The phone rings insistently, close enough to bedtime that it's either work or someone who knows him very well. Danny reaches for it, half expecting Steve's name on the display, but instead it's Catherine.
He frowns at it as he answers the call.
"Hey, everything okay?"
"Hi," she says, her voice distracted as if she's dividing her attention, "sorry to call so late, I wasn't sure..."
He sits up, aware that Catherine calling him can only mean one thing. "What's going on?"
"Okay, what's going on with Steve?" He notes the tension in his voice but can't stop it, the concern for his partner ingrained in a way that's inescapable.
"I'm sorry," Catherine says again, taking an audible breath, "I'm not sure, I just-- his mother was here earlier and he's-- upset, I guess."
"You wouldn't call me because Steve's got a boo-boo, what is it?"
"He went out to work on the car earlier and I'm pretty sure he smashed it."
The hairs on the back of Danny's neck stand up. Steve's anger rarely gets to the point of violence. "His mother, you said?"
"She's dating this guy, and Steve didn't take it well-- I don't know, Danny."
He blinks, processing that. "Okay, where is he now?"
"He's out on the beach." Catherine sighs. "Look, I... I'm not afraid for me, it's just... I can't get through to him, Danny, and he's--" She cuts off, and just as he wants to reply, she adds, "He listens to you."
Danny snorts involuntarily at that.
"He cares about your opinion." Catherine sounds like she's choosing her words with care, and something about that makes Danny-- not exactly nervous, but close.
"You want me to come over?"
"Would you? I know it's late."
She's entirely too apologetic for her usual manner; Steve never cared for anyone who was indecisive, and Catherine isn't an exception to that rule. Danny's already reaching for his car keys, silently cursing his partner's ill-timed fits of temper. "I'll be right there."
"Thank you." She cuts the connection before he can ask if Steve knows he's coming over, though he already knows the answer. Just like the whole conversation with Catherine was a front to cover the fact that he'll always go, Steve will always protest that he doesn't need anyone, anything, and certainly not people who love him.
The thought sits uncomfortably in his stomach.
The drive is quiet, late night deserted streets under sodium lights, near silence when he parks at the house. He lets himself in, one single light on in the kitchen, where he finds Catherine, arms wrapped around herself as she looks out at the beach.
"Hey." He follows her gaze out to where Steve is, sitting on a chair, visible only as an outline in the sparse light of a single torch.
Catherine gives him a brief smile. "Hey. Thank you for coming."
"I, uh..." She hesitates, then turns to him properly. "I went out into the garage."
The back of Danny's neck itches. "Has he moved since you called?"
She shakes her head. "No."
He follows her with one last glance at his partner. He won't deny that a part of him is calling out to go to Steve's side, where he should be, and that's something he's left unexamined for too long a time. He pushes it down in favour of following his better instincts, the ones that tell him he needs to know what he's dealing with.
The garage lights flicker as they come on, revealing the Marquis, uncovered, tools by its side. Sprinkled among them are little flecks of silver, flickering in the light until the bulbs warm up and show the wing mirror, dented beyond repair, lying about a foot from the front wheel.
"I take it he didn't do that parking the car."
"No." Catherine runs a hand through her hair. "I heard the crash, I tried talking to him, but he-- you know what he gets like when he doesn't want to talk about something."
Danny crouches by the side of the car like it's a crime scene, like there's anything to deduce that he doesn't already know. He runs his finger over the crushed glass, the fine splinters an attestation of the violence of the act. He looks up at Cath. "You okay?"
She nods. "He never-- he wouldn't, Danny."
No, he wouldn't, Danny knows Steve, knows that in his bones, but his cop side made him ask. "Okay." He gets up, knowing what's next. "I'll go talk to him."
Catherine wraps her arms around her waist again. "Thank you," she says.
The sand is heavy under his loafers, and he curses Steve's choice of living arrangements, not for the first time. Who wants to live at the beach in a place that sees tsunamis multiple times a year? It's stupid, is what it is.
Steve is still where they left him, and showing no sign that he's heard Danny approach, but Danny knows better. Still, when he gets to him, Steve looks up and Danny catches the surprise in his face. "What are you doing here?"
"Good evening, Danny, how are you? Nice of you to stop by."
He takes a seat in the second chair, leans his elbows on his knees. "Catherine called me."
"What did she do that for?"
"Are you that dumb?"
"She is worried about you. And after I'd seen the garage, so am I."
Steve's tone is argumentative as usual. "There's nothing wrong with me."
