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Ke Kani O Ke Loli (The Sound of Change)

Chapter Text

 Art by Ms Three

 

/01

The dirt crunches beneath his feet as Danny calls from the other room, “clear!” There’s a drop of sweat running down his back and something doesn’t sit right in his gut, but so far, the location has all the signs of being deserted; a comforting layer of dust over every surface and a certain mustiness that permeates the air. It gives a solid sense of neglect.

Steve adjusts the stock of his rifle against his cheek and glances at Danny’s last position clearing one of the main rooms. As if he had read his mind, Danny doubles back into the hallway to Steve, at the bottom of the stairs and taps him twice on the shoulder, keeping his own rifle clear from him.

Steve peels himself off the wall and clears the stairs up to the landing and corner. The second floor is darker than downstairs; the windows are boarded from the inside. Even though they had studied the blueprints, it was apparent the house had undergone some remodelling at some point during its healthy years.

“We need one more on the stairs,” Steve whispers —better safe than sorry— and Danny radios it in right into the team’s feed.

“I’m on it,” comes Chin’s reply.

There’s some shuffling from downstairs and Danny puts his left hand on top of Steve’s shoulder again. His glove brushes Steve’s neck, sticky and hot against the sweat that’s pooled there. Steve’s facing away from Danny, covering the upstairs, and Danny is doing a poor job of protecting himself in order to cover the entrance to the stair case. Yet that's Danny in a nutshell, self-preservation be damned when it comes to Steve.

“Coming in!” Kono makes her presence known from the other end of the hallway and quickly approaches the stairs. As soon as Danny makes eye contact with her, he turns around and points his gun downrange, double tapping Steve over the shoulder. Steve turns on the light attached to his rifle and waits for Kono and Danny to do the same.

“Moving,” he says and resumes the clearing of the stairs and subsequently the upper hallway entrance. There are three doors to the right and two to the left, according to the blueprints, one of them is supposed to be a bathroom. Steve signals for Danny and Kono to go right and rendezvous back at the top of the stairs once their rooms are cleared. Out of the corner of his eye he can make out Danny and Kono forming and advancing into the first room, their shoes making a distinct thumping sound against the floor. Steve advances into the bathroom.

The place is wrecked. There's an outline of broken tiles where the bathtub should have been, ripped from the wall a long time ago. Some areas of the floor and walls are bare to the inner beams, insulation hanging from a lower space like an afterthought. Whoever went through the place did it a long time ago and took everything of value they could find. Last time he checked, selling copper plumbing from an old house could support a medium-sized family for a couple of weeks, so it kind of makes sense.

“Bathroom clear, moving into the hallway.” His words echo back at him in the empty space, adding to the suffocating atmosphere of the place. His ear-piece clicks with static, followed by Kono's voice declaring their room clear too.

Danny's low-level grumbling comes in stereo from the comms and down the hallway, as Steve steps around the corner to the second room, “it's empty for Christ’s sake! Oh, look, more dirt and old newspapers. How— no, who! Who gave us this intel, huh? Kono, quick, apprehend that spider, it looks fishy, like it knows something, geez!” Kono snickers and he can picture Danny shaking his head in derision at the waste of time, rifle lazy and low on his hands. Steve lets the corner of his lips curl upwards at Danny's crabbiness, he loves the man, but he gets insufferable when he doesn’t have his morning coffee in peace, let alone being dragged out of bed before oh-five-hundred and rushed through a shower and no breakfast; Steve's suggestion that an apple would give him more energy than coffee, providing some sustenance too, had not gone well. He mentally shakes himself back to the here-and-now and peeks into the second room, the door ripped from its hinges and nowhere to be seen.

"Last room," Danny practically sing-songs. His partner’s going to crash sooner rather than later; he should have listened to him about the apple.

Steve takes cover next to the door jamb, scanning the interior of the room one vertical slice at a time. There's a weird smell beneath the mustiness that he can't quite pin down, but he ignores it in favour of studying the couch to the far-left corner. Big furniture can be tricky in a search and seizure situation. Sweat trickles down his back, humidity sticking to his skin. He takes a careful step over a pile of books on the floor and points his flashlight to the couch, there’s nothing there but rattier books and a musty layer of dust. Alarms start going off in his head; something is not right, but what? What did he miss?

“Hey, Danny,” he whispers into his comm, head buzzing with dreadful possibilities. “Be advised—” and then his stomach sinks at the sound of a metallic ping coming from the doorway and his body is already moving before his mind can catch up.

His immediate reaction is to hit the deck, diving alongside the couch, hands laced behind his neck and knees tucked close to his chest. He barely touches the floor when a metaphorical three-hundred-pound rock kicks him on the side. The shockwave of the explosion pins him to the ground and rattles his bones. His mouth clenches against his will and he has the distinct feeling someone just stuck an ice pick to his head. Both his ears ring in flat E.

 

/02

There's a disconnect between his brain and mouth, his throat feels raw and he knows he’s screaming. He instinctively rolls to the side and cups his ears with his hands, flickers of burning light dancing in front of his eyes. The entire world rolls on the opposite direction and he spills his guts on the floor and himself. Reality flutters all over. He struggles to keep his eyes open, but it hurts, everything hurts. A blond head swims before his eyes— Danny. His stomach flips and he pukes again. Hands are touching him, searching, checking. These are not delicate hands. These hands are distressed, they’re concerned. They have a purpose; like a brutal buzzcut in the middle of the Iraqi summer. He pukes again, and it becomes a yellowish stain on Danny’s trousers.

Danny motions for someone to do something, he figures it must be Kono, and then smoke hits his nostrils so hard, he can’t keep the nausea at bay any longer and gags freely and without restraint.  Hands grab him from the vest and drag him through ash and soot, a hole where the adjoining wall to the bathroom used to be. His vision swims and the ringing on his ears intensifies. The world takes a dive again and he retches dry. They stop dragging him, but he doesn’t know where he is, there’s not enough light, and what little there is only serves to light up the settling dust around them.

Danny forces his hands in between Steve’s own and his ears. Steve doesn’t mean to fight him, but he can’t stop himself, pressing harder on his ears, and when that doesn’t work, swatting him on the chest. Danny is impervious to his struggling and turns Steve’s head one side and then the other, manoeuvring his upper torso on top of Steve, pressing him into the ground.

Steve can see that he’s saying something, but the ringing won’t budge an inch. Danny finally straddles him by the thighs and gets close and personal in front of him, repositioning Steve’s own hands on his ears. The gesture is a soothing one and Steve recognises it as such, allowing his muscles to relax a fraction.

Babe,” Danny mouths. “Babe.” Steve nods tight in return, a wave of nausea hitting him for his efforts. Danny taps him on the right elbow, pointing to his ear again and then mouths, “blood,” making a rude gesture with his hands, and something must have shown on Steve’s face, because Danny’s immediately softens— goof, that fond smile says. Danny meant pierced or injured. Steve nods minutely. He gets the picture. The explosion punctured one of his eardrums.

Chin appears at the edge of his vision carrying something curvy and black on his hands. Danny takes it from him and puts it on Steve’s line of vision. It’s a pair of noise cancelling headphones, the kind they use at the shooting range. He shows him a pack of gauze too, which he rips open and covers both Steve’s ears with it. Very slowly Danny opens the headphones up and slips them into place on Steve’s head. Steve blinks and swallows around the nausea and discomfort. Danny motions with his hand. Can he walk? Yeah, probably. The rest of the way out of the building and into Tripler is a blur of internal roaring and vertigo, the ambulance a veritable shooting star in his mind’s eye.

He couldn’t really walk in the end.

 

/03

The nurse keeps grabbing his hands; he knows he shouldn’t, but he can’t help to want and try to remove the headphones, his ears feel stuffy and hurt to the point of screaming, which he swallows around the setting panic on his chest. He’s on his back and his movements are limited by a neck collar and the roaming hands all over his body, not that he thinks he could lift his head more than two inches before the world would tip on its axis again. He’s tried asking for Danny a few times, but no one’s given him a straight answer. He can’t tell if no one knows or if he can’t make sense of what they’re saying; there’s constant ringing that goes up and down in intensity and only a handful of words filter through the haze in his head.

The nurse grabs his hands again and blocks the view of the ceiling with her soft-smile face. She’s saying something. “Calm down,” and something else. He thinks she’s calling him “sweetie.” She rubs his hands soothingly and it makes him ache for Danny even more. They had both ridden together to Tripler, but Danny had been whisked away in the opposite direction to be checked as well, and Steve doesn’t know if he was affected by the blast too, or rather how much. He seemed fine until they entered the hospital; Danny had stumbled and an EMT had caught him by the elbow and led him to a chair near the registration desk, Steve had lost sight of him after that. He doesn’t think Danny’s badly hurt, but he would much rather know.

The light on his eyes comes as a shock that burns him through and through, spiking his headache. A finger he’s meant to follow comes next. The doctor grabs his hands and he’s had enough basic neurological examinations to know what to do about that.

The light goes into his eyes again and then the doctor rounds the gurney and there’s the cold pressure of a metal something being dragged upwards on the sole of his foot, then the other. He grits his teeth and groans in discomfort. There’s a lull on the ringing and a few words make it to his brain, but they don’t make sense at all.

The nurse comes in view again, her lips pucker around the “s”, like his sister’s do when she’s a bit tipsy. Apparently, they’re going to roll him to the side and take his vest off. He's sure she could roll him against his will if he doesn’t cooperate.

The nurse and other people make quick work to loosen the straps of his vest and roll him to the side to slip it off his torso. He ends up with a clear view of the hall, where he spots a man running in his direction, hurriedly putting on a white coat over his combat uniform. There's just enough time to note that the sound of the combat boots slapping the floor is missing, before they put him back on the gurney and his shirt gets cut off.

 

/04

They pump him full of fluids and meds after the new arrived doctor checks him out, finally lifting the headphones off his head and tugging at his earlobes to get a clear view inside, sticking an otoscope in there and assessing his ears. Once the good painkillers kick in, the haze in his head grows thicker, but it stops pulsating in pain and his ears feel like they’re attached to his own head again, dialling back to a dull throb every now and then. No word on Danny yet.

 

/05

The worst part of being in hospital? The tests. A variety of them to check for internal injury (nothing at all, but there is some oedema in his lungs, which should clear up on its own); a thorough neurological check and CT for traumatic brain injury (no fracture, no swelling, no loss of consciousness; he gets downgraded to a mild concussion); a specialist to check his ears and eardrums (the right one is downright fucked, they won't even know how much until it has stabilised enough to go through an audiometry, but for now it’s pretty clear that if it’s a high-pitched noise or not loud enough, he won’t hear it; the ear canal of the left is swollen and tender, eardrum intact, thankfully).

All in all, he's lucky to be awake and tracking. He figures the IED either was a dud or some sort of miracle aligned itself with him, because he is not showing typical signs of a person who just had a close call with a blast in a confined space. He is not dead, or dying, nor does he have severe internal damage, the list of minor injuries is, however, riddled with abrasions, small contusions and a few burns.

No, scratch that, the worst part of tests this time around, is trying to understand what the results are. It takes an orderly and the specialist yelling at him and writing into a dry-erase board until his vision swims in front of him, to get him all caught up. It helps that his specialist knows a bit of combat hand-signals, even if the orderly gives them a funny look. Finally, they had told him he was going to be moved to a room in an hour or so; he needs to stay in observation for the next forty-eight hours, and even though the prospect of it looks daunting, he’s dizzy enough that even he can agree it’s necessary.

He’s flat on his side, finally finding a position in which he can both assuage the vertigo and his bruised ribs when Kono enters the room with a tablet on her hand and a tired frown on her face. She goes to hug him and backs out at the last second, noting how Steve’s shoulders tense. She pats him on the upper arm instead.

“How’s… how’s Danny,” he stammers out, his own voice reverberating like a distorted echo within his head.

Kono turns around to face him completely and gives him a thumb up with her free hand. And then motions for him to wait. She goes around the cubicle and pulls a chair to the gurney’s side, adjusting the tablet on it to face Steve, pulling her phone out and typing into it. A second later, words start to appear on the tablet screen.

He’s good, brah. Asking for you.

His muscles lose all tension and he practically melts into the bed, belatedly amused by Kono taking the time to spell out brah.

“What’s taking so long?” Kono gives him a look that he translates as ‘it’s a fucking hospital, Steve,’ with extra stress on his name. She starts typing anyway and as she does he can’t help to let his mind wander away; he’s being trying to figure out what happened ever since his head stopped spinning out of control. Kono’s waving hand comes in front of his eyes and his attention goes back to the screen.

They took him for a few tests. HE’S FINE! Plus, he had low blood sugar and it takes a while for the bag to drip… he said it was your fault he missed breakfast and that you owe him.”

“What else is new,” he mumbles. A yawn escapes him and seeing as his hands are too heavy he has no choice but to treat Kono to the back of his throat. She puts her thumb between her teeth and gives him a tired smile.

