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I Can't Keep Holding My Breath

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Grace has been absolutely awful for the past two weeks, in a way that Danny can’t quite recall occurring before. He remembers the Terrible Twos weren’t all that terrible, and that three was in fact the Worst Age, the one where he closed his eyes and prayed to a God he didn’t believe in for patience. Then she hit four. After that, even when everything was falling apart around his ears, she was the one thing that never failed to make him smile. His perfect, wonderful baby girl.

Who is currently in a righteous snit, and has been for half a month, which is the sort of dedication and focus he can get behind, except that it’s annoying. Everything he says is stupid, everything he does garners a roll of her eyes. And on the one hand, that’s not an entirely bad thing. He knows, because Rachel’s told him, that Grace reserves her worst behavior for her mother, which Rachel attributes to her age. Danny, on the other hand, wonders if part of the reason is because she feels like she has to be careful with him, careful in a way she doesn’t have to be with Rachel, like maybe their moments together are too fragile to mar by getting real with each other. So he would kind of like it, that she isn’t being so careful with him, if it weren’t such a goddamn struggle every minute.

“What were you like, at Grace’s age?” he asks Kono, after a succession of texts that he isn’t able to answer immediately gets more snarky. Grace is now communicating entirely in emoji and gifs that are going to kill his data charges, murder them more effectively than the three people who’ve been found dead in Chinatown alleys over the past three weeks.

“I was a nightmare, brah,” she replies cheerfully. “And not because I was a girl. Because I was her age. Her age is not fun.”

“For anyone.” Danny adjusts the focus on the binoculars for something to do.

“Including her. Listen, I didn’t even know how mean I was being. I just knew that other people my age were being mean to me. So try to remember that. It’s not on purpose.”

Danny shrugs and sighs, but he’s not satisfied. Matty started going off the rails when he was Grace’s age, the baby of the family and everyone’s favorite, sunny disposition, a lot like Grace personality-wise, if Danny’s being honest. Danny saw it happening but he figured Matty was going through the phase that all the Williams kids, including their cousins, seemed to go through, where they were briefly fuck-ups before they became upstanding citizens. Like they had to get pissed at the world, tell it to go fuck itself, before they could set about living in it. Hell, Eddie was a real asshole until he got Clara pregnant when she was 19, and Clara herself was a bit of a wild child and ran away from home at least twice that Danny knows of, before she met Eddie.

Matty, though, he got too mad. He felt like the world hadn’t paid a debt it owed him, and that should’ve been the first clue. He acted like he'd pulled himself back, but he never did. There were so many clues and Danny missed every single one.  “It’s not like her.”

“Hey.” Kono covers his hand on the console with her own. Danny meets her eyes. “She’s not hiding it from you. That’s a good thing. You want her to show you how she’s feeling even if it’s tough.” She lifts her hand again, but only to playfully slug his shoulder. “It’s when she starts pretending that you gotta worry.”

And yeah, she’s got a point.

Grace texts, fine, Dad, if you don’t want to talk to me I’ll give you the silent treatment too.

Danny rolls his eyes—she comes by it so honestly—and texts back, At work now. Call you later. He already told her that, but it was twenty messages ago, and maybe she was too busy looking for the perfect emoji combination to indicate her disdain to notice. I always want to talk to you, Monkey.

She shoots back, Sure you do.

If she keeps going on like this he’s going to have to make sure they don’t go out in public, ever, to save himself the embarrassment.

“Hey hey hey, he’s going out.” Kono drops her camera and grabs at the key, waiting until the suspect is halfway around the block to start their engine. The judge wasn’t impressed with the dearth of real evidence they’d brought to try to get warrants for electronic and audio surveillance of Kip Johnson, so they’re stuck with straight-up visual, no GPS tracking allowed. Apparently Your Honor, the guy was in the neighborhood all three times the bodies were dumped wasn’t that great of an argument, especially when followed up with actually he goes there all the time. Even immunity and means fall short when trying to build a legally actionable court case. “Please let us catch him doing something. Something incriminating but not fatal to anyone else. My ass is killing me.”

Danny shifts in his seat, groaning under his breath at the ache in his knee. “I’ve had to pee for two hours.”

Kono laughs. “Just don’t wet yourself when we take this asshole down.”

Thank you, Kalakaua, I knew there was something I was forgetting. The student has become the master and—aw, c’mon, what the hell, he couldn’t walk to the store less than two blocks away?”

Kono pulls her car into the parking lot across the street from the corner store and slouches down in her seat again. “If you wanna go behind that building, I won’t put it in the report. Just don’t take too long in case he’s running in and out again.”

Johnson ends up at a bar that's a fairly regular hangout spot for him, chatting up a girl who returns his volleys with laid-back ease and leaves with a friendly wave. He then starts talking to the guy on his left, who's a lot more interested in the conversation from what Danny can tell.

"Looks like he's going to have better luck with the guy than with the girl," Kono observes.

Danny gives her a curious glance. "What do you mean?"

She laughs. "Don't tell me you didn't notice. He's flirting with this dude as much as he did the girl who left."

Danny cocks his head, listening to the scraps of conversation floating over from the bar. "I talk to guys like that."

"Ha! Correction: if that's the way you're talking, you flirt with guys like that."

Taken aback, Danny shakes his head. "That's not flirting. It's being friendly."

Kono shrugs. "That's what every flirt says. I can't decide if this makes Johnson fit the profile for our serial killer more or less."

"It probably doesn't mean anything either way. Everyone's attracted to both guys and girls on some level."

Dead silence for a long moment, and then Kono turns a look of suppressed hilarity onto Danny with exaggerated slowness. "Uh, no, actually, they're not. But people who are? They're usually called bisexual. Pansexual, sometimes."

Danny shakes his head, because this is something he's thought about, okay? "Nah, you gotta earn that. Attraction doesn't earn it. Dating both earns it." Or fucking, but he's not looking to sexually harass his colleague by talking about that.

Kono pats his arm. "You're wrong. The label describes attraction, not action. It's okay, I know you're old and set in your ways."