"As evidenced by your stubborn ass sitting out here for the past two hours after you smashed a perfectly good wing mirror into oblivion. What did the mirror do to you?"
"Look, Danny, I just--"
"You just what? Aside from the fact that you scared Catherine, which is not something I associate with you, what the hell are you doing?"
"I didn't mean to scare her. I'll apologise to her, okay?"
"You think I'm here for that? Your girlfriend can take care of herself, that's not my point--"
"She's not my girlfriend--"
Danny waves that off with a hand gesture. "No, she's not, she's just the woman you have sex with on a regular basis; we'll call it an easy shorthand. What happened with your mother?"
Steve's mouth is already open to argue, and he closes it abruptly at that question, stares back out to the ocean.
"Oh, this is where I get the silent treatment? I'm not Catherine, so don't bother trying that with me."
"No, you're not."
"Great, we both agree on that. Now talk."
Steve turns to him, anger sparking in his eyes. "It's none of your fucking business."
"It was my business earlier today, or you wouldn't have made that call in the car while I was there. You wanted me to know."
Steve presses his lips together.
"What? All of sudden I'm supposed to share my life with everyone?"
Danny leans back. "We're your friends."
"Well, this is between me and my mother."
"Could it be that you don't want to talk about it because she runs rings around you?"
Steve gets up so fast the chair tips over. "Stay the fuck out of my business, Danny."
He can see how Steve scared Catherine, and he's not having any of it. He stands up and squares his shoulders. "Who exactly do you think you're kidding right now?"
"Get out, Danny."
"Ah, no. We're not doing that. For starters because I'm not leaving you alone with her and you may want to think about what that says. But also because I fucking care about you, and whatever it is that prompted this --and I have a good idea already-- I'm not leaving you alone so you can tie yourself up in knots like a... like a... knot-thing."
Steve blinks, but at least it cuts through his anger. "There's nothing to fix."
"Yeah, well, maybe I don't magically have the answers. I don't pretend to. Tell me what happened."
Steve sags, picks up the chair and sits back down. "What always happens. She runs rings around me. She's dating Mick."
"The guy you hired?"
The betrayal is absurd and hits Danny between the eyes. "Babe," he says softly, because the sight of his partner like this cuts into his skin, soft little paper cuts that can sting for days.
Steve shrugs, goes back to staring at the ocean. "This is my problem, Danny."
I don't want to watch you hurt. The words are crystal clear in his mind, but saying them while Catherine is in the house and watching them feels like treachery. Danny swallows. "Steve, I don't pretend to understand your family--"
"She makes me feel like I'm fifteen, okay?" Steve looks at him and his eyes are suspiciously wet, and it's right there, in his face, everything Danny's been expecting and hasn't yet seen. "I can't argue with her and I can't ask her and I don't want to know the answers, but I need to."
"Okay." Danny runs a hand over his hair. "I'm sorry."
"Sorry for what?"
"Sorry she's making you feel shitty."
He cuts Steve off. "She's not winning the mother of the year award in my book, Steve. I get that she loves you and all, but that doesn't excuse her behaviour and you know it."
Steve sighs. "I'm just trying to..." He trails off.
It's so visible, right in front of him, in the way the shadows from the torch light are playing over Steve's features; the hurt, the betrayal, and the desperation. "Babe," Danny says, and he knows his voice is breaking a little and he hopes the sounds of the ocean cover it. "You can't go back to before."
"I'm not trying to," Steve replies stubbornly.
"She is who she is."
"Very profound, D."
"Shut up. This is never going to be a Norman Rockwell painting and I'm sorry."
Steve looks at him. "You being sorry doesn't buy me anything, Danno."
Well, fuck if that doesn't hurt. "Take it or leave it, Steve. You haven't exactly been Mr. Charming lately."
"Neither have you."
"Is that what this is about?"
Steve shakes his head. "No. I don't know. I guess things were easier before." He rubs his hand over his face. "How fucked up is that?"
"Do you wish she'd stayed dead?"
"No. No, of course not, I just--"
Danny knows he's lying, the twisting pain in his gut telling him that. It hurts to have Steve lie to him, it hurts to feel a sudden distance between them that he can't bridge. He feels Catherine's eyes in his back, burning with a sense of shame that he can't acknowledge. It makes the decision for him. "Come on, let's go inside."
Steve nods. "I'm sorry she dragged you out here."
Danny points a warning finger at him. "Don't put this on her, Steve."
They walk back to the house, and Danny lets Steve go ahead, puts a hand on his back as they pass through the French doors, and Steve glances at him briefly. Danny points him towards the kitchen and takes himself to the living room, tries not to listen to the murmured voices.
