"Smells good in here, anyway," Danny said, taking the pumpkin pie out of the refrigerator. "I figured this would be better if it didn't taste like we slid it out of a morgue drawer," he added.
"We'll stick it in the microwave," Steve said, hovering over the turkey, referring to a set of printed off instructions Aunt Deb had e-mailed him. "I guess the bird's okay."
"You're in charge of that mission, not me."
"You're a good cook," Steve said. "How come you never learned to do a turkey?"
"Trust me, I've done some turkeys in my life."
"I meant one of these, in the oven," Steve amended, shaking his head, closing the oven door.
"Guess I always managed to have somebody to go eat with who could do it. And, once again, thanks to Aunt Deb sending you directions, I don't have to do it this year, either. Too bad she couldn't time her visit for over Thanksgiving," he added.
"She's on a cruise with her new boyfriend. They'll be here right after that's done."
"Is she staying here?"
"Nope, at the Royal Hawaiian. She's bringing him along," Steve said.
"I'm glad she's doing the chemo. I hope it buys her some quality time."
"So do I," Steve said, sighing. Danny could sense the sadness in him. Even at best, Aunt Deb wasn't going to buy herself a long time, and Steve didn't have much for family left.
"You think I'm a good cook?" Danny asked Steve, who was completing at least his third review of the turkey instructions. He figured it would get his mind onto something else, and he did want to hear a bit more of Steve's assessment of his culinary talents.
"You said I was a good cook."
"You are, why?"
"You never said anything. I think the only thing you ever said is that my eggs were bad."
"Your eggs? They do kind of suck, Danny. But everything else you make is good."
"My eggs suck? Why? What's wrong with my eggs?"
"You cook them until I could use them to patch the tires on the Mercury."
"You could have just offered me some constructive criticism, you know."
"When you're starving in the morning and your partner offers to make breakfast, you shut up and eat it. You've definitely mastered Grandma Jenny's cookies."
"That's a hint for me to make more, right?"
"Yeah, anytime," Steve replied, grinning. "Did you talk to your mom yet today?" Steve asked, and Danny felt any trace of holiday spirit drain out of him. He knew he'd need to talk to his family sometime that day, but the thought of just how awful that conversation would be haunted him. It's not that he'd been home for Thanksgiving since he moved to Hawaii, but at least there was always that chance that someday, they'd get everyone around the table again. Now, there would always be an empty chair no matter how many relatives showed up.
"They were going over to Aunt Donna and Uncle Bob's for dinner. I don't know what time..." It was a lame excuse; it was barely noon.
"I'm not checking up on you, buddy. It's up to you when you call. I just wondered how your folks were doing."
"Lisa's there. Emily didn't make it back. I should've just gone the year before Matty took off. They had everybody there but me. I just couldn't afford it, you know? I'd just gotten here, and after the divorce and settling things with the house...I was pretty cleaned out. I just wish I'd found a way to go," he said, needing to voice that regret to someone.
"Fortunately when we put things off, it's usually not our last chance. Besides, if you couldn't afford the trip, you couldn't help that."
"I guess not."
"Hey, Danno, I know this isn't gonna be an easy day, okay?" Steve finally left the turkey and its instructions unsupervised and moved closer, taking Danny in his arms.
"Just wish Gracie wasn't gone, too."
"We'll have her for Christmas," Steve said, giving Danny a squeeze before he stepped back. "The turkey's okay for a while." He leaned close to Danny's ear and whispered. "Wanna go screw around on the couch while we watch the end of the parades?"
"Sounds like something to be thankful for to me," Danny joked.
With an array of snacks on the coffee table and the floats moving at a glacial pace along the streets of New York, they settled together on the couch and, before long, Danny lost interest in the mixed nuts he'd been munching on and started nibbling his way along Steve's neck, up to his earlobe. Steve grinned at that and turned his head to capture Danny's mouth with his own, tasting the saltiness there, liking how it was mixing with the sweetness of the caramel corn he'd been snacking on. When he released Danny briefly, Danny smiled at him and slid his hand into Steve's hair, pulling him close for more kisses. Shifting positions, they wound up lying on the couch, hands sneaking under clothing, making out like teenagers until they took a rest in each other's arms, just lying there a while, occasionally kissing.
"This is nice," Danny said, yawning. Steve rubbed his back.
"I hope this is okay, just hanging out, not having a big party."
"Okay doesn't cover it." Danny snuggled against Steve, yawning again.
"Apparently you can handle the excitement," Steve teased, kissing Danny's cheek.
"I handled it last night, didn't I?"
"Yeah, we handled it about what, three times? No, wait, there was this morning..."
"Yeah, SuperSEAL, it was only three times total. Don't embellish the story."
"If we'd gone for four, I think we would have broken them off," Steve replied, laughing. The rumble of it felt good under Danny's ear, and he let his eyes drift shut. They did have a wild night without a lot of sleep, and lying there cuddled up with Steve, their turkey in the oven and the TV droning on, Danny couldn't think of anything more perfect. Except maybe for the feeling of Steve's lips lightly brushing his forehead, his arms tightening just a bit around Danny.
And then the fucking doorbell rang.
"I'm going to kill them," Danny muttered, and Steve laughed.
"We can pretend we're not home." The doorbell rang again. "Go away, we're naked," Steve mumbled, and Danny laughed. "Okay, I'll get it," he said, and Danny begrudgingly moved aside to let him up. Steve opened the door, and after a brief exchange with whomever was on the other side, he called to Danny. "It's for you."
"So? They can't come in?" he asked, frowning, smoothing his hair back and standing up.
"Will you just come to the door, Danno?" Steve asked, exasperated. Danny hauled himself up off the couch and walked over to where Steve stood. Grace stood there with a big smile on her face, dressed in jeans and a pink t-shirt.
"Surprise!" she said, grinning from ear to ear.
"Gracie!" Danny grabbed her in a hug and spun her around once before letting her land on her feet. "I thought you were going to Stan's parents' for Thanksgiving."
"Mom, Stan, and Charlie still are, but I wanted to spend it with you. Mom said no, that we promised, and we were going to spend the day as a family. So I asked Stan instead, and he said yes."
"That must have been popular with your mom," Danny said, though Steve was chuckling.
"I told him you'd feel bad about Uncle Matt today, and I thought I should be here. He said he thought I was right and Grandma Betty and Grandpa Jim would understand."
"Isn't she an amazing kid?" Danny asked Steve, his arm still around Grace.
"That would be a surprise how, exactly?" Steve replied, smiling while he watched them together.
"I'm really glad you're here, monkey," Danny said, hugging her again.
"You know anything about cooking a turkey?" Steve asked her.
"A little," she said, shrugging.
"Good. More than your dad knows about it," he said, and she laughed at that. "Aunt Deb sent instructions, but I've never flown solo cooking a turkey before."
"Sad, isn't it?" Danny chimed in.
"Watch it, Danno. You're in the same boat."
"Can you stay all day?" Danny asked.
"My bag's on the porch. I can stay over. Mom's going to pick me up tomorrow."
"I think this just turned into the best Thanksgiving I could imagine," Danny said, smiling at Steve. "Got the two people I love most right here."
"Group hug," Grace said, reaching toward Steve, who gladly joined in the quick three-way hug.
They revised their plans to just spread out the food on the coffee table, and set a decent table for dinner, so they could have a more traditional meal together. They also figured Grace might be less enchanted with lying on the couch watching football with her dinner than they were. The turkey turned out good, and they feasted on that, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry relish.
After dinner, but before they had their pie in front of the TV to watch A Christmas Carol, which was coming on at just about the right time to go with their dessert, Danny decided to make the call to his parents. Steve and Grace cleared the table in the meantime, and planned to get the pie warmed up and on plates.
"Are you okay, Uncle Steve?" Grace asked as they stood at the kitchen counter, putting leftovers in containers and piling dishes in the sink. The question puzzled Steve a bit. He knew Danny had told Grace he'd gotten hurt on a case, but that he was doing fine now. He wondered what it was that made her think he wasn't okay.
"I'm fine, sweetheart. Why do you ask?"
"When we were talking about what we were thankful for, you seemed kind of sad, that's all."
