AN: Well, guys, here we are. What started as a fun little story mainly meant to fill a story idea that wouldn't leave me alone turned into such a wild ride. Thank you all so so much for reading and sharing your thoughts and encouragement! You guys have been amazing and I hope you enjoyed reading this story as much as I enjoyed writing it! Without further ado, here's the epilogue of this little tale.
Don't let your head hang low
You've seen the darkest skies, I know
Let your heart run, child, like horses in the wild
So take my hand and home we'll go
- "Home We'll Go" by Walk Off the Earth
In the end, their "plan" became more of an ever-evolving cobbled-together trajectory. Neither of them were particularly in a rush. After all, there was still a lot that they had to tie up in Hawaii between their retirement, houses, Five-0's transition of power, and Danny's health. All in all, they ended up staying on the island for another month to wrap everything up.
Some things went more smoothly than others. Their retirement actually was the easiest out of everything, especially since Danny had already done a lot of his own paperwork two years ago when he considered retiring. Not to mention that the Governor was expecting the move and put up minimal fuss.
Announcing the move to the rest of the team, however, had been fairly challenging and emotionally taxing. Lou and Adam both anticipated the move, but the younger members were more than a little shaken by the news. They still saw Steve and Danny as the intrepid, indestructible duo, missing the cracks beneath the surface.
After several meetings, Lou was appointed the new head of Five-0, though he declared that he intended to take a less lead-from-the-front role. He was getting old too, after all, and didn't want to sacrifice his own well-being for a job he'd more than likely retire from in less than ten years. His decision actually created a more stable command hierarchy for the team, something that greatly pleased the Governor.
Surprisingly, Tani received the nod for the 2IC spot since she had the most cop training and seniority on Five-0. She would be the boots on the ground commander that complimented Lou's more investigative role. Adam, Junior, Quinn, and Lincoln Cole would fall in-line behind her based on seniority and training experience. No one protested Tani's appointment, and Junior was practically beaming with pride when Tani excitedly accepted.
Steve didn't fully understand the knowing glint in Danny's eye at the official announcement of her promotion. He just chalked it up to his partner's uncanny perceptive skills.
Unfortunately, both Steve and Danny had to endure a few press conferences of their own, which Steve attempted to shield Danny from as much as possible. Dealing with the press was far from his forte, but he willingly took it in the chin to keep scrutiny from his partner. Though it helped that the great head of Five-0 stepping down greatly overshadowed Danny's quiet retirement. The detective preferred it that way, always dodging the spotlight since joining Five-0.
No, Danny didn't want attention or praise; he wanted to do his job well and be recognized for his work by the people in his life who actually mattered. His team, Steve, his kids. His humility was another thing people often missed, including Steve himself.
Their conundrum of their houses actually had a fairly simple solution. Danny, who was technically renting the house from a very kind older widow, heavily hinted that Quinn was looking for a better place when he vacated the property. His landlady, being an absolute sweetheart, was more than happy to let them stay for an undetermined amount of time and pay on a month-by-month basis until they left.
Steve immediately offered his house to Tani and Junior, renting it to them privately for far less than a market-value lease. He would've just given it to them for free, but he wanted to honor Mary's portion of the deed - not that she really cared. With renting, it gave himself and Danny some income whilst they wandered the earth. Still, it was more than a bargain that they readily jumped on.
Danny predicted a proposal in the not-so-distant future, and Steve couldn't help but agree.
When he stepped back and looked at Five-0 - this team-turned-ohana - he refused to squash the swell of pride that engulfed him. This was truly his legacy, his and Danny's. What they'd built together with Chin and Kono and reshaped alone would have massive impact for generations. And despite all the blood, sweat, and tears, he knew that he and Danny were leaving the island better than they found it.
When he hesitantly mentioned this to Danny, he smiled gently and patted Steve's back. "You did good, babe," he'd murmured with every ounce of sincerity in the entire world. "Your dad would've been proud of you, y'know."
Yeah, Steve cried a little bit after that.
The thing that held them up the longest was easily Danny's health, which directly correlated to Danny's stubbornness. The poor guy was terrible at taking care of himself and didn't handle others taking care of him much better. Not to mention that, since this was one of many concussions, it took far longer than normal for him to get back on even keel. Busted ribs also didn't exactly heal overnight. Furthermore, his recovery from being kidnapped three months ago was still ongoing since he hadn't exactly followed his doctor's instructions.
