"Danno, you haven't told me how you gotten kicked out of scouts."
Danny chokes on his beer, glancing at Steve, who's looking far too amused. "Yes, Danno," Steve says, "tell us how you got kicked out of scouts."
"I thought this was supposed to be a happy, life-affirming dinner for all of us to celebrate surviving the camping trip from h--" Danny stops himself, smiling at Grace, "the very informative and instructional camping trip we just took."
"I think a story about how you got kicked out of scouts would prove highly informative and instructional," Steve says, sitting back in his chair and folding his arms over his chest.
Danny sighs. "Fine," he says, already editing the story in his head for both his ten-year-old audience and his mentally-ten-year-old audience. "I already told you about the baby back ribs that guy snuck in, right?" he says to Grace, trusting Steve to get the idea. "Well, I helped a little, so I was already in trouble."
"See, Danno, you shouldn't break the rules," Grace says, nodding wisely.
"You are absolutely right, Monkey, which is the only reason I am telling you this story, so you don't follow in my sad, mistaken footsteps." He takes a breath. "Anyway, I was this close," he says, holding his thumb and forefinger an inch apart, "to getting kicked out. And then we went on a hike, and I got lost."
He ignores Steve's snicker in favor of Grace's wide-eyed, "You got lost?"
"I did. No clue where I was, when I came across some other guy my age."
"Was it one of your friends from scouts?" Grace asks.
Danny shakes his head. "He was wearing a uniform, though. He was ROTC from a nearby camp."
"Reserve Officers Training Corps," Steve answers before Danny can. "Kind of like a training ground for people who want to go into the military. Though if he was your age, I'm guessing he was Junior ROTC?" Steve asks, raising an eyebrow at Danny.
"I guess," Danny says, thinking back. "Yeah, actually, I think he said that." Danny shoots Steve a look. "Let me guess, you were the leader of your ROTC group, right? Biggest and baddest of the baby SEALs?"
"High school and college," Steve confirms, eyebrow still raised, as if he's waiting for Danny to mock him further.
Danny shakes his head. "See, Monkey, you should be more like Uncle Steve. I bet he never got into trouble in ROTC."
"Maybe once or twice," Steve says. "But we were talking about your bad behavior, Danny, not mine."
"Right. So, this guy from ROTC--"
"JROTC," Steve corrects.
"Sorry, JROTC," Danny says, shooting Steve a glare, "John Callahan, he finds me and helps me get back to the path to find my scout group. But before he goes back to his war games, he dares me to meet him back on that path at midnight."
Danny smiles to himself as he remembers John, so cocky and self-assured when he'd been leading Danny back to his troop, suddenly looking uncertain at the dare. Even if it hadn't been a dare, which Danny had always had issues backing down from, that look would've gotten Danny back there anyway.
"How were you going to find the path if you'd gotten lost to begin with?" Steve asks, his tone just shy of mocking.
"I'd only gotten lost because I'd wandered off to use the bathroom," Danny says. "I knew the way to the path. Just couldn't find my way back out of the wilderness."
Steve snickers again, but doesn't comment further, so Danny continues. "So that night I snuck out of my tent and went back to the path at midnight."
"Was he there?" Grace asks.
"He was," Danny says, hoping he's not blushing as he remembers that night. Everything he'd thought he'd read in that look was true, and they'd spent an hour on the hillside watching the stars and sharing random stories before John had made a move. Then they'd spent another hour kissing and groping, getting each other off before John had said he had to get back for a hike in two hours. The memory still makes Danny a little warm, and he takes a drink.
"So what did you do?" Grace asks.
Danny chokes on his beer. "We went rock climbing," he says, too quickly, judging by the deep amusement in Steve's eyes.
"Rock climbing?" Steve asks, both eyebrows up this time. "You? At midnight?"
"I was a lot more limber then," Danny says, flushing as he realizes how that sounds. Steve's eyes darken, amusement laced with something else Danny can't figure out. Then again, maybe that's just Danny's dirty thoughts about exactly how limber he'd been. And more dirty thoughts about how limber he'd like to be with Steve, thoughts he has to shove away fast before they show on his face.
"Did you have fun, Danno?" Grace asks.
Danny nods, smiling at Grace. "I did. A lot of fun." Which was true--he still thinks about it occasionally, pulling it out of the highlights of high school memories. "Best camping trip I had when I was a kid." And the only one, but she doesn't need to know that.
"Then how did you get kicked out?" she asks.
"Someone saw me sneak out," he says, sobering. "When I got back to camp the scout master was waiting for me and made me pack up and leave the next morning."
