A/N: I'm still a little behind on review replies, but I'm getting there :) It's just been sort of a crazy weekend. Anyway, this is the last chapter. Endings are never my forte, so I hope it doesn't disappoint. Thank again to my betas, geminigrl11 and moogsthewriter, for their support, and to everyone who has read and reviewed. It's been fun!
It felt like someone had stuck a claw down his throat and wiggled it around, up and down, back and forth, just for good measure. While he had strep throat. Because kicking someone while they were down was just too much fun to pass up.
So perhaps that mental diagnosis was unlikely, but it seemed apt enough at describing the way his throat felt. Not just sore and scratchy, but thick and full of gunk, like the entire thing had been rubbed raw and no amount of saliva in the world was about to undo the damage.
Not that he had much saliva to work with.
Not that he had much of anything to work with, still being semi-conscious and all.
Of course, how he was capable of such creative thought while still not being fully conscious, Danny couldn't be sure. It was either a gift or a curse, he wasn't sure which. There was a reason he hated dreaming: his subconscious was a visceral, annoyingly well-spoken place, and by the time he woke up from any nightmare, he felt mentally drained. Like he'd just spent an entire day in the field with Steve.
So he was used to thinking too much even when not fully aware. But he was not used to hurting quite like this. Because it wasn't just his throat, which was bad enough, he was certain. But it was everything. His head, his nose, his face, his ribs, his stomach, his leg, and was pretty sure his gall bladder was bothering him as well. Oh, and his right earlobe for some inexplicable reason.
Though why the earlobe was more disconcerting than the rest, Danny wasn't sure, but since he wasn't fully conscious, he didn't figure he really needed to justify himself. At least not to himself, Which was good, because the more he thought, the more he realized he hurt, and the more he hurt, the more aware he became, and if he wasn't careful, he was going to wake up.
Normally, he might be all for waking up. After all, being in a pained semi-conscious state was probably not a good sign. Especially given the fact that he was employed by a psychopath. A legally responsible psychopath with good intentions and full immunity and means, but a psychopath nonetheless.
The fact that he seemed to be in pain was curious, but Danny knew that curiosity had killed the hypothetical cat, and Danny was not so curious as to want to die just at the moment and as far as he was concerned, sleeping through pain was much better than being awake in pain, so slipping back into unconsciousness was really his preference.
The universe didn't agree. Which really went to figure.
"Danny? Are you awake?"
His eyes were closed, so it seemed like a stupid question, though the universe probably had its means and methods.
Especially if the universe was Steve McGarrett.
Psychopathic and completely devoid of common sense and normal courtesy. Who else would bother a semiconscious person when they were studiously trying to become even more unconscious?
"Come on, Danny," Steve said again, more encouraging this time. As if he could make his voice sound friendly enough to make Danny want to wake up and subject himself to the horrors of reality.
And then, because Steve wasn't content with inflicting Danny with the sound of his voice, he decided to touch him, too.
It was a gentle touch, Danny supposed, a light squeeze on his arm.
But what the hell was Steve doing touching him?
They were partners. Brothers in arms. Men. Danny would use the word friend if he had to, and he would willing walk into Steve's house when needed, but they were not on a touching basis. It was bad enough that Steve wanted to psychoanalyze him all the time, and Danny could deal with some caring and sharing when the situation called for it, but men didn't touch, especially not in gentle, reassuring squeezes.
As if this day couldn't get any worse. His throat hurt, his body ached, he felt vaguely sick, Steve was talking to him, and now he was being touched by his partner against his will.
Damn it. All he wanted was to slip back into oblivion, to let this unfortunate version of reality dissipate, and sleep his way to a better future.
But there wasn't much he could do about it now. His frustrations were mounting and the pain was spiking and Danny really needed to tell Steve how he felt.
His eyes cracked open, almost unexpectedly, and the light made him flinch away. The flinching re-ignited fresh pain throughout his body, and he suck in a breath that irritated his throat. The tickle turned into a full-blown cough, and tears sprang to Danny's eyes as he hacked, jarring his body and eliciting even more pain.
The horrible cycle seemed set on repeating itself until Steve intervened with another gentle squeeze.
At that, Danny swallowed back the coughs and opened his eyes again. He had to squint to make sense of it all, and the fact that he was in a hospital was more than marginally disconcerting, but there was time for that later.
First things first. He narrowed his gaze, pinning Steve with the best glare he could muster. "Why are you touching me?"
His voice sounded horrific, garbled and strained, but he counted on his words being understood from sheer antipathy alone.
Steve's brow furrowed. "What?"
