Steve found Danny not far from the scene of the accident. The man was stumbling blindly down the side of the road, his face devoid of expression, his eyes unseeing. He didn’t even fight Steve as he helped him get into the truck. Silent as they drove back towards Honolulu. Danny rested his elbow on the door, covering his eyes with his hand. Steve didn’t miss the way his fingers trembled. Picking up his phone, Steve dialed Noelani’s number and waited for her to pick up.
“Noelani, hey… I got him, I got him. Tell Duke I’m taking him to get checked out, I can finish the report if he’d like... You know what, on second thought, I need to ask you a favor… Can we come to you? Going to the ER is going to be too many questions, I’d like to spare him. … Thank you, we’ll be there in 20.” Steve hung up, but didn’t miss the huff of protest coming from his passenger.
“You were in a very serious accident, Danny. You didn’t stick around long enough to get cleared by a paramedic. I’m doing you a favor bringing you to Noelani, and not the ER. Please don’t argue with me.”
Silence stretching out between them, Steve could feel the rage coming off his partner. Not directed at him, No. The situation, the accident, whatever happened since their phone call that morning, there was a story there and he was determined to find it out. Danny’s prickly exterior was par for the course, but the way Danny’s fist clenched and unclenched, the tightness of his jaw, the carefully schooled expressions...he was hurting, in more ways than just physically.
He took Danny into the Medical Examiner’s office via the back entrance, and Noelani met them with a sympathetic smile.
“Detective? Please… have a seat.” She gestured to the small couch in her office, turning toward Steve she lowered her voice. “Commander, can I ask you to wait out in the hallway? They’re releasing the scene soon, the deceased is being brought here as a part of the investigation…”
Steve looked toward Danny who simply waved him off, avoiding the man’s eyes.
“Holler if you need me,” he squeezed Noelani’s shoulder, and exited the room.
Noelani moved about her office quietly, gathering a first aid kit, her stethoscope, and pen light. Danny allowed her to take his pulse and blood pressure, check for pupil reactivity.
“The way you’re favoring your side, would you allow me to take an x-ray?”
Danny nodded, submitting to her requests. They finished off with him seated on the counter so she could clean and bandage his wounds.
“I’m sorry, about your friend.”
“She wasn’t my friend. I just met her this morning, didn’t even know her name,” Danny responded bluntly.
Noelani paused, looking up at Danny and seeing right through his gruff response.
“When they called in the DOA, I prepared a file with some preliminary information. The basics. Name, age, etc. Would you like to know her name? A little more about her?”
Noelani took his silence as a Yes.
“Her name was Leslie. Age 37. Marketing executive from Massapequa, New York who made an intercompany transfer here just recently. Freshly divorced, her ex-husband is in prison for tax fraud. She is survived by her parents, and a younger brother.”
“No kids?” Danny’s voice rasped out.
“No children,” Noelani confirmed.
“Thank fuck,” He rubbed the heels of his hands against his eyes.
Noelani finished up her work, tossing the bandage wrappers in the trash.
“Would you like a moment with her, when they bring her in? Before I get started on my end of the case?”
“I… uh,” Danny swallowed, Adam’s Apple bobbing on his throat.
“Sometimes it helps, with closure. You got a few minutes to decide. Here, why don’t you take this?” She handed him a couple ibuprofen and a bottle of water. “You’re going to be very sore for the next few days, it’s going to get worse before it gets better, unfortunately. You can stay on top of it with some OTC pain meds, low impact activity like walking short distances may help.” Gesturing toward the hallway, “I’m going to get Steve.”
Danny tossed the ibuprofen in his mouth, grimacing as he swallowed the water down. His throat still hoarse and raw, from yelling for help. What good that did…
“Danny? They’re going to be wheeling her in, in a moment. You wanna stick around, or we can jet?” Steve appeared at Danny’s side. Danny looked up at him wide-eyed, and clearly unprepared.
He coughed, clearing his throat. “Bring her in, that’s… that’s fine.” He stepped back turning away from the doors, taking a deep breath. He squeezed his eyes shut, hearing the squeak of the Paramedic’s shoes on the polished floor as they wheeled in a black body bag on a gurney.
“Breathe, Danny…” Steve’s voice was close to his ear, the man’s arm slung protectively over his shoulder.
The footsteps faded away, and all that was left was Danny and Steve, with Noelani holding the door to the exam room.
Steve stayed at Danny’s side as they stepped into the room, not missing the way Danny’s breath caught in his throat. They moved toward the table, with Noelani opposite them.
“Ready?” She asked.
Steve nodded, and Danny closed his eyes as Noelani pulled the zipper down to reveal the woman’s face.
“Please take all the time you need,” and Noelani slipped away.
Danny stepped forward, his face crumpling at the sight of Leslie. Blood still drying to her face, he ignored it reaching a hand forward to cup her cheek. Her skin already cool beneath his hand. Tears slipped down his cheeks, but he did not cry. Brushing the hair from her forehead, he leaned down and kissed her head.
“I wish you could have met her, Steve,” Danny’s voice cracked, thick in his throat. He sniffled, running a hand across his mouth. “Gorgeous green eyes. I’ve never seen eyes that shade of green before. She was the total package. Classy, strong, confident… one step ahead of me the entire time. But she was real, ya know? Pushed all the right buttons. Charismatic in ways I haven’t seen in a woman in a long time…”
“Tell me about it. Tell me about her. ” Steve pressed, putting a comforting arm around his friend’s shoulder once more.
