I'm gonna miss that smile
I'm gonna miss you my friend
Even though it hurts the way it ended up
I'd do it all again
So play it sweet in heaven
Cause thats right where you wanna be
I'm not cryin' cause I feel so sorry for you
Im cryin' for me
Cryin’ For Me. Toby Keith.
He stares out at the ocean, the waves rolling peaceably ashore, but it doesn’t bring him the sense of comfort, of home, that it used to. He doesn’t feel much of anything these days that isn’t crushing grief, and guilt, or overwhelming anger that eventually burns out into a gaping, raw wound that leaves him feeling lost.
He doesn’t know where it went wrong, what happened, or why.
One minute Danny was there, furious, and intense, and bright; alive. Then he was gone, out of reach, and Steve doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t know.
He didn’t even get to say goodbye, and that hurt.
Three Months Earlier
Everything is fuzzy, blurred at the edges, and he hears the beeping of heart monitors; the machines that mean he’s been slow again, gotten hurt somehow, and he’s been in enough hospitals to recognize them even half-aware.
He thinks Danny is probably going to yell at him again. He probably even deserves it.
His chest hurts when he breathes, and he can’t think about the pain in his left leg without getting dizzy and wanting to puke. The broken ribs are obvious, and he thinks his leg is crushed, but he can’t be sure. His head feels like someone is drilling into it, and he’s really, horribly thirsty.
“Welcome back, Commander,” he hears, squints up at the concerned face of Governor Jameson, and feels himself sinking back into the dark. He wonders where Danny is, if he’s furious enough to be avoiding him. He doesn’t want Danny to be mad at him.
Steve wants to say ‘sorry’ but he doesn’t remember why.
The next time he wakes up, the monitors are still beeping away, and the room is still the sterile, dull off-white of the hospital, but the Governor is gone. Instead he finds a nurse standing over him, changing out his IV bags, and Kono sleeping the sleep of the truly exhausted in the chair beside the bed.
He opens his mouth, tries to say something, and ends up coughing instead. His throat is dry, and he looks up to find his nurse already going for the jug of water, a Styrofoam cup, and a little pink bendy straw.
It’s wet, and cool, and wonderful; Steve’s never loved water so much in his life. He makes a noise of protest when she takes the cup away, tries to follow it, but can’t.
“I’m sorry, Commander,” she says, sympathetic, but firm, “but you can’t have too much so soon. You’ll be sick.”
He glares, but she just smiles, pats his arm, and effectively makes him feel about seven years old again. He scowls, can’t help but hear Danny in his head, telling him to ‘play nice, Steven, and let the good nurse-lady do her damn job.’ He wonders where Danny is, wants to see him, and touch him, and make sure he’s there. He doesn’t know why.
“You just sit tight, hon. I’ll let the doctor know you’re awake, and I’m sure he’ll be along,” she says, smiles at him again, and casts a look at Kono like she’s considering the merits of waking her up.
“Leave her,” Steve manages, barely, but she nods, and lets Kono sleep on, uninterrupted. Steve uses the time after she leaves to study the rookie closely, carefully, and finds himself wondering why she looks as terrible as she does. He takes in the dark circles beneath her eyes, and he can see they’re red even while she’s sleeping; the tear tracks that are so recent, and why would Kono be crying? He doesn’t think she should spend her tears on him, and anyway, he’s been in the hospital before.
He notices that she isn’t sleeping easy, her hands are clenched in her own shirt, and she’s curled in on herself in the chair.
Steve re-thinks his plan on letting her sleep; that chair can’t be comfortable, and her head is tilted at an odd angle that’s bound to hurt later.
“Kono,” he rasps, winces, and tries again. “Hey, Kono, wake--”
“Nah, brah, let her sleep,” he’s cut off, turns to look at the door to find Chin there, watching him carefully. “Trust me,” he adds, “she needs it.”
Steve blinks, glances back at Kono, who hasn’t so much as stirred, and then turns to watch Chin come closer. He wonders at the expression on Chin’s face, wants to know why he’s being looked at like he’s going to shatter any minute.
“How you feelin’?” Chin asks before Steve can bring it up, and drags the only other chair in the room over to the side of the bed.
Steve shrugs, grimaces when his ribs twinge painfully in a reminder that he’s not actually invincible, no matter what he thinks. He wonders when his own head started to sound so much like Danny, thinks he should know the answer, but doesn’t.
“That good, huh?” Chin teases, but something’s missing from it. It almost seems too forced.
“Doctor hasn’t been in yet,” Steve says, “but I’m assuming I’m feeling a Hell of a lot better than I was.” He doesn’t actually know.
“Look a Hell of a lot better, too, Boss,” Kono’s voice cuts in, exhausted, and a little hoarse. He looks over at her, and she offers something that fails to be a smile, and waves a little.
“Can’t say the same for you,” he replies, watches her share a look with Chin, and realizes it’s grief he sees, hears under-lying everything they say, and doesn’t understand at all.
