Steve felt exhausted. The last mission had been long and tiresome, with too much waiting and sitting around through the first two thirds of it and too much stress at the end. The urge to sleep for at least a week was strong and the cheerful mood of his buddies actually just got on his nerves.
They were heading straight to the base of Pearl Harbor and Steve looked forward to sleep in a somewhat decent bed and not crouching between some rocks with Brad’s hot breath fanning over his face.
“Come on, Smooth Dog! Why that face? There are some nice guides waiting for us!” Mike wiggled his brows while smacking him across the arm.
“You won’t leave us high and dry, will you?”, asked Tony and scratched his beard that he had grown over the duration of the mission and which was now thicker than any jungle Steve had ever the pleasure to march through.
“You go in there like that? You wanna scare them of, or something?”, Steve joked and hoped that would be enough to take the conversation away from him. The men roared with laughter and Tony muttered something about tough fighters and attractiveness under his breath.
Nevertheless, Mike wouldn’t let him off the hook so easily. “Come on, we hadn’t some guides around us for a while, it’ll help. You don’t have to go all scent-drunk on them, just have a nice talk, maybe a little touching bare arms here and there, having a calming whiff to your inner beast.”
“You’re no machine, Commander”, said Silent José and the men instantly calmed down a bit. José was a big man with few words, but when he did speak, the others listened.
Steve suppressed a deep sigh. He really wasn’t in the mood for some guides with soothing voices and tantalizing scents. He just wanted some quiet time alone, but it didn’t seem that he would get that within the next hour. These men weren’t SEALs for nothing and resisting them would only end in him being carried to the rec room as some kind of competition. Rising his hands in defeat, he said: “Fine, fine, I’m coming!”
When they finally arrived at the base, they actually were occupied for another couple of hours: unloading equipment, cleaning their gear including a full check on their weapons, reporting back to the base commander about their operation with a fixed follow-up meeting for the next day to go over every move of their team. Steve had to submit their intel and data about the mission and answer the base commander’s questions before he too was dismissed and could finally take a short hot shower.
He entered the already filled rec room and eyed the crowd. Apart from his team, another mingled with the guides there as well. Tony gave a loud cheer at the sight of him and José smiled secretly at him, but the others were too engrossed with the guides around them.
Setting up a meeting between unbonded guides and military sentinels was a sort of benefit the Navy paid their men. It was hard to find a guide, who was willing to go through military training and become a part of the whole system since shutting down their empathy levels was just against their nature. So the Navy (and the military in general) was forced to find another way to get their hands on guides that were compatible with their highly trained sentinels. They offered it as some sort of paid community service for the guides. Something along the lines of come and meet the men behind the uniform, get a private insight of a Navy SEAL, help them get grounded after their missions, they do so much for our country, this is a way to pay them back with respect. And maybe you’ll meet your mate down the line.
For Steve it was all just whitewashing. Most of the guides didn’t want to be dragged around the world, straight into warzones, to follow their sentinel on their missions and likely get killed, which was in fact a sad reality. But that didn’t seem to hinder those guides at being here, or maybe they hadn’t even thought about all the consequences. For them it was an exclusive pick-up location or a way to earn some extra money. It always was either way.
Steve scanned the crowd and tried to find someone that would not totally annoy him. He knew that when he would disappear again after five minutes, his team members would drag him back in by his feet. As always, the guides were too young, too provocative, too naïve. Already a redhead eyed him up and down with a lascivious smile on her lips. Hurriedly he dove into the crowd, making a beeline for the vending machine. Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw the redhead getting up and making her way over and Steve already steeled himself for a long and boring conversation. He wouldn’t mind sitting here with his soda and absorbing the soothing psychic energy that a crowd of guides this size emitted without idle chitchat. Waiting for his can of soda to finally pop out from the vending machine, his gaze fell upon a figure leaning by the window. The man was none of the military, so he must be a guide, but he looked so out of place that Steve had to blink to make sure he was seeing right. The man was definitely older than the rest of the guides, probably around his thirties. His stocky figure stood in stark contrast to the mostly slim and lean build of the others and his clothes were … well … at least he wasn’t showing too much skin. In fact, he looked more like a guy from the office than someone heading for a club like the others.
