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.
~ ~ ~
Danny grunted, jerking slightly as he woke abruptly, blinking at his surroundings in confusion. It was daylight. Steve was crouched next to Danny’s bunk, one hand on Danny’s shoulder. Steve squeezed his shoulder, smiling apologetically. “Hey, sorry to wake you,” he said. “The weather seems like it’s turning. We probably shouldn’t linger; I don’t wanna get stuck up here.”
Danny blinked. “Shit. How much of a hurry are we in?”
“It’s okay right now, but it looks like it could worsen later. We should pack and eat and get moving.” Steve squeezed his shoulder again then stood up. “C’mon, I’ll get breakfast together.”
Danny struggled out of his sleeping bag, snagging his fleece before heading outside to the toilet. The wind was still up from last night, and the air felt colder than it had the previous mornings. The thin, wispy clouds from the afternoon before had brought friends; they didn’t look like they held much moisture, but it was a notable change from the unblemished blue dome of their first day-and-a-half on the mountain. The view below them to the east had also changed, from a hazy, distant blue punctuated by a few vaporous fluffs to a solid blanket of cloud, far below them but thick and substantial.
Danny rushed back in out of the cold as quickly as possible. “Guess this is that ‘chance of wind and rain’ you saw in the forecast, huh?”
Steve flashed a small smile. “Looks like more than a chance today. ...C’mon, food’s hot.”
Steve and Danny ate quickly then worked with companionable efficiency to clean up, pack their things, filter water and fill their bottles. They hauled their packs outside, shutting the cabin up tight behind them, and briskly tied boot laces and slathered on sunscreen. Danny squinted at the sky above and the weather below; it didn’t look like it had changed much, for better or worse.
“Ready?” Steve asked.
Danny nodded, getting to his feet. “You know, I think I’m actually a little sad to be leaving this place.”
Steve smiled. “We’ll have to come back sometime.”
“Or, you know, climb a different active volcano.”
“Haleakalā,” Steve singsonged, grinning.
Danny hoisted his pack, struggling a little bit to get it situated and buckled properly. He was gratified to find it noticeably lighter sans a couple days’ worth of beer, whiskey, food, and fuel. There were tender spots on his shoulders and hip bones, however, that didn’t appreciate the re-application of weight and pressure. He grimaced. Well, it was only a few more hours of this and he could take a hot soaking bath.
Steve and Danny set off across the lava, by silent agreement moving swiftly, with limited and very brief stops for rest, water, or conversation. The heat of exertion under heavy pack was a good bulwark against the cold of the wind, but it tugged and pushed against their tall, bulky backpacks, shoving them sideways across the trail and requiring increased concentration to avoid a stumble or a misstep.
They picked their way down into North Pit, past the alarmingly deep and sheer-sided pit crater, and across the gold and silver pāhoehoe plain. Shortly after climbing out of North Pit, as they approached the vent above the World’s Most Ridiculous/Scenic Toilet, Steve stopped, unclipping his waist belt and swinging his pack to the ground. Danny caught him up.
“What’s up, babe?”
“Grabbing a snack, something I can eat while walking. My blood sugar’s low, but I don’t think we should stop to eat.” He frowned in the direction of the weather.
Danny turned to look as well. “Y’know, I think I agree with you there.” The wind had continued to pick up steadily, and the layer of wispy, high-altitude clouds had thickened so that the sunlight filtered through them, weak and silvery. The clouds below them had gotten thicker, and higher, climbing up the mountain slope towards them. A little more concerning, the clouds had lost their blanketlike structure, roiling in a slow-motion boil and stacking up in a pile, lifted by a strengthening updraft.
Danny dropped his pack, and he and Steve took hurried gulps of water and rifled through their external pockets for jerky, granola bars, and carrot sticks. As quickly as possible they shouldered their backpacks and continued, racing the weather.
As they hiked, Danny kept one eye on his footing, increasingly treacherous as they were buffeted by the strengthening winds, and one eye on the clouds as they climbed the updraft, gaining height and structure, building into a towering pillar and then fraying at the upper edges, feathery gray fingers creeping towards them across the roof of the sky.
They were just making their way down into the golden cinder field above the park boundary when they heard the first rolling boom of thunder.
“Shit,” Steve muttered, looking grim. Danny concurred.
The old ache in Danny’s knee was starting to make itself known; the endless downhill grind was hard on his joints. There was nothing to be done about it. The storm threatened to swallow them up, and turning back was not an option at this point. The only way out was down.
A couple more rumbles of thunder followed the first, distant but ominous, and Steve and Danny decided to take advantage of the good footing while they had it, breaking into as much of a slow, shuffling jog as their packs would allow. Danny’s knee liked that even less.
They moved quickly out of the cinder field and onto the rough four-by-four track through the ‘a‘ā flow at the park boundary. Steve hesitated at the point where the trail left the road and stretched down across the lava below them, its meandering path picked out by ahu.
“What is it, babe?”
Steve gusted out a sigh. “We’re close, couple miles, a little less. We’d be able to see the observatory if it was clear.” He jerked his chin in that direction; the slopes below them were obscured by fog. The ragged edges of the cloudbank swept past them to either side, wispy and windblown. “The fog’s what I’m worried about. Straight down is faster, but if we lose visibility it’s going to be hard to find the ahu. The road would be quite a bit longer, but there’d be no chance of losing it.” He clenched his jaw, looking unhappy and indecisive.
Danny chewed on his lip. “So it’s go down, maybe get out ahead of the storm, but if it catches us we could lose the trail, or go the long way, can’t get lost, but almost definitely the storm gets us, I got that right?” Steve nodded. Danny pursed his lips, thinking. “...I say we go down. If there’s a chance we can beat the storm, I think we gotta take it. We get stuck in that for any length of time I think we’re going to regret it.” As if to punctuate his words, another peal of thunder snarled at them out of the wall of clouds to the east.
Steve chewed over his words but came to a decision quickly, nodding with conviction. “Right, yes. I agree. Down we go, come on.”
