“Why am I even surprised that you have a helicopter pilot license?” Danny throws his hands up in the air and rolls his eyes, as though supplicating the heavens to grant him the patience to deal with his partner.
“I don't know,” Steve refrains from sighing, pinching the bridge of his nose, or otherwise showing any sign of emotion, because he knows that'll just set Danny off even more, and he was sort of hoping that this particular recon mission would go off smoothly. “Is it surprising?”
“It's downright breathtaking,” Danny assures him, and Steve almost groans, because apparently he's set Danny off in spite of his best attempts not to. “And by that I don't mean that it's surprising that you have a license, it just boggles my mind that between the twenty-seven different forms of martial arts, the multiple-weapons proficiencies, the ability to speak what seems like fourteen or so random languages ―most of which don't even have the same root language, I might add― you somehow managed to have a helicopter pilot license in there too. How do you stay upright when you never sleep?” he adds, pulling on the headphones that will allow them to communicate during the trip.
Danny snorts. “Sleep, my ass. It wouldn't surprise me if you're secretly using a time-turner while no one's looking.”
Steve frowns. “Time-turner?”
“It's a Harry Potter thing. Grace is into it, likes it when I read to her. It's like a time-travel device, shaped like an hour-glass, and when you turn it around,” Danny makes an elaborate flipping motion with his hands to demonstrate, “you can re-do the last hour or whatever of your life.”
“Enh,” Danny shrugs, lifts his palms skyward, then makes a waggling so-so motion with his right hand. “It actually sounds like more trouble than it's worth. Besides, Star Trek has demonstrated pretty unequivocally what happens when you start messing with the space-time continuum. Did you submit the flight plan?”
Steve is accustomed by now to the conversational whiplash that comes with the territory of speaking regularly with Danny Williams, but he does roll his eyes. “No, Danno, I just thought I would take up the helicopter and kind of wing it. Flight plans are overrated, anyway.”
Danny squawks about a half-second before he realizes Steve is being sarcastic, then swats at his arm. “That is not funny!”
Steve grins. “It's a little funny.”
“Only to you, you psychopath! The next time I'll leave it to you to explain to Grace why she's an orphan and has to put up with weekends filled with Step-Stan giving her tennis lessons instead of her old man taking her out to football games.”
“It's just a recon mission. No one's getting orphaned. Did you have to practice to get this melodramatic or is it just a natural ability?”
“Yeah, a recon mission, in a helicopter,” Danny's right hand makes a rotating motion, “piloted by you,” he jabs a finger in the general vicinity of Steve's chest. “There are two things wrong with that statement, and a third which I'm not especially fond of.”
“What, you don't like helicopters?” Steve chooses to ignore the rest of Danny's bitching.
“What's to like about helicopters? They're big, they're noisy, they pollute, and the one you picked has no doors. Doors to keep their occupants inside, where it is safe.” Danny makes a boxing-in motion with both hands, as though that's somehow supposed to explain everything.“Why would you even pick a helicopter with no doors, except for the fact that you obviously have some sort of deep-seated death wish and are determined to take me down with you?” he asks, and Steve notices that perspiration is beading along the hairline that's just beginning to recede.
“You're not a nervous flier, are you Danno?” he teases, and gets a scowl in response.
“I will have you know that it is perfectly normal to be apprehensive when boarding a flying death-trap that your sociopathic, reckless, kamikaze-esque partner plans to fly over an island that is, essentially, nothing but a giant volcano! For all I know, I should have made a point of putting my affairs in order before you accidentally drop me into a gaping pit of molten lava,” Danny grumbles as he settles into his seat and fusses with buckles.
“You can always stay behind,” Steve says, knowing his suggestion will get shot down in half a second.
“Left be― Jesus, McGarrett, what do you take me for? Just fly the damned chopper.”
“Aye aye,” Steve grins, and waits for the signal from the tower.
Danny's hands clench into fists as the helicopter lifts off, knuckles turning white, and for a moment Steve feels a twinge of guilt at having twitted him earlier for being a nervous flier. Danny's obviously not comfortable, but it speaks volumes that he's in here anyway, helping Steve look for the meth lab ―ice, as is it's known to the islanders― rather than leaving it to Chin or Kono, which he could easily have done. The thought gives Steve a slightly warm feeling in his chest, that Danny's going above and beyond the call of duty for him... He shakes himself and focuses on flying, while Danny keeps up a running commentary on the idiocy of building a meth lab in the middle of a rainforest outside of Pahoa.
“It makes sense to me,” Steve points out. “It's remote, hard to get to, and the whole area is populated with people who will deliberately turn a blind eye to what their neighbours are doing.”
“Crazy people,” is the only comment he gets, but it sounds like agreement to him.
“We're getting close to the coordinates, so keep an eye peeled.”
“Not like I'm daydreaming over here, babe.”
Steve just nods, gaze lingering over the lush greenery below, wisps of sulphur-coloured vog ―the product, his father had explained to him when he was a small boy, of sulphur dioxide from the volcano reacting with water vapour in the air― swirling among the trees. It's not as thick today, which is a mercy. He'd been a little worried that it would interfere with the recon, but visibility is good for now, at least until the winds change.
“It's actually kind of pretty, considering its source. I can't believe you people voluntarily live on top of a volcano.”
“Shut up, I didn't actually mean for you to answer that. It wasn't even a question,” Danny snaps, then abruptly sits up. “Got something.” He pulls out his notebook and scribbles in it, and Steve can only hope that the helicopter ride won't make Danny's already terrible handwriting even more illegible. “Can you come around for another pass?” He makes a grab for his binoculars while Steve obligingly checks his gauges and prepares to bring them around. “I think I see... what the hell?”
“What?” Steve yells at him, trying to see for himself what has Danny uttering profanities while they're mid-flight. Whatever it is, he figures it can't be good.
Danny doesn't have time to answer. Steve barely has time to make out a trail of smoke in the air before the entire chopper shudders and swings off its axis, lurching to the side as smoke and the acrid smell of oil and fuel and burnt metal fill the air. He fights for control of the chopper, but it's a lost cause ―just by the feel of it he knows the tail is gone, and that means they're going down. He can hear Danny shouting into the radio, can barely register what he's saying as blood roars in his ears. The rainforest comes rushing up at them even as he manages a controlled tailspin, and then everything goes abruptly dark.
When Steve opens his eyes again, he can taste a faint sulphuric tang in the air, lingering on his tongue and in his nostrils. There's light filtering through the leaves above his head, but everything is blurred, the light refracting strangely. He blinks a little, then realizes he's staring at the broken windscreen of the helicopter. Everything comes back into focus in a dizzying lurch, and he instinctively reaches up to feel at his head. His helmet is still in place, which is a pretty good sign. It means he's probably not too badly concussed. A quick check of his watch shows he's been out only a couple of minutes at most, and a look at the chopper radio tells him that they aren't going to be calling for help anytime soon.
Slowly he takes a more careful inventory of his injuries, moving both arms, wriggling toes, checking for pain, and is pleasantly surprised to find that, other than being a little sore now with the promise of being really sore tomorrow, he doesn't seem to be badly hurt at all. Danny's right, he thinks with a rueful smile, he really is kind of like a rubber ball.
His heart speeds up at the thought, and he twists in his seat, only to find the seat next to him empty. He swallows the panic that tries to rise in his throat and choke him, and carefully unclips his restraints. The chopper landed awkwardly on an incline, and he has to hang onto the frame so as not to fall out of the wreckage. He moves slowly hand-over-hand, bracing himself as he goes, until he's able to lever himself up and out, lands lightly on his feet on the ground, although his head doesn't thank him for the jolt. He winces a little bit, but he doesn't feel dizzy or nauseous, and that's definitely a good sign.
There's no response. The wreckage of the helicopter is smouldering, but nothing looks like it's in danger of igniting. Slip-sliding in the thick foliage, he makes his way around to the other side where he figures Danny must have fallen out. He calls out again, but there's still no response. Finally, he catches glimpse of a flash of white at the bottom of the slope ―Danny's shirt― and jogs down as fast as he can get his still-shaking legs to move. Danny's sprawled full length on the ground, helmet long gone. He's twisted halfway on his side, one arm flung over his head and the other draped over his middle, blood sheeting down his face from what looks like a nasty laceration in his scalp.
