Even after all these years, Danny sometimes catches a silouhette in his peripheral vision that makes his pathetic heart skip a beat.
It was annoying seven years ago when he followed Grace to Austin and then later to Tampa, but by this point Danny has resigned himself that it will never stop. He used to function so well thinking the world had no ghosts, but Hawaii had to change that - of course it had. It had changed everything else, hadn't it? Danny now has personal almost-entities that appear when he least expects them, a punch to the gut that makes him pine for days long past. They say that ghosts linger when there is unfinished business, which makes Danny snigger derisively into his whiskey glass. Whatever unresolved issues he left on the Islands, he's the only one remembering them now. It still hurts like hell when the longing hits; Danny had once thought that he'd get over it eventually.
When he looks up and glances at the mirror behind the bar again, he expects to either see no-one or a stranger. The apparitions generally leave as suddenly as they appear, before resurfacing a few days, weeks or months later. This time, the man is still there. Tall enough. Broad enough. Lots of silver in his hair instead of dark, though, but that's not what makes his heart pick up the pace: it's that the guy is just standing there, in the middle of this hole in the wall bar, frozen in place and staring at Danny's back as if he's seen a ghost, too. Danny rubs his brow and counts to five, it's been a very tiring month after all, but when he chances a look again, the man's closer, maybe a step away. Near enough that it leaves no doubt, even before their eyes meet and lock in the mirror. Danny had a brush with a live wire once, helping his pop renovate Aunt May's cabin, and that's pretty much what he's experiencing all over again.
It's only when Steve - Steve - finally moves to take the stool next to him that Danny realizes he's been holding his breath. He might have lost his tongue, too.
"Hey," Steve offers as an opening and Danny blinks.
"Hey?" Danny repeats, and the interjection must be colorful enough to convey his outrage at the lameness because a corner of Steve's mouth quirks in a half smirk. His eyes leave the overwhelmed-by-feeling range for familiar amusement, with more crinkles at the edges than there used to be.
"Yeah. Hey," he stops there, the bastard, obviously baiting him.
Danny's a good person; he can play that game if he feels like it, too.
"You appear in this shit hole-" Danny takes a moment to turn to Andres, who's on the other side of the zinc for Steve's order. He raises a placating hand at the guy. "You know I mean no disrespect, buddy, but I don't think you can argue with that appellation, especially since Bubba isn't here to overhear and fire your ass. This is our very own shit hole, we have to agree."
"Yeah yeah," Andres says, rolling his eyes and getting another tumbler and filling it with a double whiskey when Steve motions that he'll take the same as Danny. "I love you too, man. The place wouldn't be the same without you."
Danny drains what is left of his drink in a big gulp that burns all the way down before he gestures at Andres for more himself. He turns back to Steve, who's watching him with huge eyes again.
"So, as I was saying," Danny continues, conscious that he might have drank more than is reasonable tonight, but it was a very rough month and that's his excuse. "You appear in my dear, dear shit hole, after five years of no contact at all, not that I didn't try, okay, and all you have to say is 'hey'?"
Guilt is written all over Steve's face and his eyes skid away to his glass. Danny could kick himself, that was not his intention at all, at least not consciously. He'd always imagined that he'd act maturely if he ever saw Steve again, that he'd be the better man and wave off past mistakes, that he'd put on the act of a lifetime in pretending he’d dealt with everything wonderfully.
"I'm sorry, Danno," Steve says sheepishly. "I - I couldn't pretend, after a while. I thought it would be easier."
And fuck, there it is, Danny's chance for closure. His therapists have been telling him for years that's what has been missing, the reason why Danny can not let go of those three years in Hawaii that are burned in disgustingly vivid colors in his mind compared to his dull present. He'd tried calling, emailing, writing, and had almost hopped on a plane more than once (before chickening out) to get an explanation for why, from one day to the next, infrequent but cordial contact with Steve had been completely severed.
"Pretend what? Make what easier?" Danny knows his voice is raising, but so is his temper, all of the helplessness and the hurt bubbling to the surface. Steve hunches in on himself a bit, but then does him the courtesy to at least look him in the eyes to answer. Steve McGarrett has never been a coward, after all.
"Pretend that it was okay you were gone. Easier to move on."