"I was thinking about my dad. He's been on my mind a lot lately," he said. He'd never really not given Grace a straight answer to one of her questions. She was a smart girl, and her questions were usually pretty logical. She didn't deserve watered-down, goofy child answers.
"You still miss him?"
"A lot, yeah," he said, nodding, surprised he was getting a little choked up.
"If something happened to Danno...I'd miss him forever," she said solemnly.
"So would I, Gracie," Steve agreed. Even thinking about losing Danny gave him a chill. He'd survived a lot of loss; he didn't envision bouncing back from that one. "Grief gets a little easier as time goes on, but you never forget, and you still miss that person in your life."
"Like Uncle Matt."
"You miss him a lot?"
"It's not like I saw him much, but it's weird, knowing he's not there anymore. That I can't ever see him anymore. I know Danno feels bad about it. I talked to Grandma on the phone this morning, and she was crying."
"The first holidays after somebody dies are really hard to get through. It's such a family time. You can kind of stay busy and not think about it other times, but then..." Steve paused.
"Do you love my dad?" she asked.
"You know I do, Grace. I love both you guys. You're my family." Steve busied himself with rinsing plates. He really didn't want to tell Grace about the change in their relationship without Danny involved, but he didn't want to lie to her, either.
"I mean, do you love him? Because he loves you, and I don't want to see him be so sad anymore."
"He's going to be sad for a while, but seeing you today just put him right back on top of the world."
"You didn't answer my question."
"Your dad, you, Mary and Joanie are the most important people in the world to me." He paused, because she still had him pinned with that intent look of hers that was so Danny it was unsettling. "We can talk more about this when your dad's off the phone, if you want."
"Okay," she said, giving him a knowing smile. "I hope you do."
"Hey, where's the pie?" Danny said, entering the kitchen, and Steve could spot his fake cheerfulness a mile away. He looked like he'd been crying; the conversation with his parents couldn't have been easy.
"I think we need another group hug, don't you, Grace?" Steve asked, and she nodded.
"Oh, that sounds good," Danny admitted, and for the barest instant of their three-way embrace, he clung to Steve tightly, taking in a shaky breath.
"You okay?" Steve whispered in his ear.
"Will be, yeah," he said.
"Are Grandma and Grandpa doing better?" Grace asked. Steve knew the answer to that one by the look on Danny's face, but he wasn't surprised Danny gave her a positive reply.
"They really enjoyed their talk with you this morning. It's just a really hard day for them."
"I know," she said, nodding. "Do you think they'd like it if I visited them on Christmas break?"
"I know they'd like it, monkey. It might be a pretty sad time there, not too much fun."
"I bet I could cheer Grandma up," she said. "We could get makeovers again," she added, and Danny shook his head.
"Don't remind me." He hugged Grace. "You're an amazing kid," he said.
"She has an amazing dad," Steve said, touching Danny's back. "Grace and I were having a talk earlier, and I thought maybe we should all talk about it."
"Really? Sounds serious."
"I just wanted to know if you guys love each other."
"Of course we do," Danny replied, smiling, but shooting Steve a slightly panicked expression.
"That's what I said, too, but I think Grace had something more specific in mind."
Danny shrugged. "You mean like boyfriends?" he asked her. She nodded. "Yeah, we do." He reached over and took Steve's hand. "Is that okay with you?"
"It's great!" she exclaimed, hugging Danny, and then Steve. "Why didn't you tell me?" she asked, still smiling ear to ear.
"We just did, Gracie," Steve said, smiling. "You're the first person we've told."
"But you're going to tell other people besides me, right?"
"When the time's right, we will, monkey," Danny said.
"So what's wrong with now?" she asked, frowning.
The question took them both off guard. Steve looked at Danny, then leaned over and kissed him.
"She's got a point, Danno."
Steve kissed his way down Danny's back, lingering at the base of his spine, just above the swell of his ass. He eased Danny's cheeks apart so he could lick and nip between them while Danny gripped the sheets and gasped, thrusting against the mattress.
"Hold still for me, Danno," he said, grinning. Danny was never truly still, except when he slept very deeply, or on a couple awful occasions when he was unconscious. Otherwise, he was always moving in some way. His expressions, his hands, his whole body... Now, he was as still as he was going to get, considering what Steve was doing to him, so Steve went to work with his tongue, teasing the sensitive skin between Danny's balls and his center, kissing him there, licking him until, when he figured Danny was too distracted by those sensations to expect the move, he slid his tongue inside that tight opening. Danny muffled what would have been a full-on scream of pleasure, burying his face in a pillow.
Now that Steve had him breathless and writhing there, he focused on tonguing him. If one little poke of his tongue had made Danny scream, a whole bunch of them would drive him crazy. He was moaning and arching his back, and Steve knew he was getting close. Steve moved up the bed and lay next to him a moment, rubbing his back. Danny was as lively in bed as he was everywhere else, and Steve wanted him calm enough to last while they made love. He waited until Danny turned his face toward him and kissed him.
"I love you," he whispered. That earned him a really big smile. Danny caressed his hair, his hand lingering at the nape of Steve's neck. For a moment, he remembered a touch like that, when he was so afraid, confused, and then grief-stricken. Looking into Danny's eyes then was what he held onto, his way back to reality. Now, he was seeing forever in those eyes that looked at him with so much love.
"Love you like crazy, babe."
Steve eased gently into Danny, pressing against his back, kissing the back of his neck, nuzzling his hair. He rubbed Danny's shoulders, then held on there, trying to measure his grip to not leave bruises. They were moving faster, harder, both getting more and more excited. Danny seemed to get restless beneath him, so Steve moved up enough to let him get on all fours. The position was even better, hotter, and their pace intensified. Steve reached under Danny and stroked him. Fortunately, as they came, he thought to muffle his cries against the back of Danny's neck while he covered Danny's mouth before his own shout would carry too far down the hall to the guest room where Grace slept.
They collapsed together on the mattress, and Steve uncovered Danny's mouth, smiling when Danny giggled.
"Shh," Steve chided, nipping Danny's ear, laughing himself as he enjoyed hugging Danny's sweaty body against his own. Danny turned in his arms so they could kiss. "Finally, a good way to quiet you down," he teased.
"I was quiet."
"When I covered your mouth," Steve countered, kissing Danny again. Danny's smile and his warmth was the best medicine. Even the darkest corners of Steve's memory couldn't harbor demons when Danny blasted his way in there with his energy and his open devotion to Steve.
"Better cover it again then." Danny kissed him again, and again, until they lost track of who was kissing whom, how it started, or how long it went on. "Hey, I got something for you."
"I sure hope so, baby," Steve replied, caressing Danny's ass, sucking on his neck.
"Stop," Danny said, a laugh in his voice. "I mean it, I've got something." Danny rolled away toward the night stand and pulled out a small box. It was long and narrow, black velvet, with a red bow on it. He sat up against the headboard, and Steve did, too. "It's an early Christmas present." Danny was still holding onto it.
"Can I have it or do I have to guess what's in the box?" Steve teased.
"This is serious." Danny swallowed, and he looked nervous. Steve frowned. The last thing he wanted to see when they'd just shared something so intimate, so beautiful, was Danny feeling uneasy around him for any reason.
"I love you, buddy. Whatever it is, I'm sure I'll like it."
"I hope so." Danny handed him the box.
"Early Christmas present, huh?" Steve asked as he untied the silk ribbon.
"Kind of." Danny paused. "I don't know how to do this right with a man."
"You did real good a few minutes ago."
"Not that, this."
"What, give me a present?"
"Just open it."
Steve did, and what he was looking at seemed impossible. It was a bracelet, but he actually liked it. He could picture himself wearing it. It was stainless steel, square links, very plain and sturdy.
"Danny...this is really nice."
"I wasn't sure what to do, because men don't usually wear...engagement rings."
"What?" Steve was startled by the word "engagement". Even more startled that he suddenly had lost control of the situation. The timing wasn't up to him anymore. Danny was proposing to him.
"You're not gonna make this easy, are you?"
"Absolutely not, Danno. I want the words, buddy."
"I love you, Steven. I want us to always be together." He took in a deep breath. "Will you marry me?"
