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A Study in Touch

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Forty-five minutes down, fifteen to go, Steve thought to himself as he stared vacantly at Dr. Rosenthal. She was scribbling furiously in the notebook resting on her crossed legs, something she had been doing a lot lately in their bi-weekly sessions. On the few occasions he had tried to sneak a peek at what she was writing, she had shifted the notebook, putting it just out of reach of his prying eyes. He suspected that there was something in there about him that wasn't particularly flattering, but for the moment he couldn't care less.

Lynn had broken up with him the night before and in a moment of brutal honesty with himself, he couldn't blame her. They'd been seeing each other for over a year and a half and he hadn't committed to her in any significant way, or at least that's what she told him. She also didn't like that he never seemed upset when he had to cut a date short to go to work or that outside of their dates, she barely heard from him. But those complaints paled in comparison to the big one, the one she spent the bulk of her time talking about when she brought the axe down on their relationship.

Before the debacle that was their Valentine's day retreat, she had never, not once, spent an extended amount of time with Danny. They had met once in passing, when she was leaving in the morning and Danny was coming to pick him up for work, and once for a brief conversation outside the palace, Melissa spending most of those few minutes talking to Lynn while Steve and Danny bickered about Steve's degree of culpability in Danny needing physical therapy. It was with a knowing glint in her eyes that she reiterated these events and ended her speech with a damning indictment.

"Now I can see why."

Steve gaped at her, floundering for an explanation he knew he couldn't give, and in the end he didn't have to. She carried on talking, kind even as she ended a relationship that clearly meant a lot to her. That's what stung the most, that she was clearly hurting and he only felt bad that she was hurt, not for the reasons behind it. He supposed that very disconnect was exactly what Lynn was talking about before she left without so much as a look over her shoulder.

"And how do we feel about that, Commander?"

Caught off guard, Steve shifted in his chair and refocused on Dr. Rosenthal. "I'm sorry?"

"Danny was just saying that you two have been communicating better lately," she reiterated, her expression screaming that she doubted its validity. "Do you agree with him?"

"Sure, I guess."

Judging from the way her hand was quickly moving over her notebook, that had been the wrong answer. Steve looked over at Danny and saw that he was casting him a curious expression, one that said he knew something was wrong and that he was prepared to ask a million questions once they left, even if they had all the effect of a pebble hitting a brick wall. Steve almost smiled at the evident concern.

"Danny, I'm going to ask you a difficult question." Dr. Rosenthal looked up from her notebook and capped her pen. She looked grim faced and Steve knew, with a confidence he couldn't begin to explain, that whatever she had in her notebook was about to come back and bite him in the ass. "Do you believe that this renaissance you two are enjoying in your relationship is due to the effort of both parties? Or just yours?"

If Steve didn't know Danny as well as he did, he would have missed it; the tic in his jaw and the way his eyes widen just the slightest bit. He froze. Danny Williams, talker extraordinaire, had no idea what to say. Or, better yet, knew exactly what he wanted to say, but didn't want to say it. He was caught between his dual natures of being unwaveringly honest and protective, his need to tell the truth clashing with his need to protect Steve from it. Steve decided to save him the trouble.

"Yes."

Dr. Rosenthal's right eyebrow arched as she turned to look at him. "Yes?"

"Yes, Danny is the reason we have been doing better."

"That... is a very honest response, Steve," she said, a flash of approval lighting up her eyes for the first time in weeks. "For someone who shows concern for appearance, I would figure you would hesitate to cast yourself in a negative light."

"I don't care what people think of me."

"You care that you appear honorable and as someone who puts 110% into everything he does. The former would compel you to tell the truth, but the latter would prevent it because you are, in a sense, admitting defeat. You're admitting that he has put more effort into your relationship than you have."

Recognizing the truth in her assessment, Steve said nothing.

She leaned forward in her chair, obviously intrigued. "Why tell the truth, Commander?"

"Because one of two things would've happened. Either Danny would have lied and said we were contributing evenly, which would've made him feel bad because he hates lying and he would be difficult for the rest of the day; or he would have told the truth, that he was the one doing all the work, which also would have made him feel bad because he hates hurting people and he would be difficult for the rest of the day. It was a lose-lose situation."

"What's interesting about your statement is that the callousness of it belies its concern."

Under Dr. Rosenthal's piercing gaze, Steve suddenly sympathized with the frog he had to dissect in high school. Cut open with someone poking around his insides. "What are you saying?"

"That your decision to confess you weren't contributing revolved entirely around Danny's emotional response. In effect, you threw yourself under the bus to spare him from having to do it."

Before Steve could figure out an appropriate response, he heard a cough to his side and saw Danny's torn expression. He had nearly forgotten he was there during his tête-à-tête with Dr. Rosenthal.

"Listen, Steve... the issues we were having weren't his fault. He -"

"Detective -"

Danny put a hand up to stop her. "No, please, let me finish. Steve has always been good with compartmentalizing his issues, I haven't. A lot of bad shit has happened to me over the past few years and I threw them all at his feet, expecting him to pick up the slack just because -"

Steve felt like he was watching a train wreck, every word coming out of Danny's mouth making it worse. "Danny, no. I -"

"Let me say my piece, Steve," he interrupted, turning back to Dr. Rosenthal. "The truth is, Steve didn't have to change anything because he's still the same crazy, reckless person I met eight years ago. I changed, and not for the better. After the whole transplant thing, I just - I don't know, decided to let all the bad shit go and start fresh. It was a wake-up call."

"It's usually the recipient of the organ that refers to the experience as a wake-up call. Why do you think of it as one?"

"Because it made me realize that me putting my shit aside so we could do better was only possible because he was alive. He's alive and I'm just - I'm just happy he's alive. It's enough." Danny turned away from them and wiped at his nose. "It should've always been enough."

Biting down on the soft flesh of his lower lip, Steve controlled his feelings. He'd long ago figured out that Danny was his emotional conduit to the world, constantly expressing himself and, unknowingly, doing the work for Steve as well. It was a relief to know that he was expressing himself somehow, even in his most stoic moments, but the downside was that when Danny exhibited an emotional extreme, he felt it as strongly as if it were he himself experiencing it. When Danny was furious, Steve felt fire in his veins. When he was happy, he could feel the sun in his fingertips.

When Danny was soul crushingly sad, Steve felt closer to death than he ever had with a gun pointed at him.

"Steve, would you like to respond?"

"I, um -," Steve started, coughing to clear his throat. "I really don't know what to say." Which wasn't necessarily true, but saying nothing was the smarter move by far.

Dr. Rosenthal seemed to accept his lack of adequate response for once and Steve was grateful. She nodded and put aside her notebook, her pen resting in the curve of the spine. Rubbing her hands together with a smile, she seemed to try to be summoning a lighter mood than was currently permeating the room.

