It just had to get worse, didn’t it?
On top of the usual blare of television noise emanating from downstairs a series of truly explosive sneezes had been punctuating his sleep all night. Sneezes accompanied by miserable little cascades of dry coughs. Steve shoved one ear into his pillow and groped around for something to put over the other one.
It didn’t work. Steve blamed his training. In the kinds of mission he’d usually run—for the SEALs, Special Ops, ONI, whatever--any untoward sound had meant possible discovery. And in the kinds of places he’d usually run said missions, any untreated cut or random dizzy spell could spell medical FUBAR. Wasn’t his fault he couldn’t let signs of illness pass unnoticed. Old habits are hard to break.
He swung his legs out of bed, pulled on a t-shirt and padded downstairs.
There, in the din and glare of the TV, lay the usual Danny-shaped lump of blanket. A lump that right now was vibrating with another badly suppressed coughing jag.
“Hey man.” Steve leaned over him, wondering again how Danny could sleep with the blanket pulled over his head like that. “What’s up? You coming down with something?”
“Go ‘way,” Danny rasped, face still hidden. “’M fine.”
“You sound kinda rough, dude—lemme take a look at you.” Steve felt slightly ridiculous, treating Danny like he would some kid recruit who didn’t know his ass from his elbow, but, hey, he wasn’t the one playing hide-and-seek like a six-year-old.
“Just allergic. Allergic to fucking Hawaii.” Danny now seemed to be trying to burrow into the sofa cushions.
It pissed Steve off. “Okay, look. I may not have your experience with children, but I have been trained to deal with recalcitrant hostiles, and I can get that blanket off you in approximately .05 seconds, so just save us both the trouble and pull it down.”
With an annoyed huff, Danny did.
“Whoa.” Steve put out an involuntary hand to ward off germs.
The blanket went up again. “Fuck off, Steven.” A sneeze reverberated in its depths.
Steve backpedalled. “Hey, come on, that was sympathy--I’m just being sympathetic to how bad you must feel, that’s all.”
“Yeah?” The blanket edged down very, very slowly. “If that was your best attempt at sympathy you might want to put in a few more practice drills in front of the mirror before you try it out on other people. I’m just saying.”
Steve nodded, trying to arrange his face in a more kindly and consoling expression. It was hard: Danny looked terrible. His nose was red, his eyes bloodshot, the rest of his face an unhealthy greenish white color.
“That came on sudden, huh?” he asked, bumping Danny’s hip so he could perch next to him on the couch. “You seemed okay this afternoon.”
“Came on like a fucking ton of bricks, is what.” Danny squirmed a little, like it was hard to get comfortable. “Fucking Hawaiian viruses.”
“Hey, don’t blame the islands.” Steve touched the back of his hand to Danny’s forehead. “You running a fever?”
“Dunno. Probably. Feel like crap.” Danny had apparently abandoned any attempt at subterfuge. Steve smiled to himself; it was the effect he usually had on people, but Danny was sometimes a harder nut to crack.
“You’re kinda warm. You take anything for it?”
“Whatever I could find in your medicine cabinet. Which wasn’t much, by the way. Who doesn’t have Nyquil? Don’t you ever get sick?”
“I get sick.”
“Yeah? When? When was the last time you got sick?” Danny snuffled miserably; Steve located a stray napkin on the coffee table and handed it to him.
“Sick like sick? Not a broken bone or a gunshot wound?”
Danny nodded, and blew his nose with a resounding honk. “Seen those. Sick like sick.”
Steve searched his memory. “Um, ’05, I think. Yeah. My team got called in to help handle a bird flu outbreak in—“ he caught himself in time “—somewhere in Asia. And we all ended up getting it. None of the anti-virals worked. Sick as a fucking dog. Flat on my back for a week.”
Danny squinted at him. “’05? I don’t remember any bird flu outbreak in ’05.”
“Guess we did our job right then.” Steve grinned at him.
“Oh my god,” Danny groaned. “Even your runny noses are classified.” The groan turned into a sustained round of coughs that had him pushing one hand against his chest and the other against the base of his throat like that was killing him too.
Steve made a command decision. He stood, flicked off the TV, and gripped Danny’s elbow, or at least put his hand on his best guess of where his elbow was under the blanket, and pulled.
