“Is it just me or do those birds not make any sense?” Danny slurred, squinting upward at the black sheet of night sky through the branches of shower trees and coconut palms twinkling with colored lights– Honolulu in December.
“What the hell are you talking about, man?” Steve's voice came from somewhere up ahead and to the left.
“They're not even flying,” Danny complained, “the wind's just sort of– pushing them around!” He waved an indignant hand at the pair floating above him, dipping and weaving in utter silence, keeping pace with him as he walked without moving their wings. The birds looked like tiny, pure white seagulls with sharp black beaks. They seemed to weigh less than their size demanded, tipping dizzily in the slight nighttime breeze with as much substance as soap bubbles or dandelion fluff. The effect was surreal and confusing and made Danny's head hurt. “Why are you even awake?” he demanded, addressing the birds directly. “It's night! Birds are supposed to be asleep!”
“Are you angry at the birds now, Danny, what did they ever do to you?” Steve uttered a laugh that sounded suspiciously similar to a giggle.
Steve McGarrett was a happy drunk.
It had been a long, long week for Five-0, tangled up in an extremely frustrating case. There had been guns, and explosions, and a lot of paperwork, but it was all wrapped up now; score another one for the good guys. Chin, Kono, Steve, and Danny were out celebrating, winding down from the tension and adrenaline; it was Friday night, and the whole team was deeply intoxicated.
Danny's neck was starting to get sore from staring straight up. “They're weird, okay, look at them, it's not natural, they're freaking me out, don't you think they're weir—” The sidewalk gave way abruptly beneath Danny's right foot and he flailed, stumbling off of the curb and into the street, narrowly avoiding both a twisted ankle and a face-plant into asphalt. Regaining his balance, he caught sight of Steve up ahead, one arm slung over Chin's shoulders, listing heavily against the older man as he grinned fuzzily down at his phone and poked at the screen with his thumb. “You're not even looking—!”
Kono, screaming with laughter, grabbed Danny's arm and hauled him out of the street before he could get run over. Steve and Chin swung around, somewhat unsteadily, and Steve turned his wide, goofy grin on Danny. “Danno– Danno, you need to chillax—”
Danny gaped, staring at Steve as if he'd grown two heads. “What—”
“They're fairy terns, brah,” Kono said, her head tipped back and her mouth falling slackly open as she weaved down the Waikiki sidewalk, staring up into the sky.
“Manu-o-Kū,” Chin agreed. “They nest in the city.”
“There it is!” shrieked Kono, pointing at a brightly-lit bar up ahead of them. A cluster of people and a bouncing reggae beat hovered around the entrance. Kono skipped backwards, waving the rest of the Five-0 team on impatiently. “Come on, come on, let's go!”
Kono Kalakaua was a loud drunk.
Inside, they managed to claim a corner table. Danny plopped into a chair, looking around. It was pretty standard– cluster of tables, pocket-sized dance floor, a string of Christmas lights and neon advertisements for brands of beer glaring from behind the bar. Loud music blared from a jukebox instead of a DJ booth. Danny grimaced, rubbing a finger into his forehead. “Why is this place better than the other place, again?”
“Brah! Friday night two dollar beer special until eleven! First round's on me!” Kono whooped and headed for the bar, squeezing past a couple of large, heavily-tanned guys in worn and faded tank tops, the kind of locals Danny felt sure would be described to him as 'blalas'. Or was it 'mokes'? He was a bit hazy on the distinction.
Danny leaned back in his chair, letting the ambiance wash over him as he waited for his beer. After a few moments the music from the jukebox trickled into his consciousness, ceasing to be merely background noise. “Well I hooooooope you feel the saaaaaaaaame~!” a male voice crooned, followed by, as far as Danny could tell, complete and utter gibberish. Danny spared a glance at Chin and Steve; following suit with the rest of the bar patrons, his partners wore complacent smiles, heads nodding absentmindedly to the reggae bounce.
Danny frowned. He listened closely, and he tried, he really tried to see the appeal, but the longer he listened the deeper the wrinkle engraved itself in his forehead. He saw Steve look over at him, saw a questioning look flicker over his face, and before he knew it the words were pouring out of him. “What is it with you people and this Jawaiian stuff on this island, huh? What is that? It is literally all I hear on the radio, I mean that, it's inescapable, I have flipped to four different stations and it's all just Jawaiian, back to back to back. Doesn't anybody listen to real music here? You know, guitar, bass, drums, rock and roll? Springsteen? Tom Petty? John Mellencamp? I mean, this stuff, this bull crap, it's driving me crazy—”
He'd been ignoring the bug-eyed looks and frantic hand flailing of his partners, merely waving his own hands around with greater vigor, but at this point both Chin and Steve lunged across the table at him, clapping hands over his mouth.
“Danny, shut up, you're going to get us killed,” Steve hissed urgently, but he was, somewhat hysterically, trying hard not to giggle.
“You don't diss the island music, brah,” Chin agreed, looking amused and exasperated at the same time.
Danny swatted their hands off of him indignantly. “I am trying,” he protested, “to introduce some culture to this backwards little rock– mmff!”
Steve's hands were back on his mouth, and he was shushing Danny through his giggles. Chin shook his head, despairing. “Your funeral, malihini. When that tita comes over here to rearrange your ‘ōkole I am not standing in her way.”
Danny glanced around the bar. Several large mokes were indeed frowning at him, and a few were well over six feet tall– no, wait, that one definitely was a woman, yikes. Danny gave Steve a look, and Steve warily withdrew his hand. Danny opened his mouth, closed it again, then turned his eyes on Chin. “You realize only half of that was English, right?” he pointed out. “I swear, one of these days I'm going to make a graph, use of pidgin on one axis, blood alcohol content on the other.”
“Beer's here!” Kono announced, appearing abruptly and clunking four bottles of Primo onto the table. She glanced around at her teammates' faces. “What's going on, guys?”
“Danno's dissing Hawaiian reggae,” Steve told her, slightly breathless around repressed laughter. “Loudly.”
Kono gave Danny a look that was at once amused, horrified, and disparaging. She reached out and smacked the back of his head.
“Oi!!” Danny exclaimed, reaching up to smooth his hair back into place.
“Lōlō,” she told him, then turned toward Chin. “Eh, cuz, watch my beer, yeah?” she asked, then stage-whispered, “I have to go to the lua.” She dimpled and slipped away in the direction of the restrooms.
Danny shook his head, reaching for his beer. “Seriously, I'm going to start keeping a tally.” He took a swig, settling back into his chair; Chin and Steve followed suit. Danny's stomach rumbled. “Hey, you guys wanna get some food after we're done here? I'm starving.”
“Shoots,” Chin said agreeably.
Steve nodded. “Yeah, I could eat.”
“Okay, but we're going to Zippy's,” Danny said, “because it's actually possible to get real food there. Normal food. You know, spaghetti with garlic bread. Chili, even if you people insist on always putting rice under it—”
“Chiliiiiii,” Chin interjected, acquiring a blissed-out look on his face.
“You never do stop complaining, do you?” Steve asked Danny rhetorically. “So what's your beef with Jawaiian, anyway? I mean, it's cool, you prefer classic rock, I get that. But reggae's laid back, happy, it's got that bounce to it... I dunno, as music goes it seems kinda harmless—”
“Harmless. Harmless? Listen, Steven, harmless is not an adjective one should use to recommend music—”
“OOH!” Steve interrupted. The music had changed, and Steve's entire face lit up. Chin wore a matching grin; glancing around, Danny noted that the song was having a similar effect on the other patrons. He watched, bemused, as Steve took a deep swig of his beer, screwed his eyes shut, and belted out lyrics, singing along loudly with the music. “Who take my lady from the tropical island, who take my lady to the Hollywood scene~?”
Danny burst out laughing.
Steve pouted, which only made Danny laugh harder. “What's so funny? Don't laugh, man, this is a classic,” Steve insisted, and as if to prove his point he resumed singing with renewed gusto. Chin joined in at this point, just as loudly, clutching his beer and bending over the table with eyes squinting shut as he shouted out the lyrics. “Say goodbye to your coconut giiiiirrrlll, hey local boy say goodbyyyyyee~, she's a coconut girl in a high fashion world– uhh!” Steve and Chin beamed at each other, bopping along to the music like lunatics. Danny curled in on himself and laughed and laughed.
It wasn't the music, really, it was Steve. Steve McGarrett, the goof, drunk and happy and singing like this song was the best thing that had ever happened to him; every word, him and Chin both, cheerfully singing out even the falsetto bits. But— “Wait, wait wait wait, I know this one. This is that song from 'Pineapple Express', right?”
Both Chin and Steve made faces like they'd just eaten something sour. “No no no, Danny, let me explain something to you,” Steve said, placing a heavy hand on Danny's shoulder and gesticulating wildly with his beer. “This song is not from any stupid stoner movie, okay, this song is a classic– didn't I tell you this song is a classic?– it's been around in the islands since—”
“Whooooo!!” exclaimed Kono, returning abruptly to the table. “Bruddah Noland, yeeessssss!” She snatched up her beer, taking a few long swallows; then, still clutching the bottle, she began to dance.
...Or something. Danny could see how, while drunk, Kono might confuse the activity she was engaging in with some legitimate form of dance. She was moving her body, yes, and yes, her movements did coincide with the rhythm of the music, but beyond that Danny was completely baffled. Essentially she was skipping in slow motion, only there was a looseness to her limbs, a slouching, downward momentum, a syncopation to the skip-step that matched the distinctive reggae bounce. ...She looked ridiculous. Danny didn't know whether to be horrified or very, very amused.
Before he could decide one way or the other, Steve and Chin pushed themselves up and gleefully joined in, all three of them with their limbs flapping around, grinning like lunatics and singing at the tops of their lungs. Danny put his head down on the table and groaned. “What, just what, what are you doing,” he protested weakly, “what are you doing to me?”
Kono gave him a despairing look. “It's called skanking, Danny. It's a dance!”
Danny raised his head. “You look like idiots,” he pointed out. “Seriously, what are you doing, are you trying to torture me?”
Chin laughed at him. “You need to lighten up, brah.”
“Wait, wait, I have an idea!” Steve announced, his ridiculous, puppy-dog face all lit up; Danny could almost see the lightbulb over his head. “You just wait right there,” he told Danny, grinning, and headed toward the jukebox, fumbling in his wallet for quarters; the man had actually brought his wallet, for once. Danny watched as he made a few selections and, beaming, made his way unsteadily back to the table, looking immensely pleased with himself.
'Coconut Girl' came to an end, and the opening notes of the next song started to play. Danny scrunched up his face and listened, sipping his beer; it wasn't the typical reggae beat, but other than that he wasn't sure what about it was supposed to impress him– and impressed he was clearly meant to be, judging by the way Steve was grinning at him. And yet– there was something familiar about the guitar hook, wasn't there, something– wait. Wait. Oh, no no....
“The Boss? Is nothing sacred to you people? You've taken a perfectly good song, okay, 'Fire', it's a classic, but you couldn't leave it be, could you, you pasted some pineapple all over it, gave it that 'island feel'– and this is supposed to make me happy—?”
“Shut up, Danny,” Steve said easily, in the same fond, exasperated tone of voice he always used when Danny got riled up, but Danny thought he saw a flicker of... something in Steve's eyes, and maybe it seemed like he deflated a bit, just a little.
Danny felt something in his chest squeeze uncomfortably. “I mean, thank you for the thought, McGarrett, honestly, I get it, you're trying to make me feel at home,” he hastened to add. “But... Bruce Springsteen, you people have ruined Springsteen, that shouldn't even be possible and yet—”
“SHUT UP, DANNY,” his partners chorused in unison. Danny threw his head back, chugging several large swallows of his beer; he slammed the bottle back down on the table and, resigned, screwed his eyes shut and began singing at the top of his lungs. When he opened his eyes Steve was grinning again, and Danny supposed it was worth it just for that.
Danny sang the rest of the song word for word, and he didn't make too much of a face when the bridge came in on a reggae bounce, and Steve and Chin and Kono sang it with him, grins on their faces. And Danny thought maybe Steve had a point about island music after all, if it could get Danny's high-strung, SEAL-trained, tangled-up-ball-of-bullets-and-adrenaline partner to relax a little, unwind, let go. Although maybe that was more the beer than anything.
The song wound down and Steve had that far-more-pleased-with-himself-than-he-has-any-right-to-be look in his eye again; Danny sipped his beer with trepidation and waited for the inevitable, and when the music switched over he groaned theatrically. “What, Prince now, really? Really?” 'Blue Light' had never been one of his favorites, even before some idiot had taken it upon themselves to give the song more ‘local flavor’, so he leaned back in his chair and watched his teammates bounce around like idiots. Kono had her eyes closed and a blissed-out expression on her face, her head swaying lazily from side to side as her feet picked out an indecipherable pattern on the floor. Chin was dancing like the bottle of beer held tightly in his hand was his dance partner. Steve, the goof, was bopping around the floor, singing at people– at Danny, at Chin, at Kono, at anonymous patrons who allowed him to make eye contact or get within a few feet's distance– and hamming it up, serenading and waggling his eyebrows.
Danny shoved his fist against his mouth to keep the laughter in. He considered taking out his phone and recording this for posterity, but he decided he'd better not. If he embarrassed Steve too badly he might never unwind this much again, and that, Danny decided, would be a tragedy not worth contemplating. There was something undeniably appealing about Steve McGarrett with his defenses down and his troubles forgotten, his smile as loose and easy as the rest of his body, his long fingers wrapped around a bottle of beer instead of the butt of a pistol, the yards of muscle under smooth skin moving his body to joy rather than to anger or cold determination; Danny found himself staring, unable to look away.
Steve turned with the music and his eyes caught Danny's; his lips moved and sound trickled back into Danny's awareness: saxophone, percussion, words, “I'll be standing naked with nothing but a smile on~.” The image flashed across Danny's mind– dark eyes, lips, skin– and Danny's brain short-circuited.
Naturally, this was when the shooting started.
There were screams. Bottles and glasses shattered as people dove for cover; Chin Ho shouted, sharp and surprised. There was one shooter, handgun, looming in the door of the bar and moving forward, in, aiming for a booth in the back of the room; Danny reached for his sidearm and found it missing, remembered that none of them were armed, they were off-duty and drunk.
Steve was vaulting over a table, springing forward to tackle the shooter, bullets embedding themselves in the ceiling as the two of them hit the floor. Danny was on his feet; a man shoved past him, making for the exit– the target. “Kono! Runner!” Steve shouted, and she was off and after him. Steve's captive groaned and dropped the gun, Steve's fingers digging into his wrist; Danny hastily kicked the gun away. Steve's eyes met Danny's. “Chin,” he said.
Chin was on the ground. He groaned, his face set in a rictus of pain. “My leg.” His clawed fingers dug into his thigh, and oh, shit shit shit, blood—
In an instant Danny was at his side, kneeling, no pain in his knee and as sober as he'd ever been. He checked the injury over quickly: through and through, and judging by the rate of bleeding the bullet had missed any major blood vessels. Danny sagged with relief, digging in the pocket of his slacks for the tie he'd removed earlier in the evening. “Chin, my man, I hate to tell you this, but I think you may have been shot.”
“No worry about me, brah,” Chin gasped, chest heaving. He turned his head, pointing weakly with one hand. “Injured civilians....”
“You first, buddy,” Danny told him, swiftly wrapping the tie over the wound, and damn, that was another tie ruined, a birthday present from Grace, no less. In the background he was aware of Steve's voice as he showed his badge, told the bartender to call 911, read the shooter his rights.
“I no fucking kea',” the man was saying, crying, tears streaming down his face. “He got away. He got away.”
Danny clapped Chin on the shoulder, moving on to the next injury. “Kono,” Steve said, and Danny looked up.
Kono was leaning in the doorway, breathing heavily. She shook her head. “Sorry boss,” she said, “I lost him.”
~ ~ ~
Danny glared blearily at his wristwatch and groaned, tipping more lukewarm coffee down his throat. It was well past four in the morning, his hangover was starting to kick in, and the bleak, fluorescent lights of the hospital were hurting his eyes. He jangled the keys in his pocket as he walked; Officer Kawali‘i had been kind enough to take him to pick up his car once he was sober enough, and the Camaro was now parked, engine cooling, in the Hawai‘i Medical Center parking lot.
Rounding a corner on a small waiting area, Danny pulled himself to an abrupt stop. Parked in a small plastic chair next to a small plastic Christmas tree was Steve McGarrett, arms crossed and spine ramrod straight but his eyes closed and his head drooping slowly towards his chest. Danny smirked. Steve was fighting valiantly to stay alert, but he'd had twice the beers and half the coffees Danny'd had and exhaustion was taking its toll.
Danny crept toward Steve as silently as he was able, not entirely sure what he was trying to achieve. He never got the chance to find out; Steve's head snapped up and his eyes sprang open, his muscles tense and ready for action until he recognized Danny and relaxed. Danny's smirk turned wry and he held out his cardboard cup. “Coffee?”
Steve nodded his thanks and reached for the cup, taking a long draught of Danny's coffee before wiping a hand over his face wearily. “You just get back?”
Danny nodded. “How's Chin?”
“He'll be fine, but they want to keep him for a few hours since he lost so much blood. Kono's staying with him.”
“Great, then we can get out of here and get some sleep. Ah-ah!” Danny cut in quickly as Steve's mouth opened; his mouth snapped shut again. “Don't even think about saying it! Even ninjas need their sleep. Now come on, we want to be fresh in the morning for when we interrogate the guy who shot up Chin and half a bar, right? Look at you, you're useless, come on, get up, you can crash at my place again, it's closer.” Ignoring Steve's half-hearted protests, Danny liberated his coffee from Steve's clutches and steered him relentlessly through the hospital hallways and down to the car.
Steve was miraculously compliant and quiet for the entirety of the ride to Danny's apartment. Danny wasn't deluded enough to think it would last. While Danny went to dig out the air mattress from his closet, Steve stood in the doorway, fidgeting. “I can take the air mattress,” he offered. “You should sleep in your own bed.”
Danny stared at him like he was a moron. Which he was. “How many times do we have to have this conversation, McGarrett? Every single time? You are not sized like a normal person. You do not fit on the air mattress.”
Steve's mouth twisted. “It can't be very comfortable,” he pointed out, as if this were some kind of argument.
“If it makes you feel any better, I can promise you it's not any less comfortable than my fold-out couch. Plus, those sheets are horribly in need of a wash. Happy now? You'll be terribly inconvenienced. Now can we just skip to the part where you thank me and go to sleep?”
“I appreciate it.” Steve's eyes bored into Danny, dark and serious. It made Danny feel hot and uncomfortable under his skin.
“Pay me back in beers,” he said, and Steve smiled.
~ ~ ~
Ten o'clock in the morning and all the coffee in Honolulu couldn't keep Danny's yawns in– or at least, not all the coffee in the offices of Ali‘iolani Hale, and Danny would know; he’d even gone downstairs and moped pathetically until Justice Arakawa's assistant took pity on him and smuggled him some of the justice's favorite light roast. Leaning against his desk, Danny stared vacantly out at the Christmas-colored strings of Chinese lanterns adorning ‘Iolani Palace across the street while Steve brushed his teeth and selected clean clothes from the collection he kept neatly pressed and folded and probably organized by color in a drawer in his desk. So OCD, although Danny supposed it was also pretty sensible considering how frequently Steve came back to the office with blood on his shirt.
After a moment Danny picked up the police report on the bar shooting and flipped through it. He had already been through the report once, but it was a good way to keep himself from glancing over to Steve's office where Steve was blithely removing his clothes, fully visible through the open blinds of the big picture window, all sun-gold skin and lean muscle and broad shoulders. There were things Danny wanted in life and there were things Danny needed, and since he couldn't have everything he wanted, what he needed was to not have the image of Steve in a state of undress stuck in his head for the rest of the day, and to not have his partner catch him eyeing his backside, no matter how incredibly well-formed it was.
Honestly, it was just like Danny’s luck to have a disgusting schoolgirl crush on Steve 'How Many Different Ways Can I Think Of To Use A Grenade Today?' McGarrett. This was not in any way a good idea, this just wasn’t done, you didn’t develop feelings for your partner, for your boss, for your friend. Especially your lady-killer, obviously-very-straight friend. Bad bad bad idea, better just to try to ignore it until it went away. Danny had been trying for months, surely it would start working any day now.
“Danno, you ready to go?” Steve was standing in the doorway looking like he'd slept ten hours in his own bed, and if he'd noticed the way Danny jumped when he spoke he gave no sign.
Danny pulled himself together. “Damn right, let's go talk to this guy,” he said and followed Steve to the interrogation room.
“Kaulike Pihi,” Steve proclaimed, shoving the door open and stalking into the room. Danny shut the door firmly behind them. “Generally, attempted murder and a few GSWs is just a bit below our pay grade, but I made an extra-special request for you to be transferred here. You know why?” Steve leaned in close. “You shot a Five-0 officer, Kaulike.”
Danny cut in. “Commander McGarrett here gets grumpy when members of the team get injured, it makes it harder for him to do his job. So why don't you make things a little easier on everyone and tell us who that was you were shooting at and why you were shooting at him?”
Kaulike Pihi shook his head slowly, eyes fixed stonily on the ground and lips pressed firmly shut. Danny watched him narrowly, taking in the set of his shoulders, the lines of his face. He didn't look stubborn, or angry, or resentful. He looked– broken.
Danny crouched down in front of him, pulling some of the sharpness out of his voice. “Hey. Kaulike. Mr. Pihi.” Kaulike's brown, empty eyes lifted to meet Danny's. “What did that man do to you?”
Kaulike's mouth twisted, anguish showing in his face. For a moment the words seemed stuck in his throat, and then he choked out, “He killed my son.”
Steve traded a glance with Danny, raising his eyebrows; is this guy for real? Danny shrugged. “How did he kill your son?” Steve asked sharply. “When?”
Kaulike just shook his head again, bitterly. “You can't help me.”
Steve frowned. “We can help you. The police can help you. Tell us what happened.”
A bitter laugh. “The police no can help me. A couple haoles sure as hell can't!”
Only the solid grip of Steve's hand on Danny's arm kept him from biting the man's head off. “Why not?” Steve asked patiently.
“You wouldn't understand.”
Kaulike merely shook his head again.
Danny ground his teeth. “Look, Pihi, haoles or not, we're the only chance you've got. If this guy really did kill your son, he deserves to be punished. But here in America the justice system does not take kindly to people taking the law into their own hands. You tried to kill someone. You sent several people to the hospital. You're going to do some time for that. If you want justice for your son, it's gonna be us or nothing. Just....” He took a deep breath, let it out heavily. “Let us at least try. Just give us a name.”
Kaulike clenched his jaw, his eyes shining. He swallowed several times. “...Elika Olokui,” he said, and refused to say anything else.
After a few minutes of trying and failing to get Kaulike to speak again, Steve ushered Danny out of the interrogation room and shut the door. “What do you think?”
Danny chewed on his lip thoughtfully. “Well, he’s clearly upset about something. Could be acting, but he reads to me like a guy who’s lost something, and he seems like he really believes this Olokui character is responsible.”
Steve nodded. “Okay, let’s leave him to cool his heels for a few minutes,” he said. “Let's see what we can dig up on Olokui.”
“All right, you look into Olokui; I'll see if Pihi’s telling the truth about his kid.”
