I should hate you
But I guess I love you
You've got me in between
The devil and the deep blue sea.
"Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" cover by
Welcome to Hawaii
"Come work for the HPD," Danny grumbled bitterly, and glared out over the glittering blue waves rolling in against the white sand beach that started right beyond the gravel parking lot. There might've been worse places to take a coffee break, but Danny wasn't in the mood to be gracious. "We'd love to have you. You'll feel right at home."
Right at home, Danny's ass. Yes, the HPD paid better than the Newark PD, and they'd been delighted to hire him initially, but that was about it in the plus column. Perfect weather sounded nice in theory, but when you weren't used to all the sun, it turned out to be a nuisance. Danny ended up buying several pairs of huge aviator sunglasses and sun block in bulk, and because he couldn't wear normal skin care products but needed the special (read: expensive) stuff, that tore an unexpected hole into his already limited budget. It turned out to be cheaper to just keep wearing long-sleeved shirts, so he clenched his teeth and decided he might as well embrace his outsider status and look the part.
To be honest, Danny had started out looking forward to swimming in the clear, clean tropical waters, chasing colorful fish and exploring the area around the eight islands with Gracie. What he hadn't taken into account was that he'd been made for the cold Atlantic sea and was used to the polluted East Coast waters... and the absolutely last thing he'd expected had been the effects of the lower oxygen levels around Hawaii. Maybe he should've. His mother's many diatribes about why moving away from home was such a bad idea had included at least two lectures starting with the information that the Pacific's deeper currents kept its waters less oxygenated than those of the Atlantic, complete with flow charts and sticky notes. Once a teacher, always a teacher. Then again, she'd ended her argument with the claim that secret government experiments had left the area contaminated and he'd mutate into something two-tailed and possibly bright yellow if he moved to Hawaii. Forgive him if he'd been skeptical about the validity of anything that had come out of her mouth after that.
Momma hadn't been right about the mutation thing, hopefully, but she'd nailed the oxygen issue. The first time Danny had gone for a swim off the coast of Oahu, he'd ended up with a not so mild case of hypoxia, lost his bearings, and nearly got chopped up by a ship propeller. Fuck the Navy and its oversized boats anyway; they never watched where they were going. To add injury to insult, Danny had suffered the headache from hell for a week after his outing. Suffice to say he hadn't set foot in the water since.
It was true that Hawaii was proud home to the largest population of Homo pisces in the United States; unfortunately, the ali'i kai and Danny didn't gel. Like, at all. The first time the Chief of Police introduced his newest acquisition to Hawaii's infamous SSF, the Sub-aquatic Strike Force, Danny had to cold-cock an ali'i kai lieutenant to prevent a formal Challenge and flash teeth at the man's second to make him back down. He'd joined the SSF for training maneuvers exactly once. It had been more than enough to establish once and for all that Pacific and Atlantic tribes didn't mix for a reason and had given Danny a complex about his less than adequate coloring to boot. For the sake of departmental peace, the chief had hastily transferred Danny from the SSF to Homicide and partnered him with a sweet-natured Hawaiian with no ali'i kai affiliations at all.
So there he was.
"Come on." Meka bumped shoulders with him, perfectly walking the line between careful and amiable. "It's not so bad. You have Grace next weekend and tonight Amy and I'll take you out to that sushi place you liked. I'll even pay for the ahi platter, if you want."
Tempting, but Danny wasn't so easily bought. "I refuse to be bribed, you deserter. You're leaving me alone in this godforsaken place for a freaking inter-species sensitivity seminar. You don't need sensitivity training, you're doing fine, you're doing better than I am, what the hell?" He slashed a hand through the air to underline the extreme what-the-fuckness of the idea. "You're abandoning me, my feelings are hurt - don't think a bit of tuna is gonna placate me!"
Meka rolled his eyes, clearly unaware that Danny was only half kidding. "It's a week, Danny, not forever. You'll handle it. Keep your head down, try not to offend anyone, and I'll be back before you know it." He chuckled. "Even you can't get into too much trouble in one week."
What kind of dumbass said shit like that? Of course Danny could.
On Day One, which was Tuesday, Danny got cornered in the first floor restroom by a group of five HPD detectives who apparently had issues with the way he worked, the way he talked, dressed, looked, and apparently the way he breathed. It was difficult to talk your way out of a situation when your accent was part of what had gotten you into hot water in the first place, but Danny did his best. So maybe he had to resort to giving the ring leader a swirly. He did not regret it. It got results. It also earned him another reprimand.
Then Rachel called about visitation and Danny blew up, because she insinuated he might be a bad influence on Grace.
"She flashed teeth at a girl in her class, Daniel, who would've taught her that but you?"
"I don't know," Danny yelled back, because, really, what the fuck? "Nature? Instinct? I'm betting you dollars for donuts the other girl started it."
"That's not the point, Daniel!"
"That's exactly the point, Rachel," he barked, but it was no use. Rachel hung up on him and refused to answer his calls, which meant he had no idea whether or not he'd be allowed to pick up Grace the day after and drive her to school like they'd agreed. He smelled lawyers in his near future and he sure did hate that smell.
Day One without Meka was a shitty day.
On Day Two, the dreaded Wednesday, middle of the week, no weekend in sight and Monday long past, Danny caught a patrol officer in the act of breaking into Danny's pride and joy, his brand new Chevy Camaro, to hide a package full of raw fish heads in the trunk. Danny did not take kindly to the pranking and made him eat the stinking things until the wuss started to puke them back up.
"What?" he asked, when summoned to Captain Sepada's office for the second time in as many days. "He told me they were a delicacy. I figured I'd share."
Sepada rubbed his face. "I'm going to pretend I believe that, Detective. Do you know why?" Danny opened his mouth to venture a guess, but was glared down before he could voice his primary theory. "Because if I don't, I'll have to discipline the two of you and there'll be even more bad blood, because the cranky haole can't take a joke. Any more bad blood and we'll have to transfer you again... and given your track record, I don't believe you'll fit in any better elsewhere. So can you try to sit on that temper of yours for a few more days, huh? Just until Meka's back?" He shook a sheet of paper at Danny as if Danny was supposed to be able to read it like that. "Will it help if I keep you busy? It better. I have something for you. Homicide. Detective John McGarrett. Killed execution style in his home at 2727 Piikoi Street. No witnesses, no apparent motive, and the lead investigator and his partner are out of commission due to a car accident."
He tossed the paper at Danny, who caught it reflexively and glanced at the case number. Awesome. Four days old. The autopsy was done and the body cleared for burial. If the trail hadn't gone cold already, it was about to, and of course it'd be Danny's fault if he didn't manage to catch the killer. Make that the cop killer. Huh. Why the hell wasn't the entire department buzzing with outrage and an unhealthy thirst for vengeance? Was he really that much out of the loop?
"With all due respect, sir-"
Captain Sepada snorted.
Danny paused, bit down a comment or ten, and tried to remember the gist of all the anger management classes he'd been forced to attend since he'd met Rachel. Finally, he folded his hands to keep from slapping them on the desk and continued with what he thought was a whole damn lot of dignity and calm, "I would very much appreciate it if you told your people to cooperate with me, sir. I'm good, but even I can't solve a murder if most of my supposed 'colleagues' keep trying to trip me up instead of doing their damn job."
"Nobody is trying to trip you up," Sepada claimed, but he winced as he said it, which kind of undermined his credibility. "Just... do the best you can until Meka is back, all right? And Williams?"
Danny raised an eyebrow, waiting for the inevitable. "Sir?"
"Stop rubbing it in."
Danny kept his face blank. "Stop rubbing what in?"
"You know what," the captain snapped, tone considerably sharper now. "Tagari is one incident away from making an official complaint. You're both officers of the law, there will be no challenges, are we clear?"
"I'm not challenging anybody," Danny told him placidly, "I know my place and I'm secure in my masculinity. Not so sure about Lieutenant Tagari though." He leaned forward conspiratorially. "I hear he's got a pink tail and frilly fins." Sepada gasped and flushed scarlet. Satisfied, Danny leaned back again. "It would explain the overcompensating."
Day Two ended with Captain Sepada popping antacids, Danny happily buried in crime scene photos and ballistics reports, and Rachel caving and allowing Danny to drive his daughter to school after all. Basically, Day Two without Meka could've been worse.
Baby steps, Danny reminded himself. Itty bitty baby steps.
On Day Three, Danny met Steve.
Some Assembly Required
Detective Danny Williams was not what Steve had expected.
When Chin told him they'd put a haole on his dad's case – worse, a malihini haole fish-dick – Steve had not been a happy camper. Mer-people... Homo pisces... were rare, elitist, and not known for their dedication to human causes. The only tribes used to working closely with humans were the Hawai'ian tribes, who called themselves ali'i kai, Sea Royalty, some of the European tribes, like the Mediterranean neráida, and a few of the ægirsfólk, the Viking bloodlines. The objectives of mers and humans didn't always completely overlap and when in doubt a mer would always put the interests of his kind over those of the humans. Understandable, maybe, but not a trait Steve wanted to see in the person investigating his father's death.
It didn't help that in all his years in the Navy, Steve had been on a grand total of four missions that had involved Homo pisces in some capacity and he hadn't enjoyed the experience. Get a mer into the water and they inevitably became a pain in the ass. The scary kind. Steve still had nightmares about an infiltration op in the Persian Gulf that had gone south, about dark water below and the black hull of an enemy ship above, and about the creature coming at him from the deep, sleek and deadly, with cold shark eyes and a mouth full of serrated teeth that smiled a killer's smile at him.
The scar on Steve's side itched when he first saw Danny, as it always did in the presence of mers. He barely noticed over the thunder of his heart. His fight or flight response was kicking in big time, and since the 'flight' option had been pretty much trained out of him, his gun was up and pointed at the mer detective before he'd made a conscious decision to do so. And then the shouting started, which should've been the first clue that Danny Williams wasn't your typical fish-dick. If Chin hadn't told him and if his scar hadn't tingled like crazy, Steve never would've guessed. It made Steve angry, because it felt like a deception, like the HPD wasn't being upfront about who they'd sent. Steve's father was... had been... mostly indifferent on the issue of mainlanders, but he'd actively resented mer-people. Steve didn't know why and had never quite understood, but he figured it didn't matter now – putting a fish-dick on the case was adding insult to injury.
He couldn't let it go and Williams wouldn't, so in the end, Steve had no choice. He called the governor and agreed to head her shiny new task force, and then he walked out of the garage with his father's tool box and Danny Williams' blue-eyed glare burning holes into his back.
The brief, but memorable, interlude in the garage should've been the end of it. Steve had rescued his father's case from the hands of the Jersey fish-dick and was taking it over himself. He went by the precinct, collected the files, then went back to his motel and worked through them, and that should've been it, but... damn it. Once Steve had taken a step back from his grief- and possibly fear-fueled initial reaction and reactivated the rational part of his brain, the facts made him regret his decision to kick Danny Williams off the case.
Williams was the only one who'd made any kind of headway in the investigation, the only one who seemed to have made an effort. He'd doggedly collected all files, reports, and notes from the primary investigators, had apparently annoyed the medical examiner into double-checking his statement, and he'd defended the crime scene against intruders. Granted, Steve hadn't much appreciated that at the time, but in retrospect he had to admit Williams had done the right thing. He'd also requested a wiretap on a guy named Doran just a few hours before, but there was no explanation as to why.
Steve leaned back and stared down at the files, rubbing a hand over his mouth as he considered his options.
This task force thing might actually come in handy. He didn't doubt that Victor Hesse was still on the island, dug in somewhere until he could leave safely. Hesse knew Steve almost as well as Steve knew him, and he'd adjust his plans accordingly. Steve needed to come at him from an unexpected angle. He needed new blood, a fresh pair of eyes, someone who thought differently and was hard to kill. Williams was a mer from New Jersey; it didn't get much tougher or more alien than that. Williams had also already proved that he was both smart and invested in the case. He wasn't working with the SSF, had been walking the crime scene alone, which indicated there might not be a whole lot of resistance if, say, someone might want him transferred to another unit. Or a new task force.
The only thing that made Steve hesitate was purely personal. He wanted to pretend it was reluctance to work with a mer, because he knew firsthand how unpredictable and flat out dangerous these creatures could be, but Steve wasn't in the habit of lying to himself. He'd felt a spark of attraction to Williams from the start, a flare of want... worse, a flare of genuine interest... intense and completely unexpected. It had been easy to ignore then, because the mission came first and Williams had been an obstacle, but Steve wasn't sure he could trust himself to work with the man – the mer – and keep the necessary emotional distance. If Steve had one weakness, it was his inability to completely shut down his feelings, and Williams was the kind of trouble that hit every one of Steve's buttons: passionate, stubborn, intelligent, and pretty damn good-looking, if you liked the short, compact type that could flip a tail when dropped into water. Apparently, Steve did.
He scowled at Williams' personnel file, lying on top of the pile of papers. Like the man, it didn't budge, unimpressed by his glower. If he wanted Williams on his team, he'd simply have to suck it up and deal with it. He'd been trained to compartmentalize, it shouldn't be a problem. Not ideal, given that he wasn't at his best, but no matter how often Steve went through the data, the result remained the same. Detective Daniel Williams was the best choice for the job.
Decision made, Steve speed-dialed Jameson again.
"There's a New Jersey transplant on the Force. A Homo pisces detective by the name of Williams. I want him as my XO."
"Consider it done," she said immediately. "I'll send my aide over to the precinct with the paperwork within the hour. Anyone else?"
"Yes, I want Chin Ho Kelly. Possibly a fourth person at some point, I'll let you know." He was testing her and she knew it, he could tell by the brief pause that followed his demand of Chin's reinstatement.
"Kelly," she muttered, as if she didn't know exactly who he was talking about, and he smirked mirthlessly at the stalling tactic. Full immunity and means was a big promise. He needed an idea about how far she was willing to go, how committed she was to this cause. "It's said he was on the take. A corrupt cop."
"Allegedly." Steve shrugged even though she couldn't see him. "He was my father's partner. My father trained him, so I know he's good."
"This may take a little longer," the governor warned, but she was posturing, trying to make it sound more difficult than it was going to be. Steve wasn't big on social interaction, but he'd spent five years in Naval Intelligence, he knew politicians.
"I'm sure you'll be able to pull it off," he said, dryly. "I'll be in touch."
Now all he had to do was reel in the fish.
Williams lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment in one of Honolulu's more exciting neighborhoods. The walls were paper-thin, security a joke... there wasn't even a bed, only an unmade, puke-yellow pull-out couch that took up most of the living room. Kitchenette in the corner, a door that likely led to the bathroom, and not much else. No personal effects except for a picture of a smiling little girl, a few children's drawings proudly displayed on a cheap bulletin board, and a worn copy of an HPD textbook on the nightstand. Nothing there to steal, though Steve didn't think that was the main reason why Williams seemed mostly unconcerned with the flimsy lock or the cheap windows. This was a mer's nest now, proudly declared by a blood red clan sigil painted on the doorframe. Anybody stupid enough to enter without explicit permission deserved what they got.
Strangely enough, Williams didn't seem to mind Steve walking right in and poking around. He kept watching his unexpected visitor quizzically as they talked, didn't hesitate to share the information he'd dug up and explain his reasoning, and didn't even raise his voice when Steve blithely informed him he was being drafted into the governor's new task force. Steve had come half expecting a fight, but Danny followed him down the stairs docilely, grumbling about the weather and pushy soldier boys in between checking his gun and digging out his car keys.
"I'm driving," Steve told him, mostly to see how far he could push.
Danny laughed out loud and walked to the driver's side without breaking stride. "The hell you are. When's the last time you slept for more than a couple'a hours? My guess is five days, maybe more." He stabbed a finger at Steve over the roof of his low-slung muscle car (seriously, that was a nice ride), patently unimpressed by Steve's second best commanding officer scowl. "Get in, McGarrett. You can navigate, provided you can still see straight. There's a cooler in the back. Grab a soda, you'll need the sugar."
He did have a point, he wasn't being an ass about it, and, most importantly, he somehow managed to keep anything resembling power play out of it. This wasn't about hierarchy, it was about not ending up in a ditch, so Steve snatched a can of Coke, got in on the passenger side and sank back against the comfortable leather seats, trying not to let on that Danny's assessment had been spot-on. He hadn't been able to sleep since he'd listened to his father die over the phone. Catnaps he could do, but every time he reached a REM phase, the sound of that gunshot would jerk him back awake. It wasn't a problem yet, he'd been trained to work through little sleep, but exhaustion was starting to gnaw at his resolve. A few more hours and he was going to lose his edge completely, senses dulling more than experience could compensate for, reaction time slowing down below what was acceptable.
By the time they were cruising along the coast, Steve could feel himself relax. He fought it with all he had, because this was not the time to ease up, not when he was about to engage an arms dealer with a partner he didn't know and didn't entirely trust. Staying alert and aloof, though, proved even harder than he'd anticipated. Danny's presence wasn't nearly as abrading as he'd imagined it was going to be; truth be told, it was almost soothing, despite the vague sense of disgruntlement Danny radiated. The attraction was still there and steadily growing with every shift of Danny's body and every whiff Steve caught of fading aftershave and salt-tinged musk, but right then the companionable silence between them proved much more effective in creeping through Steve's protective walls.
When Danny's phone started to screech the shower theme from Psycho and flashed a woman's name, Steve was grateful for the opportunity to break the spell. Anything to keep himself awake and ready for action, and ex-wives always made a good conversation starter. Even the toughest tough guy tended to be reduced to a wronged, moping wreck when his ex was involved. It helped that, for once, Steve truly was curious about someone else's private life. Danny was fucking with Steve's preconceptions and that irked Steve.
"I take it your marriage didn't end well?"
Danny glanced at him then looked back at the road, fingers tightening on the steering wheel. "No." For a second it looked like he might leave it at that, but apparently the ex-husband rules applied to mers, too, because he couldn't resist elaborating. "Might've, if she hadn't remarried and I hadn't made her move out to this pineapple-infested hell hole for her own safety. My... uhm... my family didn't appreciate her leaving me for a lungbreather." He glanced at Steve again. "No offense."
Steve shrugged, unbothered by the casual slur. Wasn't so long ago that he'd thought of Danny as a fish-dick. He figured that made them about even. "You don't like it here? I thought you'd feel right at home on an island."
Danny shifted uncomfortably. "I don't like the beach."
Now that... that didn't make a lick of sense, not even for as weird a mer as this one. "You don't like the beach," Steve repeated flatly, disbelieving. "Who doesn't like the beach? Next you'll tell me you don't swim."
Broad shoulders hunched defensively. Danny stared straight ahead, a muscle twitching in his jaw. "I like cities, okay? Skyscrapers. Concrete. Sensible weather..."
"But you swim," Steve insisted, strangely bothered by the idea that Danny might not. There were limited reasons why a mer wouldn't swim and none of them pleasant. Most boiled down to serious injuries or illness-related defects and all of them were fatal in the end. Mers who couldn't swim tended to suffer from depression and usually took themselves out of the equation sooner or later. Steve told himself he needed a fully functional mer on his team, not a cripple, not someone who'd eat his own gun before the year was over, and that this was why his heart was suddenly doing overtime and his belly was cramping so badly he thought he might be sick. It wasn't because the thought of Danny suffering, of Danny taking his own life, was somehow intolerable.
Unaware of Steve's agitation, Danny scowled at the road. "I swim. I swim for survival, not fun."
The phone chirped again, neatly covering Steve's quiet breath of relief. Danny glared down at it bitterly, but snatched it up eventually.
"Yes, dear." And then he proceeded to turn Steve's world upside down again with a long, gentle, "Heeeeeyy, monkey," that started out all delighted surprise and ended in a near coo so warm and joyful Steve's heart did another flip. This couldn't be healthy.
Who the hell was Danny talking to?
His daughter, Steve realized as he listened to Danny chat happily, and good God, the man was damn near glowing with love and pride. It did funny things to Steve's insides that Steve would've loved to blame on bad seafood, but he hadn't eaten since the night before and it hadn't been seafood, just a banana and a slightly squashed granola bar.
Maybe making Danny Williams his partner hadn't been such a great idea after all.
The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday
Steve was the most interesting thing that had happened to Danny since he'd set foot on the godforsaken island of Oahu and he certainly was easy on the eyes. So for a few hours there, Danny was surprisingly okay with the new turn his life had taken, even if it boiled down to being hijacked by a semi-insane SEAL on a personal vendetta. While Danny didn't appreciate having his case snatched from him and then being summarily snatched up himself, he couldn't quite work up the appropriate level of annoyance. He didn't even mind Steve invading his nest, touching his picture of Grace, and barking orders at Danny. He wasn't particularly pleased, but he was willing to go along for the ride and see what'd come of it.
Danny's benevolent mood lasted until McGarrett got him shot and then had the gall to take him in an armlock when Danny got in his face about it. An armlock violent enough to make Danny's shoulder grind painfully in its socket, contemplating an untimely escape. An armlock that put Danny on his knees right in front of what felt like half the HPD patrol officers who'd taken such delight in making Danny's life hell these past six months. It didn't leave Danny many options, so he took the one least likely to lead to bloodshed:
He punched Lieutenant Commander Steven J. McGarrett right in his smug fucking face, just hard enough to leave an impression, and then he walked away.
This was not going to work.
God help him, it worked.
Danny had gotten used to Meka, who was solid and quietly competent, incredibly hard to rile, and generally easy to handle as a partner. Steve was a menace. He had the social graces of a junkyard dog, was stubborn, single-minded, reckless bordering on suicidal, too smart for his own good, and so damn broken it made Danny's stupid heart ache to look at him sometimes. Half the time Danny was torn between the urge to throttle the man and the equally strong impulse to hug the stuffing out of him in an attempt to make the wounded puppy eyes go away. Grace was going to love Steve, he could tell. She always went for the hopeless cases, the affection-starved strays, and he loved her for it, but it scared the hell out of him, too.
Chin Ho Kelly wasn't much better, all cynical quips and distrustful eyes. Not quite as bad as Steve, but close. He had a wicked sense of humor, that one, tinged with affection when it came to Steve and a hint of meanness when it came to Danny. It didn't bother Danny overmuch. Most people who knew what he was didn't quite know what to make of him at first, whether to see him as a threat or an ally. It was worse with Chin because of Kono. The cousin. The hopeful rookie. Their future undercover bimbo, minus the bimbo.
Kono, beautiful, happy-go-lucky Kono with the mean right cross, turned out to be a half-breed. When she rose from the water in the wake of a collision with another surfer, her eyes covered by yellow membranes, her webbed hands very obvious against the white of her board, Chin turned to Danny with something so close to viciousness Danny took a startled step back.
"Choose your next words carefully," he warned, "both of you."
Danny grinned at him, not intimidated in the least. "I bet nobody ever calls her a fish-dick."
Chin opened his mouth, blinked, and closed it again, at a loss for words. Steve flushed scarlet, which told Danny that, yes, McGarrett was familiar with the term and had most likely used it in relation to Danny. Down by the water, Kono stalked out of the surf and decked the idiot who'd dropped in on her wave. Danny approved. Couldn't let some inconsiderate bastard push you around, not when life had already nailed a 'kick me' sign to your ass.
