The first time Steve sees Danny is in the middle of a chase. Steve's backup--a mix of out-of-their-element Navy MPs and overly-cautious HPD officers--is somewhere far behind him but Hesse, Hesse is ahead and that's all that matters. It's enough to keep him sprinting flat-out despite the bleeding gash in his side and the tightness in his chest that comes from catching two rounds in the vest ten minutes ago and burying his father four weeks ago.
Sweeping around a corner with his gun ahead of him, Steve makes Hesse's car outside the pier's boathouse. An alarm sounds in the back of his mind: the car's parked in a middle slot, in plain view, and the front windows of the boathouse are shuttered. Backup is still a good two minutes off. Steve's alone.
The alarm gets louder but there's a weird tingle of anticipation in his gut now, too, spurring him forward. He thinks, yes, yeah, let's do this, let's get this over with.
Which is exactly when a short, angry-looking blond guy materializes from thin air about five feet in front of him, waving his arms and bellowing, "Stop, stop, you idiot, STOP."
Steve rears back, reconnoitering and redrawing his aim, but the guy vanishes without another word.
"What the h--" Steve says, which is when the boathouse explodes.
"You aren't dead," a voice informs him.
Steve groans. His eyes won't focus. He knows he's looking at the sky, intellectually he knows that, but he can't actually process what's happening up there. He maybe thinks there's a giant plume of smoke.
"Don't groan at me, dumbass, you're not dead and your mouth clearly works so where's your comm unit, huh?" Hands paw at the front of Steve's vest; he reaches out to twist, break, but they just bat him away. Voices yell in his ear. They seem far away.
"Hah!" The blond guy unclips Steve's comm line from the front of his vest and holds it up to Steve's face. "Talk."
"Who are you?" Steve croaks. He's lying flat on his back on the dock. The blond guy is crouched over him. Over his shoulder, Steve can see the boathouse burning away.
"Who am I?" the blond guy repeats. "I'm Superman. I'm Gandhi. I am the most unappreciated unpaid babysitter in this world or any other, because I? I get to keep your stupid ass alive, day in and day out, and what do I get for it? Please, let's look around and try to find my grand prize in all this, because I don't see any presents or thank-you cards littering the ground here among the smoking debris. Just idiots with deathwishes. Would you talk into the comm, please? Now? So that I can go drink whiskey and pass out in front of the TV in my underwear again?"
One voice cuts through the chatter on the radio--Kono, the rookie and a last-minute addition to their team. "Commander McGarrett? You alive? Please respond."
"Copy," Steve responds automatically. "I'm not dead."
"Thank you," the blond guy snaps, and vanishes again.
Afterwards Steve chalks the whole thing up to a hallucination brought on by his moderate concussion and blood loss, and doesn't worry about it too much. He doesn't have time.
Hesse is still somewhere on the islands. That's the major advantage to being on an island: there are only so many ways to escape. The pier turned out to have been a misdirect from the start and they've got eyes on all the other ports, so Hesse is definitely still here somewhere and Steve is going to find him if he has to tear the entire island apart piece by piece.
"Kelly, tell me you got something," he snaps, sweeping into the 5-0 headquarters. He's spent the last hour in pursuit of an arms dealer; he'd finally managed to run the bastard's Humvee off the road, but it'd gone straight through the guardrail instead of into it. The driver hadn't survived. Another dead end, literally.
"I've got...something," Chin Ho says. The way he says it doesn't sound like the answer Steve is looking for, but he still moves over to join Chin Ho at the desk tablet. "I was going back over the surveillance footage we pulled from the pier cameras."
"And..." Chin Ho taps the screen, expanding a video clip frame. It's an angle on the pier boathouse, grainy surveillance footage showing Steve in the bottom-left corner with his gun drawn. Chin Ho taps it again to hit play, and mini-Steve moves stealthily--or not-so-stealthily, Steve has to admit, more like a charging bear--towards the boathouse.
Until the blond guy blinks into existence right in front of him, waving his arms and shouting soundlessly. Mini-Steve rears back, the guy disappears, the boathouse blows, and the camera footage cuts out in the shockwave.
"Play that back," Steve orders sharply. They watch it several times. "Thought I'd hallucinated that," he murmurs.
"Whoa," says Kono, who has joined them. "Jump in the tape?"
Chin Ho shakes his head. "I've analyzed the rest of the footage. Nothing looks broken or doctored."
"Cloaking device," Steve declares, and both his subordinates blink at him. "Advanced, yeah, but the technology is out there. He'd need government backing to have something like that--which means we're not the only ones with our eyes on Hesse."
"From the way it played out he looks more preoccupied with protecting you," Chin Ho comments. "Sir."
Steve ignores that, his brain already whirring. "Kelly, see if you can get a clearer shot of his face and run it through the database."
"Already did," Chin Ho reports. "No hits. Whoever this guy is, he's never been arrested, never worked for the federal government, and never had a driver's license."
Steve frowns, narrowing his eyes at the blown-up, pixelated face on the screen. "Who the hell are you?"
The next time he sees the blond guy is outside his father's house.
Well, technically it's in his neighbor's yard. Steve is jogging home: if he cuts across the hills it's only about seven miles from work, and the truck got nearly totaled today when Steve attempted to drive it under a closing garage door. The door had been a bit sturdier than he'd expected and the truck had been turned into a convertible. Steve had only narrowly avoided getting his head taken off, too.
So he's jogging home, occasionally pausing to check the bandage on his hairline where he'd almost been scalped, and when he comes up the driveway he sees Mrs. Kalili standing on her front porch, her hands on her hips and a frown on her face. Two steps below her, the blond guy is just hitting full steam on what appears to be an epic rant, complete with wild hand gestures and pulsing veins in his forehead.
