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No Way Out But Through

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“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” ― Maya Angelou

 

***

 

It's been a long day of an even more grueling week, with too many hours chasing down leads and hours clocked conducting surveillance. Steve's brain feels fried from too much caffeine and lack of sleep. Maybe he needs to add an extra training regimen to his schedule, build up his long-term endurance, but tonight, tonight is about forgetting and relaxing. And relishing. He smiles at the thought of other types of endurance tests when Danny arrives.

He parks his truck and stretches as he climbs out, twisting his back, sliding his sunglasses into his pants pocket. Steve walks up the steps two at a time, taps in his alarm code, slides in his key into the lock, and shakes his head. He forgot charcoal. There's only a quarter of a bag in the garage, but he dismisses the idea of running to the store and will call Danny to ask him while he's out grabbing beer. Steve really needs to hop in the shower. Opening the door, he steps inside, and starts to pull out his cell phone.

Someone rushes toward him from his left, spinning a brutal kick into the side of Steve's knee, cutting pain enveloping the joint. His leg buckles, sending him crashing to the floor onto his hands and knees. By the time he registers past the agony, his assailant strikes him at the side of his neck, a sharp pain shooting down the nerve into his left arm and hand.

Trying to react to the surprise assault, he rolls onto his back in time to grab a foot aimed at his face. Steve fumbles a grip into shoe leather and he yanks his opponent's ankle forward, jabbing his tingling left elbow into his attacker's shin.

The assailant grunts and he backs away, giving Steve enough time to scramble to his feet. As Steve puts weight on his injured left leg, the muscles quiver, his knee refusing to bend.

Limping a few steps into the living room, Steve gets his first real look at his foe, committing details to memory. White male. Late forties. Six foot three. Over two hundred pounds. Dark eyes and hair. Expensive suit.

He stalls for time. "Who are you?" The guy remains silent. "You're obviously an enforcer," Steve adds, breathing fast, his heart racing with adrenaline. "If you wanted to kill me, you could have shot me when you had the opportunity."

The guy doesn't sneer or taunt. He's a professional, and that's even more dangerous, because he won't act rashly and do something stupid. Instead, he gets into a ready stance, hands up and loose by his sides, his shin obviously not injured enough to be a detriment.

Steve's knee is a liability and he needs to act fast before it impedes him too much, so he fakes a stumble forward, forcing a reaction from his opponent. His attacker lunges and Steve meets his rush with palm strikes to the solar plexus, his hands smacking against body armor hidden beneath the guy's shirt. Shocked by the concealed protection, Steve quickly recalculates his options, and he hobbles backward, forced on the defensive.

The guy attacks, aiming punches at Steve's face. He ducks his head out of the way, his neck muscles seizing, but his attacker doesn't let up. Steve manages to keep out of striking range, backing away, his knee hurting with each movement.

He focuses on anticipating his opponent's next moves, ignoring the pain. Raising his forearms, he blocks several jabs to his midsection, the guy's palms bouncing off bone. He can't counterattack with kicks or a leg sweep with his knee out of commission, so he watches as the guy circles him like a predator, while Steve wracks his brain for a usable move, a plan, any plan.

Steve limps, tries to keep in step with his enemy, but he isn't fast enough to avoid the next rush. The guy unleashes a series of left and right elbow strikes, the pointy ends striking Steve's cheek and under his right eye. His head whips back and he sees stars, but he ignores the throbbing of his face. He watches his assailant's arms shift and disrupts the next attack by stepping forward, blocking the next elbow with his right forearm. Seeing an opening, he delivers a left palm under the guy's chin with a satisfying snap.

Unable to use his knee, he goes for a debilitating right hook to the ear. But his enemy blocks the punch with his own forearm, and before Steve can readjust into a defensive position, the guy grabs Steve by the shoulders, shoving Steve's body forward into an oncoming knee. He doubles over from the blow to his stomach that knocks all the air out of his lungs. Then the guy lifts Steve up by his shoulders and delivers two more devastating knee blows to Steve's lower ribs.

He feels the crack and he gasps for air, a splitting pain riding up his side. He can't recover fast enough and hands grab him by the skull, shoving Steve's forehead into another upcoming knee.

Pain explodes behind his eyes, across his temples, his vision graying out. He twists away, hobbling in search of something to grab, anything to use as a weapon. Disoriented and in pain everywhere, he stumbles into the dining room, unable to fully stand.

Every breath hurts and he wraps an arm around his side; there's a buzzing in his ears and the room keeps tilting out of balance. Fingers grab him by his shirt collar and a fist plows brutally into his lower back, three times in rapid succession, the pain so great, moisture trickles out of the corners of his eyes.

Steve throws out a desperate elbow, connecting with a cheekbone or a nose, and he manages to get to the dining room table. The glass saltshaker is the only thing in reach and Steve curls his fingers around it as he hears footsteps behind him. An elbow is driven into the small of his back and Steve cries out when it strikes the same spot a second time.

Steve swings around and smashes his assailant in the jaw with the saltshaker. The asshole yells in surprise and Steve jabs him in the throat with his thumb, the guy making a strangled noise and grabbing his neck.

Steve's dizzy and off balance, but he can't back down, he can't quit. His attacker continues gagging and coughing and Steve staggers away, tries to put space between them so he can regroup, but a boot connects to the back of his injured knee in a blossom of pain and his legs give out.

Collapsing to the floor, he desperately crawls toward the closest chair. Curling his hand around a chair leg, Steve conjures the last of his energy, hoping he can roll onto his back and use it as a weapon. But the chair is lifted up out of his grasp and slammed down on top of his wrist.

Steve yells.

He writhes on the floor, cradling his wrist, flipping over onto his back, his chest heaving. He gulps for air, his body trembling, and when he opens his eyes, his assailant kneels over him.

"Commander McGarrett," the guy rasps, his voice whisper thin. "I have a message for you."

Steve stares with blurry vision, smiling when he notices how badly the guy's jaw is swollen. "Oh, yeah?"

The guy bends over, gripping the edge of Steve's throat and collarbone, pressing on the nerve point with his thumb. It's a terrifying intimidation tactic, paralyzing his ability to move his head, but Steve glares defiantly into his assailant's dark eyes. "End your investigations into Moreno's operations. End them now or face even more consequences."

It takes a second for Steve's rattled brain to connect the dots; the governor had just requested an aggressive investigation into the tycoon's empire. "Really?" Steve rumbles.

"If you begin your investigations, your team will suffer. Ms. Kalakaua, Mr. Kelly, and Mr. Williams. Their family, their friends. No one will be safe."

