New Family Traditions
By Ridley C. James
Summary: New state, new job, new partner…it only makes sense that there would be new traditions all around.
By: Ridley C. James
A/N: My friend and beta, Tidia and I love to incorporate quirky little moments from real life into our fics. I mean who doesn't have one of those crazy times that just screams to be put down in a story. If it also places characters from one of your favorite shows into yummy angst-filled or aww-worthy situations, then all the better. This little one shot was inspired from my weekend, minus the horse and the whole Steve dancing part, although fantasizing about that did get me through the experience. I delved into Danny's pov in my first fic and this time I tackled Steve. Maybe when I get the hang of both, I'll do a much longer story. Let me know what you think!
Lt. Commander Steve McGarrett knew something was up the moment Danny Williams strode into his office with two cups of coffee, his treasured bag of malasadas and a familiar grin used only after nine. It wasn't even seven- thirty.
Danny also didn't share food, at least not without a motive. Steve had learned taking a fry off his partner's plate or snatching a piece of pepperoni from his pizza provoked a swift physical confrontation, and a verbal assault about the sanctity of a man's dinner that could at the most cost a guy a couple of fingers, or at the least kill his appetite for the entire day.
Most importantly, Danny didn't make a habit of stopping by Steve's office for a morning chat. If there were no early calls, he headed straight for his own domain, closing his blinds, and taking at least twenty-two, never more than thirty-one minutes to do whatever it was he did to get his game face on. Steve was almost certain his partner did this just to leave him wondering what was actually going on behind closed doors. Danny liked to think Steve had an issue with knowing everything that went on with the people in his close knit circle, which of course was completely ridiculous. As usual Danny had taken a simple character trait and blown it entirely out of proportion, making it sound like Steve was a walking, talking thesis for any practicing psychoanalyst.
"What's with the early morning aneurysm face?" Danny took the chair in front of Steve's desk, pulling it closer so he could set the drinks and brown bag of pastries between them. "We got a potential case?"
"Nothing new." Steve eyed the detective. Danny was wearing his dark green tie with the tiny diagonal blue stripes-the one Grace bought him for Father's Day, the one he swore brought him good luck. They were not going to court to testify, there wasn't any particularly important investigation taking place. It was yet another sign Danny was after something. Steve willed his face to reflect only slight interest, his voice remaining casual. "What's going on with you?"
"I thought you might be hungry after your twenty mile swim and marathon jog around the entire island this morning." Danny took one of the fried, powdered covered pieces of dough out of the bag and pushed the remaining ones closer to Steve. "Eat up."
Steve eyed the bag disdainfully as the nauseating scent of warmed lard and sugar filled his office. He was going to have to put Grace up to having another nutrition chat with her dad. "You've never shown particular concern for my appetite before."
"You're my partner. I'm always concerned," Danny mumbled around a mouthful of malasada.
Steve tracked the trajectory of crumbs as they fell from Danny's gesturing hands. He used his pencil to nudge the bag closer to his partner. "If you were truly considering my welfare, you'd have brought some scrambled egg whites with fresh mango and kiwi-maybe some granola and yogurt."
Danny dusted more crumbs from his tie; Steve clenched his jaw as the offending particles littered his floor. "Like you haven't already had that breakfast of champions before sunrise? This, Steven, is second breakfast."
"What are you -a hobbit?"
"A hobbit?" Danny gave his partner a hurt look. "This is the thanks I get for trying to be nice to you? You dig out the height jokes?"
Steve grinned, quite pleased with his analogy. He was usually on the receiving end of Danny's never-ending comparisons to characters that ranged from the Energizer Bunny to Chuck Norris. "I was thinking about your shared affinity for food, but now that you mention it…"
Danny made to stand, snatching the paper bag from Steve's desk. "All you had to say was no thank you."
Steve visualized the impending dramatic exit, knew that he could either let it happen and endure the silent treatment for the rest of the day, or do exactly what Danny was counting on him doing. "Sit your ass down, Danno."
Danny dropped into his seat without hesitation, proof he had no intention of ever leaving. "Not exactly the apology I am entitled, but we both know how badly you suck at those. I could starve to death waiting for you to search your fraction of a human side for feelings of contriteness, let alone mustering the ability to actually verbalize such feelings."
Steve was a man who believed actions spoke for themselves. He took one of the cups of coffee, giving it a little sniff before lifting it to his lips for a drink, after which he smiled. "Satisfied?"