"I am not ASKING you to go under the house, ma'am, you look like a very nice lady but not an expert in home repair mechanics, okay, I am just asking you to go inside and pick up the phone and CALL your gas company, even if you think I am a raving LUNATIC, don't you think it is worth fifteen seconds--fifteen seconds! Of your time! To go! Pick up the phone! And call--aw, crap," he adds, resigned, just before Steve gets one arm twisted behind him and puts him on his knees.
"Who are you?" Steve barks.
"Whoa, whoa, easy on the arm there, psycho! I don't know whose bright idea it was to make me still feel pain, but I can, so how about you loosen up on the Cujo routine, huh?"
"Did he say anything to you?" Steve demands of Mrs. Kalili, who is backing quickly into her doorway.
"I said she should check her freaking gas line," the blond guy says as Mrs. Kalili's door slams shut. "Ow goddamn ow, you maniac, let me the hell go, I'm trying to save you all from death by fireball!"
"What, like a bomb?"
"No, like the pipe rusted through and there's a leak right underneath her bedroom, and when she lights her incense tonight this entire block is gonna go up in flames. Go check it if you don't believe me!"
Steve considers it a moment, then bends down and hooks an arm around his captive's neck, levering him to his feet. The body pressed against his forearm is surprisingly muscular, square and strong despite his size.
Steve keeps a tight grip on his wrist and marches him, complaining all the way, down the front path to the chain-link fence at the end of the walk. "I am gonna look. And you--you're gonna stay right here."
He handcuffs the guys to a fencepost then jogs back up the path. A wooden grate covers the crawlspace under Mrs. Kalili's house, but it comes away with a couple of hard yanks.
"Hey hey," the guy calls, his voice tense. "Careful, huh, don't, like, light a match to see or anything--"
"Do I look that stupid to you?" Steve asks, flopping down on his stomach and wriggling under the house.
"Do you really want me to answer that?" the guy yells after him.
The smell of gas is thick under the house and Steve moves gingerly, wary of sparks. It doesn't take long to find the hole in the gas line; the edges look worn through by age rather than blunt force. It takes a bit longer to find the find the valve that shuts off the gas, but with some wriggling Steve manages.
"Okay," he says, crawling out from underneath the building. "Now you're gonna expla--"
He cuts off. The handcuffs rest on the ground, still attached to the fence post and still locked, but no longer occupied.
Okay, so he's an escape artist with a top-secret cloaking device. Bizarre, but not impossible.
The third time it happens, Steve walks into his office to find the blond guy standing beside his desk.
Steve freezes in the doorway. "How did you get in here?" He, Chin Ho, and Kono had been out working on the desk tablet for half an hour. Even with a cloaking device, it'd be nearly impossible to get past them without being detected. Unless he came in sometime during the night and has been in here, cloaked, for the better part of the day--
"Shut up," the blond guy says. For once, he's not yelling. "Shut up and listen to me, okay? I need--I need a favor."
"Favor? Who the hell are you? How--"
The guy's shouted before, pretty much every time Steve has seen him, but this is an outright bellow. Steve tenses but stays quiet, balanced on the balls of his feet.
The guy sucks in a deep breath. He's shaking. There's a tightness around his eyes that Steve abruptly recognizes from the mirror on the worst nights, after the search for Hesse has gone nowhere and all Steve can think about is the memory of that gunshot transmitted over his cell phone's tinny speaker, announcing the end of his father's life.
"I need you," the guy says slowly, pressing his palms together like a prayer, "to look into a carjacking for me, okay? Car belongs to Stan Edwards, he's a local real estate businessman, but he wasn't the one in the car, okay, it was his wife Rachel and his--his daughter," and here he has to stop and swallow hard for a second before he can go on, "Gracie, they were in the car, it happened just today and I need to find out why. You need to find out why, because I--can't. Please, okay? Please, I need to know that they're safe."
His eyes are surprisingly blue, Steve notices out of nowhere. He blinks, reorienting himself. "Usually a carjacking is about jacking the car."
"No, this is more. I can tell. I don't know, call it an instinct, call it--whatever, I don't care, just, I know there's more. Promise me you'll look into it. After all the shit I've done, after all the times I've saved your ass, just give me this, this one thing."
He looks at Steve with his blue eyes. Steve stares back and says, "Okay."
The guy takes another deep breath, says, "Thank you," and vanishes.
This time Steve is ready for it. He steps back, slamming the door to his office closed and locking it behind him. The other door is shut, too. For a moment he stands against the door, his breath quiet, listening. Then he puts his arms out wide to both sides and moves slowly, carefully, towards where the blond guy was standing.
He gets all the way to the other side of the room, frowns, and turns to check the door. Still closed, still locked. Outside, Kono approaches and Steve flails his arms at her to stop. She holds position and he goes back to sweeping the room, hands out in front of him, feeling along the corners and then moving across, diagonal, then switching to rows.
Finally he reaches the door again. Chin Ho has joined Kono on the other side. They both stare at him with puzzled, nervous expressions. Steve drops his arms and unlocks the door.
"Kono," he says. "I need surveillance footage of the building for the last seventy-two hours."
"O-kay," she says slowly. "What am I looking for?"
"The escape artist. Chin Ho. I need whatever you can dig up on a carjacking. Report would be filed with HPD by a Rachel Edwards, in the last twenty-four hours."
"Okay," Chin Ho says, still eyeing him.
Steve shuts the door and turns, looking around his office again.
So, an escape artist with some kind of teleportation--
No, okay, that is impossible.
Rachel Edwards has sad eyes. Some cultures believe that sadness adds to a woman's beauty; Steve has never ascribed to that idea. It reminds him too much of his mother.
