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[ aftermath ]
He flinched when Tara´s fingers fluttered over his face. Not because it hurt, he was accustomed to bruises by now, but because he wasn´t used to it. He wasn´t used to tenderness, he wasn´t used to the maternal concern in her eyes. His mother had never looked at him like that.
You okay,’ she asked, her voice soft as she withdrew her hand and stepped back to take Johnny´s, her fingers twining with his.
Looking at the floor, Danny attempted a smile. Shrugging he flicked his eyes up to look at her. Well. Ya know. Been better.’
Johnny finally looked at him, his tall lanky frame rigid and stiff, his mouth curved down into a tight frown. Look like shit,’ he said gruffly, concentrating at a spot somewhere over Danny´s left shoulder. That all from Joe?’
Danny tried out a smile, falling short and knowing it. Well I wasn´t sexually assaulted if that´s what you mean. It was a holding cell, not the pen.’
Johnny´s face darkened and Danny sucked in a breath. Smartass,’ Johnny said under his breath, turning around and walking towards the door. Well come the fuck on,’ he said, pausing and waiting for Danny to follow. Tara smiled falteringly at him before squeezing Johnny´s hand and falling into step with him.
He came to an abrupt stop in front of the black, shiny, new car that definitely wasn´t Johnny´s and looked up at him, wide-eyed. The fuck did this come from,’ he asked, laughing.
Just get in,’ Johnny said tersely, jerking the door open and sliding into his seat.
Tara smiled at him over the top of his door as she opened it for him. It´s my Uncle Mike´s car.’
Danny smiled back at her. Nice,’ he said, sitting down behind the passenger seat, stretching his achingly tight muscles and closing his eyes as he all but sank into the buttery leather.
They drove in hostile silence for ten minutes before Johnny said anything at all. You hungry?’
Danny looked at him, meeting his eyes in the rear view mirror. No. Listen--’
Danny slid over in the seat, leaning up between the two front seats like he used to do when he was a kid on the rare family vacations they went on. Vacation, yeah. Right. Like, to the prison where his uncle was. Like, to the state line so his father could score some cheap pot. Like, to the Statue of Liberty, because he´d missed his school bus that morning, and his father had cursed him out all the way there.
Johnny´s fingers tightened on the steering wheel and he could see the tendon threatening to show itself in his neck. Don´t.’
Don´t what, man, I just want to apologize--’
Save it, Danny,’ Johnny said, and it felt like a slap in the face. I don´t wanna fuckin´ hear it.’
Danny sat back, momentarily stunned. Look--’
I said shut the fuck up, Danny,’ Johnny yelled, turning his head to delivery a withering glare at him. I don´t. Want. To hear it!’
Jesus, Johnny,’ Tara said, soft enough that Danny almost couldn´t hear her. Calm down.’
No, I won´t calm fuckin´ down, Tara,’ Johnny said, lowering his voice only marginally. He fucked up, he knows he fucked up. And I don´t want to hear it!’
Oh, like you never fucked up,’ Danny spat back at him, wrapping his thin coat around him and staring out of the window at the sparse landscape around them. Like you never got beat up, never got thrown in jail. Never fucked up, ever, did you Johnny? Nope. Not you.’
I swear to God, kid, you don´t shut the fuck up right now I´ll pull this car over and beat the crap out of you!’
Danny sat up quickly, like a bolt of lightening, pushing his head between Johnny and Tara and glaring at him. Yeah? Like Dad? Like Joe? You gonna beat the shit outta me for not knowing how to keep my mouth shut?’
Johnny didn´t answer, didn´t even turn his head, and his fingers were so tightly wrapped around the steering wheel Danny could see the white in them. He shoved off of Johnny´s seat and landed back on the seat behind him, refusing to flinch when the belt buckle dug into a bruise by his rib.
Another five minutes passed before Johnny spoke again. I´m dropping you off at Chris´. I don´t want you to go anywhere, Danny, you understand me? Not to the poolhall, not to the bar. I want you and Chris to stay your asses at home.’
Danny bit back a bitter laugh and shook his head, glaring out at the trees as they passed them. What, you´re not bringing me back to your place? Not gonna watch me like a fuckin´ hawk?’
No. Who knows. Tara´s got some nice jewelry. Not sure I want to tempt the known thief.’
