Title: And The Rest You Can Keep
Spoilers: Season 1.
Disclaimer: Not mine, not making money.
Notes: To Jess who was all "POST IT, WOMAN." Title from "Grounds for Divorce" by Elbow. Blame Vonnie.
Summary: Self-awareness is overrated.
Her first sip of beer is cheap and bitter. It's a summer day with light falling around her like pollen and her family – cops are all the family you need, her father says – laughing around her. It's cold on her tongue, which is welcome after the heat of the day. But it tastes wrong and funny and entirely too strong.
She is three years old.
She never likes beer. It's not enough and too much and she remembers the sting of her father's breath across her face when he tells her she isn't good enough.
He never says it out loud, but it's what runs through her brain every single time he relaxes with a case of Pabst in the back yard.
Dani stands in front of a room full of people she doesn't know - will never know - and metaphorically opens her arms and drops her burdens. She lets them stare at what's left of her and just see.
She opens her eyes, waiting for judgment.
This is not a new feeling.
Dani has no memory of her mother ever taking a drink. She has lots of memories of tight white lips and dark eyes that follow her father around.
"It's the devil's spirits!" Her mama used to yell, her dark hair hanging around her face in a straight dark curtain. Dani knows she gets the curls from her father's side. Her mother's hair is always bone straight or pulled back in a bun.
Her father never listened to her mother. Just sneered and did what he wanted anyway.
"It was a bad learning environment," she tells her partner, years later. He nods and gives her a pear, his lack of understanding written in the lines of his face.
She remembers nights where her mother bundled her out the door and across the street in the middle of the night, over to Mrs. Cardazio's with only a flashlight and her blanket and a warning to look both ways when she crossed the street. Music or yelling or her father's snores cling to her ears, while the smell of beer fills her nose.
Sometimes, she wished her parents'd given her a brother or a sister. Someone to hold her hand while she crossed that street. Who was with her when she knocked on Mrs. Cardazio's door. Someone to wait those gut-knotting seconds before it swung open and let her inside.
In the morning, she always remembered why it was better that she was alone.
The first time she ever gets drunk, she's sixteen and at a party. Someone hands her a plastic cup of something, and the way Nina looks at her when she spits her first mouthful out on the lawn hits every double dog dare circuit in her brain.
Later – after the shakes and the crying and the powerlessness – she wants to blame her stupid high school best friend for that first step on the road. But it's after the shakes and the crying and the powerlessness, and by then she can look herself in the mirror and own her own stupidity.
It's better than beer, she lies to herself at the time. Different. Doesn't smell the same. Doesn't do the same thing.
"I'm not my father!" She yells to the crowd, her sandals wobbly underneath her. She believes the cheering.
When she thinks about going back to the dark green ranch house her parents share, her stomach knots like it did when she was small. Because it hasn't changed. They haven't changed.
It's home, and that's the very worst thing she can call it.
"Why don't you leave him?" It's a question asked in dark spaces between conversations and fights, in hallways and garages and cars as they're moving. She doesn't remember the first time she asked her mother this. Just knows that it started out pleading and scared. Now it's just tired and hurt and confused.
Her mother - her beautiful, beautiful mother – just looks down and away.
Dani reads about Iran and can't help but draw parallels.
Her first night in the dorms at UCLA, she unpacks her cheap Wal-Mart brand bedspreads and extra long twin sheets, hangs up her Pearl Jam and Nirvana posters and curls up in her own bed. Alone.
She breathes in the ghost of hundreds of former students and stale pizzas, and when she breathes out she smiles.
Eventually, she stops thinking of her father every time she takes a drink. She lets herself smile and relax and enjoy that vodka. Drinking didn't make her father mean, he did that all on his own. She was different. She was okay.
She wakes up the morning after she loses her virginity staring into the eyes of a boy she met the night before. He smiles, and that part of her that's never left Mrs. Cardazio's spare room curls into a ball and starts crying.
She smiles back at him and closes her eyes against the pounding in her head.