Her daughter Gracie has the same look about her. She sits at the kitchen table working on spelling homework, within eyesight but out of earshot. Her skinny legs swing under the tabletop.
"She's still a little rattled," Mrs. Edwards reports, watching her daughter for a long moment before turning back to them. "I suppose I still am, too," she adds, sipping from her very British tea. The liquid trembles slightly. Considering that her car was jacked and her house broken into in the same day, she's more than due.
"Mrs. Edwards, did the men who attacked you on the road say anything?" Steve asks. "Did they demand anything from you?"
"No," she says, but her face is sharp as she studies him. "You think they were looking for something, in the car and the house both?"
"We're investigating the possibility," Chin Ho says. "Can you tell me about your husband's business?"
Steve half-listens to their conversation, scanning the room around them. It's a habit from the service that he knows he needs to change: the service was mostly about places, looking for the IED, but policework is all about people, their stories and their problems. He knows he's having some trouble with the transition, but he hasn't figured out how to make the switch yet.
A picture on the mantelpiece catches his eye: it shows Mrs. Edwards and her daughter in what was clearly happier times and someplace far, far away, judging from the snowflakes crowding around the picture around them. They both beam at the camera, cheek-to-cheek.
There's a man, too, pressed to the other side of Gracie's face. Their smiles so close that they could be one grin, spread out across three faces.
Something weird happens to Steve's eye, like it sort of stops looking at the picture and drifts to the left instead of registering the man's face. He blinks and tries to refocus but it happens again, like the wrong ends of two magnets pushing each other aside.
"Mrs. Edwards, can I ask who the man in this picture is?" Steve holds the picture frame out to her.
"Oh." Suddenly the tone of her voice matches her eyes. "That was my former husband."
A tingle runs up Steve's spine. "Former?"
"He died three years ago," she says, her voice sliding into familiar syllables, words she's repeated time and again; it's clear, though, that the story's never lost its sting. "He was an officer on the Jersey PD. One night he responded to a robbery in progress and--he was shot."
"I'm sorry," Chin Ho murmurs, because he knows how to respond to something like that.
Steve, who doesn't, clears his throat and asks, "What was his name?"
Rachel Edwards says a name. Steve hears it--but it's weird, it's like the words kind of flow off his ears, like water over the edge of a surfboard, never sinking in. He nods and thanks her and doesn't even think that's weird until he's in the car, driving back to HQ.
Steve's barely surprised when he walks in his front door that night to find the blond guy sitting at his kitchen table.
"Are they okay?" the guy asks.
Shutting the door behind him, Steve backs up until his shoulder blades meet wood. It's deja-vu all over again, except the light patter of rain has plastered his shirt to his skin. The guy at the table is totally dry. "First you give me a name. Your name."
His visitor's fists clench up and he shoots to his feet. "Fuck you. Tell me they're okay."
"Name," Steve snaps out. He does that now; he is that ruthless. Something's happened to him in the last month-and-a-half, something ugly that he can't seem to stop. He's become the kind of man who holds a woman and a little girl's safety over someone's head. It aches inside.
"Danny," Danny spits. "Danny Williams. Which won't do you any fucking good, you fucker, because I fucking died, got popped in the chest three years ago in New Jersey by a druggie punk kid who was stealing iPhones. Do you hear me right? I got killed over an IPHONE now tell me if my daughter's okay, you fucking fucked up FREAK."
He glares at Steve, his fists tight and his eyes like laser beams.
"They're okay," Steve says softly. His brain does a few somersaults: all of a sudden he can see the face in the photograph, can hear Rachel Edwards saying the name Danny Williams with old grief hanging on her lips and eyelashes.
The air seems to go out of Danny and he sits back down with a bump. After a second he props both elbows on the tabletop and puts his fists, still clenched, in front of his face. Rain patters on the roof overhead and gurgles in the gutters.
Slowly, Steve moves to take the chair across the table from Danny. It feels incredibly awkward: Danny doesn't especially seem to care that Steve can see him crying. Also, Steve can't remember the last time there was someone else in the house with him who didn't have a gun.
Part of him, the ruthless half that's been running bull-fierce across the islands lately, wants to press his advantage; but there's this other side, too, that's finally speaking up, nourished by an unknown source and clawing its way to light and liberty.
It's the thing that makes him say, "Stan Edwards has a line on a housing commissioner who tried to bribe him. Apparently he recorded the whole thing."
Danny huffs into his fists. "Lemme guess. He told the commissioner he had it on tape."
"Right in one." Steve waits a few moments while Danny takes short, even breaths, then asks, "Does that mean I get to ask questions, now? Because I've got a few."
Danny sits back, scrubbing a hand over his face. "Right, 'course you do. Don't mind me."
A spark of guilt runs through Steve at the drawn, weary look on Danny's face, but he presses on. "You've been following me around for a month. Why?"
"A month, I have not been following you around for a month, thank you," Danny scoffs. "I've been following you for three months, three of the most miserable months of my existence, I'll have you know. Do you even remember how many times you've almost died in the last three months, huh? Do you? 'Cause I do, guess what, it's fifty-nine, okay, which works out--I checked--to about .66 near-death experiences every day. NO ONE SHOULD BE THAT CONSISTENTLY CLOSE TO DYING. Except you!" He waggles one finger in Steve's face, putting him sharply in mind of a disapproving aunt. "You, mister, you, with your running and jumping and guns and knives and GRENADES. Who has a grenade?! Who just casually carries a grenade around with him like, hey, hey, here's a highly explosive device MAYBE YOU SHOULDN'T PUT IT IN YOUR POCKET I'M JUST SAYING."
"It worked," Steve protests. He does remember that one, and he totally got through that door.
