Summary: By which Danny and the team rescued Steve – and the bar was reset for ways for Steve to piss off Danny (and to make him care). Episode tag for 2-10, Ki'ilua. The title means, simply, "courage."
Author's note: I lack the words to tell you just how awesome Elysynn was through this whole process. What started out as a promise of any NCIS episode tag she wanted in exchange for a tag for Ki'ilua rapidly turned into a whole new fandom for me – and my own tag. She has been nothing but supportive through this process, and her own tag should be forthcoming.
Also, I don't own them, I just write stories with them. No money-making is being had with said writing, sadly.
Detective Danny Williams knew he'd hate Hawaii.
There was never a question in his mind when he left Jersey and transplanted himself for his daughter's sake – for a shot to be a part of her life in any way possible. And for six months, that was what Hawaii had been, nothing more than survival, pineapples and 80-degree December days and hatred for the one place on Earth seemingly everyone else wanted to visit. Maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, but Danny cherished it as his own.
But then 5-O had become his life. Steve McGarrett had become his partner – his friend, the back of his mind nagged him – and right now, Detective Danny Williams wanted nothing more than the sand under his feet and the wind at his back. Instead, the military deuce-and-a-half rattled along a dirt road that rivaled Hawaii's farmland settlements at their best, and Danny could barely keep the rant circulating in his head from making a public appearance.
Only you, Steve. Only you. And in another fucking COUNTRY, thank you very much. Who the hell else could pull this kind of shit? Over and over again, it ran in Danny's head, tempered by pain and exhaustion and then alternately fed by a rush of adrenaline that sent it off in another tangent. God, this whole thing went straight to hell, didn't it...
If Danny tried hard – and by hard, he meant focusing his eyes on the back of Steve's neck and wondering just why the hell it was actually clean when the rest of him was covered in dirt and blood, which, to be honest, wasn't any better an option – he could keep the image of Jenna Kaye's body out of the cycle. He didn't want to think about that – about leaving her behind, two gunshots straight through her heart, with no explanation for just what the hell had gone wrong. He'd left her body lying on the floor of a damned bunker in the middle of North Korea, and he was pretty damned certain her body would never be returned. Danny didn't know how to feel about that, not after everything that had transpired in the last six months. All he knew was he'd left her lying on a dirty, bloody concrete floor without giving the dead woman a second thought until now – focusing on the hopefully still living and not the dead and gone.
The weight in front of him reminded Danny of what they had come for and what they were returning home with. And for all of Danny's attempts at distracting himself, he knew they'd all come too damned close to returning with nothing at all. He definitely didn't want to contemplate the split second after he'd lifted the flap – the longest second of his life, not thinking but somehow knowing that they were a day late and a dollar short, thinking that all they were going home with was a body.
Just one second, dammit. Danny had seen a bloody body sprawled on the bed of the truck – not a living, breathing human being. Then Steve's head had snapped up and his eyed had widened in surprise, and Danny couldn't even remember really what he'd said or done in the next few moments. His brain sunk under a warm wash of relief, and everything from there had been words and motions and instinct – muscle memory and training just taking over and making him gloss over the tiny details.
Now with safety and the thought of returning to his very own tropical hellhole instead of this one just minutes away, Danny had stepped off the merry-go-round. His brain had kicked off autopilot and right now, the patch of clean skin – and just how the hell was Steve's neck that clean when everything else was beaten to shit – and the rigid stance of his partner sitting in front of him were all that kept Danny from sagging into the bench seat and letting his rant find verbal form. If he let the rant take over, then the concern nagging at the back of his mind could be kept in check.
He could feel Steve hauling in careful, labored breaths, and could feel the slight shake in the ex-Navy SEAL's musculature. The only thing between Steve and outright collapse right now was that same 1,000-yard stare he'd accused Steve of within hours of meeting for the first time, the military bearing and training he'd seen Steve slip behind like a theater mask hundreds of times since that very first case. Danny knew Steve needed that mask firmly in place right now, because he could feel the tremors, even as his own body tried to deal with the adrenaline high and exhaustion. Both of them – not to mention everyone else on the truck – were pretty much stretched to their limits, and Danny needed a tight rein on his emotions as much as his partner did at the moment, because if (when, his brain conceded) they acknowledged certain limits had been reached, the inevitable crash would be a mess.
