Title: Fugit Irreparabile Tempus
Summary: A lot can happen in a minute. Written for the h50-exchange for delicatale.
Characters: Steve/Danny, brief appearances by Chin and Kono
Disclaimer: I am playing in CBS's sandbox. Everything recognizable is theirs, everything else is mine.
Neurotic Author's Note #1: So the ever-patient, extraordinarily lovely and talented delicatale expressed a desire to read the AU in which one of the characters goes blind (or deaf, or whatever), and how the characters end up dealing with it. This is my attempt to provide that. I think I mostly succeeded.
Neurotic Author's Note #2: I stole the title from the iGeorgics/i. I hope I haven't mangled the Latin too horribly. Apologies to all the scholars who read it and cringe. ;)
Neurotic Author's Note #3: The characters and I had a violent disagreement about whether or not they were going to get it on on-screen, as it were. The characters won. I apologize for the lack of sex, but they were adamant about angsting instead.
A lot can happen in a minute.
Steve has always known this, but it's one of those lessons that seems intent on repeating itself at irregular intervals in his life. It takes less than a second to pull the trigger on a gun and end a man's life. It takes less than five seconds to pull the pin on a grenade and throw it. It takes less than a minute for Steve to run across the floor of the average-sized warehouse where they've cornered the arms dealers who've been supplying the local gangs with enough weapons to mount an army. It takes him less than a minute to make the run, trying to get there before all hell breaks loose. Steve sprints as fast as he can, covers the distance in less time than most guys his age would, but it's still too long, far too long, and Danny's already down long before his legs start moving.
All the key moments in Steve's life can be broken down into minutes and seconds, into their component parts. The sound of a doorbell. The smell of burning gasoline. A gunshot over a phone line. The sharp pain of a taser burn in the flesh of his neck. The brilliant flash of fire, and Danny's cry of surprise and pain, suddenly cut short. All of these last maybe a second, maybe three. They also last forever.
It's four hours, thirty-seven minutes and twelve seconds before they let Steve in to see Danny. That's two hundred and seventy-seven minutes, twelve seconds, sixteen thousand, six hundred and twenty seconds in which anything at all could have gone wrong, and by the time he's at Danny's side he grips the bed railing so hard he thinks he could easily rip it right out of where it is. Danny's still unconscious, kept that way artificially right now because the blast... and if Steve had been anywhere close to on the ball, then Danny would never have been near that set of doors. Danny's face is covered with bandages and this is all Steve's fault.
A lot can happen in a minute.
Everything changes so fast, a man can get whiplash and still not see it go by. It's not the change, it's the getting used to it that's long, that's so damned hard. Steve sits by Danny's bed while he's unconscious, listens to the machines beeping and whirring quietly in the darkened room. There's swelling in Danny's brain, damage from the explosion that's likely to be permanent, they've said. Steve wants to hit someone since he can't actually hit himself for his own damn negligence, but he's pretty sure that would just get him kicked out of the hospital permanently. So he parks himself in a chair, and tells himself that he's just going to wait here until Danny wakes up, that when Danny's awake he'll be able to help. Except that when they unhook the machines and Danny does finally come to and the panic sets in when Danny realizes that his world has gone dark, Steve backs out of the room, away from the crowd of doctors and nurses who are fussing over his partner, and the next thing he knows he's back home and sitting on the beach by the water, staring out at the horizon as though it might provide the answers to questions he doesn't even know how to begin to ask.
Danny's blind, but Steve is the one in the dark. He stays away for days, tries to stay away after that and finds that he can't. So he goes back, even though he can't bring himself to even look at Danny and the fact that Danny can't see him not looking somehow makes it even worse. So he sits in Danny's hospital room and reads the paper aloud because there's no one else to do it, and wishes that Danny would say something, anything at all. But for a whole week, Danny says nothing at all, and Steve doesn't know what to do except just keep going and read the papers and try to blend in with the hospital décor. Chin and Kono visit too, but Rachel keeps her distance, keeps Grace away entirely. Steve can't make either of them come, finds out that the only thing he can do is bring a newspaper every day —sometimes several newspapers— and read aloud to a partner who won't so much as turn his head most days.
