We hadn't seen Grace in over two weeks, so Danny was more than a little glad to see her. I was, too, but no one who ever sees Danny reunited with his daughter after even a brief separation would question how much she means to him. Rachel dropped her off at my house, and made a hasty retreat before either of us could barely wave at her, let alone talk to her. I hoped I hadn't made Danny's custody problems worse, but even if I had, I would never let anyone take Grace away from him.
Before I could worry too much about that, Grace finished her greeting with Danny and ran to me with an enthusiastic hug.
"Your bruises are almost all gone! And you don't have your sling on!" she gushed. My recovery from anything in my past had never been cause for such rejoicing as this seemed to be for Grace and Danny. If this was what being part of a close knit family was all about, I was on board.
"Your dad did a great job taking care of me," I said, smiling at Danny.
We all made dinner together. It was nothing fancy, just salad and homemade pizza, but we had fun making it, chopping up ingredients and putting things together as a family. Danny was in charge of the pizza, and Grace and I made a project out of driving him crazy by adding a number of unauthorized toppings from our salad ingredients. We ate dinner on the lanai, Grace talking a mile a minute about everything going on at school that Danny and I had missed hearing about during our vacation.
I know being a part-time father breaks Danny’s heart on an ongoing basis, and I wish I could fix that for him. The best I could do was protect what time he -we - had with Grace and make sure he wasn’t living in the shadow of fear of Stan’s money and the hot shot lawyers it could buy. He had a lot more time with Grace once he’d won shared custody, and if I had to lay everything I had on the line, including the house we were living in, to hire a fancy enough lawyer to fight for that, I’d do it.
While we were having ice cream for dessert, I glanced at Danny. Neither one of us had rehearsed anything, but I thought we should probably get the ball rolling.
“Gracie, there’s something Uncle Steve and I need to talk to you about.”
“What?” she asked, looking nervous. My God, she is a small, female Danny sometimes.
“It’s nothing to worry about, Grace. Nothing bad,” I added.
“No, no, it’s really good news,” Danny said.
“You have a new girlfriend?” she asked, but she sounded almost bored at the prospect. She’d bonded with Gabby and that didn’t last for the long haul. Amber hadn’t been at the top of her list even before she broke up with Danny.
“Not exactly,” Danny said.
“What do you mean, not exactly?” I asked. “Not at all.” For some reason, that made Grace giggle.
“You know that Uncle Steve and I have been friends a long time,” he said. She nodded. “You also know that we love each other a lot, right?”
“Yes, I know.”
“And that we both love you,” I added.
“I know,” she said, grinning at me.
“We started out being friends, but now the way we love each other has changed...it’s gotten... better...” Danny trailed off, looking at me a little pleadingly. I figured actions speak louder than words, so I reached over and took his hand and held onto it.
“Gracie, somewhere along the line, your dad and I fell in love with each other, and we’re moving in together.” She stared at us a moment, and I thought I’d really stepped in it. Shot it out too fast, told her in a bad way. And then she was out of her chair squealing with delight, hugging Danny first and then me.
“This is so awesome!” she said. “Danno’s always happier when he’s around you,” she said. Coming from her, that hit me right in the heart and choked me up a little.
“I’m always happier around him, too,” I said, putting my arm back around her shoulders and squeezing a little. “That’s probably the best way to describe love I ever heard,” I told her.
“I thought you guys liked girls,” she said. The comment didn’t seem like it held any negative feelings, but she did seem to want an explanation.
“We do, but we like each other more,” I replied, and Danny looked relieved with that explanation, though we should have both known better than to think as smart as Grace is, at her age, she wouldn’t have follow up questions.
“I thought if you were gay, you didn’t like girls that way.”
“It’s kind of complicated, monkey. People don’t always fit into those easy explanations. Sometimes you fall in love so hard with somebody that it doesn’t matter.”
“So then you’re bisexual?” she asked. I wish I’d had my phone out to snap a picture of Danny’s expression. My own probably wasn’t much less amusing. Grace was almost a teenager; we really thought we had to explain this stuff to her in such elementary terms?
“The important thing is we want you to be comfortable with us, around us, going places as a family,” I said, hoping Danny wasn’t actually going to stop breathing and die right there. I didn’t think he’d inhaled since she said the word “bisexual.” “I know it’s a change from what you’re used to--”
“Not really. You’re already family, Uncle Steve.”
“Thanks, Gracie. It won’t bother you if we hold hands, or if I steal a kiss from Danno once in a while?”
“If you’re boyfriends, you’re supposed to do that stuff.”
“You heard the lady, Steve. It’s apparently a rule.” Danny seemed to be breathing again, and some of the color was coming back into his face. I was not looking forward to watching him adjust to Grace moving into adulthood.
“I’m only going to kiss you because I’m supposed to,” I told him, and that elicited a giggle out of Grace, and a laugh out of Danny before I gave him a very nice, very proper, but still romantic, kiss on the lips. No tongue, nothing heated, a G-rated romance kiss - I think Snow White and her boyfriend got it on a little hotter than we did for a younger audience. He bumped his forehead against mine and the way he was smiling was just radiant, like he couldn’t be any happier.
Grace hugged Danny. “I’m glad you’re happy, Danno. Uncle Steve won’t break up with you, either.”
“About that, Grace,” Danny said, though he was choked up by her words, and so was I. She was so wise, and so right. I’d take my last breath by Danny’s side, or be with him when he took his. “I asked Uncle Steve to marry me--”
“I asked Danno first.”
“Did somebody say yes?” she asked, frustrated, and we both laughed.
“We haven’t set a date yet, but the answer was yes,” I replied.
“Can I help plan it?”
“Of course you can, monkey. You know guys need help with stuff like that.”
“Something tells me you guys are gonna need a lot of help with it.”
“Oh is that right?” Danny replied, laughing.
“She’s probably right. They don’t have a wedding planner course in Navy SEAL training.”
“Not in the police academy, either.”
“Does Mom know?” Grace asked, sitting down at the table again, now that the initial excitement was over. After all, there was ice cream melting that had to be eaten. We all returned to that priority.
“We told her last night,” Danny said.
“She was acting a little weird.”
“Weird how?” I asked her.
“Just...I don’t know...nervous and like she’s not paying attention when you talk to her. I don’t know why she’d be upset. She’s married to Stan.”
“Does it seem like she’s upset?” I persisted, and Danny gave me a look. Still, I think Grace is pretty adult and pretty savvy about people. I didn’t think another question would upset her.
“No, just kind of in a funny mood.” She brightened. “When can I tell everybody?”
“Everybody?” Danny asked, raising his eyebrows.
“My dad’s getting married! I have to tell my friends.”
“Give us a little time to tell some people at work, and then you can spread the word,” he said.
She picked up her phone and aimed the camera at us. “I need a picture for when I post it. I won’t send it anywhere, I promise, until you tell me.”
We leaned in toward each other, but she still didn’t seem happy with the shot she was getting. I got up and hugged Danny from behind, hooking my chin on his shoulder so our cheeks were touching. She took the picture and immediately showed us. It was a beautiful shot. I knew we’d have that one in our collection for a long time.
