Many thanks to Heeroluva for bidding on this to help the Australian flood victims and to Wesleysgirl for beta reading.
Steve tilted the toolbox back to study the label, its lettering half obscured by oil and rust stains, 'CHAMPION' reduced to 'CHAMP'. Grief and guilt were swept aside for a moment as a fierce pride filled him. Smart. So fucking smart. A gun to his head, Hesse breathing down his neck, snarling threats, and his dad had stayed smart. Most people didn't. They panicked, babbled, froze.
He lowered the box down and placed his hands on it, trying to achieve something of the calmness his father had shown in his final moments. The metal of the box warmed against his hands, the surface gritty with dirt. His eyes closed and his fingers spread, moving slowly over the pitted metal. He could feel the slickness of smeared oil, could feel where the red enamel had been worn away by use or knocks.
He traced the label, part of the box now, reading the letters with the pads of his fingers, letting them soak into his skin, talk to him. C. H.A.M.P. Meaningless in themselves -- but they were an arrow pointing at something. He should open the box. He should --
His hands wouldn't move. Darkness before his eyes, but his fingers could see. Red and rust flooded his brain, washing away thought, until the letters hung clear against the red, but he couldn't read them now, not with his eyes, not with his fingers…
"Hands up, don't move!"
Sharp, demanding, the voice ripped through Steve's head, tearing away the darkness and bringing a flash of light. Training took over and he drew his gun, spinning to face the intruder, yelling his own orders to put down weapons, identify yourself, his words mixing with the other guy's, the echo effect doing nothing to make him feel normal again. His head felt huge, jammed with too much data, and his heart was hammering with shock.
The man's weapon didn't waver, but he managed to separate his words from Steve's yelled demands. "Hawaii P.D. Detective Danny Williams. Now, put down your weapon."
Steve took a deep breath and stared at the man a few yards away, checking off first impressions. Determined, resolute, by the book. Hair with a life of its own, blue eyes narrowed and focused, shorter than Steve but solidly built…and he smelled like strawberry lip gloss.
Steve inhaled again just to make sure. Yep. Strawberry lip gloss. He couldn't see any trace of it on the guy's mouth, but a small, lip-shaped smudge on his cheek glistened faintly.
"I'm going to give you one last chance --"
Time to take control of the situation. "I'm Lieutenant Commander Steve McGarrett and this is my house. Who the hell are you?"
"I told you. Detective Williams, here investigating the murder of --" Williams broke off there. Steve saw a flash of sympathy in his eyes, but when Williams began to talk again, his voice was cool. "I'm gonna need to see some I.D., so why don't you just put the gun down --"
"You're wearing a tie."
Williams blinked. "So?"
"What kind of detective wears a tie in Hawaii?"
"The kind whose wrists are starting to ache. Look, if you see my I.D. and I see yours, we can both put the guns away, okay?"
Steve shrugged, already relaxing. He could sense Williams' tension, and smell a burned scorch of adrenaline, but beneath that was the confidence of a man who knew what he was doing. "Sure."
They extended IDs at the same time, both of them easing back on the hostility. Steve glanced perfunctorily at Williams' badge, held upside down for some reason, and automatically absorbed the information on it. Gold badge, catching the light --
He felt the zone approach like a pothole in the road, something to be avoided, but with no time to swerve. The zone-outs were crowding closer since his father's death, slamming into him like fists and leaving him helpless, lost. He knew how dangerous they could be. The men who'd trained him had told him that.
A hand touched his face, warm fingers tapping his cheek lightly.
"You in there? Hello? Earth to McGarrett?"
Steve felt the zone recede, a wave pulling back from the shore. Seconds had passed, not long minutes, and the disorientation was far less than usual. He blinked down at concerned blue eyes.
"Yeah, I'm with you. Sorry. Just spaced out a bit there. So you're the guy working my father's case?"
He heard Chin's voice in his head, amused, scornful. "I hear the Chief of Police put a haole on your father's murder investigation. Word is, he's fresh meat from the mainland, which means he has no clue how this island works."
"That's right, and I'm sorry, but you've got to leave. This is a crime scene and --"
Steve let Williams talk just for the pleasure of hearing his voice. It rose and fell, emotion driving it, so fucking alive that it fizzed and bubbled. The man was never still, bouncing on the balls of his feet, gesturing with his hands, a compact ball of pure energy. For the first time since he'd heard his father die, Steve wanted to listen to what someone had to say. His body, strung-out with lack of sleep and food, felt looser just from being around the man, as if Williams was absorbing every negative emotion and leaving him cleansed, refreshed.
Steve rode the high of knowing that he was going to be able to eat without feeling it stick on the way down until his stomach felt hollow and his throat crammed tightly. Sleep, too, if he could just get Williams to stick around and keep talking --
"What's that?" Williams asked and pointed at the toolbox. "You were going to look inside it?"
"It's nothing," Steve said, losing his warm glow. "It's not connected to my father's murder."
That was probably true, even though he hadn't opened it yet. Hesse had only been interested in freeing his brother as far as Steve knew.
"Yeah, well, I'll be sure to let you know if you're right when I've checked it over myself, but until then, like everything else, it stays put, you got me?"
Steve sighed. "Why does arguing with me make you happy?"
"What? It doesn't."
It clearly did. Steve opened his mouth to point that out and reconsidered. He had other battles to fight and burned bridges to rebuild. Shit, why had he been so fucking terse with the governor? Everything had changed now that he'd met this man. Finding Hesse was still priority number one, but he wasn't going to do it solo.
"I'm going to make a phone call," he said, wincing inwardly as he recalled some of the choicer comments he'd made to the governor. Eating them with a slice of humble pie would be worth it if it got Williams on his team, though. Hell, for that, he'd grovel. He'd seen what it could be like to be matched with the perfect partner --
"When you find the one who's going to have your back, it's like…it's a revelation," Jim said, his gaze drifting to Blair, gathering firewood at the edge of the clearing. "You'll know them. There's no room for doubt."
Steve snapped the twig he was holding in half and then continued to break it until he was left with splinters. Blair had told him to focus on something trivial and let his senses find equilibrium, whatever that meant. It was more effort than running a marathon or juggling knives, but it was working. Sort of. "Love at first sight?"
Jim smiled. "If you mean, do you have to fall in love with whoever they are, then no, not necessarily. Blair's my second partner. I loved and respected Incacha but there was nothing romantic or sexual about our relationship. Maybe he wasn't the one I was destined to be with, though, because when it comes to Blair... " Jim shrugged. "I don't know. It's not like I'm an expert at all of this, and neither is Blair, so don't let him snow you. We're going off a few books, what I remember from my time with the Chopec, and what we've pieced together from our experiences over the years. That's it."
"So you and Blair were an item from day one?" Steve wasn't sure how he felt about that. He wasn't uncomfortable with the idea because they were guys, but the intimacy between the two men was close to tangible. It scared the hell out of him to think that he'd end up like that, so vulnerable, so dependent. He worked well on a team, but only when he was the leader. Jim might be head and shoulders taller than Blair, with muscles that age hadn't touched yet, though his hair was silvering at the temples, but it was obvious who was in charge.
Jim laughed. "Hell, no!" His smile faded. "I liked him. We got on each other's nerves now and then, but we were comfortable together. Friends. Good friends. Then he died and I --"
"He died?" Steve glanced at Blair, who looked reassuringly solid and was currently cursing because a fallen branch was refusing to untangle itself from the grass. "Huh?"
"Another sentinel killed him. Drowned him. I got him back," Jim said with a brevity that told a story all of its own. "Longest few minutes of my life waiting for his heart to start beating again. Plenty of time to realize that I needed him for more than the job of keeping me safe."
Jim stood and began to walk over to help Blair. He looked back over his shoulder. "You'll know them. You might want to punch them or kiss them -- with me, it was a little of both -- but you'll know them."
"Because of destiny," Steve said and tried not to make it sound too sarcastic. He waited to roll his eyes until Jim was walking away, but the chuckle that floated back told him that Jim had seen him do it anyway.