"You know what's wrong with people?" Danny interrupts his reading of an article on proposed fiscal reform on a Monday morning. It's been ten days since he came out of the artificially-induced coma, seven days since Steve has been coming in daily and staying as long as he can manage before the staff politely show him the door. "No accountability. No one has any sense of personal responsibility anymore." He points a finger in Steve's general direction, head tilted slightly to one side, mouth twisted into a familiar expression of annoyance.
Steve puts down the paper, keeps his tone mild even though he sort of wants to turn backflips and maybe grab Danny and kiss him senseless while he's at it. "That so, Danno?"
"I tell you what, my friend, if people had a better-developed sense of personal responsibility, the country wouldn't be in the mess it's in right now."
If Steve was expecting more of a rant, he's a little disappointed when Danny just shakes his head in disapproval, but he doesn't miss the small wince that accompanies the gesture. Most of the bandages are gone except for two small patches of gauze still taped to Danny's eyes. The skin around his eyes is healing better than any of the doctors had hoped for, might not even need plastic surgery to get rid of the scarring at this rate.
"You in pain, Danny?" The answer's obvious, but Steve doesn't want to overstep. Danny has a call button he can use if he wants to, that's always within reach even if he has to feel for it a bit first.
Danny shrugs. "Can't complain," he says, and they both know it's a lie.
Steve bites his lip. "I'll call someone for you."
A lot can happen in a minute.
It took ten seconds for Steve to read that one sentence aloud, something completely anodyne about the economy. After that it's like a light switch gets flipped in Danny's head, and he's back to normal, rambling about the state of the nation and the manners of today's youth and everything in-between. Except that he doesn't look at Steve anymore, blue eyes hidden behind sunglasses because he can still make out the difference between light and dark, and the strain of trying to see something he can't makes his head hurt. He also hasn't complained once about any of Steve's habits, or his predilection for going in places without back-up, or his general lack of sanity, which only confirms Steve's suspicions that Danny blames him for this. Which he should.
Steve should leave him be. No sense coming back again and again and re-opening the wound, except that he can't stay away. Steve has never thought of himself as a coward, has never really been afraid except a handful of times in his life, when he thought his family was in danger, and even then he always knew what to do. Now, though, he doesn't have the first fucking clue. He should go, except the idea of never seeing Danny again, never hearing his voice, smelling his stupid aftershave from Jersey, feeling his skin under his fingertips.
There's a chance the blindness might not be permanent, might ease up a little bit with time, but he's never going to be able to work again, not as an active cop. Steve watches Danny grasp his collapsible red and white cane for the first time, and tells himself that he's only imagining it when Danny's shoulders slump just a fraction —a split-second's worth of defeat— before he squares them again and stands up, slides the teardrop tip along the smooth tiles of the hospital floor.
Kono buys him a pair of expensive sunglasses, lets Danny run his fingers all along the edges and he jokes with her about how she should have bought him aviator frames, because the look never goes out of style. She teases him right back about being a seventies throwback, and Steve watches them both and wonders if there's something wrong with him or with them or maybe with all of them. Danny looks up, and then he's holding out the sunglasses to Steve, eyes fixed on a point slightly to Steve's right, and Steve has to look away because he can't quite bear to look and not see Danny's eyes the way they used to be, blue and bright and filled with laughter.
"So come on, tell me, how bad are they? Her I don't trust, but I know you won't lie to me."
Steve takes them, using only the tips of his fingers. He feels sick, but he forces himself to look up, to look Danny straight in the eyes even if Danny can't return the favour, and he outright lies. "I like them."
Danny grins. "That settles it, then. They're hideous and I want nothing to do with them."
Kono laughs and Danny slides the glasses over his nose, adjusting them with the tip of his finger, and just like that, his eyes are gone from view.
A lot can happen in a minute.