"If you...harm any of them..."

"But I will. I'll break them just as I broke you. How are you going to protect them?"

Steve's blood roars in his ears. "I'll kill you."

"You can try, Commander. I understand." The guy doesn't give a big speech or gloat; he just stares at Steve with a neutral expression. "We all have jobs to do and mine is to ensure that my message is clearly received." He rears back his fist, smashing it into the side of Steve's jaw, sending shock waves through his head. "Do you understand?"

"Sorry... my ears... are ringing," Steve groans.

"Then I must ensure my message gets through all the noise."

Steve knows what's coming next and he's helpless to stop it. The first two punches slam into his face, the third blow bounces the back of his skull against the floor and sends him into oblivion.

***

Danny drums his fingers on the wheel to Springsteen, belting out the familiar lyrics to Our Town. This is good; this isn't the last six days of tailing drug dealers, pinching CIs, and non-stop surveillance. No, tonight is about steaks, loaded baked potatoes, and a twelve pack of Old Guardian, not Longboards, this isn't a Longboard night. This is about getting tipsy, shooting the shit, and turning off his brain.

He eases his foot off the gas when he notices the speedometer's hit seventy. His cell phone starts ringing and he thinks about not checking the caller ID, but it could be important, and he snags it from its spot next to the cup holder. Steve's name flashes on the display. Danny smiles. Maybe he won't get too tipsy, not the way Steve had been glancing at him all damn day. Steve McGarrett is many things but subtle is not one of them, and the want and urgency in his eyes always gives him away.

But Danny doesn't mind; after this week, he needs a release, too.

"What did you forget?" he asks, answering the phone. "Whatever it is, I'm not turning around. I'm ten minutes away and the store is twenty. You do the math."

"Detective Williams."

Danny's blood runs cold at the stranger's voice on the other end. "Who the hell is this?"

"The person standing in Commander McGarrett's house. I think it would be best if you came over. And I would call an ambulance."

The call ends and Danny yanks hard on the steering wheel, pulling onto the shoulder, horns blaring behind him. He hits send, clenching the phone, which rings until it beeps to voice mail. Then he hits send again.

"Come on, come on, pick up, Steven."

When it hits voice mail again, Danny guns the engine, pulling back onto the road, dialing Chin. He's not going to order any paramedics into an unknown, insecure situation.

"Hey Danny, what's up? I thought –"

"I need you and Kono to meet me at Steve's now."

"What's –"

"I don't know what's going on. Something bad, just meet me there. I'm less than ten minutes out."

"Okay. I'll call Kono. We'll be there. Do you want me to notify HPD?"

"Yeah. Let them know I'll be on the scene."

Danny ignores the speed limit, flipping on the lights and sirens, his foot slamming on the accelerator.

***

The only vehicle in the driveway is Steve's truck. Danny resists the urge to bust through the front door, instead checking the window for movement, weapon drawn. The door isn't all the way closed, and he pushes it open with his foot. He quickly sweeps the living room, and goes toward the stairs, gives them a quick look to see if anyone is hiding on the landing before heading toward the office and dining room.

When he rounds the corner, Danny makes a strangled noise in his throat. Steve is lying unmoving on the floor, sprawled on his back, his head lolled to one side.

Danny runs over and kneels on the floor next to him. "Steve? Steve, can you hear me?"

With a trembling hand, he presses his fingers to Steve's neck, relief flooding his veins at the thready beat.

His instincts kick in seconds later and he pulls out his cell and dials 911. "This is Detective Danny Williams, Five-O," he says. Then he rattles off his badge number and the address to the operator, repeating his request just in case his voice is too frantic before hanging up. "I have an officer down, requesting a bus."

Danny blows out a breath and he begins searching for injuries, noticing the swelling around Steve's eyes, his jaw, and he has to swallow down the rage boiling in his gut.

He brushes a hand across Steve's face, worry doubling at the clamminess of his skin. "You can wake up anytime, Steve," he says, his voice breaking. But Steve doesn't stir, and Danny gently checks Steve's skull for signs of injury, his attention lingering at the large reddish bruise forming across Steve's forehead.

He searches for bullet and stab wounds next, hands ghosting across Steve's chest, his sides, but he can't find any holes and he lifts up Steve's shirt, his blood pressure doubling at the fresh, pink contusions over his abdomen.

He closes his eyes, counts to three so he can keep it together, and when he reaches Steve's arms, he notices the swollen, deformed joint of his right wrist, and Danny bites down on his hand to keep from screaming. "I swear to god, Steven, I'm going to find the sons of bitches that did this and I'm going to –"

He stops mid-rant at the sirens growing in the distance and he takes several breaths to calm the blood roaring in his ears. "I'll be right back. I need to lead the cavalry here," he says, resting a hand on Steve's chest.

Running outside, he meets the ambulance and the two-person paramedic team. His heart sinks in relief, recognizing Heiki, a frequent guest to some of their scenes. She adjusts two packs over her shoulders. "Danny. This is Greg," she says, hooking a thumb at a middle-aged guy with glasses pushing a stretcher.

Danny nods. "It's McGarrett. I think he was in a hell of a fight. He's unconscious."

Heiki takes the information in stride as she and Greg enter the house, each bending down beside Steve. "Commander McGarrett, can you hear me?" she asks, taking his limp fingers into hers. "Squeeze my hand if you hear my voice."

But Steve doesn't respond and Heiki peels back each of Steve's eyelids, shining her penlight under each one. "Pupils are equal and sluggish."

"There's bruising around his throat, but his airway is clear," Greg says. He swiftly slips on a stethoscope and listens to Steve's chest. "Good breath sounds bilaterally, no signs of a collapsed lung. Respiration's rapid and shallow at 32. Starting O2."

Heiki and Greg work fast and efficiently. Greg carefully places an oxygen mask over Steve's nose and mouth. He gets out a pair of scissors and cuts open Steve's T-shirt, then makes two quick slits down each leg of his cargo pants. Putting the scissors away, Greg begins palpating each section of Steve's torso with his fingers.

"No obvious breaks of one through eight. Chest wall is stable," Greg says, moving laterally, frowning. "Ninth and tenth rib are crunchy. Abdomen's guarded." He continues toward Steve's legs, pausing mid-way. "I've got heavy swelling to the left knee."

Heiki listens to her partner while she wraps and pumps a BP cuff around Steve's arm, touching Steve's face and neck with her other hand. "Skin's cool and clammy," she says, resting her fingers along his uninjured wrist. "He's tachy and hypotensive. Pulse 125, BP 70 over 40."

