Characters/Pairings: Steve McGarrett, Danny "Danno" Williams; Steve/Danny
Word Count: 26,970
Summary: After a bit of snooping, Danny discovers that Steve wants to celebrate his birthday by climbing Mauna Loa, the world's largest active volcano, because of course he does. Danny agrees to go along for reasons that are mostly inexplicable and surely have nothing to do with Steve's warm, dark eyes or the curve of his smile—but hey, they're only going to be climbing one of the world's most active volcanoes which could erupt at literally any time, where they will be above 40% of the Earth's atmosphere and the lack of oxygen can actually be deadly, and where severe weather can blow up without warning. What could possibly go wrong?
Warnings: A fair amount of adult language, and like, mortal peril, but that's it.
Disclaimer: Characters in this story are © CBS Broadcasting Inc. All content is fictional and for entertainment purposes only, not for profit.
This story also available on AO3 and DW.
~ ~ ~
When Danny woke the second time, Steve was already awake, seated at the table and reading something. Danny watched him for a few moments: Steve McGarrett at rest, quiet, peaceful. A rare sighting. Whatever he was reading was making him smile, a soft, warm curve of the lips.
Chance or intuition caused Steve to glance over toward Danny, and his smile brightened. "Hey, you're awake."
Danny groaned happily, stretching a little. "Whatcha doing?"
"Reading the guestbook." Steve tipped the book up so Danny could see. "Lots of interesting stories in here. People from all over the world. ...How was your nap?"
"Mmmmmm, glorious," Danny replied, propping himself up on his elbows and rolling his neck a little.
"It's getting towards dinnertime. What do you think?"
"Yep. Time continues on at a steady pace." Steve's eyes twinkled.
Danny pushed himself out of his bunk and rolled to his feet, groaning, before wandering over to a window to peer out toward the caldera. Sure enough, the sun was blazing low in the west, the light on the rocks had taken on a more golden quality, and the shadows picked out by the subtle textures of the cliff's edge had widened and stretched. "Mmmff. So it does. ...Yeah, dinner sounds good. In a minute, I'm gonna go stretch my legs."
Steve nodded, turning back to his guestbook. "Sounds good. You're gonna want a fleece, Danny."
Danny had already started shuffling toward the door, but he detoured back to his pack to dig out a warmer layer before hauling the door open and venturing outside. "Hggghh, brrrr!" Danny hunched his neck down into his collar and shoved his hands into his pockets, glad that Steve had suggested a jacket. The wind had picked up a little, and the air had gone noticeably crisper and colder. Still, he took a moment to savor it, sipping at the sweetness, shuffling to the end of the cabin to get a broader view of the mountaintop. To the east, the blue of the sky had softened, framed at the horizon by a sea of pale, distant cumulous.
A small wave of shivering overtook him, and he forced himself to look away from all of nature's grandiose prettiness and hurry to the wooden stairs behind the cabin. After performing an inspection of the facilities, as it were, he hustled back to the front door of the cabin without lingering, pushing gratefully back into the warmth of sun-warmed air and Steve's lazy, fond regard.
Danny could feel his cheeks heat, and was glad that any suspicious pinkness could easily be blamed on the cold wind. Honestly, Steve needed to not… weaponize his gaze like that! Asshole.
Danny cleared his throat, unzipping his over-warm jacket a little. "So, what's chow?"
Steve leaned over to grab a stuff sack from the chair next to him and started pulling out packages of freeze-dried meals. "Well, we've got four dinners in here; you want beef stroganoff with noodles, lasagna with meat sauce, chicken and dumplings, or chili mac with beef?"
Danny screwed up his face doubtfully, considering. "I dunno, which freeze-dried monstrosity do you think will taste the least awful?"
Steve rolled his eyes. "I know you're not gonna believe me until you try it—"
"Because I have had freeze-dried food before actually, Steven—"
"Yes, okay, I know what you're talking about, I've had a lot of mediocre stuff too—just trust me on this, Danny, Mountain House knows what it's doing, their food is delicious, actually, it's just better. Just... pretend you don't know it's going to be rehydrated food, pretend you're at a restaurant—"
"A restaurant, Danny, just order what you think sounds best."
"A restaurant. There gonna be tablecloths and candlelight?"
Steve sort of made a shrug face. "That could be arranged. Pick a dinner, Danny."
Danny pursed his lips, thinking. "All right, garçon, I'll have the chili mac, because it sounds like the one they'd have the hardest time screwing up horribly."
"Great, chili mac for you, chicken and dumplings for me. Side veg... sweet corn or green beans?" Steve waggled a couple of bags.
"Yeesh. I dunno, corn, whatever."
"Corn it is." Steve tossed the bags at Danny. "Do me a favor and get these open and fish the little desiccant packs out? I'll go check on the water, see if it's close to boiling."
Danny tossed him a lazy salute. "Ja wohl, Commandant." Steve rolled his eyes, pushing himself up from the table and making his way into the kitchen. Danny followed Steve's directions, shoving the desiccant packs and other trash into a spare baggie, then picking up one of the meal packs and scrutinizing it front and back. The instructions were in small font, hard to read in the dimming light. Danny squinted, and a tightening behind his eyes and forehead that he hadn't even noticed was there sharpened into a painful stab. He winced, rubbing at his temples.
"Hot water, coming up," Steve said, gingerly carrying an aluminum pot filled nearly to the brim with steaming water. "Boiled for a couple minutes, that ought to be hot enough even at this elevation. Hold one of those open for me?" Danny obediently held the meal packs open while Steve poured water in, then watched him quickly stir and seal the packs. "There, we'll give that fifteen minutes... hey, you okay, Danno?"
Danny blinked at the mild concern in Steve's voice, then grimaced a little. He'd been rubbing at his temples again. "Little bit of a headache, babe, that's all. Probably a little dehydrated."
"Could be." Steve passed Danny a water bottle, which he gladly accepted. "Could be the elevation getting to you a little. I've got pain pills, lemme know if you need them."
