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Back to Back (They Faced Each Other)

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Danny didn’t even realize that Steve was a sentinel when they first met. That probably said a lot right there about what kind of a guide Danny was. It was only after three days of being shot at, chasing bad guys, and rescuing trafficking victims together (by the end of which Steve had transferred Danny to the 5-0 without his permission, taken the new team to a really good bar to celebrate their first case, and talked Danny into carpooling) that Steve got around to telling him.

He did it in a kind of sneaky way, too, which was at eight o’clock in the morning, when Danny hadn’t had his coffee yet. On the first day of aforementioned carpooling, Steve got into Danny’s car, waited (why?) until he had swung out into traffic, and then said casually, “So, you’re a guide.”

Danny had just been slowing towards a traffic light, which was lucky, since he lost control for a second and pushed his foot all the way down on the break. They’d only going about twenty-five miles an hour, but the Camaro’s tires squealed and burnt rubber as they lurched to a stop. The driver in the next lane glared at Danny like he was an asshole, but he was too busy getting his pulse back down under control to care.

“Whoa!” he said. His first instinct was to deny everything, but common sense quickly won over. “You read my file, didn’t you? I didn’t think the PD had sent it over yet. I was planning to tell you before-”

“I haven’t seen your papers yet,” Steve said calmly.

The light turned back to green and Danny took a breath and pressed his foot cautiously on the gas. “How did you know, then, if,” he began, but then the little pinball hit all the right targets, and the blinking lights and the ding ding ding! went off in his head: Steve McGarrett, freakish tall and fit, insane reflexes, no sense of fear and absolutely no common sense.

“Shit!” he said. “Shit! You’re a sentinel, aren’t you? Shit, I can’t believe you didn’t tell me.” He kept his eyes carefully on the road this time as he ranted, but he could still see Steve smirking out of the corner of his eye, “Look, Steve, I’m not interested, ok? I came online after I was married, I’m not in the pool, you can’t make me.” He’d heard crazy stories about guides getting kidnapped and bonded against their will; but Steve didn’t seem crazy, at least not that particular way, and he hadn’t been scenting Danny or anything so-

He heard Steve chuckle faintly. Then, thankfully, there was another stoplight.

“Relax, Danno, I’m not going to do whatever crazy thing you’re imagining,” he rolled his eyes. “I’m a military sentinel, not an insane predatory rapist.”

“Sorry,” Danny said. He wiped his sweaty palms on the steering wheel. “You just threw me there.”

“Yeah, well, I thought we’d better clear the air, since we’re going to keep working together.”

“Right.” he looked out the windshield across the wide, sunny asphalt, noticed that they were getting close to his favorite pit stop, and sighed in relief. “I think I need some caffeine if I’m going to deal with this now.”

He swung the car into the parking lot, and went in and bought coffee and fresh malasadas. Back in the Camaro Steve balanced the cardboard tray of coffees in his lap while Danny restarted the engine.

“So, you don’t have a guide?” Danny asked.

“No.” Steve paused. “I have someone from the Navy I work with, though, from time to time. She’s great, and we tried to bond, but…,” he shrugged. “According to the shrinks we weren’t compatible enough.”

“Huh.” Danny considered. “That sucks.”

Steve shrugged again.

“So what’s your rating, then?”

“A,” Steve said, easily. “You?”

“C.”

He waited to see if Steve was going to ask him any other questions, but instead he just leaned forward and turned on the radio. Thank goodness for military taciturnity: Danny hated talking about that sentinel-guide stuff, which made his skin crawl. They spent the rest of the drive to the office listening to some teenybopper pop star ‘singing’ about her boyfriend instead, and for once, Danny didn’t complain.

 

“I’m pretty useless.” he decided to bring it up again to Steve later that afternoon when they were on their way to interview the wife of a guy Chin was pretty sure had been involved in drug smuggling, after it occurred to him that Steve might not realize that an untrained C-class guide couldn’t do any of the tricks his A-rated military partner had probably been capable of. “I was twenty-seven when I came online. Never went through the program. I take Psybutrol to suppress the empathy, I get migraines if I don’t. Even without it, I can’t tell if a suspect’s lying, or do any of that other guide mumbo-jumbo.”

Steve just shrugged. “Yeah, I sort of figured.”

“Yeah?”

“I mean, come on, you didn’t even notice I’m a sentinel. And trained guides do this thing – I don’t know, with their voice, the way they talk.” Steve waved a hand vaguely. “You’re kind of shouty to be a trained guide. Plus you were married, so, you know.”

“Right,” said Danny. “Ok, just as long as we’re on the same page.”

 

Coming online for Danny had started with headaches. He had waited way too long to talk to a doctor about them, but after nearly blacking out on the job, their family practitioner had taken one look at him and referred him to the local Center.

The good news had been that right from the beginning his age, combined with being married and having Gracie, pretty much let him off the hook as far as having to actually do anything guide-related. Had Danny been single and a couple of years younger, he’d probably have been in for mandatory training, followed by awkward mandatory introductions to any sentinel the Center thought he might be a match for. He’d even heard rumors that guides were pressured into sleeping with the sentinels, since sex was the only sure-fire way to test if a bond might take.

But after some really bad publicity in the 90s, the Center never forced married but unbonded guides into meeting candidate sentinels, and at twenty-seven the chances of him ever getting his empathy under control were so low as to make him basically useless to them even if he hadn’t been settled down. So, Danny started on the Psybutrol and pretty much forgot about the whole thing. Other than routine things like occasional check-ins with the Center, and having to register his eventual divorce and subsequent move to Honolulu, he didn’t even have any contact with them.

He realized though that with Steve it was probably a totally different story. After all, Steve was a military-trained, A-class sentinel: pretty much the elitist of the elite. The fact that he was unbonded at his age, and still sort of holding it together (although as Danny got to know him better, he began to feel that was debatable) was impressive, but it also suggested that some serious intervention might be in order.

The Pacific-West Regional Center apparently agreed with him, because it wasn’t more than a month later that a tall, lanky redhead, who couldn’t have been more than twenty-three, tops, wandered into the office and asked to talk to Steve McGarrett.

They had been in the middle of investigating a string of rapes on the UH campus, and Danny’s first thought was that maybe she’d come because she knew something about it. Danny had been about to refer her to Kono, who as the only woman on the team was stuck doing most of the interviews, but before he could the girl said, “I’m Guide Kinsey, from the Center.”

“Oh,” said Danny. “Oh! Ok, hold on just a second, I think he’s in the break room-” when Steve had walked out, taken one look at the girl, and gotten a seriously constipated look on his face.

“Sentinel McGarrett,” the girl sounded way too excited about this. “I’m Sara Kinsey, I was told to meet you-”

“Not interested,” said Steve, shortly.

The girl looked surprised, but she pulled herself together quickly. “I think you should give me a chance first, sir. I’ve completed six years of guide training, including three years of combat-readiness coursework, and-”

With one hand, Steve pulled her close to him, leaned down and buried his head in the crook of her neck. Danny almost choked. The girl froze, like she didn’t know whether to fight it or sink into the-

Abruptly, Steve pushed her away.

“Not interested,” he said. “I’m not getting anything off you. Nada. Not gonna happen.”

“um – ok,” said the girl, and fled.

“Jesus, what the fuck was that?” asked Danny.

Steve sighed and folded his arms. “Ever since I’ve gone into the reserves, the Center’s been trying to get me to meet these-” he shrugged expressively in the direction of the door. “I’ve been putting them off, so I guess she decided to come to me.”

“Well, come on, is that so bad?” Danny asked. “I mean – don’t you want a guide?”

Steve looked down at where he was sitting in his desk, and cocked an eyebrow. “You think Sara over there would have made a good addition to the Five-0?”

“Probably not,” Danny conceded. “She’s closer to Gracie’s age than yours.”

Steve shrugged in agreement and went back to his office, and Danny was left to call every frat house on the east side of campus, as he tried to track down the ex-boyfriend of the latest victim.

 

That was the only guide he actually saw at the office, but there were other signs, easy for a cop like Danny to notice. Steve would get a letter with that official Center seal on the envelope, and start scowling, and then a couple of days later Danny would catch him leaving the office early, dressed badly and un-showered, as if he had a blind date he really needed to scare off.

“Surely there are guides out there you’re actually compatible with?” asked Danny one morning after Steve, having had one of his anti-dates the night before, came in looking particularly grouchy and out of sorts. Of course, it might also have been because it was nine am, and they were standing on the dock waiting for a coast guard ship to deliver the two bodies it had pulled out of the water that morning. There was a light breeze coming in off the water, the sky was clear, and it was shaping up to be another perfect 75 degree day in paradise. Danny wished he’d managed to snag a coffee before the call had pulled them out.

“Are we talking about this now?” Steve asked, sounding confused.

“It’s not like there’s much else to do.”

Steve shrugged in apparent acceptance. “The navy has some good ones,” he conceded, “but they’re mostly all bonded.”

“I read some pamphlets the other day,” said Danny, “and that thing about scenting you did with that girl was bullshit. If you found someone you liked and gave them a chance, the possibility that a successful bond would take between the two of you would increase the more time you spent together.”

Kono had wandered up behind them, and was looking interested.

“It’s my own goddamn business, Danny,” Steve sounded pissed.

Danny was surprised, but maybe he had been pushing it a little. He suppressed a faint, hurt feeling. “Yeah, I’m sorry, you’re right,” he said. “Sorry.”

The coast guard ship started pulling in and thankfully the team from the coroner’s office arrived behind them at almost the same moment. Stretchers were passed up to the boat and then two forms, covered in tarps that looked jerry-rigged from what they must have had on board, were carefully levered down again. Steve checked under first one tarp and then the other with a stony expression. Danny followed suit.

Water-bloated corpses were the worst.

“Throats slit,” he observed. “That’s not how the gangs do it. And, let’s see… both female, both brunettes…” Something occurred to him. “Wasn’t there a murder a couple weeks ago where the victim met that description?”

Steve’s eyes met him over the tarp. “Yeah,” he said, “tourist, traveling alone, brown hair, possible mugging. I remember that one.”

“I think she was knifed,” Danny said. “Think it could be a pattern?”

Steve frowned. “Let’s find out.”

 

A couple more months of that and the Center must have decided that Steve was a lost cause, or maybe he’d gone through their entire pool of eligible guides or something. Steve continued showing up to work alone, and didn’t even really seem to hang out with anybody outside of Danny, the team, and occasionally a few other guys from his navy days: no sign of a guide in sight.

Then there was the Kowalski case.

The first thing about that had been the house. It had been built the same decade as Steve’s place and had a similar floor plan, as well as a décor that suggested the owner had stopped noticing the carpet or the wallpaper back in the early nineties: kind of like how Steve’s had looked right after his Dad died.

That right there would have been enough to put Steve on edge, even without the blood, which was just everywhere, in a state of putrefying funk that hit Danny’s nostrils about three feet from the front door. Seasoned investigator though he was, he nearly puked on the doormat. Granted, it still wasn’t the worst thing they’d ever come across, but he hated to think how that was going to play off Steve’s heightened sense of smell.

He didn’t have time to bark out a warning, though, because Steve was already following him into the house. Once there he stopped, looked around, and got a blank look on his face which Danny had learned to identify as dangerous. He fought the urge to place a comforting hand on the small of Steve’s back: settling on a kind of manly, half-hearted punch on the shoulder instead.

“You ok there?” he asked.

“Why wouldn’t I be ok?” Steve snapped back.

“Ok, ok! No need to go Mr. Sensitive on me.” He hoped the banter would lighten the mood. “So, according to traces of sand the forensics team found ground into the carpet near the back door, the killers probably came in that way-”

“What?” Steve interrupted. “Show me.”

Danny threw his hands up. “Fine, fine.”

Steve looked at the little grains of sand for a long time. It something Danny had seen him do only three or four times before: focusing in on them with his sense of sight to the point that he’d be able to see the nooks and crannies of every grain.

Watching Steve do it was interesting, but it also felt kind of personal to Danny, somehow intrusive. It wasn’t until the first time he’d tried to talk to Steve while he worked, and realized that Steve couldn’t really hear him when his sense of sight was focused so acutely, that he understood why. A sentinel with his senses dialed way up was actually pretty vulnerable: if Steve’s sense of vision was focused in on something small, he couldn’t see the normal things around him anymore. A criminal could sneak upon him, or a flash of bright light could send him into a zone. If it was Steve’s hearing that dialed up it was even riskier: any stray loud noise might put him into a catatonic state.

So Danny tried not to be too obvious about it, but when Steve got to working in that particular way, he stayed close, not exactly hovering, but not leaving his partner unattended, either.

In this instance, Steve stared at what had seemed to Danny seemed like typical whitish sand for over ten minutes: long enough that Danny started to get bored, just waiting, and then began to feel nervous. He let out a tiny sigh of relief when Steve finally began to stir, but noticed that it took him longer than usual to come back to himself.

“You ok there?” Danny asked, unsettled.

Steve nodded, but his expression was tight, even more carefully controlled than it had been before. “There are traces of plastics in this sand. Not the usual beach flotsam, something I’ve never seen before.”

“Huh,” said Danny, thinking out loud. “What does that mean? Any sense of what the plastic might be used for, or where we’d find it?”

Steve made a frustrated sound. “If I could just see it a little more clearly, I think I’d be able to sketch the polymer.”

“What? You mean like the actual molecule?”

Steve nodded.

“That’s insane! You can’t seriously be pissed off that you couldn’t see a molecule.” But looking at Steve’s unhappy expression, Danny relented. “Look, you’ve found it, now we know it’s there. We can turn it over to the forensics guys to id. That’s their job, they’d feel useless and probably threatened if you did it for them. So you’re doing them a favor, really! Let them do their jobs and feel important, ok?”

He didn’t quite get Steve to crack a smile, but he did seem significantly less tense than he since entering the house. Danny counted it as a win.

 

Forensics, though, failed (miserably) to rise to the mystery-plastic challenge. First they denied that any such traces existed in the sand, then, when informed that the material was sentinel-confirmed, they took a second look and grudgingly admitted that something was there, though they couldn’t say what it was. They offered to send it out to the University’s SEM for further analysis: the waitlist for using the machine was a month, and it would cost the Five-0 eighteen hundred dollars. A dead end, Danny decided.

Then a second house turned up, painted in blood as the Kowalski’s had been.