Danny did laugh then, despite the tears he could feel in the back of his throat. No, that´s alright, Tara. He´s just exacting a little revenge on his fuck-up kid brother. Don´t worry about it.’
You wouldn´t steal from me,’ Tara said, now sounding just as angry as Johnny was. And he knows that. He´s just being an asshole!’
I´m the asshole,’ Johnny yelled, turning his glare to her. He knocks off Sal´s, gets the shit beaten out of him, and I´m the asshole!’
Tara looked at him with enough cool indifference that Danny felt the need to shiver from it. Yep,’ she said.
The fuck ever,’ Johnny muttered, pulling up in front of Chris´ house and angrily slamming on the brake. Get out.’
Danny closed his eyes, thumping his head against the back of the seat. You´re not even gonna let me apologize? Thank you for bailing me out?’
Johnny´s fingers flex over the steering wheel. Get. Out.’
Danny slammed the door hard enough for it to echo in Chris´ quiet upscale neighborhood. It was almost enough to make him feel better.
Chris winced when he pressed the frozen pack of peas to his cheek. Ow, man.’
Danny huffed out a laugh, reaching up to take the pack of peas, repositioning them as Chris sat down next to him. Yeah. You try sleeping with this shit on a concrete bench.’
Chris pushed at his glasses with his forefinger, licking his lips. So. I mean. Was it bad?’
Danny sighed. Well, the first time he fucked me it hurt, but the second time I kind of got off on it.’
Chris´ eyes widen. They really they They really--’
Christ man, it´s a holding cell,’ Danny said, laughing and then groaning as the bruise on his face twanged to life. I sat in there next to some vagrant bum who got himself thrown in there to have a warm place to sleep. The worst damage I got in jail was a set of black fingers,’ he said, waving his hand in front of Chris´ face, the black ink from the fingerprinting set still marring his skin.
Chris flashed a smile at him, worry still etched in his eyes. Okay. Cause. I mean, I don´t know. All I know about jail I learned from Oz.’
Danny sighed, closing his eyes, leaning against the cool marble of the kitchen counter. The worst part was the waiting. Not knowing if ya´ll were gonna be able to bail me out or not.’
Of course we were gonna bail you out,’ Chris said softly, his hand resting on the back of Danny´s neck. We just had to find a way first. Sorry it took so long, man.’
No,’ Danny said, raising his head to smile at him. No, it´s okay. I knew you guys´d get me out. You did it as fast as you could.’
Chris sighed, his hand slipping down Danny´s back before closing over the back of his chair. Was Johnny pissed?’
Danny snorted, tossing the bag of peas on the counter and wrapping his fingers around the can of soda in front of him. No, Chris. He was happy. Ecstatic. Never been prouder to call me brother.’
Chris frowned. No, I mean ’
As pissed as I´ve ever seen him,’ Danny said softly, tracing the drips of water sweating down the metal can. Wouldn´t even let me apologize.’
Sorry man,’ Chris mumbled again. I didn´t want to tell him, but Nick said he didn´t have the cash to get you out, and ya know, I only have the plastic, and Max, I mean Max is lucky if he has ten dollars on him--’
S´okay, Chris,’ Danny said, starting to feel really tired. He reached up to rub at his eyes, taking care to stay clear of the bruise discoloring his cheek. He´d´ve found out anyway.’
Tang´s back. He came back when--’ Chris faded off. He backed Johnny.’
Danny looked at him quickly. What do you mean, he backed Johnny?’
Johnny played that guy, Joe´s guy. Brad. Played him and kicked his ass. Paid Joe what you owed him, Tang back his money, got you out of jail, and had some left over.’
Danny rolled his eyes up to look at the ceiling. Christ. What the fuck, Tang? He could have lost it all, what if Johnny hadn´t been able to play?’
It was the only way,’ Chris said softly, looking down at the cup of coffee in front of him. We had to get you out, and out of debt to Joe. He killed two birds with one stone.’
I can´t believe Johnny would let--’
Oh, he didn´t,’ Chris said, laughing slightly. He didn´t know. I kind of didn´t tell him. I thought he was gonna kill me when he found out.’
Danny looked at him, a small sliver of a smile slipping out. Looks like you´re learning a few things from me.’
Chris grinned at him. Yeah. Not that happy about that.’
