Danny couldn't recall being so nervous. Maybe his first day of law school, or his even his first day of undergrad…or his first AA meeting. But really…this was much worse. A part of him wanted to pull Sam aside and berate her for doing this, for catching him off guard…yet at the same time he was grateful. Because if she'd prepared him, if she'd called him up and let him know that she was on her way to see him with Martin…he would've run. Now though, despite the fear and guilt and sadness rushing all around him, he was also happy. Couldn't resist looking up and finally meeting Martin's eyes again; he was surprised to find him smiling. It made his heart ache…made him smile back.
For Danny, the past five years had been a painful reminder of what he'd lost. Everyday when he woke up without Martin, when Martin wasn't there to laugh with him at something, when Martin wasn't there for him to tease…it was all so empty and blank. Not that he hadn't been happy, hadn't had his moments of success and accomplishment. But he hadn't had anyone to share them with. More specifically, he hadn't had the person he'd wanted to share them with. The person he'd lost.
And he hadn't been brave enough to seek him out, to apologize and try to make things better between them. More than anything he wanted Martin back, had wanted him back since the moment he'd lost him. But he knew that wouldn't happen…couldn't happen. Not after what he'd done.
He didn't want to think about that right now because Martin was here, in front of him smiling shyly, no traces of anger or sadness lingering in his eyes. The past was long gone and there was nothing Danny could do to change it, but he could take advantage of now and hopefully find a way to set things right.
"So…" Sam was smiling mischievously – never a good sign – and looking back and forth between the two of them. "I'm going to go ahead and assume that neither of you heard a word I said, which is fine," she added quickly. "Just never, ever make me talk for so long by myself again."
Danny laughed. "Not your greatest strength, is it?"
"Well, she's not you," Martin teased him.
Sam giggled and Danny felt his heart skip a beat. When he looked at Martin again, he saw the predictable blush on his cheeks, the slightly anxious look in his eyes that let Danny know he was worried that he'd overstepped his bounds too quickly. Lighthearted teasing when moments before they hadn't been able to do any better than eye contact. But Danny grinned at him, wanting to convey that everything was all right. More than all right.
Ice sufficiently broken, Sam seemed to take that as her cue. Danny and Martin both looked at her nervously as she stood up and pulled on her coat and scarf.
"Where are you going?" Martin asked, a hint of panic in his voice.
Sam smiled and pulled on her gloves next. "Home," she answered. "I think you two will be fine now."
"But Sam…" Danny protested, sure that his thoughts were very similar to Martin's. Without Sam as a catalyst to further the conversation, Danny wasn't positive that they wouldn't just say goodnight and go their separate ways. He desperately didn't want that to happen.
She rolled her eyes and put her hands on her hips. "Martin, I'll see you tomorrow for lunch. Twelve-thirty at my house…Connor and Brian are looking forward to seeing you," she said, ignoring the look of pleading she saw on both of their faces. "Danny, you're welcome to come too. Good night."
And with that she was gone, turning and walking away before they had a chance to protest or even return her farewell. Danny was certain that she was very pleased with herself, would probably smile the whole way home, settle into Jack's arms on their couch and repeat the whole story for him.
The whole story. Turning his gaze away from the door, he looked at Martin again, realizing that the whole story was exactly what he didn't know. Why Martin had even agreed to come and see him tonight. He knew Sam could be a bully when she wanted something done, but Danny was confident that Martin would've refused had he really not wanted to be here. The thought gave him courage, but he still wasn't quite sure what to say, what to ask, how to break through all of this awkwardness and say something meaningful.
Martin looked at him nervously, his smile lopsided, his blue eyes bright with nerves. Danny was relatively positive that he could come up with something superficial to say. He could ask Martin if it was as snowy and cold in Washington as it was here in New York. He could ask how his job was, how his family was…but it wouldn't help them any. He knew it would be all too easy for them to have that conversation. Martin would reply politely – would probably be relieved – and then he'd ask Danny similar questions in turn. They could spend an hour together at best, say goodnight and try to fool themselves that they'd gotten closure. Danny would decline Sam's invitation for lunch tomorrow, Martin would go back to DC in a few days, and they'd be right back to nothing again.
He couldn't let that happen.