"Thanks, babe. I'm okay for now." Danny took a long swallow of water.
Steve nodded then peered out the window. "Oh, hey, the sun's setting. C'mon, let's get out there!" Steve hustled over to his pack, digging out a jacket, hat, and gloves. "C'mon, Danno!"
Danny groaned, pushing himself out of his chair and hobbling over to his own pack. "I dunno where you get all this energy, Steve. It's unnatural. Unsettling. And kind of disgusting."
Steve grinned. "Stop bitching and put your hat on."
"You know it's cold out there? This better be a damn good sunset."
Steve's grin got a little brighter. "Trust me, Danno, you're not gonna want to miss this."
Once they were both properly bundled up, Steve hustled them out the door and into the crisp, cold mountain air. It was noticeably chillier than it had been before, and Danny shivered, burrowing his chin into his jacket collar like a turtle retreating into its shell.
The last limb of the sun was sinking behind the far rim of the caldera, and they stood and watched until it blinked out of view. Then Steve snagged Danny's sleeve and dragged him around the side of the cabin so they could get a view to the east. The wind was strong and cold, and Danny's teeth chattered a little. "Gahh. Okay, sun's down, what are we doing?"
"Just wait for a few minutes," Steve chided. He shifted position slightly, casually pretending not to notice that he was now, just a little bit, blocking the wind for Danny. Danny huffed in exasperated amusement, and then casually pretended not to shuffle a couple of inches closer to Steve's sheltering bulk.
It was really cold, okay?
They stood in silence for a few minutes, watching the sky turn pinks and purples and deepening, darkening blues. A hazy shape started to form in front of them, an obtuse triangle of shadowy sky, just a little darker blue than the rest of it. Steve pointed. "There. You see that?"
Danny nodded. "I do, yeah. Is that... is that the mountain...?"
"It's Mauna Loa's shadow, yeah."
"It's huge." The shadow stretched wide across the sky and was growing, climbing upwards as the sun sank lower.
"Largest active volcano on the planet," Steve pointed out. "Just a little longer, in a minute or two there should be something else...."
Danny waited patiently, content to just stand there and soak in the sky, even with the cold wind cutting through him. After a moment Steve stirred again. "There, you see that? That darker band at the bottom, stretching all the way across the sky?"
Danny had just started to notice it—a second shadow, slowly widening, not a cone like Mauna Loa but a long, curving band. "I see it, yeah. It... looks like it's eating the mountain-shadow? ...What is it?"
Steve grinned. "That, Danny, is the shadow of the Earth itself, projected against the atmosphere."
Danny gaped. "What? Really? No way. Is that even possible?" He found himself doing some mental gymnastics, working out the geometry.
"Sure," Steve said. "Happens every day, you just need a clear sky and an open horizon. This is the best one I've seen, I think."
"That's." Danny stared, blinking. "Once you stop and think about it it's simple, but. At the same time, looking at it, it's hard to wrap your brain around it, like, 'Oh, hey, that is the shadow of the Earth,' there's something about it that's just." He chuckled out a breathy laugh, at a loss for words for once in his life. "You got me, babe, that's. It's pretty amazing."
Steve was quiet for a moment; then, softly—"Glad I could share it with you."
Something about the way Steve said it made Danny's heart grow warm and swollen in his chest, made his breath come short and his pulse race. Something about the tone of his voice, and the way ‘with you’ seemed to be the most important part of the sentence. Or, well, it was probably just Danny projecting his own feelings onto Steve. Either way, he couldn't think of a response that didn't make the moment more fraught with dangerous emotion, so for once he kept his peace, watching the sky bruise into darker colors and trying not to shiver too much.
He probably failed at the not-shivering thing, because after a minute Steve rubbed a hand against Danny's jacket sleeve as if trying to warm him, then tugged on his arm a little. "C'mon, let's get back inside, warm up a little. Dinner should be ready."
"Oh goody," Danny replied, as dry as possible, and turned in time to catch Steve rolling his eyes before giving Danny a playful shove and leading the way back to the cabin.
The food was—irritatingly—actually pretty good, just as Steve had said it would be. Not that Danny was going to admit it. This didn't stop Steve smirking at the way Danny wolfed down his food, fast enough to burn his tongue.
When they were done eating Steve pulled out a pack of cards, and—after Steve ran outside, returning in a minute to cheerfully dump handfuls of volcanic cinder on the table in lieu of chips—they played poker by lantern and candlelight. It was a pleasant way to waste some time—or it would've been, if not for Danny's steadily worsening headache, which had sharpened into a painful searing stab at the back of one eye socket.
Danny tried to be subtle about it, steadfastly refusing to rub at his aching skull, but Steve, of course, noticed anyway, his brow wrinkling and his eyes going all soft and concerned. "What's up, Danno? You okay?"
Danny made a show of studiously considering his cards. "Hmm? I'm fine."
"You're squinting and your jaw's all clenched up. ...Is your head still hurting?"
Danny sighed, setting his cards down and giving in to the temptation to press his palms against the pressure in his eyeballs. "Ugh. Yeah, it's gotten worse."
Steve's concern palpably increased. "You wanna call it a night?"
"Nah, I'm good, I'm good, let's at least finish the game."
"Let me at least get you some pills, all right?" Without waiting for Danny's approval, Steve pushed himself up from the table and went over to his pack, fishing around until he unearthed his first aid kit and dug out a tiny bottle of ibuprofen. "Here. Take a couple," he directed, handing the bottle over before settling back down into his seat.
"Ugh," Danny reiterated, popping the cap and shaking out a couple of pills, swallowing them down with a few healthy swigs of water.
"It's probably the altitude. My head's getting a little achey, too." Steve gave him a sympathetic half-smile. "It should pass, eventually."
"God, I hope so," Danny complained. "...Thanks for the pills."