Danny took another pastry from the bag, waving it in the air as he spoke. "You could at least seem a little appreciative that I added the girly flavored creamer and sugar that you, Kono and my ex share an affinity for."
"Or I could reaffirm my manly status by just putting the cards on the table." Steve set his coffee down with a roll of his eyes. He leaned his elbows on his desk to stare at his partner. "What the hell do you want, Danny?"
Danny opened his mouth to no doubt launch into a speech-length protest, but seemed to switch tactics at the last second. He dropped his half eaten malasada in the bag with a huff, looking slightly defeated. "I need a date, Steven."
That was not the answer Steve had been expecting. "Sorry, partner, I run an elite government task force, not an escort service. Maybe you should revisit that hostess bar…"
"Not that kind of date, you idiot." Danny reached up and tugged at his tie, a tick that said he was moving past irritated right into flustered territory. "If I had call for such help, which I in no way do, I would have gone to Chin, who seems to be related to half the hot babes in Hawaii. You, my friend, would be my last choice to hook a brother up, somewhere down the list after Kamekona considering you only date G.I. Janes on shore leave who happen to, I'm quite positive, all share your sick love for adrenaline and a slightly psychotic view on life. I myself am really not in to the whole S & M concept when it comes to showing a girl a good time."
"Yet, here you are plying me with pastry and flavored coffee." Steve leaned back in his chair, propping his hands behind his head. "What am I supposed to think? You're sending mixed messages, man."
"I hate you so much, you know that right."
Steve chuckled, enjoying his partner's discomfort. It had been a slow week and he never tired of goading Danny. "I know exactly how you feel about me, Danny. Our partnership is completely mutual."
"Then you'll understand how much it pains me to ask you what your plans are for tonight?"
Steve let his hands drop, rocking forward in his seat. Maybe Friday wasn't going to be as boring as he thought. "So you're asking me out?"
Danny wadded up the bag of pastries, and looked very tempted to launch them at Steve's head. "I'm asking you to accompany me to Grace's birthday dinner, moron."
"I thought Grace's party was at the beach this Sunday?" Steve had penciled it in as a red-letter day on his calendar. No way was he missing Kono's gift to Grace. Danny was going to surprise his daughter not only with a brand new customized surfboard of her very own, but with his newly-learned surfing prowess. "Chin's bringing the steaks. I'm bringing beer, my board and a video camera."
"That's my party for Grace. Today is her actual birthday." Danny's tone changed, the exasperation momentarily replaced with a mix of melancholy and awe. "I can't believe my baby is nine today."
Steve frowned. "This isn't that whole American Girl Spa extravaganza Grace was telling Kono about last week is it? Because there are things even a partner shouldn't be asked to do."
"No, Steven. Your ADD has kicked in again. Pay attention. The spa thing would be Rachel and 'I have more money than God' Step-Stan's party for Grace." Danny ran his hands along the sides of his hair. "That event will be taking place on Saturday at their palatial mansion, and although my very sweet daughter begged me to come, my not so sweet ex strongly discouraged my attendance."
"So, this is like a pre-party?" Steve was the first to admit he knew very little about domestic matters before partnering with the New Jersey native. He understood even less about children, but he wasn't as ignorant as Danny often accused. Steve merely relied on his own experiences with his family. Those were obviously antiquated if Danny's daily drama was anything to go on. Steve likened it to going into a mission with sketchy intelligence. He was forced to improvise, which luckily for Steve was something he was very good at.
"No, this is a time-honored tradition-a tradition that used to be very near and dear to my heart. Every year on Grace's birthday Rachel and I let her choose a restaurant, and we would go there as a family to celebrate her big day. No doting grandfathers and grandmothers, no squealing friends from school, just the three of us." Danny met Steve's gaze briefly before looking down at his hands that had gone suddenly still. "Grace insists that we carry on the practice just like when Rachel and I were married. It's important to her."
"Isn't that a little like pretending?" Steve was all for making Grace happy, but it had been his experience that deception, even well-intended deception, was never a healthy thing. It always took a toll on someone, and he had a feeling that in this situation that someone was going to be Danny.
"It's a lot like pretending. We're talking Emmy-worthy acting going on, even before Rachel insisted that Stan be included." Danny raised his head to lock eyes with Steve again. "Grace doesn't get a family Thanksgiving, no Norman Rockwell Christmas, this is the one thing we can give her, and if it's a one night trip down the rabbit hole into a Grace fantasy land where her Mommy and Daddy still love each other, then who am I to take that away from her. She's lost enough."