"So do you think you can stand a little more of the cold?" Danny asked, smiling suddenly.
Martin furrowed his eyebrows and looked at him curiously. Danny didn't miss the pain that flashed quickly through his blue eyes. He was willing to bet that Martin had been thinking thoughts that were almost identical to his own. And here was Danny starting out that very safe, simple conversation by asking about the weather. Except he wasn't…not really.
"Yeah, why?" Martin asked cautiously.
"Let's take a walk," he suggested, biting down on his lower lip when he saw the skepticism in Martin's eyes. He had to refrain from reaching across the table and grasping the other man's hand. "Come on…the park looks really good in the snow. When's the last time you were here to see it in winter?"
Martin frowned for a few more moments, looking at Danny closely, probably trying to figure out what he was doing. Truthfully, Danny wasn't quite sure, but he knew they shouldn't be doing this here. It was too public, too bright and too full of memories. Not that the majority of those memories wouldn't follow them out into the city, but at least out there they'd have more room to breathe.
"All right Danny, let's go," Martin answered, jarring Danny out of his thoughts and causing him to smile.
Outside the night was brittle and cold, but he didn't notice all that much. Martin followed him wordlessly as they crossed the street and walked the next few blocks to Central Park.
"You're right," Martin said, pausing on the sidewalk and looking at him. "It does look nice…the snow hides a lot."
Danny laughed softly and nodded in agreement. They slowed their pace as they moved away from the streets and further into the park, glad to have the relative peace but careful to stay close to the more populated areas. The snow didn't cover everything after all.
They'd yet to say anything of importance to one another, brave enough to make small talk so that they didn't remain in total silence, but not sure how to approach anything of merit. Unconsciously, Danny found himself walking in a certain direction, wandering with a purpose. And when the ice-skating rink first came into view Martin sucked in a sharp breath and stopped. Danny froze, a rush of longing washing over him when Martin's glove-covered hand gripped his upper arm.
There was a combination of nostalgia and amused curiosity in his eyes, mixed slightly with something more painful. "I thought about this today," Martin murmured, seeming a little bit lost.
Danny didn't move, afraid that if he did Martin would let go of him. And it wasn't much – Martin's hand covered by a thick blue glove, Danny's arm covered by his shirt and wool coat. But it was more contact than either of them had had with each other in almost five years.
"Thought about what Fitz?" he asked, the nickname slipping out easily before he could even think to stop it.
But Martin only smiled, casting his eyes downwards for a moment before looking up again. "Ice-skating. With you."
Danny felt his heart ache, felt tears prick briefly at his eyes before he forced himself past them. He swallowed hard over the lump in his throat and drew in a shaky breath. "We weren't very good at it," he said softly, smiling a little wistfully.
Looking up, Martin laughed, his eyes happier than Danny had expected. "You kept falling down!" he pointed out.
Danny tried to look affronted but couldn't keep from grinning. "As I recall you seemed to be sprawled all over the ice just as often as I was," he replied.
Martin hit him playfully in the shoulder and shook his head. "Only because you wouldn't let go of my hand whenever you fell."
Smiling Danny shook his head, not willing to agree out loud, part of him wondering if their words weren't some weird metaphor for something else. Instead, he looked over at the ice rink for a few moments, unable to believe that this was so easy. Still. It didn't mean there wasn't still a mound of problems and issues that needed unearthed and worked through…but it was a start.
As he watched the people on the rink, he couldn't help but feel a wave of longing. Wishing there was a way to go back to when they were happy and things were simple and there wasn't a dark cloud hanging over them…or at least lingering on the horizon. He glanced over at Martin again and saw that he was also watching the people skating, his expression wistful and a little pained, but his smile lingered. Shivering, Danny looked past Martin for just a moment and saw the sign.
Ice-skating - $5. With skate rental - $8.
It was probably a bad idea. Nonetheless, he reached out and grasped Martin's hand, felt him shiver even though they both wore gloves. He was grinning when Martin looked up at him; watched as those blue eyes went from a certain sort of anxiousness to being wary.
"Danny?" he asked, suspicious. Still grinning, Danny turned and tugged Martin behind him, not saying a word yet.
