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Before Your Love

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Steve's been gone nearly six months when Catherine walks into our headquarters, bypassing both Chin and Kono's offices and heading straight for mine. I know something's up when I realize she's wearing her Service Dress Whites with her hat – cover Steve's voice corrects – under one arm. I've only ever seen her in them once before and that was to tell Steve she was being deployed.

She squares her shoulders before pulling open the door to my office and stepping inside. I find myself standing slowly, silently begging her to not say what I'm nearly positive she's here to say.

Taking a deep breath, she meets my eyes and opens her mouth. "Danny-" Her voice is so thick with tears she has to stop and clear her throat. "I-" Again she pauses, this time to swallow thickly. "I insisted on being the one to come." Tears start to slowly roll down her face and I begin shaking my head. "I'm so sorry. You know I can't give you any details, but I can tell you that he saved a lot of lives."

My knees give out and I sit heavily in my chair. "Not possible," I murmur, still shaking my head. "He can't be-" I refuse to say the word.

"We got word a couple of days ago. The Navy normally sends the CO but when I found out I asked to be the one; figured I could be a bit more sympathetic than a man who hasn't even worked with him in years."

Feeling tears gathering, I close my eyes in a vain attempt to keep them from falling. "How am I going to tell Grace? She's been planning a big party for when he calls to say he's coming home."

"It's the nature of the military, Danny," Catherine says, giving my shoulder a squeeze. "I can give you the number of a good grief councilor who specializes in military families. She'll be able to help you break the news to Grace." I nod and take the card from her.

"Boss?" Kono sticks her head in my office, concern pulling her brows down. "Is everything all right?"

"Can you get Chin?" I ask, wiping tears from my cheeks. Kono looks from me to Catherine and back before giving a stiff nod and walking quickly to Chin's office. "I haven't-" I clear my throat. "I haven't had to inform someone I know about the death of a loved one in a while."

"Sucks, doesn't it?" She gives my shoulder another squeeze before stepping back around my desk. "I guess I'll leave you to it."

"Wait!" I call her back when she pushes open the door. "You're ohana, too. Besides, I'm sure you could say it more gently than I can."

She gives me a watery smile and nods. "If you want me to, I will."

Getting up, I approach where she's still standing, one hand on the door handle. "Please. It'll be a comfort to have you here."

"Danny? Kono said you wanted to see us?" Chin approaches, Kono's earlier confusion mirrored on his face. "Lieutenant Rollins?" His confusion deepens when he sees the tear tracks on her face.

"Let's go to the conference room," I say, leading the way.

Once everyone's seated around the table, I stand in the place Steve usually does. I try to look my teammates in the eye but instead find my gaze caught by a mark on the table's surface. Running my fingers over it I do my best to find the words to tell Chin and Kono that Steve's not ever coming back.

"Danny? If I may?" Catherine asks. I nod without looking up. "Lieutenant Kelly, Officer Kalakaua, I'm sorry to inform you that Lieutenant Commander Steven McGarrett has been reported killed in action." Kono gasps and I raise my eyes in time to see her collapse into Chin's arms, sobbing softly. "His personal effects will be given to his next of kin, Mary Ann McGarrett." She pauses to take a deep breath. "The SEAL team stationed at Pearl would like to hold a memorial in his honor Saturday. Unless you'd like to, being his ohana and all."

I shake my head. "That's all right. We'll join them; it's how he'd want it-" I have to stop in order to swallow. "-his two families, celebrating his life."

"Will Mary be bringing the body here for burial?" Kono asks her voice muffled from where she has her face pressed against Chin's neck.

Catherine begins shaking her head and I know the answer before she speaks. "There is no body." Kono's wail will haunt me for the rest of my life. Catherine swallows loudly and I can tell this is just as hard for her to say as it is for us to hear. "There was evidence of a mortar attack. His helmet and tags were all that was found next to a blackened hole in the ground and a small puddle of blood."

"I suppose we need to tell the Governor," Chin mutters and it's obvious he doesn't relish the idea. None of us do and that's mostly because we're afraid he'll disband Five-oh once he hears that Steve has died.

I nod and open my mouth to volunteer when Catherine beats me to it. "I can do that, if you want."

"Thank you, Catherine. I think I can handle this one." Another tear makes its way down my cheek and drops off my chin to land on the table where it pools in the tiny crack that almost looks like it was deliberately made. "Has anyone told Mary, yet?"

