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Graceful Steps

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New Jersey is always so busy. It’s the thing that strikes her the most whenever she comes to visit her grandparents: how many people there are and how they’re always in this rush to get from one place to the other, like it’s going to disappear if they don’t get there fast enough.

Grace lands in Newark with Danny and Steve and Rachel - the new husband, being more of a hands off kind of guy when it comes to Grace, was off closing a ‘very important’ business deal. It’s irrelevant, because everyone is staying at Danny’s parents' house until she can officially move into the dorms. They’ve already received the UPS packages with all her things, so now it’s just a nice family visit until move-in day.

It helps to think of it as a family vacation. Grace is more nervous and uncomfortable about this than she has ever been about anything in her life - including those nerve-wracking, hand-shaking moments right before Kono shot her down.

In a few days, her parents are going to help her move into the freshman dorms at Rutgers and Grace is going to be all alone. Her parents will go back to their lives of chasing bad guys and making men in expensive suits cry and Grace will be stuck here with people she knows but doesn’t really know and oh, God, it’s gonna suck.

Her parents are getting quieter and quieter, until only Steve is tugging on the ends of her hair and nudging her and offering her small little smiles. Grace leans over until she’s got her head up underneath Steve’s, and his arms have come around her and his hand is running down her back. Steve will let her be quiet and mopey for the rest of the drive, but once they get to Eleanor and James’, she knows she’ll have to snap out of it.

And she does. Eleanor made banana pudding, and it’s almost impossible to stay mopey when her banana pudding is involved. The house is flooded with cousins and aunts and uncles, and then there’s this cacophony of sounds; laughter and joking and the screaming of the littlest ones.

Her dad’s side of the family is loud, certainly louder than Grace is used to, and of course she doesn’t know any of them really well, so she spends much of her time sitting next to Rachel, or shadowing Steve as he wanders from the kitchen to the back yard, trading potshots with Danny across the house.

Grace falls into bed that night exhausted, too tired to be as nervous as she was.

Next thing she knows, it’s two days later and they’re all piling into two separate vehicles. How many people does it take to move Grace into a dorm? She doesn’t know, but she knows how many there are.

There’s paperwork to be signed and boxes to be moved, and Gracie gets there before her new roommate does, so she, Rachel and Eleanor oversee the unloading of boxes and unpacking of linens as Danny, Steve and James bring them in.

With three big guys doing the heavy lifting, unpacking is over, of course, all too fast. Rachel is fretting over leaving her alone, and it’s easier to put on a brave face in the wake of Danny’s semi-serious comment that it’s not too late to bring her back to Hawaii with them, to go to a local school.

Only Steve and her grandparents are calm; Eleanor and James because they’ve done this before, and Steve because someone has to be. Grace knows he’ll miss her later, but for now she’s thankful that he’s not causing histrionics like Rachel and Danno.

It’s the last minute before they all drive off, and only now is Rachel exclaiming to herself and stopping everybody, asking how in the world Grace is going to get around, because they forgot to buy her a car.

Grace could laugh at the clueless look all of the adults exchange at forgetting something so integral, but manages to keep it to the quiet twitching of her lips before James asks why she can’t just buy a bus pass for a while. That seems to reassure Danno, who turns to reassure Rachel that nothing will happen to her on public transportation. She seems dubious, but willing to let it go for now, as long as Grace promises to call if she finds she really truly needs a car. Rachel will come out and help her find something at any time.

Grace presses her lips together and promises, very carefully not thinking about the envelope of cash Uncle Chin had made sure she saw him tuck into her suitcase. He’s known of her plans to buy a motorcycle since she was sixteen and Grace has had her eye on one in the area since before she left Hawaii.

There’s one last round of long, hard hugs, kisses pressed to foreheads and murmured benedictions of love before everyone piles into their separate vehicles and leaves; her parents for the airport and her grandparents for home, reiterating an invitation for her to come by any time.

Grace wanders back to her new home for the next nine months and tries to ignore the loneliness that threatens to overwhelm her. She can do this.

She has to.

***

Okay, so college doesn’t suck as much as it could. Living in New Jersey gives Grace a great opportunity to get closer to the Williams side of the family, especially as Grace goes over to her grandparents’ house for dinner twice a week, and everyone seems to congregate there as a default on the weekends.

Classes are almost ridiculously easy compared to all the hype Grace has heard about how difficult college is in comparison to high school. They must not have meant her high school, because the workload isn’t anything she’s not used to. The freshman general requirements, while not completely fascinating, don’t bore her to tears either.

Grace gets into the habit of waking up ridiculously early to call her family: Steve and Danno get Mondays and Wednesdays, Rachel gets Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Chin and Kono get Sundays. Well, Chin gets Sundays. Kono always seems to find reasons to be busy, to hang up early or brush her off after just a few minutes. It hurts Grace, and she’s shed more than a few frustrated tears over it, but she hasn’t mentioned it to anyone else in Hawaii. She won’t. What’s between Grace and Kono will stay between Grace and Kono, if only because Grace doesn’t want to cause any tension within Five-0.

That doesn’t mean Grace’s Meemaw and Pawpaw haven’t heard all about it, though. They’re good for listening even if they’re awful at hiding their amusement at her teenaged angst. Whatever, as long as they don’t tell Danno, Grace will call it a win. She’ll also let her Meemaw ply her with pudding to make her feel better. It’s a sacrifice, but someone’s gotta make it.

