In the end, it’s a very quick, smooth operation. They take out the guards in the hallway quietly, blow open the door, and shoot anyone who aims at them, which is often a surprisingly easy but effective way to identify bad guys. Steve hears Danny yell “stay down!” over and over, but he has no time to locate Danny among all the people huddling on the floor. He’s glad they all follow Danny’s advice. It makes Steve’s job a lot easier.
As soon as he’s assured himself that there’s no longer any imminent threat, he lowers his rifle. “Everybody alright?” he yells, more to signal that the coast is clear than because he actually expects an answer. He doesn’t want a reply from just anyone, regardless – he has a very specific person on his mind.
Around him, the rest of his team fans out to check on the terrified kids and teachers, but Steve mostly steps around the people still on the ground or just now trying to get up.
“Grace. Where’s Grace?” She doesn’t immediately jump up and he doesn’t spot her at first glance – there are so many dark-haired kids here, and he doesn’t even know what her dress looked like. He knows he’s being stupid, but panic squeezes his heart tight anyway. He raises his voice. “Where’s Grace Williams?”
And then he hears her. She’s calling for him, for uncle Steve, and as soon as he picks up on her voice, it’s obvious where he should be looking. A second later she’s up and he’s jumping over the last of her classmates to get to her so she can throw her arms around him. He hugs her back, more carefully than he would like because he’s still holding his rifle, but it’s already a lot to take in.
She’s okay. She’s wearing a very pretty pink dress and she looks worried, but she’s fine. He still keeps her close for a long moment, until he’s able to breathe properly again, without it feeling like someone strapped an anvil to his chest.
When he lets her go, he uses his free hand to grab her face instead. “You okay? You sure?”
She nods. “Yeah,” she says, in a small voice, but with a shade of that Williams stubbornness in her eyes that reassures Steve more than he could possibly put into words. This night scared her, but it didn’t come anywhere near breaking her.
With Grace safe and healthy and on her way to a full recovery, he finally lets himself turn to that familiar figure that’s been in his periphery ever since he found Grace.
It’s Danny, looking about as frazzled as Steve feels. Steve drinks him in like a starved man, because even pale and probably half in shock, Danny is a sight for sore eyes.
Danny is not saying anything, though, just standing there with his hands on his hips and an expression like he might cry. That worries Steve. “What,” he demands, still a little out of his mind himself, “nothing, nothing? No hug?”
Danny leaves one hand on his hip, but he uses the other to gesture in that way he has that broadcasts his Jersey-Italian roots like he’s reading out his family tree over a megaphone. “I’m so happy to see you right now, I’ll give you a hug, I’ll give you a kiss, pick a base.”
And Steve’s brain - well, it’s not very fair to say that it screeches to a halt, because it hasn’t been moving properly ever since it connected the twin points of Danny and Grace to a hostage situation. In any case, what tumbles out of his mouth, way too unfiltered, is, “A kiss?”
It’s more of a question than anything else, or at least that’s the way he thinks he means it, or would think he meant it if he were thinking, which he clearly isn’t. Everything is confusing, not in the least because Danny is providing him with an open offer to pick a base in the middle of a horde of possibly traumatized, often crying kids in formal wear.
Danny looks at him, and Steve looks back, still trying to catch his breath. It’s harder than he remembers it being.
And then suddenly Danny is moving forward, and Steve is still staring at him, until Danny reaches out for him and Steve leans down, more because he always wants to help Danny achieve his goals than because he actually knows what he’s doing. His eyes slip shut of their own accord and then they’re kissing.
He’s kissing Danny. The shock of realization when part of his brain finally flickers to life again is enough to make him wrench back from where he’d let himself sink into how soft and warm and right it all felt.
Danny studies him warily. Danny also still has a heavy hand resting on Steve’s neck, which does not help matters any. Not if the goal is for Steve to string a coherent, situationally appropriate sentence together, anyway, although there are other goals that this could certainly be a good step towards.
“What?” Danny snaps, just as Steve is thinking that he could happily stare at Danny forever without saying a word.
Steve licks his lips while he tries to figure out how to respond to that. He’s certain he can still feel a tingle in them where Danny touched him. Kissed him, a frighteningly dreamy voice in the back of his head reminds him.
“This is a really strange place for our first kiss,” he says, without consciously planning to do so. He lets it be what it is after it’s out; there’s a myriad of far worse things he could have said.
“What, and you know a better one?” Danny manages to sound combative and mollified at the same time, which should be impossible, but Danny has always been one to defy every reasonable expectation Steve has had in his life. Hence, their current situation, and Steve’s probably-not-actually-tingling lips.
“Not just one,” Steve says. “About a hundred.”
Danny’s hand slips from Steve’s neck to accompany his rolling eyes in a flustered gesture of exasperation, and it feels like a much bigger loss than it is. “Do you always have to ruin everything?”
However much Steve is distracted by the sum of Danny’s existence, he still takes offense at the accusation thrown his way now. Danny loves to rant, but some things are just not fair. “Ruin? I was being romantic.”
“How was that romantic?”
“I was telling you I’ve imagined our first kiss at least a hundred different ways.”
“Huh.” Danny narrows his eyes a bit, but Steve can tell he’s at least partially won him over by the way Danny doesn’t immediately offer up a witty retort. “Was this one of them?”
