Steve saw clothes flying out of the bedroom door and landing in the hallway long before he heard the teenage grumblings from inside the closet.
“Avery, you do plan on cleaning this up, right,” Steve asked as he side-stepped a pile of flip flops and maneuvered around three party dresses he was pretty sure didn’t actual fit his daughter anymore.
“Dad, seriously, now is not the time.” Avery spoke from her crouched position, body half in the closet, underneath the hanging clothes, throwing shoe after shoe over her head in Steve’s general direction. It was like dodging enemy fire without proper cover.
“Can I inquire why half of your belongings are lining my hallway then?”
She sat up all the way, pulling herself out of the closet and turned around to look at him. The frazzled look that greeted him made him laugh; he couldn’t help it. He could tell she was upset about something, but the exasperated expression and frizzy hair of his fourteen year old daughter prevented him from taking the whole situation seriously.
Avery didn’t help her case when she opened her mouth, “I cannot find a single thing to wear for my first day of school.”
Okay, yes, Steve has two children, both of whom are girls. He learned a long time ago that there would be many meltdowns he wouldn’t understand. He knew that clothes, boys, makeup, and shopping would be conversation topics he wished had never been invented. But, after babysitting one too many times for Danny’s nephew, Luke, when his parents came to Hawaii for vacation, he decided that little girl tea parties and hair debacles treated like the next Cuban missile crisis were easier battles than trying to convince a five year old boy that he needed to wear his pants in the backyard because it wasn’t appropriate to walk around in the buff, and no, just because it was a private beach did not mean he could use any bush as a bathroom.
Yes, Steve thought, I am happy I had girls.
“Really, Dad, look at these clothes, they’re awful. I have nothing for Monday.” Avery held up a pile of wrinkled clothes and pushed them in his face in an attempt to prove her point.
Glancing down he asked, genuinely, “What’s wrong with these shirts? You wore them all summer, they were cute.”
“Cute, haha, you think these are cute? Dad, the color on this shirt is all wrong, see,” she held up the spaghetti strap tank top (hey, Steve’s pretty impressed with himself that he knew what spaghetti straps were) towards her tanned face, “The color is all wrong for my skin tone. And this shirt has a better color, but the halter top just accentuates the fact that I have no boobs.”
Steve spluttered out an unintelligible response, eyes the size of saucers as his daughter lamented over her lack of breasts. Okay, he takes it all back, boys are much easier.
He picked up the two discarded shirts from the bed where Avery had thrown them. Holding both up next to each other, one in each hand, he raised an eyebrow, “Aves, these are the same color.”
She whipped around, ponytail brushing across her face from the force of her movement, “Dad, you cannot seriously be saying those are the same color.”
“Avery, they are both blue.”
“That one is teal and the other is aqua, two totally different blues.”
“But, they’re both blue.”
“Daadddd….” one more exasperated sigh later and Steve threw his hands in the air, admitting defeat.
“Okay, okay, you win. Just pick all of this up once you do find something you like.”
Steve made his way back towards the door, treating the piles of clothes like mortars and IEDs, when Avery caught his attention, “Can I show you some outfits when I try them on?”
Turning around Steve didn’t see his fourteen year old daughter standing by her closet with one hand on her hip and the other holding a sequin skirt. No, he saw a five year old girl with a pink dress, pigtails and holding onto silver ribbons with tears streaming down her face.
Steve’s mind flashed back to when Avery went to school for the very first time. Steve had moved mountains in order to get his leave time to fall right over the first day of preschool in Hawaii. Only able to manage 48 hours, Steve hopped a plane in Richmond, flew non-stop to California, and then after an uncomfortable six hour, overnight layover in LAX, he arrived at the Honolulu airport an hour before Avery would have to leave the house. Running through the terminal and hailing a taxi, paying the cabbie extra to ‘step on it,’ he opened the front door of the beach house with ten minutes to spare.
Expecting to see Avery bound out of the kitchen wearing the dress she had picked out weeks ago with Grandpa and shown to Steve on the webcam, he was caught off guard when he heard Avery’s sobs upstairs.
