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Breathing in the Coldest Nights-Expanded Edition

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Everyone could see him from the lanai as he sat on the beach, shoulders slumped, but didn’t know what to say. Grover understood best, having been with Five-0 the longest, but he also knew Danny wouldn’t want to talk to him. He and Adam had quietly asked Tani because she’d talked to him about McGarrett before. She’d objected at first because she had no idea what to say to someone who was not only recovering from kidnapping, torture, and a gunshot wound, but now, a broken heart as well. She only agreed because it was clear none of the rest of them were going to do it and Danny’s hurt was obvious. So they left and she walked down to the surf.

“How’re you doing, Danny?” She sat in the chair Steve had vacated a short time before, resting on her hip so she could face him.

“Well, I’ve been shot, so, had better weeks.” He couldn’t look at her, and she stayed silent, so he continued. “He’s gone.”

“I know. But he’ll be back.”

“Maybe.” Danny’s chin fell to his chest and tears he’d thought had dried up, fell again as his chest began to tighten. He leaned forward because he suddenly couldn’t breathe. She hopped up and went to his side.

“Danny! What’s going on? You OK?” He was starting to hyperventilate, so she pulled out her phone and called 911. For the second time that week, Danny was headed to the hospital.

 

5050505050

 

“Danny?” Rachel knocked on the door to his hospital room.

When he’d been brought in, his blood-oxygen levels had dropped and he’d lost consciousness, so they’d put another IV in to keep him sedated for a while. Hospital staff had asked Tani who they should call when he woke up. A few days ago, the answer would have been obvious, but now... She’d called Grover and he’d given her Rachel’s number. Danny had woken up, asked for some food, and turned on CNN without sound. He fell back asleep again before they’d brought him breakfast. Rachel’s voice roused him and he turned to look at her, confused.

“I’m sorry if I woke you. They called me this morning to say you...”

“Don’t worry about it.” Danny waved his right hand dismissively. “You didn’t need to come down here. I guess I just wasn’t as out of the woods as they thought.”

“It was no trouble. Grace is getting Charlie ready for school. They’re going to come see you this afternoon.” She stayed near the door. He didn’t invite her to sit down and preferred to read the news crawl on the TV than look at her. He was always polite to her, for the kids’ sake, but they didn’t talk much anymore.

“Are you...Will you be alright?” She walked over to the end of the bed so he would have to face her.

“Sure.” He looked at her, and then away. The look on her face was too much to endure right now.

“Danny, I’ve some experience with what you’re like with a broken heart.”

“Just stop. No. You and I are not going to talk about this. So stop it. I don’t know why you felt you had to come down here, but I’m fine. Please.”

Her eyes crinkled with sadness for him, “They called me because there was no one else to call, Danny. Stev...”

“Go! Get out of here, now! GO!” He shouted and his chest burned as he heaved from the effort.

“OK, Danny, ok. When you’re ready to go home, have them call me and I’ll send Grace to come get you.” He watched her as she went, chuffing through the pain and hoping she would be several rooms away before he gave in to his heartache.

5050505050

They kept him in the hospital two more days until he could manage with only one Codeine tablet every six hours and his lung capacity had increased. He’d called Grace himself to come get him. Sitting alone in the hospital room for hours, he’d already arranged for a flight to Jersey. Grace had offered to go with him, but school wasn’t out yet. She had asked him only once when Uncle Steve would be coming back, but the look on her dad’s face told her all she need to know. She’d seen that same look on her parents, on Stan... she knew what it meant. So she helped him pack and drove him to the airport.

“Give Gramma a hug for me.” She said, wrapping her arms around her dad’s neck, kissing him lightly on the cheek.

“I will. And stop by and take Eddie for walks will ya? Junior doesn’t get to it as much as he should.”

“He took Eddie to live with Tani. Pretty sure he’s living with her too. No one really wants to stay at Uncle Steve’s right now.” She felt her dad flinch a little.

“Uh, ok.” Danny said, pulling away from their embrace. He didn’t know what to do with that information.

“I think they thought you’d stay there, but now...”

“Yeah, OK. I, uh, I gotta get to the security checks. I love you, Monkey.”

“I love you too, Danno.” She patted his shoulder then as he started to turn way, she grabbed his arm again. “It’s OK to be upset that he’s gone. To miss him. I know he loves you.”

Danny’s face felt hot and he grimaced. “Not enough. I gotta go.” He turned and walked away quickly, hoping he could get to a bathroom before the pain in his chest got too much and he’s start to hyperventilate again.

5050505050

Danny knocked on the door and waited, leaning on the railing at the top of the steps. He should have called. The cab was already driving away when he realized he’d never let them know he was coming. What if they weren’t home or had gone on one of those cruises they were so fond of these days? The door opened as his brain had moved on to his parent’s imaginary trip to Europe with a “Silver Fox Traveling Group”, and his mom shouted “Oh, my God! Danny!”

He’d forgotten that the bruises and stitches in his face made him look like Bruce Willis at the end of pretty much every movie he made. “Ma, I’m fine. It’s OK, seriously, Ma, calm down.”

She pulled him along to the kitchen, fussing over him and repeating her endless mantra of “What the hell happened!?!” He sat at the table, accepting her offer of pie and coffee, but drew the line at a bag of frozen peas for his now very black eye.

She sat at on the other side of the table. “Ok, spill it. What is going on?”

“I got jumped, Ma. It happens in my line of work.”

“I know it happens, Daniel. I remember when you were on the force here. I also remember that you didn’t need to show up at my door after. Ten years you’ve been in Hawai’i. Surgeries, illness, gunshot wounds...I’m lucky if I get a phone call weeks or months after the fact. But what you’ve never done is show up at my door. Where’s Steve?”

“Steve left.” Danny pushed the pie around on his plate. He’d eaten about three bites and wasn’t hungry anymore.

“What do you mean, he left? He left for where?”

Danny shrugged his shoulders. “He said he needed to leave Hawai’i for a while.”

“Was this before or after you got shot?”

“Before, and after. Both. It’s hard to explain. But I still need some help with rehab and stuff and the only other option I had was Rachel, and I just can’t...”

“No, Sweetie, of course not. But I still don’t understand. Steve knew you’d been shot and he...”

“Ma, things have been rough for Steve for a while.”

“I don’t care.” Her voice was rising. “I don’t care. You’re recovering from a gunshot wound!”

“It’s not like he’s my keeper, Ma. He doesn’t have any obligation to care for me.”

“Hell he doesn’t. Give me your phone.”

“What? No, Crazy Lady. You are not calling him.” He watched as she got up and started going through his duffel bag pockets, before grabbing her own cell.

“Grace will know.” She unlocked her phone as Danny pulled it from her hand.

“I said no, Ma. No one is calling him. Not you, not Rachel, not Grace. He made his choice. We all have to live with it.”

Realization is finally hitting her. “You don’t expect him to come back, do you?”

His shoulders slumped and he looked just like he used to after he’d lost a baseball game or a fight with his sisters. “No. He’s not going to come back. If he was going to come back, he wouldn’t have left.”

“I’m not sure that makes any sense, but OK. I won’t try to call him.”

“Thank-you.” He put his hands on the counter and started to pant a little. “Ma, I, uh, I need to sit down again. Can you...”

“Oh, baby, come here. Yes. I’m sorry. Let’s get you settled in. Your father's gone on a fishing trip to Alaska with a bunch of guys from the department.” She wrapped her arm around his waist and helped guide him to the living room. He decided to settle into his dad’s recliner so he could put his feet up. She busied herself with getting him set up with blankets, the remote, a folding table, and a glass of orange juice.

After he fell asleep, she picked up her phone. “Hiya Gracie! It’s Gramma.”

5050505050

Three weeks later, Danny still hadn’t left the house much. He’d called his doctor who had referred him to a home-health agency in Newark. He had physical and respiratory therapists who came out two to three times a week. And after Ma ratted him out, a mental health therapist and a chaplain also stopped by. He didn’t want meds for his head too. Plus, he knew what this was. He’d gone through this after his divorce. He agreed to keep meeting with the chaplain just because he liked the guy but the idea of therapy reminded him too much of Steve.

“Ma, I’m gonna take a shower. I got RT at 11.” He hollered down the hall towards his parent's bedroom. He’d settled into his childhood bedroom, relishing the comfort and security it provided. Even at 41, being in his old room calmed him down.

The shower had started when the reminder alarm started going off on Danny’s phone. He hadn’t taken it into the bathroom with him so the alarm kept going. Clara found it on a shelf in the upstairs laundry room. Danny must’ve left it there when he grabbed a towel. She picked it up, correctly guessing the passcode to be Grace’s birthday and turned off the alarm. His background was a picture of Grace and Charlie from two Halloweens ago. She smiled at the image and noticed the small red oval by the phone icon. 52. She touched open the app. Danny had 27 voicemails that he hadn’t listened to and 25 missed calls. She looked to see whose calls Danny wasn’t taking, but it only listed numbers, most were the same. She went into his Favorites and there were only three names; hers, Grace, and Charlie. She went into his contacts. Steve’s name was gone. So were most of the names she’d heard him talk about from Hawai’i. She left the phone on his nightstand so he wouldn’t lose it.

When Danny came down for breakfast, he smelled just like his dad, which made Clara smile. She noted that his hair had grown out a fair bit, which she liked better than the buzzed-sides cut he had when he’d arrived. But it was getting too long on top.

“Want me to make an appointment at Bud’s for ya?” She asked as she slid a couple fried eggs on a plate.

Danny ran his fingers through his hair in response. “Yeah, it’s getting a bit unruly I ‘spose.”

“Not a problem. I’ll call and set it up once Liz gets here to do your RT. Bud’ll be thrilled. He hasn’t cut your hair since you were 22.”

Danny poured himself some coffee and opened the fridge to get some milk. “That’s not true. I went to him all the time until I got married. Then it was just easier to go to that salon Rachel used.”

Clara smiled, “Well, he’ll be glad to see you all the same. Say, you, uh, you heard from your friends lately?” She tried to sound casual but the look he gave her told her she’d failed. She withered a little and wondered, not for the first time, if this was how the bad guys felt when being questioned by him.

“Why’re you asking, Ma? Someone called you?”

“No, sweetie.”

“You call someone I asked you not to?” He leaned back against the counter now, arms crossed in front.

“No, Danny. Listen. Your phone was going off while you were in the shower. I just... I saw that you had a lot of missed calls. That’s all.”

His arms dropped. “C’mere.” He pulled her into a hug. “I’m sorry. That was harsh. I... I don’t wanna talk to him right now. Any of them.”

She hugged him and then stepped back enough to look at him. “So, Steve is calling you.”

He sighed. “Yeah, Ma. He’s called. He’s texted. I don’t answer.”

“Why?” It wasn’t like him to do this. Even after his divorce, he always answered if Rachel called.

“The day he left, I texted him. Like an hour later, I texted him.” He stopped, then busied himself putting sugar in his coffee, which was strange because he normally didn’t drink it with sugar, just milk.

“And?”

He dropped the spoon in the sink. “And he didn’t text back for 38 hours. I’d gone back into the hospital and was sitting there in that dark room waiting for him to text back and he didn’t. Then when he did, he just...it was nothing. It said nothing. I haven’t responded since.”

“Look, Danny. I know you haven’t wanted to talk about what went on between you two. But you’re not talking to your friends either. That’s not like you.”

“I’m talking to someone. I am. Just not them, OK? Trust me, I’ll be fine. And I am talking to Grace. She and Charlie are gonna fly back for Memorial Weekend.”

“They are? Oh, that’s great! Wait, that’s next week! I need to get things ready.”

Danny chuckled as she went into full-blown, Super-grannie mode while he sat and ate his eggs.

5050505050

The doorbell rang and Danny grumbled a little as he got up. His ribs still shot bolts of pain when he moved from sitting to standing. Liz was 45 minutes early, which was odd for her. She was normally exactly on time for their appointments. He went to the door holding his chest under his left arm in a vain attempt to get the throbbing to stop as he wheezed, chiding himself for not taking some pain meds after his shower. He opened the door and froze. It wasn’t Liz.

“Hey Danny.” He felt his brain short-circuit. Steve was standing there, wearing faded jeans (jeans!) and a navy blue v-neck t-shirt. His skin had lost some of it’s tan, which made the color of the tattoos that peaked out under his shirt sleeves look brighter. He was clean-shaven, but like Danny, he hadn’t cut his hair in a while. Danny leaned on the door, leaving it open enough for him to see, but keeping the door firmly between himself and Steve.

“What’re you doing here, Steve?”

“You’re not answering my calls, Danny. You’re not answering anyone’s calls.”

“So.”

“So, I, I wanted to make sure you were OK.”

“No you didn’t.”

“What’re you talking about Danny, of course...”

Danny raised his voice. “You’re lying Steve. I’m certain you called Grace, or Rachel, or both and they told you I was here. You probably called my mom too. You knew I was fine and you knew I wasn’t answering your calls. So please don’t waste my time.”

Danny pushed the door closed but Steve grabbed it, getting his hand slammed in the process. “Ow! Shit!” Steve cursed but he didn’t let go of the door, pushing it back open.

“Danny, please. We need to talk.”

“No, we don’t Steve. We actually don’t. I tried to talk, remember? And you left. You walked away. So, sorry. Your chance to talk is over. Go away.”

Steve stayed outside the threshold, but kept his hand on the door. “Danny, I’m not leaving, man. Yeah, I called Grace. She’s worried about you too. Everyone’s worried about you. Can I come in, please?”

“No, Steve. You can’t. You cross this door, I’m calling 911. I mean it.”

Steve let his hand drop from the door. “Alright. OK. I’m staying at the Quality Inn if you wanna” The door closed. “...if you need...OK.” Steve turned and heard the deadbolt click behind him. When he got back to his rental car, he sat for a few minutes, watching the house before eventually driving away.

5050505050

It was late afternoon and Danny sat at his father’s desk, working on the newspaper crossword puzzle. Ma had brought him coffee and a sandwich, which sat untouched. He hadn’t eaten since that morning, but he wasn’t hungry. There was light knock on the door and he looked up to find Andrew standing there. He was the chaplain that Danny had met with a few times.

“Oh, hey. Sorry, I didn’t remember us having an appointment today.” Danny stood up and motioned to the chair by the desk.

“We didn’t. Your mom called and asked if I had time today.”

“She worries. But it’s good to see you.”

Andrew sat down casually. “Good to see you too. I understand you had a visitor today.”

Danny looked at him quizzically. He hadn’t told his mom about Steve coming by this morning. “I don’t...what are you talking...”

Andrew held up a hand, “Danny, it’s not a mystery. Steve called your mom after he left here. She called me.”

“I see.” Danny went very still.

