Steve sat in the quiet room and held his pounding head in his hands. The pain drilled into his skull and made his eyes water and bulge in their sockets with every pulse of pain. It got worse with every passing day – hour – and nothing seemed to help. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t tried, though. But he just couldn’t focus on breathing exercises or simple grounding meditations. He felt restless, unbalanced and riled up for seemingly no reason.
A couple of days ago he had snapped at Tommy for whistling while cleaning his rifle and it almost had escalated into a full-on fight, if the others hadn’t interfered. Tommy had been fuming, barley contained by Silent José and Mike, snarling at Steve to either finally go and fuck this guide into bonding submission, if that was Steve’s problem, or go and fuck himself. Steve had nearly ripped Tommy’s throat open for that comment. His vision had blackened and the only reasonable action on his mind had been to smash in Tommy's skull. He had been so out of it that whoever had been holding him back (Steve couldn’t even recall that) nearly couldn’t keep Steve in check.
But then suddenly everything had gone numb and Steve had awoken in a soft bed in a room with untypically soft colors and a red mark on his shoulder, where the tranquilizer dart had hit him.
A room of the Navy Guild. Fuck. Well done, McGarrett.
He had lost his bearings and it was entirely his fault. He had attacked one of his own team members in almost feral behavior, just because Tommy had mentioned “this guide”. He hadn’t even said a name or anything and Steve just went fubar. And now the Guild had him under supervision. That couldn’t end well. His superiors would be informed. Question would be asked, answers demanded. Actions expected. Such as forcing a guide on Steve to get him back under control. Or even better, pushing him into a bond.
Bile burned in his throat at the mere thought and he had to focus hard on his breathing, so he didn't drown in the sensation.
He knew the blowup would come, but the longer it took, the worse his headache got. He barely couldn’t think beyond guide, agony, please, Danny, guide, Danny, please, Danny, DANNY any more. Steve felt his resistance wavering. It would be so easy to just give in. One word and he would be put out of his misery. But at what cost? He had endangered Danny enough times already, barely got him out the last time. He wouldn't risk that now, so he could feel physically better. He was a goddamn SEAL, he was trained to live with pain!
So, here Steve was, sitting on a bed of the Navy Guild for the third day in a row, trying to force his headache down by sheer willpower alone and to stand the nurses, who occasionally filtered in with medicine and food. No one had entered the room besides and it was unnerving Steve. It was already dark outside, when the sharp, overdue knock on the door came. His shields quivered with the effort it took Steve to tone the onslaught on his ears down. The door swung open without hesitation and Steve clutched his supper – a bowl of unflavored oatmeal – tighter, as two people entered, Steve had dreaded to see for too long now.
His commanding officer Commander Banks looked uncomfortable enough to raise the hairs at Steve’s neck, as he eyed the room and then Steve with quick glances. He was accompanied by Navy Guild Officer Susan Delano, who wore her usual calculating frown. Steve wanted to vomit his supper on the floor. Instead, he pulled himself together and rose on trembling legs to spring to attention and salute properly. The presence of Commander Banks let an uneasy feeling of alarm coil in Steve’s stomach, especially because it had taken him too long to pay Steve a visit, which Steve had expected ever since his improper behavior towards one of his own men.
“Lieutenant Commander Sentinel Steve McGarrett,” his Commander addressed him and the feeling of uneasiness morphed into dread.
“Navy Guild Officer Delano as well as your deputy have reported to me about your current condition, which is worrying at least. As a leader of a SEAL-team, you are expected to always be in your upmost condition and to undertake everything possible to stay in or gain back that condition. Especially since you are a sentinel, Lieutenant Commander.” Commander Banks wasn't known as a man, who beat around the bush. “Officer Delano also told me that you are refusing to take a guide despite your current situation. I will not tolerate that, Commander. You have rank with high responsibility and as your commanding officer I’m not asking, but ordering you to act accordingly and put an end to your worsening condition.” He looked at Steve expectantly with his hard blue eyes.
This was it. Steve had put off the inevitable long enough. Time to face the consequences. He squared his shoulders and answered with as much determination as he could muster: "Sir, yes, sir!"