Something’s wrong, he recognizes that, looks around the room for a long moment. There’s a Jersey-sized hole in the room, missing the bright, loud, furious presence that usually fills it, and Steve takes a breath against the dread creeping into his stomach. He knows what he needs to ask, doesn’t understand the immediate resistance to that idea, the crippling fear, and certainty that he doesn’t want to hear the answer.
“Where’s Danny?” he asks, and something must show on his face because Chin and Kono are looking at each other again, and back to him, and he’s seen them do this with victims who’ve lost someone, just like that, knows what that expression means.
“Boss,” Kono starts, timid, sad, “Danny…He--”
Steve can barely hear her over the rushing sound in his hears, his head, and he’s dimly aware of the heart monitor going crazy. Can’t fool it, he thinks wildly, desperately trying not to hear what they’re telling him.
“Danny didn’t make it,” Chin gets it out; Kono is crying, and he doesn’t think this is the first time she’s broken down, remembers the tear tracks on her cheeks.
Danny didn’t make it. The words turn over, and over in his mind until they’re all he hears, and he can’t seem to shut it off despite all his training. He loses track of things, only vaguely aware of the pain, and how it’s hard to breathe, and then there are doctors, and nurses, and everything fades back into the dark; empty, and he forgets that his world has just shattered again.
He wakes up again, surfaces muzzily, and finds them still there, more ragged, and run-down, like maybe losing Danny has broken something in them, too.
He wants to deny it, to pretend it isn’t real, and they never told him, and Danny will waltz through the door to yell at him for being a fucking reckless idiot. Danny’s gone, though, and Steve knows it, knows that if he wasn’t, he would have been there, perched comfortably on Steve’s bed, completely in his space, worried, and angry, but there, and God Steve would give anything to have that again.
He has Chin, and Kono, instead, staring at him warily, and he swallows hard, doesn’t ask how long he was out this time. He has a different question in mind.
“What happened?” he asks, quietly, soft, and they glance carefully at each other. Chin raises an eyebrow.
‘You don’t know?” he asks, delicately, like it’s important. Steve stares at him.
The thing of it, the worst part, is that he doesn’t. He tries, thinks back, and reaches, casts about in his mind for something, anything that will tell him, but there’s nothing.
It’s just a blank space in his mind, empty; gone. Like Danny, and what happened to Danny, and Steve can’t breathe, thinks for a moment about not even trying.
Then large hands settle on his shoulders, easy, but firm, and a smaller one slips into his, grips tight, and he holds on instinctively.
“Steve. C’mon, brah, don’t do this again.”
“Breathe, Boss, c’mon.”
Danny’s gone; he can’t follow, and that hurts, but he breathes again; in and out, slow. Chin waves off the nurses when they come in to respond to the way his heart rate increased again. He’s never had panic attacks before, thinks it’s funny that Danny manages to induce them without even being there in a hysterical, morbidly desperate kind of way.
“I don’t…There’s nothing,” he tells them, desperate, and shakes his head. “Chin, what…?” He wants to know, needs to, he does, but doesn’t know if he can handle it.
Chin sighs, scrubs a hand over his face, and he and Kono both take a side of the bed. Steve waits, keeps hold of Kono’s hand, and she squeezes his tight.
“We don’t know for sure how it went down,” Chin begins, doesn’t look at Steve, but he rests his hand on his shoulder. “by the time we got there, it was over. The place was a mess; we had to pull you out of the rubble, and you were pretty messed up, brah.” Steve waves this off, uninterested in his own injuries, or how he got them. They obviously weren’t bad enough; he was still here while Danny wasn’t.
“What happened to Danny, Chin?” he asks, lets his voice crack because he doesn’t care.
“Danny was already…Gone,” Kono takes over, and Steve doesn’t even have to look at her, can hear the tears in her voice. She isn’t ashamed to cry over Danny; none of them should be, but Steve can’t find his tears. “He was--he was shot,” she tries to continue, but has to stop. A sob rips out of her, and she jerks her hand up, bites down on her knuckles.
“Execution style,” Chin finishes, and his voice shakes. Steve can’t feel anything; everything is distant, numb, not real, and he doesn’t remember a thing. He wants to ask, needs to know, but nothing comes out when he opens his mouth. Danny shot. Danny executed. Danny’s gone.
These things steal his words away.
“We got them,” Chin says, because he knows Steve, and Kono smiles viciously through her tears.
“They resisted us,” she tells him, follows it up with, “and they died.” Steve thinks he might have been proud of her, if he could be.
He lays there in silence, and they sit with him until the doctor comes in, and Steve stares at him blankly, disinterested. He lets Chin and Kono handle it, doesn’t care that the man is unhappy with his team for telling him, for not waiting until he’d given the okay, because Danny’s gone, and Steve can’t remember, and nothing matters anymore.
He breathes in, and out; slow. It staves off the panic that flares up, and he leans back in the sand. He’s alone today, a tentative show of trust, and he closes his eyes, allows himself to just listen to the sound of the waves crashing against the shore, and he’s missed the ocean, forgotten that he loves it in the midst of trying to hold onto the things he’s lost.
