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In Vino Veritas

Chapter Text

He woke to the static hum of electronics, the taste of ash upon his tongue and the harsh brightness of cold, winter sunlight.

Consciousness was a daily struggle, the weight of sleep growing with each passing day, pressing hard against his chest, drowning him in the soft grey blankets twisted around his body.

Their scent was unfamiliar.

Blinking against the early morning light filtering in through the window's half lidded blinds, Danny fought against them, finally managing to push them to his waist before struggling to sit, the room tilting, lurching into a slow spin with the movement.

Bile climbed its way up his throat.

He swallowed against it, squeezed his eyes shut and exhaled slowly until the room finally settled.

This wasn't the first time he'd woken to find himself in a strange bed. A strange room in a strange house. But it was the first time he'd woken alone, no stranger beside him to give insight into the night. No warm body to shy away from in his haste to find his way home.

It was only mildly surprising to find himself still dressed, his shirt beyond wrinkled, his pants twisted around his legs, exposing his ankles and the bareness of his feet. Strange to think he'd managed to remove his socks, but not the rest.

The night came in flashes, brief images drifting across his memory: the haze of blue smoke, the press of bodies, sticky and damp with sweat, the blare of music vibrating against his heartbeat. The taste of loathing on his tongue.

Shaking his head did nothing to displace the memories, none of them telling. Instead it only made the room lurch a second time, Danny's legs shaking beneath him as he swung them over the side of the bed to stand.

He found his socks, along with his jacket and tie, neatly folded on the room's only dresser. An expensive piece of furniture, the wood dark with age, obviously oak, abstract scrolls carved into the sides, the pattern reminding him of water.

Running his fingertips across them, the scent of spice was unmistakable. A man's room, neatly kept and shrouded in darkness, all the furniture matching, the grey quilt he'd fought against the only hint of colour in the room.

Someone respectable, then. Someone not in the habit of taking advantage and Danny wanted to laugh at the thought. He didn't, instead pocketing his socks and tie, shrugging into his jacket before creeping toward the door.

It led into a hall, shorter than he expected, three steps bringing him to an open space that spoke of New York's older apartments. Unimportant, he told himself, shrugging off the thought upon spotting his shoes by the door, neatly placed in a manner that spoke of respect.

Given any other circumstance, Danny might have waited around to meet the man who'd so clearly cared more about Danny's welfare than his own needs. Men like that were few and far between.

Besides, it was easier not knowing their names.

~*~

His phone rang at exactly twelve past midnight. An ominous sign, he thought before answering, voice thick with sleep.

Sleep vanished halfway through the conversation, Martin already moving, rooting through his dresser to find something suitable to wear. Within ten minutes he was downstairs, hailing a cab and heading out to an area of town he only knew through work.

A missing girl, eighteen, had died not far from his destination, her body turning up in an alley behind a bar, dark ligature marks stark against the paleness of her throat.

"Martin Fitzgerald, someone called me," he shouted over the music, flashing his badge a second later, startling a nod out of the bartender.

"He's over there," the man told him, nodding and pointing toward the back of the room.

Martin nodded his thanks, pocketed his id and stole his breath before pushing his way through the crowd. He found him at one of the tables in the back, half unconscious in his chair, forehead pressed against the table, breathing shallow and it was all Martin could do not to shake him awake.

Sliding into the vacant chair at his side, Martin sighed before reaching out, hand meeting shoulder, fingers squeezing ever so gently. This wasn't the first such trip he had made.

"Danny. Danny. Danny, wake up."

There was a trick to it. Gently, so very gently, the only way to avoid anger and wrath. The only way to avoid Danny shrugging him off, storming away to places Martin would rather not think about.

"Martin?"

The question was hesitant, Danny's eyes glazed and hooded, lacking their usual warmth. Their usual clarity.

"Come on, I'm taking you home," Martin said, sliding an arm around Danny's shoulder, easing him out of the chair.

Danny nodded before struggling to his feet, his weight heavy on Martin's side, Martin all but carrying him from the bar.

~*~

He'd ended up uptown, the neighbourhood vaguely familiar. Nowhere he'd go on his own, so obviously the man he'd met had been slumming downtown.

Slumming and not finding what he was looking for, Danny thought with a laugh. It was easy to imagine the man's disappointment. Easy to picture eyes crinkled with disgust when he'd discovered just how far gone Danny was.

Once, the thought would have brought guilt, but that was years ago, too far gone now to be anything but faded memory.

So unlike the apartment he'd woken up, his place was a disaster. Dirty dishes covered every available space, his floor a maze of newspaper clippings and discarded clothes. The air held the scent of mildew, stale and musky, overwhelming to the point of nausea.

Danny crossed the room and flung open one of the windows.

Air heavy with frost crept its way into the room, the scent of car exhaust and street side vendors only marginally better. He left the window open before disappearing into the back of his apartment, finding a slightly damp towel on the bathroom floor and it would do.

~*~

Getting Danny out of the cab took all of Martin's concentration.

Getting Danny into his building was only slightly more difficult. Then it was just a matter of propping Danny against the elevator's far wall, waiting in silence during the seemingly endless journey to the eighth floor before wrapping his arm around Danny's waist and dragging him down the hall.

