Martin was early for once—Danny’s doing—and so could take the time to pick the least squeaky chair in the room. While years undercover had forced him to remain motionlessly unaffected by the most horrible of situations, Martin hadn’t been able to sit still easily since he’d gone off the pills. One of the symptoms of withdrawal that would fade, his doctor promised, and Martin tried to take deep breaths every time he felt the jitteriness coming on.
He sat up straight again, wishing he didn’t feel so… vulnerable. That had been the biggest hurdle in coming, even after the first time with Danny in the next chair and with the thought of Danny’s face if he didn’t show propelling him out of his apartment and up the steps of the community center and into Narcotics Anonymous. He was a Fitzgerald (or, even harder, son of The Great FBI Deputy Director Fitzgerald) and feeling weak wasn’t something that happened often. Most of the time feeling at all wasn’t exactly a Fitzgerald strong point, he thought to himself, then cracked a smile at how much that sounded like Danny.
For a moment, this meeting felt like the first, and he could still see the relaxing of Danny’s shoulders as Martin slid into the seat next to his, the crackle of the newspaper a tangible sign that Danny had been counting on him, hoping for him to come.
(But, God, the fight they’d had beforehand, after awkward words in the office led to frigid ones in the living room, blistering ones in the bedroom… too often he still felt the guilt and fear from that almost swallow him. It would have ended them, almost had ended them, but Martin wouldn’t give up on this, and he knew that Danny wouldn’t give up on him.)
Slowly, it had gotten better. Talking with Jack helped. Sitting quietly with Viv helped. Joking with Sam, about everything and nothing, helped. Danny, talking or quiet, funny or serious, always helped. But tonight Danny was down the hall with his own demons, not to mention ghosts of others, so Martin leaned back in his blessedly squeak-free chair and tried to blend in.
He knew it was only his imagination that made his neck itch, had made his skin feel tight every time he reached the door to a meeting. Rationally, Martin knew that he wasn’t noticeable, just another slightly harried guy in jeans and a sweatshirt; the outfit was carefully chosen to construct another layer of normalcy and anonymity. Any projection of FBI agent was in his own mind; he’d spent enough time on undercover spots for Jack and back in Seattle to know that the random glances in his direction were actually random. No covert speculation about how far the Fitzgerald Son had fallen.
It was funny really, how the times he came here were when he felt the most, and the least, like his father’s son.
A slight patch of quiet began at the front of the room and spread as people found chairs, ended soft greetings with their neighbors, turned their gaze to the table at the front. After a moment, a man stood and smiled.
“We’re going to start the meeting now, and I was to thank you all for coming. You’ve gone through a lot to just walk through the door,” he looked around, creating a moment with each person whose gaze he caught, projecting as much calm and acceptance with his voice as he could. “If you want to share, we want to listen. Let’s get started.”
After a short pause, a woman stood to speak. Martin let the words wash over him, trying to kick the feeling that it was a case from work: names, numbers, two years sober, six months in a new relationship, a reconciliation with an angry child two weeks ago (he yearned for a pen to create a timeline and after a breath forced his hands to unclench).
Martin felt himself relax a little, another little shred of the shame he’d gripped since that first time, the first time with the squeaky chairs and lukewarm overcooked coffee, faded a little more, slid a little more solidly into what he was almost ready to call self-confidence. The woman who had been speaking stopped, slightly teary, and returned to her seat after a huge from a somber-looking man who must be her sponsor.
Another person, this time a man, weary-eyed and hair going grey, stood and began to speak. For some reason, he reminded Martin of his father. Something in the shoulders that were trying to straighten, not stoop, the precision with how he spoke.
Martin hadn’t dared tell his father yet, felt the words dry up and disappear every time the phone rang. Danny had said that, when Martin was ready, he could help him tell his family. Jack, in his halting way, had said the same. Still, if (no, when, it would have to happen at some point) Martin detailed this whole mess, the way he’d been drowning and only the pills had made it seem better, then they hadn’t worked either so it’d been the sweaty clench of a stolen prescription in his palm, the look in Danny’s eyes… well, whenever he told the details his father deserved to hear, he wanted Viv with him. Not because she would be particularly warm or gentle about it, but because she had a way of shutting down someone with a look, and he thought that power might come in handy in case his father got any ideas about a reply.
Martin had been so caught up in the image of Viv giving his father a firm and no nonsense talking to (maybe he could convince her to do it for no reason at all, that’d be even more satisfying) that he’d missed the changing of speakers. When he started listening again, there was another man at the front. This one was scruffy blond and tired. Martin wondered if everyone here looked tired.
Probably. They all understood that life was exhausting enough and then adding in resisting the creep, tug, pull of pills, booze, needles… was almost too much. He was pretty sure he looked it too, though the endless drag of it at was better and while some of that was being clean he knew that most of it was due to Danny. Too bad they can’t prescribe that. Take two Danny Taylors and call me in the morning.
“…so for a while, it was shit,” the man was saying as Martin tuned back in, his voice the kind of raspy that wouldn’t sound out of place in a rock band. “Turns out when all you do is get high enough to forget that your band is broke, you kind of suck at doing things like eating or paying rent. And when you’re high, your band who you thought was your friends can be pretty blunt about how you can’t sing anymore, can barely tune your guitar and don’t need to come back tomorrow. Needless to say, I don’t talk to those guys anymore.” A bubble of laughter in his voice.
