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Whatever Road You Choose (I'm Right Behind You, Win or Lose)

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Hawaii Five-0

Thirty years on and Steve to this day never tired of the view of the ocean behind his house.  A floral garden, lovingly tended to by him for years, had sprouted a beautiful fauna of royal purples and soft pink petals, sun happy yellow and gentle baby blue blooms, all of which lined and framed a lush green lawn that led down to powdered sand.  But it was the waves that had always lured Steve; the crystal blue water that teased the shoreline easily when at peace and battered it viciously when angry.

Right now, the sea was calm, but Steve could tell from the grey, low hanging clouds on the horizon that a storm was on the way.  Fitting, in his view, for the conversation he was about to have, for how it might go.  He hoped it would go as easily as anything in the world could, but Steve was prepared for a left turn if the message he was trying to deliver wasn't received in the spirit intended.

The familiar opening of the back door carried across the yard.  Steve knew exactly how many steps it would take before his company reached the chairs, and he used those precious seconds to take a deep breath, exhaling as a familiar figure rounded the chair, a grin on his face, devil-may-care attitude firmly in place that reminded Steve so much of himself it made his chest tighten all the more.

"Hey, Dad."

"Chris," Steve stood up, enveloping his son in a long, tight hug.  It was one of a hundred things he'd promised himself he’d do when Catherine had told him 20 years ago that she was pregnant and they were having a child, unexpected as he was; that he would hug his boy often and whenever he had the chance, that he'd always show love and affection to his offspring, would smother Christopher in it, no matter if it was embarrassing or not the 'masculine' thing fathers and sons should do.  "How you doin', kid?"

"Good, glad to be home," Chris stepped back and took the other chair across from his father.  "Just chillin' out, really, until all the tests start and stuff."

"And you passed all the initial assessments, right?"

"Yep," Chris leaned back, easy swagger well and truly intact.  The kid had not one care in the world, and Steve envied that for him, wanted Chris to be able to hold on to that feeling for the rest of his life.  "I got 247 on the ASVAB and I totally killed the diving portion.  Commander Burks said I almost broke someone's record."  At his son's eye waggle, Steve ducked his head, a grin breaking out on his face.  "Almost, huh?"

"Give me a few more months, Dad, I can do it."

"I don't have any doubt about that, Chris," Steve's voice was warm, filled with admiration and pride and so much god damn love for his child that Steve wasn't sure how he'd managed to hold it in all these years.  "Actually, that's kind of what I wanted to talk to you about."

"My assessments?  I know I was a little bad on the math part of the tests, but I'm still the highest category 2 on the AFQT you can get -"

"No, Chris, not the assessments, really, those are..." Steve shook his head.  The test results were incredible, honestly, especially for someone of Chris's age, and Steve supposed he shouldn't have been all that surprised when one considered he and Cath were stellar officers in their heyday, not to mention Chris' great-grandfather wasn't too shabby either.  "No matter what happens from here on out, those test scores are amazing, and I am unbelievably proud of you, okay?"

Chris quirked a brow, and once again, Steve was reminded of Catherine; his son looked so much like his mother when he gave him that look.  Ordinarily, it would give him a chuckle, and maybe later he'd think on this moment and laugh, call her later and tell her all about it, but it didn't seem appropriate now.

"You know I was in SEAL's."

Chris nodded.  "Yeah, of course I do.  That's like, one of the reasons I want to join.  All those stories Mom told me, some of the stuff you told me?  It sounds awesome."

Steve leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees.  "It is.  It was, it was... a very awesome time in my life, a very big part of my life.  I did a lot of good things for a lot of people when I was in the military, in the SEAL's, and when I was in Navy Intel.  I just want to make sure you know what you're signing up for, kid."