"Thank you both for your participation today. I think we're making good progress in not only assessing where the improvement in your relationship is coming from, but continuing its progress." Her sincerity shined through her eyes and Steve appreciated it in the face of being so emotionally raw. "Now, I do have homework for you to complete before our next session in two weeks."

"If it's another notebook, I quit."

"No, Detective Williams, not another notebook," she said with a chuckle. "It's much simpler but more - I guess the correct word would be effective. It is unconventional, though. I've never used it in my practice here."

"You're using us as Guinea pigs?"

"Hardly, Commander. It's a long proven method of fostering trust and a general feeling of pleasantness between two persons."

"Which is?" Danny asked, looking interested despite himself.

"Touch. Numerous studies have found that touch increases feelings of connection and understanding in relationships, especially long term ones. People who've known each other for a substantial amount of time can convey a whole array of emotions, even ideas, through a simple touch. I believe an exercise in touch could greatly benefit your relationship at this juncture."

Danny laughed, seeming to get a kick out of the idea. "So, what you're saying is you want me to touch Steve? I touch him all the time."

"How often would you estimate?"

"I don't know, it's not like I keep track."

"Steve? How often do you think he touches you? And vice versa?"

"I don't know," Steve said, not liking the path this conversation was going one bit. It felt dangerous. "I know I touch him every day, but I couldn't say how often."

"Who do you think touches the most?"

"Definitely me," Danny said, pointing at himself. "I come from a very loud, very affectionate family. We were constantly touching each other."

Dr. Rosenthal seemed to mull over his comment for a second before replying. "Would it be fair to say you touch Steve out of affection?"

"Absolutely. He's a Neanderthal, but he is family and I love him. If I wasn't touching him it would mean something was wrong."

"Really? How so?"

"When we weren't doing so good last year, I barely touched him and he barely touched me. I knew he was hurting and everything in me wanted to reach out, but I knew he didn't want me to. There were times I could tell he didn't even want me anywhere near him, which - truth be told - hurt, but I respected his space. Eventually we didn't touch at all, unless out of necessity."

"Which you didn't like," she remarked in such a way as to show it wasn't a question.

"No," Danny affirmed, unabashed by the truth. "Not at all."

"And you Steve? Did you notice the lack of touch?"

"Yes." Steve shifted uncomfortably in his seat, remembering some of their worse days vividly. "When he's happy, he touches a lot; if he's not, he doesn't. It was a good day if he touched me. I knew even then that I should've reached out and done something, but - unlike him - I did not come from a very affectionate family. I didn't know how."

"Then this is going to be very good for both of you. The assignment is simple: reach out and touch the other three times a day. A tap on the arm, pat on the back. Anything goes as long as you reach out. Incidental touches don't count, nor ones of necessity, but everything else is fair game."

Steve looked over at Danny and was surprised to see him looking deep in concentration. "So if I smack him when he's bad it counts as one?"

Holding in his laughter only worked for a second. Steve laughed, feeling a weight lift off his shoulders that had been there since the session had turned serious and more introspective than he preferred. "And when I hit him back that counts as one for me?"

"Sorry, boys, but only the initial smack in this colorful, and hopefully fictional, situation would count. The hit back would be a reciprocal touch, which is definitely encouraged, but doesn't count towards the tally."

Dr. Rosenthal dismissed them after they agreed to the assignment and scheduled their next appointment. They walked out of the building in companionable silence until they got to the car and Danny didn't hand him the keys, instead leaning against the driver's side door.

"Alright, out with it. What happened?"

Deciding avoidance wouldn't accomplish anything, Steve shrugged and tried to sound as nonchalant as possible. "Lynn broke up with me last night."

"Oh, babe, I'm sorry. I know you liked her." Danny reached out and pulled him into a hug, Steve going willingly. He rubbed his hands soothingly on Steve's back, the sensation calming him. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine."

"You sure?"

Steve smiled, Danny's concern making him feel better than he'd been since Lynn walked out the door. "Yes, Danno, I'm sure."

"See that, right there, that pointed 'Danno,' just got you put in the doghouse for a week."

Snatching the keys out of Danny's hand, Steve rolled his eyes. "And what is the Danno equivalent of the doghouse?"

Danny gave him a deceptively sweet smile as he opened the passenger side door. "Before we go anywhere, whether it be the bar or Kamekona's, I'm checking your pockets for your wallet."

"You wouldn't dare."

Steve could hear Danny laughing from inside the car.

Walking into HQ, Steve saw Danny leaning against the comp table scrolling through a case file on his tablet. Sunlight was pouring in through the windows, making his hair look almost bleached rather than its usual gold. It was the first time he'd seen Danny since therapy and wanting to get in his first touch of the day, but unwilling to start World War III, Steve placed a hand on his back rather than his hair.

"What have we got?"

Danny lifted a hand from his hold on the tablet and tapped Steve's stomach, probably in an unconscious gesture since he was always one to reciprocate touch if he wasn't the one to initiate it in the first place.

"Chief of police's cousin was murdered sometime over the weekend," he replied distractedly as he started scrolling again. "HPD started the investigation, but Governor Mahoe fears bias and conflicts of interest, so she's given the case to us."

"That's not gonna make us any friends over in HPD."

"You have a gift for understatement, babe."

Steve smiled at the endearment. "Crime scene still intact?"

"The body has been removed, but yes, it's still taped off."

"Wanna go check it out?"

Shaking his head, Danny put down his tablet and looked up at Steve. "Can't. Chief said, and I quote, 'keep that bastard Williams out of my sight.'"

"Excuse me?" Steve asked crossly. If there was one thing he wouldn't stand for, it was someone disparaging any member of his team. "He has no right to say who can work this case and who can't. You're my partner, if I want you out there -"

"- you'll just have to settle for thinking about me the whole time," Danny ended with a smile. "Listen, me and the chief go way back and when he found out about the reassignment, he got a target for his grief. It's fine. You can work it with Chin, he's already getting ready."

Steve stared Danny down and drummed his fingers on the table as he mulled over that little nugget of information. "Chief Jonas is a nice enough guy. What did you do to piss him off?"

Danny put his hands on his hips and looked up at him indignantly. "And what the hell makes you think it's my fault?"

"Because, while you are normally a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day, there are moments where you are the clouds."

"Oh, I see. We're back to that whole 'Danny is a black hole of despair' thing, aren't we?"

"I didn't call you that."

"You were drunk, how would you know?"

"I was drunk, not shitfaced," Steve insisted, confident in his ability to hold his liquor if nothing else. "I remember that conversation and I absolutely did not call you a 'black hole of despair.'"

"Yeah? Do you remember turning over and talking to me because 'the therapist said we shouldn't go to bed angry?'" he asked, air quotes and all.

Before Steve could retort, he saw Kono, Chin, and Lou watching them out of the corner of his eye. Scrambling for a way to explain what Danny had just said, he blurted out, "It's not what it sounds like." Even to his own ears, it sounded suspect.