Their day had started around four thirty in the morning with a possible breakthrough on their drug-traffic-turned-human-traffic case and, according to the tablet in front of him, it was already nearing four in the afternoon.

How you doing, boss?”

For a second he’s back at the house, screaming his head off. He shrugs a shoulder, hoping it’s answer enough.

“How you holding up?” He asks in return.

Kono frowns before she starts typing. A word appears and disappears from the tablet screen. The caret stops blinking.

Steve looks up at Kono, but even though she keeps on typing and deleting what she has written, words are not appearing on the screen yet. Her entire demeanour is fierce concentration. She tap-tap-taps into the device, and then finishes with a flourish.

I’m okay, all things considered.”

Steve’s sure this is something that should be addressed, something Kono’s not saying, but a yawn completely derails his train of thought and in the end, he lets the subject rest in favour of blessed sleep. His final thought before it all fades to black is a mental apology to Kono for leaving her hanging.

 

/06

He squeezes the pillow at regular intervals, trying to distract himself after the last wave of nausea. He had woken up when a couple orderlies came to take him from the ER to his room; the worst part of the ride had been the elevator, making him dry-retch a couple of times. A nurse had wiped drool off his chin and helped him into a more comfortable position, leaving him with the call-button within reach and not much else.

His eyes start drooping and he relaxes into the numbing comfort of the painkillers, his whole body melding into the bed. He’s on the verge of falling asleep, his hands barely twitching every now and then, when he feels a distinct presence at the door. It’s a bit of an effort to focus on anything beyond a couple of feet away, but it’s a welcome sight for his sore eyes.

Danny looks as tired as Steve feels. Blond hair falls over his forehead in frizzy curls and there are dark smudges under his eyes that offer grim contrast to the pallor of his face. He's wearing a scrubs t-shirt that belongs to the hospital and Steve's sweats from his go-bag in the car. He cracks a tiny smile at that; a part of him will never stop getting flustered at the sight of Danny wearing his clothes.

Danny eats up the distance between the door and the bedside in a couple of strides. When he kneels next to the bed, Steve does a mental double-take and smiles at the sight; Danny’s also wearing hospital-issued slippahs.

He looks up again. Danny’s eyes go round and watery, and his mouth does the pouty thing Steve associates with an emotionally charged moment, especially if it has to do with Grace.

“Babe, oh, babe,” Danny says, though Steve doesn’t hear it so much as reads it on his face.

Danny presses his forehead to Steve’s and smooths his hair back, planting a chaste kiss on his lips. He feels the soft exhale of Danny’s words against his skin and a couple of them filter through, “…coldmore blankets.”

“Danny, Danny.” Steve tries to put some space in between them, but Danny is practically glued to his body. He smooths Steve’s hair back again and places fluttery kisses all over his face. “Slow down, I’m dizzy. Please.”

“Sorry.” Danny presses his forehead to the pillow and maybe— probably— mumbles something into it. When he looks up again he looks lost for a second; eyebrows knit together and eyes wetter than before.

He steadies himself in the span of a couple deep breaths.

“Are you okay?” asks Steve, to which Danny nods. “Are you sure? Kono said—” Danny rolls his eyes and for a moment it looks like a cranky retort might be forthcoming, but then, a couple of fat droplets run down his cheeks and he all but swallows his own words. Steve talks instead, “I’m sorry I denied you breakfast, word is you fainted like a damsel in distress.” Danny bites his cheek on the inside and blinks a few more tears away. This is the more choked up Steve has ever seen him over something not Grace-or-Charlie-related, he’s used to Danny exploding in fast paced rants and hand waving, not this; it makes him anxious.

“Worried,” is all that comes out, too soft for Steve to hear, but he can read it around the set of his jaw and the way his eyebrows shoot up in despair.

There’s a charged pause, a torrent of unsaid words between them. Finally, Steve settles for, “She also said you went down like sack of potatoes,” hoping it’s not the wrong thing to say.

Danny smiles in a way that manages to reach his eyes and wipes his tears away, a few of them rolling down to his chin.

“Lies, it's all lies, Kono wasn't even there.” Which elicits a soft chuckle out of Steve and a half smile from Danny in return. “Don't make me smile, you asshole, I was worried for you.”

“Yeah, me too,” Steve sighs, swallowing thickly.

Danny clears his throat and drags a chair close to the bed, planting himself there.

“How you feeling?”

“I'm— as long as I don't move too much I'm fine.” He also has a headache. His eyes are drooping. And there's fifty percent chance he'll end up throwing up again. But he doesn’t say that.

“And the hearing?” Danny gestures to his own ear for clarification.

“It comes and goes. I can pick up a word here and there. There’s a lot of ringing.”

Danny places a hand on top of Steve’s, drawing soothing circles with his thumb.

“You ‘ld?”

“What?”

“You ‘ld?” And there goes his hearing again, almost impossible to concentrate with the ringing blocking everything around it. He shakes his head in a minute no to Danny, who in return rubs his own arms and pretends to shiver, pointing to Steve afterwards with a questioning face.

“Cold?” Danny nods. “Yeah,” he mumbles, exhausted all the sudden. “How did you know?”

Danny shrugs in response with a faint smile and a gesture of the hand that seems to say, “With you? It happens a lot.” His hand snakes past the bed covers and pushes the call-button a few times, taking a detour on the way back to smooth back Steve’s hair. Steve hums in approval.

When a nurse comes into the room, Steve can barely follow what they’re saying, most words turned into a shapeless hubbub sound that prickles like barbed wire inside his head. By the time Danny turns around to face him again, Steve is well underway to dreamland and there’s nothing he can do about it. He still manages to whisper an “I missed you, Danno,” because that’s what they do; no matter what, they reassure each other inside the bubble they’ve created around themselves when it comes to hard times. He doesn’t need to hear or see Danny to know he says it right back, placing a gentle kiss on his temple before he drifts away.

 

/07

The next morning at the hospital goes like a dizzying merry-go-round of people coming and going from his room. There’s a whirlwind of blood tests and neurological exams that start at six-oh-hundred and repeat every two hours. His arm aches from being constantly hooked to a stream of liquids and painkillers. When he’s finally deemed fit to have some bland food delivered to his room, his stomach rebels against the two meagre slices of bread, even if they’re light on the butter with a thin slice of turkey ham on top. His ears feel stuffed to the brim and they pop a bit once he starts chewing, like having the mother of all colds only worse and way more painful. He bites small pieces and chews them slow and careful. He washes it all down with the cup of tea and his stomach seems to settle a bit with that, but not enough to stay down and docile. No, this is an irritable organ spoiling for a fight; it lurches to his throat with every change in position, and his brain doesn’t cooperate much either, translating any shift of his body as falling off a cliff. That morning he ends up throwing up twice.

The specialist makes a swift appearance at ten; news on the hearing front haven’t changed much after being initially assessed, the whole area too sensitive to take an audiometry. Doctor’s orders are to keep on changing bandages on his right ear as needed, and pump him full of antibiotics and more painkillers. He’s hurting enough that he can see his own pain reflected on the faces of the people that surround him. Danny’s brand of empathy slicing a thin knife of guilt low in his gut, whilst Kono’s turns to pity whenever she thinks he’s not looking. He was told Chin and Lou are working the case in liaison with HPD and ICE; the case blown wide open after forensics linked the design of the IED to a known cartel that might be branching out to human-trafficking. The DEA was bound to get involved in less than a week.

Around noon, the doctor on call makes her rounds, and after learning about his stomach’s pyrotechnics, prescribes an increase on his antiemetic. By then, all he’s eaten in the past thirty hours is one lousy breakfast that didn’t even stay inside very long, and the analgesics have taken a toll on his person. His mind’s all fuzzy and cloudy, thoughts trickling one at a time like molasses, and the part in charge of planning and censorship is clearly sipping on margaritas instead of doing its job. He mentions to the sexy doc on call about how he feels funny down there, and immediately laughs and corrects to inside, which all in all, only makes his comment fractionally better. The doc gives him a stern look, but still smiles politely at him, and goes to check his chart. A buzz of pleasure pools in his stomach at the sight of her hair brushing her face and the very peak of her breasts, even if it is over her combat uniform and white coat. Camo-green had never been more arousing before. He babbles on until Danny blushes to the roots of his hair and slaps a hand over his mouth, apologising profusely at the doctor in Steve’s name. He deduces this by the state of his partner’s furrowed frown.

A memory crosses his mind, and he says, “I told you I deserved to be called Smooth Dog.”

Danny goes stiff besides him, and turns to him with a face crossed between ‘unbelievable’ and ‘get a therapist, Steven!’. He doesn’t understand why Danny would look at him like that. He lets it slide, focusing on staring at Danny under the hospital’s sketchy lights instead. This is much more satisfying than any other activity he can think of. The buzz of pleasure glows into white-out inside of him and all around him. Sadly, a few minutes later, Danny tells him he’ll be absent for a while and to “please, behave”.

Things get progressively blurrier after that, until they come to a screeching halt, and then he blacks out. 

 

/08

Next time he wakes up, his head is much clearer, like the fog has finally lifted and he can see the edges of the city in sharp contrast with the sky. And then, the image of the contents of an entire room raining down on him flashes through his eyes and he tenses down to his toes, his entire body protesting the abuse.

Turning on his bed reveals Danny asleep with a newspaper dangling from his fingers on a very uncomfortable-looking chair. He’s changed clothes from the day before, which means that at some point he either went home, or someone brought him a change. He’s wearing his ratty old jeans and a t-shirt that’s frayed around the hems, his ‘classy’ version of Lazy Sunday attire. For a second, he wonders what lies beneath those clothes, if Danny has any new scars or injuries after the blast. There’s a distant ache on his chest that he has long associated with being in love with this man, like a chord stretched too tight, and then there’s a surge of need from deep within to yank the chord and pull him into his bed, but when he moves forward to tap on Danny’s knee, his entire body reminds him, like a punch to the gut, that he had a close call with an IED less than forty hours ago, he groans in discomfort and retreats to the safety of his bed to let his body settle down and relax.

Danny wakes with a start. His dominant hand goes immediately to his hip, even going as far as making the motion to pop the strap of the holster that isn’t there. His eyes go wild and scan the room before landing back on Steve.

Babe,” he says, and Steve can hear that as if through a wall of compacted cotton. The word is hot and heavy on his head, spiking the beginnings of a nasty headache to come, and a burning sensation at the base of his neck. If it wasn’t for the medication, he’s sure he would be throwing up all over Danny, again. “How you doing today?”

“Better,” he rasps out.

“Liar,” Danny counters.

“Maybe.” He goes for broke and tries to sit up, but ends up flailing about and looking embarrassed; his arms an odd mixture of jelly-like density and dull pain.

“Yeah, yeah.” Danny rolls his eyes, reaching for the bed controller. “I’m a GI Jerk and don’t ask for help, ever. Change the tune, would you?” The bed moves slow and gentle, pushing him up until he’s seated comfortably with the cover pooling around his lap. He notes there’s a new red warning on his hospital-issued wristband that wasn’t there yesterday. 

“What happened?” He asks looking up at Danny, and in turn his partner does this minute shuffling of the eyebrows that’s meant to conceal shock. Steve backtracks immediately to put him at ease. “Not the IED; yesterday after you left.” The corners of Danny’s mouth lift into a mocking grin and Steve has good reasons to fear what comes next.

“You had a weird reaction to the painkillers and it made you into a lust monster— well, no, you’re always horny, that I know, it just squash’d your ability to keep it private.” Steve groans, and stifles the impulse to shake his head in order to clear his mind from the memories this information conjures up. “Chin caught it on camera; you trying to grab my ass and pinching the air every single time; you were so high off your rocker. It was undignified. Kono says she admires your ‘n’c’ty.

His what?!

Danny picks up on his confusion and lifts a finger that means ‘wait’, turns around and ruts in his pockets at the same time he retrieves the newspaper, writing on it quick and efficient.

TENACITY

Steve’s about to comment on it, when a nurse walks in with a frown on her face and gives him a thousand-yard stare. He vaguely remembers saying something… inappropriate to her, about her physique. He feels the heat of a blush blooming from his chest up.

She starts talking at him with a stern commanding voice and he has to stamp down the urge to salute her. He ducks his head and mumbles an apology for yesterday. When he looks up he realises Danny’s holding back laughter by sheer willpower (though he doubts it means it will spare him from the mockery once the nurse leaves). She checks his vitals, and asks him questions that are short and to the point. Which he’s thankful for, it’s hard to understand what she’s saying and three times now, Danny has had to step in and clarify for her. The nurse is looking at him expectantly now, and so is Danny. Steve shakes his head and the stupid grin vanishes from Danny’s face. Very few words had filtered through the cotton wall of his ears, making it impossible to understand what had been asked.