What happens next is almost complete chance.

It’s a Thursday in late October, and Grace has an hour to get from one class to the next. Even though it’s on the other side of the campus, she’s got plenty of time, so she’s not in any particular hurry when her attention is drawn to the recruiters hollering at any passing student, looking for an opening.

It makes Grace laugh, so she wanders over, just to give the guys something to do. It’s military for the most part; she smiles and shakes her head at the Air Force, and the Army recruiters just make her smirk and keep walking. The Marines get a few minutes of her time, the Navy actually makes her pause and talk to them; but no one is really saying anything she’s unfamiliar with.

Grace says goodbye and turns to leave, when her attention is called one more time.

“Miss! Hey, miss!”

Grace raises a brow and turns around, knowing instinctively that the call was for her. Standing next to a table are two police officers in uniform. One guy’s practically sitting on the table and the other one is a few steps in front of him, an engaging smile on his face.

“Have you ever considered a career with the Newark Police Department?”

Grace tilts her head to one side and sizes both men up again, taking a step closer so she doesn’t have to yell. “You know, I can honestly say I never have.”

The first guy’s smile grows. “Are you over the age of eighteen?”

A bolt of amusement shoots through her. “I am.” She checks her watch casually. “I also have a class in ten minutes.”

“That’s fine, that’s perfect. Where’re you headed? What’s your major?”

Grace smiles, she’ll play. “I’m undeclared yet. And, I feel I should warn you, I’m a freshman.”

“No, that’s cool, that’s completely okay, we have programs to help you, we can even help pay some of your college costs if your major ends up being in a related field! Come take a look at this.”

Grace takes another step forward and the guy sitting at the table stands, starts pulling pamphlets an brochures forward.

“We offer competitive pay, education bonuses, hazard pay for specialty teams...” He starts his sales pitch and Grace tunes him out in favor of picking up one of the leaflets. Glossy pictures of focused cadets stare out at her, of them running on a track, listening to an instructor at the shooting range.

Grace thinks of Kono; of her father and every other member of the HPD she’s ever met. She checks her watch again, and interrupts him as he draws another breath. “I have to go...” she says slowly, taking the material with her as she wanders off towards her class.

Grace sits in the back of her women’s studies elective and ignores the lecture entirely, taking the time to read through the promotional material. It’s damned persuasive. Joining a police department isn’t something Grace has ever seriously thought of doing. The downside to living on an island really is that everybody knows everybody else, and in her case, everyone knows Grace belongs to Five-0.

That means that if she had even thought of applying, her parents would all know about it before the day was out, and Grace has never been the type of person to want to tell everybody about everything until she knows for certain one way or another.

It would be good, she thinks, to be important; to be an integral part of making even this little part of the world turn. It would also be a crazy challenge, the concept alone of attempting to be a police officer and still earn her college degree...it feels like something people would do if they had no choice. Grace has choices. The entire concept is crazy, but at the same time...Grace has to wonder if she can do it.

That’s when mention of the Colley Act catches her attention. Grace does some research online and finds out that the Colley Act is a state legislation that says if a student is enrolled in a college or university at the same time they get hired onto a police or fire department, reasonable accommodation will be made to allow them to continue with school; up to - and including - online classes.

This can’t possibly be good, because it’s sounding more and more feasible by the minute; and as soon as the class lets out, Grace makes her way back to where the recruiters are lined up. She goes to the table she left earlier, pulls out an unoccupied chair and takes a seat before looking up at the officers expectantly.

“All right, gentlemen. Tell me more.”

***

That afternoon Grace picks up the phone four times before she finally caves and dials. The line rings five times and just when she’s sure it’s going to go to voicemail, Kono picks up.

“Hello?” Kono’s sleepy, raspy mumble makes the hair on the back of Grace’s neck stand up, and she’s hard pressed to focus her thoughts on something other than the mental images of what Kono must look like when she sounds like that. “Gracie?”

Grace clears her throat and speaks softly, aware of the time difference. “Hey, Kono. Did I wake you?”

Kono sighs, a breath of air that travels through the line and into Grace’s ear. “Yeah. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, I just wanted to talk to you for a minute, run a couple of things by you.”

“Can it wait?” There’s just the faintest hint of a whine in Kono’s voice, the frustration coming through loud and clear. “I’m sorry baby, but it’s been a hell of a day, and I just want to sleep.”

Grace stares down at the department application in her hands and shakes her head. “No. No, it wasn’t important. I’ll just talk to you later, yeah? Get some rest.”

“...kay. Bye, Gracie.” The call disconnects before Grace can say goodbye.

Very deliberately, she sets the phone down on the side of her desk, and picks up her pen.

***

Grace takes her written exam the day before Rutgers is scheduled to break for Thanksgiving. She still hasn’t told anybody at home about it, she doesn’t even know if it’s a likely possibility yet. The hiring process is just that, a process, and at any given point Grace could fail to advance to the next level.

She hasn’t studied for it. Grace already went through the night terrors and cold sweats associated with the SAT; and the minute she put her pencil down, Grace swore to herself she would never stress that hard over an exam ever again. If she didn’t know the material, no amount of obsessing over it was going to help.

As a result, when Grace breezes into the building and sets her helmet down next to her, all it takes is a couple of deep breaths, a surreptitious wipe of damp palms against her pant legs, and a quick prayer before she breaks open the test booklet and starts with the easy answers first.

