Wannabe is, without a doubt, one of my favourite episodes of Without a Trace. I wanted to write about Danny's reaction to it. As always, feedback, good, bad or indifferent is greatly appreciated. It all helps
The Climbing Frame.
'Did it hurt you? These are the scars you never show.'
"Goodnight Agent Spade."
Sam glanced up from her paperwork and spared a friendly smile for the cleaner.
"Thanks Mary. Have a good night."
Sam waited as Mary dropped the mop back into its bucket and disappeared, doubtlessly eager to get home. So, the agent thought with a rueful look around the empty bullpen, was everyone else.
Jack had called a little while ago. He was driving home to spend some time with his family before returning to complete a long and harrowing report on the events of the day. The senior agent sounded worn, strained. He needed to go home, Sam knew instinctively, if only to hover over his sleeping daughters and assure himself that for tonight at least, they were safe. Before hanging up, he asked her to have Martin replace Danny in the field.
"Viv is finishing up at Emily's house," he reported, "She'll go home straight after but we need someone to interview Brandi and her family. They didn't see anything before we got there and I don't want Danny to take the statement, he's pretty wound up." Jack released a long, tired breath. "We both are. After seeing that poor kid in their garden, it's probably better if someone…neutral, takes the statement. Danny and I need to get home."
Sam was in full agreement. Danny had struggled to keep his temper while interviewing Brandi in the stables and he certainly wasn't going to be in any shape to see her now.
Samantha wasn't at all confident that she could question the young girl either. She had heard too much today, knew too much about a small lonely boy and the kids who made him feel that way with merciless taunts and their cruel, vicious stunts. Thoroughly sickened, Sam couldn't quite face speaking with one of the ringleaders of the entire affair, even if she was an eleven year old who, in her own way, was just as lost as Eric. Jack had made a good call, Sam realised as she waved Martin closer. Martin hadn't interviewed any of the children involved and a little bit of distance made a huge difference in cases like this. With his calm sense of control, Martin could bury his disgust, hide his contempt and get the job done, quickly and efficiently.
Nine times out of ten, Sam could do the same. Tonight, she didn't want to try.
Gathering his things, Martin left quickly, eager to help the others. It had been a difficult night waiting for news from the field, those minutes of the final search for Eric, agonisingly long. When Danny finally called, he was breathless and incoherent.
"We got him, Sam… hey go easy with him man… He's okay. Look, I gotta go, they're just getting him on the stretcher. I promised him I'd stay with him till his folks get here."
And that was it. Sam rocked back in her chair, relief sweeping across her face. Catching sight of it, Martin exhaled a long, deep breath, tension draining away in that one beautiful moment. Fears quietened, they relaxed together and worked on the case report, determined to alleviate the workload of their team-mates after such a gruelling day. They prepared a thorough account of the events of the day, in the hope that the others could simply add their own individual statements. Martin left after Jack's phone call and with the help of too many mugs of coffee, Sam ploughed on, determined to get through as much as she could.
The agent worked solidly through the next hour, replenishing her coffee when tiredness threatened to take hold. She was scanning the chronological timeframe she had put together, for any mistakes when outside, footsteps sounded. Sam glanced up in surprise.
This can't be Jack already, she mused now, waiting for the newcomer to appear in the glass corridor outside, For Christ's sake Marie, couldn't you have insisted he stay home, fixed him something to eat, maybe just..
"Danny." Sam said in surprise, as the dark headed agent strolled from the corridor into the bullpen. She rose to her feet, shaking her head, "What the hell are you doing here?"
Danny paused by the doorway, equally surprised to see his fellow agent. "I could say the same to you."
Standing in the centre of the bullpen, Sam waved vaguely at the paperwork strewn over the table. "I was trying to get through some of this. Jack said he was sending you home."
Shrugging slightly, Danny strode toward his desk. He shouldered off his coat and slung it across the back of his chair, slowly turning to face Sam. "I figured I'd get some paperwork done." He glanced at her, his eyes dark and unreadable. "I don't feel like sleeping."
Everything about him demanded space.
Leave me alone. I don't want to talk.
