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The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday

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Danny was down at the village fishpond, ragged jeans rolled up around his calves, net in hand, pondering mullet for dinner when he heard the sound of rapid hoof beats and Amy rode up. Her face was white with fear and he tossed the net aside and limped over to meet her. She slid out of the saddle and tossed him the reins.

“You need to get to the beach fast. Something washed up.”

He nodded and hoisted himself painfully into the saddle, bad knee screaming at him. He ignored it stoically and nudged the horse into a canter, headed back down the dirt road to the beach. As he topped the hill above it, a Draken observation skimmer hissed lazily by overhead, startling the mare, and she crow hopped and snorted. Danny soothed her and raised his face and snarled at the alien craft and viciously shot it the finger. He hoped the human meat puppet of a pilot got a good shot of his face. Fuckers.

He found most of the inhabitants of the tiny fishing village gathered around a small motorboat washed up in the bay. It was not one of the islanders’ boats—humans were forbidden to use motorized crafts by the Draken. They preferred keeping their human thrall breeding population in as primitive living conditions as possible. It kept rebellions down if the only weapons available were knives and spears and if they were too busy scrambling for food to fight.

Everyone looked grim, so it wasn’t a good thing. Kawika beckoned him over and he stared down at the passenger.

A dead man dressed in Army camo BDUs stared sightlessly at the sky. The gulls had been at him, so he wasn’t a pretty sight. Wordlessly, Kawika yanked back the tarp covering the boat’s contents and Danny cursed a blue streak, every filthy word he knew in three languages. There, tucked in a snug nest of coiled fishing nets, was a large oval, watermelon-sized Drake egg, the jewel-like colors of the glossy shell glistening like oil in the sun.

A woman behind Danny gave a wordless cry of rage and hurled herself at the egg, her machete held high and two of Kawika’s kama’aina warriors quickly grabbed her, disarmed her and hauled her away as she sobbed and cursed. Everyone knew where this egg came from. The Draken had issued dire warnings along the chain of villages the day before about its theft from the Oahu hatchery and their sentinel dragons had been bellowing their rage along the coastlines ever since. Some delusional idiot had broken into the main Hive hatchery and stolen it directly from the Queen’s nest. The Draken were pissed and humankind would pay through reprisals whether the egg was recovered or not.

Kono stepped forward and stared bitterly down at it, her scarred face grim, small hands clenching and unclenching with rage.

“We could just deep six it.”

She said flatly and raised cold eyes to Danny’s face. He hadn’t seen her smile since the Drake soldiers had taken Chin in the yearly harvest. He was already shaking his head no and raised a hand to ward off her protests.

“Too late. An Ob skimmer just came over on patrol. It’s got footage.”

He rubbed weary hands over his bearded face. The Draken would destroy the entire village as an example if they killed the embryo. He knew what he had to do. A ghost of a smile twisted his lips and he met Kawika’s level gaze squarely.

“I’ll take it back.”

He was the resident haole and cripple after all, and Kono, Amy and a couple of his friends might protest, but the kama ‘aina wouldn’t care. There were too few of them left to risk losing another able-bodied man. Kawika tilted his head and Danny saw a flicker of respect in the intense dark eyes before he nodded sharply once. Kono watched him bleakly, but said nothing.

The men hauled out some carefully hoarded and hidden diesel and fueled up the boat, while Danny went back to his hut to gear up. He knew he wouldn’t be coming back, so he broke out his small hoard of food from Before and feasted on canned stew, green beans and sweet corn and even had a stale chocolate bar for dessert. Then he hauled the trunk from under his cot and dug out an old H 5-0 TAC vest and his sidearm and weapons. He left his badge and ID in the trunk. It didn’t mean shit anymore.

He washed up quickly in the basin on the washstand and strapped on his heavy-duty knee brace under his one pair of good jeans and laced on a pair of battered combat boots. Stoically he strapped on his thigh holster and tucked his K-bar and machete in the back of his utility belt. He topped it with a crisp new white tee shirt (he had been saving it for a special occasion anyway) and strapped on the vest. It used to be Steve’s and he thought for a second he caught a whiff of the man’s clean ocean salt scent. He swallowed hard and his eyes burned with unshed tears.

A tiny private smile twisted his mouth, and he casually tucked two grenades into his vest pockets. It’s a suicide run, yeah, but he planned to take a few Drake soldiers out with him.

Steve was worse than dead now. There was no use dwelling on it. Danny had made his choice five years before and he hadn’t changed his mind. If there was any way possible, Daniel Williams would find a way to wipe the Draken off the face of the earth even if it meant destroying their human thralls with them. He would do it for the thousands of people killed in the invasion and those youngsters enslaved and shipped off planet, and he would do it for his murdered child and Rachel. He would do it for all the lost and broken members of his former ohana and squad, although two of those former members would not thank him for it.

There was a timid tap on his doorframe and he turned to find Jenna and Max standing awkwardly in the doorway. He raised a surprised brow. Usually, you couldn’t unearth either of them from the hidden bunker deep under Mount Wai’ale’ale. He hadn’t had contact with them in months. This odd pair and Toast were the brains of the one tiny remaining resistance fighter cell on Kauai. Jenna exchanged a quick look with a silent, stoic Max and stepped forward and gave Danny a quick hug. He noticed that her glasses were duct taped together at the bridge.

“Kono click coded us and we came as quickly as we could.” She licked her lips nervously. “We have something for you.” She turned to Max, who gazed unblinkingly at Danny. Max never spoke anymore. Jenna interpreted for him. The little Asian scientist stepped forward and silently presented Danny with a small metal box, then stepped back.

Danny opened it gingerly and found a glass dart, complete with attached needle, nestled in foam. Before he could speak, Jenna stepped forward and babbled nervously.

“We think it has a 87% probability of working. Max used a crocodile egg from the old Honolulu zoo and stem cells to culture the virus and the Draken DNA was harvested from a piece of shed skin. It won’t have any effect whatsoever on unthralled humans. Max tested it on himself to be sure, although I told him not to, we can’t afford to lose him. All you have to do is jab it under a Drake’s skin.”

Danny stared at them in wonder. Two small, way too intelligent for their own good, nerdy disheveled people who possibly held the fate of humankind in their capable hands.

“Are you telling me this is a biological weapon?”

“Yes.” Max answered shortly, nodding once, face as expressionless as ever, while Jenna beamed proudly. She bounced once, like a child, then leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially. “We also have a mole inside the Queen’s Hive.”

Danny stared. Max had spoken. This was for real, not one of Danny’s many elaborate, impossible revenge fantasies. He felt a broad grin stretch across his face for the first time in years.

It felt strange.

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

The nearest Draken outpost was in Lihu’e, so that’s where he headed. It wasn’t far up the coast, maybe fifteen miles in all. He said his goodbyes on the beach, and hugged Kono fiercely. She and Kawika were the only other ones who knew about the virus. Jenna and Max had vanished back to their hidden lab. The less the others knew, the safer they were if they were hauled in for routine ‘questioning’, which was the polite Draken term for mind rape interrogation.

Danny tried hard not to think about the last session he’d gone through before the Draken soldiers had deemed him harmless and released him into the small resettlement village. There were a lot fewer humans left on Earth now compared to the former population. The majority of those not killed in the invasion had been ‘harvested’ and shipped off to serve and seed other Draken controlled colony planets. Humans were favored thralls because of their advanced cognitive processes and because they possessed opposable thumbs. They could build things and their complicated thought processes amused the aliens. The Draken especially favored children, because their minds were so malleable.

When Danny climbed into the boat to leave, Amy stepped forward and placed a fragrant lei around his neck and kissed his cheek. Two older women raised their voices in a plaintive song of farewell and Kawika hung a fossilized megalodon shark tooth charm for luck around Danny’s neck, which had been in his family for generations. The villagers all crowded into the water and gently pushed the boat out into deeper waters. Some trailed their hands gently over his as they murmured their goodbyes.

They were giving him a warrior’s farewell.

The wind was up today, indicating a squall out at sea and the chop was rough. Danny didn’t mind. It gave him the excuse to wear an oversized yellow slicker that concealed his vest and armament and the wind kept the smell from the corpse still on board down. Danny hoped the rough ride scrambled the goddamned egg up good. If it ever hatched, maybe it would be an idiot. As he navigated up the coast, he tried to come up with a plan. After all, he had to live long enough and get close enough to a Drake drone to get the virus under its skin. He ran a few scenarios through his head, but none of them seemed plausible. Finally, he just shrugged. He would play this one by ear and hope for the best. At least there was plenty of virus culture left if he didn’t get close enough.

If he didn’t make it he was pretty sure Kono would.

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

He heard the dragon long before the dock at Lihu’e came into sight. It was perched at the end of a deserted slip, enormous wedge shaped, green-scaled head tipped back as it bellowed Draken outrage up into the blue Hawaiian sky. The thing was the size of a fighter jet.

Danny steered toward it, lower lip caught between his teeth as he considered what he was about to do. The dragons were all linked mentally to their Draken masters in the Hive, as were their human thralls. What one saw, the others had instant access to, so his fledgling plan had a chance of working. All he needed to do was attract a Drake soldier’s attention long enough to get within touching distance. The virus was supposed to be capable of spreading rapidly. He wished that he could reach a Drake on Oahu. The closer to the Hive, the better chance to spread the infection quickly to the Queen, he reasoned.

It would be awesome if the virus reached the Queen and took her out of the game early before the Draken fleet could rally. All the Draken were linked to her via the Hive mind. The last he’d heard, Steve was servicing the Queen’s thralls on Oahu. He blinked salt water out of his eyes. He wouldn’t think about his former partner now. It hurt too much to remember. It was better if he never saw Steve again.

He motored in as close to the dragon as possible, until his boat was floating right next to the slip, only a few yards away from the enormous reptile. It was too busy bellowing at the sky to notice the small, irritated human practically under its nose. Danny waited for a few minutes, then got pissed. He was so tired of ducking and hiding and of being afraid.

There was a small toolbox in the boat. He opened it and pulled out a large crescent wrench. It would do. He hefted it thoughtfully to get a feel for the weight, then, tongue in cheek, wound up and hurled it directly at the beast’s head. The heavy wrench sailed end over end and bounced hard off the dragon’s left eye ridge, and it stopped in mid bellow with a snort to blink in surprise down at the man standing in the little boat floating nearly under its wings. It hissed menacingly, and lowered its head down and opened its huge maw to reveal rows of teeth almost as long as Danny was tall. Danny glared back, unimpressed, and considered feeding it a grenade, then remembered his mission.

Making sure he had the dragon’s full attention he whipped back the tarp, revealing both the corpse of the thief and the egg itself, its colors winking in the bright sunlight.

The dragon froze for long seconds and the molten gold of its eyes swirled, then the slit pupils dilated, focusing on the egg. Slowly, it drew its head back, closed its jaws, folded its wings and sat back catlike, and coiled its spiked tail around its claws and waited. The stillness was unnatural and Danny realized it was now under the control of the Hive. He swallowed hard, forced himself to be patient. He had the dart at ready, duct taped under a fake bandage on the heel of his hand, that way he couldn’t drop it or lose it and all it would take would be one quick jab of his palm to accomplish his goal.

Sure enough, in less than a half hour, a triad of skimmers zoomed in from the direction of Oahu and hovered over the water, and Danny knew he and the boat were being scanned. Tense, he waited to see if he would be laser blasted off the boat and turned into a steaming corpse floating in the harbor. He knew the scanners would pick up the majority of his weapons, but he had taken the precaution of wrapping the grenades in a special electromagnetic microfilament as camouflage.

Instead, the lead craft lightly landed on the docks and the hatch popped open. Danny swallowed on a dry throat, and suddenly felt faint as a familiar, lean figure dressed in a sleek black Queen’s Guard uniform emerged and walked down the ramp.

It was Chin.

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

Danny had to give Chin credit, he didn’t waste time (he never had) and in a short time, Danny and his boat were delicately lifted from the water and he and the corpse and egg were removed and transferred to one of the hovercrafts. There, Danny was quickly frisked and relieved of the yellow slicker and most of his weapons. As he hoped, they used the initial onboard scans of his person as a base for the search, and they totally missed the grenades (one tucked in a boot pouch and the other in his shorts) and the dart. He kept his mouth shut, because it looked as through he was in luck. He was being taken back to the Hive for further interrogation.

He sat meekly, hands folded in his lap on a metal bench in the skimmer across from Chin who said nothing, but regarded him impassively with inhuman golden eyes that seldom blinked. Danny concentrated on looking as harmless as possible; shoulders slumped with downcast eyes on the metal plastic-coated floor. If he fucked up, it would be here, because Chin had worked with him for years and knew exactly how tricky Danny could be. It seemed to work, though, because after a few minutes, Chin turned his attention elsewhere, golden eyes flickering. Danny thought he might be communicating with the Hive.

Still, he was surprised at the surge of pure grief and rage he felt when the skimmer set down on the lawn of the Ali ‘iolani Hale and he was escorted into 5-0’s former headquarters. There were dragons dozing on the grounds and under the trees and Draken ridden thralls everywhere. He was nearly sick when he saw a clutch of eel like Draken young playing with a group of naked children in a fountain—their first thralls. For the first time in his life, he was glad that Grace was dead. He caught a glimpse of his former offices as he was escorted to the top floor and pushed back the sudden stab of pain.

The building was crowded with human thralls going about Draken business and the resemblance to a normal office workday was wrecked only by the presence of so many Draken and the unnatural silence. The Draken communicated mind to mind. Speech was seen as unnecessary and usually only used for amusement, ritual purposes or to communicate with the unthralled.

The top floor had been renovated into an opulent open-air den for the Queen. She and her thralls lounged on a velvet-cushioned dais in the center of the room surrounded by her warriors, drones and her consorts. Except for the single fertile Queen, Draken were hermaphrodite. The Queen was the largest, followed in size by her soldiers and consorts. The worker drones were tiny in comparison and often draped themselves boa like around their thralls’ necks. Danny recognized the Queen’s prime thrall as Laura Hills, once Governor Jameson’s top assistant. The governor had died when Oahu had been taken; she’d gone down fighting to the end.

Laura lazily rose to her feet, alien eyes glittering, and shook her long black hair back as Chin stepped forward and inclined his head as they communicated silently. The Queen Drake, coiled behind her on a mound of pillows, looked much like an ink scroll drawing of a Chinese dragon, complete with whiskers and bulging eyes. She was larger than the others, roughly twenty feet long and sinuous, snakelike and the only Drake with small, vestigial limbs. She kept the tip of her slender golden tail coiled around one of Laura’s ankles. Draken liked to maintain constant bodily contact with their primary thralls. Danny sometimes wondered if the ancient Chinese legends of dragons had their base in Draken fact.

Danny kept his head down, dully playing the part of downtrodden serf, even as he calculated how close he was to the nearest Drake. It was one of the Queen’s consorts, its sapphire blue tail was flicking lazily less than three feet away from Danny’s right boot as it groomed its thrall, a handsome, naked Hawaiian youth, with a long, slick red tongue. The trick was to find a vulnerable spot to insert the thin needle among scales that put Kevlar and armor plating to shame. He flexed his fist and nudged the needle tip free of tape, shifted his feet slightly so that he was a half step closer. He almost missed the fact that the Queen’s attention was now directed at him.

To his surprise, the Laura thrall stepped forward off the dais, her silk skirt swirling around her bare feet and spoke directly to him, her intonation flat and stilted, but warm, as the Queen used her as her mouthpiece.