Danny sat up straighter, reaching up to rub at the back of his neck. Don´t be like me, Chris. You´re a good guy.’
Chris rolled his eyes. So are you.’
Danny laughed. Chris. I just knocked over a fuckin´ pawn shop.’
Yeah but what it boils down to is that all of this, you did for your brother,’ Chris said, locking eyes with him. Because Joe broke Johnny´s hand.’
Danny shook his head. I shoulda listened to you. I should have quit while I was ahead.’
Chris grinned. You should always listen to me.’
I really should,’ Danny said, smiling at him and looking down. I treat you like shit, Chris. You´re too good of a friend to me.’
Shut up,’ Chris said, laughing. You don´t treat me like shit.’
I abuse you,’ Danny said softly. I take advantage of you. For fuck´s sake, Chris, your parents put me up for free here, and what do I do? I hock your car, I throw a party at your house when they´re out of town--’
And then you get my car back. You stay up all night cleaning the house with me. You scrubbed at that beer stain for like, an hour.’
I´m a piece of shit, Chris.’
Chris sighed, standing up. Stop. Just stop Danny. You´re not.’ He picked up his empty coffee cup and walked over to the sink, filling it with water before turning back to Danny. Johnny´ll forgive you. He´ll get over it. So stop being so down on yourself.’
Danny smiled at him, shaking his head. You´re the best friend anyone could have, you know that right?’
Chris grinned, leaning back against the counter. Yep. I do.’
He held up his hands when Tara opened the door, flashing one of his trademark grins. I come without the intent to steal. I´ll sign a waiver if you want.’
Tara grinned, laughing. Nah. I think I´ll take you at your word.’ She leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek, grabbing his shirt and pulling him inside. Go. Apologize to your brother,’ she said, grabbing her purse off of the table beside the door.
You´re not gonna stay and protect me,’ Danny asked, only half kidding. Might need someone to give me CPR when he´s done.’
Tara grinned, closing her hand over his shoulder as she took a step towards the door. He´s an ass sometimes, but he´ll get over it.’
The door closed softly behind him and he steeled himself, watching Johnny walk out of his bedroom. Johnny was wearing worn and tattered blue flannel pajama bottoms, white shirt so old he could almost see through it, and the second he saw Danny his frown returned. So what. You kicked Tara out of her own house?’
Danny sighed, leaning against the wall and looking at him. No, man. She left on her own.’
Get out,’ Johnny said, walking through the living room to the kitchen, leaving Danny leaning against the wall to fend for himself.
Danny pushed off the wall and followed him into the kitchen, watching him pour himself a bowl of Chocolate Cocoa Puffs. So. Tara took you back, huh?’
Johnny looked at him for a moment, saying nothing. Yeah,’ he said finally, his voice softening slightly as he handed the bowl of cereal to Danny and pulling a new bowl down for himself. Guess she decided my version of a boyfriend was better than the other schmucks out there.’
Danny leaned against the counter, poking a finger into the cocoa puffs and stirring them around listlessly. Listen.’
I really don´t want to hear it,’ Johnny said softly, but the anger seemed to be gone, replaced by defeat. Somehow, that hurt Danny more.
I´m fuckin´ sorry, Johnny,’ Danny said, squeezing his eyes shut and willing himself to continue. I freaked. I didn´t know what to do. I couldn´t go to you, I didn´t know what to do I didn´t I fucked up.’
You´re an idiot,’ Johnny said, sounding beyond tired, beyond weighed down. Seriously, Danny. You´re an idiot if you think the stealing is where you fucked up.’
Danny sighed. Listen, he took Chris for all his money, and then it turned out he worked for Joe, man. I didn´t know he worked for Joe.’ He took a deep breath, setting the bowl down and hugging his arms around himself. He´s the one who broke you hand, Johnny. Why didn´t you tell me that?’
Johnny looked up at him sharply. What?’
Joe. He´s the one who broke your hand. You said you slammed it in a door, and I never believed that for one fuckin´ second, but Why didn´t you tell me it was Joe?’
Johnny´s jaw clenched as he looked down at his hand, flexing it. Cause it wasn´t any of your business.’
That fucker broke your fucking hand, Johnny!’
Yeah,’ Johnny yelled, looking up at him, his eyes flashing angrily. And excuse the fuck out of me if I didn´t want to tell you, because I knew if I did you´d go and do something stupid like try to make him pay for it!’
