More Bonds of Steele
Part 2
by Jen

Time: After Bonds. I couldn't help myself and I joined the ranks of the many.
Summary: Like I said, just another postscript to Bonds. I saw the episode and was sitting at the computer, and was in a depressed mood to boot. Feedback is welcome, though this isn't exactly the epitome of talent. I'm not sure whether to add more or let it stand on its own where you can make up the rest; you tell me. Whether or not I finish depends on feedback.

Daniel touched the door gently, and it moved silently inward. It didn't surprise him that it was not only unlocked but partially open. He took a tentative step onto the old wooden floorboards, knowing they had a predilection towards loud complaints at inopportune moments. He paused and smiled to himself at the pretentious and extravagant phrase used merely to say the floor was creaky. It sounded a bit like something Harry would say, equally for his love of the colloquial as for his tendency towards the flamboyant. The smile disintegrated and Daniel was forced to adjust the thought: It sounded like something Harry would've said. That is, before Salvatore had called Daniel in the middle of the night with some interesting news. It seemed Salvatore's sister had discovered a close friend of Daniel's lying on a bench in the park where she'd taken her children one morning. Initially Harry had refused to move, but at the request of Magdalena, Chiara's six-year-old girl, he'd agreed to return to Salvatore's villa, on the threshold of which Daniel now paused.

Daniel had told Laura over the phone that all he had was a lead, instead of the actual flesh and blood. He'd felt guilty about it, guilty enough to call her by her true name, but he knew that at this point, it was necessary. Salvatore and his much younger sister Chiara had gone into great detail about Harry's condition. Mentally, he seemed worn out, completely exhausted. Physically, he didn't get much exercise, was wandering listlessly around the house, and was sleeping more than was healthy. But perhaps, thought Daniel grimly, he wasn't really sleeping. Just rerunning everything in his head, trying to process powerful emotions like squeezing one end of a balloon so that air bubbled hugely on the other side, and back, without ever really popping. He could recall with a shudder times that Harry had acted just like this, as a teenager who couldn't always push back the first half of his life. There was no way Laura could see him yet, not until Harry was conditioned to deal with her. For her to see him now would be like shoving a band-aid onto an open wound and then ripping it off seconds later -- nothing was healed, and your skin stung from the glue.

His contemplation was split by the realization that a pair of overly large, bright black eyes were staring mutely up from the height of his knees. The child was clad in a grey sweater and little else besides a comically large hat that obscured most of his fine black hair. Before Daniel could say anything, he toddled away and was promptly scooped up by a short black-haired woman of medium build. "Hello, Chiara," he said.

"You're late," she replied, stepping in to give him a brief hug while still holding the boy. "Although perhaps that is because you like to open doors and then stand there staring into space, hmm?"

"It's not my fault; my plane was delayed. Fog in London."

"When is there not? Come all the way in, or a draft will come through." She turned and walked into a hallway to the right, where he knew a warm kitchen existed. Instead of following her, he meandered into an adjoining room and gazed out an open window. The wharf could just be seen, over a knoll. He could see a lankier, more awkward version of Harry trying to work knots out there when they had come here on vacation. Harry had insisted he knew perfectly well how to do it and didn't need any help. It was only later that summer, when one of the smaller boats drifted away, that he was told he was no longer allowed to tie anything up until he let one of the men teach him how. When his pride wouldn't allow that, he had secretly started leaving early every morning to meet one of the old fishermen for lessons. Two weeks later, he had proudly demonstrated his new power to the amazed eyes of the men at Salvatore's home. Only Daniel had seen Harry leave and followed him; to everyone else, the child was a prodigy who had miraculously learned the skills of nautical knots. And Daniel had never told; he knew that was exactly how Harry wanted it.

He turned and strolled out the other side of the room. Coming to a door on the right of the dark hallway, he was about to knock when it opened almost in his face. A startled young girl knocked into him and looked up. "Daniel?"

He grinned in recognition. "Corinna! What have you been up to, young lady? Seems you've grown a few inches since I last saw you."

She rolled her eyes, but hugged him anyway. "Everyone says that."

"Well, maybe next time I can think up a more creative way to say it, eh?"

"Mmn. Are you here to see Harry? He's really sad. He doesn't play with us like he used to. I wish he'd come out of his room more."

"And just which room might that be?"