"That can't be easy on you." Steve had learned quickly how Danny felt about Rachel and Stan, even before he discovered he could gain more insight from the things his partner didn't say. Danny didn't keep his feelings close to his vest. In fact, they spun around him like his own personal solar system orbiting brightly for everyone to see. But where his partner's loathing for Stan might be pure and straight forward, his feelings for Rachel were much more complicated and silent, which meant spending a night with her and her husband would be torture.
"Last year I endured it and peacefully shared the meal with Stan without stabbing him in the face with a butter knife. Grace picked Frankie's, so being in my own territory helped, but in light of all that has transpired this year I'm not sure I can maintain my usual calm demeanor, especially here on this godforsaken island."
"So, what you're really requesting is backup?" Steve completely respected and admired the lengths Danny would go to for his daughter. The close parallels, as well as the gaping differences, between his own father and his partner were not lost on Steve. They both made sweeping sacrifices to protect their families, one frantic to get his children as far away from him as possible, the other just as desperate to keep his daughter close. Steve was grateful for Danny's dedication for many reasons.
"I know that's a foreign concept for you but…"
"I always have your six." Steve might not take the time to make sure he was sufficiently covered before charging into right a wrong, but he would never allow any of his team, especially Danny, to make such a sacrifice. "But really wouldn't Kono be the better choice for this mission?"
"Why didn't I think of that?" Danny lifted his hands in the air, using one to pantomime cuffing himself on the side of the head. "Oh wait, I know why, because even though I relish, relish I tell you the possibility of Kono showing up on my arm in some strapless black number with fishnets, five inch heels and having Rachel completely get the wrong idea about my relationship with her, I do not want to encourage my beautiful daughter's extremely active imagination when it comes to her beloved Aunt Kono and Danno living happily ever after in a surf shack by the sea, complete with pet dolphins and a sea lion named Sprinkles."
"So you'd rather give them the wrong idea about us?" Steve had already decided to go, but hoped by dragging out his protests he might take away the raw inflection of pain that had seeped into Danny's voice since explaining Grace's birthday ritual.
"Don't flatter yourself, Super SEAL," Danny snorted. "Rachel and Grace know you. They have no delusions of grandeur about my feelings pertaining to you. You're my partner. They've lived with a cop long enough to know that equates family, and one doesn't always get to choose family. They have to accept you, just like I have to accept Step-Stan."
"Wow. With that heartfelt comparison to butter me up, how could I say no?"
"It's not like I'm asking you to take a bullet, Steven. You've already done one tour of a Williams's family gathering at the Hilton, I figure you're broken in."
"Gracie picked the Hilton?" Steve didn't dare point out the sour note with which their impromptu dinner with Matt Williams had ended. His partner was having a hard enough time as it was, and as much as he liked to rile Danny up, he would rather take a bullet than hurt him intentionally.
"What can I say? She likes the surf and turf and those fru fru drinks with the miniature umbrellas." Danny pinched at the bridge of his nose, inhaling a deep breath before meeting Steve's gaze again. "Look, I wouldn't ask you to do this if it wasn't important. I know you can't fully comprehend what it's like for me to have to share this night with Rachel and Stan, but trust me when I say water-boarding has nothing on being emasculated by a divorce, then dethroned by a schmuck in a thousand dollar suit, only to be relegated to court jester at your family's dinner table. Besides, Grace will like it if you come and Stan will hate it if you come. It's a win- win situation."
"Danny, I'll go." Steve placed his hands on the desk, giving a firm nod. He'd never considered attending tension-riddled birthday dinners a part of being a good partner, but domestic matters weren't the only enlightenment his teaming with Danny Williams was providing. There was no way Steve would send Danny into enemy territory alone. "But just so you're not disappointed, I don't own a sleeveless black number, fishnets, or any five inch heels."
"And you call yourself an Eagle Scout?" Danny stood, tossing the crumpled bag of malasadas in Steve's garbage. "What happened to always being prepared, McGarrett?"
"What can I say? No amount of training has prepared me for partnering with you."