The nurse, notes something on her chart and says something to him, slower and clearly enunciating her phrases. His eyes search Danny’s and then land right back on the lips of the woman. He thinks he picks up a word here and there, but he’s not sure; it all becomes a jumble of sounds and blanks, huge blanks in her speech. He throws a harried look to Danny and this time he definitely picks up on it. Danny says something to the nurse and she turns to talk to Danny, effectively cutting Steve out. He’s surprised to find this sends a wave of both relief and exasperation over him.

As soon as the nurse leaves, Danny raises his hands to placate him, used to dealing with him angry and blowing steam off his ears, it stands to reason that he would think he’s more offended than frustrated and worried.

“Alright, stand down, Super SEAL. One,” Danny extends a finger in front of him, “she was not amused by your behaviour las’ night. But that’s not what this is, alright? She appreciated the apology. Good soldier points for you there.” He soothes. “Two,” Danny extends a second finger, “I’m giving you the gran’pa treatment. I’m being loud and talkin’ in a deep sexy voice. She wasn’t. She tried, but she has a very hi’ pitch’d voice. So, that face you’re doing right now? Don’t. Just don’t.”

Steve lets that sink in and swallows his words for completely different reasons than Danny must be thinking, which is sort of confirmed when Danny does his ‘whatcha gonna do?’ patented-shrug in return.

“What did she say?” Steve asks.

“You are getting out,” Danny points to the door, “this afternoon at four.” He holds as many fingers in front of Steve’s face, to emphasise the time. “Hang tight, you hear me?”

He does. Which arises some questions. “Danny, can you talk to me like you always do?” He can see Danny’s about to protest so he cuts him off with, “Don’t ask me a thousand questions, just do it.”

Danny cringes at his words, but moves on, asking, “What should I say?”

“Anything.”

He rattles his brain for a bit, and then starts talking. “You ‘ave the right to— ‘n silent and ‘fuse to— ‘estions. ‘ing ya say— be— ‘ainst you in court of ‘aw.” Danny stops and Steve gestures him to keep going. Danny looks put upon, but does as he’s told. “Ya hav’ the ‘aight to consult an ‘torn’y…,” he trails off, turning a searching eye towards Steve. His features go soft around the edges. He says, “you don’t hear shit, do you?”

A lump of emotion wells up in Steve’s throat and he shakes his head. No, he doesn’t hear that well. No. The room spins into a dizzying array of too-bright colours and there’s not enough air. He’s sure he’s going to suffocate, even though he’s aware of how irrational that thought is. Danny stands at his side and places a hand on his chest, pushing him back in one smooth motion against his pillows.

“Steve, this is temporary. The doctor said so. You need to calm down, babe, you gonna hurt yourself if you keep it up. Calm down, I got you.”

Danny’s words blend one into the other as he focuses on his breathing and stopping himself from hyperventilating. Danny eventually leaves his side, presumably to retrieve a doctor or a nurse, and Steve sags against the back of the bed. When he closes his eyes, and leans back into his pillow, he can feel himself breathing faster, but he can’t hear himself, nor the rustle of the covers around him, he can’t hear anything else beyond his own thoughts.

It’s terrifying.  

 

/09

At four sharp in the afternoon, the otorhinolaryngologist, Dr Lee, comes in with a folder in his hands and an orderly in tow, who’s pushing a shiny wheelchair into the room and giving him a thoughtful look. Her shoes look like they would squeak against the floor.

Steve’s already dressed and eager to leave. Danny’s been doing a terrific job of keeping his mind off things and entertained, but there’s only so much a man can take of four pristine, white walls and a string of nurses, orderlies and new residents, poking their heads in every couple of hours or so. (Not all at once, mercifully). Besides, Danny’s spirits are flagging as well: from what little Danny was willing to say, Steve has put together that his partner knocked his head pretty bad, and has a few minor abrasions from crawling his way to him in the immediate aftermath. He hasn’t broached the subject of driving back home, because he doesn’t want to get near that with a ten-foot pole, lest he be called a hypocrite, but he really hopes Chin, Kono or Lou are outside waiting in the car, because Danny doesn’t really look like he’ll make it all the way to their home without the mother of all headaches splitting his head in two.

Dr Lee sets the folder down on the table and does a thing with his lips and face, a gesture Steve’s brain belatedly interprets as clearing his throat. He’s apprehensive about what the doc will say, even if he already knows most of it at a superficial functional level, however, getting all the gory technical details makes it all too real. Having other people present as it goes down makes it even worse; it’s like having witnesses to his failures, people who will later testify to his courage in the face of declared chaos. It makes his heart clench in anticipation. If he thought he could get away with kicking Danny out and live to tell the tale, he would, he totally would.

The orderly finishes fussing over the wheelchair and gives him a lazy shaka sign on her way out, her hair bouncing around her face as she turns around. All the sudden Steve realises he knows the woman from high school and a deep heatwave of embarrassment courses through him. Danny gives him a questioning eye and Dr Lee chooses that exact moment to start explaining to him the results about his ears, effectively derailing Danny in his mission of asking him a thousand questions through face-gesture code.

In short, the doctor has decided to forgo an audiometry until his ears are less inflamed. They’re expecting a temporary 50 to 70-decibel drop in hearing on his right ear and about 40 to 60 on his left, especially in the higher frequencies range.

“These numbers are an estimate,” Dr Lee says, enunciating every word with care, “based on my experience working with military personnel exposed to acoustic and barometric trauma”. Steve’s not sure if that’s supposed to reassure him or not, he’d rather not find out, he nods for the doctor to go on. “In simple words,” the doc continues, “if your phone rings at arm’s length,” he demonstrates by extending his own arm, “you will hear it, if it rings a room away, then not. You’ll hear a truck passing by, but not a bicycle. You shouldn’t expose yourself to loud noises, because it could compound on the trauma. And you’ll have to keep your right ear bandaged for a couple of days.” He hands him a sheet with a list of sounds and how loud they are, circling the range between 40 to 60dB: Quiet classroom, working refrigerator, sound of the human voice. “This is your grey area that should come back in time and with the proper care. Beyond that, time and further tests will tell.”

From there on Steve can extrapolate; the coffee-maker will have to be watched closely, because he will not hear it bubbling its readiness from the other side of the kitchen. Whispers about nothing with Danny, in the middle of the night, are out, lest they exchange romantic murmurs for affectionate screams. The mere idea of it is both ridiculous and daunting. The sound of waves hitting the shore behind the house; the rumble of the Marquis’ engine passing by; Charlie’s babbling at the breakfast table when the kids stay over. They’re all out. A chill runs through him, making him feel frazzled to the touch.

“High-pitched women’s voices will be tricky,” the doctor adds. And Steve can practically hear in his head Danny’s smug: “aren’t you glad you have a boyfriend?” One quick look at Danny confirms his hunch and he must suppress the urge to roll his eyes, but then Danny regales him with what’s supposed to be an encouraging smile and he’s reminded why he didn’t really want anybody in here to listen to all of this. He absolutely loathes being pitied.

Danny must sense the detour his thoughts have taken, judging by the frown, but now is not the time nor the place. Steve redirects his attention to Dr Lee and his imperturbable moustache. Keeping a moustache like that under the incandescent sun of Oahu, now that takes real courage.

The list of symptoms goes on. Tinnitus will become the soundtrack of his life for a while, though the doctor doesn’t really know how long a while, as apparently, tinnitus is not as well understood as one would hope. Dizziness and vertigo are to be expected, and it should be less and less as the days go by. And then he moves on to general health and Steve mentally checks out; enough, he’s heard these instructions before, he’s done hearing how broken up his body is and how many more times it will likely betray him.

The doc hands him a folder with his discharge papers and a copy of all the tests results he had the day before. There’s at least three sheets on proper care of wounds, ear injuries and vertigo. He then asks him if he has any questions and to sign the papers at the end. As the folder changes hands from Dr Lee, to Steve, to Danny; the doc reminds him once again his next appointment is next week and to call if he has any questions, handing him yet another sheet of paper, which happens to be his prescription for the array of pills he’s meant to take for the next couple of weeks. Did he already use the word daunting? Try intimidating and appalled, that should cover it.

Five minutes later, he’s bundled on a wheelchair on his way to the hospital’s pharmacy. He doesn’t remember being discharged taking so long before, but then again, he doesn’t remember ever being this eager and disheartened to go back home after an injury. The whole recovery process seems to be hanging almost exclusively on a let’s wait and see frame of mind, and he has a more hands on kind of approach to life. The fact his meds include five anti-anxiety rescue pills in case of emergency (which means, in case he starts panicking again) doesn’t really help matters.

 

/10

Pills and folder tucked in his lap, they reach the sliding doors and the first whiff of fresh air in days. Danny’s pushing his chair and Steve can tell he’s losing steam fast. For starters, he’s completely quiet, no huffing and puffing and bitching about it. No teasing about his hundred-and-sixty-something butt being pushed around like in a baby’s carriage. Plus, he has dark circles under his eyes and a pinched face, worrying his lips every now and then. Just as they stop short of wheeling off into the parking lot, Kono and Chin come bouncing around the corner. He manages to wave a hand in greeting, but the actual words end up being swallowed by a yawn, Danny’s not the only one drained from the day.

“’ice one, ‘oss,” says Kono around a smile, all dimples and clear eyes. Steve kind of does and doesn’t get what she meant to say, but he doesn’t have the energy to ask her to elaborate either.

“Finally! I thought you had ditch’ us or something!” Danny interjects, clapping Chin on the shoulder with renewed energy.

“Never, mini-’oss,” says Kono at the same time Chin says, “Sorry, brah, ICE has ‘s by the short one’ with this case.”

Steve cranes his neck, curious to see what Danny will be like after being called ‘mini’. Disappointingly, Danny just rolls with it, too tired and dead on his feet, trying to get home soon. Chin seems to sense this, a bubble of vitality exploding inside his usual zen persona very much intent in getting them going.

“I’ll tell you all about it on the ride home,” Chin says, extending his hand and taking charge of Steve’s wheelchair. “We flipped for it and Kono’s taking your car back to the house,” he informs Danny. His eyes bulge like a cartoon and then he turns to Kono and says something. Whatever it was is lost to a yawn and the slurred words that come afterwards; it couldn’t have been that bad though, or Kono has lost whatever respect she had left for Danny’s seniority, because she laughs and slaps Danny on the chest lightly.

“’cause my car has fo’r doors, that’s why!” She pumps her fist in the air with the Camaro’s keys and walks opposite to them. Danny snorts a laugh that makes him look about five years younger and Chin shakes his head. It’s a scene taken out of a quiet Friday evening right before they head out for drinks. The images juxtapose in Steve’s head in a way that makes him doubt if he’s standing up or down, and then he remembers too late he’s not supposed to shake his head or move too much.

Danny’s hand lands on his shoulder, a steadying weight. He rounds and stops in front of him, face inches from his own. “No puking in Kono’s car, babe, ya hear me? I’ll never hear the end of it if you do.” The fact that Danny searches his face in a zig-zag pattern, assessing his well-being is not lost on him. Nor the love in his eyes and the warmth his lover’s directing towards him.

Getting into the car is more difficult than expected and he’s very grateful for the forethought of using a car with four doors and a floor that’s not a mere few inches off the ground. The sensation that he’s not able to draw a full breath is a bit of a surprise, but it’s something he had been warned about because of the mild oedema in his lungs. Danny, on his part, suppresses a groan when he gets in. Steve can see him over the mirror on the sun visor, he’s cradling his side as he slides his butt on the back seat all the way to the middle, a deep scowl on his face now that he thinks Steve isn’t watching. Danny’s never kept him out of this part of his life before, he doesn’t know why Danny suddenly thinks Steve needs protection. Danny looks up and notices Steve following his every move and mouths ‘later’ to him. Steve nods, once, short and mostly with his eyes, still afraid to throw up his stomach’s contents.

After Chin’s behind the wheel he gives Steve a grim look and hands him a bottle of Gatorade. Chin’s version of “seriously, brah, no throwing up.”

The ride home is blessedly peaceful. A part of him kept expecting a black nondescript car to take them down on the way, or more explosions, or something. Chin goes over what little new info they have on the traffickers, which basically amounts to a suspected gang of eight active members on the islands and about three-hundred million dollars to back them up from their base of operations. Still not sure where that base of operations is, as the gang might be a coalition between two to four different drug cartels that are looking to branch out in their Pacific Area operations. Talk about intricate, and yet, they still don’t have enough to even begin to coordinate raids. Chin gives him sideways glances every now and then, as he explains in short concise sentences what’s going on. Three days ago, he was confident they were going to dismantle the entire organisation in less than a month, today he’s not even sure he’ll bounce back to his feet in the same time span.  

Back at home, he drags his feet from the car, to the living room, to the lanai, and parks himself in a chair looking out to the sea. Ignoring Kono’s pitiful eyes and her hands loaded with grocery bags. Chin makes to follow him at first, but Danny shakes his head at him and finally they all let him be.

After a while, Danny comes out and stands in front of him, arms crossed over his chest, staring at him for a good twenty seconds, then, without a word, he grabs his face and kisses his forehead. “Take your time,” he says, and heads back inside. The angry buzz in his head starts to wind down after that.