So Steve had smiled on the helicopter, and Danny had cracked jokes. Jacks had checked Steve over when they'd made a quick switch from the helicopter to the truck, and pronounced the commander in no immediate danger. And now they were minutes from being on a plane and headed home.
Make that seconds. The transmission of the truck ground to a halt, brakes half-squealing as they came to a rough stop. Danny lifted his head, and looking out the back of the truck, saw the tarmac of small airstrip where they had landed the cargo plane. And seamlessly, moving with a common purpose, everyone started gathering what little there was of their equipment and off-loading onto solid ground.
Danny felt Steve shift against him, trying to manipulate his beaten body in a preemptive move to get on his own two feet. Instantly, Danny's hands tightened on one side of Steve's body, and Chin's on the other.
"Huh, where do you, you idiot, where do you think you're going?" Without waiting for an answer, Danny ducked his head under Steve's left arm, counting on Chin to do the same on the side. As soon as he felt that balance, Danny eased onto his feet, his knees popping with the effort of levering a taller, heavier body – person, dammit, not body, his mind protested – into motion.
"I can walk, Danno." Steve's voice didn't betray anything, but Danny could feel the light tremors coursing through Steve's body, and he felt Steve's leg shake as the ex-SEAL tried to bear more of his own weight. This wasn't a conversation they needed to have right now. Not with more than enough people willing to lend a hand here.
"Really, I mean, really, Steven? Are you kidding me?" Danny looked across to Chin, who rolled his eyes a little but tacitly gave permission to let the detective continue his rant. "I mean, obviously, you're not kidding, but no. We got you, you stupid jerk, and you're gonna let us help you."
When Steve didn't argue, a small alarm went off in the back of Danny's mind, but by then, they were already moving toward the back hatch of the truck. Joe and Gutches were already on the tarmac, and Danny could see the rest of SEAL Team 9 scurrying to the plane. The two commanders reached for Steve as soon as Danny, Steve and Chin reached the threshold, and helped lower the injured man to the ground.
Before they could start moving, though, Danny was back at Steve's side, giving Gutches as good a glare as he could manage under the circumstances. On the other side, he saw Chin give Joe White the same look, and the older man lifted a shoulder in acquiescence before letting the 5-O member take his place. Gutches followed suit, carefully shrugging out from under Steve's left arm so Danny could slide in.
"Our partner, our job." Danny's words weren't really for Gutches, but for Steve. The damned idiot had brought them all to this point – to a foreign land some 4,500 miles and another language away – but it would be 5-O's job to get him home. Safe and hopefully sound, where they could hopefully keep him whole. And home right now, at least the first step of it, was getting to the plane. "Time to go home."
"Home..." Steve hissed the word out as Danny and Chin reached the bottom of the plane's stairs. Danny shot Steve a smile, and resisted the urge to tap his partner – his friend – upside the head.
"Yeah, home, you jerk. Just a couple more steps now, OK?" Danny saw Steve jerk his head up and down once in agreement, but as he did, what little color Steve seemed to have left started to drain away from the man's face. Danny felt his stomach tighten up. "Uh-huh, buddy, not yet. Gotta do the stairs first, 'kay?" Chin and Danny were already side-stepping up the stairs, shuffling to keep Steve's weight evening distributed. It worked pretty well until they were just a foot or two from the threshold of the aircraft.
Then Steve turned his head to look at his partner, and Danny got to watch as his partner's eyes rolled up into his head, and Steve became deadweight in his arms.
"Nonono, Steven, you do NOT get to do this!" Danny barely managed to keep Steve's arm around his neck as the three of them swayed precariously on the steps. Danny's right knee shifted, then buckled, sending him chest-first into the railing. He grabbed on with his free hand and hung on for dear life.
Chin wasn't as lucky. With a curse, the Hawaiian man lost his footing and his grip on the dead weight that had, less than five seconds ago, been their boss. He tumbled backwards and would've gone all the way down the steps if Kono and Joe hadn't been right behind them.