"Just don't show up in one of your many favorite non-descript gray t-shirts and Kevlar. This is my baby's birthday dinner." Danny smirked. "And please for the love of God, spare us the flip-flops, Magnum. It's going to be hard enough to choke down my favorite food while looking at Stan's face, let alone throwing your hairy toes into the mix."
"Should I bring a gift?" Steve had already chipped in with Chin to provide Grace with some accessories for her big present from Danny. Kono had picked up the board wax and hot pink rash guard at her favorite surf shop last week.
"Let's go with no, because knowing you it will have a serrated edge or take a clip of ammo, and that could not only get Grace kicked out of her fancy school for zero tolerance, but might prove fatal for Stan if he's being his typical smug self." Danny took his coffee from Steve's desk with a sigh. "With our track record we really don't want to tempt fate."
"I'll just hold off on that until Sunday then." Steve would consider adding a diver's knife and ankle sheath to Grace's gift just for Danny's snide remark. He bet they came kid-sized and possibly even in pink camouflage. Steve would teach her all the skills she needed to use the weapon safely.
"That's good, because traditionally tonight is just about spending time together as a family-enjoying each other's company, making memories. All the other hullabaloo is strictly forbidden."
"Right. No hullabaloo." Steve jotted a note on the yellow pad in front of him, making a show of sticking it on his computer screen. "Got it."
"Idiot." Danny muttered as he headed for the door. "I'll pick you up around seven."
"You're welcome, Danno," Steve called after him, watching as his partner made it to his own office across from his where he proceeded to close all the blinds, sending an infuriating wave in Steve's direction before snapping the last one shut.
By the end of the second course, Steve was really wishing someone had stapled a sticky note to Stan's forehead. Apparently, the man had not gotten the memo about no hullabaloo. Or, he had chosen to ignore it. In which case, it was a good thing Steve had opted not to take Stan up on his gracious invitation to take advantage of his personal open tab at the bar. Steve needed to remain the calm and rational one if Danny's red-faced reaction to the giant cupcake with sparklers that had just been delivered to their table by no other than the lovely Sandrine was any indication of his partner's fine grasp on control.
"Wow. Look at that." Danny forced a smile, taking another long gulp of his second beer. "It's an enormous chocolate volcano oozing ice cream. Are you sure you got the right table, Babe?"
"A little bird told me there was a birthday girl at the Hilton tonight." Sandrine set the dessert in front of Grace, shooting a quick glance in Stan's direction. "The chef prepared this especially for her."
"You sure that informant wasn't a giant cock?" Danny kept his voice low but Steve heard. The look his partner shot Stan was not missed by anyone. It was a good thing Rachel cleverly placed herself between her ex-husband and current spouse. Steve cleared his throat, giving his partner a small frown when Danny finally took his laser beams from Stan and turned his way.
"Look, Danno." Grace leaned closer to the intricate dessert, watching as the showers of sparks burned away. A wide grin spread across her face. "It has chocolate lava, coconut ash and toasted marshmallow rocks."
"That's nice, baby. Another reminder we're all living on a giant natural disaster waiting to happen." Danny peered at the cake. "Any incinerated gummy people floating around in there?"
"I hope you're better than your old man at sharing, kiddo because chocolate lava happens to be my favorite." Not for the first time that night, Steve was grateful for Grace's uncanny ability to say just the right thing at the right time to redirect her father's attention. Danny had been unusually quiet, and the newly minted nine-year-old had done most of the talking at the table, regaling her captive audience with hilarious tales not only from her current classroom, but offering up a few Danno tidbits that Steve would make sure made the round again on Sunday for Chin and Kono's benefit.
"I'll remember that for when it's your birthday, Uncle Steve." Grace picked up her spoon giving Steve a big grin before digging in. "Tonight is all about me."
"Ouch. I guess we all know where she gets her ego." Steve glanced at his partner, whose face had lost some of its anger and now beamed with fatherly pride.
"That's my girl." Danny reached out and tugged on one of Grace's pigtails, making her giggle when he quickly snatched a marshmallow rock from her cake.
"You can say that again," Steve said, earning another grin from the birthday girl. When he first met Grace he couldn't help but to wonder if his instant affection for her had not been due solely to the fact she was Danny's daughter-some kind of simple offshoot of his duty to his partner. Steve wasn't exactly experienced with or particularly fond of kids. The few he had dealt with had taken place in the line of duty, and he extrapolated what was expected protocol, but it hadn't taken long for Grace's infectious energy and refreshing honesty to claim a spot of her very own in his heart. It only took one utterance of 'Uncle Steve' to confirm that Steve's attachment to the little girl was not all tied to the fact Danno was her dad.
