“I ought to kick your ass,” Freddie said, glowering up at Steve from his wheelchair. “But it looks like Wo Fat did enough of that already.”
Steve nodded. “I already got an earful from Danny.”
“Oh, I know. We had a long talk.” Freddie rolled back from the door. “Get in here.”
Every step made Steve aware of the bruises, burns and lacerations that covered his torso. His own fault because he didn’t want to take anything stronger than what he could get over the counter to handle the pain and discomfort.
The living room, as well as the rest of the house, was wheelchair accessible. The only exception was the nook with the big bay window, which was Stephanie’s play area. All of her toys were strewn on the brightly colored play mat and safely out of Freddie’s path.
Steve sat on the couch, shifting around until he found a position that wasn’t too uncomfortable. There was a hint of sympathy in Freddie’s eyes, but Steve knew he wasn’t going to be let off the hook that easy.
“You’ve got a thick skull, you know that?” Freddie crossed his arms, showing off his powerful biceps to good advantage. Whatever strength he lacked in his lower body he more than made up for in his arms and chest.
“I’ve been told. Look, I wanted to come over and say sor –”
“Don’t you dare say sorry to me!” Freddie snapped. “When are you gonna learn that you aren’t a one-man SEAL team? Do you have any idea what everyone went through to extract your sorry ass? Of all the stupid, ill-conceived ideas. I swear to god.”
Steve sighed. “I had to do it. Jenna –”
“We’re not talking about Jenna, or how she played you.”
“Will you let me finish a damn sentence?” Steve glared.
Stephanie came into the room, pigtails bouncing. “Daddy?” She skidded to a stop when she saw Steve, her eyes widening almost comically. “Unca ‘teve? You have owie?”
And okay, there was the guilt. Steve should’ve known better than to drop by before he’d healed up a bit more, but he hadn’t even thought of what Stephanie would think if she saw him. Her eyes welled up with tears and Steve thought he might just throw himself in front of the next available bus.
“Uncle Steve has an owie, but he’s okay,” Freddie said, using his soothing dad voice. “He’d probably feel better if you gave him a hug. Real gentle.”
Stephanie climbed up on the other end of the couch and crawled down to where Steve was sitting. He held his arms open and she gave him a hug, careful not to squeeze. She let go right away and pressed a wet kiss to his cheek.
“Unca ‘teve better?”
“Much better, sweetheart. Thank you.” Steve worked up a smile for her, even though his throat had gone achingly tight.
Danny was right. He was an idiot. A selfish, single-minded idiot. He’d put his friends at risk. Grace could’ve lost her father because of Steve. And he could’ve missed out on the chance to be part of Stephanie’s life.
“I know why you’re so driven to catch him,” Freddie said, leaving Wo Fat’s name out of the conversation while his daughter was in the room. “And I understand. But you need to understand that your father wasn’t your only family.”
Steve looked down at Stephanie’s little blonde head. She was curled up next to him, unsticking and re-sticking the Velcro closures on the pockets of his cargo pants.
“Your team would do anything for you. Every one of them. So would I.” Freddie rubbed at his eyes with the heel of his hand, and that expression of emotion made Steve’s own eyes burn.
“I know that, buddy.”
Steve didn’t know what he’d do without Freddie in his life. They’d had each other’s backs since BUD/S training. Freddie had nearly died during their mission to capture Anton Hesse, and Steve had been the one to carry him out of the jungle. When Victor Hesse killed Steve’s father Freddie had been there to share Steve’s grief and hold him up. Steve had no doubt that, if he’d been able, his friend would’ve made the trip with the rest of his team to North Korea.
Danny said Freddie was the one who contacted Joe White and helped coordinate the technical aspects of the rescue effort.
“Daddy ‘nack?” Stephanie asked.
“And nut butt!”
“And peanut butter,” Freddie agreed with a grin. “Kitchen taxi!”
Stephanie scrambled off the couch and up into her father’s lap. Freddie inclined his head, indicating that Steve should follow as they rolled off. It took him longer to push himself up off the couch than he liked.
By the time Steve got to the kitchen Freddie had already plucked an apple out of the bowl on the bi-level kitchen island and was using an apple slicer to easily cut it into wedges. Stephanie went to her snack cabinet and pulled out a plastic cup filled with peanut butter.
Steve helped himself to a bottle of water from the fridge; his hands still hurt when he had to grip things too tightly.
“Can I give you a piece of unsolicited advice?” Freddie asked once he had Stephanie squared away.
“Can I stop you?”
“I know you’re used to handling things on your own. But you should talk to someone. What you went through was traumatic, McGarrett. Believe me, I know.” Freddie rolled the wheelchair back and forth for emphasis.
