CHAPTER ELEVEN

Super awkward morning after - averted. Super awkward evening after - currently in progress.

Marshal wouldn't have thought he would be so willing to go forward with it, but there was honestly nowhere else he wanted to be. Sitting at the dining room table in Danny's mansion carefully slurping some kind of noodle-laden tomato and vegetable soup. His biggest worry was dripping it down his shirt or making obscene sounds with his mouth.

Everything else would figure itself out on its own and he refused to be worried.

He was happy being in Danny's company.

"This soup is delicious," he said, gesturing with his spoon. Then he coughed as some pepper tickled his throat and hurriedly drank some water. He felt his cheeks burn with embarrassment.

"It's one of Olivia's specialties. She used to make it for me when I was sick." Danny held his spoon in his left hand while he ate nibbling bites of bread with his right. It was strangely adorable.

Marshal wondered how many other people got to see Danny like this. He didn't think very many, but he still couldn't help being jealous of all those fictional people his imagination insisted on projecting. He wanted to keep this time with Danny for himself alone.

Seeming to sense his gaze, Danny met his eyes. Then his fair skin flushed red and he looked away. He fumbled with his spoon. It was endearing.

Marshal had to admit, things hadn't turned out as completely awkward as he'd worried. Danny was Danny, and that was a guy that Marshal really liked.

He was able to show up for dinner and it felt perfectly right. He liked Danny more than a lot and that was amazing to him.

He'd always lacked commitment before, but Danny brought it out in him. And he liked that. He liked the man Danny was making him become.

=.= =.=

-THE SPACES IN-BETWEEN-

Arthur didn't know what he was supposed to do. He'd been avoiding Danny for the last few days, quietly driving him around before escaping. He was worried Danny would be able to read the truth on his face.

He lived in the guest house, which was beautiful and lavish and the kind of place he'd never thought he'd see the inside of when he was a kid. It was like living in a mansion of his own, but Danny liked to keep him close.

Right now he wished he was a hundred miles away because some completely paranoid part of his brain insisted that Danny would be able to read his thoughts through the walls or something.

Arthur curled up in his favorite chair with his phone. It only rang twice before Sophia answered.

"Arthur, this is a surprise," she said. "Is something happening?"

He blew out his cheeks. "It's a Code Black," he said.

She gasped. "Are you sure?"

"More than sure," Arthur said. "Vanessa called me the moment the alert hit her desk. Lauren is back in the States and she's heading this way."

"That bitch," Sophia cursed. "What are we going to do?"

"We keep her the hell away from Danny at all cost," he growled. "She is not to come near him. I don't want him to know she's even here."

"You don't think that might make him angry with us later?" she asked. There was no reluctance in her voice, just honest curiosity.

"I'll take the blame if it comes to that," he said. "I've got no problem playing the best friend card, but there's no way I'm letting her crawl back into his head again."

"Do you really think she's going to come for Mr. Worth?" Sophia asked.

"I don't have a single doubt in my mind. She gets her rocks off by torturing him." He sighed. "She couldn't have picked a worse time, right when he's just coming out of his shell."

"Well, it's good we've got a bit of an advance warning," Sophia said. "It would have been a disaster if she'd shown up unexpectedly. It could have caused a real setback."

Arthur stood up, his bare toes curling against the heated wood floor, before walking into the kitchenette. There was half an apple pie in the fridge that he was making no attempt at resisting. He needed something to wipe some of the stress away.

"We'll have a lot to do tomorrow," he said, opening the fridge. He wasn't even going to bother with a plate, it was just him, a fork and the metal pan. "I'll let you go."

"Goodnight," her warm voice said. Then she laughed and added, "Enjoy your pie!" before hanging up.

Even with the horror descending on them, Sophia still made him huff a laugh and shake his head. He appreciated that, though he did wonder how she knew he was eating pie. But then again, there was very little that Sophia didn't seem to know. She was moderately awesome.