The rest of our weekend with Grace was great. I always hate taking her back home when my time with her is over, but the coming Monday would be a busy one for all of us. Grace would be back in school, Steve had a doctor’s appointment to get cleared to go back to work (we anticipated a few restrictions and a PT schedule for his shoulder, but as long as I could keep him from jumping off a roof or single-handedly knocking out a half dozen perps in hand-to-hand combat, he’d probably be okay), and I had to get back on the job myself, regardless of his restrictions.
When I dropped Grace off, I walked her up to the house because I wanted to talk to Rachel. Grace had told me Stan was leaving for a business trip that evening, so I hoped to have a few minutes alone with her. Stan wasn’t home when we got there, and once Grace had said her goodbyes to me, she hurried upstairs to finish up a homework assignment while Rachel and I talked.
“Grace seems happy,” she said, smiling slightly, but it was forced.
“She was really happy for us.”
“Well, that’s good then,” she concluded. “What did you want to talk to me about?”
“We’re kind of ignoring the elephant in the room, Rachel.”
“And that would be?”
“Charles. Steve bringing up a DNA test.”
“I told you, Danny, he’s not yours.”
“For quite a while, you thought he was.”
“I was wrong. I made a mistake. I apologized for that. When I realized he was Stan’s, I thought it was best for us to try to make a go of it.”
“Why? Because he’s the father of my child!”
“I’m the father of your first child. So how did that give Stan some kind of advantage over me?”
“Maybe when you left Grace and me at the airport gate the night Steve was arrested, and then you never did join us...you were so obsessed with clearing his name and waiting around the jail for a glimpse of him through the glass that you forgot completely about us.”
“That’s not true. I never forgot about you or Grace. I never would. But Steve was fighting for his life in there. Somebody had to fight for it on the outside, too. I never knew which time I saw him would be the last because somebody killed him in that hell hole. What was I supposed to do? Tell him to have a nice life in there and go back to Jersey?”
“Yes! That’s where your family was. It was pretty obvious where your priorities were, and that I’d made the same mistake twice.”
“That still wouldn’t change biology, Rachel. Either Charles is mine or he’s not.” I paused. "You never told him, did you?"
"Told who what?" she asked, angry, though I was sure she knew exactly what I meant.
"You never told Stan you were pregnant until after you got back together, did you? That's why he was out of town on business when you had the baby because you fudged the timing!" I accused her. "You let him think Charles was your reconciliation baby, not that he might have been mine!"
“Leave this alone, Danny. It’s not going to accomplish anything.”
“What does that mean?"
"Fine, I didn't tell Stan about the pregnancy until we were back together. Are you happy now?"
"How could that possibly make me happy?"
"You have to dig and dig at this until you turn it into a disaster. I'm not some case file you're working! This is my life, my marriage you're picking apart."
"I'm not the one who lied."
"I didn't lie!" She stood there, staring at me a moment. "I just didn't tell him everything."
"Does he even know we were sleeping together while he was out of town?"
"No, he doesn't know that, either. I only told him it was over, that I was taking Grace and going home. He accused me of it having something to do with you, and I said that it probably did...I didn't tell him anything else."
"Great. Just great."
"As it turns out, it's a good thing I didn't put all my eggs in one basket, isn't it?"
"Interesting choice of metaphors." I ran my hand over my face. I was so tired of this back and forth with Rachel. As I stood there doing battle with her again, I wondered what the hell had gotten into me to ever try to reconcile this mess back into a marriage. "If he’s my son, I deserve to know that, to be part of his life.”
“If you start digging into this, you might not like what you find.”
“Again with the riddles! Just spit it out, Rachel. What are you trying to say?”
“That if you value your position in Grace’s life, leave this DNA test issue with Charles alone.”
“Another custody threat, is that it? You’re going to use Grace to keep me from finding out the truth about a child who could be my son?”
“He’s not your son, he’s Stan’s. Stan is raising him, Stan is his father. Just like you’re Grace’s father.”
“If you’re so sure of that, why do you care if we get a paternity test done?”
“Because there’s more to being a father than biology!”
“Don’t start trying to say that I haven’t been a good father to Grace, because you know damn well I have!”
“Unless it interfered with visitation day at the prison with your boyfriend! Then all those flowery promises about us getting back together and being a family flew right out the window! How long have you two been sleeping together, anyway? The whole time? Did they let you have conjugal visits and that’s why you couldn’t tear yourself away?”
“There’s no point in trying to talk to you when you get like this,” I said, heading toward the door. There were several things she’d said that bothered me. The whole fucking conversation bothered me.
“Just walk away. You’re good at that,” she snapped.
“What do you want me to do? Yes, I’m with Steve. Yes, I loved him even back then when he was in jail but there was nothing going on between us. I didn’t even know he was interested in me like that.”
“But you were interested in him that way? While you were sleeping with me?”
“What difference does it make? We weren’t in a relationship like that and I had no way of knowing there could ever be one, so it’s not like I was cheating on you with Steve.”
“But you would have if he’d offered?”
“I’d have married him if he’d offered! Is that what you wanna hear? Yes, I’ve been in love with him for years and if I knew he felt the same way, this would have happened a hell of a lot sooner. When I thought we were getting back together, I was with you in good faith. I never knew any other kind of relationship with Steve was an option so it wasn’t a factor.”
“Until he was arrested. And then you preferred to stay here, where you profess to hate it so much, just so you could look through two-way glass at him a couple times a week.”
“So that’s what this is really all about? My getting together with Steve now validates all these suspicions and...and...jealousy you’ve been carrying around all this time, so you want to punish me for it by keeping my daughter - and maybe my son - away from me?”
“If you think I’ve given you a fight about custody of Grace, you haven’t seen anything yet. You have what you want. You have shared custody of her, and you have your precious Steve you can’t live without. Leave me in peace. Do not try to destroy my marriage with pushing this paternity issue with Charles. I mean it, Danny. Don’t try me on this.”
“Or you’ll do what, exactly?”
“I will take Grace away from you once and for all.”
“Why are you threatening me? I don’t care about breaking up your marriage. If Charles isn’t my kid, then Stan doesn’t need to know anything about the test.”
“I don’t know for sure, all right?” she said, tears in her eyes despite how angry she was. “When you chose hanging around the prison waiting for Steve over starting a new life with us, I knew I couldn’t go through with it. Even if you finally wrapped up your business here, you’d always be halved without him. You’d never really be happy. Not like you are now. Stan wanted us back, wants to be a family with me, with Grace, and with his son. He’s a good father and we have a good life. I was his first choice, not a consolation prize. Just leave us alone!”
“You really aren’t sure?”
“I’ve tried to do what was best for my children, Danny. Charles is two years old now. He loves Stan, knows him as his father. Just leave it alone.”