They moved as quickly as they could, but the trail was steeper here, rockier, more uneven. They were tiring, and Danny’s knee was sore, and the cold wind continued, relentless; a grim air descended over them as they pushed on.
The clouds came up to meet them and they were enveloped in a cold fog. They had to stop to put on warmer layers, but the cloud was thin enough they could still make their way, the dark pillars of the ahu dimly visible through the pale gloom, like ghosts in the mist.
Thunder, closer and more frequent. The wind picked up even more, howling around them. It began to sleet, pelting their faces with icy sharp needles. They were forced to stop again to pull their down jackets on over their fleeces. Visibility diminished, and their progress was slowed as they carefully ventured a short distance away from each ahu, being careful not to lose sight of it as they squinted through the ice and fog, searching for the next one.
And then it began to snow.
The world whited out around them. Visibility shrank down to a distance of just a few meters, and the ahu disappeared entirely. Danny felt, for the first time, the sick stab of real fear. They’d made the wrong choice, he realized. They were fucked. He’d fucked them.
In the next moment Danny took a deep breath and forced the panic down. Steve would know what to do. Steve always knew what to do. He crowded close to Steve, shouting over the wind. “What now?”
“Right bottom side pocket!” Steve shouted back. “Couple of whistles in there!” He smacked the side of his pack and turned away so Danny could reach the pocket. Danny fumbled with the zipper—even with gloves on, his fingers were starting to feel a little numb at the tips—then fished around in the pocket until he found two bright orange whistles on lanyards.
“Okay, what’s the plan?” he shouted.
Steve turned back to him, taking one of the whistles and wrapping the lanyard around his wrist several times; Danny did the same with his. “We need to expand our search range so we can find the next ahu, but we need to do that without losing the trail or losing each other. That’s of utmost importance, we stay together, okay?”
Danny nodded. “No arguments there, babe!”
“Right, one of us stays at or within sight of the ahu, one of us looks for the next one. If possible we stay in visual contact, but absolutely under no circumstances do we lose audio contact. The whistles will keep us from losing our voices shouting. We’ll signal back and forth to keep in contact, one short whistle, marco, polo. Three long whistles is ‘come here,’ two medium whistles is ‘understood.’ Got it?”
Danny thought it over quickly; it seemed solid enough. “Sounds good!”
“I’ll go first!” Steve hesitated, then clasped Danny’s forearm, catching his eye and giving him a sharp nod. His face was mission-serious, the same look he wore when he was about to run into a building amidst a hail of bullets. Danny gave Steve’s arm a squeeze and nodded back, and then Steve was withdrawing, pushing away into the blank whiteness, aimed roughly downhill. After a few steps he glanced back over his shoulder and gave his whistle a short, sharp blow. Danny whistled back. Steve nodded again and turned away, and the blankness swallowed him up.
It was like Steve had vanished from the face of the earth. It was like the earth had vanished from the face of the earth; Danny had to look down at the rocks beneath his boots to avoid being swallowed by vertigo. He glanced quickly back to the ahu behind him, making sure it hadn’t vanished, then gave a sharp whistle. Steve whistled back; he was close by. Danny clenched his jaw. He was good, he was fine. He could do this.
Standing alone in the midst of the storm was like being in hell’s snowglobe. The winds buffeted Danny from multiple directions, flinging snow into his face to sting his skin and obscure his vision. Thunder cracked and boomed; it was getting louder, closer. Icy cold was starting to seep into his bones. But every time he whistled, a whistle came back, faint through the howl of the wind; a tether, a lifeline tying him to Steve.
He could track Steve’s changing position, his periodic contact calls zigzagging across the slope, then finally—three long whistles. Danny gave two back and pushed forward into the storm. He had to ping Steve a couple of times, and then finally, there he was, one of two dark shapes appearing out of the void; Steve and the ahu.
“Good to see you, buddy!” Danny shouted.
Steve gave him a sharp-edged grin as he stumbled closer. “Having fun yet?”
“Oh, yeah, this is great! ...Guess it’s my turn, huh?” He slapped Steve’s shoulder. “See you on the other side, babe!”
Danny aimed himself roughly downhill, zigging and zagging across the slope the way that Steve had in an attempt to maximize the search area. It was slow going across the uneven ground with the wind tossing him about and the the increasing amounts of snow sticking in the treads of his boots. Danny had to watch the ground as he walked or risk a tumble, so every few steps he paused and did a quick look around, hoping for the shadowy shape of an ahu. He could barely see through the snowflakes clumping on his eyelashes, and his eyes played tricks on him, showing him shadows that weren’t really there, desperate to find shape and pattern in the blank void. Just when he thought he had to have gone too far—he’d missed the ahu, he would need to turn back and start again—one appeared abruptly near him, off to one side. Danny felt a rush of dizzying relief as he blew the whistle three times. Steve signaled back, and shortly he appeared out of the blizzard.
“Nice work, Danno!” he shouted, clapping Danny on the shoulder as he went past, and then he was gone again, looking for the next marker.
Danny wasn’t sure how long this went on; it hadn’t occurred to him to look at his watch, even if he would’ve wanted to go digging beneath several layers of sleeves to find it. It felt like an eternity. He wasn’t sure which part was worse, stumbling blindly through storm, hoping at any second to stumble across the next little pile of stones; or waiting, still and alone, with nothing to do but pray Steve had some success and to be his anchor to find his way back. Sometimes they were lucky and found the ahu on the first foray out into the blinding snow; other times they had to backtrack and push out at a different angle two or three or more times. And constantly hanging over them was the knowledge that they were on borrowed time, that there was a limit to how long they’d be able to do this. It was physically and mentally exhausting work, and the longer it continued the more the cold worked its way through their clothes and into their bones, chilling their bodies, numbing their extremities, making their brains and their bodies work more and more sluggishly. They had to find shelter soon, or they would cease to be able to find it at all.