Danny swallowed gingerly, working saliva into his sore throat. He lifted his chin, nodding toward his arm. "You're touching me," he said again, quieter this time, but just as virulently.
Steve's eyes flashed to his arm, and his fingers loosened, his hand pulling away and resting on the handrail on Danny's bed instead. "I was just trying to get you to wake up," he explained.
Danny scowled, cognizant of the fact that the facial movements made his entire head feel funny. Still, the expression was too important to the conversation to so easily dismiss it for something like pain. "You were groping me," he said, trying to rally his strength but finding it hard.
Because he was tired. Tired and sore and sleeping didn't sound like a mere escape at this point, but almost a necessity. It all begged the question of what exactly had happened, but given the way his body felt, Danny was actually pretty sure he didn't want to know.
Steve merely looked amused. "You do know that two people are capable of touching in a totally platonic way, don't you?"
Danny tried to arch his eyebrows, but found his face almost too stiff to make it work. Lifting one hand, he ignored the IVs as he gestured toward Steve. "Sure, it's called a handshake," Danny said. "Maybe a pat on the shoulder. A punch on the arm. Not a gentle squeeze. I'm in a hospital bed, for goodness sake. What are you doing here anyway, holding a bedside vigil?"
Steve sat back a little more at that, surprise registering on his face. "You know, it's customary for people to wake up in the hospital to ask about themselves, not others."
Danny shifted slightly in the bed, but refused to concede the point. "I don't seem to have a choice in my condition," he said. He lifted his hand again. "You do, and you chose to spend it holding my hand for some reason."
Steve sighed dramatically, rolling his eyes. "I was trying to help you wake up."
"And I was trying to sleep," Danny replied crossly.
"You've been sleeping long enough," Steve said.
And there was something in his partner's voice that gave him pause. Something guarded, something worried. Something tired, something weary.
Danny swore mentally. Steve was scared. That was why his partner had been reduced to groping him in unconsciousness, because he was scared.
Downright terrified, if Danny could read his partner right. There was a growing stubble on his face, thicker and darker than usual. There circles under his eyes were pronounced and his short, cropped hair was disheveled. His face was pale in the cheeks, and he was sitting hunched ever so slightly off center. To top it all off, he had an impressive shiner on one eye, a small array of cuts and bruises on his cheek, and in the entire time Danny had been awake, Steve hadn't looked away once.
Maybe asking about his own condition wasn't so far off base, because if Steve was actually scared of something, then it couldn't be good. And considering the myriad of pains throughout his body, Danny could only guess that it was a bit of an understatement when Steve said he'd been sleeping long enough.
So much for blissful oblivion. Hello, cold and cruel reality.
Danny pressed his lips together, and gathered a breath. "So, uh. Are you going to make me guess why I'm here?"
Steve arched his eyebrows, looking at him intently. "What do you remember?"
Nothing, if he kept his memory stubbornly at bay. His consciousness was still fuzzy, blurred with pain and dulled sensations, and trying to figure out why the hell Steve was holding his hand was easier than thinking about why he was in this miserable place to begin with.
Still, the time for ignorance had come and gone and if Danny was stuck with the starkness of reality, he might as well give it a go.
Frowning, he traced his memories back, swimming through the murky sea of pain and half-formed realizations. The first concrete image that came to mind was handcuffs.
Danny had never been one for kinky foreplay, so he could only assume that the image was of a less enjoyable variety.
He blinked, and he made out the tenderness on his wrists.
He'd been handcuffed. To a chair.
That realization gave way to a wave of memories. Steve and the warehouse, Blaine and the kid. The gun and the beating and oh, crap-
"I was shot," he said, almost surprised. He looked back at Steve, unable to stop the wide-eyed wonder from showing on his face. "We were kidnapped and the son of a bitch shot me."
The look on Steve's face was a mix of relief and regret, and to his credit, he kept it mostly composed beyond that. He nodded briefly. "Things got pretty touch and go there for a while," he said.
It was a subtle confession, and Danny wasn't entirely sure he was ready to know just what he'd almost touched and how close he'd come to going.
Fortunately, there were other gaps in this story that Steve could fill in that didn't involve Danny considering his own mortality. "So how did we get out of there?" he asked. He tried to shrug one shoulder, but it was a pathetic effort.
If Steve noticed Danny's pitiful attempts to punctuate his conversation with nonverbal cues, he mercifully didn't comment on it. "It's not important."
At that, Danny blinked, his own feelings of feeble ridiculousness giving way to surprise. "It's not important?"
Steve shrugged, his gaze diverting to his hands. "It got pretty hectic there."