Steve took another inch of Danny's cock and groaned, sweat beading his forehead. Hot. So fucking hot. His A/C was out, and fans were working overtime to cool the humid air to something bearable, but he was too aroused to care that sex was a really bad way to lower the heat. With Danny behind him, his breath warm on Steve's neck, his hands tight on Steve's hips, the room could've been on fire and Steve would've still been begging for one more slow, perfect thrust. If he'd been asked before he'd found out for himself, he'd have put money on Danny being someone who rushed toward his climax. The man was all vibrant agitation, his hands never still, his words tumbling over themselves, water over rocks.
And in bed, that flow of words was a slow, steady trickle of encouragement and ridiculously sweet endearments, while his hands gripped firmly, unmoving, or touched lightly, unhurried touches that woke Steve's skin to a turbulent heat.
Danny took his time. Even with that first encounter, panting out his frustration and anger and only shutting up when Steve slid to his knees with all the grace he could muster given the stiff dick his loose pants were doing nothing to hide. Danny had leaned back against his Camaro, closed his eyes, and groaned, but a moment later, when he'd come to terms with the way Steve apologized, his hands had found Steve's hair and any control Steve had possessed over the blow job had been firmly, gently, taken from him. Danny had guided him, every lick of Steve's tongue, every swallow made the way that Danny wanted, until Steve had been clinging to Danny with ardent desperation, willing to do anything as long as Danny never stopped talking.
Danny's cock was a solid, satisfying weight on Steve's tongue, his come bitter-hot when it struck the back of Steve's throat, but Danny's voice was what made Steve come, his untouched dick hardening with every instruction, his climax sweeping through him when Danny choked out his name, his control lost. His balls had been swimming in spunk, his pants decorated with a spreading patch of dampness, but he'd drawn back and wiped a grin off his face along with the smear of spit and come.
In bed and at work, they were as close as it got, but Steve was still holding back from telling Danny about his abilities and he knew that he was going to have to come clean soon. Danny couldn't help him if he didn't know the full story. Just being around Danny was helping; the zones were few and far between and Steve felt grounded and more aware than he'd ever been, but he could still feel that there was something missing.
It was good, but it could be better. He'd lost his fear of being dependent on someone. That just didn't matter when the someone was Danny. What he couldn't quite shake was his reluctance to really use his senses to their fullest. He couldn't, not with Danny blissfully unaware that he had a role to play that went far beyond their working and personal relationship, but it was in his power to change that. He just couldn't take the plunge.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, the raw, masculine scent pouring off Danny doing as much to heighten his arousal as the way his ass was being fucked by someone who knew what they were doing. Danny had never hurt him with a too-rapid entry, a jabbed thrust that went too deep, too fast, angled all wrong. Danny's dick always slid into him, gliding on lube, easing a ready and willing Steve open until Danny could do whatever the hell he wanted, because there was no barrier, no resistance.
And what Danny liked was taking it slow. It drove Steve crazy, but he had to admit that it worked. Slow meant that he got more of those long, deep strokes, more of Danny's words pattering down like rain, repetitive, welcomed, grounding him.
Once, Danny had fucked him in silence, the two of them riding the tails of an argument, using sex to burn off their residual annoyance. Steve had lost himself in the physical sensations, staring down at Danny as he'd risen and fallen on the stiff, hard cock up his ass, Danny's hands guiding him. He'd heard the slow pounding of Danny's heart speed up and found himself tracking it, until the insistent beat was all that he was aware of and he'd stopped moving, staring into space.
That one had been difficult to explain, but he'd made a point of telling Danny how much he liked it when Danny talked to him during sex and Danny, after some wisecracks that Steve had endured patiently, had nodded.
"So good, so fucking good, Steve, take me, give me more, yeah, like that, just like that, God, you're so good --"
He was. It was all good. His life was as happy as it could be given that he'd only recently lost his father. Steve loved Danny, his team, Danny's little girl, Grace. Loved being back on the island after years away, loved the freedom to surf and swim outside his house. Loved kicking bad guy ass and making a difference.
"What's wrong?" Danny asked, his voice gentle and surprisingly kind for a guy whose partner had just gone limp as a rag on him. Steve's erection was still present, biology was taking care of that, but he wasn't involved anymore, and Danny was too aware of him not to pick up on his lack of focus.
Some men would've just pounded away at his ass and gotten off anyway, but not Danny. How much of that was down to Danny being a generous and considerate lover and how much to Danny's destiny-programmed drive to protect Steve was debatable. It troubled Steve sometimes that Danny wasn't entirely a free agent in all of this. Steve had more or less come to terms with the way destiny had decided to pick on him and steal his lunch money, but he wanted Danny to be with him out of love, a deliberate choice, and could he ever be sure of that? Hell, could Danny be sure of Steve's love? The possessive, protective impulses went both ways and if Steve was certain that he would've fallen in love with Danny no matter what, he knew that his willingness to kill for Danny was rooted in the bond between them.
It was all so fucked-up.
Steve had changed for the better after their meeting, even more so after becoming Danny's lover. The zones were easier to deal with and his use of the senses was becoming less tentative, more confident -- but he wasn't the only one changing. The effect on Danny was more subtle, but it was there and Danny probably wouldn't see it as a positive change. He'd fooled himself that Danny might not even notice, but that delusion had a short shelf-life. Steve knew, with a sick twist in his gut, that if Rachel and Stan moved, right now, Danny would trail after them to be close to Grace, but in a year's time? He'd stay with Steve if Steve asked him to, and even knowing that he'd never do that to Danny didn't help.
Danny eased out of him and Steve collapsed onto his stomach, the sweat-damp sheets clinging to his skin. "I'm sorry."
"Mm-hmm," Danny said, not calling him on his unresponsive reply. Steve didn't make the mistake of assuming that meant that the subject had been dropped. Steve listened to the familiar sounds of Danny taking care of a used condom: the rustle of a tissue being pulled from the box, the wet squelch of lubed latex being peeled off skin, and submitted to the thorough, solicitous wipe down of his ass that Danny always seemed to think was his job. Steve suspected that Danny just wanted to check Steve's hole for damage, which was cute and irritating at the same time. It felt kinky without being arousing, which was disconcerting.
They ended up lying side by side on the bed, staring up at the ceiling. Steve waited for Danny to start talking. He needed to know what mood Danny was in, and right then any of the ways he could discover that for himself using his senses, were closed to him. His nerves were too jangled from the abrupt, frustrating curtailment of their lovemaking to concentrate. Even if he'd been calmer, Danny was -- also frustrating -- difficult to read at the best of times. Steve had tried to work out why and could only come up with the theory that like trying to look at the end of his nose, Danny was too close to focus on. It helped that Danny didn't own a poker face and his emotions were usually blazingly, fervently shared with the world.
"I could ignore what just happened if you want," Danny offered eventually. "Call it an early birthday present."
Steve stared down the length of his body and watched his cock resume a size that wasn't typical when he was naked in bed with Danny, arousal still slamming around his body like a rogue pinball, looking for a hole to drop in and light him up like the Fourth of July.
"Holding back's not good for you," Steve said. "And I already know what I want, thanks." He reached out without looking, and found Danny's hand. It was in a tight fist, as if all the tension that Danny was feeling had been compressed between his fingers, but at the first brush of Steve's hand, it opened for him. Holding hands helped Steve. Jim had told him once that he couldn't keep his hands off Blair sometimes and Steve had changed the subject as smoothly as possible before Jim went into details. It wasn't until the first time that he'd put his hand on Danny's bare arm to steady himself and felt a sweet, cool rush of energy that he'd understood.
"I didn't hurt you?"
Steve shook his head, giving Danny's hand a quick, reassuring squeeze. He ran his thumb over the hills and valleys of Danny's knuckles, counting them in his head as he tried to work out how to say what needed to be said.
"Have you ever noticed anything different about me?"
Danny snorted. "Where to begin, my friend, where to begin. Let me see, there's the way you seem to think you're surrounded by a bullet-repelling force field even though you've been shot, so why you'd think that, I don't know --"
"I don't think it." Okay, that'd been the worst way of leading into it, no doubt about it. "I don't mean that. I mean -- well, yeah, okay, maybe I do mean that, it's just --"
"Steven. You're babbling. There might even be incoherence going on, but it's a little hard to tell because of all the babbling."
