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All my heart I will lay down precisely at your feet

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At least it's not raining, Steve thinks moodily as he stares through the infrared binoculars, which bypass the walls of the neo-classical building like they're not even there. The night has long ticked over into single digits, and body core temperature is easy to read, as if the people inside are standing right in front of him.

Steve reads twelve people alive and one very alive -- whoever they are, they have a fever that's spiked over 99 degrees if he's any judge. They're alone in a room with another person outside the door, so it's probably one of the hostages locked away somewhere so they don't infect the others. Even as he watches another heat signature approaches the guard, holding something mug-shaped and hot. Tea, probably. The guard hesitates, but lets the person inside the room.

Infrared readings won't show colours or features, but blond hair flashes through Steve's mind all the same -- he's pretty sure who the good Samaritan is. He's been flitting up and down the floor all day, stopping to chat with a few select people -- Steve would bet his gun that they're all the employees they've been sent to extract. He could kiss the man, if he didn't think he would get smacked in the face for it. All day long, the man's arms have not stood still. He's one of those people who obviously talk with their hands, the loudmouthed New Yorkers, or Jerseyites.

He's been invaluable for the recon -- they have marked all the targets and possible hostages as well as their locations. A few more hours and his team will be moving in, just as the first glints of dawn lick the edges of the sky. Steve wishes there were some way to warn those people, because he's pretty sure they're going to freak the fuck out as soon as the strike starts, but it's too much of a risk in case some nervous civ gives them away. They'll just have to grin and bear it.

"Moss," Steve says soundlessly into his throat mike. "Status."

"All set, Commander," Moss comes back to him just as quietly. "Awaiting your mark."

"Stand by, wait for the appointed time. Contact Central, confirm extraction procedures."

"Copy that."

Steve lifts the binoculars again, and it's as if they're drawn by a magnet -- they zoom in straight on that corner room on the third floor. The two figures are at the bed now, one lying down and one sitting on the edge. Looks like he's running a hand down the other's arm in comfort. Steve immediately shuts down the tiny nudge in his gut that really doesn't like the idea of the guy getting so close to other people. It's utterly irrational, and he's not even going to entertain the thought.

"Moss to Six, Moss to Six. Extraction procedure confirmed. TOD 0630. Distance to target 1.6 miles South-West, GPS coordinates transmitted to everyone's receiver."

"Copy that, Moss" comes from a few mouths -- the seven other members of Team Six are all situated around the perimeter, with only Moss in central position.

Steve grits his teeth and settles down for the duration.

Sometime later he watches what he's quite certain is one Daniel Williams come out of the sick person's room and shuffle slowly down the corridor. According to his file, Williams is 34 years old, divorced ex-cop, runs security for the Embassy where his ex-wife and her husband, the Ambassador, have been stationed for the past year and a half. Steve thinks--no, he knows there's a story there -- and he has an inkling that it has something to do with the tiny little figure Williams makes a beeline for. Grace Williams, nine years of age, long blonde hair only a couple shades darker than her father's; precocious kid, going by her file.

Steve is dreading breaking in there and scaring her out of her mind, but hopefully her dad will make sure she's settled. Steve suspects Williams will be of some help to them -- once a cop, always a cop, and according to his old Captain up in Newark, Williams was the pride of the department before choosing to follow his daughter rather than his career. The whole precinct was very sorry to see him go, the file said. Steve can't help but find Williams' choices something to be admired.

The figures he's sure are Williams and his daughter curl up in a small armchair, by the two other figures nestled on the nearby settee, which Steve assumes are Mr and Mrs Edwards -- Grace's mother and stepfather. According to their files the divorce had been bitter, but all three parents have been attending therapy in order to get along for Grace's sake. Mrs Edwards' file reports excellent progress, even if Williams' file notes several visits to an anger management therapist a year ago. These files tell a strange little story of a strange little family; sometimes, in his weaker moments just before he tries to catch an hour or two's sleep, Steve wonders what it would be like to be a part of that family, the lives of everyone involved centred on one sweet little girl's happiness. He thinks he might like it.

---

0535 finds them on the move, circling the house in complete silence. Steve has his night vision goggles firmly on, but he's keeping one eye closed behind the lens just in case the goons inside have somehow sensed them, against all odds, and have a surprise waiting for them. Which is pretty fortunate, because when the flash of light comes from the upstairs window, Steve whips his goggles off and is able to see the dark figure outlined against the window frame straight away, while his team are scrambling from that extra second of confusion that can so often prove fatal.

He raises his gun, finger curling around the trigger, when a glint of gold behind the figure peering out into the night stops him in his tracks. Just as the goon opens his mouth to yell out an alarm and raises his gun to shoot, there's a flash of movement behind him and the man folds to the floor with an almost inaudible sigh, unconscious. Williams' sturdy shoulders are tense where he lowers the chair he's used as a weapon; he looks outside, cautiously, and stills when he sees the spread of figures clad in charcoal grey approaching the house. His eyes flit over all of them, and he nods once, pulls the window to and retreats into the room. Steve can almost see him warn the others and herd them into a safe corner.

"Keep moving," he whispers into his mike and retakes the lead, slipping swiftly and efficiently through the side door that Barn Owl has just unlocked and held open, crouching behind it and checking their backs.

They pour into the house like the wrath of god, deathly silent, fanning out immediately to cover the downstairs floor. Steve hears a faint thump and an immediate "One down" is his ear just as he swings towards the back stairs. There's two of his men at his back when he starts climbing, cringing in dread as his careful feet hit a squeaky step that he quickly jumps over. His men follow his every movement, and in seconds he's watching the upper floor over the scope on his gun. He sends his men down the other end while he heads for the room that holds the hostages.

The doorknob on his left starts turning just as he makes to walk past, and he swings to plaster his back to the wall by the door, ready to take out whoever it is with the minimum of fuss. He only sees the dirty army coveralls for a second before he's got him into a headlock, pressing on his windpipe so he can't call out. The man is out like a light, and Steve lowers him carefully to the floor before peeking inside the room, only to find it deserted. He drags the body inside, secures him with a few zipties and tapes his mouth shut before resuming his search.

The way to the last room down the hall is clear, and he turns the handle slowly, plenty of time to warn whoever is on the other end, which by now should just be the group of Embassy employees. He pushes the door open but hangs back, which proves to be the right choice as he feels a swoosh of air where his head would have been just a moment later. He jabs the door sharply, catching whoever is behind it from the pained huff of air they release.

"Hey, hey, it's okay," he whispers into the gap between the door and the wall, and then steps inside the room smartly, catching the next blow aimed at his side. He watches recognition dawn in Williams' eyes, and the man lets go of the chair leg he's been wielding like it's a baseball bat and he knows what he's doing with it.

"Mr Williams, I need you to stay calm. Where are the rest of you?"

Williams eyes him warily at the mention of his name, but tips his head to the side to indicate the far corner behind the door. Steve looks to see all the employees peeking over the pile of furniture they're huddled behind.

"Okay. Nice work there. Just stay where you are for a moment, you're as safe as possible behind that. Mr Williams, a word?" Steve indicates the opposite corner. Williams follows eagerly enough, smoothing a hand over his tie (a tie, really? At this time?) in what seems like a nervous gesture.

"I am Lt. Commander Steve McGarrett, with the US Navy SEALs. My team has been dispatched to get you out of this situation and out of the country. Now, what can you tell me about the other kidnappers?"

Williams looks like he wants to ask all sorts of questions, but keeps the words back by sheer power of will, focusing on Steve's questions for the moment. "There are six men, machine guns, AK-47s from what I could see, though I'm sure they have more weapons on them. I took down one of them," he indicates the small closet in the opposite wall where Steve presumes he stashed the guy after incapacitating him. "So that leaves five."

"Four," Steve tells him, before touching his mike. "Be advised, there are four more hostiles armed with AK-47s and other assorted handguns."

"I see one, taking aim--fuck," Steve hears just before a burst of fire cuts off whatever else Manticore had been about to say. Steve stiffens, thinks about running down to lend assistance, but the hostages are his priority, and there are others down there who can help.

"Two more down, two to go," Manticore says in his ear, and Steve relaxes--until another burst of rapid gunfire makes his jaw feel like he's grinding two boulders together. There's a scratch at the door; he about-turns and pushes Williams behind him so fast he has to blink to clear the momentary dizziness. He hears a whimper from behind the makeshift barricade, but he doesn't have the time to reassure them as he takes careful aim at the door.

There are two short scratches and one long on the wood, and he lowers his gun as the door opens to spit out a disheveled Moss clutching his weapon.

"We're ready to move out, Smooth Dog," Moss says; Steve hears a choking sound behind him. He magnanimously decides to ignore it. Not the time, anyway.

"Right," he says, looking over at the scared hostages with narrowed eyes. "Take the civilians and start smuggling them out, get Barn Owl to clear the way. Okay, you lot." He walks over to them, trying to look reassuring and probably failing. "This is Moss, he is one of my men. He and the others will help get you out of the building before the kidnappers have time to call for reinforcements. We don't know how many this particular terrorist cell holds, so it's in everyone's best interests that we aren't here to find out.

"Here's the plan. We are going to split you up into pairs, and my men and I are going to escort you to the private airport a mile and a half away, where a plane is waiting to take you out of the country. Ambassador, you and your wife will go with Moss and Panther, just in case there's a change in plans -- Moss will be the first to know, he's our comms specialist. Miss Kastor and Miss Frost, you'll go with Manticore and Sequoia, Mr Stuart and Mr Connors will go with Sokol and Lizard, and Mr and Miss Williams will come with myself and Barn Owl. Questions?"

Mrs Edwards straightens from behind the sofa, holding a quiet Grace to her side. "Danny?" she says, and Steve notices how every single eye in the room turns to look at Williams, their trust in him unquestionable.

"Yeah," Williams nods, looking up at Steve. "We should listen to him. Commander McGarrett sounds like he knows what he's doing."

Steve notices how everyone relaxes a little at his title, and at Williams' words, and re-adjusts his perception of the man yet again. He's starting to like the guy.

"Grace, though?" Mrs Edwards says again, a worried note in her voice. The Ambassador puts a steadying hand on her shoulder.