In the past, he'd brought Danny home, tucked him into his own bed to sleep off the night. Tonight was different, Danny adamant about not wanting to be alone and it left Martin with little choice.

Except to drag Danny back to his apartment, Danny passing out the second the cab took off and too late Martin realized he could have brought Danny home and Danny wouldn't have known the difference.

This was easier, though, Martin ignoring Danny's murmured protest as he bent down to ease off Danny's shoes. Ignoring Danny's indignant grunt as he led Danny down the hall, easing him slowly into Martin's unmade bed, sliding off his socks and jacket, removing his slackened tie. Danny would just have to deal with the rest.

Covering him in the quilt Martin had bought not three days ago, Martin paused only long enough to fold Danny's things, placing them in plain sight before leaving the room, padding down the short hall and into the living room, curling onto the couch to salvage what little sleep was left.

~*~

Voices seemed to echo in his skull.

They sounded hollow, but tinged with urgency. A new case, then, Danny reasoned, spotting the latest picture on the white board. An elderly man, face crinkled with age and experience.

Coffee clutched in one hand, Danny ran the other over the stubble on his cheek. He hadn't found time to shave. Hadn't found time for a lot of things, his suit only marginally clean, still wrinkled from its place on the floor.

The others were already in, Jack frowning from his place at the conference table, gesturing for Danny to join them and Danny offered a smile he hoped was convincing.

It seemed to set the others in motion, Vivian taking her place at Jack's side, Sam and Martin abruptly ending whatever conversation they'd been having and making their way to the table.

Danny ignored them and focused on sitting, the chair creaking beneath his weight, leather warm from the heat of the sun filtering in through the open blinds.

~*~

He woke to stiffness that came from sleeping on a couch.

Danny's shoes were still beside the door, toppled against one another where Martin had left them before falling asleep. Stretching, Martin eased himself off the couch, ran a hand through his hair and crossed the room.

He paused only briefly to straighten Danny's shoes before sliding into his runners, ignoring his morning urge for coffee before heading out the door. Running came first, otherwise he'd never get around to it, and too many times he'd found himself skipping out on it, his body quickly deteriorating each and every time.

~*~

This wasn't the first time he found himself stuck in the office, manning the phones, as Jack put it. It was becoming increasingly frequent, Jack no longer trusting him in the field and that should have bothered Danny.

It didn't, his job no longer as consuming as it once was. Besides, being stuck inside staring at a silent phone affording him time for his own projects. His own research, each day bringing a little more insight, a little more depth, a potential lead.

They didn't understand. Couldn't possibly and Danny had long since given up trying to convince them. This was all there was left, the last piece of himself vanishing into a box marked unsolved and giving up searching would mean giving up everything that he was. Everything that he could be and Danny wasn't about to let that happen.

The process came with long dead ghosts, ghosts that had never really stopped haunting him. They were louder now, more obvious, screaming in his ear rather than whispering and only drowning them out made them disappear. Until the next morning, when they appeared just as loud as they'd ever been.

Shivering, Danny turned over the file in his hand, flipping open the manila folder to stare into eyes that no longer seemed real.

~*~

As expected, he'd arrived home to find Danny gone, his apartment void of sound and Martin had merely shaken his head before heading into the kitchen, starting coffee before heading for the shower.

He doubted Danny knew just how many times some bartender had called the first number on Danny's speed dial. How many times Martin had trucked across town to pick him up at some hole in the ground bar. Too many, Martin thought with a sigh, enough that he'd taken to sending Samantha home at the end of a night, putting her in a cab and sleeping alone, knowing his phone could ring at any given moment.

He still wasn't sure why Danny had him listed first. Perhaps the only numbers buried in memory were those of the team, all entered alphabetically and that would place Martin's first.

Shaking the thought off, Martin glanced around the office, spotting Vivian by her desk and Sam shrugging out of her coat. Forcing a smile, Martin made his way over to her, trying and failing to keep from appearing hesitant.

Too often she was angry after he'd sent her home. Too often he found himself relieved at her anger.

"So?" Sam asked, not needing to elaborate. She knew as well as he did.

Martin didn't answer, instead nodding, weariness evident on his face and Sam's lips pursed into a grimace.

"This is getting ridiculous, Martin," she said, but she offered no solution. No suggestion.

Martin doubted she had either.

"What exactly am I supposed to do about it?" he asked, the question meant to be rhetorical, meant to be a point of victory. She answered him all the same.

"Martin, you're his closest friend. You need to…"

"What? Talk to him? I've tried, Sam. Besides, Danny doesn't have any friends," Martin told her, wincing the second the words left his mouth, guilt weighing heavy on his chest.

He had tried, though. They all had, Danny unreachable and, besides, it was easier to simply ignore the problem. Easier for the team. Easier for him. Easier for Danny.

Not that Sam would understand, Martin rarely sharing anything with her these days. The words no longer came, the space between them growing as distant as Danny had become.

He watched as she shook her head, mumbling under her breath the way that she did when she was disappointed. The way that she did when she thought he was being unreasonable. Martin was used to it now.

For a moment, it looked as though she was going to argue. The moment faded just as quickly as it had come, Sam glancing over his shoulder and Martin didn't have to turn around to know Danny had arrived.

In front of him, Sam shook her head a second time, creases forming at the sides of her mouth as she frowned.

Martin couldn't quite remember when she'd first started showing age.