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Before Your Love

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Ever since we met, Danny and I have been tap dancing around an attraction to each other and now that Don't Ask Don't Tell has been repealed I've decided to make my move at his New Year's Eve party. The traditional midnight kiss will be the perfect time to let him know just how I feel.

Once I've made my decision, I begin looking forward to the party. To spending time relaxing with my ohana and celebrating the coming year.

But the closer the day comes, the more anxious I get and then New Year's Eve arrives and I spend the day obsessively cleaning my house in between bouts of swimming in the cove. I'm a huge bundle of nerves by the time I finish dressing. I don't remember taking this much care with my appearance before a date when I was a teen, but then again I don't recall very many of my dates and the ones I do were nowhere near as important to me as this one night at Danny's house.

When I catch myself checking my hair in the rearview mirror after turning off the ignition when I arrive at Danny's new apartment, I grumble under my breath, "Get over yourself, McGarrett." Grabbing the two six packs of beer I brought, I climb down from the truck and head to the door. Despite helping Danny move in, this is the first time I've actually seen it since he finished unpacking.

A quick rap of my knuckles has the door swinging open to reveal a smiling Kono acting as hostess. My heart plummets as I jump to the conclusion that Danny and Kono have gotten closer during my recovery from my brief stay in North Korea while enjoying the hospitality of Wo Fat.

"Boss!" she exclaims a bit too loud, making me wonder if she's on her way to being drunk. "You made it."

I step inside, letting her close the door behind me. "Not exactly late." And I'm not. Not really. Even though the small apartment is full of people the party's only been going on for less than thirty minutes. "I brought beer," I say, raising my arms and showing her the two six packs I have in my hands. "Not that we need any more, right?"

She giggles and takes them from me. "Always need more beer."

Taking a casual look around, pretending I'm not looking for Danny even though I really am, I ask, "So, where's Danno?"

Her grin gets even wider, making my cheeks hurt in sympathy, and I know that I am now officially no longer fooling anyone. "In his bedroom with Grace. There was some kind of catastrophe."

"You know what kind?" She shakes her head and wanders off with the beer I brought in hand before I can say anything else. I make my way through the crush of people until I can get to the short hall that leads to the bedrooms. Danny's room is at the end of the hall. I stop in front of his door and knock lightly. "Danny? Is everything okay? Kono said there was a disaster with Grace?"

"Uncle Steve." Grace's voice is so pitiful that I have to fight the urge to kick the door down.

"It's open, Steve." Danny sounds like he's at the end of his rope and isn't sure which way's up anymore.

Turning the knob, I push the door open just far enough so I can step over the threshold before closing it behind me. "Is everything alright?" I ask again, taking in the father and daughter sitting on the end of the bed.

"It'll be okay, Monkey," Danny whispers, tightening his arm around her shoulders.

"Uncle Steve," Grace says softly, holding up something for me to see. "Can you fix it?"

I step closer until I can make out the headless body of a doll in one of her hands and the missing head in the other. "I don't know. What happened?" I kneel down in front of where they're sitting and accept the doll and head from her.

"Some of Auntie Kono and Uncle Chin's little cousins were playing with her and it turned into a fight and before I knew it they'd pulled her head off!" She sniffles loudly and wipes her nose on the back of her hand. "So can you fix it?"

"Hm," I hum, turning the doll's head over to look at where it would connect to the neck. I expect it to be hollow like Mary's Barbies but it's not. Dolphin Trainer Annie is obviously one of those dolls that have a solid connection between the head and the neck. While this makes it more difficult for the head to be removed, it also makes it impossible to put it back once it has been. I'm not sure how the head was removed but it caused considerable damage to the point that Annie now has a large crack cutting her neck cleanly in two.

Looking up at Danny I try and find a delicate way of telling Grace that Annie is a goner. With a deep sigh I say, "I hate to inform you of this, Miss Williams, but we did all we could. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough."

Her lower lip trembles. "Danno!" she wails, burying her face in his side.

"It's okay, Monkey," he coos, running one hand down her hair.

"Gracie?" I tap her on the knee to get her attention. When she raises her face and looks at me with her watery eyes, my heart clenches in my chest. "How about I take you to Toys-R-Us tomorrow and get you a new Dolphin Trainer Annie, as well as her boyfriend Lifeguard Mark and a new play set?"

"But it's New Year's!" she protests.

"So? I can guarantee they're gonna be open. Even if just for a few hours."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Danny interjects, holding his hands up. "I am not going into a toy store on a Sunday and most definitely not one that's also a holiday."

"But, Danno!" Grace sounds shocked that her father doesn't want to go replace her Annie doll.

"Really, Danno. It's just a store."

"On a weekend day and a holiday. You have any idea how crowded that place is gonna be, huh? Well, do you, Steven?"

Hiding a smile, I shrug one shoulder. "What difference does it make? It's not like it's Black Friday. Besides, we're just going in for a couple of things."

"A couple of-" Danny throws his hands up in the air and makes a sound of frustration low in his throat. "You, my friend, have obviously never stepped foot inside a toy store on a normal day, much less a holiday."

Sitting back on my heels and blinking in the face of his frustration, I try and placate him. "Fine. I'll take Gracie by myself."

He gives a bark of humorless laughter. "You wouldn't survive one second by yourself, SEAL or not."

"So,-" I clap my hands and stand up, holding out one hand for Grace to take. "-it's settled. We'll head out around 10 or 11. But first, we have a New Year to ring in."

Grace jumps from the bed and grabs my hand, then turns to hold the other out to Danny. "C'mon, Danno. It's party time!"

Apparently Danny's not as immune to Gracie's charm as he likes to think because his face softens and the smile that only Grace gets spreads across his face. "Okay, Monkey. Let's go be the perfect hosts and make sure our guests are comfortable and having a good time." He takes her tiny hand in his much larger one and lets her lead him from the room.

While Danny's new apartment is much larger than the one he was living in when we met, it's still much too small for the number of people attending the party. All the doors and windows end up being thrown open to try and combat the heat that so many bodies give off, but it doesn't work and soon everyone has a sheen of sweat on their faces and sweat stains on their clothes. But they're all having too good a time to care.

Grace, Danny and I end up getting separated and I spend most of the evening trying to find him again, while not appearing to be. Unfortunately I'm not successful, so I begin looking for Grace.

About ten minutes till midnight, I find her draped across Chin, Malia and Kono's legs looking for all the world like she just collapsed where she was sitting and the adults lowered her unconscious body into a more comfortable position. "I'll put her to bed," I yell into Chin's ear, reaching out for Grace's boneless body.

"Don't worry about it, Brah." Chin smiles affectionately down at the small body draped over his lap and waves me away. "She's fine where she is."

"If you're sure?" I was looking for an excuse to get out of the main crush of people and now feel slightly panicked at the prospect of not being able to make good my escape when Chin just nods.

Backing slowly away, I return his nod before turning and making a beeline for the patio door. For some reason this one door has remained shut and I manage to slip through and out into the fresh night air. Taking huge gulps of it, I lean my hands on the railing and stare out at the rather limited view of the ocean that Danny's new apartment boasts.

Some minutes later, the sounds from the party increase for a moment when the door behind me slides open and then dim again when it closes. I don't have to turn around to know who has joined me.

"Everything okay, Babe?" Danny asks, laying one hand lightly on my lower back.

I just barely repress the slight shiver that threatens at the heat from his palm. "Yeah, just needed some air." I'm proud of how my voice doesn't even waver. I know I came here tonight determined to show him just how I feel about him but I can feel my resolve crumbling with each second that passes. I know that I jumped to a ridiculous conclusion when Kono answered the door; the chances that she just happened to be closest when I knocked are greater than that her and Danny have become a couple, especially since he's showing signs of still harboring a thing for Rachel, but my heart doesn't seem to care.

"If that's the case, then why are you trying to strangle the railing?" He chuckles softly and rubs his hand in a small circle before removing it. I blink down at my hands to discover that I am indeed white knuckling the railing. I have no answer for his question so I just shrug and stand up straight, crossing my arms over my chest. "It's almost time. You sure you don't want to come back inside and watch?" He turns so that he can prop his hips against the railing and cross one ankle over the other as well as imitating my posture with his arms crossed over his chest.

I take a look from the corner of my eye and instantly wish I hadn’t. He looks incredible in a faded Newark PD tee and jeans so old they've molded to his muscled legs, the cuffs so frayed I can tell he wears them a lot while bare footed, like now. Licking suddenly dry lips and swallowing around a lump in my throat I shake my head. "It's getting to be too hot in there."

"Too hot-?" He gapes at me. "I'm sorry, did you just complain about the temperature in my apartment, Mr. I have no idea what air conditioning is?"

My lips begin twitching and I try to keep the smile, and laugh bubbling up in my throat, at bay. "Fine, there's too many people in there. Happy, now?"

"Really? This from a man used to being in tight quarters with three thousand other Army men?"

"Navy, Daniel. I'm in the Navy. Do I need to tattoo it on your forehead?"

"Navy, Army,-" He waves one hand absentmindedly. "-same difference."

My jaw drops open and my eyes bulge. "Please tell me you did not just say that."

He lifts his eyebrows. "Well, I could, but then I'd be lying and my ma raised me to be an honest man."

This time I can't stop the laughter from escaping, the conversation is just too absurd. But it fulfilled its intended purpose: it put me in a better mood. "But seriously, why is it so hard for you to remember I'm in the Navy?"

"Who says I don't remember?" He shrugs one shoulder. "Just because I keep saying 'Army'?" He cuts his eyes at me before rolling them. "Pfft. I do it because it yanks your chain."

"Oh," I mumble. I knew that but for some reason that simple piece of logic failed me just now.

"You got a problem with it?"

Tucking my hands in my front pockets, I rock back on my heels. "Nope. I like it. Do it every day."

He blinks at me for a moment before recognition hits and then he laughs, shaking a finger in my face. "I hate you, you know that, right?"

I nod, chuckling with him. "Yeah, I know. The feeling's mutual."

He rolls his eyes, again. "Of course it is."

We fall into a comfortable silence for several minutes and then he shifts a touch closer so that our arms are almost touching. "Twenty-twelve is going to be even better than twenty-eleven," he says with a sigh that leaves me wondering if he's making a prediction or saying a prayer.

"Yeah? How so?"

He looks up at me from the corner of his eye. "Well, I'm hoping to start a new relationship."

My heart skips a beat at his pronouncement before kicking into high gear while at the same time the bottom of my stomach falls out and yet I still manage to sound perfectly normal when I say, "Oh, yeah?"

He nods, lips pursed to try and hide the smile tugging at the corners. "Oh, yeah." This time his sigh is wistful and full of hope.

"Someone I know?" I ask despite knowing deep in my gut that it's Rachel.

The corners of his mouth dip and he tilts his head from side to side. "I'd say you know this person very well."

My brows lower in a frown of confusion. If I know this person very well then it's not Rachel. "Who is it?" I ask just as the people on the other side of the sliding glass door begin counting down from ten.

"Oh my, God. You can't possibly be this oblivious," he mutters just before grabbing a fistful of my shirt and turning me so he can wrap one hand around the back of my neck and pull me down so he can press his lips to mine. He takes me by surprise and that's what I blame for freezing for just a second; until I hear everyone inside his apartment shout "Happy New Year!" The spell is broken and I wrap my arms around his waist, pulling him tighter against me, and deepen the kiss, running my tongue along his bottom lip, urging him to open up.

I lose myself in the wonder of a first kiss; a kiss that is more than just my first with Danny but also my first with another guy. When I was twelve I found myself becoming aroused by my classmates in the showers after gym class and quickly learned how to hide it. Then when my mom was killed and I was sent to the mainland and military school, I learned how to repress and deny; especially once I decided that I wanted to join the Navy.

But then my dad was killed and I came home and met a loud-mouthed cop from Jersey who challenges everything I believe about myself and my sexuality. But now that DADT has been repelled I'm forced to re-examine everything and I've discovered my feelings for Danny go deeper than any I've ever had for anyone, male or female.

Danny starts to respond and someone moans and it looks like this year is going to get off to a better start than last year. Until we're rudely interrupted by the last voice I want to hear right now.

"You do know that everyone can see you, right?"

Danny and I spring apart as if we're doing something wrong. Wiping some spit off my chin with the back of my hand, I turn and face the person who has interrupted us. "Cath? What are you doing here?"

"Celebrating New Year's," she says like it's really that simple.

"I thought you were deployed." Kissing Danny must have addled my brains for me to not make the connection that she obviously got leave.

"I was. Got awarded an early leave." She pulls the sliding door closed behind her and I notice for the first time that everyone is staring out at the three of us.

"Grace?" Danny finally pipes up.

"Still sacked out across Chin, Malia and Kono's legs. Either she was really tired or is an extremely heavy sleeper because everyone yelling didn't even make her so much as stir."

"I should go check on her…" Danny steps around Cath and with a lust-filled look over his shoulder at me, opens the door and enters the apartment, closing the curtains and shielding Cath and I from everyone's curious eyes.

Rubbing one hand down my face, I lean back against the railing and with a sigh say, "That doesn't actually answer my question, Catherine."

"I wanted to surprise you so I stopped at Five-oh. Danny said you had already left and then invited me here."

I duck my head and sheepishly scratch at the back of my neck. "I didn't see you inside."

She laughs. "Little wonder. It's nearly impossible to see anyone in that crush. Especially when you only have eyes for a certain cop from New Jersey."

I can feel the heat of a blush creeping up my neck and say a prayer of thanks that it's too dark out for her to see it. "I don't-" I start to deny, old habits and all that, but stop myself with a chuckle. "Not very subtle, huh?"

"You actually know the definition of that word, Smooth Dog?" She joins me at the railing, bumping my shoulder with hers.

"Um, Cath-" I clear my throat and start again. "About Danny and I-" But she doesn't let me finish this time.

"What? You thought I'd be upset or jealous?" She rolls her eyes. "You obviously don't me all that well, McGarrett. Either that or you've forgotten we never were exclusive. Friends with benefits, I believe you said?"

"But there never was anyone else. At least not for me."

"Seriously? I have no idea how you got your call sign." She turns to lean one hip against the railing so she can poke me in the bicep with her finger. "I never asked you not to. And I know I never said the other, either. But now?" She sighs, wraps one hand around my upper arm and squeezes, her face softening in the glow from the fireworks exploding over the bay. "I've seen you with him, Steve. You never looked at me, or anyone else for that matter, the way you look at him. And from what I hear, the two of you fell into an easy rhythm from the first moment you met."

"Cath…" I seem to be having trouble swallowing. I shake my head because I can't possibly be this transparent.

Before I can figure out where I was going with that thought, and before Cath can say anything else, the drapes move, the door is slid open and Danny steps back out onto the patio. "Everyone's heading out. Want to come say bye?"

Cath and I both nod and follow Danny back inside. We make quick work of our good-byes and before I know it, it's just me, Cath and Danny.

"Well, I guess I should be going, too." Cath leans up to kiss the corner of my mouth and then leans down to kiss Danny's cheek and I notice for the first time that her height puts her in between Danny and me, height wise. I can hear Cath whisper something in Danny's ear to which he just grunts and teasingly growls, "I got it, Lieutenant!" and then she's out the door and it's just me and Danny.

Suddenly, I'm overtaken by nerves. I know I shouldn't be nervous, Danny and I have been alone hundreds of times. Of course none of those times were preceded by us sharing a down and dirty kiss. Plus, Danny's an honorable man. I know he won't try to force me to do anything I'm not comfortable doing. Well, not in the bedroom, that is.

"Stop looking like a virgin on his wedding night." As if reading my thoughts Danny's voice breaks the silence.

"I know I have nothing to worry about-" I begin. "But you're nervous all the same" he finishes for me. I nod, my guts twisted into a huge fucking knot.

"Oh, for crying out loud," he mutters, stepping closer in order to wrap one warm palm around the back of my neck, tugging until I get with the program and lower my head so he can nibble on my lower lip before sealing his mouth to mine and engaging my tongue in a lazy duel.

When I wrap my arms around his waist he goes up on his toes and presses his hips against mine, leaving me in no doubt as to just how much he's into this. Into me.

Slipping one hand into the hair at the back of his head, I hold him still so I can deepen the kiss, doing my level best to find out if he still has his tonsils or not.

With a moan of regret, he breaks the kiss and gentles me with nipping little kisses along my jaw when I whine at the loss. "Not here, Babe," he murmurs. I couldn't agree more. The hall outside Grace's room is not the ideal place for this.

I begin walking him backward toward his room, my lips tracing a line from his chin to his ear. Somehow my hands find their way under his shirt and seem to be obsessed with the thick mat of hair covering his chest and abdomen. When my fingers find, and tweak, a nipple he shudders, his breath escaping on a breathy groan. The sound goes straight to my dick and so my fingers go back again and again in order to make him make that sound again.

We almost tumble to the bed when the back of his knees hit the edge of the mattress. Only my planting my feet keeps us upright.

With the distraction of walking finished, I turn my attention to removing his shirt. While I've seen him undressed before, a communal shower after taking a plunge in a full dumpster, I didn't allow myself to look. Repress and deny is a hard habit to break but now that there is finally no longer a legal obstacle, I allow myself to look my fill once I get him out of the offending article of clothing.

"Like what you see, Babe?" Danny's laughing tone has my cheeks heating as I peek up at him through my lashes.

Encouraged by the fond look on his face I smile at him. The smile falters when his eyes narrow and I realize I've inadvertently used the smile that means I'm about to cost the taxpayers of Hawai'i a lot of money. "Steve…" he warns but I ignore it since I'm not planning on doing anything he'll object to.

With my most innocent face, I keep my eyes locked with his while attacking his fly. Fucking tease that he is, he's wearing button flies. I pop one button at a time, slowly. I can be a tease too. His breath hitches in his throat when the backs of my knuckles brush against his straining erection, serves him right for going commando.

I can't keep the smirk off my face when his pupils dilate with increased passion at the feel of my hand wrapped around him. "Steve…" he hisses, fingernails digging into the skin of my triceps.

Tugging him free from the confines of his jeans, I lick my lower lip and chuckle deep in my throat as the flesh in my hand twitches and his eyes go unfocused. "Yeah?" I lean in and whisper against his lips, figuring that some of the things that work for a woman will work for a man.

"We can't." He swallows thickly. "Not… not yet."

A Danno at a loss for words is a sight to behold. Makes me wonder if he'll be loud and talkative or silent during his climax. "You sure about that?" I give him a squeeze just to watch his eyes flutter closed.

"…slow," he mumbles.

"What's that, Danno? Couldn't understand you. Maybe if you backed up and started the sentence at the beginning…"

"Go slow!" he yelps and jumps when I slide my hand up his length.

"I am going slow."

He growls - actually growls - low in his throat. "No-" His voice breaks when I thumb the piss slit. "We … go slow."

"Still not following, Danno," I breathe against his ear even though I'm fairly certain I know what he's talking about now.

"We. Need. To. Go. Slow," he says each word slowly, as if saying them is causing him physical pain.

I lean back to pout at him. "You sure about that?"

He nods. "I seriously doubt you're ready for the physical side of this."

"What? You afraid I'll have some big gay freak-out, Danno?"

"Please don't call me that while you have your hand on my dick." He licks his lips before sucking the bottom one between his teeth when I twist my hand around the head. "And now that you mention it, yeah. Why aren't you freaking out?"

"I've wanted you since the moment you pulled your gun on me in my father's garage," I answer, leaning in to lick at his lips.

"Steven, please don't," he begs when I begin slowly sliding my hand up and down his length.

"You don't like it?" I put every ounce of fake hurt I can into my voice.

"No, no, I like it, it's just-" A sharp tug has his breath catching in his throat which has the added benefit of stopping the flow of words. "Not with my daughter asleep down the hall." He gets his ability to speak back too quickly for my liking but he does have a point. Now's really not the time. Reluctantly I release him and earn myself a kiss that is full of promises to make it up to me later. After we take Grace back to Rachel.

"So, not even making out?" I ask when he breaks the kiss and slips from my arms.

"Oh, we can do some, and I stress the 'some', but not too much. It's one a.m. and we'll need to be up in five or six hours to beat most of the rush to the store."

I'm still a little disappointed, especially when he drops his jeans in order to pull on a pair of boxers, but when he walks back over to me and pulls me down by my ears so he can lick his way into my mouth, I find I don't really care. Especially if he continues to suck on my tongue like it's a piece of candy.

