucking much, and I couldn’t even get him off the plane, what—“ Danny bites his lip white, and it hurts to see him like this, like a gutshot.
“What am I gonna tell our parents, huh?” Danny gets out. “That I wasn’t—fast enough, smart enough, I didn’t save their baby boy, I didn’t save my little brother—“
“Danny, god, Danny,” Steve gasps and he just can’t take it. He has Danny in his arms before he can second guess himself, pulling him into the tightest embrace he can manage without breaking bones. Danny doesn’t fight him, which is almost worse. He just goes limp, and leans into Steve, arms around his waist and his face buried against Steve’s chest, making these sounds like he’s dying. The beer bottle slips from Danny’s fingers and hits the carpet, rolls; Steve has no idea where his went. He just knows he couldn’t bear having his hands occupied with anything other than the small of Danny’s back.
“God damn it,” Danny snaps an unknown number of minutes later. He’s pulling back enough that Steve’s hands tighten reflexively, and maybe that’s what stutters out a half-laugh from Danny, but maybe not. “I didn’t drop a single tear over at Rachel’s,” he says, back of his wrist dragging at the damp spots under his eyes, then falling away. His free hand is high on Steve’s hip, and the fronts of their thighs are still flush up against each other, his back bowed just enough that he can look Steve in the eye. “What’s that say about me, huh?”
Steve’s air slips out of his lungs in a rush. “Man, I got no idea.” It’s enough to make Danny hiccup another laugh, barely. And what Steve means is, I don’t want to read into it.
Because it means something that they’re standing so close they could be dancing, neither one of them giving off signals that this is anything other than normal. So Steve goes with it, wraps an arm around Danny’s shoulders and pulls him close again, pressing his face to Danny’s hair and breathing in. Salt tears and sweat and tarmac. Danny sighs like he’s indulging, but his fingers tighten in Steve’s shirt like a death grip.
“I’m dead on my feet here,” Danny mumbles, nose bumping Steve’s clavicle. “And laying all this on you…”
“I can take it,” Steve says instantly, disentangling himself so he can show Danny he means it. “Okay?” Danny blinks at him, but he sees him, he’s all there, red-eyed and everything. “Right. Bed time.”
“Yes, dear,” Danny yawns, scratching at his jaw as his eyes slide away.
Steve doesn’t let him go, and not just because he’s scared Danny will trip and fall up the stairs. Danny’s shoulders are hunched with more than exhaustion and defeat, though that’s bad enough. Embarrassment, maybe. He keeps alternating between steadying himself on the railing and rubbing tiredly at his face, like he’s checking to make sure it’s still there.
Steve doesn’t turn on the overhead light—he’s not sure either of their eyes could take the brightness—so it means maneuvering through the bedroom in the dark until he makes it to the bedside lamp, filing the room with a soft golden glow. Danny’s hands are already fumbling with his tie, and it makes Steve’s train of thought wobble and screech across the rails. He has seen Danny with and without tie, but never watched him take it off, not outside the guilty imaginings of his brain.
“Fucking—Jesus Christ, I get out of these at least once a fucking day,” Danny stammers, and Steve’s mind lurches painfully out of the gutter at the way Danny’s hands are shaking.
“Hey, I got it,” he promises, gently tugging Danny’s fingers away, loosening the knot, lifting it over his slightly bowed head like some sort of holy ritual. He hangs it on the doorknob, tells himself not to think about it as he rummages through his dresser. “T-shirt, track pants,” he offers. And maybe they both say Navy.
Danny gives him a narrow-eyed stare, but doesn’t say anything. “Got a place to change?”
Steve points to the bathroom, and Danny disappears inside.
Steve changes out of his work clothes right there, into his spare track pants which are a little more worn than the ones he offered Danny. His own tee is one of the five-for-ten dollar deals at the local everything store, dark blue, v-necked. Steve usually hates wearing shirts to sleep in; it was sheer dumb luck that the Yakuza broke into his house on the one night Steve couldn’t even find the energy to toe off his socks as he climbed into bed, run ragged by the case they’d wrapped up that evening.
He sits down hard on the edge of his bed, elbows braced on his knees, head hung low enough that he rest it in his hands and get his thoughts in order. Steve knows when he starts thinking shallowly to avoid a problem; he’s doing it right now.
And god damn it, god damn it, he has to think of something to say to Danny, something that will make his situation any degree of alright, because a hug can’t fix everything, there’s no way. But he keeps—bringing up sentences and discarding them, frustrated, disgusted that his mind just keeps drifting to that moment, that one endless moment when Danny thought Steve was going to sell out his brother. Fuck, Steve had been— Until that moment, he’d been pretty sure he was going to sell Matthew out too.
And instead he lied, he lied to the feds, he let a bad guy get away because...that’s what Danny needed him to do.
It’s terrifying—and somehow not, somehow a deep, abiding calm—that he can trust himself to do whatever Danny needs. No matter what it is.