“I would never take a child away from his father - even if that father wasn’t his biologically. I don’t want to tear up your life. If he’s not mine, Stan never needs to know about the test. If he is, I just want a chance to know him, that’s all. It’s not too likely Steve and I are going to have more kids. Our jobs being what they are, even if we wanted to adopt, neither one of us are stay-at-home dad types.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t be marrying another man, then, if you want children. That doesn’t give you the right to take Stan’s son away from him.”
“It does if he’s mine. And you’re the one turning this into me taking him away. Unlike you, I don’t enjoy turning my child into a goddamned wishbone!”
“I think it’s time for you to go.”
“Fine. You want to play it this way? I’ll get a court order for the test. Hopefully Stan won’t be home when it’s served.”
I was still keyed up when I walked in the door of Steve's house. I had to start thinking of it as our house now. Home. I didn't want to keep on feeling like a houseguest. Steve hadn't done anything to make me feel that way, it was just taking me a while to adjust. Everything with us was so new yet in so many ways, and now this confusion about Charles... I tried not to think about how I'd feel if he turned out to be mine. It would be too painful a crash if it turned out he was Stan's after all.
Steve was stretched out in his big leather easy chair, feet up on the ottoman, his eyes almost closed when I came in.
"Everything okay with Rachel?" he asked.
"No." I sat on the ottoman and rested my elbows on my knees. "She's not sure."
"About what?" He straightened up, put his feet on the floor, and leaned toward me. "Danny, what's going on?" he asked, since I'd started rubbing my forehead and not looking up at him. He was freshly showered and wearing a tank shirt and shorts. Even with my guts tied in a knot, it was pretty tough not to notice him, how he looked, how he smelled. I felt like if he'd just hold me for a while, I could handle all this...anything, for that matter. I wondered how anyone could read me that well, or care to read me so well, when he just put his arms around me and hugged me. I held onto him and buried my face against his neck. His hair was still a little damp and he smelled so damn good. I wasn't turned on, exactly. I was too riled up and stressed out. But the feel and the scent of him calmed me.
"She's not sure if Charles is mine or Stan's," I told his neck. "Then she threatened to take Grace away from me for good if I pursued it."
"Screw that. We're gonna pursue it, Danny. And Grace isn't going anywhere."
"If I lose her, it'll kill me."
"You won't, Danno. I promise you, you won't." He moved back a little, though I didn't really want to let him. "Tell me what happened."
"There's not much to tell. We got into it. She's got this huge chip on her shoulder about our relationship. Because I didn't leave Hawaii right away after you were arrested."
"That's why she went back to Stan?"
"To hear her tell it."
"I'm sorry. I never meant to mess things up for you--"
"Hey, you didn't mess up anything. She's right. Even if you'd gotten out of jail and then I'd remarried her and moved back East...I'd have always been halved without you. That's what she said, and it's one of the rare times when we've had a fight that she was right. So she figured she should go back to Stan because he really wanted a married life with her, and I guess she knew better than I did, that I didn't. That I wanted a life here, with you."
"So she took your son away as punishment?"
"She claims she doesn't know. Charles looks like Rachel, so it's kind of hard to tell. If she'd given birth to a blue-eyed kid with my coloring, she'd have had some answers to give." There was something else bothering me, but I couldn't put my finger on it. So I figured I'd dump all of it in Steve's lap and see what he came up with. "It's like there's something else she has up her sleeve about Grace. That's the worst part of this. I know I can get a paternity test and find out if I'm Charles' father. But it's like she's holding onto something...some ultimate custody weapon in her arsenal to shut me down or punish me if I pursue this."
"Does she have anything on you, no matter how minor or stupid it might be, that she could pull out now?"
"No, nothing. She pretty much tossed my life, like I'd toss a low-level perp's crappy apartment, digging for anything she could find during the divorce. I don't have a criminal history, obviously, and I didn't do anything to her while we were married. I wasn't abusive, or a drunk...I didn't cheat on her. I don't know what it would be she'd have on me."
"Did she ever cheat on you?"
"What? No." I stopped and thought about that, after I'd answered. I've been known to talk first and think later. "I never suspected anything." The bottom dropped out of my stomach, and if I hadn't been sitting already, my legs would have given out. I must have gone pale or something because Steve suddenly looked worried.
"Danny, what is it?"
"When Stan and Rachel were having problems, she came back to me. But when she got pregnant, she went back to Stan - back to the stability and security of her marriage. Before she got pregnant with Grace, we had some rough spots. It was always a volatile marriage. Neither one of us are exactly laid back, so things were always fiery. Once she found out she was pregnant, it was like she calmed down a lot, focused on the baby..."
"Okay, we've always agreed Rachel is a good mother."
"If she's not sure about Charles..." I was shaking so hard I couldn't finish the sentence.
"Is that what you think? That she's not sure about Grace, either?"
"Or maybe she is," I choked out. "What if she's not mine?" It was probably the worst thing I could think of, next to something happening to her or Steve. I felt like I was bringing a curse down on my head by just saying the words, but I needed for him to hear the words, and even if he couldn't promise me everything would be okay with any degree of certainty, I needed to hear those words from him.
"We don't need Rachel's permission to get a DNA test done on Grace. We don't even need Grace to know we're doing it. Her water glass is still on the counter. We'll take it over to Max and have him run it against your DNA, and then we'll know."
He stood up and stuck his feet in flip flops and headed for the kitchen, pulling his phone out of the pocket of his shorts. I followed him. "Yeah, Max, I need a favor." He got a zippered plastic bag out of a kitchen drawer and carefully lowered into it the glass Grace had used just before she left. "Seriously? You're there now? Great. This is a rush job. I need you to run some DNA." He paused. "I don't think any government agents will come after this sample, but it's a personal favor, and it's sensitive." He motioned to me as if to say "get going," so I did, and before I knew it, we were heading outside for his truck. I don't remember ever seeing Steve at headquarters or around the HPD in his shorts and flip flops before, but he wasn't losing time on details like what he was wearing.
I felt like I was in some kind of daze. I barely spoke to Steve on the way there, and when we walked into Max's lab, I stood there like some kind of mute idiot while Steve did the talking, handing the glass in its bag to Max.
"We need you to run DNA on the glass. It's from my kitchen, but it's the DNA from the person who drank out of it last that we need."
"Okay," Max said, carefully, looking at me, since I was standing there silently, probably looking gutted, like my life depended on the glass in the bag. "And will I be comparing this to something, gentlemen?"
"Take a cheek swab from Danny, and run it against that."
"You think the person who used this glass is related to you?" Max asked, and I felt my chest tie in a knot. I couldn't get my mouth open, and when I did, nothing would come out. In my heart, I was saying, If she's not, I want to die.
I didn't realize I was moving until I shoved open the door of the men's room and staggered to the sink, leaning on it heavily. I couldn't even seem to puke I was so wound up. I didn't know what I needed to do, but I couldn't stand there and look at that glass that my life depended on and look at Max's inquisitive expression because for him it was one more lab test, and I couldn't look at Steve without clinging to him and falling apart.
I leaned against the wall and slid down it until my ass hit the floor. I didn't understand where the sound of a wounded animal was coming from until I realized I was making some kind of awful noise, that I was crying, choking on it, my chest tightening up until I thought I'd have a heart attack and die right there on the floor.
