Characters/Pairings: Steve McGarrett, Danny "Danno" Williams; Steve/Danny
Word Count: 26,970
Summary: After a bit of snooping, Danny discovers that Steve wants to celebrate his birthday by climbing Mauna Loa, the world's largest active volcano, because of course he does. Danny agrees to go along for reasons that are mostly inexplicable and surely have nothing to do with Steve's warm, dark eyes or the curve of his smile—but hey, they're only going to be climbing one of the world's most active volcanoes which could erupt at literally any time, where they will be above 40% of the Earth's atmosphere and the lack of oxygen can actually be deadly, and where severe weather can blow up without warning. What could possibly go wrong?
Warnings: A fair amount of adult language, and like, mortal peril, but that's it.
Disclaimer: Characters in this story are © CBS Broadcasting Inc. All content is fictional and for entertainment purposes only, not for profit.
Notes: Gosh, wow, this one has been a journey. I first came up with this story back in 2012, and then I got busy and drifted away from H50 and I never thought this one would live anywhere but inside my head. But Steve and Danny and their stupid feelings... I just couldn't stay away forever I guess. And then there's my feelings about my islands, and this mountain....
This story was written as part of H50 Big Bang 2018. My first ever Big Bang! You should totally check out all the other awesome stories and art (posting of works is staggered, twice a day from April 11-April 17 2018).
Biggest of mahalos to the fabulous lllookalive for her time and talent. Her two works are embedded into the story itself like adorable Easter eggs full of feelings, so you have that to look forward to, lucky readers. I'm tickled pink and you will be too; the faces, look at the faaaaaaaaaces!! TT_TT
Another big mahalo to sapphirescribe for her thorough and thoughtful beta services. The story (and my confidence) are greatly improved through her efforts. Any places where I have gleefully ignored her excellent advice are my fault, not hers.
This story also available on AO3 and DW.
~ ~ ~
“...You know, McGarrett, if you would learn to rein in your thirst for the wanton destruction of private property, you wouldn't have to do so much paperwork, and you could, like me, be on your way home even as we speak.”
Steve looked up from the papers that littered his desk and glared. “Yes, thank you Danny, you're very helpful.”
Danny lounged in the doorway of Steve's office, smirking. “Steve, I can hear your sarcasm, and I want you to know I am very hurt by that. And here I've gone and brought you, out of the goodness of my heart, this ice-cold refreshing beverage.” Danny waggled the bottle of Hapa Brown, recently liberated from the shelf in the Five-0 office fridge that was specifically reserved for emergency beer.
Steve groaned in a manner that could only be described as pornographic. Danny tried desperately not to notice. “Have I mentioned to you that you're my favorite? You're my favorite, Danny.”
Danny swallowed, sauntering with practiced casualness over to the desk to hand Steve his beer. “Yeah, well, I am pretty damn awesome,” he agreed.
Steve took a long swig from the bottle and groaned again, and for the love of God would he stop doing that, Jesus Christ how was this man actually real? “Seriously, Danno, thank you.”
“No problem,” Danny replied faintly. He cleared his throat, rubbing his hands together. “So, uh... I glanced at the calendar earlier and I couldn't help but notice that your birthday's coming up in a couple of weeks, and I thought we should, you know, do something. Anything you want. You, uh... got any idea how you'd like to celebrate?”
Something... strange happened to Steve's face then, a weird combination of expressions that flickered over his face and was gone, replaced by a careful blankness. “I... haven't really thought about it,” he said.
Danny stared at him, stunned.
He was lying.
Danny was, after all, a detective, a good one, it was his job to know how to read people. And with the possible exception of his daughter, his ex-wife, and his siblings, there was no one in the world Danny could read better than Steve McGarrett. So Danny knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that Steve had, just this very moment, lied to him.
Danny hoped he was better at hiding facial expressions than Steve was. “Oh, well uh, why don't you just... mull it over for a bit, and let me know?” He jerked his thumb at the door, backing away. “I'm just... I'm going to go. Home.”
Steve nodded. “Yeah, uh... hey, see you tomorrow.”
“Right, tomorrow. Yes. ...I'll pick you up.” Danny raised a hand, a weak substitute for a wave. He fled.
~ ~ ~
Danny headed for home, blindly weaving through Honolulu's Friday pau hana traffic. He tried to puzzle out a plausible reason for Steve's weird behavior. He tried not to feel hurt by it. Honestly, if nothing else he and Steve were friends, right? ...Right? Danny kind of thought of Steve as his best friend. And yet—in that brief flash of expression Danny had seen... panic, and guilt. Steve clearly had made plans for his birthday, plans that he had not wanted to share with Danny, that he had lied about to Danny's face.
Maybe Danny was thinking about this the wrong way. Maybe Steve wanted to... surprise Danny? Only that wasn't really how it worked, was it, people having birthdays didn't plan surprises for their friends, no, it was pretty much always the other way around.
And that wasn't what Danny had seen. That wasn't an 'oh no, the surprise is ruined!' kind of face. That was definitely more of an 'oh shit, how do I tell Danny that I didn't include him in my birthday plans?' kind of face.
Danny's face and neck felt hot. He also felt like maybe he had swallowed a chunk of lead. He was... upset. Like, maybe he shouldn't really be driving kind of upset. Maybe it was stupid for him to be this upset, but... ouch. Kinda ouch. Honestly, you think you know a guy....
