Word Count: 36,974
Characters/Pairings: Steve, Danny, Kono, Chin, Rachel, Grace, OCs; Steve/Danny
Summary: A string of mysterious deaths lead Steve and Danny to the remote forests of the Big Island; the case becomes a fight for survival when they encounter dangers they never expected.
Warnings: Mild action violence, mild supernatural horror, gay man love, what the movies like to call 'adult situations', adult language, character whumpage, the author being boundlessly self-indulgent, UST, and shameless tropes are shameless.
Disclaimer: Steve, Danny, Kono, Chin, Rachel, Grace, Mamo, and Hawaii Five-0 are © CBS Broadcasting Inc. Steve and Danny's depthless love belongs to EVERYONE. All content is fictional and for entertainment purposes only, not for profit.
[Part 2 | Part 4]
~ ~ ~
The adrenaline rush from their run-in with the trickster spirit only brought Danny so far, and by the time the light started to fade dim between the trees he was exhausted and fighting a dull, squeezing headache. When Steve called a halt for the day, Danny gratefully dropped his pack and sank down against it with a groan.
“You rest up, okay Danno?” Steve said. “I'll be right back.”
“Whoa, wait up, where are you going?” Danny asked, then stopped to take stock of his surroundings. It was lighter than when they'd stopped the night before, and the jungle chorus was still more birdsong than coqui. “...Why are we stopped already?”
“I thought I'd see if I could find some wood dry enough to make a fire. Since, you know.” Steve shifted restlessly. “Maka suggested it.”
Danny considered this for a moment, then settled back more comfortably against his pack. “Good call, babe.”
By the time Steve returned with an armful of twigs and branches, Danny had roused himself enough to rig a sort of lean-to against a large ‘ohi‘a with their rainfly and start digging through their packs for dinner. “So what'll it be, Steven: jerky, flatbread, and dried apples, or jerky, flatbread, and dried apricots? Or shall we get fancy and break out the instant ramen?”
“Apricots,” Steve said decisively, setting down his pile of sticks. He fished a couple of guavas out of his pockets. “I brought dessert.”
Danny paused in his rummaging. “...Huh.”
Steve glanced up from clearing a patch of bare earth for their fire. “What is it?”
“Look what I found crammed way down in the bottom of my pack.” He held the two small items up for Steve's inspection: a little bottle of gin and a pack of cigarettes. “Now, I distinctly don't remember packing these.”
Steve stared. “Maka must have packed them.”
“Well, that was real thoughtful of him and all, but I'm not really much of a smoker, and I'm pretty sure these both fall under the category of 'unnecessary weight'. ...Guess we should drink this tonight?” Danny waggled the bottle.
Steve shook his head, frowning. “We should hold on to both of those. Could be useful.”
“Useful? You mean besides as dead weight in the bottom of my pack? Useful, are you kidding me?”
“I'll carry them,” Steve said, making grabby hands.
Danny gave him a look like he doubted his sanity, which was true, but Steve just stared inscrutably back, so Danny shrugged and handed them over. “Whatever makes you happy, Steven.” Steve tucked them into a side pocket of his pack.
Steve got a small fire going and they ate their rations quickly, huddled gratefully close to its warmth. Danny tried to hide the way his eyelids were drooping, but he must not have been doing a very good job, because the moment he was done with his food Steve announced, “I'll take first watch.”
“Nuh-uh, I don't think so, I'll take first watch. You're not pulling the self-sacrificing hero thing again.”
“Seriously, Danny, look at you, you're exhausted. You need to get some sleep.” Steve sighed, looking Danny in the eye. “I promise I'll wake you when it's your turn, okay? We'll take equal shifts.”
Danny searched Steve's face, but he seemed like he meant it, so he sighed and relented, crawling into his sleeping bag and closing his eyes. They'd been slowly climbing all day; the air was cooler here, and he was grateful for the warmth of the fire on his face. He was grateful, too, that the chorus of coqui had gone from 'deafening' to just 'loud'; he listened to the frogs' strange, piping calls, the crackling of the fire, and the sound of Steve shifting against the broad trunk of the ‘ohi‘a, and he drifted off to sleep.
~ ~ ~
A large weight fell on Danny, wriggling and thrashing, and he shouted, struggling to throw off his attacker. A moment later the weight was gone and he was sitting up, pulling himself free of his sleeping bag and staring about wildly. Steve's hand pressed down on Danny's shoulder, warm and solid, like his voice; “Danny, calm down, what is it, what's wrong?”
“Where is he?” Danny asked urgently. “Where'd he go?”
“Where'd who go? Danny!”
“The guy, whoever that was who just jumped me!”
Steve squeezed his shoulder. “It was just a nightmare, Danny, there was no guy.”
Danny scowled. “It was not a nightmare, okay, something fell on me and it woke me up, I was awake and it was still there!”
Steve stared at him with wide, serious eyes. “I was looking right at you, Danny, there was nothing.”
They paused for a long moment while this sank in, and then Danny groaned and rubbed at his temples. “I hate this.”
“Yeah,” Steve agreed.
Danny let out a big huff of air, forcing himself to relax. Then he turned to Steve, raising an eyebrow. “...So, what, were you watching me sleep?”
To Danny's glee Steve glanced away, looking embarrassed. “Well, you know, Danno, there's not a lot going on, just you and the fire.”
“You were watching me sleep!” Danny crowed.
Steve snorted, turning a fondly aggravated look on Danny. “Just sometimes, don't get excited.” He punched Danny's shoulder lightly. “You've still got another hour or so, you should try to get some more rest,” he said, his face taking on a familiar, mother-henning expression.
