“Hey Stel, do you know where my -”
“Probably, but maybe if I don’t tell you, you won’t get back on that virus-ridden tube called an airplane after you’ve had your immune system compromised twice in less than a year through donation and risk putting yourself in the hospital with a serious infection.”
Danny slowly straightened up, one hand automatically resting over the incision that had grown considerably less uncomfortable since his arrival back in Jersey but still gave the occasional twinge among the discomfort to remind him of his recent major surgery. Not that he could forget it when he’d decided that crashing with his sister for a few days to breathe and not be a burden on anyone else would be better than his parents’ house, where his mother would have driven him up a wall within a day. Crashing with the younger sister who happened to be a nurse very good at her job and now glared at him from a doorway, arms crossed defiantly over her chest, chin tilted up in a challenging look.
Pain in the ass siblings anyway. He loved her but in that moment, he wanted to lock her in a closet to give himself a few minutes to escape without judgement before she found her way out. Immature, yes, but given he was recuperating and she could easily wrestle him to the ground right now in an equal fight, he was only improving his chances. “Stella, no, I need my wallet back because I am going whether you like it or not.”
A casual glance at the phone assured him that the date causing the mild apprehension in his gut (or maybe that was just the nausea side effects of the drugs he had to take) was still a few days out but getting back earlier rather than just making it assured him that he could get things in order without the rush. These days, he did not have the energy to rush quite yet, hence leaving several hours early for the airport.
With a huff, Stella marched forward and slapped his wallet in his outstretched hand. “You’re still on medical leave, Danny. You stupidly risked yourself flying here and you still didn’t tell ma and pops about,” she waved down the length of his body with her hand, “you just hid in Eric’s old room and slept. I’m entirely happy to continue to let you do that until the common cold isn’t going to knock you on the ass.”
Danny put a hand over her mouth, just as they’d done when they were siblings and their mother threatened to ground them if she heard ‘shut up’ shouted from any corner of the house one more time. “Shhh, Stel, I am a grown man and believe me, this risk I am about to take is for a very good reaso-” He stopped as someone rapped loudly on the door, followed by a muffled voice that sounded oddly familiar.
Eric. Why was his nephew outside the door?
“-no reason for me to keep it when I moved to Hawaii, so of course I don’t have a - “ The sheepish look only grew more pronounced on Eric’s face as Danny pulled the door open to find not only Eric, but Nahele and the last person that should have been standing there. His jaw dropped open and Eric, wise to the way of the Williams family, muttered an ‘oh crap’ and quickly tugged Nahele a little down the hall of the apartment building. “You might want to cover your ears,” he explained, already sticking a finger in one of his own. Nahele only stared at him in a way that said he felt Eric was very, very strange.
“Hey, dear little sister of mine, who should be flying on planes even less than I should?” he called over his shoulder to where Stella had retreated into the kitchen, no doubt checking to make sure he’d rounded up all his medications.
“Those with autoimmune diseases!” she shouted back at him. Sighing, Danny pinched the bridge of his nose.
“No, Stel, relating to my current predicament,” he called, but when he heard silence in return, he knew he might have overstepped and poked the bear. Stella suddenly whirled out of the kitchen, dark hair fluttering loose from her ponytail in her hasty movements, blue eyes wide as she caught sight of Steve in the doorway.
“Oh, you two are perfect partners for each other,” she snapped, throwing her hands in the air. “You’ll die at the same time because neither one of you has a lick of common sense between you!” Her voice rose in volume, making even Danny wince and hunch his shoulders slightly. He was used to it.
Steve, on the other hand, went from seriously irritated to chagrined in the space of seconds, his body posture mirroring Danny’s. He noted that his partner was paler than he’d ever seen him, his Hawaiian tan starting to lose ground to days spent in the hospital, flat on his back. His face looked slightly puffier than usual, no doubt from his medications, and there were dark circles under his eyes. While his clothes were baggier, his body hidden under the hoodie he wore touting the University of Hawaii, there was something about him, maybe his stance, that made him seem smaller.
Stella seemed to pick up on it as well, gently nudging her brother aside and taking the silent man by the elbow, coaxing him inside. She paused in the doorway to point down the hallway. “You inside now.”
Eric followed after them. “Ma, I deal with more dead people than the living. How was I supposed to know he wasn’t supposed to fly, huh? The man tells me to point him at Uncle D, I gotta do it. He’s kind of my boss...ish,” he finished lamely. The only one not seeming to suffer from a case of frustration or awkwardness seemed to be Nahele, bouncing slightly where he stood.
“Sorry,” he said, “I haven’t been off O’ahu and he asked if I wanted to come along. I figured I could help out.” Of all of them, Nahele was the one that Danny blamed the least. Given the kid had to fight his way up off the streets, offering him a chance to see the world outside the island was a low, tempting blow and he turned his glare on Steve, now seated on Stella’s couch and blinking wearily.
“That took more out of me than I thought,” he muttered, the first words Danny heard out of him since opening the door.
