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All That We See or Seem (Redux)

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“I told you so!”

Danny doesn’t keep the glee out of his voice, and he doesn’t keep that voice down, either.

People are starting to stare at them from the other tables.

“Do you mind?” Steve asks, leaning over the table to invite a more intimate, indoor voice from his partner.

Danny chortles.

Steve might not have expected to ever have to use that word, but there it is, a chortle, clear as day and twice as gloating.

“What did I tell you?”

This time, Danny emphasizes his joy at Steve’s pain by slapping his hand on the table.

Steve thinks, briefly, of breaking it with the hot sauce bottle.  He imagines Danny’s squeal of outraged surprise and then the look of betrayal that would dominate his face until the pain of the wound set in.

Something of the darkness in his head must make it into his eyes because Danny sobers abruptly and leans back on his side of the table, as if he wants to keep out of Steve’s grabbing range.

Then, because Danny has always had more heart than sense, he leans in, voice pitched low, to say, “Are you seriously looking at me like that right now?”

His voice expresses no bafflement or confusion but a kind of excited speculation.

Then his lips twist into a grin so filthy, Steve’s shocked that people at nearby tables don’t scream and pull their children away. “We’re in public, Steven,” Danny says primly, words at odds with his expression.

 He doesn’t move back to his side of the table.

Steve tries to draw from his partner’s face some clue of what is going on here.  He tracks the avid gleam in Danny’s eyes and the way his mouth is slightly parted, tongue just peeking out.

Then he wraps his fist around the stupid knot in Danny’s ridiculous tie and pulls him close to sink his teeth into Danny’s lower lip and bite.

Danny shouts in shock and struggles to free himself, but Steve only sets his jaw and grins, his teeth pink with blood.

When he lets go at last, Steve’s got meat in his mouth, penny-sharp and rubbery, and Danny’s shirt is ruined.

A distant siren alerts him to the coming drama, so he gets up from the table, dropping an unexpected wad of cash for the shrimp plates, and strolls onto the beach, sand in his slippers, hands in his pockets, a whistle on his blood-wet lips.

“Steve,” he hears, but he doesn’t turn around.

“Steve, it’s yours, babe.”

“Babe, get the phone.”

“Steven!”

Danny looks down at him, concern crinkling the edges of his eyes.  “You okay?”

He doesn’t want to open his mouth to answer, the sudden roil of sick in his stomach threatening to spew out.

He shuffles his hand clumsily around on the nightstand until he finds his phone, dismissing the call without looking at the ID.

Then he reaches over to touch Danny’s mouth, intact and unblemished.

“What’s the matter, babe?  Bad dream?”

Steve reels Danny in so he can kiss him, gentle and slow, no tongue and definitely no teeth, and then lets his head fall back against his pillow with a relieved outpouring of breath.

“Want to tell me about it?”

Steve shakes his head, swallows hard, feeling the nausea beginning to subside.

“Love you,” he roughs out, closing his eyes.

“I love you, too, babe, but I think you should get that,” he answers, indicating Steve’s phone, vibrating angrily against the wood of the nightstand.

Nothing coming in at two in the morning is good news, Steve thinks wearily, reaching out to check his messages:  Three from Lou, one from Chin, two from Kono.

“I was done sleeping anyway,” he mutters, levering himself out of bed to dress, a strange mixture of resignation and relief making his stomach leaden and his reflexes dull.

He lets Danny drive.

*****

The case is dragging, every lead turning out to be nothing, and Steve’s frustration grows in direct proportion to his lack of sleep, which is starting to be a problem for Danny, too.

The third time Steve barks at one of the team, Danny says, “Office. Now,” pinching his elbow and steering him there like the steamroller he can be.

Steve wouldn’t go if he didn’t want to, though, and he lets himself be not-so-gently propelled into his own office before rounding on Danny to find on his face not the anger he’d been expecting but a concern that makes him feel like ten kinds of jerk.

He runs a hand over his face and slumps into his chair while Danny moves around the perimeter of the office closing the blinds.

It’s not like the team doesn’t know Danny spends most of his nights in Steve’s bed:  They aren’t the kind to lie to their family.

But Danny’s face and the simmering, simultaneously exhausted restlessness tightening Steve’s muscles signal a conversation best had out of the view of the others.

