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In the Thicket of Things

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Danny hustles down the narrow path, eyes scanning the undergrowth as he keeps moving, further into the forest. The air is warm and heavy and wet and his hands are sweaty but he's got a tight grip on his gun. He's trying to stay focused as he keeps moving, on and on. He doesn't know how many miles he's covered, and he doesn't want to take the time to check the map. All he knows is that he needs to find Steve before Frankie and his buddies do.

So he pushes aside the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. He will find Steve, because Steve is still alive. He refuses to think otherwise, because then the panic and despair will close in.

The sound of Chin's voice comes through on the radio. "Danny."

Hope rises up, sharp and bright as Danny acknowledges Chin. "Yeah, tell me something good, Chin."

"Wish I could. I've reached the bridge, no sign of Steve. Heading north now."

"Got it." Danny switches off the radio and curses under his breath. "Where the fuck are you, Steve?" he mutters softly.

It's been nearly twenty four hours, but this is Steve, if anyone could survive that long with a serious injury in the goddamn jungle it's Steve, Danny reminds himself. Heck, he's probably saved a couple of hikers from wild boars along the way. Maybe built himself a helicopter from twigs and vines and is flying himself out to safety right this very moment.

Danny wipes the sweat from his forehead and continues on.

Another miles or so and something catches Danny's eye, just ahead, off to the side of the path. Something--no, make that someone, on the ground, moving, crawling along, trying to take cover under a bush with low broad leaves.

Danny's heart leaps in his chest. "Steven," he calls out, voice frantic because yes, thank god, it's Steve, he'd recognize those long legs anywhere, Steve with his grey cargo pants and black tee-shirt. And he's alive.

Danny holsters his gun and covers the ground between them at a dead run. He kneels at Steve's side as Steve rolls over and looks up at him, eyes glazed over, his expression vague. He's a little shocky and there's blood all over the front of shirt but he's alive, he's conscious, all good things, yes.

"Hey hey hey, babe." Danny runs a hand over Steve's chest, finds the hole in his shirt, up on his right shoulder. A bullet wound, as he had expected. Not bleeding too much but it's warm to the touch. Infection. Damn it. "I got you, okay, Steven? You with me?"

Steve frowns, then blinks at Danny. "Oh, hey Danno." His voice is raspy and low but there's still some strength behind it.

"Don't you 'hey Danno' me," Danny says, as he presses a hand to Steve's forehead. "See, this is why people should stay out of the jungle. You've got a fever from the infection. Clearly this is no place to get shot, what with all the dirt and wet and bugs so let's not do that anymore, okay?"

A weak smile. "Glad to see you too, Danny."

"Yeah. Yeah." Danny nods. Relief washes over him and he feels more than a bit unsteady. "Yeah." He pats Steve's good shoulder. "Glad to see you."

He's never been more glad to see Steve's grubby, stubbled face in his life. Grabbing his radio, Danny rises to his feet and keeps a wary eye on the path as he contacts Chin, happy to be the bearer of good news for a change. They arrange to meet in a nearby field, where Steve can be medevaced out to safety.

"Okay, Steve," Danny says, crouching down beside him and uncapping his canteen. "We're going to have to walk a bit. You okay with that?"

"Yes, Danny," Steve says, as if it's a stupid question and okay, maybe it was. This is Steve, after all. What's one little infected gunshot wound?

Still, Danny has help Steve up into a sitting position and hold the canteen steady as Steve drinks, because Steve's hands are shaking too much. He wraps a careful arm around Steve's back and Steve leans against him, a warm, heavy weight. He smells of dirt and earth and moldy leaves and Danny has to resist the urge to crush him in fierce hug.

"Can we try and stand up now?" Danny asks as Steve wipes his mouth with the back of his hand.

Steve looks at him, weary yet determined, and nods.

"Of course you are." Danny gives in and hugs Steve, gently, carefully. Steve leans in and tries to reach an arm around to reciprocate, but then winces. "Hey, stop that, you doofus," Danny scolds. "You're just going to bleed more."

"Ouch." A small huff of laughter as Steve tucks his arm protectively against his chest. "Yeah. Danny, before we go, I--I need to tell you--" And he hesitates, biting his lip, his expression intent.

"What?" Danny is intrigued, because that look on Steve's face, it's not quite like any look he's ever seen, warm and affectionate but a little scared, too, and nothing really ever scares Steve.

There's a rustle of leaves behind him and Steve looks up, his face going cold and stony.

Oh, crap.

"Get up," Frankie says, poking Danny in the shoulder with the barrel of his gun.

Danny rises to his feet, jaw clenched. There's two of them, Frankie and someone Danny's never seen before, but they are cut from the same cloth, big and rough and mean-looking.

Frankie nods curtly and his buddy pulls Danny's gun from his holster. "Stand up," Frankie repeats, kicking Steve's leg.

"Hey, hey," Danny barks. "Stop that. The man's been shot." He steps between Frankie and Steve, who is now lying flat on the ground.

"I know." Frankie grins like the smarmy piece of shit that he is. "I was the one that shot him. And now I've got both of you." To his partner he adds, "Sid, get him on his feet."

Sid shoves Danny aside and leans over Steve. Danny stumbles, keeping his eye on Frankie, who has his eye on him. Looking down at him. Frankie's a big guy, but Danny firmly believes he's just going to fall that much harder. It's the big guys who tend to underestimate him. They always figure the little guy isn't much of a threat.

They always figure wrong.

Steve moans loud and sharp. Frankie's eyes flick his way, and that's all Danny needs. He grabs the barrel of Frankies rifle with both hands and twists hard as he pulls down on it. Frankie yelps as his finger gets twisted in the trigger guard. Danny yanks the gun free, swings it around and clubs Frankie on the side of the head with the stock.