"Yes," Steve said, smiling, feeling a little bit like he was jumping off a cliff. He hadn't planned this, thought it through, figured how it was all going to play out, evaluated the risks and benefits. Danny was right there, looking at him with all the love in the world, with no small amount of fear thrown in.
"Whew, that's a relief," Danny admitted, and they both laughed.
"Did you really doubt what I'd say?"
"I guess...there was just so much riding on it."
"Yeah, there is." Steve looked at the bracelet he was holding. "Hey, help me put this on."
"It looked tough enough to survive the crazy shit you do all the time," he said, fastening it on Steve's wrist. "Are you sure you want to wear it? It's not like I'm gonna take back the question if you don't like it."
"I like it, Danny. I never would've though I'd wear one, but this is nice. Looks good."
"A rubber band would look good on that arm," Danny said, still holding Steve's hand.
"I'd wear a rubber band if it meant what this bracelet does," Steve said, finding himself choked up. "I love you, Danny."
"I just wanted...I wanted things official."
"Try to get rid of me, Danno," Steve said, pulling Danny into his arms.
"Love you, babe."
"I know you do. Makes me the luckiest guy in the world."
Aunt Deb looked concerned, watching Steve with an intent gaze.
"You're so ready to risk your life. When are you going to risk your heart?"
There it was. She was asking about his love life. He knew it shouldn't make him nervous how anyone reacted to his relationship with Danny; it wasn't like someone else's opinion would change anything. But Aunt Deb's opinion did matter to him. She was one of the few blood ties he had left to his father, and she wasn't going to be around forever. Not even that much longer, probably.
"I did," he said, and he was about to tell her about Danny when she brought up Catherine. The women in his family seemed to like her, have her all figured out as his future spouse. His mother certainly had bonded with her.
"Where is Catherine?"
He went on to tell her the gist of his last conversation with Catherine. It had smarted a bit at the time, but then Matt died and his relationship with Danny changed, and none of it seemed that important anymore. It had all happened fast. He glanced at his wrist, and realized he'd forgotten the bracelet at home. He'd gone for a swim that morning, and decided not to chance it out in the ocean. He wasn't used to wearing jewelry, and he wasn't sure how reliable it was to not fall off or get lost.
And somehow they'd gotten on to her asking him to give her away, and then he didn't really have time to get into telling her about his relationship with Danny because he had to get back to work. It wasn't something he felt comfortable just blurting out with no explanation. But then, he wasn't sure what explanation he would come up with, other than he loved Danny, Danny loved him, and they'd finally figured out they belonged together.
Still, it was Aunt Deb's wedding, her romance, her big moment. Part of him felt like that should be center stage, that his own engagement shouldn't steal her thunder. So he went back to work not having told her, and while Danny didn't say anything, he knew Danny was kind of waiting for the moment when he'd say Aunt Deb knew, that he'd told someone.
The Kealoha case had been a draining one emotionally. Steve knew watching the brothers together, seeing their interactions, their concern for each other, reminded Danny of his own loss. Plus, the whole family disaster was brought on by an investor who was fleecing his clients. The parallel to Matt's situation wasn't lost on Danny, though Steve would never bring it up. Truthfully, the case was just so fucking tragic all the way around that it left him just as depressed as Danny was. There was no happy ending to be had there.
He tried not to see Aunt Deb's and Leonard's marriage the same way. It was great they'd have some good times together, but that impending sadness and loss ate at his soul. It wasn't fair that after all the family he'd lost, Aunt Deb was on her way out, too.
Danny was already in bed when Steve got out of the shower. The next day would be a long one with the wedding and reception, and the case had been a rough one. Steve got into bed, a little puzzled that Danny hadn't moved or said anything. Danny's back was to him, so he moved up behind him and spooned around him.
"Night, Danno," he said softly, kissing Danny's t-shirt clad shoulder.
"Night, babe," he replied, not moving or saying anything else. Steve settled there, holding him, but still feeling things were a little off. "If you're looking for your bracelet, I found it in the bathroom. It's on your night stand."
"Danny, I - "
"You don't have to wear it. I just put it there so it didn't end up down the sink."
It was doubtful the bracelet would even fit down the bathroom sink past the stopper in the drain, but Steve had a feeling pointing that out wasn't going to make things better.
"I took it off before I went for my swim this morning and I must have forgotten to put it back on after I took a shower. I'm just not used to wearing anything like that but a watch...it's not that I don't want to. I just forgot and when I thought of it, I wasn't home." He waited through the brief ensuing silence. The explanation hadn't really helped much. You give me the equivalent to an engagement ring and by the next morning, I take it off and forget it in the bathroom.
Steve could tell by his voice and all of his body language that it mattered. A lot. He lay there a moment, not sure how to fix this. It hadn't seemed like a big deal until now. He didn't want to lose it in the ocean, so he took it off and then forgot to put it back on before he left for the office. Maybe this was why he was still single. He wasn't good at this little stuff that seemed too insignificant to him. It wasn't that the bracelet was insignificant, or that his commitment to Danny wasn't everything to him. It just didn't seem like that big of a deal that he forgot to put it on one time.
The morning after he got it, after they got engaged, the first morning he would have worn it in public.
Okay, so it was a big deal.
"I'm sorry, Danny. I didn't want to lose it in the water," he said. Even though it was the truth, it sounded weak. He started to question himself, if he could have subconsciously found a way not to wear it with his short-sleeved shirt. If he really wasn't willing to explain their relationship, or admit it was a gift from Danny, or what it meant.
Danny sounded heartbroken. It was in the dullness of his voice, the fact he didn't turn over, didn't look at him.
"Danny, come on, look at me," he urged, moving close again and pulling on Danny's shoulder.
"Just forget it, okay?" he repeated, and his voice didn't sound steady.
"I'm sorry. I don't know what else to say."
"Somebody probably would have noticed it, so it's good you didn't wear it, because then you'd have to explain it. And I know how you are about telling the truth, so you would have felt like you had to tell the truth about it, that it was from me."
"I'm not ashamed of that, Danny. I would have explained it if somebody asked."
"If somebody asked, huh?"
"Yeah, if somebody asked." What was wrong with that?
"I thought maybe you'd want to tell Aunt Deb about us. I mean, you told her about Catherine, where she is. It didn't kind of come up in conversation that you were engaged to me instead?"
"No, it didn't," Steve replied, getting irritated now. Maybe he was tired, maybe it seemed like Danny was making a mountain out of a molehill. Maybe he felt guilty because he hadn't just made the time to tell her. He'd taken the out and said nothing. "Did you call your parents and tell them yet?" he asked. As soon as it came out of his mouth, he knew he'd raised the stakes, turned it into a challenge.
"Sure, Steven. I called my mother who's a grieving mess and told her, 'hey, guess what? While Steve and I were there for Matty's funeral, we got together and now we're getting married.' I think she's got enough to handle right now without that."
"So it's supposed to be good news I should share with my family, but it's some kind of upsetting thing you can't tell your mother? What the fuck is that? Sounds like a double standard to me, buddy."
"I tell you what. Just call the whole fucking thing off and I'll take the damn bracelet back and you won't have to worry about it anymore. How's that?" he retorted angrily, looking over his shoulder at Steve with nothing short of fire in his eyes. Danny had a temper-and-a-half when he was pushed, and it was obvious Steve had pushed him the wrong way.
"Don't you think you're overreacting just a little?"
"Fuck you." He got up and headed for the door.
"Where are you going?"
"I'm gonna sleep on the couch. Worked for me before."
"Maybe you're better off there," Steve shot back, pissed off and unable to keep his mouth shut.
"Maybe I'm better off in my own goddamned house. I'll take care of that in the morning."
"Fine. Do what you want," Steve replied. He knew he was playing the game of having the last word. He also knew was he doing insane damage to the best thing that ever happened to him, but that hadn't helped him keep his temper in check.
Danny stretched out on the couch and forced himself to lie still and try to sleep. He knew it was pointless. How do you sleep when you feel like someone just cut your chest open and ripped your heart and lungs out? It had taken more than a little effort to work up the courage to propose, to give Steve a piece of jewelry to mark the commitment. When he'd noticed Steve didn't wear it to work, and then didn't put it on at home...it was just lying there on the bathroom counter, obviously either forgotten or left behind that morning, he'd felt hurt, let down, embarrassed...
