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Puppy Love

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One gap between the newspapers covering his kitchen floor, just one… and that was where the puppy had crapped. Of course.

It looked up at him, head slightly to one side, wagging its tail as it sat there. Its long, wet tongue lolled out, completing the look of idiocy on its hairy little face.

Steve sighed and took a step towards the crap. The puppy jumped to its feet, bounded happily towards him. Ran straight through the crap. Papers scattered. Dog crap paw-prints smudged across the tile. It jumped up at him, smeared the stuff on his cargoes, then scrabbled excitedly at him with its front legs until it was covered in it too.

Steve sighed again, deeply. One floor to clean, a change of clothes now required, and one puppy to wash if she was going to be fit for purpose today. How the hell did he get himself into these things?

*************************************************************

"A puppy? Are you serious? How you gonna find time for a puppy?! That’s insane!" Steve's face twisted into a look of scornful disbelief.

Danny glared at him incredulously. "Are you kidding me?! Can you please just watch the road?! Could we not have had this conversation an hour ago when I actually told you about the freaking puppy? Remember? When we were sitting drinking coffee in nice comfortable chairs in the nice safe office and you totally ignored me?! So, what, you felt you had to wait until you were pursuing gun-toting madmen through the streets of Waikiki at 150 miles an hour before you could even acknowledge that I'd said anything out loud?! What the hell is the matter with you, huh?!"

Steve threw the Camaro into a stomach turning sideways skid. "What?! I wasn't ignoring you, Danno. I was thinking it over. It's a big commitment and in case you haven’t noticed, we have a pretty hectic schedule. Have you thought it through, there’s a better question?!"

“Might have known you’d have an issue with the commitment part,” Danny mumbled under his breath, cringing as the Camaro bounced up onto the sidewalk, narrowly missing a random pedestrian.

“What?!”

“I said of course I’ve thought it through, Steven!” Danny snapped loudly, lunging frantically for the sissy bar as his precious car bounced back onto the roadway and fishtailed away again with an ear-splitting squeal. “And now you actually appear to be listening, I'll tell you again, see if the information can penetrate your thick skull this time! I know we have a hectic schedule; the puppy isn’t for us.”

Shit. He cursed inwardly, realizing how his mistaken use of that last word might have sounded. Maybe Steve wouldn’t notice his slip.

No such luck.

“What do you mean it ‘isn’t for us’?! How could it ever have been for ‘us’?! Why would we be getting a pet together?” Steve glanced round and the stark fear on his face at the mere concept of dog co-ownership with Danny actually hurt. Not that Danny would let on.

“LOOK WHERE YOU’RE GOING!!!” Danny yelled, because survival took priority over awkward conversation any day of the week.

Steve complied, hands tight on the steering wheel, jaw clenched.

“I meant it’s not for me, okay? It’s for Grace,” Danny clarified, tone uncharacteristically tempered. He shook his head, mouthing silent obscenities. The poorly defined nature of their relationship had just bit him hard on the ass out of left field.

He and Steve might have been screwing pretty regularly for months now, but the truth was they were no closer to the getting-a-dog-together stage of a relationship than Danny was with… Lou Grover. Getting a dog together implied commitment and required co-habitation. Those were simply not options on the Steve McGarrett menu.

No, Steve and Danny were buddies who just happened to fuck. Period. Apparently.

Steve was pretty monosyllabic on the whole what-are-we subject and, quite frankly, it was giving Danny a semi-permanent migraine. Danny wanted… what? The hot sex? Hell yeah! But what about the warm and fuzzy stuff that was supposed to go with it? Without the commitment, the small-talk, the post-coital cuddling, the newspapers on a Sunday morning… without the actual mother-fucking dog… without those things, what they were doing was… cheap. It was cheap. That was how it made Danny feel, anyway. He didn’t like cheap.

Truth was, he wanted the hot sex and the warmth and fuzziness. The cuddling, the newspapers. The freaking dog. Yes, he wanted the damn co-owned dog! The whole stupid, heart-shaped package with a neatly tied bow on the top. The love-you-forever-and-ever crap. But Steve was just not a serious relationship guy, wouldn’t even talk about the subject.