Steve looked down at the bottle of water in his hands. He and Freddie’d had that same conversation after his father died. Steve hadn’t heeded his advice then, but this time was different.
“I already have an appointment scheduled.”
“He’s persistent,” Steve said wryly.
“You scared him, Steve,” Freddie said, his voice hushed. “You need to let him take care of you.”
He’d been a big fan of Danny Williams since Steve told him how he got his clock cleaned by Danny during their search for Victor Hesse. It had taken Danny a little longer to warm up to Freddie, but now they were thick as thieves.
“He doesn’t –”
“Trust me. He does.”
Steve just shrugged. He didn’t want to argue about that again. Freddie knew Steve had feelings for Danny that went beyond friendship or partners, just as he knew that Steve wouldn’t act on those feelings. There were too many variables, too many ways things could go wrong, and Steve wasn’t prepared to take those risks.
The front door opened and Freddie’s wife called out, “Mommy’s home!”
“In the kitchen!” Freddie hollered back.
Moments later Kelly came in, a canvas grocery bag in each hand. Steve immediately took them from her and set them on the counter. She looked at him in dismay.
“You should see the other guy,” Steve quipped.
“I’d sure like to,” Kelly said, narrowing her eyes.
“Get in line.” Freddie tugged her down onto his lap and gave her a kiss.
“Mama! Papple!” Stephanie called from the table. She had peanut butter smeared liberally across her face.
“I see!” Kelly gave Freddie on more kiss before she started putting the groceries away. “Are you staying for dinner?”
Steve shook his head. “I only stopped by to give Freddie proof of life. He didn’t believe me over the phone.”
“You’ll have to come back when you can stay longer. Here. Be a good uncle.” Kelly passed him a damp washcloth, which Steve used to swab the peanut butter off Stephanie’s face.
“Unca ‘teve go home?”
“That’s right,” he said. He pressed a kiss to the top of her head. “But I’ll see you soon, okay?”
“’kay.” Stephanie patted him on the cheek. “No more owie.”
“No more owie,” Steve promised.
He got a hug from Kelly, and a wheeled escort to the door. Freddie grabbed hold of his hand before he left.
“I’m glad you’re okay,” he said.
“Me too.” Steve gave Freddie’s hand a squeeze and headed home.
“That’s not creepy at all,” Steve said. He winced as he shifted position.
“Checking in, like I said I would. I’m a man of my word.” Danny held up a six-sided jar. “And I brought Tiger Balm.”
“Oh. Thanks.” Steve appreciated the gesture but he knew he wouldn’t be able to reach the really sore spots; Wo Fat had hung him by his wrists and he couldn’t comfortably lift his arms very high until his ligaments healed.
“Don’t thank me. Take you shirt off.”
Steve just stared at him, and had to fight the urge to cover himself with the blanket on the back of the chair. Danny stared right back at him.
“So you can strip out on the street in front of strangers, but with me you’re worried about your virtue? Shirt off, Steven. Let me help you for once.” Danny made no move to get up off the couch, as if he was afraid he’s spook his partner.
Remembering what Freddie had said, Steve dutifully started unbuttoning his shirt. He hadn’t wanted Danny to see the extent of his injuries, didn’t want to see pity in his eyes or get him all riled up again. But Danny just arranged them so that Steve was sitting on the ottoman, braced against the arm of the couch, while Danny sat behind him on the recliner and applied the balm.
“This stuff works really good on my knee,” Danny said conversationally.
Steve heard him unscrew the cap and braced himself, but Danny’s touch was gentle. The Tiger Balm was cool but not cold and he felt himself start to relax almost immediately.
Danny started at his left shoulder, slowly moving across to the right. He ghosted his fingers over the worst of the bruises, and used a bit more pressure on the clear areas. Steve’s skin felt warm and pleasantly tingly, and the minty smell was nice. He let his head drop.
“You know,” Danny said softly. “I’m a damn good cop. I like what I do. It’s important work. Regardless of the way Rachel sees it, I’m helping make the world safer for Grace.”
Steve made a noise of assent to show he was listening and that he agreed. He didn’t know where Danny was going with it but as long as Danny wasn’t yelling and kept rubbing the Tiger Balm into his aching muscles he didn’t much care.
“You know what doesn’t work? That whole lone cop thing they like to use in the movies. That guy isn’t getting anything accomplished on his own, I can tell you that my friend. He needs a partner, he needs backup, he needs a whole team of people providing him with information on suspects, victims, timelines.”
“Danny,” Steve said, because this was sounding like another lecture and he’d already had his fill. Danny shushed him.
“I’m talking now, Steven. You’re only job is to listen, okay? When I was still with Trenton PD my partner…my partner died. Killed in the line.”