“Danny!” Steve drops to one knee, checks for a pulse, and all the air rushes from his lungs in relief when he finds one, erratic but definitely there and strong enough. “Danny, wake up. Can you hear me?”
As gently as he can he runs his hands flat over his partner's body, checking for breaks and swelling, for lumps near the spine. Danny's breathing doesn't appear compromised, and he can't find any visible signs of a spinal injury, not that that means anything, he thinks with mounting frustration. Danny's bad knee is swelling already, the old injury reacting badly to being mistreated, but a bad knee is the least of their worries right now.
“Danny, come on, brah,” he pinches the tips of Danny's fingers, then rubs his knuckles roughly over his sternum, and is rewarded with a moan of protest, and Danny's eyelids flutter. “That's it, Danno, come on. Wake up, now. You with me?”
Danny blinks hard a few times, then groans. “Oh, God. Two of you. It's official, I've died and gone to hell for my sins.”
Steve sits back on his heels and laughs a little incredulously. “Can't be too bad, if you're already complaining.”
Danny just groans again. “Fuck.”
“Okay, I need you to tell me what hurts.”
“Okay,” Steve is too worried to roll his eyes. “What hurts the worst?”
There's a pause while Danny actually appears to consider the question. “Not sure,” he admits. “Pretty sure it's my knee, with my head a close second, but the rest of me isn't about to get up and shimmy to a salsa beat, either.”
“Right. I have to check your pupils, Danny, so I'm going to get into your personal space, here. Don't freak out.”
“Like you haven't already―” Danny flinches a bit when Steve gently pulls at his eyelids, and doesn't finish his sentence. “Let me guess: I'm concussed.”
“And how,” Steve agrees.
“How about you, babe? You okay?” Danny leverages himself up onto one elbow before Steve can stop him, his expression suddenly screwed up with worry. “I don't remember anything after that fucking torpedo came at us...”
“Torpedo?” Steve smirks.
“Okay, no, not a torpedo, but I couldn't see exactly what it was that they shot at us, and please fucking answer my question, McGarrett. Are you okay, or what?”
“I'm fine. Bruised all to hell, but I'm fine.”
“Figures. You crash a helicopter, and I get the hell beaten out of me.” Danny's expression belies his words, though it doesn't quite remove the sting of truth from them. “You sure you're okay?”
“I'm fine, Danno. Can you please lie back down so I can make sure you don't have a spinal injury that you're aggravating by insisting on sitting up?”
“Fine,” Danny lies back down with a wince, and makes an ineffectual swipe at his eyes with his fingers, trying to wipe away the worst of the blood that's threatening to blind him. He flinches again as Steve checks his spine.
“Yes. I gotta say I'm more concerned by the fact that I'm apparently about to drown in my own blood from the outside.”
“You've got a pretty nasty laceration in your scalp. You remember when you hit your head?”
“Nope. No clue. I'm guessing it was when our helicopter crash-landed into the rainforest, but like I said, it's just a guess.”
“You're the detective,” Steve does roll his eyes this time. “Stay put, I'll see if I can salvage the first aid kit.”
Not only is there a first aid kit, but there's a flare gun, too, which he takes with him, and a couple of canteens of water. For once Danny has paid attention to his orders and stayed put, though Steve suspects that has more to do with the fact that he's probably too badly injured to go anywhere on his own. Still, he'll take what he can get.
“What took you so long?” Danny's eyes are closed, and Steve can't help the flutter of alarm that goes through him when he hears the slight slur to his words.
“I dare you to try to beat my time,” he keeps his tone light as he unscrews the cap off one of the canteens and holds it to his partner's lips so he can drink. Danny chokes a little, but manages to keep the water down. “Hold still, I'm going to try to do something about that cut.”
The first aid kit is rudimentary at best, and there's definitely no supplies in it for sutures, which are a foregone conclusion in Danny's case. Luckily there's disinfectant and plenty of gauze and elastic wraps, and after a few minutes Danny's looking deathly pale but a whole lot less covered in blood, the white bandage standing out starkly even against his blond hair.
“Well, it's not pretty, but it should hold until we get you proper medical treatment. You got any pain in your back? Numbness in your legs? Tingling?”
Danny gives a little shake of his head, then winces again. “No, think I lucked out there, for variable definitions of 'lucked out,' anyway. I think I really fucked up my knee, though.” He struggles to sit up, and this time Steve helps him, figuring it's a lost cause keeping him down anyway. He props him up against a nearby tree stump even though Danny hisses and lets out a pained grunt at the movement.
Danny looks forlornly at his leg, the knee so swollen it's already stretching the fabric of his pants, and even like that it's obvious the leg isn't quite at the right angle. “You're going to have to cut the pants, aren't you?”
“Try not to look so gleeful as you ruin my clothing, McGarrett.”
“Better your pants than your leg.”
“Yeah. Maybe expenses'll cover it.”
“I'll sign off on it, swear to God.” The scissors flash in Steve's hand as he slices through the fabric, exposing Danny's leg to the knee, and he can't help but wince when he sees how bad it is.
“You're making Aneurysm Face. My knee is making you make Aneurysm Face, and I really don't like the look of that. It's not a face I ever want to see you make about my knee, McGarrett.”
Steve bites the inside of his cheek. “It's dislocated.”
Danny sighs. “I was hoping I was concussed and not seeing straight.”
“I'm going to have to put it back.”
“I was afraid you'd say that.”
“It's going to hurt. A lot.”
“No shit, Sherlock,” Danny's fingers clench a little just at the thought, digging into the ground at his sides. “Just... give me something to bite on, and let's get this over with before I chicken out, okay?”
In the end, Steve gives him his belt. There's nothing stronger than aspirin in the first aid kit anyway, which isn't going to do much for what they're about to do. He lies Danny back on the ground, makes sure they're both properly braced, and wishes that Chin or Kono were here to help with this. Then again, if one or both were here, then they might be dead or injured too, so maybe it's a good thing they're not.
“I need you to take as deep breaths as you can manage, Danno. Ready?”
“No, but do it anyway.”
It takes forever. It's a two-man job, and despite what Danny likes to say, Steve really is just one guy, and this isn't his specialty. He almost drops Danny's leg when his partner lets out a blood-curdling scream, barely manages to hang on until mercifully Danny's eyes roll back into his head and he goes limp. Steve doesn't hesitate then ―just pushes and pulls until he feels the patella slide back into place. Then he crawls up to press two fingers to the pulse point in Danny's neck, just to make sure. The pulse is still there, a lot threadier than before, but definitely present. He pats Danny's shoulder, even though his partner is past being able to feel it.
“You did real good, Danno. I'm gonna find something to splint that, so you go ahead and stay unconscious until I'm done. Trust me, it's better this way.”
It's not exactly easy to find something that'll double as a board splint in a crashed helicopter, but eventually he finds a splintered piece of fibreglass that he thinks will serve well enough. It's easier to rig up a field dressing than it is to replace the knee, but it's not exactly a walk in the park, and he keeps glancing up anxiously as he wraps Danny's foot, then places as much padding as he can behind his knee before continuing to strap the leg, worried that his partner will regain consciousness before he's done.
Danny remains blissfully unconscious throughout, though, until Steve starts to worry again, this time about shock and maybe some other injury that he might not have noticed. Danny's not visibly bleeding ―even the head wound appears to have begun to clot― and while his pulse is a little erratic, there's nothing that immediately sends up warning flags. He's just passed out from the pain, which is probably a mercy, Steve thinks.