Danny found that it took more and more concentration for him to remember all the components of his job—walk and look, walk and look, whistle, change tack, walk and look. He responded to Steve’s whistles automatically, without really remembering what for. He tripped and fell forward onto his hands and knees, laboriously pushed himself up, and then immediately tripped again. He wasn’t sure, at first, if he’d be able to get up a second time. Christ he was tired. He looked up and saw… he wasn’t sure what, at first. The scale confused him. Pillars of stone, but much taller, towering overhead. Then he remembered—the cave. The lava cave shelter they’d passed early on the first morning. “Oh thank fuck,” he mumbled, and gave the three-whistle signal.
Steve appeared suddenly at Danny’s side. “Danny, hey… you okay?” Danny didn’t really remember any time passing, which was probably bad. Oh, and he was still on the ground. Whoops.
“‘M good, I fell. Look, cave.” He struggled back to his feet, Steve doing about fifty percent of the work.
“Cave?” Steve looked. “Cave! Shit, that’s good. C’mon.”
Steve and Danny leaned on each other as they scrambled the last few meters to the skylight into the cave. It took a little concentration to climb down the rough-hewn steps, but then Danny was stumbling past the windbreak of dry-stacked stone and all but collapsing on the dusty floor of the lava tube, heedless of his pack. They were good now, right? Danny could just. Go to sleep now. That sounded great.
“Danny, hey, stay with me. Let’s get your pack off.” Steve was shaking Danny, fumbling with the buckles on Danny’s pack. Steve’s pack was already off, when had that had time to happen? “Danny. Your pack.” Steve’s voice was sharper now, a little bit of that command tone. Danny flailed a little, trying to pull his arms from the straps; between the two of them, he succeeded. “Come on, as far back into the cave as we can get,” Steve ordered. The tube had a low roof, and several meters back pinched off into a dead end. Danny tried to crawl there, but found he was having trouble coordinating his limbs; Steve had to partially drag him.
Steve went back to the entrance to haul their packs over, then went back again for the stash of tarps and spare sleeping bag piled near the front of the cave. He thrust the sleeping bag at Danny, unzipping it for him. “Get in. Can you do it yourself or do I need to help you?”
Danny heaved his legs over to the sleeping bag and started pushing himself inside. “Doin’ it.”
Steve tore at Danny’s pack, removing his sleeping bag from its straps and pulling it from the stuff sack. Danny had managed to worm his way into the spare; Steve helped him get it zipped up then started bullying him into the second one. “C’mon lift your legs, this one too.” Between the two of them they wrestled Danny into two layers of bag, and Steve made sure Danny’s head was tucked into the hoods of his jacket and both mummy bags. Then he went back to rummaging through the packs, pulling out his own sleeping bag, the stove, fuel, and what remained of their food.
Danny was sleepy, so sleepy, he could just close his eyes and he’d be out, he wanted to so badly but… Steve. What the fuck was… Steve…. He frowned. “Babe. Why… get inna bag.”
“I will, in a sec.” Steve was propping their packs up against the walls and low ceiling of the cave, just beyond Danny’s feet, and fussing with the tarps.
“Fucking bag,” Danny insisted again. “You’re shivering.” And Steve was, he was shivering violently, hands jittering around enough to interfere with his work. His face was pale. Danny frowned more, struggling a little inside all of his layers. “I can help. Why am I, you’re shiver.” Danny had a vague notion he wasn’t making much sense.
“Yes I am, it’s very cold and I’m shivering,” Steve agreed, his teeth chattering. “And you are not, and that’s a bigger problem.”
Danny blinked. “Oh,” he said.
“Yep,” Steve said, and something about how he said it made Danny unhappy, his face was stoic but he was using his upset voice. “Stay put, Danno. I’ll get in my bag in a second but I gotta do this first.”
Steve draped the tarps over their packs and wedged the packs against the rocks, creating a makeshift wall, keeping out most of the furious, biting wind. He turned on a lantern and lit a couple candles before struggling most of the way into his own sleeping bag. Instead of lying down and zipping it up tight, he started unpacking the camp pots. “Babe,” Danny said. “What.” He struggled furiously to stay awake, although he wasn’t entirely sure why that was important.
“Hang on, Danno, I’m going to get us something hot to drink.” Fumbling with his still-shaking hands, Steve dumped half a Nalgene into a pot and painstakingly constructed and lit the camp stove, putting the water on to boil.
Danny lost time again. Steve was shaking him, patting his face. “Danno. Danno. Hey.” Steve was very close, and frowning.
“Annrism face,” Danny said.
“Yep,” Steve agreed. He unzipped Danny’s bags part of the way and helped him sit up, propping him against the cave wall. “Can you get an arm out? Just one.” Danny wiggled a gloved hand out of the bags and Steve put a steaming mug of cocoa into it, watching carefully to make sure Danny’s fingers closed around it before he let go. “Drink it.”
With great concentration Danny brought the mug of cocoa to his face and cautiously sipped. It was the perfect temperature, just hot enough to be searingly pleasurable going down without burning his mouth. He took a small gulp, and another, and another, unable to get enough of the heat and sugar and cream. In short order the cocoa was gone. “Mmff,” he commented, dropping the empty mug and pulling his arm back into the bags. It was cold out there.
Danny turned his attention back to Steve, who was clutching his own mug of cocoa in a shaking hand, sipping at it while he presided over another Nalgene’s worth of water heating up on the stove. He glanced over to Danny, concerned eyes tracking over him swiftly. “Hey, Danno, how’s it going?”
Danny blinked, thinking this over. “Cold,” he decided. “Tired.”
Steve gave him a wan, worried smile. “Yeah buddy, I know. I’m working on it. You’re doing great.” He drained the last of his cocoa and set his mug aside, peering into the steaming pot of water and peeling a glove off of one hand to carefully test the water temperature. He nodded to himself, pouring the hot water back into the Nalgene it came from and setting it aside, immediately dumping another Nalgene into the pot and putting it back on the stove before turning his attention to Danny once more. “Okay, Danno, let’s get you lying down again,” he said, easing Danny back down onto the cave floor. “I’m going to have to open up some of your layers, just for a sec, okay?” He didn’t wait for confirmation or permission, digging down through the open layers of the bags to unzip Danny’s down jacket and fleece. He snatched up the hot Nalgene and shoved it down in through all the open zippers; Danny gasped at the sudden heat. “Under your arm, Danny, in the armpit, hug it. There we go.” Steve zipped the jackets and the bags up tight again.
