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I Can't Keep Holding My Breath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yeah, she’s got a point.

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

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

She shoots back, Sure you do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How about I call you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Danny—

What Danny needed was someone who—

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

--

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Okay, good.”

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

“No.” She disappears once more.

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

--

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

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

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

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

“I wanna play sunken treasure!”

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

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

“I could carry something too, Dad.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Of course. I know this game too.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I bet. Here, drink your water.”

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

“I always have fun with you.”

She gives him a sardonic glance, but keeps drinking.

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

“Dry off, you animal.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah? About what?”

Steve hesitates.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The fact that Grace thinks Steve needs it worries him.

--

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

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

--

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Grace?”

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

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

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

He takes her back.

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

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

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

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

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

--

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kamekona shrugs. “I dunno. Sometimes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Het—hetero—”

“Heteronormative, yeah.”

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

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

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

“Yeah? Where’s he going?”

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

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

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

“You got it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nah, for this I'd just use booze."

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

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

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

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

“I thought we put it on priority.”

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

Danny makes a discontented noise. Steve grunts in agreement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Danny sighs. “You need your meds?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Heteronormative.”

“Look it up.”

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

--

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

Google corrects his spelling. Fucking smug algorithm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She rolls her eyes. “What’d he say?”

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

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

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

“What did you say to him?”

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

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

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

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

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

He hugs her. “Yeah.”

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

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

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

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

“Just like you, Danno.”

He grins. “Just like me.”

--

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

Steve texts back almost immediately. No problem, Danno.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll do it today.”

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

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

Chapter Text

Steve and Danny go out looking to interview people who the original sweep missed around the first two body dumps, a mostly fruitless endeavor that winds up taking hours. It’s only after a final desultory sweep of the first alley that they find some weird plastic shavings near where the girl's body was found.

“It’s been weeks,” Steve points out. “Lots of time for this to be from another source.”

“Yeah, but…” Danny stands with the shavings in the evidence bag, then juggles it around until he fishes his phone out of a pocket. “Take a look at this photo from the scene.”

“Good eye,” Steve breathes, looking from the close-up of the victim’s face to the evidence bag. Same black plastic shavings on the concrete near her hair. Overlooked because she was near a dumpster. “Let’s take it back to the lab.”

By the time they return to the car, it’s nearly four, and traffic’s backed up as far as the eye can see. Steve’s finger inches toward the lights and sirens. “No! No. That’s an abuse of your position, my friend. We are going to sit in this miserable traffic like sardines in a can and we’re going to pride ourselves on our strong ethics.”

“Torturing ourselves isn’t ethics, it’s martyrdom,” Steve grumbles, but he sits back in the driver’s seat, settling in.

Danny might be hoping to get into an argument so he doesn’t have to think about fulfilling his promise to Grace. This would be the one day Steve declines to play along. Typical. “Gracie told me she’s bisexual last night. She said she told you first.”

Steve’s hands flex once on the wheel, knuckles going white before he deliberately relaxes them. “Yeah, that was, uh, that was what she wanted to talk about when we swam out.”

That reaction was a dead giveaway of nervousness, probably because Steve's bracing himself for Danny telling him how he fucked up that discussion, but that's not the reason Danny brought it up. “That’s why I texted you. Once I looked up heteronormative I had a pretty good idea of what the problem was. So thanks again.”

Steve nods, eyes still fixed to the road in front of them as if cars are moving instead of just standing still. “No problem.” He coughs, ducking his head to glance at Danny out of the corner of his eye. “Did she say anything else?”

“Yeah, well, see, that’s the thing.” Now Danny can’t meet his eyes. He squints out his window for a second, remembers he actually brought sunglasses today, and slips them on. There. That’s a little better. “To get her to feel comfortable enough to tell me, I had to, uh, tell her something. About me.”

Steve smiles a little. “What, like Truth or Dare?”

“No, not like that, we weren’t having a slumber party.” Danny shifts in his seat, clears his throat. “I told her I’m bisexual too.”

He isn’t looking at Steve, or even Steve’s reflection, so he doesn’t know how to interpret the dead silence on the other side of the car until he finally gets the guts to cut his gaze over.

And sees an absolutely incredulous, furious Steve glaring at him. “You… you lied? To Grace? What the fuck—Danny, I can’t believe this!”

What?” Of all the reactions he’d pictured, scenarios he’d envisioned, somehow this one never occurred to him. He whips the sunglasses back off to return the glare full force. “Steve, of course I did not lie to my daughter about my sexual orientation! For fuck’s sake, I am bi! I always have been! I just didn’t make a big deal about it, for a lot of reasons.”

Steve’s jaw drops, but he jerks his hand up to rub at his chin as if to hide the reaction. After a long moment of quiet, he breathes out, slow, one two three four. “Oh.”

“Yeah, ‘oh.’” Honestly Danny’s pissed at the impugning of his parenting, but there was something almost like hurt at the back of Steve’s eyes. Probably because of not saying anything sooner.

Right now, though, Steve looks uncertain, which is a really weird expression on that face. “Always?”

Danny shrugs. “Yeah, since I started liking girls, I liked guys too. I just didn’t figure out what that looked like till I was an adult.” It took him that long to realize wanting to be with someone all the time wasn’t necessarily unromantic only because the someone was a guy. Also to put “I made out with two guys before I ever even kissed a girl, because proximity is a thing” into the proper category. He wasn’t even sure the label itself applied until Kono said something the other night and he confirmed it himself later. “And I didn’t figure out what to call it till way after that. It’s no big deal, okay? It’s just that Grace asked me if I was going to keep it a secret from you, and I didn’t want her to think I was ashamed of it, or her, so I promised I would tell you today. That’s it, don’t be weird.”

“Oh.” Steve drums his fingers on the wheel, then nods once, decisively. “Okay.”

“‘Okay,’” Danny mimics. “You gonna apologize for doubting me now?”

Steve gestures like he’s going to argue, but deflates before he gets going. “I should’ve known better.”

“Yeah, you should’ve.” Steve still looks strange. Sort of smaller, like he’s shrinking in on himself, shoulders up and head turned slightly away. They're tiny signs, but they're there. Which is odd—the last time he took that sort of defensive posture was when he’d been literally tortured. So Danny squeezes his shoulder, shaking it gently when Steve still doesn’t meet his eyes. “Hey.” Another shake. “We are okay, right?”

Steve leans into his touch, for a bare second, then straightens again. “Course we are.” Another minute passes before he demands, “Are we ethical enough yet?”

“Yeah, all right, traffic is for the people who don't have to get to the lab. Hit the lights, babe.”

--

That evening, Grace asks, “Did you tell Uncle Steve yet?”

“I did.” Danny’s making breakfast for dinner, since the pancakes were such a hit and Charlie’s appetite is iffy. Rachel’s going to kill him for the amount of sugar the kids are eating. He kind of wants to kill himself for it. At least half the flour's whole grain. Maybe tomorrow should be all salad, all the time. “Did you want syrup on this waffle?”

“No, I like them with whipped cream.” She brandishes the Reddi-Wip can at him. “What’d he say when you told him?”

“He thought I was joking.”

Grace giggles. “Did you convince him you weren’t?”

“Eventually.” He plates her bacon and waffles and slides them across the corner to her.

Grace doesn’t immediately drown the waffles in whipped cream, an unusual enough occurrence that he looks at her directly. She’s bouncing on her toes, fingers interlaced around the can. “And then?”

“And then nothing, and then he said okay. You gonna eat that?”

Pouting for reasons he can’t determine, Grace buries the waffle under a Mount Everest of snowy white.

“I thought you liked waffles.”

“I do!” she answers, somewhat incoherently, behind a mouthful. Charlie laughs at her when she shows him the whipped cream on her tongue.

“Then why did you just look like I gave you a plate of asparagus?”

“Oh. No, it’s not the waffles, it’s...” Her mouth twists. “I was just being immature, I guess.” She gestures at her plate with her fork. “This is really good.”

“I made it. Of course it’s good.” Danny pours more batter on the waffle iron.

“I saw Sophia at school today!” Charlie calls from the table. “She is so pretty, Danno. Why is she so pretty?”

Never mind the fact that he sees Sophia every school day. Stifling a grin, Danny pretends to give the question some consideration. “Some people are just lucky that way, Charlie my man.”

“Like Uncle Steve,” Grace supplies helpfully. Danny raises an eyebrow, but she looks like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth.

“Don’t let him hear you say that. His ego is big enough as it is.”

“I don’t know. He could probably stand to hear it sometimes.” She shrugs innocently at Danny’s continued stare. “Everyone could.”

--

Men are rapidly becoming a problem.

Well, not men, per se, but Danny’s reaction to them.

The thing is, he didn’t know. He had no idea that living as though he were one hundred percent straight, even though he knew it was a lie, had basically involved damming off an entire section of his brain. And apparently his dick. It’s like that horrible segment of his life when he was trying to figure out how to be attracted to girls without being an asshole about girls (a balance he then had to find again after the divorce, with arguable success). Except it’s worse because he’s in his fucking forties, okay, he should be at least a quarter of a century past blushing when someone with a nice smile flirts with him at the cash register. And he is, when the someone is female. When it’s a guy, though, all bets are off.

At least the unwanted erections aren’t as much of a thing this time around. There’s something to be said for not being a kid when living through a random sexual awakening.

Men, though. Men with their forearms and their biceps and the way their clothes fit and their shoulders and asses and the way they walk, the way their hair lays against their necks. It’s extremely problematic and not at all how he anticipated spending his time at this stage of his life.

And how’s he supposed to treat them? That’s the thing. While he was researching heteronormativity, and bisexuality, he read that sometimes straight men, when they find out a friend is gay or bi or whatever, will start reviewing every interaction they’ve had in the past, examining them for homoerotic undertones. Steve’s given no indication of doing so, but Danny is doing it to himself now. He’s honest enough to admit that maybe, just maybe, all those “married” jokes about him and Steve have some basis in the way he touches his partner, like maybe it is not one hundred percent straight to put your hand on the back of your manly-man partner’s neck to comfort him or to pat his stomach to get his attention.

But Steve does that shit too. So probably Danny’s overthinking it.

--

They’re driving to the North Shore one morning, where a body has washed up with plastic shavings in the victim’s hair and clothing, when Danny’s phone rings. He smiles at the contact picture that pops up onscreen. “Chin Ho Kelly! How’s the mainland treating you?”

Chin’s voice is a little taut, but Danny can still hear a smile there. “It’s treating me well, my friend. We've gotten clothes in actual dressers, so I'm calling it progress.” Steve calls hi from the driver’s seat. “Tell Steve I said hello.”

“Chin says hello.” There’s some wailing in the background and a faint crashing noise. Danny tries not to laugh as he asks, “Sara okay?”

“That’s, um, that’s why I called, actually.” The sound of a door closing, and the wailing fades. “I’m having a little bit of an issue with her and I’m not sure why.”

“What’s going on?”

“This sounds so strange, but… I threw away a sock of hers that didn’t have a match. And she’s had a total meltdown. She’s on the floor screaming about it and tried to dig it out of the kitchen trash even though it was covered in raw meat by the time she noticed it was gone.”

Danny can’t help it. He laughs. “Yeah, Grace sort of did the same thing after she moved here.” It had mostly faded by the time Danny was able to follow, but he caught the tail end of it. Rachel deserved the lion's share anyway.

“A little help, here?”

“Look, kids hate change. You take how much I hate and fear sharks, multiply it by a factor of one hundred, and that’s how much your average kid is gonna hate and fear change. Sara’s not your average kid,” he forestalls the protest he can already hear Chin forming. “I know that, but she’s had a lot of change in a very short amount of time, and most of it was bad, right? Even getting to live with you again was a change, and then she had to move, again. Now she’s living in a place that’s all haole, all the time, there’s no, what have you, no volcanoes or pineapple groves, she’s got nothing familiar but you, Abby, and her stuff. And you just threw away a piece of her stuff.”

A long silence on the other end, then Chin sighs. “Dammit.”

“Hey, it’s okay. No big deal in the long run. But I’m guessing she has no idea why she’s so upset so maybe have her pick out a new pair of socks at the store next time you take her.”

“Copy that. Thanks, Danny. Hey, how’s the case going?”

Danny catches him up on the details. By the time he’s done they’re pulling up into the parking lot nearest the body. “Gotta go look at the latest vic now. Talk to you later.”

“Thanks for your help.”

“Any time, babe.” Danny hangs up and turns to see why Steve hasn’t gotten out already. “What’s up?”

Steve has the soft look in his eyes Danny usually associates with his interactions with Grace and Charlie. “He call you often?”

Danny shrugs and reaches for the door handle. “Sometimes. Probably only when his sixteen aunties don't answer their phones first. I don’t know. It’s different between Sara and Grace; Grace has way less trauma. Chin doesn’t need a lot of help anyway, from what I can tell. He’s a natural.”

“But when he does need it, he calls you.”

“Sure, why not? He calls Lou sometimes too. We’re a few years farther down the same road.” They start heading down the boardwalk towards the area marked with yellow tape. “Kinda wish everything was as easy to solve with Gracie now, but truth is I didn’t have a clue back when she was that age either. It was all guessing and hoping. With Charlie I don’t have to do as much guessing, so that’s nice.”

“Gracie still having a hard time?”

They’re going to have to walk down the sand, and his shoes are going to be ruined, and Steve’s going to tell him his shoes are all wrong for the job. Danny succumbs to the inevitable with an internal grumble. “Nah, not as bad as it was before she told me about the whole bi thing. She’s not mad. She’s acting disappointed, though, like I didn’t get her something she really wanted and she’s waiting for me to notice.” He nudges Steve with his elbow. (That’s a safe, buddy-ish way to touch someone, right? For God’s sake, he’s sick of himself. Fuck Steve for being so hot, anyway.) “She didn’t happen to tell you what it is, did she?”

Steve laughs, though his face is getting more somber the closer they get to the DB. “Sorry. No such luck.”

The body’s only been in the water about a day, according to the ME, and is in relatively good shape, but “relatively” still means the poor woman’s face has been altered so much that her fingerprints bring up an ID that’s unrecognizable compared to the corpse. “This is Denise Kelekolio.”

