Danny adjusted his tie. Dark suit, white shirt, tie. Perfect funeral attire. He remembered standing in this same room, adjusting Matty's tie when they were little, getting dressed for their grandfather's funeral. Danny didn't believe in ghosts, so that extra chill in the air or that presence he thought he felt behind him was just grief, just the effect of having to stay in the room he'd shared with Matt when they were growing up.
Maybe his parents thought it was comforting, or maybe it was just the easiest place to put him since his sisters were sharing their old room down the hall. One was single and one was divorced, so they were both on their own. While he was lying awake the night before, he had heard some chatter and giggling from that room. It had made him smile, probably the only time he'd smiled since he got there.
His mother was a wreck. Matty was the baby of the family, and he was always a bit special. Not that she didn't love all her children, but the youngest one is usually special. Clara could be a little ditzy sometimes, and it made Danny want to protect her from ugliness and pain. Her happy-go-lucky personality was something he loved and treasured, and now it seemed that might be dead and gone, too. Buried with the un-viewable remains of her youngest son.
For the tenth time that morning, he regretted telling Steve to stay in Hawaii, that he'd be okay. He wasn't okay.
Danny looked pale, even to himself. There wasn't much difference in color between his white dress shirt and his face. The only fucking ghost in this room is me. He looked at the dark suit coat laid out on the bed, and was reaching to put it on when there was a knock on the door. He looked at his watch. Almost time to go.
"Be right there," he said, figuring it was one of his sisters moving him along so they weren't late. He wasn't really ready to go, to bury Matt. For some reason, it was hitting him that morning, hard. There was something about the funeral and the burial that was even worse than the funeral home visitation. Maybe it was because the casket served as some bizarre parody of having the person still with you. Once they were gone, in the ground, they were really gone. No more physical proximity. Danny tried not to focus on the horrible truth of what was in that casket. It did seem to be giving his family some measure of comfort for Matty not to be cremated. It was a traditional Williams family funeral.
The bedroom door opened a crack, and Danny turned around. He literally leaned his butt on the edge of the dresser so his legs didn't give out from the shock.
"Clara said it was okay for me to come up," Steve said, moving cautiously into the room, overnight bag over his shoulder, suit bag in the other hand. Danny had never seen him in a warm jacket before, like the gray fleece one he had on now. "My flight just got here. Sorry it's so last minute. Danny, I hope it's okay that I'm here," he said, and Danny realized he hadn't said anything. He was just staring at Steve like he was another ghost.
"Yeah, it's...a long trip."
Steve smiled at that, and set his bags on the other twin bed in the room, the one Matty used to sleep in years ago.
"Not as far as Afghanistan and North Korea," he replied, shrugging. "I'll suit up. I don't want to make you late."
"I can't believe you're here," Danny muttered. He felt like he was choking. Steve reached him in two long-legged strides so that when the dam burst, he wasn't alone. He'd held it in for so long, been strong for his mother and strong in front of his father.
"It's okay, Danno. I've got you, buddy." Steve's arms were strong enough to hold him steady, keep him on his feet, ride out the waves of grief. He clutched at the fabric of Steve's jacket, inhaled the familiar scent of him, and let the pain pour out because someone who loved him, who could be strong for him, was there. Just to be by his side. Steve had flown all the way from Hawaii, even when he'd been told it wasn't necessary, just to be there for the funeral. For me, Danny thought.
"Thanks," he managed, the little word coming out as a nearly unintelligible croak.
"Anytime," Steve replied softly, still holding him tight. "It's gonna be okay, Danny.
"It's not okay. He's dead."
"I know. I'm so sorry," Steve whispered.
"I'm gonna be late," Danny said, finally, forcing himself to stand on his own two feet and get control of himself. Steve grabbed a handful of tissues out of the box on the dresser and handed them to Danny. "Shit, I probably look great now," he said, blowing his nose.
"Danny, you're grieving. Ease up on yourself a little, huh? Nobody expects you to be strong all the time."
"Why did you come?"
"Because I knew you'd be strong for everybody else, and nobody should have to go through a day like today without somebody to lean on."
"Yeah, and it sucked."
"You should get dressed," Danny said, gesturing at the suit bag.
"I will." He pulled Danny into a quick hug, then stepped back. "You're doing great, Danno."
"I'm gonna go downstairs and check on Mom..."
"Sure. I'll be down in a couple minutes."
"Okay." Danny paused as he opened the door. "Steve..."
"Is it always this cold here this time of year?" Steve asked, taking off the gray fleece zippered jacket he was wearing. "I had to buy this at the airport. I froze my ass off when I got off the plane."
"My delicate tropical flower," he teased.
"Asshole." Steve laughed.
"It's unseasonable today," Danny said, looking past Steve out the window. It was barely forty degrees, windy, with rain and snow flurries in the air. Bleak, sunless, bitter. Funeral weather.