This time, Steve stepped in, stared at the carpet (Danny hovered around the perimeter, glaring at any cop who even thought about getting in the way while Steve was working) and, after twenty minutes, came out of his trance-like investigation of the fibers.

“Same stuff,” he said. “I’m nearly sure of it. I just can’t-” He looked at Danny, and frowned, and then pulled his cell phone out of his back pocket and looked at it.

“What are you thinking?” Danny asked.

“I can do this,” Steve said. “I just need a guide.”

 

One was waiting for them in the office the next day: a brunette with legs that went all the way up, with a no-nonsense but still somehow warm look about her. Danny was just about to introduce himself, suavely (hey, he was divorced, not dead) when she stood up. “Steve!”

“Catherine. Thanks for coming.”

“I was in the neighborhood,” she kissed Steve on the cheek in that vaguely European way that Danny usually thought seemed stupid: with her, it looked natural. “Introduce me to your colleague?”

“Catherine, this is Danny Williams, my partner. Danny, this is Catherine, the guide I told you about.”

“Oh,” said Danny. “Oh! Pleased to meet you.” He held out a hand. When Catherine accepted, a small jolt of energy seemed to pass between them for a moment. She looked at him oddly before turning her attention back to Steve.

“So,” she said. “You said something about difficulty focusing your sight?”

Steve explained the problem as he led her back through the bullpen into his office. Danny trailed along, curious.

“I don’t know, Steve,” she said, once he’d run through the murders, the strange polymer he’d seen at both scenes, and general uselessness of forensics. She leaned back against his desk and folded her arms, as Danny watched warily from the doorway. “I thought you were having trouble with sense regulation, but it sounds like you’re doing fine. This – I can count maybe ten Sentinels in the world that I think could see down to the level you’re talking about. All of them are bonded.”

“I can do it,” Steve said, stubbornly.

She smiled at him, fondly, and then, surprisingly, smiled at Danny too, in a sort of we-both-know-what-he’s-like kind of way. “I’m not saying you couldn’t,” she said, holding a hand up to warn him not to interrupt her, “if you were bonded. Steve, you’re literally the strongest sentinel I’ve ever worked with, and I know sight is one of your better senses. But unbonded,” she shook her head. “I just don’t think so.”

“Catherine,” Steve said. Danny knew that tone of voice too, it was the one that said that Steve was going to get what he wanted. “Just help me give it a try, ok? It can’t hurt.”

“You could wind up in a coma,” she said, and boy, did Danny’s head snap up at that. He looked at her, appalled. Was that the kind of risk Steve had been subjecting himself too all this time? She nodded at Danny, answering his unspoken question.

Steve frowned at both of them. “That’s not going to happen, Cath.” He looked reassuringly at Danny. “We’ll try it, ok, and if you see any sign of trouble, you can tell me to pull out.”

“And are you going to listen when I do?”

Steve grinned boyishly, sensing he had won, “Scout’s honor.”

“I’d prefer Seal’s honor, but all right.” she looked at him narrowly. “Only because I’m pretty sure that if I say no you’re going to try anyway, and I’d rather you at least do it with a guide on hand.”

“Great!” said Steve, rubbing his hands together, and not bothering to try and contradict her. “I’ll get the stuff from the evidence locker.”

“Were you even listening?” Catherine asked. “This is going to require two days of meditation prep, minimum. I’d prefer a week but I know there’s no chance, even with how badly you seem to want this.”

“Time is kind of at a premium, here, Cath.”

“So don’t waste it. Two days meditation, starting tomorrow, on my terms. Then – when and only when I say you’re ready – we can try.”

She looked again at Danny. “You can join us, Mr. Williams, if you’d like too.”

“Uh, thanks,” said Danny, surprised. He looked between her and Steve. “Thanks, but I’d better not get in the way…”

“You won’t,” said Steve, and Catherine smiled.

“It might be good for you, too.”

“All right then?” said Danny. He had thought the two days of meditation sounded like a good idea when Steve was the one who was going to be forced through it. Doing the same himself sounded much less appealing.

 

The next day he showed up at work in his usual khakis, shirt and tie, only to find Steve and Catherine in loose, dark yoga clothes.

“It’s a special blend for sentinels with touch sensitivity,” Catherine explained to him, holding out her sleeve for him to touch. “See? It’s quite soft.”

“Oh my god,” Danny said, rolling the fabric under his fingertips. “I want to live in these. Where can I get a pair?”

“I’ll give you some of my old ones,” Steve offered. Danny scowled, imagining how long the pants would be on him, but Catherine looked at Steve with a thoughtful expression, and then smiled.

“Alright,” she said. “Is there a sentinel-safe room in this building?”

It turned out there was, although Danny had never realized it before: a door that he had always assumed led to a broom closet opened with one of Steve’s keys into a smallish area with soft gray walls and no furniture. The lights, when Steve flicked them on, were no brighter than what you might get very early in the morning on a day that was shaping up to be rainy.

“No direct light,” Catherine explained, “no strong scents, and no noise, because the walls are reinforced. If Steve ever zones, Danny, and you have trouble bringing him out, this is where you should take him.”

“Do you think maybe you should have told me this?” Danny asked Steve.

“I’m not going to zone,” Steve replied.

“Don’t listen to him,” Catherine said. “All sentinels say that.”

She seated them on the floor, in a triangle, legs folded. Danny’s pants weren’t particularly well suited to the posture but he lowered himself down, awkwardly, following Steve and Catherine.

First there were some breathing exercises. Then something where Catherine started to lead Steve on a guided meditation, suggesting he contact his ‘spirit animal’. Danny’s attention began to wander.

He wondered about Grace. This upcoming weekend was one of his, and he still hadn’t decided what to do with her. Picnic on the beach?

“Concentrate your breath,” Catherine said, in her melodic, soothing way. “Inhale from the stomach. Imagine yourself in a place where you feel comfortable-”

Danny imagined the boardwalk on the Jersey shore, cotton candy and amusement park rides, girls shrieking and yelling at each other in the background. Gracie was holding his hand, and as they walked she told him about her day at school.

“I want to go down to the water,” she said.

“Ok, Monkey.”

He hopped off the boardwalk, looking towards the gray, salty Atlantic, and breathed in. But when turned around, raising his arms to help Gracie down, she was gone. His shoes had disappeared, and the sand under his toes was golden and clean, not Jersey sand at all. He turned around again and saw that there were palm trees, and the sky was now blue.

Freaking Hawaii, Danny thought, scrunching his eyes. It even followed him into his head.

He opened his eyes.

Steve sat, eyes closed, cross-legged; his face smooth and relaxed in the dark room. Next to him, Catherine was equally poised. They looked like matching advertisements for a yoga studio: come here to work out with really stupidly attractive people! Danny let his gaze slid to Steve’s chest, nicely defined by the soft material, and his slim hips. He felt himself –

Steve took a deep breath.

“Danny,” Catherine said, politely. “That’s distracting.”

“What?” said Danny. “Oh. Oh!” He felt his face reddening. Steve opened one eye and then, teasingly winked at Danny.

“Don’t feel embarrassed,” Catherine said, opening her eyes now and smiling at him. “Most men – most women too, actually - think about sex all the time. It’s just that when you work with sentinels, it’s a little harder to be private about it.”

“Maybe I’ll go,” Danny said. “It’s been interesting, but, I should let you two get to work.” He raised himself up, awkwardly, and shook himself out to straighten his pants.

Catherine, oddly, looked a bit disappointed, but after a pause she nodded, “alright, maybe next time.”

 

So, it was a little bit hard to keep his mind on his work after that. Did the two of them really just sit there in that room for hours, that day and the next, doing nothing but meditating? He remembered how Steve had said that he and Catherine had tried to bond. That meant that they had been lovers, right? Were they still?

None of his business, Danny reminded himself. He had piles of paperwork to work his way through, oh-so-boring but still infinitely preferable to getting involved in a McGarrett-style firefight.

The next afternoon when Steve and Catherine emerged from their meditation, they both looked so limber and blissed-out that it was hard not to imagine, again, what other things they might have been up to, to lead them to look so calm.

“This is as good as it’s going to get,” Catherine said, nodding to Danny. “You have the evidence?”

It turned out they needed to go back to the Sentinel room to do it, since that was the place with the least possible number of distractions. Danny put the box on the floor between them and then got up to go.

Catherine put a hand on his shoulder. “This time, you really have to stay,” she said.

“Won’t I just,” Danny gestured, “create competing noise or smells or something?”

“No,” Steve said, grinning at him. “I know you, so I can process stuff associated with you in its own space. Just like how my own scent doesn’t disturb me, either.”

“Okaaaay,” said Danny, not really understanding, but settling himself down.

 

The evidence bag sat between them on the floor, looking weirdly like some kind of revered religious object. After a brief consultation, Catherine opened the bag and tilted it, letting a small pile of the sand from the first crime scene pile in front of Steve.

“Are you ready?” She asked Danny. “If he starts to seem like he needs help, I want you to follow my lead – touch him on the wrist if I touch him. If we need to pull him out of a zone, I’ll tell you what to do, too.”

Danny nodded, and then Catherine began.

“We’re going to do this in stages, Steve. Dial up to three, to start with. Wait until you feel comfortable there-“

Danny watched quietly as Steve’s breath slowed and his pupils dilated, until his eyes were mostly black, only a thin rim of green around the irises.

“Now dial to six,” Catherine said. “Take your time. Ok, now stay there for a while. Look at the sand. Don’t attempt to go deeper. Look at the contours; try to pick out the different kinds of materials making up each grain. Are they bits of shell, or rock? Once you feel you have a handle on everything at this level, you can try dialing to nine.”

It was remarkable how much tension could build up during an activity that, from the outside, would have looked like three people doing nothing. Danny found himself timing his breaths to Steve’s, so he noticed when they began to come faster, and when they slowed again.

“I’m at nine,” Steve said, his voice hanging in the air. “I can see the plastic- small pieces of it, very flat. It looks a little like graphite: there are these thin sheets, fitting on top of each other.”

“Stay there,” Catherine ordered. “You’ve got this. No need to rush. Just… dip down. What do you see?”

Steve’s brow tightened, as if he were stressed. “Space.”

“Go up again. Steve-” her voice was soft, but firm.

“I’m up.”

“Stay there. Remember, don’t try to focus too much, or you’ll lose it.”

Steve’s jaw was clenched; he seemed to be staring at nothing, intently. Catherine let a hand creep towards his: Danny, after a pause, mirrored her.

“What do you see?”

“The sheets are sort of...” He sounded confused. “Catherine, it’s not organic, but, they sort of look, I don’t know, like skin cells? I need to look a little closer.”

“Ok,” Catherine said. “Go slow.”

“They aren’t physically linked but they fit together to make these sheets. Each one is very regular – a single piece, I think, or maybe a few identical pieces that slot together to make, seriously, it looks an awful lot like skin.” He looked incredibly frustrated. “That’s all I’m going to get.”

“That’s ok,” Catherine said. “You’d done great.” She put her hand gently over Steve’s, and then nodded to Danny. Awkwardly, he covered Steve’s other hand.

“This is the tricky part,” She said to Danny, in a low voice. “Coming down when your senses are dialed way up isn’t that different from diving, and coming up for air. The sentinel needs to go slowly: he dials down a level, readjusts, and then dials down again. They hate it - well, a lot of sentinels do, Steve included - because they like to think they can just go from one-twenty to zero, full stop.”

Steve laughed. “That’s not fair, Cath.”

“It is. And if he’s your partner, he needs to know it. So listen, Danny, the deal is, he won’t be able to figure out what “normal” looks like unless he has something specific to focus in on. That’s you. All you have to do is be there. You want to talk, so his hearing stays oriented, and touch him. Smell and sight will happen automatically.”

“What about taste?” Danny asked.

Catherine smiled. “Usually left for bonded pairs. Ready, Steve?”

“Ready,” Steve said tolerantly.

“Are you going to use me or Danny for your anchor?”

Steve hesitated. “Danny.”

“Ok. Look at Danny. Danny, say something so that Steve can orient himself.”

“This is strange,” said Danny. Steve’s gaze snapped from the pile of sand towards Danny’s face, but his eyes still retained their blank, eerie expression, as they focused on something invisible instead of on him.

“Steve?”

“We’re good,” he said.

“Ok. Down to 7. Danny, keep talking.”

“What am I supposed to say?”

“Whatever,” Steve laughed. “Do you ever have trouble talking?”

“That’s uncalled for,” said Danny, pretending annoyance but actually relieved to have a subject to start in on. “This is the first and only time I’ve done this, I’ll have you know. How am I supposed to know how it’s supposed to go?”

Catherine passed the hand she’d been lightly holding over to Danny. He looked down at his and Steve’s hands, linked, and frowned. “Is this really helpful?” He asked. “You don’t usually do all these steps.”

“It’s helpful,” Steve affirmed, and it sounded like he was smiling.

“Down to 4.”

Steve’s eyes seemed to clear, no longer staring off into nothingness.
“So how does this help, then?”

“It means I can push my senses farther. And coming out this way is less of a strain. The next time it’ll be easier, too.”

“So it’s like the warm-up and the warm-down after a workout.”

“Exactly.”

He could tell exactly when Steve slipped back into his normal state, because he looked at Danny, in the eyes, and then quirked up the corner of his mouth in a half smile, as if asking if this was alright.

“Good to have you back with us,” Danny said.

 

Chin made a couple of calls, and the potential sources of the strange plastic began to narrow rapidly. Steve’s intuition that the strange polymer seemed to form into skin cell-like plaques turned out to be correct: there was a big biochem company on the north side of the island that worked on making artificial human tissues for medical use: their most promising R&D project was an artificial skin to be used by burn victims. The head of that unit was a local big shot, but had a string of funny deposits and withdrawals in his bank records going back the last three years, the last of which had been made three days before the Kolwalski murders. The more Chin dug, the clearer the picture got: several departments at the InGen company were basically fictitious, and were probably being used to launder money: Terri Sato, that everyone assumed had been an innocent bystander in what had been a hit on her boyfriend Brian Kowalski, had actually worked in sales at a company supplying InGen with laboratory equipment for the last few years.

“Basically, Ingen was creating fake invoices,” Chin concluded. “They would place orders for big-ticket items with a couple of suppliers, and then cancel most of the orders a week or two later. InGen would claim they had purchased three ultrasound machines, Weschler Scientific would get billed for two, and the difference would be so jumbled amidst the ordering trail that only a very determined auditor – and InGen’s accountants weren’t that – would be able to fight their way through the paperwork.