“What’s going on, Steve?” Danny asks.  “You’ve been acting like an idiot all day.”

Ordinarily, Steve might have taken umbrage at Danny’s words, but his partner’s tone is all worry, and Steve feels that knot of tension in his gut tighten further.  He hates that he’s made Danny feel this way, and the worst of it is, he can’t explain why he’s not sleeping.

How can he look his partner, best friend, and lover in the face and tell him that every night he dreams of hurting him?

Last night, he’d woken only a couple of hours into the too-long night with the sound of Danny’s stifled whimpers haunting his waking moments, so real that he’d had to look over at Danny beside him to make sure he was okay.

In the dream, Steve had put a hand over Danny’s mouth to stifle his pained noises while Steve had pinched the sensitive skin of his inner thighs, moving inexorably toward a far more painful target, which, when he’d struck it, had driven a strangled scream from Danny, who’d thrashed against Steve’s pinning weight and pled with wet eyes to be released from his torture.

It doesn’t take a shrink to tell Steve that something is seriously wrong with him.  He’s never in his life enjoyed pain with his pleasure, not receiving nor giving it.  He is as sure of that as he is of Danny’s love.

Which is why he says, “Maybe you should stay at your own place for a few nights, huh?”

It comes out harsh, like Steve is accusing Danny of something, and he sees the flash of hurt in Danny’s eyes, the way his expression tightens against the unexpected implication of Steve’s words.

“This is my fault?” Danny asks, putting his hands out wide, inviting confrontation. 

His outrage is a comfort, something Steve can manage, so he says, “No,” but it doesn’t sound like he means it.

Danny’s hands drop to his sides, and he narrows his eyes in that way he has that means he’s onto something.

“No, uh-uh.  You’re not getting rid of me that easily.  You are going to sit there and tell me what the hell is going on with you, or we’re going to stay in here all day while the rest of the team solves this case without us.”

Steve is bone-weary, angry at himself and afraid of hurting Danny, and has no clear path out of his own head, none of which is an excuse for what he says next:  “Get out of my office, Danny.”

He stands up reflexively as he says it and comes around the desk, using his physical proximity and his size as weapons just as threatening as the gun on his hip.

Danny snorts dismissively.  “What are you going to do, hit me?  You want to take a swing at me, Steve?”

Something is seething under Steve’s skin, some immense, boiling thing.  He clenches his fists, grappling with the last of his control, and presses his lips together.

He’s suddenly terrified of what he’s capable of.

“Get out of here,” he manages, voice a hoarse growl, low and tight.

Danny’s eyes widen, and he sucks in an audible breath.

“Steve,” he says, hands out in front of him, placating.  “Steve,” he repeats, pleading with some stranger Steve used to know, not this mindless, violent thing living behind his eyes.

Danny’s fingers brush the inside of Steve’s right wrist, following the bulging blue line that signals how tightly he’s trying to keep his control.

The touch, its gentle familiarity, flips a switch in him, draining the last of his energy, leaving only the dregs, a queasy wrongness in his gut and a pain behind his eyes that promises a monster headache in the offing.

“Let’s go home,” Danny suggests, wrapping his hand around Steve’s wrist, which is lax now, all his muscles weak, his head pounding, eyes at half-mast, the world itself misted over in a way he can’t quite blink free of.

He lets Danny lead him docilely out of the office, can’t focus enough to hear what he says to the others, and only comes back to himself a little as they pull up in front of his house.

“Danny,” he tries, his voice coming out like he’s been screaming for hours.  “Don’t come in.  You shouldn’t be around me right now.”

Danny ignores him in favor of coming around to Steve’s side of the Camaro to open the door and offer him a hand, like he’s some damsel in distress.

It stirs a deep uneasiness in Steve, disgust and rage moiled together, but he’s too tired to follow the thread of the feeling, and he lets Danny lead him into the house, up the stairs, lets him chivvy him into undressing and getting into bed.

Danny brings him a glass of water from the bathroom and two pills—“Ibuprofen,” he says.  “Take it.”—before perching, fully clothed, on the bed beside his hip.

Steve feels like a kid sent home sick from school, and when Danny brushes his cool fingers across Steve’s forehead, he’s reminded of Doris doing the same on some long-ago day dug up out of the dry well of his oldest memories.