"It's all right, Rachel. She'll be with Danny." The two men share a look.

Rachel nods tightly. "Okay." She crouches down to look Grace in the eye, giving her a smile that's only a little forced. "You hear that, sweetheart? You stick to your Daddy's side, and be a good girl for him, okay?"

Grace nods seriously. She doesn't seem too scared, but she looks up at Williams trustingly anyway. "It'll be okay, Danno," she says, like she's trying to reassure him instead of the other way round.

Steve sees Williams' lips press together in distress for the tiniest moment before he crouches down on her other side. "Of course it's going to be okay, Monkey! Danno's got you, you know that, and Commander McGarrett will have Danno's back, and we'll be back with your Mom and StepStan before you know it!"

Rachel grimaces a little at that, but the Ambassador grins down at the three of them fondly. Steve contends himself with a little twitch of his mouth, the only thing betraying his amusement. If this wasn't such a serious situation, he wouldn't be adverse to spending a little more time with these four--not that he has any right to that whatsoever, he reprimands himself. His smile disappears as he locks himself down tighter. What the hell was that about? he wonders vaguely, checking his weapon to distract himself from thinking about the strange, impulsive need that had come out of nowhere and completely blindsided him.

"All targets down, Smooth Dog. We're ready to move out," Sokol's voice comes in his ear, soft and mellow.

"Copy. Coming out with the hostages now, make sure the perimeter's secure," Steve says back, motioning to Moss to precede him out the door.

He rounds up all the employees and sends them out the door in front of him before Williams stops with a grunt of recognition right in front of him. "Mellows!" is all he has to say before Steve grits his teeth, furious with himself for forgetting.

"How badly hurt is he?" he asks, already detouring to the room with the sick employee.

"He got shot when the attackers first came in, through-and-through at the shoulder, glancing off the collarbone. I've cleaned the wound and bandaged him up, but I think there's still a piece of the bullet inside it and it's gotten infected. He's running a high fever, but I think he'll be able to walk if there was someone supporting him."

"Fuck," Steve spits out quietly, mind already re-writing the escape setup. "Change of plans," he says into his mike. "Barn Owl, you, Manticore, and Lizard are pulled off your pairs. You'll be taking Mr Mellows, who is sick, running a fever and possibly delirious. Conjure a makeshift stretcher out of something, we're going to have to tie him down to it and gag him so he doesn't give us away. Sorry," he tells Williams when he sees him open his mouth. "It's the only way to make sure you're all out safely."

Williams looks like he wants to argue, but knows he can't. "I'm not liking this idea where it's just you and me looking after Grace, okay, I would have felt more comfortable with another person there as back-up, but okay, fine, I can cope with that," he says quietly, squeezing his daughter's hand reassuringly. She looks like she's not listening, too tired to pay attention. Steve sees Williams frown worriedly again before smoothing it away.

"Right, let's get going," Steve says, eager to get them away from the house -- he's still cautious about possible reinforcements the hostiles might have called before his team shut them down.

Manticore thunders past him on the staircase, Sequoya and Barn Owl bringing up the rear. They spare him a nod and then they're gone around the corner.

"Perimeter clear," Sokol says in his ear, and they're off.

Steve takes point, pushing Williams firmly behind him again and not responding to the peeved 'will you stop doing that' he hears at his back. Williams can just shut up and take it; he's not getting hurt on Steve's watch.

They leave the house quickly and silently, Williams keeping a death grip on his daughter's shoulder, steering her to walk between his and Steve's bodies as they reach the street. Steve approves, though he doesn't say so. They pass the first half mile quickly, and Steve is starting to relax just a little; the sun is only now coming up, and the streets are quiet and deserted still. He's daring to think they're going to make it there unscathed when three camouflage-clad figures round the corner just ahead of them. Steve has no idea if they're hostile, but he pushes Williams and his daughter quickly down the nearest side street just in case. His unspoken question is answered when he hears a pop and feels a bullet bury itself into his side, thankfully caught by his tac vest. Not too sharp shooters, then -- one of those could have felled him in the time he'd given them, floundering in the open.

"Damn," Williams swears quietly, eyes fixed to Steve's side. Steve sees him breathe out a relieved huff of air when he realises the same thing as him -- the bullet has dug deep into the tac vest, but has gone no further. "We need back-up," Williams says, biting at his lip.

Steve doesn't state the obvious -- there is no back-up; everyone else is in just as dangerous a situation as them. Though maybe not quite as urgent.

He makes a split-second decision, mind flipping through everything he knows about the man at his side in a fraction of an instant. He's about to break about a hundred rules, official and not so much, but there's no contest between going out three-to-one with hostages in the way, and Williams having his back. Choice made, he reaches down to draw his other gun from its ankle holster, leaving himself with only one other and a couple of knives secreted about his person. He checks the gun's loaded and hands it to Williams, butt-first.

"You're the back-up," he says, looking him in the eye.

"I'm the back-up," Williams grumbles to himself, but takes the gun. He checks it for himself, then looks at Steve again. "How do you know you can trust me with that?" he asks curiously.

'I know you,' Steve wants to say -- but he doesn't know him, not really; the gut instinct that tells him he knows everything he needs to know about the man, from the last two and a half days of watching him defy their captors and take care of his co-workers, is not going to hold up in a court of law.

"I've read your file," he says instead. "I know that you're an ex-cop, and your Captain has a lot of favourable things to say about you. Also, I don't have another choice. You'll have to man up if you want us to come out of this alive."

Williams glares at him, and flicks his eyes down to Grace's tired head. Steve wants to smack himself. He crouches down to look at her--and if ever they don't have the time, it's now, but he just can't not--and tips her weary little face up with a forefinger.

"Hey. It'll be okay, kiddo. Your Dad and me, we're going to kick everyone's behinds so bad they'll be running back to their mommies."

Grace nods a little slow, but gives him a shy smile. When he glances back at Williams, he looks somewhat mollified. "Right, let's do this thing," he says, giving Steve a nod.

Steve shocks himself with the thought that, even with his entire team not too far away, there's still no one he'd rather have at his back than this loud, spiky Jersey export. It unnerves him even as it makes him grin.

"I really don't like that grin. Something tells me bad things happen when that grin comes out," Williams muses, eyeing him consideringly.

"Yeah, they do. To other people," Steve says smugly.

"I'm other people, too," Williams bitches.

Steve just looks at him for a moment, the "you're really not" ringing so loudly through his head that it's a moment before he realises he's said it out loud.

Williams looks at him strangely for a second; then a bullet ricochets off the wall behind them and they both duck, tucking Grace underneath them.

"Williams, you take the left, I'll take the centre," Steve murmurs in Williams' ear.

Williams rolls his eyes. "Call me Danny, for f--fudge's sake," he says, only tripping over his own tongue a little. "You are saving my daughter's life, here."

"Danny," Steve grins. He likes the way the name feels in his mouth.

Danny smiles at him crookedly. "Up and at 'em, soldier," he says, just before he nudges him a little with his shoulder, leans out from behind their hiding place and shoots one of the attackers straight through the head. Steve swallows his reply, and follows his lead.

---

Even in the short time Steve has known him, Danny has not given him the impression that he's particularly fond of swearwords (whether that's because of his daughter or not is another matter). So when he drops one 'fuck' after the other under his breath, Steve knows it's a little bit more serious than the graze he's been trying to pass it off as.

"It's just a--"

"If you say 'it's just a scratch, Danny' one more time, I swear to God, I'm going to smack you so hard you'll have another injury to worry about," Danny snaps, but his hands are gentle where they feel the entry and exit wounds through his left upper arm.

He'd barely felt the sting of it when it happened, he'd been so focused on everyone's position and every single bullet's trajectory. It hadn't been his right arm, so he'd just kept returning fire until all three of what must have been the back-up crew for the kidnappers lay dead on the ground.

Danny's only reaction had been a sharp inhale when Steve had forgotten himself and dripped on his shirt, and he'd had the foresight to tell Grace to face the wall and not turn around for a few minutes.

So Steve almost jumps in surprise when a small hand slips in his and squeezes reassuringly. He turns his head around to look at Grace in wonder.

Danny lets out a worried huff of air. "Grace, I thought I told you not to look."

"But I want to help, Daddy," Grace says seriously. She looks at the bullet hole in Steve's arm and barely even blinks. Steve supposes it's a good thing Danny's already cleaned it, and it's a through-and-through at his bicep, so there's not much bleeding. Still, though.

Danny sighs in defeat. "You are the bravest little girl in the world, and I'm so proud you're my daughter, you know that, right?"

Grace nods gravely; the lightening-flash smile that brightens her face next only enhances the impression.

"Okay. Danno's going to tie his tie around Steve's arm, to stop the bleeding completely. Can you press Steve's shirt down here?" He lifts his hands off the bundle of fabric he'd stripped off Steve and directs her small hands to hold it down. Grace leans her entire body into it, smart kid that she is, and Steve swallows his grunt of pain before it can startle her.

"Who even wears ties in this country?" Steve grumbles while Danny's quick fingers tug said piece of clothing undone. Steve loses a little time at the sight, and he doesn't think it's because of the blood loss.

"Shut up about the tie already. Aren't you glad I am wearing one, like a civilised person?" Danny grumbles, slipping it high around Steve's arm and pulling it tight.

"Don't know if 'glad''s the word I'd use," Steve says, just to be contrary. Then he looks at his watch. "Crap! Sorry, Grace. Forget about the damn bandage, there isn't time. We have to move out now if we want to make it."

"Right," Danny says, ties off the knot and shoots to his feet, turning to help Grace up. "Come on, then."

Steve gets up, too -- or tries to. There's a cramp in his side that he hadn't noticed before, not with the two of them poking away at his arm. He presses a palm to the right side of his waist and pulls it away covered in blood. He pokes at the wound, ignoring the stab of pain -- it's right at the lower edge of his vest, which must have ridden up at just the wrong moment. Probably wasn't the best idea to try and shield Danny with his body; but he'd take another five bullets without a noise of complaint before he lets Danny get shot.