“Welcome, Daniel Williams. You have done Us a great service by slaying a thief and returning Our stolen offspring. Chin Ho Kelly has informed Us that you are a honorable warrior and we would reward you for your good service by taking you into service in Our Hive.”

The Laura thrall tilted her head and eyed his bad leg.

“Your injured limb will be regenerated and you will be paired to serve with My Own. It is Our desire that it be so.”

Danny blinked and bit his tongue hard enough to taste blood, kept his eyes on the marble floor and forcibly reined in his legendary temper. He had never wanted to kill anything so badly in his life. He was very glad that the Draken could not read his mind without touching him. He ducked his head, eyes averted, hunched his broad shoulders and pretended to be frightened, and shuffled sideways uneasily. Almost there, just a little closer now.

It placed him a few inches closer to the blue Drake. He had a minor dilemma now. He was close enough to slam eject the Draken consort, but almost close enough to try for the Queen herself. His face was blank, but his mind raced as he tried to choose. Unfortunately he dithered too long and lost his chance at both.

Laura seemed to wait for him to reply to her announcement, then lifted an elegant hand—her nails were sheathed with razor sharp, jewel-studded golden claws in imitation of the Queen’s-- and beckoned imperiously at a familiar tall, lean form who stepped obediently from his place guarding the dais.

“This one appears overwhelmed by Our presence. Speak gently with him, My Own, and reassure him that he will be unharmed.” There was a definite note of amusement in the thrall’s voice now. Danny couldn’t help but get the suspicious feeling that this thrall enjoyed playing Queen.

“Danny?”

Danny froze as Steve stepped up in front of him. He refused at first to lift his eyes to his former friend’s face. Only the husky plea in the familiar voice forced him to slowly lift his eyes. Steve didn’t sound enthralled at all and that raised Danny’s hackles. When he looked up it was to meet familiar wet, hazel human eyes and a cautious half smile.

Danny quickly dropped his own eyes to try and hide his confusion. Why wasn’t Steve enthralled? Danny felt light-headed and swayed on his feet at the implications. Why would an unthralled human willingly consort with the Draken? He wouldn’t--unless he was a traitor to his species.

“Danno. God, Danny, it’s so good to see you!”

When Steve stepped forward and reached out to embrace him, Danny shuddered in revulsion and stumbled back out of reach. Shaking his head to try and clear it, he stared hatefully at the elegantly uniformed man before him. Steve looked healthy, handsome in his sleek, black uniform and untouched by the suffering the human inhabitants of Hawaii endured under Draken rule. Danny felt an ugly snarl twist his face. Grace had died from cholera and malnutrition in the containment camps after the Fall. He had no idea of Rachel’s fate.

Of course Steve was untouched, healthy and well fed. He was one of the Queen’s favorites. He stood at stud for the Queen’s thralls when the Draken Queen went into rut. The best man Danny had ever known and loved was reduced to nothing but an alien’s favored whore, something the alien bitch could link with and be titillated by while he fucked her thralls during her rut.

Danny felt a roaring in his ears and he kept inching slowly backwards, shaking his head, ignoring the hurt in Steve’s eyes as he tentatively reached out to Danny again, long face worried. Except for the slashes of silver at his temples, Steve looked the same as when Danny had last seen him almost four years ago. Danny brought a hand up and rubbed hard at his rough face. He didn’t feel well, he was hot and dizzy and his head was beginning to pound. Dimly, he tried to focus on his mission. He was here for a purpose, dammit, and he couldn’t fail now.

He felt panicked and stopped moving and stood swaying on his feet, trying desperately to focus his blurring vision. Something was very wrong. Numbly, he realized he was now too far away from both the Queen and the consort to try to inject either. He pawed at his eyes again, trying to wipe away the building headache. Something skittered against the edge of his consciousness like an insect scrabbling against a screen—it was a horribly familiar sensation.

Gulping back his nausea and panic, Danny realized one of the Draken in the room was trying to probe his thoughts. Horrified, he suddenly remembered that the touch rule for human interrogation only counted if the human had never been mind fucked before. Danny had been questioned twice three years ago—hung naked from small hooked chains so the pain kept him conscious--while a Drake interrogator crawled through his head. He had been ill for weeks afterwards. He still had nightmares about those brief sessions. He shuddered and his skin crawled at the memory.

“Danny?” Steve sounded concerned and very far away, and he edged cautiously closer to Danny hands held out imploringly.

Danny shook his head and focused, trying to think through the pain. The probing stopped abruptly when the Queen hissed low and angry and Laura turned and frowned at a scarlet-scaled soldier Drake coiled in the corner of the room, its golden eyes focused on Danny while its thrall stared blankly at the wall.

“Cease thy probing, A’zzeth. These beings are fragile in mind and spirit. You are doing an injury and this one is precious to My Own.”

For a moment, all attention was on the Draken and Danny seized the chance. Pretending to be more ill then he actually was, he stumbled sideways and ‘fell’ to his knees beside a tumble of cushions at the edge of the dais, threw out his hand and ‘caught’ himself on the tail of a young silver-scaled Draken that appeared to be napping, stabbing the needle hard in the soft flesh where hard scale met delicate fins.

It startled awake with a hiss of outrage, flicked its tail whip-like, and flung Danny back against a roof post. He rolled and curled in a ball, discarding the now empty vial as he did so and yanking a grenade out of his boot pocket, intending to suicide. Before he could pull the pin, something hit him hard between the shoulder blades, twisted his wrist and his head connected with the base of the post with an audible thud. The last thing he saw was Steve bent over him, looking grim. Well, at least Danny knew now where his former partner’s real loyalties lay.

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

He was slapped awake and found himself standing upright, cross tied between two pillars, feet and arms spread wide. His bad knee throbbed painfully with every heartbeat. Laura Thrall regarded him coldly. She flicked a hand down his chest and a section of his shirt sliced away. He felt a sting and a warm trickle down his belly. Her jeweled nail sheaths were razor sharp, not just decorative. Steve stood tensely to the side, arms crossed across his chest, face blank and revealing nothing.

“You would bring death into Our Hive. This cannot go unpunished, but My Own has pleaded for your life on his knees and this amuses Us, so you will be merely chastised and brought to heel. All wildings brought into Our court must be tamed and learn their place, as will you Daniel Williams.”

She indicated a small table nearby and he saw his grenades placed there. He felt a surge of relief. She was talking about the grenades, not the virus. The Draken still didn’t know about the virus. He felt a surge of hope and raised his throbbing head and straightened his shoulders the best he could and looked her right in the eye.

“Eat shit and die, you snake-headed bitch. I’ll eat a grenade first before I end up one of your cunt licking whores.” Danny turned his head and stared pointedly at Steve and spat in his direction. He ignored Steve’s flinch.

The Laura thrall raised a hand and casually flicked her claws across his chest, leaving a line of bloody scratches. She cocked her head, and licked her lips, the gold in her pupils swirling. Danny realized that she was pleased with his defiance. He amused her. Lazily, she began to circle him and slice his clothes off, letting the strips of fabric fall around his booted feet. Once he was naked, she stepped back, alien eyes gleaming with pleasure, and beckoned to Steve, who stepped reluctantly forward to stand at her left side. Then she beckoned to the blue Consort and his naked thrall rose to his feet and came to stand at her right. The thrall was already aroused, heavy cock rising, and he ran his glittering eyes over Danny’s nude body and licked his lips.

“I grant you a choice, Daniel Williams. Service My Prime Consort or My Own.” A malicious smile curved Laura’s full mouth and she spread her hands to indicate the room full of lounging Draken. “Or service My entire court.”

Danny glared coldly back at her, and raised his chin stubbornly, felt a small cruel smile twist his lips.

“You’re dead meat, bitch and you’re too stupid to even know it.”

If he was lucky he would be able to taunt her into killing him before he ended up a meat puppet. He kept his eyes on hers in direct challenge and she cocked her head, puzzled at his reaction.

He smirked at her. “And I’m not talking about the grenades.”

She blinked uncomprehendingly at him.

“It seems I must choose for you.”

She purred and gestured once to Steve who still stood silently in place, his face one Danny couldn’t quite name. Maybe he had lost the knack. Danny swallowed hard when Steve slowly, unwillingly peeled his uniform off. Steve’s torso and lean thighs were marred with the pale, slashed scars of claw marks.

Laura turned and swayed back to the dais, letting her gown slide off her shoulders as she did, sat and spread her long silken legs wantonly and beckoned impatiently at the Consort thrall, who dropped obediently between them, hands rising to caress her thighs.

Steve stepped reluctantly behind Danny, hands slowly sliding around his waist as he leaned his warm, naked body against Danny’s back. He pressed his mouth gently against the nape of Danny’s neck and hugged the smaller man close and laid his cheek against Danny’s.

“I’m sorry, Danny, I’m so sorry.”

Danny stared stoically at the far wall, ignoring the heap of Draken and thralls on the dais who were beginning to writhe sinuously together as the Queen’s anticipation and lust rose. He could smell the Draken’s pungent, reptile musk. It reminded him of the dank heat of the reptile house at the zoo. He turned his head and spoke directly into his former partner’s ear.

“If I survive long enough, I’m going to kill you Stephen,” He said calmly. “Just so you know.”

He felt Steve’s flinch, but ignored it, just like he ignored Steve’s gentle kisses and caresses and whispered apologies. Danny’s body stayed limp with his mind totally detached, cast back in the containment camp as he remembered the night Grace had died in his arms.

It had been during the winter rains and they had been cold and wet and knee deep in mud. All they had for shelter that night was a ragged tarp. Steve ran gentle hands down his sides and belly. His baby girl slipped away from him with a soft sigh of breath after days of suffering. McGarrett peppered soft, reverent kisses over Danny’s shoulders and neck and pressed spit slick fingers into Danny with a soft plea that he try and relax.

He remembered raising his head and howling like an animal at the sky as the rain poured down on him and he cradled the small, wasted body of his child to his heart. Distantly he felt Steve’s mouth against his shoulder, his cock rising against Danny’s ass, his feet nudging Danny’s apart, big hands on his hips, holding Danny steady as he prepared to thrust into him.

She was so cold. Danny stood like he was made of stone, every muscle tensed rock hard with a deep-seated, coiled rage. There was no fucking way he was going to make this easier for Steve. He tried to hide Grace’s body so he could bury it. It hurt when Steve pushed his saliva slick dick abruptly into Danny’s rigid body. He felt something inside him tear and a thin trickle of warm blood slide down his inner thigh.

The Draken used a huge gray Dragon for corpse disposal; the beast had a taste for human flesh. He felt something warm and wet against his neck and shoulder and realized that Steve was silently crying, his face buried in Danny’s hair. A Draken guard discovered him burying Grace near the fence parameter and set the dragon on him.

Danny stared numbly into the past while his former best friend and partner clumsily raped him for the Draken Queen’s gratification.

Suddenly, there was a weird, high pitched, inhuman shriek from across the room and the silver Drake that Danny had injected earlier began to convulse, writhing on the floor, gouts of thick, purplish blood spewing from its mouth and nostrils. It’s thrall fell limply to the side, limbs twitching. The other Draken froze, apparently momentarily caught in the Hive mind with it. The Queen reared up with a hiss, reminding Danny of a giant cobra spreading its hood, and the Laura thrall abruptly went limp and blank-eyed under the consort’s thrall’s mindlessly thrusting hips. Steve pulled quickly out of Danny and began to tug at his restraints, working to free him.

The last thing Danny saw was the scarlet soldier Drake surging across the room and its tail lashing out whip like towards his head.

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

He woke hours later, bruised, naked and cold, in a blue painted cell that was vaguely familiar. It took him a few minutes to realize it was one of the old H 5-0 interrogation rooms. It now held a stainless steel toilet and bed shelf. Carefully, he levered himself up far enough to prop himself against the wall. It was very quiet and Danny was grateful because his head was splitting in two and his ass throbbed painfully. His inner thighs were slick with blood. Well, he had at least managed to administer the virus, so that was something.

He felt surprisingly at ease now. His job was done. He sat back with a sigh and waited for his enemies to come and kill him. He had no delusions. He could feel and see that his bad knee was swollen up again like a beach ball. He wasn’t going anywhere. Once the Draken realized he was responsible, they would interrogate and kill him. He let himself slide back down and closed his eyes. Maybe he would squeeze a little nap in before his execution.

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

He was awakened hours later by the clang of the soundproofed cell door being violently opened and dimly, he could hear gunfire, shouts and the confused roars of what sounded like dozens of dragons outside.

Laura stood in the doorway, half-naked, her skin and shredded silk gown stained with purplish Drake blood, holding a gun. Her eyes were crazy and her hair snarled around her face. She glared down at him and he saw the mad flicker of gold in each brown iris, like guttering candle light. She raised the Glock and pointed it shakily at his head.

“You. You did this. I know it was you, despite what Steve says. You killed her! You’ve killed my Queen! You killed them! Now they’re all sick and afraid and they’re leaving me behind.”

She keened, her voice shrill with grief and again she leveled the gun at his head and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. She had forgotten to remove the safety. Snarling, she fumbled with it, then lifted it to try again. Danny watched with a curious indifference. He realized with a certain ironic detachment that he really didn’t care if he lived or died. He didn’t even try and evade the first shot when it finally came. If anything, it was a relief.

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

It was an unwelcome surprise when he woke two weeks later in a makeshift field hospital set up on the first floor of the Iolani Palace.

It turned out that he was the hero of the hour.

The Draken that had not died immediately from the rapid spreading, deadly Ebola-like virus had fled earth in droves, taking the virus with them to spread to other Drake colonies. At the death of the Queen, the aliens apparently panicked, as they had never had to deal with a deadly plague before. The sentinel dragons, abruptly unleashed from their mind bonds, went feral and attacked their masters. Some had already been hunted down and slain, many had flown or swum away from the islands. Curiously enough, they seemed to have no interest in harming humans now.

Danny was sequestered away in a tiny private room with his very own nurses and visits from a harassed, very grumpy doctor who informed him that he had a bullet graze to his skull and taken two to the torso, both of which had miraculously missed his vital organs. That had caused some hemorrhaging, and his knee needed surgery (again), but he grudgingly thought Danny would make a full recovery. Clearing his throat, and eyeing the far wall, he informed Danny that the anal tears were minor and would heal as well.

His first visitors were Kono and Chin. She threw herself into his arms before remembering he was wounded. He found himself sleepily returning her smile. It was good to see her so happy and to see Chin free. They sat with him for a couple of hours and updated him on the Draken situation. Most of the Draken were either dead or gone now. Those that hid or lingered were ruthlessly being hunted down and killed—even if a few survived the virus, it was without their powerful telepathy. The Bergman virus apparently targeted the brain cells first in Draken hosts.

As for the humans that had been thralled, that was a different situation. Most died or went mad when their Draken masters died, while others were ill or catatonic. Some, like Chin, were relatively unscathed and recovering, but it would be a long process. A few had even been murdered by mobs of angry humans who had been neither forgiving nor understanding of the Thrall’s enslavement. There was even talk of putting many of them on trial for willing collaboration with the Draken.

The remnants of the military that had gone underground were back, fighting to reestablish a stable government. Across the world, people were slowly regaining their freedom and autonomy, taking advantage of the advanced technology the fleeing aliens had left behind and reestablishing communication and trade networks. The one good thing from the whole mess was that humankind was finally united and pulling together—countries that were former enemies now stood shoulder to shoulder and shared food and medical resources. They were all well aware that the Draken might regroup and return—especially if they found a vaccine for the Bergman virus.

