The bed frame above his head squeaks and thumps its way into his subconscious. Danny slits open one sleepy eye and starts praying.
The dream's starting. It's been five nights...I hoped Steve was past this.
Maybe it won't be so bad tonight. Some nights, it's not. Some nights, Steve just tosses and turns, sometimes he just mumbles "Shellburn" in his sleep and drifts back off to Dreamland. Some nights, the demon visits for a brief time, then leaves Steve alone.
Some nights, it's as bad as it can get.
His heart sinks as an agonized moan floats down the stairs.
"Don't know...Shellburn...what the hell...UHG!"
As Steve's mumbling ends on a tortured grunt, Danny rolls on his back and stares at the ceiling, willing Steve to conquer the demon that's come to torture him. He knows what's next if Steve can't pull himself free of the nightmare.
Come on, man. You're stronger than a dream. You beat Wo Fat in real life, you can do it now.
The ocean's waves crash and recede just outside the sliding doors, but Danny's gotten used to its gentle yet torturous rhythm. He doesn't dare wear the headphones Steve had given him, had stopped wearing them the first night Steve's demons had come calling. He'd been ripped out of a sound sleep by a half-crazed Steve holding a knife to his throat and dripping sweat onto his face. It had taken Danny fifteen terrifying minutes to talk the man off whatever cliff he was teetering on, and had scared the living shit out of the former Jersey cop. He's seen the scars Steve carries on his body, but witnessing the terror in Steve's eyes that night made him realize for the first time, the scars penetrate his partner's soul.
Neither man's had a decent night's sleep since. Danny keeps an ear open for the beginnings of the nightmare, so he can try to bring Steve back before the evil that lurks in his mind takes total possession.
Before the screaming starts.
Danny sits up, rubs the heels of his hands over his gritty eyes and waits for the next part of the dream. When it comes, predictable as the sunrise, he sighs and gets to his feet, yanks on a pair of worn sweat pants. He pads into the kitchen, grabs a bottle of Jack and two semi-clean glasses. Steve usually prefers the Longboards, but he sucks down the whiskey Danny brings him after the nightmare like a baby gulps down mother's milk.
"McGarrett...Steven...J. Lieutenant...Commander...U.S. Navy...zero-two-five..."
Name, rank, serial number. As Steve's litany continues, Danny climbs the stairs, his steps heavy, memories of rescuing Steve and the aftermath rolling like a film reel through his head.
As long as he lived, he'd never forget the sight of his partner in the back of that truck in North Korea. Barefoot and bound, beaten bloody and bruised, the look of resignation, then hope that had spread over Steve's face as he saw Danny had twisted his heart. He'd untied and gotten Steve out of the truck as Joe had yelled at the others to get the hell to the copter as fast as they could.
Danny remembers how Steve had cradled that gun against him, had clung to it like a lifeline long after they'd flown out of North Korea. He'd have carried the damn thing all the way back to Hawaii if Joe hadn't talked him into giving it up when they landed in Seoul. Even then, he'd had to practically pry the rifle out of Steve's stiff fingers.
Come on, son...you don't need that here. You're among friends.
Kono had cried when she saw him, silent tears that tracked down her pretty face. She hadn't broken when she'd lost her badge and Fryer had forced her undercover. She'd withstood hours of interrogation from Steve after she'd been brought in on a murder charge, hadn't flinched when she got shot. Danny considered her one of the best cops he'd ever met, but the sight of a battered Steve had cracked her tough shell wide open.
Lori had wanted to take Steve to Hickam to get checked over, but Chin had been quick to put the kibosh on that idea.
We take him to Hickam, the Navy knows for sure we went into North Korea without authorization. Chin had glanced around the military transport that had taken them back to Honolulu. We go to jail and these SEALs lose their commissions and possibly get charged with treason. He'd locked eyes with Danny. I have a better idea.
Once they landed, Danny had pulled out his cell phone and asked Max to meet them at the morgue.
"I'm fine, sir." As the plane landed, Steve struggled to his bare feet, fixed bruised eyes on Joe. "I don't need Max to check me out. All I need is a shower and some rest."
"It's not up for debate, son." Joe gave Steve's shoulder a squeeze. "We can't take you to the Air Force hospital at Hickam, but your man Kelly was smart to think of the M.E. He can at least check you over, make sure nothing's seriously wrong." The older man grinned. "And he can set that broken nose of yours before it heals crooked and ruins that good-lookin' face." Joe offered his hand to Wade. "You better get these boys back to barracks before someone misses 'em."
Wade's grin stretched his weathered face. "Got it." He turned his attention to the SEALs. "Come on, ladies - pack up your gear and let's get back to base."