And that wasn't even touching the deep emotional and mental trauma Danny endured. He presented signs of PTSD, not that it mattered. Trauma was trauma, label or no label. Worse, Steve's abrupt decision to leave after the Mei incident added a whole host of other issues to his partner's plate.
It was heartbreaking to see just how far his partner had fallen, especially when a piece of it was his responsibility.
While time doesn't heal all wounds, it does scar some over enough to move on and live again. It was proving true for Steve, who still had his own 'stuff' to deal with and heal from, but he also saw signs of it in his partner. Some days were better than others, but that upward trend slowly became visible.
Danny's nightmares didn't stop, but he fell back asleep a little easier after each one. The dark circles beneath his eyes lightened as he got the rest he desperately needed. It helped with his physical woes, and Steve celebrated the nights when Danny made it a full eight hours without waking up in a fit of terror.
His appetite was still rather small, but he willingly ate a little more each day. His ribs were still painfully visible, but he no longer looked like a malnourished corpse. Steve used every tactic in the book to get his partner to eat, from those protein/milkshake hybrids to forcing him to make some fancy Italian recipe from his grandmother's cookbook. As a result, Danny graduated from 'malnourished' to 'skinnier than normal.' Still a win in Steve's book, even if the doctor would've liked to see more progress.
Unfortunately, he still zoned out, but the episodes became less and less frequent. He smiled more often, his movements became more animated as he bantered with the SEAL, and his body language relaxed bit by bit. Sometimes he jumped when Steve walked into the room, sometimes he didn't. There were good days and bad days and every sort in between for both men, but they dealt with each one together.
And slowly, Danny's hands stopped their intermittent trembling until the tremor only appeared after a nightmare or if he went too long without food. That, Steve decided, was one of the biggest wins of all.
Bad days, however, intermingled with the good. One morning, Steve woke up to find Danny nowhere to be found; not in the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, kids' rooms, or anywhere else in the house. 'Panic' was too tame of a word to describe Steve's emotional response to finding empty room after empty room, preparing to call Five-0 and scour the entire island…
… until he glanced out the back window into the backyard and spotted a tuft of blond hair barely visible in the weighted down hammock.
Prepared to utterly berate the man for scaring him like that, Steve stormed out into the backyard - only to stop short when he glimpsed his partner. Danny was stretched out in the hammock, eyes closed and face twisted slightly in distress. Dressed in a too-big hoodie, his arms wrapped around his own torso in a sort of self-embrace. Worse, his face was twisted in an odd look of residual distress; not like when he battled a nightmare, but the look of weary defeat of a sleepless, interrupted night.
It was enough to stop Steve in his tracks and silence the worried rebuke on the tip of his tongue. Instead, he plopped down on the grass beside the hammock and kept watch, like he'd always done.
Like he sensed the former SEAL's presence, Danny grunted and stirred a moment later. He made it about halfway through stretching before his healing ribs stopped him, earning a low growl of pain and annoyance. Eyes slowly opening, his gaze landed on Steve with unnatural keenness for someone who just woke up.
"Are you watchin' me sleep? That's beyond creepy."
His tone lacked its typical bite, almost like Danny was trying too hard to appear normal. Unfortunately, the whole 'sleeping in a hammock' thing completely nullified the attempt. And Steve was more than happy to call him out on it.
"Funny, I was kinda thinking the creepy thing was your disappearing act. Last I checked, I fell asleep and you were right there next to me complaining about how the Mets gave up a six-run lead to the Pirates in the ninth inning. I didn't even hear you get up."
"I can be quiet when I want to be. Besides, I don't know how you can hear anything over your own snoring."
"Cute, Danno. Very cute." Steve studied him, noting the dark circles and pronounced wrinkles around his red-rimmed eyes. "Trouble sleeping?"
Danny shrugged and didn't answer, which was an answer all by itself.
Getting to his feet, Steve loomed over his still-lounging partner and offered him a hand. "You wanna come in while I make breakfast?"
He looked at the hand for a moment before sighing and accepting it. "I don't feel like eating, Steve. Please don't push, alright?"
The request - more of a plea - was voiced in a tone that shattered Steve's heart. With his partner no longer in the 'malnourished' category, he could afford to miss a meal. "Alright, but lunch is non-negotiable. Got it?"
Danny didn't look too happy about it. He looked even less pleased while he was puking up said-lunch less than thirty minutes after choking down half a sandwich.