After Kono left in search of food, Chin sat for a while longer and talked quietly with Danny about what it was like to be a hostage in one’s own mind. It was apparent that he had something to tell Danny because he watched Danny’s stony face carefully as he informed him that Steve was busy helping reorganize the remnants of law enforcement on the islands, trying to rein in the total chaos left behind by the Draken’s abrupt exodus and that he had been the one to save Danny’s life by stashing his unconscious body in the cell after the Drake soldier’s attack and stopping him from bleeding out after Laura shot him. She was now hospitalized with thrall trauma, like so many others.

Steve of course, had been the mole within the court, gathering intel, feeding information to the resistance fighters and even smuggling out the piece of Drake skin to Max. He visited Danny when he was unconscious, but had been called away when a pod of uninfected Draken soldiers was discovered hidden in the caves on Molokai. The aliens were putting up a fierce fight, using both tech and dragons and Steve and the remainder of the resistance were staging one last battle to push them out of the islands.

Chin hesitated, then spoke softly and told Danny what he knew about Rachel’s death. Captured with Steve and several other civilians he had been trying to protect and smuggle off the island, she had been taken as one of the Queen’s earliest Thralls. The early thralls burned out quickly because it took practice before the Draken learned to fine-tune their control over fragile human minds without destroying them. She had died two years ago. Danny said nothing at the news, just blinked hard and stared blankly at the wall behind Chin’s shoulder.

Chin leaned close and haltingly informed him that Rachel had died pregnant— and that the Draken Queen had ordered the fetus placed in suspension in a special artificial womb, had in fact intended to take the little girl as a favored thrall when she was old enough--and had used the baby—Steve’s baby--as a hostage to coerce Steve into obeying her wishes. Threats to destroy the slowly developing fetus kept him in line when nothing else would.

The Draken Queen had been ancient, very jaded and it had amused her to toy with stubborn, defiant human emotions and observe the reactions. Thralling Steve would have been too easy for the bored Queen. In about seven months the child would be developed enough to be removed from the alien incubator and Steve had wanted Danny to know in case something happened to him during this last push to finally rid earth of the aliens.

Danny said nothing and he could tell that his former teammates were concerned by his total lack of reaction to the news. He didn’t ask about Steve or his relationship with Rachel or the baby. He didn’t get angry or upset or raged and wept over his ex-wife’s death like he had when Grace had died. Even the rape seemed a distant event that had happened to someone else. His face was an unreadable mask.

Chin exchanged a grim glance with Kono. This wasn’t like the Danny they knew. He knew about the rape, of course, he had witnessed it and would never forget Steve’s devastated face when he knelt over Danny’s unconscious body afterwards after he carried him to the one safe place he could leave him in the Hive. Grimly, Chin wondered if the rape and the last mind probe had been too much for Danny, if he had managed to totally disassociate himself from reality.

When Kono mentioned that Steve tentatively planned on starting up the squad again when civic order was reestablished, hoping for a reaction, Danny didn’t respond just stared blankly, yawned and then fobbed them off by claiming exhaustion. Once they were out of the room, after promising to come back with Steve next time, he quickly called for his nurse and asked for her to bring him a messenger.

He scribbled out a brief note and asked the kid to see that Kawika got it as soon as possible. Wide-eyed with hero worship, the teen scrambled to obey and later that evening, Kawika himself showed up with two brawny cousins in tow. Danny gave him his shark tooth charm back and they spent two hours in intense murmured conversation, Danny determined and Kawika reluctant, but finally he agreed to Danny’s demands. The kama ‘aina owed him their freedom after all.

Danny was done. Done with the fucking aliens, done with giving a damn, and certainly done with Steve. Shit never stuck to Steve, he walked away clean every time. No doubt he would end up the King of Oahu or Governor before the end of the week. Fuck him. Danny was out of here. When the doctor came to check on him that evening, he found an empty bed. Danny had disappeared, leaving AMA.

He returned to his tiny hut in the village on Kauai only long enough to pack up his meager belongings and left again. He couldn’t go back to Jersey—it didn’t exist anymore—most of the East coast of the United States had been leveled as an example of Draken might. So instead he retreated to the most isolated part of the island he could find, a tiny National forest cabin that Kawika secured for him. Danny would stay there until he healed and decided where to go. It could be months, maybe years before regular travel to the mainland would be reestablished anyway. The man helped Danny get there, and one of his men stayed and assisted him until he was mobile enough to take care of himself and made arrangements for monthly deliveries of food and basic supplies which Danny hiked out to a drop point for, picked up and hauled home.

Danny figured funding his semi-retirement and guarding his privacy was the least the kama’aina could do. Danny was done with the world. What he craved was isolation and peace and quiet. He got all three in spades, but not for long. He came home one afternoon after a long walk to find Kono sitting on his doorstep. It had been almost six months since he disappeared without saying goodbye.

She had somehow coerced one of the kama ‘aina into giving up his location, either through bribery or threats.

Danny suspected the latter.

Part of him was pleased to see her bright smile, the other part was just pissed. He would have to have a long talk with Kawika about privacy issues the next time he saw him.

Resigned, he opened the door and waved her in ahead of him.

“What’s with the Mountain Man look, brah?” she asked gently.

He shrugged indifferently, well aware that his head and facial hair had gone wild in the past few months and he looked like a hillbilly troll doll. When it grew long enough to bother him, he just hacked some off with his knife.

“I don’t own a mirror.” He answered shortly.

She bit her lip and eyed him with compassion.

Steve ran himself ragged now and tried to fix the world, while Danny hid from it. They had all suffered under the Draken, but neither of her friends seemed able to move past the pain. The silent, dull-eyed man before her nearly broke her heart, he was so different from the volatile, energetic man she had known before the invasion.

Chin was slowly regaining his Zen and she and he had finally moved beyond the ‘cousin’ excuse into a relationship, but it was an ongoing process. Fortunately Chin had been thralled for less than a year and lightly used as a security officer. Being back on the newly reformed squad helped and keeping busy—especially with the addition of Jenna and Max (who had his own spacious lab) and Toast who was slowly learning to use the alien tech the Draken had abandoned, but they all missed Danny sorely. He had always been the heart of the team.

She looked around the tiny cabin, hiding her dismay. It was as Spartan and as neatly kept as a monk’s cell. The only decoration was a battered photo of Gracie on the wall above his narrow cot. There was a small potbelly stove with a couple of pots and pans and a washstand and tin basin, and a small cupboard for food. She sat at a small table in the single chair by the window, while he sat a few feet away on the bed. A few clothes and a battered rain jacket hung from a row of pegs. Danny’s bearded face was stoic, his blue eyes blank and expressionless, always focused elsewhere.

She found herself thinking of Steve, now living in his father’s dilapidated empty house. He had been openly frantic when Danny disappeared from the hospital. That fear had changed to quiet hurt when he finally tracked down and learned from Kawika that Danny had made it clear he didn’t want to be found. She knew however, that Steve kept tabs on Danny and suspected that he had even hiked out once or twice and covertly checked on him.

McGarrett threw himself into his work. He slept at headquarters most nights now. He checked the progress of his baby daily at the hospital. Malia had calculated that she could finally be released from the artificial womb in a couple of months. It was difficult to tell with the alien technology used to create the incubator, but the Draken drone who had designed it had briefly thralled one of the hospital techs and she knew the control sequences for the birth.

Steve had even tried to take care of Laura, but the woman scorned him, still unbalanced and grieving for the Draken Queen she had been linked to for so long. Laura had finally made the mistake of defending the Draken to the wrong person three months ago and ended up with her throat cut, the words ‘draken whore’ carved in her chest and her body dumped face down in the surf near the old Moana hotel. No one but Steve bothered to try and find her killer.

As far as Kono felt, it was good riddance to bad rubbish, but she was biased against the Queen’s thralls and knew Steve somehow blamed himself for not being able to protect her and despite the fact that he had been forced by the Draken Queen to consort with the woman, he felt responsible for her.

She wanted very badly for Steve and Danny to fix things between them. She remembered very well the attraction that had hummed between them like electricity before the invasion. They had flirted and danced around each other for years and just when they both seemed ready to finally take the chance at a relationship, the Draken invasion had taken it away from them.

She knew that they had loved each other then—Steve wore his heart on his sleeve for everyone to see and Danny sparkled with energy around Steve, all bright eyes and smiles. She just wished she could find a way to get them back together so they would actually talk about it. The Draken had horribly abused both men, mentally and physically, but they needed to move past that if they were going to survive.

Maybe it was time she got sneaky and played matchmaking auntie.

She stayed for a few hours, keeping the chatter light, catching Danny up on all the news and gossip on Oahu, while she plotted. She noticed a flicker of interest, especially when she talked about the new squad. The new Hawaii 5-0 team was larger, with more responsibility. The idea hit her when he sneezed and then grumbled because he was out of carefully hoarded tissue, and grew when he limped slightly as he crossed the room to fetch the newly brewed coffee for them. When she said goodbye, he didn’t ask her to return again, but he did hug her. She took that as a hopeful sign.

The next day at work, while Chin and Toast worked on reconfiguring the computer system and setting up Chin’s beloved tech table, she made sure to tell Jenna in great detail all about her visit to Danny within eavesdropping distance of McGarrett, who was sitting out in the bullpen with them (she noticed now that he hated to be separated from his team for long, as though afraid they would disappear at any moment). He was laboriously working his way through a report to the new Hawaiian Governing Counsel. Even an alien invasion apparently couldn’t halt paper work.

She could practically see his ears perk up, so she was careful to lower her voice to confide to Jenna how worried she was about Danny’s health because (Steve casually moved closer so he could listen, apparently searching for a pen despite the three clearly visible lined up neatly on the table in front of him) he was coughing and limping badly and she had seen that he had no soup or medicine in the tiny cabin and was clearly not able to hike out for his monthly food drop. Jenna, with a covert glance in their boss’ direction, quickly chimed in and gravely noted that this season’s flu was especially potent and that the shortage of effective antibiotics was going to be a problem, and how ever would Danny keep warm and dry that high in those rainy mountains?

Chin hid a smile and rolled his eyes fondly at Kono, but by the time she finished, McGarrett was clearly worried as well, paperwork ignored, a frown taking up residence between his mobile brows. When he nonchalantly announced that afternoon that he was taking the following day off and leaving early today, the insufferably smug look she shot Chin had him chuckling aloud. Now all they had to do was sit back and wait and see what happened.

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

Danny awoke to a surprisingly sunny, clear day. It was no lie that the area he now lived in was one of the rainiest places on earth, so he had become accustomed to mist and clouds. He decided to take a longer hike than usual and enjoy the sun. He rolled up his jacket and tucked it in his daypack with some fruit and jerky and grabbed his walking stick. Hopefully the trail would not be too muddy from last night’s rain. He tried hard not to think about the intriguing cases the reformed 5-0 team was working on that Kono had mentioned, but Danny had always had an analytical mind and was a good detective and his thoughts kept circling back to poke at them.

He had mixed thoughts about Laura’s murder and he couldn’t help but wonder how Steve had reacted. He really refused to think about Steve and Rachel together because the mere thought enraged him and he wasn’t sure if it was anger or jealousy or both. Most of all he tried not to think about Rachel’s (and Steve’s) baby. Kono had not mentioned her, but she must nearly be ready to be born or decanted or whatever. Would she have Rachel’s brown eyes, like Gracie? She would be dark, he knew, probably with Steve’s dark hair and shy smile…He cut that thought off at the roots and concentrated on his hike. McGarrett probably had spawn strewn all over the islands. Danny hiked a lot nowadays, partially to keep fit and exercise his bad leg, partially because if he was in motion he didn’t brood.

Danny’s remote cabin was tucked in the back of a tiny hidden valley near Mt. Wai’ale’ale and sometimes he hiked down to the Wailua river to bathe, so he headed that way out of habit. He was so busy trying not to think about Kono’s visit—he was really happy for her and Chin—that he reached it almost before he realized how much time had passed. He sat down on a clump of boulders and dug out his meager lunch with a resigned sigh. He would’ve given anything to taste a meatball hoagie from Louie’s again, because he was damned tired of dried boar meat and pineapple.

Kono had mentioned that they were starting to get aid and supplies from the mainland again—the new government finally in place and functioning despite the significant drop in population. The aliens had favored warm climates, like the islands, the tropical heat comfortable to their reptilian physiology and ignored some of the colder climates except to raid for thralls. In retrospect, Danny decided, the Draken harvest may have benefited the earth’s resources by reducing the human population, but earth would miss its stolen children.

He sat and chewed meditatively on a tough strip of stringy meat, and stared blankly down at the fast flowing water, when a strange sound coming from a thick clump of ferns downstream caught his attention. It sounded like a cross between a bird twittering and a kitten mewling with hunger.

Danny frowned, not really alarmed. The most dangerous animals here were the wild boars, and those wily beasts usually avoided people. Cautiously he slid off the rock and slowly approached the ferns, sturdy hiking stick in hand. He had his knife and machete in his belt as back up. He was about to poke carefully under the ferns when they quivered, shook violently and a football sized, lithe, scaled form flung itself out and knocked him on his ass. It perched on his chest, chittering with excitement as it peered down into his face. Danny nearly shit himself before he realized it was an infant dragon. Hastily, he pushed it off and sat up, groping for his stick to bash the thing’s skull in.

The little green beast sat up like a puppy, spread its frilled neck ruff, flapped its small wings and uttered a plaintive chirp, beaked mouth wide open like a baby bird. It was hungry, he realized, slowly lowering his stick. It also had very sharp teeth. Where was the dragon mother? Was she lurking nearby? Did female dragons nurture their young like the Draken, or just leave the eggs to incubate alone? He craned his neck and peered around, but no angry dragon appeared to devour him and reclaim her offspring.

The Draken had bred several types of dragons, their size ranging from the huge war dragons and sentinels to smaller ones used as guards and pets. This one was tiny compared to the ones Danny usually dealt with. Kono had mentioned that some of them were settling in remote areas of the islands and breeding, especially the aquatic dragons that swam in pods. The islanders usually killed the larger dragons with extreme prejudice, they had lost too many relatives and friends to hungry dragon jaws. There was more than one dragon skull trophy set up on proud display on posts in towns and villages now.

Dragons had no compunction about feeding on humans. Danny had seen them do so during firefights with the Draken. They also fed on corpses on the battlefield and from the containment camps. That had been Kamekona’s fate. The big man had gone down fighting to the end. Carefully, Danny eased to his feet and reached for his machete. The baby had no sense of self-preservation and made no move to escape.

The stupid thing just opened its mouth wider and cried louder, flapping its stubby little wings hopefully. Danny stared at it and slowly lowered his blade.

It was just trying to survive. That was all anyone could hope for under the Draken.

The dragons had been thralls too, captured on some unknown world eons ago and bred and kept like over-sized guard dogs by the aliens.

After a moment, he pulled out the baggie holding the rest of his lunch and gingerly dropped the remaining strips of meat into the gaping maw. The baby trilled with pleasure and sat back to chew on its food, clutching the tough strips in its front claws. Danny took the opportunity to go, walking briskly back up the trail, leaving the infant dragon to its meal. The encounter had shaken him and his first instinct was flight. Why the hell hadn’t he killed the damned thing?