“And Terri Sato?” Steve asked, a grim expression.

“InGen’s mistake was that they starting playing the same trick on smaller venders. Weschler only had twenty sales associates. Terri got assigned to the InGen account, and, after a few years there, started to notice a pattern. Keep in mind, it wasn’t all of InGen that was playing this trick, only a few departments.”

“What was the second victim’s connection?”

“That’s a bit more interesting,” Chin said, thoughtfully. “He’s the son of InGen’s vice president in charge of development.” He paused. “If I had to guess, I’d say a turf war was brewing.”

 

It didn’t matter. The fake skin Steve had identified narrowed the list of possible suspects to ten, those who worked with the polymer frequently enough that their clothing might be dusted with it. Of those, nine were scientists and one was the head of the project: the only person, the lab techs eagerly told Danny, who routinely ignored sterilization procedures and walked through the lab without wearing a lab coat or latex gloves.

That was enough to get a warrant to search his office and home, where it only took Steve’s nose about thirty seconds to sniff out the trash bag full of bloody clothing hastily buried in the back garden.

Case closed.

They celebrated their success by going out to dinner, and, of course, taking Catherine with them. She fit in instantly with everyone on the team: questioning Chin appreciatively about his methods and playfully bantering with Kono as the night went on. She sat next to Steve, close, and Danny noticed that they touched each other frequently as the night went on: their hips pressed together in the booth, Catherine’s hand on Steve’s shoulder, or his arm thrown casually over the back of her chair.

Danny recognized, and fought down, the faint feeling of ugly jealously that seeing two people happy together sometimes raised in him ever since his divorce with Rachel. At least now, he told himself, watching Catherine throwing her head back and laughing in response to some lame joke of Steve’s, he understood why Steve might have remained unbonded.

 

The next day, Danny, trying to be smooth, said to Steve, “So, Gracie and I are thinking of having a picnic on the beach this Saturday. Kono’s promised to give Grace a surfing lesson. Will you and Catherine be around?”

Steve gave him a funny expression. “Catherine had to fly to San Francisco on Saturday,” he said. “New assignment.”

“Oh.” Danny tried (but probably failed) to keep his face from falling. “I’m sorry to hear that. When will she be back?”

Steve shrugged casually. “Dunno. It looks like the navy’s got some hotshot sentinel that’s started zoning. If anyone can help, it’ll be Cath.”

Danny tried to process that. “You don’t – uh – mind?”

Steve frowned at him. “We’re not bonded, Danny, it’s not exactly like I have the right to complain.”

“Right,” said Danny, slowly. “Still, you’d like it if she were posted closer, say, in Honolulu, right?”

“Of course,” Steve said. “Catherine and I go way back, you know?” He shook his head. “I’ve tried to bond with a bunch of guides, but she’s the only one where I regret sometimes that it didn’t work out.”

“Right,” said Danny, slowly. “But you two are still…”he trailed off, as Steve’s expression started to turn strange. “Never mind, it’s none of my business,” he said hurriedly.

“It’s fine,” Steve said, getting up from his desk. “I’m still invited to that picnic, even if Catherine can’t be there, right?”

“Of course,” Danny said, smiling. “Gracie’s making her famous peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”

Steve’s grin was blinding. “Wouldn’t miss that for the world.”

 

The weather on Saturday was perfect. Gracie had made, literally, about forty peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, all on white bread with the crusts taken off, cut diagonally, tucked inside plastic baggies and neat little Tupperware boxes.

“She was working on them until nine last night,” Rachel told Danny, with a wry smile, when he came to pick her up. Charlie was on her shoulder, but there wasn’t a sign of spit-up or food crumbs in sight. Rachel was the only woman Danny knew who could make having a nine-month old look glamorous. “She made Stan and I eat the ones that weren’t perfect.”

“I’m sure they will be the best sandwiches we have ever eaten,” Danny said, grinning down at Grace proudly, as she came to the front door with an overstuffed pink backpack, and lugging a huge picnic basket.

They were, too. Danny still wasn’t thrilled about Grace’s desire to learn to surf, but Kono was a good teacher, surprisingly careful and patient with her, and he had been assured multiple times that the beach had the smallest and safest waves on the island. He was sitting shade of a palm tree, chugging ice cold water and working his way through his third sandwich when Steve arrived.

He was wearing swim trunks, a pair of aviator sunglasses, and nothing else. Danny looked up and felt himself go unexpectedly dry-mouthed at the sight of Steve’s lean chest and tattoos. Then, remembering what Catherine had said about sentinels and their noses, he pushed his arousal away, hoping that the smell of sunblock and peanut butter would cover him.

From Steve’s slight smirk, he guessed that it hadn’t worked. Danny sighed to himself. He wasn’t often attracted to other men, and it seemed kind of unfair that Steve, who could actually tell when Danny was turned on, had the kind of body that sort of did it for him.

Steve leaned his board against the tree and flopped down next to Danny. “Peanut butter and jelly?” he asked.

“You will eat them, and you will like them” Danny told him earnestly.

“Sure,” Steve agreed easily, and then, pointing with his chin towards the water asked, “You aren’t going to swim?”

“What is it with you and getting me in the water?” Danny asked. “No, McGarrett, I’m not going to swim. I never swim. Also, didn’t your mother tell you not to get in the water for an hour after eating?” He waved his sandwich in demonstration.

“Old wives’ tale,” Steve said flippantly.

“See if I drag you out back to shore when you get a cramp,” Danny shot back.

Steve didn’t bother to keep the argument going. Instead, he leaned back on his elbows, all long, tan lines. After a while, he settled onto his back.

The next time Danny looked up down, he was sleeping. Danny frowned, trying to remember if he’d seen Steve put on sunblock or not, and therefore, whether or not he should wake him, before he started to burn. He leaned in, trying to see if he smelled it on him –

Steve’s eyes snapped open when Danny’s face was only inches away from his shoulder.

“Danny,” he asked, sounding amused. “What are you doing?”

Danny shot up, feeling his face go red. “Never mind,” he said, rummaging in Grace’s backpack for a bottle of Banana Boat. “Put that on,” he said, tossing it to Steve.

Laughingly, Steve obeyed. Danny, who felt he’d been subjected to enough embarrassment for one morning, kept his eyes firmly fixed towards the water while Steve covered his chest.

“So,” Steve said, flopping down on the towel again. “You ever thought about trying to be a guide?”

Danny turned back to him, surprised. “No,” he said. “I told you, remember? I’m barely empathic, just enough to give me headaches.”

“You’re C-class,” Steve said. “If you started training, you’d probably be able to get your empathy under control. It’s not like you’re a D who’s basically just mundane.”

Danny rolled his eyes. “Steve, I’m a great cop. Why would I want to put that on hold for two or three years while I trained to become a mediocre empath? I told you: I get that it’s different for you and Catherine, who are really high level and have been in the system all along. It’s part of your life. But I’m not a guide, you know? I’m just a guy who, I don’t know, maybe could have been one in my life had turned out differently. I’m glad it didn’t. The whole business with bonding, and the way the Center’s always trying matching you up,” he waved his hands to demonstrate the point, “It’s weird. I don’t want to get involved in any of that.”

Steve nodded. “Yeah, Danny,” he said. “I get that.”

 

The following Monday morning, when he came into the office achy and sunburnt (despite the fact that he’d slathered himself in the damn Banana Boat, Danny and sun just didn’t mix) there was a voicemail waiting for him. “Mr. Williams, this is Guide-Counselor Gillian, from the Center. I’m calling to find out if you’d be free to meet with me tomorrow morning at two-thirty pm. The address is-“

He slammed the phone down before getting to the end of the message. He felt like his heart was racing a thousand miles an hour. Get a hold of yourself, Willams, he decided. They probably just want to do a face-to-face, since they haven’t seen you since you got to Hawaii.

He spent that night twitching and wondering why the fuck they were bothering him. Two-thirty on the day when InGen’s VP was having his bail decided was not a good moment to be disappearing, but he made up a bullshit excuse about a doctor’s appointment and drove over.

The Center took up a square block in almost the center of town. Like all Centers, it was surrounded by a high, windowless wall. This one was made of white concrete and gave it a distinctly prison-like appearance. Danny parked across the street and made his way to the entrance.

The security guard took a copy of his ID and then gave him directions. Once inside the wall, there was actually an open space – a kind of garden, which was quiet. None of the noise of traffic from the street outside managed to pass through the walls.

Danny walked up a covered sidewalk into the main building, where a pleasant receptionist walked him back towards a pleasant waiting room type place where another receptionist sat filling forms. Danny twitched and tried to read magazines until, after only a minute, a pleasant looking woman with short gray hair came and introduced herself.

“I’m Guide-Counselor Gillian,” she said, holding out her hand.

“Daniel Williams,” Danny said. When he shook her hand, he got a feeling of something strong, calm, and comforting about her.

“Let’s just head back to my office. I expect you’re wondering why I called you.”

“Well, yeah.”

“Please sit down. Mr. Williams, I notice you didn’t introduce yourself as Guide Williams.”

“No,” Danny said, sinking into a deep couch. He explained the whole thing again: no training, no empathy, etc.

“So you don’t think of yourself as a guide because you’ve never been formally engaged with our world.”

“I guess,” he tried to keep from shifting nervously. She had sat down in an armchair across from him and he noticed she had taken up a clipboard from somewhere. “I mean, being a guide, doesn’t that mean being trained?”

“People tend to think so,” Gillian said, “But being a guide is actually an innate quality, not a learned one.”

“Uh.” Danny wasn’t sure what to say to that, so he just waited.

“Well, in any case, Guide Willams, I called you in so that we could have a little chat about your partner.”

Oh, Steve. Danny breathed an internal sigh of relief that this wasn’t about him, after all, and then immediately felt guilty for wishing it on Steve instead.

“You must see why we are concerned,” the counselor said. “We’ve set up interviews for Steve McGarrett with thirteen very competent guides since he moved back to Hawaii, and so far he hasn’t given even one of them a fair chance.”

Danny shrugged. “I know, but what can you do? I don’t think he liked them.”

The counselor narrowed her eyes at him. “That seems to be the case, but the question is why?” she paused. “Sentinels who have superficially bonded to one guide may become less interested in the others. “

“Catherine?” Danny tried. “I don’t really know anything about it.”

“Catherine Rollins?” Gillian narrowed her eyes.

“Yeah, she helped Steve out with a recent case.”

“I see,” the counselor looked thoughtful. “She might be helping to keep McGarrett stable, but, as it happens, it’s not what I meant. McGarrett and Rollins have already attempted to bond, and failed. So if McGarrett has formed a connection to a guide, it would have to be someone else. Probably someone he spends a good deal of time with...” She looked at him meaningfully.

“I don’t think there’s anyone… hey, whoa!” said Danny. “McGarrett and I are not surface bonded. I work for him, he’s my boss, that’s all.” He felt a little guilty for saying so, but Steve would forgive him given the circumstances.

“I admit it does seem unlikely,” the counselor sighed. “Surface bonds tend to form when the two individuals are psychically compatible, but you and McGarrett are at drastically different levels of functioning. Furthermore, bonding is actually a guide-initiated event, which, given your reliance on Psybutrol, you’re probably incapable of.”

“There you go,” Danny said, satisfied. “So you agree with me! Good. Can I go now?”

“You understand that we’re concerned.” The Counselor looked frustrated. “In the Navy, he apparently functioned very well not only with Catherine Rollins, but several other temporary guides. We have sent him the best candidates we have, but…”

“I know,” Danny said, and the thing was, he did. Steve was thirty-four, which was probably way past the point when unbonded Sentinels started to risk burnout. While he didn’t seem to have any problem with zone outs, it was probably just a matter of time. Just as importantly, Steve seemed to Danny like someone who needed a partner: left to his own devices, he pushed himself way too hard, undervalued his own safety, and was frankly abysmally incompetent at dozens of simple day-to-day activities, probably because he’d let the navy do them for him for so long. Steve wasn’t a loner, not really, and he would be happier if he had someone.

The guides from the Center kind of gave Danny the creeps, so he could understand why Steve wasn’t enamored of them. But it didn’t seem like he had any other awesome options, either.

“Look,” he said. “Find someone older, ok? At least, find someone who looks closer to thirty than fifteen. Preferably with some combat experience, not just someone who’s heard about it in the classroom: someone who can stand up to Steve when he tries to do something crazy. These kids,” he waved his hand vaguely, trying to indicate the petite young guide that had jumped Steve in the office, “I don’t think they’re doing it for him.”

The Counselor looked at him with a small smile playing at the corner of her lips, and Danny guessed what she might be thinking. “And a woman,” he added, hastily. “Find him a nice, female, military-trained guide closer to his age, and I think you might be in business.”

“I appreciate the advice, Guide.” The Counselor paused. “We may have such a candidate coming in. Now that I’m assured McGarrett isn’t superficially bonded to you, I think she may have a good chance of success.” She paused. “I hope this does not need to be said, but I think you would understand why it would be inappropriate for an A-class Sentinel of McGarrett’s caliber to bond with a guide such as yourself. I certainly hope your relationship with him will continue to be strictly professional.”

Bitch, Danny thought, but he schooled his features into blankness. “Yes, ma’am,” he said in his best cop voice. “Is that all?”

He left, and worked his way back through the maze of the Center out into the garden and then back to his car, which had been ticketed although he still had a minute and a half left on the meter. He felt murderously, ragingly angry. The Center, goddamn it, the counselor, was such a patronizing condescending piece of work. That lady was a wolf in a Granny’s clothing. How dare she try to tell him how close to be to Steve! He had tried to help her, Jesus, tried to help Steve, by giving them a hint about what he might need! He didn’t need to be repaid with insinuations that he wasn’t good enough, wasn’t right for Steve: he didn’t want to be Steve or anybody’s fucking guide and it was irritating as fuck that they thought he would just, what, throw himself at Steve? And what was up with calling him ‘Guide’ Williams, as if it had anything to fucking do with him?

His drive back to headquarters did only a little to improve his foul mood and when he got in, everyone, including Steve, sensed his bad mood and kept a wide circle around him. Danny worked his way through the pile of remaining case reports, quietly grumbling and swearing under his breath every time his pen threatened to run out of ink.

He didn’t notice when six o’clock came, but finally looked up and saw Steve’s lanky body leaning against his desk.

“You want to call it a day, Danno?” Steve said. “Seems like you might need a break.”

