The first one was an impulse. He was barely eighteen and mostly on his own and six weeks from sailing away from everything he'd ever known. He'd seen his mother's funeral, but not his high school graduation. His little sister was a faded photograph in his memory, creases where all her annoying habits used to be, laughter softened by distance and time. And his father's voice was always there, deep and rough in the back of his mind, guiding.
It's faded now by years of sun and saltwater. Nothing can really stand up to treatment as rough as the life of Steve McGarrett requires. It started out vibrant, a splash of green down his shoulder, delicate and detailed vines that curved and tangled. He'd been alone when he'd gotten it done, late at night because he couldn't sleep with everything that loomed in front of and behind him.
On his bicep her eyes were covered, because he didn't want his to be.
His arm ached when it was over, felt heavier than it ever had, a throb that he couldn't do anything but breathe through. It was like running too hard or swimming too long, a kind of ache that went deep, made him feel alive and reckless and victorious. He paused whenever he pulled his shirt on or off for a week, the splash of color in his peripheral a brand new rude awakening every time. He studied, and trained, and slept through the night, his eyes on the horizon waiting for him.
The second was years later, when he was still too young to be making decisions that lasted forever. He was unsteady on dry land the way he never was at sea, like his legs weren't meant for something solid anymore. He had two fractured ribs, and a head that was swimming any time he wasn't. He was in a country that spoke a language he didn't, fast and bright and loud the way things couldn't be where he'd been and where he was going.
Steve had a bar fight whim and the surety that he would lose. It was a swell of anger, his tongue thick with frustration and his steps unstable. He wanted to do something he couldn't take back. He stumbled when he walked in the door. He picked something with a borrowed legend, something with myth and meaning that was told to him in a slow, steady tone over the buzz and sting of the needles. He didn't need to know the words to get the meaning, though, and something settled as the story did, warm and bright like the colors that were being pushed under his skin. Like a volcano being brought to a boil, like the flowers his mother wore in her hair once, like a place he wasn't sure he'd ever see again.
The hurt from that one settled deeper. He carried it further, across cities and countries and deep into jungles. He moved, and moved, and moved, and it stayed the same.
There's something about going back again that stings worse than anything else ever could. Something that pulled every mistake into the sunshine, threw them on a map just to highlight all the wrong roads that'd been taken. Steve had spent a long time thinking that the Navy was the first choice he ever made for himself, only to realize it was never a choice at all. He followed footsteps, and every pattern, every road took him through there.
Only a fraction of them ended up in a place like home.
The third was stupidly, carefully planned. It wasn't that he grew out of rash behavior, just that he let it take over, push out on all sides until action came before thought. Thought was harder, let too many doubts in, got too many people hurt.
He was tired of people getting hurt. He was tired of the weight on his shoulders and not looking around because he was too busy looking ahead. He had the other two, a little more dull, the edges pulled away from sharpness by wear and time, and he was done. He was done having to carry everything with him.
Danny turned a little green when the needles came out of the package, his fingers wrapped around a mostly empty coffee cup, wearing a t-shirt with a collar that'd been stretched down. Steve wanted to laugh, wanted to offer to hold his hand, but the table was cold and Danny was looking at him like he could have half an idea what this even was.
He had epics hanging off his shoulders. He had memories and meanings and lessons learned. And Danny curled warm fingers around his wrist when the buzzing started, as lines were drawn over a scattering of scars at his hip. There wasn't a lot of flourish, not too much style, nothing but black building, and building, and making something real. Giving him something indelible, a reminder he would always have, just in case.
"Aw, babe," Danny said, soft, like he was witnessing something completely unexpected, like he was awed.
Steve smiled, letting go, breathing out. "Yeah," he said. The air conditioner hummed in agreement, blew over his wrist behind Danny's thumb. Steve set down an anchor in every way he knew how.