With Danny dead to the world, as it were ―and Steve decides he really hates that expression― it leaves him with the unpleasant thought that he's going to have to figure out how to get them out of there. Logic dictates they stay put. They're in a relatively uncovered area, which means the wreckage will be visible from the sky, so long as the vog doesn't get too thick, and the less he forces Danny to move, the better. He doesn't know how far off-course they went down, but given how quickly he lost control of the chopper, he's hoping they're pretty close to where they were, which means that search and rescue shouldn't be far behind, supposing Danny was able to get anyone on the radio as they were going down. Otherwise... He checks his watch, and figures it'll be at least another few hours before anyone figures out that they're missing. No one knows they're here, except―
“You're making that face again...”
“Danny!” Instantly he's back up, kneeling next to Danny's shoulder, checking him again until Danny weakly bats his hands aside.
“M'fine, McGarrett, get off me. Fuck, that hurt. So what's with the face?”
“What face? I don't know what it is about you and telling me I'm making faces.”
Danny glares at him, but the effect is mitigated by the lines of pain on his face, the grey tinge to his skin. “It's the 'I've-just-thought-of-something-that'll-make-Danny-have-a-stroke' face.”
“That's a really long name for it.”
“Concussed, here. I'll think of a better one later. Now spit it out or I will have a stroke, just to spite you.”
Steve bites back the retort that springs to his lips, because at this rate they'll be arguing into the night, and it's just occurred to him ―hence the making of the face, he'll admit it to himself if not to Danny― that they may very well be seriously screwed.
“I think we're not safe.”
“Not safe?” Danny echoes, and then shifts uncomfortably on the ground. “As in, we're-stranded-in-the-rainforest not safe, or the-helicopter-is-about-to-explode not safe, or bad-guys-are-about-to-shoot-us not safe?”
Steve grimaces. “Door number three. I wouldn't do this if I didn't have to, but I think we need to move out.”
“You think the people who shot us out of the sky are going to come out here to make sure the job's done?”
“It's what I would do.”
Danny lets his head fall back with a soft thump. “Fuck me,” he mutters. “You see anything? Hear anything?”
“Not yet, but I figure it's a matter of time.”
“Right,” Danny's eyes are still closed, but Steve can see his jaw clench. “Help me up.”
“In a sec. Going to make sure we’re not heading out completely unequipped, first.”
Steve raids the helicopter for every single useful supply he can find. It's not much, but at least there's a backpack in which he can fit most of it. He shoulders the pack, jogs back to where he left his partner. Then he slides an arm under Danny's shoulders, sits him up.
“Let me do the work, okay? You just get your good knee locked once you're up. Try not to tense up.”
Danny nods, teeth clenched against the pain.
“Ready? On three. One, two!”
Steve hauls him to his feet before they get to three ― and before Danny can tense up and hurt himself more. Even so, Danny lets out a pained grunt and almost falls, clutching at Steve's shoulders like a drowning man.
“Easy, Danno. Breathe through it,” he murmurs, staggering a little under the unexpected weight.
“Fuck,” Danny's breathing hard, almost hiccupping. “Oh, fuck, fuck, fuck.” He shifts in Steve's grip. “Gonna be sick...”
“Okay, okay,” Steve manages to catch Danny as he folds, propping him up as he gags and retches, so that they won't have to repeat the whole process of getting up again. He can't tell if it's the pain or the concussion or a bit of both. He rubs between Danny's shoulder blades until he's just coughing weakly, spitting to clear out his mouth. “Easy, now. You're okay.”
“Christ,” Danny raises a shaking hand and wipes his mouth with the back of his wrist. “Fourteen and a half years.”
“Next time, you can try for fifteen.”
Danny lets out a choked laugh. “Let's just go.”
They don't make it far before the first gunshot rings out. Steve feels the bullet whiz by his head and hears the shot long after it's too late to do anything about it, but he flinches anyway and almost ducks, except that he's holding Danny up, Danny's arm pulled a little awkwardly over his shoulders, and ducking right now is probably the worst idea he's ever had. He curses under his breath, and Danny raises his head from where he's been resolutely staring at the ground directly in front of him so he won't lose his footing.
“Where'd it come from?”
“Back that way,” Steve jerks his head, already scanning for cover. “I got a fallen tree, eleven o'clock. This is going to hurt, but it's better than taking a bullet.”
“You get me shot, McGarrett, and I will come back from the dead in order to kick your ass.”
Steve just hoists him a little higher and does his best to sprint, mostly dragging Danny with him in spite of the yell of pain the movement elicits. Another shot barks out as, they drop to the ground behind the rotting tree trunk, water from the sodden ground soaking into their clothing. Danny lands with his bad leg outstretched, white bandages showing up starkly against the foliage, and he jams his hand roughly into his mouth, teeth digging into the flesh at the base of his thumb to keep from crying out. Steve can see tears leaking from the corners of his eyes, can see his chest rising and falling with each breath, and is amazed that he's still even conscious after all that.
Another shot, and this time Steve spots movement, the source of the gunfire. “Danny, I've got at least three shooters on our nine, now. I'm going to try to get them off our backs.”
“No back-up,” Danny pulls his hand out of his mouth. He sounds breathless, voice little above a whisper. There are bright-red tooth marks in the flesh below his thumb, glistening with saliva. “Who brings a gun on a helicopter during recon, anyway? You know what, don't answer that. Just... tell me you brought a back-up piece, you lunatic.”
Steve grins, then pulls his back-up piece out of its holster and presses it into Danny's hand. “I never knew you had such faith in me, Danno.”
“Faith in you being a psychopath, sure. Not hard to do. Don't expect me to shoot straight.”
“Just shoot at the bad guys, and we'll be fine.” Steve rises to a crouch, then offers Danny a tremulous smile. “Hang in there, okay?”
To his surprise, Danny grins, then reaches up and smacks him on the ass. “Go get 'em, tiger.”
“Remind me to check you for brain damage later.”
“There are so many things wrong with that sentence, I don't know where to begin.”
Whatever the bad guys were expecting, it wasn't for Steve to pop up from behind the fallen trunk like a militarily-trained jack-in-the-box and sprint directly at them. There are some startled yells, and he ducks, rolls, comes up shooting, and is rewarded with more yells and the distinctive sound of a body hitting the ground with a loud thump. Momentum and surprise are his only advantages, and so there's no hesitation when he leaps forward again, clearing another fallen tree just as his attackers ―down to two, now, he notes with satisfaction― are attempting to regroup and come after him. They're amateurs, two goons with guns and just enough know-how to use them, but with no head for strategy. It's almost laughable how easy it is to take them down. Steve has never enjoyed taking life, and the day he does is the day he'll turn in his credentials and his dog tags, but he'll be damned if he leaves any of these guys to come after him and Danny while they're vulnerable.
For a moment, there's nothing but silence. No birdsong, not even a frog, just an eerie stillness brought about by the all too human intrusion into the rainforest. He kneels by the closest body, checks for a pulse, then methodically goes through the meagre supplies the man has on him. They were obviously planning a short excursion, a day at most, but they do have canteens of water, and Steve helps himself to all three, as well as a few packs of jerky. It's not great, but it's better than what he had before, which was nothing, and if he's lucky he might be able to forage something to supplement it, if rescue doesn't come before long. He's busily stripping the last body of its supplies when another gunshot rings out, loud and unnatural in the quiet, and he leaps to his feet, already running.
For a moment there's only quiet, and he just has time to think oh fuck I killed him I left him alone and they killed him, when Danny's voice comes wafting toward him, weak but very obviously ticked off.
“McGarrett? Please tell me you haven't let yourself get killed by these fucking amateurs and left me to starve to death in the middle of this tropical fruit-infested deathtrap!”
He doesn't bother to check his headlong rush back to his partner, and practically falls over the log where he left him. “Fucking Christ, Danny! Are you okay?”
Still propped up against the log Danny rolls his eyes. He's gripping the pistol tightly enough that his knuckles have turned white, though his hand is resting on the ground, muzzle pointed well away from him. “No, McGarrett, I'm not okay. I'm better than that poor schmuck, though,” he jerks his head, motioning to the very obviously lifeless body of a fourth guy that Steve never even saw coming.
