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Danny's made a lot of bad choices in his life. Women, men, haircuts, jobs. The guitar pick he bought on eBay that was never really Bruce Springsteen’s. The sort of things you walk away from thinking, I will never live this down.

None of it compares to right now, though: sitting in the back of a cab wearing skinny jeans and a shirt with no sleeves. He's got so much product in his hair he has to swing his shoulders just to move his head, and eye-liner - he was married to his ex for five years and still never knew the torture of eye-liner.

“Boss,” he'd tried to plead with his Lieutenant. “ Come on . Send… send Simpson . He's got that young, skinny thing going on -

“Just say twink,” his partner Mac pitched in, Danny not looking as he stuck his finger up at her.

“Simpson would be way better for this”

“Williams,” the Lieu said, clapping him on the shoulder with a little shake. “You’re the most tightly wound beefcake I’ve ever met. They’ll love you.”

Standing here now, on First Street, cold and ready to break an arm if any one so much as pats him on the shoulder - Danny can hear Mac’s stupid, braying laugh still ringing in his ears.

This could have been her. Except Danny decided to go one more hand at Poker Night, and she'd upped the ante to undercover duty. Three-of-a-kind and a lot of words he's glad his daughter never heard later - Danny's dressed up like Billy Idol and trying to corner a perp with a taste for sex workers. It's great.

He finds a dark alcove, puts an unlit smoke in his mouth, and tries to distract himself with ideas for his weekend with Grace. She was into dolphins at the moment, and Barbie, and anything so bright and sparkly that Danny couldn't look at it for too long without having to shield his eyes. It's not what he imagined fatherhood would be, but it's pretty amazing.

“I’m not interested, man,” a guy says as he's coming out of a nearby building. He's only half in the light, fiddling with an old tattered backpack that looks like it's ready to burst at the seams. “Just waiting for my taxi.”

“I wasn’t gonna offer,” Danny tells him with a shrug, moving closer anyway. “But I do need a light.”

From here, Danny can see that the man actually is worth an offer - or more. There's dark circles under his eyes and a shadow of a beard, but he's beautiful; tan and soft and dark. He's wearing a stupid amount of layers, clearly not a local - though it doesn't hide the fact he's tall, and broad, and stacked.

“Is that a line?” he asks Danny, a shadow of a smirk.

“It was a fact,” Danny says, bristling a little. “You know, on account of needing to light my smoke?”

“You know what those things do to your insides?”

“It’s funny, you don’t look like an anti-smoking campaign,” Danny says, but doesn't disagree. Their lab tech, Brian, had offered to give him one of those fake, herbal things they use sometimes, but Danny knew it wouldn't be authentic. Plus, it'd probably taste worse than the real thing anyway.

“I’m off the clock.”

“Right. And you’re funny too.”

“Gee, thanks.” Tall, dark and handsome crosses his arms. So casual, like Danny could punch him right now and he wouldn’t even flinch. “Don't people usually pay you first before you hand out the compliments?”

If Danny was a sex worker, this guy would be getting an earful. Standing there like an upmarket hobo passing judgement on him ? Who does he think he is? “What would you know about it? You made it pretty clear you’re not interested.”

The guy just keeps smirking, Danny feeling the anger bubble up even more. Mac's keeping watch with one of the new kids across the street - maybe he can get her to arrest him for loitering or something.

“Or hey, maybe you are,” Danny says, stepping in enough to make it charged, watching every line of the man's face to see if he can unnerve him. “And you just don’t want to admit that you're that hard up. Huh?”

“You wanna get out of my face, man,” he tells Danny, looking away as his jaw tenses.

“Really? Why’s that?”

“I'm just warning you.”

“Right.” Danny’s not sure why he does it, inching the smallest bit closer and tilting his head to tease. He feels a little thrill at the prospect of bothering this guy, getting under his skin and shaking him up a bit. “Should we find out if everything else you're packing is as big as that ego?

Danny thought it was a great line. Apparently his audience is a lot harder to impress, because he's suddenly got his face pressed up against the brick wall of a building and the guy is saying, “I’m making a citizen's arrest for solicitation.”

What ?”

“You can stand here quietly while I call the police,” he warns, holding Danny with just one hand while he fishes his phone out with the other. “Or -”

“Do you even know what you're doing-”

Or, we can do this the hard way, and you - “

“I'm a cop ,” Danny finally finds the sense to yell. “Get your fucking - ”

He scoffs, “Sure you are, princess,” at the same time Danny hears Mac yell out from behind them. He spins in time to see arms go up in the air, Mac pointing her gun at the man and the rookie wrestling for cuffs. Danny holds out a hand to stop him.

“I’m Detective Williams.” Danny says, not trying too hard to keep it smug free. “This is my partner, Detective Mackenzie.”

Ken Doll keeps his arms up, his eyes flickering between them all as if he's only seeing police for the first time. “Good cover,” he tells Danny, and it sets Danny’s teeth on edge.

“This is the part where you say sorry for assaulting a police detective, for compromising an investigation, and for acting like a complete asshole while doing it,” Danny growls, about to change his mind and cuff the guy himself. 

“Sorry, Officer.”

The bastard is still grinning.

*

It was a running joke at the station for months. How some Soldier Boy got Danny slammed against a wall, but not for any good reasons. Apparently spending a good chunk of his past making fun of everyone else was now coming back to haunt him.

Going undercover as a sex worker is enough to incite the mouth breathers taunts - being schooled by a ten foot tall civilian was just icing on the cake.

“You think he was though?” Danny had asked Mac. “Army?”

“Seriously? We need to get you a refresher course on profiling. If those eyes weren't straight off a tour, I'm Florence fucking Nightingale.”

“He seemed fine to me.”

Mac scoffed. “He seemed like a good time, you mean.”

“Fuck off.”

Danny’s not a nun. Since he broke up with Grace’s mom he’d dated plenty. Women, mostly, because even though he was out he was also a cop. Going around with other men in his neighbourhood and on his old beat - it hadn't really worked out for him so far.

The longest he’d been with someone after his marriage was a woman he'd met at the supermarket. It had been a silly meet-cute, their trolleys crashing in the freezer section, and their shared hate for the aberration that was pineapple on pizza a great way to break the ice.

He’d been with Megan for five months until she'd decided that Danny's lack of commitment - ie. his reluctance to introduce her to Grace - meant it wasn't worth staying together.

After that, it felt kind of pointless.

Was there ever going to be a good time to do that? It was easy for Rachel - her new fiancé Stan was loaded, and could buy endless affection for Grace. He was the reason she had a decent roof over her head, and not the one bedroom tin shed that Danny lived in.

All Danny could offer was Danny . Grace deserved to have him all to herself.

“Detective. I almost didn't recognize you without your makeup.”

It's almost three months to the day when he sees Soldier Boy again. Soldier Man , more accurately - and he looks more like one now than he did last time they met. He's shaved and rested, wearing jeans and a shirt, like he just got off a photoshoot for Essentially America .

“Jesus Christ,” is the smartest thing Danny can manage to say, dropping his head into the beer he's been nursing for the last half an hour.  