“Did he tell you where he’s been?”

“No, he uh...I didn’t give him a chance. I told him to leave or I was gonna call the cops.”

“Woah.”

“Yeah.” Danny smoothed his hands though his hair and sat back in the desk chair. “Him showing up like that... I wasn’t ready. And it made me so mad that he was there, dictating when we got to talk. I practically begged him to talk to me before and now he shows up and...it pissed me off. I dunno.”

“You want to talk to him on your terms, not his.”

Danny nodded. “Yeah, exactly. He’s such a control freak, always has been. And he took control to walk out and leave me recovering from a bullet to the chest alone. I figure, if we ever talk again, it’s gonna be when I want to.”

Andrew leaned forward a little. “Do you want to talk to him?”

Danny shook his head and stared at the desktop for a while. “I dunno. Yeah, I guess. I do. But even thinking about it hurts. And when I imagine it, y’know, talking to him. Finding out where he went; nothing he could say wouldn’t make me angry. Every conversation I have with him in my head only ends with rage.”

“Because you’re angry.”

“I am. So why bother talking to him?”

“So he can know why you’re angry with him. Danny, you’re holding all this inside because you can’t place it where it belongs. Instead, you’re passively hurting him back by ignoring him, when in fact, you both want to talk.”

“I’m afraid I might...I have dreams, nightmares really, where I’m...I’m hitting him. I get so mad, I hit him.”

“And this scares you, that you might hurt him?”

“Well, let’s be real here, I’m hardly in shape enough to land a punch that would actually hurt him. No, it’s not that I’d hurt him really. It’s that I’d lose control enough to not care if I was hurting him.”

“That’s actually really insightful, Danny. Our dreams, though, they’re mostly ways for our brains to process what is happening to us. Do you think it’s possible that your dreams may be more about a desire to have it out with him?”

“What, like my brain is giving me a fantasy fight because I won’t have a real one?”

Andrew shrugged. “Do you and Steve normally fight physically?”

“No. We yell a lot, but we don’t hit each other.”

“Then why do think you would start now?”

“Because it’s never been this bad before. I honestly don’t know that we can come back from this.”

“And maybe you can’t. Not all relationships can be mended or salvaged. They can be ended well though. I don’t think we pay enough attention to that. Most of us end relationships in anger and never look back. But it is possible to amicably separate. That takes vulnerability though, so we don’t do it.”

“I’m not ready for that.”

“And that’s OK. Tell him that. If he cares about you at all, he will respect that. I need to get going. My husband wasn’t expecting me to make this stop and he’s waiting to go to dinner.”

Danny held out his hand. “Thanks for stopping by, man.”

Andrew clasped Danny’s hand and held it. “I’m just a call away.”

“Thanks, man. Really.”

“Peace, Danny.” Andrew left.

Peace. That was what Steve had said he was seeking when he left. Danny wondered if he’d found it.

5050505050

Grace and Charlie arrived three days later. Rachel had excused them both from school early on Thursday so they could fly out before the weekend rush. They’d all driven out to the Shore on Friday, hoping to get a beach day when it wasn’t too crowded. Grace sat on her towel next to her dad as they both watched Charlie play in the surf.

“Danno? Will you do my back?” She held out her sunscreen towards him.

“Sure, Monkey. Scoot over here.” He took the bottle. “This is only SPF 45.”

She rolled her eyes. “It’s plenty. Stop fussing at me.” He grumbled a little as he started to rub the white cream on to her shoulder blades. “Don’t leave any white spots either. Rub it in.”

“I know how to put on sunscreen Grace. I lived in Hawai’i for ten years.”

“Gramma and Grampa are taking me and Charlie to see a play tomorrow night.”

This was the first he was hearing of this. “Oh yeah? What play?”

“Little Women. Gramma thought it would be fun. I don’t know how much fun it will be for Charlie, but she says it’s at the Children’s Theatre, so I guess they will know how to keep him engaged. It was nice of them.”

“Yeah. You’ll have a good time.”

“I ordered dinner for you from Gino’s. They’ll deliver it about 6:30.” She took a breath. “And, so you don’t have to eat alone, I invited Uncle Steve over to keep you company.” She felt his hands still on her shoulders.

He gripped her firmly. “Grace...”

She twisted to face him. “No, Danno. You’re gonna let him in the house and you’re gonna eat dinner.”

“Grace, listen to me. That’s not going to happen. You had no right to interfere...”

She shoved at him, not hard, but enough to show her anger. “No right? I have every fucking right!”

“Watch your mouth.”

“No, Dad, I won’t. I’m not a kid but you’re sure acting like one, hiding in your room so you don’t have to talk to anyone. I have every right as I endure the third divorce of my life! With mom, you two fought so much it was like a relief when it was over, but this? This is just pigheaded and stupid. Neither one of you seem to have any idea why this happening and since when were either of you unwilling to talk to each other? For ten years I watched you two be the only example of a stable, committed relationship I had. And then you both just, what, stop?”

“Grace, honey, you don’t understand.”

“I know I don’t. You clearly don’t, or you’d tell me. And Steve doesn’t know either. No one seems to understand anything. Which is why you two are going to have dinner tomorrow if I have to handcuff you both to the goddamn chairs.”

She looked so much like Rachel right now. With a little of her Grandma thrown in. He sat back, resting his hands on his knees. “You’ve been talking to Steve?”

“Of course I have. Every day since he left. At first I was mad at him for taking off like that, then I just felt sorry for him. We don’t talk long. He calls and asks how Charlie and I are doing. He asks about you. Then we hang up. It didn’t take long to figure out he was calling me because you wouldn’t answer.”

“Where’d he go?”

“Nope.” She shook her head. “You get to ask him that yourself.”

“When did you get so stubborn?”

She cocked her head to the side, “Pretty sure I was born into it.”

5050505050

Grace had told Steve to show up at 6, so she could ensure he got let into the house.

“Uncle Steve!” Charlie shouted as he ran down the stairs, leaping into Steve’s arms.

“How ya doin’ Charlie?” Steve lifted him up and hugged the boy tight.

“You’ve been gone too long.” Charlie said into his neck.

“I know, pal. I’m sorry.” Steve looked over at Grace. Holding Charlie with one arm, he pulled her in for a hug with the other. “Good to see you, Gracie.”

She kissed his cheek and whispered in his ear, “Don’t fuck this up.”

He looked at her seriously. “I’ll try.”

She nodded, knowing there was only so much he could do. She prayed they’d figure this out. “C’mon Charlie. Let’s get your coat.”

“Steve, good to see you.” Clara came down the stairs next.

“You too, Clara.” He looked away. He hadn’t called her Ma and she’d noticed. He used to, but it didn’t feel right now.

“Danny’s in the kitchen. We’re heading out.”

“Yeah, the play. Grace told me.” She placed a hand on his arm. “He still loves you." She turned and shouted up the stairs, "Ed, get a move on! We're gonna be late."

Steve nodded at her and stood by the door as they all headed out. He headed nervously for the kitchen.

“They gone?” Danny asked as he sat at the table, drinking a beer.

“Yeah, they just left.”

“Great, you can go now.”

“Danny...”

“Steve, I know Grace set this up and she thinks she’s doing a good thing, so I’ll play along for her sake, but there’s no reason for you to stay here. So, please, leave.”

Steve went to the fridge and pulled out a beer. “Sure there is. It’s not good for you to drink alone. If you’re gonna sit there and drink, then I am too.” He sat at the opposite end of the table as he twisted off the cap.

“I’m having a beer, Steven. Not like I’m doing vodka shots in the dark.”

“How’s your PT going?” Steve asked, taking a sip.

“It’s fine.”

“That’s good. You look good.”

“Don’t.”

“Don’t what?”

“Don’t talk to me like things are normal.”

“Don’t talk to you like... how should I talk to you Danny? Huh? I’m trying here, man. What do you want from me?”

“Nothing. I don’t want one goddamn thing from you. I want you to walk out that door and not look back because that’s what McGarretts are good at! Your mom and dad did it to you and you did it to me. I was broken, shot, and bleeding and you left. You left and lost the right to decide when to come back. You get to come back if, and only if, I decide to let you.”

Steve sat back, stunned. He blinked a few times, just staring at Danny. That was exactly what he had done. He’s rationalized to himself that Danny would be better off, safer, if he wasn’t around, the same way John had rationalized that sending him and Mary away was safer. He hadn’t texted Danny back because Catherine had shown up and he’d had to deal with that, but he’d called once he got settled. By then, though, Danny wouldn’t answer. Shame and guilt descended on him and his shoulders slumped.

“You’re right. Oh my God, Danny. You’re right,” he said, his voice pained.

“I know I’m right.” Danny was torn between his raw anger and the impulse to comfort Steve that came from ten years of being friends.

“I’m sorry, Danny, I...how do I even? God, what did I do? I wasn’t thinking like that...I was so afraid of what I was causing...I didn’t think...”

“Where did you go?” Danny's voice was low, almost a whisper.

Steve chuffed out some breaths, trying to regain composure. “I, uh, I flew to L.A. I knew from there I could go pretty much anywhere and thought I’d figure it out once I got there. The cheapest flight was to Seattle, and from there, Stockholm.”

“Stockholm? Why on earth would you go to Sweden?”

“Well, uh, I’d never been there. And I didn’t know the language, which felt like a challenge. But it was still near the ocean. I don’t know. Made sense at the time.”

Danny thought about how Steve had looked paler to him when he first showed up at the door. “Still pretty cold in Sweden, isn’t it.”

“Yeah. It is. But the city was amazing and I ended up renting a small cabin on this inlet. The connection to the ocean is just as strong there as it is in Hawai'i, which was fascinating. It was like the mirror image really, 'cause they have lots of these small islands off the coast. They poach the fish and serve it cold on bread with cheese for breakfast. The markets were full of berries and nuts, along with salted meats. They salt pretty much everything, even the candy. The sun shined every day, but the temperature barely got above 45. With the snow unmelted all around folks would be outside, playing and exercising. And the shorelines, there are these huge boulders you can climb up so easily and look out.”

“Sounds like you had a great time.”

Steve rubbed his face with his hand and then laid it on the table, palm up. “Hold my hand.”

“What?”

“You heard me Danny. Hold my hand.”

“I don’t understand. Why would I want to...”

“Because I asked nicely and you’re not a putz. Please. I need to hold your hand.” Danny reached out and placed his hand on top of Steve’s on the table. Steve cupped it with his other hand.

“I came to understand something important while I was there. There’s no life I can live without you in it, Danny. No scenario, no place, no time, where I don’t want you at my side. But I’ve never felt I could ask that of you, not openly. From the moment we formed the taskforce, you were there, and I was there, and we went along. But when I needed to leave, to get away, I couldn’t ask that of you. I couldn’t ask you leave Grace and Charlie. So I thought I was setting you up as best I could. The house, the dog, the team...they were yours. I thought I was just taking myself out of the equation so I could get my head on straight.”

He stopped, his breath ragged again. “Danny, I’m yours. Now. Then. Tomorrow. I don’t want to be anywhere unless you’re there. I know it. And it scares me, honestly, because I’ve never needed anyone the way I need you.” The doorbell rang through the house. Steve put his head down on the table.

“It’s just the food, Steve. Hold on, I’ll get it.”

Steve jumped up. “No, you’re supposed to rest. I’ll get it.”

Grace had ordered Carbonara Spaghetti with sausage for Danny and Pesto linguini with Shrimp for Steve, along with a Caesar Salad for them to share. Steve ate quietly. He’d laid everything out for Danny. Now he had to wait to see what Danny would say about it. Finally, Danny cleared this throat a little and took a swig of his beer.

“Steve, I know you love me. I do. And I thought I understood what that meant. That’s why I wanted you to talk to me about what has been going on with you. I knew you needed a break and I was even willing to endure the time apart. But that was before...”

“I know, I’m sorry. I’ll say it a thousand times if...”

“No, stop. Please. This is my turn and you’re gonna listen now.” Steve nodded and focused on twirling pasta onto his fork. “I get that you’re sorry. I get that you’re lonely and that you had this great find-yourself adventure that you want to share. What I don’t think you understand is what it felt like to be me, sitting on that beach when you walked out. I had four broken ribs, a concussion, and a collapsed lung from having been shot. I wasn’t going to heal from all of that without a lot of time and therapy. I needed you, Steve. And you left. Not only did you leave, but it never entered your mind that you should stay. For ten years, you’d been my partner, not just on the job, but in life. Strange and undefined as it was, you were my partner. At least, that was what I thought. When you left though, I realized that we didn’t have a partnership. We had a codependency. One where you dictated the terms and I...I was too weak or afraid to do anything but accept what I was given. I won’t do that anymore. I can’t.”

Tears fell silently down Steve’s face. “What are your saying, Danny?”

“I’m saying you needing me isn’t enough. Because if this is only based on what you need, then when you decide you don’t, even temporarily, it’s me that suffers.”

Steve shook his head a little. “I tried to call you the first day. Everything I did, all I could think about was that I wanted you to share it with. From the moment I got there, I wished you were with me.”

“But not enough to ask me to go with you.”

“I did! I called and was gonna tell you to join me as soon as you could fly. I’d even asked Catherine if...”

“Catherine? What’re you talking about, Catherine?”

Steve swallowed hard. “She met me. On the plane out of Oahu. She flew back with me to the mainland.”

Danny could feel the heat of his anger rising, constricting his chest and he knew he needed to calm down or he’d hyperventilate. His inhaler was upstairs, too far away to be useful.

“You need to leave.”

“No, man, let’s talk this out. Please.” Danny’s breath was coming in short huffs now.

“If you care about me, if you actually are my friend, you will go. Right now. I know I’m in no condition to make you, but I swear Steve, if you don’t walk out of this house now, I don’t know that I will ever be able to look at you again. Go.”

Steve stared at him for a moment. He was scared to leave and scared to stay. “Can I call you tomorrow?”

“No. When, or if, I’m ready to talk to you, I’ll call you. Until then, no.” The pain in his chest was building but he was holding himself together because he knew if Steve was aware of how much pain he was in, he’d never leave. And he desperately needed him to leave.

“Danny, I…” Steve started but the hard look on Danny’s face made his heart stop. “Alright. Ok.” Steve pushed back from the table and left.

Danny sat at the table doing the calming exercises Liz had taught him, trying to calm the twisting of his heart and the fire in his lungs. He thought about the restaurant that never was and the way Grace knew them so well she could order their favorites. She was right that his inability to maintain relationships had cost her and Charlie so much. Melissa hadn’t really been a big part of their lives, but Steve...losing Steve would be devastating to them and that was why he was willing to try talking even though every fiber of his being resented that he was being forced to see Steve before he was ready. And then fucking Catherine. The pain in his chest started to rise again, but he couldn’t take a Vicodin since he’d been drinking. He walked slowly up to his bedroom and his inhaler, forcing himself not to cry because it would hurt too much, even though he really wanted to. One day he hoped he’d be numb to the pain Steve McGarrett could cause him. He laid in bed and counted out loud until his brain could turn off enough to fall asleep.