“C’mon,” he said. “This isn’t doing you any good—you should at least sleep in a bed tonight.”
“L’go. Isn’t it bad enough I’m sick? Do I have to deal with you being a bossy son of a bitch too? Not that that’s different from any other day of the week,” Danny muttered. But he came, heaving himself off the couch with a grunt, trailing his blanket like a sail.
“Hey. Just ‘cause I don’t get sick much myself doesn’t mean I don’t know what to do.” Steve chivvied Danny towards the stairs. “Once, in the Niger River Delta, one of my guys picked up some kind of insect-borne encephalitis—screaming in pain, temp of a hundred and six, cerebral fluid practically leaking out his ears. And you know what? It was a hairy couple of days, sure, but he pulled through just fine. So I think you could say I know what I’m doing.” They were on the stairs now, Danny hanging on tight to the banister. “Not that I dealt with that African thing entirely on my own.” Steve wanted to give credit where credit was due. “Some doc talked me through it over the sat. phone, seizures and everything.”
Danny paused mid-step. “Steven?”
“Do me a favor?”
Danny looked really white now and he was panting a little. “Anything you want, buddy.”
“No more weird disease stories, okay?”
“Just trying to be reassuring.”
“Yeah. It’s not working for you, babe, take it from me.”
Steve looked at him. Danny’s hair was starting to flop into his eyes. It was hard not to reach out and push it out of the way for him. “Okay, got it. No more stories.” He put a hand on the small of Danny’s back instead and steered him along the upstairs hall.
“No one’s getting on any sat. phones tonight,” Danny muttered.
“No one’s seizing.” Danny was shuffling along the hall like an eighty-year-old man but Steve resisted the urge put an arm around his waist to take some of his weight.
“Just some ordinary upper-respiratory tract thing, be fine in a day or so. Hey.” Danny ground to a halt when he saw where Steve had been guiding him. “Uh-uh. No way am I getting in your bed with you.”
“Not with me, numbnuts. It’s all yours.”
“What about the spare room? I can sleep there.”
“Yeah. The thing is.” Steve felt obscurely embarrassed. “The spare room’s kinda stuffy right now. I, uh, I closed the vents once you turned up your nose at its TV-less-ness.”
“Jesus, Steve. Anal or what?”
Steve bristled. “You never heard of energy efficiency? This place costs a mint to cool at the best of times. Besides, this way you’re near the master bath in case—“
“Not puking, dude. Who said anything about puking?”
“No one. No one’s talking about puking.” Steve sighed. “Look, Danny, stop bitching and just lie down already, you’re starting to shake.”
Danny frowned, then seem to realize that he was, indeed, shivering hard. He pulled his blanket more tightly around him and lowered himself onto Steve’s bed.
Steve had vaguely thought about changing the sheets or something, but Danny immediately grabbed one of his pillows and curled himself around it, coughing. He looked tousled and vulnerable and just plain sad.
“Okay,” Steve said, feeling uncharacteristically at a loss. This wasn’t the kind of thing that usually happened in the jungle. “I’ll just get you some water. Or juice. Tea, maybe? You want some tea?”
“Water’s good,” Danny said, digging himself deeper under Steve’s duvet.
But by the time Steve got back with the water, a box of tissues and the bottle of Tylenol, Danny seemed to be asleep. Or at least the tiny bit of his head showing above the covers wasn’t moving much, and the shivering had backed off. Steve put the stuff down on the bedside table and went to air out the spare room.
As he came back into the hall to get clean sheets from the linen cabinet, though, the sniffling and coughing had started up again. He poked his head around the bedroom door and saw that Danny had thrown off the covers and was lying on his belly like a t-shirt and boxers clad landed fish.
“Can’t sleep?” Steve asked tentatively.
“Fucking ocean,” Danny said. Or at least that’s what Steve thought he said—his voice was kind of distorted by the way he had his face mashed into the pillow.
“You want me—“ Steve couldn’t believe what he was about to say--protocol was so fucking blown. “You want me to bring up the TV?”
“Nah.” Danny levered himself back onto his back. “Thanks, I know it kills you to offer that, but I don’t even think it would help. Just gotta wait it out.”
“Yeah.” Steve pushed himself away from the door. “Stay strong, brother.” He put a bit of irony into the words to forestall any impression that he might actually be being solicitous.