The two of them worked in silence for a few minutes, Danny idly waggling a pencil between his fingers and Steve frowning thoughtfully at his computer screen. From time to time Danny would glance over to Steve, and each time he did Steve's frown had etched itself deeper. Before Danny could say anything about it, however, the door to Five-0's headquarters swung open.
“Chin!” Steve's eyes lit up with joy and relief as he pushed himself up to meet his wounded comrade-in-arms. Chin hobbled forward, putting his weight on crutches rather than his injured limb, but otherwise walking on his own two feet. Kono hovered at his shoulder, watchful but grinning wide; Danny felt his own cheeks start to hurt but couldn't care less if he tried.
Danny watched as Steve hugged Chin, careful but solid, and stepped forward immediately to have his own turn. “Glad to see you with some color under your skin, my friend.”
Chin's eyes crinkled. “Not any gladder than me, brah.”
“And what are you doing walking around? Chin—” And Steve's eyebrows were down again, stern and concerned. Danny watched with amusement as he wrestled a chair into place and gently herded Chin into it. “Sit, you should be sitting, you'll aggravate your injury—”
Chin took this with good humor. “This is me not mentioning the last five times you were injured, boss. So what's going on? Have you figured out why I got shot yet?”
“Yeah, we're working on that,” replied Danny. “Got the shooter in the box right now. Name's Kaulike Pihi; the intended target was Kono's runner, Elika Olokui. Pihi claims Olokui killed his son. I just went looking and Pihi's son–” a quick glance at the computer screen to confirm that Danny hadn't lost his mind; nope, that really was the kid's name; “–Junior-Boy did pass away three weeks ago; coroner's report says natural causes, some kind of bacterial infection.” Steve was frowning again; Danny raised his eyebrows at him.
Steve huffed out a breath, clearly bothered by something. “Thing is,” he said, “I looked up this Olokui, and his record is–” he pressed his lips together, thought a moment; “–odd. He's been arrested nine times on suspicion of murder but never convicted due to lack of evidence. All the deaths he was associated with came up suspected poisonings or infections, but the tox screens are clean. And he always has an alibi around the time of death.”
Kono's eyebrows went up a little. “Noooo, that's not fishy at all. ...So what do you think, boss?”
Steve stroked at his face, thinking, sharp eyes focused on the middle distance. “...I want to look into this. There's something going on here.”
Chin was already shifting in his seat, leaning over their high-tech computer table and calling up information. “Looks like Olokui just hopped a flight to Kailua-Kona.”
Steve nodded. “He's a Big Island boy, lives in the town of Makapala in North Kohala.” He clapped his hands. “All right. Most of those arrests happened on the Big Island. I want to get over there, talk to some Hawai‘i County cops, see what they know, run some surveillance on Olokui. Chin, you're staying here; rest that leg up, and I want everything you can dig up about this mess. Kono, you stay with Chin; there's a greater chance Olokui might recognize you from the chase you gave him. Danny, pack your bags, you're with me.” He paused when he saw Danny hesitate. “Problem?”
Danny waved a hand. “No problem, I'm ready and with you all the way, you know that.” He shifted his weight, smoothed a hand through his hair, and added, “It's just– how long do you think this is going to take? Only reason I ask is– Christmas is coming up in only eight days and I wanna make sure I'm on O‘ahu....” Steve's eyes went fond and Danny trailed off, fighting a warm, tingly sensation in his stomach.
“Don't worry, Danno,” Steve said, and Danny's heart turned over the way it sometimes did when Steve used the name, “I don't expect this will take us very long. We'll get you back here in time for Christmas with Grace.”
~ ~ ~
Which was how Danny, having said his apologies to Rachel and his good-byes to Gracie, found himself in the shotgun seat of an unmarked police vehicle, driving up the Hāmakua Coast of Hawai‘i Island with Steve behind the wheel.
Steve was driving like a lunatic as usual, but Danny wasn't thinking about that. No, he definitely wasn't concentrating resolutely on the scenery to avoid contemplating certain death at the hands of a tattooed maniac.
“Huh,” he said, leaning forward to peer through the windshield and up-slope. “Snow.”
“Yup,” Steve agreed, and he was wearing a smug smile, that annoying look he always wore when he thought he was offering Danny incontrovertible proof that Hawai‘i really was more awesome than any other spot on the planet. “Snow, Danno. Aloooooha.”
Danny held up a finger. “This does not change the fact that it is December, December, Steven, and it is eighty-four degrees outside, okay, there's no snow down here, I could fry an egg on the hood of this car. That, my friend, is just not right, it is against the natural order of things.”
Steve didn't reply. Steve was ignoring him, craning his neck (not watching the road) to look up at the snow-clad slopes of the mountain above them, and the gleaming telescopes visible from the summit cones. “The first time I ever saw snow,” he said, voice soft with remembering, “was up there on Mauna Kea, when I was eleven. Mom and Dad took me.” Danny gave him a sidelong look, checking for danger, but Steve was smiling, even if his smile had a sad twist to it. “The air's real thin up there, but I couldn't stop running, I was so excited. I'd run until I fell over into a snow bank, and I'd lie there with my head spinning until I got my breath back, and then I'd just get up and run around again.”
Danny felt his lips twitch, and fought the impulse to stretch into a goofy grin at the thought of tiny Steve running around in the snow and falling over, now matter how cute the image was. He glanced at Steve again as the silence stretched out; Steve's smile was fading, the sadness and pensiveness taking over. ...Well, that just couldn't be allowed. “You saw snow for the first time when you were eleven, Steven? See, this is what I mean, that's just not right, that's, like, child abuse. Or, in your case, cruelty to animals,” he jibed, and was gratified to see Steve turn a fondly exasperated smile on him.
Before Steve could say anything in his home state's defense, his phone rang, 'Chin Ho Kelly' popping up against the wallpaper; Steve tapped the screen to put the phone on speaker. “Chin, speak to me.”
“Hey, McGarrett. Kono and I have been working through the files on all of the deaths associated with Olokui, and we picked up an interesting pattern,” Chin said. “All of these guys have criminal records. Mostly drug-related convictions, including Junior-Boy Pihi. They all had connections to the Big Island, too; Junior-Boy lived in Hawi, he was in Honolulu visiting family when he died. There doesn't seem to be anything else connecting the deaths, but we'll keep looking.”
“...Huh,” Steve commented, frowning quizzically. “Anything else?”
“Nah, man, nothing else sticks out. I'll email you the summarized report.”
“Thanks, Chin. I'll be in touch,” Steve said, and hung up the phone.
Danny scratched at his chin. “All criminals, huh? Think they coulda been hits?”
“Maybe,” Steve agreed, frowning more. “I'm gonna take a stab in the dark and say we're not dealing with a vigilante.”
~ ~ ~
“Elika Olokui? Yeah, we know who 'dat is. Everybody know him,” said Glenn Kobayashi, police captain for the North Kohala District. “Suspected possession of crystal meth, nine times suspected of murder, no convictions.”
Steve stared at him, then glanced around the tiny Kapa‘au Police Station; the handful of officers stared right back, not even bothering to pretend not to. He looked at Captain Kobayashi again. “And?”
Kobayashi shook his head. “Bettah leave 'em alone, Commandah.”
Danny's eyebrows went up. He leaned forward a little, as if maybe he'd heard wrong. “Excuse me?”
The officer shook his head. “Don't get me wrong, I'd love to lock da guy up, but no can.”
“And why's that?” Steve asked flatly, as if talking to a moron.
Kobayashi sighed. “He stay one kahuna ‘anā‘anā,” he said.
Steve laughed a little. “That is ridiculous.”
“That is incomprehensible to me,” Danny said.
Steve closed his eyes briefly, shaking his head as if the very idea were painful to him. “According to Hawaiian tradition,” he explained, “a kahuna ‘anā‘anā was... a sorcerer, someone versed in black magic. They were known for death curses... praying people to death.” He turned back to the captain. “You can't seriously believe this guy can kill people with magic.”
“Eh, believe what you like believe, I tell you what is an' what isn't. We tried for arrest dis guy, yeah? Plenny times. Dea is nevah enough evidence fo' one conviction.”
“What about the drugs?” Danny pointed out.
Kobayashi shrugged. “No can get one warrant fo’ search his house.”
“Like I said, people know dis guy. People stay scared. Da judges wen turn us down every time.”
Danny squinted incredulously. “You think he threatened the judges?”
“Maybe. Maybe he no need threaten dem.”
Steve scowled. “All right, you know what? We don't need a warrant. If he's holding ice, we'll get him for possession at least, then we'll see what else holds, yeah?”
Kobayashi sighed. “I'm telling you one last time, brah, bettah leave 'em alone. Dis guy is trouble.” When Steve and Danny didn't look impressed, he shook his head, turning to flip through some files at his desk. “All right, your funeral. I can set you up with a CI, one small-time pakalolo dealah. Da guy live next door to Olokui.”
Steve's eyebrows went up. “Next door? Really?”
A shrug. “Makapala stay one small town.”
“Yeah yeah, all right, what's this guy's name?” asked Danny.
“Maka‘awa‘awa Kilauano-Rice,” said the captain.
Danny gaped. “What? No it isn't, that's ridiculous.”
Despite himself Steve looked amused. “I'm pretty sure Captain Kobayashi here isn't lying to us, Daniel.”
Kobayashi gave the two of them a flat, disbelieving stare. “You haoles goin' die, you know dat, yeah?”
Steve huffed an irritated sigh. “Just tell us what we need to know, okay?”
Kobayashi scribbled on an invoice, handing it over. “Right dea his address. I goin' call fo’ let him know you guys stay comin'. After dat you guys is on your own.”
“Great. Thanks,” Steve ground out, sounding anything but thankful. “You know somewhere we can pick up supplies? Groceries?”
“Get da A Arakaki Store,” Kobayashi said. “Stay right on da highway, no can miss 'em.”
“Right.” Steve nodded sharply, heading for the door. “Come on, Danno.”
Danny trailed after him, taking a last look around the station. Most of the officers were still staring, and some were shaking their heads. He paused at the threshold, making eye contact with one officer who wore a particularly sullen look and glaring right back; after a moment the man's dark eyes slid away. Danny saw him grab his cell phone from his desk and get to his feet, heading towards the break room, and then the front door swung shut between them.
~ ~ ~
“So what are we here to get?” Danny asked as the doors of the A Arakaki Store swished closed behind him.
Steve snagged a basket, glancing at the signs above the aisles of the small grocery store. “You know, just... stuff. Food for a couple of days. We have a budget for this sort of thing, and I don't want to eat our CI out of house and home. We could take turns cooking? I could do steaks for dinner. Beef or tuna.”
Danny scratched at his jaw, nodding. “Sounds good to me, babe. I could take care of breakfast. Bacon and eggs?”
Steve made a face. “Soy bacon?”
“Soy– ugh, ew, God no. Turkey bacon, best offer.”
Steve looked doubtful. “Okay, but I'm making the eggs.”
“You're making the– you got a problem with my eggs, McGarrett?”
“You know I have a problem with your eggs. ...Everyone has a problem with your eggs.”
Danny pulled himself up to his full height (damn McGarrett for being freakishly tall) and squared off with his partner. “Hey. I will have you know, my daughter loves my eggs.”
Steve placed a condescending hand on Danny's shoulder. “Your daughter... loves you very, very much, Danno.”
“Hey. Hey. What are you trying to imply here, huh? Are you trying to imply that my little angel would lie to me? Is that it?”
Smirking, Steve backed away, heading for the meat section. “I'm making the eggs. Hey, grab some milk, will you?”
Danny was already turning away, rolling his eyes. “Yes, dear.”
The store was small, and the eggs and dairy section wasn't hard to find. Danny scanned the shelves, snagging a half-gallon of two percent... then reconsidered, thinking of Steve's serious milk habit, and grabbed a gallon instead. He turned and nearly tripped over a small Hawaiian girl. “Whoa, hey there!”
The girl was about Gracie's age, with tan skin and a halo of curls in the red-gold color he'd seen on a few Hawaiians. She stood very still, and didn't speak, and stared at Danny with wide, brown eyes.
Danny glanced around. He didn't see any obvious parents in the vicinity. He glanced back down at the little girl; she hadn't moved, and was still staring. “Hey, sweetheart. Are you lost?” he asked, softening his voice a little.
She stared for another moment, then shook her head. “...You have funny hair.”
“Yeah?” Danny snorted, amused. Most of the people he'd seen in this town– more of a village, really– were Hawaiian or part-Hawaiian; he wondered if maybe she hadn't seen blond hair very often.
The girl bit her lip, still staring with round eyes. “Can I see?”
Danny's amusement increased. Careful of his bum knee, he eased himself to the floor, kneeling and raising his eyebrows at her.
She leaned in close, solemn and silent. Then, quick as snake, her hand darted forward and yanked out a few strands.
“OW, HEY!” Danny roared, going red; the girl turned and fled, disappearing around the corner of the aisle.
Danny struggled to his feet, grumbling and poking gingerly at his temple. “What the hell was that about? Creepy kid,” he muttered. Scowling, he grabbed eggs and bacon– turkey bacon– and cheese and cold cuts for sandwiches. He made a detour to the bread aisle then went looking for Steve and his basket. After a few moments he found him in the produce aisle... leaning down next to the same little Hawaiian girl.
“Hey!!” Danny shouted sharply, picking up his pace; the girl flinched and ran for the door. A woman, very clearly her mother, wrapped her arms around her and, giving Danny a baleful look, ushered her outside.
Steve was getting to his feet. “What was that about?”
“That kid yanked out some of my hair!”
“...Did she?” Steve frowned, turning to look in the direction the pair had disappeared.
“Some of these kids should be on a leash! Who raises a kid to do something like that?! I mean, geez, I've got enough worries about my hair falling out from the stress of this job without some spooky little girl actually pulling it out by the roots!”
“Hmmm,” Steve commented distractedly, then shook his head, clearing it. “Come on, I think we've got enough to tide us over, let's get to Makapala.”
~ ~ ~
Steve and Danny drove nearly to the end of a narrow, potholed road before turning into a driveway that led up to a sprawling house surrounded by fruit trees and thick brush. As they pulled to a stop, a man stepped down from the broad, wrap-around veranda to greet them. He was old and tan and weathered, salt-and-pepper hair pulled back into a ponytail and graying goatee trimmed neatly. He wore a tattered tank-top printed with the emblem of an outrigger club, faded denim cutoffs, rubber slippers, and a kindly look on his face. A number of Hawaiian tattoos darkened his skin.
“Mr. Kilauano-Rice,” Steve said by way of greeting, stepping forward. “I'm Lt. Commander Steve McGarrett; this is Detective Danny Williams.”
The man grinned a white, toothy grin. “Call me Maka,” he said. He gripped Steve's shoulder and leaned in and Danny's heart stuttered a little because he looked like he was going to kiss him, but Maka placed his head against Steve's, forehead to forehead and nose to nose; Steve, for his part, froze and looked bewildered, but allowed the intimacy. After a second Maka released him and smiled, saying, “Aloha.” Then he turned and reached for Danny.
“Uhh—” Danny faltered, flinching back involuntarily.
“It's called honi,” Steve broke in. He looked bemused now. “It's the traditional ancient Hawaiian greeting.” He grinned at Maka. “I don't think anyone's ever done that to me before,” he said, sounding oddly pleased.
Maka caught Danny's eye, holding up his hands disarmingly. “Okay?” he questioned, waiting a moment, then reaching for Danny's shoulder. “Clasp shoulders,” he instructed, and what the hell; Danny did. “Now we touch foreheads, yeah? And breathe in, through the nose.” Feeling like this was the strangest thing he'd ever done, Danny leaned forward, self-conscious; Maka gently pressed his forehead and nose to Danny's and inhaled briefly, a sharp, soft breath, then leaned away. “We share the hā, yeah? The breath of life. Aloha,” he said, and grinned his bright grin, releasing Danny. “E komo mai, come in, come in,” he insisted, beckoning them toward the house; Steve and Danny grabbed their gear and supplies and followed.
“You understand what we're doing here?” Steve asked once they were inside.
Maka turned to face them with a sigh. “Yes, I understand.”
“And– you don't have a problem with us trying to arrest your neighbor,” Danny prodded.
Maka sighed again. “My only concern is that I do not think you can succeed, and that you are placing yourself in very great danger.”
“Because he's a kahuna,” said Danny, unimpressed.
“You will not find evidence for the people he has killed,” Maka insisted. “Prayer does not leave a trace. But he has killed with his ‘anā‘anā, many times. He is a meth dealer, yeah? He doesn’t like competition. People edge in on his business, people die.” Maka shrugged. “Everyone knows this.”
“If he's so dangerous, why are you helping us?” asked Steve. “Aren't you worried you're putting yourself in danger?”
“I am not worried for myself. He knows better than to try and harm me.” Maka shook his head. “I am not fond of Elika Olokui. He is a menace to the community, yeah? To our keiki. Ice is a poison in our society.”
Danny threw up his hands. “Oh, sure, because he's a drug dealer. Not because of the alleged murders.”
Steve was frowning. “Maka. What do you mean he knows better than to try and harm you?”
Maka made the facial equivalent of a shrug. “I am a kahuna as well.”
“Oh, for Christ's sake,” Danny spat, rolling his eyes.
“I am not a kahuna ‘anā‘anā like Elika,” Maka clarified. “I am primarily a kahuna po‘i ‘uhane, yeah? My skill has to do with the control of human spirits. The art is not inherently harmful, but there are terrible things I could do to him if he crossed me, and he knows it.” Maka's eyes glittered dangerously.
Danny pressed a hand to his temple, pained. “Oooookay,” he said.
The front door opened and Steve and Danny turned to see a young woman walk in, late teens or early twenties, and beautiful, with long, smooth, thick, brown hair. Maka fired off a rapid string of Hawaiian, mentioning “Five-0,” “Steve McGarrett,” and “Danny Williams.” Then he switched back to English. “This is my granddaughter, Kaleilehua,” he explained. “She lives with me.”
“Kalei,” she said simply, then came toward Danny. She leaned in and he braced himself for a repeat of the strange honi ritual, but she merely kissed him on the cheek. “Aloha,” she said, before giving Steve the same treatment. Danny raised his eyebrows, smoothing down his tie.
Kalei exchanged a few words in Hawaiian with her grandfather, smiled at Steve and Danny, then disappeared into another room. Maka rubbed his hands together. “You will want to begin, yeah? Come. You can see Elika's house from my bedroom.”
He led them up a flight of stairs to a bedroom on the south side of the house. Steve and Danny set their bags down and went to the window; Olokui’s house and yard, invisible from the ground floor, was now clearly in view above the thick vegetation of Maka’s garden. Steve nodded. “This will be perfect, thank you. Is Olokui at home?”
“At home, yeah, all day.” Maka hovered in the door. “I can get you anything...? Something to eat, something to drink?”
Steve glanced at Danny for confirmation, then shook his head. “Nothing for now, thanks.”
“Okay. You call if you need anything, yeah?” Maka nodded to them and left the room.
~ ~ ~
Nine o'clock found Steve and Danny slumped near the window, peering boredly into the darkness, their dinner dishes scattered around them. Olokui was still home, had never left; they could see him moving briskly through his house, retrieving various items and carrying them to a room near the back.
“Gun,” Steve said urgently when he saw Olokui carrying a rifle.
Danny scrubbed his hands down his face. “It's registered, he has a license,” Danny said. “Already checked.”
Steve frowned. “Does it look to you like he's packing for something? Hunting trip, maybe?”
Danny ignored him. “So what are we doing here, exactly?” he bitched. “He's not done anything suspicious all day, and we can't search the house, because he won't leave the house!”
“He might,” Maka said from the doorway. “He goes out late a lot of the time.”
“Hey, movement,” said Steve. He and Danny crowded closer to the window; Maka came into the room to peer over their heads. Olokui had left the house through his back door carrying his rifle and a large backpack slung over one shoulder; he crossed his backyard to a small shed half-hidden in the trees and went in, flicking the lights on before closing the door firmly behind him. In the light pouring out of a single small window his shadow shifted, shifted again. “What is he doing?” Steve murmured.
Ten minutes passed. Twenty. Half an hour. Olokui didn't leave the shed. “Something's wrong,” Steve said. “There's no movement.” He shifted restlessly in his seat, then pushed himself up and headed for the door. “I'm going to go check it out. Danny?”
Danny nodded. He glanced at Maka, hesitated, then decided he was reasonably sure the old man was trustworthy and handed him a headset. “Do us a favor, okay? Keep an eye out,” he said, tapping his earpiece and following after Steve.
Steve slipped through the shadows like he was one of them, silent, alert. Danny trailed behind him, kneeling in the cover of some shrubs on the edge of Olokui's property and drawing his gun. He watched Steve steal over to the shed and sidle up to the window, carefully peeking inside. He saw Steve hesitate, give the inside of the shed a more thorough look, and move around to the front of the shed. Steve drew his sidearm, glanced at Danny, and pulled the door open. He lowered the weapon. “There's no one here!”
“What?!” Danny exclaimed, breaking cover and joining Steve at the shed. Steve went in and spun around, looking baffled and furious.
Danny raked his eyes over the interior of the shed, searching; they caught on a disturbance in the pattern of dust, an out-of-place seam in the floorboards. There was a panel in the floor. A trapdoor. “Steve.” Danny pointed at the panel, crouched next to it with his fingertips in the seam. Steve took up covering position; he nodded to Danny. Danny nodded back and wrenched the trapdoor open. Steve quickly covered all angles; nothing. No sign of Olokui.
Maka appeared in the doorway as Steve pulled out a flashlight and shone it into the dark pit, revealing a rocky tunnel. “A lava tube,” Maka said, stunned.
“Dammit!” Steve spat, leaping into the hole and disappearing down the tunnel.
“Steve!” shouted Danny, and, “Oh, God dammit!” and he was scrambling down after him, hot on his heels. After about a hundred yards the lava tube dead-ended with a rockfall and a skylight, and Danny climbed up to find himself surrounded by dense rainforest.
Steve was a few meters away, frantically scanning the underbrush with his flashlight for signs of Olokui's passing. “He's going to get away!”
Danny hurried over to him and grabbed his arm before he could go charging off into the bushes like an angry moose. “Steve! Hey, Steve, what are you thinking, huh? We can't go after him right now, guy's got half an hour on us, and it's the middle of the night! Not even you can track him in pitch darkness! And we can't just go charging off into the woods unprepared, did you see how the guy was packed? He could be days in the woods!”
Maka climbed up out of the skylight. “Elika's been hunting on the Big Island his whole life. He knows these forests like the back of his hand. He could go anywhere on the island and never have to use a trail or go into a town.”
Steve growled his frustration, slamming his hand against a blameless ‘ohi‘a tree.
“Do not worry,” Maka said. “He will not go far before the morning. He will make camp. He will not travel in the forest at night. And neither should you,” Maka warned.
“Even if we caught him tonight, what then?” Danny reasoned. “We don't have any evidence yet.”
“Evidence,” Steve said, raising his head, and then he was scrambling down into the lava tube again. Danny gave Maka a helpless look and then they were following him.
Steve made a beeline for Olokui's house. A brief search turned up several ounces of crystal meth and small amounts of other drugs; he hadn't even put much effort into hiding them.
Danny rubbed his hands together thoughtfully. “That ought to be enough to put him away for, what, at least ten years?”