Steve couldn't remember ever attending a happy funeral. Even if the deceased was 95 years old and died peacefully in his or her sleep, surrounded by loving family, the happiest death he could imagine, the funeral would manage to be depressing. Now, ratchet that up to it being a young man brutally murdered, and it was nothing short of awful. Maybe some people drew some kind of healing from funerals; to Steve, they seemed like torture for the living when they were least able to face it.
He was on the end of the pew next to Danny, who was next to Clara, who was next to Eddie...there were a lot of Williams, so Steve felt lucky to have scored a seat next to Danny. He was quiet and still, his jaw so firmly set that Steve wondered if he was grinding his teeth down to nothing to keep it that way. His eyes were still puffy and red from earlier, and he was pale. Deathly pale. He almost looked ill. That's why Steve stared at him for so long. Long enough for him to turn his head slightly, to look at Steve out of the corner of his eye. Steve almost looked away, embarrassed to have been caught staring, but Danny held his gaze for a moment, like he was looking for something from Steve, like he needed something. Danny's hand was resting on his thigh, near his knee. Going with an impulse, Steve reached for it, curling his fingers around it and holding on. Instantly, he knew he'd done the right thing, read the need in Danny's eyes, when he felt the answering squeeze. Danny didn't let go of his hand until it was over, and everybody rose to leave.
Matt's pall bearers were cousins and a couple old friends from high school. The funeral procession was long. There were a lot of relatives, but a lot of friends, too. The grave side service was well-attended. The weather was cold, bleak, and awful. When it was time to leave the casket there for the last time, Clara's legs gave out and it was only Eddie's and Danny's quick thinking that kept her upright. She wasn't loud, but she was crying, muttering words Eddie and Danny could probably hear being on either side of her.
With Danny and his sisters worrying about their mother, Steve quietly brought up the rear. He was startled when a bony little hand linked through his arm. It was Danny's grandmother, Clara's mother, toddling along next to him. He recalled then that one of Danny's sisters had been guiding her along the uneven ground of the cemetery. It was unsettling because she looked like a tiny, white-haired Danny in a black dress, now that he saw her up close.
"You're Danny's young man from Hawaii, aren't you?" she asked, grinning at him. Danny's what?
"I'm Steve," he said.
"Just call me Grandma Jenny. You don't mind if I lean on you to walk back to the car, do you?"
"Of course, not. My pleasure, Grandma Jenny," he replied, smiling at her.
"I'm glad you're here to look after him. He was very close to his little brother."
"I know. I wish I could do something to make this easier on him."
"You did, dear. You're here with him."
"Then I'm glad I came," Steve said, patting her hand where she was holding onto his arm.
Steve ate another peanut butter chocolate chip cookie. He wondered which member of Danny's family was responsible for those, and if their cooking ability was hereditary...or if Danny at least had the recipe for them. The house was packed with people, mostly relatives, though he gave up after about what seemed like the hundredth introduction, trying to link together the family tree. Between that, and helping Danny's sister, Lisa, bring up some cold beer from the extra refrigerator in the basement, he'd lost track of Danny.
He finally spotted him in an easy chair in the corner of the living room, head hanging off to one side, dead to the world asleep.
"Will you please take him upstairs, shove him in a warm shower and put him to bed?" Clara asked. "He's going to make himself sick."
"He's worried about you and Eddie. I'm not sure how much luck I'm going to have getting him to cooperate with that plan."
"He's watching me non-stop, waiting for me to be all right." She smiled faintly. "He can't wait for that to get some rest, because I might not be okay for while," she said.
Steve put his arm around Clara. "You know, if there's anything you need, all you have to do is ask. You or any of Danny's family."
"Just take care of my little boy."
"I'll make you a deal. If you and Eddie will let your daughters play hostess and get to bed at a reasonable time, I'll take care of Danny."
"It's a deal," she said, smiling, squeezing his hand. "We've got a lot of relatives. With that influx of beer, this could last all night. When you get a house loaded to the rafters with Irish and Italian relatives after a funeral, you're looking at a long night."
Danny jerked awake. Steve was crouched next to the chair where he'd slumped and then fallen asleep. He didn't mean to do it, and he felt embarrassed to have conked out like that.
"Your mother wants you to go to bed."
"Shit. I didn't mean to fall asleep like that. I should go see how she's doing."
"She and your dad are going to turn in pretty soon, too, and let your sisters take the reins. Come on, your mom and your grandmother are both worried about you. Don't make me fall down the job of taking care of you, or they'll change their currently high opinion of me."
Danny looked at Steve a moment and actually laughed. "Working your charm on the ladies?"
"Something like that. Come on, buddy. Bedtime."
"It's only nine."
"When's the last time you slept more than a few minutes at a time?"