I turn so that I can sit down on the bed, pulling him into my lap as I do. He pulls back to growl, "So not the girl in this, McGarrett!"

I chuckle and slide my hands up the backs of his thighs under the legs of his boxers. "Never said you were. Just got tired of bending down to kiss you. Plus, since you're smaller, it's easier for you to sit on my lap than it is for me to sit on yours."

"We'll see about that," he mutters, tugging on the hem of my shirt. "…off. Take …off." Once again he seems to have lost the ability to speak.

I assist him in removing my shirt, my arms getting caught in the sleeves when he decides he has to lick the tattoo on my right shoulder right the fuck now. "Dan…" I moan when his lips leave a fiery trail from my shoulder to my nipple. A gasp escapes when he bites down a bit harder than I expected.

Shoving my hands in his hair, I encourage him to explore to his heart's content. He's bent nearly double in order to lick at my navel by the time I become aware that he's pushing on my shoulders; that he wants me to lie back.

The second my back hits the mattress, he scoots back until he's sitting more on my knees than my thighs and proceeds to molest my belly button with his tongue. "D…" Now it's my turn to lose the ability to speak so I tug on his hair until he gives up on his goal of making me embarrass myself before he even touches my dick.

His beautiful blue eyes are just a thin ring of blue surrounding pupils blown wide and the animalistic side of me howls at the knowledge that I did - do - that to him. Before I can speak, he surges up to nip at my lips before shoving his tongue down my throat.

Pushing on his shoulders I manage to break the kiss and get him leaning back for enough for me to speak. "If we keep this up, I'm gonna come in my pants like a randy teenager."

His chuckle is pure evil and has a shiver racing down my spine to pool low in my belly. "Then by all means, let's get you out of these pants." He makes quick work of doing just that and before I know it, we're both lying on the bed pressed chest to chest with nothing between us but our boxers.

"I meant it, Steve," he says. "We're gonna take this real slow."

I frown at him because just a moment ago he was trying to remove my tonsils with his tongue. I idly draw patterns on his left hip with the fingers of my right hand. "How slow is 'slow'?"

"Remember how you were with your teenage girlfriends before you decided you were ready to have sexual intercourse?"

One brow climbs my forehead. "That's slow."

He shrugs one shoulder. "Be that as it may, I refuse to fuck this up by going too fast." Well, now, that's unexpected. I had no idea he felt that way about us.

"When you put it that way…" I murmur, closing the distance between us so I can kiss him.

Considering how frantic we were just moments ago, I fully expect the spark to flare to life again and so am surprised when he keeps our kisses slow and almost lazy but no less passion filled for all that.

After several minutes, he abruptly rolls away onto his back. "Danny?" I question, afraid I did something wrong.

"I think it's time to go to sleep," he replies, slipping under the covers and turning his back.

I blink up at the ceiling in the dim room before following his lead and rolling over the other way and closing my eyes since he's giving off a 'don't touch me' vibe.

It takes me way too long to fall asleep and so it is with a grumpy attitude that I wake to "Uncle Steve!" screamed at full volume just seconds before Grace's full weight lands on my back, telling me she launched herself at the bed when she saw me lying in it.

"Grace Elizabeth!" Danny's sharp rebuke sounds from the direction of the bathroom. A quick glance at the bed beside me confirms that Grace and I are the only ones in it.

"It's okay, Danno," I say, rolling over to attack her ticklish sides with my fingers. Her squeals of laughter make the pounding in my head increase, but I don't care. I'll do anything to put off looking at Danny and seeing the regret in his eyes.

"Hey, Grace?" Danny calls for her attention. "Why don't you go get dressed, hm? Uncle Steve and I will be out in a minute, okay?"

"Okay, Danno." With a peck to my cheek she climbs off the bed and skips from the room, closing the door behind her.

"She knows better than to jump on people like that," Danny says once we're alone again.

"Like I said, Danny, It's fine. She didn't hurt me." Not like you, I can't help but think.

"Listen, about last night," he begins but I don't want to let him finish. I can't let him finish that sentence.

"Forget about it. I understand. You got caught up in the heat of the mo-" Danny's hand slaps down on my face, directly over my mouth, cutting off the flow of words.

"No, listen, you fucker!" he hisses. Taking a deep breath he opens his mouth, closes it, rolls his eyes and starts over. "About last night. I wanted - God, how I wanted! - to finish what we started. But not with Grace in the house. I need to explain to her about alternate sexual preferences, first."

I blink at him until he removes his hand with an apologetic grimace. "You have to, what, now?"

He sighs. "I need to explain that I like men, too."

"You don't think she's figured that out?"

"I'll let this pass since you're not a father. I know Grace knows about the different sexualities from TV and her friends' parents but she doesn't know about me."

"And this matters?"

"Yes. No. I don't know! Fuck, Steve. My last relationship with a guy was in college and he was even more in denial than you so we mostly hung out in our room, fucking."

"I see. So you're afraid Grace won't understand about us?"

"No. But I want to explain that we're now a couple. Not to mention I need to tell Rachel."

"How will she react?" I ask, slipping from the bed and pulling on my clothes.

"She should be fine with it. So long as we don't make out in front of Grace."

"She knows you're - you know?"

Danny rolls his eyes so hard my headache throbs in protest. "You can say it. It's not a bad word. Bi-sexual. I'm bi-sexual, Steven. And yes, Rachel knows."

I open my mouth to ask if him and Rachel ever had a threesome, a question that I really don't want the answer to at this time yet find myself unable to stop thinking about, but am saved from embarrassing myself by Grace rushing in again.

"C'mon, Danno, Uncle Steve!" She urges us to move faster by tugging on our hands. "C'mon!"

"Easy, Monkey," Danny says with a chuckle. "We need to have breakfast first."

"Not hungry. You, Uncle Steve?"

Danny and I share a look over her head and I decide to play along with Danny. "I could eat."

"Uncle Steve!" she screeches, making me wince at the renewed throbbing behind my eyes.

Her expression is so full of hurt that I find myself unable to continue tormenting her. "If it's okay with Danno, I'm sure we could grab McDonald's on the way," I say picking her up and tucking her on my hip.

She wraps her arms around my neck and her legs around my waist. Propping her chin on my left shoulder she pouts at Danny. "Can we, Danno?"

I can see Danny roll his eyes in the mirror over the dresser. "Fine. Just this once." She squeals her delight right in my ear and tightens her hold on my neck.

We file out of the apartment, Grace still in my arms and as we step out onto the front stoop, I'm struck by how much I want this. Want a family with Danny. Want to be Grace's step-dad. Want a child of my own who is also Danny's.

After my dad sent me to the mainland after my mom died, I decided to never marry and have kids. In my mind falling in love just lead to heartbreak and having to emotionally hurt your kids in order to protect them. But seeing Danny with Grace and the lengths he'll go to in order keep her safe and happy, and finding myself feeling the same way, has shown me that the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.

I turn to watch Danny lock the door and decide to just go for it. "Hey, D? We need to have a serious conversation after we drop Baby Girl here at Rachel's."

"We need…" He chuckles and shakes his head. "I do believe I already told you that."

"No, I mean-" I falter to a stop when I realize I have no clue how to express what I'm feeling with words so I settle for something I know he'll understand: I lean forward and press my lips to his, keeping it chaste because of our audience.

"Seriously?" he yelps, pulling back. "Do you have to out me to everyone?"

"If I remember correctly, you kissed me first last night. In front of the patio doors. With the curtains open."

"That's different."

"How so?" His mouth opens and closes like a fish out of water. "No, really, Danno. Tell me, how is it different that you outed me last night? Hm?" I hitch Grace higher on my hip and settle all my weight on the opposite foot. When he continues to flounder for an answer, I roll my eyes and say, "Just as I thought."

Grace has been quiet during the entire exchange, her little head twisting back and forth between us like she's watching a tennis match. "Uncle Steve?" Her voice is soft, almost like she's afraid speaking too loud will cause Danny to start yelling.

"Yeah, Baby Girl?" I hitch her high enough on my hip so I can press my forehead to hers.

"Does this mean you and Danno are boyfriends?"

"I don't know, Grace." I turn to Danny, my best puppy eyes face on and ask. "Are we boyfriends, Danno?"

Danny turns imploring eyes skyward. "Yes, we're boyfriends."

Grace squeals again in my ear and bounces up and down in my arms. "Does this mean you're gonna get married?"

"No, this does not mean we're getting married," Danny answers, reaching out to take Grace from my arms.

"But…why? Don't you love Uncle Steve, Danno?"

"Yeah, Danno,-" I can't help but tease him. "-don't you love me?"

"Love has nothing to do with it. It's not legal for us to get married."

"Maybe not in Hawai'i," Grace is too smart, sometimes.

"Sure we could go to another state, but Hawai'i wouldn't recognize it." I love how he doesn't talk down to Gracie; how he treats her like a little adult.

"Well, that's just stupid," she declares, squirming for Danny to put her down.

"Out of the mouths of babes," I mutter, following the two of them to my truck.

After assisting Grace with her seatbelt, Danny turns to me and holds out one hand. "Keys," he demands, snapping his fingers.

Reactively, I hold them behind my back. "No," I respond, a childish note in my voice.

"What? Don't trust me with your precious truck?"

"No-" I begin but falter to a stop, knowing that he'll see whatever I say for the lie that it is.

"You drive my car all the time. Only fair I get to drive yours."

"I drive your car for work, Daniel, because I'm the boss."

He rolls his eyes. "My partner back in Jersey was above me in rank and I drove because of it. Now give me the damn keys."

"It's my personal vehicle, Danny, and I said no." I know I'm being beyond childish but I don't care. And yes, I also know that it's my control issues that are keeping me from letting him drive today. Or any other day for that matter.

"Steven…" His voice takes on a parental tone, the kind that no matter how old you are or who the parent is, makes you instantly obey.

Only this time I can't give in. This is my truck, the first vehicle I've ever bought with my own money. "Daniel," I counter, using my best commander's voice.

We have a face off for several minutes until Grace, obviously, grows weary of watching us stare at each other and honks the horn, just lays her tiny little hand on it and leans with all her weight.

Danny and I have identical reactions: we jump, clamp our hands over our ears and turn to stare at the once sweet little girl now grinning innocently at us from the driver's seat of my truck. "Time's a' wasting!" she yells, still not letting up on the horn.

"Enough with the horn, Monkey!" Danny hollers, opening the closest door, which happens to be the passenger door, and climbing in so he can haul her into his lap where they engage in a brief tickle battle before he gets her resettled in the middle of the backseat.

"Do I have to lay on the horn, Steven?" Danny pokes his head out of the door to ask. "Because I will."

The little men with pickaxes in my head have just now gone on break and I don't want them starting up again, so I shake my head and round the truck to climb behind the steering wheel.

"So, to the Army/Navy store, right?" I ask, meeting Grace's eyes in the rearview mirror as I start the engine.

"No, Uncle Steve!" she giggles. "The toy store!"

"Oh! Silly me! I thought we were buying some camping gear."

"You're so silly, Uncle Steve!"

"I know." We share one last smile in the mirror before I turn my attention to backing out of the parking spot and pointing the truck in the direction of the nearest Toys-R-Us.

I'm enjoying the quiet when all of a sudden "Danno and Steve sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Danno with a baby carriage!" issues from the backseat.

Danny tenses at the first note from Grace's mouth and he turns incredulous eyes on me, his mouth hanging open. "She's your daughter," I say with a shrug.

"Why am I the one with the baby carriage?" he demands, turning to mock glare at Grace.

She just grins unrepentantly, the brat, and says in a tone that suggests butter wouldn't melt in her mouth, "'Cause you're smaller than Uncle Steve."

"That does not make me the girl!"

"It's just a song, Danno." Grace's eyes fill with tears and her lower lip begins to quiver.

Danny obviously knows his daughter well because he just rolls his eyes and says, "Please. That no more hurt your feelings than the song hurt mine."

She giggles, one hand pressed to her mouth as if to keep the sound inside and her shoulders hunched up around her ears. "Silly Daddy!"

Danny chuckles with her and turns back around. We share a smile when she begins singing again. "Steven and Danno sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Steven with a baby carriage!" before dissolving into a fit of laughter as if she's told the funniest joke in the history of the world.

Danny and I join her laughter, both shaking our heads at her silliness. The rest of the drive is spent with her planning our wedding for when Hawai'i 'stops being stupid' and allows us to marry legally. I think she just wants to be the flower girl. Not that I don't think she'd be thrilled if I were to be able to marry her dad, just that she's too young to truly understand.

The toy store is in a strip mall with dozens of other stores that families visit in their free time. And as such, the parking lot is so full that we have to park closer to McDonald's, which is at the edge of the lot closest to the street, than I want.

"I warned you, Steven," Danny says as we enter McDonald's and see that the lobby is over packed with families grabbing a quick breakfast.

The screams of the kids in the play area echo through the building and have the little men in my head pounding away at the back of my skull again. "It's not that bad, Danny."

"Not that…" If I didn't know that Danny passed his last physical with flying colors I'd be worried about his blood pressure right about now. "Look around you! This-" He twirls one finger in the air to indicate the whole restaurant. "-is not even half of what you can expect at the toy store."

"Danno?" Grace, bless her, tugs on the hem of Danny's shirt and stops the impending rant.

Danny looks down and father and daughter have one of those silent conversations that only people who know each other well can have. "Thought you were in a hurry to get to the toy store," he says in response to what I can only guess is her silently asking to go play.

"Oh, right." She laughs a little at herself and turns to read the menu board, chewing on her lower lip and holding both our hands.

I see more than a few wistful smiles directed our way and I know people think we're a family. And I'm extremely inclined to let them. Looking down at the little girl I love like she was my own flesh and blood, I feel a rush of emotion I don't want to examine right now so I push it aside. "You decide what you want, yet, Baby Girl?"

"I can't really see the menu. Pick me up." She drops Danny's hand in order to climb me like a tree. Knowing from past experience that trying to help her will only result in her getting huffy, I just brace my feet and make sure she doesn't grab something she shouldn't.

"Does that often, does she?" a pretty girl in her mid-twenties asks with a smile.

"He's taken," Grace tells her with a scowl.

I blink at the hostile note in her voice. "Grace Williams," I scold, doing my best to imitate Danny's tone whenever he has to do the same. "You apologize right this minute!"

She turns a mulish expression to me, crosses her arms and huffs. "Now, young lady, or we'll go home right now." Tears begin to gather in her eyes and I have to fight the urge to give in. She's such a sweet-tempered girl that I've never had to scold her before. I have no idea how Danny does it.

The seconds begin to stretch to a minute. "Grace…" I warn, starting to turn toward Danny to inform him that we're leaving and why.

"It's okay," the woman says. "I saw you with your partner earlier." She ducks her head to make eye contact with Grace. "I know your daddy's taken. I wasn't flirting with him. I swear." Grace unbends, just a little.

"No, it's not okay. She's old enough to know better," I say, turning Grace in my arms so I can look her in the eye. "I'm going to count to three and then we're telling Danno that we're leaving and why. Or rather, you are."

The change in her demeanor is near instantaneous. "I'm sorry, ma'am," she says quickly. "Please, Makuakane, don't tell Danno!"

"You'll behave?" I ask. She nods, very real tears appearing in her eyes for the first time all day. "Okay." I turn back to the woman who is still smiling at us. "I do apologize for her behavior."

"Pfft." She waves my apology away. "Good looking guy like you must get hit on all the time. She's just staking her, what does she call him, Danno?" Grace and I nod. "-her Danno's territory. She's fine. My wife-" She points at a very pregnant woman sitting at a table in the play area wiping ketchup off the face of a toddler. "-sent me to get another Sausage McGriddle."

"You got a good looking family."

She beams. "Yeah, I know. You got a good looking one, too. Little bear like yours must keep you on your toes."

I have no idea what that means so I just nod and say, "Yeah."

She sighs and looks fondly at her family. "This kid seems to love those things," she says, almost to herself as we shuffle forward a couple of steps.

"Well, they are very good."

"Yeah, but she's a vegetarian."

"How's she dealing with that?"

"By telling herself it's for the baby."

"Good luck with that," I say as one of the teenagers behind the counter calls for next in line and Danny steps forward.

"Nice talking to you," the woman calls and I nod back before setting Grace on her feet and resting one hand on her shoulder and the other on the small of Danny's back.

He gives his order, then looks over his shoulder at me. "Where've you been?" he asks like he wasn't standing two feet from me the whole time.

"Grace couldn't see the menu so I picked her up."

He inclines his head in understanding and motions for me to order, pulling out his wallet before I can even twitch a finger in the direction of mine.

We manage to get our food rather quickly considering how busy they are and eat it while walking across the parking lot. Or rather Grace eats hers first while Danny and I take turns holding her drink, then eat ours once she's done.

Danny pauses at the entrance to the store, the back of one hand pressed to my chest to get me to stop next to him. "I'm warning you, Steven. This will be worse than anything you've ever experienced before."

"I've been to war, Daniel. I think I can handle an overcrowded toy store." I roll my eyes because, really? Does he not trust me to know what I can handle?

He sighs. "Don't say I didn't warn you," he mutters before stepping through the automatic doors, Grace skipping along right beside him.

I follow and then come to a halt just a few steps inside. The noise is near deafening, and here I thought the flight deck of an aircraft carrier was loud. There's music blaring from invisible speakers, kids screaming and crying and parents yelling at their kids, each other and the employees.

It takes Danny a few seconds to realize he's lost me but when he does, he comes back, a smug grin tugging the corners of his mouth. "You were saying, GI Joe?" he laughingly asks.

I scowl at him. "Shut up," I say and march past him to where Grace is bouncing in place. I pick her up and deposit her on my shoulders, clamping my hands tight on her ankles.

"She can walk, Steven." Danny's voice sounds like he's positive I've done gone round the bend for sure this time.

"And risk getting lost in this!?" I demand incredulously, shifting one arm to hold both her legs so I can indicate the whole store with the other.

Danny bites his lip to keep what I'm sure would be a very unmanly giggle at bay. "Babe," he chokes out before clearing his throat and trying again. "Babe, she's used to this. She knows to hold my hand like her life depends on it."

I tilt my head back and look down my nose at him. "I don't care. She's too precious to just let roam around."

"Roam…" he starts spluttering, then stops and puts one hand to his head like he caught my headache. "Ya know what? Forget it. Just forget it." He waves one hand regally. "You two go pick out the toys. I'll meet you at the registers." He points over his shoulder at the exit door.

"But, Danno!" Grace whines from her perch on my shoulders.

"I didn't say we were leaving, Monkey. I just refuse to tackle that mob with you. So, go." He waves us off again. "Just remember, McGarrett, that's my daughter on your shoulders. Guard her with your life." As if I don't already.

I give a sharp nod and would have saluted if not for making sure Grace doesn't fall off. "Lead the way, Princess Grace," I say, giving her ankles a squeeze.

She tucks her feet behind my back under my shoulder blades, causing me to shift my grip to her legs just below her knees, and stacks her hands on top of my head. "To the left, Makuakane." Having her call me 'dad', especially in Hawaiian, has something uncurling deep in my gut and makes me realize that deep down I never stopped wanting to be a father.

Turning to my left, I follow her directions. I can feel her squirming and then I'm tightening my hold on her legs to prevent her from falling off as she all but stands up. "Grace!" I say a bit sharper than I intend.

"Just trying to see if they have any left," she says, tears thickening her tone.

"Please, don't. If something was to happen to you…" I don't finish the sentence, knowing she'll understand.

"Sorry," she mumbles, slumping with her arms hanging by my face.

"It's okay. Just… be careful, okay?"

"'Kay," she answers, voice devoid of any of its usual cheer. But then she perks right up. "To the right! This aisle right here!" She pats me on the head with her right hand.

The aisle she wants me to enter is crammed full of parents and kids and just shy of being controlled chaos. "You sure about that, Baby Girl?" I ask, hoping she'll say no but knowing she'll say yes.

"Yes!" She bounces as much as she can without making her perch on my shoulders any more precarious. "About half way down, Makuakane." Taking a deep breath, I cautiously enter the aisle and begin weaving my way around the knots of people examining the toys for sale on the shelves. "There! On the left!" Grace's right hand appears in my line of sight, pointing off to my left while she pats the left side of my head with that hand.