Frankie hits the ground like a sack of potatoes and doesn't move.

Danny turns his attention to Sid, who is spinning around and aiming Danny's own weapon at him. Steve kicks out Sid's feet and as he falls forward, Danny kicks him in the face. Steve rises up on his knees as Sid goes down, his arm swings and then Sid is flat on the ground, Steve's knife sticking out of the center of his back.

Danny stares, panting, but neither Frankie nor Sid move again. Steve sits back on his heels, face pale, hand over his chest. Fresh blood seeps out from between his fingers.

"Damn it," Danny growls, retrieving his weapon from Sid before stepping over his prone body to kneel at Steve's side. "Look at you, you're bleeding now. What were you thinking? You've made things worse, you. You're not indestructible, you know that, right?"

"You're welcome, Danny," Steve grits out.

Danny relents. "Yes, all right, thank you for saving my life, I am very grateful but couldn't you at least stab with your left hand? I would have thought you were ambidextrous. Stabidextrous."

Steve raises his eyebrows.

"It is a word," Danny insists. "If not, it should be. Stabidextrous. It works, huh?" He tries putting pressure on the wound but Steve winces. The inflammation is too severe, which worries Danny.

"I'm okay," Steve insists.

"Yeah, you're okay, my ass." Danny shakes his head. "Let's just get out of here and stuff you full of antibiotics, okay?"

He checks on Sid--dead, of course. When Steve uses a knife, he doesn't screw around. Frankie is still out cold, so Danny secures his wrists and feet with zip ties. They'll pick him up later. Maybe. If he feels like it. "I hope a tiger comes and eats you," Danny tells him.

"Danny," Steve says as he rises shakily to his feet.

Danny hurries over to support him. "I know, there are no tigers in this jungle," he says. "But that doesn't mean I don't want a tiger to eat him."

Steve straightens and takes a deep breath. "Rainforest, Danny. It's a tropical rainforest."

"Please. Like there's a difference. How about fire ants then?" Danny slides an arm around Steve's waist as Steve rests a heavy arm over Danny's shoulder. "Can we do fire ants?"

"No fire ants," Steve says, his voice ragged with the effort of standing.

Together they start down the path, moving slow but steady, Danny doing his best to hold Steve up. Despite the height difference, they've done this before, and it works. "We're a little too good at this, you know that, don't you?" Danny asks.

Steve grunts. Danny can see that he's in pain, and he can feel the chills wracking Steve's body but despite it all, Steve soldiers on. They walk for a good fifteen, twenty minutes and Danny is as always impressed by Steve's stamina, not that he'd ever admit it. They're about two hundred yards from the clearing, Danny can spot it through the trees, thank you god, when Steve stumbles, then crumbles to his knees, head hanging down.

"Okay, okay, we're good here, they can come and get us from here," Danny says, running a hand over Steve's back.

Steve shakes his head and stubbornly tries to stand up again.

"Nope, nope, we're not going any further, you hear me?" Danny curls a hand around the back of Steve's neck and gives him a little shake. "Listen to me for once, for god's sake. Is it that hard to actually do as I ask?"

Steve sighs, then sits heavily, slumping against Danny.

"Whoa there," Danny says, as Steve nearly knocks him over. He gets both arms around Steve, making an exasperated sound, as if this is all very trying but truth is he'd gladly hold onto Steve forever. He's never letting Steve out of his sight again and plans to explain that to Steve, in great detail, as soon as he's feeling better. Or, at least, a little more lucid. Maybe he needs to write it down and tape it to Steve's bathroom mirror. Do not get shot anymore, asshole.

Because his heart can't take it.

Steve pats Danny's chest. "I was going to say, before," he starts, then takes another breath. His eyes are half closed and when he raises his head to look at Danny, it looks as though it's taken every last bit of his energy.

"Whatever it is, it can wait," Danny insists. "Because I have something to say, too."

Steve shakes his head, the motion making him sway. "If I died out there, if you didn't find me," he says, "I wouldn't be able to, to say that you and me, we, we're good, you know what I'm saying?" A shiver runs through his body.

Danny frowns, but he's getting this crazy fluttering sensation, deep down in his belly. "You're not making a whole lot sense here."

"I mean, I think we could be more, not that this isn't, but the way we are--I think you do, too," Steve says, solemn and earnest. He curls his fingers around Danny's arm. "Us, Danny."

"Oh my god." Danny grins, because he's starting to get it. "You're delirious, you know that, right?"

"No," Steve insists. "I mean it, Danny."

"I get it." Danny cups a hand against the side of Steve's face and presses his lips to Steve's in a gentle, tender kiss. "I love you too."

"Awesome." Steve beams somewhat deranged smile at him, pulls Danny close and tucks his face against Danny's neck.

Danny laughs and ruffles Steve's hair affectionately. He can hear the sound of the chopper in the distance, they'll be here in minutes. "You're going to forget all this in the morning, you know that, you feverish goofball, you."

Steve shakes his head without raising it.

"But don't worry, I'm going to remind you of it, word for rambling, garbled word, and don't think I won't." Danny feels Steve shake again, but this time he's laughing, his breath huffing softly against Danny's skin. "You're not getting away from me," he whispers in Steve's ear. "Ever."

And then the chopper is there, landing and Danny's on the radio, waving them over. Steve, of course, tries to get up and walk over to them because that's the kind of thing Steve does and Danny happily scolds him, and keeps on scolding him, until Steve's on the stretcher and being wheeled toward the chopper. And for good measure, Danny scolds him all the way there, even though with the sound of the blades no one can hear him, just because he can do it, because it feels damn good, and because Steve is finally safe and sound. And his.