Momentum by Stellaluna

Danny in the shower, leaning into the hot spray and taking deep breaths, and no matter how much he scrubs, the tattoo is like a living thing on his shoulder. Skincrawling feeling of ink that he can't shake, little tendrils of hate and hurt snaking their way into his skin and heart, and he thinks that he can't ever, won't ever be able to, make this feeling go away. There are days and even weeks sometimes when he can ignore the tattoo's presence, forget about the black ink and all its implications, but there are other times when his past comes slamming back into his mind with full force. Times like these.

The sneering look on Sonny's face, and the puzzled, angry ones on Mac's and Stella's; he hadn't waited around the interrogation room to talk to them, even though (because) he's almost sure that Mac knows he was there behind the glass. He'd beat it out of there as fast as possible, instead, and since he hadn't known where else to go -- it was still his shift and he wasn't about to walk out, not that stupid -- he'd come here to the men's locker room, the shower the closest thing to privacy he's going to be able to find.

Right now, he imagines, Mac is sitting in his office and replaying the conversation the two of them had the other day, trying to spot where the lies came in, wondering why he didn't see it then. But there were no lies; he was careful about that, at least, and never once said anything that could -- strictly speaking -- be considered a falsehood. Sins of omission, yes. There were things he left out, vast gulfs of things that he just couldn't talk about, not after Mac looked him in the eye and praised him for how good and wise he'd been to stay away from the Tanglewood boys.

Or he's talking to Stella about it, up in the office, and the two of them are recounting everything he ever said about the case to either of them, searching for places where his story doesn't hang together. That's what they're good at, after all. In tandem, especially: they find connections and solutions that they don't seem to hit on as quickly when they're working separate cases. He's noticed this, over the years, has noticed how many times Mac has turned to Stella and said Talk it through with me, and Stella has like it's nothing. Like it's no big deal to make that little light go on in Mac's pale eyes, nothing at all to help him work his way into one of those ah-ha! moments that are so rare, for all of them. And Mac will never turn to him and ask him to talk it out, even when they're working a case together (even then it's always Stella), will never think that Danny could do as much for him as Stella does. More.

Mac and Stella, perfect little circle of two, and even though he knows they're not fucking, he also knows there's no room for him in their confab. They'll never know how their private glances and jokes shut him out, how impenetrable their wall is.

But Stella will also come up and put her arms around him in a way she never does with Mac, easy and casual and meaning nothing at all to her. Maybe it's because she knows he's safe, that he'll never think sex at her touch and try to make it into something she doesn't want. There are days she does this and it's all he can do to stop himself from arching against her hand like a cat. Touch-starved as he sometimes feels he is, any human contact is an oasis in the desert. Even if it's not Stella whose hands he wants on him.

Mac, of course, never touches anybody. And nobody touches him.

Danny lifts his face directly into the stream of the shower, gulping water. He'd like to, of course, but of all the things they don't talk about around here, that's pretty much number one on the hit parade, at least for Danny himself; he doesn't think the others much notice, or care if they do. As for the object of all those idle fancies, he's sure it's not so much as a blip on Mac's mental radar screen. As certain as he is that he wants Mac, he's equally certain that Mac is oblivious to this desire, and wouldn't know what to do with it anyway, if he ever took the time to notice.

Innocent Mac. Innocent, dumb Mac: dumb to think he could ever trust Danny, that he could take him at his word and not notice how practiced he was at circumlocution, at tap dancing around the truth without ever taking that final step into outright lie. Mac who looks at him with open honesty, pure guileless stare into Danny's frantic blinking eyes, and Mac isn't unaware of the way the world works, but he sure as hell is naive when it comes to thinking the best of the people around him.

Despite all the lectures about thinking before you speak and letting rationality win out over emotion, he's also very aware that Mac has a basic respect for him, and that means that Mac will tend to assume that he could never do anything really bad, not really. Because Mac wouldn't. And Danny basks in this regard, the way he does in the sun on the first day of summer, but it can also send mirror shards of guilt into his heart when he least expects it.

Anger to lust to guilt and then back again: it's the story of his life. He'd like to turn off the shower right now and get dressed without bothering to even dry off, then go storming into Mac's office -- all dramatic stomp and huff -- and stare him down. He'd look at him and not say a word, not until he was sure he had Mac's full and undivided attention. Then he'd strip off his clinging wet dress shirt and turn around, let Mac get as much of an eyeful as he wanted. More than he wanted, even; he'd force him to look at the tattoo until he was sure the man had committed every detail of it to unwilling memory. Then he'd put the shirt back on and turn again, and look Mac dead in the eye. He wouldn't let him look away.

Now you know, he would say to him. Now you know, and what do you think of that? And he'll see what Mac has to say. On that point his imagination fails him.

Mac can talk about understanding the need to belong all he wants, but Danny is certain that he has no clue, no fucking clue at all. Because look at who Mac is, and look at who Danny is, and then go think about who needs to fucking belong. Not Mac, with his service medals and photos and commemorations, not Mac with thank-you letters from three presidents and both of his illustrious careers to preen over. Detective Fucking First Grade Mac Taylor is telling Danny Messer he knows what it's like to want to belong? Fuck that noise for a game of soldiers, no pun intended.