It was enough that Steve nearly canceled their afternoon appointment with the Governor, but Danny insisted on going with every ounce of his stubborn prowess. That decision was negated when Steve stopped at a red light, turned, and found Danny staring blankly ahead, trembling like a single leaf on a barren tree in a tornado.
"Damnit, Daniel," he growled, quickly flicking his blinkers on and pulling the car over as soon as the light turned green. He threw his door open, ignoring how traffic whizzed by mere feet away, and sprinted for the passenger's side.
Manhandling Danny so he faced the open doorway, Steve gently clasped his freezing fingers. His wrists were scarred, sensitive, and definitely a trigger, but Steve found this hold to be far less invasive. Squeezing intermittently, he was pleased to note Danny's eyes slowly focusing on his face.
"You with me, Danno?"
Danny eventually nodded, swallowing hard. "Yeah. Got lost there for a sec."
"Don't worry about it." C'mon, Danno, don't hide from me. "What was it this time?"
Reluctance oozed from his partner's expression, but he eventually fessed up. "Johanna. The car accident."
Steve winced. Yeah, that was a less-than-stellar memory. Fresh too. "Anything I can do to help?"
But Danny only shrugged, flinching as another car flew past at a higher-than-the speed-limit velocity. "Cars aren't my friend sometimes. I'll get past it."
That was a colossal understatement if Steve had ever heard one. Between Grace's car accident, the fatal one with Johanna, the car chase turned kidnapping, that car accident with the perp less than a month ago - -
"Danny," he said slowly, intensity coloring his tone, "do you get flashbacks in the car often?"
Hesitation, then, "Sometimes. What the hell is this about?" Danny got awfully defensive awfully quick.
"That car accident with the perp the day I flew in with Kono… you wouldn't normally pull a risky move like that. You prefer to corner perps in chases like that." Steve's eyes locked on Danny's, seeing the truth there. "You had a flashback, didn't you? While you were driving… and you lost control of the car!"
Shame lighting a caliginous flame in those blue orbs, Danny winced. Realizing he was squeezing his friend's hands far tighter than the situation warranted, Steve loosened his grip and took a deep breath. He wouldn't get angry, he wouldn't; it wasn't Danny's fault.
"Technically, I didn't lose control," Danny whispered, dropping eye contact. "Just couldn't stop in time and hit him."
"Does it really matter?"
So much for not getting angry.
He tamped it down quickly before Danny could respond in kind. As Danny's expression morphed into defensive ire, Steve released his friend's hands and pulled the man into a fierce embrace. "Why didn't you say anything?" he murmured in his partner's ear. "You could've died, Danny. Why didn't you tell me?"
Arms hesitantly returned the embrace as Danny relaxed in his hold. "Wouldn't have changed anything. And… I guess I didn't want you to know how bad it had gotten."
"I don't care. Next time, say something. And you're banned from driving unless I'm in the car too."
"Neanderthal control freak."
Like he said, good days and bad days. Still, the upward trend was encouraging.
The other thing that delayed their departure was an inability to decide where they wanted to settle. Danny kept advocating for New Jersey - at least a visit, anyway - while Steve leaned towards wanting to start completely fresh. He wasn't opposed to visiting his best friend's childhood stomping grounds, but he didn't want to stay there permanently.
However, that problem was solved a month and a week after Steve's homecoming in the form of a phone call from an old friend. A wide grin crossed the former SEAL's face when he saw the name on caller ID.
"It's been far too long, brah."
A low chuckle that sounded like the ocean breeze on a cloudless evening answered him. "And whose fault is that?"
"Probably mine. Never been one for keeping in touch." Glancing in the kitchen at Danny, who was doing dishes while FaceTiming Grace, Steve settled on the couch. "You're losing your accent a little, you know that?"
"Well, that's what happens when you're surrounded by haoles 24/7 for almost three years. You start blending in."
"Nah, not you, buddy. You probably still wear aloha shirts to work every day. They can't knock da island outta the infamous Chin Ho Kelly." Resting his feet on the coffee table, Steve contentedly watched Danny's hands dance as he explained something to Grace. "Besides, this place has a way of pulling you back."
"Well, I still got my contacts there, that's for sure. They're still passing me tips on Hawaiian crime." Chin chuckled again, and Steve could practically feel his warm smile through the phone. "Speaking of, I heard some stuff through the coconut wireless that you and Danny retired. And now Lou's in charge, right?"