“Oh yeah, that seems likely,” Danny scoffed, but he crawled back into his sleeping bag and shut his eyes anyway, making dire mental threats against any annoying spooks that might choose to further disturb his slumber. He concentrated on Steve's comforting presence, the little sounds he made as he fed twigs into the fire, and he found himself slipping into a light, drifting doze.
As he lay there, floating, half asleep, a vague sense of anxiety and unease crept over him. He was unsure, at first, of its source; there was just this unplaceable feeling that something was wrong, something had changed... something was missing.
It was quiet.
Danny jerked awake. The coqui chorus had slowly diminished; the forest was now almost completely silent, as if an aural shadow had been cast over it. Danny turned his head; Steve was alert and tense, wary, stone-still as he listened with intense concentration. He met Danny's eyes, nodded, and Danny quickly but quietly extricated himself from his sleeping bag, grabbing his gun and creeping over to join Steve where he crouched between the fire and the broad trunk of the ‘ohi‘a tree.
Danny made a series of complicated gestures; should he circle away from the campsite and take up a position in some cover? Steve held up a hand– wait– and touched his fingertips to the tangle of ‘ohi‘a roots beneath him. After a few moments Danny could feel it, too: a low vibration in the ground that came in slow pulses, like the footsteps of something very large.
What the–? Danny mouthed, and then they could hear it, too, a thrashing of leaves, a crunching of logs and branches, a squelching of mud and moss. The sound grew louder and the vibrations grew stronger as whatever-it-was approached and what the hell, seriously, what is this, Jurassic Park? Danny had time to think, and then they could see it.
It was shaped like a man, sort of, except that it was ten feet tall with bulk to match and its arms were so long its knuckles nearly brushed the ground; a couple of large, sharp, gleaming teeth protruded tusk-like from its bottom lip, and in the center of its forehead, peering out from behind the messy tangles of its long, matted hair, was a massive, single eye the size of a man's hand.
The creature paused when it saw them, then headed for them with long, purposeful strides. Danny raised his gun and Steve had a hand on his holster, but the creature stumbled to a stop a few yards from them, its one eye rolling downward to stare balefully at the fire. Steve quickly tossed a couple more sticks into the flames; the little fire flared up, and the creature took a step back.
“Danny,” Steve murmured warningly, “let's not shoot it unless we have to, okay?”
“Are you serious?!” hissed Danny.
“I'm not convinced bullets will do it any harm, and I've got a terrible feeling we'd only make it angry,” Steve explained.
The creature rolled its great eye from the fire to them and back again, then shuffled forward, inching slowly closer until Danny's finger was straining against the trigger; then, apparently having come as close to the fire as it was willing to go, the creature sat down across from them, turned its hungry, cyclopian stare on them, and waited.
Danny lowered his gun but didn't let go of it. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Steve turn his head to look at his pile of firewood. Danny waited until Steve was looking at the monster again before glancing at it himself; the pile looked distressingly small.
The long, dark hours passed in a silent staring contest; it was the longest night of Danny's life. The creature was close enough that they could feel its breath; it smelled like old blood and rotten meat. Waves of palpably malicious intent emanated from it, and Danny had no doubt in his mind that the monster would kill and eat them if it could. From time to time the fire would die down and the creature would grow bolder, leaning forward and lifting one long arm to reach for them across the flames. Steve would throw on another small piece of wood; the fire would burn brighter and hotter and the creature would shrink back, fear fighting with hunger in its unblinking gaze.
Steve was sparing with the fuel, but his woodpile inevitably dwindled. When he fed the last stick to the flames the monster leaned forward impatiently, seeming to sense that its wait was nearly over, even though the fire still burned hot and bright. Danny shifted his grip on the butt of his pistol. “Steve,” he said, and was pleased with how even his voice came out, “I think we may have to try bullets after all. Are you ready to run?”
Steve's jaw clenched, but a moment later his eyes went round with surprise. “Danny,” he said, slightly breathless, “I can see.”
Danny blinked, then glanced around, his heart leaping into his throat. Beyond the tiny circle of firelight there was just starting to be enough light between the trees to see by; the sun was coming up at last. If their monster wasn't fond of fire, surely it wouldn't like the sun either, right?
As Danny watched, the creature lifted its head to peer up through the canopy. Danny risked a quick glance; a tiny patch of sky was visible between the leaves, easily more gray-blue than black. The monster lowered its head, fixing them with a furious, monocular glare. A long moment passed; then, with a low, dissatisfied rumble deep in its chest, the creature got to its feet and slunk away, giving them one last, hungry look before disappearing into the underbrush.
Steve and Danny waited for minutes that seemed like hours until they were sure that the monster was really gone. Then, without a word, they packed up their things and hastily left.
“What was that thing?” Danny asked some time later, after they'd put a few miles between themselves and the creature.
Steve shook his head. “I grew up hearing stories of akua, spirits that lived in the darkest parts of the woods, ogres and man-eaters and horrible things. I don't– I don't think something like that has a name.”
~ ~ ~
By late morning there was an abrupt change in the nature of Elika Olokui's trail; where before the evidence of his passing had been almost invisible to Danny, there was now a wide and obvious swath cut through the forest. “He's given up trying to hide his tracks; he's using a machete now. He doesn't expect us to have been able to follow him this far,” Steve said, smiling grimly, stowing his own machete. “This is good. We should be able to catch up to him a lot faster.”
Sure enough, Steve pushed them to a blistering pace. Danny's fever had not in any way diminished, and by the time Steve called a halt for lunch he was sweating through chills and his lungs were burning. Steve's lips thinned when he saw him, and he bullied Danny into a fleece jacket and force fed him some pills.