"Danny!" I heard Steve's voice but he sounded like he was in a well, or miles away, not right there. Blood was rushing in my ears and I felt like I was drowning. I should have known he'd feel like a life preserver, that his arms would go around me and pull me close, while he sat on the floor of the men's room with me, holding me, giving me something to hold onto. "Danny, it's gonna be okay, I promise you."
I wanted to tell him he couldn't promise that, because he couldn't. But if he couldn't, I had nothing to hold onto. So I let him repeat to me all the things you need to hear when you feel like you're losing your grip. He told me it would be all right, that no matter what, I was Grace's dad, that he'd never let anybody take her away from me, that he loved me, and back to everything was gonna be okay. I have no idea how long we were on the floor, if he'd locked the door or just threatened everyone on that floor with death or arrest if they bothered us, or if I would ever be more than the sniveling mess I was at that moment. I held onto him because without him, I don't think I'd have ever calmed down or stood up again. Someone would have hauled me off to the psych ward and stuck me in a rubber room until the test results came back.
"I know we need to get the test done," I finally said. "As long as I don't, though, she's still mine."
"I know, buddy." I was glad he didn't correct me or give me a pep talk. He just held me as long as I needed him to and sat there with me while I tried to absorb the horror of what could be happening. "We're a family, Danny. Nothing's gonna change that. Not even this. Love isn't about DNA. It's about people and relationships and the memories you make together. Grace couldn't have a better father no matter whose DNA she shares."
"Don't be." He didn't let go of me. Instead, he pressed my head against his shoulder and just kept me close to him. "I'll be by your side no matter how this turns out, and we're not going to lose Gracie. I give you my word, I will never let that happen."
"If she's not mine - "
"We need to know where we stand with the DNA results. You have to know your situation so you can assess the options and figure out the best course of action. When we get an answer, we'll do what we have to do to handle it. I have no DNA with Grace, and I've only known her a third as long as you have, but I couldn't love her more if she was my own daughter."
"She's crazy about you," I said, calming down a little. I don't know how he did it. Even I had thought someone would probably have to shoot me with a tranquilizer dart to bring me down. I had no idea how he would stop Rachel from taking away my custody rights if I had no biological claim to Grace, but I believed him that he would do something to follow through on his promise. And then it struck me I was putting the very pressure on him to always achieve the impossible that had made him almost unable to cope with leaving things unfinished in Afghanistan, caused him to blame himself for leaving Freddie behind in North Korea...
I sat up and wondered if I looked as fucking horrible as I felt. He helped me up with his good arm, and my knees felt like jelly, but I stood. He grabbed a few paper towels and stuck them under the water a moment and washed my face while I stood there like a zombie.
"Feel steady?" he asked me. I guess I must have looked as bad as I felt.
"No. My knees feel like they're gonna give out on me - even the good one," I added, forcing myself to smile at him. He was hanging on my every breath, every word, to see if I was okay. "Steve," I began, hoping I'd have the strength to say what had to be said. He always took on the burden of completing whatever "mission" was thrown at him, and no matter what I - we - were facing in this situation, I would not turn around and do to him again the very thing that tortured his soul about any situation in the past where he just couldn't win an unwinnable battle.
"What, Boo Boo?" he asked, the corner of his mouth quirking up a little in a partial smile.
I couldn't believe I smiled again, with a lot less effort this time, but I did. It moved me how much he was trying just to get me to smile, to feel a little better. "Just stand by me. That's what I need, and it's all you can do. No matter what happens," I took a deep breath, "it's not on you, babe. I know you'd do anything for me, for Gracie. But if the worst thing that could happen...happens, it's not your fault and you didn't fail us, okay?"
He looked at me for a long moment before he pulled me back into his arms and hugged me hard for a few seconds. Then he kissed me, a nice, long, deep one that made me feel like I could face the world again.
"Think you can let Max take a sample so we can get outta here?"
"Yeah." I paused. “Let’s get this over with.”
I don’t think Danny or I slept more than a couple hours here and there all night. We didn’t do anything...neither one of us was really in the mood to bounce the bed when we were as worried as we were about the DNA test. I’m glad if that had to happen, it happened after we got together. At least I could lie there and hold him so he didn’t have to lie in bed alone and work himself into a panic over it. I never have had DNA tying me to Grace, but I love her because she’s Danny’s daughter, and from there, we’ve built our own relationship, and being Grace’s “Uncle Steve” is one of the most important things in my life. I tried to picture that changing if she wasn’t biologically his daughter. I didn’t see it. Then again, my feelings for her had been formed without any biological ties. I wasn’t sure what it was going to do to Danny if she wasn’t his daughter. Whatever it was, it wasn’t going to be pretty. I knew he’d never stop loving her, but I also knew it would rip his soul out by its roots not to be her “real” father. Whatever the hell that means. A lot of things make you a father; cell structure isn’t one of them. I thought about myself at Grace’s age, and how I’d have felt to find out one or both of my parents weren’t biologically related to me. It would have been a hard thing to work through, but it wouldn’t have made me love them less or want to go live with a stranger just because his DNA matched mine.
It was ironic after having close to three weeks off (I can’t remember a vacation that long before that, unless you count summer vacation when I was a kid), the eve of going back on the job would see us confronted with this kind of a mess. I figured the doctor would give me a green light to go back to work with a few restrictions on my shoulder for a couple weeks yet, and he did. I was more worried about Danny than I was about me. If we were lucky, maybe the worst criminal element of the State of Hawaii would cool it for a few more days.
Chin and Kono had worked a major drug smuggling case in conjunction with HPD while we were gone, and I wasn’t surprised to find out they’d done their usual top-flight job in helping nail the perps. The governor was more than a bit pleased by the number of collars that came out of that one, and that it seriously hobbled one of the biggest operations that serviced the islands.
We hadn’t talked about when to tell Chin and Kono about the change in our relationship. I figured I should go see the governor first, and making Danny focus on any major life change until he got those test results back wasn’t going to be very productive. If someone thought it was odd we were coming and going together, both sleeping at my place, that was their problem.
I got my first few PT appointments scheduled, and I honestly didn’t need Danny to come with me on these. Rehabilitating my broken arm had been a real chore, but just getting my shoulder back in condition wasn’t that big of a deal. A few sessions of PT and I’d be working out with a trainer at the gym to get it back up to speed. I didn’t think that was the best time to take something away from him he thought he was helping me with, so once I was done with the doctor I gave him the dates to put on his calendar.
The hardest part of that first day back on the job was not touching him differently than I usually do. I touch Danny casually in a lot of little ways; we’re not shy about hugging each other or getting in each other’s space in public. I knew how worried he was and that his anxiety level, which ordinarily functions on a setting that is somewhere off the charts anyway, was ramped up on overdrive. Very quickly, I’d gotten used to just touching him or holding him or even kissing him when the spirit moved me. A lot of that wasn’t appropriate at work anyway, and I didn’t plan to be any less professional with Danny than I was with Catherine when we were on the job.