“We have to catch him first,” Steve said. He frowned into space for a few moments, then turned sharp eyes on Danny. “I'm going after him,” he said. “First thing tomorrow morning, as soon as I can get supplies.”
“Uh-huh,” Danny said. “I hope you know I'm coming with you.”
“We're gonna have to move pretty fast over rough terrain. How's your knee?”
Danny considered the question seriously; he didn't want to let Steve go in without backup, but he didn't want to slow him down, either. “My knee's been good lately. I can handle it.” He caught and held Steve's gaze with a stern look. “I'm not letting you go alone.”
Steve's lips twitched a little, almost a smile. “All right then.” He pulled out his phone and dialed, setting it to speaker.
Chin's voice answered. “Hey, Steve, what's up?”
“We've got Olokui on drug possession, at least, but he ran, escaped into the woods; Danny and I are going after him tomorrow. I need to know where his family's located, see if I can get an idea of where he might be running to.”
“Right,” Chin said. “Kono?”
“On it,” came Kono's voice faintly, in the background.
“Should be just a few seconds,” Chin said. “We put together a pretty decent file on this guy.”
“Are you still at the office?!” Danny asked incredulously.
“Hey, man, there was a lot of paperwork left to do after that last case. You guys are going to owe us big time.”
“Hey, tell me that again after we get back from crawling through the jungle,” Danny shot back.
“Cry me a river, Danny. Did I mention I got shot?”
“Okay, got the info,” Kono said, coming in a little louder over the mic. “Our boy's got a big family, and they're kinda scattered all over the island: Hawi, Kailua, Miloli‘i, Kalapana. I'll email you the names and addresses.”
“Great,” Steve said, “thanks. I'll get Hawai‘i County PD to keep an eye on those locations. See if you can figure out any other close associates he might have on the island; I'll check with the guys in Kapa‘au, see if they have any ideas. I don't think I need to tell you to watch the airports?”
“No worries, boss,” Kono said, “we got it.”
“I know you do. All right, I'll check in with you in the morning,” Steve said, and hung up. He turned to Maka. “How early are the stores open?”
“Out here? Seven-thirty. I may also have some supplies you could use lying around the house,” Maka said.
Steve's eyebrows went up. “If you're sure. Thank you, that's... you don't have to do that. You'll be reimbursed, of course.”
“It's no problem,” Maka said.
“Right, then... I'm going to go to the station in Kapa‘au and see what I can requisition that we can use. Danny, you stay with Maka, see what he's got for us, get it organized.”
Danny nodded. “Got it.”
~ ~ ~
Midnight found Steve and Danny in Maka's living room putting the finishing touches on their packs, short of a few supplies they'd have to pick up in the morning. Maka sat nearby, cradling a mug of some kind of herbal tea with a strange smell; 'māmaki,' he'd called it.
Danny tightened the straps on the rolled-up rainfly they'd be using for shelter in bad weather; finished, he sighed and glanced up. Maka was gazing at something over by the kitchen, his eyes tracking as if watching something move across the room. Danny turned to look; there was nothing there. “What are you looking at?” he asked.
Maka snapped his gaze to Danny; he frowned. Seeming to ignore the question, he set his tea down and stood, coming over to where Danny sat and kneeling. “May I see?” he asked.
“Your eyes,” Maka replied.
Feeling extremely weirded out, Danny tried not to fidget as Maka leaned in and peered deep into his eyes. Maka reached up and gently cradled Danny's cheekbones with his fingertips, moving Danny's face slightly so he could see Danny's eyes from different angles. After a few moments he released Danny and turned away. “Steve?” Maka asked.
“All right,” Steve replied, sounding bemused, and submitted himself to the same treatment.
When Maka was done, he sat back on his heels and frowned. “Hmmmmm,” he said.
“What is it?” asked Steve.
“Your eyes are shut,” Maka replied. “As you are, you will not be able to find Elika Olokui. He will be walking a path that you cannot see. He will step into another world, and you will not be able to follow.” He hesitated. “I can help. It would put you in greater danger, but I can help. I can open your eyes.”
Danny huffed a short, sharp breath of disbelief. “No, really, I think we're fine.”
Maka turned his eyes on Steve. “Believe me,” he said, utterly serious, “you will not be able to find him without my help.”
Steve considered this. “...What do you need to do, some sort of ritual? What would it involve?”
“Just saltwater,” he assured him. “Clean rainwater and ocean salt.”
Steve thought for a moment, then nodded. “Okay.”
Danny felt his eyebrows climb to his hairline. “What, seriously?!”
“It can't hurt, can it?” Steve replied reasonably. When Maka excused himself and went into the kitchen, he added, “It's best just to humor him, Danno. He'll feel better about it.”
Maka returned with a small, shallow wooden bowl, narrower at the top than at the base and filled with water, and a ti leaf, a plant Danny had seen in people’s yards in Honolulu. Kneeling, he set the bowl down on the floor and started shredding the broad, paddle-shaped leaf down to the rib, so that it was fronded like a palm leaf. “You will need to be lying down,” he told Steve. “I think you will be most comfortable on the couch, yeah?” Steve lay obediently on the couch, and Maka scooted closer to him. “This is a prayer to cleanse the spirit,” he explained, “to clear out blockages in the piko.”
“Wait, wait, I know this one,” said Danny. “Grace learned it in school. Piko means bellybutton, right?”
“The piko are the places on your body where mana collects, where mana flows into and out of your body,” Maka clarified. “The navel is a piko; there are several others. The mouth, the nostrils, the eyes, the top of the head, the genitalia, the soles of the feet: these are also piko. Your piko are blocked; this is why you cannot see. I will remove the blocks, clear the channels so that mana can flow.”
“I can see just fine,” Danny grumbled, and Steve gave him an amused look that clearly said shush.
“Close your eyes,” Maka instructed, and Steve did. Maka started chanting then, his voice going resonant and melodic as Hawaiian words poured from his lips; he gestured occasionally. Danny saw Kalei slip into the room and sit quietly, watching.
After a while, still chanting, Maka reached for the ti leaf and the bowl of saltwater. He dipped the leaf into the water and flicked it at Steve, dipped and flicked, dipped and flicked it again, sprinkling Steve's body with a fine spray of water droplets. Setting the bowl and leaf aside, he held his hands a few inches over Steve's clothes, moving them over every part of Steve's body, pausing for long moments over the parts he'd named, chanting all the while. Finally, he dipped his thumbs in the bowl of water, brushed them gently over Steve's eyelids, and brought the chant to an end with a long, resonant, wailing note. “You may open your eyes,” he said.
“Mahalo,” Steve said, and Maka smiled and helped him up.
“Danny?” Maka prompted, and Danny huffed a sigh, lay down, and closed his eyes. He found himself drifting almost immediately, the strange, melodic words of the chant unraveling his thoughts and worries. Half unconscious, he imagined he could feel tingling in his body, the sensation starting from distinct points and spreading out to other parts of his body.
When the last note of the chant died away, Danny blinked his eyes open to find Maka frowning down at him. “What?” he grumbled muzzily.
“Did you lose something recently? Something that belongs to you?” Maka asked.
Danny frowned. “I don't think so. Why?”
“There is a black mark on your spirit,” Maka said. He hesitated. “I do not think you should go on this journey.”
“Excuse me?!” Danny spluttered, pushing himself up. “I just spent the last two hours packing, my partner is going, I am not leaving him without backup, I don't care what your superstitious mumbo-jumbo has to say to you, I am going on the God-damn journey!”
Maka pressed his lips together. He took a breath as if about to speak, held it, let it out again. “...I cannot stop you,” he said, finally. “You make your own choices. I know you do not believe; but please know that I am trying to save your life.” He sighed. “For your sake I hope you catch him quickly. I will do what I can to help you from here.”
Danny’s fists clutched the empty air in irritation, his face going slightly red from the effort of keeping in the words that wanted to force their way through his teeth. He let out a gust of frustrated air, rolling to his feet. “I cannot talk about this anymore. If I have to keep talking about this, I'm going to beat my head against the wall. Just so we're clear,” he proclaimed, and strode swiftly to the far corner of the room, leaning against a wall and crossing his arms, frowning.
Steve was sitting very still, face carefully neutral. “I'm sorry,” he said to Maka after a moment. “No disrespect to your beliefs, but please respect that Danny doesn't share them.”
Maka nodded, looking tense but somewhat resigned. “You do not believe either, yeah?”
“No,” Steve said. “I'm sorry, but I don't.”
“But you grew up here. You know the stories.”
Maka let out a slow breath. “I know you will not believe what I say, but will you humor an old man and listen?”
Steve nodded. “Okay.”
Danny snorted derisively from his corner. Maka ignored him. “All concerns about Danny aside... I mentioned before that I was putting you in danger, yeah? When you leave here tomorrow, you will be leaving the Wao Kanaka, the Place of Man, and entering the Wao Akua. You know what that means, yeah?”
“The Place of Spirits,” Steve replied dutifully, face still neutral.
Maka nodded. “Generally speaking, you no can see them, they no can see you, yeah? But now you can see; this is the danger. Some akua are harmless, even helpful or friendly. But others are dangerous and cruel, yeah? They will kill you if they can. Do not travel at night, and build a fire at your camp. Keep a night watch. Remember the stories. I will send help if I can,” he told Steve, frowning seriously. He thought for a moment, frowning a little more. “...What day is it?” he wondered, eyes turned inward.
Danny spoke up from his corner. “It's Sunday morning, now.”
Maka shook his head and started to count on his fingers, mumbling to himself.
Danny wasn't impressed. “December eighteenth?” Maka mumbled some more. “I'm sorry, what?”
“He's speaking Hawaiian, Danny,” Steve said.
Danny rolled his eyes. “Okay, well, what's he saying then.”
Steve gave him a Look. “I don't speak Hawaiian, Danny.”
Maka stopped his counting, looking very concerned. “It is as I thought. Tomorrow night is the night of Huaka‘i Pō.” He gave Steve a piercing look. “You know what this is?”
Steve sighed. “I know what it means, yes.”
Kalei shifted, speaking up from where she had been sitting and watching, still and silent. “I know you do not believe, but this is not a joke. Their paths are well known to us. I... I have seen them.”
“What are we talking about now?” Danny wondered from his corner. “...Wait, no, never mind, I don't want to know.”
Steve scrubbed a hand down his face, then fixed his gaze on Maka. “Thank you for sharing your mo‘olelo with us. We'll make sure to be careful. But for now, I think, we should get some rest... I want to get started as early as possible tomorrow.”
Maka nodded, somewhat reluctantly. “...Of course. Kalei will show you to your rooms.”
~ ~ ~
It had been a long, long day, but as tired as Danny felt, sleep evaded him. He caught himself yearning for the relaxation he'd felt during Maka's ritual and snorted. He shifted uncomfortably, rolled over, tossed off the covers in frustration. He was too hot to sleep, his sweaty skin sticking to the covers. God-damned tropics. And the night was too loud; outside, in the trees surrounding the house, hundreds of... night birds, or whatever, chirped their strange, fluting calls. Danny could almost ignore this, let it fade into soothing background noise, but every time he started to drift off, a damn gecko chirped loudly from the rafters above his head and he jerked awake again.
It was torture.
Danny would bet money that Steve was sleeping like a baby, the bastard. Probably dreaming happy dreams about field-stripping assault rifles, his smile and the creases of his eyes and his whole damn stupid face gone all soft and adorable like it did sometimes when he thought no one was looking, thrown into contrast with acres and acres of rock-hard muscle and tattooed skin, yeah, it's a sure bet he sleeps with his shirt off, Danny wouldn't be surprised if he slept completely nude, either, he seems like the type—
Danny groaned and rolled onto his back, flinging an arm over his eyes. This was not helping.
Falling asleep: yes, yes please. Thinking about Steve: no, bad idea. Solution: counting sheep, why the fuck not. One cute little fluffy sheep, two cute little fluffy sheep, three I am going to horribly murder that gecko, swear to God, four....
~ ~ ~
Danny woke abruptly from a deep, dreamless sleep and there was a weight on his chest, a body, pressing down on his limbs and pinning him and squeezing the breath from his lungs and he couldn't move and he couldn't hardly breathe, and Danny's eyes were open and it was dark in the room but there was just enough ambient light to see by, but where Danny's attacker was pressing down on his arms and legs and ribcage there was nothing, nothing, there was no one there. Danny tried to thrash and struggle, tried to shout but he couldn't pull the air into his lungs, and then he felt invisible hands creeping up past his collarbone and settling on his neck, wrapping around his throat and pressing, squeezing. His arm was pinned, he couldn't reach his gun; he tried to call out, “Steve,” but it came out not quite a cough, barely even a whisper. Danny's vision started to swim with swirling lights and black spots, and how did that work, how could he see black spots against the darkness, and oh shit, Danny thought, I'm really going to die—
–And the weight lifted off abruptly, gone.
Danny sucked air into his lungs with a wheezing gasp, coughed it out again, curled up from the bed to pull in heaving breaths from over his knees, dove from the bed to grab at his gun, nearly face-planting on the floor before pushing his back into a corner and huddling there, gasping, pistol out and ready.
There was no one in the room.
Danny trembled to his feet, fumbled for the switch of a lamp, and the guest room was flooded with warming, yellow light. The room was utterly empty, no sign that the door or windows had been opened, nothing disturbed, no one hiding in the closet or under the bed (Danny checked). He lowered his gun and just stood in the center of the room, breathing shakily.
What. The. Fuck.
Danny raked a hand through his hair, trying to sort out what had just happened to him. Some kind of nightmare? But it had felt so real, he could've sworn his eyes were open, and he could still feel the ache and burn of his lungs– but no, no, a nightmare, it had to be. It had to be.
Regardless, he was wide awake now, and there was no way he was getting to sleep again any time soon. Danny glanced at the glaring red face of the digital clock on his nightstand– 3:09. He groaned. “...Well–” he said, and headed toward the kitchen, turning on lights as he went.
He brought his gun with him, set it on the kitchen counter, not quite convinced enough that his experience had been imagined not to keep a weapon close. Taking Maka at his word that he should make himself at home he filled a kettle, lit the stove, started rummaging through the cupboards until he found boxes and tins of tea in messy stacks, pulled the box of chamomile out of the Jenga pile. Further searching produced a mug and a teddy bear bottle of honey, and Danny slid onto a barstool to wait for the water to boil.
His thoughts turned, perhaps inevitably, to his ex-wife; he could picture the amused look on Rachel's face, one elegant eyebrow arched sardonically. Yes, well, tea, okay, he still thought that the sheer volume and frequency of her consumption was ridiculous, but his Nana used to make him cups of chamomile sometimes to help him relax, just like this with a little honey in it, it was a comfort thing, okay?
Wrapped in the warm light of the kitchen and the soft, soothing hiss of heating water, Danny felt his shoulders start to unknot and relax. The kettle reached boiling point, announced its readiness with a low whistle that rapidly increased in urgency.
Danny pushed himself up from the stool; turning toward the stove, he caught a glimpse out of the corner of his eye of someone walking through the lit-up living room, a flash of pale, flowing cloth and long, dark hair. “Kalei?” Danny called out, rushing to retrieve the screaming kettle. He filled his mug to the brim, breathed in a cloud of chamomile-scented steam; paused, set down the kettle. “...Kalei?”
Danny moved swiftly to the door connecting to the living room, picking up his gun in passing. As he reached the threshold he spotted a woman in white standing in the far corner; she turned towards him, hair parting around a pale, featureless void, no eyes, no mouth, no face—!
“WHAH!” Danny burst out incoherently, instinct raising his gun arm. The faceless woman took a step backwards– through the wall– and disappeared.
Danny stood frozen, gaping like a fish, his heartbeat thundering in his ears. After several long moments he stumbled back into the relative safety of the kitchen and sat with his back pressed up against a wall, his tea in one hand and his gun in the other.
He did not sleep again that night.
~ ~ ~
Morning found Steve and Danny deep in the thick rainforest of windward Kohala, Danny trailing behind Steve as he exercised the tracking skills he’d learned as a Navy SEAL, following evidence of Olokui’s passage that was invisible to Danny. It was a warm, sunny day, but under the towering ‘ohi‘a and giant hāpu‘u tree ferns the forest was dim and damp, and muddy boots and clothes were rapidly becoming a fact of Danny's existence. McGarrett led a grueling pace through the dense kāhili undergrowth, the fresh, sweet scent of ginger rising with each swing of the machete to mix with the smell of moist dirt and rot.
Lunch, when it came, was a brief affair, but as they walked Steve picked low-hanging strawberry guavas and liliko‘i, tossing Danny's share back to him and insisting he eat all of it, even the sub-par banana poka, to “supplement their travel rations”. Danny could well imagine that the crisp flatbread, jerky, and dried fruit that most of their meals would comprise would do little to satisfy his hunger after a long day of scrambling over logs and under branches and into and out of sheer-sided ravines, but he somewhat doubted that a few pieces of fruit would help.
“Break,” announced Steve as they skidded to a stop at the bottom of yet another of the many ravines. Danny glanced at his watch; Steve hadn't looked at his, but he'd called the break at the exact top of the hour like he'd been doing all day, the freak. Danny dropped his bag and eased himself down a moss-covered boulder next to the water and groaned, closing his eyes.
“How you doing, Danno?” Steve asked, and the tone of his voice made Danny open his eyes and look at him. Steve was eyeing him askance, wary.
Danny groaned again. “Fine, fine, I'm good, I'm just tired, I didn't hardly sleep last night. Noisy gecko in my room, you know.” Steve nodded, seeming to accept this.
Danny stretched out his leg gingerly... his knee was tired, okay, not sore, just tired. He glanced around at their surroundings; dim sunlight coming in green through the low-hanging branches, a small waterfall tumbling down into a deep pool, cool water pressing up against a gravelbar before escaping down a series of mild rapids and disappearing around a bend. It was kind of pretty, actually. All things considered Danny would rather be on the couch watching football, but he had to admit the view wasn't half bad. He turned his eyes to Steve who had dropped his bag but was still pacing, restless, coiled-up energy, a drop of sweat at the curve of his jaw tracing the full length of his neck, eyes turned toward the sky, sharp and bright behind dark lashes... yeah. Um. Yeah.
Steve dropped his eyes to Danny's and Danny shook himself a little. “We should fill up on water,” Steve said. “It's getting late, I dunno if we'll cross another stream before we have to make camp for the night.”
Danny nodded, consolidating the contents of his water bottles and filling the empties. He'd gone through a lot of water; the air was still and humid and warm under the trees, his shirt was soaked with sweat, and they'd been skirting around the backs of deep, cliffy valleys for much of the afternoon. Heights gave Danny dry-mouth, who knew.
Danny dropped iodine tablets into the bottles, shook them, and set them aside. He glanced to Steve, who had finished with his refills and was poking down the bank, sucking on one of those foul energy gels and eyeing the ground for signs of Olokui's passing. “So, we catching up to him, or what?” Danny wondered.
“Hard to say,” Steve replied, shaking his head. “He's got a pretty big lead on us... although not as big as he could have. Maka was right, he didn't go very far last night. He’s got... several hours on us, maybe.” Steve paused in front of a ti plant. “See, look at this,” Steve said, frowning, “he's deliberately torn off a couple of the leaves. I've seen this a few times at stream crossings... I wonder what that's all about?”
“Tell you what, babe, when we catch him, we'll ask him,” Danny suggested.
Steve smirked at him. “...Come on, we'd better get out of this ravine before the sun goes down.”
Danny shouldered his pack and crossed the gravelbar, picking his way carefully over the slick stones at the top of the rapids. Hopping up onto the opposite bank, he turned to see if Steve needed a hand– and of course Steve didn't, he could probably do this blindfolded, what was Danny thinking?
In the next moment the pond exploded, and Danny got an impression of eyes and scales and teeth, wide-open toothy jaws rushing at him, and Danny had just enough time to turn, to get his pack between him and whatever-it-was, when it hit him like a truck. There was a snarling growl and a blast of hot breath, and the thing had its teeth in his pack and was shaking him so hard his teeth rattled. Danny fumbled at the catches on his straps and slipped free of the pack, crawled away a few feet, caught a glimpse of the creature– something like a gecko and something like a saltwater crocodile and something like a motherfucking dragon, its head was almost as big as Danny was– and then it was flinging the pack aside and coming for him again. Danny clasped his hands together and brought his doubled fist down hard on the creature's snout– like you do with sharks, like he'd taught Gracie to do– and the creature roared and shook its head, backing off a little.
“HEY!” Steve was waving his arms, trying to attract the beast's attention, the idiot– and it worked, the creature was rushing him now. In another moment Steve's gun was in his hand and he fired off a shot. The creature roared and thrashed, twisting away from him, and with a hard slap of its muscular tail it sent him flying backwards into the rapids. In a moment the beast was tearing after him again.
“STEVE!” Danny's gun was in his hands and he advanced down the bank, firing shot after shot. The dragon-beast roared again and abandoned Steve, clawing its way over the boulders and disappearing downstream. Danny gaped after it, panting, then holstered his gun and jumped into the water, slipping and stumbling on the rocks. “Steve!”
Steve was still strapped into his heavy pack, struggling to get up against the water pressure. Danny clasped his arm and hauled him up, didn't let go until they were both on dry land again, tried not to freak out about the bloody scrapes on Steve's arms and the small gash on forehead. “Jesus, Steve, look at you, are you okay?”
Steve nodded, panting. “I'm okay, I'm okay.”
“You're bleeding from a head wound, McGarrett, Jesus Christ, where's the fucking first aid kit—”
“I'm fine, Danny, do that later, let's just get away from the water first, yeah?”
Danny's gaze slid from Steve's slightly wild eyes to where that– monster dragon thing had just disappeared. “...Yeah, you know what, we're gonna do that later, let's get out of here, come on.”
They made record time climbing out of the ravine, cursing and slipping as they went, and once on flat ground again Steve collapsed against a tree, gun in his hand and eyes watching the stream bed warily. Danny dropped his pack and dug for the first aid kit, pulling out gauze pads, antiseptic, and butterfly bandages before kneeling next to his partner. “Steve? Look at me. ...Okay, I don't think you have a concussion and it doesn't look like you'll need stitches, but let's get you fixed up, okay?”
“Seriously Danny, I'm fine—”
“Steve. You and your head wound and all of your other wounds have just had a nice bath in water that you've assured me is swimming with leptospirosis and other fine diseases, so we're going to get you disinfected, okay? Don't answer that, that was not a question, this is not a debate. Stay still.”
Steve snorted but laid his head back and sat still, closing his eyes briefly. Danny got to work on his injuries, trying to concentrate on applying iodine and not thinking too hard about whatever-the-fuck-that-was impossible creature that had just tried to eat them– and, well, fuck, that wasn't really working, now was it? “...Steve.”
“...What the fuck was that thing?”
Steve opened his eyes, laughing a little under his breath, looking just slightly hysterical. “...I think that was a mo‘o.”
“Okay, you're laughing, why are you laughing, what the fuck about any of this is funny, Steven, what the hell is a mo‘o?”
Steve shook his head and laughed a little more, that same hysterical, breathy giggle. “It's a Hawaiian mythological beast, their equivalent of a dragon. They don't exist!”
Danny stared at him for a long moment. “...Okay. Okay. Well, clearly they do.” He dropped back on his heels, ignoring the strain that put on his knee. “...What the fuck is going on?”