Steve is very glad he's already kneeling, lets himself drop onto the ground on his ass and lets out all the breath in his lungs in a whoosh of air, and suddenly isn't sure how to breathe in anymore. Danny narrows his eyes at him, and he only realizes that his hands are shaking like he's got some sort of palsy when Danny reaches out and grabs his wrist.
“Hey, McGarrett,” he says, and his tone has turned gentle, kind of like he's talking to a frightened kitten. “It's okay. I'm okay.”
It's too close. For a second it's nothing but him listening to Victor Hesse scream over the phone, the sound of a gunshot thousands of miles away. He struggles for breath, rubs a hand over his face. “I, uh... I thought...”
“What?” Danny smirks. “You thought I couldn't handle one lone bad guy? Come on. I may not have your level of super-ninja-mastery, here, but one mook? Piece of cake. Hey...” he digs his fingers into Steve's wrist, hard enough for it to hurt. “Steve. You're the only person who can get me out of here, so no freaking out, okay?”
He pulls himself together with an effort. “I'm not freaking out,” he tells Danny in a voice that sounds a lot more confident than he feels.
“Good. Pissy is a much better look on you than freaked.”
“I really don't know where you get these ideas, Danno.” He keeps his tone brisk, all business. He's pretty sure he's not fooling either of them, but he can see the flash of gratitude and something else he's too rattled to identify in Danny's eyes. “I got some more water off those guys, a few rations. Should hold us until rescue can get to us. But this confirms what I thought. We're too close to the target, which means they're going to come looking for their guys when they don't check in.”
He shakes his head. “Short-range only, looks like private frequencies. I picked one up for when we come back and nail these sons of bitches, though.”
“I am impressed that you haven't come right out and said 'I told you so.' Kudos.”
Steve rolls his eyes but smiles anyway. “Not my style. Anyway, you believed me, so there's no call.”
“I agreed with you? Damn. I must be concussed,” Danny says, letting his eyes slip shut, releasing his grip on Steve's wrist, and Steve feels his heart skip a beat.
He leans forward, gives Danny a rough shake. “Okay, Danno, we have to go. Have some water first,” he pulls him up, as Danny forces his eyes open again, though his gaze is unfocused, and holds a canteen to his lips. “Small sips, there you go.”
Danny coughs. “Not a child, McGarrett.”
“Yeah, okay. You bitch at me as much as you want. You going to puke again if I get you up?”
“Won't know until you try.”
Danny doesn't throw up or pass out, but it's a near thing. He ends up half-collapsed against his partner, breathing hard and swearing under his breath in-between gasps. Steve stays as still as he can, trying not to jolt him any more than necessary, only moving when Danny pulls back slightly and nods, patting him on the chest just over his heart.
It's rough going. The rainforest doesn't have a thick canopy, so it's easy enough to navigate in what Steve is pretty sure is the right direction, but the dense ground foliage makes walking hard even for a hale man, and all but impossible for Danny, whose injured leg seems to catch on every protruding root and branch. He doesn't even have the breath to complain, just ducks his head and does his best not to be too much of a hindrance ―and even his best isn't enough, not on this terrain. Eventually Steve spots a branch that's roughly the right thickness and length to serve as a makeshift crutch, and that helps a little, not so much because it helps Danny to walk, but because it gives him a way to spread his weight a little and gives Steve a bit more leeway to pick their way across the uneven ground.
After a while, Steve has to admit he's impressed. Even though he's never received anything like the training they get in the SEALs, Danny's holding his own. He looks terrible, face pinched and grey, sweat soaking through his shirt, eyes at half-mast, but he's been going doggedly, keeping up with the pace Steve is setting ―not a fast pace, but certainly not one designed to make it easy on an injured teammate― the only sign he's feeling the strain an obvious clenching of teeth and the occasional hiss of pain when his foot catches on a root. After a little under two hours, though, Steve can feel him falter.
Danny shakes his head. “Sorry,” he gasps. “Gotta stop. Just for a second... please.”
“Yeah, okay. You're doing real good, Danno. Can you make it just a bit further?” There's a clearing up ahead, and Danny nods once jerkily. “Good. Come on, we're almost there.”
He sets Danny down, props him against a tree, starts checking him over. That's apparently all Danny was holding out for, because he slumps down bonelessly, and his eyes promptly roll back into his head. Steve swears fluently in as many languages as he can think of off the top of his head, and, seized with a sudden doubt, unbuttons Danny's shirt, pulling it open and out from where it's tucked into Danny's pants, then swears more when he sees the discolouration under the skin. He palpates Danny’s abdomen gingerly, the muscles rigid under his gentle probing.
After a minute or so, Danny stirs. “'s it bad?”
He can't bring himself to lie. “It's pretty bad. You got any pain in your stomach, Danny?”
Danny makes a sound that he thinks is meant to be a denial. “Kind of... in my back. Feels like the time I had a kidney infection. Fun times. 'm I bleeding?”
“Yeah, you are. I don't think it's major, but you've definitely got a bleed, which means we're short on time, here, and...” he swallows, “that changes things, strategy-wise.”
Danny shakes his head. “Still gotta move. We're too close.”
“Can't risk it, Danno,” Steve manages a smile he doesn't feel. “I jostle you the wrong way, you could bleed out in seconds. I should have seen it before, I'm sorry.”
“Christ, McGarrett, are you going to strap on some more guilt with that?” Danny fixes him with a glare. "How about feeling bad for all those starving kids in Biafra, while you're at it, because you didn't eat all your broccoli? We got shot out of the sky by damn meth-making psychopaths with some sort of anti-aircraft whatever-the-fuck,” Danny flings both hands up to get his point across, “and I get tossed twenty feet out of a helicopter. And now you feel guilty because you didn't notice an extra injury?” He pokes Steve in the chest, which normally Steve hates, but now makes him grin.
“Well, when you put it that way...”
“Damn straight,” Danny rolls his eyes, and smacks him weakly on the knee closest to him. “We okay for water?”
“We're fine,” Steve assures him, taking the canteen away and helping him to sit up a bit. “Plenty left in the canteens, and there's rainfall if we need it.”
“Rainfall,” Danny snorts. “Remind me never to leave solid ground again.”
“That would mean staying on Hawaii for the rest of your life,” Steve points out. “Anyway, if you're bleeding, that changes things. Water could make it worse, so no more water until it's absolutely necessary.”
“That's just great,” Danny grumbles. “If it's not the internal bleeding that gets me, it'll be the dehydration. How long we got?”
“Take as much time as you need, okay? We'll go when you're ready. And dehydration won't kick in for a while yet, so don't worry about it. I won't let anything happen to you, Danny.”
Danny sighs. “Yeah, I know.”
This is a terrible idea, but he doesn't see an alternative. Danny's right, they're still far too close to the crash site, which means they're likely to attract all sorts of unwanted attention. The choice is either stay here and maybe get them both killed, or try to move Danny and maybe kill him in the process if the internal bleeding gets worse. He rubs a hand over his mouth and swallows the curses that, if he were alone, he'd be uttering non-stop.
“I'll never be ready,” Danny grunts, grabbing at him to try to pull himself upright. “May as well go now.”
“You got it. I'm going to try to get us as far as possible. You with me?”
For a second Danny freezes, eyes locking with Steve's. “Always,” he says, a soft smile momentarily replacing the lines of pain and tension on his face. “Get me up before I pass out, McGarrett.”
The going gets even more laborious and painful after that, and with every step Steve is increasingly plagued by doubt. The further they get from the crash site, the more they decrease their chances of getting found by search and rescue, and the more likely it is he'll have to figure out a way to get Danny out all by himself. Except that the more they move, the more likely it is Danny's going to bleed out, go into shock and die, and that's just not on the table, not as far as Steve is concerned. He keeps them going at as steady a pace as he can manage and for the first time in their partnership he does most of the talking, keeping up a steady stream of encouraging platitudes as they go, coaxing his partner over the worst of the bumps and protrusions, trying not to worry when Danny can't find the breath even to swear or complain.