Shaking his head, he stared up at the ceiling in a sort of awe. "I didn't realize your network extended all the way to San Francisco, but I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. Yeah, we're officially retired and Lou's the new head of Five-0. Plus we got some really great new guys… you'd be impressed, Chin."
"I'm sure I would. You've built a formidable force. Haoles here are still looking across the ocean and learning from Five-0's tactics."
"Good thing San Francisco has you, considering those 'tactics' were heavily influenced by you and Betty."
"Ah, Betty." Chin sighed wistfully. "Now that was a fine weapon. How's she doing?"
"She's been adopted by Lou. He's good with a shotgun, but you looked way more badass."
"Reminiscing about the good old days, I see." Chin's voice morphed into a more serious tone. "Maybe you'll like my proposition."
Stiffening slightly, Steve glanced towards the kitchen once more and noted Danny's rare relaxed posture. "Danny and I are done with police work, Chin. We've already sacrificed far too much for it."
"Not what I had in mind. Just hear me out." Across the line, Steve heard some papers shuffling before Chin continued. "So the SFPD has been looking for some standout cops to teach seminars at our police academy, not just for new recruits but for current officers. Ironically enough, the LAPD heard about it and wants the same. The goal is to equip all officers to handle any situation so our task forces don't get stretched too thin. The problem is that most people we'd consider to teach are either still on active duty or don't particularly want to."
"So you want us to come teach them?" Steve mulled it over a bit. "What kind of classes are we talking about?"
"Tactics, mostly, but some other things as well. You could work with ex-military transitioning to the police force, Danny could teach profiling and investigation methods on massive cases. It'd be a mixed bag, but you all could choose what you want. I know you're trying to heal and avoid the more graphic side of things and this won't even get close to that."
Rubbing his forehead, Steve deflected. "I don't know, Chin. I gotta talk to Danny first. It sounds like a good offer though."
"I haven't even gotten to the best part yet." A touch of excitement snuck into Chin's normally placid voice. "When I pitched this idea to the Mayor and Governor, he was so pumped about it that he threw in a little extra incentive. If you sign on and agree to teach these classes here and occasionally in LA, you'll be paid and housed. The Governor of California is offering to sell you one of his vacation houses on the coast near San Francisco for next to nothing; your combined signing bonus will essentially cover it."
Someone cleared their throat in the doorway and Steve nearly jumped through the roof. Danny stood there, towel in hand and an amused look on his face, and completely ignored his glare. "You might wanna close your mouth," he stage-whispered. "Your jaw is literally on the floor, babe. What's going on? Who's on the phone?"
Steve rolled his eyes. "Chin, gimme a sec. Mr. Impatient just walked in and - -"
"Chin? I wanna talk to him!"
"Danny, cut it out, alright? You can wait until - -"
But Danny swooped in and snatched the phone from his hand before escaping triumphantly into the kitchen. Despite his outward annoyance, Steve couldn't quench the joy bubbling in his stomach at the move. Yes, Danny was showing more signs of life, finally.
He wondered what his friend would say when he heard Chin's idea. It seemed too good to be true, but this was Chin. Practical, down-to-earth Chin. No way he would pitch this if it was anything less than what it seemed. And he certainly wouldn't pitch it if he didn't think it was a good idea.
Danny's shouted "What?" from the kitchen unearthed a smile, and Steve hoisted himself off the couch to amble into the kitchen.
Stepping into the room, he found Danny standing stock still with the phone still pressed to his ear and shock written all over his face. Gently, he pried the phone from Danny's fingers and said, "Chin? You still there?"
"I think I broke Danny."
Steve chuckled, rubbing his friend's shoulder. "Maybe a bit. He'll start talkin' my ear off in no time though, so don't worry about it."
That earned a laugh from Chin, a sound Steve hadn't realized how much he missed until he heard it. "Listen, get back to me when you figure out an answer. I'll send you the address for the house in the meantime so you guys can look it over. Who knows, maybe I'll see you in person soon."
After the requisite goodbyes, Steve hung up and turned expectantly to Danny. "Well?"
Still in awe, Danny shook his head. "Unbelievable. Chin's a miracle worker, I tell you. How the hell did he get us all that?"
"It's usually better not to ask questions," he replied with a grin. "Chin's a clever guy and insanely good at getting what he wants. He'd make a great con man."
