She's slumped over a bar when he finds her, surrounded by empty beer bottles. She's never been one to turn down a cold one but this is excessive by most standards. (Terry's standards really don't count.) He isn't surprised to find her eyes closed when he sidles up to her, her head laying awkwardly on the hard surface. An image of a pissed off Dani yelling at him for letting her behave this way floats through his mind and he winces at the accuracy of his overactive imagination.
Suppressing a sigh, he reaches over to begin removing her hand from the half-empty bottle she's somehow managed to keep in hand. Her grip tightens suddenly and she opens her eyes just wide enough to glare at him. At least, he assumes it's supposed to be a glare given the frown she's sporting.
"No." She draws the bottle closer to her as she uses her free hand to push her face off the bar, a clump of hair stuck to her cheek. (If she wasn't such a mess, he'd be tempted to laugh… but she is, so.) "'s mie." She tries to shake her head, nearly falling off her stool for effort. Thanks to quick reflexes honed by years of training, Sam keeps her from doing what would have undoubtedly been a spectacular faceplant.
The bartender, a middle-aged blonde woman, shoots him a sympathetic look as she begins clearing away the emptied bottles. He has a sinking feeling it's not the first time she's done that tonight.
Meanwhile, Sam's got a chest full of Dani to handle. "Thnkss," she mumbles into his shirt, forgetting her vowels as she slurs.
"No problem." His reply is automatic as he focuses all his attention on helping her stand upright. (Her beer remains in hand.) She almost falls when she tries to move away from him, so he wraps an arm around her waist and wishes she were shorter. Hauling a drunk Tabby around was never this awkward. Then again, she was usually trying to grope him, so maybe it was in its own way. "C'mon, Chief, let's getcha outta here."
Suddenly Dani slumps at his side and it's only his last minute grab onto the bar that keeps her from taking them both down. "No," she repeats more forcefully than before. "Don' wannnaaahhh." Her eyes are closed, though, so Sam thinks he might just be able to get away with carrying her out her fireman style.
Before he can enact this plan, however, her eyes pop open again and she peers up at him with what has got to be about the saddest expression he's ever seen her wearing. (And he remembers in scarily vivid detail the way she looked the day Doug died—how they all looked. Couldn't forget if he wanted to, actually.) "'ve got nowhere t'go."
Blinking at her slowly, Sam can only shake his head. "Dani…"
There are tears in her eyes now. (Christ, this is getting seriously out of hand.) "Killed him. Di-didn' mean to buh-but…" Tears spill onto her cheeks and her breathing becomes hitched. He really hopes she isn't about to start hyperventilating because he's already pretty screwed with what to do here. "He-he died fff-f'r lovin' me. I… S-Sam…"
He pulls her into a tight hug then. The way she said his name… how could he not? The bottle she is still clutching is now pressing uncomfortably into his back and the wetness of her tears are soaking into his shirt but it barely registers—the crying teammate in his arms is so, so much more important. He's pointedly ignoring the fact that they're in a dingy dive of a bar and the few people who are sober enough to notice what's going on between them are staring unabashedly. He doesn't care; they don't matter. As far as he's concerned, there's only her and him in the now. Everything else is just white noise.
"Hey, it's okay, Dani." He rubs circles on her back the way his momma used to whenever he woke up crying from missing his pa. "It's okay…"
"No!" she insists, voice muffled by his chest. "I-I shouldn' 've been so-so self'sh. I sh-should've let him go." She's shaking all over now and he can hear it in her voice. He's never seen her like this before and it scares him. "He-he loved me but… I should've let him g-go. Loved me too much… an' it killed him."
Brushing the hair on her face behind her ear, Sam wipes her tears away with his thumb. Absently, he hopes the calluses on his hand don't bother her. "Ya can't blame yourself, Chief," he replies, his voice lower than hers but equally insistent. He prays she can hear him over her grief. "You didn't—you couldn't have known."
She's already shaking her head again before he finishes. "Buh-but I did! I knew heh-he'd be banished." Her gaze drops along with her voice. "Jus' like me." She bites her lip, looking up at him through wet lashes. "Wuh-would y'do that t-to someone you luh-loved? Th' only one…" Whatever that thought is, she can't finish it. She just buries her face in his chest again and begins crying in earnest again.
