blue flamingos

Baby Steps

Fandom: Hawaii Five-O

Category/Rated: Slash, PG-13

Year/Length: 2011/7182 words

Pairing: Danny/Rachel, pre-Danny/Rachel/Steve

Disclaimer: No, I don't own them, for which I should think they're profoundly grateful.

Summary: Steve's in prison for seven months; it's the two months after that are going to change everything

Author's Notes: This is most definitely AU, and probably part 1 of a series rather than a standalone.

Feedback: Yes please. Even if it's bad. Especially if it's bad.

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Steve's in prison for seven months, because being a SEAL makes him a serious flight risk; in solitary, because he put away some of the guys he's sharing a prison with; not allowed visitors because he was Naval Intelligence and so anyone might be passing messages in a plan to spring him.

With Chin doing his under-cover thing at HPD, Kono only just cleared (the money's all there, after all, which pretty much precludes any actual trial) and Jenna looking like she's not at all sure why she's thrown her lot in with them, Danny can't leave. You don't leave your partner when he's down, you don't leave your team when they're halfway to dissolving in front of your eyes.

It takes Rachel two months to get fed up with Danny only making it to Jersey once, and calling in snatched moments between doing his job and trying to get Steve clear.

To Danny's surprise, when she says they need to talk after he's looked in on Grace, it's not immediately followed by the, 'this isn't going to work, this is a mistake,' that Danny was expecting.

Instead, she says, "I want to come back to Hawai'i." Danny blinks, and he's exhausted, so maybe too much of his surprise shows. She rolls her eyes. "Surely you don't think you're the only one who can learn from his mistakes?"

She's got it all planned out: they'll buy a house (Stan was generous in the divorce settlement, far more than he had to be), Rachel will pick up clients as an accountant, until the baby's old enough that she can go back to work for real.

After a year of wanting to be back in Jersey, Danny's so grateful for the chance to stay in Hawai'i, the place he didn't know was home until he faced leaving, that he could cry.

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Kono, Jenna and Mary, who moved back to the island after Steve was arrested ("If they can get Steve arrested for murder, they can get me on the mainland, I'm coming home"), take Rachel for shave ice and for dinner and for coffee, when they're not working. Rachel falls in with them like she's not older and wiser and so different from them they might as well be from different planets. Danny's not sure what to make of it, but it seems to be making all four of them happier, so who is he to argue?

And then, like a miracle, the phone call comes to say that Steve's been cleared, that they're letting him out.

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They argue over who should pick Steve up from jail, but it's not a real argument, just a way of dealing with how they're all scared of what seven months alone to think, seven months that include the anniversary of his father's death, will have done to Steve.

Danny wins – "He's my partner," and no-one wants to argue that it should be past tense, when the new governor is refusing to say whether he'll reinstate Five-0 – and wishes, driving out, that he hadn't. He doesn't even know if Steve knows he's still on the island – if Steve even knows he was thinking about leaving, that there's going to be a baby, soon, a matter of weeks.

He doesn't know what he's expecting, standing in out-processing while they finish with Steve, but he must be expecting something, because he's surprised when Steve steps out looking normal, unchanged but for how his hair is cropped close.

Or maybe not so unchanged, because where he'd normally get a smile and a greeting, he just gets Steve looking at him. For a moment, he thinks of Steve when they first met, navy stiffness and grief and anger. "Hey." He wants to touch, wants to pull Steve close and hug the hell out of him, but Steve's radiating 'keep away.'

"Danny." Steve's voice is rough, then he blinks, smiles a little, looks more like the Steve that Danny knows.

"You want to get out of here?" Danny doesn't miss the shudder that Steve suppresses, but all Steve says is, "Yeah."

Steve trails Danny so silently that it takes Danny a couple of steps to realize Steve's stopped moving when they step out into the parking lot. When he looks back, Steve's frozen, his head tipped back, his eyes closed.

"Hey," Danny says softly. He risks a hand on Steve's arm, trying to imagine seven months with almost no human contact. Steve tenses but doesn't shrug him off, so he leaves the hand there. "Whaddaya know, the sun's shining."

Steve smiles, his throat working as he swallows.

"Mary's back," Danny tells him, since Steve doesn't look like he's going to either speak or move. "She's renting a place again, but I'm pretty sure she'll be at your house with the rest of Five-0. Well, the once and hopefully future Five-0. And Kaye – she's attached at the hip to Kono these days. Plus Rachel."