Steve took a long, deep breath. "You've told me that I think I'm a superhero or something."
Danny nodded. "Jokingly, yes. If you start wearing tights or a cape, I'm on the next flight back to New Jersey, I swear."
"Well, I am. If you don't insist on flying or leaping tall buildings. I can do stuff most people can't. I'm not an alien, not a mutant -- well, I suppose it could be a sort of -- I don't know what it is exactly."
"You're not funny, did anyone ever share that with you?" Danny rolled to his stomach. "You froze. We lost the moment. It happens. How about we get dressed and you can char me a steak on the grill and we can try again in a few hours?"
Danny being reasonable showed the extent to which he was disturbed by the conversation, but Steve wasn't prepared to laugh it off. He'd started and really, that was the hardest part.
"I'm not joking. I can see why you'd think I was, but this is something I've been trying to tell you for weeks now and I couldn't because it's so out there, but you're involved too, so it's not like I have any choice."
Danny sat up, his spine stiff with outrage, an exclamation point of incredulity. "I'm involved? What am I, fucking Robin?"
"I hope not," Steve said. He didn't get a smile back. Danny was regarding him in much the same way as he stared at pieces of pineapple on a pizza. "Will you do something for me? Will you listen and trust me that I'm not lying, not insane, not joking? Please?"
Danny exhaled and pushed his hands through his hair. "What the hell. Go. Talk. It's your dime. I just reserve the right to punch you so fucking hard if it turns out this is your idea of amusing."
"Thank you," Steve said and meant it. He sat up. "Let's get dressed first. Maybe get a beer."
"As long as you don't try leaping tall buildings afterwards," Danny said, with an edge to his voice and a smirk that couldn't be described as anything but sarcastic.
Dressed, sitting at the kitchen table, and with three swallows of beer cold in his gut, Steve started to talk, speaking forcefully, persuasively. "What I can do isn't anything extra. I mean, I can't see through solid walls, I can't hear thoughts, I can't --"
"What can you do?"
Steve picked at the label on the bottle, shredding the corner. "All my senses are enhanced. All of them. I can see for miles, hear things down the street, my sense of touch is off the scale… It's something I was born with and lost after a while, then I got it back a few years ago."
He glanced over at Danny. "There's more. There's so much more, but I'm not going on until you accept that much, at least."
Danny pursed his lips and nodded. "You're done? That's it? Okay, I'm out of here." The sound of his chair scraping back was amplified in Steve's ears until it physically hurt him to listen to, a violent screech of wood on wood. His own chair clattered to the floor as he surged to his feet, his hands rising to cup his ears. Blair had covered this in his training, and by now it was second nature, but for an endless time, he couldn't do what Blair had told him and balance the input.
"Jim sees it as dials, you know, like a volume control, so he dials it back down, turns the knob? Anything that works for you. You can't walk around constantly turned up to eleven any more than a carpenter always has a hammer in his hand. Too much data, too overwhelming. Choose a visualization that suits you and use it when one of your senses shoots up into the red."
And he had, going with the image that Jim used, because it made sense.
"You can save the play-acting," Danny said, his voice harsh. "I'm not buying it."
"You're killing me here," Steve said hoarsely, his head still pounding, hearing everything as if he was underwater, their voices booming, muffled. He meant it. Danny's disbelief was like a wall of ice between them, thick enough to sever the connection that'd been established. He'd gotten used to leaning on Danny for support and now he was left staggering, unbalanced, unstable. "Danny, please, I'm begging you, don't go. Listen to me. Trust me. We're partners, remember? You don't know how true that is. Partners on every level. I need you to be here for me."
He thought for a sickeningly long moment that it wasn't going to be enough and that Danny would turn on his heel and walk away. He couldn't brace himself for it, the way he did when he saw a knife flash down toward him, or a bullet pop out of a gun and head at him, his eyes able to track its path, but his body, his all-too-human body, unable to twist out of its path. This was going to hurt so fucking much --
"Jesus, Steve, sit down," Danny said sharply and came over to him, his hand reaching out to cup Steve's elbow and steady him. "Don't pass out on me. Head down, that's it…"
Steve allowed his head to be pushed down just to get Danny touching him, but it did help a little. He felt Danny's hand on the back of his neck, a warm, possessive touch that grounded him.
"Better?" Danny asked, his voice neutral.
Steve nodded and straightened. "Thanks."
"For what? Being an asshole?"
"You weren't. You're entitled to think this is me screwing with you, but it's not, I swear it."
Danny crouched down in front of him and took Steve's hands in his. "Yeah, the part where you didn't start laughing but went green and staggered instead kind of got that point across. Okay, let's take this from the top. You talk, I listen --"
"I can prove it," Steve said. "You don't have to take it on trust."
Danny raised his eyebrows. "Prove it? How? You got a superhero ID card or something?" He sighed. "Okay, that was me lightening the mood and failing. You don't have to prove it. It's you. I follow you into burning buildings, remember? Bitching all the way, but I follow. Your senses are better than most people's? Well, that's…yeah. It's believable. It's not asking me to accept something that's under 'woo-woo' in the dictionary."
Steve winced. "So if I tell you there's a kind of mystical thing going on too, and it involves you, that's not going to go down well?"
"Don't push me, McGarrett."
"I want to prove it," Steve said, leaving the contentious area alone for now, though he couldn't ignore it forever. "I really appreciate that you didn't ask for it, but I want this to be something that you're rock-solid on."
Danny stood, reaching down to rub at his knee. Steve could sense the inflammation there, a patch of sickly warmth, but like much of the data his senses gave him, there wasn't anything to do with it but file it away. He could use his sense of touch to give Danny a backrub that Danny had told him frankly was better than sex, an opinion that Steve had taken great pleasure in changing, but he couldn't fix Danny's knee. "How?"
Succinct and to the point.
"I don't know. I mean, I can lick your hand and tell you the last ten things you touched, but we've been together since last night and you probably don't remember anyway. Plus, the way you're screwing up your face, you think that's gross and I can't argue. And I can tell you that there's a couple on a boat out there fighting about whose turn it is to cook, but there's no way you can check."
Danny walked over to the window and looked out. "There's a boat," he reported, "but it's a long way out. You're seriously telling me that you can hear them talking?"
"It's at the edge of my range, but yeah. I have to concentrate, though, and right now, I'm all over the place emotionally and it's hard to focus."
"How about sight?" Danny suggested. "You go a long way off, down to the water's edge, maybe, and I'll stay up by the house, hold up a piece of paper with something on it and you call me tell me what it says?"
Steve smiled, a rush of relief and gratitude going through him. Danny was the best. He wanted to do something in return, something to show Danny just how much he was appreciated. "I can do that."
Danny made him do it fourteen times from different places. By the tenth, up to his knees in the ocean, rain soaking him, his hands on his head to prove that he wasn't using binoculars, his phone wedged precariously between his ear and his shoulder, Steve had lost any impulse to show his gratitude. By the end of the test, he was snarling out the increasingly long phrases that Danny was writing in tiny letters into his phone with some swearing thrown in as punctuation.
He was sure that Blair never treated Jim like this. Why did he have to get the sadistic guide?
"I'm your what now?"
Steve poked at the steak he was cooking. He'd gotten changed into dry clothes, but he still felt damp. It was raining off and on, but the big barbecue up by the house was sheltered. "Guide. Want me to spell that out for you too, the way you made me spell 'supercalifragilistic --"
"I thought you'd appreciate me being thorough," Danny said from his chair. Primness didn't suit him. He burped, which was more like him, and studied his beer with a stern frown. "'Scuse me. I'm a believer, I am, truly. Tribal guardians called sentinels, periods of isolation can trigger the enhancement, Richard Burton, Peru -- I get it, I'm down with it. You protect the tribe. That’s actually a good description of you. What I don't get is these men who appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the woods to help you, the ones you go and see now and then. You're sure they're real?"