“Go to sleep, babe.  I’m here,” Danny promises.

Steve doesn’t think he can sleep, not with the drilling in his left temple and the way his heart keeps throwing itself against his ribs in an irregular struggle to be free.

Sleep he does, though, long enough to feel rested when he awakens sometime in the late afternoon, sunset light seeping in around the closed curtains, Danny on the bed beside him, still clothed, stretched out on top of the covers and dead to the world.

Danny’s never wholly still, not even in sleep:  His eyes dart behind closed lids, his lips move vaguely, as if he were talking (of course).  A muscle twitch here, a sigh there—all signs of the irrepressible life in his partner, a flame that could never been snuffed out.

It was one of the best gifts Danny had given him, this trust he’d yielded so easily, vulnerable and wholly open to Steve’s fond surveillance.

It’s that treasured experience that alerts Steve now to Danny’s unnatural stillness.  His heart seizes, frozen like his lungs, no air getting in, as he leans over and says, “Danny.  Hey, Danno,” and grips his shoulder to shake him.

The muscles beneath his touch are too firm, a horrifying rigidity that shoves Steve out of bed with all the grace of a drowning elephant.

He scrambles to his feet and rounds the end of the bed, stubbing his toe on the bed leg, even that bright, immediate pain not touching his terror.

This time he puts his hands on both shoulders, shaking Danny hard enough to rattle his brain in his skull.

But Danny is beyond feeling anything, a fact Steve’s mind accepts before his hands do, one on Danny’s neck, the other at his wrist, frantic to find some sign of life beneath that cold, cold skin.

Steve hears a wail and spends precious seconds thinking they’re coming from his partner before he realizes they’re his own sounds of anguish.

He slides to the floor, brings his knees up to his chest and wraps his arms around them, presses the side of his face hard against one kneecap and stuffs a fist in his mouth to keep from screaming the neighbors awake.

*****

It’s quiet in the house except for the susurrus of waves muffled by the windows and closed blinds.  It’s hot, stuffy, and close, and sweat trickles steadily from Steve’s hairline to join the salty trail left on his face by his tears, which are silent now, the gasping sobs having at last subsided into this silent, biding despair.

He has thought about calling for help or getting up to see if he can figure out how Danny died.

He’s considered going for a swim and letting the sea take him.

He’s wondered if Doris might know why he’s built like this or if Joe has ever heard of another team guy who’d killed his lover in his sleep.

Ultimately, Steve doesn’t have the energy to do anything but sit, legs cramped, back seized solid, eyes swollen, mouth tacky and foul.

Eventually, the inevitable happens, and Steve’s sore eyes slide shut without his volition.

A hand on his shoulder and an urgent voice muttering in his ear bring him back to the dim, late afternoon room and to Danny behind him, leaning over from his side of the bed, saying, “Steve, babe, you okay?  What’s the matter?  What happened?”

As soon as his weary brain register’s Danny’s voice, Steve is scrambling away from him, standing up too fast, turning the room to a dizzy blur, and he stumbles, clipping his hip hard into the corner of the dresser.

The pain focuses him, and he hears his partner saying his name again, his hand reaching out, almost pleading with Steve to come back to him in the here and now.

“Sorry,” he chokes out after a moment.  “I’m sorry,” and then he shuffles into the bathroom, locking the door behind him, and turns the sink and the shower on full to drown out Danny’s words, which increase in volume and urgency as he nears the door and starts pounding on it.

“I’m fine, Danny.  It was just a dream,” he says after he’s scooped water into his mouth and spit it out.

The needle-like spray of the most punishing massage setting on the showerhead does the work of bringing Steve the rest of the way back to himself.  His lower back is a throbbing agony, his eyes painful in the stinging spray, and he fumbles the soap twice before finishing his ablutions and stepping from the shower on trembling legs.

By the time he emerges, Danny is dressed and sitting on the edge of the bed.

“Steve,” he says, ignoring the hand Steve has thrown up in defense, to fend off his partner’s comments.  “Talk to me, Steven.  I’m your partner, remember?  I need to know what’s going on in that head of yours.”

But Steve can’t.  Can’t marshal the energy or find the words.  Can’t admit that he’s losing his mind.

“You can’t go on like this, babe,” Danny says gently, almost wheedling.  “You’re going to get one or both of us killed if you keep this up.”

