I woke myself up with my own screams. I'd been having a nightmare, but then it was kind of hard to separate nightmare from reality. The cage had gotten smaller while I slept. The bars were closer on all sides. My body ached and I was so fucking cold. I didn't know how I could be cold in Hawaii. I didn't think there was air conditioning in that place, but maybe there was and it was turned up cold. I was shivering and it felt like the metal of the cage was cutting into my skin. I was almost afraid to look around. I didn't want to see that bastard's sneering face. More than that, I dreaded another blast of ice cold water followed by the unbearable pain when he flipped that fucking switch.
The cage was shrinking again. I could feel it closing in on me. If I made any noise, he'd probably shock me again. I felt like my heart was gonna pound out of my chest. It was getting hard to breathe. I didn't know how a cage could cut off my oxygen, but I felt like it was doing that.
I thought about Gracie and I thought about Steve. I closed my eyes again and tried to picture their faces, to think about the last day we all spent together. My hands were shaking but I managed to pull off the fake wedding ring I was wearing for the undercover operation and threw it across the room. I wasn't gonna die wearing a fake ring. If I couldn't live long enough to wear Steve's, I didn't want that one on me, either.
The door of the room opened, and for a split second I saw him, wearing something over part of his face, and then the light went out. It was utter blackness. Not just dark, but that overpowering dark where you can’t even see shadows, or your own hand in front of your face.
Something rattled the cage vigorously, and I found myself shrinking against the back of it, though I knew that wouldn’t offer any protection if he was going to play shock games again with it. The total darkness isn’t far from confinement on my list of least favorite things. The dark can feel like it’s closing in on you if there’s no moonlight, no nightlight, nothing.
Something sharp poked me in the ass. I jumped away from it, which made me run into the metal of the cage. There must have been something rough on the part of it I hit, because I felt it gouge my forehead. I heard movement and a laugh. There was another poke, this time to my side and I jerked away from it, scraping my shoulder on the cage. Sick reality dawned that the thing he was wearing was a pair of night vision goggles, and he was just gonna play with me like that, watch me squirm, while he poked at me. I didn’t know if the thing was sharp enough to make me bleed or if it just hurt. My judgment was a little fried after all the shocks.
I tried to feel my side, but it was kind of damp from all the times he’d sprayed me with the hose, so I couldn’t tell if I was bleeding. It didn’t hurt much, it was just the fear of where it was coming from next, what he was gonna poke, and how hard. One came through the grid of the cage and scraped my face and my ear. He’d barely missed poking me in the eye, and I didn’t know if that was by accident or design.
“I could stick this in your ear and right into your brain,” he said.
“Yeah, and you could stick it up your ass, too, you sick motherfucker!”
“Or I could stick it up yours, smart ass. Don’t think I won’t.”
My back was pressed against the cage and I was trying to cover my eyes and ears. Everything was silent for a while, and I almost thought he’d left, though I didn’t hear the door or see even a sliver of light from it. It looked like it was night in that quick glimpse I’d had of the open door. Then out of nowhere, something shook the cage again.
I couldn’t breathe; I knew that feeling too well. The last time it had happened was when I was a kid and one of my older sisters thought it would be funny to trap me in her closet because she found me snooping in there. I was a typical pain in the ass dickhead little brother and we were fighting about something and I knew she hid her diary in there someplace so I was crawling around trying to find it so I could blackmail her with it, and she shut the door and stuck something under the knob. I started hyperventilating after a while, and she panicked and got Mom and Dad because she thought she had killed me. After a trip to the ER she was grounded and we had the official diagnosis that I was claustrophobic.
There was nobody to help me, no oxygen, no mother calming me down. I couldn’t control it anymore. The dark and the confinement and the pain and the fear were overwhelming me. I could hear myself, hear that awful deep, gasping, wheezing, struggle for breath, and that scared me more. I didn’t wanna die that way.
I tried to concentrate on my breathing, remember what the doctor taught me when I was younger. I remembered my mother sitting on the bed with me once when I had a nightmare about being stuck inside something...a closet or basement or something, I don’t remember. I remembered her coaching me on my breathing, making me laugh by telling me to “breathe like a pregnant lady giving birth”. I thought I was gonna die, but she made me laugh. And then I could control my breathing again. It took a while, but I did it.
“Mom...” I gasped, and it was just a memory that I gave voice to, because it’s not like I was far enough gone to think she was there.
“You want your mommy? Seriously?” he taunted.
I did. Or my daughter. Or the man I loved. I tried to remember everything my mother said that night, up to and including “breathe like a pregnant lady”, and I worked so hard to control my breathing. Fuck him. I wasn’t gonna die like a dog crying for my mother.
As I felt I was regaining some control again, I saw the door open and close. It was so pitch dark in there that even the soft glow of some moonlight seemed bright. Maybe he stuck around until he was sure I wasn’t going to die on him before he could have more fun with me. I lay there, discouraged. Steve probably would have found a way to pick the locks on the cage with his toenail or something and would have already killed the bad guy with his bare hands and then run naked through the jungle until he found high ground to send a smoke signal to Five-0 headquarters.
I felt around the perimeter of the cage where I’d seen four padlocks, one on each corner. He’d put some thought into customizing this thing. Apparently he wanted to open the whole top of it to get his captive in and out easily. Nothing was budging. I’d hoped maybe he didn’t fasten a lock tightly enough, or I’d find some weakness in the thing I could bend or pry apart, but there was nothing.
I concentrated on my breathing, telling myself this was a waiting game. Steve was going to find me, it was just a matter of time. It wouldn’t do me much good to die before he got there. I was so damned worried about Gracie. My daughter was hurt and I wasn’t there. I was locked in a cage like a fucking dog. I told myself Rachel would be there, and for whatever differences we always seem to be having, Rachel is a good mother.
The worst part of confronting the very real possibility I might die, bleeding out, and then be tossed by the roadside later, was thinking about how Steve could possibly explain to Grace how I died. What living with that truth would do to her now, maybe for years. People are basket cases in therapy for lesser things than having one of their parents gruesomely butchered. And Steve would never forgive himself for botching the mission. That’s how he’d see it. I’m the one who took off like a crazy person without back up. I botched it, not him. I wished I could just talk to them, see them one more time.
I was discouraged to see the door open again. I’d hoped the asshole would be gone for a while. Instead, he turned on the lights and dragged in a coffin. It looked like a prop from a horror movie - it was one of the old-fashioned shaped ones that are wider at the top. The kind Dracula usually pops out of on the late show. The other victims were dumped like trash by the roadside. I was curious why I was going to get some kind of special treatment.
“I suppose you’ve figured out by now what the hook’s for, and where the blood stain came from,” he said. “Being a cop and all,” he added, sneering. I didn’t really know what to say. There wasn’t much point in pissing him off so he’d torture me more. It’s a weird feeling of resignation when you know you’re going to die and you also know you can’t do a damn thing about it. I was pretty weak from all the shocks and the hyperventilating, but I had a few moves in mind I was gonna try when he opened that damn cage. It’s not like I had anything to lose. The worst thing he’d do is kill me before he chopped my dick off, which could be considered a win in some circles.
The bizarre thing about psychos is they always look so fucking normal. This guy was walking around in a pair of jeans, sneakers, and a blue t-shirt. He looked like one of a dozen other guys his age you might see walking down the street. The shaggy hair, the couple days’ beard growth. After they found my balls in a jar, all his neighbors would be on TV talking about what a nice, quiet guy he was who kept to himself.
"I let the others hang there and bleed out. It takes a while."
I didn't know if he expected an answer. I just hoped he'd lay off the shocks for a while. And the cold water. I was so damn cold. Then I saw the coffin had a modification. There was a hole in the top. It was only about an inch or so in diameter, bit it was a hole. The psycho held up a length of rubber tubing.
"What does a claustrophobic fear most?" he asked.
"Fuck you." He could just keep shocking me until he killed me. One torture or another, it didn't matter. I wasn't playing with him.