Danny took a deep breath, in, out, tried to calm down. He did know Steve. And Steve was kind of a jerk, but he wasn't that much of a jerk. They were friends, Danny wasn't just making that up. And neither of them were really into talking about feelings, hey let's be besties forever, pinky-swear, but... Danny was reasonably sure that there was no one on the entire island that Steve felt closer to.
...Maybe Steve wanted to be alone on his birthday, for some reason? Or maybe Steve was seeing someone (ouch) and just hadn't told Danny about it (ouch), and he wanted to spend his birthday with... that person? (Oh let's just be honest, Danny, her.) Or maybe he was going off-island to see his sister or Cath or hang out with his SEAL buddies, but if that was the case why wouldn't he just say something?
Danny made it home without incident, cooked dinner, went to bed, lay awake thinking. He couldn't stop wondering just what it was Steve had planned that was such a big secret.
He huffed a sigh, rolled over, closed his eyes. Whatever it was, it was Steve's business, not Danny's. Steve was a big boy; he would talk to Danny about it, or not, on his own time. Danny could respect his privacy.
~ ~ ~
...Yeah, privacy was overrated.
The sun was just barely up when Danny pulled up in front of Steve's house in the Camaro. This weekend was a Grace weekend, so Danny was here to pick Steve up, and then they were going to pick Grace up and meet Kono at the beach for Gracie's surfing lessons, and then, in an attempt to counteract the process of tropification in his daughter, he and Steve were going to take her skating at the Ice Palace. See, Steve actually really enjoyed hanging out with Grace, which as far as Danny was concerned was the biggest point in Steve's favor. (In favor of what Danny tried really hard not to think about, because the biggest point against was that Danny had never seen him show any interest in a guy whatsoever, and don't think Danny hadn't been watching.) Grace, for her part, adored Steve (which was the second biggest point in his favor), so more and more, recently, when Danny had Grace for the weekend, he had Steve, too.
...Only he didn't really have Steve, he—aw, fuck it.
On this particular Saturday morning Danny had deliberately shown up early—way early. He knew Steve would be out on his quotidian hour-long swim—plenty of time for Danny to snoop. Juggling two cups of coffee and a box of warm baked goods, Danny let himself in through the front door, disarmed the security system he'd forced Steve to install, and toed off his shoes. “...Steve?” No answer. The house was silent. Danny dropped his armful off at the kitchen counter and went over to the lanai, looking out over Steve's backyard to the beach; Steve's towel was draped over the back of one of his Adirondack chairs, waiting for him. Perfect.
A brief search turned up Steve's MacBook lying on the coffee table, and Danny sat down on the couch, turning it on. Steve's computer was probably the best place to look; Steve never did anything on paper if he could help it—it wasn't environmentally friendly. (Danny didn't think napalm was particularly environmentally friendly either, but try telling Steve that.)
The laptop finished booting, offering Danny the log-in screen. (Steve's icon was a picture of a SIG-Sauer P226 Navy, Steve's preferred weapon. Of course.) A few months back Danny had asked to borrow Steve's internet and Steve had shouted out the password, a long, anal-retentive and paranoid string of meaningless letters and digits which, as with every detail concerning Steve McGarrett, Danny had promptly memorized. He typed it in now, pressed enter; success! So Steve wasn't that paranoid.
The desktop loaded and Danny froze. The last time he'd used this computer it had been set to the Mac default, a field of stars with swooshy colored light sort of smeared across it, completely impersonal. Now it was a photograph of Steve and Grace and Danny and Christmas lights. Danny remembered this; they'd taken Grace to see the holiday displays down on King Street. Danny got glow-necklaces for everyone from a street vendor (Gracie wore hers like a crown), and Steve had bought them a ride in one of those horse-drawn carriages. Steve had offered to play photographer for a group of Japanese tourists in front of the giant Christmas tree by Honolulu Hale, and one of them had returned the favor.
Gracie had had the time of her life, of course, and it had meant a lot to Danny, to be able to share some of that holiday magic with his two favorite people, his daughter and his... well, Steve. He hadn't realized it had meant something to Steve, too.
Danny swallowed. Just... wow. At least now he had proof that, whatever Steve's problem was, it wasn't that he secretly hated Danny.
Danny shook himself. Right. He didn't have time for squishy feelings; Steve could come back any minute now. Danny had work to do.
He rested his fingertips lightly on the keyboard, thinking for a moment, then opened Stickies; Steve was a perpetual note-taker. A veritable blizzard of sticky-notes popped up against the desktop, organized and color-coded according to some system Danny didn't understand. His eyes darted across the screen, scanning the stickies... aha! A list of dates, times, and flight numbers, info for a roundtrip flight bracketing the date of Steve's birthday, HNL to ITO—Hilo International Airport. ...Steve was going to the Big Island?
Danny tapped a thoughtful finger against his lower lip, then opened Firefox. There was no previous session to restore; Steve had a habit of closing his tabs as soon as he was done with them, a psychological artifact of the compulsive neatness the Navy had trained into him, probably. Danny went for the browser history; he had to go back a few days, but there it was, the Hawaiian Airlines website. Danny hummed thoughtfully, scanning down the list of webpages Steve had visited. The REI online store; a bunch of pages from the Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park website. Danny started clicking, glancing over the pages as they popped up. Backcountry permit procedures, information on the Mauna Loa summit cabin... oh. Oh no. Steve wanted to climb an almost fourteen thousand foot active volcano. ...Of course he did.