Catherine sighs and I take that as a no. She's going to be so pissed to find out she wasn't notified first. "We don't have a current address for her." Hopefully she won't be as angry if she knows they tried.

"She had to move due to 'issues' with a neighbor." Kono says, "I have her new address." Of course she does. Kono and Mary hit it off within seconds of meeting when Mary came for a visit two years ago.

"Kono, why don't you tell her? And, please, stress that Steve hadn't updated her address in his file and that's why you found out before her."

Kono nods and says, "On it, Boss" half-heartedly before extracting herself from Chin's arms and walking slowly from the room.

The three of us sit in silence for several minutes, lost in our own thoughts and memories of Steve. Kono comes back and looks even worse than when she left. "Here, Cath," she whispers, handing Catherine a piece of paper before slipping back into Chin's arms and tucking her head under his chin.

I look at what's remaining of my team and make a decision that I think - hope - the Governor will agree with. "Since we don't have any pending cases, I'm closing Five-oh for the next week." Chin and Kono nod their agreement and I can see that even Catherine thinks it's the right thing to do. "I'll let the Governor know so that if any cases come up he'll know to not call."

"Want me to come with?" Catherine asks. I think about it and decide it might be a good idea.

"Yes, please." We share a sad smile. "Give me five to splash some water on my face and we'll go."

I make my way to the restroom, averting my eyes when I pass Steve's empty office, knowing that he'll never occupy it ever again. A sob catches me unawares just as I enter the restroom. My knees give out and I find myself kneeling on the floor, hugging my torso like I'm afraid I'll come apart if I don't. Knowing I won't have many opportunities to indulge in this outpouring of emotion I sit there and let it all out, raging against the fact that I found Steve only to lose him. My only comfort is that I told him exactly how I feel the last time we talked. We didn't get many chances to speak after he deployed but each time I made sure to tell him I love him and am waiting for his return.

My sobs taper off and a chuckle escapes when I recall the first time I told Steve I love him during our first video chat. I thought the man was going to have a heart attack. I had to remind him that it was now completely safe for us to admit it and made sure to tease him about it every time we spoke, which was admittedly not nearly enough, after that.

Pulling myself to my feet, I grimace at my reflection in the mirror over the sink. Turning on the faucet, I cup some water in my hands and splash it over my face, hoping the coldness will reduce the redness that betrays just how hard the news hit me. Snagging a towel from the holder on the wall and pressing it against my face, I squeeze my eyes shut in yet another futile attempt to keep the tears at bay.

"Get a grip, Williams," I chide myself softly. It's not like my show of emotion would be surprising to anyone, especially since they all think we've been fucking since the day we first met. In fact, I'm sure most would think it odd if I didn't cry at the news of his death.

I brace my hands on the edge of the sink and just breathe for a couple of minutes, trying to push my grief to the back of my mind so I can get on with the business of informing the people that need to know.

Exiting the restroom, I find Catherine waiting for me. I envy her the ability to hide her grief at this moment and feel a flash of anger that she's able to present a calm face to the world due to both her military training and the fact that she's had several days to grieve.

"I can do this for you, Danny," she says, laying a hand on my arm. "I know I wasn't able to function very well right after I heard."

I shake my head, my anger sparking brighter at her continued insistence that she do my job for me. "He's my partner. It's something I have to do."

She holds her hands up, palms out in the universal sign of surrender. "Okay, okay. I get it. I'll just stand there offering my silent support."

With a sharp nod, I stalk from the building, heading for my car. I only hesitate for a fraction of a second before walking right up to the driver's side, ignoring the small voice that says I'll never again have to fight Steve for the keys or get to bitch about his driving. I slide behind the wheel and my breath catches in my throat. This is not going to be fun by any stretch of the imagination and will most likely end very badly. The only thing that'll be more difficult will be telling Grace that her Uncle Steve won't be coming home.

While Grace is no stranger to death, Rachel's mother died shortly before the divorce was final, this will be the first time someone she sees on a regular basis, and has a close personal relationship with, has died. I'm going to have to be strong for Grace and decide to use the drive to the Governor's Palace to work on getting my emotions in check.

It feels really strange having Catherine sitting next to me in the car and for the first time in a long while I find myself at a loss for words. "When was the last time you spoke to him?" Catherine's voice is overly loud in the silence of the car.

