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Life in the Valley

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Oct. 5th, 2012 | 03:11 pm

Title: Life in the Valley
Summary: Written for brilligspoons for the h50_exchange. The team has some much-needed downtime at one of Chin and Kono's cousins' taro farm.
Pairings/Characters: Chin/Kono/Danny/Steve (The story assumes an OT4 kind of poly relationship, but never goes further than very chaste kissing)
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: ~4,500
Warnings: > Secondary character death, only mentioned in passing.
Disclaimer: Last I checked, CBS is still the only one with any right to make money off these guys.
Neurotic Author's Note #1: I would like to thank the mods first and foremost for being very very patient with me during this challenge, and for running it in the first place, which is a herculean task!
Neurotic Author's Note #2: I also owe a huge debt of gratitude to zolac_no_miko, without whom this fic would not have happened and who provided me with all of the Hawaiian culture portrayed herein. Any factual errors are due to my incomprehension and nothing else.
Neurotic Author's Note #3: And, last but not least, many many thanks to my indefatigable beta, rainylemons, who listened while I whined at her and held my hand and basically made sure the story didn't suck. brilligspoons, I really hope this is close to what you were looking for.




"No, seriously, I thought this was meant to be a vacation. Explain to me in what way this constitutes a vacation?"

Danny straightens up, using the back of his wrist to wipe the sweat from his forehead, working out the kinks in his spine. The whole of Hawaii Five-0 is currently standing knee-deep in water, soft mud squelching between the toes of their bare feet, in the middle of what Danny is sure must be the most enormous taro paddy—a lo'i, Chin and Kono both informed him earnestly—in all of Hawaii, and possibly the entire world. Steve grins at him from a few feet away, his smile blindingly white in his newly tanned face. It's a good look on him.

"Just think of it as rehab, Danno. It's fresh air, something you haven't had in way too long."

"And you agreed to come with us to help out cousin Meli since she broke her leg," Kono reminds him, looking up from where she's got both hands plunged under the surface of the water. "Nobody twisted your arm."

"Yeah, but when you said 'help out,' I assumed we'd be helping her, I don't know, carry groceries or something. You know, vacuum the living room. Something that didn't involve being barefoot in a giant bog, pulling up weeds in the sun, or us having to take a plane and move to a different island. We're supposed to be relaxing. That's what vacations are for. Relaxing, and eating good food, preferably with beer."

"You're telling me you'd rather be at your place?" Steve asks.

And, okay, Danny has to concede the point. There's a reason none of the team ever want to go to his apartment. Between what he's pretty sure is yet another infestation of black mold (seriously, there is no place in Hawaii that he can afford that doesn't have the stuff growing on every wall) and the complete lack of natural light because the windows are tiny, it's probably the most unwelcoming apartment ever. He doesn't even like having Grace come over to the new place, convinced she's going to contract some horrible lung infection. To make matters worse, it doesn't have a proper kitchen, either, just a couple of hot plates and an electric kettle precariously balanced on about ten square inches of counter space, which means he can't cook the way he likes to. Not that he's been able to do much of that since moving to Hawaii, busy as he's been trying to juggle work, seeing Grace, and this tenuous new… thing… he's found with the members of Five-0. It feels like the past two years have been little more than a whirlwind of activity with very little space to actually sit and breathe for a minute.

So, yeah, compared to his apartment? This is pretty nice. Combine the crappy apartment with having undergone what was probably the most boring and frustrating convalescence of his life—courtesy of a bullet to the gut he took during the most recent shootout between Five-0 and some of the more unsavory elements of Hawaii's criminal underbelly—he's happy enough to be out here. Danny's not exactly a fan of being barefoot in general, but there's no need to wear shoes where they are. Mud squelches pleasantly between his toes, like velvet against his skin, and the sun is nice and warm on the back of his neck. The air is fragrant with the smell of fresh running water and the almost indescribable scent of the nearby taro plants, and when he looks around he can see mist rising up from the water, filling the air of the Waipi'o Valley with intersecting rainbows. It's more than enough to take his breath away, even he has to admit it, not that he'll say so out loud unless Steve puts him in a headlock and forces the admission. He does have a reputation to protect, after all. He allows himself a small smile at the thought, is gratified when he sees it mirrored on not just Steve's face, but on Chin and Kono's as well. It's clear he's not fooling anyone, not that he really minds.