And maybe just a little stupid for thinking that he could have that kind of happiness. After all, relationships just didn't work out for him, and he didn't seem destined to be happy.
He wasn't sure how long he'd been on the couch stewing in his own misery when he heard footsteps on the stairs. He made it a point to keep still, keep his eyes closed. Even when Steve came close and sat on the coffee table.
"Danny, come on, I know you're not asleep."
"So what? Doesn't mean I have anything to say to you." He opened his eyes, but barely spared Steve a glance.
"Fair enough," he said, leaning his elbows on his knees. He was wearing the bracelet. "I love you, Danny, and I don't know how to fix this."
"You love me as long as nobody has to know about it."
"That's not true, and it's not fair."
"Then you tell me how I've got it wrong."
"I was going to tell Aunt Deb today, and then somehow, the timing didn't seem right. It's not that how she feels about it, how anyone feels about it, changes anything. But...it seems like this is her moment, and her wedding."
"I didn't think we should steal her thunder, Steve. I just thought..."
"If she doesn't support us, doesn't approve...Danny, that's it. I can't be in her wedding or celebrate her marriage."
"Do you think she won't? She seems like she would."
"I think she wants me to be happy." Steve paused. "She's just about the last blood tie to my dad I have left. I chickened out, I guess."
"Just take it off, Steven. Somebody's gonna notice it if you wear it. I mean it. I'll take it back."
"After the wedding, we're gonna tell everybody. I promise. Danny, I love the bracelet, and I love you. I never wore anything like this before and I didn't want it to come off when I was in the water. That part's true. I was running late this morning and I forgot to put it back on. That's all."
"I should've just let it go until you said something when you were awake."
"Not too long after what happened with Wo Fat...you said something in your sleep about getting a ring. I guess I figured that meant you wanted the same thing I did and...I decided to ask you."
"I don't remember saying anything," Steve said, and he took Danny's hand in his, "but I remember you saying that nobody had a ring on anybody's finger, and I remember thinking, somewhere along the line when my head was still kind of screwed up, that I needed to fix that."
"I started to call my mom about a dozen times, and I don't know how to bring it up. She's still so upset about Matty and it seems like we don't get through a conversation without her crying."
"I know, Danno. I shouldn't have thrown that at you. I know your folks are having a bad time of it. I know it's still hard for you, too."
"And I get why you don't want to be on the outs with Aunt Deb. I don't want to make her wedding about us, or ruin the time you have left with her."
"Danny, every breath I take is about us, because if you're not with me, nothing else would matter. I'm sorry I'm not good at relationships, Danny. Maybe it's because the ones that matter don't seem to last and this one...matters more than all of them."
"For what it's worth, I'm not moving back to my house in the morning," Danny said, sitting up an facing Steve. The statement made him smile.
"That's progress. Any chance I could get you to come back up to bed with me, or are you really set on sleeping down here?"
"Couch isn't all that great by myself." Danny took Steve's hand and touched the bracelet. "If it makes you uncomfortable, I mean it that you don't have to wear it."
"The only reason I took it off was because I didn't want to lose it. Or you."
"You got me, babe. The lady at the jewelry store said the clasp was really tough, so I think you've got the bracelet, too, for the long haul, unless you wrap it around a grenade or something."
"That would invalidate the terms of the warranty?"
"Yeah, it doesn't cover grenades. I did get a protection plan on it, knowing you."
"You know me pretty well, don't you?"
"I do. And I like what I see. And you're real good at this relationship and I love you. I'm sorry I took your head off for not wearing this," he said, moving the bracelet around on Steve's wrist. "I was so nervous about asking you...I guess I thought the whole thing was kind of falling apart when you didn't wear it."
"Somehow it all becomes clear why we're both single."
Danny leaned back on the couch and laughed out loud at that. Then he stood up and so did Steve, and they headed back up to bed. This time, Danny lay on his side and Steve curled around him, holding him close.
"Did we just survive our first fight?" Danny asked.
"We fight all the time."
"Yeah, but this was a relationship fight."
"I guess it was. We're over it though, right?"
"I love you, Steven."
"I love you, too, Daniel," Steve replied, kissing Danny's cheek, giving him a squeeze.
"Bet you'll look sharp all dolled up in your tux," Danny said. "You clean up nice, babe."
"Gotta keep myself up so you don't upstage me."
"That's gonna be tough, 'cause Gracie got me new socks to go with my tux."
"God help us."
"Hey, my socks are a statement."
"I'm not touching that. We just made up."
"Technically, we haven't yet."
"We haven't officially made up until we have sex."
"Now that rule I like."
"Thought you might." Danny turned on his back and pulled Steve down, kissing him. He pulled on Steve's tank shirt until Steve cooperated with taking it off, right before he went after Danny's t-shirt. Without any further discussion, they each got rid of their underwear and got back together in the middle of the bed, kissing and caressing.
Danny rolled them so he was on top, moving down Steve's body with lips and tongue, licking, sucking, kissing until he reached Steve's erection, engulfing it in his mouth and enjoying the moans and gasps, the warmth of Steve's thighs on either side of his head as Steve drew his knees up. He gently released Steve and kissed the insides of his thighs, working his way down to his center.
Before he could ask, Steve's hand was in the night stand drawer, locating the lube, which he tossed to Danny.
"Love you, babe," he said, slipping his finger inside Steve, gently stretching him and getting him ready. He teased Steve's prostate, making him arch off the bed. There was nothing like that sensation of sinking into Steve's warmth, sliding in to the hilt and being held there by muscles that were just as powerful and nimble as they were on any other part of Steve's body. Steve's arms and legs were wrapped around him, and when he kissed Danny, it left him wondering who was actually controlling this dance.
"Come on, Danno," he gasped, his legs tightening around Danny.
"Come on? You've got me in some kind of full-body SEAL death-lock." That made Steve laugh, though it was kind of a strangled sound. He eased up a bit and Danny didn't need a further invitation to move. They found an energetic shared rhythm, passionate, urgent kisses punctuating their movements. Danny got a hold of Steve's wrist with the bracelet on and kissed the skin there, then grinned at Steve. "You look good there, wearing nothing but a bracelet," he teased.
"That turns you on?" he asked, his voice strained from their activity.
"Nah, you do," Danny replied, sucking on Steve's neck.
"That better not show tomorrow."
"You're wearing a tux. It won't. Wait...I don't think so."
"C'mere, then," Steve said, pulling Danny close enough to get his mouth latched onto a soft spot on Danny's neck.
"Vampire," Danny teased, pulling back and kissing Steve again.
"Just like sucking you everywhere," Steve responded, and something about that raw, intimate admission was too much for Danny, and he quickened his pace, coming with shouts of pleasure, glad that Steve was catching up to him as he had enough presence of mind to stroke him and urge his climax along.
When it was over, Danny eased out of Steve and flopped on his back next to him.
"Oh, fuck," he muttered. "That was so fucking good."
"You're taking all the credit, I suppose?"
"You saying I don't deserve it?" Steve teased. Danny rolled over and cuddled against him, resting his head on Steve's chest and hooking his leg around Steve's.
"You deserve it, babe." Danny closed his eyes and sighed happily. Steve's arm came around his shoulders.
"I suppose you deserve some of the credit."
"Hey," he said, touching Danny's cheek. "I love you."
Danny took his hand and kissed the palm of it. "I'm counting on it. Love you, too."
They dozed off in each other's arms, still holding hands.
Aunt Deb's wedding was romantic and beautiful, but it was bittersweet. She and Leonard were so happy together and yet they would have so little time. Steve tried to find that joyful, but he seemed to be taking a page from Danny's book and focusing how things would end. There they were, professing their love and commitment, and it would all end so soon.
And there was Danny, sitting next to him through the ceremony, now sitting at a table with him that included Chin, Grover, Max, and another couple who turned out to be Leonard's brother and sister-in-law who had flown there for the wedding. The happy couple were mingling, socializing, dancing...to an outsider, there'd be no sign of illness or impending tragedy.
Steve went to the bar to get himself and Danny fresh drinks. He was surprised when Aunt Deb approached him, linking her arm through his.