Kono turned turned away with a hand over her mouth, her shoulders shaking with quiet laughter. Chin's mouth was a thin line of suppressed amusement and Lou, taking a large bite out of his doughnut, said, "Yeah, I'm sure" before turning around and retreating to his office, leaving Steve just as lost for a reply as he had been.

"Way to set them straight, Steve." Danny chuckled as he picked up his tablet again. He patted Steve on his chest, right above his heart, and walked towards Chin, thumbing towards him over his shoulder. "Make sure he doesn't burn down the island."

"I'll do my best," Chin replied with a smirk.

Steve made a show of checking to make sure his gun and badge were clipped onto his belt before following Chin to the door, pointing at Kono and saying, "Don't get any ideas" as he walked out. If her overly innocent expression was anything to read into, she already had way too many.

Reviewing the case as they made their way out to Pearl City, Steve flipped through the police report and crime scene photos already uploaded to the cloud server as Chin drove. For reasons he couldn't parse out, he never tried to take Chin's keys whenever he rode in the Mustang. He was content to just take the passenger's seat and enjoy the ride, which Danny pointed out with much ire. In this case, it was nice because it meant he got to catch up on the case since Chin had already gone through it.

Lucky for them, Chief Jonas wasn't there for Steve to act frosty towards when they arrived, so they were able to quickly get to work. The body of Michael Close was found seated at his grand piano, a single gunshot wound to the head that appeared self-inflicted, but the gun was still in his hand. It was a stupid mistake murderers often made when staging a murder to look like a suicide because any detective worth their salt could tell you that actual suicide victims were never found with the gun still in their hand. Both Steve and Chin expressed irritation at not seeing the body in the scene since it could turn into a difficult case. With no body to look over, they uploaded the contents of his computer hard drive to Five-0's private server and took to other avenues of investigating the case.

Hours of interviews with the neighbors turned up no leads and a call from Lou told them that he and Danny found nothing suspicious in his financial records and that Kono was still working through his computer, but that wasn't looking promising either. Steve was annoyed by the lack of leads to pick up on and when lunchtime came around, he decided to call it a day at the scene. In a surprising move, Chin handed Steve the keys to the Mustang when they walked outside.

"What's this for?"

"You've driven everyone else's car," Chin said as he got in. "The Mustang was starting to feel left out."

"Can't have that." Steve turned the engine on and enjoyed the purr of the powerful engine. As he pulled onto the street, he remembered Dr. Rosenthal's assignment and the fact that the work day was already over half way through. "Oh, shit. Here. Could you text Danny for me?" he asked as he handed Chin his cellphone.

"Sure. What do you want me to say?"

"Say, 'this is me keeping in touch.' And capitalize touch."

When Chin didn't move after a few seconds, Steve glanced over and saw Chin casting him an amused glare.

"What? What's wrong?"

"Please don't make me do your flirting for you."

"I - what?" Steve stuttered, looking at Chin in shock. "I'm not flirting with Danny."

"Really? Because this text message I'm typing would beg to differ." Chin typed for a few more seconds before he put down his phone in the cup holder. "The things I do for my ohana," he mumbled under his breath.

"Chin, I swear I'm not flirting with him."

"I know, because technically I just did."

Steve laughed at his over-exaggerated sullen tone. "I swear. I'm not flirting with him, vicariously or not."

"I should consult Lynn. See if she would agree."

He knew Chin was just kidding, but it hit a little too close to home for Steve. Chin immediately caught onto his shift in mood and touched his arm comfortingly.

"Hey, you okay? Did I say something?"

"No, it's just -," Steve started, laser focusing on the road. "Lynn broke up with me this weekend."

"Steve, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean any offense."

"No, I know. It's okay." Steve reached for Chin's hand on his arm and squeezed it in reassurance before he dropped it. "I haven't told anyone yet. Well, Danny knows but that's because we had therapy yesterday."

"Are you okay? Do you need anything from me?"

"No, I'm okay." Steve knew that on some level that shouldn't be true, but it was. He really was okay and he felt a flicker of guilt about that. "It was just a shock is all."

Chin rubbed a finger across his lips, which for him was a nervous tic. He stayed silent for a few more moments before he looked back at Steve.

"If it's out of my place to ask, tell me, but were you in love with her?"

It was with a heavy heart Steve shook his head and replied with a firm, "No." Feeling like it sounded too harsh on its own, he decided to elaborate. "I love her as a friend, but in love with her, no. Why?"

"Is that why she called it off?"

Steve considered it a gift and a curse to be able to read people's tones so well. He was especially good at reading people he knew and right now, he could tell Chin was circling around what he really wanted to ask. Feeling like he did when he was fourteen and about to jump into a pool he knew was freezing cold, he cut to the heart of the issue. If he could talk to anyone about it and trust them to guide him through with a level head, it was Chin.

"She broke up with me because of Danny."

"Seriously?" Chin asked with evident surprise. "Are you - were you sleeping with him?"

"No. I've never slept with him, no matter how bad that comment this morning sounded."

"Do you want to?"

Steve knew his lack of reply was reply enough.

"Okay, so you weren't sleeping with him, but he's the reason she broke it off. What happened?"

"You remember that Valentine's day retreat I went on with her? The same one Danny was on because our girlfriends planned it that way?" When Chin acknowledged that he did, Steve continued. "Well, it turns out that retreat was a test of sorts. She wanted to know why we never spent time with Danny even though she heard about him all the time, so she planned the retreat with Melissa to see how we are when we're together. Apparently, I failed pretty spectacularly."

"What did you do?" Chin was turned in his seat to face him, listening intently.

"According to her, I was almost exclusively focused on Danny. There was a bunch of things she didn't like that I said or did, but what she really hated was the way - was the way I touch him. She said I don't touch her that way and..." Steve trailed off, knowing there was no way around how bad it sounded because it really was that bad.

"How did you touch him?"

Pulling into the parking lot near Kamekona's, Steve parked the car and unbuckled, turning to face Chin. "In my defense, I didn't realize I was doing it."

"Steve, that's probably the point," he said gently. Before he could ask what he meant, Chin started again. "How did you touch him?"

"I had my arm around him while we ate and I, um, I flicked his ear, I guess."

Chin looked at him in confusion. "Why would she be upset that you flicked his ear? That hurts."

"It was the way I did it," Steve replied, heat working its way up his neck.

"Show me how you did it."

When Steve looked ready to protest, Chin waved his hand in a very Danny-like way that said 'come on, hurry up.' Sighing, he scooted closer to Chin and put his arm around him, lifting his thumb to lightly flick his ear like he had with Danny that night. Chin looked at him in disbelief after he did and then put his face in his hands.

"What?" he asked defensively. "I was just being playful, trying to make him relax, you know? He always gets so worked up in romantic situations."