That's bad. Steve's a healthy SOB, one of those athletic guys whose resting pulse doesn't go above fifty.

"Starting fluids," Heiki says, finding a vein and inserting a very large needle before taping it in place. "Let's get him ready for transport."

Danny doesn't need an paramedic's knowledge to understand why Heiki's in a rush to leave; she's worried about internal injuries. He can't fathom what it took to take down a Navy SEAL, to hurt fucking Steve McGarrett, and it makes him want to rip someone limb to limb.

Greg starts placing the c-collar around Steve's neck when Steve gasps awake.

"Commander McGarrett?" Heiki says, peering over him. "Commander McGarrett, it's Heiki. I'm here to help you, do you understand?" Steve's eyes dart toward her face. "Commander, everything is going to be all right, we're taking you to the hospital."

But Steve doesn't seem to hear or understand, his eyes fluttering open and closed in confusion as he twists away from Greg's continuous attempts to wrap the collar around his neck.

"Commander, I know it hurts but please try to lie still," Greg says, trying to keep Steve's head stable between his hands. "We need to secure you to the stretcher."

Heiki gently holds Steve's arms to his sides, while curling a finger around his wrist, her voice stressed. "His pulse is up to 140."

Steve's breathing is rapid under the mask between groans of pain.

It takes all of Danny's resolve not to shove the paramedics out of the way and grab a hold of him. "Steve, I know it hurts," he says, forcing calm he doesn't feel into his voice, wanting so badly to ease the agony. "These people are going to take real good care of you, okay?"

But his words don't have an effect and Steve grimaces, his face pinched in distress.

Danny runs both hands frantically through his hair, his heart pounding against his breastbone. "Could you please give him something!"

"We are, Detective," Heiki says, sternly but professionally. She nods at Greg. "Push 5 milligrams of morphine." Peering down at Steve, she speaks in a calm soothing manner. "Steve, we're giving you something for the pain."

Tremors wrack down Steve's arms and legs. Danny knows Steve's adrenaline is receding and shock's taking over, and he wants to help, needs to do something instead of watching him suffer.

Greg injects Steve's IV with the needed medication while Danny finds a spot at Steve's side by his head, out of the way of those trying to care for him. "I'm right here, babe, and I'm not going anywhere, even if you can't hear me."

He touches Steve's bicep, rubbing soothing circles over the skin underneath the shirtsleeve. Steve's whole body begins relaxing, his mouth falling open, his eyes mercifully lazing closed from the narcotics.

Heiki and Greg waste no time in getting the C-collar in place, rolling Steve onto the backboard, and strapping him in for transport. It's the first time Danny notices the wail of sirens outside and he rushes out the door ahead of the stretcher, waving his badge unnecessarily at the HPD officers approaching the house, his eyes glued to Chin's SUV as it pulls up.

Hearing the stretcher behind him, Danny points a finger at Heiki. "I'm coming with you."

"We roll with or without you," she tells him.

By the time Chin and Kono jog over, Danny has intercepted them. "I got a call about ten minutes ago from someone using Steve's cell. He told me he was at Steve's house and that I should get an ambulance. I went in and swept the downstairs and found Steve on the dining room floor."

Kono and Chin crane their necks, searching over Danny's head as Heiki and Greg load the stretcher inside the cab. "How is he?" Kono asks her eyes wide in worry.

"He looks like he went ten rounds with one of his SEAL teams," Danny growls, wanting to punch something or someone. "I'm going to ride along with him. I know it's a lot to ask, but can you two remain and take over the scene? I want every scrap of evidence that will lead us to the people that did this."

Chin grabs Danny's shoulder, his face determined. "We'll handle it."

"Go with Steve," Kono says, jerking her head at the ambulance. "Keep us updated."

"I will."

And Danny runs over, climbs inside, and finds a place to sit across from Steve, Heiki slamming the door closed behind him.

***

The ambulance ride is a blur of Danny struggling to remain calm while his brain rationalizes the last half hour of chaos, and it's not until they've pulled up to the emergency room that Heiki's voice breaks him out of his dazed state.

"You need to let go of his arm, Detective."

Danny looks up at her then down where his fingers are curled around Steve's good wrist. "Oh, sorry."

"Don't be," she says with a sad smile.

It takes enormous effort to uncurl his fingers. He needs the physical contact just as much he thinks Steve needs it too on some subconscious level.

He hurries after the stretcher, gathering his wits about him, because Danny is a cop, and Steve, god damn it, is a victim here, and no matter he how hard he tries to deny it, the truth is a harsh, ugly reality. So, he barrels his way alongside the gurney all the way into one of the trauma rooms where Steve disappears from sight under a flock of medical personnel, Danny's thoughts drowned out by shouts for vitals and calls for tests.

Suddenly, his tiny worldview is replaced by a short round woman. "I'm sorry, but you can't be in here."

"I'm Detective –"

"I'm sorry, sir, but it doesn't matter who you are. No unauthorized people in the triage area."

"I am a member of Five-O and that patient is my partner."

"And we want to make sure your partner gets the best care possible," the nurse says, standing her ground. But her wrinkled face softens. "I will ensure all his clothes and belonging are bagged and given to you right away."

"Come on, Danny," Heiki says, walking up to him and gently takes his arm. "Let them do their job."

Danny reluctantly follows her toward the waiting room and into a chair in the far corner. He slumps down in the hard plastic, his head bumping against the wall.

"Hey. Do you need me to call someone?"

"No, I'm good," he says, his voice scratchy.

Heiki frowns, looking toward the emergency doors. "Look, I've got another run to make. Are you sure you're going to be okay?"

The question is theoretical, but kind, and Danny absently nods his head and waits for news, any news.

***

He feels trapped, caught between cooling his heels in the waiting room, asking for updates on Steve, and striding outside to check in with Chin and Kono. Danny wracks his brain over suspects. There is a long list of arms dealers, murders, kidnappers, and any number of a dozen people still waiting trial, or who have been recently convicted that might have hired people to seek revenge. Except Steve is alive and revenge usually involves bombs, bullets, or knives.

He paces, not giving a shit about everyone else giving him the evil eye because he won't sit there like some lump. If he stays still, his mind wanders, and if his mind wanders, all he thinks about is discovering Steve on the floor, and it's so wrong. Steve is danger personified, a bull in a fucking china shop. He's electricity, a charge that feeds them both.

But he can't let his thoughts run away with him. He needs to focus, needs to reel in his emotions. Needs to...

"I'm an idiot," Danny snarls and stomps outside again.

He dials Chin.

"Hey."