He was almost home, on the steep part of the trail, huffing and limping now, when the accident happened because he was in a hurry and too distraught to pay attention to his footing. This part of the path was waterlogged, and part of the edge suddenly crumpled under his boots. His feet slid out from under him and he fell hard, sliding like a human toboggan down the muddy side of the steep slope to land in a clump of bamboo, flat on his back, with his breath knocked out of him.

He blinked fuzzily up at the leaf canopy where the bits of bright blue sky showed through. He had bit his tongue hard, he could taste blood and feel it dripping down his chin. He sighed and closed his eyes. Great. He hoped he hadn’t screwed up his leg further. He lay quietly for a moment regaining his both his breath and equilibrium and grumpily realized that he was going to have to do laundry because he was encased in mud from head to toe, when there was a crackle in the undergrowth nearby and a tall form flung himself out and down beside Danny and scrabbled frantically at his shoulders.

“Danny! Danny, are you alright?”

Danny opened his eyes to find McGarrett, of all people, dressed in jungle camo BDUs crouched over him, pale-faced and eyes wide with fear. Before he could sit up and answer, there was an angry hiss like an outraged teakettle and a small bundle of green-scaled claws and teeth flung itself from a bush at McGarrett’s head, chittering with outrage. The baby dragon had followed Danny and was now coming to his rescue by attacking his supposed attacker.

Steve yelped in surprise as a clump of his hair was yanked out by the roots, and wildly flapping wings and a tail whacked his jaw with clumsy enthusiasm. He swatted his small attacker off, reaching automatically for his sidearm as he did so. Danny sat up fast and grabbed his small defender by the tail and yanked him back into his lap, even as it charged gamely at Steve again, and held the small, hissing, snarling beast tight.

“Hey, hey, hey! Pick on someone your own size!”

He glared up at McGarrett and Mean Joe Green warbled a challenge now that his ‘mother’ held him close and safe, so he snapped his jaws and hissed threateningly at McGarrett.

Steve blinked and reluctantly reholstered his gun, staring down at the unlikely pair glaring up at him with twin outraged expressions.

“Danny, that’s a dragon.” he said carefully.

Danny’s eyebrows arched towards his hairline and he lifted the dragon, turned it to face him and peered at it in feigned surprise. “Really?” He cast a withering look at McGarrett. “ I thought it was a Pomeranian! Well, no shit, Sherlock. Fancy that! A real live dragon!”

“You have a pet dragon?” Steve asked incredulously, fascinated despite himself.

“Yes!” Danny lied firmly and lifted his chin stubbornly to glare at him, despite the fact that five minutes ago he had been decidedly pet, and more importantly, dragon free.

What Steve didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. He held Mean Joe Green a little more firmly when he hissed and lunged and snapped at McGarrett’s kneecap. Steve was smiling now, and crouched beside him to examine the dragon more carefully. Mean Joe hissed, and flared his neck frill, his little wings fluttered and his skinny tail whipped furiously.

“What does he eat?” Steve asked, lifting a hand and looking like he very much wanted to poke a finger at Joe. McGarrett was such a geek sometimes.

“Jerky and fingers mainly,” Danny replied, smirking when the finger was hastily withdrawn. His smirk died when he realized how close Steve was to him and he edged back with a muddy squelch. Steve turned to look at him.

“Are you okay? I saw you fall…and you weren’t moving…” Steve blinked and looked away. He was thinner now and his temples were silver.

Danny swallowed hard himself, and absently smoothed a hand over Joe’s head, gingerly tracing the spiny ruff. The little dragon abruptly stopped growling and started purring and wrapped its tail firmly around Danny’s forearm. It twisted its head around and peered at him, then back at Steve as through asking a question. Danny felt a reluctant smile tug at his lips.

“No, you don’t have to eat him. Yet.”

He got his feet under him, clamped Mean Joe securely under his arm and stood, wobbling a bit. His goddamned leg was never going to be worth a damn again. He huffed out a tired breath. His walking stick was up on the trail where he had dropped it and his knee was throbbing ominously.

McGarrett rose easily to his feet, still as lithe and tall as ever. Danny fought down the resentment bubbling to the surface and refused to return his cautious smile. He scowled at the man’s camo dress, hiking boots and over-sized pack suspiciously. What the fuck was he doing here on Kauai in the first place, less than a mile from Danny’s supposedly isolated home?

“What do you want, McGarrett?” he snapped, watching the smile die on his former partner’s face.

The taller man dropped his eyes to his boots, then raised them stubbornly, searching Danny’s face.

“Kono said you were sick…I wanted to see if you were alright.”

Danny shrugged and turned away. “Kono was wrong. You can just hike and swim your ass right back to fucking Oahu.”

He limped and picked his way up the slope, careful of the slick mud. Danny reached the trail and bent and picked up his stick. Steve followed and climbed easily up, and stood hesitantly in the middle of the trail. Danny ignored him and started to turn away, dragon still tucked like a football under one arm.

“Danny, wait. Please. I came because I needed to see if you were alright and because I need your help.”

Steve held up a hand, palm out to stop the impending tirade when he saw the unpromising look on Danny’s face, and fumbled in a pocket of his pack and pulled out a battered envelope.

“Hear me out. I’m serious about wanting your help. The baby…my baby is due in two weeks. Malia is going to open the incubator then. Danny, I don’t know anything about babies, but you do. I want you to come back with me.” He held out a battered envelope. “Read this, please, before you decide. Rachel asked me to give it to you before she died.”

He stepped closer and held the letter out and Danny took it slowly, recognizing the elegant, looping script.

A jolt of pure white-hot anger surged up his spine and he could feel the heat flow up his face. Why the hell couldn’t they just leave him the fuck alone? Even from the fucking grave she had to get a word in. He stuffed the paper unread in his pocket, planted his stick firmly upright in the mud, then whirled and laid Steve out flat on his back with a swift, hard, righteous right hook to the jaw. The little dragon warbled another squeaky battle cry as McGarrett went down with a surprised grunt, and hissed with satisfaction.

The two men stared at each other for long minutes. The shocked look on Steve’s face was very satisfying. Danny flexed his hand, savoring the feel of his stinging knuckles, then he turned and limped away. McGarrett was lucky Danny didn’t take his machete to him.

“Get the fuck off my mountain, McGarrett,” he ordered gruffly.

He hadn’t gone ten feet before Steve yelled after him.

“ Danny, I’ll wait for your answer.”

Danny stomped on. As far as he was concerned Steve could wait there in the mud until hell froze over.

Back at the cabin, he closed the door firmly behind him, plopped the dragon on the floor and gave it a heel of stale bread, then dropped the envelope on the table and ignored it while he peeled off his wet, mud encrusted clothes and changed into a threadbare tee shirt and a worn pair of sweats. When it started raining hard outside, he felt an evil surge of satisfaction, and hoped McGarrett got soaked to the skin. He lit a fire in the stove and put on a pot of coffee, glad that he lived where coffee was still readily available.

When the evening settled in, he turned on his small, solar powered lamp and sat down at the table and wolfed down a small meal, giving most of it to the chirping dragon, who had explored every inch of the cabin, apparently settling in. Danny had no clue what he was going to do with the damned thing. Maybe he could fob it off on one of Kawika’s kids. Finally he forced himself to reach for the letter. He thumbed it open and unfolded a single sheet of paper and read Rachel’s tiny, elegant script.

My Dearest Danny,

If you are reading this, then you know I am dead.

I hope and pray that you and Grace are well and safe. Steve bribed one of the Queen’s soldiers to have you both resettled into one of the fishing villages as soon as he found out you were captured and in one of those horrible camps. I know that you probably find this odd relationship between Steve and myself untenable, especially now with a child involved, but I ask Danny, that you forgive us both, Steve especially, as we had no choice.

It amuses her to force us to couple, while she links with me and experiences it vicariously. She enjoys tormenting Steve because she knows he is loyal you and that he loathes her. The concepts of love and human relationships fascinate her, I think, because emotion is so foreign to the Draken.

Does that surprise you? That Steve loves you so much? I think not, because I am quite certain you care for him as well. You should know that the one thing that bound us together and made it all bearable was you—Danny-- you and Grace. Know that keeping you both safe was our first priority and I pray we succeeded. It was you that we both held dear and hope of being with you one day again keeps him alive and fighting. Remember Danny, and be kind. I was fortunate to be allowed to choose to be only with Steve, but he was used by several of the other Draken thralls, and he had no escape. His rage and fear amused them.

Because I pleased her, she has promised to save the child. I ask one thing Danny—if you ever loved me—please help Steve care for my baby. He is going to try to escape and smuggle her out of court, and if they discover the extent of his involvement with the resistance they will execute him. It took courage for him to stay here unthralled, to work against them any way he could.

So, take care of them both, Danny. I beg you. They need all that fierce love that you are so capable of giving.

I myself welcome death because it frees me from the pain of her filthy touch—it is a horrible thing, Daniel, to be held prisoner in one’s own head, and have one’s thoughts raped, to know she knows everything I think or feel. She has freed me because my neurological system is failing. I am dying and I look forward to finally escaping her.

Be well, Danny. Kiss Grace for me and tell her Mummy loves her.

All my love,

Rachel

Danny sat, head down, staring numbly at the paper until the words blurred and swam and became unreadable.

There was something in his chest, unfolding painfully and it hurt. When he scrubbed both palms across his rough face, he found it wet with tears he couldn’t remember shedding. Damn her and her pretentiousness, her very upper class British stiff upper lip, her love of foul tasting teas, those ridiculous high heels and her unfailing courage. Even when he hated her the most, he still loved her and it killed him that he had not been able to protect their child.

He had wondered why he had been selected by the Draken soldiers for the resettlement village and not culled as dragon meat like the other injured and crippled. Now he knew, and he had a pretty good idea how Steve had bribed that Draken soldier since the aliens had no use for currency.

He turned out the lamp and sat there the rest of the night, staring into the dark, the little dragon asleep on his feet, tail coiled around one ankle.

When morning came, he awkwardly levered himself up and stepped out of the cabin and onto the tiny porch, dragon at his heels. The rain had stopped for the moment, but was dripping off the eaves and porch. A lean body unfolded stiffly from the porch and Steve regarded him mutely, waiting for his decision. The dragon peered from behind Danny’s legs and hissed.

Danny stared down at his feet, arms folded across his chest.

“When is she due again?”

“In 12 to 14 days. Malia says she should be ready then.”

Danny could hear the hope in Steve’s voice and feel his eyes searching Danny’s face. Danny turned away and looked down the slope at the view over the valley. There was a huge rainbow arched there, so beautiful it looked unreal. He cleared his throat.

“I’ll see you in Oahu in ten days.”

He turned to meet Steve and watched his face fall at Danny’s unyielding expression.

“I can’t promise anything beyond that” Danny said roughly.

He turned and went back inside and shut the door on Steve’s hope. He lay down on the cot and dropped off in an uneasy sleep and dreams of Grace and Kamekona’s death.

He struggled to protect her small body and fight off the huge dragon that the Draken used for corpse disposal. The dragon reared above him huge maw open wide to bite him in half—when Kamekona stepped between them with a war cry and a club of iron rebar. Danny was knocked aside into the mud by a massive clawed foot and awoke the next day. Both Grace’s and Kamekona’s bodies were gone. All Danny found was the bent piece of iron in the mud. The dragon won the fight, but died the next day from a skull fracture caused by Kamekona’s club.

When he awoke several hours later Steve was gone. He had left the pack though, and when Danny opened it he found it stuffed with cans of soup, packets of crackers, fresh bread and cold medicine, and tucked carefully in a side pocket a single battered Peppermint Patty.

Ten days later he hiked down off the mountain and into Lihu‘e. The little town was slowly coming back to life as people returned to it. The grocery store was open, as was a small pharmacy and several other businesses and it was good to see actual cars on the street and boats moving in the harbor.

He walked down the main street looking for the small barber shop that one of Kawika’s brothers had jokingly recommended the last time he’d dropped Danny’s supplies off. He traded a small pocketknife for a hot shave and a haircut, and the feel of the hot, moist towel on his newly shaved face was blissful. He stared in the mirror afterwards at a rather surprised stranger’s weather-beaten face staring back. His hair was blonder now with a lot more silver strewn in the gold and brown. His face was thinner with wary, pale blue eyes under brows bleached almost white by the sun. It had been years since he looked in a mirror. He hastily thanked the elderly barber and left. He figured there might be a ferry to Oahu still operating.

As he walked down the street, he thought at first the stares he was drawing were due to Mean Joe Green (apparently he had named the damned thing) who perched happily on Danny’s shoulder, long neck whipping around as he tried to see everything at once. (Danny had attempted to ‘lose’ him on the trail several times, but the little creature always caught up, chattering angrily as he scolded Danny for leaving him behind.) But Danny had seen several children and one fisherman with young dragons as well, so that wasn’t it.

He paused in front of a tiny restaurant, stomach rumbling at the rich scent of grilled meat, to peer at the menu on the chalkboard outside, then realized he had nothing to trade for food other than an infant dragon.

Before he could walk away, a tiny, elderly Chinese woman stepped out and grabbed his hand with both of hers, tugging him gently inside, beaming up into his face. He couldn’t understand a word she was saying, but suddenly her whole family was there surrounding him, and he was ushered to a table and a chair drawn out for him, and a heaping plate of meat scraps even produced for Joe. A middle-aged man, apparently her son, scurried out of the kitchen, wiping his hands on his apron. He beamed down at Danny as well.

“Sit! You eat! Sit, Daniel Williams! You honor us.” He gestured for his wife to pour tea.

Danny opened his mouth to ask how they knew who the hell he was, when one of the daughters gestured to the large bulletin board behind the counter. There, pinned to the cork in a place of honor was a huge laminated newspaper article entitled “Five-0 Slays the Draken!” complete with large headshots of the team members—they were all there. Steve, Danny, Chin, Kono, Max and Jenna. Danny blinked in surprise. He had refused to think of the Draken for months and had pushed his own role in their demise to the back of his mind.

In careful English, one of the daughters explained that she and her elder brothers had all been selected for harvest, but the virus had hit Kauai just in time to save them from thralldom. Now their family wanted to repay that debt a little.

Mutely, Danny sat and allowed himself to be waited on. A pristine new tablecloth was produced for his table and tea and ice water appeared as though by magic, followed by a feast of fragrant steamed rice, rich noodle soup, stir-fried vegetables and several meat dishes. He ate hungrily because he had been living off dried meat, fruit and canned goods for months and also because he was damned tired of his own cooking.

As he plowed through his food, he noticed that he was attracting a small crowd of smiling onlookers who lurked outside the restaurant. They all waited politely until he finished and thanked the restaurant owner (who laughingly refused to take a pot-bellied, happily chirping dragon as payment) accepted the huge parcel of hot food the little grandmother pushed into his hands and stepped out on the sidewalk before they swarmed him—all wanting to shake his hand, embrace him or simply thank him.

It was some time before he could extract himself and reach the docks to look for a ferry to Oahu. He didn’t have to search far, as soon as he asked he had volunteers lining up with offers to ferry him there. Danny chose a ride from a fisherman whom he vaguely recognized from the resettlement village, who had business in Oahu that day and Danny gave him the parcel of hot food to sweeten the deal.

Honolulu was bustling with foot traffic and vehicles. The harbor was crowded with fishing boats, freighters and Naval ships. There were buildings being torn down and repaired and restored and most of the shops were open for business even if they had minimal merchandise to offer.