"Rachel," Steve echoes, looking at Danny. "That's..."

So Steve doesn't know anything. As much as Danny would like, under other circumstances, to see the look on Steve's face when he sees Rachel without prior warning, there's no way it can be a good idea right now. "She's pregnant," he says. "Due in a little over a month – it's mine. He's mine. She divorced Stan, we bought a house."

"That's great." Steve's so clearly trying to sound normal – real – that Danny ignores the way his voice cracks.

"He's all Gracie talks about. Well, except for when she'll get to see her Uncle Steve again. I think she wrote a letter to the new governor asking why she couldn't come see you in prison."

Steve looks away for a long moment. When he speaks, he keeps his eyes firm on the ground. "I'm not dreaming, right?"

Danny gives in, puts his arm around Steve and takes some of his weight when Steve leans into him. "You're not dreaming. You're really cleared, you're really out."

Steve's breath shudders, but when he eases away from Danny, he's got his mask firmly in place. "I'm driving."

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They're barely out onto the beach behind Steve's house when Grace spots him and throws herself into his arms. "Uncle Steve!"

"Hey, kiddo." Steve staggers back a step but holds her on his hip, the way she's gotten too big for Danny to do for very long.

Grace presses her face into Steve's shoulder. "I missed you. I made you a picture for in prison, but Danno said I couldn't send it to you."

Steve's face does something complicated before he closes his eyes, his cheek against Grace's hair. "Maybe I can put it up here instead."

Grace nods. Danny waits for her to wriggle to be put down, or Steve to do it, but they stay the way they are, even when the others come over to say hello. It's an obvious ploy to keep everyone at arm's length, one that everyone lets him get away with.

Rachel's the last to approach Steve, a little hesitant in a way she rarely is. Steve offers her the ghost of a genuine smile, says, "Congratulations," warmly.

Rachel smiles back, the kind of smile that makes Danny smile as well – God, he's so lucky to have a second chance, for it to be working, even if it is more work than he ever imagined a relationship might be. "I was going to say the same thing to you, Commander."

"Uncle Steve, not Commander," Grace corrects.

"She's right, Steve, please," Steve agrees.

"Of course," Rachel says, touching Grace's back, and for a moment, Steve's surrounded by Danny's family, swallowed up in it.

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Grace tries her best to stay awake as the sun sets, but she crashes out on Danny's knee pretty much right on schedule. Danny can feel Steve's eyes on him, looks up to find Steve watching him and Grace with an odd expression, almost like longing. All he says is, "There's a guest room, if you want to put her down."

"This house is nothing but guest rooms," Mary grumbles.

"You could move back in," Steve says, the same longing in his voice, and Mary's face twists as she looks away from him. Even with the three of them engaged in conversation, Danny can feel the tension bleeding off Kono, Jenna and Rachel, Chin's discomfort.

"I think I'll do that." Danny pushes himself up, hoping he can make it up the stairs with Grace's weight on his hip. "Put her down to sleep, I mean." He starts to ask which room he can use, then remembers that the last people to see inside this house were Mary and Jenna when they came to tidy it up ready for Steve to come home. He'll figure it out on his own.

When he comes back down, he can hear someone moving around in the kitchen, and heads that way, thinking it must be Steve. He's got his hand out to open the door when Mary's voice asks, "What are you going to do now?"

"Make coffee for all the people who have to drive home." Steve's doing such a bad job of faking being okay that it hurts to listen to. Hurts more for the way they're all letting him do it, helping him. Danny wonders if that's what Steve wants, or if Steve's waiting for someone to tell him it's okay to reach out after seven months with no-one to reach for.

Mary sighs. "I meant with the rest of your life, not the next few minutes of it."

More movement. Danny imagines Steve making coffee while Mary sits on the counter, watching him. It doesn't seem fair, suddenly, that her brother got sent to jail when he was innocent, and Danny's brother jetted off into the wide blue yonder.

"I guess it depends whether Governor – whether the new governor reinstates the team." Steve's face when Chin arrested him. How defeated he'd looked in the back of that squad car, like he thought he might actually have killed Jameson.

"You could take, like, a vacation or something. Do nothing for a couple of weeks. Chill."

"I just spent seven months doing nothing." Steve's voice has gone hard and flat, the way Danny remembers from their first couple of weeks together, the way he hates. "If not, I'll request to go back to active duty."