"Don't really remember."
"Are we done arguing or do I have to pull rank on you in front of all these nice people?" Steve whispered.
"Okay, you win." Danny straightened up in the chair and hauled himself up on his feet.
"Have you eaten anything you can remember?" Steve asked, and Danny realized Steve was holding onto his arm. "You're not too steady there, Danno."
"It makes me sick."
"I know," Steve said gently, and the kindness in his tone was almost more than Danny could take and stay composed. "There's a bunch of food here. We're gonna find something mild and easy on your stomach, and you're going to eat it. No arguments."
"You know, you can't pull rank on me here. Here, I outrank you."
"Your mother and grandmother outrank you. I'm working for them. Nice try. You feel steady?"
"Go upstairs and take a shower. I'll get you something to eat and bring it upstairs. Okay?"
"I told you, I'll just puke it up."
"If it makes you sick, you don't have to eat it. Just try it, okay?"
"Okay. Just don't bring any of Aunt Sally's sweet potato...thing. I hate that crap. It already looks like vomit and it doesn't taste much better."
"Sounds yummy. I'll skip that, I promise."
"Deal," Danny agreed, not sure he wanted to leave the warmth of Steve's hand on his arm, his physical proximity. He finally did, making his way up the staircase that looked miles long, and led into a shadowy hall full of ghosts. Matty when they were chasing each other up the steps and rough-housing around. All of them running downstairs on Christmas morning, Matty bringing up the rear when he was really little, wearing footy pajamas...
He kept pushing on, turning on a light up there, dispelling the memories and facing again the cold reality of the present.
Steve watched Danny wearily hike up the stairs, and then he went to work gathering some food that would be gentle on an empty but sour stomach. He made a sandwich out of sliced turkey, and he found a bunch of pudding cups that had mostly been popular with the kids in the crowd, and selected a chocolate and a vanilla one. He grabbed a few more of the cookies, mainly for himself, and skipped the beer and chose a couple bottled waters. He found a plastic grocery bag in the kitchen and a few sandwich bags and packed up his provisions.
By the time he got upstairs, he could hear the shower running in the bathroom, so he put the food and water on the desk in the bedroom and took off his suit coat and tie. Danny's clothes were scattered on his bed, so Steve hung them up and gathered up the socks and underwear and threw them in the hamper. He turned back Danny's bed and started to arrange the food on the small student desk against the wall under the window. He doubted the room had changed much since Danny shared it with his brother, maybe with the exception of some fresh carpeting and a few amenities, like the hamper and a small accent chair in the corner that probably replaced some of the toys or other items kids usually had piled up in their rooms. It was clearly a guest room now, but the shadows of the past were still prevalent. Staying in here had to be rough on Danny. Steve was glad he'd made the decision to ignore his partner's assertions he was okay and fly out there.
He frowned and looked at his watch. Danny was still in the shower. He went to the bathroom and tapped on the door. He cast a glance down the hall; fortunately everyone was still downstairs. There was no answer to his tap.
"Danny?" he called. Finally, he opened the door and went in. He could see through the glass doors that Danny was sitting in the tub, knees drawn up, the water pouring down on him. "Shit," he muttered, sliding the door open and turning off the water that had been running so long it had begun to go cold. He grabbed a bath towel and wrapped it around Danny's shoulders. "Danny, come on, let's get you dried off."
"Sorry. I guess I...I don't know what happened."
"Doesn't matter, buddy. Come on, let's stand up."
Danny stood and held the towel around him, looking cold. "I'm okay. I'll dry off."
"You sure you're okay?"
"Maybe you were right about the food. I must've just passed out or something."
Steve didn't like leaving Danny on his own, but he said he was okay, and in his place, Steve would want to regain a little dignity and handle drying himself off and putting on his own underwear.
He was used to running around at home in nothing but his shorts and an undershirt, but it was too freaking cold there to do that, so he took off his clothes and put on the suit of sweats he'd brought along. By then, Danny came into the room and shut the door behind him. He had on a thick blue robe that looked warm, but he still looked shaky.
"I brought you a sandwich. No sweet potato surprise, I promise," he said, and Danny actually chuckled at that. Danny sat on the foot of his bed and took the sandwich bag Steve handed him with the sandwich in it.
"Thanks," he said, and while he didn't exactly dive into it with enthusiasm, he did take a bite of it. "My head feels funny all the time. I guess I haven't really had much to eat lately."
"It's freezing in here," Steve finally said. Danny patted the bed next to him.
"Sit here. It's colder under the window. Matty never minded the cold, so he was fine there. It's drafty when it's windy out. You can have this bed if you want. I can sleep over there."
"I'll be fine, Danny," Steve replied, sitting next to him, though he was moved by the gesture. "I've faced more adverse conditions." He smiled when Danny kept eating, albeit slowly. He finished the sandwich and drank some of the water.