"Vacation agrees with you," Chin greeted, shaking my hand and giving me a quick, one-armed hug as Danny and I walked back into Five-0 headquarters. "Are you back officially now?" he asked.
"Yeah, I'm cleared for duty again," I said. It occurred to me that Chin hadn't seen me since the night I got home from Afghanistan. I looked like a shell-shocked mess then. Danny had taken that mess and reassembled it into something that resembled my old self. While I'd never really get over that experience, I could move past it and embrace the things, and the people, I loved again and really enjoy the second chance at life I'd been given.
"With some restrictions," Danny added.
"I've got some PT yet for my shoulder, and the doctor wants me to limit activities that could put extreme strain or impact on it for a few weeks yet."
"In other words, you have to listen to Danny for a few more weeks," Chin needled, and Danny actually grinned at that, which I was glad to see. Maybe the job would help get his mind off waiting for the test results, though I doubted anything would make him forget.
"Where's Kono?" I asked.
"HPD borrowed her for an undercover assignment. She was out most of the night, so she'll be in later," Chin explained.
"I hope it was something worthwhile," I said as I headed into my office. Danny silently separated from us and went into his own. I wasn't sure why that bothered me. He'd have voice mail and e-mail and even some old fashioned hard copy mail on his desk to clean up, too. I suppose I felt like I was denying him in front of Chin, but we hadn't talked about when we were going to tell the rest of our friends, and I still needed to see the governor.
"It's good to have the boss back," Chin said. "It's a little hard to refuse when it's the chief who asks. It was a pretty routine assignment, nothing serious. They're just low on young, hot, female cops with Kono's skill at HPD," he said.
"Along with most other PD's in the country, I'd guess," I joked.
"That's not what I want to bring you up to speed on. There's a case I think we're gonna catch, and it's an ugly one."
"Two homicides, both gay couples either honeymooning or vacationing here. The first murder was about a month ago, and the HPD have been investigating it as a single incident, until another body turned up."
I motioned to Danny, who came out of his office and joined us. "Give us the highlights," I told Chin as we gathered around the computer. "Chin's got some info on a case we'll probably get," I told Danny, who nodded. I wanted to warn him what it was about, what kind of victims were involved, but I couldn't really say much without giving us away.
"About two weeks ago, Mark Fredericks and Tony D’Angelo arrived here from Los Angeles for a second honeymoon.” Chin put a photo of the couple up on the monitor. They were dressed in Hawaiian shirts, shorts, and sandals, leis around their necks and broad smiles on their faces. “D’Angelo’s body was just found a couple nights ago by the side of the road not too far from the Grove Farm sugar plantation.” Chin put his photo, and crime scene photo, up on the monitor. D'Angelo wasn’t the stereotypical dark-haired Italian. He had fair coloring and sandy blond hair. “The COD was blood loss, presumably from some pretty serious sexual mutilation.”
I glanced at Danny, who looked a little frazzled by the sight of the mutilated, nearly bloodless body of a gay man who'd met his demise, or at least met his killer, on a romantic getaway with his husband. I doubt it was making either of us feel any better that the dead guy was a well-built, muscular blond with blue eyes that were probably pretty impressive when they weren’t glazed over in death. Danny’s seen a lot of dead bodies in his career, but seeing one that looks like you is a lot different.
"What was the mutilation?" Danny asked.
"Penis and testicles were removed. Unfortunately for him, Max says it happened antemortem, and he probably bled out."
"Ouch," Danny muttered.
“Ryan Sheridan and Jaime Ortega were here on their honeymoon. They're from New York, but they had their ceremony here and planned a two-week stay at the Sheraton Waikiki." Chin put two individual photos of the men from their driver's licenses up on the monitor, and then a wedding photo of the two of them together. "Ryan disappeared on their wedding night. About a week later, his body was found," Chin put the crime scene photo on the monitor. "He was dumped by the side of the road, near another sugar plantation. The COD was blood loss, and the mutilation was the same. This happened about a month ago.”
Ryan Sheridan was a handsome, blue-eyed blond with a solid build.
“I remember talking to Duke about that case, right before I left for Afghanistan. HPD didn’t have reason to immediately suspect a serial based on one crime,” I said. “They were looking at the husband.”
“That’s one seriously sick, seriously weird crime,” Danny said. “Somebody turns up dead in that condition, chances are you’ve either got another victim somewhere else you don’t know about, or another one’s coming. Even a pissed off spouse usually doesn’t get that exotic with their revenge.”
"HPD is trying to figure out how the killer got him alone, and got him away from the hotel. Mr. Ortega said they had an argument, something about a get together with Ortega's family the next day - some of them stayed over after the wedding - and Sheridan went down to the bar for a late drink and to cool off. By about three that morning, Ortega started searching for him, and contacted HPD by dawn. It's like he vanished into thin air."
"Only to reappear like that," Danny added. "The mutilation certainly suggests this nut has a point to make."
“Were they both at the Sheraton?"
"No, D'Angelo and Fredericks were at the Hilton Hawaiian Village."
"Neither one of these couples was on a tight budget, both in major hotels a short distance from each other. Same mutilation. I'm surprised we haven't gotten this one sooner, or that the Feds aren't already here," I said.
“Word is, the governor is catching some flak from the LGBT community for not taking the first case as seriously as he would have if a straight honeymooning couple had been victimized.”
“Is that true?” I asked.
“It’s not that the HPD didn’t take it seriously, they just didn’t pursue it as a potential serial murder. There’s no indication they haven’t put as many resources on it as they would for a similar case involving anybody else visiting the island,” Chin concluded. “My guess is that he was probably waiting for the boss to get back,” Chin added.
"How did D'Angelo disappear?" Danny asked.
"They got separated at a luau. I guess they were mingling with the other guests and it seemed to Fredericks that his partner had been gone a long time, and he didn't see him among the guests."
"Any conflict with them?" I asked. "The other couple were arguing."
"No, nothing. At least, not according to Fredericks' statements to police."
My phone rang at that moment, and it was Denning.
“Speak of the devil,” I said, showing the display to Danny, who was standing next to me. “Good morning, Governor,” I answered.
“You’re back to work today?” he asked.
“I’m at headquarters now, getting updated on things.”
“I need to see you ASAP. How soon can you be here?”
“Give me fifteen minutes.”
“I’ll see you then.” He broke the connection.
“I wonder what that could be about,” Chin quipped, leaning on the computer table.
“I don’t think it’s an invitation to a welcome home breakfast,” I said.
“I trust you’re feeling rested and back to full speed after your vacation,” Denning said as he sat behind his desk. We weren’t sitting in the more casual furniture grouping in his office, so as I sat across the desk from him in a visitor’s chair, I was fully prepared to have some thorny task assigned to me where he wanted his position of authority fully noted.
“Yes, thank you, I am.”
“Any restrictions on duty?”
“Just a couple minimal limitations because of my shoulder, but a couple weeks of PT and some work with a trainer in the gym should take care of that.”
“Good. I assume part of your ‘update’ this morning involved the murder case surrounding the same sex couples who have been targeted in the last couple months.”