“And I thought you'd be happy to see me,” he teases, pulling out the stool next to Danny and putting a hand up for the bartender.

“If we were at the precinct and you were in a holding cell, sure.”

“That hurts,” the guy says, clutching at his chest, but still smiling all the same. He orders a beer, and tips too much, and takes a swig of it like it might be his last. Danny can't help but watch.

“You're not from around here, are you?”

He laughs. “Now that's a line.”

“No. It's just obvious.”

“Then why ask?”

Danny simmers. “Hey, you sat down.”

His mouth curls up at one side, and he brings his hand up as an offer to shake. “I'm Steve,” he says, his forearm tense and strong where he has his shirt rolled up.

Danny accepts the handshake.

“Danny.”

“I suppose it'll be handy knowing local cops when I'm here.”

“Yeah? You got us lined up in every city across the country?”

Danny doesn't mean for it to sound loaded, but it must - Steve grins at him with heavy eyelids, tipping his bottle. “One or two.”

“See, if that were true, I think you would have done a better job of knowing who I was last time. Instead of risking a night in jail or a stain on your permanent record.”

Steve huffs. “You don't give yourself credit for a job well done?”

“Despite what you might think, that was my first attempt at working … on the street.”

“On the street,” he repeats, mockingly. Danny wonders about him. How he can know so much about Danny already, when Danny knows nothing about him.

Steve pulls at his collar, skin red at his neck. “God I hate this thing.”

“Your shirt? What'd it do to you?”

“What doesn't it do? Pulls, scratches, smells like a funeral.”

Danny chokes on his beer. “Wow. So you don't work in an office, then?”

“Do you?”

“It's called looking professional . Some people wear uniforms. I wear a shirt.”

Danny pretends not to notice the way Steve’s face shuts down at the word uniform. Clearly Mac is a lot better at reading people than Danny is.

“And tie,” Steve adds, and while he's taking another swig of beer his eyes are still on Danny. All over Danny. He feels his skin go hot.

“It's practically a prerequisite,” he says, clearing his throat, and the asshole is smiling again.

Danny downs the rest of his beer and waves for another. Steve gets one too. Objectively Danny knows what this means - to meet someone and instantly connect. To be able to sit shoulder to shoulder and chat, and make fun, and feel good.

Objectively he knows where this leads.

But. When the crowd is winding down and it's getting pretty late, he's still surprised to hear Steve suggest, “How about we take this back to my motel?”

Danny's so surprised he doesn't do anything more than nod. He doesn't have a rant about how forward Steve’s being, or why he gets to be the one to ask, or why they'd be going to a motel room and not Danny's own house. He doesn't make a cheap joke about how much it's going to cost him, because as much as he wants to he wants this a lot more.

“Beer?” Steve offers when they get to his room - a bed, a shower, a toilet, the necessities. “Water?”

Danny grabs him by his stupid hips and pulls him in. The first kiss is crashing and sloppy, their noses caught so close Danny can't breathe. It slows only a little, Steve’s hand at Danny's face and the other trying to loosen his tie.

“You're useless, let me,” he growls, pushing Steve onto the bed and kicking at him when he laughs.

They undress themselves, down to nothing in no time, and when Danny finally gets his eyes on Steve he swears a whole lot. He'd known there'd be a body underneath it all but nothing would have prepared him for it.

“Holy shit,” he says, straddling Steve where he's sitting on the edge of the bed, focused in on a kiss.

“Look who's talking,” Steve gasps, and it feels like he tears shreds from Danny's back where he scratches, Danny crying out with the pleasure.

“Shut up and fuck me.”

“Yes, Detective.”

*

Danny saves Steve's number under GQ Asshole . He'd been reluctant to give it - I'm not around much, he said, and, I don't know when I'll be free, and a lot of blah, blah, blah that basically meant Steve was some sort of serviceman.

Even Danny could work that out now.

He didn't ask though. They spent a lot of time talking about sport, and food, and why New Jersey was, wasn't, ( whatever can we just stop talking about it ) the best place in the world - but nothing serious. Not Steve's job, or Danny's daughter, or the fact they spent an amazing ten hours together that Danny would do again in a heartbeat.

So he gave Steve his number.

It's not something he does, if he's honest. Not unless he feels an obligation. But he's 32, and lives alone, and has less vested interest in his own love life than his mum and sisters - so he's not opposed to doing things differently now and then.

“Grace isn't well,” Rachel tells Danny when she calls on Friday night - usually Grace is there at 4, straight after school, her bag twice the size of her and perched on her back. “I think it's better if she stays here tonight.”

“Rach, you can't - ”

“I'm not trying to be nasty, Danny. She has a fever, she's lethargic - we both know it's better that she's at home right now.”

Danny grits his teeth. Home. And Danny's just some drop-in shelter. “Well can I see her at least?”

“Of course you can see her!” Rachel scoffs, as if he's accusing her of being a heartless monster. He'd hated her enough to do it once, but they're beyond that now. “She's sleeping right now, so there's really no point. Why don't you come for lunch tomorrow?”

“Yeah, I will,” Danny says, and then knowing how shitty he sounds adds, “Thanks.”

When they hang up Danny doesn't throw his phone but it's a close thing. Instead he changes from his suit and goes for a run and avoids his usual fall back when he's angry - going into work.

It's always handy to have perps to catch when he can't get a handle on his own life.

Thing's go on much the same for a while. The frost settles a little with Rachel, and Mac convinces him to go out now and then, and work falls into some safe, predictable pattern which - now that he's older - Danny's actually pretty grateful for.

Danny gets in the landlord’s ear; gets some plumbing fixed, and some painting done, and a person with actual knowledge of gardens to come and do some work in the yard. Danny watches Grace play with her ponies under some shrubs and tries really hard to not cry. If he were a different man he might pack up the car right now, take his daughter and run.

But he's not. He tries every day to be grateful for what he's got.

It's a Wednesday night when GQ Asshole sends him a text - are you free? - followed by the name and room number of his motel.

Danny's hand trembles around his phone when he sees it, laughing at himself as he quickly taps a reply - what no wining or dining first?

Steve answers, I'm sure you'll whine plenty. you in?

Danny decides to leave it there, having a quick shower and fixing his hair and grabbing the six pack he was saving for the weekend when Carl from the 26th was going to host a games night.

Danny's sure this will be a lot better than games night.

“Room service,” Danny says when Steve opens the door, followed by a hasty, “What happened to you?” when he realises Steve's arm is in a sling.

“Collarbone,” Steve tells him, not dismayed, using his good arm to reach for the beer. “Nice. Thanks, man.”

“I never said they were for you!” Danny protests, closing the door as he follows Steve inside.

He's wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt, and his hair's as rumpled as Danny's ever seen it. He still looks really good - more tan than last time, the tattoo on his arm less stark against his skin. Danny wants to put his mouth there so much.

“How long have you been in town?”

“Since yesterday,” Steve tells him, trying helplessly to open a bottle. Danny just pushes him out of the way to do it himself. “The drugs they had me on knocked me out cold.”

“And now you're drinking beer, that's smart.”