Commander Banks nodded and then turned around to Officer Delano and gave her a sharp jerk of his head. She opened the door again and let a woman in civilian clothes in. A visitor’s pass was pinned to her blouse that bore a sigil, which Steve knew all too well: a rectangle crossed by a line. An unbonded guide. Relief flooded through Steve that it wasn't Danny giving him a small encouraging smile, because it meant, they hadn't found him and he was safe. At the same time, everything in him repelled the woman in front of him.
And then the woman’s scent crashed into him. He was totally unprepared for the ferocity with which it ripped through his shields to punch him right in the gut. He doubled over, groaning in agony as he threw up his oatmeal for real. He didn’t care that his superior was witnessing this. The stench was unbearable. He fell to the ground, coiled up in pain as he tried to block out the sheer falsity that suffocated the whole room.
There was shuffling and bellowing, but it was muffled by the roar of blood in Steve’s ears. Black spots danced before his eyes and tried to crawl through his eyeballs into his brain, blackening everything out. Steve fought the zone with every ounce of energy he still had left. After what felt like an eternity, the pressure on his eyes lessened and breathing was easier again. The source of the stench had vanished, but a trace of it still hang in the air. Steve blinked his bleary eyes open and looked up into a doctor’s face.
“Well, so much for that,” he heard Commander Banks mumble.
“It was worth a shot, Commander,” Officer Delano replied quietly.
The doctor helped Steve onto his bed, feeling his pulse and checking his eyes. Steve felt battered and aching as though he just ran headfirst through a brick wall. “Sentinel McGarrett needs to rest now,” the doctor said to Commander Banks and Officer Delano while quickly giving Steve a shot of some medicine.
“Alright, Doctor, we’ll resume tomorrow then.”
“Give him two days. He’s too exhausted to deal with another guide so soon.”
Steve’s head felt woozy. Whatever it was the doctor had given him, it already worked. His eyelids were heavy and he slumped down unceremoniously on the bed, shivering and childishly wishing for a certain warm hand on his skin.
“Well, he’ll better take a liking to the next one,” Steve heard Commander Banks say, although muffled as though cotton was stuffed in his ears. He wanted to scream. Another wrong guide would trip him over the edge and Steve didn't know if he would ever have the energy to crawl out of a zone without Danny again. But maybe Commander Banks said Steve should take lightning to Nixon, whatever that meant. He wasn’t sure. His whole world was swimming and finally the numbness took him under, giving him a rest from all the chaos and agony.
Steve woke from a ringing in his ears, which drilled into his already pounding head. He tried to focus his meager energy on his shields to get some relief. As soon as the ringing subdued a bit, the stale air of the room bit into his nostrils and he heaved on his already empty stomach, spiting stomach acid on the floor. He was sweating from the effort it had taken to just move over the edge of the bed, but as soon as he lay still again, he shivered.
Although he had no idea how long he was already lying here in this room, he knew for sure that he wasn’t holding up much longer. He was running out of both time and energy. Soon the zones would eat him alive. Unless he would find and bond with a guide. Which was not going to happen, because the only one in his mind was Danny and he simply couldn’t force a bond on him. And for sure he didn’t want Danny to have to take pity on him.
He had no sense of time, because keeping his shields up and trying to breathe without vomiting took up all his focus. At some point a nurse came in and checked on him, asking him something, but Steve didn’t bother with an answer. Soon enough, she was out of the room again, leaving her actually neutral scent behind, but today even that made Steve cringe.
Slowly, a fever started to burn inside him and everything around him became too shrill, too loud, too much. Uncontrollable fits shook his body, as his head was about to burst open. There was a voice screaming and only after tasting the blood on his tongue Steve understood that it was him. Danny, where was Danny? He needed ... needed his touch ... his voice ... his smell ... oh Danny, why? Why did he ever let him go? Something wet ran down his cheeks and mingled with the bloodied taste on his tongue, mixing salt to iron. Danny! He needed his mate! A sob struggled past his throat that tore at Steve's heart. He was so cold, so empty. Just a shell, nothing more, filled to the rim with pain that wouldn't ease. Never ease, only increase, swallowing him up, and Steve screamed, screamed until his lungs tore and blood seeped out of his mouth and his eyes and his ears. Screamed for help that would never come and his heart clenched around nothing, stinging in his chest and cramping in a pointless attempt to keep up some sort of rhythm.