"It w--it did not work! It did not work the way an explosive device usually works because if you'd stopped for FIVE SECONDS to look around you, you would have noticed the giant water heater on the OTHER SIDE OF THE WALL FROM THE DOOR. Do you have any idea how hard I had to work to keep that thing from blowing you up, too? I had to STOP TIME so I could release the water pressure. I had migraines for a week!"
Steve processes that carefully, mentally edging around the blatant violations of physics. "You've been protecting me."
"Trying," Danny groans, rubbing the heels of his hands into his eye sockets. "It's--you have no idea how quick it can happen, okay? Every time you drive down the street, and I mean you in a universal sense right now, that's a near-death experience. Somebody could swerve, somebody could run a red light, and bam! That's normal stuff, though, that's a little nudge and poke and turning the wheel. You? You-specific you? You take near-death experiences to an art form."
"Why are you protecting me at all?"
"It's my job. It's the job they gave me after I died."
"So what're you...a ghost?"
Scowling, Danny reaches across the table and grabs Steve's hand. Sticking out his other hand, he shoves Steve's fingertips into his wrist. A steady pulse beats underneath the skin.
"Then what the hell are you?" Steve demands, resisting the urge to yank his hand back.
Danny lets him go. "I'm your guardian, dumbass. God help me. And no, I can hear you thinking, not like a guardian angel. Do you see a halo? Big white wings? Harp? No. Me, I'm just the schmuck who gets to keep your dumb ass alive."
Steve sits straight-backed in his chair. He's having a hard time deciphering his own emotions, but eventually he realizes he's freaked the fuck out. After a lifetime of urban warfare and having his oxygen tube yanked away by drill instructors while thirty feet underwater, it takes a lot to panic him.
Apparently, though, all it takes is the suggestion that Danny can hear his thoughts.
Danny straightens up, frowning at Steve like maybe he can tell how Steve's brain is shifting too fast, the transmission grinding, gears shredding. Knowing that he knows--it's enough to send Steve straight over the edge of panic into fight-or-flight.
Surprising even himself, he goes with the option that doesn't involve potential violence. "You want a beer?"
Danny tilts his head to one side, as if he's surprised, too. But all he asks is, "Whattya got?"
"Let me rephrase that. Do you have anything that isn't distilled sea foam in a bottle illegally and immorally mislabeled as beer?"
Steve snorts, eyeing Danny as the roil in his stomach settles a little. "Are you always this much of a pain in the ass?"
"Am I--me? I'm the pain in the ass? Oh no. No, no, my friend." Danny sits up, the spike in his blood pressure almost visible. He jabs a finger at Steve. "You do not know about pains of the ass. Not until you have been assigned to keep alive the single most deranged, psychotic idiot in this hemisphere or any other. I swear to god, if a suspect was barricaded in a bouncy castle you would find a way to rappel down a turret on one of those little kid-leashes that mothers use when they really wanted a dog instead, except the leash would probably break and you'd somehow knee your own forehead, incurring a major concussion but hey, it's all in a day's work, right, no need to go to the hospital because you're Steve goddamn McGarrett, Navy Seal extraordinaire, and who even cares about a little head trauma considering all the times you were obviously DROPPED ON YOUR HEAD AS A CHILD--hey, hey, hey, where the hell are you goin'?"
Steve doesn't answer, just grimly marches into the kitchen and takes two Longboards out of the fridge. The distinct smell of rotting lettuce pours out of the open fridge door, too, and Steve wrinkles his nose, kicking the door shut and twisting both caps off. Pausing for a couple of deep, fortifying breaths, he strides back out and shoves one at Danny, who scowls and grumbles but downs half the bottle in one go.
Watching, Steve asks, "Can angels get drunk?" Which is not the first question he should be asking, but he's still kind of new to this whole police thing. His father probably would have had Danny's full background workup done by now. If Danny's background workup was even something somebody could find. Steve has his doubts.
Danny lowers the bottle and rolls his eyes. "Told you, dumbass, I'm not an angel. And yes, I can get drunk. Small mercies." He lifts the bottle towards the ceiling.
"Then what are you?"
"I'm...a Good One. Shut up, dickhead, I didn't name us. Some people, when they die, they're not ready to move on yet. You spend your whole life as a cop, that kind of thing doesn't go away." He frowns, flexing his fingers around the neck of his bottle. "Some things are hard to let go."
"And does everybody have a Good One?"
Danny tilts his head to one side, then the other. "Not everyone. Some people, they've got more potential than others--good and bad. The things you choose affect the world around you. I'm not saying anything about God or Heaven or Hell, if they do exist, if they don't, none of that. I know a whole lot less than you think I do, and even if I did--choosing what you believe in, finding your own way, that's a big part of it." He waves his hands around the room, encompassing both this house and the whole of human existence as Steve understands it to be. "The kind of man you choose to be has an impact on a lot of lives, Steve."
"With great power comes great responsibility?" Steve supplies.
Danny stares at him. "Did you--you did not just seriously say that."
"What? That's from Spider-man. It's a classic."
"That's, I know it's Spider-man, I was a twelve-year-old boy once, I'm just saying, you know, I'm not twelve. Right now. We're not twelve."
"Are you calling me immature?"
"I'm calling you insane, yes. Though I guess it doesn't surprise me that you're using a superhero as your life coach."
"Says the guy who supposedly saves my ass .66 times a day," Steve points out. He's feeling a bit calmer about the situation: it's still strange and unnerving and part of him wonders if this is all a hallucination, but there's something just so ordinary about Danny, so concrete and solid, that he feels the tension in his gut unwinding. "So, what, I've got the potential to be good or bad in a major way, and they--whoever they are--send you in to keep an eye on me?"