"Not a horse, Grace."

She giggles. "But I'm riding you like one." Okay, so she has a point.

Stooping down, I lift her from my shoulders. "Which ones do you want?"

She scoops a Dolphin Trainer Annie doll that's identical to the one that was broken from the shelf before moving down a little and picking up a Lifeguard Mark doll. Her head swivels around, her little brow furrowed. "I can't find the play set I want," she grumbles.

"They may be all sold out, Ku`uipo." I try to stop the impending temper tantrum I can see coming.

"No," she whines, tears starting to gather but before a single one can fall, her face brightens. "There! There's one left!" And she's off like a shot for a spot on the other side of the aisle before I can even register what she's said.

"Grace!" I shove my way between people in pursuit of her. "Don't take off like that!"

"It's mine!" Grace's screech has me on even higher alert and with one last person shoved out of the way, I find her in a stand-off with a forty-something woman, both holding on to one end of a Sea World play set.

"I had it first, ya little brat!" the woman snarls, tugging hard enough to pull Grace forward a few steps.

"Excuse me? What's going on here?" I demand stopping behind Grace, standing at my full height with my arms crossed over my chest and my scariest scowl on my face.

"This is none of your business," the woman says without even looking at me. "Where are your parents, haole?"

"That man behind me is my makuakane and he's being deployed again next week. He missed Christmas and this. Is. My. Gift!" Grace says, pulling on her end of the toy with all her might. Either the woman doesn't expect her to pull so hard or what Grace said surprises her because Grace is able to get the toy out of the woman's hands and pass it to me over her head. "Mine!" she says one more time with an emphatic nod.

The woman finally looks at me with shock and embarrassment on her face. "I'm so sorry, Koa! Of course she can have it."

I clench my jaw to keep from telling her that I'm not being deployed. Grace sniffling brings her back to my attention and I kneel down to wrap my arms around her. "It'll be alright, Keiki," I murmur into her hair.

"It's just not right. The government letting you guys come home for such short periods of time before sending you back." The woman obviously thinks Grace's tears are because of my 'deployment'.

"Yeah, well, I'm a SEAL. It's kinda the job description."

"Yes, well, Mahalo for your service." She dips her head, gives me a tight smile and quickly melts away into the crowd.

"I should punish you for lying to that woman," I say, picking Grace and her armful of toys up and carrying her swiftly out of the aisle toward the exit where Danny said he'd be waiting.

"But you're not gonna." Grace's voice is full of confidence. And damn if she isn't right.

"No, I'm not. But I should." I sigh deeply as I realize that she has me wrapped around her little finger and that is so not a good thing.

"mahalo, Makuakane," she says sweetly with a kiss to my cheek.

I roll my eyes and silently berate myself for not being stronger where she's concerned. "Just don't ever do it again, okay?"

"Okay!" She kisses me again since her arms are full and she can't hug me. "There's Danno!" she exclaims, craning her neck to see better.

"I see you survived unscathed," Danny says, eyeing me up and down before taking the toys from Grace's arms when we join him in line.

"Just barely," I mutter, hitching Grace up to get a better grip on her. There's no missing Danny's smirk as he turns to face the front of the line.

"I told you so," he sing-songs, wiggling his shoulders.

"Bite me, Daniel." He grins at me over his shoulder.

"He did real good, Danno," Grace comes to my defense.

"Glad to hear it." Danny looks me up and down again. "You planning on carrying her for the rest of the day?"

"Was thinking of it. What difference does it make?"

"I happen to know just how much she weighs."

"Navy SEAL, Daniel," I say.

"As if that means anything to me."

"It should. The pack I carry on missions weighs nearly twice as much as her. She's fine."

"I don't mind standing, Uncle Steve." I know she's back to calling me 'Uncle Steve' because of Danny but it still hurts. With a kiss to her cheek, I set her on her feet between Danny and me, placing my hands lightly on her shoulders.

The rest of our time in the store is done in silence and before too much longer we're in front of the cashier, paying and then back out in the truck, heading home.

Normally Danny takes Grace back to Rachel around lunch on Sunday but since tomorrow's the last day of Christmas vacation, Rachel agreed that Danny could keep her until dinner. Having the rest of the day to be with her, we stop at Kamekona's for a leisurely lunch of grilled coconut shrimp and then take the scenic route back to Danny's so Grace can play with her new toys.

The sun is beginning its descent in the sky when Danny gets up from his spot next to Grace on the ground, grunting and groaning at the protesting from his knee. "Okay, Monkey," he says, a note of sadness tingeing his tone. "Time to clean up so we can take you back to your mom."

"Do we have to, Daddy?" It's very obvious that father and daughter love each other a lot and truly enjoy spending time together.

"You know we do." Danny leans down and presses a kiss to her hair.

We've just started emptying the water in the play set when a knock sounds on the door. Danny and I share confused looks, then he makes his way to the door. Unexpected visitors really set law enforcement officers' nerves on edge and it's even worse when Grace is around. But even so, Danny doesn't go for his gun, mostly because he doesn't want to scare Grace.

"Who is it?" he stands to the side of the door and asks.

"Rachel." Even from my place on the patio, I can hear Danny grinding his teeth at the answer.

"I still have an hour, Rach." He throws open the door to glare at his ex-wife.

"I know," she replies with a sigh and I can see her visibly bracing herself for an impending rant as she steps over the threshold. "But Stan has clients in town and they have a daughter Grace's age."

"You should have called."

"And given you the chance to say you didn't hear your phone ring?" She knows him so well.

Before Danny can respond, Grace spies her mother and with a "Mommy!" yelled at full volume, throws herself across the room at her mother. "Come see what Uncle Steve bought me!" Grace tugs on Rachel's hand, slowly walking her back across the apartment to the open patio door.

"Steve," Rachel greets with a smile.

"Rachel." I've never not liked Rachel, even before I met her and only had Danny's side of things, but I will always be firmly on Danny's side against her. "How was your New Year's?"

"Good. Relaxing. Yours?"

"Not so much on the relaxing," I say, tipping my head in Grace's direction. "But good."

She laughs. "Yes, well, children tend to prohibit relaxation."

"Eh." I shrug. "She's a good kid. Couldn't love her more if she were my own."

Rachel's eyes take on a hard glint but her smile doesn't so much as falter. "That's nice to hear." Grace's tugging on her hand and pointing at the play set finally gets her attention. "As if you need another Dolphin Trainer Annie doll." The glint in her eyes is now in her voice.

"Considering the other one's broken, I'd say she does." Danny jumps to my defense.

"Along with Lifeguard Mark and a Sea World play set!" Grace pipes up, jumping up and down. "Isn't it neat?"

Rachel eyes her daughter before turning a disapproving frown on Danny. "Just how much sugar has she had?"

"No more than usual. We had McDonald's for breakfast, Kamekona's shrimp for lunch and one of Steve's fruit smoothies just a bit ago for a snack."

"There's no sugar in them is there?" She turns her frown on me.

"Just the natural kind. I used strawberries, bananas, yogurt and ice."

"So she's bouncing off the walls, because…?"

"She's nine?" Danny's snarky comment surprises a snort of laughter out of me which earns me a narrow eyed look from Rachel.

"And been in your company too long." It's obvious that last was directed at me.

"I like playing with Uncle Steve, Mommy." Grace is starting to breathe harder as she continues to jump around us. "He lets me climb on him." And to show just what she means, she starts climbing me just like she did at McDonald's this morning.

"You shouldn't let her do that." Rachel plucks Grace from where she's hanging on my back.

"She's fine, Rachel," Danny says, the eye roll heavy in his voice.

"She needs to act like a lady."

"There are studies that show that roughhousing is good for a child's psyche as well as their confidence." Danny takes Grace from Rachel for one last hug before putting her down and shooing her off to get her stuff. "Especially girls from broken homes who only see their fathers a few days a week."

Rachel bites her lip to keep from encouraging him with a smile. "You are so full of shit, Daniel," she mock scolds.

"It's true. I saw it on the news," he counters.

"And everything on the news is the truth." It's obvious Rachel isn't going to give an inch but she is charmed in spite of herself.

"Before Grace comes back, Steve and I have something to tell you." Danny glances over his shoulder in the direction of Grace's room.

"What is that?" Rachel crosses her arms over her chest and I can tell she's expecting the worst.

"Steve and I… we're…" Danny looks to me for assistance. I just shake my head; she's his ex so it's up to him to tell her. "Steve and I are dating."

She raises her eyebrows. "And?"

Danny and I share a confused look. "What do you mean, 'and'?"

Now it's Rachel's turn to roll her eyes. "Anyone with eyes can see that the two of you have had a 'thing'-" She actually uses the finger quotes. "-since you first laid eyes on each other."

"You're not upset?"

"Upset? Why would I be upset, Daniel? I've known you're bi-sexual for years, remember?"

"Yeah. But you don't seem to like Steve half the time."

"Hey!" I can't just stand by and let them talk about me right in front of me.

"It's true. Ever since we crashed your house to spy on those crooks that were renting the house next door, you've acted like he's a pet you barely tolerate at the best of times."

"That is not true!" She turns to face me. "You have to believe me, Steve."

"Do I?" I ask as it occurs to me just what Danny means.

Rachel sighs. "You have to understand where I'm coming from, Steve. You spend a lot of time with my daughter and you are a trouble magnet."

Anger flares deep in my gut. "Are you going to fight us on this?"

Rachel looks shocked that I'd ask such a question. "Whatever makes you think I'm that petty, Commander?"

Ooo, I must have hit a sore spot for her to use my rank. "Gee, I don't know." I shrug. "The fact that you tried to have Danny's visitation rights revoked after a gang shoot-out erupted at a football game he just happened to be at. Despite the fact that his quick thinking saved countless lives."

"And I do believe the Governor stepped in and threatened Stan's career if I didn't drop the suit."

"She threatened…" Danny turns to me. "Tell me you didn't ask her to do that."

"I told you that I merely mentioned that Stan was in need of some permits for his new hotel." I shrug, refusing to feel guilty for having a hand in making sure Danny didn't lose access to Grace.

"Then how'd she know about the suit, hm, Commander?" Rachel crosses her arms over her chest and taps the toes of one foot.

I cross my arms over my chest as well and stand to my full height. "I may have mentioned that Stan's married to you, Danny's ex, and that there may or may not be an issue with his visitation due to something that was beyond his control."

"I can't believe you!" Danny explodes, shoving as hard as he can on my crossed arms.

"Danny?" I'm thoroughly confused. When I told him about my part in getting Rachel to drop the suit back when it happened, he thanked me and now here he is all pissed off.

"You had no right."

"I had every right. You're my partner. I need you at the top of your game and you're not there when your access to Grace is threatened." He seems to actually be thinking about what I've said. "The Governor happened to agree with me. She was a firm believer in that family makes a person stronger."

"Danny may be able to forgive you, but I can't. You interfered with my protecting my daughter." Rachel appears to be building up a good head of steam but Danny steps in and defuses the situation.

"Tell me one time Grace has come to harm while in my care. Just one." He waves a finger in the air in front of her face.

A muscle in Rachel's jaw jumps when she grinds her teeth. "She hasn't. Yet."

"Rachel," Danny says softly. "She's at her safest with me and you know it."

"Plus she makes Danny happy. And he deserves to be happy. Wouldn't you agree?" I know I've backed her into a corner but frankly, I don't fucking care.

She meets my eyes and I know she's aware of what I did. If she says no, which she so desperately wants to if just to be ornery, she comes off as a bitch but if she says yes she basically takes away her ability to manipulate Danny with Grace. "Of course he does which is why I'm happy for the both of you." We give her twin looks of disbelief. "No, really. I am." When we continue to just stare at her she sighs. "Look, I know how difficult it is to find love once, much less twice, so I say grab on with both hands and don't let go. And you, Commander-" She points a finger in my face causing me to go cross-eyed. "-you have the ability to hurt not one but two people I love. So don't fuck it up."

Danny and I share a look, shocked at her use of the F-word. "Yes, ma'am," I mumble, just barely refraining from saluting her.

"That was uncalled for, Rachel," Danny says, frowning.

"No, it wasn't." Rachel steps closer to Danny and kisses his cheek. "I'll always love you and I refuse to let anyone hurt you."

I bite my cheek so hard my mouth is in danger of filling with blood to stop myself from saying, "Except you, huh?"

"Except for you, right?" But Danny has no qualms about mentioning it.

Rachel's face pinches in pain at the reminder. "I thought we'd agreed to never mention that again, Danny."

"You can't tell him he can't hurt me when you've done it. Twice." He shoves two fingers in her face.

"I'm sorry, okay? I was in a bad place last year."

"Just saying. If he's not allowed to hurt me, then neither are you."

"Fine," she huffs.

"So, you're not going to fight us?" I try to get the conversation back on track.

"No. You both seem really happy to be together and Grace loves you, Steve. Speaking of, have you told her or do I get that pleasure?"

"We told her this morning." Danny waves one hand between us.

"Let me guess; she caught you in bed."

"She caught Steve in bed. I'd already gotten up."

"How'd she take it?" Rachel asks with barely contained amusement.

"By squealing so loud my ears are still ringing," I say, sticking a finger in one ear and pretending to try and make the ringing stop.

Rachel chuckles just as Grace comes back, walking like she's headed to the gallows. Setting her bag down with a world weary sigh, she turns a pout on her mother. "Tomorrow's a day off from school. Can't I stay one more night, Mommy?"

"Sorry, Sweetheart. We have company coming." Grace sticks her lower lip out even further but it doesn't change Rachel's mind. "None of that, now. Say good-bye to Uncle Steve and Danno."

"Bye, Uncle Steve, Danno." Grace wraps one arm around each of our necks and squeezes.

"Miss you already," I murmur, kissing her temple. "Be good for your mother, 'kay?"

Danny and Grace share one last tight hug and then she and Rachel are out the door, leaving me alone with Danny. If I thought I was nervous last night it's nothing compared to now. Last night Grace's presence was a near tangible thing and now the lack of it is even more noticeable.

"So, um," I begin, then stop because I have no clue where I'm headed with that sentence.

"We need to talk." Danny finds the words I'm at a loss for.

"Yeah, we do." I have a feeling we don't want to talk about the same thing.

He sits down on the couch, props one elbow on the arm and his head on that hand and crosses one knee over the other. "So." He pauses, almost as if he thinks that'll get me to talk. He must have forgotten that he's the one who puts stock in words where I let my actions speak for themselves.

I spread my hands in supplication and shrug. "What? That whole mess had you all tied up in knots. You needed assistance. I provided that." He just continues to stare at me. "What? I refuse to feel guilty for making sure you didn't lose Grace. That little girl is your world, Danny. I could see how broken up you were over the possibility of never seeing her again. I think the whole island knows how much you love her. Hell, you moved over five thousand miles from your home just to be able to see her more than twice a year."

"You done?" His voice is deceptively soft. A closer look at his face shows he's not even slightly angry and that scares me. A lot.

"Yeah, I guess I am."

"Good." He pats the cushion next to him. "Now get that delectable ass over here."

Warily I abandon my post near the door, the better to bolt should the need arise, and sit down on the opposite end of the couch which puts him between me and the door. He sighs deeply. "I'm not going to hit you, Steven." He pats the cushion again. "You can come closer."

"This isn't a trick, is it?" I ask, inching my way closer while eyeing the door and trying to figure out if I can jump the coffee table and the other couch before he can move.

"No, it's not a trick." He smiles and pats the cushion again. "C'mon. Closer… closer…"

"Danny-" I have to stop to swallow, trying to get moisture back in my mouth. "People know I'm here." He laughs at that, still patting the cushion. "You're scaring me."

"No need to be afraid, Babe." His hand darts out and clamps on my wrist before I'm even aware I've moved into his reach. "Come. Here." He tugs hard enough to over balance me so that I'm leaning against him. "That's better," he purrs, putting the hand he's holding on his thigh real close to the bulge in his crotch.

"Why aren't you yelling at me?"

He sighs, his breath ghosting over my lips. "You're never happy, are you? You bitch when I yell, you bitch when I don't yell. Make up my mind, please."

My gaze drops to his lips. I want to taste them so badly. "It's just… that…" My thoughts are derailed by him licking his lips. "Bastard," I whisper, closing the distance and licking the smirk off his face.

"Why would I be yelling at you, Steven?" he asks when I turn my attention to discovering what his ear lobe tastes like.

"Because I interfered." I pull back to look into his eyes and am surprised to find myself straddling his lap. With a wicked grin, I grind down against the hardness trapped in his jeans.

He groans and drops his head onto the back of the couch. "Son of a bitch!" He thrusts up against me and I must say that I am thoroughly enjoying breaking him apart. "Had… had to… God!" his hands clench on my thighs. "Had to make Rachel think I didn't like you - will you fucking sit still?" He surges up and in a move that leaves me blinking up at him, has me flat on my back on the couch with him leaning over me. "Much better." He grinds his hips down against mine causing my eyes to roll back in my head. "As I was saying-" How in the fuck is he still able to string words together? "-had to make Rachel think I didn't approve of your butting in."

"But-" I can't fucking think with him licking at my Adam's apple.

"Are you seriously wanting to discuss this rightnow?" He punctuates the last two words with nips to my chin.

"N-no." I gasp at the feel of his warm palm on my belly.

"Thought not," he murmurs, turning his attention to removing my shirt.

I try to assist but only manage to get us both tangled up. He stuns me with a deep searching kiss, then quickly tugs the offending cloth off over my head and tosses it over his shoulder. He grins down at me and waggles his eyebrows and then leans down to attack my nipples.

He doesn't start slow, just immediately begins sucking and biting on the right one. I discover that there's a direct line from my nipples to my dick. My pants are quickly becoming even more uncomfortable as it hardens more with each passing second.

Spearing my fingers in his hair, I pull him back. He frowns down at me. "Gonna come if you keep that up." I pant before pulling him down so I can nip at his lower lip.

"We should probably slow down anyway." I whine low in my throat when he pulls back out of my arms. "Shush." He presses two fingers to my lips. "There's no rush." He stands up, readjusts himself and smoothes his hair back down. "I say we go grab something to eat."

I sit up slowly. "I say you're full of shit, Danny."

He tilts his head questioningly. "How so?"

"You can't do this-" I wave a hand between us. "-to me! I have needs, damnit!"

He chuckles and tosses me my shirt. "So do I and I used that line on the first girl I convinced to have sex with me. It's not gonna work on me, Babe. I have this idea in my head and I'm not gonna be swayed from it."

"What's that even mean?" I tug my shirt on with just barely concealed anger and surge to my feet not sure if I want to have this argument now or not.

He steps in close, getting in my personal space. "It means that I want to take this slow. You're always rushing head first into things without thinking. I just want to make sure you're completely with me when we get there." He rests his hands on my hips. "Hey." He ducks his head to make eye contact since I have my head bowed. "You know how much I want you. I refuse to fuck this up by going too fast. Have patience, Babe. Okay?"

I look up at him through my lashes. "No," I say petulantly making him chuckle. "Do I get a say?"

"Of course. But keep in mind, I've done this before. I know that it really shouldn't be rushed."

He has a point. But damned if I'll admit he's right. "I've wanted you for a year and a half, Danny."

"I know, Babe. Me, too. Did you rush into sex with your first girlfriend?"

"No, we'd been dating for almost a year." I shuffle my feet.

"Exactly. But I won't make you wait that long, promise."

"This is different, Danny. We're adults. We know what the emotional consequences are going in."

He steps back and I cross my arms over my chest so I can fist my hands in my sleeves to keep from reaching out and pulling him back. "If you're only here for the sex, you can leave now. I'll think of something to tell Grace and make sure she knows it was me, not you."

Fuck! This is not going according to plan. Planting my feet, lest I give into temptation and force myself on him, I say, "I'm not here just for the sex. If that's all I was looking for I could find it elsewhere." I swallow thickly when I realize I'm going to have to share the epiphany I had a few days ago. "I love you, Danny. I want to build a life with you. And Grace. And one of our own if you want." As soon as the word 'love' leaves my lips he gets this scared look on his face. "It's what I came here last night to tell you. But I can see it's too much too soon. So I'll go. You can tell Grace whatever you want."