"An inflated self-esteem is indeed one of Daniel's less charming characteristics." Rachel sipped her glass of wine, her eyes finding Danny's and lingering briefly before giving Steve a mischievous smile. "But I rather hope Grace follows in his footsteps, considering society's tendency to bash young women's confidence."
"I wouldn't worry too much about that," Steve winked at Grace. "She got lucky and inherited her mother's looks. Now if you looked like your dad…"
"That's low, my friend. Very low." Danny pointed his beer at Steve. "Next time I'm definitely bringing Chin."
"You say I look more like Mommy every day, Danno." Grace glanced at her mother. "He says you're still the prettiest girl he knows."
"Really?" Rachel's face lit up and she once again looked to her ex-husband. "You think I'm pretty, Daniel?"
Steve got the distinct impression that Grace had been waiting for just such an opportunity to deliver that bit of information if the look of hopefulness dancing in her eyes was any indication. Stan, however, did not seem to be enjoying the revelation. Steve noted that the man's attempt to seem busy with his Blackberry was for the first time that night just a show, and that his attention was instead focused on the conversation going on without him.
"What can I say?" Danny shrugged his shoulders. "Would a catch like me marry anything less than at least a nine?"
"You are hopeless. A complete scoundrel." Rachel punched Danny on the shoulder, but her laughter was sincere and contagious. It reminded Steve of the night they had spent here at the Hilton with Matt. He had begun to understand why Danny's feelings for his wife were still so complicated after their little surveillance stint at Rachel and Stan's when Rachel saved the day, but that night at the Hilton had convinced him Danny not only didn't hate his ex-wife, but instead might still be in love with her. Steve was also certain he wasn't the only one aware of the situation.
"So, Grace are you ready for a present?" Stan's interruption was well-timed, an instant mood killer. Rachel stopped laughing. Danny's smile disappeared. Only Grace seemed intrigued at the prospect.
"A present? Really? " Grace put her spoon down, her eyes moving from Stan to her mother. "I thought I had to wait until my party?"
"So did I." Danny tensed and Steve made a point of making sure his seat was away from the table in case he needed to make a move for his partner. He doubted Danny would do anything with Grace there, and had a feeling Stan was banking on the same thing.
"What's a birthday celebration of any sorts without at least one present?" Stan didn't look at Danny; his beaming smile focused completely on Grace as he slid an envelope across the table with one hand and grasped his wife's with the other. "Right, Grace?"
"And here I thought a present had shiny paper and a big bow." Danny's voice dipped dangerously, and he flashed a 'are you believing this' glare to Steve. "In our line of work we'd say that looks suspiciously like a bribe."
"Go ahead and open it, sweetheart." Rachel leaned forward, keeping herself squarely between Danny and Stan. "I'm sure it's something lovely."
Steve watched Grace open the envelope, hoping like hell that a big wad of cash did not tumble out onto the table. Just as he had wondered about his protective feelings toward Grace in the beginning, Steve also questioned whether his instant dislike for Stan could be attributed to loyalty to his partner and the fact Danny hated the man's guts. It didn't take long for Steve to decide the disdain for Step-Stan was mutually exclusive. The guy was a tool. Steve might have owed Stan in a sick twisted way for Danny being on the island, but any warped sense of gratitude would not keep Steve from obliterating him if provoked. Tonight was only further proof the man had fairly earned his spot on Steve's top-ten list, a list that included the likes of warlords and his arch nemesis Wo Fat.
To his relief it wasn't money that Grace retrieved from the envelope but a glossy 5 X 7 photograph. From Steve's position at the little girl's right side, he could make out the prominent subject, a large black horse. He had a sinking feeling the cash might have been a better choice on Stan's part.
"She's so pretty." Grace ran a finger over the picture before turning it so her father and mother could see. "See, Danno. She looks like Black Beauty."
"It's a nice picture, baby." Danny leaned forward so he could see past Rachel to get a visual on Stan. "Maybe Step-Stan bought you the leather bound version of the novel. We all know it's one of your favorites."
"I did one better," Stan ignored the blatant warning in Danny's tone. "I bought you Black Beauty herself. I mean, you can name her anything you want, Grace. She's yours."