Danny felt a pang when he passed a familiar shave ice stand, now manned by yet another Kamekona cousin. Kamekona had been with him when Grace had died and grieved with him afterwards, yet he had never given up hope that they would be liberated.

These just big snakes, brah. We’ll figure out how to stomp them soon.

Danny wondered if the big man had known something about the virus then. He suspected he had and had said nothing so as to keep Danny and Grace safe. Danny was beginning to realize a lot of things including exactly why Kamekona had stuck like glue to Danny and Grace after they had been captured.

It felt strange to walk across Queen Street again. He stopped short at the sight of a huge, tank sized blue dragon snoozing under a tree, but no one else seemed alarmed and a nearby sanitation worker grinned and told him that the creature was so ancient that it did little but fish in the harbor and sleep. Still, the closer Danny got to the 5-0 offices, the slower he walked. He didn’t want to be here, he realized. It was only because he felt that he owed a debt to Steve that he was here at all.

He entered the familiar offices reluctantly, half tempted to just turn around and leave. People were starting to recognize him and there was a growing murmur as he passed through the foyer towards the 5-0 offices. Instead he lifted his chin, squared his shoulders and marched straight in as though he belonged there. Mean Joe Green clung to his backpack, head swiveling, trying to see everything at once.

He pushed through the glass doors and stepped into the bullpen. Chin and Jenna were bent over the tech table and he could see Kono and Steve in their offices, bent over paperwork. He felt a pang when he saw Max seated at the computer in his own office, but he shoved it ruthlessly down. After all, it wasn’t as though he was part of the team anymore. He stood awkwardly just inside the doors in the few seconds it took for Kono to look up and notice him.

“Danny!”

She shrieked happily, as though she hadn’t seen him in years, and flew into his arms. He was grateful to hide his face in her soft hair for a while. When he let her go and stepped back, he was surrounded, not just by his teammates, but others he recognized from HPD and the late Governor’s office. They all pressed close to hug and slap his back.

“Good to see you, brah.”

“Glad you made it home, man.”

“Its good to have you back.”

It was some time before he could untangle himself from his former colleagues. When he finally did, he found Kono and Jenna cooing over Mean Joe, who was perched on the back of an office chair, preening as they scratched his eye ridges and neck frill and admired his iridescent green and teal scales. Chin smiled at him and hugged him hard, then Max appeared and handed him a small square of paper.

“Your codes,” he said simply and left.

Danny blinked down at the piece of paper. What codes?

“He means your computer codes.” Steve was leaning against his office doorframe, a cautious smile on his face. “To your office computer.” He elaborated, stepping forward, hands in his pockets.

“Yeah, well, I think we need to get a few things straight,” Danny said coolly. “Maybe we can take this discussion into your office and out of the public venue.”

He shouldered past McGarrett and barreled into his office, not bothering to look to see if he followed. Mean Joe gave a squeak of alarm and hopped off his perch and scurried after him. Kono and Chin exchanged sober looks as Steve’s face smoothed out into a blank mask and he followed.

“Crap.”

They both turned in surprise to Jenna, who blushed.

“What? I was kind of hoping they were back together,” she said wistfully. “I guess not.”

They all watched through the glass walls of Steve’s office as Danny paced and gesticulated, while Steve leaned against the door and listened with a mulish look on his face. The homecoming was apparently premature. After five minutes of what was obviously a tense confrontation, with Danny snarling up in Steve’s blank face, finger stabbing the taller man’s chest, the blond barreled out of the office and stormed out of the exit, frantically flapping dragon clinging to his shoulder. Steve slumped down in his chair and buried his face in his hands.

Unable to not do something, Kono stepped inside his office. She noticed Danny had left his pack on the narrow sofa.

“You okay, boss?”

He raised his head and gave her a ghost of a smile.

“Yeah, Kono. I’m fine.” He rubbed at the bridge of his nose, trying to stave off a headache. He answered her unspoken question, his voice wistful. “He said he’d stay till after the baby is born, make sure she’s okay. That’s all. He doesn’t want to be on the team anymore.”

He raised his head and looked at her dully and said quietly, “He really hates my guts, Kono.”

Kono shook her head. “No boss, he hates what the Draken did to him, what they forced you to do to him –to us. He hates that we were so powerless. Danny loves you, I don’t think he ever stopped loving you.” When Steve opened his mouth to deny it, she held her hand up, palm out to halt him. She stepped closer and leaned a hip against his desk and held his eyes and spoke gently.

“You forget, I was with him when we heard that you were captured. Chin and I had to sit on him to keep him from storming the Hive by himself. Only the fact that he had Gracie to protect kept him with us. And later after she died and they took Chin, I lived in the same village with him. He spent hours with the resistance fighters going over plans to get into the Hive, to get you out. He never gave up, Steve, he was always plotting, always gathering intel, even after Gracie died and that dragon reinjured his leg and killed Kamekona, he was looking for a way to take them out. That TAC vest and sidearm and holster he wore into the Hive that day? They were yours. He traded his own away for food for Grace.”

She leaned forward to make a point. “Grace was his world Steve, but he lived for you.”

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

Three days later Steve and Danny stood, dressed in scrubs, in a sterile room and watched as Malia carefully tapped in a sequence of glyphs on the control panel of the Draken crafted artificial womb and the machine hummed itself through a series of musical tones before a section of the glass sphere slid silently back and allowed her to reach in and lift the small, wriggling infant from the warm amniotic fluid and carefully clip her umbilical cord, which was attached to a yolk like blob of pink tissue. She cleaned out the baby’s nose and mouth and a nurse assisted and helped weigh and clean the tiny girl, before swaddling her tightly in a pink receiving blanket and offering her to Steve, who had stood grim faced through the whole process, Danny standing silently by his side.

To Danny’s surprise, Steve stared white-faced down at the squirming infant, swallowed hard, then turned and bolted from the room almost at a run. Danny stepped forward and peered down at the baby and immediately saw the reason for Steve’s flight. The infant was healthy and perfectly formed with a full head of dark hair, but when she yawned a toothless pink yawn and opened her eyes, they held a familiar glint of eerie gold in the deep brown depths. Draken eyes.

As though sensing her father’s abandonment, she hiccupped and began to cry, small fists flailing. Danny hesitated only a moment before lifting her, expertly supporting her head as he did. She blinked up at him, dark lashes wet with tears, then stopped crying, eyes locked on his and held. Danny hissed out a breath. No human infant could focus that quickly after birth. Beside him, Malia was silent, realizing as he did that this baby was not entirely human.

Rachel’s baby suddenly grinned toothlessly at him and shoved a small pink fist in her mouth, golden brown eyes absorbed with his features. The resemblance to Grace as an infant was startling. If not for the amber, she would have had Rachel’s brown eyes.

“Malia, have you checked her DNA?” Danny asked quietly.

The petite doctor sighed and shook her head.

“No. I was hoping for the best. But we really can’t afford to do that when it comes to the Draken, can we? I’ll use a piece of her umbilical cord and see what I can find out.”

Danny shifted the babe so that he cradled her in one arm.

“Get Max to give you a hand. He is as close to an expert on Draken physiology as we have now.”

She nodded. “I will.” Malia already had a lot on her plate, she was one of the few doctors left alive on Oahu. She hesitantly indicated the child “She is perfectly healthy and ready to leave for home now…but I can keep her here for a few days as a precaution, if you like.”

Danny nodded slowly and handed the baby back. “That would probably be best for now. I’ll go find Steve and see what he wants to do.”

The petite doctor nodded sadly. “Do you have a name for her?”

She held the baby gently, noticing the infant was still staring at Danny, apparently fascinated with his blue eyes and blond hair.

Danny blinked and scratched his head. “I doubt if he’s even thought that far ahead.” He sighed. “I’ll find out.”

He nodded at her and left the room. The moment the door closed behind him, the baby began to wail like a banshee, squirming and refusing to be soothed. Her small head turned and teary eyes locked on the door as Malia cooed at her and turned to place her in a hospital bassinet. She would be kept in isolation as a precaution until all the tests were run.

Danny found Steve outside on his knees, after having been heartily sick in the bushes. Danny started forward about to rip into his former partner, when he realized Steve’s wide shoulders were shaking, and that he was crying silently, one hand covering his eyes. Chagrined, Danny stepped forward and dropped a hand on his back.

“Babe…”

The word was out of his mouth before he could rein it in. Before he could move, Steve turned and grabbed Danny’s hips and buried his wet face in his stomach. He raised his head, and Danny winced at the torment in his eyes.

“I was supposed to take care of her! Nothing was supposed to happen to the baby! I promised Rachel I would take care of her!”

He buried his face in Danny’s belly again and clung, sobs and animal sounds of pain muffled against Danny’s shirt.

Swallowing hard against the knot in his throat, Danny wrapped compassionate arms around Steve’s shaking shoulders and held him hard, before bending and speaking fiercely in his ear.

“Listen to me. You did take care of her. You took care of them both. No man on this earth could have done a better job under the circumstances; do you hear me? I’ll gut the first son of a bitch to even hint otherwise.”

He grabbed Steve’s shoulders and shook him gently.

“Okay, babe, pull yourself together. You’ve got a baby girl to take care of. Malia is running some tests. The eye thing may just be cosmetic, or something caused by the fluid in the artificial womb. Whatever it is, we’ll deal with as best we can. She is still your baby. Come on, let’s get you cleaned up.”

He tugged the taller man to his feet and steered him back inside Steve obeyed, stumbling under Danny’s guiding hands, fists scrubbing at his eyes like a tired child. Inside the small room they found a frazzled Malia trying to sooth a hysterical newborn—the baby’s small face was red as she shrieked and squirmed in the doctor’s arms. Danny hurried over, reached for her automatically, and cradled her against his chest.

“Hey, hey, hey! What’s this, huh?” He crooned as he held her snugly and rocked her gently.

The baby sniffled and stared up at him and her thin, angry wails stopped instantly. Tearful amber eyes locked with his and a small fist was again stuffed in her mouth. Steve timidly ventured closer and peered down over Danny’s shoulder at his tiny daughter.

Danny turned to him, “Here, hold your arms out…yeah, support her back and head like that.”

He eased the baby into her father’s arms. Steve froze in place and held her stiffly, as though she might explode at any moment. Danny sighed. He could see that he had his work cut out for him. Steve looked terrified. Danny had seen his partner handle hand grenades and heavy armament with more ease compared to the infant he now held. Content now, the baby regarded her father and Danny curiously. It was odd to see such an inquisitive expression on a newborn’s face. Danny tilted his head, considering. He was right, the baby had Steve’s dark hair.

“What are you going to name her?” Malia asked Steve.

Steve cleared his throat and risked a covert glance in Danny’s direction.

“Rachel named her before she died. Her name is Danielle.”

He swallowed and continued more hesitantly, “I thought we could give her Grace as a middle name.” He looked pleadingly down at Danny.

Danny sighed and rubbed his eyes. Steve had loved Gracie too. And now her name would live on with her half sister. He blinked back tears. His beloved Monkey would have loved having her baby sister named after
her. He nodded quietly in agreement.

“Grace would have loved that.”

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

Somehow, Danny ended up staying on Oahu with Steve. He told himself it was because Steve was hopeless when it came to the baby, but he suspected he was fooling himself. They took the baby home to Steve’s house after Malia and Max ran a stringent series of tests on her, ranging from basic blood work to DNA mapping. There had been tiny traces of Draken DNA in her Gene Map, but seemingly only on a cosmetic level. Apparently it had amused the Queen to order that her future Thrall be given golden eyes and tiny sharp fingernails.

Danny suspected there was more to it than that—the baby was way too calm and intelligent for her age—but the tests had reassured Steve, so he kept his mouth shut and a sharp eye on the infant instead. Danny was of the Nurture versus Nature school of parenting—if little Elle McGarrett was loved and raised right, he didn’t think they had a problem. He had worried about mean Joe, thinking he might have to give the little dragon away if it was a danger to Elle, but the two had taken to each other instantly and he often found the dragon curled up sleeping with her in her crib, or chirping and trilling happily at her while she cooed softly back at him. Danielle was a very good baby. She cried only when she was cold, hungry or wet.

Besides, Danny thought, having a dragon as a chaperone had its merits, especially when she got old enough to date.

Steve took some time off from the squad to spend time with the baby, endured the teasing about his ‘maternity’ leave good-naturedly from the squad and the cops at headquarters. Children were cherished more than ever on the islands now, because there were so few of them left after the massive Draken harvests for export to other colonies. Danielle’s golden eyes were simply explained away as cosmetic--resulting from the long months she spent in the Draken artificial womb.

Under Danny’s tutelage, Steve became an expert at diaper changing and bottle warming. He still handled her as gingerly as though she was made of spun glass, but was getting more confident. It still awed him that this small person was his, and totally dependent on him. The surge of fierce, protective love he felt when he cradled her tiny body took him by surprise. For the first time he realized exactly why his father had sent he and Mary away from the only home they knew to keep them safe.

Danny leaned against the doorjamb and bit his lip hard as he fought to keep his amusement hidden. Steve stood above the changing table that held the cooing baby, diaper and wipe in hand, his face that of a man about to defuse a ticking, unstable homemade bomb. The look of abject horror on Steve’s face when he removed the stinky diaper was priceless as he hastily bundled and bagged it for removal, as though it might explode with poop at any moment. Danny had the distinct impression that if Steve had had access to HazMat tongs and receptacles he would have used them to dispose of the diaper.

He glanced pleadingly at Danny, but Danny was immune to the puppy dog eyes and gestured imperiously for him to continue. Elle gurgled happily up at her father, tiny arms and legs wriggling energetically. Steve carefully grasped her legs, lifted her and gingerly wiped her bottom, powdered it and slid the newborn diaper in place and clumsily fastened the tabs. The look of pure triumph on his face when he finished had Danny chuckling aloud. He smirked at Danny, who gestured at the pile of tiny clothing laid out on the table.

“Keep going.”

Tongue in cheek, eyes intent, Steve carefully threaded small arms through the sleeves of a dainty yellow, ruffled sundress with a print of tiny violets, buttoned it, then tentatively slid knit booties on her feet and tied the ribbons to hold them on. His big hands were gentle as he fumbled with the tiny lavender ribbons. He finished by gingerly clipping a daisy barrette in her small tuft of black hair, lifted her in his arms and then looked uncertainly at Danny for approval.

Danny beamed at him.

“Good job, babe.”

Danny found that Steve had turned one of the spare rooms in his house into a nursery—the walls painted a creamy yellow with pale blue trim, with pretty, delicate pastel decals of flowers and animals and birds that reminded Danny of his mom’s favorite paisley scarf, and a sheer lace curtain panel in the window. There was a set of white wicker furniture and a carefully stocked toy box and bookshelf, as well as a shelf of stuffed animals.

It was a pretty, restful room for a little girl and Steve had ducked his head and shyly admitted that he had chosen the décor and set it up himself. Danny was touched by how anxious Steve was that he approve of the room. Steve owned a stack of baby books, but seemed to be under the impression that Danny was the expert when it came to parenting because he asked his opinion on every aspect of the baby’s care.

The nursery was sandwiched in between Steve’s bedroom and the guest room Danny was installed in. Danny couldn’t help but notice that his room looked recently decorated too, in restful shades of blue with pale green accents and comfortable blond wood furniture. The bed was actually new, with the most comfortable pillow top mattress Danny had ever had the pleasure of sinking into, especially since he had been sleeping in the rough for years. He thought he might have to steal that mattress when he left, and refused to think of the pang that the thought of his eventual departure gave him.