“Why do we have her prints?” Steve asks, hunkering down to examine her fingernails.

Noelani looks through the record. “She’s a former foster parent. Child and Family Services took the prints for her background check.”

Steve stands again, watching as Noelani puts the plastic shavings into an evidence bag. “How did she die?”

“I’m not sure. Water damage really complicates my job. I can guess it was blunt force trauma to the head, though. That sort of injury with a body found in the water is usually pre-mortem. I’ll know more when I can open her up.”

Once they’ve looked around the scene, they head back to the car, with Steve making the expected observation about the unsuitability of loafers to police work in Hawaii. Danny, naturally, enumerates all the reasons he’s wrong, until they call Jerry to see what he’s found out about Denise Kelekolio.

He was able to pull up the info without much effort. “She’s an administrative assistant at a check-cashing place. Did foster parenting for ten years, stopped when she adopted the maximum number of children allowed for one home. They’re all adults now, from what I can tell.”

Steve perks up at that. “Abuse?”

Danny skims the file on his phone. “Doesn’t look like it. Investigated eight times, allegations decided ‘unfounded’ each time.”

“Eight times? That’s a lot, Danny.”

“Nah, normal for foster parents who're in the game for a while. Doesn’t mean anything in particular, usually, as long as they turn out unfounded.”

“Yeah, well, maybe not. We might’ve finally found some motive here.”

“Records show that Denise Kelekolio only worked with four Child and Family Services Workers while she was a foster parent,” Kono adds. She and Lou are with Jerry. “All of them are retired by now. One’s moved to the mainland, lives in Tennessee. The others are here on O’ahu.”

“Okay, let’s split ‘em up. Kono, see if you can track down the one in Tennessee, talk to them, and then you and Lou take the first one here. Send the addresses of the other two to me and Danny.”

“Copy that.”

--

Three hours later, Steve and Danny pull out of the driveway of a very small bungalow in a fairly decent working-class neighborhood.

“Pointless,” Steve says under his breath.

Danny actually agrees with him, but for form’s sake he argues. “No, it was not pointless, Steve. However many years of police work and you’re still acting like eliminating leads is an exercise in futility instead of a vital part of the job.”

“It was pointless because she has early onset Alzheimer’s, Danny, not because it was police work. If she’s the one who handled some case that maybe ties everyone together, then—”

“Then we’ll hunt down her former supervisor or work-wife or whatever and we’ll interview them, okay? One of these’ll pan out. They always do.”

“Except for when they don’t.”

Danny nods. “Except for when they don’t, but that’s my line. You stealing my lines now?”

“I’ve got them memorized.” Steve shrugs.

“So what you’re saying is, I actually have taught you something.”

“Yeah, you have taught me something,” Steve allows. “Of course, it’s cynicism and a totally pessimistic expectation of the future, but it’s something.”

“That’s what we call a normal cop worldview.”

“I’m not a normal cop.”

“No you are not, or you wouldn’t be blaming me for your cynicism, you’d be blaming perps.” Danny’s phone dings. He lifts it to see Rachel rapid-fire texting him about some meeting with her accountant she has to get to this afternoon and can he please meet Charlie because his after-school program’s been canceled for the day because of an inservice. “Ah, great. Okay. Can I drop you off at the Palace? I gotta do a thing.”

“You gotta do a thing.” That tension’s back around Steve’s eyes. “What’s Rachel want now?”

“What—who says it’s Rachel?”

“Your text sound, that’s Rachel’s tone. Is she the thing you’re doing?”

“Oh, that’s very classy, Steve, thank you. No, I am not ‘doing’ Rachel, what are you, thirteen?”

“That’s right; I forgot. You two are just ‘talking.’ You’re ‘talking.’” He does the air quotes with his fingers every time.

“Yes, we’re talking! We are coparents of two lovely children, we gotta talk. No one wants to go back to the good old days of us not talking. I’m sure you remember the constant struggle? How about the time she decided to take away Grace’s visitation because of some gangsters at a football game?”

“I miss those days.”

“You—that’s bullshit. You do not miss those days.”

“I do miss those days. Do you know why I miss those days, Danny?”

Danny throws his hands in the air. “Enlighten me, please.”

“Because at least back then you were being honest with yourself about what was happening with her.”

Sitting back, Danny looks him over. Steve’s knuckles are white on the wheel, and he’s smiling, but it’s the fuck this shit smile, the one he had on when they were following that damn pineapple truck and he first found out Danny and Rachel were talking again. The strain around his mouth and eyes has made the lines go deep, and that makes Danny moderate his answer. “Honest, huh?”

“Yeah, honest.”

“Look, I realize you wouldn’t know this, not ever having had a long-term relationship that anyone else would consider serious—”

“Oh, here it comes—”

“But divorce doesn’t exactly bring out the best in anyone.”

“No. You know what, that’s—okay, I’m willing to admit that’s true, but you were not like her. Look. You’re an adult. Do what you want.” The lines are getting even deeper now. “But I remember those messages, and I think you should too.”

That's a Danny-level jump in topics, and for once he isn't able to follow. “What messages?”

“The ones, from when we had to go through where Peterson cloned your phone, when he had Grace. Those messages.”

Danny’s face heats, residual humiliation all these years later. Kono tried to hide the paperwork detailing the contents of the messages from him, taking them straight to Steve and putting them under a bunch of req forms, but Steve pulled a disappearing act soon after. So Danny ended up going through his papers, looking for something else, and saw every single pathetic word, laid out in triplicate, ready to turn over to the prosecutor’s office. Begging Rachel to give them another chance, saying he didn’t care if she was carrying another man’s child. “See, why you gotta bring those up? That’s embarrassing, Steven.”

That tension is growing to overtake Steve’s entire body, stringing him tight from head to toe. “Because you’re forgetting them. And I’m not.”

“Believe me, I remember.”

“Yeah, all right.” Steve sounds anything but convinced. Danny wonders if that’s because Danny’s not completely convinced, either.

--

Charlie runs back and forth from the couch to the dining room table in Rachel’s place, popping up every time something new occurs to him so he can tell Danny what it is. Danny’s trying to get some paperwork done while he waits for Rachel to get home, but it’s not really happening.

The front door opens, and he looks up, eager for salvation, but it’s Grace, not Rachel. “Hey, how was your day?”

“Fine,” she says, giving him an expression he recognizes after a minute as “assess the situation” face. In other words, Cop Face. Fuck his life, she’s totally going to go into law enforcement. “What’re you doing here?”

“You live here, what, am I not allowed into my kids’ home?”

“It’s not just our home.” She shuts the door behind her and absentmindedly returns Charlie’s hug without taking her eyes off Danny.

“Yes, thank you, I realize that. Do you want some dinner?”

“Nah, we ran to Zippy’s on the way home. But thank you. Charlie, do you wanna watch Story Bots?”

“Story Bots is for babies, Gracie!”

“Don’t lie; you love it. It’s okay. I won’t tell your friends at school.”

After more negotiation, Charlie agrees to Story Bots on his laptop, with headphones. Danny watches the whole thing with mixed feelings, because he recognizes his own techniques in redirecting Younger-Grace’s attention when he wanted to talk to Rachel alone.

Once Charlie’s settled, Grace comes back to sit next to Danny and fixes him with a Look. “Dad. Why are you here?”

Danny shuts his laptop, setting it aside, and gives her the same Look right back. “I am here because your mother asked me to help out with Charlie while she meets with her financial advisors. After-school was canceled.”

Grace shakes her head. “I could’ve ducked out on my study group. She could’ve asked Mrs. KaLin next door to have a play date with her son who’s in Charlie’s class. She could’ve called Uncle Kamekona or Jerry. You had work, I know you did.”

Danny spreads his hands in inquiry. “What’s the problem? You don’t want me here now?”

“Dad. No. It’s not that, it’s that…” She hops up and paces back and forth for a few seconds, then flings herself back on the couch, not meeting his gaze. “I need you to promise me something. Please.”

“What is it?” She shakes her head, still not looking at him, tears gathering in the corners of her eyes, and now Danny’s truly alarmed. “Hey. Grace. What’s wrong?” He scoots closer to put his arm around her.

“Dad…” Grace turns her face into his shoulder. “Please don’t get back together with Mom. Please.”

Danny runs his hand over her head and down her back. “What on earth…?”

She jerks up so fast to glare at him, she almost cracks his jaw with her skull. Tears spill down her cheeks, but she wipes them off impatiently. “I’m not a kid anymore, Dad! I know what’s happened with you two before. Please please please promise you won’t.”

And this is where Danny discovers that yeah, Steve wasn’t completely wrong. There’s actually a part of him that wants to refuse Grace’s request, because he would never make a promise to her he isn’t sure he can keep. That part scares the shit out of him, enough so that he blurts, “I promise.”

“Are you sure?” She grabs his hand in both of hers. “I can’t—I can’t handle it if you aren’t.”

He returns her grip, but gently. “Grace, I don’t get it. Why does this mean so much to you?”

Grace takes a deep, shuddering breath, and then releases it on a flood of words. “I remember—I told you before. After you told me you were getting divorced, I remember you crying. But—I didn’t tell you—I know you were supposed to come with us to Jersey, that time Uncle Steve went to jail. And then all of a sudden we were back in Hawaii, and Mom and Step-Stan weren’t fighting as much anymore, and I was getting a baby brother, and it was so confusing. I thought you were going to get back together with Mom and then you weren’t, and I could tell when Charlie was born that you were so sad but I thought it was because we had to miss my weekend with you… and then later we find out he’s yours, which, I’m sorry, is gross, Dad. I mean I love you, but cheating is gross. And now Mom and Stan are breaking up and you’re doing her favors and I can’t take it. Please don’t do this to me again.”

“Okay,” he says, putting his other arm around her and hauling her back into his embrace. “Okay. Don’t—don’t worry, all right? I promise you. Your mom and I are not getting back together.”

“Do you swear?”

She sounds so frantic that his own eyes sting in sympathy. “Fine, yes, pinkie swear like we did when you were eight, if you want, just don’t cry anymore.”

Danny’s shoulder is growing damp by the time Grace manages to pull back. “Thanks.” Her gaze goes to his shirt and she grimaces, scraping her fingernail across the fabric. “I think I stained this. Sorry. Spray n’ Wash gets mascara out, if that helps.”

He cranes his neck back to check the damage. “You don’t even want to know half the stuff I’ve had to wash out of my clothes, with my job. A little makeup is nothing. You need to step up your stain game, kiddo.”

Grace’s answering giggle is slightly damp, but genuine. “If you wanna go back to work, it’s okay. I can handle Charlie till Mom gets back.”

Danny checks his cell phone. It’s nearly six. “Yeah, you know, I actually need to get back, so I’ll leave you to it.” He wanders over to give Charlie a hug and kiss that are distractedly returned with a too-loud, “Bye, Danno.” Grace walks him to the door, and he waits till he hears the deadbolt turn to leave.

--

Back at the Palace, things are still busy. No one’s gone home and the location traces on Lou and Kono’s phones are up on the main screen, showing them together out on the field. Steve’s doing something on the smart table. He looks up when Danny walks in. “How’s Charlie doing?”

“Charlie is copacetic.” Danny unbuttons his shirt as he walks to the closet where they keep their spare clothes. “Grace, on the other hand, is not. Hence my need for a new shirt.”

“Huh?” Steve watches him slide the stained garment off. “How’d that happen?”

“My daughter, Steve, was bawling on my shoulder, begging me not to get back together with her mom.” Now that he’s got a little distance, Danny’s more upset about the whole thing than he allowed himself to be while with Grace.

Steve’s eyes get big. “Well, you know, Stan was her stepdad for half her life. It makes sense that she’s sad about all the change.”

“No, I honestly don’t think this had much to do with Stan. It’s…” Danny stands with a shirt in each hand, thinking too hard to go through with putting the new one on. “I never realized how much she understood about what was going on between me and Rachel, since we got here.”

Steve leans back on the table, eyes fixed on Danny’s face. “She was mad?”

“No, more like stressed out of her mind.” Danny realizes he’s still half naked and shrugs the new shirt over his shoulders. “Basically what she said is that Rachel and I have been jerking her around ever since the divorce and she’s sick of it.”

Crossing his arms, Steve looks down in thought. “She’s worried you’ll try again with each other and then break up again.”

“Yeah, exactly. She asked me to promise I wouldn’t.”

That gets a straight look from Steve, before he quickly averts his gaze once more. “Did you do it?”

“Did I do it, of course I did it, she was crying and begging, it was awful.” Danny rubs his forehead, heaving a deep sigh. “The past month or so, I keep fucking up with her.”

“No,” Steve says, instant denial like it’s completely out of the question. “She’s a teenager, Danny. Her problems aren’t gonna be as easy to deal with as they were when she was Charlie’s age, you said it yourself. That’s not you fucking up. It’s just life.”

“It feels like me fucking up. I keep making her cry.”

“It’s the age. She’s supposed to cry a lot, right?”

Danny spreads his hands in incredulity. “Look who’s suddenly an expert on teenage girls. She’s not supposed to cry because of me, Steve.”

“Yeah, you're right.”

Danny leans forward, uncertain he’s heard correctly. “I'm right?”

“Obviously I’m not gonna be able to persuade you that you’re not ruining her life. You’re in a mood. Button up your shirt, you look ridiculous, c’mon.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, is all this bothering you?” Danny motions up and down at his torso. “That's pretty rich, coming from someone who's spent years pulling off his shirt at every opportunity.”

Steve puts on his supremely uncaring expression. “It’s not bothering me, it’s frightening me. I’m surprised Melissa doesn't complain about the traction.”

Laughing, Danny starts buttoning up the shirt. “For your information, not all women are into the back-waxing aesthetic.” And at some point he should probably tell Steve that he's not with Melissa anymore, but it's going to fuel the “talking to Rachel” fire and he hasn't been able to go there yet.

Steve’s mouth drops open in outrage. “I don’t—I don’t wax my back!”

“Sure you don’t, buddy.” Hopefully they’ll never need the security footage from today because Kono’s going to complain for days if she has to watch this. “It’s okay, it happens to all of us. One more effect of age.”