Steve blinked at him. "You say that like you wish they weren't. What, are you still holding out hope that aliens exist?"
"Funny. I'm laughing on the inside. No. It's just…"
Steve relented. "I know it seems like too much of a coincidence, but as far as I can work out, I picked that area to hike in just because they live nearby, even though I thought it was a random choice. It's all part of this…destined deal. Sentinels and guides can get drawn to each other. It doesn't always end well -- it didn't for Blair, once -- but sometimes, it works."
"So what do you do when you visit them? Is it like a training course?"
Steve laughed. "Not if I can help it. Blair drools over the thought of two sentinels to play with, but Jim and I are too fucking similar for it to be safe to get competitive around him. I've only visited them twice, but I email or call them a few times a year, just to touch base. They're good people."
"It's the cop in me," Danny said, apologizing obliquely for the frown that had appeared on his face, Steve guessed. "I get suspicious of altruism."
"Jim's a cop, too," Steve pointed out. "He's making noises about retiring, though. I'm not sure what they'll do if he does. He's not the kind of guy to sit around and do nothing."
"Is he like you? Born this way?"
Steve watched the color of the steak darken, monitoring it with his senses, a mundane use of them maybe, but it was good practice. "Yeah, and like me, he lost them for a long time, just forgot he'd ever had them."
"Forget? How can you just forget something like that?" Danny sounded almost belligerent and Steve was careful to keep his voice mild when he replied.
"I can vaguely remember having them, from when I was a kid, but I think I pushed it all away when I found out that it made me different. I used to complain that Mary's music was on too loud and I couldn't get to sleep, when she was using headphones and no one but me could hear it. Or maybe it went dormant because I wasn't able to handle the senses solo, kind of like a trip switch -- I don't know. I don't have all the answers and I'm not sure anyone does."
"Not even this Sandburg guy?"
Steve shook his head. "He's good, and if you can call someone a world authority about something most of the world doesn't know anything about, then he's it, but he'd be the first to tell you that he's barely scratched the surface. He says if Jim would let him perform more tests he could make progress -- but I get the feeling that's a running joke with them."
"They sound adorable," Danny said flatly.
Steve leaned over and kissed him. Danny's lips were cool from the beer, but they opened for him, making the kiss a lingering one. "I told you. They're good people. You'd like them."
Danny set his beer down beside him. "So you're wounded, on leave to recuperate, hiking in the woods around Cascade, and bang, you wake up and you're not Clark Kent anymore?"
Steve shrugged and flipped the steaks. They didn't need it, but he wanted an excuse not to meet Danny's eyes. "Pretty much. I thought…I thought I was dying. I was screaming in pain when they showed up. It wasn't much fun."
"Jesus, why? It didn't hurt when you were a kid, did it? What was it like?"
Steve grimaced, the memories flooding back as Danny questioned him. "Imagine there's a light being shined in your eyes, as bright as the sun, and a whistle being blown in both your ears. Add in that your skin's on fire and you want to claw it off, but you're too busy throwing up from the smell in the tent and your mouth tastes like it was coated in shit and acid and -- God --"
He dropped the spatula and turned away, not wanting Danny to see his face. For a moment, he was back there inside his small tent, writhing in a confused agony, tearing at his clothes, his tightly closed eyes streaming with tears, his throat raw from vomiting and screaming.
Danny's arms slipped around him from behind, offering comfort but leaving Steve the illusion of privacy. Danny didn't say anything, just got close, a rock-solid support to lean back against, his breath warm on Steve's shoulder through the thin T-shirt he wore.
"The light was sunrise, the whistle was the birds, and the fire was sunburn on my arms and the back of my neck," Steve whispered, pushing the words out of stiff lips. "I didn't even notice it the night before. The smell was a skunk, but it was so far away that you wouldn't have smelled it. I was in hell and then someone touched me --"
"Easy there, breathe, just breathe --"
A soothing, calm voice -- but still too loud. Steve choked, spat out a drool of saliva, and whimpered, trying to edge away.
"You're fine. I know it doesn't feel that way, but you are. You can make this stop."
The inanity of that suggestion got though to him as no amount of sympathy would. He couldn't open his eyes, but he turned his head toward the source of the voice and bared his teeth in a snarl.
"Blair's right." This voice was a whisper, bearable, just, and Steve felt a glimmer of hope. "Your senses are telling you too much, too fast. The world's screaming at you. You need to make it go quiet."
Yes. Yes, he did. Steve nodded, tears still sliding down his face from his tortured eyes.
"Picture it in your head. A man yelling, throwing things at you, rocks, maybe, big ones. They're hurting you and you don't like what he's saying." It was the first voice again, still too loud, but measurably softer. "You need to make him stop. Picture him gagged, handcuffed. You're in control of him. You've neutralized him. He's not a threat."
The idea was ludicrous, but somehow it was all that Steve could think about. He could see the man, face twisted in hate, but they were on a football field, not a battleground, and the game was almost over --
"Good," that thread of a voice said. "That's it. Fight him. Win. It's what you're good at, it's what you do. "
Yes, it was. Steve put himself into the picture, running at the man, taking him down with a tackle that was second-nature to him. The guy was huge, a giant, but Steve was mad, Steve was angry. The guy was cheating, playing dirty, and Steve wasn't going to let his team lose the game because of it, not when he could --
The quarterback vanished, and everything went away in a flash of blue that didn't hurt his eyes, a dusky blue, calming, restful. He felt himself cry out, the loss of pain almost as unendurable as the pain itself, and then there was nothing, for a blissfully long time.
"You back with us?"
Steve blinked, his eyes opening fully once he'd adjusted to the light. What there was of it, anyway. He was inside a tent, not his own, lying on a bedroll big enough for two, and the green canvas was filtering out the glare of the sunlight. A man was sitting cross-legged beside the bedroll, his hands resting on his knees, empty of weapons. Steve knew his voice, but it was hard to remember what had happened. He'd been hurting, screaming -- He put his hand to his throat, swallowed, and winced. It felt like he'd been eating glass.
"Yeah, don't try and talk. I've got tea brewing and I'll put some honey in; that'll help. Just nod, so I know you're with me. I'm Blair, by the way."
Steve nodded, holding back the memories that were trying to crash past the barrier he'd put in place. He wanted to remember, but not yet. Blair. Did he know a Blair? He was pretty sure that he didn't. This Blair was maybe forty, with short, curly hair, graying in places. His bright blue eyes were hidden behind glasses and he was dressed in jeans and a faded plaid shirt. He looked about as threatening as a teddy bear, but there was a shrewd intelligence in his watchful eyes.
"My partner Jim's outside washing your stuff in the river." Steve raised his eyebrows in a silent question and Blair shrugged. "You threw up," he said matter-of-factly. "We stripped you down and washed you -- yeah, I know, total invasion of personal space, but man, you needed it -- and put you in here. You've been out for about three hours."
Steve closed his eyes. He could feel the slickness of what his nose told him was aloe vera on his arms and the back of his neck and smell an unfamiliar soap.
"You're going to have questions," Blair said. "We've got the answers, but all that can wait until you're not feeling like a truck ran over you." He grinned. "That's actually pretty funny, but, ah, yeah, telling you why would take too long. I'll get the tea."
Steve didn't want tea. Swallowing more than spit was going to hurt and he'd gone through enough, but when Blair returned with a metal camping cup half-filled with something that smelled like flowers and honey, he submitted to being raised up and sipping at it.
The first sip was agony, but after that his raw throat eased and his empty stomach accepted the liquid without rebelling.
"There's some ginger in there, too," Blair said. "You're dehydrated, but this is better for you to start with than plain water."
"Thanks," Steve said. It came out as a croak, but Blair smiled.
"Is he awake?" The tent flap was pulled back and a face appeared. Steve looked into another pair of blue eyes and saw that flash of light again, taking him away from the real world to somewhere else.
"I'm Jim Ellison."
Steve nodded and let his mouth shape the words without speaking them. I know who you are, but what are you?
Jim smiled. "I'm the same as you. I'm a sentinel."