He glances back at the house, noting Kono has made Danny sit on a kitchen chair and charged him with the sorting of the groceries, while Chin opens one cabinet after another until a lot more kitchen utensils than he remembers owning make it to the counter. They’re getting dinner started. Bless them.

The breeze blows into his face, carrying the smell of his beloved ocean, the sand tickles in between his toes and off into the distance he can see a couple of birds picking fish from the water. He doesn’t hear any of it, though. He has a general sense of ambient sounds, like a big wave crashing onto the rocks, or an especially loud bird, but not much else.

He takes a deep breath, holds it for a couple of seconds and releases it slow and steady. There’s prickling and stinging in his eyes and his heart does a somersault inside his chest. He refuses to panic, and immediately after, he forbids himself from crying. He’s had worse in his life and survived relatively unscathed. This time will be the same, he tries to convince himself, looking for calm within himself and desperately trying to latch onto the feeling. In the end, he rubs his eyes raw until the tears stop.   

 

/11

The first day back home is as dull as they come. Sleeping is less about resting, and more about tossing and turning. He wakes Danny up a few times during the night, and each time he sees him blink in confusion and then burrow further under the blankets, surrendering back to exhaustion, until at one point he just scoots away and buries his head under his pillow, turning his back on Steve. Steve achieves uninterrupted sleep after that. 

When Steve wakes up, he does it gradually, in little increments of self-awareness until he realises Danny’s no longer in bed and he has no inkling of what time it is. His internal clock declares itself befuddled and unwilling to cooperate too, so it’s up to him to get out of bed and investigate. Easier said than done. He’s behind on his painkiller schedule, that much he’s aware of; there’s a dull sort of pain all over, punctuated by sharper shots down his back and neck, especially on the right side.

But needs must.

He gathers himself and drags his feet to the bathroom with a mental litany of “move, you fucker” and “you better not trip, McGarrett”. Once he’s done there, he feels a bit more human, or at least human enough to go downstairs and track Danny down. On his way to the stairs he sees the door to Grace’s open and a heap of purple blankets on the floor, he tucks the image away for later.

He ends up finding Danny sprawled on the couch, nursing a mug of coffee and wild bed hair; he looks the way Steve feels.

“Morning,” Danny slurs, unintelligibly, but Steve has seen his face contort into this haphazard array of sounds often enough, he knows what he says even if he can’t quite hear it.

“Morning,” he replies.

Having found Danny, he gives a longing look in the direction of the kitchen. He needs food and then his pills, precisely in that order.

Danny pats the seat beside him and mumbles something without looking up, drowsy and sluggish. Other than Danny asking him to sit beside him, Steve’s lost. He still plops down, though; a tactical regrouping of sorts. The kitchen feels very far away today, for some reason. Danny mumbles again, a deep garbled sort of sound, and looks up at him expectantly. Steve has zero idea what he just said.

“What?”

Danny rubs his forehead and Steve feels a little offended that Danny’s getting annoyed; it’s not like he wants not to hear shit.

“Sorry, babe. I’m too ‘sleep still. Want breakfast?” He nods for lack of words. Of course, Danny’s not blaming him for what happened, he chastises himself.

“Here, hold my coffee,” Danny says, sliding with calculated movements out of the couch. It looks painful. He pads to the kitchen, head hanging low and holding his side. Steve gives him about thirty seconds of advantage and then follows.

 

/11.2

May God bless his ohana. Turns out that Chin and Kono, before they left the day before, left a heap of food in the fridge, including chopped fruits and veggies and other fun stuff, including ready-to-use pizza dough with a little note for Danny: “in case you get tired of rabbit food.” On the other side of the note, Kono’s scrawl states, “PS: Boss, Danny works out, don’t bitch.” Against his own wishes, he ends up laughing at that.

 

/11.3

They spend the rest of the day ignoring the TV and the Ancient Aliens marathon currently playing, well, Danny ignores it, Steve finds he doesn’t really understand anything, which pisses him off by degrees until he doesn’t have the energy to care anymore. It’s not that anger goes away as much as it goes into hibernation.

Danny turns to look at him, a bowl of reheated pasta in his lap and says, “You look better, babe.”

It gives him pause.

For one, Danny hasn’t said much all day and besides Danny’s almost shouted words, there’s not much he can hear around the house. He never thought he would pay this much attention to something as trivial as the whisper-sound of clothes chaffing against the couch, or Danny’s deep sighs of annoyance, and yet, here he is, moping at the loss of his hearing.

Secondly, he has to wonder what he looked like the day before; what greeted him on the mirror in the morning was a pale face, black circles under his eyes, and a dozen cuts and burns on his neck and arms. In his own opinion, he looks like crap today.

They go to bed shortly after that. Steve pretends he doesn’t notice Danny slip away to tidy up the spare room and Danny pretends he isn’t hurting on his left side whenever he turns or straightens his back.

 

/11.4

Around midnight, Steve opens his eyes just in time to watch Danny walk out the door into the hallway. He doesn’t come back after that. There’s a pang of loss in his chest and something churns unpleasantly inside. Last thing he remembers is thinking about dragging Danny back to bed. His brain falls asleep before he can get to the dragging part.  

 

/12

The second day back, Tuesday, starts with Steve sitting upright with a gasp and a wince of pain. He doesn’t know what he was dreaming, but he can imagine the general content, since he’s drenched in sweat and his heart is beating a hummingbird’s tale inside his chest. His hand goes to Danny’s side and falls outstretched on the empty pillow. He’s not that surprised, he remembers seeing his partner slip away in the middle of the night, exiling himself to Grace’s bedroom.

He stretches in the same position he came to and ignores the dull pain of tender muscles as he takes one arm against his chest, pushing it further with his other hand, relishing on the pull of his shoulder. He does the same with the other and moves his head from side to side, his neck feels tense, which, figures; he sees a lot of pain and tenderness in is immediate future, especially if he can’t work out on a regular basis to limber up his stiff muscles. He inhales deeply as he raises his hands above his head in an effort to salute the sun; his neck cracks satisfactorily and at the same time the breeze coming from the window changes directions, bringing the smell of coffee to his nostrils. A smile breaks out on his own accord. He lowers his arms, looking for the source of the smell. 

There’s a mug of milky coffee, some fruit and a note on Danny’s night stand. He stretches and plucks the note between his fingers, chucking a piece of fruit into his mouth with the other hand. The note says Danny went to his check up at the hospital and then to the office. It also says to text him in case he needs something. “I didn’t want to wake you. Get some rest, please. I’m serious about this part. Be back around noon.”

And Danny calls him insane and stubborn. They’re both off duty. They were both told to take it easy and hopefully in bed rest. At the very least sitting or reclining most of the time, and what does Danny do? He goes out to run errands at the office. He scowls at the paper in his hand. They could’ve gone together.

His watch reads eight twenty-five, it will be ages before Danny comes back, just enough time to do a laundry load and tidy up a bit, both things Danny won’t let him do without ranting the house down. See how he takes that, both can play at pretending doctor’s orders are no more than vague suggestions. 

When he takes the breakfast tray into his lap, two round white pills skitter to the edge. It’s hard to stay mad at the person who feeds you in bed and knows your med-regime by heart. He munches happily and finds himself smiling more than once around the edge of his mug. What you gonna do, right? He’s stupidly in love. 

Next thing on his agenda is a shower. He throws the covers to the foot of the bed and further opens the windows to air the room. As he showers he’s pleased to realise he’s steadier on his feet, he throws his head back into the water spray and the world stays in its place. As a bonus the hot water does wonders loosening his cramped neck and back.

On his way to do the first load of laundry, he notices his board shorts peeking from the hamper and what the hell, he says to himself, a short lap in the ocean is just what the doctor ordered. He makes sure to get the washing machine going and for once he leaves the dishes to the dishwasher. He needs to relax, he says to himself, to burn some excess energy, and swimming is the gentlest of workouts he can think of, and that settles it on his mind.

 

/12.2

It takes him about a hundred metres of laid back freestyle swimming to realise what a huge mistake he just made. At first, he thinks the unpleasant feeling building in his stomach is a consequence of being bounced into the ground by the IED blast; sore muscles and little else. Then, it occurs to him it might be breakfast not sitting well with him, sometimes he gets queasy when he has coffee and fruits with nothing else to cushion the mix. But then the queasiness stretches like taffy from his belly to the back of his head, like a loose cable inside that’s messing all his navigational instruments.

Finally, he accepts there’s something very wrong when he tries to breathe over his shoulder and he can’t figure out if his head is going in or out of the water. He splutters to clear his airway, but still ends up swallowing a good cup of sea water, the smell and the taste of it stir his guts, conjuring up images of soggy seaweeds washing up on shore. His stomach revolts at that.

He flips on his back and the world flips with him, his internal compass shot to hell. He focuses on the difference between the sky and the feel of water on his back to convince himself he’s got the right side up. His inner ear disagrees with him entirely and bile rises to his throat. He refuses to throw up. He has swum with a concussion before, so he won’t be defeated by a little bout of dizziness this time.

He inhales sharp and deep, releasing in controlled steady breaths. Once he feels confident he can move his head a few inches to get his bearings he locates the shore and starts swimming in that direction, still on his back. It’s hard gruelling work, all the time keeping his breathing patterns steady and controlled. The moment he panics is the moment he loses the battle.

His shoulder is the first to denounce its unhappiness towards the situation. It dawns on him he’s doing this wrong, he needs to get to shore fast, the more time he spends in the water, the greater the chance he’ll end up drowning. He allows himself five seconds of rest before turning and going back to the freestyle stroke. His head feels like it’s going to explode, closely followed by his lungs, and he has to shut his eyes when he goes up for air, lest he loses his bearings again. A Sergeant back from BUD/S comes to mind, booming feral voice included; when things got hard he used to shout to his face: “Mind over matter, if you don’t mind it doesn’t matter! Push harder!” He replays it in his head like a mantra until he crawls his way into the beach and collapses far enough from the water he’s no longer in danger of being pulled back in. A heaving mess, he has enough of a mind to turn into the recovery position before he pukes his guts out.

 

/12.3

Almost an hour later he drags his sorry ass back into the house. Chases his vertigo meds around the kitchen counter and downs them with half a glass of tap water, sitting down on the floor, wrapped in one of Charlie’s LEGO blankets. The trail of sand from the door to the kitchen is the only proof of what just happened and he throws daggers at it with his eyes. It’s easier to do that then to give in to self-recrimination: how he can be so smart and so stupid at the same time.

His chest rattles when he takes deep breaths and he prays to any god available it doesn’t end up with him at the ER in the middle of the night. Danny will never let him live it down if it does.

 

/13

When Danny comes back, Steve’s decked out on the couch, wrapped on a different blanket than before, and the evidence of what transpired mere hours ago, swept under the proverbial rug, or rather on the drying cycle in the mudroom and the trail of sand back to where it belongs.

It’s not that he still feels terribly dizzy (he is dizzy, just not as bad as before), but he is tired, and his chest feels a bit constricted, in the middle of coughing up a lung he remembered he had some inflammation that was surely aggravated by his little outing to sea, leading him back to the original idea of how is it possible for him to be so smart and stupid at the same time.

Danny does a walk-by behind the couch and squeezes his shoulder in an affectionate way, but a kiss doesn’t come afterwards, which is odd and lures him out of his self-made cocoon only to find Jerry standing behind the couch, doing his best to pretend he hasn’t noticed him yet.

“What’s in the folders?”

“Oh, ‘ello, ‘mander.” Jerry barely looks at him, shuffling on his feet from side to side. “Fo’ders?”

Steve raises and eyebrow and points at his hand.

“Oh, ‘ight, yes. Chin thought you woul’ want to b’ kept in the loop?” Jerry hands over the files. Steve takes them, but doesn’t look at them right away, he’s following Danny’s progress as he walks back into the room with a peeved scowl on his face.

“Back off, Steve, Jerry’s just the messenger,” says Danny, placing a glass of water on the table and pointing to it with a clear command behind the gesture. Drink it all. He sits down next to him on the couch, giving him a long meaningful stare. It doesn’t bode well.

Jerry must get the message too, because he points in the direction of the kitchen, mumbles something he can’t quite catch and leaves the room.

“You doing okay, Steven?”

“Yes.”

“You sure?” Steve shrugs in response, because what else is he going to say. “Alright then, give me a file, I don’t know what’s going on with anything, but Chin seemed piss’d off and it takes a lot to rile that guy up.” Steve transfers the whole bundle into Danny’s hands, freeing his own to retrieve the glass of water. He gulps it down all at once and then focuses on the papers Danny’s passing his way, but not before tucking the blanket around himself and his partner. Danny gives him a less strained smile than before and off they go, discussing the case.