Steve’s looking everywhere but at Danny. “We gotta go question Kelekolio’s Family Service Worker’s former supervisor. She lives on the windward side.”

“Your change of subject is a tacit admission, just so you know. By the time we’ll get to the supervisor’s house, it’ll be too late to knock on her door. Let’s go tomorrow.” Dressing process finally complete, Danny claps his hands together. “Why don’t we eat first and then go to Kelekolio’s work, take the stuff in her desk into evidence?”

Steve nods. “Sounds good. I’m gonna pull the HPD tail off Johnson. This isn’t feeling like serial killings anymore.”

“No, I agree.”

--

The dream’s a jumble of color and sound, and even inside the kaleidoscope of his unconscious Danny’s dreading the moment it turns into Matt, in that barrel, and the prison in Colombia, or Steve bleeding out in the pilot’s seat. But though there are a few moments when it swings close, and he has a gun in his hand and is looking for a head to put a bullet in, his brain ends up not being interested in that sort of torment tonight.

Instead, he dreams of Steve.

It’s the Steve he first met, the one who was too thin and too intense, his body the fuel for the flame the hunt for the Hesse brothers lit. The Steve who pulled him up to the top of a mountain to look at pictographs and then nearly fell off a cliff when he found a dead body. Only in the dream, things get turned around, and instead of Steve falling off the edge of that cliff he ends up on top of Danny. Shirtless, because when does Steve ever avoid an opportunity to get that way?

And then, in a shift of venue that doesn’t seem weird at all, they’re both on Steve’s couch, and Steve’s mouth is hot and wet on Danny’s neck, biting marks into the muscle while his hands slide beneath Danny to lift his ass. Their hips grind together, the slide of their dicks against each other an obscene tease because Danny can’t quite get the pressure right at this angle, and he throws his head back to gasp for breath because it’s too much, Steve is too much like this—

“Danny,” Steve murmurs into his skin, and Danny’s body will be vibrating to the low pitch of that voice for the rest of his life. “Danny.”

“Steve, fuck, please—”

He pulls away, and it’s now-Steve hanging on to him, more gray in his stubble and pain lines around his eyes but just as intense. “Sidebar. You and Rachel… How long’s that been going on? Were you ever gonna tell me?” He rolls his hips down as he says it, which is a hell of a thing to do on a sidebar, Steven—

And Danny’s eyes fly open, his hand already wrapped around his dick. Three half-aware strokes later, he comes all over his stomach with a choked groan.

Once the pleasure recedes, Danny groans for an entirely different reason, and starts flailing around looking for the t-shirt he threw on the floor after he got to bed so he can clean up. That done, he tosses the shirt in the general direction of a hamper and falls back on his pillow, scrubbing his face with his hand. A couple months without sex and he’s having wet dreams like a teenager. Great.

Wet dreams about his partner, no less. A new level of fucked-up. Well, maybe not. Everybody has a sex dream about a coworker every once in a while, and Steve's… well, he's Steve, no one who ever took a look at the guy would be surprised people dreamed about him. But this one feels weird. Mostly because his subconscious is using real-life memories, including some sensory ones (who knew getting knocked down on the ground to avoid bullets could leave that sort of impression), to weave together a narrative he’s pretty sure is bananas. Steve’s never given any indication that he harbors—

Wait.

Wait a goddamn minute.

--

Were you ever gonna tell me?

--

Because he remembers that day, he remembers the look on Steve’s face when he brought Gracie to the hospital before that day, and that… that was not a friends-only face. Danny was puzzled about Steve’s questions even then, wondering why Steve felt like he had the right to know something Danny hadn’t even told his own daughter about. (Although probably if he didn’t want her to know, he shouldn’t have cuddled with Rachel in the hospital bed in front of her. That’s something he never would’ve done without painkillers futzing with his mental capacity.)

And the way Steve afterwards conscientiously asked about Rachel whenever he saw Danny, even when he was in prison, until he found out they weren’t together, was a lot like overcompensation. The sort of thing you do to remind yourself someone you want is unavailable, and to take care they don’t catch on that you would like nothing more than that they become available.

But Danny never put two and two together and got, hey, my partner had a crush on me as the sum. Because he was being exactly what Steve accused him of being with Grace.

And also because he is astoundingly dense about these things, which Steve knows and yet did not take as his sign to rear-end Danny’s car or something he could understand. Maybe he thought drawing his gun on Danny and then later on taking his car keys away should have been enough to serve as a mating call.

For fuck’s sake. Maybe Steve does miss those days. But if so, it’s not because Danny was being honest, back then.

“When I say ‘Book ‘em, Danno,’ it’s a term of endearment.”

“Okay. Do it every day. I like it.”

Well, it might be a little bit because Danny was being honest. Even if he was still lying to himself.

--

The next morning sees Danny stumbling out the door, nearly dropping the case files for Denise Kelekolio’s former foster children—none of them have been fully converted to digital since she quit before Child Welfare Services made the complete transition from paper. He couldn’t fall back asleep after the dream, so he killed time going through them, looking for a common thread Steve and he together might have missed. Now he’s moving slow, his reflexes are shot, and if he gets in a firefight today reflexes won’t be the only thing in that condition. Goddamn Steve. Somehow, this is all his fault.

In the warm light of day, his speculations of the night before seem a lot like a sex-dream-fueled fantasy rather than an inescapable conclusion. Still, he’s not quite ready to let go of it. There’s no harm in keeping an eye out, right? Just to satisfy some pointless curiosity. That’s the only reason. It’s almost a certainty that even if Steve had feelings for him all those years ago, they’ve burned out in a wildfire of irritation brought about by overexposure by this point. Danny knows what he’s like to live with.

And it doesn’t matter now.

But he’s curious.

“What the fuck,” Steve says as soon as he gets into the Camaro, probably because Danny didn’t automatically move over to the passenger side when he pulled into the Palace’s parking lot.

“What kind of ‘good morning’ is that?” Danny demands. “Look, there are rules to civilized interaction, Steve, and saying ‘what the fuck’ the minute you see your partner is against those rules.”

“You look like—did someone break into your place last night? Is that why you didn’t get any sleep?”

Danny shakes his head and puts the car into reverse. “No, I had—I had dreams that kept me up.”

Steve’s expression shifts into understanding. “Nightmares.”

And that makes Danny laugh, though he hopes it comes across more as humorless agreement than anything else. “Yeah, they were, uh, they were pretty bad.”

“You wanna talk about it?”

“Nope. No, I do not.” A muscle in Danny’s jaw tightens so much at the idea that he’s pretty sure his teeth are gonna give way.

Steve nods, accepting. After a second, he turns back to Danny. “You probably shouldn’t be driving, in that case.”

“Bullshit, I’m not the one who has radiation poisoning, so I think it all evens out.”

“It doesn’t even out! Radiation poisoning makes me feel sick, it doesn’t slow down my reaction time.”

Danny jerks his head back incredulously. “I’m sorry, did you just say feeling sick doesn’t slow your reaction time? I think by its very definition that’s exactly what it does.”

That argument lasts them to the coffee shop, at which point Danny pretends not to notice when Steve lifts the keys from his pocket while they’re in line.

The former supervisor, a white woman with a southern drawl named Stephanie Brown, doesn’t have much to share about Denise Kelekolio except that she does remember her as an excellent foster parent. “A lot of the people who we train—we’re not really sure about, to be honest, even if there’s no real reason to reject their home studies. But Denise was great with those kids. She really got them. The usual way these things go is, for every placement into a foster home, the child loses six months developmentally speaking. But when we placed a child with Denise, we knew that they would start pulling ahead in school, developing social skills, learning self-sufficiency. She was really good with birth parents, too. She made them feel like they were on the same side: reunification of the family.”

“She was investigated several times for complaints of child abuse,” Steve points out. “Those are serious allegations.”

Stephanie waves that aside. “Happens all the time. Kids make stuff up because they’re angry, or they’re trying to control the situation, or birth parents report them because they want to get the foster parents in trouble, or they truly believe their kids are at risk. We have to take those seriously, even when we know they’re ridiculous. It’s something we warn the foster parents about before they begin.”

“But sometimes, they’re real,” Steve says.

Stephanie nods. “Sure. Sometimes they are. But it’s far less likely than you would think based on what you see on TV. Trust me, Denise was a good one. We were sorry to lose her when she adopted her fourth and fifth children.”

Danny tries a different tack. “Do you know of any foster children in Denise’s home who had parents who were criminals? The sort of parents who would want to get revenge on her?”

Stephanie shakes her head. “A lot of birth parents have previous convictions. Mostly possession of drugs or paraphernalia, public intoxication, shoplifting, that sort of thing. But most of the time, they know that their children being safe in their foster home is too important to mess up with violence or threats.”

“So nobody jumps out at you, somebody with violent felonies, or anything like that?”

“No, nothing, but that doesn’t mean much. I only supervised two of the four FSWs you mentioned, and it was years ago.” She sighs. “Have you spoken to her children yet?”

“No,” Danny replies. “Not yet.” HPD tracked them all down, but they won’t be together on the island until later this afternoon.

“They might be able to help. I hate that they have to go through this again.”

“Again?” Steve asks.

“Well, you know, they’ve already lost their birth parents, in one way or another. And Denise’s husband died of a heart attack shortly after they began doing foster care. So this is a terrible loss for her kids, even worse than it would be otherwise.”

--

Stephanie lives in a down-market collection of townhomes with no parking nearby, and even Steve won’t abuse his badge to park in front of fire hydrants, so they have to walk a minute to get back to the car. Halfway there, the clouds overhead open and soak them both to the skin.

“How many years,” Danny says in disgust, wringing out his shirttail in a pointless gesture once they’re in the car. “How many years have I lived here, and I still don’t carry an umbrella everywhere I go.”

“You don’t need an umbrella everywhere. I’ve had a few dates ruined when I forgot one, though.”

Steve’s shirt is clinging to every muscle it nominally covers and it’s disgusting. Just really annoying and unprofessional. It reminds Danny of something he was thinking about last night when he was supposed to be reviewing files—well, actually, he was supposed to be sleeping, but fat fucking chance, right? “Let me ask you something.”

“Sure.”

“Have you ever had a date that ended well for you?”

Steve glances over from where he’s adjusting the AC to the outside temperature because his natural environment is Hawaii and he probably gets chilblains if it’s too cold. “What? Yeah, of course.”

There’s a raindrop trickling down the side of his neck. Rudely. Danny ought to wipe it away and show it who’s boss. “Okay, name one.”

Steve shrugs. “I don’t know, any of the ones that ended with sex?”

Danny just laughs at that. “You know, there was this one night Cath had too many beers and told me some things. Like about the first time you two hooked up.”

(“Next thing I knew, he had me braced against the hotel room door holding it shut with my bare ass while my friend was literally knocking on the other side because she forgot her key. She goes to get the manager to let her in and Steve just… kept going until the manager called a bellhop and they were both shoving the door open while he was pulling my skirt back down on the other side.”

She was hiccupping with laughter, flushed and beautiful, wearing nothing but a bikini and a sarong. Danny attributed the weird churning in his gut to his normal tendency to fall a little in love with gorgeous brunettes who could rip his head off, whether literally or figuratively.)

Steve gets a little smirk. “Oh yeah? I’d call that one a success.”

“That wasn’t a date, Steven. You didn’t even pay for her drinks.”

Steve shoots him a glance out of the corner of his eye. “So what counts as a date to you, Danny?”

“Well, I was just thinking, I don’t know of any of your dates that haven’t ended in disaster. There was the time you took Cath to Rainbow and that idiot tried to jack your truck. The time you took Lori to that—those mountain steps thing—”

“The Koko Crater Railway Trail.”

“Yeah, that, and she nearly broke her ankle.”

“That wasn’t a date.”

Danny snorts. “Could’ve fooled her. The time you took Cath to the governor’s charity dinner and someone found a DB at the end of the laundry chute before we even got to the desserts. Then there was your first date with Lynn, with the fugitive shooting you up—”

“Zelenko.”

“Right, Zelenko, and your first Valentine’s Day with Lynn, with her finding Catherine’s engagement ring, and the time you cooked dinner for Lynn and Catherine showed up at your door, and the time Lynn planned a romantic staycation for the two of you and it turned out she and Melissa actually planned it for the four of us—”

“That wasn’t a disaster!” Steve protests. “We had fun.”

Danny makes a “sort of” gesture with his hands. “It was a little weird.”

After a second, Steve bobs his head back and forth in agreement. “Maybe a little weird.”

“Kind of awkward.”

“Yeah, a little.”

“Slightly disastrous.” Danny cuts off whatever objection Steve might make to that characterization with a gesture. “I’m just saying. Historically speaking, your dates haven’t really worked out for you, have they? That’s not even to mention—” He swallows, because his tone is important here, for what he wants to say, and he can’t afford to fuck it up. But he’s going to, because it means too much, so instead he clenches his jaw again and stares at another raindrop, bumping down Steve’s stubble like a pinball down a playfield.

“Not even to mention what?”

Danny jerks his gaze away from Steve’s mouth, forming the words with uncharacteristic quiet, and waves toward the road. “What, are you gonna sit here all day? Let’s go see if Jerry’s got anything for us before we go talk to Denise’s kids.”

Steve sits motionless for a long moment, while Danny fiddles with his cuffs and adjusts the vents and refuses to look at him. Finally, he shoves the car into gear and merges into traffic. “To answer your question, yes, I have had plenty of dates that weren’t a disaster by the end of them. I just never told you about any of them. ‘Everything went great’ doesn’t make for much of a story.” He takes a deep breath. “I mean, how many times have either of us told stories about all the times we’ve hung out at my house without anything bad happening?”

It’s so much in line with what Danny meant to say that he starts, the slightest bit. It’s a miniscule movement but he knows Steve caught it. Danny squints into the bright gray light angling through the windows and says, “Yeah, true, not really a good story.”

“The time we went to see the ki'i pohaku, on the other hand, that’s a pretty decent story.”

“You getting airlifted with an injury is barely interesting at this point. That’s a standard day at the office for you.”