"I just don't get it," Danny said through a mouthful of steak, more than slightly over-done. Steve regretted its toughness, but not the minutes he'd spent hugging Danny while his racing heart slowed and the bad memories had been replaced by better ones. "You need me to pull this sentinel thing off? Me? Just me? How is that possible? I know I've called you a lot of well-deserved names, but truthfully, you're damn good at what you do and you were long before you met me."
"I'm better with you," Steve said simply. "I can be what I am, sure, but it's like driving a car without ever servicing it -- sooner or later, the brakes are going to fail, or the engine will seize up. Before I met you, I'd just lost my dad and in that short space of time, I kept getting hit by zone outs. The input from one sense would overwhelm me and boom, I'd be lost in the moment. You saw me like that in the garage, but you probably just thought --"
"I thought you were weird," Danny said. "Still do. Can you pass me the mustard? Thanks."
"You pulled me out of that zone just by touching me." Steve flushed, remembering how much he'd wanted to draw Danny closer even then and claim him. He'd been warned that sometimes things could get a little…basic, but he hadn't expected to revert to primal man the first time he'd had sex with Danny. That blow job had left him shaking with the intensity of the whole experience, not just his climax. "And I knew right away, I knew."
"So I have magic hands and you get off on hearing me talk. What else?"
"What are my super powers? Why am I the Chosen One, oh, other Chosen One?"
Steve bit his lip and chickened out of going into details about how this was a lifetime commitment with no get out of jail free card. It didn't apply to them. If Danny wanted or needed to leave him, Steve would let him go. He would. It would leave him at risk and emotionally devastated, but the thought of trapping Danny into staying was enough to make him shiver with revulsion. "Ah, about that. I don't think it's really a question of powers…and I don't know why you, just that it is you."
Danny's eyes widened indignantly. "No super powers?"
"Blair said he once shared a vision with Jim?" Steve offered weakly.
Danny snorted derisively. "That and a buck fifty will get you a coffee."
"The sex is gonna get better," Steve said with more conviction that he was playing a winning card.
"You mean up to this point you've been holding out on me?" Danny inquired. "This isn't improving my mood, Steven."
Abandoning his steak as a lost cause, Steve went to crouch in front of Danny, his hands resting on Danny's shoulders. "I wasn't holding out, I was holding back. I was scared to let go in case you weren't there to catch me."
"Not going to happen," Danny said matter-of-factly. He cleared his throat. "So, these senses of yours…I can see how they'd make things, uh, better for you in bed, but what's in it for me?"
Steve grinned at him. "I can tell you, but wouldn't you like me to show you?"
"No dessert?" Danny asked, already leaning forward to get up from his chair.
"That would be you," Steve said and stood, holding his hand out to help Danny rise. "And before you ask, I don't plan to involve whipped cream or chocolate syrup."
"Because I'm sweet enough," Danny said with a smile complacent enough that he really shouldn't have been surprised that Steve smacked him on the ass when he turned to go inside any more than Steve was surprised when the scuffle that followed ended with them locked together in a kiss that was pure hunger and heat. Steve felt his body respond in a way he'd never allowed it to before, focusing on Danny so completely that it took him a moment to realize that Danny was struggling to get free. Fuck, he'd come on too strong, scared Danny --
He released him, stammering out an apology, but Danny held up his phone by way of explanation, his face softening when he took in Steve's distress. God, he hadn't even heard it ring.
"It's okay," Danny mouthed at Steve before saying crisply, "Williams here. Oh, Chin, hey. What? No, he's here with me, I don't know why you couldn't -- whoa, slow down…okay, okay, do that, yeah, we're heading there now."
Steve was used to not listening in on phone calls, the same way that he didn't eyeball people getting undressed through a crack in their bedroom curtains -- it was tacky, invasive, and he felt like enough of a freak when it came to what he could do, anyway. By the time that he'd realized this was one conversation that he should've been a part of, it was over.
"Car, now," Danny said, already heading for the door. Steve didn't waste time with questions, only pausing long enough to grab his gun from the drawer he kept it in when he was off-duty.
From habit, he slid into the driver's seat and took off as soon as Danny was beside him.
"Chin said Kono was going to send us all the details to save time," Danny said distractedly, checking his phone. "Head for Kailua Beach, though."
"Why did Chin call you not me?" It wasn't pique, but curiosity that lay behind his question.
Danny shrugged. "He said your phone was dead. Does it need charging?"
"No," Steve said, recalling the moment when his foot had slipped wading back into shore, soaking his shorts and the pocket holding his phone. "It probably just needs drying out. If that doesn't work, you're buying me a new one."
"Oh, yeah, that's going to happen," Danny said. His phone beeped. "Okay, here it comes…" He fell silent as he read and then sucked in his breath sharply. "Oh my God. That's so fucking sick -- Steve, forget anything I ever said about your driving and go faster, okay?"
Steve slammed his foot down and felt the Camaro respond with a throaty roar. "What's happened?"
"If I laugh, it's not because I think it's funny, because it's not, it's just --"
"Danny," Steve said in a growl. "Don't push me, not now. I'm not in the mood."
"Yeah, it wasn't the best time to get a call," Danny admitted. "My dick's going to need therapy to deal with the rain check." He gave Steve's thigh a consoling squeeze. "There's a man buried up to his neck in the sand and the tide's coming in. We've got about an hour -- less -- to find him and that includes getting there."
"So why doesn't someone dig him out?" Steve said impatiently. Jesus, tourists…
"They don't know where he is," Danny said. "Not exactly."
Steve drummed his fingers on the wheel. It was a twenty-minute drive there, but he was hoping to shave that down to fifteen. If he did, would there be time to pull over, kick Danny out, and leave him to walk the rest of the way? It was a tempting thought. "Read the damn report, won't you?"
"Don't get testy," Danny said. "It's complicated and -- wait, there's something else from Kono. Oh. Okay."
"Danny, I swear to God, if you don't fill me in --"
"The man in the sand is Mark Phillips," Danny said rapidly, each word crisp and clear."He's into a loan shark back on the mainland to the tune of a quarter-million, so he thought he'd hide out over here. Great idea, if it wasn't for the fact that with bad luck on an epic scale, he tried to borrow money again, this time from the cousin of the first shark."
Steve whistled. "Small world."
"Yeah. I never really thought of money lending being a family business, but why not? So shark two, who goes by the name of Sammy Smith, decided that family honor demands that he teach Mr. Phillips a lesson, so he takes him to the beach -- it's not that crowded mid-week -- finds a secluded corner, buries him standing up -- big hole -- and leaves him staring at the tide coming in. Sammy and the guy he took with him planned to go back later and dig him out when he was damp but still breathing." Danny paused. "I think I believe them."
"Because when they got pulled over for speeding, arrested for carrying unlicensed weapons, and hauled in, they told the arresting cops what'd happened. HPD are sending people over there, but they called us too, because that's a lot of beach to search."
"Why don't they take Sammy and his pal with them in cuffs and get them to point to the spot marked X?" Steve said. He was irritated. This wasn't what his team had been set up to do, though he could see that it wasn't good for the island to have some unsuspecting tourist, maybe even a kid, stumble across the gruesome remains of Mr. Phillips. "Hell, why wouldn't the guy yell for help or get free? It's sand, not cement."
"Oh, Sammy and his pal are heading over there, better believe it, but from what I gather, even before they got pulled over, they were arguing about just where they'd left him. See, they went there by boat and one bit of beach looks like another, I guess. And it was dark. High tide this morning was at --"
"Around 4.00," Steve said automatically.
"Of course, you know that. Of course you do. Yes. And tell the class when it's high again, Steven?"
"Around five-thirty," Steve said and slanted his gaze at the clock on the dashboard. It all depended on just where Phillips was buried, but he had about forty minutes left to breathe air, not water, give or take.