“Hey, you brought it.”

Steve's propped up against the headboard when Danny goes over, passing him a bottle and settling in next to him. He's got the TV on but the sound low - some nature program, by the looks of it, as if Danny couldn't already tell he was the documentary type.

“I guess there's no point asking how you got hurt?”

“Just some training stuff,” Steve says, which to his credit is probably fairly honest. They both know ‘training’ is less ‘how to use the bread slicer’ and more ‘covert ops in the jungle’. Danny doesn't feel right pushing for more.

“And you're off for a while? In town long?”

“Just tonight. Gotta get into rehab as fast as possible.”

They get through the rest of the six pack like that - half watching the TV and mocking each other's tastes in ‘entertainment’; half talking in circles about their real lives (but never really getting to the heart of it). Danny does mention Grace as briefly as possible, and to his credit Steve hardly reacts.

Steve prefers to talk about things he's heard of, or knows of, or witnessed. He goes for the big things, the laugh - still filling a role somehow, while being himself. Danny gets the feeling he travels a lot, and meets lots of different people. He prefers not to tell his own stories.

“How're you doing, Armless?” Danny asks as it's getting late, turning toward Steve and taking him in. The TV casts blue-grey light across him, like waves, and he talks a lot about the water, Steve - it seems fitting.

“I'm good,” he tells Danny, licking his lips, and it's enough invitation for Danny to lean in.

“You sure you're up for this?” he asks between biting kisses, straddling Steve and remaining cautious of his arm. Steve’s got a handful of Danny's ass and his bottom lip between teeth and Danny knows it was a stupid question.

“You gonna take care of me?” he asks, and Danny hates that it shoots straight to his dick.

“Jesus Christ,” he groans, pushing in for a kiss, but still feels the need to bite back, “I see how it's gonna be, making me do all the work.”

Steve laughs, and it warms Danny in a completely different way.

He holds his breath.

*

Danny's seen more than his fair share of armed conflict. He's been shot at, actually shot, and even lost a partner - all within the space of a morning. The funny thing is, they train you for all that. ( Prepare is the word they throw around a lot - but Danny never subscribed to it. You prepare for a written exam, a game, you don't prepare for death.)

What they don't train, or prepare, or instruct you for, is what comes after. The questions and the debrief and the therapy. The endless reliving, day in and day out; pummeling and pummeling and pummeling at you to prove you're strong enough to work. Danny had a buddy who never went back, and nearly didn't survive retirement either.

That's the part that scares him. If he's not a cop, who is he? How does he define himself? Grace’s dad, and Rachel’s ex, a son, a brother, a friend. It feels empty in a way he knows it shouldn't - but he likes to have purpose. A title.

Rachel hated that.

“We have a saying in England, Daniel, about living to work ,” she'd said snidely, another late night, another party missed, another time she'd been left alone.

“Yeah, we have that one too,” he’d bitten back, and that had been half their problem. Danny was terrible at compromise, and even worse at saying sorry.

When Danny hears from Steve again it’s a new year, Danny has a new apartment, and he's been seeing a woman named Claire that Lab Tech Brian set him up with. She’s a professor, a historian, and way too good for him - but she talks about the future like she has faith in it, and it’s more than a nice change for Danny.

“You bring your kid here?” is the first thing Steve says when Danny opens the door for him. In hindsight it was stupid to suggest they meet at his place, but Danny had thought he’d prefer it to another night in a dingy motel room.

He was wrong. “Fuck you.”

Steve just smirks, throwing his duffel on the floor. His hair’s a little longer and has a curl; he’s got more colour, more bulk, he’s in one piece. “How’re you doing, Danny?”

“Oh, fine,” Danny drawls, idly wondering if he means it. If Danny had crossed his mind at all in the last four months - if he thought of all the stupid ways he could have been hurt. If it kept him up at night. If it was just Danny. “Just invite a friend to come and stay at my home, free of charge, beer in the fridge, and he mocks me for my living arrangements. But it’s fine, I’m fine, why wouldn’t I be?”

Steve is just laughing at him as he follows Danny to the kitchen, accepting a drink and taking in the view around him. He’s more curious than judgemental - Danny sees his eyes linger over a picture of Grace. He says nothing. “And what about you? Nothing broken this time?”

“Just a toe, but I can walk on it now.”

Danny almost hurts himself rolling his eyes. “Well thank God for that.”

Steve huffs. “It hurts more than you’d think.”

“Oh sure, I bet you'd love the broken collarbone instead.”

They end up on the sofa with more beer and some chips, swapping stories, watching a game, Danny getting a little braver and showing Steve some recent pictures of Grace. He asks all the right kinds of questions, commends Danny for what he does, only makes a little fun of him for knowing how to do perfect braids.

It always surprises Danny how easy it is. One month, two months, four - they fall back in the same pattern as if they've known each other for years. Steve’s opened up a little, sure; he’s told Danny both his parents are gone, told him that he’s not very close with his sister, told him all his friends are in Hawaii but he hasn’t been there for years.

Still, for a few bits and bobs you’d find on a cereal box - Danny feels closer to him than most people in his life.

“Don’t I owe you a little more effort,” Steve says in a low voice, later, a few more beers down and a long, wet kiss still lingering.

“Huh?” Danny blinks, mostly distracted with the way Steve’s hand is playing high at his thigh, how he's watching Danny's mouth like he has plans for it.

“You did all the work last time, remember?”

“Right.”

Danny's still not registering until Steve gets onto the floor, pushing his knees apart and shuffling in close. He lets out a long, shattered fuck , his head back and his arse up so Steve can get Danny's half hard cock out of his pants.

Steve curls a rough, calloused hand around him, then crashes his mouth into a kiss, and Danny can do little more than flail and curse and try to remember how to breathe. He misses this desperation, the sometimes ugly way they fuck - like they’re trying to meet some deadline and they're running out of time.

When Steve gets his mouth on him, Danny’s hand twists into his hair, and as much as he wants to watch every moment he can barely keep his eyes open with the pressure. Here they are, with all this space, but their knitted together in the centre of the room like they're about to explode in every direction.

Danny is.

“Steve, Steve,” he warns, and Steve stops, wiping at his mouth and getting off the floor.

“Bed.”

It never came as a surprise to Danny, that Steve was good at this. He’d known when they set eyes on each other that night by the road. When he’d grinned stupidly at Danny like he’d won some sort of game. He had talent .

It feels bigger than that though. They’re good together . And Danny's got a pretty full history of lovers - he knows good from bad. Amazing from terrible. And he hasn't had this since the early years with Rachel. An impossible, intimate understanding of how the other ticks.

Later, screwed into a light slumber and distantly hungry, Danny's phone rings in the other room. He's usually better at keeping it close by - for work or for Grace - which is the only reason he drags himself up to answer it. Danny kisses a grumbling Steve’s shoulder ( shut up, you infant ) and trots out stark naked to see who's bothering him now.

“Shit.” It's Claire. “ Hey , how are you?” he asks, pulling himself together and finding the furthest spot to stand away from the bedroom.