Danny walked out on the lanai and found Steve asleep in the hammock, Elle napping on his bare chest. Joe was perched vigilantly in the tree above their heads, glaring at any birds that dared fly over his charges. Silently Danny padded closer to them, felt a smile tug his lips. Both Steve and the baby were drooling slightly, mouths open as they rocked and snoozed in the shade. Steve’s big hands were clasped carefully over his tiny daughter so she would not roll off his chest. Stealthily, Danny pulled out his cell phone and snapped several photos that he immediately forwarded to Kono.

Danny found himself acting as Elle’s second parent by default. He also discovered he really had no desire at this time to return to the squad, although he came into the office daily with Steve and kept abreast of all of 5-0’s cases, helping with the paperwork and occasionally putting in a word of advice if asked. He put a crib and playpen in his office and usually spent a couple of hours there daily, before taking the baby and leaving. He couldn’t seem to sit still long enough to concentrate anymore, so he and Elle walked and watched as the city was rebuilt.

Danny stood patiently outside of Liliha’s bakery, while a gaggle of elderly aunties cooed over Elle, who grinned toothlessly and cooed right back. Elle was looking quite fashionable today in a cherry red sundress with matching rosebud barrettes, sun hat and tiny red Hello Kitty sandals that set off her dark hair. If he’d looked up he would have seen Steve standing in the doorway of the nearby bank, several doors down, besotted smile curving his lips as he watched them, his deposit held unnoticed in hand.

It comforted him to see the bustle of construction as the people of Honolulu rebuilt their lives. He walked and explored with little Elle tucked in the Snuggly strapped across his chest and a daypack holding baby necessities on his back, with Joe perched on top. He and the baby became a familiar sight in the city and he really had no clue of how fond of the people of Oahu were of him and Steve’s daughter, or how proud Steve and 5-0 were of him. People were comfortable talking to him and he was able to pass information they might need about available aid in reconstruction on to them, and they in turn kept him informed on any budding criminal activities they became aware of.

He was returning to lunch at headquarters after he and Elle had taken a walk along the beach that morning. It was a pleasant day with a lovely cool breeze and Danny was in a good mood, despite the fact that a little auntie at a lei booth at the open-air market had waylaid him and draped him and Elle in flowers. He stopped at a booth and bought a carton of steamed rice and several large skewers of grilled tiger shrimp to share with Steve, stubbornly leaving the money on the counter when the vendor refused to accept payment. The government was finally using currency again, although people still traded for things they needed.

As he climbed the steps to the Iolani, several smiling people blocked his access and he looked up to find himself surrounded by that bane of every cop, reporters. The woman smiled sweetly and asked if they could have a photo and relieved that she didn’t harass him for an interview, Danny acquiesced before continuing on. He really shouldn’t have surprised at the grins he got when he came into work the next day.

Jenna finally brought him the paper and he found the photo of himself and Elle on the front page---Danny peering warily into the camera, Danielle snug against his chest, looking very cute in her tiny, floppy brimmed sun hat, both draped in plumeria leis.

The caption blared in large letters: “Hawaii’s Hero and Daughter”. He read the accompanying blurb. Apparently most of Oahu now assumed he and Steve were a couple. He scowled down at the paper, then put it aside. He noticed later that Steve clipped the photo and kept it, probably because it was a good picture of the baby.

The one thing Danny had not anticipated after the Draken fled was the celebrity status that he and the 5-0 team acquired. He knew that Steve and the others had finally had to appeal to the Governing Counsel to initiate laws so that reporters would leave them alone. For a while every surviving reporter in the world wanted an interview. Steve had deftly handled that by holding a one-time press conference with the stipulation that the team be left strictly alone afterwards. Danny had been a recluse on Kauai at the time.

Now that governments were stabilizing worldwide, more reporters came out of the woodwork, each determined to get an interview with The Big Three---Steve, Max and Danny. Steve who had been undercover in the Draken court, Max, who had engineered the virus, and Danny who had hand carried it into the heart of the Hive. The Hawaiian government had finally laid down the law regarding foreign reporters—they simply were not allowed into the state unless they signed an agreement that they would leave the members of 5-0 alone. That still didn’t stop those claiming to be vacationing and who ‘happened’ to bump into members of 5-0.

Everyday they received book and interview offers from around the world and everyday a heaping trashcan of these offers went into the recycling bin. Unfortunately, the team also had to deal with fans—some quite unstable.

A woman had followed Max like a puppy for weeks, another one, even more unstable, had claimed that Chin was her husband and that she had a baby to prove it—Chin had agonized over that, because he had blacked out periodically when thralled. A paternity test had cleared him. Kono and Jenna received a constant barrage of flowers and marriage proposals. They compared offers daily to see who got the more lucrative and giggled over the worst ones. Steve got a lot of naked photos and lingerie in the mail and some interesting offers. Danny got the same, and of course they both got their share of proposals, but those died down when somehow the press got the idea that Steve and Danny were a couple—complete with child.

To Danny’s annoyance, Steve did nothing to dissuade them.

After all, he pointed out to Danny, they were more apt to be left alone if everyone thought they were a couple, because the islanders were fiercely protective of their privacy. A young woman who had literally thrown herself in Steve’s lap the last time they had gone to a restaurant, had found herself firmly escorted off the premises by the manager and barred from reentry. A woman who accosted Danny on one of his walks had found herself under attack by a tiny, angry auntie who wielded her cane like a kendo master, whacked her shins and scolded the unfortunate woman as she drove her away, shaming her fiercely.

When the headlines switched to “Heroes Also Lovers” stories, complete with lurid speculation, badly photo shopped manips and a photographer who hounded them in hope of catching an intimate moment on camera, Danny had just sighed deeply and slowly banged his head on his desk, while Elle and Joe watched wide-eyed from her bouncy chair. Apparently he and Steve were now the role models for gay couples worldwide. They started getting jock straps and dick shots along with lingerie in their mail.

Danny reacted badly to his newfound celebrity.

For a while, every reporter who aimed a camera at him got the finger and or a curse. This only spawned “Hot Headed Hero” and “Man of Fiery Passions” headlines, so he finally took a page from Steve and stoically ignored them.

Things came to a head when Steve caught a photographer lurking in the bushes around the house busily taking photos of Danny as he used the outdoor shower after a long walk along the beach. Steve confiscated the camera, kicked the photographer’s ass and tossed him off his property with a grim warning to stay the fuck away from his family—which did nothing to help curb the rumors. The photographer tried to stir up a shit storm by claiming assault, but got no sympathy from anyone and soon found himself firmly escorted onto the next freighter leaving the island.

The people of Hawaii were fiercely protective of their heroes and after a few visits from the kama ‘aina, the reporters and would be interviewers began to display a remarkable degree of discretion. Danny and Steve found themselves spending more time together, simply for protection. The locals left them alone if they were out together and they could go about their business unmolested. The unresolved tension between them was still there, but mellowed now, as they spent most of their time together. The rape remained the unacknowledged elephant in the corner of the room. They both seemed determined to pretend it never happened.

They were wandering through the farmer’s market in search of fresh ahi, Steve carrying the canvas grocery bags with Joe perched on a broad shoulder, while Danny held Elle, bickering amiably over fresh corn or new potatoes before finally deciding on both, when it happened. Steve had paid for the vegetables and was bartering briskly for some tomatoes two booths down, while Danny glared malevolently at a wheelbarrow load of ripe pineapples, when a man lunged silently out of the crowd of shoppers and slashed at Danny with a machete.

Caught by surprise, Danny spun and took two glancing blows on his side as he turned his back to his attacker and curled his arms and compact body protectively around the baby. Before Steve could react, Joe shrieked and dove from his shoulder, wings unfurling as the little dragon flew for the first time. When the man turned at his warbling battle cry, he caught the full load of venom that the dragon spat right in his face and fell back, screaming and clawing at his eyes. The little dragon continued his attack and dove on his victim, hissing and tearing at him with teeth and claws.

Steve ignored the fallen man, leaving him to Joe and the burly market watchmen who trotted up, clubs in hand, while he tended to his small family. Danielle was screaming red-faced, while Danny was clumsily trying to hold her and put pressure on the wounds in his side at the same time. Steve pulled his hand away to examine them. One had glanced off Danny’s ribs, the other curved over his narrow hip and had nearly gutted him. Fortunately, Danny had been turning away from the blows at the time, so they were shallow. Steve yanked off his shirt and put pressure on them while yelling for an ambulance. He was very glad that Honolulu had recently reestablished emergency medical services on the island.

Steve knelt and held his family close, Danny leaning against his chest, his attention still on soothing the frightened baby. He lifted his head and whistled for Mean Joe Green, who had more than lived up to his name today. The little dragon abandoned his prey and half flew, half hopped over to them, presented Steve with a bloody chunk of the attacker’s ear--lobe still attached and trilled proudly. The attacker was unconscious now, limbs jerking fitfully from the toxic dragon venom. Steve hoped the bastard died. He made a mental note to always carry a sidearm from now on. He had gotten complacent and his family had paid the price.

At the hospital, Steve paced in the waiting room while Kono rocked and fed Elle. The baby was quiet now, her eyes following her father as she nursed from her bottle. Chin was investigating Danny’s attacker. The doctor assured Steve that Danny would be fine, the cuts only required cleaning and stitching.

When the nurse called him back, Steve nearly knocked her over in his haste to get to his partner. He found Danny groggy and half-asleep from painkillers on a narrow gurney, a pristine bandage taped around his side. Blue eyes blinked sleepily up at him and Steve sat down on the stool by the gurney and took his partner’s hand and held it tight, and simply looked at him, blinking hard.

Danny gave him a slow, hazy smile. “Hey, babe. You and Elle okay?”

“Yeah, D, we’re fine. How do you feel?”

“It’s the good stuff, ’m floating…” his partner slurred, lids drooping as he slid towards sleep. “Mean Joe did good, huh?”

“He sure did, partner.”

Steve sat and held his hand, calming himself with the sight and feel of his partner sleeping safely beside him. Carefully, he lifted Danny’s hand to his lips and kissed the rough palm, glad that Danny was asleep and unaware.

A slight noise from the doorway caught his attention and lifted his head to meet the eyes of a blushing nurse. Great, now there would be even more fodder for the rumor mill to grind. Steve sighed and sat back in his chair, still holding Danny’s hand and wished that it were true. He wanted Danny to be his partner in every way possible, but realistically he didn’t believe it would ever happen. Maybe before he and Rachel had been forced together and the Draken queen had forced him to abuse Danny he would have had a chance, but no longer.

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

Steve took Danny home after he awoke and he spent the next day in bed, per doctor’s orders, the powerful painkillers knocking him for a loop. Danielle fussed until Steve carried her into Danny’s room and laid her beside him on the big bed, fencing her in with pillows. Once close to Danny, she calmed and dropped off instantly into her nap. Steve hovered in the doorway, wishing that he dared lie down beside them. Finally, he went downstairs and occupied himself with making lunch.

The kitchen was overflowing with food—friends and neighbors had left casseroles and other dishes when they’d heard of the attack. Steve was grateful as he heated up a big pot of homemade chicken noodle soup and sliced a loaf of fresh bread and slathered it with butter. The one remaining dairy in the islands delivered fresh milk, cream and butter to the house weekly and refused payment. Gifts of food, diapers, baby clothes and other useful things appeared constantly on their doorstep along with letters and notes of thanks. Every week they packed up excess offerings to pass on to various aid stations. If they chose, neither man would have to pay for anything ever again.

When he carefully carried a tray upstairs he found his partner propped against the pillows with his daughter lying on his fuzzy chest cooing happily into Danny’s sleepy face, while he tickled her and made funny faces, and planted sloppy, raspberry kisses on her tummy. Little Danielle had adored Danny from the moment she saw him and he, her. Steve knew she loved him too, but she had firmly attached herself to Danno the second she saw him. Steve couldn’t fault her for her excellent taste in men.

“Hey.” Danny gave him a rare sweet, sleepy smile and Steve grinned happily back as he set the tray on the bedside table.

“You two ready for some lunch?”

Danielle squealed and cooed happily at the sight of her father and Steve couldn’t resist picking her up and snuggling her. He nuzzled into her sweet baby skin and pretended to growl.

“Mmm, yum, a plump, tasty baby!” He nuzzled her neck and pretended to take a big bite, while she cooed.

“Yum. I think I’ll have baby girl for lunch.”

He announced to Danny, who was watching them fondly as he reached for the bowl of soup on the tray. He stopped and frowned down at the tray. Steve looked too, everything seemed okay, soup, bread, baby bottle, napkins, even the daily newspaper.

“Is something wrong?” Steve asked.

“Where’s your bowl? Aren’t you going to eat with us?”

Steve ducked his head to hide his happy smile against the baby.

“Oops. I must have left it downstairs. I’ll go get it.”

He handed the baby to Danny and bounded hastily down the stairs, feeling as giddy as a teenage girl asked to the prom, slopped some soup in a bowl and grabbed a spoon. Joe trilled hopefully from his perch on the back of a kitchen chair and Steve paused to plop a generous handful of raw hamburger from the fridge into his dish (with a mental note to give him a steak later), before he headed back upstairs.

Danny moved over automatically and Steve happily climbed in bed with them. The soup was delicious, the broth rich and fragrant with chunks of tender chicken and fat noodles. They sat shoulder-to-shoulder and slurped their way through their bowls, and Steve watched as Danny fed Elle a few spoonfuls of mashed noodle and broth to supplement her bottle. She was almost three months old now and very advanced for her age. She was already rolling over and trying to crawl and she reached for her toys and played with Joe, grabbing his snout and pulling happily at his tail, much to the little dragon’s dismay.

After she ate, Steve burped her and changed her diaper and laid her down in the portable carrier they kept at hand. She regarded them sleepily, and happily chewed on her fist, she disliked pacifiers. Steve made a mental note to read up on teething in his baby manuals, because he had the suspicious feeling that she would be cutting teeth early—probably on poor Joe’s tail. He rejoined Danny on the bed and they shared the paper, catching up on the news.

They were both on the front page—again, which was really getting tedious. So far, Chin had found nothing on the man who had attacked Danny, not even his identity. He had died shortly after being transported to medical care. Possibly he was just another deranged former thrall.

They ignored the “Heroes Attacked!” headline and read everything else instead. Steve was engrossed in an article on security measures that Earth needed to take should the aliens return, when he realized that Danny had dozed off, full belly and pain meds taking their toll, and was slumped against his shoulder, snoring lightly.

Stealthily, Steve set the paper aside and eased down in the bed so that Danny could comfortably pillow his head on Steve’s shoulder, which he promptly did, grumbling and turning in his sleep to use Steve as a pillow by snuggling close and throwing a arm and leg over Steve’s torso. Steve stayed still, enjoying the warm weight of the other man’s body against his own. It meant the world to him that Danny was beginning to trust him again. He settled back to savor the feeling and drifted off himself, content with his nose buried in bright hair.

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

Danny awoke to a quiet house. From the sun’s angle, he could tell it was mid morning. He scowled and gingerly scratched his healing wounds. They itched like a son of a bitch. He made a mental note to cut the pain meds because he was sleeping way too much. He eased out of bed and padded into the bathroom to piss, brush his teeth and shave.

After pulling on a loose pair of Steve’s old board shorts, he wandered downstairs. There was a pot of coffee and a plate of fresh malasadas as well as bacon and eggs waiting for him. He ate hungrily and wandered out on the lanai following the sound of Joe’s excited trills as he stuffed a last bite of pastry in his mouth.