"To answer your other questions, and I do appreciate the way you're participating more this semester, Mr. McGarrett, he can't yell for help because he's gagged and as someone who got buried in the sand by Grace once, though I was lying down, it's not as easy as you'd think. Standing up, with your hands tied behind you?" Danny shook his head. "Not a chance. Plus, they rigged up some kind of tent deal over his head, so from a distance, he probably looks like another piece of the beach, and trust me, sand isn't interesting. Not to mention, it's been raining off and on all day. It's not cold, no, it's never cold, but it tends to make the sand stick to you so I imagine most of the tourists are avoiding the beach today."
"Tent?" Steve gave a long, exasperated sigh. "What happened to just shooting them in the kneecaps, or threatening to kill their puppy?"
"It worries me that you seem to prefer those options."
"Not prefer, it's just…" Steve swerved around a guy on a bike who seemed to think that the center of the road was the ideal place to be, and took advantage of a stretch of straight, empty road to really pour it on. "This is so goddamned complicated."
"Not really," Danny said. "Bury him, let him sweat, dig him up. Seems simple enough to me. Do we have any water? Poor guy's going to be dehydrated."
"He's going to be a mess," Steve said. "And he's going to drive back in a patrol car. I'm not vacuuming sand out of the back of the car for weeks."
"Can I just point out that it's my car?"
Steve turned his head slightly, easily able to keep enough attention on the road to be safe. The senses were good for that. "So you want him in here?"
"No, I'm just reasserting my ownership."
"Over me or the car?" Steve asked and oh, yeah, there it was, that flush of heat as Danny got aroused, like a visible glow to Steve, though he hadn't shared that with Danny and probably never would.
"Both," Danny said lightly, after a pause that contradicted his tone. "See, when it comes to you -- okay, hold that thought. Incoming text."
They were approaching the beach now, but everything seemed too quiet. Steve was listening, but he couldn't hear sirens, distant or near, and the road was virtually deserted.
"I don't believe it," Danny said. "They won't make it in time. A truck took a corner too fast, shed its load and caused a pile-up and the road's blocked. They're trying to work out an alternate route, but it's looking like we're it. Chin says he and Kono are on their way, but to be honest, I don't see them making it."
"Good," Steve said.
"How is that good?"
"Because I won't need to worry about anyone finding out what I can do."
"That worries you?"
Steve nodded without looking at Danny. "Yeah. It worries me. Superheroes stay secret for a reason, Danny. Jim got outed to the press and it wasn't pretty. Cops don't do well in the limelight."
"Really? I don't remember the headlines. Or the movie based on the real-life adventures of Sentinel Jim and his trusty Guide, Blair."
Steve bit his lip to hold back the retort that wouldn't do anything to change the way that Danny felt about Jim and Blair. Maybe it was something that came with the territory, this unthinking prickliness of Danny's, but he couldn't remember ever feeling anything but grateful to the two men. Of course, he'd seen firsthand just how wrapped up in each other they were.
"It was ten, twelve years ago now, and the story got killed when Blair called a press conference and said he'd made the whole thing up to get rich and famous. Ruined his career -- academics aren't supposed to do that, and he got kicked off campus -- but he did it anyway, just to get people off Jim's back so that he could do his job as a cop."
"For his sentinel," Danny said and the sarcasm was missing now, replaced by something more thoughtful. "When this is over, you and me, my friend, we're sitting down and you're giving me something besides the Cliff Notes, okay?"
"Happy to," Steve said briefly as he pulled into a parking lot close to the beach, choosing one that was about in the middle of the long stretch of sand. "There's water and a shovel in the trunk."
"That's Gracie's and it's both plastic and pink."
"It's all we've got."
Once out on the beach, Steve glanced at his watch. "We can assume that he's buried just on the edge of the high tide mark, but waves can be unpredictable. We need to find him fast. I need to use my senses and I don't -- I'm not really used to this."
He'd found himself trapped in a Catch-22 situation: he couldn't use the senses when people were around, not without someone to cover for him or shield him, and if he was alone, he still couldn't use them because he was worried about zoning out. He was rusty as hell, and every time he spoke to Blair, he got hell for it.
Danny cleared his throat. "So how do you want to do it? Do you, uh, meditate, or close your eyes, or --"
"I look and I listen," Steve said. "The same way that you would. I just do it better."
The beach was a gentle sweep of white sand, turquoise water lapping up against it, the sky overhead clear for the moment, though clouds were gathering again on the horizon. The sand was damp from the last shower, clinging to Steve's boots. He could see groups of people over to the far left, surfers, and a family with three young children, but to the left, the beach was empty.
"If I zone out, stop me," Steve said and took Danny's free hand.
"Not that I mind, but why are we doing this?" Danny asked, lifting their linked hands, his expression quizzical. He dropped the plastic shovel to the floor and let the water bottle follow it.
"It helps me." Steve didn't go into detail, but it wasn't because they were in a race against the waves; he simply didn't know why, just that it did. Touching Danny made the world brighter, sharper. It wasn't a romantic fancy but the simple truth. Getting lost in a zone was still possible, but with the welcome distraction of Danny close at hand, it was less likely.
He stared down the beach, scanning it with anxious eyes. He wanted to start running, looking, but the beach was too long for that -- and suppose they ran the wrong way? Hearing would help when they got closer, but for now it was his eyes that were needed, eyes that could pick out the pattern on a butterfly's wings from a thousand feet away.
He sent his awareness flying, skimming the surface of the beach, every nerve straining to find something that didn't belong. Steve could feel the world gray out around him, the roar and crash of the waves fading to a hushed susurration, the tang of salt stripped from every breath. It was just the white sand and the counter-balance of Danny's palm against his, warm and damp with sweat as the minutes ticked by.
"There," he said finally. "There's something, it's white, but it doesn't match what's around it. It's cloth, not sand. There, past that outcrop of rock."
Danny followed the line of Steve's finger as it pointed, and nodded. "I'll take your word for it. That's a mile, mile and a half away."
"We can get closer in the car," Steve said, already retracing his steps, the sand slippery, holding him back. He had nightmares like this sometimes, when he was running away from something -- or toward someone -- and his feet wouldn't move. "Come on!"
They peeled out of the parking lot with a squeal of tires that sounded agonizingly loud to Steve. Using his senses that deliberately, extending them to the limit of his range, often left him feeling as if every inch of skin had been abraded. It wasn't that bad today, but he was still jittery and it wasn't over yet. He'd marked a tree level with the location -- God, he hoped that he was right and that was Phillips -- but they'd still have to find it again once they got closer.
"About twenty minutes left," Danny said when they'd parked up again and run down to the beach, following a narrow path, dotted with shells and stones. "This has to be it or he's dead. Do you see him?"
Steve glanced both ways, trying to identify the tree from a different angle. "We've come too far," he said, "but yeah, I think -- see? Over there?"
Danny took off by way of answer, running as fast as he could, which meant that he'd be limping later. Steve overtook him, cursing the way that the shifting sand robbed him of any real speed. It seemed to take forever to reach the pegged-down piece of canvas that was shielding Phillips from being seen without blocking his view of the relentlessly approaching waves, and when Steve skidded to a halt, Danny on his heels, sand spraying, the leading edge of the waves was only a few yards away.
"Phillips, we're Five-O, we're here to get you out," he said, wondering if the man was even conscious anymore. "Danny, grab some photos, fast."
The scene couldn't be preserved, but that didn't mean that it couldn't be documented, and Steve wanted the two who'd done this to pay. For all their good intentions about an ultimate reprieve, they'd still left Phillips here to suffer for hours and when a jury saw these photographs, they'd realize more fully what'd been done to a man who was guilty of plenty, but didn't deserve this.
It took only a few seconds for Danny to take the pictures, including some of the footmarks in the wet sand, too blurred to be of much use, but Steve wasn't taking any chances. Danny nodded, his face pale, and Steve ripped the canvas away and exposed Phillip's head, sucking in his breath at the glazed terror in the man's staring eyes. As he fumbled with the gag, those eyes filled with tears, running down over sunburned cheeks.
Danny went to his knees beside Steve in the sand, and held the water bottle, uncapped, to Phillips' lips, tilting it so that a trickle poured out over the cracked, bloody lips.
"No time for that," Steve said, hating himself but knowing it had to be said. "We've got to get him out."