“That was the first time you actually enjoyed something in Hawaii besides Grace, admit it. Which makes it a little interesting.”

“Okay, a little.”

“Or, you know, when we went fishing and you caught that tuna, that was a good story.”

“‘And you caught that tuna,’ Steve, c’mon, it was interesting because that dipshit stole the boat and you tried to outswim a shark.”

Steve points at him. “Exactly! We could probably dine out on that one for a month if we tried. Or we could have, before everyone already knew.”

“Okay, you win.” Danny holds his shirt out from his skin and puts it in the way of the air traveling from the vents in the probably-vain hope that it’ll dry the material. “Not all your dates end in disaster, just the good ones.”

“Just the ones worth talking about, anyway.”

Okay. Now the question of whether those were dates has been answered… so what? Danny has no idea where to go with this. Time for a subject change. “How do you want to question the Kelekolio kids?”

“Let’s let Lou and Kono take the girls and we’ll take the boys. Maybe one of them can give us some insight into their mom’s life, see if anything changed close to the murder. We should be able to get a feel for their relationship with her, too.”

Danny rifles through the papers one more time, looking over Kelekolio’s family file, which is a couple inches thick. “Huh. That’s weird. Court adoption records show four daughters, one son, but HPD said it was three daughters, two sons. Kekoa is a man’s name, right?”

“Traditionally, Hawaiian names don’t have a gender, but all the Kekoas I’ve met have been men. Yeah.” Steve shrugs. “Someone fucked up paperwork somewhere. It happens.”

--

It turns out that traffic is bad enough that even with lights and sirens they can’t make it back to the Palace before it’s time to talk to the Kelekolio children. Instead, they meet Lou and Kono at the funeral home, where the family’s been discussing arrangements now that the body’s been turned over to them.

The three women, ranging in age from early- to mid-twenties, go with Lou and Kono. The two men stay with Danny and Steve. All of them have swollen, reddened eyes and move in slow motion, as if grief has thickened the air around them.

Danny really doubts Denise abused them, based on what he’s seeing, and he can tell Steve is revising his opinion too. He asks anyway. “How did your mom treat the foster kids in her care? Was she ever abusive?”

The older brother, Kekoa, clenches his fists on his thighs, but the younger, Mike, reaches to put his hand on his brother’s. “Hey. They’ve gotta ask. You know that.”

They’re both mixed-race, Danny guesses, but that’s where the similarities end. Kekoa is about six-two and must weigh at least 250. He’s got a nose that speaks of more than one break and ears that suggest fights weren’t an uncommon thing in his past, though he also wears what passes in Hawaii for business clothes and looks comfortable in them. Mike, on the other hand, is slight and short, with large, sensitive eyes. They’re obviously close—their thighs brush unconsciously as they sit together and their expressions are strangely alike despite the differences in their features. Kekoa nods to his brother and finally responds to Danny’s question. “No. She never was.”

Steve’s turn. “The thing is, Mike, we have records of the investigations into Ms. Kelekolio here, and one of them was instigated by you. You told investigators she was beating you with a two-inch-round wooden switch—that’s serious.”

Mike buries his face in his hands. “Oh God.” When he drops his hands, his eyes are glittering. “Look, you have to understand. I was thirteen. I’d been removed from my parents’ home and I could already tell they weren’t going to work with the plan to get me back. I wanted to scare them so they would do what they were supposed to do, so I could live with them again. So I told them Auntie was beating me, and they believed me and called it in. Of course, it ended up with Auntie being cleared and them still not doing the right thing.”

“You don’t call her Mom,” Danny points out, curious.

“I wasn’t adopted till I was fifteen. ‘Mom’ is a pretty loaded word by that point, in a foster kid’s life. Auntie never forced the issue. But I love—I loved—” Mike’s voice breaks, and he turns his head to hide his face again, this time in his brother’s shoulder. Kekoa lifts his hand to pat Mike’s head, making no attempt to hide his glare at Steve and Danny.

This could end up being pointless, and Danny feels bad about making things worse for him, but that’s the job. “Can either of you remember a foster kid coming in who was dangerous, or who had family that might have posed a threat?”

Kekoa shakes his head. “Mom didn’t take risky placements, because she had so many kids in her home at once. She was really careful about that. And I know foster kids have a bad reputation, but for the most part we weren’t dangerous. Just fucked up. Mom didn’t take any shit from us, but she didn’t hurt us or let anybody else do it, either.” He shuffles his feet, an oddly indecisive motion from such an imposing man. “I came to her house when I was ten. I was hard to place. A lot of people have a problem with someone like me. But she loved me like she did the other kids. That was who she was. Her dying this way? It’s bullshit.”

“Someone like you? What do you mean by that?” Danny asks.

Kekoa shuffles his feet again. “I’m trans.” Danny doesn’t process the word at first, and it must show on his face, because Kekoa elaborates, “Māhū. Assigned female at birth.”

Danny nods. “Okay, so you've answered my next question, about the kids she turned down. Any kids she had to relocate out of her home? Maybe against their will?”

“Most of the time, the ones who left were trying to get out of there. Once she took a toddler, and it was a disaster, so she ended up having to disrupt, but that was the only other time I remember,” Mike answers.

Steve takes out his phone. “I’m gonna show you some pictures of other murder victims whose cases we think might be connected to your mom’s. Tell me if you recognize any of them?”

Kekoa and Mike look at the pictures, but there’s no flicker of recognition on either man’s face, just pity. They both shrug and say, “Sorry.”

A few more routine questions later, Danny hands his card to both of them, and they turn to see Kono doing the same with their sisters.

On their way out, Lou announces, “Candace Kelekolio, the youngest one, ID’d one of the vics.”

“Oh yeah?” Danny spins on his heel to face him. “Which one?”

“The first one. Candace says her name is Kau'i Lee, so we’ll need to confirm that.”

The one who looked like Kono. Danny eyes her for a second, wondering if she saw it too, but her face remains undisturbed. She’s doing a lot better now than she was for a while after the sex trafficking operation bust. He has his own theories about why, but until she decides to share that’s her secret to keep. “How’d Candace know her?”

“They were friends in high school. Candace said they had a lot in common because they were both in foster care at the same time.”

Danny leans forward, processing that. “Okay, so maybe that’s how she and Denise Kelekolio were connected.”

Steve nods. “Let’s run the name, find an address. Lou, you and Kono can check out her place. Danny and I are going to talk to Jerry about what he’s found out.”

--

Jerry has Kau'i Lee’s face and information up on the screens by the time Danny and Steve make it back to the Palace.

“Hey, guys. So, our girl didn’t have a record, stayed out of trouble.” Jerry taps on the screen a few times, calling different windows forward. “She worked as a waitress at a diner, worked as a corner store cashier on her off hours from the diner, lived with what looks like five other girls in a two-bedroom apartment in Wahiawa. Her mom lives in Waipahu.”

Danny looks at the bright smile in Kau'i’s state ID photo—no driver’s license, apparently. “HPD told us she was a sex worker. Never got popped for solicitation, obviously, since her fingerprints didn’t return any results. Why’d we get that info, then?”

Jerry shakes his head. “HPD assumed she was a sex worker based on her lack of ID and her clothes, and since she was dumped in a neighborhood she didn’t frequent, no one local could disprove it. It doesn’t look like she’s had a missing person report filed, either, so that didn’t help.”

“Why didn’t facial recognition pull anything up if she had a state ID?” Steve asks.

Jerry looks uncomfortable. “Facial recognition software isn’t as effective when it comes to women, young people, or to non-whites. It just didn’t work for Kau’i.”

Danny’s still staring at that pretty smile, the tiny dimples, and the anger’s dragging his mouth down at the corners. “None of her roommates cared, huh. It’s been over a month since her body was found. ”

A little of what he’s feeling must bleed into his voice, or else Steve just knows what he's thinking. “Usually, people in that situation, they barely see each other because they’re all working too much. It’s possible they’re each assuming someone else saw her and that’s why they didn’t report. Especially since she didn’t own a car so they wouldn’t see it gone.”

“Yes, thank you, I know that.” He’s not being fair. But then again he doesn’t particularly feel like being fair. “Jerry, did she have a bank account?”

“No, no accounts associated with her social.”

Steve makes the connection before Danny spells it out. “That’s probably how she and Kelekolio got reconnected.”

“That’s what I’m thinking, yeah.” Looking to Jerry, Danny adds, “Call her employers’ corporate offices, find out when their last checks to Kau’i were issued and when and where they were cashed. We might get lucky and get their meeting on video. Do we have phone numbers for the roommates? Jobs?”

“Almost all of them, as a matter of fact.” Jerry swipes away Kau'i’s info to call up her roommates’. “I went ahead and called their employers to get their schedules. Most of them are at work right now.”

"All right, we'll go check them out."

Chapter Text

Kono and Lou get next-of-kin notification duty for Kau'i Lee's mom after they're done at the apartment. Steve and Danny start going through Kau'i's roommates. Danny doesn’t really love to question people who knew the victim at their jobs unless the crime occurred there. They're on their guard and emotional reactions are dampened by the fact that their bosses are around. In this case, though, he’s worried they’re working their way toward victim number five.

None of them are at home. They're all young, like she was, and working too hard, like she was. They all cry when they’re told about what happened to her, but it’s soundless, tears welling up and spilling down their cheeks while their voices stay flat. They don’t even have enough energy to get upset about questions of whether or not Kau'i ever did sex work, just shake their heads. It’s only when Steve and Danny get to the last one, a tiny girl named Jessa Santos, that they get any usable information.

“We were best friends in high school,” she says, picking at the hem of her hotel maid uniform like her fingers need the distraction. “She was the one who asked me to be the sixth girl in the apartment.”

“Okay, Jessa, so she talked to you?” Danny’s getting sick of everything burning out on them. This feels like it might actually go somewhere.

“Sure, when we saw each other.” She lifts one shoulder, curling in on herself with the motion. Life has dealt her slight frame one blow too many with this news.

“Was she scared of anybody? Customers, a boyfriend, family?” Danny sees Grace glaring at him in his mind’s eye and tacks on, “Girlfriend, maybe?”

Jessa sniffles. Her hands clasp together in her lap, twisting till her knuckles whiten. “Her brother. She was always scared of him.”

Danny trades a glance with Steve. Jerry’s info didn’t include a brother. “Yeah?”

“I mean, stepbrother. ‘Cept her mom isn’t with his dad anymore.”

“What’s his name?”

“Nathan. Nathan Davis.” Her eyes well up fresh, and she stifles a sob against the back of one hand. “He used to hurt Kau'i. That’s why she went into foster care, when we were in high school. Her mom was too scared to leave his dad because she didn’t have a job and the place they lived, he paid for, plus they’d been together since Kau'i was a toddler, but teachers kept reporting for Kau'i till she went to live with someone else.”

“Okay, when you say ‘hurt’ Kau'i, what do you mean by that? Was it physical?” Steve’s come to full attention now.

Jessa nods, tears leaving bright tracks on her face in the light of the sunset. “He used to hit her when she wouldn’t do what he wanted. Kau'i had a smart mouth, you know, and he would beat her up if she used it on him. Or if she didn’t dress the way he liked. She hated dresses and stuff but he’d make her wear them. One time she wore jeans to school. He slammed her so hard against the wall once she got home that he fractured her spine.”

Danny winces. “How long did they live together?”

“Her mom left Nathan’s dad when Kau'i got put into foster care, but Kau'i never went back to live with her. She lied to her social worker and so did her mom, so they wouldn’t get caught, but Kau'i couch-surfed till she graduated. She was too afraid to stay where she knew Nathan could find her.” Jessa’s hands twist again, and Danny has to restrain the urge to put his own hand over them, to urge the tortured ligaments into some semblance of ease, but it would be an illusion anyway. “She said Nathan had been talking to her mom, lately. She was worried he might be trying to track her down. That’s why—that’s why, when she left, I told the others not to worry about it. I thought maybe she’d found a place to run to, and she’d call me when she was okay. Her phone was always running out before she could prepay for more.”

“When’s the last time you saw her?” Steve asks.

Jessa thinks back for a moment. “I think it was about two months ago. Right before she headed out to go to her hostess job.”

Danny can barely resist the urge to punch something at that. Their timeline’s been fucked from the beginning. Then his brain catches up to the rest of the sentence. "Hey wait. Hostess? You mean at the diner?" Their info said she was a server.

"No, hostess, at a hostess club. She liked it because they paid under the table and the tips were amazing."

The "under the table" part explains why they didn't know about this job. "But no sex work? You're sure?"

Jessa sniffs, a miserable sound. "She didn't want to do that. If she'd wanted to, she probably could've been a hooker and then she wouldn't have had to work three jobs. But she didn't want to."

They show her the other victims, sticking with official ID photo for Denise Kelekolio, but Jessa doesn’t recognize any of them. Still, they’re leaving with a couple more leads than they started with, and that’s something.

--

Danny calls Noelani as soon as they get back to the car. When she answers, he says, “I’ve got a question for you. Is there any chance those three bodies from the possible serial killer might have been stored before they were dumped?”

Noelani hums in thought. “I suppose it’s possible, although there would have to be refrigeration involved since there was no significant decomposition. I can run a test on the activity of short-chain 3-hydroxyacyl-CoA dehydrogenase in the first victim’s body.”

“If you can check, that’d probably give us enough to go on for a while.”

“Will do.” 

Once she hangs up, Danny calls Lou. “Guess what,” he says when Grover picks up.

“You got a lead?”

Oh, now that’s just way too smug. Danny looks at Steve to see a little of that same smugness fade off his partner’s face. “Let me guess, you get a name to check out, too?”

“Nathan Davis.”

Damn it. On the other hand, it’s great to finally get some action. “You find something at Kau'i’s apartment that pointed you in Davis' direction?”

Kono speaks up from the passenger seat. “She had his name and contact info written down on a sheet of paper in the box where she kept her clothes. And, get this, I recognized it from a post-it note in Denise Kelekolio’s desk. Why, what do you know?”

Danny tells them about what Jessa Santos had to say. “She might have been planning to check on him, see if she could figure out what he was up to so she could avoid him. You talk to the mom yet?”

