All Over Again
It had been years since he'd thought of Danny. Well, that wasn't entirely true seeing as he dreamt about him often enough; and if he was ever afforded the chance to daydream, those dark eyes and warm, teasing smile would be the first things to pop into his mind. But, it had been years since he'd thought of him consciously…and especially like this.
But somehow, a cold, snowy January day in New York made those thoughts run wild. Maybe it was because he hadn't actually been in New York for a while. Maybe it was because he'd just broken up with Alex – his girlfriend of five months – and he was feeling lonely. It really didn't matter why though, and for once he welcomed all of the thoughts, the memories, smiling to himself as he walked briskly down the sidewalk, head ducked down against the biting wind.
By the time he reached Samantha's house he was sufficiently frozen and wondering why on earth he had thought it would be a good idea to walk from his hotel rather than hail a cab. But she welcomed him with a hug and a bright smile, ushering him quickly inside, taking his coat and the cold was quickly forgotten. Memories of Danny however, were not.
It was harder now, seeing her, knowing that she saw him at least once or twice a week. But Martin had been the one to leave and move away, leaving behind the life and the friends that he had cherished so deeply. He saw her a few times a year now, mostly here when he came to visit or occasionally, she would come to Washington, bring her husband and her children and they'd meet up for lunch or dinner.
He loved seeing her happy, and he smiled as she poured him a glass of wine and pulled him into the living room, both of them settling onto her comfortable, well loved couch. She had married Jack, the FBI agent who'd been one of their earliest patrons. Martin and Danny had been wholly suspicious of him at first, the two of them going into over-protective older-brother mode whenever he had come around, but it was obvious that he and Sam were attracted to one another. In the end, things had worked out better than any of them could have foreseen. Sam and Jack had been married for almost nine years now, and they had eight-year-old twin sons, Connor and Brian…both of who were currently at a hockey game with their father.
Sam had put her entrepreneur skills to good work and was currently a consultant for small businesses…especially newly opening bars and restaurants. She helped the owners get started, gave them tips on what she believed to be the best course of action so that their businesses would work. And she was good at it. She always had been.
Martin, Samantha and Danny had met early in their freshmen year at NYU…having been put into a group together in their first business class. It had been a disaster. Martin had instantly developed a pointless sort of crush on Samantha and he and Danny had started to bicker from day one. Danny had been cocky and arrogant and would have much rather done their group projects on his own. Sam had tried to remain distant and indifferent to both of them, but she would eventually lose her temper the more and more Danny and Martin argued. Things only got worse as the year went on and their class projects suffered for it. Martin and Samantha dated a few times but that only left things more awkward because they quickly discovered that they weren't nearly as attracted to each other as they had originally assumed. Danny, in turn, accused them of working together and excluding him from assignments, which would – again – start another argument. By the end of the semester, none of them could wait to be done with the semester, hoping desperately that they never had to share a class again. Oddly enough, it was a failing grade in that class for all three of them that brought about the change in all of their relationships.
While they'd been busy arguing and bickering and even not showing up for class sometimes, they'd ended up putting very little effort or brains into any of their assignments. Failing was something that none of them had ever had much experience with – at least in school – so it drew them together. Danny panicked, knowing that if he continued failing classes that he would lose his scholarship. Martin had been shocked and not quite sure what to do next; his main concern had been to make sure his parents didn't find out. Secretly, the failing grade excited him just a little, because he'd never had anything lower than a 'B' from the time he'd entered kindergarten and failing was definitely not something that anyone would have expected of him. Samantha had been the least concerned of the three of them, but she was concerned enough to know that failing classes wouldn't help her finish college any sooner and consequently never have to be dependent on her family for anything again.
So the three of them, dumbfounded and nervous, had met together in their professor's office, listening shamefully as he explained his offer. They could work together over the winter break and turn in one, overall project and if it were good enough he would change their grades to C's. Not perfect, but passing. He also made the offhand comment that they might want to quit acting like twelve-year-olds and get along enough to do the work.