Chin rubbed his hands over his face and when he looked up, he looked simultaneously amused and exhausted. "Steve, you flirted with him right in front of your girlfriends."

"I did not!"

"Yes, you did. No!" he interjected when Steve started to protest. "You did. If Lynn had done that to someone else she was interested in, you would know she was flirting with them."

"She didn't know I'm interested in Danny."

"Trust me, she knew. Women's intuition is second to none. She obviously already suspected that's why she always heard about Danny but never saw him, which is why she set up a way to watch you two interact. When you did that, it all fell into place for her, I guarantee it."

Steve leaned back in the seat until his head was resting on the backrest. He felt terrible, not having considered that the gesture would look so flirtatious. He really had just been trying to be playful to make Danny relax. No wonder Lynn was so upset, she obviously read further into the gesture than he intended.

"Plus, you said you didn't even realize you were doing it, which I assume was both the ear flick and your arm around him. Those are intimate gestures, especially since you said you kept it around him. I believe you when you say you didn't realize you were doing it, but that's the point. Whether you were doing it on purpose or not, you were seeking intimacy with him in a romantic situation."

"So you're basically saying I did the emotional equivalent of kicking her while she was down?"

"No. I'm saying that the real question you need to be asking is why you were seeking intimacy with him in a romantic situation and not your girlfriend."

Silence pervaded the car for a few moments, Steve contemplating how much he'd potentially put Lynn through. It wasn't fair to her, what he did, and he was happy that she got the pleasure of dumping him, even though she probably didn't appreciate it right now. He liked her a lot, enjoyed spending time with her and the sex had been great, but his heart had never been in it. She had been a rebound after Catherine and if he was honest with himself, Catherine had ultimately turned into a way for him to hide away from his feelings for Danny in the loving arms of someone he had once been in love with. Chin was right, he sought intimacy anyway he could with Danny, even to the detriment of other relationships. Steve privately acknowledged that emotionally, he was a fucking mess.

"Steve, are you in love with Danny?"

Swallowing his pride, Steve opened his eyes and looked at Chin, who looked far more understanding and compassionate than he deserved. "Yeah. I think I've always been a little in love with him."

"He's one hell of a guy."

Thinking about Danny repeatedly saying 'chicken salad,' Steve smiled. "That he is."

"God, you're so in love you can't see straight," Chin said with mock disgust.

"Pun intended?"

"Not at the time, but it is now," he laughed. Leaning over, he smacked Steve's arm. "Come on. Let's go be manly and eat spicy shrimp till we're crying our eyes out and our noses are dripping."

"Doesn't that defeat the purpose?"

"I'd offer to buy you a round of shots or shoot a grenade launcher, but we're on the clock and Danny made me promise no property damage."

Steve laughed and sat up, ready to get out of the car, but then he heard a weird buzzing sound. Looking down, he saw the notification light on his cellphone blink and before he could reach for it, Chin picked it up. He rolled his eyes at whatever he saw.

"You two are the worst."

"What did I do this time?"

Flipping the phone, Chin held it so Steve could see that on the screen was Danny's reply to his text message.

cute, Steven *middle-finger thing*

"Did he really type 'middle-finger thing?'"

"This is the man you've chosen to love, Steve. Better start getting used to his curmudgeonly ways."

"I've been dealing with them for eight years. I think I could medal in dealing with his curmudgeonly ways." Wanting to get back at Chin, he smiled his most charming smile and enthusiastically said, "Hey, I have the perfect reply! Type -"

Chin dropped his phone in his lap and turned to get out of the car. "Type it yourself. I refuse to flirt with him for you ever again."

~~~

"You alright, babe?"

Looking up from Michael Close's autopsy report, Steve rubbed at his eyes to get rid of the itchy feeling he got whenever he looked at something for too long. He leaned back in his chair and watched Danny walk around the side of his desk to lean against it beside him, crossing his arms with a look of concern.

"Autopsy report just came in," Steve said, sounding more world weary than his years would normally warrant.

"Oh, yeah? Anything interesting?"

"Yeah. Close killed himself."

Danny frowned in surprise, much like he had when he first combed through the report. "How? The crime scene was staged, gun still in hand. That doesn't happen in real suicides."

"He had a condition called Dupuytren's contracture. It made tiny tumors grow in the soft tissue of his hands, which limited finger extension and caused some of his fingers to start to curl inwards. After he shot himself, the gun stayed in his hand because of the condition. I think Noelani felt bad for getting excited about it because she'd never seen it outside of textbooks, but I told her Max once got excited about piecing together three different bodies from a bomb scene, so she didn't feel as bad anymore."

"I remember that. Morbid little bastard," he said with a fond smile. "So he killed himself because he had the condition? Is it painful or something?"

"According to Noelani, no, not really. You can get corrective surgery, but it is reoccuring and he would never get full extension back."

"But then why suicide? Just because he would never have full extension of some fingers is no reason to kill himself."

"He was a pianist. World renowned, in fact." Steve leaned forward and pressed play on one of his pieces on Youtube. The melody sounded all the more haunting now that he knew what happened to the composer. "He also played violin and at least five other instruments. The disease was essentially a death sentence for his career." Tapping his fingers on the desk, he imagined they were moving over the keys of a piano. "His body betrayed him."

Danny's hand covered his, his fingers squeezing his comfortingly to stop their movement. Steve clasped his hand back and absently noted their difference in skin tone. Danny was only a shade or two lighter than him now.

"Are you identifying with him?" he asked gently.

Steve looked up at him, unnerved. "I'm not suicidal."

"I didn't say you were," he reassured him. "But you do know what it's like to have your body betray you."

"Through no fault of my own," Steve mumbled, taking to focusing on their clasped hands again.

"Doesn't mean it didn't hurt." Danny rubbed his thumb soothingly along the back of his hand. "The Navy officially discharged you because your body isn't what it used to be. When you lost your liver, you also lost your career."

Shaking his head, he looked back up at Danny. "No. This is my career. I've had time to think about it and I'm proud of what I did while in the Navy, but I feel like it was just preparation for this job. The good I'm doing, it's tangible here. I see it every day. Here with you and Kono, Chin, and Lou, this is what I was destined for. It hurt when they let me go, but this is more than enough."

Danny's smile was incandescent and he squeezed his hand tighter, Steve returning the pressure. As the moment hung in the air, he catalogued it as another one of those moments, the ones that seemed to happen more often now that they were touching each other so frequently. He wondered if it was just him that felt that way, if maybe Danny felt it too, but asking would be crossing a line they never crossed. They came close to it a lot, treading the edges before backing away, but there was always too much in the way to ever take that final step.

Only three days into the assignment and Steve was already contemplating if it was really worth it to keep stepping back from that line.

"Dinner and a movie?" Danny asked, snapping Steve out of his reverie. "Pizza's on you."

"On me?" he challenged.

"You're in the doghouse, remember? I saw you put your wallet in this drawer right here earlier." Danny disconnected their hands and pointed down at the drawer his leg was pressed against. "Which means dinner is on you."

Making sure to wear his best scowl, Steve turned off the music and unlocked his cellphone, hitting the speed dial key for Danny's favorite pizza place. "Fine. Then move your ass," he said as he swatted at Danny's hip.

Danny backed away with a smirk on his face, flopping onto the couch as he happily watched Steve place their order. His smirk turned into the stink eye, though, when Steve made a point of ordering his ham and pineapple pizza before Danny's classic pepperoni, but it didn't last long. When Steve had to read off his credit card number to pay, he started laughing. Not even throwing a crumpled up post-it note at him deterred his delight at Steve's suffering.

After they picked up the pizzas, they made their way back to Steve's. Danny changed into a pair of comfortable clothes he kept in Steve's closet for such occasions while Steve set their pizzas and drinks out on the table in the living room. When Danny reappeared, Steve was pulling up the apps menu on the TV.

"Which one should I log into?"

"Depends," Danny replied as he sat down next to him on the couch. "Jurassic Park, Spectre, or Terminator 2?"

"They're all tempting, but I still haven't seen Spectre."

"Spectre it is. Log into Hulu."

Once Steve started the movie, he grabbed a slice of pizza and sat back, laying his arm along the back of the couch. Danny got the hint and after he picked up a slice, he slid under Steve's arm and got comfortable. Steve didn't know how the prolonged contact would have counted towards his daily tally, but he did know that as he pulled Danny in close, he put a toe over the line and kept it there.