“Never knew you were such a trooper, Danno,” he says with a grin he doesn't feel as they pick their way down a gentle slope, Danny trying without much success to keep his injured leg from dragging and catching on the ground. “Took a team into the rainforest once, and one of our guys ―and this is all classified so you're not allowed to repeat this, got it? I can't even tell you where it was― he steps into some random hole in the ground. I don't even know what made it, if it was just natural or if some animal made a burrow or something, but he went in right up to his knee, and the next thing we all knew his leg was fractured in two places, and he's on the ground, screaming.”
“'s this... meant to make me... feel better?”
“Absolutely. It's to raise morale. Anyway, Parker ―that's his name― is screaming blue murder and rolling on the ground, and we're in the middle of enemy territory, so one of the other guys shoves his belt into Parker's mouth to keep him quiet. The mission was a bust, obviously. We had to carry him out of there on a travois. I'm just saying, he bitched and moaned a hell of a lot more than you the entire time, and he was trained.”
Danny lets out a dry chuckle, then grunts as his foot grazes something Steve can't even see under the thick ground cover. “Least I don't have to pull myself out on my own, like those guys in the mountains.”
Steve coaxes him over a rough patch of ground. “The guys who ate the other guys? Didn't think you were into cannibalism.”
He gets a snort. “Not the soccer team. Mountain climbers. They fall, one guy cuts the rope, and the other one falls and...” he stops to catch his breath, “he breaks his leg. Compound fracture. Friend thinks he's dead... he's in a crevasse... so he crawls out on his own, compound fracture and everything. Saw it in theatres. Terrifying.”
“The other guy cut the rope? What kind of asshole does that?”
“Thought he was dead, remember?”
Steve shakes his head. “I wouldn't cut the rope. You don't do that kind of thing. It's irresponsible.”
“Missing the point, McGarrett...” Danny's even more breathless. “The guy crawled out on his own. Hardcore. ”
“Okay, got it. Hardcore. Save your breath, would you?”
Danny huffs a laugh. “Thought... we were bonding.”
“We are bonding. You just do it quietly, okay?”
The next thing he knows Danny has been wrenched free of his grip, courtesy of a misstep in the thick foliage, and lands hard on the ground, throwing Steve so far off-balance that he falls forward and rolls several feet before he's able to stop himself and scramble back up the slope, heart hammering painfully against his ribs.
“Danny! Danny, you okay?”
Danny's curled over on himself, his good leg drawn up, one hand reaching futilely down toward his injured leg. He's breathing fast, bordering on hyperventilation, each breath a sob of pain, eyes squeezed tightly shut. The stick he’s been using as a crutch is lying a few feet away splintered at the two-thirds mark, completely useless.
“Fuck, Danny, I'm so sorry,” he brushes a hand against Danny's forehead. “Come on, talk to me,” he grabs the hand that's clawing at the injured leg, and Danny squeezes back so hard that for a minute he thinks he might break his fingers. “Okay. Okay, take it easy, Danno. Just breathe through it, that's it. Deep breaths, okay? Deep as you can manage.”
For a second it looks like it’s working, then Danny pushes himself up onto an elbow and throws up what little water he’s been able to swallow all day, the result of pain and shock more than anything, Steve thinks a little helplessly as he waits for the dry-heaves to stop. Finally Danny catches his breath with a muted whimper, and Steve catches hold of his arm.
Danny just shakes his head, so Steve waits, one hand placed lightly between Danny’s shoulder blades, rubbing in circles with his thumb. After a moment he realizes Danny’s talking, so low he can barely hear him.
“What? What is it? Talk to me, Danny,” he ducks his head, straining to hear, and his heart drops.
“I don’t think I can do this. I can’t…”
Shit, Steve thinks. “Yes you can, Danno!” he says sharply. “You hear me? There is no way you’re giving up on me now. Come on, up you come. Get up. Up!”
He doesn’t wait for his partner to catch his breath this time, just yanks him to his feet and wraps both his arms around Danny’s torso, propping him up as his good knee buckles from the pain. Danny’s breath catches in his throat in another pained sob, but he clutches at Steve’s arms, trying to hold himself up.
“There you go. That guy in the crevasse has nothing on you.”
“Only... 'cause you didn't cut the rope.”
“Exactly. Now come on. We’ll get movie rights for this when we get back, make a mint, but you have to hang on for me, okay? No stopping, no passing out, and definitely no giving up, you understand me? You got it, Danny?”
Danny swallows hard. “Got it. Fucking bossy son of a bitch…” he rasps, but it’s the best sound Steve has heard in hours. “Gotta… work on your control issues… McGarrett.”
“I promise you can give me the cards of as many therapists as you want when we get back.”
“Absolutely,” Steve manoeuvres him gently around until his arm is back over his shoulders, splinted leg sheltered between them. “Tell you what, I’ll even start reading the suspects their rights before I hang them off buildings.”
“Now I know you’re lying,” Danny manages a chuckle, no longer quite so out of breath. “You’d rather stick a fork in your eye than follow due process… Christ!” His fingers dig into Steve’s arm as pain jolts through him. “Are we there yet?” he jokes weakly.
“Yeah, almost. Quit bitching, or I’m turning the car around.”
“Only if you promise me ice cream later.”
“You got it.”
“Stop being nice to me, you’re only confirming that I’m on death’s door,” Danny grunts.
“Fine. No ice cream.”
“That’s more like it.”
They don’t make very good time, not that Steve was expecting to. By the time the sun is beginning to dip out of sight beyond the trees, he figures they might just be far enough away from the crash site that no more hostile forces will come looking for them, especially not after dark. The night, however, is going to bring its own challenges. Danny’s barely clinging to consciousness, and Steve himself is definitely beginning to tire after holding up most of his partner’s weight all day as well as forging a trail through the Puna rainforest. If he doesn’t stop soon he’s going to exhaust himself as well, and then they’ll both be utterly fucked.
After about half an hour he finally gets them to another clearing, one he figures will serve well enough for now.
“Okay, Danny, we’re stopping,” he says, and gets a murmured hum of what might be agreement or gratitude or just sheer exhaustion. “Ready? Down you go, easy…”
He shifts Danny’s weight carefully, lowers him to the ground with arms that are trembling from the added strain. Danny helps as best he can, but his best isn’t much at this point, and his eyes close the moment he’s on the ground, propped against a fallen log. Steve shakes him by his good knee.
“No sleeping yet, Danno. I want to check you over again, make sure you’re still mostly in one piece. You cold?” It’s a stupid question, because Danny’s shivering now that he’s no longer moving and pressed up against Steve, who always runs a little hot anyway. He rummages in the first aid kit, rips open one of the emergency thermal blanket packets, and unfolds it, the foil crinkling loudly in the still air.
Danny forces his eyes open as Steve tucks the blanket around him. “Mistake me for a baked potato?”
“No jokes about food when I’m hungry,” he orders, ripping open another packet and carefully sliding it under Danny’s back, and cursing himself for not having done that first. “How’s your head?”
“How’d you think?”
He ignores the tone. Danny’s entitled to be a little testy by now. “Still seeing double?”
“Just fuzzy,” Danny drapes an arm over his eyes in an attempt to block out the dwindling light. “Leg’s fucking killing me.”
“Yeah, I bet,” Steve runs his hands the length of the splint, checking to make sure it hasn’t come loose or shifted too much after the day’s exertion, but his first-aid skills appear to have been up to the task. “There’s only aspirin in the first aid kit, and I’m not giving you a blood thinner if I can help it.”
Danny grunts. “Kind of beyond aspirin, anyway. ‘s it me, or is it cold?”
“It’s you, Danno.”
“Shit. Fucking stupid way to die. Hate helicopters.”
“You’re not dying!” Steve snaps.
“Right,” Danny says tiredly. “Forgot. Sorry.”
Steve reaches out, then, nudges Danny’s arm aside, and lays a hand against his forehead. “I mean it, Danno. I’m not going to let you die out here. You trust me, right?”
Danny nods tightly, but he meets Steve’s gaze firmly, expression oddly tender. “Yeah, I do.”
“Okay, good,” Steve swallows a sudden lump in his throat. “So trust me on this. No one is dying today.”
“Apart from those guys from before.”