Her father attends every single one of her softball games. All of her track meets and volunteers for all of her school dances. He attends parents dinners – when he can – and always, always shows up when scheduled.
She knows he's out there watching her. Staring and weighing and being there.
It's that, more than anything, she resents.
It's only much, much later after she's graduated and hit rock bottom and clawed her way out, then dropped through the bedrock below that she figures out why she went to the Police Academy in the first place.
"You don't have to understand here, to be here," her partner tells her.
She only understands now, when she's very far away from that particular 'here'.
She watches her father walk away in his dress blues, her collar itching because the dry cleaner put too much starch on it. She feels stupid and small and wants to scream after him.
She did it for him and now she's stuck.
She got approached by Vice two months before she managed to graduate.
"You're young looking. You'll blend in. Plus, you're hispanic, so you'll fit in well with what we need to happen."
She stares at the recruiter, not able to correct the man – she's Irish and Iranian, thank you - despite everything. Her mother is in her head, terrified and sad, but quiet, and her father is there too, watching. Always watching.
She agrees because she has no reason not to.
It's only recently that she knows it had everything and nothing to do with the fact that her father was Jack Reese.
The first time she shoots up, she's got three fingers of scotch in her stomach and little else. Jaime has her shirt off and is kissing her neck and whispering everything she does and doesn't want to hear along the curves of her skin.
She feels her eyes open wide as color and heat and pleasure and distance fill her mind. She forgets that she's there for information. There is no Jaime or superior officers or parents or job. There's just this feeling, this kaleidoscope of things that feel so very good and for the first time that she can remember, it doesn't hurt.
This doesn't last.
Shivering in a room, she remembers the red of Jaime's blood and the bloody flecks of brain surrounding her like a halo on the floor. Later – so very much later – she'll think back on him and know that it was the drugs and the situation and the unreality that she misses more than the man. But that doesn't matter when she's shaking and clawing at the tiles of her detox cell, wanting nothing more than to crawl back into that bloody mess. What matters is the burning ache in her veins and the look on her mother's face when she visits.
Her mother never asks why. She just looks down and away whenever Dani's voice gets too loud.
"You're an addict," her counselor tells her. The woman's eyes are hard and tired from too many sessions run with too many druggies.
That's you now, her brain tells her, but she tells it to fuck off and goes back to listening. Kind of.
"You'll always be one from now on. Recovery is an ongoing process. You will always be a drug addict. You will always want to pick up another needle. This will not change. The only thing you can do is take it one step at a time."
Dani watches her, face cold.
"I'm not lying to you."
"I know," Dani says, and means it.
Dani remembers being a child and sitting at the kitchen table eating dates and Wonderbread, watching her mother and father slow dance to a song on the radio. She remembers the way her father watched her mother - like she was the most beautiful thing in his world - and how her mother ran a hand across her father's jaw and just smiled.
They'd been beautiful.
She works because there's nothing else she can do. It's all that's left.
It's a surprise to find out she's good at it.
The first time she fucked two men at the same time, she was high on speed and E. Jaime sat back and watched while she took one, then the other in her mouth and into her body.
"You're so fuckinghot!" He whispers, his eyes glazed but no less intent on her.
When she does it again, this time clean if not sober, with the faces of the men no less anonymous, she remembers the stark look of approval in Jaime's eyes. She closes her eyes against the memory, sucking the tall guy deeper in her mouth and pushing back on the short guy.
Later, when she showers, she thinks 'clean' is a misnomer.
"How do you do it?" She asks Crews once. They're in the car – they're always in the car because it's L.A. and everyone is always in the damn car – and haven't actually said anything in close to five minutes.
"What do you mean?"
She grips the wheel tighter and shakes her head, just a little. "Everyday. How do you get up and keep moving?"
She waits for him to respond. Navigates the sea of Escalades and Prius's and lets him think.
Finally, "I don't have another choice."
She feels her forehead relax in that way that means, if she lets herself, she's going to cry. Feels a weight lift and another settle.
"Yeah," she says, and keeps driving.
She still doesn't go home for Sunday afternoon dinners.