~~~

"You need to get your shit together."

Looking away from his fishing pole, Steve swallowed his gulp of water. "I'm sorry?"

"Did you really think I agreed to be stranded away from land on a boat with you knowing what happened last time if I didn't have something important to say?" Lou balked as he waved his arms around as if to encompass their situation. "So I say again, you need to get your shit together."

"You like fishing," Steve replied flippantly, already having a good idea of where the conversation was going.

Lou glared at him. "I also like not suffering at the hands of you and Danny mooning over each other."

"We're not mooning over each other."

"Right, and my great-Aunt Phyllis was telling the truth when she said she invented the poodle skirt."

"Wow. I didn't know your great-Aunt Phyllis was a designer."

"Shut up, McGarrett." Lou laughed at him and sat down, turning his seat so he could look at him. "Out with it. What took your casual flirting to full fledged pining in a matter of days?"

Steve rolled his eyes, abandoning his pole for a seat. "What makes you think there's anything there in the first place?"

"Well, for one, you're not denying the insinuation that you're anything but straight, which even the most accepting straight guy would do. Second, I've worked with both of you for years and been your friend. I know what it looks like when things are bad between you two and when they're good. This is different."

Accepting the inevitability of the conversation, Steve crossed his arms defensibly and wondered how best to approach it. Lou was a straight forward kind of guy who didn't like avoidance or sugar-coating, but it was a conversation about a sensitive subject he himself was still having difficulty understanding in its totality. This was about his heart and he didn't like being emotionally flayed open. It made him feel vulnerable and open to attack, susceptible in a way he couldn't defend against.

But Lou was a good friend, and for all his abrasive edges, he would never purposely hurt him. He would listen, let Steve talk himself in circles until he came to some sort of conclusion, all the while guiding him with some pointed observations. Steve decided to not hold back.

"Our therapist gave us an assignment last time we saw her. Every day we're together, we have to reach out and touch each other three times."

"What purpose does that serve?"

"It's supposed to foster 'feelings of connection and understanding.'"

"She's giving you relationship advice?" he asked skeptically, amusement in his eyes.

"Of course. That's why we have to go in the first place."

Lou gave him a look that said he missed the point, but continued. "So all this touching has made you, what? Start to question your relationship with Danny? Made you realize you're in love with him?"

Steve blinked in surprise at the boldness of his question. Chin had been more delicate in his questioning, coaxing the truth out of him slowly. Lou went straight for the kill.

"You knew."

"I'm a cop. It's my job to know things other people don't want me to," he said with a shrug, tipping his water back for a drink. "You and Danny have too many ups and downs for a friendship that's purely platonic. So that's what happened? After years of burying your head in the sand, you finally came out and saw the sun?"

"No. I've always known on some level. It's just made it... worse. I'm always touching what I can't have."

Reaching across the space between them, Lou tapped Steve's arm, signalling for him to turn his seat so they were facing each other. He did and was amazed by the look of absolute compassion on Lou's face.

"I hesitated to say anything, but I couldn't hold my tongue any longer. Under any other circumstances, I don't approve of office romances. It's messy, causes grief for everyone involved even peripherally, and can lead to people making stupid decisions."

"I haven't made any stupid decisions because of my feelings for Danny," Steve retorted, adamant that his judgement not be questioned. "Not with Five-0, at least. Never when lives are at stake."

"That's the point. You haven't, not yet. See, I think you two, crazy as it sounds, are the reverse of the rule. It's going to get messy and stupid decisions are going to get made if you don't get involved."

"I'm sorry," Steve said with a disbelieving tone. "Are you saying you want me and Danny together?"

"Yes! Last year, when Catherine left for good, you were perfectly fine with everyone else, but for some reason, your relationship with Danny became strained. Now why is that?"

Steve shook his head in bafflement. "I - I don't know. We just weren't getting along."

"Because whatever frustration you had about the break up, you took out on him. I thought it might have been a situation like that old saying, 'we take it out on those we love the most,' but I think it was something deeper because later on you went out of your way to steer Lynn clear of him. I know you're not embarrassed or ashamed of him -"

Bristling at the mere suggestion, Steve started, "I have never -"

"I know, Steve. I know. But the point is that you did keep them away from each other. And she was hot Steve, so hot." Steve chuckled when Lou emphasized the point. "There's no universe where Renee isn't the most beautiful woman I've ever seen, but Lynn - Steve, that's the type of woman you show off. As scummy as it sounds, that's the type of woman you show off as often as possible, to as many people as possible. And yet, there you are, keeping her away from the one person you're closest to. Whose opinion matters the most." Lou softened his expression and leaned back in his seat. "I think what happened is that without the love and safety-net of a relationship with Catherine, you floundered for a way to keep yourself away from him and your solution was to push him as far away as possible without actually letting him go. When you started dating Lynn, the safety-net was back, but there were holes in it and by then you knew how big they were. Big enough to fall through. So you maintained the distance, kept him away. But then the organ transplant shot that all to hell and you pulled him back in tighter than ever. This assignment or whatever has just shown you how much you've been restraining yourself and you're probably scared that when it ends, you won't know how to pull back. Or even if you'll want to."