Just the thought of that makes Danny's throat tight. Steve's cagey about his time in the navy, but not as cagey as he probably should be – Danny's got an idea of what he was doing, how dangerous it was. He's seen the photos of people in uniform who Steve doesn't talk about but looks at with sad eyes.

"No," Mary says, more sharply than Danny's ever heard her. "You're not – Steve, you're all the family I've got, I'm not going to –"

There's a rustle, a choked off noise that Danny can't identify. Telling himself he's just checking, he eases the door carefully open, just enough to peek inside. He's not sure what he was expecting; what he gets is Steve wrapped in his little sister's fierce hug, his head down, her eyes closed.

Danny leaves them to it.

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Danny knows Steve's been summoned to see the new governor because Kono, who got it from Jenna, who got it from Mary, who was there when Steve got the phone call or it's not like he tells me anything, told him.

Apparently, one of them got to Chin first, since he isn't surprised when Danny passes him in the break room and mentions it.

Roundabout way of getting the news or not, Danny's grateful for having it when his phone rings, Steve's grinning face flashing on the screen. He swipes the phone from his desk, already heading out of the office as he answers.

"The governor wants to start Five-0 again," Steve says without even a greeting. "He says we were doing good work, most of the time. He's got rules, though. Less immunity than before, more oversight from his office. Apparently it was big news when everything happened, he says he needs people to see that we're not some sort of – that we're not really as off the rails as it looked like we were."

That's a lot of words in one go for Steve, and a whole lot of no emotion whatsoever behind them. Danny wishes Steve was standing in front of him, because Steve doesn't lie as well with his face as he does with his voice, not if you know where to look like Danny does, and now Danny doesn't know what the right response is.

Well, the right response for Steve. Danny, personally, is ready to start skipping for joy at the prospect of getting out of HPD's overly air-conditioned offices with their average computers and partners who don't stick because they're all worried they'll catch Five-0 crazies from him. Also, he misses his team.

"That makes sense," he says neutrally, remembering the letters that flooded the local papers after everything went down, the way they overwhelmingly weighted in Five-0's favor, from the US ambassador whose daughter they rescued on down to Ming Hua's grandfather.

"Yeah." Steve sighs. He sounds more than tired, and he's gotten worse since he was released a week ago. Danny's got no idea whether the routine of being back at work will be good for him or just make everything worse, and he's not eager to find out. "He asked me to head it up again. He wants all of you back, if you want to come. Kaye too."

"Kono'll be pleased to hear that. No criminal will be safe with the two of them working together."

"You think everyone will come?"

"The terrible twosome will bite your hand off. Chin too – you know he's only back here so he could look out for you and Kono." It's not the only reason, but Chin's relationship with HPD is complicated, and not something Danny wants to discuss on the front step of the office. It doesn't matter; he knows Chin's just waiting for Steve to ask him to go back.

"What about you?"

The doubtful, hesitant note in Steve's voice makes Danny pull the phone away from his ear, like Steve's photo will tell him anything. "Did you hit your head surfing this morning? Swallow too much sea water? Of course I'm coming back, you idiot, I'm your partner. A founding member of Five-0, am I coming back? Honestly."

"What about, you know, Rachel? And the baby."

Danny reminds himself firmly that Steve was fucked in the head before he spent seven months in prison. It doesn't exactly help, but he figures one day it will, through sheer repetition, if nothing else. "Rachel is married to a cop, and right now we have a very expensive marriage guidance counsellor. She's making her peace with that, and so will the baby when he arrives. Not that he'll care, since I can tell you from bitter experience, short of me developing the ability to use my body to feed him, he will have very little interest in where I am for at least the first six months of his life."

What Rachel had actually said was, "I read the news. If that team kept you alive through everything you were involved with, I'd rather you stayed with them. At least I know that if anything does happen to you, it won't be because they didn't try hard enough to stop it."

"Okay." Danny doesn't miss the relief in Steve's voice. There might even be a smile lurking. "Okay, good."

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They settle back into being a team ridiculously quickly, like they were never apart. That should be the last piece in the puzzle of getting their lives back to normal, and yet, somehow, things still aren't *right.*

Danny knows he's not the only one picking up on it – he catches Chin frowning at Steve through the office windows more times than he can count, shares more than one troubled look with Kono when Steve shuts himself in his office instead of hanging out in the atrium to bother whoever's trying to work. Even Kaye's picking up on it, and she barely had a chance to get to know them the way they were before. She stops trying to get in on busts, stops arguing against being left in the car, stops even suggesting that she go with them into the field unless she absolutely has to.

