Notes: Written for shifty-gardener whose loving sisters furloughday and crazykookie bought her the piece for her birthday in the Purple Dove auction.
In his career with the Navy, Steve had been in many parts of the world and had seen many beaches. Nothing he had seen compared to the variety of sandy expanses found in Hawaii, and nothing, nothing had prepared him for the insanity of Seaside Heights, New Jersey.
"Danny," he said, sure that his voice was utterly calm, "what the hell is this?"
His partner’s eyes narrowed down to slits that focused their bright blue on him like a killer laser beam, and Steve knew he was in for trouble. "You wanted to go to the beach; this is the beach. In Jersey."
As far as Steve was concerned, the beach in Jersey was back at the house the Williams family had rented for two weeks, the house where Grace was happily playing with her cousins under the watchful eyes of her grandparents, aunts and uncles. This was a freak show, and they hadn’t even left the public parking lot yet.
The signs said that the beach was there, but all he could see was the back of a row of buildings; all he could hear was music and screeches of laughter; and all he could smell was grease combined with the artificial coconut scent of the tanning oil the gaggle of girls who had just passed him were wearing.
"And you worry about Grace wearing a bikini to surf," he muttered under his breath.
"Right now I worry about Grace surfing period," Danny shot back. "The bikini stuff comes later."
"I pity the first boy who asks her on a date."
"Oh, like you’re going to be any better," Danny snorted, his minor annoyance bleeding away to amusement even though he looked as if it was against his better judgment. "You’re probably going to be waiting by the door with your pistol in your hand."
"Assault rifle," Steve said succinctly, relieved that he’s averted another tirade on how he didn’t appreciate New Jersey. Wisely he’d avoided pointing out that Danny had been the same way with Hawaii in the beginning, knowing that would set things off again.
He had enjoyed the beach house and quiet dunes around it even though the waves that rolled in on the smooth sand were smaller and calmer than those that hit the shores of the beaches around Maui. Danny’s family had been welcoming, and it was plain to see where he had gotten his attitude; the family arguments were loud and intense though they blew over as quickly as a summer rain squall, leaving laughter and hugs in their wake.
"And your body armor?" Danny’s elbow made contact with Steve’s ribs as he spoke, the momentary heat shining in his eyes reminding Steve of just how surprised he had been by Danny’s enjoyment of that piece of equipment – or at least of peeling him out of it.
He licked his lower lip at the memory and chuckled before grabbing his backpack and hoisting it up on his shoulder, Danny doing the same thing as well as sliding his sunglasses on, masking the heat that had darkened his eyes.
"Nah, why would I need that to take care of some scrawny teenager?"
"Are you implying that Grace would date some scrawny idiot?"
"Grace is going to date whoever she wants and you know it; she’s got your stubbornness."
Danny snorted out a laugh as they started toward the boardwalk’s entrance, dodging groups of teenagers and twenty-somethings who had stopped to preen before making their grand entrance on the planked expanse.
Once they passed the buffering wall of the buildings, the noise level grew exponentially, each storefront, arcade and snack shack seeming to want to outdo the others with their choice of music. The scents of pizza and fried food were strong in the air having settled over the mile-long boardwalk because of the current lack of a breeze.
"So, walk around or go sit in the sand?" Danny asked, glancing up and speaking loudly to be heard over the music.
Steve glanced around, taking in the crowded boardwalk and the even more packed beachfront, then at his partner, gauging the location versus what he knew Danny’s likes to be. "Walk; we can even get a slice of your famous Jersey pizza if we get hungry." The smile that earned him let Steve know he had made the right choice, and the two ambled along, Danny reminiscing about times he had come here when he was younger.
"You’re telling me that didn’t make you sick? Three slices of pizza, a sausage and pepper hoagie, then twice on the roller coaster?"
"Scout’s honor," Danny promised solemnly.
"You know, I could ask your mother when we get back..." Steve smirked at the minute change in expression as he said that.
"Okay, so maybe I got a little green."
"We could always give it another go so I could verify the fact."
"No! God, no." Danny shuddered as he spoke, and Steve fought manfully to keep from howling with laughter.
"Good thing I never was a Boy Scout," Danny muttered wryly. "C’mon, I’ll get you a slice so you can weep for the lack of a real pie when we go back."
"Let me guess: sauce, mozz and maybe pepperoni." Surprise drew Danny’s eyebrows over the rim of his sunglasses, and Steve grinned as he nudged the shorter man in the arm. "I remember important things."
"But we weren’t even–" Apparently remembering they were out in public, Danny waved a hand in a gesture that must have meant something in Danny Williams appendage semaphore, a language that Steve was still trying to decipher.