The sound Phillips made when the bottle was taken away was barely human, a strangled, garbled protest, but Steve ignored it. Using his hands, with Danny laboring to clear the sand with the small spade, they began to dig Phillips out.
It wasn't easy. The sand had been packed firmly around Phillips, stamped down hard. With the waves licking closer every time they broke on the sand, Danny and Steve fell into a grim, frantic rhythm of scoop and throw, their laboring breath loud in Steve's ears. After a few mumbled repetitions of 'please' Phillips had lapsed into a resigned, defeated silence that bothered Steve.
"We'll get you out," he said, his hands busy. He wanted Phillips to meet his eyes, but Phillips' eyes were closed, an exhausted droop to the doughy skin of his face. He would be a big, tall guy, who needed a big, deep hole, Steve thought, wincing as the salt water in the sand stung the many small cuts he'd picked up from sharp-edged shells. His nails were packed with fine granules, and, something that happened a lot, his senses betrayed him, magnifying what for Danny was probably no more than a small irritation into something close to unendurable for Steve. It felt as if his nails were being pushed up and away from the nail bed and it fucking hurt. He wanted to stop and clear the sand out from under each nail, but there was no time, no time for anything but scrabble, scoop, and throw.
"My hands," Phillips choked out, the words mumbled through dry, swollen, lips. "For God's sake, untie me. I don't want to die like this."
Steve glanced into the hole and saw that the rope wound around Phillips' wrists had been exposed by their work. "This will hurt," he warned Phillips, taking out a pocket knife from his pants. "You won't be able to use your hands for a while."
Steve didn't want to spare the time, but it wasn't a request that he could refuse. He leaned into the hole and sawed away at the rope until it parted, the sharp blade dealing with the task easily enough, though the angle wasn't good. The blade had blood on it when he'd finished, but like so much else right then, it wasn't important.
Phillips managed to bring his arms in front of him, his face contorted with pain. "I can -- I can feel them," he panted out. "Oh God, my shoulders."
Steve redoubled his efforts to make up for the precious moments he'd lost. The sand was pouring into the hole, replacing what they were removing as the sides capsized. Danny was swearing under his breath, the pink of the spade a blur as he dug.
Steve heard a warning creak a moment before the spade snapped in half.
"Shit," Danny said despairingly.
"No, it's good," Steve said. "Give me the handle."
Using it to break up the soaked, wet sand at the bottom of the hole made scooping it out faster, but the waves were sending feelers out now, teasing swirls of foam and water coming closer every few seconds.
"We need to pull him out," Steve said. "If the hole fills with water --"
Danny nodded and stood, grimacing as he straightened. "It'd be easier with a rope or something."
"Take off your pants," Steve said. "We can loop them under his arms."
"My pants?" Danny demanded. "We're going to use mine? Why not yours?"
Steve would have reminded him that they didn't have time to argue, and pointed out that he'd have to untie his boots first, which would take too long, but he didn't need to. Even as he was talking, Danny was hurriedly unfastening his pants and skinning out of them, his protest a formality.
"You don't get enough sun," Steve replied. "Vitamin D's good for you."
"Skin cancer and sunburn, on the other hand…"
"Let's do this later."
With the makeshift harness, they were able to loosen the grip that the sand had on Phillips a little, but Steve was beginning to worry. The belief that every seventh wave was bigger wasn't one he subscribed to -- he'd stood and counted them for hours as a kid and knew better -- but if a sneaker wave hit them, they could be up to their knees -- and Phillips would be under water, even if only for a short time.
He hauled, ignoring the grunts of pain from Phillips who was wriggling as much as his cramped, numb body was capable of. Enhanced senses couldn't help him now, but he was aware of Danny by his side, working with him, timing his movements so that they were in perfect unison.
Fresh strength poured through Steve, a cool, refreshing flow of it, and he took a deep breath, seeing a huge wave approach. It would sweep past them, he knew it. "See it, Danny? Don't stop pulling. When the wave hits, use it. Phillips, get ready to hold your breath, okay?"
Phillips shook his head, redoubling his struggles, but there was nothing that he could do. Steve felt a stab of pity, but there was no time for reassuring words.
The wave rose and crashed onto the beach a yard or two in front of the hole and surged forward, coming close to knocking Steve and Danny off their feet. Steve braced himself and heaved with everything he had to give, fighting the wave as it withdrew, taking loose sand with it, a greedy giant hand, scouring the beach clean.
Phillips opened his eyes, sobbing out a stream of incoherent words up to his neck in a hole filled with water, but the worst was over. The next wave didn't reach them and with a few more heaves, Phillips was drawn free in a slither of sand and water, to collapse onto the beach.
Steve exchanged a look with Danny and they dragged Phillips higher up the beach, well past the high water mark, before letting him go. Danny walked back to retrieve the water bottle, and what was left of the spade. "Grace is gonna give me hell for breaking this. It's not like I can tell her how it broke; she'd have nightmares for weeks."
"Buy her a new one," Steve said. He could hear sirens on the road behind the beach, reinforcements and help arriving too late, but he just wanted to lie on the sand for a moment and contemplate victory.
Danny held the bottle for Phillips to drink from, patiently tilting it back and forth so that the man didn't choke. "That's it. You're okay now. Well, you still owe a moneylender a lot of cash, but you're alive."
Phillips drained the bottle and wiped his mouth with a shaking, sand-encrusted hand. "I'm gonna kill them. Both of them. All of them."
"I'll let you have that because what you just went through was traumatic and I get it, I do," Danny said seriously, "but you might want to think about saving the death threats for when you're not with two cops. Just a suggestion."
Steve closed his eyes and tried not to think about how close it'd been. Without the senses, Phillips would be dead. Without Danny to ground him, he wouldn't have gotten to Phillips in time and, again, Phillips would be dead. He'd been holding back from using his senses, hesitant as he wasn't about anything else in his life, but something told him that everything was about to change.
Danny's voice broke in on his thoughts. "Next time you say, 'Danny, let's take Wednesday as our day off. Nothing ever happens on a Wednesday', you know what I'm gonna say, McGarrett? Well, do you? And I'm on a beach in my shorts and my pants are ruined. My shoes are ruined. I blame you for all those things, by the way."
Okay, maybe not everything.
"Are we going to tell Chin and Kono?" Danny asked, coming to lie down beside Steve on the bed. They'd showered off most of the sand, though Steve could feel plenty that he'd missed, worked deep into every crease and crevice, a gritty reminder of the day. "You know, about the whole, hey, you're working for Batman thing?"
"Yeah, I guess. We're a team and they need to know." Steve felt his body relax more with every breath. "No rush, though. And for the record, you have Wolverine hair."
"What? Mine's way cooler than his," Danny said defensively, smoothing his hand over his hair as if to reassure himself. "I'm still trying to wrap my head around it all. I'm going to bug you about it, you know. Constantly."
Steve smiled. "I wouldn't have it any other way."
Danny ran his hand over Steve's chest and down, pausing with it a teasing few inches short of Steve's dick. "So what happened to the erotic lovefest you promised me?"
"I promised to blow your mind. The word 'lovefest' never crossed my lips and I hope it never has to again." Steve rolled to his side to face Danny. "Rain check?"
"You're tired, I get it," Danny said. "Too tired for sex, though? Somehow, I pictured this tragedy happening when we were much, much older, not now when I'm in my prime."
Steve opened his mouth to say that he wasn't that tired, parts of him immediately rising to the challenge, but Danny shook his head and put his fingers against Steve's mouth to silence him. "How about I show you what a guide can do to a sentinel instead?"
"Such as?" Steve asked, wondering if he should be alarmed or just curious.
"I've been giving it some thought." Okay, he was going with alarmed. "You can control what you feel? So I can touch you really, really lightly, and it'll feel like…" Danny broke off, frowning. "What will it feel like? Will it hurt? Has it hurt before and you just couldn't tell me?"
Steve shrugged. "I guess if I had my sense of touch turned up high and you slapped my ass, I'd scream like you do when your car goes through mud, but it's all in my head. It wouldn't physically hurt more, I'd just think it did."