They stood, facing each other awkwardly in the hall outside of the professor's office after the meeting…each of them nervous and uncertain and reluctant to admit to any wrongdoing. Samantha decided first that she needed to be the one to take the first step, because she was pretty sure that neither of them would.
"Do you think we could start over?" she asked wearily, glancing back and forth between the two of them. "I mean, like completely. Just pretend this semester didn't happen?"
Martin nodded dutifully at her, glancing next at Danny and trying to catch his eye. When he did, he forced himself to smile, wishing that Danny would do the same. "I can do that," he said, answering Samantha but still looking at Danny.
"Danny?" Sam asked hopefully.
Danny's eyes were locked on Martin's now as he nodded, something passing between them that had never been there before. Martin blushed and lowered his eyes, and it was then that Danny grinned. "Sure Samantha, I can start over."
Quickly, they discovered that they worked really well together now that they weren't arguing all the time. Oh they still bickered and fought over how things should be done, but it was with a certain amount of respect now. And whereas before, Danny's barbs had been cruel and Martin's replies cold, they were filled with a flirty sort of teasing now. Before, Sam had always watched them both wearily, rolling her eyes and putting in her own snide comment here and there. Now, she would lower her eyes and grin, trying not to giggle as she listened to them argue. Amazing how different things had become.
It had been Samantha who had noticed it first – maybe even before Martin and Danny. The two of them were attracted to each other. It turned her smiles more secretive and she watched them with a knowing sparkle in her eyes now, never letting onto what she suspected. She and Martin's few dates had been awkward and uncomfortable at best, and she had wondered occasionally if it had been her or something else entirely. Maybe they just hadn't clicked on that level, but now she had to wonder if maybe, instead, it was because of Martin. Had he dated her because he really wanted to or was he trying to cover up the truth? She watched him watching Danny, her breath catching when Danny looked up and caught him looking. Their eyes stayed locked and this time Danny didn't tease or flirt, just continued staring at Martin, who in turn couldn't seem to turn away. When Martin finally managed to break eye contact, he looked down at the notebook in his hands and blushed. Sam saw his fingers tremble as he uncapped his pen and tried to write something and she knew that she had figured things out correctly.
But Danny wasn't as easy to figure out. There was a certain kind of heat in his eyes when he looked at Martin now, and he flirted relentlessly with the other man…but Sam still wasn't entirely sure if it was serious or something else. Lust maybe. However, their winter break was quickly coming to a close and they turned in their project – for which they all received passing grades – before she could definitely add things up.
Next semester they found themselves together in two classes, neither of which required group work, but they got together often enough to help each other study. Studying turned into nights out with no other purpose than to hang out as friends. And from there they soon became inseparable. They became closer and closer as a group as well as individual friends. Sam spent time with Martin and with Danny individually, and she knew they were doing the same. What she couldn't quite discover, no matter how hard she tried, was if their attraction had grown more since that winter break. When the three of them hung out together she could sense something going on between them, but could never quite pinpoint it exactly.
They came to her one night, pulling her out of her dorm room and outside for a walk in the cool air telling her that they needed to talk to her. They lingered on the edge of Central Park, Sam and Danny sitting on a bench while Martin stood nervously pacing in front of them.
"Fitz, will you quit it, you're making me nervous," Danny said, sounding exasperated when Martin refused to sit down. Martin glared at him for a second, biting down on his lower lip when he glanced at Sam. She looked from Danny to Martin, trying to figure out what was going on.
"Martin," Danny said firmly, standing up and quickly grasping his hand. "Stop it," he said calmly. Their eyes met and Martin took a step closer to him, seeming to seek comfort in his nearness. He took a deep breath and nodded quickly, to which Danny smiled and pulled him down onto the bench next to Sam.