Not that Danny had really pushed, not after Steve had changed the subject in an entirely unsubtle way the couple of times they had even hovered around the edges of having The Talk anyway. No. It had taken a while, but a harsh reality had belatedly dawned on Danny; he and Steve might be perfect in the cop-partners domain, but they were a total mis-match as a potential romantic pairing. It was pretty damn obvious that, to Steve, Danny was the new Cath, now Cath was away doing whatever super-secret agent spy stuff she’d got herself into. He was the not-boyfriend substitute for the not-girlfriend.

For a commitment guy like Danny, it was a shitty situation to be in.

Yet whenever things got quiet and it was just the two of them, whenever he caught Steve watching him with that soft, smouldering look in his eye… whenever Steve moved closer, then leaned in to kiss him without a word ever passing his lips, Danny had never said no. Not once. Not the first time, when it had come out of the blue. Not the last time, not any time in between. So what did that say about him?

The blond man shook his head again in total frustration. He knew exactly what it said. He was in love. He’d take what he could freaking get.

“I love dogs, as you know. And actually I would love to have a dog, even though you would clearly disapprove, so thanks for that,” he grumbled, hating Steve just a little bit. And yes, lashing out about the dog-related attitude was a whole lot easier than poking at the can of worms that was their ‘relationship’. So sue him.

“However,” he continued. “As I say, the puppy would be for Grace, not for me. I said that to you already, back when you weren’t listening in the office! It's Gracie’s birthday in two weeks and since the other dog died a while back and Rachel and Stan have never seen fit to provide my baby girl with a replacement… I thought it would be perfect."

Steve grunted. Eyes fixed on the perps' car as it reversed rapidly past them, he floored the brakes, then pulled on the handbrake and spun the steering wheel aggressively. "Oh okay. And what does Rachel think about this hypothetical puppy?"

"Rachel…" Danny gritted out between clenched teeth, squirming uncomfortably, maybe for more reasons than one what with his stomach lagging several feet behind his actual body, as the Camaro screeched through the 180 degree turn. "Rachel didn’t say ‘no’. Exactly."

Steve laughed, long and loud and irritating.

Foot to the floor and they were off again, landscape flashing by in a blur. "I see. So you've not asked if you can inflict a pet on her which needs a lot of attention and is going to be a long-term commitment. Bearing in mind Gracie will be leaving home and going to college in a few years."

Danny snorted ruefully. "Hey, don't remind me. And no I haven’t asked. Yet. But kids should have dogs, Steve! It’s a given. Kids need dogs like you need… I don’t know… a high velocity automatic rifle in your trunk. I'm just trying to do something nice for my daughter. And I figure even when she does leave home, not that we're even thinking about that, it will be a pet for Charlie too. Every boy should have a dog, right? A home just ain’t a home without one."

"If you say so, Danno,” Steve replied in a mocking tone, complete with patronising eye-roll. “Soooo, it's a present for Charlie in the guise of a present for Grace. That's cheap."

Danny screwed up his face. "Just… shut up." He flinched as a bullet pinged off the windshield, then wound down the window and started to return fire.

"WHAT SORT YOU GONNA GET?" Steve shouted over the sounds of rushing air and automatic weapon discharge.

"WHAT?!"

"WHAT BREED?"

At that moment, the bang of an exploding tire from in front signalled the end of their pursuit. Steve brought the Camaro to a screeching stop as the vehicle they had been chasing left the road in front of them and rolled down a steep embankment. And the crazy bastards must have had their explosives in the vehicle with them because the blast that followed was fucking enormous.

The partners got out the Camaro then stood side-by-side, watching the inferno. No one was getting out of that. Distant sirens approached, signifying the impending arrival of HPD, who had at one time been hot on their heels.

Danny holstered his weapon and leaned against the hood of his car. "There's a litter of Golden Retriever puppies that's gonna be ready next week over in Wahiawa. They're expensive but the breed is perfect for kids."

"And plenty of hair for Rachel to have to vacuum too, right?" Steve smiled a knowing smile, eyes following the billowing smoke up high into the perfect blue sky.

Danny snorted. "Rachel has a cleaner. It's not even a consideration."

Steve raised an incredulous eyebrow and shot Danny a sideways look and okay, so Danny couldn't conceal the smug little grin that suggested if Rachel's 20000 dollar suite got a little hairy that wouldn't be such a bad thing. Steve was good enough to let him have that.