"When I'm done with you, I'm gonna put you in that box, with this tube sticking just enough above ground so you can get some air. You'll either bleed out or suffocate because you use up the oxygen too fast."
He knew how to terrorize somebody with claustrophobia, I'll give him that. I guess I had Greg to thank for that. I can't even watch a movie where somebody gets buried alive. I looked away from the coffin and watched him. He was calmly arranging his tools on the workbench now, holding up a knife and checking the blade. I’m sure some of that was for my benefit. Being so close to the end, there was only one thing I wanted.
“Let me leave a message for my daughter,” I said.
“Let me write a note or something. Some kind of message so I can say goodbye. She’s only twelve. She’s never gonna get over this. Please, just let me leave her a note. Maybe I can tell her it wasn’t so bad or...I don’t know. Please don’t kill me without letting me say goodbye to my little girl.” My eyes were filling up, and as much as I hated giving the asshole the satisfaction of sharing my emotions with him, I was hoping maybe there would be a shred of mercy in there somewhere for an innocent child who didn’t deserve to remember her father this way.
“You have a daughter?”
Then I froze, wondering if I’d made a mistake, if he’d go after her. But everything I knew about maniacs like him told me that wasn’t an issue. He had some warped delusional grudge he was carrying out against Greg, the evil stepfather. An underage girl wouldn’t be his thing.
“Yes, I have a daughter. My ex-wife moved out here from Jersey, and I followed her so I could be with my little girl. She’s my life. Just let me leave her some kind of message because this is going to be so hard for her,” I said, swiping at my eyes. Facing death wasn’t the thing. It was leaving Gracie and having her remember me as a mangled mess she couldn’t even see one last time. I couldn’t bring Steve into it, as much as I wanted to leave something for both of them. If I did, he’d see it as a trick, a way to tip off the cops or something. If Steve didn’t know by now how much I loved him, that he was the love of my life, there wasn’t anything else I could put in a letter that would tell him any more clearly than our lovemaking that morning could tell him.
“And how am I supposed to deliver this message? Huh? Nice try. I get caught by the cops playing messenger for you.”
“Bury it with me. Just let me write her a letter, and then bury it with me. Steve won’t rest until he finds me, one way or another, so eventually, she’ll get the letter, when they find my body.”
He stared at me, like he wasn’t sure how to deal with that.
“You want me to let you off the hook because you have a kid,” he said, but his voice wasn’t as angry or as hostile as it had been.
“I know you’re gonna kill me because I look like this Greg person. I can’t help that now. But my daughter will have to live with how I died for the rest of her life and I need to do something about that.”
“What would you say to her?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted, wiping at my eyes. “How do you explain death and mutilation to a twelve-year-old girl? I guess you don’t.” I took in a breath. “I’d tell her not to think about this, because it’s over and it isn’t important. What’s important is how much I love her, and for her to remember all the good times we’ve had, like the concert. I took her to see One Direction.”
“They’re okay for a boy band,” he said, and he actually smiled and crouched by the cage. Fuck. He was chatting with me.
“Steve and I took her to see the new Godzilla movie. We took her to a Victoria’s Secret fashion show once. She loved that.”
“I bet Steve’s just like a second father to her,” he said, but the sneer was back.
“Yeah, he is.”
“If I had a fucking dollar for every time my dad said that about Greg! ‘He loves Ethan, he’s like a second father to him’. He loved me, all right. Fucking pervert.”
“Greg...molested you?” I wasn’t sure if asking him would make him flip out and do something, or if he’d keep talking.
“I was your daughter’s age when I went to live with him and my dad after my mother died. You gotta get her away from that guy. He’s probably already doing her.”
It was all I could do to stay calm, not react. I had this guy in a different place now, talking to me. As long as he was talking to me, he wasn’t killing me. He wasn’t even torturing me.
“Why do you think Steve would do that to Grace? He loves her. He’d never hurt her like that, and he’s not a pervert.”
“My dad didn’t think Greg had a taste for twinks until they took their romantic trip out here, and he caught him in the pool feeling up some guy...I don’t know if he was legal or not, but he was real young. When they got back, Greg confessed that he’d been cheating off and on through their whole fucking relationship. When I told my dad what that sicko did to me, it killed him!” He stood up and started pacing. "I killed him. I should have kept my mouth shut. But it was Greg's fault!"
"Listen to what you're saying. It was Greg's fault. He's the one who victimized an innocent child. Your dad might have been upset because he found out, but I can tell you, as a father, all his anger, pain, frustration...that was on the man who hurt you, not you. It would never be you, and if he was here, he'd tell you it wasn't your fault."
"You need to get your daughter away from that guy," he said, and I'm not sure he even was connecting clearly that we were talking about my daughter and Steve, not him and Greg.
“I can't do anything about it, because my daughter isn't going to have me there to help her.” I waited while that sank in. He stared at me for a long moment, like he was deciding whether or not to believe me.
“Fuck,” he muttered, pulling a ring of small keys out of his pocket. He unlocked the four padlocks and removed the top of the cage. I didn’t know if he was letting me out, gonna let me write a note, or just get me out of there so he could string me up and kill me.
He stepped back. He wasn’t holding any weapons. I managed to stand, though I was shaky as hell and wasn’t sure I could get out of the cage without falling on my head. My knee was killing me, and it was stiff as a board from not standing for so long. My whole body was alive with pain from all the shocks and I was shivering. Somehow, I did get out with a few grunts of pain. I felt a little ridiculous standing there naked. I thought about trying to overpower him, but I knew realistically I didn't have the strength, and if I made him angry, he most likely would turn on me and kill me.
He walked over to a pile of stuff I hadn’t really paid attention to when I was looking around the room. I’d seen there was something that looked like a tarp there. He took out items I recognized as my clothes and held them out toward me.
“Why?” I asked, though I took the clothes and started doing it. I leaned against the wall so I didn’t fall over while I got into my pants and stuck my feet in my shoes.
“Just go,” he said, gesturing at the door.
“Where are we?” I didn’t want to screw up my big chance, but I felt weak and unsteady and I wasn’t sure how far I could travel on my bad knee, or keep good track of my direction.
“You’ve got a GPS on your cell phone - don't get excited, I turned it off, so your boyfriend couldn't track you." He held it out toward me, and I stared at it stupidly a moment before grabbing it.
I knew I should try to overpower him or outsmart him and not risk him getting away for the greater good of society, but I was too weak and sore and slow to chance it. If he was really gonna let me walk out of there with my nuts intact, I wasn’t planning to mess it up. If I could get a hold of Steve on the phone, he'd trace me and get this nut job before he did any more damage.
“Thank you,” I said, and he sighed, looking at me as if he regretted what he’d done to me.
"Take care of your daughter," he muttered, turning away and leaning on the workbench, looking at the jars on the shelf. At the empty one sitting there, waiting.
I didn’t lose any more time. I limped for all I was worth toward the door, and then into the night air. All I could see around me was vacant land. I kept staggering along a gravel path that led away from the ugly little building where I’d been kept, and the small gray sedan that must have belonged to my captor. I turned on the phone and was never so glad to see bars for cell reception as I was at that moment. I called Steve.
“Danny?” His voice was anxious, hopeful. If a kidnaper had heard him on the other end of that phone, they’d have charged a few million bucks for me.
"It's me," I said. It was so good to hear his voice that I couldn't seem to find my own.
"Are you all right? Where are you?"
"Out in the sticks someplace. I don't know where. He let me go."
"Let you go?" Somebody else was talking to him. "My God, Danny, we got your location...we're just a couple minutes from you. We're on Piilani Highway. Can you get up to the road?"
"I'm trying," I said, but my voice was shaky. I was so tired, I was shaking, and my knee hurt like a bitch.
"Hang in there, Danno. We're coming. It's gonna be okay."
"Gracie...is she okay?"
"She's fine. Just a sprained ankle. No head injury; the fall just stunned her. She's already home."