Steve acts like none of it's happening, like he isn't at the center of the weirdness that Five-0 has become, but Danny knows he's aware. It's in the stiff way he holds himself, the smiles that don't reach his eyes. The way he keeps himself at arm's length from all of them, never touching unless it's essential.

He's standing right there, but Danny misses him.

"We should invite him to dinner," Rachel says, when Danny mentions that he's kind of worried about Steve. "Don't look at me like that, Daniel. He's a friend, it's what civilized people do, have their friends to dinner."

"With sherry first?" Danny teases, still a little cautious. Things are good – this is good – but it's at least fifty per cent because they're trying in a way they maybe should have done the first time, instead of using what they knew of each other's sore spots to poke each other into a defensive flurry of screams and slammed doors.

Well, mainly he provoked Rachel, if he's honest, which is another thing he's trying to be.

"Steve's never seemed the sherry type to me, but you'd know best," Rachel says, unruffled. "Friday night, seven thirty. Shall I put out a press release to the criminal population of Hawaii asking them not to commit any major crimes that evening?"

"Good plan, make sure you let them know Five-0 will all be dining here. They'll probably conveniently attack us – we can arrest them and still have time for desert." Rachel frowns at him. "That was a joke."

"Clearly. We have a security gate for a reason. When I said, 'invite him for dinner,' I did actually mean just Steve."

"What's wrong with the rest of the team?" Danny asks, instantly defensive.

"For Heaven's sake," Rachel says sharply, then takes a breath. "Nothing is wrong with the rest of your friends, two of whom are my close friends. Which is exactly the point of inviting Steve for dinner."

"Oh," Danny says, feeling stupid, prickly with useless defensiveness.

Rachel pats him on the head like he's Grace. "Tell him, if he wants to bring anything, I'll take Liliha's Green Tea cream puffs."

"Yes, ma'am," Danny says, struck for a moment by the memory of the day, a couple of months after Grace's first birthday, when they'd come to an agreement and invited a friend of Rachel's from work for dinner. Janey hadn't left for two years; Rachel and Danny fell apart two years later.

Rachel's concentrating on stirring her tea, but she must feel Danny looking at her. "What?" she asks, smiling, happy and sweet like she did when she told him she was pregnant.

"Just wondering where you're going with this." Danny stands up, kisses her cheek on his way out of the room to find Grace.

"I don't know what you're talking about, Daniel," Rachel calls after him, laughter in her voice.

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Dinner is pretty much a total failure. Steve's obviously trying really hard to be normal and friendly, and that's the problem, right there, because Steve doesn't usually seem like he's trying, even when he is.

When Rachel stands up, says, "Daniel, can you come with me to carry the tea tray, please?" Danny's on his feet almost before she's finished the sentence.

Steve half-stands. "I'll help."

"You're our guest," Rachel says firmly, and even Steve knows not to argue with her.

In the kitchen, Rachel's electric kettle boiling, she says, "He looks tired."

Danny hadn't noticed – or, well, he had, but he'd chalked it up to the after-effects of prison, and to their long days running around the island. Now Rachel's mentioned it, he thinks she has a point; Steve looks the way he did when they first met, worn down. "He should take some time off."

Rachel nods, hands Danny the sugar. "It's almost a shame that his sister is here now. What about his friend from the navy?"

For a second, Danny thinks she means Nick. "Catherine?" Steve hasn't mentioned her since he got out of jail. "Last I heard, she was on the other side of the world. I don't know how serious they are about each other, really." Which is probably for the best, given where it seems like he and Rachel both would maybe like this to go.

"Hmm," Rachel says, the way Danny's learned that she does when she knows something through the rest of her quartet, but isn't planning on sharing. "I'll give some thought to the problem."

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Later that night, lying in bed together, Rachel says, "We should have invited him to stay."

Danny can't help the twitch of surprise that Rachel must feel. Janey was complicated – asking Steve into her place will be something exponentially more that Danny doesn't have a word for.

"Not like that," Rachel chides gently. "He's all alone in that big house, it can't be good for him."

Danny has no idea, actually. Before prison, he knows that Steve spent a lot of time in or around the house, could reliably be expected to be there if a person dropped by unexpectedly. Despite all the tragedies that house has seen, Danny always thought Steve drew comfort from being there, like the ghosts of his parents were of them in happier times, not of the ways they died.

Now, Danny's not at all sure. Somehow, he doesn't feel right telling Rachel this.

