Oh, The Places You'll Go

Running Out of Hands

Notes: Written for the fifth A Picture is Worth 1000 Words (picfor1000) challenge. Thanks to phoebesmum for beta and title-pixie duties. Set pre-canon, no spoilers.

Inspired by the picture below:

dan's chutes 9

He can't do it. He just can't. He's tried, he really has, but it seems to be beyond him. It always ends in a complete mess and one of these days someone, or something, is going to get hurt. He should give up while the going is good. But he can't.

There is something about it, about the promise of it. That once he gets over the hump, scales the learning curve, gets good, it will be the stress-reliever everyone says it should be. That he will be caught in the moment, the series of moments, the steady rhythms and gentle pressure, the elegance of movement, and he can forget who he is and simply be.

He picks up a ball and turns it over. The colorful leather sphere fits neatly into his palm, its weight comforting and familiar. He tosses it up a little, catches it. Throws it again, higher this time. Catches it. Tosses it from right to left, left to right. No problem. The motion is smooth and simple — release, catch, release, catch. Easy. Practiced. Like his job — write the show, present the show, pass off, pick up. Late score comes, need to fill for an extra fifteen seconds. You got it. Catch, release, catch, release.

He picks up another ball. One in each hand. Equal weight: balanced. When he'd started, he'd made the classic beginner's error — throw from right to left, pass from left to right, a shuffling circle rather than soaring arcs. He moves into the central space of his office, away from the computer. (He's learned that lesson the hard way. His head still rings from the memory of the slap he'd earned.) Finding the time, that's been the biggest problem. Doing the job, taking care of the family that said it needed him but didn't. He'd shuffled for the first couple of years, one in the air, all attention on it, the other hastily shoved hand-to-hand, unable to balance the needs of work and home. It had taken him a long time to work out how to manage both, how to separate right from left, job from family, to allow both to rise and fall, patterns in the air. Stop, start. Release, release, catch, catch.

He practices a little, scooping his hands through the air, elbows down, balls popping off the middles of his fingers, not watching his hands, not watching his hands, not watching his hands. Fuck. He'd watched his hands. He searches for the runaway balls, scrabbling under the couch for one. His fingers find something soft. He tugs and finds himself holding a sweater, a ball tumbling out in its folds. It isn't his sweater. He resists the urge to bury his nose in it, to rub his cheek against the delicate fibers. He tosses it onto the couch and scrambles to his feet, adding the third ball. Because maybe this time he can make it work.

He knows the mechanics, has studied the diagrams, watched the videos, seen the professionals. It's simple mathematics. Two in one hand, one in the other. First throw from the hand with two. At its peak, throw the next ball. Repeat. Left, right, left, right. Get the throws right and the catches will follow. Easy in principle but in practice so different. He can't seem to get it right, he goes too fast or he throws the balls away from himself and can't keep up. Out of reach. Or he starts well and then gets stuck on the fourth or fifth ball. Can't let it go, can't risk missing the catch.

Be a success, take care of your family, be in love with your straight best friend. That's the third ball he can never figure out how to work into the mix. That's the thing that throws the balance off. Two balls easy, three balls impossible. He tries again. Release, catch, release, catch, release, catch, drop. Fuck. Don't look at your hands, look up, look up. Don't think about him. Concentrate. Release, catch, release, catch, release, catch, release. Release. Release.

He's holding on tightly and his mind is full in ways that make him want to take the balls and smash them into his eyes, into his ears, push them into his brain to make it all stop. He can't have it all, no matter how hard he wishes, no matter how badly he wants. He's thought about it. Sometimes he thinks he does nothing but think about it. Maybe it's not the third ball. Maybe it's just a ball. Maybe he just chooses two out of three and is satisfied. But he knows it doesn't work like that. Because choosing to tell, choosing to put himself out there, raw and open and hoping — well, let's just say he knows he can have one ball or two. And to choose one is to choose none.

He tries again, because beating yourself against a brick wall is better than feeling nothing. Release, catch, release, catch, release (dammit, he's throwing too far ahead), step, catch, release, step, catch, release. Stop watching your hands! Fuck. But there's a soft thwap as the ball is caught and returned to him and he's startled but manages the catch and he releases again, too far — this time deliberately — and again the soft noise and the ball is returned. And there's rhythm and flow and the three balls are passing through the air between the two of them, each holding one and one flying free in a silent arc. Minutes pass and the air is thick with the patterns written on it. At first he'd frowned in concentration but now he smiles. He's doing it. Three balls in the air. He's doing it.

He catches them all, not wanting to end it, but knowing it has to be done. He turns to put them on his desk.

"Four next time?" asks Dan, lounging against the door.

He taps the balls lightly, preventing them from rolling away.

"Why not?" he says.

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