Something clicked in that instant and Sam understood what they wanted to talk to her about. Her earlier suspicions were practically confirmed. She saw it in the way Danny had looked into Martin's eyes, saying so much more with that gaze than with his words alone. She saw it in the way Martin had calmed down at Danny's touch. And now that she let herself step back and watch them more objectively she knew it must have been going on for a while. Her suspicions had been right on target, but she'd been too close to both of them to actually believe it.
She smiled, drawing one of her feet up onto the bench and turning to face them both. "How long?" she asked, laughing softly when their faces paled.
"You knew?" Danny asked, surprised.
She shook her head. "Not for sure, but I suspected…and now…" she trailed off, still grinning at them.
"You're not…upset?" Martin asked softly.
She rolled her eyes and laughed again. "Upset? No! I think it's great. But I have to know how long it's been going on," she said eagerly.
Martin looked down and blushed and Danny grinned, leaning up against Martin's back and wrapping his arms around his waist. He rested his chin on Martin's shoulder and met Sam's eyes. "You know when you went to visit your sister at the end of winter break that first semester…after we had finished our project for business class?" he asked.
She nodded and smiled brightly. "I knew something was going on then…the two of you couldn't stop staring at each other!"
From there, Martin and Danny only became closer and more serious, and the three of them were still as close as ever. They went to great lengths to make sure they included Sam as much as they always had before, not wanting her to feel left out. And she loved them more for it, although sometimes she declined their invitations to go out because their love made her long for someone of her own.
Sam was the one to come up with the idea for the bar. They were seniors then, none of them entirely sure what they wanted to do after graduation. Danny had been considering law school, but he wasn't entirely sure he wanted to go right into it after four years of college. Martin had been expected to join his father's accounting firm, but he was desperate to have another plan so that he could refuse that offer. And Samantha knew, without a doubt, that she didn't want to work for anyone else. So she approached the two of them with her plan…that they open a bar, something New York City was definitely not short on, but she firmly believed they could make it work. Make it different and exciting and a place where people loved to be. They were skeptical at first but she kept after them, telling them her ideas and plans and showing what she'd already researched.
Danny jumped in first with Martin close behind and the three of them were soon hard at work, excited over the prospect of owning their own business and looking forward to making it a reality. Sam thought up a concept and a design, wanting a place that was friendly to the college crowd but to the older working-force age as well. She found a location, went over details and researched other establishments in the area. Martin dealt with their finances, put together a prospective to get them a loan and made sure that Sam didn't go over the top with any of their purchases. Danny was Sam's main help with creative details as well as going over the legalities they'd face in owning and operating the bar. They worked just as well together as they had in school, and they were more than proud of what they managed to accomplish…especially when it turned out to be a great success.
"How're Jack and the kids?" Martin asked, settling back against the couch and sipping his wine.
Sam smiled, her eyes sparkling as she told Martin about her family. Jack's promotion in the FBI, Connor and Brian's good report card and glowing note from their third grade teacher and how much they loved playing soccer. It was surprising how well she fit into the roles of wife and mother. She'd always been so independent throughout college and afterwards when they'd started the business. But family life suited her well, and Martin loved knowing she was genuinely happy, independent and strong still, but belonging to a wonderfully close knit family now too.
"How about you?" she asked, sliding closer to him on the couch, her expression curious. "Are you still dating Alex?"
He smiled sadly and shook his head, looking down for a moment. "No, we broke up a few weeks ago," he answered, sighing when he saw her face fall.
"I'm sorry Martin…you seemed happy when I saw you last month." She had been down to Washington for two days, a guest speaker at a seminar on starting a small business. They hadn't been able to spend much time together other than a dinner out one night, and Martin had brought Alex along, eager for her to meet Sam. "What happened?" she asked softly.
He shook his head, frowning slightly. "Nothing extraordinary," he replied. "She said I worked too much, that I didn't really want something serious with her…the usual," he said, shrugging. Sam frowned, biting down on her lower lip and watching him closely. He fidgeted under her gaze, wishing that she'd let it drop, but he knew her better than that and so he wasn't surprised by her next question.