An hour and a half later, Grace looks up to find that she’s one of five who has finished early, even taking into account going back and rechecking her answers. She can’t be sure whether to be nervous or relieved about that, so she gives a mental shrug, murmurs another prayer over it and then turns it in, quietly picking up her keys and her helmet, and slipping out of the door.

***

She can’t go home for Thanksgiving. It’s only a four day break, and it’s honestly not long enough for any of them to justify the travel time. It’s depressing, especially as she’s being kicked out of the dorm for those four days and she has to stay with her grandparents.

Staying with James and Eleanor isn’t the upsetting part; the upsetting part is that all of her aunts and uncles and cousins are running amok over their house, and Grace can’t get a quiet moment to breathe, much less think, and that just makes her even more mopey.

It’s hard growing up an only child and then suddenly being thrown into all of this family.

Eleanor sees her getting frustrated, and sends Grace upstairs for a nap in her dad’s old room. Grace closes the door behind her with a sigh, but it doesn’t do a whole lot to block out the noise.

Grace wants nothing more than her mother’s hugs, or to climb in between Steve and Danno and make them pay attention to her. She wants pineapple-glazed ham and mashed potatoes, for the smell of the saltwater and warm breeze coming off the ocean. Grace misses early morning surfing with Steve and satellite-broadcast football games with Danno, and oh, God, just thinking about it makes her eyes well up.

Grace feels a little twist in her stomach at the thought of seeing Kono again. She hasn’t called since that day when Kono was too tired to talk; Grace has to hope that Kono has misses her. If Kono never calls, well, they’ll see each other for Christmas.

She misses being able to hop onto one of Uncle Chin’s bikes and go on a tour of the island with him. They used to take tours of the waterfalls and share sandwiches and a thermos of lemonade from Grace’s backpack.

Thinking about any of it certainly isn’t helping, so Grace pulls out her cell phone and curls up on the bed, sending out a mass text message and completely ignoring the twinge of guilt at the time.

Marco?

Two minutes later, her phone is buzzing in her hand; her dad’s face is flashing on the caller ID and Grace doesn’t hesitate to accept the call.

“Polo,” comes his warm voice from the other end. “How’s my Monkey doing?”

Grace’s face crumples and she sniffles as a few stray tears leak out. “Fine,” she croaks.

“Don’t sound fine. What’s wrong, monkeyface?”

Grace sighs and shakes her head. “I miss you, that’s all.”

“Oh, that’s all, huh?” Grace can hear him shifting in place, imagines him rolling over to get more comfortable. “Well, all right, let me tell you what your nut-bucket superseal has been up to while you’ve been gone...”

***

The day after classes resume, Grace gets a phone call from Chin Ho.

“Would you care to tell me why I received a phone call from a background investigator looking into you today?”

Grace’s eyes grow wide and she gulps. “To be honest, I didn’t think they would?”

"Grace Elaine..." The warning tone to Chin's voice makes Grace flinch.

"Well, I didn't! I'm surprised I passed the test," she mutters.

"What are you into?"

She can't help it. "Swimming, surfing, and long walks on the beach."

"Grace!" Only Chin had that kind of bark; not even Danno could make her jump that way.

"Okay! You have to promise that you're not going to tell anyone else." There's a silence on the other end and Grace stops her pacing. "I mean it, Uncle Chin. I'm not telling you a thing until you promise me you're not going to tell anybody else. The last thing I need is everybody finding out about this before I know for sure one way or the other."

"Are you in danger?" He demands. "Is this likely to get you or anybody else hurt or arrested?"

She considers that for a moment. "Not...immediately?"

"Grace!"

Grace sighs. "Uncle Chin, you bought me a motorcycle. You have to trust my judgement at least a little, that I'm not going to put myself into unnecessary danger. If you can't trust me that far, we have bigger problems than just what I've been up to."

He concedes, but not gracefully. "Fine. I promise I won't tell your parents."

"Or Kono."

"Why not Kono?" he asks.

"Because I tried to tell her when I started this, and she brushed me off. We haven't spoken since then and if she wants to know what's going on in my life, she can call me and ask, just like you did."

"You know she's just trying to give you some space, Gracie."

"Yeah, well, I never wanted that space in the first place."

"All right, point taken. Your secret's safe with me. If you ever tell me, that is."

Well, this can be like her test run for telling her parents. "I may have applied to the Newark Police Department about a month ago."

There's a long moment of silence on the other end. "I can see why you don't want your mother to know," he says at last.

"Or daddy." Grace rolls her eyes. "He's still convinced I want to be a dolphin trainer."

"And you don't?" Chin checks, "You want to be a police officer instead?"

Grace knows it's the first time he's hearing of it, and she understands his skepticism. "I want to be challenged. I want to be important and needed and I kind of really want to belong to something bigger than myself. I see what you and dad and Kono do, and even taking into account that you're part of a task force, I've seen what the beat cops at HPD do, and it's admirable; and I really think I want to be part of it."

"You know it's not gonna be easy?"

She nods. "I know. But you know easy is never fun for me."

"You also know you could have stayed in Hawaii if you had wanted to be a cop. We could have helped you."

Grace smiles. "Yeah. But the point isn't to see how much help I can get, the point is to see what I can do all by myself."