 

/13.2

It’s two hours later and the case so far is a jumble of different department acronyms; long, choppy, paper trails that go into spirals from one city to the next; a bunch of no longer used aliases; three abandoned warehouses; two abandoned houses; and a handful of stolen cars; and yet, no more than chum-change for money and maybe an ounce of weed forgotten at a site with no viable fingerprints. Forget about reliable witnesses that could go beyond the same mid-hierarchy wannabe boss name, which, surprise-surprise, it’s an alias. They might as well be going after Keyser Söze. These guys were good when it came to either erase their prints, be it virtual, physical or metaphorical, or entangling the information up so bad, it was confounding even the best of them.

There are analysts involved, on loan from the FBI, trying to crunch the incredible amount of information they’ve amassed so far, and the case just keeps getting bigger and bigger. For a while there, Steve’s surprised the NSA hasn’t gotten involved yet. From an operational standpoint, Five-0 is still inside the loop because of the eclectic skills and knowledge they bring to the table, thanks mainly to the wide array of cases they’ve handled in the past; however, as of The Exploding House Incident, Five-0 went from field operational resource, to operation-savvy hosts to the island.

“Yeah, I’m surprised Homeland Security hasn’t swooped in and taken point.”

“I hear ya,” he says back to Danny, stretching his arms over his head and wincing when his shoulder reminds him of this morning’s shenanigans. It looks like Danny’s about to say something when he turns around to face Jerry, who just walked in from the kitchen and is drying his hands on a dish towel. Jerry’s talking, but he can’t hear much more than a rumble of sounds, he doesn’t bother to let him know, though, he’s sure if it were important, Danny would’ve stepped in already. 

 

/13.3

They all have lunch together, huddled up on the kitchen table. Jerry’s acting strange— well, stranger than usual, but not giving enough clues to figure out why, maybe he’s just keyed up on seeing Steve all banged up. Conversation’s scarce on his end, because Jerry’s words get blurred around his beard and Danny’s drinking chamomile tea with his lunch, which means his throat is hurting, so he won’t make it worse by asking him repeatedly what just happened.

In the middle of chasing a cheesy bit of Parmesan chicken, Danny’s phone, which is on the table, flashes with a message from Kono and Danny leaves the table to return the call, upping the suspicion level by at least twenty percent. Both Jerry and Danny are offbeat and he’s not sure his accident is enough of an explanation as to the why.

Danny is back after a couple of minutes. A Cheshire Cat smile plastered on his face, he swaggers into the room.

“They’ve got a solid lead,” he announces. His lover’s voice a veritable roar to his ears after so long just listening to the unintelligible hubbub of their conversation. “They’re moving in now and they think they’ll get a high-tier lieutenant out of this. We gonna get them, babe!” Danny grabs him by the back of the neck and squeezes. His eyes doing the I love you, yeah, thing they do after a good make out session, or an even better rumple in between the sheets. It feels a bit too intimate with company present, but he doesn’t hesitate to return the sentiment, squeezing Danny’s arm back.

Jerry clears his throat nosily enough that even Steve can hear him (probably for a second or third time) and raises his glass, calling for a toast. Danny shakes his head and takes his phone out, he reads something on the screen and does a wait a second gesture without looking up.

“They’re breaching. We getting a blow by blow recount straight from the office. Let’s wait on the toast, Jer, okay?”

Jerry lowers his glass and fixes his attention on Danny, like his life depends on it.

Danny’s phone vibrates again. Another message.

“The perps didn’t see it coming.”

Another message and Danny hurrahs with his fist in the air. “We got them. We got them!” He exclaims, exhilarated, practically shooting up from his seat.

Jerry’s face lights up and raises his glass once more, followed closely by Danny and himself. “To five-oh,” Jerry says, and they clink their glasses together. He can feel a giddy sort of grin tugging at his lips and his head swims in elation. It’s a good kind of rush knowing the bad guys are going down.

 

/13.4

They go to bed early, enough excitement for one day, they are both low on energy after all. Danny goes to tidy up the spare room, but Steve follows him in and leads him back to their room by the hand, a silent request to stay the night. It has started to feel like they are going to bed angry and it doesn’t sit well with him. As they lay in bed on top of the covers, Danny grunts his way into a comfortable position tangling his legs with Steve’s, he’s pretty sure that if he could, Danny would try to climb inside of him in about a minute.

“So,” he starts, “what did the doctor say?”

Danny swallows and wets his lips, collecting his thoughts. “In a nutshell, I’m fine. I should mind my bruised ribs, as you already know. I’m not allowed to do anything stren’us for at least another couple of weeks. My head’s fine too. Need to watch out for headaches, you know, the usual.”

“You going back to work on Monday?”

“No. I asked the doc to stretch my sick leave a bit. I know the manual says I should bounce back in five days after a trauma, but I just wasn’t feeling it.”

“Okay,” he says, mulling over what his partner had just said. Danny takes this as a signal to burrow further into Steve.

It’s one of those scorching hot nights, when even thinking feels like too much of a hassle, but having Danny pressed up against him and nuzzling his neck is like a drink of water to his parched soul. Steve’s careful not to jostle him up, minding Danny’s ribs and caresses his side up to his head, burying his hand deep into his hair and down to the dip of his back. Danny groans so close to his throat it feels like Steve himself groaned too.

“Did I hurt you?”

“Nooo, it feels good, it was a good sound, I swear,” he soothes, sneaking a hand under Steve’s t-shirt and groping his abs.

This could lead somewhere, Steve thinks.

Danny leans up into him, using said abs as support and kisses him. A peck on his lower lip, and then his tongue finds its way into his mouth. Steve’s heart does a little leap of joy and he skids lower on the bed to give Danny better access, sliding his hand to Danny’s hip and bringing him closer still. Danny helps by boosting himself half on top of Steve and sliding his knee between Steve’s legs, rubbing against him, and hitting all the right spots that do it for him.

Steve’s hand slides from Danny’s hip to his torso, skimming over bruised ribs and up to his nipple, caressing it with his thumb as he bites playfully into Danny’s lip, getting a gasp of surprise in response, a vacuum of air right against his mouth, which he covers by deepening the kiss. Steve takes all of two seconds to note how much he misses Danny’s little sounds and moans of pleasure and encouragement, noting as well how those are replaced by an increase of Danny’s hands roaming everywhere they can reach and frantic little tugs of clothes and fingers pressing into him, urging him to come closer.

Danny tugs Steve’s boxers down and grabs a handful of his butt, making him lose focus on his task of sucking a hickey below Danny’s shirt line. Danny rubs against him, using his still clutching hand to guide him, but nothing is happening for either of them and Danny finally blows a frustrated sort of sigh into Steve’s chest.

“Yeah, me neither, buddy,” he says into Danny’s hair. “I really want to, but… I just can’t, I was hoping you…”

“Yeah, me too.” Danny lifts his head a little as he talks, so Steve can understand him better. “Must be the painkillers. I really wanted it too.”

“This is so unsatisfying,” Steve’s says, staring into the ceiling and doing his best to will an erection to make an appearance (in either of them). The second he says it, though, he realises he shouldn’t have. Nobody likes to be kicked when they’re down.

Except Danny gets this naughty smirk on, blinking owlishly at him before stating, “Well, you know what they say, the couple that gets blue balls together, stays together.”

Steve snorts in laughter, shaking the bed with his cackles and Danny follows suit, thumping his head against Steve’s chest, laughter bubbling up from there, and starting a new cycle for Danny.

“You’re the most romantic guy I’ve ever met, Danny,” he exclaims, “hands down.”

“I know, right? Can I get it in writing, though?” He mimes writing on the air in front of Steve’s eyes. “Just in case it comes up some day?”

Steve laughs again and hugs the stuffing out of his boyfriend, apologising profusely afterwards when Danny swears him up and down in pain.

“You animal,” Danny declares, once they’ve both settled down.

“Yeah, but I’m—”

“—You’re my animal. Yes, yes, always.”

 

/14

“Hey, hey! Steve, remember to cover your ears,” Danny admonishes, leaning against the bed frame, smoothing down his hair.

“What?!”

“Your ears, babe?”

Steve freezes, mentally backtracking through the past three days, not once did he cover his ears, the gauze had lasted as far as the car ride home, in fact, he hasn’t been really following any of the care instructions except for taking his pills on time.

Danny appears to mistake his ‘oh shit’ moment for Steve’s garden variety of not understanding what he said, so he points to his own ear and says, “Your ears? The doc said you had to cover ‘em?” Steve soothes his face into a mask of blankness, prompting Danny to squint in return, giving him the benefit of the doubt for a couple more seconds. “From the hospital?” And then, “Steven!”

Steve raises his hands in front of him and steps backwards closer to the bathroom. “Yes, Danno, I will, Jesus, relax.”

“What you mean you will?” Danny says, “Haven’t you before?” He growls, but Steve doesn’t give him the satisfaction, feigning failure to receive message, not like it was hard to feign, this morning his ears feel stuffy and what little sound comes through feels cottony around the edges.

He shakes himself out of the funk and goes fishing for petroleum jelly and cotton balls to step into the shower.

 

/14.2

Danny’s showering upstairs and he’s not sure what prompts him to do it, by all accounts he should be helping put breakfast together, he feels a whole lot better today, even if his meds make him a little hazy and fuzzy-minded. He rummages around until he comes up with the right CD, placing it on the tray and fast forwarding to the last track. Nothing happens. He checks the screen and sees the numbers advancing, one second after the other. But he hears nothing. He turns it up a notch. Still nothing. Another one and the faint base line registers as if underwater. He turns it up again and again until he can feel the drums in his bones, and his chest feels funny. Most of it is still a distorted ghost of what it’s meant to be.

A hand sneaks past him headed for the radio, scaring the bejesus out of him. He reacts by grabbing said hand and pushing the person at arm’s length. He collides with Danny’s naked chest and finds himself the subject of a frown.

“Seriously? In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, Steven? FOR REAL?!” He screams like he wants to be heard over a crowd, which in a way, he does. He looks pissed off, and Steve still has him in a hand hold that threatens to snap a couple of bones out of their sockets. He releases him as if he had caught fire. Danny immediately takes his hand back to his chest and rubs the wrist, nodding with his chin to the stereo, a clear, polite petition to lower the volume. It is at this point Steve realises Danny still has some conditioner on his hair and is bare-butt naked.

“Sorry?”

Danny does a hand gesture that roughly translates to ‘lower the fucking volume, you tall freak’. After he does, Danny adds, “This better be good, Steven.”

His partner does a somewhat dignified walk to the kitchen and less than a minute later comes back wearing boxers and drying himself as best as possible with a beach towel. He picks up his phone from the coffee table and waves it in front of Steve’s face, too close to properly see whatever it is Danny wants him to see.

“I can’t leave you alone for ten minutes without the neighbours registering a complaint.”

“What?”

“I have two missed calls from Ms Keawe, and a very nice text message.”

“Impossible, Ms Keawe loves me.”

“She actually does. She texted me. Me, Steven, on my cell, you made a seventy-year-old citizen figure that out because she was terrified something had happened to you.” Danny passes him the phone on the right message and yes, she was worried alright.

“How did she even get your number?”

“Seriously? I find you blasting hippie music—”

“It’s not—”

“—loud enough that even Ms Keawe could hear it without her hearing aids and you want to know how she got my number? Hello? Earth to Steven, weren’t you supposed to be resting and taking it easy? Wait, wait, what’s with the face?”

“What face?

“The face, you have a… what’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”

“Steven.”

Daniel.

“Jesus, are we doing this again?”

Steve blows a puff of air and crosses his arms over his chest. God forbid Steve doesn’t want to talk about something Danny thinks should be discussed, preferably to death. “It’s not hippie music,” he opts for a change of subject.

Danny gives him a long, clinical stare, his hands twitch on his hips, every fibre of his being buzzing to pick him on the change of subject, on his mental state, on his exposed fragilities. The thought of it disgusts him.

“I don’t think it qualifies as heavy metal either.”

“But you have to admit it’s a classic.”

Oh, it’s something.”

“Are you dissing Iron Butterfly?” Steve argues, affronted.

“Oh, god, this is one of those things? Those couple cute live-in things; you start livin’ together and suddenly this whole side of them comes into focus and you don’t eve’ know’ who you’re livin’ wit’ anymore.” Danny’s hands are wild, cutting the air in all directions, he’s pretty riled up.

“You’re so dramatic, Danny,” Steve sighs. But it’s the wrong thing to say. Danny’s eyes acquire that certain fiery heat he has come to associate to perps having a really not-good, bad day.

“Yeah, because standing in front of the speakers at ear-shattering volume to figure out how bad your hearing is, has no dramatic flair at all. Not an ounce.” Steve’s jaw clenches shut so quick he figures it must have made a clicking sound. “That’s what you were doing? Isn’t it?” His lips press into a harsh line. “And you call me dramatic,” Danny throws as he loses steam. He gets to the bottom of the stairs before turning back and adding, “I’m going to finish my shower, can you please get started on breakfast? Please?” And then he’s gone.

 

/14.3

The rest of the day passes in a funk well into the evening when Danny says over a mug of chamomile tea, “I worry is all.” And Steve nods in understanding because he does too. They let the issue lie after that.