I don't get three steps before he's plastered himself to my front. "If you walk out that door, you're a bigger fool than I thought." I can't speak so I just shake my head. I can feel tears pricking my eyes but I refuse to let him see me cry. "You surprised me, is all." He cups one cheek on the palm of his hand. To my horror a tear slips from that eye and catches on his thumb. "I love you, too, ya big goof. I just didn't realize we were there yet."

My eyes slide closed in relief. He loves me. I didn't fuck up the best thing to ever happen to me. "Then why go slow? I want you, you want me. Whatcha waiting for?"

"Something special," he whispers against my lips. "The wait makes it better, don'tcha think?"

"Not when I've got the worst case of blue balls since BUD/s training."

His grin can only be described as pure evil. "If you promise to not push for a home run, I'll show you just what my mouth is good for, besides talking."

"I think I can do that."

"Yeah?" I nod. "Okay. You want to grab dinner first?" The growling of his stomach answers that question.

I pull him closer when he goes to step away. "How about we order in? Pizza? I'll agree to no pineapple on it at all."

"Sure. Order away." With a kiss to my chin, he slips from my arms. "This is your treat, right? I mean since I got breakfast."

"Yeah, sure." I fish my phone out of my pocket and dial the number of our favorite pizza place, ordering our usual, minus the pineapple. "It'll be here in about thirty," I say, walking up behind him in the kitchen where he's getting plates. I slip my arms around his waist and nuzzle his neck. "Any ideas what we can do until then?"

"I think I can come up with something." He turns in my arms and goes up on his toes so he can seal his mouth to mine.

Sliding my hands down over the curve of his ass, I lift him just enough to align our denim covered erections. He takes it a step further and wraps his arms around my neck to give him the leverage needed to pull himself up enough to wrap his legs around my waist. For someone who gets incensed about being portrayed as 'the girl', he doesn't seem to mind taking on what could be called the girl's role in our make out session. But then again, it could just be that since he is smaller it makes sense for him to wrap himself around me in order to grind his hard cock against mine.

Danny may be smaller than me but that doesn't mean he's not heavy. The man is mostly muscle after all. It quickly becomes apparent that I won't be able to stand here and hold him while making out so I stumble back to the living room where I collapse on one of the couches on top of him.

Our hands seem to have a mind of their own and we let them explore while we share lazy, and not so lazy, kisses. When I slip one hand under his shirt and begin sliding it up his torso he breaks the kiss to laugh. "Ticklish?"

"Not at all. You're acting like you're looking for a pair of tits. Hate to disappoint but my pecs aren't that big."

"Not looking for girl parts, Danny." I nip his chin relishing the gasp he gives at the feel of my teeth. "I seem to have a thing for your chest hair."

"Oh, well, then here." He whips his shirt off and stretches his arms over his head. "Be my guest."

I place my right hand low on his belly; my fingers spread wide and slowly move up his body, fascinated by the contrast of my tanned hand against his paler skin. The hair on his chest is softer than I would have expected and it tickles my palm. Curling my fingers, I comb the fine strands, tugging slightly. His chest is heaving and a glance up shows his pupils blown wide with passion once again and his lower lip caught between his teeth.

"You like that?" He nods. "How about this, then?" I dip my head and tease his left nipple with my teeth. His sharply indrawn breath and the fact that he arches up toward my mouth tell me he likes that too.

I kiss my way across his chest to his other nipple but before I can get there a knock sounds at the door. "Pizza's here!" I vault over the back of the couch and throw open the door. "Hey!" I greet our usual delivery guy, Terry. "Howzit?"

"Good. You?"

"Couldn't be better." I'm sure he's thinking I've lost my mind with the way I'm smiling at him. "How much?"

"Eighteen fifty. Hey isn't this D's new place?"

"Yes." Danny appears at my elbow to take the pizza and salads from Terry so he can take my money.

"Nice digs, D." Terry gives Danny a thumbs up before throwing a Shaka. Danny just rolls his eyes and walks away mumbling under his breath. I don't need to hear the words to know he's griping about 'surfer culture'.

Terry and I share a grin. I hand him a twenty. "Keep the change."

"Mahalo, Brah. Enjoy!" He gives me a two fingered salute before turning and jogging back to his truck.

We decide to eat the pizza straight out of the box and the salads go in the fridge for later. Danny and I have never really had issues with each other's personal space and now that we've decided to become more than friends we can't seem to keep our hands off each other. It makes eating pizza… interesting.

Finally the last bite's gone and we've finished our beers. Danny may be messy most times but for some reason he decides to clean up right away tonight. He glances at me when he bends to pick up the empty pizza box. "You got some sauce," he says, wiping at the corner of his mouth with one finger. "Here, let me." He steps over the coffee table and climbs into my lap so he can lick the sauce into my mouth. I never thought I'd like the feel of stubble catching against mine but I find myself craving the scratch of his against my face as we kiss.

He's grinding his hips against mine and making these little noises deep in his throat that are going straight to my dick. I slide my hands under his shirt and dig my fingers into the muscle on either side of his spine, marveling at the feel of them moving as he shifts in my lap. I haven't made out like this since I was a teenager and I had forgotten just how hot it can be to have another person squirming in my lap. We've mapped each other's mouths enough to know the other's like our own as well as learned the taste of each other's skin. My favorite is the patch of skin behind his left ear. Of course the fact that my nibbling on that spot makes his hips jerk and his breath catch in the back of his throat may have something to do with it.

I freely admit I whine low in my throat when he climbs from my lap. He hushes me and tugs on my hand until I stand up. As soon as I'm upright, he tucks two fingers in my belt loops and uses them to get me to follow him to the bedroom. It takes a few seconds for my brain to catch up, lack of blood and all that, but once it does, I don't even try to stop the leer I know is on my face.

He returns my leer with one of his own before turning around so he can open the door. This has the unwelcome benefit of him letting go of my belt loops and I don't like it so I crowd him against the door while he fumbles with the knob.

"Need help with that, Danno?" I ask, groping him.

He moans, presses his erection into my palm and drops his head back onto my shoulder. "That's not the door knob, Steven."

"Maybe not, but it is a 'knob'." He groans at my pun. "And you do seem to need help with it."

"You're such a pervert, McGarrett."

"Yeah, but you love me anyway. You said so."

"Must have been temporarily insane." I know he's not serious but his words still hurt deep down where the ignored teenager still lives. Finally he gets the door open and we stumble through it.

Now that the time is finally here, I find myself more nervous than the first time I ever had sex. Danny seems to sense my nervousness because he turns in my arms and kisses me until I relax against him and return his kiss with renewed passion.

Breaking the kiss, he pulls back just enough to look into my eyes and cups my face in his hands. "Remember, McGarrett, we're going slow. We can stop anytime you want. Okay?" I nod and lean forward to press my lips to his only to have him pull back. "You have to actually say the words so I know you're here with me."

I blink at him. Where the fuck does he think I am, if not right here with him? And then I realize what he means. He wants to make sure I'm making an informed decision; that I know what I'm consenting to. That I'm not just letting my little brain override my bigger brain. "Okay, Danny. We'll go slow and if I need to stop for any reason, I'll tell you." I slide my hands down to cup his ass. "Can we get back to the making out, now?"

He chuckles and pulls his shirt off over his head. "Yeah, we can get back to the making out, now."

My dick twitches in my pants at the prospect of finally being naked with him. But my body refuses to obey my command to disrobe, intent on watching him. I've seen him naked, showers at work, but never aroused and even though I had my hand on his cock, I didn't look, couldn't tear my gaze away from his. So, I stand there and watch as article of clothing after article of clothing is removed, revealing more and more of his delectable body to my hungry gaze.

Only once he's completely naked does he seem to realize I'm still dressed. "Need some assistance, Babe?" He doesn't wait for my answer, just steps closer and slips his hands under the hem of my shirt. Slowly moving his hands up my torso in a sensual caress, he allows my shirt to catch on his wrists. When he reaches my arm pits, he slides his hands around my back and up my neck, my shirt bunched in his hands. I duck my head and raise my arms so he can pull my shirt off.

After tossing it over his shoulder with no care for where it lands, he steps close again and begins working on my belt and fly. He keeps me distracted with deep kisses designed to buckle my knees and they do. Several times I have to force myself to stand upright again while he's slowly undoing my buckle and fly before even more slowly pushing my pants down my legs. When he gets to my feet he helps me step out of my jeans and it's then that I realize that he didn't remove my boxer briefs.

When he doesn't reach up to remove them right away, I say, "Hey, D? This'll go so much better without these" and wave my hand in front of my crotch to indicate my shorts.

He looks up at me and I'm almost done for right then and there. I've had plenty of women look at me like that but never anyone like Daniel Williams. One brow climbs his forehead. "What part of 'slow' is tripping you up?" I roll my eyes and begin to take matter into my own hands by slipping my thumbs under the waistband only to have him stop me. "Patience, Babe. Really, there's no rush here."

"Says you. I haven't been laid in months."

"Oh, poor baby." His voice is dripping with sarcasm. "It's been longer than Cath's last visit for me."

"I didn't-" I begin to object but he talks over me.

"Please." He gets to his feet, once again pressing his body against mine. "You get all stupid when you've had sex. So it's a good thing tomorrow's a day off."

"I do not-!" I really want to argue his statement but his hand has found its way into my shorts and he's stroking my cock with his fingertips. "Danny…" I seem to have lost the ability to talk.

"See?" Gloating and smug is not a good look for him. "Stupid."

"Can we…just…please?"

"Sure." He removes his hand and I swear the wail that follows did not come from me. "Just as soon as you finish that sentence."

"You…mean…" I decide my method is better than his and yank my shorts down and off before putting my shoulder to his belly and lifting so that I can carry him to the bed where I toss him down before covering his body with mine. Now it's my turn to look smug and his to be left sputtering.

"You cannot…!" he manages to spit out, hitting me on the chest with the side of one fist.

"Oh, but I just did, Babe." I swoop down and seal my mouth to his, effectively stopping the flow of any more words.

The kiss quickly turns messy as we fight for dominance. Wrapping his legs around my waist and his arms around my shoulders, he rolls us so that he's on top.

I freely admit I love women. I love everything about them from the way they smell to their soft curves and plump breasts. But, as I'm currently finding out, I also love having a hard angular, muscular body pressing me into the mattress. Now I know why every woman I've ever taken to bed preferred it when I stretched out completely on top of them.

Cupping his ass in both hands, I squeeze while pressing my erection up against his. We both moan at the feel of all that skin against more skin.

Danny slowly begins to kiss his way down my body forcing me to let go of that luscious ass of his. But I forget all about it when he rolls my right nipple between his teeth. I shove my fingers into his hair to make sure he doesn't try and give up his prize too soon. Eventually, though, he does kiss his way across my chest to my other nipple, giving it the same treatment.

With stinging nips he makes his way further down my torso, stopping to once again molest my navel. With a tug to his hair I stop him before he can reach what I'm sure is his ultimate goal: my cock.

He licks a stripe up my belly while eyeing me questioningly. "Condom." The word comes out rougher than usual and he grins at the knowledge that he has wrecked me so much that my voice is gravely. "Condom," I repeat the word, raising both brows.

Finally, he seems to get it. "You want me to put a condom on you before I blow you?" I nod and he sits back on his heels. "Why?"

"Less mess. More sanitary." Surely he knows this.

"You make every one of your partners use a condom?"

"Yeah. Cath even had a dental dam for me. Although I hardly ever used it."

"So let me get this straight-" He tilts his head to the side. "You've never had sex, not even once, without a condom?"

"Yeah. Why're you finding that difficult to believe?"

"Because I've only used a condom when having actual intercourse. Hand jobs and blowjobs are done sans condom. In fact, the night we 'accidentally'-" He uses air quotes. "-made Grace was the first time I've had sex without one. Learned the hard way that it really does only take once."

"Meanwhile, back in Hornyland, my erection's waning. Think we can get back to third base sometime this year?"

"You've got a one track mind."

"And you have a motor mouth that just won't stop."

"Fine." He stretches across me to the bedside table. "You're just damn lucky I have flavored condoms." I chuckle and cop a feel of his ass while he's rummaging in the drawer. "Stop." He slaps my hand. I pout even though he can't see it. "We're finishing that conversation when we're done here, just so ya know."

"Yes, Dear," I say, sarcasm heavy in my tone.

"I swear, Your Honor, I must have been temporarily insane," he mutters and the abandoned teenager deep inside cringes at the perceived confirmation that he's not lovable.

Having located the box, finally, he returns to his position on my thighs. "Let's see…" He dumps the box out on my chest. "What flavor…?" He tucks one hand under the opposite armpit and taps his chin with one finger from the other hand.

My eyes are nearly crossed with the need to move this along so I pick up a packet at random and shove it into his hand. "This one."

"And what if I'm not in the mood for-" He looks at the wrapper. "-cherry flavored Steve?"

"Oh, my God, Daniel!" I thump both fists and one heel down on the mattress.

His eyes crinkle in the corners like he's smiling, but the corners of his mouth don't move, and his eyes light up with mirth. "Very well." Tearing the packet open, he pulls the latex sheath out and pops it in his mouth.

My eyes widen and I open my mouth to remind him it's a rubber not gum, when he knees my legs apart so he can kneel between them. I swear to God, if he's not about to do what I think he's about to do, I won't be held responsible for my actions. Luckily for him, he is.

With an evil grin around the rubber in his mouth, he slowly lowers his head and takes my erection in his mouth. In the twenty plus years I've been receiving blowjobs, I've never had anyone put a condom on with their mouth. I had never thought about buying flavored condoms, only flavored lube.

Cath doesn't go down on me much, but then again, I don't go down on her much either. Of course, we don't usually have the time. Although I will occasionally surprise her, I have this trick with my tongue that one of my first girlfriends taught me.

It's been so long since my dick's been in anyone's mouth that I almost come the instant his tongue touches the underside of my cock while sliding the condom on.

I reach up and grab the headboard to keep myself from grabbing his head and forcing him to take more of my length but I can't help lifting my hips in a silent plea for him to go faster. He responds by placing one arm across my lower abdomen and pressing down until I still. I get the message: stay still and he'll get where I want him. In his own time.

Several seconds after he first began, his nose touches my pubic hair and I can feel him push the condom the rest of the way down with his lips. Then he's lifting up, his tongue flicking against the vein that's throbbing in time with my racing heart.

When he reaches the head, he makes eye contact with me and his tongue darts out to touch the very tip and I know that if I hadn't insisted on the condom, he would have licked up a bead of pre-come.

"D…" I have no idea what to say, he already knows this is a first for me.

He seems to sense that my nerves have returned because he leans up and presses his lips to mine in a chaste kiss. "Do you need to stop?" I shake my head. I'm sure if he was to stop now, I'd be the first man to ever die from blue balls. "I'll make this one quick, then. Just take the edge off. Okay?"

I nod my head and he dips his to once again take my cock in his mouth. I try to pay attention to what he does, thinking it'll be what he likes but he's too good. I find I can't concentrate on what he's doing while he's doing his level best to suck my brain out through my dick. Before I really want, I'm crying out and spilling into the condom, my vision whiting out at the edges.

It is one of the best orgasms of my life. Second only to the first one Cath got out me, also by sucking my cock, incidentally enough.

When I come back into awareness it's to him licking at my balls and petting my thighs. "Damn," I say, reaching out with one hand and running my fingers through his hair. "Here,-" I tug a bit on the hair in my hand. "-let me."

He kisses my belly. "Thanks but I'm good." I'm confused for a minute until I manage to get a hand between us and feel the sticky evidence of his own orgasm.

"Yeah, you are." We share a chuckle at my lame joke.

He removes the condom and disposes of it before rolling from the bed and heading to the bathroom to clean himself up. "So. We can eat our salads for the energy they provide, then take a nap to rest up for round two. Or we can just take a nap." He shrugs one shoulder and climbs back onto the bed, lying down on his side facing me with his head propped up on one hand.

I open my mouth to suggest having the salads but a huge yawn takes me unawares. "I guess we should take a nap. We can eat after and then go for round two."

"Ah, an option I didn't think of." He pulls the sheet up over us and lies back down on his side with one leg and arm thrown over me. "Nap it is then."

I roll over to my side, facing him and throw my arm over his waist. Kissing the tip of his nose I close my eyes and allow sleep to pull me under.

When we wake from our nap, we eat our salads and head back to bed where we make out some more. As much as I want to return the favor and suck his dick, I find I just can't work up the nerve. Fortunately, he doesn't seem to mind. He doesn't once ask or even hint that he'd like me to.

Over the next several weeks, I slowly work up my nerve, though, and soon I'm showing him that trick with my tongue and, while I'm not nearly as elegant as he is, I do manage to get him off with very little mess in a relatively short amount of time.

I finally nail Danny down on when he thinks we'll take that final step and consummate our relationship. I know he just threw out the first holiday he could think of, but I plan on holding him to it.

Valentine's Day dawns clear and bright and beautiful. I find myself humming under my breath all day, much to the amusement of both Chin and Kono. The only one not present to witness my embarrassing display of elation is Danny due to him being in court all day for a case from his time with the HPD. From before us.

I can't help how good I feel because this is the first Valentine's Day I've had a significant other since before my mom died and definitely the first time I've been with anyone who's made me think of the future instead of just the here and now. And the fact that it's Danny has me smiling even bigger.

Because Danny had to be in court so early this morning we didn't spend the night together last night, a first since New Year's. But we've spoken several times already today and I reminded him that he told me that tonight would be The Night. Yes, with capital letters and quite possibly sparkly hearts.

I find myself grateful to be having a slow day. Wouldn't do to catch a case and have to postpone what I'm positive will be the most erotic night of my life. Finally at three o'clock, I've grown weary of pretending to be working and decide to call it a day.

Kono whoops like a teenager and dashes off, muttering something about catching some surf action. Chin just smiles that smile that usually means I should be really glad I can't read his mind and heads off, presumably to see if he can kidnap Malia from the hospital.

I shoot the Governor an email explaining that I'm shutting the office early, and why, and then text Danny the same, adding that I can't wait to see him tonight.

Whistling the same tune from earlier, I turn off the lights and lock the door before heading to my truck and pointing it in the direction of home. Danny and I decided that I'd cook, something more than steak of course, and then we'd spend the night at my place. Nicer bed, Danny said. Although I really can't tell the difference.

I stop at the entrance to the drive in order to grab the mail and then continue up the drive to the house, my mind already on the meal I'm going to cook as well as contemplating finally having sex with Danny.

I dance my way into the house, tossing the mail on the coffee table to be dealt with later before jogging up the stairs to change out of what I consider my work clothes and into some jeans and a tee shirt.

Before stepping into the shower, I change the sheets, despite having changed them just yesterday morning, taking more care than I have since I last lived on a base. Everything has to be just so for tonight.

As the afternoon stretches on, I can feel the nervous energy building. The same nervous energy I feel before a mission. Soon Danny will be right where I've wanted him for what feels like forever, naked, in my bed and with either my dick in his ass or his dick in mine. I'd rather top for my first time but I won't press the issue, not with Danny.

Showered, dressed and with fresh sheets on the bed, I make sure Danny's present is in my pocket and then head back downstairs, my bare feet slapping against the hard wood treads of the stairs.

I stop at the stereo on my way through the living room to the kitchen to put on some 'romantic' music. Flipping through my CDs I have to wonder how my tastes turned from that of a thirty-something male to that of a nine year old girl. I have what appears to be every one of Kelly Clarkson's CDs, both of Adele's, some Nora Jones, Rob Thomas and some people I've never heard of. I declare it official: my house is now more Gracie's than mine. And that's just fine by me.

I put a different artist in each of the slots of the changer and set it to random, then continue on to the kitchen where I begin putting dinner together.

The chicken breasts have been marinating all day and they smell wonderful as I pull them from the fridge and place them on the baking sheet under the broiler. Then I turn my attention to putting a salad together with various greens, sliced carrots, radishes and cucumbers. After tossing it, I put the large wooden bowl back in the fridge, the croutons and dressing will be added right before I put it on the table. A text from Danny tells me I can turn my attention to making the risotto as he'll be home about the time it's done cooking.

Once the risotto is simmering, I head to the dining room to set the table with my mother's good table cloth, her silver candlesticks and the good china, silverware and crystal glasses. I even open a bottle of chardonnay, but with several bottles of beer in the fridge in case Danny prefers that. I step back to admire my handiwork and suddenly remember the mail. A quick check on the risotto and chicken before I go through to the living room to pick the mail up off the coffee table.

