A/N Thank you all so much for your continued feedback and support. I apologize for not responding to everyone individually lately. Got a bit behind on responses, and I hate that. Here's a quicker update, though. Hope that makes up for the lack of replies (at least partially). :-)
O Black Raven, pull your claws back
Why unfurl them above my head?
Do you sense a prey, Black Raven?
O Black Raven, I'm not yours.
Steve knew his limits, knew them better than most other people ever could. So he didn't plan on swimming too far. He was no fool. And no matter how painful it was to admit to his weakness, he knew there was no way he could get anywhere close to the distance he normally swam. Not in his current shape.
So when he felt himself tire out, he stopped his furious forward dash, and, biting back disappointment at having to quit earlier than he had anticipated, flipped onto his back. Spreading his arms and legs out into the shape of a star, he floated, squinting up at the warm morning sun. Small and weightless amidst this enormous watery expanse.
Head leaned back, ears submerged into the water that drowned out all the sounds of the morning, he closed his eyes contentedly, relishing in the feeling of safety and security for the first time in oh so many months. Like a child lulled to peaceful sleep in its mother's warm and loving embrace, he lay there for what seemed like hours, letting his body relax against the gentle rocking of the waves.
And if it weren't for the loud rumbling that came from the direction of his stomach, he probably wouldn't have considered swimming ashore for quite a while. As it were, his empty stomach has spoken, and he had no choice but to turn back. Slowly, loath to relinquish the soothing comfort of his watery hammock, he rolled over and began pushing himself forward, slicing through the warm, pliable waves with precise, deliberate strokes.
Despite all that rest, by the time he reached shallow water, Steve was running on fumes. Arms and legs wooden and uncooperative like those of a first-time swimmer, he struggled through the last few hundred feet, fighting desperately against the suddenly viscous, smothering element.
At long last his feet touched the bottom, and he stumbled forward on half-bent, shaking legs. A few unsteady, flailing seconds later his strength gave out completely, and he collapsed breathless and boneless, halfway out of the water. Lungs and muscles burning from exertion, blood roaring in his ears, he lay unmoving, perfectly content to simply concentrate on getting his harsh breathing under control.
The ocean sapped his physical strength, leaving him limp and flabby like a wrung out wash cloth. But it gave him something else in return - a bit of inner peace that lay like a band-aid on the jagged, gaping wound in his soul, bringing the torn, bleeding edges just a tad closer together. And, yeah, he was enjoying the moment, even though his entire body ached as though he had just finished another round of Hell Week training.
"What the HELL do you think you're doing?"
Yep. He should have known the moment was too good to last.
Closing his eyes briefly in resignation, he rolled himself onto his back with some difficulty and prepared himself for the inevitable.
"Hey, Danny," he managed hoarsely, squinting up at the fury-flushed face of his partner.
"Hey, Danny? Hey, Danny? Don't you 'hey, Danny' me, you son of a bitch!"
The blond detective looked beyond pissed. His hands, the ones that would have normally been slicing through the air in a series of wild, dizzying pirouettes, were shoved deep into his pockets, fisted so tightly, it seemed the fabric encasing them was about to be ripped apart. The arms trembled visibly with the effort of keeping those same hands in place. It was as though Danny was afraid of what damage those hands might do if he were to release them from their cloth prison.
Steve had the distinct impression that should Danny relinquish his control even for a second, one of those tightly closed fists would not hesitate to make a rather violent contact with his face. He swallowed nervously, feeling suddenly very vulnerable in his prone position. And so carefully he began to push his uncooperative muscles to work, fighting to get himself vertical, while his partner's angry words rushed at him from above.
"Did I or did I not tell you not to do anything stupid? Huh, McGarrett? Tell me, what normal person would take that to mean 'sign yourself out of the hospital and go for a swim in the goddamn ocean? Alone! What if something happened? What if you had -?" Danny broke off, unable to voice aloud the horrifying scenario that his mind had been replaying for him over and over since Kamekona's phone call, the one of Steve dead or dying alone in his house. All because the SEAL was too stubbornly stupid to ask for help, and because he, Danny, was too stupidly naive to believe that Steve would actually listen to him for a change and stay put.
"I know my limits, Danny," Steve ground out, huffing with both effort and frustration. He managed to get himself onto all fours and was currently maneuvering his body to unfold into a standing position. But he didn't get a chance to. A hand shot out toward him lightning fast, fingers dug into his upper arm, and he was pulled none-too-gently upright.
He swayed on his feet, the hand on his arm - the only thing keeping him from planting his face back into the sand. He locked eyes with Danny and was dismayed by what he saw there. Anger he was expecting, yes. But fear? "Geez, Danny..." Guilt began to gnaw at him even as he felt himself being pulled roughly forward, until he almost slammed into the smaller man.
"You know your limits? You, jerk!" Danny exploded, shaking the former SEAL by the fistfuls of his shirt. "Look at you! You look like something a shark threw up. I saw you, you know. You barely made it ashore! Hell, you can't even stand straight. Tell me, genius, what possible reason did you have for wiping yourself out like that? Because for a guy who had one foot in the grave not so long ago, you sure seem to be in a hurry to put yourself right back in there."
"That's the point, Danny," Steve exhaled in a near whisper, letting his head drop down on his chest.
Instead of a response, the taller man pulled back, gently extricating himself from his partner's grip. Turning away from Danny's questioning stare, he settled back on the calming view of the ocean, letting his eyes roam over the vast blue expanse.
