It was amazing that Grace's small frame didn't stop her from taking up the better half of the queen-sized hotel bed. Danny studied her for a long minute; her hair was still damp and in disarray around her head, the strands appearing dark against the white linen of the pillow. A light flush on her cheeks and nose hinted that Danny would have to buy sunscreen with a higher protection filter.
Careful not to disturb her sleep, he tugged the thin blanket up to cover her shoulders. It wasn't cold in the room and by now, Danny was well aware that the temperature didn't drop much during Hawaiian nights, had cursed the humid warmth more than once, but certain reflexes he'd honed for years in New Jersey showed a startling resistance to reality.
He made a detour to grab a beer from the minibar before he opened the glass door and stepped out onto the balcony. A warm evening breeze prompted condensation to pearl on the glass bottle and soak the label. He slid the nail of his thumb under one corner and started to peel the label off.
His cell phone was lying on the desk inside. Its new background picture showed Grace, laughing with a pair of dolphins just visible behind her, and Danny thought about calling Steve. Instead, he uncapped his beer with the aid of the balcony railing and watched the lights of the city sparkle below.
Catherine was beautiful. Danny had expected that part. What he hadn't expected was that she and Steve acted like good, old friends rather than lovers.
“Never heard of friends with benefits?” One corner of Steve's mouth lifted, but his gaze was trained on the horizon and the sinking sun. His eyes narrowed when he took a slow sip of wine, the glass oddly delicate in his hand.
“Well, yeah.” Danny looked away. “Never been my style, though. Guess I wasn't made for casual.”
“True. You don't have even a trace of casual in your bones.” Steve sounded as if he was laughing at a private joke. He swirled the wine in the glass. “Anyway, it's... It works, for Cathy and me. She's in love with another guy anyway, but the idiot's too blind to see.”
When Danny glanced over, Steve's eyes reflected the sunset, showing the swirling colors of the sky. His face was awash in golden light. Danny couldn't read him at all.
He cleared his throat to say something, anything that would break the heavy silence that loomed between them, but Catherine chose that moment to return from the bathroom. In passing, she ran her fingertips over the back of Steve's neck.
Danny looked away. The wine tasted stale.
It was half past five in the morning, and Danny hadn't slept in almost two days. When he came home to find his apartment flooded, he turned on his heels, got back into his car and drove to Steve's house.
He'd been given a spare key weeks ago, to check on the mail while Steve had flown out for a few days to attend some Navy reunion event, or whatever people in the Navy called two days of fond reminiscing and heavy drinking. Either way, the topic of Danny returning the key had never quite come up, and while Danny crashing on Steve's couch probably wasn't what Steve had had in mind, it was late or early or something in between, and all Danny wanted were a few hours of peace and a horizontal surface that wasn't too uncomfortable
Steve's couch felt like a slice of heaven.
He woke up to the smell of coffee. The doors to the terrace were open, permitting sunlight to flood the room, and Danny could hear someone move around in the kitchen. Moments later, Steve entered with two cups of coffee and no shirt, and it was the second rather than the first fact which made Danny swallow compulsively.
Sitting up, he pushed a hand through his tangled hair before he accepted one of the cups. “Thank you. And, um.” He squinted at Steve's sun-framed silhouette with an apologetic frown. “Sorry about the late-night intrusion. My apartment now comes with a waterbed.”
Steve sat down on the free end of the couch, pulling one leg up as he leaned sideways against the armrest. His bare stomach rippled. “I could say it's a shame about the apartment and the bed, but really, it isn't. About either.”
Unfortunately, Steve had a point.
“Thanks for the sympathy,” Danny said dryly. “If we hadn't spent the last two days together, I'd have suspected you of sabotage. But I think – I think, mind you, because I can never be quite sure with you – that a gang war involving machine guns is enough to keep even you busy.”
A tiny grin hid in the corners of Steve's eyes. He shrugged and inhaled the scent of coffee, ridiculously long lashes shading his eyes. “You know I have a guest room, right?”
“Is that an offer?” Danny hoped he didn't sound too grateful. “Because really, I could use a place to stay while my apartment gets fixed.”
Steve snorted softly. “You could use a place to stay that isn't your apartment, full stop.”
“Is that an offer?” Danny repeated. His head felt a little light.
“As I said,” Steve's gaze met his for just a second, “I have a guest room. I don't really need it. And Grace would probably prefer direct access to the beach over direct access to a dirty sandbox that cats use as a toilet.”
“I...” Danny cleared his throat and tried again. “Thank you.”
Steve's smile curved around the rim of his cup as he took another sip. Then he rose from the couch. “You want sugar?” he asked over his shoulder. “It's a new brand of beans that I tried, but they're slightly more bitter than the ones I had before.”
“I'm fine,” Danny said, taking in the long, smooth expanse of Steve's back. He was more than fine, in fact. He should say so, should tell Steve how much he truly appreciated the offer even if they'd have to discuss rent and all that, but the only thing he could think of was, “And that coffee is perfectly alright, if you ask me. Not everyone drinks theirs with enough sugar to keep a spoon upright.”
