"Hey man. You ok?"
Of course he wasn't ok. Did anyone expect him to be? Of course they didn't. That was why everyone kept asking him the same pointless question. As if it would make him feel better.
"Yes, I'm fine. Everything's fine." The reply tripped mechanically out of his mouth by now.
"Yeah. Sure." Even over the phone, Danny could almost see Flack's eyebrows raised in disbelief.
"I'm busy. I'll talk later."
An irritated sigh came through the speaker. "You need to snap out of this, Danny."
"Snap out of what? Of what?" Danny could hear his voice turning to a shout. "You think this whole mess'll just go away on its own? You think I can just forget about it? Ruben's DEAD, Don, he's dead because of me! And you phone me and tell me to snap out of it?" He felt like chucking the phone as hard as he could at the opposite wall. Somehow he stopped himself.
"Dan." Flack's voice was still calm. "What do you propose to do instead?"
The simplicity of the question took Danny by surprise. He opened his mouth to snap a retort, but nothing came out. It was a good question. What did he intend to do?
There was a long pause, then Flack's voice came over the line again. "Well?"
"Dunno," came the muttered response.
"Precisely. This has gone on for long enough, Dan. You've had plenty of self-pity time, now move on from it. Bad things happen, but the world ain't gonna stop turning just for you."
Danny didn't reply, so Flack pressed his advantage. "And have you talked to Lindsay lately?"
"Lindsay. Yes. You do remember who she is, right?"
"Get lost Don," growled Danny.
"Just saying, Danny. She's your girl, and a pretty good catch, and you need to hang onto her. She's worried about you."
"You don't look fine at the moment. You look like you haven't slept for days. But don't let me question your opinion, of course."
"I said I'm fine!"
"Well, actually answer her the next time she calls you, and tell her that yourself." Silence. Again. "Dan. We're here for you, but we don't have unlimited patience, I'm afraid." He waited, and counted thirty seconds on his watch. "See ya tomorrow then." The line went dead.
Danny flicked his cell phone closed and leaned back against the wall, allowing himself to slowly slide down until he was sitting on the floor, knees up near his chin. He tugged his glasses off and dropped them at his side, along with his cell. He kneaded his eyes with his knuckles, and leant his head backwards, feeling suddenly very tired and very heavy. He closed his eyes.
To his very great relief, Danny thought of nothing. For the last days that had gone by, ever since Ruben's death, there had been a whole stream of images and voices haunting him mercilessly, flooding him with anger, grief and guilt. But now there was nothing. Nothing was a huge empty space, a void into which he had tumbled at Flack's simple question. What was he going to do? Nothing, he thought dully, I'll do nothing at all, and he sat against his wall doing nothing while the heavy black waves of utter exhaustion from many sleepless nights crashed over him.
Through his sleep he could dimly hear a knocking sound. Someone was knocking on a door. Quite loudly. Actually, scrap that, someone was banging on the door. Someone must want to come in, and hopefully soon someone would let them in and the noise would stop. No, wait. It was his door. That must mean that it was him who had to let whoever it was in.
With a groan Danny opened his eyes a fraction and found that his face was pressed to the floorboards. He used his hands to push himself into a sitting position and steadied himself against the wall as he pulled himself upright, before lurching over to the door and unlocking it, fumbling with the latch.
He squinted at the person standing in the hallway, realising too late that he'd forgotten to grab his glasses, and being still mostly asleep wasn't helping his already blurry vision. Still, that didn't really matter. He would have recognised her anywhere, in any circumstances. He wasn't really sure what she was doing here, however.
"Lindsay," he croaked.
He was expecting her to continue the conversation he had had with Flack earlier, expecting her to shout at him, or at least be upset or angry.
She stepped forwards, uninvited, and put her arms around him. He wrapped his arms around her in response, and bent his head so that it was resting on her shoulder, the skin of their cheeks pressed together, the coldness of the hard floorboards forgotten as warmth flowed out of her into him. He hugged her tight, breathing in the familiar scent of her hair, feeling their ribcages rise and fall together as they breathed.
"Lindsay," he whispered again, using her name, her real name, as a talisman against the swirling fog in his head.
She steered him inside, pulling the door shut behind them, and they collapsed down so that they were both sitting on the couch, Danny leaning heavily on Lindsay, his face still buried in her shoulder. The fingers of her right hand were running through his hair, and he was feeling something relax inside him, felt his breaths come easier, felt the tight constriction in his throat loosen.
"Shh, shh, it's ok, it's ok," Lindsay was whispering. And Danny, wrapped in her embrace and only just realising how much he had been missing her, fell back into sleep without even noticing.
When Danny opened his eyes again, the curtains were drawn against the late-evening dark. He realised that he was lying on his couch with a blanket thrown over him.
"Glasses are on the floor next to you," a voice said softly and, reaching for his glasses and jamming them on his face with one hand, Danny saw Lindsay curled up in a chair across the room from him, a book held open in one hand, which she placed onto the floor. He sat up, swung his feet round to the floor, and tossed the blanket onto the couch back as Lindsay crossed the room and sat down on the other end of the couch, pulling her legs up to sit facing him with her arms wrapped round her shins.
"Hey," he said softly.
"Hey," she replied.
They sat like that for a minute, then Danny cleared his throat awkwardly. "Umm. You been here long?"
"A few hours."
"Sorry. Not been good company."
"It's ok." She smiled, slightly nervously.
It was up to him, Danny realised, to move the conversation along. "So, umm, you came to see me?" Realising how stupid that sounded, he tried again. "I mean, well, Flack phones and yells at me and tells me to talk to you, and then you show up? You two conspiring about me, Montana?"
She gave another partly hesitant smile. "No, well, sort of. He called me and said if I felt like dropping by, you might be in a talking sort of mood."
He took a deep breath. "Montana. Lindsay. I'm sorry. I shoulda talked to you before. I should have answered your calls. Flack was right, I've been an idiot. Sorry."
At last she smiled properly. "It's ok. Really, it's ok now. Just…don't do that again please? I was worrying about you."
"I won't, I promise. Cross-my-heart promise."
"Thank you." She reached across and took his closest hand in both of hers. "So. What are you going to do now?"
Flack had probably given her a pretty detailed report of their phone conversation, Danny realised. But then, he thought, he didn't feel as helpless as he had a few hours ago. Somehow, without saying anything at all, Lindsay had managed to pull him out of that deep pit of despair he had been allowing himself to wallow in for days on end.
"I don't know," he replied honestly, and laid her free hand over hers, joining both of their sets completely. "What do you think we should do?"
"Well, for a start you'll need to convince Mac that your 'flu vanished overnight," said Lindsay with a slight laugh. "Beyond that I don't really know. But it'll be fine. We'll look after each other, and everything'll always be just fine."