“No shit, Sherlock,” Danny snapped back, taking on Stella’s tone and causing his sister to roll her eyes. He was fully aware that he was a hypocrite given the situation, but he didn’t care. “What the hell do you think you’re doing here? Not only that, how can you even be here? You weren’t supposed to be released for another week, you Neanderthal. Please, please tell me that you did not ninja out the window and we’re going to get back just in time for Tripler to have put an APB out on you,” he added, ignoring the twinges of his healing incision as he threw his hands out, too furious to care right then. “Your immune system is extremely compromised, Steven, and if you’d lost those meds you were on, if you reject at any point between here and Hawaii, if you-”
“I know!” Steve barked suddenly, head whipping up to glare at him. “I fucking realize how limited I am, Danny. I can’t swim, I can’t even walk to the mailbox and back without getting winded right now. I can’t even think about returning to my job right now and oh, the Navy is entirely out now.” His voice grew softer and he leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees and hands clasped. “So you can fucking excuse me for fighting for the last few things in my life that aren’t out of reach yet.”
The transition of emotions played out on Danny’s face quickly, from shock at Steve’s reaction to confusion, then the realization what Steve meant. “You...damn it, Steven, that’s what a telephone is for!” Danny shouted, balling up his fists at his sides.
From somewhere off to his left, he heard Stella mutter about someone having a coronary before the goddamn conversation was over. Her, most likely, if she had to continue to deal with all these schmucks. Eric and Nahele had disappeared from the room, most likely raiding the kitchen of Stella’s recently bought groceries.
“Would you have picked up, huh?” Steve rose slowly up off the couch. “You left, Danny, without a word to me or anyone else. The only one who knew was Chin and that was because you asked him to check in on your house,” he stated angrily, thrusting a finger in Danny’s face. “You ran.”
Danny scrubbed his hands over his face in frustration. By that point, Stella had disappeared as well, leaving the two of them. “In case you haven’t noticed, while I’m a little better off than you, I am still healing as well, Steve,” he ground out, pressing his fingertips to his forehead as he tried to summon up the patience, “and I was not going to impose on anyone to have to deal with me. Abby is moving in with Chin, Kono has Adam to worry about, Grover has his wife and kids. I would not ask anyone to let me be a burden on them and I had to get out of there for a few days to clear my head.” He dropped his hand and glared up at Steve. “In case you hadn’t noticed, which you just clearly stated you did, so that’s out, it has been a whirlwind these last several weeks and if we’d stayed in the same hospital room much longer, we would have killed each other.” He resisted the urge to stab him in the chest with a finger. “I did not run, Steven, I beat a strategic retreat so I could come home, rest, sort my head out when it comes to the fact that someone I love very dearly almost died right in front of me when I thought he was invulnerable, and then return in time for you to be released. Do not pin this on me since you have to be here against the doctor’s orders.”
In the time it took Danny to say what he needed to, Steve slowly sat back down, head resting in his hands. “Do you know how it looked, Danny? Like I was, what, too broken for you to even be around anymore? Hey, here’s a liver, glad you survived, but this whole thing isn’t working anymore. I need someone who can keep up - “
“You are such an idiot,” Danny interrupted, but his voice was softer this time. He slumped down heavily on the couch next to Steve, his knee butting against his partner’s. “You are such an idiot if you think, no matter how rough things have been lately, that I would ever leave you. That any of us would. Kono, Chin, Lou. When you take a bunch of broken, misfit toys and make them a family, they don’t leave you, Steve. That love and gratitude lasts for life and I’ll be dead before I leave you. You hear me? Dead. Over my dead body.”
“Please stop saying that,” Steve said suddenly, closing his eyes and swallowing hard. And there, where Steve had once been so unreadable, even in the years after his return home where the SEAL began to soften around the edges, Danny saw the terror and the vulnerability, the little signs that indicated what degree of PTSD Steve suffered from before had increased sharply when he came so close to cashing out. Steve wasn’t just hurting physically, he was fighting a battle on the mental and emotional fronts as well, and Danny felt a strong swell of need to protect him right then. Slipping a hand around behind his neck, Danny leaned over to gently rest his forehead against the side of Steve’s head as they sat there. “I’m sorry, I just…”
“Don’t you dare apologize. After the hell you’ve been through, Steve, that was a piss poor thing for me to say,” Danny said softly, working the same spot on the back of Steve’s neck as he had when they found him drugged and beaten, looking for a father who was dead. His heart ached for him. “I’m sorry. I should have said something, I just...I needed a few days. I didn’t think of what the impact might be though. I was coming back, I swear. I will always come back, all right? Hawaii is my home now, my ohana. You don’t leave ohana.”
Steve’s hand found its way to his, gripping it tightly as if it was a lifesaver in a sea raging in a storm. “We have to learn to communicate better. Everything lately has been...a mess. A real big mess because we don’t communicate like we once did. I don’t know why we stopped but…” The metaphorical lightbulb went on over Danny’s head and he pulled away to consider Steve. “We’ll find out. No therapists, no groups, no retreats. You are not going back on a plane soon in the condition you’re in, so you, Nahele, you’re staying here in New Jersey for a few days and when you’re feeling up to it? We’re gonna talk. All right? We’re going to do that, then as a reward, we’re getting some proper pizza. Got it?”
Steve snorted softly, but he gently nodded his head. When he turned to look at Danny, he saw the faint glint of unshed moisture at the corners of his eyes. “Got it,” he said softly, then in a gesture that was entirely unStevelike and yet felt appropriate all the same, an unspoken ‘lean on me’ gesture accepted by someone unused to accepting those offers, he rest his head against Danny’s shoulder, closing his eyes. “I’m so tired,” he said, his voice barely perceptible. “Everything is so different and I am so lost.”
Danny closed his eyes, resting his cheek against the top of Steve’s head as he put an arm around his shoulders, hugging him as tightly as he dared. “I know, babe, but we’re gonna find your way back,” he murmured softly. “I’ll be right here to help you.”