5050505050

“You fucked it up didn’t you.” Gracie was pissed but she tried to keep her voice level and quiet as she called Uncle Steve just before 11:00pm.

“Gracie, I can’t make your dad talk to me if he doesn’t want to.”

“Did you even try? We all know Danno can be stubborn. You just have to keep at him.” Grace didn’t know why, but she felt like her whole life depended on her dad and Uncle Steve figuring this out. She knew part of it was the selfish desire to get Danno back to Hawai’i, but it was more than that. Uncle Steve made her dad happy. He argued enough to feed Danno’s Jersey attitude and loved him all the more for it. They complimented each other in a way her mom and dad never had. And after the school dance her junior year, even all her friends thought they were a couple. If they couldn’t last, what hope was there for her to find a relationship that wasn’t going to end in disaster?

“Grace, I know that this is hurting all of us, but it’s also not right for me to push him. He’s made it very clear that he’s not gonna talk until he’s ready. If I don’t honor what he’s clearly said, well, it’s honestly abusive.”

“You would never abuse him.” Grace thought that seemed extreme.

“I would be if I keep calling or showing up when he’s explicitly asked me not to. Truthfully, it was wrong for me to go over there tonight. He’d already told me he didn’t want to see me and I pushed because…” His voice trailed off.

“Because I asked you to.”

“No, Gracie. No. Because I want him back in my life. More than I can tell you. But I messed up real bad and he may not be able to get over it.”

“Are you two… is this…,” she didn’t know how to ask this. Steve held the silence. He thought he knew what she was wanting to know, but he wasn’t sure and needed to wait for her to ask.

“Before this, were you two a couple. Like a dating kind of couple?”

Steve took in a big breath and let it out. “That’s a complicated question.”

It was her turn to wait. It was not something anyone ever talked about. She’d tried to ask her mom once when she was 12, but her mom’s reaction told her it was not something her mom would talk about and that made her afraid to ask Danno. But as she got older and fallen in love in her own right, she knew they weren’t just friends so she’d asked Kono, who’d told her They’ll figure it out eventually. Uncle Steve had a Christmas stocking at their house and was at every birthday, family party, hell, most weekends she’d wake up and he was there. He came to their school functions and even parent conferences sometimes. None of mom’s friends did that. Ever.

“I love your dad, I think you know that. I love you and Charlie like you are my own kids. We are partners and I want no one else to be my partner.”

She found herself getting riled again. “That answer is total chicken shit and you know it. Are you in love with my dad or not?” Because she was pretty sure her dad was in love with Uncle Steve.

Steve ran his hands over his face. “Grace, I’m not going to answer that question. I know that makes you angry but I’m not. That’s something between your dad and me.”

She started to pace around her room, trying not to yell. “That is such fucking bullshit! You think everyone can’t see it? Why are you hiding it? I’m his daughter. Don’t you think I deserve to know the truth?”

“It’s not a matter of truth, Grace.” Steve’s voice was getting louder too. “When you’re older you will understand…”

“Don’t even throw that shit at me! I’m not some sheltered dumbass. I know a lot more than you think. You think I didn’t have to deal with all my friend’s asking about my two gay dads? Believe me, I know how to dodge a question I don’t have an answer for and then have those same kids accuse me of being ashamed or homophobic when the fact was, I couldn’t answer them because I didn’t know. Sometimes you sleep on the couch, but other times, when I had to get up in the middle of the night, you’re not on the couch anymore. But then you are there at breakfast. You go away together on the weekends all the time, but then Danno goes out with Melissa for, like years, only really he hardly ever sees her, and she never stayed the night if it was our weekend there. You dance together at Kono and Adam’s wedding and once I understood what flirting was…”

She was crying now but was trying to keep her voice normal. “Just tell me the truth.”

“Oh, Gracie, I’m so sorry.” His heart was breaking for her and for his role in her angst.

“Don’t be sorry. Be honest.”

Steve sighed. “The honest answer is I don’t know. We are more than friends, but I can’t…this is a conversation I have to have with your dad before I can have it with you.”

“You don’t need his permission. This is between you and me.”

“I’m not talking about his permission. I mean it literally. I can’t talk to you about something I’ve never talked with him about. Everything you said is true. I love him. I know he loves me, or he used to. I sleep over, we flirt, we danced, we went to therapy. But we never, ever talked about it. Not in the way you’re thinking we must have.”

Grace took that in. It hadn’t occurred to her that even they wouldn’t know if they were in love or in a relationship. That made her sad all over again. “Well, fuck. What do we do now?”

“I don’t know.”

They were both quiet for a bit and then he said, “Can I ask you something?”

She laid down on her bed, curling up against a pillow, feeling rather exhausted. “Sure.”

“When did you start swearing so much?”

“Uncle Steve…” she whined.

“Hold on, I know you’re old enough to decide to how you want to present yourself. But this hasn’t been you. You swear more than your dad and I put together. Just surprising to me.”

“I don’t know. I just like to, I guess. Makes me feel better somehow. Maybe…,” she hadn’t really thought about it before but his question was making her wonder. “It feels like a way of dealing with my feelings that gets them out of me but controlled, y’know? Mom holds everything in, hardly ever gets mad or upset. Danno throws every feeling he has at whoever is standing close by. Neither way feels right to me. Swearing does. I like the way the words sound when I say them and…well, I wasn’t allowed to be much of a screw up as a kid. Danno or mom were always there to control everything. But only I control my words, y’know?”

“I do. But there are gonna be people who aren’t gonna like it. Your dad for one. Others will make judgements about you.”

“Danno needs to let me be an adult. And if other people want to judge me on my swearing, fuck ‘em.”

Steve chuckled at that. “You’re a lot like your dad, y’know.”

“Mom says that too.”

Steve smiled to himself. “Good-night Gracie. I’ll call you tomorrow. I love ya.”

“G’night Uncle Steve. I love you too.”

She put her phone on the charger, turned off her lamp, and rolled on her side, looking out the skylight above her. She was in what had once been Auntie Bridgett’s room. She wondered if the reason Danno and Uncle Steve were having such a hard time was because they couldn’t admit they had feelings for each other, or if it was that they felt they had to hide it from everyone. For her and her friends, being gay was no big deal. She had several friends who dated people of the same gender, some who dated both, some friends who didn’t want to be identified as either gender and knew a couple kids who had transitioned. It was normal to her. But she also knew that her generation was the first to grow up this way. And she wasn’t blind to how queer people got treated, even at her school. It had never occurred to her to tell Danno it was ok that he was in love with Uncle Steve. She took it as a given that he’d know she was fine with it. But maybe he didn’t know. Remembering her mom’s reaction, she realized that it might be important for him to hear her say it. She fell asleep thinking about how to talk to Danno in a way that would go better than it had with Uncle Steve.

5050505050

Danny woke to a knock on his door and rolled over to check the time. Grace didn’t wait for him to answer, walking in with a plate and fork in one hand and a cup of coffee in her other.

“Breakfast. Gramma made waffles.” She handed him the cup as he sat up and set the plate and fork on the nightstand.

“Sorry, I don’t normally sleep past 7. Not sure why I didn’t wake up.” He took gulp of coffee. “I’m able to get to the table though. You didn’t have to do this.”

Grace shrugged. “Charlie was done and we’d cleaned up the dishes. You still hadn’t come down, so I thought I’d bring breakfast to you.”

“Thanks, Monkey.” He patted her on the back as he set the cup down and scooted back against the headboard. She watched him eat for a bit.

“You have pensive face. What’s up?”

“You know what’s up. Tell me what happened.”

Danny kept eating as he talked. “Nothing happened. I just…I’m not ready to talk to Uncle Steve yet. I don’t know if I will ever be ready. And I know it’s hard for you and for Charlie, but you’re gonna have to accept that.”

“What did he do? Can you at least tell me that?”

“Your gramma makes some amazing waffles, you know that? But she didn’t teach you that they are best with strawberries.” He set the plate down and pulled the covers back, and sat at the edge of the bed. He leaned over and kissed her on her temple. “Thank-you. I’m getting up now.”

“Danno…”

“Grace, let me get dressed and we’ll go for a drive. Ok? Just you and me? And you can ask all your questions and I’ll do my best. Ok?” She nodded and left.

He sighed and grabbed his chinos off the chair where he’d left them the night before. This wasn’t a conversation he wanted to have, but he knew she wasn’t gonna let up until he did. An hour later, they were driving down the Turnpike. Clara and Eddie took Charlie to the Children’s Museum for the day, so he figured he’d take Grace to walk the boardwalk.

“No matter what happens, Uncle Steve will always be there for you.” Danny said as they drove along.

“I know. I also know there’s more to this than you’re telling me.”

“Well, yes and no.”

“Yes and no? What is that? Yes and no. What does that even mean?”

“I means it’s complicated and this would be a lot easier if you didn’t sound like him?”

“Sorry. I’m just…I want to understand.” She believed she understood pretty well, but she wanted to give him a chance to tell her first.

“He hurt me, Grace. He left when I really needed him and that hurt me. And I know he’s sorry and he wants things to be different but that’s not enough for me right now. I don’t know if how I feel about his leaving will get better. But I do know that pushing it didn’t help. It made it worse.”

“What did he do? Last night. What did he say?”

Danny kneaded his hands on the steering wheel. It shouldn’t be this hard, but admitting his jealousy of Catherine was not gonna leave any doubt, not to someone as bright as her.

“Danno, no matter what you do, no matter who you are, I will always love you. You know that, right?” He glanced at her and saw it. He saw the love, and he saw the acceptance. She already knew. Of course she did. Why did he think she wouldn’t know? He focused back on the road.

“When he left, he went with Catherine.”

“He left with Catherine? Like he left you and went with her? He said that?” In all her conversations with Steve while he was in Sweden, he’d implied he was alone. Or had he? He didn’t talk of anyone else so maybe she just assumed. “So it wasn’t just that he left. It’s that he didn’t leave alone.”

“Pretty much.”

“Do you think he’s getting back together with her?”

“I don’t know. It’s none of my business.”

“Fuck it isn’t.”

“Don’t talk like that.” He commanded.

“I will talk however I please and you will deal with it. Of course him and Catherine is your business. He sure as hell made every minuscule aspect of your life his business. Why are you just letting him go?”

“Grace, life isn’t like TV or the movies or whatever. You can’t make people love you. They either do or they don’t. And sometimes they leave. I don’t have to tell you this. Your mom and I. Your mom and Stan. Sometimes relationships end. Why are you pushing so hard on this? You didn’t do this when your mom and Stan split.”

“Stan was an self-centered prick and that only got worse after Charlie. She was better off without him. That’s not true here. You and Steve are good for each other. And you love each other, even though you’re both a hot mess right now. This isn’t the same. If Uncle Steve really wants to go be with Catherine, then whatever, I guess. But if that’s true, then how come he’s here in Jersey and she’s not? Huh?”

“I don’t know. She leaves a lot, but then she comes back, seems like at the worst times. On again, off again.”

“Is that what you and Uncle Steve are? On again, off again?”

He tiled his head and shrugged a little, “You have to be on before you can be off, Monkey. Steve and I, we never got there. Not really.”

“Have you kissed him?”

“What are you doin’ asking me something like that?” She spoke over him before he even finished his sentence.

“It’s a legitimate question! I’m trying to understand what’s going on and you’re giving me vagueness here.”

“Y’know I really hoped you’d turn out like me, but no, you’re him. Of course you’re him. He’s the cool uncle who never made you do the dishes and taught you how to throw a knife.”

“Just answer the question.” She was smiling now because this was the Danno she loved. Not the mopey shadow of himself he’s been for weeks.

“No, I’ve never kissed him. We never…I wanted to sometimes, but that always felt like a step to far, y’know? We’d sit close, he’d put his arms around me, we’d hug, we’d touch, hold hands…but it always stayed on this side of platonic.”

She reached over and put her hand in his. “Was that enough?”

“Enough? What’s enough? It was what was. I think…,” he squeezed her hand. “I was too scared to ask for more. And there’s other things to consider. We work together. We are both in a job that doesn’t exactly look kindly on, y’know.”

“Is it really so hard to say the words? Have you ever said the words?”

“What words?”

“I’m gay.”

“Hello Gay, I’m Danny.”

She rolled her eyes. “You are not seriously making dad jokes right now. Fine, bisexual, pansexual, queer, whatever word you want to use. Just say it.”

“I don’t want a label and I’m not any of those things. It’s just Steve.”

“Well, pretty sure deciding you’re a Stevesexual is gonna make any other Steve you meet rather awkward.”

“Couldn’t be more awkward than this entire conversation.”

“OK, Boomer.”

“Hey, I am not a Boomer. I’m very proud Gen X. Get your facts straight.”

She laughed. “Fine. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have shit to figure out.”

“That may be. But it’s mine to figure out. You wanna be a grown up, fine. Here’s the grown up truth. Sometimes the best thing you can do is leave someone alone. Not everyone needs help. Not everyone wants help. And sometimes, the only person who can help you is yourself. This is one of those times. You’re a great kid with a good heart and I love you. I know you care, OK. But this is my life. I have to be the one who decides how it goes. And you have to trust that I will do what is best for me and that I’ll always factor in you and Charlie into those decisions, even if we don’t talk about it.”

“OK. I just want you to be happy.”

“I will be. Maybe not right now, but eventually. OK?”

“Yeah.” She squeezed his hand again and let go. “Wanna listen to Bon Jovi?”

“Hell yeah!”

“Watch your mouth.” She said mockingly as she pulled up the album on his Car Play.

“Shaddup.” He smiled back.

5050505050

Grace sat on the bench watching Charlie climb around the play structure  when she felt a hand on her shoulder.

“How ya doin’ Gracie?” Steve sat next to her wrapping an arm around her and pulling her into a side hug, but she held stiff. “What’s wrong.” She’d texted him, asking to meet her.

“Did you leave Hawai’i with Catherine?” She looked him dead in the eyes, daring him to answer.

“Yes.” He held her gaze, matching her tenacity.

“She was with you? The whole time you were calling me every night asking about Danno, acting worried and hurt that he wasn’t calling you back and you were with her the whole time?” She practically growled at him. “Fuck. I’d like to cut off your balls and shove them up your nose.”

Steve’s flushed with anger and clenched his fists, then rubbed his hands over his face. “Dammit, Grace, I sure miss the days when you wore pigtails and carried pompoms.”