"Thank God." I closed my eyes a second, letting that news sink in. "I love you, y'know," I said. I had to tell him. Minutes before, I never thought I'd have a chance to again.
"I love you, too. You have no idea how much."
"I kinda do," I said, and I couldn't believe I was smiling. My knee was giving out, I was literally staggering toward the road, and I'd just crawled out of a nightmare, but hearing Steve telling me he loved me made me smile. When I was a few feet from the shoulder of the road, I couldn't go any farther and I dropped down on the grass and sat there.
Within moments, the Camaro came to a screeching stop a few yards from me. There were other cars, too. An ambulance pulled up, more cop cars. Flashlights were scanning the ground and then he was there. Steve was right there in front of me, ripping his vest off and throwing it on the ground, dropping to his knees and drawing me up into his arms, holding me fiercely, burying his face against my neck. I'd been so cold for so long and my whole body felt shaky. It was warm against Steve, his arms were warm around me and I finally felt safe.
"Danny. Sweetheart. Thank God," he mumbled into my hair. I clung to him and let the relief wash over me. I wanted to shrug it off and make some kind of joke, stay strong and together with all those cops running around out there. I just couldn't do it. Everything hurt and I was shaking and I couldn't keep from sagging in his arms, crying on his shoulder. His breathing felt ragged and shaky, too. The cops were shouting, running past us, scanning the property with spotlights and flashlights. "Where is he?" he asked. I was trying to pull myself together as fast as he did. He was already back in commander mode, spine straight, eyes darting around like a mongoose looking for a snake.
"There's a building, just follow the trail...he was still there. He's got knives and the cage is wired, but I don't think he has a gun. He said he did when he got me, but I never actually saw it. There's a hose...and jars."
He radioed Chin about the building and what I'd told him. He still had his arm around me and I was still slumped against him.
"Danny, what was in the jars?"
"The missing parts," I said. "But there are three jars...four...I guess the empty one was mine." Steve held me closer when I said that, and I was glad.
"We think he killed his father's partner."
"Yeah, Greg." He squeezed my shoulders and kissed the top of my head. "I need a blanket over here!" he shouted, and a uniformed cop ran over with a blanket. Steve wrapped it around me and held me against him again. Some of the shaking was easing a little, and I didn't feel as clammy as I did before. He was on full alert, watching how and where the cops were fanning out, and I'd heard him shout out some orders at them, but he wasn’t leaving me. I couldn’t stop shaking and I was so grateful to finally be warm, to have him to hold onto.
"I wanna see Gracie and then I want you to take me home."
"We need to get you checked out at the hospital," he said, looking at some of the abrasions on my arm. He kissed a raw spot and touched another one carefully with his fingertips.
"I'm not staying there."
"Fair enough, but I need to know you're okay. Can you stand up?"
"Yeah, just let me hang onto you."
"You better," he teased, standing and helping me up. I know I wasn't real steady, so his next words didn't surprise me. "I know how you feel about me carrying you -"
"Don't even," I said. I might be in pain and, literally, on my last leg, but there was no way in hell he was carrying me like I was a damsel in distress in front of all those cops. No way in hell. I love him, but no.
When I was standing, facing him, he looked into my eyes there in the weird uneven light of the moon, police spotlights and flashing red and blue lights. "What did he do to you, Danno? I need to know."
"It wasn't about sex, if that's what you're worried about."
"I'm worried about you, mea aloha."
Steve's radio came to life with Chin's voice. "Harper hung himself. He was dead when we got here. No need for the bus. We can send the M.E.'s people in here. And I think we've found the rest of his first three victims."
"He's dead," I repeated. Steve pulled me closer as he answered Chin.
"I'm going with Danny to the hospital. Can you manage things here?"
"Yeah, no problem. He's okay?"
"He's gonna be fine," he said, looking at me and smiling.
I knew how worn out Danny was when he didn't fight riding in the ambulance. I also knew he was gonna be okay judging by the way he shut me down about the whole carrying offer. I just wanted to hold him, make his pain less somehow. But I didn't blame him.
I was right there with him, and I didn't allow anyone to separate us when we got to the hospital. I had the advantage of flashing my badge and insisting on being present with Danny, since he was a crime victim and I was there to gather evidence. I don’t think anyone who saw us together believed that was my priority, but it worked to cut through any regulations that might get in my way.
He had the same marks the other victims did thanks to the electrified cage, but he had a lot of other gouges and abrasions. He dodged the doctor's questions about how he'd gotten them, telling him some of it was foggy because of the shock torture. After the doctor left, while we were waiting for a couple prescriptions so we could go home, I pressed him for a little more detail.
"Water makes it worse," I said. "Shock is more painful when you're wet."
"No picnic dry," he said. "I'm cold. Where are my clothes?" He was in a hospital gown since we'd had to check all his wounds, even document them with photos. I'd never forget a single scratch. They were all burned into my memory and on my heart the way they were burned into his skin.
"Right here." I'd brought in some sweats and a windbreaker I'd rounded up from one of the other police units. The cop who loaned them to me was closer to Danny's size, so they were a close enough fit. We needed his clothes for evidence, and the sweats and jacket would be warmer anyway. He didn't resist my helping him a little. He didn't have a cane with him and he was visibly exhausted.
"Feels good," he said, smiling faintly. "Warmer."
"I can help with that," I said, taking him in my arms and holding him close. "Body heat," I added, and he snorted, but his arms wound around me and he held on.
"I didn't do so good in that cage," he admitted in a shaky voice that was so hushed I barely caught the words. "The claustrophobia."
"You did great, Danno." I thought about the hours he'd been missing, what that must have been like for him, closed in a cage. Even without the torture, the confinement had to be horrible for him.
"No, I didn't. I lost it, I forgot your undercover name..."
"It doesn't matter. You're alive and he's not. That's all I care. I would have killed him anyway," I admitted, burying my face against Danny's hair, feeling the soft strands under my cheek, realizing I meant what I said. If that motherfucker hadn't killed himself, I'd have done it for him for what he did to Danny. A part of me was even more angry at the bastard because he'd deprived me of the satisfaction of killing him, preferably with my bare hands so I could watch his fear, fear like he'd made Danny feel, and watch and feel the life drain out of him for making Danny suffer.
He didn't tell me then about Harper jabbing at him in the dark, but I knew there was more to what he'd been through than what he was saying. Still, the perp was dead, and I didn't see a point in torturing Danny more by pushing him to talk until he felt more able to face all of it. There was no one to file charges against, no victims in jeopardy.
His vital signs were good, though his blood pressure was high. Fortunately, it wasn't high enough to cause the doctor to insist on keeping him there. I made up my mind to take care of him until he was back on his feet, to help him find some peace so his blood pressure would go back down again. No additional damage had been done to his knee; it was just stiff and painful. The repeated shocks had left him tired and achy, and since it was after midnight when we finished up at the hospital, he agreed to wait until morning to visit Grace. Rachel assured us over the phone that if Grace woke up during the night, she'd tell her that Danny was safe and sound and would be over to see her the next day.
Kono brought the Camaro to the hospital for us, and rode back to headquarters with an HPD unit. She wanted to see Danny, and he held up through a quick visit with her to assure her he was okay and thank her for bringing his car back, which he joked about me driving around in, even without him. We were both uplifted and reassured by a little humor, but I know he was glad to just ride silently in the passenger seat as I drove us home. I reached over and took his hand, and he squeezed my hand and smiled faintly at me.
He leaned on me to make it into the house, and I knew the stairs were going to be hard on him. We took them slowly, and he let me support a lot of his weight to make it to the top. As he sat on the foot of the bed and I went to work on undressing him, I remembered him helping me with my clothes and my shoes in that infirmary in Afghanistan. I remembered him helping me make it to the john, even though I bitched at him and brushed him off half the time. I thought about all the massages and attention and all the love he’d given me that made all of it okay again. I hoped I could live up to that now, when he needed that from me.
The marks on him broke my heart and hurt my soul. Now I understood why he looked so sad sometimes when he was helping me with things, when I was so banged up. Why sometimes he just touched a bruise or something swollen like he wanted to magically make it go away.