=.= =.=

There was something going on. He wasn't completely oblivious.

Danny thought about making demands, but he really wasn't in the mood. Arthur seemed to have a handle on things, so Danny decided to just let it be. It would be nice to leave all the stress for someone else.

Instead, Danny enjoyed the relationship developing between him and Marshal. It was nice just to be happy for once.

They had eaten their usual quiet dinner together, then Danny had taken Marshal to his private indoor swimming pool.

"I used to love swimming as a kid," he said, staring at the far wall. "Then I didn't like it for a long time because of something that happened. I had to work hard to get back my love of swimming, but it was something I thought was worth it." He swiped his hand across his face. "Because it was something my mother really enjoyed."

"Thank you for telling me," Marshal said after a quiet moment.

Danny nodded. "It needed to be said." He threw himself into swimming to the far end of the pool. Opening his mouth and letting any of his true self out was hard, but he knew it had to be done. If he locked himself up too tight, it would all fester and rot within him. And he was tired of just letting himself fade away.

He wanted to be real just one time in his life.

Danny swam with a strong stroke he'd learned from his mother. It was one of the few things he had left of her other than the blue eyes he'd inherited. There were some times when he didn't think he even remembered the look of her face anymore.

His hand touched the broad tile of the pool wall and he gripped it with his fingers as he turned around so he could face Marshal. He kicked his feet lazily to keep from sinking.

Marshal had pulled himself up out of the pool and was sitting on the edge, his feet dangling. The black swim trunks Danny had loaned him clung to his thighs and Danny carefully didn't focus on Marshal's crotch though his eyes wanted to linger.

Marshal had broad shoulders and a trim waist that Danny couldn't resist admiring. His chest was smooth and tanned, marred by a jagged scar that cut beneath his right pec. Danny kept glancing at the scar and away, not wanting to believe that it might have been caused by the blade of a serrated knife, but fearing that it was so.

Danny blushed when Marshal caught him staring and hurriedly looked away. He'd been ogling him like a piece of meat.

There was a splash and he looked to see that Marshal had dropped back into the water and was swimming toward him. He was tempted to escape, but he kept himself in place, waiting for Marshal to come to a splashing halt in front of him, bobbing slightly.

"Why are you blushing?" Marshal reached out with his right hand to touch his fingers to Danny's chin.

Danny shook his head, unable to meet Marshal's gaze. "Nothing," he said, which didn't make any sense and resulted in him blushing more. "You're kind of splashy when you swim."

Marshal laughed. "Yeah. I nearly washed out of FBI training because of my terrible swimming skills. There was talk of relegating me to the kiddie pool."

"Come on," Danny said. "I'll show you how it's done."

"All right," Marshal said agreeably.

=.= =.=

Swimming with Danny followed by slices of Black Forest cake. It was the perfect kind of evening he'd thought only happened in movies. The fact that he'd caught Danny sneaking peeks at his body only made it better, though he kept a tight rein on his libido to keep from scaring Danny away.

After they finished their cake, they spent half an hour with Danny's Legos. Marshal felt proud of his ability to follow directions and earned himself one of Danny's quietly pleased smiles.

Clicking blocks together, Marshal tried not to think about how good Danny had looked in his swimsuit earlier. He had a whole reel of mental film to go over later when he wouldn't end up embarrassing himself.

He'd been surprised by the whole swimming thing, but he'd definitely been pleased with the result. He'd gotten some great swim lessons from Danny, and he'd been allowed to see Danny in fitted blue trunks that showed off the long, lean lines of his body. He only wished he'd gotten some pictures to save, because he never wanted to forget the way Danny had looked, wet and bare chested, his dark hair slicked back from his face.

"I had a lot of fun tonight," he said.

Danny had his legs crossed and was hunched forward over the map he'd unrolled on the floor. He looked at Marshal through the fringe of his hair. "Me too." He smiled sweetly. "I like hanging out with you."