“Spitfire. There were sparks, Steve. Fireworks, the whole nine yards. I’ve never had that before, not to this extreme. She was a challenge but in all the right ways. And from Jersey, can you believe that? Questionable choices in pizzerias aside, for a moment there it felt like home. I didn’t have that ache in my chest.”
“Love at first sight?”
“Hm,” Danny shrugged. “Maybe? I only got a few hours with her, but yeah… she could have made a believer out of me.”
Steve squeezed Danny’s shoulders and they stood there for awhile.
“I wish I got more time with her. Shoulda known… the moment I find happiness…” Danny shook his head and sighed, his face darkening.
“What do you mean by that?” Steve was confused, Danny clearly not making sense to him.
“Nothing. It’s stupid really… Just some dumb observation.”
“No, tell me. You’re a detective, Danny. There’s no such thing as dumb observations.”
“Grace, my partner? I couldn’t save her either. Rachel? Failed relationship, not once… not twice… but three times. She was the reason I was at that bar at 10 am in the first place. And, and Gabrielle? Nah I never could have convinced her to stay. And Melissa, that was as good as over the minute her ex tried to rearrange my guts with sharp pointy objects. Maybe I’m just not meant to be with anyone.”
“What are you talking about, of course you deserve to be with someone. Danny, you deserve to be happy. You deserve the goddamn world.”
“Then why does this keep happening, Steve. Huh? Why?” Danny’s voice elevated, the artery in his neck becoming more pronounced. Face flushed with the depth of his emotion.
“Danny, come on… it’s gonna be okay.”
“Fuck you, and fuck your goddamn platitudes. I don’t need your fucking sympathy, Steven.”
Steve recognized it for what it was. Danny was both physical and vocal, wildly expressive in nature, and could not be contained when emotions became bigger than he. This was Danny processing what had happened, and the subsequent depression and anxiety that was beginning to wheedle it’s way in, clouding and altering his judgment. Part of Danny getting past these traumas, these huge life events that needed to be grieved, was to let the thoughts and feelings pour out of him like a volcano. He was lava right now, bubbling and boiling just beneath the surface, ready to blow. But Steve was his safety from the storm and turmoil. He needed to vent, he needed to express, and later he would need the quiet to wallow. To sleep for days on end, until a morning came where the sun wasn’t too unbearably bright, and he could handle feeling a bit human again even if just for a short while. Danny had a long dark road ahead, but Steve knew him, and knew what the man needed.
“What can I do?” he asked, taking a step back. “I can get the Governor to sign off on more personal time, you can head back to Jersey if you need to. For the funeral, if there is one? Spend some time with your parents, it’s been awhile since you’ve seen them. Or, I can fly Grace home from school, there’s a long weekend coming up? You’re not alone in this, Danny. You don’t have to be alone. You’re not meant to be alone…”
“I don’t need a babysitter,” he grit out through clenched teeth.
“No? Okay. But I do? Tell me why you moved yourself into my house, huh?” Steve spat back. “You may not realize it now, but you’re gonna need to be in that house… Just as much as I need you to be in that house. I’m your friend, Danny. And I love you. I’m not here to be in your face, but I’m also not abandoning you. You need something, you tell me. I don’t care the time of day. Or how stupid a request you think it is. Today wasn’t just a car accident. It’s clear to me that this woman meant something to you. I know you’re going to be angry. And you can scream, and yell. Punch me if you want, cry, I don’t care. I’m not going anywhere, alright? Tell me what you need.”
“I don’t know what I need. Alright?” Danny’s face was red with rage, hurt, despair as he yelled. “More time. A different choice. Maybe I should have let her take the Lyft, maybe we’d be making dinner plans right now. Maybe I never should have gone to that bar. She’d still be alive.”
“Buddy… no. Don’t do that to yourself.” Steve grimaced, the curse of the ‘what-if’s’.
“But it’s true?” Danny shrugged, eyes welling with tears. “Met the girl of my dreams, and lost her. All in one day. Tell me how I’m supposed to process that? Tell me, how the hell am I supposed to get over that?”
“One day at a time-”
Danny growled, slamming his fist down on the table opposite Leslie. Turning away from Steve, he gripped the edge of cold stainless steel, knuckles blanching white.
“Come on,” Steve took a chance and put his hands on Danny’s shoulders. “This isn’t the time or the place, let’s let Noelani do her thing. Technically we’re not even supposed to be in here.”
Pulling him away from the table, Steve turned Danny around facing Leslie once more. “Say goodbye…”
A shuddering breath, Danny ran his fingers through Leslie’s hair, cupped her cheek, and kissed her one last time. As they turned to walk away, Steve pulled him into his arms. A firm tight hug where Danny shook and trembled, and squeezed the breath out of Steve. And then he was gone, bursting through the swinging doors, and back out into the parking lot.
Noelani ventured in moments later, “Commander? Detective William’s phone was recovered from the scene.” She handed it over to him, sad smile when the screen showed a selfie of the pair. Wide smiles that crinkled at the corner of their eyes.
“I’ll take it to him. And Noelani, thank you for this…” Steve gestured to the room, sighing heavily with the weight of the day.
“You’re welcome, sir. I’d say it was my pleasure, but… please give my condolences to him.”
“Will do,” Steve hurried outside hoping that Danny hadn’t taken off down the road on his own again. He found him standing by the truck, hands on his hips.
“Take me home, please.”
Wordlessly, Steve handed over Danny’s phone, and nodded his head once towards the truck. “Let’s go.”