“Chin said the cage was rigged to a switch,” I said, helping him limp into the bathroom to take a shower. “He flipped that switch quite a few times, didn’t he?”
“More than once,” he admitted, quietly, letting me steady him while he stepped into the tub, favoring his bad knee. I stripped in record time, even for me, and got in with him, adjusting the water so it was just a bit warm. His skin felt almost clammy to the touch, but I knew hot water would hurt his burns and scrapes. "I don't want to talk about it anymore tonight."
“Okay.” I went to work at gently shampooing his hair, keeping him close so he was leaning on me.
“Again with the hair,” he joked weakly, and I laughed.
“What can I say? I’m obsessed.” I rinsed the lather out carefully, and he let me bathe him. I knew how drained he was. I’d felt that way before myself when I’d been through something awful and all I wanted was sleep. The calm after the storm. I’d been shocked before, and the pain is pretty intense, and it leaves you with aches and pains because your muscles seize up. I’d never been shocked over so much of my body at once, so repeatedly. Once again, it struck me that for all his complaining about little things, Danny is amazingly strong and equally smart. Somehow, he’d talked his way out of certain death and now the killer was on Max’s slab instead of Danny.
I’ve called Danny a force of nature before, and it’s still the best way to describe him.
I did my best to help him dry off carefully without rubbing over the raw spots any harder than I had to. I could see him wincing and flinching sometimes, but he didn’t say much. All I heard from him were some sharp, indrawn breaths when I touched an area around his hip, butt, and thigh that was cris-crossed with burns and gouges.
I didn't want to make him stand around a lot longer, but I also knew he'd be miserable with damp, clammy hair after he'd been damp for so long. Once he had a towel around his waist, I sat him on the toilet lid and turned on the blow dryer.
"Feels good," he mumbled. "Warm." He reached over on the counter and picked up a tube of some kind of styling gel. "Let me put some of this in it or it'll just hang in my face all night."
I turned off the dryer and let him do his thing. I'd seen him do it every morning, but I didn't pay much attention to it. It was just his morning ritual. Now I watched him, maybe because I loved everything about him even more now, since I had him back with me. I tried to avoid the thought of what it would have been like if I'd lost him, if his things weren't in my bathroom and in my closet and if he wasn't by my side in the morning when I wake up...wouldn't be much point in waking up at all...
He stood up a little awkwardly and rinsed the excess off his hands, dried them, and sat back down on the toilet lid.
"All set now?" I asked, and he smiled, though it was kind of weak. He knew I was yanking his chain, albeit gently.
"Gotta look good for my man," he said, and I laughed, starting up the dryer again.
"You don't need hair gel for that, sweetheart," I said, trying not to be annoyed by the fact that now his hair wasn't cooperating with getting dry. It was wet and slimy. How that ever turned into the soft, good-smelling hair I liked to stick my nose in every morning, I'll never fully understand.
Once Danny was satisfied with his 'do, I kissed his temple, near a nasty gouge.
“The doctor gave us some stuff to put on those,” I said, leading him back into the bedroom. He was marked up all over, but the worst of it was on the back of everything, since he’d been sitting or lying in the cage most of the time, either on his side or his back. “You wanna lie down for me, and I’ll put some on you?”
“If I felt better, that’d sound real good right now,” he said, lying on his stomach on the bed with a grunt of pain.
“I’ll take a rain check, if you’re offering.”
“A bunch of ‘em, babe. You can start cashing them in as soon as I’ve gotten some sleep.”
I started putting the ointment on the sore spots, and thinking about how he got them, and how much they had to hurt, that he’d been tortured and terrorized. That I’d let this happen to strike a deal with Denning because, after all, I had to have my precious task force. Having Danny wasn’t enough. I had to put him through this so I could have everything I wanted.
I leaned forward and kissed the raw, abraded skin on his shoulder.
“Danny, baby, I’m so sorry,” I said, and tears were coming. He eased himself over on his back and pulled on me until I lay down with him, in his arms, and he could comfort me. He was comforting me. It confirmed my theory that Danny has the biggest heart in the world and it beats just for Gracie and me. We’re his world, and he’ll do anything for us. At least Grace doesn’t make him endure torture for her.
“Don’t start blaming yourself, babe. It’s not your fault. I made a lot of rookie mistakes to get me where I was.”
“No, don’t you dare take this on. We wouldn’t have even been in this situation if I wasn’t trying to barter with Denning to keep Five-0 the way I want it.”
“The way we want it. I want it, Chin wants it, and Kono wants it. We all want our task force, Steve. We all were fighting for it. I just got caught because when Grace’s school called, I forgot everything I learned my first week at the academy, let alone over the last fifteen years or so.”
“I love you, Danny. None of this other shit matters. None of it would be worth anything if I’d lost you.”
“You didn’t. I’m right here.” He touched my face and I took his hand and held it. I kissed the palm and raw spots on his fingers from where he’d grabbed the cage.
“How did you talk him into letting you go?” I knew he’d said he didn’t want to talk about it, but he’d have to in the morning. Everyone would be demanding answers, and I knew I’d probably be in hot water for hiding him away like this now, overnight. I always have hated badgering crime victims when they’re still in shock, still reeling. I’d gotten the basic facts from Danny so Chin, Kono, and HPD could wrap things up at the scene, and do some preliminary reports. I knew Denning would be chomping at the bit to do a media conference at the crack of dawn. Danny deserved to be hailed as a hero for talking his way out of that mess.
“I asked him to let me write a message for Grace because I didn’t want her to have to live with how I was gonna die. That I needed to tell her to focus on all the happy times we had and not think about how it ended because that wasn’t what was important.”
I could feel his breath hitching as he spoke, and I struggled with my own emotions. Thinking of Danny being so close to death and wanting to leave some message for Grace...
“He thought I was trying to trick him at first, so he’d send it or deliver it and get caught. When I told him to bury it with me, he knew I wasn’t playing an angle with him.”
“Bury it? He didn’t bury his other victims,” I said, confused. I had to focus on that or else the thought of what Danny was telling me would have been too much to handle.
“Once he knew I was claustrophobic, he took advantage of that to have his fun. Apparently Greg was claustrophobic, too, so it was a special treat for Harper - must have been his whole reason for the cage and the dark... He was going to do...his thing with the...mutilation, and then bury me alive. He had an old-style coffin he brought in--”
“Coffin. An old fashioned one like you see in the old school vampire movies. It looked like he might have gotten it from somewhere that sells props or Halloween decorations. He was gonna bury me alive. Claustrophobic’s worst nightmare.” Danny let out a long, shaky sigh. “Can we not talk about this anymore?”
“I’m sorry, Danno,” I said, kissing his forehead. “I’m so sorry, sweetheart,” I repeated, unable to face the horror of what he was telling me. I made up my mind I'd protect him from ever having another moment of fear from his claustrophobia as long as I lived.
“I knew you’d find my body eventually, because I knew you’d never stop looking for it, and when you did, maybe the message from me would help Grace make sense of what happened and move on. I just couldn’t stand the thought of what it would do to her, knowing how I died. I guess that reached him somehow, and he started talking with me. Some of it was delusional bullshit, but still, he was talking and not torturing me or cutting anything off, so I played along and he just unlocked the cage and let me go. He said I reminded him of how his father used to feel about him, or something like that. Apparently I look like the lying, cheating, sick asshole who molested him and cheated on his father for years, but somewhere along the line it was like a shred of reality reached him, and...” He shrugged slightly where he was snuggled against me. I treasured the movement, the feeling of his skin against mine, his breathing, his warmth. “I’m trying to feel sorry for him because he offed himself, but I’m not there yet.”
“Don’t push yourself on that. You don’t owe that motherfucker anything but exactly what he got.”
“Maybe if Rogers hadn’t molested him, his father hadn’t committed suicide... I don’t know. I know some kids live through worse and never break the law, let alone do this kind of sick shit.”