“Yeah, she’s living in a public housing unit for people with disabilities. She couldn’t tell us much, except that Kau’i was terrified of Nathan Davis and that he’d visited her a few times. Kau’i was planning on trying to talk to his mom about it, see if she could get him to leave Kau’i alone.”

“So we need to talk to Nathan and his mom.”

“Whaddya say, Steve? Can we leave it till tomorrow?” Kono sounds game, but tired.

Steve visibly weighs their options. Danny reminds him, “With the spacing between the victims being what we know now, I’m guessing we’re not in a race against the clock here. It feels like all of these have the same motivator.” Also he looked up whether radiation poisoning symptoms cause sleep problems, and turns out the answer is yes, and so does being the recipient of a donated organ, so Steve needs to get to bed at a decent hour. But if he says that, there’s every chance Steve will drive to Davis’ mom’s place out of sheer stubbornness.

Danny’s phone beeps with Grace calling in, and that seems to make Steve’s decision for him. “Yeah, Danny and I will go talk to Davis. Lou, you and Kono can head out and check at the hostess club for any evidence, then go home.”

“See you boys tomorrow.” Lou hangs up, and by that point Danny needs to call Grace back.

She picks up on the first ring. “Hi, Danno.” Her voice is uncharacteristically quiet.

Danny frowns. “What’s wrong?” Steve comes to attention at the question, although he (for once) keeps his eyes on the road.

“Nothing. I just finished my book for the book report that’s due next Wednesday.”

“Oh yeah? What did you end up reading?”

The Remains of the Day.”

Danny casts back through his memory, trying to place the title, but he comes up blank. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of that one. What’s it about?”

“It’s about these two people who fall in love at their job, but they never want to try to be together at the same time. One of them marries someone else even though they’re not in love, and the other one ends up throwing his life away on his job.”

Sometimes Leeward Academy’s curriculum leaves a lot to be desired, especially considering the tuition. There have to be some other authors who would’ve been better choices. “That sounds incredibly stupid.” He winces as soon as he says it, but too late now.

“It is! I kept thinking, ‘okay, this is it, they’re finally gonna go for it,’ and every time they didn’t! Seriously, this book is the worst. I would’ve thrown it across the room but it’s from the library and I’d have to buy it if I tore it.”

“Good thinking. Well, I’m sorry it sucked. Did you have an okay day otherwise?”

“It was all right. Oh, Charlie wants to say hi.”

Charlie gets on the phone and yells every single point of interest about his day, eight out of ten of which involve Sophia and what she did. Before Danny can comment on any of them, Charlie says “Bye!” and takes off again.

Grace takes the phone back, but only to say goodbye. “I’ve gotta get to work on this book report. Love you, Danno.”

“Love you too, Monkey.”

“Bye, Gracie!” Steve calls from the driver seat.

“Tell Uncle Steve I said bye.”

“She says bye,” Danny dutifully relays after he hangs up.

Steve grins, satisfied. “What sucked?”

“Oh, this book she had to read for school.”

“Boring?”

“No, frustrating. Said these two people work together, fall in love, come close to getting together a bunch, end up never doing it, whole thing ends with neither one of them happy.” Danny hears what he’s saying and clamps his mouth shut.

Steve’s oblivious. “Yeah, that sounds like it sucked all right.” A pause, and then he asks, “Rachel didn’t have anything to say?”

Ah. Ahahaha. There is a reason Steve McGarrett has never won a hand of poker against his partner, and this is it. Danny can read Steve like the back of a sugar packet. He just needs the proper context. “You know, I got a question.”

Steve’s nostrils flare. “Oh good, another question, I love those.”

“You said you got it, when I told you I was talking to Rachel. You said ‘by the way, I get it.’ If you get it, then why are you giving me such a hard time about it?”

“I’m not giving you a hard time. I’m just—I’m being honest, Danny.” Knuckles tight on the wheel, shoulders up around the ears, faint tinge of red on those same ears. Check, check, check.

“Well, that’s great, I appreciate your honesty. Now honestly tell me, what did you mean when you said you got it?” Danny leans against the door so he can watch Steve more closely.

Steve gives him an irritated glance. “Don’t look at me like that, I’m not some perp you’re questioning. I meant I got it, okay? It’s hard, when things go wrong in a, in a relationship or whatever, to think about all the things you could’ve done differently. And then if it seems like you got a chance to put it right, you wanna take it. I did the same thing, right?”

Danny blinks. “You did?”

“Yeah, I mean, with Cath. She showed up ‘for Kono’s wedding,’” air quotes again, “and I was gonna propose. I hadn’t seen her in months, we hadn’t talked, it was stupid, I was still gonna do it. I’m surprised you didn’t try to talk me out of it.”

“Yeah, I am too.” Probably the only time he’s ever seen Steve headed toward a cliff and not yelled at him to stop, except… oh shit.

“It would’ve been a mistake, though.” Steve sends another glance his way, but this one isn’t irritated, though he’s trying to make it look that way. “It would’ve, Danny. A mistake for me to ask, a mistake for her to say yes. She was always gonna need things she wouldn't find with me.”

Danny’s mind races, and he barely hears what Steve’s saying. “Yeah, I know.” He’s listening to the echo of his own laughter in his ears, the only response he had when Steve announced his plan to propose. It sounded a hell of a lot like Steve’s laughter when he found out Danny was talking to Rachel. Did he warn Catherine off? Was he jealous, even back then, and oblivious to it?

He replays their conversation that day and relaxes slightly. No. He really was acting in Steve’s best interests. “Please don’t ditch my boy again” isn’t the same as “yo, back the hell off.”

“Okay,” he says, after a moment. “Okay. I see what you’re saying. But you’ve got to realize something, all right?”

Steve nods, but it looks like he’s bracing himself. “All right.”

“I promised my baby girl I’m not going to get back together with her mom. I promised, Steve. Pinkie swear and everything. Okay? So you can stop—whatever this is.” Danny waves his hand in a way he hopes encompasses “whatever this is,” though he’s starting to think he knows exactly what it is, and no amount of hand-waving is going to delineate its boundaries.

Instead of relaxing, Steve gets even more tense. “You promised her you wouldn’t try and then break up again.”

“No. I promised her I wouldn’t try at all.” Steve responds to this reassurance by swerving over the double yellow line to pass a slow-moving sedan. “For God’s sake, Steven, where the hell are you in such a hurry to get to? Is there an emergency I don’t know about? A limited-time sale on thigh holsters you need to catch? Slow down!”

“I’m not gonna slow down, Danny, we’re fine, there was no one coming!”

“There’s ‘no one coming’ if you completely disregard the solid line of oncoming traffic! You know, I was impressed back there for a moment?”

“You? Impressed? Sure.

“No, I was! You said the ‘relationship’ word and you didn’t choke or turn purple or anything. I was thinking, ‘huh, Steve might have actually attained some level of maturity,’ but then you go and pull shit like trying to make us a crash statistic, so thank you for bringing me back to reality, I really appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome. Maybe I can rear-end the person going twenty miles below the speed limit next time and tell them my partner disapproves of perfectly safe passing.”

But Steve’s trying not to smile, and the lines in his forehead have faded, and Danny turns to look out the window so Steve won’t see his own expression.

--

Davis lives with his mother, a nurse, on the lower level of her small home. She’s at work, but his car is in the driveway. Steve and Danny check out the interior of the car through the windows, just in case, but nothing catches their eye. They walk up to the patio door, which opens directly to the lower level.

Steve knocks and calls, “Nathan Davis, Five-0. We need to talk to you. Open the door.”

A few seconds, and then a huge white guy answers the door, muscles bulging even under the cover of his long-sleeved shirt. He’s obviously been asleep, with sheet marks pressed into his face, but he’s making an attempt to seem alert. The whites of his eyes are tinged yellow. “Can I help you guys?”

Danny moves to the front. He knows that violent men tend to underestimate him, consider him less of a threat, so he wants to be the one to ask. “Detective Danny Williams, this is my partner Lieutenant Commander Steve McGarrett. Mind if we come in?”

Davis’ eyes flick to Steve, once, but then he steps back. “Okay. Sorry it’s a mess.”

Danny wanders in, hands in his pockets, looking around. Steve makes it his job to stand by the door, arms crossed. The living space is extremely neat, with nothing lying out, not even mail.

Davis breaks the silence. “Uh… why’re you here?”

Danny leans toward him. “Why’re we here, that is a very good question. We are here because we have a bunch of dead bodies, and one of them is a woman you used to live with, and apparently one you used to beat.”

Davis looks disgruntled in reaction. “I don’t beat women.”

“Uh-huh, that’s great, hats off to you. Except that we have a sealed juvenile record and DCFS files saying you do. Or at least you used to. Maybe you quit. I don’t know. But I have to say that I’ve been doing this job for a very long time and I have never run across a guy who only used to like hitting women. How about you, Steve?”

Steve speaks levelly, eyes fixed on Davis’ face. “No, Danny, I’ve never seen that either.”

Danny waves a hand to Davis. “But then again, we mostly deal with hardened criminals, so you could say our experience is limited to a certain type of person. You know what’s funny, though? You haven’t asked who she is. That’s normally the first question. Kau’i Lee, in case you were wondering. You two grew up together, right?”

Davis shrugs, no visible sign of distress at the news on his face. “I wouldn’t put it like that. My dad lived with her mom for a while, and when I was with my dad I was around her.”

Danny cocks his head, considering. “When’s the last time you spoke to Kau’i?”

“I dunno, years ago?”

“You got any idea why she’d have your address written down?”

Davis smirks. “Maybe she missed me.”

Steve breaks his silence. “Her mom said you’d been asking about Kau’i.”

With a shake of his head, Davis leans back on two legs of his chair. “She’s full of shit. I always thought she had a thing for me. She was probably trying to get my attention.”

“Yeah, it’s hard to imagine how any woman could resist you,” Danny agrees, dry as the Kaʻū Desert.

Davis' smug veneer cracks at that, a there-and-gone flash of ugly anger in his eyes. "Kau'i was a slut, okay? Not to mention a total bitch. I don't give a rat's ass that she's dead but I didn't kill her. There's probably a list of twenty guys who wanted to do that." He strides to the door and holds it open, a gesture that's made a little less impressive by the fact that he has to do it behind Steve's unmoving form. "Get out."

Danny thinks about it, but it doesn't seem likely that he can find a clue in plain sight here. "We'll keep in touch, all right? Don't go anywhere."

"Yeah." Davis barely waits till Danny's cleared the threshold to slam and lock the door behind them.

As they drive away, Steve says, "He did it."

Danny sighs, but a text from Kono comes in to both their phones before he can reply. Surveillance cameras are all dummies, nobody at the club really knew Kau'i, but we did find a bullet in the outside wall. Taking it to the lab. "We've been over this before. You can't make something be true by saying it in a really firm tone of voice, okay? Evidence, Steve. Evidence."

Steve glances at him. "You think he did it too."

"Yeah, maybe, but we got no proof and that's what we need to make any charges stick. As you know." Danny examines Steve's face. "You feeling okay? You look pale. And you haven't redlined it once since we left Davis' place." He reaches for Steve's forehead, instinctive reaction to any sign of something wrong after umpteen years of parenting. Instead of batting his hand away, as he expects, Steve lets him put his palm to his face.

"I'm fine." Steve lifts one hand from the wheel to overlay Danny's. "See? No fever, no chills. I'm just hungry, that's all." He eases to a stop at a red light.

"Okay." Danny thinks he's been doing pretty good about not touching Steve basically all the time—the way he used to, until recently—but just for an instant he loses track of what he's doing and brushes Steve's hair back, which definitely isn't something he was ever used to. Steve's hand slips down with the motion, his thumb describing a semicircle across the sensitive skin of Danny's inner wrist.

Danny has to work to keep his breathing even as he faces forward again and mentally chews himself out. Steve's not a kid; he doesn't need to be coddled like one. "Let's go back to the Palace so you can get your truck."

--

Danny finds himself staring at the Google app on his phone after he gets home, contemplating searching for how to tell if a man is interested in you (in a gay way) and promptly wants to die of embarrassment over his own brain.

Okay, no. This is bullshit. He knows Steve. There’s something going on. Even someone as oblivious to signals as Danny can see that's the case, some sort of wall that’s fallen since he came out that’s changed the way Steve treats him. But. There are a lot of ways to read that. And if he just lays it all out there, things could go very wrong even if Steve is receptive.

A new message from Rachel pops up on the screen, but when he opens it, it turns out to be a video of Charlie, by Charlie, who apparently has figured out Rachel’s passcode again. “Hi Danno!” he chirps. The screen mostly shows a close-up of his nostrils, but one eye is showing pretty clearly too. “I love you to the moon! And I want a fish! Sophia got two fish because her mom said goldfish need friends. Mommy said maybe I can talk to you about having fish at your house. I wrote a story about my fish for my morning work at school too and I remembered to use five colors for my picture.”

The phone goes even more cockeyed than before as he walks through the house. Danny can hear Grace and Rachel having some sort of heated discussion in the background, but can’t make out the words before the video cuts out.

Danny thinks about texting Grace, but tries Rachel first. Hey, Charlie’s got your phone password decrypted—probably want to change it.

While he’s waiting for her to answer, he types about four different messages to Grace and deletes them all before he settles on, Love you, Monkey.

Grace answers almost immediately. Love you too, Danno. So whatever she and Rachel were arguing about, it probably wasn’t that serious.

Rachel replies a few minutes later while he’s poking through his fridge disinterestedly. Right, got it. You’ll be picking up Grace and Charlie right after school next week, right?

Unless something breaks with the case we’re working, sure.

All right. Lmk if anything changes.

OK. Everything all right with Gracie?

Just arguing over homework she should have started a week ago. Par for the course I'm afraid. Everything’s fine. x

She always ends her text exchanges that way, or has for the last year anyway. He’s trying not to read into it. And it gets awkward when he’s not finished yet. Danny opens a beer and puts it down to answer. That book she had to read sounded awful. Not surprised she put it off.

Which book? She hasn’t read a book, that’s the problem.

Remains of the Day?

That’s not on the approved list. She was supposed to choose between three biographies, not some stiff-upper-lip period piece.