Chin laughs a little on the other end. "Well, if the woman I spoke to today was any indication, they're doing the background check on you now. What's next?"

"The physical qualifications, the medical and psychological exams, and the board interview."

"And when will you know?"

Grace sighs. "Assuming I don't fail out at any point? They're looking to start Academy in the beginning of March."

"Are you going to tell your parents that you're dropping out of school, at least?"

Grace shakes her head. "No, I'm not dropping out. I wouldn't do this if there wasn't still a way for me to finish school. Newark PD has something set up with Rutgers, where I can take online classes after and around Academy, and trust me when I tell you, I won't be losing much. I was expecting these classes to be harder."

"Considering you went to one of the best schools in Hawaii, I think I would be disappointed if they were harder."

"Fair point."

Chin sighs. "All right, princess. Keep your chin up, and just because classes are easy doesn't mean you get to slack off. I'll see you in four weeks, okay?"

"Okay," Grace smiles. "Aloha, Uncle Chin."

"Aloha, Gracie."

***

Grace is sitting in LAX, waiting for her connecting flight, when she gets the email congratulating her on making it to the next round of the application process, and telling her that her physical test is going to be three days after she is scheduled to get back.

Grace groans, this is information she really could have lived without, at least until after New Year’s.

She wonders what Steve will think when Grace gets up early to go running with him. Grace is not a runner, she never has been. She’s been on the swim team since she was in seventh grade, specifically so she didn’t have to run.

Yeah, Grace thinks as she packs up her laptop, this is gonna suck.

The last hour and a half of her flight is the hardest. Even the plush, super-comfortable seats of the First Class area aren’t enough to keep her from shifting every few minutes. Even though she’s looking out for the landing, the touchdown is still jarring.

She exits the plane, eyes searching for - there, there they are. Rachel and Danny are pushing past people in an effort to get to her as fast as possible, and Steve’s hanging back, letting her parents greet her first.

They sweep her up in a flurry of hugs and kisses and laughter and smiles, and Grace’s eyes well with grateful tears. She’s missed them so much, it’s ridiculous. With one last strong hug for each of them, Grace hands Rachel her purse and Danny her carry on, and takes a running start at Steve.

He just barely manages to brace himself before all hundred sixty pounds of her comes leaping at him, but Super Steve manages to catch her up into a strong hug. Grace’s long legs unwind from around Steve’s waist as he carefully lets her drop to the ground.

Rachel and Danny catch up, all sweeping her into more hugs as they herd her to the parking lot. Grace still has her things at both houses, she purposely packed light so that they could just go straight home.

Everyone piles into Rachel’s SUV, Steve drives while Rachel sits in the back and pumps Grace for information about school, about classes, about boys and girls. Grace answers all the questions as best she can, chattering a mile a minute about everything under the sun and passing on greetings to everybody from the Williams side of the family.

Rachel's house is just like Grace left it, all open spaces and cool colors. Everybody gathers in the kitchen, where Rachel makes everyone some toast with orange marmalade - the same after-school snack Grace has had since she was seven.

Grace's eyes well up with another set of tears, and she sighs. "Oh, man, you guys. It is so hard to live without you."

Rachel pulls her in for another hug, rubbing her back soothingly while Danny straightens. "But you're doing okay, right? I mean, you've got my mom and pop and there's my sisters and all of your cousins."

Grace shrugs a little. "It's not the same. It's not you guys. It's not luaus and shaved ice and tiki torches and surfing."

"You know you can always come home," Rachel says softly.

Grace scoffs. "And be the failure who can't grow up away from her family for a few years? No, thanks."

"Hey," Steve says, "There's nothing wrong with needing your family around you. I wouldn't trade my family for anything and maybe if I had had it my way, I wouldn't have left Hawaii in the first place."

"But you did leave, and you were better for it," Grace argues.

"So what do you wanna do?" Danny asks, "You wanna come back and go to school here? You want me and Rachel to move there? What?"

Grace rolls her eyes and shakes her head. "I wanna pout about it some. And whine, and cry and say 'woe is me'. And then I wanna build a bridge and get over it."

Steve grins, "You're turning into a Jersey girl."

Grace flashes a return smile. "Of course I don't want you guys moving with me. First of all that would defeat the purpose of learning how to live without you; and secondly, I need to have a home to come back to on vacations and holidays and stuff."

Rachel kisses her forehead, and Danno just nods, but Grace can see the love and the pride in their eyes.

***

At 4:15 the next morning, Grace drags her tired, cranky ass out of bed and into a pair of shorts and a stolen, threadbare HPD shirt. She pulls her long, dark hair into a sloppy bun and slides her sandals on. Quietly, she goes downstairs, grabs a bottle of water out of the refrigerator and takes the keys to her Jeep off of the hook by the door. On the chalkboard underneath it, she checks the box marked 'Steve and Danny's', and takes off through the garage, shivering in the pre-dawn light.

Fifteen minutes later, she pulls up behind Steve's truck and turns off the engine, grabbing her water as she gets out and closes the door to the Jeep. Grace doesn't bother with the front door, just treks around to the back and meets a surprised Steve sitting on the steps of the lanai, ignoring his hand on a Glock 23. She just drops down onto the steps and leans into him for a hug, and he sets the gun down to return it.

Grace takes a deep breath. "So," she starts staring out at the quiet early morning water, "I may have either made the best decision or the worst mistake of my life, but either way I need your help."

