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Sadness is my Luxury

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“If he’s that sick, Cath,” Danny breaks in, “just take him to the ER.”

He can feel his face furrowing in worry. Steve had been clearly under the weather yesterday, pale and coughing, but he hadn’t seen Catherine in months and, in true Steve-like fashion, he’d been determined not to let some bug derail the plans he’d made for her shore leave.

Not that he said any of that to Danny. No, the most Danny got was a derisive grunt when he noted that Cath would probably be just as happy with an evening at home as a night on the town—she was coming to see Steve after all, not play tourist. But Danny was fluent in Steve, so he took the rest as given.

And now, by Cath’s description (and Danny doesn’t think she’s one to exaggerate), it had been a night to remember. And not at all in the way Steve was hoping for.

“He’s kind of adamant about not going to the hospital,” Cath says now. “He’s been leery of them ever since—“

Danny can think of several instances that might make Steve leery of hospitals, but he’s also wondering what kind of stubborness would dissuade an experienced Naval officer like Catherine Rollins from dragging him anyway. “Adamant how? Adamant in a draw your weapons kind of way?

There’s a pause. Then she says, “No, not quite like that.”

“Okay.” Danny’s already grabbing his keys. “I’ll be right there. We’ll get this sorted out. And don’t worry, if he does need the hospital, I think SEAL team nine still owes us a favor.”

+++

Cath opens the door to Steve’s house for him about fifteen minutes later. She’s as gorgeous as ever but a little harried looking, in track pans and a tank top, no make-up, her glossy hair held back with the kind of hair band you wear to the gym.

“Thanks for coming,” she says, drawing him into a quick hug. “I’m sorry to mess up your morning.”

“No problem. Just think of it as getting me out of some seriously boring Saturday morning errands.”

“I’m not usually one to worry, and I’m pretty sure it’s just the flu, but…” She holds him at the doorway for a moment, her voice low and rapid, “…he was running a fever of 103.9 last night. And he was crying. I couldn’t even tell about what. Just sobbing, snot running down his face, and staring at something I couldn’t see. I’ve seen him get sick before—he had food poisoning once in Bangkok like you wouldn’t believe. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen him cry like that.”

Danny doesn’t think he’s ever seen Steve cry at all. The idea is more than a little disturbing, but there’s no point in dwelling on it now. He puts his palm on Cath’s back above her shirt, her skin cool to the touch as he moves her back into the house. “Hey. You know Steve. Never goes small when he can go big, right? Doesn’t mean we have to let him.”

+++

Steve is flat on his back on top of the covers, wearing nothing but a pair of boxers. He’s flushed, with nasty shadows under his eyes, and he’s watching the ceiling fan with a kind of sullen intensity, showing no trace of the emotion Cath just described.

“Okay,” Danny says, peering down at him. “You’re reminding me a bit of Martin Sheen at the beginning of Apocalypse Now, you know that? And that’s not something I can feel good about.”

Steve shifts his gaze away from the fan, and, yeah, maybe there is a trace. His eyes are red and swollen, almost slits. “Go away, Danny. I’m fine. Cath didn’t need to call you.” His voice is a phlegmy mumble, and when he finishes the last phrase he has to turn away to cough wetly into the pillow.

“Uh-huh. Well, your definition of fine is scaring some of your friends. So I’m here for what I believe they call in the medical profession a second opinion.”
Steve doesn’t try to push him away when he crouches and lays a hand on his forehead, though whether that’s resignation or exhaustion, Danny can’t tell. In any case, his skin is so hot and dry that Danny immediately starts poking around the stuff on the bedside table for the thermometer. Catherine, who’s been hovering behind him, finds it first and presses it into his hand.

Steve’s temperature is still pushing 104. Danny sighs. “Right. So I’m not saying we’re going to drag you into Urgent Care right now. But if you can’t work with us to get that number down a bit? And if you can’t show us you can hydrate yourself without an IV? Then it might be a different story. You with me? ‘Cause you know Cath can call down an artillery strike if you’re not.”