“Chin gave us a pretty comprehensive briefing on it this morning.”
“We haven’t gotten a handle on the best way to investigate this case. When the first murder occurred, it should have been assigned to Five-0. HPD Homicide assured me they were on top of the investigation, but after more than a month without a decent lead, we’ve got another victim and the gay community up in arms. I honestly thought it was a one-off thing. I even spoke with a friend of mine at the FBI who thought the most likely suspect was the husband and that there could have been some infidelity or other conflict that we weren’t aware of. Also, with only one victim, there was no pattern to study. A month isn’t a long time for a murder investigation to be open.”
“Unless there’s another victim and the public perceives there wouldn’t have been if law enforcement was on its toes.”
“Exactly. It’s Five-0's case now. I’ve notified the detective who was in charge of the investigation and he has been instructed to turn over all his notes and the case files to your team, and to make himself available if you want or need his assistance.”
“Governor, before we move forward with this, there’s something you need to be aware of. I had hoped to be a little more prepared to have this conversation, but given the nature of this case, I think it’s pertinent.”
Denning looked nervous. For a moment, I think he expected me to come out of the closet to him. He had no fucking idea of all the stuff I was bringing out of that closet with me.
“Go ahead,” he said, cautiously.
“Danny and I are together.”
“Together...as in, together?” he asked, gesturing back and forth. I’m not sure if that’s some universal gesture for having sex, but I confirmed it.
“Together. A couple. We’re engaged.” I decided to go for broke. No point in doing this thing halfway.
“I had no idea. When did this happen?”
“We’ve always been close, but after...when I was injured this last time, it brought some things into focus for us.”
“That does change things. I suppose it’s simple enough for Detective Williams to return to HPD. We can arrange that to be with a promotion to lieutenant.”
“Danny’s overdue for a promotion in rank anyway, but I don’t want to split up Five-0. There’s no reason Danny and I can’t continue to work the way we always have.”
“Only protocol in practically every law enforcement agency in the world. I can’t let a married couple run a task force.”
“Catherine Rollins was part of Five-0 and it’s no secret we were involved. How is that going to play out with the LGBT community if it was okay for my romantic partner to work with me when she was a woman, but it’s not all right now that I’m in a relationship with a man?”
“Don’t try to blackmail me, McGarrett,” he replied, anger flaring in his eyes. He stood up and began pacing. “I’ve overlooked a lot with you and your team. This is pushing it.”
But he didn’t say it was out of the question, so I saw a weakness in his position. I waited. Silence is often the best negotiation tool. It also tends to make your opponent talk to fill it.
“This does present an unprecedented opportunity.”
“For what?” I asked.
“This case. One of the obvious ways to approach this investigation is to offer our killer some irresistible bait. Unfortunately, a truly convincing honeymooning gay couple isn’t that easy to come up with among the HPD. I do know of a couple gay officers, but one isn’t out to his colleagues, and the other isn’t experienced enough to be put in this type of situation. I have an opportunity to put my two top law enforcement agents on this in a way that offers us the best chance to trap this guy.”
“You want to use Danny and me as bait?”
“Either one of you would be an unfortunate choice of victims for our killer. This is a brutal, horrific case. I can’t risk putting an inexperienced officer in that position, and I really can’t chance using civilians as bait. There’s too much danger in what could happen if the killer targets one of our decoys and somehow gets him away from back-up. You or your partner would have the best opportunity of surviving and bringing in the killer, even if everything didn’t go according to plan. And putting straight officers in these situations isn’t always ideal. They either aren’t comfortable or aren’t convincing.”
“I have to talk to Danny.”
“You’re the commander. It’s your decision.”
“On the job, yes, it is. But in our personal lives, he’s not subordinate to me. You’re asking us to perform, to play out our feelings for each other in front of half the law enforcement community of Honolulu and beyond. This is new to us, too. We haven’t told our families, our friends. Hell, I’ve never taken Danny out for the evening on a date. If we agree to this, a lot of our firsts as a couple will be part of a murder investigation. I don’t know if I can reconcile myself with that, and I sure as hell won’t pull rank on Danny to push him into it.”
Denning looked at me for a long moment.
“You do this, and catch our killer, and you can write your own ticket with Five-0. Keep Williams on as your second in command, go on about your business and get married and be open about your relationship. You’ll arm me with proof that a married couple is an effective team to lead a task force, and trust me, I’ll need something to field the criticisms I’ll draw for that.”
“And if we don’t catch the killer? Or refuse the undercover operation?”
“We’re back to the bargaining table to figure out how we’re going to handle this, but however it turns out, you and Detective Williams will have to be split up professionally. Something big, something above and beyond...that will give me what I need to give you what you want and still maintain my credibility.”
“I’ll talk to Danny.” I stood up. I hated the position I was in, but I also knew there was truth in what he was saying. I wasn’t just confiding to him that we were a couple and were sneaking around. We were planning to be open, and I wanted my cake and eat it. I wanted Danny and Five-0 and the job to go on like nothing happened. That came with a price tag, and this was it. And, if I wasn’t willing to put Danny in danger, along with myself, to catch a killer, then our relationship truly was going to hobble Five-0 in the long run.
“Fine, but I need an answer by the end of the day.”
“You’ll have one. Thank you, Governor,” I said by way of goodbye, and he just nodded.
When Steve tapped on my open office door and walked in, I was staring fixedly at the computer screen. I’m not sure how long I’d been doing that, but I know I hadn’t done much to clear out my e-mail inbox. I couldn’t stop thinking about Grace, trying to prepare myself for the worst if the test results didn’t go my way. Steve closed the door and sat down across from me.
“Yeah, I just can’t focus too well.”
“Max put a rush on those results. We’ll have them soon.”
“I don’t know if that helps,” I admitted.
“Rachel could be yanking your chain, Danny.”
“She didn’t even say anything about it directly.”
“But it’s what you suspect.”
“Yeah... Tell me about the meeting with Denning.”
“Well, I’ve got some good news and I’ve got some not so good news.”
“Just tell me. I’m not up to waiting on more bad news.”
“We got the honeymooner case.”
“No big surprise.”
“I told him about us.”
“Bet he was thrilled and he’s offered to pay for the wedding.”
“Not exactly,” Steve replied, snorting a laugh. “His first reaction was that we needed to split our professional partnership.”
“I thought that didn’t exist.”
“I’m not starting an argument about it again. I just didn’t think it was official, so what is there to split up?”
“His first reaction was to move you back to HPD as a lieutenant.”
“Great. So I get punished for falling in love with the boss. I’m sure they’ll all love working with me at HPD after I’ve been part of the elite task force they all kind of resent, and they’ll label me as gay, which will make me extra popular with cops. Plus, I'm sure they'll all be thrilled to take orders from me with my shiny new rank.”
“They resent us?”
“Oh, come off it, Steve. We’re like the teacher’s pets. Of course they resent us, and what we get away with, and our fancy offices and hot shot image. The whole full immunity and means thing really is the cherry on the sundae.”