“Hi, Danny!” she greets, as cheerful as always, and maybe it's stupid that it makes him smile. “I’m good, thanks, and you?”

“Yeah, not bad, long week. Sorry I haven't called.”

“Oh it's fine. I was actually calling to see if you're free tomorrow night. My friend has organised this trivia thing at a bar near your precinct, I thought you might like to join.”

Danny throws a look over to the bedroom door. Usually Danny’s first thought is to ask Steve how long he’s there for, but he hadn't. He didn't want to know. “Uh, that sounds great. I - I've just got a friend visiting and I'm not sure what his plans are. Can I get back to you?”

“Of course. And bring him along if you like.”

“Sure. Thanks, Claire. I'll talk to you tomorrow.”

When Danny hangs up he remembers to take the phone with him this time. Steve’s sitting up in bed and the sheet is draped over his legs, a knee propped up and his fingers playing at his mouth. He looks like a painting. Like maybe Danny could pay him to just be here, and decorate his life.

He couldn't afford it.

“So I guess you heard all that, huh?”

“It's a small place Danny,” he says, a shadow of a smile. “Girlfriend?”

Danny groans, collapsing into the bed next to Steve, face in a pillow. “Not really.”

“Dating.”

Danny rolls to his side. “Yeah. Just before Christmas.”

“Right.”

“So how long are you here for?”

“I gotta go tomorrow,” Steve says, throwing the sheet off to slowly crawl out of bed. “You should let her know you’re free.”

Danny thinks he hears a little bitterness, but he's too tired, too scared to deal with it.

He lets it go.

*

When Mac was transferred to his precinct, Danny spent a good three weeks calling her Martha - just because she hated it. It was a completely dick move, and totally spiteful, but he hadn't wanted to believe that his old partner could be replaced like that.

A life for a life.

As usual, Danny was wrong. Mac wasn’t a replacement, or another number - she was one of the best cops Danny had ever worked with. The only thing fiercer than her loyalty was her backbone. He trusted her, and trust was not a word he threw around lightly.

“You ever have a friends with benefits thing?” he asks her one night on a stake out. She's got hot cocoa in a thermos and assorted vegetable sticks and some really ugly cookies that her son and husband made for her because they knew she was going to be up all night at work.

It's disgustingly cute.

“Can't say I have,” she tells him, giving him the side eye. “Why? I thought you were seeing that nice girl Brian knows, his cousin’s friend’s brother’s whatever?”

“Not any more.”

“Oh.” Mac pulls a face. “Sorry?”

“It’s fine. We weren't that compatible.”

“Well, yeah, I did just say she was a nice girl.”

Danny throws a carrot at her. “Laugh it up.”

“So who are you seeing?”

“Uh, just… there's this guy. A friend. I think we're friends. He travels a lot with work so we only see each other every few months or so you know, and when he's here it's great, we pick up where we left off, like he hasn't been gone. But when he's not here…”

Danny trails off. Mac has her thermos perched halfway to her mouth like she desperately wants to drink it but she's too shocked to move. She knows Danny’s bi, she's just never heard him talk so openly about a man before. There's been no one to talk about.

“And, uh.” She clears her throat. “He's single too? He's not hiding a family or something in the wings?”

“No!” Danny brays, but stops to realise it's probably not impossible. “I mean - no, no! There's no family! And that's not the point anyway. I just don't know how its supposed to work, how do you keep it up, how long do you wait around for, what do you wait around for?”

“It sounds like the waiting around is the problem, Danny.”

“And it shouldn’t be, right? I should be able to enjoy a fun night, say goodbye and put it aside to get on with my life. That's what other people do, isn't it?”

“I guess. Again, never done it, so I'm not an expert."

“Yeah. Right.” Danny scrubs at his face with a sigh. It's  been almost a whole year now since he started this thing with Steve, and it's the first time he's talking about it out loud. He doesn't know what that means. “Sorry. It's just been on my mind a lot. He - I can't reach him when he's working to make sure he’s alright so I start to get crazy, which makes me angry, which makes me share way too information which I'll regret later.”

“Danny.” Mac says after a pause. She’s put her drink down and turned in her seat, and there hasn't been many times in their partnership that she's looked at him that way. “I'll shut up about how dodgy that sounds to just say this one thing. That does not sound like friends with benefits to me. At least not for you. If this guy thinks its okay to fly in whenever he likes, take what he wants and go - well. It sounds like something you don't need in your life. And you sure as hell don't deserve it.”

Danny wants to say a lot of things he probably shouldn't. They probably don't matter anyway. If he looks at it from the outside, he'd tell himself the same thing. It doesn't matter that he serves, that he's a good man, that they work well together. It doesn't matter that the sex is phenomenal and Danny craves him the minute he walks out the door.

It matters that he walks out. He leaves. And he's going to keep on leaving until he's had enough of Danny or he's dead. Whichever one comes first.

Danny's not sure he can deal with it.

“Thanks, Mac,” he sighs, hanging his head to avoid any eye contact. It’s like having another sister, with Mac - knowing looks and insistent advice and constant berating because he doesn’t eat enough vegetables. Danny avoids most family gatherings so he doesn’t have to listen to them nag, but he gets it. Mac loves him.

“When you ignore me and see him again,” she goes on, and Danny fights every instinct he has to laugh. He throws her a ‘who, me?’ look and she just roll her eyes. “Maybe you should just tell him how you feel? Give him an ultimatum. If he runs away, then you know he isn’t worth it.”

*

When Grace was born, she was just 6 pounds of pink and beauty. Danny held her in his hands until he couldn't any more, hour upon hour just basking in her perfection. Danny had jumped out of a plane, been in a gunfight, and married the woman of his dreams - but all that paled in comparison.

Nothing else came close.

When the last of his and Rachel's marriage was about to finally crumble, Danny mostly cried for Grace. For what she wouldn't have, and what would change, and all the ways she might be different from the other kids. Confused, and mad, and hurt.

She wasn’t. Every day she amazed him with her joy, and love, and resilience. It helped that Danny’s parents, sisters and partners were all close; that she had a bigger sense of family than a piece of paper tying her parents together.

“Timmy said that girls can’t play football because we’re too weak,” Grace tells him during one of his weekends, the two of them sitting at the kitchen table with every item of stationery known to man. Grace had made some elaborate paper house for her dolls while Danny was having trouble colouring in the lines.

“Timmy’s a putz,” Danny tells her, throwing down the green when he finishes a bitch of a mermaid tail that took him ten minutes to colour.

“That’s what I said!” Grace cries, and Danny hides a snicker behind his hand. “But then Coach Connelly was all, no name-calling children, anger doesn’t solve anything!”

Danny doesn't tell her that Coach Connelly is a putz too. He's solved a lot of grisly cases by getting angry.

“So you're joining the football team?” he asks her, excited by the prospect. Danny never considered he'd be a parent living vicariously through his kid, but it still smarts a little when he thinks about his own athletic pursuits. Not to mention the knee.

“I told you. Girls can't play football.”

Danny actually does a double take.“What?”