Steve just shook his head again.
Danny chewed on his lip. “...Hey, uh... you know how I didn’t get much sleep last night?”
Steve blinked at him. “Yeah?”
“...I woke up in the middle of the night feeling like someone was choking me, but there was no one in the room.”
“...Seriously?” Steve's eyebrows climbed into his hairline.
“And then I saw a woman with no face walk through a wall.”
“You saw a mujina? A faceless ghost?”
“I saw a– what, is this like a thing, there's a name for this thing?”
“Yeah, it's– it's like a Japanese thing, a woman with no face, just a smooth, blank space, usually with long hair, a white dress—”
“Yeah, yeah, that's what I saw!” Danny interjected. “Long, dark hair, white dress. ...What about that other thing, the choking thing, is that a Japanese thing, too?”
“Sounds like a choking ghost, or pressing ghost. Those are found in many cultures—”
“What are you, some kind of ghost expert?” Danny demanded.
Steve flushed. “It's not like I ever believed, but Hawai‘i's supposed to be really haunted, I grew up with the stories, you know, people talk—”
“Yeah, well, it's not like I ever believed, either, and then last night I wake up and something invisible has its hands around my throat, and then today some gecko dragon pond monster is trying to kill me!”
Steve was quiet for a few seconds. “I woke up last night too,” he said. “I thought I heard someone walking on the veranda, I mean, I could clearly hear footsteps. But there was no one there.”
Danny spent a few moments digesting that. “...You know,” he said, holding up one finger as he held forth, “it's starting to look like maybe– and I don't want to jump to any conclusions, but just maybe our kahuna friend is not quite as crazy as I originally thought.”
Steve laughed softly, a breathy chuckle. “Yeah, maybe.”
Danny sighed. “...Okay, well, I’ve cleaned you up as best I can, guess we should get a move on, huh?”
“Yeah, good idea. ...Hey.” Steve touched Danny’s wrist lightly, catching his eye. “...Thank you, Danno.”
Danny felt hot, and his ears buzzed a little. He swallowed. “Yeah, uh, you know. You’re welcome.” Steve nodded, releasing him.
Danny’s wrist tingled.
~ ~ ~
They made camp in the brief twilight between sunset and full dark. Olokui had led them along a high ridge above a deep valley, where there was almost a clear path to follow, a pig trail maybe. They found a small clearing with relatively dry, almost flat ground right on the edge of the cliff, and in the last of the light they had a sweeping view up and down the valley. Steve pitched the tent, using the machete to chop guava tent poles for the lightweight rainfly they carried; Danny dug out a roll of duct tape to mend the holes torn in their backpacks by mo‘o teeth and claws.
“Hey. Are we gonna have to worry about more of those mo‘o things tonight?” Danny wondered. “'Cause I'd kind of like to get some beauty rest without having to worry about being some overgrown iguana's chew toy.”
“I hate that this is a question that I have to take seriously, but... nah, Danno, I don't think so. Mo‘o tend to be associated with bodies of water... streams, fish ponds. I think we're okay here.”
“So those weird chirping things all around us aren't baby mo‘o or something, they're birds, right?”
“...What? You mean the coquí? ...They're frogs, Danny. From Puerto Rico.”
“Frogs, seriously? They're, uh....”
“I was going to say 'really annoying', actually.”
Steve smirked. “Yeah, that would be the general consensus on this island. Well, except for the people who think they make cute pets.”
“Oh, yeah, it's so loud I can't hear myself think, these guys would make great pets.” Danny sat down, groaning a little under his breath. God, he was so fucking tired. “...Where the hell are we, anyway?”
“I think we're in the back of Waipi‘o Valley,” Steve replied. “Not far from the town of Waimea.”
“That where Olokui's headed, you think?”
“Nah, we're going the wrong direction. If we're lucky he's headed for Kukuihaele, but at this point, who knows?”
“Well, I'm glad one of us knows where we are. We gaining on him at all?” Danny put his face in his hands and closed his eyes, massaging his forehead a little.
“A little, I think, but he’s moving pretty fast. ...Hey, Danno, you okay?” Danny could hear the concern in Steve's voice and lifted his head, trying to shrug off the exhaustion.
“Yeah, babe, just tired. Today was a bit much on no sleep and not enough coffee.”
Steve's lips twitched into a sympathetic smile. “Come on, let's get some food into you and get some sleep, we're gonna have to get moving as soon as it's light, and there won't be any coffee tomorrow, either.”
Danny chewed and swallowed his dry, cold rations without even tasting them and was asleep before his head touched ground.
~ ~ ~
Danny was up and reaching for his gun before he recognized what had woken him, Steve sitting bolt-upright next to him, frozen still and tense in the darkness. “Steve? What is it?”
“Shh!” Steve hissed, and Danny held his breath, straining to hear over the loud chorus of coquí.
“Drums,” Steve said, and yeah, he could hear them now, those were definitely drums, and yeah, okay, that was kind of weird. A moment later Steve was crawling forward to poke his head out of their makeshift tent, so Danny followed.
Higher up the ridgeline there was a string of hot, bright lights that flickered and seemed to be moving, just slightly, and— “Are those torches?” Danny wondered.
“...They're coming down the pig trail,” Steve said, and stopped breathing. “...Shit!” Steve exploded into motion, propelling himself from the tent and hauling on Danny's arm, “Come on, Danny, we have to go, go go go, now, leave everything, just run!”
“What are we running from?!” Danny shouted as they plunged into the jungle, following the weak, unsteady beam of the LED headlamp Steve clutched in one fist.
“What?!” Danny yelled, and then he only had breath for running, tearing barefoot through the dark, wet forest, ignoring scrapes and bruises and falls, just running.
When Danny's lungs felt like they were about to burst Steve finally slowed down, stumbling to a stop and folding over, hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath. He held a finger to his lips and they both strained to hear over their own heaving breaths and pounding heartbeats.
“I don't hear anything, do you hear anything?” Steve gasped out. Danny shook his head, and Steve collapsed against a tree. “I think we're good. I think we're good.”
Danny gulped down greedy mouthfuls of air. “...Night Marchers?!”
“Maka said so, Huaka‘i Pō, should've listened... Jesus, I can't believe it, actual fucking Night Marchers... that's probably not a game trail, that's probably one of the old ways down into the valley....”
“Okay, wait, even I've heard of these guys... dead warrior chiefs marching around at night with drums and torches, and if they catch you, they kill you, right?”
Steve nodded. “If you can't run away you're supposed to strip naked and lie face-down on the ground and if you're really lucky one of your ancestors will be in the line and will spare your life, but I don't have any ancestors who were Hawaiian warriors, do you? So basically, for us, it's run away or die.”
“Awesome.” Danny looked around, taking stock of their surroundings. They were in the middle of the woods, it was pitch fucking dark, they'd left behind all of their supplies except for a headlamp and a gun, and oh, it was raining now, that was new, great. “So now what?”
“We stay here. Until the sun comes up. And then we go back and get our stuff and get the hell out of here.”
Danny looked around again: damp leaves, damp moss, damp logs. “Awesome. Yes. Well, this looks comfy.” He shivered, suddenly, and wrapped his arms around himself; his body was starting to cool down after all of the running, and the chill breeze and misty rain wasn't helping matters.
Steve flicked the headlamp toward Danny. “...Cold?”
“Yeah, you know what, yes, it is a bit cold. It is surprisingly cold, considering. Aren't we supposed to be in a tropical paradise here?”
“It is winter.” Steve flicked the beam of the headlamp around, taking stock for himself; Danny heard him huff a sigh. “...This isn't good.”
“Oh, 'this isn't good', really Steven, what part of this scenario do you think we could possibly have construed as good—”
“Danny, shut up. ...Look, it's cold, it's raining, we don't have rain gear or adequate shelter... as things stand, we're at risk of hypothermia.”
“Okay, yes. Very good, Sherlock, I agree. What do you suggest?”
Steve huffed another sigh. “Shared body heat.”
“You're suggesting we cuddle?”
“No, you're right, I agree, forget I said anything.”
“Okay. Okay, so—” Steve swung the beam of the headlamp around, searching, then made his way over to a particularly large ‘ohi‘a tree, settling down among its roots on the leeward side of the trunk, where there was some protection from the elements. “Okay. Come here.”
Danny carefully picked his way over to him, then stood staring down at where Steve sat in a tiny pool of illumination, back to the tree, knees up and spread slightly. “...Are you kidding me Steve? I'm supposed to be the little spoon?”
“What– seriously, Danno?”
“Yes, McGarrett, seriously, what are you trying to say here—”
“I'm not trying to say anything! Look, Danno, okay, fact: I'm a little taller than you, and you are, okay, a little bit shorter– ah ah ah!” He held up a finger, forestalling Danny's argument. “I'm not trying to say anything here, I'm just being logical, okay, do you really want to spend the whole night with your nose pressed into my shoulder blade?”
...Yeah, I am not going to answer that honestly, Danny thought. “...Okay, okay, fine,” he said, sighing, and tried not to think too hard about anything as he sat down and pressed his back against Steve's chest, felt Steve's arms and legs wrap around him like an octopus. A muscly, sexy octopus, who was quite pleasantly warm, actually. “...This? Is not fair.”
“Yeah, well, life isn't fair, Danny. And what are you complaining about? Little spoon is the warmer spoon.”
“Oh. Well in that case, thank you, Steven, for your noble sacrifice on my behalf.”
“Hey, you know, you're welcome, Danny.”
They lapsed into a comfortable silence, then, and Danny tried to make sure it stayed comfortable, tried not to think about how he could feel every breath that Steve took in the rise and fall of Steve's chest, in the puffs of warm air on his cheek, his ear, the back of his neck... tried not to think about how comfortable and secure he felt with Steve wrapped up around him, solid muscle hemming him in on all sides, and the man was warm, gave off waves of heat and Danny was so comfortable he could go to sleep right now, just close his eyes and turn his face into Steve's neck and breathe deep....
Comfortable was bad, faces in necks bad, Danny had to be strong, he could do this, this was just like all of those other times Steve had been just a little bit too much inside of his personal space, thigh pressed up against his on a park bench, arm casually stretched behind him on a couch, Danny had very admirably kept his cool during those times, this was just like those times... except that this time was so much worse, wasn't it?
Steve shifted position a little, his forearm brushing against Danny's, and Danny held his breath, forced himself to let it out easy. There was a pause, and then Steve's hand very deliberately brushed up the length of Danny's forearm, resting lightly at the crook of his elbow. Danny shivered, his thoughts going white and staticky a little.
“...You're hot,” Steve said.
“You feel warm. Too warm.” Danny could hear the concern in Steve's voice.
This was closely followed by the feel of Steve's fingers in Danny's neck. “Gah! McGarrett– cold fingers, stop that!” Steve pressed the backs of his fingers against Danny's temple and cheek and Danny changed his mind, leaning into them a little. “No, wait, that feels kind of nice, actually, keep that up.”
To Danny's dismay the fingers withdrew. “Danny, I think you have a fever.” And that was Steve's frowny face, Danny could just hear it.
“Wonderful. Wonderful! Just what I need.”
There was a long silence from Steve, and the general feeling of frownyness emanating from behind Danny's head started to make him twitchy. Finally, Steve just shifted position again, drew Danny closer against his chest and said, “We'll get you some ibuprofen when we get back to camp. Try to get some sleep... being so tired from last night can't be helping.”
Danny thought to make a few comments concerning the clinginess of worried SEALs, but his thoughts were running slow and sticky, and before he could compose a clever enough sentence he fell asleep.
~ ~ ~
Danny woke from confusing dreams about large black birds and the sensation of chasing and being chased to a firm grip on his shoulder and Steve's voice in his ear, soft and low and a little rough from disuse, “Hey. Danny. Come on, Danno, wake up.”
Groaning, Danny squinted open his eyes. There was just starting to be enough light under the trees to see by. Danny had shifted in the night, curling onto his side a little and pressing back into one of Steve's arms; Steve peered at him from a few inches away, too close to be entirely in focus, eyes a stormy dark gray in the twilight. Danny blinked at him. “'Morning,” he mumbled.
Steve's lips twitched into a small smile. “'Morning.” He reached up to touch Danny's forehead; Danny squirmed away from his icy fingers and Steve frowned. “You've still got a fever.”
“Yeah, maybe, or maybe you're just really really cold,” Danny suggested, frowning right back. He snatched at Steve's cold hand, chafing it between his own, then reached up to grab his chin, tilting his face from side to side. “You're looking a little pale, babe.”
Steve smiled again. “I'll be fine once I get moving. ...Come on. Up. Let's find camp and get some breakfast, then we'd better get on the trail again.”
Danny moved away slowly, reluctant to leave his nice little cozy warm spot, pressed up against Steve's chest. Climbing inelegantly to his feet, he groaned again and stretched, popping the kinks out of his neck and spine. “How'd you know when to wake up?” he wondered idly. “I didn't hear an alarm. You Navy guys come with built-in clocks or something?”
Steve hesitated, then accepted Danny's outstretched hand, pulling himself to his feet. “...I didn't sleep.”
Danny's eyebrows went up. “Excuse me?”
“I figured it might be smart to start listening to Maka, keep a watch at night. I slept okay last night, you didn't and you're coming down with something, so.” He shrugged.
“So, what, you figured you'd take one for the team and keep yourself up all night? Without consulting me?”
“I got some sleep in the tent– whoa, okay Danno,” Steve said, holding up his hands in an attempt to forestall a rant, “just this once, all right? You needed the sleep, I didn't. We'll split the watch from now on, okay?”
Danny glared at him. “You're damn right we will.” Stupid, self-sacrificing, mother-henning meathead.
They found camp easily– their wild midnight sprint had left a trail even Danny could follow. Danny swallowed pills and broke down the tent while Steve used some of their minimal supply of fuel to heat water for instant ramen, which Danny was grateful for; it had stopped raining, but the cold and damp clung to him like the mist in the treetops, and even in dry clothes and a fleece Danny couldn't stop shivering.
A few minutes on the trail fixed that problem; soon Danny was sweating buckets as he hauled himself through the underbrush and over logs, feeling even heavier and more tired than the day before. Steve kept up the same vigorous pace, but he cast Danny frequent concerned glances which Danny returned as glares when he caught them.
Their first stream crossing of the day gave them pause; Olokui's tracks brought them to another large pond, its surface opaqued by ripples and reflected sky. Danny stared at Steve. Steve stared at Danny. Danny stared at the pond. “You know, babe, I'm not too excited about trying to cross that. That look like a scaly monster-sized pond to you?”
Steve frowned and moved away a few paces, scanning their surroundings. “Looks like Olokui didn't like it either; he didn't cross here. See, look!” Steve pointed at a fresh scrape in a bank of clay-like mud. “He moved upstream.”
Steve glanced around some more, then backtracked, stopping in front of a ti plant and staring. Danny came over to look; one of the leaves had been torn off. Steve was staring at it like it held the answers to all of life's problems, and would give them up if only Steve chose the correct interrogation technique. “...Steve, what is it?”
“...I'm just remembering something Mamo told me once,” Steve replied, sounding distracted. After a moment he shook his head, tore off one of one of the ti leaves, and tossed it into the pond. They watched as the leaf bobbed peacefully on the surface of the water for a few moments. Then a small whirlpool formed around it, sucking the leaf under before disappearing, leaving the pond's surface placid and empty once more.
“Whoa, okay, guess that answers that question!” Danny said, backpedaling.
“Yeah, uh... let's. Let's go upstream. Yeah,” Steve agreed, hastily leading the way.
They tested the water further up; finding it mo‘o free, they crossed without incident, and then it was back to forging through the damp, slippery forest at a speed man was just not designed to go. They didn't speak much; Danny found he needed his breath for bushwhacking rather than talking. Instead he distracted himself by watching Steve: back straight, machete a natural extension of his corded forearm. His eyes were bright and alert as he scanned the jungle, sifting signs of Olokui's passage, largely invisible to Danny, from the background noise of an endless multitude of fern and moss and leafy branch.
Danny felt a rush of something like affection, or awe, or gratitude. Thank God Steve was here, he thought; Danny would be in serious trouble without him. He didn't know the first thing about mo‘o and choking ghosts and whatever-the-fuck-else for one thing, and he probably would've frozen to death last night for another, and then Steve was just so God-damned capable. Danny wasn't the type of guy to discount his own worth, mind, he knew damn well he was tough as nails and smart and a damned good detective to boot, but his strength lay in figuring out people; and cities, cities he could work with, let him look at a back alley or a hotel room and ask him to find what's wrong with the picture, he could do that, but this... this backwoods stuff was completely out of his element. Steve though, Steve was comfortable here, looked as at-home stalking through the jungle as a tiger would, knew where he was and where he was going and how to get there, and that just impressed the hell out of Danny.
Steve called for a break and Danny sat down gratefully, breathing hard, but he kept watching Steve, eyes lingering on the long line of his throat as he tipped his head back and drank, on his mouth when he gasped in satisfaction and licked his lips. A particularly loud burst of birdsong sounded from a nearby tree and Danny watched Steve turn his head, search out the tiny speck of red feathers amongst the leaves, smile when he found it. Danny smiled, too.
Steve's eyes turned to Danny, and fuck, Danny was staring, wasn't he? He closed his eyes, and that was probably a mistake, too, because all of a sudden he could feel how very fucking tired he was, and now he really wasn't sure he'd be able to get his eyes open again.
“Hey, Danny?” Danny could hear Steve moving closer, heard him crouch down next to him. “You doing okay, Danno?” Steve gently pressed the back of his hand to Danny's forehead.
Danny didn't open his eyes. “You know, Steven, if I'm perfectly honest with you I can say that I've felt better.”
Steve chuckled, a laugh Danny felt more than heard, a puff of warm air across his cheek. But his voice was a worried rumble when he murmured, “Your fever's gone up.”
Steve turned his hand over, pushed his fingers through Danny's hair, and Danny opened his eyes. Steve's eyes were blue– had they always been blue?– dark and a bit green, like the ocean, and the worry in them showed through so strong it made something clench and squeeze in Danny's chest, made it hard to breathe.
“Steve—” Danny started to say, and stopped.
Steve's eyes were like the ocean. His voice was soft and breathless: “Yeah, Danny?”
The moment, precarious, hung between them by a thread for one heartbeat, two– and then snapped with a bloodcurdling scream.
Steve and Danny whirled toward the sound, branches snapping as something fell through the trees, a woman screaming and then a fraction of a second later a dark shape hit the ground with a sickening THUD and the scream cut off.
“Jesus—!” Danny choked out, and then he was running, Steve with him. Within seconds they reached the body that lay crumpled in a heap amongst the ginger and fern, dark hair fanned out in a tangled halo. A woman's body, broken and deathly still.
“Jesus, where did she come from?!” Danny cried, dropping to his knees next to her while Steve hovered anxiously behind him. Danny started to brush her hair to one side. He didn't want to turn her in case she had a spinal injury, but he bared her neck and reached for her pulse. Before he could touch her skin the woman moved. Her neck twisting at an odd angle to face him, the woman gave him a wicked, gleeful smile and abruptly vanished.
Danny shouted and fell backwards, bumping up against Steve's shins. “What the everliving FUCK?!”
Steve was pale and staring. “A ghost. That was. That was a ghost,” he said, sounding shellshocked.
Danny pressed a hand to his chest, trying to slow the frantic beating of his heart. “What the hell, that bitch took ten years off my life!”
“Kolohe,” Steve murmured, still sounding spacey, then translated immediately, “Troublemaker. ...At least she wasn't actively trying to kill us.” He offered his hand to Danny, pulling him to his feet.
“Yeah, well,” Danny replied, rubbing his arms and looking unsettled, “I'm kind of feeling like I want to get the hell out of this place, what do you think?”
Steve shook his head. “No argument there.”
~ ~ ~
The adrenaline rush from their run-in with the trickster spirit only brought Danny so far, and by the time the light started to fade dim between the trees he was exhausted and fighting a dull, squeezing headache. When Steve called a halt for the day, Danny gratefully dropped his pack and sank down against it with a groan.
“You rest up, okay Danno?” Steve said. “I'll be right back.”
“Whoa, wait up, where are you going?” Danny asked, then stopped to take stock of his surroundings. It was lighter than when they'd stopped the night before, and the jungle chorus was still more birdsong than coquí. “...Why are we stopped already?”
“I thought I'd see if I could find some wood dry enough to make a fire. Since, you know.” Steve shifted restlessly. “Maka suggested it.”
Danny considered this for a moment, then settled back more comfortably against his pack. “Good call, babe.”
By the time Steve returned with an armful of twigs and branches, Danny had roused himself enough to rig a sort of lean-to against a large ‘ohi‘a with their rainfly and start digging through their packs for dinner. “So what'll it be, Steven: jerky, flatbread, and dried apples, or jerky, flatbread, and dried apricots? Or shall we get fancy and break out the instant ramen?”
“Apricots,” Steve said decisively, setting down his pile of sticks. He fished a couple of guavas out of his pockets. “I brought dessert.”
Danny paused in his rummaging. “...Huh.”
Steve glanced up from clearing a patch of bare earth for their fire. “What is it?”
“Look what I found crammed way down in the bottom of my pack.” He held the two small items up for Steve's inspection: a little bottle of gin and a pack of cigarettes. “Now, I distinctly don't remember packing these.”
Steve stared. “Maka must have packed them.”
“Well, that was real thoughtful of him and all, but I'm not really much of a smoker, and I'm pretty sure these both fall under the category of 'unnecessary weight'. ...Guess we should drink this tonight?” Danny waggled the bottle.
Steve shook his head, frowning. “We should hold on to both of those. Could be useful.”
“Useful? You mean besides as dead weight in the bottom of my pack? Useful, are you kidding me?”
“I'll carry them,” Steve said, making grabby hands.
Danny gave him a look like he doubted his sanity, which was true, but Steve just stared inscrutably back, so Danny shrugged and handed them over. “Whatever makes you happy, Steven.” Steve tucked them into a side pocket of his pack.
Steve got a small fire going and they ate their rations quickly, huddled gratefully close to its warmth. Danny tried to hide the way his eyelids were drooping, but he must not have been doing a very good job, because the moment he was done with his food Steve announced, “I'll take first watch.”
“Nuh-uh, I don't think so, I'll take first watch. You're not pulling the self-sacrificing hero thing again.”
“Seriously, Danny, look at you, you're exhausted. You need to get some sleep.” Steve sighed, looking Danny in the eye. “I promise I'll wake you when it's your turn, okay? We'll take equal shifts.”
Danny searched Steve's face, but he seemed like he meant it, so he sighed and relented, crawling into his sleeping bag and closing his eyes. They'd been slowly climbing all day; the air was cooler here, and he was grateful for the warmth of the fire on his face. He was grateful, too, that the chorus of coquí had gone from 'deafening' to just 'loud'; he listened to the frogs' strange, piping calls, the crackling of the fire, and the sound of Steve shifting against the broad trunk of the ‘ohi‘a, and he drifted off to sleep.
~ ~ ~
A large weight fell on Danny, wriggling and thrashing, and he shouted, struggling to throw off his attacker. A moment later the weight was gone and he was sitting up, pulling himself free of his sleeping bag and staring about wildly. Steve's hand pressed down on Danny's shoulder, warm and solid, like his voice; “Danny, calm down, what is it, what's wrong?”
