1b: To become free of the effect (such as stiffness, numbness, or hardness) of cold as a result of exposure to warmth
3: To abandon aloofness, reserve, or hostility
4: To become mobile, active, or susceptible to change
"Defrost it," the unpleasant woman with the big gun said again. Danny was really beginning to hate that accent. "I will not tell you a third time."
"Good," Danny snapped, or at least as much as he was able with a split and swollen lip. "Because that means I won't have to tell you a third that my Gift makes fire, not heat. If you'd like to make s'mores, I will be able to help you. If you ask politely. But unless you somehow think I can set this on fire— which I can't— you're barking up the wrong tree."
He could set the unpleasant woman on fire, of course. But he was kind of reluctant to do that. So far all they'd really done was rough him up and snarl threats, and Danny wasn't inclined to burn one of them unless he had no other choice. Besides, it'd wreck his hands, and that'd make it hard to hold a gun.
Also, Danny liked his hands. And he'd already lived through nearly burning himself to death, thanks. He wasn't going to do that again anytime soon if he could help it.
Which was why he endured yet another backhand to the face, courtesy of one of Unpleasant's latest batch of minions—different side, at least; very considerate, these assholes—spit a bit more blood, and just glared. "Beating me up isn't going to change how my Gift works."
"Fire makes heat," Unpleasant snarled. "Enough fire, enough heat. Last chance. I come back and this is defrosted, or I make you beg for death. Understand?"
"Understood, Comrade," Danny said, because he was almost 100% sure these guys were Russians and he knew it'd piss her off. It did, enough to get Danny a fist to the stomach.
"Enough. Release him." Unpleasant jerked her chin at the minion who hadn't been occupied with the beating. That one used his pocketknife to slit the duct tape holding Danny's ankles to the chair legs, and then the tape pinning Danny's arms together behind his back. Then he grabbed the chair before Danny could stagger upright and dumped him on the floor.
"Ow," Danny complained, which got him a less-than-gentle nudge to the ribs with a steel-toed boot. "Just leave the fucking thing outside!" he wheezed at Unpleasant and her squad of uglies' retreating backs. That'd been a risk, as well as just another way to annoy her. If she actually took him up on it, Danny might get a sense of how many assholes were with her (that frozen, green cylinder thing looked heavy), and if they were still in Hawaii, or at least the Southern Hemisphere. Not too many places warm enough outside to defrost anything this time of year.
Unpleasant didn't order anyone to hit him again, which was nice, but she unfortunately didn't deign to respond either. At least it meant Danny had some time.
Time for what, he wasn't entirely sure. He was almost certain they were still in Hawaii, if only because he had no idea how they would've managed to smuggle an unconscious man off the island. Everyone but him was wearing heavy, long-sleeved shirts, but that was likely just because the room was fucking cold. Which made sense, since there was a very large block of pinkish ice in the middle of it. Danny wanted a heavy shirt instead of his light cotton button down too.
Then again, he didn't remember a damn thing after someone touched him in the parking lot of H-50 headquarters. He'd hit the 'unlock' button of the key fob, felt a hand on his nape, and then opened his eyes and he was taped to a chair.
That had been the first threat, hit and release session. They were getting old pretty damn quickly.
He'd also been planning on grabbing dinner on the way home, and he had no idea how many hours had passed since then. They'd given him water, but he was starving. And his shoulders were sore from how his arms had been taped up, and his abdomen and face were really sore from getting hit. There wasn't anything he could do about that other than draping himself over the cylinder thing (no thank you), and nothing he could do about being hungry, because there wasn't anything edible in there either.
More worryingly, however, was how there really wasn't anything he could use to get out.
It looked like he was in a large storage room, or at least what had been a large storage room at one point. Now there was a lot of nothing except bare metal shelving and dust. The frames holding the shelves were bolted to the floor, though they were so heavy Danny figured he'd have to have a Strength Gift to move them anyway. The shelves were wire mesh, which would make using them to hide impossible unless Danny was Steve. And there was nothing remotely flammable other than his clothes and himself. Even the chair he'd been chained to was metal, and they always took it with them.
At least the room was big, and it wasn't dark. Danny wasn't feeling claustrophobic, but he was pissed and a little scared. He could admit the scared part, with no one around to be brave for. He was scared.
He didn't know where he was, didn't know who had him, and he'd been told to do something impossible or—admittedly he was extrapolating here—they'd level up from beating to torture. And then when he still couldn't do what they wanted, they'd kill him. Not, he was certain, they wouldn't kill him anyway. Except doing what they wanted would also kill him. And it'd be a slow, agonizing death, too.
And he'd been nabbed on Friday evening. It might be Monday before anyone even caught a clue he was gone.
Of course, Steve had invited him over for the weekend like usual, but this time Danny had said 'no'. He'd made up some lame excuse about needing sleep he'd probably oversold like a complete amateur, and he could tell by Steve's too-easy smile that he hadn't believed a word of it. But it'd been a long, hard week. And in another week it'd be 2014 with Danny still pining, and he'd been feeling particularly heartsick and sore. He just couldn't bear two more days with Steve right there, but also so out of reach he might as well have been in the fucking Arctic.
Look. Danny was in love with him, okay. He hadn't wanted it to happen. He'd tried to avoid it, even, with the fervency of a thousand fiery suns. But it'd been going on four years, and Danny was so deeply in love with his self-sacrificing, semi-visible, idiot partner that some days he'd look at him and it was like he'd just… burst into flame or something. And Danny was exquisitely aware of how much that burned.
He really wished he'd said 'yes', now, and not because he didn't want Steve's Pretending-It's-Fine face to be his last memory of the giant goofball. Well, yes. That too. But mostly because at least Steve would have a reason to know Danny was gone.
"Maybe he'll call," Danny muttered to himself, then smirked in bitter amusement. He'd told Steve he wanted to be alone so he could sleep. Steve wouldn't call. Danny couldn't've fucked himself over more thoroughly if he'd tried—
Danny sucked in a breath. "Fucking hell," he whispered, as if that would make a difference. Because, yes. Yes, Danny could've fucked himself over more. Like if these assholes were Gifted too and now they knew no one would be looking for him?
Or maybe it was even worse. Danny had assumed they'd drugged him, back in the parking lot. But there were certain Gifts that could lay someone out like that. One of his cousins could make people sleepy just by touching them. You had to want to sleep for it to actually knock you out, but still. She'd been a great babysitter.
He didn't feel like he'd been asleep, though. He felt like he'd blacked out, like being under anesthesia. He was there and then he woke up here, with nothing in between. Not even a sense of time.
H-50 had gone after a woman who could turn people off. Just stop everything: heart; lungs; brain; the whole enchilada. Problem was she couldn't turn them back on. She'd dealt with that little inconvenience by becoming a very rich contract killer, with plain-old serial killing as a hobby. They were lucky she had to touch her victims for her Gift to work, and using her Gift wiped her out each time. Otherwise they would've had a massacre on their hands. The lady liked what she did.
Danny had been forced to shoot her when she'd grabbed a cop to use as a hostage. They hadn't exactly celebrated her death, but no one had shed that many tears either.
He didn't think that had been done to him, mostly because he was still breathing. But some Gifted could knock people out too. That ability was pretty rare, but still. It existed.
Telepaths were a lot more common. Danny didn't know any who could put that kind of whammy on him, but it wasn't like he'd met every telepath on the fucking planet.
"Fuck," Danny said again. Steve had learned techniques in the SEALs to avoid revealing anything to a telepath, and he'd taught his team with the same grueling perfectionism he approached everything else. Danny was pretty good at keeping his thoughts too murky for your average low-level mind reader. If the Russians actually had a mind-reader, hopefully Danny's skills would be enough.
God, he hoped it'd be enough. Because he obviously had no fucking intention of defrosting the bioweapons in the cylinder or whatever the hell it was. Even if he could, which he couldn't. And that meant that Unpleasant and the Uglies might already know that Danny really, really wasn't bluffing.
Some things were worth dying for, like keeping a plague off the black market. That didn't mean Danny wasn't looking for another option.
He finished his woefully futile check over of the room and then checked his pockets again, in case he'd missed anything the first 100 times. It was still strangely reassuring to feel the smooth, body-warm metal edge of his badge under his fingers. He didn't pull it out, in case Unpleasant and her boy band could tell what he was doing. He hadn't found any cameras, but if they had a telepath they wouldn't need one.
Maybe they'd forgotten to search him. That seemed unlikely, since his wallet and his phone had been in his pockets too, and his phone was gone but his wallet was still there. They hadn't even taken Danny's twenty dollars out of it.
That really didn't seem like a good sign.
Danny fingered his badge as he thought. The edges weren't sharp, but the point might still be sufficiently stabby if he shoved it into someone hard enough. And his one advantage here was that he was the only one who knew it wasn't ordinary. He'd seen Steve's badge stop a bullet that could have gone through Kevlar; maybe he could use his own badge as a weapon.
Danny also still had his shoes, though they were soft, fashionable slip-ons with thin soles. Trying to use it to hit someone would be like bludgeoning them with a sock puppet. Steve could probably kill someone with them, but Danny was a cop, he was not an action hero. And his feet were already cold enough.
He also had the flapping, sticky remnants of about twenty yards of duct tape wrapped around his ankles and forearms. Maybe he could wad it all up and shove it down someone's throat.
On that cheerful thought, he finally turned his attention to the cylinder. He hadn't looked at it yet—little hard when you were getting the crap beat out of you—and he figured if he was going to die saving the world from this thing, he probably should know what it was.
It was a cylinder. I.e., a large tube. It looked like it'd been frozen, semi-defrosted, then frozen again. Only the ice was pink, like antifreeze. Except antifreeze didn't freeze, hence the name. The ice felt kind of slippery when he touched it too, but it didn't particularly smell like anything. Or, at least not anything poisonous. Hopefully, since he was breathing the same air in the room it was melting into.
He wondered if the semi-defrost and refreezing had been in transit. The cylinder also must've been stored upside-down at one point, because the front of the thing had been effectively frozen over, and the bit of the inside he could see through the small window was so covered in frost Danny could only tell it was both light- and dark-colored and oval-ish. Grace would leave the freezer open a crack sometimes; this was what it ended up looking like.
Of course, Danny didn't normally store biological weapons in his freezer. That didn't mean the cylinder contained biological weapons, which Danny hoped to hell it didn't. All he could imagine was test tubes that'd broken when the cylinder was stored upside down. They might've already defrosted enough to leak too, which meant the world was well and truly fucked.
"Happy thoughts, Danny. Happy thoughts," he murmured to himself. He pulled up a memory of yet another ridiculous argument with Steve, then went over the details lovingly in case anyone was sneaking a peek in his head. He didn't need to examine why arguing with Steve was a good memory. Generally his relationship with Steve was incomprehensible to anyone else. Danny was good with that. Less competition.
Competition for nothing, but still. It made him happy, and that was the idea. "Happy thoughts aren't secret thoughts," Steve had told him, Chin Ho and Kono. Danny privately disagreed—you could be plenty happy about things you never told anyone—but he still got the point.
"Innocuous happy thoughts," Danny amended, while he rubbed at the glass with his fingertips. It cleared the slowly-melting layer of ice on the outside, but that just made the oval-ish thing a more distinct oval-ish thing. Maybe it was a weirdly-shaped storage case. Hopefully highly resistant to mishandling.
He kept clearing the ice, hoping that maybe if it at least looked like he was trying to use his Gift he might not be tortured and murdered quite so quickly. Assuming Unpleasant and the Uglies knew what he was doing, which they might. So, look busy.
Danny still had no intention of unleashing whatever the hell this was on the world, but the more time his team had to get to him, the better. Because there was no question they were going to come for him. That was what they did. They'd gone to North Korea to get Steve. They'd find Danny wherever he was and get him too.
There was something written in one of the Slavic languages that used Cyrillic, most likely Russian. At least it went with Rather Unpleasant's accent. Just two words, etched underneath the window. A content label? A warning? All that Danny knew about Cryillic was that they wrote the 'R' backwards. It could've been giving him the way out of this place and he'd never be able to read it.
He sighed, chaffing his hands together to warm them. As far as he could tell, the rest of the cylinder was just olive drab green metal, which did nothing to reassure him as to the contents. There were a couple pipe housings, and a trailing electrical cord. It looked old. That wasn't reassuring either.