Danny may not know squat about serving his country, or even very much about forensic science (not as much as he wants to know; never enough time to learn and keep learning and stay ahead of the curve), but he does know enough to call bullshit when he smells it.

And Danny thinks this, and even as he does, there's a voice way down in his head reminding him that he knows nothing about Mac's life before the Marines, nothing about his life outside the Marines, outside the NYPD. He knows nothing about it because Mac has never talked about it, not to any of them. (Well, maybe to Stella, but Danny wouldn't know that either, would he?) Chicago, that's all he knows, and he does think that Mac hasn't been back there in years, because Mac never takes vacations.

He never talks about family, either, the voice murmurs. Never mentions mother or father or siblings. Are they dead? Living? Non-existent? Danny thinks back three and a half years, trying to remember if he saw any Taylor relatives at Claire's funeral (poor dead Claire), and can't.

To serve my country, Mac had said, and while this is undoubtedly true, it's not the whole story. A reason, but not the reason. He was running from something, must have been, or at the very least was trying to fill some hole inside, some hole that had maybe always been there and he hadn't known what to do about it, hadn't known that it was anything but normal, because he'd never had a chance to know anything different. Raised that way, never blinking until the moment of realization, like a boy brought up in an attic seeing the ocean for the first time, and falling to his knees at the sight.

"Who you talking about, Messer?" Danny whispers, and then cringes at the sound of his own voice.

Down on his knees, he thinks, and because he doesn't want to start feeling sympathy for Mac, and because he can't imagine Mac getting down on his knees for him, he imagines it the other way around; and it's very good. (And after that Mac stands behind him and cups the tattoo under the palm of one smart hand, presses his fingers into the rough raised edges of skin, and tells him it's okay, everything is going to be okay. And Danny closes his eyes in gratitude, grateful for the hands and for being touched at last, and for Mac's body against his, chest to back. And Danny's mouth is still wet as he rests his forehead on the wall and holds still as Mac presses into him and keeps stroking the tattoo. It's all okay, Mac says again, we're going to make it be okay, and Danny believes him, because Mac would never lie.)

Supporting hand against the shower wall curled into a near-fist, it takes him a while to come down from it, and when his breathing is finally back to normal and he's able to think in coherent sentences again, he's still not anywhere near calm. Not that he's much for Zen even on a normal day, but Jesus.

And of course, it's not anywhere near okay, not even in the same fucking zip code as okay, and it's not going to be. Real-life Mac is never going to put a hand down Danny's pants and reassure him. Real-life Mac will never look at the tattoo with anything other than well-deserved disgust. Danny sighs, and lets reality reassert itself, and because he knows he's going to have to deal with this sooner or later, he reaches out to turn off the shower before he can change his mind. It's so tempting to simply stay here and wait until everyone's shift is over, until the building has emptied out, but even he realizes that's not practical, and anyway the water is starting to run cold.

Momentum grabbing at him now; he can feel it as he steps out onto the damp tile floor, the highways of past and present and future surrounding him. There's no getting around it any longer, no more chances to talk around the situation or offer up pretty, slick little words that reveal nothing at all. There are questions waiting for him beyond these walls, answers he's going to have to give, and he's very clear-eyed about it: once that happens, nothing is going to be the same. Mac...Mac is never going to look at him the same way again. None of them are, of course, but it's the coming change in Mac's outlook that's going to claw his guts out.

And that means, he thinks, drying off as slowly as possible, that any midnight thoughts he might have entertained about telling Mac how he feels have flown right out the window. It'll never, never, not now, go over well.

Be honest, be honest with yourself for fucking once, about one fucking thing: you were never going to tell him anyway. You may have to tell him about Tanglewood now, but at least you've got a convenient excuse for holding your peace about all the other stuff. Ill wind, huh?

He wills himself to shut up. God, if there was ever a time when he needed to just turn off his brain for a while, this would be it. He thinks of alcohol, whiskey shots lined up in front of him at Jack Dempsey's, of a stranger's anonymous stubble against his face. These are good thoughts; he could be there within the hour. He tries to cling to this as he walks into the locker room.

And feels it slip through his fingers almost immediately, of course, because there's Mac, sitting on a bench flipping through a copy of the Journal of Forensic Psychology; and Danny just knows this isn't coincidence, knows that Mac has been sitting here waiting for him.

Mac glances up, cool as a fucking icebox, and sets the magazine down. Danny stands where he is, clutching the towel around his waist, and forces himself to meet Mac's unreadable eyes. He can feel, he realizes, each individual beat of his heart in his chest.

"Danny," Mac says.

"Hey, Mac," he says, and has to blink, but manages not to drop his gaze.

They look at each other, and wait, and Danny has no idea what either of them is about to say, or who they're going to be when they come out the other side of this. Momentum catching both of them, then, grabbing and spinning them around, and Danny feels the whirlwind clutch at him.

He takes a deep breath, and wonders if he has the courage to say the things he needs to. And they continue to wait, here in the calm at the eye of the storm.