"Oh Lord, can you imagine? He's already the coolest guy I know, but that's somehow infinitely cooler."
Pouting, Steve bopped Danny on the shoulder. "Coolest guy you know? What about me?"
"Eh, you're somewhere in the mid-teens of that list."
"For that, you're making your own lunch."
He was joking, of course. If left up to Danny, he'd forget to make lunch altogether.
"So, thoughts? It's a pretty good offer, better than anything we've come up with."
Chewing his lip pensively, Danny started drying the dishes. "It comes with housing and a salary too. Might be nice to have something to do, considering you get bored if you go more than two hours without an 'activity'."
"I don't wanna hear it since you're just as bad, Danno." Steve's scowl quickly melted as Danny smirked back. He started putting the dishes away while Danny continued drying. "Still, does it ruin our whole retirement plan? This might be the same demon with a different face."
Danny hummed neutrally, expression thoughtful. "I don't think so. It's more… clinical, y'know. Besides, Chin said we could choose our own schedule and have some say in the topics, right? That'll help us avoid potential trouble spots." A wistful smile lit up his face. "I actually kinda liked teaching, y'know, for that undercover mission."
"Eric said you were pretty good." Yeah, Steve could see Danny as a teacher. Hell, the man had already partially trained nearly half of Hawaii's top cops, including himself, Kono, Tani, and Junior. "And this time, it'll actually be a topic you know a lot about."
"What about you, huh? What're you thinking about all this?"
Steve shrugged. "I think it'd be pretty cool to teach. We'd definitely be more interesting than most of the suits that talk at those seminar things." Danny's damn straight earned a chuckle. "Plus, Chin's right there, Kono spends a fair amount of time in California, Grace goes to college in California, and Rachel mentioned San Francisco as one of her preferred options so we'd be close to Charlie. Seems to all align pretty well."
With a sly grin, Danny handed Steve a glass. "We could go to Jersey for Christmas. You deserve to see what a massive family holiday looks like, buddy. That's a whole other traumatic experience you've completely missed out on in your very-storied but slightly-warped existence."
"Don't push your luck, Danno."
Ironically, they never actually verbalized their final decision to accept Chin's offer. Sure, they told Chin and the team and even Danny's primary physician to make sure Danny was up for the trip, but they never said it to each other. It was an unspoken move that didn't seem real until they were seated on a plane - Danny in the window seat and Steve on the aisle - with the pilot asking them to buckle their seatbelts. Even now, Danny couldn't resist the urge to pinch himself.
"Will you cut it out? Geez, you're gonna leave bruises."
Though Steve's expression was peeved, his eyes held the same mix of wonder and disbelief as Danny's own. Like something inside him couldn't believe that they were moving across the ocean as civilian-housemates. Danny understood the feeling. Despite shipping the bulk of their stuff out to Chin earlier that week, he couldn't shake the feeling that this was just a long vacation of sorts.
This wasn't exactly the future either of them had in mind back when they were in their twenties. But now, Danny couldn't think of anything he'd rather do.
"You wanna explain the sudden urge to pinch your skin black and blue?"
Danny barely resisted the urge to punch his friend, choosing to glare at him instead.
"It's weird," he finally voiced all those feelings. "I always used to think I'd move off the island, but now that it's actually happening… I don't know. I thought I'd be goin' to Jersey or be with Rachel and Grace or chasing Grace when Rachel dragged her to some other hellhole, and I definitely didn't think I'd be sad to leave."
He left every avenue open for Steve to tease him, he realized, and braced himself accordingly. But Steve only smiled, eyes soft and filled with something he lacked the words to identify. "I knew you liked Hawaii, Danno."
"Like? No, 'like' is a very strong word, Steven. I wouldn't say 'like' - more like 'tolerated.'" And though it was true, Danny still couldn't help but attempt to articulate the warm feeling in his chest when he thought of Hawaii; the reason he refused to leave when Rachel asked.
"But the ohana you built and dragged me into… now, that I more than liked. I don't think I could find anything like it if I searched the entire world over. Because of it, this, uh, this pineapple infested hellhole became home." Glancing out the window, he nodded to himself and murmured, "I don't know how, but it did."
"Home," Steve said softly beside him, his voice weighted with thoughtfulness and something akin to revelation. "I used to say that the island had a way of drawing us back. But the people make it home - are my home - not the island." He shrugged and steadily met Danny's gaze. "You're home to me, pal."
