Steve, of course, did not accept this as an answer, and kept trying to harass the real reason he was bothered out of him. But Danny's mother was the undisputed Harassment Champion of North America (with Rachel being a near runner-up), and if he could shut down enough that they couldn't break through he could sure as hell manage it with Steve.
When the end of the day finally came, though, it was almost a relief. He went home, hugged his kids, and started throwing together a quick red sauce for dinner. It was the closest thing he had to actual meditation, the simmering of the tomatoes and the balancing of the spices enough to consume all his focus if he wanted it to.
Or at least almost all of it. It wasn't long before Grace was standing in the doorway to the kitchen, a familiar enough presence he waved her closer without even looking up. "Come on. You can help me chop the garlic."
There was far too long a pause. "Actually, Danno, I... kind of need to talk to you about something first."
Danny went absolutely still. Every parent knew that tone. It was the "I need bail money" tone. The "your car is now at the bottom of a lake" tone. Even if you were lucky enough to have never actually heard your child sound like that, knowledge of what it meant was encoded into your DNA the first time they put the kid into your arms.
Carefully, Danny moved the pan and switched off the burner. When he turned around, Grace had her arms folded tight across her chest and couldn't quite meet his eyes.
Shit. This was going to be bad. "It's okay, Monkey." He'd had years of practice projecting calm stability when he didn't feel it. "Whatever it is, you can tell me."
Grace rubbed her hands up and down her arms like she was cold. "So, um." She took a deep breath, finally meeting his eyes as everything poured out of her. "I kind of left my laptop at Mom's, and there's this bio paper due Friday so I went right to your computer to start working on it as soon as I got home. But when I opened the browser to start researching, I kind of...." words failed her briefly, enough that it took her a few seconds to finish the sentence. "I noticed 5-0 Central was one of the recently visited sites."
Alarms started blaring in the back of Danny's head, distant but growing closer by the second. "You know about the site?" he managed.
Grace looked more miserable than he'd ever seen her. "I'm on the site." She swallowed. "My screen name is 5-0defender."
He'd felt punches that hadn't hit this hard. Danny braced himself against the counter, holding on white-knuckled to keep his knees from buckling. Everything inside him was a solid mass of ache, a blur he was pretty sure was going to become a hell of a lot worse when he could pick it all apart.
And to top it all off, he suddenly realized, he should have fucking seen it.
"I always had kids," he breathed, kicking himself for not seeing it sooner. "In all the stories, my kids were always right there." Either just a daughter, or a son and a daughter. Always.
He hadn't questioned it. Hadn't even fucking thought about it, really, because his kids were as much a part of him as his arms or legs. Of course they'd be there.
Grace had started talking again, whatever she saw in his face making the explanation rush out of her. "One of my friends told me about the site a few years ago, and I looked through it mostly to see if I needed to protect you from it. But even in the stories where they didn't get really weird, they wrote you guys so wrong!" There was genuine distress in her voice, like there always was when she saw some injustice in the world she couldn't immediately fix. "No one ever said anything about how much of a dork Uncle Steve really is, or how nice you really are, or that you love him so much it hurts you sometimes..."
If this was what a heart attack felt like, he absolutely did not recommend the experience. "Okay," he rasped, more to get her to stop talking than anything else. He was dangerously close to crying right now, and that was the last thing this situation needed. "Thank you for telling me."
The words did nothing to ease Grace, who still looked as wrecked as Danny felt. "I'm so sorry, Danno." Her voice cracked. "At first I just did it so there'd be something on there that was right, but once I was done I..." The words faltered. "We're all together a lot, anyway, and I didn't have to change very much from what really happened, and..." She swallowed, eyes . "It was nice, imagining what it would be like if Uncle Steve really was my stepdad. I liked seeing you so happy."
There was only one possible response to that. "You make me happy, Monkey." His voice was still rough, but he held his arms out wide. "You and Charlie. You're all I need."
With what sounded suspiciously close to a sob, Grace crossed the distance between them. "You make me happy, too," she whispered, voice wet as they wrapped their arms around each other. "But we're even happier in the stories."
Since there was no possible response that didn't involve crying, Danny just held her tighter.
They recovered. Charlie came in and hugged them both, distressed that they were both so clearly distressed, and so he and Grace both pulled it together and all three of them helped finish dinner. By the time they started eating, everything was easier.
By the time both kids had made it into bed, Danny realized that something had eased inside him as well. It wasn't exactly comforting, knowing you were pining so hard your kid could see it all over your face, but he'd rather it be her a thousand times over than some random cop who watched them from a distance. Grace, he knew, would keep his secrets. He could make peace with that.
It was enough that later, when Steve showed up at his door with a six-pack of Longboards and a worried expression on his face, it was just tiring rather than being the worst thing in the world. "I promise you the freakout has passed," Danny said by way of greeting, stepping aside to let Steve in. A late-night sanity check meant he definitely wouldn't leave until he knew Danny was at least functional again, but he was going to damn well keep the explanations to a minimum. "The serial interrogation of our co-workers has officially ended."
Steve didn't sit down, studying Danny's face as if he could read the secrets of the universe in it. After a few seconds, his worry seemed to actually deepen slightly. "You're still upset, though," he said finally. "And you're not talking about it anymore, which means that it's something really bad." He let out a breath, a deeper unhappiness leaking through as he set down the beers. "Something to do with the fanfiction."