"Really?" Grace clutched the picture to her chest in stunned delight. "You bought me a horse? A real horse!"
"I sure did." Stan looked extremely pleased with himself. Steve was sure if the man could have he would have patted himself on the back. "One of my business associates has a very reputable stable here on the island. We'll board her there, but you can go ride her anytime you like."
"Over my dead body." Danny gave Steve the explosion he was waiting for. The Navy SEAL slid his chair back another fraction of an inch as his partner turned on Rachel. "What the hell were you thinking? I thought we agreed we would talk about this kind of shit beforehand?"
"But Daddy you used to take me to see the horses in Jersey all the time," Grace interrupted.
"Yes, Monkey, but letting you put some money down on the pretty ponies at the track and watching them chase each other around the big dirt circle is a whole lot different than me actually putting my baby on one of the hoofed menaces." To Danny's credit, Steve noted he kept his tone calm and injected with his typical snarkiness when he was addressing his daughter.
"This isn't really any different than the surfboard, Danny," Stan spoke up. "Rachel and I agreed to that and the surf lessons, you should be as compromising."
Steve rubbed a hand over his mouth knowing their night was about to bullet from painfully awkward to Jerry Springer spectacular. He was completely convinced Stan was truly an idiot or had no sense of self preservation. First, the whole secret tape fiasco, and now attempting to pull his business negotiation strategies 101 with a wrathful Danny Williams. He was just asking to wash up on a beach with a 9mm slug to the back of his head. Steve was not above helping his partner dispose of a body, but he had no background on what exactly his protocol should be in this intensely private situation.
"Did you just say you and Rachel agreed?" Danny's tone was near a whisper now and Steve found himself tensing for action. Proper protocol or not, he might have to intercede to keep his partner from doing something he would definitely regret in the morning. "Because it sounded like you just implied you have a say so in my daughter's life. Let's clear this up very quickly There is no 'you and Rachel' when it comes to my daughter. You may share a home, a couple of foreign cars, but you do not share a child, at least not my child. You have no, excuse the poorly timed pun, horse in that race you smug son of a …"
"Daniel!" Rachel quickly cut in.
"Danno, please don't be mad."
Grace's soft plea had her father refocusing on her, some of the bloodlust and rage draining from his face as he forced a smile for his daughter's benefit. "Gracie, Danno's just a little upset that your mother's husband chose to buy you a pet without asking my input first. I mean a fluffy little bunny is one thing, but a 1,500 pound beast is quite another." Danny glanced to Steve. "Maybe Uncle Steve could take you out to the beach where the fireworks will be starting soon while I help Step-Stan understand the consequences of his bad choice."
"I don't think that's such a good idea." Steve might have liked nothing more than to be dismissed from the table, but he was not leaving Danny alone with Stan. He was far more concerned with the spectacular fireworks that would go off once he and Grace were safely out of the way.
"For Christ's sake, Williams." Stan slammed his hands on the table. "The animal is a thoroughbred quarter horse from one of the finest farms in Kentucky. The mare was trained by highly qualified horse handlers. She is not some freshly shod mustang I rescued from the wilds of Wyoming."
"I don't give a shit if she's Pegasus, and Thor beamed her down from Mount Olympus on a lightning rod per your pompous request." Danny leaned around Rachel again pointing a finger at Stan. "You set me up, and if you think this is going to turn out like your big plans of Hawaii, and the school Grace now attends, you are sorely mistaken."
Steve was never so grateful when Stan's phone started to vibrate, bouncing against the businessman's plate in the sudden silence that had surrounded their table like a large bubble. He was vaguely aware of the conversations around them, the band playing, but he was more attentive to the stand-off currently taking place between his partner and Stan.
Stan for once made a wise decision and broke eye contact with Danny to pick up his phone. "I have to take this. It's the Singapore branch." He briefly met Rachel's gaze, waiting for her conceding nod before starting towards the bar.
"Daniel, I think we should chat." Rachel took her napkin from her lap, placing it on the table with some force.
"Now you want to talk? Shouldn't that have been something you thought about before Stan placed a special order to Kentucky?"
"In private, Daniel." Rachel ignored her ex, focusing instead on Steve. She mustered a tight smile, one that retained none of the warmth from before. "Do you mind keeping the birthday girl company?"
"Not at all." Steve let his gaze move from Rachel to Danny. He gave his partner what he hoped Danny would interpret as his, 'do not make me come after you' face. "We'll be right here."
