Thanks to everyone who's been reading & reviewing!

Chapter 11

Danny sat still, silent, too afraid to move or barely even breathe lest Sam take her words back or tell him that none of it was actually true. He blinked when she touched his hand and took a few moments to fight the wetness that stung his eyes before he was able to look up and meet her gentle smile.

"I never expected to like him Danny," she murmured, fingers insinuating their way into his palm for a comforting grip. "I mean, I wanted to. But honestly, I never really believed that he'd come through and actually make the sacrifices that he needed to make in order to be with you."

He nodded. "I know," he replied hoarsely.

"I've seen him a few more time since then," she went on when he said nothing else. "To get to know him better. And I let him know you missed him and tried my best to convince him to reach out to you again as soon as he was ready. That was why I told you not to give up today…because he had let me know he was going to call you today. Whether he went through with it or not, I wasn't sure…that's why I called you," she said, smiling warmly, sounding quite proud of herself.

Danny laughed happily, caught somewhere between a smile he couldn't prevent and tears. Happy tears that he knew he wouldn't be able to stop, so he continued trying staunchly not to start them.

The two of them settled closely together on Danny's couch for the rest of the night, the television a comforting flicker in front of them. Danny could feel Sam's eyes on him, however, watching, probably waiting for him to either start crying or laughing hysterically. Both were a viable option, but he did his best to keep his emotions from flooding over and kept them to a happy simmer instead.

Hope. It wasn't something that he'd felt in a very long time. Especially not with this sort of strength. Despite how much he had longed for things with Martin to work out, there had been a big part of him that hadn't believed it ever would. It was the part of him that had resigned himself to never have anything better than what his past would allow him. That no matter how far away he moved or what changes he made in his life, he'd still be stuck in that loop of poverty and abuse that he'd grown up with.

When Sam fell asleep and slumped down against his arm, he wasn't surprised, and turned to look down at her with a soft smile. Their relationship was changing yet again, and he couldn't help but wonder how he'd earned such a fiercely loyal and caring friend as Samantha. He certainly hadn't been expecting it. Just a little more than a year ago they were merely coworkers who exchanged the random friendly words only to be polite. They'd gone from that to a friendship of shared nights out and sympathy to something much stronger. He wasn't so sure that he could have come through this whole thing with Martin as well as he had without her, and that was more than a little surprising, because above all things he'd learned in life, Danny knew that he number one rule was to never count on anyone for anything. And yet, Sam had stuck around and had proved again and again that she would be there for him. He only hoped that if she ever needed him in the same way, that he could be just as strong.

Inevitably, his thoughts turned to Martin, and for the first time in a long while, those thoughts were not accompanied by a stab of pain. He'd felt hopeful after their brief 

conversation on the phone, but after Sam's declaration he felt more than just hope. He felt confident.

Sighing happily, he pulled a blanket off the back of the couch and draped it over Sam and himself, thoughts still lingering blissfully on Martin. His blue eyes that crinkled in the corners when he smiled. The feel of his skin, the heat of his embrace, the way he could make Danny weak with a few simple touches and smiles…

Shivering, he found himself barely able to contain a small laugh and he doubted he'd get any sleep at all tonight, too wound up about the prospect of seeing Martin the following day.

Danny was pretty certain he resembled one of the park's many resident crazy people, pacing back and forth in front of a fountain, giving an anxious glance to his watch and down the paths every few minutes. He'd gotten a few odd looks from early morning passersby and joggers. Perhaps they were more comfortable with their crazies being relegated to the later hours of the day, rather than eight-thirty in the morning.

He wasn't due to meet Martin until around ten, but he'd been up since six and after a worried, anxious two hours pacing his apartment, he'd decided his time would be better spent pacing the stone walkway in front of the fountain where they'd agreed to meet. Despite feeling less insecure and nervous after Sam's visit and consequent story the night before, he still couldn't help the way he felt now. Excited, nervous, a bundle of desperate hopes and the slightly lingering fear that nothing would end up working out the way he wanted it to.

All those concerns were laid to rest though the moment he spotted Martin, eyes glancing around anxiously, hands in his pockets, walking briskly towards the fountain. Towards Danny. He was early too, and that simple fact gave Danny's heart the seeming permission it had been lacking from his mind that things would be okay. More than okay.

Blue eyes met his own with a shy smile, and Danny had to stop himself from reaching out and pulling Martin to himself. He wanted desperately to touch him, to breathe him in…to keep him. Despite his obvious nerves, there was something different in Martin's demeanor that Danny noticed right away. His eyes, his expression, just an all over change that made Danny smile warmly. It was an air of confidence that Martin had never really exuded before. It was subtle, and if Danny didn't know him as well as he did, he wouldn't have picked up on it, but to him it was as clear as day. And it made him happy.

"Hi," Martin spoke first, his voice soft, warm.

The nerves Danny felt now were simply those of anticipation, of desire, and the near certainty that he was going to get everything he'd always wanted. He smiled back, his heart fluttering. "Hi," he replied, surprised that his voice sounded relatively normal. "Want to sit down?" he asked, nodding his head towards the stone ring around the fountain.