He went on a slow walk around the room, still chafing his hands. Maybe he'd missed something the first ten times. What kind of storage room didn't have an emergency exit, anyway? There was an architect somewhere who'd really fallen down on the job.
Happy thoughts, Danny.
Well, fine. His team were going to be there soon to rescue him. That thought warmed him more than his Gift ever could.
Steve was in his office, trying not to yell into his phone while he argued with his former CEO that yes, it was goddamn vital for the admiral to confirm the Finder Steve had gone on a mission with was there, and then assign him to Five-O for an indeterminate amount of time.
He was pacing back and forth like a caged animal, dimly aware that his anger wasn't doing much to help his case. But this was Danny, and the asshole on the phone didn't care. And then the admiral apologized and hung up and Steve hurled his phone across the room.
"Fuck." Steve scraped his fingers through his hair, staring at his phone with his chest heaving. It was mostly intact, except for the thick, horizontal crack traversing the upper part of the screen. "Fuck!"
He'd just had a goddamn tantrum. What the hell was wrong with him?
Well, he knew what was wrong with him. Danny was gone. Vanished. His car hadn't been touched, there was no sign of a scuffle, other than his phone and keys being on the ground. He hadn't been in his apartment or at any of the places along his usual route. There had been no ransom demands, no threats, no—thank God—body parts in the mail. Max hadn't sensed a fresh corpse appearing on the Island. It was like Danny had gone out the door and ceased to exist.
Grace and even Rachel were inconsolable with fear. Steve just wanted to find the fucker responsible and get his friend back.
Less than an hour ago, Kono had wondered out loud if he'd been vaporized. There were Gifts that could do that. One of his fellow SEALs could fire bolts of energy from his hands that disintegrated whatever they hit. He'd said his grandfather could do that too; it ran in the family.
Chin Ho had jumped in immediately, saying it wasn't possible. The kind of energy that required would be detectable. Something, somewhere, would spike.
That was…that was good. Until Kono had gasped and then said, "What if his Gift burned him up?"
Her eyes had gone huge and liquid and she'd looked at her cousin to deny it. But he couldn't. None of them could. It'd been three days of nothing.
Danny had specifically asked Steve not to call. Steve had honestly considered honoring his request, but Saturday had started out warm and beautiful and perfect for swimming or just sitting in the shade. And Danny's apartment was a shithole and he needed more sun. And Steve had missed him. A lot, even though it'd been less than 12 hours. So he'd called. But Danny hadn't answered. Not then, or any of the times Steve called after that. And then Steve found his car, with his phone and his keys right outside it.
Thank God he'd called, otherwise they wouldn't've known until Monday that anything was wrong. But right then, with Kono fixating on the worst case scenario, Steve hadn't been sure it'd made any difference.
He'd sent Kono and Chin Ho home to get some rest. None of them had slept since Saturday morning. Steve had stayed and called his ex-CEO, and now all he had was a cracked phone screen and the image of Danny's charred body in his head.
Steve rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. He needed sleep too, but he knew he wouldn't. He was pretty sure Toast knew a Finder, or knew where Steve could get his hands on one. Or a Telepath. A Telepath could work, he thought.
He crossed the room to get his phone and then he was somewhere else.
John knew Steve McGarrett wouldn't be happy when they Shanghaied him aboard the Daedalus. He hadn't expected him to turn invisible, however. Or that Steve would hit him in the face. Rodney hadn't expected it either, so John wasn't shielded when Steve clocked him. Turned out a pissed-off Navy SEAL packed one hell of a punch.
"Hey! We're your friends! Cut it out!" Rodney yelled. He was desperately trying to shield the Marines, who Steve had gone for next. But he could only protect one person at a time unless he made domes, and making a dome with Steve inside it wouldn't've been like locking the fox in the henhouse. And with the way Steve was moving, Rodney could only figure out his target when they were groaning on the deck. Steve took out Blair Kaufman and Jamie Markham while John was still climbing to his feet.
He was painfully sure his guys would've been outmatched even if Steve didn't have his Gift, but with it he was just about invincible. John had seen Steve fight more than enough times to know exactly how dangerous Steve was, visible or not. He'd just never expected to be on the receiving end of it.
Then again, it wasn't like they'd expected Steve to go ballistic either.
At the moment, though, John did expect Steve to take a hostage or run. The nearest, and ostensibly weakest, person there was Rodney, but he had his Shield up so he was safe. Of course Steve knew that, so his choice would be one of the downed Marines, or Albert or John. John figured Steve would go for him, since he had the highest rank. John tensed for it, but a second later Albert was obviously in a chokehold with his own gun hovering menacingly in the air, muzzle pressed to the side of his head.
"Where is he?" Steve had to be shouting, since he'd be impossible to hear otherwise. His voice was a faint whisper as it was. "What did you do to him?"
"Detective Williams isn't here," John said, going for reasonable and then realizing a second later he might as well have just told the obviously enraged and freaked out Navy SEAL that they'd pitched his best buddy out an airlock. "We're looking for him!" he added immediately, kicking himself. He was the Charmer; normally Rodney was the one playing catch-up ball with his own mouth.
"We didn't steal your boyfriend!" Rodney snapped at Steve. "We're trying to find him! We brought you here because we need your help, asshole!"
Albert stayed still with his hands up, keeping calm despite the apparent danger he was in. He looked at John. "Sir?"
John shook his head. The last thing they needed was Albert using his Gift on Steve. "I'm putting my gun down, Steve," he said, then crouched with both hands up, gun held loosely until he could put it on the deck. "What Rodney's saying is true," he said as he stood. "We need your help, and it looks like you could use ours. I'm your friend, Steve. This isn't a trick. No one's interested in hurting you."
"Don't you fucking use your Gift on me." That was loud enough to be audible; Steve must have screamed it. "You guys took him the way you took me. You're the only ones with this kind of tech. Bring him back! Now!"
"You know I can't use my Gift if you don't want to trust me," John said. That wasn't entirely true anymore. John had been practicing for years now, and if the person he needed to charm was willing to trust him, at least subconsciously, that would work well enough. Steve had already trusted John with his and Danny's life more than once, and the four of them were friends. John outranked Steve as well, so Steve would be inclined to obey him. Even if Steve hated John right now, John knew he could make his Charm work.
But if he did that, Steve would never trust him again. That wasn't a risk John was willing to take.
"We didn't take Danny," he said. He sent Rodney a quelling look before he could open his mouth and piss Steve off even more. "I know that you're angry and confused right now, but we brought you here because we need your help to find him."
"What would we even need to abduct him for?" Rodney demanded before John could stop him. "I have his phone number! If I need him I'd just ask!"
It was impossible to see Steve's reaction to Rodney's heartfelt irritation, but something about the complete stillness surrounding Albert gave John hope that they could end this without anyone else needing the infirmary. "You know us, Steve. You've fought with us. We've been in your home. You know we would never hurt Danny." He nodded at Albert with his chin. "The man you're holding is Staff Sergeant Albert Conroy. I swear on his life that we had nothing to do with Danny Williams' disappearance."
Albert's eyes widened a little, but he didn't move other than that. "I swear on my own life too, Sir," he said. "My life and my honor as a United States Marine. We never took your friend. We're just tryin' to get him back."
A beat later, Steve turned visible again. He put Albert's sidearm on safety and handed it back to him, hilt first.
"Sorry," he said, clapping Albert on the shoulder. He seemed a little chagrined.
"Thank you, Sir," Albert said. "Blair and Jamie are all right, Sir," he said to John. "Blair's still a little woozy, but they were mostly playin' possum 'til you needed 'em."
"Good to know," John said. Blair and Jamie were both hauling themselves to their feet. Blair had one hell of a bruise on the side of his face. John was pretty sure Anders or Tegan would have to heal his cheekbone, once they got back. Jamie was favoring his right side. One of their healers might have to help with that too.
Steve blinked, then looked behind him. "I knew I didn't hit them that hard, but…" He looked back at John, then at Albert. "Do I know you?"
Albert smiled a little. "We met a couple years ago, Sir. 'Figured you were too out of it to remember me."
"Albert's a telepath," John said. He let his smile show a little teeth. "The most powerful one in the USMC. Maybe the whole Military."
Albert's smile turned into a combination of proud and shy. "I do my best, Sir."
Steve's face went slack as the implication sunk in. Powerful telepaths could knock people unconscious with their minds. Steve slowly looked over his shoulder at Blair and Jamie. "I don't know them."
"Jamie could've dropped one of the F-302s on you," John filled in pleasantly. Jamie smiled and shrugged like it was no big deal. "Though if Boom-Boom had used his Gift, we'd be picking pieces of you out of the ceiling."
Boom-Boom waved, grinning.
Rodney snorted. "And thank you for that delightful image, Sheppard. Of course, I could have just put a Shield inside your ear and expanded it until your head exploded like one of those dog-things back on Planet Game Reserve," he said to Steve. To his credit he barely sounded smug. "Basically, you're lucky John figured he'd be able to talk you the hell down. Without his Gift," he added. "In case you were going to freak out again. Speaking of which," he continued snidely, "can we talk now? Or do you still feel the need to attack everyone?"
"I'm sorry, it's been a bad few days," Steve said. "Danny's been gone since Friday evening, and so far all we know for sure is that he never even made it into his car. It's like he vanished into thin air."
Rodney blinked at him. "So when we pulled a Star Trek on you, you just naturally assumed that we were the culprits and had taken you to…what? Complete the set?"
"I don't know! I don't know what I was thinking." Steve ran his fingers through his hair. "It's just…yes. Yes, you beamed me up and for a couple minutes I thought Danny was here too. It was a bad call. I said I was sorry."
"Lay off, Rodney. Either of us probably would've assumed the same thing," John said over Rodney's indignant "No kidding it was a bad call!", then ignored the "No I wouldn't!" that came right after it. "Don't worry about it," he said to Steve. "My guys've had worse sparring with Ronon."
Steve nodded, understanding. He'd sparred with Ronon every time John and his team had visited Hawaii, and Ronon had always kicked his ass. "You said you needed my help." Steve's eyes widened. "Wait, where are we?"
"Earth! We're orbiting Earth!" Rodney said quickly before Steve could really freak out again. "And we're here because we were pulled off Atlantis by the International Oversight Advisory—annoying international politicians who babysit the Stargate Program—on behalf of one of the members of the World Security Council—more international politicians who ostensibly make the world safer—to find something for S.H.I.E.L.D."
Steve frowned in confusion. "Why couldn't S.H.I.E.L.D. find it themselves?"
"We have better tech," John cut in before Rodney could start ranting about how he was wondering the exact same thing, and, They have Tony Stark! What the hell do they need us for, Sheppard?, the way he had since the IOA contacted them over a week ago. "And Stark's suit isn't as powerful as a spaceship, Rodney," he added pre-emptively, "which is why we took the Daedalus back, instead of just using the Gate Bridge, since we'd have to wait for them anyway. Before you bitch about it. Again."
"I still say that's just because he's slacking," Rodney muttered.
"What does this search have to do with Danny?" Steve asked.
"That's the thing," Rodney said. "It doesn't. Or, it shouldn't have. We were looking for a containment unit, the contents of which are so highly classified even we can't know what they are. Which is terrifying, considering we deal with aliens on a regular basis. What's also terrifying is that it was apparently stolen from one of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s warehouses and nobody even noticed for God only knows how long, until suddenly it's vitally important they get it back before the end of December. Because nothing says 'happy holidays' like an ultimatum, am I right?"
"Danny's only been missing for three days," Steve said.
"We know." Rodney nodded vehemently. "We know, because we found him when we found the containment unit."
Steve gasped. "You found him? Is he okay?" He came closer, glowering. "Why the hell didn't you say anything?"
"I was kind of busy getting punched in the head," John said dryly. Then, much more gently, "And, we don't know if Danny's okay. I'm sorry. We found him by accident. We were ordered to do the scan in the first place because apparently part of what we're looking for is made of the same metal that makes your badges nearly unique on Earth. Rodney even used your badges to make sure the scan was working, only we could only find three of them in Oahu. The fourth badge pinged right where we got the hit for what we're assuming is the containment unit. Rodney cross-checked Danny's tracker against the metal and, yeah. He's there." Or just his badge was, but Steve didn't need to be told that.