Danny didn't need words to agree. Patting his best friend's knee echoed the sentiment clearly.
The plane started its taxi to the runway and Danny found himself lost in the passing view of the buildings that had grown all too familiar in the past ten years. Steve was leaning over to look out the window too, invading Danny's personal space shamelessly, and just as enamoured. As the plane sped up and took off, both sighed simultaneously when the island fell away beneath their feet.
"You think we'll ever come back?" Danny asked, arm bracing his still-sore ribs as the pressure changed.
Steve hummed neutrally, his fingers unconsciously landing on the pulse point on Danny's wrist. "Definitely."
"What makes you so sure?" Not that Danny disagreed, but he wanted to hear Steve's reasoning.
That question earned a lengthy pause, long enough that he wondered if Steve would answer at all. But eventually, the former SEAL shrugged. "Because our ohana's there and I don't plan on never seeing them again."
Danny couldn't agree more.
They were silent for a while, lost in thought as the seatbelt light turned off when they reached cruising altitude. Stewardesses began circulating the aisles and Danny was arguing with his spinning head - touchy from the lingering concussion combined with the altitude shift - when Steve broke the silence.
"Y'know, people always asked me what I was gonna do when you left Hawaii. I mean, with Grace in college and everything, a lot of people just assumed you'd go back to Jersey. And even though I insisted you'd never leave, a part of me always wondered. I even thought about what I'd do if you tried."
"Turns out you beat me to it."
He didn't say it in an accusatory way, but Steve's shoulders hunched nonetheless. His actions after Danny's kidnapping were still a sore subject for both men, and Danny inwardly winced at the poorly-timed quip. Patting Steve's hand, which was still curled around Danny's wrist, he offered a silent apology.
"I don't know how you did it." Steve shook his head. "Y'know, let me walk away like that."
Now it was Danny's turn to shrug. "Wasn't easy. It definitely helped that I could barely get out of my chair." He allowed himself a small grin before sombering. "I've spent my entire life chasin' people. Rachel, Grace, you, Matt… I guess I got tired of people running away. Just couldn't do it anymore. So I stopped and hoped maybe you'd come back someday - and you did."
"I'm not leaving you again, Danno."
Sighing, Danny leaned in so their shoulders bumped together. "I know, Steve."
"Just makin' sure."
Deciding to lighten the mood, he gently poked the SEAL's ribs. "Hey, so what were you gonna do if I tried to move back to Jersey?"
Steve's cheshire smirk was more than enough answer. "Drag you back kicking and screaming, of course. No way I'd let you leave."
"You're a terrible person, you know that? A complete and utter control freak!"
And though their banter continued, Danny found himself completely infatuated with this spark popping in his chest as the plane took them further and further away from Hawaii. Away from the site of so much heartache. Away from a place of many joyful memories. There was some degree of trepidation, some sadness, but also a faint stirring of something that grew stronger every passing second.
Hope for a future that didn't involve violence and death. Confidence in the legacy they'd build and determination to continue building on that foundation. And above all, a deep yearning to grow old side by side on that elusive beach, bickering until the sun finished its ellipse and set below the horizon.
For the rest of the flight, he basked in it all. He had his best friend beside him and they were both still breathing. Just this once, the negative outcome that always seemed to plague his steps remained only a 'what if.'
There was still pain ahead, still the laborious work of healing left to toil through, but so much more joy and triumph overshadowed it all. Perhaps for the first time, the future actually excited Danny.
But as the pilot announced their final approach into San Francisco, one thing absolutely needed to be said. The delight of starting this new adventure required all they'd left behind to be expressed. It was impossible to ignore, even if it earned an 'I told you so' from Steve.
"I'm gonna miss it," he declared softly, grinning as a smile slowly grew on Steve's face as the gravity of the statement sank in. "We did pretty good, partner."
Steve didn't tease, not that Danny thought he would. They'd found their balance, the soft joy of a comfortable relationship where reading the other's emotions came naturally. "We did, didn't we? Who would've thought, huh? Y'know, considering where we started."
Pointing guns at each other with fingers on the trigger, a couple of gunshot wounds, furious shouting, punches thrown.
Yeah, it was fairly ironic. And, whether it was the emotion of it all or the giddiness of having his friend beside him, Danny was feeling rather philosophical. Jabbing his friend's ribs, he couldn't help but wink.
