It starts out like this: Steve, drenched and dazed and worse for wear, squeezed into a hideous plasticky red suit, gasping for oxygen. Danny, on his knees in front of Steve, heart pounding out of his chest because there shouldn’t be this degree of déjà vu associated with finding your partner bloodied and half-dead in a torture chamber.
This is the next step: “What’s my name?”
“Danny,” Steve says.
Danny allows himself a breath, but he doesn’t (can’t) stop clutching Steve’s knee. “Good.” And then, twice more, borne out of pure relief, “Good. Good. How long have we known each other?”
And Steve looks at him, eyes huge, mouth turned down at the corners. “I don’t know.”
That’s where it ends.
Except it doesn’t, because that would be far too easy. Life goes on, whether you want it to or not, and whether that means you’ll have to deal with the psychological terror of watching your best friend be utterly clueless in response to any simple question you ask him about his very own life or not.
The rest of the team shows up pretty quick, and in a combined effort they get Steve bundled up in a shock blanket and led off the ship. If Danny were holding out some faint hope that maybe Steve’s memory would be jogged by more familiar faces, or once he leaves that place, or once Danny is supporting him with one arm around him and half carrying him as they walk – that should also be familiar enough by now, after all – then he’s bitterly disappointed. They emerge into a night that is heavy with the stench of diesel fumes and glitters everywhere, wet and shiny surfaces reflecting the offensively bright flickering lights of first responder cars.
They’re attacked by a swarm of EMTs almost immediately, one of whom pries Steve’s cold fingers from Danny’s shoulder. Steve’s face is mostly impassive and a little lost, but for a moment, as the contact between them breaks, he looks openly frightened.
Something twists up so tight in Danny’s chest he’s surprised there’s no audible snap.
“It’s alright, buddy,” he hears himself say. He reaches out and in his quest to touch a part of Steve that’s not hidden by the blanket, ends up brushing fingers across Steve’s cheek. Steve’s eyes look bright and alien, but Danny tells himself it’s just a trick of the light. “You’re gonna be fine. Nothing to worry about.”
It’s a huge fucking lie, flashing in much more obnoxious colors than the emergency vehicle lighting all around them. Steve, the real Steve, would call him on it.
This Steve just blinks, uncertainly, and lets himself be led off by the EMTs like a meek little lamb.
Danny makes to follow, not even thinking about why or how or whether that’s practical, but a heavy hand clamps on his shoulder. He turns and Lou nods at him gravely. “You look dead on your feet. Maybe you should go home first, get some rest. We can keep you updated.”
Danny barks a laugh that’s gone as quick as it came. “Yeah. No.”
“Not gonna happen?” Lou guesses, like that’s about what he expected.
‘Not’ is too soft a word for how unlikely it is. “Not gonna happen,” Danny echoes back. It’s easier than trying to explain the base rules of the universe.
“Alright.” Lou’s hand doesn’t let go of his shoulder, but starts pushing. “Then let me drive you to the hospital.”
Danny lets himself be manhandled and tries to make his brain feel as numb as his heart. There’s something on the tip of his tongue about how he gets driven around enough all day, with Steve as a partner, but he’s pretty sure if he opened his mouth for it to come out, his dinner would follow.
The doctors are useless. You’d think modern medicine in a first world country would have progressed enough to be helpful in some way, but no, that’s another one of those huge lies, because all they manage to tell the team is that Steve’s memory loss might be due to all the torture he endured.
“Or he could have simply hit his head anywhere in the process,” the doctor says, frowning a bit and thankfully just shy of shrugging, because Danny might have to hit her if she does. “Usually in cases such as these, memory returns to the person all on its own if given time, so it’s best to opt for a wait and see approach for now.”
And what if it doesn’t return? Danny almost yells it in the doctor’s face, but then he chickens out, because he doesn’t think he wants to face the answer. Instead, he sets to work inquiring how long they plan on keeping Steve and politely informing everyone willing to listen – not threatening, whatever Lou may later claim – that they can’t keep Steve overnight anyway, because he’s a Navy SEAL who hates being confined to a hospital bed and will break out if they don’t willingly let him go.
That’s probably yet another lie, even though Danny doesn’t fully realize the scope of this one until he’s finally given permission to steal Steve away from this sterile environment and take him home. He finds Steve sitting on the edge of the hospital bed where Danny last saw him, passively waiting for someone to tell him what to do, seemingly without so much as a protest on his mind, let alone an escape plan.