"So where the hell is he?" Steve demanded.
"Somewhere in the vicinity of Nome, Alaska." Rodney grimaced. "We were actually hoping you'd be able to explain that."
Steve gaped at him. "What?"
"Maybe we should move this upstairs," John said.
"Okay. Why the fuck did you put trackers in our badges, and if you can track Danny, why the hell can't you just transport him here like you did with me?"
"The signal's not strong enough," John said. "That's why we can't pinpoint his location, and why our mission's become an extraction as well as a retrieval. We were hoping that since he's your partner, you might know something about where he was. Like, if it was for a legitimate reason or not. We'd rather not go in guns blazing if we don't have to."
"Transporting you directly here seemed more expedient." Rodney actually sounded apologetic. "But in retrospect, we probably should have called first."
"My phone's broken," Steve said. "And I have no idea why the hell he was taken, or why the fuck he'd be in Alaska." He'd started pacing the second the six of them had gone into the Daedalus' conference room, on the far side of the long, oval table from where they were all sitting. It reminded John of watching an animal at the zoo. Blair looked bored around his puffy cheek, and Jamie seemed a little anxious. That was completely normal for both of them before a mission. Rodney just looked impatient, which was completely normal for him, too.
Albert was a lot less relaxed than normal, though, and breathing the way he did when he was trying to mute everyone's thoughts. He had a whole ship of unfamiliar minds to deal with, and John was sure Steve McGarrett's thoughts were especially loud right now, and not very pleasant.
Rodney was sitting next to Albert. John could tell when he kicked Albert's ankle because the young man startled and looked up at him.
"Focus on me," Rodney murmured. "I'll run some equations for you."
Albert gave him a small, grateful smile and closed his eyes. His shoulders dropped as he relaxed.
Steve turned around at the door and started back. "How the hell did they even get him there without anyone knowing about it? The flight has got to be something like twelve hours. How'd they even get him onto a plane?"
"That was one of the things we were hoping you could tell us, along with whether there was a reason he was there in the first place," Rodney said. "Since you can't, we'll have to go with Plan B, which is to pinpoint his location then go in physically and get him and the containment unit." He scrubbed his face. "I can't tell you how excited I am to be trekking through the Alaskan wilderness in the middle of winter. Believe me."
"We're already working on pinpointing the location," John said, because he just knew Steve was going to ask why they hadn't done it already. "It's going to take a few more hours at least. That's one of the reasons we pulled you up here, in case you had information that could speed everything up."
Steve turned at the far wall and stalked back towards the door. "Why the hell didn't you beam me here on Friday, then? If you'd found Danny?"
"Because we didn't find him on Friday. We literally just got here ten and a half hours ago," John said. "We've been running scans ever since. It's a big planet, and we were looking for something small. Honestly, if Danny's badge wasn't so close to it, we might not have even found it by now."
"Yeah," Steve said darkly. "That's one hell of a coincidence."
"Maybe it's not, Sir," Jamie said. His back was straight, shoulders so squared it looked painful. "I mean, maybe they took the badge on purpose, for the metal?" He looked at Rodney hopefully.
"Then they would've left Danny," Steve growled. "It's possible they wanted his badge too, but that would mean they knew what it was made of."
"What if they just wanted him for his Gift?" Blair asked. He spread his hands when everyone except Albert looked at him. "It's public knowledge that he can set fires. Maybe they need to burn something."
John and Rodney looked at each other. "The containment unit," they said at the same time.
That actually got Steve to stop. "Wait. Why? Why set it on fire? And why can't they just do that themselves?"
"The contents of the unit are frozen," John explained to Steve. "We were specifically told to make sure they stayed on ice, or to destroy them. Whoever's got the unit is trying to get inside."
"You're not supposed to know about any of this, by the way," Rodney said. "But your boyfriend has apparently been abducted to be these assholes' mobile heating unit, so here we are. Try not to tell anyone when this is over."
"He's not my boyfriend," Steve growled. "And that still doesn't explain why they need him."
"The signal was weak, like it was underground. That's why we couldn't just transport him," Rodney said. He stood up too, pacing as he worked it out. "You can't light a fire underground unless the room is well ventilated. And apparently this thing is big. Over six feet long. A lot of smoke will definitely attract attention if you're in the middle of nowhere."
"And a regular fire will go out, if you melt ice over it," Jamie said.
Rodney snapped and pointed a finger at him on his way past. "Very true. And powerful enough heaters would draw a lot of power and unwanted attention. But Danny's just a regular-looking guy."
"But, if they try to make him melt that much ice, it'll kill him," Steve said, his face slackening with horror. "His hands…you saw what his Gift did to his hands!"
"Oh, yeah." Rodney nodded grimly. "I saw what his Gift did to all of him. Hotdog in a campfire, remember? Either they don't know what his Gift does to him, or they don't care."
"They don't care," John said, just as grimly. "They aren't planning on leaving him alive."
Steve nodded; he'd obviously been thinking the same thing. "We have to find him now. Get him out, before…." He shook his head like he was throwing off the thought. "Get my team."
"I'm sorry, we can't," John said. "They still don't know about the Stargate program, and we don't have permission to bring anyone without clearance into this. We're skirting the line with you as it is," he added to Steve's darkening glower. John nodded at the three Marines with them. "We've got Kaufman, Markham and Conroy with us, and all three of them have powerful Gifts." He pointed. "Blair blows things up, and Jamie can teleport anything inanimate up to the size of a fighter jet. And you know Albert's a telepath. We've been authorized to use a team from the Daedalus, too, and one of them is a telekinetic."
"I can find him, Sir," Albert said, voice soft but full of conviction. "As long as we're within five miles, I'll be able to hear 'em."
"The area he could be in is larger than five miles," Steve gritted.
"Yes, well, I think I have an idea to help with that," Rodney said.
Danny wasn't doing so hot. Because he wasn't doing so hot. Hah. Pun.
Danny smiled to himself, though it was a little difficult to get the big, shit-eating grin he'd been going for while slumped in a metal chair with his mouth so swollen he could barely feel where it attached to his face. That was a good thing. Everything he could feel attached to his face sucked.
At least he'd discovered, through keen detective work, how they hell they'd managed to kidnap him so effectively. Of course, in this case the 'keen detective work' was more like, 'Listen to Unpleasant and her threats while her newest set of minions pound you into chunky salsa.' But hey, info was info, right? Right.
He also knew that there was at least one woman in Unpleasant's surprisingly large entourage. The third hadn't been there before, which Danny now figured was because she'd been resting after using her Gift for, oh, about exactly the time it took to smuggle Danny from Oahu to wherever the hell they were now.
Turned out you didn't need to turn someone off when you could take over their bodies.
Yeah, he'd been warming that thought over the fire of his rage for a while now. He'd basically been slipped the Gift equivalent of a date-rape drug, which they'd used to get him onto a plane. Danny didn't have the specifics of how that had worked, other than that it probably involved physical contact, since that hand on the back of his neck was his last memory of Oahu.
He supposed he could've asked—professional curiosity and all—but he'd been too busy getting beat up with Unpleasant glowering at him and the bitch with the mind-control Gift standing by and looking blandly threatening. Danny was pretty sure the younger woman was Unpleasant's daughter, since they shared the same harsh bone structure and watery blue eyes. It made him wonder if Unpleasant had a Gift too. Maybe it was her sparkling personality.
They were on the Mainland now. He'd managed to glean that much. And somewhere cold, given the long sleeved shirts and how fucking freezing it was in this goddamn storage room. He should've guessed that they weren't in Hawaii anymore—though hilariously it might be Kansas—but admittedly it had seemed impossible at the time. How could they have transported him without him even remembering it? Well, now he knew.
He had no idea how his team would be able to find him.
"I told you," Unpleasant growled in her thick accent, "you do what we say or you beg for death." She stalked closer, cracking her knuckles like a brawler in an old movie. It was surprisingly intimidating. "You think I lie?"
"I think you can't get blood from a stone," Danny said. Blood spattered from his lips as he spoke, somewhat ironically. "Torturing me isn't going to make my Gift work any differently."
Unpleasant smiled in a way that would've poured ice down Danny's spine if he wasn't already freezing. "We will see."
She came close enough to touch, then said something to the other woman that was probably her name. Daughter of Unpleasant took her mother's arm, then snapped something at one of the new minions. He came over and hovered, looking nervous.
Definitely Gifted, Danny thought. And apparently whatever it was drained her when she used it. That was the last comforting thought Danny had before she touched him.
Actually, it was the last thought he had for some time.
It hurt. Not just hurt. Unpleasant touched her fingers to his forehead and Danny was in such unbearable, all-encompassing agony that he couldn't move. He couldn't think. He couldn't do anything but scream. It hurt more than being shot. It hurt more than when he'd set the alien on fire after it'd nearly killed Steve. It hurt more than anything Danny could remember in his entire life and it wouldn't stop. It went on and on and on for years and dear God he wanted to die, please let him die so it would end….
It did, so suddenly and completely that he must have blacked out, because he woke up to his head being lifted by a fist in his hair. His face was covered with tears, drool and snot. He was drenched in cold sweat and he'd pissed himself, but he was still shuddering from the aftershocks and too grateful for the lack of pain to care.
He noted, dimly, that the two people flanking Unpleasant were setting her carefully on the floor. The woman was red-faced and panting, sweat glistening on her forehead. Her daughter fished a plastic box of glucose tablets out of her pocket and shook several into the woman's hand.
Unpleasant let Danny shake and sob in her minion's grip while she chewed and swallowed. "Now you know what I can do to you," she said.
"Please," Danny moaned, "please, not again. Please." He was barely aware of what he was saying. He just wanted to never be hurt like that again. He would have done anything: kissed her feet; cut off a limb; pledged undying fealty and devotion. He knew, on some distant, disgusted plane of consciousness, that she'd turned him into an animal, reacting on instinct. The only thing he could care about was not being in more pain.
"Good." She wiped her face with a trembling hand, then wiped it on her long, floral skirt. She muttered something to the man and woman flanking her, and they lifted her to her feet. "Use your Gift, or next time I do that again. For longer."
"I'll do it, I'll do it," Danny babbled. "Please don't hurt me."
Unpleasant smirked, then said something in Russian that made the rest of them snigger. Danny couldn't manage to give a fuck. He sobbed in relief when he was cut loose again and dumped on the floor.
He had no idea how long he stayed like that, huddled on the floor and sniveling. All he knew was that he was shivering with cold and aching by the time he was able to finally push himself upright. He cleaned his face on the hem of his shirt, but there was nothing he could do about the urine on his legs. It was miserably chilly and humiliating, now that he was able to think about it. He hoped it dried before his team found him. If they found him. They probably still didn't even know he was gone.
The only consolation he had was that Unpleasant looked half dead by the time she finished with him. That had to be why she hadn't used her Gift immediately: because it exhausted her and Unpleasant wasn't exactly spry.
They were running out of time; that was the only conclusion Danny could come to. Granted, he'd just been turned inside-out so maybe he was missing something, but it made sense. The cylinder needed to be defrosted ASAP, and they obviously didn't have anyone else with a Gift like his they could use. They must've been pretty desperate already if they'd gone all the way to Hawaii in the first place.
There had to be a reason why they hadn't just plugged the cylinder in, since it, you know, had a plug. All Danny could figure was that it was like the chest freezer his parents used to have in the basement: All the electricity did was make it get cold. The cylinder seemed more complicated, but it was pretty old so maybe it wasn't. Or…maybe its defrost cycle would've taken too long. Or maybe they should've just plugged it in but thought kidnapping a detective with a fire Gift out of fucking Hawaii would've been faster and now they'd seen their error in judgment and were freaking out.
Or maybe he was just overthinking it way too much. Steve probably would've told him he was overthinking it. Steve would've said he should be concentrating getting the fuck out of Dodge.
Well, Steve wasn't there. Danny had had the crap beat out of him, he'd endured the worst pain in his entire fucking life, and he was alone in a locked storage room with nothing but a frozen cylinder, empty shelves and him. He'd overthink if he wanted to. So there.
It was a hell of a lot better than thinking about what Unpleasant would do to him, if he didn't defrost the cylinder for her. He couldn't go through that pain again. He'd rather die. He'd rather die burning.