Throwing his duffel on the ground by the door, he took the steps two at a time, stopping for a moment to catch his breath in her bedroom doorway. There, standing in the center of the room, was his five year old and his father. For her part, Avery was clutching silver hair ribbons in her fist, tears pouring from her eyes, as she screamed what could affectionately be called bloody murder. His father was crouched in front of her, voice frantic, as he tried to calm her down, his eyes darting to his watch every few seconds.
“Hey, sweet pea,” Steve greeted from the doorway. His two family members had been so entrenched in whatever meltdown was occurring that neither of them had heard him come in the house or up the stairs. Avery’s sobs stopped on cue and his father jumped up from his position, hand over his heart.
“You scared me, son.” John McGarrett walked towards Steve, pulling him into a manly hug, clapping him on the back, “Happy you’re safe and all that, but I’m so glad you’re here.”
Steve laughed at the sound of desperation and exhaustion in his voice; Steve was well-aware that Avery could be a handful when she wanted to be; she was his daughter after all.
Steve walked towards Avery, crouching down in front of her as she flew into his arms. Holding tight, closing his eyes for a moment, breathing in the smell of her newly-washed hair, he took a second to appreciate this moment.
Pulling back a little so he could look her in the eyes, Steve asked, “Aves, what’s wrong? When I talked to you two days ago you couldn’t stop talking about how excited you were for preschool.”
Sniffling as she wiped at the tear streaks on her cheeks, she responded, “I was, Daddy.”
“Then what’s got you so upset now?”
“It’s my hair,” and with that revelation she dissolved into a new wave of tears, leaning her head on Steve’s shoulder as he rubbed her back, trying to sooth her.
At a loss for what to do, he looked towards his father for guidance. Giving him a shrug and a confused look to rival his own, John McGarrett slipped out of the room. Coward.
“What’s wrong with your hair, sweetie?”
“Grandpa didn’t do it like how you do it.” The watery pout she was giving him did wonders for his heart as it melted to his feet.
Looking up at her hair he saw that she was wearing pigtails, a hairstyle he did for her all the time. “Avery, you have your hair in pigtails; that’s how I always do it.”
“But there are bumps, Daddy. I hate the bumps and you always make sure there aren’t any bumps.”
Laughing to himself, Steve stood up and got the comb from on the bed where his father had left it. “Okay, no bumps. I think we can manage that, what’dya say, sailor.”
“Aye, aye, lieutenant.” Avery saluted as she sat down on the floor cross-legged so that Steve could reach the top of her head. Steve made quick work of pulling out the hair elastics, combing through the knots already forming at the ends of her curls, and tied two new ponytails, sans bumps. Grabbing the Cinderella mirror from the bedside table, he held it out for Avery to look into.
“What do you think, better?”
Avery took a minute, contemplating her hair at every angle, then nodded, handing Steve back the mirror and the two silver ribbons still clutched in her fists. “Now you need to put the ribbons in my hair, Daddy. They match my dress; aren’t they pretty,?”
Tying the ribbons over the elastics, he agreed, “They look beautiful, and now you look beautiful too.”
Standing up and spinning her around like a dancer, he said “You are all ready for your first day of school now.”
“Thank you, Daddy,” she rushed towards his legs, wrapping her small legs around them, her pink dress and silver hair bows standing out in stark contrast against the deep blue of his BDUs.
“Earth to Dad.” Shaking his head to rid him of the memories, Steve refocused his vision on the teenaged Avery standing in front of him.
“I would be happy to see your outfit choices, sweet pea.”
Without another word, Avery turned back towards the closet, heaved another exasperated sigh, and began throwing even more clothing out of the closet.
Closing the door as he walked out, he figured it would be best to save the hallway from falling victim to anymore of the massacre; he couldn’t help but think that boys definitely would have been easier.
Steve was downstairs making dinner when Danny walked in.
“Hey, babe,” Danny called as he toed off his shoes by the front door and brought in the bag of groceries he picked up after leaving work.
Steve gave Danny a quick kiss before grabbing Danny’s purchases and refocusing on the chopping task at hand.