"Danny…what are you doing?" Martin asked. Danny laughed mischievously, feeling resistance when he pulled Martin along. The closer they got to the rink, the more he felt Martin pull on his arm. "Danny, I am not going ice skating."
Danny turned around, grinning, trying to force himself to remain unaware that Martin stood so close now, their hands clasped. He knew this plan had the potential to fail, but it had come to him so quickly and without remorse. He also knew that, if it worked, it would lighten things between them…for now.
"Come on Fitz, it'll be fun," Danny protested, trying not to sound too whiny.
"Danny we're not teenagers!"
Rolling his eyes, Danny smirked. "So? We weren't last time either!" By now Martin was alternating between panic and trying not to smile. This was too easy.
Smiling, he reached out with his free hand and tugged gently on Martin's scarf. "Good memories, right?" he asked softly. For a moment Martin looked confused. "Us ice-skating," he added. "Those are good memories, right?"
Martin's expression softened and he nodded, ducking his eyes away from Danny's gaze. Danny saw him shiver and he had to fight hard against the urge to wrap his arms around the other man. They stayed that way for a few minutes, neither quite sure of their footing or what to do next. Eventually, Danny tugged on Martin's hand again causing him to look up. Without words, Danny nodded in the direction of the rink and Martin rolled his eyes. Sighing, and trying his hardest to keep from smiling, he nodded and squeezed Danny's hand.
Martin's laughter was something Danny knew he would never tire of hearing. And after his initial embarrassment, Martin had laughed quite a bit. They got plenty of strange looks from the younger crowd of ice-skaters, but neither of them minded after a while. Martin had blushed and muttered his protests under his breath as Danny had paid for their admission and skate-rental, had complained time and again as they wobbled towards the ice and began skating tentatively around the rink. But soon his mutterings faded into laughs and when he steadied himself enough to meet Danny's eyes he always smiled.
They skated for around an hour. Hardly graceful, they stayed away from as many people as possible, gripping onto one another's arms and scarves as they stumbled and slid across the ice, only really falling a few times. It managed to accomplish what conversation had not, leaving them free to be with each other and forget everything else. It was silly and carefree and good for both of them. Danny knew it wouldn't last, that it wouldn't solve any of their problems, but it didn't matter for the moment.
"I'm freezing!" Martin complained as they turned in their skates and prepared to leave. Danny smiled at him unable to look away, taking in the sight of Martin's smile, his dimples, his red cheeks and bright eyes. He glanced past Danny for a moment, his grin intensifying.
Danny turned and followed his gaze, rolling his eyes as he looked at Martin again. "I should've known."
"What? I love hot-chocolate!" Martin protested.
The cliché of the entire evening had not escaped Danny by any means, but he didn't care. At all. He was too happy to care. "Fine, let's get some," Danny answered, sighing dramatically.
Martin laughed and walked over to the small booth, returning a few minutes later with two steaming cups of hot-chocolate. It was hardly gourmet – probably the instant powdered version with hot water added. But it was hot and did a lot to warm them both.
But as they left the park behind, it drew heavily on Danny's heart. A glance in Martin's direction told him that he was feeling the same way. The park, the skating, the laughter…it had served as a buffer for everything else and now that they were leaving they were both forced to confront it all.
"Are you going to come to Sam's for lunch tomorrow?" Martin asked quietly. They walked side by side on the sidewalk now, the city a harsh reality compared to the dreamlike quality of the park.
They weren't headed in a particular direction and Danny knew how easily the night could end if he wasn't careful. "Maybe," he answered. "Martin…" he stopped walking, putting his hand on Martin's arm and nervously meeting his eyes. "Come back to my apartment. So we can…talk," he added quickly before the invitation could be construed for something it definitely wasn't.
Martin looked away for a few moments. Danny watched him closely, saw him swallow nervously, knew he was weighing his options and trying to figure out what he wanted.
"I know how hard this will be," Danny added softly. "But I…I'm afraid to wait or to put it off because…well, it'll be so easy for us to avoid everything." Martin nodded to himself, silently agreeing but he still didn't say yes, didn't meet Danny's eyes. Quickly nearing desperation, Danny took off one of his gloves and touched Martin's cheek with his fingers. Trembling, he touched Martin's cold skin, holding his breath as he watched Martin close his eyes and bite his lower lip. "Please Martin," he whispered.