Steve glanced back, still smiling. “You're welcome, Danno.”
It was mildly worrying how quickly they settled into a routine. The guest room – which turned out to be Steve's childhood room – went through two days of redecoration, of throwing out old posters and magazines and filling the cleared space up with the few items Danny considered worth keeping. Steve's bed was old, but solid and comfortable, and in an unguarded moment after the first official night in Steve's house, Danny might have admitted that it had been the best sleep he'd had since moving to Hawaii.
Steve's smug grin didn't fade for the rest of the day.
In turn, Danny discovered that Steve couldn't cook to save his life. Well, actually, the Navy had probably taught him how to eat wild boar raw and how to make freshly slain grizzly bears edible, but normal, everyday cooking? Even spaghetti meant stretching Steve's skills almost past endurance.
“I can't believe how much of a loser you are in the kitchen,” Danny told him. “If it's not something you can slap on the barbeque, you'll order takeout. It's nice. Makes you seem almost human.”
“Why do you think I asked you to move in?” Just returned from his customary morning swim, Steve was wearing nothing but his trunks, an unused towel slung over one shoulder. That was another thing about living with Steve; his reluctance to wear clothes around the house should have come with an advance warning, even more so when coupled with his unwillingness to actually dry himself off after a shower or a swim. Steve wandered around the house wet and wearing just enough to keep Danny wondering, and it was a very delicate kind of torture.
Not that Danny would ever tell him, of course. He wasn't crazy.
He wasn't crazy, but he also wasn't blind, so he'd noticed an issue of Playgirl mixed in with the stack of magazines they'd carried out of Steve's old room. Maybe it had belonged to Mary. Or maybe it hadn't. It was another thought Danny probably wouldn't be brave enough to voice out loud.
“What's this?” Steve interrupted Danny's musings. Danny inspected the state of their scrambled eggs before he turned to find Steve bent over the table, studying Grace's most recent artwork.
“Just a little something I made for you,” Danny said sweetly.
“Oh, really?” Eyes bright, Steve looked up from the drawing. “I'm flattered, Danno. Really, you shouldn't have.” His body was long and lean, arms braced on the tabletop, and Danny's mouth watered. He wanted to lick ocean salt from Steve's shoulder, wanted to drape himself over Steve's back and push Steve's legs apart until their bodies were flush together. At this point, he wasn't sure Steve would object.
Still, he would be risking the best thing that had happened to him since moving to Hawaii.
Danny went back to stirring the eggs with more dedication than the simple task required so that he wouldn't have to maintain eye contact, wouldn't give himself away, and, just, was Steve flirting with him? Was Danny misreading the situation? He'd never been very good at flirting while Steve clearly was; Danny had observed his technique a number of times and it all seemed to come easily to Steve, effortlessly. Then again, Steve's looks meant he never actually had to work for it.
“So, where are we going to put the picture?” Steve asked, once again interrupting the silent ramblings of Danny's mind.
“You want to put it up? Really?” Danny turned around. “I mean, you don't mind? It's not—Parents tend to appreciate their kids' creations a lot more than other people, I know that.”
“Hey, Grace drew our beach. And me surfing with her, while you're getting a sunburn on the terrace.” Steve's tone was genuinely pleased. He straightened, holding up the drawing. “You don't think I'm gonna let you hide it away somewhere, do you? It's clearly for both of us, and I object to being robbed of what's mine.”
“I think it's mostly another attempt to woo me into those surfing lessons,” Danny said helplessly.
Steve beamed. “She's a smart kid.”
“You sound like a proud dad.” Danny took the eggs off the stove and set them down on the table before daring to glance at Steve once more. “Also, if you smirk like that, it makes you look like a chipmunk. It's not a particularly attractive look, just in case you were wondering.”
“You love it,” Steve told him.
Problem was, Danny did. After all, how could he resist when Steve took great care in pinning Grace's picture to the fridge and then examined it from several angles to make sure that it wasn't hanging crooked? There was no way in hell Danny could watch that and ignore just how much in love he was.
New Jersey was grayer than Danny remembered.
After only two days, he started missing the clear blue of a sky that arched over the ocean instead of being caged in by towering houses. The numerous neon signs attempting to draw customers in were the main sources of color, and the few trees that hadn't fallen prey to the road net's tentacles were usually encased by concrete. People dressed in black and gray and white.
“You hate it here,” Jason told him on the morning of the third day, while they waited for breakfast in a cafe they'd frequented since high school. It was rare that Jason became truly serious, but his voice had now taken on a quality Danny hadn't heard often. The last time was when Jason had driven him to the airport and helped him drag three suitcases to the baggage drop-off.
“I don't hate it here,” Danny began carefully. “I just—”
“Miss home,” Jason completed his sentence. “Or,” he leaned both elbows on the table, smiling slightly, “maybe there's a person you're missing. That Commander of yours, for instance.”