 

/15

Danny sips from his cup of coffee and looks ahead, lost beyond the horizon. Steve regards him, following the little curl of his eyelashes and going down to the faint pout on his lips. Danny still looks tired, even though they spent all the previous day lounging around and ignoring TV, much like their first day back. He even went as far as refraining from requiring Danny to talk too much at him, because apparently, the Grandpa Treatment makes his throat sore and has him downing chamomile tea and honey by the gallon, not that Danny would ever complain, he doesn’t say anything and always tries to be as precise and clear with his words as possible, but it’s obvious it’s taken a toll on him.

 

Thankfully, Jerry visited the day before and came armed with take-out and mad cooking skills, leaving them well stocked, taking in consideration the kids are arriving today. Jerry said he wanted to, but he figures it’s no coincidence Chin and Kono did the same the first time around, the team must think they can barely scrounge a half-decent meal. Even if a little offended, he’s still glad, and thankful; it gave them the chance to lay back and just rest.

Thinking about the team inevitably brings him to the Kono thing that’s been rearing its head from time to time. One odd phone call that Danny took into another room and a lot of text messages. Sure, she’s been keeping them both appraised of the case, but Danny’s texts seem longer and sometimes Danny frowns at his phone like he’s angry or disappointed. He hasn’t asked and Danny hasn’t told; it’s a stale mate of sorts.

Danny sips more coffee and his chest swells with a deep sigh, a goofy grin dangling from his lips. Steve’s glad Danny’s not in pain anymore, he has already gone through his pain pills and downgraded to ibuprofen. He’s just tired and not that badly banged up, he reminds himself. Steve, on the other hand, is still very much in pain, especially because he’s been taking half doses for the past day and a half; he’s decided he can’t stand feeling so hazy all day long, it makes him stupid and less in control of his actions and his thoughts, he doesn’t want an Iron Butterfly situation do over. Just the thought of it makes him frown.

He blinks himself back into the present when Danny rubs the frown away from his face with his thumb, a warm smile brightening up Danny’s features. 

“The kids still coming tonight?” Steve asks and Danny pulls a face. It boils down to ‘stop it with the hand-wringing, Steven’. He gets it, he’s asked like a hundred times already and it’s only two in the afternoon.

He hates to admit it, even to himself, but he’s nervous. Their relationship is secure and stable, but Danny moved in a month ago, to the date and that’s a whole different level, especially when you throw in the kids: Gracie, Charlie and Nahele. Just their ages and backgrounds alone make for very interesting dinner conversations. 

“Don’t worry, we’ll be fine. We get all the kids for the whole weekend. They will see we’re doing fine. We get to have a good time.”

“Fine.”

“I mean it.”

“Is Kono driving Nahele or should we…?”

“You shouldn’t drive, I saw you stumble down the stairs today. Plus, Lou said he would, if he somehow can’t, Renee will. So, down boy, no SEAL skills needed today.”

“Fine.”

“Fine, he says.”

“Are we arguing again?”

“I don’t know, babe, are we?”

No, they’re not. But it occurs to Steve that something is amiss, sort of.

“Can you call Renee and have her pick up Nahele?” He asks Danny, in lieu of an answer to his previous question.

“Sure, is there a reason…?”

Steve debates with himself on this one. It had never happened before, that he had had to send somebody else to pick Nahele, if he’s not swinging by Kamekona’s and visiting him during working hours, then the big guy himself drives Nahele wherever he needs to go, but there are some things he’s noticed and he’s not sure if he would be betraying the kid’s confidence by putting them out there now.

“Steve?” Danny prompts.

“Look,” he starts with a placating voice, turning on his seat to fully face Danny, “I don’t know why, I can’t explain it, okay? And I don’t— I’m not pointing accusing fingers. But I think Nahele’s afraid of Lou.” Even as he says it he realises it’s going to come out wrong and maybe completely out of left field. And Danny’s probably the wrong person to tell this to without a good dose of contextual anaesthesia, because his partner goes from chill to agitated in a heartbeat.

“WHAT?! WHY?!” Danny roars. “Did something HAPPEN?!”

“No, Danny, no.” Danny’s lips are pressing hard into a thin line and his eyes demand an explanation now. “I don’t know what it is about Lou, but Nahele flinches whenever he’s loud or you know, explodes in laughter,” Steve rushes to explain. “He swings his arms around and you bet your ass Nahele will be ducking away or just leaving the room.” Danny looks like he’s about to blow a fuse. “It’s not just him, okay, it took him a while to warm up to Kame too, and he’s really jittery and jumpy in crowded spaces, like when I took him to the mall to get clothes and school supplies. It’s got to do with foster care, I think, his previous experiences I mean.” He finishes, feeling jittery himself.

Danny forcefully takes a deep breath through his nose and sighs it out.

“Okay, I’m gonna call Renee now. But afterwards,” he gestures between them, “we need to talk about this, it’s not fair to Nahele that you know about this and we’re not doing everything in our power to make him comfortable.”

Steve nods in agreement. Danny picks his mug and goes inside through the kitchen.

Steve takes a moment to calm himself down and review the conversation they just had in his head, he never asks Nahele about his life in foster care, beyond making sure his foster family is treating him well, that is, but he knows he goes to mandatory counselling twice a month on account of the abuse and living on the streets, and he’s still flagged as a “runner” in the system. There’s a psychologist at school too, who works with him every now and then on his study habits and other school related issues, but he doesn’t know. Perhaps it’s high time he starts asking and getting more seriously involved.

 

/16

Charlie and Grace are the first to arrive. Rachel hot on their heels with a harried face that sends blaring signals in his head. But right now, he needs to worry about a toddler running at warp speed towards him. Grace runs behind Charlie saying something, presumably reminding him to be careful with Steve, but Charlie doesn’t even slow down and soon enough he’s glued to his legs, and after a beat Grace tucks herself under Steve’s arm too.

He’s happy to see them too. He hugs them tight and then ushers them the rest of the way inside, taking their stuff and putting it away in the office for now. Charlie’s talking animatedly at him, but he doesn’t understand anything he’s saying, he’s talking too fast and just not loud enough. He stops and looks up expectantly at him, clearly waiting for an answer and it’s like a pit opens at the bottom of his stomach, making his heart speed up. Grace moves in his periphery and kneels besides Charlie, Steve can hear the lilting cadence of her voice, but once again, he doesn’t understand a word, it’s all an unintelligible mess of elongated sounds.

Charlie slumps his shoulders forward and starts pouting, but Grace remains steady and soft-eyed, still talking to him, until Charlie’s pout tucks back in and he nods fervently, looking up at Steve all shinny-eyed and loving. His heart stops racing after that.

Charlie lifts his hands, asking to be picked up, and Steve obliges, he always does.

“’Ncl’ Ste’e!”

“Hey, buddy, how you doing today?”

“Goooood!” The change in his voice and way of talking is noticeable, plus, Steve makes sure to tuck him into his left side, where he can hear a bit better and what do you know, he gets enough context and sounds to make out what Charlie’s saying.

The kid starts going about how they’re staying for a week, and he brought movies and games and “surprise!” Well, he’s surprised alright. In the middle of the barrage of words and expressions and questions that don’t need a real answer, he kisses Grace’s forehead and thanks her. She nods with a knowing smile and just repeats Charlie’s last outburst: “Surprise!”

 

/16.2

Turns out Rachel had a last-minute change of plans and needs to go to the mainland on business for a week, now that she and Stan are taking some very necessary time apart (and it looks like it will soon turn into divorce), she needs to shine on her job and make the big bucks for her family.

Danny deals with it by busying himself in the kitchen, putting the kid’s stuff on their bedroom, and blowing raspberries into Charlie’s neck. Steve knows that if Danny has something to say about it, he’ll be hearing about it later.

 

/16.3

Nahele arrives around four, backpack in hand, looking wiped out for the day. A surge of relief washes over the kid’s face once he spots Steve arranging stuff near the corner table by the stairs (a strategic position to make sure he is the first person he sees when he comes in). Nahele immediately goes to Steve and pats him on the shoulder and executes a very manly handshake, which Steve reciprocates and then goes for a full hug for the sake of it.

When he looks up again, he realises Renee’s standing by the door giving them a tender look, her car keys dangling from her hand against her chest.

Steve points Nahele to the kitchen and tells him to ask Danny to feed him.

Renee goes up to him and greets him in a hushed tone, so he doesn’t get what she says, but he understands the sentiment.

“Thank you for picking him up, I would’ve myself, but…” He shrugs.

Renee shakes her head and starts saying something, stopping herself and starting again, making sure to look at him directly and to enunciate clearly.

“Don’t you worry about a thin’, Steve, we got you. You and Nahele. What’ver you guys need.”

He ducks his head, at a loss for words, because Danny had had to explain why they didn’t want Nahele to be picked up by Lou.

He clears his throat and says, “you want to join us? Danny and Grace are making pizza.”

“And Charlie?” She asks with a knowing smile.

“Well, Charlie’s role is debatable, he was covered in sauce last I saw him.” Renee laughs and Steve watches the line of her face transform into delight, but doesn’t hear much of it. It’s weird looking at a person laugh without the boisterous noise that goes with it. “Well, you’re welcome to stay, come in.”

“No, no, it’s fine, besides we’ll see each other on Sunday.” She gets a bit serious after that. “So, how you doing, Steve?”

“I’m…” he inhales deeply, “I’m hanging in there,” he answers on the exhale, but then Renee makes a face that says keep going, so he adds, “I feel better, still healing. I have an appointment with my doctor next week, they need to run some tests, and that’s it, it’s just a waiting game.”

Renee purses her lips, but whatever she disapproves of, she keeps to herself, making Steve feel oddly exposed. Thankfully, Danny comes into the foyer, drying his hands with a paper towel and saves him from having to say anything about it. Danny greets Renee cheerfully and after a few exchanged pleasantries he escorts her back to her car.

Steve cuts his loses and goes into the kitchen, steeling himself for the mess he’s about to encounter.

He is not disappointed. Charlie is elbow deep into the sink, presumably washing the dishes, water slushing and pouring into the floor. He couldn’t be happier, though. Grace is holding Nahele’s phone away from him, doing a perfect right-foot pivot, and blocking his attempts at recovering his propriety with her elbows, not that he had showed her that type of tactics for her to use them like this.

Steve walks directly into Grace’s path and snatches the phone away, passing it over her head to Nahele with a pointed look to her. Grace and Nahele both smile widely at him, back to their angelic teenagers’ selves.

“So,” he asks to Grace and Nahele, “Charlie is doing the dishes, who’s gonna do the floors?”

Grace does a grand eye roll and goes to the mudroom to fish out the mop and Nahele does his part by joining Charlie on the sink. When Grace comes back, mop in hand, he informs him there’s a musty smell on the mudroom, but she couldn’t find where it was coming from. He’s about to go investigate, almost sure there’s a leaky pipe somewhere in there, when Danny walks in and grabs him by the shoulders, steering him into a chair and plopping him there.

“Sit down, Super SEAL, you’ll burn out b’for’ dinner if you keep tryin’ to singl’handedly fix the world.”

 

/16.4

“Okay,” Danny claps his hand after the movie ends, “who’s got homework for Monday?”

Nahele groans into Steve’s shoulder and Grace does the whole ‘lame, dad’ routine that involves a lot of eye rolling and shoulders sagging. Charlie just yawns and burrows deeper into Danny’s side.

“Hey I’m not doin’ the hom’work dance Sunday night, you can do it now or tomorro’ mornin’, your choice,” Danny bellows in a commanding voice that leaves no room for argument.

Less than twenty minutes later, Steve finds himself parked on the dinner table with two sulky teenagers, one on each side, doing maths problems.

“How come it’s your homework, but I have to sit with you guys too?” He asks to no one in particular.

Nahele frowns at his calculator and punches numbers with a lot more force than necessary, after he gets the result, he goes to the back of his book and frowns some more.

“Need some help there, buddy?”

“Yeah,” he says, still frowning at this problem, “I k’p ‘ettin’ thes’ huge strin’ ‘f n’mb’rs.”

“Okay, run that by me again. Maybe look at me when you say it?” It comes out a lot harsher than he intended for. Nahele looks up, cheeks flushed, throwing a look at Grace, who in turn stops scribbling in her notebook, and stares at Steve.

“Don’t worry, I’ll get it right by myself,” Nahele says, not making eye contact.

God, he could kick himself in the teeth for that one.

“Hey, hey. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that,” he soothes, placing a hand near Nahele’s. “What I was trying to say is that I can’t hear very well and I need you to look at me when you’re talking and do it as clearly as possible. I didn’t mean to… scold you or something. I promise.”

The tension lessens somewhat, but it doesn’t break completely. It’s Grace who takes charge then, much like her father would.

“You know what we need? We need ice-cream, homework is always easier with ice-cream.” Nahele gives her a tiny smile. “Also, check your calculator, make sure it’s not set in radians, that always screws up my results.” And then she’s gone.