“Where is he?” Danny asked urgently. “Where'd he go?”
“Where'd who go? Danny!”
“The guy, whoever that was who just jumped me!”
Steve squeezed his shoulder. “It was just a nightmare, Danny, there was no guy.”
Danny scowled. “It was not a nightmare, okay, something fell on me and it woke me up, I was awake and it was still there!”
Steve stared at him with wide, serious eyes. “I was looking right at you, Danny, there was nothing.”
They paused for a long moment while this sank in, and then Danny groaned and rubbed at his temples. “I hate this.”
“Yeah,” Steve agreed.
Danny let out a big huff of air, forcing himself to relax. Then he turned to Steve, raising an eyebrow. “...So, what, were you watching me sleep?”
To Danny's glee Steve glanced away, looking embarrassed. “Well, you know, Danno, there's not a lot going on, just you and the fire.”
“You were watching me sleep!” Danny crowed.
Steve snorted, turning a fondly aggravated look on Danny. “Just sometimes, don't get excited.” He punched Danny's shoulder lightly. “You've still got another hour or so, you should try to get some more rest,” he said, his face taking on a familiar, mother-henning expression.
“Oh yeah, that seems likely,” Danny scoffed, but he crawled back into his sleeping bag and shut his eyes anyway, making dire mental threats against any annoying spooks that might choose to further disturb his slumber. He concentrated on Steve's comforting presence, the little sounds he made as he fed twigs into the fire, and he found himself slipping into a light, drifting doze.
As he lay there, floating, half asleep, a vague sense of anxiety and unease crept over him. He was unsure, at first, of its source; there was just this unplaceable feeling that something was wrong, something had changed... something was missing.
It was quiet.
Danny jerked awake. The coquí chorus had slowly diminished; the forest was now almost completely silent, as if an aural shadow had been cast over it. Danny turned his head; Steve was alert and tense, wary, stone-still as he listened with intense concentration. He met Danny's eyes, nodded, and Danny quickly but quietly extricated himself from his sleeping bag, grabbing his gun and creeping over to join Steve where he crouched between the fire and the broad trunk of the ‘ohi‘a tree.
Danny made a series of complicated gestures; should he circle away from the campsite and take up a position in some cover? Steve held up a hand– wait– and touched his fingertips to the tangle of ‘ohi‘a roots beneath him. After a few moments Danny could feel it, too: a low vibration in the ground that came in slow pulses, like the footsteps of something very large.
What the–? Danny mouthed, and then they could hear it, too, a thrashing of leaves, a crunching of logs and branches, a squelching of mud and moss. The sound grew louder and the vibrations grew stronger as whatever-it-was approached and what the hell, seriously, what is this, Jurassic Park? Danny had time to think, and then they could see it.
It was shaped like a man, sort of, except that it was ten feet tall with bulk to match and its arms were so long its knuckles nearly brushed the ground; a couple of large, sharp, gleaming teeth protruded tusk-like from its bottom lip, and in the center of its forehead, peering out from behind the messy tangles of its long, matted hair, was a massive, single eye the size of a man's hand.
The creature paused when it saw them, then headed for them with long, purposeful strides. Danny raised his gun and Steve had a hand on his holster, but the creature stumbled to a stop a few yards from them, its one eye rolling downward to stare balefully at the fire. Steve quickly tossed a couple more sticks into the flames; the little fire flared up, and the creature took a step back.
“Danny,” Steve murmured warningly, “let's not shoot it unless we have to, okay?”
“Are you serious?!” hissed Danny.
“I'm not convinced bullets will do it any harm, and I've got a terrible feeling we'd only make it angry,” Steve explained.
The creature rolled its great eye from the fire to them and back again, then shuffled forward, inching slowly closer until Danny's finger was straining against the trigger; then, apparently having come as close to the fire as it was willing to go, the creature sat down across from them, turned its hungry, cyclopian stare on them, and waited.
Danny lowered his gun but didn't let go of it. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Steve turn his head to look at his pile of firewood. Danny waited until Steve was looking at the monster again before glancing at it himself; the pile looked distressingly small.
The long, dark hours passed in a silent staring contest; it was the longest night of Danny's life. The creature was close enough that they could feel its breath; it smelled like old blood and rotten meat. Waves of palpably malicious intent emanated from it, and Danny had no doubt in his mind that the monster would kill and eat them if it could. From time to time the fire would die down and the creature would grow bolder, leaning forward and lifting one long arm to reach for them across the flames. Steve would throw on another small piece of wood; the fire would burn brighter and hotter and the creature would shrink back, fear fighting with hunger in its unblinking gaze.
Steve was sparing with the fuel, but his woodpile inevitably dwindled. When he fed the last stick to the flames the monster leaned forward impatiently, seeming to sense that its wait was nearly over, even though the fire still burned hot and bright. Danny shifted his grip on the butt of his pistol. “Steve,” he said, and was pleased with how even his voice came out, “I think we may have to try bullets after all. Are you ready to run?”
Steve's jaw clenched, but a moment later his eyes went round with surprise. “Danny,” he said, slightly breathless, “I can see.”
Danny blinked, then glanced around, his heart leaping into his throat. Beyond the tiny circle of firelight there was just starting to be enough light between the trees to see by; the sun was coming up at last. If their monster wasn't fond of fire, surely it wouldn't like the sun either, right?
As Danny watched, the creature lifted its head to peer up through the canopy. Danny risked a quick glance; a tiny patch of sky was visible between the leaves, easily more gray-blue than black. The monster lowered its head, fixing them with a furious, monocular glare. A long moment passed; then, with a low, dissatisfied rumble deep in its chest, the creature got to its feet and slunk away, giving them one last, hungry look before disappearing into the underbrush.
Steve and Danny waited for minutes that seemed like hours until they were sure that the monster was really gone. Then, without a word, they packed up their things and hastily left.
“What was that thing?” Danny asked some time later, after they'd put a few miles between themselves and the creature.
Steve shook his head. “I grew up hearing stories of akua, spirits that lived in the darkest parts of the woods, ogres and man-eaters and horrible things. I don't– I don't think something like that has a name.”
~ ~ ~
By late morning there was an abrupt change in the nature of Elika Olokui's trail; where before the evidence of his passing had been almost invisible to Danny, there was now a wide and obvious swath cut through the forest. “He's given up trying to hide his tracks; he's using a machete now. He doesn't expect us to have been able to follow him this far,” Steve said, smiling grimly, stowing his own machete. “This is good. We should be able to catch up to him a lot faster.”
Sure enough, Steve pushed them to a blistering pace. Danny's fever had not in any way diminished, and by the time Steve called a halt for lunch he was sweating through chills and his lungs were burning. Steve's lips thinned when he saw him, and he bullied Danny into a fleece jacket and force fed him some pills.
Danny ignored the way Steve was staring at him and chewed sullenly on an energy bar he couldn't taste– his symptoms now included congestion, to his ever-increasing joy. He could feel Steve's worried gaze weighing heavily on him, and he stubbornly maintained a mask of stoicism, trying to hide the fact that he felt like he wanted to just lay down and die. Somehow he suspected Steve wasn't fooled, the observant, nosy bastard.
Danny was just about to snap at Steve– something nonsensical like, “I can feel your eyes on my face!”– when a crashing in the bushes made them both freeze. Within seconds it was clear that whatever was making the noise was very big and coming toward them, and they dove simultaneously for the relative cover of a log, drawing their weapons. A few moments later a large boar pushed its way through a dense thicket of fern– large like a draft horse is large, and sporting six red, glowing eyes, and yeah, that just wasn’t normal at all, was it?
The giant hog squinted at them, grunting and sniffing the air; then, apparently deciding they weren't a threat, it promptly ignored them and lumbered along on its merry way. When it had disappeared once more into the greenery, Danny let out a breath of air he hadn't known he'd been holding; he turned to Steve, who was frozen in place, eyes out of focus like he was thinking really hard about something. “...Steve?”
Steve huffed a breath, shaking his head as if to clear it and holstering his gun. “Kamapua‘a, the pig god. I was just trying to remember if we were carrying any pork. Clearly not, since he didn't get pissed off.” He chuckled under his breath, sounding slightly hysterical, and shook his head again. “...I feel like I'm going insane. None of this stuff is supposed to be real.”
Danny sighed, giving Steve's shoulder a comforting squeeze. “Tell me about it, babe.”
Steve slowed the pace down a little in the afternoon in deference to Danny, but it didn't seem to help much. Danny's head swam dizzily and everything felt strange, off somehow, like he was just a little bit out of alignment with reality. The chorus of birdsong seemed louder to his ears, and different, like an instrument playing in a different key. The forest seemed strange and different, too; the underbrush seemed thicker, denser, although maybe it just felt that way because moving seemed to require so much more effort now.
The burning in his lungs never really went away, got worse and worse until he had to stop and lean against a tree fern, overcome by a fit of coughing. Steve was at his side in an instant, swearing under his breath as he maneuvered Danny into a sitting position. “That's it,” he growled, tense, “I'm calling for medical evac.”
“No, Steve, I'm okay,” Danny protested, probably ruining the effect by croaking raspily, “don't worry about it, I'll be fine—”
“Danny,” Steve snapped, cutting him off sharply. “Don't be ridiculous, you're sick and you're only getting worse, not better, you're not in any condition to be doing anything other than lying in bed!”
Danny peered up at Steve's haggard and worried face through tearing, blurry eyes. He sighed, which only made him cough more. “...Okay, all right, fine. Call them.”
“I wasn't giving you a choice, Danny.” Steve was already digging through his pack, pulling out the emergency satellite phone and pacing impatiently while the phone powered on. After a minute he stopped pacing and stared at the screen, then glanced around. “I'm not picking up any satellites. The canopy must be too dense. I'm going to try to see if I can get better signal.” He fixed a glare on Danny. “Don't. Move.”
Danny saluted weakly and then watched in a mix of amusement and alarm as Steve scrambled quickly up a tree. No wonder Grace likes him, he's got to be at least half monkey, Danny mused. He settled in to wait for Steve, concentrating on sitting still and breathing without coughing. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out.
A nearby bush shook and Danny turned his head. A pigeon-sized black bird had alighted near him, sporting a long, curved bill and bright yellow feathers on its wings, rump, and underside. As Danny looked on it fluttered its wings, drank from a white and purple flower curved to the same shape as its bill, looked Danny straight in the eye, and flew off. “...Huh,” remarked Danny.
There was a scuffling noise and Steve slid to the ground, frowning. “I got clear of the canopy, but I'm still not picking up any satellites. I can't figure out what's wrong; I tried turning the phone off and on again... as far as I can tell, the phone's working perfectly. I....” Steve shrugged helplessly. “I don't know what to say, Danno.”
Danny considered this information carefully. “...Exactly how much in the middle of nowhere are we, babe?”
Steve huffed a sigh. “Pretty far from everything. Our guy seems pretty intent on losing himself in the backcountry. There's Keanakolu Road above us and the Māmalahoa Highway below us, but it's a several-hour hike to either one.” Steve's expression went thoughtful, calculating.
“Several hours in the wrong direction, right?” Danny shook his head. “We can't lose this guy, Steve, not on account of me. If Olokui's trail keeps going the way it's going, when's the first time we hit civilization?”
Steve licked his lips, thinking. “...Saddle Road, late tomorrow, maybe.”
Danny thought this over. “I can do that. I can do another day.”
“Steve, I'm serious. This guy's been getting away with murder for years, he belongs behind bars, we can't just let him disappear, and you know he will if we let him. I can do this. I may not have gone through SEAL boot camp and all of that, oorah, but I can hike through a fever for another day, I am strong and manly, I assure you, I can totally do that.”
Danny fixed Steve with a serious look. The anxious wrinkle on Steve's forehead wasn't going away anytime soon, but there was a familiar hint of amusement in Steve's eyes, a touch of warm fondness that made something deep in Danny's chest go all tingly. Or maybe that was just another coughing fit coming on. “...Yeah, okay Danno. One more day.”
Danny pushed himself to his feet, ruthlessly quashing the urge to cough. “All right. Let's get a move on, then.”
They pushed forward through the unforgiving jungle. Danny's face became etched in hard lines of grim determination, and if he noticed that Steve's pace had slowed, he didn't spare breath to comment on it.
When the daylight had dimmed and they stopped to make camp, Danny was wheezing and suppressing a coughing fit by sheer force of will. “I'm gonna go...” Steve said, gesturing vaguely, “...firewood, yeah?” Danny could only nod, closing his eyes so he didn't have to see the worried frown on Steve's face.
Danny leaned back against a tree, concentrating hard on breathing evenly. The thought occurred to him to get up and start setting up camp, but his lungs were on fire and he felt kind of nauseous and his entire body ached, and moving just seemed like far too much effort.
A loud flapping of wings and a hoarse croak opened his eyes and turned his head. On a low branch a few yards from him a large, black bird, a crow or a raven, fluffed its feathers and slanted a beady eye at him. ...Huh, Danny thought. Are there ravens in Hawai‘i? The raven cocked its head, examining him with the other eye; Danny cocked his head as well, mirroring it. “Hi,” he said, and exploded into a storm of coughing. The bird croaked loudly and took off between the trees. Danny gasped for breath; “Same to you,” he rasped.
Steve returned, and Danny left him to the ambitious task of erecting their makeshift tent while Danny boiled water for ramen and dried mushrooms. Danny concentrated on slow, even breaths; the wet rattling of his breathing sounded unnaturally loud in the stillness of the forest.
Danny blinked. “Hey,” he said– not too loudly, to avoid triggering his lungs. Steve glanced up. “No frogs,” Danny said.
Steve tilted his head, listening; the chorus of frogs was entirely silent, not even a stray, distant chirp, leaving only the softer song of crickets. “...Huh,” Steve said. He thought about this for a moment, then shrugged. “We've been climbing all day; I guess it's too cold for them up here.”
“It's too cold for me up here,” Danny grumbled, then sighed, coughing a little. “Guess maybe I'll be able to get some decent sleep, though.”
Danny took first watch, bullied Steve into acquiescence under the argument that he hadn't slept at all the night before. Danny settled down by the fire, his back pressed up against the broad trunk of what Steve assured him was a koa tree, and wished fervently for a night without monsters.
Danny's world narrowed down to the sight of orange flames and the sound and feel of his own breathing: in, out, in, out, fight the urge to cough, in, out. His eyelids drooped heavily, and he felt himself drift, half-sleeping.
Steve yelled and Danny started awake, reaching for his gun. “What? Steve, what is it?”
Steve hissed in a pained breath, swearing and clutching one hand. “It bit me!”
“Bit you? What—” The rest of Danny's words were swallowed by coughing. Steve made as if to crawl out of his sleeping bag and come over to him, but Danny held up a hand, shuddering with the effort of bringing his lungs under control. Steve sank back reluctantly.
“...The pain woke me,” Steve explained. “I open my eyes and there's this short, squat little thing, almost human, but– not quite. Big, white, gleaming teeth, and it was biting down on my finger, hard. I tried to hit it and it disappeared.” Steve massaged his fingers, grimacing.
“So, what, finger-biting ghost midgets now?” Danny considered this. “That's fucked up,” he decided.
Steve lay back with a sigh. “Yeah.”
“Your hand okay? You need some disinfectant or something? ...Ghost disinfectant?”
“It’s fine,” Steve said. “Didn’t break the skin. Might bruise, though.”
Danny shook his head. “...Go to sleep, babe. You've got a couple hours yet.”
~ ~ ~
The morning dawned cold and clammy. Danny chewed his breakfast without tasting it, silent, his brain fuzzy with exhaustion; he stared blankly into the bushes and didn’t think about much of anything at all. Steve kept his thoughts to himself.
Danny blinked. A small, discrete clump of shrubbery was rustling and shaking. Before he could make up his mind what to do about it, the leaves parted and a dog trotted into view, a classic mutt: brindle coat, smallish, one ear floppy and one ear straight, tongue lolling out of its mouth in a wide, doggy grin. The dog paused when it saw them, and then its tail started wagging furiously.
Steve gaped. Danny gaped. “...Huh,” Steve said.
The mutt took a few steps closer, wary, and glanced between them, flailing tail a blur. Danny glanced at Steve. “You, uh, know any stories about horrible scary dog monsters?”
Steve was gnawing on the inside of his lip. “Not... that I can think of,” he allowed.
Danny looked back to the dog. It looked friendly, happy, harmless. He shrugged, patting the ground at his knee. “Here pup! Come here!” The mutt came to him instantly, wriggling and squirming with delight, crawling up into his lap and covering his face with warm, wet kisses. Danny laughed, grinning delightedly. “Hey! Hey, uh–” he took a quick moment to check, “–hey, girl! What are you doing out here all by yourself?”
Steve walked over to them, slanting an anxious glance at Danny as he attempted to smother a coughing fit against his arm, then cast his eye over the dog, assessing. “She looks like she’s in pretty good condition.” He smiled and crouched down when she ran over to him, allowing her to press a wet nose into the palm of his hand, licking his fingers, before skittering away from him and back to Danny, excited and indecisive. “Where’d you come from, huh? Are you lost? ...She could be a hunting dog, but she seems a bit small....”
Danny beamed, his lap full of warm, wriggling puppy. He turned his grin on Steve. “Can we keep her?”
Steve laughed. “Why not? We can get her back to civilization when we get to Saddle Road, try and find her owner.”
The dog seemed to think this was a good idea. When they packed up camp and took off on Olokui’s trail, she came with them, trotting along happily, her tongue lolling. She would disappear into the bushes occasionally, for a few minutes or most of an hour, but she always came back.
That day was a struggle for Danny, his exhaustion weighing heavily on him. The ginger was gone from the forest, which Danny was glad of; he didn't miss tripping over the lumpy, tuberous roots, especially as his balance was off and he felt more than slightly disconnected from his body. The chorus of forest birds seemed deafening, although maybe that was Danny's pounding headache talking.
Steve followed Olokui's tracks in silent, grim determination, but when a large flock of green birds with yellow heads flew past them, chattering loudly, he stopped and blinked at them. “...Huh,” he mused. “I don't think I've ever seen those birds before.”
Danny didn't think this was particularly a reason to stop the presses, honestly, Steve was a Navy SEAL, not David freaking Attenborough, and also they were here to catch a murderer, not check the ivory-billed woodpecker off their birdwatching lists. He didn't say so, however, as he was far too busy trying to figure out how it was possible for him to feel hot and cold at the same time, that's shivers and sweat, by the way, and anyway he had the distinct impression that if he opened his mouth just then he might throw up.
Danny realized a moment later that maybe he should've made an effort anyway, because Steve turned to look at him, clearly waiting for the sort of diatribe experience had taught him to expect from Danny. A series of expressions crossed his face too quickly for Danny to read, and Danny wondered how godawful he looked, whether Steve could see how faded Danny felt. Before he could stave off Steve's worried needling, however, Steve had turned away and started walking again; Danny stumbled to keep up. For a few paces silence stretched awkwardly between them.
“...So this one time in Vietnam, my team and I were deep in the Mekong Delta, and we were running short on MREs,” Steve said, and Danny glanced up at him in surprise. Steve ignored him, going into a long, intricate, and hilarious story involving Killer's worn-out boot and a statue of Vishnu. When he was finished, he told the one about the fake mustache and the jade ceremonial pipe in China, and the one about target practice with Rawhide's Carmen Miranda poster in Sudan. Steve kept talking as they burned through miles of thick forest; as a distraction tactic it was obvious and heavy-handed and it worked stupidly well, and the burning in Danny's lungs was joined by a sweet ache in Danny's chest that was heavy with gratitude and fondness.
Danny wanted to kiss him so badly he couldn't quite see straight.
He barely noticed, wrapped up as he was in Steve’s stories about grenades and LEGO Batman figurines, but as the afternoon wore on the forest dried out, opened up a bit. A dense fog rolled in, obscuring the world in a white shroud from which dark, twisted trees would emerge as they walked. The ground began sloping down again, and then they started crossing black strips of lava.
Danny had mixed feelings about the lava. It was a relief to break out from the patches of forest, to not have to climb over and under and around and through Mother Nature's perverse obstacle course; on the sections of smooth pāhoehoe the going was actually what someone might even call easy. But the fields of sharp, unstable ‘a‘ā rubble were worse than anything they'd had to cross previously, and Danny lost his footing and his blood more than once on the rough lava.
Their pace, meanwhile, had slowed to a crawl, and Steve left off the storytelling to curse viciously under his breath. “Problem, babe?” Danny asked.
Steve clenched his jaw grimly, shaking his head. “Finding Olokui's trail is... not so easy on this bare rock. I mean, I can do it– disturbances in the lichen and so on. It's just– hard.” He clawed fingers through his hair, swearing again. “We’ve actually been gaining on him, he’s not really hurrying anymore, but. This is taking too long. He's going to pull away from us.”
On some level, Danny was grateful for the break. He hung back, coughing as unobtrusively as possible while Steve scoured the rock for signs that were completely invisible to Danny's eyes. Danny stared into the fog, watching phantom shapes appear and disappear in the swirls of mist. He wondered idly where the pup had run off to; she’d been gone about forty-five minutes.
As if summoned, a few moments later the brindle mutt emerged from the fog. She danced around Steve’s ankles and barked; Steve reached down to pet her but she dodged, trotting away across the lava. She stopped when she was thirty feet away from them, sat on her haunches, and barked again.
“What are you doing, girl? Come here!” Danny called. The dog stretched her legs out, lying down, and barked again somewhat pointedly. “What's up with her?” Danny wondered, and Steve shook his head. He walked over to her and bent down, offering his hand, but she didn’t budge.
The mutt whined at Steve and pawed at the ground, nails scrabbling against the rock. Steve stared at her. She barked. For a few moments Steve just stood and frowned at her, then his eyebrows went up and he started forward in surprise.
“That's a scuff mark from Olokui's boot!” he said, kneeling down to take a closer look at it. The mutt immediately sprang to her feet and took off across the lava, stopping after about ten yards, sitting, and barking sharply.
Danny raised his eyebrows. “Call me crazy, but I think she wants us to follow her,” he said.
Steve strode over to where the dog waited, quickly finding the blade of recently-crushed sword fern. He shook his head, bewildered, as the dog trotted ahead, stopped, waited, barked. “...I guess this solves our tracking problem?”
They travelled this way for some time, the dog running ahead then waiting by some near-invisible mark or sign, until it became fairly well established that yes, somehow the brindle mutt was guiding them along Olokui's path. Seemingly able to gauge Steve and Danny's faith in her, she stopped pausing at scuffs and marks and merely trotted along ahead of them, trusting them to follow her. Often as they passed through kīpuka, patches of forest in the lava plain where the trees and brush grew thick and the trail was easy to follow, she would slip away into the bushes again, but she would always reappear immediately when their progress faltered.
When the daylight, already weak and diffuse from the fog, began to fail entirely, Steve and Danny began to make camp at the edge of one of these kīpuka, laying their sleeping bags on the flat pāhoehoe but using the island of trees for shelter from the elements. Their canine guide, apparently bored with the proceedings, pulled her disappearing act; Steve went in search of firewood, leaving Danny alone to listen to the rattling of his lungs as he started organizing their meal.
A rustling of wings caused Danny to look up from fiddling with their tiny camp stove; a large raven had alighted in the lichen-shrouded koa tree above him. The bird turned one beady eye on him, tilted its head, and croaked. “You again,” Danny greeted it, and coughed. “...What do you want this time?”