It’s like a lightning flash, the full and comprehensive understanding arcing through his brain. Oh, his little monkey is busted, busted, busted. Must have misunderstood her when she called.

OK. x

Gracie. His Gracie. Trying to play Cupid. Danny doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but in the end what he settles on is irritation. Not at her—she’s a kid, one who’s watched The Parent Trap one too many times and for whatever reason decided to apply its lessons to his partner rather than her actual parents. It’s pretty endearing that she’s still got that sort of childlike faith in her own machinations.

But at Steve? Yeah, Danny’s irritated. He’s losing sleep over McGarrett and now apparently so is his daughter and all they both want is for him to be happy and if he isn’t, it is all his own fucking fault, but Grace and Danny will both be the ones feeling bad. Such an asshole.

He almost texts Grace about it, but stops mid-type and deletes everything. He doesn’t want to embarrass her. Or himself, if he ends up giving something away. Not that there is anything to give away, because he’s just trying to satisfy his own curiosity here, not making a move. Shit, how would that even work? He hasn’t dated anybody he was friends with first since high school, and that kind of happened by accident, them being at the same party and making out which led to the dating part.

Somehow he can’t picture that happening at, say, poker night.

And also, it’s a dumb idea because what would he even call him. Danny likes endearments. He cannot in any form or fashion fathom calling Steve a term of endearment (“babe” doesn’t count, he even calls perps he’s questioning "babe") without also picturing Steve laughing in his face. Because Steve is so detached from normality that giving someone a nickname at all is an endearment—which kind of makes Danny wonder about Nick “Bullfrog” Taylor, now that he thinks about it.

Another thing Danny likes is labels. He likes being able to say, “my girlfriend,” and assuming he ever dates a guy he’d want to say “my boyfriend.” Steve’s allergic to labels, which is probably why he never said the word "date" in Danny's presence while he was dating him. Danny once heard him refer to Lynn as his "lady friend" to her face, which practically made Danny gag in sympathy.

So yeah. Stupid idea.

Somehow he’s got an empty bottle next to him and a freshly opened bottle in his hand and he really needs to eat before his brain starts spinning out, fueled by alcohol and anger. There’s some leftover puttanesca in the fridge. He heats that up and heads for the couch.

The thing is, though (he’s got the remote in his hand but his finger doesn’t seem interested in making it to the power button), the thing is, he just really wants to take care of Steve all the time. When they first started working together, the dominant thought in Danny’s mind tended to be this asshole is going to get me killed, which over time turned into McGarrett’s going to get us both killed, must be a day that ends in y, which eventually turned into holy shit, he’s going to die and I’m going to have to watch it happen unless I stop it.

He used to think, until very recently, that Steve acted that way because he didn’t have a fear gene. Lately, however, he’s noticed that Steve—well, he hasn’t hesitated much. But he’s definitely realized he could die, has undertaken the usual reckless stunts with a little more gravitas and a lot less glee than he used to. And that was before the radiation poisoning was diagnosed. (Before he cuffed Danny’s cheek and told him I love you for probably the hundredth time, but it felt like a kiss and sounded like… well, it sounded different. That’s all.)

And if they were together… Shit. He’s actually considering the possibility. His heart’s going to pound a fucking hole in his chest. He’s crossed the line. Danny shoves the realization away and keeps barreling down the path of no emotional return because he has learned nothing, nothing in his forty-odd years of life.

The point being, Steve has gone through so much shit since Danny met him, and now he’s finally realized he’s not immortal, and somehow that’s morphed into Danny wanting not only to keep him alive but to protect him from every kind of harm.

Because if they were together, on the off chance that this wild bout of speculation could ever be transmuted into an actual relationship, Steve would never have to worry about being abandoned again. He might even be okay with Danny pensioning out, because he’d have Danny. Everyone would get what they wanted, assuming Steve does want Danny. Because Danny doesn’t just want to protect Steve, he (fuck fuck fuck fuck) wants Steve.

Danny braces his elbows on his knees and buries his face in his hands with a groan. Yep. There it is. Might as well look it in the eye and move on.

“I am going to be really pissed off,” he mutters to himself, “if it turns out we could’ve been doing this for the better part of a decade. For fuck's sake.”

That seems to be what he needs to hear, because he’s finally able to turn on the TV and start eating lukewarm pasta.

--

Jerry calls him about half an hour later. “So I did some poking around,” he announces when Danny answers. “I think I might have an idea about the plastic shavings. A murder case in Ohio a few years back had forensic evidence like that. From the killers’ confessions, they had put the bodies of their victims into plastic barrels and drilled holes in them to make sure they sank when they were dumped in a river nearby.”

“Yeah, but Jerry, only one of these vics was found in the water,” Danny points out, with what he feels is saintly patience. “And she wasn’t in a barrel.”

He can practically hear Jerry’s shrug. “Maybe something changed, like they couldn’t get access to a boat until Kelekolio’s murder. I don’t get it either. Oh, and, here’s something you might find interesting. I also did a full run checking for connections between Nathan Davis and all our other leads. Kip Johnson actually had one cable bill at Davis’ mom’s house the month before he moved into his current apartment.”

Another connection. Excellent. “So you’re thinking they were roommates,” Danny says. “And, what? Johnson was covering for Davis, or vice versa?”

“I’m wondering if maybe they were partners.”

“It’s worth looking into. Thanks, Jerry.”

"Sure. One more thing before I let you go: Kau'i was using the check cashing business where Kelekolio worked. She was in there twice the week before she disappeared. I called and asked about surveillance video, but they clear it every week, so it's long gone. No one recognized the picture of Kau'i I sent, either."

"All right. Good work."

Danny mutes the TV and calls Nathan Davis' mother with a pen and notepad in hand. She answers his questions in a voice so soft as to be almost monotone. Yes, Kip lived with them for a while before he got a job and moved out. No, she didn't hear him argue with Nathan.  No, Nathan doesn't have a job. No, Kip and Nathan didn't really talk much once Kip moved out. No, she has no idea why not. No, Kau'i never spoke to her about Nathan. She's too busy working to really pay attention to her adult son's social life.

--

After a night filled with dreams featuring the highlights of his breakups with Rachel, Gabby, and Melissa, because his subconscious is obviously a huge fan of subtlety, Danny’s actually pretty grateful for the 6 a.m. call about Kip Johnson’s body being found in the same neighborhood as the first three bodies.

Steve’s already there when Danny pulls up, standing arms akimbo and face frustrated. That’s a bad face. Danny starts rubbing his bullet-magnet shoulder when he sees that face.

“What’s wrong?” he demands, walking up to join his partner. “Why’re you looking like that? Stop it, you’re giving me an ulcer.”

“Your bitching gives me an ulcer,” Steve grouses, but his heart’s not in it. “I can’t believe this guy gets himself killed right after I pulled the detail.”

Ah. Guilt. “He wasn’t doing anything, Steve. Surveillance is expensive and you kept on it for weeks with no joy. Another few days and you would have had to meet up with the governor while she shouted at you about the waste of money.”

“Yeah, maybe, but he’d be alive. Now it’s just another dead end.”

Danny wanders over to the body, crumpled face-down against a building wall. Noelani, looking exhausted, is examining him. “What’s going on, Noelani?”

“Different M.O. from the first three, but similar to Kelekolio,” she replies. “No gsw, lots of blunt force trauma to the head and a crushed throat. My guess is the manual strangulation is what killed him. But that’s really all I can tell you till I open him up. Can’t even tell you if his killing is related to the first four. By the way, test results came back. Lee was definitely refrigerated prior to her body being disposed of.”

Which means possibly Huerta and Smith were too. Whoever the killer was, that makes him the luckiest guy on the earth, that he'd found three victims whose movements no one was sure of in the weeks before their deaths. Given Davis' lack of obvious intelligence, Danny guesses luck could've gone a long way, or that Johnson helped with details. “That's useful, thank you. T.O.D. on this one?”

“Oh, right, I can give you that. Liver temp makes me think three to five hours ago. This one likely hasn’t been refrigerated, but I’m sure you guessed that.”

“Yeah, I figured. Okay, thanks.” The crime scene lights have illuminated the entire scene in their harsh glare, but Danny doesn’t see any signs of the plastic shavings. It could be that this murder really is entirely unrelated to the others. Johnson might’ve just run into the wrong person while he was hanging out in one of his usual haunts. But it feels like an awfully big coincidence.

Steve hangs up the phone as Danny wanders back up to him. “I’ve asked for a warrant to search the warehouses where Johnson was a security guard. And his apartment, of course.”

Danny leans forward as if unsure he heard correctly. “Warrants? Oh, I’m sorry, I was looking for Steven J. McGarrett. Tall guy, death wish? You look just like him.”

Steve doesn’t even give him a you’re not as funny as you think you are glance, just keeps glaring at the dead body. “I want to make sure whatever we get sticks. I’m sick of this case.”

He’s looking gray around the edges, too. All this interrupted sleep is bad for his recovery. Recoveries.

Danny waits till they’re in the car, an hour later, headed to Johnson’s work. “Where’s Kono and Lou?”

Steve’s face still looks grim in the flashes from streetlights illuminating the Camaro’s interior. “Headed to Johnson’s apartment. It’s not too far from Kono and Adam’s place so I figured I’d send them there instead of dragging them to the scene first.”

“Yeah. You know, being shorthanded sucks. You been thinking about hiring someone to put in Chin’s office?”

Steve shrugs. “I dunno. Before Lou, every time someone joined the team, it turned out to be a disaster.”

“That’s… not inaccurate, actually.” Danny takes a deep breath. “What do you think about Adam?”

Instead of rejecting the idea out of hand, the way Danny half expected, Steve actually looks like he’s thinking about it. “What do you think about Adam? I mean, you’ve always been the one who said ‘once a criminal, always a criminal.’ I don’t really want to come to work every day wondering how you’re going to piss Kono off by keeping her husband out of the loop.”

“Figures the one time you actually pay attention to something I said would be so you could argue with me about it later. Look, I stand by ‘once a criminal, always a criminal’ for ninety-nine point nine percent of cons, but Adam is, in my opinion, the point-one-percent. You heard about how he did all that investigation when he thought that construction project was on top of a heiau, right? That’s real cop work, whether or not he puts that label on it. Jerry could use the help with research, and I don’t know about you, but I could stand to hear the results of said research without a side of ‘also, aliens’ every once in a while.”

Steve finally cracks a smile at that. “Yeah, copy that.” He shoots a glance at Danny out of the corner of his eye. “What brought this up?”

“I don’t know, I was just thinking about it. We could stand to expand our personnel more than on a replacement basis, regardless. Our caseload is going to get bigger, not smaller, if we’re going to be dealing with taking down part of our own damn government in addition to all the other shit we have to handle.”

“You sure that’s it?”

Danny turns to give him an incredulous look. “Am I sure that’s it, isn’t that enough? I would have thought ‘a rogue government faction is trying to frame US Muslims for acts of terror in O’ahu’ would be sufficient, Steven.”

Steve’s throat works as he swallows hard. “I’m wondering if you’re looking for your own replacement, that’s all.” Danny opens his mouth, but Steve cuts him off with, “Because it’s not gonna happen, Danny. Just… no.”

When Danny manages to speak, his voice is too quiet, and he knows he’s giving something away, but he can’t manage to sound normal. “That thought never crossed my mind.”

“Okay.” Steve lets out a long breath, like he started holding it the minute Danny leaving occurred to him. “Okay. Uh, it’s a good idea, hiring some more people. And helping Kono and Adam out is good, too.”

Especially if it ends up lightening Steve’s load, but Danny’s not going to go there right now. “Thank you. I have good ideas all the time. You should listen to them more often. Things like, ‘speed limits are for all of us,’ and ‘maybe we should try asking questions first and shooting later.’”

“Those ideas are stupid.”

“They are not stupid, they are normal, which is why you don't understand them. Anyway, if you manage to take this one idea it might result in us having time for our personal lives and that would be a good thing. You could, I don’t know, go see Lynn more than once a month or something.” Which is the last thing he really wants, of course, but sometimes his mouth says things and he’s left wondering what the hell happened.

Just like that, the atmosphere shifts. “You know, funny you should mention Lynn, Danny,” Steve begins, with the note in his voice that indicates he’s lost patience with a perp and is about to start pulling pins out of grenades. Danny straightens, a ripple of ice sounding a warning in his spine. “Because I got a really interesting text from Melissa last night.”

“Melissa? Texted you? I didn’t know she even had your number. What do you two talk about? What could you possibly have in common?”

“Besides you? Not much, but here’s the interesting thing, she wanted to ask me a question.”

“A question? What kind of question?”

“Why don’t you look for yourself?” Keeping one eye on the road, which is one too few in Danny’s opinion but he’s saving his protests for whatever bomb this text message is going to deliver, Steve unlocks his phone and opens the messages to a thread with Melissa. The topmost text is a cute had fun w u and lynn this weekend! accompanied by a smiley-faced emoji, sent just after the staycation. The next one is time-stamped about ten hours ago and reads, so I have a weird question for u, tell me if I should just stfu

To which Steve replies, I’m not going to do that. What’s up?

Lynn said u 2 aren’t exclusive. that true?

Yeah, why?

how weird is it if I ask her out? would u be upset

Danny, out of morbid curiosity, pulls the display so he can see the amount of time elapsed between that message and Steve’s reply. A full five minutes.

Shouldn’t you be more worried about Danny being upset?!

he didn’t tell u we broke up????

No.

that’s weird, I thought he told u everything

Not this.

ok, now I feel bad. sorry

Don’t worry about it. And as far as Lynn goes, she’s her own woman.

thanks. sorry again

Danny drops the phone in his own lap. “What the hell does ‘she’s her own woman’ mean, Steve? You two have been going out for a year now, most normal humans would be talking about possibly moving in together, not avoiding using the ‘girlfriend’ word.”

Steve jabs a finger at him, expression shifting to the patented McGarrett Crazy Eyes look. “Don’t start with me, Danny! I mean it! You broke up with Melissa around the same time you started ‘talking’ to Rachel and you didn’t tell me?”