"Was she right?"
Martin sighed and shook his head. "No…maybe…I don't know. It's not a big deal Sam," he said, frustrated.
"But you liked her," she protested. "I know you did. And she was good for you."
"Sam please, it's not a big deal," he insisted, looking into her eyes, pleading with her to just let it go. It wasn't something he wanted to talk about. The truth was that she was right. He had liked Alex…a lot. They had so much in common. She was smart and pretty and she made him laugh. But he had sabotaged the relationship almost from the beginning, and hadn't let her get close enough for them to last. It was something he was good at doing…ruining relationships. He'd successfully done it with every relationship he'd had for years. Ever since Danny.
What was worse was that he knew that Sam knew all of this. She wanted so much for him to be happy, wanted him to find someone he could spend his life with and to finally let go of the past. And she worried over him; she had ever since he'd left New York to move to Washington. But she knew better than to bring up the ultimate reason for his self-imposed loneliness.
"I just hate seeing you so alone all the time," she murmured, reaching out to place her hand on his shoulder, her eyes bright with concern.
He managed to smile a bit and shake his head. "Don't worry Sam…I'll be okay."
This conversation was easy…they'd had it several times before. They were silent for a few minutes, both of them thinking things over, both sure that their thoughts were leading in identical directions. It always happened this way. But then Sam or Martin would bring up another topic and they'd move past it. That was why it was so surprising – to both of them – when Martin asked his next question.
"How's Danny been?"
Sam's eyes widened and she looked at him uncertainly, her head cocked slightly to the side, trying to figure out if he really wanted an answer. "Good," she answered carefully.
He tried to smile, but knew it didn't reach his eyes. "Is that all you can tell me?" he asked. "Good?" He tried to sound like he was teasing her but had to wonder if it came out colder than he'd intended.
She swallowed hard and did about as good of a job at returning his smile as he had originating it. "He's fine Martin," she said softly. "He's finishing law school…wants to go into adoption law, help foster children find a real home," she told him, her eyes lightening, pride flitting across her expression.
And it took everything he had not to look away, feeling his own sort of pride and relief at her words. Proud of Danny for what he was accomplishing, after all he'd overcome. Martin wished that he could find it in him to call him up, to wish him well and tell him just how proud he was. It hurt to know that such a phone call might do more harm than good.
"Is he seeing anyone?" The words slipped out before he'd even thought them over or had a chance to stop them.
Now Sam's gaze was almost piercing in its curiosity and worry. He looked away quickly, only to be drawn back by her gentle touch on his face. "Martin, what's going on?" she asked quietly.
He shook his head, panicked now, wishing she'd stop touching him so he could escape. But her touch seemed to hold him hostage and he couldn't move, couldn't look away once he met her eyes again. "Nothing," he whispered.
"Martin," she said, voice firmer now.
"Nothing," he repeated. "I was just curious," he said, voice weak. She shook her head and he could tell she wasn't buying it. "I just…was thinking of him today. I walked here from my hotel and it was snowing. I…remembered being here in the winter when it snowed…with him. That's all it was Sam, really. It just made me curious…" he trailed off, finally able to tear his eyes away from hers. His heart ached painfully in his chest, layers of forced indifference and years apart being stripped away all too quickly as he pictured Danny smiling at him, his black coat covered in snow, his cheeks red from the cold. Danny who had forced him to go ice-skating in the cold of January in Central Park, throwing snowballs at him afterwards, laughing and pressing his nearly-blue lips to Martin's.
It rushed over him painfully and all too quickly. Memories and feelings that he'd locked away for years because remembering would have left him helpless to do anything else. He leaned forward and dropped his face into his hands, squeezing his eyes shut and trying desperately not to let any more emotions show. But Sam slid nearer and wrapped her arms around him, pulling him close and pressing her lips gently to his temple. "It's all right honey," she whispered.