Suddenly something shifted.
He wasn't alone anymore. The air felt warm, clean and fresh as though a blanket had fluttered down and engulfed Steve wholly in a blissful bubble. Steve heard his own sickening wet wheezing.
Something gentle nudged at Steve’s mind and after a heartbeat, he let it happen.
Steve?! Oh, please be alright!
Steve’s clenched eyes shot open. That was Danny’s voice in his head. It was faint and unsteady like a badly tuned radio station, but it was there. Was this a zone-dream?
A warm hand closed around his own clammy one that had gripped his head in an iron tight attempt to stop it from splitting itself open. Instantly a cozy warmth spread through him, taking away the panic and the aching of his heart and chest, lifting the weight of the whole universe off Steve. Slowly he blinked with blurry eyes and lifted his head.
Blue. Blue distressed looking eyes. A mop of wild blond hair. Steve froze. This couldn't be real.
Fuck, it’s not working! No! No, no, no, babe, please, not now! Not when I’m finally here! Come on, Steven, say something!
Steve didn’t know what did it in the end, the ranting or the nicknames. Maybe both. It didn’t really matter, because this was Danny floating over him. Danny! He moved faster than he was able to in months, leaping forward so suddenly that he knocked a yelping Danny off, crashing them both to the floor in his desperate attempt to coil around his mate, to hold him in his arms again and never let go again. He ended up curled around Danny’s body with his nose buried in the crook of his neck, taking deep calming breaths. Danny was here, warm and solid under his hands. How was he here? Didn't matter. He licked at skin while trailing blood-smeared kisses from Danny's neck to his hairline. All that mattered that his mate was here, with him, safe in his arms -
Steve sat up abruptly and stared down at his guide. Danny! No! No, he wasn't supposed where Steve was, because that would mean they had found him and dragged him here –
Steve?, echoed the sound of Danny’s voice again in Steve’s head.
No, Danny, you can’t be here. They make you be my guide and you’ll have to join me in the navy! You have to go! Grace needs you; she needs her father in one piece!
Danny’s mouth dropped open and Steve couldn't help the sudden heat that flared in his belly at the sight. Danny lying under him with the disheveled hair looked forbidden gorgeous like that.
You hear me? You can respond back?!
Before Steve could respond to that, he heard a hissing noise and looked up, seeing Commander Banks pulling his hand back as though the air itself had bitten him. He looked frustrated and annoyed at Steve crouching over Danny. “Lower your goddamn shields, McGarrett! No one is going to harm your precious guide!” It sounded muffled and distant and Steve had no idea how often Commander Banks already had addressed him with his request or since when he was actually here in this room.
Steve had no idea, what Commander Banks actually was talking about. He was in no state to draw up and maintain shields, his energy only slowly coming back thanks to Danny. It had been in fact Danny, who had saved him from the onslaught of his own senses. Besides, Steve had never heard of any psychic shields strong enough to keep out something physically. Then it dawned on him and it took all his military training to maintain a straight face in front of his superior and probably half of the Navy Guild.
That’s you, Danny, isn’t it? Those strong shields, the fucking telepathy are your psychic powers, aren’t they?
He had heard about very rare guides, who were able to communicate with their bonded mate telepathically. Never in his life had he ever met one. He was even pretty sure, Commander Banks had neither. Or anybody in the navy. And here was Danny, who displayed not only one but two skills so rare and yet so precious and useful he was sure someone would actually kill for just to get their hands on the guide possessing them. If anyone - even Commander Banks - knew, what Danny was capable of, there was no way he would ever have a life again. He had to get Danny out of here.
Well, never had one responding back to me. Danny had actually the cockiness to smirk up at Steve and wiggle with his eyebrows, as though he had no clue, what he just admitted. As though it wasn't something absolutely astonishing. Now come on, get off me, you Neanderthal, before your boss gets too impatient.
Steve felt the air shift around them as the comfortable bubble Danny had put up, shrank until it fitted like a second skin on them both. He helped Danny up, standing wobbly on his own unsteady legs. He tried to safe himself some dignity by slowly lowering himself back on the bed, but he couldn't fool Danny, who stood close by and watched with a concerned frown between his eyebrows. Steve really wished they would be granted some alone time, but Commander Banks strode forward as soon as Steve eyed him with what he hoped was at least respectful annoyance.