“Come on, let’s go,” Danny tells him, because it’s more productive than thinking about the shiver that runs down his spine.
The car ride is quiet. When they arrive at the house, Steve is clutching his little plastic bag of belongings and seems to plan on just standing on the front lanai, looking confused and a little miserable. Danny doesn’t bother trying to get Steve’s house key from Steve, but uses his own. Good thing in eight years he still hasn’t given that back.
Steve waits outside to be invited into his own house, like a vampire in the night. “Come on,” Danny says, and finds he’s already getting sick of those words. Steve, his Steve, is not someone who ever has to be nudged in any direction. He’s the guy already barreling ahead.
Inside, Steve looks around like it’s all entirely foreign to him, which feels wrong, wrong, wrong. Danny can’t watch him for too long, so he shifts to watching the room, trying to imagine what it must be like to see it through eyes that don’t know anything about the history of this place. Eyes that don’t know that the stain on the carpet is from when Charlie upended his blueberry yogurt laughing too hard at a stupid joke from Steve; that aren’t aware of how many hours and days and months they’ve spent side by side on that ancient couch; that can’t unerringly find all the little uneven bits in the walls where bullet holes have been filled in and fixed over the years.
“I live here?” Somehow, here, the way Steve says it, sounds eerily similar to like this.
“Yeah.” Danny tries to keep it light. “This house not big enough for you?”
“It’s fine. But it feels…” Steve makes a full turn, which he ends with his back to Danny. Danny wonders if he’s hiding – which would be like the Steve he knows, at least, who over the years has grown aware that he wears his heart on his sleeve – or if it’s just distracted coincidence. There’s no way to tell. “Is this what I like?”
“You inherited it from your parents. They did most of the decorating.” Danny goes deeper into the house, seeking refuge in the kitchen, because there’s an obvious follow-up question ─ where are my parents? ─ and he doesn’t feel much like getting into that particular bit of hard to believe trauma right now.
Steve follows him sedately, still clutching that stupid plastic bag with his phone and wallet and keys. When Danny tries to take it from him, he lets go easily and watches as Danny puts it down on the counter.
“Are you hungry?” Danny asks.
Steve frowns just a little, like he’s thinking about it. “Not really,” he says, which is the first halfway decisive thing Danny has heard him say since he got out of that pool on the ship. Danny is not sure if he really expected an answer at all, in hindsight, but he got one.
Which feels far too precious to go against it and risk dismissing the first opinion Steve has shown in a while. He would feel much better if he could make Steve a sandwich or some pasta or a hearty cup of soup, but it seems that he can’t, now. Walked right into that one. “You have to drink something, at least.”
“Okay,” Steve says, and God, this just doesn’t work. It doesn’t work at all. Danny can’t order Steve around if Steve is just going to say yes and amen to everything.
He opens the cupboard where Steve keeps his water glasses. He takes two of them, feeling crazy. “Do you want this one or this one?”
Steve’s face is almost completely blank again, but he blinks twice a little fast. Does that even count as a response? “I don’t see a difference.”
“No,” Danny admits. “There isn’t one.” Steve really only has the one type of glass. It’s hard to offer choices where there are none, but he has to try.
Steve blinks again. “Whichever.”
Danny puts one of the glasses back with a heart that’s heavier than normal. He fills the other one at the tap and hands it to Steve, who takes it carefully and takes his time sipping from it until it’s empty. He offers it back to Danny.
That’s good, right? He didn’t just stand there until Danny had to take it from him or suggest he put it down. That must be good, and maybe if Danny tells himself that enough times, it will actually be true.
Yeah, and maybe if he tells himself this feels like a nightmare enough times, he’ll wake up. He really has to get it together. They can’t both have a breakdown at the same time.
“Do you want to sleep now?”
Steve looks a little relieved, like this is what he’d been hoping for. “Yes, I think so.”
Very nearly Danny makes the mistake of waiting for him to head upstairs. Very nearly, but he realizes that’s not going to work just in time and leads the way instead, because Steve probably has no clue where his bedroom even is.
Again Steve follows, like an obedient six foot dog. Upstairs, he does the whole fish out of water inspection of the room again. Danny gives him a little time with it, which pays off when Steve asks a question, completely unprompted. “Where’s your stuff?”