Danny has a bitter laugh and he can't deal with the barrage of feelings that come off Steve in waves. Shit. It seems Danny had dulled down how much intensity the man can display, after all. Danny drains his drink again, needing alcohol to numb the pain in his chest as soon as fucking possible because he might die otherwise.
"Moving on, right," Danny mutters. "Fantastic. Congratulations."
"Didn't work for shit," Steve says.
It's surprising enough that Danny peers at Steve again, who's twirling his glass. He hasn't taken a sip, Danny realizes.
"Cutting you out was the stupidest decision I've ever made, Danny," Steve adds with conviction. "That and not trying this before."
Well that's a start, knowing that Steve regrets how things went down. It doesn't make anything better, that is, because after a while a guy couldn't help but to feel he had been the only one invested in the friendship and that had hurt most of all. The second affirmation, though, that's intriguing.
"Okay, let's say I believe you feel bad about how much of an asshole you've been. But what's this trying business you speak of?" Danny asks, suddenly weary.
Now that closure is within reach, maybe, Danny's not sure he actually wants it. Is that what Steve is trying to do? To finally make a clean break after an overdue apology? Danny has sort of grown attached to his ghosts over the years, they are familiar, and he's not sure what he'll have left if they disappear. Steve pushes his untouched whiskey down the bar, to his left unfortunately, and turns towards him again.
"To see you. In person."
"But why? You didn't care enough to bother with a text now and then, why would you travel across half of the globe to see me in the flesh today?"
Steve's jaw drops open stupidly for a second.
"I don't... what?" he looks so honestly flabbergasted that Danny cuts his eyes away. "You can not honestly believe that I cut all contacts because I didn't care!"
"What do I know?" Danny says with a shrug. Okay, fine, he might have tried to convince himself of that and to paint Steve as the bad guy out of self-preservation. He never really believed it.
"Fuck," Steve says, hands on his neck now, bowed over the counter and looking distressed.
"Okay, fine, I believe you. Dammit, stop with the face," Danny urges. Steve mutters and Danny puts his hand behind his left ear, miming listening closely. "I didn't get that."
"I don't have a face," Steve repeats petulantly and Danny can't help it, he smiles for real for the first time in forever. Steve catches it and he starts to smile back and shit, how is it fair that Steve has gotten even more gorgeous over the years?
"Oh, you definitely do. But again, why come here? Now?"
Steve chews on his lower lip before he starts. "The emails and the phone calls and all that, it made it harder. When I'd hang up or we didn't email for a couple of days, it was like you were leaving all over again. And again. And again. It fucking hurt."
"I didn't want to go, you know," Danny says. "Grace..."
Steve waves it off. "Oh, I know, I always got that. You had to. I just... don't deal well with separation, I never have."
Danny winces. "I know. I'm sorry." He'd been one of the long list of people leaving Steve by choice or otherwise, and he'd felt so frigging guilty about that.
"I sensed it coming, you know", Danny admits. "More and more you were curt, to the point of being expressionless. And then bam: nothing, no goodbye, no explanation. I was all alone in Austin, and the guy I considered my best friend stopped speaking to me. You can imagine that I didn't take it so well."
"I know, I know. Everyone gave me so much shit for it, deservedly so. It's no excuse but by that point I was pretty low," Steve flicks the whiskey glass. "I had quite a problem with this, too. I would not have been able to say goodbye when all I wanted to do was to beg you to come back. But I knew that it was the one thing I couldn't ask of you, so."
There is too much said, here, Danny cannot process it right now. He tries to deflect with a joke.
"So, what is this visit for? After all that time? Just to see my handsome face?"
"There's that," Steve says with a wink. He then turns serious. "Are you happy here, Danny?"
It's Danny's turn to gape. "You find me in a dump, getting drunk on a Tuesday night... What do you think, Steven? You've been working for years with Five-0, use your deducting skills."
"There could be someone..." Steve says tentatively.
Danny shakes his head; it's better if he tries to forget all about the desert that is his personal life. There hasn't even been casual sex in months and months, his right hand is the only one Danny trusts not to hurt him by this point, intentionally or otherwise. Danny doesn't miss the slight relax in Steve's posture at the non answer. "Nope, no one."
"There's, huh, that wedding pic of you and that tall brunette on Kono's digital frame..."