“Hey, uh.” Danny’s in the bathroom doorway, hip cocked against the frame like Steve can’t see the way he needs something solid to hold him upright. He’s holding a blue toothbrush, still in the wrapper. “Can I use this?”
“Yeah, of course.”
Danny fiddles with it, not looking at Steve. “It’s not, uh, for Catherine?”
Steve gets hit with a wave of affection so strong it’s like falling off his surfboard in the pipeline. Out of the blue, and helpless, he just has to ride it out. So it’s understandable that Danny’s head is tilted, studying him, by the time Steve can get it together enough to say, “Danny, it’s yours. Go for it.”
“...Go for it, huh?” Danny’s voice is quiet, like he’s talking about something else. Steve’s mouth feels suddenly low tide dry.
He’s so sure something is going to happen, something huge and massive that sits on his chest and makes it hard to breathe.
And then Danny looks away, reaches up to scratch his head with the hand holding the toothbrush. “I must be more tired than I thought,” he mumbles. “I’m gonna...yeah.” And he slips back into the bathroom to brush his teeth.
Steve follows him like he follows Danny into gunfights; there isn’t any choice. He’s brought up short at the sight of Danny leaning over the sink, white foam at the corners of his mouth, Navy track pants so long on him he’s had to roll up the elastic waist like a little kid. Steve wants to reach out and press the cotton shirt against his chest, say this is mine, and this and this and this.
But he doesn’t, just leans against the door and watches Danny spit and rinse, glancing at Steve through the mirror. “You here to make sure I don’t fall in or something?” Danny asks.
Steve lets his lips curl, faintly. “Something like that.”
“Okay,” Danny says suddenly, all-but fumbling the toothbrush into the sink. “You have to stop— I’m losing my mind here. What is that face?”
“No, not—not Surprised Goldfish, go back one.”
“Is it pity?” Danny demands, advancing, lines around his eyes so prominent Steve wants to smooth them with the pad of his thumb. “Yes, stop, that face right there.” And he’s peering at Steve, so close Steve can smell his own toothpaste on Danny’s breath. “I can’t—I can’t get a read on you tonight. Everything’s fucked up.”
“Danny, don’t. Don’t worry about it right now, okay?” It takes a lot to stop at just resting his hands on his partner’s shoulders, but he manages it. “Things will make more sense once you’ve slept some.”
Danny doesn’t look sure. “Are you gonna show me the face again tomorrow?” he asks, making this a stipulation, and he still has no idea how exhausted he actually is.
“Promise,” Steve says, biting back on his urge to grin. “Promise I will, Danny. Now will you please go to bed?”
“You sound like me when I talk to Gracie,” Danny mutters, shaking himself like he needs to stay awake, and he doesn’t, Steve just told him he doesn’t. But he pulls away and heads for Steve’s bed, makes it all the way to the edge of the mattress before his body gives up and he sits down, hard, holding his head like he’s dizzy.
Steve is kneeling at his feet before he consciously decided to move, which is a new one. “Hey, hey Danny, you gotta sleep lying down like the rest of us humans, okay?”
“No, just,” Danny sighs, frustrated, “Have to think, just—Jersey. Feds. They’ll be knocking on Mom’s door, and I— Should I be there? It feels like a funeral.”
“Danny,” Steve starts, and gives up, because he thought he’d fought down any selfish panic from the first time Danny told him he’d be taking a week off to get his brother back to the mainland and help him turn himself in. But he can’t stop himself from asking, “Home feels like a funeral?”
“No, this—this whole thing, Matty, and. I’m never gonna see my brother again. God, I—I hope I never see my brother again.” Danny shudders all over, like the wind hit him off Wailea Point. “What if I have to be the one to bring him in?”
Steve’s jaw sets. “That won’t happen.” Danny blinks at him, lids only half open anyway, and Steve shakes his head. It isn’t even worth trying to talk anymore, Danny’s so out of it. “And we’ll figure out about Jersey in the morning, okay? Just—try out the mattress, alright? I bet it’s ten times better than your crappy little hide-a-bed.”
Danny hums, some echo of a smile around his lips as the awake part of his brain realizes he’s being teased. “It’s definitely got a better looking view,” he drawls, which doesn’t make sense until a sleep-weary hand pats absently at Steve’s cheek before grabbing Steve’s collar and hauling him over as Danny falls back on the bed.
“Whoa, Jesus—“ Steve barely catches himself from crushing Danny, or at the very least landing an elbow in his face.
“You sleep here,” Danny says, and he probably thinks he’s making an irrefutable point, and not slurring the last word so it comes out more like hurrrr.
“Very good, Danny,” Steve gets out, only partially strangled by the grip Danny has on his shirt.
“Sht th’f’k up,” Danny grumbles, and honest-to-god kicks Steve in the shin. Steve falls onto his back with an ungainly grunt of pain, and Danny follows him over, arms wrapped so tight around Steve’s chest it’s almost difficult to breathe.
“Danny, I—“ Because he has things to say, or he should, he should be able to find something.
“There’s that face,” Danny sighs.
And Steve has no idea how Danny sees it with his eyes closed, but he’s right.