“I don’t live here, babe.”
Steve nods, slowly, but as he glances around the room, he looks puzzled. “Why not?”
That lump in Danny’s throat is doing a world tour for its comeback. “Why would I?”
Steve stops staring at random objects as if they mystify him – the lamp on the night table, the running shorts slung over the back of the chair in the corner, the outdated alarm clock – and looks at Danny instead. He’s frowning a little. His eyes are hungry. “I guess it just made sense.”
“How so?” Danny should stop asking. He should, because he’s probably taking advantage of Steve’s impressionable state, but he can’t.
Steve tilts his head a little, still looking at him with that furrow between his brows, like there’s something he doesn’t get. “You feel more like home than any of this stuff does.”
Danny clears his throat. It’s no good. He hopes Steve can’t see him gasping for air too obviously. “Thanks, buddy.”
Steve lets out a huff of breath. It does a decent job at breaking the tension and that, that’s more like the guy Danny knows. It sounds like it was supposed to be a laugh, but it just comes across as sad: also classic Steve. “So is it buddy or babe?”
“It can’t be both?”
“You don’t even know the half of it.”
It wasn’t meant for Steve’s ears, but he must have heard it anyway, because he quirks part of a smile. That, too, looks sad more than anything, and what is it with this guy and making signals of happiness look like a damn tragedy? “Yeah,” Steve says. “That’s the problem.”
Danny is rooted to the spot for a second. Then he lurches into action: he gets Steve some clean pajamas, shows him around his own bathroom and gets the shower running for him. The moment Steve says that yes, he can do this part on his own, Danny escapes back into the bedroom, where he takes a seat on the edge of the bed and just breathes.
All in all, he’d rather be getting shot at.
Steve emerges from the bathroom in a cloud of steam, damp-haired and smelling of soap. Danny jumps up. “Everything okay?”
For a flicker of a moment, a look crosses Steve’s face that seems to say as you can see, I didn’t drown, but then it’s gone, and instead Steve just says, “Yeah.”
Danny has to remind himself yet again to keep sucking in air. “I should go.”
Steve, who just sat down right where Danny was before to inspect the alarm clock he must have had since he was a teen, looks up too quick. “Stay,” he says, but it’s a request, almost a question.
“I can’t,” Danny says, which is true, if not for any of the reasons one might think. He inches towards the door and stops again. “I have to get home.”
“Do you have-” Steve clears his throat. He looks away, at the clock, and shakes his head. “I’m sorry. I’m keeping you.”
And that’s it: it’s Danny’s out. He should be saying okay, good! See you tomorrow then, buddy.
He finds he can’t do that, either. “No, go ahead. What?”
“Do you have a family?”
Letting Steve ask his question was a mistake. The idea of Steve not even knowing that Grace and Charlie exist, much less what he means to them, is painful beyond all comprehension. “Yeah,” Danny says, trying to smile anyway, finding it very difficult not to start crying instead. “Two kids. You love them very much.”
“They’re waiting for you at home?”
“I wish. They’re with my ex-wife this week.”
“There’s no one waiting for me at home,” Danny confirms. It’s a capitulation. In reality he was never going to go any farther than the couch in the living room anyway, but he’s not going to get even that far now. He looks away and then down, at his dress shoes, which look ridiculous in this context. What does a man need shiny shoes for if a person can lose his memory just like that? What kind of priority is the outward appearance of footwear?
He bends down to pluck at his laces.
“Yeah?” Steve asks. He sounds cautious but hopeful, and his face tells that story too when Danny looks up, and Danny really can’t take much more of this. He knows his limits and they’re right here, in front of him, in the form of Steve McGarrett strangely open and distressingly clueless and asking for him as well as any version of Steve ever could.
Danny’s not even fully sure what Steve thinks the question was, but it doesn’t really matter, because it’s not like there are multiple possible answers. “Yeah.”
He goes through all the steps to get ready for bed, but they barely seem to take any time at all. His body is brushing its teeth with a stolen toothbrush, but his brain isn’t there. The next thing he knows he’s climbing into Steve’s bed, dressed in his boxers and a T-shirt borrowed from Steve’s collection, and trying to find a way to settle down that doesn’t leave him inhaling Steve’s familiar scent with every breath he takes.