“Obviously he wasn’t all that stable to start with.”
“I’m sure the shrinks and the talk show guests will be analyzing this pervert for years. I just wanna forget him.”
“I know, sweetheart. Me, too.”
My phone rang, and I didn’t make any move to answer it.
“You better get that.”
“Steven, answer the phone.”
“Yes, sir,” I joked, smiling and kissing the end of his nose. God I love him. “It’s Denning,” I said as I looked at the display.
“Told you to answer it,” he replied. I did.
“I’m going to forgive your disappearing act since your partner just pulled off the impossible single-handedly, but I hope you two are planning to be at headquarters bright and early.”
“Depends how bright and early, sir. Danny’s been through a lot and he needs some rest.”
“Doctor’s orders or your orders?” he challenged.
“His blood pressure was pretty high and he has some injuries. I suppose it’s some of both. I think fourteen hours of torture should buy him the option to sleep in.”
"Steve," Danny chided me quietly, probably trying to keep me from opening fire on Denning because as much as I blamed myself for him getting hurt, I didn't exactly want to throw Denning a tea party for it either.
"I understand you're upset-"
"Upset? That doesn't even begin to cover it. I blame myself for letting you back us into a corner and ever deluding myself that any case, any job, any fucking task force was worth this. I did what you asked. Danny suffered the consequences for it. I assume this was a high enough price to pay for our relationship so we can move on from here?"
"I'm sorry you're so bitter about this. I felt we were in a situation that could work to both our advantages, and I thought you agreed with that."
"And I'm gonna have to live with that for the rest of my life, that I did this to Danny. That I ever even let it happen. It's one thing for us to risk our lives for a case. We've done that more times than I can count, and I'm sure we'll do it again. But you and I stuck an innocent man in an electrified cage to be tortured so your life was easier politically and I could have my task force. I don't know about you, but that's gonna keep me up some nights."
"To answer your question, I am prepared to hold up my end of the deal. So I'll let you calm down and talk this over with your partner and decide where you stand." He paused. “I’ll schedule the press conference for eleven, and I expect you and your team to be there. I want to see you and Williams in my office at ten to brief me. I need to know details before I get up there and address the public.”
“Fine. We'll be there.”
“Good. Tell your partner, ‘well done’.”
“Yeah, thanks.” I hung up the phone. “You single-handedly brought down Harper. The governor is very impressed.”
“Impressed enough to leave us alone now?”
“So he says.”
"Steve, you didn't have to do that, rip into him like that. I agreed to take this case, too, and I wanted us to nail this psycho before he killed anybody else. You've gotta work with Denning. We all do. If you tell him to fuck off now, we've lost the ballgame."
"I just...I need you to know what you mean to me, sweetheart," I pressed my forehead against his. "I love you, and I'm so sorry I let this happen."
"You didn't let it happen, babe. Please, if you want to help me, just let go of this and don't hang yourself with Denning. It's gonna be okay. I know you love me. I love you, too, you big goof."
"If you..." I couldn't say the word "died". I just couldn't say it. "If you hadn't..."
"I'm alive. It was no picnic, but I'm alive and the bad guy isn't, and we're together. Will you please stop trying to find a way to make this your fault, too?"
"You honestly don't think it is?" Because I do.
"No, babe, I don't," he said gently, caressing my cheek. "No more blaming yourself for everything that's fucked up in the world. Okay?"
"I'll try," I said. He kissed me.
“Mission accomplished, then.” He yawned. “I think I need to put some underwear on. My ass is chafing on the sheets.”
“Sorry, buddy. I didn’t even think about that. I guess I really wanted a little skin-on-skin time with you.”
“I want that, too, as soon as my skin doesn’t feel like I got stuck in a waffle iron.”
I got up and got us both some underwear, and once we were resettled, I kissed him goodnight, lingering there, savoring the feel of his soft lips against mine.
"We need to tell your family about us pretty soon," I said.
"What made you think about that now?" he asked, yawning.
"Because I don't want to wait much longer to marry you."
"What do you think your dad would have said about us?"
"I don't know. He was a good man, but he was old school. Probably would have taken some getting used to for him. You don't think your dad's going to be okay with this?"
"What you said about your dad...sounds kind of like my dad. He's not hateful or narrow-minded, but old school is a good way to describe him."
"Go to sleep, Danno. I didn't mean to worry you."
"Nothing about marrying you worries me. Except that you'll wise up and find somebody better."
"Not possible. No such person out there, Boo Boo."
"Love you, too, Sexy Eyes." Danny had a little smile on his face as he fell asleep.
Something hit me in the chest and the sheet that had been over me was snatched away. Danny was screaming. I never heard him scream in terror before. Not gasp, not call my name, but a full-on scream. I was alert immediately, ready to kill whoever did something to him to draw that kind of sound out of him. Fortunately, I ducked, because his fists were flying and his legs kicking, and whatever made him scream was in the nightmare he was having.
I got the sheet off him entirely and got out of his way.
"Danny! Come on, Danno, wake up for me. It's Steve. You're okay, you're home." I wanted to hold him, but I thought the restraint would panic him more. Maybe if he felt the complete freedom of movement for a few seconds, and heard my voice, he'd calm down. "Danno, it's Steve. I'm right here. You're safe in our bed. You can get up and move if you want."
He sat up and opened his eyes, his expression still holding nothing short of terror. He backed up against the headboard of the bed, then jerked away from it. I wasn't sure if that was because his shoulder and back had some sore spots, or if he thought it was part of the cage. I was glad Harper was dead. If he hadn't done it himself, I would have.
"Danny, it's me. It's Steve," I repeated, moving around to sit on his side of the bed. I still didn't touch him. I didn't want him to feel restrained or trapped. He solved that dilemma for me by moving toward me and pulling me into an almost desperate embrace. He wasn't hyperventilating, but he was breathing hard, his heart pounding. "It's okay now, mea aloha. I've got you. Everything's okay. Take some nice, deep breaths for me, baby. It's all over now."
"Sorry," he mumbled against my shoulder. "You could handle this better."
"I didn't handle it any better, remember? I used to wake up screaming and I was a fucking mess until you took me out in the woods and put me back together." That made him laugh momentarily, and then the laughter changed to tears and he was vibrating with the sobs that shook his body in my arms.
"I didn't wanna leave you and Gracie," he managed. "I...I've always been scared of being...buried alive." The last words were barely audible.
I remembered sitting on the couch one night, a couple years earlier, watching some stupid crime show with Danny and the victim was being shut in a box to be buried alive or burned up or something grisly, and he'd put his head down and covered his eyes. I’d stared at him a moment and then realization had dawned and I turned it off. He was embarrassed. I'd gotten him a beer and changed the channel over to ESPN and we watched a tennis match, even though neither of us are much into tennis.
And I remembered how Ella Bishop's kidnaping and rescue from that hole in the ground had affected him. I know she reminded him of Grace, but finding her essentially buried alive had shaken him. It shook us all, but I knew it played into one of his worst nightmares.
"You did great. You found a way to reach a delusional psychopath and survive. Your fear could have crippled you but it didn't. One of my SEAL instructors kept drilling into our heads that bravery wasn't about never being afraid, it was about how you handled it, and how well you could function in spite of it. You knocked it out of the park, Danno."
"Sometimes I feel like that damn cage is still around me," he admitted, and I held him a little tighter against me.
"The only thing around you are my arms, sweetheart. You're safe, and don't ever tell me you're sorry for needing me."
"I'm sorry I'm a mess. That I'm...afraid. I feel like I'm crazy."
"You are crazy. That's why I fell in love with you." I smiled when he laughed softly at that.
We sat there like that for a long time, until his breathing evened out and he was calm. It was dawn; we still had a few hours before we had to be in Denning's office. I tilted his head up and kissed him. I knew he was tired and sore and I didn't want to put too much strain on him, but I wanted him, so much. I didn't care what we did. I just wanted to be close to him, to be intimate with him. He responded right away, returning the kiss and pressing against me.