The heat was shocking but good, oh, so good. The bottle was hot enough to be a little uncomfortable, but insulated through two layers of shirts not hot enough to burn him. It instantly became much, much harder for Danny to keep his eyes open, and he gave in to the inevitable and zoned out a little.
Danny snapped awake again when Steve jostled him, unzipping all the layers, shoving another hot water bottle under his other armpit, and zipping him back up again. Danny groaned at the feeling of the heat sinking into him. He blinked hazily at Steve, who was still sitting in an only partially zipped-up sleeping bag, watching another pot of water heat up on the stove. Steve was still pale, still shivering—less violently than before, but even so there was a constant shuddering tremor running through him that was painful for Danny to watch. “Yoush’d get in here,” he suggested.
Steve glanced at him, flashing him a small smile. “Not a terrible idea, Danno. Give me a bit, just got one more bottle to heat up for you.”
Danny forced himself to keep his eyes open, watching Steve, listening to the howl and whistle of the wind and the occasional booms of thunder. Christ but they were lucky they made it to the cave. Who knew where they’d be, what would’ve happened to them if they hadn’t found it. If they were still out there, wandering around in the screaming blizzard…. Danny began to shake. Just a little at first, a slight tremor working its way through his body, then more and more until he was shivering violently, uncontrollably. “Shit!” he gasped, then had to keep his teeth clenched tightly closed or risk biting a chunk out of his tongue.
Steve scooted closer to Danny and put a hand on his shoulder, the sensation muffled through multiple thick layers but comforting nonetheless. "Hey buddy, ride it out, this is good, it's a good thing, I've been waiting for this. It means you're warming up, you're getting better."
Danny thought about replying, but didn't think he'd actually be able to get any words out, so he just nodded. Steve squeezed his shoulder and scooted back over to the stove. Danny tried to take Steve's advice and just ride through the shaking. It was uncomfortable, alarming, a little bit scary, but he clenched his jaw and hugged himself and breathed through it, trying to remind himself that this was just his body warming him up, saving him.
Steve pushed himself close with another Nalgene, giving Danny a tentative smile. "What do you think, there room for two in there?"
"D-d-dunno. W-w-w-willing t-to give it a t-t-t-try."
Steve smiled a little more. "Don't worry, I've got a plan." And of course he did, it's what he was best at, and Danny felt so relieved and grateful for Steve always being so... so Steve, that he had to squeeze his eyes shut for a moment to keep the tears in.
With a little bit of rearranging, Steve (with some help from Danny, but not much—he could barely control his limbs) managed to get the feet of the three mummy bags nested, the bags zipped open so the layers could overlap—Steve in one, Danny in the other, the third underneath them to cut the chill from the ground, and their two down jackets open and draped over them as an extra layer on top. Danny now had a hot water bottle under each arm and one between his legs, his face nestled against Steve's neck and all of Steve wrapped around him, holding him close. He was still shaking uncontrollably, but he felt like his brain was starting to be a little more functional, and he felt immeasurably better to have Steve here, warming him, and to have Steve safe and out of the cold himself. Fuck the storm. They were going to be okay. They were going to be just fine.
They lay in silence for a bit, listening to the thunder—less and less of it, now—and the flapping of the tarps as the winds buffeted it. Danny tried to doze, but the ceaseless tremors of his body kept him awake. "S-s-sorry," he told Steve, "mus' be uncomf-f-f-fortable."
Steve was silent for a moment before clearing his throat. "I don't mind," he said quietly. "I'm just glad you're okay." He shifted his hold on Danny, pulling him closer. "...Besides, it's warmer in here."
Danny nodded. "It's g-g-good. Was worried ab-b-b-bout you."
Steve huffed out a breath, something that might have been a quiet laugh if there had been any mirth in it. "You were worried about </i>me</i>—of course you were. Shit, Danno, shit—I'm just glad your lips aren't blue anymore." Another huffed-out breath, this one a little shakier than the last one.
Danny blinked. "...W-w-w-were my lips actually b-blue?"
"Yes. They were."
This time Steve did laugh, but it was still a decidedly unhappy sound. "Yeah, Danno, 'oh shit.'" Steve's arms tightened convulsively, squeezing Danny tight.
Danny swallowed. "H-h-hey. Babe. S'all right. W-we made it to the c-c-cave, we're w-warming up. We're okay."
"You weren't doing too well, Danno." Steve's voice was hoarse. "That one was a little too close. We have too many close calls, but this one—" He lapsed into silence.
"It w-wasn't your fault, Steve," Danny said, because of course, of course Steve would think it was.
"We should've stayed at the cabin when the weather turned, we shouldn't have tried to race the storm. Hell, the weather forecast was questionable to begin with, it was a stupid risk coming up here in the first place."
“Bullshit,” Danny declared emphatically. “It was a c-calculated risk. You t-take a lot of stupid risks with your life, I’m n-n-not going to pretend you don’t, but never when someone else is involved. The weather c-came on harder and faster than expected, right? You—we weighed the odds and made s-sensible decisions based on the information at hand. The decisions turned out to be w-w-wrong, but they weren’t reckless.”
Steve was silent for a long stretch. Danny let himself give in to exhaustion a little, relaxing into the feeling of warmth and safety, even dozing a bit as the violent shaking and shuddering died down—thank God—to a more gentle tremor. After a couple of minutes, however, Steve’s silence started to sound louder. Danny could just feel the unhappiness rolling off of him, as clearly as if it were a tangible, physical sensation. Danny poked Steve’s shoulder blade. “Babe?”
Steve shifted and exhaled slow. “I can’t lose you, Danny,” he admitted quietly. “I just—I just can’t.”