"No, it's not," he replied tightly. He held his body rigid, taking deep breaths and trying not to cry. If he gave in and leaned into her embrace like he wanted to, he knew how easy it would be to fall apart. "It's been five years Sam. Five years and I still can't…"
"Let go," she finished for him. He raised his head and looked at her, wanting to nod, wanting to answer her somehow…but her worried face blurred before his eyes and he bit down on his lower lip, helpless now to stop himself. This time he didn't resist as she held him close, closing his eyes against the imminent tears and holding onto her tightly.
"You think I didn't know? You don't hide things as well as you think you do," she said softly, after a few minutes.
He pulled back a little, wiping quickly at his eyes and giving her a half a smile. "Oh really?"
She smiled back gently and took his hand into hers, wanting to continue touching him. "Talk to me Martin."
"Sam I don't--"
"No, we've opened the door this much…and it took five years. Now, talk to me," she snapped, no real heat in her voice but a demanding sort of motherly tone that he imagined her using when her sons were keeping something from her. It was hard to say no to.
Honestly, he'd wanted to talk to her for years. He had no idea what Danny had told her, but she and Martin had made an unspoken sort of agreement after he and Danny had split up that they wouldn't talk about it. She retained her friendship with both of them but things between the three of them had never been the same. It had been easier to stay silent and just let time pass…but now, for whatever reason, he needed to talk. Needed to move on and the leave the past safely in the past.
"I miss him," he said softly. "I guess I've…always missed him, but it was just easier to never talk about it." She nodded, looking for a moment as if she wanted to say something but then gestured for him to continue. "It's why none of my relationships have ever worked out…why there's a perpetual cloud hanging over me." He paused, looking at her for a few moments before rolling his eyes. "I guess it's also caused me to be extremely melodramatic," he muttered as he thought over his last few words, a small smile tugging at his lips.
She laughed and punched him lightly on the shoulder. "I know, you're such a girl sometimes," she teased.
Surprisingly he found it easy to laugh along with her, and he felt something loosen in his chest. Maybe it was a good idea to talk about everything. Maybe it had always been a good idea, but he had just refused because he was good at keeping things hidden away.
"It's not that I've thought about him nonstop for five years…I would've gone crazy," he admitted. "But…it still hurts Sam, and I don't understand that."
"The two of you have never talked about any of this, have you?" she asked softly, something mysterious in her eyes.
He shook his head sadly. "I've seen him once since we broke up, and that was at Connor and Brian's christening. We barely said two words to one another, other than what we had to repeat back to the priest to become godparents," he said bitterly. Sam frowned, a shadow passing over her face, probably remembering their distance and awkwardness that day. He just hoped that she hadn't let it darken what should have been such a happy moment for her.
"No, don't apologize," she said quickly. Strange, sometimes, the way she could seem to read his thoughts. "It's fine Martin…I wasn't angry then and I'm not angry now," she reassured him. "I was just…disappointed. Mainly because my ulterior motive in making the two of you godparents was the hope that you might actually talk to one another."
He looked down for a few moments, wishing that he'd been brave enough to do just that. He'd wanted to. He could remember clearly what it had been like seeing Danny that day, his breath catching, his heart nearly beating out of his chest. The desire to talk to him, to touch him had been so strong, yet he'd forced himself to stay away, unable and unwilling to make the first move.
"How is he Sam?" he asked, breaking the silence that had settled between them as they each thought of the past.
She studied him intently for a few moments, trying to gauge what he wanted to hear. Sighing she looked down and picked absently at the pillow she held in her lap, finding a loose thread to tug on. "He's good Martin, really," she said. "He's excited about being done with law school and what he wants to do with the degree. And he's…sober, goes to AA meetings once a week. It's…good. And to answer your other question…no, he's not seeing anyone right now. He's had a few relationships here and there, but they've been very much like yours. Simple and incomplete."