Danny ignored the way Steve was staring at him and chewed sullenly on an energy bar he couldn't taste– his symptoms now included congestion, to his ever-increasing joy. He could feel Steve's worried gaze weighing heavily on him, and he stubbornly maintained a mask of stoicism, trying to hide the fact that he felt like he wanted to just lay down and die. Somehow he suspected Steve wasn't fooled, the observant, nosy bastard.
Danny was just about to snap at Steve– something nonsensical like, “I can feel your eyes on my face!”– when a crashing in the bushes made them both freeze. Within seconds it was clear that whatever was making the noise was very big and coming toward them, and they dove simultaneously for the relative cover of a log, drawing their weapons. A few moments later a large boar pushed its way through a dense thicket of fern– large like a draft horse is large, and sporting six red, glowing eyes, and yeah, that just wasn’t normal at all, was it?
The giant hog squinted at them, grunting and sniffing the air; then, apparently deciding they weren't a threat, it promptly ignored them and lumbered along on its merry way. When it had disappeared once more into the greenery, Danny let out a breath of air he hadn't known he'd been holding; he turned to Steve, who was frozen in place, eyes out of focus like he was thinking really hard about something. “...Steve?”
Steve huffed a breath, shaking his head as if to clear it and holstering his gun. “Kamapua‘a, the pig god. I was just trying to remember if we were carrying any pork. Clearly not, since he didn't get pissed off.” He chuckled under his breath, sounding slightly hysterical, and shook his head again. “...I feel like I'm going insane. None of this stuff is supposed to be real.”
Danny sighed, giving Steve's shoulder a comforting squeeze. “Tell me about it, babe.”
Steve slowed the pace down a little in the afternoon in deference to Danny, but it didn't seem to help much. Danny's head swam dizzily and everything felt strange, off somehow, like he was just a little bit out of alignment with reality. The chorus of birdsong seemed louder to his ears, and different, like an instrument playing in a different key. The forest seemed strange and different, too; the underbrush seemed thicker, denser, although maybe it just felt that way because moving seemed to require so much more effort now.
The burning in his lungs never really went away, got worse and worse until he had to stop and lean against a tree fern, overcome by a fit of coughing. Steve was at his side in an instant, swearing under his breath as he maneuvered Danny into a sitting position. “That's it,” he growled, tense, “I'm calling for medical evac.”
“No, Steve, I'm okay,” Danny protested, probably ruining the effect by croaking raspily, “don't worry about it, I'll be fine—”
“Danny,” Steve snapped, cutting him off sharply. “Don't be ridiculous, you're sick and you're only getting worse, not better, you're not in any condition to be doing anything other than lying in bed!”
Danny peered up at Steve's haggard and worried face through tearing, blurry eyes. He sighed, which only made him cough more. “...Okay, all right, fine. Call them.”
“I wasn't giving you a choice, Danny.” Steve was already digging through his pack, pulling out the emergency satellite phone and pacing impatiently while the phone powered on. After a minute he stopped pacing and stared at the screen, then glanced around. “I'm not picking up any satellites. The canopy must be too dense. I'm going to try to see if I can get better signal.” He fixed a glare on Danny. “Don't. Move.”
Danny saluted weakly and then watched in a mix of amusement and alarm as Steve scrambled quickly up a tree. No wonder Grace likes him, he's got to be at least half monkey, Danny mused. He settled in to wait for Steve, concentrating on sitting still and breathing without coughing. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out.
A nearby bush shook and Danny turned his head. A pigeon-sized black bird had alighted near him, sporting a long, curved bill and bright yellow feathers on its wings, rump, and underside. As Danny looked on it fluttered its wings, drank from a white and purple flower curved to the same shape as its bill, looked Danny straight in the eye, and flew off. “...Huh,” remarked Danny.
There was a scuffling noise and Steve slid to the ground, frowning. “I got clear of the canopy, but I'm still not picking up any satellites. I can't figure out what's wrong; I tried turning the phone off and on again... as far as I can tell, the phone's working perfectly. I....” Steve shrugged helplessly. “I don't know what to say, Danno.”
Danny considered this information carefully. “...Exactly how much in the middle of nowhere are we, babe?”
Steve huffed a sigh. “Pretty far from everything. Our guy seems pretty intent on losing himself in the backcountry. There's Keanakolu Road above us and the Māmalahoa Highway below us, but it's a several-hour hike to either one.” Steve's expression went thoughtful, calculating.
“Several hours in the wrong direction, right?” Danny shook his head. “We can't lose this guy, Steve, not on account of me. If Olokui's trail keeps going the way it's going, when's the first time we hit civilization?”
Steve licked his lips, thinking. “...Saddle Road, late tomorrow, maybe.”
Danny thought this over. “I can do that. I can do another day.”
“Steve, I'm serious. This guy's been getting away with murder for years, he belongs behind bars, we can't just let him disappear, and you know he will if we let him. I can do this. I may not have gone through SEAL boot camp and all of that, oorah, but I can hike through a fever for another day, I am strong and manly, I assure you, I can totally do that.”
Danny fixed Steve with a serious look. The anxious wrinkle on Steve's forehead wasn't going away anytime soon, but there was a familiar hint of amusement in Steve's eyes, a touch of warm fondness that made something deep in Danny's chest go all tingly. Or maybe that was just another coughing fit coming on. “...Yeah, okay Danno. One more day.”
Danny pushed himself to his feet, ruthlessly quashing the urge to cough. “All right. Let's get a move on, then.”
They pushed forward through the unforgiving jungle. Danny's face became etched in hard lines of grim determination, and if he noticed that Steve's pace had slowed, he didn't spare breath to comment on it.
When the daylight had dimmed and they stopped to make camp, Danny was wheezing and suppressing a coughing fit by sheer force of will. “I'm gonna go...” Steve said, gesturing vaguely, “...firewood, yeah?” Danny could only nod, closing his eyes so he didn't have to see the worried frown on Steve's face.