Danny tried to right himself, forcing his legs to a standing position. Behind him, the three stragglers were trying to untangle various limbs, but Danny's brief glimpse back saw Joe wave him forward.
"Go...go!" Danny didn't need any further encouragement. Somehow, he got himself moving forward again, Steve's ungainly frame – God, how the hell did he weigh so much – draped on his shoulders. One step got them the rest of the way up the stairs, and the second step propelled him into the plane.
Coming out of the bright sunshine, Danny's eyes couldn't – wouldn't – adjust quickly enough to the dim lights of the airplane cabin. He didn't stop to wait, either, because, really, it didn't matter. Stumbling blindly forward, Danny steered himself in the general direction of the back of the plane, knowing that Jacks had set up a triage area on the flight to Seoul.
"C'mon, Steve, little help here?" Danny kept talking, muttering more to himself than any real thought that Steve would hear him. "God, 10 more feet and you could've collapsed on your own bed, with a nice medic and a cushy pillow and a warm blanket. But no, I've got to haul your sorry -"
The rest of the words were lost as the weight suddenly decreased by half. His eyes finally managing to pick up details, he saw Jacks slide under Steve's left arm, and the two of them maneuvered the unconscious man the rest of the way to the makeshift sickbay. Two more steps after that, Danny got Steve down on his side, and Jacks took over from there.
The medic quickly put two fingers to Steve's throat, and for a minute – the longest minute of Danny's life, even though he knew what Jacks was checking and he knew, he KNEW, Steve wasn't dead – there was silence. Danny sagged back, sinking low into his knees as his head began to buzz, possibilities running through his head. Shock, internal bleeding, a damned stroke, since Steve seemed determined to give him one.
Then Jacks looked up, his face composed and his voice pitched low.
"Relax, sir, he's still breathing. Anything else is negotiable right now." As Danny tried to process the words, Jacks leaned back, angling his head so he could see up front.
"Cap, I could use a little help back here if you don't mind?"
Gutches was moving before Jacks was even done speaking, striding past Danny with a mumbled apology. But as Gutches brushed past, Danny lost his balance, and this time, he had nothing left for leverage and his hands failed to find any sort of purchase. His knee shrieking out every high note of pain in its repertoire, the detective flailed with his hands for a split second before his knees buckled and planted him firmly on his ass.
Danny bit back a curse as Gutches settled in across from him.
"Just tell me what you need, Brad."
"Need someone who knows his way around my kit, sir. Here, hold that a second." Danny watched as Jacks handed off the oxygen mask in his hand, unwinding the tubing attached to it and then slipping it onto a thin nozzle. The medic then cranked the knob next to a small meter, and reached over to take the mask back from Gutches. He held his fingers to the mask for a moment, then nodded in satisfaction when the small bag attached to mask inflated slightly.
"OK, tank's good, then. Should've checked it on the flight out, but..." Even as he talked, Jacks slipped the mask over Steve's painfully still face, adjusting the elastic for a tight fit. Danny relaxed against the bulkhead of the plane as Jacks and then Gutches slipped into what appeared to be a comfortable dance for them both.
"I need to place a line...hand me the 20-gauge, sir."
"Need me to spike the Ringers' bag?"
"Not yet, let me place the cannula first. And find a Foley in there, would you? I'm going to need to measure output and make sure there's no bleeding."
Danny closed his eyes, his brain wanting to start filtering out some of the details now that he knew Steve was in capable hands. He didn't need to hear every last medical term, or contemplate where that Foley catheter was going to go...
"...good, that's blood, found the vein..."
God, did he say blood? Danny started upright, but a fresh wave of dizziness assaulted him and he leaned back with a groan. Both Jacks and Gutches turned at the sound, and Danny saw the medic's eyes narrow with an indescribable emotion behind them. Danny resisted the urge to smack the floor beneath him. Figures. I'm not Steve, therefore I'm not allowed to hurt. Danny's mind was mostly OK with that. But after 36 hours with no sleep, too caffeine and too many adrenaline spikes, Danny felt he was entitled to hurt a little – even if the SEALs didn't.