“Yeah, well, they had it coming,” Steve says grimly, and to his surprise Danny laughs at that.
“You’re a lunatic,” he wheezes. “Completely out of your mind. I’m trapped in the rainforest with a dislocated knee, a concussion and probably internal bleeding with a raving madman who thinks that dumping people in shark cages is all part and parcel of due process. How is this even my life?”
Steve rolls his eyes, a little dizzy trying to keep up with the ups and downs of his partner’s emotions. Danny’s mercurial at the best of times, but throw in a little injury, blood loss and shock, and he’s a goddamned roller coaster. “I was hoping having a concussion would make you more agreeable, but apparently I was mistaken.”
“He wants me to be agreeable,” Danny addresses the heavens, flicking one hand disdainfully. “Swear to God… Any chance of water?” he asks hopefully.
Steve purses his lips. “I can give you a sip, but not more. We're already pushing this.”
“So unfair,” Danny complains. He does sit up a bit, though, and swallows a mouthful of water from the canteen Steve holds for him. “Thank you.”
“Don’t mention it. If we’re still stranded tomorrow we'll revisit the water situation.” He doesn't mention that if they're still stranded tomorrow, food will be the least of their worries.
“Look forward to it.”
The ground’s too wet for a fire, even if it didn’t mean leaving Danny alone and unprotected while he went in search of kindling. Steve chokes down a couple of mouthfuls of jerky, forcing himself to eat because he knows he has to, but he finds he doesn't have much of an appetite after the day they've had. He should be ravenous, but he feels like his stomach has twisted itself into a giant knot from anxiety and exhaustion.
The adrenaline has long since worn off, he figures, watching Danny’s chest rise and fall with increasing rapidity. He checks his partner again, noting with alarm that there's a bluish tint to his lips now. He can feel that Danny’s hands have turned ice cold, that his good leg isn’t in much better shape. Shock and blood loss and all the exertion finally taking its toll. He’s surprised it’s taken this long –trust Danny to be an ornery son of a bitch even when it comes to injury.
Night falls faster than he was expecting, somehow, the shadows lengthening rapidly and plunging the forest into almost pitch darkness. He can barely make out Danny’s silhouette on the ground, though he can still hear him breathing, which is something of a reassurance. All around them, the rainforest comes to life with the sounds of the night animals stirring and beginning their rounds. It all seems so much louder at night, with no daylight to distract him from the noise –deafening, almost. Danny shifts uncomfortably on the ground next to him.
“What the fuck is that? Crickets on steroids?” He sounds both annoyed and curious, which is a combination that only Danny Williams could ever manage, Steve is sure of it.
He lets out a surprised bark of laughter. “No, that’s the coqi frogs. I never realized how loud they are. No wonder people are pissed off.”
“Do I even want to know?”
“They’re a pest. Got brought over from Puerto Rico, and since they’ve got no natural predators they’re spreading all over the place.”
“Like those toads in Australia.”
“Exactly. People are pissed because the noise drives down property values.”
“You know, you’re not exactly making a convincing case to me for this entire state not being insane. Property values?”
“Apparently sometimes they’re loud enough to drown out the TV set in people’s homes. I don’t know, there aren’t any near where I live.” Steve shrugs, even though Danny can’t see him in the dark. “They aren’t keeping you up, are they?” he teases.
“No…” Danny shifts again, and something in his tone makes Steve’s stomach clench.
There aren’t anymore thermal blankets, but it’s obviously not enough. He slides over next to his partner. “Okay. Don’t take this the wrong way,” he jokes nervously, lifting the edge of the blanket and sliding under it. “Just going to try to get you warmed up a bit.”
Danny chuffs a laugh. “Love you too, McGarrett,” he murmurs.
Steve freezes, completely at a loss as to how to take the statement. Come on, he tells himself, just pull it together, and you can worry about that later. He puts his arm carefully over Danny’s chest, careful not to apply pressure, presses in along his side, and is relieved and kind of pleased when Danny settles against him with a quiet sigh.
“You’re warm,” Danny murmurs.
“You’re just cold.”
“There’s a joke in there about red-blooded American males, but I can’t find it,” Danny shifts again, not that Steve can blame him –he’s long since passed the age where sleeping on the ground is comfortable even under the best of circumstances. “I’m sorry about this,” he murmurs unexpectedly.
Steve blinks. “What the hell are you sorry for?”
“If it weren’t for me, you’d probably be safe back home by now. I know how much I slowed you down and, uh…”
“Danny, shut up.” He can feel his partner’s surprise, and presses his advantage before he can recover and start talking again. “I’m not in the habit of leaving people behind. Not my family, not my team, not anyone. And definitely not you, even if you don’t like pineapple. And it’s frankly insulting that you’d suggest I would.”
“Wasn’t suggesting that,” Danny’s voice is failing, and Steve tightens his hold on him instinctively. “I was just trying to say thank you, you jackass.”
“Funny way of saying it.”
“You’re not leaving.”
It’s not a question, but he treats it like one anyway. “No, I’m not leaving you. Promise.”
Danny doesn’t answer, but Steve can tell he’s still awake and heard him just fine. Eventually, Danny’s breathing evens out a little, and he lapses into a fitful doze. It’s all Steve can do to keep himself awake, even with the chorus of coqi frogs chirping loudly all around them. More than once he dozes off only to jerk awake again, heart jack-rabbitting in his chest, eyes tracking wildly for some unseen danger,
The third time he wakens it’s morning, though early enough that not all of the mist has lifted from the ground. He feels groggier than he has any right to, and his entire body aches and throbs now that it's had time to stiffen up overnight. Slowly he becomes aware of Danny moving restlessly next to him, though he doesn’t rouse when Steve whispers his name nor give any indication that he can hear him at all. He’s breathing raggedly, struggling weakly against something Steve can’t see, and when Steve leans over him he can just make out the word “Grace” on his partner’s lips.
“Easy, Danno,” he says softly, raising a hand to smooth it over Danny’s forehead. “You’re okay. Grace is fine, nothing to worry about.”
The words have their intended effect, because Danny instantly relaxes under his touch, eyes opening to look up at him. “You’ll watch out for her, right?” he grabs Steve’s wrist, fingers pressing against the pulse point there. “You'll tell her―”
“What did I tell you about getting out of this?” Steve interrupts, feeling his heart skip a beat at the sound of Danny's words. They sound too final to be comforting. “You tell her yourself, Danno.”
“Let’s call it… hedging my bets. Promise me?”
“If I promise, you have to promise to hang on until I get us home.”
Danny’s eyes close again, and this time he doesn’t respond at all to Steve’s touch or any other attempt to wake him. His lips have turned a worrying shade of blue, his fingers ice-cold in Steve's hand, his breathing growing increasingly shallow. There’s no way to move him now, Steve thinks, trying to clamp down on the panic rising in his chest. For the first time he’s really beginning to understand why they take people off cases where they have personal connections. He’s trained to deal with this sort of thing, has dealt with it countless times before, but it’s Danny and every time he let himself think about the very real consequences of what he’s doing it feels like part of his mind –the rational, useful part of his mind that would let him treat Danny’s injuries and make the right sort of decision to keep them both safe– just shuts down entirely, replaced with red blinking lights and a cartoon siren that just won’t shut up.
“Hang in there, Danno,” he manages, though the words choke him a little. “Search and rescue are going to be heading up again soon, and we’re not so far off-course that this won’t be part of the search grid. I just need you to hang in there a little longer. You promised.”
There’s still nothing with which to build a fire, but he liberates one of the thermal blankets and spreads it in the clearing, figuring it’s reflective enough to catch the sunlight, if the vog isn’t too thick. It’s impossible to tell from the ground, but Steve has always considered himself an optimist, and so he sets about making them as visible as possible from the air, moving stiffly as his muscles seize up and cramp from all the abuse they've sustained over the past day. When he’s checked and double-checked everything he lets himself collapse next to Danny, the moisture from the ground seeping through his already-damp khakis, and checks Danny’s pulse for what feels like the hundredth time.