"I'd ask if you were enjoying the party, but you look miserable. Thinking about Catherine?"
He looked at her a moment, then glanced back at Danny, who didn't look much happier than he was.
"I wasn't completely honest with you, Aunt Deb," he said, and she looked confused.
"When you asked me when I was gonna risk my heart and I said I had, I didn't mean Catherine."
"I don't understand."
"I meant Danny."
"Danny?" she asked, still smiling, but puzzled. Then realization seemed to dawn. "Oh, Danny."
"Yeah. I'm in love with him. We're engaged."
"Oh, my God, Steve, that's wonderful!" she exclaimed, hugging him. "Why didn't you tell me? Here I've been thinking, 'poor Steve, having to go through all this romance when Catherine is gone'. If you're that happy, why do you look so unhappy?"
"We haven't told anybody yet. Well, Grace knows, and I've told you now..."
"I see." She looked over at Danny. "How does he feel about all this secrecy?"
"Not so good. I mean, he hasn't told his family, but they're kind of messed up right now to handle big happy wedding news." He paused. "I wanted to tell you, but then I didn't know how you'd feel about it and I didn't want to make this visit about Danny and me."
"You and Danny are in a dangerous business, and while you think you have forever to do right by him, don't waste another minute. Do you really want to see him look that unhappy when you can change it? If, God forbid, something happened to him, is that the last memory you'd like of how you made him feel?"
"But what? Go ask him to dance. If you don't, I'll be offended and very disappointed."
"Do you want to make me happy?"
"You know I do."
"Then let me see my favorite nephew happy."
Steve felt a little nervous as he made his way across the room to where Danny sat, but Aunt Deb was right. Danny looked miserable despite his best efforts not to, amidst all the romance of a wedding as he sat there like Steve's dirty secret while even the bracelet Steve wore was obscured by the tux's jacket.
The DJ was starting something slow and soft; Steve didn't really care what it was, as long as it was good for dancing slow and whispering in Danny's ear. He approached him, and was met with a puzzled expression. After all, he'd gone for drinks and returned empty handed, and now he was just standing there like a dope while Danny stared up at him.
He held his hand out toward Danny.
"Dance with me," he said. Chin looked stunned, Max and Grover exchanged startled looks, then Chin kind of chuckled nervously, apparently thinking Steve was drunk or they were clowning around.
"Are you sure - "
"I've never been more sure of anything in my life," he said, not backing down from keeping his hand extended toward Danny, whose face suddenly lit up as he took Steve's hand and went out to the dance floor with him.
"I didn't think you wanted to do this here," Danny asked. His whisper sounded a little strained.
"I told Aunt Deb. She's thrilled for us and made me see what a dick I was." He pulled Danny close, still in a dance hold, but making it obvious this wasn't a joke, wasn't a couple of drunken buddies dancing. He liked the song that was playing. It was perfect.
Have I told you lately that I love you?
Have I told you there's no one else above you?
You fill my heart with gladness
Take away all my sadness
Ease my troubles, that's what you do...
"You're not a dick," Danny whispered back. "You've got a nice one, though," he added, and Steve laughed, pulling back enough to look into Danny's eyes.
"Promise me you'll stay with me forever and make me laugh when I'm old and sick and have arthritis from all the stuff I've done."
"I promise. Just promise me you'll be careful enough to get old."
"You've got my back. I'll be fine."
"You know it, babe," Danny replied, smiling. "I've got your back no matter what, forever."
They stayed on the dance floor through a couple more songs before returning to their table.
"Kono's going to be really sorry she couldn't make it now," Chin said. "What's going on with you guys?"
"The short version?" Steve asked. "Danny asked me to marry him and I said yes. We didn't want to say anything and take attention off Deb and Leonard's wedding, but Aunt Deb insisted I quit hiding behind that and go dance with my fiancé."
"Didn't see that one coming," Grover said, though he was chuckling in good humor. "Congratulations," he said.
"Thanks. We know it's gonna be a surprise to some people," Danny said, but Steve couldn't help but notice how happy he looked. Deciding he'd like to ratchet that smile on Danny's face up a few notches, he took Danny's hand and held it right there on the table. His bracelet showed, and that was intentional.
"The bickering should have been a clue," Grover said.
"That's been going on for four years. Wait, you guys haven't been..."
"Not for four years," Danny replied, laughing. "A few months."
"Who else knows?" Chin asked.
"Grace and Aunt Deb, so far. That's it." Steve wondered if he looked as sappy as he felt he did. He couldn't stop smiling, and he had the overpowering urge to kiss Danny. Just then, Aunt Deb approached the table, and they stood. She hugged Danny.
"I'm so happy for both of you," she said, hugging Steve. "I was beginning to think he was going to be a lifelong bachelor," she said to Danny.
"Your support means a lot to us," Danny said. "I know how much it means to Steve," he added, pulling out a chair for her. Once they were all seated again, Max and Grover offered to go get drinks for the table, and headed up to the bar. Chin excused himself to go make a phone call.
"Just so you know, I think you made a good choice, Steve," Deb said, patting his hand. "I can't think of a better nephew-in-law," she said to Danny.
"Thank you," he replied, smiling. "He could probably do better, but he's not gonna find anybody who loves him more than I do," he said, taking Steve's hand again.
"This is new," she said, pointing to the bracelet.
"It's my engagement bracelet," he said, looking at Danny, hoping he could feel the love in that look.
"I wanted to get him something but guys don't really do engagement rings, so I tried this instead. I guess it worked since he said yes," Danny quipped.
"Yeah, it was just the bracelet I was after," he joked.
"He's only in it to get his hands on the Williams family fortune."
"Well, I think you two make a lovely couple, and I'm sure you're going to have a very happy life together. Steve, your father loved you more than anything. You and Mary. If you're wondering what he would have thought...it would have turned his vision of things a bit on its ear, but he would have come around. I know he would. He wanted the best for his children, and being in love with someone who loves you, well, it doesn't get much better than that."
"It was a beautiful wedding. Deb looked great. I hope they have some good time together," Steve said. They were lying there in the shadows of the bedroom, spooned together in their favorite position for sleep.
"Me, too. She deserves that. Gotta say though, my favorite part of the evening was dancing with you," Danny said, running his fingers lightly over Steve's arm where it crossed his middle. "You didn't have to do that. You know I was okay with keeping things quiet a while."
"I know you were willing to do it. I also know it hurt you and I'm sorry."
"Hey, we got that taken care of last night."
"Yeah, we sure did," Steve added, nuzzling Danny's neck.
"Only thing that makes fights worthwhile...making up." He was quiet a moment. "I'm serious, babe, let it go. It's okay. More than okay. Dancing with you was...real nice."
"Better than nice."
"You've always gotta go one better, don't you?" Danny teased.
"Only problem is, when I got you...I can't do any better than that. I'm at the top."
"Me, too," Danny said through a yawn. There was a moment when his whole body relaxed in a way it never did any other time, right before he was ready to doze off. Steve waited for that moment, and loved that it happened in his arms, in their bed.
"I said I had it covered, now quit worrying about it." Steve sighed, and his irritation was plain.
"You forgot this again," Danny said, handing him the bracelet.
"I keep telling you it's not gonna come off in the water."
"Just put it on me, okay?" Steve said, holding out his wrist while he kept his other hand on the wheel.
"Wait a minute. You can't do the clasp."
"I just forgot to put it back on. Of course, I can do the clasp. I put it on myself the other night, didn't I?"
"Lucky shot. That's why you really keep leaving it places. You can't fasten it by yourself most of the time."
"Not while I'm driving. You want to put it on me or just sit there and complain?"
"I'm not complaining, I'm making an observation." Danny fastened the bracelet in place. "I can show you how to do it on yourself."
"Thanks, but I know how to do it on myself. Now that we're together, I don't have to."
"We're not talking about bracelets now, are we?"
"Nope," Steve replied, grinning.
"I need a tree, Steven. We can't have Gracie with us and not have a tree."
"I'll get a tree, okay? You know we could solve this by going to Walmart and - "
"Walmart? Did you just suggest to me that I get a tree for my daughter at Walmart?"
"Danny, it's not the tree she's there for. It's you. Same reason I'm there, only we need to throw in a little mistletoe."