“And when I asked Coach why, Timmy said-”

“Yeah, yeah, I got that part. So - girls can't play football at all ? There's no girls team or, or -”

Grace heaves a big sigh that is so reminiscent of her mother it scares Danny a little. “ Danno , were you even listening?”

“...yes,” he lies, doing that voice that always makes her giggle. “I just didn't realise that your mom was paying a trillion dollars for you to go to a school in the 1950s, I'm sorry.”

Grace pulls a confused face that means he's going to have to deconstruct and explain that whole sentence, but there's a knock at the door - the pizza guy is early for a change - and he manages to escape.

“Rich fucking Stepford snobs,” Danny mumbles quietly to himself, pulling out his wallet. “Expect my daughter to just do Home Economics, and sure she kicks ass at cooking but she can kick ass at football too you archaic fucking fossils - what do I owe you?”

Danny's swung the door open, but it's not the pizza guy standing there to greet him. It's Steve. He's got stubble, and a duffel, and he's wearing denim for Christ's sakes. Like maybe he's got a motorbike parked out on the street. 

“Um, surprise?” he says, clearly sensing that Danny's not entirely happy to see him.

Surprise?” he hisses, throwing a look over his shoulder to make sure Grace hasn't followed down the hall. He pushes Steve back, going out and closing the door behind him. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“I had a few days, thought I'd stop by and see you.”

“Stop by? You can't just stop by . You need to call, or text, or…”

Steve looks at the closed door. “Clearly I'm interrupting something.”

“Clearly,” Danny agrees, flustered. He's never been so simultaneously happy and pissed off to see someone. “You need to go. I'll talk to you tomorrow.”

Steve drops his head, and it's a punch to the throat. Danny's mouth drops open as if tempted to say something really stupid like, nevermind, you can stay . “Danny, if you don't want me to-”

“Daddy, is the pizza here yet?”

Naturally (because this is Danny's life and it's always enjoyed torturing him) Grace bounds out of the door, her hair flowing and her skirt billowing. She's an angel, and Danny loves her, but he's never wished she was with her mother before this very moment.

He groans and covers his face with a hand. “Not yet.”

Grace clings to his leg, and when he looks down he can see her peering at Steve cautiously. She's great with people, but her dad is a cop - she's got a few street smarts going for her. “Who are you?”

“Uhhh,” Steve starts, and Danny can see the cogs turning in his head. He’s trained to get out of tight corners, he probably has a billion stories he could come up with in the spur of the moment.

Danny can't bear it. “This is Steve. He's my friend from work.”

“You're a policeman?”

Steve pulls a face. “Not really.”

“What do you do?”

“I - I work in the Navy,” he tells her, and Danny holds in a gasp. Ten seconds with his daughter and Steve's already telling her more than he's told Danny in more than a year. So much for keeping national secrets. “Do you know what that is?”

“Kinda,” Grace says, her grip loosening as she moves out from behind Danny. “Marcy’s mom is in the Navy. She's away a lot.”

“Yeah. Me too.”

“Are you staying for dinner? Danno ordered too much, anyway. He always does.”

Steve smirks, looking at Danny that way again. He's won. “Did you, Danno ?”

“Yeah, and we're gonna watch Air Bud and maybe make some popcorn if I’m lucky.”

Steve's still smiling but it no longer has a teasing edge. He looks so good, and Danny would love to put a hand on him, kiss him, make him understand he always wants to see him and never wants him to leave - but it's Grace. If this things hurting Danny, then it scares the shit out of him to think what it could do to Grace.

“I don't think I can,” Steve tells her, but he's mostly looking at Danny. He's following his lead. “I just came to say hi, and tell your Dad I've got to leave again on Monday.”

“Oh.” Grace pouts, which is never a good thing. “Why have you got your bag?”

“Oh, um. I -”

“Stay for dinner,” Danny hears himself say, almost regretting it until Grace jumps with her excitement. “Like Gracie said, I always get too much, and we've got the whole thing planned.”

“I don't want to intrude.”

Danny bites back, we're well past that . He really wouldn't mean it. “You're practically buddies now. I can't stop it.”

“Buddies!” Grace repeats excitedly, rushing forward to pull at Steve's arm and lead him into the house. He looks like he's been hit by a truck. “Air Bud buddies!”

Danny hears Steve say, “Actually, I played football,” laughing to himself as the pizza guy pulls up on the curb.

*

It's a perfect night. Grace sits between them on the sofa, Steve and Danny throw popcorn at each other over her head, and they try to answer her hundred questions about the movie. Why, how, what, where, as if they can make any more sense out of a bunch of puppies that play basketball than she can.

When she falls asleep on Steve’s shoulder he has an amazed sort of look on his face that tears Danny apart.

“I have to get Grace back by 6,” Danny tells Steve on his doorstep, following a hot and heavy makeout session that he had to force himself to stop. “You want to meet back here or?"

“If that's okay,” Steve says, just above a whisper, his hands running along the length of Danny's sides and making him sizzle all over. He presses his mouth and face to Danny's own, like he's nuzzling, relearning, reclaiming.

“Yeah, yes, I'll see you then.”

Danny has Mac's voice in the back of his mind all day. Tell him how you feel. Test his resolve. Steve’s happy to sit and hang out with his eight year old kid, without so much as a lingering touch - does that mean what Danny thinks it means. Does he really need to force the words?

I care about you. This isn't just a hookup.

I don't know if I can do this… I just don't know.

“Fuck,” Danny is saying later that night, sprawled naked on his bed with Steve’s mouth on his skin. “I've wanted this since I opened the door and saw you in jeans .”

Steve laughs. “Liar. You wanted to kill me.”

“That too, but the fucking first.”

“Of course.”

Steve opens him up punishingly slow. First with his mouth, then with his fingers, wet and raw and needy. He's not sure what it is about today- whether they've arrived at a new place now - but he suddenly feels so exposed. Stripped bare as a father, a man, a lover - desperate for this. For Steve.

“Please,” he groans at last, biting at his bottom lip. “Steve, come here, please, fuck me.”

Steve gets a condom on, and gets Danny’s knees up, and pushes into him slowly before meeting in a kiss. Danny sighs into it, like every nerve end coming loose. He feels Steve inside him, and over him and all around. He hasn't let anyone so close in years.

“Don't be gentle with me,” he says, but it sounds like begging.

“I won’t.”

*

Danny almost dies in the October. Mac says he's not allowed to tell it like that, but it's the truth. He was frothing at the mouth, having seizures - a hot nurse had to give him mouth to mouth. He’s not sure how else to tell it.

“Chemical poisoning,” Mac cuts in when Danny's trying to tell her husband Pete all about it. “Indirect, because Danny is apparently stupid enough to touch a corpse with his bare hands.”

“I didn't know it was! I was checking for a pulse.”

“Still sounds like the wrong move, man,” Pete says.

“You stay out of this, you're bias.”

Pete just laughs. He's a good guy, Danny really likes him - which he wasn't expecting, if he's honest. Mac used to talk about how great he was all the time, and in Danny's past experience with marriage that usually meant he wasn't great at all.

Danny's terrific , Rachel used to tell his family. He works so hard.