"Thanks. I feel better."
"Good. Want a cookie?" Steve asked, producing the sandwich bag that had four of the chunky cookies laden with chocolate and peanut butter chips.
"How many of those have you had?" Danny asked, smiling, reaching in to take one.
"I'm not sure. I lost count. Which aunt makes these? Not the sweet potato vomit pie lady?"
"No, not her," Danny replied, chewing on the cookie, looking like he was actually enjoying it. Steve's heart fluttered with a bit more happiness than that simple gesture should have brought about. "Your buddy, Grandma Jenny."
"Seriously? She's gotta be pushing a hundred and she still bakes?"
"I won't tell her you said that. She'll be 92 next month," he said. "And yes, she bakes. You oughtta taste her pies."
"She thinks I'm your boyfriend."
"Grandma Jenny has a few bats in her belfry. I said you were my partner, and since my cousin, Tony, just came out to the family a year ago with his partner, she thinks you're that kind of partner. By the way, she told me I'd hooked a real looker."
"Oh my God," Steve replied, laughing.
"She said you had nice big muscular arms."
"She's never seen my arms when I didn't have a jacket on."
"Yeah, well, she got her bony little hands on them, and she approves."
"Nothing like getting felt up by the family matriarch."
"Consider yourself lucky she only fixated on your arms."
"You've got quite a family, Danno."
"Yeah, sorry about that."
"They're great." Steve paused. He was going to say something more, and then he didn't. Danny looked at him, looked him right in the eyes, as if he was looking for the words Steve hadn't said. "They'd have to be a pretty good bunch to produce you," he said. It was a little awkward saying it, but the look in Danny's tired, sad, bloodshot eyes was worth any little discomfort it caused.
"Thanks," he said quietly, smiling faintly.
"I'm gonna grab a shower real quick before we call it a night."
"Okay." He popped the last bite of the cookie into his mouth. "Thanks for making me eat. I haven't been able to swallow anything since I've been here."
Steve wasn't one given to lingering in the shower, but the spray of warm water was the first time he didn't feel chilly since he'd landed at the airport. Still, he made quick work of it since it was getting later and the onslaught of family and house guests were bound to start making use of the house's two bathrooms before long. When he got back to the bedroom, he opened his mouth to speak to Danny, but stopped short when he saw that he was curled up in bed, only the top of his head and a little gap for his nose visible under the covers, his breathing even and deep as he slept. He smiled when he saw an extra quilt folded up and left on the foot of his bed.
He turned out the bedroom light and left the small lamp on the desk lit, giving a soft glow to the room. He got into bed, spread the quilt over the top of the covers, and relaxed, closing his eyes. He was glad Danny was resting comfortably, and it had been a long day. With a final yawn, he found a comfortable position and dozed off.
The next day was a lot less hectic, and there were times Steve felt as if he might be intruding a bit hanging around with Danny's parents and sisters once the funeral was over. Still, Danny seemed to rely on his presence and draw strength from it, and that's why he'd come. While he didn't look like his old self, he did look better, healthier at least, since he'd eaten and slept like a dead body for about ten hours straight. He didn't exactly shovel in the meals, but he did eat when they all sat around the table, and there were times one of them asked Steve a question about Five-0, his Navy SEAL days, or something about Hawaii, and it felt as if he was serving a purpose by droning on about something unrelated to Matt's death while Danny and his gutted family members sat around trying to force down a meal.
Danny's sister, Emily, was divorced - the mother of his nephew, Eric, who was apparently staying on the straight and narrow since his visit to Hawaii a year or so before. His oldest sister, Lisa, took after the brunette branch of the family. She was still single, and had a good job in advertising in New York City. Steve could understand now why Grace was such a center of attention for her grandparents. She was the only underage grandchild in the family, and the only granddaughter. Unless Emily or Danny remarried, Clara's chances for another one were getting slimmer.
On the second night, a big, burly guy with a dark brown brush cut who looked to be in his later 40's showed up at the door, all Jersey accent and back-slapping and bluster. His name was Walt Gardner, and he was a lieutenant now at Danny's old precinct. He'd been Danny's partner after his former partner, Grace, was killed. He had to be about six-four, Steve judged, and with the extra pounds, he and Danny were kind of a comical looking pair as partners. Steve found he didn't like thinking of Danny as anyone else's partner, even though these men hadn't seen each other since Danny moved to Hawaii. He mentally scolded himself for being jealous; it was ridiculous.
Clara and Eddie had agreed to go over to Clara's sister's house for dinner, to get out of the house a while, and Danny's sisters were busily going through sympathy cards, florist cards, and the guest register from the funeral home, out at the kitchen table. They'd launched into a thank you card writing project that Danny and Steve had worked on with them for a while until the doorbell rang. Since he didn't know anyone they were writing cards to, Steve volunteered to address envelopes, which had made Danny's sisters happy, since they had quite a stack to get through.