For lack of a better word, Steve felt naked. Stripped of every protection he had and exposed to the harsh reality of the bed he now lied in. He loved Catherine, had been in love with her, but he'd also known that there was something about Danny that kept him constantly chasing after him, picking up his trail and anything he left behind. He wanted every piece of him, wanted to know him better than he knew himself. It was a dangerous perspective to have, destructive even, but knowing that didn't stop him and it didn't keep him from the sidelines as he watched his relationships with Catherine and Lynn implode.

"I never meant to use them," Steve quietly said after a pregnant silence.

"I'm sure you didn't. You're not a jerk, you're just in love."

Steve laughed mirthlessly. "Being in love makes me an ass. Who'da thunk it?"

"You're an ass because you're not with the one you're in love with; which, for the record, you could easily remedy."

"It's not that simple."

"It really is."

"No, it's really not," he said with conviction, leaning back towards Lou as if the distance kept him from understanding. "I'm his boss. He's my partner. He's my best friend. I'm an uncle to his kids. If I try anything and we fall out, I lose - fuck, Lou, I lose everything.

"When I came back after my dad died, I had nothing. No parents. No relationship with my sister. No best friend. I had nothing. When Danny came storming into my life, I clung to him like a drowning man to a buoy. You think I'm bad now, you should've seen me then. Constantly invading his personal space, starting arguments over stupid shit just because I liked pissing him off. If I wasn't inviting him over to my place, I was inviting myself over to his. I called him more pet names than I can recall. I took him places that I've never taken anyone else.

"All the while, I was ingraining myself into his life as much as possible. I wanted him to want me. No, I needed him to need me because I hated the thought that I was alone without him and he was fine without me. It sounds bad, I know it does, but it's the truth. I built my foundation around him and if I lose him, it crumbles."

Lou was temporarily speechless, heartbreak swimming in his eyes as if he was personally experiencing years of Steve's heartache in a single blinding moment of understanding. He took a deep breath and reached for Steve's forearm.

"Brother, that's why you gotta go for him."

Upset by his seeming lack of understanding, Steve exhaled loudly. "Lou -"

"No, you listen to me. That is exactly what I'm talking about. The longer you keep that bottled up, the closer you get to making a stupid decision. Let's say something happens to Danny, he gets taken hostage or something equally as awful. If this hasn't been taken care of by then, all you'll keep thinking about is how much you've left unsaid. It'll eat you alive, occupy every thought you have until you're not thinking clearly and you make a bad call. If something happened to him because of something you did, you'd never forgive yourself. I know that, you know that."

"And you think I'd be any better in that situation if I said something?"

"Yes, because he'd know."

Steve wiped the sweat away from his forehead, the weather and the conversation both to blame for his elevated temperature. "It's all well and good to talk about this, but I still face the risk of losing Danny if I say something and I can't do that."

"Alright, answer me this: does he love you?"

"I don't think so."

"Lord have mercy," Lou sighed in frustration. "I didn't ask if he was in love with you. I asked if he loves you, period."

"Yeah, he does."

"Do you think his love for you is so little that if you were to tell him you're in love with him, and he somehow wasn't in love with you, too - which I very much doubt, by the way - he would walk away from you?"

That thought gave Steve pause. He'd never thought of it from that angle, that if he were to say something and the feeling wasn't returned, would the love Danny had for him help carry them through; that even though the feeling wasn't requited, they would be okay. Danny loved with his whole heart and when he told someone that he loved them, they knew he fucking meant it. He didn't say it arbitrarily or off-handedly. Once he said it, he never took it back because they were in his heart forever. In that moment, Steve knew the truth and a knot he didn't know was in his chest unfurled, leaving him lightheaded and indescribably relieved.

"No," Steve said, the sight of a dolphin flipping through the air not thirty yards away from the boat making him smile. "No, he loves me enough to stay."

"Then you got nothing to lose."

~~~

Tension was thick in the air, everyone strung tight and waiting with bated breath. They all recognized that they had front row seats to a battle royale in the making, one that could split loyalties and lay waste to long held beliefs. There was a lot on the line and no one dared to so much as blink, lest they miss a second of the action. Steve took a sip of his beer.

"Say that again," Danny said, his tone jagged like broken glass.

Lou narrowed his eyes at him from across the table. "You don't stand a chance against me."

Danny returned his glare, lips thinned into a narrow line. "Five hundred bucks. Winner takes all."

Audible gasps came from around the table, Steve included. His eyes widened in surprise and he nearly spit out his beer. Danny wasn't a cheap ass like he was, but he was by no means frivolous with his money. Apparently, he meant business tonight.

"Five hundred AND the winner has to buy the loser lunch for a week. Dessert included."

"You're on, bitch."

Cheers broke out and everyone started clapping, Kono yelling "It's on!" as she stood from her chair, Adam laughing and following her lead. Abby dragged Chin across the bar to save the nearest available pool table, her steps more dance-like in her excitement. The rest of the table was filing out when Steve turned to Danny.

"Do you even have $500 on you?"

"No," he said with a smirk as he took a sip of his scotch. "But I won't need it, so who cares."

Steve's jaw dropped. "You can't make a bet when you can't pay up!"

"Simmer down, Vegas, he doesn't have $500 on him either. That's why Renee looks ready to murder him. Besides, if I lose - which I won't - I'll just take out the money tomorrow."

A rebuttal along the lines of "Melissa would be pissed too" was on the tip of his tongue, but was stopped when Steve remembered that Danny had told him during their car ride to work the previous day that Melissa had left him. He didn't seem upset and, much to Steve's surprise, he didn't miss a beat. Danny didn't mope, wasn't more argumentative or irritated than usual, and was as quick with his humor as ever. Aside from informing the team about the split, it was like any other day. Steve wanted to talk about it, make sure Danny really was okay and wasn't simply putting on a show, but whenever he tried to bring it up, Danny would smile and say he was okay. After his third such insistence, Steve believed him.

After a pointed look in Steve's direction, Lou made the observation that the heads of Five-0 were both "sad, single sacks" and proposed a night out, which is why the team and their significant others were currently sharing a spread of appetizers and drinks in a beachside bar.

And why Danny could soon be out $500.

"If you lose, I won't listen to you complain tomorrow. I'll put up the Wall of Silence and everything."

Danny laughed and placed a hand on his thigh, the gentle pressure of his hand capturing the majority of Steve's attention. The moment hung there, Steve looking up from his hand to Danny's face. There was some trepidation hiding in the corners of his eyes, but there was no mistaking his flirtatious expression. It was times like this when Steve privately marveled at being called 'risky' and 'dangerous' when Danny was clearly the more daring one of the two, at least personally, which was arguably more high risk. Before anything else could happen though, calls from their ohana to move their asses so the game could start broke through the din.

Squeezing the pressure point above his knee, Danny smirked and lifted his glass of scotch for one more sip. "Duty calls."

Steve nodded with what he hoped was a playful expression - but was probably more dazed - when Danny got up and made his way to the table. He took a second to collect himself and come to terms with the fact that for the first time in the eight years they had known each other, Danny had just made the first honest to god advance. It was one thing to tease and innocently flirt, to cuddle even, but there had never been anything blatantly and unabashedly sexual about their flirting. It was why Steve had initially considered whether he had somehow fallen platonically in love with him; the same desperate edges of infatuation filling his heart, minus the physical desire. Only after seeing him give Melissa a kiss during a barbecue and feeling a tightening in his gut did he know that his love for Danny encompassed everything. And now, because of the hand Danny placed on his thigh, Steve knew the sentiment went both ways.

"Steve, move your ass!" Danny called from where he and Lou were inspecting the cues.

Flipping him off even though he'd already turned away, Steve grabbed his beer and took a seat with everyone else at the hightop in the billiards area. The balls had already been set, but Danny and Lou were taking their sweet time getting to the table, both preferring to argue over who got what cue and then proceeding to poke each other with the rubber ends. Steve was ready to point out the uselessness of Danny making him hurry over when Adam called for the coin toss to determine who got to break. Danny won the toss.

"Fine by me," Lou announced loudly with teasing antagonism. "I'll be up soon enough. Probably won't even bag a single ball."

Danny laughed and shook his head with a determined face as he rounded the table to line up with the cue ball. "I can't wait to take your ass down from that pedestal of yours. You'll never know what it means to be on top again."

Blinking to get his mind out of the gutter, Steve quietly slid out of his seat and snuck up behind Danny. Kono hid her mouth behind her hand to hide her giggling when she realized what he was doing and thankfully Danny was too distracted to notice everyone else tracking Steve's movements. He waited until he could tell from the shift of Danny's back muscles that he was about to break and that's when he struck. He extended his arms and grabbed Danny's sides where he knew, thanks to an off-handed comment from Grace, that he was at least a little ticklish.

"Fucking hell!" Danny yelped, his cue hitting the cue ball at a wonky angle, sending it careening around the rails of the table as he caved in on himself to protect his sides.

Laughing came from their table as Steve continued to tickle Danny and he desperately tried to squirm away from him.

"$500," Danny yelled as he kept trying to escape his grasp. "You owe me $500!"

"You haven't even lost yet!"

Tears were leaking out of Steve's eyes from laughing so hard and the blurring effect caused him to lose Danny to an evasive move that wasn't half bad.

"You think this is funny, huh?" Danny asked with a devious expression. "This is serious business, Steven."

"Uh huh," was all Steve could get out as wiped away his tears.

"We'll see about that."

Next thing he knew, Danny had launched himself at him and began tickling his sides. Steve screamed in surprise because it had been years since he'd been tickled and contrary to what he believed, he was, evidently, still ticklish. He could hear that everyone was still laughing and for now, the pool game was forgotten.