Steve flinches, feels his stomach flip traitorously, hopes Danny doesn’t see his expression, which feels plastic, like an ill-fitting mask of normalcy he’s strapped on over the dark hole where his old self used to live.

But they’d ended up in bed together that first time, months ago, because Danny had seen something in Steve’s face that he hadn’t even known was there, so Danny says now, “Tell me.”

There’s something of demand in it and something of pleading, and Steve would rather swallow his tongue than say, “I dreamt that I killed you,” but he does.

“Well,” Danny answers promptly, eyes sincere on Steve’s.  “Yeah.”

And for seconds, Steve is only relieved that Danny isn’t horrified at his confession before he hears what his partner said, and then he’s confused, because isn’t Danny sitting there talking to Steve and breathing and…

But he’s not, of course.  Steve killed him.

*****

Steve comes up out of a dream of Danny already heaving and barely clears the edge of the bed before bitter yellow bile streams out of him in sticky strings.

He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, retches again and again, and then closes his eyes to clear them of the flashing streamers that keep him from seeing his phone and making out the time.

“Fuck,” he mutters when he sees that it’s only a little after 2:00am.  If it were later, he might justify getting up, going for a swim, having an early breakfast.

But if he gets up now, he’ll be up the rest of the night, and he hates that: he hates pacing the floors or trying to read, and he can’t flip on the TV without seeing infomercials, which always remind him of Danny.

The loss is still a yawning chasm, the ache too fresh, hitting him at odd times when he forgets that his partner’s dead and turns to tell him something or opens his mouth to call Danny into his office.

And then he remembers, and the grief knocks his breath out of him, and he spends minutes blinking the sting out of his eyes and trying to recall the reasons he still gets out of bed in the morning, comes to work, tries to—

Well, not atone: There’s no forgiveness, no expiation, just an interminable penance punctuated by an inevitably violent end.

Post-traumatic stress, they’d called it.  Mandatory, twice-a-week counseling with a specialist at Tripler.  Bi-monthly reports to the governor to assure him of Steve’s fitness to continue leading 5-0.

Drinks with Lou and Chin and Kono on Friday night at the Sidestreet.

Every other Sunday a shrimp plate and some surfing with Grace.

It’s all a lie.

Max’s report had read Death by Misadventure, suggesting that Danny’s willingness to climb into bed with Steve was at least as foolhardy as skydiving or storm-chasing or mainlining heroin.  His heart had given out after one of their more vigorous sessions of lovemaking.  It’s not Steve’s fault, everyone keeps saying.

Steve wants to tell them how wrong they all are about him and what happened to Danny.  He wants to say, “I loved him, and I killed him, and I don’t even remember doing it.”

But when he’d first made that confession through numb lips, eyes straight ahead, shoulders back as they’d wheeled Danny’s body by in a black bag, Chin had said, “No, Steve” and Lou, “Not a chance in hell,” and Kono had said, “Oh, Boss,” and put her arms around him, and he’d folded, seeing what his team needed from him, hating himself for being weak enough to make it seem like a sacrifice to keep his mouth closed.

Weeks later, and he’s still trying to carve the truth out of his head.  Somewhere in him is the feeling of Danny’s throat beneath his hand, the frantic flutter of his carotid, the mewling gasps as Steve presses.

No way a heart as huge as Danny’s had just given out.  No way.

“Hey, babe?” Danny asks, rapping the frame of Steve’s office door with his knuckles.  “You got the Bennett file?”

*****

The first thing Steve hears when his ears clear of blood thunder is the sound of Danny snoring beside him.  The familiar, adenoidal wheeze is the sweetest annoyance Steve’s ever heard.

The relief is so sharp and immediate that he feels a twinge in his chest and wonders if he’s having a heart attack.

Not trusting his sense of hearing, Steve turns his head on the pillow to see the back of Danny’s head.  He’s sleeping on his stomach, face turned away from Steve.  His shoulders rise and fall visibly beneath the sheet covering them, and Steve swallows a shout of astonished, impossible hope lest he wake Danny with it.

Unable to resist touching, he reaches out to press his fingers to Danny’s neck below his ear.  His skin is warm, and Steve feels the feathery touch of his partner’s blood pumping through the vein there.

This time, he can’t stop the sound from leaving him, a moan of relief almost like pleasure.