Martin nodded and they meandered slowly over to it, the sound of the bubbling, splashing water strangely calming. Their knees bumped together and it was Martin who shifted slightly closer so that their shoulders were touching. A move that had Danny biting down on his lower lip to keep from smiling too brightly. Any time they had been out in 

public together in the past, Martin had always been nervous about being too close, paranoid even as if he thought someone he knew might see them.

Danny wasn't sure where to begin, and they sat in silence for a while. Being this close to Martin again was a high that he had missed desperately. He longed to reach out and touch him, to pull him close and kiss him. He had a feeling that if he did, Martin wouldn't stop him like he would have been apt to do in the past, but something else held him back. It was as if he were frozen, waiting for one of them to break the ice and to start what he knew would be easy as soon as they found an opening.

In another move that surprised him, it was Martin who spoke first, his voice warm and soft though sharply defined with worry. "Danny, I'm sorry."

Turning slightly, Danny waited for Martin to look up and meet his eyes. "Sorry for what?" he asked, a thread of fear running through his heart.

"For taking so long," he replied simply, blue eyes flickering with sadness.

Relieved, Danny smiled. "It's only been a few months. I know that you needed time to sort everything out."

Martin shook his head. "No, for all of it. It's been…years now, and I've made you wait for such a long time. I kept expecting you to give up and tell me you were done waiting…but you never did," he said earnestly. His eyes were bright, soft and when he smiled again Danny felt his heart ache wonderfully in his chest.

He jumped, laughing at his surprise, when he felt Martin's fingers brush tentatively over the back of his hand. Blinking rapidly, he looked down and swallowed hard over a lump in his throat as Martin went further and threaded their fingers together. His touch was warm and gentle and strangely confident in a way Danny had never felt from the other man before. Especially not in public view where anyone could see them.

"I've missed you," Martin whispered after a few minutes, leaning close enough that Danny could feel the heat from his body.

Danny was still having trouble finding his voice, trying desperately not to cry and trying to remember to breathe all at the same time. Martin was distracting him, flustering him, and his newly found confidence was only making it worse.

"I love you," Martin murmured, leaning closer still to press his lips to Danny's cheek, his fingers squeezing Danny's now-trembling ones.

He gripped Martin's hand tightly, turning to face him more fully, no longer able to stop his tears from falling as he met Martin's soft, loving expression. But he suddenly found himself laughing through those tears, happier than he could ever remember being. Martin laughed with him, letting go of his hand in order to pull Danny into his arms and press another soft kiss to his cheek.

"I love you too," Danny finally replied hoarsely. He wrapped his arms tightly around the other man and shut his eyes, breathing deeply and forcing his tears to subside. The calming sounds of the bubbling fountain helped, but mostly it was the strong, solid feel of Martin's body pressed against his and Martin's arms tight around his back.

"Has Samantha talked to you?" Martin asked softly after a few minutes.

Danny pulled back slightly and nodded as he looked into Martin's eyes. "Just last night. She told me that you guys have become friends; and she told me what you've done. Telling your father, your friend…" he added, a note of pride in his voice.

Predictably, Martin blushed and nodded his head. "It wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be," he said softly. "I mean, don't get me wrong, I was pretty terrified…especially with my father. But the more I talked the better I felt. Like I was finally escaping a lie, and the world wasn't coming to an end."

Danny nodded, squeezing Martin's fingers reassuringly and smiling at him. "How'd he take it?"

A cloud passed over Martin's eyes briefly and he pushed his fingers deeper into Danny's palm. Looking away, he shook his head, and stayed silent for a few moments. Danny simply waited patiently, knowing how hard this was for the other man. Of all the people Martin had feared confessing his sexuality to, Danny knew that his father was at the top of that list.

Finally, Martin looked up again, a resigned look in his blue eyes. "Not well exactly," he answered, his voice a little hollow. "But I got this strange feeling that he already knew. Not that it made things any easier…probably worse in fact. If he did think that, well it was probably the only time in his life that he hated being proved right." He laughed shortly, but there wasn't any joy in it and Danny knew that whatever had happened, whatever had been said was still hurting Martin. He also knew him well enough to know that he probably wouldn't talk about it, not right now anyway. It had the potential to come up randomly, weeks from now even, when Martin had finally finished thinking it all through and was ready to talk more. For now though, Danny simply leaned closer and put his arm around Martin's waist, wanting to just let Martin know that he was here, and he'd listen whenever he was ready.

"It was easier to tell Eric," Martin said after a few moments. The change in his demeanor was almost instant and Danny could sense a sort of thankful relief that Danny hadn't further pressed the subject of his father. "He was surprised but supportive, and…nothing's changed. And I think that was one of the biggest things I was always afraid of. Not just with Eric, but with anyone. My father's reaction notwithstanding, I told my aunt also, and she was…well, happy!" he said, smiling. "She told me she'd known, and that she hated how miserable I was, but she hadn't wanted to push me especially after I got engaged. She…she wants to meet you Danny," he said sheepishly, a guilty grin on his face.