At that moment the first HPD car arrived at the scene and they turned to see who might be joining them. Duke climbed out the vehicle, which was always a good thing, followed closely by some newbie who looked about twelve, all brightly polished shoes and neatly creased shirt. Danny snorted. He’d learn.

"Although," said Danny, "I'll go look in the animal shelter first. If there's something needing a home that fits the bill, so much the better, right?"

Apparently Steve couldn't argue with that. But, naturally, he couldn't let Danny have two free wins in a row either. "Okay but I'm coming with you. You'll need guidance."

Danny’s eyebrows shot skywards. "Are you serious?! To choose a puppy for my kid?! Anyway, I just got the distinct impression you disapproved of the whole dog thing in general, now you want involved?!"

The SEAL smiled an infuriatingly broad white smile, then grabbed Danny by the nape of the neck and leaned in to press a hard smack of a kiss square on the smaller man’s lips. Then his expression softened and he rested his forehead against Danny’s for a moment. Danny’s blood ran southwards at his partner’s proximity and the familiar musky smell and he growled in annoyance at himself, at Steve, at life, because this hot/cold thing was driving him crazy.

Then Steve said, “Sometimes I kinda feel like she’s my kid too. You know?”

The unexpected statement hit Danny right in the heart. Steve’s low voice held so much; affection, hope, the suggestion that they might actually be more than the odd beer-fueled roll in the sack after a tough case, despite his ongoing complete reluctance to talk relationships, let alone discuss potential future co-habitation or hypothetical shared pets.

Danny’s stomach did some weird flip-flopping thing and he pressed a little closer in spite of himself, not giving a shit who might be watching.

But then Steve pulled away, snapping back to aloof business mode. “You’ll thank me for this, Danno. Trust me! There’s nothing I don’t know about dogs. You might even learn something." With that he stalked off towards Duke and the kindergarten cop. “Just don’t expect me to clean up dog crap!” he threw back over his shoulder, without even turning his head.

Aloof business mode? Make that arrogant asshole mode. The man was a mess of contradictions.

Danny sighed deeply, shook his head, then followed along behind like he always did.

**************************************************************

Steve let go of the puppy for long enough to reach for a towel, only to get showered with water as the thing shook itself. He turned back. It looked at him, pretty pleased with itself, tongue lolling again.

It looked ridiculous. Even fluffier than it had pre-bath. At least it wasn't covered in crap any more.

He wrapped it in the towel, picked it up and started to walk out of the bathroom. It twisted its head around and licked his cheek, telling him in no uncertain terms that it loved him and life and everything with its whole tiny heart.

Suddenly he couldn't breathe. He sank down to the ground, his back to the wall, and buried his face in the towel and the wet puppy fluff and tried to breathe, just tried to breathe.

**************************************************************

"It's not Grace's birthday till the end of next week, right? If you get one now, whatchya gonna do with it?" Steve asked as they wandered up and down the line of cages, perusing the hopeful faces inside.

Danny shot him a look. "Well, seeing as you decided to be so involved, I thought maybe it could stay at yours."

Steve stopped, stared at Danny for a second, wide-eyed. "Very funny, Danno. I do not want a dog in my house. Ever. Period. You know that! Over my dead body. "

Danny glowered at him darkly and Steve frowned at the lack of verbal bite-back. Danny had been pretty damn grumpy, even for him, ever since the whole dog thing had first come up. Steve chewed on his lip for a moment, trying to fathom out what Danny’s specific problem might be. He came up empty. Sure, Steve had been teasing him incessantly about it. But Steve always teased him about virtually everything. They did it to each other. It was their thing.

“Clearly I’m kidding,” said Danny dryly, after a long pause. “I wouldn't inflict that on any animal. It'll stay with me. I already spoke to Mrs Ailani next door. She said she'd take it while I'm at work. See? Organised. That's what I am. Organised and thoughtful. My mom says I’m a great catch."

Steve nodded absently, still pondering why Danny was being so over-sensitive, whilst at the same time studiously blanking the blatant opportunity the blond man had just provided him with for flirtation-stroke-teasing. He would once have jumped on that but, now they had become that little bit more than friends and partners, he was consciously making an effort to hold Danny at arms’ length. It was for a damn good reason.