Before Danny can answer, Johnson finishes up his drink and starts settling his tab. "Hey, he's leaving a glass. Let's go."

The bar glass might turn out to be useful, since it has a fairly decent palm print on it that might match one on all three victims' bodies, left by the killer's gloves slipping. It's still nothing they can arrest the asshole for, so it’s with relatively poor grace that Kono and Danny hand the job of tailing Johnson to an HPD unmarked. They drive to where Danny left his car, and he gets in as dawn starts its display on the horizon. When he first moved to Hawaii, the near-uniform length of days throughout the year put him off, so different from home. Now, as with most things in Hawaii, he’s used to it more than he’s used to Jersey’s version.

He’s halfway home before he remembers what day it is, and pulls into Foodland to get groceries for his Gracie weekend. It was supposed to be a Gracie-and-Charlie week, but Charlie’s got hand-foot-and-mouth disease and both Danny and Rachel agreed that it would be better for him to stay with Rachel till he’s not so clingy. Normally Danny would argue in favor of him coming anyway, and Rachel wouldn't fight it. He’s as good a nurturer as his ex-wife, even though they’ve got different ways of showing it, and it’s not like he hasn’t dealt with sick kids. But he’s still trying to figure out if Grace’s recent behavior toward him is a thing he needs to get used to, or if he’s fucked up somehow and needs to make it better. One-on-one time might help.

He grabs enough vegetables to make his daughter not worry about his health, plus the cereal she likes, and then heads home to crash face-first into bed.

He wakes up when his phone buzzes at two p.m., about five minutes before his alarm to get ready to pick up Grace goes off, which is enough to make him scowl at Steve’s picture on the screen. “Yeah?”

“Hey, Sleeping Beauty, Kono told me it was a bust last night.”

“Told you it was a bust, what the hell, I thought I taught her better than that.” Danny rolls over and squints at the sunlight leaking through his curtains’ edges. “Just because we didn’t arrest the guy doesn’t mean we didn’t do good work. Got a bar glass that might give us a match to the palm print on the bodies. Though I have no idea why you made Kono put up with my cranky ass instead of someone she’d actually enjoy working with. Is this the way things are now? Is it because of the radiation thing? I won’t bug you about it if you promise to not put your body in the path of bullets for one whole week, Steve. Now stop torturing Kono and give her a decent partner, before she moves on to greener pastures.”

“Oh, so this is all for her.” Steve’s trying to tease back, to fall into their normal rhythm. But it’s an audible effort, and Danny can almost hear his forehead creasing into that pained expression he’s been wearing whenever he forgets Danny’s watching. “I see how it is. You’re being nothing but generous, it has nothing to do with having to sit in a hot car all night and your knee going stiff.”

“Hey, you wanna join me? I’ll send her home at six p.m. on the dot next Thursday. Quit trying to duck out on the real police work.”

“Yeah, I’ll do that. Hey, are you guys coming over this weekend?” Because Steve knows the Gracie-and-Charlie dates as well as Danny does.

Danny pauses, trying to read Steve’s tone. Is this a request for information, or does Steve want them over, or does he not want them over because he’ll be with Lynn—this is too much work for someone he’s not dating. “I dunno, our plans aren’t set. What are you up to?”

“Nothing, really, I…” And Steve trails off, a more common occurrence recently than Danny likes to admit to himself. Like Steve’s thinking so much about so many things that all the words have snarled into a traffic jam before they come out of his mouth. “I’m not busy, if you guys want to come swim or whatever. Nahele might come over Sunday.”

“How about I call you?”

“Sure. Let me know. And I’ll tell Kono she’s off the hook for surveillance.”

The alarm starts going off in Danny’s ear, muted beneath their conversation. “Yeah, okay, you do that. Gotta go.”

Steve hangs up and Danny ducks into the shower for a criminally short time before getting dressed and heading out for his baby girl.

Grace is waiting on the curb when he gets there, texting someone (Will, probably) with a pissy expression. Danny’s actually proud that her face would be perfectly at home in Jersey, because no one would mess with that scowl, but it’s still a major change of pace for his sweet-natured daughter.

Wrong. This anger is wrong. It’s not a growing-up thing, it’s a Danno’s-fucked-up thing.

She swings into the door and buckles up without so much as a “hello.” The phone comes up to six inches from her nose and she keeps texting.

“‘Hello, Dad, nice to see you, I had a great day at school,’” Danny says.

Grace shoots him an unimpressed glance, but the phone comes down a few more inches, so he counts it as a win. “What?”

“It looked like you had forgotten how to talk so I was just giving you a cue. But hey! You’re talking. Maybe not a whole lot, one word isn’t exactly what I was going for, but everyone tells me I talk enough for two anyway. So how was school?”

She gives him a full-faced look of contemptuous incredulity. In an instant, his heart drops down low. He's sick. That expression is a what do you care? if he’s ever seen one. And there is nothing, nothing he can remember ever doing to give Grace the impression that he doesn’t care about her day. Not ever. Which means he’s really hurt her, and didn’t even realize when he did it.

Worse, instead of tearing into him for it, whatever it is, she wipes her face clear in a manner she might very well have learned from her Uncle Steve and replies with just enough inflection, “It was great. I got my grade back on my history test and it was an A. And we started a new cheer routine so the team spent flex time working on it.”

Danny nods, trying to catch his breath against the nausea in his gut, the certainty he’s failed. “That’s—that’s good. I’m glad you had a good day. How’s Will?”

“He’s fine.” She waves the phone a little at him to indicate their texts. “He says to tell you hi.”

Little twerp. Except he’s a good kid. He can afford to be nice about this. “Tell him hi back. Are you two gonna be hanging out this weekend?” Maybe asking will count as a show of good faith.

“Are you trying to get rid of me?” she snaps, delicate eyebrows drawing together in a straight line of anger and pain.

“Of course not! Just wanted to make sure I didn’t make any plans that would interfere with yours.” God, this is like talking to Rachel after the divorce was filed but before the lawyers took over.

Grace flushes. “Oh. No. He knows I’m with you by myself. We can just message each other.”