"I remember important things," Steve repeated only to blink when Danny scowled. "What did I do now?" he sighed, knowing it could be anything.
Danny raised a hand and tipped his sunglasses so that he could look over the top of the mirrored lenses, and Steve drew in a quick breath at the heat visible in his eyes. "You say something like that here where I can’t do anything about it. Not cool, Steve."
For a moment, Steve damned all of the Jersey Shore to hell so that they could have some privacy, but his curse obviously didn’t work because the carnival atmosphere remained around them, loudly asserting its existence in the form of a crowd of tanned gym rats who bumped past them as they headed down the boardwalk.
"Yeah," Steve rubbed a hand over the back of his neck, feeling more heat than could have come from the sun warming his skin. "Guess we’ll have to save it up then."
"Interest," Danny pointed out, ignoring the young men who were yelling something about ‘GTL’.
"Compounded, I’m sure."
The quirk of Danny’s eyebrows told Steve that the question was pointless, and he shook his head. "C’mon, let’s try out this famous pizza, then you can talk me into going on a ride or two."
It ended up being two slices of the pizza (which Steve had to admit was pretty damn good); and it was obvious that the food put Danny in a good mood as they wandered out on the pier. The safety of the rides seemed dubious at best, and Steve winced, wondering if Danny was wearing off on him in that regard.
Knowing what the question meant, Steve balled up the napkin in his hand and shot it toward a mesh waste can, grinning wryly when it bounced off the rim and fell to the boardwalk. "So it was good. You going to try Hawaiian pizza now?"
Danny seemed about ready to say something, but he paused and stooped to pick up Steve’s napkin, tossing it into the bin with negligent ease. "Sure, I’ll give it a go."
"Glad to hear it; it’s always good to try new things. You might even – holy hell, just what is that?" Steve could feel his jaw drop as he stared at the group of young women walking toward them. All three were tanned, but it was the unnatural color that came from a booth, not from the sun. They all had dark hair though it was teased up and out in an overdone manner and speaking of overdone... He’d known women with implants before, but these gave new meaning to ‘put your eye out with that thing’.
"What is what?"
"That," Steve hissed, trying to hide the horror in his voice as the women met up with a group of men and commenced shrieking in excitement as they said hello and the men preened.
"Kids," Danny shrugged, apparently seeing nothing wrong with the grouping.
"Kids?" Steve knew his voice sounded choked, but he couldn’t help it, just as he couldn’t keep from staring at the shortest girl in the bunch who unfortunately had the highest hair and the most amount of silicone in her chest. Her skin was a brown that was almost orange, and she was dressed in the strange combination of a tight shirt with slits cut in it, a tiny pair of shorts, and furry boots.
Her companions were a little more sedately dressed, but apparently they had all suffered a dryer malfunction because everything they had on looked about two sizes too small – and that included the men.
"Kids like to show off; you know how it is."
"Who are you, and what have you done to my Danny?" The words escaped Steve’s mouth before he could stop them, and he briefly wondered if it was something in the pizza.
"What the hell do you mean by that?" Danny asked.
"You’re telling me that you would let Grace go out like that?"
Danny’s complexion paled under his tan as he looked at the group then back at Steve. "No, but this is the Shore; they overdo here; it’s sort of like peacocks."
The explanation sounded lame to Steve’s ears, and from Danny’s expression, he felt the same way. "Peacocks, right. So making yourself look like an Oompa Loompa is okay if you’re on the Shore?"
Fortunately the group had started to make their noisy way down the boardwalk and missed that comment though Danny sputtered at it.
"Oompa Loompa? Where the hell did you come up with that?"
"Look at that short one and tell me she doesn’t remind you of one! I’m just waiting for Willie Wonka to come and drag her off to work."
"I– you– she–" Apparently unable to finish a complete sentence at the moment, Danny stared after the group before slowly starting to laugh. "You’re right; she does look like one of them – so which one is the gum-chewing girl?"
Steve pondered the question as he started to laugh as well. "We can go unconventional and have it be the skinny guy; he’d look good in blue."
Danny shook his head as he pointed a finger in Steve’s direction. "You are certifiable, do you know that?"
"Nothing you haven’t told me before."
"And I’m right!"
"Yeah, but you love me anyway."
"Which makes me certifiable."
Fortunately the day didn’t include any more encounters with the Oompa Loompa though during their trip back down the boardwalk on the skyride – ‘C’mon, you’ll love it, plus there’s a breeze up there’ – Steve heard a discordant shriek and spotted the girls again though this time the shortest one had a police escort causing him to wonder what the hell she had done. After a moment of watching her staggering progress, it was plain that the young woman was drunk out of her mind, and he had to wonder just how the hell she had managed to down that much alcohol in two hours. Her two friends were following the pair of cops who were walking the Oompa Loompa off the boardwalk and to their car, both looking as if they didn’t know if they should laugh or call their parents. Apparently they chose the second option because one of them pulled out her cell phone and started talking rapidly into it.