It would be too easy- way too easy- to get sucked into something serious with Danny. Danny ticked every box. He ticked boxes Steve didn’t even know he had before. But Steve did not do serious. Serious meant commitment, commitment meant betrayal or loss. Pain, either way. Danny had to understand that too, after Rachel. Keeping it light, keeping it fun; that was right for both of them. Still, Steve kept having to catch himself, force himself to pull back, to keep things uncomplicated and perfect. Sometimes it was hard. Danny Williams’ cantankerous charm and huge heart had a magnetic pull.

He glanced surreptitiously at the smaller man, who was now facing the other way, all broad shoulders and narrow hips and that ass. Steve looked away, fast. He needed to keep his mind on the dogs. Find Danny what he needed for Grace, then maybe he’d chill out a little. He looked around again, then lucked upon something else that caught his eye. He pointed to a nearby cage. "Here, this is the one."

Danny turned to see, then glared at him, incredulous. "That is not the one."

Steve squinted in confusion. It looked a damn smart animal to him. "Come on!” he exclaimed. “He's sleek, he's intelligent, he's fit. Look at him! Bet we could train him to bring down a perp. He's got that focused look in his eye."

The blond man’s glare could cut have through steel by now. "Steve, okay. Number one; as you made pretty damn clear, this dog is not for us. We are shopping for a pet for my daughter, not recruiting a new member of Five-0! And number two; it's not even a puppy, it's a full grown Doberman! I'm looking for cute, not potential killing machine! Cute! Think less canine version of you and more canine version of- I don’t know- Jerry! Number three… number three just shut up! I didn't ask you to come! You don't even like dogs, you prefer cats! You do not get to have an opinion!"

“You think Jerry’s cuter than me?!” Steve pouted theatrically.

“I think your ego is big enough already, how about that?” Danny threw back with a dismissive shrug.

"Hey, I'm just trying to help! Anyway, Dobermans have fantastic natures. Animal behavior is all about the owner, not the breed, Danno."

Somehow Danny managed to glare at him even more intensely and Steve shrugged, smirking. He looked around again. Cute. Steve mouthed the word silently, trying to picture what might pass for ‘cute’ in Danny's mind. Apart from him of course, he thought with a smug little grin.

"Okay, what about this one?" He strode off down the row of cages, then realized Danny wasn't following and turned back. "What?"

Danny was standing, staring into a cage, transfixed.

Steve walked back to his side, turned and looked in. There was a puppy inside, sitting staring right back at them, head cocked. It was stupidly fluffy and mostly white, one black splodge over its left eye, which was blue, the other being light brown. It wagged its tail, highlighting the fact that that particular appendage was way too long, seriously out of proportion with the rest of its body. In fact, Steve realized, the whole thing just looked plain weird. It was like someone had put together a dog from left over mis-matched dog parts then stuck tufts of cotton wool all over the result. Danny wanted cute. Was it cute? It looked… wrong.

"Its ears are squint. They aren’t the same." Steve pointed out as a starter.

"I know," Danny murmured in a tone that suggested that Steve's observation was nothing short of a heart-felt compliment.

Steve screwed up his face. "Cute? Seriously?"

Danny turned a disbelieving gaze on him. "Yes. Yes it is. It's okay, I don't expect you to get it because you do not think like a normal human being. However, trust me when I say it's perfect."

Steve looked on, bewildered, as his partner turned back to the strange puppy with an expression of total adoration on his face, all previous animosity instantly evaporating.

The dark-haired man frowned, trying to add up the evidence he had. Danny’s extra-pissy mood had started when Steve had been generally unimpressed with the idea of getting a dog. Okaaaaaaay. Could Danny really want a dog too? Was that the problem? Steve hadn’t taken him seriously when he had said he would love to have one. He had stamped down pretty hard on the notion, but for good reason; it was stupid! They worked long, irregular hours. Having a dog to worry about would be a pain in the ass for Danny. Steve was just looking out for him.

Watching Danny as he knelt down and began speaking gently to the little dog through the bars of its cage, Steve found himself smiling softly. He adored this caring side of Danny. The blond man was so damn cute it wasn’t even funny. He found himself wanting to kiss that face right there and then, hold that compact body close. Tell Danny he loved him. Really loved him.

He shook himself, cleared his throat. What the hell? He needed to watch himself. The dog thing would pass. And him and Danny…? There was nothing wrong with the status quo. He couldn’t let the lines get blurred.

*******************************************************************

Nervous. Steve was actually starting to feel nervous about a freaking puppy and a girl's fourteenth birthday. When had his life come down to this? This would never have happened in the Navy, no way.

