A/N: I debated a lot about "spoiling" my own story and out of respect for the ones still dealing with the trauma, I will. This is Steve and Danny dealing with the tenth anniversary of 9/11. I took some liberties with Steve's career, even drew a timeline and all, same with Danny's past. So, it's plausible, until Cannon says otherwise.
This is a tribute to all those touched by that horrible day.
May we all, one day, all of us, every single one of us, live in peace, free of fear.
PS: Thanks to schnerb for the beta. You may not think that's what you do, but I know better. Thanks, babe.
He walks in to HQ fully expecting to find the place deserted and dark. After all, it's just past two thirty in the morning. If he's going to suffer through insomnia, he'd rather make use of it, even at stupid o'clock on a Sunday.
So, he's a bit surprised to find light streaming from Danny's office. He didn't see the Camaro out there and it might just be the maintenance crew but as soon as he pushes in the door, he can hear Danny's voice. He sees him a second later, on the phone, head leaning on his hand, eyes staring at the blotter on his desk. He would walk in, ask if something's up but the look on Danny's face, his posture, speaks of something private and he suddenly doesn't want to intrude. He walks silently past, heading to his own office, both curious and concerned. He turns his desk lamp on, not really trying to hide his presence. He knows Danny quite probably saw or heard him already so there's not much point but he's a bit anxious to find out what his partner's still doing here, in the middle of the night, in the middle of a weekend. He opens the first file on his stack and dives in, keeping an ear out for his partner.
It's a long twenty minutes before he hears the clatter of a cell phone hitting the desk in Danny's office. He sucks in a deep breath through his teeth and lifts his head from the papers he's been reading, undecided. Somehow, his gut's telling him Danny would much rather be left alone at the moment but deep down, Steve knows it may not be what he needs. He pushes to his feet and slowly ambles to his small fridge, grabbing two beers. He walks over to Danny's office and taps a knuckle on the glass.
Okay, maybe Danny really hadn't heard him come in after all, from the way he startles, sending half the papers on his desk to the floor as he reaches for his holster.
"Jesus. Give me a heart attack why don't you!" the man snaps, dropping back into his chair and burying his head in his hands.
"Sorry, man. I thought you heard me come in," he apologizes as he walks in, presenting the beer as a peace offering.
Danny shakes his head in refusal. He looks like hell, Steve thinks. He hasn't left yet, or at least hasn't been home; his shirt is the same one he had on yesterday and his hair is disheveled and out of place, like he ran his hands through it fifteen times too many.
He sits, Danny still staring at his desk.
Danny inhales sharply and jumps to his feet, never meeting his eyes. "No. I gotta get out of here." His tone is strange, thick and rough and Steve's worry doubles in an instant. Something's wrong.
And just like that, without another word, his partner's gone. Steve barely has time to drop the two unopened Longboards on the desk and bolt through the door before Danny disappears down the stairs.
"Danny! Wait up!" he calls out as he jogs out to the parking lot. He was right; Danny's car is not in its usual spot next to his truck or anywhere in the lot, which is possibly why he didn't expect his partner to be there. Instead, Danny heads for a blue subcompact Steve doesn't recognize.
Danny turns to face him, halting him with a raised hand, shaking his head. "Look. I know you mean well but... lay off okay? I need some space."
Steve's torn. He wants, desperately, to push. He knows something's wrong and he wants to help and for that he needs to know and normally he would badger and push but there's something in Danny's posture that just stops him dead.
He sighs, shoulders dropping in surrender. "Fine. But you call me, all right?" he says firmly, giving Danny his best don't-fuck-with-me look.
Danny lets his head fall and nods, not meeting his eyes, again. "I'll call you."
"Hey, where's your car?" He doesn't know why he asks; to keep Danny there for a bit longer or just to know the answer to that mystery. He doesn't care.
"Motor pool shop. That ride we took yesterday? Busted a shock. It'll be ready by ten A. M. or so they promised."
"Okay. You call me," he insists, walking back to his truck. There's no way he'll get any work done now. He gets in and heads home, conspicuously ignoring the urge to turn around and tail Danny's car. Motor pool's closed this time of night so he can't really go there and borrow and unmarked to do so. Besides, Danny would kill him if he ever spotted him.
"Screw this," he mutters, turning around yet again. He's not heading home to wait for a call that may come in an hour or in five or not at all. He'd just end up pacing in his living room, driving himself crazy. Instead, he heads towards Queen's Beach. He's not stupid enough to go night surfing but a jog on the beach is just what he needs to keep his mind from going in circles, worrying over Danny.
He parks his truck and reaches in the back, snagging his duffle. He takes his shirt off, keeping his t-shirt on, struggles out of his cargos and slips on the board shorts he always keeps in his truck, shucking off his socks and shoes. He's parked close enough to the beach not to need his flip-flops so he just jumps out of the truck barefoot.
He nods to the guy filling up the newspaper vending machine by the picnic tables and he freezes, sudden ice in his veins at seeing the front page of the morning edition of the Hawaiian Star.
How could he have forgotten?