"Walt, this Steve McGarrett, my partner in Honolulu," Danny said when Walt finally let him get a word in edgewise.
"I've been waitin' to meet you," he said, shaking Steve's hand. "Couldn't wait to meet the cop this guy thought was wild," he added, jerking a thumb toward Danny, who looked a little embarrassed at that.
"I'm not sure which part of that I want to know more about - why your former partner thinks you're wild or what you told him about me," Steve said to Danny. Walt laughed, and it was a booming, contagious sound that echoed through what had been a very sad, quiet house.
"Hey, you guys free for dinner? Come on, Danny, my treat. Down at the usual spot?"
"I don't know," Danny hesitated.
"Go ahead," Steve said. "I know Emily and Lisa can keep me busy with doing envelopes for most of the evening."
"You gotta come with him," Walt said, slapping Steve on the shoulder. "I have a feeling you've got some stories I wanna hear," he added.
"I could say the same about you," Steve replied, and Walt laughed again. "You're out-voted, Slugger. Get your coat," he said to Danny, who was smiling faintly, and did as he was told. Steve wasn't sure if Danny was all that excited to go out or not, but he had a feeling Walt would at least get Danny's mind off Matt and all the darkness that followed him home from Colombia, if only for a while.
Walt drove them in his Suburban into downtown Jersey City to a cozy neighborhood bar and restaurant called Cassidy's that he'd said was a favorite spot for cops. It was also owned by Grace's family. Inside, it was a cramped place with distressed walls and old woodwork, a long bar and some tables and a few large, curved booths. Steve was wondering where they were going to sit since it didn't seem like there was a spare table anywhere. He noticed a flicker of recognition in Danny's expression moments before Walt gave him a little shove toward the whole back corner of the bar - a couple big booths and a few tables - that was filled with both uniformed and plain clothes cops.
Danny was enveloped in the crowd, hugged, back-slapped, and drawn in like he'd never left. Steve had never seen Danny in the middle of quite so much social activity, and within minutes, Danny was just as animated as they were, laughing and hugging and shaking hands. Steve wasn't offended that he wound up a bit on the periphery of the group; Danny had been pretty overwhelmed by all the people coming at him and all the attention. He couldn't have kept up with introducing Steve to all of them. When the flurry settled, and they were steering Danny toward a place to sit, Steve felt surprisingly thrilled that Danny looked for him, and motioned to him to get over there and sit with him. The older man, a uniformed sergeant, who'd steered Danny that way hastened to find a second empty chair and made sure it was next to Danny's. Before Danny could open his mouth, Walt was introducing Steve as Danny's partner, "that SEAL guy from Hawaii who runs the big-shot task force Williams is on now."
"Hey, Rita, we need some beer over here," Walt boomed. A pretty dark-haired woman who looked to be in her late twenties stopped short, then rushed around the bar and wove through the densely packed group of cops toward Danny, like a heat-seeking missile.
"Oh, my God, I don't believe it!" she exclaimed, and Danny stood while she threw her arms around him enthusiastically. "Danny Williams. I never thought I'd see your pretty face again."
"Just here to make your dreams come true, beautiful," he teased her, and she laughed. "I thought you'd be a nurse by now."
"Oh, I got my degree, but I missed this place, so after I worked at the hospital a couple years, I quit my nursing job and went into business with my dad."
"Steve, this is Rita Tilwell, Grace's little sister."
"Grace's single little sister," she said, shaking hands with Steve. "Did you just bring him in here to tempt me?"
"The temptation's all mine," Steve replied, kissing her hand.
"Oh, he's smooth," she said, elbowing Danny. "What are you drinking, Steve?"
"Whatever I can get served by a beautiful woman," he countered.
"Anything your heart desires, handsome. We'll start with a beer and see where it goes."
"Sounds good," Steve replied, laughing.
"Sit down, Slugger, and mind your manners. She's still Grace's little sister," Walt teased Danny, chuckling.
"Slugger? This is a baseball thing?" Steve asked Danny.
"Just a nickname," he said, but Walt had overheard Steve.
"You didn't tell him the story?"
"Dear God," Danny said, laughing, covering his face with one hand. "You don't need to, either."
"Hey, guys, McGarrett doesn't know the Slugger story!"
"This has gotta be good," Steve said to Danny as the group erupted with laughter and a couple guys either back-slapped or punched Danny in the shoulder.
"You're gonna tell it, aren't you?" Danny said, resigned, and Walt laughed.
"No, you're gonna tell it, because it's funnier that way."
Rita returned then with a tray, setting down pitchers of beer on the tables and clearing away the empties. A moment later, she handed the tray off to a waitress and then returned, accepting a chair that was somehow wedged where it had no business fitting, between Danny and Walt.