There are no plants where they're working currently—it's too delicate a plant to risk having people who don't know what they're doing among the crops, but Cousin Meli has a large operation, and so they've been put to work clearing the weeds from a new section, in order to get it ready for a new crop. Danny's back is killing him, and even though the mud and silt are loose enough that the weeds can be pulled up by hand, the muscles in his arms are burning. He's beginning to develop a whole newfound respect for the people who do this for a living.

"You'd think they'd have machines to do this, by now. Agriculture everywhere else in the modernized world does."

"They have machines to clean the tubers, and make the poi," Chin pipes up from where he's pulling weeds a few yards away. He's wearing nothing but a pair of khaki shorts and a white undershirt, a bandana tied over his head to protect him from the worst of the sun's rays, and Danny pauses for a moment, just taking in the sight. It's a good look on him. "But the plants do better when they're tended by people. Besides, it's tradition. The people here have close ties to the taro plant, you know. In fact, the old stories say that the taro plant is our brother."

Danny rolls his eyes. "You're telling me you all are related to a plant?" He doesn't bother keeping the disbelief out of his voice.

"Sure," Chin nods, undeterred from where he's methodically pulling up weeds. His voice takes on the tone it always seems to take when he's going into what Danny fondly thinks of as his 'lecturing mode.' "A long time ago, Papahanaumoku, the mother of all, wed Wakea, and together they had a daughter, Ho'ohokukalani. According to the legend, as she grew older and more beautiful, Wakea fell in love with his daughter, and became intimate with her."

"Oh, that's just wrong," Danny sputters, yanking up another weed and tossing it into a nearby basket, along with all the others. He's not quite sure what's going to happen to the plants that they've been pulling up all day, but assumes they'll probably use it for composting later on, or something. Or whatever farmers do with weeds once they're dug up.

"It's mythology, Danny. Think of it as a metaphor."

"Metaphorical incest is still incest. What kind of father in his right mind does that to his daughter?"

Steve swats him lightly behind the head, and he laughs it off, which only goes to show that the sun must be getting to him more than he thought, because if he were in his right mind he would have to object to that sort of thing.

"Let him finish, Danny. And do we really need to have another talk about cultural sensitivity?"

Danny snorts. "I will have you know that I am a paragon of cultural sensitivity! I could lead a seminar—and, okay, yeah. Sorry, Chin." He makes a 'carry-on' motion with one hand, and resumes pulling up weeds while Chin talks.

Chin rolls his eyes, but his whole face is crinkling up with amusement. "Right. Anyway, Wakea and Ho'ohokukalani lay together, and she found herself with child. Unfortunately the child was stillborn—"

"This is a really depressing myth."

"Danny!"

"Sorry."

"The child was stillborn," Chin continues, unperturbed, "and Wakea and Ho'ohokukalani were filled with sorrow. They named him Haloanaka, because Haloa means 'eternal life,' and buried him, and Ho'ohokukalani wept over his grave. Her tears sank into the earth where Haloanaka was buried, and there sprang up a slender plant that seemed fragile as it swayed in the breeze, yet it was strong and healthy, and it became known as Kalo.

"Afterward, Wakea lay with Ho'ohokukalani once more, and she bore him a second son, this one live and hale, and they named him Haloa, in honour of his elder brother. The kalo of the earth became sustenance for the younger brother, and it was the sustenance of all generations to come. And so now, when the Hawaiian people work the wetlands of the sacred crop, they remember the ancestor that nourishes them, Haloanaka."

There's silence for a few minutes after that, while Danny busies himself pulling up the weeds at his feet. Grace is enamored of Hawaiian mythology, so this isn't the first myth he's heard—though usually they come in a more garbled, nine-year-old version of the originals—but he supposes they must not include the incestuous myths in grade school. The sun has risen higher up into the sky by now, beating down on his back, though not enough to be truly uncomfortable.

It's Kono who breaks the silence first. "Danny? You okay?"

He glances up, shielding his eyes from the sun with one hand. "What? Yeah, fine."

"You're kind of quiet."

"What, I can't be quiet sometimes? It happens, you know. It's not like I talk incessantly—oh, shut up," he scowls when she grins at him. "I was just thinking about what Chin said, okay?"

"You were?" Chin sounds mildly taken aback, and Danny flushes a bit, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand.

"Well, yeah. I mean, you know, incest aside, it's a nice story, you know? I mean, it's awful, losing a kid, and so when that happens you like to think that something good can come of something that senseless, right? And becoming the source of life and nourishment and whatever for an entire people, well, you can't get much more positive than that. So, yeah. What?" he snaps, blushing harder when he catches Steve looking at him, a sappy grin plastered over his features.