Scrolling down, Danny read through a series of increasingly scary warnings, occasionally bolded and capitalized for greater effect. ‘...severe winter conditions, including blizzards, high winds, and whiteouts.’ ‘Volcanic eruptions are possible at any time.’ ‘...serious and potentially fatal consequences of hiking at high altitude… IF SYMPTOMS PERSIST AFTER DESCENT TO SEA LEVEL, SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION WITHOUT DELAY.’ Danny put his head in his hands, a feeling somewhat like dread stealing over him.
After a little while Danny straightened, craning his neck to peer out across Steve's lanai and down to the beach. Shit! He could see Steve a couple dozen yards offshore, heading for land with long, sure strokes. Danny hastily closed Firefox and Stickies and shut down Steve's computer, then crossed Steve's living room to lean nonchalantly against the kitchen counter.
A few minutes later Steve sauntered up onto the lanai, clutching his towel. He spotted Danny and beamed, his whole face lighting up in a fifty megawatt smile. “Danny! You're here early!”
Steve was still entirely wet, saltwater running in rivulets down his chest, his abs, his calves, beading in jeweled droplets on his tattooed shoulders, his pecs and biceps rippling as he toweled his hair. Steve was a Greek marble in board shorts, and oh shit he'd totally just said something to Danny, hadn't he, Danny should probably say something back. “What? Oh, yeah, woke up before the alarm, couldn't get back to sleep, figured there was no point in waiting.”
Steve stepped into the house, rubbing at his chest with the towel, something Danny was definitely not paying attention to. He breathed in deep and his eyes lasered in on the coffee cups. “You brought coffee!”
“Yes, yes I did,” Danny confirmed. “And! Manapua for breakfast.”
Steve's eyes lit up even more. “Chicken curry?” he asked, sounding hopeful.
Danny grabbed the box, holding the lid open for Steve. “They're not purple 'cause they're grape, sweetheart.” He rolled his eyes. “Did I buy you sweet potato manapua, honestly, it's like you don't even know me at all.”
Steve snagged one of the purple buns and took a huge bite, then tried to talk around a mouthful of purple sweet potato. “'Or huh 'ess, 'Anny.”
“Yes. I am the best, and don't you ever forget it.” Danny selected one of the standard char siu pork buns for himself; you couldn't argue with the classics.
Steve chewed and swallowed, doing his very best impression of a civilized human being. He slung his towel over his shoulders, pointing at the stairs. “I'm pretty much ready to go, I'm just going to take a quick shower, okay?”
“Yes, good idea babe, you go do that. I'll just... you know... morning news or something.” Danny gestured vaguely toward the television.
Nodding curtly, Steve took another bite of his manapua and headed briskly up the stairs. Danny fought temptation for a second, then gave up and leaned over to catch a glimpse of Steve's ass. Yep. No change from the day before. Still fantastic.
Danny put his head in his hands and groaned.
~ ~ ~
It was a perfect morning for Gracie's surfing lessons. The waves were smallish, which meant that Danny felt a little better about his daughter being out in the surf zone, and also that there were fewer boneheads out on the water who might run her over; the water was crystal clear, and Danny didn't see any sign of sharks.
Steve and Danny had a perfect view of Grace from their usual bench, but Danny was too distracted to properly enjoy watching his little genius be magnificent. Eventually he just gave up; What the hell, he decided, and cleared his throat. “So,” he said, “Mauna Loa.”
Steve gaped at him. “...What?”
“For your birthday,” Danny clarified. “You want to climb Mauna Loa.”
“How the hell do you know about that?” Steve was utterly gobsmacked.
“I searched your browser history. Now what I want to know, Steven, is why you felt this needed to be some big secret.”
“You searched my browser history?!” Steve looked like he didn't know whether to feel surprised, pissed off, or confused. “Danny, my computer is password protected.”
“I borrowed your computer and you gave me the password, remember? A few months back.”
Steve stared at Danny, incredulous. “What did you do, write it down?!”
“I remembered it.”
“...Danny, my password is completely random. It's fifteen symbols long.”
Danny waved his hand vaguely. “I have a facility. Look, can we get back on topic here? I asked you what you wanted to do for your birthday, you said you didn't know. That, clearly, is not the case.”
“I ought to punch you in the face,” Steve said, but he didn't look angry; he looked guilty again. “...It's just something I was thinking about. I hadn't decided on it.”
“Steve, you have a sticky-note full of flight times.”
“I haven't bought any flights yet!”
“Are you telling me you don't want to climb Mauna Loa?”
Steve huffed a frustrated sigh. “Well, yeah, of course I want to climb it, it's something I've been meaning to do for years. But I don't have to do it now, necessarily.”
“Look, you're being completely ridiculous, if you didn't want me to come with, you could've just said something, it's fine, I completely understand if you want to be alone to commune with the volcano, okay, you should go for it.”
Steve looked confused now. “I don't need to be alone to 'commune with the volcano,' Danny, I... didn't think you'd be interested.”
“Well I admit to you that climbing an active volcano up beyond the limits of what most people consider breathable atmosphere would not be my first choice of activity, but it's not my birthday is it, it's yours, and if that's what you want to do, if you wanted me to come with you than yes, definitely, I would want to be there!”
