Danny's breaths are loud, shallow, his shoulders shaking with each inhale.
The shakes move down to his hands and the gun. It's still smoking, clutched tight, and shakes with them.
Steve lowers the rifle he commandeered and hangs it over his shoulder, keeping himself armed. “Danny,” he says softly. It's the only word he's been able to say for ten minutes. All other words are inadequate and hollow. He moves closer and glances at the table. Reyes is slumped over like it a rag doll, his head surrounded by a dark halo of blood and brain, and Danny is staring at the barrel. “Danny,” Steve calls again, touching his back.
Danny lashes out, hitting his arm away and he looks at him. Steve gazes back, watching him unreservedly, giving him what he can.
Danny's inhale breaks again, the turmoil pouring off him palpably, as oppressive as the humidity they're surrounded in. “M-maybe it's not him,” Danny whispers; it's a plea and Steve understands the denial, the desire for it to be true. He can't indulge in it right now.
Steve glances around at the corpses, and knows they have to go sooner rather than later. “Guard the staircase, we don't know if Reyes has anymore men surrounding us.” And he turns to look at the barrel.
Steve can look for Danny, will do what he can to keep this pain from him. He takes a step back from Danny, who watches him, open and vulnerable. It's almost too much. Steve turns away and goes to the barrel.
He hears his pulse in his ears, steeling himself against what might be in the drum and quietly inhales a deep breath. The lid is stuck and he fiddles with it for too long before he manages to pry it open. The smell hits him like a ton of bricks, and he brings a hand up to his face, the sickly sweet rot invading his nose and eyes like a poisonous miasma. He's smelled this before, marched along killing fields and added bodies to mass graves, filled with people left out in the open.
He hears Danny make a disgusted noise behind him and he looks over his shoulder, where Danny is turned away, gripping the banister of the stairs, sweat staining his armpits and back.
He coughs and takes to breathing through his mouth. He turns looks into the drum, and hisses silently. The putrid remains of someone are in there, a man bent in half and stuffed like a sardine into a tin too small to contain him. The face is unrecognizable, the skin black and red, and sliding off the skull like a sack.
Steve hears Danny come closer and he catches him by his shoulders. “Don't look, Danny, you don't want to see,” he rasps, pulling him away from the decay.
Danny is solid and heavy as he digs his heels in. “Don't tell me what to do,” Danny snaps, sidestepping out of Steve's hands. Steve isn't fast enough to stop him and his voice fails to warn Danny as he looks into the barrel. The noise Danny makes is broken and it pierces him as he watches Danny's face, sickly yellow in the dim light. Danny loses his lunch without any warning, gagging and shaking as he falls to his knees.
Steve is right there with him, breathing through his mouth as he kneels and strokes Danny's back, holding his arm. “Danny, Danny, I got you.”
Danny lets out a harsh sob, the grief deep and harrowing. Steve grimaces and wraps his arms around him; Danny shakes in his arms, like the force of tectonic plates crashing into each other. Danny is a force of nature, in any state.
“Fuck, D,” he whispers, holding on tight as Danny shouts Matt's name, the dank humidity of the basement bearing down on them.
Danny's aching noises quiet to small sobs. He feels the little hitches Danny can't keep down and swallows stiffly. Danny's agony is palpable and present, pressing down on him as solidly as Steve is.
“It might not be him, maybe it was all a ruse, b-blackmail, maybe he's in Fiji having pina coladas on the beach there, Reyes was a liar, a fucking liar,” Danny rambles breathlessly, trembling as Steve tightens his hold.
“Danny, Danny, stop,” he says softly. Reyes murdered whoever was in that barrel, Matt or not, and deserved the justice Danny handed out with more mercy that Reyes merited.
Danny lets out another sob. “No, no.”
Steve closes his eyes for a moment, keeping a firm grip. “Danny.”
“It can't have been for nothing.” Danny's voice reverberates through him.
Steve takes a deep breath and moves, pulling Danny up and away from the bodies on the table and the barrel. Danny struggles, shoes skidding along. “Stop it, stop!” He turns Danny around, holding onto his shoulders and Steve inhales a sharp breath, looking at his face. Danny looks like he's been stabbed, like a building has fallen on him again, hopeless and anguished. “God, Danny.” He wants to pull him back in his arms, let him bury his face in his shoulder, but Danny is turning away, turning his back and taking deep breaths as he brings his hands to his face.
Steve catalogues the line of Danny's back, his neck, the edge of his hair; wants to stroke his skin and offer some form of comfort, wants Danny to let him. Steve's shirt clings to him, the heat and adrenalin making their effects known, his hands twitch as the rush leaves him and the gloom around them bolsters his desire to offer Danny some kind of solace.