“Yeah,” said Danny, throwing the pen in the trash. “It’s been a long day.”

“Something happen at your doctor’s appointment?” Steve looked down at him. “You came back pretty wound up.”

“Oh – no.” Danny floundered. “Yeah. Uh. A thing with Rachel, that’s all. Rachel called after the appointment.”

“Oh.” Steve shrugged. “Grab a beer?”

Their ‘regular’ was a bar that looked shady, from the outside, but opened up inside into a great room with a good view of the ocean. The beers were half of what they cost at the tourist trap down the street, where Danny had gone when he’d first moved to Honolulu. Danny liked to give the locals a hard time, but deep down, he’d admit, this was better.

Steve ordered some kind of shrimp thing and Danny got a hamburger, and they finished off their first round before the food arrived.

“So what happened with Rachel?” Steve asked.

“What? Oh, yeah. She wants Gracie for a month. She and Stan are taking her to Paris, or something.” Actually Rachel had called to tell him that the day before, so it really was bad news, not just as recent.

Steve looked at him and took a slug of beer before leaning in. “You do remember that I’m a Sentinel, right, Danny?”

“Yeah?”

“So I can tell when you’re lying. Your breathing speeds up a little and your pupils dilate.”

“They do not,” Danny protested. He took a sip of beer himself. “That’s such – seriously?”

Steve nodded, his eyes twinkling.

“Argh. This is bullshit. Ok, fine. Something else did happen to piss me off, but I don’t know if I should talk about it, ok?”

“Danny,” Steve’s eyes were sharp, curious. Danny took another swig of beer.

“It was the damn Center. The, uh, Sentinel Center. They called me in to talk about you.”

He could see Steve’s mood shifting from playful to pissed in an second. “What did they say?” he growled.

“Wanted to ask me why not of the guide candidates they keep sending are working out.”

“And what did you tell them?”

Danny shrugged. “I took an educated guess and said that the kids they’re sending are too young, too pretty, and that you need someone who can hold their own in a rough situation.” He felt self-conscious. “They said something about having a new candidate lined up.”

“Shit,” Steve swore, leaning back in his chair.

“I don’t get it,” Danny said. “I mean, yeah, the Center seems like a giant pain in the ass: I thank my lucky stars my psi-scores are so low that they leave me the fuck alone. But you – I mean, you need a guide, right?” He looked at Steve. “I thought that was important for sentinels.”

“I do fine without one,” Steve said, “and without the Center.” He shook his head. “You know how you said that Catherine and I have been in the system all along? You’re right, Danno. Do you know why I’m even a Seal? I came online when I was fifteen. They took me away from my family, gave me a couple years of training, and, then, when the Navy called up and asked for Sentinels, assigned me to them. I didn’t volunteer or anything, they told me to go.”

“You love being a Seal,” Danny said, dumbly.

“I’d have liked to choose it for myself, though.” He slouched in his chair and looked at Danny, seriously. “I’ll give you a pass this time, Danno,” he concluded, leaning back, “but just because I’m a Sentinel, don’t mix me up with those assholes. I’ll handle my own business my own way, alright?”

 

Things were tense for a day or two after that, but finally Danny managed to get Steve alone long enough to apologize properly. Steve accepted – and then the Attorney General’s office was bombed – and by the time they emerged from the other side of that debacle, coughing and covered in ash, things were more or less back to normal between them.

Then the new guide arrived: Lori Weston. This time, the Center had taken a new, sneaky tactic. They’d gone over Steve’s head in the matter, and gotten her assigned to the Five-0 without his permission.

At a first glance, Danny didn’t think the Center had held up their end of the bargain. Lori was smart all right, and seemed better able to handle herself with Steve than that other girl. But she was still young, probably a decade less than Steve, and while she had good instincts they weren’t fully formed by any stretch of the imagination.

She started to gain Danny’s respect quickly, though. She was a damn good profiler, and he appreciated the effect that had on their solve rate. And she handled herself well in the bullpen. It wasn’t easy to be thrown into the deep end with three coworkers and a Sentinel, especially when none of them wanted you there at all. Knowing she’d been pretty much hand-picked to guide Steve - which meant sex and a relationship – had to have been awkward as well. But Lori was careful to follow Steve’s lead, never more familiar with him than he was with her. It probably took about a month before Steve was able to look at her without developing a case of lock-jaw, but, bit by bit, they even developed something of a casual back-and-forth.

When the Kealoha annex of the hospital got pulled into a hostage situation after a group of yakuza wounded in a firefight were taken to the emergency room there, Lori and Steve were first on the scene. By the time Danny and Kono, who’d been halfway around the island when the call came in, pulled into the hospital parking lot, it was chaos: the evacuated nurses, doctors and patients were still crowding the parking lot, alongside practically every police car on the force, and dozens of cops trying to keep bystanders back, as well as keep the building surrounded. There were about twenty cops by the man entrance alone, and Danny caught sight of snipers situated in the office block opposite.

“Where’s McGarrrett?” Danny barked, spotting Lukela in the crowd.

Lukela shook his head, “He and that blond chick went in twenty minutes ago.”

Danny and Kono looked at each other. “What do we do?” Kono asked, sounding excited. Her hand went to her firearm. Danny frowned.

“Not so fast, cowgirl. We wait and try to help the HPD, clear?”

They joined the group covering the backdoor. The minutes ticked by slower than Danny had ever remembered. “Why’d they go in, anyway?” Kono asked.

“The girl – Agent Weston,” the cop said, correcting himself, “said that she could talk the hostage-takers down. She’s a guide.” He waved a hand near his head to suggest, ‘freaky psychic powers’.

“And Steve went in to cover her,” Danny surmised ruefully. “A couple of thrill-seekers,” he added, joking with Kono mostly to cover his own fear.

“The boss will be fine,” Kono said. She patted Danny’s shoulder.

“Hey, hey!” Danny said, “That’s not the way it goes. You, the rookie, should not be trying to reassure me.”

Kono looked at him dubiously. “The boss really will be fine,” she said. “He’s done this a million times. You’re the one who looks freaked out – which is totally understandable!” she added hastily. “I mean, since you and the boss-”

“Me and the boss what?” Danny asked.

Kono paused, and then covered, somewhat less than smoothly. “You and the boss nothing, Danny. Never mind, forget I said anything.”

After a half an hour with no new sign from the yakuza, and no movement from inside the hospital, Lukela blinked, and decided to send his forces in: one squad would go up the east stairwell and one up the west, meeting in the middle of the 11th floor where the hostages were believed to be located.

It wasn’t the greatest plan in the world, but Danny didn’t see any alternatives, and after a half an hour of not hearing from Steve or Lori, he was eager to go in too. He and Kono split up, so as to add a man to each team evenly.

In the empty stairwell of the mostly-evacuated building, the footfalls of the cops as they went up were vaguely ominous. Danny straightened his vest and unlatched the safety on his gun.

On the tenth floor, they found two dead men, both yakuza, from the look of them. One was shot and one had his neck broken. Danny winced. Then they reached the eleventh floor.

It looked like a normal, boring, hospital hallway, except that it was empty. The first room they went by had a patient, too sick to have been evacuated, moaning for water. She looked startled by the ranks of uniformed men with guns walking by.

“Room 1156,” someone muttered, and then, with a hand gesture, the men fell into silence. They had just passed 1117, Danny noted.

1125… 1139… at 1145, they turned a corner, and came across the hallway on the side of the hospital that faced the parking lot.

There were men – a lot of them – spread out over the floor: all strangely unconscious, but appearing uninjured. Lori Weston was kneeling at the feet of one – no, Danny realized, reevaluating quickly – she was kneeling at Steve’s feet.

Breaking rank, he raced to kneel beside her.

“Lori,” he whispered, urgently. “Lori, what happened? Are you ok? Is Steve?”

“He’s not dead,” Lori said, quietly, turning to look at him. The shell-shocked look on her face belied the calmness with which she spoke. She looked, hollowly, at the fallen bodies around her. “They’re all out cold: I put them to sleep, they won’t wake up for hours. Go ahead and arrest them.” She looked lost.

“Danny, Steve: he’s zoned. I can’t… I’ve tried everything, and I just can’t wake him.”

 

The paramedics carried Steve out on a stretcher. From the words they threw back and forth between them, Danny gathered that Steve’s blood pressure was perilously low, and dropping. Lori kept by his side the whole time, her small hand fixed on his pulse point. “I just don’t understand it,” she kept saying. “I don’t understand. I’ve done everything.”

“It’s ok, Lori,” Danny said, “just tell me what happened.”

She nodded, although she didn’t look away from Steve. “I should have been able to talk them down. The yakuza, I mean – I’m an A-guide, and projecting is my strength,” she shook her head. “But the other side had a sentinel too, and a guide. A bonded pair: the sentinel wasn’t as strong as Steve, and the guide wasn’t as good as me, but he realized what I was up to and managed to throw up some shielding while his sentinel went after Steve.” She shook her head. “I didn’t want that to happen. I never wanted to hurt a sentinel, or another guide.”

“It’s not your fault,” Danny said, trying to comfort her. “They put themselves in that situation; they made this mess, not you.”

“I know,” Lori said, still staring at Steve’s face. “Danny, Steve won’t wake up now. It’s been thirty minutes. The longer he zones, the greater the risk he’ll slip into a coma. Why can’t I bring him out?”

“You will.” Danny looked down at Steve, too. His face slack, relaxed, he looked younger than he usually did. “Just keep trying.”

The paramedics helped them move him into the ambulance, which, with the doors shut, was marginally quieter than outside, with all the noise around. There was barely any room, but they squeezed in next to him.

Lori kept her hand tucked next to Steve’s and spoke, in a soft, coaxing tone. “Come on, big guy,” she said. “Just listen to me. Think about me. Open your eyes and look at me…”

Steve’s other hand had slipped off the cot, and was hanging at an angle that seemed uncomfortable. Danny took it, intending to tuck it back by Steve’s side, but on some impulse he hung onto it instead, holding Steve’s hand under the stretcher.

“Come on, Steve,” he said, just talking to him, not attempting to guide him as Lori was doing. “Don’t do this to us, ok?”

Lori kept up her rhythmic, soothing chant. For a minute it seemed like nothing was happening, and then Danny felt Steve’s hand jerk in his.

“Steve,” Lori was saying, “Steve, come back, Steve.” And, slowly, Steve opened his eyes.

Initially, there was eye contact with Danny, and then his gaze shifted over, confused, to Lori.

“What happened?” he croaked.

“Nothing,” said Lori. “Nothing, everything’s fine.”

Steve looked back to Danny. “Danno?” he asked.

Quietly, under the stretcher, Danny squeezed Steve’s hand, and then let it go.

“It’s good to have you back, Steve.”

 

Immediately afterwards, the Center called Lori and Steve in for a few days: Steve needed a quiet place to rebuild his shields, and Lori, Danny assumed, was meant to be helping him. Privately, he wondered if being at the center was relaxing or stressful for Steve. But since he had no say in the matter, and no way of communicating with him (the receptionist who answered after he finally broke down and called blithely informed him that Sentinel McGarrett was not to be disturbed) all he could was wait anxiously for Steve to come back again.

But when, after four days of silence, Steve and Lori walked through the office door together, Danny wasn’t sure what he’d been waiting for from Steve, or why. He joined Chin and Kono in slapping Steve and Lori on the back – Lori was included, because she was part of the team now – and telling Steve they were glad he was better, and congratulating both of them on taking out a dozen armed gangsters by themselves.

It wasn’t until Kono, seemingly without realizing what she was asking (although of course she did, Kono was sneaky like that) blurted out, “so, are you guys bonded now?” that Danny realized why he’s been holding his breath.

Steve and Lori shared a look, and Lori blushed lightly. “No,” she said. “The Center thinks we should keep working together. Bonds have the best chance of being successful when the sentinel and guide know and trust each other really well.”

“All right, boys and girls,” Danny broke in, trying to save the two of them from embarrassment, “Time to get back to work!”

Later that same morning, Lori cornered him in the break room as he was microwaving a cup of water to make tea, in the chipped “World’s Best Dad” mug that Grace had given him for Father’s day two years ago. He hadn’t heard Lori come in, and was startled to turn and find her there, leaning against the table.

“Steve told me you’re a guide,” she said. “I didn’t know.”

“Not really,” Danny said. “I mean, not like you are. It’s just low-level stuff, and I’m untrained.”

“Right,” she said, sounding thoughtful. “Well, I just wanted to say thanks. You really helped me there, after Steve zoned and I was freaking out. You did a good job of calming me down and helping me focus. Even if you aren’t trained, that’s exactly what a guide’s supposed to do.”

“Thanks?” Danny said, and then his politeness asserted himself. “I’m just glad you two are all right.”

“We are,” Lori nodded, and smiled as if she was thinking about Steve. Then she paused, and looked at Danny. “It’s probably nothing, but I wanted to ask you. Danny, when you and I were with Steve in the ambulance you never touched him, did you? I mean, skin to skin?”

“I’m on suppressors,” Danny said, hedging. “I couldn’t have done anything; it had to have been you.”

Lori nodded as if she accepted his answer. “I didn’t think so,” she agreed. “I was with the whole time, and I would have seen it if you had. And Steve said that I was the one to bring him out, not you…”

That was exactly what Danny had been telling himself all along, but hearing that Steve had confirmed it stung unexpectedly. He covered it up by nodding. “Of course it was.” He repeated, as much to himself as to her. “It had to have been.”

 

After that, it made sense for the team to reshuffle: Lori and Steve became partners, as did Danny and Kono, while Chin, whose time had been stretched anyway between his field responsibilities and things he needed to be in front of a computer to do, shifted to being mostly based at the office.

It was good, mostly. Danny had always liked working with Kono. They were effective together and had fun joking around. And it made sense for Steve and Lori to work together as partners.

That was ok. Danny got it. Steve needed things that Lori could give him and Danny was trying to be an adult about the whole thing. It still hurt, though, when he realized that Steve had begun to pull away from him in small ways. They rarely found themselves staying late to do paperwork anymore (although mostly it had always been Danny had done the paperwork and Steve hanging around to keep him entertained, but hey). And Steve invited him around for one-on-one activities less often: no more beers after work or Sunday afternoon football.

He reminded himself over and over that that was it good. Before, they’d been two lonely guys hanging out to kill time. Now Steve had somebody, and that was how it was supposed to be.