"Oh, god, she has Doreen on the picture rotation? That, my friend, was a huge mistake, as all my marriages seem to be." Steve doesn't react all that much, so he must know that it barely lasted eight months. "We did great as friends and we thought we'd be less lonely together. But as a couple? Let's say disastrous was a word invented expressly for me and Doreen and leave it at that."
"What about Rick?"
Okay, that's a surprise. Danny did send Kono a couple of pics with Rick, and obviously Steve was curious enough to ask. A little dark part of his soul feels vindicated that it generated a reaction.
"He left me for good last year and never looked back." After a zillion rounds of on again/off again, there had been one epic fight about Danny's supposedly emotional unavailability. Frankly, Danny had mostly been relieved once Rick had stormed out of his life after that. The fact that Rick could have easily passed for Steve's brother had been a thrill at first, but in the end it had been a constant reminder of everything that he was not.
"Sorry," Steve says. He doesn't sound sorry at all.
"I'm not." Danny's been keeping track of Five-O since he left, and if he kept an eye on the gossip column too, through the wonders of the Internet, who has to know? Steve has been listed as one of the most sought after bachelors on the Islands many times, but apart from a few rumors there had been nothing about a relationship. Chin, who knows all of the gossip, had never hinted that Steve had paired up either. Danny asks anyway. "What about you?"
Steve shakes his head. "Nah."
There's a long silence.
"So," Steve starts carefully. "If your daughter was to go study abroad for college, you'd have nothing holding you here?"
Danny splutters. "What the fuck? How do you know about that?"
The man has the audacity to shrug casually. "I wrote a letter of recommendation for her?"
"You've been talking to Grace?" Danny doesn't know where the betrayal hurts the most: that they talked behind his back and he never heard about it or that Steve contributed to send Gracie over the fucking ocean. Maybe it's that Grace barely speaks to him these days, though, not with the stellar way he reacted to her big news.
"I couldn't say no," Steve says, defensive.
Danny understands the impulse to give Grace everything, he really does, but seriously?
"Of course you could say no! How the fuck did that happen?"
"She sent an email," Steve says.
Danny rolls his eyes.
"And just like that, hey, sure, I'll write you a fantastic letter so you can leave your old man all alone," Danny almost spits out
Steve blanches at that and wow, the fucker didn't even realize that would be the result.
"That's not... I just wanted to help her. I got to talk to her a little bit, she's so smart and I've seen pictures, and she's going to be amazing over there. Oxford is a great school and you know it." Steve looks starstruck and yeah, right, he never could resist Gracie. How was that supposed to change?
"Of course she'll be amazing, that's not the point. Thank you for destroying the one little thing that still brought a bit of joy into my miserable existence."
"I'm sorry you see it like that. You need to let her grow up, Danny," Steve says.
Danny crosses his palms in the form of a crucifix, warding Steve away.
"You sound just like Rachel, please stop. Grace is and will always remain my baby girl, okay? I'm genetically programmed to do whatever is in my power to keep her safe, something I can't do while she's all the way over in England."
"She's perfectly able to defend herself, you know. Black belt, quick wit, she's..." Again with the infatuation, this is ridiculous.
"I'm not listening," Danny protests, cutting Steve off. "If I'm not there for Grace, what's my purpose, huh? I've got nothing."
"Maybe it's time you start thinking about yourself a bit," Steve argues.
"Maybe I don't know how," Danny retorts, dead serious. "Family always comes first, that's just how things are."
"So if Grace is gone, what? You move back to Jersey, hang around your sisters' families?" Steve asks.
"That's the plan." Danny already has started looking for an apartment in Trenton: Kathy surely will appreciate him being around to help with Joey and Mary while Dan is on tour.
Steve makes a frustrated sound. "That's not the only family you've got. What if we need you more than they do?"
Danny's eyebrows raise. He's kept contact with Chin and Kono, he knows how great they're doing with Malia, Fong and the rugrats. Small black haired tornadoes, the lot of them, but they don't need him.
"And by 'we need you more', you mean..."
"I mean me. I need you more." Steve looks like he's both relieved and terrified to have gotten that out; Danny is frozen and doesn't know how to react himself. "It's been real bad since you le- since you've been gone," Steve continues.
He did mention depression and alcoholism earlier, but if Steve McGarrett goes as far as to actually ask someone to be there for him, it must have been bad indeed.
"So I move back to Hawaii, just like that," Danny says softly.
Steve nods vigorously. "Just like that."