Steve's smile turned all soft and warm in a way that made Danny have to look away, his stomach flopping about like a fish. "You're welcome, Danno. ...Now, you gonna come at me like you're holding the flush I know you don't have, or are you gonna fold?"
Danny laughed, rubbing a hand over his face and pretending to consider his cards. Steve was right, he didn't have a flush. He had a full house. Steve was fucked. "Call and raise, asshole."
Danny won the pot, and the next, and Steve won the one after that. Danny sipped at instant cocoa and fiddled with his 'chips' and traded banter with Steve, but it got harder and harder to concentrate. His headache didn't improve. It got significantly worse, drilling into his skull with a pulsing, pounding rhythm. He was starting to feel... a bit sick, actually. Nauseous.
Steve raked in a pile of rocks from his third win in a row, but he didn't look triumphant. He eyed Danny with concern, tapping the deck against the table but not shuffling. "...You sure you don't wanna lie down, Danno." It wasn't quite a question.
Danny closed his eyes, propping his head up with one hand. "Is it that obvious?"
"You look fucking terrible."
Danny groaned. "Hey c'mon babe, lay it on me, don't hold back."
Danny started to nod his head, immediately thought better of it. "Much. ...Is nausea an altitude thing, is that like a normal thing?"
"Oh jeez, Danno." One of Steve's big, warm hands curled around Danny's forearm, squeezing a little. "Yeah, that's a thing that happens to some people. You've got it worse than most."
"Go me." Danny twirled a celebratory finger.
Steve tugged gently on Danny's arm. "C'mon, Danno, you should lie down. Maybe take a couple more pills."
Danny groaned again and opened his eyes, swallowing down some more ibuprofen before hauling himself up from the table and shuffling over towards his bunk, Steve hovering anxiously the whole time. He kicked off his boots and shed a couple of layers before crawling into his bunk and wriggling into his sleeping bag, every movement sending stabbing pains into his brain. He closed his eyes again and hoped fervently he wasn't going to throw up. "...This sucks."
"It does. 'M sorry, Danno."
Steve sounded distressed. Danny sighed. He was having a problem, and Steve couldn't fix it. It must be driving him nuts. "Don' worry about it, babe. I'll sleep through it."
Steve hovered for a few moments longer, then Danny heard him move off. Danny lay very still and tried to concentrate on absolutely anything except for the pain and nausea—the light changing behind his eyelids as Steve turned off the lantern, leaving only soft candlelight, the steady whoosh of the stove as Steve heated some water, the rustling and clatter and splashing of Steve clearing the table and washing the dishes. It was comforting, ought to have been soothing, but there was no ignoring the steady pounding of his head and the churning in his stomach.
He heard Steve go out of the cabin for a while, and come back in, and then his footsteps ceased for several long seconds. "...Still awake, huh?" Steve asked quietly after a moment.
"Mmmff," Danny replied.
A pause. "Probably help if you had something to think about other than feeling shitty, wouldn't it." A longer pause. "I could, uh... read to you?"
Danny's first impulse was to laugh, picturing himself reading to Gracie, something with magic and sword-wielding princesses. Then he had another memory, of being sick in bed, hot with fever and throat sore, his mom brushing his sweat-damp hair from his forehead and patiently reading to him for hours. He felt a sudden and intense yearning for that time, for that feeling, that comfort and love and care. It had been a long, long time since anyone had read aloud to him.
"That could—if you wouldn't mind, that could be good, I think."
"Of course I don't mind." Danny heard Steve go to his pack and start digging through it.
"Dare I ask what book you've hiked all the way up to the top of this mountain?"
"Hemingway. For Whom the Bell Tolls."
Danny hummed. "I haven't read that one."
"You want me to start at the beginning, or...."
"Nah, no, it's fine babe, just go ahead and read wherever you're at."
"Okay." Danny heard Steve settle into a chair, and he opened his eyes briefly to catch Steve bent over the book, lit softly by candlelight as he flipped to his page. Steve glanced over to Danny, caught him watching, and smiled. Danny smiled back and closed his eyes.
"Okay," Steve said again, and cleared his throat theatrically.
"'How little we know of what there is to know. I wish that I were going to live a long time instead of going to die today because I have learned much about life in these four days; more, I think than in all other time. I'd like to be an old man to really know. I wonder if you keep on learning or if there is only a certain amount each man can understand. I thought I knew so many things that I know nothing of. I wish there was more time.'"
Steve's voice rumbled on, low and soothing, and Danny found himself listening for the shape of the words more than their meaning, for the music of it in Steve's voice, like the bass line at the back of a jazz song, and still he ached but Steve's voice was a current of sun-warmed water pulling him down deep, and he slept.
~ ~ ~
A bit. He slept a bit. What sleep he had was shallow, a dizzying miasma of nonsensical half-dreams, and every time he turned over he woke again, and the pain in his head and the stuffy, sweaty heat of his sleeping bag (although of course it was too cold for him to let more air in) kept him awake for long, tortuous—minutes? hours?—until he slipped back into the swirling maelstrom.
It was torture. It lasted for hours. It went on and on and seemed like it would never stop, until a soft noise roused him and he opened his eyes and it was light out, not dark, and Steve was moving carefully around the cabin.
Danny groaned, deep and heartfelt. Steve was crouching at his side in an instant. "Danno? How did you sleep?"
Danny groaned again and shut his eyes. "I didn't, mostly."
"Shit. I'm sorry, Danno. Head still hurting?"
Danny took stock. There was still a pounding in his temples and behind his eyes, although at this point he wasn't sure if that was the altitude or the lack of sleep, or maybe there wasn't any difference, really. "Yeah. Head still sucks. Nausea's gone, though."
"That's... good, I guess."
Steve checked his watch, then got up and grabbed the ibuprofen and a bottle of water, holding it out to Danny. "Here, you should take another dose."
Danny sighed but reached for the bottles. "Might as well. Thanks." He swallowed the pills and water down then set the bottles on the floor, lying down again and closing his eyes. "Been awake long? What're you up to?"