Marshal was going to have to turn in his man-card, because that warm burst of feeling that spread through his chest was definitely making him think of hearts and romance. There was some arousal there - he was only human - but he could have happily spent the rest of his life having nights like this one and being on the receiving end of Danny's smile.

He ducked his chin to hide the big grin taking over his face. "I love you too," he said, then froze.

There was a horrible moment of silence and he actually squeezed his eyes tight shut to try and block out the rejection to come.

He'd been the first one to say the words. He'd opened his mouth and blurted out the three most loaded words in the English language: "I love you." He'd upped their relationship without testing the waters, and there was a chance Danny was about to bring down the ban hammer.

"Wow." There was genuine awe in Danny's voice. "No one's ever said that to me before."

That wasn't exactly a reciprocation. Marshal was still bracing himself for rejection.

"I'm not going to say I love you," Danny said, and Marshal winced. "Not until I'm sure. I... I do really like you though, and I would like to have a lasting relationship with you."

Marshal opened his eyes and sat up straight. He tried to pretend that his heart wasn't trying to beat it's way out of his chest. "So you wouldn't mind if I called you my boyfriend?"

Danny wrinkled his nose. "'Boyfriend' sounds strange for people our age, and 'manfriend' sounds kind of perverted, and 'partner' seems oddly impersonal. I don't know what we should call our relationship, but I know I want to have one with you." There was white showing all around his eyes, but he was trying.

"I'm just gonna say it, you melted me with your words." It was true, and Marshal couldn't help laughing joyously. He felt giddy and stupid and he was tempted to grab Danny and kiss him if it wouldn't result in an episode of freaking out.

Staying seated was the hardest thing ever, but being able to watch Danny's every emotion slip across his face made it worth the effort.

Danny tossed a spacesuit wearing Legoman at him.

Marshal snatched it out of the air. "Careful! I might not want to stay in this relationship with you if you poke out my eye."

Danny gave him a wide-eyed look that relaxed into a shy smile and his eyes looking down and away. "You could wear an eye-patch and I'd call you Nick Fury." There was a hint of pink on his cheeks.

"I could do that." Marshal held his chin between his thumb and forefinger. "I think I could pull off being Samuel L. Jackson. Because he is totally the only Nick Fury I believe in," he hastened to say off Danny's look. "It's like how there's only one Hannibal Lecter and that's Anthony Hopkins. The remakes just don't cut it."

"I have no idea how to respond right now." Danny's lips were twitching. "You're... you're a giant dork," he said fondly.

Marshal purposely scuffed his hand through his hair and put on his best set of smoldering eyes. "The sexy kind of giant dork, right?" He pouted.

Danny burst out laughing. The moment was good.

.

When Danny asked him to stay the night, Marshal had to fight to keep from giving a fist of victory. Following him up the stairs was the best thing ever. He felt as though he should be floating up the stairs like someone out of a cartoon, a big smile on his face.

They moved around each other in the quietness of the bedroom. Danny took the first shower, emerging in his cotton pajamas with the buttons all done up the front. Marshal tried not to stare at the adorable pink piggies that were his toes, though he did take a mental picture as he walked into the bathroom.

He showered quickly and put on the set of pajamas he'd been given, raising his eyebrows when he realized they were exactly his size. It looked like Danny had sent someone shopping for him.

It made him grin at his reflection in the mirror, a delighted and somewhat crazed expression he tried to wipe away before going out to face Danny. The last thing he wanted to do was freak the guy out.

He was surprised to find the blankets rolled down and Danny sitting on his knees in the middle of the bed, a mildly terrified look on his face.

"Are you all right?" Marshal asked.

Danny licked his lips, which were quivering slightly. "Y-yes." He nodded firmly. "I... I really like you and I would like to have a lasting relationship with you." His fingers fumbled at the buttons of his pajama shirt as he began to undo them. "I know there are some things we need to do to make this a real relationship."