"Does he know I'm here?" Martin whispered, not really sure he wanted to know the answer. He wasn't sure he'd know how to react no matter what reply she gave him.
She shook her head, looking up again to meet his eyes. "No. We don't…we don't talk about you. The same way you and I don't talk about him." Her voice was pained, soft, and not for the first time, Martin realized how much his and Danny's breakup had affected Sam. She'd lost a family. They all had. She had her husband and children now, but for a while Danny and Martin had been her world. It was easy to understand, because Martin had felt the same way. His own family had left him cold and disappointed, but Danny and Sam had given him warmth and love and acceptance with no strings attached.
"Do you want to see him?" Sam asked suddenly, her eyes flickering with something he couldn't identify.
His face paled, his eyes widening as he shook his head. "I…Sam, I can't…" he stuttered, suddenly frightful that she had Danny hiding in the kitchen. It was something she would do.
But she slipped closer and smiled warmly into his eyes. "Yes you can," she said, voice full of a conviction he knew he didn't feel. "The two of you are more alike than you'll ever admit to. When I said that he's doing fine, I wasn't lying. But that's all it is…fine. He misses you too Martin. He always has."
"Please Sam, I can't…"
"Stop it, yes you can," she interrupted, an air of impatience in her voice now. "The two of you can pine away and miss each other all you fucking want, but unless one of you has enough balls to do something about it, you're going to be stuck in this state of…numbness forever!"
He raised an eyebrow at her words, unable to stop from smiling a little…it distracted him if nothing else. "Such a motherly tone…do you always talk like that?" he asked.
She rolled her eyes and laughed a little. "Shut up…and don't try to distract me."
"Samantha, listen to me," he said patiently, reaching out to take her hands in his own. "Part of me wants to see him so badly…wants to talk to him. But it…it scares me. So much. I don't know if I can see him walk away again…" he trailed off, biting down on his lower lip as more painful memories made their way to the surface.
"He's at the bar tonight," she murmured, settling back against the couch, leaning partly on his shoulder. "Meeting with Vivian…she's helping him with one of his final papers for school," she explained. "He'll probably be there for about two more hours…you tell me what you want to do Martin."
He couldn't answer then, leaning against her slightly until their heads touched. The prospect of seeing Danny was totally unexpected and it was his first instinct to refuse. To run and hide like he'd done for years now. But a part of him was curious, desperate even, to see the other man…to talk with him and see if there was any hope of repairing their relationship. Maybe just to the point that they could be in the same room without a crushing awkwardness ensuing. Maybe just so they could be together with Samantha. Or maybe more. He drew in a shaky breath and shut his eyes, struggling to find courage.
"I want to see him."
It was only a week after Samantha and Jack had returned from their honeymoon. Martin didn't want to bother either of them but he had nowhere else to turn and he couldn't stand being alone another minute. It was amazing how quickly everything had changed for him. Just weeks ago he and Danny had been dancing at Sam's wedding, celebrating, laughing…happy. Now his life was in shambles and he had absolutely no idea what he should do next.
Danny was an alcoholic. The words were still hard to process, hard to even think without stopping him cold. Because it was something he'd only just discovered…while Sam was in the south of France honeymooning with her new husband. How could he have not known?
"Martin!" Sam exclaimed, obviously surprised, laughter echoing in her voice as she answered the door. It only took a moment for her expression to change though. One look at him and her forehead creased, her eyes changing into a terrible sort of worry and concern. "What's wrong?" she whispered, her face paling as fear quickly overrode her concern.
"Danny…" Martin said hoarsely, hard to talk without his throat closing over the words. They were almost impossible to say.
She took a step forward, stepping over the threshold of her front door and gripping tightly to Martin's shoulders. "What's wrong?" she repeated. "Martin, talk to me…did something happen to Danny?" she asked, voice trembling now. Her fingernails dug painfully into Martin's shoulders, but he barely felt it.