For a few long seconds that felt like minutes, Danny couldn’t breathe, forgot that he even needed to. Then breath punched out of him hard and sharp, and he curled his fingers into Steve’s fleece jacket and held on tight. “Christ, babe. I know the feeling.” He breathed in, breathed out, careful and slow, then shook Steve a little. “Hey. You’re not going to lose me. Sure as hell not today. I’m doing fine now, I’m fine, we’re both going to be fine. I’m right here. Okay? ...Steve. Okay?”
Steve breathed in deep like he’d also forgotten how. “Okay. Yeah, okay.”
They fell silent again and this time Danny let it be, listening to the storm outside, listening to the soft, comforting sounds of Steve’s breathing. Occasionally Danny’s thoughts circled themselves around to oh shit, things got really bad for a while there, and Danny carefully steered them back to the knowledge that they were safe, Steve was safe, they were together, they were going to be fine. He dozed again.
Steve shifted and Danny startled awake. Oh. Oh, he’d actually fallen asleep for a bit. “Hey, Danny?”
“Mmuh-huh?” Danny blinked groggily.
“Seems like maybe the storm has passed. I’m going to go check what it’s like outside, okay?”
Now that Steve mentioned, Danny couldn’t hear the wind, or any thunder. The light that squeezed into their cave around Steve’s tarp barricade seemed a little brighter than before. “‘Kay.”
With some difficulty Steve struggled out of their downy cocoon, stealing his down jacket from the pile of warm things and unwedging one of their backpacks so he could crawl out. Thin, watery daylight flooded into the cave, bright enough that Danny squinted painfully against it. Danny burrowed deeper into the nest of sleeping bags, missing Steve’s presence, his warmth.
After a few seconds Danny squirmed and dug around in the layers, extracting the three water bottles, now lukewarm. He wondered how long they’d been here, squinting at his watch before realizing he had no idea what time it was when they’d gotten to the cave in the first place. It had been a few hours, anyway. He craned his head to look for the candle and found it had burned its way down to a stub.
There was a scuffling noise and Steve reappeared in the cave entrance, crawling over to Danny. Danny smiled.
“Hey, so it looks pretty good out there, the wind’s died down, the clouds have lifted.” Steve’s eyes tracked over him, dark and concerned. “How’re you feeling, Danno?”
Danny took stock. He felt pretty okay, actually felt warm again. He was fatigued, and sleepy, but otherwise his body and brain seemed to be working fine. He wiggled his fingers and toes; all digits accounted for. “I think I’m good.”
“Yeah?” Steve put a hand on Danny’s jaw, worming his fingers down into Danny’s neck for a few seconds, then rested his hand on Danny’s cheek and just kind of… left it there, gazing down at him, thumb gently brushing against Danny’s cheekbone. Danny gazed back. Yes, he thought. Yes, this. This.
Steve smiled. “You feel warm. You’re making your own body heat again, that’s a good thing. Think you’re up for the last bit of trail down to the observatory?”
Danny considered this. The thought of leaving this warm cocoon, going out into the cold wind and hauling a heavy pack another… what, a mile? Christ, but there was nothing else he’d rather do less. On the other hand…. “Yeah. Yeah. Let’s go, let’s get off this fuckin’ mountain, babe.”
Steve’s happy eye-crinkles came back, and oh, Danny had missed those. “Roger that, Danno. C’mon, let’s get moving. Bundle up and pack up.”
To Danny’s deep and endless regret, Steve’s hand withdrew, and Danny bullied himself into getting up and into his fleece jacket, stuffing sleeping bags into stuff sacks while Steve packed up the stove and folded up tarps. As quickly as possible, they were on the move again.
Danny’s legs felt like jelly as he climbed up and out of the cave entrance; he made a note to be really careful hiking down over this rough terrain. The last thing they needed was for him to take a spill and break something. After pushing himself up over the edge, he had to give himself a few moments to just stand and look and take it all in. The sky was overcast with cold gray clouds, but they’d lifted higher, exposing the slopes below them. The observatory remained obscured by some trick of the geography. The mountain itself had been transformed, all the low spots in the lava filled in with the purest driven snow, only the highest rocky points still exposed, stark black against the clean white. The effect was striking.
Steve came to stand at Danny’s shoulder. “It’s beautiful,” Danny said. “Is that weird? It feels kind of weird to me that I still think it’s beautiful, even though a few minutes ago it was trying to kill us.”
“No, it’s beautiful,” Steve agreed. “Lots of dangerous things are beautiful. I mean when you get right down to it, that’s kind of what beauty is, don’t you think?”
Danny stared at him, then pointedly looked around. “I’m sorry, have you seen my partner Steve? Ex-Navy SEAL, likes to blow shit up? I left him in a cave, now he seems to have been replaced by some mountain guru poet-philosopher.”
Steve slanted Danny a look that was the most delightfully complicated combination of annoyance, amusement, fondness, and something like intense relief or pure joy. Then he jerked his head in the direction of the trail. “C’mon, we should get moving while the weather’s good. No guarantee there won’t be another round of storming, and we should get out before it gets any darker anyway.”
Danny shivered at the very thought. “Agreed, babe, let’s go.”
The trail-marking ahu were actually easier to find; they’d each collected a fine dusting of windblown snow, but mostly stood out as jet black pillars against the whitewashed background. The snow itself was treacherous and difficult to navigate, soft, fluffy powder that each step sank into, and it was impossible to know ahead of time how deep their feet would go. As much as possible they avoided the snowy patches and stuck to bare, visible rock, but it slowed their progress down significantly.
Exertion made Danny sweaty and overly warm inside his down jacket, which felt like some kind of miracle, but he could feel by the exposed skin on his face that the air was getting colder. It was, as Steve had pointed out, pretty late in the afternoon, and though the sun was invisible behind the clouds, the light seemed to get ominously dimmer with each passing minute.
Still, as they dropped down the side of the mountain, the patches of snow became smaller, shallower, and then less and less frequent, and the observatory reappeared, tantalizingly close. When the trail bottomed on a short segment of chunked lava four-by-four road, a mere two hundred meters or so from their vehicle, Danny groaned with relief. Steve clapped him on the shoulder, grinning. “We made it, buddy.”