He pushes himself off the ground through sheer stubbornness -- he can make it upright, but there's no way he can maintain the fast pace needed to get to the airport in time for 0630. And he's losing even more time, debating this.

"Danny. Grace. You're going to have to go on without me. You've got less than ten minutes to get on that plane before it takes off without you," he grits out. It's not the ideal solution, sending them out without someone to watch their backs, but it's not far and they can make it; they're quick on their feet and Danny knows the area.

Danny's still got his back to him, so Steve knows he hadn't seen him stagger. "What? What the hell do you mean, we have to go without you?" he snarls, turning around and freezing at the sight of blood trailing over Steve's fingers pressed to the wound. He pushes Grace's face into his side instinctively, because she might not have blinked at the shot wound before, but she's just a kid, a scared kid besides, and she doesn't need to see that.

"What about you?" he asks Steve, expression tense.

"I'll be okay," Steve says, despite the fact that the plane is supposed to be his exit point, too. He's got a back-up plan, though, always does, even though everyone calls him paranoid. "I'll only slow you down, Danny. There's no way you'll make it with me lagging behind," he adds quietly.

Danny's got this incredibly stubborn look on his face; Steve keeps talking in the hope it will get them to goddamn move it, or they'll miss their shot.

"There's a military base not far from here, about fifteen miles south out of the city. I can borrow a plane from there and fly it across the border, where they're US-friendly."

"When you say 'borrow'," Danny notes, voice heavy with sarcasm.

"Look, just get going, Danny! There's no time for this! You and Grace have to get to safety!" He lays as much inflection as he dares on Grace's name, hoping to spur Danny on.

It backfires spectacularly.

"If you're suggesting I don't have my daughter's safety and well-being at the forefront of my mind, you can fuck right off, McGarrett," he growls, baring his teeth. "Pardon my French, Grace," he tacks on at the end, much more gently.

"It's okay, Daddy. C-commander McGarrett is being very silly," Grace says primly, voice only muffled a little by Danny's shirt.

Steve's chest feels about three sizes too small when Grace's determined voice stutters on his title. "Call me Steve, Grace."

"You're still being very silly, Steve," Grace insists. Steve tries not to flush.

The connection crackles in his ear a little with the distance. "Moss to Smooth Dog. The hostages and the rest of the team are at the extraction point. What's your status?"

Steve looks pleadingly at father and daughter. "I can get them to wait a couple of minutes. You might make it if you go now."

Danny looks at him, face set in a stubborn mask eerily similar to that of his daughter. "One," he says--states, really. There's no room for debate in his voice. "Grace and I are never going to make that distance in the next five minutes. I may be fast, but I'm no four-mile runner, and in case you've not paid too much attention to my file, I've a bum knee. Two, I am not happy walking these streets without at least one other person there in case, god forbid, something happens to me and I can't protect her. And three." He stops to swallow, then meets Steve's eyes dead-on. "Three, I'm not leaving you here injured, in the middle of a hostile country, without back-up. Okay?"

"I repeat, what's your status?" Moss barks in his ear again.

Steve can't quite believe how FUBAR the situation has become so quickly. It's the very first time he has ever failed to get his target to the extraction point in time. He grits his teeth and comes clean.

"Smooth Dog to Moss. We were attacked by what I believe was the rest of the terrorist cell. The hostiles have been neutralised, but I have sustained shot wounds and will not make it to the rendezvous point in time. Both Williams and his daughter are unharmed, I repeat, they are unharmed, but are refusing to proceed without escort. Switching to plan B. You take off right now, get out of here. We'll follow as soon as we can."

"Copy that, Smooth Dog. I'll relay the order. We'll see you on the other side. Good luck. Moss out."

"Now you've gone and done it," Steve groans. "Your mom is going to kill me," he tells Grace with a terrified look he's only half-faking.

"She won't be very happy," Grace concedes, looking up to her father for confirmation. Danny winces and nods. "But she'll understand once I explain," she says confidently.

"Will she now," Steve murmurs. Danny shrugs and makes a 'maybe' sign. Steve sighs. Being ganged up on by Williamses -- not an experience he could have ever imagined. He feels oddly touched, and absolutely determined that their faith in him isn't misplaced. "Right. We'd best get moving. First prerogative is obtaining a vehicle."

"What's that mean?" Grace asks, wrinkling her nose.

"He means we need to borrow a car," Danny tells her gently, but he makes a face at Steve over her head. Steve smiles at him innocently. Danny rolls his eyes.

There's absolutely no way they can go back to the Embassy to get one of their cars, so Steve has no other choice but to let Danny bandage him properly before they proceed. Danny rummages in the first aid kit Steve had taken out of the small backpack strapped to his back, finds a roll of dark green gun tape Steve assures him will get the job done. He tears the bloodied T-shirt in two, then tears up one of the scraps in half yet again. He fixes the material to the wound and tapes over it while Grace is back to holding his hand -- but she's facing the wall this time, because the second GSW isn't half as pretty as the first.

"That should stop the bleeding, but god help you if you don't get to a hospital in the next twelve hours," Danny says, wincing. "That is definitely going to get infected; those materials are nothing like sterile. You'll need as many antibiotics as they have on stock."

"It'll do until we can make it over the border," Steve says, flexing his arm and getting up carefully. It's a good dressing -- he gives Danny an approving look. Danny just glares back, though it can't hide the concern in his eyes.

"Right. Let's get mobile," Steve decides, heading for the nearby street. Danny and Grace follow.

It's the work of a minute to hotwire a battered Jeep parked not far off. Steve waves father and daughter in when he drives up to the mouth of the alleyway where they're hiding; the two of them hurry over and jump inside. Steve takes off sharply, navigating the streets by the satellite map of the area he'd made himself memorise when they'd set off on this mission. Danny helps, pointing out shortcuts that Steve had thought dead ends; it was obvious Danny had done his homework while living here, too.

Grace falls asleep with her head on Danny's shoulder not long before they leave the city behind and cut a swath right through the surrounding desert, raising plumes of dirt in their wake. Steve sneaks little glances at Danny every now and then, but even though the man looks exhausted and his hair is hanging limp to the sides of his face, his eyes are narrowed against the glare of the sun and he's casing their front and back incessantly. Steve wants to tell him to relax, that he's got him, it'll be okay, but the truth is his side and arm hurt like a motherfucker, since he doesn't trust himself with painkillers in the middle of a mission, and he's pathetically glad for the reassurance Danny's vigilance offers.

The fifteen miles to the base take about half an hour to cover, and even though it's not yet 7am the heat gets more and more oppressive with every minute. They have no drinking water, and very soon that will become a problem, if they don't manage to surprise the soldiers staffing the base and make off with a plane before they get caught. The border is only 80 miles South of where they are, which will take less than an hour to fly, and then they'll be back on American-friendly soil and he can contact his teammates and get his orders.

The thought of leaving Danny and Grace behind makes him unbearably maudlin, so he shuts it down completely. It's not his job to get attached -- it's his job to get them to safety and wait for his next deployment, and that's exactly what he intends to do. Sooner or later this strange infatuation will go away and he'll be able to breathe properly again.

He'd like to say he's looking forward to it, but the thing is, he'd be a liar if he did. There's just something about this cobbled-together little family, the way they've stuck together through thick and thin, the way Danny has followed his baby girl around the world just to be the father she deserves, that makes something unfamiliar inside him tighten, makes him think about his own father for the first time in months; his sister, too. He muses that when they get out of this thing, he might just spend the medical leave he'll be due visiting home.

He doesn't think about what he'd rather be doing with that time -- he's sure it's the height of bad manners thinking those kinds of thoughts with Danny sitting right there, and his daughter sleeping between them, her leg pressed against Steve's hip in the small space of the Jeep's front seat.

The terrain is starting to look less like desert and more like mountain the further they travel. The first proper cover Steve finds, he swerves to a stop behind and turns off the engine.

"The base is about a half mile past these rocks," he tells Danny, indicating the slight haze in the air not far off. "We'll leave the car here and continue on foot. You're going to have to wake her," he adds regretfully, looking down at Grace.

Danny sighs. "She'll get to sleep some more when we get on the plane," he says, and Steve marvels at how confident he sounds that they'll get out of this thing. Then again, he supposes failure is not an option for Danny, not with his daughter's safety on the line. It's not an option for Steve, either.

Danny shakes Grace's shoulder gently, but she just curls further into his side and hides her head under his arm. "Grace, sweetheart, we have to go. Come on, monkey. Just a little while longer."

Grace opens her eyes grumpily, then seems to remember where they are and her expression changes to wariness. She straightens, looks Danny over, then turns to find Steve with her eyes, giving him the same treatment. He smiles back reassuringly.

"Not long now, kiddo. Let's go," he tells Danny, pushing the door open and sliding out with the minimum movement required. Fuck, but he hates getting shot. It always screws up his speed and concentration.

He's surprised when he feels a hand on his arm and a broad shoulder he can brace against until he finds his bearings. He looks down at Danny, who's assessing him worriedly through narrowed eyes.

"I'll be okay," Steve tells him, pulling himself back together. The damn wound is still bleeding sluggishly; he can feel the weight of the makeshift dressing, and he knows he really cannot afford to wait any longer, or he'd lose too much blood to be efficient.

They set off for the base at a brisk walk, Steve pressing his palm firmly into his side to minimise the jolt that each step causes. They make good time, and it's a quarter past seven when they sneak up to the last little hill by the perimeter fence. Danny and Grace lie as motionless as they can while Steve gets the binoculars out of his backpack and trains them on the low building. The base is still quiet -- apparently not much happens here, so the pace is much slower than it would have been over by the border. Steve focuses his sights on the plane hangar, which is completely motionless. There's a small Cessna A152 airplane out by the back wall, unassuming enough that it must be used for ferrying personnel to and from the base -- which meant its tank would be kept full in case of emergencies. Steve knows the model; he's trained on it, so he's reasonably confident that if they manage to get to it without being spotted, he can fly them out of here easily.