So she does still want to have her alone time with her dad. The sickness eases a little. Maybe he hasn’t ruined everything.

--

During his post-divorce adventures into alcohol dependence, Danny more than once drunkenly asked his brother, “Why didn’t we work out? Our fucking parents are still married, Matty, why not me and Rach?” Because, honestly, at that point no one was sure why Eddie and Clara were still married, including Eddie and Clara.

And every time he asked, Matty tilted his beer bottle toward Danny and laughed. “You’re too much alike, brother. Way too much alike.”

Danny laughed every time, as he was meant to, and he thought it was for the right reasons. Literally everyone had agreed that Rachel was marrying beneath her, besides Danny’s mother and Rachel herself. She was everything Danny wasn’t.

Except she was also a lot of things that he was. After he told her about Matty leaving, and saw the sadness in her eyes undiluted by surprise, Danny finally realized it. She had expected something like this. She’d taken an unplanned visit and Matt making peace with her and all the other clues, put them together, and come up with this is too good to be true. Something bad is about to happen.

It was probably the only time he hadn’t done the same thing.

So that was what he did, and what she did too. They both were the type who spun scenarios into the worst case, so they’d be ready, so they’d have a backup plan and an exit ready. Danny had been waiting for her to leave him since the day of their wedding, and Rachel had been waiting for him to die since the first time she heard about him having to draw his weapon on the job. Neither of them was what the other needed. Matty had been right.

Danny thinks about it a lot, lately, since Rachel told him about the divorce with Stan.

Because it turned out that what Rachel needed, at the time anyway, was a rich man who was so optimistic that he didn’t even insist on a paternity test, when the wife he knew for a fact was cheating on him returned to his arms pregnant.

And Danny—

What Danny needed was someone who—

But whenever he gets to this point in the thought process, his brain jumps to an entirely different topic, like too-thin scary-faced Navy Steve telling him “We’re gonna get along great,” and he never does quite manage to figure out what it was he needed.

--

So it’s not exactly unusual for Danny to feel certain he’s completely blown the fatherhood thing and that Grace will never forgive him. She always proves him wrong.

He tries to tell himself this as she plants herself at the table to maybe finish her weekend homework while he starts on dinner. Her pretty face disappears behind the laptop, she’s got her tablet out on the table to use for her textbooks, and her phone lights up every sixty seconds or so with another message, whether from Will or whomever, he doesn’t know. It’s a lot of screens. Danny’s glad he didn’t have to mess with all that bullshit back when he was in school, although he guesses the smart table could probably give it a run for its money now.

He chops bell peppers and slices onions and tries to remember what he was talking about to Grace right before she started acting mad all the time. It’s a lost cause. They’ve only got one open case at the moment, but it’s eating up a lot of his brain space. They didn’t catch the case from HPD until the third victim showed up. Two women, one man, all shot with what’s likely the same gun, although the bullets weren't in the bodies. The two women were East Asian, the man Latino, which makes Danny think the HPD assumption that they’re dealing with a serial killer is bullshit. The last two victims, Ashley Smith and Fabian Huerta, had no connection to each other. Fabian was an education student and Ashley worked at a grocery store. Nobody in their families or their places of employment recognized either of the other two victims.

The first victim is still unidentified. She looked like a younger Kono, so much so that Danny had to gaze at the toes of his shoes and just not think for a few moments after he saw her face on the screens at HQ. When he glanced at Steve he caught him staring unseeing out the windows, pressing the heel of his hand to his face the way he does when a case is getting to be too much.

“Can we go see Uncle Steve tomorrow?” Grace asks, face sliding into view for a second.

It’s like she’s in his head. Danny dumps the peppers into the frying pan. “Shouldn’t be a problem. He asked if we were going to.”

“Okay, good.”

Grace sounds a little too relieved, and he asks, “Why? Something wrong?”

“No.” She disappears once more.

Danny waits, but no elaboration is forthcoming. That’s okay. He’ll wangle it out of Steve after they visit tomorrow.

--

He called Steve last night to make sure it was okay, but he wasn’t expecting to be met at the front door before he even locked the car. “Gracie!”

Though maybe, given how much he knows Steve loves Grace, he should have expected it.

Grace allows herself to be gathered into Steve’s embrace with a lack of self-consciousness rare with anyone else nowadays. When she pulls back, they’re both grinning. Danny’s ridiculously sentimental heart is a ball of mush. He never gets tired of these two together.

“You ready for a swim?” Steve asks, and Grace hops a little in anticipation before they all walk into the house. When no one else is around but Danny and Steve, she still lets herself act like a kid sometimes. It's cute.

“I wanna play sunken treasure!”

Danny groans. He hates that game, mostly because it involves Grace disappearing underwater for outrageous lengths of time while he tries not to hyperventilate. Steve speaks over the sound. “Sounds great! I’ll go grab the stuff.”

Grumbling under his breath about sharks and octopuses and other sea hazards, Danny puts his beer and Grace’s pH-balanced bottled water into the fridge, plus the meat for later, then walks out to the beach with the towels, sunblock, and everything else. Grace follows with her phone.

“I could carry something too, Dad.”

He glances back over his shoulder at her in surprise. “I know. I just grabbed everything out of habit.”

She raises her eyebrows. “Habit from when I was eight?”

“Yeah, all right, I guess, next time I’ll load you down like a donkey at the Grand Canyon. Sound better?” he asks lightly. A joke, but one with the slightest edge to it.

“You don’t have to be a jerk about it.”

Uh, likewise, but he’s not going to say that part out loud. And maybe she’s right; compared to the way she’s been treating him the past couple of weeks that was pretty mild. “I won’t forget when we go back to the car. Okay?”

“‘Kay.” She helps him lay everything out and get it arranged, so she probably did just want to make herself useful. He’s getting too jumpy, reactionary, when he needs to be paying attention instead.

Steve comes out carrying an assortment of shiny heavy stuff: an old watch that doesn’t work anymore, a big brass ring that’s the size of Danny’s fist, and a few other things. “You ready, Gracie?”