"But if I just dragged my finger over it?" Danny matched action to words, one fingertip trailing over Steve's ass, a barely there caress. "How's that feel?"
"It tickles, but I'm not trying to feel it any way other than normally."
"So try," Danny said, edging closer so that Steve couldn't see anything but Danny's eyes and the sun-pinked skin of his forehead and nose. "Turn it up medium-high, babe. I want to play. You don't need to do anything. Just lie there and enjoy it."
"At first, you're going to stumble and fall, like a baby learning to walk. You'll keep going back to crawling, because it feels safer, it's easier, and you can cover more ground that way." Jim tapped his chest. "It took me weeks of Incacha nagging me to do more than dip my toe in, but once you take the plunge, you never want to get out. Oh, sure, if I want to really focus on something, I make an effort, dive deeper, but I never try to turn everything off and get out of the water. I'm not sure I could now. I know from the few times I've lost the enhanced senses without me wanting it -- long story -- just how cut-off from everything I felt."
"I feel like a freak," Steve said. "Like I'm…like I'm cheating. I'm going to go back on duty after this and I'll be better than everyone else and I don't deserve it, I didn't earn it."
Jim shrugged, showing no sympathy. "Someone with good binoculars can see as far as you and a bug can pick up sound from a distance and through a wall. Is using them cheating? The senses save you from carrying around a ton of gadgets, but being a sentinel is about more than that. It's all about protecting the tribe. You're a servant, not a chief. What did you tell me? You're a sniper? Newsflash, McGarrett, you're already a freak in some eyes. Now, you can do your job better, but you're still limited by the range of your weapon and how accurate it is."
Jim picked up a leaf from the floor, unremarkable, one edge torn. "Let me show you." He dropped the leaf into Steve's hand. "Blair used to ask me, okay, you feel more, see more -- tell me what it's like, and I couldn't, but with you I don't need to find words. You can experience it for yourself. Open up, Steve. Use what you've got and go beyond the surface. Dive deeper than 'smooth, green, light'."
It sounded strangely New Age coming from Jim, but even in a few days, Steve had realized that there was more to Jim than the pragmatic, closed-minded cop most would see when they looked. How much of that came naturally and how much had been instilled by Blair over the years, Steve didn't know.
He stared down at the leaf in his hand and let it become the center of his world.
Enjoying what Danny did to him wasn't as easy as it sounded. When his secret had been between them and the sex had been at a comfortingly normal level of intensity for the most part, Steve had been able to relax. Now, obediently, reluctantly opening up his senses for Danny, he was half nervous, half anticipatory and skittish as hell.
"You don't want this?" Danny asked quietly, kneeling between Steve's open legs, his hands resting on Steve's thighs. "We can do it some other time, babe. I'm not rushing you."
"I need to do this," Steve said with a sigh, reaching up to run his hand down Danny's arm. "It's not a case of use them or lose them, but the more I work with my senses, the easier it'll be to control them."
"Yeah, but that's when you're out there," Danny said, waving a hand vaguely. "Doing your job. In here, it's just us. We can keep it the way it's been. It's been pretty good, right?"
"Being a sentinel isn't a job," Steve said haltingly. "It's what I am. I can't change it and if I don't start to accept it more… I don't know. I lost the senses once, even if I don't remember how or why. It was just this gradual thing, but Jim's had them taken away from him to teach him a lesson and I get the feeling that rejecting them or doubting them doesn't lead to anything good."
"You just said you couldn't change it," Danny objected.
"I can't, but there's more going on above my pay grade," Steve said. "That's where it gets mystical with the spirit animals and the visions…I don't know much about that."
Danny gestured down at an erection that was on the wane, much like Steve's. He really was tired. Today had taken it out of him, the horror of the ordeal Phillips had undergone seeping into him like dirty water. It made no sense; he'd seen worse, but he couldn't shake the depression it'd caused. "See what you did? You've killed the mood by talking. Again. Are blue balls standard for guides?"
"Not that I know of," Steve said with some amusement surfacing. "I think Jim and Blair do okay, though do not ask me for details because I tried real hard not to listen in when I was with them that first time. It wasn't easy with their tent close by, but I tried. And when I visited them, well, they live in this open-plan loft so they just …didn't."
And on the last night in the forest, he'd failed in his attempts not to eavesdrop, helplessly caught up in the muted, distant sounds of their lovemaking, his hand playing with his cock and balls, not jerking off with a tight, perfunctory grip, but discovering a new world of pleasure as he explored his newly woken body. Curious, his body covered with a sheen of sweat, his breath escaping in moans he tried to stifle, he'd touched himself, abandoning the known territory of his cock, and letting his fingers brush and press, tweak and tug all over his body, limited only by his reach and imagination.
He was pleased by the discovery that his nipples weren't the dead zone he'd always thought they were. He'd pinched them to throbbing, stinging hardness and soothed them with a spit-wet finger, smiling into the darkness. Pleased but not surprised, though if he'd been told that dragging his thumbnail down the strip of skin under his ear would send a bolt of lust through him, he'd have been incredulous before that night. He'd snatched his hand away from his neck and lain there in the warm darkness, gasping open-mouthed as he'd tried to hold back his climax and make it last at least as long as it took for Jim and Blair to finish.
He'd worked a single finger inside him at the end, easing the way with spit, and cried out as he came, the sound met by an answering one from Jim, as if he'd been listening to Steve jerk off. It had been the most profoundly erotic experience of his life to that point and he'd always wondered what would've happened if he'd gone over to join them. Something told him that for that one night, at least, he'd have been welcome, but he'd stayed where he was, drifting off to sleep. When he'd woken, late into the morning, Jim and Blair had already packed up and gone, leaving him a note with their contact details and a flask of coffee by the ashes of the fire. Steve had been hurt for a moment, but thinking it over, he'd been grateful. They'd told him what he needed to know and morning afters were never his favorite thing.
For years after, he'd used that night as his main fantasy, altering events so that he did cross the clearing, did slide between them, accept what they gave him and return it… He'd pictured it so vividly, so often, that it had become more solid than a dream, if not quite a memory.
"I bet you heard plenty," Danny said, bringing Steve out of his momentary haze. "Spirit animals? What the hell? Do I have one?"
"I guess," Steve said. God, why was so much about this pure guesswork? He wanted an instruction manual. "Jim's is a black jaguar, Blair's is a wolf. I'd tell you more than that, but it was like chipping away at granite with a toothbrush to get even that much out of them. Some stuff they were really antsy about discussing, but it was like they thought I needed to know so they gritted their teeth and gave me the bare minimum. If I've got one, I don't know it yet."
"Huh. What are they for?"
"Don't have a fucking clue," Steve said placidly. "I'm seeing you as a monkey, though, one of those little, lively ones, always chattering and bouncing about in the trees."
"Fuck you very much," Danny said and leaned over until his mouth was an inch away from Steve's cock where it lay quiescent on the cushion of his balls. "Still on eleven, Steven? Because I'm done talking."
Steve made a sound deep in his throat, Danny's warm, damp exhalations as he spoke teasing his cock erect as if it were a puppet on strings, dancing to Danny's tune.
Not so far from the truth, maybe.
"Feels good?" Danny murmured, pursing his lips and blowing out a stream of air along the rapidly lengthening shaft. "Oh, yeah, I bet it does. Imagine how it's going to feel when I actually suck you, but that's not gonna be for a long time, Steven. Mr. Monkey wants to play."
Apologizing wouldn't have done a damn thing to deflect Danny from his revenge, and Steve wasn't feeling particularly penitent anyway. He wasn't feeling tired or depressed, either. Not now. Danny had a way of getting inside his head and forcing out the negative emotions, tossing them aside with a brisk efficiency. Danny could brood from time to time when the situation with Grace got on top of him, or work wasn't going well, but it wasn't something he allowed Steve to do for long.
With a smile he couldn't hold back, Steve closed his eyes and let himself feel every single thing that Danny was doing.
He had it all now, without the fear, without the loneliness.
He had his guide. He had Danny.
For now, it was enough.
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