"Okay, here's how we're going to do this. I'm going to cut out a hole in the fence right over there," he indicates the spot by the hangar. "Then I'm going to give you the signal, and you're going to get down there as quickly as you can. Your clothes are light enough to provide some camouflage; if you're fast, you'll be relatively safe. Then we're going to 'borrow' that plane right there, the small white one with the wing supports, so as soon as you're through the fence, I want you to run straight for it, as fast as you can. Questions?"

"No," Danny says, giving a small shake of the head and looking to Grace. "You got the plan, monkey?"

"Yes, Daddy," she says, voice small but determined.

"Good. Watch out for my signal," Steve says, and takes off down the hill at a brisk run.

It makes his side feel like it's burning, but he grits his teeth and doesn't slow down, sights firmly set on the perimeter fence. He makes it down within moments, crouches by a clump of weeds and flicks open his wire cutters. Quickly and efficiently, he cuts out a hole the size of a crouching man, enough so he could hold it out of the way for Danny and Grace to crawl under. He secures the cutters back in his pack and turns on the spot to zero in on the small bump on the top of the hill that are his two charges. He fishes the little flashlight out of the front pocket of his pants, flashes twice, short, quick bursts of light. He spots movement, and moments later father and daughter are jogging down the side of the hill towards him.

The front of Danny's striped white shirt and cream pants is covered in fine sand; Grace's light green dress is faring no better. Both their faces are streaked with sweat and dirt, and Danny's is looking a little pink. Steve feels a stab of worry in his chest -- Danny's been under serious amounts of stress in the past few days. He can only hope there's no history of heart disease in the Williams family. The file hadn't been that thorough.

The two don't waste time reaching him; Steve feels the touch of Danny's hand on his shoulder as he's checking the base for movement again. One of the windows facing in their general direction is steamed from the inside, and Steve assumes people are up and about, and getting ready for the day -- they don't have much time left.

He steps aside and ushers Danny through the fence, Grace after him. He's getting ready to shuffle through when Danny wrenches the flap of wire out of his fingers and holds it away, so the twist won't make his wound bleed even more. He glares at Danny; Danny glares right back and makes a hurry-up motion. Steve gets through with minimum fuss, and the three of them make a break for the Cessna.

They get there a bit slower than Steve had anticipated, but they make it unspotted. Steve jimmies the lock and holds the door steady, still stooped over. Danny lifts Grace in, then steps on one of the wheels and yanks himself inside. He turns immediately, reaching down to help Steve up. Steve's more grateful than he can say; he doubts he would have been able to drag himself up, not with the ache in his side growing more and more vicious and his arm burning from the effort of holding the fence back for Danny and Grace, and then fixing it in place again.

Steve settles in the pilot's seat with a relieved grunt, does a quick check in the instruments -- much less thorough than he would have liked, but they just don't have the time, and the plane only has to hold together for the 80 miles to the border. Luckily, the fuel gauge is indeed levelled on full, just like he'd hoped.

He reaches down, withdraws the double-edged knife from his boot and forces the paneling open, exposing the jumble of wires inside.

"Are you sure you know what you're doing?" Danny asks doubtfully, eyeing the criss-crossing plastic.

"Of course. 'How to wire a plane' 101," Steve says flippantly, and instantly feels ashamed at the thinly veiled look of reproach on Danny's face. "It's okay. I trained on the same model in Annapolis."

He whittles the plastic off the ends of a red and yellow wire, touches them together and the plane's engine comes online with a roar. He twists them quickly together to hold the connection and straightens just in time to see the hangar doors across from them burst open, spitting out soldier after soldier, all in desert camouflage, most in various states of undress. He puts the yoke in neutral, adds full power and the plane lurches forward, slowly gathering speed to the background of yells behind it. They blast past the other planes and take a sharp turn onto the short runway. Danny quickly fastens his and Grace's belts as Steve pulls back on the yoke and the plane's nose wheel peels off the uneven surface. Their acceleration raises plumes of dust behind them, leaving the small group of soldiers bent in half, trying to breathe through it. They get fully airborne just in time to fly right over the perimeter fence, and gather speed and altitude. Soon enough they're up in the clouds, and Steve checks the compass altering their course towards the border, eyes spanning the distance for any pursuit -- but of course, the other planes in the base are far heavier than theirs, and require much longer to warm up and be ready for take-off.

Eventually Danny manages to relax, slumping back against his seat and closing his eyes in relief. Grace is already asleep, lulled by the gentle rocking of the cabin and the thrum of the engine in front of them. Steve's eyes linger on her tired face, aware that all too soon she'll be gone from his life forever, like she never turned his thoughts upside down. He makes an executive decision -- as soon as this thing is over, he's going home. He's not seen his family in far too long, if one kid can make him so wistful. At least little Grace would grow up somewhere safe, in the States where occurrences like the one she's just been through are far thinner on the ground.

And then there's Danny, he thinks, throwing him a glance out of the corner of his eye. Danny's eyes are still closed, face gone slack with exhaustion, lips pouting open, like he's waiting to be kissed. It makes something inside Steve ignite with the need to run his fingers over the stubble on Danny's cheeks, to tip his face up and rub their noses together, to touch his lips to Danny's, gently at first, then firmer, until Danny opens for him, lets him in. It's not something he should be thinking about in the middle of a mission, but they're far above the ground, and for the space of the next half hour before they approach the border, it's a safe bubble in which he can take a scant few minutes to relax.

As if prodded by his thoughts, his side chooses that moment to remind him of its less-than-stellar condition. The overexerted, torn muscles cramp, and he barely manages to bite back the whimper trying to crawl out of his mouth at the pain. His body folds in two without consulting him, but he grits his teeth and straightens again, hoping Danny hadn't noticed -- he doesn't want him to worry about Steve not getting them to safety.

Danny shifts, but doesn't rouse. He's probably dozed off; Steve knows for a fact he hasn't slept more than a couple of hours in the past three days. Every body has a crashing point, and Danny's has just reached it, the second they'd gotten to somewhere relatively defended.

Steve settles down to watching the sky once again.

He makes a slight detour, 10 miles or so, to make sure they cross the border somewhere fairly unnoticeable, although all the instruments would clock them. At least the reaction time will give him a chance to radio in to the US base on the other side, make sure they're not shot out of the sky. His team should have arrived about two hours ago and made arrangements for him, so they'd be expected.

They're five miles away from the border when the airways come alive. There's a burst of static in the headphones he'd donned, followed by instructions in Arabic for the unknown aircraft to turn back immediately. Steve ignores it; the radar shows no projectiles or other aircrafts in the air in a 15 mile radius around them, so he just points the plane's nose to the border and ups their speed. As soon as he's over it, the warnings switch to English, and he's finally free to set things in motion.

"This is Lt Commander Steve McGarrett of the US Navy, ID # 23589. I have on board two American citizens requesting assistance from the US Army. We are heading in to base in a Cessna A152 aircraft, request permission to land."

"Permission granted, Commander. Make a 3.6 degree adjustment on your course and come in from the South; on-ground personnel will guide you in. Base out."

Steve makes the required adjustments and spends the next fifteen minutes before they get close to the base repeating landing protocol in his head. It's been a while since he's done this, and only twice out of training. Danny, who had stirred at the sound of Steve's voice, yawns and rubs the sleep from his bleary eyes before turning to Steve, raising a questioning eyebrow.

"We're almost there," Steve tells him, giving him a small smile.

Instead of reassuring Danny, like he'd meant to, Danny frowns. "You look really pale," he says, looking Steve over quickly and wincing at the dark patch spreading along his side. "Jesus, you need that checked," he adds, reaching as if to do it himself. The shake of Steve's head stops him.

"Not long until we're on the ground, and then I'll get the doctors fussing over me. No need to start now," Steve says. Danny does not look happy, but he sits back, lips pinched in a tight line and eyes still roaming over Steve's face. "Don't worry," Steve tells him, meaning for it to settle Danny down. "I won't pass out before I land the plane."

Danny's eyes flash pure fury, his jaw clenches hard and he opens his mouth -- to yell, Steve assumes, although he's fucked if he knows why this time, but just then the base comes in sight and Steve's whole focus shifts. He watches through narrowed eyes as the runway emerges, a tiny figure waving the landing paddles in a familiar pattern. He hears Danny wake Grace with soft murmurs as Steve decreases their speed and altitude, coming gently in alignment with the landing strip.

He executes a textbook-perfect landing, jarring them only slightly as the wheels make contact with the ground. It's enough for fire to lance down his side again, but they're in, they're safe, he's done it, and he can just see the Ambassador and his wife running closer to meet them. He exhales harshly when the brakes engage and the plane drifts to a stop, slumping against the controls in relief.

"Mommy!" Grace yells at his side, climbing over Danny to get down, the Ambassador's strong arms gathering her out of the door and handing her to her frantic mother.

"You okay, Danny?" the Ambassador asks, holding out a hand to help Danny down, but Danny just gives him a "Yeah, fine," before he's turning to Steve and scooting closer to his seat.

"Hey, buddy. How're you doing--Steve. Hey, Steve! Steve!!"

It's the last thing Steve hears before blackness closes around him.

---

"He's lost a lot of blood," a voice floats faintly nearby. "The wound in his side has a slight infection, although his arm is healing beautifully, you did a great job there, Mr Williams. We've stitched him up, and we're keeping him on antibiotics and a saline drip to rehydrate him. He doesn't actually need a blood transfusion. He's young, strong, at the peak of his physical condition. He should be all right in no time, although he'll need a bit of a recovery period until he's back at full strength."

"Can we see him?" a familiar voice asks.

"Sure. He should be coming out of sedation any--"

There's a groan. Steve only realises it came from him when his eyelids are drawn gently back and a pen light shines at his pupils. His sheets are lifted and the dressing checked, and then whoever it is -- the doctor, Steve assumes, steps back.

"All right, Mr Williams, Miss Williams. Try not to tire him out, he'll still be a little drowsy."

A door snaps shut and footsteps come closer; Steve feels a gentle dip of his bed, and manages to peel his eyes open a fraction to see Grace's worried face peering at him.

"Hey," he croaks, lifting his hand with some effort to poke her gently on the arm. "You okay?"

A straw floats in his line of sight before a hand lifts his head and fits it in his mouth. He sucks down small sips of water gratefully, catching Danny's eyes with his own. Danny looks only marginally less worried than Grace, although there's still a lot of fire in his eyes.