"What the hell is so interesting down there?" Danny asked craning his neck to look behind Steve as the ride carried them further down the boardwalk.
"Guess Oompa Loompas can’t hold their liquor," Steve mused, knowing he shouldn’t laugh at the girl’s predicament but hard-pressed not to.
Finally spotting the group in the parking lot, Danny shook his head and sighed. "Jesus, it’s only three; what the hell time did she start?"
"When she woke up?"
"So that would be what, half an hour before we first saw her?"
"Call it an hour; she was nowhere near that drunk when we first saw her, and I’m betting that she can probably drink us both under the table, so she had to work to get that trashed."
Steve saw the corner of Danny’s mouth quirk though it looked as if he was trying to lock the expression down, probably out of loyalty to his native state and its denizens.
"She’s probably from New York," he allowed.
"Probably, looked like a New Yorker to me."
They found their way back to the rental car after getting off the ride, buying a couple of over-priced bottles of water on the way to combat the heat. They chugged them as they waited for the air conditioning to kick in as Danny eased out into the traffic on the main road, heading south toward Barnegat Light and the house the Williams family was settled in, arriving just before the sun set. They walked out onto the beach to join in a clam bake in the pit the three youngest family members had spent an hour digging – and accidentally caving in.
"Danno! Steve!" Grace flung herself at first her father then Steve, hugging them both with sandy arms before dragging them over to inspect her work, finally sharing the glory with her male cousins when they complained – loudly.
"Can we dig one at your house and have a clambake there when we go home, Steve?" she asked, her heartfelt expression causing Steve to realize there would be nothing he wouldn’t do to keep this little girl happy. God help the person who hurt her; he wasn’t sure who would kill them first, himself, Danny or Rachel; it might end up a three-way tie.
"Sure, I think we can manage that," he glanced over at Danny, who grinned wryly as if knowing how snowed his daughter had his partner.
"We can invite Kono and Uncle Chin and Kamekona..."
"What’s a Kamekona?" Matthew, Danny’s sister’s eldest at nine asked before being interrupted by his seven-year-old brother Nathan.
"Why do you have a chin for an uncle?"
"Go explain it to them, monkey," Danny laughed, kissing her on the top of the head before sending the three off to huddle together, chattering away, two tow-heads surrounding Grace’s dark hair.
"You look like you both could use this." The words were spoken by Danny’s father, a balding, lean-featured man of middle height who handed them each a beer.
"Thanks, Dad." Danny tilted his head back, and Steve focused on his own beer so that Chuck wouldn’t catch him staring at his son’s throat as he swallowed. The family had been remarkably accepting about their relationship, but tactics said you didn’t throw the fact in a man’s face that his formerly straight son now blew the other way.
That thought struck him just as he was swallowing, and Steve’s laugh turned into a strangled cough as the beer divided its attention between his esophagus and trachea.
"Easy, easy!" Danny’s sister Michelle joined the group, pounding Steve on the back a few times to help clear his lungs. Once he wasn’t coughing any longer, she smirked at him, an expression that had seemed strangely familiar until Steve recognized it as Danny’s, just on a dimpled, feminine face.
"So, did you enjoy Seaside?"
Something in her tone had Steve giving her an assessing look. "It was... interesting. Loud."
"Crowded?" she asked, the smirk changing to a smile. "Full of new and intriguing things?"
"I don’t know about intriguing, but we were wondering if Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory let out for lunch and we missed the whistle."
Michelle’s brow furrowed in confusion, and Danny cut in to explain. "Short, round, orange – terrifying."
Chuck snorted out a laugh at the explanation but nodded sagely. "We call ‘em refugees from the mother ship; thank God they don’t come down here, too quiet."
"And thank God the boys are too young to notice!" Michelle shivered delicately as she spoke.
"Yet," Danny pointed out, causing his sister to give him the stink eye.
"My boys have enough sense not to go after things like that," she sniffed, looking at her brother with disdain, her eyes narrowed in a vicious glare.
"And hopefully not to join in the tanning, waxing crew," he snickered, causing Steve to eye him strangely.
"You could tell that those guys waxed?"
"No man on earth is that smooth."
Steve’s eyebrow rose at the flat announcement, and he eyed Danny closely before speaking over Michelle’s laughter. "And just how closely did you inspect them to find this out?"
"Danny! From Steve here, I guessed you had better taste in men then that!" Michelle giggled, sending Danny into a tirade that lasted for the next five minutes and only halted because the food was ready to eat.