“You still have friends at the HPD who tell you this stuff?”
“I met Meka for a few beers a couple times after I joined Five-0. He gave me an earful. Kono’s friends who graduated and went on to be HPD officers have definitely given her some attitude over the years. So if that’s Denning’s solution, I guess I’m job hunting, because I’m not going back there.”
“You’re not job hunting. Just calm down a little. Let me finish.”
“I’m not exactly on a run of good luck right now,” I said, and I hated how whiny I sounded. I gulped some coffee so I didn’t make a complete idiot of myself. I didn’t feel like I could take many more hits until I knew what was going on with Grace.
“I wouldn’t let you get screwed over, I hope you know that.”
“I know you’ll do what you can.”
“Here’s the deal he’s put on the table. If you and I go undercover as a newlywed couple as bait for the killer, and we manage to catch the guy, he’ll let me write our own ticket with Five-0. He says that’ll give him the ammunition he needs to handle the criticism he’ll face for going against a standard upheld by pretty much every law enforcement agency in the world - not letting married or romantically involved people work together. If we’re that good of a team that we can make our relationship work for us in solving a major serial killer case, he’ll take the heat for letting an openly married couple run a task force. I also told him I thought you were overdue for a promotion to lieutenant anyway. You'd probably be one by now if you hadn't joined Five-0."
“You think that’s a good offer?”
“I think it’s the best we’re gonna get. Look, I don’t like us having to perform like this, to play out our relationship in front of a bunch of cops and the media. But we’re asking for something unprecedented here, and if we can pull this off, and get it, we’re gonna have everything we asked for. I also understand if you don’t want to do it.”
“That’s not too much pressure. If I don’t agree to this, we can’t work together. If I do agree to it, the first time we go out in public together as a couple will be for the purpose of luring a maniac to try to kill one of us.”
“I know it sucks. I’m sorry, Danny. I wanted to negotiate something better for us, but without this case, I’m not sure I could have. If you don’t want to do it, I won’t be angry, and I’ll support your decision.”
“I guess part of learning to work together as a couple is getting over not wanting to put each other in harm’s way.”
“We do that all the time and I never have liked it, but it’s the reality of our job. I know you think some of the things I try are extreme, but I wouldn’t try them if I didn’t feel like they’d work, and we’d be okay. I love you too much to do that, and I loved you too much a year ago, or two years ago.”
Those words soothed my battered soul. Sometimes just the sound of his voice or his sweet smile does that for me.
“What’s one more insane, out-there case? Not like it’s the first, and I do get to hang all over you and make out with you on the clock.”
“That’s a definite plus.”
“Work will pay for a really upscale hotel room for us. I assume we won’t be on camera while we’re doing it in the overpriced bed?”
“As awful as it would be to be forced to have sex with you for the job, I don’t think so.”
“Tell him we’ll do it. He’s really gonna let us do our own thing if we solve this case?”
“That’s the deal.”
I knew Steve wanted to do it, and I didn’t see another way for us to have what we wanted. I didn’t want to leave Five-0, and I sure as hell wasn’t giving Steve up anytime soon. I was between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. Literally. The Devil was smiling at me, his hazel eyes looking almost blue as they picked up the color of the t-shirt he was wearing.
“I think we should tell Chin and Kono today, and maybe let Max in on it,” the Devil said.
“I have a feeling he’ll find out on his own,” I replied, a thought skittering across my mind that hadn’t occurred to me before. Now, for some reason, it was striking me funny. Steve saw my grin and what must have looked like a somewhat evil expression.
“He took a cheek swab from me for the DNA test. Right after you had your tongue in my mouth in the men’s room.”
Steve’s eyes bugged. And then he got this expression on his face like a kid who got away with something naughty and laughed. He was actually blushing a little. “I never thought about it.”
“It was a hell of a nice kiss. You had to have left your calling card in there.”
“Thanks. I try.”
“When Kono gets here, let’s round up Max and all go to Kamekona’s for lunch. We can tell everybody all at once.”
“Should we tell everyone connected to the case?”
“Does it matter? We’re doing a job. Even if we do enjoy it a little more than we should,” I said. “I think our team needs to know, and eventually everyone will, but I’m not sure they need to be distracted with that information while we’re working this case.”
“Good point. It’s settled then. Danny, I know this isn’t the best solution. I wish I could have done better for us.”
“You did great, babe. We’re together, Five-0 is together, and all we have to do is capture a deranged killer in a reasonably short time.”
“Business as usual,” Steve confirmed as he stood to leave my office.
He paused with his hand on the door, looking at me. His expression was all soft and sentimental like he thought I was gonna tell him I loved him.
“When we get home, I’m gonna suck your dick like it’s never been sucked before and then I’m gonna fuck you into next week.”
“Damn it,” he muttered. I could tell he was fighting a battle. I had mercy on him and didn’t say anything more, since he had to walk out of my office and he didn’t have anything to carry in front of him. I knew I’d get some kind of payback for that, and I couldn’t wait.
"I'd say the torture was carried out over most of the time the victim was missing," Max said, uncovering the bluish-white corpse of the most recent victim. I've seen a lot of dead bodies in my life, too many, in fact. This one looked like Danny, and for the first time in most of my adult life, I felt my stomach flip at the sight of him. I must have looked nauseated, because Danny was watching me, worried. "He was also seriously dehydrated and showing signs of malnourishment so it's likely he hadn't been given food or water at all during his captivity."
"What are these marks from?" Danny asked. He was leaning forward, looking at some marks in the flesh of the victim's thigh. It looked as if they wrapped underneath. Max rolled him to the side a bit to show that, indeed, they did wrap underneath and were more pronounced on the buttocks and were present on the back, to a lesser extent. They were like a grid pattern. Part of those marks looked as if they'd been burned into the skin; along with similar marks on his arms, legs, and hands that also appeared to be burns.
"My theory is our killer kept him in a cage, probably designed for a large animal. If you take the bottom tray out of one of those, you leave the cage bars exposed. It looks as if he was sitting or lying on the exposed bars. The cage was most likely wired, allowing the perpetrator to shock the victim at will."
"An electrified cage? Seriously?" Danny was the one looking nauseated now, and I knew his claustrophobia made the thought of being kept in a cage about the worst torture anyone could suggest, aside from the additional torture of the shock.
"I found evidence that suggests shock torture was used on various parts of the torso and genitals. Well, as near as I could tell without the genitals actually being there."
"So the genitals are missing, missing?" I asked. "The killer kept them?"
"Or disposed of them," Max replied, shrugging.
"Gee, it'll be just like searching for Cinderella's slipper," Danny said. I looked at him, speechless. Max was actually grinning a bit. "Sorry. Grace would have laughed," he added. At our horrified expressions, he explained, "Grace, my partner, back home? We were on a task force for a serial killer case where the guy was cutting off things and keeping them as souvenirs, and when they caught him, they were matching up the missing pieces and I said that and she laughed so hard she blew coffee through her nose."
"Thank you for sharing that," I said, with more than a little sarcasm.
