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In Any Universe

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“Danno! Delivery!”

Danny’s at the register, dealing with customers, but Grace yells again, so he excuses himself to head toward the kitchen to holler back. He practically slams into his daughter who is smiling hugely.

“Can you just take care of it?” He asks her, too tired to be frustrated with her lack of initiative.

“You’re gonna want this one,” she says, eyes twinkling. “It’s Steve.”

She says it like it’s loaded with meaning, like he should know what it means, like he should care.

He’s too tired to care. At least that’s what he wants to believe. He doesn’t quite convince himself. 

She sighs, takes his apron off him, and shoves him towards the back.

“Fine but could you please go take Mrs Guilardi’s order?”

“I don’t need to take Mrs Guilardi’s order,” Grace says. “Green pepper and mushroom, extra onion, and a glass of Chablis.”

“Fine, whatever, okay, I’m going.” That last as she shoves again, and okay he runs a hand through his hair as he heads to the back, the deliveries, and the irritatingly hot guy who delivers them.

Irritatingly, Steve looks especially hot today, lifting crates of canned tomatoes from the back of his truck and stacking them just inside the back door. He looks up when he sees Danny, and the goofy grin that spreads across his face is less irritating than Danny wants it to be.

“Hey, Danno, where’d you want me to put these?”

“I thought I told you not to call me that.”

“Grace said it was okay, she said you like it.”

“Oh did she now.” Some days he wonders why his daughter is so set on his destruction.

Steve just grins and nods.

Danny can’t come up with a reply that seems biting enough, so he just grunts and gestures to where the tomatoes should go. He starts angrily inspecting the cans to make sure there’re un-dented, but they’re all perfect, as all Steve’s products always are, and Danny’s exhausted enough from—he’d say “the week he’s had” but that’d be a lie, he’s always this exhausted. He figures that’s just his life. The point is, he winds up sort of leaning against the crates and just watching as Steve unloads, lifts, carries... those damn perfect muscles flexing this way and that, rippling under the impossibly tight tee shirt Steve insists on always wearing. Danny’d say something, like “Can’t you wear clothes like a normal human being,” but the thing is, Danny likes the show. He likes it kind of a lot, okay? He doesn’t have a whole lot of pleasures in his life, and fuck it, this is one.

Steve finishes the tomatoes and he joins Danny, leaning up against the wall, and looking him over like he’s the drink of water he obviously needs. Pushing off the crates, Danny grabs two bottles out of the fridge across the room, walks back over, holds one out for Steve.

“Thanks buddy,” he says with this grin that looks like he’s got some kind of secret or something, and it makes Danny’s skin feel tight. “You look exhausted, you should take a break.”

Danny can’t help the laugh that escapes. He’s caught off guard, alright? And he’s tired enough his filters have forgotten to engage, so when he says “Yeah a break from my life,” it comes out sounding far more sincerely than he likes.

What seems like actual concern flashes in Steve’s eyes for a moment before it’s replaced with something he almost wants to call hope.

“Take a break with me?” He asks, his hazel eyes going green as he pushes off the wall, not moving closer to Danny but looking like it’s taking an effort not to.

Danny finds he can’t breathe, which makes talking kind of difficult, so he takes a slow drink, watching Steve as he does, and man it’s been a long time. Way too long a time. But there’s something familiar in the way Steve’s watching him. Danny thinks he almost might remember what it’s like to be wanted for something other than his thin crust and amazing sauce. And maybe it’s his lack of sleep, maybe it’s the utterly drained state of his soul, maybe it’s that he still feels the energy of Grace’s push on him, the twinkle in her eye when she said Steve was in the back. Or maybe it’s just because, yeah, he’d like very much to take a break with Steve.

“Yeah, okay,” he says, looking down at the bottle, carefully screwing the top back on.

“Yeah?” Steve asks tentatively, almost like he seems surprised Danny’s said yes.

“Yeah,” he replies. “That’d be nice.”

“Great!” Steve says brightly, putting the lid back on his water. “I’ll pick you up at seven.”

And there’s no way, there’s just not any way he could know that’s when Danny’s off tonight. Unless....

But Steve’s out the door and into his truck before Danny can say anything.

“Grace!” Danny bellows, and damn she must have been eavesdropping? Because she opens the door from the front almost instantly.

“Stop yelling Danno, it upsets the customers.”

“I’m not yelling. I’m Italian, this is how I talk. Please do not tell me that you told Steve when I’m off work tonight?”

She shrugs. “He asked.”

“Oh, he asked did he?”

“Uh-huh,” she replies, but she’s grinning and those damn eyes which are totally her mother’s and not Danny’s, they’re far too devious, they’re not just sparkling, they’re damn near glowing. “So, does that mean you said yes?”

And he could lie, he really could, but she’d see right through him, she always does.

“Yes, it means I said yes,” he sighs resignedly, grabbing his apron back from her, and heading to the front, to, you know, do his job.

He doesn’t miss, however, the celebratory “Yessss!” she hisses under her breath as he’s leaving.

She really does have it in for him.