“Why should I tell you?” Danny yells back. “It’s none of your business! My private life—”

“I thought we agreed that as your partner—”

“You are entitled to hearing about my work related decisions! Work! Related!

“This affects your work!”

“How the—what the hell are you talking about? How has this affected my work? For your information, Melissa dumped me, okay, I had nothing to do with the decision, so get that out of your thick skull right now, you got it?”

Steve laughs. “Right, I’m sure you ‘talking’ to Rachel was completely unrelated.”

Danny has to take a deep breath, because in fact he did think that maybe him being more active in parenting during Rachel’s days with the kids had something to do with it. Now, he’s not so sure. When she was sick of it, Melissa had a way of cutting through his bullshit so quickly that he didn’t even feel it till he was already naked and exposed. It just took a lot to get her to that point. “I, uh, I don’t know, actually.”

“Oh, I think you do know.” The crazy eyes are gone, but Steve’s still looking at him way too hard. “C’mon. Did she give you any reason at all when she broke up with you?”

“Goddammit, Steve, can you for once look at the road so we don’t die? Can you do that for me?” He obeys, for half a moment, and Danny decides to reward him just in case Pavlov was onto something with SEALs as well as dogs. “She said—she said that she thought I wasn’t in love with her, she wanted someone who could fall in love with her, and it was time to just face facts and call it quits while we still liked each other.”

Steve nods, digesting this information. When he speaks, it’s subdued. “I’m sorry. I know you really liked her.”

“I did like her. I loved her.” Danny stares at his gloved hands, still and quiet in each other’s grasp. “But she was right. I wasn’t in love with her. I tried, you know? It just wasn’t there.” It was always way too easy to say goodbye to her. That was something he remembered, from Rachel. When they were first together, for a good year or two actually, saying goodbye seemed like cruel and unusual punishment. They both griped about having to go to work the day they returned after their honeymoon, wondering why they couldn’t just become independently wealthy and stay together all the time. That was probably something right about their relationship.

In fact (and wow, he’s been spending a whole lot of time not thinking about shit that is suddenly obvious after half a minute’s reflection, way to go, Daniel), for a couple of years, he didn’t let Steve say goodbye without interrupting whatever else he was doing later. Unless he had Grace. At least that was a mutual thing too.

“You okay?” Steve asks, and Danny realizes he’s been silent for too long, enough to have the worry-wrinkle appear on Steve’s forehead.

“Yeah. I’m fine. Which is all the proof I need that she was right.” Because Danny Williams doesn’t do half-assed when it comes to love or hate. As witness, the fact that he’s kind of desperate to kiss Steve’s face till that wrinkle disappears. He stares harder at his hands, trying to will the compulsion away. Who knew that not touching someone could cause actual, physical pain in your palms? Not Danny, not till now. “How about you? Are you all right with the idea of our exes going out?”

Steve tilts his head in acquiescence. “Lynn’s not my ex, but yeah. If they can be happy together, that’s a good thing, right?”

Danny can’t argue with that. “Right.”

They pull up to a parking lot with a chain link fence surrounding it and the attached warehouses. Steve pulls out a tool to cut through the links rather than bother dealing with the lock on the gate, and Danny doesn’t say anything because he feels like a little property destruction might improve Steve’s mood.

Once inside, they start with the nearest warehouse and work their way through. Overall, it’s pretty empty space, barring a few offices for construction companies and the like, which they don’t bother searching just yet. Johnson’s unlikely to have stashed something in there. In the third building, which records say has been unoccupied since 2009, they find more empty space, but near the delivery door there’s a commercial refrigerator with the power running.

“Hey, Steve, look at this.” Danny points at the black plastic barrels lining the walls. Walking over, he sees the same black shavings on the concrete floor. An electric drill sits nearby, plugged into a wall outlet. Four circles on the concrete show where barrels rested previously. “I think we need to take one of these barrels back to the lab, see if they can match the plastic to those shavings, huh?”

“Sounds good.” Steve looks inside the fridge. “Check it out. He has to have hidden the bodies in here.” The fridge is empty, but there are more black shavings on its floor, too. Danny pulls an evidence bag from his pocket and scoops the shavings into it.

Steve’s phone rings. He pulls it out and puts it on speaker. “Yeah, Kono, what’s up?”

She sounds tired, but upbeat. “We just finished searching Johnson’s place.”

“Find anything?”

“A Glock 21 that’s most likely our murder weapon for the first three vics was in his freezer, wrapped in plastic. We sent it to the lab. Nothing else to tie him to the murders, though.”

“We’ve got more evidence here—looks like we found the source of those plastic shavings around the bodies. Danny and I are gonna finish looking around here and then see if we can talk to Davis' mom. Let me know if you find anything else out.”

“Copy that.” Kono hangs up without saying goodbye, a habit of hers that drives Danny nuts.

Before he can complain about it, Steve’s phone beeps again, with the ME’s office number. “McGarrett.”

“Commander, I’ve barely started on this autopsy, but I wanted to let you know some of my preliminary findings.”

“Sure, Noelani, go ahead.”

“I got Johnson’s palm print. I haven’t had time to run comparison software with the palm prints found on the first three bodies, but just from visual observation I can tell you that they’re not looking like his.”

Of course, because that would be too easy. Danny sighs. “Damn. Okay, what else.”

“I also observed that Johnson’s body bore several bruises in different stages of healing on his abdomen, upper thighs, and buttocks. He also had several healed or healing cigarette burns distributed around the same area.”

Frowning, Steve looks at Danny, who asks, “Isn’t that consistent with domestic violence?”

“Yes. It’s rare to see on a man, but not unheard of. Do we have any information indicating Johnson might have been involved with an abusive husband or boyfriend? Most women wouldn’t have been able to muster the sort of force that caused the bruising, especially on a man as big as this one.”

Steve shakes his head. “No, the one date we did see, he was out with a woman. But that doesn’t mean much.”

“Sounds kind of like what Jessa said about Nathan Davis’ relationship with Kau’i, though,” Danny points out. “That sort of violence can happen between friends too. They might've been more than roommates, anyway.”

Steve sits up a little straighter, eyes lighting up. “Thanks, Noelani.”

“No problem.”

Danny purses his lips after she hangs up, thinking about the new info. “Okay, so what does this prove?”

“We know Davis has got a past history of violence; since Davis' mom pays the bills, it might also account for Johnson’s putting up with it.”

“Maybe. He was only employed as a security guard for four months and before that, his employment record was blank for three years. He was a ghost. Parents are dead, no siblings, no cousins. No friends, either, unless you count the people he talked to at bars. The one date he had was the first time I saw him use his phone except to call for take-out."

“Which would fit the isolating pattern of an abusive relationship, too. Especially if Johnson was already alone for the most part.”

“So, what, Davis kills the original three vics, tells Johnson ‘take care of this,’ Johnson figures out a way to use it to get Davis to leave him alone and let Johnson move out, keeping the evidence as blackmail material, and then… what? Why did he start dumping the bodies?”

Steve shrugs. “Guilty conscience, maybe? Or maybe there was a reason he couldn’t keep them at the warehouse anymore, like the space got rented out finally. We should check with the landlord.”

“Okay, say you’re right about all this, which you probably aren’t. Why did Davis kill Kelekolio all those weeks later, and how did she end up with the same shavings as the other bodies?” Danny sits up straight. “If she knew Kau’i was planning on running from Davis, she might have gone to talk to him when she didn’t hear back from Kau’i. That would explain why she had his address. But this is a lot of speculation. If, if, if. It’s goofy, it’s not going to work.”

“It might work.” Steve’s got his smug look on, which drives Danny up a wall.

“It won’t. And if it does, it’s not because of you.”

“If it turns out I’m right, first round of beers is on you.”

“The first round of beers is always on me, and the second, and the third, Steve.” Steve doesn’t even bother denying it, just grins at him, and Danny has to stare at his hands again because he has a feeling his face is giving everything away. “I’ll tell you this, if it does turn out you’re right, it’ll be due to my superior interrogation skills, because we’ll need Davis to confess. And we don’t have enough evidence to justify arresting him.”

“So let’s go see him instead of his mom. Maybe he’ll screw up. Text Lou and tell him change of plans, they need to go talk to her instead.”

Danny figures Steve’s feeling better, because he engages in a totally unnecessary U-turn in the middle of rush-hour traffic just for the hell of it. “I have children who need me alive,” he offers, once the car’s stopped fishtailing.

“You’re ridiculous, you know that? At no point was your life in danger.”

--

They pull up to Davis’ house and get out to knock, but before Steve can even finish identifying himself, a bullet sings through one of the glass plates in the door and grazes Danny’s thigh.

“Danny, Danny!” Steve grabs him by his vest’s strap and yanks him to the side, crouching to check the wound.

“Goddammit, son of a bitch.” Danny clenches his teeth around the words and inspects his leg. “I’m fine, it’s just a graze and some glass splinters. C’mon, don’t let him run.”

Together, they break through the door and catch up with Davis just as he’s about to dart out the upstairs lanai. He bawls the entire way back to HQ.

“Palm print’s a match,” Jerry announces within an hour of throwing Davis into interrogation. “He definitely was there when the first three bodies were disposed of.”

After that, it’s all downhill. Davis sobs like a baby and blames everyone else, ever, for what he’s done. It’s Kau’i’s fault for not talking to him when she saw him at her hostess job and making him mad. It’s Smith and Huerta’s faults for walking in the alley so he had to kill them too. It’s Johnson’s fault for not following instructions about dumping the bodies and gun the way Davis told him to, for developing a conscience about the whole business. It’s Denise Kelekolio’s fault for not just backing off when he told her he hadn’t seen Kau’i. It's his mom's fault for never supporting him and making him crazy. It's his dad's fault for always being too mean and turning him into an asshole.

“Nobody made you pull the trigger,” Danny tells him.

There must be something in his voice that gives him away, because once they leave the interrogation room and get into the elevator, Steve pulls Danny into a sideways hug for no apparent reason. Danny leans into it, taking what he can get.

--

By the time Davis is locked up and Danny’s halfway through the paperwork for the arrest, it’s late afternoon. Steve knocks on his door while Danny's still typing.

Danny starts griping before Steve can say anything. "Do you know how stupid this guy is, and how lucky? I mean I feel like an idiot just writing this shit. 'Nathan Davis admitted to transporting body of his victim Kau'i Lee to Chinatown due to the unit where he was storing the body being put on the rental market before he could obtain access to a boat to dispose of the body in the ocean as he had hoped. While removing Lee's body, Davis' actions were witnessed by Fabian Huerta and Ashley Smith. Davis shot both Huerta and Smith. Noise was covered by nearby roadwork. Blah blah blah, guy panics, shoves their bodies into his car and leaves Kau'i… if just one thing had gone wrong, HPD would've caught him before they even found Smith, let alone Kelekolio and Johnson."

Steve leans against the door frame. "If Johnson had just reported Davis, they wouldn't have found anybody but Kau'i."

"He was too scared. Davis spent a long time brainwashing him into thinking no one would believe him about anything, you know how that works. He did what he could by putting Huerta and Smith where we'd get them instead of leaving them for Davis to dump in the water." It's easy to be generous to a dead guy, though. Danny thinks if he were a member of the Kelekolio family, he might not be so inclined.

Steve nods, but his mind is clearly elsewhere. “Lou and I are gonna take off for the golf course and Kono’s heading home. You should go too, beat the traffic.”

Danny waves him off. “Yeah, have fun letting Grover kick your ass. I’ll pay up on the beers some other night.”

Instead of leaving, Steve hesitates, then comes in. “What are you gonna do?”

“Me? I’m going to call Kau’i Lee’s mom and tell her we arrested Davis, and then I’m going to call Denise Kelekolio’s kids and tell them the same thing. I should call Smith and Huerta’s families too, but to be honest I just don’t feel like it so I’ll do that tomorrow.” He sighs, playing with his pen. “And then I’m picking Grace up from cheer practice and taking her to Rachel’s.”

“Okay.” Steve still doesn’t move.

“What,” Danny snaps out after a minute.

“You know I still can’t read your mind. Why don’t you tell me what’s going on in that head of yours?”

Danny meets his gaze unwillingly, but all he sees is that Steve is a little worried and more than a little fond of him. That look is a lot to deal with in his compromised condition. “Nothing’s wrong. I’m just tired, that’s all.”

Steve nods, starts stepping back, and then hesitates again. “You sure that’s it?”

“Yes, Steven, I am sure, at my age I am perfectly capable of determining that I’ve become my dad because I need a nap in the middle of the day.” In point of fact, he’s not that tired. Somewhere along the line he got used to being sleep deprived as a matter of course. It’s just that once he really looked at Steve, he couldn’t stop noticing how he feels about him, and it’s exhausting on a whole different level. Kind of like getting hit by a hammer in the chest, repeatedly. He’s got to figure out what to do about it.

The crankiness must work, though, because Steve finally grins at him. “All right, old man. See you tomorrow.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

--

The phone calls don’t do anything to help Danny’s mood, since there’s only so much comfort to be provided by knowing a loved one’s killer is in jail. It isn’t until Grace smiles at him when he pulls up that the dark cloud starts to lift.

“Hey,” she greets him, jogging up to the Camaro. She hefts her cheer bag up so he can see. “Pop the trunk so I can put this in?”

Once she’s settled in and playing on her phone, Danny decides it’s time to talk. After all, this is the entire reason he offered to give her a ride today. “So. Remains of the Day.

“Mm-hmm.” She doesn’t show him any satisfactory signs of guilt, but she does lift her phone a little more to obscure her face.

Danny sighs. “Grace.”

“Yeah?” Big brown eyes dart in his direction, but she’s not giving anything up.

Fine, time for the straightforward approach. “Is this a fix-up? Are you trying to fix me up with Uncle Steve?”

Instead of the instant denial he expected, she drops her phone in her lap and turns to him. “Yes! Of course I am! I thought you knew.”

“Yeah, sorry, guess I was a little slow on the uptake.” They’re at a red light, so he looks at her too. “Sweetheart, what’re you thinking? Why would you do this now?”

Grace jerks one shoulder up, a little petulantly. “Something he said. The last time we went to his house.”