"Did you find Steve's cell? The bastard that called me –"

"It was the first thing we found on the dining room table. There's a smudge on the screen, but it looks like the suspect used his knuckle to hit you on speed dial."

Danny rubs his forehead in exasperation. "Of course, he did. Do you have any idea how many possible assailants there were?"

"Not yet. However many, they were efficient. The place isn't nearly in enough shambles for the magnitude of fight that must have taken place."

"I guess we'll have to wait on Steve to fill us on what the hell happened."

Chin pauses and Danny already knows what he's going to ask. "Any word?"

"Oh, yeah, plenty of words," Danny says, feeling his blood run hot. "CT scans, ultra sounds, x-rays, none of which tell me how he is doing or when I can see him."

"Hold on just a little longer; we're almost done."

"Don't rush –"

"We've been here over two hours; the rest is up to the lab boys. We'll see you soon."

"Okay," Danny says, unable to comprehend how much time has passed since this nightmare's started.

***

It's not until Chin and Kono arrive, each of them giving Danny a quick hug, that he realizes how much he's missed their strength. Chin wordlessly hands him a Styrofoam cup of coffee and Kono gives his knee a squeeze as they sit down, the two of them book-ending him.

"Did you find anything?" he asks.

"Nothing so far," Chin sighs, grim. "There was no forced entry. Someone entered the alarm code around six p.m., then Steve entered it thirty minutes later."

Danny fumes, staring at the floor. "Where they lay in wait." His imagination kicks it, picturing several men biding their time until Steve walked in totally unaware. With numbers and surprise on their side, even someone with Steve's training wouldn't stand a chance. "Bastards. I swear..."

He stops mid-rant when Kono wraps an arm around his shoulders, pulling him close. "We'll get them. More importantly, Steve's going to be okay. He's a koa. In body and spirit."

He allows himself a moment's peace, of leaning on her, sharing comfort. But Danny jerks his head up as he hears approaching footsteps.

An older physician with a blue turban walks over, nodding. "I am Dr. Jagan Singh. I was told you were here waiting for Commander McGarrett?"

"Yes, we are," Chin answers. "We're his team."

Singh eyes all three of them in curiosity. "And will you still be in charge of his case?"

"Yes," Danny says, trying to curb the anxiety filling his gut.

"This would be the best time for your documentation," Singh tells them. "He is still heavily sedated and we are waiting for the swelling to go down in his wrist before we put it in a cast."

Danny stares at Singh's glasses, at the bright shade of his turban, the birthmark at the corner of his lip, and for once, he's struck silent by reality of his job.

"I have a camera in the car," Kono says, rubbing a hand nervously over her thigh.

Chin stands and nods at Kono to go ahead. She bites her lip and hurries out the double doors.

Singh clears his throat, his expression sympathetic. "I will wait until the three of you are ready."

***

Danny follows Singh, Kono, and Chin down the hall, his heart caught in his throat. This isn't the first time Steve's been injured, but Danny's never had to enter the ICU ward as a result. It scares him knowing Steve won't be sitting on the edge of the bed, lacing up his boots before the discharge nurse comes around or making deals with the attending physician regarding his release. This is twenty-four hour monitoring with crash carts nearby and a solemn hush whispering, fragile: handle with care.

He watches Kono's face falter and Chin's back stiffen as they walk past curtained-off areas, bed after bed of the seriously ill. And all Danny can think is: Steve shouldn't be here.

"Commander McGarrett is resting at the end of the row where we can proceed without disturbing the rest of the patients." Singh nods at a nurse with dark skin and short braided hair. "Helen is overseeing the commander's care during the night shift and she'll help move him so you can take pictures."

Danny dry swallows, walking toward the bed, stopping before he gets too much of an eyeful. He needs time to lock down his emotions; he owes it to Kono and Chin to keep his head, but most of all, he owes it to Steve to do his job.

He looks away, needing a few seconds. "Can I have the camera?"

Kono grips it tightly between her fingers. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah," he says.

Kono slowly hands over the camera, her fingers brushing over his. Danny moves closer, noting every wire and tube sneaking under the thin sheet covering Steve, and the oxygen cannula and BP cuff around his right arm. Danny can't bear looking at him like this, so still and vulnerable. He brings the Nikon camera to his eye, views Steve through the filter of the lens while he takes the last steps leading toward the bed.

Singh holds onto a clipboard and begins filling out the police form. "We'll go from top to bottom. Based on our clinical findings, the commander has a concussion. After he regains consciousness, we'll do another examination."

"Is it serious?" Kono asks worried.

"Every concussion is serious, and we don't know how many blows to the head the commander suffered, but his scans are clear of contusions. I only have partial files from his military medical records, but given the fact he has suffered more than one head injury in the last five years, it will increase his time for recovery."

Danny snaps off pictures, the edge of Steve dark hair's providing a striking contrast to the fresh pink marring his skin.

"This bruise to the left side of his throat is quite peculiar," Singh says. "You can actually make out a thumb impression."

Danny shifts the lens, views the skin he'd licked last week, and ignores the memory echo of Steve's low moan. He disregards the broken blood vessels, takes a picture, his teeth clenched together so hard his jaw aches.

But it gets worse, uglier, and Danny becomes even more enraged, the vein in his temple throbbing with every word Singh says.

"There is extensive bruising to his jaw, eyes, and face, but X-rays are negative for broken bones."

Danny remembers how badly Steve's mouth hurt after Korea, when yogurt, soup, and oatmeal factored heavily into meals.

A day's worth of stubble covers the red contusions around his jaw, the one across Steve's cheek purpling around the edge and blossoming under his swollen eye. Danny imagines Steve squinting at him, cocking his head to compensate for his impaired vision, and longs to caress Steve's face...

"There are bruises along the sides and bottoms of his forearms," Singh continues.

"Those look defensive," Chin says, his voice steel. "He fought like hell."

Of course, he did; Steve is perpetual motion, fire and heat brimming beneath the surface, an untapped explosion.

"His right radius is fractured," Singh begins again. "The radiologist noted that the break appears to be the result of blunt force trauma rather than from a fall or the bone being snapped from an angle."

The camera shakes in Danny's hand and he curls his fingers harder around it, adjusting the focus, wanting to blame it for why Steve's wrist is more than twice its size, his hand puffed-up like a sausage.

Singh pulls the sheet down to Steve's thighs and Helen unties the string to the gown, revealing his midsection. Kono curses under her breath and Chin clamps his hand on the railing, his arms trembling. But Danny focuses on taking pictures, the view-screen filled with large red-violent swatches of skin, like mini explosions, across Steve's abdomen.