Which she proves beyond a shadow of a doubt when at six thirty she takes his apron from him and whispers “You stink please go shower,” and shoves him towards the stairs up to their small apartment above the restaurant.

He knows he smells, thanks. And okay, he’d rather smell like soap than onions and anchovies for his (oh he can’t quite bring himself to call it a date, but let’s be honest, that’s what it is) dinner with Steve. 

So he showers and changes into one of his few shirts that doesn’t have tomato stains on it, and okay, it’s nice to clean up, and maybe it’s been too long and maybe that’s bad. He just usually doesn’t find it’s worth it.

But when Grace smiles so sweetly at him, as she waves him off, and when Steve bites his lip as Danny climbs into the truck, okay. Maybe it’s a little bit worth it.

“So I thought we’d get some take out and head back to mine so you can really relax.” And he sounds more unsure than Danny’s used to hearing bullheaded and cocky Steve sound, and maybe that pulls at his heart, because, yeah, there’s an awkwardness woven in with going out when you’re not exactly out and it’s not a small town but it feels like it sometimes. And maybe Steve has his own issues about that but Danny’s not gonna judge him for it, he’s just not. Besides. Taking his shoes off and actually putting his feet up sounds pretty close to heaven.

“Yeah,” he says softly, watching Steve’s reaction. “That sounds really nice.”

And okay, it leaves the door open for things other than dinner and conversation and Danny’s not at all sure he’s up for that on a first date but he’s not minding the dangling possibility. It’s been far too long a time since he’s had the pleasure of anything other than his own hand, alright? You try being a single parent and running your own business and having a social life. 

“Is Indian okay?” Steve asks after a bit. “I thought something other than Italian....”

Danny chuckles. “Yeah, sure, sounds great.”

So they end up at a place Steve obviously frequents, and Danny kind of gets the sense he’s practically family, especially the way the woman running the place speaks conspiratorially to him in Hindi. Especially when Steve grins and blushes, and answers back, smiling softly and apologetically at Danny after. 

There’s definitely too much food, but Danny does his best to eat as much as he can because it’s really nice to have food he’s not cooked himself. It’s more than a special treat, it’s... yeah. It’s really nice. 

And so is the wine, which is probably why he tells Steve both of those things.

But what makes his heart thud is the way it makes Steve look like he’s accomplished something he’s only dared dream of. 

Steve’s place is nice, too. Simple, but tidy in an almost military fashion. Then again, Danny’s not exactly the tidiest of people, and Grace gave up long ago aiming for anything other than mildly controlled chaos. Their place isn't dirty, don’t get him wrong. But the busyness of life tends to make tidy cleanly perfection a pipe dream. Trying to fight that just makes him feel worse about himself as a person, so he doesn’t torture himself anymore. 

So it’s nice to be away from home, but in a home. It’s really nice. 

It’s also nice to have a conversation with an adult that doesn’t revolve around pizza toppings and salad dressing. 

Steve asks about his work, but not in the usual “So, you own a pizza parlor” kind of way. He asks about the name.

Which is a story Danny doesn’t ordinarily love telling. He usually makes something up, but for some reason, he wants Steve to know the truth. So he takes a deep breath and sits back, kicking his bare feet under the table, and maybe some part of him hopes Steve’ll do the same.

“I, uh, I used to be a cop. And my partner was named Grace. She, ah. She died the day I found out my wife was pregnant. So I wasn’t at the station when the call came in. Um. If I had been, if Grace hadn’t been killed in the line that day... ah. We both would have been at The Towers when they fell.”

“Shit.” It’s barely a whisper, and Danny gives him a grim smile. 

“So, we named our daughter Grace, and when she was old enough to understand, she would call herself ‘Grateful Grace,’ because without Grace I wouldn’t be here.”

“Jesus, Danny. I’m so sorry about your partner. But I’m with Grace. I’m so glad you weren’t there that day.”

Danny huffs a little laugh at that. He’s had years of therapy but he’s still not okay with having not been there. He knows he never will be. But he focuses on Grace like he always does, and shoves the guilt back down to manageable levels. 

“Can I ask...” Steve starts. Tentative again, and that makes Danny’s heart thud sort of sideways. Kind, thoughtful, gentle Steve is a thing he never let himself imagine, and it’s doing strange things to his insides. “What happened to Grace’s mom?”

“And how’d I wind up making pizza for a living?” Danny smiles.  

Steve gets up and carries their wine glasses over to the coffee table, Danny follows with the bottle. They sit, on opposite ends of the not overly large sofa, turning inward to face each other. Danny sighs, twirling the stem of his glass slowly in one hand, picking at the crease in his pants with the other.

“When Grace was still little, Rachel ran off with some rich guy, and I just couldn’t leave her alone, couldn’t risk her losing both her parents, so I cashed out my pension and dug out my grandma’s recipes and opened up the pizza place, and haven’t really looked back. And yeah, I’m tired all the time, and I’m sore all the time, but I’ve got Grace, and I’ve had time with her, you know? And that’s been worth everything.”

“But she’s going to college in the fall?” Steve prompts.

