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The Dark Night Of The Soul

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In an obscure night

Fevered with love's anxiety

(O hapless, happy plight!)

I went, none seeing me

Forth from my house, where all things quiet be


When Danny is released from the hospital — or rather: when he discharges himself, against his doctor's advice — Steve doesn't approve. It's not so much that he thinks Danny needs to stay in the hospital per se; it's rather that now he, Steve, doesn't have an easy excuse anymore to check in on his best friend. In the hospital, Danny needs a distraction, company, but at home? He gets his distraction and especially company enough from his kids and by simply being at home. There's no more need for Steve to drop by every day in the time off work in the hours between late afternoon and early evening, because "the hospital is en route to his home". To get to Danny's house, he has to drive there deliberately. Of course that would raise too many questions from the team and earn him a slap to the back of his head from Danny for "behaving like a helicopter mom" and a rant that he "doesn't need to get pampered".

So Steve fights the nagging urge to visit Danny at all. At least he doesn't set a foot inside the Jerseyan's house. But every night he climbs into his truck and drives the few miles to Danny's to watch his friend's bedtime routine. There are no shutters that block the view, and so Steve sees every night at about 9 o'clock how Danny walks around inside to assure that all windows are closed and the alarm is set. He's doing it with those careful, slow, stiff moves that indicate to Steve that Danny is clearly not as "okay" as he states when he visits HQ from time to time on his way to physical therapy. Steve's hands tighten around the steering wheel, knuckles going white, and he fights the need to get out of the car and knock at the door to help Danny. He just forces himself to sit and wait, wait, until finally the last light is turned off in the house — in the room where Danny sleeps — before he starts the truck and drives home.

At home, though, Steve is unable to fall asleep. His heart is beating way too fast, and his hands are always sweaty whenever he puts his head on his pillow and closes his eyes. He starts awake when his mind wanders too far, and in most nights the need to check in on Danny is too strong to ignore; he gets into the truck and drives to Danny's house again, to make sure from a distance that everything is still okay. He doesn't even care that he's already in his pajama pants. He falls asleep, then, there, in this uncomfortable position in the driver's seat, only to wake up in the early morning when the sun rises to drive back home, get a shower and get ready for another day.

He knows he can't keep that up forever; eventually, his body will force him to rest adequately. So when the Christmas party is over, he can't fight the urge to be near Danny anymore. Danny is at the dinner, too, but Steve almost doesn't recognize him. He is thin; thinner than ever, pain lines etched into his face that haven't been there before. He is still moving slow and winces in pain whenever he makes a wrong move; he is too silent for Steve's liking, too, and so, when Lou finally grabs Steve's arm and pulls him into the kitchen where the two of them are alone for a moment, Steve has already made his mind up, even before Lou starts to speak.

"Stop that, Steve. Stop that right now." When Steve looks at Lou, confused, the bigger man sighs and leans against the counter. "This — whatever it is that keeps you away from your boy." He is polite enough to ignore Steve's wince at that. "Hell, Steve, you two need each other. Can't you see that? Since he's at home, he's been calling me every day. He pretends he wants to stay in the loop, but either he thinks I'm an idiot to not realize why he really is calling, or he lies to himself about that. He is calling because of you. Whatever it is that keeps him from calling you directly, I can see a pattern here with you, too. Don't you think Duke told me that the patrol he sends past Danny's street ever since the shooting sees your truck in front of Danny's house almost every night? Snap out of it, man. You need each other. Stop playing the tough guy and go to him. Please. Make sure your boy is all right, make sure you are all right, Steve. Don't worry about us, don't worry about others. This is about you — you two and no-one else. Go to him. Tonight."

It's not that Steve needs Lou's absolution for this; but Lou's concern and sympathy warms his heart and reinforces his decision. So, when the party is finally over, he is spending his first night at Danny's house. In Danny's bed, actually; while Danny sleeps in Grace's. The girl is with her mother, and both men agree that Steve shouldn't sleep on the couch when Santa is supposed to appear — Charlie is still easy to convince, but they know they can't trick the clever boy into believing Santa would show up while Steve sleeps on the couch.

