SATURDAY, JUNE 22ND - AMERICAN SAMOA (EARLY MORNING
His movements were erratic, insecure and far from smooth as he staggered along. His head throbbed in time to the pain of each swollen step. A few hours in a warm tent with an IV of fluids and cat-naps was not near enough rest for his torn and weary body. Plus any good derived from that respite had been ruined over the last few hours by the forced march through the storm battered jungle. He was behind Boots though and hoping to simply surprise the man. Shooting to incapacitate - or even kill - would be fine as long as he could get a clean shot off and not miss entirely. He also didn't need a wounded bear. The man was crazy enough as it was.
Growing weaker by the moment, he only had minutes to remain on his feet as he hugged his left wrist to his chest. He had needed to shove the gun into the front of his pants while using his right hand for balance and leverage. In the overwhelming post storm humidity, it didn't take long for his nausea to return and his vision to waver as if he were swimming in soup.
Rounding a blind turn on the trail, he came to a startled halt with his hand gripping the wet bark of a tree trunk.
A man had suddenly appeared in his path and was evidently equally as shocked to see him. He bobbled and then fought to clear his vision only to realize it wasn't Madison, but some other person entirely. His eyes were flickering down to the man's feet the same second he was releasing the tree so he could tug the gun from his pants. Seconds later he had it aimed directly at the man's head.
"Danny!" The man was dark-haired, tall and extremely well-armed and for those things, Danny missed the utter look of relief which creased the man's expression. The first thought that came unbidden through his head was "over-kill".
"Whoa! Hey!" The tall stranger instantly took two steps back. "Let's just take it easy and put the gun down."
"Boots." The similarity there was too close and Danny's resolve strengthened with that guttural whisper. His hand trembled and he fought to stay upright after releasing the tree he had used as a brace. He wound up losing his balance to drop down to one knee and then refused to lower his weapon as this new enemy raised his hands in a sign of surrender.
"Do you have a problem suddenly with waiting for back-up?"
"What?" The question was entirely unexpected and it threw Danny completely.
"You heard me." The man's tone was decidedly upset but possibly evened out with a dose of humor. "Back-up. You're personal number one rule."
No, it wasn't humor exactly; it was more like sarcasm and Danny's mouth slammed shut. The man paused and then began to chuckle. "So, Danno. What the hell happened with waiting for back-up? You'd have my head if I just did what you tried. I would never, ever hear the end of it."
"Back-up? I'm the back-up." Danny suddenly whispered to himself without knowing why. He stared blankly at the man and then nearly relaxed into the warm smile before catching himself.
"No." Shaking his head, Danny narrowed his eyes at the weapon in the man's upraised right hand. His fatigued brain back-fired and used excuses to convince him it was a trick. Not necessarily Boots, but certainly a possible colleague of the dangerous man and Danny had no interest in his words.
"Danny, I know you're a bit confused. Ponch told me what happened. But it's me, partner."
Steve struggled hard because he never thought Danny might look at him as a complete and utter stranger. Then it was the suspicion in his eyes that nearly took his breath away and Steve refused to accept it. It defined one of the differences that Ponch had warned him about on the way up the slope. The fact that Danny was scarcely speaking or moving wasn't lost on him either.
"He's quiet and reserved; he's barely spoken, Steve. One word here or two words there." The doctor had been out of breath as they trudged purposefully along up the hill. "And very mistrustful. You'll need to go slow and prove yourself a friend until we figure out if it's the drugs or some other trauma."
With that in mind, Steve tried to get through carefully without overwhelming his friend too much. Danny was barely on his feet but armed, overly cautious and any number of things could go wrong in a heartbeat. At first Steve thought he had him, and then all to suddenly the glimmer of recognition was gone. Beyond the suspicion, Steve saw each bruise, the once more ruined bandages which Ellen had tried to keep clean, the exhaustion, and the tattered socks which no longer served any purpose.
It all tore at him as he ignored the distrust and the gun to force his voice to drop to a soft conversational tone. "I know you know me, Danno."
The odd nickname finally struck a chord in his weary mind and Steve saw another momentary hesitation. To prove his point, he painstakingly re-holstered his weapon and slowly raised his black-gloved fingers again.
Again no reply as Danny watched every move closely with the same guarded suspicion. The gesture was almost funny and for a reason he couldn't quite provide, Danny's lips quirked into an amused smile at the sight of the leather gloves. But then too was gone before it had a chance to fully materialize.