"Bill, junk, bill, junk, bill-" I toss the envelopes into separate piles. "Jun-" My breath catches in my throat at the return address on the next envelope.

Chapter Text

I swallow thickly, I know what the paper inside will say and desperately wish I was wrong. With trembling fingers, I open the flap and pull out the single sheet of expensive paper stock.

The words on the page blur but not before they're burned into my mind. I want - badly - to crumple the paper, pretend I never saw it, but I can't so much as wrinkle it. It doesn't belong to me, even though it has my name on it, and damaging it in any way beyond the creases to make it fit in the envelope would be destruction of property. Governmental property.

Since I can't crumple the paper in my hand, I allow my body to fall to the floor. My knees hit the hard wood so hard my teeth rattle in my skull. This can't be real. Surely this is some kind of a joke. It's not possible that this is happening now. Not when Danny and I are almost there.

An eternity passes before I hear Danny's car in the drive. I think about pulling myself together before he comes in but I can't seem to move.

"Hey, Babe?" he calls before he even has the door all the way open. "What's burning? I can smell it out here."

Burning? The word circles my brain and then it clicks. Fuck! Dinner! Even with the spike of panic that flares in my head my body refuses to obey my command. But not so my mouth. Although the only thing that comes out is "…chicken…"

"Chicken." His voice is deadpan but I hear him make his way to the kitchen so maybe he understood me.

The smell of burnt chicken intensifies and I know he's trying to save it from the oven, then muffled curses that I can't tell are because I burned dinner or because he burned himself.

I lose track of time again, my mind still refusing to believe the paper in my hand. "Steve." Danny's voice followed by the scent that is all him: coffee and malasadas and something that has to be Grace's, pull me back from the abyss of my mind.

"Hm?" I hum, turning to gaze up at him.

"This isn't like you." He squats down, grunting at the pop from his knee and places one hand on my forearm. "What's wrong?"

I swallow and open my mouth to speak but nothing comes out. I'm afraid if I try any harder, I'll either end up screaming or crying, or both. So I just shake my head, my gaze going back to that damn paper. How can such innocent words cause such destruction?

"What…" He reaches for the paper and my training kicks in. I pull it out of his reach and snap, "Confidential". He snorts. "Don't think so, Babe." He gently tugs the sheet from my grasp.

"Lieutenant Commander Steven Jedi – your middle name's Jedi?" I glare at him. "Right, not the point." He clears his throat and quickly scans the page. "Camp Pendleton?"

"It's in Cal-" I begin only to have him interrupt me with, "I know where it is!"

He sits down on his butt and runs one hand through his hair. "Why there? I mean, surely you don't perform missions on US soil. Right?"

"There's a SEAL team stationed there. I was even stationed there for a time."

"Not what I asked, Steven." He huffs out a breath.

"Pendleton's just a stop. That's where I'll get my orders – proper orders – and meet up with the rest of my team."

"This isn't fair," he says, echoing my thoughts from earlier.

"I know."

"Two weeks, Steve." I can hear the tears he refuses to shed.

"I know, Danny." I want so much to wrap my arms around him but he's giving off a 'don't touch' vibe.

"What happens now?"

I'm still stunned sitting there on my knees next to the coffee table, until he starts to crumple the paper in his fist. "No!" I shout, diving at him and ripping the paper from his hands.

"What? You keep a scrapbook or something?"

I lay the paper on the table to inspect it for wrinkles. "No. It's not mine."

"Not yours." There's that deadpan tone again as if he's not sure if what he just said is supposed to be a question or not. "Babe, how can it not be yours when it has your name on it?"

I counter with, "It doesn't have my name on it" then continue with, "It's addressed to me" when he just blinks at me.

"Still not following. The USPS says any piece of mail belongs to the person it's addressed to."

"Maybe for the average citizen. Or even the average member of the military. But my missions are always classified."

"How highly classified?"

"The President doesn't even have clearance for most of my missions."

"Wh-?" He starts, then shakes his head and mutters, "Plausible deniability."

A quick grin flashes across my face. "Yeah. So if a letter addressed to me, or the unknown number of other men just like me, has The Seal of the Navy on it, it doesn't belong to me."

"I guess I'm still not following."

"Does it really matter right now?" I'm slowly coming out of my shock and it's making me snappish.

"I suppose not," he snaps back, hurt feelings making his tone extra heavy.

I close my eyes and blow out a breath through my nose. "I'm sorry for snapping, Danny, really I am." I open my eyes and look at him, allowing everything I'm feeling to show in my eyes. "I'm just really angry right now. Angry at the terrorists for forcing the military to have to reactivate me. Angry at myself for not making my move sooner. Angry for thinking about retirement. I'm just fucking angry, okay?"

"Yeah, I get it. I'm angry too. Mostly at me for not speaking up sooner. But we can still act on our plans for the night, right? I mean, you're not expected to report for two weeks."

I shake my head. "I refuse to go off with that particular memory. Not that I don't want to make love with you, I just don't want my having to go off to be hanging over us when we do."

He snorts and gets up off the floor with a groan in order to pace the living room. "Do I get a say?"

One corner of my mouth twitches up in a humorless smile. "Sure. But we're still doing it my way."

He spins on his heel to glare at me. "That's not what I said."

I rise to my feet to face him better. "But that's what it boiled down to. If you hadn't been so set on not rushing…" With a shrug I leave the sentence unfinished.

Suddenly he rushes at me and beats his fists on my chest. "It isn't supposed to be like this!"

"I know, D, I know." I gently take his wrists in my hands and hold him still.

"Not now, Steve. Not now." A sob escapes and that seems to be his undoing. Before I know it I have an armful of weeping Jersey cop.

"Shush, Danny. It'll be okay."

"You…promise?" He hiccups and sniffles.

"Of course," I say even though I know I can't - shouldn't.

"So what now?" He still has his face buried in my neck, his arms wrapped tight around my shoulders.

I lay my cheek on his head and thread the fingers of one hand into the hair at the nape of his neck, the other tight around his waist. "Now, I put my affairs in order. Make sure my will's up to date."

"But you just said-" he begins but I cut him off. "I know, but it's SOP for any deployment."

He releases a hitching breath. "It still sounds morbid."

"Maybe a little."

"Maybe a little he says," Danny mutters into my chest. "I swear to God, Steven-" He doesn't finish that sentence. Doesn't need to. I feel the same.

"I know, D. The timing on this sucks rocks."

"And you wouldn't be the man I love if you objected to your orders or even change your mind on, ya know." His head snaps up so fast he almost clocks me on the chin. "Sorry," he mumbles when he realizes he almost hit me. His eyes search mine. "Can you?"

"Can I, what?"

"Object to your orders. Respectfully decline or whatever." He waves his hands in the air. "I mean, you're pretty important around here."

"And yet my first obligation is to the US Navy."

"Well, damn." He pulls out of my arms to resume pacing. "How much trouble would you get into?"

"Court martial with jail time; Leavenworth this time."

"We can't have that."

"No, we can't. Not to mention what seeing me go to jail would do to Gracie; especially since she wasn't here the first time."

"For which I will be eternally grateful." He walks back to where I'm still standing and loops his arms loosely around my neck.

"Same." I wrap my arms around his waist again, this time resting my hands on the swell of his ass. "So not how I was planning on spending our first Valentine's Day."

"I know." He rises up on his toes and sucks my upper lip into his mouth.

The closer we've gotten to today, the more frantic our kisses have been, but right now he's back to the lazy exploratory type. The ones that lead to a slow build of passion and allow it to burn slower but no less hot.

Sliding both hands down, I cup his ass and use it to pull him closer. His arms tighten and he shoves the fingers of one hand into the hair at the back of my head. The slow almost lazy kiss quickly turns hot and heavy.

Eventually we need to breathe but we only pull back enough to suck in lungfuls of air, neither wanting to stop touching. The next two weeks are going to suck so fucking much.

I don't realize he's walking us toward the stairs until I stub my toe on one of the treads. He hisses in sympathy. "Watch out for the stairs," he says completely straight faced.

"Yeah, thanks."

"You're welcome." Now he's just messing with me so in retaliation, I toss him over my shoulder and jog up the stairs and into my bedroom where I flop down on the bed on top of him, taking care to not land with my entire weight on him.

He punches me on the shoulder. "What have I told you about that?"

"That you like it and I should do it every day." His outraged squeak is silenced by my kiss.

He holds me in place by my ears so he can suck on my tongue for a few seconds, then pushes me back. "God, I hate you right now."

"Yeah, I can feel how much you hate me." I grind down against his erection.

He pushes me back a little. "What the hell is that?"

Both brows climb my forehead. "You really have to ask?"

He rolls his eyes. "No, you idiot. That!" He flicks one finger against the box in my pocket.

"Oh, that. That's your present." I lean back down to resume kissing him but his insistent shoving on my shoulders gets me to pull back again. "What?"

"Really? You're gonna announce you got me something and then promptly go right back to sucking my face?"

"You want your present?" He shoves until I sit back on my heels between his legs. He pushes himself into a sitting position, propped up on the pillows against the headboard and makes a 'gimme' motion with his hands. Rolling my eyes, I chuckle and dig the little box out of my pocket. "Here. I didn't really know what to get you."

He tugs on the ribbon to untie it before peeling the paper off the box. The look he throws my way upon seeing that the box is the size of a ring box would be funny if I wasn't so nervous about this. "Please tell me you're not giving in to the cliché of proposing on Valentine's Day."

I raise one eyebrow. "Please. Even I'm not that cheesy."

With a nod that clearly says 'Good', he opens the box and his jaw drops when he gets his first glimpse of what's inside. "How-?" He clears his throat and tries again. "How'd you know?"

I grin at him. I had been hoping for this reaction but I'm afraid my explanation will put a damper on the evening's activities. "I saw you looking at them the other day when you emptied your pockets on the dresser." I nod my head in the direction of said dresser where a pile of things that are usually in my pockets resides with a twin to the object in the box on top.

He slowly lifts the chain out first followed by a pair of dog tags that bear my name, rank, serial number, blood type and religious preference. As he slips the chain over his head something primal unfurls deep in my gut at the knowledge that he's wearing my tags. That there is now tangible proof that he belongs to me. This must be how he felt when he put his engagement ring on Rachel's finger.

"Did you have to lie and say you lost yours in order to get these?"

"No, they issue two sets nowadays. I think they know the men give one to their wives or girlfriends."

"So you've had these since basic?"

I shake my head. "Every time you're promoted you get new tags. I've only had these a few years."

He holds my tags in one hand and runs one finger over the raised lettering of my name. "I think the next two weeks are going to suck so fucking much."

"Yeah, they are. And the next however long I'm gone, too." He nods, silent tears once more slipping down his cheeks. "We need to figure out how to tell Grace."

"Oh, God!" The pain on his face is almost more than I can bear. How can I concentrate on my mission with that expression burned into my mind? "She won't take this well at all."

"Oh, I don't know." I shrug. "When we were at the toy store she told a rude woman that I was about to be deployed."

"And you let her get away with lying to an adult?" He seems shocked that I'd even consider not punishing her for lying.

"The woman was trying to take her toy from her."

"Did Grace have it first?" Crap! I knew he'd ask that.

Not wanting Grace to get into trouble after the fact, it did happen over a month ago after all, I don't feel the least bit guilty for lying. "Yep. As Grace was pulling it off the shelf, this woman swooped down and snatched it from her hands."

"So Grace said you were being deployed?" I can tell Danny still doesn't get just how much Hawaiians respect the military.

"Apparently your daughter gets just how important the military is to the people who live here. It got her the toy, didn't it?"

"But she still lied."

"I think at this point we can say she overstated when I was actually shipping out."

He rolls his eyes. "Now you're just splitting hairs."

I grin at him and lean in to press my lips to his. He responds like always, only this time there's a certain sadness to his kiss, in his touch and his eyes. "We don't have to. We can just lie here and talk." I have no idea why I suggested that. I want to kiss him all over, commit his taste and smell to memory so I can pull it out on the long cold lonely nights ahead.

He nods his head and scoots down on the bed to lay his head on the pillow. I stretch out on my side facing him. "Danny?" I cup his cheek in my hand, wiping away tears with my thumb. "You know that if it's within my power to do so, I will return to you, right?"

"Doesn't make saying good-bye any easier."

"I know." I press my lips to his, tasting his tears. "God I love you. I never knew I could love anyone as much as I love you and Grace."

He grabs a fistful of hair at the back of my head and presses his forehead to mine. "I swear to God, Steven, if you break my little girl's heart…" He doesn't need to finish that sentence. The last thing I want to do is hurt him and Gracie.

"You have to know that's the last thing I want to do. The thought of never seeing either of you again…" I don't need to say it aloud. We're both thinking it. It's the fucking pink elephant in the room.

"Shut up. Just shut your fucking mouth." His kiss is full of anger and regret. I know neither is directed at me, that most of it is directed at himself but that doesn't assuage my guilt any.

That anger filled kiss is the last one we share for the rest of the night. By unspoken mutual agreement we hold each other, keeping our hands firmly on each other's back to avoid temptation and talk about anything and nothing at all.

We tell stories we've both told and heard a dozen times in the almost two years we've known each other. I close my eyes and let his words wash over me, storing the sound of his accent, the inflection of certain words or phrases but mostly the feel of the deep rumble of his voice in his chest, away for when I need reminding of why I do what I do.

Eventually we fall asleep and when I wake we're still wrapped around each other, our legs tangled together and Danny's head tucked under my chin. I'm not normally someone who cuddles all night but knowing there's a chance I won't make it back has me clutching him like a lifeline.

Danny wakes slowly, as usual, and I feel him stiffen when he remembers what's going to happen in two weeks. "I know we've both said this a billion times but it bears repeating: this fucking sucks."

"I know, Ku`u Lei. But you had to know this was a possibility."

"I did. It's why I didn't want to fall in love with you."

"We should get going. I want to tell everyone now and get it over with."

"Yeah," he agrees but doesn't move from my arms. "I dread telling Grace."

"I do, too but we'll tell her together. She's a bright kid. She'll understand I have no choice."

"This is harder than when I told her Rachel and I were divorcing."

"C'mon." I pat his ass. "No time like the present."

With a heavy sigh, he rolls to sit on the side of the bed. "What time is it?"

"A little after nine." I roll off the other side of the bed and walk around the end to stand in front of where he's sitting.

His head snaps up at that. "We are seriously late."

"It's fine. Chin and Kono both know what we had planned. I was told in no uncertain terms that I had better not beat you in today."

"As if you've been going to work without me for the past month," he scoffs.

"I know." I take his elbow in my hand and pull him to his feet. "But I think Kono meant that we had better not be early birds today."

"Okay, okay." He pulls his arm from my grasp. "Let's go tell The Wonder Twins why we didn't fuck like rabbits last night. And then we can get Grace from school and tell her. Not that we were supposed to-" He breaks off when I can't contain my laughter any longer. "Ha, ha. So very glad I could amuse you."

"Aloha au ia 'oe, Danno."

"Just had to say it in Hawaiian, didn't you?" He rests his forehead on my chest. "I love you, too, ya big goof." He leans back so he can pull me down by my ears and give me an almost chaste kiss. "Miss you already."

"Yeah." I pull him closer and bury my nose in his hair, inhaling his scent.

"We could-" I don't let him finish. The temptation is too great as it is. "No, D. We can't. I explained it to you."

"Yeah." He heaves a deep sigh. "Doesn't mean I have to like it."

"Think how much more special it'll be when I return."

"I suppose." He kisses my chin then spins on his heel and shuts himself in the bathroom.

An hour later we pull into the parking lot of HQ. I park the Camaro into its usual spot and we sit there staring out the windshield for several long minutes after I turn off the engine.

"No time like the present," Danny says but making no move to get out of the car.

"Yeah," I mutter, opening my door and getting out before I lose my resolve.

Danny follows my lead and we enter the building and slowly make our way up the stairs to the office. Pushing through the doors I can't help but notice that things seem to still be quiet which is good because I don't think I'm going to be in the mood to actually do any work today.

"Hey, Boss! Didn't expect to see you two so soon today." Kono's exclamation brings Chin out of his office.

"Yeah. What're you doing here? Really thought you'd take the day."

"We, uh, we have something important to tell you," Danny says, running the fingers of one hand through his hair and leaning back against the smart table. Chin and Kono share a look and I can tell they think we're going to say that we've decided to not be a couple any longer.

"It's not what you're thinking," I hasten to reassure them. "We're still very much together." I walk over to lean against the table next to Danny, pressing my shoulder to his.

"O-kay," Kono says, once again sharing a look with Chin. "So what's got the two of you looking like someone just ran over your puppy?"

Danny leans into my shoulder, giving me the strength to open my mouth and say the words I never thought I'd ever say again. "I'm being deployed. I have to report to Camp Pendleton in two weeks."

Kono's gasp is drowned out by Chin's "What!?"

I nod my head. "I got the letter yesterday."

"Oh, Boss!" Kono throws herself into my arms, squeezing me tight. I endure her hug until Chin manages to peel her off. "How can they do this?"

I shrug one shoulder. "My guess would be that the mission requires my particular skill set or it has something to do with one of my old missions."

"But-" Kono starts to protest but Chin's hand on her arm, and him shaking his head, have her frowning at me, her lower lip trembling.

"Babe?" Danny bumps my shoulder to get my attention. "I'm gonna…" He points at his office when I give him my attention.

"Yeah, okay." I'm fairly sure I know what he's going to do and know I need to clear his idea with Denning. "I'm going to call the Governor and ask for permission to close the office for the day." Chin and Kono nod their understanding.

With a deep world weary sigh, I step into my office, closing the door behind me, and lower myself into my desk chair before picking up the receiver to my desk phone and hitting the speed dial for the Governor's office. When Jameson was Governor, she insisted my speed dial be routed to her direct line. Luckily for me Denning saw no reason to change that.

"Denning," he answers on the second ring.

"Governor, it's McGarrett."

"What can I do for you, Commander?" His tone is carefully neutral.

"Well, Sir, I'd like to close Five-oh for the day."

"Closing early two days in a row doesn't look good, Commander," he says, a note of censure in his voice.

"I understand, Governor, but today my team just isn't in the right frame of mind for mind-numbing paperwork."

"And why would that be?"

I take a deep breath and try to not imagine how Jameson would have reacted to my news. "Because I'm being deployed, Sir."

"Deployed?"

"Yes, Sir. I received my orders yesterday. I'm to report to Camp Pendleton in two weeks."

He clears his throat and when he speaks I can hear his grudging respect for me and my main career. "Then by all means, Commander. Just be advised that if a priority case comes in, I will be calling you and your team back in."

"Yes, Sir. Very good, Sir. Thank you."

"You're welcome. Do you know how long you'll be gone?"

"No, Sir. It could be anywhere from a few weeks to a year depending on the mission directive."

"Who are you leaving in charge?"

"Detective Williams. He's my partner and Chin already defers to him."

"Very well." We fall into an awkward silence and just as I'm about to break it, he says, "Oh, and by the way, Commander, take care over there and thank you for your service." He hangs up before I can even form a response.

"Was that Denning?" Danny's question startles me a little.

Replacing the receiver, I stand up. "Yeah. He's giving us the rest of the day off. But he warned that if a priority case comes up he will call us back."

"You tell him that's fine?" I just raise one brow and approach where he's standing just inside my office door. "Of course you did." He rolls his eyes.

"You call Rachel?"

"Yeah. She's given me permission to get Grace from school."

"What? Right now? What if she has a test or something?"

"Which is why I called Rachel. I don't really need her permission to get my daughter from school."

What he says makes sense. "Okay. So we take her to lunch and tell her then?"

"Pretty much SOP for the Williams family; giving bad news over a nice meal."

"Despite what I said last night, I don't think she'll take this very well." He nods his agreement and precedes me from my office and back into the bull pen where Chin and Kono are going through files on the computer table. "Chin, Kono, we're closing for the rest of the day. Danny and I need to tell Grace and I figure none of us is in any mood to do mind-numbing busy work."

"Oh, I hadn't even though about how Grace'll take the news." Kono's eyes fill with tears at the thought. "Poor Gracie. She loves you so much, Steve. This is going to be tough for us all, but especially for Grace."

I nod. "Denning said that if anything comes up he'll call us back in."