The men gathered around McGarrett, shook his hand, wished him well before gathering up their equipment and heading down the plane's airstairs. Hands on his hips, Joe watched Steve try to take a step and stumble, watched Danny and Kono slide to either side to prop him up.
"I can go down a few damn steps," Steve muttered as Kono eased her shoulder under his left arm.
"We're just giving you a hand, boss," she murmured. "Everyone needs a hand once in awhile."
"Just shut up, will ya?" Danny tightened his grip around Steve's waist. "You can thank us later."
Max had hidden his horror at Steve's injuries under a thin veneer of medical professionalism as he'd examined Steve.
This is the second time I've had to patch you up, Commander McGarrett. I hope this will not become a habit. Now hold still...this is going to hurt.
Danny closes his eyes as he remembers Steven's grunt of pain when his broken nose was popped back into place, remembers Max's recitation of Steve's injuries.
Commander McGarrett's suffered injuries to both rotater cuffs, possibly from being suspended by his wrists. Abrasions on his neck and wrists suggest he was restrained with some type of rope. Judging by the cuts and contusions to his face and torso, I would say he also was subjected to a vicious beating. Max had paused, gathered himself. It's also evident by the burns on Commander McGarrett's torso that he was tortured with electric shock, most likely a cattle prod of some sort.
Danny shakes his head as he moves on quiet feet toward to Steve's bedroom. Steve still carries those scars on his torso, and Danny knows they disappear under the waistband of the cargo pants McGarrett always wears. He shudders to think just how far Wo Fat had gone to get Steve to talk.
He thinks of his daughter. Grace doesn't understand why she can't sleep at Uncle Steve's right now, but Rachel does. Her dark eyes brim with sympathy when Danny tells her about Steve, and she explains to their little girl in that accent that always drove him crazy that Uncle Steve needs to rest right now, but Grace will be able to see him soon. She doesn't tell Grace that it's not safe for her to be around Steve right now.
Steve's groans are louder now, more frenzied. Danny knows what his partner's fighting, the urge to give in, to plead, to beg for the pain to end. He reaches the door, pushes it open, steels himself for what he'll see when he looks inside.
Steve's white-knuckled hands are clenched around the top of the headboard, his body arched in relived agony. The bedclothes twist around his naked hips and thighs, sweat soaks the sheet under his back. His head tosses back and forth, eyes squeezed shut against the horror playing out behind his eyelids. As Steve writhes on the bed, the blanket covering him shifts and the moonlight streaming through the window confirms Danny's worst fears.
Wo Fat had done more than try to extract intel from McGarrett. He'd tried to break him.
"Steve." Danny calls his partner's name softly as he comes into the room, sets the half-empty bottle and glasses on the dresser. "Come on, buddy, time to wake up." He approaches the bed with caution, knowing what the tortured SEAL is capable of should he be startled into wakefulness.
Danny's got no desire to feel the cold steel of the blade McGarrett keeps under his pillow against his throat again.
"Steve." He tries again, takes a few steps closer to the bed. "It's just a dream. You gotta wake up."
Steve's jaw clenches before the pleas for mercy burst through his rigid control.
"NO...make it..stop...no...PLEASE!" The screams rip from his throat as Steve yanks himself out of the nightmare. The headboard creaks in protest as Steve bolts up straight in bed, knife in his hand as wild eyes fix on Danny. Danny stops moving, puts his hands up, palms out.
"It's ok, Steve. It's just me."
Steve blinks. "Danny?" His voice is hoarse, rough with sleep and terror. He lowers the knife, wipes a shaky hand over his sweaty face. "Danny?"
Danny sighs in relief when Steve slides the knife into the nightstand drawer. He splashes a generous portion of whiskey in a glass, hands it to Steve. "Here. Drink this. It'll make you feel better."
Steve downs the belt of Jack in one swallow, then holds out the glass. Danny pours him another, then settles on the side of the bed with his own drink.
"Bad one this time." It's the same thing he says, every time. He knocks his glass against McGarrett's, takes a sip. Steve stares at him.
"Yeah." Steve downs the three fingers in another swallow. He hisses through his teeth, then sets the glass aside. Same thing he always does - two shots of Jack, then set the glass aside. Any more would show his weakness.
Steve is anything but weak - except in his dreams.
"Thought you were gonna talk to Max's guy". Max had recommended a psychiatrist friend of his that specialized in PTSD, but in true McGarrett fashion, Steve refused to admit there was a problem. His physical injuries should have kept him off cases for at least a month, but after a week, he was back in the game - chasing down suspects and taking more foolhardy risks than he usually did.