"Yeah," Danny agreed with as much incredulity as he could muster with his strained voice. "It got pretty hectic when I was awake, but that didn't mean we were close to getting out of there. Somehow I'm guessing that Blaine didn't just let us walk away."
Steve glanced at him. "You weren't walking by that point, anyway."
Danny glared. "Thanks for the reminder," he said curtly. "Though by the looks of you, I'm not sure you were either."
Steve seemed to accede that point. "Like I said, it got hectic."
"What, did Blaine turn on you when he figured out that I wasn't waking up?" Danny pushed.
"It's really not important," Steve said dismissively.
But Danny wasn't one to be dismissed. Not on a good day and most certainly not when he had been beaten and shot and woken up in a hospital room with his partner trying to grope him. Adamantly, he shook his head, lifting one hand minutely. "It is important," he said. "Because when someone's in a hospital bed, everything is important. I want to know how the hell I ended up here and if I should be thankful for waking up at all or pissed at how close I came to dying. Blaine didn't just let us go, and you wouldn't have gotten that roughed up if Chin and Kono saved the day. When someone passes out in the line of duty, they get to know what happened. End of story."
Steve seemed to blanch a little, shifting in his seat. He sighed, meeting Danny's gaze wearily. "I worked on Malcolm," he said. "The kid was being blackmailed."
That didn't come as a surprise, though it was annoying that he hadn't been able to figure that out on his own. He should have focused more on his interrogation. Though, really, drifting in and out of consciousness was probably an apt excuse for neglecting his detective duties. Danny nodded. "So he decided to help?"
Steve nodded back. "And it was working until Blaine came back and caught us."
Steve inclined his head grimly. "He shot Malcolm."
Normally, it would have been hard to find sympathy for those who were willing accomplices in his own kidnapping, but Malcolm was hardly willing, and Danny couldn't help but feel a pang. "Is he okay?"
"He woke up not long before you," Steve confirmed.
"Okay, so. Malcolm tries to help you and fails. But you're still here, beat to hell," he said, eyeing Steve with suspicion. "So, what, he got pissed at your attempt?"
"To say the least," Steve said wryly.
And that all made enough sense and it made something of a coherent picture, if a somewhat unpleasant one. And Danny knew it was possible that his brain was still too addled and that his senses were still too dim, but there was still something of this story missing. "But how did you get out?"
Steve shrugged again, a little noncommittally.
Danny's eyes narrowed. "Do I need to remind you that I'm in a hospital bed?" he asked. "That I have wires and tubes all over the place, including one that should be outlawed as a violation of my manhood?"
"I just kept buying time," Steve said.
"Do I need to be more specific about the tubes or are you going to ante up here?"
Steve rolled his eyes. "I told him the truth," he said. "I told him what he wanted to know."
Danny had to admit, of all the answers he thought he might get, that really hadn't been in it. Because Steve was a man of his principles and he'd staked their lives early on the plan to hold out, and Danny had made him promise to stick to it.
His brow furrowed and his heart skipped a beat. He lifted both his hands, holding them out. "You told him?"
Steve nodded simply.
Just a simple nod. Matter of fact. "After 12 hours of beating and questioning and beating and getting shot, you told him," Danny said.
"Yes, I told him."
No excuses. No explanations. Just plain fact, like Danny was supposed to get it. More than that, like Danny was supposed to accept it.
And maybe, on a good day.
No, not on a good day. And certainly not today. "I told you not to," he said. "I told you, as I was bleeding out from a gunshot wound, not to. I mean, I did tell you that, didn't I?"
"Yeah, you did-" Steve began.
"And didn't you even refuse to tell me? I mean, didn't we have an entire conversation where I asked to know and you flatly refused?"
"No, I just need to make sure that I'm remembering this correctly. You know, that the blood loss didn't make me remember something different, or warp my version of reality. Because normally, when partners agree to something, they stick with it. You know, promises. Trust. I trusted you."
Steve's eyes flashed. "I know," he said. "You trusted me to get us out of there. That was why I never told you and why I refused to tell Blaine. To give you the best chance I could of getting out of there alive."
There was an intensity in his partner's voice, a cold veracity that Danny couldn't bring himself to question. The simple frankness of it all, the veiled emotion that drove it, deflated Danny, and he felt his energy to debate this topic wane. Because in all the hows and whys and wherefores, he still knew without asking that Steve had done it for him.
It didn't make a lot of sense, but when it came to partnership, sometimes making sense wasn't what mattered. Because Danny couldn't often explain his partner's completely irrational and idiotic behavior, but he always knew it was well intentioned.
Adrenaline simmering, Danny let himself relax, his body feeling suddenly wearier than it had before.