Danny huffs out a breath that’s too close to a sob for his own comfort. “Yeah. She is.”

“So you can... you’ll have some time. For yourself.”

And the words are the obvious ones, he supposes, but they’re nearly the very words Grace uses when she talks about how Danny needs a life, needs someone in his life, and it just wouldn’t surprise him at all.

“Did she put you up to this?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Don’t you?”

Steve sighs, sets his glass down. “Look, I like you, I think you like me, you’re about to have a lot more free time in your life, I have more than enough in mine... so, yeah, maybe I mentioned that to her and she maybe thought you wouldn’t mind.”

Danny chuckles softly. If he wanted to, if some part of him wanted to be annoyed, feel maybe a little pressured, he easily could bristle at that. But. Well honestly he just doesn’t. And maybe it’s nice, alright? To sit here on this comfy sofa that’s never been used as a trampoline, in a room that’s almost freakishly tidy, that’s been cleaned by someone other than himself, to sit here and have a glass of wine. Real wine, wine that someone’s chosen because they like it and not because it’s what his customers prefer with their pies.... Yeah, all of it is really kind of a lot nice.

So he shrugs, and maybe that’s too typical an Italian gesture, so sue him. Steve doesn’t seem to mind. “Yeah, okay, that would be nice.”

“Good,” Steve replies softly, and reaches out to refill Danny’s glass. “I’m glad.”

“What, aren’t you gonna say something like ‘I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship’ or something?”

“Ummm? I dunno, should I?”

“Seriously? You don’t get that reference?”

“Uhh, no?”

“Oh, that is it, you’re coming over for Wednesday movie night.”

And if he thinks Steve covers a sly grin with a dive in for more wine, Danny doesn’t say anything, but it occurs to him that his daughter knows all his buttons and that would have been a sure bet, to get Danny to take action—prove a certain lack of knowledge about movie references—because if there’s one thing he and Grace are solid in, it’s their movie quotes.

“Sounds like fun,” Steve says, when he comes up for air after a long slow sip of wine. “I’d love it.”

“Good,” Danny says, and surprises himself by realizing he means it.

They fall to talking about sports and music, and they disagree on just about everything but somehow it works. Somehow it seems right, and not something negative. 

And when Danny starts to yawn, Steve insists on getting him home right away. “You really should take better care of yourself, Danno,” he says, as his hand settles softly at the small of Danny’s back as he walks him to the truck. 

“That’s what Grace says,” Danny mutters sleepily. 

“She’s a smart one, that kid of yours,” Steve replies, and they drive back to Danny’s place in a companionable silence. 

“Thank you, for tonight,” Danny says, hesitating with his hand on the door. “I had a really nice time.”

“I’m glad,” Steve replies. And he doesn’t look like he’s gonna make a move on Danny, and there’s part of him that’s grateful for that, but at the same time. He really wants to be kissed. So he lets go the door handle and he turns in his seat to face Steve. 

Steve grins, and presses his lips together, eyeing Danny’s as he does, and that’s enough of a sign for him, so Danny leans forward, captures Steve’s lips with his own, lets Steve fall a little bit into it, nipping softly before he draws back with a sheepish grin. 

“Wednesday at eight. You bring the wine.” And with another quick press of the lips, Danny climbs down from the truck and walks to the back door of the restaurant without looking back. When he gets to the door and turns to wave, he sees Steve, bottom lip between his teeth, gaze slightly glassy, and he grins. 

Steve smiles back, and waves before driving slowly off, and Danny takes a moment to gather himself before heading inside. 

Grace is waiting for him, homework balanced on her lap, curled on the sofa with her headphones on. He hears laundry running in the background, and he stands there watching her thinking missing her will be a physical ache nothing will soothe, and he thinks, yeah, having someone to help fill his time is going to be a good idea. 

She sees him, takes her headphones off, and waits, expectantly, for his report. 

“He’s coming for movie night,” he says, and he hears it before she reacts. He sounds soppy and sweet and he wants to cringe, but he just doesn’t.

“Oh my god you kissed him, didn’t you.”

“I am not discussing that with you.”

“You ask me if I kiss my dates!”

“I’m your father, I worry.”

“Well, I worry too, Danno.”

“Yes, fine, we kissed, now shut up and finish your homework and thank you for doing laundry.”

“Love you Danno.”

“Love you too, Monkey.”

He closes himself in his room and allows himself a moment to relive the kiss. A nice long moment. He’s working up the energy to get ready for bed when his phone buzzes with a text. 

I had a really great time tonight. Can’t wait for Wednesday. Red or white?

Danny smiles down at his phone for a while, thinking. Usually they just do pizza on Wednesdays but he thinks he’ll do something special, maybe a seafood pasta. Or lemon cream cannelloni. 

White. And me too.

Steve sends back a smile and a wine emoji, and Danny grins all the way through getting ready for bed, and he’s still smiling when Grace peeks in to say goodnight. 

“Oh you are a goner, aren’t you?” She says, blowing him a kiss from the doorway. 

“Shush now,” Danny says. But he knows she’s right. He absolutely is. And he doesn’t mind in the least.