“I bet you do, asshole.”

“Hey! I may not be your dad but I’m as close as and you’re gonna talk to me with respect. Y’know what, forget that. You’re gonna talk to me with respect because we’re adults trying to have a conversation. If you can’t manage that, then you call me when you’ve calmed down.” He left her fuming on the park bench, secretly glad Charlie hadn’t noticed he’d been there.

5050505050

A few weeks and many arguments later, Grace and Danny watched Charlie board the plane with Clare for the return trip to Hawai’i. Grace had decided to spend the rest of the summer in Newark instead of going back home. She’d found a job working as a cashier at Seabra’s Market and used her first paycheck to help pay for her Gramma’s round-trip ticket to Hawai’i so Charlie didn’t have to fly alone. That had been another argument because Danny had insisted she should save her money but she knew he was now on extended leave and was keeping up the rent on his place on Oahu, so he didn’t have a lot to spare and her grandparents were living off Grampa’s fire department pension. She finally won by reminding her dad that being a grown up meant supporting your choices and she’d already rescheduled her return ticket for August when she went back to school. Danny hadn’t liked it, but he went along. He seemed to do a lot of that lately.

When they got back from the airport, Grace changed and left for her shift and Grampa Eddie went to get the mail. Danny heard the screen door slam as he rooted around in the chest freezer.

“What should we thaw out for dinner Pop?”

“Your Ma would want me to say chicken, but she’s not here so how about you take out that flank steak?”

“Sounds perfect. But don’t think that because she’s gone I’m gonna let you eat nothing but red meat.”

“Spoilsport. Here, this is yours.” He held out an envelope with his name and address written in bold, blue lettering. Even at a glance, he knew Steve’s handwriting.

“Yeah, OK. You can leave it on the table.” Danny set the steak on the counter and started going through the cabinets.

“You don’t want to read your letter?” Eddie pulled a Coke from the fridge and sat down at the table.

Danny pulled out the bin where Ma kept the jars of spices. “I’ll get to it. You know we could marinade it overnight and have it tomorrow instead. Or I can put a rub on it if we really want it tonight.”

“Sit down, son.” Eddie said firmly. That was the last thing Danny wanted to do. If Pop told you to sit down in that voice, that meant a lecture.

“OK. Rub it is. But we’re gonna need more garlic. And I should probably get some veggies to roast too. Just a quick store run. I’ll grab some beers too.” Danny shut the cabinet door and started to walk out of the kitchen when he felt a firm hand on his wrist.

“Daniel, sit down.”

“Pop, I really don’t want to talk about this.”

“I know. But we’re gonna do it anyway.” He didn’t let go of Danny’s wrist as he kicked out a chair with his foot. Danny sat on the edge of the chair and Eddie let go of his arm.

“What do you want to talk about?” Danny looked hard at his father, hoping to remind him that he’s a grown man, not a teenage boy.

“Look, you and I, we butted heads a lot when you were growing up, but I always knew you were a man who would never back down from a fight. I pushed you to be that way because you were smaller than the other boys and I didn’t want you to get picked on. You grew up scrappy and I’m proud of you for that.”

Danny’s shoulders relaxed a little. “That’s good to hear. I know you were disappointed when I became a police officer and not a firefighter.”

“Eh, you wanna run around and get shot at, that’s your business. Not good business, but it’s your own. And you’re good at it, that’s always been clear. What I don’t get is why you’re here. Even during the divorce, you never came back here.”

“I’m sorry for imposing, Pop. I needed a place to rehab. Grace was still in school and I didn’t want to ask Rachel.”

“You’re not imposing. Of course you are welcome here anytime. But it’s been two months. You’re close to full strength and there’s not any physical reason for you to be here. While I love having my granddaughter here every day, I can’t help but think you’re here because you’re avoiding something and that’s not like you.” Danny didn’t know what to say. Was it avoiding? It felt like more than that.

“Son, I’m not going to pretend I understand what is going on right now, but I see you hurting and not from your injuries. I see Grace acting like she needs to hold you together, and I see Steve reaching out over and over and you pushing him away. And whenever your mom or I try to talk to you, you shut us out. None of that is like you and frankly, I’m worried for ya.”

The last thing he wanted to do is make his parents worried. “I’m fine, Pop. You don’t need to worry about me. I’ve been taking care of myself for a long time. This will pass.”

“Alright.” Eddie pushed himself up from the table. “I’d rather marinade the steak, so let’s do burgers tonight and have that tomorrow. Just don’t tell your mother I ate red meat two days in a row.”

Danny smiled, “No promises. She’s a wicked interrogator.”

Eddie clapped him on the shoulder. “Who’s side are you on anyway?”

Danny held up his hands, “Hey, when it comes to you two, I’m strictly Switzerland over here.”

He tucked the letter in his back pocket and headed upstairs. Once he was in his room, he opened it.

 

 

Dear Danny,

I’m sorry. I’m sorry for leaving, I’m sorry for not texting you back right away. I’m sorry about Catherine, though you’re wrong about what happened there. I want to talk about this, but you need to want it too. I’m now staying at the Extended Stay in Elizabeth, room 312 and I’ll wait. However long. As long as you’re in Jersey, I’m in Jersey. I miss you.

Never say Goodbye,

S

The letter was written on the hotel stationary and he kept re-reading the last line. He didn’t think Steve’d ever listened to Bon Jovi in his life.

“Hey Pop?” He called as he walked down the stairs. “I’m heading out for a bit.”

“OK, Son. Be safe.” Danny grabbed the keys off the rack by the door, thankful his father wasn’t asking where he was going.

5050505050

Once he got to Elizabeth, he sat in the hotel parking lot for a while. In his mind, there were only two outcomes of any conversation with Steve. They were either gonna get together or they were done for good. Going back to the way things were was no longer an option for him. Losing Steve from his life was a darkness he’d been dancing in for two months, but the fact that Steve kept trying is what prevented him from descending into its depths and he didn’t know what would happen if they separated permanently.

Yet that paled in comparison to the fear that gripped him when he thought about being in a fully romantic relationship with Steve McGarrett. It wasn’t that he was worried about his family or their friends, not really. This was inside him. After his conversation with Grace, he’d done some reading on-line. Internalized homophobia, the website had said. He’d met gay guys in the course of of his work and he firmly believed people should marry who they want and no one should ever be bullied or harassed for something they can’t help. He had no problem with other people being gay. Turns out, he had a bit of a problem with himself being gay. And that’s not Steve’s fault. It also didn’t seem a real good way to enter into a relationship. And if they did? What then? Cuddling on the couch? Kissing? More? That’s all well and good in the privacy of their home, but he didn’t think he could walk down the street holding Steve’s hand or kiss him hello as they stood around the Ops table. Would Steve expect that? And what did it say about them if they didn’t?

As he sat, paralyzed over what to do, he saw Steve walk out the lobby doors, their eyes met just as Danny regretted parking right in front of the hotel. Steve walked over to the driver’s window and stood there waiting, his heart racing a bit, hoping Danny wouldn’t decide to drive away. Danny turned the keys and Steve’s stomach dropped, but then the window started to go down and he realized Danny was only turning on the power to the car.

“I was gonna walk over and get lunch from the teriyaki place on the corner.” Steve asked, placing his left arm on top of the car. “You wanna come with me?”

“Yeah, OK.” Danny rolled the window back up and got out of the car. “We have to walk a bit slow though. My lungs are at full capacity now, but it still hurts if I start to breathe hard. My physical therapist has me building back up, but even walking fast can make my chest hurt.”

“You set the pace Danny.” He turned and pointed in the direction they needed to go.

“I grew up here. I know where Sunny’s is.” Danny chided, as Steve fell into step beside him.

“You ever try their sushi? I couldn’t imagine eating sushi on the mainland, but I got a craving and it was actually not bad.”

“Have I ever eaten sushi, Steven? I like my meat cooked, thank-you. Their chicken yakisoba is really good though. You had that?”

“Yeah, but with the shrimp. Chicken is like, I don’t know, the iceberg lettuce of meats.”

“Oh, now you’re gonna rag on the best lettuce around? What’s wrong with iceberg lettuce? It’s bright green and crispy…”

“And flavorless and without any nutritional value whatsoever.”

“Flavorless? Who eats lettuce for flavor? Oh, wait, you mean that wrinkly stuff that tastes like dirt? Is that the flavor you mean?”

“It’s called Kale, Danny and it’s the most versatile and nutritious of the entire lettuce family.”

“The lettuce family? What, are you a botanist now? You gonna start spouting about chlorophyll or whatever?”

“They didn’t have life sciences at Seton Hall? Tell me you at least know what chlorophyll is, Danny. What kind of degree you get anyway?”

“You know very well what my degree is in, you mad stalker person. You know because you set me up as an economics professor, remember?”

“I remember. I remember the glasses especially.” Steve smiled at him flirtatiously as they arrived at the short strip mall where Sunny’s occupied the corner unit. Steve held the door open for Danny.

“We’ll finish this later” Danny said as they went inside, his chest tightening for reasons that had nothing to do with his breathing.

They ordered food to go and walked back to the hotel. Steve had offered that they could eat at one of tables in the small restaurant, but Danny didn’t want to try and talk with Steve where people could overhear, so back to Room 312 they went. But when they got to the room, Danny felt his skin flush and his pulse race. He hadn’t thought about the fact that the primary feature in the room would be a King-size bed that Steve had been sleeping on for what had to be close to a month now. The whole room smelled like his aftershave, a hibiscus-scented concoction Odell sold in his barbershop.

Steve went to the kitchenette and pulled out two plates and some forks and set them on the small dining table. “You want a beer?” Danny was still standing by the door.

“You OK Danny?”

“Uh, yeah, sure. Sorry. Just kinda spaced or a minute.” Danny walked quickly to the table and sat down.

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“What?” Danny shook his head a little. “I mean, what kind of beer do you have?”

“Longboards. Turns out they sell those in Jersey too.” Steve went to the fridge and pulled out two long-neck bottles.

“Wow, you really splurged on the beer then. Most folks around here are fine with Bud Light or Corona if it’s a special occasion.”

“I don’t drink piss doctored up as beer, Danny.” He popped the cap off as he handed the beer over.

“Wouldn’t say that too loud outside these walls, babe.” Danny said has he took a swig. Steve paused and looked at him.

“What?”

“Nothing.” Steve said and he sat down across the table. Danny’d called him “Babe”. It made his soul dance to hear that short but loving word. Then the echo of doubt within him reminded him that Danny tossed around “babe” all the time. It was part of his Jersey cadence and could mean nothing.

“How are the kids?” Steve asked, trying to start with a neutral topic.

“Charlie’s on his way back to Hawai’i right now. Grace decided to spend the summer here so Ma flew back with him. She’s gonna stay overnight at a hotel and then fly back.”

“Gracie’s staying? What is she gonna do here?” Steve was actually happy she was staying. He had some mending to do with that relationship too.

“She, uh, she got a job as a grocery clerk and she’s enjoying some extended time with her grandparents.”

“That’s nice, man. I’m glad she’s gonna be around for a bit.”

“So, when did you start listening to Bon Jovi?” Danny asked.

“Well, you always talk about ‘em and I figured if I was spending some time here, I should, y’know, get to know the local music scene.”

Danny raised his eyebrows. “The local music scene? You think only people in Jersey know about Bon Jovi?”

“No, Danny. I watched that movie, I know they’ve been around…”

“Movie? What’re you….”

“The movie! With the cowboys and the guy from 24. The movie.”

“Young Guns? That’s the movie you’re talking about and can’t remember? The movie with every major actor of the late ‘80’s? That’s the movie you can’t remember?”

“It wasn’t that big a…”

“Emilio Estevez, Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland,” Danny was counting them off on his fingers, “Lou Diamond Philips! But it was the sequel that had a whole album by the one and only, Jonathan Bon Jovi”

“There were two of those movies?” Steve had his arms crossed, a slight smile edging at the corner of his mouth.

“Are you kidding me right now? I saw the first one every weekend in the theatre all summer and the second one came out the summer before high school. I owned the video tapes. I own the DVDs. They’re at the house right now. Were you under a rock?”

“Danny, I’m yanking your chain. I listened to the radio as a kid. I remember Blaze of Glory. But since meeting you, I might’ve made a playlist that I use when I run.”

“You have a Bon Jovi playlist?” Danny was kind of surprised.

“Yeah. His music matters to you, so it matters to me.”

Danny nodded at that, saying nothing because he felt a lump in his throat at the idea that Steve had been listening to music just because he liked it. Steve listened to a lot of sappy ’70’s soft rock and he’d tolerated it in the car, but Danny’d never tried to appreciate it. They ate in silence for a bit and Steve felt he needed to be the one to try and cross the chasm between them.

“I’m sorry Danny. I never should have left you when I did. And I didn’t plan to leave with Catherine, I swear to you on my Trident. The team had contacted her for help to find where you were being held without telling me. She tracked me down and showed up on the plane. She flew with me to the mainland but where she went after, I have no idea.

“But you don’t gotta be jealous of Catherine, OK. She’s my friend. I am grateful for the things she’s done for me, but I’m not getting back with her, ever. But I get why you feel the way you do. I feel the same way about Rachel”

“That’s totally different. I was married to Rachel. We have two kids together.”

“It’s only different to you. You think I don’t burn a little inside anytime she calls you or we have to deal with some issue with the kids and it’s just you and her while I stand on the side? Huh?”

“You've always seemed fine with Rachel.”

“Of course I do. Because you need me to be. So do the kids. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t hate it when she calls, or does something that sends you spiraling, or whatever. But we’re off the point now.”

“What is your point?”

“I love you Danny. I’ve told you that a thousand times, but I don’t know that you hear it. And I get it. You and I, we’ve gone along this way for ten years and that’s just how it’s been but I need you to listen to me now.” Danny sat back, watching, silent. “You said this had to be based on more than me needing you. So you set the terms Danny.” He opened his arms. “I mean it. I’m yours, in every way possible, I’m here. I love you.”

“I love you too.” Danny said pensively.

“The words sound right, but your voice doesn’t.”

“If I wanted to stay in Jersey and not move back to Hawai’i, what would you do?”

Steve paled. “Is that what you’re thinking?”

“Answer the question.”

Steve leaned forward over his plate. “I’d ask if we could talk about it.”

“What if I didn’t want to talk about it? What if that was my terms?” Danny was still leaning away from the table, his arms crossed.

Steve looked at him. “If those are your terms, then I’d say we figure out where we’re gonna live and if we can find work. I’ve never been to a police academy, so I’d probably have to do that before I could try to lateral out here. Would they reinstate you to your former rank?”

“You’d leave Hawai’i and move to New Jersey? To live with me?”