"I'm fine, Steve. Are you okay?" Grace asks, catching his large fingers with her small ones.

"Sure. It's just a scratch," Steve says, giving her a smile and squeezing her fingers reassuringly. "I'm just tired, is all."

Danny's lips thin again, and he gives Steve a peeved glare, but doesn't actually argue with him in front of his daughter.

"I'm so glad," Grace says, grinning sunnily at Steve. He feels his chest tighten at the affection in it.

"Grace, sweetheart, you wanna go see your mom? I want to talk to Steve for a minute," Danny says mildly, although if Steve knows anything about Danny at all, he's in for a scolding. He surprises himself with how much he doesn't mind.

Grace nods and jumps off the bed, waving at Steve from the door.

"Bye, Steve!"

"Bye, Grace," Steve says, smiling -- he can't help but smile around her.

Danny comes round the foot of the bed to stare at him.

Steve waits him out.

"I wish there was a part of you I could punch without feeling like an asshole," Danny grouches, crossing his arms in front of his chest.

"What? Why? I got you to safety, didn't I?" Steve grunts, annoyed.

"Did you miss the part where you almost got yourself killed in the process?" Danny grits out, and oh, is he angry, Steve thinks. He still doesn't understand why.

"Oh, that," he says dismissively, and immediately knows he's made a tactical error when Danny's eyes narrow and his hands come up.

"That?! What do you mean, that--you know what? No. You obviously have the self-preservation instinct of a lemming. You should have fucking said something, we could have changed the dressing, put pressure on it--"

"When, Danny? When we were running down the hill? When I was hotwiring a plane?"

"After! We should have done something after we were in the air, goddamn it!"

"You were sleeping," Steve points out.

"You should have damned well woken me!" Danny's hands are windmilling so hard that Steve feels the shift of air when they pass near his arm.

"You were tired."

Danny is quiet for a moment, staring at him. Steve doesn't see where he's gone wrong this time -- it makes perfect sense to him.

"So let me get this straight," Danny says after a moment, looking pained. "You were bleeding out, but you didn't say anything, because I was tired and needed the sleep."

"I wasn't bleeding out. This is actually my job, you know -- I do this for a living. I've had worse."

"You know, shockingly, I don't want to know."

Steve stays silent, since he doesn't know what he can say to make Danny less angry.

"Jesus Christ," Danny says at last, sitting down on the bed, whatever fight's been pushing him along going out of him. "I can't believe you."

Steve feels a touch to the back of his hand, the one with the IV plugged in. It's so faint he thinks he's imagined it at first, but when he looks down he sees Danny running a single finger over the skin to the side of the needle, careful, so careful. It makes something lurch and flip over in Steve's stomach.

"Danny. I'm okay." He never thought he'd be saying that to someone; never though he'd have someone who'd want to hear it. He doesn't even know whether Danny wants to hear it.

Danny doesn't say anything, eyes firmly nowhere near Steve's face. He exhales shakily, and Steve catalogues the dark circles under his eyes, the tired lines in his face, the way his mouth curls down unhappily at the edges.

"You need to get some more rest," Steve says gently, wanting nothing more than to thread his hand through Danny's hair, hastily slicked back with water, to run a finger over the small lines of fatigue at the corners of his eyes, to tug at his arm until Danny stretches by his side, resting his head on Steve's shoulder, and gets some proper sleep where Steve can watch over him.

"You saying I look like shit, McGarrett?" Danny says, but there's something warm and teasing in his voice, something that makes Steve want to close his eyes and bask.

"Yeah, kind of," he lobs back, just to be a pain, just because he's never enjoyed himself more when he's been horizontal in a hospital bed.

"Charming," Danny says, crinkling his eyes at him. "You don't look so hot yourself, I'll have you know."

"Liar," Steve says, and he has no idea where this is all coming from, only that he never wants it to stop.

The door snicks open and Danny takes his hand back quickly, turning away. Rachel pops her head in the room, smiling a little.

"We're ready to go, Danny. Hello, Commander. I'm so glad to see you're okay," and yeah, Steve can see where Grace gets it from.

"Thank you, Mrs Edwards."

Rachel waves a dismissive hand. "Call me Rachel," she tells him. "You've just saved our lives. You've earned it. Danny? Are you coming?"

"Yeah," Danny says, standing up and glancing back at the bed. "Goodbye, Steve," he says.

"Goodbye?" Steve parrots, and he knows he sounds ridiculous, but, what? Danny's leaving? What?

"We fly out tomorrow morning, and you'll be kept for observation for another couple days. We're not even supposed to be here, but Stan pulled some strings," Danny says. There's a heavy note of finality in his voice, and something a lot like regret when he adds, "So yeah. Goodbye. And thank you."

"You're welcome," Steve says weakly, feeling like he's losing something precious.

Danny sends him one last look before he disappears out of the door, closing it with a soft click.

For the first time since he was sixteen, Steve wants to cry.

---

"Steve, are you insane?" Cath whispers furiously in his ear. "You need rest, and you need to not be an idiot. You're on a goddamned Army base; do you know what will happen if anyone gets wind of this? Your career will be over."

"I have to see him, Cath," Steve says helplessly into the phone, struggling to pull the borrowed sweats on with shaky fingers. "It might be the last change I'll ever get."

"Jesus," Cath hisses, but he hears the clack of computer keys in the background, and he knows she's going to do it. "You owe me so much for this, McGarrett, dinner and wine will be the least of it."

"I know." Pause. "Only maybe not like before--"

"If one more word comes out of your mouth, I will punch you so hard the next time I see you," Cath warns him, fond exasperation warring with irritation in her voice. "Hotel Atlantic, about three blocks North from the hospital. You want the GPS co-ordinates?"

"Please. Listen, Cath, thanks."

"Yeah, yeah. I've never seen you this excited about anyone before, Steve. Make it count," she says, and hangs up. Not thirty seconds later, his phone beeps with the message containing the co-ordinates.

Steve discharges himself from the hospital, despite his doctor's extreme and very vocal disapproval -- she's good, and normally he'd be much more polite, but he's got somewhere important to be. He's only wearing sweatpants and a T-shirt on loan from the base, but he's managed to scrounge a pair of trainers, too, and he looks like just another tourist if you discount his unnaturally pale complexion. The three blocks take him almost half an hour to walk -- he hates, hates that he feels so weak, and his side is a constant ache in the back of his mind, but he makes it, even if it is almost dark by the time he gets inside the hotel. Cath sent him the room number, too, so he slinks his way to the lifts, as inconspicuously as he can manage, and presses the button for the 5th floor.

The corridor is narrow but clean. He makes his way down to room 508 swiftly, trying not to make any noise that might alert the other occupants. When he gets there, his stomach feels like it's going to cramp into a tiny ball of terror any moment now, and his heart is trying to beat its way out of his throat. He's taking a major risk here, not just with his career, but with Danny himself, and god, he's going to look like an absolute idiot if he's read this wrong--but he can't, he just can't walk away and not know.

His knuckles rapping on the door are loud in the hushed silence. There's a pause from the inside, and then light footsteps pad to the door.

"You forget something, Grace?" Danny says just as he opens the door, and doesn't quite close his mouth afterwards, gaping at Steve in shock. "Are you insane?!" he yells before looking around and dragging Steve inside the room. "Fuck's sake, lie down before you fall down."

He pushes Steve down on the bed, and Steve relents gratefully. His legs were having a bit of trouble holding him up, but Danny looks like he knows that.

"What are you even doing here?" Danny laments, fussing with the pillows behind Steve's head and throwing a light blanket over him, despite it being in the 90s in the room.

"I just--" Steve starts, and stops. He doesn't know quite what to say; he looks at Danny helplessly, willing him to understand.

Danny sighs, sounding defeated, rounds the bed and climbs in on the other side, opposite the door. Steve can feel his warmth even through the blanket, and it makes him shiver with need.

"I don't know what to do," Danny admits, looking lost. "This thing, there's nowhere it can go, you know? You're a SEAL, you're risking your career even now, god knows what your superiors will say about this little escapade. And if they knew you were with me... Anyway, I'm going back to the States; we're going to take a break, the four of us, decide what's next. And you're going to get sent to whatever godforsaken corner of the world needs you."

Steve nods. He knows all this, he does, but he can't help it -- Danny's here now, and there's nowhere else in the world Steve wants to be. Danny searches his face for a moment before his eyes soften and he shifts closer.

"But, I suppose, I have you here right now," he murmurs, and then his lips are slipping over Steve's, and Steve groans brokenly and opens to him, lets Danny slip his tongue inside and savours the taste of him on the roof of his mouth.

Danny leans closer, his chest sliding against Steve's, so careful of Steve's side, so gentle, and Steve buries a hand in all that soft hair, tilts his head and loses himself in the feel of Danny over him, against him, the smell of him, the warmth of his body.

He gets so distracted by the feel of Danny in his arms that he forgets all about his injury -- until he tries to flip them over, and his side screams at him in agony.

"Fuck," he gasps, settling back carefully and taking deep breaths.

"Oh my god," Danny says, and Steve rushes to explain.

"It wasn't you, it's okay, it was me, I just, I got a little overexcited."

"Is that right?" Danny says, still looking sheepish, but more confident, too. "Jesus, Steve, our timing sucks."

"Tell me about it," Steve replies, staring up at the ceiling.

"Of course," Danny goes on, and there's a tone in his voice that makes Steve sit up and pay attention even metaphorically, "it's not the only thing that sucks."

"Oh my god, that was terrible," Steve groans, laughing a little as Danny worms his hand under the blanket and past the elastic band of his pants.

"I don't see you complaining," Danny purrs, sucking a strand of kisses along his neck as his fingers find Steve's cock, hard and pressing against the fabric.

Steve groans for real this time, eyelids fluttering when Danny curls his hand around it and squeezes a little, stroking his thumb under the head.

"What was that you were saying about sucking? Or was that an empty boast?" Steve bites out, giving Danny a challenging look.