"Good thing the first chapter is never the last."
Steve's jaw dropped. "How in the world can you say you're not sensitive with a straight face? That was borderline poetic!"
"Hey, eloquence has nothing to do with sensitivity, Steven! 'Course, you wouldn't know anything about that, would you? Y'know, considering how your primary form of communication was grunting like a caveman 'til you met me!"
As the plane descended towards the runway, the people around the two bickering men couldn't decide whether to be amused or ask the flight attendant for earplugs.
Somehow, Chin had undersold the whole 'practically free housing/guaranteed job with flexible hours' thing. Which, all things considered, shouldn't have been remotely possible.
But after ten years of defying the impossible, they almost should've expected it.
The vacation home the freakin' Governor of California sold to them for practically pennies truly lived up to its name. An hour and a half drive outside of San Francisco, it was situated atop a small bluff with trees surrounding it. It wasn't excessively large or lavish, clearly meant to be a private, little abode for quick trips while he was in the area. However, it was more than enough for a divorce, penny-pinching ex-cop and a spartan ex-military man.
Surrounded by forest, a long driveway led up to a little Mediteranian two-story house with white plaster walls and red-tiled roof. It had a simple, open-concept interior fully furnished with brand new furniture - clearly picked out by Chin. A brief tour revealed four bedrooms between the two floors, three bathrooms, a huge kitchen, small dining room, living area, and a rather large office. And though the yard was non-existent, a concrete ramp glided down the small cliff and onto a private stretch of beach.
The instant Steve caught sight of the sea, something inside him settled - like a piece of a puzzle snapping in place.
Dimly, he heard Danny asking how the hell Chin managed to get them this and Chin's chuckle accompanying a quiet answer. However, he was far too caught up in the wonder of the moment to decipher the answer.
Peace. He'd caught a glimpse of it, and a mere taste was enough to send him reeling.
Every day he uncovered new snippets of it, not fully within his grasp quite yet but something to continue striving after. He spotted it in Danny's fading scars, in softening gun callouses, in broader smiles and deepening laugh lines. He heard it in Grace's giggles as she learned to cook, in Charlie's squeals as he ran around on the beach, in Chin's low voice laced with laughter as he told tales, in Kono's delighted teasing as she dropped by unannounced, in Mary's sarcasm and Joan's questions and other members of the ohana's phone calls. He smelled it in the wind from the sea and in the kitchen where Danny experimented with new recipes.
And gradually, he saw it in his own reflection. The lightening of eyes that had been far too serious for far too long, a smile-wrinkled forehead, and the relaxed set of his shoulders were physical manifestations of a hard-won reward.
Of course, it wasn't instantaneous or constant. Both men attended therapy, weekly individual sessions and the occasional group session. Dealing with past trauma left a man more weary than even some high-stress cases Steve had worked. They learned early on to make sure they never went on the same day so at least one person would be functional.
Nightmares still ran rampant for both men. They each had a room of their own, but often found themselves curled up together in the same bed. Though they didn't talk about it, they went with it and it worked somehow. It warded off the nightmares, or at least provided an avenue of escape. Both became rather adept at talking the other down from a horrifying scene playing on repeat in their subconscious while they slept.
Steve had days where not even the ocean could calm the anxiety-born adrenaline coursing through his veins. Sometimes he would spend the entire day sitting waist-deep in the waves until Danny literally dragged him back inside. The bad days manifested differently depending on the demon tormenting him. On those days, Danny's eyes swam with sorrow as he guided Steve back to a calm center.
Danny had days where he could stomach hardly any food at all, and that persistent tremor returned to his hands. One night, Steve woke up in the middle of the night with his friend nowhere in sight. A panicked search found the man kneeling on the beach silently weeping with a half-empty bottle of scotch beside him. Danny's tells were more consistent than Steve's, and it nearly broke him each time one manifested.
But for every bad day came many good ones. Teaching became a fulfilling outlet for both men. Apparently, they weren't half-bad, especially since every class they taught ended up needing a waiting list. Danny taught investigative techniques and profiling while Steve taught classes on raid tactics and task force leadership. Together, they had an interrogation techniques seminar, another seminar on the vitality of a partnership, another on undercover work, and a series of lectures breaking down different cases and walking people through the process.
No one, outside of Steve and Danny, was surprised when those joint classes were overflowing.