After a few minutes, Steve comes out and heads up the stairs, and the shower starts running in the bathroom. Danny follows his curiosity to the kitchen. "Hey, you okay?"
"Yeah." Catherine smiles, but it doesn't reach her eyes. "Thanks for talking to him."
"You're welcome." Danny feels awkward and superfluous. "Are you okay to stay here? Do you want a lift?"
"I'm fine. I have my car if I need anything."
"So you're staying?"
The question hangs heavy between them and Catherine takes a beat too long to answer it. "Yes, Danny, I'm staying."
"Okay." He doesn't have the right to jealousy, and he's not really sure what that burning feeling is about, except maybe he does but he won't go there. "As long as you're both okay."
Catherine's voice is hostile when she replies, he's not imagining that. "We're fine."
"Okay," he says again, and adds, "Well, I'll go then. Call me if there's anything."
She nods, doesn't move from the kitchen when he turns around. He gets his keys from his pocket as he makes his way to the front door, and her voice only stops him when he's reaching for the doorknob.
"Do you really not notice?"
He freezes, doesn't turn around straightaway and maybe his admission is right there in that move, and he won't need to say anything. He faces her, searches her features for the right answer to her question. "Notice?"
"I keep watching you two, wondering if you're playing coy because you don't want to know."
"I don't know many guys who'd come over at midnight because their partner is having a freak out."
This, at least, he knows the answer to. "Bullshit, I'd do the same for anyone. So would Steve."
"Maybe." She shrugs. "You're always here."
Danny holds up his hands. "I'm not getting between you. This is me, not doing anything."
She laughs. "You think I'm jealous?"
"I don't know what you are, Catherine. I don't know why we're having this conversation."
She's earnest when she says, "Before anything else, Steve is my friend, Danny."
"He's mine, too."
"Does it make you uncomfortable? Is that it?"
Danny blinks. "What?"
"I'm in the Navy; I know some guys who get nervous just because someone hits on them."
He can't quite mask his disbelief. "You think I'm homophobic?"
She puts a hand on her hip. "You tell me."
"I don't need to defend myself to you."
"You say he's your friend. Don't you care about how he feels?"
Danny raises his eyebrows, her tone goading his anger. "How do you know how he feels? Does sleeping with him give you magical insight into his mind? Did he tell you all about his soft and fuzzy feelings?"
"Are you jealous now?"
He closes his hand around the keys he's still holding and squeezes, letting the metal dig into his skin to feel something other than the burning anger that's building up. The shower's still running upstairs, Steve isn't listening to this conversation, but it feels like he is, like anything Danny says could be passed on to Steve's ears and he isn't ready to have this out, not yet.
"Don't you care that your best friend is hopelessly in love with you?"
Catherine's words wind him like a punch to the gut. "You don't know that."
"Yes, I do. I know Steve. I've known Steve a lot longer than you, and I've never seen him like this. But I'm tired of watching you ignore it, of your push and pull attitude. It's killing him and I don't even know where you stand. I don't even know if you care."
"I care, of course I care!" Danny waves a hand around, keys jingling. "I don't know what you want from me!"
"Why are you here?"
"Because I care about him, because he's-- I don't have to explain myself to you."
Catherine pushes her hair out of her face. "I want you to make up your mind, Danny. You can't give Steve what he wants, at least put some distance between you."
He thinks about that, entertains the idea for a split second, distance between them, not seeing Steve every morning, not watching Steve smile, not yelling at Steve because he's being a pigheaded idiot again.
It closes up his throat. "Catherine..."
"Give him some space, some time to get over it," she says, her voice softer now.
"What if--" He has to clear his throat. "What if I don't want to?"
She waits a beat. "Danny?"
He shakes his head. "I don't know."
She steps closer. "What are you telling me?"
He puts his keys back in his pocket and squares his shoulders. "I don't even know why I'm telling you this, I haven't told anyone this, but--"
She puts her hand on his arm. "But what?"
He can't find the words, digs around till he finds something that fits. "I care. About Steve. Maybe... a bit more than is professional. I don't know, okay?"
She clears her throat and this conversation is awkward for the both of them because the only thing they ever had in common is Steve, and he can see it in her face. "Do you love him?"
"Now we're getting personal." He smiles to let her know he's joking, and she smiles back, but her eyes remain serious. "I don't know. I've not exactly been spending a lot of time figuring this out, because-- well, we're partners, and there's you--"
"Are you attracted to Steve?"
He nods, looks at his hands for a second. He lifts his head to face her. "Are you sure he's in love with me?"