 

Because Steve was still his boss, though, he gave Danny huge headaches not infrequently. One of those was his decision to send him and Kono on a weeklong stakeout at a three-star resort on the wrong side of the island.

A not-particularly-savory somebody had decided to take a little illicit vacation with the wife of an even-less-savory somebody else, and the rumor was that the wife was supplying her lover with documentation of her husband’s cartel’s activities. If the two of them could be caught together with physical evidence of her double-cross, it would be a coup for the state of Hawaii in its efforts to shut down one of the larger drug traffickers.

Danny and Kono did their best imitation of lovebirds, and booked an adjoining room. During the day they lay around the pool (not the worst part of the job) watching their targets. At night they sat up listening via carefully planted bugs, in the hopes that the pillow talk would turn to the topic of what information she was going to supply him with, and when.

Predictably, the suspects had lots of noisy sex: Kono immediately surmised that most of the woman’s orgasms were faked, and got good at a funny imitation of the man grunting as he went at it. Danny just wished he could bleach his mind.

Then, finally, the case broke: the suspects made a little trip to the post office and came back with a thick manila envelope. Danny called Steve, and by the time their two lovebirds woke up the next morning the Five-0 was there to say ‘rise and shine’ as they busted down the door. The envelope had been left on the bedside table, and had all the information they had hoped and dreamed of: Chin nearly grunted his way through an orgasm himself when he started to page through its contents.

Danny just wanted to go home, crawl into bed, and have a good night of sleep free of neighbor-sex-noises, which, fortunately, turned out to be a totally achievable goal.

A week away from your desk is a long time in this modern, interconnected world, so the next morning he had a million emails and only slightly fewer phone messages to sort through. He worked his way through them slowly, so by the time he realized that there were four messages from the Center, all informing him (each fractionally less polite and more firm than the one before) that he had an appointment with Guide-Counselor Gillian that afternoon at one o’clock. Give that it was already twelve, Danny left a post-it for Steve and took off.

 

When he arrived, the Guide-Counselor looked just as harmless as he remembered her (she could have passed for Danny’s grandmother, if Danny’s grandmother had been less Italian) but this time, he was careful. He noticed how her touch felt warm, and comforting, and how her office felt safe, and wondered if it was all some kind of guide whammy she was putting over him.

“How have you been, Guide Williams?” She asked kindly.

“Fine,” Danny rubbed his hands together. “So, why did you call me? Did something come up with Steve?”

“No.” She smiled. “Sentinel McGarrett and Guide Weston seem to be doing very well together. They’ll make an excellent match, don’t you think?”

“Sure.”

“Actually, this time I asked you to come because I wanted to talk about you. I noticed from your files that you’ve been divorced almost four years now?”

“That’s right,” said Danny, cautiously.

“And your ex-wife has sole custody of your daughter.”

“Not sole,” Danny protested. “I get -,”

“- every other weekend, yes, I see. My apologies, my mistake,” she closed the folder on her lap and looked at Danny over a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles.

“Excellent news, Guide Williams. We have several candidate sentinels we think might be a good match for you.”

“What?” asked Danny, seriously alarmed. “No. I mean, no, thank you, but, um. No.”

“You can’t refuse, Guide.” She smiled reassuringly. “But don’t worry. All you have to do is meet them. If you don’t feel much of a connection, that’s the end of it.” She paused. “On the other hand, perhaps you might meet a partner. What do you have to lose?”

“I’m not,” Danny said, struggling. “You don’t get it. I can’t control my empathy. I’m totally useless as a guide. Plus I thought you couldn’t recruit me, since I was married and all.”

“That only applied while you stayed married. And your statement that you’re useless is inaccurate. There are many B and C-class sentinels who need a bond mate in order to stay sane and functional. As long as you’re there to provide a focal point for their senses, it will be enough for them. Of course, if you do bond, we will ask you to attend some courses that will teach you how to best assist your sentinel. Those would include lessons on control. I think you’ll find that, with practice, you’ll be able to manage just fine.”

“I get migraines.”

“Well, then, perhaps we’d better start you off with some training right away, so that you can learn to prevent that,” she was brisk. “As of now, your prescription for Psybutrol will no longer be filled. I expect you to throw the rest of the pills away. The receptionist can get you into a class for new guides, and, in two to three weeks, when the last of the drug is out of your system, we’ll call to set up some appointments. We have many wonderful sentinels here in Hawaii, Guide Williams. I do hope you will at least give them a chance.”

Danny just stared at her, horrified. “Is there some way that I can register my formal complaint?” He asked, finally.

“I can make a note of it in your file,” she said, pleasantly. “But I strongly recommend that you don’t take it any further than that.” She paused, “you know, I’ve know many guides over the years – many who were as reluctant as you, or more so. And almost all of them are very happily bonded now. When you meet the right sentinel you’ll be thanking me, just as they have.”

There didn’t seem to be much to say to that. Danny left.

 

It was lucky that he managed to get back to the Five-0 without crashing into an electric pole or a street sign – Danny was that distracted. He pulled into the parking lot too fast, swerved, and just barely managed to pull into a space, tires screeching, without rear-ending the car in front of him (Chin’s.)

He slammed the door and stormed in, flashing his badge at security, straight through the bullpen and into Steve’s office in the back.

Steve was there, sitting at his desk. Lori was perched on the side of it, playing with a pen; it looked as though they’d been talking over the latest movements among the drug cartels.

“Danny!” Steve said, alarmed, when Danny slammed the door shut. Danny looked at Lori for a moment, debating whether to ask her to leave. Then he sighed and decided that he might as well include her on the conversation.

“The Center!” he started, incoherently. “The Center, and that counsel, and, I don’t even know!” he ranted. “They want me off the Psybutrol, and, I don’t know, meeting sentinels or some crap. Why can’t they just leave me the fuck alone?”

Steve stood up, his face dark. “Shit,” he said.

“It’s ok, Danny,” Lori said, rising to help him, “just calm down. Sit down, it’ll be all right.” She pressed him gently into the empty chair beside her. “Tell us what happened.” She was trying to reassure him, so he held back from snapping at her, and began stumbling his way through his meeting with the counselor instead.

Steve’s expression got blacker and blacker as he listened. Lori’s, inexplicably, lightened.

“It’s really not so bad, Danny,” she said after he finished. “The counselor is basically right, you know. If you don’t meet a sentinel you like and feel a real connection with, you’re never going to be able to bond with them. Any besides that” she paused, but then jumped in, enthusiastic. “It’s not actually as bad as you think. Guides need a sentinel just as much as sentinels need us, you know? Maybe you could actually meet someone.”

Danny looked at her balefully. Steve, unexpectedly growled.

“Get out,” he said.

“What?”

He moderated his tone, “Sorry, Lori. I mean, just – can you leave Danny and I alone for a minute?”

She pursed her lips, but nodded. “It really will be ok, Danny,” she said in parting, and closed the door softly behind her.

Steve came around to the front of his desk, to lean against it in front of Danny.

“What are you so afraid of?” He asked, softly.

Danny looked up at him, surprised. For some reason, he had the idea that Steve was not asking what he seemed.

“I can’t do this,” he answered, tiredly. “And it pisses me off that they’re trying to force me to. That they can force me, just like that, by calling up and saying, hey, that contract you thought we’d negotiated? We’re ripping it up and starting over.”

“Yeah,” Steve said, “that’s the Center all over.”

“Ok, so, I get it – it’s not like I’m actually going to bond with anybody, fine. I’ve still got to go off my meds, which-,” he shuddered, remembering his migraines.

“It’s not actually that simple.”

“What do you mean?”

“That line about it being the guide’s choice. I mean, it usually is, most guides do want to find a partner. At least the ones who trained at the Center and have bought the whole package do. I don’t know,” Steve shrugged, uncomfortably, “someone else could probably explain it better.”

“Try,” Danny said, shortly.

“Not every match is a good one.” He shrugged. “Just because you form a surface bond – just because you actually bond – it doesn’t mean you’re actually going to be good partners.”

Danny frowned at Steve. “Then why bond in the first place?”

Steve shrugged. “You form a good surface bond and the hormones kind of drag you along. Or you think, there’s no way I’m going to bond with this person, I might as well just sleep with them and get it out of the way, so the Center will stop bugging me. Or if you’re a sentinel, you start zoning, and you realize that time is running out, and you can’t keep waiting for someone who might never come along.”

He and Danny looked at each other. “You and Lori,” Danny said, not sure what he was going to ask.

“I’m just saying,” Steve interrupted, “be careful. There are more sentinels than guides, and some of them get kind of desperate. Come to me if you need any help, ok?”

“Thanks,” said Danny. “I’m not sure what you could actually do, but-”

“I’m not going to let some strange sentinel bond with you,” Steve interrupted, firmly.

Danny snorted. “Don’t worry, Chief. I’m not bonding with anybody.”

“Right,” said Steve, nodding. “Right,” he said again; more to himself the second time.

“Ok,” said Danny. He stood up. “Thank you. I appreciate you and Lori helping me through my fit of hysteria. I’m over it now. I’ve got it out of my system. I’ll just get to work, ok?”

Steve’s mouth quirked into a half-smile, “You totally aren’t over it,” he said.

Danny pointed a finger at him. “Don’t contradict me.”

 

Lori was waiting outside the door when Danny came out.

“Danny,” she said. “Listen. I’ve got to talk to you.”

They went into the break room, where she shut the door.

“Ok,” she said. “I think I need to apologize to you.”

“Why?”

She looked embarrassed, “I think it’s my fault the Center called you up. I might have misunderstood things a little.”

Danny waited, and she went on. “You see, after the hospital, when Steve told me you were a guide, I started thinking about how you’d been really good out there, calming me down, helping me get through to Steve. I don’t know if I could have done that without you. Even without the training, you have the right instincts, and it’s actually rare to find guides in law enforcement, who can handle the pressure and the violence.”

She looked down her crossed arms. “I made a couple calls, and, when I realized you weren’t being considered for bonding, I… may have questioned that decision. I’m really, really sorry,” she added, making eye contact. “I misunderstood. I’ve been with the Center for ten years, I though all guides wanted to bond. I just assumed you did too. I thought I was doing you a favor, giving you a chance to meet a partner like you’d helped give me a chance with Steve.”

Danny sighed. “Why didn’t you just ask me, Lori?”

“I should have. It just happened. It wasn’t like I meant it to. I was just talking to someone and it slipped out, why have you let this guy go inactive, he’d be a great guide! I should never have said that.” She paused. “Will you forgive me?”

“Yeah,” Danny said, heavily.

“And maybe,” she added, “maybe it really will be for the best. I meant what I said before, you know. We need sentinels as much as they need guides. Just because we don’t have the same problems with zoning, people don’t realize it. You know, most marriages like yours and Rachel’s fail. A guide can’t stay married to a mundane, they need something the other partner can’t give them. With a sentinel, you could have -”

“I’m not sure this is helping, Lori,” Danny said, rubbing his face. It had been a lot for one day. “I forgive you, but maybe don’t try to ‘help’ again, ok?”

“Alright,” Lori said softly, standing up. “Thanks, Danny. I appreciate it.”

 

He didn’t flush his Psybutrol, obviously, but made a little stash of it to hide in the back of a cupboard. It took about three days before he started to notice that it was waning in his system: no headaches, not at first, but a slight sense of things being off. He felt jittery, like he’d drunk too much coffee, and it was a bit worse when he was around other people.

He spent the weekend shut up in his apartment, not feeling badly, exactly, just sort of low energy, testy and tired. But when he went to the office on Monday, in a building where over a hundred people worked, it felt like having a solid wooden door hit him bang in the face.

Intellectually he understood what was happening: he didn’t have much ability to shield, so his empathy was starting to pick up on the emotions of everyone nearby. His brain, unable to translate the new input into useful information, interpreted it instead as noise.

He knew from experience that his usual techniques for dealing with headaches- caffeine, Tylenol, and staying hydrated - wouldn’t help much, but he gave them a shot anyway in hopes of inducing a placebo effect.

Tuesday it was worse, and Wednesday, he was so on edge that he snapped at everyone who came within three feet of his desk. People who weren’t desperate to talk to him took to making wide circles around his space. By the end of the day he was barely even working any more, just sitting in his desk with his head in his hands.

“Jesus,” said Steve, when he found him like that. “You look terrible.”

He let one of his big hands rest onto Danny’s shoulder, which felt unexpectedly soothing. He was the first person that Danny hadn’t wanted to bite the head off of all day. He leaned back into the touch, sighing.

“You can use the sentinel room, you know,” Steve said. “They keys are always in my desk drawer. The shielding is thick enough that it blocks out most empathic noise, not just sound. Wait a second.”

He left and came back, and then coaxed Danny to his feet and down the hall. When they got into the small, dark room, and Steve shut the door with a soft “thunk”, a wave of silence overcame Danny – like he’d been in a room with a heavy fan that had slowly been getting louder, until the background noise so deafening he had hardly been able to hear anything at all. Suddenly, it was gone, turned off.

“Thank God,” he murmured, and let himself sink to the floor, leaning against the wall. “This is so much better.”

Steve sat down beside him. “I know what you mean,” he said.

“Is this what it’s like for you all the time? How do you even handle it?”

“It’s different,” Steve said. “I started young. Sentinels learn to keep their senses dialed down most of the time. Guides have to shield. That’s a little different, I think.”

“I could kiss you, seriously,” Danny said. But he realized that actually what he wanted to do was close his eyes for a second. He felt like he had been running a marathon and had only just realized it was over.

Steve seemed to understand, because he didn’t reply, but just sat next to Danny quietly in the dark.

 

He wasn’t sure when he fell asleep, or for how long, but when he woke he felt good, comfortable and rested, although he was lying on, huh, not his bed but a floor. Obviously he hadn’t been sleeping for so long that it had started to bother his back. He sat up. Steve was sitting in the corner of the room. Apparently he’d been dozing too, although as Danny stirred he had opened his eyes.

“What time is it?” Danny asked murkily.

“Seven.”

“We should both head home, huh?” Just the thought of the contrast between his apartment and the glorious silence of the sentinel room was enough to make him wince.

“Yeah,” said Steve, with equal reluctance. Then, almost hesitantly, he said, “or, you know, you could come and crash with me for a few days.”

“Huh?” Danny asked, as he stood up, cracking his neck.

Steve shrugged. “It’s shielded, obviously, and there’s just one of me. And a little bit of space between me and the neighbors. It would probably be more comfortable for you.”