He'd dried the fur already. He brushed it, tried to tame it into submission then gave up. It was always going to be fluffy. Was that cute? It certainly wasn't smart. Maybe it was cute. He picked up the stupid pink silk ribbon with the overlarge bow and secured it round the puppy's neck.

The puppy sat back on its haunches, surprised, then tried to turn around to look at the bow on the back of its neck. It ran round in circles then fell over. It stayed there on its back for no good reason, wiggling its paws in the air and snorting.

Ridiculous. Or cute? He watched the little guy tumbling around on the floor and his heart swelled about ten sizes. Okay, maybe, maybe Danno had been onto something.

****************************************************************

Steve glanced at Danny. "So what's the big plan? Gracie coming over to yours on her birthday? You gonna put it in a box? Can I be there?"

Danny screwed up his face, gave Steve a pitying look then went back to peering at the boat moored fifty yards away from them. They were lying in wait for the surviving members of the explosives gang, hiding behind a handy stack of ubiquitous crates. "Put it in a box? What the hell are you even saying, Steven, you can't put a puppy in a box! And anyway, no, I'm not getting Gracie on her birthday. Rachel and Stan are taking her to the Big Island to look at volcanoes as a surprise. I'll get her for the weekend when they get back. I guess you can come, if you promise to be a good boy."

Steve frowned. "So you don't see her on her birthday at all? That sucks. Why'd you agree to that?"

Danny sighed deeply, clearly resigned, and Steve felt the sudden urge to murder Rachel. Not for the first time.

"I agreed because I am an idiot. I’m a mug. People ask me to do stuff and I just go along with it like an idiot, then they drop me when it suits them and I just line myself up all over again for more.”

It didn’t even quite make sense, but the raw pain in Danny’s voice had Steve dropping his gaze to the concrete beneath his feet, because for some reason it felt like it was aimed at him as much as Rachel. He swallowed audibly.

There was an awkward silence, until Danny sighed dejectedly and pressed on. “But in this case I agreed because the trip is educational and I know she's been wanting to go. I can't say 'no' to that without looking like a dick. Anyway, I figured I'd go see her when she's leaving. Take the puppy. She can meet it and I'll keep it till she comes back." He smiled a sad little smile.

"Aaah, I get it. So you get to see her and you get to steal their thunder."

Danny shrugged. He laughed a funny little laugh.

"What?"

"Promise you won't laugh?"

Steve stuck out his bottom lip and shook his head. "No. Tell me anyway."

"Okay, I've just got this image of Gracie coming out the front door of that stupid mansion on her way to the private super-helicopter or whatever, and she spots the puppy playing on the front lawn. And it's got this big pink bow round its neck so it kinda looks like a present, yeah? But she's not sure and she walks over and gets this look when she realizes it's for her. She just smiles at me then runs over and picks up the puppy and she looks happy. And I get to know that I put that look on her face. Stupid, huh?"

Steve stared at him, blinking. See, this right here was the problem. Sometimes Danny could cut through all of Steve's barriers by saying the simplest thing and just fill him full of stupid affection. It made him want to hug the man forever and punch every single person who'd ever hurt him square in the face, ideally all at the same time. Fuck. This was how he’d got them into this stupid situation to begin with; Danny had said something innocuous but so entirely sweet that Steve just had to kiss him, and since then he hadn’t been able to keep his damn hands to himself. And now… okay, at times like this he could admit it to himself. He was so far gone on Danny it wasn’t even funny. 

He cleared his throat. "No. No, that's not stupid. I get it."

Danny let out a long breath. "Yeah well. I don't know if I can pull it off like that but I'm gonna try. I guess it's important, I don't know why."

Helpless to be anything but transparently moved by Danny’s sentiments, Steve reached over and squeezed his shoulder. "You're a good father, Danno."

Wary blue eyes met his, and Steve was suddenly overcome with guilt because he knew Danny. He was a family man, open and loving. What was Steve doing, wasting his time like he was? Stringing him along in a non-relationship when he should be settling down with some lasagne-baking, home-loving person who might just make him happy and give him the life he deserved.

He should let Danny go really. He shuddered slightly, the very notion making him feel hollow. Maybe he should buy Danny a puppy of his own, maybe that would make him happy and compensate for Steve’s inadequacies.