But Jacks' next words surprised him – both with what he said and who he addressed them to.
"Sir, you might want to check him out." Danny snapped his head around in confusion. Who him? Chin him? And then as another body knelt down beside him, Danny realized for the first time that someone else had been watching the whole scene play out – in fact, had probably been standing guard behind the trio the whole time.
Joe White gave Danny an easy smile, then reached for Danny's shoulders, steering him to the ground.
"Ease down now." Joe's tone was quiet, placating – which only served to irritate Danny. What the hell? He wasn't the one who'd been led on a wild goose chase, then kidnapped and tortured. He just needed to get the hell off his feet – and his knees, as his right one let loose with a snap and a pop as Joe tried to even him out on the floor.
Even as Danny's head swam with the sudden rush of blood, he batted at the older man's hands.
" 'm fine, dammit..." But once Danny stretched out on his back, his body seemed inclined to enjoy the experience. He felt Joe's hands sweep over his shoulders and down his torso, and Danny knew not to stop him, that the SEAL commander was just checking for injuries. Danny couldn't even bring himself to fight the patdown; in an odd way, it was comforting.
At least until Joe's hands stopped on his left side, and pressed lightly on the lower ribs. Danny's eyes flew open, and he let out a hiss of pain.
"Hey, Wade, toss me a few of those 4x4s, would you?" Danny squinted and tried to figure out why Joe was asking for wooden beams on an airplane – until a handful of white gauze pads appeared in his line of sight instead.
"Wha … not bleeding...'m I?"
Joe chuckled, another gentle sound as the buzzing began to build again in Danny's ears. He shivered, the chill of the air mingling with the congealed sweat on his skin. What the hell?
"Wrong again, Danny. I think you caught something back there, and I'm willing to bet it wasn't jungle brush." The older man tugged at Danny's t-shirt now, and for a moment, the edges of Danny's vision went gray. Then, there was the feeling of pressure against his side, and a flare of pain spun out from the ribs into his whole chest.
A half-remembered moment from earlier – movemovemove, there's two guys with guns, Danno, not one, and no one is gonna have to explain to Gracie why Daddy died in some rotting communist hellhole – flashed through his mind, a burning sensation he'd chalked up to … well, something. He'd chalked it up to the pile of jungle branches he'd fallen back to and moved on. Now that sensation took on a life of its own, and ran rampant up his side.
"Yep, one creased your ribs." Joe's voice seemed fainter now, and Danny struggled to hold onto what the older man was telling him. But the harder he tried, the further Danny seemed away from the voices and the pain, as the gray slid steadily toward a curtain of black.
And vaguely, as the curtain dropped over his vision and pulled him into a place where no noise or pain would intrude, Danny wondered why the hell he was passing out when McGarrett had been the one tortured.
Danny's first venture back into consciousness was as slow as his descent into oblivion had been fast. Swathed in warmth, Danny wondered just why he felt so comfortable. Right now, it felt nothing more like a lazy Sunday morning in bed, his limbs logy with sleep and his brain mercifully slow and uncomplicated.
Mornings like that needed to be treasured, locked up and kept in a safe place to linger in. But as Danny's senses slowly slipped back into the land of the living, he could hear quiet voices. Right now, he felt too blessedly relaxed to do anything but listen to them and continue to drift.
"...just wish I'd seen it earlier. Could've kept him from falling flat on his ass."
"Not your fault, Lieutenant, I didn't even see it until you told me to look. Black t-shirts hide blood pretty well, you know."
"T-shirts hide a lot of stuff, sir. Doesn't mean I shouldn't have thought to check everyone on the truck, not just the obvious problem."
"Don't overthink it, Jacks. The damned bullet creased his ribs and cracked one, nothing else. Besides, everyone crashed in one way or another when we got the plane in the air. All this did was speed up the process."
"Not everyone else was injured, sir. If what you told me about the two of them is true, they're probably going to chew each other out royally."
"Yeah, and that's what friends do, son. They'll get over it, and be glad they're both here to do it."