“Bossy motherfucker,” Steve says to the fan.

“That’s the spirit.” Danny gives him a light slap on the shoulder and turns to Catherine. “Did he take any of that stuff?” He gestures at the packets and bottles of OTC things on the nightstand.

“Yeah—I got him to take some Tylenol a few hours ago.”

“Good. Let’s layer some ibuprofen over that. That was always our Jersey pediatrician’s advice for fevers that wouldn’t break. If it works for little girls it should work on overgrown SEALs.” He looks pointedly at Steve, who scowls.

Danny feels a momentary pang. Steve looks somewhere out of the other side of miserable and all he really wants to do is sit down and rub his back and ask him where it hurts like he would for Grace. But he has a feeling that approach wouldn’t get him far—with either Catherine or Steve—so he tries to keep it to terse directions.

Catherine’s back now with a glass of water and another bottle of pills. Danny notices again how wrung out she looks, eyes nearly as shadowed as Steve’s. It must’ve been a hell of a night.

“I’ve got it,” he tells her. “You wanna grab a shower or something? Make us some coffee?”

She looks at him, and then at Steve, unsure, as if she’s wondering whether this might be considered a dereliction of lover-ly duty. Somewhat to Danny’s surprise, Steve’s face starts to crumple a little at the sight of her. He spreads the fingers of one hand open against the sheets, and Cath perches there and interlaces her own with them.

“Go on,” Steve says, his tone nothing like the growl he’s been using on Danny. “Take a break. I’d hate it if I got you sick too.”

She hesitates, then nods and kisses his forehead. “I’ll be right downstairs if you need me.”

“Glad to see you haven’t entirely taken leave of your senses,” Danny says when she’s left the room. “What the hell happened last night?”

Steve gets himself up on a shaky elbow to take the pills and water. “Do you mean before or after I lost my fancy steak dinner all over the Kamehameha Highway?”

Danny’s mostly interested in the after, the part with the crying, but he doesn’t know how Steve would feel about Cath having told him, so he says, “You, my friend, are a lousy date. I’m just saying.”

“I know,” Steve says mournfully, flopping back down flat. “I never would have let her come if I knew it was going to get this bad.” His mouth does a weird little twist, like he’s holding back a sob, and Danny’s right back to wanting to pet him, to run his fingers through Steve’s sweat-spiked hair and soothe the tension out of his face.

But that won’t do anybody any good, so instead he says, “A shower would probably help get the fever down—you up for that?”

+++

Steve’s nothing if not determined once he’s set himself on a mission, so he gets himself up and to the bathroom under his own power, even if just swinging his legs over the side of the bed sets off a half minute coughing jag.

Danny shadows him nevertheless, because he’s as hunched and wobbly as an old man.

“Seriously?” Steve rasps as Danny comes into the bathroom with him. “Seriously?”

“Seriously. Can you imagine what Cath would do to me if I let you crack your head on the porcelain? Strip.”

Steve glowers, but Danny ignores him and gets the water adjusted to his own definition of tepid, then puts a guiding hand under Steve’s elbow as he steps over the side of the old-fashioned tub. He settles himself on the toilet seat to keep watch.

Steve’s fine for a minute, head bowed, feet braced at something like parade rest. Then he lurches suddenly and smacks a hand hard against the shower wall.

“Whoa.” Danny’s up in an instant, pulling back the shower curtain and getting a hand on Steve’s bicep. The water is cool as it soaks his shirt sleeve, but Steve’s skin is still hot to the touch. “Maybe sitting down is the better option here.”

Steve sits, knees drawn up but face raised now to the spray. He’s starting to shiver a little, and Danny thinks about calling it quits, but Steve has this dogged look, like fever reduction is his personal order from JSOC, so he lets it go. Water runs down Steve’s face and beads in his eyelashes and he keeps dashing it off his cheeks with a shaking hand.

It looks so much like he’s brushing away tears that Danny, who never lets sleeping dogs lie at the best of times, can’t help saying, “Cath said you were pretty upset last night. You wanna share?”