Danny sighs, resigned. “Please don’t drown my beautiful daughter.”

Steve gives him a smile that's way too cocky for Danny's peace of mind. “No worries. You gonna time us?”

“Of course. I know this game too.”

They swim way too far out from the shore and then Steve starts throwing the shiny things as far away as he can. Grace spins while she treads water, tracking the arc of each item as it splashes down. Steve holds up one hand and counts down from five, and they’re off in opposite directions. Danny starts the timer on his phone. When they’ve gathered everything, it’s his job to sign the length of time it took to them.

They play over and over again, with a quick break to reapply Grace’s sunscreen and get the water, until finally the time starts getting noticeably longer with each round. Danny can see Steve telling Grace that it’s probably time to go back in, but she glances at Danny—the uncertainty on her face clear to him even from far away—and says something to Steve that has Steve glancing back too. He nods at Grace, drops the “treasure” where they’re floating together, and they take off for the horizon in a race.

Danny wanders back to start the grill, so his obsessing won’t be obvious. Even though Steve will undoubtedly know how he feels anyway.

It takes too long for them to get back. He’s really close to grabbing the binoculars he left in his car when he realizes that they’re doing identical lazy backstrokes toward the shore, and that’s why their progress is so slow. Grace is undoubtedly worn out by this time. Steve’s just pacing her to make sure she doesn’t run into any trouble.

He escorts her all the way to knee-deep water, then turns around to go retrieve the things he left. Grace walks out on legs that aren’t quite steady, into the towel Danny holds ready for her.

“Thanks, Dad.” She doesn’t so much sit as she does collapse into the chair next to his. “Oh my God I’m so tired.”

“I bet. Here, drink your water.”

Grace obediently cracks the lid on a fresh bottle and takes a long swig. “Are you having fun?”

“I always have fun with you.”

She gives him a sardonic glance, but keeps drinking.

Steve steps out of the water. Danny deliberately does not watch, but he fully expects Steve to shake his hair off like a wet dog over both of them, and of course he does. Grace shrieks, hiding behind her towel. She’s laughing, so Danny doesn’t do anything but roll his eyes and throw another towel at Steve’s head.

“Dry off, you animal.”

Danny tries to check without being obvious about it when Steve emerges from the shirt he pulls on. No grayness, no downturned mouth. He’s okay. “Oh, hey, you got the grill started. Let me go get changed and I’ll put the meat on. You wanna get the salad?”

Danny follows him into the house, Grace having decided to dry out on the chair. Before Steve heads up the stairs, Danny calls to him, soft-voiced.

Steve turns around on the bottom step. “What’s up?”

Danny walks over to him, though not too close, because he’ll get a crick in his neck. “What was that all about?”

Steve darts his gaze out to Grace, checking she’s still where they left her, and then back to Danny. “She wanted to ask me about something.”

“Yeah? About what?”

Steve hesitates.

And Danny is trying really hard not to go straight to rage, a task that’s made a little easier with the scar on Steve’s torso still fresh in his mind’s eye. But seriously, his partner keeping a non-classified secret from him? A secret that involves his own daughter? What the hell?

But then Steve says, “She promised me she’d tell you soon. I didn’t make her promise or anything. I think she was worried that she’d asked me to keep a secret.” He rubs the back of his neck and stares at the floor between them. “I think it’d be better if she got the chance to do it herself. It’s nothing bad, I swear.”

Danny nods, breathes again, and steps closer to grasp Steve’s upper arm. “Hey.” Steve looks at him again, that worried wrinkle carved into his forehead. “Don’t look so—God, it’s like being partnered with a basset puppy, I cannot with you and her both, with the eyes. Add Charlie in and I’m a goner. Stop it, you’re pissing me off.”

Steve’s shoulders slump, tension falling out of them. That’s good. That’s what Danny likes to see.

Something else he sees, for the rest of the evening, is how Grace looks at Steve. Not with the old crush that's mostly dead at this point. It’s a new expression, an adult one that sits unfamiliar on her soft features and yet seems perfectly at home. It only appears when Steve isn’t looking at her.

After a lot of thought, Danny decides that it’s compassion, mixed with a little bit of worry.

The fact that Grace thinks Steve needs it worries him.

--

Danny waits after they get home and Grace curls up on the couch next to him, playing with her phone while he watches a recorded game. Her toes dig into his leg to keep warm and even though she keeps her phone’s screen angled away from him, he feels like it’s the normal teenager need for privacy, not her trying to hide anything. Whatever Steve said to her, it’s made her less scared. It’s only now it’s over Danny can see that, like her parents, Grace tends to get snarky when she’s worried. It’s a genetic legacy he maybe could’ve stood not to pass on.

He waits until she gets up and wanders out of the room, and he waits until she wanders back in wearing pajamas and kisses him goodnight, and he waits till he goes to bed himself and the faint blue light of her phone still shows beneath her bedroom door. But no dice. Maybe tomorrow. He does knock on the door and say “hey, don’t make me come in there and confiscate that phone” on his way to his room. He doesn’t cherish any illusions that she’ll obey for longer than it takes for him to turn off his lamp.

--

The next day he keeps his voice soft and his answers softer, refuses to pick up the bait Grace throws out as if she just can’t help herself. The hours tick down and he can tell by the increased restlessness of her movements that she’s put herself under some sort of deadline to talk to him, probably one that she’s passed a couple of times by now.

It gets down to the wire, where he’s really going to have to tell her to pack up her school stuff to head back to Rachel’s, and so he decides to give her a nudge. Okay, maybe it’s a bit of a shove, but a gentle one. He sits down next to her on the couch, close enough that she can’t ignore him but can still avoid eye contact. After a second he knocks his knee against her foot. “Hey. Gracie.”

She grunts in inquiry, keeping her gaze fixed on her phone.

“Look, I…” He sighs. “The past couple of weeks, I’ve noticed that you’ve seemed upset. And everybody says that girls your age are supposed to be upset all the time—”

“Because we’re girls, and so we’re emotional pains in the ass, I guess,” she mutters, with an impressive amount of bitterness. God, he loves her.