Danny leaned back against a tree, concentrating hard on breathing evenly. The thought occurred to him to get up and start setting up camp, but his lungs were on fire and he felt kind of nauseous and his entire body ached, and moving just seemed like far too much effort.
A loud flapping of wings and a hoarse croak opened his eyes and turned his head. On a low branch a few yards from him a large, black bird, a crow or a raven, fluffed its feathers and slanted a beady eye at him. ...Huh, Danny thought. Are there ravens in Hawai‘i? The raven cocked its head, examining him with the other eye; Danny cocked his head as well, mirroring it. “Hi,” he said, and exploded into a storm of coughing. The bird croaked loudly and took off between the trees. Danny gasped for breath; “Same to you,” he rasped.
Steve returned, and Danny left him to the ambitious task of erecting their makeshift tent while Danny boiled water for ramen and dried mushrooms. Danny concentrated on slow, even breaths; the wet rattling of his breathing sounded unnaturally loud in the stillness of the forest.
Danny blinked. “Hey,” he said– not too loudly, to avoid triggering his lungs. Steve glanced up. “No frogs,” Danny said.
Steve tilted his head, listening; the chorus of frogs was entirely silent, not even a stray, distant chirp, leaving only the softer song of crickets. “...Huh,” Steve said. He thought about this for a moment, then shrugged. “We've been climbing all day; I guess it's too cold for them up here.”
“It's too cold for me up here,” Danny grumbled, then sighed, coughing a little. “Guess maybe I'll be able to get some decent sleep, though.”
Danny took first watch, bullied Steve into acquiescence under the argument that he hadn't slept at all the night before. Danny settled down by the fire, his back pressed up against the broad trunk of what Steve assured him was a koa tree, and wished fervently for a night without monsters.
Danny's world narrowed down to the sight of orange flames and the sound and feel of his own breathing: in, out, in, out, fight the urge to cough, in, out. His eyelids drooped heavily, and he felt himself drift, half-sleeping.
Steve yelled and Danny started awake, reaching for his gun. “What? Steve, what is it?”
Steve hissed in a pained breath, swearing and clutching one hand. “It bit me!”
“Bit you? What—” The rest of Danny's words were swallowed by coughing. Steve made as if to crawl out of his sleeping bag and come over to him, but Danny held up a hand, shuddering with the effort of bringing his lungs under control. Steve sank back reluctantly.
“...The pain woke me,” Steve explained. “I open my eyes and there's this short, squat little thing, almost human, but– not quite. Big, white, gleaming teeth, and it was biting down on my finger, hard. I tried to hit it and it disappeared.” Steve massaged his fingers, grimacing.
“So, what, finger-biting ghost midgets now?” Danny considered this. “That's fucked up,” he decided.
Steve lay back with a sigh. “Yeah.”
“Your hand okay? You need some disinfectant or something? ...Ghost disinfectant?”
“It’s fine,” Steve said. “Didn’t break the skin. Might bruise, though.”
Danny shook his head. “...Go to sleep, babe. You've got a couple hours yet.”
~ ~ ~
The morning dawned cold and clammy. Danny chewed his breakfast without tasting it, silent, his brain fuzzy with exhaustion; he stared blankly into the bushes and didn’t think about much of anything at all. Steve kept his thoughts to himself.
Danny blinked. A small, discrete clump of shrubbery was rustling and shaking. Before he could make up his mind what to do about it, the leaves parted and a dog trotted into view, a classic mutt: brindle coat, smallish, one ear floppy and one ear straight, tongue lolling out of its mouth in a wide, doggy grin. The dog paused when it saw them, and then its tail started wagging furiously.
Steve gaped. Danny gaped. “...Huh,” Steve said.
The mutt took a few steps closer, wary, and glanced between them, flailing tail a blur. Danny glanced at Steve. “You, uh, know any stories about horrible scary dog monsters?”
Steve was gnawing on the inside of his lip. “Not... that I can think of,” he allowed.
Danny looked back to the dog. It looked friendly, happy, harmless. He shrugged, patting the ground at his knee. “Here pup! Come here!” The mutt came to him instantly, wriggling and squirming with delight, crawling up into his lap and covering his face with warm, wet kisses. Danny laughed, grinning delightedly. “Hey! Hey, uh–” he took a quick moment to check, “–hey, girl! What are you doing out here all by yourself?”
Steve walked over to them, slanting an anxious glance at Danny as he attempted to smother a coughing fit against his arm, then cast his eye over the dog, assessing. “She looks like she’s in pretty good condition.” He smiled and crouched down when she ran over to him, allowing her to press a wet nose into the palm of his hand, licking his fingers, before skittering away from him and back to Danny, excited and indecisive. “Where’d you come from, huh? Are you lost? ...She could be a hunting dog, but she seems a bit small....”
Danny beamed, his lap full of warm, wriggling puppy. He turned his grin on Steve. “Can we keep her?”
Steve laughed. “Why not? We can get her back to civilization when we get to Saddle Road, try and find her owner.”
The dog seemed to think this was a good idea. When they packed up camp and took off on Olokui’s trail, she came with them, trotting along happily, her tongue lolling. She would disappear into the bushes occasionally, for a few minutes or most of an hour, but she always came back.
That day was a struggle for Danny, his exhaustion weighing heavily on him. The ginger was gone from the forest, which Danny was glad of; he didn't miss tripping over the lumpy, tuberous roots, especially as his balance was off and he felt more than slightly disconnected from his body. The chorus of forest birds seemed deafening, although maybe that was Danny's pounding headache talking.