“Lieutenant Commander Sentinel McGarrett,” said Commander Banks, interrupted by the opening door of the room and two Navy Guild Officers, who carried a stack of clothes and something else that Steve couldn’t make out exactly, and stepped up to Officer Delano. Steve had the feeling that he wouldn’t like the next words from his superior. “We are here to formally witness the assumption of your bond with the registered Navy Guide Daniel Williams. Please don’t refuse it,” Commander Banks added in a soft tone Steve never heard from him before. “The paperwork has already been dealt with. Mr. Williams here is now officially part of the US Navy.”
“It’s still Detective Williams.”
Steve had to suppress his grin. Only Danny would argue with someone like his commanding officer in such a severe situation. Although Danny’s title came a bit by surprise for himself, Commander Banks was clearly not amused about the correction. He sighed deeply and let the topic drop. “It took us some time to find Detective Williams, since Lieutenant Rollins was quite successful in covering up your frequent contacts with him, but it wouldn’t do anything to deny your compatibility any longer, Commander. As a Navy SEAL, this is all you should ask for, since it makes the exercise of your duties easier and grants you a wider variety of possible scenarios and missions.”
Steve ground his teeth. Not only had he failed in keeping Danny safe. His biggest fear had become reality and Danny now was an official registered guide with the US Navy, meaning they could demand and expect Danny to put his abilities into service. At any time, for any situation. Now, he made it even worse for him by being his bonded partner, meaning Danny had to accompany Steve to the really dangerous missions Commander Banks had so skillfully paraphrased. They hadn't even asked beforehand. They just made the decision excluding them.
"Can I have a word with my guide, Commander Banks?", Steve asked. He just needed to talk with Danny alone, telling him that he didn't want this to happen, not like this anyway.
Commander Banks regarded him with a long look. “I'm afraid, Commander, we are on a tight schedule here. You two can talk after the ceremony. Commander McGarrett, do I have your word that you will succeed as ordered?"
Steve quickly looked at Danny, who himself gave Commander Banks a hard look. This was happening too fast and he had absolutely no idea, how he could convince Commander Banks that he was doing a major mistake here. Besides, he still felt somehow thrown out of the loop by the obvious urge to officially bond them that Commander Banks displayed.
Let’s do it, babe. We can discuss this later, when Mr. Steel-Eyes isn’t trying to murder me with his glare. Steve could feel the resentment rolling off in waves from Danny and he wanted to argue, but Danny nudged him already in the direction of Officer Delano and her entourage, who held out some fresh clothes for them.
This isn’t fair for you. You didn’t even get a say in it!
Danny gave him a quick glance. Well, I’m certainly not fond of the circumstances, but I guess getting bonded to you is something I don’t really mind. I mean, you are a crazy person, running around thinking you are superman, when in fact you have been this close to a zone more than once, and still you refused to call me as back-up. I mean, well, I thought, that we ... we are good together ... that there was something after you ... well, never mind ...
The rambling snapped off mid-sentence and a sudden rush of nervousness and anticipation paired with the odd sensation of the memory of being kissed by himself hit Steve and he turned around to Danny. That hadn’t been his emotions. Danny had been projecting unconsciously his uncertainty onto Steve. He had been hurt that Steve hadn't called for him as soon as he was getting worse and worse, as though Steve didn't want him back. As though Steve wouldn't want to bond with Danny. That was so ridiculous, he almost laughed out loud. As if there was a universe where he would not be so fucking proud that someone like Danny was his mate! Oh how he wished they were alone, somewhere private and safe, not on an actual carrier with his superior and a hawk-like Navy Guild Officer watching their every move.
Fuck, Danny, yes! Yes, I want that bond with you! More than you think! But I wish it wasn’t here, on this carrier, meaning you are part of the navy as well and far away from your home and family!