"Jesus, you're high maintenance," Danny bitches, but throws back the blankets and tugs Steve's pants down his hips. Steve tries to lift them to help, and oh, hey, that's where the pain went.

"You. Lie still and stop trying to give me a coronary," Danny grits out, checking his dressing before he gets back to the business of getting Steve naked and panting.

When Danny's lips close around the head of his cock, Steve honest to god thinks he's going to die, or that he died on his way here and is now in the only heaven he ever wants to be part of.

"Danny," he groans, heartfelt and pleading, and Danny hums his approval around him, slides lower even as he curls a hand over the base of Steve's cock, jacking him a little in time with the flicks of his tongue. Steve closes his eyes and reels from the feel of it, from the weight of Danny's body over his legs, the small jerks of Danny's hips against the mattress as he slips Steve's cock further in and hollows out his cheeks.

It's been so long since Steve has felt a man's mouth on him, and it's not just any man, it's Danny, and Steve feels like he's wanted him since the first moment he saw him through his binoculars, pacing the length and width of the room they'd been held in, looking worried. So he's not overly surprised when his orgasm builds without warning, and every muscle in his body tightens when Danny gives a particularly hard suck and Steve's vision whitens around the edges. He spills down Danny's throat with a harsh yell, and Danny swallows every drop of it, tonguing at the head until Steve's making small whimpering motions and gripping Danny's shoulder, begging him to stop. Danny lets Steve's cock slip out; there's a speck of come that he hadn't managed to get at the corner of his mouth, and Steve needs to kiss it off him like he needs to breathe. He tugs at Danny beseechingly, and Danny gets it, he climbs up on his knees and elbows over Steve, lowers his head until Steve can lick at his mouth, taste himself inside. The sharp spike of possessiveness catches him completely unprepared, makes his head spin.

"Let me," he murmurs against Danny's lips as he reaches for the button of his too-big borrowed pants, flicking it open and drawing the zip down past the large bulge behind it. Danny whimpers when the backs of Steve's fingers brush against it, pressing ever so slightly, not enough, not nearly enough.

It's awkward, with Steve's stiff left arm and the hole in his side, but he urges Danny to sit astride his thighs, ass pressing against the bare skin of his legs. The feel of it is exquisite, and Steve wants to scream and rage at the injustice that the one time he gets to have Danny, it has to be like this, with him broken and Danny so beautiful, so perfect, deserving so much more than the fumbled handjob Steve can give him.

Danny doesn't seem to mind, though; he's pushing into the tight circle of Steve's fist, hips jerking desperately. When Steve lets go and brings his hand to his mouth to lick wet stripes across his palm before he goes back, Danny literally sways over him, curves his spine down to mash his lips into Steve's and kiss him like he'll die without it. Steve drinks in every small, desperate moan, stores them somewhere in his mind where no one will ever find them, where he can reach for them on cold, lonely nights when he's stationed in the middle of nowhere.

"Steve," Danny grunts breathlessly against Steve's lips, pants into his mouth while long ropes of come completely ruin Steve's T-shirt. Steve can't find it in himself to care.

Danny slumps to the side of him, face mashed in Steve's shoulder but the bulk of his body pressed into the mattress and not over Steve's chest. It's unbearable, and even though Steve knows that it'd hurt like hell to have Danny's weight on him right now, it doesn't stop Steve wanting it desperately.

Their breathing slows eventually, and before Steve even realises he's fallen asleep there's a shuffle at his back and the weight lifts from the other side of the bed. Steve makes a sleepy whimpering noise, reaches in Danny's direction instinctively.

"I have to go," Danny says with heavy finality. "Rachel, Stan and Grace are meeting me in the lobby in fifteen minutes. Our flight's in an hour."

Steve's drowsiness disappears at that, as if it's never been. He sits up carefully; Danny makes an aborted motion towards him, but holds his position, even though his expression is pained.

Danny's leaving, and there's nothing Steve can do about it.

Danny tries to smile; it comes out crooked, sad. They don't say a word -- what can they say that they don't already know? Danny slips out of the room five minutes later, leaving behind a fresh undershirt Steve can change into, and that's it -- it's over. He's gone.

Steve grits his teeth and gets moving.

He calls his team from the hotel lobby once he's slipped down the stairs unnoticed. Moss sounds thrilled to hear from him; they've been staying on the base, so Steve hails a cab and goes to join them. He fibs something about being held back at the hospital for observation, and bears their disbelieving ribbing with as much grace as he can muster. They must see something in him, the crushing weight of his weariness, maybe, because they don't mention it afterwards.

Their own flight out of the country and back to the States is that afternoon.

---

To Steve's irritation, his superiors refuse to let him return to active duty until he's fully recovered. The medical professionals on base estimate one week of rest followed by two weeks of therapy and intensive training before he's back to full strength. Three weeks being idle is the last thing Steve needs now, not when his mind can't let Danny's absence go.

Still, he's off active missions anyway, right? He can recover just as well at home as he can here. He books a flight to Honolulu that afternoon.

It's long and gruelling, and his side aches dully when it's time to disembark. Thankfully, his arm is hardly giving him trouble anymore, so he grabs his bag and walks out, searching for a certain blonde head. When Mary spots him and runs over to barrel into him and give him a crushing hug, he can't help but think that Danny's hair is a shade darker than hers on top, and three shades darker on the bottom by the nape of his neck.

He can't hide his wince when Mary squeezes him too hard, and she lets go immediately, running a much more careful eye down his body.

"What did you do this time, Steve?" she berates while she wrenches his bag out of his hands.

"It's just a scratch," he says yet again. It goes down about as well as the last time he tried it. Mary gives him a disbelieving stare.

"Fine," he grits out. "I got grazed by a bullet, you happy now?"

"'Grazed'," Mary says, lifting an eyebrow, and goddamn it, there should be a law against siblings being able to read you this well. He stares at her stubbornly.

"Jesus," she sighs, and leads the way to the car. It's a battered red truck, patches of rust peeling in places. "Home?" she asks, and Steve nods.

The ride lasts a while, and he spends most of it staring out of the window at the scenery. He'd forgotten how unspeakably gorgeous his home state was.

Mary breaks the silence when they get closer to the house. "I moved out," she says, half-defiant and half-proud. "Got my own place down by Nuuanu Avenue. I'm sharing with Kono, Kono Kalakaua, remember her?"

"Chin's cousin? I think so. Tiny little thing, last time I saw her."

"Yeah," Mary laughs disparagingly. "It's been a while."

"Mare," he says wearily. It's an old argument, and he's not up for it right now.

Mary huffs, sounding as weary as him. "I miss you, goddamn it," she growls, turning her head away, a sure sign she's close to tears but she'll be damned if she lets him see them.

Steve feels like an asshole. "I miss you too," he mutters, voice gone raspy.

They're both feeling a bit raw by the time she pulls into the driveway. They get out of the car without a word, and Steve just stands there, staring at the house, letting the feel of being back home sink in.

"How is he?" he asks Mary, who's standing by his side, leaning against the hood of the truck.

"Getting older," Mary says bluntly before relenting. "Better since he brought down Wo Fat."

They both wince. That had been a nasty, nasty case, not least because of his apparent involvement in their mother's death.

"I still can't believe he never told us," Steve muses, leaning back next to Mary.

"Yeah, well, you know him. Paranoid bastard." There's reluctant affection in her voice; they both know he's not the only one in the family. "He's dating now," she goes on. Steve turns to stare at her. "Yeah, I know, I was as shocked as you, let me tell you. She's nice. Name's Pat Jameson. She's running for governor next election; word on the street is she'll get it."

"Wow," Steve says, stunned.

"Yeah."

The front door opens while Steve's digesting the news, revealing his dad's bulky frame. "Steve," he says, unchecked affection in his voice. Steve smiles.

"Hey, Dad."

His dad is much more careful with the hugs; he's a wily old fox, doesn't miss much, though Steve's sure he has no way of knowing about the injury. He ushers Steve inside, gets his bag out of the truck and squeezes Mary 's shoulder when she presses a kiss to his cheek. The house looks spotless, and there's fresh flowers in the blue vase on the coffee table in the living room again, like there always were when their mother was still alive. It feels different, too, less like a tomb and more like a home. Putting Wo Fat away really had done wonders for his dad.

Sitting in the deck chair on the lana'i, a cold beer in his hand, it's like he never left. He's no longer that boy, though, mad with grief, looking for something, anything to make it go away. He doesn't regret it; it took him to Annapolis, a home away from home, and it's good, his life, he likes what he does, likes the thrill of it, the satisfaction it gives him to use his skills to help people who need it.

And yet, somehow, in the past week his job has lost some of its appeal. The fact that he knows just what (who) to blame doesn't make it easier to swallow.

"Steve," Mary's voice tears him out of the light meditation he'd fallen in, watching the ocean waves flow in and out of the shore.

"Hmm?"

"You okay?" she asks, tentative, like she expects him to snap at her, or cut her off, or something. Goddamn it, he's really screwed up. It's high time he made some changes to that relationship, at least.

The thing is. The thing is that for close to a decade now Steve has abided by a certain rule that any Naval officer interested in partners of the same sex, and who wanted to actually keep his job, has stood by. It's like his tongue is superglued to the roof of his mouth, and he's having trouble forming words, let alone saying them. It's like an automatically wired response, this almost physical need for secrecy, for keeping those feelings locked inside, far away from the surface.

However. Things are just not that black-and-white anymore, not after Danny blundered into his life and unwittingly turned everything upside down. And if he can't tell Mary, who can he tell?

"Fine," he sighs at last, waves at the empty chair next to him. Mary settles in, looking wary.

Steve presses his lips together, wondering where to start.

"I met someone. Kind of."

"O-kay?" He can see she doesn't understand, but is patient enough to wait him out.

"It's complicated," he warns. She looks intrigued.

"What's her name?"

Steve takes a deep breath. He started this, he might as well finish it properly. "His name is Danny. Danny Williams."

Mary is silent for a moment. "Huh," she says at last. "You know, that explains so much. So what about it is so complicated? How did you two meet?"

Steve makes a face. "It's--"

"--Classified, right, god, what does it say about my life that I know that face," Mary laments. "Okay, just, tell me about him."