Danny moves back into his apartment once he's argued his way out of rehab. He's been assigned a caseworker, has been going faithfully to every single workshop and therapy session that can teach him how to function independently. The whole team helps him to move back in, Chin reading out the instructions from the sheet photocopied from an adapted living manual while Steve and Kono moved Danny's depressingly small amount of furniture. Everything gets put in a specific place, carefully measured so that Danny can count his steps and know where all his stuff is. The old pull-out bed is gone, replaced with a regular double bed wedged up against the far wall so that Danny won't trip over it getting around.
Danny's as animated as ever, using his new cane to add emphasis to what he's saying. It's not the tear-drop tip one he uses indoors, but the one with the thicker tip that's better-suited to walking outside. He's learning Braille but balked at the idea of a service dog.
"No way. Dogs are messy and furry and they drool. No, I am perfectly capable of doing this on my own."
Now he's leaning against the wall by the door, one leg crossed over the other, hands folded atop the tip of his cane, but it's hard to see his expression behind the sunglasses. He hasn't said anything since they started moving furniture, but once things quiet down and Chin and Kono move to the kitchen to start applying Braille labels to the cupboards, Danny takes a careful step forward, then another, cane held at the ready. Steve bites his lip, makes a point of clasping his hands behind him because it's obvious Danny doesn't want or need his help —right up until Danny's foot catches on the foot of the coffee table where he didn't quite compensate enough for it and he goes down with a curse.
It takes less than three seconds for Danny to fall. Steve lunges, manages to catch hold of him just enough for Danny not to brain himself completely on the edge of the coffee table, but not enough to prevent the two of them from sprawling awkwardly on Danny's throw rug. When Steve manages to extricate them both from under the coffee table Danny's bleeding where he bit his own lip. Steve steers him to the sofa, only to be forcibly repelled.
"Get off me, McGarrett, I'm fine!" Danny dabs at his lip with the tips of his fingers, automatically holds out his hand to check them, then curses again. "Fuck, am I bleeding? It feels like I'm bleeding. Fucking bit myself."
Steve pulls a clean tissue from a pocket and puts it in Danny's hand just as Chin and Kono hurry back from the kitchen. "Okay, brah?"
Danny waves them off. "Fine, I'm fine. I just... look, I think I'm good, okay? I got it from here. Thanks for your help, but I got it."
"Danny..." Steve starts, only to get waved down again.
"No, I mean it. It's been a long day, I'm going to turn in. Thank you for moving all my shit and labelling my drawers and every fucking other thing you've done, but right now all I want is my bed, okay?"
It's Chin who steers both Steve and Kono to the door. "Okay, brah. You got it. You got our numbers if you need anything."
When Steve glances back, the last thing he sees is a glimpse of Danny, still sitting on the edge of his sofa, head down, staring sightlessly at his hands.
A lot can happen in a minute.
It takes Steve approximately five seconds to waken from sleep, ten seconds to be fully alert and ready to go. Sometimes it takes less time than that. It's an ability that took a long time to acquire. Years of experience and practice built on moments counted in seconds. He's already reaching for his pants by the time he's got the phone to his ear.
It's no one from work on the other end of the line, but Danny, his voice shaky. "Uh, sorry to wake you."
"Don't apologize. Are you okay?"
Danny clears his throat. "I, uh, I'm not sure. Could you..." he hesitates, but Steve doesn't.
"I can be there in ten minutes. Can you wait that long?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I can —I can wait."
It takes six minutes and forty-three seconds for Steve to get to Danny's new apartment. He's memorised the routes, the short-cuts, the shortest alternatives for when there's traffic. At three o'clock in the morning, there's no one on the roads. Steve has a key —for emergencies— and lets himself in without knocking.
Danny's voice is uncharacteristically quiet. When Steve steps into the bedroom, it's still plunged in darkness. He switches on the light to find Danny sitting cross-legged on his bed, cell phone next to him, one hand wrapped tightly around the other. He's wearing boxers and a white tank top, obviously what he's been sleeping in, and Steve's heart lurches unpleasantly in his chest when he sees a red smear on the thin white fabric.