"Uh, he, uh, he managed a quick phone call on The Fourth. Luckily Gracie was over so she got to speak to him as well." I chance a quick glance at her profile. "How about you?"

"I haven't spoken to him since before that but I did overhear communications between him and a support team about a week ago."

"How'd he sound?" While Steve really does have a face for just about every emotion, he also has a tone which sometimes overrides the emotion on his face.

"Tired. Well, weary, actually. I'm sure the guys he was speaking with couldn't hear it underneath the jokes but I could. I could also hear that he was missing you and Grace."

"I've missed him more than I ever thought possible."

"Danny,-" She reaches over the gearshift to place her hand on my forearm. "-the last time we spoke he told me that he considers you his home and that he's never felt more alive than when he's with you." I clench my jaw to keep the sob from escaping. "I have his letter." she reaches inside her jacket and pulls out an envelope. "It arrived just a few days after the last time I spoke to him." She sets it in the cup holder between us, knowing I'm not in a place where I can read it right now, emotionally speaking. "There's also a letter for Chin, Kono, Grace and even Rachel."

That's surprising, that he wrote a letter for my ex-wife. "Wonder why he'd write one for her. She's my ex." Catherine nods like she knows this already and I guess she does; I think she's Steve's other best friend, the one he tells all his emotional secrets to. "Is there one for Mary?"

"Yeah. Hers was separate from yours, though." She shifts in her seat. "I'll send it with his things."

We drive in silence for a few more minutes before she clears her throat and I have a feeling I'm not going to like what she says next. "Just so you know, the last time I was with Steve I knew it was over for us. Well, I knew it was ending shortly after he met you, actually, but that last time-" She shakes her head. "-it was clear that he was in love with someone else."

"Did you know it was me?"

She laughs. "I had my suspicions, but it wasn't until your New Year's party that I knew for sure."

"And you don't hate me?"

"For what? Steve and I were never more than casual. And besides, it's not like you forced him to fall in love with you." She fiddles nervously with the hat in her lap. "Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?"

"Only if you mind me asking one back."

"Fair enough. Do you at least have memories of loving him?"

Her archaic wording startles a laugh out of me. "You mean did we fuck?"

"If you have to be crude, yes."

"No. We hadn't done that yet. We were going to on Valentine's Day but…" My voice cracks and I have to stop talking in order to swallow the lump in my throat.

"Oh, Danny!" Catherine cries. "That's the day he got his orders?"

I nod. "I had it all planned but he didn't want me to be a 'war bride'. We did, however, do just about everything else. Not that night though. That night we just held each other and talked."

"I'm so sorry." She once again puts her hand on my arm.

"It's not your fault I fell in love with an Army man."

"He's-" she starts to correct me but I talk over her. "I know, I know. Navy, not Army. It was a… thing we did."

"Oh, yeah. He did mention something about that. But you have to know-" When she stops mid-sentence, I look over at her to find that her façade has cracked. "You should keep doing it, then."

"Yeah, that's what I thought."

She clears her throat and gives a little cough. "So, your turn."

Having never had the ex of my current lover available to ask questions of, I find myself at a loss as to what to ask. "Um, hm." She chuckles. "So glad I could amuse you, Lieutenant."

"Seriously, Danny? You can ask me anything and I will tell you the truth."

"Unless it's classified."

"Well, I figured your question would be about Steve. And possibly what we did together in bed."

"I cannot believe we're having this conversation," I moan thumping my head back against my seat.

Catherine has the nerve to laugh at me again. "I'm in the Navy, Danny. You learn quickly not to be shy about some things."

"But what happens behind closed doors is not something that should be talked about so casually."

"Would it help if I just told you what I think you want to know?" I open and close my mouth a few times with no success and so just nod my head. Catherine pats my arm. "It'll be okay, Danny."

"Easy for you to say. You're not about to hear what a great lover your-" I still can't say that word.

Catherine totally ignores my faltering. "You said you did just about everything else, right?"

I risk a quick look at her when I slow for a yellow light. "Did he ever tell you he likes men?"

"He told me he was bi-curious a few years ago."

"Bi-curious? That's what he said?"

"Not exactly. He said he's been attracted to men but has been ignoring it."

"Sounds like him."

"When'd he tell you?"