"Not long," Steve replied, and paused. "Ah. You know, depends. I was gonna see how you were feeling, but it seems like you're not feeling great, so...."
Danny frowned. Why the hell was Steve babbling? Then he remembered. "Oh. The summit."
"Yeah, um. Don't suppose you're feeling up to it?"
Just thinking about it sent a wave of exhaustion and something like despair washing through him. "Oh, babe. No, I'm really not."
"Right. Yeah, kinda didn't think so. ...Well, that's okay, we can hang here instead."
Danny's eyes shot open. "What? No! No, babe, you should go."
Steve's forehead crinkled. "I'm not just gonna leave you here, Danny."
"Christ, Steve—you've been looking forward to this for what, actual, literal years, don't miss it on my account."
His forehead crinkled more. "Danny, seriously. I'm not gonna ditch you while you're lying here having a shitty time—it's my fault you're up here feeling sick in the first place, we should've acclimatized better—"
"Steve, stop, shush—listen to me!" He caught Steve's gaze and held it, making a 'clamp your lips shut and leave 'em that way or so help me Steven' gesture with one hand. Steve, miraculously, did. "Steve, it's your goddamn birthday, and happy birthday by the way—I am feeling shitty, yes, but that is not your fault, that is not on you, so you can cut the damn guilt trip. I am feeling better than I was last night, so while I'm not up to a nine mile hike at elevation first thing in the morning, I expect I'll continue to improve, you're not, like, leaving me here to suffer in agony or whatever. I'm just gonna take a nap, lie still, read a book or something. I'll be fine. You..." He took a deep breath, let it out again. "You have to go, Steve. Please. I know how long you've wanted to do this. I don't wanna be the one who ruins that for you. It—seriously, Steve, it would make me happy if you go."
Steve was frowning, but his stubbornness was giving way to uncertainty. "...Really, Danny?" He sounded doubtful.
"Really, Steve. Babe—" Danny reached out and grabbed Steve's hand, squeezing for emphasis, "—you're going to enjoy it a lot more than I would've anyway, and it would've been cool to share it with you, but—you were gonna do this whole thing by yourself anyway—"
"It's better with you here," Steve interjected softly.
Danny swallowed around a lump that suddenly lodged in his throat. He squeezed Steve's hand again. "Yeah, well I'm here. Against all likelihood and everything that is reasonable, I hauled my ass all the way up here. And I'll be here when you get back."
Steve just stared at Danny for a long moment, frozen, looking like he wasn't entirely sure which emotions he was supposed to be having. Finally he said, quietly, "Thank you, Danny. I'm not sure I said properly, but this means a lot to me. All of this. You coming up here with me. Thank you."
Danny swallowed again, his mouth dry, his heart pounding harder and his chest aching a little. Steve's eyes were dark and serious, and just a little too intense. It was all just a little too intense, but that was Steve all over, wasn't it? He cleared his throat. "Hey, you're welcome babe. Any time, you know that right? But especially on your birthday. Happy birthday, buddy."
Steve smiled a little, small and warm and achingly sweet. Danny's heart picked up speed. They were still holding hands. "Thanks, Danno."
Danny smiled back, a little bit desperately. "Go on, go. Have fun. Commune with your volcano. I'll be here."
Steve smiled wider, squeezing Danny's hand. "Good." He stood then, releasing Danny's hand, and Danny was glad because if he had to stare into the blinding warmth of Steve's smile any longer he might actually die. His hand felt cold, though, and he tucked it back into his sleeping bag with only the tiniest twinge of longing.
"You want breakfast?" Steve called from the kitchen area.
"No thanks, babe, I'll make myself something later. I'm gonna stay in bed for a bit." Danny closed his eyes and once again relaxed into the comfortable domestic sounds of Steve bustling about, making food and getting his things together. He drifted a little, stirring and opening his eyes sometime later when Steve knelt next to him again.
"Hey Danny, how's it going?"
"I'm gonna go, I should be gone... I dunno, five hours, six if I take my time?"
Danny wriggled a wrist out of his sleeping bag so he could squint at his watch. "Got it."
"You'll be alright?"
Danny smiled wryly. "I'll be fine, Steve. You be careful out there."
Steve smiled back and nodded. "I will. ...Here, drink this." He set a cup down next to Danny's bunk; Danny could tell by the smell it was one of those fizzy vitamin-C-and-electrolytes powders that tastes a little bit like chalk.
Danny rolled his eyes. "Yes, nurse." He was a bit thirsty, though. He grabbed the cup and took a few swallows. It wasn't too bad, actually.
Steve grinned, reaching over and ruffling Danny's hair. "See you, Danno."
Danny batted ineffectually at Steve's hand, pretending to be irritated, then lay his head down and watched through half-closed lids as Steve shouldered a light daypack and let himself out into the morning sunshine. He closed his eyes and tried to concentrate on anything that wasn't his aching head—the clean yet musty smell of the sun-warmed wood around him, the pleasant warmth inside the cocoon of his sleeping bag, the warmth that bloomed from a place just behind his ribcage when he thought of Steve's soft eyes and fond smile.
When he woke again the quality of the light had changed, and it was warmer, almost stuffy. He wormed his arms out of his sleeping bag to try to cool off a little. He blinked his sleep-sticky eyes and took stock. His head—his head felt a lot better, wow. Still vaguely achey, but not painful, just a slight squeeze. Either the pills were kicking in in a big way, or his body was starting to adapt to the thin atmosphere.
Danny wriggled out of his sleeping bag and gingerly maneuvered himself out of his bunk, standing and stretching. He poked his nose out of the front door, testing the air, before grabbing a fleece and groggily stumbling his way around to the composting toilet.
Feeling relieved, he wandered over to the edge of the crater to take in the view. The change from the day before was astounding and unexpected. The color and angle of the light, the size and direction of the shadows had changed of course, and the difference it made was dramatic. There were two new features on the floor of the crater that were even more surprising: steam, everywhere, billowing up from discrete points in the lava plain and stretched out, flag-like, by the wind; and beneath every trailing cloud of steam a dusting of powdery white frost over the rocks. Yesterday the crater floor had been barren, sun-baked and still. Today the crater was alive.