“Okay, so what’s wrong in McGarrett land?”
“Nothing’s wrong, Danny. Don’t touch that.” Steve slapped Danny’s hand away from the bowl of chopped veggies sitting on the kitchen island.
“How did you even notice me doing that? Your back was turned.” Danny, of course, didn’t actually listen to the threat and proceeded to eat three pieces of carrot and a piece of broccoli.
“I’m a highly trained Navy SEAL. That’s how.”
“Riiight. So, your highly trained SEAL-senses can sense me silently leaning towards a bowl of chopped vegetables but they cannot sense me getting into bed next to you after I’m stuck at the office till two in the morning doing your paperwork.”
“Danno, I told you that was because I got used to you moving around next to me in bed and I don’t register it as threatening anymore.”
“Good to know. So, if a highly trained assassin came in this house and got into bed with you in order to murder you, you wouldn’t notice. And then I’d be left husbandless and the girls would be fatherless. What’s the point of being married to a trained killing machine if he could get himself murdered in bed?”
Steve turned around, eyebrows raised in Danny’s direction, “Assassins are going to murder me in bed, but only after they spoon me?”
“No, my point is that clearly your spidey-senses are wonky.”
“My spidey-senses are fine; I’ve trained myself over the years to recognize the smells and sounds of my family members.”
“Smells and sounds? You make us sound like a recon mission.”
Giving up the task at hand, Steve dropped the knife and gave his full attention to Danny. “When Avery was two years old I was visiting Hawaii on leave. I had just come back from a very draining and difficult mission. I was still a little jumpy and on edge, but I knew that this was going to be the only time I could see her for awhile. It was the second night I was here and there was one of those loud and quick Hawaiian thunderstorms passing through. I heard the creak in the floorboard and the squeak of my bedroom door open and I didn’t think before I grabbed my service pistol out of the bedside drawer. I cocked the gun before I even realized it was Avery standing there clutching her stuffed seal, sucking her thumb, shaking in fear. After that I barely slept the entire trip, terrified I would hurt her without meaning to. When I went back to base my old training officer told me he spent every night he could just listening to the sounds his wife and children make on the floor or when they open doors. That way, he can recognize their footsteps and know it’s not an intruder. The point is, Danno, I know when it’s you coming home and not a crazed-spooning assassin.”
Danny walked around the island, wrapping his arms around Steve’s waist, “I’m sorry. I should never have offended your spidey-senses.”
“It’s okay.” They shared a brief kiss before Steve pulled away and began to work on dinner again.
“What’s with the feast? Isn’t it just the three of us?”
Steve mumbled something incomprehensible.
Danny gave him a quizzical look that said ‘try again, and this time, open your mouth so words are actually produced.’
Steve knew he was not getting out of explaining that one. “Avery starts high school tomorrow and I just wanted it to be special, you know.”
“I get that.”
Steve didn’t say anything, he didn’t have to. Danny stood next to him for a moment, hand on his shoulder, before turning towards the cabinets and pulling down the plates, cups, and silverware needed for dinner.
Avery came down a few minutes later wearing the third potential school outfit of the night. Steve turned towards the kitchen doorway, took one look at her up and down and said, “No, hell no. Turn your butt back around and take that off.”
“But, Dad,” Avery whined, stomping her foot for good measure.
“Really, stomping feet in indignation went out with being a fan of Mickey Mouse and the Loony Tunes,” Danny chimed in as he came back from the dining room, his work shirt already untucked from his pants, “And you are not wearing that anywhere in public.”
“You both want my first day of high school to suck, right? Is that what this is all about? You want people to think I’m weird and dorky and not cute.”
“You are cute and normal regardless of what you wear,” Steve placated.
“Dad, you are such a boy.”
“No, it was not a compliment.” Avery backed out of the room, going back to the clothing battlefield to wrangle herself into another outfit.
“Care to enlighten me?” Danny prodded.“I have a feeling whatever that was prompted this little family feast.”