Steve followed Olokui's tracks in silent, grim determination, but when a large flock of green birds with yellow heads flew past them, chattering loudly, he stopped and blinked at them. “...Huh,” he mused. “I don't think I've ever seen those birds before.”
Danny didn't think this was particularly a reason to stop the presses, honestly, Steve was a Navy SEAL, not David freaking Attenborough, and also they were here to catch a murderer, not check the ivory-billed woodpecker off their birdwatching lists. He didn't say so, however, as he was far too busy trying to figure out how it was possible for him to feel hot and cold at the same time, that's shivers and sweat, by the way, and anyway he had the distinct impression that if he opened his mouth just then he might throw up.
Danny realized a moment later that maybe he should've made an effort anyway, because Steve turned to look at him, clearly waiting for the sort of diatribe experience had taught him to expect from Danny. A series of expressions crossed his face too quickly for Danny to read, and Danny wondered how godawful he looked, whether Steve could see how faded Danny felt. Before he could stave off Steve's worried needling, however, Steve had turned away and started walking again; Danny stumbled to keep up. For a few paces silence stretched awkwardly between them.
“...So this one time in Vietnam, my team and I were deep in the Mekong Delta, and we were running short on MREs,” Steve said, and Danny glanced up at him in surprise. Steve ignored him, going into a long, intricate, and hilarious story involving Killer's worn-out boot and a statue of Vishnu. When he was finished, he told the one about the fake mustache and the jade ceremonial pipe in China, and the one about target practice with Rawhide's Carmen Miranda poster in Sudan. Steve kept talking as they burned through miles of thick forest; as a distraction tactic it was obvious and heavy-handed and it worked stupidly well, and the burning in Danny's lungs was joined by a sweet ache in Danny's chest that was heavy with gratitude and fondness.
Danny wanted to kiss him so badly he couldn't quite see straight.
He barely noticed, wrapped up as he was in Steve’s stories about grenades and LEGO Batman figurines, but as the afternoon wore on the forest dried out, opened up a bit. A dense fog rolled in, obscuring the world in a white shroud from which dark, twisted trees would emerge as they walked. The ground began sloping down again, and then they started crossing black strips of lava.
Danny had mixed feelings about the lava. It was a relief to break out from the patches of forest, to not have to climb over and under and around and through Mother Nature's perverse obstacle course; on the sections of smooth pāhoehoe the going was actually what someone might even call easy. But the fields of sharp, unstable ‘a‘ā rubble were worse than anything they'd had to cross previously, and Danny lost his footing and his blood more than once on the rough lava.
Their pace, meanwhile, had slowed to a crawl, and Steve left off the storytelling to curse viciously under his breath. “Problem, babe?” Danny asked.
Steve clenched his jaw grimly, shaking his head. “Finding Olokui's trail is... not so easy on this bare rock. I mean, I can do it– disturbances in the lichen and so on. It's just– hard.” He clawed fingers through his hair, swearing again. “We’ve actually been gaining on him, he’s not really hurrying anymore, but. This is taking too long. He's going to pull away from us.”
On some level, Danny was grateful for the break. He hung back, coughing as unobtrusively as possible while Steve scoured the rock for signs that were completely invisible to Danny's eyes. Danny stared into the fog, watching phantom shapes appear and disappear in the swirls of mist. He wondered idly where the pup had run off to; she’d been gone about forty-five minutes.
As if summoned, a few moments later the brindle mutt emerged from the fog. She danced around Steve’s ankles and barked; Steve reached down to pet her but she dodged, trotting away across the lava. She stopped when she was thirty feet away from them, sat on her haunches, and barked again.
“What are you doing, girl? Come here!” Danny called. The dog stretched her legs out, lying down, and barked again somewhat pointedly. “What's up with her?” Danny wondered, and Steve shook his head. He walked over to her and bent down, offering his hand, but she didn’t budge.
The mutt whined at Steve and pawed at the ground, nails scrabbling against the rock. Steve stared at her. She barked. For a few moments Steve just stood and frowned at her, then his eyebrows went up and he started forward in surprise.
“That's a scuff mark from Olokui's boot!” he said, kneeling down to take a closer look at it. The mutt immediately sprang to her feet and took off across the lava, stopping after about ten yards, sitting, and barking sharply.
Danny raised his eyebrows. “Call me crazy, but I think she wants us to follow her,” he said.
Steve strode over to where the dog waited, quickly finding the blade of recently-crushed sword fern. He shook his head, bewildered, as the dog trotted ahead, stopped, waited, barked. “...I guess this solves our tracking problem?”
They travelled this way for some time, the dog running ahead then waiting by some near-invisible mark or sign, until it became fairly well established that yes, somehow the brindle mutt was guiding them along Olokui's path. Seemingly able to gauge Steve and Danny's faith in her, she stopped pausing at scuffs and marks and merely trotted along ahead of them, trusting them to follow her. Often as they passed through kīpuka, patches of forest in the lava plain where the trees and brush grew thick and the trail was easy to follow, she would slip away into the bushes again, but she would always reappear immediately when their progress faltered.
When the daylight, already weak and diffuse from the fog, began to fail entirely, Steve and Danny began to make camp at the edge of one of these kīpuka, laying their sleeping bags on the flat pāhoehoe but using the island of trees for shelter from the elements. Their canine guide, apparently bored with the proceedings, pulled her disappearing act; Steve went in search of firewood, leaving Danny alone to listen to the rattling of his lungs as he started organizing their meal.
A rustling of wings caused Danny to look up from fiddling with their tiny camp stove; a large raven had alighted in the lichen-shrouded koa tree above him. The bird turned one beady eye on him, tilted its head, and croaked. “You again,” Danny greeted it, and coughed. “...What do you want this time?”