Steve was down on the beach, seated waist deep in the surf, Danielle held securely in his arms while she splashed happily in the water. Joe scampered back and forth along the edge of the water scolding it as it lapped against the sand. Steve was smiling down at his daughter, his face open and carefree, so different from his usual guarded expression.

Danny had said nothing in protest when Steve had haltingly told him he was planning to teach the baby to swim. He had turned away with a shrug, saying brusquely that Elle was Steve’s daughter, not his. There had been a flash of hurt in Steve’s eyes, but he said nothing further. Something twisted inside Danny as he watched them now. She would grow up as fearless and beautiful as her father, unlike her sister, whom Danny had been unable to protect. Steve, unlike Danny, had kept his promise to protect Rachel’s daughter.

He watched for a few minutes, unwilling to intrude on their happiness, before turning and limping away. It was past time for him to be moving on. He had gotten comfortable here and that was a mistake. Steve was more than capable of caring for his daughter now and he would have no trouble finding a nanny to care for Elle while he was at work. It was time for Danny to decide what the hell he was going to do with the rest of his life. Maybe it was time he left the islands.

He said nothing to Steve, preferring to have an exit plan in motion before he did. He figured he would do some research at the office and decide where he wanted to go. He even contemplated dying his hair brown and re-growing his beard because anonymity was appealing and he was sick of the whole ‘hero’ label. To pull that successfully off he would definitely have to leave Hawaii though, everyone knew him here.

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

Steve watched Danny covertly through the wall of his office. Something was up with his partner and it made him uneasy. For the past two weeks, Danny had spent most of the day in his office on the computer. He had been quiet and distracted at home. Yesterday he had even asked Kono to take Elle out with her for some fresh air when she and Jenna went to lunch.

Danny had only left for one of his city walkabouts all week and then had been gone only a few hours. Several local people even stopped Steve and asked if Danny was okay after the attack, because they had not seen him out and around with the baby for a few days. Steve was worried because Danny had been quieter than usual, spending less time with Elle—leaving her with Steve, and he was obviously distracted, his mind elsewhere.

As Steve watched, Danny scribbled a note from something on the screen and stood, post-it held between his teeth as he gathered up Elle and his daypack of baby supplies. He left the office with an absent nod to Jenna and Kono, checking the info on his note as he went. The moment he was out the door Steve made a beeline for Danny’s office, nearly colliding with Kono, who were doing the same thing. Steve raised a brow questioningly.

“What? Something is up, boss. Don’t tell me you’re not worried either.”
Kono said defensively.

Steve didn’t bother to deny it. Danny was a creature of habit and his routine had changed radically enough to set off an alert on Steve’s Danno Radar. He held up his hands in surrender and followed her into the office where she sat down at the desk and started snooping on the computer, while he sat on the corner of the desk. She was looking good, he noted, she had gained some needed weight and wore her hair in a new style. The scars on her cheek—gained in a fight for food in the containment camp-- were barely noticeable now.

“Oh.” Her soft, sad comment had him turning his attention to the screen.

There on the monitor was an email offering Danny a very lucrative position with Interpol. Not only would he have his choice of country to work in, but he was offered his choice of real estate as well as a more than comfortable benefits and salary package. Danny would be able to head his own team, travel the world and work on the most prominent cases. The recruiter gave a time for a tentative lunch interview at a local Hotel.

Steve swallowed hard, his heart sinking. Numbly, he recalled how until the past couple of weeks Danny seemed to need to be in constant motion—always walking, always on the move, seemingly unable to sit still and concentrate. Now it looked like Danny was preparing to walk away from Steve and 5-0 for good. Sure enough, when they checked the history on Danny’s computer they found searches for various travel itineraries, ferry and plane schedules, sites on the mainland offering jobs in security and law enforcement.

Steve stood and swiped his hand over his face, stared blindly across the room. He didn’t know why he was surprised. Danny had promised him nothing. Everyone left Steve in the end, and besides, why would Danny ever want to stay with the man who had raped him? He started out of the office, then stopped, one hand on the doorframe, and turned back to meet Kono’s sad eyes.

“Check out that job offer, Kono, make sure it’s legitimate.”

“Okay, boss,” she replied softly.

It was the least he could do.

It was time Steve manned up and faced the facts. Danny was a free man and now he chose to walk away and start a new life away from the islands and Steve. It hurt that Danny was leaving him and Elle. She, Steve knew, would miss him as much as Steve would.

Dully, he went back to his office and sat down, staring blindly at his neglected paperwork. He should be pleased that Danny was finally moving on, starting a new life. He would probably start a new family, have babies of his own with a new wife. God knew he got enough marriage proposals every week. It was time Steve let go of all his hopeless dreams of them being family. Resolutely, he turned back to his computer. He had work to do.

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

Danny realized something was off about a half hour into the expensive lunch with Charlotte Levon. He carefully spooned a bit of rice pudding in Elle’s hungry mouth as he listened to the woman’s polished spiel. She leaned forward again, flashing her creamy cleavage as she listed the perks of his new job, should he choose to take it, wide blue eyes intent on his.

Once he would have been distracted by her boobs and baby blues just as she intended, but that had been before the invasion, before everything in the world became suspect. He said nothing, a vague, polite smile on his face as he listened, but he was studying her closely. She was perfectly made up, her blonde curls exquisitely coiffed, her clothes both sexy and business like, even her perfume was enticing, but there was something off about her eyes—something wrong.

Abruptly he became aware that Joe, who was perched on the back of Danny’s chair, was eyeing her silently, his small body rigid, his forked tongue darting out uneasily to taste the air. He was ready to spit and pounce, Danny realized. Danny put the spoon down and shifted the baby so that he held her more securely against his shoulder with his left arm, leaving his right hand free to reach his gun if necessary. He had started wearing his sidearm again at Steve’s insistence.

He glanced casually around the terrace of the expensive restaurant and immediately picked out two men who didn’t fit in. One sat at the bar, watching them in the mirror, while the other sat at a table on the terrace near the stairs to the beach, pretending to read a paper. He could see that they were both former military and wore firearms under their jackets. Okay, something was up here, and he couldn’t exactly do anything with the baby in his arms. Something these people were probably counting on, he realized. Time to improvise.

Smiling apologetically at the woman, he pulled his phone out of his pocket and pretended to check the screen.

“Excuse me, Ms. Levon, I need to take this.” He gave her another fake smile, pushed back his chair and stood.

“Of course, Detective Williams.”

She flashed him another one of those shark smiles when she tilted her head and that was when he caught the brief flicker of gold in her irises, and the hair on the nape of his neck rose. Fucking Draken thrall. Forcing himself to move naturally, he stepped away from the three of them and the innocent restaurant patrons to the far side of the terrace and the corner where he could put his back against the wall if worse came to worst. He hit the speed dial for Steve and the moment he picked up, he spoke.

“Steve…”

“Where are you? How many?” Steve’s voice was tight, controlled and how he knew Danny was in trouble, Danny had no clue.

“I’m on the beach side terrace of the Sheraton Surfrider. There are three that I can see. The woman with me, two heavy hitters, armed. One at the bar in a blue Hawaiian shirt, and one in white near the terrace stairs. I think they’re thralls, Steve.” He kept his voice low and a bland smile on his face for Charlotte’s benefit even while his mind raced. Safest for Elle was to play the lunch thing out, to buy time for back up to arrive. Fortunately the main course had not yet arrived.

“We’re already on our way. ETA five minutes.”

“Okay, okay. Steve…”

“Everything’s going to be fine Danny. Nothing is going to happen to you or Elle, I promise.”

“See you.” Danny spoke softly.

“See you soon, Danno.”

He was suddenly crystal calm.

His partner and team were on the way. He closed his phone and slid it into his pocket and returned to the table. Charlotte, he noticed had slid a pair of sunglasses on to conceal her eyes and was sipping daintily at her drink. He sat back down, but kept his chair pushed out so he could move quickly if necessary and took his time soothing the baby, who was whimpering softly against his shoulder. She had picked up on Danny’s tension. Joe climbed up on Danny’s right shoulder and Danny felt him balance himself, tail braced against Danny’s neck and hind quarters tense as the little dragon prepared to defend his people.

Danny’s mind was racing furiously. If these people were thralls, then where were the Draken who controlled them? How had they survived the virus? They had to be close…really close to maintain such fine control over their thralls. He glanced around. There was really no place here out in the open where Draken could conceal themselves and they would practically have to be right under his feet…right under his feet and denned up in the storm drains.

Shit.

Danny shifted Elle to his shoulder and patted her back gently, shooting Levon an apologetic smile. A flicker of movement caught his eye and he saw Kono casually pause on the terrace stairs below the male thrall and pretend to root through an enormous straw tote bag. A pair of huge sunglasses hid most of her face. He glanced towards the bar and saw Chin slide onto a stool two down from the thrall seated there. Neither thrall noticed that they were suddenly shadowed by 5-0 officers, they were too intent on keeping an eye on Danny.

In the end, the take down was almost anti-climatic. Danny stood, apologized and excused himself to change Danielle’s diaper and left the table and headed for the restrooms. The moment he and the baby stepped out of the line of fire, Steve moved smoothly past him and headed for the terrace, weapon already at ready and Kono and Chin pounced on their prey, guns to their heads.

“Five-O! Keep your hands where I can see them!”

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

They found the fledgling Queen denned up in the storm drains, as Danny suspected, along with what was probably her sire, a battered, crippled consort Drake. She was too young to breed or control more than one thrall at a time. The two male thralls belonged to the old soldier.

Ironically, it turned out that she had hatched from the stolen egg that Danny had returned to the Hive. Max was already at work using tissue samples to determine why the virus had not affected the fledgling or the soldier. He would engineer a second, more effective virus to use as a biological weapon should Draken survivors return and attempt a second invasion.

Apparently, she had planned to thrall all of 5-0, starting with Danny and Steve. Her thralls would have kidnapped him and the baby, taken them underground to the young Queen’s den, where she would have thralled him and sent him above to snare Steve and then gone from there, patiently enthralling more members of the police and governing council as she grew stronger, bred, hatched young and her hive grew. It was a good, long-term plan and it might have worked if Danny had not been such a suspicious son of a bitch and not paid attention to his dragon’s body language.

Steve led the SWAT team that destroyed the young Queen and her den with impunity and he ordered every inch of the storm drains and tunnels and caves on the islands searched to insure that there would be no more nasty Draken surprises to deal with in the future. The male thralls had died when the soldier did, Charlotte survived, all teary apologies and was hospitalized briefly before Steve had her shipped immediately off the islands. Thrall or not, he didn’t want her anywhere near Danny or his child. He didn’t like the fact that she had tried to seduce Danny when thralled and he certainly didn’t like the way she clung to him after she was freed.

The island news networks had a field day trumpeting across the world about how their heroes had once again ‘saved’ earth from Draken dominion, despite Steve’s exasperated pointing out that two Draken hardly constituted a new invasion. Cities across the world took note and searched underground in their drains and sewers and actually unearthed several hidden surviving Draken, but luckily, no Queens were found.

Five-O endured a second mass assault by the world media. They handled it as graciously as they could, granting one lengthy group interview and patiently answering all questions while firmly refusing anything personal. Once again, Danny absented himself from the spotlight. He still had no patience for reporters despite the fact that he was the one person other than Steve that they longed to interview in depth. To keep the paparazzi at bay, he posed with the team, holding Elle, with Joe on his shoulder and the images were once again emblazoned across the world. By this time they were all heartily sick of celebrity.

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

When things finally settled back to a semblance of normal, the team took a few days off for some R&R. Kono and Chin headed off to her auntie’s place on Maui to attend a family reunion—and basically count heads and see who had survived the invasion. Jenna and Max took off to San Francisco to attend a xenobiology conference where Max was the guest of honor. Earth’s remaining scientists and biologists were determined to be prepared if the Draken ever returned. Steve was happy to see them off, Jenna had been babbling about DNA and Draken tissue samples for days.

Steve was desperate to have Danny to himself for a while. He was determined to try and talk to his partner, to ask him to stay with Steve and the baby. He simply could not bear the thought of Danny leaving the islands. If necessary he would pack up Elle and follow. He and Elle spent a morning at the farmer’s market searching for vegetables for a special meal, then hit the docks and the fisherman’s market to see if he could find the fish that Danny grudgingly admitted was his favorite. Steve had noticed that Danny’s appetite had been off lately.

He came back home successful, full canvas shopping bags in hand only to meet Danny on his way out. He was dressed for travel, tee shirt, jeans and hiking boots with his battered duffle over his shoulder. The startled, guilty look on his face told Steve everything he needed to know. Danny had meant to be long gone before they got back and he was leaving without even bothering to say goodbye.

Steve held up a finger for him to wait, clamped his jaw shut on the words that threatened to spill out in an angry roar, and went to calmly put the groceries in the kitchen and the sleeping baby down in the nursery. Joe slid down off his shoulder and curled up in a corner of her crib, tucking his snout under a wing. Steve was careful to close the nursery door behind him.

Steve returned to find Danny still standing like a stranger in the foyer, duffle in hand. Before he could stop himself he was striding across the room and grabbing it out of Danny’s hands and hurling it back into the living room as he grabbed Danny’s shoulders and shook him hard and slammed him against the wall of the foyer. His face felt hot and funny, it hurt from the way it was twisted and there were tears running down his nose and cheeks. He snarled down in Danny’s startled face.

“You’re not leaving me. You’re not. Everybody else leaves, but not you Danno, not you.”

Dimly he realized he was begging, sliding down to his knees, hands scrabbling, still clinging to his shocked partner’s hips, burying his hot, wet face in Danny’s belly as he sobbed.

“Please, Danno, please!”

Danny seemed frozen in place for a minute, then came to himself.

“Oh, fuck. Babe, babe, no, don’t cry.”

He curled over Steve and held him hard.

What the fuck had he been thinking? He hadn’t been thinking, he realized, he had been too busy running away.

Running away and abandoning the two people he loved most in the world and it absolutely killed him to see Steve on his knees begging Danny to stay because Danny knew how much pleasure that fucking alien bitch had taken in making a proud man like Steve kneel and beg—plead for mercy for Rachel, for the baby and even for Danny.

“Shhh, don’t cry.”

He cupped Steve’s face in his hands and forced the frightened, wet eyes to meet his, slid to his knees in front of him, ignoring the warning twinge his bad knee gave. Steve didn’t seem to have heard him, he was still clinging desperately to any part of Danny he could reach and staring at him, as through afraid he would disappear at any moment.

Steve always lost the people he loved, Danny realized. His mother, his father, his sister were all gone, leaving Steve behind. Danny had lost everyone too—his entire family wiped off the face of the earth by the Draken, although there was a remote possibility that Matt was still alive somewhere. All they had was each other, but if they were brave enough to take the chance that would be more than enough to fill their lives.

Before Danny could vocalize this, Steve grabbed his head roughly between his hands and took his mouth is a bruising, teeth clashing kiss. Danny tasted blood as Steve bit hungrily at his lips, either his or Steve’s, then he bit back, giving as good as he got, as always. They grappled together there in the hall, kissing and biting hungrily at each other’s mouths and tearing at each other’s clothes, rolling around on the floor, desperate to get to bare skin.