As he turned away, though, he heard Danny say, “The weirdest thing is, it’s kinda better when you’re talking to me.” He sounded just a tiny bit out of it, as if he might not have realized he’d spoken out loud.
Steve paused, trying to process the statement. Probably just that, having been married all those years, Danny wasn’t used to being alone when he was sick. Wasn’t used to things like solo missions gone wrong, sweating out infected shrapnel wounds in locations so secret you were ordered to forget them as soon as evac arrived. Not that Danny couldn’t deal with something like that. Danny was as tough as they come, under the bluster. Still--
“Want me to hang out for a while?” he said.
Danny had turned on his side now, facing Steve. He shrugged one-shouldered and knuckled his eyes like a kid. “Don’t mind.”
Steve walked around to the other side of the bed and settled himself against the headboard. He wasn’t quite sure what to do with his hands, so he ended up crossing his arms over his chest.
“What do you want to talk about?”
“Not work,” Danny said, still facing away from him.
“No G.I. Joe Cobra Commando stories.”
“Navy, dude, Navy. But okay, no war stories.”
Steve racked his brain. He and Danny routinely shot the shit for ten, twelve, fifteen hours a day—sometimes round the clock—but right now he had no idea what they said to each other.
“Okay, there was this one time I was spear-fishing with Chin, and—“
Steve thought some more, but he was saved from another attempt by Danny succumbing to another coughing jag. This one had him twisting around on the bed, finally ending up sitting, hunched over his own knees. Steve couldn’t stand it any longer—he put his hand on Danny’s back, rubbed hard lines through the hot, damp material of his t-shirt.
“Damn,” Danny wheezed when it was over. “Where the fuck did that come from? No—don’t answer that, Science Guy. And you can quit looking at me like that.”
“Like you’re considering re-inflating my lungs with a soda straw or something.”
Steve had to laugh. “No. Just thinking a shower might loosen some of that up for you.”
“Take more than a three-minute shower to do that,” Danny grumbled.
“Yeah? Well, I think you’ll find that the McGarrett House Rules have built in stipulations for medical necessity. Go ahead and take one now, if you want.”
“Nah, too beat. In the morning.” Danny stared at him blearily for a moment. “But thanks, man. I mean it.” He started cautiously shifting himself back to horizontal, ending up on his belly again. He wiggled around until one of his arms ended up slung over Steve’s stomach.
It was hot, and kind of heavy, but Steve didn’t want to move it, especially since it seemed that Danny had finally gotten comfortable. A moment’s hesitation, and Steve put his hand on the nape of Danny’s neck, dug his fingers in a bit when he felt how tight the muscles were there. It elicited a somewhat happy sounding sniffle.
“Talk,” Danny demanded.
“Okay.” Steve looked down at the back of Danny’s head, pretty sure he was wearing an expression he wouldn’t want Danny to see. He thought for a moment, and then started in on the first thing that floated to the surface. “The first thing you want to do is make sure you have some CLP, some oil, and a cloth or old t-shirt handy.” When there was no immediate protest, he went on. “Then you use your brush to get the cleaning stuff down the barrel, move it around some, get it everywhere. When you’re done, you shove the cloth down there with the brush, soak that shit up. Make sure you get all of it, though sometimes it takes forever.”
“Steven,” Danny asked, his voice the merest rumble of sound, “are you telling me how to clean a handgun?”
“Yup.” Steve kneaded the over-warm skin of Danny’s shoulders. “Now settle down, we’re just getting to an exciting part.”
He went through the instructions for cleaning the slide and oiling the recoil spring, but by the time he got to the directions for the frame, Danny’s breathing had evened out. Good, Steve thought, mission accomplished. With an odd reluctance he gathered himself to go.
Before he could, though, Danny shifted around again, this time so he was on his side facing Steve. The arm that had been lying across Steve’s middle tightened, and he pushed his hot forehead into Steve’s hip.
“Love you,” Danny murmured, faint, but still clearer than most of what he’d said that night.
Steve’s heart stuttered in his chest.
Probably just one of the better sort of fever dreams, he told himself sternly. Probably dreaming he was back with Rachel in the good old days. Probably thought Steve was that damn dog he’d adopted.
Still, if Danny was that out of it, he wouldn’t remember anything Steve said either.
“You too, babe.” Steve pushed the hair off Danny’s face. “Love you, too.”