Mary stands in front of the door for a long moment, holding Joan tightly in her arms, staring at the frame and the doorbell. Her lips hurt from her biting, her indecision grooving her mouth, and when Joan squawks loudly, crying pitifully, she's in it for real.
Danny abruptly opens the door, his face pinched as he takes her and Joan in, standing on his door step. He leans on the door frame, raising his arm over his head, the early morning rays catching in the hair on his forearm. "Hey."
She slides her eyes to his. "Hi. Um," she begins while Joan wails, and so eloquently, her inadequacy washes over her, over everything
Danny steps aside and waves them in. "Come in, c'mon, why are you loitering?"
She steps inside, bouncing Joan as she walks. "I know it's early," she begin, swinging the bag containing hers and Joan's combined life; diapers, pacifiers and more tiny pieces of spare clothes that she can count.
Danny smiles softly and raises his voice over Joan's crying. "Her schedule not quite what you expected, huh?"
She tightens her hold on Joan and tries to avoid him eyes because how can he not hear how his words sting, the criticism cutting. She couldn't feel worse. "Yeah."
Danny's smile slips as he watches her, stepping forward he extends his arms. "Let me take her."
"No!" She doesn't mean to snap, really she doesn't, but it hurts, and her failure is imminent.
He raises his arms, palms up. "Hey, hey, Mary. What's going on?"
She feels stupid, looking at Danny's kind face, his eyes concerned and questioning; he's only trying to help and that's the reason she decided to drop unannounced on his doorstep. "I'm so tired, Danny."
Joan wails so hard her pacifier falls to the floor and Mary thinks she might start crying with her.
Danny bends and picks up the little pacifier, sticking the silicon rubber teat in his mouth and taking it out with a pop before sticking it back in Joan's mouth.
Danny gives her a scrunched up look. "What? I cleaned it off for her."
"With your mouth?" She isn't as appalled as she probably should be, because she doubts Danny would actually do something that would bring harm to Joan, or any baby in the world.
"The enzymes in your saliva -" He begins in a lecturing tone.
"Save me the science, okay, I get enough lecturing from Steve who thinks I'm an idiot anyway." She snaps her mouth shut.
She feels her eyes grow wider as she stares at Danny who returns her gaze evenly. "You're not an idiot."
Mary takes a deep breath, twisting her mouth when she says, "I don't know why she's crying."
"She's most likely crying because she's hungry," Danny states, with great authority.
"She's eaten," she says, her failure as clear as Joan's tears.
"Is it diaper rash? You got cream for it? Baby talc?" he asks, tilting his head slightly as he looks at her, his eyebrows slightly raised.
She keeps bouncing Joan, ignoring his question. Joan's weight is a comforting presence, while the bag on her shoulder keeps pulling her down. "Can you take my bag?"
Danny steps forward and takes the bag. "You need a towel? You can change her on the couch."
She glares at him. "There's a travel changing mat. And she doesn't need changing."
Danny glares back. "For the love of god, what do you want me to do? You came here for something, which you have yet to state, by the way, so I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do other than stand around like a schmuck and watch you tend to your itchy daughter."
Mary blinks at him, his words flowing through her ears like a waterfall over Joan's whimpers, loud and crashing, and all too clear. "Maybe I should go."
Danny rolls his eyes and gesticulates abruptly. "Mary, what can I do for you?"
Mary feels her nostrils flair as she hands Joan over to Danny. Joan keep crying and that's a tiny guilt ridden relief, that it's not Mary's presence that is causing Joan's distress. But now her arms feel empty and Danny holds the baby with an easy confidence that Mary wouldn't even know where to find. She bites her lip again, her brain firing through her options while she tries to think over the intense swell of emotion that Joan brings low in her chest, under her sternum and close to her stomach. "Steve said I don't know what cognitive means."
Danny snorts as he lays the mat open for her, wiggling his fingers in front of Joan's face as she settles her. "He can't even spell 'cognitive', he only knows Army acronyms and alpha-bravo crap."
She laughs abruptly and says, "Navy, Danny."
He rolls his eyes. "Whatever." Danny smiles down at Joan and starts talking over her cries. "Are you giving your Mommy problems, babe? Not letting her get her beauty sleep, not that she needs it." He winks at her.
Mary feels the tips of her ears burn and hopes the rest of her face isn't flaming. "I don't know what's wrong."
Danny pats Joan's tummy, his hand large and warm looking over her pale pink onesie. "You two been awake for long?"
She nods and rubs her eyes, pressing her fingers into them for a second. "An hour, a little over. She woke up crying and I fed her, burped her, changed, everything!"
Danny raises a conciliatory hand. "Okay, clearly we have something else at hand. Joanie," He addresses the baby directly, the nickname making something flutter in her belly. "What's up, baby?"
Joan replies with a loud wail and Danny tucks his hands under her, picking her up and bringing her to his chest and shoulder. He holds Joan tightly and starts doing a strange three step waltz in his living room while he hums a tune. He looks at Mary and beckons her, gesturing for her to come closer.