“I guess, but see, I know you. I know that this isn’t about you being a girl, or being your age. I can tell it’s because of something I did, something I did to hurt you.”

Grace freezes, every muscle in her body going tense, like he’s caught her committing a crime. It cuts him to the heart, that she could be so frightened of telling him the truth.

“And I want you to know, there is nothing you can tell me that will make me love you less, or think less of you.” For some reason, that makes her head jerk up. She stares at him, wide-eyed. He waits for a second, but she still isn’t talking. “Okay? I don’t want you to be afraid to do that. I know, uh, I know that you haven’t always had the best examples of communication in your life, but that’s something I kind of hope to not do with you and me. Whatever I did, lay it on me. If you want to, I mean. If you’re ready. If you’re not, I’m not gonna ask again.” That’s a lie, but he sort of means it at the moment.

Grace sets her phone down on her lap and then huddles up in the corner of the couch. Her knees are up to her chin. She’s gone pale. “You know, um, you know when Will and I kind of argued? Before? And I told you about it?”

Danny remembers, vaguely. It happened—oh yeah. It happened right before she started biting his head off on the regular, about the same time that they caught the triple homicide case. Over something inconsequential, something that made him want to smile at its triviality except that she was near tears at the time, so that would’ve been an asshole move. “Yeah.”

 “And you remember what you told me when I said I was scared he’d break up with me?”

Danny strains his memory trying to recall. “Uh, something cheesy and dad-like about plenty of fish in the sea?”

“No, that’s what you said when Amberlissa broke up with you.”

He tilts his head in reproval at the snark. “Hey. She was always very nice to you.”

“She dumped my dad! I can be mad about it. No, you said…” She swallows, so hard her throat muscles visibly clench. “You said you hoped Will and I worked it out, but if we didn’t, there were lots of other boys out there to date.”

He’s gaping, but honestly with the amount of disbelief he’s experiencing right now, it’s the lowest-key reaction he’s got. “I… I’m sorry, what? Was it—” He rubs his hand on the back of his neck, trying to come up with an explanation. “Is it because I wasn’t supportive enough, of your relationship, or something?”

“Dad, no, it’s that—” She takes a deep breath, and tries again. “You always talk about boys this and boys that and even when I was little and not interested in anyone it was watch out for boys, Monkey and—and—”

He shakes his head, still at a loss. “I’m a boy. I know about boys. We’re mostly worthless till adulthood, Charlie being the sole exception of course. Maybe Will, I’ll give you that one too.”

For a second, she looks like she’s going to cry, and then boom. It’s gone, and she’s mad again, jolting to her feet and shoving her phone into a back pocket. “You know what? Forget it. I wanna go back to Mom’s place.”

“Grace?”

“I should’ve known better than to think you’d understand.”

He gets to his feet too, more slowly. “Sweetheart, I can’t understand if you don’t use words to explain. It’s like you’re expecting me to read your mind here, and I gotta say, your mother can tell you that I am no good at that.”

That little dig was a mistake, one he didn’t mean to make. “God, Dad. You can’t just let it go, can you? Please take me back.”

He takes her back.

After she runs to her bedroom and slams the door behind her, Rachel turns an inquiring look his way with more than a hint of judgment. “What did you do, Daniel?”

“Don’t—okay, don’t do that, Rachel, I did the same thing that you did last week when she didn’t talk to you for 24 hours and you never figured out why, you remember that?” She raises her eyebrows, and even though she’s not looking nearly so put together these days, she still manages to make him feel like a total putz. “All right. So maybe I did do something, or didn’t do something, but I don’t know what it was and when I asked she acted like I should already know.” And thank you for that little dysfunctional moment, Rachel, since he’s pretty sure Grace didn’t learn that expectation from him. He’s not going to say it out loud, though. Things have been pretty good between the two of them lately, and for the kids’ sake he wants to keep it that way. “If you know what it is, can you give me a hint?”

Rachel casts her gaze down as she gives it some thought, but in the end she shakes her head no. “I can’t imagine what it is. She hasn’t said anything to me, although that’s hardly unusual. Grace is a private person, for all her friendliness. She doesn’t like to share until she feels she must.”

Something else she got from her mother. “Okay. Well. How’s Charlie?”

She updates him on the progress of the virus, they talk about which night this week he’ll pick up the kids—she needs time to work on her finances and consult with her divorce attorneys, so he’ll get extra with them. Danny goes home, resisting the urge to text Grace for the rest of the night.

--

When he picks Charlie up on Wednesday, he takes him for some shave ice before they go to get Grace from cheer practice. The rash is fading from the little guy’s face, but he promptly replaces it with purple stains from the shave ice.

Kamekona comes out to sit next to Danny and offers him some packets. “I started providing wet wipes for this sort of thing.” Charlie throws himself at the big guy’s knees, so Kamekona picks him up for a hug. “Come ‘ere, keiki. Gotta get you cleaned up before you go see your sistah.”

Charlie wraps his arms around Kamekona’s neck. “Purple is the best flavor.”

Kamekona’s smile brightens. “Couldn’t agree more, Charlie.”

Danny rips open a packet. “Thanks for this.”

“You gonna come back with Gracie? She was asking me some questions for her economics class project about small businesses.”

Concentrating on getting the purple out without irritating the remnants of the rash, Danny shrugs. “If she wants. She usually has a lot of homework on Wednesdays, though, so probably not.”

Charlie’s in that stage of recovery where he’s not as whiny but he still gets tired easily. As soon as Danny puts down the wet wipe, he crawls from Kamekona’s lap into Danny’s and curls up. Danny cuddles him close—an opportunity he’ll never turn down—and kisses the blond head over and over again. He missed out on years of kissing his baby. He’s still catching up.

Looking up, he surprises a light in Kamekona’s eyes he hasn’t noticed before. “You ever think about getting one of these for yourself?”

Kamekona shrugs. “I dunno. Sometimes.”

Danny doesn’t know much about Kamekona’s family history, but what he does know doesn’t hint at a very functional background. Still, he’s seen him with Danny’s kids, and with the innumerable cousins’ children as well. “You know, I think you’d be good at it. Assuming you didn’t start feeding them shrimp in their bottles or something.”