We stretched out on the bed, and wriggled out of our underwear in the stupid, inefficient way people do when they want to have sex, even though it would be easier to just stand up and take it off. I held him and started kissing his neck, his shoulder, trailing my lips and tongue over his chest, teasing his nipples and making him gasp. He was mine and he was alive and in my arms and I couldn't think of anything that would make me happier, unless it was to reverse all of it so he didn't have to suffer through what he had.
He slid his hand into my hair and ran his fingers through it.
"It's getting longer," he said, tugging on it a little. I raised my head long enough to look in his eyes .
"The most important person in my life likes it that way," I said, kissing him.
"You always do what he tells you?" he teased, grinning.
"Rarely, but I'm okay with the hair thing," I replied, and he laughed. Then I got dead serious. "I'd do anything for him."
"That goes both ways, babe," he said, touching my cheek.
I went back to work on him, kissing him all over, making him laugh when I pushed his arm up so I could nuzzle his armpit. He wasn't laughing when I put my mouth to work lower. I took my time, trying to think of everything I liked when I was on the receiving end of that, so I could do it to him. I was glad it was all getting easier now. Everything being brand new was great, but there was something to be said for learning about the person you love, getting to know what they like and how to make them crazy.
"Steven, that's good," he whispered, sighing, touching my hair. "Love you," he added, looking at me through heavy, half-closed eyes, sexy little smile on his face. I had a feeling after he came, he was going to sleep like the dead for the couple hours we had before I'd have to get him moving again. He let out something between a growl and a cry as he came, grabbing the sheets. While he lay there, breathing heavily for a good reason, I moved up next to him and kissed his shoulder.
"Let me do something good for you, babe," he said, but he was almost asleep.
"Just use your hand. It's not gonna take much."
He held me close, kissing me and fitting his face into the curve of my neck, nipping and sucking at the skin there while he brought me off with a few very efficient strokes. I knew I'd have a couple nice big pink marks that would probably show unless I wore a shirt with a decent collar on it. I smiled when I realized Danny had dozed off, and in moments was snoring with his nose pressed against my neck.
Ah, love. It ain't always pretty.
"Danno!" Grace gave me a huge smile and held her arms out for a hug as she sat propped up on her lavender satin comforter like a princess receiving guests in her room. I sat on the side of her bed and collected my hug. "Are you okay?" she asked.
"I am now, monkey," I said, still hugging her. When I sat back, she frowned, touching my chin to turn my head so she could inspect the nasty-looking scrape on the side of my forehead. "It's just a scrape, Gracie. I'm fine. I wanna hear about what happened to you," I said.
"Madison and I were taking a selfie and I slipped."
"Madison? The Goth girl with the dog collar?"
"It's not a dog collar. It's just a leather band with a black rose on it."
"Goes with the black nail polish and the black lipstick. How old is she, anyway?"
"She's thirteen, Daddy."
"Does your mother know you're hanging around with her?"
"I guess so. Why are you so mad?"
"I'm not mad," I said, trying to control myself. I wasn't mad. I was fucking irate. "Why were you taking a selfie at the top of a slide, Grace?"
"Because the view from behind is really cool. It wasn't her fault. My foot slipped."
"Whose idea was it?"
"Hers, but I thought it would be fun. The picture is awesome."
"Well that makes it worthwhile," I said, standing up and pacing. Steve walked in then, looking confused why Grace had a troubled expression on her face and I was pacing like I do when I'm about to blow up. Considering I was still wrung out from what happened and my knee was killing me, the fact I was pacing at all was a sign of how upset I was. It's hard to pace with a cane, but I was making it work.
"Uncle Steve, will you tell Danno to calm down?"
"I will, but it usually doesn't help. How are you feeling, Gracie?" Steve asked her, kissing the top of her head.
"My ankle hurts, so Mom wanted me to stay home from school today, but I'm fine."
"What did you do to Danno?" Steve asked in that conspiring tone that's cute unless I'm the target of it.
"He's mad because I fell off the slide taking a selfie with my friend, Madison. He doesn't like her."
"I didn't say that," I objected. "But for the record, anybody who talks you into doing something that ends with you in the hospital, I don't like. Plus she's a vampire."
"She isn't a vampire, Daddy. She's Goth."
"Whatever." I rubbed my forehead. My head hurt, my knee hurt, my whole fucking body hurt, and none of that was Grace's fault. The fact my daughter could have broken her neck and did end up spraining her ankle, was Elvira Junior's fault.
"Looking back, this was kind of a stupid idea, right?" Steve asked.
"Yeah, pretty stupid," she admitted, and they both laughed. Great. We're not even legally married yet and he's already the fun parent.
"Danny, you're aggravating your knee. And me. So just stop, okay?"
"You don't see anything wrong with this situation? Today it's a selfie at the top of a slide. Tomorrow, what? Matching nose rings?”
“Ew,” Grace responded.
“See, nothing to worry about,” Steve said.
“You’re not helping,” I snapped back. I didn’t know why I couldn’t calm down, but I couldn’t. I was pacing, in perpetual motion, and it washurting my knee. More importantly, I hadn’t made the trip there to alienate my daughter. I just wanted to see her because a few hours before that, I thought the only way she was gonna ever hear from me again was via a note pinned to my rotting corpse. My breathing was escalating; shit, I didn’t want to hyperventilate in front of Grace. I really didn’t want to lose it and have Rachel walk in. She’d turn it into a new custody issue.
“Danny, look at me.” Steve was suddenly in front of me, holding me by the shoulders. “Breathe, Danno. Calm down. It’s okay.” His voice was soothing and kind, not like he was scolding me. He loosened my tie a little more. We were wearing shirts and ties; our sport coats were in the car. Between meeting with Denning, and the following press conference, casual attire wasn’t really up to par. That tie had felt like a noose around my neck. I started to feel like I could breathe without it strangling me.
“Sorry. I just...”
“It’s okay, buddy. Just keep breathing nice and deep for me, okay?”
“Yeah, I will,” I agreed, and it was getting a little easier.
“Are you okay, Danno?” Gracie had gotten off her bed and limped over to us.
“You wanna borrow this?” I joked, holding out my cane toward her, and she laughed. “Peace offering?” I added, and she shrugged.
“It’s okay, most of the other adults we know don’t like Madison, either.”
“Why do you like her?” I asked.
“Because she’s smart and we laugh a lot...she’s really funny. I don’t know. We’re friends.”
“I’m gonna go out on a limb here,” Steve began. “I bet she doesn’t like One Direction as much as you do.”
“Nooo,” Grace replied, laughing.
I guess it’s a good thing Steve knows me like he does, and puts up with me biting his head off now and then. What started as a potential disaster with Grace, not to mention whatever crazy fucking panic attack I was gonna have before he intervened, ended with laughing and a group hug before we left.
My silence in the car finally got to him. I wonder if I really do talk that much that a few minutes of silence is enough to have him checking on my well-being?
“I didn’t mean to stick my nose into things with Grace,” he said. Now I felt like an ass. I wanted him to have a good relationship with her, to be like another father to her. Except when he disagreed with me, I guess.
“You didn’t. I want you guys to be close and you have a right to say what you think.”
“Goth girl. I have her information and I ran a background check on her parents and her immediate family.”
“Excuse me?” I felt like my eyes bugged out of my head.
“She talked Grace into doing something that landed her in the hospital. I want to know who she is and what kind of home she comes out of. I haven’t had time to go through it yet, so we can check it out after the press conference.”
“You ran a background check on the family of Grace’s thirteen-year-old friend?”
“Just because you weren’t here since I knew that’s what you’d do when you found out.”
“You’re right, I would.”
“So, we don’t have a problem here, do we?”
“I guess we don’t.”
“Danny, I’m as concerned as you are who Grace hangs out with, but she’s becoming a teenager, and you’re gonna have to pick your battles. You guys have a great relationship, but you can’t obsess in front of her over everything she does and everyone she spends time with. You come tell me and we’ll obsess over it together and run all the necessary background checks until we’re satisfied.” He glanced away from the road with a devilish smile on his face. I had to laugh. "I just give the illusion of being a cool parent," he added. “It’s all an act.”