“Don’t even, McGarrett, you’ll jinx it, we’ve got a couple hundred yards to go!” Danny complained half-heartedly. “Oh man, I can’t wait to get back to Hilo. I want a hot bath. And a soft bed. And food, lots of food. And beer.”
“We’ll get you all those things, Danny, I promise.” Steve fished in a side pocket of his pack until he pulled out his cell phone. “Whoops, looks like the Park Service called while we didn’t have signal. Also Kono and Chin. Probably wondering if we got caught in the blizzard.”
“Well, that’s nice, at least we know they would’ve sent someone up to find the bodies.” Steve didn’t laugh, or snort, or shove Danny; he just stayed grimly silent, his lips thinning. Danny winced. “Too soon?”
Steve sighed. “Gimme a sec, I’d better check in with the backcountry office, let them know we’re all right.”
While Steve was on the phone with the Park Service, Danny dug out his own phone. He had missed calls from Chin and Kono too, and Grace as well. He shot off a couple of texts to Chin and Kono, not really feeling like talking to anyone just yet. Well, Gracie. Of course he’d talk to his daughter. He allayed her fears quickly, told her that he was fine, and Uncle Steve was fine, told her he loved her and missed her and that he’d be back soon. He hung up just as they entered the parking lot. Damn it was good to hear her voice.
Steve was off the phone, too. “I texted Chin and Kono,” Danny told him. “Grace says hi.”
“We’re all checked in with the Park. ...Have you ever in your entire life been more deliriously happy to see a rental car?”
“Fuckin’ tell me about it, babe. Jeez, it feels like it’s getting colder by the second, let’s go.”
They dumped their gear unceremoniously into the back of the rental and piled in, turning on the engine and putting the heater on full blast, waiting the agonizing minutes for the air to heat up. “Thank fuck,” Danny groaned as he and Steve started to peel off some of their layers. He smacked Steve’s shoulder. “C’mon, I’m ready to get the hell off this mountain.”
Danny leaned tiredly against the car door as Steve began the slow, winding drive down the slope of the volcano in the gathering gloom. Headlights were visible on Saddle Road below them, a sign of civilization that was so close, yet so far. Danny was overcome with a feeling of relief; they’d made it, they’d actually made it, they were in their car with the heater on and they were headed down to sea level and everything would really be okay. He thought back to the grim slog through the whiteout blizzard in the biting cold wind and crashing thunder, to the dimly remembered sensation of his mind and body not quite operating at full capacity, making him clumsy and slow; to Steve, pale-faced and shaking, pushing through the betrayal of his own limbs to make shelter and heat water. Steve, anxious and afraid, sounding broken at the idea of losing Danny, the way Danny knew on a deep, instinctual level it would break him to lose Steve. Shit, when it came right down to it, even knowing what he knew now, Danny would climb the damn mountain all over again; it didn’t bear thinking what might’ve happened if Steve was up here alone.
Steve, who’d been grimly silent since they got into the car. Danny looked over at him; in the dim light he could see Steve’s jaw was clenched, the tendons in his neck standing out with tension, his eyes fixed straight ahead on the road, his nostrils flaring as he breathed very, very carefully. Steve had a white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel. An icy curl of anxiety unfurled in Danny’s stomach and he reached out to touch Steve’s arm. “Steve… Steve, hey….” Steve breathed in a shuddery breath and swallowed, his grip on the wheel only tightening, but he didn’t look at Danny or speak. “Babe, hey, c’mon… talk to me, what’s wrong?”
Steve abruptly hit the brakes and pulled over to the side of the road, having enough presence of mind to put the engine in park and engage the emergency brake before just kind of sitting there, looking a little bit lost. His hands were shaking. “Shit, babe, come here, hey….” Danny undid his seatbelt and leaned over, getting his hands on Steve’s arms, his shoulders, pulling him in and wrapping his arms around him. Steve folded, crumpled into him, burying his face in Danny’s shoulder and clinging to him for dear life. Danny was utterly bewildered and more than a little bit terrified; he’d never seen Steve come apart like this. If someone had literally reached into his chest and torn his heart out, it couldn’t possibly have hurt worse than this. “I’m here, hey, I’ve got you. Steve. I’ve got you.”
“You scared the shit out of me, Danno.” Steve’s voice was muffled in Danny’s shoulder. He sounded small, which was just… it was just wrong, is what it was. Danny’s heart broke a little more.
“I know, Steve, I’m sorry. It’s okay now. I’m okay. Shh.”
“It would’ve been my fault.”
Danny scowled. “Hey, none of that bullshit, we’ve been over this already. Steve. Steve, look at me.” He shoved and pushed at Steve until he lifted his head and met Danny’s eyes. “I’m here, babe,” Danny told him softly. “I’m here, I’m fine, the storm was not your fault… we made it through together, like we always do.” Danny curled a hand around the back of Steve’s neck, stroking soothingly with his fingers. “I’m here for you, babe. I’m always gonna be here. You can’t fuckin’ get rid of me, you hear me?”
Steve stared back at Danny, eyes dark and anguished. He was so close Danny could feel Steve’s breath on his face. “Promise,” Steve said. It was less a question than a demand.
“Swear to God,” Danny told him, and he’d never meant anything more seriously in his life.
“Good,” Steve breathed, leaning forward to rest his forehead against Danny’s. “You’d better.” His hand was on Danny’s face again, his thumb resting against Danny’s cheekbone like it belonged there.
Shit. Oh, oh shit, Danny thought. “Steve,” he rasped, and there was too much emotion in that, he felt like he was reeling at the edge of a cliff, there was too much—
“Danny,” Steve said, and it sounded the same, there was a lot more there than just his name, and Danny lifted his head and put his other hand on Steve’s jaw and Steve was right there looking at him, looking into him and well, fuck.
Danny kissed him.
Steve kissed him back.