Danny wonders if this is one of those so cruel dreams he's had so many times over the years. Up until now, they had only resulted in him waking up alone and aching.
"And then what?" he asks, because it's a nice fantasy, he's curious.
"You come back to Five-O, if that's what you want," Steve says. Of course Danny would want that, it doesn't even justify an answer. But it's what Steve adds next that makes Danny's heart speed up. "And we could go on a date... if - you know. If that's something you'd want, too."
"Wow." Danny shakes his head and he wonders if he's too drunk for this. He rolls the glass between his palms. "It really is all or nothing with you, isn't it?" he asks.
Steve is about to apologize again, but this is huge, monumental even. Steve just admitted that he needed him and that he'd want something more than friendship, so Danny feels he's got to be rewarded.
"Throw our first date being at the Chef Mavro and I guarantee I'll put out," Danny says with a wink.
The expression on Steve's face at that can only be described as beaming or some other sun-related metaphor/simile. "You've got yourself a deal."
Steve reaches to clap his shoulder, casual in the way that always came so easily between them, but his hand sort of sticks there upon contact. Danny suddenly has a problem breathing because - oh, god - this proves it, Steve is no hallucination if they're able to touch. The live wire analogy from before? Back with a vengeance and it's not just him from the sudden smoldering heat in Steve's eyes.
"Let's get out of here," Danny says, slipping off his stool. He's momentarily incapacitated because Steve just got up, too, and shit, shit, he'd forgotten how tall the fucker was and how much it's always been a turn on. Especially this close, barely three inches apart. "Put everything on my tab!" Danny yells in Andres' direction.
"We don't keep tabs, Danny, and you know it!"
"Now you do!" Danny says, finally getting in motion because he needs to get out before he falls apart in front of everyone.
"You're so fucking lucky I like you, Williams," Andres shouts.
But Danny isn't listening, he's focusing on putting one foot in front of the other and trying not to lose his mind at the fact that Steve is literally following on his heels, the fingers still on his shoulder threatening to burn right through Danny's shirt. It's only when he gets outside and is hit by the heat of the Tampa night that Danny wonders what the fuck he's doing; he stops abruptly, Steve careening into him. Danny turns to face Steve and then steps back, one step, two, raising his hand to ward him off.
"Just one minute," Danny says. Steve's not listening, but when has he ever listened anyway? He's walking forward, closing the distance between them though he stops when he hits Danny's hand, right on his solar plexus. Danny drops his arm, but thankfully Steve stays put.
"Danny," Steve says, pleading.
"If I say just one minute, you stop and let me think," Danny urges.
"Danny..." Steve says again, voice cracking, as if he's about to lose everything even before getting it.
How is Danny supposed to even think? This is not fair. Danny clamps his hands over his own face and tries to center himself, forcing deep breaths in and out.
But Steve has never played fair and he's touching him again, hands light on Danny's biceps.
"Please Danny, just..."
Danny peeks between his fingers. "Please just what? Don't cut you off?" He can't help that it comes out a bit bitter.
"Yeah. Give me a chance," Steve says, with puppy dog eyes that should not be so effective on a 44 year old man. He tries adding a tentative smile on top. "Come on. We had a deal, right?"
"One date won't make everything else disappear, Steven," Danny says.
Steve’s hands tighten on his arms. "I know, I know, I'm sorry. I'll make it up to you, I swear."
Danny's only human and he can't resist the pull of Steve anymore, so he steps forward and winds his arms around Steve's waist, letting his forehead fall on his shoulder. Immediately Steve embraces him and pulls him close in a proper bear hug. They cling way too tight, swaying lightly and Danny wonders if he'll ever be able to let go. Steve's real, solid, smells fantastic and yeah, Danny could definitely do this forever.
"Fuck, I missed you so much," Danny whispers into Steve's shirt. "You have no fucking idea."
"Oh, I do, believe me," Steve says. "I missed you more."
He sounds so convinced that Danny can't help but snort-laugh and he taps Steve's back. "This is not a contest, babe."
"Well, I didn't get married," Steve says softly, stressing the 'm' word as if it's venom. He's not releasing an inch of breathing space, Danny notices. "I flipped when I heard about it, you know. You moving on, making roots here."
"It didn't work, obviously."
"Thank fucking Christ," Steve says with feeling.