But. He'd also rather die than let those Russian assholes get their hands on whatever was inside.
Danny rolled onto his side—didn't matter which side, they both hurt just as much—trying not to whimper. Getting to his knees was asking too much right then, so he sat on his haunches. He whimpered again when the movement jarred his sore everything. Each one of his muscles had spasmed when Unpleasant used her Gift on him. Every part of him hurt.
Steve would have probably already escaped by now, using nothing but his shoelaces and steely-eyed determination. Kono could've climbed up the cinderblock walls like Spiderman and balanced in wait until she could ambush the guards and run for it. Chin Ho probably could've reprogrammed the crude, Cyrillic-labeled control panel into a cellphone. With a battery. Somehow.
Danny…Danny was barely holding himself together. Grace would be so disappointed in him. So would Steve. But Danny couldn't go through that pain again.
His only choices were to do what they wanted—he was tempted, God help him; anything not to hurt like that—kill them and escape, or kill himself before Unpleasant was rested enough to use her Gift. Door number four was getting rescued in time. But he couldn't count on that. His team had never let him down before, but….
But he couldn't go through that pain again. He couldn't.
Danny pulled his badge out of his pocket, fumbling with his cold fingers. He felt the edge, wondering how much strength he'd need to actually stab someone with it, especially if that someone was himself.
Danny took a breath, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands. He was going to have to burn one of them. He didn't see any other viable choice. He'd have to set someone on fire, steal their gun, and use it before Unpleasant could touch him again. Either on her or himself. All while trying not to slough the charred skin off his hands. Jesus Christ.
Danny flexed his fingers. The last time he'd used his Gift was nearly three years ago, on another planet. It'd almost killed him. If he hadn't been lucky enough to have been with Rodney McKay and John Sheppard, it would have killed him. He still had nightmares about the spiked dogs, and watching his hands burn until he couldn't feel them.
Steve thought he was over it; Danny was happy to let him think that. Steve would get all anxious and scowly, and Danny hated the idea of this being a thing. It wasn't a thing. He'd killed a couple things, back on the planet, but his nightmares weren't a thing. He'd be fine.
He was pretty sure he'd have new nightmares to replace the burning dreams now anyway.
Carefully, experimentally, he put the tip of one finger to the lower half of the cylinder where its circumference curved down towards the floor. He concentrated, forcing a surge of power out his fingertip. Not too much, just enough to make a minute flame flicker from the tip of his finger. Even that hurt, like having your fingers too close to the matchhead when you strike a match. But the cold, water-slick surface of the canister snuffed it out almost immediately.
That…had possibilities. Maybe. He'd already cleared the ice layer on the glass with just his body heat. If he could heat the glass enough to melt some of the ice underneath it, maybe he could use his badge to break it. A glass shard would be nice and sharp, and he could heat it as well. And in the meantime, if he was really, really lucky, maybe Unpleasant and her goons would think he was doing what she wanted.
It was painfully slow. Literally. Just standing was hard enough, then Danny had to use his Gift in increments, because he'd end up badly burned if he let the fire go for more than a couple seconds at a time. He was pretty sure he had first degree burns anyway. Not fatal or even all that dangerous, but they hurt like a bitch. Then again, he'd had worse.
At least there was plenty of ice.
Danny held his sore fingers to it right now, sighing in relief. One of the few benefits of his Gift was that his burns healed fast, but 'fast' was relative, and nothing mitigated the pain. It was nothing compared to what he'd just been through, but that didn't actually make it hurt any less.
He leaned over to peer more closely at the glass, hissing at how moving made him ache. He wondered if he'd melted enough of the ice underneath the window, so he could pry up any glass shards if he managed to break it. It looked like he'd gotten rid of some ice, since the dark/light oval-ish shape was slightly more distinct.
There was definitely a part that pointed up in the middle of the oval, and deeper shadows above it. And honestly, if Danny didn't know better he'd say he was looking at a face….
Danny bent so close that his nose was practically grazing the window. That was a face. That was definitely a face.
Danny yelped and jerked back, because sudden dead bodies were startling, then almost ended up on his ass on the floor when the world tilted badly on him. He more-or-less eased his way down using the cylinder, then sat hunched over, hugging himself and sobbing in pain. The very cold puddle of water seeped through the cloth of his pants.
Jesus Christ, he hurt.
He hurt, and he was huddled next to a fucking coffin. Because that was definitely a man in there, frozen solid and dead for God only knew how long.
What the hell did Unpleasant want him for? And why the hell was he frozen in the first place? Was this a Walt Disney thing? Had someone used this poor guy's body as a temperature-sensitive drug mule? Maybe the corpse was the goddamn biohazard, like they'd unearthed someone who died of the plague or something. Un-iced someone. Whatever.
And who the fuck was he?
Now Danny really didn't understand the deadline. Why rush to defrost a corpse when it was just going to rot?
Danny rubbed his aching head. He was exhausted, hungry, cold and in a fuckton of pain. He really wasn't up to figuring this out right now. Hell, he wasn't sure he was up to getting out of this fucking puddle.
He missed Grace and Steve like two of his limbs. He wanted to go home.
He managed to shove himself about an inch away from the water, then ended up on his back, staring up at the slowly looping metal beams holding up the concrete ceiling. Now he was exhausted, hungry, cold, in a fuckton of pain, and even wetter. And next to a corpse. Awesome.
Actually, Danny kind of envied the corpse right now. Whoever he was, whatever reason the poor bastard was there instead of in the ground, at least he wasn't scared, or cold, or in pain.
They could have used the Puddle Jumper the SGC had 'borrowed' from Atlantis a few years ago, but Rodney had been bored on the trip to Earth, so he'd kludged up a Jumper-esque cloaking device for the F-302s. The SGC had been over the moon.
So instead of having to transport down to the SGC and fill out paperwork, John was piloting a cloaked F-302 over the Alaskan landscape, doing a parallel track search like they were pacing a giant boardroom while moving from one end of it to the other. John was dividing his attention between the HUD and the view out his windscreen, trying to spot anything that didn't fit with the Alaskan landscape.
Albert was in the navigator's chair behind him, concentrating so hard on his Gift that he'd done that eerie-as-hell thing where he somehow faded into the background. John kept forgetting he was there, until the crinkle of a glucose tablet pack or energy bar wrapper startled the hell out of him. When they'd first met—which was one hell of a meet ugly, considering Albert had just attacked McKay—John had assumed his constant lack of presence meant the kid was mealy, weaselly and stupid. Turned out it was kind of the opposite: Albert had trained himself to be unnoticeable on purpose, to avoid his abusive dad.
John didn't know if that ability to…curl inward like that helped with his telepathy, but Albert was very, very good. So when he suddenly took a sharp breath and said, "I found him! 10 O'clock," John immediately turned the interceptor southwest and dropped a hundred feet closer to the ground.
"Yeah. Pretty sure that's him." Albert was speaking slowly, concentrating. "He's hurt. They really beat on him bad, Sir. He's having a hard time moving. He's tryin' to break the glass of a…frozen coffin? Not sure what he means. But he's…." Albert trailed off. "He was tortured," he said, voice low as it he were telling a terrible secret. "Whatever they did to him, he's thinking about killing himself so he won't have to go through it again." He paused. "He's in a bad way. He's hungry and cold and tired, and he doesn't think anyone's gonna come for him before…before someone comes back and hurts him again. That's what the glass is for, Sir. He's tryin' to make a knife."
"Shit." The coffin was most likely the containment unit, but John was a hell of a lot more worried about Danny Williams than whatever they were supposed to retrieve. What the hell had happened to him? "Can you get a message to him? Tell him to hang tight, help is coming?"
"Yes, Sir." Another pause. "Huh. I told him I'm from Stargate Command, and that we're going to rescue him. He thinks he's hallucinating."
John grimaced. "Tell him you're with John Sheppard, and that we've got a team aboard the same ship that transported him and Steve back to Hawaii in 2012. Tell him Steve McGarrett's with us, and we're busting him out in less than an hour, and he needs to stay put, find cover, and not do anything stupid."
"Relaying that, Sir." Albert went silent again. "Still not sure he thinks this is real, but he said 'okay'."
"Great. Good job," John said on a breath. "Now, we need to make sure we know where the hell this place is so I can make good on what we just told him. Is that it there?" In the distance he could see a cabin so nondescript it could've been in a catalog. It barely looked big enough for one person, but John would bet his pilot's license there was something a lot bigger underground.
"Yes, Sir," Albert said. "He's down there. I'm also picking up a whole deal more folks. Eleven or twelve, I think. It's hard to sort 'em out. I'm pretty sure they're real worried about something, 'cause their thoughts are jumping around a lot. But it's all in Russian so I can't read it."
"That's fine. You did great." John keyed his radio. "This is Sheppard. We found Williams and the containment unit. Williams is injured but alive. Conroy made telepathic contact and let him know help is coming. Repeat, we found Williams and the unit. We have the coordinates and are heading back. ETA, 10 minutes."
He turned the interceptor, lifted the nose and punched it for the sky.
So. Voices in his head. That was new.
For one awful, horror-movie second, Danny was sure the voice was coming from the corpse, and nearly leaped out of his aching skin. But then the person—if it was a person, and not just Danny's brain fucking with him—repeated the information about being from Stargate Command and coming to rescue him, and Danny figured a horror-movie corpse would've said something more interesting.
Danny was also fairly sure he would've made up Steve's voice instead of a random Staff Sergeant, even if the random Staff Sergeant relayed him a message from John Sheppard.
Of course, the Staff Sergeant also said that Steve was with them, and that he was coming on the rescue. If that didn't sound like wishful thinking, Danny didn't know what did. How the hell could Steve have even gotten John's help, considering he was in another galaxy? It might as well have been Tinkerbell, leading a phalanx of My Little Ponies. It seemed like Danny's subconscious really didn't want to go gentle into that good night. Well, no shit. The rest of Danny didn't want to die either. He just wasn't sure he was going to have another choice.
If this was real, he was planning on giving John the biggest, most awkward real-not-bro-hug of his life as soon as he was out of this corpse-storing hellhole.
And then he'd hug Steve, and then he'd kiss him. Because he was cold, aching, lonely and scared, and he'd had a really fucking bad day and didn't want to wait anymore.
John had also told him to find cover and keep his head down. That, provided this was an actual thing as opposed to a really boring hallucination, was fine. Great, even. Danny was totally into finding cover and not moving for the next several years. Unfortunately, there was a slight problem in that there wasn't any cover other than the coffin freezer in the center of the room. And Danny was pretty sure Unpleasant and Co. would look there first. And then she'd—
Danny wrenched his mind away from that thought immediately, before he started sobbing again. He wasn't hiding. If he was going to die anyway he wanted to do it on his own terms, thanks. Not…not like that.
He rubbed his palms together, energized by adrenaline and something akin to giddy despair. His fingertips still hurt a bit, but either they'd be healed by tomorrow or he'd be too dead to care. And he was still prying up a promising shard of glass from the coffin's window. It'd taken him longer to break it than he was hoping for, but he was almost done. If no one came in before he was finished, he'd be fine.
He wasn't certain what he'd be fine for, of course. There was still that traitorous bit of hope that he'd be able to fight his way out of here, collapse into Steve's arms, then spend a few days in a nice Hawaiian hospital being subjected to Chin Ho's and Kono's teasing and Steve's glaring concern.
Or maybe John and Steve really were coming for him, and an hour was actually all that they needed.
So naturally someone came in.
Danny saw the door opening and froze like a rabbit. Luckily he was on the far side of the cylinder and had already whipped his badge out of sight, because he was so terrified he couldn't move. It was as if he'd forgotten everything he ever learned as a cop; everything Steve and his team had ever taught him. If anyone had come in shooting he'd be dead. Hell, if Unpleasant had walked through that door he would've fucking waited for her to come and touch his forehead, shaking and crying the whole time.
When the furious, glowering woman who came through turned out to be Daughter of Unpleasant, with three glowering Thugs Du Jour behind her, Danny was so relieved the only reason he didn't collapse was because he was still on his knees.
He stayed put long enough to slide his badge into his pocket, then made a show of how hard it was to stand. It wasn't much of a show.
The thugs immediately turned their AR-15s on him. Danny raised his hands. "I've been trying to melt it! See?" he demanded hotly, gesturing with his chin. "You're lucky I didn't burn my hands off."