Outside of teaching, they coached baseball and football. They spent time with Danny's kids, with Mary and Joan, with Chin and his family, and with Kono. Their house, like Steve's back in Hawaii, became a gathering place for the ohana. Even team members from Hawaii made a point of stopping by when they came to the mainland for other business. And when Tani and Junior came and brought Eddie with them, the final piece of the dream Steve hardly dared to hope for clicked into place.
Peace. A hard-earned, well-deserved peace. Something they would constantly pursue but was no longer out of reach.
Before he knew it, a year passed by - a year of ups and downs and everything in between. They'd spent a month in New Jersey around the holidays and Steve didn't think he'd ever smiled so much in his entire life. Everything from Danny's mom berating her son for being too skinny to the extravagant tour of the entire state from Danny and Grace was absolutely perfect. He had no trouble admitting to Danny's eager face that he loved the place.
Mainly because Danny loved it, but that part remained unvoiced.
They also spent July in Hawaii in a house that Danny's former landlord rented to them for nearly half of the normal price. It felt strange - in the best possible way - being there with no crises or cases to work, and they used the time to catch up with their ohana. Both saw the island through a different lens, one that was finally mending back together from a decade of trauma. Leaving was bittersweet, and they silently vowed to make it an annual trip.
In short, everything was going far better than he even could've hoped.
So when he woke up one Tuesday - a day off for both men - to find Danny's side of the bed unoccupied, he immediately frowned. Danny was almost never up and moving before Steve. As a man who hated mornings with a burning passion, Danny often stayed in bed until Steve coaxed him out for breakfast.
Unless something was wrong.
Worried, Steve threw off the covers and wiggled into some semi-clean clothes lying on top of the hamper. He didn't think his partner had a nightmare or anything like that, and there was no sign of trouble brewing the night before. They'd watched a movie, then let Eddie run around on the beach for a bit before going to bed.
Come to think of it, Eddie was nowhere to be found either. Which was… perplexing. If Danny was dealing with something, he very rarely took Eddie with him. That was more of Steve's move.
Either way, all the evidence pointed to something being wrong.
Padding down the steps, Steve froze on the landing at the sound of a happy bark and a familiar laugh. Shoulders sagging from relief, he peeked down on the first floor. From here, he could see into the kitchen, though he was just out of view from anyone below unless they came closer to the stairs.
And there, bustling around the kitchen with stacks of pancakes surrounding him, was Danny. Still a little too skinny one year later, but back within a healthy weight range. Still healing in many ways, but alight with a joy Steve had rarely seen. Still fighting with the hand he'd been dealt, but finally content. Still broken, but whole.
Observing it all, a rush of affection for his best friend swept him off his feet and battered him against the rocks of unconditional love. How had he thought he could survive without this frustrating, sarcastic, undyingly loyal man?
Danny broke off a piece of a pancake and tossed it high in the air, laughing with pure delight as Eddie jumped up and caught it in his mouth. And Steve couldn't help but smile too, content to sit here and watch this scene play out for all eternity.
"Yo, Steven! You gonna stop sitting up there gawkin' like a creep and come down anytime soon or what?"
Because of course Danny knew he was there. He should've never doubted it.
"Coming," he managed to call past the lump of pure emotion in his throat.
"Well, hurry it up, will ya? These pancakes aren't gonna eat themselves!"
But he still hesitated, cementing that image in his mind forever: Danny standing below with a towel over one shoulder and a pan in one hand smirking up at him. Easily reading the expression on Steve's face, his partner rolled his eyes in obvious fondness and headed back towards the kitchen. "Sentimental goof," he muttered with exasperated affection.
Bounding down the rest of the steps, Steve began following Danny into the kitchen prepared to bicker through breakfast. But something in the living room made him pause one more time.
There, on the mantle sat the plaque the Governor of Hawaii awarded him last year. It was the same plaque he'd given to his injured partner as a promise the following day. Upon arriving in the new house, Danny unpacked it first and plunked it on the mantle in full view. He still caught the detective studying it every once in a while, eyes soft with hope.
Plan on this, he'd said. Danny did - they did together - and here was the reward.
"Steve, c'mon! We gonna eat today or what?"
With one final glance at the promise displayed on the mantle of their messy living room of their shared home, Steve smiled, nodded to himself, and walked into the kitchen to start the day.
Home we'll go
Home we'll go
It's a long road, but we're not alone
Together we'll stand and we're comin' home.