“I came home a few hours ago to find her tossing the entire contents of her closet into the hallway. She was literally freaking out about not having anything to wear, she said something about two shirts of the same blue being two different shades of blue and all I could see was a five year old in pigtails crying because Grandpa did her hair wrong. She’s growing up, her and Grace both are, and I’m not ready. I am not ready for cute tops, skirts that make me want to cut out the eyes of every boy on Oahu, and make-up.”
“Please don’t mention the skirts. I’m barely getting over the bikinis.”
“Danno, the girls have been wearing bikinis since they were like seven.”
“Exactly, the skirts are going to at least take me another eight or so years.”
Steve laughed, kissing him soundly as Danny’s arms slinked around his waist. Steve knew that whatever Avery came downstairs in next would probably make him want to strangle whatever fashion designer created the clothes, but everything seemed a little better now that he wasn’t the only one having a mini-father freakout about high school starting tomorrow.
Steve’s phone rang just as he was putting the last of the food into Avery’s lunch for school. Glancing at the caller ID he saw that it was Chin. He knew this wasn’t going to be good; a phone call from Chin at six-thirty in the morning on Avery’s first day of high school, which was common knowledge to the entire team since him and Danny couldn’t stop talking about the girls growing up too fast, meant something bad happened, otherwise he wouldn’t bother Steve or Danny.
“Hey, Steve, I know it’s the first day of school and I really hate to do this, but you gotta come in.”
“Can it wait at least until seven-thirty? We are dropping Avery off at seven-fifteen so we can get to HQ by then.”
“I wish it could, but the Governor’s already called the office twice looking for you.”
“Why didn’t he call my cell?”
“Well he called me first to fill me in on the situation, and then I said I’d contact you in hopes that I could wait a few hours so you and Danny could do the whole Dad-thing for the morning. But he’s called multiple times and I can’t hold him off anymore.”
“Well, what’s the case?”
“Dead girl, daughter of a senator, the Governor promised the senator personally that he was putting his best team on the case.”
“So, political ties means there is no way getting around this and I’ve already pissed him off not calling for the past hour or so.”
“Yup, I’m really sorry, brah.”
“No big deal. I’ll call him, get the case details and you and I can head over to the scene. Danny will do drop off.”
“I know how much you wanted to…”
Steve held his hand up, immediately lowering it when he realized Chin couldn’t actually see him, “Chin, stop, not your fault. It’s life and I’m sure Avery will be much happier if both her parents aren’t there. It’s not cool to have loving parents, you know.”
Chin laughed, “They grow out of that phase eventually.”
“Let’s hope. I will see you in a few.”
Danny and Avery entered the beach house as Steve was hanging up with Chin. “Who are you seeing in a few,” Danny questioned, taking Avery’s swim bag from her shoulder so she could run upstairs and get ready quickly.
Waiting until he heard the water of the shower running, Steve answered, “I have to go into work.”
Danny reared back as Steve moved a step forward, his hands were in front of him, preventing Steve from getting any closer, “First day of school, Steven. First day of high school. You cannot miss this.”
“I have to, Danny.”
“No, you don’t. You can wait until seven-thirty, after we drop Avery off.”
“Dead kid of a politician, governor’s special request. He’s already called multiple times looking for me; Chin’s stalled him for the past hour trying to buy me some time. I can’t side-step him any longer without risking my job.”
“Crap,” Danny sat down, shoulders slumping as he ran a hand over his face, “Political official means no leeway with the governor.”
“Nope. You know how much I hate this, right. I really do; I don’t want to do this to her.”
“But you will drive her, right? At least one of us needs to be there.”
“You bet, babe,” Danny reassured him, “Now, why don’t you go upstairs bang on the bathroom door a hundred times till she finally gets out and we’ll both head out.”
Avery didn’t seem to mind all that much that Steve wasn’t going to be able to drive her. He tried his best, but he knew Danny saw the hurt look in his eyes when Avery grabbed her lunch with a wave of her hand and a ‘Dad, I really don’t care’ before heading towards the Camaro.