He shook his head and then nodded, confused, lost…unable to explain. "He's not physically hurt if that's what you're asking," he finally managed to answer. He wondered how he'd been able to make his voice sound so calm and reasonable.
"But something's wrong," she said, voice calmer now. Glancing around, she seemed to realize they were still standing in the open doorway to her house and she grasped his hand tightly and pulled him inside. He still didn't know what to do, what to say. He stood perfectly still in Sam's hallway, eyes downcast, arms at his sides. Vaguely, he heard Sam speaking to someone else – probably Jack – and then he felt her arm around his waist as she lead him into the living room and gently removed his coat.
She watched him carefully as they sat down, side by side on her couch. He still couldn't meet her eyes, knew that if he did he'd start crying – something that frightened him because he honestly didn't know if he'd be able to stop. There was nothing solid beneath his feet anymore. Nothing made sense and he had no clue how he was supposed to explain things to her. Explain that he'd lost the most important person in his life. Explain how guilty and cold he felt…and how it was all his fault.
"Martin…honey, what's the matter?" she asked softly. Her voice was close to her ear, warm breath ghosting over his cheek, her fingers gently running through his hair and over the back of his neck, trying to soothe. He was dimly aware that she must have been talking to him for a few minutes, none of which he had heard.
He finally found enough strength to turn and face her, bravely meeting her eyes, which were soft and troubled. He leaned closer, unable to voice what he wanted as he touched her shoulder. She seemed to understand anyway and pulled him close, holding him tightly and rubbing soothing circles over his back.
"Danny…he's…we…broke up," he whispered, amazed that he could form the words, no matter how softly. Although somehow they were easier to say than the reasoning behind them. But they echoed in his head no matter how hard he tried to stop them…repeating themselves over and over, unrelenting and cruel.
We broke up.
They were a simple three words, three syllables, physically easy to say…but they did so much damage. Destroyed his world. Three small words. He couldn't seem to catch his breath, his body trembling as he held back the desire to scream, to turn inwardly and run away. He couldn't tell Sam, couldn't let her see how much it hurt, couldn't tell her why…
"What?" Shock obvious in her voice.
She turned him slightly, one hand gently touching his cheek as she looked into his eyes. But he couldn't do it, shaking his head and leaning forward, whimpering softly as she hugged him again.
"What happened?" she whispered after several minutes of silence.
He tried to take a deep breath, preparing himself to answer her, but his breath came out in a sob. His body shook as she held him tighter, whispering words he never heard, knew she was trying to comfort him, but unable to take any sort of comfort from her. There was nothing that could make him feel better now.
Eventually, the tears stopped though his body continued to tremble. And when he pulled back to meet her sorrowful gaze, the words that wouldn't come before bubbled up inside of him, desperately trying to claw their way out. "He…Sam, he's an alcoholic."
The words were still a shock to say, so her resulting stunned expression was understandable. But she didn't immediately confront him or try to deny his words. Relentlessly, she held his gaze with her own, eyes searching for answers in his tear-stained face. After a few moments she went very still and bit her bottom lip, her eyes clouding with a certain expression of frantic worry…and guilt.
Martin had to break the silence, unable to stand her gaze any longer. And he felt that he needed to explain further, despite her unexpected but obvious acceptance of his words.
But she beat him to it, grasping his hand in her own and forcing Martin to meet her eyes again. "It's always been there hasn't it?" she asked quietly, her voice trembling just a little. "For years now."
Martin could only nod in response, weary and so filled with guilt; he could drown in it. Danny had done a very good job of keeping his problem a secret. It wasn't that they had never seen him drink before, because they did. Often. But his life had never suffered for it.
"He graduated with high honors," Martin said absently. "He helped us start the bar, dealt with all those confusing legalities. He does community service…it's…it's not like he's done nothing with his life Sam!" Martin pleaded, his voice rising slightly, sounding hysterical even to his own ears. Begging for forgiveness. Because if she couldn't give it then Danny never could.