Danny stirs, says, “Babe?”

“Shhh, go back to sleep.  It’s alright, you’re alright,” Steve answers, gratified when Danny subsides back into the pillow.

Seconds later, his breathing evens out.

Steve stays awake the rest of the night counting his partner’s breaths.

*****

There’s blood on his lips.  He can taste the coppery tang, smell it sharp in the air, cloying and pervasive.

Danny is on the floor beside the bed, one hand stretched toward the shattered screen of his phone, the other pinned beneath him.

There’s a black stain on the carpet around him.

One blue eye stares up at Steve.

*****

The impact registers as a dull thud and then a second and a third as the tires clear his body.

In the rearview, Danny’s splayed in the road like a crash test dummy, head twisted around, looking at Steve.

*****

His ears are ringing with the gunshot, the walls of the rendition room reverberating with the shot.

Danny slumps in the chair, blood dripping onto his clean, white shirtfront.

*****

The Camaro is a mangled wreck at the base of the cliff, right front tire still spinning, steam leaking like a distress signal from the exposed undercarriage.

At the top, Steve stands in the gap of the broken guardrail and remembers with satisfaction the way Danny had crowed as Steve had surrendered the keys.

*****

The jaw pops as it disconnects.

There’s an asthmatic wheeze as blood bubbles from his shattered nose.

Danny’s almost unintelligible pleading is silenced with the last blow, which snaps his head back and cracks his neck.

*****

They’re out too deep for Danny to gain any purchase on the sea floor.  Steve breaks his fingers with an oar to keep him from climbing back aboard.

*****

It shouldn’t be possible for one body to take so much current without combusting.

*****

The edges of his lips are blue when he finally understands that there was something in the Longboard Steve had brought him on the lanai.

*****

“Steve?”

“Steve?”

“Steve!”

The third tap on his cheek registers, and Steve blinks up out of the grey where he’d been floating.

Danny’s eyes are a little wild, the way he gets when he’s worried beyond words, and his hands are shaking as he moves down Steve’s body, removing sensors stuck to his naked chest and checking for injuries at the same time.

Steve tries to say, “Don’t,” when Danny comes to the IV in his arm, but he can’t seem to get his mouth to work. 

He doesn’t think he should be let loose.  He doesn’t know what he might do.

“D—” he manages when Danny moves to undo the padded leather cuffs around his wrists.

“Easy, babe.  I’ve got you.”

“No,” he groans as Danny moves to the ankle cuffs. “Don’t.”

“Shh, Steve, it’s alright.  You’re alright.”

“Dead,” he says.

“No,” Danny shushes, moving back up to touch his face, as if to assure himself that Steve is real and whole, if not entirely well.  “You’re not dead, Steve.  You’re alive, and I’m here, and we’re getting you out, okay?”

Only then does Steve look around to see Lou guarding the door, Kono standing near a boarded-up window, and Chin at the foot of the bed. 

There’s an IV stand and a drain in the filthy tile floor and a fly-riddled overhead florescent fixture and the hospital bed he’s lying on.

“Okay, boss?” Kono calls when she sees him looking at her.

“Yeah,” he says, voice rusty from disuse.

Danny’s arm is solid beneath his shoulders as he helps Steve to sit up.  Chin comes around to get under one arm, while Danny snugs in tight against him to take the other side.

Steve thinks they’re mothering him needlessly until he tries to hold his own weight, and his legs buckle, as if his brain and his body aren’t on speaking terms.

“Easy,” Danny murmurs.  “We don’t know what he gave you.  Just take it easy.  One step at a time, okay, buddy?”

Steve is too busy trying to breathe through his panic to answer, torn between visions of Danny dead by his hands and his own life ahead of him without the ability to walk under his own power.

“You’re doing great, Steve,” Chin says. 

“Ambulance is here,” Lou calls from the door, which seems to Steve like it’s receding, his steps bringing him no closer to escape.

He wants to know where he is, who brought him here, what has been done to him, but he’s too weak to do more than let himself be half-dragged, half-carried out of the room, down a long, filthy hallway lined in warped, numbered doors, and out into the misty light of a rainy morning.

Two EMTs hustle forward with a stretcher, but he resists, unwilling to give up contact with Danny, who soothes him like a sick child and promises to ride with him.

