"Okay, monkey, here we are," Danny says as he slows the car to a halt. The house looms in front of him, stark and white against the gray sky. A house that big, just for the three of them--it's ridiculous, honestly. "Time to say goodbye."
Grace looks up at the rain thundering down onto the windshield, her nose scrunched in dismay. "It's still raining."
"I know, still, with the rain, what is it with this crazy place, huh?" Full-on rainstorms the entire weekend--for god's sake, he gets two days with his daughter, would a few hours of sunshine be too much to ask for?
"April showers bring May flowers," Grace explains to him.
"Oh, right. See, I forgot about that," Danny says. "I think we can count on a whole lot of flowers this May."
Springtime already. He's surprised at how quickly the year has gone by. It's easy to lose track of the seasons on the island, unlike in Jersey, where the first signs of spring are always a glorious surprise--melting snow, birds singing in the trees, the first green shoots breaking loose from the earth. He likes that, being able to delineate the seasons so clearly. Here, it's all just a muddle, even though he's sure the islanders would beg to differ.
"All right. You know what we're going to have to do." Danny reaches behind his seat to retrieve Grace's backpack. "You and me, we're going to have to make a run for it. Okay?"
"Okay." Grace grins, all dimples and bright eyes and Danny's chest aches with the thought that it's going to be another week before he gets to see that happy little face again.
Looking out his rain-streaked window, he admits that despite the dreary weather it had been a good weekend. They played cards, watched movies, had grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. Sunday afternoon was dedicated to homework for both of them, teasing her that he'd make a trade, he'd do her math homework if she would write up his report on how he arrested the bad guys and put them in jail.
Okay, so maybe he and Steve shot the bad guys, killing one and putting the other in the hospital, but Grace didn't have to know that.
"Ready?" he asks, poised with his hand on the door.
Grace solemnly mimics his pose, her hand on her door handle. "Ready."
"You sure now?"
She nods, earnest as ever.
"Okay then." Danny takes a breath. "One, two, three--go!"
He unlatches his door and slips out of the car, rain soaking his shoulders the moment he's out. Grace does the same, together they make a mad dash to the door. He slows his steps, keeping just behind her and Grace is giggling as she runs, small feet splashing through the puddles. She's moving at a fast clip--good god, his little girl's getting big, her legs growing longer every day.
Grace dashes up the stairs and leaps onto the sheltered landing. "I win," she shouts with glee.
"You beat me fair and square," Danny admits, handing her the pack. "Come here, honey, give me a hug."
He crouches down and she flings her arms around his neck. Her hair is damp against his cheek and she smells like a wet garden, of flowers and earth and rain. "Bye, Danno. Love you," she says, a wet kiss landing on his cheek.
"Bye, monkey. Love you, too. Remember that." He breathes in deep.
She slips from his arms and skips to the door where Step Stan is waiting for her, an indulgent smile on his face. Danny gives him a curt nod in greeting and then leaves, trotting toward his car, making a point of not looking over his shoulder. It's a like a kick in the gut every time that huge door closes after her.
At least he's reached the point where he doesn't spend all day Sunday, from the time he wakes, dreading this moment. He's reached the point where he's capable of not thinking about it until they actually start gathering up her things. It's only then he lets himself acknowledge that he has to say goodbye to his little girl and fuck, it's like leaving a piece of himself behind each and every time he has to hand her back over to Rachel and Stan.
The rain is relentless and his shoulders are drenched by time he slides back into the car. Revving the engine, he pulls around the circular driveway and heads back out to the street, back to his all-too-quiet apartment with the mess of dishes in the sink. Darkness settles in on him, so heavy that he can barely pull in his breath and it must be the air here, the humid, wet air, too thick for his lungs.
He takes it slow, driving carefully--because he is not Steve, thank you very much--but still, when he plows through a deep puddle, the car hydroplanes briefly and drifts towards the cars parked on the side of the street. He gets control back within seconds, no harm done but it shakes him up good and he takes a moment curse out loud at the rain, at the road and Rachel, too, for good measure.
Coming to a halt at a traffic light, he takes a deep breath, steadying himself. A low rumble of thunder and the rain comes down even harder. From the inside of his car, it's as if he's going through a car wash, the windshield a sea of flowing water.