A moment later a second raven arrived, flapping loudly, and shortly a third landed in the tree. Dinner temporarily forgotten, Danny stood looking upward in bemusement as a few more joined the group, all of them ruffling their feathers and croaking hoarsely and staring down at him.
“What the hell?” came Steve's voice from off to one side. Danny glanced over to him; he was clutching his pile of twigs absently and staring up at the birds with a deep wrinkle of bafflement on his brow.
Danny coughed a few times. “...Pretty weird, huh? I saw one of these guys the other day. I didn't even know you guys had ravens in Hawai‘i. Look, here comes another one!”
Steve frowned. “‘Alalā,” he said, “the Hawaiian Crow. Well, actually, a kind of raven.” Two more alighted in the tree; Steve blinked rapidly a few times. “They're... they're supposed to be extinct in the wild.”
“Apparently not. Hey, score one for the treehuggers– shit!!” Danny ducked and covered his head as one of the birds dived at him, raking his forearms with its claws.
“Danny–!” Steve exclaimed, and then there were birds everywhere, buffeting them with their wings, scratching with their claws, and pecking with their great, dangerous beaks. Steve drew his weapon and fired it into the air, hoping to frighten the birds away, but the mob only attacked with even greater ferocity. It was all Steve and Danny could do to protect their heads and faces from sharp beaks and claws.
An unnatural, echoing howling filled the air, so loud it vibrated in their bones; a giant dog the size of an elephant came hurtling around the edge of the kīpuka, jaws frothing with saliva and eyes glowing red. Danny and Steve threw themselves towards the cover of the trees as the gigantic hound burst into the midst of the attacking ravens, snarling, jaws snapping. It crushed a couple of the birds between its teeth, flinging their lifeless bodies to the side with rough shakes of its great head. In short order the cloud of ravens dispersed and fled, winging their way southward until their hoarse cries faded from hearing.
The giant beast gave one last, ear-shattering, triumphant howl. Then the great hound shrank down rapidly until their little brindled mutt sat on the lava wagging her tail, her grinning mouth stained red with raven blood.
Steve gawked. “Danny. Holy shit did you see that? Danny.”
Danny was coughing and unable to stop, coughing so hard tears were streaming from his eyes and he couldn't stand up.
“Danny!” Steve rushed over to him, his face lined and etched with worry, hovering ineffectually until he settled on supporting Danny, holding him up while he coughed so he didn't fall over onto the sharp lava.
Through his tear-blinded eyes and the painful convulsions wracking his body, Danny was dimly aware of the brindle mutt skittering back and forth in front of him and whimpering in distress. He closed his eyes, tried to find something to distract himself, maybe disrupt the coughing reflex; he latched onto the feeling of Steve's broad hand rubbing up and down his back, soothing; to the low rumble of Steve's voice as he murmured comforting nonsense.
Danny's coughing did not cease, but eventually the spasms came less forcefully, a series of weak coughs following every breath. Steve ordered him to sit down and keep still, keep quiet; Danny coughed and coughed, curled his fingers absently into the fur of the brindle mutt where she lay pressed up against his legs. He watched Steve build the fire and finish dinner, his expression fixed in a pinched and anxious look. It twisted something deep in Danny's gut, knowing he was the cause of that look.
“Hey,” Danny gasped out between coughs.
Steve's head jerked up. “Yeah, Danny?” he asked, breathless, ready to move, ready to jump to Danny's every need. Danny's heart squeezed painfully.
“Aneurysm face,” Danny rasped.
Steve stared, and then he smiled a little; and the pinched look never left his eyes, but even so it was a real smile. “No talking, Danny.”
They settled down to eat as the last of the light faded, Danny sipping broth carefully between coughs, the dog tearing happily at one of the ravens she'd killed. As they ate, the fog thinned and dissipated and the stars came out, the great masses of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa silhouetted against the deeper black, ribbons of pāhoehoe shining silver in the weak light of the rising sliver of a moon.
Coughing into the crook of his arm, Danny watched Steve stand up and stare into the distance, to the north, to the south, to the east. He was frowning in a way that had nothing to do with Danny's respiratory difficulties, and Danny wasn't sure whether to be relieved or deeply, deeply concerned.
“Babe,” Danny said, and he meant to follow it up with a question, but instead he burst into a fit of coughing.
Steve answered him anyway. “We should've crossed Saddle Road today. I thought maybe I was confused, it was foggy, maybe we weren't as far south as I thought we were, but....” He gestured vaguely to their surroundings, encompassing all directions. “It's a fairly heavily-traveled road,” he said, then clamped his mouth shut unhappily. He started again. “We should be able to see headlights.” He gestured to the massive silhouette dominating the northern horizon. “We should be able to see headlights on Mauna Kea Road.” He gestured to the east. “We should be able to see the lights of Hilo.”
Danny looked. They were surrounded by black. The only lights were the stars and crescent moon. They weren't lost; Steve knew exactly where they were. They were camped on a vast lava plain and they could see for miles in all directions. And the roads and automobiles and the largest town on the island were just gone. Missing.
Danny began to feel something very much like fear.
Steve sat down again, grim-faced, and the two of them quietly contemplated their situation. The silence and the implications weighed heavily on Danny, squeezed his throat, made it hard (harder) to breathe. He had to say something, anything. He swallowed a round of coughs, tried to make light of things. “...Well, Toto, looks like we're not in Kansas anymore,” he croaked.
Steve wanted to laugh, Danny could see that, but he couldn't quite manage it. He shook his head. “We have to catch Elika Olokui, or I don't know how we'll get back from... whatever this is.”
“Then we'll catch him,” Danny said, and then couldn't speak again for coughing.
Steve's grim face only got grimmer as he cleaned up to the soundtrack of Danny's gasping, rattly breaths and tortured, painful coughing. After a few minutes Danny got himself somewhat under control, reverting to his new default of constant, quiet coughs. “I'll take watch, Danny, you go to bed,” Steve said softly.
Danny grimaced, rubbing absently at his chest. “Well, you know, Steven,” he gasped out between coughs, “I would dearly love to, I mean that, I cannot even begin to tell you how very much like shit I feel, but it's just not going to happen. I'm not going to be able to sleep, coughing like this.” Danny paused for a fierce bout of coughing, as if to prove his point. He swallowed, winced, continued. “I'll take first watch, and maybe by the end of it, if I'm lucky, I'll be tired enough to pass out.”
Steve reluctantly agreed, and Danny watched him settle himself into his sleeping bag, the dog curled up next to him, as Danny tried to make himself comfortable near the fire. “Goodnight, Dorothy,” Steve said.
~ ~ ~
The night was dark, and very, very cold, which only seemed to exacerbate Danny's cough. Danny bundled up as much as he could, and built the fire up as much as he dared (after the incident with the one-eyed akua he was leery of burning through their woodpile too quickly). The worst of the coughing came in waves, and Danny did his best to smother the noise against his jacket sleeve, eyes on Steve who frowned in his sleep at the sound of it. Danny tried not to stare at the wrinkle that had taken up permanent residence on Steve's brow, or at the way the firelight caressed his stubbled jaw; instead he looked out into the dark, listening to the chorus of crickets. From time to time strange, eldritch lights rose in the west, spheres of flame that soared through the black, changed direction, shot themselves over the horizon like meteors. He watched them burn in the sky, and shivered.
When the moon had climbed to the roof of the sky, exhaustion began to wear at him. He closed his eyes as the convulsions shook him, tired to the point of aching and wishing fervently that the coughing would just stop. He was coughing so hard he almost didn't hear it the first time.
His eyes snapped open.
That was Rachel's voice.
Danny scrambled to his feet, coughing. “Rachel?!”
“Danny, come here.” Rachel's voice came from some distance away, from inside the forested kīpuka. She sounded urgent, maybe a little frightened. Danny stumbled toward the sound of her voice, pushing blindly into the dense underbrush.
“Rachel, where are you?!”
He coughed; sharp branches clawed at his face. “Rachel, what are you doing here? What's wrong?”
“Just come here.”
“Okay, okay, I'm on my way, just stay where you are!”
A heavy hand clamped down on Danny's shoulder, stopping him. Danny turned, struggling; it was Steve. His face looked ashen in the moonlight. “Don't go,” he said. “Never go when they call you by name.”
“Danny!” Rachel's voice sharpened with alarm and fear.
“Steve, let go of me!” Danny cried, coughing and fighting to break Steve's grip.
Steve held on tighter, wrapping his arms around Danny's torso and holding his ground. “Danny, Danny listen to me, that's not Rachel, that's not Rachel, it's a calling ghost, it's trying to kill you, Danny!”
Rachel's voice was frantic now, panicked. “Danny! Danny, come here! Danny!”
Danny struggled to break free, nearly crying with frustration. “What are you doing, Steve, that's Rachel! Can't you hear her? Let go!”
Steve dug his heels in. “Danny, think! You know that's not Rachel, it can't be, she's not here, Danny, she's on O‘ahu with Grace!”
Danny faltered, the gears of his mind turning. He was suddenly aware of Steve's wide, frightened eyes, and the dog at their feet, staring into the brush, hackles up and growling. Steve was right; Rachel couldn't actually be here... could she?
Rachel's voice changed timbre suddenly, angry and rageful. “Danny! Come here, Danny! Come here!”
Danny slumped in Steve's arms, coughing weakly and shaking his head. “That's not Rachel. It can't be.”
The voice was incensed now. “DANNY! YOU COME HERE RIGHT NOW, DANNY! RIGHT NOW!”
Steve started to pull Danny back toward camp, away from the trees. The thing with Rachel's voice raged, impossibly loud, “YOU COME HERE RIGHT NOW! YOU COME HERE RIGHT NOW!” Trees thrashed as if in a high wind. The voice was Rachel's, but wrong, twisted, demonic. It roared and screamed at them, murderous.
Danny felt sick.
Steve pulled Danny down next to the fire, and they huddled together while the hellish thing bellowed. It gave one last wordless cry of rage and then abruptly fell silent, leaving the night deathly still. After a few moments the crickets started up again.
Danny sat curled against Steve, shaking and coughing weakly, his face pressed into Steve's shoulder. “Fuck,” he whispered.
“I know,” Steve murmured, wrapping his arms tightly around Danny. “I know.”
They sat that way for a long while, shoulder pressed to shoulder and heads together, shaking with the force of Danny's incessant coughs. Danny's eyes began to droop shut and Steve shook him gently. “Hey. Go to bed, Danny. It's my watch by now anyway.”
Danny lay down and closed his eyes, the dog curling up next to him. He drifted in a dizzying, confused state, half awake, half dreaming, bouts of coughing preventing him from reaching true sleep. He opened his eyes a few times to find Steve watching him, and Steve would quirk a small half-smile at him; other times he found Steve staring upward at the stars, a vague, distant frown on his face.
~ ~ ~
Danny slowly became aware of ambient light behind his eyelids and the small sounds Steve made as he moved around, the clank of pot and lid, the low hiss of the stove. Danny felt like crying. He'd had no kind of real sleep; he was bone-tired, and another full day's forced march over rough lava felt like more than he could bear.
By the smell of it Steve was making ramen again; the broth was easier for Danny to swallow and soothed his burning throat. Danny worried about the fuel they were using, and the water even more so; it had been a while since they'd crossed a stream with water in it. How much water did they have left? Was Steve drinking less than he should to accommodate? Danny wouldn't put it past him. He felt a stab of guilt at the thought. How much was Steve giving up for him? How much was Danny slowing him up? He knew they were only a few hours behind Olokui now; would Steve have caught him already without Danny's dead weight dragging him down?
Danny shook himself, trying to derail his little train of self-pity. Shame on you, he thought. You know Steve would never think of you as a burden. And if he knew what you were thinking it would just give him one more thing to frown about.
Steeling himself, Danny opened his eyes. He lay still and just watched Steve for a little while, breath fogging in the chill morning air, moving with military precision and efficiency. Danny smiled; Steve was just so... Steve, and there was something comforting, something warming about that. Danny cleared his throat, winced at the burn of raw tissue, croaked, “Hey.” Steve looked up at Danny and smiled, fond, and the warm feeling expanded; but then Steve glanced up, above and behind Danny, and his eyes widened and the smile dropped from his face.
Danny turned to look. Very close, looming over him, was a column of pale, misty air. Its features were vague and transparent and indistinct, but it was very definitely human.
Danny yelled, and flailed, and the apparition vanished. Danny curled in on himself, wracked with coughs.
Steve sprang up and rushed over to him, crouching down. “Danny!” He hovered, uncertain, laying his hands gingerly on Danny's shoulders, and the pinched look around his eyes was back and Danny hated it, hated the sandpaper scrape in his throat and the drowning feeling in his lungs and the tears that blurred his vision, but most of all hated, hated that look in Steve's eyes.
Eventually Danny quieted down to a low-grade, continuous cough, and Steve handed him a bowl of ramen and frowned at him until he ate some of it. Danny rubbed at his chest and tried not to grimace.
Steve was still staring at him, all frowny-faced and irritating. “So, uh... it didn't sound like you slept much, huh, Danno.”
“Not so much, babe,” Danny croaked. “And how 'bout you? Any scary... er-than-usual spooks?”
Steve shook his head. “The rest of the night was pretty quiet. ...Well. Saw a lot of fireballs.”
“Yeah, me too. What are they?”
“Spirits, I guess,” Steve said, shrugging. “Don't know much about them, but I know they're supposed to be common in this area.” He swirled his bowl of ramen, frowning into it. “I didn't see any satellites last night. And the observatories are gone.” He jerked his thumb at Mauna Kea, clenched his jaw. “...It's like people were never here.”
Danny considered this in silence, swallowing careful gulps of noodles and broth, looking up at the immense profile of the snow-capped mountain. The summit looked empty without the gleaming observatories, and the lower slopes looked different from pictures he'd seen, the dusty yellow of pasture grass replaced by the dull green of trees. That cold feeling of dread he'd felt the night before returned, settling in his stomach. Where– or when– the fuck were they? And how were they supposed to get home?
Olokui, Danny reminded himself firmly. We followed him here. He must know how to get back. We just gotta catch Olokui.
When they'd eaten, Danny washed the breakfast dishes while Steve broke down camp. Danny tuned the rest of the world out, concentrating on tiny, even, quiet breaths, trying to swallow the tickling, drowning feeling in his lungs. Steve caught his attention again, however, when he started pulling things out of Danny's backpack and stuffing them into his own. “Hey. Hey. McGarrett. What do you think you're doing?”
Steve's jaw was set, stubborn; he didn't meet Danny's eyes, and continued stuffing the heaviest items he could find into his pack, wherever he could get them to fit. “Danny,” he said, tone even and measured and reasonable, “don't even start with me. You know perfectly well what I'm doing, and why.”
“For fuck's sake, McGarrett, I can still carry a pack—”
Steve's eyes snapped up, steel-gray and glaring. “Danny, how much sleep did you get last night? Or the night before that? Or the night before that? You barely eat, you can barely breathe, you've got a fever of I-don't-know-what and just sitting there washing the dishes I can see your hands shake. We have to push today, we have to keep pushing until we catch Olokui– he's the only way I can get you to a doctor, Danny, okay, we need to catch him and the going is rough and it's going to be hard on you and all I can do for you is carry some of the weight, okay, I can do that, Danny, and God dammit you are going to let me—”
“No, God dammit McGarrett, how much are you doing for me already and just not saying, you fucking martyr, I will not be a burden on you, I can carry my own fucking weight—!” Danny was cut off by hacking, painful coughs, and he curled in himself and shook and sweated through them, a long minute of spasms that felt like an hour, felt like his lungs were being ripped out of his chest. Steve was crouched there next to him, callused hands smoothing soothingly over Danny's arms, shoulders, back. When it was over Danny held himself still, his eyes squeezed shut, his lungs and throat on fire.
“Danny.” Steve sounded wrecked, a faint trembling in his voice, in the hand that combed through Danny's sweat-damp hair. “Danno. You stubborn jackass. Let me do this.”
Danny could only nod.
Steve's hands smoothed across Danny's shoulders, squeezed gently; then they stilled, tense. “...Our friend's back.”
Danny steeled himself, opened his eyes, turned to look. The apparition from earlier hovered a couple of meters away, vague and transparent, watching with the faint suggestion of eyes. Danny felt irrationally angry at it. “Fuck off,” he whispered hoarsely.
The shade wavered, drifted a few inches closer.
“Fuck off!” Danny rasped, and threw a rock at it. The spirit vanished, like a candle being snuffed out. Danny closed his eyes, leaned his forehead against Steve's shoulder, and breathed. He felt like crying.
“I know,” Steve murmured. “I know.”
~ ~ ~
Most of the day passed Danny in a haze of exhaustion and delirium. Steve continued with his seemingly endless collection of SEAL stories, but Danny barely heard him. It was all he could do to stumble forward, putting one foot in front of the other, leaning weakly against a tree– or, when one was not available, Steve– when the coughing fits overtook him. He was dimly aware of their changing surroundings: sun followed by fog followed by drizzling rain followed by sun, and the canopy closing in again, sparsely-forested lava giving way gradually to mud and ferns and mossy logs and permanent shade. A few times he heard strange sounds coming from the dense undergrowth, indistinct voices or distant, haunting music. Another time they passed through a patch of air that was unnaturally, icily cold and heavy with the stench of fish; the mongrel dog's hackles went up and she growled low and menacing in her throat, and didn't stop until they'd left the spot a thousand yards behind them.
Their pace seemed as punishing as ever, but Steve called for more frequent breaks, which Danny accepted gratefully. And everywhere they stopped for more than a few minutes, a hazy, indistinct shade, or sometimes two, emerged from the forest and hovered near Danny, silent, watchful, curious. Danny gave up trying to chase them away and merely watched them back, a cold feeling worming its way under his skin, maggot-like.
The sun wheeled its way slowly across the sky, occasionally emerging from behind clouds or peeking through gaps in the canopy. Danny wearily tracked its progress, measured it against the burning in his chest, the pounding in his head, and prayed for nightfall.
Inevitably the forest did grow darker, although Danny couldn't be one hundred percent sure that wasn't due to the black spots that clouded his vision. Steve stopped abruptly and Danny pulled up short, lifting his head wearily; they had stepped out from beneath the trees into a small clearing of sorts. Steve glanced at his watch and then looked around the clearing; the ground was relatively flat and free of logs, thickly carpeted with grass and sedges. “We'll camp here,” he decided, swinging his backpack to the ground.
Danny dropped his as well, groaning with relief. “And where the hell is 'here', anyway?”
Steve squinted, thinking. “I'm guessing... Mountain View area? Or where Mountain View should be, anyway.” He shook his head. “I'm willing to bet Olokui's heading for Kalapana.”
Danny resisted the urge to lie down and curl into a ball. “We gonna catch him?”
“Soon, I think,” Steve said. “We're definitely gaining on him. I don’t think he knows he’s being chased.” He glanced at his watch again, then jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “I'll go for firewood. I might be a little longer than usual... this forest's pretty damp, dry wood's going to be hard to find.”
“Yeah, yeah, go, I'll be fine,” Danny croaked, shooing Steve with his hands. “I'll get camp set up.” Steve gave him a long, searching look, then nodded sharply and took off into the undergrowth.
Firmly refusing to let himself sit down, knowing he'd probably not get up again, Danny slowly and doggedly set up camp at the edge of the clearing, closing his eyes and leaning against a broad ‘ohi‘a trunk when the inevitable coughing fits shook him. Steve did not return, and Danny collected water from a marshy pond in the center of the clearing, fired up the camp stove and started boiling water for ramen; the darkness closed in and Steve still did not return, and Danny sat on a log, hunched in on himself, the dog curled up at his feet, and waited.
Danny's eyes adjusted to the dark, and by the faint light of the stove and the waxing moon he could just see to the far edge of the clearing. A handful of the pale, silent ghosts drifted out of the trees, collecting at the corners of his vision; Danny studiously ignored them, staring into the black and coughing. He waited.
The brindle mutt's ears perked up, and she lifted her head, staring into the trees on the far side of the clearing. She wriggled with excitement, her tail thwapping vigorously; a moment later a small white dog trotted out of the trees and she leapt to her feet, running over to it. Danny watched in bemusement as the two dogs barked and sniffed and circled each other excitedly.
After a few moments the white dog took notice of him, its ears perking up. Danny dug in his pack for some jerky, offering it and clicking his tongue; the two dogs bounded eagerly over to him, snapping up the pieces of meat with wolfish hunger. Danny gave the new dog a good looking-over, ruffling its ears; it was another mutt, male, and healthy-looking. “Where'd you come from, huh?” he rasped.
Both dogs perked their ears and glanced away, and Danny looked up; there was a woman standing at the edge of the clearing.
Danny eyed her apprehensively. She looked solid enough, but Danny had had just about enough of creepy ghost-ladies since whatever-it-was that Maka had done to them, and he wasn't about to assume that she was actually something that lived and breathed, much less that she was friendly. In the faint light he could see that she was Hawaiian, with long, thick, black hair; she wore a crown of leaves and flowers– haku lei, his mind supplied absently– and a robe or dress of some stiff, pale material. She was of indeterminate age, and barefoot. The woman said nothing, merely stood motionless beneath the trees and stared at Danny.
Danny chewed on his lip, wishing Steve were there. After a few moments he decided to chance a conversation. “...Is this your dog?”
The woman whistled sharply, and the white dog leapt to his feet and ran to her, circling her ankles and gazing up at her lovingly, whining in the back of his throat.
Guess that answered that question.
The woman still said nothing, and made no move to come closer. The brindle mutt lay still and quiet at Danny's side, solemn and watchful.
Danny could hear the ramen boiling. He coughed against his forearm and wondered what to do. What the hell, he thought, I'll chance it. “Are you hungry?” he asked. “We've got noodles.” His heart thudded in his chest; he gestured with his hands. “Come, sit.”
The woman stepped forward, then, the little white dog trotting at her heels; when she reached the stove she hitched up her skirts and sat with grace and dignity on the log Danny had laid out for Steve. The white dog plopped down at her feet and panted happily, pink tongue lolling.
Still feeling like the woman was going to attack him at any moment, Danny spooned ramen into a bowl and held it out to her. “Soup?” She stared impassively; he held up a water bottle. “Water?”
The woman inclined her head, accepting the bottle and taking a sip. Danny stared at her. She stared back.
There was a rustling in the bushes and Steve appeared, a small pile of dead wood in his arms. “Most of this stuff's pretty damp, I don't know how well it will burn—” he started to say, and then the light of his headlamp swept across the woman and the little white dog and he froze. He stared, then inhaled sharply. “...Danny.” His voice sounded tense and brittle.
“Uh, yeah, so we have some visitors,” Danny said nervously, and coughed. “...I don't think she speaks English. I gave her some water.”
Steve stared and stared; then, slowly and smoothly, as if trying not to disturb a dangerous animal, he approached the stove and carefully laid down his bundle. He knelt next to the stove and stared at the woman, swallowing audibly. “...Danny.”
The woman stared back at Steve, seeming almost amused. She took another sip of water.
Steve shook himself, turning and digging through his pack with almost frantic haste. Danny started to feel vaguely alarmed. After a few moments he pulled out the box of smokes and the little bottle of gin. “Um,” he said. “Uh, would you like a drink? Or a cigarette, ma'am? Madam?”