Steve rubs her neck where she used to get headaches when she started high school. "You're not pregnant, are you?" Grace raises her head from his shoulder to give Steve a look. He just shrugs with a guilty smile. "Had to ask."

"I applied to the Newark Police Academy," she tells him. Steve stops rubbing her neck, and it all comes spilling out. How it started, all of her thoughts and how cautiously optimistic she's getting. "I've made it past the written test and the background check and the physical test is three days after I get back to Jersey." Grace bites her lip and shrugs a little. "Yeah, so I need a crash course in training for the run."

"What's the goal?"

"A mile and a half in fifteen fifty-eight."

"Have you been keeping up with your swimming?"

"Not as much. I'm only doing three days a week instead of five."

Steve nods. "Okay. I’m guessing you want this to go on the list of Things We Don’t Tell Danno About?” Steve and Grace have had this running list of secrets between them since she was eleven years old, and she knows he’s taking her seriously if he’s offering before she even has to ask. She nods, and he gives her a small smile. “Start stretching. We'll go at an easy pace today."

***

Three weeks.

Three weeks of comfort, and laughter, and fun.

Three weeks of good food and better company, of reuniting with friends she hasn’t seen in ages and shopping trips with Rachel.

Three weeks of surfing, hiking, cliff diving.

Three weeks of dragging her ass out of bed at four in the morning to train with Steve, of cooling off in the ocean and eating breakfast with her fathers.

Three weeks of soaking up sunshine and getting back her deep, dark tan.

And in three weeks, not seeing Kono once.

Three weeks of willing herself not to scan the surf for a familiar figure, of keeping her eyes firmly away from the door every time it opened. Three weeks of ignoring the pitying glances her parents and Chin Ho gave her when they thought she wasn’t looking. Three weeks of wondering what she was doing and who she was with, of stifling the desire to seek her out and spend time with her.

Three weeks of laying awake at night, thinking about everything and nothing, of wondering if Kono really will want her later.

Three weeks of wishing she didn’t feel this way.

It’s almost a relief to go back to Jersey.

***

She aces the run.

Grace sends out a simple text message to Steve and Chin Ho after she gets done, basking in the grudging, approving nod she gets from the guys recording down the official time.

10:38!!!

Chin pops back a text two minutes later. That’s great! I knew u could do it!

Steve’s response, That’s my girl!, makes her happiest.

***

Next thing Grace knows, she’s taking a deep breath and walking into the interview, shoulders down and head up, ready smile on her face as she shakes hands with every person in there.

This is where her mother’s legacy shines. Where she’s got her father’s pride and fierce determination, and Steve’s sense of adventure and risk taking, Rachel has this ability to charm rooms full of strangers with nothing but a smile. Grace has to work a little harder than that, but not by much.

The interview panel consists of five people, only one of which is another woman. Years of practice have her matching names to faces with little difficulty, using little tricks her mother has taught her over the years.

The questions start off relatively easy, verifying her name and contact information. She hits her first snag when they ask her about living in the dorms at Rutgers, what she plans to do if she gets hired and can’t live there any more.

“Actually, I have extensive family in the area, and my grandparents have already offered me a place in their home after this school year is over.” Grace makes a mental note to beg them for a place to stay later.

They ask her why she wants a career in law enforcement; how she plans to handle a full load of classes and a full time career.

Thankfully, these are questions she’s anticipated, and she tells them, honestly, about how she's grown up with incredible role models; about how it’ll be a challenge, but one she’s looking forward to.

Then comes the unexpected.

Captain Mann leans forward and shuffles through the papers in front of him, his gaze sharp on her face when he says, "Your father is Danny Williams?"

She nods. "He is."

"There was a Williams I went through academy here in Newark with. Good man. He left Jersey for Hawaii to be near his kid, about ten, twelve years back."

Grace grins. "That's me," she says, "He was with HPD for a little bit until he got recruited into the state's task force."

He studies her. "He know you're doing this?"

"No clue," she laughs. "And I'm not planning on telling him until after everything is said and done. If you remember my dad, then you definitely remember his tendency to be rather...free with his opinion on a myriad of subjects."

The Captain grins with her and nods, "I remember. That man could be running miles til he dropped, and rant about something with every single step. A good man, though. He was a solid officer and a damned good detective." Grace feels a quiet glow of pride at his words. "Are you anything like him?"

"According to my mother, sometimes I'm a little too much like him." She nods. "I like to think I get my determination from him."

Captain Mann nods and sits back, letting the others take over the last few questions. Finally - right in front of her - the rest of the panel passes him their papers, and he files through them one by one.

"We're going to need you to set up an appointment for your medical and psychological screenings by February seventeenth. If everything comes back clear, you can report to the Academy March first. "

Grace's breath catches in her chest, and her heart leaps to her throat. She knows her eyes have widened, and she can't help the elated grin that spreads across her face. "Alright. Okay, I can absolutely do that, no problem."

They're all laughing at her excitement. It's discreet, but the amusement is clear, and she can't even bring herself to care. Grace stands and smooths out her skirt, making sure her palms are dry as she steps forward and shakes hands with the panel one last time. She thanks them for the opportunity, tells them they won't regret it, and leaves.

After she's changed back into jeans and her motorcycle jacket, Grace leans against her bike and takes in a shaky breath. She's still feeling the adrenaline and excitement and tries halfheartedly to calm herself before she climbs on. The last thing she needs is to be busted for speeding after all of this.