“Maybe,” Danny admitted.
Later, back at his hotel, he switched his freshly recharged phone on to find that he'd received four short messages; one from Grace and three from Steve. He hoped there wasn't an emergency even while he wondered whether that would give him a reason to fly back early.
He opened Grace's message first, read 'London has lots of people, and I think I like baseball better than soccer. Love you, Danno!' The spotless spelling suggested Grace had dictated rather than actually typed it, and it was a sign of how far Danny had come that he wasn't bothered by the thought of Rachel writing Love you on Grace's behalf. It was a sign of how far they'd both come that Rachel had written it.
The three messages from Steve had arrived within one hour. 'Bought any new ties?' the first one asked, continued in the second message with 'If you get new ties, I want a new gun, but don't let airport security confiscate it.' The third said, 'Chin and Kono are fighting, I don't know what it's about. Ben Bass, maybe. Sometimes, those two make me wonder.'
'Are you drunk?' Danny asked.
'No, but we're out of milk,' came the almost immediate response.
'You know how to buy groceries, don't you?'
'It's no fun alone.' Another message from Steve arrived only seconds later. 'When's your flight home, anyway?'
'It's only been three days.'
'Accurate. So when's your flight home?'
Danny read the entire thread of messages four times before he finally had a reply. 'First flight tomorrow.'
He jumped when his phone vibrated in his hand. 'I'll meet you at the airport.'
Stepping outside to inhale cold air mixed with exhaust fumes, Danny slouched down to rest his forehead against the railing. It was difficult to type in this position. 'You relize im stupidly in love wit you, right'
He hit delete instead of adding the question mark.
Steve must have abused his badge so he wouldn't have to wait in the arrival hall like everyone else; he was standing at the baggage belt, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, gaze flicking back and forth between screens and arriving passengers. For a long, still moment, Danny simply looked while his pulse stuttered in his ears.
Fuck, he'd missed it. Missed the heat and brightness of Hawaiian days, missed the ocean and Steve's house and Steve and Steve's tough exterior and big, generous heart. Yeah, Danny was fucked.
When Steve finally spotted him, the barely restrained impatience in his stance melted away. He moved forward, pushing through current of people wanting to claim their bags, and Danny met him halfway.
“Hi,” Steve said. His hands were shoved awkwardly into his pockets and his smile was nervous. The sickly light from overhead paled his skin.
Danny kissed him.
The angle was bad because Danny had to rise up on his tiptoes and pull Steve's head down, lips skidding over Steve's cheek before finding his mouth. Steve didn't resist, but he also didn't react, remained frozen until Danny was getting ready to retreat and apologize, to blame fatigue for a momentary loss of judgment in the hopes that Steve wouldn't see right through him. He turned his head, exhaled against Steve's jaw and started, “I'm—”
“Really slow on the uptake,” Steve cut him off, and then Steve's fingers were digging into his waist and Steve's mouth was back on his, and maybe Danny didn't need to apologize, after all. He parted his legs when Steve slid a thigh in between, tried his best to twist closer when Steve lifted his shirt to slide a warm hand underneath.
“You could have said something,” Danny managed eventually. His face was burning, heart beating high in his throat.
“Sorry.” Steve's grin split his face in two. “Guess I was too busy sneaking past all those defense posts of yours without triggering any alarms.”
“Are you comparing me to a minefield?” Danny drew in a slow, measured breath and noticed that most of the other passengers had already left.
“You're disaster waiting to happen.” Steve sounded deeply fond.
“Good thing you were built for disaster, then,” Danny muttered, but with his cheeks too hot and his hands wrapped around Steve's biceps, it lacked in heat. He glanced over just long enough to spot his suitcase, all alone as it rode circles on the baggage belt. “Let's go home before we get fined for public indecency.”
Steve's grin brightened, if possible. “Worth it.”
“I'm not convinced the Governor will agree. Also,” Danny forced himself to step back, even though his hands were reluctant to part with Steve's skin. “There's a bed at home.”
“Good point,” Steve said. “Very good point.” Two long strides, then he grabbed Danny's suitcase and gave him a narrow-eyed look. “What, are you waiting for an engraved invitation?”
“You,” Danny fell into step, “are incredibly bad at waiting. I'm afraid I'll have to teach you.” A pause while he focused on getting his pulse under control. “Maybe if we start in the bedroom, you'll eventually wait for backup at a crime scene. Pavlov is said to work miracles.”
“Maybe,” Steve agreed cheerfully. He nodded at the officers who'd probably let him in earlier, and they nodded back with rather limited enthusiasm. It made Danny suppress a laugh, and there had been a time when he'd be embarrassed rather than amused in this kind of situation, but it seemed that Steve's crazy was contagious.
“It's good to be home,” Danny told no one in particular. He turned his face into the sun and pretended it was an accident when his fingers tangled with Steve's.