"I haven't felt alive in so long," he sighed, his voice marred with harsh bitterness that made Danny's stomach tighten in worry. "I've been doing nothing but lying on my ass all day, trying to keep myself from going insane... from... from ending it all."
"Ending it?" Now Danny was back in his face, his blue eyes wide with undisguised worry. "Steve, I don't -"
The SEAL merely shook his head, silencing his friend's further lecture. "I was... AM a mess, Danny. And I'm not blind. I can see what it's been doing to everyone around me. To you. I didn't want that. I needed... I guess, I felt I needed to get away."
Danny's hands were once again gripping his arms, forcefully so; the blond's piercing gaze locked on his, searching. "Get away? From us? From me? Steve, I don't know what mess you got going on in that thick skull of yours, but this - this running away business is the last thing you should be doing. After all the shit that happened, I... we... all of us need to know that you're okay, that you're safe. You understand? For everyone's sanity. For my sanity."
"No, listen. I know these past few days have been rough on you. I get it. You're the big bad Super SEAL. You're not used to being this..."
"I was gonna say 'vulnerable', you ass," Danny snapped, frowning in exasperation, because nothing in Steve's face even hinted that the SEAL was anything but dead serious in his choice of epithets.
"Look," he began, his hands reaching up to land on either side of Steve's face, gentle and grounding. "I have no idea what you went through over there. I can't even begin to imagine. All I know is that when Adam Noshimuri told me he handed you over to Wo Fat, I felt like someone had sliced a knife through my gut and ripped me open. And I was bleeding ever since. Until we found you. You understand?" He flinched at the pain he saw reflected back at him. " Don't shut us out, babe. Please. Talk to me."
Steve held his gaze for several heartbeats, before pulling back once again. "I can't," he whispered hoarsely, shaking his head. "I'm sorry."
Danny opened his mouth again, ready with another stream of arguments, when the door to the lanai squeaked open, and a small unsure voice called out, "Danno?"
Both men swiveled in the direction of the voice, one smiling, one petrified.
"Hey, Monkey! Got tired of waiting? I'll be there in a sec."
"Grace?" Steve managed past a suddenly sandpaper dry throat. "You brought Grace?"
Danny turned to him then, surprised by his sudden pallor. "Yeah, I brought Grace! I was bringing her to the hospital to see you, but then, you know, I got this phone call from Kamekona. (Great guy, by the way, I should remember to buy him a big chicken and shrimp dinner or something.) So, now, instead of visiting with her uncle Steve, which she had been wanting to do for days now, mind you, she is stuck waiting in your living room, until her daddy kicks her uncle's ass for acting like an idiot."
The blond stopped his rant, noting with dismay that Steve was no longer listening or even looking at him. The SEAL's eyes were glued to the tiny figure that was currently racing toward them with a happy squeal of "Uncle Steve!" His friend's reaction was not at all what Danny would have expected, however. The man blanched even more (if that were even possible), taking a few steps back and putting his arms up in a defensive gesture.
"Don't," he begged so softly that Danny barely heard him.
Something was wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong. And all Danny knew was that bringing Grace was probably a mistake. He just wished he knew why. The detective turned to intercept his little girl, but he was a few seconds too late. Grace had already made it past his ineffectual lunge for her and barreled straight into his partner.
"Uncle Steve! I've missed you so much," she babbled happily, clinging to his legs as though it were her only lifeline, utterly oblivious to just how stiff that lifeline had become. "Danno said I couldn't see you for a while, because you weren't feeling well, but today you were feeling better and I could see you. I'm so glad I can see you."
Steve stood pale and frozen, arms raised awkwardly at his sides, his eyes pleading miserably with Danny, "Make it stop, please make it stop..."
Danny swallowed. Hard. What the hell was going on?
His daughter, bless her heart, noticed that something was off, too. Leaning back a bit, she looked up, trying to get a better view of Steve's face. "What's wrong, Uncle Steve?" she inquired, frowning.
"Gracie, honey," Danny placed a tentative hand on the little girl's shoulder, "I think we should go now and let uncle Steve rest for a while."
She turned to him then, her big brown eyes worried, apprehensive. "Is uncle Steve still sick?"
Danny shot his partner a questioning look, but Steve avoided his gaze, using Grace's distraction to pull back even more and wrench himself free of her grip.
"I'm sorry, I... I can't..." he mumbled, looking anywhere but at the bewildered pair before him. A fraction of a second later he was already striding purposefully to his house, leaving the two of them behind.
"Danno?" Grace's little hand found his, tugging on it until she had her father's full attention. "Is uncle Steve mad at me?"
"What?" the nine-year-old's question pulled Danny from his own disturbing thoughts, and he bent down quickly, pulling her into a hug that ended with her being hoisted into his arms. "No, no, no, Sweetie, of course not. Uncle Steve is just not feeling okay yet. So let's give him some more time, okay?"
The little girl nodded, all seriousness, and Danny held her even tighter in response, burrowing his face in her hair for the briefest of seconds. "Let me take you back to your mom's, okay?" he said, heading back for their car. "I gotta go back to the office and make a couple of phone calls."
"Okay. Danno loves you."
"I love you too, Danno. ... Danno?"
"Are you gonna be calling about uncle Steve?"
He stopped in his tracks, tilting his head to look closely at his child. "What makes you think that?"
Grace shrugged noncommittally. "I don't know. I just... I thought you might be... Will you help him get better, Danno?"
He nodded sharply, giving her what he hoped was a reassuring smile. "Of course I will, Monkey. This is Danno we're talking about. And what can Danno do?"
"That's my girl."
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