“You’re still hanging in there, right?” he asks softly, even though Danny’s long past hearing him. “Don't you fucking dare die on me, Danno. Not now.”
He stares up at the sky, willing a helicopter to appear overhead. Hell, he’ll settle for a hang-glider at this point, if it means any sign of human life. There’s nothing, though, not even static from the useless radio he liberated from their attackers yesterday. He doesn't know how long he spends like that, only that after a while it feels like all his muscles are on fire from being in the same position and he's a little dizzy, probably from having eaten next to nothing since yesterday morning. He thinks to check his watch for the first time since before they took off, only to realize that it's broken. The sun tells him it's fast going on midday and it worries him a little in a distant, niggling fashion that he hasn't really felt the time go by.
It’s then that he hears it. At first he tells himself he’s imagining the distant drone, but it comes steadily closer, and he all but whoops for joy, scrambling to his feet in spite of his aching muscles and spinning head. When he’s positive the helicopter is within visual range he pulls out the flare gun, aims it above his head and fires, watching it arc up into the sky, leaving a crimson trail of smoke behind it as it falls. Then he drops to one knee and gives Danny's shoulder a triumphant squeeze.
“Told you we’d be okay, Danny. You just have to hold on a few more minutes, okay? Just a few minutes, and we’re home free. Just hold on.”
“Hey, boss, you awake?”
Kono’s voice filters through the fog in his head. He opens his eyes, tasting something similar to cotton wool in his mouth. His head feels strangely heavy, like he’s gotten out of the habit of lifting it. The rest of him feels like he's floating a few inches over his bed. Slowly his rookie’s smiling face comes into focus.
“Hey, you’re back with us!” she exclaims, looking pleased, which is nice, he thinks dazedly. He doesn’t remember the last time someone looked that happy to see him.
There’s the distinctive smell of antiseptic in the air that tells him he’s in a hospital, and for a moment he can’t remember how he got here, or even what happened that would make a hospital necessary. He’s not in any pain that he can tell… and that’s when it all comes back in a rush.
He struggles to sit up, but everything’s a little swimmy and weird, and Kono shoves him unceremoniously back onto the hospital bed. “Stay put, boss. Don’t make the nice doctors drug you into submission again, okay? You’re still dehydrated and all that, so let the IV do its thing, and I promise I’ll answer every question you’ve got.”
He lets his head fall back against the thin hospital-issue pillow. He only has the vaguest recollection of the chopper ride, arriving at the hospital, but he does remember not wanting to let Danny out of his sight until he was sure he was okay. After that, nothing. That’s probably when they sedated him, he thinks ruefully. So much for keeping a cool head in a crisis.
“He’s in surgery, where he’s been for the last…” Kono checks her watch, “five hours or so. We don’t know anything yet,” she lays a hand on his arm, “but I promise you’ll be the first person we'll tell when there’s news. You want some water? You sound pretty hoarse. There’s even a straw.” She rolls up the bed so he can sit up, hands him a plastic cup of water.
“How bad is it?” It does feel better to talk once he’s had a drink of water.
She makes a noncommittal gesture that’s not quite a shrug. “He’s bleeding internally, so they’re doing exploratory surgery to fix that. After that, nobody knows. You know how it goes with these things. Don’t worry,” she adds, “Danny’s a fighter. He’ll pull through just fine, you’ll see.”
He nods. “Fill me in on the rest?”
“I was kind of hoping for the opposite. Hang on, let me get Chin, he’s fielding the paperwork.”
Chin Ho looks equally pleased to see him, and it occurs to Steve, not for the first time, that he got really lucky in his team. They might be the most eccentric team ever put together in the history of all task forces, but he’s led trained men in the field sometimes for years without any of them forming the easy attachment and deep loyalties this crew has demonstrated over the past few months. Chin gives him an odd look, and Steve realizes that he must be telegraphing his thoughts more than usual in his expressions. Stupid drugs.
“Good to see you awake,” Chin awards him a smile which tells Steve that he was probably acting more than a little crazy before the sedatives were administered. He winces.
“Was I that bad?”
“Extenuating circumstances. I don’t think anyone can be blamed for losing it a little after something like that.”
He lets his head drop into the palm of his hand. “Okay, apart from the stuff I’m never going to live down, what can you tell me?”
“You sure you want to do this now?” Kono sounds like she’s worried and trying not to show it. “This can all wait a day, at least until you’re back on your feet.”
He shakes his head. “We’ll do a formal debrief later, but for now…”
“Okay,” Kono pulls out her notebook. “It’s pretty straightforward on our end. When you didn’t come back on schedule, we sent out search and rescue in the general vicinity of your last known coordinates. Control told us hours later that there was an attempt at communication earlier, which they think might have been your mayday, but reception was fucked and nobody could make heads or tails of it or even tell where it came from. Might have been interference, or deliberate signal jamming, there’s no way to be sure at this point. Search and rescue located your crash site, but there wasn’t any sign of you there. And then, of course, there were the bodies about five hundred yards out...” she pauses and looks at him meaningfully.
He nods.“Yeah, I’ll explain that in a bit.”
“So by then visibility was too poor to keep going. We regrouped this morning, and that’s when you were found. Your turn,” she says pointedly.
It’s deceptively easy to sum up everything that’s happened in the last day, and yet the few sentences it takes to describe the attack, the crash, the men who came after them in the forest, all seems pathetically inadequate to convey all of it. He should be used to this by now, he thinks a little bitterly, trying to describe combat to non-combatants without freaking them out. But Chin and Kono aren’t exactly civilians, either. Luckily, they both seem to understand without his having to draw them a picture or walk them through it more than he already has. He finishes his cup of water, then reaches to unhook his IV, fully intending to get the hell out of this bed and go find the waiting room outside Danny’s operating room, only to find himself being rather forcefully grabbed and pushed back onto his bed.
“You’re staying put,” Chin says firmly. “Doctor’s orders.”
“That ridiculous,” he sputters. “I’m fine. I came out of that with bruises and a couple of scratches. I’m fine,” he insists, seeing their expressions.
“Except for how you survived a helicopter crash,” Kono points out, “and they’re keeping you under observation for twenty-four hours. And they’ve made it perfectly clear that if you don’t cooperate with us, they’re going to take more drastic measures,” she adds grimly.
Steve snorts. “They can’t do that if I don’t consent.”
“Fine. Then I will take more drastic measures. Stay. Put.”
Chin grins at him. “If it were me, I wouldn’t argue.”
Steve’s head starts to ache. He’s too damned tired for this, and all he wants is to be there when they get Danny out of surgery. “I just want to see how Danny is…” he mutters mutinously, and much to his embarrassment, Kono pats his knee.
“I told you, we won’t know anything until he’s out of surgery, and we don’t know how long that’s going to take. So how about you trust us to tell you when it’s time, okay? Come on,” her tone turns ever so slightly coaxing. “You’re exhausted, and you can’t do Danny any good if you run yourself into the ground. He’ll bounce back, but he’ll need you to be a hundred percent, right?”
“Just take a nap, brah,” Chin says reasonably. “We'll wake you the minute Danny's out of surgery.”
He's too tired to argue, his eyes already closing, and he can't tell if it's because he's truly exhausted or if the sedatives are still having an effect. The last thing he's aware of is Kono's hand on his arm, warm and reassuring.
The next time he opens his eyes, Chin is shaking him gently by the shoulder. “Wake up, brah. Danny's out of surgery, but they're not letting anyone see him yet. Figured you'd want to be awake for what the doctor has to say, especially since you're the guy whose name is on the emergency paperwork.”
He nods, scrubs the remnants of sleep from his eyes ―and notes that he's desperately in need of a shave as he rubs a hand over his face― and only grudgingly submits to the nurse's insistence that he remain in the wheelchair provided by the hospital. “For liability purposes, I assure you. You don't want us to get sued, do you?”
The news isn't terrible, but it's not exactly encouraging, either, not that Steve was expecting a miracle, even if he'd allowed himself to hope... The doctor's face is serious, all business as he delivers his news.