He still doesn’t remember, still reaches, tries, and comes up empty, blank; a black stretch of nothing that remains despite all of his training. The doctors use words like ‘blocked out’ and ‘too traumatic’ and tell him he may never get it back. He’s trying to convince Chin that he doesn’t need to go anymore, thinks he might be making headway. Maybe not, though; Kono still makes him swallow the pills, and pulls him out of panic attacks he has no legitimate reason(memory) for having, and they all know he doesn’t want to be here anymore.
He loses everything he loves, but can’t stop himself from loving. He thinks sometimes it’d be easier to just remove himself from the equation, tried to have himself transferred back to the SEALS, but the Governor had stepped in. He might have found another way, a more permanent way, except--
“Super Steve?” The question is soft, sad, and he opens his eyes to find Danno’s daughter staring down at him.
He doesn’t know why Rachel does this, lets Grace come over, and drag Steve out of himself; can’t bring himself to ask, but there’s a small part of him that’s so grateful for it that he could weep.
“Hi Gracie,” he murmurs, drags something like a smile up from somewhere, and pushes up onto his elbows. “Where’s your Mom?” Rachel is usually never far, always there, though Steve is never sure who she’s there to watch.
“Inside,” Grace answers, motioning towards his house, “making tea. She said I could come out, and keep you company.” She waits until he sits all the way up, and crawls into his lap, holds onto him tightly. Steve wraps his arms around her, feels her tears on his shoulder, and thinks of Danny; of everything Danny was, and did, and how he always believed Grace was the best part of him, and he just. He can’t.
He lets the tears fall, hot tracks down his cheeks, doesn’t try to stop them, but ducks his head, doesn’t want to scare Grace.
“It’s okay to cry Uncle Steve,” she whispers, clings to him. “I miss Danno, too.”
Rachel’s waiting in the house when he walks in later, carrying Grace carefully; she’s sound asleep, comfortable with him, one arm slung around his neck, and her other hand tangled in his shirt. He glances at Rachel, steps past her, and goes down the hall to put Grace in her room, and tuck her in. Danny had taught him how to do it; had laughed himself sick the first time Grace had made Steve read her ‘Harry Potter’ as a bed-time story.
He still doesn’t know what he’s doing, doesn’t know what gives him the right, but can’t make himself give it up. He thinks it’s all that keeps him going, sometimes.
He misses Danny. It doesn’t get better, or easier; some days are worse than others, and it always hurts.
Rachel presses a cup of tea in his hands when he gets back to the kitchen, stares at him until he sips it, and then sits down, relaxes as much as she ever does.
“Grace’s first surfing competition is Saturday,” she tells him, raises an eyebrow imperiously. “I expect you’ll be there, with Kono and Chin.” It isn’t a question, and he just nods because they both know he wouldn’t be anywhere else.
He thinks Danny would hate it, would rant, and rave, all fury, and worry, and terror, but so full of pride that he wouldn’t be able to keep it in, that he’d be near-incandescent with it, and Steve can see it, so clearly, and it hurts.
“Rachel,” he starts, and she turns to look at him, narrows her eyes, and studies him closely. She sighs. He thinks she knows what he wants to ask, but never does. He doesn’t expect the answer she gives.
“You’re family, Steven,” she says, setting her tea down, and looking at him. “Grace adores you, loves visiting, and her nightmares aren’t as bad after she spends time here. I think she feels close to him, here, with you, and I won’t take that from her.” She pauses, like she’s trying to gather her words. “Furthermore, she’s good for you, too. Daniel would have my arse if I sat back, and just let you wither away,” she says, looks at him closely. He stares back, doesn’t say anything.
“He loved you.” He has tears in his eyes again, can feel the prickling at the corners.
“I love him, too,” he says, can’t use the past tense, and Rachel softens, nods.
“I know what it’s like to love Danny,” she offers, something sad in her voice. “If you really need a reason,” she says finally, shrugs, “take that.”
He still doesn’t know what to do with it.
“Goodnight, Steve,” Rachel says, leaves him sitting there, and heads for Grace’s room. She sleeps there when they stay over, takes over Steve’s house like she owns it.
Steve draws in a ragged breath, pushes away from the table, and goes out to the lanai. The night is humid, and he watches the waves roll in, constant but changing.
“Danny’s dead,” he tells the night, and his voice breaks as the tears spill over again. He doesn’t notice them, just closes his eyes, and pictures Danny as he saw him last: bright, and there, and alive; loud as ever, and filling the silence, and dark places in Steve without trying.
Those places are still filled, maybe not as bright, but still there because even though Danny’s gone, he left pieces of himself behind in the people he touched. Steve loved him, loves him, and doesn’t know how he’s going to live without him, with that dark, empty place in his head, but he knows he has to try.
Danny loved him, but Danny’s dead, and Steve is still here, with Kono, and Chin; Grace and Rachel, and they all have to go on, too. Steve thinks maybe he hadn’t been able to find his tears before because he didn’t know he’d be crying for himself.