"All the lots are sold out. I guess we better go back and see if that guy'll still give us the big one for $650."
"We can pull over and I'll give you the big one for free."
"I'm marrying a sex maniac."
"Is that a complaint?"
"No, it's a compliment."
"Look, I gotta go meet with Denning," Steve said, chuckling. "As soon as I'm done with that, we'll figure something out, okay?"
"Yeah, okay." Danny smiled. "Don't take that off until I'm with you again."
"Very funny," Steve replied, though he couldn't quite suppress his grin.
"Clara, it's Steve," he said, feeling a little odd about his elaborate story about meeting with the governor, but he didn't know how else to take time off without Danny and not answer way too many questions. "I'm just pulling up by the main entrance. Where are you guys?"
"We just left baggage claim. We'll be there any minute."
"Does Danny know yet?"
"No, not yet. He's working a case. Gracie's riding shotgun with me today," Steve said, winking at Grace who was sitting in the passenger seat of the Mercury. He'd picked her up from school as soon as it was dismissed at noon for the Christmas break. She was still munching on the last of the fries from their fast food lunch.
"We see you!" she said, and Steve spotted Clara in the distance, waving, Eddie bringing up the rear carrying a bag on his shoulder and wheeling one behind him. Clara was wheeling a bag, too, and carrying her purse.
"Let's go help them with the bags," Steve said, and Grace anxiously got out of the car and rushed toward her grandparents. After a flurry of hugs, Steve and Grace took charge of most of the bags while the group headed toward the car.
"This is quite a car, Steve," Eddie said. "Looks like you've put a lot of work into it."
"My dad and I were going to restore it...he did quite a bit of it, but I'm trying to get the finish work done."
Clara got in back with Grace, and they were chattering a mile a minute, while Eddie took the passenger seat up front with Steve.
"How did you get all this past Danny? That boy's never been easy to surprise."
"Everyone at work thinks I'm in meetings with the governor."
"You're saying the governor's in on this?"
"You said yourself, Danny's not easy to surprise. Fortunately, Denning's got a healthy Christmas spirit and got a laugh out of being part of the conspiracy. I hope you guys don't mind making a stop on the way home. We have to get a tree."
"You don't have a tree yet?" Grace asked, sounding shocked. She'd been with Stan and Rachel, and was going to spend the Christmas holiday with Steve, Danny, Eddie, and Clara. That negotiation had taken all of Steve's charm, persuasion, and a healthy dose of sad hound eyes to get Rachel to agree to that, considering she felt Danny had hijacked Thanksgiving, which was supposed to be her holiday that year. Of course, he also knew Grace had done her share of work on her mother's resolve, until she seemed to just write off this year's holidays to letting Grace be part of Danny's family healing from the tragedy they'd been through.
"I know, Gracie, we kind of blew that."
"What about an artificial tree?" Clara asked. "They're probably on sale now, too."
"I thought the Williams family didn't do fake trees - or so I've been told."
"Desperate times call for desperate measures," she said, smiling at Grace. Steve hadn't seen Clara really smile the entire time they were in New Jersey, but she looked happy to be with her granddaughter.
"If it's still there, I know of one on a tree lot. Price was highway robbery," Steve muttered, echoing Danny's assessment
"Well, let's go get it then," Eddie said.
When they arrived at the tree lot, the towering tree they'd liked so much was still there. The owner looked more than a bit smug when he saw Steve making a return trip. Grace and Clara were walking among the smaller trees, chatting. Steve preferred that Grace not witness the cold art of bartering for their tree.
"Came back for her, eh?" he asked, beaming.
"Good thing he did. You're apparently going to be stuck with this thing in a few hours," Eddie said. The salesman's face fell, but he recovered quickly.
"Just about the only good one left," he said.
"Well, we're in a position to do each other a favor then, aren't we?" Eddie said, looking around. "Seeing as there's not exactly a rush of customers out here now. I'll give you two hundred for it."
"That's funny. You brought back another comedian," he said to Steve. "Seven-fifty."
"You said six-fifty when we were here before."
"Yeah, well, that was then. You declined my offer." He paused. "But I got the Christmas spirit. I'll do the six-fifty."
"Oh, you will, huh?" Eddie asked, laughing. "You're practically a charity operation."
Steve was about to point out that Danny didn't want a fake tree and this was about the last option left, when Eddie took out his wallet. He counted off some bills.
"This is four hundred dollars. Final offer."
The man stared at him a moment, then looked at the tree.
"He's got a point. How many people who are willing to shell out that kind of money for a tree waited this late to get one?" Steve added. "You're gonna be stuck with this thing and it won't be worth five bucks after Christmas."
"Five hundred bucks."
"Eh, no, keep it." Eddie tucked his money back in his pocket. "My son's a single father, and this would have really made a nice Christmas for my granddaughter, but I'm not getting robbed for it. I'm retired now, so I'm not a bottomless pit of cash."
"Your son's divorced, huh?" the man asked.
"Yeah, he had to move out here from Jersey because his ex moved his daughter out here. Took him for all he had and then married a rich guy. So he's competing with a twelve-footer in a mansion."
"Ouch," he said, shaking his head. "My ex is a real piece'a work, too. I was lucky to get out with the shirt on my back." He sighed. "Four-fifty."
"We'll take it," Steve spoke up, figuring they'd gotten it down as far as it was going to go. He had no intention of letting Eddie pay for the tree, but he wasn't about to upset the negotiation process with the tree lot salesman.
Once the behemoth was tied to the roof of the Mercury, Steve took Eddie aside before they got back in the car.
"The tree's on me, Eddie." Steve pulled out the cash; he'd stopped at the bank before he picked Grace up and got the cash he needed to get Danny his real tree he wanted so badly. It was becoming clear to him that he'd do anything to make Danny happy. Fortunately, with the exception of the occasional live Christmas tree or hefty plane ticket since his family was all on the other side of the country, Danny wasn't overly focused on things, expensive or otherwise. Being loved made him happy, and Steve could handle that. Forever.
"You paid for our plane tickets, Steve. That was huge."
"No arguments. You're a master negotiator, so you can figure you put $300 worth of sweat equity into getting that tree." He knew perfectly well that Eddie must have used all the money he had for the trip on that transaction. Danny hadn't grown up wanting for anything important, but his family was far from rich, and Eddie was retired now.
"If you insist," Eddie said finally, taking the money. "But we're going to use this for some outings while we're here. No arguments about letting us treat to some things."
"It's a deal."
"Thanks again for doing this for Danny...for us. Clara's been really excited about this trip, and I didn't think I'd see her excited about anything again."
"I'm glad you were able to come. I hope the trip is a good break for you guys. I know Danny's going to be really happy to see you."
"That tree is huge!" Grace exclaimed when Eddie and Steve got back in the car. "Is it going to fit in the house?"
"We'll figure that part out when we get home," Steve said, and Grace giggled at that. When we get home. Danny, Grace, Danny's parents, filling up my house...our house...with family. Home, indeed.
Danny was tired when he got off the chopper. He was planning to catch a ride home with Kono, but he was happy to see the Mercury parked nearby, Steve standing by the side of it, leaning against it.
"Looks like you got a better offer, brah," Kono joked. "Chin told me what happened at the wedding," she added.
"You didn't say anything."
"Neither did you," she countered. "I figured we should stay focused on the case. But you're not off the hook. I want the whole story when the time's right."
"You got it," Danny said, smiling. "You're still coming over tonight, right?"
"For a while. Adam has a teleconference he thinks is going to last into the evening. It's an international thing, so the time difference is messing things up. Once he's free, I may have to slip out."
"I hear you," Danny replied. "See you later." As she headed to her car, he quickened his pace, watching as Steve straightened his stance, gave him a big smile and opened his arms. It was all Danny could do not to run into them. He hugged Steve tight, feeling Steve's arms go around him and hold on. "Missed you," he said against Steve's neck.
"Missed you, too, Danno," he replied, pulling back so they could kiss.
"We're pathetic. I wasn't gone very long," Danny said, though he was enjoying the fact that Steve missed him as much as he missed Steve during their brief separation. "Kono wasn't sure we'd make it back for Christmas."