“Yeah, Danny. Of course. I just told you. If you need to be here, then I’m here.”

Danny uncrossed his arms and stood up from the table, walking over the window and pulled the blinds open. The view was the same as most of the views in Elizabeth: industrial. Not as pretty as Hawai’i for damn sure, but it was still home. He felt the heat from Steve’s body as his friend, his partner, stood close behind him.

“What’s going on Danny? Talk to me. Please.”

“I don’t know.” He dropped his head. Why was this so hard? “I don’t know what we are and even if I do know, I don’t know how I feel about it.” Steve wrapped his arms around Danny’s waist, causing Danny to stiffen slightly, but Steve didn’t let go, speaking right next to his left ear.

“I don’t know either. But I’m willing to work through that with you. If you’ll let me.”

“This doesn’t scare you?” Danny kept looking out the window at the cars driving by.

“Honestly, man, losing you scares me more. I don’t want to live in Jersey, but I will because you’re here.” He rested his chin on Danny’s shoulder. “I’m not scared of being with you. I think, maybe, this is new for you. It’s not for me.”

Danny turned around to face Steve. “It’s not?”

“Well, sorta, yeah. I was in the Navy for 15 years before I met you. You think we don’t know how to manage some sexual frustration? But the only relationship that’s come close to what I feel you and I have was Freddie.”

“But I didn’t think that was romantic. Were you out that way? To the other SEALs I mean.”

“No, of course not. I might be now though. I mean, if my life was a do-over today, I would’ve handled things different. Is that what you’re worried about? Being out to our friends and family” Steve ran his hands over Danny’s shoulders and down his arms because he knew that touch could calm his friend, help him feel grounded.

“No, Steve. That’s not it. Obviously our friends and family are not gonna care and if they do, they’re not really our friends. But, I’m not…I just have never experienced this…,” he waved a hand between them, “thing we are doing. Or may be doing. And it’s a big thing and I...” Steve pulled Danny closer and started kissing him.

Danny froze at first, but then softened at the electric feel of lips and tongue sparking waves of heat through his body. Steve tasted sweet and salty, a delicious blend of hints of ginger and hops. He wove fingers into the beltloops at Steve’s hips for balance as he started to feel lightheaded from the rush of endorphins that were flooding his system and seemed to pool at the base of his cock, which was straining from all the years of hard-ons brought on by his partner that ended in his own fist, as though it knew this time would be different. Neither was sure who broke the kiss as they touched foreheads, panting.

“You OK?” Steve asked kneading his fingers in the flesh of Danny’s waist, but kept his eyes closed as though he was struggling to for control.

“Yeah, I’m OK.” Danny said breathlessly. Steve took this as a green light and he wrapped a hand behind Danny’s head, holding him close as he kissed his mouth and down his chin to the spot on his neck below his ear where he stopped and began sucking gently at first and then with more intensity and strength.

“You give me a hickey, you’re gonna have to explain that to Grace.” Danny groaned.

Steve stayed where he was, tracing the red spot and up to Danny’s ear with his tongue. “You want me to stop?”

“I didn’t say that. I said I wasn’t gonna be the one to explain to it to her.” Danny pulled Steve’s polo out of his jeans, wanting to feel skin under his hands. Steve stepped back a bit, yanking his shirt all the way off before putting his mouth back on Danny’s neck, this time the other side, drawing out more deep moans from his partner that brought goosebumps up his arms and made his nipples pebble. Danny ran his hands up Steve’s arms and down his chest, exploring the firm, chiseled muscles he had often admired but never dared touch. When he let his fingers dance across the hard nubs on Steve’s pectorals, the growl was the only warning he had before he felt the flesh of his neck get sucked hard and then pulsed against Steve’s tongue. It was harder than any woman had ever sucked on him and his groin thrust forward of his own free will.

“Guess you like that.” Steve growled against him. Danny continued to rub the copper-colored nipples, then drew flat circles around the areolae before pinching and pulling them taught.

“Fuck.” Steve put on hand on Danny’s shoulder and with the other, squeezed the base of his erection through his jeans. “I’m gonna blow if you keep doing that.”

“Am I gettin’ to you big guy?.” Danny grinned wickedly and flicked one of his index fingers against Steve’s nipple. Steve clamped his hand over Danny’s, pinning it to his chest.

“Danny, you gotta tell me, man. Is this what you want right now? ‘Cause I’m, fuck...” Steve pulled Danny’s hand down to his crotch as if in explanation. Danny instinctively cupped the long, thick bulge that strained beneath a heavy layer of denim.

“Are you seriously stopping to ask me for consent right now? Is that what you’re doing.”

Steve pulsed into the hand that was now almost gripping…almost stroking. “Yes. Because I don’t do this gentle and right now, Danny, you’re making me, ugh, God. Just tell me you’re ok with this before I…”

Danny pulled his hand away. “What do you mean you don’t ‘do this gentle’? What do you… Is this some kind of Slam, Bam, Thank-you Ma’am, kinda thing with you? Are you such an animal that sex with you has to come with a disclaimer?”

Steve ran his hands over his face and then put his hands on his hips. “God, Danny why is this pissing you off? Huh? I want this. I want you. But I’ve done this and you haven’t and I’m trying to be sensitive here.”

“Sensitive? Oh, you’re being sensitive right now? I’m not some wide-eyed virgin Steve. I’ve had plenty of sex. Great sex, in fact. I know when someone’s into it and when they’re not.” Danny’s brain was swimming with his own irrationality but he didn’t feel like he could stop it.

“You haven’t had sex like this and you just got through telling me that being in a relationship with a man is something you’re not sure about, so your being into it isn’t what I’m asking. Obviously, I could feel you were into it. But what happens after, when you’re sore and tired and maybe not so sure? Huh? What happens then?”

Danny sat down on the foot of the bed. “You gotta be the only guy in history to cock-block himself.” Danny laid back and threw one arm over his eyes as the word “sore” echoed in his brain. Steve assumed he’d top him. Of course he’d assume that. As if Commander McGarrett would ever let himself be split-open on another man’s cock. On his cock. Fuck. Danny’s balls tightened and ached at the image of Steve laid out on his back, panting as Danny breeched him. The image was so hot but split instantly to one of Steve over him, penetrating him, and he couldn’t shake the ice-cold shiver. Sore. It would hurt and he’d be sore. He didn’t know if he could do this.

He felt the bed sag next to him. “Look, man, one of the ways this is different is that we gotta talk about it. Not every time necessarily, but especially at first. Though if I’m being honest, men and women should talk through it first too.”

“I don’t know that I’m ready to talk about this.” Danny rubbed Steve slowly on the back as he looked over at him.

“Then we’re not ready to do this.” Steve said and Danny felt his face flush with embarrassment at the way Steve was handling him. “Tell you what. Let’s go out tomorrow night. Like on a real date.”

“A real date? Where we gonna go?” Danny tamped down the flood of shame at his sexual inexperience, thankful for this retreat into safer territory. His partner was right. They weren’t ready yet.

“I don’t know. This is your town. Where should we go?”

He sat up. “There’s cool bar in Jersey City, the South House. They usually have live music on the weekends.”

“Alright then. Tomorrow night, dinner at South House. Do you know if Gracie is working tomorrow?”

“I think she said she had a morning shift tomorrow, should be off by 4. Why?”

“I’ll come by your place a little early then. She and I, we’ve got some unfinished business to hash out.”

“What kind of unfinished business?” Danny asked.

“Nothing about you and me, well, only sorta. She got mad at me when she heard about Catherine and had some real choice words for me.

“Yeah, she’s got herself a Jersey mouth all of a sudden.”

“Not really the problem. I’m the problem and I need to fix it.”

“OK. You want me to talk to her, soften the ground a bit?”

“Nah. I don’t want her to think I ratted her out to you.”

“Ratted her out? You better not keep stuff she does from me. That’s not gonna end well for either of you.”

“Relax, Bossypants, I tell you the big stuff.” Steve stood up and put his polo back on. “You wanna watch a movie or maybe there’s a Mets game we could watch.”

Danny stood up too. “Nah, I told Pop I’d make dinner and I need to run the store. I’ll call you later though.” He walked to the door and stopped, feeling like he should do something, but not sure what.

“C’mere, man.” Steve pulled him into a tight hug. “We’re gonna be ok, right?” He whispered. Danny hugged back even tighter, but didn’t answer. He pulled back and placed a hand over Steve’s heart, holding his gaze, hoping Steve could intuit all that he couldn’t say right now.

“OK.” Danny said, and left.

5050505050

Grace laid on her stomach on the floor of the basement rec room, her arms propped on pillows, watching YouTube videos on her phone. She heard someone coming down the stairs and turned to look. When she saw it was Steve, she rolled back to look at her phone.

Steve sat down on the brown davenport, resting his arms on his knees. “We need to talk.”

“Why?” she asked, still looking at her phone. “Danno said you guys were going out tonight, so I guess everything’s all right again.” She swiped the app closed and opened SnapChat.

“Y’know, part of being an adult is working through fights with your friends and family. Please put your phone down and look at me.”

She sat up and dropped her phone in her lap. “Oh, really? Is that what adults do? Pretty sure I can call bullshit on that since the adults I know seem to do plenty of divorcing or walking away pissed off.”

Steve nodded at her. “Fair enough. But I walked away from you because you were saying some pretty ugly things and I was afraid I’d get ugly back. And I don’t want to be that way with you. You were angry and most of the time, I can handle that just fine, but you pushed a button and I got mad so I needed to walk away. We’ve each had some time to cool off now and I’d like to try again.”

She shrugged her shoulders and scooted back against the matching davenport on the other side of the room. “Alright. Go ahead. Try to explain why you left my dad to go running off with her.”

“I didn’t run off with Catherine. Yes, she was on the plane and yes, that news upset your dad and I own that. But life and relationships are usually not that simple or straightforward. You’ve been dating Will for a couple years and maybe that’s the only relationship you’ll have to navigate in your life. But chances are it’s not. And when you’ve had a few loves that seem perfect for a while and then fall apart, you’ll understand better that sometimes those people stay in your life because you need them to. And as someone with a stepfather and, well, whatever you call me, you ought to know better than most people your age what I’m talking about. You can’t get angry every time Catherine’s name gets spoken or she shows up.”

Her shoulders sagged a little. “I just hate seeing him hurting.”

“Not more than I hate being the cause of him hurting. I’m working on making it up to him though. And while I love you, you need to stay out of this. You can’t push us and you can’t be busting our balls about things either. This is new territory for both of us and we need to figure it out together.”

She got up and went to hug him and sat on his lap. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have threatened to cut your balls off.” She said teasingly.

He looked at her, his voice hard and serious. “Gracie, I need you to understand something. My life, the work I do, it’s violent. If anyone threatens me, even if it’s a joke, it hits me in a bad way. And I really don’t like it from my family. Do you understand?”

She nodded, flushed with embarrassment. “I understand.”

He hugged her again and then stood her up. “I think your Grampa Eddie is making you flank steak for dinner.”

“Gramma is not gonna be happy about that. She says Grampa eats too much red meat.”

“You Williams’ are busy-bodies, you know that? Always up in each other’s business.”

She rolled her eyes, “OMG, Uncle Steve. You’re just as bad!”

“Hey, I’m very Aloha. You do you, and all that.”

“Is your nose growing longer? I swear it is.” She called back as they jogged up the stairs.

5050505050

Steve and Danny pulled up out front of his parent’s house just after midnight.

“Chin would’ve really loved that band tonight.” Steve commented as he set the parking break and killed the engine.

“He would’ve. I miss him.” Danny sighed.

“Me too.” They both understood why he left, but the team had not been the same since he and Kono left. Steve carried the regret every day that he hadn’t been able to hold his ohana together.

Danny cleared his throat, drawing Steve out of his mental spiral. “I, uh, I asked Pop if he was OK with you coming to stay here for a while. We got plenty of rooms and there’s no sense in you continuing to pay for a hotel room.”

Steve nodded at him and said, “Or you and I could look for a place.”

Danny shook his head. “I’m not gonna stay in Jersey permanently. I never planned on staying. I just wanted to know what you’d do if I did stay.”

“So, you played me a little.” Steve smiled at him in a way that sent electricity shooting down Danny’s spine.

Danny chuckled, “Yeah, I guess. Thing is, I’m not ready to go back yet either. I don’t know, I guess I’d like to have us figured out first. It might not, uh, it might not make any sense, but it feels easier to be here right now. I don’t know.”

“OK. Tell your folks I appreciate the room.” Danny let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding.

“OK then. I’ll, uh, I’ll get a room ready and you can come by tomorrow whenever you’re out of the hotel.”

“I had a good time tonight.” Steve reached over and ran his fingers through the soft hairs on Danny’s forearm, relishing the way they stood up in response to his feather-light touch.

“I did too.” Danny leaned back against the headrest, the air thick between them. “You, uh, you wanna come inside for a while? Watch a movie?” Danny had been longing for an opportunity to nestle under Steve’s arm while sharing a bowl of popcorn, and the security it always brought.

“Hey, I’m moving in tomorrow. Plenty of time to watch movies then.”

Steve’s hand stilled on Danny’s arm. “We need to take this slow, I think.” The forearm under his palm tightened. “And that’s why.” Steve pulled his hand away.

“I can’t help it.” Danny said softly.

“I know.”

“Can I ask…shit.” Danny sat up straighter and rolled down the window. The air had suddenly gotten heavy.

“You OK?”

“Yeah, just need some fresh air. My lungs still…” Steve was suddenly worried and turned on the air conditioning at full blast and he placed a hand on Danny’s shoulder.

“Slow it down, partner. That’s it.”

“I’m not hyperventilating, that’s not what’s happening. It hurts. I get hot and…just give me a sec.” Danny unbuttoned his shirt down to the bottom of his sternum, pulling it open, and leaned forward to let the cold, conditioned air blow on him. Steve couldn’t take his eyes off the thick, blond fuzz that was wafting or the taught nipples that were daring him to touch them. He pressed the heal of his hand into his dick, willing it to shut the fuck up as he watched tension radiate down Danny’s back into the car seat, seeming to leave his body as quickly as it had seized him. Danny finally leaned back.

“Talk to me.” Steve spoke the order softly.

“I used to dream about you, y’know.” Danny looked out the windshield as he spoke, his breathing too regular to be natural. “Dreams where we’d make out after putting the kids to bed, or hit the showers together after a rough day.” Danny glanced over. Steve was watching him intently and he saw the almost imperceptible nod that was part of their well-developed silent communication.

Danny looked away again. The intimacy of Steve’s gaze was too much. “But, uh, when we’d get to the… uh, main event…I was always the one who…shit.” Danny leaned forward, head in his hand.