"Serving my country, protecting my friends and my family, taking out bad guys all over the world-"

Steve did laugh, then.  God, this kid, Chris’ positive, can-do outlook on everything, the eagerness he had to conquer any obstacle put in his path.  It terrified Steve sometimes, because he knew where his son got it from, knew where it could take him, too, where it was taking him.  "Yeah, there's definitely lots of that."  Steve rubbed his hands together.  "But there are lots of other things, too, Chris, things that are really tough to live with."

"I know, Dad -"

"No, Chris, you don't know," Steve chided gently.  "You don't know.  You can't know because you haven't lived it."  He took a deep breath, steeling himself.  "You know I named you Christopher after Danno, right?"

Chris shrugged.  "Sure, it's his middle name."

Steve smiled at that.  It had been an easy decision, and thankfully, Catherine had agreed to it.  She'd originally suggested Jonathan, after Steve's father, but Steve hadn’t wanted to saddle his kids with a legacy riddled with sadness and anger and resentment.  He wanted to look at his son and feel nothing but happiness whenever he spoke or thought his name; who better to name him after than Danny Williams?  

"I never explained where your middle name came from."

Chris didn't answer, only shifted in his chair to tuck a still slightly gangly, fresh-out-of-teenage-years leg up to his chest.  Steve had been the same, but he'd filled out once he'd entered the military.  Chris would too, given time.

"You got your middle name from a buddy of mine I knew back when I was in SEAL's," Steve cleared his throat.  "His name was Freddy Hart.  He was the best guy I knew back then, a brother in everything but blood - the brother I wish I had, really."  He swallowed, dry and painful.  He hadn't talked about Freddy in so long, the last time having been a few years ago when Freddy's then-fiancé had invited Steve and Danny to attend her and Freddy's daughter's high school graduation.

"Did he die?"

Chris's soft, almost fearful sounding voice broke through the staring contest Steve was having with the sand.  "Yeah," Steve cleared his throat and looked back up at him.  "We were in theatre.  We had an asset, got pinned down, Freddy got hit.  He told me to take the package and get out."

Nothing but the waves lapping against the shore was heard for a long moment.  "I'm sorry, Dad." Chris finally uttered, quietly.  "I mean... it probably wasn't your fault though, you know that, right?"

Another trademark Steve so loved about his kid; the absolute need to reassure, to comfort.  He did it so freely, so effortlessly, far more so than Steve had ever been able to do.  He was sure Chris had gotten that from Danny over the years.  "Yeah, I know.  But it's hard to live with, Chris.  It really is.  And a few days after that was when your grandfather died - and before you ask, yes; both Freddy’s and my father’s death were connected to each other."

"How?"

Steve hedged. Chris scoffed.  "Dad, it's been 30 years."

"It's still classified information, Chris.  No matter how old.  Any small bit of information from an op can still be used decades down the line to inform enemy combatants of how we operate in the field, can provide valuable intelligence and history to them."

"Does Danno know?"

Steve didn't even have to answer; all he had to do was steal a glance at the ocean.  He could feel Chris waiting him out.  "The brother of the guy Freddy and me were tasked with bringing in surprised your grandfather.  It was revenge."  There.  That was enough.  No need for Chris to know all the gory details, no need for him to know that he'd grown up in the house his grandfather had been beaten and shot to death in.  "When I went into the military, it was something I'd wanted to do my whole life because my grandfather, your great-grandfather, was my name sake, and I'd heard stories about him my entire life.  I wanted to live up to his name.  I wanted to serve my country and protect my family, maybe get a feeling of brotherhood and family that was lacking when I was younger.  But if I'd known then what I'd experience, what I'd go through," Steve swallowed, "if I knew what those choices would cost me... I can't say I would've made the same decision."

"So... what are you saying?" Chris tilted his head, shoring up for a fight.  Steve could tell.  "You want me to leave the military, not try for SEAL's-?"