"I'm Steve ... Danno. You know that Ponch and Ellen contacted me yesterday." Silence and suspicion were the only two constants as Steve continued speaking. "When we got here, we found out that you and Ellen were forced away from camp last night. We're going to find this guy, and he's going to pay, but let's get you home first."
"He's lying!" The booming voice off to Steve's right startled them both and Danny almost dropped his gun as he swung swiftly to face that direction. His hand came up automatically to protect himself from the new threat when he saw the second weapon glinting in the sunlight. Partially hidden in the trees, an arm appeared first followed by another tall man. When Danny saw Boots, he began to shake at the strain of watching two men approach and his weapon swung nervously between them.
"Uh uh, McGarrett. Don't try it or he dies. You'll never be fast enough." Not as well-armed, Boots smiled warmly at Danny as he took aim directly at Steve. Fresh blood stained his shirt where he had torn open the original wound, and he was newly scratched and bruised. Still, Boots had found him first and he'd lost any possible element of surprise.
"He's one of Darien's men, Danny. He only wants you for the money." Unable to help himself, Danny's eyes flew to the man's similar boots. Military issue and nearly the same color despite the heavy covering of mud.
"You're both working together ... both." Danny blinked the sweat from his eyes. The near friendly moments with Steve were now long gone and he trembled from a growing shock. "Lies .. both of you."
"Sneakers. Boots. Three," he stammered the words which only made sense to him. The first Boots on the scene growled a worried warning and the hatred aimed at the new arrival was palpable. However, the broken litany brought the true criminal up short and then he chuckled at his prey's obvious confusion. The tableau before him was one of stunning beauty and he could never have dreamed such a delightful standoff.
It was only a matter of time for one particular man to experience a total physical collapse. But if he could eliminate McGarrett before the trial and then still have Williams? The greedy thought purred in Frank's head because his reward would be astronomical. Two with one stone and no partners to split the winnings; it was a divine coincidence.
"Danno." Steve was desperate and now anxious to put an end to the whole affair so he could bring Danny safely home. He wanted his gun too, but two weapons remained trained at his head. Albeit one was more erratic than the other. His fear was that Madison could easily turn in a split second to take down Danny, and Steve simply couldn't take the chance.
"Danno, listen to me," he aimed his voice towards Danny and prayed he'd at least take cover as he intentionally looked at the closest tree to his friend's hand. "You know better, partner."
"Danno." The first Boots had whispered it again under his breath; so low, that only Danny seemed to hear the quiet plea housed in the one simple word. It was achingly familiar and he paused to stare once more at the darkly clad man. Their eyes held this time and Danny frowned at the genuinely concerned expression.
"Listen to me. Let me get you the hell out of here."
Angry yes, but not at him. Angry and worried for him. His posture was tense and ready to attack but also ... not him ... he clearly wanted to kill the new arrival. In fact, he would. There was no doubt of that in Danny's mind as he watched an almost familiar metamorphosis occur and suddenly he did know better. There was something familiar as Danny once more took in the black tac-vest, t-shirt and ominous knife sheathed to his leg. The knife and the gloved itchy fingers caught his attention. The subtle movements that only he seemed to see. Their eyes stayed locked and the word 'ninja' bit teasingly in his brain unable to make it to his tongue. But what he saw tucked on the man's belt - the golden gleam of a shield maybe - brought something more home.
Ellen had said that Ponch had called Steve. It was true. A special, protected memory teased him, but the here and now murmured for him to take caution; to survive and not give in to distractions. Ever so slowly, Danny's gun swung towards Frank Madison. However, the man only laughed.
"Don't do the wrong thing, buddy." The happily snorted warning came from Madison as Danny's hand began to shake.
"You're a dead man, Madison."
"You can try, McGarrett." The response to Steve's statement was dry and sardonic. It was said around a leering smile where Steve stood deathly still and measured the distance as his fingers twitched.
Danny not only saw it all, he heard the tone and measured cadence of the much too quiet promise. It attested to a skill that easily trumped Boots Two's cockiness. No, Madison. His real name was Frank Madison. Danny suddenly knew the promise would become a reality in seconds if he just could bring himself to trust in it; and since he needed to survive and that teasing memory resurfaced, Danny did. He saw the look and then glanced at the tree but his body was stubbornly stuck. He could never move in time so he did the next best thing.
Madison grinned menacingly as Danny's hand quaked and the gun began to swing back towards Steve's head. The change broadened Madison's smile as he took another step forward.