Finally, Martin turned to face him again and nodded. He attempted a small smile, but Danny could tell how nervous he was. It made sense because Danny felt the same way. He was dreading the conversation he knew they had to have, but that was just it. He knew they had to have it.
If they had any chance of rebuilding their relationship or even just being friends, they had to talk about what had happened almost five years ago.
"How long have you lived here?" Martin asked, needing to fill the awkward silence.
The silence had been constant since they'd agreed to talk. They'd said nothing during the cab ride to Danny's apartment. And the only other words spoken had been when Danny offered to hang up Martin's coat. Since then they'd moved from the hallway, through the living room into Danny's kitchen. Martin sat nervously on a chair at the table, leaning forward, his elbows on the table. Danny had started out sitting across from him, but had stood up after a only a few seconds, pouring himself a glass of water and drinking it down as he leaned against the countertop. He'd yet to move from that position.
"About two years," Danny replied. "After…you moved to Washington, I…I moved out," he explained nervously, hurt flashing through his dark eyes. Martin winced and looked away, the memory of their shared apartment – their shared life – already painful. He had no clue how they were going to get through this conversation. "I found another place near there, but I didn't like it much. So then I moved here."
Martin nodded in response and went back to glancing around the kitchen as if he expected to find something new to talk about. Something easy and mundane…something that would stall the inevitable for just a little bit more. When he heard the other chair scrape softly against the floor he swallowed hard, forcing himself to look at Danny as he sat down again. There was no easy way to start.
"I'm sorry," Martin blurted out, his eyes wide as he looked into Danny's.
Danny's frowned, looking confused as he pulled his chair slightly closer to the table. "Sorry for what?"
"For leaving," Martin answered quickly, without hesitation. It was something he'd kept inside for years.
Danny's eyes widened, his mouth opening slightly for a few seconds before he closed it again and tried to gather his composure. "You…you think I blame you?" Danny finally managed to ask, his voice little more than a whisper.
Martin shrugged, feeling helpless. He wasn't sure how to answer Danny's question. For years, he'd regretted his decision to move so far away. To run away and not look back. In the beginning it had been to protect himself because Danny had hurt him more than anyone ever had, and he'd had to put distance between them so that he didn't risk the same heartache again. But the longer he'd stayed in Washington, the more cowardly the decision had seemed.
"I should've come back," he murmured.
"Why?" Danny asked, his voice hardening slightly. "Why would you want to come back after what I did?"
"We could've worked through it," Martin answered, his voice trembling.
Danny's eyes narrowed in anger, his mouth settling into a firm line. For a few moments he seemed at a loss for words, struggling to stay calm and not let his emotions bubble too close to the surface. "You had every right to leave," he said tightly. "And every right to stay away for that matter."
Martin shook his head. "I should've tried harder," he protested. "And maybe if I hadn't pushed so hard then--"
"Oh no, no, no…please tell me you haven't…" Danny stopped, eyes wide, a strange almost terrified look in his expression. He slid his chair close, reaching out and grasping one of Martin's hands in his own. "All this time…please Martin…" he stumbled over the words, looking nearly panicked now. "Please tell me you haven't blamed yourself," he finally managed to say, the words rushing out of him as he squeezed Martin's hand tightly.
He supposed it was irrational, foolish even, but there was a part of Martin – a rather large part – that had done exactly that. Blamed himself. He'd flinched away from the same words earlier when Sam had tried to tell him that it wasn't his fault. He'd thought about it countless times over the years, going over the entire situation again and again in his head until it left him aching.
"I should've…should've known you had a drinking problem," he said very softly, eyes cast downward. "We…we shared everything Danny. You were my whole world…and I didn't know. Didn't figure it out until Vivian casually mentioned that you drank a lot. I should've known," he repeated. "And I shouldn't have confronted you that way. Maybe if I'd talked to Sam first or…found out what else I could do or…" he trailed off helplessly, his voice full of remorse.