Steve couldn’t help the wave of sadness and nostalgia for a time when having Dad drop her off at school was the highlight of Avery’s day. His little girl was growing up, and she didn’t really seem to need him much anymore. The thought was unnerving; Avery and Steve had always been close, Avery being a Daddy’s girl from the moment she put on her first camo onesie a SEAL buddy of Steve’s bought as a gift.
Shaking the thoughts out of his head he grabbed the keys to the truck and headed to the crime scene. And if Danny asked him later if he had the sudden urge to turn the truck around and tail the Camaro all the way to the high school, he’d vehemently deny it.
The case actually turned out to be a quick open and shut case, one that could have easily been handled by HPD, much to Steve’s chagrin. A jealous boyfriend suffocated the girl in a crime of passion after she said she wanted to end things between them. One minute in the interrogation room with Chin and Steve breathing down his neck and the kid copped to everything.
The only plus side of the case was that it was over and done before school got out, meaning that he may not have been able to drop her off, but he sure as hell was going to be picking her up from school.
Finishing up the last report, Steve shut down the computer for the day just as Danny walked into the office jingling the car keys, “C’mon, let’s go together. We can drive in together tomorrow morning and take the truck home after work.”
Steve smiled; Danny always knew when being by himself wouldn’t be a good thing for Steve’s mind.
Settled in the car, Steve turned onto the main road in the direction of the high school before Danny opened his mouth, “She made me park a block away and drop her off there.”
“I didn’t want to, but I get it. She still loves us; she gave me a hug and a kiss, but she’s growing up and that means she’s not going to need us as much anymore.”
Steve gave a noncommittal grunt and kept his eyes on the road.
“It sucks, I know. She’s your little girl and you’ve raised her since she was so small she could fit in the crook of your arm. You were with her when she first went in the water, you taught her how to ride a bike, and you did her hair for the first day of preschool. She’s always come to you for everything, wanting to share it all with you. And, yes, those moments are going to become fewer and far between, but they will still be there. You will always be her hero.”
“She doesn’t need me anymore.”
“Steven, stop it. Stop acting like the father martyr of the year. You know just as well as I do that she will always love you.”
“But she doesn’t care if I’m there to drop her off or not.”
“I promise that a new girl at a new school with new kids, regardless of her relationship with her father, is not going to want to be seen being dropped off by him, particularly when said father carries a gun and has a menacing stare that will put even the world’s most violent criminal on his knees.”
At this point they had pulled up to the parent pick-up line at the high school, waiting for Avery to get out.
“You’re probably right.”
“No, babe, I am definitely right. In fact, just for future moments like this one, let’s just assume that I’m always right.”
Steve looked across the car at his husband, smug look on his face as the Hawaiian sun turned his hair golden through the window, and smiled. “Whatever you say, Danno.”
“Love you, you big goof.” And Danny pulled him in for a kiss just as Avery and Grace knocked on the window, causing both men to jump a little.
“Get a room,” Avery called through the car window as her and Grace laughed and waved goodbye to a group of girls waiting on the sidewalk for their rides.
Danny got out and pulled his seat back so that the girls could climb in back, “Good first day of school?” He asked as they settled in and Steve hit the gas.
“It was awesome,” Avery said, Grace nodding her head in agreement.
“That’s awesome, sweet pea,” Steve smiled, looking at her through the rearview mirror.
“Yup, but Grace was bummed that she didn’t get a special surprise in her lunch.”
“Special surprise,” Danny questioned, turning towards Steve who tried his very best to look innocent.
“Yeah, Dad put a paper clip and a note in my lunch that said, ‘Just in case you need to keep a few papers together or take out a group of rogue cheerleaders. Love, Dad.’”
Danny laughed, grabbing Steve’s hand across the console, “Yeah, paper clip assassinations, your father’s bread and butter.”
The whole family laughed, Steve’s shoulders relaxing as Avery smiled at him, not even a little embarrassed that he wrote her a note like he used to when she was in elementary school.
“I told you,” Danny whispered as Steve turned onto their street, the girls chattering away in the backseat about their new friends.
Okay, so maybe Danny was right this time, and, for once, Steve was okay admitting that.