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Wind Down

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Danny stood in the middle of the antiseptic-bright hospital corridor, hands empty at his sides. Through the open door, he could see Rachel close by Stan, her hand clasped tightly in his while Gracie clambered onto the bed to give Stan a careful hug. Danny didn't begrudge him that: Stan had been willing to die for his daughter's sake, and maybe Danny would never like him, would always think him a stuffed shirt, but he couldn't hate him, either. It hurt to watch them, but Danny did it anyway, because he owed that much to Stan, and the whole time he felt like a clockwork toy that was slowly running down: his joints ached; every movement he made felt stiff and jerky, mechanical, because acting by rote was easier than thinking right now.

Danny startled when he heard the squeak of combat boots against linoleum and turned around to see Steve at the far end of the hallway, talking to someone at the nurses' station. In the harsh glare of the fluorescent lights, Steve looked heart-bruised and tired and determined, and Danny didn't know why that shook him so much—why after all this time, it was Steve talking in low tones about medical billing that got away from him, that made him think about Korea and last Thursday and half a dozen other times Danny could have lost Steve without ever having said anything. Danny marched down the hallway, grabbed a startled Steve by the arm and tugged him around the corner, pressing him up against the wall. Steve gaped down at him, said, "Danny?" in bewildered, worried tones, and now that Danny had him standing here in front of him, away from the bustle of the main hallway, Danny had no idea what to do.

"Danny?" Steve said again, and maybe there was nothing Danny could do except hug him. He wrapped his arms around Steve's waist and let his head rest against Steve's broad chest. Steve's whole body seemed to curve around him immediately, legs bracketing Danny's, his chin resting on the crown of Danny's head—no back-slapping hesitancy to his movements, no shying away from what Danny was asking of him. He smelled of sweat and soap and gun oil, of reassurance and perseverance, and there were words that had to be said but Danny felt as if he were choking on them.

Ten years ago next month, he'd been in a dive bar back in Weehawken, maudlin drunk on vodka because of all the things he'd lost to Rick Peterson: his rookie sense of untainted pride in his badge, his ability to trust that his partner would have his back, no matter what. Two years ago, he'd moved to Hawaii and relearned what it was to have a friend at your side thanks to Meka; what it was to go home each day and feel you'd done some good in the world, thanks to his team. Rick had tried to take that all away from him again, and more, when he'd snatched Gracie, and just the thought of his baby girl locked up in that dank storage unit was painful enough to make Danny's fingers clutch convulsively at the fabric of Steve's t-shirt.

"What do you need?" Steve was saying. "Danny, tell me what you—you know I'll—anything, okay? Anything, I—"

"Stay," Danny said, "stay, don't go anywhere," pulling back just enough that he could look Steve in the eye. "I'm asking you to stay, Steve, you understand me?" and words had always been Danny's friends but now it felt like they wouldn't work right, one more thing going wrong today—but maybe, maybe, from the raw and helpless and happy look on Steve's face, from how he was looking at Danny like he'd take any hit if it would spare Danny the pain, there was one more thing that Danny could rescue today. Peterson was shackled in a jail cell; Kono and Chin were standing sentinel at the elevators, armed and fierce; his family was back together, cobbled and patchwork and loved, near at hand; and Steve was right there with him.

"All right," Steve said, "All right, Danny, all right, all right, all right"—and he didn't let go, planted his feet against the ground and even when Danny's face grew damp, his breathing uneven, Steve was steady and solid and kissed him back, back, back.