But Sam was nodding in agreement, a thoughtful and worried look on her face. "It was easy for him to hide," she murmured.
"But Sam…Sam, think back…it's so…so obvious now!" he exclaimed. "He drank when he studied. He drank before tests to make things easier. He drank after tests to celebrate. He drank to deal with stress…to avoid stress. And not…not just a little," he went on, that terrible sense of guilt and failed-responsibility clawing viciously at his heart. "It was excessive," he whispered. "And all the time. And I never saw it!" His voice broke and swallowed hard over the lump in his throat, trying so hard not to cry again.
Gently, Sam touched his cheek, waiting patiently for him to find the courage to meet her eyes again. "This isn't your fault," she whispered.
He jerked back, away from her touch as if burned, shaking his head furiously. "No. No, Sam, don't tell me that. I should have seen it!" he hissed. "We're together all the time…have been for years. We live together now for Christ's sake! How could I have not seen it?!"
"I didn't see it either," she said softly, her own eyes flickering with sadness and guilt. "Look at how good he was at hiding it. Like you said…all the things he's accomplished. He works hard, he's caring and patient…he's built a life with you." Martin squeezed his eyes shut at her last words because that life no longer existed. "He did it all so well…he fooled us both Martin. But even worse, I'm betting he's fooled himself," she stated, tentatively reaching out to take his hand again. "He's probably always thought the same things we're thinking now."
"What do you mean?" he asked cautiously.
"He's not living in a ditch somewhere, he's not in jail, he hasn't been in a car wreck or anything drastic…all things you'd associate with an alcoholic. But his life is good…so I'm betting it's been easy for him to hide the truth from himself," she said matter-of-factly. It was almost like she was talking about someone else, her voice void of most emotion. But Martin knew her well enough to see the worry and fear buried in her gaze.
"What happened to make you see it?" Sam asked after a few minutes.
"Vivian saw it," he answered quietly. Vivian was their new lawyer, having replaced Jason, the attorney they'd had upon opening the bar. He'd moved to Seattle recently, and she had taken over most of his accounts. They'd all liked and trusted her immediately, sad to see Jason go but happy to have someone just as competent and likeable as his replacement.
"She…she and I were talking a few weeks-I mean, days ago," he stumbled over the words, desperately needing for at least one thing to remain a secret from Sam. He caught her eye and saw her frown, but he continued on quickly before she could say anything. "And it was only a few words…she just mentioned that Danny drank an awful lot. At the time it was nothing, but…her words stayed with me and I found myself going over so much in my head. And Sam, the more I thought about it…I couldn't stop. It started to just…it became so clear. Painfully clear…everything I'd missed, what I had never seen…"
"So…you confronted him with it, didn't you?" she asked.
He nodded miserably, looking away from her again. He shut his eyes and was struck by flash after flash of memory…their fight coming back to him in a string of angry words and bitter accusations. And finally, Danny's horrible, terrifying dismissal. "He said I was crazy. But I had to…had to keep telling him what I felt, what I had figured out. He wouldn't listen to any of it. I told him that I loved him, pleaded with him…told him that I was worried about him and I just wanted him to get some help and he…" he stopped, unable to breathe suddenly, digging his nails deeply into the palms of his hands, nearly piercing the skin. The memory was…brutal and painful and too much for him to handle. "He told me to leave," he whispered, eyes filling with tears…and the sadness was unbearable, but he'd passed the worst part and was able to stop clenching his hand into fists; he could even catch his breath. "He said that we were…over…" And despite his achievement at breathing again, he was not so successful in stopping his heart from breaking all over again.
Sam pulled him close and wrapped him up in comforting arms, her own body shaking slightly…crying along with him. Nothing would ever be the same…and he had no idea how to live without Danny.