A moment later a second raven arrived, flapping loudly, and shortly a third landed in the tree. Dinner temporarily forgotten, Danny stood looking upward in bemusement as a few more joined the group, all of them ruffling their feathers and croaking hoarsely and staring down at him.
“What the hell?” came Steve's voice from off to one side. Danny glanced over to him; he was clutching his pile of twigs absently and staring up at the birds with a deep wrinkle of bafflement on his brow.
Danny coughed a few times. “...Pretty weird, huh? I saw one of these guys the other day. I didn't even know you guys had ravens in Hawai‘i. Look, here comes another one!”
Steve frowned. “‘Alalā,” he said, “the Hawaiian Crow. Well, actually, a kind of raven.” Two more alighted in the tree; Steve blinked rapidly a few times. “They're... they're supposed to be extinct in the wild.”
“Apparently not. Hey, score one for the treehuggers– shit!!” Danny ducked and covered his head as one of the birds dived at him, raking his forearms with its claws.
“Danny–!” Steve exclaimed, and then there were birds everywhere, buffeting them with their wings, scratching with their claws, and pecking with their great, dangerous beaks. Steve drew his weapon and fired it into the air, hoping to frighten the birds away, but the mob only attacked with even greater ferocity. It was all Steve and Danny could do to protect their heads and faces from sharp beaks and claws.
An unnatural, echoing howling filled the air, so loud it vibrated in their bones; a giant dog the size of an elephant came hurtling around the edge of the kīpuka, jaws frothing with saliva and eyes glowing red. Danny and Steve threw themselves towards the cover of the trees as the gigantic hound burst into the midst of the attacking ravens, snarling, jaws snapping. It crushed a couple of the birds between its teeth, flinging their lifeless bodies to the side with rough shakes of its great head. In short order the cloud of ravens dispersed and fled, winging their way southward until their hoarse cries faded from hearing.
The giant beast gave one last, ear-shattering, triumphant howl. Then the great hound shrank down rapidly until their little brindled mutt sat on the lava wagging her tail, her grinning mouth stained red with raven blood.
Steve gawked. “Danny. Holy shit did you see that? Danny.”
Danny was coughing and unable to stop, coughing so hard tears were streaming from his eyes and he couldn't stand up.
“Danny!” Steve rushed over to him, his face lined and etched with worry, hovering ineffectually until he settled on supporting Danny, holding him up while he coughed so he didn't fall over onto the sharp lava.
Through his tear-blinded eyes and the painful convulsions wracking his body, Danny was dimly aware of the brindle mutt skittering back and forth in front of him and whimpering in distress. He closed his eyes, tried to find something to distract himself, maybe disrupt the coughing reflex; he latched onto the feeling of Steve's broad hand rubbing up and down his back, soothing; to the low rumble of Steve's voice as he murmured comforting nonsense.
Danny's coughing did not cease, but eventually the spasms came less forcefully, a series of weak coughs following every breath. Steve ordered him to sit down and keep still, keep quiet; Danny coughed and coughed, curled his fingers absently into the fur of the brindle mutt where she lay pressed up against his legs. He watched Steve build the fire and finish dinner, his expression fixed in a pinched and anxious look. It twisted something deep in Danny's gut, knowing he was the cause of that look.
“Hey,” Danny gasped out between coughs.
Steve's head jerked up. “Yeah, Danny?” he asked, breathless, ready to move, ready to jump to Danny's every need. Danny's heart squeezed painfully.
“Aneurysm face,” Danny rasped.
Steve stared, and then he smiled a little; and the pinched look never left his eyes, but even so it was a real smile. “No talking, Danny.”
They settled down to eat as the last of the light faded, Danny sipping broth carefully between coughs, the dog tearing happily at one of the ravens she'd killed. As they ate, the fog thinned and dissipated and the stars came out, the great masses of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa silhouetted against the deeper black, ribbons of pāhoehoe shining silver in the weak light of the rising sliver of a moon.
Coughing into the crook of his arm, Danny watched Steve stand up and stare into the distance, to the north, to the south, to the east. He was frowning in a way that had nothing to do with Danny's respiratory difficulties, and Danny wasn't sure whether to be relieved or deeply, deeply concerned.
“Babe,” Danny said, and he meant to follow it up with a question, but instead he burst into a fit of coughing.
Steve answered him anyway. “We should've crossed Saddle Road today. I thought maybe I was confused, it was foggy, maybe we weren't as far south as I thought we were, but....” He gestured vaguely to their surroundings, encompassing all directions. “It's a fairly heavily-traveled road,” he said, then clamped his mouth shut unhappily. He started again. “We should be able to see headlights.” He gestured to the massive silhouette dominating the northern horizon. “We should be able to see headlights on Mauna Kea Road.” He gestured to the east. “We should be able to see the lights of Hilo.”
Danny looked. They were surrounded by black. The only lights were the stars and crescent moon. They weren't lost; Steve knew exactly where they were. They were camped on a vast lava plain and they could see for miles in all directions. And the roads and automobiles and the largest town on the island were just gone. Missing.
Danny began to feel something very much like fear.
Steve sat down again, grim-faced, and the two of them quietly contemplated their situation. The silence and the implications weighed heavily on Danny, squeezed his throat, made it hard (harder) to breathe. He had to say something, anything. He swallowed a round of coughs, tried to make light of things. “...Well, Toto, looks like we're not in Kansas anymore,” he croaked.
Steve wanted to laugh, Danny could see that, but he couldn't quite manage it. He shook his head. “We have to catch Elika Olokui, or I don't know how we'll get back from... whatever this is.”
“Then we'll catch him,” Danny said, and then couldn't speak again for coughing.