It doesn't stop her from tempting fate just a little as she jumps onto the highway and opens her up, laughter ringing freely in her ears and being ripped away by the wind.

The drive back to her grandparents house is fun, all biting cold and sharp wind. It does nothing to calm her down when she jumps off the bike and heads inside, pulling her helmet off and shaking out her waist-length brown hair.

"Hello?" She calls, opening the front door and stomping her boots off on the front mat.

"In the kitchen!" Her grandmother responds, and Grace heads that way, dropping her helmet on the front table.

"Hey!" She finds her meemaw standing over the stove, stirring what smells like that awesome red sauce she's so great at, which only helps Grace's day to get even better. Grace wraps both arms around Eleanor's shoulders and squeezes tight, basking in Eleanor's chuckle as she squeezes back.

"So," Grace hops up onto the counter, then hops back down when she swats at her with a kitchen towel. "What do I have to do to move in around here?"

Eleanor just raises an eyebrow and reaches for the thyme. "I suspect you'll need to rope your cousins into helping you pack, and recruit some of those strong college boys into hauling your things this way. You should probably pay them in pizza, dear. I remember how much college boys eat."

Grace grins in relief. "Have I told you lately how you're the best Meemaw ever? Is Pawpaw okay with the idea?"

"It's not like we didn't already know you were unhappy at the dorms," Eleanor chides, tasting the sauce and opening the cupboard again.

Grace considers that as she wanders over to the table, stopping to dig out a few oatmeal cookies. "I need to work on my poker face," she muses.

“Why?” James asks as he comes into the room. He’s a big man who still carries the air of authority that comes with being a retired fire chief. He hugs her with one hand as he snitches a cookie with the other. “How else are we supposed to mock your father for knowing what goes on with you before he does?”

Grace grins and shakes her head. “That’s mean, Pawpaw.”

He shrugs. “He’ll do the same when you have your kids. You moving back in?”

Grace nods thoughtfully. “If you all don’t mind.” They shake their heads and she nods again. “Want to know another secret you’re not allowed to tell Daddy? Pop already knows,” she adds when James looks at her. “I’m just not telling Dad yet until I’m really sure.”

“Does your mother know?” Eleanor asks, “You know it’ll hurt his feelings if your father finds you’re keeping things from him.”

Grace shakes her head. “Only people that know anything are Pop and Uncle Chin.”

“Not Kono?” James asks with a grin.

Grace scowls. “Kono,” she announces, "is an idiot. And I’m not talking to her for a while.”

Eleanor looks up and raises an eyebrow. “What’d she do?”

“She’s just been ignoring me since like November! And she completely avoided me at Christmas. So I’m not talking to her until she apologizes.”

Both of her grandparents grin quietly, and Grace scowls again. “Shut up,” she mutters.

James protests his innocence while Eleanor chides Grace on her language. “What did you have to tell us?”

Grace sobers a little. “No, really. No telling, okay? It’s nothing dangerous, it’s just a surprise. An epic one.”

“Oh, God, you got a tattoo,” Eleanor assumes. “Your father is going to flip.”

Grace blinks. “Oh, no, I already have one of those. And he did flip,” she adds. “Mom, too. Pop wasn’t very happy but he said it was too late to be pissed about it.”

Eleanor stops what she’s doing and turns to face Grace completely. “You already have a tattoo?”

James grins. “You got it on your eighteenth birthday, didn’t you?”

Grace shakes her head. “I can’t believe you didn’t hear about that. No, I was sixteen; which is why they flipped. I was grounded for like three months.”

Now they both look surprised. “You got a tattoo when you were sixteen and they only grounded you for three months?”

“Well, like Pop said, it was a little late to punish me for something I couldn’t undo, and it’s my body anyway. I should be able to do what I want with it.”

“But a tattoo?” Eleanor asks.

“At sixteen?” James adds.

“Well, to be fair, they were way more pissed at the artist and the establishment for working on a minor. And I had already told Daddy I was going to get one the year before, he just didn’t take me seriously.” Grace shrugs. “That would be why it was only for three months.”

Grace turns her back on them and pulls up her shirt. There, on her right shoulder blade, just under her bra strap is a black and white tattoo of her father’s NPD badge, with Steve’s dog tags on a shortened version of the government-issue ball chain hanging off the top of the badge.

James whistles, and Eleanor steps forward to touch it. “It’s big,” she says, a little surprised.

Grace nods. The entire thing is about the size of her palm. “It had to be, to get all the detail right.”

“Is that his original badge number?” James asks.

Grace nods again. “Yeah. Dad managed to keep it through getting promoted to detective and switching police departments, so that number is his.” Grace pulls her shirt back down and settles back into her chair, breaking her cookie in half. “So, you know, if anything ever happens to me, they’ll be able to identify me through his number, and notify him at the same time.”

Eleanor winces. “Gracie, that’s morbid.”

She shakes her head. “No, it’s practical,” she argues. “There are all kinds of sickos out there, and victims can go unidentified for years, if they’re found with no ID on them, or if steps are taken to rob them of their identity. And especially now, with not being on the island, if something were to happen to me and I were found without my driver’s license or I were found without my head or hands, they could identify me by the tattoo. That’s why it’s Daddy’s badge,” she adds. “Mom thought I didn’t love her or something, but if a medical examiner found a shield tattooed on a victim, they would immediately pull the record associated with it, to see what connection there is.”