Danny looked at him, thinking that he ought to say no but desperate to say yes. He wasn’t sure he could stand another day of pain.

“Yeah,” he said. “That would be great, if you don’t mind. Are you sure?”

Steve’s white teeth flashed in the half darkness. “Sure I’m sure.” He stood himself, stretching rather more athletically than Danny had done. “We’ll stop by your place and get you a few things, then.”

 

It was just like old times. On their way back from Danny’s place they stopped and picked up a couple of pieces of fish. Steve grilled them out of the lanai. The red coals glowed in the quickly-darkening sky, and the smoke from the grill trailed lazily upwards. Danny sat, tucked into one of Steve’s deck chairs, and watched Steve cook.

“You’re not putting one of those fruity sauces on it, are you?” He asked, mostly just to wind Steve up. Steve grinned.

“No sauce,” he promised. “No mango, no passion fruit.”

“Smells great.” It was the hungriest Danny had been for days. Steve handed him a plate fresh off of the grill, and sank into a chair beside him.

The sun finished setting as they ate. Neither of them said anything when it became cool and dark. The moon rose, a high white circle, and Danny felt Steve’s warmth beside him, and feel more peaceful than he had in, God, who knows, weeks or months.

 

With quiet evenings and nights at Steve’s, Danny found he could just about make it through a day of people mentally yelling at him. Also, although he wasn’t sure, he thought that maybe he was getting a little bit better at sorting out the emotions of the people around him: when he could connect a person’s obvious emotion with the feeling of the noise around him, it got a little easier to pick the same pattern out, the next time he observed it. So the criminal who tried to attack Kono when they went to arrest him became rage, and the middle-aged mom who came to them trying to track down her missing teenaged son was grief. Chin had a certain feeling around him when he talked about Malia, and the way Kono lit up when she talked about being on the beach, happiness, began to feel like sunlight and sand and water in Danny’s mind.

He started in on his guide-training courses, which meant having to go to the Center twice a week. Despite it being a class reserved for guides who had manifested late in life, he was still the oldest by at least five years. The teacher spoke in the kind of light singsongy voice that Danny associated with preschool teachers, and her advice was mostly a lot of new-age hippy crap, with an emphasis on clichés like ‘looking inside yourself’ and “feeling your power”. She also led them through visualization exercises such as imagining their spirit animals pacing in circles around them, keeping the bad thoughts out. As a possessor of only C-class empathy it was not necessarily expected that Danny would have a spirit animal. It was probably for the best, since he would have bopped that little sucker hard on the head if he ever met him.

If Danny was honest with himself, moving in with Steve was the best part of the whole crazy situation. It felt good, spending time with each other again: even the mundane things like carpooling, and squabbling over whether or not they needed to make a coffee run. They took turns cooking: when it was Danny’s, he dug out his grandma’s marinara and meatballs recipe, and her famous eggplant parmesan. By then, eating out on the lanai was kind of a habit. As the sun set, Steve would make a game of making Danny guess when people were going to wander by on the beach. Using his sense of hearing, he could always tell first, but still, Danny grew steadily better, and soon could tell just from the slight buzz, like the sound of an angry hornet, when someone was getting to within a quarter-mile of them.

 

Three weeks to the day since his last visit to the center the mailroom dropped a heavy envelope off on his desk.

It was pretty simple: a name and a photo, and about three pages of information: the kind of stuff you might get off a dating website, with one or two alterations: information about the sentinel’s best senses and their level of control. No contact details were included. Don’t contact the sentinel, the cover letter advised. The sentinel will contact you.

Danny shrugged and pushed the packet under a pile of papers without bothering to do more than skim.

Later in the afternoon Lori was walking by, and caught a glimpse of the gold seal.

“Mind if I take a look?” She asked. They were still a bit careful with each other, these days, both going out of their way to be friendly.

“Be my guest.”

Lori extracted from folder from Danny’s teetering pile of paperwork and thumbed through it.

“She’s pretty,” she observed.

“Yeah?” Danny said. He hadn’t really paid attention to the wallet-sized photo.

“Yeah. Hmm... it says she’s an artist,” Lori considered.

“What are you guys up to?” asked Kono, joining them.

Danny shrugged, and Lori laughed apologetically. “Danny’s got a hot date,” she said, by way of an explanation.

“Yeah? Let me see.” Lori passed the folder over. “Kind of like Rachel,” Kono observed, “Totally your type, right boss?”

Steve, who had come up behind them, plucked the folder out of her hands without asking. Kono gave a shriek of mock-indignation. But instead of making a wisecrack, Steve skimmed the pages, all focus, before thrusting the folder back into Danny’s hands. He was already heading towards his office when Danny called out behind him.

“What do you think?”

Steve turned around long enough to shrug at Danny, “Up to you.” He went into his office and shut the door, leaving Kono, Lori, and Danny confused in his wake.

“What was that about?” Kono asked.

Danny avoided looking at either of them until finally Lori replied, lightly, “Just his time of the month.” She was already getting up to follow Steve. “Good luck, Danny.”

 

The sentinel called his cell phone, which, he couldn’t remember having given the Center that number.

“Guide Williams?” the voice asked. “I’m Sentinel Richards.”

“Hi,” Danny said.

“Nice to meet you. I read your packet.” Her voice sounded hesitant, and rather tired. “Would you like to stop by this Saturday, maybe?”

“Would you mind if we met at a park or something instead?”

She paused. “I don’t mind,” she said finally. “But I can’t drive anymore, so it’s a bit more difficult for me…”

“Oh, God,” said Danny. “Sorry, I wasn’t thinking. Right, never mind. Give me your address.”

 

She was a frail woman, physically not unlike Rachel, although sapped of vitality. They were nearly the same age, but the sentinel – Jessica Richards – looked nearly a decade older. Soft lines framed laughter around her eyes and mouth, and worry across her forehead.

“So my main senses are sight and touch,” she said, after insisting on making Danny a cup of tea. Her house was a small 20s-style bungalow perched in a small suburb overlooking the city: not as blissfully quiet as Steve’s place, but still relatively peaceful. The living room was small but still got good light, and it was crammed with easels, drop cloths, and pallets of long-since dried colors.

“You didn’t even read my packet, did you?” she said, within about two minutes of them chatting, sounding disappointed.

Danny smiled in apology, which made her smile back. Eventually she stopped sitting straight across from him, and slipped her shoes off, tucking her feet up under her on the couch. She was wearing a navy blue dress and pumps, which, Danny was beginning to put together, had been put on for him. Since he was wearing a grubby t-shirt and a pair of jeans himself, he felt guilty.

“I’ve been looking for my Guide for six years now,” she remarked. “The Center doesn’t send me many candidates. When they do, it’s usually guides like you – no offense – I mean, C-class or below, without much training.” She sighed. “I zone a lot. Every now and then I can get a few hours of time with a temp guide, someone who’s B-class or above, and it’s nearly the only thing that helps.”

“If you bonded with the right person,” Danny asked, “that would help, right?”

“So they say,” she agreed. She swirled her tea in her cup thoughtfully. “I think someone’s out there. I feel that they are. Look at that picture,” she nodded towards a piece of drop cloth covered canvas.

Danny stood and pulled the cloth away. It was a scene of an ocean, the water gray and choppy. The sky was cloudy, and there were two birds, just the suggestion of them, little ‘M’s painted together into a corner.

“My spirit animal is a goose,” Jessica explained. “For some reason, I’ve always thought my guide would be the same.”

“I don’t have a spirit animal,” Danny admitted.

She smiled wistfully. “I keep thinking he’s out there but that the Center won’t send him to me because I’m not a good enough sentinel: because I chose to use my senses to make art, instead of doing what they wanted.” She laughed, “Well, more like, I failed at everything they told me to try, until eventually they gave up. But a Hawaiian goose,” she said, returning to the picture. “That means he has to be here somewhere, right?”

“I hope so,” Danny said.

“I used to go looking,” she added. “I’d go to one of the other islands for a weekend and just wander around, hoping I’d run into him.”

“I’m sorry,” Danny said. I’m sorry I’m not him, he thought. It would be a nice peaceful life, probably, with Jessica – he could imagine her painting in the morning, when the light was good, laughing back and forth with some shadow of a man in the next room.

“I didn’t mean to get so depressing.” She collected herself, laughing as if she was a bit embarrassed.

“No,” Danny said, sitting down again, “I don’t mind.”

They chatted for an hour or two more until being interrupted by Jessica’s niece, who had come to drop off groceries and check up on her aunt.

“You look well today,” the niece commented to Jessica, who smiled.

“I feel good,” Jessica agreed. “Better than I have in days.” She smiled at Danny. “It must be having you around. You’re a good guide, even if you’re not mine.”

Danny nodded, and stood up. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I should go. I’ve got a little paper work left over from the week that I need to finish up. I could come by once in a while, if you want.” He was surprised to hear the words leaving his mouth: he hadn’t planned to say them.

But Jessica shook her head. “Thanks,” she said. “But I don’t think it would help. If you ever meet a guide who reminds you of a bird-”

“I’ll tell him to look for you,” Danny promised.

 

“So how did it go?” Steve asked, faux-casual as he leaned against the kitchen doorframe later that evening, watching Danny rummage in the refrigerator for ingredients.

Danny found the leftover marinara he’d been looking for and straightened, closing the fridge door. “It wasn’t what I expected,” he admitted. “This sentinel, she’s been admitted to the hospital three times in the last month after zoning, but she still hasn’t given up on meeting her guide. She’s your age,” he added.

“A lot of Cs and Bs have trouble with zoning,” Steve said, after a pause.

Danny sighed. “I went in there planning on hating her, but I didn’t.” He paused. “We didn’t have much of a connection, but if there had been even a little bit of something, I think I would have tried.”

Steve shook his head. “You feel like that because you’re a guide.”

“I’m not a guide,” Danny snapped.

Steve frowned, and then changed the subject. “So what are we having for dinner, then?”

 

The next sentinel was an army lieutenant who had been forced into a desk job by a bum knee. He and Danny commiserated about that for about thirty seconds before he declared that he was insulted by the Center’s attempt to send him a C-class guide: obvious evidence that they were trying to put him on the shelf.

“Nothing personal,” he said gruffly to Danny, “but I’m going to tell them where to shove it.”

The meeting only went from bad to worse when he realized that Danny worked with Steve McGarrett. First Danny was forced to listen to an extended rant about how even though Steve had apparently broken all kinds of records for his ability to see, hear, smell, and react to quickly changing circumstances, he was actually kind of a hack: this transmuted briefly into a broader anti-Navy diatribe before winding its way back around to Steve again.

“Still isn’t bonded, is he?” the sentinel asked, curiosity tinged with malice.

“Actually he and Lori Weston are working pretty closely together these days.”

“Lori Weston?” The lieutenant ground his teeth. “See, that’s the kind of guide I ought to be working with. Good at what she does and a looker too, right?” He eyed Danny. “And I bet she understands her place, too. That’s important: military order. A guide should go where the sentinel tells them, do what they’re told. Otherwise they’re putting everyone’s lives at risk.”

“Are you serious?” Danny said. “That’s the stupidest-” His cell phone rang in his pocket.

“What?” he asked.

“McCormick case just broke open. Get down here.” Steve hung up.

Danny smiled at the sentinel, who had obviously overheard the call. “Lucky for you,” he told him, as he stood to leave. “I don’t have time to expound on all the many and myriad ways you are wrong.”

He left with a little swagger.

 

The third sentinel suggested they meet at a coffee shop close to the naval base. Like Steve, he was career Navy, stationed in Hawaii only temporarily. He was vague about why, but something had happened on his last tour of duty, and he’d been sent to Honolulu to cool his heels for a while.

“So I need to be here with my kid,” Danny explained. “It wouldn’t really work.”

“Right,” the guy – Marc – said. He was making just a little too much eye contact. It was kind of awkward and threw Danny off. “I get it. Kid, huh?”

Usually Danny loved to talk about Grace, but for some reason the vibe was getting off the guy was weird. So he just said, “Yeah,” and then, “so you’ll let the Center know then?” He put a twenty on the table to cover the coffee they’d ordered, and got up to go.

“Sure,” Marc said. “I’ll tell them.”

But Danny could feel his eyes tracking him as he left the café.

 

A few days later, Danny got his first weekend with Gracie since he’d she’d come back from France. He had asked a few days earlier if Steve minded bringing her by the house: he didn’t, and even went so far as to bring a tub of Legos for her to play with down from the attic. Danny had his doubts about whether Gracie wasn’t too old for Legos, but he thanked Steve anyway.

He picked her up after school on Friday, and took the long route back to Steve’s. They rolled the car windows down and Grace’s neatly-combed hair was soon on its way to becoming a bird’s nest. She giggled wildly when they rolled to a stop: apparently Danny’s hair had gotten a little crazy as well, pushed up by the wind into soft spikes. She re-tuned his radio station to the latest Justin Bieber song, and told him about France in long run-on sentences.

“And then we went to the Louvre and it was so big, and then we went to the gift shop and we were there for hours,” she rolled her eyes, “because Mommy needed to get something for everybody from work. And then she said I could get a necklace but I got a pen with feathers instead. And then we ate sandwiches that were too crunchy. I like soft bread better, don’t you, Danno? Oh,” she added. “The word for bread in French is, ‘pain’. If you wanted a slice of bread it would be a slice of pain.” She giggled.

“Ok there, kiddo,” Danny said, pulling into Steve’s driveway. “We can soft bread for dinner if you want.”

“Grilled cheese sandwiches! And tomato soup! And I brought ‘Tangled’, Danno, you have to watch it, it’s so good.” She pulled her pink backpack and her overnight bag from the trunk, while Danny made a quick call to Rachel to let her know that he’d picked up Grace up according to plan.

“Hey Gracie,” Steve said, as they came into the house.

“Steve!” She squealed. “Steve, we’re going to watch Tangled! What are those? Legos?”

“She’s kind of hyper,” Danny told him in a whisper.

Steve grinned, “Like you weren’t bouncing off the walls at work all day, waiting to see her.”

Danny made the promised sandwiches (Kraft slices, white bread, no crusts) and tomato soup (Campbell’s) and they got into the Legos in front of the TV set. Steve and Gracie managed to construct a tower of their own, as high as Grace’s chest, before running out of pieces. By eleven she was falling asleep, curled up on the couch leaning against Danny like she was a toddler again. Danny thought of trying to carry her to bed, gave up on the idea, and roused her enough to send her off to the bathroom to brush her teeth instead.