"Aw, Danny, you're such a soft touch," Kono's grin matches Steve's, but at least he knows how to deal with her.

"Oh, I'm a soft touch? Let me show you how much of a soft touch I am," he lets himself smile back at her, slight and wicked, even as his hand is closing around a handful of mud.

Kono's eyes go wide. "Don't you dare. Danny, don't you—" her words cut off with a shriek of laughter as she tries unsuccessfully to duck the projectile, which lands with a very satisfying splatter in the small of her back. "Oh, that's it!" she cries. "You want war? You're on!"

She launches herself at Danny, but he's ready for her and ducks behind Steve, and so it's the latter who receives the brunt of her assault and trips over some unseen root under the water, falling over with a resounding splash. He comes up laughing, though, and quickly has her in an arm lock, ducking her under the water until she's half-submerged and sputtering, though Danny somehow still ends up getting soaked to the skin as a result of their thrashing.

"Hey," Kono manages to wriggle out of Steve's grasp and turns to Chin. "How come you're still dry?"

Chin manages to look mysterious and zen-like, even with a bandana tied around his head. "Innate talent."

Danny meets Kono's gaze over Steve's shoulder. "You thinking what I'm thinking?"

She grins, eyes glinting wickedly. "I think so, yes."

Chin is already trying to back away slowly, but they all know it's too late. It's three against one, after all, and with Steve on their side it's impossible to lose. Chin might be able to hold his own against Steve or Kono alone, but against all three the odds are overwhelming. Before long his bandana is floating away while Steve does his best to shove several handfuls of mud down his shirt while Kono and Danny each hang onto one of his arms.

"Come on, no fair!" Chin laughs, managing to work his left arm free from Danny's grasp. "Three against one?"

"You're right," Danny agrees, relinquishing his hold. It's nice to see Chin laughing, after all. "We need to even the odds. Kono, Steve, I'm officially switching teams. Prepare to go down!" he hooks a foot behind Kono's ankle, and performs a flawless leg sweep, sending her back into the water.

"Traitor! Turncoat!" Kono shrieks, springing back to her feet and jumping on his back, locking her ankles together around his waist.

After that, it's a blur of water and mud and hands and legs and arms and laughter. Danny gets his head ducked under the surface more times than he can count, though he makes sure he gets his licks in. There's no notion anymore of teams, just grabbing whoever is closest and making sure they get good and wet and covered in mud. By the time they separate they're all panting for breath, and Danny has a painful stitch in his side.

"All right," he holds up one hand. "Okay, so I think I have to be the voice of reason here—not for the first time, I might add—and point out that this patch of mud isn't going to weed itself!"

"You started it," Kono grins, pulling her hair back into a messy ponytail.

"And I'm finishing it. Damn it, you're making me sound like I'm talking to Grace," Danny complains, though he can't quite wipe the smile from his face.

"You okay, Danno?" Steve's expression grows a little more serious, a little worried, his gaze straying to where Danny's got one hand pressed tightly against his side, trying to relieve the stitch that refuses to go away. It's the same side on which he got shot, so he can't really blame Steve for being anxious.

"I'm peachy. I just want to get this done before sunset. I don't know about you, but I don't feel like learning how to weed in the dark."

"Danny…"

"No, really, I'm fine. I just have a stitch in my side, it'll pass."

He gets a few skeptical looks, but no one contradicts him. After less than thirty minutes, though, it's obvious that, whatever this is, it's not going to pass just through sheer force of will. The third time he's forced to stop and breathe through the pain, his hand pressed back against his side and his eyes screwed shut, Steve wades over to him and takes him by the elbow.

"Okay, I'm officially calling it a day for you. Come and sit down before you fall down, okay?"

Danny sighs. "Yeah, okay. Sorry."

"You don't get to apologize for this," comes the terse answer, even as Steve steers him carefully back to the water's edge and presses a canteen of water into his hands. "You look like you're overheating, too. Take small sips. How bad's the pain?"

"It's not terrible. No, really," he makes a face but obediently takes a sip from the canteen. "Like, maybe a four or a five. I'm okay, I just need a minute. Or maybe five," he concedes.

"You sure?" Steve looks like he's three seconds away from taking off Danny's shirt himself in order to make sure he hasn't spontaneously developed a new bullet wound while they weren't paying attention.