"I'll keep my phone handy," Chin says, throwing Kono a look that says she had better say something similar.

"I'll check mine after each wave. Promise." She holds one hand up like she's taking an oath. Kono's enthusiasm has me chuckling a little. It's times like this that I'm reminded just how young she really is.

With a pat to each of their shoulders, Danny and I exit the building and get in the Camaro again. The drive to Grace's school is done in silence, something that is extremely rare when my partner and I are in the car together.

"Just follow my lead, okay?" Danny says while we're walking up the steps to the school.

"Was planning on it."

"Good."

Danny seems to know his way around and I follow him to the front office where we're greeted by a grandmotherly type woman standing behind the counter. "Morning, Detective Williams." Either Danny comes here often or this woman makes it a point to know each parent on sight.

"Morning, Mrs. Adams. We need to pull Grace from class for the day, please."

Mrs. Adams' face falls. "Oh, no! Nothing serious, I hope?"

Danny shakes his head. "Nothing as dire as you're thinking, I'm sure." He waves me forward to stand next to him. "My partner just got orders that he's deploying and seeing as how Grace has a special relationship with him I thought it would be best to break the news gently and sooner rather than later."

She turns shrewd eyes on me. "You're Uncle Steve, aren't you?" she asks which tells me that she has a personal relationship with each student and that Grace talks about me. A lot.

I nod, even though I know she knows she's right. "Yes, ma'am."

"They're taking you away from protecting the islands?"

"For a little while, yes, ma'am."

"Someone in Washington needs to have their head examined. We need you here."

"And I'd much rather stay but until I retire, they can recall me at any time."

She rolls her eyes and flops one hand like she's shooing a fly. "Whatever." Turning to the desk behind her, she picks up the receiver for the phone and punches in a number. "Yes, Mrs. Howard, I need for you to give Grace Williams any homework assignments she'll need and send her to the office. Her father is pulling her for the day. Thank you." Replacing the handset in the cradle, she turns back to us. "If you'll just have a seat, she'll be right up."

"Thank you." Danny perches anxiously on the edge of a chair.

I find I can't sit still so I pace the office, looking at the class pictures. I can't help but smile when I locate Grace in three of them.

Before long the quiet is broken by Grace's soft voice. "Danno? What's wrong?"

"Everything's fine, Monkey." Danny gets up and hugs his daughter.

"Then why pull me for the day?" I can tell she hasn't noticed me in the far corner of the office.

"We have something to tell you." I say, making my presence known.

Grace looks from Danny to me and I can see her worry over what we'd need to tell her together warring with her desire to rush into my arms. "Uncle Steve?" Grace is picking up on our tension and I can see tears welling in her eyes.

"It's okay, Baby Girl. Danno and I just want to tell you something important and didn't think it should wait until you got out of school for the day."

"Okay." Despite agreeing, I'm sure she's not convinced that it's nothing to worry about. But she takes Danny's hand and allows him to lead her from the building and buckle her into the backseat of the Camaro. "Does Mommy know?"

"Yeah. I had to tell her first because I wanted to make sure you didn't have a test." Grace nods in understanding and then falls silent.

For the second time today, the car is completely silent as we drive through the city. After a few minutes, Danny begins directing me to the restaurant he wants to go to.

The pretty Hawaiian hostess seats us quickly, it's not quite lunchtime yet so the restaurant is almost empty. She throws an indulgent smile our way, I can tell she thinks that Grace is mine and Danny's and that we're out for a family lunch. And I'm more than inclined to let her.

After we give the waiter our drink orders, as well as ordering an appetizer since Danny and I haven't had anything to eat since lunch yesterday, Grace stacks her arms on top of the table and observes us with a look that's much older than her nine years.

"Okay, you two, out with it. Whatever it is, I can handle it."

It's obvious she thinks we're breaking up. Despite the graveness of the news, I can't help but chuckle softly. This earns me a stern glare that I know for a fact she got from her father. "Sorry, Baby Girl." I swallow my laughter. "Just to put your mind at ease, we are not breaking up."

She visibly relaxes and even releases a relieved breath. "Good. You had me worried."

Danny kicks me under the table and raises his brows when I frown at him. "Fine!" I mutter before turning back to Grace and taking a deep breath. "Grace, I, uh,-" I rub one hand along the back of my neck. "I have to go away for a little while."

Her eyes get huge and her lower lip trembles. "Go where? For how long?"

I place my hand over hers. "I'm being deployed and I have no idea how long I'll be gone."

"Deployed?" Big fat tears hover on her lower lids before falling down her cheeks. "Is this because I lied to that lady?"

"No, Monkey," Danny hastens to reassure her. "While you should be punished for that, it has nothing to do with this."

"Then why?" Her soft wail cuts me to the core. Oh, how I wish I could give her an answer. But I don't have one for myself, much less her and Danny.

"Steve's a soldier, Honey. It's the nature of his job that he'll be sent to fight from time to time."

"But we need him here!"

I have to duck my head so she doesn't see my smile and misinterpret it. "Yes, Hawai'i does need me, but so does the rest of the country. My first allegiance is to the US Navy. You know that word, allegiance?"

She nods. "It means loyalty. Like to family."

"Actually," Danny chimes in. "In this instance and when saying The Pledge, it means loyalty to the United States. Steve has pledged his allegiance to the Navy and the SEALs. They have to come first."

"For now," I say, drawing a startled look from him.

"Really?"

I nod. "I told you, I've been thinking of retirement pretty seriously of late. Only reason I haven't retired yet is I want my twenty first. Better benefits."

"How much longer."

"I joined right from high school; military school'll do that to a person, so another three years, come June."

"Three years." Danny looks away, his brow furrowed and I have to wonder if he's regretting becoming involved with me now. There are people out there who wouldn't be able to handle the uncertainty of being with someone from the military.

"You're going to be in danger?" Grace's question brings her presence back to my attention and reminds me that Danny doesn't have just himself to think about in regards to 'us'.

"Yeah, but I'm very good at my job."

"So you've never been injured?" Damn but she's sharp.

"No, I have been injured but since I haven't been given a medical discharge it's never been that bad." I get up, pick her up and sit down in her chair with her in my lap.

But before I can continue, the waiter returns with our drinks and chips and queso. "Have we decided what we want?" What is it about nurses and wait staff that makes them use the royal 'we'?

"Yeah," Danny says, handing him the menus none of us actually looked at. "We'll have three burgers, medium, with fries."

"Alrighty then. Be back with your food shortly."

"Uncle Steve?" Grace's voice brings my attention back to her.

My heart breaks at the sadness in her pretty brown eyes. I hug her tight, resting my chin on her head. "It'll be fine, Baby Girl. You'll see."

"No, it won't!" she wails, drawing looks from the few occupied tables. "You won't be here!"

Danny and I share a relieved look over her head. I was worried she thought I might die or get seriously injured but she's only going to miss me. "Baby Girl, look at me." I urge her to sit back so I can see her face. I wipe the tears from her cheeks with my thumbs. "I'm one of the best at what I do. And I can guarantee you the men they'll send with me are just as good, if not better. I'll be home before you know it."

"Not the same." Leave it to a child to refuse to see the logic.

"I know, Ku`uipo, but I have to go." We hug a few more minutes while Danny and I have one of our silent conversations. "Hey," I say, gently pushing her back by the shoulders. "We can write and I'll call when I can."

"How can you do that if your location will be classified?" Danny asks.

"The letters will get routed through Pendleton since that's the base I'll be attached to for this. And the calls, well, I don't know the specifics but they have a way to keep them from being traced."

"So you won't be taking your personal sat phone?" I was unaware Danny knew I had one.

"Not for this mission, no."

"Why not, Uncle Steve?"

"Because I have a feeling I'll need to be totally distraction free while in the field."

"I'm gonna miss you." Grace buries her head in my chest and wraps her arms around my waist.

"I know, Gracie. I'm gonna miss you, too." I kiss her hair and find myself doing a repeat of what I did with her father last night: inhaling deeply to try and capture her scent for my memory.

"And Danno, too?"

I chuckle. "And Danno, too." I spy the waiter approaching with our food so I set her back in her chair before resuming my own seat. "Hey." I tap her hand to get her attention. "You know I love you both, right? And I will do my best to come home to you."

She nods. "We love you, too, Uncle Steve."

Lunch is eaten in almost silence. When we do talk it's about nothing of any importance other than the fact that we're making a memory, or sharing one, that we'll all hold tight to during our however long separation.

Due to Rachel having a part-time job while Grace is in school, and because today is all about Grace, we go back to my house and hang out on the beach, building sand castles and swimming in the surf. Eventually Danny makes Grace go inside to do her homework. She grumbles but does as she's told.

Danny and I stay out on the lanai, just being together, both trying to not count the hours until I'm getting on a plane for the mainland.

After about an hour, Grace pokes her head out to ask for some help. We both try but she pushes Danny away, saying, "Uncle Steve knows more geography, Daddy. He's traveled the world."

Danny puts his hands up and backs away, saying, "Fine. Let him help. I'll go cook dinner. Any requests?"

"Food," Grace and I say at the same time.

Danny just rolls his eyes. "Comedians," he mutters and walks into the kitchen to start dinner.

Dinner is just as silent as lunch was and way too soon we're in the Camaro with Grace driving toward Rachel's house.

Rachel has the door open before we've even gotten out of the car. Grace refuses to walk, insisting I carry her. I don't mind. Before this little girl came into my life, I never had much use for children. But now I can't seem to get enough of her.

She wraps her legs around my waist and her arms around my shoulders and buries her face in my neck. She's crying again, I can feel her tears on my skin, and her small choked off sobs wrack her tiny frame. "Gracie, Baby," I murmur against her hair. "You'll make yourself sick."

Her next breath is deeper and hitches a little but the one after that is steadier. While I can still feel her tears falling, she's stopped sobbing.

"Steve," Rachel greets me when I approach the door. "Here, I'll take her." She reaches for Grace but she just tightens her hold.

"It's okay, Rachel. I'd like to put her to bed, if I may?"

"Of course." She ushers me in with one hand and waves it toward the stairs. "You know where her bedroom is." I cross the threshold and head up the stairs.

"Did she have any homework?" Rachel asks Danny.

"Some. Steve helped her with it."

"Don't you think-?" She starts and I stop just out of sight of the foyer, curious as to what she's trying to ask.

"No, I don't think anything, Rachel." Danny's tone tells me he knows where she's headed with that question and he doesn't like it. "She doesn't spend any more time in his presence than mine."

"Easy, Danny. That wasn't my question."

"Then what were you going to ask?"

"I was going to ask if you thought that maybe she was becoming too attached."

Danny sputters for a second or two. "You have got to be kidding me! My daughter is not becoming too attached to my boyfriend. Or is this your way of telling me that you lied about not having issues with this."

Rachel sighs. "I didn't lie, Daniel. I am very happy for the two of you and have absolutely no issues with you and Steve being a couple. It's just-" The rest of Rachel's statement is drowned out by Grace's pitiful, "Uncle Steve!" and her tugging on my neck to get me moving.

"Okay, Ku`uipo, okay," I murmur, continuing on my way to her room.

While she changes into her nightgown, I step out into the hall. "All done, Makuakane." Grace steps out into the hall wearing a Disney Princess nightgown and my heart soars at her calling me that again. "Need to brush my teeth now," she says, heading for the bathroom.

I follow and lean against the doorframe, watching. Once again, I feel a pang of longing to have what Danny does: this beautiful little girl as his daughter. If - when - I come back, I'm going to seriously talk to him about us adopting. After we discuss making our relationship as official as possible, that is.

When Grace goes to spit and wash her brush, I stop her. "It hasn't been three minutes yet." She throws me another one of Danny's looks from the corner of her eye but continues to brush her teeth. "You want healthy teeth, don't you?" She rolls her eyes but nods her head. "Thought so. It's not so bad, is it?" She shrugs then spits and looks at me before rinsing her brush. "Go ahead."

After she finishes brushing her teeth she turns to look at me with her brows raised. It takes a minute but I finally realize she needs to use the toilet so I grin sheepishly and close the door, walking back toward the stairs to give her a bit more privacy. I'm hoping Danny and Rachel are still talking in the foyer but when I get within hearing distance I can't hear anything. A quick peek around the corner shows that they've left the area, probably took their conversation to another room so that Grace won't accidentally overhear.

"Uncle Steve?" Grace's voice from behind me startles me and only my training keeps me from jumping.

"Ready for me to tuck you in?" She nods and takes my hand for the walk back to her room.

Grace's room is the stereotypical nine year-old girl's room: pink walls, frilly canopy bed with Disney Princess sheets and dolls everywhere. I should feel awkward surrounded by all this girly stuff but I don't. Maybe it's because I want so very much to be the father of a little girl just like her or maybe it's because it reminds me of when Mary and I had a better relationship than we do now and would play tea party in her room.

Grace climbs under the covers on her bed and I pull them up to her chin. Smoothing the hair off her forehead, I kiss her there. "Want me to read you a bedtime story?"

She shakes her head. "No, make one up."

"Make one up?" She nods, mischief shinning in her eyes. "Does Danno make up stories for you?"

"Yeah. What did you think I meant when I said he talks about you back when we first met?"

"Oh? He makes up stories about me?" I point at my chest. She giggles and nods her head again. "Okay. Move over a little." I push on her shoulder a bit to get her to scoot over enough for me to lie on the bed next to her on my side, facing her.

"Okay, let's see…" I rub my chin, thinking of what I can make a story out of. Suddenly I know just what to say. "Once upon a time, there was a princess named Princess Grace-"

"Uncle Steve!" she interrupts me with a giggle.

"What? You asked for a story, I'm giving you a story." She shakes her head and bites her lip to show that she wants me to continue. "Now, where was I?" I tap my chin with a finger. "Oh, yes!" I snap my fingers. "Once upon a time there was a princess named Princess Grace. Princess Grace was the prettiest princess in all the land." Grace chokes on her laughter. "If you don't want to hear my story…" I say, starting to sit up.

"No!" She grabs my arm and tugs me back into place. "Please continue."

"Princess Grace was much loved by everyone, especially her mother, the Queen, and her father, King Danno. Now, there came a time when the King and Queen decided they couldn't live together any longer and the Queen took Princess Grace and moved to the other side of the kingdom. King Danno couldn't stand to be apart from his Princess so he moved as well.

"Shortly after King Danno moved, he hired a new bodyguard from the neighboring kingdom. This bodyguard was a former soldier in his kingdom which is why King Danno hired him; he knew he would be well protected. And that when Princess Grace was with them he didn't have to worry so much about her safety because his bodyguard promised that he'd protect her with his life." Grace's eyes fill with tears and I can tell she knows where I'm headed with this story but she doesn't say anything, just snuggles closer.

"After a while, Princess Grace fell in love with the bodyguard, and he with her. But it wasn't a romantic love; it was that of a father and daughter. In fact, Princess Grace began calling him 'father' in his native language, when they were alone of course so as to not hurt King Danno's feelings.

"There came a time when the bodyguard was called back to his native land. His former king needed him and since he stilled owed him his allegiance, he had to go. Princess Grace was very sad, King Danno and his bodyguard had just started acting on feelings they had for one another and now King Danno would be alone again.

"The old soldier promised Princess Grace that he would return but she still didn't want him to go. 'Who will protect my Danno?' she asked. 'Who will love him? And make him happy?' The old soldier told her he would be back, that he loved them both more than life and they were everything he could ever have hoped for in this life. He reminded her that he had made a promise to his old king and that he's not a man who goes back on his word.

"Eventually the day came that he had to leave. Princess Grace cried and held on to his hand until they got to the border between her kingdom and his. They hugged, he kissed King Danno, and then he rode over the border to be greeted by some of his former friends who were still in the king's service.

"Princess Grace cried everyday for her Danno's bodyguard, she prayed and prayed that he'd return safe and sound.

"Months went by and even though everyone around her, even King Danno, was beginning to give up hope of his return, she never did. She believed deep in her heart that he would return.

"And then he did return. And there was much celebrating in the kingdom. For not only was he returned safe and sound but the laws had been changed and the old soldier and King Danno could now marry. And they did. And everyone lived happily ever after."

"Oh, Makuakane!" Grace cries, throwing her arms around my neck. "That was the most perfect story, ever."

"So glad you liked it." I rub her back and close my eyes, fighting my own tears.

"Hey, now," Danny says as he walks into the room. "Steven, why is my daughter crying?"

"Because he just told me the loveliest story ever!" Grace tells him, sniffling and wiping her nose on her hand.

"I see," Danny says, but I can tell he doesn't really. "Did you brush your teeth?"

Grace nods. "Yes, Sir. Uncle Steve even counted for me."

"Counted?" Danny frowns at me.

"Made sure she brushed them for three minutes."

"Of course. Must have healthy teeth." Danny approaches the bed and I get up so he can sit next to Grace. "Your mom has said you can come over as often as you want between now and when Steve has to leave. So I was thinking we'd pick you up every day after school, our schedules permitting of course, have dinner, do homework and then back here for bed. Except for the weekends. Those we'll spend at Steve's. How's that sound?" She nods, tears falling silently down her cheeks again. "Oh, Monkey." Danny gathers her against his chest and I can't stand to watch any longer so I step out into the hall.

Leaning back against the wall, I close my eyes and will myself to not cry until I'm alone. I have to be strong for everyone around me.

"Steve?" Rachel's voice pulls me from my thoughts.

"Rachel." Her name comes out a bit sharper than I intend.

"You heard."

"Didn't mean to. But when it comes to Grace-"

"Yes, when it comes to my daughter, I will do what I think best to protect her from heartache."

"And yet you're allowing her to spend even more time in my presence; to become even more attached."

She ducks her head. "That was Danny's idea. He told me that she loves you like a father." She raises her head and the look in her eyes gives me a chill. "She doesn't love my husband as much as she loves you. Why is that?"

I shrug. "Maybe because I'm not trying to replace one of her parents?"

Rachel's eyes narrow on my face. "How dare you? You have no idea what goes on between them."

"No I don't but I do talk to Grace and if a nine year-old can tell that an adult is trying too hard, then they're trying too hard. She doesn't need another father; she has one that she loves very much. If Stan would step back and just try being her friend, instead of her father, then maybe she'd like him more."

"He's trying his best."

"No, Rachel, he's trying to replace Danny. And that's not right. You have to see that. You have to see that trying to keep Grace from the people she loves will just break her in the end."

Rachel tips her head back and appears to be thinking about what I said. "I never realized just how much you love them."

"Neither did I until I saw those words on a piece of paper."

"Is it difficult, leaving loved ones behind?"

I shrug. "Never done it before. I had virtually no relationship with my father and sister when I was deployed for the first time. And it hadn't improved any with any of the other deployments. So this is all new to me." I swallow thickly and drop my gaze to the floor. "I had been hoping I wouldn't be recalled. We're not as actively at war as we once were; we're not sending new troops over there just ones that have been before as back up, so I didn't think this would happen."

"As a SEAL, were you included in the active fighting? I mean what we see in the news? With the regular troops?"

"No. SEALs tend to do specialized missions."

She nods her understanding but before she can say anything, Danny comes out of Grace's room. "She wants to tell you good-night, Steve."

I step back in and share a few more hugs and kisses with Grace before leaving Rachel's house.

"So, where to?" I ask, pulling the Camaro out of Rachel's driveway.

"Your place is closer."

"My place it is, then." I turn the car in the direction of my house.

Danny stares out the window the whole drive, not saying anything. If this was a normal day, I'd be worried about his silence but given what's going to happen in two weeks, I don't find it troubling at all.

We spend the rest of the night lying in each other's arms, trading kisses and building up memories for the long lonely nights to come.

The following two weeks are beyond hectic with a case that came up the very next day and didn't get wrapped up until the day before I was scheduled to leave. Due to that I end up forgetting to update Mary's information in my file as well as my will stating Danny as my beneficiary. All our free time is spent with each other and Grace. I do my best to make sure Grace is happy and not crying; would much rather remember her happy, smiling and laughing.

The day before I'm scheduled to leave for Pendleton, there's a going away party for me at headquarters. Everyone is in attendance, minus Mary. Grace spends most of the party in my lap, sniffling into my collar.

"I'll be back." I rub her back soothingly.

"You sure?"

"Yes, Keiki."

"I don't want you to go."

"I don't want to go but I have to."

"I miss you." She turns her head and rubs her nose against my chest.