When she stands next to him, he wraps an arm around her waist and sings. "Wonderful baby, nothin' to fear. Love whom you will, but doubt what you hear. They'll whisper sweet things to make untrue." He carries the tune well, and Danny looks at her, when he sings soothingly, "So be good to yourself, that's all you can do."
Her eyes feel like they're burning, the sharp sting in her nose indicating that tears are closer than she'd like, but at least she'd be on the same level as Joan, whose crying has not abated one little bit. She stares at Danny helplessly.
"It was worth a shot," he says, bouncing Joan up and down.
It's then that she lets out the loudest fart Mary has ever heard.
Danny gives the now obviously giggling baby a put-upon face. "Are you kidding me? This is why your freaked your mother out?"
Joan raises her tiny hands, trying to grab Danny's face, he holds her tightly and brings his other hand up to her face, gently wiping her wet cheeks with his thumb.
"Is that normal?" She hates that her voice shakes. She hates that she has to ask.
Danny looks at her, handing Joan over, wriggling his fingers again. "It happens." He shrugs, utterly unconcerned. "Don't sweat it."
She sniffles. "She cried for an hour and a half."
Danny puts his hand on her back, the heat of his palm warm through her shirt as he leads her to his couch and sits next to her. "Mary, you've had her for more than a day, you know babies cry."
"Not like this, not -"
"Hey, you flew from the mainland for hours in a stuffy metal funnel, she spent the entire time you were sick being handed over from stranger to stranger, schlepped all over Honolulu and doing god knows what in Max's lab."
She laughs at his tirade, rubbing her nose against Joan's soft hair, inhaling her smell, clean and powdery.
"So give your daughter a break for having difficulty with the whole farting business; it's still new for her, all of this living."
"I don't want to fuck it up." And she's horrified, clamping her mouth shut.
"You're gonna fuck up, you're a parent," he replies easily, tapping Joan's nose. He looks at her and brings a hand to her face, his finger trailing her temple and pushing a long tuft of hair behind her ear.
"I don't... I don't want..." She trails off, her fear voiceless, the words stuck inside. She clears her throat. "I know you and Steve don't approve -"
"Mary, do you love her?" he interrupts. "Because unless the answer is anything other than a big, fat yes, who cares what Steve, or I, or anyone thinks?"
She feels the tears push forward, feel one spill over and it's the worst thing, the worst affront. "I know I'm a mess, Danny."
Danny wipes her tear away with a knuckle. "You will fuck up, because you will try to do right by her and sometimes she'll have vastly different ideas about who she is, and who she'll want to be." He touches the whorl of Joan's ear, folding the soft cartilage into itself before letting go.
"You're the only parent I know who isn't dysfunctional," she blurts, hugging Joan closely.
Danny grimaces for a second and asks, "Do you love her?"
She nods, feeling her lips quiver. "Yeah, she's my baby."
"Then that's all that matters. And sleeping when she sleeps." Danny smiles at her.
Mary feels her mouth twist and she strokes Joan's hair. "I'm sorry I appeared out of nowhere. When I went to Steve it was... I don't need, or want, him to be our dad."
"Steve is worried about you, and Joan," Danny argues, but it's soft and not very convincing as far as she's concerned.
"Well, he could do a better job at showing it other than implying I'd suck as a mom," she huffs, nuzzling Joan.
Danny touches her arm. "Maybe his good intentions went awry, who knows with him, he's a goof, but so are you, sweetheart." He pokes her gently. "You follow your heart, even if you think you're a mess, you have a whole other person to make a mess with."
"You don't think I'll be a bad mother?" she asks, and wishes she could kick herself. For a brilliantly sharp second she wishes she could ask her own mom all the questions she's asking Danny, bitterly wondering if Doris could even begin to answer anything of the sort.
"My opinion means absolutely zero in this, unless you're neglecting her, and seeing as you rushed her here to chez Williams due to a bad case of stress farting, that doesn't seem to be the case." He grins saucily at her and she reaches over to whack his arm, careful to keep from jostling the baby who burbles happily around the pacifier.
"Ow! What the hell? This is the thanks I get?" Danny's righteous and outrageous indignation has her laughing loudly on the couch and she keeps giggling as he mock glares, because his face changes abruptly to an indulgent smile.
She gives him a smile in return. "Thanks, Danny."
He waves her off. "Don't mention it. You want some coffee, because let me tell you after all that excitement, I need something to soothe my frayed nerves."
Mary rolls her eyes. "You drink coffee to calm your nerves? No wonder you're so high strung."
"Hey, don't think I won't hold the hysteria over the fact that your baby couldn't fart over you, babe." Danny points at her from behind the kitchen island, his face mock stern, his mouth turned down like an exaggerated mask of tragedy.
As she holds Joan and watches Danny putter around the kitchen, Mary feels her cheeks lift in a wide grin.
She can do this.