Or maybe he should grow a pair. Man up and tell Danny how he really felt. Maybe there was a chance Danny might feel the same way. Steve had never even asked him. Hadn’t wanted to hear the answer. Maybe he should. Maybe they could have a real relationship.

He was speaking before he had a chance to think through what he was going to say. It showed. “You’re… I’m sorry. I’m….”

Danny snorted resignedly as Steve’s words dried up. The dark-haired man cursed inwardly. It was just too hard. He couldn’t put his heart out there like that. He wasn’t ready.

But then there was movement on the boat and two figures walked ashore. It was the bad guys. The moment was gone.

*****************************************************************

Steve stood with the puppy, remembering the way Danny had wanted the present hand-over to go down before everything had gone to shit.

He saw Rachel at the window, checking he was in position. She gave a little wave when she spotted him then moved out of sight. The plan had been altered, of course, the trip to Big Island put off indefinitely, but the puppy thing could still happen the way Danny had wanted it to. Steve had spoken to Rachel about it and she was on side for once. It was a small, small thing in the big scheme of things… but it had been so important to Danny.

Steve let go of the puppy, threw a squeaky toy for her onto the front lawn and watched as she chased it. He looked up as the front door opened. He pulled out his cellphone and hit 'record' because this was important. He was doing this for Danny and he wanted to remember it, wanted to watch again to see if he'd gotten it right.

He watched as Gracie stepped out onto the front porch and looked over at him, plainly puzzled. His heart clenched. She'd been forced to grow up rapidly over the last two weeks. The child-like enthusiasm her birthday had brought her just the previous year was gone. She looked composed, but so deeply, achingly sad that Steve just wanted to hold her close and never, ever let anything hurt her again. He watched as her attention was caught by the puppy rolling comically on the front lawn. He watched her frown, confused, then look from him to the dog several times. He watched as she took in the ridiculous pink bow, the fluffy coat and the happy face of the little animal. He watched as realization dawned and she smiled, just a little. The sadness seemed to drop away for a long, precious moment. Steve couldn't help but smile too. It was a pale echo of what Danny had hoped for… but that smile had been genuine and that was a miracle in itself.

Still flicking her gaze between the puppy and Steve, Grace began to walk over to him, a question in her eyes.

He put away his cell and wrapped his arms around her, pulled her close. "Danno chose her for you sweetie. Before…" He felt his own voice breaking and he stopped.

He buried his face in Grace’s hair and inhaled.

She smelled just the tiniest bit like Danny and that just about broke his heart. Grace clung to him then and he could feel his shirt getting wet as she wept silently.

A tiny whimper from the vicinity of their feet had her pulling back.  Grace bent down and picked up the puppy, holding it close. It licked her wet face enthusiastically and she giggled. She looked back to Steve then, and he saw just an edge of joy in her sad brown eyes.

"Thank you," she whispered.

Then the puppy turned its head and looked at Steve adoringly and, as he stared back at it, something clicked. He suddenly got why Danny had been so pissed. It was obvious. It hadn’t been about the dog, had it? It had never been about the dog, it had been about them. The dog was symbolic. The dog signified commitment, stability, love. It signified everything Steve hadn’t been prepared to give Danny. When Steve had overtly rejected the idea of them getting a dog, he had really been rejecting Danny. Shit. And Danny had been upset… that could only mean one thing. Danny had wanted them.

How could Steve have been so blind?!

And now… the way he’d behaved seemed so damn stupid! It was pretty ironic, really. He’d been holding Danny at arm’s length to stop himself from being hurt, but now the fact he’d done that was making him hurt more. He’d hurt Danny. He’d lost out himself, robbed them both of the opportunity to even try to be more than they had been.

Why couldn’t he have realised this before everything had gone so horribly wrong?

***************************************************************

"Danny!" Steve shouted into his radio as he ran. "He's coming your way! Stop him!"

He rounded the corner seconds later only to see Danny bent over double, down on one knee, gasping for breath and clutching at his back.

Steve ran up to him, put a hand on his shoulder. "Danny? You good?"

"'nother guy." Danny wheezed. "Was hiding… here. Lucky… punch. Kidneys."

Steve winced, because kidney punches fucking hurt. "Which way'd they go?"

Danny pointed.

"You stay, get your breath."

"No. M'good."