"What? You forgot already?"

She frowns at me. When I raise my eyebrows at her, her jaw drops. "No way!"

I press my lips together and nod. "Yep. He came to my party that night to tell me he's into guys in general and me in particular."

"I knew that was your first kiss together but I had no idea that was when he came out to you." A glance from the corner of my eye shows that she thinks that's romantic.

"More than that, it was his first kiss with a guy."

"Of course it was," she says with a sad sigh. But then she shakes herself. "So what did you two do together?"

"We made out like teenagers. I actually forgot how much fun that is; just lying on the couch, kissing and feeling each other up. Or down as the case may be. I taught him how to give a blowjob, introduced him to his prostate. Things like that."

"Oh, I bet he enjoyed being introduced to his prostate." She chuckles. "What else?"

"Well,-" I clear my throat and shift in my seat. My cheeks are hot with embarrassment at this conversation. "-we went down on each other."

"You mean you rimmed each other?" I roll my eyes and nod my head. "He does know how to eat a person out proper, doesn't he?" I just about swallow my tongue at her question and my cheeks feel hot enough to start a fire. "He do that thing where he curls his tongue just after he sticks it in?"

"He rimmed you?" While I've rimmed a few women in my day I tended to keep my attentions a tad bit north of that.

"Not exactly. Doesn't mean he didn't do that thing with his tongue."

Stopping at a red light gives me the chance to look over at her profile. "So, uh, that thing with his tongue…" I falter to a stop. Do I really want to know if she taught him that? Yes, yes, I do. Very much so. "Did you teach him that?"

She gives a wistful sigh. "Much as I'd love to take credit for that, I can't. He came to me already knowing that little trick."

The light turns green and I ease the car through the intersection, trying to make up my mind if I’m glad he knew it before her or not. "Not sure if I want to look her up and thank her or beat her up for knowing him like that first." I decide to voice that thought aloud.

"I totally agree with you. But I must say that I'm mostly thankful for each and every sexual partner he's ever had."

I nod my agreement. "I just wish he'd given in at least once and gotten some experience with a guy. Not that I didn't love teaching him, it's just that it would have been much more enjoyable for him if he could have just concentrated on the act instead of trying to figure out the how to."

Catherine makes a sympathetic noise and we fall silent for the rest of the drive, for which I'm grateful. I like Catherine, I really do, but I've never liked sharing notes with my current lover's ex. Especially now when I'll never get to try some of the things she mentioned.

"Detective Williams?" Tracy, the Governor's assistant frowns up at me from her place behind her desk. "You don't have a scheduled meeting today."

"I know, but I have urgent news about Commander McGarrett for the Governor. The kind that's best given in person." I tip my head at where Catherine is standing next to me.

Tracy looks from me to Catherine and her eyes widen a little as the realization of what my news just might be dawns. "He's in a meeting. Let me see if he can step out." She picks up her phone and presses a button. "Sorry to interrupt, Governor, but Detective Williams and a Navy Lieutenant are here to speak with you. Yes, he says it's urgent and about Commander McGarrett. The Lieutenant is wearing her Dress Whites. Very good, Sir." She replaces the receiver. "He'll be right out."

"Thank you," Catherine speaks for the first time.

We've only just stepped back from Tracy's desk when Denning appears from around the corner to the hallway leading to his office, buttoning his jacket. "Detective?" He extends his hand and I shake it before turning to indicate Catherine standing at parade rest behind me.

"Please let me introduce Lieutenant Catherine Rollins. Cath, Governor Sam Denning."

"Lieutenant," Denning murmurs, inclining his head and shaking her hand.


Denning turns back to me. "You have something urgent to tell me about McGarrett?"

"Yes, Sir. Lieutenant Rollins just informed Five-oh that Steve has been killed in action." Denning blinks at me and darts his eyes to Catherine. "In light of this news, I'm closing Five-oh for the rest of the week."

"Yes, of course. I'll defer all cases to other departments." I nod my acceptance. "Come back at-" He points at Tracy and she says, "10am Monday" without even looking at his calendar. "-10am Monday to discuss what will be done with your team now."

I'm afraid he's going to want to disband us, he's made no secret of his dislike of our task force but that could be because Steve had full immunity and means with Jameson and used it to blatantly break the law. "Very well, Sir."

"Detective?" He calls me back when I turn to go. "I am truly sorry for your loss."