"I'm sure. You know what would help? If you went back out there and stopped fussing, you hen," Danny knows his grin is shaky, but it's the best he can manage. "Go help Kono and Chin, so we can get out of here. And, you know, if you wanted to do it without your shirt on, I wouldn't complain."

Steve snorts, but he relaxes a bit. "You wish. I am not getting sunburned just so you can objectify me all afternoon."

"You'd just end up bitching about it endlessly anyway."

"I think you're confusing me with yourself, Danno. I never complain."

Danny throws his head back with a laugh. "Go on and get back to work. I'm going to sit here on the nice, mostly dry ground, and convalesce. Seriously, Steve, I'm good," he holds up the canteen and waggles it meaningfully, and so, clearly reluctantly, Steve heads back into the water.

When the pain has receded to little more than a dull throb, Danny settles more comfortably where he is, finishes the contents of the canteen, and watches as his teammates keep on with the backbreaking work. The breeze has picked up a bit, and it feels nice on his overheated skin. He's pretty sure he hasn't done himself any permanent harm, just maybe overdid it a little this soon after being let off bed rest. Still, he thinks to himself, he wouldn't trade this for the world, if for no other reason than he gets to see Steve, Kono and Chin relax for what feels like the first time in months, Chin especially. While he didn't exactly enjoy the weeks following the shooting and the ensuing surgery, he mostly feels like he was the lucky one. He wasn't stuck helpless and waiting on the wrong side of the glass of the operating room, worrying that his teammate, his friend, his lover, a voice at the back of his mind reminds him pointedly, might never come out of there ever again. Sometimes he still can't quite believe his luck.

The whole team worried, but Chin especially appeared to bear the brunt of it, what with the shooting coming so close on the heels of Malia's death. For a while Danny found himself wondering if Chin would ever smile again, he was so wrapped up in his anxiety and his grief. As happy as Danny is that Chin is with them now, in every single way, he still finds himself wishing that it all could be different, that Malia could still be alive, too. Intellectually he knows, they all know, that she didn't die so that they could all be together, but sometimes it's hard to shake that last, lingering doubt, that they all got their wish granted in the most awful fashion possible, just to teach them to be careful what they wished for.

He's so lost in thought that he barely notices when the others leave aside their work and wade back to the bank, until Kono practically drops into his lap and tilts his head back to kiss him. She smiles when he starts.

"Did I scare you?"

"You terrify me always," he assures her. "It's what makes you lovable."

Chin offers him a hand up, pulls him to his feet and steadies him when it turns out his legs aren't as steady as he expected. "You holding up okay?"

Danny manages a nod. "Sure. Took more out of me than I thought. What, no kiss?" he teases gently, because Chin still hasn't quite mastered the whole PDA thing with him and Steve. Mostly Danny doesn't pressure him about it—there's a lot of baggage they're all still working on, and it's not like he's a paragon of self-acceptance every day of the year.

Chin rolls his eyes. "Tell you what, smartass, tomorrow you can help cousin Meli with the vacuuming, like you wanted. Consider it a break."

"Because vacuuming is a break? I rest my case, you people are all nuttier than a fruitcake. You have insane notions about what constitutes actual rest."

Danny keeps up a steady stream of protest he knows will be ignored all the way back to cousin Meli's house, mostly because it keeps his mind off the fact that he has to brace himself a little against Chin as he walks, because he doesn't quite trust his legs to hold him up. He figures they've all noticed, because none of his team are stupid or unobservant, but they mercifully don't say anything at all.

Cousin Meli, for all that her right leg is encased in a cast that goes all the way up to the midpoint of her thigh, hasn't let a little thing like a broken leg stop her from getting things done around the house. Danny's pretty sure, even though he's spent only about ten minutes around her, tops, that if it weren't for the fact that she's under strict orders not to get her cast wet, she'd have been out there tending the lo'i with them. She's tinier even than Kono, barely comes up to his chin, her white hair cropped short above dark eyes that gleam with intelligence and mischief. Danny likes her, suspects the feeling is mutual, though God help him if she ever changes her mind. It looks like she hasn't been idle, either, while they've been out weeding the taro patch. There's a large table set out behind the house, a plain tablecloth held down by strategically placed wooden bowls filled with rice and other steaming dishes.

Chin and Kono immediately disappear into cousin Meli's kitchen with offers to help carry out whatever food is left to be put on the table, leaving Steve to bodily shove Danny into the nearest chair. Danny lets himself be bullied, more glad for the excuse to sit than he's willing to admit. He grumbles about it a bit, mostly for show.

"Come on, you're telling me I should be doing less than a fifty-five year old woman with a broken femur?"