Steve clapped him hard on the back and pulled him to his feet. Then they were running, Steve barking instructions to Chin and Kono and Lou over the radio to get the slippery little bastards boxed in.

"There!" Danny rasped out.

Steve looked, caught sight of the figures up ahead making for a van and just no way were they getting away. No way. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Danny kneel behind a crate then open fire. Steve moved to the side, following suit from a different angle in a well-practiced pincer movement. A volley of shots took out the perps' tires, took the legs out from under one. The others ground to a halt, turned slowly, hands on heads.

Kono materialized from the other side, gun drawn, looking every inch the badass, and Steve smiled broadly in satisfaction. They had them. They already had reams of evidence to prove their guilt. Bomb plot foiled, surviving bad guys virtually guaranteed to spend the rest of their natural lives in Halawa. Job done. He strode over, pulling zip-ties from his TAC vest as he went.

Kono beamed at him as she secured the squealing man with the leg wound, then she looked beyond him and her face fell. She frowned in concern. "Danny okay?"

Steve turned, saw Danny sitting back against the crate he'd taken cover behind. "Yeah, kidney punch. Still winded I guess. Give him a minute."

Danny must have seen them looking his way. He raised a hand to indicate he was good and pushed himself to his feet, started walking towards them slowly.

Then Chin was there, Lou was there, HPD were (finally) there, the bad guys were being frisked and thrown into marked cars, hauled off for medical attention/questioning as appropriate. A good result. Nothing left to do but procrastinate over paperwork and drink a celebratory beer or three. Maybe Danny would come back to his if he played his cards right.

"Beer?" he called over in Danny's general direction. Steve had been aware of him settling against another crate a little closer to them, had given him time to get his breath while the mess was being mopped up. "Or is it puppy first? You’ve gotta collect the puppy from Mrs Ailani, right? Then beer. You- uh- you wanna bring it to mine?”

That invitation should surely ease Danny’s mood, Steve thought. It was a small gesture, but it was something.

There was no response.

Frowning, Steve turned his head, looked at Danny.

Danny was standing now, like he'd taken a step towards Steve but then stopped. He was swaying on his feet, white as a sheet, sweat running freely down his face. What the fuck?

Steve pushed himself up off the crate he'd been leaning against and took a step closer. "Danny?"

"S-Steve?" The voice was faint, confused, scared, and prompted Steve to stride towards him, close the distance between them. He almost made it to Danny's side before his partner went down on his knees.

"Shit. Shit. DANNY! Somebody call a bus!" Steve shouted, never looking away from Danny. He ran the last few steps, skidded to a halt on his knees beside him, grasped his shoulders.

With marked difficulty Danny's eyes found Steve's.

"Danny? Talk to me. You hit?" And just like that Steve was transported to another hellish time and place when Danny had been exposed to sarin. Danny looked at him, pain and confusion and fear in his wide blue eyes and it was the same, it felt the same. Steve shook the feeling, told himself it wasn't the same.

Danny was trying to speak, his lips were moving like he was trying to answer but no sound came out.

"Okay, you're gonna be fine." Steve pressed his fingers to Danny's neck, still holding his gaze. Rapid, weak pulse. Kidney punch, that was all. Painful. Plus adrenaline crash maybe? Please please please let that be all. He tore off Danny's TAC vest, eyes roving the white shirt beneath for blood as he did so.

The rest of the team was with them now, he was vaguely aware of that, and Chin moved in to hold Danny upright, gripping his shoulders as Steve moved behind him, searching. He saw a red stain low on Danny's back, a hole in the material. He pulled up Danny's shirt. Fuck. There was a neat little wound just to the right of his spine, below his ribs. It was an inch across and bleeding by just the tiniest amount, the appearance clearly belying the seriousness of the injury.

Danny hadn't been punched at all. He'd been stabbed. The knife had gone in just below his vest.

Steve ducked his head for a moment, squeezed his eyes shut, then moved back in front of Danny. He grasped Danny's shoulder, hand beside Chin's. "Okay, just take it easy. There's a bus on its way. You're gonna be fine, you hear me? We've got a puppy to collect. Even if it is funny-looking. Right?"

A vague smile and blue, blue pain-filled eyes held his gaze, lacking comprehension, searching for an answer. But then those eyes lost their focus and Danny's head lolled limply to the side.