"Really?" he asks, leaning forward, trying to peer through the water to confirm that the traffic light has indeed turned green. "Tell me, how is this necessary?"
As if in answer, there's a flash of lightening in the distance. Shaking his head, Danny eases the car across the intersection, guiding it through the deep puddles. He can barely see past the hood of his car and god damn it, this sucks and then his phone rings. It's Steve, of course. One more example of how far his life has gone off the rails.
"Yeah," Danny answers in a gruff voice. He puts the phone on speaker so he can concentrate on driving.
"Hey, Danny, what's going on?" Steve sounds concerned, meaning he's already picked up on Danny's tone and that, right there, is pretty fucking disturbing.
"What's going on? I'll telling what's going on. I just dropped Gracie off and now I'm driving through a fucking monsoon. Hey, hey--" Danny shouts as a large black SUV nearly sideswipes him. "Look where you're going, you fucking moron."
"It's really coming down, isn't it?" Steve muses.
Danny rolls his eyes. "Have you looked out a window lately? Yes, Steven, it is."
"Be careful, some of the roads along the east side might be flooded." Steven tells him. "So, you coming by?"
A red light up ahead--at least Danny thinks it's red light--and he slows down, gently squeezing the brakes. "No. No, believe me, you don't want me there. I'm not very good company right now."
"So you're going to what, go back to your empty apartment and sit there watching the rain come down?"
Irritation prickles Danny's skin as he comes to a halt at the intersection. "Yes, that is my plan exactly. I'm not even going to turn the lights on, so that I can wallow in my misery in the appropriate manner."
"Danny," Steve says in a voice that's a touch too gentle, "get your ass over here."
"Hello? Excuse me? Steven--"
But Steve has apparently hung up. As if he can just bark out an order and expect Danny to show. Which is about as obnoxious as it gets and Danny wants to call Steve back to explain just how obnoxious he is, but the lone car behind him is honking his horn and Danny glances up to see that the traffic light has turned green.
"Give me a fucking minute, all right?" Danny pulls away, glaring at his rear view mirror, even though he can't see the other driver, because--yeah. Rain.
He considers doing exactly as he said--head straight home to his lousy apartment so that he can be miserable in peace, but Steve's place is closer and if he doesn't show up, Steve's going to call again. And keep on calling him. Or even worse, show up at his place just to harass him.
"Pain in my ass," Danny mutters as he turns the car and heads for Steve's house.
The rain doesn't let up and with night falling, the visibility drops even further. Danny's grip tightens on the wheel and he feels the dull throb of a tension headache starting up right between his eyes. By the time he pulls into Steve's driveway, his mood is as dark as the sky. He climbs out of the car and stands in the heavy downpour, rolling his shoulders and blinking up at the rain. There's no point in running to the door, he's wet already, and honestly, it's not any fun without Grace laughing beside him.
Steve's door is unlocked and Danny enters without knocking, pausing to kick off his wet shoes. His hair is dripping water down his forehead and he really, truly wants to yell at someone. Someone like Steve, who is standing in front of him with his stupid cargo pants and stupid sweatshirt and his stupid concerned face.
"Wet out there, huh?" Steve asks.
Water drips off of Danny's nose. "Oh? I hadn't noticed."
Steve reaches a hand out and smooths the hair back from Danny's forehead. Danny closes his eyes, drifting toward Steve's touch and okay, fine, maybe he doesn't really want to yell at Steve after all.
"Hey," Steve says softly.
Danny moves closer, hands sneaking inside Steve's unzipped sweatshirt and onto the soft, worn cotton t-shirt beneath. He tucks his face against Steve's shoulder, takes a deep breath and the tension between his shoulder blades begins to ease. "Hey," he says, voice muffled.
It's a bit unnerving, how easy this has become.
Steve runs a hand down Danny's back. "Shirt's wet. I have some clean ones in the basket by the stairs, if you want."
Danny raises his head. "Probably should."
He bumps his nose against Steve's chin and Steve leans down to kiss him. Just a soft brush of his lips on Danny's mouth, not a proper kiss at all so Danny reaches up and makes him do it over again. Makes him do it right, even though there's water dripping down the back of his neck and yeah, he can really use a dry shirt right now.