Holy shit, Steve was kissing him back. Danny made a surprised, slightly desperate little sound in the back of his throat, slid his hands around to cradle Steve’s face and leaned in, wanting more, and Steve met him halfway, went farther, wrapped his arms around Danny and pulled him closer. Danny pushed himself up out of his seat until he was halfway sprawled uncomfortably across the center console and he could not possibly give fewer fucks, he was kissing Steve and Steve was kissing him back.
The kisses were a little desperate, a little needy, a little breathless, and Danny never ever wanted them to stop, although did he mention a little breathless? They broke apart for a couple of seconds to get their air back, foreheads pressed together, and then Steve kissed his jaw, his cheek, his neck just below his ear—tenderly, reverent—and Danny groaned, had to kiss Steve again, because now he knew what Steve’s mouth tasted like, what his tongue felt like, and he was fucked because he didn’t think he’d ever be able to give it up again. “This is all I wanted, this whole trip,” he admitted, “all I wanted for months. Years, even—fuck, I don’t know.”
Steve nuzzled in close along the side of Danny’s jaw, seemingly reluctant to let there be any space between them, even for talking. “Christ, Danny, really? I thought—I thought, maybe—I’d hoped….”
“Hoped? Shit, Steve, I had no idea!” He lifted his head, finally, to stare at Steve, flabbergasted. “I thought—if I’d had any inkling, any idea at all—” He thought of all the time he’d spent trying hard not to want Steve, trying hard not to need him, not to—
“Steve.” Steve was looking at him with the intense focus he reserved for people and things that were important to him, patient, content, relaxed and happy for the first time all day; Danny swallowed, anxiety burning cold in the pit of his stomach. “Steve, I gotta tell you something… probably this is the worst possible time, or, I dunno, maybe it’s actually the best, but I was going to tell you and it probably isn’t fair not to at this point—” Danny swallowed again, taking a deep breath to quash the urge for further rambling. “For the longest time, probably almost as long as I’ve known you, I’ve… well let’s say I’ve had a stupid fucking crush on you, I mean, I like you, I care about you, and I’m sure you’re aware you’re blisteringly attractive—stop grinning at me, Steven.” Steve was grinning at him. “Look, the point is, that’s been going on forever, but at some point—” Danny lost his courage, cutting his eyes away to the side; he couldn’t look. “Babe—I think I’m in love with you. Not sure when that happened, been a while, probably.”
Steve was quiet for a torturous few long seconds, and then— “Well, thank fuck,” he breathed, reaching up and turning Danny’s head to look at him. Steve was grinning even wider than before.
Danny gaped. “What?”
“Danny Williams, you idiot,” Steve told him, before pulling him in for another kiss—deeper, slower, and longer than the ones before. When the kiss ended, Steve kept him close, kissing the corner of his mouth, his cheek, his chin. “Danno… you have to know… you’re fucking everything to me, surely you know that. I don’t know when that happened either. You’re a pain in my ass and you never shut up and it’s gotten to the point where I frankly don’t know how I would live without you, and I just hope to God I never have to. I was going to tell you, too. But I…” He laughed. “I wasn’t expecting this.”
Danny pulled back to look at Steve again. Maybe Danny was still hypothermic because he was pretty sure his brain wasn’t firing on all cylinders. “What?”
Steve rolled his eyes. “I love you too. Is what I was trying to say. I, Steve, also love you, D—”
“Did you actually just roll your eyes at me, asshole—?” Danny had a mind to register a more detailed complaint, but he found he was too busy laughing and kissing Steve at the same time, which was ridiculous, but Steve seemed to be on the same page so that was all right.
Danny was developing a pretty bad case of stubble-burn on his lips and he’d never been happier, Steve was a fucking amazing kisser and when they weren’t kissing he kept looking at Danny like he hung the fucking moon and also apparently they were mutually in love? “This has been… a very surprising day,” Danny admitted. “I mean… what? ...I’m kind of at a loss for words.”
Steve smirked. “That would be a first, ow no punching!” Steve grinned and swooped in for another quick kiss, which Danny supposed was okay. “...It’s good, though, right?”
Danny considered this. “Mostly.”
Steve’s expression faltered. “Mostly?”
“I mean I can’t feel my diaphragm anymore, but otherwise….”
Steve glanced down to where most of Danny’s weight rested on his abdomen against the car’s center console and barked a startled laugh. “Oh, shit, sorry! Here—” Steve fumbled for the seat adjustment lever, shoving his seat all the way back and tugging Danny towards him. Danny crawled ungracefully over the center console, bumping the horn with his ass and making them both startle and laugh. He ended up facing Steve, straddling Steve’s lap with his knees on the seat and Steve’s broad hands bracketing his hips. So just, oh, you know, a top contender for one of Danny’s all-time hottest wet dreams. He saw a little answering flare of desire in Steve’s eyes and oh, he could, he could just— Danny breathed out slow. They’d only just found out they were in love with each other after years of being friends, and oh, yeah, a couple of hours ago they’d nearly frozen to death—Danny’s fantasies could wait. They had time. Holy shit, they actually had time.
“You’re just staring at me and not kissing me, I don’t know if I like it,” Steve said. Danny huffed a laugh and leaned in to oblige, and Christ that felt good to be able to do. Still, there was a thought niggling at him that wouldn’t go away, like a loose tooth he couldn’t ignore, and he pulled back to stare quizzically at Steve again. Steve raised his eyebrows. “What is it?”
Danny frowned at him. “I’m a little confused, I just—I—how are you not straight?!” Steve laughed and Danny swatted at him. “Don’t laugh, serious question!”
“I’m just… I’m just not?” Steve tried. “The last several times I’ve dated it’s been women, that’s true, and I guess more often than not I tend to lean that way, but… there’ve been guys. It’s been a while. ...Anyway, your dating history is similar…?”
“Yeah, you’re right, I’m bi. Like you said, mostly dated women, haven’t—haven’t had anything serious with a man. There’ve been—flings. My old precinct was pretty macho, it wasn’t exactly the best environment—I kinda learned to keep that side of myself private.”