“She’s a good kid,” remarked Steve, taking her place on the couch.

Danny smirked at him. “She is, too, especially since she played with those Legos for three hours just to humor you.” He poked at Steve’s leg with his toe. “I didn’t realize you were so into them.”

“Everyone loves Legos,” Steve said sleepily.

“Ready for bedtime too, McGarrett?”

A strange expression flashed across Steve’s face, too quick for Danny to read before it was gone.

“I guess so,” he agreed, rising from the couch and stretching. After a moment he grinned, and Danny blushed, realizing that Steve had caught him staring yet again.

“Real mature, McGarrett.”

“Hey, I gotta use these super-senses for something.”

Saturday they went to the beach, and Sunday they slept late and had breakfast out of the porch before Danny drove Gracie back to Rachel and Step-Stan’s. Unexpectedly, when they were on their way out the door, Gracie doubled back to give Steve a hug. “Thanks for lending me your Legos,” she added, shyly. Danny already knew Rachel’s housekeeper would be digging them out of the carpet for weeks, but had decided that it wasn’t his problem.

The timing was pretty good because it wasn’t forty minutes after he left her that Max called, to say that some forest rangers had found a body up in the woods.

 

That case kept Danny hiking around in the rain for a couple of days. He was grateful that the Center hadn’t set him up with a sentinel that week, because there was no way he’d have had the energy or the patience for it.

He was halfway up the side of an active volcano, wearing a poncho to protect himself as best he could from an unrelenting drizzle and trying to place himself just so in a clearing where Steve had promised there was cell phone coverage, if you could stand just right, when his phone rang. Danny’s first reaction was elation – he’d finally hit the sweet spot! –and his second was confusion.

“Hello Guide Williams,” said the matronly voice on the other end, perfectly clear despite the rain and the poor coverage. “This is Guide-Counselor Gillian, how are you?”

‘Fine’ would have been a lie, so Danny said, “I’m in the middle of a case here, I’m afraid.”

“I’ll only keep you a moment. Guide, I’m calling to inform you that Sentinel Graham complained about your behavior on the 27th.” She paused, waiting for Danny to respond, which he didn’t. “Would you like to offer any explanation?”

“Not really.”

“Well, I know that Sentinel Graham can be prickly, so I’m going to leave this out of your file, but please do try to avoid conflict in the future. I’m also calling with some good news. Sentinel Brennan is very interested in seeing you again.”

“What?” asked Danny, “no. Trust me, we didn’t hit it off at all.”

“Well, why not give him another try anyway. He seems to have felt there was a real connection.” Her voice was warm. “I’ll let you get back to work now, Guide. We’ll be in touch.”

Danny stared at his cell phone, watching as the bars, which bad been momentarily full, diminished back down to nothing. There was a slippery mud ravine not far below him. He debated, and then rejected, pitching the tiny machine down.

 

“Why on earth did you say you wanted to meet again?” he complained to Marc, who had asked to see him at one of the better mid-priced restaurants on the island, which made no fucking sense and was also just embarrassing. It was eight pm on a Friday night, and every other was filled by couples. There were candles on every table and the maître d’ had been stealthily dimming the lights for the past quarter-hour. “I live in Hawaii, you live in- wherever the Navy sends you,” Danny finished, flapping his hands. “What part of that didn’t make sense to you?”

Marc smiled. “You get kind of animated, huh?” He asked.

“Well, yes. I get animated when people waste my time, yeah, and when I have to go on dates set up by the Center like some kind of freakish matchmaking auntie.”

“So you admit that this is a date.”

Danny leaned back in his chair and folded his arms. “No, I absolutely do not admit that. What I’m willing to say with certainty is that I don’t like you, and I’m pretty sure that you don’t like me. So what is really about?”

Marc’s eyes flashed in annoyance, and then he seemed to collect himself. “You’re wrong,” he said haughtily. “I thought you were interesting. I thought it might be worth spending a little more time together. And guess what? I’m the sentinel, so I’m the one who gets to make that choice, not you.”

“Are you serious?” Danny said, raising his voice enough to get a few irritated looks from the diners around them. He lowered his voice and hissed across the table at the sentinel. “What is wrong with you?”

Marc shrugged. “I thought it over. You’re a cop, so you’re used to high pressure situations. I need someone who’s got my back in Afghanistan, not some guide with training but no practical experience. Plus,” his eyes roamed up and down Danny’s body openly, “you’re kind of hot.” He leaned across the table intimately. “I bet you’ve never had sex with a man before, am I right?”

“What?” Danny sputtered. “What is wrong with you?” Something was wrong here, but he couldn’t put his finger on what it was. He was sure Marc wasn’t attracted to him – in spite of his words and behavior, it just didn’t add up. He was trying to provoke Danny, Danny was sure of it. But Marc just kept talking.

“I don’t usually do guys,” he said, still staring at Danny in that weird, intense way. “But for you, I’ll make an exception. Think about it.”

“That is never going to happen.”

“Oh, it’ll happen,” Marc said confidently, and now Danny thought he was getting it – that little note of triumph in his voice, like he was enjoying jerking Danny’s chain. “It always does.”

Play him like a suspect, Danny told himself, slow and steady. Give him just enough rope to hang himself with until he gives the game away.

“Why would I do that?” He asked.

Marc laughed at him. “You just don’t get it, do you? You aren’t in control here. I am. If I tell the Center I want you working with me full time, they’ll make you go. I could make them send you to Afghanistan, do a six-month tour as my guide as a trial run. I’m a class-A military sentinel: they’ll give me what I want.” He paused. “Or you can avoid all that by letting me fuck you now.”

Danny couldn’t tell if it was a bluff or not. He kept his voice even. “You’ve done this before?” He asked.

Marc shrugged. “Most guides know the rules a little better than you do. Maybe I don’t have to spell it out for them, but it always goes down the same in the end.”

Danny shook his head incredulously. “You’re fucking insane.” he said dismissively, grabbing his jacket off the back of the chair as he stood up. “Leave me alone, or you’ll fucking regret it.”

Marc scowled, but Danny was already on his way out the door. The last thing he heard before leave was him muttering, “Just ask McGarrett.”

 

He slammed Steve’s front door and stormed in angry, only to see Steve and Lori seated at the dinner table, both looking at him in alarm. He groaned, as he’d totally forgotten that Steve was having Lori over.

“Sorry,” he said, “Sorry,” he gestured with each apology. “I didn’t mean to-”

“What’s wrong?” Steve was asking, already rising from his seat. “Why are you back so early?”

Danny looked from Steve to Lori, and then back at Steve. It had been two weeks at least since Steve and Lori had gotten to spend time alone together. Danny was a big boy. He could fix this problem, he decided, without crying to them.

“Something came up,” he said, not exactly lying. “I just came back to change, I’m going to head over to Rachel’s.”

“Danno-” Steve said. Both he and Lori were looking at Danny with expressions that indicated they had completely seen through him.

“Look, I don’t want to talk about it, ok?” Danny said.

“Alright,” Lori said, always quicker to play along than Steve. “It’s your choice, Danny, but-”

“Damn right,” Danny interrupted, and went upstairs to shower and change as rapidly as possible.

Luckily Stan was gone for the weekend, and Rachel, although confused, let him come over without too much fuss. Grace was already asleep by the time he arrived, so they sat down together at the kitchen table, and she opened a bottle of red wine.

She knew him too well to ask why he was there: from something in his look, probably, she could see that he was just having a bad time and that it wasn’t about her, for a change. As the first glass slid into the second and the third, reminiscing about old times together they went from making polite chit-chat to reminiscing about old times together, and finally giggling like teenagers over silly things. Rachel opened a second bottle and they somehow drank half of that without Danny even really noticing. He looked at the clock and it was midnight, and the next time he looked again it was two.

“I didn’t realize it was so late,” He said, apologizing.

“Don’t worry about it,” Rachel said. “Why don’t you take the sofa tonight?”

Despite being leather and doubtless very expensive, it wasn’t very comfortable, even with Danny’s advantage of being able to fit on most couches without trouble (nearly the only super-power associated with being 5’5). So Danny tossed and turned most of the night, and woke in the morning to the kind of headache that reminded him he wasn’t twenty-one anymore, and a daughter literally bouncing in front of him in her excitement over having discovered him in her living room unexpectedly.

Without alcohol to smooth the jagged edges between them, he and Rachel were returned to their usual state of careful distance, interspersed with occasional barbs or and jokes that betrayed how well they still knew each other. Rachel made a fried breakfast, as much for herself and Danny as for Grace (although Grace was the excuse), and they let their daughter’s chatter carry them over it.

 

He was kind of hoping Steve would be out when he returned, but when he opened the front door, Steve was right there in front of him, as if he’d heard the Camaro coming down the street and put himself right there so that Danny couldn’t avoid him.

He sniffed and said, “You were at Rachel’s.”

Danny sighed. “Yes, cave man, just like I told you.”

“So, what happened?” Steve said, and stared at Danny with a look that Danny knew perfectly well meant that Steve was not leaving him alone until he had the whole story out of him.

“Ok,” he said, walking into the living room, getting ready to explain. But he stopped suddenly.

Lori was there, wearing the same dress she had the night before – her hair wet from the shower.

“Hi, Danny,” she said, sounding concerned.

“Hi,” Danny said.

She went over to the couch. “So what happened last night, anyway? We were worried.”

Danny shook his head, reeling from the shock of seeing her there. “Nothing,” he said, “nothing big. I was just…” He was just what, he wondered. He was always relying on Steve- to give him a place to stay, to explain the sentinel stuff to him, and to help Danny through what had been basically a lot of drama on his end. Steve had been patient about all of that, and Lori had been patient, and maybe Danny really could just give them some space, for a change.

“I can take care of it,” he said, and he really meant it. Lori seemed to pick up on his sincerity, and she nodded, accepting it. Steve was still watching him like a hawk, though. “I can,” Danny said, making eye contact with him.

Steve didn’t like it, but Danny won the fight.

 

But the truth was he wasn’t dealing with it. He got a voicemail from the Guide-Counselor Gillian the next Monday morning, but he deleted it as soon as he recognized her voice.

He deleted two emails as well. When a courier delivered an envelope with the Center’s distinctive seal, Danny buried it in the bottom of a pile of trash.

It wasn’t that he’s planning on ignoring the communications, exactly, just that he needed some time away from them for a while.

Work conspired to help him with that: three kids under the age of ten, kidnapped within days of each other. Videos were sent to the parents confirming that they were still alive: bruised and shivering, they huddled against each other at the back of a dirty room. Danny, who hated cases that involved kids more than anything, moved all his attention to work for several days, not even noticing anymore what unrelated messages might be coming in.

“We’ve got to move fast,” Lori said. “The MO here isn’t money, its revenge. These guys want the parents to suffer, and they’re professionals. If they feel us closing in on them they’ll cut their losses and run,” she drew a quick finger across her throat to underline her point. “Negotiation is not a good strategy here. We need to go in fast, get them before they know we’re coming.”

The video was too low quality for Steve to get much off of it, but Chin and Lori put in a solid thirty-six sleepless hours and managed to come up with a likely location where the kids were held: a small, isolated cabin. Recon suggested at least seven armed men guarding the premises at all times.

“The key is going to be to get in and out before they understand what’s happening well enough to move, or to kill, the hostages,” Steve explained as the team spread out around a map of the premises. Tac vests on, weapons checked, they were ready to move out within the hour. “The police will have road blocks set up here,” he pointed, “and here. Phase one will be to create a diversion that moves the two men guarding the house off into the woods here. We take them down fast, before they have a chance to communicate with the rest of the group. Danny, you and Kono will approach from the front, while Lori, Chin and I will go through the back entrance, here. We’ll be laying down tear gas, so be prepared.”

Danny nodded crisply, along with everyone else. Every atom in his body was focused towards their goal: his mind and his muscles were all tensed, ready to propel him forward as soon as Steve gave the signal.

The door to the bull pen opened and he turned, expecting to see Lukela or one of the other officers they were liasoning with for this case. Instead, to his surprise, it was the broad shouldered, mocking face of Marc Brennan.

He was about to ask what Marc was doing there when Steve beat him to the question. In fact, he snarled it, glaring at Marc like he was a bug Steve was about to flatten.

Marc put his hands up, feigning peace. “Excuse me, Sentinel McGarrett,” he said smoothly. “But I’m here on official business.” He passed over a couple of pages of heavy paper to Steve, who glanced at them, glanced at Danny, and then said angrily, “absolutely not.”

When Steve was really angry, he was not an easy man to stand up to, but Brennan did it, cockily throwing himself in his face like he was asking to be punched. “You don’t have a choice,” he said. “He’s mine.”

“What is going on here?” Lori snapped, taking the papers. Her face paled. She looked up. “Danny.”

“What?” He asked. Wordlessly, she passed them over. He skimmed while Steve and Marc continued to circle each other like snarling wolves. “What is this?” He asked, trying to work out the legalese. “Lori, explain it.”

“It’s like what I have with Steve,” she said rapidly. “You’re being – you’ve been transferred, to go and work with him for as long as it takes for the two of you to figure out if you’re compatible or not.” She looked at Brennan in complete distaste. “Danny, why didn’t you tell us you were mixed up with this asshole?”

For that, Brennan was willing to interrupt his stare-down with Steve just long enough to throw Lori a nasty little wink. “There you go. He hasn’t been answering his calls, so I’m here to collect him. He was supposed to report yesterday.”

The tendons on Steve’s neck literally jumped. His hands were clenched and Danny realized that he was really, literally, three seconds from breaking Brennan’s neck. Hastily, he jumped between them.

“Whoa, whoa,” he said, pushing Steve back and turning to Brennan. “Look, this really isn’t a good time right now – see, tac vests, guns? We’re kind of in the middle of a thing. Come back tomorrow and we’ll sort this out.”

“Not a chance,” Brennan said, looking over his head at Steve. Then he shifted his gaze down a few degrees to Danny. “You’re coming with me now.”

“No,” Steve said, lunging forward again. Danny turned on him and glared.

“We do not have time for this right now,” he said, nodding to the atomic clock on the wall, the same one they’d just set their watches to a few minutes before. “Those kids cannot wait until we sort this out. I’m going with him- I’m going,” he emphasized, before Steve had a chance to protest, “and you are going to go do your freaking job, and we’ll figure this out when it’s over. Capiche?”