"Liar!" She snarled at him. "I know you are not using your Gift! We know how it works, and you are not burned! The ice is the same! We told you to work or my mother would touch you again. Do you want that? Do you think we were joking?"
"Yeah, actually," Danny said, doing his best to keep the waver out of his voice. He could feel fresh sweat pooling clammily at his lower back, just thinking of that woman and what she could do. "Using her Gift the last time wiped her out, or she'd be down here already, wouldn't she?" He drew his shoulders back, reminding himself that being scared shitless just meant you had to be brave. "And maybe you can make me walk or sleep or whatever you did, but you can't make me use my Gifts, can you? So you're bluffing."
Her eyes widened in affront, then she pulled her teeth back like she was going to lunge for his throat. "You have no idea what I can do," she snarled. Then she said something to the current thugs in Russian that had to be 'if he moves, shoot him,' because they both shifted their guns so they were aimed that much more securely at Danny's torso.
Danny waited, trying to looked whipped and not like he was just waiting for Daughter of Unpleasant to finish stalking around the front of the cylinder.
See, Danny had already figured out that she had to touch him for her Gift to work, just like her mom. It wasn't like either of them had denied it. And Danny wasn't rabbit-terrified of her, but he was really, really fucking angry.
So the instant she extended her hand towards his head, he grabbed her and pulled her into a choke hold against his chest. Since his sleeves were still covered in duct tape, it was easy to avoid her skin. Hopefully she couldn't whammy him through clothes.
The thugs naturally tried to aim for him, but he and Daughter of Unpleasant were almost the same height. He had maybe two inches on her and he'd put her directly in front of him. The thugs would have to be Steve to hit him without going through their boss, and Danny sincerely doubted they'd won any marksmanship awards.
He squeezed until Daughter was wheezing and scrabbling at his wrist. She also kicked at his shins, which hurt like a bitch, but Danny was expecting that and what the hell was more pain at this point anyway. "Put your guns down or she dies," he barked at the thugs. Then, "Guns! Down!" when they didn't move. Maybe they couldn't speak English.
She tried to say something, but he squeezed harder. She was groping behind her now, trying to grab at his face. He bit her wrist through the cloth of her shirt. Hard. Daughter screamed.
The thugs were still trying to aim at him.
"Down!" Danny yelled. He squeezed harder. Not enough to kill her, because he wasn't a murderer, but hopefully enough to look like he meant it.
Daughter wasn't struggling quite so much. The thugs dropped their guns.
"Good. Kick them to me." He mimed kicking while making sure not to loosen his grip. "To me! Got it?"
They both kicked their guns to separate far corners of the room. Fantastic.
Admittedly the plan had been kind of improvised on the spur of the moment, but Danny had been counting on getting at least one of the AR-15s, but now all he had was a heavy, semi-conscious woman, his wits and his Gift, and none of them were his first choice.
Well, he didn't recall Steve saying he was inflexible recently, so he was just going to make do.
"Back!" he snarled, doing his best to keep Daughter in front of him as he maneuvered towards the door, hauling her with him like a large, unhappy Muppet. The thugs looked reluctant, but they retreated.
Danny turned as soon as he could, to keep her between him and her friends. "If you come near me, I will use my Gift and burn her," he said, speaking loudly and clearly. One of them obviously spoke enough English to get it, because he said something to his even more reluctant-looking buddy, shaking his head.
They retreated a little farther. Awesome.
This was great. Danny was fucking acing this getting out of here thing. He hadn't even needed to shank anyone with his badge. He just hoped that his possibly-not-a-hallucination rescue arrived soon, because this chick was heavy and Danny was basically running on fumes. But he was almost out, and he'd drag Daughter of Unpleasant all the way to hell if he had to, if it meant it'd get him out the front door—
The door behind him banged open.
Danny swung Daughter around as more thugs boiled in and fanned around him. Now he was surrounded with a lot more angry men and big guns. "Back off! Now! I mean it!"
Unpleasant came in next, holding the arm of one of her minions like he was escorting her on a date.
Danny's terrified-rabbit brain went berserk.
"Get away from me! Get the fuck away from me!" he screamed. "I'll kill her! I will fucking kill her! I mean it!"
Right that second he did. He could feel it: the heat building under his skin; the faint wisps of smoke drifting up from his shaking fists. He would kill this helpless woman, if it meant her mother never touched him. He would burn them both alive.
Unpleasant saw the smoke and she gasped, eyes widening. "No, please! Not my daughter!" She came closer, shakily letting go of her escort's arm "Please. You can go. We will not stop you. Just, let her go. Please. Please, I beg you."
"M-make them put their guns down," Danny said. His voice was trembling, so was his entire body. Smoke curled around his hands like a pan left too long on the stove. His skin already hurt. He didn't give a damn. "I'll let her go when I-I'm outside."
Unpleasant nodded and stepped aside to let him pass. She snapped out an order in Russian, and all the minions carefully lowered their weapons to the floor. "There. Go," she said. She looked terrified too. Good, let her know how that felt.
Danny turned around again, to keep the daughter in front as he backed the rest of the way to the door. Unpleasant was flanking him, but he was sure she wouldn't try anything. Not while he was holding her daughter. Danny wouldn't have, in case something went wrong and his child got hurt.
He was so sure that Unpleasant wouldn't risk her daughter's safety that he didn't register the touch on his neck as actually hers until he was on the floor, screaming and screaming and screaming—
Something right above them exploded.
The plan was simple: The building ran on generators, not the grid. Their alarm didn't signal anywhere, Rodney told them. It would just blare really, really loudly if someone tried to infiltrate. And he just snorted in derision when John asked if he could hack it so it wouldn't go off.
He was doing that now, while Conroy was confirming the number of hostiles and finding their locations in the building. There were two really bored looking men who had to be mercenaries, chatting in Russian and sharing a cigarette while they ostensibly watched for intruders. That left at least another nine inside, Conroy reported, maybe ten.
"There's maybe eleven or twelve of them?" Rodney asked Conroy incredulously. "How the hell could there be a 'maybe' person? Is that Schrodinger's shack?"
"I don't know, Sir," Conroy said. He looked as confused as Rodney. "It's like, there's twelve sets of thoughts, and then I check again and there's just eleven. Then twelve again."
"Maybe one of them is in and out of consciousness?" The medic, who'd introduced herself as Lieutenant Ko, asked.
Conroy frowned. "I don't know. It's more like…they're there, but unconscious. And then a couple seconds later they're not there at all."
"Is it Danny?" Steve asked. He exhaled in relief when Conroy shook his head.
"No, Sir. Danny's hurt, but his thoughts are steady," Conroy said. "This is someone else. I figured they were one of the hostiles, but now I don't know."
"Don't worry about it, Sergeant." John patted Conroy's shoulder. "Just locate the ones you can. We'll figure out the rest once we're inside."
"Yessir." Conroy still looked uncertain, but he nodded. "Locating them now."
Once Conroy told them where everyone was, Steve would go invisible and take point. His job would be to find Danny. John would come in with his team three minutes later. Conroy would link them all, so they wouldn't need radios.
Steve didn't like that part, even if Conroy had assured him only deliberate thoughts would be picked up by anyone. But Steve could see the value in it, so he kept his mouth shut.
"I think that's all of 'em, Sir," Conroy said to John. He turned to Steve. "Detective Williams is definitely conscious, Sir. He's…." His eyes widened. "Shit. He just took a hostage. He's tryin' to get out."
"I told him to keep his head down!" John exclaimed in disbelief. "What the fuck is he doing?"
"Something stupid," Steve growled. "We need to go now."
Conroy closed his eyes, concentrating. "The six people up here all went down the stairs. Williams is real scared, but, they're gonna let him go. I think. He's—" He gasped, eyes shooting open. "He's screaming!"
Steve turned invisible. They were in the forest, on the edge of the clearing where the building was. The only one the mercs wouldn't see crossing the vast, empty space was him. 11 or 12 hostiles was a lot for him to take out on his own, but his Gift was a big advantage and he really didn't give a shit what happened to him as long as he got to Danny. But before he could move there was a flash of gold a couple feet in front of his eyes.
Rodney's Shield, hemming him in. It was hemming all of them in, Steve realized. Rodney had made a large dome, covering John's team of six and the four soldiers from the Daedalus.
"Wait, Commander," John snapped at the air where Steve had been. It was an order. Steve would have ignored it, except now he couldn't get out. "Blair, go!"
The nearest wall of the building exploded, which had also been the one the two men were leaning against. Bits of brick, wood, and corpses hurtled away from the building, but the shockwave and debris hit harmlessly against McKay's Shield.
"Damn, I hate explosions," Rodney muttered, hand to his head. "I'm fine! Perfectly fine!" He waved off John's concern. "Let's do this. It'll be awesome."
John nodded. "Okay, let's go. Be careful."
Steve knew he was mostly talking to him, and that he meant, don't get yourself killed, and, don't lose your mind, and all the other admonishments Steve would expect in this situation. Just like Steve knew John was perfectly aware Steve didn't give a damn.
He was going to get Danny out. Whatever they were doing to him, Steve would stop it and bring Danny home.
And God help anyone who got in his way.
It took a long second for Danny to reorient himself after the blast. The Russians were shouting and dust and bits of ceiling were still dropping down.
That was scary—if the ceiling fell his problems would be over permanently—but the latest adrenaline rush had worked like being scared out of the hiccups. The aftereffects of Unpleasant's Gift had dropped to a level where Danny could think and move at the same time.
Unpleasant, who was trying to get to her feet with the help of her minion, dropped back to the floor, pulling the man down with her. That was cool, but then Daughter of Unpleasant opened her eyes.
Well, Danny hadn't wanted her dead. But, fuck.
Unpleasant, sadly undaunted, snapped commands at the thugs. Almost all of them ran for the stairs. One thug threw Daughter over his shoulder as he followed them. That seemed like a very narrow staircase. Bet they were regretting having only one exit now.
Danny was left with Unpleasant, who was being helped to her feet again, and three more guys holding their guns on him. Flattering, but probably overkill. "That's my team," Danny said, enunciating as clearly as possible with his swollen lip. He rolled onto his back threateningly. In a minute he'd sit up, and then they'd be sorry. "You guys ever heard of a 'Conga Line of Death'? Because you're about to get a demonstration. Emergency exits save lives. Just saying."
Funny how obvious the words 'Shoot him' were, even in another language.
Part of the ceiling blew up.
One of the guns fired—that tiny explosion was almost lost in the larger one—but Danny was too busy being pummeled with debris to check if he'd been shot or not. At least he was already on the floor, and luckily not right underneath the new hole like the second thug had been. That one was now either unconscious or dead, bathed in wintery daylight.
Unpleasant and her escort service had been knocked down again. Hah. Losers.
And then the first thug got shot by Steve. Danny knew this because he hadn't seen or heard anything, until suddenly the guy's chest blossomed red and he collapsed.
"Steve!" Danny croaked joyously. This had suddenly turned into the best day of his life.
—Right up until Thug Number Three, who had been close to the explosion but not underneath it, started shooting wildly. He was reeling from shock, bloody splotches on his clothes and face from shrapnel. He sprayed an arc of bullets from his AR-15, screaming in fear. Several hit the cylinder with angry metallic pings. Hopefully they didn't breech it and let the plague corpse out, but there was no time to worry about it.
Steve did not appear, but that didn't mean he wasn't shot, just that he wasn't dead. Being invisible was Steve's default. He had to be conscious to turn it off, and when he wasn't conscious it was occasionally impossible to find him. And the lack of return fire was worrying.
Danny was too low to be hit with anything but spent casings, so he flipped onto his stomach—ow—and crawled closer to the screaming Russian. There were no guns close to hand, so he pulled his badge out of his pocket. The instant the thug's rifle clicked empty, Danny gathered his legs and launched himself at him. It was maybe more like teetered himself at him, but he grabbed the back of the thug's neck, then shoved his badge as hard as he could into the guy's closest exposed skin. Since the thug was significantly taller than Danny—story of his life—that meant the exposed skin was the triangle at the base of his throat. Danny punched his badge in hard enough that the metal eagle at the top split the skin of his hand.