It’s impossible. Steve is everywhere, even when in many ways that count, he’s not there at all.
The Steve that is there watches him shift for a while, until he settles on his side, facing Steve, a mirror image. Only then does Steve speak up. It’s still quiet, but it’s out loud nonetheless. “Can I?”
“Yeah,” Danny says again. What’s left to say no to?
Steve’s slack hand slips his way over the mattress. It doesn’t grab; it doesn’t reach out and hold. It just makes contact. The pads of four of Steve’s fingers, lightly resting on Danny’s wrist.
Danny hopes to God it can’t feel his pulse spike. It probably can’t, because Steve’s eyes fall shut and he breathes deeply, like a man settling down to sleep. A man who feels safe.
Danny keeps his eyes wide open for a long time.
He doesn’t really wake, at first. There’s something – gut instinct, a sixth sense, paranoia – that tells him he’s being watched. He’s right: Steve, both hands now folded under his own pillow, is still keeping contact by looking directly at him.
“Danny,” Steve says, hushed. The room is dark, but his eyes are not. “I inherited this house from my father when he was murdered, and solving that case is how we met.”
Danny is fully awake in an instant, the way that happens when he dreams he’s falling and startles into reality. It’s shocky, almost unreal. “Yes,” he says, because yes. He didn’t tell Steve that, so if he knows-
“Your kids’ names are Grace and Charlie,” Steve continues. “You’re from New Jersey. You pretend to hate pineapple but you don’t, you make the best pancakes, and you cry every time you watch Enemy Mine. I always give you shit for it.”
Danny lands. He lands with both feet, on ground that he can’t quite trust yet, but- He lands. “You remember?”
Steve breathes in, and it betrays the calm he’s trying to project, because it’s shivery. “I think so.”
“That’s all me.” Danny means that as a prompt, yes, but to get more out of Steve; to make sure he really does remember his own life now. Steve takes it another way.
“You’re the part that matters. I remember that, too.”
It’s the final nail in the coffin of Danny’s restraint. It’s too much. It’s Steve, broken open and wiped clean and with no memory except Danny, whose name he still knew, who he wants close instinctively, who he keeps looking to, who he invited into his bed because it made him feel safe. All of that, piled on top of each other, makes a mountain that’s too high to climb and Danny knows it’s wrong and immoral and bad, but he can’t, he can’t hold on, so he lets go. And this time it’s not a dream that he falls, and he falls, and he falls, and then he’s kissing Steve, mouth to mouth, soft, warm, with Steve fully responsive under him, like this feels right to Steve, too. Like this is the way things are meant to be.
And then Danny pulls back, high on touch and revelation, and Steve looks up at him and says quietly, “I don’t remember that.”
The guilt is like a gut punch. “You wouldn’t. We’ve never-”
Steve’s warm fingers wrap around his nape, blocking Danny’s retreat, and it’s hard to make out in the darkness, but Danny is pretty sure he’s smiling. “Ssh. I know,” he says, and kisses Danny again.
“Asshole,” Danny mumbles against his lips.
Steve’s laughter rings soft and honest and beautifully, heart-wrenchingly familiar.
“Dogs,” Danny says, while he cracks an egg into the pre-heated pan.
Steve puts a fork on each of the two plates he’s set on the counter in preparation, and he does it like it’s an unremarkable thing to him. Like he remembers having done it a hundred times. “Not as cool as cats.”
“I think you mean our car.”
“I don’t,” Danny assures him. He splits the scramble in two anyway, and slides half onto Steve’s plate. He’ll share, but only because eggs are supposed to be good for the brain. “Grace.”
If possible, Steve seems even more certain of this than any of his previous answers. “One of the two best kids on this island,” he says, in that way he has that makes him sound oddly like a proud parent.
Danny’s heart is full. “Pineapple pizza,” he offers, and Steve grins and says-
“Amazing. Gonna ask you to make me some for my next birthday.”
“Okay, give me back those eggs.” Danny makes a grab for the plate, but Steve is already dancing to the other side of the kitchen with it, all the while shoveling egg into his mouth as fast as humanly possible.
“I knew you were going to do that,” Steve says, gleefully and around his full mouth. It’s a miracle he doesn’t spray egg everywhere. “I know you too well, Danno.”
And the best part? He’s not wrong.