He can feel her struggling to calm herself, trying to take deep breaths and pull it together. Sam decides it's long past time to take their leave. As gently as he can, he half-lifts, half-drags her out the door to his faithful junker of a pickup truck. He keeps one arm wrapped tightly around her as gets his keys out and opens the passenger door for her. She's quieted significantly during their short journey, one hand balling his shirt in her fist while the other maintains a deathgrip on that damn bottle of beer. "Dani," he coaxes gently, guiding her toward the seat.
There's a blank expression on her face now, despite the tear tracks on her face. "He was so good. I should've protected him," she whispers, letting go of Sam's shirt and smoothing it absentmindedly. (He suspects she isn't even seeing her in that moment.) She's hasn't sobered up or anything but there's clarity in her tone now. "I should've done better." She looks at the ground and kicks at the tire halfheartedly. "He's the only one who ever loved me just for me and I couldn't save him."
Sam furrows his brows as he watches her. He wants so badly to force her to look at him but can't bring himself to do it. "That's not true, Dani."
A few fresh tears escape her eyes as she ducks her face further away from him. "Yes, it is." Her voice is soft but it leaves little room for argument. (Now there's the Dani he knows.)
Trying not to sigh, Sam places his free hand on her shoulder. "Dani—"
"Take me home, Sam," she says suddenly, eyes flicking up momentarily to meet his. (The irony doesn't escape him that he wishes she hadn't.) "Please." There's something in her tone he's never heard before and it makes his heart sink.
It's defeat, he realizes as he watches her tug at the ends of her hair. She sounds defeated. It hurts him, seeing her that way. This is not the Dani Moonstar he knows and he's out of ideas on how to handle her. So he nods and does what she asks. It isn't much than a brief reprieve, really, but he figures she deserves it. And there'll be plenty of time to argue later. (They never seem to have trouble there.)
Besides, if they're going to have that talk—and they will, he'll make sure of it—he'd rather she be sober and not drooling on his window. Though, he decides, drool is infinitely preferable to what Bobby did when Sam found him at a bar (well, passed out in the alley behind one actually) on the anniversary of Juliana's death. His truck smelled like moldy cheese for weeks after that night.
Grunting sourly after missing the four stoplights in a row, he glances over at his sleeping teammate—friend. He knows she'll probably be angry in the morning (or whenever she wakes up with a wicked hangover) but that's not what he sees now. No, what he sees in the dim light is the hurt girl beneath the carefully constructed walls and tough façade.
He brushes her hair with one hand and smiles down at her when she snores lightly. He hopes someday she lets someone in—on purpose, not because they happened to find the hole she decided to hold up in. (Nobody should have to carry all their hurt alone.)
It's two days before Sam sees hide or hair of Dani again. In fact, he's pretty sure she doesn't leave her room that first day, except to use the bathroom and get Powerade refills (generously provided by Terry, resident expert in all things drinking-related). He's in the kitchen, munching on some crappy knockoff cereal because he doesn't feel like making a real lunch, when she finally stomps in. Unsurprisingly, she heads straight for the coffee pot without so much as a word of greeting.
In fact, it takes her a minute to notice him standing nearby. When she does, she brushes the hair out of her face, the only thing betraying any discomfort on her part, and forces a tight smile. "Hey."
He nods, still chewing, and smiles as much as he can without revealing the contents of his mouth. (He doesn't think she'd appreciate the show like his little brothers used to.) He watches her lean against the counter, feigning a casualness that neither of them buy.
It's another couple of minutes before she pulls together whatever it is she wants to say and fixes him with a curious look. "So, um…" He tilts his head to show he's listening and she pushes forward. "How'd you find me the other night?"
Sam shrugs, swallowing. "I just… looked."
Frowning from behind her mug, she makes it obvious she's not satisfied with his answer. "But how'd you know where to look?"
"I didn't." Which is the God's honest truth. (He's found the truth often saves him from her temper and he's thanked his momma for raising him to be a Southern gentleman more than once because of it.) "I tried three other bars before that one." And he'll be scrubbing the mental image of Bar #2 from his mind for weeks to come, he's certain.
The distinctly familiar look of frustration forms on Dani's face. "But how'd you know to even look for me in the first place?" she presses, tone matching her expression.
That's when Sam decides to lay his hand down. (He'd already known she wouldn't settle for anything less than the entire story but the part of him that could never stop being competitive with her resisted all the same.) He puts his bowl down and moves closer to her. She shifts into a more defensive stance but that doesn't put him off—it's pretty much her natural state.