"Watch your step, there's broken glass."
Danny hasn't so much as looked up, head ducked down as though he's too embarrassed to look Steve in the eye, even if he can't actually see him. It doesn't take long to see the glass that's been knocked to the floor —thankfully empty, which means it only takes a few moments to sweep up. He pulls Danny's first aid kit out from the cabinet under the bathroom sink, goes to sit next to Danny on the bed.
"Let me see, Danno."
It's not too bad ―a deep cut over the meat of the palm, but it's still bleeding. Steve swabs it with antiseptic, applies butterfly strips, gauze and tape, gently folds Danny's fingers against it. Danny's still not looking at him, shoulders hunched.
Even though his face Danny's face is averted, it's not difficult to see just how humiliating he's finding this. A flush has crept up his neck and face, staining his cheeks crimson. His hands are shaking a little where he's holding his bandaged hand in his uninjured one.
"Anytime, you know that." Steve wants to reach out, maybe squeeze his shoulder or pat his knee, but he keeps his hands to himself. "So what happened?"
Danny shrugs. "The obvious. Guess I'm going to have to get plastic glasses. Maybe some of those plates that are impossible to break. Can't remember the name, but I bet Rachel would know. Not that she'd ever let anything that cheap into her home these days."
"You seeing Grace soon?" Steve wants to kick himself for his word choice as soon as the question leaves his mouth, but Danny either doesn't notice or doesn't let on that he has and just shakes his head.
"Not until I get a handle on this. Probably for the best. I mean, I can't even get myself a glass of water when I'm thirsty without having to call for backup. How can I expect to take care of her?" he asks bitterly, and Steve doesn't know what to say to that.
A lot can happen in a minute.
Some things are months in the making, but they all lead up to a single moment, a few seconds in time. Steve finds Danny sitting at the tiny table in his one-bedroom apartment, piled high with what looks like bills. He knows that his surprise must show on his face, even as he realizes that Danny can't see it anyway. He doesn't know whether or not to be relieved.
Danny's head jerks up, even though he must have heard Steve come in. "Uh, hey." He makes a small, futile gesture that looks like an attempt to shuffle the papers out of sight. "I didn't know you were coming."
"I should have called."
Danny shakes his head. "No, no, it's fine. I, uh... was just performing an exercise in futility, here. Turns out regular print is really hard to read when you're blind. Apparently getting bills in a format I can read is a lot to ask for."
Steve chews on his lip at the bitterness in Danny's tone. "You, uh, need some help?"
Danny blows out a breath in exasperation. "No, I just..." he shoves at the papers again, pushing them into a messy pile. One of the corners catches, crumpling the paper, and Danny curses under his breath trying to straighten it. Steve reaches for it, catches Danny's hand.
"Here, let me."
"Christ, I am perfectly capable of putting papers together on my own!" Danny snaps, and Steve snatches his hand back like it's been burned.
Danny shoves his chair back from the table, wipes his hands over his face. "No, I'm sorry. Shit," he scrubs at his face again. "Look, this isn't a good time, okay?"
Steve hesitates. Danny's giving him an out, and even though he's desperate to take it, to just take to his heels and go back to his house, maybe dive right into the ocean and swim until his muscles are screaming from overuse, all of his instincts are telling him that leaving now would be the worst mistake of his life. He's missing a piece of the picture, here, and staying behind is the only way he's going to figure it out. He pulls up a chair, sits across the table from Danny.
"Talk to me, Danno. You know you don't have to do any of this by yourself, right?"
"That's just the problem, isn't it?" Danny crumples the paper he was trying to straighten up until a moment ago and throws it viciously at the wall. It falls short, but he doesn't see it. "I can't do a single damned thing by myself! I can barely take a shower without a babysitter. My ex-wife won't let my kid near me, and with damned good reason —how the hell am I supposed to take care of Gracie when I can't even tell what colour shirt I'm wearing?" Danny gets up, shoves his chair back, runs his hands through his hair. If he could still see, Steve knows he'd be pacing right now. Instead, he sweeps one hand through the papers on his table. "I can't even pay my bills because I can't see just how badly my account is overdrawn. How funny is that?" he snorts.