“I hope I didn’t scare her freaking out like that.”
“You didn’t freak out.”
“You’re being polite about it, so I know I did, and it was bad, because you don’t have the heart to rip into me about it.”
"She's smart, and we can protect her as much as we want, but she sees the news and goes online. I'm sure she knows at least something about the kind of nut you were with and is sharp enough to figure out that you're recovering from that."
"I overreacted. I can't help it. I can't seem to stay calm...about anything."
“You just went through a pretty traumatic experience, Danny.” He took my hand. “You should be at home taking it easy. Or hanging out in a remote cabin someplace,” he added, smiling.
“That was nice,” I agreed, trying to remember some of the serenity of that place. What I’d gone through had rattled me. A lot. I just needed some time with him and Gracie, some time to forget some of the fear and the pain, and what it was like to accept a horrible, slow, tortured death as an inevitable reality.
“We’re gonna take some downtime as soon as we do what we have to do today.”
“We can’t do that. We just had a vacation.”
“So I have a traumatic experience and get two weeks in a cabin in the woods, but you have one and go back to work the next day? Not happening.”
“Denning’ll have a fit if we take off again.”
“You almost died because we were trying to please him so we could negotiate things the way we want them.”
“It worked. Harper’s dead, Denning has his win with the public, now if he upholds his part of the bargain, we’re good.”
“No, we’re not good, Danny. You were kidnaped and tortured by a maniac. That’s not okay.”
“Now you need to calm down. What’s done is done, and if you dare try to blame yourself for this, I’ll slap you upside your head. Don’t think I can’t.”
“If you do that now, it’s domestic violence. Since we’re living together.”
“Throw in some whipped cream and silk restraints and it could be something altogether different.”
“You’ve been wanting to tie me up, squirt me with whipped cream, and slap me?”
“Practically since the day I met you, but without the whipped cream and the sex. Those are more recent additions to the fantasy.”
“You want to lick whipped cream off me?”
“I never said anything about licking you.”
“What else would you do with whipped cream?”
“I don’t know. Put it on a sundae or something.”
“You’re the one who added it in with tying me up and slapping me.”
“Don't want to risk you getting bored with me, babe," I joked.
"I don't think that's possible," he said with a laugh.
I was glad Denning already knew we were a couple. I had a hard time going over the details of what happened in that hellish little outbuilding on Harper’s otherwise vacant property. Steve asked to record it so I didn’t have to do it twice, and Denning agreed. I didn’t know how Harper had managed to get me out of the hotel once he tasered me, but they’d found a laundry cart outdoors near a service exit after seeing Harper pushing it down the hall on the security footage. He'd convinced me he had a gun on me in the elevator, and threatened to shoot Mark Fredericks if I said anything or didn't get off with him on the second floor. There was a service elevator at the other end of the hall, so he must have hauled me through the second floor to that elevator and then out to his car. The tox screen from the hospital showed he’d also shot me up with a tranquilizer once I was down, so that explained how I stayed out of it the whole time he was moving me, since one shot with the taser wouldn't have kept me down that long.
Apparently my abduction caused a number of guests not to get their fresh towels on time. At least I wasn’t the only one suffering.
Steve took my hand when I started finding it hard to talk about the whole experience in step-by-step detail. He didn’t let go. I’m not sure he could have; I had a pretty tight grip on him. Denning was blinking a bit and wiping gruffly and quickly past his eyes when I talked about asking Harper to let me write Grace a note and bury it with me. He’s got a couple kids, so I guess he could identify with that.
I was glad Harper was dead - not so much for revenge's sake, though that did hold a certain appeal - but because I knew Steve would have done something that he might not have been able to get himself out of to get back at Harper for what he'd done to me. Steve didn't look upset, he looked ill when I talked about Harper dowsing me with the hose, how many times he shocked me, about the whole jabbing thing. It was all I could do not to hurl up my breakfast in Denning's wastebasket, but I could see the toll it was taking on Steve. Sometimes I realize how much he loves me for the weirdest reasons, and that was one of those moments.
“I don’t believe this press conference is the appropriate time to announce this, so we’ll let the dust settle a bit,” Denning said. “I’ve spoken with the police commissioner. Given the advanced nature of the cases you’ve been working on, and the fact you managed to talk your way out of the hands of a serial killer moments before the rest of the team located you, you will be promoted to the rank of lieutenant with the appropriate increase in salary. The official paperwork will be processed immediately. There’s an HPD promotion ceremony scheduled for next week. I’d like to see you included in that event.”
“Thank you, Governor,” I said. It was a nice bone to be thrown after almost dying. The salary increase would be nice. I was tired and sore and I just wanted to go home. I figured the excitement might set in when I didn’t feel like shit and wasn’t still obsessing about cages, hoses, coffins, and tight spaces.
“And McGarrett made it clear that he wanted the structure of Five-0 officially spelled out in the job descriptions of its members. Yours will include being second-in-command and McGarrett’s investigative partner.”
“Thank you, sir,” Steve said, and the way he looked at me made it seem like Denning wasn’t even there. “You’ve always been my partner, Danny, but now it’s official.”
I was choked up. I wasn’t sure getting married would have more, or as much, meaning as this moment did.
“Kind of like getting married,” I said, glad I could keep my voice steady, but it was hushed. Steve gave me one of those smiles of his that just spreads itself all over his face and completely destroys any hope he has of looking stern, military, and official.
“Those arrangements are up to you,” Denning said, but he did manage a smile. I guess he’d flexed his boss muscles at us enough for a while.
"I know we've just been off work a while due to my recovery, but I'd like to take some time with Danny, after everything that's happened. Maybe a week."
I’m not sure if it was the way I held onto Steve’s hand or if the sheen of cold sweat I felt was visible, but he said the merciful words I hoped to hear. “It’s unfortunate that you two have been out of commission for a while just recently, but that timing can’t be helped. Go ahead and take the week off.”
I knew it was presented to Denning as a request, probably for my sake, since I'd asked him not to self-destruct with the governor. I also knew that a part of him was looking for a reason to get into it with Denning again, so I was glad the governor just okayed the vacation.
The press conference held in the main lobby of headquarters was a good photo op for the governor, and it didn’t hurt Five-0 any for Chin, Kono, Danny, and me to be up there taking credit for wrapping up the case. He gave Five-0 plenty of praise for making the islands safe again for honeymooners, since we did identify and locate the killer and where he was holding Danny, so even if Harper hadn’t taken his own life, he still would have been captured and no longer a threat to the people of Hawaii. Denning commended Danny for talking his way to his own rescue, escaping even without the help of Five-0, the SWAT Team, and all the other HPD officers who arrived on the scene within minutes of Danny’s escape.
I watched Danny as he stood there next to me. He looked chalky and tired, the gouge on his temple standing out in bold contrast with the paleness of his face. I ached to touch him.
Fuck it. He'd almost died and he'd suffered so much. His hands were at his sides, and I reached over and took his hand. It wasn't anything big and showy, but I could see how lousy he felt, and I couldn't take it anymore. His fingers curled around mine, and I rubbed my thumb back and forth on his skin. Danny always gives me his love and his friendship without reservation. He doesn't care who sees it or what they think of it. He never cared back when we were just friends and partners, and he doesn't now. He just loves me and anyone who spends time around us, sees that.
I know a few reporters picked up on the gesture, especially when I looked at Danny and he looked at me, and he smiled for the first time since we’d been standing there. Even the governor’s praise had only drawn from him an appropriate nod of the head in thanks. I tried to think how I’d have felt if someone pulled me out of that bunker in Afghanistan, stuck a suit on me, and made me stand up in front of a bunch of reporters the next morning. That’s what we were essentially doing to Danny, and it made me sick.