Several hours later, the food consumed, all the dishes washed and put away and the kids wrangled through their showers and in bed, the adults sat out on the deck, sharing a bottle of red wine and watching the moon-silvered waves roll into the beach, the rushing of the water a murmured counterpoint to the rise and fall of the low-voiced conversation.
"So," Steve glanced toward Danny at the single quiet word, waiting out the silence that followed while studying the way the moonlight bleached out his partner’s hair and turned his eyes an almost reflective silver.
"So," Danny repeated after taking a drink before continuing, "what did you think?"
"Of today?" The question was asked carefully as Steve leaned back in his deck chair, watching as the ocean breeze lifted Danny’s hair, sending it flopping down over his brow for a brief moment before he pushed it back out of the way.
"Like I told Michelle, it was interesting – the boardwalk anyway. Tonight though," Steve felt himself smile and saw the expression echoed on Danny’s face, "that I really enjoyed."
"See, Jersey isn’t so bad."
"Now if I could only get you to say the same thing about Hawaii..."
"There are things I like about Hawaii!" Danny protested in a low voice.
Steve fought the grin that threatened to break through his calm demeanor. "People? Would you have met some of these people if you hadn’t come to Hawaii?"
"No. Okay, are you happy now?" Danny’s tone curled with exasperation, and Steve allowed his grin to slip loose in reaction to both the tone and the words.
"Yeah, yeah I am."
Danny downed the rest of his wine in one swift swallow, looking as if he was torn between attempting to strangle Steve and kissing him. "Well good," he finally said, apparently choosing not to do either, at least not in front of his family. "I am too."
"You okay?" They were back in Hawaii, Grace dropped off at Stan and Rachel’s, and, after seeing Danny’s mood take a definite downswing with that encounter, Steve made the executive decision that the other man was staying at his place that night. Overriding Danny’s protests that there was a ton of laundry to do, he grabbed them both beers and herded the shorter man outside, kicking off his shoes to walk barefoot down to the ocean, slinging an arm around Danny’s waist to make sure he came as well before asking the question.
The tensing of the muscles under his arm made him wonder if Danny was going to answer, but finally the other man spoke. "Yeah. It’s just hard, you know? I just get used to having her with me all the time, and then she’s gone again. It felt good, like home."
"You know, you’re allowed to have more than one home," Steve said carefully, not wanting to send Danny into a tirade.
"According to what rule book?"
"I don’t think there are rule books for those kinds of things, Danny." The words were sighed out as Steve braced himself for an argument, but Danny surprised him by nodding as he took a swallow of his beer, the condensation on the amber bottle glowing in the light of the setting sun.
"If there were, maybe I’d feel better about all this, have some kind of framework to put around it."
"Sometimes you just have to improvise and make the best of the situation," Steve offered. "When Dad sent me away, I hated it, wanted nothing to do with it, but after a while I settled in, made friends, got to like it. It wasn’t home, nothing was going to bring that back again, but it was a home."
"Sort of like this," Danny murmured, shifting his beer to his right hand and sliding his left arm around Steve’s waist in a half-hug. "It’s the people who make a home, I guess, not the place."
"Has Grace." Steve held still while Danny took another drink before continuing, "Chin, Kono, and you."
"Kamekona is going to be hurt that he didn’t make your list," Steve said easily, not wanting to put pressure on Danny since for once he wasn’t running off at the mouth about how he felt about the situation but mulling each word over as if it were new and unfamiliar.
Danny chuckled quietly before shrugging, the move rubbing his shoulder against Steve’s side. "I let him watch Grace; yeah, I guess he’s on the list as the crazy uncle."
"You have a family here that cares about you, Danny; never forget that."
"And family makes it..."
"Scared saying it will make it true?"
"No, I’m not scared! Fine; family makes it home, happy?" The words were growled out like a challenge and ended with Danny glaring up at him.
Steve half-turned, pulling Danny into an embrace, and hugged him tightly. "Yeah, I am."
He felt Danny’s grumbling against his chest before he heard it. "You are such an idiot. Come here." One broad, blunt-fingered hand fisted in his hair, and Steve was pulled in for a kiss, the flavor of beer swiftly morphing to Danny’s unique taste as their tongues slid together.
Their beer bottles dropped to the beach, the liquid spilling out onto the golden sand and darkening it as it raced toward the water, finally merging with the waved that lapped at the shore. The sound was like a low, unhurried heartbeat, one that was familiar to every Islander, one that told them they were safe, that they were loved, that they were home.
And Steve McGarrett finally knew that Danny Williams heard, understood, and most important of all, felt that love.
And he felt he was home as well.
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