“We were able to locate and stop the bleeding, which was the most immediate threat, but he's got a hard road ahead of him. The surgery was hard on him –his heart stopped twice while we were operating on him, though we were able to bring him back without too much difficulty. We'll be monitoring him closely for the next forty-eight hours, and if he pulls through, then I can safely say the outlook will be a lot better for him. He's developed an infection, which isn't unusual but is cause for concern, so we’ll be keeping a close eye on him for that too.”
Steve nods, glad to note Kono is taking notes, because he’s not sure he’s going to remember any of this tomorrow. All he can think right now is that Danny’s heart stopped, and he wasn’t even awake for it. “Can I see him?”
“He’s in intensive care,” the doctor equivocates, then relents under the effect of three simultaneous glares. “One person at a time. We’ve had to put him on a ventilator to assist with his breathing, and he won’t be waking up anytime soon, so you need to be prepared and be patient.”
Chin works some sort of administrative magic –and not for the first time Steve congratulates himself on the second-best choice he made while making up his team– and Steve finds himself with complete access to Danny, if he wants it, and he does. Someone brings in a reclining chair so he can sit by Danny’s bed and still get some sleep, and that’s where he spends the next two days, listening to the hypnotic click-whoosh of the ventilator, and watching Danny like a hawk for any sign that he might be coming out of it. There’s work piling up at the office, dozens of calls unanswered and ignored on his cell phone, which is turned off and left somewhere to rot, for all he cares.
For all that he's just come out of major surgery, Danny looks a lot better than Steve remembers. His face is still pale under the gauze bandage, but it's no longer the sickly shade of washed-out grey as before, and his lips and fingernails have pinked up again. Nurses come and go quietly, checking on his vital signs and changing the bandages from the surgery on his leg and abdomen. Steve moves out of their way when they're working, but otherwise he sticks as close to Danny's bedside as he can without actually sitting on it. He finds himself watching Danny's hands, unnervingly still and lax at his sides, the fingers curling in slightly toward his palms. It's unsettling to be in the same room with Danny and not hear his voice, bitching loudly about whatever subject has caught his attention, hands in constant motion. Seeing him motionless... it's just unnatural.
Rachel visits once, but she doesn't come again once Steve promises he'll keep her up to speed on Danny's progress so that she can tell Grace. While she's there she stares at Danny with a pinched, haunted look on her face and leaves so abruptly that he can't help but be reminded of a tactical retreat. He watches her go and wonders just how long she's been dreading a moment just like this one, even long after her divorce.
There’s no magical moment in which Danny wakes up and everything gets set to rights again, but forty-eight hours pass, and he’s still hanging on, and so Steve just settles himself in to wait for the long haul. He learns the names of the ICU nurses, lets Chin and Kono bring him coffee and the occasional sandwich, and becomes better-versed in the workings of the human body than he ever really wanted to be. Danny gets weaned off the ventilator excruciatingly slowly, but it’s progress, and at this point Steve will take what he can get. Eventually the doctor allows himself to cautiously suggest an orthopaedic consult for Danny’s knee, once he’s awake and suitably recovered from the internal injuries and surgery, and Steve grins at him. The fact that Danny’s probably going to need multiple surgeries on his leg might be the best news he’s had in his entire life, because it means Danny’s going to live to need them.
Danny’s been in the hospital for five days, and off the ventilator for a little over forty-eight hours when he finally opens his eyes, and in spite of all of Steve’s efforts to make damned well sure that he’s there for it, he’s managed to doze off in the chair by Danny’s bed when it does happen. He comes awake with a start to find bright blue eyes fixed on him, though Danny hasn’t said a word yet. In a flash he’s on his feet, reaching for his partner’s hand and leaning over the bed. He can feel a stupid grin spreading over his face, but can’t bring himself to care.
“Hey, you with me?”
Danny nods carefully, as though he’s a little worried his head might come off his shoulders if he makes too sudden a movement. Five days' worth of beard growth makes him look older than he is, and careworn.
“W’happen’?” His voice breaks, comes out as little more than a hoarse croak.
Steve reaches for the cup of ice that’s been left by the bed, a little melted by now but still good enough, and holds a spoonful to his lips. “You’re in the hospital,” he says, entirely unnecessarily judging by the eyeroll he gets in response. “Do you remember the crash?”
Danny’s eyes close for a few seconds as he concentrates, then they open again, and he nods. “Hate helicopters,” he says with a wan smile and Steve grins at him so hard he thinks his face might actually split in half.
“Search and rescue found us, and not a minute too soon, I might add. You scared the shit out of me, Danno,” he adds quietly. “I thought we might have been too late…”
Danny swallows painfully and accepts another spoonful of ice chips. “You didn’t give up,” he points out. “Couldn’t let you win, could I? Never live it down…”
It’s physically impossible for Steve to grin any wider. “Exactly.”
“You look like hell, Steve.”
“Yeah, well, you're not exactly winning any beauty pageants yourself these days,” Steve rolls his eyes, can't stop grinning anyway.
“I fell out of a helicopter. What's your excuse?” Danny tries to sit up, winces and gives up. “So… how bad is it?”
Steve shrugs, sobering a little. “No reason you won’t bounce back from this, the doctor says, but it’s going to take a while. Maybe surgery on your knee, they’re saying, and lots of rehab. You okay?” he asks, as Danny shifts with another wince. “Need anything for pain? I should call someone…” he reaches for the call button on the bed.
“It’s fine, babe, leave it. In a minute,” Danny flaps a hand at him weakly.
“Okay, if you’re sure…” He hesitates, fumbling for the right words to formulate what’s been running through his mind ever since Danny came out of surgery. “So, I’ve been thinking…”
“I was wondering where the smell of burning rubber was coming from,” Danny murmurs, and Steve laughs in spite of himself.
“Shut up and let me finish. I was thinking that it doesn’t make sense for you to go back to your old apartment. There are a million stairs–”
“Lots of stairs,” Steve amends, fixing his gaze on the bed and fiddling with the edge of the sheet, not quite daring to meet Danny’s eyes. “And it’s kind of small and cramped and it would be hard for you to get around. My place is closer to the hospital anyway, and I have more room than I know what to do with, and it’s not like you don’t already let yourself in on a regular basis, so it wouldn’t change much for you that way. And if, you know, you’re worried about Grace, or something, I have a guest room, and I could talk it over with Rachel, and she could, you know, come by and make sure she’s okay with it too, and–”
“McGarrett,” Danny interrupts his rambling, and never has Steve felt more grateful for an interruption in his entire life.
“Are you asking me to move in with you?”
“So… is that a yes?”
“It’s not a no. Have to think about it. It’s not exactly ideal, you know, as living arrangements go.”
Steve tries to swallow his disappointment. After all, it’s unreasonable of him to assume that Danny will jump at the chance to go live in the same house with him. By Danny’s standards, they barely know each other, even if the past few days have taught Steve that he doesn’t really like the idea of ever being apart from his partner ever again. He can’t expect Danny to feel the same way, he tells himself sharply, then looks up to find Danny grinning at him, and unexpected warmth floods through him.
“You asshole,” he swats Danny lightly on the shoulder. “That’s really mean. I’ve been worried sick, and this is the thanks I get?”
Danny laughs. “Hey, watch it! No hitting the trauma patient! I totally had you going, though, didn’t I?” He settles back on his bed, eyes closing, and Steve can see what little energy he had is fading quickly.
“Yes, you did. Asshole,” he repeats, just in case the message didn’t get through the first time. “So… it’s a yes, then?”
“You really need me to spell this out? Maybe sign a contract in my blood?” Danny murmurs.
“Keep your blood, you’ve lost enough as it is.” Steve reaches out to smooth Danny’s hair away from his forehead, then takes Danny’s hand again, reassuring himself that he’s not actually dreaming any of this. “And, uh, yeah. I kind of need to know you’re on board with this too.”
Danny doesn’t open his eyes, but he squeezes Steve’s fingers, and his next words make Steve’s heart do a weird skipping thing in his chest that he is never going to admit to in public.
“Yeah, babe, I’m on board.”