Steve's grim face only got grimmer as he cleaned up to the soundtrack of Danny's gasping, rattly breaths and tortured, painful coughing. After a few minutes Danny got himself somewhat under control, reverting to his new default of constant, quiet coughs. “I'll take watch, Danny, you go to bed,” Steve said softly.
Danny grimaced, rubbing absently at his chest. “Well, you know, Steven,” he gasped out between coughs, “I would dearly love to, I mean that, I cannot even begin to tell you how very much like shit I feel, but it's just not going to happen. I'm not going to be able to sleep, coughing like this.” Danny paused for a fierce bout of coughing, as if to prove his point. He swallowed, winced, continued. “I'll take first watch, and maybe by the end of it, if I'm lucky, I'll be tired enough to pass out.”
Steve reluctantly agreed, and Danny watched him settle himself into his sleeping bag, the dog curled up next to him, as Danny tried to make himself comfortable near the fire. “Goodnight, Dorothy,” Steve said.
~ ~ ~
The night was dark, and very, very cold, which only seemed to exacerbate Danny's cough. Danny bundled up as much as he could, and built the fire up as much as he dared (after the incident with the one-eyed akua he was leery of burning through their woodpile too quickly). The worst of the coughing came in waves, and Danny did his best to smother the noise against his jacket sleeve, eyes on Steve who frowned in his sleep at the sound of it. Danny tried not to stare at the wrinkle that had taken up permanent residence on Steve's brow, or at the way the firelight caressed his stubbled jaw; instead he looked out into the dark, listening to the chorus of crickets. From time to time strange, eldritch lights rose in the west, spheres of flame that soared through the black, changed direction, shot themselves over the horizon like meteors. He watched them burn in the sky, and shivered.
When the moon had climbed to the roof of the sky, exhaustion began to wear at him. He closed his eyes as the convulsions shook him, tired to the point of aching and wishing fervently that the coughing would just stop. He was coughing so hard he almost didn't hear it the first time.
His eyes snapped open.
That was Rachel's voice.
Danny scrambled to his feet, coughing. “Rachel?!”
“Danny, come here.” Rachel's voice came from some distance away, from inside the forested kīpuka. She sounded urgent, maybe a little frightened. Danny stumbled toward the sound of her voice, pushing blindly into the dense underbrush.
“Rachel, where are you?!”
He coughed; sharp branches clawed at his face. “Rachel, what are you doing here? What's wrong?”
“Just come here.”
“Okay, okay, I'm on my way, just stay where you are!”
A heavy hand clamped down on Danny's shoulder, stopping him. Danny turned, struggling; it was Steve. His face looked ashen in the moonlight. “Don't go,” he said. “Never go when they call you by name.”
“Danny!” Rachel's voice sharpened with alarm and fear.
“Steve, let go of me!” Danny cried, coughing and fighting to break Steve's grip.
Steve held on tighter, wrapping his arms around Danny's torso and holding his ground. “Danny, Danny listen to me, that's not Rachel, that's not Rachel, it's a calling ghost, it's trying to kill you, Danny!”
Rachel's voice was frantic now, panicked. “Danny! Danny, come here! Danny!”
Danny struggled to break free, nearly crying with frustration. “What are you doing, Steve, that's Rachel! Can't you hear her? Let go!”
Steve dug his heels in. “Danny, think! You know that's not Rachel, it can't be, she's not here, Danny, she's on O‘ahu with Grace!”
Danny faltered, the gears of his mind turning. He was suddenly aware of Steve's wide, frightened eyes, and the dog at their feet, staring into the brush, hackles up and growling. Steve was right; Rachel couldn't actually be here... could she?
Rachel's voice changed timbre suddenly, angry and rageful. “Danny! Come here, Danny! Come here!”
Danny slumped in Steve's arms, coughing weakly and shaking his head. “That's not Rachel. It can't be.”
The voice was incensed now. “DANNY! YOU COME HERE RIGHT NOW, DANNY! RIGHT NOW!”
Steve started to pull Danny back toward camp, away from the trees. The thing with Rachel's voice raged, impossibly loud, “YOU COME HERE RIGHT NOW! YOU COME HERE RIGHT NOW!” Trees thrashed as if in a high wind. The voice was Rachel's, but wrong, twisted, demonic. It roared and screamed at them, murderous.
Danny felt sick.
Steve pulled Danny down next to the fire, and they huddled together while the hellish thing bellowed. It gave one last wordless cry of rage and then abruptly fell silent, leaving the night deathly still. After a few moments the crickets started up again.
Danny sat curled against Steve, shaking and coughing weakly, his face pressed into Steve's shoulder. “Fuck,” he whispered.
“I know,” Steve murmured, wrapping his arms tightly around Danny. “I know.”
They sat that way for a long while, shoulder pressed to shoulder and heads together, shaking with the force of Danny's incessant coughs. Danny's eyes began to droop shut and Steve shook him gently. “Hey. Go to bed, Danny. It's my watch by now anyway.”
Danny lay down and closed his eyes, the dog curling up next to him. He drifted in a dizzying, confused state, half awake, half dreaming, bouts of coughing preventing him from reaching true sleep. He opened his eyes a few times to find Steve watching him, and Steve would quirk a small half-smile at him; other times he found Steve staring upward at the stars, a vague, distant frown on his face.
~ ~ ~
Danny slowly became aware of ambient light behind his eyelids and the small sounds Steve made as he moved around, the clank of pot and lid, the low hiss of the stove. Danny felt like crying. He'd had no kind of real sleep; he was bone-tired, and another full day's forced march over rough lava felt like more than he could bear.