She took one look at Danny, sniffed discreetly, and flashed him a wide, pearly smile, not a fang in sight.
"Aloha, kaikunane," she trilled, sounding genuinely pleased to meet him, which was a first for Danny and promptly softened him up even more though he had no clue what kaikunane meant. He could tell from the tone of her voice that it wasn't an insult, which was enough to make him happy. "You're the ægirsfólk cop who don't swim, right? You surf?"
Danny winced a little, remembering his one and only try. "If by 'surf' you mean, do you like 'surf and turf'? Then yes, I do enjoy the occasional steak and lobster. If you mean balancing on a piece of plastic while trying to stay on top of the waves, then no. Sorry, systir."
"D'you wanna learn, brah?"
He'd rather get a root canal. He was casting around for a diplomatic way of saying, "Hell, no!" to this really sweet and generous offer when help came from an unexpected source.
"Chin says you're graduating from the police academy next week," Steve piped up, smoothly inserting himself between Danny and Kono. Kono nodded, looking puzzled. Steve grinned. "How'd you like to earn a little extra credit before you do?"
And just like that, they were four; the weirdest task force to ever task. A SEAL crusader, a mer detective, a half-breed rookie, and a discredited ex-cop. This was either going to go spectacularly wrong, or... Danny smirked. Nah. It was going to work, he could feel it. There was an energy about them when they were together that made him think there was little they wouldn't be able to do if they got a chance to get off the ground.
He was right about that. They clicked into place so easily Danny lost himself in it, let himself engage without the usual filter, and it wasn't until they took a break to collect the things they'd need that Danny realized how much Chin had thawed out and that Kono really wasn't scared of him and, worst of all, that he'd started to touch Steve. Nothing much; small nudges to get the man's attention mostly, little pokes to underline a point, the occasional bump of knee against knee to distract Steve when Steve got too intense, but Danny knew himself and he knew the signs.
He was starting to imprint on the crazy-ass SEAL, daddy issues, lack of common sense, and all. Steve was at least as much of a mess as his father's case was – a violent mess, pieces all over the place, with somebody's bloody handprints all over it – but Danny loved puzzles and wasn't scared by blood and violence, and Steve McGarrett made him feel alive in all the right ways. Danny wanted to pull down those stupid cargo pants and nuzzle between Steve's legs to learn his secrets, maybe lick him a little, see if he tasted as good as he smelled. He wanted to strip down and offer himself, feel Steve's skin against his, make Steve hold on to him and take him Below, down where the cool currents would soothe their heat and carry their mingled scents into the open ocean.
This was a whole lot worse than not getting along.
The trouble with working with Steve McGarrett was that he moved fast, bulldozed through whatever obstacles were in his way, and didn't stop for anything. Keeping up with him made it almost impossible to find the time and privacy for an urgently needed freak-out. At the end of his tether, Danny locked himself in the men's room while Steve and Chin went to terrorize... err, interrogate Sang Min and banged his head against the wall a few times in an attempt to beat his instincts into submission.
Can't. Imprint. On. Steve. Really. Really. Bad. Idea.
Oh God, his mother was going to have a meltdown. First Rachel, now Steve. Apparently, Danny had a thing for humans. Maybe he was wired wrong? Maybe he'd been dropped on his noggin as a kid? Repeatedly? Rachel had been from the Old Country, her family on friendly terms with the North Sea ægirsfólk, and she hadn't had a problem with bearing Danny's half-breed child. It had given her an in with Danny's clan, but Steve? Steve was a man. If Danny wanted more kids, he'd have to carry them himself, which... no. Just no. Worse, Steve was a Navy SEAL. On the up side, this meant he wasn't intimidated by much. On the down side, he was likely to get recalled to active duty at some point and if Danny wanted to go with, he'd have to join the Navy. He didn't want to join the Navy. He was a cop, not a soldier. He had a bad case of sarcasm and he didn't play well with neráidaphobes. This was going to end badly, he could tell.
"You okay in there, brah?"
Kono's voice nipped Danny's rising panic attack in the bud. He took a deep breath, pulled a face at the unpleasant odors that assaulted his unprepared nose, and forced himself to step away from the wall and calm the fuck down.
"I'm good," he lied, and winced when the words came out on a rough rasp that betrayed his distress.
Proving that she was indeed a fitting choice for Steve's select unit of nutjobs, Kono didn't hesitate to pop the lock, push open the door, and come in when she heard his pathetic croak.
"Jesus, woman," Danny yelped, flailing at her as if that might push her right back out. "You can't just walk into the men's room! Were you raised in a kiddie pool? What is it with people here in Hawaii? You never heard of privacy?"
Kono rolled her eyes, clearly not getting the point at all. "Chill, brah, I just wanted to check you hadn't fallen in or anything." She eyed him critically, gaze lingering on the faint bruise on his forehead. "Whoa. Did you try to bash in your head? Are you okay?"
Danny glared at her. He knew it was no use, because he'd known her for a grand total of seventeen hours, but he could already tell she had too much in common with McGarrett to be anything but a lovable pain in the ass. Still, somebody had to be the voice of reason with such a bunch of lunatics and he had a feeling that Chin Ho couldn't yell loud enough to make himself heard over the ever present background rush of insanity.
"I did not try to bash in my head, okay? I was trying to find some inner peace and serenity, an effort that is clearly lost on the company I keep. I was meditating."
Even he knew that had been weak. Kono raised a skeptical eyebrow. "You might wanna consider taking up yoga instead. This looks painful."
She reached out to touch the bruise and Danny forced himself to hold still. It was a breach of taboo, her invading his personal space like this, but it wasn't indignation that made Danny want to flinch away. It was the memory of a shitload of little and not-so-little cruelties he'd suffered since he'd come to Hawaii, too many breaches of peacekeeping protocol that had almost ended in a challenge. He fought down his reaction, allowed the gentle touch, but her fingers felt wrong, too small, too soft, and he realized with a stab of despair that it was too late. He'd already imprinted on Steve. He was so damn fucked.
"Don't," he said quietly, and this time Kono listened to him and pulled away slowly, careful not to provoke an instinctive reaction.
"Shit," she muttered, sudden understanding making her eyes widen almost comically. "You're bonding?"
"No, I'm not," Danny snapped, scared and confused and decidedly unhappy about this new curveball life was throwing him. "I may have imprinted a bit. Maybe." He waved a finger at her. "Ah. Shut up. We're not discussing this. This is my problem. I'll get over it. And just for the record, I expect you to show some common courtesy and keep quiet about it."
She didn't look happy about that. "Don't you think McGarrett has a right to know, Danny?"
"No." The thought made Danny break out in cold sweat. He'd trusted Rachel with this once and she'd ended up using it against him, letting him bond a bit and then forcing him away when he couldn't live up to her expectations. He knew she'd done it mostly to protect herself, but the wounds were still bleeding sluggishly and he wasn't about to let a near stranger anywhere near them. "It's not going to be an issue. I'm good. I will be good. I need some time to get used to it, is all. I can handle it."
"Sure you can." Kono didn't even try to look convinced. "This is a bad idea, brah. You're gonna get hurt."
"I tried to bond with a human before. It didn't take." He didn't like to admit his failure, but he wasn't about to hide this particular piece of info. Danny wasn't ashamed of Rachel, because that would've implied he was ashamed of Gracie, which was unthinkable. Grace was the best thing in his life. If he could've turned back time, he'd have still chosen to be with Rachel again, gone through all the heartbreak and devastation a second time so he'd get to keep his little girl.
Kono winced, but it was sympathy in her eyes, not pity, and Danny felt some of the tension leave him when she refrained from the usual platitudes. "That sucks," was all she had to say, which was so true Danny didn't have an answer beyond a resigned shrug. Kono shifted from one foot to the other unhappily. "It'll be tough though. You're already pretty far gone."
"I can do it." Danny waved a hand dismissively. "I've gotten through a divorce, six months of pineapple hell, and last week I had almost an entire conversation with my ex-wife's new husband. We were civil. There was no yelling. I even shook his hand. I can get through that, I can deal with a crush, no problem." He sighed. "Now can you please leave?"
Kono narrowed her eyes at him suspiciously. "So you can hit your head again?"
"No," Danny corrected patiently, "so I can piss."
"Oh." A faint blush dusted Kono's cheekbones. "Oh!" She backpedaled, finally. "Yes! Sure. Sorry. I'll be..." She pointed at the door. "...yeah."
He was never ever going to get his dignity back, ever. "Just go, Kono."
"Later, boss!" And with a cheeky grin, she was gone.
Danny watched her retreat with bemused affection. Weirdoes. All of them. Not a single sane person in this task force except for Danny. This was going to be fun. He eyed the wall again speculatively, but his head ached and he wasn't entirely sure Kono was out of earshot yet, so he pissed, washed his hands, and went to rejoin his team.
The Pleasure of Your Company
"Let me recap," the governor said, her tone tight with forced patience, "you confiscated a police cruiser because Detective Williams refused to, and I quote, let a new Camaro be sacrificed in a kamikaze run, end quote."
Actually, Danny's choice of words had been much more colorful, but Steve had thought it prudent to edit them a bit for his report. "It was a reasonable request. It is his car."
Jameson gave him a look not unlike the one he'd gotten from General Rawlins after he'd dropped a wrecked tank from a Hercules plane onto a camp of Taliban fighters, successfully squashing their outpost and clearing the mountain pass in question for a UN convoy en route to Quetta. It was a look that made him feel faintly defensive though he wasn't quite sure what exactly the problem was. Both solutions had been low-risk and nicely cost-effective, and in case of the Camaro had also prevented a heated Williams rant and possibly another attack against Steve's person.
"You then proceeded to drive the cruiser onto the deck of a Chinese freighter ship, which led to a firefight between the two of you and half a dozen hired thugs, only one of whom survived that encounter."
Steve suppressed a sigh and shifted his shoulder impatiently. He wanted out of the sling ASAP, the damn thing was uncomfortable and made him feel trapped, but unfortunately Danny had caught him the last time he'd ditched the hellish contraption. Since Steve wasn't a hundred percent sure Danny wouldn't indeed staple the sling to his shoulder if he didn't use it as prescribed, he'd decided to err on the side of caution and follow doctor's orders for once. The nagging suspicion that he was mostly doing it to earn Danny's bright smile didn't really improve his mood.
"Is there a reason why we're going over this again?" he asked, somewhat tersely. "You offered me full immunity and means. I didn't realize there was a paperwork clause involved."
That bought him a sardonic look, which was fine, he could handle those. "There's always a paperwork clause, Commander." Jameson gestured at the papers in front of her. "I know what I promised and I intend to keep my word, but after reading this, I've decided to add one stipulation."
Steve's eyes narrowed. So did the governor's.
"Name it," Steve growled finally, but he already knew he'd accept, no matter what it was. Hesse was dead. His hunt was over. He needed a new purpose and he'd already found it. Steve had expected he'd want to flee this island of ghosts as soon as his mission was over, and part of him did, but he'd liked working with Chin and Kono. He liked that loud-mouthed, overdressed, cranky, brave, and thoroughly intriguing New Jersey mer. He didn't want to give him up, not yet. Danny had gotten under his skin and Steve was starting to think that maybe this wasn't such a bad thing after all. So if Steve had to make concessions in order to keep his task force and keep his partner, he would.
He braced himself, ready for the worst.
"Detective Williams writes the reports," the governor demanded, eyes flinty and fingers gripping the edge of Steve's file folder like she was holding down a poisonous snake. "He fills out the requisition forms. And whenever there's need for an official statement, he'll write it and you'll recite it."
Steve clung to his poker face by the skin of his teeth. "What if a reporter sticks a mike in my face without prep time?"
"You say, 'no comment', and you refrain from making them eat the camera." She pointed a finger at him, which almost made him smile because it reminded him of Danny. "I mean it, McGarrett. This is going to be a high profile gig. I know you'll get results. I need to know you won't negate these results by alienating the press."
He took a moment, pretending to think about it, just because she'd done the same when he'd made his own demands. The scowl on the governor's face said she knew what he was doing and didn't appreciate it. Don't smirk, the voice of reason told him. He wondered when it'd started to speak to him in a Jersey accent.
Finally, he nodded. "Deal."
Jameson relaxed visibly. "All right then. I hear you have a list of requisitions for me?"
Did he ever.
His father's house felt big and empty. Steve dropped his duffel bag in the master bedroom, stared down at the old marriage bed, the bed his father had slept in all those years, alone, and realized he wouldn't be able to rest there. Maybe he could get a new bed, repaint the walls, make it his room, but he didn't have the energy to get started just then. He was tired and banged up and he felt punch-drunk from too many changes happening too quickly without giving him a chance to stop and catch up.
His father was dead.
After years of loving and hating the man, Jack McGarrett was gone, no take-backs, no chance to reconcile. Steve was alone now save for Mary Ann, who hadn't even bothered to come to the funeral. He thought he should grieve for his father, but when he tried there was nothing but an aching kind of emptiness. He shied away from it, slammed a lid on the hurt and shoved it away where he kept all the nasty stuff he couldn't deal with, deep down where it couldn't touch him.
Steve was no longer an active SEAL.
The governor had confirmed his transfer to the reserves before he'd left her office. Steve had been in near constant motion for more than a decade and now he was back where he'd started, trying to coax a new life from the ashes of his past. He didn't know where to start, how to fit into this place he'd loved so much. Paradoxically, now that he'd come home, he felt uprooted.
Hesse was gone.
Five years of hunting the bastard across four continents, over. The bastard had been even harder to kill than expected. He'd known Victor Hesse was tough, had studied the man, known Hesse had been trained by some of the most vicious killers in the world, but he hadn't actually faced him before. He'd sworn to himself he wasn't going to underestimate the man, because that's what got so many people killed. Wiry and unassuming, Hesse didn't look like much, but the fucker had an extremely high tolerance for pain and could dish out as well as he could take. Anton hadn't had his brother's discipline; he'd been captured without a whole lot of bloodshed, but Victor? Victor was like an unfortunate mix of cockroach and pit bull: very hard to corner, harder to kill.
Steve wondered how long it was going to take until he'd stop looking over his shoulder. Probably until the Coast Guard found the body. He should've sent in Danny, but Danny had been busy counting bodies on board the ship in between fussing over Steve and yelling at the ship's captain and the HPD officers who'd been late to the party, and Steve honestly hadn't even remembered Danny was a mer until later, when he'd written his preliminary report.
Then there'd been that memorable 'talk' Steve had had with Danny's former partner, who'd intercepted Steve when he'd left the governor's office. Meka Hanamoa wasn't what Steve would've called an intimidating man, but the veiled threats he'd slipped into his 'take good care of my partner' speech had been impressive. They'd also made Steve think that Danny had had to deal with a lot of crap from his fellow officers and his scaly kin since he'd come to Hawai'i, and that... it bothered Steve.
His body was sore, tired, too wired to sleep. His brain was buzzing dully, like he'd spent hours on the road and could still feel the hum of the tires. Steve knew he should eat something, but he wasn't hungry. He wanted a shower, but the bathroom was too familiar. He ended up in the living room even though the couch was too short for him. It made him think of Danny, of that small, shabby apartment with its uncomfortable-looking pull-out couch and the single picture of a little girl with her Danno's sweet smile. Not much of a nest. He imagined Danny there, sleeping, drinking coffee, and waiting for Grace; always waiting for Grace.
Where did the kid sleep when she visited? What did she think of the drab walls, the lack of everything? Steve would have to check Danny's finances; he had no idea whether his partner could or couldn't afford a better place, whether he had enough money to take Grace somewhere nice sometimes. He would once he got his first paycheck, Steve had made sure of that, but until then...
"Fuck it," he muttered eventually, and forced his exhausted body up and off the couch. He couldn't do anything to improve his own life, but maybe he could do something for Danny.
Danny was at the new task force headquarters, surrounded by file boxes and computer parts, still wearing his tie even though it was evening and the air conditioning wasn't working yet. He was keeping half an eye on the movers and the technicians while unpacking his own crates, his movements slow and lacking his usual verve. He must've been as bone-tired as Steve, but he looked content and that didn't change when he glanced up and noticed Steve.
Suddenly unsure and uncharacteristically tongue-tied, his scar tingling like crazy, Steve fumbled his present from his back pocket. It'd been a spur of the moment decision to get it, hadn't seemed like a big deal when he'd jumped into his rental and driven out to the place he'd remembered from the tourist brochures at the motel. Now though, faced with the proud man who'd somehow become so important to him in such a short time, he started to doubt the wisdom of his choice. What if Danny didn't like it? What if he thought it was condescending?
Deciding that a hit and run might be his best option, Steve put the envelope on the desk in front of Danny, smiled nervously, did a neat about-face, and started for the exit. Danny, of course, couldn't just take it and open it when Steve was safely out of yelling range.
"Whoa. What's this?"
Shit. Steve turned back around reluctantly, keeping a wary eye on Danny's face. "It's three nights at the Kahala hotel." Danny opened his mouth, scowl already in place, and Steve knew he had to talk fast to make his point. "There's a saltwater pool, you can swim with the dolphins. Kids love dolphins, right? You can take Grace there, sleep in a real bed... I booked you the mer suite; apparently it comes with complimentary fish. Consider it my apology for getting you shot, okay?"
He forced himself to stop before he embarrassed himself even more, but Danny's eyes softened and somehow that made it all right, made it worth the humiliation of finding himself babbling like a teenager with a crush.
"That's..." Danny cleared his throat, looking a bit flushed himself. "That's actually very nice of you. Thank you." He touched the envelope with the tips of his fingers and for a moment Steve thought he'd done it, jackpot, Danny was accepting his gift, but then Danny sighed regretfully and shoved the paper square back towards Steve's side of the desk. "But I can't. I'd love to, don't get me wrong, but I can't."
Steve swallowed against the knot of disappointment in his throat and nodded jerkily. "Okay. That's- that's all right. I didn't mean to-"
"We're ægirsfólk," Danny interrupted him gently.
Steve stared at him blankly, unsure what that had to do with anything.
Danny huffed out a quiet laugh. He picked up the envelope, twisted it in his fingers as he explained, unable to keep his hands still, as always. "Your local mers, the ali'i kai - and talk about pretentious, really. Sea royalty, my scaly tail!" He flailed a bit, envelope flapping merrily. The lump in Steve's throat started to dissolve. Danny grumbled something about swollen heads and snobby goldfishes then circled back to where he'd started. "Anyway, in the great scheme of things, your local tribes are very, very distantly related to dolphins. They get along swell. Really. It's beautiful. With the- the jumping and the twirling and the chattering..." He shook his head. "It's like watching endless reruns of Flipper. A little nauseating, to be honest."
The lump was back, but this time it was caused by a tidal wave of fondness. "Don't diss Flipper, brah, that's not cool," Steve scolded, though by this point he wouldn't have minded if Danny had thrown Flipper on the barbecue and had him for lunch, he was that far gone.
"Figures you'd be a fan," Danny smirked, and fanned himself with the envelope. "What I'm trying to say is that Grace and I, we're from a different bloodline. Long story short, ægirsfólk have more in common with sharks than with Flipper. If I put Gracie in a pool with a couple of dolphins, they'd probably try to punt her right back out. Then I'd have to kill the dolphins, which would be messy and I don't think hotel management would approve. So thank you, I appreciate the thought, I do, but I'm afraid I have to pass."
He held out the envelope. Steve looked at it for a long minute, then took a step back.
"Keep it. It's valid for a year. You ever need a break or want to sleep in a decent bed for a couple of nights, you know where to go. You can even bring a plus one." He grinned. "Just don't kill the fucking dolphins, okay?"
Danny chuckled. "Yeah, okay, I can do that."
He took Steve's gift and slipped it in his pocket, and maybe Steve's own smile turned a little goofy at that, but what the hell. It'd been a long day and that maddening prickle of his scar was doing weird things to him.
"Want to come over?" he asked on impulse. Then, to sweeten the pot, "I have beer. And cable."
He needn't have worried. Apparently, he'd had Danny at 'beer'. "You got something to eat, too? 'Cause I'm starving."
"We can swing by a pizza place," Steve offered, perking up at the prospect of not having to spend a long, lonely evening in the house where his father had died. He walked out of the office with Danny by his side, the empty pit in his stomach almost gone by the time they reached the stairs. "There used to be this little hole in the wall joint on Kapiolani Boulevard, they had the best ham and pineapple pizza."
This turned out to be the wrong thing to say. Danny had issues with pineapples. And pizza. Especially with pineapples on pizza. Or anywhere near pizza. He also had issues with Steve driving his car, but this time Steve managed to snatch the keys and slide behind the wheel while Danny was still reading him the riot act about his pick-pocketing.
"This is not over," Danny warned as he buckled up.
No, Steve thought, it wasn't over. Wasn't going to be over for a long time, if he had anything to say about it. He grinned at Danny, started up the Camaro, and let her fly.
Blood in the Water
I woke up and he was screaming
I'd left him dreaming
I roll over and shake him tightly, and whisper
"If they want you, then they're gonna have to fight me."
"Night Terror" by Laura Marling
There were four of them, a single fire team of SEALs gliding through the murky waters of an unnamed stretch of sea off the coast of a country that hadn't seen peace in several generations. Above the surface, dusk had fallen, and the ever weakening rays of the sun could barely illuminate the quiet underwater world they were cutting through in loose formation.
They lost their rear guard first and didn't realize it until Steve glanced over his right shoulder and there was an empty spot where Jackson should've been. He knew without a doubt Jackson was dead, taken by-
The water was cooling down and it became hard to move, but they kept going, forward, towards the dark, hulking shape of the enemy ship moored in the distance. The silence around them was absolute.
Sluggishly, Steve turned his head and looked to his left. Toole was gone, too. A fine, red mist drifting in the water was all that was left, and even that was already dissipating.
It was so cold now Steve's heart was stuttering, but he pressed on, unable to stop or change course. The ship wasn't getting any closer, no matter how hard he pushed. It wouldn't offer shelter anyway, because in the shadow of its bow something was waiting, something-
The rich honey-gold of the evening sunlight was fading into washed-out sepia brown, taking with it the last hint of warmth. Steve could barely see anything, but a terrible compulsion made him glance down and there was Gibbs, drifting away into the black in a cloud of blood, mask gone, his eyes wide open and empty. His guts were trailing after him like long, curly ribbons, swaying and spinning in the gentle current.
From the corner of his eye, Steve spotted a flash of movement, like the flick of a long, black fish tail, there and gone.
Steve woke with a start, eyes snapping open in the darkness of his bedroom. He stared at the narrow lines of moonlight striping the floor through the blinds, but all he saw was bloody water and the dead eyes of his second in command. He couldn't move. His heart was hammering so hard he feared it might burst through his chest and he clenched his teeth as if that might keep it in. Irrational, maybe, but he couldn't help it. He wasn't quite there yet, half awake but not nearly awake enough, caught between nightmare and memories. Shivering, he tried to untangle himself from the sheets, but his movements were jerky, uncoordinated, and the bunched up material stuck to his sweaty skin like duct tape. The scar on his side ached dully.
He took a deep, carefully measured breath, wrangling back control with stubborn persistence. SEALs didn't panic. Panic was for pussies. SEALs might get scared, because only idiots didn't, but they didn't lose it and they certainly did not freak out over a goddamn night terror. It hadn't even happened that way. The details in the dream had been all wrong, as usual.