His guarded expression, the tightly set jaw and stiff, rigid shoulders all silently warned her to leave him alone. This distant, intimidating figure, this was the Danny Taylor most people knew, Sam thought as she watched him move forward to inspect the reports spread across the table. Danny had a powerful presence, an energy that declared him before he moved or spoke or looked at you. It was in his confident composure, in the searching looks, the heated temper and the dangerous, knowing smile. People didn't interact with Danny, they responded to him, remaining watchful of his mood and changing demeanour.
Widely respected in the bureau, Danny's natural intelligence and unfailing ability to read a witness or suspect or just some unfortunate member of the public who happened to get caught up in a federal investigation, was already legendary in the New York office. Still, people outside the team remained uneasy around him.
Taylor?, anotheragent in Racketeering said, grimacing over lunch, that guy knows what you're thinking before you do.
Danny thoroughly approved of this reputation, using it to his advantage on the job, his forceful presence often enough to encourage a witness into divulging information, to push a suspect into confessing or a cop into sharing some undisclosed evidence. It made him an excellent agent and it kept people, just where he liked them, at a distance. For if Sam had learned anything from her years of working with Danny Taylor, it was that he didn't let people close, didn't let people in.
It meant he didn't have to tell people about his crappy childhood. People didn't dare ask him about the origins of his surname. Nobody ever quizzed him about his holiday plans or his family or anything else. It meant that when he pulled a shuddering, breathless body from a climbing frame and cradled a small broken little boy in his arms, Danny didn't have to talk about it.
To most people.
Of course, most people didn't know the first damn thing about Danny Taylor. They hadn't seen his warm grin, the one that promised that you were okay as you recovered from a gunshot wound or struggled your way through therapy. They didn't know the friend that helped you in quiet ways when he sensed you were tiring, by getting you a coffee, taking the lead in an interview or putting some jackass back in his place. They didn't know that Danny never let you walk into a room first if he had the slightest suspicion there was trouble inside. They didn't understand his fierce loyalty, didn't know that once Danny cared about you, he cared for you and that he had never, in all the time you'd know him, disappointed you or let you down.
They didn't know the man that couldn't talk about vulnerable children without a cold anger settling in his dark eyes and they'd never seen him work with a frightened child, gently coaxing them to talk to him and share their silent fears. They didn't know about his dead parents and steady stream of uninterested foster parents. They didn't know how he splintered inside, into tiny shattered fragments, at the vast cruelties of the world and how with calm, determined resolve, he sought to right the wrongs, if only in the smallest of ways.
They didn't know, for Danny kept them away…with the guarded face and tightened jaw and stiff, rigid shoulders.
And, now watching him carefully bury his silent sorrows, she didn't hesitate to move to him.
"Danny," she said softly, waiting for his eyes to meet hers.
He raised a reluctant gaze, "I'm alright."
Despite herself, she smiled. Danny found it so impossibly hard to be anything other than invincible. Moving closer, she raised a gentle hand to his cheek and tilted his head to her. Emotion was swirling in the other agent's dark gaze, a strange sadness slipping across his face. She smoothed her fingers over his skin, quietly aching for him. Danny nodded, almost imperceptibly as he accepted her gesture with silent gratitude. Taking Sam's hand from his cheek, he held it in his own and squeezed it lightly, his thumb drawing small circles over her fingers.
"Christ, Sam," he managed finally, his voice sounding haggard and terribly old. "You should have seen him. He's just a little kid."
"I've never seen anything like that before, this little kid just dangling there." Danny shook his head, as though to clear the dark, heavy thoughts from his mind. His face weakened beneath sudden pain as he relived those final terrible moments, "All I could do was run, and tell him to breathe."
"And save him," Sam said simply, "You gave Eric and his parents and all of those kids another shot, another chance."
"For what Sam?" Danny asked, almost pleadingly. "To bully someone? To be bullied? To end up feeling so worthless that the only decision that makes sense is the one where you wrap a rope around your own neck?" He fell into an angry silence, his face tightening with emotion as he glanced away, his restless gaze wandering around the bullpen, eyes burning with quiet distress.