Nahele does not know how to set his calculator back to degrees. Steve silently offers to take the calculator and show him how. Nahele slides it on the table, and Steve takes it, showing him which buttons to push.

“Thank you,” the kid says.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart.”

The sweetheart part kind of slips out of his mouth, taking him by surprise as much as it surprises Nahele; his cheeks flush again, but this time it’s accompanied by a pleased smile, going back to his book with ease. Grace chooses that moment to appear by their side again and places the tub of ice-cream at the centre with three spoons sticking out of it.

“Grace!” Steve admonishes, because, well… he’s sure Danny wouldn’t approve.

“It’s Friday night,” she shrugs her shoulders, “and we’re doing homework.”

“Yeah,” Steve surrenders and scoops out a big dollop of banana fudge into his mouth.

 

/17

He’s not sure if it’s the sun or the gentle morning breeze but his ears feel stuffy— well, stuffier than before. He’s positive the right one went full deaf, because as little as he can hear, even if the noise comes from his right side, he hears it as if coming from his left.

His entire family still sleeps inside and he’s relishing the calm before another full day, not that he would trade having a full house for anything in the world, but sometimes it gets a bit much, even after all these years he’s still not used to having that many people around, especially people who truly care about him. (Don’t let Danny hear him say that out loud, he would probably thump him in the head or something.)

Watching the to and fro’ of the waves is relaxing and manages to soothe the bubbling worry he feels inside his chest most of the time since he first had a panic attack in hospital. It’s like a constant mantra of ‘something’s going to happen, I just know it’ that plays on a loop inside his head, sometimes drowned by menial tasks such as doing the dishes, or important jobs, like tending to a stuffed animal’s pretend-hurt paw, but still ever present if he stops and lets his mind wander for a while. Having to take it easy for who knows how long is a dreadful prospect for the future on that regard.

He stares at the ocean some more.

After a while, as he starts to gather himself to go back inside, he detects some movement out of the corner of his eye and sees Danny approaching him from a wide circle.

“Didn’t want to startle you, babe,” he says, “sorry,” and places a peck on his lips. “You’re brooding.”

“No, I’m not,” he scoffs, shooting down the idea.

“Yeah, you are. What’s going on, on that big head of yours? Should I be worried here?”

“I’m fine, Danny, don’t be a worry wart. How you doing?”

“Oh, well, you know, my ex-wife, moth’r of my childr’n, might divorce again, and she’s never had to work full time before, and my kid still calls Stan, Daddy, which, you know, I understand.” He makes a disgusted, pained face. “And I ache all ov’r, I’m not in pain, per se, but I kinda just want to have a two—three-day long nap. And I’m worried about all those things, and about my boyfriend who won’t tell me what he’s thinking and he’s going through a major injury here, you know, potentially life alterin’, but he keeps pretendin’ everything’s fine.”

Danny makes it look so easy, talking about stuff, putting it in order, cataloguing it and just pouring it out without letting it get a hold of him.

“Your boyfriend sounds like a bit of an asshole?”

“He may be, jury’ still out on that one. I just want ‘im to know I’m ‘ere; he’s not alone.”

“He knows.”

“Oh, does he?” Danny grins.

“Yeah. I know.”

“Good.”

“And Danny?” Danny nods for him to go on, “I love you.”

“Love you too.” They kiss languidly and share the heat between them in an awkward cuddle until tiny hands start pulling at their t-shirts to lead them into the house.

Back into the fray.

 

/17.2

The rest of their Saturday consists of a Disney movie marathon, eating a lot of leftovers and a long-awaited rematch of UNO, because he can’t convince himself Danny and the kids are not in cahoots with each other to make sure he always finishes last. By the time dinner rolls around, he discreetly slips the full dosage of his painkillers into his pocket and takes them in between spoonfuls of food. He pretends he doesn’t catch Danny giving him an approving half-grin from behind his glass.

 

/18

He wakes up feeling off kilter. When his eyes open there’s a heaviness to them that he associates with one-too-many beers just not drunk yet. This isn’t the case, though, he hasn’t even wanted to have a sip of alcohol since the incident. The fact that he can’t hear the ocean outside— and every time he closes his eyes the world fades to a dull sensory memory— only adds to the strangeness.

He is on his side facing Danny’s back and his ragged mop of hair. He imagines Danny must be doing rumpled huffing noises the way his ribs expand and contract rhythmically. There's a pang of something in his chest and he rolls on his back annoyed, the ceiling fan his only distraction. This temporary loss of hearing bullshit is getting old fast, and with the temporary portion of the situation being a relative term that just circles over and over in his head, he can make himself dizzy in a handful of minutes; much like staring at the fan blades circle over his head will, if he keeps it up.

A wave of discomfort rolls through him and he huffs, turning to the other side. It’s an effort to avoid entangling himself further on the sheets, because god forbid he ends up stealing the covers from Danny, he is a grumpy leprechaun about it, though he firmly avoids calling him that to his face, for obvious reasons.

And there goes his relaxed morning.

His entire body screams in jittery fits with the need to do something. What is wrong with him, he wonders, as he inhales deeply, holds it to the count of four and exhales slowly up to four again. This one he learnt in the Navy, early on combat training and feels very appropriate to manage this day. He holds his breath to four times and starts over. After five cycles his heart settles to a nice and steady rhythm that’s closer to being awake and ready to take on the world.

He needs to get off his butt and stop feeling sorry for himself. Very carefully he sits down and gets his t-shirt from the frame of the bed and puts it on, taking the opportunity to put on his brave face as well, in case he runs into one of the kids outside. No matter how much of a united front they had put up last night, Steve could tell they were worried about him, it was his job to help them dial it back down.

Danny stirs besides him and throws an arm to cover his eyes, he grumbles under his breath, not that Steve can hear it, but he knows it anyway. It’s such a Danno thing to do; hasn’t even woke up properly and he’s already ranting. Fondness softens Steve’s features as he drops a kiss into the patch of blond hair, careful not to jostle him as he gets out of bed and pads downstairs to make breakfast, checking on Nahele on his way to the kitchen.

The kid is sprawled on the couch all lanky limbs and drool on the pillow. He makes a mental note to figure out an actual bed for him; it’s not fair for any of the kids to have to shuffle around the house depending on who’s visiting. Grace already has a bedroom everyone recognises as her own, which she graciously lets Nahele use when he sleeps over; and Charlie has been bunking with her whenever it’s the two of them, but everyone needs their own space. Who knew the McGarrett home would be at full capacity again. Not Steve, that’s for sure.

He gets the coffeemaker going and starts lining up the ingredients. Oatmeal for everyone except Danny, who says it scrapes his stomach raw; he gets toast. Coffee for everyone, except Nahele who likes chocolate milk in the morning better, and Charlie, of course, because he sure as hell doesn’t need caffeine to start his day. Green slob (as Danny calls it) for himself and a big bowl of chopped fruits for the kids to squabble over. He decides to go overboard and throw in some blueberry pancakes. Cheering up in edible form; Danny’s favourite strategy. He makes sure there's enough of everything for a decent batch and starts whisking away.

Once the mix is done, he puts it aside and pulls out the mugs, frowning when he realises one of them was put away still dirty. He washes it perfunctorily thinking ahead of what he needs to do next. He paces the length of the kitchen a couple of times forgetting twice to take the butter from the fridge. He's gone from punchy to restless in less than an hour and his chest aches again. A wave of slight dizziness washes over him, his knees wobble. He grips the edge of the countertop hard and waits for the fuzziness to pass, breathing in series of four again. He’s not a hundred percent convinced combat breathing is the best remedy for dizziness, but the familiarity of it helps. He suppresses the impulse to shake his head to clear it (learnt that one the hard way around), and he focuses on breakfast instead; he wants to serve the pancakes as close to hot as possible, so he’ll need to chop fruit first. Making sure to spread his legs a little wider for stability, he starts peeling.

 

/18.2

At some point in the middle of the contained chaos he’s creating— he’s missed the rubbish bin half a dozen times, but he keeps telling himself he’ll get it all later— Nahele’s unruly morning curls pop in, followed by a big sleepy frown on his forehead. Steve underlines on his mental notepad to get Nahele his own bed soon, the kid looks rough.

“Morning,” Steve says, his own voice sounding foreign to himself.

Nahele steps fully into the room and does a beeline for the bowl of pineapple, greeting a mumbled, “Hullo”, around a chunk of fruit. He pops another and then thumps Steve on the shoulder with his head.

“So, not a good morning?” One of Nahele’s stray curls sneaks under the collar of Steve’s t-shirt. He has to squirm a bit to dislodge it, tickling its way out. “Okay, kid I don’t mean to be rude or anything, but—”

“Yes, I kno’, I need a show’r— Who ‘as a leather couch in Hawaii anyway?” His voice reverberates through Steve’s sternum and he finds it odd to feel rather than hear Nahele’s complaint. He turns around to face him, angling his left ear forward. The kid looks upset, but Steve doesn’t really know how to make it better.

“It was my dad’s and yeah, I don’t know what he was thinking.” He wipes his hands on a kitchen towel and parks his butt to the edge of the counter. “It’s what we’ve got.”

“Yeah, it’s fine,” Nahele shrugs one shoulder with nonchalance, “I mean, it’s just a place to sleep, right?”

Well, he thinks, going back to his initial thoughts after watching him sleeping all bent out of shape on the couch, now is a good a time as any, right?

“Look I wanted to talk to you about that.” Nahele practically jumps away from Steve, his posture shifting from sleepy to uneasy, and down to merely guarded in the blink of an eye. Steve can tell the kid forces himself to relax. “It’s not— It’s not bad, Nahele, I swear. I think you need a room, like a proper bedroom, and I’m gonna need your input on that. I haven’t figured it out yet, just thought you would be more comfortable that way. You alright with that?”

Nahele looks at him with big round eyes and sniffles himself back into composure a couple of times. He can see the kid tries to speak, but can’t, his throat working overtime; he nods instead. A second later gratitude floods his eyes.

Steve drags Nahele close to his chest, making sure to press himself tight against the counter. The smell of fresh fruit wafts up to his nostrils, mixed closely with Nahele’s sleepy and sweaty scent. The kid’s ripe.

There’s rumbling on Steve’s chest and a few garbled sounds from Nahele, but he can’t make it into actual words in his head. The kid takes some distance from him, wipes his eyes and looks up. His cheeks are flushed.

“I’m gonna go…” he trails off, pointing upstairs.

“Yeah, you go do that, I’ll call breakfast in about twenty minutes.”

 

/19

He’s putting the final touches to their meal, on one hand trying to process Nahele’s reaction and on the other thinking about setting the table— hoping for someone to appear out of thin air and do it for him, but it’s still ‘early’ by Danny’s standards.

His mind inevitably wanders off to domestic matters; he’s not quite sure if he’s supposed to pay the water bill or if that was on Danny’s list. This being the first month living together changed many a thing in his monthly schedule and he’s not even sure if he has gotten around to cancelling the automatic payments on the cable and electric bills after all. Maybe he’ll get a chance to check it out later today, because trying to get money back from the companies is not an easy feature, case in point, a year ago, he screwed up a simple down-payment for new equipment at Five-0 and ended up unleashing Kono onto them, even after everything was settled and back in order, Kono had looked like she was ready to feed bullets to the company guy, or anyone who had the audacity of crossing her in even the most menial of tasks, never mind she actually managed to get the money back. He shudders at the memory. When he looks down he realises he’s stopped cooking, he blinks owlishly at his hands and gives half a mind to pick up a plate when a, “Hey, babe,” makes him jump out of his skin, scrambling for purchase on a cabinet, lest he ends up flat on the floor.

Danny’s booming voice catches him completely off guard; he didn’t even hear him come down the stairs. His lover’s hands come up to his sides, soothing down his ruffled feathers, placing a hand on his forehead and sliding it to the back of his neck. The scent of his own shower gel wafts up to his nose. Danny’s been rummaging through his drawers again; this soap bottle wasn’t even in the shower yet. Cheeky bastard.

“You look a bit green ‘round the gills, you alright?”

His heart is already coming down to a normal beat, so, “Yeah, I'm fine, it's the vertigo, makes me,” Steve gestures with his hand to mean wobbly, “but I'm fine.”

Danny’s lower lip sticks out and he nods thoughtfully. Danny’s about to say something else when there’s a loud thump from upstairs. His lover rolls his eyes so hard, that for a second there it looks like he might sprain something.

“The kids are killin’ me Stev’n.” Danny thumps his head on Steve’s shoulder, pretty much the same way Nahele had a moment before. 

“Danno!” And shit, that was crystal clear even for him, so it must have been loud.

“Looks like it’s all hands on deck,” Danny says, rising his eyebrows.