The voices faded into silence again, leaving Danny oddly bereft and confused. He hadn't followed the conversation all that well, and it occurred to him he should have. But right now, sleep continued to nag at the edges of his vision, and he hadn't had a lazy Sunday in ages to enjoy.
So he rode out the wave, letting himself drift back sleep amid a low, pleasant hum that somehow seemed completely appropriate – and right with the world.
The second time Danny awoke, voices were less quiet, motion surrounded him – and that gentle hum had reached a whining crescendo that threatened to wake the dead.
"That's not turbulence, that's a fucking wind tunnel!"
"Gonna wake up the whole damned plane, can't he climb above-"
"He's trying, so let's get McGarrett secure before he gets bounced into-"
Then there was a loud gasp, a flurry of air and activity and voices, and Danny felt the floor reverberate with footsteps and movement and then another body-jolting slide that literally bounced him off the floor as his ears popped with the pressure change.
A plane, I'm on a plane. And Steve...Jesus, is he-
Danny's eyes flew open just as someone slid sideways into him, and suddenly the lazy Sunday feeling of floating was gone, Danny's side exploding into several different levels of intense fury. He swore for a moment he saw spots, then clinched his eyes shut against the pain and let out a few choice words he would deny having even known before joining 5-O.
"Oh, shit." Suddenly, there were hands on his side and shoulders, trying to hold him in place and keep him from moving any further. "Easy, Williams. It's all good, pilot's just trying to get us clear of the-"
The plane jolted again, and this time, Danny slid into the wall, his head smacking painfully into the bulkhead. He opened his eyes to find Gutches' visage inches from his own face, a look of embarrassment and fury crossing his features.
"Goddamnitall, really? I mean, really?" Gutches looked down at him. "Sorry, Williams. Look, just-"
That was all Danny was going to take. Fully awake now, his body screaming out various aches and pains, he'd be damned if he was going to be flat on his back while they were all bounced to hell and gone.
"Just let me up." Danny's hoarse voice croaked out the command, but whatever Gutches saw in his eyes must have convinced the SEAL trainer he was serious. Instead of protesting, the older man offered him a hand, then slid a hand behind Danny's back to lever him into a sitting position.
"Careful, Jacks put 20 stitches in your side, and if you tear out his handiwork, there's gonna be hell to pay." Danny just nodded, the bits and pieces of the conversation he had heard falling into place. He reached up with his right hand and looped it into the cargo netting, figuring he could at least anchor himself with the nylon material. Then he looked across the way, and the sight that met his eyes was both a relief and a concern.
"Here, give him that while I get McGarrett settled back – dammitall, Steve, would you just-" Jacks had a syringe in his hand, outstretched to where he obviously thought Gutches was still standing. Beyond the hunched medic, Danny saw Steve's bloodied face – and a pair of wide blue eyes looking out in obvious panic.
Gutches, still kneeling at Danny's side, got no warning when the detective pushed himself away from the side of the plane and into his knees with a loud grunt. But a split second later, Gutches had his hands on Danny's shoulders, providing a steady balancing point as Danny landed gracelessly at Steve's side.
"Dammit, Steven, calm down before he drugs your ass into the next century." Steve's head snapped around, and the two locked eyes. For a moment, the fear and confusion stayed in the ex-SEAL's eyes – and just where the hell did you think you were, Steve, because don't tell me you're all here – before recognition dawned and he relaxed against the vice grip Joe had somehow maintained on his shoulders.
The plane jolted hard one more time, and then seemed to even out. The whine settled back down to a dull hum, leaving Danny at Steve's side and everyone else in dumbfounded silence at the sudden calm.
Then the pilot's voice came over the intercom.
"Sorry about that, folks. We should be good to go for a while now." Then the com clicked off, and Danny looked down at Steve. What he saw there he wasn't expecting – a small, almost imperceptible smile, and a look of security that Danny would've sworn 30 seconds earlier was impossible.
Then he saw Jacks lean back on his heels, removing the syringe he'd previously been offering to Gutches from Steve's IV. A small, triumphant smile graced the lieutenant's face.