"Thank you."

Back in the car, I sit behind the wheel, gripping it tightly, and stare out the windshield. Tears prick the backs of my eyes but I refuse to shed them, not even in front of Catherine.

"Danny," Catherine begins, reaching one hand toward me.

"Don't. Just…don't." I know my tone's harsher than it needs to be but after everything I'm tired of trying to hide how hard this all is.

"I can get a cab if you want me to."

"What?" Her words don't really register but I know that something's not right.

"A cab. I can get one to take me back to Five-oh headquarters." I turn my head to frown at her. "My rental's there."

"Oh. Um, no, it's fine. I'll, uh-" I can feel the bile rising up the back of my throat and I'm out the door in a flash, bent double at the rear of the car so I can empty my stomach.

"Danny." Suddenly Catherine's there behind me, tentatively putting one hand on the small of my back in what I'm sure she thinks is a comforting gesture.

"I'm fine." I straighten up, brushing her hand off my back. Running the back of my hand along my mouth, I lean back against the trunk. "I'll take you back."

"You know I'm not the enemy, right?" I blink at her. "I get that your grief is more than likely greater than mine so can you please not treat me like I'm trying to trivialize it? I'm here for you, Danny. I'm your friend and I loved him too."

I close my eyes to try and keep the tears from falling. "I know, Cath, and I'm sorry for how I've been acting. It's just so fucking unfair!" I thump my fist against the fender and just barely refrain from stomping my foot.

"I know, Danny. Death is never fair and the death of someone as young as Steve is even more so."

I nod and motion toward the car. "C'mon, I'll take you back to your car." I take a step in her direction and before I know it, and before she can even react, I find myself collapsing into her embrace, the dam keeping my tears and sobs at bay broken by some unseen force.

Wrapping my arms around her shoulders, I tuck my face in her neck and just give in to the emotions swirling around inside me. Catherine wraps her arms around me and squeezes, petting my hair and murmuring nonsensical words in my ear. If I thought my breakdown at headquarters was bad, this is ten times worse. I can't catch my breath and I know I'm soaking her uniform shirt with my tears. If she was any less of a friend I'd feel bad about breaking down on her like this.

Eventually my sobs taper off and I pull back, wiping the tears off my cheeks. One look at Catherine's face shows that this is hard for her as well. Tear tracks stain her cheeks and I can see that she really does love him. Oh, maybe not like I do, but she loves him all the same.

Before I can fully recover, my phone begins to play 'My Girl' by The Temptations. "Grace!" My heart begins to race as I realize that I still have to tell her that Steve's never coming home.

I dig my phone from my pocket only to have Catherine take it from me. "Detective Daniel Williams' phone; Lieutenant Catherine Rollins speaking. How may I direct your call?" I frantically shake my head and make the 'kill it' motion with my hand across my throat while mouthing 'no'. Catherine just holds up one finger. "Why, hello, Miss Grace Elizabeth Williams. No, I'm sorry, but 'Danno' is in a meeting right now. He left his phone out in the bullpen. No, Sweetie, I'm sorry, I don't have any news about Uncle Steve. Yes, I'm sure. Yes, I'll have 'Danno' call you as soon as he gets out of his meeting. I promise. You're welcome. Aloha."

She hands my phone back. "Why'd you do that?"

"Do you really want to tell her over the phone? Or have someone other than you tell her?"

She has a point. I run my thumb over the picture of Grace that serves as my wallpaper, thinking I might change it to one of her and Steve. "You're right. This is something I need to tell her in person. This is going to just break her."

Catherine puts her hand on my shoulder. "But at least you have each other. You can get through this together."

I nod, tuck my phone back in my pocket and we get back into the car. After dropping Catherine off in the parking lot of headquarters, I pull my phone back out and call Rachel.

"Danny? Is anything wrong?"

"No-" I immediately begin to deny it, then clear my throat and go with the truth. "Actually, yes. But it's not something I care to talk about over the phone. Are you home?"

"Yes, I am."

"May I come over now?"

"Yes." There's a pause then she hesitantly asks, "Danny?"

I sigh, not sure what to say. "It's not good news and I'm not okay but, with time, I will be."

"Okay. See you when you get here."

Just a few minutes later and I'm pulling into her drive, trying to find the words. If I'm having this much trouble telling Rachel, how much more difficult will it be to tell Grace?