"I miss you, too."

"Grace?" Rachel enters the conference room. "It's time to go, Sweetheart."

Grace sighs and slides off my lap. "Okay, Mommy." She gives me one more tight hug. "Love you, Uncle Steve."

"Love you, Baby Girl." I don't want to let her go but know I must. With one hand on Grace's shoulder, I stand up and lead her to where Rachel's standing.

"Grace, would you go wait for me by the door?" Rachel points out the conference room window toward the front door. Grace nods, turns and tugs on my sleeve to get me to bend down so she can kiss my cheek before slowly walking out of the room. "Steve…" Rachel wrings her hands.

"Rachel." I refuse to make this easy for her. I may not be a parent but I can see where she's coming from.

She sighs and I can tell she knows I'm still angry about the conversation I overheard between her and Danny two weeks ago. "Look, Steve, you have to understand-"

I don't let her finish. "Oh, but I do, Rachel. But it doesn't seem that you understand. Grace is like a daughter to me. Until her and Danny came into my life I thought I'd be alone for the rest of my life."

"I do understand, Steve. And I'm glad she has you. I just think she's become too attached."

"Too attached? I love her father and am planning on spending the rest of my life with him. Seems to me she should become attached since I'll practically be her step-father."

"But you're just a-" She stops talking so quickly I'm afraid I might get whiplash.

"Tell me you didn't just almost call me a temporary fixture in her life." I'm starting to get pissed.

"Steve-" She starts again.

I hold up one hand. "Don't even."

"You have no idea-!"

"I think I do. So we're just going to agree to disagree on this because you're never going to see this from my side and I refuse to see it from yours. Especially if it means I don't get to be around Grace."

"I'm just trying to protect my daughter."

"I get that, I really do. But you can't tell her who to love and the more you try to keep her from those she loves, the more she'll come to resent you."

Before she can respond, Danny pokes his head in. "Everything okay in here?"

"Yeah, everything's fine, right Rachel?"

She stares at me for a second before nodding. "Yes, everything's fine." She turns and walks from the room, pausing in front of Danny before stepping around him and out the door.

I watch through the window as she walks across the bullpen and out the main door with Grace and try to not feel like I'll never see that little girl again.

"Babe?" Danny approaches where I'm still standing near my spot at the conference table.

"Everything's fine, Danny."

"Why don't I believe you?"

I shrug, reaching out to pull him closer as I sit back down in my chair. "Rachel's just trying to protect Grace, is all."

"Well, she needs to stop trying to push us away to do it."

"Hm, yeah." I wrap one hand around the back of his head, pulling him into a deep kiss.

The kiss quickly turns pornographic, per usual, and Danny wiggles as close as he can on my lap in the chair. We both forget just where we are until Chin's clearing his throat pulls us apart. "You two do know that everyone can see you, right?"

Danny gets up from my lap a bit unsteadily and walks from the room in a daze and I can't help feeling rather proud of myself for being able to break him apart so thoroughly. Deciding I want to mark the occasion of our first kiss in the office, I pull out my knife and carve a half inch gash in the wood at the edge of the table near my chair. I'll know what it means, even if no one else does.

Danny and I spend the night together in the same way as all the previous nights since we found out about my deployment: wrapped around each other talking and kissing. In the morning, I make sure I don't wake him when I get out of bed to get dressed.

Once ready to leave, I approach the bed and press a gentle kiss to his shoulder, knowing it'll wake him. "Wha-?" He opens sleep bleary eyes to stare at me. "You're dressed?"

"Yeah. It's time for me to go."

He frowns, it always takes him a few seconds to catch up before he's had his first cup of coffee. "You don't want me going with you to Hickam?"

"Sorry, Danny. I don't want to remember you standing on the tarmac. I want to remember you like this: all sleep tousled and fucking sexy as hell."

"You can't say things like that right before you're to walk out the door," he grumbles and I can tell that as soon as I'm gone he'll be asleep again. Or sooner judging by how his breathing is starting to even out.

"Hey, D," I whisper.

"'m 'leeping."

"I know. Just want to say, I love you and I'll call when I can after I arrive at Pendleton."

"'kay. Love you, too." And he's gone back to dreamland. I chuckle softly at how easily he falls back to sleep.

A horn sounds outside just as I press a kiss to his stubbled jaw. With one last look at the man sleeping in my bed, I pick up my seabag and exit the house.

Chapter Text

The cab ride to Hickam is quick and silent, for which I'll be eternally grateful. I have a feeling if there'd been any traffic I'd've been hard pressed to not jump out of the car and go AWOL. But once behind the fence of the base I no longer have that option.

As usual with the military, it's a bunch of 'hurry up and wait' orders. Men are still loading the DC10 with supplies and those there to catch a ride to the mainland are just mostly standing around. Not wanting to give myself too much time to think about what I'd rather be doing, I offer to help load and am surprised when my offer is declined.

With nothing better to do until take-off, I sit on a crate that's nowhere near the ones being loaded and send Danny a couple of last minute sexy texts and a few cutesy ones to Grace along with reminders to Kono and Chin.

"Commander McGarrett, Sir?" An impossibly young Airman approaches and throws me a sharp salute when I look up from my phone.

"Yes, Airman?"

"You can board now, Sir."

"Thank you." I stand, pick up my bag and board the plane, giving a half-hearted salute in return to every person who snaps to attention at my approach.

Luckily the rules are relaxed in flight otherwise it would have been a very tense and awkward trip with the men nervous to talk for fear of disturbing me. To show I'm not easily disturbed, I put in the earbuds Grace gave me for Valentine's Day and hit play on her playlist on my phone.

I know I doze off, always do during a flight, but I wake just before the pilot begins our descent. I find myself reluctant to open my eyes, a small part of me hoping it's all a dream. But it's not and reality comes crashing in when the rear door opens and Privates begin unloading the cargo.

I skirt around most of them and make my way to a car that's parked off in the distance which I'm sure is for me. The other passengers are junior officers and enlisted so they'll be catching a bus to the base.

"Commander McGarrett?" The Lance Corporal assigned to drive me looks like she's not even old enough to have graduated from high school.

"Corporal." I return her salute and allow her to take my bag and stow it in the trunk while I slide into the passenger seat. Still not in the mood to talk, I don't encourage her and thank her training when she doesn't even try to start a conversation.

I close my eyes for the drive, composing my first letter to Grace in my head. I plan on writing her one letter every day I'm away. I know she'll most likely get them in clumps what with the military postal service being what it is, especially from overseas posts, but it doesn't matter; I promised I'd write and write I will.

"Sir?" I must have dozed off again, damn jet lag, because I startle awake at the softly spoken word. "Didn't mean to startle you, but we're here." 'Here' being the Bachelor Officers' Quarters where I'll be staying until we ship out.

"Very good." I clear my throat of the roughness it seems to have picked up while I was napping. "Thank you, Corporal." I know some officers like to forget they were ever anything but their current rank, but not me. Never know when you'll need someone of a lower rank to watch your six.

"My pleasure, Sir." She salutes, then spins sharply on her heel and marches back to the car after I return it.

"Smooth Dog!" A voice I haven't heard in years calls out behind me.

"Pitt Bull!" I turn and spy one of my former team members, Bill Pittman.

I extend my hand for him to shake but he slaps it away and gathers me in for a bear hug. I forgot he's the touchy-feely type. "How you've managed to not get writ up for sexual harassment is beyond me."

He laughs. "It's because everyone loves me!" And it's true. Despite his call sign, he's really a pussy cat. I've yet to meet another man less likely to be a black ops soldier.

"Do you know what my mission will be?"

"Patience, Grasshopper." He claps me on the back and uses that to steer me into the building. "At the mo it's just you and me here, well in this particular building." Pendleton has more than one building for its unmarried officers. "You can use this room." He opens a door on his left and flicks on the light.

The room is exactly how I remember them looking: twin bed that's really little more than a cot, one dresser, one side table with a lamp, one table with two chairs and a bathroom with a toilet, pedestal sink and miniscule shower. The walls are Marine green, the floor a non-descript grey, the curtain on the one window over the bed is a slightly darker green than the walls and matches the blanket folded under the pristine white sheets and pillow stacked on the end of the bed.

"Home, sweet home," I mutter, dropping my bag at the foot of the bed where my footlocker would have sat, if this was a permanent assignment.

"Yeah, well. Can't beat the rent!" Pitt grins at me. "Of course this is for temporary assignments."

"Oh?" Guess all my assignments stateside have been temporary, then.

"Yeah. Mine has a TV and is wired for cable."

"Ooo. Cable!" I snicker. "You're moving up in the world, Pitt."

"Fuck you, McGarrett." He laughs with me. "Brief is 0800 tomorrow. Late chow's in twenty. Want company?"

I shake my head. "Thanks but no. I'm just gonna grab a tray and bring it back here. Promised some people back home that I'd call when I landed."

"You got a girl on that island of yours?" I'm not surprised that Pitt knows I'm back in Hawai'i.

"In a manner of speaking." I know I can tell now if I want but I find myself not wanting to share Danny with anyone.

"You got a pic?" I know Pitt's expecting someone more like Kono than Grace but I'm not going to lie. Grace is my girl back home, after all.

"Yeah, here." I pull out my phone and thumb through the pictures until I get to the one I want: Grace standing in the surf of my cove holding a starfish that's nearly as big as she is.

Pitt's eyes get huge when he sees that 'my girl' is in fact a girl. "A bit young for you, isn't she?"

"She's my partner's daughter."

"Partner?" I know he's making the correct connection at my use of that word.

"Yeah, on the task force I run."

"Right." He thumbs through my pictures. "This her dad?" He holds the phone so I can see a picture of Grace and Danny that she obviously took.

"Yeah, that's him." I run my thumb over their faces before putting my phone back in my pocket.

"Good for you, Man." I can tell he really means it and am relieved that the first person I told, more or less, is accepting of my relationship with Danny.

"Thanks."

He claps his hands. "So, I guess I'll get out of your hair. Let you make your calls. Meet in the mess at 0700?"

"Sure." I walk him back to the outer door of the building. "Can't wait to catch up."

He laughs. "Doubt we'll have the time. But we'll see. Night, Smooth Dog."

"Night, Pitt."

The trip to the mess is accomplished quickly, not a wide range to choose from on late chow, and soon I'm back in my temporary quarters, swallowing my food without tasting it so I can concentrate on talking to Danny and Grace.

Picking up my phone, I dial Grace's number, hoping she's not still in class because I find myself needing to hear her voice.

"Uncle Steve!" She answers the phone before the first ring even finishes.

"Baby Girl! You with Danno?" I ask even though I know she must be if she's calling me 'Uncle Steve'.

"No, I'm at the beach with Auntie Kono and Uncle Chin and Auntie Malia."

"The beach, huh? Danno must love that."

"He's not here."

"Yeah, I figured. So where is he?"

"The hospital." That's not the answer I was expecting.

"What? Why?"

"Steve?" Chin's voice calms me some. "He's fine. Hurt his knee chasing a perp."

"How bad is it?"

"They might have to operate again."

"Shit." The first time I leave the island and he goes and hurts himself so bad he might have to go under the knife.

"Yeah. Grace is staying with me and Malia until he can take care of her again."

"Where's Rachel?"

"She and Stan got called away on business."

"Oh, man, this is bad."

"We're handling it, Brah. Don't stress."

"Don't stress?! Are you kidding me? He's hurt and I'm three thousand miles away."

"And he's being taken care of by the best nurses."

"He at Queen's?"

"Yeah, they know him there."

I chuckle. "They know us all there."

Chin laughs too. "Hey, you know where he keeps the spare key to his place? Grace's gonna need some clothes."

"You can use the stuff at my place. In fact, why don't you and Malia stay there until Danny's able to take care of himself and her?"

"We just might. Oh, Grace wants to talk to you again."

"Uncle Steve?"

"Yes, Keiki?"

When you coming home?" I can hear the tears in her voice.

"Oh, Baby, don't cry. I wish I knew but I promise I will, okay?"

"No!" Her wail hurts my heart. "I need you. Danno needs you."

"I know, Ku`uipo, but the government needs me, too."

"Miss you."

"Miss you more."

"Nuh-uh."

"Yuh-huh. I love you."

"Love you more."

"Nuh-uh."

"Yuh-huh." She giggles, just like I knew she would.

"You be a good girl, okay?"

"Okay." She sniffles. "See you soon?"

"You bet."

"Bye, Uncle Steve."

"Bye, Baby Girl." I keep the phone to my ear until I hear the click, then I take a deep breath and try to compose myself before dialing Danny's number.

"'llo?" Danny answers after five rings which tells me they have him sedated.

"Hey, Danno."

"Steve. Where are you? I hurt my knee."

"I heard. I'm at Pendleton."

"Why're you in Cali?" He snickers and begins singing LL Cool J's Going Back to Cali.

"They got you on the good stuff, huh?"

"Oh, yeah. Why weren't you there? The idiot ran across the roof tops. That's something you'd've enjoyed, right? Being Batman?"

I laugh softly and don't answer. "I told Chin he could stay at my place until the doctor clears you."

"Okay." I can hear a woman's voice but not what she's saying. "Sorry, Babe, there's a pretty nurse who wants to sleep with me. Put me to sleep! I mean – aw, fuck it! Love you!" Then the line goes dead.

I sit on the edge of my cot, brace my head in my hands and fight back tears. I've never cried this much in my whole life, not even when my mother died. Apparently falling in love has turned me into a girl. God, I wish I was home right now.

After a restless night, I'm up at 6 for PT, followed by a shower and meeting Pitt in the mess at 7.

"You look like shit, Smooth Dog."

"Why, thank you, Pitt Bull. It's lovely to see you this morning, too."

He laughs in my face. "First time away from them?"

"First time since we got together, yeah."

He frowns at me. "How long the two of you been together?"

"Was two months, Thursday."

"Holy fuck, Man! How long you known him?"

"We met when we pulled our guns on each other when I crossed the crime scene tape at my dad's."

He laughs again. "Oh, Man! Match made in heaven, huh?"

I duck my head, feeling a blush heat my cheeks. "I think I fell right then and there but it wasn't for sure until he decked me for getting him shot and using his daughter to make my point."

Pitt just blinks at me. "I think that was English but damned if I know what you just said."

A chuckle escapes. "Sorry. He talks a lot and I guess it's contagious."

"Uh-huh. Whatever you said, McGarrett. How old's his kid?"

"Grace turned nine in October. She's the apple of his eye."

"And yours, if that wistful look on your face is anything to go by."

I can feel another blush. "She's really special."

"I bet. They both have to be to get you to fall this hard."

Pitt has a point. No one else in my past has ever made me feel the way Danny and Grace do. "Yeah, they are."

"So now that you're free to be open about this, you remembered to change your next of kin, right?"

"Fuck!" I slap my forehead. "How could I be so stupid?"

"I'm guessing that'd be a no." I glare at him but he just laughs, the bastard. "Mary knows about him, right?"

"She doesn't know, know but yeah, she knows. And Lieutenant Rollins."

"Rollins knows?" Pitt's eyebrows climb his forehead.

"Yeah. You know her and I had an on again/off again thing, right?"

"Well, yeah. Everyone knew. You are far from subtle, my friend."

"Which is why I've repressed and denied all these years."

"Except to Rollins."

"I figured the woman I'm sleeping with should know. And she was present when I outed myself to Danny. Or rather he outed me to…well, me." I shake my head. "He had a New Year's slash housewarming party for his new place. He and I were on the patio talking and he just turned and kissed me. Not that I wasn't planning on doing the same thing but he forgot the curtains were open. Everyone at his party saw."

"Wow, that's-" Pitt rubs the back of his head. "-the most I've ever heard you say that wasn't about a mission." He tilts his head and narrows his eyes at me. "You get any backlash from it?"

"Nope. Most people joked about us being married already based on how we bickered. This just confirmed it."

We've been making our way slowly through the chow line while talking and now are headed to a table under a sign that marks it as for commissioned officers only. As we take our seats, I notice that we're the only ones at the table. That's not to say we're the only commissioned officers in the mess, just that we appear to be the only two without men to lead. Most officers take their meals in the officers' mess unless they're trying to bond with their men and then they'll eat at the same table as them.

"You don't have a team?" I ask Pitt, digging into my breakfast.

"I do. It's just I thought you wanted to catch up. Can't do that at a table full of enlisted and NCOs."

"True."

We eat in silence for a few minutes then he brings up the topic of Danny and Grace again. "So, you fell right away, huh?"

"Yeah. He's a loud mouthed haole from Jersey who's always going on about proper procedure."

Pitt laughs. "A mainlander? Boy, you must have it real bad."

I sigh. "There's just something about him. Can't explain it."

"You don't have to." He puts his fork down and sits back. "You're the first to know that I'm going to be getting married in December."

"Yeah? That's great, Man." I punch him on the arm. "What's her name?"

"His name's Brad." He pauses a moment to let his pronouncement sink in. When I just blink at him, he chuckles. "You're not the only one, you know."

"But-" I falter for words. "But we trawled for chicks together!"

"Sure did. And I fucked some of them. See, I'm a gay man with heterosexual tendencies."

"Wow. I never even suspected."

"That was the point. But you-" He points one finger at me. "-you I had pegged from the first. I figured you for a heterosexual man with homosexual tendencies. I'm right, aren't I?"

I shake my head. "I'm actually bi-sexual. And until the repeal I was denying it hard. Cath was great. And she's genuinely happy that I can finally be myself, sexually."

"Yeah, it's great." Something in his voice is off but before I have time to question him about it, he declares it time to head to the briefing.

Having gotten used to the civilian way of doing things, I find the briefing very dry. Not even the power point presentation is enough to hold my attention beyond finding out what the target is, or rather who the target is.

Not able to keep focused on the brief, I take advantage of the dark room and the fact that the corner I'm in is furthest from where Pitt is going over the mission directive and begin writing Grace's letter. Since I forgot to write it last night, today I'll be writing two.

In the first one I tell her about the flight, the men on it and how old I felt next to them and how I listened to the music she downloaded onto my phone and thought of her. I close it with a description of my room and a McGarrett traditional closing line: Remember that I'll always love you wherever you may be.

I've just signed my name and tucked it away in the back of my mission briefing folder when the lights come back on.

"Commander McGarrett." Pitt's voice rings through the room. Man never did need a microphone.

"Commander Pittman." I fight the urge to stand and salute. He may have a couple of years in grade on me but he's never demanded that much respect from me.

"Can you tell me what the mission directive is?"

I had a feeling he called on me because he thinks I wasn't paying attention but after a year and a half of discussing cases in the bullpen of Five-oh headquarters with all the distractions that entails I've learned how to multitask. "To find and dispatch Marcus Atreyu with extreme prejudice. We have as long as it takes but the brass would prefer if it took no more than three months."

Pitt presses his lips together in frustration and I know he's well on his way to being pissed that he wasn't able to call me out on not paying attention. "Where is his last known location?"

"About thirty miles north of the Afghan border. Sir." I throw him a bone hoping by showing some respect it'll soothe his hurt feelings.

"Very good. Dismissed." Everyone begins gathering their things before leaving the room. "Steve." Pitt stops me before I even exit my row. "I realize it's been a while but that doesn't give you leave to not pay attention. There are a lot of lives at stake here."

"I know, Bill."

"Then why?"

I shrug. "I can read the packet to get all the info you just said. Plus I know Atreyu."

"And that's why you're not going to be writ up for that display of insubordination."

"I'm sorry, what? Prove I wasn't writing notes about what you were saying."

"Hand them over, then." When I just sigh and lower my gaze he says. "Thought so. I know you miss them but save the letter writing for when you're not in a mission brief, okay?"

"Yeah, sure. But just so you know, in the civilian world you have to multitask during a brief so." He rolls his eyes and thumps me on the shoulder. "I can't believe that lasted all morning. I'm used to a brief taking only a few minutes with the same amount of information. Care to join me for lunch?"

"Can't. Meeting with General Coglianese."

"Dinner?"

He grimaces. "Brad's flying in. I've got a couple days of leave before y'all ship out."

"Of course." I try to keep the disappointment from my voice but know I'm not entirely successful.

"Why don't you join us? I'm sure Brad won't mind. Besides he's been looking forward to meeting you."

"I don't want to impose. You don't get a whole lot of time with him as it is."

"Not an imposition. 2000 in the common room? My treat."