The time she asked him for advice about coming out to her own father, apparently. “You wanna tell me what that was?”

Instead of just spitting it out, she bites her lip. “I—I don’t know. Maybe? Except I think it might be personal.”

Now he really wants to push, but she’s not a suspect. “Okay. So. Whatever this mysterious thing is Uncle Steve said, it made you think, ‘I know, I’m going to try to get two grown men to go out with each other.’” Grace nods, looking a bit sheepish. “Gracie, that is really not something you need to be worrying about.”

“I know it’s none of my business, it’s just—” But apparently she can’t find the words, because her face reddens and she just shrugs again, dropping her gaze to her lap. “I’m sorry.”

“I guess I understand, but—was that whole crying thing, about me and your mom, was that part of your plan?”

Her fists clench, once, on her thighs, and that’s answer enough, but she says, “No,” and it’s almost a growl.

“Okay.” He reaches to pat her closest hand. “Okay. I still meant what I said about that. I just wanted to know.”

“But if you got together with Uncle Steve, I think it’d be good.”

Danny rolls his eyes to the sky. “I am not taking dating advice from my own teenage daughter, Grace. Worry about Will and you. I’ve been doing this a long time, all right?”

“You kind of suck at it,” she mumbles, but she’s got her phone back up so he elects to pretend it was inaudible. Anyway, she’s not wrong.

“And,” he adds, because he can’t just leave well enough alone, “I need you to know that if anything ever did happen between me and Steve, it would not be because of something you did. I don’t want you to think that you had anything to do with it. Got it?”

“Got it, Danno,” she replies, with appropriate solemnity, but he can tell she’s laughing at him and there’s nothing he can do to stop it. “Tell him he’s buying my dress for the wedding.”

He points at her. “That’s enough.”

“Sorry.”

A few more minutes, then, “Also if, God forbid, I ever did get married again, you’d be my best man, so I would be the one to buy your dress. Get that straight.”

She gets a devious little gleam in her eye that he can trace directly back to Rachel. “I can’t, I’m too gay.”

“Oh yeah? Same.” And that’s all that needed to be said, apparently, because they spend the rest of the drive in comfortable silence.

--

It takes two more days for Steve to reach his breaking point, which was a whole 24 hours longer than Danny thought he’d last. Danny, in fact, keeps waiting for Steve to snap and demand answers as to why Danny’s not making eye contact anymore, so that Danny can get mad at him about it, but the inconsiderate jerk just keeps on shooting confused glances at him and talking like everything’s normal.

Then they end up in a firefight with some arms smugglers down by the docks at Honolulu Harbor. It ends fine, with only the smugglers seriously wounded, but Danny gets a graze on his thigh from a bullet ricochet in the exact same spot as Davis’ earlier effort, and it bleeds like a bitch. He refuses the EMT because he doesn’t want to deal with the copay, which means he has to ride back to HQ holding some gauze to where it’s sluggishly oozing blood.

Steve’s right hand keeps drifting towards Danny’s leg, then jerking back and gripping the gear shift, all the way to the Palace. Danny watches that hand and thinks that maybe he's not the only one who's realized it hurts not to touch. He concentrates on keeping his voice steady while they argue about whose fault it is and whether or not Steve owes him new clothes.

Once they’re back inside, Danny grabs the first aid kit in his desk and a spare pair of pants and heads to the bathroom. He’s standing next to the sink, craning his neck to see the wound as he dabs at it with alcohol swabs (cursing the entire time because that shit stings), when Steve walks in.

“I got this,” Danny says before Steve can speak. The last thing he needs is Steve being gentle applying bandages that close to his dick.

“What the hell is your problem?” Steve demands.

Danny straightens and glares at him, trying to disregard the fact that he’s standing with one leg hitched up, in his boxers and a button-down, and looks ridiculous. “My problem is that I almost got my femoral artery shot because of you, Steve.”

Steve waves that away and stands with his hands on his hips, glaring right back. “I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about how weird you’ve been acting the past couple of days. You got something you need to tell me?” Danny busies himself with ripping open a gauze pad, and Steve points at him. “See? That. That’s what I mean.”

Danny presses the pad to the graze and grunts at the pain. “Oh, I’m sorry, I guess I didn’t realize it was out of the ordinary for me to have to take care of a bullet wound, since it’s pretty much a weekly occurrence.”

Steve huffs in exasperation and steps closer until he can wrap one hand around Danny’s upper arm. “Hey. Would you—would you just stop for a second?”

Danny does what he asks. Which is a mistake, because the moment he looks at Steve’s face, and all the affectionate worry shining in his eyes, he hears himself blurt, “D’you want to come over to dinner tonight?”

A little of the worry fades, but Steve doesn’t drop his arm or move away. In fact, it feels like he tilts incrementally closer. “Dinner?”

His thumb sweeps across Danny’s bicep. This is one of those moments when Danny hates being blond, because he can feel the red blotches of heat breaking out from his collarbone to his hairline. But he’s asked, it’s too late to take it back now, and anyway he doesn’t want to. So instead he lowers his head to examine his leg as he fiddles with the roll of gauze he needs to wrap around it. Steve releases his arm when he does. That’s probably a good thing for his sanity. “We haven’t got much going on here, assuming nobody gets dead between now and then. And I’ve got the kids, and Charlie’s been missing you, so. You know. Also I’ve got a new ravioli gigante recipe I want to try. Figure if a little kid will eat it, or a grown man with the taste buds of a little kid, it’ll be a hit with anyone, right?”

“Yeah. Yeah, okay.” Steve’s still standing so close that his body heat’s brushing Danny’s skin like a physical caress. “I’ll come to dinner. You gonna tell me what’s bothering you then?”

Danny tapes the gauze down. “Nothing is bothering me. Nothing new, that is. I can give you an itemized list of the old things that are bothering me, but after all these years you ought to be able to remember them.” Grace is going to convince herself it’s a date, and she’s going to be smug. He ought to cancel it right now before it ever gets started.

“Okay, be that way.” But Steve’s not concerned anymore. He just cuffs Danny’s cheek and walks out, his steps light.

--

Charlie’s friend Sophia had birthday cupcakes during their after-school program, which means he’s zooming around the house like a bumblebee on speed from the moment he gets home. Grace has to lock the door to her room after the second time he jumps onto her laptop and shuts it down in the middle of homework.

Danny’s pretty sure his little guy is also reacting to Danny’s own mood, because it kind of feels like his stomach has turned into a ping-pong ball. This is the part he hates, and one of the reasons that of all the romantic relationships he’s had, he’s only ended one himself. Starting a new one is awful. Assuming it even gets off the ground at all.

After he hears himself veering too close to flat-out shouting instead of just being irritated, he gets a grip and recruits Charlie as a helper in the kitchen. All that energy is a lot better directed towards slicing vegetables for salad, a skill Charlie learned in a ridiculously expensive Little Chefs day camp Stan put him in last summer. Charlie keeps talking while he cuts, about Sophia and the book they read in class before lunch, and goldfish. Danny sees an aquarium in his near future.

Steve shows up right on time, as usual, carrying garlic bread, plus wine and beer. “I wasn’t sure which one you’d want with dinner,” he says as he opens the fridge door. His face is drawn and the circles under his eyes have gotten deeper since Danny left HQ.

“Are you all right?” Danny asks. “You sure you’re up for it tonight?”

Steve nods, picking up Charlie, who’s thrown himself at Steve’s knees. “I’ll be better in a few minutes. Hey, Charlie, I heard you’ve been missing me?”

Danny holds his breath, but Charlie nods. “I wanna show you my new cars, Uncle Steve.”

“Yeah, go show Uncle Steve your cars while I finish this.” Danny busies himself at the stove. It’s that or yank Steve into a hug and fuss over his health like the mother hen he’s so often accused of being. Could be awkward with a grade schooler in between them.

Grace emerges from her room while Steve and Charlie are still playing in Charlie’s room. Danny takes one look at her face and says, sotto voce, “Not a word.”

“Is that why you didn’t say he was coming over?” she asks, too innocently. At least she keeps it as quiet as he did. “You were worried I’d do something?”

“Grace Williams, you had better swear you’re not going to embarrass me tonight.”

She relents after a mutual stare-off. “Don’t worry, Danno, I’ll be good.”

Grace keeps her promise, even voluntarily leaving her phone in her room while they eat. Danny keeps a sharp eye on Steve’s plate while trying to look like he doesn’t care, but Steve catches his gaze and eats the last bite with lifted eyebrows that says he noticed every moment.

“I was just worried about whether or not you liked it.”

Steve leans back in his chair. “Sure you were. I told you I’d feel better.”

Danny narrows his eyes. “Put all four legs of the chair on the floor, you’re setting a terrible example for Charlie.”

Grace goes to the sink as soon as she’s through eating, but Steve calls, “Hey, Gracie, I got the dishes. You go finish up your homework.”

She looks to Danny, uncertain, and he waves his hand. “Go on, get out of here.”

Once Charlie’s done, Steve grabs him and flies him (with appropriate airplane sound effects) over to the counter next to the sink. “It’s your job to hand me the dirty stuff, okay, buddy?”

“Got it!” Charlie beams at the responsibility.

Danny watches them talk very seriously about the importance of sight words while he’s ostensibly clearing the table, and he can barely breathe for all the emotions swirling in his chest.

Charlie slides down to the floor after he deposits the last pot into the water. “You got thirty minutes until it’s bath time,” Danny warns him. “Go watch cartoons on your iPad, okay?”

“Okay!”

Once they’re alone, sort of, Danny goes to dry the dishes Steve’s put in the other sink. Their arms keep brushing, and normally he wouldn’t even notice, but right now everything feels like an electric shock. He sneaks a look at Steve’s forearms and sees the same goosebumps there that are dotting his own skin.

“All right, that’s it, I’m done,” Danny announces, letting the casserole dish slide back into the sink and turning to face Steve.

Steve just looks confused. “There’s only like three things left. Why quit now?”

“Not done with—c’mon, you goof, this is hard enough without you being deliberately obtuse. No, I mean—I’m done with this, you know, the thing.” He motions back and forth between himself and Steve. “I have it on very good authority that I suck at it, and anyway I’m sick of waiting.”

Steve’s expression shifts into something more cautious. “What thing? What’ve you been waiting for?”

“That’s just it. I have no idea what I’ve been waiting for when I’m pretty sure I could’ve been doing this.” And Danny slips his fingers into Steve’s belt loops to pull him flush against his front.

Steve’s hands hover in midair, then fall to grip Danny’s shoulders, hard. Danny’s so lightheaded from nerves that he’s practically having an out-of-body experience. Steve’s looking at him like he’s a surprise 5-year gift subscription to Guns and Ammo, though, so it’s probably okay.

“Am I right?” Danny asks, because he has to be sure. “I’m right, right?”

Steve starts laughing and folds Danny into an embrace. He tucks his face into the crook of Danny’s neck, muffling his voice. “Yeah, Danny, yeah. You’re right.”

The feel of his lips moving against Danny’s skin sends a shudder through his entire body. It’s a whole new world, all that strength, heat, and coiled energy wrapped around Danny with intentions. Danny’s got sensory overload just from this. “I’m sorry.” He combs his fingers through Steve’s hair, and now it’s Steve’s turn to shiver. “I probably should've noticed earlier.” It was pretty hellish for Danny, wondering about it for a matter of weeks, and he figures Steve’s been in that position for a lot longer.

Steve just nods. His arms tighten.

It occurs to Danny that they’re wasting valuable kid-free moments, so he cradles Steve’s face in his hands to lift it. “Come here, come here.” Steve straightens, and hesitates just long enough to check over Danny’s shoulder for approaching children. That little parental tic makes Danny’s chest hurt all over again, too much affection for a single body to hold. “I love you, you know that?" He hooks one hand over the back of Steve's neck, pulls him down so he can kiss him, and wow. Wow. Yeah he should've noticed earlier, because Steve moves into the kiss like he's snapped through a finish line, all eagerness, hands grasping everywhere they can reach as if everything's too enticing at once. Danny's back hits the wall and he would give Steve shit about that, except that he's too busy pulling Steve closer and sliding his palms beneath Steve's shirt, soft skin over hard muscle that quivers under Danny's touch.

He's got to put a stop to this soon. Even if Steve's never had the dubious honor of being walked in on by a curious child, Danny's experienced it more than once, and he knows better than to let this go too far. He pulls back. Steve leans after his mouth with a discontented whimper, but Danny nips his jaw in reproval. The scrape of stubble against his teeth is different, so he does it again, mingled curiosity and teasing, licking the sting away. Steve lets his head fall to Danny's shoulder, breath harsh against his shirt collar.

"Sorry," Danny apologizes again, kissing his temple. "My timing sucks."

Steve laughs. It's half a groan, but there's genuine amusement there. “Yeah it does. Do you have any idea—it doesn't matter. I love you too.”

He kisses Danny one more time before the rapid patter of feet announces Charlie’s return. They both move away, grinning like idiots at each other.

Once Danny’s put Charlie to bed, he returns to the living room to find Steve sprawled on the couch watching ESPN. Scooting up next to him, Danny lets his head rest on Steve’s shoulder. Steve wraps his arm around him and kisses the top of his head, as natural as if they’ve been doing this for years. In a way, Danny guesses they have.

Grace comes out a few minutes later, absorbed in her phone. When she sees the way they’re sitting, she stops dead in her tracks for just a second. It’s such a brief pause that Danny might not have caught it if he hadn’t been watching for it.

She plays it cool, just sits on the other end of the couch and puts her feet up so she can warm her toes on Danny’s leg like it’s any other night. He’s suspicious of the angle of the phone, though. “Hey.” He pats her ankle. “No Snapchat, okay?”

She gives him some eye contact without a fight, for once, and smiles. “I got you. No worries, Danno.”

He looks at her for a moment longer, making sure everything’s okay, and then settles back. Steve’s body’s sending out sparks like a live wire, buzzing under Danny’s skin, and honestly he can’t wait to deal with that for hours, days even, because he’s got dreams he needs to compare to real life. For now, though, he’s got his family all in one place and it’s enough. It’s more than enough.