Turned out the triangular base was, indeed, pointy enough to go through skin, provided sufficient motivation. Danny didn't think he'd hit anything important, but the thug dropped his empty rifle and clutched at his bleeding throat, still screeching. Unfortunately, when he realized he wasn't dying, he pulled his combat knife and went for Danny instead.
Steve shot him thought the head. And then it was just the two of them and Unpleasant.
Steve went visible, pointing his Glock at her black, black heart. "Hi, Danny. How you doing?" he asked casually. He stepped closer until their shoulders were almost touching, never taking his eyes from her.
"Oh, you know. Been better. Little sore. Good to see you," Danny said. He slid his badge into his pocket, then clapped Steve on the shoulder a few times with a badly shaking hand. He just wanted to collapse in his arms for maybe the rest of his life, but not with Unpleasant right there in the room. "Don't let her touch you. My Gift hurts less."
The twitch of Steve's lips and a slight widening of his eyes were the only indications he didn't like what he'd just heard. "Noted. Danny is secure, but badly injured," he said out loud at normal volume, though Danny hadn't seen a radio. "We have a prisoner."
"She's the leader," Danny said, calling up through the hole. Breathing deeply hurt. Then again, so did everything. He was going to hate his life so much when the adrenaline wore off. "Don't let her touch you. Her Gift causes unbearable pain. Fuck, don't let the other woman touch you either. She's a Body Snatcher."
He realized that there were only voices upstairs, not more explosions or gunfire. He hadn't even noticed it until it stopped.
John Sheppard's head appeared over the hole. "Hi, Danny," he said, waving. "Glad to see you. We're just securing the prisoners up here." He was really bad at hiding his concern, which in this case was touching and also made him worry a bit.
"I'm not dying," Danny said, because it suddenly seemed like he should mention it.
"Naw, you're too stubborn to die," John said. It sounded a little like he was convincing himself. "I'm sending down a medic and a couple guys to help."
"Awesome." John sending down a medic sounded like the best idea ever.
"Great," John said. "See you soon." He disappeared from the hole, then reappeared again for a second, as if he wanted to make sure Danny was still there. He nodded once, firmly, then vanished again.
That was just as well, because it meant he missed it when Danny tried to sit down, only his legs decided it'd be more fun just to give out entirely.
"Danny!" Steve grabbed him around the waist with his free arm, then crouched to lower him to sitting on the floor. He let Danny lean against his leg, never taking his gun off Unpleasant.
The woman Danny assumed was the medic came in, followed by two male soldiers Danny didn't know.
"Hello, Detective Williams. My name is Sunny," she said, smiling. "I'm going to access your injuries, and then we're going to transport you to the Daedalus' infirmary, all right?"
"Sure," Danny said, because it wasn't like he was going to refuse sci-fi medical treatment. The spaceship explained how Steve and John were both there too. It also meant he could be in a nice, Hawaiian hospital by that evening, or whenever. He was totally down with that.
He was so down with that that he even stoically put up with the medic shining her penlight in his eyes. She tried to wrap him in a silvery thermal blanket, but Steve just took off his coat and draped it around Danny's shoulders instead, then flipped the hood over Danny's head. The warmth was glorious.
The medic and Steve lowered him the rest of the way to the floor. She was very careful, but the adrenaline was definitely wearing off. And fuck, everything hurt.
He worriedly watched the other soldiers while he answered Sunny's questions or gasped in pain where appropriate. "Don't let her touch you," he said. He was pretty sure he'd given that warning before, but better safe than sorry.
Danny could have cried in relief when Unpleasant's arms were cuffed behind her back.
One of the soldiers shook some glucose tablets into her mouth when she bitched about unfair treatment, like she was a giant, evil baby bird. Then they took her upstairs. Danny could have cried again when he finally didn't have to see her anymore.
"It's okay, Danny. You're all right. You're safe." That was Steve's face suddenly poking into Danny's line of sight, with his I'm-pretending-not-to-have-an-aneurism face. It took Danny a moment to realize Steve was gently stroking under Danny's eyes because he wasn't just being friendly, but clearing away tears.
Apparently he had been crying. Whoops.
"Almost done here," the medic said, smiling at him. "You're lucky. You're covered in bruises, but aside from what might be a cracked rib, it looks like—"
The door burst open and John came in, followed by Rodney, who was carrying a life signs detector. Behind him were two more men Danny didn't know, though their uniforms were different from the ones on the medic and the men who'd taken Unpleasant upstairs.
Rodney looked at him and stopped dead, staring. "Wow. You look like shit."
"McKay!" John snapped. "Danny's fine. Focus." He strode to the cylinder, now somewhat worse for wear after the gun battle. "How the hell do we open this thing?"
"What?" Danny tried to rocket upright, much to the medic's dismay. He failed miserably, just ending up clutching his ribs. "No! Don't open it! There's a plague corpse in there!"
"Danny, what are you doing?" Steve helped him upright anyway, because he was the best, then held Danny there so he wouldn't fall over. "What 'plague corpse'? What are you talking about?"
"It's not a corpse," John said grimly, but then he frowned and looked at one of the two soldiers who'd come in with him: a tall, pale guy who was kind of nondescript, except for way he radiated intensity. "Conroy, you're sure about this? Because I'd rather not decant a plague corpse either."
Conroy—and hey, that must've been the guy who warned Danny about the rescue, neat—nodded. "Yessir. That's the one I was talkin' about. I wasn't sure 'cause his thoughts kept kind of fading in and out. But he sure is alive."
"Yeah." Rodney nodded vigorously, his eyes on the small white box. "I got a signal. Whatever's in there definitely isn't dead."
"He's not dead?" Danny demanded, "how the hell could he not be dead?"
"That's what we want to find out." John looked angry, like the guy being frozen personally offended him. "All right." He stepped aside. "Open it."
Rodney stared at him. "Much as I appreciate your faith in my abilities, you may have noticed this thing needs electricity to work. And that's if it even has a heating cycle. I'm not exactly fluent in Russian to check. And since the upper story is decisively off-grid, unless you see a really long extension cord lying around, we're SOL."
"We could get one of the prisoners to read it, Sir?" the second soldier offered. He was shorter than the telepath, dark haired and eyed, and handsome enough for a recruitment poster.
"Even if they were willing to, which I doubt," Rodney huffed, "there's still the little electricity problem. As in, we don't have any." He held his chin, contemplating the cylinder. "I might be able to form a Shield inside and expand it. That should break the ice covering the seal around the hatch, at least."
"Try it," John said. "Is Williams ready for transport?" he asked the medic, who Danny had kind of forgotten was there. "We don't need him for this and he's in pain."
"Good idea. C'mon, Danny," Steve said, moving to help him to his feet.
Danny shook his head, pushing him back. "No, I want to stay. I was nearly beaten to death for this guy. I want to find out who the hell he is. And I'm fine," he added to Steve, before he could insist otherwise. "Another couple minutes isn't going to kill me."
"Well, this might if it explodes. Which is technically possible," Rodney said. "I'd stand back."
Steve and Sunny helped Danny to his feet and to the back of the room, which was no fun for him at all. He stood, leaning heavily against Steve, watching Rodney. He could see the gold shimmer of Rodney's Shield flick on and off while he concentrated, only for him to give up with an irritated exhale. "I can't. There's not enough room in there to get the Shield in between anything."
John made a face. "Maybe Corporal Breshna could use her Gift to lift—"
"Sir," Conroy cut in breathlessly. He was actually breathless, Danny realized, like someone had sucked all the air out of his part of the room. "He needs air. He's tryin' to breathe and he can't. He's gonna die."
"Shit." John clenched his jaw, then tilted his head so he shouted up into the daylight. "Markham! We need you!"
Two seconds later a very-young looking soldier slammed through the basement door. "Yes, sir?"
John gestured at the cylinder. "I need you to teleport the top off that thing without harming the person inside."
Markham's eyes went huge. "There's a person in there?" But he nodded before anyone could answer. "I can try."
"Don't try, do it," John said.
"Yes, Sir." Markham nodded again. He closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths, centering himself.
The upper half of the cylinder disappeared. A moment later there was a large clunk in a distant part of the room, as if something heavy had been dropped on the floor. Markham grinned.
"Whoa," Steve said. Danny could not disagree.
What was left was Danny's not-corpse, half-covered in translucent pink ice. He still looked dead. Very, very dead.
"He's not breathing," the medic said. She gave Danny's full weight to Steve and ran over to the human popsicle. She checked his pulse, then looked at Conroy. "Are you sure he's alive? Because—"
The man's eyes flew open. He didn't move, except for minute, frantic heaves of his chest. His mouth was wide open like he was trying to gulp air, but he was suffocating. Was he too cold to make his lungs work?
Then his head turned, glazed eyes wide with confusion and fear, and Danny got a terrific view of the pink ice blocking his mouth.
"Oh my God." The medic grabbed for it, fingers scrabbling uselessly on the slippery ice.
"Jamie!" John shouted.
Markham ran to the cylinder. "Hold him," he said to the medic, then helped her keep the poor guy's head from thrashing. Instantly the ice vanished and reappeared in the air behind him, like Markham had carelessly tossed it over his shoulder. It dropped and shattered on the floor.
The man dragged a shallow, wheezing breath into his lungs, eyes still wild.
"He still has stuff in his lungs. He can't breathe," Conroy said.
Markham teleported away the rest of the pink ice in the cylinder, and the man immediately lurched away from both of them. He didn't climb out of his personal freezer so much as fall over what was left of the side, then drag his legs after him.
Then he just lay in a huddled heap, wheezing and trying to cough. He was naked, ice chips in his hair. He'd just come out of a freezer into a freezing cold room, but he wasn't shivering. His lips were blue.
Danny flexed his fingers. How much flame would it take to heat his lungs? Or would he just burn a hole in them both for nothing?
Sunny threw the thermal blanket over the man, but he just flinched violently like she'd hurt him. He staggered to his feet, managed two steps and collapsed. Danny had no idea how he could still be conscious, but he kept trying to get up. He supported himself on his left arm—and holy shit, was that metal?—but he couldn't make his legs work. There were tears in his eyes: big and silent like an abused child. It was incredibly sad.
It was also terrifying. They were watching him die.
"Hey. Hey, look at me," John said.
His voice wasn't loud, but there was something in it that sounded like a command. The man's head snapped to him, still struggling to breathe.
"Hi." John lowered himself to the floor, far enough away to put him out of grabbing distance. Danny was sure it was for the terrified man's benefit, not John's. "My name's John. I know you don't know where you are or what the hell's going on, but you're safe. We're Americans. We're not going to hurt you."
"He's Russian, John. He probably can't understand you," Rodney said tensely.
"He can, Sir," Conroy said.
John grinned. "Awesome. So, I'm John. The woman who tried to put a blanket on you is Sunny. She's a medic—"
That's as far as he got before the man gave a full-body flinch and tried to get away again, only for his legs to give out. He coughed shallowly, then spat out tiny, glittering pink beads.
"Okay, no medics. I get it," John said, changing tack like it was the easiest thing in the world. "The thing is, though, we just want to get you warm, and make sure you're all right. You're really cold and you're breathing kind of funny. We can help you with that. What's your name?"
No answer. John glanced at Conroy again, who gave him a tiny headshake. A very unhappy one.
"How 'bout we call you 'Joe' for now," John said without missing a beat. The newly minted Joe didn't react, still coughing. Danny had no idea how the telepath could be so sure he even understood what John was saying.
Then again, Joe was entirely focused on John. Danny hadn't even realized that John had been taking deep, measured breaths until he noticed that Joe had started unconsciously mimicking him. He was still breathing too fast and coughing nothing but useless, teeny ice bits, but it looked like he was actually pulling in air. His lips were turning pale pink instead of blue.
"You're doing great." John smiled warmly at him. "Now all you have to do is take deeper breaths so you can cough up the crap in your lungs. I know you can do that, because you just climbed out of a containment unit even though you're so cold you can barely move. If you can do that, then clearing your lungs will be a piece of cake, right?" John's voice deepened a little, taking on a cadence that was weirdly familiar. "Take a deep breath and cough, Joe," he said. "Clear your lungs."