Danny realized the steam vents must have been there the whole time, it was just that the relatively warm and dry air of a sunny afternoon had rendered them invisible. In the cold of the night and early morning the vapor had condensed into mist, and then frozen and fallen to the ground.
...Either that or Mauna Loa was waking up and any moment now she would erupt and kill them all. That would be just about Danny's luck, wouldn't it?
Still, it was beautiful, imminent death or no.
After a bit, Danny went inside to see about breakfast. He raised his eyebrows dubiously at the breakfast options (rehydratable ‘breakfast skillet’ and rehydratable ‘scrambled eggs and bacon’), but considering the surprising edibility of his dinner he decided to give it a try. While his bag of freeze-dried proteins and carbohydrates was soaking up its hot water he made himself some cocoa, digging out the small flask in his pack to tip a splash of whiskey into it, because he deserved it, God dammit.
His ‘breakfast skillet’—hash browned potatoes, scrambled eggs, pork sausage, peppers, and onions—was once again almost astoundingly tasty, better even than the chili mac had been. It really was irritating how often Steve was right about things, the dickhead. Danny ate at the table with the bright daylight pouring in through the windows, chewing and sipping leisurely while he browsed through the guest book. Steve was right (again); it was pretty interesting, scribbled stories and notes in varied handwriting. Some locals, but mostly folks from all over the place—several states, countries on a few different continents. One local woman appeared more than once in the book, one entry just a couple months back proclaiming her fortieth trip to the summit cabin. Several of the entries mentioned snow, and Danny tried to imagine the mountain as they'd described it, patches of frosty white amidst the steam vents and dappling the rocky slopes.
Danny turned a page and found yesterday's date scrawled in familiar handwriting—oh. Steve had written an entry.
It's a perfect afternoon on the summit of Mauna Loa, sunny and clear, and I'm thrilled to be here. This has been on my life list for so many years. I've finally found the time to make the climb—on the eve of my birthday no less!—and better yet, I'm up here with my favorite person, my number one guy Danno. I feel very fortunate to be in this place, so far away from the rest of the world, where it's quiet and the air is clean and you can feel the mana of the rocks, of the mauna—and of course being in a place like this is even more special when you can share it with someone you like.
Tomorrow we make for the summit!
– Steve (and Danno), O‘ahu, Hawai‘i
Danny felt something warm and effervescent in his stomach. 'Favorite person,' it said. 'Number one guy,' it said. Danny's cheeks were hot, and he felt a bit like an idiot feeling so pleased about this, like he's some adolescent girl—but still, Steve had never said these things out loud, not in so many words, and it—it felt good. 'Favorite person'—not Cath or Mary Ann or Aunt Deb—Danny. Meanwhile Danny's favorite person—well, tied for favorite with Grace—his other favorite person was miles away summiting the mountain, and Danny's heart ached suddenly with missing him.
Fuck. This trip was not helping with his Steve-feelings problem. Danny clapped the guest book shut and forcibly quashed any lingering feelings of warmth and tinglyness, busying himself with cleaning up his few breakfast dishes and brushing his teeth.
It was starting to be almost a reasonable temperature outside by that point, and his headache had entirely disappeared, so Danny decided to poke around a little. Remembering the dire warnings from the national park website, he slathered up with sunscreen first, and snagged a hat and a water bottle. He moseyed first in the direction of the old-fashioned outhouse he'd seen on the way in. Danny chuckled to himself and took a few pictures; he couldn't help it, it was so classic—closet-sized, made of unfinished wood, moon-shaped window in the door and all. Unlike pit-toilets he could remember from traumatizing early-childhood camping trips, there was absolutely no smell, and unlike the composting toilet, this one had an epic view overlooking the caldera.
Next he wandered in the other direction, southwards along the crater's edge. Very near the cabin there were some low rock walls, wind shelters for tent camping. Danny shivered just thinking about it. He'd take the nice soft bed in the nice warmish cabin, please and thank you.
There was a trail leading away from the cabin to the south, and Danny followed it for a bit. He knew from the maps it lead to another cabin, several miles away and several hundred feet below, and from there eventually to Highway 11 in the Ka‘ū Desert. There wasn't much to see; the trail veered away from the crater view, leaving only a rocky plain and the eye-wateringly blue vast and empty sky. He looked over his shoulder and the cabin was small and distant. There was nothing alive that he could see in that sun-baked plain, no sound but his own breathing; the back of his neck crawled with faint anxiety. He turned back.
Danny felt better near the cabin. He scoffed at himself, that this barest semblance of civilization, of humanity, would be comforting. And yet. He waffled at the edge of the crater for a bit, wondering how to fill his time, before popping inside to steal Steve's book and a spare sleeping bag and making a nest for himself near the cliff's edge, tucked into the lee of one of the tent shelters to keep himself out of the cold, cutting wind.
There was something fitting and appropriate about reading Hemingway in these surroundings, something about his stark, spare, unadorned language that matched the still, bleak, lifeless terrain. Danny glanced up from his book occasionally, watching as the bright sun and thin, dry air evaporated the frost on the floor of the caldera, the steam fading into invisibility until nothing moved on the mountain, nothing at all. Everything was still and silent.
Danny got up periodically to stretch his legs, to eat a little, to hear something other than the sound of pages turning and the ringing in his ears. At one point in the early afternoon he dug out the two precious, oversized bottles of craft beer he'd smuggled up the mountain—still intact and unbroken!—and tucked them into the cool shade at the back of the building in a spot they wouldn't be seen easily. He went back to the edge of the cliff and sat, picking up the book and holding it in his hands, but he didn't open it, looking instead out across the expanse before him.