"He's very attractive," she adds thoughtfully.

Danny rolls over onto his elbows, looking down at her in the late night gloom. She's smiling, the kind of smile that makes him smile back. "You're just saying that because he keeps taking his shirt off to show off his tattoos."

"Actually, it's because I keep picturing him in his Navy uniform," Rachel corrects. Her face goes serious. "I like him, Danny. It's obvious how he feels about you."

Even in this context, Danny really doesn’t want to talk about him and Steve. Not when he can close his eyes and see the flicker of loss on Steve's face when he walked into Danny's hospital room to find Rachel there. Not when he knows where they were headed before Rachel came back, knows that Steve doesn't – can't – see how the journey might end somewhere different but just as good. "He thinks you're cool."

"Ice cold," Rachel agrees, looking pleased.

This is going to work, Danny thinks, settling back onto his side next to her. The two – three – four – five of them, it's going to work.

Now he just needs to convince Steve.

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Danny always used to tell the story of handcuffing Matty to the bars in the zoo when people asked why he became a cop, but he know it's at least as much because he's good at finding things, good at figuring things out. All these years as a cop have only made him better at it, and he knows Steve well enough that it should be easy to figure out (a) what, exactly, his issue is and (b) how to fix it.

"Want to get a beer?" he asks, wandering into Steve's office late in the evening a couple of days after the dinner party that really wasn't.

Steve looks up from his typing, eyes flicking over the empty office. "Everyone's gone."

Danny's not sure if it's a statement or a question. "Kono and Jenna are hitting a bar with Mary, Chin's taking a friend to dinner."

Steve hesitates, looking conflicted, then turns back to the screen. "I have to finish this."

"What?" Danny asks, leaning over the edge of Steve's desk, "Can possibly be so important that it not only can't wait till tomorrow, but also beats out beer that I've paid for?"

Steve doesn't look away from the screen, though his hands have stilled. "I have to finish this," he says again; his voice is soft and flat, and Danny wants to reach for him. He remembers tugging Steve away from the cops by grabbing his T-shirt after O'Reilly was shot, remembers how they hugged after Danny nearly died. Now, it's like Steve's personal space bubble takes up the whole office. "Go be with your family."

You're part of my family, is on the tip of Danny's tongue, but something stops him. Maybe the way Steve's pulled away from them all since prison; Danny's not sure Steve will be able to hear the words, and he doesn't want to say them to someone who can't take them in.

"Tomorrow, then," he says, giving in as graciously as he can.

"Sure." Steve turns, like he doesn't realize that his smile doesn't reach his eyes and Danny's looking close enough to tell. "Tomorrow evening for sure."

They don't go out the next night, or any night that week.

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Saturday morning, Rachel and Grace go to a tiny beach cafe for tea and cake, a mother-daughter outing to which Danny is emphatically not invited. It removes Steve's favorite excuse not to spend time with him, however, and he knows from months of friendship that Steve rarely ventures far from his house on their free weekends.

Decision made, Danny stops for malasadas that he might be able to convince Steve to eat one of, and heads for Steve's house.

To his surprise, the front door is locked. Maybe Steve's gotten more security conscious lately? Unease crawls down Danny's spine; he can't help tying it to Steve's time in prison. It's enough to make him hesitate before tapping in the alarm code and using the spare key he's had for so long he can't even remember Steve giving it to him.

The house is quiet, even neater than it always was when Danny visited in the past, almost unlived in. He frowns. Surely it's not possible that this is the first time he's been in Steve's house since the welcome home party... and yet, now he thinks of it, it might actually be. He glares at the empty coffee table. Steve is a lot sneakier than Danny gave him credit for, and Danny's given him credit for a lot of sneakiness in the past.

He hurries through the house and out onto the beach, but that's as empty as the house, no sign of Steve. It's weird, but then, Steve can go anywhere he likes on the island, and maybe after all that time unable to go anywhere, he's making use of it.

Somehow, Danny's still not surprised when Steve's phone goes to voicemail after a couple of rings, too fast to be anything but Steve cutting him off. He tries Mary anyway, more surprised when she answers.

"I'm looking for your brother," he says when they've dispensed with the pleasantries.

"Haven't seen him." Her voice fades out for a moment as she says something to whoever she's with. "I thought you all had the weekend off?"

"We do." Danny hesitates, then decides he's being ridiculous. Not quite as ridiculous as Steve, but no-one's as ridiculous as Steve. "Any idea where he might be?"