“It’s still morbid,” Eleanor insists softly.

“Meemaw, I’ve been kidnapped three times.”

Eleanor presses her lips together and gets up again to stir the sauce. Grace feels a pang of regret at distressing her, then another twinge of apprehension. “Is this a bad time to bring up the job interview I just had?”

***

Convincing her grandparents to keep her secret is tough. They sit around that kitchen table for hours, through dinner and dessert, arguing the pros and cons of trying to hold down classes and a full time job, and then arguing against telling her dad everything up front.

Grace wonders why being eighteen means she can’t be trusted to know her own mind, or why it’s automatically assumed she’s impulsive.

Either way, everything is said and done and even though Eleanor has reservations, James is firmly in her corner - if only because apparently Danny’d done the same thing when he signed up to be a police officer in the first place. Grace grins at the thought of inadvertently following in her father’s footsteps.

Of course, it’s only a matter of time before her aunts and uncles find out, but every single one of them promises eagerly to keep that secret, already anticipating the reveal.

She’s incredibly lucky in the timing. Academy starts in March, and she’s only a week into trying to juggle both when Rutgers lets out for spring vacation. Two weeks of getting acclimated to training - complete with falling down dead at the end of the day - before she’s working with her professors to do the last two months of school in the evening after she gets home from training.

Of course, telling her family that she’s found a job and wants to stay in Jersey for the summer isn’t easy, and convincing them not to come up to visit is damned near impossible; but with a little fast talking, some help from Steve and a stroke of luck that takes Rachel troubleshooting in Sydney for almost a month, Grace manages it.

The workload at the academy gradually increases and then levels off sometime mid-summer, so by the time sophomore year starts, she’s got enough of a handle on things to not be completely overloaded with the new classes. When her parents ask, Grace blames the somewhat more advanced curriculum for why her Rutgers GPA has dropped to a 3.2. Danny wants to be sure she’s not out partying all night, and Rachel just wants to make sure Grace can handle it.

Grace collapses onto her bed with a sigh. She is tired, bone weary, but it’s not a feeling she would trade for the world. Between getting up early for academy and staying up late for school, Grace has gotten used to working on five hours of sleep. Sometimes less, since she still makes a point to call her family once a week. She dreams of a full eight hours, but barring a brush with the plague, it’s not happening any time soon.

Three days a week, Grace will get up at five thirty, roll out of bed and travel twenty minutes to spend an hour in the pool, before reporting to the training field at eight am for even more PT. Somehow, Grace has managed to drop fifteen pounds, though from where, she’s not quite sure. She does notice that her once-slim swimmers’ build has gotten cut; ripped like woah. It takes her about three months to notice the change, and then only because she’s run out of holes on her belt and her pants keep slipping off of her hips.

Police academy is...interesting. In a way, Grace feels like she’s been made for this. Sure, procedure and ordinance codes, being taught the law is all new to her, but thanks to Kono and Chin Ho, Grace excels at hand to hand, and weapons training? Grace has been handling firearms since she was twelve; there’s very little she doesn’t know about cleaning, firing, and assembling a multitude of weapons.

Of course, being good at the physical isn’t earning Grace any brownie points, and it’s certainly not gaining her much popularity with her peers. 2023, and the NPD is clinging to the last vestiges of a boys’ club with all it’s might. It’s kind of ironic, Grace spent years being called the haole in Hawaii; now she has people sneering about ‘that damned Hawaiian, and her martial arts shit’. And just like those hurtful names in school, the snide comments and crude remarks only push her to be that much better.

Grace is in the top three of all her classes, and she’s doing it with a smile and the stubborn mindset of the virtue she’s named after.

It helps that she’s got such a solid support structure. Even if they don’t know everything that’s going on, her family is invaluable to her. Grace still rotates phone calls to everyone once a week, and chatters tiredly but animatedly as she relays news of classes and relatives (Danny), boys and clothes (Rachel), and girls and the academy (Steve and Chin Ho). She still hasn’t called Kono, and Kono hasn’t bothered to call her. Grace is grateful that most days she’s too tired to dwell on it.

The days pass entirely too fast, and before she knows it, Grace only has a month left before graduation from the Academy. She’s excited, ecstatic and terrified out of her mind; this is what she’s been working towards for almost a year now and damned if the thought of actually living the life doesn’t leave her feeling a little helpless. She hopes she’ll be good at it. She prays she’ll be able to do her family - all of her family, extended and adopted alike - proud.

Grace plots with Steve and Chin Ho as she buys the plane tickets; applies judicious use of guilt trips, the little girl voice and “Mommy” and “Daddy” when she calls her parents, tells them she misses them like crazy, and asks them to come visit her. Please, please, please.

She should feel guilty, but instead she only feels devious and maybe a little nervous to know her parents are already in the air the morning of her graduation. Grace gets up and has breakfast with James and Eleanor, hanging on them with strong hugs and taking deep breaths. They’ll be coming with her to the graduation hall; Grace’s Aunt Sarah has promised to meet her parents at the airport and drive them there.

They drive to the graduation hall and Grace gives her grandparents one last hug before she hustles back to the locker rooms, grinning and trading jokes with the rest of the women as she finds her locker and hangs up her uniform.