His eyes slip to his watch and it's like a punch to the gut. 3:43 am. It happened exactly ten years ago, to the minute, at least to him. He feels his entire body go numb and suddenly, he has to sit down. He ends up on the curb by the front bumper of his truck, head in his hands, his mind filled with the remembered fear, anger, despair and utter disbelief at what had happened.
He'd been sitting at his desk, deeply engrossed in a decryption algorithm when the impact had thrown him from his chair, the noise deafening and debris flying everywhere around him.
The rest of his memories of that day are fragmented and jumbled, like a broken film put back together with scotch tape. He knows he helped evacuate, helped search through the debris, found one person alive and too many dead. He's got a vivid image of a hand resting on a piece of broken concrete, fingers curled around the picture of a child but no arm, no body attached to it.
And suddenly, he knows. He knows where Danny is as well as good idea why, and what he needs to do.
It's just past 4:30 am when he knocks on Danny's door. The light streaming from underneath it reassures him he's not waking anyone up and he's glad Danny doesn't have Grace this weekend because the conversation they're about to have isn't meant for her ears or her eyes.
"What are you doing here?" Danny asks irately when he wrenches the door open. "I said I'd call."
"Yeah," Steve says, showing him the bottle of Jack Daniels in his left hand, understanding and apology showing clearly in his posture or so he hopes. "Can I come in?"
Danny looks at him with eyes brimming with grief, the anger only a weak defense. Steve looks back, the same grief in his own eyes, hopefully conveying compassion for his partner too, if not shared pain.
Danny steps back and doesn't say a word, simply heading for the kitchenette and bringing back two tumblers.
Steve isn't sure of what to do as he comes in, shutting the door with his foot. Danny is usually impossible to shut up but he's equally hard to get to open up if he doesn't want to and Steve isn't sure he wants to pry on this.
He cracks open the seal and pulls the cap off the bottle, tossing it towards the sink. He's already sent Chin a text, advising him that Danny and he are unreachable for the day, unless the world's ending.
He sits on Danny's battered pullout and pours both of them a solid measure of whisky. He sets the bottle on the floor and lifts the glass, purposefully not looking at his partner.
"To lost friends," he says and takes a drink.
Danny doesn't say a word but he sees him take a swallow from his own glass before sitting down next to Steve.
"Where were you?" Danny asks quietly after a while.
He takes the time to inhale deeply and exhale before he answers. "Pentagon."
Danny turns and stares at him, disbelieving. "You were there?"
He takes a long pull from his drink, wincing as it burns going down, like the raging fires he remembers all around him, like the acrid smoke burning in his throat like it's not been an hour, never mind ten years. "Yeah. Office of Naval Intelligence. Plane hit… few hundred yards from us."
Danny's silent for a beat. "Wow."
"I was one of the lucky ones," he adds, half a glass later. "Didn't get hurt. A few bruises, scrapes. I think I got most of 'em pulling people out… I don't… recall much of it, not clearly anyway. It's like… flashes. Disconnected images. I mean, I know I was there but it was like… watching from outside myself."
The silence that falls isn't really uncomfortable; it's just too full of painful memories for them both and Steve knows Danny will speak when he's ready. It takes a couple more glasses of whisky before he finally does.
"D'you know I grew up in Queens?"
"I thought you were a Jersey boy through and through?"
"I am. I was born there, spent most my adult life there, my family's all there but I was raised in Queens. After I was born, my dad managed to get hired by FDNY and for that, you have to live in the five boroughs so we moved when I was two."
Steve doesn't need to ask. Danny's father was there, then, in the thick of it. Steve knows Danny worked all his years as a cop for the Hoboken PD, only miles from the Big Apple so he thinks whatever this thing is, it has more to do with Williams the father than it does his partner.
"He was in the lobby of Tower One when people started jumping. One after the other. Dozens of them. He said… there's nothing like that sound, sound a body makes when it hits something solid," Danny whispered.
"I was still a beat cop then. When our captain saw what was happening… He asked for volunteers, to go help, to... So I went. I sent Rachel to my grandma's in Jersey City, mom too and, and…"
Steve watches as Danny stops and drops his head, eyes tightly closed. He can see the wet trails on his cheeks, feel the anguish radiating from him. He wants to put his hand on Danny's shoulder but he's not welcome to, not yet. Danny isn't done and despite the obvious grief, he's not ready for comfort, still too full of anger.
"I swore to God I'd never think about that day again. I can't… remember it, I can't honor it. I just. Can't. I know it makes me a horrible person, not wanting to remember but… There's just… nothing good about that day. Nothing. What I saw, what I did… Doesn't matter. I could take it. I dealt with it better than most, somehow. Don't ask me why. But… My father? Steve, my father was a broken man after that day. Still is. He's alive but those bastards killed him, inside. For the longest time… I mean… I knew where he'd gone. Christ, he was a captain then. Where else would he be? And then, the towers came down. I couldn't… I couldn't stop to think about it, about him being dead. I made it home that night, somehow. But he didn't, not then. He…" He has to stop and swallow, wipe his eyes too. He sniffs and gulps the rest of the whisky in his glass and Steve refills it without a word.
"He showed up around four a.m. the next day. He made it out by some miracle. I don't know how. He never said. But… he was never the same again."