Danny pauses before answering. "Well, to be completely honest, I did volunteer." At Steve's questioning look, he spreads his hands, palms up. "It was the only way they'd approve my transfer from Jersey."
Realization dawns and Steve sits back in his chair, his eyes on Danny's tight, miserable expression. "Gracie."
"Gracie," Danny agrees heavily. He turns his head to look out the porch doorway; Steve stares at his profile. Now that his brain-whammy has evaporated, he can see the family resemblance. Gracie has her father's nose and his wide forehead. "Rachel moved her out of New Jersey a year back. She'd been having a rough time of it--they both had."
There's a question behind Danny's words that he isn't asking...that maybe he can't ask. Maybe he isn't allowed.
"They're good," Steve says softly, and Danny looks down at his hands, one side of his mouth bending inward dangerously. "Grace is going to Sacred Hearts Academy--my sister went there, it's a great school, one of the top in the islands. She's doing well in class, if her homework's anything to go by. Rachel's a strong woman--she didn't panic when the car got jacked, she just got her and Grace out of there safe. She seemed like she was holding together pretty well."
"She always did," Danny murmurs. "Cop wife."
Steve thinks of his own mother and nods. He racks his brain for something, anything else to tell Danny. "I think Grace is playing lacrosse. There was a stick leaning against the wall."
"Yeah?" Danny grins shakily. He leans forward, elbows on the table, so eager. "Man, I'd hate to play against her. She's real competitive, we used to get notes from the teachers about her--"
A sudden flash of white light fills the room, making them both jump. Steve turns his head just quick enough to see the lightning bolt die: it hit the beach about two miles off, close enough to get his heart racing. The crack of thunder follows quickly after, rumbling on up through the clouds for a long time.
"Whoa," Steve says, frowning. It's been raining for a while but there hadn't been any indication of a thunderstorm moving in...
"Crap," Danny swears. "I gotta go."
Steve shoots him an incredulous stare. "Was that for you?"
"Yeah. Christ, I'm gonna get reamed."
"By who? Thor? Wait, wait," he blurts as Danny rolls his eyes and stands, "am I gonna see you again?"
Danny looks at him, stilled in the act of heading for the door. Steve rewinds that sentence, hears the desperation, and cringes. "I mean--I've still got--you haven't told me why--"
"I can't tell you. I shouldn't have told you what I already have, obviously. Shit." Danny rakes his fingers back through his hair. "At this point I'll be lucky if they only pull me off your case. Never thought I'd consider that 'lucky.'"
Danny takes a few steps towards the front door then stops. He stands still long enough that Steve starts to open his mouth. He shuts it again quickly when Danny turns sharply and strides back to the table, his face set. Putting one hand on the tabletop, he leans across and fixes Steve in place with his blue, blue eyes.
The finger he puts in Steve's face shakes.
"You promise me," Danny says in a low voice, "you promise me right now, that you'll watch out for my girl."
Steve licks his lips. "We've got a detail on the house and we're setting up a sting for the commissioner. Nothing's gonna happen to them."
"You promise me," Danny says between his teeth, and his eyes are red. He's crying and he doesn't bother hiding it or wiping his face; he just keeps glaring at Steve like it doesn't matter if Steve sees this, like nothing matters except what he's asking for.
"I promise, Danny," Steve says. "I swear I won't let anything happen to them."
Danny sucks in one long, wavering breath and disappears on the spot.
Steve stays sitting at the dining room table for a long time after that, as the rainstorm moves by overhead, pouring water down on the eaves of his father's empty house. There is no more lightning.
Life goes back to normal, or what passes for it. Someone's been trafficking guns by hiding them in sweet bread, a plot that came to light when a suburban mom bit into a roll and chipped her tooth on a bullet. A teenage prostitution ring turns out to be run by some frat brothers at UH. One of the local Sons of Samoa chapters has trained a shark to attack people covered with a particular scent. Just the average Hawaiian crime scene.
Steve drops by to see the Edwards every other week, and checks up on their protective detail about twice as often. Grace stays wary and distant, but Rachel gets comfortable enough with his presence to quietly confide that her daughter's been having bad nightmares.
He gets the number for a good PTSD counselor from Chin Ho and passes it along.
Sometimes, when he's driving down the street or passing by a window, Steve will catch a glimpse of blond hair out of the corner of his eye. Sometimes, like when he's breaking down a front door, there'll be just a second when he feels like there's someone next to him. Possibly yelling at him.
Whenever he turns to look, though, it's never Danny. Or maybe it is, and he just doesn't want to be seen.
Steve has no idea what to do with that, so he does what he always does: pushes it aside and tries to keep his hands busy, tries to keep moving fast enough that he doesn't have time to think.
He can't quite stop himself from looking, though.
It's been a crappy week, chasing a possible home-grown right-wing domestic terrorist who wants to blast every foreigner off the islands--and seriously, Steve would forego the beatdown if the judge would only make him spend his entire jail sentence reviewing Hawaiian history--right to the Asian Cultural Center. There's a bomb and a countdown display, because only domestic terrorists put actual countdowns on bombs anymore. It reads 3:08. The bomb squad's ten minutes out and Steve orders everyone else out of the building.
At first he's not thinking about anything but 23...22...21, right up to 5. And then he's running, praying that the building's been evacuated, sprinting for that deep freezer he saw on his way in.
There's only one half-second, after he's yanked the freezer lid up, dived inside among the popsicles and ice cream for the youth cultural education center, and slammed the lid behind him, that he thinks, Shit, I hope I don't die.
The blast rocks the freezer against the wall and dents the side in, pinching Steve's ribcage. Part of the wall gives in, pinning the lid closed, and by the time someone's heard him yelling and kicking he nearly has hypothermia.