Shit. Feeling the last possible conversation he wanted to have coming in like a cruise missile, Danny flung a safer truth in front of him like a shield. Then he put a lie in front of that, giving him as much protection as possible. "I wanted to figure out the real identity of one of the authors. But no one would help me, and with my level of tech skills I've officially given up."
Somewhere in the middle of that, Steve had gone absolutely still. "Which one is it?" he said carefully, clearly worried that Danny was going to hare off after some idiot teenager. "Maybe I can help."
He was going to have to veto that hard. "The best thing you could possibly do for me right now is promise that we will never discuss fanfiction again as long as we live." He picked up two of the Longboards, handing one to Steve. "We'll drink to that, and 5-0defender's identity can wisely remain a secret."
At least, that was what Danny had meant to say. But he only made it about halfway through that last sentence, because Steve's face had changed the minute the author's name had come out of Danny's mouth. He jerked like someone had slapped him, his expression turning pale and tense in a way that normally required someone he cared about to actually be kidnapped. A heartbeat later he’d boxed it all up, in that exact same way he always did that fooled no one because he went too far with it.
All of that, for a name that should have gotten completely lost in the middle of the much wilder, more dramatic stories surrounding it. If Steve had been interested in them as pirates, there was no way he should have cared enough to read short little stories where they ate dinner and argued and cuddled each other and the kids. He shouldn’t even recognize the name.
Danny’s heart started pounding like someone trying to kick down a door. “I take it you’ve read her work?”
There were a few endless seconds where Steve froze, and Danny would have paid actual cash money to know what was going on in his head. Then the blankness cracked, leaving Steve caught somewhere between defeated and exhausted. “Jerry told me about the site.”
“He mentioned that.” When Steve swayed, Danny gently guided him over to the couch and sort of pushed him down into it.
Steve went without a fight, eyes fixed on a spot in the distance that was definitely nowhere near Danny. “I told myself I was just checking out the site so I could talk you down off the ledge if you ever found it, but the truth was I was curious. There were a few interesting things on there, but most of it was…” The words trailed off as he shook his head a little. “Strange. They had our names, but it was more like watching a soap opera.”
Danny left his hand on Steve’s back, rubbing soothing circles. He held onto his heart with a death grip, fiercely reminding himself that he didn’t know yet. It was possible that Steve’s monologue could end anywhere. “That’s a good way of putting it.”
Steve squeezed his eyes shut. “But there was this one story where we just… we all went to the zoo. And the kids’ names were wrong, but we'd gone so many times by then that…” He swallowed. “I re-read them, sometimes.”
That took the breath out of Danny. His chest constricted hard, heart slipping out of his grip and heading for the ceiling. The only possible reason Steve had to go back and re-read Grace’s stories was if he fantasized about that life as much as Danny did.
But from the bleak look on Steve’s face, he clearly hadn’t connected the same dots Danny had. “I sort of lied, before,” he said quietly. “I found out who 5-0defender is.”
Steve opened his eyes, squaring his shoulders as if bracing himself. “Is it someone we know? I always wondered.”
That surprised Danny enough to distract him. “And you weren’t curious?”
Steve shrugged. "I knew it wasn't you. Beyond that, I didn't feel like the answer really mattered." He paused, the silence full of things unsaid. "I didn't think you would ever read them."
Danny's throat tightened. “Grace didn't, either.” He kept his hand on Steve’s back, fingers curling a little in the fabric of his shirt. "She's the one who wrote them, it turns out. Apparently, she thought that the stories that were already out there didn't sufficiently capture how achingly, stupidly in love with you I am."
Danny could actually see the moment the words sank in, Steve's eyes flying open like he'd felt a jolt of electricity. He turned to Danny, expression caught somewhere between wild hope and terror that he couldn't trust what was happening, and it hit Danny that Steve might have been suffering with this even longer than he had.
The thought made Danny's chest ache, but it was filled with so much sweetness his eyes stung. "She was right, by the way," he continued softly, and the light that flared in Steve's eyes outshone the sun. "They really don't."
The kiss started surprisingly hesitant, like neither of them could still quite believe this was happening. It deepened slowly, each touch and taste a little braver and more confident than the one before. Danny felt utterly exposed for the first time in his life, everything inside him spilling out into the light, but Steve just took it all and gave him back everything in return.
When they broke apart, Danny's eyes were suspiciously damp. "Stay," he managed, voice a rasp.
Steve's eyes were wet as well, but they were still the brightest things Danny had ever seen. "I think it's safe to say you'd need the entire U.S. Navy to get rid of me now."
"As if I'd let the Navy get anywhere near you." Danny's hands tightened on Steve without bothering to inform his brain about it. Thankfully, Steve's only response was to snuggle closer. "We'll have to figure out how to tell Charlie, but at least we know Grace will be thrilled."
"What about you?" Steve asked softly, something fragile flickering across his expression. "Did reality live up to the stories?"
He loved this idiot so much it felt like he didn't have room to fit it all inside him. "You dope," he whispered, leaning in for another kiss. "It blew them out of the water."