“Are you staying for dinner?” Mac asks, opening the oven to let the smell of the roasting chicken waft out to meet him. Grace was in the back room playing with their son Ben, and he didn't have to have her home for a few hours yet.

“Sure, why not?”

The holiday madness starts in a tidal wave of nasty cases and piles of paperwork and so much overtime Danny's sure he could wrangle an early retirement by the time he's about fifty.

Thanksgiving at his parents place is bearable to a point. Between his two sisters, their husbands, and their (what feels like) dozen kids - Danny makes it through until the last meal and then gets a cab to Mac’s.

He gets disgustingly drunk, almost calls Steve, and spends the rest of the night trying to find his phone after Mac takes it and hides it.

“Here.” She waves it in front of his face the next morning. He's on the sofa, where he'd passed out, still half asleep and about ready to purge himself of last night's mistakes.

“I need to throw up.”

“That's nice,” she says, sitting on him. “Don't do it on the carpet.”

Danny unlocks his phone. Nothing. Steve could be in any damn time zone, anyway, so he's not sure what he expects. They've already been through all the holidays without any contact - why should this be any different?

“My friend Jake was asking about you last night.”

“Jake,” Danny repeats, squinting. “No one goes out with Jakes. Or Justins. Or Julians. Or any J names, really, don’t you know anything?”

“He's a nice guy!”

“Oh, sure, but would you date him?”

“He's gay .”

“That's not what I asked.”

Mac hits him with a remote she seemed to pull out of nowhere, Danny cursing at her in several languages. “Would you just admit you don't want to date anyone that isn't your mystery man, and stop spitting on my friend's reputation.”

Danny groans into a cushion.

“I'm guessing you didn't have the talk.”

“It felt like a waste of time.”

“It's a waste of time to stand up for yourself? Jesus, Williams!”

“No, no, I just mean, we spent a lot of time together, and he met Grace, and it just felt really… real.”

“Okay,” Mac says slowly, which always means she's building up to something. “Does that mean he told you where he was going? Or when he'd be back? Did he tell you where he lives, or boards, or who he serves with, or what his intentions are? Do you -”

“Mac,” Danny spits out, aggressively sitting up so that she falls to one side. “I don't need the third degree, alright? I'm not an idiot, I've thought about all this myself. But it's not that simple. It's not something you turn off, or cut off, it's not a disease . I care about this guy - ”

“Danny, I know, I - ”

“No, you don't know, because you wouldn't be testing me, trying to set me up with other men, trying to open my eyes to something like I don't live with it every fucking day!”

“Danny.”

This time it's Pete, hovering somewhere behind them. It's a warning tone, it's I get that you're hurting but if you raise your voice at my wife again I'm gonna punch you so hard you'll see stars.

Danny really likes Pete. “Sorry,” he says, looking at Mac. “I'm just hungover and tired and you - I should go.”

“No, Danny.” Mac tries to grab his hand but it's Pete that stops him, a hand to his chest before pulling him into a hug.

“Go have a shower, man,” he says, ruffling Danny's already crazy hair. “I'll make coffee and eggs and things will start to feel better. You'll see.”

Danny wipes at his face. “Sure. Thanks.”

*

Steve comes back the week before Christmas, Danny's sad little tree towered over by all of Grace’s presents. It's his turn to have her this year and between him, his parents and sisters, she shouldn't need any new toys for the rest of her childhood.

Shouldn't, but will.

When he opens the door to Steve, Danny doesn't even consider yelling at him for forgetting to call again. He just pulls Steve into his arms and hugs him because it's Christmas, and he's safe, and he's here.

“Are you okay?”

“I'm fine, babe,” Danny says with a laugh. “Just happy to see you.”

Steve kicks the door shut, and drops his bag, and gets a hand in Danny's hair to kiss him. Danny tries to get hus hands across the broad expanse of Steve's back, but Steve hisses and breaks their reverie.

“What's the matter?”

“Nothing, nothing, just a flesh wound.”

Danny snorts. “Okay John McClain. Come on, let's get a drink.”

It feels like all his Christmases have come at once as they sit on the sofa and talk about everything. About work, and family, and Grace petitioning (with a little help from Danny) to get a girls football team at her school. They'd won.

Steve shows Danny his wound - a big nasty bruise that looks like a water painting, swirls of colour right across his shoulders. Danny tells Steve about the poisoning, but leaves out a few nastier details to spare them both. Near death experiences aren't nearly as fun to share when the other person's off saving the world all the time.

“Well who was distributing it, Danny?” Steve demands. Apparently watering it down didn't help. “Give me names, did you catch them, what the hell?”

Danny manages to calm him down, after a while, convincing him that the whole thing was settled. It's over. They go off course when Steve starts teasing Danny for his incompetence, but it sits like a fire in his belly. Steve's concern, his near desperation - he's never seen him like that. The soldier mode.

Danny feels so suddenly warm that he pulls Steve to bed to undress.

They spend a long time naked and revelling in each other again. Danny's mouth on Steve's scars and Steve's hands through the hair across Danny's body. He's never felt so okay with himself as when he's in Steve’s arms, as when Steve is whispering to him, you're so fucking beautiful, so perfect.

Danny thinks maybe it's that revelation - along with so many others - that finally makes him say it. He's tracing fingers over Steve’s tattoo and Steve's drawing circles on Danny's belly and Danny quietly asks,

“Do you do this with other people?”

Steve pulls his arms away, pulls away completely. “What?”

“I don't know. When you're in Europe, or Asia, or Australia, doing fuck knows what - is there someone else?”

“No, Danny.” Steve sits up. Even in the dim lighting Danny knows he's hurt. His face is contorted, maybe confused, somehow making more space without even moving. “Seriously?”

“I see you a few times a year!” Danny argues. He's sitting up now too, pulling the other way. Moments ago they were woven together and now its like a whole river is rushing between them. “How would I know?”

“What about you? It's a lot easier for you to meet people.”

“You know I dated,” Danny says in a low voice. He hates how insignificant Claire feels against this. She was a great woman, she deserved better. “But I haven't. For a long time.”

Steve is closing up more and more. Danny can see it happening: his muscles tighten, his jaw clenches, he swings his feet off the bed to sit on the edge and hunch.

“You think I just pop in for the hell of it, Danny?” Steve says, quiet but unmistakably angry. “You think the Navy sends me on business in New Jersey and I think, what the hell, I'll get a booty call while I’m here?”

“I-”

“I should be in Nevada right now.” This time, Steve gets loud. He turns enough that he can look at Danny, fierce and spitting, “I should be getting my ass handed to me by my superiors but I risked it, like I've been risking it for two fucking years!”

“I never - ”

“If that's what you think of me, Danny, that I could use you like that - then what the hell are we doing here?”

“Don't -” Danny starts, and he takes his bottom lip into his mouth for a moment, stopping himself from saying things he'll regret. “Don't you fucking dare turn this on me. You're the one who sets the terms. Motels, bedrooms, beds. You're the one who leaves, who doesn't say where you're going or how long for or when you'll be back. If you'll come back - ”

“That's - ”

“But do I stop you? Do I say no or turn you away or fight it? Even though all I want to do is fight it. To lock you up and keep you here so you can't get on another plane, or take another mission, or get sent back here in a fucking body bag without telling anyone that I'm here, that you should be with me.”