"That wasn't an option," Steve said, still looking at Danny like a love-struck teenager. His hand was at the small of Danny's back, slipping lower, stopping just short of public indecency and the swell of his ass.
"We should probably go home before we're arrested for lewd and lascivious behavior."
"That's your fault for being so fucking hot."
"You don't say," Danny replied, stealing a kiss.
As they drove toward the house, Danny raised the inevitable question. "It's Christmas Eve. Do we have a tree?"
"I got it covered."
"If we get home and there's some sorry-ass plastic tree in the living room, it's gonna be a long, cold winter night for you, babe."
"It's Hawaii, Danny."
"It can still get cold, trust me."
"You're gonna eat those words, Danno," Steve joked as he pulled up in front of the house.
"Yeah, you're right, considering what I really wanna do right now is get naked with you and do it until we have to give up due to chafing."
"We might have to delay that just a little," Steve said as they headed for the door.
"Not another case?"
"Nope," Steve said, opening the front door and waiting for Danny to walk in.
"Wait, what's going on?"
"Just go inside."
"Why? Is something going to jump out at me or fall on my head?"
"When have I ever pulled a trick like that on you?"
"Never, but it's not like no one else has." Danny paused and sniffed the air. "What's that smell?" He knew what it smelled like, but it was impossible. It smelled like his mother's banana nut bread she always baked at the holidays.
"Thought you'd know what it was," Steve said, waiting as Danny walked into the house. Grace and Eddie were sitting on the couch watching A Christmas Story and Clara walked out of the kitchen into the living room, apron in place.
Danny rarely felt his knees go weak, but they seemed to almost fail him at the moment.
"I just took hot banana bread out of the oven," she said, smiling. "Don't I get a hug?" she asked, and Danny shook off his surprise and hugged her.
"When did you get here?" he asked. He had to concentrate on mundane questions or the emotion of the moment would have gotten to him. He still didn't know how Grace came to be there, since he'd thought Rachel was claiming Christmas in return for Grace spending Thanksgiving with him. He'd resigned himself to a brief visit late in the afternoon on Christmas Day.
"Steve picked us up at the airport a couple hours ago," she said. "Surprise," she added, stepping back.
"I'm really glad you're here, Mom," he added, hugging her again.
"So am I, honey."
His father and Grace got up to join the cluster of hugging Williams.
"When did you guys plan all this?" Danny asked, wiping at his eyes. Seeing his parents so unexpectedly was making him emotional, but in a good way. "I thought you were gonna be with your mother and Stan," he said to Grace.
"Uncle Steve asked Mom if I could spend Christmas Eve and Christmas morning here. Then I'm going back there for dinner in the afternoon."
"Uncle Steve is quite the negotiator, isn't he?" Danny said, looking at Steve, who seemed to be enjoying watching the whole family reunion.
"Actually your dad should get that title. Notice anything else in the room?" Steve prodded. Danny had seen the tree, but it had paled in comparison to seeing his parents and Grace there. It wasn't decorated yet, but there were boxes and bags of decorations on the floor around it.
"That's the tree we saw at the tree lot, isn't it?"
"Yup. Your dad managed to get us a $350 discount."
"Just appealed to the guy's better nature, that's all."
"Do I wanna know?" Danny asked, looking at his father.
"Probably not, but it worked," Eddie replied, chuckling.
"I'm serving banana bread in the kitchen," Clara announced, gesturing in that direction.
"Smells great, Grandma," Grace said, following her. Eddie headed in that direction, too.
"I can't believe you did this," Danny said, pulling Steve into his arms. He knew his voice wouldn't come out steady, but it didn't matter. Steve needed to know how much this meant to him. "Thank you," he whispered.
"Merry Christmas, Danno," Steve said, hugging him tighter. "I haven't said anything about...you know," he said, gesturing back and forth between them as Danny stepped back. "It's up to you when or if you want to do that. They're settled in the guest room. I don't think it would seem weird if you bunked in with me anyway."
"I want to tell them. I don't want you to be on the outside, when you're not just my best friend...when we're going to be together forever, and you're going to be officially my family."
"We'll do it when the right moment comes along. Let's go get some of that banana bread," Steve said, flopping his arm around Danny's shoulders and pulling him along.
By mid-evening, the house was full. Chin, Kono, Grover, Duke, Max, and Kamekona had all stopped by to join in decorating the tree with Grace, Clara, Eddie, Danny, and Steve. Most of the guests were only there a short time, on their way to their various family gatherings. Still, they munched on snacks, Clara's banana bread, and enjoyed spiked egg nog while they sang a few Christmas carols together.
Steve enjoyed watching Danny in the middle of all of it, and seeing Clara and Eddie who had looked nothing but miserable and devastated the last time he saw them, actually having a few laughs and throwing themselves into spending time with their son and granddaughter. He slipped out to the kitchen to refill some of the snacks to sustain their little group of five who were left after the other guests left.
"I thought this Christmas was going to be pretty lousy," Danny said, joining him at the counter. "It's not like we were all together most holidays anyway, but y'know..."
"Yeah, I know. It's really good to have this place full of family at Christmas. It's been a while since that happened." Steve smiled, emptying a bag of frosted, Christmas tree-shaped pretzels into a bowl.
"Look what I have," Danny said, holding up some mistletoe.
"Can't fight tradition," Steve said, turning toward Danny, pulling him into his arms and kissing him.
"Do we have anymore - " Clara stopped mid-sentence, and Steve and Danny pulled apart, startled. "I was going to ask about egg nog, but we obviously have mistletoe on hand," she said, grinning.
"I'm sorry, Clara," Steve said.
"Are you really sorry for that kiss?" she asked, still smiling.
"I'm not," Danny said, sliding his arm around Steve. "We didn't mean for you to find out like this. It's my fault. I brought the mistletoe," he said, holding it up.
"Did you think we wouldn't approve?" she asked, moving closer.
"I didn't know, and with everything that's happened, I didn't want to upset you guys..."
"I set this up. I should have asked Danny about it, but I wanted to surprise him-"
"Don't apologize for this, babe. It's the best Christmas present ever."
"If you two would let me get a word in edgewise," Clara said. "Your father and I had this conversation on the plane. We were wondering when the two of you were going to tell us you were together. I watched you with Danny when you were visiting us," she said to Steve. "Most of the married couples I know don't look at each other like that. I'm so happy for you, honey," she said to Danny. "And Steve's already part of our family, so why would we be upset?"
"Because..." Danny began, seeming unable to actually put it in words.
"Because my chest is hairier than Rachel's," Steve said. Danny looked horrified and Clara burst out laughing, covering her mouth.
"Oh, Steve, trust me, sweetie, that doesn't bother me a bit," she said, squeezing his arm.
"Sounds like the party's in here," Eddie said, joining them in the kitchen with his empty egg nog glass.
"I just caught these two in here hogging the mistletoe," Clara said, her arm still linked through Steve's.
"So the cat's out of the bag," Eddie said, and Danny laughed, thinking how he'd used that very phrase with Kono earlier. "I guess that means we can officially welcome you to the family now, Steve," he said, extending his hand, shaking hands with Steve.
"I asked him to marry me, and he said yes, so yeah, it's gonna be official," Danny said.
"That's wonderful!" Clara exclaimed, hugging them both.
"Congratulations, you two," Eddie said, as Grace joined them.
"Did they tell you?" Grace asked, excited. "Isn't it great?"
"Yes, it's great news, Gracie," Eddie said, hugging her against his side. Since everyone was receiving the news in such good spirits, Steve gave in to the urge to kiss Danny again, even though this one was small, chaste, and without tongue. Danny leaned into him, smiling.
"Well, we've got snacks and egg nog, and now we have something to toast," Clara said. "Let's take our treats into the living room and finish up that tree."
The group moved back to the living room, finished decorating the tree, and settled in to visit and watch some Christmas specials on TV. Sitting on the couch with Danny tucked against his side, surrounded by family, Steve couldn't remember a better start to Christmas in a very long time.
Steve woke up early, startled, remembering the traces of a weird dream. He still had nightmares once in a while, thankfully not often. He was glad this one wasn't intense enough to wake Danny who still slept peacefully next to him. Still, he was restless and his mind was racing; he needed to move. He eased out of bed, but Danny still stirred.