She directed him up the stairs to the attic room and then sped off to answer a phone call. Daniel climbed the well-worn staircase alone, trying with little success to remember which steps creaked where. There used to be a little ditty that one of the children had made up for it, but that was over ten years ago, and even if he could remember it now, it probably wouldn't be helpful. It didn't matter, thought Daniel ruefully at the top stair. By now Harry'd probably heard him coming anyway. It wouldn't make a big difference. He walked a few more steps at the top of the landing and knocked softly on Harry's door.

It swung open, having not been completely closed in the first place, which was more unusual for a place where Harry resided than for one where Sal did. Daniel peered into the half-light coming from the drably covered window.

"So they've sent for you to come after me. Or was it Laura searching for me? I wondered if she'd come a second time." Harry was looking at him almost accusingly, curled up near the window.

Daniel felt a small pang at his disinterested glare. "Both, actually. But I've also come because I'm worried, too. I...I sort of wish you'd said something to me; it wasn't altogether pleasant when Laura called after you left. You didn't have to end up, well, on the street again --"

"For the last time, I wasn't going back to the streets!" Harry interrupted forcefully. "I was going to meet an old friend, but I think I had the wrong park or something. I would've spent the night at his place." He stopped suddenly as Daniel's earlier comment sunk in. "Wait...why did Laura call you? Was she just trying to find out where I went, just in case or something, or -- well, why?"

Daniel put on a surprised expression for Harry's benefit, as though astonished Laura would even think of not being lost and upset. About which, frankly, he had no idea; Laura seemed to be coming from all directions possible when it came to Harry. He pushed the thought from his mind and concentrated on surprised innocence. "Why Harry, how could you even ask? She's been losing sleep and wringing her hands about you ever since you left. Calling everyone in or recently out of the business, anyone associated with you, anyone you smiled at on the street."

Harry started to look warily hopeful then was struck by something. "You didn't tell her where I was, did you?"

Well. That could be a rather ambiguous statement. "Of course not. My loyalty is always to you. I had to check for your permission first. Now, why would that bother you? Do you not want her to come for you?"

Harry hesitated, the breath caught in his throat. Daniel could sense some sort of conflict going on in him. When he did speak, he seemed nearly unsure of himself. Another strikingly salient contrast to the normal Harry. "Well...I mean, it's not that I don't want to be with her. Oh god, you have to believe I do. I'm completely in love with her -- it's just, I -- I don't quite know how she feels about me, and I left her with all my defenses down and all of hers fortified by my shortcomings."

To Daniel, the words fortified by my shortcomings seemed suddenly of great consequence in the outside-looking-in viewpoint he'd had of Laura and Harry's relationship over the years. Fortified by his shortcomings. No wonder it wasn't working out. He wondered briefly if Harry really realized what he'd just said, how succinctly and perfectly he'd placed the relationship, or if Laura knew it when she did it, and whether she did or didn't care. Part of love was learning to accept and even embrace another's shortcomings, wasn't it? He smiled fondly, a leap of memory taking him back over thirty years ago to a wistful, black-haired Irish lass...and then mentally shook himself for continually drifting between past and present in his old age.

Harry had figured out what he wanted to say. "Right now, she's got all the power, and I'm vulnerable to attack, and when that's happened before, she hasn't always been gentle to me. If that should happen right now, I don't know that I could handle it at all..." He looked up at Daniel, and suddenly his solemn face broke into a weak smile, almost childlike. "Tell me, how is she?"

"Not very good," answered Daniel, taking a seat on the ancient couch opposite him. "I think you've really shaken her, Harry. You left once, and she came to find you -- maybe it was easier then, because it didn't mean so much. But now, it's devastatingly final, because everything that you'd held back, you've finally given her, in a way, at least, by admitting your love. But it can't work for long."

Harry looked surprised. "What do you mean? What can't work? I've given her that "proof" she wanted of my commitment, the commitment that's been there for nearly five years now."

"Was there, Harry. It's not proof if the commitment is no longer present, and it doesn't look to her like it is anymore, since you've left."

"But she wanted me gone! I'm only giving her what she wanted! I've done every stupid thing she's ever asked, jumped through every stupid hoop, and I can't tell which ones I'm not actually supposed to go through! I want to be there with her, showing her how much I care, every minute of my life, but she's the one who won't let me! I love her, damn it, and I've told her that. Why isn't that enough now?"

"I know, Harry. But there's a good reason it isn't quite enough to be her "proof" yet, at least to someone like her for whom the words are so important."

"Well, what is it already? I don't understand her!"

"The problem, Harry, is that it's too easy to say "I love you" if you leave immediately after."

End Part 2
To Part 3

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