“Say it, man.”

“I’m the one who fucked you, OK? In my dreams, it was always me.”

“Danno…”

“Look, I don’t know how this is supposed to work, but I know us. You…you’re a control freak who can’t even let me drive my own car and after ten years I’ve come to accept that, sort of. But I can’t let you control me. I can’t.”

Steve watched him for a while, letting whatever was still pent up inside his friend work itself out. Finally he asked, “Did you control Rachel?”

Danny snorted and looked at him indignantly. ”What? What kind of question is that?”

“Apparently an important one. Was that what sex was like for you guys? You dominating and controlling her?”

“Who are you? No. Well, sometimes she’d ask me to use my handcuffs and stuff, that what you mean?”

“Not really. I’m trying to understand why you equate being on top, being the one to penetrate, with controlling someone. So answer me. Did you control Rachel?”

“Of course not. But you…it’s different. You said I’d be sore.”

“Shit.” Steve ran a hand over his face. “Danny, that was, alright, yes, I said that. But I was…I don’t know… trying to shock you into understanding why we needed to talk about this and you were mad so I…”

“Shock me? What? Are we playing ‘Scared Straight’ or something?” Suddenly regretting using the name of the program developed to keep kids out of jail.

“Not exactly since I think we’ve pretty much established that neither of us are…”

“Will you not…”

“Danny, I bottom a lot. Like, sixty-percent of the time. Ok? I like it. It feels incredible and I think you’d be denying yourself something amazing if you never tried it. But we won’t do that if you don’t want. I would never do that to you. But this is exactly why I stopped yesterday. We can’t make assumptions here. It’d be devastating for both of us.”

“But you were planning to top me yesterday, weren’t you. That’s why you asked.” Danny challenged.

Steve let his chin fall, “Yeah, but not because I was trying to control you. I swear, my orgasms are off the charts when I bottom, so I thought of it, like, as a gift, I guess. But I never top unless I ask because I know I can get…rough. So I did.”

“Oh.” Danny was taken aback by Steve’s honesty.

“Yeah.”

“Why?”

“Why do I get rough when I top?”

“Yes.”

“Partly because that was how it was done in my first experiences. You’re on a ship for a year to eighteen months and there are days your hand isn’t enough, so you find someone willing to let you, but it’s not about love. You just want to come, so why take your time, right? But I also know I’m a selfish bastard and I like it rough when someone takes me, so I give it how I like it. Only took one time for that to go wrong for me to realize I had to talk to my partners first. There’s no worse feeling in the world than realize someone can’t look at you anymore because you hurt them. I ask everyone I’m with, male or female, how they want it because if I go by pure instinct…”

“Neanderthal.” Danny offered lightly, smiling.

“Yeah.” Steve didn’t smile back, so Danny reached over and threaded his fingers with his partner’s.

“If you ever tell anyone I said this I will deny it and exact revenge in ways you will never expect, but Neanderthal-Steve is kinda hot. It’s very hot actually.”

Steve wrapped a hand around Danny’s neck and drew him in, taking his lips firmly, sucking Danny’s bottom lip into his mouth. Danny responded with equal hunger as he turned his torso toward him, cursing the center console that separated them from mashing together chest, belly, and hips. Reaching over, he popped the button at the top of Steve’s jeans, sliding zipper down enough to give him room to slip below the cotton waistband and took Steve firmly in hand, running his finger over the smooth tip of his cock, smearing the bubble of precum across the wide dome and then began to stroke up and down, savoring the groans and growls that echoed in his mouth as Steve’s tongue slid in and around his with increasing fervor. Steve reached over, putting his hand inside Danny’s open shirt, fingers zeroing in on Danny’s right nipple, rubbing and pulling. Danny’s hand increased it’s speed and Steve kissed along his cheek to his left ear. He sucked hard on the flesh just below his earlobe and Danny let out a, “Fuuuuck.”

He felt Steve’s lips ghost along his ear. “I’m gonna come all over your hand soon.” Steve’s words were strained with desire yet spoken with the absolute certainty Danny’d heard him use with hundreds of perps over the years and they drove him to pump his partner harder, faster, turned on by Steve’s talking.

“It’s gonna be thick and warm on your hand, up my abs. I’m gonna explode all over us both because feeling you, tasting you…fuck, Danny, yes!” Danny watched the creamy streams pulse out of Steve, milking him as Steve sucked hard at the flesh on his neck. Danny kept stroking across the sensitive flesh and he could feel Steve’s tongue throbbing against skin that he knew had to be bruising by now, each in a stand-off to see who would let go first. Finally, Steve clasped his hand over Danny’s, stilling it as he released Danny’s neck with an audible pop. Danny pulled the thick shaft forward so it would slap against Steve’s belly as he let go. Steve pulled Danny’s hand to his mouth and started licking the cum off the back of his hand.

“Woah, there.” Danny tried to pull his hand back but Steve held firm.

“Like it.” Steve kept running his tongue over his hand and fingers as Danny watched. It freaked him out at first, unable to imagine anyone wanting lick jizz that way, and then his gut clenched as he realized how both Rachel and Melissa had swallowed his cum with every blow job and realized he’d never once thought to stop them or even consider they if wouldn’t want to.

“I’m an asshole. How did I get to be over 40 and never realize how much of an asshole I am?”

“You’re not an asshole.” Steve whispered, intuiting what Danny was worrying over. “You’ve just started looking through new lenses. It’s OK.” Steve kissed Danny’s hand and held it. “I want to make you feel good Danny. What can I do for you?”

Danny ran a hand over his own bulge as Steve spoke and he glanced at his parents front door. The lights from the house meant his side of the car was much more illuminated than Steve’s was. Steve started the engine again and rolled the car forward until the cab darkened under the shade of the huge oak tree that towered on the corner of the William’s property. He tucked himself back into his jeans and reached on the side of the dash to flip the switch that would keep the car’s dome light from turning on when he opened the door.

“Crawl in the back.” He said as he quietly opened the driver’s door and got out.

Danny glanced at the house again and decided that he didn’t think anyone was watching at the moment and opened the passenger door instead. Once they were both in the back seat, Steve went to work undoing Danny’s fly and pulled his pants and boxers down to mid-thigh, grinning. Danny’s cock was a lot like him: Thick, meaty, not as long as Steve’s, but long enough Steve knew it would gag him when he sucked it all back. He shifted himself, one knee on the floor of the car and one leg bent on the seat.

“You can’t be comfortable like that, Babe.”

“Don’t worry about me. Just relax.” Steve propped himself on one arm and circled Danny with two fingers at the base, drawing him towards his mouth. He licked up the length as Danny sucked in a breath that hissed as air drew through his teeth.

“There it is.” Steve said as he closed his lips around the head, relishing that first intake of breath most men take when a willing tongue caresses their most sensitive skin. Steve tightened his fingers, increasing the pressure as he moved his mouth up and down. He felt Danny’s fingers brush lightly through his hair and he let go of Danny’s cock and reached up to place his hand over Danny’s and push, hoping Danny would figure out what he wanted and how he liked this. Danny understood in that way he had always understood his partner and he groaned with pleasure as Danny’s fingers clenched in the longer hairs at the crown of his head and pushed and pulled. Steve let his head and neck go limp as Danny took control, both pulling on his scalp and thrusting up into his mouth, over and over.

“God, Steve, I’m gonna…” Steve let go of the base of his cock and cupped his balls in firm, yet gentle squeeze.

“Fuck yeah!” Danny cried as he came down Steve’s throat. Steve’s tongue pulsed against his shaft until Danny thought he’d die from all his nerves cells firing at once and he pulled Steve lightly by his hair. Danny could see a small dot of his come at the corner of his partner’s mouth as he sat up. Steve lifted his arm like he was gonna wipe his mouth on his sleeve but Danny caught his wrist.

“C’mere.” Danny’s voice husky.

“You sure?” Steve asked. Danny nodded and cupped him under the chin, entranced as he drank in blue eyes, stubbled skin, swollen lips that even in the shadows managed to glisten.

“God, you’re beautiful.” He pulled him close and licked at that corner of Steve’s mouth with the tip of his tongue. The basic nature of the creamy fluid made his tongue tingle and then he tasted salt and a hint of garlic as he pushed through Steve’s lips, wanting to taste more, drunk on the raw, naked, reality of arousal mixed with a little fear and a lot of love for this man. Steve shoved his hands under Danny’s thighs, lifting him up as Steve sat on the seat. Danny shifted himself, pulling his pants back up enough so he could straddle Steve’s lap and started kissing him again, more gently this time, exploring, savoring, kissing lips, chin, nose, and cheeks, hips rocking into the strong hands that spanned his waist and across his back. When Steve’s hand slid up his shoulder blades and drew him close, Danny rested his temple on Steve’s shoulder and nuzzled his face into the space below his chin, inhaling the spicy-sweet aroma of Steve’s aftershave.

“I’m starting to re-think whether I should move in to your parent’s house tomorrow.” Steve’s voice was slow and slightly sleepy.

Danny closed his eyes, feeling drowsy himself. “Why’s that?”

“I don’t feel right sleeping with you in your parent’s house, but I don’t think I can stand to have you that close and not sleep with you.” He pulled Danny in tighter and Danny hummed against his neck.

“Sleep in Matty’s room then. We shared a closet. Can go back and forth without ever going into the hall.” Steve chuckled. “Really? Like a secret passage way?” He could feel his partner shiver against his neck.

“Yeah. It was fun when we were kids.” Danny said quietly. Steve’s heart broke a little in sympathy for Danny’s memories and the pain that Matty’s death that still haunted them with.

“Much as I want to hold you against me all night, I should probably head back while I’m still alert enough to drive. We keep snuggling and I’m gonna fall asleep.”

Danny sat up and rolled back so he was sitting next to him, re-buttoning his pants and shirt. “Come over as soon as you check out?” he asked.

“Yeah. I’ll go for a run first and then come over once I get packed up. By noon for sure.” He kissed Danny one last time and patted his thigh before exiting the back seat.

Danny climbed out and they looked at each other over the top of the car. “G’night Danno.”

“Good-night, Babe. You’re an excelled first date.”

“I’m an even better last date.” Steve winked at him and dropped into the driver’s seat. Danny watched him drive down the street and around the corner before he headed inside.

5050505050

The first night after Steve moved into Matt’s room, Danny had stayed up late talking to Grace. He told himself that he needed to cherish these times because she was gonna be done with college in a few short years and then she’d be totally gone. He also knew that wasn’t the reason he stayed up with her for two hours after Steve had bid them all good night and disappeared up the staircase. He was 99% sure he could see that light from the reading lamp coming from beneath the closet door, but Danny couldn’t bring himself to do anything but get into bed and fall into an uneasy sleep.

The second night, he heard a faint knock from the closet as he was sorting out his laundry, figuring he’d run a load before bed. Steve stayed in the closet when he opened the door. “It’s like that movie where the girl goes in the closet and ends up in the snow with the goat-man.”

Danny shook his head. “Only you could make a beautiful children’s movie like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe sound like a slasher flick.”

“C’mon. That goat-dude was creepy, the way he blew his flute and put her to sleep.”

Danny shook his head again because some things weren’t worth responding to. He tossed his dark clothes into a basket and picked it up. “I’m running a load of darks. You have anything you want to toss in?”

Steve smirked at him. “You offering to do my laundry?”

“No, I am absolutely not doing that. I’m saying I have some room in my laundry for a few things if you have something you need to wash. It’s polite. Like asking if you want a beer when I stand up to get myself one.”

Steve walked over to him, resting a hand on Danny’s shoulder, rubbing lightly. “I like it when you’re being domestic.”

“Domestic?? What are you…I can’t.” Danny turned and left his room, but he had a smile on his face.

Steve grabbed an empty clothes basket from the closet and moved the other pile Danny had sorted from his bed to the basket and set it on the floor. He then climbed on top of the bed and settled against the headboard. He grabbed the copy of Newsweek that Danny had left on his nightstand and started flipping through it as Danny returned from the laundry room.

“You’re in my bed.” Danny whispered as he came in, closing the door.

Steve held his hands out, “So? Why are you whispering?”

“Because you’re in my bed!” Danny kept whispering but it was louder.

“I’m just sittin’ here. There’s no other place to sit in your room. Which is actually odd. You have a desk but no desk chair.”

Danny paced a little, also very aware of his lack of desk chair. “I put it in Grace’ room because the one in her room was uncomfortable when she was on-line with her friends and I don’t use my desk since I’m not in school anymore and…and… if I do need to work, I can do it on my laptop, which I haven’t because I’m on medical leave, but if I... if I did I’d prop the pillows….”

“Danny! Will you chill out? I’m sitting here reading your magazine. What’s freaking you out?” With a released sigh, Steve knew the anxiety episode was on it’s way out the door. He’d watched these happen enough to tell.

“I’m sorry. I just...”

“Danny, don’t be sorry. Talk to me.”

Danny sat down on the foot of the bed, one leg on the bed, other on the floor. “Look, most of the time, I’m OK. I love you. I’ve loved you for 10 years and I’m ready and this is all fine. But other times, I have these moments where... It’s like the idea makes my lungs clench and I’m terrified. I don’t know why. I really am trying to figure it out, but it’s hard and seeing you there, like you belong in my bed, like it’s the most perfect place for you to be, and it…it scared me a little. Or a lot.”

Steve slid his hands between his knees, as though trying to keep them still. “I was 25 when Freddie and I earned our Tridents. We went out to this bar in Pensacola because after our graduation ceremony they gave us a 24-hour pass. We looked as military as you can get, man, hair buzzed short, t-shirt…”

“Cargo pants” they said in unison.

Steve chuckled. “Hey, it’s what we wear ok? And we were having a couple beers, talking about what we’d just accomplished. The music was loud and we were leaning in close to talk. And, I guess I’d grabbed his arm a few times or and maybe he’d touched my hand, I don’t know. But some dumbshit in the bar walked over to our table and hit Freddie’s glass so it fell over and beer poured all over the table. I was up like a shot, challenging him and the fucker laughed and said, ‘What you gonna do about it, faggot?’ I figured he was looking for a fight and was being an asshole, so I told him to go be drunk somewhere else. Didn’t matter why, but if we were arrested for fighting on leave, we’d get investigated, so I was trying to get him to take his piss out somewhere else, y’know?” Danny nodded.