"Danny," Sam moved, edging closer, desperately searching for some way to ease the burden for him, "You got a second chance, right? Fr Orlando and the basketball team. You took it. So, maybe Eric and Emily and Brandi will surprise you. Maybe he'll be stronger, maybe they'll be nicer. Whatever happens, you've given them the chance to change their lives, you've given Eric the chance to have a life. You can't do more than that. Huh?"
Unconvinced, Danny managed a half nod. "Maybe," he said quietly, "maybe."
"Hey," Sam said teasingly, nudging him affectionately. "Come on, that was one hell of a sermon I gave there. You can do better than maybe."
He forced a grin and glad to see even the barest hint of recovery, Sam dropped his hand. She stretched behind him and reached for his coat. "Come on," she pushed it against Danny's chest. "I'm hungry."
Danny clutched his coat, "No, Sam, I really need to …"
"Eat," Sam finished as she turned to grab her bag. She gestured toward the doorway, "Come on Taylor, don't let me eat alone. It never ends well" The pretty agent scrunched up her nose in disgust, "Extra portion of fries, side orders of everything, desserts, followed by take home desserts." Sam linked his arm and pulled him along. "I'll end up twice my size. You want that on your conscience?"
Fully aware of her strategy, Danny considered his options. He could insist that she leave him behind in the office. He could work on the report and record every detail of one of the most distressing days of his life. He could recall every single cruelty inflicted upon Eric Miller and remember the thrashing, broken little body that fell into his arms and broke his heart. He could go home and lie in his empty apartment, staring at the ceiling and tomorrow, he could start all over again.
Or he could take the lifeline that Samantha offered.
He could join his friend for dinner, relax, unwind, confide. Trusting people, it wasn't something that came naturally to Danny. A lifetime of disappointments had taught him that they usually let you down. The people he worked with though, these people were different. Viv, Jack, Martin. They stumbled, they made mistakes but they didn't let you down and Sam, well, Sam made this whole trust thing effortlessly easy, with her steady support and quiet loyalty. She didn't pry or delve, didn't make him talk or share. She was just there. Always there for him.
Whether, Danny thought wryly as he regarding her determined face, he wanted her there or not. Weariness consumed him. Shoulders slumping, he carefully buried thoughts of Eric Miller into the recesses of his mind, knowing that he would think of the boy, many, many times in the days ahead. He didn't want to talk but he didn't want to be alone. Danny considered Sam silently, knowing that he couldn't ask for better company. She was standing in front of him, eying him quizzically, probably irritated that she couldn't quite work out what he was thinking.
Yes, definitely irritated.
Mouth tugged into a grin, Danny surrendered to the persistent Agent Spade. "I guess we can't have you eating that way," he told her patting her hand, "It wouldn't look good for the team, you being twice your size. Though, it might be useful," he added thoughtfully, "We could send you in, instead of SWAT." He shot a teasing look sideways, "You know to flatten the enemy."
"I have a gun."
Danny winced in sudden pain, "And a remarkably tight hold on my arm. I got you. No more fat jokes."
Samantha smiled in approval, "Glad to hear it."
"No need really," Danny said as they stepped into the elevator, "I've got a ton of blonde ones." He nudged her in mock excitement, "And a couple of hours over dinner to tell them, how's that sound?"
Sam smiled brightly. "Like, I'll need to down a bottle of wine before the main course."
Something in his voice captured her complete attention and she glanced up at him curiously.
"Thank you," Danny eyed her sincerely. Sam smiled, knowing immediately that he wouldn't talk about Eric Miller tonight. Danny was thanking her for the opportunity, anyway. Recognising the quiet regard in his eyes, Sam leaned against the elevator wall, suddenly terribly grateful to be one of the few Danny Taylor let in, for him and his friendship.
"You're welcome," Sam answered, her smile warm.
Danny nodded shortly and launched into an animated account of the adventures of a blonde nurse he once knew. Beside him, Sam listened, quietly noting his relaxed shoulders and lighter expression. She buried her final misgivings about her neglected paperwork.
Some things were more important.
Agent Danny Taylor, for example.