And Joe did, just like that. His next breath was deep and full, and this time he coughed for a long time, spitting out enough pink ice to fill a freezer tray. A lot of the chunks were bloody, like they'd scraped him all the way out. But he didn't pull a Doc Holliday, and when he finally finished he sagged to the floor instead of trying to run. His chest was heaving, but each breath dragged real, life-giving draughts of air into his lungs.
John silently signaled to the medic, and the poor woman all but tiptoed over and handed him the blanket. John draped it over Joe's body, and this time he didn't flinch away.
It was just like how John had been able to talk Danny down from freaking out about his burns back on the Hellplanet, or how John had pep-talked him into staying on his feet and walking when all Danny had wanted to do was lie down and sleep. John really had a gift….
Danny blinked, then gasped. Not a gift. A Gift. John was a fucking Charmer.
"Why the fuck didn't you tell me about him?" Danny hissed at Steve. "How could you be okay with him using his Gift on me without my consent? You just let him—"
"—Save your life," Steve interrupted. "I let him save your life. And if you knew it might not have worked. And there's no way in hell I'm apologizing for that."
Well, that heartwarming and enraging. "I would've told you!"
"No, you wouldn't."
Steve said it with such easy, absolute certainty that Danny wanted to hit him. And not even because he was probably right. Hitting him would take too much effort, though. So Danny headbutted him instead. Which was more like resting his head heavily on Steve's shoulder, but whatever. "I hate you. Asshole."
Steve just ruffled Danny's doubtlessly filthy hair, because he was a dick.
While Danny was having his epiphany and subsequent really short argument, John had gotten Joe sitting up, still wrapped in the blanket. John had taken off his coat and draped it around him too. Joe was clutching the blanket and the coat, shivering violently. He looked miserable and frightened, but at least he was warming up and breathing. That was a good sign.
"He really needs a doctor, Sir," the medic said softly. She glanced at Steve and Danny. "Detective Williams does too. I was about to transport him."
A doctor sounded fantastic right then, provided they came with a hot shower and a warm bed. Danny was so far beyond running on fumes the engine had turned inside out. "I'm really tired. Can we go home?" he said to Steve, inanely. He sounded like Grace when she was bored.
"Sure, Danny," Steve said. "We just need to get you checked out, first."
"Right." Danny smiled up at Steve, patting his chest. "I knew you'd come for me."
Steve smiled back at him, something fierce and sad clinging to the corners. "I will always come for you."
"Yeah." Danny nodded, which sent him a little off balance. He used the lean to knock his lips against Steve's, in what was probably the lamest kiss in existence. "I love you."
Steve blinked, then his eyes went huge. "Uh," he said.
"I'll tell the Daedalus to prepare for transport," Rodney said, rolling his eyes.
"So. Hydra," John said.
Steve nodded, though he didn't take his eyes off Danny. Both Steve and John were in the ship's infirmary, leaning against the wall. Steve would have been sitting with Danny still, but John apparently wanted to talk and Steve didn't want their voices to wake him. Danny needed background noise to sleep, but only certain kinds of background noise. Sports commentaries had him out like a light, but he had the ears of a bat for conversations.
Danny and Joe were in the two farthest beds from where Steve and John were standing. It wasn't that far, since as with all ships, room on the Daedalus was at a premium. The Daedalus didn't have anyone with a healing Gift, which sucked, but luckily the medic's assessment of Danny had been right: He didn't have a cracked rib; he was just covered with cuts and bruises, especially bruises. And minor burns on his fingers. He'd also been starved and dehydrated, but nothing a couple bags of saline and decent meals couldn't fix. None of the physical damage done to him needed more than time.
Nothing more than time. It could have been so much worse. Steve was so damn grateful it wasn't.
What those Russian bitches had done to him to get him to help them, though…that might not be so simple to fix. Danny had been rendered helpless, and then tortured. The idea that someone's Gift could hurt worse than burning alive was chilling. Steve had been tortured, both with pain and otherwise. Even with specialized training, It wasn't something you got over quickly.
Hopefully, knowing that the two women were being sent to the Raft would help Danny sleep at night. Steve doubted Danny's kidnappers would ever be heard from again. He didn't have much of a problem with it.
Danny was safe. Steve would do everything he could to make sure Danny remembered that.
"I thought Hydra was destroyed by the Howling Commandos," Steve said. He was as shocked by that new information as John, but it was hard to keep his mind on the conversation. He was tired, for starters. He still hadn't slept, and now it was sometime on Tuesday in Hawaii. He would have to crash soon, but he didn't want to leave the infirmary.
He didn't want to leave Danny. He could've lost him. If it hadn't been for John and Rodney he probably would have. Steve had been trying very hard not to think of that, but he was tired; it was hard not to.
It was just as difficult not to think about how Danny had kissed Steve and told him he loved him.
Danny didn't mean it. He couldn't have meant it. He'd been at the end of his rope, clinging to consciousness by his fingernails. He was just grateful to be rescued, that was all. He didn't even know what he was doing.
The problem was, Steve wanted Danny to mean it. He wanted it more than he'd wanted anything other than finding Danny alive. And now he was desperately waiting for Danny to wake up so Steve could say it back to him.
"…thing belonged to Hydra, so what the hell was the Security Council doing with it?"
Steve blinked, forcing his brain back into gear. He mentally backtracked over the conversation. They'd been talking about Hydra and the containment unit. Right. "I don't know," he said honestly. "It looked pretty old. Maybe it was confiscated during the occupation?"
John grunted in agreement. "Still doesn't explain how Pierce even knew about it, let alone what the hell someone with a seat on the World Security Council would want with it." He grimaced. "I'm trying to figure out if he knows there was a person in there or not. He told me and Rodney to bring it back or destroy it. He had to have known something."
"Danny was sure it was a corpse still contaminated with whatever disease killed him. You sure he's safe?"
John nodded. "All his bloodwork checked out. Our Chief of Medical Services on Atlantis can see genetic code. He should be able to tell if there's something strange going on." He paused. "Though something stranger than how he survived being frozen for God knows how long will be hard to find."
"That is pretty strange," Steve agreed, answering by rote. He gave his head a quick shake. He'd been awake for longer than this. It'd been pretty fucking terrible, but still. "I've never seen an arm like his, either. It's like he's part robot."
"Yes it is." John made a face that managed to convey both frustration and sympathy. "It's made with the same metal as your badges. Which means whoever put it on him has access to alien technology that should be the exclusive property of the SGC. I wish I could ask him." John frowned. "Conroy's still trying to find anything in Joe's head that makes sense. He said he keeps getting little snatches of things that might be memories, but they're like unconnected bits of badly-maintained film. All Conroy could say for sure is that he's a soldier. Or at least he thinks he's one. Conroy couldn't even figure out what his first language is. Or his real name."
"He's been abused. Probably tortured," Steve said, though it was too obvious for John not to have picked up on it. Joe was terrified of everyone and everything. The only person he trusted at all was John, who had to Charm him into not panicking when they'd been transported into the ship's infirmary, then do it again so he'd allow even a rudimentary medical exam.
Other than answering the doctor's 'yes' or 'no' questions, the one thing Joe had said was to ask John if he was his new Handler, before he'd succumbed to exhaustion. Steve might have assumed Joe wanted to know if John was his Case Officer, but that would mean Joe was some kind of intelligence agent. And there was no way in hell Joe could be a spy.
"Yeah," John said grimly. "Which makes sense, if Hydra had him. Poor bastard." He took a breath. "The Russians said they stole the containment unit from Hydra. Which doesn't make any sense either, considering we were told it was stolen from a S.H.I.E.L.D. warehouse." He scrubbed his face. "Rodney's seeing if he can find anything, since I doubt Joe's gonna be able to tell us much when he wakes up."
"What are you going to do with him?" Steve asked, stifling a yawn.
"Take him to Atlantis," John said. "I'm serious," he added, when Steve looked at him incredulously. "There's too much about this I don't get, and I really don't like that. And I definitely don't feel comfortable turning Joe over to Pierce when I don't know what the World Security Council wants him for. Or what the connection with Hydra is."
"And he can't defend himself," Steve said, thinking of Danny and the tears on his face.
John nodded again. He rubbed an eye with the heel of his hand. Steve wondered when he'd last slept too. "I also can't shake that there's something familiar about him." He smirked. "Maybe it's just 'cause he reminds me of Ronon. When we first met, Ronon was a little feral too."
That had been one hell of a story, how Ronon had been chased by Wraith for seven years. Rodney had said Wraith were like the aliens the four of them had fought on the game preserve planet. Only those ones had more sportsmanship. Steve was very, very glad monsters like the Wraith had never made it to Earth.
"What are you going to tell the Council?" Steve couldn't stifle his next yawn.
John noticed it of course, but didn't say anything. He shrugged. "We were told to retrieve or destroy it. We'll say the unit was breeched, so we destroyed it." His wolfish grin reminded Steve of Ronon during a fight. "The Daedalus is selling it by blasting what's left of the place to powder. Better safe than sorry."
Steve hummed, too tired to voice his approval. He shifted so he wouldn't fall asleep leaning against the wall.
"You really need to go to bed," John said.
Steve jerked his chin at Danny. "He's been through hell. I don't want him to wake up alone."
"Then use the bed next to him." John shrugged elaborately when Steve blinked at him. "No one's gonna care. My team does it all the time. And if you stand here 'til you collapse, you're just going to be put into a bed anyway."
There might've been a reason to argue that, but Steve couldn't find one. "Yeah, okay." He trudged from the wall to the middle bed, ignoring how John walked with him: all nonchalance, but obviously there to catch him in case Steve's legs gave out.
Steve's legs didn't give out, even if the distance felt like a hundred miles.
He lay down gratefully, keeping his boots on in case something happened. He rolled onto his side to face Danny, murmuring something he hoped was an audible 'thanks' to John, and closed his eyes.
He woke up what felt like five minutes later because Danny poked him.
"Fuck off, Danny, 'm tired," he mumbled, then remembered where they were and why, and his eyes shot open. "Danny! Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Danny said, which was so untrue Steve didn't even bother calling him on it. "I'm worried about you. What's wrong with you? Why are you here?"
Steve blinked at him. "You woke me up because you were worried?"
"Yes! Of course I did!" Danny hissed loudly, then grimaced and pushed himself a little higher, peering over Steve's shoulder before he flopped back down with a wince. He looked exactly like he'd been beaten up for three days straight. "I know Ninja SEALS are strange and unique animals, but normally people don't hang around infirmaries for fun."
"I'm not here for fun. I haven't slept in four days." Steve glanced over his shoulder, then lay down so he could see more easily. Joe was still fast asleep on his cot, covered in blankets with a bag of saline and what looked like a bag of I.V. nutrients draining into two different hep locks on his right arm. John was there too, oddly enough. He was in one of the chairs, tilted on its back legs to better lean against the wall behind him. He had his arms crossed and his head down, sleeping too.
"Four days?" Danny screeched softly. He tried to get up again, probably to glare, then seemed to remember how much pain he was in and collapsed back onto the bed.
"Don't do that," Steve said, frowning.
"Says the man who didn't sleep for four days," Danny snapped. "What the hell were you doing? Was there a Hell Week reunion? Did you lose a bet?"
"I was looking for you," Steve said, annoyed. "Me, Kono and Chin Ho have been looking for you since Saturday! What did you think I was doing?"
Danny opened his mouth, closed it, then stared at him for a beat. "But…how did you even know I was gone?"
Steve told himself fiercely he was not going to feel guilty or embarrassed about going against Danny's very clear request. And he wasn't blushing either. "It was a really nice day," he said, which as a reason sounded a lot sillier in retrospect than it had at the time. "I thought maybe you'd…want to hang out."
Danny blinked, and then he grinned, big and bright despite all the bruising. "You missed me."
Steve almost rolled his eyes and said something glib (How can I miss you when I see you all the time?), the denial hot as a blush on his tongue. But then he thought about the terror of the last four days, the way he'd felt when Kono had voiced his worst fear, and the way his heart had leapt with shock and elation when Danny had said I love you. And how badly Steve wanted to hear that again, and to know Danny meant it.
So, "Yeah, Danny. Of course I missed you," he said simply. "I miss you when you're not around."
Maybe it wasn't much as far as declarations went, but it seemed to be enough. Danny's grin stayed just as big, but it was softer now. More like the way he smiled at Grace. "Well, I miss you too when you're not around, you giant goofball." His forehead creased. "That still doesn't explain why you decided to sleep here. I'm sure the Daedalus has a guest room. Guest quarters. Whatever."