"Did you have a good weekend with Grace?" With a hand to the small of Danny's back, Steve guides him into the living room. The press of wet cloth against his skin makes Danny shiver and he begins to unbutton his shirt.
Danny nods. "Didn't do much, just kind of hung out. But it was nice, you know? Quiet time together."
"I get that." Steve turns to the kitchen. "Do you want a beer? Or something stronger?"
"Something stronger, if you got it. Oh, and let me tell you, she's becoming quite the card shark," Danny pulls the shirt off his shoulders, drapes it over the staircase railing and roots around in Steve's laundry basket until he finds a long-sleeved t-shirt.
"As long as she has a better poker face than her dad," Steve calls out.
Danny pulls the shirt on, then slides his hands over his head, smoothing his damp hair back. "Oh really? You're saying this," he waves a finger at his face, "is not a good poker face?"
"That's exactly what I'm saying. Scotch okay?"
"Scotch is very okay." Steve's shirt is big on Danny and he has to roll the sleeves up, but the shirt is soft and warm and best of all, dry. By the time he's done, Steve is back from the kitchen with a beer for himself and a good-sized glass of scotch for Danny.
They head out to the lanai and settle on the couch, the old wicker creaking as Steve leans back and props his feet up on the coffee table. His legs sprawl open, warm thigh bumping against Danny's and Danny bumps him back with a friendly nudge of his knee. The clouds hang low in the sky, blocking the view of the ocean and the steady rain, his nemesis for so long, suddenly feels friendly as it clatters noisily on the roof. The only light is from inside the house and it casts long shadows in front of him.
It's kind of nice, almost cozy in a way.
Danny breathes in deep, leans his head back against the cushions and takes a drink of his scotch, the rich, smokey heat flooding his veins. He wonders what Grace is doing right now. Probably getting ready for bed. "Sunday nights back in Jersey, we used to all have dinner together at my folk's place," he says. "All of us, in the kitchen, all getting in each other's way."
New Jersey feels like a million miles away, in another place and time. Back when he was a different person. A father. A husband. A guy who knew what the hell he was doing.
"Sounds like fun," Steve says.
"It was. Kind of loud, a little crazy, but fun." Danny can't help smiling fondly at the memories. "Although my sisters, they were always bossing me around, putting me in charge of the salad. Salad. Can you believe it? All that chopping, I hated it." With a twist of his hand, Danny briefly mimics the action of slicing through vegetables.
Steve laughs out loud and it's a good sound, one that warms Danny. "I don't see you as a salad kind of guy."
"Yes, exactly. I kept trying to explain it to them, but--" Danny waves a hand, trying to express exactly how futile his efforts had been. "Sisters," he finishes with a sigh. He misses them something awful.
"Yeah. I hear you." Steve's expression goes thoughtful as he raises his beer to his lips.
"But hey, I was the first of the kids to get married," Danny continues. "And when Rachel and I had Grace, my parents, my god, you'd think we were the first people in the history of mankind to produce a child. Like it was some kind of miracle--a grandchild was born unto them! I tell you, my Mom and Dad, they couldn't get over her. She was the hit of the Sunday dinners. Which is understandable, considering she was the most adorable baby ever born."
She had been such a happy, giggling little thing, all pink cheeks and tiny waving hands.
Steve nods. "Their first grandchild, I'm sure they were thrilled."
Danny takes a another sip of his drink. "They love her so much but when Rachel and I spit up everything went to hell. They don't even get to see her. Not even at Christmas. Or Thanksgiving. It's so wrong. Now I'm all the way out here too, and now the thing with Matt, I'm nothing but bad news, I swear."
It had been horrible, calling his folks to tell them about Matt. He could barely get the words out, it was even worse then telling them about him and Rachel splitting up.
Danny sighs. "I just want to be able to go there for dinner, you know? It's not that I don't want to be here, because I do now, I really do, but sometimes, I just want to be there, too."
"You miss your family," Steve says with a warm hand on Danny's leg. "That's understandable."
"Yeah." Danny takes another drink, then turns to Steve, who is gazing at him, eyes soft and full of sympathy, honest-to-god sympathy and all at once Danny feels like a schmuck. "Look at me, I'm such a jerk with the complaining. I can call my folks, or get on a plane and go see them. You, you--" he waves a hand, unable to finish his sentence, but it doesn't matter since Steve knows that his parent are dead, he doesn't need Danny to spell it out for him.