"There. Give that a second to kick in." Jacks heaved a slight sigh. "I don't want to give you a full dose, but that should take the edge off."
"I'm..." Steve closed his eyes for a long moment, then opened them again. With his non-IV'ed hand, he reached up and tugged the oxygen mask off his face, letting it settle down around his neck.
Danny, unable to cope with the roller coaster ride of the last few minutes, finally snapped. His side ached fiercely, and Steve had gotten his shot of the good drugs. Damned, infuriating, son of a BITCH.
"You're good? You're GOOD?" Danny swallowed back a sudden flurry of emotions, trying to maintain some semblance of control. "You've been kidnapped, beaten – probably within an inch of your life, mind you – and you're-"
Steve smiled again, this time a little broader, a little more securely. Danny could see a serene sense of peace settle in there, as Steve apparently found himself on slightly more familiar ground. Of course he did. Being beaten and kidnapped was probably par for the course in the Navy SEALs. Hell, today's events probably didn't even begin to top McGarrett Top 10 list of Life-Threatening Escapes.
Unable to process Steve's smile, or his own emotions, Danny slid back off his knees and onto his rear end. The jolt grounded him in the here and now – both from the pain in his side and the reality of a firm floor beneath him. He leaned into his knees, letting his face vanish into right hand.
Goddamn Super SEAL.
"You OK, Danno?" Steve's voice held a note of concern, enough of one make Danny look up.
"You're asking ME that?" Danny couldn't keep the incredulity out of his voice, but Steve was still staring at him, waiting for an answer. Danny swallowed hard.
"Yeah, I'm good." Jacks raised an eyebrow him, and gestured at the medical supplies, but Danny waved him off. He hurt, but for what was building in his system, he wanted that hard edge of pain.
Gutches and Joe, looking both of them over sternly, edged out of Danny's line of vision. Gutches probably had some small idea of what was coming next, and Danny knew Joe did. Neither of them were the type, really, to enter a fight that wasn't theirs, and the one brewing in Danny's gut didn't need any additional encouragement.
Which, of course, was why Steve decided to break the silence – right then and there – and provide it.
"I didn't...you didn't need to..."
"Really, Steven? Are you going to actually try to finish that sentence?" In spite of his exhaustion, in spite of the insanity of the last day and a half – you jerk, of course I'm concerned – Danny could feel a rant building in his chest.
"No. NO!" Danny forced himself up, ignoring the half-hearted wave of dizziness that still assaulted his senses. Jacks threw an arm up against him, trying to get him to at least stay seated, but Danny favored him with a glare that would've froze Steve at his best. Jacks backed off, both hands raised in surrender. And in spite of the pain still throbbing behind his eyes, Danny couldn't stop himself – his hands went to his face, his palms pressed gently into his eyes as he ran his fingers through his hair.
"Really, Steven? I mean, really?" He tried to bite back the volume, and the tone. None of this was Steve's fault, and Danny knew that. But the last 36 hours had taken their toll, and once the words started flowing, he couldn't stop them.
"This is an all-time record for you, you know? It's not enough that you've got this … this knack for finding trouble." Danny's hands seemed to jump into action of their own accord to help with the storytelling. He dropped into a mimic of Steve's voice without even thinking. "'What can go wrong? It's North Korea.' NORTH KOREA, STEVEN. Another country – and c'mon, it had to be North Korea? I mean, you could've picked Iraq, I'll grant you that, but NORTH KOREA? Shit, they make Hawaii look like heaven. And you couldn't -"
"Danny?" Steve's voice was so low, Danny almost didn't stop. Almost.
"What?" The word snapped out. Honest. Danny couldn't have stopped it if he'd tried. But when he looked up and saw the pain on Steve's face – the way his eyes were screwed shut against the dim light on the pain and the bombardment Danny had lobbed his way – Danny wanted to groan.
"Stop with the yelling...please?" Danny leaned back against the wall, letting out a sigh – whether of relief, frustration or supplication, he didn't know.
"I know." Steve's voice, pitched low, was as quiet as Danny had ever heard him. "Trust me. I know."