Steve got to his feet at the same time as Danny, but he's never felt quite this helpless in his life. From this angle, though, he can see what looks like the edge of a bruise under the sleeve of Danny's t-shirt. Now that he's paying attention, it looks like Danny's holding himself a little more carefully than usual, in spite of his outburst.
"Danny —d'you hurt yourself?"
That takes the wind out of Danny's sails. He runs his hands through his hair again. "It's nothing."
"Let me see?" Steve steps close, puts a hand carefully on Danny's hip, by the hem of his t-shirt, pulls it up when Danny just gives a tired nod. Steve sucks in a breath when he sees the bruises mottling Danny's shoulder and ribcage. They're yellowing around the edges, already fading, which means they must have been acquired several days ago. He traces a finger over one on Danny's shoulder, and Danny shudders, ever so slightly. "What happened?"
Danny flaps a hand at him. "Nothing. I fell. Tripped over some junk the neighbours left lying around. It's not like I can force them to keep the place clear so I don't accidentally break my neck."
Shit. Steve has to clamp down on the impulse to go and kick the crap out of Danny's neighbours. It's bad enough that the couple next door fight at all hours of the day and night —which does nothing to help when Danny's trying to sleep off a migraine— but now they're literally a physical threat to his safety.
"Can I put my shirt back on, Doctor?" Danny pulls away, tugs his shirt back down without waiting for Steve's answer. "Look, babe, I know that expression, and you can't fix this."
"You can't see my expression." Steve winces as soon as he realizes what he just said, but Danny snorts.
"What, you think just because I can't see I don't know what expression you're wearing?" he reaches out, carefully at first, then more confidently when he becomes sure of his target, and pokes Steve in the chest. "I know you, you goof. I know what expression you're wearing, but let me tell you, you can't go and beat the stuffing out of my neighbours, got it?"
Danny snorts, moves carefully over to the table, finishes arranging his papers into a neat pile. "You can't fix everything, Steve."
That pulls him up short. "What?"
Danny shakes his head, physically turns away from Steve. "Nothing. Never mind. It's not a good time. Whatever you wanted, can I take a raincheck? All I want right now is a fifth of bourbon and my bed to sleep off this damned headache."
Steve stops, looking directly at Danny for the first time in —well, he's not sure how long. He's been so busy trying to act normal around his partner, he's coming to realize, that he hasn't actually been acting normal at all. He should have seen this, he tells himself. Danny's lost weight, and Steve attributed the pallor and the circles under his eyes to the fact he's still recovering from the injury, but it's more than that, so much more. Danny's moving cautiously these days, and it doesn't take a genius to figure this out.
"Danno, how long has it been since you've been outside?"
Danny shrugs. "I was at the hospital day before yesterday," he says, and Steve swallows a mouthful of bile. Apart from his own visits, Danny doesn't see people much, and the thought of him being too afraid to go out his own front door because his neighbours can't damn well be bothered to keep the pathways clear makes Steve sick.
He takes a breath. "Come live with me."
A lot can happen in a minute.
Steve keeps a hand tightly on Danny's elbow as he makes his way into the house for the first time, cane gripped so hard that he can see Danny's knuckles turning white. Danny was nervous in the car, too, though he was trying not to show it. Even now there are damp patches on his shirt that have nothing to do with the heat and humidity.
Danny cocks his head. "You sure about this?"
The lease on Danny's place has long since been broken, most of his stuff either put into storage, sold, or brought to Steve's house. Not to mention that Danny couldn't afford to live even in that rat-hole on his disability benefits, especially when he was still paying his court-ordered child support to Rachel, which hadn't changed in spite of his reduction in income. Steve is pretty sure that Rachel wouldn't have insisted on it, but it doesn't appear to have occurred to Danny to try to pay less money for his little girl, even if Stan is more than able to provide for everything Gracie might want and more. So it's too late for either of them to change their mind, even if Steve wasn't surer about this than anything else in his life. It's not the time to mention that, though.