For a moment he thinks Steve is just going to ignore him. But something—the fever, the water, the vulnerability of sitting naked in the tub—seems to have opened him up.

“I think was being so hot,” Steve says, voice flat, and barely audible above the hiss of the shower. He’s not looking at Danny, and in profile his face looks oddly ageless, like something caught out of time. “Made me think of summer in the Gulf. This raid we did in Tikrit. There was a lot of close combat and I killed this one guy with my knife. Not even the target, one of his security detail—just doing his job like I was doing mine.” Steve takes a long, rattling breath, and coughs twice into his elbow. “Nothing I haven’t done before or since. But this guy, his face stayed with me. He was looking right at me when he died.” Steve pushes the heels of his palms into his eyes, as if he’s seeing that face even now.

Danny’s holding his breath. Steve never talks like this—never talks about the men he’s killed, except wrapped up in some kind of anecdote of adventure. Part of him wants to stop it, wants to wrap Steve up in a blanket and tell him to forget the whole thing. But he’s sure the better choice is to let Steve finish.

“And, you know, at the time, I was just so goddamn happy—that I’d killed him before he killed me, that the mission was going to succeed. But last night, I saw his face, and I started thinking about did he have a family, a lover, some place he wanted to go back to when the war was done. And all I was was sad. Just really sad.”

Steve’s definitely crying now, nose running faster than the water can wash it away, eyes red, breath coming in phlegmy little gusts. He’s shaking hard, too, so Danny shuts off the shower and pulls Steve out as gently as he can. He has no idea what to say, though he thinks he understands—God knows he carries around faces of his own. So he just hands Steve a towel he can wrap around his waist and drapes another across his shoulders, whispering, “Yeah, I know, yeah,” as he takes the opportunity to rub his hand along Steve’s back.

+++

Cath’s in the bedroom when they emerge, looking refreshed in a blue jersey dress, her hair damp around her face and smelling wonderfully of fresh coffee. It’s a good thing she’s there, too, because Steve basically stumbles to the bed and collapses in a shivering ball, clearly as cold now as he was hot before. Between them, they get him into clean clothes and under the covers and take his temperature again. It’s down almost two degrees—not great, but not ER territory either. Cath’s brought up tea and juice and she starts trying to coax some of it into Steve. Danny, feeling relieved and exhausted himself, heads downstairs to see if he can find everyone something to eat, and maybe get some of that coffee for himself.

But by the time he’s heated up a can of soup and scrambled eggs and buttered toast (and yeah, maybe gulped a cup of coffee), Catherine and Steve have both crashed. Her head’s against the headboard, her arm around Steve’s shoulders, her legs drawn up, and he has his head pillowed on her breasts, knees tucked under hers.

Danny stands in the doorway, the tray heavy in his hands, fighting a pang of envy. He’s not sure who it’s for. For Steve, curled up around a beautiful woman who cares enough about him to wait out a rough night; or for Cath, who can freely give the kind of physical comfort that Danny’s been restraining himself from offering all morning. He huffs out a laugh at his own patheticness, and is about the set the tray down for them to have later and get back to those Saturday morning errands he hadn’t been joking about, when Cath starts awake.

She smiles at him like they’ve been friends forever. “Oh good. Let’s wake him up and see if we can get some of that into him. Come on,” she gestures to the bed on the other side of Steve, “I think this is going to be a two person job.”

They can only rouse Steve into partial wakefulness, which probably isn’t a bad thing, because he’s more or less compliant while Cath eases spoonfuls of soup through his lips and Danny holds the bowl. By the time Cath is digging into the eggs and toast herself, they’ve ended up pressed tight together, Steve a warm, blanket covered lump between them. There’s no TV up here, course, not even a radio—Steve likes his quiet when he can get it—and there’s not much noise except for the congested snuffle of Steve’s breathing. Cath gives him a conspiratorial wink over Steve’s body, and Danny thinks, yeah, those errands can probably wait for a while.