“Of course I want you to come with me! I... you really want to go?” Steve looked really confused now, but also kind of hopeful.
Danny blinked, the recent turn in the conversation finally catching up with his brain. Oh, he thought, somewhat stunned. He shook himself. “Steve, it's your birthday, you're my friend, yes, I really want to go!”
“No, there is no 'but,’ Steve, there is nothing complicated about this, yes, I would like to climb Mauna Loa with you.”
“...Really?” Danny was about to start yelling, but it seemed like the question was rhetorical because Steve smiled then, a huge, brilliant, happy smile that took over his whole face. Danny's heart thudded uncomfortably.
“So... what, is that all settled then, we're going to do this, you, me, climbing a mountain?”
Steve grinned wider. “Yes! Yeah, absolutely!”
“Okay. Good.” Danny narrowed his eyes at Steve, squinting at him suspiciously for a few moments, thinking things over. “...So, let me get this straight, am I understanding things correctly here... you were going to abandon your birthday plans, this thing that you really wanted, you were going to try to think of something else to do that would make me happy, is that what was going on here?”
“...Um.” Steve looked embarrassed.
Something warm and sharp and sweetly painful expanded in Danny's chest. He stared at Steve, for once in his life at a loss for words; after a few confused moments, he found them again. “...McGarrett, you are a fucking idiot.”
Steve just beamed at him happily.
~ ~ ~
So that was that. Steve excitedly helped Danny shop for all of the gear he would need (and it was a lot of gear, okay, a lot), and the realization slowly sank in that Danny had actually agreed to do this, they were going to do this completely horrible-sounding thing, and Danny must be going mad, he couldn't even bring himself to regret it, because Steve didn't stop smiling for two straight weeks.
Eventually the day came, and Danny embraced his newfound madness and boarded a plane with Steve McGarrett, bound for Hawai‘i Island and the largest active volcano on the planet. When they landed in the town of Hilo it was a sunny, beautiful morning and they could see clear to both summits, strangely lumpy Mauna Kea with its gleaming observatories dominating the northwestern horizon, and distant, deceptively smooth Mauna Loa further to the south. Danny squinted at it; it didn't look very big.
Steve and Danny picked up their rental car, acquired food and tanks of propane, and headed up Highway 11 towards Volcano Village and Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. Steve was driving; Danny was squinting at a map of the Big Island. “...Babe, tell me again why we're spending all day at Kīlauea instead of heading straight for the summit?”
Steve glanced over at him, flashing him a bland, indulgent smile before turning his attention back to the road. “Well, first of all, we have to pick up a backcountry permit at park headquarters. And we're not starting from inside the park tomorrow; we're taking the Observatory Trail, which is like a two-hour drive from Volcano. The park offices don't even open until eight, and we’re going to want to be at the trailhead by eight-thirty at the latest, so we need to get the permit today.” Danny looked at the map again, and, yeah, now he was starting to get an idea of just how big this mountain was; to get from one side of it to the other you had to drive around half the island. “Besides,” Steve continued, “this way we can spend the day exploring Kīlauea!”
Danny shook his head. “What is it with you and active volcanoes, huh? Is this, like, some kind of thing, are we going to have to fly to Maui to check out Haleakalā?”
Steve grinned at him. “Speaking of backpacking trips I'd like to do....”
The long, uphill climb flattened out and the forest closed in, dark and damp and primordial, and they turned off the highway and entered the national park. The paperwork at the backcountry permit office was a brief affair, signatures and contact numbers and checking lots of little boxes, and then Steve was dragging Danny around the park with the enthusiasm of an eight-year-old at Disneyland. Danny filled his camera with photographs of sulfur crystals and boiling-hot steam vents and sheer cliffs and sharp lava rock and deep pit craters where the earth had abruptly and spontaneously collapsed and sign posts for friendly-sounding places like 'Devastation Trail;’ he sat on a trailside bench at the edge of Kīlauea Iki Crater and watched steam crawl across the blackened crust of what had once been a lava lake and tried to imagine a fountain of lava taller than the Empire State Building.
“...I am never ever ever bringing Grace here,” Danny decided. “Ever.”
Steve rolled his eyes.
They had an early start the next morning, but Steve insisted that they stick around Kīlauea until after dark, so they ducked into Volcano Village for dinner. They lingered over tom kha and pad thai and cold bottles of Singha while Steve exuberantly described some of the more exciting (terrifying) eruptions of Kīlauea's history, and outside the window the green and misty rainforest disappeared into the inky black of night.
As they re-entered the park and cruised down Crater Rim Drive, the night was blackest black, the stars were cold and sharp, and wafts of steam drifted across the road like ghosts. Halema‘uma‘u Crater's plume of steam and noxious gases, which in daylight had seemed innocuously cloud-like, now took on a surly red glow where it rose above the trees. The forest thinned and dried and opened up, and Mauna Loa was a hulking black behemoth dominating the western horizon.
Steve pulled in at the Jaggar Museum and Hawaiian Volcano Observatory parking lot and, hunched against the biting wind, they joined the crowd at the edge of Kīlauea Caldera. Halema‘uma‘u Crater was lit up in hellish red, and the massive plume boiled out of the vent in the crater floor, a pit within a pit within a pit. The column of vapor and sulfur dioxide arched into the sky, red and roiling, and at its base, a tiny, distant fountain threw glittering gold globs of molten lava into the air. Just audible over the excited murmurs of the crowd, muted booms and crashes gave voice to the barely-contained violence of the lava lake. Danny was stunned into speechlessness. It was unutterably beautiful.