"No, no, Danny." Steve's smile is a little sad as he shakes his head. "I'm okay, really. Your family is important to you. I get that."
"I know. I know you do." And Danny appreciates it, appreciates the hell out of it, he really does. He rests a hand on Steve's, twining their fingers together.
"I'd like to meet your folks," Steve says with a decisive nod. "I think that would be really cool. I'd even to go Jersey to do it."
"Seriously?" Surprised, Danny tries to picture it, Sunday dinner with Steve sitting next to him at the crowded table, smiling and joking with his parents, a heaping plate full of pot roast and potatoes in front of him. Whole entire worlds colliding and Danny's not quite ready for that yet. "You would?"
"Yeah." Steve frowns. "Why wouldn't I?"
Steve meeting his folks, that would elevate this thing between them to a whole other level and Danny's palms are getting a sweaty thinking about it. Yet there's a certain appeal to bringing Steve home and introducing him to everyone he knows. Hey, look what I got.
Steve gives Danny's hand a squeeze. "I'd even make the salad."
"You'd be a big hit with my sisters." Danny laughs.
"Would you tell your folks about us?" Steve asks, and now he's got a face, a face that Danny can't quite decipher.
"Would you want me to?" Danny asks in return.
Steve shrugs, a little too nonchalant. "I don't know. It depends on how they would react."
"How would I know? I've never told them that I had a boyfriend before." Danny swallows down the last of his scotch, wondering how they've managed to get on this subject. "Yeah, You know what? I would tell my folks about us. I've never been any good at lying to them."
"Oh, right," Steve points his beer bottle at Danny. "The poker face."
"Shut up with the poker face, okay?" Danny puts his glass aside and twists around until he's face to face with Steve. "I'm sure they wouldn't freak out or anything. They'd probably just be surprised. Like me. Surprised that we ended up like this. Together."
"What's so surprising about that?" Steve asks, a crinkle forming between his brows, as if he has no idea why anyone would be surprised by the two of them together.
"Look at us," Danny says. "We're sitting on your porch holding hands. We're totally domestic here, and that is pretty damn frightening. Terrifying, even. Might I remind you, domestic doesn't end well with me."
Steve looks at their entwined hands. "I could go blow something up," he says after a moment.
"What?" Danny sits upright. "What did you just say?"
"It might make you feel better. Less domestic." Steve nods, earnest as ever. "I have grenades in the garage--"
"In the garage? In the garage? Why, pray tell, do you have grenades in the garage?"
"Danny, I don't want to keep them in the house," Steve explains.
"This, this is who I'm falling for." Danny lifts a hand, beseeching. "An insane man with hand grenades in his garage and this is my life now, please someone explain to me how it got here, to this place--" He catches a glimpse of Steve's face. "Stop that, stop smiling like that, it's not helping."
But Steve only smiles wider, slinging an an arm around Danny shoulders and pulling him close. Danny goes with it and leans against Steve's chest, his hand wrapped around Steve's wrist, the combination of scotch and the warm press of Steve's body making it impossible to maintain his agitation. "You really freak me out sometimes, you know that, don't you."
"Uh huh." Steve nuzzles the top of Danny's head.
"It's not something you should be proud of," Danny points out. He stretches his legs out, resting his feet on the coffee table beside Steve's.
"Sure it is."
Danny heaves an exaggerated sigh, which makes Steve chuckle softly against his hair.
"Yeah, we're going to Jersey all right." Danny decides, plunging full steam ahead. Because that's what he does. It's what he's always done. "And you'll meet my parents, my sisters, the whole damn Williams clan, all at once."
Danny does his best to make it sound like a threat, because that's exactly what it is, a threat, but Steve merely kisses the side of his head, nuzzles his cheek and says, "I'd like that," as if Danny's offered him some kind of gift.
The man doesn't even know enough to be scared. Typical.
The rain is still falling steady, and Danny closes his eyes, lulled by the steady drumming on the roof. "This was a good idea," he admits, nestling closer to Steve and slipping a hand under his sweatshirt.
"You mean coming here tonight? Or us in general?" Steve asks.
"Yes," Danny says. "And yes."