The press conference didn’t last long, and Denning only agreed to field a few general questions. One reporter inevitably directed a question to Danny. She was a young woman with dark hair and a determined look on her face. She had jockeyed into position to even be heard among the extended arms and plays for the governor’s attention.
“Detective Williams, can you give us some insight in how you managed to talk a deranged serial killer into letting you go?”
Danny glanced at me, I guess to get my okay on giving out details of the case. God knows he never looks to me for a green light to talk. He usually just mows down anything in his path until he’s made his point. I leaned close to him.
“Tell them as much or as little as you want. I’m behind you.”
He squeezed my hand and moved up to the podium, where the governor stepped aside so he could use the microphone.
“Without going into all the details of Ethan Harper’s past, he was very close to his father. When I thought...” he paused, clearing his throat. “I didn’t think I had a lot of time left, and I asked him if he would let me write a message for my daughter. We talked about loss, about fathers protecting their children... At some point I guess he saw me as a human being and a father, and remembered his feelings for his own father and how it felt to lose him. Ethan Harper did awful things to innocent people who didn’t deserve it because of demons of his own. The fact he took his own life is proof he was tormented himself. I haven’t really gotten to the point of forgiving him or feeling sorry for him, but he must have been capable of mercy and able to remember what love feels like, or I wouldn’t be here.”
Danny stepped away from the microphone, leaving several more reporters wanting to ask him additional questions. The governor reined in the flurry of noise and announced that was the conclusion of the press conference and that additional information about the case would be shared with the public as authorities completed their follow up investigation.
“So does this mean we’re free to go?” Danny asked me.
“Yeah, we’re done here. You want to go home and get some rest?”
“If you’re not too worn out, we could treat you to lunch,” Kono suggested. “Only if you feel up to it,” she added.
“I could eat,” he agreed.
“Kamekona’s, or someplace fancy, since we all look so good?” Chin joked, referring to our business attire. Kono, who was wearing a sleeveless blue dress and heels, had worn her hair up for the press conference. She unfastened whatever was holding it in place and shook it out.
“Kamekona’s, definitely,” she said, laughing. “I’ve got flip flops in the car.”
I’ve never seen four dressed up people dismantle themselves as quickly as we did. By the time we reconvened at a table by Kamekona’s shrimp truck, Danny, Chin, and I had ditched the sport coats and ties, and I was absolutely stunned that Danny even joined me in taking his shoes and socks off. I think he was flirting with me, getting more undressed than he usually will for such an occasion. His shirt was open a few buttons, his pant legs and sleeves rolled up...if not for all the people around, I’d have had him right there on the hood of the Camaro if he’d let me. He had his cane with him, but it sort of sucks trying to use it in the sand, so I suggested he ditch it and lean on me instead. He liked that idea, and I loved the feeling of his arm through mine, ending in our joined hands so I could support him as he walked.
“How’s the knee?” Kono asked as we dug into our food. Kamekona was managing his lunch rush, but he’d promised to join us when things slowed down a bit.
“The doctor said nothing was torn this time, so it should heal up on its own in a couple weeks.”
“We need to stop and get some ibuprofen on the way home,” I said.
“Ibuprofen?” Kono asked, raising her eyebrows. “If that’s the best you can come up with to take your fiancé’s mind off his bad knee, you need some help, brah,” she joked.
“She's right, Steve. You’re gonna have to up your game a bit.”
I looked at Danny sitting there in the sunshine with his hair blowing a little, big smile on his face, getting more lost in the blue of his eyes than I did in the blue of a perfect Hawaiian sky. I leaned over and kissed him. Not a little one, either. I took his face in my hands and pulled him forward and laid it on him, wrapping my arms around him while his went around me, and I just kept kissing him until I’d had my fill. At least for the moment. I never get my fill of kissing him.
“How’s that work for you?” I asked. Kono was laughing, and Chin was smiling, shaking his head.
“What knee?” Danny asked, before he grabbed me and proceeded to return the favor.
We stopped at the store for ibuprofen and a few other provisions we decided we needed. When we got home, we sat at the kitchen table with the background check Steve had run on the Federspiel family. Both parents were gainfully employed professionals - she was a doctor and he was a financial advisor - and Madison didn’t have any juvenile record. Her grades were on the low side of mediocre, but she had quite a reputation as a violin prodigy. I didn’t see that one coming. From what was available about her through online searches, she apparently had attended some prestigious summer program at Julliard the previous year that was mostly attended by high school students, and had a number of videos on YouTube of her live performances at recitals and other community events. We watched a couple on the computer in Steve’s dad’s office - weird how we think of it as that, even now - and there was Elvira Junior in a black formal dress with her black rose dog collar thing and her artificially black hair, nails and lips, sawing away on that violin like a virtuoso.
“So that’s why Grace has been nagging Rachel and Stan to buy her a violin. She told Rachel a friend of hers played and had offered to teach her how.”
“Looks like Grace could be influenced by worse friends,” Steve said.
“I don’t think Rachel knows how talented the friend is. If she’ll teach Grace to do that, I’ll buy the damn violin.”
“Maybe we can give it to her for her 13th birthday.”
“Don’t remind me of the word ‘teen’.”
“She’s going to give us gray hair, or make us lose it altogether in the next few years, but she’s a great kid, Danno. She’ll do fine.”
“Elvira Junior did still talk her into that stupid selfie idea.”
“I hate to break this to you, but girls that age aren’t always long on common sense. Think about your sisters at that age.”
“My sister was thirteen when she locked me in her closet.”
“There you go. We’re not even gonna get into Mary at that age.”
“I’m not too sure about Mary now,” I teased, and he laughed.
“She’s got some growing up to do, but she’s doing a good job with Joanie.”
“No arguments there. She’s a natural at the whole mother thing.”
“You look tired, buddy,” Steve said, taking my hand.
“Yeah, I’m pretty beat,” I admitted.
“Let’s go upstairs.”
“I’m not too beat to do that,” I said, leering at him.
We abandoned on the kitchen table in favor of heading upstairs to the bedroom. Steve seemed a little urgent to reconnect with me that way after I almost died. Steve’s lost a lot of people he loves over his lifetime, and I think almost losing me scared the shit out of him.
He had us naked and spooned up together in minutes, and it didn’t take much longer for him to get me ready and slide inside me. Everything was gentle and considerate, just not long and drawn out. He’s never been rough with me, not even when we’re wrestling around and hot and heavy. I was so tired and having him in me, just pumping in and out in no big hurry, all wrapped around me and nibbling at my ear and calling me love names...I couldn’t think of anything better. I knew I was gonna sleep like the dead once I dozed off, so I was glad he was getting something to relax him, too. Steve’s not known for staying still in one place very long, and I selfishly wanted to have him next to me to hold onto while I slept.
After we came, he eased out of me and I was disappointed that he got up and left the bedroom. He was back before I could get too stressed out over that development and started putting ointment on my burns and scrapes. He even cleaned me up and brought me fresh shorts. I guess he remembered my butt-chafing complaint from that morning.
“This is really the star treatment,” I said, trying to keep my voice light, but I was moved by all of it. He was taking such good care of me, trying to do everything to make me comfortable for a long sleep. All I needed was a safe, soft spot and him. The rest was extra.
“I just...I wanted you to know...” he stopped, not seeming to be able to find the words. We didn’t need them anyway.
“I just need you, babe. C’mere,” I said, urging him to abandon any further doting on me and just get in bed with me. As he lay there with his head on my chest, his arm very decisively around my waist, my arms around him, I let my hand rest in his soft, dark hair. It’s like silk and I love feeling it, touching it. “Even if the worst thing had happened, babe, I know.Okay?”
“Okay,” he agreed quietly.
“But if you want to wait on me for a while, just to be sure, that’s okay, too,” I added, and he laughed.
“Gee, thanks, Danno. You’re all heart.”
“Not anymore. It was confiscated by a Navy SEAL a few years back.”
“Most successful mission of my career, then,” he said, kissing my neck. As I started dozing off, I wished I had the strength to do something about how good his lips felt on my skin.