“But calling us that wasn’t just him trying to get a rise out of us. He kept going on about how he’d ‘watched us fairies all night’ and that we were a disgrace to the uniform. We weren’t in uniform, but everyone in Pensacola knows who the Navy boys are. His comments got uglier and more explicit and by now Freddie and I were getting close to losing our cool when one of the Sergeant-At-Arms from the base came over. He was in civies, but we knew who he was. He and bartender got the guy out of the bar and Freddie and I stood there, looking around. Everyone in the bar was looking at us, but not really. They looked through us, like they didn’t want to make eye contact. I’d never felt that before and it built this anger inside me, but Freddie said we should go, so we headed out. The Sarge was still out front but the guy was gone. He walked up to us and said, ‘Word of advice: go further out of town next time. We may not ask, but you gotta remember to not tell.’ And he walked away.”

“I thought you said you and Freddie hadn’t…”

“We hadn’t. Honestly, at that point, he was my best friend and I loved him, but even I wasn’t putting together in my head that meant I might be in love with him. We were talking and everything we did seemed natural. As we drove home, we couldn’t figure out what they were talking about. But it made us step back from one another for sure. I certainly didn’t consider myself gay and wasn’t looking for sex from Freddie at all right then. But he was someone who was in my heart. Now that I’m older, I know what that looks like. I can recognize it. I’ve had a chance to talk with other guys who are bi and I’ve learned that I’m a very physical man. I like to touch and hug and cuddle.” Steve rubbed his foot against Danny’s ankle in emphasis. “Sometimes it’s sexual, but a lot of the time, it’s raw affection for those I care about.

“But that’s not the point of my story. You sit here worried about what other folks, out-there folks, are going to think about us, when the fact is, they probably already do and neither you nor I have any say in that. And some of those people may try to be assholes, but you and I, we’ve gone up against some of the most violent, amoral, psychotic fuckers humanity has to kick up and we’re still here, so I’m not sweating some homophobic dickwad. What I can’t fight, though, is you believing they’re right.”

Danny stood up, turned off the overhead light and turned on the lamp beside the bed. He pulled his shirt off and tossed it in the basket Steve had left on the floor. He started to undo his belt when Steve asked, “What are you doing?”

“Showing you I don’t believe they are right.” Danny pulled his pants off but left his boxers on. He climbed on to the bed and straddled Steve’s legs on his knees. Steve watched him carefully, waiting to see what Danny had in mind. Taking Steve’s hands, Danny placed them on the top of his own thighs. Intuiting, Steve slid his hands up and out, over the boxers and around Danny’s waist, over the soft curls of hair that covered his belly, drawing his fingers over the bilateral scar they shared. Danny leaned into his touch as he kept moving, touching, stroking, caressing. Danny’s eyes were closed now but Steve’s were looking very intently, noticing every detail he could, watching Danny grow hard until the tip of his cock peaked out the top of the elastic at his waistband. Steve leaned forward and gently took one nipple into his mouth, alternating between sucking and licking the hard nub with the tip of his tongue. He felt Danny’s hands cup under his jaw and lift his head to waiting lips, savoring the deep connections that only kissing can provide. He slid his hands inside the back of the cotton boxers that taunted him, rocking his pelvis up as he rolled Danny’s forward, fingers gripping the firm muscles of his partner’s well-formed ass. He’d always loved Danny’s ass. It’s small, tough, and sassy, just like Danno himself.

Danny broke the kiss with a gasp and breathed, “I wanna do more. God, I want you. What do I want?” Steve’s heart stopped for a moment, frozen at what Danny was offering him in that moment; his total trust.

“You want me to make love to you?”

“Yes.”

“You want to top?”

“Yeah, if that’s OK.”

“Oh, man, it’s more than OK. You’re gonna rock my world. I gotta go get some stuff from my room. You good for a few minutes?”

Danny slid off and laid down next to Steve. “Anything I should do while I wait?”

“Back in a flash. Maybe lose the boxers?”

Steve loved being able to run into his room without going into the hall. He grabbed a bottle of lube and the box of condoms from his duffle. After the night in the car, he’d stopped at the Rite Aid on the way back to the hotel for supplies. He returned to the other room and smiled. Danny had put some kind of 70’s slow rock playlist on his phone and was laying under the covers. When he saw Steve, he swept the comforter up with a flourish, inviting him in.

“No one ever said you weren’t welcoming.” Steve chuckled as he set the lube and condoms on the night stand and pulled his shirt off.

“Hurry up, I’m gettin’ cold holding this up.”

Steve slid out of his cargo shorts and boxer briefs, crawling in quickly and laying fully against Danny, kissing him for a while before pulling back and looking at him. “Warm enough now?”

“Yeah. And loving the view.” Danny’s fingers traced Steve’s jaw and over his ears, causing a shiver as they danced over a tickle spot.

“Me too.” Steve reached back and grabbed the lube, bringing it between them and tapping it lightly to Danny’s chest. “Part of topping is helping to make sure your partner is ready and able to enjoy all you have to offer. I can tell you about it, or I can show you. I know you aren’t certain that you want to bottom, so I’m not asking that. But I’d like you to feel what I need you to do for me. Does that makes sense?”

“Yeah, I think so. Should I roll over or...”

“Nope, lay right there.” Steve pushed himself up on his knees a little and slid down so he was between Danny’s legs. He nudged one knee and Danny quickly figured out what Steve wanted and spread his left leg out and up. What he was not expecting was Steven’s tongue licking a long stripe from the base of his cock to his tip. He hissed involuntarily. Steve smirked at him as he popped the top off the lube and poured some onto the fingers of his left hand. Taking Danny’s length in his right, he guided the thick cock to his mouth as he started to gently rub the tight skin at Danny’s entrance. Danny watched as Steve’s lips slid up and down his shaft. He always loved watching this part and found himself relaxing into the soft massage Steve was doing on his hole. It felt a little strange because it wasn’t a spot anyone had ever paid attention to before, but it certainly didn’t hurt. Steve’s lips slid up to the top of his penis and sucked firmly around the dome, pulsing his tongue against the frenulum in a way that made Danny close his eyes and groan. It was only a few moments later that Danny realized Steve’s finger had penetrated him at that moment as well, but he’d barely felt it. Now though, he could feel the finger sliding in and out slowly.

“You ok?” Steve asked as he kissed the tiny slit and rubbed his other hand up and down Danny’s shaft. Danny opened his eyes.

“Very Ok.” He squirmed a little as he felt Steve’s finger reaching in further and then a sudden spark of sensation exploded through him.

“Woah! What are you doing?”

“You like it?” Steve hit the spot again and Danny’s eyes closed as he clenched a little.

“I don’t hate it. But it’s freaking me out a little.” Steve pulled his finger out and Danny missed it as soon as he did.

“That wasn’t saying you should stop. I just...I’m not used...”

“Not stopping.” Steve poured more lube on his fingers and inserted two in slowly, feeling Danny stretch around him.

“Oh, god, that’s...oh.” Danny grabbed himself, stroking and thrusting as Steve hit that sensitive spot again and again. The fire built and Danny wasn’t even paying attention when he felt the drizzle of lube hitting the top of his penis and oozing down between his own fingers, as he stroked harder and faster while Steve’s fingers inside him did a dance of their own; thrusting and stretching as he built closer and closer. Then he felt Steve’s hand still but the electricity radiating from his prostate proved Steve was focused only on rubbing that spot over and over until he exploded, white fluid firing up and landing on his chest.

“Christ, Steve, that was...”

“I know, right? I’m telling you, bottoming is awesome. Prostate orgasms are out of this world.”

Danny laid back and breathed hard, every muscle lax and drained. “Sure, awesome with one of your fingers. That thing you’re packin’ is a whole other deal.” Danny smiled at him.

Steve laid down on his back next to him. “I had three in you by the end there, pal.”

Danny rolled onto his side, “Three?” Steve held up his hand putting his index, middle, and ring fingers together in demonstration.

“Wow. I had no idea.”

“And there ends the lesson. Relax, go slow, use lots of lube.”

“Gimme the bottle.” Danny asked and Steve handed it to him and rolled over most of the way, hitching one knee up toward his chest. “Why you rolling over when you had me lie the other way?”

“Cause I like it this way.” Steve gave no further explanation and Danny didn’t argue with him as he poured more lube on his fingers which were already slick from earlier and tried to remember what Steve did. He started rubbing small circles in the skin around the hole, which was softer than he expected. The sounds Steve made were guttural but approving, so he slid his index finger inside as his parter groaned, “Oh, yeah.” Danny felt the tender skin enclose around him and was stunned at how strong and firm it felt. He was overcome with desperation to feel what this would feel like against his own hardening cock as he kept gliding his finger in and out.

“That’s perfect Danno. Gimme more when you’re ready.”

“When I’m ready? Shouldn’t it be when you’re ready?”

“Pretty sure I just told you I was.”

Danny nodded to himself and added another finger as Steve hissed, “Yes, that’s good.” He kept working his fingers, adding a third when it seemed like Steve was wanting more, then was surprised when his partner grabbed his wrist and stilled him as he rolled onto his back again.

“It’s enough. I want you now.” Steve grabbed the condom box and pulled one out as he shifted himself and Danny moved too, kneeling between Steve’s legs. Ripping open the condom foil, he rolled it down the thick shaft in front of him. “Can’t wait for this.”

Danny lubed himself up and lined his cock up and started to push but stopped. “I don’t want to hurt you. Am I gonna?”

“I’m fine. Just go slow and steady. Watch my face. You’ll know how I’m doing.”

Danny did just that, eyes darting between Steve’s face and watching himself glide into his love for the first time. The pressure and tightness felt unbelievably good, but he couldn’t shake this fear that he was causing pain. If it hurt though, Steve never let on. Finally, Danny was in as far as he thought he could go when Steve grabbed him around his ass and pulled him in even tighter. “Fuck me, man.”

Danny started thrusting easy but Steve would pull him back hard and it only took a few times for Danny to get what Steve wanted: he wanted to be seriously fucked. Danny grabbed a hold of the brass bar on the head board and wrapped his arm under Steve’s knee, lifting it higher and set a hard and fast pace.

“That’s it, now you’ve got it...ugh, right...there. God...fuck...” Steve was reaching back and grabbing the bars of the head board too, biceps and triceps flexing with effort to keep his head from being driven into them. “God, Danny, I love...” Before Steve could finish that thought he came so hard he saw spots on his vision and adjusted his breathing as he surfed the waves of his orgasm. Ever since his radiation poisoning, his blood pressure could spike and fall fast if he wasn’t careful.

Danny slowed down, still hard and not sure what to do. “You ok?”

“More than OK.”

Steve matched the thrusts now, encouraging him to keep going, hoping to work Danny up to coming a second time. He bore down, tightening his sphincter muscles and Danny gasped. “You’re so tight it’s almost...”

“Almost what?” Steve flexed again Danny groaned and found his pace picking up, relishing the friction and the heat that enveloped and seeped into the muscles in his thighs, groin, and up his back.

“That’s it, babe. Come for me. You feel so good. Please. Come on.” Steve was stroking down Danny’s arms and wove their fingers together. Danny pushed against his hands and wrists, thrusting faster and faster. “Oh, Ste...Oh, fuck yes.” Danny’s thrusts grew short and then stilled has he came again. He huffed through his orgasm a bit and then stilled, laying down atop Steve, chest to chest.

“I love you so much, Danno.” Steve whispered in his ear.

“Love you too.” Danny murmured back.

They held each other for several minutes, Danny’s face snuggled deep in Steve’s neck, before he asked, “Are you OK?”

“I’m great, man. You don’t have to keep asking.”

“I...It’s been...I take pride in knowing that I’ve satisfied my partners, that they feel good and are happy. This, though, I don’t have that confidence and I don’t like it.”

Steve hugged him tighter. “I’m here, Danno. I’m happy. I feel good. And I’m not going anywhere. Maybe have confidence in that?”

“Yeah, OK.” Danny smiled and stretched out, trying to quiet his brain enough to sleep.

5050505050

“Danny! You got a package or something!” Clara called up as she dropped the heavy Fed Ex envelope on the table next to the stairs.

Danny came down, followed by Steve, both dressed swim trunks and T-shirts for a trip to the Shore.

“It’s my mail. I asked Tani to collect it and send it here.” Danny said as he opened it. “But I told her not to bother with the junk mail, only the important stuff, so I don’t know why this is so full.” Danny slid the stack of envelopes out and started looking through. Almost all were bills. But one pink one was from his insurance company. He opened that first. “Well, shit.”

“What?” Steve asked.

“Insurance is dropping me.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Apparently the State of Hawai’i has determined that my being kidnapped, tortured, and shot was not in the line of duty, so they won’t pay and my health insurance says I’ve hit my lifetime max and they are dropping me.”

“That’s total bullshit. I’ll call the governor and get that fixed. Of course it was in the line of duty. Forget about it. It’ll work out.”

Danny dropped all the bills back in the envelope. “I hope so. Can’t exactly spend much time in your presence without health insurance. You’re like a walking hazardous zone.”

Steve rolled his eyes. “Whatever. I like nursing you back to health. It’s fun.”

“You have no sense of what is fun, you know that? Normal people fun and Steve McGarrett fun are, like, not even in the same universe.”

“C’mon, let’s go get you wet and sandy so you can complain about that and forget about the bills. Go.” Steve pushed Danny towards the door.

5050505050

“But that makes no sense!” Steve was pacing in the back yard under a large maple tree on the hot July evening. He’d gone outside when the Governor called so as not to disturb dinner.

“That’s the ruling Commander. Detective Williams was not on duty at the time he was kidnapped and there was no open case with the Five-0 Task Force involving Daiyu Mei. OSHA determined that while Detective Williams was a victim, he was not victimized in the line of duty. My hands are tied here.”

“Sir, that is bullshit and you know it. Everyone on the Five-0 Task Force responds at a moments notice to any call or case that is given. My people are never fully off duty.”

“You are never off duty because you are the property of the United States Government on loan to the state of Hawai’i. The rest of your employees work for the State and have times they are at work and times they are not. OSHA won’t cover this so it falls to Detective William’s regular insurance and while he remains ensured through the department for preventative care, they are denying this claim here and any future claims over $5,000 due to ‘indiscriminate high risk behavior’, which is a blanket category for anyone who has had as many injuries and surgeries as Detective Williams has.”

“Which all happened in the line of duty! This is insane. You have to know this is insane, Governor.”

“I’m sorry Commander. There is just nothing I can do here. Maybe if there was universal health care?”

“Yeah, well, given how well the State of Hawai’i is being run, not holding my breath for Congress to figure it out. This is wrong.”

Steve hung up on the Governor, something he is sure he will pay for later, but he was pissed. The medical bills were a lot, but he and Danny could manage, assuming Danny would let him help. But he couldn’t have his partner doing the job they do without full health insurance, though he’s certain Danny would argue that he could stop exposing his team to so much risk. Steve kept pacing around the yard as he heard the sliding door open.

“Everything OK, Babe?” Danny asked.

“OSHA decided you weren’t injured on the job because I’d never opened an official case.”