"Fitz…this was not your fault," Danny said firmly. His eyes captured and held Martin's gaze. They were filled with sorrow and a horrible, infinite sense of regret. "None of it was," he added. "I hid things from everyone…from myself. Even after you left, after I lost everything…I still didn't quite believe it. Then, eventually, I just…I took stock of what I'd lost. It was a very long list and you were at the very top," he said sadly. "What I had left was an empty apartment, a bunch of half-empty liquor bottles and a tragic sense of misplaced pride."
"You got help," Martin said softly. He ached for the pain in Danny's voice, the loss and regret he heard there. It hurt so much and he wished – not for the first time – that he had been there to help. However, he was slowly beginning to realize that it might not have mattered. That this had been something Danny had needed to go through on his own or else it wouldn't have worked.
Danny nodded in response and met Martin's eyes again. "Yes, I did. It wasn't easy and I…I still struggle with it," he admitted. He was quiet for a few minutes and Martin waited, sensing that he wasn't finished. "I have a sponsor, I go to AA meetings, I did the whole twelve-step thing…but there was one part that I never got right," he said, voice trembling.
Confused, Martin frowned, his forehead creasing, his eyes searching Danny's for an explanation. "What do you mean?"
"You," Danny answered. "I never finished that whole 'make amends' step because I could never find the courage to face you. And above all people Martin, you were the person that I had the most to make up to."
Martin looked away quickly, biting down on his lower lip and bouncing his leg nervously. His heart nearly stopped beating when he felt Danny's hand on his cheek then his neck. He sucked in a breath and shut his eyes, unable to stop shaking as Danny's hand reached the back of his neck, fingers pressing soothingly against his skin.
"Danny please…" he whimpered.
"I'm sorry," Danny said hoarsely.
Martin shook his head just a little, shivering when he felt Danny's other hand touch the opposite side of his face. He knew Danny was closer now, could sense it, could almost feel him there right in front of him. He kept his eyes shut and tried to stay as still as possible, concentrating on taking slow, steady breaths. A useless task when his heart was already beating so erratically.
"I'm sorry for breaking your heart," Danny confessed. Martin heard tears in his voice and it made him ache. "For everything I said to you and accused you of. More than anything I'm…I'm sorry for hitting you," he whispered. "For hurting you that way and…making you afraid of me."
"Please…" Martin begged, leaning forward slightly, his eyes still shut. He couldn't ask, couldn't form the words, but Danny understood what he wanted anyway. Martin shivered, tears slipping from his eyes as Danny pulled him close, wrapping his arms around Martin's back and holding him tightly.
"I know exactly what that pain is like," Danny whispered, his voice against Martin's ear. "When someone you love, someone you trust hurts you that way. It's such a terrible betrayal." Martin could only nod, returning Danny's embrace eagerly now, needing to be closer. "And I've regretted it ever since," Danny went on after a few moments. "I'm so sorry Fitzie. I'll always be sorry."
Martin was silent for a while, his eyes shut, content to stay quietly in Danny's arms. He wasn't sure what he needed to do next…how to tell Danny what he felt. Five years had given him ample opportunity to think about what had happened, and there was a very big part of him that had already forgiven Danny. He'd had to move on and put it behind him, at least in some way, because he would've gone crazy otherwise. Still, Danny's words soothed something in him that had never really stopped hurting. He'd always believed that Danny was sorry for what he'd done, but hearing it made a difference that Martin hadn't counted on.
"Martin, I don't know how to make it up to you. I don't know if I even can. But I want more than anything to…try. In some way…even if we're just…"
"Danny," Martin interrupted, pulling back slightly so he could look into his eyes. "I want that too," he murmured, his heart clenching tightly in his chest as he watched Danny's eyes fill with surprise and hope. He knew what Danny had been expecting; in fact he'd probably prepared himself for two options. Either Martin would refuse him completely or, best case scenario he'd tell him he needed some time. And yes, the safe and normal thing to do would've been to ask for some time to think, to go over things in his head and make sure everything was secure before taking this step. But he couldn't see the sense in that. After five years, the last thing he needed was more time.
It didn't mean they'd jump right back into their relationship exactly where they left off…hell, Martin didn't even live in the same city anymore. He just didn't want to pretend. Gently, he touched Danny's cheek, smiling a little and leaning forward until their foreheads touched.
"It might be hard," Danny whispered.