"I have money, Pitt." Does he think I'm a charity case?

"I'm sure you do but I want to pay. I'm sure I owe you for something."

I sigh. "Fine. I'm not going to argue."

"Good. See ya at 2000." He shakes my hand and disappears behind a door with the General.

Left with nothing better to do, I head to the mess. Grabbing a tray, I carry it back to my room where I eat while texting Danny, Chin and Kono. Just as I finish eating, I remember Mary. Quickly dialing her number I hope she's home. We haven't spoken much since my brief visit with Wo Fat in North Korea.

"Now's not really a good time, Big Brother," she says in lieu of a greeting.

"What's going on?" I can hear lots of movement in the background.

"I'm shopping."

"Uh-huh, like I believe that."

"Steve…" She uses that whiney voice that she knows I hate. "Is this important?"

"Kinda, yeah."

"Is someone hurt? Grace? Kono?"

"No, nothing like that. Although Danny is in the hospital again with his knee."

"Then why'd you call?"

"I wanted to let you know that I've been deployed."

"What?"

"Yeah. I just got briefed so I have no idea when I'm leaving or when I'll be back."

"Steve…" This time her tone reminds me of the little girl who used to follow me around and bug the shit outta me.

"I know. You should know I forgot to update my will. Should anything happen to me, please let Danny have whatever he wants. Especially the house. Just don't tell him I said to give it to him. Say I'd want him to have it. Or, even better, say I'd want him to have it for Grace. Using Grace is a great way to get him to accept something he normally wouldn't."

"Danny, huh? What about Cath?"

"There isn't really anything of mine she'd want."

"But aren't you two 'dating'?"

"Not seriously, no."

"But you're dating Danny seriously?"

"Well, yeah - wait, what?" She couldn't have just said what I think she said, right?

Mary laughs. "I asked if your thing with Danny is serious."

"My…thing?" I think she broke my brain.

She sighs. "Yes, Steven. Your thing with your partner. You're not as subtle as you think."

"Mary…" I have no words.

"Don't worry, Big Brother. Uncle Sam had gotten real good at pretending to not notice men like you. You never acted before Danny, right?"

"I never acted before this year."

"What!? I coulda sworn you two were fucking back when I was there last."

"Yeah, no. I only acted because of the repeal."

"Well, shit. I owe Kono a hundred bucks."

I laugh. "You never should have bet her. She's here. She knows what we do."

"Yeah, but I was so sure…" Her voice trails off and I can hear someone talking to her. "Hey, look, I gotta go. Call when you can, 'kay? Bye, Aloha nui loa." And she's gone before I can say anything.

I dial Danny's number telling myself it's just to check up on him but I know that's a lie.

"Hey, Babe." Danny answers on the second ring. While he sounds tired, he doesn't sound stoned, which I see as a good thing.

"Hey, how ya doing?"

"I'm fine."

"Liar. You, my love, are a lying liar who lies."

He chuckles. "Okay, so I'm not fine but I am okay. Once the swelling's gone down the docs'll do an MRI and make sure I didn't FUBAR it."

"Mm. I love it when you speak military," I say in my best impersonation of Gomez Addams.

"Do you, now?" His voice has taken on a sultry tone and I can only hope he's alone.

"Yeah and when I get home I'll show you just how much."

"So, tomorrow, then?"

I laugh to keep from crying. "Sorry, Babe. We don't even have a ship out date, yet."

"Why not?"

"That's classified." He says the words along with me.

"Fuck, Steve, I need you."

"I know, D. You have no idea how much I want to say I have a family emergency but we're not even registered as domestic partners so you're not considered family." He huffs. "But that reminds me. I called Mary and told her about us."

"So it won't come as a surprise should something happen to you and I'm listed as next of kin?"

"No, because I forgot to change my will."

"Oh."

"I told her to let you have whatever you want."

"Steve…" He begins to protest but I can't let him finish.

"No, Danny. If I hadn't gotten sidetracked by that fucking case, I would have changed it and you'd get everything. This way Mary gets some things."

"Your medals?"

"Actually, I think she should have Dad's and you two can decide who should have mine."

Are your dad's the ones on the wall in your office?"

"Yeah. If she wants them to stay put, don't push it. She was deeply hurt by his sending us away."

"And you weren't?"

"I understood."

"Did you?"

"Do you really want to talk about this, now?"

"Hm. You have a point. So what're you wearing?"

"God, Danny!" I choke on my laughter. Leave it to my boyfriend - and how awkward it feels to call him that - to diffuse the situation with humor.

"Oh, wait, let me guess: it's classified, right?"

"No." I know it frustrates him, not being privy to everything, but there are just some things he shouldn't know.

"So, answer the question, then. No, let me, cargo pants."

"No, Daniel, I am not wearing cargo pants."

"Then what are you wearing?" Annoyance tinges his tone.

"Green camo fatigues."

"Oh, God!" He groans, putting me on alert.

"What? Danny?"

"I actually have a thing for a guy in uniform. Literally."

"Huh. I guess technically I do, too."

"Who?" Jealous Danno is hot! "Oh, wait-" He chuckles. "-that'd be me!"

"Yep." Someone knocks on my door preventing me from saying more. "Hey, look, D, I gotta go. I'll call again soon, 'kay?"

"Okay. Love you."

"Love you, too."

I open my door to find a Private who, unlike all the other enlisted and NCOs I've encountered this trip, actually looks old enough to be in the military. "Can I help you?"

"Yes, Sir. Commander Pittman regrets he'll have to reschedule dinner. Unfortunately he forgot about a prior engagement." Meaning Brad's been delayed or Pitt decided he couldn't wait to be reacquainted with his boyfriend.

"Prior engagement, huh?"

"Yes, Sir."

"He have any suggestions of what I should do for dinner tonight, then?"

"He said if you'll go to Bates' and tell them Pitt sent you, they'll take care of you."

"Bates'?"

"Yes, Sir. It's a local steakhouse/bar. All the men head there in their off hours."

"And how did he suggest I get there?"

The Private holds out a set of keys. "He says to take one of the motor pool cars, Sir."

I take the keys from his hand. "Thank you, Private. I'm guess this car is waiting outside for me?"

"Yes, Sir."

I nod. "Thank you. Dismissed." His hand twitches and I know if we weren't inside he would have saluted.

"Very good, Sir. Have a good night."

"You, too."

A quick shower and a change into civvies and I'm out the door. The car Pitt picked for me is not what I'm expecting. Knowing Pitt as I do, and his fondness for punking me, I figured he'd get me a tiny compact that would require me to become a contortionist to get in and out of it. So it is with a lot of surprise that I press the button on the key fob and watch the lights flash on the sleek black Hummer sitting in front of me.

If Hummers weren't such gas guzzlers I'd have one back home. As it is my Silverado eats a lot of my paycheck each week and I don't drive it near as often as Danny's Camaro.

I climb behind the wheel and head to the exit gate. When I'm stopped by the MP to check my ID, I ask for directions. The Private was right about everyone knowing the place, the MP gives me extremely detailed directions and soon I'm pulling into a parking spot in an almost full gravel lot in front of a weather beaten building.

The inside is exactly as I was expecting for a place that caters to a Marine base: the walls are covered with pictures of Marines in action and at play and the floor is covered by a thin layer of sawdust strewn with peanut shells. It also smells just like you'd expect a steakhouse/bar to smell: grilling meat and beer.

A sign just inside the door tells me to seat myself and so I take a table near the back where I can have a wall to my back and the majority of the room in view.

The wait staff are all young and probably from the local college or the significant others of the men and women stationed at Pendleton. The men and women navigate the crowded space with their trays raised high over everyone's heads. There isn't a single spill the entire two hours I'm there.

My steak is one of the best I've ever had but the beer leaves a lot to be desired, and not just because it's not a Longboard.

After I eat, I head back to my room and read through the mission packet and discover that Pitt got very long winded during the briefing. Everything we need to know about the target, his known associates and current whereabouts are all listed and detailed on just a few pages. The rest are descriptions of the men selected for the team.

Luckily for me, Pitt knows how I work and he's chosen commissioned officers who have been with the SEALs for several years and have similar backgrounds to me. I don't see any problems working with this group of men.

The next morning we begin the planning stage of this mission. Finally, after nearly a week, they give us the go ahead and we're given a ship out date of two days.

I set myself a routine: wake at 5 or 6 for PT, breakfast at 7 with Pitt and my team, meetings/planning sessions, lunch, drills to see the men's skill levels, dinner (usually with Pitt in the officer's mess), a call to Danny and Grace (luckily Danny didn't need surgery), a shower, write a letter to Grace about my day and answer any questions from her last letter then lights out by midnight.

Mother Nature decided to be a bitch and have it pour the morning we're supposed to leave and so our departure is pushed a day. Which turns into a week because of rain and wind.

While I really want to get the mission started so I could finish and get home, I take advantage of the extra time to make sure my team can work together like they've done it for years. I can't afford to have anyone second guessing an order given in the field or doubting another member's ability to protect them.

Finally the day comes when the sun's shining and the wind's calm enough for the DC10 to take off. It's the worst morning of my life. As the plane climbs into the sky I can't help but wonder what Danny and Grace are doing, something I've forced myself to not think about since I left home.

We land at Andrews to refuel, and pick up some passengers hitching a ride to London. Everything about this flight is routine, even the conversations between the men.

Unlike my old team, who had worked together for five years, these men had never met before being ordered to Pendleton two weeks ago. And yet they have bonded quickly. Everyone has shared photos and a few stories about their families. Several said "I never would have guessed, Sir" when I showed pictures of Danny and Grace but they all agree that she's one of the cutest kids in the world.

I manage one last phone call from a base in Germany and spend the entire time retelling my bedtime story to Grace. My men overhear and I get the good natured ribbing they usually reserve for a new father caught singing his kid a lullaby. But since it's all in good fun, I let it roll off my back and it draws us closer together.

Once we're in Afghanistan it becomes extremely difficult to call home on any kind of regular basis. Most of my days are spent away from base chasing down leads, much like back home. Atreyu proves adept at staying one step ahead of us and I begin to suspect I have a leak.

Every night, without fail, I write Grace about my day. Sometimes I even write her during the day while we're holed up somewhere waiting for our guide to find out if this is the time we find Atreyu with his pants down.

A couple of months have passed when I'm back at base stocking up on supplies and discussing my lack of success with the General. He agrees that I must have a leak and so he gives me one of his men who speaks the local language just to rule out the guide.

After the meeting, I head to my tent for a shower, change of clothes and to grab my mail, specifically the care package from Grace, before heading to the media tent to call home. During my last phone call with Danny I gave him the web address the military uses for web chats and asked him to download it so we can see each other some. One of Grace's recent letters said he'd done so and that she's looking forward to seeing me again.

I sit down at a free computer in the back away from most of the other occupied ones and enter my information to start the call. It takes several minutes to connect and I begin to worry that Danny's not near his computer. But then I see his handsome face and I can't keep from the grin off mine.

His first words to me are, "Oh, how I missed your face".

I laugh. "I missed yours, too, Danno."

"How's it going?"

I shrug. "Slower than expected but not too bad. How're things there?"

"Good. Grace's off at a sleep away camp for the week."

I frown as I mentally flip through a calendar. "Is this for school?"

"Yeah, it is. All the third through fifth grade girls got to go. The purpose of the camp is to encourage them to not be afraid to pursue their dreams, even if it's usually something that only boys do, and to let them know that just because they're girls doesn't mean they can't enjoy being out in nature."

"Isn't that what the Girl Scouts are for?"

He shrugs. "Guess this is for those girls who aren't in the scouts."

"Ah." I nod my understanding. "So… other than that…?"

He chuckles. "Everyone's good. We just wrapped a case. Chin has court the rest of the week and your temporary replacement is about to quit. Tenth one since you left."

I laugh loud enough to get some glares. "Oh, Man. What have y'all been doing to those poor people?"

"Absolutely nothing," Danny says with a straight face.

"Right. Like I'm gonna believe that."

"Believe whatever you want, Babe. No one can prove a damn thing."

"Is that Grace's care package?" He points at the screen and I look to my right.

"Yes it is."

He raises both eyebrows. "You gonna open it?"

"Was thinking about it."

"So what are you waiting for?"

Picking up the small box, I pull out my pocket knife and cut the tape sealing it closed. On top is an envelope that I set to the side for now. Under that is a tin of cookies. "Please tell me Kono didn't help with these," I say, holding the tin up for him to see. He zips his lips closed, his eyes crinkled in amusement. "That's what I thought." The cookies will go in the trash later.

Under the tin is a manila envelope. I look up at the screen and frown. "What's this?"

Danny shakes his head. "No clue. Why don't you open it?"

I roll my eyes and do as he suggests. Inside I find some papers. My mouth drops open when I pull them out and get a look at the wording on the top page. "Danny? Why did Grace send me an application for Domestic Partnership?"

Danny chuckles in that way people do when something's not funny, funny but ironic funny. "I guess she overheard us talking about filing paperwork when you come home."

"Of course. I'll fill them out and send them back before I head back out at the end of the week."

He nods and we fall silent. I fight the urge to say the words that seem to always be hovering on my tongue when he's near, knowing that this is neither the time nor the place. Even if they're no longer illegal for me to say, they're private, for just him and me.

"Hey, Steve?" Danny leans closer to the screen and lowers his voice.

"Yeah, D?" I match the volume of his voice.

"I love you and can't wait for you to get home so I can show you just how much."

I nearly swallow my tongue at his words. I look around to see if anyone heard. "Danny…" I have no words. Not even the ones that were there just a moment ago.

Danny laughs at my reaction. "Relax, Babe. We can say that now, ya know."

"Doesn't mean we should."

He coughs to cover another laugh. "You're right. I'm sorry. I should have known you're still mostly repressed." He sounds angry but doesn't look it.

"It's not that. My team knows. It's just-" I run the fingers of one hand through my hair. "-those words are private. Between just us, not every man and woman in this tent."

"I said I was sorry." And now he sounds hurt.

"Apology accepted. I'm sorry, too. I'm trying, D. You just have to be patient with me. This was all illegal just a few months ago, ya know."

He sighs. "I know. Not to mention you were denying the fact that you're attracted to men as well as women."

He has a point and yet it still rankles to have him call me repressed. "Not to change the subject or nothing-" I grin at him rolling his eyes at me. "-but seriously what have you done to the cops Denning put on the team to help y'all in my absence?"

"I told you, we've done nothing." I can hear the door to his office open followed by Kono's voice asking, "Is that Bossman?"

Danny scowls at a spot over the top of his monitor. "Yes and this is a private conversation between adults."

"Then you shouldn't be a part of the 'adult conversation'-" I can hear the air quotes. "-and it can't be all that private if you're having it here."

"With the time difference it just makes sense that we'll occasionally chat here." Danny is obviously annoyed at having our conversation interrupted.

"Whatever. Move over." Kono appears at Danny's left and pushes him out of his chair. "Hey, Boss!" She plops into his now vacant chair and grins at me. "You look tired."

"Thanks. Can you put Danny back on?"

Her lower lip trembles as she pouts. "You don't want to talk to me?"

I roll my eyes. "I called to talk to my boyfriend, so, no, I don't want to talk to you."

"You don't love me!" She wails loud enough to get me some more glares.

"Kono…" I use my stern voice.

She blinks at me. "No, huh?" I shake my head and she sighs. "Can't blame a girl for trying, right?"

"Danny. Now."

With some muttered pidgin curses, she gets up from the chair and disappears from view. Danny flops down after another minute. "Locked the door and drew the blinds."

A timer in the lower right hand corner of my screen blinks red at me. "Damnit. I'm sorry, D. We only have a few seconds left."

"Okay. Love you. Come home to me, okay?"

"Love you, too. And I'm planning on it." He kisses his fingers and presses them to the screen just as the timer hits zero and the screen goes black.

As much as I love talking to Danny and seeing his face, I think it was easier when I didn't have any loved ones back home to talk to. At least then I wasn't left missing them even more than before.

I find that I can't sleep because visions of Danny and the team doing their best to make sure a newbie won't stay keep flashing before my eyes. Each one ends with the team being disbanded by a frustrated Denning who's grown weary of them acting like children.

Warrant Officer Abdul Azizi is of Middle Eastern descent and is the perfect choice to play the role of another guide. The General has me tell everyone that he's bringing Azizi in to hopefully speed up the process of finding Atreyu since 'he has different connections' than Mohammed, my current guide. Mohammed seems suspicious but accepts my statement with a shrug. The fact that he doesn't argue has alarm bells going off in my head.

"Sir?" Azizi is having difficulty remembering that he's supposed to be an Afghan native and therefore does not have to 'sir' me.

"Yes, Azizi?" I suppress the urge to sigh and look up from where I'm writing another letter to Grace. I've been gone for almost five months and I miss her like crazy; a fact which has increased my letter writing from one a day to as many as I have time for.

"Mohammed shut me out again."

This time I do sigh out loud. Mohammed has found increasingly frustrating ways to make sure Azizi isn't around when he talks to his contacts about Atreyu. "What was his excuse this time?"

"I was taking too long to eat and the man he needed to talk to was leaving."

"Ask him to come here, please."

"Yes, Sir."

"And stop 'sir'ing me!" I hiss at his back rolling my eyes when he hunches his shoulders like a scolded child.

I set my notebook aside, this issue has pushed all thoughts of Grace from my mind, and get up to pour myself a glass of water. It's a trick I learned years ago. When in a humid climate where staying hydrated is a must, making the person you're interviewing desire a drink will most times get you a confession. Although there are some who say it doesn't mean you'll get the truth because most people will say what they think you want to hear just to get a drink. But I have a feeling this tactic won't work on Mohammed.

Mohammed is an unassuming little man. Most people would overlook him, maybe forget he's even in the room, which is what makes him such a good asset. And may be how he's getting away and betraying me and my team. For now, at any rate.

"You asked to see me, Commander?" Mohammed bows his way into my tent.

"Yes, please have a seat." I indicate the chair opposite my desk. With a bob of his head he does as asked. "Abdul said you went to town without him again."

If I wasn't watching him so closely I wouldn't have seen the tell-tale flash of anger in his eyes. "Ah, yes. Most unavoidable, I'm afraid. The man I was to see today had to be on the road by a certain time and Abdul was lingering over his breakfast, again."

Mohammed has made no secret of his dislike of Azizi. I'm not sure if that's because they're from different tribes or because Azizi has a 'western edge' about him from having been schooled in America but I can't let it continue. We need to find Atreyu and this man is standing in our way.

"Doesn't matter. You've been told, repeatedly, to not leave without him. If he's taking too long to finish something, come tell me and I'll get him to hurry up. Next time I have to speak to you about this, I will send you back to Kandahar. Am I clear?"

He clenches his jaw for a second before replying, "Very, Commander."

I nod my acceptance. "Very good. Thank you. You may go."

I watch him march across camp to his tent and fling the flap aside so he can enter. My gut is screaming at me that he's my leak and my gut is very rarely wrong. Only question now is how to prove it.

A couple of weeks later and I nearly have my proof.

Azizi has been 'scouting on his own' and has discovered that Atreyu is definitely in the nearby village, a fact that he 'let slip' in Mohammed's presence.

The trap set, we go about business as usual. I tell the men to leave a gap in their patrol so Mohammed can 'slip out' after lights out. They've also been told to let him go, to follow at a discreet distance and not approach until he's telling Atreyu that we're close.

Or at least that was the plan. Somehow Mohammed manages to slip out of camp completely unseen and set up an ambush, one we walk right into while looking for the son of a bitch.

Someone yells, "Incoming!" and we all scramble for cover. The next several minutes are pure chaos and I lose track of most of my men. I see one lying in a crumpled heap a few feet away and quickly dart over to him, grabbing the back of his flak jacket and tugging him to a safe spot so I can look him over.

Anger spikes when I see it's Azizi. He's so fucking young and now… I press the tips of my fingers to the pulse point in his neck, silently begging him to still be alive. My breath leaves my lungs on a sob of regret and my head drops forward on my neck when I realize there is no pulse.

Before I really have time to register that he's dead, I hear the whistle of an incoming mortar. Throwing myself over his body I brace for the explosion and resulting dust shower. Before I can straighten up from my position, something hits me on the back of my head just below my helmet and the world goes dark.

Chapter Text

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.

"Governor."

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."