"Were you sorry?" Grace asks.
How to not lie to your child without admitting things that weren't really good parenting to tell her.... Danny sighs. "I was sorry I disappointed my parents," he says truthfully. "They'd talked me into doing this before my senior year to help my college applications, and I couldn't use it."
She nods seriously, digesting the information the way she does everything these days, serious and thoughtful in a way he hadn't seen on her until recently. "But Grandma and Grandpa still love you."
"Of course they do. They did even then. I think I was more disappointed in me for letting them down than they were. Does that make sense?"
She nods. "Like when I kicked Tommy after he lied to me that I had spiders in my hair?"
"Something like that," Danny says. Because he'd honestly had to hide how he'd been a little proud at her for that one. It might not be good parenting, but he'd bet Tommy would think twice about pulling anything on Grace again.
"Did you ever talk to John again?" Grace asks.
Danny shakes his head. "We didn't all have email or cell phones back then," he says. "And I was gone the next morning, so I didn't see him again."
"What is, Gracie?"
"You made a new friend and didn't get to keep him."
Danny shrugs. "It happens. But just because people don't stay in touch doesn't mean you don't keep a little piece of them inside you."
He meets Steve's eyes, and Steve's got that strange look lurking in his eyes, and he's smiling. If Steve had gone on after they'd met in the garage, if he'd taken his case back to the Navy instead of taking 5-0, and Danny in the process, Danny would never have forgotten him. But then Danny's willing to bet few people forget Steve.
"Can we have ice cream?" Grace asks, breaking the moment.
"Of course." Danny smiles at Steve before turning his attention back to Grace. "Chocolate?"
They drop Grace off at Rachel's with Grace telling Danny not to do any midnight rock climbing. Rachel tells Danny she can't believe he told Grace that story, but since even she only knows the same sanitized version of it he told Grace, she's not as horrified as she might've been otherwise.
Steve's quiet as they drive to his place, and Danny loses himself in thoughts of being on a mountain side years ago with the whole world ahead of him. He wonders what did happen to John, if he'd gone on to join the military or if he'd taken some other path. And he wonders, not for the first time, what might've happened if he'd at least gotten an address to write the guy later.
When Steve pulls into his driveway, he turns off the Camaro. "Want a beer?" he asks. "Mom's off island."
"Sure." Danny follows him into the house and through to the kitchen, taking the beer Steve opens and offers him. He takes a long drink. "Grace seems to be doing okay since the camping trip."
"She's a survivor, Danny. She'll be fine."
"I hope so."
Steve's got that look again, the one from dinner, and Danny frowns over the rim of his bottle. "What?" Danny asks.
"Danny," Steve starts, putting his beer on the counter and taking a step towards Danny, "did I ever tell you my mother's maiden name?"
Danny thinks for a moment, but no, it's not in any of the stories Steve has told. "No."
Danny blinks. "Okay." He gets by the look on Steve's face that this should mean something, but it takes him a minute to put Callahan together with Steve's middle name. "Um...okay...."
He doesn't even know how to form the question, but Steve takes another step, then another, until Danny is all but trapped against the island. "So I'm just wondering," Steve says slowly, his voice low, "if you've ever heard of a Matt Springsteen."
Danny swallows carefully--he'd left the name he'd given John out of his story. "Um...okay, sorry, but Miss Manners does not have a guideline on how to handle a moment like this."
Steve laughs softly, leaning his head forward until their foreheads are touching. "Like you've even read Miss Manners."
"No, but I would if there was a guide to dealing with this."
Steve laughs again. "How about we start with 'nice to see you again,' and then we take up where we left off nineteen years ago."
Steve's hands are on Danny's waist, making their way around to slide over his ass and down his thighs before working back up to land on his hips. "Okay," Danny says, distracted, letting his hands do a little exploring of their own, "but can we skip the wilderness? I hear you have a very nice bed upstairs that would be much more fun. And spare me the poison ivy this time."
Steve laughs harder, his head slipping down until he's laughing against Danny's neck. "Oh, God, I'd almost forgotten the poison ivy."
"How could you forget it? It itched for a week!"
"Mine was closer to a month. I couldn't stop scratching it."
"You didn't have a mother who smacked you with a fly swatter every time you scratched, then, did you?"
Steve lifts his head, shaking it. "No," he says, "but the poison ivy was worth it, even for a month."
"I guess it was," Danny replies, pulling Steve in for a kiss. "But if it's all the same, I'd still rather skip it this time around."
"Fair enough," Steve says, "as long as you promise not to disappear for nineteen years this time."