Grace glances at the clock; if she’s timed everything right, Sarah has just picked up her parents. They’ll be in the car now, and Sarah should be passing the bottle of Jameson to the back, along with the three shot glasses. Grace told Sarah to tell Danny that she didn’t think a beer was gonna cut it this time; she only hopes Sarah remembers.

Either way, when Grace pulls on her uniform, her hands are trembling with nerves, and when she falls in with the other twenty-four recruits, she can only swallow, raise her chin, and hope everything goes well.

What happens next is a blur. They file up on stage and stand at attention as the Chief of Police and the Mayor make speeches about the future of the city, and their futures in their new careers. Grace stares straight ahead and tries to use her peripheral vision to see if her parents have made it yet.

They have. Out of the corner of her eye, Grace sees the familiar faces in varying degrees of shock and pride. She’s called forward; and it’s announced that she’s tied for first place with one other cadet, with the best marksmanship of them all.

Grace raises her right hand, takes her oath, and the crowd goes wild. Her closest friends and all of her family, almost twenty people in all, erupt into cheers, whistles, catcalls, and hollers; and Grace flashes the crowd a grin as she shakes hands with the Chief and the Mayor, and steps back into place.

It takes a long time for the applause to die down.

***

After, when she’s changed out of her uniform and back into jeans and a shirt, she goes out front to meet her family.

Danny and Steve are standing shoulder to shoulder talking to Capt. Mann, of all people; and Rachel and Eleanor have their hands gripped and heads together. Rachel and Danny have visibly been crying, and when Danny catches sight of her, he hastily excuses himself, calls Rachel, and pushes through the crowd to meet Grace halfway.

Both of her parents grab her tight and don’t let go, and Grace lets herself relax into them with a laugh, her own emotions making her cry, too. They’re both in tears again, Rachel is murmuring her name over and over, and Danny’s just holding on.

Finally they pull back, and Danny opens his mouth to say something, pauses, and then stops. Eventually he says, simply, “You have so much explaining to do.”

Grace smiles, nods earnestly. “I will, I promise. Aunt Sarah’s letting us use her car; let’s go eat and I will tell you everything over dinner, yeah?”

Rachel sighs and nods, pulls her in for another tight hug. “You are so dead,” she sighs. “I expect to hear a ridiculously good explanation for this.”

“Would you believe it seemed like a good idea at the time?” Grace gets a long, unamused look - from both parents.

“Unfortunately,” Rachel says after that pointed silence, “Yes, I can.”

Grace rolls her eyes and jumps on Steve with a hug when he walks up, talking about dinner and finding Sarah and taking the opportunity to change the subject

They’ll come around; she’ll make sure of it.

***

Grace is zoning out, floating on the endorphins being released in response to the buzzing in her ears, the burn on her left shoulder and the scrape of the tattoo needle when the phone in her hand starts to vibrate.

Grace startles, remembers just in time not to move, and looks down. There’s a little quiver in her stomach at the sight of that sexy, warm smile flashing up from her caller ID. Grace accepts the call, and puts the phone to her ear.

“Kono, hi.”

“Hey, Gracie. How are you?”

Grace raises an eyebrow. “Fine. How are you?”

“Oh, you know. Good. I was headed out to the beach this morning and I thought I’d give you a call, see how you’re doing.”

Grace knows the disbelief is blatant in her tone. “You did?”

There’s a pause on the other end. “Well, no. Actually Chin cornered me, told me everyone was making a point to stay out of things, but that if I didn’t call you, I was going to lose you as a friend.” Kono sounds a little sheepish, and a little wistful. “We used to be friends, Grace.”

Grace softens, but not much. “We still are friends, Kono.” She injects a note of teasing into her voice. “Friends who never call or text or email, but you know. Friends.”

Kono laughs a little, and Grace feels a warm glow. “Yeah. So, Danny and Steve seemed pretty happy to have gone to visit you. I guess they showed Chin some pictures, but... I haven’t seen them yet.”

“Yeah, we had a lot of fun. I miss you all so much, it’s crazy. Did anybody tell you anything about me?”

“I heard bits and pieces. Something about a hot pink motorcycle and matching helmet? Hey, what’s that sound?”

Grace glances over her shoulder. “Oh, just the tattoo needle. I’m getting some work done.”

“Another tattoo?” Kono sounds kind of incredulous. “Gracie, of what?”

Grace grins. “Newark police badge. On my left shoulder.”

“What? I thought your dad’s was on your right?”

“It is. It’s a funny story, actually, you should call me when you have some time. I’ll tell you about it.”

“I have time now,” Kono offers. “I’ve just pulled up to the beach, but we can talk. I’m just as happy watching the waves.”

“I miss the waves,” Grace admits. “And you should go be in them for me. I’ll tell you all my news later, if you call me again.”

“Well why can’t you tell me now?”

Grace arches an eyebrow, her teasing tone at odds with her serious words, “Because I want to talk to you more than once a year, and this way, I can be sure you really want to know if you make time for me.”

There’s a pause on the other end. “In that case,” Kono says, “I guess I will go surf after all. And Grace? I’ll talk to you later.”

Grace tries not to let that feel like the promise it sounds like. “Likewise,” she replies, and hangs up.

“Boyfriend?” The tattoo artist asks as he pauses to wipe away the blood.

Grace smiles. “Nah. But maybe she’ll come around.”