Steve didn’t even notice that he was staring, when the man turned around and smirked. “Like something you see?”
He was at a loss for words for a second. Neither had he anticipated such a banal pick-up line nor that toothy smirk. But what really took him by surprise were those intense blue eyes.
When the red spot in the corner of his eyes came closer, Steve finally snapped his mouth shut, grabbed his soda and took a step towards the man. “Well, maybe I just saw someone that looked like you could have a decent conversation with. Not like the rest of them.”
“Ouch, very polite, Army man”, exclaimed the man and pulled a face. The glint in his eyes though told a different story.
“Army man?” Steve scoffed. “I’m Navy.”
“Sorry, you look all the same to me. Danny Williams.” He didn’t hold out a hand to shake, but that was normal behavior for a guide, who met a sentinel for the first time. Personal boundaries. You wouldn’t hug strangers either.
“Lieutenant Commander Steve McGarrett”, he replied, an easy smile on his lips. He already felt a weight lifted of his shoulders and his mind strangely more at ease than it had been five minutes ago.
“Lieutenant Commander?” Williams quirked an eyebrow at that. “You’re big kahuna, aren’t you?”
Steve popped himself up against the windowsill next to Williams and opened his can. “Big kahuna?”, he grinned. “Did you get that out of a dictionary?”
“Oi, watch it!” Those blue eyes sparkled with humor and Steve couldn’t pull his gaze away. The blue was soothing like watching the ocean under the sun, calm and steady one moment and mischievous the other. Steve was sure that under the surface lurked danger, but danger was something he could handle.
“You alright?”, Williams asked, face gone serious.
Steve nodded. “Yeah, sorry, just … rough mission.”
Williams gave him a sideway glance. “You’re not gonna talk about it.” It wasn’t question. The guides visiting military bases were informed not to ask about missions or people or military activities whatsoever.
Steve shrugged. “You could tell me something about you instead.” Just keep looking at me with those eyes, he thought before he could quell it.
Williams gave him a funny look as though he knew exactly what was going on in Steve’s head, which was of course impossible, because Steve had been trained to build shields that needed a trained military guide to crack open.
“So it’s up to me now? Fine, I can live with that. Let’s see … I have three siblings – two sisters, one brother – I tell you, pain in the ass. You know what they did last Thanksgiving? Bridget wanted dairy free milk, because she was convinced that normal milk was bad for her skin, but she is still refusing to go to a doctor to let herself be tested for allergies. You know how hard it is to get dairy free milk right before a holiday? It was horror. And in the meantime Stella and Matt watched Grace – that’s my daughter – and instead of reading to her or drawing with her or something like that they decided to make cookies!”
Steve watched enrapt how Williams’ soul poured into his words. His whole being became alive, wild hand gestures and open expressions included. He tried to catch up on the mention of a daughter, but stowed the fact away for later. If there was a later, that was.
“The whole kitchen was a mess, Gracie was a mess, and who had to clean it all up? Me. Instead of helping they decided that a food fight with flour was an excellent idea and I can tell you, my Ma wasn’t happy about it!”
Williams rattled on about family and Thanksgiving, switching to stories about pranks he and his siblings used to play when they were younger. Steve didn’t listen very intently, instead he absorbed those blue pools of Williams’ eyes and tried to not get lost in them completely.
“Hey, stop that.” The soft voice startled Steve out of his trance. “Don’t zone, ok? I’m no one you should lose your mind over, yeah?”
He blinked and stared into Williams’ concerned face. “I’m not zoning. I’m listening”, Steve argued just for the cause of it.
Williams huffed. “Sure you are.”
“Yes!” Steve exclaimed slightly hurt. “You have a daughter named Grace. You don’t live with your siblings, but when you meet you pull each other’s legs to make up for the missed time. Your mother sounds like a lovely cook.” Steve hesitated for a moment before he asked the question that popped up in his mind. “Why are you here, when you have a daughter?”