Steve takes a large mouthful of his drink and swallows, biting his lip. He's never told anyone what he's about to say.
"It's why I went into the SEALs. I applied the next day. Eight months later, I graduated from Coronado. I spent the next year in training and I was assigned to SEAL team 6, until Victor Hesse killed my father. Till that day, I'd never been in the field, never seen combat. I was smart, top of my class, on the fast track to Naval Intelligence, meant to be an analyst. I was too smart for the trenches, they kept saying. An asset, they said. A geek. I rode a desk, Danny. I'd never seen combat and that was fine with me. I was happy to do what I did, catching those enemies of ours with computer models, decryption keys, satellite images, chatter analysis, all that. I excelled at combat training at the Academy too, though but… I was better than that, above it somehow. Too smart to get my hands dirty," he says with no small amount of self-loathing. He could say something about the stupidity of youth but he knows it was more arrogance, then. He's still a damned arrogant SOB most of the time.
Danny barked out a harsh chuckle. "You? A geek?"
"Yeah. Feels like a lifetime ago, now. Until that day woke me up." And what a harsh wake-up call it had been, one of many in his life. His mother's murder had set him on a path to the Navy and that tragic day had sent him on another even darker trail. "I became a highly trained, very efficient killing machine instead. And… I was, I am really, really good at that. Better than I was at anything else I ever did in my life."
He's always been an overachiever. He does things to the fullest, never expecting anything other than perfection from himself, something he knows he got from his father.
"I know," Danny says, despite his ignorance of most of what Steve's done in the years before they met.
Steve is still for a long time, turning over his words in his mind before saying them. "I wasn't there when they caught him but... You can tell your dad that… those bastards? The ones my team and I caught? We made damn sure they suffered, as much as we could make them. I made sure," he hisses, the venom behind the words just as powerful now as it had been on those dark, cold Afghan nights. Black blood shining on black blades in the moonless nights of dead winter is what he recalls most; tears of death.
The silence is deafening in the wake of his revelation. Despite the amount of alcohol they've both consumed, Steve knows Danny understands exactly what he means, what he just said, what he's admitted to. He also knows his confidence is safe here.
Danny inhales, drains his glass and looks at him, a ghost of a smile on his lips. "I'm really glad you're on our side," he says quietly.
Steve nods, staring at the carpet between his feet, taking the acknowledgement for what it is.
"But I'll say it again, babe; you're scary as shit, sometimes. I can see it, that side of you, sometimes" Danny says, his tone serious. "It's a terrifying thing to witness, Steve. You honestly frighten me at times." He swallows more whiskey and looks at him raising an eyebrow and Steve's just a bit wary for some reason. He's not disappointed; Danny launches one of his speeches but it doesn't go where Steve expected at all.
"I told you, though. This just goes to prove I was right all along. You're an animal and sometimes that really does scare me which is why I keep saying you need help. I mean really. Like years of therapy, just so you can learn to play in the normal human world. And I want proof."
Steve frowns, puzzled at the direction this is all taking. Danny's drunk and so is he but he has no clue where this is going. He's a bit afraid to ask what the hell Danny's talking about, asking for proof of what he's done…
"Proof? Of what?" he asks, just to be sure.
"Steve McGarrett the geek. Did you do the whole pocket protector thing too? Or just the tortoiseshell glasses?"
He can't help it. It hits him just right and it's over; there's nothing he can do but give in. Laughter erupts from him, uncontrollable and contagious. Five minutes later, both of them are wiping tears from their eyes and Steve's ribs are sore from the constant snickering he keeps dissolving into.
"Oh, man," Danny pants. "I so needed that."
"What the booze or the making fun of me?"
"The laughing part. God…"
They spend another couple minutes getting themselves under control but the tension and torment in the atmosphere are gone. The sun's rising and the light of day is making everything seem better.
"Thanks for coming over, Steve," Danny says. "I guess I didn't need the space as much as I thought I did."
"I think both of us just needed to talk about it to someone who understands. I mean, it touched everyone on the planet in some way but…"
"Yeah. So. Breakfast's on me. C'mon." Danny drops his glass on the window sill after draining it, getting to his slightly unsteady feet.
"Hey, wait a second. Neither of us can drive, Danno," he says, raising the more than half empty bottle of Jack.
Danny turns to him, wide drunken blue eyes settling on him. "Taxis, Steven. There are taxis on this god-forsaken island. Granted, this is not New Jersey and as such, here, most drivers are not Pakistani, Turkish, Russian, Ethiopian or wherever immigrants who don't speak more than eight words of English but you can still take one!"
"Right. You forgot Chinese. There's those."
"Okay, point. Shit."
"I have to be at the office in-"
"Yup. Benevolent dictatorship, remember?"
"See, I knew there was a reason I hung out with you, despite the animalistic tendencies."
"Oh yeah? What's that?"
"You use your powers of evil for good."
Steve chuckles, shaking his head. "That makes no sense whatsoever, Danno."
"C'mon. Let's go find a cab."
"Mahalo nui loa, brother."
Steve smiled. "Right back at 'ya."