"Absolutely sure. Okay, you've got two steps up, then three steps to the door."
"Got it." Danny breathes carefully, slides the tip of his cane over the wooden slats, and Steve can feel the tension leaving his body when they finally step over the threshold into the house. Danny huffs out a small laugh. "Smells like the ocean, even in here."
Steve grins, relieved. "I set you up on the first floor, so you won't have to worry about the stairs. Five steps forward, then left for eight steps. It might be a few more, since your legs are shorter."
Danny smacks his arm with unerring accuracy. "Who're you calling short? You're just unnaturally tall. Like a giraffe."
Steve guides him to his room, backs off after that, figuring Danny's going to want some space in order to get adjusted. He retreats into the kitchen, fusses aimlessly with his pots, wondering if he should start lunch, or what —Chin and Kono are coming by in the afternoon, and he should probably just wait for them and put something on the grill, but he's kind of at loose ends— when a slight scuffling noise catches his attention. He's not used to the sound of Danny's cane sliding along the floor, but before long it will become the most familiar sound in his life. Danny feels his way along the counter top, fingers skimming the edge, tips running over the cupboard doors, and he stops, catches his lower lip in his teeth.
"You labelled the cupboards."
Whatever Steve was expecting as a response, it's not for Danny to blink hard and turn his head away so Steve can't see him. Steve realizes two things in that moment. The first thing he realizes is that he would give up everything in the whole world in order never to see that expression on Danny's face, the one that tells him that all Danny expects from life now is to be kicked while he's down. The second thing he realizes —and, really, he's a little annoyed with himself for taking so long with this one, because now that he knows it's all pretty obvious— is that he's in love with Danny and has been practically since they day they met. The net result of these simultaneous realizations is that he crosses the kitchen in two steps and pulls Danny carefully into his arms, trying not to startle him.
"Hey, you okay?"
Danny pulls in a shaking breath, head ducked down, then shakes his head. "Not really." He's holding himself stiffly, as though he's afraid of what will happen if he just lets go. He brings up a hand and wipes it once over his face. "Steve... I know maybe you think it's too late, but... you can change your mind. I'm not —I'm kind of falling apart, here, and it was easier to, you know, keep it together when it was just for maybe an hour or two, but... I can't anymore. And I should have told you, but I thought maybe I could do it, and now I'm here and you've labelled your fucking cupboards and—" Danny comes to an abrupt halt as his voice threatens to break, and that's it.
Steve kisses him.
It's awkward as all hell, because Danny's not expecting it and tries to pull away for a moment before he figures out what Steve is doing. He holds still, then, and to Steve's relief brings his hands up to grip both of Steve's arms tightly, his cane clattering to the floor. He lets Steve pull him close, kisses him back as though he's drowning and Steve is the only source of air he has left. When they break apart again, he's breathing hard, fingers still digging into Steve's biceps. He opens his mouth, but Steve cuts him off, literally putting a finger to his lips.
"Whatever you're about to say, don't. I should have done this two years ago, and I don't want you to read anything into this, overanalyse it so that it gets all twisted up in your head and doesn't mean what I want it to mean. I can't take your brushing this aside, so don't, okay?"
Danny nods, still breathless. "Okay."
Danny exhales slowly, leans his forehead against Steve's chest. "I'm still pretty fucked up."
"I don't care."
"I know you feel responsible," Danny says quietly. "And you're not. It's just... it's part of the job. I can't deal with this and you, your stupid misplaced guilt. I can't. Do you get that?"
Steve nods, even if Danny can't see him. It's simple enough: if he wants Danny, then all he has to do is get over himself. If that's what Danny needs, then that's what he'll do.
"Promise you won't try to fix me?" Danny's only half-joking, and they both know it.
A lot can happen in a minute.
All the key moments in Steve's life can be broken down into minutes and seconds, into their component parts, but this is different. This time, he thinks, with Danny warm and solid in his arms, it's going to last for a lifetime. And that's just fine by him.