"You're welcome," he retorted, looking a little embarrassed and yet not entirely repentant. He rarely mentioned his former partner, beyond having told me about what happened to her. I didn't ask him much about her, because I knew how traumatic her murder had been for him and I didn't see a lot of point in dredging that up.
"There are various shallow cuts, but I think they are more for the fear and torture value than hesitation cuts."
"I guess the shock torture wasn't enough."
"Ligature marks on his wrists and ankles," Danny said, and I watched him. "What now?" he asked, noticing I was staring at him.
"Oh, nothing. I was just waiting for more sparkling wit to kick in."
"Yeah, well, sparkling wit isn't all bad when you spend a lot of your time looking at dead people."
"I would tend to agree with that conclusion," Max said, with a slight smile on his face. "I'd say he was suspended by his wrists at some point, given the depth of the injuries and the bruising. Possibly for the final mutilation."
"After that, he bled out?" I asked. I wondered how many men would want to live through that, even assuming they survived the initial torture.
"Yes, but if he was lucky, he may have lost consciousness from the pain and shock and not been aware all of that time."
"I hope for his sake you're right," Danny said, sighing. "Anything else you can tell us that would set this sicko apart? Beyond the obvious."
"The removal isn't especially skilled. It's actually a bit ham-handed, clumsy, and brutal."
"Ham-handed, huh?" I clarified.
"No surgical skill. You're not looking for a medical professional, or even a good butcher."
The team, plus Max, gathered at a picnic table by Kamekona’s truck for a late lunch. The proprietor himself joined us, and for a while we all just ate like any other lunch hour we might share. They all knew Steve had pulled this together fairly quickly and, with the exception of Max and Kamekona, it was more of a cordially-phrased mandatory meeting notice from the boss than a voluntary lunch get together.
“I know you’re probably all wondering why I pulled everyone together for lunch,” Steve began.
“You wanted them to try my new shrimp recipe,” Kamekona stated proudly.
“Well, that, too,” Steve conceded, and we all laughed at the break in the tension that’s always created when the boss calls everyone together for anything. “We were going to do this a little differently, but some things have come up that Danny and I feel make it important to talk with the rest of the team sooner than later.” He looked at me.
“You’re on a roll, babe. Go for it,” I said.
“Danny and I are together. Personally.” Steve seemed to fumble it a bit and I didn’t blame him. It’s an awkward moment, telling your friends you’re having sex with each other. At the end of the day, that’s what the big announcement is, especially for couples like us who have been friends or professional partners a long time. Steve and I have been “together” for years. Never one to leave him dangling without back up, I reached over and took his hand.
“We’re a couple.”
“A couple of what?” Kamekona needled, though he was chuckling.
“Maybe a couple of idiots for waiting so long to do something about this,” Steve said, squeezing my hand. “We’re getting married.”
“Oh my God!” Kono exclaimed, covering her mouth momentarily, then giving us the biggest smile. “I’m so happy for you!” She was out of her seat and hugging us both before we knew what hit us.
“Congratulations,” Chin said. He was smiling, but his reaction was a lot more moderate than Kono’s. I wasn’t immediately sure if that was because he tends to be a quieter guy or if he didn’t feel the love quite the way Kono did. “Is this a new thing?”
“This occasion calls for champagne!” Kamekona announced. “Unfortunately, I don’t have any and you’re all on duty. Lucky for you, I have a special secret blend punch I haven’t officially launched yet. Perfect occasion for a toast.” He got up and ambled back into the truck. I shivered to think what was in his special blend of punch. I prayed he didn’t find a way to drain the liquid out of Spam and mix it with fruit juices.
“I think you two will make a great couple,” Max said. “Actually, some people I know thought you already were.”
“Oh really?” I asked, laughing. “Are you naming names here?”
“I never reveal my sources,” Max stated solemnly.
“Chin, to answer your question, it’s very recent. While I was recuperating over the last few weeks, we had a chance to really decide what was important to us, and this was it.” Steve was still holding my hand. “I can’t go into a lot of details, but I came very close to dying, and the two most important things on my mind in what I thought were my last moments were Danny and Grace.”
“Shit, Steven,” I muttered, squeezing his hand looking down, hoping I didn’t start blubbering at the table. It wasn’t that what he said surprised me, but the thought of him being so close to death haunted me, and the overpowering emotion thinking of him facing it and his final thoughts were about me and Gracie...it was hard to confront that.
“I came close, Danny,” he said, his tone gentle. “But I’m still here,” he added, smiling at me. I smiled back, taking a deep breath and willing myself not to linger in that dark, sad place.
“What does this mean for Five-0?” Kono asked. I was grateful that she’d shifted gears to something less intense.
“Hopefully nothing different,” Steve said, and he paused when Kamekona arrived with a tray of round, squatty glasses with red punch in them and enough tropical fruit skewered in them to make them look like tiny Carmen Miranda hats. “I’ve talked with Governor Denning, and we’re working on a plan to keep Five-0 intact, including Danny remaining as my partner and second in command. That’s non-negotiable for me. If that doesn’t come to fruition, then we leave together. I’ll be letting him know that when I meet with him again this afternoon.”
I stared at him a moment, stunned. I know what Five-0 means to him, and he hadn’t said as much to me when we talked earlier. I knew he wouldn’t screw me over, but I also wasn’t sure he was prepared to walk away from the task force that meant so much to him if I had to work somewhere else. I wanted to say something meaningful, but the lump in my throat wouldn’t let me, and I wasn’t up for putting on an emotional display for everyone. So I settled for pulling my hand out of his and touching the back of his head to pull him forward for a kiss. I hoped he didn’t mind me kissing him like that in front of everyone, but I had to. I couldn’t have ever told him what those words meant to me. I wasn’t sure wedding vows or a marriage license would top how he’d made me feel at that moment. When we broke the kiss, I hugged him and whispered in his ear.
“Love you, babe.”
“Love you, too, Danno,” he replied, pulling back and smiling at me like I was his reason for living. “Okay, what’s in the punch?” he asked Kamekona, getting everyone’s attention back on the drinks in front of us. I caught Kono’s glance as she was wiping quickly at her eyes. I reached over and squeezed her hand.
“What part of the words, ‘secret blend’ didn’t you get?” he teased.
“There’s no Spam juice in this, is there?” I asked.
“I will neither deny nor confirm ingredients.” He held up his glass. He was still standing. “And now a toast. The courtship was long enough. May the marriage be even longer,” he concluded and we all laughed at that. Then, very seriously, he added, “E pili mau na pomaika`i ia `oe.” Steve looked moved by that, and I suppose I looked clueless, because Kamekona thoughtfully translated, “May blessings always be yours.”
We all raised our glasses to that and drank. I had to give Kamekona credit. The punch was good. It was a little on the sweet side and I could identify a few fruits, but there was definitely something unique about it that either came from some other ingredient or the blend of juices. We all complimented the drink, and enjoyed the rest of our lunch with our friends. Steve was apparently going to discuss the case with the team back at headquarters, and that was fine with me. This was one of those happy moments where I had no objection to leaving death and mayhem at the office.