Danny stepped forward, glaring back at him. He deserved to pay! All the shit he put you through, the way he used you! He makes me fuckin´ sick, Johnny!’
There was a time he was good to me,’ Johnny said softly, looking away.
No. There wasn´t. There was a time he was nice to your face when you were making a shitload of money for him, that´s what there was!’
Yeah, well he was the closest fuckin´ thing to a real father I ever had, Danny, so why don´t you stop pretending like you understand, alright,’ Johnny yelled, stepping away from the counter. And none of this excuses what you did!’
You think I don´t understand,’ Danny asked, leaning against the counter and watching Johnny pace the tiny kitchen. I had the same sack of shit, doesn´t even know our birthdays, Dad you did. The same guy that beat us up because we spilled coke on the floor. Same fuckin´ guy who burned a cigar into your arm because you unplugged the tv during the game!’ Danny shook his head. You think I don´t get why Joe looked like a step up? I fuckin´ get it. I get it better than you think.’
I was fucked up, Danny,’ Johnny said, looking at him, and for the first time since he could remember Johnny looked near tears. I was fucked up in the head cause of Mom, and Dad, and what they did to us, and Joe, yeah, looked like a step up. He looked like the surrogate father I wanted so fuckin´ bad, and because of that, I fucking latched onto him. And look what he did to me!’
He held up his hand, and shook his head. Except that ain´t even the half of it, because he warped my mind even worse than Mom and Dad did! And this is exactly why I don´t want you following in my footsteps! This is why I don´t want you goin´ to poolhalls. Why I don´t want you runnin´ tricks. It´s no place for you, Danny, trust me. I been there. It gets under your skin and it doesn´t let fuckin´ go!’
Danny stepped forward, until he was standing right in front of him, and looked into his eyes. I´m not stupid, Johnny. I know the risks. I´m good at it. I know how to make money at it. This isn´t who I am, it´s not in my blood like it is for you. It´s a means to an end. It´s so I can get enough money for a decent guitar, so I can get enough money to get actual gigs.’
So come to me,’ Johnny yelled, slamming his hand against the counter behind him. Ask me. Don´t go playing against people like Brad, who know more about hustling than you ever will!’
I don´t want to come to you, Johnny,’ Danny yelled back at him, thankful for the surge of anger, beating back his tears. You been takin´ care of me my whole life. Putting me before yourself my whole fuckin´ life. I want you to have your own life for once!’
Johnny rested his hand on Danny´s shoulder, bending down to look him in the eye. That´s my job, kid. You´re my baby brother.’
Danny blinked at him, shaking his head. I don´t want your protection anymore. I don´t need you to jump in front of Dad´s fist anymore. I don´t need your money. You know what I want from you? You know the only thing I want from you?’
Johnny shrugged, shaking his head. What?’
For you to come to my gigs. See me doin´ what I want, what I do best. I want you to see me up there on the stage and see that I actually can do shit on my own. Without you.’ He shrugs, shaking his head again. I just want you to come see me. I think you´d be proud of me for once.’
Johnny sighed, letting his hand slip off of Danny´s shoulder. I am proud of you, Danny.’ He frowned, straightening up. Except when you do stupid shit like this, like knockin´ off Sal´s, but I´m proud of you. You´re such a bright kid, Danny. Funny, loving, clever, caring you´re really gonna be somethin´, ya know that?’
Danny sighs, leaning back against the counter next to him. You could be too, Johnny. If you´d just do something about it.’
Johnny looks at him. Like what?’
Like actually try to get on the pro circuit instead of bitching and whining about never being invited. Get over yourself. Just because your pride got hurt? I get pride, Johnny, but that´s just fuckin´ stupid.’
Johnny´s hand landed on Danny´s face, his finger tracing the already fading bruise lightly. You get yourself beaten by a guy like Joe, knock off a pawn shop, and then you think you get to come over here and lecture me?’
Danny grinned. Yep.’
Johnny smirked at him and smacked him just hard enough to sting a little bit. Jackass.’
Asshole,’ Danny countered, smiling and reaching up to feel his cheek. That hurt.’
Good,’ Johnny said, grinning at him and walking over to the table with his bowl of cereal. Now maybe the next time you think about doing something so colossally stupid, you´ll remember that.’