"Okay," Danny began, looking kind of embarrassed but sort of amused at the attention. "When I was ten years old, I heard a noise downstairs. My dad was out of town on a fishing trip with some buddies of his, so it was just Mom, Lisa, Emily, Matty and me. My dad had said something like, 'you're the man of the house while I'm gone', and like any good ten-year-old, I took that seriously," he said, smiling. "So I got my baseball bat and I went downstairs to have a look around. Sure enough, there was a guy in the house, creeping around the living room checking out our stuff. I snuck into the kitchen and hid behind the island in the middle, with the bat. Something told me the stupid shit would come into the kitchen either looking for a snack or small appliances to steal, so I just waited, and sure enough, around the corner he came. So I whacked him in the shins with the bat as hard as I could, and when he dropped, I let him have it over the back of his head. He was out cold."
"You were ten?" Steve asked, stunned.
"I led our little league team to victory more than once. I had a hell of a swing for my age. I usually knocked the balls out of the park."
"It was my first year on the force, and dispatch send my partner and me on this call from a lady all upset that some guy broke into their house and he's out cold on the floor..." Walt trailed off laughing. "We show up, and here's this little kid in pajamas with little baseballs and bats printed on them, standing over the perp with his bat ready just in case the guy gets up again. The guy is coming around, and he looks up at Danny, like he can't fucking believe what just happened, and Danny tightens his grip on the bat and says, 'Go ahead, punk, do you feel lucky?'" The whole group laughed at that, as if they'd never heard it before. Steve was laughing right along with them, because the image of a ten-year-old Danny with a baseball bat taking down a perp and delivering that line was just too perfect. "My partner got the bat away from him, but Danny here tells him he better bring it back because he had a game on Saturday."
"They made a big deal out of it, gave me a certificate and a fake badge a week or so later at some community event," Danny said. "So I gave up on being a professional baseball player and decided to be a cop instead," he added, chuckling.
"Me and my partner took him on a ride along a couple years later. Never thought I'd end up partnered with him on the job. He kept his delicate touch dealing with perps, too," he added, laughing.
As the evening wore on, beer flowed, huge cheeseburgers were served and consumed, and more war stories were shared about Danny's time there, his partnership with Grace, then some of the cases he'd worked with Walt, Steve could understand why Danny hated it in Hawaii, why he was so cranky about it sometimes, and why he was lonely. This is what he'd left behind. A loud, good-natured bunch of friends and fellow cops, a job he loved, a life surrounded by friends and family. Steve had never really seen Danny in the middle of so many people who knew him, clearly liked him, where he looked as "at home" as he did here. This was his native habitat, and it suited him. Alone in Hawaii, he was like a fish out of water.
All these people, be it Danny's family or his friends, had accepted Steve like one of their own, because of his connection to Danny. And Danny had made sure Steve was seated right next to him, and included him in all the conversations, and shared with his old friends some anecdotes from his new life in Hawaii. Steve still couldn't shake that feeling of being an outsider in this world, and he wondered if Danny felt that way every day of his life, transplanted, alone. If Steve was just a substitute for the friends and family Danny really loved and missed, here, where he was at home.
Walt dropped them off at the house. It was getting late; Clara and Eddie had gone to bed, Lisa and Emily were relaxing in the living room in their robes and slippers watching TV. After filling them in on the evening, mentioning a few names they recognized, Danny said he was tired and going to turn in. Steve followed suit, and they trekked upstairs to their room.
"If you want the shower first, go ahead. I'm gonna call Gracie," Danny said. Remembering the time difference, Steve realized it was much earlier back home.
"Sure. I won't be long. We won't wake up your folks doing that?"
"They're used to kids coming and going at all hours, so I'm sure it won't bother them," he said, sitting on the bed and calling Grace.
When they'd both showered, Danny got into bed. Steve changed into his sweats and was stretched out on top of the other bed. He wasn't really ready to turn in yet, but he figured if he was at least in the room already, he wouldn't wake Danny or the rest of the house prowling around. After they talked about Grace and what was going on with her back home, Steve finally seized the quiet, private moment to check on Danny.
"How're you doing?" he asked.
It was a predictable response. "If you want to talk about anything..." Steve let the phrase hang there.
"Why do you think he didn't kill us?"
"A bigger mess than he wanted to clean up, I guess."
"What he did to Matty..."
Steve wanted to stop him from dwelling on it, but he'd just urged him to talk, so shutting him up didn't make much sense. If he needed to give voice to it, Steve was prepared to hear him out.
"...it's not like he couldn't have done away with two more bodies," Danny concluded.
"The more people whose trails end with you, the more likely you are to get caught at some point. Reyes was smart enough to know that. Someone would have come looking for us, to find out what happened to us at some point."