“Steve -” Danny says his name like a plea, turning around, stepping closer. He rubs his face roughly, sweat and tears mingling wetly across his skin, into the grooves and stubble.
“Yeah,” Steve replies, his heart in throat, shards of it choking him as he watches Danny, splintered and shattered.
Danny inhales another broken breath. “What-what do we do now?”
Steve knows what they need to do, doesn't want to make Danny do any of it. So he turns to the barrel and picks the lid. Danny knocks it away, skidding across the floor with a loud clang. “Don't,” Danny rasps. “Don't do that.”
Steve keeps his gaze steady on Danny. “We can't move him without closing the lid. We can't move an exposed – we can't keep him exposed like that.”
Danny blinks at him, his chest heaving, the hollow of his throat beaded with sweat. Steve puts a hand on his shoulder, squeezing before moving it up to cup Danny's jaw and face. “Don't look.”
Danny's eyes slide away and he slowly walks towards to the stairs, side-stepping the third corpse in the room with them. Steve watches him go up and pulls out his phone.
It is him.
Steve knew it would be. Men like Reyes don't bluff when they have a sure thing like Danny's cooperation.
Danny for his part just blinks up at him as he takes the confirmation of his brother's death. It dangles between his fingers and Steve takes it, subtly touching Danny's skin, folding it neatly into his pocket.
“I'm very sorry for your loss, Detective,” Max says with great gravity, his Adam’s apple bobbing as he glances over at him, because Danny hasn't moved, hasn't said anything, is quiet in a way that portends bad news for everyone.
Steve takes a step forward and squeezes Danny's shoulder. “C'mon, partner, I'll take you home.”
Danny makes that broken noise he made in the basement, something between a cough and wheeze, and Steve's heart freezes in his chest.
Max frowns and surprises him by touching Danny gently. “Detective, are you all right?”
Danny stands up, shaking them off. “I gotta-gotta call my-my-” Danny says haltingly and he teeters for a moment before Steve takes hold of him.
“Danny, I'll do it. I can do that for you,” Steve says softly as Danny shakes his head. He looks at Max and nods his thanks, silently telling him he'll take it from here.
Max clears his throat. “Let me know if you need help with the arrangements,” he says softly.
Danny looks up at him from the bench, his eyes blazing. “Where is he? Where did you put him?”
Max calmly looks back at Danny. “He's in the morgue, I can get him ready for you whenever you want, Detective.”
“Danny,” Steve begins. He can see where this is going, can see the mess Danny will become if he pursues this avenue. Max clearly sees the same thing, taking a step back from them.
But Danny is fast, grabbing Max's lapels, and pushing him against the door. “If you stuck him in the freezer, I swear -”
“Danny!” He pulls Danny away and Max is visibly shaken at the turn of events, straightening his lab coat and glasses as Steve pushes Danny against the wall.
“You can't just shove him in there, it's cold, what if he's cold?” Danny's voice breaks, cracking in the corridor.
”I know there's nothing I can say that will make this better. Your brother is no longer suffering, that thought can help sometimes,” Max says quietly.
Danny swallows stiffly, gulping audibly as he blinks and brings a hand up to his eyes, rubbing fiercely. “I'm sorry, I'm sorry.”
Steve tightens his jaw and pulls Danny back to the bench, taking a seat next to him. He puts a hand on his knee, and looks up at Max. “Thanks, Max. We appreciate it. Sorry for -”
Max waves his hand. “Of course, Commander,” Max says. “I'll be around if you need me for anything else.” And he walks away, leaving them alone.
Danny hasn't been quite with it since they've left Colombia, his loss and grief physical and present as he moves through the world. The only thing Steve can do is hold onto him, anchor him down to earth.
“He was stuffed in a barrel, like he was garbage,” Danny whispers, looking green. “They broke him in half and made him fit inside that vat. How do you do that to a person, he was a human and they turned him into toxic waste.”
Steve listens, squeezes his knee and stays silent as Danny talks, the words pouring out of him like water out of a broken faucet.
“I let him go, oh god, I watched him go.” Danny starts crying, tears trailing down, unable to keep the devastation at bay. “He ran away and now he's dead, how can my baby brother be dead? I saw him go, he was gone and now he's in a fucking fridge.”
Steve holds him close, clapping his back gently, and Danny clings to his hand, his fingers digging into his skin and flesh, hard enough to bruise.
Steve lets him, keeping his eyes on their hands, clamped together, the skin around their knuckles taut and white. He'll sit here with Danny for as long as it takes.