The fury began to boil back up in Danny's stomach. God, didn't anything get through that man's thick head? Danny didn't pull this sort of shit, so how the hell would Steve KNOW? Know what the last day and a half had been like, know the fear – the bone-numbing, paralytic FEAR they had felt when Jenna had called and said Wo Fat's name …
"How? How do you KNOW?" The words had a mind of their own. "I'm not the one getting stranded in enemy territory, shot at, blown up, beaten to within an INCH-"
"What?" By this point, Danny had buried his face in his hands again. He seriously could not keep up with this. He'd have a new ulcer, a heart attack AND a stroke within six months.
"Again with the yelling?"
Steve's voice, normally strident, pleading – harassing if he needed to stop his partner dead in his tracks – was simply pitiful. Danny looked throw his fingers to see his partner's eyes screwed shut, a wince covering his face.
Any fight Danny had left in him faded to a dull roar immediately, and Danny swallowed hard. Damned Super SEAL knew when to pick his battles – far better than Danny did, though the detective would never admit it to him. Danny heaved a sigh, then ran his fingers through his hair and repeated what he had said to begin with.
"Shit." Danny's voice cracked as he finally let the emotion of the last 36 hours truly begin to seep in, let his brain process everything they had all been through. His partner could be the military man of the operation if he wanted; Danny couldn't be. Right now, everything was too fresh and too real, and Danny couldn't even keep the shiver from running down his back – the spasm of muscle and flesh that had nothing to do with being cold.
"Take it easy, Danno." Steve pitched his voice low, and given how overtaxed his throat clearly had to be, Danny could barely pick up the words. But he managed, and when they filtered through his brain, the detective felt another rant building in his chest. He wanted to yell and scream – not just at his partner, but at the fates, at life, at this entire shit-stinking mess they'd landed in.
When the words came out, though, there was none of the usual heat or rancor – just an aching sadness that Danny couldn't keep in check anymore.
"You jerk. What did you think we would do?" In spite of himself, Danny could feel his eyes start to burn a little with unshed tears, and he turned his head to the side so he didn't need to look at his partner as he spoke. "Now, bear in mind, there IS a wrong answer here, but did you honestly think we would leave you there, after Jenna's phone call, after hearing her plead, BEG us to forgive her for putting you in Wo Fat's hands? God, Steve, her voice...she betrayed you, and then she..."
"I know." Steve's voice seemed low enough to almost be non-existent. "She just … I can't blame her, Danny. I can't. She just wanted … she wanted him back, and then got killed for it."
Danny forced himself to look back at Steve then, looking for confirmation of what he suspected.
"Wo Fat killed her, didn't he … right in front of you."
"Yeah." Steve closed his eyes, but before he did, Danny saw was a bone-weariness there that echoed his own. Danny knew it was personal now – for all of them, but more so for Steve, who'd been on this journey before any of them, and who had lost so much more.
"You had to leave her behind, didn't you..."
It wasn't a question, but Danny answered it anyhow. "Yeah. Yeah we did." He knew Steve had expected the answer, but his fingers still clinched tightly into the thin blanket as Danny's words sunk in. Left behind. Danny wondered if Steve had ever been forced to do that before in his life, and knew the answer would be no. The gravity of whatever military oaths Steve had sworn – and which Danny honored in his own way – settled onto Danny's shoulders as he watched his partner battle silently for a few long moments before voicing the words they all needed to hear.
"You … WE didn't have a choice. In any of this. You get that, don't you?" Danny honestly didn't know if Steve understood that – or wanted to. And Danny's question went beyond just leaving Jenna's body behind in the bunker. It stood to honor everything that had taken place since the CIA analyst had phoned Danny and set the wheels in motion for this sea-crossed stunt.
Then Steve spoke, and the tone of the words sunk Danny's stomach.
"There's always a choice, Danno."
And that was the crux of it, wasn't it...they'd all made choices here. Jenna had chosen to work with Wo Fat in hopes of saving her fiance. Steve had chosen to help Jenna, wanting not so much to play the hero but to be the person who gave her back her life. And when that whole plan had gone to hell, Danny had chosen to involve the rest of 5-O in what Steve might one day call an op but Danny would always call just helping a friend.