Slowly, deliberately, Steve shifted and moved until he could tug the sheet out from under his body and free himself. He focused on the sensation of drenched cotton, the smell of plumeria carried in by the sea breeze, the sound of the ocean, and bit by bit his heartbeat calmed and the tremors receded. It'd been a long time since he'd had this particular dream. Months. The frequency had tapered off over the years, but it hadn't actually stopped until he'd started working with Danny. Maybe that had been coincidence. Maybe he'd simply been too busy, his mind preoccupied with other things, and now...
Who was he kidding? He knew exactly why he was having the nightmare again.
"What do we have?"
"Whoa!" Danny turned around quickly, startled by Steve's voice, hands up defensively. "Shit, Steve, I'm gonna put a bell on you one of these days, swear to God. Freaking ninja." He swept an assessing gaze over Steve. "You look like my aunt Marie after a four-day bender. Did you sleep at all?"
Steve gave him the stink eye, not that it did him any good. Danny, he'd learned, was immune to scare tactics. "I slept," he rasped. Fuck. That hadn't come out very convincing.
Danny's right eyebrow promptly did that thing again where it climbed almost to his hairline. It was a very eloquent non-verbal statement.
"...some," Steve amended grudgingly. "I slept some. I slept enough."
His partner continued to look skeptical. He was also faintly vibrating with energy, which meant the little fucker had either slumbered like an angel or... Steve gave Danny a discreet once-over, scanned the office, zoomed in on the trash can. Bingo.
In a way, Danny himself was the biggest clue, because the usually so perceptive detective was so preoccupied with Steve's lack of rest he didn't even notice he himself was under scrutiny. "If you slept enough, what are you doing back at the office at such an ungodly time, Steven? Are you sleepwalking?"
"You are such a hypocrite," Steve told him mildly, smirking a bit when Danny stopped talking and flushed guiltily. "How many?"
Arms crossed, shoulders back, chin up... Danny knew exactly what Steve was talking about, but he was trying to bluff it out, the contrary bastard. Steve probably shouldn't have found such an irritating character trait so adorable, but he'd long acknowledged to himself that he wasn't entirely rational when it came to Danny Williams.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Danny lied, badly.
Steve rolled his eyes. "The Camaro's engine is stone cold. You changed your shirt, but you forgot to pick out a new tie. You have that glassy look in your eyes you get when you've been staring at a computer screen for too long. You're jittery," he jerked his chin at the trash can, "and you tossed the coffee cups into the trash here in the main office. That was sloppy. So I know you've been here most of the night. What I need to know is: how much espresso did you drink?"
Danny lost the defensive posture and had the grace to look a bit sheepish at being caught. "Why? Why do you need to know?"
"I'm your partner," Steve reminded him. "I'll be the one to scrape you off the floor once the caffeine wears off."
"I'm not going to crash." Danny sounded offended at the suggestion, but it only took an expectant look for him to drop the bluster and shrug. "I don't know. Five? Seven? A lot. This place is stupidly quiet after hours."
"Why didn't you call me?" Steve asked, trying to come across as merely curious and ending up somewhere between hurt and angry. He could've been working. At the office. With Danny. He could've been spared that goddamn nightmare. He was unreasonably sure he wouldn't have had it if Danny had been there. "I didn't want to go home in the first place."
"You were about to face-plant onto your desk, Steve." A hand flapped in a passable mimicry of such an event. "And I hate to break it to you, but - contrary to what my daughter thinks - you are not actually a superhero. You're human, you need sleep."
The anger was back in a flash. "What, and you don't? That why you've been mainlining coffee? 'Cause you suddenly don't need sleep anymore? Is it a mer thing?" He leaned forward into Danny's space, glaring. "Or are you just being stupid in a way you'd rip me a new one for?"
The bark of laughter he got in return was devoid of humor. "Is it a mer thing? Is it-" and Danny was right there in Steve's face, every bit as forceful as Steve. "Yes, it's a mer thing, you landlubber mammal! It's a mer thing as in, we got two dead bodies chewed up and ripped apart by what seems to be a phenomenally destructive member of my species and my partner damn near suffered the same fate at some point in his highly classified life."
He poked an accusatory finger at Steve's side, where the scar was tingling sweetly as if pleased by Danny's proximity. Steve jerked involuntarily, his entire body electrified by the brief touch. Danny took it the wrong way and flinched back, hands up, palms out, trying to look harmless even though he was still livid.
"Look at you, you're jumpy like I'm gonna take a bite out of you next. You really think I want you anywhere near this mess? Best case scenario, you'll be having nightmares for months, worst case-" He interrupted himself, narrowing his eyes. "What? What's that face?"
It was Steve's turn to lean back and cross his arms defensively, because if he didn't, he was going to do something stupid, like grab Danny and refuse to let go again. Danny was being an idiot, but he was doing it out of protectiveness, and that made Steve's anger melt like a bit of shave ice in the afternoon sun. Of course he knew his partner cared about him. For all his bluster and his deflective maneuvers, Danny was shit at hiding his affection. He showed it every day in a thousand little gestures that had long become vital to Steve's happiness. It was rare though that Danny admitted openly how much Steve's wellbeing mattered to him. It felt so good Steve was having trouble hanging on to his indignation about having been outmaneuvered.
"I'm fine, Danny," he said softly, trying to reassure his volatile friend without setting him off again. "This is my 'I'm fine' face, okay?"
His fingers still twitched with the desire to touch, to cup Danny's unshaved cheek, trace his lips, pull him in and hold him close. It was getting harder and harder to resist these urges. Steve would've denied it to his grave, but fact was he tended to be a tad single-minded sometimes. Focused. Possibly, a shrink or two had called him a borderline obsessive personality and Steve had to admit the term certainly applied when it came to Detective Danny Williams. Steve wanted to know everything about Danny. He wanted to insert himself so deeply into the man's life Danny wouldn't be able to imagine being without Steve anymore, wouldn't ever think of leaving. It had gotten to the point where the state of New Jersey had become Steve's personal hell, his biggest rival in the battle for Danny's affections. The mere mention of the place made Steve grit his teeth and wish for a cold nuke.
What was worst though, the thing that made Steve more than a little crazy, was that he'd never seen Danny swim. He knew Danny was a mer, he'd read the files, he'd seen evidence of it in their everyday lives. Sometimes, rarely, he'd witnessed Danny flash teeth at an uppity Hawai'ian mer, but he'd never caught more than a brief glimpse of sharp, white fangs before Danny had turned his head or closed his mouth again to hide. Steve had read so many books on mers, in particular the ægirsfólk tribes, that he had a pretty good idea of what Danny might look like when he flipped his tail, but he didn't know. It was driving him nuts.
"Yo, Earth to Commander Steve!" Danny's waving hands snapped Steve out of his zone and directed his attention back to his partner, who was trying not to look worried and failing badly. "See? That's what I mean. You're not fine, babe. You're exhausted. You need a break."
"I... we need to catch this guy before the press realize we might have a mer serial killer on our hands," Steve corrected, because that was an entirely different nightmare of his – people in a panic might start a witch hunt on mers, and Danny, as a member of a high profile task force, would make a prime target. Couldn't let that happen. So Steve squared his shoulders and put on his best commanding officer face even though he knew it was a lost cause. Danny had never seen him as anything but an equal. "Let's go over it again, c'mon. What do we have?"
Danny considered him critically then sighed, accepting that Steve wasn't going to budge on this one. "All right. Okay." He rubbed both hands over his face in an effort to reactivate his tired brain before he leaned back against the tech table and focused on Steve. The glint in his eyes said he still had a few hours in him before he crashed. The lines around them told Steve he was going to crash hard.
"Two vics so far. Male, in their thirties, both of them local. Both washed up on the shore in the Kahana Bay area, which according to Kono suggests they were either killed close nearby or tossed into the current off La'ie Point." Danny turned around and leaned forward to bring up the relevant data on the screen. Not for the first time, Steve couldn't help but notice that his partner had a very, very nice backside. It looked extremely grope-able.
"Do we have the autopsy reports for our second victim yet?" Steve asked, mostly to distract himself from his fantasies about what he would've liked to do to Danny's ass.
"Yeah, Max sent them over before he left for the night." With a flick of his wrist, Danny transferred the information from the table to the wall screens, though Steve noted he didn't include the photos. "He believes it's the same killer. The victim was dragged into the water by his wrists and toyed with before he was slaughtered. Good news is the tox screens came back negative, so at least our killer doesn't have poisonous spikes. Also, just for the record, this is one of the reasons why I hate the tropics." Danny shuddered. "Poisonous spikes. Gah. Anyway, cause of death is blood loss and shock; the poor bastard didn't get a chance to drown."
...Gibbs sank slowly towards the ocean floor, entrails ripped from his belly, the insides of his thighs shredded...
Steve shook himself, pushing the image back with the rest of the nightmarish memories where it belonged. "What about the bite marks?"
"Match up. Size and tooth pattern suggest we're dealing with an adult koi male-"
Steve frowned. "Koi? What do domesticated ornamental carps have to do with this?"
Danny paused, a faint flush rising on his cheeks. "Sorry. It's a slang expression." He scratched the back of his neck, which indicated it wasn't a very nice slang expression. "Means he's from one of the tropical warm water tribes." He swished his hand in a way Steve had learned to associate with Danny talking about mers' tails and added, "Almost certainly has gaudy scales. Could have aforementioned poisonous spikes, but thankfully doesn't, which makes me think he's a Red Scale or a Yellow Scale. They're less likely to have venom glands."
This was new, something else he hadn't known about Danny's kind. The reminder of how little he'd been able to learn about the things that were completely normal for Danny didn't sit well with Steve. He felt his lips tighten into an unhappy line, couldn't quite suppress a scowl at his own inadequacy. This wasn't some interesting but essentially unimportant tidbit he'd missed; it was a piece of what could easily be vital information. How could he protect Danny if he didn't know shit about what they might be up against?
"I didn't know that."
Damn it. Since he'd partnered up with Danny, Steve had bought and read every single text on Homo pisces he'd managed to get his greedy hands on, from scientific treaties and fat dissertations to lurid magazine articles that featured dubious mer-people interviews. He hadn't hesitated to pester his old buddies from Naval Intelligence for more obscure papers and had seriously considered bribing Danny's friend Toast to hack into a few classified databases, starting with the SSF's ali'i kai population index that officially didn't exist. The Navy manuals on human/mer interaction had proved to be pretty sobering upon rereading. He hadn't realized how few concrete facts they offered when he'd studied them the first time round, before he'd actually given a shit.
He'd thought he knew the basics now at least, enough to do his job, be a good partner, someone Danny could rely on in every aspect of his life. Clearly, he'd failed.
As usual though, Danny didn't seem bothered by Steve's lack of knowledge. "Of course you didn't know, why would you?"
He was using that tone of his again, the one that said Steve was a strange person; someone Danny was very fond of, but still strange. He often sounded like that when Steve fucked up, didn't know something, couldn't do something - like he didn't understand why Steve would be bothered about his shortcomings. Like they weren't shortcomings at all, in Danny's eyes.
This time though, Steve was going to be thorough, learn it right the first time. He'd read about different bite patterns in a treatise about mer anatomy, but the author had used a ridiculously small sample and hadn't seemed too sure about her findings herself. Apparently, mers didn't donate their bodies to science as a rule and dodged invasive questions on principle. Danny in a nutshell, but then Steve was no scientist. Steve just wanted... needed... to know.
"Explain the teeth thing to me. How can you tell our killer belongs to a warm water tribe?"
Danny shrugged. "Rows," he said simply, hooking two fingers in the air like quotation marks or vampire teeth. "Warm water tribes have one row of teeth; cold water tribes usually have three or four. Also, gaps. If a warm water or freshwater mer loses a tooth, they lose a tooth. Cold water mers can regrow teeth and scales."
"So if somebody punched you in the mouth and you lost a tooth-"
"Which I wouldn't recommend," Danny threw in, dryly, "because I'd hit back."
"-the tooth would grow back," Steve finished, ignoring the comment. Of course Danny would hit back. So would Steve. That wasn't the point.
"Yes, Steven, the tooth would grow back," Danny confirmed patiently. "My tooth. Yours wouldn't, so don't get excited and please keep ducking when people swing at you, okay? Okay. Thanks. Are we done talking about my teeth now? Can we get back to our murderer, please?"
"Sure." Then another thought hit. "Wait. How did Max know?"
"About the bite marks? He examined them. About what they signify? He didn't. I told him." Danny gestured at the screen, bouncing a little on the balls of his feet. "Wanna know what else he found?"
He had a tone again. This was going to be good. Steve tensed in anticipation. "What?"
Danny smirked. "A tooth."
"Underwater security is negligible. No cameras, no mines. Watch out though, they might have a mer."
"I don't like it, sir." Jackson.
"Don't be a pussy. My granddaddy saw one killed in '41. Hit a mine and went up like a barrel of paint. Boom! Instant fish sticks for everyone." Gibbs.
"Hey, why are mers so gullible? - They fall for things hook, line, and sinker!" Toole.
"Hey, brah, you awake?"
Chin. Chin Ho Kelly. This was Honolulu, O'ahu, Hawai'i. Home. Jackson was dead. So were Gibbs and Toole. Long gone, their bodies carried away by the sea.
Steve blinked his eyes open and met Chin's amused, questioning gaze blearily. He was still tired and he'd developed a crick in his neck from resting awkwardly against... uhm. Against Danny's shoulder, apparently. He must've slumped sideways and fallen asleep and then Danny must've done the same, because he was leaning right back, one hand on Steve's thigh and his cheek pressed against the crown of Steve's head. His slow, even breaths brushed through Steve's hair like a warm, intangible caress that threatened to pull him back under.
"Whu?" he mumbled, trying to find his bearings. "Whassatime?"
"Early afternoon." Chin tilted his head. "We'd have let you sleep longer, but the governor wants to talk to you."
Governor. Why would Jameson-? It hit him then, out of the fog of exhaustion, kicked him back awake with a jolt. The mer killer. The tooth they'd found. Hours and hours of haggling with the inter-species relations office to try and gain access to the SSF Homo pisces database so they could run a DNA comparison. Some asshole basically telling them nobody at the SSF trusted Danny or wanted him on the case and they could go fuck themselves, because Five-0 might've had jurisdiction over every human law enforcement agency in Hawai'i, but not the SSF, too bad, bye now.
"Phone," Steve growled, holding out a hand and making 'gimme' fingers.
Chin dropped the office phone onto his palm. "She's on hold. Also, Kono figured you'd be hungry when you woke. There's a salad in the fridge for you and fresh sashimi for Danny."
Steve nodded his thanks. He didn't want to move. If this was all he could get, Danny sleeping against his side, trusting him with their safety, he wanted to enjoy it for as long as possible, but he couldn't talk to the governor like this. He shifted them both carefully until he was sitting upright with Danny's head pillowed on his lap, smiled a little when the change in position made Danny curl up against him. Danny snuffled and grumbled in his sleep then snuggled closer to bury his face against Steve's belly. Maybe he should've woken the man, but Danny needed the rest and Steve was selfish enough to want to enjoy the physical closeness for a while longer.
He kept his voice quiet when he talked to Jameson, but it was an effort, because the conversation did not go as anticipated.
"What do you mean, you'll see what you can do?" he hissed, scowling at the door for lack of a better target. "You're the governor. This is a murder investigation. We need access to the SSF resources. Why do I even have to argue about this?"
Jameson laughed, thin and sharp. "Do you have any idea how tight a line we're walking with the mers? Yes, I am the Governor of Hawai'i. Yes, that puts me in charge of the Hawaiian law enforcement agencies. Is the SSF part of the Hawaiian law enforcement? Yes. Does that place the SSF under my jurisdiction? Fuck if I know."
That took the wind out of Steve's sails. "Excuse me?"
He could hear the creak of leather and a mechanical squeak that made him think Jameson must've plopped down on her big office chair with quite a bit of oomph. "You know mers can't be forced to pay taxes. They can't be drafted into the military. They can't be tried in an exclusively human court-"
"-in accordance with the Sovereign Species Treaty of 1814, I know."
Steve must've devoured half a dozen books about that one. It was a fascinating subject, not least because of the stories hidden between the lines, of a mer warlord and a Russian soldier who'd brought the major tribes and political players of that time to the table for the first time in history. The agreement they'd hammered out in the last days of the Napoleonic War had been rock solid: the Sovereign Species Treaty had been refined and expanded over the years and was the only global peace treaty still in effect after almost two centuries.
"That doesn't explain why you can't order the SSF to give us access to their database," Steve insisted, frustration making his voice harder than he usually allowed it to go when talking to his immediate superior. "The SSF is part of the Hawaiian law enforcement, which means they put themselves under your command."
"Yes," Jameson agreed, then added sourly, "and no."
Danny shifted a bit in Steve's lap, picking up on the rising tension, and Steve forced himself to calm down. He rested one hand on Danny's broad shoulder, anchoring himself and trying to soothe Danny back into deeper sleep. "You might want to explain this to me in layman's terms," he rumbled into the phone.
"I'd rather not," the governor bitched right back. She was clearly not enjoying the conversation, not that Steve could blame her. "All right. Short version: I'm officially in charge of the SSF, but when push comes to shove, the tribes answer to their king first and the governor second." The sigh that came through the speaker was epic. "I can't help you with this, Steve. If I get into a pissing contest with the mers over this, the repercussions could be extensive. This could spark a reconsideration of the chain of command in human/mer joint operations on a global level and I can't risk that. I'm sorry."
This was not what Steve wanted to hear. "So you'd rather deal with the fallout of an extended killing spree. If the press finds out there's a homicidal mer on the loose, human-mer relations are going to suffer anyway."
"I'm sorry," Jameson repeated, but she'd made her choice, Steve could hear it in her tone. "The only option I can see is that you set up a meet between the ali'i kai king and Detective Williams. Maybe they can reach an agreement."
Steve thought of what he'd seen so far of the relationship between the local mers and his Danno, and had to suppress a shudder. Over his dead body. It was a miracle that Danny had managed to avoid being challenged so far, no way in hell was Steve letting him anywhere near the most powerful mer on the islands. "We don't even know who their king is," he hedged. "We'll find another way."
"I could probably get a name for you," the governor offered, trying to be helpful.
"No need," a sleepy voice piped up from the vicinity of Steve's navel. "I know who the king is."
Fuck. Fuckity fuck. Steve closed his eyes briefly, cursing the governor's big mouth and his own distraction. He should've noticed that Danny had woken. He should've ended the call the moment it had become clear the governor couldn't help them. He watched unhappily as Danny uncurled and sat up, rumpled and still a bit bleary-eyed, faint lines from the creases in Steve's pants pressed into his cheeks.
"We'll take it from here," Steve told Jameson, biting down on the 'thanks for nothing' with an effort, because Danny would smack him if he let it out.
"Keep me in the loop," the governor requested, "but don't get me involved. I mean it, Steve. We're dancing on thin ice here."
"Like you Hawaiians know anything about ice," Danny muttered, because apparently he couldn't be bothered to pretend like he wasn't listening in shamelessly.
"You can tell Detective Williams I heard that."
"I don't like this."
The afternoon cloudburst had come and gone, leaving behind crystal clear air and a majestic rainbow that spanned over the highway like something right out of a tourist brochure. The sea stretched out on their left hand side in an endless, glittering expanse of blue, but for once it completely failed to calm Steve. They couldn't be far from their destination, because they had crossed some sort of demarcation line about two miles back under the watchful eyes of a sentry in the guise of a surfer dude chilling in the bed of an old truck parked at the side of the road.
"Yeah," Danny muttered, "I gathered that much from your constipated expression and the way it's been growing steadily worse for the past two miles or so." He glanced into the rearview mirror, giving Steve a quick sideways look in the process. "Yes, I saw the sentry, too, I'm a trained detective and I'm not blind. What did you expect?"
"You didn't call ahead." Steve frowned disapprovingly even though he knew he was being unreasonable. Danny was the mer, surely he knew the protocol involved with approaching the head of a tribe better than Steve did, but Steve didn't know what to expect and he freely admitted it made him crabby.
There wasn't a whole lot of information about mer hierarchy beyond the fact that some tribes were ruled by a king and some by some sort of elder council, but what little Steve had been able to find out made him deathly afraid of fucking up and getting Danny in trouble with the king of the ali'i kai. Danny's situation was bad enough as it was; except for his team and his divorced human family, he was completely on his own without the acceptance of the local mers. Steve suspected it might be part of the reason why Danny didn't swim; the waters around the eight islands were dangerous for outsiders and for some reason Danny hadn't cottoned on to the fact yet that he did have someone to watch his back underwater, too. Maybe Steve couldn't grow gills and a tail, but being a SEAL was the next best thing. Had to be, because Danny needed to swim, it was in his nature. He'd already been land-bound for longer than Steve would've thought possible, but the first cracks were showing. They were still subtle, but Steve had noticed the sharper edge to Danny's temper, the short periods of distraction, and an occasional shadow in his eyes that scared Steve. He needed to get Danny back in the water, and soon. Just one of those things that kept him up at night and nightmare-ridden when he did sleep.
"No, I didn't call ahead." Danny was frowning as well, but not at Steve. It was the kind of frown he wore when he had a general idea where he was going, but wasn't entirely sure how to get there. "They know we're coming. If the king didn't want to see us, we would've been stopped and sent back." He squinted at a street sign. "Pokai Bay Street... Pokai... Why can't the streets simply be numbered? Why does every little dirt road here need a colorful Hawaiian name? What's with that? I'm starting to think I should've downloaded that damn GPS app Chin keeps waxing poetry about."
"Maybe I should drive," Steve suggested, his knee jiggling a little with nerves. He didn't like being relegated to the passenger seat. Danny didn't know the island like Steve did and he tended to obey the speed limit most of the time, which made Steve antsy as hell.
Danny shot him another look, this time with a smirk. "I know you're a control freak, but I'm perfectly capable of driving my own car, thank you." He sobered a bit, focused back on the road. "I'm trying to make it clear from the start that this is police business, not me asking a favor. We're here as partners, equals. I let you drive, with my history, it puts me in a- a different position." He cleared his throat in a useless attempt to distract from the telling little stutter and carefully did not look at Steve as he hooked a left and pointed the car towards the beach. "I'm pushing the rules a little here; this should be right up your alley."
It would've been, if it hadn't put Danny in the kind of danger Steve might not be able to effectively counteract, because he lacked the necessary background information. If it had been only him, he'd have kicked in the king's door and demanded his immediate cooperation. It wasn't only him though, it was Danny in the line of fire, Danny who'd have to suffer the consequences if Steve alienated the ali'i kai. For Danny, Steve could be diplomatic.
They came to a stop in front of a small restaurant next to a surf shop. It wasn't a touristy sort of place; the colorful paint was peeling from the wooden steps that led up to the dining area and the few vehicles parked in the lot were all local, not a single rental in sight.
"Tell me you have a plan," Steve grumbled, uncomfortable.
