Turning from Tanglewood by AndromedaMarine
"I swear I never ran with them, Mac, never. Except for that...that one night." Daniel Messer's palm connected with the day-old stubble on his chin, rubbing out of anxiety and fear. His blue eyes, shimmering pools that never seemed to end, flitted around the room, looking anywhere but his boss's stoic features. Somehow he seemed to find the courage to look into his friend's eyes, using all his willpower not to be overcome with the forgotten memories. "Louie was the Tanglewood Boy, Mac, not me. You know I did everything I could to stay away from them, and..." He faltered, squeezing his eyes shut and swaying on the spot.
Mac reached out instinctively, thinking that it wouldn't be beneficial if his subordinate collapsed, and placed his hand on the younger man's shoulder with iron force. "Go on, Danny. I'm your friend right now, not a CSI."
Danny pinched the bridge of his nose, removed his glasses and took a deep breath, sucking the air into his lungs as if it was the last thing he'd do. He related the one night he'd walked the same pace as the Tanglewood Boys; the only thing he was confident about was his innocence. "And I walked away from them. I never spoke to Louie as a brother again, Mac. Put Sonny away, Mac – for me." The beginnings of tears made his eyes sparkle in the lab's lighting, and then with one small movement the shimmering blue was gone, disappeared behind the anguished interior few had ever seen.
"I will, Danny, but listen to me – I don't want you out of this lab, not until we put Sonny in the cage. If you put one foot out those doors, I'll kill you if they don't."
The young CSI gave his boss a grim sort of smile, his eyes still revealing what was really inside. "I know. But you gotta believe me, Mac, I don't trust myself to stay here on my own. Set Flack on me – have Lindsay stick to me like glue, just don't...don't let me out of someone's sight." He set his jaw, determined not to release the tears.
Mac silently agreed and led him towards the break room, waited till he took a seat at the table, and placed a cup of coffee in front of him. "Don't move – at least not until Lindsay sticks to you like glue. You're not going out of her sight." He gave Danny a reassuring pat on the shoulder and turned to see Adam walk in. "Roth, could you do me a favor and keep an eye on Danny until Lindsay gets here?"
Adam froze on the spot but nodded in answer to the detective's request. "Sure thing, boss," the scientist said, glancing from Messer to Taylor. "And I'll make it two eyes." The glass door closed with a soft thud behind the fatherly figure of the lab. Danny moved not an inch when Adam pulled the chair out to sit beside him. "I...uh...I don't suppose you want to talk about it," he said, his hands closing around his own paper cup of coffee.
Danny shook his head halfheartedly, focusing his blurred vision on a watermark staining the table. They sat in an uncomfortable silence for several minutes, Adam taking the chance to study his friend like he hadn't been able to before. He noticed that Danny's eyes were redder than they should be, dark circles outlining the blue. Danny's hands had a slight tremor even around the reenergizing liquid, and every so often his right pinkie would give an involuntary twitch, as if something foreign touched his skin. The native New Yorker jerked his neck to the left thrice in the time Adam tallied the oddities. From the angle at which Adam sat he could tell that Danny's right leg quickly bounced up and down on the ball of his foot, a sign the scientist recognized as one of stress.
A total of twelve minutes went by from Mac leaving the room to Lindsay entering it. She had observed the scene from outside a moment earlier, attempting to decipher what hundreds – possibly millions – of thoughts passed through Danny's taxed mind. "Adam," she said softly, wincing as the jumpy scientist practically leapt from his skin. "I've got it from here."
Adam nodded once, took one last look at the broken Detective Messer, and hurried from the room back to his lab.
Lindsay took Adam's vacated seat. "You've got to talk it out, Danny," she informed him quietly, herself pained at seeing how he was taking the case. "Mac sent me for a reason. If I've got to stay by your side until this is closed then I need to know if you're all here." She folded her hands on the table, leaning slightly in her partner's direction. "Talk to me, Danny, please."
"There's nothing to say, Montana," Danny replied simply, his hands not leaving the coffee nor his eyes the watermark. "I'm not a Tanglewood Boy."