"Who?" Danny asked, and Steve spoke immediately, before he really thought about the question.
"You don't think Chin or Kono -"
"Would do what? Fly alone to Colombia and search for our bodies? You'd do that for me or I'd do that for you, stupid and suicidal as it might be, but let's face it, he could have killed us both and stuck us in drums and gotten away with it."
"But he didn't, so where are you going with this?"
"I just don't understand it." Danny was quiet a moment or two, flopping on his back, staring at the ceiling. "When I shot him, I wanted him to look me in the eyes. I wanted my face to be the last thing he saw. Now, it's always there, in my head. Not exactly like he's sneering at me, but just his face, his expression, what he looked like with a bullet in the forehead. How fucking surprised he was, I guess."
"It never crossed my mind not to kill him."
"Now it's haunting you."
"I guess that's a good way to put it. He's always there, like a fucking ghost."
"That means you have a soul. A conscience. That's not a bad thing." Steve paused. "For what it's worth, if you hadn't shot Reyes, I would have."
"I know I had to do it. I couldn't risk him coming back after Grace."
"I wish you had let me do it, so it wasn't on you."
"You've had to do something like that before?" he asked. He looked over at Steve, who made eye contact with him. Danny's eyes were a little bright; Steve knew he was still holding a lot in, and wished he wouldn't. "Sorry, I shouldn't have asked you that. I know you can't tell me." He looked away again.
"Yeah, I have." It was almost a whisper. Steve wasn't sure if he thought NCIS was bugging the bedroom and would know he talked, or if he was just that deeply conditioned not to. Danny would take any of Steve's secrets to his grave. Steve would have never replied to that question from another living soul. Only Danny. "It eats away a part of your soul, and you lose something you never get back."
"Yeah," he agreed, taking in a shaky breath.
"Try to think of Reyes as a loaded gun aimed at your family, at us, because that's what he was, Danny. Whatever it was that made him human, he lost a long time ago."
"You don't have to thank me. You'd do the same for me. Hell, you did the same for me, more than once, going somewhere dangerous to get me out of something."
"I didn't mean that. I know you don't talk about...SEAL things...with anybody."
"You're not anybody, Danny."
"It gets easier?" He turned back to stare at the ceiling. "Now I can't close my eyes without seeing his face and I wish it would go away. Does it?"
"It fades. If it didn't bother you, Danny, you'd be no better than Reyes. You have a good soul, and that's why it's hard."
"You have a good soul, too."
"I hope so. I hope it's survived all the shit I've done in my life."
"Yours will, too, once it heals up a bit."
"I keep thinking about Matty, when we were little." Danny smiled. "He got taller than me pretty early on, but I was a better fighter than he was."
"Anyone who gets in your way when you're pissed off is not smart. I don't care how tall they are," Steve replied, and Danny actually laughed. Then they both fell silent for a while. "Do you really mean that you would have shot Reyes if I didn't?"
"I wouldn't say a thing like that to you if I didn't mean it. Either way, he wasn't leaving that basement alive. It was your fight, and you had the right to settle it on your terms, first. But he was a threat to you and Grace and I wouldn't have let that go."
"Okay." It was a simple word, but it had a note of finality to it, as if what Steve said had somehow righted something that was gnawing at Danny's soul. He'd have given anything he had to make that true. Danny had suffered enough; he didn't deserve to feel guilty or haunted for doing what he had to do. What Steve would have done himself if Danny didn't do it first.
"Sorry if I put you through an ugly evening tonight," Danny said after a long silence. "I know that bunch can be a little loud and overwhelming."
"No, they're great. It was fun," Steve said. "Slugger," he added.
"I knew it was a matter of time before somebody told you that story. If my mom felt better, you'd have heard it from her." Danny yawned.
"Danny, I'm really sorry."
"You must have been really happy here."
"Yeah, and? You're sorry about what exactly?"
"I understand now why you hate it in Hawaii and wish you could live here again." He paused. "Grace is thirteen, maybe if she goes away to school, you won't have to be tied to Hawaii forever."
"What are you talking about? When did I say I wanted to move back here?"
"Practically every day since I met you."
"Okay, so maybe not as much lately. I guess when I saw how many friends you have here, and how glad they were to see you...it hit me why you hate it in Hawaii so much. You have to be there for Grace, but everyone else who matters is here. You'd still have a good life here if you didn't have to be there."
"I swear to God, you have the most screwed up head of anyone I know."
"It's not screwed up, Danny. It's reality. Those people all love you. And you're happy with them."
"Yeah, I was happy to see them. It was nice they all got together to see me while I was in town for Matty's funeral. I've been back here before and haven't seen half those people when I was. Walt just pulled 'em all together because of why I'm here. Two-thirds of 'em weren't at the funeral. They were work friends. People I had a few beers with once in a while. Cassidy's Grill was always the big cop hangout, so getting together a party of cops there amounts to yelling out in the bullpen, 'Williams is in town. Free beers at Cassidy's.' And you got a party."