Rachel opens the door before I'm even half way there and just opens her arms when I approach. I don't even hesitate, just walk right into them and let her wrap me in her embrace. Thanks to my breakdown earlier with Catherine, I manage to remain dry eyed as Rachel and I hug.

After a minute or two, she pulls back and takes my face in her hands. "Oh, Danny. What's happened?"

I swallow the rising lump. "Steve…" Words fail me. Telling Denning was one thing, telling Rachel is nearly as difficult as it was telling Kono and Chin but not nearly as difficult as it'll be to tell Grace.

"Come inside." Rachel takes my hand and leads me to one of the couches in the living room. "Sit." She pushes on my shoulders until I do as instructed. She then sits beside me with one arm around my shoulders and the other hand on my left knee. "Danny? Tell me what's wrong."

I take a deep shuddering breath. "Cath stopped by today."

"Cath? Steve's friend Catherine?"

I nod. "She often comes here when she gets leave. This time she came in an official capacity." I scrub my face with my hands. "Steve's been reported as killed in action and Cath wanted to be the one to tell us."

"Oh, Danny!" she exclaims, wrapping both arms around my shoulders and pressing her forehead to my temple. "I'm so sorry."

My breath hitches in my throat. "How will I ever tell Grace?"

She runs her hand over my hair. "I can tell her if you want."

I shake my head. "I feel like I should do it."

"Okay." She kisses my temple. "You look exhausted. Why don't you go lie down, hm? I'll send Grace to you when she gets home."

"Yeah, okay." Today has been really tiring, emotionally.

Rachel presses one last kiss to my temple then gets up and takes my hand. I let her pull me to my feet and lead me to one of the guest rooms. She flips back the covers and fluffs the pillows before kissing me again on the check and leaving the room.

I remove my shoes, socks, pants and shirt, then climb onto the bed and curl up on my side under the covers. I'm nearly positive I won't actually sleep and so am surprised when I jerk awake to someone touching my shoulder.

"Sorry, Danno," Grace whispers.

"It's okay, Monkey." I scoot over a little and pat the mattress next to me.

She climbs up to sit next to me, looking worried. "Why're you sleeping here in the middle of the day?"

I push myself up until I'm leaning back against the headboard. "I have something to tell you. Something that's extremely difficult to say, and hear." She chews on her lower lip and stares at me so trustingly with her big brown eyes. I take her hands in mine and look her in the eye. "Grace, Honey, Auntie Cath came to see me today to deliver some news about Uncle Steve."

"But she said she didn't have any news about him when I called!"

"I know, Baby, but she didn't feel it was her place to tell you. Do you understand?" She nods, tears beginning to fill her eyes. "Baby, I'm so sorr-" She cuts me off with a screamed "No!" but I continue anyway. "-sorry but Uncle Steve has been reported killed in action."

"No! You're lying!" She pulls her hands from mine and jumps off the bed and backs away from me. "He's not dead!" She screams at me, then runs from the room. A minute later I hear the door to her room slam shut.

"Danny?" Rachel hurries into the room just as I'm tucking my shirt into my pants.

"I told her. She doesn't believe me."

Rachel sighs. "You knew she wouldn't."

"Yeah, but I have to get her to. He's not coming back and the sooner she accepts that the better. For all of us."

Rachel nods. "Do you want to try and talk to her again?"

I shake my head. "Not tonight. Let her calm down some, first."

Rachel walks me to the front door. "You're supposed to have her this weekend. Do you still want her?"

I run the fingers of one hand through my hair. "Let's wait and see how angry she is with me come Friday."

"Good idea. Try and get some sleep." She kisses my cheek and gives me a hug.

"I'll try. Thanks, Rachel."

Grace refuses to come see me for nearly a month and then when she does, she sulks in her room. When I manage to get her to sit at the table with me, she stares at her plate, pushing her food around until I excuse her.

The only time she perks up is when we move into Steve's house. She spends hours sitting on the beach, letting the water lap at her toes.

"Grace?" I sit down next to her in the sand. My heart hurts when she stiffens next to me.

"How can you believe he's dead?" It's the most she's said to me in two months.

"Because the military says he is."

She snorts. "Oh, right. Like they're never wrong."

"Grace-" I start but she talks over me. "No! I know he's not dead! I know because I'd feel it here." She touches her heart. "Monkey, it's not that simple."