"I'm your friend," he says simply and there's nothing but sincerity in his face. (She's not the type to believe anything less.) He puts a hand on her arm, drawing her full attention to him. "I know you, Dani." He squeezes where his hand lays. "And I care about you."
She still looks annoyed, though he suspects it has more to do with the tears he sees forming in her eyes than him. "You remembered." Her words are quiet but there's no question in the tone.
Sam swallows the lump in his throat, his chest tightening with the memory. "It's hard to forget the days when my friends almost die." Or the days that they did. (Even when they come back later… especially when they didn't.)
That's when Dani's mask crumbles and suddenly she's crying and he's pulling her into a strong hug and it's just like the other night except completely different. Sam pretends not to feel the prickle of tears in his own eyes or the weight sitting on his chest that never quite goes away. He holds her (and is secretly glad she's gripping him back) until she pulls away, quickly running her hands over her cheek self-consciously.
Taking a deep breath, she meets his gaze evenly. "I'm guessing it was you who found our drunken Bobby a few months back then?" She phrases it like a question but he suspects she already knows the answer. When he confirms it, she smiles faintly. "You're a pretty amazing friend, know that, Guthrie?"
Scratching his chin with mock-thoughtfulness, he grins and nods again in easy agreement. "Mighta been told that once or twice." Then he winks, despite the fact that he's never been able to pull it off. "Never hurts to hear it again, though."
Dani swats at his arm playfully. "I swear," she groans with a shake of her head, "so like the brother I never had." She gives him a pointed look. "Or wanted." Sam is the very picture of indignant and she smiles again. "But thanks. For remembering and coming to get me and… stuff."
He knows there's more she wants to say but won't (or can't), so he lets her leave it there. "Oh, yes. The stuff." Sam nods sagely. "That was the hardest bit, you know." She rolls her eyes before turning away to top off her mug. "You were wrong, though," he continues, steering their conversation back toward serious. "He isn't the only who's ever loved you."
A sharp laugh escapes her lips but he doesn't miss the way her shoulders stiffen.
Gently grabbing her wrist, he tugs on her arm and she obliges his silent request by facing him again. "I mean it, Dani. You got stacks of people that love you an awful lot. Trust me."
Cheeks slightly flush, she avoids meeting his gaze. "I know. That's not…" She covers her eyes with a hand and composes herself. "Ugh, it's so stupid." Dani sighs before continuing on as if knowing he'll keep pressing her (which, admittedly, she probably does because he would): "But, see, nobody else has ever loved me with that kind of… devotion, I guess would be the best word. I know the team—any one of you—would give your life in a moment to save mine because I'd do the same for all of you but the connection we shared was different." She frowns, a line of frustration forming between her eyebrows. "The only other bond like that I've ever shared was with Rahne." She runs a hand through her hair, clearly unhappy. "And it just makes me feel like, I dunno, I'm somehow incapable of having a normal emotional connection with another human being or something."
Sam blinks. That isn't anything he ever thought he'd hear come out of her mouth. (She must still be operating at under one hundred percent.) "You are so full of it, Moonstar." Dani's jaw drops and she gapes at him. Not that he lets that stop him. "Long as I've known you, Chief, I ain't ever seen anyone push you away. It's always been the other way 'round." Eyes narrowed, she opens her mouth to argue but he pushes forward. "I mean, you're so stuck on being independent that you—"
"That," Dani interrupts curtly, eyes flashing in a way that says she's only just holding her temper in, "is quite enough, thank you. I get it." Her knuckles are white from the force with which she's gripping her mug and Sam has a sneaking suspicion she's imaging it's his neck. "I'm sorry I asked."
She starts moving away but his arms shoots out to block her path. "Hey." He's smiling again as meets her glare with warm eyes. "Just don't forget, okay? Despite your best efforts, people do love you." He kisses her on the forehead. "I love you." His arms fall back to his sides. "And someday you'll find someone you love enough to let all the way in. Brightwind won't be the last one to love you with that kind of devotion."
The look she gives him is uncharacteristically vulnerable and Sam remembers how she looked asleep in his truck. "Think so?"
"Know so," he responds easily. The fact that she's even asking tells him that much. He waits a beat, then grins widely at her. "Hell, I'd go for it if I thought I stood any kinda chance."
She makes a face at him and heads for the door. "Ha-ha. Funny, Sam."
"I like to think so," he calls after her before heading to the sink to wash his dish. He hears her laughter echo down the hallway and finds himself chuckling along with her. She'll be all right. They all will. They're a family, after all. And family never forgets.