“Not even close.” He shifts the rifle that’s still strapped to his chest around to his side, mostly to give himself a way to fidget that doesn’t look like overly obvious fidgeting. Partly, though, it’s also because he’s aware it would make kissing Danny easier if there’s one less thing separating them. “Most of it involved me making you dinner first.”
“You,” Danny says, like he’s about to relay some very important wisdom, “are a sap.” He runs a hand over his already flat hair, a nervous gesture if Steve has ever seen one. “And it might be the adrenaline messing with my judgement, so don’t quote me on this later, but that actually is kind of romantic.”
“Well, good,” Steve says, and decides that maybe it’s time to take Danny up on that earlier offer. He’s the one that steps closer this time, while Danny is the one watching him. He brings a hand up to cradle Danny’s face, a little like he’d done with Grace earlier. “Are you alright?”
“Yes, I’m alright. I’d be a lot better if you wouldn’t be asking stupid questions right now,” Danny shoots back, but Steve is studying his face intently enough that he doesn’t miss the way some of the lines around Danny’s eyes relax.
“Good,” he repeats, and leans in to kiss Danny again.
It’s nothing like their first kiss. That was frantic and a little scary and as much as he’d registered that it was something he wanted to spend the rest of his days doing, he’d still been mostly in his own head. This time, he’s there, he’s present, and he has a chance to carefully pour every bit of longing and adoration he’s felt over seven years into it. Somewhere in the distance, there’s a wolf whistle and a heartfelt “awww” that he barely takes notice of. He’s far too occupied by the fact that he’s still wearing his tac vest and how tragic it is that he barely feels Danny’s hand on his chest.
When they break apart this time, it’s only because air is still a regrettable necessity. Steve keeps his head bowed and Danny presses their foreheads together. “I love you,” he whispers. It washes over Steve like a healing balm.
“I love you, too,” he says, replies, promises.
Their eyes lock, and Steve smiles. Danny smiles back. Steve knows Danny doesn’t like it when he jumps from great heights, but it’s a little ironic, because that’s the exact feeling Danny is giving him right now.
Steve is the one who reluctantly pulls back first, but only because he vaguely remembers there are other things he was supposed to be doing.
To Steve’s embarrassment, Grace is still right next to them. Danny blanches a little when he spots her, but it’s only a second or so before he relaxes, because she’s beaming at them, bright and happy.
“Does this mean you finally figured it out?” she asks. It sounds frighteningly like she’s teasing them.
“Figured it-” Danny starts, voice already rising, before he cuts himself off with a shake of his head. “Okay, you know what, no, we’re not doing this here. Steve, can you go or do they still need you?”
Steve looks around for the first time in forever and is almost surprised to find himself still in the same chaos in the middle of the ruins of a party as when he entered. It feels like something fundamental should have shifted in the outside world, because it certainly has in his inner one.
He catches Kono’s eye and she winks at him, mouthing “go” and motioning the same for good measure. He shoots her a shaka sign in return, almost reflexively, and she grins. Behind her, Chin is shaking his head, but he’s definitely smiling too.
Danny has a similar moment with Lou and Will that Steve will ask him about later. “I’m good to go,” Steve announces. “I’m all yours.”
Danny already has one arm around Grace’s neck, holding her close. He uses the other to grab Steve’s arm and reel him in. He doesn’t have to try hard, because Steve willingly presses as close as he can while still allowing them both to walk. Danny lets out an audible sigh. “What took you so long, huh?”
The words have an unsubtle double meaning which hangs heavy in the air between them for a few seconds, until Grace starts giggling. “Really?” she asks.
Danny jostles her affectionately with the arm he has around her. “You have anything you want to say to Steve or me, young lady?”
Her eyes go overly wide and sincere. “No,” she tells them, but the laugh she’s barely managing to suppress tells a different story.
Danny sighs dramatically and turns to share a commiserating look with Steve. Steve can’t breathe for a second, hit square in the chest with the knowledge that he gets to have this; he gets to be included in this. Danny’s hand on his arm tightens. Something in Danny’s expression makes Steve think that he knows what Steve is going through and he thinks Steve is being very silly, but also, Steve dares hope, a little endearing.
“C’mon,” Steve says, his voice thick. He stretches his arm further along Danny’s back so he can touch Grace’s shoulder, too. “I’m taking you both home.”
Danny has no hands free to do any of his usual gesticulating, but his upper body still makes a kind of swaying motion as if it were moving with aborted gestures. “Hey, kissing doesn’t translate to a better claim of ownership over my car,” he protests. “Who said you would get to drive?”
Steve is briefly distracted by thoughts of what exactly would amount to a better claim than kissing, in Danny’s world. Sex? Moving in? Marriage? He’s preoccupied with shockingly happy visions of a possible future for a second, at most, but it’s enough time for Grace to be the first to answer Danny’s actual question.
“I think you should let uncle Steve drive,” she says, because she’s just that kind of wonderful. “He gets carsick.”
Steve listens to Danny sputter about corruption of the youth while he lets himself be led out of the building, almost arm in arm with two of his favorite people in the world. When Danny pauses his rant just long enough in the parking lot to hand Steve the car keys under Grace’s approving gaze, Steve’s heart feels at least two sizes too big for his chest.