They keep him at the hospital for about five hours longer than he'd like, but every time he tries to leave Kono or Chin Ho call with an update and assure him they've got everything under control.
Plus, he gets real dizzy whenever he tries to stand up. So there's that.
He does finally convince the skeptical nurses to discharge him. Chin Ho and Kono are still wrapping up at the scene: half the building went down, and even if they managed to get everyone out in time, the community's still feeling the reverberations. Besides, Steve doesn't really feel close enough to either of them to ask for a chauffeur. He calls a cab and folds himself gingerly into the back, leaning his throbbing temple against the window.
The house is dark when they pull into the drive. Something about the blank windows makes Steve want to turn around and get back in the cab; but he's exhausted and bruised and he just wants to sleep. He doesn't really have anywhere else he can do that, so he pays the cabbie and trudges up the front steps.
The inside of the house is even worse. Steve stands in the foyer, staring into the dim rooms. They stare back. The ringing in his right ear has gone down a bit, lessening to the familiar tickle he always gets from gunshots: he can hear the shushing of the waves outside, but the house itself is lifeless.
The trill of the phone makes him jump. Steve fumbles for the receiver. "Hello?"
"Mahalo!" says a woman's overly-friendly, pre-recorded voice. "This is AT&T with a Collect Call from..."
There's a half-second pause and then the pre-recorded voice message begins to play: "--king REFRIGERATOR, are you ACTUALLY INSANE, do you have any idea how--"
"To accept the charges, press 1. To--"
Steve jabs at the keypad and says, "Danny?"
"Shut up," Danny snaps down the line. "Shut up, I am not talking to you after the shit you pulled today."
Steve stands with the receiver pressed against his ear. He feels off-balance and it's not just the vertigo talking. "You called me up to give me the silent treatment?"
"A FUCKING REFRIGERATOR."
"How was that my fault? I didn't set the bomb!"
"So instead of running away like any NORMAL, SANE person, you stayed in the building! With the bomb! And then hid inside a refrigerator when it went off!"
"I wasn't sitting there hugging it, I was trying to defuse it."
"Yeah, and there are people whose job it is to do that! But no, you couldn't possibly wait for those people to get there, you just had to do it--"
"Can you please," Steve says, pressing one palm against his forehead, "please not yell at me right now? I can't hear at all out of my other ear, I don't want to lose this one, too." He waits for a second: when it seems--incredibly--as though Danny's actually gone quiet, Steve goes on, "I wasn't sure if HPD was going to get everyone out of the blast radius in time. I wasn't trying to get killed, I was trying to make sure that no one got killed. I don't really think you get to yell at me for that."
There's another long pause before Danny's exhale makes Steve's shoulders drop, too. "You're still a jerk," Danny grumbles.
"Yeah, whatever." Steve tosses his jacket onto the back of the couch and starts to bend down to untie his shoes, then straightens when that doesn't turn out to be such a great idea. "Why am I talking to you on the phone, anyway?" he asks, shuffling into the kitchen. "You're some kind of metaphysical not-dead guardian...spirit, and you're calling me collect?"
He can practically hear Danny's eyeroll, and surprises himself by smiling out of nowhere. "You may be shocked to know, but there are limits to even my awesome powers," Danny tells him. "Such as the complete inability to command telephone companies. I know, I was shocked, too."
"Why can't you just--apparate here?"
There's a beat of silence before Danny says, "Did you just reference Harry Potter?"
Steve flushes. "You recognized it."
"Yes, but I have the excuse of having a small child."
There's another little pause, less relaxed this time, as they both remember that Danny doesn't actually have a daughter anymore. Steve stands in front of his empty fridge, his stomach tight until Danny clears his throat. "I'm, ah. I'm on probation."
"I told you, there are rules. I'm trying to lay low, here. For fuck's sake, food's not going to magically APPEAR in your fridge, shut the damn door and order takeout."
Steve blinks and shuts the refrigerator door. "I kind of can't. Don't know if you noticed, but someone's on my phone right now."
"Oh for the love of--hold on." There's a half-second pause and then Danny returns with, "There, you've got an order in at that pizza place you like."
A slow grin spreads on Steve's face as he goes back into the living room. "Will it magically appear soon?"
"No, dumbass, it'll be delivered by a pimply high school student who probably masturbates in the car between deliveries. I even had them put on pineapple, so don't say I never did anything for you. You know, besides all those times I saved your life."
"I love pineapple," Steve mumbles, easing himself down onto the couch. His head only spins a little.
"Of course you do. You're one of them."
"The pineaple freaks! Yesterday on the news, this guy won a cooking contest with pineapple chili. Pineapple chili."
"I think I've eaten at that restaurant," Steve muses, then smiles again as Danny mock-gags down the phone line. "Hey, don't knock it 'til you've tried it."
"Oh no, no no. You are not brainwashing me into liking pineapple in chili, or surfing, or any other perversions of nature you people have cooked up on this godforsaken island."
"Hey, come on now, who hates Hawai'i? How can you hate Hawai'i? We've got, palm trees? Beautiful waterfalls, beaches--"
"I don't like the beach," Danny interrupts.
Screw guardian angel, Steve's starting to think Danny might actually be an alien. "You don't like the beach?"
"I don't like the beach."
"How do you not like the beach? I mean." Steve waves a hand out the door at the beach even though Danny can't see him.
"I don't like sand. It gets into uncomfortable places."
Steve gets a sudden, full-color mental image of Danny wearing a Speedo, scowling and brushing sand off his haole-pale legs. He pushes it away and asks, "You're some kind of metaphysical not-dead guardian spirit and you can still get sand-crack?"
"Oh, you're a funny, funny guy, you know that? Yes, I can feel sand. I sleep, I sneeze, I get hungry. I have an apartment--"
"You have an apartment?" Steve asks.