His scar was itching desperately, which made him suspect that they were already surrounded by mers. He spotted some of them, less because he recognized them for what they were but because they weren't good at hiding their hostile stares. Two burly men were strolling up from the beach across the street, a tall, sinewy woman had stepped out of the surf shop, and an elder man with cold eyes was leaning against the railing of the restaurant's stairs. Steve glanced down at the glove compartment and mentally weighed the benefits of grabbing the grenades against the inevitability of Danny flipping his shit if he did. Nah, better not risk it. He needed Danny focused, not hopping mad.
Mercifully unaware of Steve's contemplations, Danny took a deep breath. "It's not unlike dealing with the mob," he explained, which really wasn't as reassuring as he probably thought. "You fake respect, you don't show fear, and you never ever order the spaghetti."
"Really, Danny? That's your advice? Don't order the spaghetti?" Sometimes, Steve wondered why people thought he was the crazy one.
Danny grimaced a little. "Believe me, this is experience talking. Just don't, okay?"
Since Steve had no intention to eat or drink anything while negotiating with the ali'i kai king, this was an easy promise to make.
They got out of the car and walked up to the grizzled mer waiting by the stairs. He looked them both up and down with barely concealed resentment then nodded at Danny. "Guns," he growled. "Or oath."
"Guns," Danny decided without hesitation. He handed his over and Steve followed his example, no argument. Wasn't like he needed a gun to kill somebody if the need arose. As long as they were on dry land, he figured he could take anything the mers threw at him and then some.
The guard didn't look particularly happy when they left him with four firearms, like he'd have rather had the 'oath'. He didn't try to stop their ascent though, just glared after them, which didn't faze Steve or Danny. Hell, if Steve had had a dollar for every time someone gave him the stink eye, he'd have been a rich man by the age of thirty.
They stepped into the dining area of the little restaurant, an open porch that looked out over the ocean, wood floor creaking under their weight as they walked over to the only occupied table. Steve had threat-assessed the place by the time they were halfway there, but some kind of instinct made him look beyond the beach and scan the water, too. At first, he didn't see anything out of the usual, but then his trained gaze caught on a flash of color here, a suspicious splash there, and a chill ran down his spine. Mers. A lot of them, by the look of things.
"A dozen," Danny muttered beside him, as if he'd read Steve's mind. "If they follow tradition. Don't worry about it."
A dozen? Fuck. If the shit hit the fan, he'd have to retrieve his guns from Old Grumpy. Steve glanced at the sea again, calculated the distance, and relaxed somewhat. Eh. No problem. Plenty of time.
There were five people at the table waiting for them, a middle-aged couple Steve assumed was the king and his queen, and three young men covered in traditional Hawaiian tattoos and carrying guns under loose cotton shirts. No way to take them all out without killing at least one. Steve was fine with that. If they ended up starting a war, they might as well go all-out. Not that they were. This was a peacekeeping operation. Steve didn't intend to sabotage it, but he'd do what he had to do in order to protect Danny, as always.
Danny, for his part, looked completely at ease, if very much the mainlander in his patent leather loafers and blue silk tie. He waited patiently to be acknowledged, lids at half-mast, almost sleepy, even though he'd downed another double espresso before they'd left. Steve wasn't looking forward to weaning him off the caffeine again when the case was over.
Finally, after what felt like an unnecessarily long period of disregard, the woman put down the menu she'd been perusing and leaned back in her wooden chair.
"Kanaka o waho."
Outsider? Steve bristled at the discourteous greeting, but Danny stepped on his toes and Steve subsided reluctantly.
Danny curled his lips into a smile. "Anapela. Thank you for seeing us on such short notice." He gestured at Steve. "This is my partner, Lieutenant Commander Steve McGarrett... as you no doubt already know. We're here about the rogue."
Anapela pursed her lips, her round face as blank as a doll's. "You want me to order Kile to let you into our database."
Danny's arms spread in a wordless 'there you go'. "Yes. Please. As soon as possible. Yesterday would be good."
"Why," the doll woman asked pleasantly, "would I put an outsider's request over the decision of one of mine?"
Unable to keep quiet any longer, Steve took a small step closer to the table until he was standing side by side with Danny. "Because this killer is going to strike again and things will escalate. We have the evidence we need to identify him, all we need is the means to connect it to a name."
There was a small pause as Anapela thought that over. Steve almost dared hope, but then she shook her head and waved her hand at Danny, a disdainful shooing motion that annoyed Steve to no end. "You can hand over your evidence to Kile. He will see what it is worth and take the required steps."
"I'm afraid that's not good enough."
How Danny managed to still sound polite, Steve didn't know. This was usually the point where he started to get a little more physical, but this time the consequences might impact Danny's life long after the shouting was over, so Steve shoved his hands into his pants pockets and sat on his inner SEAL until it stopped yelling orders at the rest of him.
Oblivious to her narrow escape, Anapela somehow managed to look down her nose at Danny even though she was sitting down. "This is ali'i kai business. If one of us has indeed gone rogue, we will take care of it, as we have always done... and we will do it without an ægirsfólk haole who does not respect my authority and cannot be bothered to mate with his own kind." Danny's flinch was minuscule, reined in so quickly Steve might not have noticed if he hadn't been standing so close. Anapela didn't see it, or didn't care. "Do you know what it tells me about you, manō kanaka, that you've imprinted on lungbreathers twice now? It tells me you have a fickle spirit. You don't appreciate your birthright."
Twice? Steve thought, and then the rest of it hit him and his blood pressure redlined. He moved forward, barring her view of Danny, slammed his hands down on the table and leaned into her space in total disregard of the guns that were being drawn all around him.
"You know what it tells me about you that you feel the need to try to put down a good man with petty words?" He bared his teeth at her, wished he could flash fangs like Danny, but this would have to do. "It tells me you're a small-minded little backwater mer and you're afraid of him. You know that if you met him in the water, he could chew you up like a squid."
He knew he'd nailed it when her cheeks flushed with color. Part of it was anger, but a lot of it was shame. Her bodyguards were yelling at Steve to step back, get the fuck back, and Danny had already punched out one of them and had taken his weapon and was yelling right back at them to drop their guns, now, but Steve and Anapela were locked in their battle of wills and didn't move.
Anapela looked away first.
Steve straightened up slowly, careful not to move into Danny's line of fire, and slid back into position slightly behind Danny's right shoulder.
"We've been able to keep the mer connection out of the press so far, but it's only a question of time before they catch wind of it. I'd say it's in your own best interest to help us find this bastard." Steve's voice was hard, his face unyielding as he offered up a way for the mers to keep face after his confrontation with their queen. He wondered briefly why the king had kept out of it the whole time, but didn't dwell on it. "Us lungbreathers get scared easily," he reminded Anapela, "and there's a lot more of us than of you."
"Are you threatening us?"
"No, he isn't," Danny assured, and shot Steve a brief glare over one broad shoulder that said they were going to have a talk later, about proper procedure and appropriate behavior when dealing with VIPs. Steve was looking forward to it. Danny flicked the safety on the H&K he'd taken from the bodyguard and put the gun on the table, a peace offering. "He's stating facts. If people panic because of rumors about a rogue mer, Five-0 can't guarantee the safety of the ali'i kai. We've been on this case from the start and we consider ourselves a neutral force. I promise you, if you let us, we will handle this."
He was good; body language open and non-threatening, eyes sincere, voice calm and professional. Anapela was wavering. Hell, even the bodyguards looked impressed, at least the two that weren't curled up moaning on the floor. Steve puffed up with pride, though he made sure to look intimidating when he did it.
"Do you honestly think you can arrest an ali'i kai?" Anapela sounded disbelieving, but at least she wasn't openly resentful anymore.
"If we catch him on land, yes." Danny shrugged. "If we catch him in the water... it'll depend on him. But that's a choice every criminal has to make." He caught something in her eyes and his eyebrows rose. "Oh, you mean, can I beat him?" He sighed. "Why does it always come down to that? Yes, ma'am. Chances are, I can. Now will you please make the call?"
Anapela made the call.
"What did she mean, you imprinted on humans twice?"
Steve had taken possession of the keys again and was driving them back to Honolulu. It had freed Danny's hands for the inevitable rant and Steve was happy to be back behind the wheel, so he considered it a win-win situation.
"I'm not talking to you," Danny growled. "You assaulted the king. Do not tell me you just got in her face, because that counts as assault with royalty! And if you tell me she's a queen and not a king one more time," and there went the finger up in the air, Danny's personal exclamation mark, "I will personally smack your head against the steering wheel. I explained this to you, this whole thing with 'king' being a traditional, gender neutral title, will you get over it?"
"I'm over it," Steve swore, though he still thought it was a stupid tradition designed to provoke misunderstandings with humans, especially since there was a perfectly good word for a female ruler. He waited a minute for Danny to wind down again, very conscious of the suspicious glare directed at him from the passenger seat.
Steve glanced over at his partner and sure enough Danny seemed wary but grudgingly curious. Somewhat defensive, maybe, but not about to blow his fuse again.
"I read this article," Steve started carefully, and checked quickly to make sure Danny wasn't feeling pressured yet.
So far, Danny seemed mostly mystified. "Okay? That's... good? What was it about and why do I have the feeling I'm not gonna like it?"
This was it.
Steve had never thought he'd have a chance, but that comment about Danny imprinting on two humans... It hadn't been a wild accusation. Danny had known exactly what Anapela had been talking about and if both those cases had been in the past and unrelated to the people present, Danny wouldn't have flinched. It might be a fool's hope, but Steve couldn't let it pass. Danny had flinched. Steve stared straight ahead, scraping together his courage and trying to hear himself think over the rush of blood in his ears. So much to lose.
So much to gain.
"It was about mer sexuality and social bonds."
Danny twitched in his seat like somebody had poked him with a needle. "Oh, for-"
"Hear me out," Steve barked, talking right over him, because if Danny got rolling, he'd derail the conversation so thoroughly Steve's window of opportunity would slam shut and he didn't know if he'd ever find the nerve to pry it open again. "It said there are three stages of mating." He counted them off with his fingers, each point accompanied by a quick glance at Danny to gauge his reaction. "First, imprinting. Theory has it that this is triggered by a chemical reaction, physical compatibility. Then there's a bonding phase that can last for years, which is about testing boundaries and falling in love."
He had to keep a firm handle on his emotions when he said that, for his voice kept trying to break. He was pretty sure Rachel had gotten cold feet during this stage and fucked up Danny in the process, but her failure was the only reason Steve might get a shot at this and he was grateful for it. Even if she had left Danny scared shitless of this kind of commitment. Scared, Steve could handle. He could wait. He'd wait forever for Danny if that was what it took, now that he had hope.
"The third level is the actual mating and that one's permanent. Once mated, mers stay with their partner till the end." Steve swallowed. "Is that true? Danny?"
Danny met his gaze briefly, naked fear in his eyes, but he didn't even attempt to deny it. "Yes."
Steve's hands ached. He realized he had a death grip on the steering wheel and eased up with an effort. "Rachel and you, you made it to the second stage, didn't you."
God, please. Please, please, please. "And you and I... we're in the first stage."
It took Danny a long while to answer. Steve didn't push him, though he felt sicker and more terrified with every mile that passed in tense, painful silence. Had he pushed too soon? Too hard? Was there some kind of ritual to observe about this that he didn't know about? Had he broken some kind of taboo by approaching the issue first? Steve felt like he was going into shock; skin clammy with cold sweat, chest tight with too little air, his belly cramping with anxiety. If Danny didn't say something soon, Steve was going to have to pull over and throw up.
Then Danny breathed out, a tiny sigh of a sound, and finally, finally opened his mouth. His whispered, "Yes," was very quiet and shaky, but Danny didn't try to qualify or diminish it and that was all Steve needed to know.
It was impossible to talk around the lump in his throat, so Steve only nodded jerkily, but he couldn't not look at Danny right then, so he chanced a covert glance. Danny's eyes met his, blue like the ocean outside, apprehensive but steady. Steve smiled hopefully. After a second, Danny rolled his eyes, but the corners of his mouth twitched upwards into an answering grin.
"You're going to be the death of me one day," Danny grumbled, and sagged back against his seat as some of the tension left him. "More balls than brains. Jesus. Talk about bad timing."
And because Steve was flying high on a sudden rush of endorphins and had never quite learned when to quit, he just had to push a little further. "So, when this is over, how about dinner at my place?" He saw Danny's eyes narrow and added quickly, "Just dinner. Beer. I might go wild and buy coco puffs." He smirked, trying to put Danny at ease. "Maybe I'll finally get you into the water and we can go for a swim."
Surprised, Danny snorted out a laugh, and just like that it was them again, the weirdness gone, though Steve caught that lost, longing look in Danny's eyes again for a brief second when he glanced over. "You want to swim with me."
Well, duh. Danny's own need aside, Steve had wanted this for... well, it felt like forever. Like every time he'd dived before, the promise of Danny had been there in Steve's shadow, in the salty kiss of the currents. Steve wanted to do it for real, finally, swim with the man, his man, his Danno, not the ghost of a dream.
"Yes, Danny. I want to swim with you."
Danny laughed again and Steve felt like he was ten fucking feet tall. "That, my friend, must've been the worst come-on in the history of come-ons. No, really. Do you have any idea how dirty that sounds? How," the hands went off, flying and weaving, and the world was right again, "how on earth did you ever earn a moniker like Smooth Dog? Were they drunk when they decided to call you this? Did you bribe somebody? Was it sarcasm? Come on, you can tell me. I want to know."
They were good. Better than good. They were doing this. Steve grinned, and bitched back, and resolved to send the king of the ali'i kai a thank you present. Maybe a book on human etiquette. She sure could use it.
The sun was gone, the water cold and eerily calm. The black hull of the enemy ship above him blocked out what little light was left and the darkness below felt alive, like it was reaching for him, trying to pull him under.
Worst of all though was the knowledge that he wasn't alone.
Something tugged on his flippers. Steve spun around, gun at the ready, trying to get loose as he moved, but the grip on his equipment was merciless and threw him off balance. The mer grinned at him, sharp teeth in a pale face, eyes hidden behind dark protective membranes. It yanked on Steve's flippers again, almost playful, and Steve pulled the trigger with a snarl of terror.
The bullet zinged past the mer, missing it by an inch, and it winked at him like this was fun, just a game. It wrenched the flippers off his feet with brutal strength and with a graceful push of its tail twisted away and disappeared back into the deep, leaving Steve shaken and crippled.
He treaded water for a minute, trying to see everywhere at once, and almost pissed himself when he felt a sudden press of displaced water against his back. He jerked around. A human head was floating in the gloom in a shroud of bubbles, sinking slowly, stripped of the mask so Steve could see the eyes had rolled back until only the whites were showing. The mouth was still open in a silent scream, familiar features almost unrecognizable in death. Toole.
Below Steve, a black tail waved mockingly.
"Akoni Waialae. Twenty-four, single, a Red Scale." Chin frowned. "Looks like he's very particular about the sanctity of his hunting grounds. Picked up for assault once, but he wasn't charged." He glanced at their assigned 'liaison officer' at that, who scowled back at him and bristled.
"If he wasn't charged as an ali'i kai, he wouldn't have been charged as a human. We're officers of the law; we don't go easy on criminals."
"Why's he not registered in the HPD database then?" Kono asked pointedly.
"Because he wasn't charged, Officer Kalakaua," Kei Paguyo snapped, "which means HPD didn't have the right to save his DNA sequence, as you should know. The SSF follows a different protocol. Waialae committed an act of violence against a human and is known for excessive territoriality and extremist views. We like to keep an eye on potential problems. Would you kindly take a step back?"
Kono crossed her arms, chin jutting out mulishly. "I'm outside your personal space boundaries. What's your problem?"
Paguyo grimaced. "My boundaries expand with hapaluas."
Steve half expected Chin to tear into him for calling his cousin a Half in that tone, but Kono was faster. She moved a step closer, bony shoulders braced, mouth pulled up in a sneer that was just shy of flashing teeth. "I'm sorry, koi, but this isn't your playground. You'll just have to deal."
Ha! Danny had been a bad influence, if Kono was using ægirsfólk slurs now. Chin looked almost as proud as Steve felt.
"And before you open your mouth any wider and put more of your foot in it," Danny advised, suddenly right behind the ali'i kai detective, "remember your manners and try to behave like a professional, not like a deep water brethren. How about you find us his address, huh?"
Maybe his teeth were a little bit sharper than usual when he smiled and clapped Paguyo on the shoulder, but it was a subtle threat, more of a warning. Pick on the half-breed rookie again and there'd be consequences, possibly involving a talk by the water with the pureblooded ægirsfólk mer who happened to be on the rookie's team. Steve liked it. It was a very classy style of intimidation, very Danny.
"It's no wonder you didn't get accepted," Paguyo muttered as he did as he was told and called up the incident report on the tech table, trying to shield the codes from Chin's very interested gaze.
"Excuse me, what was that?" And that was all Jersey, loud and in-your-face, five foot five of attitude and muscle ready to rip someone a new one.
Detective Paguyo hit the enter key and took a hasty step back, hands up in supplication. "Nothing."
"That didn't sound like nothing," Danny snapped, fucking with him because he was tired, over-caffeinated, and clearly more than a little fed up with the constant harassment. "Did that sound like nothing to you, Steven?"
"Sounded like an insult to me," Steve offered mildly. He didn't like the way Danny was treated by the ali'i kai, but while Danny mostly just rolled his eyes whenever he caught Steve leaning on the human cops to make them back off, he'd drawn the line at Steve taking on the mers on Danny's behalf. Steve understood that Danny couldn't demand respect, not without the backing of his clan, but the casual contempt his partner was continually met with infuriated him. It was good to see Danny retaliate for once.
Unfortunately, Kono proved to be a party pooper. "Boys." She nodded at the tech table. "Hold that thought. We've got an address."
"Don't tell me." Danny squeezed his eyes shut and pinched the bridge of his nose dramatically. "It's somewhere near La'ie Point, right? Right. Let's go."
"Can I bring my rifle?" Kono asked hopefully, giving Steve her best cute kitten eyes.
"Don't even!" Danny scowled at Steve as he grabbed their vests. "Always going for the big guns. Bloodthirsty creature. She's got that from you, you know."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Steve claimed. "She mostly hangs out with Chin, not me... and I know I overheard the two of you talking underwater combat at least twice this month."
Danny sniffed. "Details."
They were almost out the door when Detective Paguyo caught up with them. The ali'i kai slid the flash drive with the SSF access software back into the inside pocket of his shirt and lifted his chin at Steve. "I'm coming with you."
"So you can report back to your queen?" Steve snorted. "I don't think so."
"King," Danny muttered beside him, sounding like he wanted to bang a head against the wall again, though it was unclear whether he had his own in mind or Steve's. Probably Steve's. "Bees have queens, mers have kings. It's not that hard, babe."
"Like it or not, this is a joint operation now," Paguyo insisted, ignoring the byplay. "So we can either waste time arguing about it or we can go arrest Waialae. What's it gonna be, Commander?"
If push came to shove, Steve mused, he could still kick the annoying bastard off a pier and watch him ruin his pants when he flipped tail.
"See that you keep up," he ordered. "We don't wait for stragglers."
As he strode away, he could hear Danny add, "He means it. I spent a month hobbling after the fucker when I tore my ACL. Didn't slow down once... and he claims he likes me."
Steve was never going to hear the end of that. Never. When they were both old and feeble, watching the ocean from the safety of their rocking chairs, Danny was still going to harp on him about that.
Steve couldn't wait.
Of course it didn't go smoothly. For once, Steve wanted an easy arrest so he could go explore this thing between him and Danno – it shouldn't have surprised him that the shit hit the fan almost from the get-go. It was late in the day already and by the time they made it to La'ie, the sun was hanging low in the sky.
Akoni Waialae lived in a shabby little house near La'ie Point and as luck – or the lack thereof – would have it, he happened to take out the trash just when they were moving into position for the breach. For a second, everyone froze; the H50 task force in full assault gear in the driveway and Waialae in ratty board shorts with his trash bag in the doorway.
Steve unfroze first. "Five-0," he bellowed, gun up and inching forward. "Drop the bag and get down on your knees, now!"
Waialae dropped the bag, spun around, and ran, disappearing back into the house.
Steve took up the chase, every hunter's instinct he had triggered by the flinch and flight of his prey.
"Don't let him get into the water!" Danny yelled after him, already circling the house at a dead run to cut off the mer before he could do just that.
Waialae crossed the living room with Steve in hot pursuit, kicking chairs and a TV table into Steve's path, but Steve wasn't deterred that easily. He ducked a chair, jumped over the splintering glass table, and slammed through the open patio doors inches behind Waialae. A full pitcher came flying at him next and the evasive maneuver it forced on Steve allowed the killer to hit the beach and head for the wooden pier. Oh no, Steve thought angrily, you won't.
He could see Danny and Chin from the corner of his eye, pelting across the sand towards him, but they were too far away to cut off Waialae.
"Steve!" Danny hollered when Steve's feet hit the planks and he didn't slow down. "Don't!"
At the end of the pier, Waialae pushed off and dove into the sea head first. Statistics flashed through Steve's mind, calculations finished in a split second. It took the fastest mers seven seconds to flip a tail; Steve could make that. He could get the bastard before Danny had to go in and face a killer in unknown waters.
Steve took a deep breath and jumped.
He caught Waialae mid-change and had his gun pressed against the mer's head before Waialae knew what had hit him and if Steve had still been in the military that would've been it. He'd have pulled the trigger, blown out his tango's brains, and dragged the body back on land to confirm the kill. However, Steve wasn't who he used to be. He'd spent the past few months working with cops, with Danny lecturing him about procedure, human rights, and the Miranda warning. Some of it must've stuck, and it made him hesitate.
It was a tiny pause, but it almost cost Steve his life. A half-formed tail rough with budding red scales hit him across the shoulders with debilitating force. It knocked the gun from his hand and slammed him forward against the mer, who twisted out of the way with cat-like grace and hit him again, pushing him down deeper towards the seafloor. What air had been left in Steve's lungs after the first whack left him in a rush of bubbles. He managed to turn so he didn't hit the sharp-edged formations of volcanic rock at the bottom with his face and grit his teeth when his shoulder and side took the brunt of the impact. The tac-vest saved his chest, but the thin t-shirt offered no protection and his shoulder and arm started to bleed heavily almost immediately.
Danny was going to kill him.
A quick, controlled spin got Steve off the rocks and facing his opponent, knife in hand. He almost wished he hadn't, because he was hit with a sense of déjà-vu so strong it made him dizzy. The mer was coming at him through the cloud of blood in the water, out of the shadow of the pier into the murky twilight, two hundred pounds of muscle and teeth with deadly intent, aimed straight for Steve.
That was when Danny dive-bombed into the water and slammed into Waialae like a Great White going after a fat tourist. He was snarling, showing rows and rows of fangs, dark membranes sliding down over ice blue eyes as Steve watched. He hammered down on Waialae's back with the sides of his already fin-edged forearms, sliced open skin and tissue, spilling dark mer blood in a gush of black. Or maybe that was Steve's vision fading. SEALs could hold their breath for a long time, but only when there was something left in their lungs.