It was unspeakably terrifying.
“Pele”, murmured Steve, “goddess of volcanoes, visited each island in turn, digging fire pits as she went, until she settled on the island of Hawai‘i. All volcanoes belong to her, but this crater, Halema‘uma‘u, is her home, and people still come to worship her here.”
Danny stared, hypnotized, into the rolling, twisting curls of the plume. “Should we have brought a sacrifice?” he asked, and he was only half joking. Danny didn't put much stock in the existence of spirits and magic and gods, but here, now, his eyes reflecting the glow of the molten blood of the planet, he could almost believe he could feel the presence of something more than human, grumbling dread pronouncements in a tongue he couldn't understand.
Steve was quiet for a moment. “...I thought about bringing an offering,” he admitted. “I'm hoping our abject admiration will be offering enough.”
“Well she can have as much of that as she fucking wants,” breathed Danny.
Steve hummed in agreement.
“...I'm still never ever bringing Grace here,” Danny said, and did a poor job of dodging Steve's sharp elbow in his ribs.
~ ~ ~
When Danny's alarm woke him dark and early in the morning, he was unsurprised to see Steve already awake and dressed and propped against the counter in their hotel room's little kitchenette. The smell of freshly brewed coffee hovered in the air. “I fucking love you,” he groaned, a little too honestly, blurry and sleep befuddled.
Steve looked up from scrutinizing his phone and beamed, his eyes crinkling in the corners. “'Morning, sunshine. Ready to climb a mountain?”
“Ugh,” Danny grumbled, but flailed his way free of his sheets and stood up. Steve's bed was already made up neatly, looking as if he'd never slept in it. “The hell, McGarrett, they have maids to do that for you, you know.”
“Habit. I don't like to see an unmade bed.” He eyed Danny's bed as if seriously considering fixing it, then returned his attention to his phone.
Danny stumbled over to the kitchenette and helped himself to a tall mug of Kona blend, burning himself a little on the first sip and too happy to care. He glanced over at Steve. “Watcha doing?”
“Checking the weather forecast for the next few days.”
“Does it look okay?”
Steve's forehead wrinkled a little. “There's a chance of wind and rain a couple of days from now.” He stared at his phone a couple of seconds longer, then shrugged and pocketed the phone. “We'll keep an eye on the sky, should be fine. We can hustle out of there a little early if we need to.”
Steve boiled some water for instant oatmeal, and they packed their gear into the rental and took off for Saddle Road.
The rental climbed steadily, up and up... and up and up and up. Dense forest opened up into lava plains and a thin veneer of scrub, and the great shields of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa loomed over them to either side. When Saddle Road wouldn't take them any higher, Steve turned onto a narrow, winding strip of pavement that snaked its way across the fields of lava. Mauna Loa filled their entire field of view, mercurial threads of silvery lava webbed over older flows in black and gray and red-brown.
Steve pointed at a few glittery specks in the distance, high up on the slope. “That's where the trailhead is,” he said, “eleven thousand feet, Mauna Loa Observatory.”
Danny squinted. “Christ, that's far. We gonna start hiking before sundown?”
Steve grinned. “They don't call it the Big Island for nothing,” he said.
Danny was starting to get that. As they climbed higher and higher, the scale of the expansive vista below them became apparent. Mauna Kea stretched broad against the sky opposite Mauna Loa, the vast lava plains of the saddle spreading between them and slanting downward to the east and west, the blue of the ocean blurred by clouds and the haze of distance.
Eventually they reached the domes and towers and utilitarian buildings of the Mauna Loa Observatory, and Danny climbed stiffly out of the car. The air was dry and cold and thin, thinner than any air Danny had ever breathed before, but cleaner and sweeter, too.
Steve and Danny slathered on sunscreen and donned hats and sunglasses, and then... there was nothing to do but climb. Steve hoisted his pack onto his shoulders, grinning his far-too-charming maniac grin. “You ready?” he asked, slightly breathless—unlike Danny, more likely due to excitement than lack of oxygen.
Danny lifted his own pack, groaning slightly with the effort and already really not looking forward to hauling it a couple of thousand feet up an overgrown hill. “Lead on, Edmund Hillary.”
The climb was quietly punishing, a slow and endless uphill grind, the thin air making a slow walk feel like running a marathon. The landscape had a strange, brutal, starkly alien beauty to it, an endless field of bare lava in black and red-browns, the blazing, hostile sun suspended in the featureless, incomprehensible blue of the sky, and aside from Steve and Danny nothing alive in between. Mauna Kea was rooted solidly on the horizon, wisps of cloud slipping past its bulk, and lesser peaks rose from the haze below to the west and north.
Steve called a brief halt and Danny squinted at the great peak to the north, catching his breath between sips of water. “So what I'm wondering,” Danny said, “is this: why aren't we climbing Mauna Kea? As I understand it it's several hundred feet taller than Mauna Loa, and unlike Mauna Loa, it probably won't erupt.”