Steve adjusted stiffly in his seat, still looking at Danny guardedly. "Malcolm told me who was blackmailing him," he explained quietly. "The person I was protecting was the person who started all this. I was protecting the wrong person, and telling Blaine was my only option."
Apparently today was a day of surprises. From waking up in a hospital to finding out that Steve had finally compromised his moral stance to finding out that even Superman was wrong sometimes, Danny didn't actually know how much more he could take. There was a growing throbbing in his skull that seemed to be fighting for attention with the aching in his side, and all of this was without even truly knowing the nuances of the case that they were talking about.
Because the entire thing had been a mess from the beginning. Past cases and old grudges, mixed with fresh self-righteousness and desperate plans. They'd always figured that Blaine had some pressure from the outside, but the idea that Blaine was being pressured by the one person that they were trying to protect was a cruel twist of fate.
It made him seriously reconsider the adage about an enemy of an enemy, because from where Danny was laying, they all pretty much sucked.
Looking at Steve, it was pretty clear he wasn't the only one who felt that way. If Danny felt worse, Steve looked just as bad, and he was suddenly struck with the thought that if Steve's superhero powers continued to digress, Danny would have no means with which to catch him if he fell at this particular moment in time. Because Danny was probably about two sudden movements from passing out and given his total need to talk with his hands, it probably wouldn't be long.
Still, holding onto consciousness seemed important for the time being. Not that he wasn't willing to welcome oblivion again, but because there was no way he could, in good conscience, pass out and leave his partner looking like some kind of kicked puppy on the street corner.
Wetting his lips, Danny worked to get more saliva in his sore throat. "Well, that makes sense," he said simply.
Steve actually looked genuinely relieved, tension draining from his shoulders.
"But that still doesn't explain how you got out," Danny said. "I mean, I can't see Blaine as the kind of guy to forgo murder just because he got what he wanted."
Steve blinked, then nodded. "No, he was going to kill me."
Danny looked expectant. "What, you disarmed him with your super x-ray vision?"
Steve shrugged one shoulder. "I got out of the cuffs."
It was Danny's turn to blink. "You got out of the cuffs."
Steve nodded readily. "I told you, just a little pressure and the right leverage, they popped right open."
Danny blinked again, hoping against hope that he was hearing things incorrectly on account of his still precarious condition. When Steve didn't readily correct himself, Danny said, "They just popped right open."
"You're kidding, right?"
Steve's face broke into a grin. "Yeah, I'm kidding," he said. "Malcolm slipped me something to get them off with before Blaine came back."
Danny stared a second more, as Steve's words processed through his brain. "You're an asshole, you know that?"
Steve's grin widened. "Yeah, I know."
Danny shook his head, sinking back down morosely. "Leverage," he muttered. "You know, I would think that this little incident would have taught you that you're not a superhero and you should really try living a little more carefully since you are in fact not bulletproof."
"I could have done it," Steve defended. "I still got us out of there."
"Yeah, and I could have used the blood on my wrists to slip my hands right out," Danny shot back.
"I should have thought of that," Steve said. "A lubricant always helps."
Danny glared. "I'm not sure I'm okay with you using the word lubricant when I woke up with you groping me."
Steve's face twisted in wry amusement. "You must be on some pretty good drugs there, Danno."
"Or some horrible ones," he countered.
"Maybe you'll feel better when you wake up again," Steve suggested.
It was in Danny's nature to disagree, but he had to think that maybe Steve was right about this one. Because he felt tired and sore and for as much as he wanted to make Steve realize that sometimes they were strongest when they admitted their weaknesses - that sometimes protection had to be a two-way street - it was probably a conversation for another day. A day when he was less miserable and less drugged and less hooked up to every machine on the entire island.
There'd be time for the rest, he figured. Time to ream Steve out good and proper, to remind him about correct police procedure and how to keep a partner fully informed at all times. And, maybe even a time to thank him in the end for saving his ass.
"Fine," he said, eyes already drooping. "But I swear, if you're groping me again-"
Steve chuckled, leaning back in his chair. "Just go to sleep," he said.
Danny settled deeper, blinking slowly. He startled for a moment, eyes opening to fix on his partner's face. "You'll call Grace?"
"Already taken care of," Steve confirmed.
"And you'll make Rachel let her come?"
"As soon as you're awake again."
Danny nodded, his tensions fading. "And you'll be here when I wake up?"
Danny's eyes drifted closed, mind easing its grip on reality once again. As he began to shift away, he heard his partner's voice, calm and steady. "No place I'd rather be."
And when darkness came, it was neither vast or cold, but warm and easy as Danny slept on.