"The eighth and ninth ribs are fractured. He was lucky – the breaks didn't puncture the lungs or other organs."

Lucky. Like surviving a North Korean torture chamber, or plane crashes in the jungle, or any number of close calls that he'll never know about, except for the scars Danny has memorized with his tongue and tried to make a distant memory.

Helen pulls the blue sheet further down, uncovering where Steve's left leg sits propped up by pillows, his knee nearly unrecognizable beneath the swelling. She folds over the sheet over the side of Steve's body, ensuring only his left side is exposed; it's a considerate act to protect Steve's modesty. Danny swallows past the lump in his throat.

"We'll temporally splint his knee for the night when you guys are done," Singh tells them. "Commander McGarrett's kneecap was almost dislocated, but it remained in place and he has strains to his cruciate and the collateral ligaments. His knee will need to reevaluated tomorrow."

Kono moves closer to the bed. "Both the cruciate and collateral?"

"Yes." Singh looks up at her, his eyes crinkling. "Sounds like you're familiar with such an injury?"

"Yeah," Kono says with a tremble to her voice. But she clears her throat, glancing at Chin and Danny before looking over at Singh. "The collateral controls the sideways motion of the knee. The cruciate the back and forth. I destroyed my lateral collateral along with my ACL several years ago."

Danny listens, flicking his eyes from the doctor to Kono to the menu screen, breathing heavily through his nose.

"In weeks, the swelling will go down; until then, his knee will be very painful," Singh says, flipping over the form, writing on the second page. "Our main concern is the hematoma to his kidneys, and for that reason, I prefer not moving him around for you to take pictures."

Danny lowers his camera, forced to really look at Steve, at the flimsy gown Helen quickly ties back in place, at the slow rise and fall of his chest, at how unnaturally pale he looks in the awful low lightning. He should probably ask about treatment and risk factors, but instead, Danny notices all the hairs raised along Steve's arms and he takes the sheet and pulls it up to Steve's chest.

Careful of the IV at the top of his hand and the BP cuff, Danny runs a finger along the soft patch of skin below Steve's thumb, avoiding the O2 clipped to the finger next to it. He can feel Chin and Kono's eyes on him, broadcasting waves of sympathy, and he drops his hand by his side and gives them a thin smile. "He looked cold."

Chin gives Danny's arm a squeeze, locking eyes with him, promising things that Danny can't give a voice to right now, because the moment he allows his emotions to slip out the growing cracks of his calm facade will be the moment Danny loses control. And God help those who get in his way.

"He's still dealing with the residual effects from shock and blood loss,” Helen says, her soft voice breaking the heavy silence. “We have blanket warmer on this ward. I'll get him a new one in a minute and make sure he stays warm.”

“Thank you,” Danny tells her.

Singh completes his form, handing it over to Chin. "Commander McGarrett will receive the best care. We'll monitor him closely until the internal bleeding is resolved and there is no sign of infection."

"Is that why he's in the ICU?" Chin asks, folding the report in half.

It's a testament to how much he's been filtering his thoughts that it didn't even occur to Danny to ask the same question.

"Yes," Singh answers without preamble. "He can become hemodynamically unstable very fast. But he's young and very healthy, and while most of these injuries are not life threatening, cumulatively they are serious."

"How long will he need to be in the hospital?" Kono asks.

"Hard to tell," Singh non-answers. "A few days. Then he'll have anywhere from a four to eight week recovery period depending on how well he does." Sighing, the doctor looks candidly at them, his eyes betraying years of experience. "I've dealt with a number of physical assaults. Muggings, domestic abuse, bar fights. The person or persons involved in this knew exactly what they were doing. These were precise, vicious blows to vital parts of the body, but they were not lethal."

"This was about inflicting damage and pain," Danny says through gritted teeth.

"That is my belief," Singh says.

Everything hits home like a punch to his chest. Finding Steve unconscious, then forced uselessly to the sideline when Steve awoke in pain. It's like discovering him in the back of that truck all over again, except this time...this time, the person responsible for it won't slip away unpunished.

This is Hawaii, not North Korea.

"We'll be able to talk to him in the morning?" Danny asks, his voice deceptively steady.

"You should," Singh answers.

"Good," Danny mumbles. He looks up at Chin and Kono's curious expressions. "I want an HPD officer posted outside the ICU until further notice."

Kono nods. "You got it."

"What's the plan?" Chin asks.

"The assholes that did this used Steve as some kind of message. They called me," Danny growls, his body shaking with renewed adrenaline. "Well, we got their message, but now I have one of my own."

Chin clenches his hands by his sides. "Payback."

Danny looks from Chin to Kono, his voice a barely controlled whisper. "There is no stone too heavy, no hole deep enough for them crawl away and hide. I don't care how long it takes; we're not going to stop searching until we find these bastards."

***

Steve's body feels disconnected. He can't hold on to a single thought long enough before it drifts away, slips through fingers he can't feel, legs he can't move.

"Commander? Commander, can you hear me? Squeeze my hand if you can hear my voice."

Something warm and firm slips into his palm and Steve weakly grips it.

"That's great, Commander. Now, do you think you could open your eyes?"

He's not sure, but the voice is insistent, and Steve really needs to know what's going on because his gut twists in warning. It takes a few seconds to peel his gritty eyes open, the dark colors before them swirling into the blurry face of a woman.

"Where?" He swallows, his voice scratchy, his throat painful. "Where?" He tries again.

"You're in a hospital, but you're going to be fine. Do you think you could tell me your name?"

Hospital? But which one?

She squeezes his hand again, and Steve glances up at the shadowed face. "I'm Lieutenant Commander Steve McGarrett."

"That's great. And do you know what city you're in?"

Ramstein. Kandahar? No, that's not right; he doesn't taste sand or smell like gun oil, but it's hard to think and his eyes keep drifting close.

"I know you're tired, but if you could just –"

"Oahu," Steve blurts, snapping his eyes open. "I'm on Oahu."

His instincts scream at him to regroup, focus, because...because...but the thought disappears, lost in a haze of... painkillers. He recognizes the fuzzy pull of narcotics, how they turn his body into rubber, numbing his brain, and fuck, if he could just think clearer.

"Last question, Commander. Promise. Could you give me today's date?"

He blinks. "Thursday," Steve slurs, falling asleep.

***

Steve repeats his name for the doctor and only pauses for a second when he's asked who is the current president.