The woman smiled. She accepted the bottle, unscrewing the lid and taking a swig. “Thank you,” she said, in a rich, deep voice.
“Hey,” Danny said. Steve turned wide eyes on him, and Danny shut his mouth with a clap.
Steve held up the box of smokes and the woman smiled again and took it, peeling off the cellophane and shaking a cigarette from the box. Steve fumbled for a lighter, but she calmly placed the cigarette between her lips and held her cupped hands up to her mouth. There was a flare of orange light and she inhaled deeply, breathing out a cloud of smoke with a satisfied sigh.
Danny stared; the woman glanced at him briefly. When she glanced away there was a split second when her eyes seemed to glow fire-red, brighter than the end of her cigarette; a moment later her eyes were dark again. Danny's mouth went dry.
The woman offered the cigarette box back to Steve. He shook his head. “Keep it,” he said. “I don't smoke.”
She smiled. “Of course you don't.” She glanced at Danny again. “And neither do you, at a guess.” She tucked the box into a fold in her robes, looking amused. “You're very well prepared.” She took another swig of the gin, then offered the bottle to Steve, raising her eyebrows.
Steve looked startled. “Uh, sure,” he said, taking the bottle. He took a small sip, then handed the bottle to Danny, staring at him meaningfully. Danny sipped and immediately regretted it, coughing painfully. Eyes streaming with tears, he handed the bottle back to the woman.
The woman clucked her tongue, eyeing Danny with distant sympathy as she took a drag on her cigarette. “...Well,” she said. “Let us have some light while we talk, shall we?” She gathered a handful of Steve's damp twigs and placed them in front of her; she covered the sticks with her hands, then lifted them away, and the wet wood burst into cheery flames. Danny thought he smelled a whiff of sulfur, there and gone. Steve absently thumbed off his headlamp.
The woman regarded them calmly, pulling deeply on her cigarette. “...How very interesting to see you both here,” she commented. “I don't believe I've ever found a haole walking this path, much less two of you. It is not a doorway that is easily found.”
“We had some help,” Steve explained. “From a friend. Maka‘awa‘awa Kilauano-Rice.”
“Ah,” she sighed, “a Kilauano. That explains the dog. A good family, the Kilauanos; very respectful. I have always been fond of dogs.” She looked thoughtful for a second. “I believe I know this Maka‘awa‘awa. He brought me some fat chickens a few months ago.”
The woman took another swig of gin, then offered it to Steve again. He hesitated, then shook his head. “No thank you. Help yourself.”
She turned to Danny, raising her eyebrows. “Better not,” he rasped, coughing into his fist.
“Of course.” She sat back, eyeing them speculatively. “And what business brings you here, I wonder?”
“We're chasing a criminal,” Steve said. “A murderer. Elika Olokui.”
“Ahh... Olokui. A pig family.” She sneered slightly. “I know this Elika as well,” she said, then turned her gaze on Danny. “...And that explains you.”
Steve rubbed his hands together nervously. “Please,” he said, and hesitated, considering his words. “...Olokui is greedy and selfish, a wanted criminal, a killer, a negative influence on his community. We're here to bring him to justice, and... he's our only way out of here... our only way to get Danny to a hospital.” He swallowed. “If it suits you... if there's anything you could do, to help—”
“Hmmmm,” she interrupted, watching him with hooded eyes. “I don't usually care to involve myself in your little squabbles.” She spoke with just the slightest tone of rebuke.
“Of course not,” Steve agreed hastily.
“Hmm.” She took a drag on her cigarette and watched them in silence. Steve fidgeted. Danny tried, with very little success, not to cough.
The woman smoked the cigarette down to the filter, then stubbed it out. “Well,” she said. She turned to Danny and smiled. “Thank you for feeding my dog.”
Danny blinked. “You're welcome,” he replied. He blinked again and she was gone.
Steve let out a long breath, slumping a little. He ran a hand through his hair.
“So, um,” Danny rasped. “That was....” He trailed off.
Steve nodded. “Pele. Yes.”
“Well, okay then.” Danny coughed a couple of times. “...She seemed nice.”
Steve laughed at that, a hysterical giggle.
The ramen had gone lukewarm and soggy, and they ate it in silence. Their tense interview with the volcano goddess over, Danny came down from the adrenaline; he felt almost delirious with exhaustion, but his coughs continued to shake him, and he knew he wouldn't be able to sleep. “I'll take first watch again,” he croaked; Steve thinned his lips and nodded.
Steve slipped into his sleeping bag and lay down, and Danny settled in next to the fire, trying to make himself as comfortable as possible with the constant coughs rocking him. He ached, everywhere he ached, every single inch of him a different flavor of pain: the acid burn in his lungs, the sharp throbbing in his head and behind his eyes, the dull fatigue in his legs from the miles and miles of this God-forsaken island he'd dragged himself across.
The night was quiet and still. The sky was overcast, reflecting the dim lamp of the moon; something a little lighter than rain and a little heavier than mist dampened the air, chilling Danny despite the fire and his fleece-lined jacket. And the silent, watchful ghosts were a constant presence.
Danny tried to ignore them, but it was impossible. There were half a dozen of them now, hovering around him in a loose circle, wavering uncertainly. They seemed to want to come close to him, yet were for some reason afraid to; occasionally one would drift to almost within an arm's reach, only to waft away skittishly. And always, always they stared at him with the blank suggestion of eyes.
It was starting to drive Danny crazy. His head pounded and spun; he wanted to curl into a ball and cry or sleep for a year, he wanted to be home where it was warm and dry and safe, but he was here in the dark, cold, damp woods and he felt like death warmed over and things just kept staring at him. What do you want? Danny thought, glaring, throat too sore to speak out loud. What do you want from me? Coming out of the woods and staring with those empty eyes, where do you all come from, what do you want? Just get it over with, whatever it is, get it over with or go, what is it, what are you waiting for?!
The ghosts flickered, staring back.
Danny coughed. And coughed again, and kept coughing, harder and harder. He couldn't breathe. His vision swam. He coughed and a sharp spasm bent him double. Danny's eyes widened. Something was wrong, something was different. He was falling over and his ears were ringing and something was choking him, he couldn't breathe, and he felt nauseous and he put a hand to his mouth and coughed, and something wet and foul-tasting dislodged itself and he could breathe again, great gasping breaths that made him cough more.
Steve was there, supporting him, holding him up, babbling a worried litany, “Cough it out, Danny, cough it out, there you go, breathe, breathe Danny, I've got you, I've got you, just breathe....”
“Oh God,” Danny moaned. He kept his eyes squeezed shut; he could see the flare of Steve's headlamp behind his eyelids. He coughed weakly. “Oh God.”
“I've got you, Danno. Just. Breathe,” Steve murmured hoarsely, then broke into a long, whispered string of what were probably swear words in some language Danny didn't recognize.
Danny swallowed; his stomach heaved. He didn't want to open his eyes. He forced them open anyway, pulled his hand away from his mouth, looked at it in the headlamp's dancing indirect beam. “God,” he choked. There was a stone in his stomach. “God. Steve. What is that?”
A dark, viscous fluid coated the palm of Danny's hand. Steve swore viciously.
“Steve, what is that?” The beam of the headlamp was now fixed squarely on Danny's hand. Danny tried not to panic. “Steve. That isn't blood.”
It wasn't blood. The sputum on Danny's hand, on his lips, was as black as tar.
~ ~ ~
The coughing fits continued, but now when Danny coughed, flecks of inky-black goo speckled his lips and chin. He shivered violently, and there was no lying down lest he drown himself, so Steve wrestled Danny into position, sitting Danny with his back against Steve's chest, sandwiched between Steve and the fire, the two of them wrapped up in the sleeping bags. Danny was too exhausted to resist other than to comment, “Little spoon again,” in a dry rasp; Steve did not reply. The dog lay with her chin on her paws and watched them mournfully, occasionally emitting an anxious whine.
Danny's head swam. He felt dizzy, weak, both cold and hot. His thoughts slipped, frictionless, through his skull, difficult to catch or follow. Steve was warm against his back; when Danny coughed, Steve's arms tightened around him reflexively, but he did not speak. He sat tensely in a long, cold, and stony silence.
The taste of fear grew sour in Danny's mouth; he tried to swallow it. “Babe,” he croaked, “I don't feel so good.”
Steve's silence broke. “We should've listened to Maka. He knew, he knew, and I knew too, that kid took your hair, that's what the stories say, hair, fingernail clippings, any part of you, Olokui got to you and now—” He stopped abruptly, as if his throat had closed up. He swallowed. “Danno, I'm sorry. I'm sorry, I should've listened to Maka, I shouldn't have brought you with me.”
“Don’t be a fucking idiot,” Danny rasped. “None of this is in any way your fault.”
Danny felt Steve's forehead press against the back of his head. “...We'll catch him, we'll catch Olokui and he'll fix this. I'll make him fix this.”
Danny chuckled weakly. “I just bet you will, Steve. And it will be fucking terrifying to see, but I think under the circumstances I might enjoy it a little—” He broke off into coughing and didn't stop for a long time. Steve held him, miserable, his large hands squeezing down unconsciously around Danny's arms.
When Danny finally stopped coughing he was overcome with a sweeping wave of nausea. He clenched his eyes tightly shut and tried to breathe through it. His head hurt. He couldn't think.
The nausea passed. Exhausted, Danny leaned his head back against Steve's shoulder. “...Babe.”
Steve cleared his throat. “Yeah?”
“I want you to promise me something.”
There was a long pause. “...What's that, Danny?”
“Promise me—” Danny's throat tightened. He swallowed around it. “Promise me you'll take care of Grace. Promise me you'll look after her for me.”
“She'll need someone to– to teach her how to play football, and to scare the boys away. I know I can't depend on you to keep her out of the ocean, but for God's sake keep an eye on her—”
“Danny!” Steve's arms had tightened around him, almost painfully. “Shut up, what are you talking about, you're not going to– you're going to do all those things for her, Danny, you are.”
“I know, Steve, I know, I'd like to, but things are getting a bit scary here, and just in case—”
“No.” Steve protested, raw and fierce. “No, Danny. Not gonna happen. You do not give up on me, you hear? You do not give up. You're going to be fine. We're going to catch Olokui and we're going to fix this. You're going to be fine.”
Danny took a deep breath, coughed it out again. “Okay. Okay, Steve. I'm not giving up, okay? I don't want to go anywhere, okay, I'm not done here. But.” He swallowed. “Just. Please. Just in case, I– I need Gracie to be okay, please, can you just– promise me, can you do that for me, please.”
Steve was silent for a long, miserable moment. “...Yeah, Danno. Of course. You know I will,” he promised hoarsely.
Danny coughed, wincing. He wiped his mouth, refusing to look at the smears on the back of his hand. “...Okay. Okay. Thank you.” He clenched his jaw, stared into the fire, refused to look at the pale, transparent figures swaying in the dark beyond it. “And. You take care of yourself too, you hear?”
“Danny.” Steve's voice was anguished.
There was a lump in Danny's throat, squeezing it shut, making it hard to speak. “I know, I know, I just– I worry about you sometimes. You do crazy things, babe, you know?”
There was a pause. Steve exhaled shakily against the back of Danny's neck, almost a laugh. “...I like to see the look on your face.”
Danny snorted. “Sadist. You've taken years off my life.” He winced as soon as he said it, wishing he could take it back, rephrase it. “...Hey. I want– I want to thank you. For—” He struggled for words, brain sluggish and hazy with pain and exhaustion. “...I'd be lost without you, Steve. I wouldn't have made it this far on my own.”
Steve breathed carefully, slow and even. “...I lean on you too, Danno. More than you think. So don't– don't you go anywhere, okay? Don't you dare.”
Danny started to reply, but was overcome by a coughing fit that lasted several minutes. When it wound down Steve squeezed him briefly, saying, “No more talking, Danno. Try to rest, okay?” Danny nodded and closed his eyes, leaning more of his weight into Steve, trusting him to carry it.
~ ~ ~
Danny fell into a kind of half-sleep, dreaming fitfully. He opened his eyes once, tensing when he saw glowing red eyes peering down at him from the dark branches of the trees above him. Steve shushed him, murmuring, “I know, Danny, I see them. Go back to sleep.”
When he woke again it was morning, the forest around them dim and gray but comforting in its visibility. Danny had shifted sideways in the night, his ear pressed against Steve's chest just below his collarbone, Steve's heartbeat a solid and steady metronome. Steve must have felt Danny stirring; “Good morning, Danno,” he whispered.
Danny shifted, put some distance between them (regretfully). He looked fuzzily up at Steve's face; Steve stared gravely back. His eyes were dark, chocolate brown; a bird screeched and Steve glanced away, and his eyes were blue-gray. “...Why do your eyes keep changing color?” he slurred.
Steve returned his gaze to Danny, looking amused. “You want to talk about my eyes?”
“They were sort of... greeny-blue before. Weren't they?”
“I think of them as sort of... hazelly-blue. They change color a lot, depending on the light, what I'm wearing.” He shrugged.
Danny considered this. “...Figures. Even your eyes are difficult and contrary.”
Steve snorted, his amusement growing. “You're just jealous.”
“Jealous? Listen, sweetheart, your eyes are very pretty and all, but I have broken hearts with these baby blues.”
Steve stared at him, unfathomable. Danny watched, fascinated, as he swallowed. “...I bet you have.” Steve shook his head. “All right, get up. As hilarious as this is, let's get some breakfast in you before you get any more loopy.”
They ate breakfast quickly and packed up camp, Steve stealing more of Danny's things, even tying items to the outside of his pack; Danny was coughing too hard to even try to complain.
Danny passed the day with even less awareness than he had the day before. He heard strange growls from the forest, and a couple of times, laughter; he ignored them. The world narrowed down to the sensation of the burning in his lungs, the pain in his throat and chest when he coughed, the foul taste on his tongue from the black slime he coughed up, and an endless, indistinguishable monotony of putting one foot in front of the other. When he lifted his head to look beyond his feet he found Steve looking back at him, face etched in creases of sympathetic pain. The dog had disappeared some time early in the morning.
When they halted for lunch, Danny couldn't eat. His stomach was twisted in a painful knot, and he coughed so hard and so frequently he could barely swallow water. Steve ate, and Danny wrapped his arms around himself and coughed, and stared at the ground so he didn't have to see the haunted look in Steve's eyes, or the crowd of translucent spirits that drifted around him, just out of reach. There were at least ten of them now.
There was a rustling in the bushes, and the brindle mutt appeared, carrying something in her mouth. She dropped it at Danny's feet and sat back on her haunches, looking between Steve and Danny expectantly. Danny poked at it, squinting quizzically; it was some sort of fern, strange-looking, with long, smooth, strap-like blades. “Whazzat?” he rasped, then squeezed his eyes shut through a fit of coughing. The dog whined and poked at the fern with her nose.
Steve crouched down, inspecting the plant. “For the cough?” he asked. The dog thumped her tail. Steve frowned. “What are we supposed to do with it?”
The mutt leaned forward, gingerly tearing off a piece of leaf with her teeth. She made a great show of chewing on it for a minute, then spat the fibrous remains out onto the ground. She sat back and stared at them.
Steve frowned at the plant, then tore off a piece, offering it to Danny. “Here, Danno. The magic dog wants you to chew on this.”
Danny put it in his mouth and bit down, making a face. “Tastes like grass clippings.”
It seemed to work, though. As they walked on through the forest, Danny still felt cold and tired and achy, and his head still pounded, but the coughing fits came less frequently.
The day wore on. They walked through drier forest, following the path Olokui had hacked through thick, brambly thickets of uluhe fern, then breaking out onto bare lava and fields of cinder. It was a cloudless afternoon, but the horizon was vague, obscured by a smoggy haze. Danny caught whiffs of sulfur. “Kīlauea's East Rift Zone,” Steve commented. “Let's hope we made a good impression on Madame Pele.”
They passed in and out of dense kīpuka. Steve grew tense and alert. “We're getting close,” he said. “These machete marks are less than an hour old. We've almost got him.” Danny barely heard him, merely stumbled numbly in his wake.
The sun was low in the sky behind them when they reached the edge of an immense cliff. Rivers of lava poured down the steep slope, frozen in time, and spread below them on a vast lava plain in braids of black and silver; beyond was the blue ocean.
Steve squinted, peering out over stark fields of lava. “Take a break, Danny,” he suggested, setting his pack down.
Danny didn't need to be told twice. He dropped his backpack, knees crumpling beneath him; he closed his eyes and leaned against the pack, deep, labored breaths interrupted by weak bouts of coughing.
“There's a lava flow,” Steve announced abruptly. “Molten lava, coming down the pali to the east of us. I can see the steam.” Danny's head spun; Steve's voice sounded very faint, as if he were hearing through cotton. “That's gotta be a new fissure; we passed Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō to the west and we didn't cross any lava. The activity's been confined to the inside of the cone....” Steve trailed off, then gasped. “Olokui! I see him! He's down on the coastal flats!” He sucked in a long, sharp breath. “That's a new eruption, he couldn't have known about it. Kalapana's on the far side of the flow– he's cut off!” Danny knew he should feel triumphant, but everything felt so very far away....
Steve was crowing. “Thank you thank you thank you Pele. We've got him, Danny! We've got him!”
Danny's world tilted; very dimly he felt himself hit the ground. Everything was black. Steve's voice was distant, and sharp with alarm. “...Danny!”
Danny knew nothing more.
~ ~ ~
“Shit shit shit! Danny!” Steve fell to his knees next to his fallen partner, mindless of the scrapes cut into his knees by the sharp lava, his heart thudding with panic. “No no no, Danny, don't leave me now, not now, we're so close!” Heart in his throat, he put his ear next to Danny's lips, watching his chest. He gusted a huge sigh of relief; Danny was breathing, just barely. “Danny come on, wake up, come on now.”
Danny was unresponsive. Steve scrubbed his hands through his hair. He looked at Danny's pale, sickly face. He looked around at the group of pale shades that were materializing around them. He looked at Olokui, a speck on the lava plain below them. “Shit,” he breathed.
Lips set in a firm, determined line, he rolled Danny into the rescue position, on his side so he wouldn't choke. “Watch him,” he told the dog. He pointed a finger at the cluster of ghosts. “You. Don't touch him,” he snarled. He gathered up Danny's hand, clutching it in a white-knuckled grip, releasing it and smoothing a hand through Danny's sweat-damp hair. “Don't die, Danno,” he whispered. “I can't lose you. Don't die.” He bent down and pressed a kiss to Danny's temple.
Then he stood, and he ran. Steve flew down the face of the cliff, a thousand-foot ramp of gleaming pāhoehoe. He slipped a few times and fell, rolling to his feet and racing on, heedless of blood and bruises. The burning in his lungs didn't matter. Only Danny mattered, and Olokui.
Steve reached the coastal flats. The sun had disappeared behind Mauna Loa; the lava plain was bathed in twilight. Olokui was visible in the distance, standing still, gazing at the flow of new lava that stretched between him and Kalapana. Steve gritted his teeth. He ran.
He ate up the yards in long strides. Olokui was almost within shouting distance. There was a rustling, a dark shape in the corner of Steve's eye, and he ducked instinctively. Claws raked across the top of his head as an ‘alalā swooped past him; wheeling in the sky, the raven made a beeline for Olokui, croaking hoarsely. Olokui turned, saw Steve pounding toward him across the lava. He dropped his pack, grabbed his rifle, and ran.
“ELIKA OLOKUI!” Steve bellowed, pelting after him. “FIVE-OH! STAY WHERE YOU ARE!” Olokui didn't stop. Steve drew his weapon. He was gaining on him, slowly.
They neared the new flow. Pāhoehoe stretched across the plain, the lava’s solid crust gleaming silver, but glowing red in the cracks and creases and oozing sluggishly at the edges of the flow, toes of glassy molten rock slowly expanding the flow’s boundaries. The air grew hot and pungent. Fires raged where the lava encroached on clumps of vegetation, incinerating shrubs and palms. The bass booms of methane explosions echoed menacingly.
Olokui reached the flow and did not stop, sprinting across its silvered surface. Steve clenched his jaw, put his head down, and followed.
The air was oven-hot. The surface was solid, but Steve's boots felt tacky as he ran; he could smell the rubber soles melting, burning. He shielded his face from the heat with one arm, wondering how long he had before his boots burned through. Running across the lava was stupid, suicidal. He needed to end this quickly. “Olokui!” he yelled, and fired a warning shot. Olokui didn't stop.
Olokui ran into a small kīpuka encircled by the new flow. Steve followed; fire blazed in the shrubbery all around them. A methane explosion boomed in the distance. “Olokui! This is your last chance!”
Olokui spun, bringing his rifle to bear. Steve skidded to a stop, taking aim with his pistol. “Stand down, Olokui, drop your weapon!”
Olokui sneered. “You not dead yet, haole? I can fix that for you.”
Steve tightened his grip. “I'm warning you.”
“How about your friend, he stay alive still yet? I bet he not feeling so hot,” Olokui taunted.
Steve saw red for a moment. He swallowed down the anger. “You did that to him. Either way, Olokui, you're going down, but we can work out a deal. If you cure him, take back whatever it is you did, I can see about getting you a more lenient sentence.”
“With what evidence?” Olokui scoffed. “No, see, dis is what not goin' happen: I not goin' get arrested, I not goin' have one trial. That would be one pain in my ‘ōkole, and more exposure than I like have. I get better things for do. I tell you what goin' happen, haole.” Olokui's voice lowered with menace. “I goin' shoot you right here. You goin' die, and then your friend, he goin' die. Maopopo?”
Steve narrowed his eyes. His finger tightened on the trigger.
“Your funeral, haole.” Olokui shifted his gun.
A loud BOOM shattered their stand-off; Steve saw blue flame and shielded his head, hissing with pain as he was pelted with shards of burning-hot rock. When he lifted his head, Olokui was laid out flat on the ground, lying still, surrounded by chunks of smoldering stone. Steve holstered his gun, running over to him. Olokui was bleeding from his scalp; Steve smelled burning hair and flesh. He coughed, smoke stinging his eyes; the lava and fire was closing in.
Steve knelt, gripping Olokui's arm and hauling him over his shoulders in a fireman's carry. Then he turned toward the cliffs, toward Danny, and ran.
The journey back seemed tortuously long. It was getting dark and Olokui was heavy, the cliff tall and steep, and all Steve could think about was Danny waiting at the top, cold and pale, dying.
“No,” Steve panted, and pushed harder.
Finally he crested the top of the cliff. Danny was surrounded by a cluster of pale ghosts, a dozen at least, staring down at him; Steve let out an inarticulate yell of rage and they scattered. Steve dropped to his knees, carefully sliding Olokui to the ground, crawling over to Danny in frantic haste. He checked for breathing, pulse; both were weak and uneven, but present. He turned to Olokui, felt for a pulse.
Olokui was dead.
“No,” Steve whispered, despairing. There was no point trying to revive him. Blood congealed around a large dent in his skull. He was already starting to go cold.
Steve bent over Danny, pressed his forehead against Danny's shoulder, squeezed his eyes shut. “No no no. Don't die, Danny. Don't die.”
The brindle mutt barked sharply; Steve looked up at her. He blinked, and a woman stood there instead; Hawaiian, middle-aged, with a handsome face that was somehow familiar. “Steve,” she said urgently, “you must come quickly. Danny's almost out of time. Maka's waiting on the other side; he's brought someone who can help. I can show you the way.”