"Yeah." Steve pulls the sheet more securely over his hips, rests his forearms on his bent knees. "Never got around to that."
Danny kills the dregs in his glass, reaches for the bottle for a refill. "Wanna talk about it now?" Same thing he always asks after a nightmare.
Steve's face closes in on itself. "Nothing to talk about." Same thing Steve always says after a nightmare. This time, Danny decides to give his friend a nudge.
"You are so wrong, my friend." Danny keeps the tone of the conversation casual, but his heart is pounding. Pushing Steve too hard now could cause the SEAL to shut Danny out forever, but God knew the man couldn't go on like this much longer. "The dreams are getting worse and you know it. You gotta talk about it or it'll eat your brain alive."
Steve purses his lips. "It's hard for me, Danny. It's not...I wasn't trained to talk about the shit that happens to me."
Steve's words falter and Danny gets it. McGarrett's a Navy SEAL, for Christ's sake. He was trained not to crack under pressure, his body conditioned to take the most horrific abuse, all in the name of his country.
"This is different, Steve. This wasn't you getting grabbed and worked over for your country. This was personal. Wo Fat didn't just want information about Shellbourne from you. He wants you broken. He breaks you, maybe you stop looking into whatever he and your father were into."
Steve drops his head on his forearms. "He didn't break me."
"Not physically," Danny agreed. "He did his damnedest to beat you into submission and he failed. But..." He leans over, taps McGarrett on the temple. "In here...he's still trying to break you. And he's getting closer to succeeding."
"It's not just what happened to me. It's Jenna. She betrayed us...betrayed me." Steve raises his head, fists a hand in his hair. "I didn't ask one question, I just followed her to North Korea and let her turn me over to Wo Fat. What does that say about my judgement? How can I lead this team if I'm constantly questioning my own actions?"
"First, you didn't 'let' her do anything." Danny ticks off his points on his fingers. "You jumped in with both feet in that 'be a hero first, ask questions later' way of yours. You couldn't have figured she was gonna be a traitor. Second, Jenna did what she had to do to try to save Josh. Any of us would have done the same thing to try to save someone we loved. Third...if she hadn't nutted up and dug that pin out of her dead fiance's knee, Wo Fat would be feeding pieces of you to the sharks."
"We just left her there, Danny." Leave no man behind. Steve's eyes are haunted and Danny understands the sentiment well. Leaving Jenna in that cold, wet bunker has kept him up more than one night, but Steve had needed them...had needed him. There hadn't been a choice.
Danny settles back, crosses his arms over his chest, wages a war within whether or not to break his own silence. The shattered look on his partner's face whenever he wakes up from the nightmare is enough to make him decide. "It doesn't make you weak to talk about it with someone, you know." He takes a deep breath. "I've talked to someone. You think I'm weak?"
"Hell, no." Steve lasers those blue eyes on the blonde detective. "You talked to someone? When?"
"After Rachel moved Grace to Hawaii." Danny's lips thin. "I was...kinda down. I missed my daughter. It affected the job and my captain made me sit down with the department shrink. I thought it was bullshit at first, but...it helped. I got my shit together, decided to follow Grace and Rachel to Hawaii."
Steve hesitates. "I don't want the others to know."
"No one else needs to know. You don't wanna talk to Max's guy, then find another shrink. There's gotta be more than one on this goddamn island."
Steve's lips twist into a grin before he can stop himself. "Not everyone hates living here, Danny." His face sobers, takes on an expression Danny recognizes as hope. "You really think it'll help?"
"Yeah, I really do." Relief bubbles in Danny's chest, but he doesn't let it show. "Besides...I can't keep living here with you, man. I have a new apartment - a very nice new apartment, by the way - and I'm a little tired of paying rent for something I never see."
"Ok." Steve nods. "Ok. I'll...I'll talk to Max's guy."
"Good." Danny gets to his feet, gathers up the glasses and the booze. "Another drink before you turn in again?"
"Nah." Steve looks at the bedside clock. "Think I'm gonna get up, go for a run."
Danny blinks, dumbfounded. "It's the middle of the night."
Steve's grin is wide. "It's 4:17 am, Danny."
"It's still dark," Danny points out. "Ergo, it's still night time."
Steve chuckles and Danny relaxes fully. For now, the old Steve has returned. "In the Navy, this was the middle of the day." He goes to throw the sheet aside, squints at Danny. "Unless you want a show, you're gonna wanna head back downstairs."
"I'm going...gonna try to get a couple more hours' of shuteye." Danny heads for the door. Steve's voice stops him.
A heartbeat of silence.