“Comin’ from you, that’s a real compliment.”

Charlie’s doing the snuffling thing that means he’s going to be conking out soon, so Danny stands, awkward with the weight on his front, and starts gathering up his trash. “Thanks, man. I don’t know if Grace would agree with you most days anymore, but that’s nice to hear.”

“She’ll understand later. Leave that stuff, I got it. And tell Gracie to call me or text if she’s got any more questions.”

“Thanks,” he says again, and barely gets Charlie buckled into his seat before the little guy falls asleep. That’s bedtime ruined, but he can’t bring himself to care. It means more time to hang out. And maybe less time for Grace to be openly hostile to him.

She’s actually not that combative, though he can tell she’s still holding back. She helps set the table without being asked, gets Charlie the ibuprofen when he complains about the blisters inside his mouth hurting, and dries while Danny washes the dishes. Charlie falls asleep in Danny’s lap while she’s doing homework.

Once her brother's in bed, she goes to her room and shuts the door. When Danny knocks on her door to say goodnight, she comes out to hug him, but her eyes are red, and she's got that telltale catch in her voice as she says, "I love you too."

Danny has got to figure out what's wrong, and soon.

--

The next night is stakeout night, because every victim has appeared by early Friday morning, so Grace and Charlie are spending the night at Rachel’s. HPD has been taking the monitoring duty for the rest of the week, in case the guy changes his pattern, but it isn’t likely.

Steve and Danny grab Rainbow after work, even though it’s in completely the opposite direction and going is a dumb decision. They park the car on the street near Johnson’s house once they make it back.

“So I talked to Gracie on Sunday night,” Danny starts, once they’re about halfway through their food. Johnson’s still stuck on the road, coming home from his job as a security guard, with Kono and Lou tailing him.

Steve’s shoulders go up and those wrinkles around his eyes tighten. “Yeah?”

“Yeah, she wasn’t gonna do it so I decided to ask.”

Now Steve’s poking at his food, holding his fork properly instead of like a shovel the way he usually does. “How’d it go?”

“It didn’t.” At Steve’s darting glance of inquiry, Danny elaborates, “She chickened out. I mean she tried to tell me, but it made no sense.”

Steve looks down at his food again. “What’d she say?”

“Something about me telling her there were lots of boys to date? That was what pissed her off?” Steve’s face shifts into a wince. It’s only an instant, but it’s there, and Danny zeroes in on it. “What? What’s with the, you know, the—” He imitates the wince.

“It’s just—it’s just kind of shortsighted, right?”

Danny stares at him in silence for a moment. “Steven, are you saying it’s shortsighted to assume that my teenage daughter will not marry her first boyfriend and live with him forever?”

“Of course not, Danny, c’mon.” Steve throws the fork down into his container of food and turns to him. “It’s just a very heteronormative thing to say.”

“Het—hetero—”

“Heteronormative, yeah.”

This doesn’t happen very often in his relationship with Steve, that Danny doesn’t know what a word means, but he’s stumped right now.

Before he can look up the definition, Grover's face appears on the screen. Danny puts him on speaker. “What’s up, Lou?”

“We got a problem. Our boy ain’t heading home.”

“Yeah? Where’s he going?”

“Don’t know yet, but he’s moving in the wrong direction on Dillingham to be going to you.”

“Finally.” Steve closes his box and does the same for Danny’s, still sitting in his lap while Danny holds the phone. "Not being able to clone his phone sucks."

Danny gives him a look of disbelief but talks to Lou. “All right, we’ll come to you. Keep us posted. Send us your location.”

“You got it.”

Steve’s already pulling out on the road without even a glance in the side view mirror. Danny hates when he does that but swallows his automatic protest because he’s got something better to complain about. “My thing is, why is she talking to you and not to me or her mom?”

Steve flips on the lights but leaves the sirens off. “She’s a teenager, Danny. She needs adults to talk to who aren’t her parents. It’s normal. Who’d you talk to when you were her age? Nobody good enough, obviously, because otherwise they would’ve talked you out of that one picture, the Mr. November black-and-white one—”

“See, that is an excellent point, as a matter of fact, because I did not discuss that photo with anyone older than myself and we were all idiots at that time. Also I was not a teenager, which might make it worse.” Danny looks longingly at his food, but he knows from experience that he’s likely to spill it all over his car the next time Steve turns a corner if he opens it now. “But I get what you mean. I used to talk to my Uncle Bill. He's a great guy. My dad’s youngest brother.”

“See? And Eric talks to you, right? I’m her uncle, she trusts me. It’s better she ask me than some kid her own age, ‘cause she won’t be asking you regardless.”

In point of fact, Eric doesn’t talk to him all that much since he moved out, but Danny’s not complaining. Back in Jersey, your friends were your family were your friends. Sure, you had other friends, the ones from school and work, but the people you ate dinner with and spent most weekends with, the people whose houses you walked into without knocking, were your family. He had worried about that, when Grace moved out here, almost as much as he’d worried about her being without him while he applied for every opening at HPD except file clerk. But he’s got family here now. And so does she.

Steve’s giving him a half-nervous, half-defensive look that’s taking his eyes off the road way too much. “What, why’re you nodding? What—do you not trust me to talk to her, is that what this is?”

What the fuck. “Steve, do you know me? Of course I trust you to talk to her. What’re you thinking?” Danny backhands him on the arm, but without any force. “I mean, I don’t trust you not to recommend that she solve her problems with a flash-bang and a well-aimed bullet, but I’ll take what I can get. I’m nodding because you’re right. Make a note, this’ll probably never happen again.”

Steve gets that little smile that sometimes appears when he doesn’t want to admit he’s as big of a mushball as Danny. “I’m gonna put it in my phone and celebrate the anniversary every year.”

Danny laughs. “Yeah? You gonna bake a cake?’”

“Nah, for this I'd just use booze."

It turns out that Johnson has a date, and it’s with a girl who bears no resemblance to their victims.