"You did your part today. You spent six hours weeding, I think that's more than good enough when you're still recovering from a gun shot wound."

He doesn't bother arguing after that. For one thing, he's pretty sure that if he tried to get up to help now, he'd only end up face-planting into the damp grass, thus severely limiting his usefulness. So he stays where he is, and tries his best to be gracious about getting fussed over in turn by Steve and Kono and Chin and the endless stream of cousins who all have the unnerving tendency to appear seemingly out of nowhere. They're all perfectly nice, if a little overwhelming, pressing dish after dish of local food on him and encouraging him to eat.

"You won't get better if you don't keep your strength up," a large auntie whose name he can't remember at the moment tells him seriously, and so he nods dutifully and makes a show of taking a large bite of what tastes like baked sweet potato, except for the fact that it's purple.

The table is teeming with enough food to feed a small country in Africa, as far as he can tell. Cousin Meli and a small army of cousins appear to have spent a good part of the day in the kitchen, and now the air is filled with the aroma of shoyu chicken, beef stew, something he's told is tako lu'au and which he concludes is octopus by the look and texture, though it tastes a little of coconut, too, which is more pleasant than he'd anticipated. There's another dish of thinly sliced rib beef which Chin explains is called meat jun that melts on his tongue, leaving behind a faint aftertaste of garlic and sesame, and lomilomi salmon and more smoked marlin than Danny has ever seen in his life (to be fair, Danny can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times he's ever seen smoked marlin before, and counting today, it makes for one time), and a lot of kimchi.

Chin hands him a bowl filled with a pale, purplish paste. "You've never actually had poi, then?" he asks, noting Danny's puzzled expression. "This is what it looks like. Tradition holds that, once the bowl of poi is uncovered at the dinner table, all conflict must cease between family members until the meal is over."

Danny gives that an approving nod. "I wish we'd known about that when I was growing up," he says, lifting a spoonful to his mouth. The texture is odd, definitely not what he was expecting, not that he really knew what to expect, but it's not unpleasant, either. The taste is more delicate than he would have thought, too, just this side of bland. "It would have saved me a lot of arguing with my sisters at the dinner table. Ma used to have to threaten to send us to our rooms without supper."

Kono kicks his ankle gently under the table. "So nothing has changed, then?" she teases.

"Hah," Danny wags his now empty spoon at her. "You think I learned how to argue in a vacuum, maybe? For Marty and me, it was a survival mechanism, us against all those older sisters."

The sun is already setting by the time the meal starts to draw to a close. It dips low over the horizon, its deep crimson rays still spreading out from behind the mountains and making the whole valley seem like it's outright glowing. Danny's on his third Heineken of the evening, slumped a little in his chair and letting himself relax, secure in the knowledge that there's a bed in the house with his name on it, and which he'll probably end up sharing with either Chin or Steve, given the limited amount of space. It's not that he expects anything to happen, certainly not under cousin Meli's roof, but he's grown accustomed, over the past few months, to not sleeping alone anymore, and he doesn't really miss the nights spent entirely by himself.

Two of Chin and Kono's cousins have pulled out ukuleles, and a third has a guitar, and soon the air is filled with the familiar strum of music, even if the melodies are unknown to him. Kono settles herself at his feet, leaning her head back against his knees, and no one so much as bats an eyelash when Chin chooses to sit next to her, slinging an arm over her shoulders. Steve pulls up a chair next to them and hands Danny a fresh beer, reaching over with his own bottle so they can clink the necks together before drinking.

"How you doing, Danno?"

He takes another swig of his beer, allows himself to slump a little in his chair, and smiles up at the stars beginning to shine faintly in the darkening sky. "It's nice here," he says instead of answering.

"You think?" Steve's voice is guarded, and for a second Danny feels a pang at the thought that, after all this time, Steve still hasn't figured out that Hawaii is his home now.

"I do," he confirms. "Spending all day standing in the water aside, I can see why someone would want to live here. It might be a nice place to retire. Peaceful. I wish Grace could have been here to see it," he adds wistfully, proud of how he manages to say her name without his voice shaking.

Kono senses it anyway, and reaches up wordlessly to squeeze his hand. He thinks maybe Steve and Chin get it, too, because Steve nods, and Chin tilts his head to look up at him with a small smile.

"Next time, we'll just have to bring her with us."

Next time. As if there was no question at all in his mind. And maybe there isn't. Danny allows himself to return the smile.

"Yeah. Next time."

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