"I have an apartment," Danny confirms. "I'm in it right now, as a matter of fact. Unfortunately. I have a bank account that reads exactly five hundred dollars every day. Where does it come from? I don't know. Why five hundred? I have no idea. I'm just glad I can still get drunk."
Steve gets another flash, of Danny drinking his beer at the dining room table. The muscles in his neck had arched and flexed. His Adam's apple bobbing. Steve swallows too, convulsive and quick, which is the only way he ever thinks about things like that.
"Yes," Danny says over the phone.
"Yes I know about that, too. I know about Tommy Edelstein in ninth grade and, what, those three or four guys while you were on deployment, depending on how you count this sorta thing. Two guys jerking off in close quarters without talking about it does not necessarily equal mutual masturbation, my friend, but we're going by your screwed-up scale, so, five times. It'd probably be a whole lot more, because hell, football? Navy? Police? You put yourself around guys because that's what you really want, except they all tell you not to touch so you look and keep your hands behind your back. And thank you, by the way, for that mental image of me in a Speedo. I'm both flattered and likely to have nightmares."
Steve's neck feels hot, though he's not sure if it's embarrassment or anger. Probably both. Even Catherine, the handful of times that they were stationed close enough to get close, never made him talk about it--and how much had that helped, the masculine way that she brushed aside conversations in favor of the act itself? But Danny, Danny with his pompadour hair and square shoulders and buzz of pure goodness, is all emotion. They're all right there on the surface, daring Steve to flinch.
Steve McGarrett is not a coward--or at least he's not when he doesn't have to look Danny in the face for this conversation--so he unclenches his jaw and spits out, "Can't blame a man for thinking."
It's the first thing he's ever said about it out loud. Nothing--never, in the five times, had words been exchanged. And now they are, even if they're a single sentence in exchange for a diatribe. Steve prays that Danny understands that's all he can manage, and then realizes that he doesn't have to pray, because Danny does know.
Sure enough, Danny snorts and grumbles, "Wow, you sure know how to sweet-talk a guy," like it's nothing, like Steve hasn't been laid bare to the bone. Danny adds, "Also, I'm offended on behalf of my legs. I'm not some kind of basement dwelling teenage goth, okay."
"Fine," Steve says, gutting it out, "any time I think about your legs they'll be properly tanned, okay? Happy?"
"Happy? Am I happy?" Danny draws in a long breath and lets it out again. Steve straightens a little. "I'm sitting alone in my shitty, afterlife-appointed apartment, with the Weather Channel on. I get cable, by the way. I don't know if they thought basic cable would be a replacement for real life or what, but I've got it. I'm caught up on Extreme Home Makeover and every episode of Law & Order, ever. When I'm not here I follow around this guy who has no idea, okay--he has no idea how easy it could be to die. I caught two rounds in the chest over an iPhone and boom, that was it. That was all the time I got. It's that easy and he's got no idea...or maybe he does. I haven't looked at that part of him yet 'cause it'd piss me off too much to find out he wants to throw it all away. So I do what I can to keep him alive.
"And I got this girl. Eight years old, smart as a whip. I love her more than anything, man, but if I went to see her she wouldn't know me. She's gonna grow up and grow old and I'll be in the same world as her but she'll never even know. The clueless guy, he's watching out for her and...and that means. It means a lot, to me." Danny's breath catches, just for a second. "I don't have a lot to go on. Just him and her, you know? So. Yeah. Am I happy? I don't know, man. My girl's alive. My guy's alive. It's a good day. Yeah, I'm about as happy as I get."
Steve clears his throat. "I went by and saw them last Friday. The sting against the housing commissioner came through--he's got no reason to go after them now."
"Don't--I shouldn't talk to you about them," Danny says, sounding like the words are being ripped right out of his guts.
"Okay. Okay," Steve murmurs softly. "How 'bout if I just sit here and think about them for a bit?"
When Danny doesn't answer Steve shifts a little on the couch, letting his head rest on the cushions, and very carefully remembers everything he can about going to check on Rachel and Grace the last time. Rachel had invited him in for coffee, carefully asking about every detail of the case against the housing commissioner in a way that Steve respected: analytical, calculated, with an attention to detail. Steve could see the cop's wife in her, hashing out the litigation in all the lingo that Steve himself was just beginning to learn. Grace had come bounding in halfway through, wearing the gi from the jiu jitsu class that Steve had suggested, her twin braids swinging. She'd looked like a little ninja, demonstrating stances for them on the kitchen tiles while her mother had laughed and Steve had corrected her footing.
In his ear, Danny sighs. It's a sad but grateful sound. He doesn't say anything but Steve still smiles, letting the light inside the Edwards' many-windowed house fill his memory until the doorbell rings for his pizza.
It's another day and another chase. Steve's sprinting after some drug kingpin, pursuing him through a construction site. They pass heavy equipment and staring construction workers; Steve wants to shout at someone to trip the guy up, but he can't spare the breath and he wouldn't trust any of them to help, anyway.
He's only ever trusted himself, really. If he can't do it, no one can.
Ahead of them Steve can see a large square opening in the wall of the building, probably intended for one of those fancy floor-to-ceiling windows that big-name businesses love. The drug runner reaches the opening and leaps out. There's a wooden scaffolding about eight feet over, connecting two parts of the building. The drug runner arcs towards it, his feet braced for hard landing. Steve flings himself forward.
Except at the very last second before he reaches the ledge, Steve thinks, Gracie.
There's a support beam right next to the opening in the wall. Flailing out with one hand, Steve grabs it. Momentum still takes his feet out into open space. He hisses in pain as he bangs his knee on the outside of the wall. For a dizzy second he's clinging to the outside of the building and then Kono appears in the opening and grabs the back of his vest, hauling him inside.