"I know, Danny – we all do. You wouldn't be Danny Messer if you were." Her fingers twitched, silently longing to hold his. "You didn't do anything wrong."
Danny's hand formed a fist and made a harsh echo as it connected with the table, his coffee leaping unnaturally from its place and spilling across the metal to the floor. "I know I didn't do anything wrong, Montana, Mac knows it and you know it – hell, Adam knows it, but the evidence, Montana, the evidence that we trust for the facts is telling us that I was there. In the world of science we can't trust word of mouth! I'm dying here, Montana, under this god forsaken scrutiny. I'm about the science, and right now the only thing I trust is screwing me." His head fell into his hands, the coffee long forgotten and his shoulders trembling.
Without thinking of her actions Lindsay rose from her seat and stood behind her friend, leaned down and hugged him from behind, one arm across his chest and the other curled around his bicep. She rested her head on his shoulder, her eyes closed as she tried to fight her own tears. She absorbed each movement the tears forced him to make. "Science may not trust the words, but I do," she whispered. "I believe with all my heart that you had nothing to do with it, and you need to know that, Danny. You need to know that everyone is here for you. Especially me."
Ten hours passed before Louie Messer was beaten within an inch of his life by the Tanglewood Boys. Despite Danny's strong efforts to leave the lab Lindsay stood in his way, and it was only when Sassone was brought in three hours later that Mac gave Lindsay the permission to take Danny to the hospital to see his brother.
Danny's jaw was hard and set, but it was his blue eyes that gave him away, struggling not to burst with anger and pain. Several times Lindsay reached over and gave him a comforting squeeze on the arm, only to be returned with a glance that said 'don't worry about me.' Lindsay could do anything but.
"I'm afraid Louis Messer is still in surgery," the doctor informed them with a worried expression on his face. "I will let you know the moment Mr. Messer comes out of the OR." He turned away from them and the two CSIs sank into the waiting room chairs.
"Louie will pull through," Lindsay said, taking her partner's hands in hers. "You don't need to fight this battle alone, Danny. It's almost like you're forgetting I'm here for you."
"Montana, I'll never forget what you're doing for me...I'm glad you stayed with me, even if it was if Mac told you to."
"I wanted to be by your side, Danny. Mac gave me a reason," Lindsay whispered, leaning forward to rest her elbows on her knees. She hung her head and sighed, watching their entwined fingers between them. "I couldn't leave even if I wanted to."
Danny took in an almighty breath and his spine curved forward, their foreheads resting together. "If Mac hadn't've made you stay with me I'd probably be dead by now – I would've gone off to find Tanglewood."
Lindsay froze. "You're not stupid, Danny. You wouldn't risk your life to get even – I don't believe you'd do that." She tightened her grip on his hands, looking up to meet his gaze. "Danny, please look at me." She was suddenly confronted with the shimmering orbs of blue and was temporarily at a loss for words. "I don't know how else to tell you that you have nothing to beat yourself up over! Just remember I care about you, Danny, or I would've let you come here when we first heard the news." She felt her confidence grow as Danny kept the eye contact, unable to look away; he was captivated. "I want to help you. You need to turn your back on Tanglewood."
"Yeah, Montana, I do," he said quietly, blinking and letting his gorgeous blue eyes wander. "Believe me, I've been trying to. You have no idea how hard it is – but misery loves company, eh?" He didn't even try to make it humourous. "Help me through this, Montana...please..." His lower lip began to tremble and his glasses became opaque as the tears came out.
Lindsay was broken at the sight of Danny's now-unguarded interior, and the thought to refuse him was nonexistent. She gathered him in her arms as much as the seats would allow, her hands woven into his short hair. "I'm not going anywhere, Danny," she choked out, seemingly unwilling to ever let him go.
An hour later, when Daniel Messer's emotions were under better control, the doctor returned to where they sat, hand in hand. "Detectives Messer and Monroe?" he asked with uncertainty, his eyes flickering between them. "Louis Messer has just exited the operating room, but I'm afraid he's...he's slipped into a coma."