Danny was still talking in hushed tones, and it was starting to feel to Steve like a confessional. He realized he didn’t know very much about Danny’s life prior to him moving to Hawaii. Did he really never ask any questions? Or was he too afraid of stirring up Danny’s homesickness, of being reminded that Danny didn’t want to be there?
“I resisted getting another partner after that. Thought I’d be better off on my own. But you know what? I wasn’t. My work suffered. I didn’t have anyone to bounce ideas off of, to tell me if I was looking at something the wrong way.” Danny’s hands moved down Steve’s spine, fingers spread, using just enough pressure not to tickle. “I didn’t want to be responsible for another human being, to have their life in my hands because I’d already failed that once and I didn’t want to go through that again.”
“It wasn’t your fault, Danny,” Steve said. “Whatever happened, I know you. You would’ve done everything in your power to keep your partner alive.”
“Grace,” Danny said. The name was soft on his lips, like a prayer. “Her name was Grace. I named my daughter after her, in remembrance.”
And penance, Steve added silently.
“I went a little off the rails, until the day my monkey was born. Nothing like being responsible for a fragile new life to get my head out of my ass. I needed a new partner, someone to watch my back and make sure I made it home every night.”
“I get it, okay?” Steve tried to turn him around but Danny held him in place, hands splayed across the small of Steve’s back.
“Do you? Because we may not be black ops or whatever other crazy SEAL training you went through, but we always – always – have your back. We’re your team, and it may not mean much to you but it means everything me, and Chin and Kono.”
Steve gave a little start when Danny leaned forward, resting his forehead in the space between Steve’s shoulder blades.
“It was so close, Steve. Another five or ten minutes, and you’d have been gone.”
Steve was finding it difficult to breathe. He’d been a little out of it, bouncing around in the back of that truck, but he remembered thinking that was it. Wo Fat would eventually kill him trying to get information about Shelburne, whoever or whatever that was, and Steve’s body would probably be left out in the jungle. His friends would never find him, never know what happened to him.
He remembered thinking about Stephanie and Gracie, and grieving the loss of them as if they were his own daughters, two little girls he’d never get the chance to see grow into women.
But his team had found him. Danny, despite the risks and the odds, had thrown together a rescue party and made an unsanctioned trip to North Korea, leaving everyone he loved behind on what could’ve been a suicide mission.
Jeez, all you talk about is ‘Danny this’ and ‘Danny that’. Just man up and tell him how you feel already.
Freddie had been telling Steve variations of the same for the last year and a half. He was one of the very few people who knew Steve was bisexual, and the only one who’d bothered to tell him that his friends-with-benefits relationship with Catherine had no future. Being with her was easy, though; he didn’t have to invest much of himself. Danny…he was the opposite of easy. Being with Danny would be explosive and passionate and had the potential to rip his heart out.
Feeling Danny take a shuddering breath was ripping his heart out too.
Steve nudged Danny back and turned around to look at him. Really look at him. His eyes were red and watery, and there was a tremor in his jaw. He was holding himself back, Steve realized. God, he was a fool.
“I’m sorry, Danno,” he said. “You’ll never know how fucking much.”
Later, he’d never be able to reconstruct how it happened. Danny had given him a look, a desperate, man-on-the-edge look, and the next thing Steve knew they were kissing, hard and frantic like they’d never get enough of each other. He didn’t know if he’d moved first, or if Danny had, but it really didn’t matter.
Danny’s soft, broken moans pushed back everything else for Steve: the pain, the guilt, all the noise in his head. The only things that existed for him in that moment were the warmth of Danny’s mouth, the gentle touch of his hands.
“Don’t ever do that again,” Danny panted in Steve’s ear.
Steve knew he didn’t mean the kissing. “I won’t.” Danny was the only one who could put the jagged pieces of Steve’s life back together. And maybe…maybe he could be that for Danny, too.
It wasn’t simple friendship or close partnership that put Danny in the jungle with a machine gun in his hands. It was the clearest declaration of love Steve had ever received, and he would never forget Danny opening the canvas flap on the back of that truck, as improbable as a guardian angel. Danny had taken a huge risk, and Steve could only do the same.
“Stay,” Steve whispered against Danny’s neck.
“I’m not going anywhere, babe,” Danny promised.
Went to check on Steve. Look what I found!
A picture popped up of Danny and Steve spooned up together in Steve’s recliner, which wasn’t really made for two, Danny’s arm wrapped protectively around Steve. They were both asleep.
Freddie grinned. About fucking time, he texted back.
Freddie set his phone down and gave his daughter his full attention. He’d give Kelly the good news after the pony rodeo playing out on the kitchen table wrapped up.
Maybe he could finally stop worrying about Steve.