~~~

Crashing on his towel, Steve smiled up at the bright morning sun rapidly drying his skin. The weather was warm, but not sweltering, and like had been predicted, the surf was killer. It was the perfect start to the day.

"Damn, Steve! You got nice moves for a haole."

Laughing without opening his eyes, he threw up his middle finger. "Fuck you, man. You're just jealous I caught that wave and you didn't."

"I never knew letting you two become surf buddies would turn into a rivalry."

Steve cracked an eye open to smirk at Kono. "Blame your husband. I just wanted a nice, relaxing surf sesh and he had to go and crush it with his competitive streak."

"So it's Adam's fault?" she asked, turning to Adam with a faux serious expression. "Is that so?"

Adam nodded solemnly. "Definitely. Prison made a hard man out of me."

"Wanna tell me what else prison made ha-"

"Noo!" Steve bellowed, clapping his hands over his ears. "Do not finish that sentence!"

Kono and Adam laughed at Steve's histrionics, Steve glaring at them both the whole time. When he finally braved lowering his hands, they passed him his water bottle. As he drank, he noticed Kono lean over to whisper in his ear, Adam nodding before giving her a kiss and walking away after giving Steve a smile and a supportive pat on the shoulder.

"Where's he going?" Steve asked, sad about his abrupt departure.

"Oh, don't worry about him. He'll be back soon enough."

Steve took one look at her expression and rolled his eyes in over-dramatic exasperation. "I see it's your turn."

"You knew it was going to happen sooner or later," she said kindly, gathering her hair so it was no longer in her face. "I figured I should go ahead and put you out of your misery."

It was true enough that Steve had expected Kono to pull him aside eventually, having seen her increasingly curious glances as she watched him interact with Danny. To say he was looking forward to it was another matter. Talking to Chin had made him come to terms with his need to seek intimacy with Danny no matter the costs or who it would hurt in the process. Lou had made him confront the ugly truth about how he'd inadvertently used women. He knew he was damaged goods, but it was no fun seeing his faults aired out for the world to see, even if their intentions were pure. Kono was smart, and he had no doubt that whatever she said, it would make him look at himself from a whole new angle.

He couldn't say yet whether that was a good thing or not.

"I always thought you'd marry Catherine."

Steve felt his eyebrows reach for his hairline. "Really? I didn't even see it coming until after she came back for your wedding."

"I thought so. People always think about getting married after they go to a wedding." Her smile slipped off her face as she turned thoughtful. "Kind of like how people also crave sex after a funeral."

"Ew, no way!" Steve refuted with a cringe and an awkward chuckle.

"Yes way!" she said with a laugh. "It's so morbid, but people crave sex after funerals because its meant to reaffirm that they're alive or something."

Shaking his head, Steve couldn't shake his smile. "That's so gross, though."

"Yeah, but people are gross anyway." She took out a tube of chap stick and applied it to her lips, putting it away after she offered it to Steve and he didn't need any. "Anyway, back to my original point. I always thought you'd marry Catherine."

"Why?"

"Because even though it was different to what most people have, it was so steady. You'd mellow out when she was around, and when she wasn't, you understood why and you were okay with it. Most people aren't that understanding and I envied that. I always hoped I'd find someone as understanding as you."

Genuinely touched, Steve reached over and squeezed her hand. "Adam's a great guy."

"I know. He's the best." She smiled over her shoulder in the general direction he'd wandered off in. "I loved you two together and I was so certain that someday you'd marry her. I was cheering for it." For a moment she looked hesitant, but then she locked eyes with Steve. "But then Danny got trapped in the sight of that bomb."

Steve's blood ran cold, both because of the memories and because he knew exactly where she was going with this. He knew it was going to be to difficult hear something out loud that he could barely admitted to himself in the privacy of his mind.

"I had to rethink everything I knew about your relationship with both Catherine and Danny. It's not just anybody who stays with someone when a bomb is in imminent danger of blowing up and they can get away. Steve, that was - that was so damning. Do you even get what that means?"