The heat, the want, the affection that hit him after those words nearly made him stagger. Danny tried to keep a straight face, but a blush crept over his cheeks and well behind his hairline and Steve just wanted to kiss him senseless. Instead, they both grabbed the clothes they were given by the confused looking Navy Guild Officers and Danny vanished into the bathroom while Steve locked himself in the toilet. He took his time to wash at least his face thoroughly. Sweat and blood still clung to his skin and he felt pretty disgusting. It was a small wonder Danny hadn't outright smacked him away as he had launched onto him. Steve still felt shaky, but the thought that Danny was here, with him, getting bonded set something hot and heavy in his stomach. He quickly wrestled the sentinel-friendly uniform into submission and onto his body, so he could flee the small room, already missing Danny’s closeness. When he emerged, he was greeted with the probably saddest arrangement for a bonding ceremony he had ever seen. Even his bonding ceremony with Freddie years ago had been livelier. Mostly because it hadn’t taken place in a clinical looking room of the Navy Guild, but in an assembly hall. There had been their families and friends to celebrate with them after the official and somewhat stiff military act. This was just Commander Banks, looking impatient next to Navy Guild Officer Delano, who looked as though she had bitten into a lemon. The other two Navy Guild Officers (Steve felt steady enough to dial his sight up to read the nametags of Wong and Herrera) thankfully kept themselves in the background. There was absolutely no festive set-up, no smiling faces, no candles, no flowers. God, Steve had hated the flowers the first time, they had been too bright and made him feel awkward. But now he would love to have some green, in fact anything, to give this whole ceremony something alive and vibrant, so he wouldn’t feel like they would perform open heart surgery on him. Without the narcotics.
As soon as Danny came out of the bathroom as well, Officer Delano cleared her throat and stepped up. Steve ignored her, because despite everything that had happened, Steve couldn't ignore how dashing Danny looked in his uniform.
Eyes up front, babe, Danny smirked.
Steve turned obediently back to a sour looking Officer Delano. He still had no idea, what had bitten her, but it had probably something to do with them not following the Sentinel-Guide-rules she represented.
“We have gathered today to witness the rightful union of two extraordinary parties: Sentinel Steven John McGarrett, born on June 16 1977 in Honolulu, Hawaii, assigned Lieutenant Commander of the US Navy and leader of SEAL Team 6; and Guide Daniel Edward Williams, born on April 26 1977 in Newark, New Jersey, former Detective of the Newark Police Department and assigned Supportive Member of the US Navy,” Officer Delano rattled off, as though she was afraid that Danny might slip from her grip again. She turned to Steve. “Do you, Sentinel Steven McGarrett, take this guide, Daniel Williams, as your officially bonded partner, willing to turn to him in distress and to let him guide you and your senses throughout your life?”
“I – yes.” Steve tried to cover up his confusion. Wasn’t he supposed to speak a vow to Danny personally? At least that was the way he thought bonding ceremonies were held. The ceremony was a symbolized act of imprinting with all his senses on Danny and the vows were supposed to be the second part for hearing. He kind of understood that the seeing each other on their bonding day after spending at least a night apart wasn’t in the books for them due to the lack of time. But he at least expected this to be something solid and respectful, not a rushed affair under the pledge of secrecy.
“Do you, Guide Daniel Williams, take this sentinel, Steven McGarrett, as your officially bonded partner, willing to assist him at any times and in any situation, guiding him and his senses with the upmost care and ensuring his wellbeing throughout your life?”
“I do.” Danny’s voice was stable, but Steve could feel the pissed-off-feeling coming in waves from Danny. Not at him, but at Delano.
She clapped her hands and smiled forcefully. “Beautiful. Now, Officer Herrera, the patches please!”
Steve was more and more irritated by the whole ceremony. How the fuck should they imprint on each other like this? They should actually be touching each other at this point and not – oh, for the love of. Officer Herrera presented Steve with the patches that would go on Danny’s uniform: the embroidered golden rectangle with a five-pointed star inside; the symbol for a guide bonded to a sentinel with five enhanced senses; and the black-and-white patch that read US Navy, Supporting Member as well as the patch for SEAL Team 6. He wanted to vomit. Seeing what he had done to Danny in plain sight … that just wasn’t right. Danny was warm under his fingers as he put his life’s fate onto Danny’s uniform and he wanted to hug him and tell him again and again that he was so sorry this had happened to him.