“I’m starting to get a bad feeling about this guy.” Steve’s eating his food cold, which is disgusting, and talking around a mouthful of slimy egg that he seems to feel is delicious.

“Like maybe we’re barking up the wrong tree? Yeah, me too, except when me and Kono were out last week he went straight to the neighborhood where the vics were found. The lab come back with results on the glass we got from the bar yet?”

“Nah, Eric said two more weeks. They’re backlogged.”

“I thought we put it on priority.”

“That is priority. If it weren’t it’d be six weeks.”

Danny makes a discontented noise. Steve grunts in agreement.

They stay out until midnight, because Johnson’s date goes well, but not well enough for him to spend the night with the girl. He heads home and stays there. Which at least gives Danny and Steve time to trade off sleep. Normally Danny would complain but he thinks Steve needs it.

Steve wakes up as the sun came over the horizon, probably because he’s a ridiculous creature of habit and is ready for his ten-mile swim or whatever. He immediately ducks out of the car and pukes in the gutter while Danny fights the urge to go out and check on him. Steve nearly bit his head off the last time he ran to the bathroom and Danny followed him. In fact, this must be why he assigned Kono to stakeout duty in the first place. Shit.

Steve retches again, and fuck it. Danny’s out on the curb next to him, one hand on his back, before he even thinks through the impulse. “Hey, hey.”

The first words out of Steve’s mouth are, “I hate this,” which sends Danny’s heart sinking, and then, “Johnson’s gonna—”

“He’s asleep still, don’t worry.” Danny holds out a water bottle. Steve grabs it with a grateful glance and rinses out his mouth. Danny offers gum—he always carries it on a stakeout, chewing is a good way to stay awake—and Steve takes that, too. "I thought you said it was getting better."

"This is better, Danny, I didn't lie to you." Steve rests his forehead against the heel of his hand.

Danny sighs. “You need your meds?”

“Nah, not due for another couple of hours.” Steve’s head stays down, his eyes closed, but his voice is steady and so are his hands, so it must not be as bad as Danny fears. “I’m okay. I promise.” After a second, he can open his eyes and meet Danny’s gaze. “Just trying to duck out of the stakeout early.”

“You never have had a proper appreciation for the sheer mind-numbing tedium of actual investigation,” Danny agrees. In point of fact, Danny’s lost a lot of appreciation for it during the course of this case. He’s starting to long for a good old-fashioned shoot-out against perps who’ve mysteriously gotten their hands on military-grade explosives. The stakeout was a little less awful with Steve in the car with him, though. Which is further proof that he needs a nap because it’s not like Kono has ever been a bad companion.

An unmarked pulls up a few spaces down the block, and he gives the officers inside a surreptitious wave. “C’mon, let’s go home.”

“You wanna crash on my couch?” Steve offers once they’ve pulled up into his driveway.

“No, thank you, I need my blackout blinds or I’ll be useless to my kids tonight.” And there’s Grace, again, looking disappointed in his mind’s eye.

Steve leaves the car running and gets out, but as Danny slides behind the driver’s seat and starts to readjust it, Steve leans into the window. His eyes are squinching up like he’s looking into the sun, or maybe thinking about sharing one (1) emotion. “Heteronormative.”

“Heteronormative.”

“Look it up.”

“Look it up, he says to me, like he’s used a dictionary before. Yeah, okay, I’m looking it up. Get some rest.”

--

Of course, before he follows Steve's instructions Danny has to go home and crash on his bed for a few hours. When his alarm goes off he’s completely disoriented. Once he realizes why he’s in bed and what’s going on, he remembers Grace has cheer practice and Charlie’s after-school program goes till five. So by the time he remembers what Steve told him to do, he still has a few minutes before he needs to brave rush hour.

Google corrects his spelling. Fucking smug algorithm.

He reads the definition a couple of times and is pretty sure he realizes the truth, but this is definitely not the sort of thing he can simply confront his daughter with and demand she talk about it.

So he waits. Which is not really a state that comes naturally to Danny Williams; for all he rides Steve’s ass about his constant need for motion, in any other partnership Danny would be considered the one who couldn’t stop moving. But when it comes to Grace, he can do it. He does some more research while he’s at it. He talks shit about tedious cop work, but one thing it's good for is acquiring a fairly decent working knowledge about a topic within a short period of time.

Danny waits until Charlie, upset for a lot of reasons but probably mostly because Stan’s gone, falls asleep mid-sob while Danny cuddles him in bed. He waits until he and Grace silently finish the dishes together. And he waits until they’re both in front of the TV, him watching a game because she said she doesn’t care what’s on, too busy messaging her friends. She’s curled up in the opposite corner of the couch, not touching him.

He’s been planning his approach since he figured it out. Hopefully the world will cooperate and he won’t get a call in the middle of it. Turning down the volume on the game, he says, “I used to do this with your Uncle Matt.”

Here’s how he knows Grace is still Grace, that being a teenager hasn’t changed her fundamental self: she puts down the phone at the mention of Matt and gives him her full attention with no attitude. “Watch the game? That’s kind of a thing with the guys whenever we go back to Jersey. I’m not surprised you two liked it.”

“Yeah. It was something we could do together. We didn’t have a whole lot in common, me and Matty, you know? Besides being brothers, having the same family, we weren’t interested in the same sort of stuff. But when we were really young, he’d pretend he’d like the same stuff I did. I said I wanted a burger with ketchup, he’d be all, ‘me too.’ I’d say I liked cowboy movies? ‘Me too.’ You know. Trying to make us have more in common than we did.”

Grace smiles. He can tell she knows this is going someplace, but she also isn’t shutting him down. “That’s cute. Charlie does that sometimes with me, too.”

“Yeah, you’re a lot older than Charlie, so you can think that. Me and Matty were pretty close in age—I just thought it was annoying, because I wasn’t that great of a big brother when I was a kid. Unlike you. You are amazing, naturally.” He gestures at her, like Q.E.D. She laughs.  “But when I got older, I saw what he’d been doing, and it made me feel good, that my little brother had wanted to be like me.”