Strong fingers clamped around the shoulder straps of Steve's vest, Danny's body slotting between him and the bleeding killer. The creature holding on to Steve almost didn't look like Danny anymore with Danny's beautiful eyes hidden and his mouth full of sharp, white edges, but Steve didn't flinch when the mer pulled him closer, darted in to press that deadly mouth against Steve's. Steve opened up instinctively at the feel of Danny's lips against his, felt a quick slide of tongue, a hint of blunt pressure, and then a rush of stale air. Steve's oxygen-starved lungs sucked it in greedily. The threatening darkness receded. He wasn't back to a hundred percent, but at least he wasn't in danger of drowning anymore. That would've been embarrassing.
The moment Steve's eyes cleared, Danny put some distance between them, enough to grab hold of the front of Steve's vest to shake him briefly. Up, Danny signaled, go up, and somehow he managed to convey, or I'll chuck your stubborn Navy ass out of the fucking water myself, so loudly and clearly he might as well have worn subtitles.
That was Danny, all right.
A glint of red caught Steve's attention and his eyes widened in alarm. Waialae was back, streaking towards Danny like a torpedo. Danny couldn't turn fast enough to meet him head-on, not while trying to protect Steve. He took the hit, used the force of it to toss Steve up towards the fading sunlight as he was barreled over.
Steve went, kicked up with all his remaining strength even though it hurt like being gutted to leave Danny behind like this. Every instinct he had screamed at him to dive back under, help Danny any way he could, but the cold, hard truth was that - SEAL or not - to get between two fighting mers was suicide. This time, he'd be a liability.
He broke the surface a few yards from the pier and sucked in a desperate breath of air, his head pounding. Steve was still losing blood, but he didn't feel the pain, too intent on the battle raging under him. He couldn't see much of it. The evening sun was glinting off the waves, hiding what was going on below, though Steve could barely make out the twisting, slashing bodies of the combatants as they moved towards the shadow of the pier. The gore-red water churned every time the mers got closer to the surface. He'd spot a quick flare of red or an edge of a dark, grayish-bluish tailfin, there and gone, and it broke him to know Danny was fighting for his life down there.
Steve glanced up and saw Chin kneeling on the pier, gun in one hand, the other one stretched out towards Steve, beckoning. Kono was hovering behind him with her rifle at the ready. She looked pale and anxious, her gaze darting back and forth between Steve and the water, but she didn't break position or lower her weapon, determined to provide what cover fire she could if Waialae went after Steve again. Paguyo was standing next to her, face stony as he watched it all, fists clenched.
"Steve," Chin called again, voice softer. He holstered his gun, leaving Kono on guard as he focused on their injured teammate. "You gotta get out of the water, brah."
Out of the water? Steve shook his head. The movement below had stopped; he couldn't feel the pull and push of it anymore. It was over. Steve started to swim towards the pier where he'd last spotted that flash of a fin, awkwardly, his arm all but useless by then.
"Danny's down there," he called hoarsely, as if Chin didn't know.
"You can't help him, Steve. Come on, take my hand."
Chin sounded like he was trying to talk a jumper off a ledge. Steve might've wondered what his friend was seeing in his face that made him so worried, but he was too busy scanning the water for any sign of Danny.
Next thing he knew, someone grabbed him from behind, a brawny arm wrapping around his waist. He was catapulted forward and lifted up into Chin's arms before his reflexes could even kick in, sluggish as they were due to the blood loss. Kono almost knocked out Paguyo when she thrust her rifle into his hands so she could help Chin with Steve, and then she was right there, too, thin, strong fingers holding fast. Together they dragged him up on the pier and started to open the straps of his vest to get to his injuries, but all Steve could see was the mer who was rising from the sea as they worked, pale and alien, beautiful and terrifying.
Danny's skin looked tougher in this form, colored in light hues of gray with a faint blue tinge, any hint of his Hawaiian tan gone. His tail was dark, long and powerful, the transition from human torso to fish tail so smooth it was hard to tell where the softer skin ended and became sandpapery shark hide. The blade fins that ran along Danny's forearms were wicked sharp and almost black. He must've sliced Waialae open to the bone with them.
A sharply indrawn breath made Steve glance away from Danny at their ride-along. Paguyo's gaze was riveted on the blade fins and Steve remembered that most warm water tribes didn't have these particular inbuilt weapons. He really hoped Paguyo would think of them the next time he felt the urge to put down Danny because of his heritage. There was a reason why the Viking bloodlines were considered some of the most badass mer tribes in the world.
Danny put his hands flat on the pier and heaved himself out of the water, changing back to human as he did. Steve tried to shake off Chin's hands and get to him, because everybody was just staring like idiots instead of checking Danny for wounds, but before he could get loose, Danny was there and pushed him back down. His eyes were blue again, teeth even and back to one single row, and, yes, he definitely had his voice back.
"Which part of 'Steve, don't' did you not understand?" he yelled, fingers grabbing hold of Steve's shirt and helping Chin peel it off Steve's bruised body with aching gentleness even as the volume of his voice increased exponentially. "Are you out of your mind, diving into the water after a homicidal mer? Did they hooah the survival instinct out of you in the Navy? Do you want to die? Are you having a death wish? Because I need to know that shit! If my partner feels the need to follow some kind of lemming instinct, I have to know that so I can set up countermeasures! Do you want me to develop an ulcer? Is this some sort of sick hobby of yours? Hold still, you stupid fucker, you're bleeding like a stuck pig!"
Steve grinned at him and he knew it was there for all the world to see just how far gone he was on Danny, completely hooked, but he didn't care, not right then. Let them see. Let Paguyo run back to his gender-confused king and tell her the crazy Navy SEAL commander who headed the governor's task force had fallen head over heels for the ægirsfólk haole. Maybe she'd realize that meant Danny wasn't alone anymore, had someone willing to fight for him... someone with the training and the political backing to make his blows count.
"Hooyah," he said, because Danny was looking a little shaky beneath the bluster and kept staring at the blood that was still dripping down to soak into the sun-bleached wood of the pier. "The Navy says hooyah, Danno, not hooah."
"I think he's right about the suicidal tendencies, boss," Kono noted dryly. "Ambulance is on its way, Danny. ETA in three minutes, I kept them on standby."
"Thank you," Danny told her with feeling. "At least someone here is using their brain. Now could you and Chin look away for a sec so I can throttle our fearless leader?"
"You heard the man, detective." Chin gave Paguyo a hard look.
Paguyo stared at them as if they were all mad, but he turned around obediently and started to scan the water by the pier for Waialae's body. Or maybe he was looking for an escape route. Steve didn't give a shit. He was completely focused on Danny.
"I ruined my tie for you," Danny grumbled, leaning in. His eyes were a mesmerizing shade of blue and so gentle Steve could've cried. "That was the tie my mom gave me for-"
Steve never learned why Mrs. Williams had seen fit to gift her son with a tie that brought out the color of his eyes. He was too busy pulling Danny in for a kiss, warm and wet, and if Danny's mouth tasted of saltwater and blood, well, Steve was familiar with both.
There were four of them gliding through the clear waters of an unnamed stretch of sea off the coast of O'ahu. Above the surface, the sun was rising, and the ever strengthening rays illuminated the quiet underwater world they were cutting through in loose formation.
Steve glanced over his right shoulder and there was Chin in his blue wetsuit, keeping pace with Steve with easy confidence.
The sea was warm and filled with life. Schools of tiny fish flitted through the crystal blue, darting in and out of the colorful coral reef below. A couple of sea turtles was making its way towards the open ocean, dark eyes blinking somewhat myopically as they drifted by, their flipper legs kicking lazily.
Steve turned his head and looked to his left. Kono grinned at him, dark hair floating freely around her head like a seaweed halo, eyes sparkling excitedly. She kicked her legs and picked up speed to chase after a disgruntled octopus that had been poking at a pretty little starfish. Steve chuckled at her antics, but didn't slow down.
Above, the sun was growing stronger, reaching into the sea with golden fingers that brushed along Steve's skin like the touch of a familiar hand. He didn't look up. What he was waiting for would come from below.
From the corner of his eye, he spotted a flash of movement, like the flick of a long, dark fish tail, there and gone.
Something tugged on his flippers. Pulse thrumming, Steve turned around. The mer grinned at him, sharp teeth in a pale face, eyes as blue as the ocean around them framed by laugh lines. Danny pulled on Steve's flippers again, playfully, and smirked cheekily. Steve grinned back and slipped out of the rubber swim aids to chase after his partner's tail fin. He almost caught it, but then Danny, the cheat, flicked his tail and flipped around like a sea otter to catch Steve instead. Before Steve could break his hold, Danny had drawn him in and pulled off his mask and kissed him, and Steve didn't want to get free anymore.
He was right where he wanted to be.
Ghost of a Shark
Tell me now is there difference
Between a shark and the ghost of a shark
'Cause all I have are secrets and memories of the dark
Oh, rip away the skin, burn my heart.
"Ghost of a Shark" by Tom McRae
"Steve? Why is there a fish in my car?"
It wasn't that Danny didn't have a fairly good idea as to why, but there was no way he could let this go without a comment. He'd just about had a heart attack opening the door and staring right at a plushy little shark face. That fucking thing was taking up Danny's seat. What the hell?
The look Steve gave him over the roof of the car said he thought Danny was delightfully weird. Danny hated that look. If anyone was the weird one in their partnership, it was Steve Shoot-First-Ask-Questions-Later McGarrett.
"It's for Grace."
"Thank you," Danny drawled, "I'd never have guessed. What I'm trying to figure out is why you went and bought my daughter a stuffed toy shark when she's about to be grounded until Christmas, if her mother has a say. And she does. She already had so much to say about this, you wouldn't believe it. So why the shark? Do you want to get me in trouble? Huh? Do you?"
Steve's mouth tightened into the mulish line that so often preceded their more extensive arguments. "I thought someone should let her know she's done good."
Yep, there they went. "Done good?" Danny's hands went up in exasperation. "She got herself suspended. My eight year old, shy little baby girl got suspended from school for fighting! This is not toy-giving territory; this is united-front-lecturing territory. She broke bones, Steven! My baby is a step away from being a juvenile delinquent!"
His agitation didn't make a dent. Steve remained firmly in Grace's corner. "Hell, yes, she broke bones! Her opponent was a year older and a full mer, she had to put him down hard and fast or he'd have wiped the pool with her." He brought his index finger down, pointing at the plush animal through the roof. "She's fucking earned the shark. She taught him!"
"She taught him what, Steven?" Danny mimicked a rabbit punch, scowling fiercely. "Better duck when Grace Williams gets mad? This is not acceptable behavior, all right? This is the kind of thing that gets you expelled from the fancy fucking private school that offers every opportunity a girl can wish for! If you get expelled from such a school, that does not bode well for your college career and I'll be damned if my kid fucks up her chances for college because she can't control her temper."
So maybe he was yelling a bit, which didn't say much for his hold on his own temper, but come on. There was a difference between little Danny Williams rolling around in the dirt with a bunch of knuckleheads in a schoolyard in West Orange, New Jersey, and Gracie Williams punching out a senator's son in an exclusive seawater swimming pool in one of Hawaii's most prestigious private schools.
"She taught him to think twice before harassing skinny little ægirsfólk half-breeds," Steve snapped, eyes glinting angrily, "because the little half-breed might just kick his over-privileged ass..." he smiled triumphantly, "...and kick it good."
Danny's eyes narrowed.
"Wait a minute." Overprotective? Check. Sneaky? Check. Martial arts expert with underwater anti-mer combat experience? Check. Suddenly, Grace's unprecedented violent streak was making a lot more sense. "Oh my God, it was you! You taught her how to do that! You're training my daughter to be a- a- a mini ninja assassin!"
Steve's unrepentant grin was as good as a signed confession, but that didn't keep Steve from spreading the blame. "Actually, I think she learned that sucker punch from Kono." He shrugged. "It's cool, Danno. She'll spend two weeks at home learning with a tutor, he'll spend two weeks at home nursing his broken nose and internalizing the point she drove home. No harm done."
For a second, Danny was actually speechless as he stared at Steve and his smugly satisfied smirk. The idiot had no idea about the repercussions an incident like this could have when the participants weren't human kids but a mer and a half-breed. Worse, when the mer was the son of an influential member of the local tribe and the half-breed the child of a barely tolerated outsider from a nonnative tribe.
"This is..." Danny sighed. "You know what? I'm not touching that. I'm washing my hands of it. I am not having this discussion with you." No use dunking Steve's nose in it; Rachel was going to do that and then some as soon as she learned who was responsible for the fix they were in thanks to Grace's less than diplomatic solution to her bully problem. Still. Danny cracked his neck, fought his inner need to please Steve, and lost. "I know you were trying to help. I do appreciate that."
Because, honestly? That Steve had made the effort and taken the time to secretly teach Grace some self-defense made Danny feel embarrassingly mushy. Couldn't admit that much, or next thing he knew his baby was going to start juggling grenades and scaling buildings under the tutelage of Super-SEAL and Kono the Apprentice, but he kind of loved that Steve cared so much for Grace, wanted her to be proud of her heritage and able to defend herself against assholes like Teddy Kahikina. No surer way to Danny's heart than through his daughter.
Steve looked proud of himself and even prouder of Grace, and Danny threw in the towel completely. Fuck it. He wasn't going to win this one, not with the mer part of him mutinously siding with Steve. Steve had bought Grace a plush shark, for crying out loud. How unsubtle was that? Yeah. About as unsubtle as the look Steve was currently giving Danny, all soft eyes and adoring smile.
"It'll be fine, Danny," Steve repeated, as if Danny needed to be reassured.
Annoyingly enough, Danny did feel a bit better at that, the knot of anxiety loosening somewhat in his chest. He took a step back to hide his reaction and ducked his head to study the toy fish still parked on the passenger seat.
"A shark, Steven?"
Steve laughed at him, knowing damn well he'd won and loving it, the bastard. "Just get in the car, Danno."
This parent-teacher talk was going to be interesting.
Rachel closed the front door, kicked off her high heels, and headed straight for the kitchen without a backward glance. Danny watched her go with something very close to resigned nostalgia. Or maybe nostalgic resignation. Either way there was going to be tea.
"I still think this went well," Steve declared from his customary position at Danny's side.
Danny gave him the stink eye, but his disapproval bounced off harmlessly. Steve had a very high tolerance for evil looks. "What, pray tell, makes you think that?"
"What?" Steve asked, so sweet and innocent Danny wanted to whap him on principle. "We won. Grace is going back to school and Teddy Whatshisface will be reprimanded. What more do you want?"
"A little forewarning would've been a good start," Rachel beat Danny to the punch, striding back into the foyer. "Hello, I'm Lieutenant Commander Steve McGarrett from the governor's task force, Danny's fiancé, was not what I was expecting to hear when I went into this meeting. Neither was, You have ten minutes to make the necessary calls and get Grace rehabilitated or you won't like the consequences. Do you have any idea-" She paused and cocked her head, listening. Her eyes narrowed. "Grace, go back to your room this very instant or I'm coming up!"
A squeak and the quick patter of little feet were the only answer she got, but Danny did not doubt Grace was going to do exactly as she'd been told. Rachel in a snit could be scary.
"Look," Steve piped up, clearly trying for conciliatory, but mostly coming across as puzzled as to why anybody might object to his taking over negotiations at the school. "Maybe we should have given you a heads up on the relationship thing-"
Rachel's brows knitted together in what Danny had come to fear as her war face. "Relationship thing?" She took a step forward, a tigress in designer clothes, but before she could launch into what Danny would've called an 'epic hissy fit' and Rachel would describe as 'stating the facts', a whistle from the kitchen brought her up short. Rachel glanced at Danny. "Would you care for some tea, Daniel?"
Danny shook his head and lifted his hands in a classic leave-me-out-of-this pose. "No, thanks. I'm good."
"Excellent. Would you mind waiting in the salon then while I have a chat with your fiancé?"
Finally, Steve showed enough survival instincts to look a tad alarmed. Not that it was going to save him. He'd gotten himself into this; Danny was ready and willing to defend the man against rogue mers, criminals, and insurance agents with a grudge, but he drew the line at incensed Englishwomen. Fiancé. What had Steve been thinking?
"Don't annihilate him completely," he told her. "I don't have the patience to break in another partner and I happen to like this one."
Rachel's smile was pinched, which set off a tiny alarm bell in the back of Danny's mind, the part that was forever going to be labeled 'ex-husband'. "Don't be ridiculous. We're all civilized people here, aren't we?"
That was debatable, given Danny's genetic makeup, Steve's penchant for mayhem, and Rachel's rapier-sharp tongue, but Danny knew better than to argue. Steve was a big boy; he could take care of himself. He hadn't had a problem taking over at the school and intimidating the staff into cooperation, he could damn well explain his reasoning to Rachel.
So Danny chose strategic retreat over friendly fire and wandered off with a final glance at a now slightly worried looking Steve. "I'll be in the salon," and he took great care to infuse the word with all the scorn it deserved. "Holler if you need me, babe."
"I'll bring you a cup of tea," Steve shot back, and Danny could tell he was dying to tack on a 'dear', but smart enough to refrain.
Danny smirked. "Make it coffee. Black-"
"-two sugars, I know." Steve's smile was tilting towards goofy again, so Danny took off before he could lose his resolve and stay after all.
He spent the next few minutes prowling the salon and searching it for contraband. He'd mostly given up on trying to nail his irksome successor on criminal charges, but old habits die hard and Danny was easily bored. He unearthed a Dolphin Trainer Barbie sans dolphin, almost four dollars in loose change, and a striped sock that looked like it was probably Stan's and thus was promptly hidden again where it was sure to make an embarrassing reappearance at the worst possible moment. Mission accomplished, Danny contemplated sneaking up the stairs to see Grace, but unfortunately he agreed with Rachel that this was a talk that should be had in the presence of both parents... and Steve, couldn't forget Steve. Steve, who was making himself a member of Danny's splintered little family, who already felt like he belonged. Who was going to smash Danny into a million pieces when he left.
Uncomfortable with the direction his thoughts were taking, Danny instinctively started to walk towards the kitchen, towards Steve. He recognized the pattern, knew he was bonding with Steve at an alarming rate and that it was part of what made him so clingy. It was a natural response to Steve acknowledging the imprinting and signaling his interest in taking things further. This was how it started. This was where it was still all fine, if a bit irritating at times. It was going to get worse though when Danny gave in and actually had sex with his partner. Experience had taught him that this was when things were going to come unglued and this time there wasn't going to be a baby to fix things for a short while, not if Danny could help it.
He quickened his pace, anxious to get to Steve and quiet the doubts gnawing at his confidence, but came to an abrupt stop in the hallway at the sound of Rachel's voice, low and intense. He couldn't see her or Steve, but he could hear them fine; well enough to pick up on the urgency in his ex-wife's tone and react to it.
"...sure," Rachel said, "be really, really sure about this, Commander. This is not a game and this is not - cannot be temporary."
"I understand that." Steve's voice was calm and soothing; he appeared to be in full 'reassure the upset civilian' mode, projecting competence and trustworthiness to a degree that made Danny's teeth ache.
Rachel, like Danny, wasn't that easy to placate. "Do you?" There was a sharpness there she rarely let slip out against anybody but Danny. This, whatever they were talking about (like Danny didn't know, deep down, like he hadn't been dreading this for weeks), was important to her. "Because I thought I could handle it, but I couldn't."
Danny did not like where this was going. He knew the smart thing would've been to either make his presence known or walk right back to the salon and maybe find a better hiding spot for Stan's sock, but he couldn't make his feet work.
Steve huffed a little. "With all due respect, Rachel-"
"No." Sharp clack of porcelain against wood and Danny knew Rachel had just slammed down her tea cup, giving up the pretense of this being anything but a Talk with a capital t. "You will listen to me, Commander, you will give this the consideration it deserves, and you can wipe that condescending look right off your face." There was a brief silence, probably while Steve dutifully rearranged his face, then Rachel went on, a tad less aggressive. "I know you don't believe it, but I care for Daniel, Commander. I care for him a great deal. I did not go into my marriage blind. I knew some mermaids-" As always, Danny winced at the British expression for mers. She was never going to stop using it, he knew that now, but he'd never get used to it. "-and I thought I knew what I was getting into. I was in love. I thought all the differences wouldn't matter if you just loved enough."
Yeah, Rach, rub it in, thanks a lot.
Steve, being Steve, didn't give an inch. "Maybe you didn't." He paused a second to better drive it home. "Love enough, that is."
Ouch. This eavesdropping thing had not been a good idea. Danny turned around, about to make his retreat before he heard any more, but Rachel's next words made him freeze, feeling gut-punched.
"Maybe you're right," she admitted, and it shouldn't have hurt so much, not after everything; he'd thought they'd already done their worst to each other, but this time she wasn't screaming it in his face, this time he couldn't blame it on the heat of the moment or somebody's temper. She didn't even know he was there. "Maybe I didn't love him enough." Rachel sounded bleak when she said it and Danny's world dimmed a little around the edges. "It's hard to match the... the intensity of a mer," she continued, unhappy but also unapologetic. "It's fine in the beginning, when everything is new and exciting. The sex is amazing and Danny is... you know him."
"Yes," Steve confirmed, not yet deterred. "I do."
"See? That's just it. You don't." There was a hint of bitterness in her tone, but no malice. "You think you do, but you won't really get to know him until he's bonding with you. All that devotion and need... it doesn't ease up, Commander. It doesn't ever grow less. It just keeps building and building. It consumes you. It takes away your sense of self."
You're smothering me, she'd yelled at Danny once, at the beginning of the really bad times. I can't breathe around you! He'd tried to back off after that, give her more space, but it had grated and hurt him, so he'd pushed closer again only to be chased away.
"I've got plenty sense of self," Steve claimed, and Danny almost smiled at that, but couldn't manage, because yeah, Steve did, but then so did Rachel.
"I'm sure you do." Danny heard the whisper of silk on marble, the gentle pat-pat of Rachel pacing barefoot in the kitchen. He didn't think she'd been this restless in a while. He'd always been the one to bring out the passion in her, good and bad. "I'm not trying to sabotage your relationship with Daniel, Commander."
"Really?" Steve didn't even try to hide his disbelief. "'Cause I could've sworn that's what this was. So what are you trying to do here? Scare me off?"
The pacing stopped. "Believe it or not," Rachel ground out, sounding very stiff and very British all of a sudden, "I love my- my ex-husband. He is a good man. I want him to be happy and you seem to make him happy."
Steve huffed in annoyance. "Then why are we having this conversation?"
"Because I'm worried," Rachel admitted. "I don't know what he'd do if another potential mate rejected him. I don't know if he'd survive. So I need you to be sure. I need to make certain you won't bail, because if you do, Commander," she was getting agitated again, and the fierce protectiveness in her voice brought Danny up short, "if you hurt him like I did, if you break my daughter's father like that, I swear to God, I will call Daniel's clan and see that they make you suffer before they tear us both apart."
Outstanding, we're up to murder/suicide threats now, Danny thought and then he finally managed to make his legs work and walked away, because he didn't want to hear Steve's reply. He heard it anyway.
"I know what I'm doing."
It was almost exactly what Rachel had told Danny the day she'd proposed to him.
Grace ended up getting a lecture from Danny, a serious mother-daughter talk with Rachel, and a plush shark from Steve, delivered with a sunny grin and a, "Next time, aim for the-"
"Steven!" Danny barked.