Danny’s own hands on him were gentle as they put on the single new patch to his uniform: the golden five-pointed star overlapping a rectangle; a bonded sentinel. He dared to quickly look up into Danny’s eyes and couldn’t find it in himself to look away again. Danny’s eyes were warm and smiling and he felt like he didn’t deserve any of this. But Danny was still there, pushing his love over their newly formed bond and Steve couldn’t resist the urge. Even if this ceremony was a clinical affair, he wanted Danny to know that he felt the same love and respect to his guide. He pulled him close and cradled his head in his hands – and hissed as something heavily scented hit his nostrils and burned in his eyes.
“What the fuck are you doing?”, yelled Danny while Steve still tried to dial his senses down.
“Burning scented herbs as it’s tradition during a bonding ceremony”, came the reply, probably from one of the new Guild Officers.
“That’s not herbs, that’s a fucking incense stick!”
“Mr. Williams –“, barked Commander Banks.
“It’s ok, I’m fine, just got me by surprise,” interfered Steve, before they would tear each other to pieces. Danny snorted.
“OK, let’s just finish this already,” murmured Commander Banks and Steve wanted desperately to shake some sense into him. “What’s next?”
“The cup of saltwater.” Officer Delano stepped forward again, holding a simple cup, while one of her assistant officers hurried away with the smoldering incense stick, leaving a trail of overly sweet vanilla. “Please, Mr. Williams, would you start?”
Danny grumbled, but took the cup from her. He grimaced as he drank a sip of the saltwater, before giving it to Steve, who couldn’t help the shiver that ran down his spine at the touch. He still couldn’t take his eyes off Danny’s. This was the most important part of the whole ceremony, the cleansing drink of saltwater before the final bond mark was given. Steve had both feared and anticipated that moment. It would be the last step that bound Danny ultimately to him. Irrevocably.
He swallowed the nauseating water and slowly reached for Danny’s hand. Danny looked back at him with such openness, filling their psychic connection with everything Steve never dared to receive from anyone, the least from a guide. It was like a big bubble of every warm and good feeling Steve knew of and some he didn’t.
“Congratulations, Lieutenant Commander McGarrett, for your successful bonding with Mr. Williams. Would you please follow me into my office? We have an urgent mission for your team.” Commander Banks clapped him on his back and turned around to go.
Steve stared at his back, still holding Danny’s hand like an utter fool. A mission briefing? Now?! “Sir?” The drink of the saltwater was only a part of the last ceremonial step of fulfilling a bond. Only the bonding bite would seal it ultimately.
“I can’t say I didn’t yearn for you to finally find a compatible guide again, McGarrett. You are my best man and with you bonded and grounded, you are able to push the limits of what’s possible. I think I speak for the whole Navy when I say, we are glad this bond had happened today.” Commander Banks held the door open for him. “It might turn out as the career jump you needed to become Commander and one day maybe even Captain. Let’s go!”, he grinned as though he just did Steve a huge favor.
Steve stood stock-still, while he tried to hide the trembling of his hands. “What about the bite, sir?” It took all his willpower not to spit the words at Commander Banks.
“You can make up for it. I’m sure there will be an opportunity soon,” interfered Officer Delano and Steve snapped his head around to stare at her as well. How did she even dare to speak in that matter? “You should go now with Commander Banks, Sentinel McGarrett.” She smiled politely and Steve wanted to rip her head off. How dared they to hold him off his guide? To stand between him and Danny in such a way –
“Go, babe.” Danny’s hands were gentle, when they pushed at Steve, as well as his voice. Steve looked down at his guide and felt his heart break at the determined expression in Danny’s eyes. He would stay at Steve’s side no matter what. All Steve would do was leading him to terror, grief and death.
In a matter of seconds, it suddenly hit him.
“Yes, I’m coming.” You trust me, Danno?
Course I do. Stupid question, you goof.
Then trust me to get you out of this.
Danny furrowed his brows as Steve pulled away. What does that mean, Steven? Hey, what do you think you’re doing? If this is some bullshit, I won’t have any of it –
Just trust me, Danno. You are my guide now, I won’t let anything happen to you. With these last words, he pulled up a barricade between him and Danny. It almost hurt him physically to shut his guide out, even more when Danny shot him a pained look. But he had to make this right, if he wanted to pull this off properly. Danny would understand in the end.