He lies there listening to the physician discuss his injuries, and it's like watching a home movie with missing frames. Snapshots of fists and elbows flash in his head and he stares down at his leg propped up under the sheet, at his wrist encased in plaster. He wiggles his fingers while the rest of his body hums under a cloud of morphine.

"Commander? Did you understand what I told you?"

The doc's bright blue turban stands out against a fuzzy black and gray background, and for a few seconds, Steve thinks he's back in India. "I'd understand better," he says, breathing deeply on his oxygen mask, rolling his eyes in the direction of the IV bag. "If you reduced... the amount of juice you're giving me."

"That isn't a very good idea, Commander."

"I need to... think."

"You need to heal."

Steve remembers hobbling toward his dining room, but the image quickly fades away, pain spiking through his temples.

"Give yourself some time, Commander. Helen will be here shortly and I'll see you during my next rounds."

"Wait," Steve rasps, his thoughts slipping away again. "My team..."

"I'm sure they will be here at the start of visiting hours. It's five in the morning; get some sleep. "

***

Steve drifts above a warm fuzzy veil of drugs when he hears a familiar, annoyed voice.

"I thought you said he was awake?"

"Commander McGarrett is on heavy medications; he was awake for several neuro checks –"

"And did he pass them?"

"Detective, if you do not lower your voice, I will have to ask you to leave."

"Danno... doesn't have an indoor voice," Steve mumbles, rubbing his face with his good hand.

Danny grips the railing. "Hey."

Steve manages only a half curl to his lips. "Hey."

Releasing a breath, Danny leans closer, red-rimmed eyes studying him. "Look at you," he whispers. "How are you feeling?"

Danny deserves honesty and Steve needs it in return. "I've had better days." He licks tingling lips and tries slogging through the quicksand of his brain. "What's the sitrep?"

"Sitrep?"

"Status, Danny."

"That's why I'm here. Can you tell me what happened?"

The question ambushes Steve. He expected Danny to fill in the missing pieces, and the fact Danny can't, that it's up to Steve to provide them, sends a spike of fear through his chest.

"Hey, take your time," Danny says softly then grimaces.

Danny must know how those words, that tone, differentiates their roles, reinforcing the reason why Steve is flat on his back. He closes his eyes and resists the urge to sit up further in bed. "I only remember flashes."

"Do you recall faces? Type of clothes?"

"Nothing." But Steve's trained to recall intel and schematics during combat situations, to make snap decisions under insurmountable pressure, and he tries clearing his mind of the sludge. "We planned on barbequing. I was going to call you..." He sees the movement out of the corner of his eye. "They were waiting on me..." Steve digs his fingers in the sheets, biting his bottom lip in frustration. "It's all a damn blur."

"Okay, don't focus on details. Think shapes. Bodies. Can you count how many were in the room?"

"No," Steve says, angry.

"Hey, don't worry about it. You got your bell pretty rung and you're tired."

Steve battles the warmth in his veins as it slowly seeps into his muscles. "It's because of the shit they have me on."

"You need that shit, and don't scowl at me." Danny points an angry finger at Steve. "You have broken bones. Your kidneys might finally realize they belong to a crazy man and go on strike."

Danny rests his warm hand on Steve's bicep as his eyes drift close without his permission. He wants to ask about possible prints and points of entry, where the team is on motive, but it's not enough to keep him from falling asleep.

***

Steve stares at his leg underneath the sheet with half lidded eyes, concentrating on the flow of energy from his center, down his thigh, and into his injured knee. He breathes in and out, follows the pathway leading to fireballs of heat, and he latches onto them, at the nerves pulsating erratically – there.

Something heavy slams into the side of his knee and he crashes to the floor, his assailant's boot aiming for his face.

The sound of footsteps startles him and Steve jerks his head in response, igniting a flare of vertigo.

Chin walks over toward the bed looking frayed around the edges, his shoulders tense. "I heard they're putting you in a regular room later tonight."

"Yeah, it seems after two days in here, my kidneys finally pass muster," Steve says, pulling heavily on his oxygen. His bed is elevated at a low angle so he's sitting up straighter to improve his lung capacity. And he welcomes the sharp curl of pain it creates, curbing away the fog that keeps trying to swallow him whole. "They want me up and around tomorrow morning. After that we'll see."

"This isn't a race, brah."

"How's the case coming?"

"We canvassed your neighborhood and found out there was a cable van spotted several times in the area, but no one called for a repair. Danny followed up and interviewed the supervisor in charge, but there were no jobs scheduled in your area."

"It was surveillance." Steve had never noticed.

"That's what we're thinking. It could explain how they knew your alarm code."

Everyone keeps mentioning them, or using the word suspects, and Steve understands why his team thinks there were, but it only makes him bristle.

"It was one person."

Chin looks at him in surprise. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah," Steve says, flicking his eyes away. He clenches his jaw, wincing. The memories are always the same. One pair of fists, a single set of elbows striking him in the face, only one voice, but not words – he can never make out the words. "It was a single assailant," Steve says, chewing his lip. "He was highly efficient and trained."

"A pro."

"He had to be," Steve mutters.

"Danny and Kono are going over a list of possible suspects," Chin says, watching Steve. "Danny's been like a rabid dog about this. He had Fong work until four in the morning until he'd gone over every scrap of evidence for prints."

"He didn't find any."

"No."

It doesn't surprise Steve; everything about the attack has the tale-tell feel of an efficient op.

He stares angrily at all the wires and tubes, at the tethers effectively chaining him in place. "Tell Danny to stand down if you have to. I don't want him doing anything stupid."

Chin shakes his head. "I doubt he'll listen. It's personal; he needs to do this."

Steve doesn't argue; he knows everything about need, knows way too fucking much.

 

***

The transfer to a normal room includes the addition of a PCA pump and Steve stares at the dispenser. He's no stranger to pain; he adapted to the rigors of jumping out of helos and close quarter combat, learned to endure interrogation techniques – including the actual thing.

He's not inhuman or a masochist, but with pain comes clarity, and he applies the same techniques used enduring hours in near-frigid waters to overcome physical discomfort.

"You know glaring at the magic machine won't make it work."

Steve glances up to find Danny in his room. "What?"

"Do I need to press the button for you?"

"No," Steve snaps.

Danny rolls his eyes. "You're worse than a grumpy bear with a hurt paw."

"I was busy thinking."

"Oh, is that what you call zoning out like a zombie?"

"Some of us think harder than others."

"That's where you're missing the point." Danny slumps into the white plastic chair. He looks wrung out, with a wrinkled shirt and a couple days' worth of beard. "You're not supposed to be thinking; you're supposed to be resting."

"Like you obviously have? When's the last time you've slept?"