Steve finally releases him, but just enough to lean back and bring a slightly shaking hand to cup Danny's cheek. His eyes are huge, searching Danny's face. When he leans down for a butterfly-light kiss, Danny's gut somersaults as a result. Steve comes back for seconds, sliding his hand to the back of Danny's skull to keep him firmly in place as he gets kissed and kissed and kissed. Danny only breaks it off because he thinks he's going to pass out and suffer a Steve overdose: how embarrassing would that be, especially in the pathetic parking lot of a crappy bar? Steve honest to god whines when Danny steps away, and bulldozes his way right back into his space.
"No," he says forcefully, marching Danny back two more steps until his back hits a car. Danny doesn't find the energy to protest because Steve is now plastered to his front, caging him against a big black SUV. "No. I'm not letting you go again."
Danny didn't want to get away, not really, but it's impossible to explain because Steve is kissing him again, desperate and forceful. He pushes a thigh between Danny's legs and fuck, it's like a jolt when it brushes Danny's hard cock. He grinds down with a groan, his hands slipping under Steve's t-shirt. 'More Steve, need more Steve' is the only thing he can think about, though that changes to 'oh, god, yes' when Steve let's go of his hair to start battling with Danny's belt.
They are both breathing too harshly by now to be able to kiss properly, reduced to panting in each other's mouths.
"Danny," Steve is repeating on a loop, soft and awed as if his name is something precious.
"Come on, come on," is Danny's only response as he fights with Steve's pants himself.
Through sheer force of will, he's the first to be able to sneak a hand in, closing a fist around Steve's dick, who hisses as if he's been burned. It could be because Danny feels overheated, ready to go nuclear any second now; he concentrates on stripping Steve's cock because he's afraid he’ll lose his mind otherwise.
"Shit, shit, I can't..." Steve whines, and Danny realizes Steve's hands are shaking too much, he can't work the button on his slacks and he's starting to tug harder and harder on the fabric.
Danny bats Steve's hands away with the one of his that's free. "Got it," he says, because he doesn't want the button to pop off, it would be ridiculous (and because he needs his fucking pants opened now). The instant he manages it, Steve's there, gripping his cock and Danny's eyes roll in the back of his head. Holy shit, he's not going to last.
"Oh, fuck, Steve," he whispers, the rhythm of his handjob shot to hell. Steve's mouthing at his neck, sucking and making growling sounds as his hips snap forward to meet Danny’s fist, so fucking wet with precome it glides easily.
Steve bites right at the edge of Danny's jaw. "Give it to me, Danny," he urges, his strokes hard and almost punishing. "Come for me."
That's all it takes and Danny loses it spectacularly, the orgasm ripped out of him and making colors explode behind his eyelids as it hits. The next thing he's conscious of through the pleasure is Steve going entirely still before shuddering and coming all over Danny's hand and shirt with a final whispered "Danny" that almost sounds like a sob.
The car is the only thing keeping them upright by this point and Danny locks an arm around Steve's waist, afraid he'll slither to the ground. Steve's slumped against him, face mashed against Danny's neck, breathing hard with a soft kind of hitch on the intake. Danny caresses his back with long strokes, up and down his spine, wondering if Steve's going to chose now to completely fall apart.
"Shhhh, I've got you," Danny says.
He can feel a smile against his skin. "Yeah?"
"Yeah. Let's take this party back to my place, it'll be better for the afterglow," Danny adds.
Steve pulls back and grins. Holy fuck, he's so gorgeous. "I don't know, we could get in, it's my car," he says with a nod to the SUV they are up against.
"No, Steven," Danny shakes his head before bringing him in for a kiss. "Oh no, nu-huh. I'm too old for the back seat," he adds when he finds the strength to stop and pull back. He could kiss this man forever. It proves hard to keep their hands off each other, but they manage to tuck in and re-do their pants.
"Okay, then, let's go," Steve says, grabbing Danny's hand to haul Danny in the direction of his apartment. Danny's not even surprised that he knows where to go.
"That's the spirit," Danny says, following as steadily as he can on still shaky legs. "Take me home."
Steve grins over his shoulder, with that goofy and bright smile of his that could probably power a small city.
"That's exactly the plan."
There is no point in even pretending that's not the way things will go: Danny knows he'd follow that man anywhere. But that's okay. He's waited long enough for his shot at happiness, after all.