"I know," Martin replied simply. His eyes fluttered shut as he pressed his lips to Danny's. It was soft, tender…didn't last longer than a few seconds, but it was enough. It brought everything back…all the goodness in their relationship, how right it was. He'd never stopped loving Danny. And he knew, knew without a doubt from that simple kiss that Danny still felt the same too.
"Stay," Danny whispered, pulling Martin into his arms again. "Not because I want…just…please stay," he stumbled over his words quickly, not wanting them interpreted the wrong way.
But Martin understood and he agreed; the last thing he wanted now was to go back to an empty hotel room and be alone. He was tired of being alone. "I'll stay," Martin whispered, pressing a quick kiss to Danny's neck and breathing in the scent of him.
There was a part of him that was still worried that he was going to wake up at any minute. That this was just an elaborate dream and he'd imagined it all. God knows he'd wanted it for long enough. They both had. But Danny's arms around him were real…strong and loving and full of promise.
The next day they went to Sam's together for lunch. When she answered the door and found them both standing on her doorstep, she'd known in an instant. Smiling brightly she'd thrown her arms around the two of them and laughed, a sense of happy relief in her eyes. She'd also known to not call too much attention to it after that. She hadn't asked questions, hadn't begged to know what was next…she'd just accepted their being together and left it at that, knowing that there would be time for details later.
She'd also waved Martin's apologies away when he'd sheepishly told her that he wanted to spend his remaining few days in New York with Danny…if she didn't mind.
"You're being ridiculous Martin, go!" she exclaimed, laughing and pushing him out the door. "Be with him."
A month later, after Martin had spent much of his time traveling between New York and Washington, he decided it was time to take that final step. It had been pointless for him to go back to Washington after that very first night, but they had both needed some sort of formality. Something that said they weren't rushing into this and that they were committed to making it work.
But enough was an enough, and airfare wasn't getting any cheaper.
By the time he reached Danny's apartment he was both exhausted and nearly giddy with excitement. Exhausted from both the flight and the three-hour long meeting he'd just gotten out of in a building in downtown Manhattan. Formalities really, but he'd wanted everything to be in place before he told Danny the truth.
Danny greeted him with a kiss, taking his bag from his hand and dropping it in the hallway, wrapping his arms around Martin tightly and pulling him inside. "I missed you Fitzie," he murmured against Martin's lips, smiling as he kissed him again.
Martin returned the embrace and the kiss with equal fervor, marveling – not for the first time – how it always felt like coming home. "I missed you too."
They had dinner first, Martin listening to Danny's energetic talk about how he was so glad to be almost done with law school. That he was excited to take the Bar, to actually start practicing law rather than just keep studying it. By the time they'd cleaned up the kitchen and were settled comfortably against each other on Danny's couch, Martin was nearly bursting with the need to tell Danny his news.
"You've been unusually quiet this evening," Danny said softly, pulling him a little closer and kissing him warmly. "And you look anxious…"
Martin grinned and kissed him back before sitting up slightly. He looked down for a moment, threading their fingers together and taking a deep breath. "I…I spent a good portion of the past week talking to my bosses at work," he started nervously. He couldn't seem to tear his eyes away from his and Danny's hands linked together.
"And?" Danny prompted.
Martin looked up and smiled, blushing a little. "I transferred to the office in New York."
Danny's eyes widened in surprise and he squeezed Martin's hand tightly. "You did?" he squeaked.
Martin nodded, fidgeting under Danny's unrelenting gaze. "Well, I'm tired of traveling all the time to be here and it made sense and I want to be here and--"
Danny cut off his nervous rambling with a deep kiss, wrapping both arms tightly around him and pulling him close. "When?" Danny asked hoarsely, his breath warm against Martin's lips. "When do you move?"
Martin smiled, bringing his fingers up to touch Danny's cheek. "I start up here next week," he said softly. "I know that's not much notice for you and--"
"Shut up Fitz…and stop being stupid," Danny said affectionately. He kissed Martin again…slowly, deeply…leaving them both breathless when they pulled apart. "I love you," he murmured, smiling when he felt Martin shiver. "I don't think I ever stopped."
Martin nodded and ran his fingers through Danny's hair, looking into his eyes and smiling softly. "Me either."