There had been changes after all, slow, subtle shifts—shadows shrinking, swinging around, and starting to grow again in the other direction, highlighting the subtle textures of the rocks—adjustments in the quality and color of the sunlight—thin, icy wisps of cirrus cloud marring the formerly unblemished blue of the sky. There was a music to this place, but the rhythm was slow, the volume turned down to a low murmur. It was so much the opposite of everything Danny had ever known—empty of the urban throngs of people with all their noise and rushing about, the dense clusters of buildings in brick and concrete and glass piling up like a terrestrial reef, even the air thin and devoid of humidity, scent, and warmth. An alien landscape, empty, completely unconcerned with the doings of humanity. It was disconcerting, but on another level... peaceful. So, so peaceful. He hadn't heard another human voice, not even his own, in hours. In the quiet and the still he could sit and think, or sit without thinking, become sunbaked and unmovable like the rocks around him. He supposed he ought to find the solitude boring, and yet he was content.
Still, somewhere on this mountain, somewhere out across this vast stone desert, was another speck of life. Danny wondered where on the mountain Steve was, just at that moment. Had he reached the summit? Was he right now, right this second, at the highest point on the mountain, maybe sitting on his own cliff on the other side of the crater a mile and a half away, looking back at Danny? Danny smiled a little at the thought and, feeling like a total goof, lifted his hand to wave at the distant cliffs. Just in case.
Most likely he was already on his way back, based on what he’d told Danny that morning. Danny had gotten the impression Steve was rushing the trip a little out of some sense of guilt at leaving Danny behind. Which was ridiculous, because he shouldn’t rush, shouldn’t short-change himself on this thing he’d been dreaming about for so long. Danny had been giving him a lot of shit about ‘communing with the volcano,’ but he knew Steve lived for this stuff, being out in nature, in the elements, dwarfed by something much bigger and older and more powerful than him. Danny wished he would take his time, enjoy it.
...And yet. Danny would be lying if he said he wasn’t missing Steve, just a little. The solitude was fine, unexpectedly pleasant, even, but he’d prefer to be sharing this place and this time with someone. With Steve especially. He would pretty much always prefer to be sharing his time with Steve.
Danny imagined what it would’ve been like if he hadn’t gotten that godawful headache. He would’ve gone with him to the summit, for sure. He wouldn’t have enjoyed it nearly as much as Steve; the idea of an exhausting several mile hike at this elevation, just to gain a few hundred feet and a slightly different view of Mauna Loa’s giant, rocky dome and a really big hole in the ground didn’t very much appeal. But spending the time with Steve, and getting to see him light up with the triumph of his success and that incandescent, joyful smile as he reached the summit—that would’ve been worth the struggle and toil. It would’ve been worth anything.
Danny sighed. He was kind of fucked, wasn’t he? Here he was, literal miles outside of his comfort zone, dealing with an achingly heavy pack and thin air and freezing cold and solar radiation and a blindingly sharp altitude headache—for what? For the way Steve smiled, for his long, dark eyelashes, for the way he cared so earnestly, for how good he always was with Danny’s kid, for how easy it was to be around him (when he wasn’t being a jackass), for the way he gave Danny heart palpitations when he smirked or laughed or stood just a little too close or worried about Danny. For all the things Danny wanted so badly but couldn’t have.
Out here alone in the middle of nowhere, where no one would ever have to know, Danny allowed himself a few minutes of indulgence, to bust down the walls he’d carefully constructed around the core of his feelings, his wants and desires—walls he’d built to protect his professionalism, and the friendship he treasured. He gingerly opened up a chink in the barrier and let himself sit, for just a little, with a dream of another world where Steve wasn’t just his best friend. He imagined settling into Steve’s home, that warm, airy house where he already felt comfortable, restful—and never having to leave, having his own place there, not needing to be made welcome because it was his, too, because he belonged. He pictured what it would be like to finish work at the end of the day, and smile at Steve, and go home with him—every single day. To just reach out and touch Steve, whenever he wanted, to trace the contours of his face with his fingertips, to hold him, to kiss him. To taste the salt of his skin. To go to bed with him, to look at him with desire and see him look back, wanting. He thought of what it would be like to make breakfasts together, lunches, dinners, bumping shoulders and smiling, to spend hours together comfortably, not needing to talk.
He should tell him, he thought. He should tell him. The idea of it twisted him up inside, squeezed him breathless at the thought of what he would risk, what he could lose. But it was too late for him, wasn’t it. He knew what he wanted from Steve, and it wasn’t right, wasn’t honest to go on this way, hiding away half of himself from the one person he wanted to share everything with. He couldn’t imagine how, or when, but he should. He had to.
In the distance, then, softly: “Huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuiiiiii!!!” Steve’s voice. Danny stood up, shaded his eyes to look. Down the trail, across the stony plain, a tiny speck, a mote of light and color. Steve.
Danny smiled, and waved his arms wildly so Steve would see him. And then he sat down, and looked across the crater, and carefully built his wall back up, putting his feelings away.
After some number of minutes looking out across the crater and carefully thinking of nothing much at all, Danny heard the crunch of approaching footsteps, the muffled thump of a dropped pack, and then Steve plopped himself down next to Danny, making space for himself on Danny’s sleeping bag nest. Danny turned to look at him. He was grinning, a little sweaty, a little flushed—from sun or exertion or probably a little of both. “Hey, you,” Danny greeted.
“Hey,” Steve replied. “Cozy spot you’ve got here. How’re you feeling?”
“Much better. Headache’s gone, I feel fine. Just been taking it easy, napping, reading, exploring a bit. Taking in the view. How was the summit?”
Danny watched Steve’s eyes crinkle as he grinned wider. “Oh, it was great! Some interesting rocks along the hike. Another big ahu at the summit. The cliffs are taller on that side, so the view of the crater’s pretty epic, and you get a little closer to that 1940 cone. I’ll show you my pictures.”
Danny smiled fondly at Steve’s enthusiasm. “Was it everything you dreamed of and more?”