He must go under again, because when he’s once again aware of anything other than the hazy gray nothing, there are lights overhead and clean walls and the sound of busy people and the smell of disinfectant.

It might be the first time Steve has ever been relieved to find himself in the hospital.

“You’re okay, babe,” Danny calls out as they wheel Steve through doors that lock his partner on the other side, away from Steve.

Steve doesn’t think he is okay, but he knows better than to fight the people trying to help him, and soon enough he’s having an IV run into one arm and blood drawn out of the other.

Then he’s alone with his thoughts and the betraying beep of the heart monitor, which kicks up a fuss every time he tries to force himself to remember how he’d gotten to that room, what had happened to him in it.

It seems obvious that he didn’t kill Danny over and over and over again, but part of him is deeply uncertain, sure of only one thing:  The next time he sees his partner, Danny will be dead again…or still?

An eternity later, a thirty-something doctor with short blond hair and a no-nonsense smile says, “Relax, Commander.  We’ve got a rush on the blood tests, and once we know what you’ve been given, we can start a regimen to reverse the effects.  In the meantime, we’re running saline to flush the substance out of you.  We’ll have you up to a private room in a short while, and your friends can visit with you there if they promise not to wear you out.  Sound good?”

Steve nods, afraid to open his mouth for fear of what might come out.  The ceiling is floating upward, receding impossibly high, and he feels diminished, tiny beneath that vast stretch of space.  The light blanket on his lap feels twice as thick as it actually is, and the air has a strange, heavy quality to it, like it might not entirely yield when he tries to take a breath.

He tries to ignore the creeping sense that he’s still dreaming, closes his eyes in an effort to sleep, and then remembers all the times he’d woken from dreams of Danny dead to the reality of his partner strangled or poisoned or beaten to a pulp.

Steve’s staring at the ceiling in a fierce effort to keep from falling asleep when an orderly appears to help him into a wheelchair and chatters about inconsequential things—the weather, the latest sports scores from the mainland, the surf report for tomorrow—until he’s wheeled into a third-floor room, where Danny is waiting for him by the foot of the bed.

“No,” he hears himself say.  “You can’t be here.”

The orderly freezes in place, eyes tracking from Steve’s expression to Danny’s face, which wears a plastic, unconvincing smile.

“Babe,” Danny starts, but Steve is pushing against the arms of the wheelchair, trying to stand up to make his point, and the orderly is saying, “Sir, can you just wait in the hallway?” so Danny has no choice but to leave the room.

Steve relaxes, arms shaking even from that little effort, and lets the orderly—Chip, his nametag says—help him into bed.

That’s followed by a low, tense hum of a conversation from the hallway, where Danny is no doubt explaining why he should be allowed back into the room.

It’s not that Steve doesn’t want him there—he does, god, more than anything.  It’s that he doesn’t think he could survive it if this all turns out to be another terrible hallucination.

Chip is back—alone—a few moments later, hooking up Steve’s IV drip and attaching the various monitors.

Duties attended, Chip advises him of the whiteboard with the names of the staff assigned to his room and the call button within easy reach of his hand and then leaves with a jaunty little flip of his hand.

If Danny returns in the orderly’s wake, Steve doesn’t know it.  Whether the trip upstairs had worn him out or whatever was left in his system had reclaimed hold, he’d disappeared down the dark hole of nightmares and only becomes aware that Danny is with him when he moans himself awake, eyes blinking away the frayed edges of a dream he’s glad he can’t remember.

What he’s got is a churning, unsettled sense of wrongness in his gut and the sight of Danny’s pale face and weak but genuine smile greeting him.

“Hey,” Danny says, voice rough with exhaustion.  It’s sweet to Steve’s ears even as it skitters down his spine with a thousand icy feet.

“Danny,” he manages before his dry throat gives out.

His partner is there with a cup and straw, helping him sit up, so he can hold the cup himself and take the slow sips Danny insists upon.

“What happened?” he asks, even as Danny is saying, “What do you remember?”

Steve shakes his head.  “Nothing.”

That’s a lie, of course.  He remembers the way Danny’s hyoid bone feels when it snaps under his pressing palm and the tacky heat of his blood and the way it smells as it saturates his clothes and the air around him.