Williams narrowed his eyes at him. “I’m not a good guide, because I have a daughter?”
“No, no! I mean, why are you here? You know that potentially you could find your sentinel, who would be military, which means uprooting you. You wouldn’t be able to see your daughter, when you have to follow your sentinel around the globe for months on length. You’re too old for that.” Nice, McGarrett, that really came out smooth and well-articulated.
Williams gaped. “Too – sorry, did you just say I was too old? Because that’s what I was hearing!” He invaded Steve’s personal space and poked a finger at his face. No guide ever had dared to do this and certainly not right after meeting him. “I tell you what, Super SEAL, the reason why I’m here is my daughter. I already have uprooted my whole life to be near her and I’m sure as hell won’t let anybody take her away from me again. Or me away from her, doesn’t matter. I know very well that I’m too old for anybody in here. That’s the reason I came, because no one would spare me a second glance and try to impose on me being their guide. I don’t need curry favor with some crazy military sentinels to make myself feel better. So, I’ll get paid for standing around with the likes of you, which in fact will help me pay alimonies for my little girl, so don’t you dare judging me or calling me old!”
Williams was barking like an angry pit-bull right into Steve’s face, but he didn’t feel any real bite behind it. “I’m not judging you. In fact, I’m glad you’ve been here. This conversation has been more interesting than anything those other guides could have to say.”
At that, Williams’ bite went out of him. He stuffed his hands in the pockets of his slack pants and eyed the people around him. Steve followed his gaze, unsure if he said something wrong. His eyes fell upon Tommy, who sat at a comfy couch with Mike and three guides – all young and beautiful, the redhead from earlier among them – and had his nose buried in the crook of the neck of one of them.
“I’m not a good guide. I can’t to this”, Williams gestured vaguely over to the couch.
“Don’t worry, you’re good enough for what matters. You calmed me down, put me back on the ground with my head back in the game”, Steve said quietly. Williams turned around and looked at him, his mouth open for a response, when a loud voice interrupted every conversation. “Visiting time ends in ten!”
Steve looked at his watch in surprise. This had been the shortest hour of his life.
Williams cleared his throat. “Well, seems like that’s it.”
Steve nodded, unable to say much more. He didn’t feel ready to let this man go just yet.
“How long do you stay here?” Williams’ question surprised Steve and he looked up to find a flash of uncertainty cross those blue eyes, but it vanished too quickly.
“Three days?! The navy does know the terms vacation, break or holidays, though, yeah?”
Steve smirked. “Of course they do. We’re staying here to exchange and replace equipment and then we’re off to a training mission. After that, well, we’re shipped off again.”
Williams studied his face and Steve felt himself squirm under those blue eyes. He didn’t know, what the man was looking for, but it felt like a test and Steve had no idea how to pass it.
“Five more minutes. Please, guides, pack up!”
Williams seemed to come to a decision at that announcement, although Steve had no idea if the result was positive or not. Right now, he didn’t care, because Williams held out his hand to shake. Physical contact between unbonded sentinels and guides wasn’t a given, so Steve felt oddly honored at the gesture. He gripped his hand and felt a strange pull behind his navel.
“It was nice meeting you, Commander.”
“Likewise, Mr. Williams.”
Williams let go of his hand and took a step backwards to the exit still eyeing him. “It’s Danny.”
A smile split Steve’s face in half. “Steve”, he said, without thinking. Giving a civilian guide their first name normally was an unspoken offer of a military sentinel to take things beyond talking and casual touching.
Williams – Danny – raised his eyebrows at that, but didn’t comment on it. “Make sure you bring your sorry ass back in one piece.” He turned around and joined the crowd at the door, but still looked over his shoulder to catch Steve’s smirk.
“Then try hard, Steven!” With one last sloppy wave of his hand, Danny turned around and vanished in the crowd. The grin wouldn’t leave Steve’s face just yet and he ducked his head to hide it from his buddies. He was surprised to find an opened can of untouched soda in his hand.