They rutted together ruthlessly, as mindless as animals in heat, hot wet skin against skin. They bit and clawed at each other, each needing to leave tangible marks on the other, proof to themselves that this was real, that they were real, that they had survived and were together. For long moments there was only the muffled, wet slap of flesh against flesh, harsh grunts and panted gasps and throaty moans.

They climaxed nearly together, both shouting at the almost painful release of the tension that had been building between them for years, then they subsided in a damp, panting heap on the floor and stared in amazement at each other. Steve was sprawled on top of Danny, panting harshly for breath and as wild-eyed as Danny had ever seen him. Danny stared up at him, then felt a stupid grin curve over his face. Steve stared back, then slowly returned it and they just lay and grinned foolishly at each other. Still clinging tightly to each other, hairy legs entwined, sticky bellies glued together, they laughed until they wept, wrapped their arms around each other and just held on, rolling back and forth on the cool tile of the foyer.

They gave each other a hand up, tugged their pants up and holding hands—they couldn’t seem to let each other go—headed upstairs to clean up and change clothes. Somehow they had managed not to wake the baby.

Steve coaxed Danny into his shower and almost shyly they stripped and reverently washed and explored each other’s battle scarred bodies. Steve laid kisses on every scar he could see, starting with the new red ones curving over Danny’s hip from the machete and he knelt and kissed the pale slashes across Danny’s thigh and bad knee until Danny tugged him back up to his feet.

Somberly, Danny touched the thin scars slashed across Steve’s pecs. Laura had gotten enthusiastic with her fake claws, raking them across Steve’s broad back as well. Leaning forward he gently touched his lips to them, trying after all this time to kiss the hurt and shame away Steve had endured away. Steve gasped out a sob and slid his arms around Danny and pulled him close, the sleek blond head tucked under his chin. They stood and held each other, rocking gently in each other’s arms and Danny tentatively raised his face for Steve’s gentle kisses as they stood together under the cool water and let it wash away the last remnants of grief and pain.

Afterwards, in Steve’s bed, they curled up against the headboard and just held each other close and talked, finally sharing the grief and pain they had kept bottled up so tightly inside.

Danny wept uncontrollably when he told Steve of Grace and Kamekona’s deaths, and Steve held him tight and shared his tears, murmuring comfort and pressing kisses into his hair. Then Steve haltingly told Danny about Rachel and the ways the Draken queen had used them against each other, how ashamed he’d felt while yielding his body and coupling with the thralls, shame on a level that ran far deeper than survivor’s guilt. How the only thing that kept him from going insane was the intel he was gathering for the resistance and the faltering hope that Danny and Grace were safe and that one day he would see them again.

Lowering his voice to a hoarse whisper he confessed that the only way he had been able to have sex with the enthralled women had been to think of Danny instead. Danny cradled him close, kissed his wet eyes and whispered his reassurance and love. They talked themselves hoarse, spilling out confessions of guilt and pain, jealousy and love, until exhausted, they finally fell asleep in each other’s arms.

The soft cooing and trills from the baby monitor awoke Steve, and he eased out of his partner’s arms, kissing the sleepy tear-stained face that blinked up at him and smiled at Danny’s obvious reluctance to release him. Danny sat up, scrubbed at his face and stumbled after Steve to the nursery after they both pulled on board shorts. They found a happy Elle, wobbling on her tiny feet, determinedly trying to pull herself up the side of the crib, while an equally determined Joe hovered above her balancing on the rail, wings spread to keep her in.

Steve scooped her up and kissed her as she squealed gleefully, even as he frowned.

“She’s too young to be able to do that yet, isn’t she? I mean, according to the baby book she isn’t even old enough to sit up on her own yet.”

Danny sighed, and leaned over to kiss the little hand that reached unerringly for his bright hair.

“Yeah. Max thinks that the bit of Draken DNA makes her smarter and stronger than the average baby. Maybe the Draken Queen planned on breeding and genetically altering her thralls to make them last longer.”

He yawned and frowned and reached over to scratch Joe’s eye ridge.

“It’s probably a good thing we have a dragon as a baby sitter.”

Steve nodded soberly, not liking the idea of his baby being an alien genetic experiment and Danny nudged his shoulder with his own.

“Look on the bright side, babe, it makes her healthier, too. She hasn’t been sick since she was born.”

Steve brightened at that, and beamed down at his partner and baby.

“How about dinner?”

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

They made a private family party of it. Steve grilled the fish and steaks outside on the lanai while Danny stir-fried some vegetables and rice and made a simple salad. Steve had a smile on his face most of the evening and he kept stealing glances at his sleepy-eyed partner as Danny moved around the kitchen and lanai. They ate at the kitchen table and Steve fed Elle a bottle and part of a jar of pureed chicken. As small as she was, her appetite was enormous. Both Danny and Steve ate ravenously as well, as though the previous release of the floodgates of emotion had taken its toll in calories as well as tears. Now that they had finally acknowledged all the pain the aliens had put them through, death of their loved ones, humiliation, the rapes, they could process and move on.

Steve gave Joe a fat strip of sirloin and the little dragon chirped happily between bites. So far, he had shown no signs of growing larger, for which both men were heartily thankful, because they really didn’t know how they could keep feeding him if he suddenly decided to grow to tank size, like Old Blue the ancient dragon that was now the unofficial mascot at 5-0 headquarters. Come to think of it neither of them knew exactly how long an infant dragon stayed, well, an infant. It could be years before Joe had a growth spurt or he could be one of the small breeds bred for Draken amusement.

Blue, apparently, was rapidly becoming a popular tourist attraction and visitors to the island enjoyed having their pictures taken standing next to a snoozing dragon. One of the city maintenance guys even hosed him down daily while he slept under the trees when he watered the flowers on the grounds. Another of Kamekona’s enterprising teenage cousins was making his living using the old dragon as a prop for selling tourist photos and he had recently expanded into postcards and tee shirts as well. The people of Oahu had taken to the gentle, ancient creature and insured he was safe from harm.

It was probably a good thing the old dragon slept away the hot part of the day and didn’t notice that he was often decorated with such humorous items as colorful leis, a huge sparkly, cardboard tiara or an enormous sombrero, while some plump tourist stood by his head wielding a plastic ‘dragon slaying’ sword to have a photo taken. Steve kind of wistfully hoped the old guy woke up in mid photo shoot sometimes just to see what would happen, hopefully he would have a camera at hand.

Later, Steve coaxed Danny down into the water with he and Elle and proudly showed off her swimming prowess. They stood a few feet apart in chest deep water and the baby happily bobbled and paddled back and forth between them like a little seal. Joe nearly had a fit with all his people in the water and after running back and forth along the water line chattering angrily, he flung himself into the water and clumsily splashed over and climbed on top of Steve’s wet head and perched there, scolding them furiously, as he preened the water from his wings and tail. Joe was apparently not an aquatic dragon. There was a lot of laughter ringing out in the little cove that evening.

Finally, as the sun was setting, they grabbed their towels and headed back up to the house, sleepy baby curled snug against Steve’s shoulder, and Steve stopped to curl a hand around the nape of Danny’s neck and steal kisses along the way. He could do this now, he could touch and kiss his Danno and know that Danny welcomed his touch. Danny had shamefully confessed that most of his anger at Steve was due to the fact that Danny had been furiously jealous of Steve having been with Rachel and the other thralls and as furiously angry at himself for being so illogically jealous.

Once inside, Steve quickly bathed and dried Elle and put her in a clean diaper and butter yellow onesie printed with ducks, kissed her and tucked her into her crib, while Joe perched on top, grumbling as he nibbled sea salt crystals off his toes. She was already asleep, worn out from the excitement of swimming and playing with her two fathers.

Steve slipped inside his bedroom, mouth open to say something, only to have it snap shut. Danny was standing by the window, looking out at the cove. It was nearly a full moon and the room was lit with silver light and it haloed Danny with moonlight and turned his bright hair and pale skin into something fey and beautiful. When he turned his head to Steve, his pale blue eyes looked silver. He raised a brow at Steve and Steve suddenly had to touch, to taste his lover. He obeyed that urge, stepping in close to the shorter man and reaching shyly out to pull him close.

Steve paused as he bent his head to taste Danny’s lips. He wanted to go slow this time, show Danny how much he loved him. Gently, he clasped Danny’s scarred shoulders, feeling the jagged, badly healed scar tissue from the hooks the Draken had used to secure him during his interrogation years ago. He dropped a light kiss on Danny’s lips, then bent and began to kiss his scars, lifting Danny’s arm by the wrist and delicately tasting and kissing his way along its length. He was pleased when Danny’s breath hitched and began to quicken. He pressed a reverent kiss to his palm before returning hungrily to Danny’s mouth.

Danny slid his arms around Steve’s neck and held on, tilting his head and yielding sweetly to the taller man’s gentle kisses. He gasped when Steve broke away and began to suckle his earlobe and nip along his stubbled jaw. He could get used to these heady kisses every night if given the chance. He leaned his cheek against Steve’s broad shoulder and breathed in his scent; salt, musk, ocean, Steve. He ran his hands over Steve’s back and down his lean sides. He could feel the thin, delicate scars from the thrall’s metal claws criss-crossing his back and Danny wished again he could have rammed one of his grenades down that Draken queen bitch’s throat before he was knocked out of action. If only he could he would wipe all those hurtful memories away, wipe Steve clean.

Steve shivered at Danny’s reverent touch. Danny touched him like he was precious, someone worthy of being loved. Steve would never get enough of Danny’s touch—he felt starved for it. So many times he closed his eyes and pretended that the hands on him were Danny’s and not once had his imagination come close to reality. Danny’s strong, hard calloused hands handled him as tenderly as he did the baby, and just as lovingly. Steve felt tears well up in his eyes and he ducked his head against Danny’s strong shoulder to hide them. Danny’s arms were the safest place he knew.

Instead of allowing that, Danny reached up and cupped his face in his hands, holding it like a holy chalice as he kissed Steve’s tears away. He placed a hundred tiny kisses over Steve’s flushed face, his eyes, brows, cheeks, jaw, even the tip of his nose before delicately licking and coaxing his mouth open for a deep, passionate kiss. Steve gave a half sob, half moan and responded hungrily—big hands sliding around Danny’s trim waist, spreading across his broad back, as eager for Danny’s kiss as his touch.

They stumbled together over to Steve’s bed and the back of Steve’s knees collided with it and he sat heavily, pulling Danny down astride his lap, neither of them losing contact with the other, their mouths fused hotly together as their kisses grew deeper and wetter, rougher—teeth nipping sharply at stubbled jaws and the tender skin behind ears and on throats. They fell back on the bed and tangled their bodies together, pausing only to shove their damp board shorts down and kick them off the bed.

Steve rolled so that Danny was beneath him and began to kiss his way down his lover’s body. He covered every inch of skin he could reach, worshipping with hands and mouth Danny’s compact, muscular body. He kissed tiny pink nipples, nuzzled into his armpits, rubbed his cheek catlike in the golden hair of Danny’s broad chest and belly.

Danny stroked and rubbed Steve’s dark head and broad tattooed shoulders, breath hissing with anticipation as with each kiss Steve moved lower. Steve nosed into the tiny belly button, dipped his tongue in it, nipped cut hip bones, followed the treasure trail lower to bury his face in the musky, dark golden curls where heavy genitals nested. He tenderly kissed the flushed, rose velvet skin that rose to meet his mouth and moved lower down sturdy, furry thighs and shins. He kissed the twisted scars on Danny’s bad leg and knee and sat back on his heels to lift Danny’s legs and mouth wet kisses to the insteps and soles of his small, sturdy feet.

Danny was panting softly now, his blue eyes bright and fixed hungrily on Steve’s face. When he flicked a pink tongue over moist, swollen lips, Steve groaned with need and moved up between Danny’s legs to take his mouth. Danny wrapped his sturdy legs around Steve’s lean waist and held on tight. Both were annoyed at the failure of their two male bodies to slot easily together to service their need and they rolled and rubbed urgently together, the sounds of their passion filling the room—grunts and panted smothered growls and moans, strong, muscled hairy thighs and legs entangled as they arched and pressed tightly together, hands clawing broad backs.

Again, it didn’t take long for them to climax. They were so eager for each other, it was almost as though they were teenagers again. They subsided in a chuckling, sweaty, sticky heap, faces close as they held each other and nuzzled together, too sated to worry about clean up.

“I meant to take my time this time!” Steve gasped, his tousled, wet head tucked under Danny’s stubborn chin, as he sprawled panting on the blond’s chest.

“Babe, if you took much longer you would have killed me.”

Danny assured him as he kissed the top of the dark head and gave his lover a squeeze, strong arms holding his man close. They forgot about clean up in favor of falling asleep in each other’s arms, Steve sleeping peacefully on Danny’s broad chest, head over his heart while Danny held him close. For the first time in weeks both men slept without unsettling dreams or nightmares.

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

Epilogue

Elle jogged easily along the beach, her coltish, tan legs glistening with a healthy sweat, her long, sleek black ponytail bobbing, Joe (her ever present guardian) loped at her side, grumbling and snorting with disgust. He was the size of a small pony now and still growing and he loathed jogging. Dad and Danno had resigned themselves to the fact that they probably had an economy sized dragon on their hands and had spent a summer when she was eight, teaching him how to swim and fish, so he could help feed himself without bankrupting them.

Now she was sixteen and he was still growing. She didn’t have the heart to tell her long suffering fathers that he was still in ‘puppy’ stage as far as his dragon growth cycle went. She knew he would eventually outgrow old Blue. She knew, because she felt it. She grinned at him, knowing he would immediately curl belly up in the sun on the lanai for a nap when they got home and that Danno would scold him for tracking sand into the house and thump his scaly rump with a broom.

She paused a ways down the beach from the house to wind down with some stretches, nodding pleasantly at some passing joggers. She knew most of the people on Oahu, familiar with them from her long walks with her beloved Danno. She had announced last night at the dinner table that she intended to attend the Navy Academy at Annapolis when she graduated, having already secured a partial scholarship.

The uproar that followed when she had added that she would be attending the police academy after her stint in the Navy—following in both her fathers’ footsteps—had been epic. Both men tried vehemently to talk her into a safer career, but she held firm.

As far as Danielle Grace McGarrett-Williams was concerned, there was no finer honor than to follow in her parents’ footsteps and protect and serve her country and her island home. Dad had quickly come around to her way of thinking, after all, he was dad, they thought alike, but Danno had thrown up his hands and stormed away from the table, muttering ‘thick as thieves’ under his breath. It took both sets of McGarrett puppy eyes to eventually sooth Danno’s ruffled blond feathers and a lot of sweet-talk and hugs and kisses to coax him into a better mood. He still did not like her career choices and was quite vocal with his objections.

She could see the small figures of her father and Danno on the lanai. Even from here she could see Danno’s hands wind milling and knew they were bickering over dinner again. Dad was determined that Danno eat healthier, even if it meant hiding and rationing his beloved malasadas. She felt them even at this distance, the low, warm buzz of their fierce, constant love ever present at the edge of her consciousness.

She raised her head to the sky. It was a warm summer evening and not quite dark enough for the stars to be out yet. Tonight she knew there would be a new star winking in the sky and circling earth. She had dreamt of them for months and now they were close enough for her to sense. The lost children had finally made their long journey home, bringing their own dragons, and now they could finally sojourn. Tomorrow there would be great rejoicing on the islands and the rest of the world.

Smiling, she tilted her head back, closed her striking golden eyes and beamed welcome.

FINI

August 8, 2011