"He's never said it out loud, but I catch him watching you... Danny, Steve and I, we're not... we're pretty open, and I know he's slept with men." Her fingers squeeze his arm, and it's strangely grounding. Danny can see Steve falling for this woman, he really can.
"What if you're wrong?"
"What if I'm right?"
It's a split second before he hears footsteps on the stairs that Danny realises he's not hearing water running any more, and then Steve comes into view, pausing on the stairs with one hand on the landing above his head. His face is curiously blank, devoid of expression on purpose, and they come apart like guilty things surprised.
"Steve," Catherine says, her tone placatory though it shouldn't have to be.
"What's going on?"
The distrust in Steve's voice breaks Danny's heart; like either of them would ever do that to him. "We were talking."
Steve comes all the way down the stairs. "Were you now?"
"Steve," Catherine says again, and glances at Danny.
He realises she's waiting for his cue, and he's not sure what he wants, except he's never been a coward. He nods at her, and she smiles briefly.
"I'm going to go home," she says, and Danny doesn't miss the flash of fear in Steve's eyes.
"I think it's for the best." She stands tiptoe to kiss Steve's cheek before gathering her bag and slipping out the door.
Steve frowns at him, anger gathering behind his eyes again. "What just happened?"
"We talked, that's all."
"Don't give me that bullshit, Danny, don't lie to me. What did you say to her?"
Danny raises a hand. "Do you have to do this? With the paranoia and all?"
Steve points a finger at his face. "I would never lay a hand on her. I never have, and I never will. I don't know what the hell you're thinking, Danny, but--"
"Whoa, whoa, Steve, back up a pace. I said nothing of the sort."
"Then why did she just leave?"
Never been a coward. It's still hard to steel himself, to hope that Catherine was right, to jump in at the deep end. "We were talking. About you."
"That's not what it looked like."
"Jesus, would you knock it off? I'm not putting the moves on your not-girlfriend, for fuck's sake, Steve, who the fuck do you think I am?"
"I don't know, Danny, I come down the stairs and you and Cath are--"
"We are what, huh? She is worried about you, so she called me, she's actually a really lovely person who cares about you and because she cares, she gave me a piece of her mind, and frankly, I don't know why I bother because you're an ungrateful idiot with a box load of issues--"
"If you don't have anything nice to say, the door is over there, Danno. I'm too tired to listen to this tonight, okay?"
He looks tired, too, underneath the slowly deflating anger, tired enough that Danny wants to, if he's honest with himself, wants to wrap him up and send him to bed and maybe kiss him a little if he dares. And maybe he doesn't know quite how he feels about Steve but he'll admit to that impulse and to a few more, given some time. "I'll cut to the chase then."
"Fine. What did Cath say to you?"
Danny sucks in a deep breath. "She thinks you... you are attracted to me."
Steve frowns. "What?"
"She says-- look, I don't know what to do with this either because we're partners, okay, and I thought we were friends, too, and I don't know any more, but she thinks you're in love with me and if that's true, you kind of have to tell me, Steve, okay, because I need to know that sort of stuff."
Steve freezes, face stuck in an expression that seems trapped between horror and fear, and Danny feels sorry for him, but the floor wobbles underneath his feet, threatens to open up and swallow him. "Steve, you need to tell me," he repeats.
"I couldn't tell you." Steve sucks in more air. "D, I'm sorry, okay, Cath shouldn't have said anything, I was just-- I'm dealing with it."
Danny holds his breath. "Is it true?"
"Yes." Steve looks at him, runs a hand through his hair. "I'm sorry, Danny."
"Why are you sorry? Don't be sorry." He's just talking to hear something, goes over slowly, watches Steve trying to back up and running into the stairs.
"Ssssh." When he reaches out and touches Steve's arm, Steve starts, a violent shudder running through him, and Danny traces fingers over Steve's skin.
"Don't," he says, pulling back, twisting out of Danny's reach. "Just don't."
"I'm dealing with it," Steve repeats firmly. "I can't have you-- Danny, I can't, I can't be your experiment or your pity fuck or something. Don't do this to me."
"Who said anything about experiments? Hey, look at me." He waits for Steve to make eye contact, and the fear there is breaking his heart. He's pushing Steve hard, he knows it, but he can't stop now. "I would never take advantage of you. Do you hear me? I wouldn't do that to you. I'm trying to tell you --badly, clearly-- that maybe I feel things for you, too."
"Things?" Steve says with a frown.