Steve nodded, his thumbs stroking lightly against Danny’s sides. It was really distracting. “I thought sometimes, maybe… there were little hints, I suspected, but I wasn’t sure.” He huffed out a rueful laugh. “It’s stupid, how long have we known each other? You and me, and all of us really, you know there’s no one who knows us who would give a shit. And here we both are carrying around this big fucking secret, we could’ve just said something.”
“‘Hey team, we should all go to the Pride parade, by the way, I’m bi.’”
Steve laughed. “Or something. It’s been years. I feel like an idiot.”
“Make a note for future reference, communication is occasionally useful.”
Steve watched Danny for a few seconds, then tilted his head to the side. “What?”
Oh. Danny was still frowning at him. “I’m a detective,” he said.
Steve’s lips twitched. “You are,” he agreed.
“I notice things, is my point. I especially notice you… yes, stop grinning, shut up.” Danny leaned down to kiss him quickly, and wow, that was never going to get old. “My point is, I’ve been watching, don’t think I haven’t, I’ve been pretty invested in my stupid fucking crush for a long time, and I have literally never seen you look at another guy, never.”
Steve’s face did something… unusual, Danny wasn’t sure what kind of expression it was. A little bit soft, kind of sheepish. Steve chewed on his lip a little. “Danny… you’re probably right. You probably haven’t seen me looking at other guys. For a while now… I’ve really only been looking at you.”
Danny stared at him. “Shut the front door, McGarrett.”
Steve groaned. “I know, I know what it sounds like, like the cheesiest fucking line, but it’s true.” He leaned forward, pushing up into Danny’s space, his hands sliding from Danny’s hips to his ribcage. “I’ve been looking at you, Danno.” Danny’s ears buzzed and his skin felt hot. Steve was very, very close, and his eyes were doing that excruciatingly earnest thing they did sometimes. “I tend to get… pretty focused. When there’s something I want.”
“Jesus Christ, Steve,” Danny complained faintly. “How do you always manage to be objectively cheesy and blisteringly hot at the same time?” Steve laughed, and Danny couldn’t help himself, he had to lean in and kiss the sound from Steve’s lips. He frowned down at him; Steve was always a puzzle he couldn’t one-hundred-percent figure out. “...Seriously?”
“Seriously, Danno. ...Come on, when’s the last time I’ve even dated?”
Danny thought about it. “It’s been months. ...Holy shit.”
“Yeah,” Steve agreed.
“Well then I guess we’ve come back around to why the hell didn’t either of us idiots fuckin’ say something,” Danny groaned. All the lost time….
“I’m saying it now,” Steve said, and holy shit, Steve’s hands were working their way up under Danny’s shirt and undershirt, brushing over skin and raising goosebumps on his lower back. “Danno,” Steve breathed, and kissed him. This one was searing hot, and Danny moaned into it, hissing as Steve nipped at his bottom lip and mouthed his way down Danny’s neck.
“You’re right, better late than never,” Danny gasped, and Steve nodded, tugging at Danny’s shirt collar to get better access to his collarbone. Then Steve ducked his head, hiding his face against Danny’s chest, and went completely still.
Danny brought a hand up to settle tentatively on the back of Steve’s head. “...Babe?”
Steve was tense again, all the happy looseness had evaporated. “Better late than never,” he said. “...Better late than… too late.”
“Shit.” And there went Danny’s heart, breaking again. He sighed, stroking his fingertips through Steve’s short hair. “Babe….”
“I’m sorry. I can’t stop thinking about it.”
“Don’t be sorry. It was pretty fucking awful, and it literally just happened. ...Hey, look at me.” He coaxed Steve’s head up. “We’re exhausted, we’re hungry, we’re still getting over being hypothermic, and we’re still in a rental car on the side of the road with the engine running in the middle of literal fucking nowhere, in what is now pitch darkness. Let’s get back to town, okay, and get some food, and maybe check in at a hospital or clinic or something, but frankly I’m thinking more like hot bath and bed ASAP, what do you think? Okay?”
Steve nodded. He looked exhausted; Danny could sympathize. “Yeah, Danno. Okay.”
“Hey.” Now it was Danny’s turn to cup Steve’s cheek and gently brush his cheekbone with a thumb. It was pretty nice this way around too, as it turned out. “It was shitty. We’re gonna need some time to recover. We could’ve died… could’ve, but we didn’t, we’re here and we’re fine… and as it turns out, I fucking love you, and you love me, so that’s pretty great, right?” Steve smiled weakly, and Danny smiled back. Fuck, how had he ever planned to live his life pretending he didn’t need this? “Everything else can wait. We have the time. We have all the time in the world.” Danny kissed him, sweet and slow, and Steve kissed him back… and that was good, that was enough, that was more than Danny had ever dared to dream of. “I love you,” he said.
Steve smiled, slow and small but real. “I know,” he said.
Danny snorted. “Dickheads who quote Star Wars at inappropriate times don’t get more kisses,” he said, leaning back. “How you doing, babe, you need me to drive?”
Steve took a breath and Danny could practically see his spine straighten as he internalized a new mission: drive the two of them safely back to Hilo. “No, I got it. Thanks Danno.”
Danny climbed back over the console into his seat, let Steve steal a final kiss for good luck, and held Steve McGarrett’s fucking hand, holy shit, while Steve drove them carefully down the winding strip of pavement. Danny found a radio station that he knew Steve would like, and smiled as he watched Steve sing along under his breath. Outside of the car it was dark, and it had started to rain, and there were parts of Danny that still felt chilled, all the way down to the core of him. But none of that mattered; he felt warmer with each passing minute, in a way that had very little to do with the heater blasting at full strength. He had Steve’s fingers entwined with his, the taste of Steve’s mouth still on his tongue, the sweet, almost disbelieving glances that Steve tossed him every few minutes from the driver’s seat. He had the firm, unshakeable knowledge that Steve would do just about any fucking thing for him, and that he would do the same.
He had Steve, and they had all the time in the world.