Steve does. He talks, and talks, and he'd had no idea he had that much to say about Danny, but once he starts, he can't stop.

And then he remembers why he has to, and god, it's like losing him all over again.

"Christ," Mary mutters, swiping his beer off him and taking a long pull. "That's a fucked-up situation if I ever heard one."

"Tell me about it," Steve concurs, leaning his head back on the chair. "Look, Mare, please don't tell anyone. It's not that I'm ashamed, it's just--"

"I know, stupid Army Don't Ask Don't Tell."

"It's the Navy, Mary, damn it, how many times--"

Mary laughs at him, teasing and sly, and he rolls his eyes at her but laughs along.

They pass the beer back and forth until it's gone.

---

Pat Jameson comes to dinner the next night. She's a tall, stylish woman around his father's age, a natural blonde three shades lighter than Da--two shades lighter than Mary. Steve likes her immediately. It helps that she's funny, irreverent, with strong opinions and a sharp tongue when she disapproves of something. She fits his dad so well; she's nothing like his mother, but in her way, she's just as special.

"John tells me you're with the US Navy SEALs, Steve," she says, a note of respect in her voice.

"Yes, ma'am."

"That's an incredible achievement."

"Thank you. I'm very happy with my job."

It doesn't sound half as convincing as it should have been. His father gives him a sharp look. Mary just smiles sadly.

Pat hums faintly, thoughts obviously on something else. "I wonder," she muses, then looks surprised when everyone turns to her. "Oh! I'm sorry, it's just, I've had this idea in my head, what with the election coming, and I think I just found my perfect candidate for the position."

"What do you mean?" John asks.

"Well, remember we talked about a task force?"

"With full immunity and means, right. You mean--ah."

"What?" Mary and Steve ask at the same time.

"I wonder, Commander McGarrett, if I might offer you a job?" Pat asks, grinning.

And that's how Steve learns about her plan for a governor's task force, charged with cleaning up the islands of criminals and drug/people/weapons-trafficking scumbags.

"This is all provisional on me winning the election, of course," Pat demurs, but Steve can see the excitement in his father's eyes.

"Of course," he agrees, amused. "Well, Ms Jameson, I believe I can safely say that when Ma'am Governor offers me the position, I will accept."

His father digs out the 25-year-old Balvenie to celebrate.

---

It's about a hundred times harder for Steve to leave again than to it was to come here in the first place. Hawai'i has started to feel like home again, the sounds of it, the smells of it, the kaleidoscope of colours that mark it as a slice of paradise for everyone who's ever set foot on the islands.

It's even harder to leave Mary and his father behind. But it's the job, and even if Steve's having doubts about its place in his life, it's still the one thing he excels at, takes pride in. He's sent right back in at the deep end, and it's one country after another, countless scared faces parading in a long line before him, countless others twisted in hatred that he neutralises without the slightest hesitation. Through it all, eight long months with nothing but his team for company, each and every night Steve falls asleep to the thought of a pair of piercing blue eyes, warmer than he has any right to expect. Some mornings he wakes up with the fading taste of Danny on his lips; and really, if this thing goes on much longer, he's pretty sure he's going to lose his mind completely one of these days.

The call from the governor of Hawai'i comes as such a relief, Steve almost sprints down the corridors of the base they're stationed at to get to the phone.

"Ma'am governor," he drawls, a grin splitting his face from ear to ear. "I hear congratulations are in order."

"Commander McGarrett," Pat Jameson says, sounding just as pleased. "It's old news by now, but thank you, you're very kind. I wonder if I might request your presence next month, around the 18th?"

Steve calculates; that gives him three weeks to get the paperwork through. Plenty of time, and it helps that it's the governor asking.

"Certainly. I'll put the procedure in motion immediately."

"That's great news. Your family misses you," she says, a little tentative, like she isn't sure whether she's overstepping her boundaries.

"I miss them too," Steve says, a touch wistfully.

"I'll let you get back. I hope you've given some thought to the matter we discussed the last time you were here?" she asks pointedly.

"I have," Steve confirms; the relief he feels at the possibility of that future coming about is surprising, but not unwelcome. "I'll let you know my answer in person," he adds, hoping she'll understand.

"More good news," Pat says warmly. "Well, Commander, stay safe!"

"I'll try. Goodbye, governor."

He clicks the earpiece down gently, knowing there's a smile on his face that won't be easy to hide. Still, this at least is not one of the things he has to be ever-so-careful about. It makes a nice change.

His requested leave is granted easy enough, and it's not long before Steve's back on home turf, walking out into Honolulu Airport's arrivals lounge. This time when Mary throws herself at him, he catches her with both arms, spinning her around once before popping her back on the ground.

"Hey you," he says, smiling down at her. She looks a little older, and there are the tiniest lines starting to show at the corners of her eyes. But she looks about as happy as he's ever seen her, so whatever it is she's got going, it's doing her good.

"Hey," she says, grinning up at him. "So did you remember it's Dad's birthday tomorrow?"

Steve blinks at her a couple of times, horrified. She laughs evilly.

"Ho boy, you're in for it! Best make sure you get him a present tomorrow morning."

Steve's forehead scrunches, his mouth opening and closing helplessly. He gives her a pitiful look. She rolls her eyes, patently amused.

"Relax, doofus. I've got you covered. Season tickets to the Warriors' games. You should be able to afford it easily with your risk bonus."

"Thanks, Mare, you're a lifesaver," Steve says, sagging with relief. "So is that why the governor called me home?"

"Good a time as any," Mary shrugs. There's a strange twinkle in her eye that Steve finds instantly suspicious, even though it's nothing but a hunch -- with Mary, though, those tend to be bang on the money.

The car she leads him to is much nicer than last time, a compact blue hybrid Toyota. Steve whistles appreciatively.

"It's a company car," Mary says proudly. "I've gone into real estate. It's going really well for me."

"That's great, Mary," Steve says, genuinely thrilled for her, even if it takes him two goes to fold himself into the seat.

The drive is much faster, and a lot more relaxed than last time. Mary fills him in on all the gossip he'd missed -- Kono was close to graduating from Police Academy, Chin made lieutenant, Dad got a new cop assigned to his department, some guy transferring from the mainland.

"Dad must be thrilled," Steve remarks, grinning. Their father will always have a soft spot for the outsider, the haole amidst the locals.

"He is," Mary says. "He really likes the guy. Says he's smart, got a fresh pair of eyes, doesn't take people's shit."

"Sounds nice," Steve says, trying and failing to push a certain blond head out of his thoughts. Mary's gone quiet again, a charged silence made all the more omnious by the twist of a smirk in the corner of her lips.

"What?" Steve asks bluntly. "What are you smirking at?"

"Oh, nothing," Mary says breezily. "Did you know that DADT got repealed last month?"

Steve blinks a couple of times, as always mildly thrown by her lightning-fast shifts of conversation. "I heard it was happening, didn't know it came through. Why?" he asks suspiciously. A stray thought occurs and blood drains from his face. "You didn't tell anyone, did you?"

Mary doesn't pretend not to know what he's talking about. She shifts uncomfortably under his scrutiny. Steve's stomach drops.

"I didn't mean to," she whines, looking distressed. "Dad wormed it out of me, you know what he's like!"

Steve groans and brings his hands up to cover his face.

'Hey, it's not the end of the world; he was just worried about you, Steve. And once he started asking, I couldn't avoid him forever. He's like a dog with a bone, who do you think you take after?"

Steve keeps his eyes closed, afraid to ask. Mary's silent for a while, but Steve can feel her sneaking him little glances. He winces when a particularly unpleasant thought crosses his mind. "I can still come home, right?"

"What--" Mary starts, baffled; then her face twists into an expression that's equally angry and horrified. "You idiot, Steven J McGarrett!" She smacks his arm for good measure. "Of course you can come home! How can you even think that?!"

Steve shuffles in the narrow seat, trying to stop his legs from falling asleep in the cramped space. "You never know," he says, because he knows for a fact not all families are so accepting. His ex-teammate Townsend had had to move cities once he'd been found out.

Mary doesn't say anything for a few minutes, expression pinched. "He didn't talk much for a couple of days, but like a week later I heard him discussing civil partnerships with Pat, you know, asking if she had plans to legalise them here in Hawai'i, and she said she did."

Steve digests this, feeling warmed from the inside out. "Oh," he says, a cautious smile turning up his lips.

"Yeah," Mary says; and that's that. His family knows, and not only doesn't care, but openly supports him. It's more that he could have possibly hoped for.

"So there's a party planned for tomorrow night," Mary tells him when they're nearly at the house. "The whole HPD's invited, and Pat, of course. Some of the paramedics and hospital staff, too. It's gonna be here at the house, out back. So, you know, if it's all a huge mess right now, don't worry -- it'll all be set up by tomorrow."

"Right," he says, not really caring. As long as he can go for a swim in the morning, it won't bother him.

There are voices raised in conversation coming from the living room when he and Mary slip through the open front door.

"Probably Chin and Meka, and Meka's new partner, the transfer," Mary says, and now Steve's certain something's going on, because Mary is looking awfully shifty around the eyes. "Dad!" she yells, "Steve's here!"

The voices cut off immediately, and there are several different sets of footsteps coming closer.

"Hi, son," his dad says when he rounds the corner, gathering Steve in a tight if short hug. Steve claps his back, holding on for a moment. "You remember Chin and Meka?" his father waves an arm to his side.

Steve does, and he shakes hands with the two guys, exchanging pleasantries.

"The new guy's out on the lana'i. Why don't you go introduce yourself?" John says, and okay, Steve's not actually an idiot.

"What's going on?" he demands, staring at the four of them. Chin and Meka just look blank, but his father and Mary are definitely in on whatever it is, if their smiles of anticipation are anything to go by.

"Indulge me," John says, which is a dirty move, because it's not like Steve can refuse him anything.

He gives them both a narrow-eyed glare and stomps through the house, past the kitchen and out the back door--and freezes.

He's certain he's finally gone round the twist, because what he's seeing could'nt possibly be real. The man's broad shoulders are the same, that hair slicked back in a way that only one person in the world could find appropriate, and he's wearing slacks and a shirt besides; Steve would bet his monthly salary that there's a tie winding around his neck.