Steve made a face like he was trying not to laugh at Danny and doing a very poor job of hiding it. “We could climb Mauna Kea,” he agreed, “and I'd like to, someday. But there's a road clear to the top; any jerk with a four-by-four can get up there with a quick drive. Takes away half the fun. And there's no camping; the park rangers kick you out after sunset so you don't disturb the astronomy.”
“Even better,” Danny said. “We could go back down to sea level and have a beer in a nice restaurant, like normal people.”
“Aww, come on, Danny,” Steve said, pretending to pout. “We haven't even gotten to the good part yet!”
They continued their hike, and shortly came upon two massive, towering stone cairns; as they'd climbed, smaller ahu had marked out their trail over the bare lava, but these two were larger, piled high overhead. At their feet was a large pit, which in two directions extended beneath the surface to form caves. A rudimentary rock wall had been built partially across the mouth of one of the caves; in the gloom behind the wall Danny could just see a small stash: a sleeping bag and a few tarps.
“Collapsed lava tube,” explained Steve, “converted into an emergency shelter, in case of blizzards.”
“You don't know how comforted I am by the reminder that we could, at any time, be enveloped by a deadly snow storm,” Danny said. He looked up at Steve and jerked his thumb at the cave-shelter. “...So, is this the good part?” Steve laughed.
Steve and Danny continued to climb steadily upward, their trail over featureless lava giving way to a short section of rough four-by-four track which led them to the Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park boundary sign and a trail winding through smooth hillocks of cinder. The cinder was a strange, dull gold color, with occasional dark patches of cinder that, on closer inspection, turned out to be cobalt blue. The throat of the fissure along the edge of the cinder field was painted terra cotta, brick red, and maroon. Danny gaped a little bit; he had no idea rocks could come in so many colors. He could just feel Steve radiating smugness at him, but he could feel Steve radiating happiness as well, so he chose to ignore it.
After a lunch break next to a flame-colored fissure, they left the cinder field behind for smooth black pāhoehoe that glimmered with iridescent rainbows in places, as if smeared with a sheen of oil. Still they climbed upward; the thin air was really starting to get to Danny now, and he zoned out a little, concentrating on breathing rhythmically and putting one foot in front of the other, slow and steady. A bark of laughter from Steve pulled him abruptly from his trance, and he looked up, panting.
Displayed proudly against the dramatic backdrop of a towering lava rampart, gleaming in the sunlight was... a toilet.
Not an outhouse, mind. Just a toilet. A white throne exposed to the elements and a panoramic view of lava fields and distant cinder cones.
“What the hell,” Danny said.
Steve and Danny trudged closer to take a look. A small rock wall had been built up next to the john, just enough to hide the unmentionables of someone sitting on it from view, presuming the viewer was twenty yards away. A slightly weathered roll of toilet paper was tucked into the lee of the wall. The toilet itself was built onto a small wooden platform and propped over a narrow but deep lava fissure. “Oh my God,” commented Danny.
Steve was staring at it, looking utterly bemused but also, as time passed, increasingly gleeful. “I'm going to use it,” he announced.
“What,” said Danny. Steve was carefully offloading his backpack onto the sharp lava.
“Look at it!” Steve exclaimed, pointing at the toilet, then waving his hands around vaguely to indicate their surroundings. “That is the most hilarious, most beautiful—that is the best toilet I have ever seen! How could I not use it?”
“Steven, why do you have a toilet ranking system—oh my God.” Steve had started fumbling with the buttons on his hiking pants. Danny rapidly did an about-face, swaying a little when his pack threw his balance, and started trudging back to the trail. “What the hell is wrong with you, warn a guy!”
Danny stood with his back to Steve and the World's Best Toilet, staring out at the drifting clouds below him and wearily cursing every single aspect of his life. After a couple of minutes, the crunch of gravel behind him announced Steve's approach. “Did you have an enjoyable bodily function, Steven?”
“Yes I did,” Steve said, sounding immensely satisfied. “You should try it.”
A minute later, Danny was forced to admit that there was something strangely freeing about sitting on the john in the wide open, exposed to sun and breeze. But quietly, to himself, where Steve could never hear him. Obviously.
In very short order the trail brought them to a couple of junctions and then over the edge of a broad, very shallow crater—“North Pit,” Steve said. The summit of Mauna Loa and the tall, sheer cliffs of Moku‘āweoweo Caldera were visible in the distance. The floor of North Pit was an odd patchwork of different-colored rock, a dull gold lava peeking through an incomplete layer of younger, silvery lava. The trail across the crater floor was relatively smooth and flat, and Danny quietly prayed that the good footing would last; he was starting to really be able to feel the weight of his pack, and the uneven ground and loose rubble they'd previously crossed was mentally and physically exhausting. Steve still seemed cheerful, and Danny still felt pretty okay, but the long hike under full pack at elevation was beginning to take its toll; conversation had dwindled, and they hiked in silence.
After a few minutes, the trail took them to the edge of a bogglingly broad, deep, and sheer-sided pit crater, and they took a few moments to catch their breath and take in the view. The floor of the crater was covered in lava rubble, which had somehow become piled in a sort of a mohawk-shaped rock-dune in the middle. Danny didn't think he could venture a guess as to how deep the crater was, but he figured if he fell in he'd have a good number of seconds to regret his life choices and his acquaintance with one Steve McGarrett before an instant and completely disgusting death. He shuffled back a step, not terribly keen on testing this theory.
"This is amazing," Steve said, panting slightly. "Do you know how pit craters are formed?"