Behind him there's the sound of wood cracking and a shout that turns into a wail. The sound travels quickly downward and cuts off with a crash.
Steve finds his feet and twists around. Thirty feet below, the perp is lying on his back in the alleyway in a mess of broken timber: it looks like the platform collapsed under him. It also looks like his leg's twisted up beneath him. He's alive, though, if all the moaning is anything to go by. Chin Ho is already at the head of the alley, moving in with backup and calling for an ambulance.
Beside him, Kono peers over the edge, too. "That looks like it hurt."
"Jesus," Steve mumbles. His heart roars in his ears.
When he shows up at the ER with a swollen knee and some scrapes, the nurses look shocked. When it turns out to be nothing more serious than some bruising, they look downright stunned.
Kono and Chin Ho pick Steve up from the hospital with a six-pack and a full confession from the perp. They're getting good at this--or maybe they've always been good, and Steve's just learning to trust them to do more than just their jobs for him.
The three of them head up to Kalikalaue Point and watch the sun go down. By unspoken agreement they don't talk about work: Kono tells them surfing stories and they discuss the best boards. That segues into she and Chin Ho trying to one-up each other with embarrassing childhood incidents. For the first time it feels like Steve's not just their hardass boss; that's one thing Danny had right, he's never taken his hands out from behind his back with anyone. Not just to touch, but to reach out. It feels a little awkward to do it now, since half the stories he could tell are classified, but the air is warm and the beer is cold so he tries. It feels good.
Chin Ho takes off after twilight, lifting a hand in farewell as he guns his bike down the road. Kono gives Steve a lift to his house, fussing about his knee even though it barely hurts. Steve lets her.
When he walks in the front door, Danny is sitting at the dining room table again, his back straight and his eyes trained on the front door.
"What're you doing here?" Steve blurts, startled by the full-color sight of him. He'd been preparing himself to never actually see Danny again.
"I," Danny says grandly, "am off probation. I am a free man, free to do what I want, where I want. Except urinating in public because damn, son, I have some pride."
"What? How? Why?"
"Because apparently, my friend, I am a genius." Danny grins, slightly manic at the edges, and spreads his arms. "I am the goddamned Steven James McGarrett whisperer."
Steve squints at him, slowly easing his gear down to rest on the floor by his feet. "Whaddya mean?"
"Three guardians! Three whole guardians they went through before me. There was a reason they gave me your case, okay, in spite of the whole obvious Grace and Rachel thing. They were desperate--three they went through, and no one else wanted the job except for me. And lookit this, you're alive! You didn't jump!"
"Jump? At the--"
"The construction site, yeah. You coulda jumped, you would have, and you would've gotten hurt because you're an idiot who thinks your life doesn't matter unless you're giving it up for someone else, but just this once, you stopped. You had a reason to stop."
Steve thinks back to that moment at the ledge, when he'd thought-- "You did that."
"And I didn't even mean to, but don't you goddamn tell any of them that. I gave you a reason, and okay, it was my reason, but you can totally have it. You can totally live for her, I have absolutely zero complaints. She's okay, you're okay, I'm--well, I'm still here. Goddamn I want to buy the world a Coke right now."
Steve stares at Danny's flushed, exuberant face for a moment, at the bright flash of his teeth, then shuffles past him up the stairs. It's a slow climb; his knee twinges, reminding him that yes, bruising still hurts. Danny gets up from the table and follows him to the second level, talking all the while.
"I mean, they're not exactly crazy about the whole thing, you know, but given the typical level of insanity involved in keeping you alive on a day-to-day basis, I think they're willing to cut me some slack so long as I keep getting results, 'cause Jesus, it's not like anyone else has. The last guy only lasted a week before he quit--'pparently you drove a Humvee through a minefield and that was it for him."
"I had a map of the active mines," Steve protests, muffled by his shirt as he pulls it off over his head.
Danny scoffs. "You had a hand-drawn map on the back of a postcard. Point for ingenuity, but negative five thousand for sense. And it's not even like you didn't know the risks, you know way too much about unconventional means of bodily harm, my friend, you need to maybe forget some of what you know, for the good of the world. I have seen things in the last four months that I cannot unsee, including how to use a loaf of bread as both a flotation device and a deadly weapon--oh hey, nice," Danny pauses to comment as Steve shucks his pants, kicking them underneath the bed, before re-launching with, "And then there was the time with the blender and seriously, who, who does that, who decides to bring a blender to a knife fight? Who looks at a PLUGGED-IN blender and thinks to use it as a weapon, with NO REGARD for the laws of electricity--"
Steve cuts him off by putting his hands on both sides of Danny's face and kissing him.
They hang there for a long moment, Danny's hands frozen in mid-gesture and Steve ducked down, his eyes pinched shut and his heart drumming. Then Danny breaks away and starts laughing like a maniac.
"Jesus, shut up," Steve groans, hanging onto the lifeline of Danny's collar.
"Make me," Danny says cheerfully, kicking off his shoes. He reaches for Steve's shoulders like a kid going for the top bar of the jungle gym. "What are you, nine feet tall, get down here."
It's all flying clothes and eager hands after that. A lamp gets knocked over. Danny's pushy, to the surprise of absolutely no one, and Steve--Steve has never done it like this before, sober and open-eyed in his father's house. He's just delirious enough with exhaustion to be overwhelmingly grateful when Danny takes charge.
Danny's skin is warm under his palms. Steve slides one hand up to cup the side of his throat. A strong pulse beats against his fingers, thrumming life, life with every stroke.
"Okay," Danny says a while later, breathless and sweaty and shaky and still laughing. "Okay, I don't mind still being able to feel this."