Steve changed direction mid-sentence, proving that he did indeed know when to fold. "-teacher. You go tell on him and get him in trouble, okay, kiddo?"
Grace nodded earnestly, though she did look a bit doubtful. "I don't wanna be a tattletale, Uncle Steve."
Danny snorted. "Don't worry, Monkey. It's only tattling when it's about small stuff. If he makes fun of who you are, then that's big stuff, nasty stuff. The rules say you can't smack him, so you make sure to get help. It's like going to the police when something bad happens to you. If people didn't, we'd be up to our necks in vigilantes, it'd be anarchy."
He knew Grace was going to dive for her dictionary and start looking up 'vigilante' and 'anarchy' as soon as he was gone, but she only nodded solemnly. "Okay."
"And if he tries to trip you again," Steve added, trying to be helpful, "you do that trick I showed you with the ankle hook and make him fall flat on his-"
Danny slapped a hand over Steve's mouth, shooting an apologetic look at Rachel who thankfully looked more amused than angry. "Okay, that's it. We're leaving. Say goodbye, Steve."
Bastard that he was, Steve licked the palm of Danny's hand first. It should've been gross, but it was Steve, which made it sexier than it had any right to be. Danny twitched his hand away like he'd been bitten and pretended not to be affected.
"Goodbye, Steve," Steve parroted obediently, making Grace giggle and Danny roll his eyes.
"You think you're funny, huh? You're not."
"I think he's funny," Grace immediately came to Steve's defense. She clambered off the bed, all skinny, awkward limbs and eager smile, and hurried over to hug Steve before Danny could shove him out the door. "Thank you, Uncle Steve," she said into his belly, almost disappearing in Steve's embrace.
Steve, the big goof, looked like he was about to melt into a puddle of Navy SEAL goo. He tried to fold himself completely around her, protective and so damn affectionate, and Danny wanted to keep him so badly he felt the need like a kick to the stomach. He must've made some kind of sound or movement, because Steve looked up sharply to check on him and then just kept on staring at Danny like he couldn't tear himself away.
Had Rachel ever looked at him like this? He couldn't recall. A lot of the good things had been buried underneath the pain and betrayal of their separation. But Steve... Jesus, those eyes made Danny believe that maybe this could work after all. Maybe Steve really was different, capable of being with Danny without losing himself. Or, and that was kind of a terrifying thought, maybe Steve was willing to lose himself. Shit. Danny would have to watch out for signs of that and pull back if it seemed like Steve was getting overwhelmed.
"Gracie? I think your Danno needs a hug, too," Steve muttered, never taking his gaze off Danny as he sicced Danny's little girl on him.
Somehow, Danny couldn't find it in him to be anything but pathetically grateful when he found himself with an armful of Grace. He closed his eyes and buried his face in her hair, breathing in the scent of her, coconut shampoo and salt and Gracie, and kept the trembling at bay with the sheer force of his will.
"So I read this article..."
Danny moaned. Damn it. Whenever Steve uttered these words, there was danger ahead. Steve read a lot of articles... and books... and theses... about mers. Before Steve, Danny had had no idea how much crap had been written about his kind, how much bullshit and bad fiction. Some was plausible enough that Steve fell for it, but he'd been surprisingly good at filtering out the tall tales and digging up the nuggets of truth buried underneath the hogwash. Danny should've guessed Steve was amazing at research when properly motivated. After all, he knew the adorable geek who lived hidden behind Steve's macho Navy SEAL attitude and the lethal killing machine body. Iodine-based metal residue detection anybody?
Steve could've simply asked Danny about anything mer-related he wanted to know and Danny would've answered, but unfortunately Steve had discovered his reading as a great source for conversation openers. Whenever he wanted to approach a topic he suspected Danny wouldn't like, he'd ease into it via whatever textual reference he'd found about it. It was aggravating. It also worked, because Danny could never resist the bait.
"I hate it when you do this," Danny muttered.
Steve smirked, but was gracious enough to keep watching the road and pretend like he wasn't monitoring Danny's reactions like a veteran ICU nurse.
Danny held out for almost a whole minute before he cracked. "Okay. Fuck. Okay. What was it about?"
"It was about mer physiology."
Ooookay. Danny blinked and tried to slot this bit of info into a context that might tell him what Steve wanted to talk about. It was no use though; he'd need more data to help his partner along. "Are we talking about a specific aspect of mer anatomy here or are you just throwing general concepts at me?"
If Steve was angling for a discussion about the complex issue of mer reproduction or anything related to brood pouches and possible future Williams-McGarrett offspring, he was going to be on his own. Danny wasn't touching that with a stick. He wasn't touching that with an underwater missile launched from a distance. As a matter of fact, he wasn't even thinking about it, so there.
"The mer respiratory system. I was reading about how mers breathe underwater and it got me thinking."
Thank God. Danny snuck out a careful sigh of relief, trying to not tip Steve off that he'd been expecting a much more delicate subject, because Steve was a perceptive son-of-a-bitch and he'd latch on to that like a sharksucker.
"What about it?"
Quick glance, tiny little uncomfortable shift, lip-lick. Steve expected Danny to blow up about it, whatever it was. Danny braced himself.
"I've been wondering why you're so opposed to swimming," Steve finally said in a rush, "and it occurred to me that you're from New Jersey."
So many, many options there, Danny didn't know where to start mocking. His brain kinda fizzed out in excitement, so all he ended up doing was grin helplessly and choke out, "Really?"
The look Steve shot him was priceless. Steve opened his mouth, caught up with what had come out of it, and snapped it shut again. Glared. Grumbled. Glared some more. His eventual rejoinder lacked refinement. "Shut up."
Danny cackled. "No, seriously, what gave me away?"
"You're an asshole," Steve told him, exasperated. "I was thinking about oxygen levels, all right? You didn't swim here from Jersey, you took a plane, so your body didn't have a chance to acclimate." Danny's grin faded. He didn't like where this was going. Sure enough, Steve went there, triumphantly presenting his conclusion. "I think that's why you don't swim. I think you probably tried when you got here and you developed hypoxia and something bad happened or almost happened, so you didn't go in the water again."
"I went in the water to save your reckless ass not so long ago," Danny reminded him. It was not a good idea to remember that. He still had nightmares about his partner diving into the sea after a fleeing killer mer. That one had been a bit too close for comfort.
Steve shrugged, unconcerned. "It took you, what? Two minutes to defeat that mer? Three? Not enough time for the oxygen levels to affect you."
"So what are you saying?" Danny snapped, hackles up. His inability to adapt to Hawaiian waters was a sore point for him. "That I'm too much of a coward to try again? I nearly got hacked up by a ship propeller, okay?" He held up two fingers, about half an inch apart. "I was this close to being chum in the water, Steve."
Steve went gratifyingly pale at that. "Did you get hurt?"
It was hard to stay mad when Steve looked like he was a second away from pulling over and checking Danny for injuries long healed. Danny shook his head. "Nah, not badly. Lost the tip of my tail fin, which apparently translates to losing a little toe. It's fine now, doesn't affect my balance or anything. Scared the crap outta me, though."
The car leaped forward when Steve's foot twitched on the gas pedal. Steve didn't even notice, too busy throwing a shit fit to bother with trifles like speed limits and oncoming traffic. "What were you doing, swimming near a ship big enough to chop up a mer? You could've been killed!"
"Whoa!" Danny clutched his seat belt and waved a hand at the windshield. "You wanna finish what the Navy started? Slow down, Andretti!"
If anything, Steve's voice got louder. He wasn't usually one to lose his cool, especially not over things over and done with, but then he'd been a little high strung ever since Danny had admitted to having imprinted on him and had agreed to bond with Steve. Did male humans suffer side effects from bonding that women didn't? Danny felt a bit like he'd pulled the pin off a grenade.
"Big fucking ship, okay?" he said tightly, eying the semi in front of them with trepidation. "I didn't catch the name, but I know Navy when I almost get shredded by it. It was probably my fault anyway, I was so damn disoriented I have no idea how I got that clooooosejesusslowdownohmyGod!"
Thankfully, Steve's reflexes were still awesome. He avoided the seemingly unavoidable collision, eased off the accelerator, and slotted back into traffic like it was nothing. They were quiet for a minute while Danny calmed his racing heart and Steve got the crazy back under lock and key. Finally, Steve cleared his throat.
"We need to work on your oxygen tolerance."
Danny flailed. "We need to get you a shrink, is what we need!"
"Would a seawater pool work?"
Talk about a one-track mind. "You can lead the mer to the water," Danny paraphrased tersely, "but you can't make him flip his tail."
Steve shot him a what the hell? look.
"Means, no," Danny translated. He didn't do pools in any way, shape, or form. Thanks to his no-good brother, he had a childhood trauma. It involved floaties, strawberry bubble bath, and barbecue tongs and suffice it to say, he wasn't going to dip foot or fin into a pool ever again. "Leave it alone, babe."
His refusal bought him a mile or two while Steve chewed on it and worked on a new tactic. "So you just won't swim; that it?"
"Got it in one."
"What if you have to?" Steve demanded. "What if there's no choice?"
"What do you suggest?" Danny could feel himself getting angry again, though he was honest enough to admit to himself his ire was mostly defensive. He wanted to swim, God, so much, he missed the ocean like a limb and seeing it all the time didn't help any, made it worse, so much worse, but he'd lost it so completely the last time he couldn't even recall how the hell he'd gotten from the beach into the deep water. The loss of control terrified him and he knew Steve knew it and that made Danny bristle and balk. He didn't like it when he was getting backed into a corner and Steve had a rare and disconcerting talent for seeing right through Danny's verbal camouflage. "You want me to flip my tail and stay underwater while you sit on me until I've got it?"
Shit. Steve perked right up at the idea. "That's what Armstrong's article suggested. Except he recommended using a pool. Can we do it in open water?"
"No." Danny shifted in his seat, bringing his back up against the door.
Steve frowned at him, brows drawn down and jaw set mulishly. "Why not?
Yeah, why not?
The answer was simple: that loss of control thing? It was going to be much worse with Steve around. Danny knew that if they got that close, if he let himself trust that much, there was no way he'd be able to resist the intimacy of it. He'd give himself over to Steve in more ways than one, and the growing bond between them would draw him in even tighter until Danny forgot why this was such a monumentally bad idea. He knew without a doubt they'd end up doing a whole lot more than getting Danny's body used to the lower oxygen levels in Hawaii. More than the heavy petting and blowjobs he'd let himself have so far. Steve was addictive. Steve, the sea, and impaired judgment? Danny's walls would crack and crumble long before he'd adapted to that deadly combination.
Steve was shooting him those inscrutable glances again, checking on him, reading him like a book and Danny's skin crawled with the sudden and mutually exclusive urges either to jump out of the car and run as fast as he could or to crawl into Steve's lap and hide in his arms. He swallowed against the pressure, distressed and hating it. Sometimes he wished he wasn't a mer, didn't have such a fucked-up, merciless mating instinct. Or maybe he just wished he weren't so damn afraid to trust Steve with his heart when he already trusted him with his life and the life of his daughter.
Fuck it. Danny cracked his neck and lifted his chin, determined to face his fears. Couldn't demand complete devotion from Steve and refuse to offer the same, that'd be unfair. Couldn't keep hiding like a little bitch or he'd lose what self-respect he still had.
"Where-" He cleared his throat, trying to make the hoarseness go away. "All right. Okay. We can try, I guess. Did you have anywhere specific in mind?"
It wasn't until the set of Steve's shoulders relaxed that Danny realized how anxiously his partner had waited for him to decide. "My place," Steve said immediately. "We can go right now, if you want."
"What?" Danny grumbled, "You afraid I'll chicken out?"
Steve, diplomatic as always, nodded promptly. "Absolutely."
"Fuck you very much," Danny told him, trying to hide his nerves under his usual crankiness. "Okay, McGarrett, let's do this. Let's see how you do in the water with a mer who isn't trying to kill you."
Steve's grin lit up the entire car and probably short-circuited half of Honolulu to boot. Danny laughed back helplessly and dared consider there might be a faint possibility that this was not going to end in total disaster.
"You're going to swim with him?"
Kono's pitch was about a decibel short of a squeal, which made Danny remove the phone from the vicinity of his ear and scowl at it. "You have an unhealthy obsession with my love life, rookie. Stop it."
"I'm just saying, boss. It's about time. You won't regret it, I know it."
He could hear her smile and her happiness made it hard to keep up the disgruntlement. Especially since she'd kept her word and hadn't told Steve about the imprinting thing. Hadn't tried to play matchmaker, hadn't pestered Danny about his choice, had been nothing but sweet and supportive in the face of his vulnerability. She could've made life hell for him, but she hadn't, not once. She hadn't even teased, not about this, and she seemed genuinely delighted that Danny had decided to give Steve a chance. She certainly was much more optimistic about it than Danny himself, but that was just Kono.
"Yeah, well..." Danny sighed. "We'll see. I just wanted you to know we're not coming in today and if we don't answer our phones for a while, that's because we'll be in the water."
The last thing he needed was to be caught drifting in the shallows like a stoned mackerel with Steve on top of him when Chin and Kono freaked about the radio silence and rode to the rescue. Talk about awkward.
"It's not a problem, bróðir," Kono assured him. Her pronunciation was off, but the sentiment made Danny flush with pleasure and pride. "We'll take care of things here."
The smile stole onto Danny's face without permission and he let it, stood in Steve's living room beaming at nothing and didn't even feel stupid about it. "Thank you, kaikuahine. I appreciate it."
"Anytime, you know that. You take care, you hear?"
He had the best team ever. Crazy, generous, and they were good at their jobs, too. They made him feel safe in a way he hadn't felt since he'd left New Jersey and his clan.
Somehow, remembering that made it easier to bury the doubts Rachel's words had sown and choose to take a risk on Steve. These people hadn't let him down once since they'd gotten together. Steve wasn't Rachel. He wasn't going to jump ship and he wasn't going to let Danny's need pull him under. He could do this. They could do this.
"You too, Kono. See you tomorrow," he told Kono, and something of his newfound confidence must've rung through, because if a tone could've hugged somebody, that's what hers would've done to Danny.
"I'm looking forward to it, brah."
He pressed the disconnect button with a smile on his face.
They were hip-deep in the water by Steve's beach, the sea mirroring the sky, clear and blue, and Danny was suffering from a mild form of stage fright. He was what some tribes called a 'domesticated mer', had lived and worked amongst humans his entire life, but usually when he flipped his tail in the presence of someone who wasn't kin of some kind, it was because of an emergency. This was different. Steve was going to be right there, was going to watch him change, was watching him already with oddly intense eyes, and it felt so intimate, so sexual, Danny was breaking out in goose bumps.
"Ready?" Steve asked, his face serious and very lock and load, partner, we're going in, which shouldn't have been so reassuring, all things considered.
Danny bit his lip and glanced back at the beach. So close and so far away. Damn it. Running was not an option, not with Steve half expecting it. He nodded instead, quick and choppy, and took a last look at Steve's face.
He pushed the air out of his lungs with a sigh and let himself topple over backwards with his eyes open and arms outstretched like he was doing a trust fall. The sea caught him as it always did, steady and dependable, holding him in a familiar embrace while his body shifted into something more appropriate. It was with a sweet ache that he stretched and strained, blade fins itching beneath the skin of his forearms until they broke through with an edge of pain, gill openings yawning between his ribs as he took his first deep underwater breath, his legs prickling and stinging as they fused and reformed, the memory of two fading into an instinctive appreciation of one. His skin tingled pleasantly as it toughened and rearranged his nerve endings until the electroreception came online with a faint, thrilling zing.
"Jesus Christ," Steve breathed, voice slightly distorted but perfectly understandable. He sounded awed.
Danny blinked and stared up at the man he wanted as his mate through water and a species divide that felt pretty fucking huge at that moment. Steve looked vulnerable from this perspective, all soft, easily breakable skin and land-bound lungs. He'd be slow and clumsy when he moved, all his SEAL training no match against the natural predator currently floating next to him under the waves.
Then Steve told him, "You're beautiful, Danny, you have no idea," and bent down to rest a hand on Danny's chest right over his heart and Danny knew without a single doubt he'd fight and kill anybody and anything that tried to hurt this man, on land or in the sea. He raised a hand and put it on top of Steve's, intertwining their fingers, letting Steve feel the thudding of his heart. Then he closed his eyes and drifted in the water, tail swishing lazily to keep him in position; waiting.
Danny had no idea how long they stayed like that, didn't realize at first when the oxygen deprivation started to affect him, but then Steve's grip tightened and Danny switched back to awareness with a gasp. His head ached. The light stabbed into his eyes and he blinked down his dark protective membranes to block out the painful rays. He could feel his muscles twitch and bunch in tiny spasms. His tail lashed in agitation, threatening to catapult them both out into the ocean, away from the safety of the private cove. This must've been what had happened the last time, he thought muzzily. It was getting hard to focus. He felt restless, wanted to move, outswim the discomfort and clear his mind in the cold waters of the deep, but Steve didn't let him.
"Come on, Danny," he gasped, hands clutching Danny's wrists with reassuring strength. "Stay with me. No ship propellers for you this time, buddy. Stay here."
He didn't want to stay. He didn't like it here; the water was too warm, the sun too bright, the smells all wrong. He wanted to go back to the dark, cold waters of the Atlantic where he could breathe, away from the flighty hums of unknown fish and the irritating tang of strange vegetation. He wanted to feel the soothing kiss of familiar currents, taste the city with every inhalation. He wanted to go home.
Someone was between him and the open water now, a flimsy barrier of muscle and bone, straining against the overpowering strength of the disoriented mer. Danny flashed his teeth at the man, twisted his arms, blade fins extended threateningly, but the man did not back off, did not let go. He was yelling at Danny, the same thing over and over again.
"Stay with me, Danny. Stay with me!"
All it'd take was a quick yank of Danny's arms and the blade fins would cut through the man's wrists, sever tendons and slice into bone. Or he could flip around and hit him with his tail; shatter his ribs, split his skull open. Can't restrain a mer without hands, without a vessel for your mushy parts.
"Danny! Goddamn it!"
So easy to get free, so little effort to make the human go away, yet impossible at the same time. Danny was trembling with the desire to swim back home, but no matter how he ached and hungered, the stubborn human in his path proved an insurmountable obstacle. Every time Danny tensed his muscles to twist his arms or strike with his tail, something stopped him cold. He couldn't hit this man, couldn't hurt him. The thought of spilling his blood made Danny feel even more nauseous, the idea of leaving him behind ripped Danny apart from the inside.
He quieted eventually; let that familiar stranger hold him in place as he floated miserably in the drink. After a while, one hand let go of his wrist to pull him closer and pet his back, soothing strokes from neck to hip where the soft human skin caught on the rough hide of Danny's tail with every pass. The man didn't seem to mind. He kept up the rhythm, steady as the tide, until Danny let his eyes drift shut. His senses were expanding again and they filled with the man at his side, well known already to the animal part of Danny's soul.
Imprinted. Bonded. Beloved.
Slowly, Danny curled around his chosen mate and held on.
He came to with his face resting against Steve's bare flank, his lips pressed against the deep scar there, breathing calmly against a big hand spread protectively over his side. His skin was buzzing pleasantly in the cadence of Steve's heartbeat, perfectly attuned to Steve's presence now. This went way beyond imprinting. It was different from his bonding with Rachel, too, more primal somehow, but then he'd never spent a lot of time with her underwater like this. He was worried about it, deep down, sensing that this was virgin territory, was maybe edging into a mating tie already, but it felt so good he couldn't find the strength to work up a whole lot of distress about it.
Caught up in a happy daze, Danny pressed a lingering kiss against the mer-bite scar, then down to the taut skin below Steve's navel, and was rewarded with a tightening of Steve's arms around him. Arousal unfurled in Danny's middle, warm and unhurried. He dipped a little lower to mouth at the soft bulge of Steve's cock through the salt-soaked material of Steve's blue swim trunks and Steve gasped and jerked his hips forward reflexively. His dick thickened under Danny's curious exploration, filled and pressed against Danny's face hopefully. He nosed at it experimentally, loving how Steve's heart rate went up when he did, felt the rush of it prickle down his own body like Steve's reactions had been wired straight to his own.
Mine, Danny breathed against the rapidly hardening member, or maybe the word was mate; he couldn't have said. His mind was sluggish with sensual contentment and probably the aftereffects of the hardcore oxygen adaptation he'd just gone through.
One of Danny's teeth snagged on a fold of wet cloth and he hummed thoughtfully and used it to rip the annoying barrier between them to shreds. Steve yelped in surprise at the feeling of the serrated edge of a shark-like incisor brushing against his thigh, but he didn't flinch away. On the contrary, he got the hint and helped Danny shove down the shorts so Danny had full access to his dick and ass, both of which turned out to be every bit as awesome as in Danny's fantasies. He didn't know where to begin touching.
Steve's need spiked and Danny whined at the answering bolt of desire that slammed into him. He felt a curious sensation under his skin that started at the small of his back and flowed down over where his buttocks would've been had he been in his land form. It made him squirm and shift closer to Steve and then startle a little when one of Steve's big hands slid down his back and groped his butt. Whoa. Uh oh. Looked like his body was on board with the whole wanting Steve's dick thing if it had done a breeding shift. Just enough to let Steve get where Danny wanted him and he'd known it was possible, had gotten The Sex Talk from his father when he'd hit puberty (mortifying was too weak a word for it), but it had never happened to him. He'd been the one to do the siring with Rachel, but of course Steve couldn't carry and Danny's body knew it as well and oh God. Danny flushed, eyes wide, and froze half twisted around Steve like an affectionate sea serpent, torn between letting Steve explore and shying away.
A curious finger parted his exposed cheeks and pressed against his sphincter and that was it, Danny was not doing it underwater any time soon, not if this was how it was going to be. He had some very inconvenient parts in this form and even if chances were only about fifty-fifty that he'd conceive... Steve was an overachiever. Danny didn't like the odds, no matter what his sex-addled body said.
Change of plan, now.
Steve grinned at him when he broke the surface, so damn happy to see Danny even though he had both arms full of Danny anyway, so stupidly, annoyingly sweet and handsome and perfect Danny thought his heart was going to explode. He reared up and pressed his lips against Steve's mouth, shark teeth gone long before he lapped into the warm cavern, chasing the sweet taste of skin untouched by saltwater. Steve kissed back enthusiastically, fingers sinking into Danny's hair and cupping the back of his head to hold him in place while Steve went hunting for his tonsils, tongue-fucked him so thoroughly Danny's mind dissolved into static.
It took Danny longer than usual to change back because Steve kept distracting him, held him so close Danny's brain functions slowed down significantly. The water always felt colder when he didn't have his thick mer hide to protect him, but even without the core-deep hum of the electroreception he could sense Steve under his skin, warming him right back up and driving him insane in the process. He wrapped his legs around Steve's waist and pressed his hard dick against Steve's stomach, and he would've been content to stay like this and hump his way to bliss, but Steve started to wade back towards the beach - hopefully to take them somewhere more comfortable and preferably horizontal.
"Drop me in the sand and this will be over before we start," Danny panted against Steve's ear, just to be on the safe side. You never knew with Steve.