The evidence added up rapidly in Steve's head, training kicking in. "Internal bleeding. Shock. He's going into shock! Lie him down, hold his legs up. NOW! Where the hell are the EMT'S!"

Then people were running, shouting around them as he knelt by Danny's head, his partner now unconscious on the hot concrete, his eyes still open but blank and empty. Steve was shouting in his face, digging fingers into his shoulder, his cheek, trying to sound like he was issuing commands, trying not to sound like he was panicking. But those lips were turning fucking blue and they couldn't lose Danny. He couldn’t lose Danny!  

"Danny, you stay with me, you hear me?!" And he was trying to fucking make him fight with the harsh tone of his words alone. "You just keep fucking breathing, you hear me? You do not fucking give up. Keep breathing. In and out. You're doing good. You're gonna be just fine."

*****************************************************************

Steve watched as Grace, kneeling on the grass, cuddled the dog, kissed it, held it close like it was the most important thing in the world to her for all she hadn't known the thing even existed two minutes earlier. "What you gonna call her?"

Soulful brown eyes turned to look at him. "Did Danno give her a name?"

Steve shook his head. "He wanted you to name her."

Gracie frowned for a few moments. "I might let Charlie name her. What do you think?"

He thought he couldn't breathe past the lump in his throat, that was what he thought. "I think Danno would be real proud of you for that, Gracie," he choked out.

************************************************************************

Danny's face. Those scared, wide eyes.

Danny's hand, limp in his own. Cold.

Paramedics barking frantic instructions to each other as the bus tore along. As they fought to get him back.

The face of the ER doctor. A practiced expression, firm but sympathetic as she described the injury that had caused Danny's strong heart to stop. A single stab wound to the back, angled up. Not deep, but it had pierced a kidney. Danny had bled heavily internally, had gone into hypovolemic shock before anyone had even realized he was injured. Then a heart attack. He'd suffered a heart attack.

The images, the words, looped in Steve's mind as he sat, head bowed. His hands shook. His cheeks were wet and he didn't even care. He was still in the waiting room. They'd told him to go home and someone had to pick up that fucking dog. But he couldn't remember how to walk.

He couldn't quite believe Danny had done what he had done. Running, shooting, having Steve's back right to the last, right till he'd finally gone down. He should have checked him over when he'd found him in pain, not dragged him round the docks chasing freaking perps.

He should have told him he was in love with him from the start, instead of fucking him then pushing him away again to avoid getting hurt.

He was never gonna forgive himself. Never.

**********************************************************************

Steve played the clip of Grace and the dog over and over and over again. He watched Gracie's smile. That moment of surprise and pleasure layered amongst all the shock and the grief that had gone before.

He thought about Grace and the little puppy. Not such a little puppy any more. It had sprouted over the last four weeks. It was big enough to leave a trail of chaos in its wake, sweeping ornaments to the floor with its ridiculous, happy tail.

The dog had kept Gracie going and that was the only thing keeping him going. Who would have thought a dog could do that?

He looked up. Danny's eyes were open again and Steve held the cell up towards the blank face, played the clip for his partner for the hundredth time. Maybe he would see it this time.

"What do you think buddy? Not quite how you wanted it but I tried. Did I do okay?" He didn't expect an answer. He wasn't letting himself hope any more. Wasn't letting himself dream that Danny was still in there, that brain damage hadn't taken everything that was him away from them. Left them with an empty shell. Left him with an empty bed. Empty arms. An empty mother-fucking heart.

But this time Danny smiled. His lips moved hesitantly, formed the word 'yeah'. No sound came out, but Steve heard it as sure as if he'd yelled it in his ear.

The cell fell from Steve's fingers as he bent close, cupping Danny's cheek, looking into those blue eyes in disbelief. Danny looked at him. For the very first time since the nightmare on the dock that familiar gaze fixed on his… and there was a question there.

Steve snorted wetly. "Yes, okay you were right, I admit it. The dog's cute. I get it now. You were right."

Danny smiled a little wider. But the smile faded and Danny stared sadly into Steve’s eyes. Steve could almost see facts trickling into place in his partner’s mind, facts about them. He had to fix this.

Steve ducked his head lower, pressed the gentlest, most loving of kisses to Danny’s lips, determined to restore that smile for good. Ready to give him everything. “I understand now, Danno,” he whispered softly. “And if you ever want to get a dog with me… I think I would really like that.”

THE END