Steve looked at him, his jaw so tense that Danny even sure he’d been able to loosen it enough to talk, but finally, staring at Danny, he ground out the word, “fine.”

“Ok,” said Danny. He cast a quick look around the room. “Ok. You guys can do this without me.” He looked back at Steve. “As soon as this is over, ok?”

Steve nodded, the anger on his face turning to a more stricken expression. “Ok,” he said.

“Hey,” Danny aimed for a smile. “I can take care of myself, ok?”

Steve nodded. “I know,” he said. “Also, if this asshole tries to touch you,” he said, turning his gaze back towards Brennan, “I’ll rip his fucking arms off.”

Brennan raised his eyebrows mockingly and made a point of putting his hand on the small of Danny’s back, as they left.

 

Danny had gone past panic, and anger, and was now just letting his mind work, trying to stay ahead of whatever was happening to him. He waited until he was alone in the car with Marc before starting to question him.

“So, you and Steve,” he said. “I didn’t know you two knew each other.”

Marc frowned. “Fucking McGarrett,” he admitted, nodding his head. “Always has to be the best.” He looked over at Danny and grinned predatorily. “I knew taking you would piss him off as soon as I met you. His smell is literally all over you. And yours is on him,” he added, more speculatively, “like you two are living in each other’s pockets.”

That was a little too close to the truth for Danny to be comfortable with, so he interrupted. “So basically I’m the toy that you and Steve are fighting over?”

Marc paused. “A sentinel only gets one guide,” he said. “That’s the rule. McGarrett’s got Weston, so you’re mine.”

Danny rolled his eyes. “Except, remember how we don’t even like each other?”

“There must be something,” Marc said stubbornly. “Some reason he wants you so badly.”

“Because we’re friends, dumbass,” Danny said.

Marc pulled into the naval base, flashing a badge at the guard as he went in, and throwing another one into Danny’s lap.

“Keep that on you,” he said. “It gives you permission to be here as long as you’re accompanying me.”

Danny pulled it over his head, grumbling.

“While we’re here, I’m ‘Sentinel’, get it? Brennan warned. “You embarrass me, and I’ll make sure you regret it.”

 

By the end of the day, it was debatable who regretted it more. Midnight, in two adjacent cells at the base’s detention center (apparently separating a sentinel and guide from each other by a wall was against regs, although neither Danny or Marc would have complained a bit) they sat, too tired even to snipe at each other anymore, while their guard, bored, read the same three pages of the sports section of the paper over and over.

Marc rose to his feet, and a minute later, Danny heard footsteps coming down the corridor. The door opened, and the guard snapped to attention. It was Steve, in full uniform, talking to an admiral, one could guess from his grumpy aspect, had been woken to deal with a late emergency. The guard saluted, and Brennan as well, although with slight reluctance.

“They got into a fight in the middle of a training exercise,” the officer said, gesturing towards Danny and Marc. “I threw them in here to cool their heels for a while.”

Steve smiled quizzically at Danny, who frowned.

“I’m here for Guide Williams,” he said. It was the first and only time Danny had heard Steve refer to him that way. “We’ve been in contact with the Center, and it seems there was a misunderstanding. He won’t be working with Sentinel Brennan after all.”

Marc glared, and Steve looked back, cool as a cucumber and clearly very satisfied with himself. He handed the paperwork to the officer, who looked over it briefly, and shrugged, before gesturing for the officer to unlock Danny’s cell.

“Come on,” Steve said, before cocking his head back to the officer. “Thank you, Sir.”

They left. It was late, and the base was mostly dark and deserted as they crossed the parking lot to Steve’s car.

“Steve,” Danny asked, “the kids?”

Steve smiled. “They’re fine. The whole operation went smoothly.”

Danny breathed a sigh of relief.

They drove back to Steve’s house mostly in silence. When they arrived, Lori was there, looking as if she’d been pacing back and forth around the living room for a while.

“Danny,” she said, jumping up when he came in. “Thank God.”

Danny shook his head. “I’m fine,” he said. “I should apologize to you two; it was unprofessional that I let that happen. If it had screwed up the case-”

“It didn’t,” said Lori, firmly. She ran her hand through her hair. “Danny, you should have let us know as soon as Brennan started giving you trouble. He’s got a reputation…”

“Lori went to bat for you,” Steve said. “She produced several guides who have had bad experiences with him. The Center isn’t going to give him any more chances.”

“Good,” said Danny. “Thank you,” he told Lori.

She nodded in acceptance, and then she sat down and stood up again as if she was too wired to know what to do with herself.

“Is that what you didn’t want to tell us about,” she asked, “that night you came back upset?”

Danny frowned. “It’s been hard for me, you know? Not being in charge of my own life anymore. I wasn’t handling it well. It wasn’t your fault, I-”

“It was my fault,” she admitted, collapsing down on the couch again. She folded her hands in front of her face and took a deep breath, as if she was fighting with herself. “I knew something was wrong. I knew you weren’t handling it well. But I let you leave anyway,” she sighed, glancing at Steve. “I wanted the time alone with Steve, and I was jealous.”

“Jealous?” Danny frowned. “You don’t need to be. Steve and I are just friends, we-”

“Oh, cut the crap, Danny!” She barked, surprising both of them, and maybe even herself. “You two are so full of it,” she added more quietly.

There was an awkward silence, during which Danny and Steve carefully avoided looking at each other. Finally Lori smiled bitterly and asked, “Danny, why did Brennan even want to bond with you?”

“He doesn’t like Steve,” Danny admitted. “He smelled him on me and decided that giving me a hard time would be a good way to wind Steve up.”

“He smelled Steve on you,” Lori repeated. She looked at him. “Danny-”

“I’ve been staying here for weeks,” Danny protested. “Obviously I guess-”

“No!” She said, standing up again. “No, Danny! You live at Steve’s house. You smell like Steve. Steve freaks out when you disappear for five minutes. Don’t you dare deny it McGarrett, I’ve got witnesses!” she said, rounding on Steve. “Do you think I don’t know what was going on that night?” she asked harshly. “You can give me all the excuses you want, but it’s obvious.” She looked miserably back at Danny, “I practically threw myself at Steve. And he wouldn’t, because he couldn’t get his mind off of you.”

Danny stared at her, and then looked at Steve. “Is that true?”

Steve was standing like an animal caught between fight-and-flight. “Lori,” he said, apologetically.

“You two have to face reality,” she concluded bitterly. “Steve, you’re an A-class sentinel, and Danny is a C-minus guide with no training.” She stopped, blinking hard like she was keeping back tears. “I worked my whole life to be good enough to have a sentinel like you for a partner. I trained since I was a kid, and you – you want some guy who doesn’t even get it, who doesn’t even understand how valuable this is? How special you are?”

She waited for an answer, but Steve was still standing like he was frozen, so, with a frustrated, angry sound, she turned to Danny.

“No matter how good you two are together in the field, as friends and as partners, there is no way you are compatible enough to bond. Steve needs a guide, and you are not it. You two need to get that into your heads - settle this, get it out of your systems, because otherwise neither one of you is going to be able to move on.”

Her words echoed between the three of them. Lori’s anger was palpable, a moving, frightening thing.

“I’m sorry,” Danny said, but Lori interrupted him.

“I’m leaving,” she said, glaring at Steve. “I’m going home, and I don’t want you to contact me until you can honestly say this is no longer an issue. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but,” she gestured towards Danny, “You two better stay here and work out whatever it is you need too now. Because I can tell you anyway, once the Center finds out you got into a fight with Brennan over Danny, they’re going to be itching to split you two up anyway.”

“Lori,” Steve said again, but she shook her head, took her purse, and left, slamming the front door behind her.

The atmosphere in the room had been tense: with Lori gone, it was suddenly even more charged, but in a new way.

They looked at each other uncertainly: it was like a stand-off to see who was going to talk first.

Predictably, Danny lost. “Is she right?” he asked.

“Which part of it?”

All of it, Danny thought, wildly, but his mind narrowed in on the last thing Lori had said: the most frightening part. “Would the Center try to split us up?”

Steve looked at him, and then looked away, out through the window over the dark ocean. “Probably,” he admitted.

“Right,” Danny said, processing that, “Right. What should we do, then?”

Steve shook his head. “If it happens, I can register a complaint. Or,” he sounded hesitant, “if Lori and I did bond, it probably wouldn’t be an issue anymore.”

“And that’s what you want?” Danny asked skeptically.

“Most of what she said is true,”-which wasn’t exactly an answer.

Danny went over and stood next to him. He tried to lighten his voice so that it didn’t sound too serious, it didn’t really work. “If that’s right,” he said. “Then, you’re hung up on me?”

Steve rolled his eyes, “Like you aren’t just as bad.”

“Wow,” Danny said, after a pause. “We are, huh?”

“A couple of idiots.” Steve ducked his head and gave Danny an uncertain smile. Danny smiled back. He wasn’t sure about the rest of it, but that, at least, felt right.

“I know you don’t want to be a guide,” Steve said. “I didn’t want to make you. And she’s probably right, realistically. People bond at the same level, or maybe a little above or below.”

“What if we just forget about that for a second,” Danny replied. “If we just put that stuff aside, if it wasn’t even an issue,” he coughed, feeling his face turning embarrassingly red. “I mean, then would you want to?”

Steve got right in his face, grinning like a kid at Christmas time. “Are you kidding?” He asked, leaning in, “Hell yeah I would.”

So Danny kissed him.

 

They moved it to Steve’s bedroom, Steve stripping off his clothing, pulling his shirt over his head to reveal his long, lean, swimmer’s body, trim and tanned, that left Danny struggling with the buttons on his own shirt, eager to join him. They pressed their chests together, kissing, rolling over each other on the bed, mouths slick, and Steve was quick to press a leg between Danny’s, lick his mouth, and let his hands wander.

Some of Danny’s confusion - new body, bits in different places, it was good but he didn’t know quite what to do – must have come through, because after a few minutes like that, Steve’s kisses slowed, becoming slower and less desperate.

“Are you?” he asked.

“I’m good,” Danny said, rolling up so that Steve could feel him. “I’m good, but we’ve got all night.”

“Yeah,” he said, and felt Steve laughing against his chest, but he could also tell – he could feel – that Steve was a little sad, that he was already not thinking about this night, but about the next one, and the one after, when they probably wouldn’t be together.

“Hey,” he said, kissing Steve quickly, “don’t worry about that. Even if we don’t bond, we’ll be-” What? He wondered. They would be ok, but they would both have to move on. Danny would have to see Steve with someone else, and somehow he’d have to accept it. They could still be friends and partners and that would have to be enough.

Steve kissed him again, and Danny felt a shiver run through him. He wanted things to stay right where they were: the two of them together in this bed, laughing and warm, bare skin. There would never have been enough time for this.

If it had been anyone other than Steve, or different than what it was, Danny would have wanted to go slowly: to have time to get used to being with a man, to seeing what that was like, feeling his way along. As it was, he wanted everything. Steve pulled him along, making it easy, comfortable, and Danny guessed that, if they spent years together, this was the kind of sex they would have: laughing, effortless, unselfconscious tumbling over, and then lying together after, face to face, their legs tangled and Steve’s hand on Danny’s flank, on his shoulder, on his arm – always touching, as if confirming and reconfirming that Danny was really there.

 

He couldn’t remember falling asleep, but when he woke in the morning, Steve was still there, watching him.

“Hey, creepy,” Danny said affectionately, leaning in to kiss him, close-mouthed for morning-breath. He felt Steve’s lips, and then, confusingly, he thought he felt his own, as if he was the one kissing, rather than being kissed.

“Hey,” said Steve, and his throat was scratchy-dry, like he needed a glass of water.

“Shower?” Danny asked, and then became aware of the strange sensation of hearing the word - hearing his voice – reverberating. He shook his head, confused. Steve put his hand on his arm. Danny felt Steve’s hand on his arm. He felt his arm under Steve’s hand.

“Danno?” Steve was saying. “Danny, are you all right?”

“I don’t know” he said, and the echo just made the conflicting sensations worse. “I can hear you-,” that didn’t make any sense. “I can hear myself,” he tried to explain. A feeling of vertigo overcame him, and his closed his eyes tightly.

When he opened them again, a sleek, black-eyed, gray animal was staring back at him. He shut them again quickly.

He could feel Steve watching him. Steve was worried, but that under that there was a spark of excitement, something he was trying to force down, to suppress, because he was afraid of being wrong….

His eyes were still closed, but he knew Steve was going to take his hand before he felt it. He held onto the careful feeling of that touch, letting it anchor him, until he knew where he was and could sort and place the other feelings of things around him again: Steve, next to him, the bed, the room, and the world no longer spinning.

“I think we bonded,” Steve said, and the excitement in his chest was growing, inflating until it burst out of him, expanding, filling the entire room. Danny could feel it as clearly as if it had been his own.

“Yeah,” said Danny, still kind of not sure if he was going to be able to handle this. “I think we did too.”

 

The counselors at the Center confirmed it, sour-faced as they did so. The bond between them was solid, Danny’s sense of vertigo and confusion mostly due to his still-inadequate control of his empathy and inability to shield.

“You’re stabilized,” Gillian told Steve. “You’re never going to be a Prime, I’m afraid.” She looked at Danny and sighed. “With an A-class guide, he’d have been able to rival Ellison,” she told him.

“I don’t care,” said Steve, gazing at his partner, and it was so patently true from the love that he was broadcasting that even Gillian softened fractionally.

“Well, it’s done anyway. It’s a complete bond; we couldn’t break it if we wanted too. Congratulations, Sentinel McGarrett,” she nodded, “Guide.”

 

A year or so after that, they were walking along on the beach about a mile up the coast from Steve’s house, relaxing after the successful conclusion of another case, and bickering about whether to walk back along the beach or whether to cut in a few blocks so that they could pass by the supermarket and find something for dinner, when Danny noticed a man a few hundred feet in front of them. He was walking alone, but with a large nene waddling along contentedly beside him. When the man stopped, the goose stopped, and occasionally they seemed to look at each other, almost as if they were having a conversation.

“Steve,” he said, reaching for his partner. Steve had started wandering off in the direction of the water, he liked keeping his feet wet. “Does that look like a real bird to you?”

Steve squinted at the man, just in time to see the goose blink out of sight. “Guess not,” he laughed, “must be another guide.”

“A guide,” said Danny thoughtfully, “with a nene for a spirit animal.” He punched Steve playfully in the shoulder, said, “wait here a second,” and took off jogging down the beach.