"No sand," Steve promised hoarsely, and proceeded to carry Danny out of the water, holding him tight, not letting go, and Danny should've made him, should've squirmed free and insisted on walking by himself, because, come on, really.
Trouble was, if Danny let go, he'd have to give up the sensitive spot on Steve's neck right below the ear that he'd just found, which in turn would make Steve stop moaning like this was killing him, and that would've been a shame, so maybe Danny could swallow his pride once for the greater good and let Steve Tarzan him to the bedroom.
Unsurprisingly, Steve got them into the house and up the stairs without incident even though his focus was split between the task at hand and Danny. He was more than a little wild around the eyes, clutching Danny like a lifeline, panting like he'd run a marathon or, who knew, a SEAL obstacle course, something that would've killed Danny halfway through.
"I want to fuck you," he whispered in Danny's ear, his breath hot and close, his voice brittle with need, fingers digging into Danny's skin hard enough to leave bruises as he lowered Danny onto the bed and settled on top of him like he belonged there. "Got- gotta be in you... Jesus, Danny..."
Had he been in his right mind, Danny might've paused to think about it, but he was so far gone he could barely formulate a coherent thought, much less an argument. Steve's desire was rolling him under like a tidal wave, amplified by his own want until all he could do was tilt back his head to indicate his willingness to submit and spread his legs wider in invitation. Steve, the fucker, promptly ground down against him and bit him, teeth sinking into the curve of Danny's neck where it met the shoulder and leaving a mark of ownership that made Danny's kinky dick drool pre-come like a little slut. He was so whipped it wasn't funny and he didn't even mind, because it went both ways and all he had to do was gasp Steve's name to make one of the Navy's toughest, most elite soldiers tremble like a leaf and push against him like a touch-starved pup.
Steve shifted and stretched to pull open the drawer of his bedside table and grab the lube, good boy, always prepared, though he better not pick the cherry flavored stuff if he wanted to keep his balls. Danny was not going to walk around with his freshly popped cherry smelling like, well, cherry. He must've said as much, because Steve ducked his head and laughed against Danny's shoulder, shaking with a mixture of mirth and lust and something else Danny couldn't put his finger on.
"It's the regular kind," he declared when he could talk again and presented the bottle so Danny could verify the claim.
Danny scowled at him. "Why is it still in the bottle and not on your dick?"
It was gratifying to see Steve's mouth drop open, even better to watch the heat rise back up in his eyes. Danny cursed and grabbed his knees to open himself further, leave no doubt as to what he wanted. He knew he was going to like it; he'd done this to himself plenty of times, had teased and stretched himself while thinking of Steve until the need to come became so strong there was no room for mental porn anymore, just pure sensation. He was trembling faintly in anticipation already, his cock hard against his belly, his balls aching to be touched.
The lube was cool against his skin, made him draw in a quick breath and twitch, his hole clenching in alarm, but Steve rubbed it in with strong, smooth movements and warmed it up nicely. The sound he made when he slipped in a careful finger and realized Danny had done this before was gut-wrenching, somewhere between possessive jealousy and insane arousal.
"I thought-" He growled out a curse, shoved in a second finger and crooked them both to bring Danny arching off the mattress with a yowl. "You said I'd be your first, Danny."
Danny clamped down on the fingers pumping into him, thighs trying to snap closed when he felt a third digit nudge in too soon, too deep, but Steve was right there, broad shoulders between Danny's knees, keeping them open wide. "Guy, Steve," he bit out, teetering on the fine edge between intense pleasure and pain, "my first guy, you Neanderthal. What? You thought I wouldn't touch myself before- Oh, fuck!"
He bucked helplessly, unsure whether to move away from the skillful hand working so ruthlessly between his legs or push back against it. If Steve didn't ease up soon, Danny was going to-
Oh. Oh. Oh, yes.
Right there. Perfect. So, so good. This was the spot he'd felt when he'd done this on his own, but he'd never been able to quite reach it, not properly... at least not without being in danger of overextending his wrist. Though, honestly? He'd been tempted to risk it. Eyes rolling back, Danny grabbed two fistfuls of sheet and shoved down, taking more of Steve into him, suddenly very eager to try out the part of Steve that had been made for this.
It took some effort to coordinate his limbs, because his brain was pretty much fried at this point, but after several false starts Danny managed to slap Steve's shoulder. Had to get the man's attention somehow, because Steve was completely intent on what he was doing, cheeks flushed, white teeth biting down on his lower lip, his entire being focused on driving Danny out of his mind. Danny himself wasn't doing much better. This was decadent; the sinful stretch of his rim around Steve's knuckles, the obscene sounds their bodies made as they slid and jerked against each other, the lingering taste of Steve in Danny's mouth, the scent of sea and salt and sex.
All right, so that had been more of a breathless sigh and Steve merely flicked his eyes up briefly to make sure he wasn't hurting Danny before he went right back to rubbing his long, strong fingers over the slicked, sensitized skin deep inside to make Danny shiver and moan like a whore. Steve, control freak that he was, seemed to get a serious kick out of making Danny moan like a whore. Danny would've complained about it, but he felt too good to care.
"Fuuuck," he groaned, and scrounged up the motivation to smack Steve again. "F- fuck me, babe. Please. Come on."
Steve stopped reluctantly. He leaned down to kiss the soft insides of Danny's thighs as he slipped out his fingers carefully, teasing along the rim as he went, and Danny whined and nearly brained him with his knee.
"In," Danny ordered hoarsely.
Steve shook his head and grinned like a bastard even though he was blowing like a racehorse himself. "Turn around. C'mon. On your belly."
"Why? It works this way, I've watched the porn, I've done my research, just stick it in, you fucking tease! I don't have all day!"
Quick dip down and then Steve was kissing him again, licking into his mouth, gently tugging on Danny's bottom lip. "Just do it, Danno."
Grumbling under his breath, Danny flipped around, braced himself, and immediately slid his knees apart again and pushed up his butt, because apparently Steve needed very clear instructions if this was supposed to work. Instead of doing his job and nailing Danny through the bed though, Steve paused and sort of hovered over him, slick fingers drawing a pattern on Danny's broad back between his shoulder blades. Danny sucked in a sharp breath, head dropping down and arms almost giving out. Hot damn. He hadn't known about this spot.
"You have a tattoo."
Steve sounded awed. Danny briefly considered smothering himself in the mattress then he locked his elbows and turned his head to glare up at his spellbound partner. "Yes, Steven, I have a tattoo. A lot of mers do. Don't tell me you never noticed."
"How could I?" Steve complained, but he was clearly distracted, was tracing the outline of the tribal shark with something close to reverence. Or maybe it just really, really turned his crank. "You're always wearing those stupid shirts."
"Professional attire, Steven," Danny told him impatiently, "look it up. Now do you want to discuss my body art or fuck my ass? 'Cause if you don't want to get busy, I'll be perfectly happy to fuck you instead."
He wiggled. Thankfully, that was all it took to get Steve back on track and, even better, back between Danny's legs.
Steve leaned down to press a quick kiss on the shark and Danny whimpered at the feel of Steve's tongue lapping at the delicate skin in the dip between his shoulder blades for a moment before Steve straightened up. He held still when Steve parted his cheeks with firm hands, didn't want the man to get distracted again, not when they were so close, so damn close to finally, finally getting it on, and then bit down on the sheets when he felt the blunt, merciless pressure of something wet and smooth against his twitching entrance, something uncomfortably big. It burned going in and it hurt; not as badly as it could have, had Danny not practiced religiously for the past few weeks, but it certainly wasn't the effortless slide he'd kind of expected.
"Ow," Danny muttered into his mouthful of linen.
He breathed out like at the doctor's and that helped, made it a little easier if not sexier. More of Steve slipped in and Danny liked the fullness a lot, liked what the thick cock did to that shivery, needy place inside him, but it still burned like a motherfucker and if Steve jumped the gun Danny was going to turn around and kill him dead. He was starting to see why Steve had made him lie on his stomach though: no need to waste energy holding himself in position, no strain on his hips beyond the necessary, and gravity helped them along.
"All right?" Steve asked, his voice tight and controlled as if he were in pain. He was shaking with the need to move, but kept himself almost completely still except for the tiny, cautious rocking of his hips.
"Yeah," Danny breathed. "Gimme more. All of it. I want all of it."
Point for the Navy: they taught their boys to follow orders. Steve paused for a minute or so to swear fluently and then he pressed down, smooth and slow, one hand rubbing Danny's side to distract him a little from the discomfort. His panting breaths huffed against Danny's sweaty back. Danny knew Steve's cock was a good size, but going in it felt huge, massive, and it made Danny keen and toss his head back and slam a fist down on the mattress hard. Just when he thought he couldn't take any more, no way, because Steve had to be rearranging Danny's poor insides with that unnecessarily long dick of his, Steve slotted in right behind him, hips flush against Danny's ass, balls brushing Danny's taint maddeningly.
Steve was trembling so badly the bed frame rattled. The urge to move was killing him and it was seeping right into Danny until Danny cried out and jerked forward and they lost it, both of them, the animal drive to fuck overwhelming everything else.
Linen against his face, against his dick, soft folds to rut against. Skin against his back, against his ass, silky wet, oily slick, slap-slap-slapping out that age-old rhythm.
Push and pull. Fingers digging into his hips, an anchor, necessary, needed. Slide against the sheets. Slide of cock in him, so deep. So good. The friction burn of skin stretched wide, of muscle clenching down on unyielding thickness.
No air. Hot. So hot, sun and skin and sex. Teeth against his nape, sharp and demanding. Bite to kiss. Kiss to bite. A mantra of Danny Danny Danny sobbed against his spine.
Full. Too full. Not full enough, not close enough. Mating instinct overdrive, wanting to tie the knot, possess the man and be possessed in return. Belong.
Steve. Steve. Steve.
Danny woke briefly sometime around sundown, pulled from his exhausted slumber by the sensation of Steve cleaning him up with a soft, damp towel. He hissed a little and cursed, tender and hot down there, still gaping open and missing Steve.
"Shhh," Steve whispered softly, "I'm sorry, Danno. Don't move."
Like moving was an option. Danny's body felt heavy and well used; exhausted. He blinked into the golden Hawaiian dusk, rubbed his face against crisp, clean linen, and wondered how the hell Steve had managed to change the sheets without waking him. Steve finished his ministrations and left, and Danny drifted off for a few minutes until Steve sat down next to him again. This time, he touched Danny with his fingers, still so very, very careful as he massaged some sort of salve into the abused skin in and around Danny's hole. Whatever it was, it felt nice. It burned a bit at first, but then it cooled and soothed, making Danny sigh quietly in relief.
"Better?" Steve asked, one hand flat on the small of Danny's back, petting him slowly.
Danny hummed his assent and reached out blindly to grab hold of Steve's hand. He pulled and Steve came eagerly, no hesitation. Of course, being Steve, he couldn't just settle in and sleep like a normal person, no, first he had to manhandle Danny's mostly unresisting body (couldn't yield without at least some token flailing) into a position that suited him. Lucky for him, Danny didn't mind being spooned and cuddled like a teddy bear.
"Y'done?" Danny slurred, eyes already sliding shut again. "C'n we sleep now?"
"I'll never be done with you," Steve told him, low and fierce, his arm tightening around Danny's middle. "I'm yours for as long as you want me, Danno."
Trust Steve to make a declaration like this when Danny was too out of it to react.
Morning dawned with a fuckload of shit-for-brains, fluff-feather birds yelling their empty little heads off right outside the window and Danny's ass aching like a motherfucker.
Island paradise indeed.
When hiding his head under the pillow didn't noticeably dampen the racket and shifting around didn't alleviate the throbbing in his backside, Danny grimly gave into the inevitable and acknowledged that, yes, he was awake, and no, this wasn't anywhere close to a sensible time to get up. So he tossed the pillow and forced his eyes open only to find himself looking right at the person responsible for the pain in his ass.
Steve was watching him with soft eyes and a frankly besotted smile, one hand on Danny's hip like he couldn't stand not to touch, and Danny wanted to grumble about creepy voyeurs and, worse, early risers, but he could feel Steve's happiness like a fuzzy brush of warmth against his skin. It was almost like the little flashes he sometimes got from Grace, just a faint glimpse like the hint of a delicious scent in the water. How the hell was Danny supposed to hold on to his grouchiness in the face of this much contentment? It'd be like kicking a puppy for wagging its little tail at you, though Steve's tail was definitely not little, and oh God, Danny needed coffee now, please.
"Good morning," Steve said, which was an appropriate and perfectly fine greeting, except Danny could read the things he didn't say out loud, too, and they included a lot of sappy mush and a few lewd suggestions on top of that.
"Why..." Danny paused to clear his throat, because unlike Steve he did sound like he'd spent at least two hours tormenting his body's respiratory system the day before and had then gotten fucked to within an inch of his life and might've possibly mated just a little though he was not thinking about that anytime soon. This was a consequence-free zone for now. "Why are you so chipper at..." he glanced at the alarm clock on the bedside table, did a double-take, and whimpered, "...five. It's five in the morning, babe, why are we awake?"
Steve's smile widened. "We slept for twelve hours straight, Danny. And I always get up at five."
"What? That means I have to do the same?" Danny tried for a glare, but realized he wasn't quite conscious enough yet to pull it off when Steve merely leaned in and kissed the tip of his nose, a sweet hit-and-run of a peck that hit more buttons than it should've.
"You can go back to sleep if you want," Steve offered graciously, while Danny still tried to come to terms with the realization that he'd taken up with a stealth-smoocher. He gently rubbed Danny's hip then slid his hand up to rest on Danny's stomach, fingers splayed possessively. Danny didn't think the man was even aware he was doing it.
The idea of catching a few more zees before he did have to get up was tempting, but between the birds outside and Steve's thumb teasing around his bellybutton, Danny knew it was a dream doomed from the start. Though, come to think of it...
"Why aren't you out swimming?" Danny frowned and put his hand on top of Steve's, stilling his fingers before he could get completely distracted. "You okay?"
"I didn't want to swim alone," Steve admitted, eyes going even softer at Danny's concern.
And that was just... that was...
"Why did you have to say that?" Danny griped as his defenses got washed away by a flood of affection and the undignified urge to climb on top of Steve and hug the shit out of the big goof. "How am I supposed to- you goddamn- come here."
Because he was allowed to cuddle now and he was going to abuse that privilege while Steve was still this mellow in the afterglow of taking the remains of Danny's virginity, which Danny knew Steve had both dreaded and anticipated ever since he'd learned there was some unexplored territory left for him to conquer. He'd have mocked Steve more if he hadn't understood so well.
As it turned out, Steve had absolutely no objections to close contact. He eagerly pulled Danny into his arms and made room for Danny's legs between his own to cradle him close and go for a real kiss, the French kind. Danny got hard so fast it made him dizzy, not that he was going to admit that, and then it was a matter of minutes before they were rubbing off against each other like horny teenagers.
It was messy and somewhat uncoordinated, Steve's dick drooling pre-come everywhere, Danny trying not to topple over every time Steve bucked up, and Danny loved every second of it. Steve was damn near writhing beneath him, impatient bordering on desperate, greedy for it as if he thought he had to take what he could get before someone snatched it away again. His hands were everywhere, explored Danny's body like he was committing it to memory. It took Danny a bit to slow him down, soothe that frantic energy into something a little less likely to lead to hyperventilation, but then... then it was very close to perfect.
Then it was friction and naked skin and strong hands grabbing Danny's ass and keeping him in position until Danny lost it all over Steve's belly, crying out against Steve's shoulder and clutching Steve's tattooed arms hard.
Steve held him through the aftershocks, one arm snaking around Danny's trim waist, the other hand stealing up to find the sensitive place between Danny's shoulder blades again, unerringly landing on the ægirsfólk shark. Danny shuddered in reaction, his nipples tightening against Steve's chest, and Steve groaned deeply. He rubbed the spot gently and when Danny arched up and let out a shivery moan that seemed to do it for Steve. He gasped, closed his thighs around Danny's hips like he was riding a bronco, and thrust up sharply once, twice, and again before he shot his load between their sweaty bodies with an almost inaudible whine of pleasure.
The morning swim was cancelled due to both of them falling asleep again. Danny couldn't find it in him to be sorry.
Bless Steve's anal retentive little stalker heart; when Danny staggered into the bathroom around half past eight, he found a brand new toothbrush there as well as his preferred brands of toothpaste, soap, shampoo, and hair styling products. Steve had even bought an electric razor that looked identical to Danny's, only less dinged. Any other day, Danny might've had something to say about that, but he'd been through an emotional roller coaster the day before and he'd been very well loved twice within the past twenty-four hours. If Steve wanted to make Danny feel at home, Danny wasn't going to complain about it.
He was slicking back his hair when Steve stepped into the room, already dressed and looking amazing. He leaned against the doorjamb and watched Danny in the mirror, face serious and eyes slightly apprehensive.
"I meant it, you know," he said quietly.
Danny turned on the water to wash his hands and frowned at the mirror, unsure what Steve was talking about. "Meant what?"
"I'm not going to leave." Steve shifted a bit, widened his stance as if readying himself for a fight. "You're not too much to handle. The idea of spending the rest of my life with you doesn't scare me." He took a step forward and Danny tensed, suddenly terrified again and very aware of his lack of clothes. Steve didn't stop until he was standing right behind him, his gaze never leaving Danny's in the mirror. "I know you heard me and Rachel talk."
Danny flinched. "What?"
One of Steve's hands settled on his back, gently. "You had a tone, after. Like you were having doubts. Like you-" He stopped there, trailed his fingers down Danny's spine and back up again, drawn to Danny's tattoo like a moth to the fire. It was weird to be standing there naked with Steve fully dressed behind him, made Danny feel both vulnerable and oddly protected... much like Steve's words. "That's why I asked you to go into the water with me. I knew you'd say yes, because you thought you had something to prove... even though you didn't. Rachel was wrong, Danno. I do know what I'm doing."
If he wasn't, Steve was very good at faking it. Danny's hands ached from the desperate grip he had on the washbasin. "You don't. You don't know what you're doing." Danny laughed brokenly. "I don't know what I'm doing. I have zero control over this, Steve, and apparently I'm wired wrong. You're human, I shouldn't even want you."
"You do, though." Steve's hand stilled, his body tensed. His distress brushed against Danny like a cold draft, making him shiver. How could a single man be so self-confident and insecure at the same time?
"Of course I fucking want you," Danny snapped, because that was the one thing he'd never questioned, not once. "Don't be an idiot. I'm so fucking gone on you I left sanity behind months ago. Listen to what I say. You're human. I'm a mer. The usual rules don't apply. I don't know what to expect, okay? It's not exactly common for mers to pair up with humans and I only ever did this with Rachel... and you know how that went."
He took a deep breath and felt Steve move even closer, his touch shifting from Danny's back to his hip, stage one of a sneak hug. Those changeable hazel eyes were intent, the laser focus of Steve's attention amplified by his unblinking stare.
"I'm not Rachel."
"No shit." Danny rubbed a hand over his mouth, minty fresh from the toothpaste Steve had so thoughtfully bought for him, and something eased a little in his chest. "I'm just saying... we're flying blind here, Steve. Totally."
"That's okay," Steve murmured, and slid his arm around Danny to pull him closer in the second and final stage of that predicted stealth embrace. "I've got an IFR license. We'll manage."
"You've got a-" Danny sighed. He leaned back into Steve's broad chest and finally broke eye contact to glance heavenwards. "Of course you do. Is there anything you can't do, Super-SEAL?"
"I can't make you trust me. That, you gotta decide on your own." Steve squeezed him gently. "We'll get there. I have faith in us."
"You're such a fluffball," Danny muttered, but he didn't try to wriggle free. "Special Forces, my ass." Which reminded him... "Shit." He straightened reluctantly. "Lemme go, babe, I gotta head home and change. Kono's going to be insufferable as it is."
Steve didn't look happy with this. "What's wrong with wearing yesterday's clothes this once?" he asked, more than a tad disappointed.
"They're yesterday's clothes."
"So what? They're clean." He was pouting. Six foot plus of deadly, tattooed Naval Commander, and he was pouting like a kid. Unbelievable.
Danny shook his head, grinning. He patted the hand splayed once again over his stomach consolingly. "Next time, Romeo. I'm not in the mood to make everybody's day. Let's fuck up their betting pools, huh? Now let go of me, we're running late as it is."
It took some coaxing to get Steve to release him, but eventually Steve stepped back reluctantly. He did trail after Danny like they were handcuffed together though, grumbling disapprovingly all through Danny getting dressed and then down the stairs and all the way across the living room. That was when Danny realized his partner intended to accompany him back to his apartment and he stopped by the front door, unsurprised when Steve bumped into him, too busy griping to anticipate the stop.
"You, my friend, are not coming." Steve opened his mouth, but Danny held up a hand and it snapped back shut. "Two reasons, oh partner mine. One, I wasn't kidding when I said we were late. At least one of us should try to not be the last one at the office, and that better be the boss." Steve's jaw twitched. Danny wasn't impressed. "Two, I need space." He reached out immediately, the hurt look in Steve's eyes too much to stomach. "Whoa. No. I'm not backing out of this, babe." If they'd done what he suspected they'd done, if they'd initiated a mating tie out there in the water, Danny didn't have that option anymore anyway, even if he wanted to, not that he was going to tell Steve. McGarrett on a guilt trip was a disaster waiting to happen. "We're doing this, all right? No take-backs. I just need to get a few things straight in my head, that's all. So I'm gonna go home, change into something less likely to make Chin smirk, and I'll meet you at the station."
Steve scowled. "Can I talk now?"
"Not if you're going to be difficult."
"I'm not-" Steve huffed, frustrated. He looked down at their clasped hands as he tried to translate emotion into words. "I thought you were supposed to be the clingy one," he muttered unhappily and faintly accusatory.
"I think the two of us, we're kinda making up the rules as we go," Danny admitted ruefully. "Hey, you wanna know the reason why I don't mind splitting up this morning?"
Steve made a noncommittal sound, not looking up.
Danny brought their hands up and pressed a gentle kiss to Steve's knuckles. That got Steve focused on him, all right. Big eyes stared down at him out of a shocked face flushed pink. Danny smiled. "I know you'll be there when I get to the station. I know," he cleared his throat, suddenly a little embarrassed himself, "I know you'll be there, period. You won't leave me behind."
"I won't." It was a vow, solemn as an oath of allegiance. "Promise me you won't, either."
That one was easy. "I promise."
Steve let go of him, stood there on the steps and watched him drive away, and Danny kept glancing into the mirrors until he couldn't see him anymore.
His nest had been breached.
Danny stopped on the concrete walkway that led around the building and stared at the door to his apartment. The door was closed, no sign of forced entry, but his gut told him something was wrong. He reached for his phone and cursed when he realized he'd taken it out of his pocket before he'd gone into the water with Steve. It was probably still on the deck chair out on Steve's lanai, safe and sound between the towels they hadn't used. His gun, on the other hand, was right where it was supposed to be, because Danny would rather leave the house without underwear than without his weapon.
Whatever suicidal scumbag had dared desecrate Danny's nest had better be gone when he went in, or there'd be paperwork to fill out and police brutality to cover up and Danny had gotten good at phrasing incident reports just the right way. Come to think of it, he hoped the fuckers were still in there.