There's a brief pause. "Look – I know he's..." She sighs and starts again. "He's not like he used to be. I kind of think, if he wants to disappear for a while, maybe we should let him?"

It's not Steve disappearing for a while that bothers Danny. It's Steve disappearing for good, but he doesn't know Mary well enough to say that to her. "You're right," he says instead. "Take it easy."

"Always do, brah."

Danny contemplates going into the office and tracking the GPS in Steve's cell, but common sense (and the knowledge that he doesn't actually have the technical expertise to do so) stops him.

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"Good weekend?" he asks when he gets to the office Monday morning and finds Steve already there.

Steve turns from the coffee maker, looking relaxed, and something in Danny eases. At least Steve doesn't look like he spent all weekend in the office. "Pretty good. You?"

Danny goes to nudge Steve out of the way of his caffeine, Steve stepping aside just before he can make contact. "I tried to catch up with you Saturday, couldn't find you."

Steve shrugs. "I got your missed call, sorry."

"And you didn't return it, because..?"

"I didn't want to interrupt your day." Steve shifts, only a fraction, and Danny knows he's lying.

"And now the truth?"

"That is the truth." Steve looks down into his coffee for a moment. Danny frowns at him, even if Steve's not looking, because something isn't right here, and it's driving him a little crazy not to be able to pick out what that is. He can't imagine what Steve could be doing that he'd want to keep secret. Steve's just not the secretive type, not with his team. "I was busy, all right, I didn't pick up the call until the afternoon."

It's still a lie, but Steve's pulling away, and Danny doesn't have the heart to push him. He's afraid of what might happen if he pushes too hard – that he might push Steve right out of all their lives. "Fine," he says. "But next weekend, you should come to the beach with Rachel and Gracie and me."

Steve goes completely still in a way Danny wasn't expecting. Danny looks up from fixing his coffee and finds Steve looking back at him with something like longing, a look that he doesn't hide fast enough. "Hey," Danny says softly. He reaches out, fingertips scraping over Steve's sleeve for an instant. "What?"

Danny's never been so inclined to curse Kono as he is when she calls for them before Steve can speak. Steve, on the other hand, looks ready to hug her out of relief. Danny files that away with all the other scraps of evidence he's collecting, and goes to deal with the undoubtedly simpler case of a three country-wide jewelry smuggling ring.

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Saturday on the beach doesn't happen. Instead, Rachel starts having contractions early Friday afternoon, and at nine that evening finally agrees with Danny that yes, perhaps she should take a trip to the hospital instead of having the baby in their very nice bedroom.

"Can I come?" Grace asks, sitting cross-legged on the bed as Rachel paces the room. She claims it helps; Danny thinks, but values his life too much to say, that she looks as though she's going to overbalance any moment.

"No," Rachel and Danny say in concert. It makes Rachel smile, warm and sweet, and Danny's hit all over again by how lucky he is to have this second chance with her, with his family. "I'm going to need Daddy to hold my hand, and the doctors won't let you come in with us."

"Can I stay home on my own?" Grace, ever the opportunist, asks.

Danny curses them both for not actually thinking about what they'd do with Grace if Rachel went into labor early; her sister's flying out in a week, but that doesn't help them now. "Maybe Kono would watch her?" he suggests to Rachel.

"I think she and Jenna have other plans," Rachel says, raising one eyebrow at Danny. Which, okay, he did not notice that happening.

"Can I stay with Uncle Steve?" Grace bounces a little at the prospect. "Please, Mommy?"

She's been agitating for that since Rachel flew home before she got the chance when Danny was in hospital. "Why don't we call and ask him?"

Steve answers the phone before it's even finished the first ring. "Is everything all right?" He sounds panicked under his furious SEAL calm, and Danny wonders why he didn't invite Steve back to the house with him.

"Everything's fine," he says. "I'm going to take Rachel to the hospital, and Grace was hoping she could invite herself to stay at your house for the night?"

Grace gives him her best puppy dog eyes as he says it, like Steve might see them through the phone.

"I'd – she wants to stay with me?"

"Possibly more than she wants to meet her little brother right now," Danny teases Grace, who squeals, "No! Not more."

"I don't mind – I'm happy to watch her. If you're sure."

"Of course I'm sure." Behind him, Rachel gasps sharply as a contraction hits, and Grace darts away to squeeze her hand. "We can drop her off on our way to the hospital."