Steve turned to look out over the crater. “...Pretty close.” He studied the view for a few moments in silence before his mouth twisted a little, smile turning wry. “Missed you out there, buddy.”
Danny turned to look at the view also; it seemed safer. He swallowed down a sudden fit of butterflies. “‘Course you did, everybody knows I’m awesome.” As soon as the words came out it didn’t quite sit right with him, to not meet Steve with equal sincerity, so he reached out and shoved Steve’s shoulder. “Missed you too.” And it was worth it, to be able to watch Steve out of the corner of his eye and see him smile.
~ ~ ~
Steve and Danny spent the rest of the afternoon shooting the shit and playing cards—silly, low-stakes games like Go Fish, Russian Donkey, even a few rounds of War that involved increasing levels of shit-talking despite not involving any amount of skill whatsoever. After a round of Speed nearly devolved into a wrestling match, a temporary halt to card-based hostilities was called in favor of eating dinner.
Steve went into the kitchen area to start some water boiling, and Danny took the opportunity to slip outside and retrieve his smuggled twenty-two ounce bottles of Big Island Brewhaus, setting the two beers and a bottle opener in the middle of the table and leaning nonchalantly on the edge. Steve came back into the room and zeroed in on the bottles immediately, eyebrows going up before looking to Danny, the hint of a smile beginning to hover around the edges of his mouth. “Ta-daaaaa!” said Danny, doing jazz hands in the general direction of the beer.
Steve grinned. “Aw, Danno, you shouldn’t have,” he said, coming over to inspect the bottles.
“No, in fact, as I think you’ll find, I definitely should’ve,” Danny replied, grinning back.
“Oh man, White Mountain Porter and Red Sea of Cacao, yes please and thank you,” Steve enthused. “...And what did you bring for you to drink?”
“Ha ha, fuck you very much McGarrett!” Danny replied cheerfully.
In the end they decided to share, putting the chocolatey red ale back outside to keep cool and filling camp cups with dark, toasty porter, eating Mountain House out of the bag while they played another round of Russian Donkey. When they’d exhausted the food, the beer, and the game, Steve stretched and sighed contentedly before standing and retrieving his jacket. “‘Scuse me Danno, I’mma hit the head.”
“We’re not on a boat, McGarrett!” Danny called after him. Steve just grinned at him on his way out the door.
As soon as the door was shut, Danny went over to his pack, digging around for his other carefully smuggled culinary treasure—a ziplock bag containing two sweet, sticky slabs of baked mochi, one butter mochi, one chocolate. He fished a lighter and a couple of birthday candles out of a side pocket and brought everything into the kitchen, then popped out to trade their dinner trash and eating utensils for a single clean knife. He arranged the mochi on top of their ziplock (alas, they hadn’t brought the fine china) and stuck a candle in each one, then did what little washing needed to be done.
Hearing the front door open, Danny poked his nose through the doorway. Steve had brought in the second bottle of beer, which he waggled at Danny. “Round two?”
“Sounds good babe, I’ll be out in just a second,” Danny replied, ducking back into the kitchen. He lit the candles and carefully picked up his precious bundle, carrying it into the room with great ceremony.
Steve glanced up from pouring beer, looking startled. “Wh—are you kidding me, Danno, did you bring me cake?” Steve grinned wide.
“Even better, babe,” Danny replied, setting his burden down.
“Oh shit, butter mochi!” Steve grinned wider. “Danny, you are the best!”
Danny couldn’t help grinning back. “Yes, I am,” he agreed.
Steve smiled down at his birthday mochi and the cheerfully burning candles, then looked at Danny again and raised his eyebrows, his grin turning playful. “What, you’re not going to sing me happy birthday?”
Danny crossed his arms. “No, I’m not going to sing, I do not sing.”
“You sing happy birthday for Grace,” Steve pointed out.
“Grace is my beloved daughter and a perfect angel and also a child, yes I sing for Grace.” Steve just made a dumb, wide-eyed face that after a few moments Danny realized was meant to be puppy-eyes. “Oh my God, stop that, you look ridiculous, you are failing at being cute—ugh, you know what, fine.” Danny rolled his eyes, took a breath, and sang. “Happy birthday to you, you live in a zoo, you look like a monkey—”
“Oi, fine, cut it out! Dickhead.” Steve was trying not to laugh.
Danny smirked. “Blow out your damn candles, asshole.” Steve blew out his candles, then leaned against the table with his eyes closed, a tiny, soft smile hovering around his lips. After a few moments he nodded minutely and opened his eyes. “What’s up, babe?” Danny asked.
Steve’s lips quirked into a small, wry half-smile. “Making a wish. You know. Can’t hurt, right?”
“Yeah? What’d you wish for?”
Steve’s eyes lifted then to meet Danny’s, soft, blue-gray-green, and unfathomable. Danny’s breath hitched. Steve was silent for a few moments, a silence filled by the buzzing in Danny’s ears. Then Steve offered up another wry smile and shook his head. “Can’t tell you, can I?”
Danny’s heart thudded uncomfortably and his neck felt hot. “Right, uh, guess not, doesn’t work if you tell, does it?” He swallowed, reaching for his cup of beer and raising it toward Steve, clearing his throat. “Well, here’s hoping it comes true.”
Steve picked up his cup and clacked it against Danny’s, clearing his throat, too. “Mm-hmm, yep.”
They sat down to mochi and beer, then, cutting the sticky sweet dessert into pieces and eating it with their fingers, Steve making his usual assortment of satisfied groans while appreciating the flavors, which Danny, as usual, desperately tried to ignore. (To be fair, Danny agreed that both beer and mochi were fucking spectacular; the auntie Danny had bought the desserts from clearly knew what she was doing, and the chocolate mochi paired well with the chocolatey red ale.)