By the smell of it Steve was making ramen again; the broth was easier for Danny to swallow and soothed his burning throat. Danny worried about the fuel they were using, and the water even more so; it had been a while since they'd crossed a stream with water in it. How much water did they have left? Was Steve drinking less than he should to accommodate? Danny wouldn't put it past him. He felt a stab of guilt at the thought. How much was Steve giving up for him? How much was Danny slowing him up? He knew they were only a few hours behind Olokui now; would Steve have caught him already without Danny's dead weight dragging him down?
Danny shook himself, trying to derail his little train of self-pity. Shame on you, he thought. You know Steve would never think of you as a burden. And if he knew what you were thinking it would just give him one more thing to frown about.
Steeling himself, Danny opened his eyes. He lay still and just watched Steve for a little while, breath fogging in the chill morning air, moving with military precision and efficiency. Danny smiled; Steve was just so... Steve, and there was something comforting, something warming about that. Danny cleared his throat, winced at the burn of raw tissue, croaked, “Hey.” Steve looked up at Danny and smiled, fond, and the warm feeling expanded; but then Steve glanced up, above and behind Danny, and his eyes widened and the smile dropped from his face.
Danny turned to look. Very close, looming over him, was a column of pale, misty air. Its features were vague and transparent and indistinct, but it was very definitely human.
Danny yelled, and flailed, and the apparition vanished. Danny curled in on himself, wracked with coughs.
Steve sprang up and rushed over to him, crouching down. “Danny!” He hovered, uncertain, laying his hands gingerly on Danny's shoulders, and the pinched look around his eyes was back and Danny hated it, hated the sandpaper scrape in his throat and the drowning feeling in his lungs and the tears that blurred his vision, but most of all hated, hated that look in Steve's eyes.
Eventually Danny quieted down to a low-grade, continuous cough, and Steve handed him a bowl of ramen and frowned at him until he ate some of it. Danny rubbed at his chest and tried not to grimace.
Steve was still staring at him, all frowny-faced and irritating. “So, uh... it didn't sound like you slept much, huh, Danno.”
“Not so much, babe,” Danny croaked. “And how 'bout you? Any scary... er-than-usual spooks?”
Steve shook his head. “The rest of the night was pretty quiet. ...Well. Saw a lot of fireballs.”
“Yeah, me too. What are they?”
“Spirits, I guess,” Steve said, shrugging. “Don't know much about them, but I know they're supposed to be common in this area.” He swirled his bowl of ramen, frowning into it. “I didn't see any satellites last night. And the observatories are gone.” He jerked his thumb at Mauna Kea, clenched his jaw. “...It's like people were never here.”
Danny considered this in silence, swallowing careful gulps of noodles and broth, looking up at the immense profile of the snow-capped mountain. The summit looked empty without the gleaming observatories, and the lower slopes looked different from pictures he'd seen, the dusty yellow of pasture grass replaced by the dull green of trees. That cold feeling of dread he'd felt the night before returned, settling in his stomach. Where– or when– the fuck were they? And how were they supposed to get home?
Olokui, Danny reminded himself firmly. We followed him here. He must know how to get back. We just gotta catch Olokui.
When they'd eaten, Danny washed the breakfast dishes while Steve broke down camp. Danny tuned the rest of the world out, concentrating on tiny, even, quiet breaths, trying to swallow the tickling, drowning feeling in his lungs. Steve caught his attention again, however, when he started pulling things out of Danny's backpack and stuffing them into his own. “Hey. Hey. McGarrett. What do you think you're doing?”
Steve's jaw was set, stubborn; he didn't meet Danny's eyes, and continued stuffing the heaviest items he could find into his pack, wherever he could get them to fit. “Danny,” he said, tone even and measured and reasonable, “don't even start with me. You know perfectly well what I'm doing, and why.”
“For fuck's sake, McGarrett, I can still carry a pack—”
Steve's eyes snapped up, steel-gray and glaring. “Danny, how much sleep did you get last night? Or the night before that? Or the night before that? You barely eat, you can barely breathe, you've got a fever of I-don't-know-what and just sitting there washing the dishes I can see your hands shake. We have to push today, we have to keep pushing until we catch Olokui– he's the only way I can get you to a doctor, Danny, okay, we need to catch him and the going is rough and it's going to be hard on you and all I can do for you is carry some of the weight, okay, I can do that, Danny, and God dammit you are going to let me—”
“No, God dammit McGarrett, how much are you doing for me already and just not saying, you fucking martyr, I will not be a burden on you, I can carry my own fucking weight—!” Danny was cut off by hacking, painful coughs, and he curled in himself and shook and sweated through them, a long minute of spasms that felt like an hour, felt like his lungs were being ripped out of his chest. Steve was crouched there next to him, callused hands smoothing soothingly over Danny's arms, shoulders, back. When it was over Danny held himself still, his eyes squeezed shut, his lungs and throat on fire.
“Danny.” Steve sounded wrecked, a faint trembling in his voice, in the hand that combed through Danny's sweat-damp hair. “Danno. You stubborn jackass. Let me do this.”
Danny could only nod.
Steve's hands smoothed across Danny's shoulders, squeezed gently; then they stilled, tense. “...Our friend's back.”
Danny steeled himself, opened his eyes, turned to look. The apparition from earlier hovered a couple of meters away, vague and transparent, watching with the faint suggestion of eyes. Danny felt irrationally angry at it. “Fuck off,” he whispered hoarsely.
The shade wavered, drifted a few inches closer.
“Fuck off!” Danny rasped, and threw a rock at it. The spirit vanished, like a candle being snuffed out. Danny closed his eyes, leaned his forehead against Steve's shoulder, and breathed. He felt like crying.
“I know,” Steve murmured. “I know.”
~ ~ ~
[Part 2 | Part 4]