Steve steeled himself, looking away from her and biting the inside of his cheek.

"You'd rather die than live without him."

Closing his eyes, Steve roughly rubbed his hands over his face. The day Danny was stuck in the sight of that bomb was inarguably one of the worst days of his life. He could remember putting on a calm facade until the bomb was disarmed, the front crumbling when he cried as Danny was free to move again. His insides ached at the memory, at how he'd gone home and cried some more and refused Catherine's touch.

"You had a choice and you chose death. That's when you realized you were in love with him, wasn't it?"

"Yeah," Steve said quietly, lowering his hands and accepting Kono's hand. "I mean, I already suspected, but yeah... that was the moment I realized how bad I had it."

Kono nodded understandingly, her hand squeezing his before taking it back. "I had to rethink everything after that. Why you were with Catherine. Why you were so understanding. Why your relationship was so steady. That day changed the way I thought about you."

"And what conclusion did you come to?"

"That Catherine is a warm breeze on the ocean and Danny is a hurricane. She's a familiar comfort, blowing wind into your sails and steering you steadily. He's capable of destroying everything, displacing and tearing apart anything in sight unless you're careful, just by virtue of existing."

She took a measured pause. "You don't want the breeze."

Steve took a deep breath, the revelation leaving him nearly breathless. He blinked and refocused on Kono.

"You want the storm, the thrill of navigating it just for the pleasure of marveling at its power. You want to get sucked into its center so you can ride the high of seeing for yourself what it's made of. You want to survive it so you can bathe in the crystal blue skies it leaves behind. You weren't made for the breeze; you live for the storm."

Speechless, Steve watched the way the sun colored her skin and how the wind blew her hair gently as it dried. She was younger than him, but leaps and bounds wiser than he'd been at that age and still was. Kono was so in tune with the world and those around her, able to perceive and intuit everything that flitted past her so she could piece together a picture of how things were and how they could be. She was an active participant in shaping the world around her and much like she had been once, he envied her ability to do so.

"Go get him, Steve."

For lack of a better reply, Steve merely nodded his head. "Okay."

~~~

Steve sat in his chair on the beach, vacantly staring at the ocean as he ran a finger along the seam of his lips. Much like that dreadful day years ago when he finally realized he was in love with Danny, his racing heart was hidden beneath a cool exterior.

The work week had passed quickly, him and Danny still faithfully carrying out Dr. Rosenthal's assignment. Steve had thought his new found conviction to take the final step over the line and talk to Danny about how he felt would fire him up, but it had the opposite effect. He became something bordering on maudlin and even though Danny had been bullheaded in his pursuit of answers, Steve hadn't said a word or hinted at what the issue was. Normally when he was this keyed up about something, he became almost combative, but this wasn't about a mission or a case. It was about his emotions and the fear made him quiet.

He knew Danny wouldn't leave him, but years worth of self-doubt wasn't easily shaken. He was still scared.

"Steve?"

A fresh wave of trepidation washed over Steve, but he tamped down on it fast. "Hey, Danny."

Wanting to face him with a brave front, Steve stood up and watched Danny make his way towards him. He was wearing the light grey slacks of the suit that was secretly Steve's favorite, tie long discarded and the top buttons of his shirt undone. Steve almost asked where he'd been that he needed to get dressed up for, but then he remembered that he went with Rachel to a divorce hearing. A smile briefly graced his lips at Danny's loyalty.

"You okay?" Danny asked as he approached him holding out his fist, Steve meeting it with his own. "I'm kinda hoping you're ready to tell me whatever's been going on this week because it's starting to drive me up a wall."

"Microwaved eggs have the effect of driving you up a wall."

"Because microwaved eggs are fucking disgusting. Don't even try to defend that again." Danny smirked at the familiar argument, the expression dropping as he reached out and tapped Steve's stomach. "Come on, babe. Talk to me. What's going on?"

Steve's mind tended to wander when he felt emotionally pressured, such as he was now, more so than ever. He wondered if calling Danny and asking him to come over was bad etiquette since he was the one who needed to talk. Doesn't etiquette dictate that he go to him? Was there etiquette for such a scenario? This way gave Danny an escape route, but if it went bad, wouldn't it be him who needed it? That would leave Danny at his house, or them both trying to run for it at the same-

"Steve?" Danny gripped his arm to get his attention again. "Steve, come on, this is getting ridiculous. Will you please talk to me? I can't help if you don't tell me what's wrong."

Clinching his fist, Steve focused on the sting of his fingernails biting into his palm to keep him in the moment.

"There's something I have to talk to you about."

"Yeah, I figured out that much. Is it something I did? Did I do something wrong?"

Steve thought that the exact opposite was the entire problem. Sighing, he attempted to find a way to put everything he felt into words.

"Tomorrow we see Dr. Rosenthal and I - I need to tell you something before we see her. I don't really know where to start, but I think our last session is a good place to try."

"Okay..."

"The assignment she gave us, this whole touch thing... it's drudged up a lot of emotions I thought I had a hold on. Turns out I don't and I've been struggling for a way to talk to you about this because - because, you have to understand, Danny, if it wasn't for that stupid fucking assignment I never would have said a word, okay? I wouldn't be saying what I'm about to say and I need you to understand that because if you hate me -"

"Woah, woah, woah. Babe, I need you to slow down," Danny said, reaching out and running his hands soothingly up and down Steve's upper arms. "I don't hate you now and I won't hate you in the future. I promise. I know you and I know you well enough to know you'll never do anything to make me hate you."

Steve swallowed around the anxiety knotted in his throat. This was so much harder than he had ever anticipated it would be if the moment came. Now that it was here, though, he planned to face it with courage.

"I love you." The words slipped out quietly, a ghost of how loud they normally were when he said it. The waves nearly drowned it out. "I'm in love with you and I have been for a long time. I never said it, I was never going to say it, because everyone leaves me and I - I can handle Doris leaving again, and Catherine, but I can't handle you leaving and I didn't want to give you a reason to do so." Steve paused and focused on the feeling of Danny's hands still holding him instead of his face. "I love you, and while I don't know where we go from here, at least you know."

The hands holding him gently pulled Steve down into a hug, Danny's arms wrapping around him tightly. Steve placed his hands on his back and returned the hug, nothing but relief spilling into his veins because Danny was staying. One of Danny's hands moved to the back of his head and Steve relaxed into the feeling of his fingers massaging his scalp.

Danny moved so his mouth was near Steve's ear when he whispered, his voice thready, "I love you so much."

Pulling back, Steve looked into Danny's eyes and saw himself reflected back. The same years' worth of built up fear and elation, heartbreak and acceptance, and now exhilaration at sitting on the epitome of emotion was lurking there. It was a stunning sight and it was his to enjoy now. When he leaned in and kissed Danny for the first time, he'd swear on pain of death that he tasted a storm cloud.