Their conversation drifted, from local micro-breweries and distilleries they wanted to visit, to trips they wanted to take, to trips they’d taken in the past, to assorted childhood memories. Steve told great stories—adventures from his SEAL days, bittersweet memories of his family—and Danny relished the opportunity to sit and watch him, Steve’s eyes going soft with remembrance, brilliant grins flashing suddenly across his face, the sweep of his hands as he gestured wildly. It was mesmerizing. They finished the beer and moved on to Danny’s whiskey, sipping directly from the flask which they passed back and forth across the table.
At some point Steve swapped the harsh light of a camp lantern for the softer glow of a few candles. Danny slumped comfortably in his chair, feeling relaxed and happy, warmed by the candlelight and whiskey and proximity to Steve. In the middle of telling a story about his police academy days, Danny yawned so wide his jaw cracked.
Steve smirked. “Wow, Danny. Good news is, your tonsils look to be in great shape.”
“Shush, you.” Danny glanced at his watch; they’d been talking for hours. “Oh, wow. No wonder I’m yawning. Thought it was just the whiskey.”
“Mm, yeah, suppose we should think about calling it a night.” Steve waggled the flask, then held it out to Danny. “Here, kill it. There’s just a drop left.”
Danny accepted the flask, tipping the last few drops down his throat. As he screwed the cap back on, he caught Steve watching him with a small content smile. Danny smiled back. “We should do this kind of thing more often,” he said.
Steve’s eyebrows went up and his smile stretched slowly into a wide shit-eating grin. “Do this? Climb mountains? What, did I just hear Danny Williams say that he thinks we should go backpacking on active volcanoes more often, is that what just happened?”
Danny rolled his eyes so hard he nearly hurt himself, but he was grinning too, couldn’t help it. “Yes, fine, shut up, I’m not saying this wasn’t terrible, parts of this were terrible, but the rest of it—ehhhhhh…” He waggled a hand, comme çi, comme ça. Steve rolled his eyes and Danny grinned wider. “Sure. Yes, I would climb another mountain with you sometime. ...I meant kinda more in general, though. Just… all of this.” He gestured around vaguely. “Getting away from things. It’s just—” He pursed his lips, thought for a moment. “It’s good to see you looking so relaxed. Smiling, instead of making aneurysm face. It’s the most I’ve seen you smile in a bit, I think. Probably good to get away from the bullets and explosions once in a while. Fresh air and stuff.”
Steve was definitely smiling now, and oh, there was that warm, fluttery feeling in Danny’s chest again. “Yeah. No, I’m glad we could do this, glad I could share it with you. There’s definitely something about getting away from it all. ...And, you know, there’s the company.” Steve ducked his head, then snagged one of the empty bottles, offering it for Danny to clink with a smile. Danny obliged, smiling back as he tapped it with his empty flask.
They smiled at each other for just a moment too long, then Danny shook himself. “All right, come on, we should get to bed.” He slid the makeshift dessert platter towards Steve. “Here, last piece of chocolate mochi, eat it—no, I don’t want it, it’s yours.”
Steve sighed, looking put upon, and shoved the last piece into his mouth—and then carefully licked each of his fingers, augh, why. Danny snagged the trash and empties and escaped to the safety of the kitchen, where he only didn’t hit his head against the wall repeatedly because Steve would probably hear it.
Steve and Danny bustled about companionably, clearing things away, brushing teeth, taking turns at changing into sleep clothes and using the bathroom. It was pleasantly, comfortably domestic. When Danny had to go outside the cold was like a slap in the face, the breeze, a little stronger than before, cutting through him like a knife; he hurried back into the warmth of the cabin as quickly as possible.
Steve was already in his bunk when Danny came in, so Danny blew out the candles and followed suit as quickly as possible, burrowing into the blessed warmth of his sleeping bag and worming an arm out only to turn off his headlamp and set it on the floor next to him. He shifted until he was nestled in cozy and snug and closed his eyes. He could hear Steve’s soft breathing close by, and he gave himself a few moments to bask in the warm, happy feeling he’d been enjoying all evening. The struggle to get up here, the horrible headache and nausea of the previous night all felt like a distant memory. They’d have to leave the next morning, and although of course he was looking forward to going home to Grace, a part of him ached at the thought of leaving this mountain, this tiny bubble of stolen time where it was just the two of them, content, and the rest of the world was so far away.
He heard Steve shift in his bunk. “Danny?”
Danny opened his eyes into the darkness. “Yeah, Steve?”
Steve was quiet for a few moments. “...Hey, Danno, I just. I just wanted to say thank you, for coming all the way up here with me, for buying all the gear, and making the climb, I know it’s not your first choice of places to go or things to do—”
“Now hold on a minute here Steve, listen—”
“No, Danny, please, let me finish.” Steve paused again, but this time Danny obediently kept his peace, waiting. “I know this mountain, it’s more of a me thing than a you thing, but it means a lot, it means so much to me to have you here with me. There’s no one in the world I’d rather share this with. And I know it’s been rough on you a little, with the altitude sickness—”
“I’d do it again,” Danny said, and was surprised that he meant it.
“I know,” Steve said softly. “I know, and thank you. For being here for me, with me. For this and all the other times, being there. Being you. Thank you.”
Christ. Danny couldn’t speak at first through the tightness in his throat and the squeezing in his chest. Jesus fucking Christ, McGarrett. Danny had to swallow hard and think very precisely about his words so he didn’t spit out something stupid like ‘I love you.’ “Steve,” he said carefully, “by no means do you gotta thank me, there’s nowhere I’d rather be right now than spending time with you, even if it’s on top of a fucking mountain, but. You’re welcome. It is, in fact, my actual pleasure to be here. And hey, Steve… happy birthday.”
“Thanks, Danno. It’s a good one.”
“Good,” Danny said definitively. “...Goodnight, Steve.”
Danny didn’t think he’d be able to fall asleep for a long time with all the butterflies whirling around in his stomach, but eventually the warmth of his sleeping bag and the whiskey in his bloodstream and mostly Steve’s soft, slow, even breaths settled him, and he dropped off into a deep and contented sleep.
~ ~ ~