It becomes a daily — or rather: nightly routine for them, now. Steve comes over at around half past 8 in the evening, they spend an hour or so sprawled comfortably on the couch, arguing about all and sundry, or simply watch TV without talking at all, then they go to sleep. Steve on the couch, Danny in his bed.



***


Steve's sleep isn't very deep, and Danny is grateful for that. Because whenever his own sleeping mind wanders off too far from that happy place he was in when he was delirious after being shot, Steve is by his side in an instant and wakes him gently, soothes his frantic breathing with light touches on his hands, arms, temple. He is glad Steve is here; he is glad Steve spends every night at his house, and so he even forgives him the white lie when one night he asks.

"Steve — how did you know I had a nightmare? I only started to realize it myself…?"

Steve shrugs and stares at a point on the wall above Danny's right shoulder. "I — uhm — I was thirsty and just came by your door…"

The kitchen is on the opposite side of the house, with the living room being in the center. But Danny doesn't point that out to Steve. In the few weeks since he was shot down, he had feared that their friendship had been destroyed. Destroyed by what Steve had been forced to do to keep him alive. Steve had — well — not really avoided him, but seemed not very interested in him either, and had not visited him anymore after his release from the hospital. At first, Danny had been sure it was a kind of punishment from Steve, because he had seen that Steve had not been happy that Danny was out so fast after an almost-fatal injury. But then… Danny had felt neglected when Steve didn't show up even once at his house to check in on him. He had tried to suck it up, to take it like a man, but it hurt like hell and only worsened his nightmares. And then — one night while closing the window in the dining room, Danny spotted something across the street that made his heart flutter and his pulse thrum loudly in his ears.

A Silverado truck. Silver-colored. He waited that night, waited for Steve to knock on the door (or rather just open it with one of his sneaky SuperSEAL ninja tricks), but Steve never came. Still, it felt comforting, and in the nights that followed he peeked out of the dining room window before he went to bed. The truck was always there; it became a constant in his life that was as necessary as the simple act of breathing.

So, when Steve finally showed up on Christmas night in his living room, Danny would have loved nothing more than to just embrace his best friend. Of course he didn't. That's not how things worked between the two of them, and Danny had instead settled for simply sitting next to Steve, shoulders and knees touching. It gave him a feeling of security he couldn't explain. That was the first night without nightmares. Mostly, because Steve woke him up when he was about to drift into one and simply being there when the panic attack that followed shook him badly.

Steve must have developed an extra sense for him, Danny muses now as he watches how Steve tugs at the blanket, and suddenly doesn't want him to go back, to leave him alone in the room. The darkness is too suffocating. So he groans a little bit louder than necessary when he tries to rearrange the damn body pillow the hospital gave him to keep from rolling onto his bad side and to support his back. "Ah, Steve, could you—?"

Steve reacts in the split of a second, is around the bed and then Danny feels him stuff the pillow against his back. He hisses when that grates against the wound in his back, and Steve freezes. "I'm sorry, buddy, I'm sorry…"

Danny waves further apologies down. "Nah, not your fault, but that stupid pillow always slips away at night. Now I finally know the reason why hospitals have those rough sheets." He chuckles and turns his head — although that move hurts like hell, too — and simply looks at Steve with a longing he no longer wants to hide.

Steve blinks at him, still frozen. Then something like realization dawns in his dark blue eyes, and he lowers his head in acquiescence. He pulls the pillow away, drops it to the floor and slides under the covers, until his front is flush against Danny's back. "Then you should use something that doesn't slip away," he murmurs as he gently puts an arm over Danny's waist, carefully avoiding all of the wounds.

Danny shivers under the delicate touch. His voice is raspy and full of barely held back emotions  when he answers. "Or someone, huh." He turns his head again, and through the support of Steve's warm body on his own this move now hurts so much less that he feels his eyes burn with tears of relief. Steve's face is merely inches away from his own; he can't prie his eyes off of those lips, and lifts his head just a little bit more toward them.

Their lips meet, and it's a chaste kiss, sweet and soft and yet full of promise.

After this night none of them has nightmares anymore.