Danny can see Steve's fast, shocky breaths - the way his knuckles go white as he fists them in the sheets. He knows that this it it now, all his cards are on the table - but clearly this was never a game.

“So yeah, I'm a pathetic schmuck who waits for you, who sits here and thinks all kinds of crazy things to myself because the truth is probably the worst. That I want you, and you want me, and even though it's fucking perfect, it just doesn't work. How the hell is it supposed to work?”

Steve launches for him, pulling their bodies close and wrapping Danny in his arms. He shushes at him, and it takes a moment for Danny to realise he'd gotten so worked up. That he was gasping against Steve's chest, trying to hold the tears in.

“Steve - it's too much - it's too -”

“I know,” Steve says, and he's still shushing. He presses a kiss to Danny's head. “I'm sorry. I'm sorry.”

*

Danny remembers being fifteen, and Katie Molson dumping him because Greg Packer had a car. He remembers staying in bed for days, convinced this was what a slow death felt like. Except worse, really, because heartbreak didn't kill you. It just made you wish that it would.

(Fifteen year old Danny was a complete asshole.)

Watching Steve walk out of his house that day had made him feel like that kid all over again. If he wasn't an adult, or a father, he'd give serious consideration to never getting out of bed again. The idea had its merits.

“You look like shit,” Mac had told him, and Danny just gave her his thanks.

It took a while. Weeks, months maybe, of compartmentalising his life into Grace, work, eating and sleeping. It helped to have a routine, distraction, because it didn't take much to trip up. Navy insignia on some paperwork, or a documentary on the TV, or an old football game at one in the morning because he was having trouble sleeping.

It was hard.

He'd spent no time at all with Steve, in the end. A few weeks, really, once you added it all up - so how'd it hurt so fucking much? They'd never been official, and never properly split up, just a too long hug on the doorstep and “Take care of yourself, babe,” a, “I'll see you around”.

Letting go of Steve was such an abstract thing - he was never really Danny's to begin with.

“Danny, hi,” Rachel says when he drops Grace off one Sunday night. It's usually a maid that opens the door, Danny kissing Grace at the threshold and escaping quickly to his car.

“Uh, hi. Grace has been fine. She ate. Has some Math homework to finish by Wednesday.”

“Great.Thank you.” Rachel opens the door wider. “Actually, I was hoping we could talk. I have some things to discuss with you.”

“Discuss with me,” Danny parrots, his hands clenching in his pockets on instinct. “Sounds serious.”

“Well, yes, it is rather serious. Would you like to come in?”

“Not really.”

“Daniel.”

If he's honest, he feels trapped. They usually only have serious discussions when there are lawyers present. Agreeing to go into their house and listen to their terms feels like a power play he can't win. “I'm guessing this is about Grace?”

“It is.”

“Okay? So what's the problem? You're not changing my visitation because we - ”

“No, no. It's just -” Rachel seems to find her resolve, taking a breath and letting all the words fall out. “Stan’s business is sending him away. And he's asked that Grace and I move with him.”

Danny feels like keeling over. His heart’s doing something in his chest that feels sort of familiar. When his partner died, when Rachel asked for a divorce, when Steve walked out the door - a finality he couldn't control.

Are you kidding me ?”

“Danny, this wasn't a simple decision. We wanted-”

You wanted? Why, because all of this isnt enough for you,” he says, throwing his arms out to gesture at the house, the yards. “What about Grace? She has friends, school, the team - you're just going to uproot her so Stan can buy another fucking yacht?”

Rachel scoffs at him. “Don't try and guilt me, Danny. She's eight, her life is just beginning.”

“But my life with her is here. My family, my work, it's all here.”

“Yes, and it has been since I met you. But your life is not our life, we have other dreams too. Other things we want to do.”

“Get richer?” Danny says bitterly, and Rachel snaps.

“Be happy!” she yells, tears threatening to fall. “Stan hates his work, and I resent him for it, and we're just not happy here. We can't be what Grace needs us to be.”

Danny has a million retorts to throw at her, but he can't find the words. He hates seeing that look on her face - not now, not again, things were supposed to be different this time.

“So go ahead and fight it, Danny. Stomp and scream and have a little tantrum, but don't tell me it isn't fair on Grace. Because we're doing the very best we can, and we'd like you to be on board.”

When Rachel slams the door, it's Danny's last defence, and he slumps to the steps to cry.

 

Hey, Steve, it's Danny. I probably shouldn't call but I just wanted you to know that I'm in Hawaii. Long story, but basically I came to be with Grace. I remember you telling me you had friends and stuff in Hawaii so if you're ever around … you know. Give me a call. … Hope you're okay, babe. Bye.

*

With the exception of Grace, Danny spends the next six months of his life hating everything . The sand, the water, the incessant heat - the way every perp he finally catches will sneer and spit at him, haole .

Hawaii . America's land mass is nearly 4 million miles squared , and they had to pick the scorching little dot at the ass end of it.

Of course they did.

After a while, Danny concedes to a few perks. The donuts, the seafood, the way Grace smiles whenever he tells her it's a beach day. His partner Luka’s okay, too, for a guy who thinks surfing is a worthy pastime. Not nearly as good as Mac, of course (which he has to tell her over and over again whenever they talk on the phone).

When he finally falls into a pattern, when he's got some sort of rhythm going, when he's ready to tell himself that he can survive this - Steve shows up at his door. Which is hilarious, sure, in that, “I've left you half a dozen messages since I got here and you haven't replied once” kind of way.

He was almost ready to survive that too.

“How did you find me?”

Steve smirks. He's wearing khakis as usual, which is no great surprise, and he looks as beautiful as ever. He's in one piece. “I work for the Navy, Danno. I can find any one.

“Um, no. Nuh-uh.” Danny shakes a finger at him. “My daughter gets sole custody of that nickname.”

“Too bad,” Steve huffs, pushing past to go inside. “I changed the rules.”

“You can't just - ”

Danny's not really sure how to finish that sentence. Push your way in, make your own rules, talk to me like it hasn’t been almost a year since the last time I saw you. Steve seems easier going than he did all those years - loose and casual like he's just popped in for a catch up. Danny wonders if he's forcing it.

“You know there's affordable housing in nicer parts of town?”

“Seriously?” Danny says. He's noticed Steve doesn't have a bag, just sits hesitantly on the arm of the sofa and grins. “That's what you're going with?”

“What did you expect? ‘Nice place’? Danny, come on.”

“What about hi, how are you, how's life in the seventh circle of hell?”

“You don't like -,” Steve drops his head, pressing the heels of his hands to his eyes. “Of course you don't like Hawaii.”

“What's to like?”

“People across the globe spend their hard earned vacations here, Danny. It's paradise .”

Danny shrugs. “Sure. You believe that.”