Apparently he was (had been?) in a band. Stop profiling and listen, Martin’s inner Danny voice reminded him patiently.
“I knew I should quit, especially after my girlfriend died… I tried, actually, and was clean for a while but then it was another problem, another day that ended in y and there I was again.”
Martin had to smile bitterly at that, remembering the times he’d spent huddled on the bathroom floor, telling himself this was the last pill, he’d go cold turkey right after this prescription ran out, no more, he swore it… He still woke up from nightmares where he had shot and killed, children covered in blood on the ground, Danny screaming at him, and when he tried to explain, empty pill bottles rattled out of his hands onto the street.
“And every time I slid back, went back to it, my friend would drag my sorry ass back to rehab, always after me to keep trying, that he knew it was hard…”
Danny’s calm quiet next to him at that first meeting being the only thing that stopped him from running. The look on Danny’s face when he told him to get help being the only thing that stopped the denials cold, dried up the excuses like the hot air they were.
“Hell, he even kept me away from the guys dealing on the street. And he’s a skinny dude, but you’d have thought he’d been lifting weights or something, iron grip of his. Pretty sure he even talked to a few of them, ‘cause there’s this one that still won’t make eye contact when I walk past.”
There was a rustle of laughter. Martin immediately flashed to stand-offs he’d had in uniform, the violence too often tied up in buying drugs on the street. For a friend to get in the middle of that was amazing.
“Anyway,” the man continued. “I don’t know what I would have done without a really good friend… a few good friends, actually. I’d been terrified after April died that I was alone, but sometimes friends are family, you know? The kind of family you should have had in the first place. And they can save your life.”
After a cluster of reminders about next week and a gentle request that anyone looking for a sponsor please feel free to ask (Martin felt a prick of anxiety, but it wasn’t as impossible-sounding as it had been. Maybe he’d ask Danny if he had any recommendations) they were free to mill about, drink bad coffee, or leave. Martin joined the small crowd that was drifting towards the door and found himself next to the guy who’d been speaking last. The guy glanced at him as they walked and, for once, Martin felt the need to say something, with what he knew was an awkward smile.
“I really appreciated your… story.” He mumbled. Damn, he still hadn’t gotten a hang of what to say. Sucks to be you? Thanks for sharing your pain with us tonight?
But the other guy smiled back, much less awkwardly. Martin was surprised by how much it changed his face; it lightened the tension in his green eyes and made him look less tired. Martin realized that the guy was closer to his age than he thought.
“Thanks. Glad I could tell it.” There was enough amused irony in the guy’s voice that Martin smiled wider.
The guy nodded.
Then they were at the door to the center, and Martin shivered as a gust of wind whipped down the sidewalk. He shrugged into his coat and opened his mouth to say something else, but Roger had turned to look towards a blond guy calling his name from the curb.
“Gotta go, man. Night.”
“Night,” Martin murmured as Roger walked towards the other man and they turned down the block, towards the subway probably, but not before Martin saw it: Roger and the other man kissed, a short relaxed brush of lips before Roger said something that made the blond laugh.
The look of it made Martin’s cheeks heat; not because he was embarrassed, but because it looked so… natural. Like they weren’t even thinking about it. Maybe, Martin thought slightly belatedly, this was Roger’s “good friend”. He hoped so. A gust of wind hit again and Martin swore under his breath, digging into a coat pocket for his gloves.
“Looking for these, Fitzy?” He looked up to see Danny, grinning at him from his relaxed slouch against the brick wall of the center. He was holding up Martin’s gloves. “You left them on the coffee table.”
“Thanks.” He slipped them on, trying to decide if the sudden warmth was from their time in Danny’s hands, or if that was just his imagination.
“How was it?” Danny asked quietly, with that tone in his voice that meant he was being careful.
“Good.” Martin paused, remembering Roger’s smile. Friends can save your life. “Really good. You?”
“It was fine. Maria says hi, and asked me if we wanted to come to dinner tomorrow night. You know, I think she has a thing for you,” Danny added, teasingly.
Maria, Danny’s sponsor, was sixty-three and had five children with her husband of thirty-five years.
“Well, how could she not?” Martin said, hoping to make Danny laugh. He did, the last of the tightness he got in his voice after a night at AA drifting away. They were walking to the corner and Martin slowed to a stop.
Danny slowed too, looked at him. “What?” he said, when Martin didn’t say anything.
Before he could over think it (a Fitzgerald trait Danny was slowly breaking him of), Martin stepped right into Danny’s personal space, closing his gloved fingers on the front of Danny’s overcoat and tugging him closer before kissing him, feeling the warmth of Danny’s breath and getting a glimpse of the surprise in Danny’s eyes before it was only the slight chap on their lips and the familiar smell of Danny’s cologne and, further away, the slightly musty smell of a New York street corner.
He pulled back, smiling a little at the look in Danny’s eyes. Martin made a mental note to try to stun Danny Taylor more often. Especially if it involved kissing him like that.
“What was that for?” Danny’s voice sounded tense again, but the good kind of tense, the kind that said he was thinking things that Martin was going to enjoy greatly when they got back to the apartment. It also roughly translated into You’ve never kissed me in public before. What gives?
“Thanks for the gloves,” Martin replied, and he grinned at the look Danny gave him as he stepped to the curb to hail a cab. He kept smiling as Danny gave him funny looks the entire ride home.