"I have this little thing called a job."

Danny leans over the railing and raises a hand to caress the side of Steve's jaw but stops at the last second to Steve's disappointment. "So what's that? You playing Pictionary with yourself?"

Steve looks down at the napkin and pencil on his lap, annoyed that he'd forgotten about them. "I was working on some stuff I remembered."

He pushes over a napkin with two crude human-shaped sketches with arrows and numbers jotted on the sides.

"What am I staring at?" Danny asks.

"I remember the angles from some of the punches. I can picture the guy's eyes, where his shoulders were in comparison to mine, the arm reach of some of his jabs. Based on that, I calculated his height and weight." Danny looks both amazed and horrified. "My best guess is we're after someone around six foot two to six foot three and around two hundred and twenty pounds."

"Do you remember anything else?"

"Not really. He had dark eyes, dark hair. Nothing distinctive."

"So we're looking for King Kong."

Steve crumples up the napkin with his good hand. His other wrist is throbbing. "Maybe."

"Hey? What's with that look?"

"I don't have a look. I'm thinking."

"And what did I say about that?"

But he can't shut down; he's not built like that. "Whoever did this was a professional; he didn't kill me."

"Yeah, it was some kind of message or warning." Danny rubs a hand across his face and lowers his voice. "He called me."

"Who?"

"Our suspect. He told me to come over and to call a bus."

Steve is furious. "Damn it. It could have been a trap!"

"Oh, really? You don't say, Steven! Do you think that didn't occur to me or that it even mattered? When I saw you on the floor..." He swallows, his expression faltering, and it hurts Steve to hear his voice break. "For a second, I thought you were dead."

Steve can't imagine what those horrifying seconds must have been like for Danny, and it makes him even angrier. But if someone put Steve in the hospital, what lengths would they go to ensure their message is heard loud and clear?

"Danny. You guys need to –"

"We're watching our backs, but you know what?" Danny leans over, his voice chilling. "They better watch their own asses. I don't care how well they think they covered their tracks, criminals make mistakes. And when I find these bastards, I'm going to nail them."

Steve has never seen Danny this willing to burn down the world except when it came to Grace. And he is struck silent by the weight of it all, and yeah, a little gratified, because he can't do anything to help. He can't walk or even stand for any length of time let alone help with the case. It pushes him into a place he's unfamiliar with, an area devoid of his control, of pure impotency.

***

Kono comes to see him, bringing magazines that she leaves on the table. "The scruff looks good on you, brah."

Steve's face itches, and he desperately wants to shave. "Don't get used to it." He's antsy and sore and his headache is back with a vengeance. "I go home in the morning and I'd really like to go over the case reports."

Kono shifts in the chair and looks down at her lap. "I don't –"

"Just e-mail me the copies." Steve glances at the door and narrows his eyes at the undercover walking by. "I told Danny to dismiss the plainclothes guy the other day."

"He just wants peace of mind."

Steve clenches his jaw. "I don't need protection. Do you know how many ways I could take out a target in here?"

"I count a dozen," she says, giving the room a quick look. "Starting with the IV pole."

"The pole is a good choice, but it takes time to reach. If I pull the needle out of my hand I could cut open someone's jugular." Kono stares at him wide-eyed. "I might have made a mistake, but I can still defend myself."

"Mistake?"

He stares at her confused. "What?"

"You said you made a mistake." Kono scrunches up her face. "You don't think –"

"I think Danny could make better use of manpower elsewhere," Steve interrupts.

"Well, by tomorrow morning, it won't matter."

Steve settles back against the bed and stares out at nothing, realizing he doesn't have a plan of action after being released, no goals – which is unsettling – so he lies there, planning his next uncertain steps.

***

It's been four days since Danny vowed to hunt down those who hurt Steve, and four days later, he's no closer to finding the bastards. He sits inside the Camaro, scanning the hospital parking lot, wondering if the people responsible are laughing at them for getting away with it.

 

***

Springing Steve from the hospital involves helping him dress in an old pair of sweatpants and a faded blue T-shirt, the exercise leaving Steve winded.

Danny keeps a hyper-vigilant view of the road, driving the speed limit, turning on Tenth Street to avoid construction and dozens of potholes. He watches Steve out of the corner of his eye, noticing how he never stops checking the rear-view mirror. Pulling into driveway, Danny hops out, and hurries over to the passenger side just as Steve stands and leans on the open door.

"Would you grab my crutches?"

"Maybe you should just let me help you and forgo the crutches, huh?"

But Danny snags them from the backseat, handing them over while Steve adjusts them under his armpits.

"Using those things is barbaric," Danny mutters, sticking close.

"I have a broken wrist," Steve huffs, pausing to take a breath and balance himself. "I have to put my weight on the armrests."

"And that's going to screw with your busted ribs." Danny fidgets, waiting to grab Steve if he falters. "We really should have rented a wheelchair –"

"I don't need a chair."

"Oh, really? I need a butcher's bill to keep up with the number of your damaged parts."

Steve's glare could melt asphalt.

"Look, I'm sorry. I'm worried, okay? So sue me for actually caring if you trip and bust your big head open."

"I'm not going to crack my head." Steve sighs then irritably nods at Danny. "Think you could move?"

It takes a second for Danny to realize he's blocking the door. "Oh. Yeah. Hold on, let me take care of the security thing."

"That doesn't look like my alarm system."

"I might have had a new one installed," Danny says, quickly tapping in the code.

"You put in a new alarm system?"

"Obviously your last one sucked."

The new system must meet with approval since Steve begins the trek inside.

Steve pauses the moment he enters, his arms taut with strain. Clenching his jaw, he cranes his neck and stares behind the door, then over toward the living room. And before Danny can utter a word, Steve hobbles past the end table, stopping after only a few steps, his face a deep scowl.

"Steve?"

Steve wordlessly turns around, retracing his steps toward the door, breathing heavily from the effort.

"Are we really going to do this?" Danny asks.

Steve stands there like he might ignore him all day, but he slowly hobbles toward the sofa, cradling his side as he lowers himself against the cushions. "How did you... pay for the alarm?"

"I have this thing called a credit card. You might have heard of one before."

"I'll pay you back."

"Maybe I don't want you to."

Danny activates the security system then goes into the kitchen, tossing Steve's pharmacy bags onto the counter.

"Do you think you could bring my piece from upstairs?" Steve calls out.

"I could," Danny says, walking back into the living room. "But do I need to remind you of the amount of painkillers floating around in your system?"

"I can assemble any weapon with my eyes closed."