"Yeah, things. Look, I don't know what this is and I'm maybe more than a little out of my depth because it's been a while, and you're my friend and that's confusing and I'm-- Look, just--" He blows out a breath. "Steve, don't-- I know you're scared, okay, but you know what, so am I."
Steve runs a hand through his hair. "Danny, look, forgive me if I'm distrustful here, but, I've never even seen you with a guy."
"Look who's talking."
"Yeah, well, that's not something I tend to share with people."
"But you fuck guys." Something, even underneath the seriousness of the conversation, gives Danny a twist of arousal at saying those words out loud.
"Yeah, I fuck guys. You gonna make a big deal out of that? I didn't tell you because for a long time, I didn't tell anyone and now that I can, well, not everyone takes kindly to it."
For a moment, his mind is too busy imagining Steve naked and in bed, and he's been there in his dreams once or twice, but never in his waking hours and it's like electricity. He needs to shove it back down, close the lid on it for a moment to focus again. "I've never fucked guys." He takes a breath and forces himself to keep looking Steve in the eye. "I made out once or twice and that was that. It wasn't a conscious decision, it just happened. I'm telling you because you deserve to know."
"Whether or not you want to get into bed with me, both metaphorically and not so metaphorically, is up to you, Steve."
Steve nods again, seems to be weighing his options, and Danny tries not to hold his breath. Steve's face finally twitches into a smile. "You wanna get into bed with me?"
"That gets him interested. Of course. Yeah, I'm saying, that is something I would like to do some time."
"Some time? Not now?"
"Enough with the frowny face, babe, I've just told you my big dark secret. And contrary to what might be your MO, I'm usually not comfortable putting out on the first date."
Steve comes closer and Danny already knows, shuts up and reaches out to put a hand on Steve's shoulder, reels him in for the kiss that he's been waiting for. Steve obligingly comes down a little to Danny's level, and it's good, it's nice, it's Steve's long, hard body against his own and Steve's muscle under his hands, and Danny pulls away to catch his breath.
Steve looks at him and laughs, a beautiful, promising sound, and Danny swallows hard. He catches Steve looking at his throat, smiles as Steve blushes, and wow, that's a novel sight.
"Stay," Steve says, voice low and throaty and going straight to Danny's fantasies. "Not to do anything, just, god, Danny, please."
If it's this easy to make him beg, Danny can't wait to get him under his hands, but he knows they're both reeling with emotions and he shouldn't add any more; he doesn't want to add any more. When the moment comes, he'll take his time about it. "Okay, babe," he says, brushing a stray curl off Steve's forehead.
Steve shivers a little, mouths at Danny's throat and under his ear, and Danny closes his eyes for a second.
"Okay," he says again, pushes Steve away gently. "It's late, come on."
Steve nods, a little half smile tugging at a corner of his mouth, and Danny takes his hand, doesn't miss the wince. He pulls Steve's fingers up to the light, sees cuts and bruises on his knuckles. "Ah, fuck."
"Yeah." Danny runs his thumb over the injuries. "You clean this up?"
"Good. I don't need to tell you that busting a mirror with your fist is a less than stellar idea, do I?"
"Look, Danny, I just--"
Danny cuts him off by lifting Steve's knuckles to his mouth and pressing a kiss to the damage. When he looks up, he catches Steve's eyes, stormy-dark, his mouth slightly open. "Oh, babe."
Steve shivers a little, and Danny tugs him along up the stairs. When they get to the bedroom, Steve puts a hand on his hip, pulls him back against him to kiss his neck, and Danny leans in for a moment before firmly pulling away. "I know what you're doing."
"Sorry." Steve looks sheepish, scratches at the back of his head. "Sorry, Danny."
"I mean what I say."
"Good." Danny gives him a quick kiss before heading for the bathroom, firmly closing the door behind him so he can take a deep breath and think about what he's doing for a second.
When he's done, he trades places with Steve, who's down to his boxers now and okay, this time Danny is allowed to look. Steve is half hard under the cotton, and he clears his throat when he catches Danny's gaze. "Sorry."
"Not your fault," Danny replies.
Steve nods and disappears into the bathroom. Danny slips in to the left side of the bed and listens to the sound of running water, to Steve's feet on the tile, and then the light switches off and Steve comes out.
There's a million ways this can go wrong, and Danny knows it; they both know it, a risk they're taking because if it goes right, this is where Danny wants to be. Steve slides into bed, cautiously keeping his distance, and Danny pulls him in. "This okay for you?"
"Yeah." Steve's voice is low, a little hoarse. "I'm good."
Danny presses a kiss into his hair and says, "Go to sleep, babe."
Steve closes his eyes.