They get around to their usual routine; grab a drink from the fridge, sit on the back deck, go through all the things they've missed and pretend that it's okay. Danny starts to realise that what he thought was easy going from Steve was actually a weird kind of jitter. Like he's high, or wired, or keeping some secret. His whole damn life is a secret.

“What's going on?” he finally asks, after they've come back inside, put a game on the TV, sprawled on the sofa.

“What do you mean?”

“You're weird,” Danny tells him flatly. “Weirder than usual.”

“This coming from the guy who's still wearing ties. In Hawaii .”

“Steve.”

There's a tired sigh. Danny reaches out a hand instinctively. “It's just hard. Being back.”

“Yeah? How much time did you spend here?”

“I…” Steve picks nervously at the label of his bottle. “Actually, I grew up here. Left when I was 18.”

“You,” Danny starts, feeling an angry heat start up his spine. “You said you had friends here. That you spent a lot of time here.”

“A half truth. But my mum died, and my dad sent my sister away, and … it got ugly, man. It's hard to…”

Danny let's the quiet settle for a moment. It's like a weight has dropped off Steve's shoulders, and all that's left is the pain of it.

“Where's your dad now?”

“He died. He was killed. In the house I grew up in.”

“Fuck.”

“Actually, that first night we met, when you were undercover? That was the day I found out.”

“Wow.” Danny presses closer, gets both his hands on Steve to touch and ease and comfort. “And I was such an asshole to you, babe, shit, I'm so sorry.”

“You didn't know.” Steve smiles coyly. “Besides, you were a fun distraction from my thoughts for a while.”

Danny huffs at him but leans in for a kiss, Steve pawing at his face to angle him. Danny feels safe, at home, like he hasn't since Steve left last time  - but he also feels stupid for letting himself accept it again.

“You didn't have to come here, you know,” Danny tells him quietly, foreheads pressed together and fingers tangled. “I mean, I'm glad you did, it's good to see you - just. You didn't owe me this.”

“I owe you a lot more than this.”

Steve kisses him again, only this time he's rough; getting Danny on his back and a knee between his legs and his hands all over him, sending ripples down his body. They're messy and out of sync and laughing at each other - Danny gets halfway through unbuttoning his shirt and gives up.

He sighs. “You're not even staying the night, are you?”

“I can't,” Steve tells him, which feels more like, I won't . “I'm sorry, Danny, I know we weren't going to -”

“No, don’t.” Don't be sorry . “I want this. I want you.”

Danny pulls Steve to him again, slows it down and evens out. They know each other like it's their own kind of language. They'll remember.

“I want you so much.”

*

epilogue

Danny christens his new house with a poker night. He invites Luka and his girlfriend Kelly; Toast the snitch and a few of his more sober friends; Kamekona the shrimp guy and too many of his cousins - one that keeps putting Danny's whole face in his hand and saying “You tiny, bro.”

Danny doesn't mind. Grace needs to have people, real and good people, and Danny's finally managed to pull his head out of his ass long enough to figure that out. This Hawaii thing seems pretty indefinite, now, and he  and Rachel are talking politely to each other - he's even changed her ringtone from Cold as Ice to something generic.

Life's okay.

“I'm telling you, man, Grace would love it,” Toast tells Danny, joining him in the kitchen to help with nibbles. He's been going on about something that involves costumes and battlefields and Danny's mostly been tuning him out.

The worst part is she probably would love it. She’s been begging Danny and Rachel to let her do karate for months.

“Come back to me when she's sixty.”

“Sixteen?”

“Sixty! Eighty! Get out of my damn kitchen!”

They're all set up around the dining table, squished in and elbowing each other and bickering about who is or isn't peeking. They probably won't be wanting to have another Poker Night here - Kamekona has a whole shed they can use - but Danny feels pretty accomplished.

“Yo, Williams,” a cousin calls out from the front room. “Some ‘o ke kanaka here to see you.”

It's raining. Danny hadn’t realised until he goes to the front door and sees Steve standing in it, drenched through. The cousin disappears and Danny just stands there like a total idiot without a word to say.

“Will you go on a date with me?” Steve shouts over the downpour. Reason number 765 why Danny used to hate this place: the weather was stupid.

“Steve, what the fuck ?”

“I quit the Navy, Danny, and I'm moving back to Hawaii.”

The ridiculousness of that sentence alone breaks Danny from his stupor. He steps to one side and shouts, “Would you get in here?” as if that wasn't Steve's instinct once upon a time.

“You haven't answered my question!”

“What question, Jesus, get inside.”

Once Danny has Steve inside he really doesn't know what to do with him. There's a puddle on the floorboards, his friends are just a wall away, and this isn't how it was supposed to go. Why did Steve have to make everything so much harder?

“I don't work for the Navy any more,” Steve goes on, wiping at his dripping face with a sleeve. “Governor Denning has assigned me my own taskforce, and I'm going to assemble my own team. I'm going to stay in Hawaii.”

Danny watches his mouth move, and hears the words, but it still feels like he's tuned into the wrong frequency. He's waiting for the, but first I need to disappear for six months and not return your phone calls . But Steve just looks at him. “Have you hit your head?”

“Danny, I’m serious,” Steve groans, grabbing at the front of Danny's shirt. “I’m here. I’m staying . And … and I want to be with you.”

“You said you couldn't be here,” Danny says quietly, covering Steves hand with his own. “That it was too hard. I don't - I can't make you stay somewhere you're not happy. I've been there, and I don't want to do that to you.”

“You think I was happy in the SEALs?” Steve says almost desperately, pressing in closer. “Going country to country, never settling down, never getting to see you? I was doing it to run away, but … now. You're the first thing in my life I wanted to stick around for, Danny.”

Danny's breath catches in his throat, his other hand grabbing for Steve’s, their foreheads pressing together for balance.

“You're the first thing I've ever wanted to keep coming back to. And now you're here, and I have this job, and … I want to have a life again. You make me want that, Danny.”

It's not a frenzied kiss, like it so often is. It's slow and fizzling and wet, Steve’s mouth sliding at his chin. It's long and warm and Danny could do it forever and he thinks, maybe I can, maybe I will .

From the other side of the room, a crowd erupts. Every single asshole there was watching them them the whole time - now clapping and hooting and hollering. Danny hides his face in Steve's neck, feeling his laughter through his chest.

“You were a SEAL, man?” Toast says, the rest of the crowd dispersing. “Bad ass.”

“Uh, thanks?”

“Danny, come on,” Luka says, but he's grinning like a little kid on Christmas morning. “Are you guys dealing in or what?”

Danny tries to step away but Steve pulls him back in. He's talking to everyone else but his eyes are on Danny - so bright and alive and present .“Could you give us a minute? Danny's still gotta answer my question.”

Before Danny has barely opened his mouth there's a chorus of “ Yes !” from the next room. “He’ll go out with you,” a cousin finishes, and Danny just laughs.

“Usually I'd say those putzes don't speak for me, but.”

Steve kisses him again, and it feels bigger than their first date in public. A beer, a meal, a game. Danny feels like he's agreed to so much more.

He knows he has.

He wants it.

“You're staying.”

“I'm staying.”