"Do I want to know?" asked Danny.
"It’s a place where a small magma reservoir comes very close to the surface," Steve said, apparently deciding that yes, Danny did want to know. "It might feed an eruption, or it might simply drain away to another location. What once was solid rock in that spot, and then liquid rock, then becomes mostly nothing and the ground suddenly collapses, boom." He gestured vaguely at the giant scary hole of doom. "Pit crater!"
Danny nodded thoughtfully. "Yep. This is much worse than that time you told me about how the ground beneath our feet is mostly lava tubes, i.e., the ground beneath our feet is mostly not ground and we could fall into a cave literally at any time."
Steve grinned. "C'mon, we're almost there. I'm thinking a mile, mile-and-a-half to go, maybe."
They climbed up out of North Pit, and to Danny's dismay, the footing significantly worsened. There was one small patch of gorgeous trail where the lava was as smooth as glass and shiny as wet tile, but after that they entered a hell of wobbly, fist-sized clunkers. The trail curved around a gentle rise and both North Pit and the cliffs of Moku‘āweoweo disappeared from view, leaving nothing to see but a vast plain of gnarled, gray-brown stone. Not that Danny could take his eyes away from his feet very often to look around.
Steve's pace started to feel impossible to match, and Danny slowly dropped behind, left alone with his thoughts. Surely they had to be almost there. Where was the cabin? How long had it been since North Pit? It felt like forever. Danny's pack felt like it was filled with lead. His legs and feet and hips ached; his lungs burned. Why the hell had he thought this trip was anything like a reasonable idea?
Danny glanced up to see that Steve had stopped to wait for him. His cheeks burned a little, but he gritted his teeth and tried to squeeze a little more speed out of his tired legs. When he got closer, Steve grinned and gestured for him to hurry. "Look!" Steve exclaimed. "The cabin!"
Danny stumbled closer and looked where Steve was pointing, and sure enough, an aluminum structure glinted in the distance. It looked so far, and yet—it was visible. It existed. It was indisputably a finite distance away. "Thank fuck," Danny said with feeling. "I gotta tell you, babe, this last bit is killing me."
"We're almost there." Steve was grinning, but even he looked tired around the eyes, which Danny found strangely gratifying. Steve gestured for Danny to lead the way. "That's gotta be, what, half a mile? Less? Let's crank this sucker out."
"Oorah," Danny said, pushing forward with renewed vigor.
"That's the Marines, asshole," Steve said, and Danny grinned.
The footing was still shitty, but Danny had discovered an untapped reservoir of energy; he forged ahead, breathing in time with his footsteps—in, in, ouuuuutt, in, in, ouuuuuutt. (It was the breathing pattern Rachel had had to learn for when she was in labor with Gracie, but hey, apparently it was good for mountain climbing, too!) The caldera reappeared to his right, then a pyramid of stacked stone and an outhouse, right on the edge of the cliff—and there, once again, the cabin, an aluminum-sided shack accompanied by a raised composting toilet and a big green water tank. Danny put his head down and pushed his tired legs just that last bit further, and then—he and Steve were stumbling off of the rocks and onto the sandy patch of ground surrounding the cabin.
"’Mauna Loa Cabin, elevation 13,250 feet… 4,039 meters’," Danny read aloud from the sign on the wall. He thrust his fists into the air in triumph. "We made it! We made it, we are here, we are not dead, oh my God, this is fantastic."
Steve grinned, panting for breath slightly, his hands on his hips. "See, that wasn't so bad, was it?"
Danny was already fumbling with the latch of his waist belt, dropping his backpack to the dirt with a heartfelt groan. "Oh my God, I hate that backpack, never again!" he proclaimed. He carefully lowered himself to the ground next to his pack, every muscle and joint in his body complaining about it. Then he decided that sitting was way too much effort, and he flopped back to lie spread-eagled. "Never again," he reiterated.
Steve carefully slipped off his pack, then stumbled over to a conveniently placed flat rock to sit with his back against the wall of the cabin. "Well, I hope you enjoy the mountain life, because I'm not carrying you down."
Danny closed his eyes. "What kind of friend are you?" Wow, lying down felt amazing.
Steve didn't bother to reply, and Danny basked in the silence for a bit. And it was silent. Past the thud of his own pulse and the ringing in his ears there was a whole lot of nothing. No birds, no bugs, no traffic. A fairly brisk breeze tugged at Danny's hair, but it too was silent.
After a minute Danny opened his eyes and turned his head to look at Steve. Steve was sitting with his head tipped back against the cabin and his eyes closed, his ridiculously long lashes casting shadows on his cheeks. A small smile played around his lips, softening his features; he looked relaxed and content and happy and stunningly beautiful, and Danny felt his heart skip a beat. He quickly turned his head away, swallowing painfully around his dry throat.
He'd looked away just in time, it seemed; he heard the crunch of Steve's boots sliding over gravel and the soft groan as he stretched, and for fuck's sake could McGarrett ever have the decency to not sound completely pornographic? Danny heard Steve push himself to his feet and wander away from the cabin; Danny tipped his head to see what he was up to. Steve picked his way over the rocks towards the cliff's edge, stopping with his hands on his hips and scanning the horizon.
"Danny." Steve turned to look at him, his face completely lit up with something like awe; there went Danny's heart again. "C'mon, get over here, you've got to see this!"