Danny laughed. "I'd be happy to meet her." And he meant it. For so long their relationship had been secret and hidden. The prospect of being able to share it with others was so freeing that Danny could scarcely grasp the concept completely. He wanted to meet the people that were important to Martin, he wanted Martin to get to know Samantha better; he wanted to be able to talk about what was easily the most important relationship he'd ever had. And now he could.

They sat there in the park for a while longer, talking and laughing…reveling in the easy feeling of being together again. And although the love Danny felt for Martin had never truly faltered or changed, everything else had. He was confident in Martin's love for him now. He finally knew where he stood in Martin's life, and that they could be together without anymore strings or secrets.

Danny watched Martin silently as they sat in the backseat of the cab. Traffic was pretty bad, but Danny wasn't worried about time seeing that they had left the apartment an hour earlier than necessary to make it across town to the restaurant. Martin, however, was fidgeting nervously, something that inwardly Danny knew had nothing to do with whether they were late or not.

The vascular department was hosting a dinner in honor of their graduating fellows, and Martin had invited Danny to come with him. As his date. And therein lied the reason for Martin's anxiety.

It had been nearly four months since they had met that day in Central Park to work things out, and Danny couldn't have been happier. They were together, happy and so very much in love. They were even talking – at Martin's suggestion – of moving in together, something that they hadn't decided on definitely yet, but the mere mention of it had put a smile on Danny's face for days. And then a few weeks ago, Martin had very nervously asked him to come to this dinner at the hospital, a step that had thrilled Danny to no end.

"So there's this dinner for the fellows who've finished their two years at the hospital, and it's formal but it's not if that makes any sense. And I went last year and had a good time and I just…" he trailed off, putting an end to what Danny had quickly discerned as nervous ramblings. "Do you want to come with me?" he asked finally, his voice trembling slightly. "As my date," he clarified in a tense whisper, his eyes flitting away from Danny's face.

They were lying in bed, loosely tangled up in each other, and Martin had lowered his head to avoid Danny's gently curious gaze. Danny's heart fluttered in his chest, and he had to stop himself from laughing because he didn't want Martin to take it the wrong way. But every time Martin surprised him this way, with one of these simple yet unexpected things that they had never done before he felt like laughing, because the joy he felt for their relationship now was overwhelming at times.

Danny trailed his fingers over Martin's jaw and under his chin, gently pushing until Martin looked up and met his eyes. "Martin," he said patiently. "Of course I will. I would love to go with you."

Martin was absently running his fingers over Danny's shoulder, his eyes flitting around nervously. He stilled and sucked in a deep breath when Danny shifted closer, grasping Martin's hand in his own and bringing his fingers to his lips. As he released his fingers, he slid his arm around Martin's waist and pulled him into his arms.

"My dad will be there," Martin said softly, eyes downcast now.

Danny kissed him, smiling against his lips and whispering his name. When they broke apart, Danny sighed and laid his forehead against Martin's. "If you're not ready for this, I'll understand. You've proved your willingness to be with me Martin, you don't have to--"

"I want to Danny. I want you to meet him. I'm just...I'm afraid of what he'll say to you. Or how he'll act..."

"You can't control how he acts Martin, and if he acts badly...that's not something you have to apologize for."

Martin looked at him for a long while before nodding. When Danny smiled, Martin snuggled closer and buried his face against Danny's neck, pressing his lips to his skin. Danny could feel Martin smile against him and he sighed happily and tightened his arms around him.

"Martin," Danny called. When he got no response, he reached out and squeezed the other man's shoulder. "Martin," he said again, more firmly. "'ll be okay," he assured him, pulling his hand to his lips to kiss the back of his hand. Danny watched his blue eyes change from nervous to courageous after a few moments. Their connection still amazed him, the strength and intensity between them.

Martin squeezed his hand and smiled. It was only a few moments later that they stopped in front of the restaurant. Martin paid for the cab and they got out, walking slowly over the sidewalk and into the lobby. Before they went any further, Martin reached out and grasped Danny's wrist, stopping them both. Danny looked at him curiously and was struck by the emotion in Martin's eyes.

"I love you Danny," he murmured, eyes shining brightly.

Danny smiled back happily and blushed slightly, warming to the sound of Martin's gentle laughter. "I love you too," he replied in a soft voice, struggling to keep his voice from shaking. It was still startling to him at times when Martin said or did something that he would have been so unwilling to do in the past. Something simple like holding hands or something bolder, like now, when he had murmured his love in the middle of a restaurant lobby.

For a very long time, it was something he had been reluctant to allow himself to hope for. While their relationship had been filled with many strengths, it had always lacked the simplest and most important issue of trust. But it was so different now, and sometimes Danny still had trouble believing that any of it was real. But then Martin would smile at him. And the rest of the world would melt away.