He knows he looks sad, because Grace’s face mirrors it. She doesn’t remember Matt very well, so he’s guessing she’s more upset about his grief than her own. “He should’ve kept on trying to be like you, Dad.”

She doesn’t know the whole story, but he’s told her bits and pieces over the years, as she’s gotten old enough to handle it. Enough to know that Matt’s bad choices killed him in the end. “Yeah, that would’ve been good. I would’ve liked that. But anyway, there are always things, you know, when someone you love dies, you think about things you wish you would’ve done differently.”

Grace reaches with her foot, to nudge his leg. “It wasn’t your fault.”

It’ll always be his fault. But he doesn’t want her to grow up to be like him, not that way, so he doesn’t argue. “Thank you, Monkey. But there’s one thing I do wish I would’ve done differently. When, uh, when Uncle Matty was in college, I went up to visit him one weekend and I surprised him, you know? He was with another guy and it was obvious I had interrupted a date.” Especially because both of them were naked in Matt’s dorm room, but no one needs to think of their uncle that way, and Gracie’s eyes are big enough already. “So I handled it with my typical grace and tact and asked him if he was gay now.”

She rolls her eyes. “What’d he say?”

“He said no, he said he still liked girls, he just liked guys, too.”

Grace shoots upright. She’s a smart girl, he always knew that. “He was bisexual?”

He can tell she’s guessed something of what he wants to tell her, but he needs to finish it out. “Yeah, probably, but I don’t think either of us knew that word back then.”

“What did you say to him?”

“I said that was fine. I told him I loved him. Told him I didn’t care, that he was still my brother. I asked him if anybody else knew and he said no, so I said I wouldn’t tell anyone unless he asked me to.”

Grace nods. “Okay, so you said everything right.”

“Actually, I did not.” This part is hard, so Danny turns away from her a little bit, keeping a desultory eye on the TV. “I, um, I should’ve said something else.” He heaves a deep sigh. He’s literally never said this out loud before. “Because this would’ve been the one time I could’ve said ‘me, too.’ And I think about that, sometimes. Like, how hard would it’ve been to say ‘me, too?’ I don’t think it would have changed anything in the long run, but at least Matty might not have felt so alone. I don’t think anyone else in our family ever knew that about him, and that means he wasn’t sure about what they’d say.”

Grace is shaking a little, and she opens her mouth, but she closes it again when he holds up his hand. He’s got to get this right too, so she knows Steve didn’t betray her confidence. “Your Uncle Steve didn’t tell me what you guys talked about. But I did tell him, you know, what you said about how I screwed up a couple weeks back, because I didn’t get it, you were right about that. And he told me I was being too heteronormative. So I want to say I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have assumed. And I should have been honest with you a long time ago, because it’s no big deal. Maybe then you would have known that it was okay to tell me whatever you needed to tell me. I should have told you, hey, Grace, by the way, I’m bisexual, I like girls and guys even though I’ve only ever dated girls.” He shrugs. “I never told anybody else. You’re the first person I’ve said that to.”

Grace gets up on her knees and throws her arms around his neck, hiding her face in his shoulder. “You’re bi.”

He hugs her. “Yeah.”

She gives a tremulous sigh, still pressed to his shoulder so she doesn’t have to look at him. “Me too.”

Danny kisses her head and rocks a little, force of habit from years of late nights comforting her. “You’re perfect, that’s what you are. You’re amazingly perfect.”

“And perfectly bisexual,” she clarifies, like she has to make sure he isn’t overlooking it to be able to say that.

“Sure, that’s part of you being perfect. That too.”

“Just like you, Danno.”

He grins. “Just like me.”

--

After Grace goes to bed, Danny texts Steve. Looked it up. Heteronormativity sucks. Thanks for the heads up. He thinks about adding, also, I’m bisexual, don’t make it a thing, but breaking a silence he’s maintained for decades isn’t easy. He wouldn’t have done it for anyone but Grace.

Steve texts back almost immediately. No problem, Danno.

The next morning, Gracie declines pancakes in favor of cereal, but changes her mind once she sees Charlie’s stack. “Okay, maybe two.”

Danny knows that’s going to turn into ten, because she’s growing like a weed still and cheerleading burns calories like any other sport, but he doesn’t argue, just pours batter on the griddle.

He’s ready for her to avoid any mention of the topic they breached last night, but she surprises him. “So… do you want me not to talk about it?”

Danny scoffs at her. “When have I ever not wanted to talk about something that’s important to you?”

She smiles back. “Okay, so. You said no one else knows but me. Do you want me to keep it a secret?”

Danny thinks about it till the bubbles start setting and he flips. This close to retirement, it’s unlikely his orientation would affect anything if it got out… but then again these things have a way of coming back to bite you in the ass in unexpected ways. Maybe some caution is warranted. “Yeah, I think that’s best for now. I’ll tell you if I tell anyone else. But let me do it, okay?”

Grace brings a plate and holds it out. “What about Mom?”

“Sure, you can tell her, I doubt it’ll matter to her.” And if it does, he doesn’t give a shit. Rachel would never use it against him in court and that’s all he cares about. “She’d like to know about you, too, though.”

Grace waves that aside. “I’ll tell her when we go back to her place; I was just wondering if I could mention what you said too. What about Uncle Steve?”

Danny slides the pancakes off the spatula onto her plate and says nothing.

Grace is obviously taken aback. “Dad? You don’t think Uncle Steve will, like, mind, do you? I mean, I told him about me and he…” But she presses her lips together and heads back to the table without finishing the thought.

“No! No, I don’t think he’ll mind.” He might be confused, though. Probably a little upset, that Danny hasn’t said anything before. For God’s sake, Danny’s daughter came out to him before Danny did. That won’t go over well. “I'll tell him, okay?”

Grace shrugs, shoving a mouthful into one cheek to say, “Of course. But tell me when you do, because I don’t want to say the wrong thing.”

“I’ll do it today.”

Her eyes are twinkling as she bends over her plate. “Sounds good.”

And she’s thinking about something else, but Danny’s too happy to ask questions. He’s got his best girl’s approval again.