“It wasn’t an official case. It was Wo Fat’s wife on a vendetta against you and your mom and a shit-ton of money.” Danny said as he sat in one of the lawn chairs.

“Everything we do is a case.” Steve countered.

“Everything you do is a case. The rest of us, we have lives.”

“Lives? Of course we have lives. Together. We are ohana.”

“We are, but where you’re different from the rest of us we step away from the job. I have the kids. Grover has his family. Junior and Tani have each other. And if we’re being honest here, you thinking the job is your life is exactly why you had to leave Hawai’i. Why you left me. Because me and the job are one and the same to you.” Danny spoke softly, a sadness in his tone.

“Danny, no, I...” Steve stuttered and just looked at him. “That’s not true. I told you. I’m not going anywhere” Steve sat in another lawn chair.

“And I believe that you discovered a sense of my importance in your life. I do. But we haven’t talked about why you ran away in the first place.”

“I didn’t run away.”

“Didn’t you? You got on a plane and ended up in Sweden in April. That’s not exactly a place someone runs towards, y’know.”

“But I wasn’t leaving you! I just needed to step a way and get my head on straight. It wasn’t about you.”

A flush crept up Danny’s face as he cocked his head. “The hell it wasn’t! The job, me, the team, your mom, it’s all one big fucking mess in your head because you don’t have a job and a family or a job and personal life. You have a job and that’s it. The rest of us, we are all your job. Everything overlaps and there is literally nowhere for you to go to ‘get away from it all’ without leaving literally every person and part of your life behind!”

Steve’s eyes burned as the Governor’s words echoed in his brain. “I’m the property of the United States Government”, he said quietly.

Danny leaned over and placed a hand on Steve’s arm. “We can talk about how messed-up a way that is to talk about people another time, but yes, you are a S.E.A.L. The Navy has spent most of your life telling you that is all that you are and you are good at what you do. But you’re also Uncle Steve. You’re Mary’s brother. You’re John and Doris’ boy. And you’re my partner.”

Steve clapped a hand over Danny’s. “Isn’t that work?”

“Started out that way, I guess. But it wasn’t long before I knew you weren’t just talking about Five-0 when you called me that.”

“Oh, yeah? When was that.”

Danny smiled, “Pretty sure from the moment you started calling me Danno.”

Steve leaned forward and kissed him. “Well, maybe the Navy is actually our way out your insurance predicament.”

“I am not joining the Navy.”

Steve smiled as he envisioned how sexy Danny would look in Dress Blues, but shook his head. “No, not by enlisting. By marrying me.”

“That’s hilarious.” Danny laughed and kissed Steve on the forehead as he stood up to walk back inside.

“I’m being totally serious.”

“No, you’re not. You’re emotional from our fight just now and you’re trying to overcompensate. Don’t worry about my medical bills. It will be fine. C’mon, mom made pie.” He held his hand out for Steve, who took it, but pulled him back.

“I’m not being emotional or over-reacting. You just got done telling me that I needed to get a life outside of work.”

“Yeah. Like have a start time and end time. Take regular days off. Take vacations. Turn your phone off when you get home. Have boundaries.”

“But boundaries only matter if there’s something on the other side. I’m saying you and Grace and Charlie should be my other life. Marry me.”

“You’re serious right now? Steve...I...”

Realization hit Steve and he recoiled, dropping Danny’s hand. “You really can’t stand the thought of being in love with me, can you?”

Danny sank to his knees next to Steve. “No, babe, no that’s not it. I love you. Do you know that for 10 years, you’re the only person who’s not one of my children that I’ve said that to? I love you. I just...marriage is a broken concept for me. I took those vows once and couldn’t keep them.”

“So, what, you think that means you can never make them again? Or is that you don’t believe we could actually last?” Danny rocked back on his heels and looked down at the grass.

“Danny?”

“I don’t know, Steve. Look, you’ve never been through a divorce, either your own or your parents’, so I don’t know how to explain but...”

“Forget I asked.” Steve stood up and walked back into the house. Danny cursed to himself and then stood up to follow. By the time he got inside, he could hear the front door slam.

“Motherfuc...” Danny started to curse again as he realized rest of his family were staring at him from the kitchen. He silently grabbed a beer from the fridge and went up to his room, locking the door behind him.

5050505050

It was 3am when he awoke to Steve sliding under the covers next to him. Danny kept his back to Steve, pretending to still be asleep.

“I know you’re awake.” Steve said as he settled in, laying on his back.

“Then maybe you should take the fact that I’m not acknowledging your presence as a clue that I don’t want to talk right now.”

“I’m sorry.”

Danny stayed silent but his mind raced. Sorry for what? For waking him up? Was he sorry for proposing? Or sorry for taking off again? Sorry for coming to Jersey? Sorry for leaving Hawai’i in the first place? Sorry for shutting him out for the past 8 months while he grieved his mom and Joe? Fuck. Danny rolled on to his back too.

“Alright, I’ll bite. Sorry for what.”

“Everything. From practically the first day we met, I’ve brought pain into your life. I’d known you two days and you got shot because of me. You have half a liver ‘cause of me. I don’t deserve you.”

“Stop with all that, will you please? C’mere.” Danny lifted Steve’s arm and snuggled underneath, running one arm underneath the broad, tattooed, shoulder and the other across his partner’s chest.

“We deserve each other. No one else could hope to put up with us. We don’t need rings and piece of paper to know that’s true.”

Steve rubbed Danny’s back absently. “But the rings and the piece of paper do mean something Danny. You know they do or you wouldn’t be saying no.”

“OK.”

“OK, and...”

“I don’t wanna fight right now, OK? It’s the middle of the night, I’m tired, and I don’t wanna say something both of us will regret later. Can we just do this? For right now?” Danny could feel Steve stiffen and start to pull his arm away and turn like he was going to get up. Danny sat up and looked right at him in the moonlight, but Steve wouldn’t meet his eyes back.

“Babe, if you leave this bed, don’t come back. I mean it. Don’t come back. I can’t do this. I can’t have you taking off every time you’re scared or upset. This is everything you said wasn’t gonna happen and you can’t even go a month without storming out. You wanna know why I said no? It’s this, right here. You gotta stop running, Steve. ‘Cause I’m through with chasing you.”

“You don’t have to chase me. You know I come back.”

“God, Steve. It’s not about coming back. It’s about staying put. It’s about talking through things, even when they’re hard. Jesus! I tell you I don’t want to get married and your first response is to leave. Not to talk about it. Not to take it in and reflect and bring it up again later. It’s either balls-to-the-wall fighting or you’re out. And it didn’t use to be that way. We used to be able to argue, have a truce, and try again later. But ever since your mom...”

“Don’t.” Steve held up his hand. “I hear you. Let’s not..I just don’t want to think about Doris right now. OK? Listen, this is where I am now. I don’t know why and I don’t know when it started or when it will stop. OK? But I hear what you’re saying.”

Danny leaned forward, propping himself over Steve’s chest. “Look, maybe we should go back to counseling. I don’t need to be married to you to know I want to be by your side until we are wheezy, old men, but I acknowledge that it’s important to you. So maybe we both need some time to work on what’s hanging us up? Huh? We did good when we were in therapy, right?”

Steve hugged him. “Yeah, we did good.” Danny reached over Steve to grab his phone off the nightstand and started scrolling through his apps.

“What’re you doing.”

“Checking flights. I think it’s time for us to go home.”

5050505050

“Do we have 7/16th wrench?” Danny asked as he sat in the middle of the floor, surrounded by plastic bags, bicycle parts, and an 8-page booklet of instructions that was all pictures and no words. The Christmas Tree glowed behind him as Steve came in with two steaming cups of something that smelled minty and slightly alcoholic.

“It said on the box that it came with a wrench and screwdriver.”

“Well it doesn’t much matter what it said on the box since the wrench is not in any of the ten thousand little baggies they put all these parts in. What about global warming? Huh? Don’t they think about what all this plastic does to the oceans and, and, the..the tuna fish?”

“Tuna fish? Since when do you care about the tuna fish and the environment?”

“I care a lot about the environment. What you think because I can’t repel up the side of a mountain or sky dive out of a perfectly good airplane that I don’t care about the environment?”

“You don’t repel up a mountain, Danny, you climb up and repel down.”

“Well, I wish I could repel this damn bike off a cliff. Why didn’t we order a bike that was already put together? Huh? No one makes us put our own cars together? Why I gotta build this?”

“I put my own car together. It’s fun.”

“Shaddup. This is not fun. Ugh.” Danny fell back on the floor, arms outstretched.

“Alright, babe. Calm down. Sit-up, c’mon.” Steve stood over him and grabbed his wrists, pulling Danny up until he was standing. “I’ll handle the bike. You sit down, enjoy your coffee.”

Danny grabbed the cup and sank into the sofa. As he sipped, he took in the whole scene. Stockings on the mantle. Lights draped around the room. A small fire going. Grace had taken Charlie up to bed a couple hours ago and was probably on her computer talking to Will. The presents were all wrapped, save the bike which they had waited on until Charlie was asleep. Danny watched Steve assemble the bike with the skill of a Navel tactician, which he was, and his heart swelled with just how much he loved everything about this moment.

He wasn’t sure when he drifted off, but something jolted him awake. The fire was out and the bike was all together and set beside the tree with a green bow and hand written tag that said, “To Charlie, From Danno and Uncle Steve”. The box and plastic were all cleaned up and then Danny noticed Steve, standing by the mantle.

“Wow, sorry babe. I didn’t mean for you to have to do all the clean up too.”

Steve didn’t respond. He stayed still, not looking at him. It was then that he saw what Steve was holding. Danny stood and walked to stand beside him.

“You weren’t supposed to see that until morning.”

“I was adding a few last minute things I’d gotten gotten for the stockings. I wasn’t paying attention and dropped Grace’s cinnamon lip gloss in my stocking and reached in to grab it...”

“Well, since you have it, you can open it.”

“Danny, I...”

“Open it, Babe.” Steve lifted the lid of the small, black satin box. Inside sat a silver and white platinum ring, the colors shifting together to form cresting waves.

“This...this is beautiful Danny.”

“Yeah, well, so are you. Try it on.” Steve pulled it out, holding it for a moment, looking at it from all sides before starting to slide it down his right ring finger.

“Hey, no. You’re doing it wrong.” Danny reached over and took the ring. He picked up Steve’s left hand.

Steve stared at him. “Danny?”

Danny held the ring in his finger tips. “Steven J. McGarrett, will you marry me?”

“Are you for real right now?” Steve asked, his voice tight.

“You think I ask that of just anybody? Well? You’re kinda leavin’ me hanging here.”

“Of course! God, yes I will marry you.” Danny slid the ring down his finger.

“But you don’t have... I didn’t...I don’t even know what the convention is.” Steve stumbled over his words as Danny wrapped both arms around his waist.

“Don’t think there is one. It’s my engagement gift to you. We can pick our marriage bands together. This is my...” Danny’s words fell away as Steve started kissing him.

5050505050

Presents were open and they were all in the kitchen making breakfast when Grace finally noticed.

“Oh my God! Uncle Steve! What is on your hand?”

Steve let go of the frying pan he was cooking sausage in and waved his finger at her. “You mean this thing? This what you mean?”

“Yes, that is what I mean.” She grabbed his hand and held it, looking closer at the ring and then at her Dad’s hand, which was still bare. “Did you? Does this...”

“Mean I gotta buy a new tuxedo? Yeah.” Danny smiled at her.

“No fucking way!” Grace jumped up and down, clapping her hands.

“Watch your mouth.” Danny and Steve said in unison.

“Oh please. This is so great! Kono and I are gonna plan the whole thing!”

“You and Kono...Monkey, what are you talking about.”

“When she left, she made me promise that no one would plan your wedding but us, Danno. We’ve been tossing around ideas for years. Oh God, I have to go call her. This is awesome! Finally!” Grace kissed each of them and pulled her phone out of her pocket.

“What the hell was that?” Steve asked.

“Pretty sure that is our thought of heading to the Honolulu County Courthouse after New Year’s flying out the window.”

“Huh. Never thought about having a big wedding, but that could be nice.”

“Nice? With those two in charge...you know what that’s gonna cost?” Steve wrapped his arm around Danny again, drawing him close.

“Nope. Don’t care either. Sounds like a good party.”

“Who are you and what have you done with Steve McGarrett?”

“Aw, let her have her fun.”

“You let her get away with everything.”

“I’ve bought her love and am perfectly OK with that.”

“Danno, what got Grace so excited?” Charlie asked, looking up from the Mandalorian lego set he was putting together at the kitchen table.

“Uncle Steve and I are gonna get married, kiddo.”

Charlie’s face crinkled.“Weren’t you already married?”

Danno sat down at the table.“Not exactly. This is just making it official.”

“Will you still be Uncle Steve or will you be Daddy?” Charlie asked, looking at both of them.

Steve looked at Danny, not sure what to say.

“You call him what ever you want Charlie-bear. He can stay Uncle Steve if you want or you can change it. That’s up to you.”

Steve turned away, feeling the tears burn at this incredible generosity on Danny’s part. Charlie was five before he even knew Danno was his father. Five years stolen. But here Danny was, ready to share the title without missing a beat. Steve’s chest tightened as he struggled to hold himself together.

“Well, you’re Danno, so he can be Daddy. I like it. What do you think Uncle Steve?”

Steve’s voice cracked hard, “I like it fine, Charlie. I gotta...” Steve slid the pan back on the stove and stepped out the kitchen door to the lanai.

“Did I make Uncle Steve sad?” Charlie asked.

“Not at all, buddy. You actually made him really happy. Sometimes people cry when they are happy too.”

“So why did he leave?”

“Because strong emotions are hard for him, but he’s happy. Trust me. Why don’t you run upstairs and get dressed. Breakfast is almost ready. OK?”

“OK.”

Danny stepped out side to see Steven sitting on the beach, his head in his hands.“You gonna be alright?”

Steve looked up, eyes red and his breath catching. “Danny, I never...You’re such a great father, I...”

“Stop it. 90% of being a Dad is showing up. And you’ve been doing that for his entire life.”

“What if I don’t know how to be a dad?”

“Course you do. You already do. And the proof is, he wouldn’t’ve asked if he didn’t already think you earned the title.”

That made Steve’s tears fall all over again. “I feel like I don’t know how to breathe.”

Danny nodded. “Welcome to parenting. You get used to that. C’mon. Breakfast is getting cold.” They walked back towards the house when Steve stopped them at the door.

“Wait, do I look ok? I don’t want the kids to worry.”

“You look beautiful, babe. We got this, yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Alright. Deep breath. Let’s go.” Danny kissed him and together they went back inside.