"There we go. Come on Danny-boy, work with me." Overly confident, the criminal took yet a third step forward as he dropped a bullet into his own chamber. He was out in the open completely now. The evil grin he held for Steve was one of blind ambitious success; it said that he would die and then so would his weakened partner.
Danny stared at Steve as he took aim a bit off-center and there was a flash of a smile; of understanding at the move. Madison was Madison, and he had said the wrong words too. Everything added up to a deciding factor and Steve didn't hesitate when he saw Danny's gun hand suddenly drop. He had his knife in his fingers with one quick motion and his aim was true as he dove for cover into the thick underbrush.
Four loud shots still rang out though and one bullet whizzed by his head but then there was absolute silence. Peeking up, he saw Danny still on one knee and panting in wheezed shallow gulps of air. His eyes were huge but his weapon was aimed at Frank Madison even though the man now lay prone on his stomach and unmoving in death. Steve's knife had found the man's neck and one circle of blood oozed completely dead-center and through to the man's back. One of Danny's shots had hit its mark with surprising accuracy.
"Danno? Are you okay? Are you hit?" Not knowing if Danny had been shot in the exchange, Steve's eyes raked over his head, face and upper body as he started to run to his side.
"Steve?" In return, the uncertain tone still begged if the right decision had been made.
"Yeah, it's me." As his partner smiled in approval, Danny's gun fell from his fingers and his upper body collapsed in on itself into a weary heap.
"Hey, Danny. Easy, no, no no!" Steve bolted forward in a rush just missing being able to prevent his tumble to the ground. Anxious hands confirmed that no new blood was evident and he choked back his relief. Stripping off his gloves, he pawed at Danny's neck to prove he was breathing and then found a pounding, staccato rhythm.
"Too fast. Calm down, Danny. It's over." Mindful of the broken rib and splinted wrist, he gently propped Danny up in his arms. He could feel the exhausted tremors wracking his body as he awkwardly yanked a bottled water from his emergency pack. Ellen's frightened warnings ran through Steve's mind as he slowly tried to get Danny to sip from the bottle.
"It's over and you're going home. We're taking you home." He was rambling and was helpless to stop as Danny's body twitched in his arms. "Kono is back at the evac site. She's got the other guy under lock and key, Danno. Chin's on his way to our location with two more M.P.'s so we can carry you out of here."
Steve gently tapped Danny's cheek as another tremor jolted through him. If the photograph had looked bad, his partner was now much worse in living color. "Hey, are you listening to me?"
Danny's pale eyes flickered open weakly. He was there but not for long and Steve was shocked by the grievous changes as he thumbed on the radio and demanded help to his location. Having heard the gunfire first, the M.P. who had taken a circular route was there in seconds and ensuring what Steve already knew - Madison was quite dead. Without being asked, the officer searched Madison's pockets and took the man's knapsack. They weren't prepared to haul the body back down to the encampment, but he wisely made sure that he had everything of possible value.
Steve reached Chin next to demand status on time, and then Doctor Ramirez who was with his wife. He wasn't too surprised to learn that they were still waiting on the trail.
"Ellen?" He grinned as Danny responded to the voices coming from the radio. He clearly recognized the big doctor's gruff tone when his right hand weakly circled Steve's wrist. That weak gesture was simply going to have to be good enough for the moment.
"Ponch and I found her where you hid her under the trees; they're waiting for us at that location. She's pretty mad at you, Danno." There was a mild chuffed sound as Danny's eyes began to close once more.
"Bossy," he whispered under his breath.
"Bossy?" Steve's eyes were moist as he shook his head at the softly worded complaint. "If you think Doc Ramirez is bad, you should see Ellen when her patient ignores her orders."
"Don't remember," he murmured and Steve heard it as an apology. Forcing his eyes back open a last time, Danny tried to make himself remember Steve's face or anything about his voice. His mind though continually failed to provide the right answers where only his gut instinct - and something else he couldn't quite put his finger on - had proved him correct in the end.
"You just did, Danno. You just did." He tried to frown when their eyes met and his fingers tightened on Steve's wrist. His lips twitched again at the man's odd expression, but he was too tired to put a name to it.
"Steve?" The name was said as another breathy apology with a slight head shake as his voice began to fade. None of it bothered his friend and partner. The only reply was an off-hand shrug and an awkward, careful hug. As Danny lost consciousness to pain, fatigue and absolute relief Steve continued to whisper to him.