"No.  I want you to do what you want to do, Chris.  If you choose to apply and test for SEAL's, then I will stand beside you one hundred percent," Steve assured him.  "And if you qualify and make it into the teams, then - Christ, Christopher, I will be so damn proud of you.  I'll be proud of you either way, no matter what you choose to do.  But I want you to understand that the life you're charting for yourself right now will have... may have very real consequences later on.  You're going to lose friends in the service," Steve looked at him, clear eyed and never more blunt with his son than he was in that moment.  "If you lead a team one day, you might lose men.  Being a SEAL, doing the jobs you're going to be ordered to do – including killing people before they kill you - it might come back to haunt you, just like it did me.  Any family you have in the future, if you get married, have a wife and kids, one of your missions might come back and they might pay the price, Chris."

Steve finally, gratefully, saw the first cracks of uncertainty in his son's face as Chris absorbed what he was being told.  "If this is the path you want to walk, you have to be prepared for that - and you're right, it is an awesome path, Chris; you'll experience things in the military, regardless of whether or not you make a SEAL team, that you never would experience if you didn't join up.  But awesome doesn't always mean great and wonderful.  Sometimes it means overwhelming, and intense, and horribly depressing.  Sometimes it means reconciling the gut-wrenching things you were asked to do for God and Country, and finding the strength to be able to look yourself in the mirror, to be able to look the person you love in the eye, and be at peace with what you've done."

Steve took a breath, letting his words marinate in the head of his mini-me sitting just across from him, wondering if his father had ever wanted to have this discussion with him, and just as quickly dismissed that notion.  There was a reason John McGarrett had entrusted Joe White with Steve's care when he'd sent his son to the mainland; Steve wanting to join the military hadn't exactly been a secret in the McGarrett household.  Joe opened up doors for Steve he wouldn't have otherwise been able to so much as approach without his uncle there to guide his steps.

The same doors Steve would now make sure were open for Chris should his son decide to follow in the footsteps of his father.

"I'm not saying any of this to get you to reconsider, or not go for the SEAL's, or even leave the military when it's time for your re-up," Steve murmured.  "I'm saying it because I love you and I want the best life possible for you, and I want you to be as prepared as you can be before you walk down that road.  And if you still decide that's what you want to do, then I am with you. I will have your back, Christopher." Steve gave a reassuring nod as his son met his gaze.  "And I know you'll be outstanding.  I just want you to be really, really sure that this is what you want to do."  When Chris opened his mouth, Steve shook his head.  "You don't need to give me an answer.  Think about it for as long as you need to, and then make the decision that's right for you.  Whatever you decide, I’ll support you."

A muted 'okay' was as good an answer as Steve was going to get.  “I told Kelly I’d meet her for dinner later in town,” Chris slipped off the chair and stood up, and Steve could plainly see their conversation had affected him.  To what end, time would only tell, but Steve knew his son would make the right choice for him, and that was the only thing Steve could ask. 

“Kelly, huh?” Steve eased out of his chair himself and slipped his hands into his pockets.  “Not the first time you’ve mentioned that name.”

“We’re just hanging out, Dad.”  Steve didn’t need to see the eyeroll Chris gave him; he could hear it clear as day in the kid’s voice.

“Okay, well, anytime you two want to ‘hang out’ over here, let me know.  I’m sure Danno would love to meet her.”

“As long as Grace isn’t here if I do.”

Steve snickered, remembering Chris’ Senior Prom just a few years ago and Grace meeting his then girlfriend for the first time.  To say it could’ve gone better was an understatement, though Danny certainly hadn’t seemed to find anything peculiar about his daughter grilling the poor girl until Chris had quite literally dragged her out of the house to safety.  “She’s doing what she’s supposed to do, watching out for him,” Danny had shrugged it off, and Steve and he had gone about their night.

“Deal,” Steve reached forward, tugging Chris into a tight hug.  “I’m proud of you, kid.  No matter what, alright?  Stay in touch, come by whenever, all the time if you want.”

Chris grinned and begged off, heading back for the house as Steve watched.  The back door opened, and a familiar face poked out, more silver in his hair now than blonde, but Steve couldn’t have cared less.  He watched as Chris offered Danny a fist bump and Danny slapped the kid on the back affectionately before making his way down towards the beach where Steve waited.