Steve had to understand that, or else Danny knew they'd be looking for a new head of the governor's task force. His friend had been through a little too much this time – maybe been betrayed the one time it would take to get him to stop trusting anyone.
So when Danny spoke, he made sure Steve listened. Reaching out, he wrapped his hand firmly around his partner's wrist, making sure to avoid the IV tubing. He was rewarded with Steve's eyes skirting immediately to meet his, a look of confusion crinkling his features.
"No, you listen to me, you idiot." Danny forced himself into Steve's personal space, knowing that the closer he got, the less his partner could ignore him. "We. Had. No. Choice. End of story. No arguments. And for the record, I don't ever intend to have to do anything like this ever again. Never. Not in this lifetime – or any other."
Steve was silent for a moment – a long moment that made Danny wonder if his words had even made some semblance of an impact. Then Steve cracked a smile, one that went back beyond the current pain and spoke toward something else.
"Never say never, Danno."
That, Danny could handle.
"No more, do you understand me, you stupid, over-amped, G.I.-Joe cartoon wannabe?" Danny's anger had started to bleed off, but he couldn't keep his hands from getting into the conversation. Half in exasperation, half in emphasis, he waggled a finger at his partner. "No more, I tell you. You keep your ass firmly planted in that pineapple-infested hellhole from now on, you hear me?"
"What did I tell you about pointing that finger in my face?" Steve's words, so reminiscent of their first argument, were tempered by the grin that split his unshaven features. Danny's mind flashed back for just a moment, his shoulders aching a little at the moment. They'd both won in that first encounter – Steve getting his way with case, but Danny realizing he could stand his ground in this never-ending war of wills. It took just a second, but Danny found a half-smile of his own to conjure up.
Then he leaned over and poked Steve in the chest.
"Yeah, well, right now, you couldn't take down a fly with a flyswatter." Still, Danny kept his hands out of Steve's reach. You could tempt the beast, but getting inside its kill radius was just stupid. As he leaned back, though, he lost his balance, and landed gracelessly back on the makeshift bunk.
Steve regarded him for a moment, raised his eyebrow, and opened his mouth. Danny's glare made him shut it again.
"Not. One. Word." The words were cut off with a yawn, one that escaped in spite of Danny's attempt to stifle it. God, he was tired.
"Maybe you oughta lay back down, huh, brah?"
"That was more than one word."
"Actually, it was..." Steve started to try to try and tick off the words on his fingers, but tugged at the IV catheter a little too enthusiastically and winced instead. Danny groaned.
"And you got me shot again." More with the memories, this time, less with the pain and more with the meeting of minds. "I don't think I heard you say I'm sorry yet, either."
"You want me to apologize?"
"Fine. You lay back down, I'll apologize. That work for you?"
"OK, Superman. You win. It's naptime for the Jersey boy." Actually, it was well past that. Whatever Jacks had given him, it clearly hadn't worn off yet, and with his anger finally starting to simmer down, Danny just wanted to close his eyes again for a while – this time knowing everything was right with the world, at least for a little while. He'd said what he needed to for now, and he knew his partner had listened.
Danny didn't even want to fight to keep his eyes open anymore, and he found himself slumping back down onto the makeshift cot, turning his face into the wadded-up shirt that seemed to be serving as his pillow.
As he did, he heard Steve say something softly, but after spending far too many hours of the past 36 in some state of insanity or another, he didn't quite make it out as he slipped back into first a doze, and then a deeper sleep.
A few seconds later, Jacks reappeared, encouraged by the sudden lack of yelling as much as a desire to check on his two wards. He found one staring at the other, that man's eyes clear and shock-free – a half-smile on his bruised face as a few quiet words escaped, apparently repeated.
"Yeah, Danno. I got your back."
Author's note post-publication: Judging by two of the reviews I've been left on the story, some people seem to think Danny is making this about himself, and that he is actually angry at Steve. If that is the impression you are left with, I am sorry. Danny's concern masks itself as anger many times during the show and especially in this fic. I had hoped to convey that. I have made some minor revisions to fix what I felt needed to be.