Danny's hand constricted around Lindsay's, and she could tell he'd ceased his breathing to stare with watery eyes up at the medical practitioner. "Coma?" he hissed with a hint of anger she knew was directed at the Tanglewood Boys.
The doctor nodded cautiously. "I'm sorry, detective, but there was nothing we could do to prevent it. In a few minutes I'll allow you to visit him, but there's only a thirty-five percent chance he'll make it out of the coma." His visage seemed genuinely saddened, but it was a situation that occurred practically every day. It never got better. "He will be in room four-fifteen."
"I'll wait out here," Lindsay said as they stopped outside Danny's brother's room. She gave him a small smile and before he could turn to visit his brother Lindsay reached up and placed a light kiss on his cheek, her eyes shy as she pulled away. "I'm not going anywhere, Danny. I'll be here when you come out."
Danny stood by Louie's hospital bed for ten minutes, just talking to him. Lindsay saw him remove his glasses time and time again to pinch the bridge of his nose and rub the tears away. She could feel herself breaking with him, feeling everything he felt.
"He's in no condition to be home alone tonight, Monroe," Mac said from her side, easing himself into a vacant chair. "Don't let him out of your sight. I know he still has it in his mind to go after the rest of the Tanglewood Boys. Sassone's just the top of the chain of command. Do not let him leave, Lindsay. You go where he goes."
She nodded without looking over at her supervisor. "I can't believe how much he's beating himself up over what happened to Louie... He didn't do anything, Mac. He doesn't seem to believe it... It's killing me just seeing him fall apart like this."
"Danny's a strong kid, Lindsay. I have never once doubted him. But I can't go without saying that this is the worst I've seen him." Mac looked thoughtfully at the Montana girl. "Danny needs a friend to lean on, and you're not just a friend to him. He trusts you with his life, and you can't forget that."
Lindsay leaned forward on her elbows, placing her forehead in her hands. "I never will."
Mac patted her back with comfort, stood, and made his way to the elevators. She was left in silence for another few minutes, and the sound of a metal door clicking shut met her ears. Danny had returned. "I need to get some air, Montana... It's too hot in here – too confined..." He set off to the metal box, Lindsay hurrying behind him with her coat across her arm. She slid in next to him just as the doors closed. There was no one but them in the car.
"You can't get away from me that easily," she said lightly, shifting to shrug the coat onto her shoulders. When she glanced at her partner she froze, her eyes immediately filling with tears. "Danny..." she whispered, moving in front of him and putting her hands on his arms. Her partner's eyes were squeezed shut, his mouth set in a tight line. She could tell he was struggling not to show any emotion. "It's okay, Danny...Louie's going to make it through..."
The doors opened before he could say anything in return. They walked briskly to the automatic doors, savoring the cold air that rushed towards them. In the comfort of darkness Danny let out an uncharacteristic sob, leaned against his partner with no strength left in him. Lindsay wrapped her arms tightly around him, keeping him close as he wept into her shoulder. There was no need for him to act tough at a time like this. Words could not comfort him any longer. She'd said everything possible to let him know that she would always be there for him. He needed a comforting touch, a friend to lean on, someone who could share his pain.
Danny did not leave Lindsay's sight or side for another four days.
Mac stood with Stella in his office, side by side drinking coffee and observing the flurry of the lab.
"He held it together," Stella commented lightly, swirling her mug as her eye stayed trained on the distant outline of Detective Daniel Messer. "Albeit with some help." Her gaze flickered to Lindsay, who was immediately beside Danny.
Mac sighed, turning his back on the glass wall of his office. "Lindsay's the only thing capable of holding him together. Without her he'd...he'd just fall apart."
"Any word on how Louie's doing?"
The older CSI shook his head, running one gun-calloused hand through the short black hair. "Same. Vitals haven't changed and the doctors can't predict when he'll wake up, if ever." Mac took a seat behind his desk and stretched. "It took Danny fifteen years to get out of Tanglewood's grip, Stel. With Lindsay he's finally turned his back on it."
Even at the distance separating Mac and Danny, their eyes met and an unspoken statement passed between them, their mouths twitching into slight smiles.
Don't give up on her, because she won't give up on you.