“How’d it go?”

“I… you know,” Steve ran a hand through his own salt and pepper hair.  “I talked to him, told him what he needed to expect.  I think a lot of it got through, but…”

“But he’s still going to go for it.”

“Yeah,” Steve sank back down into his seat and leaned back, squinting his eyes as he looked up at Danny.  “It’s not that I don’t want him to try for it, Danny.  I know he’d make a great SEAL, one of the best.  I mean, his scores alone are some of the best the Navy’s ever seen, but…”

“You don’t want him to go through everything you went through.  I get it, babe.”  Danny shuffled a little closer and Steve moved his body forward, resting his head against Danny’s belly, hiding his face, breathing in his partner’s scent.  For whatever reason, it always calmed Steve down to do this, to immerse himself in nothing but Danny Williams, for a few minutes, for a few hours, hell, throughout the years, there were times where Steve had locked himself and Danny in the house for the weekend and hadn’t come out to so much as get the mail so that they could ground themselves in each other again. 

“You remember when Tani came to me about Charlie?  Wanting him for Five-0?  I had the same talk with him, laid everything out, told him what to expect, what the consequences of handling those kinds of cases could be.”  Danny scratched gentle fingers through Steve’s hair.  “But I had to let him go, let him figure it out, try it out on his own, no matter how much it terrified me.”

“And I have to do the same,” Steve’s muffled voice floated up between his lips and the fabric of Danny’s t-shirt, and Danny grinned. 

“That’s about it, yeah.  Sucks, don’t it.”

“Yeah,” Steve pulled away and rubbed at his face before dropping his hands and staring at them.  “I’m scared for him, Danny,” he confessed softly.  “I think about all the shit I went through when I was in the service, all the things I did, how it affected my life, the people who got hurt or killed because of it-“

“Hey, hey, no, none of that,” Danny slid his hands forward, holding Steve’s face in his hands.  “None of that was your fault, Steve.  None of it, okay?  Not Freddy, not your father, not your mother or Joe, not me – none of it.  And, Chris has something you did not have at his age, okay?  Someone who’s been where he thinks he wants to go and is willing to tell him the truth about what it’s like, what it can do to him, what it can mean for his life.”

Steve closed his eyes as Danny's thumbs tracked softly on his cheeks, instantly cowed by the soothing touch.

"Besides," Danny's voice had a lilt of gentle humor in it, "if things hadn't happened the way they did, we wouldn't have had the last 30 or so years together, probably never would've gotten our heads out of our asses either."

"My head out of my ass, you mean," Steve opened his eyes, looking up into Danny's still sky-blue ones, as sharp and cobalt as they'd been when they'd met those decades ago.  "I'm still sorry about leaving, by the way."

Danny shook his head.  "It was only for a few months.  We stayed in touch.  You needed the time, Steve.  And it was a long time ago."  He bent down, pressing a lingering kiss on Steve's lips, continuing to speak and peck at Steve's mouth at the same time.  "What's not so far away is dinner.  Come help me pick what to eat, huh?"

"Salmon."

"Ate that two nights ago, babe.  There are other fish in the sea, you know?" 

Steve allowed Danny to tug him up by the hand and lead him back to the house.  "That there are, Danno, but there are no other fish in my fridge."

"You don't wanna return to your caveman ways and wade out in the water over there?  Spear us a couple for dinner?"  Danny grinned.

"Like you'd eat it if I did that."

"Hey, I ate that tuna fish we caught a while back."

"Yeah, that was like, twenty-five years ago, Danny, and that was also the day we actually had to swim with the fishes 'cos we got boat-jacked."

"I got an idea," Danny opened the back door, turning around for a moment, "let's just have steak, okay?"

"What about Grace?  She doesn't want us eating all that red meat these days."

"I won't tell her if you won't."  Danny laid the challenge down. Steve accepted it with a quick kiss.  

"Fine by me."