"And I bet you hold some SEAL record." Danny rolls his eyes. He knows Steve can't stay home unprotected. "Fine. I'll get it after dinner."

But instead of looking pleased, Steve gets that faraway look, the one that means he's burying his answers inside. Danny sighs, crouching next to the sofa. "I thought we were past the part where you have to play the tough guy with me?"

Steve grits his teeth, looking down at himself, clenching his jaw even tighter. "Look, I know I'm not functioning at a hundred percent and that I'm going to need some assistance for a while. I get that."

God, this is killing him. Danny wants to layer every inch of Steve's skin with his lips, ensure the only time he hears Steve's voice hoarse like that is from pleasure. But he stops from acting on his desire, on his desperate, desperate need, because Danny doesn't even know where to kiss or touch that isn't tender or marred.

"I should probably, you know, make us lunch. I haven't eaten since last night."

Steve gives him this hard look, of either hurt or anger, or both. And Danny hurries toward the kitchen to avoid it.

 

***

Cooking his grandma's vegetable soup requires the whole kitchen island, two cutting boards, and most of the produce from the refrigerator.

Danny chops onions, blinking against the sting to his eyes when he hears Steve curse. "Hey. What are you –"

"I'm good," Steve huffs. "Just grabbed a box of case files and I...I bent wrong."

More like Steve bent his body period.

"Have you been staying here the whole time?" Steve asks a second later.

Danny stops chopping, oddly nervous. "Yeah. Is that a problem?"

"You're always welcomed here. You know that."

Danny thinks he does, but it's not like what he and Steve have been doing for some time has ever come up for discussion. After Rachel, Danny didn't want to complicate things with definitions. And Steve – well, he never pushed the issue and quickly changed topics any time Danny casually brought up their relationship, both of them hovering in the safety of blissful denial.

He pushes all his random musing aside and listens to Steve rummaging through another box. "I seem to remember the good doctor telling you to take it easy."

"I can still read."

Danny rolls his eyes and he grabs his first potato to peel. "I have a system so don't mess it up."

"I'm going through your top list of suspects now."

Danny did that already and he still has dozens to investigate, and it takes time to wait for warrants on bank records that might lead to a payment for services rendered. This is why he asked Toast for help. A possible money trail is the only thing they can chase without physical evidence.

He doesn't realize he's practically mangled his poor spud with his peeler until he looks down at the remains. Wiping his hands, he wanders toward the living room, only to discover Steve studying his laptop that had been left on the coffee table.

"What are you...?" Danny's cheeks burn red in shock when he sees the screen. "What the hell? Those are the photos we took of you in the hospital! Why are you looking at them for fuck's sake?"

"Bruising patterns."

"Bruising patterns?"

"People normally punch with their fist. But these..." Steve clicks on the images of his battered face without emotion. "These are the result of elbow strikes. There's no discoloration from individual knuckles." He taps on another thumbnail. "It's the same with the ones to my abdomen. Only a knee blow has enough kinetic energy to crack ribs. And the one to my throat is from a nerve pressure point. I had a sparring partner once that sported the exact same –"

"That's nice," Danny says, his stomach twisting inside out. He can't stand looking them. "You can turn it off now."

But Steve doesn't let it go, his voice hollow, like he's discussing any other case. "Most military hand-to-hand emphasizes the quickest way to take out your opponent. There's a thin line between incapacitation and lethal force."

"Yeah. Your point? We already knew we weren't looking for your average street thug."

Steve looks down at the screen, his left eye twitching. "There's even a thinner line to make someone wish they were dead without actually killing them."

Danny's throat closes up on him for a second and he swallows roughly, holding in the fire raging in his belly. It's obvious Steve is unaware of the implication of what he just said. That he just admitted to the true amount of pain pounded into him, a pain that, like a good soldier, Steve will try to work through in silence.

Danny wants to shake him, tell him to stop it, to let Danny in. But he knows it won't happen, that Steve has refortified his defenses, built them up so much that even he isn't aware how high. And that makes Danny's anger burn even more, anger with no outlet except to unleash it on those responsible for this nightmare.

Clearing his throat, Danny looks Steve in the eye, forcing the anger down. He can't catch the bastards if he doesn't focus. "So, we're not looking for someone who is highly skilled, but super skilled. Elite military or a professional fighter."

"Yeah. And that's a very short list."

But even the shortest list requires a starting a point.

Danny looks over at Steve, notices the pain lines around his face, and knows how bad reading amplifies concussions. He gently closes the laptop. "Come on. We need to eat." Steve grips the edge of the computer as if he might not relinquish it. "You just got home. And while you'll plow along on this case despite my protests, I doubt you'll make much headway if you don't pace yourself."

Steve wants to fight, Danny can tell, because that is what he does, but Steve lets go and stares at Danny through bruised eyelids. "Yeah, okay."

Danny doesn't have the mastery over his words right now, afraid they'll get swept away by the overwhelming force of emotions he can barely control. So he grits his teeth and focuses on getting through tonight, and tomorrow, and the day after that.

 

***

They go to bed early. Danny has been like bloodhound running around in circles in search of a scent for days and he's dead on his feet.

Steve conked out soon after lunch and Danny feels bad about waking him, but sleeping on the sofa is out of the question. "It's just a few steps."

Steve staggers to his feet without his crutches, his eyes at half-mast from a combo of painkillers and muscle relaxants. He doesn't protest when Danny slips a hand around his waist, savoring the feel of Steve's body against his as they inch into the guest room and toward the bed.

"I can dress myself," Steve mumbles.

"You mean undress, you goof." Steve looks at him with the most befuddled expression and Danny runs a hand fondly down the left side Steve's face. "Let's leave the T-shirt on, but you need to take off your sweats." But Steve is a little uncoordinated and Danny begins tugging on the fabric. "Here, let me."

Danny helps removes the sweatpants, checking to see that the knee brace is secure before he carefully swings Steve's legs on to the mattress.

"Thanks," Steve says, his head settled into the pillows.

"Before you get too comfy, let me prop up your knee."

Danny remembers the difficultly of sleeping after he first tore his ACL and it makes him feel marginally better to know all the tricks in the book so he can help.

"If you have to get up in the middle of the night, wake me," he says, lifting up Steve's leg and sliding a pillow under it. "You're going to need help getting out of bed for a few days. Hey? Are you listening?"

But Steve is out for the count and Danny just stands there, savoring every moment of watching Steve's chest rise and fall, of listening to him breathe. Then he quickly strips out of his clothes, crawls into bed, and curls close enough to feel Steve's warmth radiate through his T-shirt.