"It is!" She jumps up and begins pacing. "You know I'm right. You know! You loved him how can you sit there and say that?"

"Alright, that's enough!" I get to my feet and grab her shoulders, stopping her pacing. "Steve's never coming home. Dead or alive, that fact remains the same. Cath said they found a puddle of blood and his tags near evidence of a mortar attack. It's the natural assumption that he's dead, body or no body."

She shakes her head, tears spilling down her cheeks. "No. I can't accept that."

"I know, Monkey." I gather her to me, petting her hair as she sobs against my stomach. "You can't keep shutting me out. We need each other right now."

"I miss him so much."

"I know, Baby. I miss him, too."

"I just don't understand how you can say he's dead. Don't you feel in your heart that he's still alive?"

I gently push her back so I can see her face. "Even if that's true, the military has declared him killed in action so they are not looking for him."

She shakes her head again and steps back out of my grasp, then walks back into the house. I just know this means I'll be suffering several more weeks - months - of silence as if it's my fault he's been declared dead.

Life carries on, as it does, because the world keeps spinning. Grace has gone back to only talking to me when absolutely necessary. For Halloween she asks Chin and Malia to take her Trick or Treating. It hurts but I try to understand.

Thanksgiving is usually the start of the holiday season in our house and is usually a happy time. But not this year. This year, Grace is even more sullen than ever. Thanksgiving Day is a somber affair with everyone totally ignoring Steve's absence.

Keeping with the new theme of pretending I don't exist, Grace asks Kono to take her Christmas shopping. I willingly hand over my credit card and inform Kono of my limit as well as the current balance and ask her to not go overboard. She just grins at me and says, "I make no promises, Brah" before taking Grace's hand and leading her from the house.

Last year, Grace and I started a new tradition in regards to decorating for Christmas. We go to Helemano Farms and pick out a tree. When we get it home, we begin putting ornaments on it. Most of my ornaments are new so Grace makes up stories about the people who might have made them. With the older ones, she shares a memory associated with it. Once that's all finished, along with the lights, I pick her up so she can put the star on top. Then we turn on the lights and admire our handiwork.

This year, our trip to the tree farm is far from fun and our decorating is done in near silence. In fact the only thing keeping it from being completely silent is her occasionally saying, "Not there! There!" when I go to place an ornament.

Christmas Eve arrives and this becomes the worst Christmas ever. And that includes the year I broke my leg sledding down the hill behind the house and the Christmas right after Rachel moved Grace to Hawaii (they moved in early August but it wasn't until the following March that my transfer from NPD to HPD went through).

But this year sucks for a number of reasons. First of which is that Steve's dead, the man I love was killed in a foreign country and the military being what it is, I'll never know the details. And second, I yelled at Grace for believing. For believing that Steve might be alive. For believing that there could possibly be a Christmas miracle that'll see him returning to us.

I'm handling things as well as can be expected, until I catch her putting another gift under the tree. When I see it, I ask her about it; she refuses to tell me but I insist. She tells me it's for her makuakane, explaining she's talking about Steve when I just frown at her. I really can't stand it any longer. I shout at her that he's dead, not ever coming back and she should get used to it just being the two of us again. She says something she's never said to me before: "I hate you, Daddy!" before running up the stairs and into her room, slamming the door behind her.

I've been sitting on the stairs for the past three hours, listening to her sobbing until she finally fell asleep. I feel wretched. I mean I didn't have to be so harsh with her. But I've grown tired of calmly explaining that Steve's not coming back and having her counter that with her blind faith.

Tears begin running down my face and I drop my head into my hands, my shoulders shaking with my silent sobs. I have no idea how long I've been sitting here, silently crying, when a car door slamming outside catches my attention.

A quick look at the clock tells me it's after midnight. Who could that possibly be? The nearest neighbor is too far for me to hear their car doors, nor would I be able to hear a car parked on the street so that means the car's in the driveway, and close to the house if I can hear the door slamming.

Standing slowly, I contemplate grabbing my gun but decide I don't have the time. I approach the door, praying that it's just Chin or Kono come to drop off some last minute gifts that they want Grace to open first thing. So imagine my surprise when I open the door and find the very last person in the world I ever expected to see standing there.

The voice that haunts my dreams says softly, "Hey, Danno."