Marshal had no idea what was happening, but he knew it wasn't anything that Danny wanted. "Whoa, whoa, whoa." He hurried forward to grab Danny's hand, stopping him from unbuttoning the rest of his shirt. "You don't have to do anything you don't want to."

"But I do want to. It's just..." Danny's eyes glistened terrified blue. "I lived with my Aunt Lauren for most of my childhood and... She was not a nice woman. Things happened that I've spent years trying to get over."

Danny shook his head and drew in a wavering breath. "I want to have a real relationship with you. I want... I want what everyone else has. It's just that there's some times I can't do, won't do. Maybe someday, but I know I'm not ready now."

Marshal had no idea what had gone on in Danny's head while he was in the shower, but there was no way he was going to let Danny feel pressured into doing something he didn't want to. "Look, I love you, like really love you. So if you're never ready for anything more than a few kisses, I'm a big boy and I can deal with it." He squeezed Danny's hands before letting go. "You don't have to rush into anything we both know you're not ready for."

Danny blinked his big blue eyes and Marshal could feel himself melting into emotional goo. "You really don't mind?"

"Of course not." Marshal shook his head. He drew in a deep breath and climbed up on the bed to sit facing Danny. "I'm gonna be honest with you. I knew from the first moment I met you that you had some serious issues. It's not like I'm heading into this blind."

He lay his hand gently on the knob of Danny's knee. "One of the things about being in a relationship is that you don't have to do anything you're not ready for. There's two of us here, and we both have to agree before we do anything."

"But..." Danny tipped his head. "I know there's things you want to do and I honestly don't mind. If you promise not to hurt me, I'm willing."

Marshal huffed and scrubbed his palm across his face. "That's not the way it works," he said. "We are both in this together. And together we will decide what we're going to do and what our boundaries are and all that stuff. But we're not going to do anything like that tonight.

"You're not ready."

"I really don't mind," Danny said again, almost pleading.

"I mind," Marshal said firmly. He slowly reached out his hands and pressed against Danny's shoulders, pushing him back to rest against the pillows. He shifted himself around and pulled the sheets and blankets up as he settled his head on the pillow beside Danny.

He looked straight into Danny's eyes. "I don't want to hurt you and I'm not going to let you allow me to hurt you." He brushed the hair back from Danny's face with his hand. "Now go to sleep. This, right here, is everything that I want."

"But..."

Marshal touched Danny's lip with his finger, silencing him. Then he leaned up long enough to switch off the light before settling back down. "Go to sleep. I love you."

There was a long stretch of silence, then out of the darkness came a shy whisper, "Me too."

Marshal smiled until sleep finally claimed him.

.

The next morning, Marshal was surprised by Danny smiling down at him from the side of the bed, fully dressed in suit and tie and ready to face the day.

Marshal yawned and stretched hugely. "You're up early," he said.

Danny shook his head. "No, you're up late." He glanced down at his watch. "I've gotta go, but I thought I should wake you up first."

"Well, thank you." Marshal sat up and ran his hands through his hair, trying to straighten the mess out. "Do I get a kiss?" He tried on a charming smile.

Danny laughed and leaned forward, giving him a quick peck on the lips. "I got you something." He turned to point at what had become Marshal's chair, where he'd leave his folded clothes at night.

Marshal didn't hesitate to climb out of bed and walk over to investigate. "These aren't mine," he said, fingering the high quality fabric.

"I had Beatrice pick it up for you," Danny said. "I've been dying to get you into a nicer suit since the first day I met you."

"It's nice," Marshal said. Nicer than anything he'd ever had before. He wondered if he was going to receive a waggle of Joanna's eyebrows and have to listen to her go on about how he was now a kept man. He found that he didn't mind. "Thank you."

He opened up his arms and waited hopefully, his patience rewarded by Danny shyly stepping forward into his embrace.

The hug was brief, but it tided him over all day. He ignored Joanna's teasing as best he could, his hand caressing the lapel of his new suit.

He didn't know where his relationship with Danny was going, but he was happy to make the journey.