"I just wanted to apologize for saying a bunch of shit about Jersey."
"Fuck that. Then I have to apologize for the whole 'pineapple-infested hellhole' assessment of Hawaii, and I'm not about to do that."
"You don't have to. I'm not saying I like it here any more than you like Hawaii. I just...you must have been really unhappy there for a long time and now it makes sense why."
"Because I had some beers and a cheeseburger with a bunch of guys I used to work with?" Danny sat up, and then Steve regretted getting into this conversation. He was there to help Danny through this, help him relax, survive it...he wasn't there to badger him or drag reassurances out of him. Because that's what he wanted to hear from Danny. Some reassurance that he didn't hate Hawaii and that even if he could come back here, he wouldn't want to leave Steve. He'd been left a lot in his life, and Danny was the one person he counted on more than anyone not to leave him. Ever.
"I'm sorry, Danny. I didn't mean any of it that way. I meant...I wanted to apologize, that's all."
Danny got up and walked over to where Steve was stretched out on the bed and sat on the side of it. His hip was right against Steve's. It was a nice, but unsettling feeling. Steve would have liked to feel more of Danny against him.
"I know a lot of people here. I lived here all my life, worked here a long time. There's nobody in that bar I would have wanted to see show up here the morning of Matty's funeral and figure out a way to keep my on my feet. There's sure as hell nobody in that group I'd want picking me up out of the shower when I passed out there. And there's no way in hell I'm leaving Hawaii anytime soon unless you go with me. Are we good now?"
"Yeah, we're good," Steve said, warmed by the words. Danny knew him too well, knew what his battered soul needed to hear. He'd thrown his whole heart into loving Danny like he did, and he didn't know if he'd survive losing him or, almost as bad, finding that he wasn't as special a friend as he thought. That he was just one more of a bunch of friends he just hadn't known about until now. He was surprised when Danny took his hand.
"You're my best friend, Steven. The best one I ever had. You always will be. Nobody in that bar tonight would have flown out to Hawaii because they were worried about me. Nobody from here has come out there to see me, except for my folks...and Matty, but that..." he shrugged. "He had reasons of his own that didn't center on seeing me." He shivered. "It's a lot colder over here," he said, holding his free hand under the window. "Come on." He gave Steve's hand a tug and then stood up, heading toward his bed.
"Come on what?" Steve sat up, confused.
"Get in bed with me. It's warmer."
"It's a single bed, Danny."
"Thanks for pointing that out. I slept in it for twenty years, but that slipped my mind."
"How am I gonna fit in there with you?"
"Guess you'll have to figure that out." Danny got in bed, then turned on his side, his back to Steve. The right position to make it work was obvious, but Steve couldn't believe that's what Danny was inviting him to do. Deciding to go for it, Steve got in the bed and spooned around Danny, making sure the covers were over them. There was no way to do it without holding Danny, without cuddling up to him. So Steve did, and he felt his whole body relax, like he was finally in the right position for sleep for the first time in his life. "Comfy?" Danny asked. Steve knew he heard a trace of mischief in that voice, but Danny yawned then, and seemed to go limp in his grasp. Maybe the closeness felt that good to him, too.
"Yeah, this is good," he said.
Danny reached back, without turning over, and patted the side of Steve's head. "Shut this down and get some sleep, babe."
"I love you, Danny," he said, the words just coming out. Curled around Danny's body like this, he meant it as more than a buddy. Danny in his arms was the thing missing from his peace of mind, like finally finding that perfect sleeping position after a lifetime of tossing and turning.
"I know you do." Danny rested his arm on top of Steve's where it was wrapped around Danny's middle. "I love you, too."
"You sure it's not just because...of...you know..."
"It's not grief-induced insanity, if that's what you mean."
"Something like that."
"If I asked you to hold me because I couldn't sleep or needed you to, would you?"
"Then I don't need to do this because I'm grieving and need a shoulder to cry on. You'd do that for me anyway. There's so much I never got a chance to say to Matty, things we always talked about doing together, and now he's dead and it's over. No more wasting time."
"I'm not going anywhere, Danno," Steve said, relaxing, tightening his hold on Danny.
"I don't want you to." There was a long pause. "Ever." It was a small, vulnerable little word, and Steve kissed the back of Danny's neck.
"I'm right here, and I always will be."
"When we get home..."
"Yeah, when we get home." Steve kissed Danny's shoulder, and moved closer, resting his cheek against Danny's. "Sleep now. I'll be right here when you wake up."
"Always?" Danny asked.
Steve smiled and wondered if he had a right to be this happy when they were dealing with such sadness.