"No," Steve says, too quickly. "Why don't I come and stay with her at your place? Then she can sleep in her own bed and you don't have to worry about packing up her stuff."

Danny tilts the phone away from his face. "Monkey? How do you feel about playing hostess to Uncle Steve tonight?" Grace thinks about it for a nano-second, then nods. "You're on. See you in twenty minutes?"

"More like five," Steve says and hangs up before Danny can anything else.

Steve appears in slightly less than the promised five minutes, looking oddly smart in dark jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt, open at the neck. Danny's not ashamed to admit that he takes a moment to appreciate the view. From the low, appreciative sound at his side, he's not the only one.

Steve looks a little freaked at the sight of Rachel clinging to Danny's arm, but he sweeps Grace onto his hip when she throws herself at him. "Go time?"

"So it appears," Rachel agrees. "Thank you for doing this at such short notice."

"Of course." Steve's smile actually appears genuine for once, and he leans in to kiss Rachel's cheek. "Good luck."

"It's mostly a matter of letting nature take its course at this point, but thank you." Rachel returns the kiss, Steve holding still for it instead of leaning away. "Danny, we should go. Grace, be good for Uncle Steve, and I'll see you tomorrow."

Grace leans slightly away from Steve for her own kisses, settling back into his arms like she belongs there. It's the first time she's seen Steve in... actually, Danny's lost count. Too long.

He wants to ask where Steve's been, what he's been doing that requires him to look like that – smart, but not date-smart – on a Friday night, but he doesn't have the time. Another thing to be filed away for later. "I'll call as soon as there's news," he promises.

Steve gives him an odd look, almost indecisive. When his decision-made-I'm-going-in mask falls over it, Danny just has time to worry before Steve leans in and kisses his cheek, the same way he did Rachel. "Good luck," he says again, softly.

Danny lets himself blink, just once. "Right," he says, sounding significantly less stunned than he feels. "You, too."

And then, in the car, to Rachel, "Don't say anything."

"Of course, dear." There's silence for long enough that Danny thinks he might have gotten away with that one. "Except that at least when I'm cursing you, myself, and the maker of those condoms, at least I'll have a nice visual to occupy what's left of my mind with."

hr

It takes Steve six rings to answer his cell, voice hushed. "Danno? What's going on?"

Danny belatedly checks the time and yeah, okay, it's five thirty in the morning. Not that Steve hasn't woken him at far worse hours. "You, my friend, are speaking to the father of possibly the most perfect baby boy ever born."

"Rachel's out of labor?" Steve's voice is warm and happy. Danny closes his eyes to appreciate it better, leaning his head back against the corridor wall. "Congrats, man, that's great. What's his name?"

"Joseph Mitchell Williams. Six pounds four ounces."

"Least it fits a boy better than a girl," Steve says.

"Giving your children your wife's maiden name as a middle name is a time-honored tradition of..."

"Yeah, yeah," Steve says, laughing. "How's Rachel?"

"Glowing." Danny knows he's grinning like an idiot but he doesn't care. "In with the nurses, they threw me out.

Steve hmms, and Danny imagines him nodding his head thoughtfully. "You want me to wake Grace so you can tell her?"

Danny does, but Rachel's going to sleep for a good chunk of the morning if past experience is anything to go by. "Nah, I'll come home once Rachel's sleeping, tell her in person. Maybe take her shopping for a baby brother gift, let Rachel get some more sleep."

"Right. You okay to drive?"

"Yes, dear," Danny says, shaking his head. "Honestly, of all the people to ask me that, it has to be you. You don't even know the meaning of safe driving."

"So," Steve says, a little too loud, obviously meaning to cut Danny off. "Your folks pleased?"

"They –" Danny hadn't even thought about calling them, or anyone else. He hadn't even called expecting to get Grace, who does, after all, have her own cell. "You're the first person I called."

"Oh," Steve says softly, surprised. "That's – thanks."

"Best friend code of conduct," Danny says firmly. "Plus, I owe you for spending the night on our couch."

"Best night's sleep I've had in ages." Steve's tone is sarcastic, but there's an underlying current of truth that makes Danny frown, thinking about the circles under Steve's eyes, Rachel saying that he looked tired. Steve's relentlessly neat house starts to make more sense, in a way that Danny doesn't like.

"You could stay a while," he offers before he can talk himself out of it. Thinking of the kiss – the kisses – the way Rachel and Steve clicked when they first met, awkward as it was. Thinking of Janey. "Rachel didn't have any luck breast-feeding Grace, we could use the extra person for night feeds."