That's nothing to when the man turns around, and Steve is locked into a pair of clear blue eyes he's spent every single day of the past nine months trying not to think about.

"How?" Steve croaks.

Danny smiles at him, a little uncertain, and shrugs. "Long story," he says, and the sound of his voice would actually be enough to bring Steve to his knees if he wasn't holding on to the door frame with white-knuckled desperation.

Danny takes a hesitant step closer, then a few more when Steve doesn't move away, until he's standing right in front of him. Steve can feel his warmth through two layers of clothing, can smell his scent in the air, and has to fight the urge to bury his nose in the crook of Danny's neck where it joins the collarbone, where he knows for a fact it'll be so much stronger.

"Hi," Danny says, looking up into his face, hope and trepidation chasing each other through his eyes.

Steve's arms ache with the need to draw Danny to him, fill his hands with his hair and the curve of his muscles, tilt his head back so he can press their lips together, lick his way inside, see if the taste is what he remembers. But he can't make himself move; he can only drag his eyes over Danny's every feature, catalogue the little changes nine months apart have wrought -- the lines to the side of his mouth and etched across his forehead, the little grey patches in the stubble at his jaw.

Danny's starting to look more and more uncertain the longer Steve stands there and stares at him. Something closes off behind his eyes, and Steve feels an almost physical wrench to get it back.

"Danny," he says, lets himself reach forward and run a hand down Danny's forearm, warm skin and crisp hair teasing his palm. He catches Danny's wrist, follows the line of his palm, presses his thumb in the centre of his hand and feels the muscles and sinews shift underneath, alive, there. He looks back up into Danny's widening eyes, and he can't actually help the way he sways forward and presses his nose into Danny's hairline, closes his eyes and breathes him in, feels Danny's other arm sneak around him and curve over his waist, rub soothing circles into his spine. The hand he's holding twists in his grip and strong fingers catch his, twine with them as Danny presses his face in Steve's neck and mouths gentle kisses into his skin.

Steve thinks he could stay like this forever.

Eventually they separate, a light flush tinting Danny's cheekbones, turning the tips of his ears pink. From the heat he feels in his face, Steve thinks he must look about the same. He desperately wants to kiss Danny, feel those lips against his again, but he's so worried he'd be overstepping his mark -- even though, if the way Danny was clinging to him a moment ago is any indication, it's probably a safe bet to assume he wouldn't.

And then the thought that's been trying to gain his attention all the while finally surfaces. "Grace?" he asks, and can't find it in himself to be ashamed of the hopeful note in his voice.

Danny smiles happily. "Oh, she's here. So are Rachel and Stan. We moved to Hawai'i together, the four of us."

"That's great," Steve beams. From the look on Danny's face, it's the right move.

"Yeah. She's been impossible ever since John mentioned you were coming home."

At the mention of his father, Steve's mind snaps back from whatever befuddled, happy place it was basking in. His eyes narrow.

"Right. Beer first, and then you're going to explain. And then I will decide whether to kill my father or buy him a box of cigars."

Danny grins smugly. It suits him.

The explanation goes something like this: when they'd arrived back on US soil, Stan Edwards had been given carte blanche to choose any state he wanted, working for the government in an advisory capacity until a permanent position was found for him. So they'd gone back home to New Jersey, which is the most perfect place in the whole world if Danny is to be believed, and they'd spent the first five months catching up with family and getting over their ordeal. At which point, completely out of the blue, the governor of Hawai'i had called Stan personally, and offered him a job in her new administration. Stan, as someone with plenty of experience working with different nationalities and cultures, was apparently the perfect candidate for the position.

So Rachel found a job for the Bank of Hawai'i, and Danny, who had been working with his old precinct all the while, filed for a transfer. A mere month later, they'd all packed their bags and arrived in this beach-happy, pineapple-in-everything, no-civilised-attire-in-sight, hellhole of an island.

"You don't like the beach?" Steve inserts incredulously. "Who doesn't like the beach?!"

"I like cities," Danny replies, making a face. "Skyscrapers. Tarmac. You know, not sand getting fucking everywhere. Oh, don't pout, Steven. Grace loves it, it's not like I can deny her anything."

Steve perks up. Danny shakes his head at him. "You two are going to be the death of me, I just know it."

Steve takes this as acknowledgement that their lives will not be going in different directions -- ever again, if he had anything to say about it. He knows the grin on his face is probably pretty stupid, but it's not like he can help it.

"You're such a goof, babe," Danny says fondly, watching him through half-closed eyes, head leaning back against the deck chair. Steve never wants him to move.

Except for when Danny leans closer, tugging at Steve's T-shirt, probably stretching it terribly out of shape, not like Steve cares, and presses their lips together. Upon which Steve decides that no, actually, moving is quite okay with him, all things considered.

Some time later, Danny finishes his story. About walking into work for his first day and coming face-to-face with his new boss, one John McGarrett, at which time certain things had become abundantly clear. One, the entire McGarrett clan was full of "damned sneaky bastards". And two, turned out Danny didn't mind at all.

He looks awfully shifty when he says that last, and Steve recognises that look in his eyes when he levels them at Steve again. It's not all that dissimilar to the look he himself has been wearing for the past nine months. It makes him feel giddy with joy and relief, not that he'd admit to it. Danny looks like he knows, anyway.

He's probably moving far too fast, he's well aware, but it's not like this is anything new -- he's always been like this, ever since he was a kid. As soon as he's made a decision, he throws himself head-first into making it happen.

"So," he says tentatively. "You're here for good? You're staying?"

His hopes that his voice doesn't sound too revealing die a swift if merciful death at Danny's knowing look. "Well, seeing as there's this new job I've been offered, working under some decorated Navy SEAL with the self-preservation instincts of a gnat and abandonment issues, yeah, I'd think it's pretty much a done deal that I'm sticking around for the foreseeable future."

Steve dimly recognises he must look completely besotted, sitting there beaming at Danny, because Danny's shaking his head at him. He's beaming back, though, so Steve doesn't think he's making too much of an idiot of himself.

"What am I going to do with you?" Danny asks, looking like he's not expecting an answer.

Steve does know he's grinning like a loon, though, when he says, "Kiss me again, for a start."

---

Epilogue

Steve has planned and ran hundreds of strategic ops in his time with the SEALs, some of which have been absolute landmines of potential trouble, from sulking dignitaries to freaked out hostages to, on one memorable occasion, one of their rescues giving birth in the middle of the Cambodian plains during the rainy season.

Nothing, however, could have prepared him for the test of self-control that is his father moving out.

"Dad, for god's sake, you are not moving to the other side of the world! And even if you were, you would not need your third-best HPD sweatshirt, I promise you!"

"I might need it when we go spear fishing with the guys, though," John says, mulish.

Steve throws his hands in the air in a perfect imitation of Danny at his most peeved. His dentist will be reading him the riot act again for the way his teeth creak when he grinds them together, in an effort not to strangle his father where he stands, staring thoughtfully into a box of ancient copies of National Geographic magazines.

Danny pokes his head up through the attic trap door, trying and failing to stifle a grin. "All right there, McGarretts?"

Steve glares at him, disgruntled by Danny's unreasonably good mood.

"Hey, Danny, give me a hand getting this box down?" John says, making a decision.

Steve growls in wordless frustration, rounding on his heel and storming down the stairs Danny frees up when he climbs all the way into the crowded attic space.

"You sure about this, John?" he hears Danny say, still with that unshakable good humour. "I don't know how Pat will feel about those cluttering up her space instead of Steve's."

There's a charged silence before John clears his throat. "On second thought, I can always come back and get them if I really need them," he muses with an air of making a huge concession.

Steve is going to murder both of them in their sleep. He's a trained SEAL; they'll never find the bodies.

Danny finds him later, holed up in his father's study, all his guns and blades set out in tidy rows together with a bottle of gun oil, one filthy rag, and one clean.

"Oh, good," Danny says, smirking. "I was worried you were going to snap for a moment there, what with the glaring and the snarling. I'm glad you've decided to sulk here instead. Cleaning your guns always calms you down."

"Not sulking," Steve mutters, giving the slide of his Beretta and extra-vicious wipe.

"Sure, babe," Danny says, and god, how the hell can he still be so fucking cheerful when Steve's ready to bodily kick his father out of the house, packed or not, Steve really can't fathom.

"What's the fucking deal, Danny?" he growls, snapping a new clip into the Beretta and adding it to the 'done' pile.

"Deal?" Danny says, and oh, Steve knows that tone. It's the one Danny uses when he thinks Steve is being unreasonable beyond what even he can deal with.

"Yeah, you're going around like someone baked you a big chocolate-frosted cake and handed you a fork."

Danny laughs, that amused rumble that tends to soothe Steve faster than anything he's ever known.

"Nice metaphor. In fact, you are not too far off target, soldier," Danny says, grinning like the cat whose owner still hasn't caught on that it's ordered the cat-operated tin opener on his credit card.

When Steve just glares down at his Glock, Danny's grin softens into a fondly exasperated smile. "Jesus, babe," he sighs, walks over to the low table covered in gun parts and tugs the rag from Steve's unresisting fingers. "As you have apparently noticed, I am pretty damn pleased about your father moving in with the governor. And do you know why that is?"

"Why?" Steve asks, because he's not sulking, damn it.

"Because, Steven, that means we get the house to ourselves. Just the two of us, when Grace isn't here." He punctuates the statement by pushing Steve back and sliding one muscled leg over his hips, settling himself in Steve's lap.

Steve's hands go around his waist automatically, like it's their default setting -- which, let's be honest, it kind of is.

"That is a very good point you make, Detective Williams," he tells him, pulling him closer. "What would I do without your stunning observation skills?"

Danny smirks, such a smug, self-satisfied expression on his face that Steve can't help but dip his head to run his tongue over Danny's lower lip, until Danny groans and opens for him, tilting his head just right for Steve to fit their lips together and sink into the kiss.

When they come up for air, Danny rubs his nose against Steve's and presses another small, sweet kiss to the corner of Steve's mouth. "Let's never find out."

-----