He approached fast and silent, was in with his gun up before either of the men sitting on his couch could react. Danny snarled, flashing teeth. His rational brain was maybe, possibly, a little bit compromised. A mer's nest was sacrosanct; it was why he'd painted his clan sigil on the doorframe – to warn off intruders. Most people were smart enough to get it even without the traditional fish skeletons nailed to the bottom of the sigil. This was his couch. His nest. Didn't matter that the couch was a backbreaker and the apartment a cheap shithole, he lived here. His baby girl visited here. Steve visited here.
There were two, mainlanders from the look of them, both armed, both carrying themselves like professionals, and Danny wanted to rip them apart with his bare hands, pull them into the ocean, drown them in their blood.
"Five-0," he barked instead, because he'd sworn to be a cop first and he was going to hold to that for as long as his instincts let him. "Show me your hands. Up. Come on, up!"
Four hands went up, though the bastards didn't look nearly worried enough for Danny's taste. Something was off. He checked the room with a quick glance to make sure no one was hiding behind what little furniture he owned and kept his back to the wall, but he couldn't see into the kitchenette and the bathroom door was ajar. As far as he could tell, nothing was missing, everything in its place, like they hadn't even searched the apartment.
"What are you doing here, huh?" He edged closer warily, trying to get a better angle to look behind the kitchen counter. "Who the fuck are you?"
"Bait," a voice said from the direction of the bathroom.
Danny had a second to register the Irish lilt, a glimpse of a white face under dark hair as the door swung open (and he'd oiled the hinges himself, goddamn it, hadn't liked the creak of them), and then something hit him in the chest and his world went away in an explosion of pain and a final squeeze of his trigger finger.
He drifted towards consciousness in the dark, trussed up and gagged in what smelled and felt like the trunk of a moving car. His entire body hurt like he'd been beaten with a baseball bat, his ribs were sore, and he had the headache from hell. Tasered, he thought, and then, Hesse. This was so not good. Steve was going to go nuclear. Actually, Danny could've sworn he sensed something at the back of his mind, something like the rumble of distant thunder that felt distinctly like his partner, but he couldn't be sure. He might be imagining things.
From the feel of it, they'd bound his arms and legs with duct tape... lots and lots of duct tape. He couldn't tell what they'd used for a gag, but suspected it might be one of his own ties. Whatever it was, Danny was going to cram the thing down Hesse's throat at the first opportunity. His mouth was painfully dry, his jaw ached, and the electrical current must've triggered his fang reflex, because several of his many serrated teeth were caught in the soggy material. He could either retract them and lose a few in the process or wait until he got free and then ease the gag off and out bit by bit. Either way was going to suck.
On the plus side, he hadn't pissed himself and the trunk was big enough (or Danny small enough, damn it) that he had some freedom of movement.
Duct tape was not on the list of things a person should use when trying to restrain a cold water mer, which admittedly Hesse couldn't have known even if he did have some basic knowledge about mer anatomy. The hardest thing was that Danny had to concentrate on what he was doing, which wasn't easy between the headache and being bounced around like a sack of potatoes. It was the knowledge of what this was likely doing to Steve that did the trick, made him bite through the discomfort and distraction and reach the part of himself where his land and his water forms connected.
Viktor was swimming in the bay...
Not that muscle, no.
...when a shark who passed that way...
Not that one either. If that fucker would just slow down a little, Danny couldn't hear himself think, for Christ's sake, had to stoop to reciting stupid nursery rhymes to focus.
...punctured him in seven places...
...and he made such funny faces!
The blade fins pushed up and out of his skin with a rrrrrippp of tearing cloth (there went another shirt in the line of duty) and destroyed duct tape. Danny's shoulders were grateful, but the rest of him was starting to really wake and work up some serious resentment. Hard to tell which pains were the result of yesterday's exertions and which were due to having been tasered and stuffed in a trunk, but he felt inclined to blame Hesse for all of them and be done with it.
He freed his legs and kicked out the tail light next, because while he didn't have a cell phone with him like Mary McGarrett, kidnappee extraordinaire, he was a cop and he knew that there were other cops all over this island and they tended to notice things like damaged tail lights. Especially with Lieutenant Commander McGarrett putting every law enforcement and probably military agency in Hawaii on red alert and breathing fire down everybody's back.
He lost a tooth getting rid of the gag, but it was one of the smaller back teeth in his third row. He figured he could live with that, especially since it was going to grow back. It hurt anyway, even with his teeth back to human, and he spat blood for a minute before the skin slipped back over the wound and sealed the opening.
The car stopped. Danny heard the slam of the doors and footsteps coming towards him, and he tensed and shifted in the small space, getting ready to move. He knew he had to get out of the trunk as soon as the lid swung open and even then he'd likely catch a bullet. The thought made him hesitate, but if Hesse had gone to the trouble of breaking out of prison to kidnap him, chances were the fucker didn't want him dead, at least not at this point in the game. He wouldn't have bothered with knocking Danny out and tying him up otherwise, would've simply put a bullet in his head and been done with it. No, this was about tormenting Steve. Hesse would draw it out for as long as he dared, hours if he could.
"Fuck," someone said outside, "you were right. He's awake." Irish accent, but not Hesse. "How the fuck is he awake?"
"Tough little bugger." That was Hesse, and he had the nerve to sound amused. Danny wanted to kick him in the head so badly his foot twitched. He heard the crunch of boots on gravel and then someone knocked against the lid of the trunk, mock polite. "Feeling frisky, Detective?"
Danny flexed his forearms, blade fins at the ready, but didn't answer. He wanted to, was itching with the need to let fly with the rant to end all rants, but he'd rather Hesse didn't know exactly how alert he was. Open the lid, he thought, giddy with adrenaline and the taste of his own blood. Come on. You know you want to; it'll be exciting.
"Take a deep breath and start counting backwards from ten," Hesse advised with a chuckle, and then he tossed something through the hole where the tail light had been, a small metal cylinder that clicked open on impact.
The last thing Danny heard was Hesse telling his accomplice, "That should do it," and then it was lights out again.
The hangover was epic.
Danny started to retch before he even opened his eyes, brought up coffee and bile, whimpered in disgust at the taste, and upchucked again. He wanted Steve. And Tylenol. Pepto-Bismol. Water would've been nice. But mostly, Danny wanted Steve. God, he hated it when he had to throw up. Fifteen years. Fifteen years without a hiccup, and now this. If Hesse had done nothing else, breaking Danny's streak would've put him on Danny's shit list for forever.
"Aw. Is the fishy feeling sick?"
And the mocking. The mocking didn't help. Hesse had an awesome voice for it, made you want to shoot him before you'd even registered the words.
Danny spat again then lay very still and tried to breathe shallowly. Unfortunately, being a mer, he had at least as many scent receptors in his mouth as in his nose, so his efforts not to smell his shame were in vain. He was tied up again and this time it felt like metal handcuffs, much more secure, definitely too tight. Desperate to escape the stink, he edged backwards as far as he could to get away from the small puddle of puke on the floor and came up against something metal with a hard edge that hit his elbows painfully.
"'M gonna kill you," he mumbled, eyes still closed, because he knew without a doubt they'd be sensitive and the light was going to hurt like a son-of-a-bitch.
"I don't think so." Hesse chuckled. "I think I'm going to kill you. See how McGarrett copes with listening to you die. I were you? I'd start thinking about your last words."
He waited a bit for a reply, but Danny was arguing with his stomach again and didn't have time for witty banter. Eventually, Hesse grew bored and walked away. Danny barely noticed his exit, too miserable to care.
It took a long while before Danny could breathe normally again without gagging every few moments. Hurting and exhausted, he curled up on the hard concrete floor of whatever abandoned building Hesse had commandeered for his purposes and drifted in and out of a dizzy haze. He had no idea what kind of gas had been in that canister, but it sure packed a punch. He'd been out within seconds, unconscious for hours judging by the angle of the sun that glared through broken skylights, and God knew how long he'd be incapacitated. His blade fins had retracted on their own when they'd grown too dry, but apparently the gas had slowed that reflex, too, because his arms felt sore down to the bone.
He tried to isolate the various pains and aches, figure out what was hurt and how badly, and lost himself in the bruising bite on his neck and the lingering tenderness between his legs instead. Good times. Good memories. He'd chosen well, this time.
The concrete was cool against his pounding head and Danny relaxed as much as he could and waited for either the aftereffects of the gas to subside or Steve to arrive, whichever happened first.
Hesse came back, jeering at somebody through the phone, and Danny blinked up at him balefully when the bastard made a show out of pulling a face at the drying bit of bile and stepped around it gingerly before hunkering down next to Danny.
"Say hi," he sneered and put the call on speaker.
"Danny? Are you there? Are you hurt?" Steve's voice revived Danny somewhat, hopeful and frantic and so determined Danny wanted to kiss him.
"I'm here." Was that really his voice? Damn, he sounded rough.
Next to him, Hesse pulled his gun out of his holster and racked back the slide. "Remember your father, Steve? Your partner here's about to join him. Time to say goodbye."
"Danny?" Calm. Deadly calm.
Danny smiled. "Yes, Steve?"
"Close your eyes."
Danny closed his eyes. He still saw the flare of the flash-bang grenade, flinched at the noise even though he'd expected it, but it was definitely worse for Hesse, who lost his balance and fell against Danny. Snarling, Danny jackknifed up and kicked out with both legs. It felt like he'd hit Hesse's head and shoulder, and a satisfying snap under one heel made Danny hope that he'd just broken the bastard's nose.
Glass shattered above, several skylights from the sound of it, and then there was a lot of yelling and shooting when Hesse's men opened fire. Danny blinked his eyes open and grinned at the sight of the armed figures rappelling down from the roof... and there was Steve, pissed off and gorgeous, already down on the ground and scanning the place for Danny. Their eyes met through the smoke and Danny's heart did a weird little tap-dance in his chest.
Yes, yes, yes.
Grim-faced, Steve started towards Danny, long legs carrying him across the room faster than most of Hesse's men could react. He bared his teeth when Hesse climbed to his feet and stood in his way, already bloodied from Danny's kick, but not quite down yet. It took a lot to knock out Victor Hesse. Danny had read the man's file and Steve had filled in the blanks, sketching the picture of a dangerously smart, perfectly trained assassin with a high pain threshold and single-minded focus. The one obstacle he kept tripping over was Steve.
Hesse brought up his gun and Steve should've just shot him in the head, but apparently he was feeling vengeful, because he plowed into Hesse instead and slammed him back down against the concrete with brutal force. Danny winced and grinned meanly. High pain threshold or not, that must've hurt. He started to twist and tug on his cuffs, eager to get free, desperate to help Steve.
You had to hand it to Hesse: prison didn't seem to have slowed him down much. Steve took a knee to the sternum that would've cracked the bone if not for the state-of-the-art body-armor protecting his torso. As it was, he staggered back a step and snarled, handsome face twisted with hatred at the man who'd killed his father, had almost blown up Chin, and had been a second away from putting a bullet into Danny. Hesse rolled to his feet with a curse, barely blocked the roundhouse kick Steve aimed at his head, and reeled when Steve's follow-up elbow smash glanced off his temple. If he was taunting Steve, his voice was lost in the noise of the firefight still raging behind them, but Danny thought Hesse likely didn't have the breath to talk. He'd need every bit of strength he had to try and hold up against the Navy SEAL who was coming at him like the wrath of God.
Steve hammered Hesse flat like a Rottweiler bearing down on a jackal, fast, savage punches and kicks that kept on coming without mercy. He didn't let Hesse come up for air, didn't let him get any distance between them, took what blows Hesse still managed to dish out like they were nothing as he used his greater size and bulk to his full advantage. No finesse, just brute force, and Danny watched with wide eyes, awed and taken aback by the ferocity of Steve McGarrett unleashed. The civilized part of him was appalled. The much more primal bits and pieces, on the other hand, were cheering and very turned on.
Hesse must've realized he was going to lose and lose badly. He threw himself at Steve in a last ditch effort, grappling, trying to immobilize Steve's arms with his own in a grotesque sort of embrace. It worked for about half a second, then Steve drew back and headbutted him so hard Danny's head hurt, and that was the end of it. Hesse crumpled like someone had cut his strings to land in an undignified heap at Steve's feet. Steve kicked him once for good measure, stepped over him, and rushed to Danny's side.
"Danny!" Frantic hands flitted over Danny's face, his throat, shoulders, and chest, searching for injuries, assuring Steve that Danny was indeed alive and still breathing. "Are you hurt?"
"No. Yes. I puked, okay?" Danny confessed unhappily. "The motherfucker gassed me and now I've got the worst hangover ever. I broke my streak. Fifteen years, Steve! Fifteen goddamn years!" Steve was leaning over him to get to the cuffs. He hissed when he saw the damage they'd done to Danny's wrists and it was such a wretched sound Danny forced himself to keep talking even if it didn't do his persistent headache any good. "You know what? I'm gonna kick him, too. Help me up so I can go kick him. You didn't kill him, did you? I can't kick a dead man, that would be gross. Not to mention unethical."
There was a click and then Steve tugged the cuffs off, prying them from the deep grooves they'd cut into Danny's skin. The edges had sliced into the fin lines and mangled them; the pain when Steve pulled them loose was excruciating. Danny moaned and tossed his head; didn't cry out, didn't dare to, because the stone-faced man kneeling by his side looked like he might crack into a thousand pieces if Danny let on just how much it hurt. Knowing his face would betray him anyway, Danny hid against the coarse material of Steve's black BDU pants, panted against Steve's leg while Steve held on to him and soothed him with gentle hands.
"Don't move, Danno," he ordered quietly. "It's all right. I got you. I got you. The EMTs are on the way, you'll be fine. You'll be fine. I got you. I'm here."
"How-" Danny rubbed his cheek against Steve's thigh and closed his eyes, enjoying the relative peace of the moment while Chin and Kono barked orders somewhere at the other end of the room. "How'd you find me anyway?"
"You killed one of them." Steve rubbed his shoulder, right over the bite he'd left, and Danny smiled a little and pressed closer. He knew he was about to receive an edited and extremely abridged version of events, but for now he was okay with that. "The shot alerted the neighbors and Hesse left the body behind in his hurry to get away." There was a tightness in Steve's voice, but he kept it together, kept his tone as easy as he could, which helped calm both Danny and him. "Chin identified him and we checked passenger lists and ran facial recognition on every piece of security footage we could get our hands on. Two of Hesse's men traveled here together. Kono linked one of them to this property; Catherine confirmed activity and the presence of their rental car. We moved in and that was when he called to gloat."
Danny rolled onto his back – carefully, so as not to upset his stomach again – and blinked up at Steve, letting him see how impressed he was. "All that in a few hours? Babe, this is the most awesome team ever. I'm so glad you're in my corner, I'm gonna take you all out for pizza as soon as I can see straight again. You can even order the abomination if you want, I won't complain. My lips will be sealed and my wallet open. Ham and pineapple away. Chin's getting cocoa puffs for dessert. Kono's getting Friday off, and you..."
He knew he'd succeeded in talking Steve back from the brink when he saw a glimpse of that breathtaking grin dart across his partner's face. "Yeah, Danno? What do I get?"
Letting his own smile go sweet and warm, Danny patted Steve's leg, pretty close to the groin. "The best damn blowjob you ever got, babe. I'm gonna suck your brains right out through your dick."
That did it. Steve tossed back his head and laughed, even as his cock swelled a little in his pants, nudged hopefully against Danny's hand. Danny counted it as a win. His own smile stayed firmly in place as he was whisked away by the EMTs and all the way to the hospital, though that might've had something to do with the fact that Steve never left his side.
Swimming with the Fishes
I left the only home I knew
I stayed alive and I found you
Now I take you where the water's deep
And make the air you breathe so sweet.
"Cold Cold Water" by Mirah
"Why did I agree to this again?"
"Steve's pathetic eyes," Chin reminded him, pushing past with a moving box that was almost as tall as he was. "And he made your landlord terminate your lease."
"Oh, yeah." They'd had words about that. The loud kind. "Remind me to kick his ass for that again."
"Ho brah," Kono piped up, Danny's favorite frying pan in one hand and his tie rack in the other, "no more asskicking. It's useless. He's not gonna be sorry, it's like trying to discipline a cat. Where's the rest of your stuff?"
"If he were a cat, I could at least get one of those spray bottles and squirt him every time he did something stupid," Danny grumbled. He mimicked pulling the trigger and entertained thoughts of a hilariously indignant, wet Steve for a moment before the question penetrated. "Oh, that's it. I don't have more stuff. It's all packed and accounted for, thanks."
Kono turned around to inspect the bed of Steve's truck then swiveled back to stare at Danny. "You're kidding, right?"
"Nope." Danny shrugged and hooked a thumb over his shoulder after Chin. "He's got my suits. You have my ties. One more box and we're done." He frowned and looked around for the missing member of their team. "That is, if Steve's got my baseball cards... Steve!"
"What?" came the bellow from the other side of the house.
Danny left Kono to it and went in search of his partner, finding him on the lanai, armed with hammer and nails and scowling at the wall next to the backdoor. "Hey, did you pack my baseball-"
Danny stopped in his tracks, struck speechless. Steve had painted the ægirsfólk clan sigil on the formerly pristine white wall of his family home in a bold, bright blue, had stuck a metal Navy SEALs emblem next to it, and was currently trying to figure out how to nail a couple of fish skeletons under the lot without destroying the fragile bones.
"How the hell does that work?" Steve grumbled. "Is there some trick to it? Do you glue them to the wall or something?" He looked up, noticed Danny's slack-jawed stare, and immediately got defensive. "What? What's wrong? Should it be red? I can make it red. I've got red paint in the garage, I think." Danny blinked at him. "Is it the fish?" Steve was starting to shift from defensive to worry. "Wrong kind of fish? Wrong size? I'm sorry, man, you mom didn't give me any specifics. Should I have started with the front door? Is there a-"
"I think I accidentally mated with you," Danny blurted.
He snapped his mouth shut again, but too late. Steve put the fish skeletons down carefully and turned to face Danny full-on. Danny stared up at him with wide eyes, heart in his throat, so damn scared he wanted to dart around Steve, dive into the ocean, and never come back out... and damn if Steve didn't take a step to the side to bar his way, get between him and the sea. A solid wall of muscle and devotion determined to keep Danny.
"I figured as much," Steve said gently, and then he smiled, so happy and serene it took Danny's breath away. "I knew you were alive. When Hesse took you. I knew. I could feel you."
It went both ways.
Danny swayed on his feet, completely blown away. "You're okay with it?" Then a recent memory tugged at his awareness and he gulped heavily. "Wait. You called my mom?"
"Well, yeah." Steve gave him the 'you're weird' look again. "You said it yourself. Stage three. A little sooner than I expected," he shrugged; grinned lopsidedly, "but that's cool. Means you can't chicken out. It's permanent now." He was positively dripping satisfaction. "I'm your mate." So much satisfaction. "Fuck, that's better than getting married. So I thought I'd introduce myself to your parents and get some tips on the care and feeding of my mer-mate."
Danny groaned, his world tilting back into balance. Apparently, he could always rely on Steve being a dork. "Oh God, you didn't just go there. That's bad. That's really, really- Stop laughing, Steven!"
Steve, of course, didn't, which was why Danny had to make him, which was why Chin and Kono found them rolling around on the lanai a few minutes later, half naked and bickering between kisses.
"At this rate, you'll never get done unpacking," Chin scolded, arms crossed and a scowl on his handsome face, at least until Kono's elbow found the ticklish spot under his ribs.
"Leave them be, cuz. I think it's cute." She tilted her head and squinted, trying to make out what exactly Steve's hand was doing between their bodies. "And hot." She gaped. "I didn't know Danny had a tattoo. Bitchin!"
Chin's hand immediately came down over her eyes. "Cool it, Kono. Come on. Off with you. We're out of here." He pushed and pulled his resisting cousin away from the lanai before the scene could go from R to X-rated, though not without a final, mournful look back at the fire pit on the beach.
"So much for the barbecue."
And he'd been looking forward to it, too. Oh well. That's what you got with newlyweds.
The alarm went off at five. Steve slapped it silent with a practiced movement. He stretched luxuriously and smacked his lips, breathing in the scent of flowers, ocean, and sex that had become his new favorite smell to wake up to. The sun was rising, flooding the bedroom with light and the promise of another beautiful day. Steve smiled and opened his eyes to look down at the gilded head squashing his right arm against the pillow.
Danny was still snoring delicately, oblivious to the adoring gaze that took in every detail of his slumbering form. Every breath of his felt like a gentle touch against the soft skin on the inside of Steve's arm, a gift. Steve reached out slowly to brush aside the sleep-mussed curtain of soft hair and drink in the sight of that beloved face relaxed in sleep. Danny's cheeks were dusted with blond stubble, the occasional hint of silver matching the specks of gray at Steve's temples. Steve wanted to kiss the faint laugh lines, lick into the sweet, pink mouth, make sure this was real, not a dream. Make sure Danny really was in his bed, in his life, solid and loud and passionate.
The best thing about it was that he was allowed to do it, had, in fact, standing orders to touch whenever he needed it.
Danny roused when Steve's lips parted his and as always he woke with a sensual little sigh and a turn of his body into Steve's, his response to Steve's kiss languid and unhurried. In contrast to what Steve had expected, Danny didn't hit the ground running. He needed a generous warming up phase, preferably one that involved an orgasm and coffee, in that order. Steve was more than happy to provide both.
He loved Danny awake, watched him lose it under Steve's hands and mouth, open and easy like he'd been made for this, for Steve, and then Danny took him apart with that very same ease and Steve didn't mind, didn't try to hold back, safe in Danny's strong arms. He grinned when Danny started to grumble, that active brain coming online while Steve was still gathering his wits after what definitely was the best damn blowjob he'd gotten since, well, the one before that.
"What kind of freak gets up at five thirty in the fucking morning?" Danny complained even as he rolled out of the bed and made a beeline for the bathroom.
Steve flopped down on his back and stared at the ceiling, chuckling. Like Danny hadn't started almost as early before he'd moved in, to run and work out before the heat of the day and the stress of the job could persuade him to skip the exercise. He'd been more than willing to change part of his routine to fit Steve's and Steve got up quickly at the thought, eager to get going.
Bathroom first then kitchen, because coffee was essential to Danny's mornings and Steve loved the look on his partner's face when he took that first sip of perfectly brewed Kona. It was almost as good as the sex face. Almost.
"You done?" By this point, Steve wasn't ashamed to admit he was twitching a little with impatience. "Danno?"
"God, you're worse than Grace."
But Danny was smiling when he said it, fully awake now, blue eyes shining with affection, and he followed Steve out to the beach without delay, walked across the sand with him and into the water with the same steady trust he showed when he followed Steve through fire and bullets. Though, admittedly, there was less yelling involved when it was just them and the sea.
"Ready?" Steve asked, like he had the first time, like he did every time.
Danny flashed him a smile, single row of pearly white teeth shifting into several rows of serrated menace. He winked and ducked under the waves, all broad shoulders and narrow waist and pert little ass. Steve counted to seven, got splashed by a tall, dark tail fin, and dove after his mate with a smile that went all the way to his soul.
July 28, 2011