“Since when you do Navy speak?” Danny shrugs his shoulders, looking at the ceiling, probably keeping track of the kids’ argument. “Oh, so you can learn. Good to know,” Steve adds, partly ignoring whatever civil war is developing upstairs. Instead, he sneaks a hand past Danny’s guard-dog stand and pats him on the butt, making him falter in his long-distance parental disapproval, but then he frowns at the ceiling again, and his posture goes from ‘let’s give it a minute’ to ‘it better be over when I get there’. And off he goes.

Danny marches to the bottom of the stairs, and morphs into his personal brand of stern-daddy mode; Steve hasn’t grown used to seeing this side of Danny, it is one thing to see him being a doting father, another one entirely to watch him cross his arms over his chest, heave a sigh and walk up the stairs with grim determination. As of late, putting Grace and Nahele in close proximity for longer than forty-eight hours tends to have explosive results. He and Mary were the same for a while.

Maybe it’s a McGarrett thing, he thinks, and then freezes. When did he start thinking about the kids as McGarretts?

He doesn’t get to dwell on this, as Charlie comes bouncing down the stairs and he barely has time to brace for a super special hug before he’s got an armful of Charlie hanging down from his neck.

“Hey, kiddo, help me set the table, yeah?” Charlie smiles and basically scales him down like a monkey from a tree; he goes into the kitchen without a word. He follows Charlie and puts the plates and cutlery within his reach, making sure not to overwhelm the boy with too many things to do at once.

 

/20

About ten minutes later, after everything is said and done, Nahele and Grace are both sulking and sitting at opposite sides of the kitchen table. Danny and Charlie are in between them, like a more talkative version of a demilitarised zone. Not that he can participate actively in that conversation, because all he hears is this animated sing-song voice he recognises at times as Charlie’s and a deeper rumble that’s distinctly Danny’s, but he only manages to pick up a few words, he feels deafer than yesterday and he didn’t think that was even possible, he’s supposed to be getting better, not the other way around. 

The plan for the day is basically tidy up, chill out and have an early Sunday cookout for dinner with the kids and the team. He needs to have Nahele back with the fosters before 9pm and Charlie and Grace are staying for the week, since Rachel is out on a business trip. Danny’s medical absence extending until next Tuesday allows them to spend some down time as a unit. A wave of dizziness hits him out of nowhere and for a fraction of a second, up is down and the table looks like a perfect place to rest his head in. He covers by leaning into the table and moving bits of his pancakes on his plate, his vision fraying at the edges too. Once he tunes back in, the first thing he’s made aware of is Nahele and Grace going at it again.

“I said I was sorry!” Grace shrieks. 

“You did not!” Nahele answers.

“Dad, you were there, tell him!”

“Whoa, whoa! Both of you need to dial it—”

“That wasn’t an apology; you just shrugg’d and said thought you ‘ere done in there.” He says this with the kind of obnoxious scowl only a teenager can accomplish without spraining something.

“Nahele, my man, you have every right to be upset, like I said before—” Something catches Danny’s eye, and he turns sharply to her daughter, “Grace Williams, you do not start with that young lady!” Grace does her signature ‘you’re so lame, dad’ face and rolls her eyes, not denying anything, but certainly not apologising for it either. Nahele glares daggers at the side of her face and Charlie looks riveted by the power struggle developing in front of his eyes.

On his part, Steve’s getting a headache from the three-sided arguments, especially from Danny and Gracie’s brand of body language. He scrubs his face with both hands and presses on his eyes, firmly aggravating his migraine.

“Alright, alright, Gracie, Nahele, you guys know that I love you both to death, but please stop,” Steve says from behind his hands. The entire world pulsating around him.

“Umm, babe, you okay?” Danny asks, tone softer than before. “Come ‘ere.” He places a hand over his forehead, and peers into his eyes, a worried look marring his face. “You're hot.”

“Well yeah, I know I'm hot,” he tries for levity, but all he gets is Danny giving him a look and probably making a clucking disapproving noise as well.

“That was bad, Steven, awful, really.” He sighs. “No, but seriously— Grace go get me the thermometer.”

“'ll go,” Nahele stands up and disappears to the second floor in the blink of an eye; before Steve can protest and turn down the unnecessary mother-henning. 

“Is ‘ncle ‘teve sick?” Charlie pipes up and Grace throws her brother a ‘you're so dense’ look. “I mean, more sick?” he amends, talking into Steve’s direction, over enunciating every word.

“No!” Says Steve at the same time Danny says in a patient tone, “I don't know, baby. But don't you worry, okay?” Charlie seems to be having difficulty reconciling the split opinions, clasping his fingers tight in front of him and rubbing them together. Reaching a decision, the kid turns more fully into Danny and says something too quiet for Steve to hear, but it has the effect of melting all of Danny’s defences.

“Yes, of course—” says Danny.

“Family take care of each other. Remember?” Grace interrupts. Even though she's been more high-spirited than ever these past few months, she has her moments and Steve’s heart soars at the confidence her words inspire.

“Yes,” Charlie nods for good measure and starts working on his last pancake, letting Grace’s words sink in.

The moment shifts once Nahele comes back, thermometer in hand and a harried look on his face. It gets exponentially worse when Danny announces Steve has a fever of a hundred-and-three.

There goes his carefully planned weekend trying to convince the kids he’s alive and well.

Danny, on the other hand, takes it in a stride. “Okay, troop, you finish breakfast. I’ll go find us a sitter and, once that’s settled, Steve and I are taking a quick trip to the hospital.” He’s all no nonsense as he leaves the table, coffee mug in hand.

Grace looks like she’s about to protest, but thinks better of it and promptly swallows her words, she nudges Charlie into finishing his breakfast instead. Nahele on his part, silently clears his dishes and gets Steve a tall glass of water, placing it in front of him. Steve drinks it dutifully and shovels food in his mouth like he’s being paid for it, rearranging his ideas for Sunday ohana laziness in his head. God, he feels awful.

 

/21

Right after he finishes breakfast (it tasted like cardboard), he leaves the kids to do some tidying up, whilst he goes upstairs and takes a quick shower. Nahele had followed him to the bottom of the stairs, but before he could ask what the matter was, the kid had gone to the couch and started stripping it of the bedding he had used, and putting his things together. He shakes his head, regrets it and goes back to the task at hand: get into clean clothes. Once he’s clean and comfortable, he’ll take care of the rest.

In the bedroom, Danny’s doing crazy eyes at his phone, giving Steve a puzzled look as he enters. Steve returns the look and quickly dismisses it in favour of getting out of his clothes slow and steady. He sits heavy on the bed for extra balance, and shuffles out of his pyjama bottoms. It requires more effort than usual.

Somehow, he gets lost inside his t-shirt and groans in irritation. In less than two seconds, Danny’s hands come up on his torso, helping him negotiate his way out of his clothes.

“Babe,” he says, still clutching the phone on one hand, sliding the other underneath the cloth and pulling it over his head. Steve’s greeted by a fond smile and dreamy eyes. The moment, however, does not last, “Who do we know other than Molly?”

Not what he expected Danny to say, and also, What? Molly?

“Why?”

“She’s on a trip for school.”

Oh, Danny means the babysitter, rotten luck; good thing they have a back-up sitter. “What about other Molly?”

“What you mean other Molly?” Danny gives him a look. “That was other Molly,” he points out.

This is getting confusing. “And what happened with first Molly?”

“She got a job,” Danny says as he brushes his hair back, nervous.

“This conversation is giving me headache,” Steve says and mentally checks out of the exchange, leaving Danny to figure it out on his own. He pads naked and jittery to the bathroom and takes a couple of seconds to regroup against the shower stall, letting the warm water soothe his feverish skin.

A full minute later, Danny’s head pops inside the shower, a worried frown as he takes on Steve’s lack of movement. “Need a hand?” Steve snorts and makes a half-hearted attempt at shampooing his hair. He’s going way over his three-minute rule, but who cares, every now and then, he deserves to take some extra time.

Danny closes the curtain again, but doesn’t leave the room. Steve knows because he keeps track of the door, and it remains closed.

“Found a sitter?” He asks, noting he says it a bit too loudly. Danny says something back, but it’s impossible to hear it under the noise of the falling water. “What?!”

Danny’s head pops in from behind the curtain, his face is half-covered in shaving cream.

“I said no. Think we gonna have to leave Grace in charge and get Nahele back to the fosters.” Steve scowls at the idea, and Danny’s hand sneaks in and rinses his razor under the spray of water. Danny’s shirtless; he appreciates the view and the way those muscles ripple as he folds his arm back to him, but then, he immediately feels disappointed at the lack of response from his body. Danny catches his eye and gives him a fond look with a hint of understanding; he must be thinking something along the same lines. Steve goes back to rinsing his hair, making sure to splash some water into Danny’s direction.

“How about we take them?” Steve half muses out loud, half proposes to see where it leads.

“To the hospital? ‘xcuse me?” Danny looks affronted and his voice does the cartoonish-high-register thing, high enough his words go out of Steve’s hearing range, which Steve happens to find priceless. He covers the amused smile by turning around and working hair conditioner into his palms. Danny clears his throat and goes back to his ‘grandpa treatment’ deep register. “Were you not present at this morning’s civil war? Take them to the hospital… Are you insane? Do you want two sulky teenagers and a four-year locked up within inches of each other?” Danny shakes his head. “Seriously though, that’s mine, hands off Danno’s expensive things,” Danny points to Steve’s hands with the razor, but doesn’t mean much by it, he goes back to shaving by memory and touch. Like Steve hadn’t noticed his own shower gel on him before, using his expensive conditioner is payback.

“What did Gracie do, anyway?” 

“Sure, ch’nge the su’ject,” Danny mutters. “Do you do that often? Use my stuff? It’s running out quicker than before,” he starts ranting and stops as he reaches the upper lip area, finishing the first swipe before he adds, “Gracie— she flushed the toilet when he was still in the shower, which… ugh, I don’t even…” He scrunches his eyes closed.

Steve doesn’t even want to know where Danny’s mind goes sometimes.

“Mary used to do that to me,” Steve comments, taking a quick trip down memory lane, “fun times.” Mary used to be a real prank monster; she managed to empty a bucket of ice water on him once. “You missed a spot there,” he points out and splashes his lover’s face, making sure to make a mess of his hair.

“Steven!” Danny protests and Steve laughs in response, making and undignified noise with his throat. He ends up coughing and must concentrate on getting his breathing under control again. Danny is not amused. “Yeah, yeah. Finish your shower, would you? You look like death warmed over already.” Danny retreats to the sink, presumably to finish shaving.

Steve’s feels a lot better once he steps out of the shower stall; refreshed, even after the coughing fit. He starts towelling off, careful to dry his ears, realising he forgot -again- to put on earplugs or something, as to not get them wet.

Danny’s almost done redoing his hair. Still shirtless. Steve allows himself another couple of seconds of disappointment that are rudely interrupted when Danny launches back into their conversation without preamble or warning.

“But you know what really bothers me? She went into the bathroom when he was still in there. She used to have a better sense of boundaries. She used to be polite, you know? It’s like a twisted version of preschool hair-pulling, the fourteen-year old version of it, anyway.”

Steve’s eyes widen in a comical way at Danny’s direction. He hurries and all but flees the bathroom, back into the room and a clean change of clothes. Did Danny really imply Grace and Nahele are crushing on each other? Shit, that’s… Child Protective Services would probably sic on him like demons from hell, they basically made him leave his soul as collateral before allowing Nahele overnight visits. Shit. Shit. Shit.

Two minutes later, Danny strolls into the room with a smirk on his lips.

“For the record, I wasn’t going there, I admit it was not the best choice of words, but whatever, I’ll talk with her later.” Steve shoulders come back down and the tension from his back eases a bit. “I think she’s just adjusting to having him around more often and the whole Rachel thing doesn’t help much. You, on the other hand, are hilarious my friend. Wait until they come home with actual dates, I would love to see your reaction then.” 

He doesn’t want his mind to go there; his stomach churns in anxiety just trying to conjure up the full idea in his head. How does Danny manage to sleep at night? He had never pegged himself as a worrier, but ever since their relationship got serious and he got more involved in their every day’s lives, his mind goes to progressively stranger and worrisome places. And not just Gracie, who in his eyes will forever be a very grown up eight-year old. No; he worries about Charlie and his health, and he worries about Nahele and everything that could possibly ever hurt him too.

Danny does ‘come here’ grabby hands at him and says, “Babe, you have aneurysm face. Relax, would you?”

Steve goes without needing to be called again, a sheepish smile replacing the firm press of his lips; he lets Danny pet him once or twice. This is yet another thing he didn’t predict when they got together, this roller-coaster of emotions. After a moment, he collects himself. He’s starting to feel sick again, so he better gets moving.

“What if Grace stays here with Charlie and we take Nahele?” He asks Danny, “that way he won’t miss the cookout later and they spend some time apart to cool off.”

Danny smiles with his eyes.

“Yeah, I was thinking the same. Ready to go?”

No, he isn’t, because he still doesn’t want to go, but it’s best to get it over with as soon as possible. Steve grabs his wallet and a thin long-sleeved shirt from the dresser on his way out.

 

  Art by Ms Three