"I don't know if you noticed, but I've already got a job."

"Good, because my boss doesn't pay me enough to hire a nanny," Danny shoots back. The idea's already starting to take hold. "I'm heading back in with Rachel, but I'll be home in a few. We'll take Gracie shopping."

"Okay. See you in a few, Danno."

hr

Steve tries to beg off shopping – like hell is Danny letting him out of that one – and then tries to get out of going to the hospital with them. Fortunately, Danny has Grace and her sad puppy eyes at his disposal, and Steve gets in the car with minimal attempts at polite refusal.

"I'll go get coffee or something," he offers when they're parked up and heading into the building, Grace running a little ahead of them, a purple bear bigger than Joseph in her arms.

Danny catches his arm and holds on. "You're coming with us. Rachel wants to see you."

"Family first," Steve says, trying, not very hard, to shake Danny off.

Danny's getting sick of this, sick of watching Steve feel like this and not being able to fix it, sick of the way it hurts. "You're part of my family," he says, holding Steve's eyes, willing him not to look away. "You and Chin and Kono, but especially you. You don't have to believe me, but I need you to stop saying that it's not true, because it is. All right?"

Steve shakes his head, barely visible movement, but he doesn't look away.

"All right?" Danny asks again.

"All right," Steve says quietly. He looks half a step away from fidgeting, and that's never good. Steve's answer to uncomfortable emotional situations is 50/50 between hugs and explosions, and Danny's not risking an explosion. Anyway, he's got a brand new baby he can point the 'hugs' part of Steve at. "Can we go inside now, before Rachel starts worrying that we ran into terrorists on the way over here?"

"Fine." Danny keeps hold of Steve's arm, forcing him to go with it by turning and following Grace. "But we're not done with this conversation."

"Are we ever?" Steve grumbles, but he doesn't shake Danny off, and that's something.

That's a lot.

When they make it the maternity ward, Rachel's sitting up, Joseph in her arms. Grace launches herself towards the bed before Danny can stop her, even though she's had more opportunities than Danny wants for her to learn not to do that.

"Whoa, hey." Steve's arms go round her waist, hoisting her up and back as she flails, squealing. "I think your baby brother's a bit small for a full-on Gracie tackle hug."

"I wasn't going to tackle hug him, Uncle Steve," Grace protests, hanging onto Steve's arms, her feet well off the floor.

Danny looks over at Rachel, who's watching the two of them with the same warm, soft expression she turned on Danny and Grace, back when Grace was barely bigger than Joseph is. After a moment, she shifts, encompassing Danny in the look as well. Danny raises an eyebrow to here: Something to talk about? and gets rolled eyes in return: honestly, Daniel, must you ask such obvious questions?

Oh yeah, they'll be doing much more than talking about this.

"Gracie, do you want to say hello to Joseph?" Rachel holds one hand out to her.

"Gently," Steve and Danny warn in concert.

Grace goes, one hand carefully untucking the blanket so she can see Joseph's face. "He's so little," she says, barely more than a whisper. "Look, Mommy, he's got little tiny fingers."

"Just like you when you were this new," Danny reminds her, settling carefully on the edge of the bed so he can lean in to kiss Rachel, one hand on Grace's shoulder.

"Come and see, Uncle Steve," Grace insists.

Danny twists to get a look at Steve, in case the guy's thinking of running away again. Steve's visibly hesitating, but at least he's not fleeing.

"Steve," Rachel says. "Would you like to hold him, after Grace?"

Something in Steve's posture collapses, like Rachel's said the magic words or something. "Yeah," he says, moving to sit on the other side of the bed as though he's drawn there. "He's beautiful."

"Of course," Danny says.

"Can I –" Steve's hesitating again, for something that Danny can't guess.

Rachel, though, Rachel's figured it out, her smile bright with amusement. "I certainly won't say no."

Danny doesn't know what to expect, but somehow it still isn't a surprise when Steve leans in towards Rachel. He's clearly aiming for her cheek again; instead, he catches the corner of her mouth as she turns slightly into the kiss.

Steve, unless Danny's very much mistaken, is blushing, and Danny can't resist, ducks his head to kiss Steve's cheek, right where the flush is highest. What, it's his turn, he's not shifting from that position.

"All right?" he asks quietly.

"Yeah," Steve says, like he's telling the truth, finally. "Yeah, I'm good."


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