Steve glanced at his suspect, at Olokui's dead body. “Quickly!” the woman insisted, picking up her skirts and running a little way along the cliff.
Steve lifted Danny and followed her, leaving Olokui behind.
He followed the woman along the edge of the cliff. Night seemed to fall impossibly fast; darkness closed around him, a pitch black tunnel, until all he could see was their strange guide, running ahead into the dark and gesturing at him to hurry. His lungs burned and his muscles ached, but he barely felt it. Just hold on, Danny, he thought, a desperate litany, hold on, hold on, hold on....
It seemed distant at first, a dull throbbing that he felt as much as heard. The noise was familiar, somehow, and he strained to hear better, but it was as if his ears had been stuffed with cotton. A strange, shivery sensation passed through him, like cobwebs brushing past his face, and then—
A deafening engine roar, bright lights blinding him, a buffeting wind– rotor backwash. A helicopter.
Steve felt dizzy with relief. “Help!” he shouted out, hoarse, chest heaving. “I need help here! Someone—”
“Steve!” someone shouted. Kono's voice. A silhouette passed in front of the helicopter's lights and then she was there next to him, eyes wide and frightened.
“Kono!” Steve gasped. “It's Danny, he's dying, he needs help—!”
“Lay him down, quickly!” Another familiar voice– Maka. He and Kono helped Steve gently lower Danny to the ground.
“He needs a hospital,” Steve panted.
“No,” Maka said, “he needs Lilinoe.”
Steve's eyes were starting to adjust to the light. An old Hawaiian woman came forward, kneeling next to Danny and placing a hand on his brow. She spoke in rapid, urgent Hawaiian to Maka.
“Back up, we need to back up, she says we need to make space,” he said. When Steve didn't move he grabbed his arm and gently pulled.
Steve shook him off. “No! I”m not leaving him.”
“Steve. Lilinoe is a kahuna ho‘opi‘opi‘o. She specializes in removing death curses. She will help Danny, yeah? But she needs us to give her some space, so that the curse doesn't enter someone else.”
“Come on, Steve,” Kono murmured in his ear, tugging gently on his arm, and Steve relented and went. They backed off several paces, and Steve watched with his heart in his throat as the old woman laid her palms on Danny and began to chant, rocking back on her heels occasionally to make complicated gestures with her hands. Kono was quiet and still, clinging tightly to Steve's arm, whether to comfort him or herself Steve wasn't sure.
Steve felt like he couldn't breathe around the lump of lead in his chest. “I can't lose him,” he said, feeling almost like he would break just thinking about it.
“I know,” Kono said, barely audible over the helicopter engines, “I know.”
Steve forced himself to look away from Danny, tried to distract himself from the torture of trying to guess whether Danny's chest was still rising and falling with breath and life. He took in the markings on the helicopter– a police chopper– and the uniformed pilot standing by the door, looking on solemnly. He looked for Maka, had trouble finding him until he spotted him at the edge of the light, embracing the woman who had led Steve back from... wherever they had been... who had been his and Danny's guide and protector in the form of a small dog. Seeing her now together with Maka, the family resemblance was unmistakable.
She and Maka exchanged words, their murmurs lost in the wind and engine noise. She glanced at Danny, then looked to Steve, smiling and nodding comfortingly. Then, casting a last, smiling glance upon Maka, she turned and walked away, vanishing into the dark. Maka came over to stand by Steve and Kono.
“Maka...” Steve said, “that woman....”
“I did tell you I would send help, yeah?”
“Who is she?”
There was something about Maka's eyes that gave him a faint air of sadness. “...She was my sister.”
Kono glanced between the two of them, eyes squinted in confusion. “What woman?”
Steve merely shook his head. “What are you guys doing here, anyway? How did you find us?”
“My skill is in dealing with spirits, yeah?” Maka said. “I sent my sister to go find you. After that it was only a matter of following the pull between us. I would have come sooner, but it took time to contact Lilinoe on Ni‘ihau– no phones on that island, yeah?– and then bring her to the Big Island, and then also I had to convince your friends in Honolulu to help me.” Kono bit her lip apologetically.
Maka cast a sidelong glance at Steve. “What happened with Elika Olokui?” he asked.
“He's dead.” Steve looked away, his gaze inexorably drawn back to the prone form of his partner, laid out like a corpse in front of his only hope of survival– a woman Steve had never met. In the stark light from the helicopter, it was hard to tell: did Danny look paler? Was his heart still beating? What would Steve do if it wasn't?
What would he do without Danny?
“Please,” he whispered, a broadcast to anyone or anything that would listen, “please.”
~ ~ ~
Danny emerged slowly from a deep, dreamless sleep. He was warm; the air was dry, with a strange scent to it. Disinfectant. I'm in a hospital, he thought, and was propelled into wakefulness. He blinked his eyes open, then squinted painfully; the room was dimly lit, but even so his eyes needed adjusting. He shook his head groggily, trying to clear the cobwebs from his head.
There was a strange pressure on one of his hands. He turned his head to look and held his breath; Steve was slumped in a chair next to Danny's hospital bed, asleep, dark smudges marring the skin beneath his eyes, his hand clasped tightly around Danny's. Before Danny could even think about how not to wake him Steve shifted in his chair, his eyes opening and immediately finding Danny's. He smiled, a worn, tired stretch of the lips; it was the most beautiful thing Danny had ever seen. “Hey,” Steve murmured.
“Hey,” Danny croaked in reply. His throat still felt raw, but he realized with a sudden thrill that he was having no trouble whatsoever with his breathing. Steve must have seen something in Danny's face, because he smiled wider.
“What happened? ...What day is it?” Danny rasped.
“December twenty-third,” Steve told him. “And in a nutshell... you passed out. Olokui's dead. The dog was Maka's dead sister; she showed me the path to get back to... here.” Steve gestured vaguely. “There was a helicopter waiting on the other side. Kono was in it, and Maka, and a woman from Ni‘ihau who specializes in reversing death curses. ...She got to you just in time, Danny.” He said this last more quietly. He swallowed. “We had you medevaced to O‘ahu. You're in the Hawai‘i Medical Center; the doctors can't find anything wrong with you. You're fine. You're going to be okay.”
Steve looked like he was trying to reassure himself as much as Danny. Danny squeezed his hand, and Steve smiled. Danny smiled back. “So, uh, I guess I owe this lady a thank-you card. ...Specializes in removing death curses, huh? That’s convenient.”
“Old friend of Maka’s, apparently. ...Oh, hey, you’ll appreciate this. I memorized her name. Lilinoekekapahauopānī‘au.”
Danny blinked, then laughed. (He didn’t cough. It felt wonderful.) “Seriously? Is that her name or her life history?”
Steve grinned back at him. “That’s just her first name, I didn’t even try with her last name.”
A loud, sudden tap at the window interrupted Danny’s train of thought and his heart rate skyrocketed, adrenaline coursing through his veins as his eyes searched for the source of the sound. He found nothing and willed his breathing to slow; it was probably just a leaf or something hitting the window, blown by the wind.
Steve looked similarly rattled, but he squeezed Danny’s hand. “Maka fixed it,” Steve assured him, “fixed us. He closed our piko again. He says we shouldn't see anything we didn't see before. And, you know, vice versa. They shouldn't see us. ...Or so he says.”
Danny let out a long breath. “Thank fuck,” he said with feeling.
Steve's eyes were dark and serious, a liquid blue-gray. “Danny,” he said. He swallowed. Danny couldn't look away from his eyes. “...I'm glad you're okay.”
They were still holding hands.
Steve smiled slowly, soft and fond. “I'll be right back,” he said, and stood up from the chair, releasing Danny's hand. He strode from the room, and Danny bit down the urge to call after him.
Alone in the quiet room, Danny’s eyes scrolled over the walls, searching every corner. Did those shadows seem like they were... crawling? Did the air smell strange; did those sounds belong? Danny shook himself. He was just being paranoid, there was nothing in the room. Maka fixed him, he didn’t have to worry about ghosts and creepy-crawlies anymore. And. He was alive. Steve was alive. He and Steve were back in civilization, and he was tired, but he wasn't coughing, and his head didn't hurt, and his lungs didn't feel like they were slowly filling with liquid. He was alive.
There was a soft knock on the door. Chin and Kono hovered in the doorway, grinning fit to burst; Danny grinned helplessly back. “God, it's good to see you guys.”
Kono strode over to him, her eyes looking suspiciously wet. “Danny,” she said, and held his face in her hands, and kissed him soundly on the forehead. She sniffed. Danny beamed.
“I heard you almost died,” Chin said, following her into the room; he still had a bit of a limp. “Try not to do that again.”
“I'll do my best,” Danny rasped.
Chin smiled and clasped Danny's hand. “Good to see you, brah.”
“Danno!” Grace burst into the room, throwing herself onto Danny's bed and wrapping herself around him. Danny hugged her fiercely, pressing his face into her hair.
“Oh, Monkey. It is so good to see you. I missed you so much.” He held his baby girl and closed his eyes against a rush of feeling, of desperate love and relief and gratitude. When he opened them again Rachel was standing at the foot of his bed, wiping at her eyes and offering up a fragile smile. Chin and Kono were still standing at his bedside, and Steve leaned in the doorway, surveying the scene with a small smile. His eyes met Danny's and didn't look away.
~ ~ ~
None of the doctors' tests could find anything wrong with Danny, and he felt fine– better than he had in days– so the hospital released him. He hugged Grace, and kissed her, and told her how much fun they were going to have on Christmas Day. He submitted to a fierce hug from Rachel, blinking in surprise. He said goodbye to Chin and Kono. Someone had brought his car around, and he leaned against it in relief; he was going home. Steve fidgeted and hesitated by his truck before nodding decisively. “Goodnight, Danno,” he said. “I'll see you tomorrow.”
Danny held his breath for a moment. “...Yeah,” he said. “Goodnight, Steve.”
He drove the Camaro home through the well-lit, bustling streets of Honolulu, taking in the cheery Christmas lights adorning windows and coconut trees. It all felt exceedingly surreal; earlier that day Danny had been crawling through a tractless jungle, menaced by spooks, and dying. It was late, and he realized all of a sudden that he was exhausted.
Danny parked the Camaro, toed off his shoes, stood looking around his apartment. He was alone. It was dark, the amber glow of the nearest streetlight blocked by that one mango tree. Over the distant noises of the city he could hear crickets. A gecko chirped from some unfindable corner of the ceiling.
Danny walked around the apartment, turning on every single light. He switched on the TV, turning the volume up loud, and sat on the couch, spine ramrod-straight. He stared blankly at the screen and tried in vain to relax, fighting the urge to jump at every faint noise and turn to look at every shadow in the corner of his eye.
His cellphone rang; Danny jumped, then fumbled for it, turning the TV volume down. “...Hello?”
“Hey.” It was Steve.
“McGarrett?” Danny squinted at the glowing numbers on the clock; it was nearly midnight. “What the fuck? Do you know what time it is?!” He had never felt so relieved in his life.
“You're not asleep,” Steve pointed out.
“How do you know you didn't wake me from a beautiful dream, huh?”
Steve snorted. “Danno. All your lights are on.”
Danny blinked. He strode over to his window and peered through the blinds. Steve's truck was pulled up to the curb. “...Steven, why are you parked outside my apartment in the middle of the night?”
“I couldn't sleep,” Steve admitted. “I've just been... driving around. Driving around town. I sort of... ended up here, somehow.”
“Uh-huh.” Danny pressed his head against the window. “...So are you coming in, or are you going to sit in your truck like a stalker?” The door of Steve's truck opened and Steve stepped out, waving; Danny hung up the phone.
Danny opened the door to find Steve standing on his step, grinning sheepishly. Danny fought the impulse to stumble forward, lean into him. He raised his eyebrows. “Steven, I want you to know, you are kind of creepy.”
“I brought beer,” Steve said, hefting a six-pack of coconut porter and totally ruining his 'just driving around' alibi.
Danny opened the door wider, sweeping his arm in an elaborate gesture of welcome. “Well then, what are you waiting for? Come in, come in!” Steve grinned.
Steve set the beers down next to the couch, raising his eyebrow at the late-night action movie on the television screen. “Explosions and car chases, Danny? This stuff is still interesting to you?”
“I find it relaxing,” Danny told him. “Nothing they do is half as crazy as the shit you put me through.”
Steve grinned wider, then wandered toward the kitchen. “Got any food?”
Danny collapsed on the couch, sinking back against the cushions. “Yeah, probably. Help yourself.”
Steve reappeared after a moment, holding a plastic bucket. “...You have a gallon bucket of haupia ice cream,” he said. He was wearing the 'I'm judging you' face.
Danny stared evenly back. “Yeah, and? Coconut is Gracie's favorite flavor, okay, what do you want from me?”
After a moment's consideration Steve shrugged and vanished briefly, coming out of the kitchen with the bucket and two spoons. Danny snorted. Steve ignored him, sprawling across the couch and taking up way more space than was really necessary. They were pressed together from shoulder to thigh, which was both electrifying and deeply comforting.
Steve popped open a can, passed it to Danny, bumped it with his own. “Merry Christmas, Danno,” he said.
Danny looked at the clock. It was after midnight, now; it was Christmas Eve. “...Merry Christmas, Steven.”
They watched the end of the mindless action flick, then sat and watched the next one, chortling at the gratuitous stunts. The ice cream melted; Danny watched Steve suck a stray drip off his knuckle and felt a jolt in the pit of his stomach. He could feel Steve's body heat burning through the thin layer of their clothing; he tried to keep his eyes on the screen. At some point the cans of porter were all empty, and Steve retrieved more beers from Danny's fridge. They sank into the couch cushions, smooshed into each other, boneless and relaxed.
The movie ended. It was late. Danny switched the TV off. Steve was loose and floppy and warm next to him; frowning in concentration, Steve flailed one of his legs, knocking a can over. “...I don't think I can drive home,” he announced with grave seriousness.
Danny smiled with lazy fondness, ruffling Steve's hair. “Of course not, you goof, you're staying here. ...Again.” Steve tilted his head, smiling at Danny. Danny's hair ruffling had turned into something more like a scalp massage. “...We should just get you an extra toothbrush already.”
Steve's eyes were the bluest Danny had ever seen them. He forgot to breathe for a moment.
Steve leaned in and kissed him.
The kiss was soft at first, somewhat tentative. Danny's instantaneous reaction was to press into it, to wrap his arm around Steve and hold him closer. Steve moaned low in his throat and the kiss was something else now, fierce and desperate. He rolled, crawled across Danny, straddling him, pressing him down into the couch. He kissed like he was suffocating and Danny was air.
Danny broke off, smearing kisses across Steve's jaw, attacking his neck. Steve's hands were everywhere. “You scared the shit out of me,” Steve breathed, pressing the words urgently against Danny's skin, his voice trembling and broken. “Don't you do that again. Don't you go almost dying on me again, Danno.”
“Babe,” Danny gasped.
“Danno,” Steve groaned into Danny's mouth, chasing the words with his lips. Danny clung for dear life, his fingers digging into Steve's shoulder blades, twisting in the fabric of his shirt.
They clawed at each other, pressing in as if they couldn't get close enough, trying to crawl into each other's skin. Steve's groin pressed against Danny's for a moment and Danny hissed, electricity shooting up his spine. Steve's eyes went dark, and things reached a tipping point. Suddenly Steve's hands were tearing at Danny's shirt, clawing at the buttons; Danny was yanking, pulling at Steve's t-shirt. Steve obligingly lifted his arms and Danny peeled it off him, revealing the large swathes of inked skin that Danny had coveted for longer than he cared to remember. He indulged himself, licking a wet stripe across Steve's tattooed shoulder.
Steve made a frustrated noise; he was having trouble getting at Danny's buttons. He ducked his head, bit into the skin where neck meets jaw; Danny groaned, arching back against the couch. Triumphant, Steve freed the rest of the buttons, shoving the shirt back over Danny's shoulders, dipping down to suck a drop of sweat from Danny's chest. Danny growled and tore at Steve's belt; Steve went for Danny's, their hands bumping and getting in the way of each other. Danny got there first, yanking Steve's belt entirely free of the belt loops and shoving his cargo pants down over his hips; he wrapped his hand roughly around Steve's heavy cock and Steve shuddered and groaned, his hands losing dexterity.
Impatient, Danny wriggled and shoved at his loosened trousers one-handed. Steve recovered, kissing Danny hungrily, his teeth scraping Danny's lips raw. He yanked Danny's pants down around his knees and pushed him sideways, pressing him down so that he was lying on the couch with Steve sprawled over him. Steve lowered his hips and their cocks slid against each other, and Danny saw white behind his eyes.
They whimpered and gasped, rutting against each other helplessly, pulling at skin with hands and lips and teeth. “Danno,” Steve moaned, panting hot breath against Danny's ear. “God. I want you to fuck me.”
Danny's cock twitched violently, and he slammed his head back against the arm of the couch. “Jesus. Steve.” He panted helplessly. “I don't have any– Steve, I'm not going to last that long,” he rasped, his voice hoarse and broken.
Steve pressed his face into the side of Danny's neck, tasted the sweat there. “Next time,” he whispered.
Danny groaned. “Fuck,” he swore. He wormed a hand between them, wrapped it as far as he could around both their cocks, reveled in the way Steve shook and gasped. It was all too fast, Danny wasn't going to last but there was no stopping it, they were both of them too desperate to slow down. Danny stroked and squeezed, pressing his mouth to Steve's in sloppy, open-mouthed kisses.
“And the time after that,” Steve breathed, “I'm going to tie you to my bed with one of your own ties.”
“Jesus, Steve,” Danny hissed, and the wave of heat that was building up inside him crested and he squeezed his eyes shut, tense and shaking as he came.
When he could breathe again Steve was pressing wet kisses across his cheekbone. Danny curled forward, sank his teeth into the meat of Steve's shoulder, bit down. Steve swore and thrust hard against Danny's hip, once, twice, then pressed his face against Danny's shoulder and came, gasping. When it was over he collapsed on top of Danny, heavy and sweating.
Danny dropped his head back, chest heaving as he tried to catch his breath. A helpless grin spread across his face, huge and slightly loopy. “Babe,” he panted, “what the hell took us so long?”
He felt Steve's lips stretch into an answering grin against his shoulder. “I have no idea.”
~ ~ ~
Danny opened his eyes, and for a few moments he was hopelessly disoriented, his sleep-fogged brain completely unable to process the information it was presented with: the sunlit face of Steve McGarrett inches away from his own, peacefully sleeping. He took stock: yes, this was his fold-out couch-bed in his apartment he was lying in, yes, Steve was lying in it too, and yes, they did both appear to be completely naked– ohhhhhh. Right. Danny's memories of the night before started to come back, and he stifled the urge to laugh hysterically.
He took another few seconds to confirm that he was actually awake. To be sure, the situation he currently found himself in did bear a startling resemblance to some of your classic fantasy scenarios– it was Christmas for fuck's sake. But the longer he lay there the more likely it seemed that Yes, That Actually Happened.
After a few more seconds Danny came to the conclusion that he needed some distance from the situation in order to think, so he began to extricate himself from the bed, attempting to be as stealthy as possible. He supposed he should've known it was futile from the start; his feet had barely touched the floor when Steve stirred and blinked his eyes, mumbling incoherently. “Breakfast,” Danny said by way of explanation, finding and tugging on his discarded boxers, and fled to the kitchen.
As an escape plan it wasn't effective for long; Danny barely had time to get the eggs out of the fridge and put a pan on the stove before Steve wandered in, clad in his own boxer-briefs. Steve took in Danny, the eggs, and the frying pan and got a Look on his face that set off all sorts of danger alarms in Danny's head. “Hey, now—” he started to say, tensing up, and then Steve tackled him, attempting to physically wrestle him away from the eggs. The resulting scuffle was embarrassingly brief; a minute later Danny had been banished from his own kitchen, glaring at Steve as he cheerfully poked at some scrambled eggs with a spatula.
“My eggs aren't that bad,” Danny grumbled.
Steve grinned at him, unrepentant. “They're pretty terrible, Danno.”
They sat down to eggs and toast and coffee, and, okay, Steve's eggs were light and fluffy and perfect, Danny could admit to that, but there was no call for Steve to be so smug about it.
Steve and Danny chewed in silence for a bit, shoulder to shoulder at Danny's kitchen counter. Completely distracted by the process of getting caffeine into his bloodstream as quickly as humanly possible, Danny was a bit startled when Steve spoke, apparently out of the blue. “...I was scared.”
“Huh?” Danny screwed up his face in concentration, attempting to extrapolate the context for this announcement. “...In the woods?”
Steve shook his head, apparently deeply fascinated by his toast. “What took us so long. Well, what took me so long. I was scared.” He shrugged.
Danny considered this, his lips twisting into a wry smile. “I thought Navy SEALs didn't do scared.”
Steve looked up, finally. His lips twitched, but his eyes were serious. “I am man enough to admit that if there's one thing in my life that deeply terrifies me, it's you.”
Danny raised his eyebrows. “Am I really that scary?”
“Yes.” Steve's eyes returned to his plate, where he was mangling some perfectly innocent proteins and carbohydrates with his fork. “...I was scared of what you might say, what you might do. Scared of losing you. But.” He swallowed. “I almost lost you anyway, and that was... so much worse.” He brought his eyes up to meet Danny's. “I don't ever want to have to see you that way again.”
Now it was Danny's turn to drop eye contact. He rubbed his hands together anxiously. “I feel you, babe. I'm... kind of glad it was me. I don't think I could bear to watch something like that happen to you.”
Steve's voice was quiet and small. “I couldn't.”
Danny glanced over at Steve; he was withdrawn, hunched in on himself, distress and uncertainty written across his face plain as day. Danny was sometimes a coward but he was rarely an idiot, so he took a deep breath, steeling himself; time to man up, Williams. He slid a hand across Steve's broad shoulder to the back of his neck and squeezed slightly, forcing Steve to look him in the eye. “Hey,” he said. “I was scared, too. I don't want to lose you either.” He cracked a smile. “I mean, you don't exactly ping my gaydar, if you know what I'm saying.”
Steve raised his eyebrows, giving Danny an incredulous look. “ ‘Gaydar’, Danny, really?”
Danny smirked. Steve snorted. “Honestly, though,” Danny said, “look at you, I mean, you’re... you.” He gestured vaguely. “Mr. Tough Guy, likes-to-punch-at-least-five-people-in-the-face-before-breakfast. It’s a bit, uh... intimidating to contemplate approaching you, what with all of that, and being like, ‘Hey, Steve, do you like me, check yes or no.’ You know?”
Steve smiled a little. “This coming from you.”
Danny offered up a wry grin. “Touché.” Then he frowned a little, stabbing a finger at him. “Seriously though, Steve, what are you thinking here, even if I wasn't completely loony about you, what do you think, I'd kick you to the curb? What do you take me for? You're my best friend, you dick.”
Steve was grinning at him. “Completely ignoring the hypocrisy of that statement....”
The grin stretched wider. “You're not worried this will totally ruin the friendship?”
“Never happen, babe. You're stuck with me.” Danny leaned in close, quirking his eyebrows. “Although I'd be willing to give that a try....”
“Totally ruined,” Steve agreed, and kissed him.