"Go back to sleep, sweetheart," he whispered in Danny's ear, leaning close.
"Love you, babe," he mumbled, smiling, not opening his eyes.
When he was satisfied Danny was dozing off again, he put on his robe and headed downstairs. He could only remember actually wearing the robe a few times since he had it, but since they had company, it seemed inappropriate to wander through the house in his underwear.
He smelled coffee as he headed downstairs, and was surprised to find Eddie sitting at the kitchen table, already drinking a cup, looking through a copy of the previous day's newspaper.
"Hope I didn't wake you," he said. "Must be the time difference. Gave up on sleep."
"I hope it wasn't our news that stressed you out," Steve said, pouring himself a cup of coffee. "We really didn't mean to just spring it on you."
"It's not that. Clara and I are happy for you and Danny, and that's the truth. I know what he went through with Rachel, and I'm not anxious to watch that again. I've known for a long time that Danny could...go either way. I was really hoping he'd go that way, find a nice girl, get married. He did that and you know how that turned out."
"How did you know?"
"Did he ever tell you about his friend, Billy, the one who...passed away?"
"Yeah, he did. We were stuck in this dingy in the middle of the ocean..." Steve smiled at the memory. At Eddie's surprised expression, he added, "I guess that's a story for another time."
"One I definitely want to hear - how you got Danny in the middle of the ocean for anything. He never went near open water after what happened to Billy, and he almost never talks about it, to anyone. We stopped taking vacations on the shore; came up with other things to do. I knew there was more to that relationship than friendship. Danny thought he had to hide that, and it's my fault. I never told him I'd figured it out, never let him off the hook that it was okay if he picked a boy instead of a girl. I'd seen him around girls; he was a real operator with them when he was that age, so I hoped he'd just...go that way."
"Back when Danny and I were teenagers, things weren't even as good as they are now for gay teenagers, and there's a long way to go yet."
"I didn't want my son beaten up, shunned, stigmatized. Maybe back then, I didn't want him bringing a boyfriend home. I'd like to think better of myself than that."
"You're okay with it now, though?"
"After Rachel told Danny she wanted a divorce, she was pretty rough on him. She wanted him out of the house, she was never very generous with custody arrangements. He lived in a motel room for months. Clara tried to get him to move back home for a while, but he wouldn't do that. So Matt started going over there just about every night and sitting with him. Firefighters and cops, they get to know each other, and we have some cops in our family. I've known a lot of cops over the years, and one thing you've gotta watch 'em for when they're depressed..."
"Matt was on a suicide watch with Danny."
"Why else wouldn't he come back home and stay with us? He was drinking a lot, he was devastated by the divorce, and he was spending a lot of time sitting around alone with a loaded gun. We all held our collective breath for months. Eventually, things got better and he seemed to adjust to the whole visitation thing, then Rachel announced she was marrying Stan and moving to Hawaii."
"I guess it's a good thing he followed them to Hawaii."
"Danny's a devoted father, so focusing on that kept him going. And then he met you."
"We didn't exactly hit it off immediately," Steve said, taking another drink of his coffee.
"So we heard. And then we heard about you treating him and Grace to a weekend at one of the fancy hotels there, and calling on the governor to intervene when Rachel was trying to screw him with the custody arrangements. Danny couldn't have fought her. The divorce cleaned him out, and we're not wealthy enough to hire powerful lawyers for him. Gracie started talking about 'Uncle Steve' in most of her e-mails and phone calls."
"That's nice to hear. She's a great kid. And she's Danny's daughter. I see a lot of him in her."
"Danny's happy, and you're good with Grace. He's overdue for that. Now that I'm a little older and wiser and not as worried about what my brothers or my buddies at the firehouse are gonna think, I'm more concerned with someone being good to him than what gender his spouse is."
"I'd do anything for Danny or Grace, and I feel incredibly lucky to have them."
"You're doing okay now? Danny said you got pretty banged up on your run-in with that Wo Fat character, but he wouldn't say much about it."
"I'm fine. Well, mostly. Thanks to Danny. He took great care of me when I got out of the hospital."
"Good thing you finally were able to kill the bastard." Eddie paused. "Sorry, maybe that was the wrong thing to say."
"No, it's true. He would have always been a threat as long as he was alive."
"Yeah, like him."
"Danny said there was a showdown with him and he shot him." Eddie gave Steve an intent look.
"That's not what happened, is it?"
"You need to ask Danny if you want to know more about Reyes."
"Why? You were there."
"Reyes and Wo Fat would have both been ongoing threats to us and to our loved ones. There was no good way for those...situations to end. Danny did what he had to do, and so did I." Steve paused. "Reyes threatened Grace," he said, holding Eddie's gaze for a long moment.
"Enough said," he replied, nodding.
"Danny's a good man, Eddie. He's got the best soul of anyone I've met in a long time. Maybe ever. Nothing that happened in Colombia changed that."
"I know he's a good man. I guess I just wanted to know how much protecting the rest of his family cost him."
"You know how Danny is about family, about his friends."
"I'm very proud of Danny, and his loyalty. I also know he's kind of a hot head. Gets it from his old man," he added, chuckling.
"I've been on the wrong end of that, so no need to tell me about it." Steve paused. "His friends from the PD back in Jersey made sure I heard the slugger story."
"Nothing like getting home from a fishing trip and finding out your ten-year-old thwarted a break-in while you were gone. I did tell him he was the man of the house while I was gone. Should'a known he'd take that seriously."
"Oh, man, not the slugger thing again," Danny said as he entered the kitchen. He kissed the top of Steve's head as he passed him. Steve resisted the urge to grab him and pull him onto his lap. Instead, he handed him his empty coffee cup. "Good morning to you, too," he said sarcastically, filling it, then filling his dad's empty cup as well. "Wouldn't want you to strain yourself getting up for a refill," he said to Steve. "He gets up at dawn to go swim fifty miles in the ocean but he won't refill his own coffee," Danny grumped as he sat down at the table.
"I know you love the opportunity to wait on me," Steve quipped. He also slipped his hand under Danny's robe to rest it on his bare thigh, under the table. He let his fingers ease closer to the warmth of Danny's crotch.
"Live for it," he replied, shooting Steve a look. He eased his hand back to a more neutral spot near Danny's knee. "How many other embarrassing stories from my childhood have you pried out of my father this morning?" he asked, taking a drink of coffee.
"I was actually just about to get Steve to tell me how you two wound up in a dingy in the middle of the ocean."
"Just don't ever go fishing with him. Ever," Danny said. "We were going to have a nice, relaxing day on a nice, large, safe boat. But no. I go fishing with him and he gets us boat-jacked."
"Danny, there was a guy floating out in the middle of the ocean in that dingy, signaling for help. Are you telling me you would have just left him there?"
"In hindsight, that would have been the best idea."
"Forgive me for not knowing he was a criminal by looking at him from a couple hundred yards away."
Grace entered the kitchen then, cheerily greeting everyone and going to the refrigerator for some orange juice.
"Gracie, do they always do this?" Eddie asked her as Steve and Danny continued going back and forth about who was to blame for their fishing trip debacle.
"Pretty much, yeah," she said, laughing.
"That's what I thought. I'm going upstairs to shave and get dressed. Rumor has it there are presents to open."
"Okay, Grandpa," she said, calmly pulling out various ingredients for breakfast.
Steve and Danny joined in Grace in working on breakfast and, before long, the family was gathered around the table, passing the food, talking, and laughing. Eddie and Clara had a long way to go to recover from Matt's death, but time with their son, granddaughter, and soon-to-be son-in-law seemed to lift their spirits. Danny looked about as happy as Steve could remember seeing him in a long time, surrounded by the people he loved most.
"What?" Danny whispered, when he noticed Steve was staring at him. Grace was telling a story that was keeping her grandparents' attention for the moment.
"I just love watching you sometimes," he whispered, taking Danny's hand.
"Thank you for doing this for them, for me," he whispered in Steve's ear.
"I love you," Steve whispered back, touching Danny's cheek and kissing him.
"I tied the mistletoe to the headboard," he whispered. Steve laughed, looking forward to the promise in those words.