Danny groaned. "I think that would involved standing, and that sounds pretty not-awesome right now."
Steve gestured frantically. "No, I'm serious, hurry up, this is incredible!"
"Really don't think it's going anywhere, babe," Danny pointed out, but he was already rolling over, getting his hands and knees underneath him and struggling to his feet.
Walking without the heavy backpack turned out to be an intensely weird experience; after having hours and miles to adjust to the weight of it, Danny now felt abnormally light. Bouncy, as if each step might propel him entirely off of the ground. It felt like walking on the moon, or Mars, and the lifeless, rocky surroundings completed the illusion that he'd been transported to another planet.
Danny came up next to Steve at the cliff's edge and his breath caught in his throat as he took in the view. Mauna Loa's massive caldera stretched before them, mind-bogglingly broad and deep, the bottom paved with pāhoehoe in patterns of infinite complexity, the cliffs tall and sheer. Danny figured it was about the same size as Kīlauea's equally impressive caldera, but longer and narrower, an oval where Kīlauea's was round. To the left he could see a collection of volcanic cinder cones poking up from the caldera floor—the remnants of old eruptions—and a gap in the cliffs leading to, as Danny remembered from one of Steve's maps, South Pit. To the right, the cliffs sloped gently down into North Pit, beyond which hovered cloud-wreathed Mauna Kea, now looking much smaller and more distant.
"...Wow," was all Danny could think to say.
Steve grinned wide and spread his arms in a grandiose gesture. "Moku‘āweoweo Crater," he said, as if presenting it for Danny's approval.
"How big do you think that thing is?" Danny wondered.
"Two-point-six by one-point-six miles," Steve answered immediately. When Danny raised an eyebrow at him, he added, "Approximately."
Danny shook his head wonderingly. Steve McGarrett, honest to God. "Next time I demand at least three decimals, babe."
"Yeah, yeah." Steve pointed to the cliffs directly across from them, where the great arc that was the top of the mountain stretched closest to the sky. "Look, there's the summit." He grinned at Danny. "That's where we're going tomorrow."
Danny groaned. "How is it possible for you to still sound so excited about that? I don't want to even think about it! Right now I'm thinking I want to lie down and never move again. Ever." He eyed the summit dubiously. It looked so far away. And they were going to have to go around the crater, not across it.
Steve was entirely oblivious to the feelings of dread Danny was experiencing, inspired by the contemplation of a nine mile round-trip hike at 13,500 feet, give or take. "You want a bit of a lie-down, Danny, we can accommodate. Come on, let's go check out the cabin."
Steve gave Danny a friendly slap on the back and steered him toward the cabin, wrestling open the slightly sticky door and venturing inside. Danny followed him, craning his neck to look around the interior. It was hardly five-star accommodations—every interior surface was untreated, unpainted plywood—but it was clean, and comfortable-looking. Two of the walls were lined with triple-high bunk beds, already made up with foam pads and sleeping bags, and about half of them with pillows. The room was well-illuminated with natural light pouring in through several windows which had glass panes, were openable, and were dressed with curtains. A sturdy-looking dining table and some metal folding chairs provided a place to sit and look out a window toward the crater, or inspect the detailed topographic map of the summit area that hung on the wall. A door led to a small kitchen area.
"Home sweet mountain home," Steve exclaimed with satisfaction. He glanced over at Danny, curious and maybe a little bit hopeful. "What do you think?"
Danny pursed his lips, thinking for a moment. "I don't see any dead bodies or skittering, leggy critters, so I guess I won't be sleeping outside," he concluded.
Steve rolled his eyes. "Let's bring our gear in."
It took a supreme effort of will to pick his gear up and haul it the final few feet into the cabin, but Danny consoled himself with the knowledge that he wouldn't have to touch it again for a couple of days. He dropped the bag next to Steve's in an out-of the-way corner and turned to consider the bunks. In the old days he and Matty would've fought each other for a top bunk; here and now he was spoiled for choice, and tired as he was—and maybe feeling his age a little, shh, don't tell anyone—scrambling up and down the side of the bunks without the help of a ladder seemed like way more effort than it was worth. Danny grabbed one of the complimentary pillows and chucked it into a bottom bunk. He sat down on the floor with a groan, plucking at his laces until he could pull the boots from his aching feet, then all but rolled into his bunk. He groaned again, this time from pleasure.
Steve chuckled, looking down at him with his hands on his hips and his eyes sparkling with fond amusement. "You're really serious about that lie-down, huh."
Danny thought about flipping him off, but again, that seemed like way too much effort. "You don't get it—clearly, you do not understand. I've got some soft, squishy foam, and a feather pillow, and I am horizontal, and now—now I'm going to close my eyes," Danny said, and he did. "This feels fantastic, McGarrett, it feels God-damn amazing, you should try it."
Steve chuckled again, softer. "Maybe I will, in a bit. I'm going to unpack a little. Enjoy your nap, Danno."
Danny thought about pointing out that unpacking could wait, oh my God, Steven. But he didn't, and instead, abruptly and very soundly, fell asleep.
~ ~ ~
At some point Danny woke again, briefly, some small sound prompting him to open his eyes and tip his head back; Steve was in the neighboring bunk, head-to-head with Danny only a few inches away, sleeping peacefully. Danny rolled over, hummed contentedly, and drifted off again.
~ ~ ~