"You'd been kidnapped and tortured," Steve said. "I didn't want you to wake up in a strange place alone."
Danny blinked again. "Oh," he said, hushed. "Thank you."
Steve smiled back at him; it felt like the first real one in days. "You're welcome."
Danny reached slowly across the small space separating the two beds. It felt completely natural for Steve to meet him halfway, so they were lying eye-to-eye with their clasped hands between them. It wasn't all that comfortable, but Steve really didn't care.
He licked his lips, weighing his next words. "You kissed me and said you loved me, when we pulled you out of that basement."
He thought Danny might either say he didn't remember, or laugh it off, or say he just meant the depth of their friendship. Steve would accept whatever Danny wanted, at least for now, but he hoped Danny would say the words again and mean them. He really wanted Danny to mean them.
Steve was pretty sure he'd wanted Danny to say I love you and mean it for longer than he cared to admit to himself.
Danny swallowed, but his gaze was steady and he didn't let go of Steve's hand. "That's 'cause I do," he said. His voice was a little rough, and he cleared his throat. "I do," he repeated, and squeezed Steve's hand. His smile was there again, but uncertain. "I know you don't feel like that. And that's okay," he added quickly. "You're my best friend, and that's enough. But, I've had a really shitty weekend and I figured you should know how I felt."
Steve chuckled at Danny's joke, then smiled back at him, hoping his expression showed Danny everything in his heart. "What if I do feel like that?"
Danny's eyes widened, then he grinned again, all but glowing with happiness. "Then I'd say I'm even more pissed at those fucking Russians. Because I'd really like to kiss you for real, but if I lean over that far I'm going to end up in a heap on the floor."
Steve laughed, delighted and heart alight, then helped Danny out by doing the leaning.
"John! Hey, wake up! I found someth— Oh, you're kissing."
Steve flipped onto his back and then shot upright, automatically reaching for the Glock he'd left with one of the Daedalus crew for safekeeping. Normally he wasn't so trigger happy, but it'd been a very long few days.
John snorted awake. The front legs of his chair clunked back onto the deck.
The noise woke Joe, gasping. He saw John and relaxed marginally, staring at him wide-eyed as if he was expecting something bad. John put his hand on Joe's exposed right shoulder. Joe froze at the touch, then slowly relaxed again.
"It's okay. There was a loud noise, that's all. Nothing's wrong. You're safe. I'm right here. You can go back to sleep," John said. Steve recognized the timbre of John's Gift in his voice, the way it always got a little deeper when he used his ability at its most potent. "You're safe, Joe. No one's going to hurt you. Go back to sleep."
Joe's eyes slid shut. Less than a minute later he relaxed completely and his breathing evened out.
John sighed and rubbed his forehead wearily, clenching his eyes shut. "Rodney," he ground out, "I have been here all night, keeping this kid from panicking every time he wakes up."
"Um, I'm sorry," Rodney said quietly, genuinely upset. "I didn't mean to do that. I just…." He crept closer. "I found out who he is," he whispered.
John blinked. "You did?" He perked up, then absently pulled a pack of glucose pills from his pocket and popped several into his palm. He slapped them into his mouth, screwing up his face unhappily as he chewed. Then he stood slowly, made sure Joe was asleep, and walked silently to Danny and Steve's beds.
Steve slid off his bed and helped Danny sit up, because the noise of raising the headboard would likely wake Joe again. Danny leaned contentedly against his chest with Steve's arm around him. It was nice.
"So?" Danny asked Rodney. "We're all dying to know who the hell John's defrosted ducking is."
Rodney made a face. "You're not going to believe me."
"Rodney," Danny said, and Steve was very, very familiar with that particular tone, "we're on a spaceship that beamed me up from Alaska, of all places, just, like, yesterday. And we met you on another planet. I sincerely doubt that, at this point, you could possibly tell me something too crazy for me to believe. So just spill it."
"All right." Rodney took a breath. "After extensive covert information retrieval—otherwise known as hacking—I have good news, bad news, more bad news, and really bad news. What do you want to hear first?"
"Rodney," John said.
"Fine," Rodney groused. "The first bad news is that Alexander Pierce is probably Hydra. Just like most of S.H.I.E.L.D. That's why the containment unit was in a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility when the Russians stole it. Hydra has been hiding inside S.H.I.E.L.D. for decades."
"Holy fuck," Danny whispered. "S.H.I.E.L.D. is Hydra? I thought they were the good guys!"
"We all did," Steve said. There was a S.H.I.E.L.D. branch in Oahu. Five-O had run missions with them a couple times. Now he wondered if his team had been helping Nazis. "What do we do about this?"
"Honestly? I have no idea," Rodney said. "Though we should probably contact Captain America."
"Captain America?" Danny repeated, "Why? What for?"
"He has ties to S.H.I.E.L.D. going back to the Second World War," Steve said. "He could be a Hydra mole too."
"Oh, please. As if Steve Rogers could be a Nazi," Rodney scoffed. "But he leads the Avengers. If anyone can dismantle a bunch of Hydra infiltrators inside S.H.I.E.L.D., it'll be them. And, ah…." He glanced at Joe. "We should contact Rogers anyway. Because the good news and all the other bad news kind of involve him."
"I'll talk to Landry when we transport to the SGC in the morning. He'll need to know about Joe anyway, and Joe definitely needs Fraiser or Vala," John said. He rubbed his forehead again. "I'm too tired to draw this out, Rodney. Who is Joe really, and what does he have to do with Captain America?"
"Kind of everything." Rodney cleared his throat. "The good news is that our amnesiac mystery meat is actually Steve Rogers' not-actually-dead buddy Bucky Barnes. The other bad news is that he's been Hydra's prisoner for just about 70 years."
The four of them all looked at Joe.
"You're kidding," Steve said, though now that he knew what to look for in those wan, lax features, he could see that Rodney really wasn't. Steve hadn't looked at a picture of Barnes anytime recently, but now that he was paying attention, there was definitely a resemblance to Captain America's legendary sergeant and friend.
"I knew he looked familiar," John said. "We studied the Howling Commandos as part of a course I took at the Air Force Academy." He frowned. "I should've recognized him."
"Yeah, well, the arm probably threw you a little bit," Danny said. He looked at Rodney. "How the hell did he survive being frozen? His lungs were full of ice—how did he not drown?"
"Fluorocarbons," Rodney said. "It's a breathable liquid that was being researched as a way to lower someone's body temperature quickly to prevent brain damage. I didn't think anyone was actually using it."
"Someone was," John said darkly. He ran his fingers through his hair. "Barnes also has a powerful Healing Gift. That might've helped him survive."
"Lucky him," Danny said.
"You said Hydra kept him prisoner for 70 years. Did they have him frozen the whole time?" Steve asked.
"I'm guessing they had to thaw him to put the arm on," Danny said.
"Oh, not only that," Rodney added. "That's the really bad news part. The reason why his brain is mush is because Hydra brainwashed him—and no, you don't want to know how—and turned him into their favorite assassin. And the reason for Pierce's sudden and seemingly arbitrary deadline to find him was that a few months from now, Hydra's going to use Barnes as part of their master plan to take over the world. Which will include killing twenty million people."
Everyone started at him.
"Okay, I take it back," Danny said. "That's too crazy."
"Told you," Rodney said.
Elizabeth Weir stood on the upper level of the Gate Room with her hands gripping the top rung of the railing. Everyone was waiting for Sheppard's team to come back. They were overdue, but not long enough yet to be a cause for alarm. But the excited and worry-tinged anticipation kept rolling through her like heavy waves, echoing and amplifying her own. The suspense was almost unbearable, like a rollercoaster the moment right before it tips at the top of the climb.
"Scheduled Gate activation," Chuck piped up. He was grinning ear to ear. "Colonel Sheppard's IDC."
Elizabeth grinned too. "Lower the shield."
The shield covering the horizon of the wormhole blinked out and Sheppard's team ambled through, Ronon and Teyla first. They all seemed fine, though Teyla looked exasperated. Ronon was obviously amused about something.
John came through next, looking amused and exasperated at the same time. And then Rodney and Bucky, walking side by side and arguing. As usual.
"…Makes no sense!" Rodney finished a sentence he'd clearly started on another planet. "Healing 'real fast' as you so eloquently put it doesn't mean you're less vulnerable than I am! If you get shot, you bleed and fall down and scream—"
"And if you get shot you die, dumbass." Bucky rolled his eyes so elaborately Elizabeth could see it from where she was standing. "Wasn't gonna let that happen."
"I have a Shield, you idiot!" Rodney snapped. "So you jumping in front of me like a cover model from Moron GQ Magazine was not only completely useless, but could've gotten you killed for nothing—"
"I'm fine!" Bucky interrupted, sounding like Rodney was being completely ridiculous. "They barely winged me. It healed already. But you'd been bitching about how hungry you are for the last four hours, remember? If you think I was gonna stand there and risk you falling into a goddamn coma 'cause of a buncha mooks with shit pistols then you're—"
"I can be hungry without risking death, Bucky!" Rodney hotly cut him off. Elizabeth thought she should probably stop them, but this was rather fascinating. "If I was in mortal danger every time I complained about something, they'd never let me out of the lab!"
"Then maybe you should stop fucking complaining!"
"All right, that's it!" John barked. "Can it, both of you."
Bucky and Rodney canned it. Teyla breathed a sigh of relief. Ronon looked disappointed.
"Sorry," Bucky muttered. "I just don't want him to get hurt."
"Well, I don't want you to get hurt either," Rodney said. "Just because you're a Super Soldier doesn't mean you have to keep taking one for the team."
Bucky grinned at him.
"Thank you for using your words," John said. "Jesus." He rubbed his forehead. "This is why parents don't send their kids to the same summer camp."
Bucky blinked at him. "I'm touched and kinda insulted."
Rodney frowned. "What are you talking about? My sister and I went to the same summer camp for five years."
"'Guess you haven't changed much, huh, Bucky?" Steve Rogers said.
Everyone on John's team whipped their attention to him.
Bucky gaped. "…Stevie?"
"Hey, Buck," Steve said.
Rodney grinned and patted Bucky on the shoulder. "Happy birthday."
"Go on," John said, because Bucky was still gaping. John jerked his head in the direction of the stairs. "Go greet your friend."
Bucky nodded, swallowing. Then he handed his P90 to the colonel and sprinted for the stairs. Steve did one better and used his hand to lever himself over the balcony rail. He landed right in front of Bucky, who threw himself into Steve's arms.
Elizabeth sighed; relieved, happy and a little wistful. Steve and Bucky's incredulous joy was warm and bright like a fire in the dark, but she could also feel how much they'd missed each other: years of Steve's grief, and Bucky mourning for someone he couldn't name. For a moment it had her fighting tears, but that was transient. There was no room for grief here, just welcome and happiness and so, so much love.
Ronon grinned up at her, and she could feel the depth of his love for her too. Elizabeth grinned back.
"I missed you. I really missed you, Bucky," Steve said. There were tears in his voice.
"I know. I missed you too," Bucky said. "I'm sorry. I wasn't ready to see you. I didn't…. I was in a real bad way, Stevie."
Steve moved back enough to see Bucky's face, though he never let go of him. "You're okay now, though, right? Dr. Weir said you were, but…. You're okay?"
"Oh, yeah." Bucky beamed at him. Elizabeth could feel his contentment and hard-won triumph. "I'm good, Stevie. I'm really okay."
Steve hugged him tightly again. He started crying; they both were. There was only so much happiness one could take before being overwhelmed by it.
Elizabeth knew intimately how that felt, which was why she quietly excused herself and went into her office. She'd return in a few minutes, when there would be less risk of losing her equilibrium.
Sheppard's team needed to debrief, since there'd been conflict. And Bucky would have to be checked over by one of the doctors, regardless of what he'd said about being 'fine'. Rodney would have to as well, to make sure he wasn't pushing himself too close to hypoglycemia. And it sounded like Bucky could use a gentle reminder that being protective didn't include putting himself in unnecessary danger.
None of that needed to happen now. Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes had been waiting 70 years for this moment, frozen in time and place and sorrow and pain. And they were finally together again, and home. Elizabeth would happily give them all the time in the world.