He remembers the sick glee he’d felt when he’d bitten through Danny’s lower lip and the way he’d gotten hard at the stifled whimpers he’d made when Danny had thrashed beneath him, trying to escape his murderous weight.

“I’m going to be sick,” he says, and Danny hands him the basin and puts a steadying hand between his shoulder blades and murmurs soothing nonsense while Steve heaves his guts out and wishes Danny would stop being so fucking kind.

“The doctors said you might have nausea for a while.  They can’t give you anything for it, though, until they know what’s in your system.  Hospital lab’s having some trouble figuring it out.  We’ve got Eric and Jerry working on it, too.  You want some ice chips or ginger ale?”

Steve shakes his head and pushes Danny’s hands away when he moves in to adjust Steve’s pillows.

“Leave it,” he barks, not much energy but a lot of bite behind it.

Danny’s eyes widen with hurt.  “You want to tell me what’s going on in that thick skull of yours?”

Whatever Steve has of love in him has retreated, a wounded thing curled up in a tight ball in some corner of his heart.  His chest is full of ice and knives, and every breath is weighted with guilt.

“I can’t,” he whispers, shaking his head again.  “Please, Danny, just go.”

The way Danny sets his jaw telegraphs his answer: “No, Steven, you don’t get to do this to me.  You don’t get to order me around without explanation.  You were missing for 56 hours.  We had no idea where you were or who had taken you for the first 48 of those.  Do you know what that was like for me—”

Danny catches himself; Steve sees the struggle in his face.  Whatever his partner was going to confess is too raw for him, and he puts it away with a visible effort and takes a deliberate breath.

His blue eyes are steady and trusting when he fixes them on Steve’s face, and Steve can’t look away, can’t pretend he doesn’t understand what Danny is feeling:  It’s written there in every worry line, in the deep shadows beneath his eyes and the rough stubble on his chin and the wrinkles in his shirt.

So, Steve tells him everything, every awful thing he did to Danny during those 56 hours he was being pumped full of god-knows-what.

Danny’s eyes never waver from his.  He never looks away in horror or down to hide his expression.  A third of the way into Steve’s confession, Danny takes his hand, the one without the IV in it, and holds it, still looking steadily at his partner’s face as he pours out the filth that he’d lived with for what had, to him, been months of their lives.

When he’s finished, Danny pulls his hand away and stands up, and Steve is sure that his partner is going to leave—walk out of the room, out of the hospital, off the team and away from their life together.

And Steve doesn’t try to stop him.  Something in him had dredged all that awfulness up out of his subconscious; some part of Steve, the violent, cold part that takes over when he’s on a mission or a case, had wanted Danny dead.

He doesn’t blame Danny for running as far and as fast as he can.

Danny gets no farther than the door, though, which he closes and then locks before moving back to Steve’s bedside, toeing off his shoes, and dropping the rail, so he can climb in beside him.

“What’re you—?”  is all Steve manages before Danny is manhandling him into an embrace, body stretched out behind Steve’s, his lips warm against Steve’s temple, his arms a bastion against all hazards.

“I love you, you idiot,” Danny says.  “And I want to kill you at least twice a day, so what?  That’s normal for us. Whatever the poison in your system did to you, it’s not you, Steve.  I’ve never been afraid that you’d hurt me—get me killed, yes, but lay your hands on me yourself?  No.  No way.  Not gonna happen, babe.  You haven’t got it in you, and, not for nothing, I can take care of myself.  So, shut up and close your eyes and go back to sleep.  You look like hell, and I need a nap.  Fifty-six hours, Steven.  You scared the hell out of me for fifty-six hours.”

More than his words do, Danny’s trust, the way he lays down and surrounds Steve, obviously unafraid of being strangled or garroted or smothered in his sleep, eases the constriction in his chest and lets him take a full breath for what feels like the first time in months.

That that new breath rushes out of him in a sob doesn’t embarrass him the way it might have before, not when Danny tightens his hold and brushes his lips against the nape of his neck and shushes him with love words and nonsense.

When he closes his eyes this time, Steve feels love uncurling, stretching itself warm and familiar into the spaces that had been cold and alien to him only moments before.

Sighing, wet-cheeked and weary beyond measure, Steve lets himself drift off, safe in his partner’s arms and mostly certain that Danny will still be alive beside him when he wakes up again.