"They're going to have one of their grownup discussions." Grace looked up at him once they were gone. "They used to go out in the garage, but I could still hear them yelling."
"Good thing the music's loud out here." Steve tried for a smile, but when Grace continued to nervously work her teeth over her lower lip he went with another tactic. "Your ice cream is melting, kiddo. It'd be a shame to let all that lava go to waste."
Grace carefully slid the picture of her horse back into its envelope. She stared at the cake for only a moment before reclaiming her spoon and surprising Steve by offering him one from the pile that Sandrine brought along with the dessert. "Want to help me?"
"You bet." Steve took the spoon, digging into the backside of the plate where the warm cake had caused the ice cream to melt. He'd never been big on sweets, but ice cream was the one exception.
"Danno is really mad." Grace took a big bite of cake, chocolate syrup smearing one side of her mouth.
"You know your dad. It doesn't take much to get him worked up." Ironically, Danny's emotions could mirror an active volcano, simmering just below the surface, exploding in small eruptions on a regular basis. It was the prospect of the big blow that concerned Steve. He gave Grace a reassuring smile. "But I know for a fact, he is most definitely not mad at you."
They ate in silence for a moment before Grace casted another anxious glance towards her parents. They hadn't moved very far away, just beyond the tables near the lighted Hibiscus bushes.
"He really doesn't like my new horse."
Steve dipped his spoon in for another scoop of ice cream. He took the bite, licking syrup from the back of the spoon before it had a chance to drop to the table. "I think it's more that he doesn't like what could happen to you on that horse."
"He worries a lot." Grace took care to get several marshmallows lined up with her next piece of cake.
"Danno is big on safety." Steve had been on the receiving end of many lectures about what his partner deemed dangerous and deadly. Grace didn't realize how lucky she was not to be forced to wear bubble wrap on a daily basis, or strapped into Kevlar at her father's whim. "Especially when it comes to the people he loves."
"Mommy says love makes Danno act crazy sometimes." She kept her gaze on the plate in front of her. "Like the time he handcuffed Stan in the back of his police car when he found out we were moving to Hawaii."
Steve let his spoon hover above the half eaten dessert, waiting for Grace to look at him. Danny had told him that story one night when they'd gotten shit-faced after a particularly hard case. What Grace didn't know was that her Dad had done Stan a huge favor. "Crazy or not, Danno would never do anything to hurt you or your mom. You know that, right?"
"I know that." Grace took another bite of cake, chewing as she considered her next words. "He was mad at Stan for taking me away from him. But nobody could ever really do that. Danno is the best dad ever."
"It's impossible to lose Ohana." Steve dug in again, content to let the conversation go as slowly as the cake. Grace's declaration had his thoughts travelling to his father, his family. The surprise punch of grief never failed to catch him off guard. He would see to it that Grace never knew that loss first hand.
"Danno lost a lot of things when he came here. He misses New Jersey." Grace seemed to pick up on his morose mood, her voice turning sad.
"He got to keep you." Steve bumped his spoon against hers, knocking a couple of marshmallows off that he took for himself. It earned him a familiar scowl of annoyance and a half-smile from the little girl. "And I'm pretty sure he'd miss you a lot more than some smelly, dirty city even if it did birth Jon Bon Jovi."
Grace put her spoon protectively over one of the last marshmallows as Steve feigned a sneak attack for it. "You better not let my Danno hear you say that. He'll handcuff you to his car."
"The only thing is I'm not afraid of Danno." Steve glanced to where the detective was gesturing wildly in front of Rachel. He might fear for his partner, but he'd trusted him from the get go, despite their rocky start.
"Because he'd never hurt you either," Grace said, confidently. This time she waited for Steve to look at her. "You're part of his new family-his Ohana."
When Steve returned to Hawaii, he thought he was saying goodbye to his family. He never imagined it would be the opportunity to form a new one. He smiled at Grace. "I definitely have your dad's back."
"Danno needs someone to watch out for him." Grace scraped the plate for the last bite. "I'm glad he has you."
"It's definitely a full time job." Steve put his spoon down, grabbing his napkin to wipe his mouth. He had definitely gotten more than he bargained for when he forced a joint collaboration on the detective, but Steve had not once regretted it. "I'm glad you and I can work together."
"Danno needs me more than Mommy. She has Stan. I know Daddy doesn't like him, but he takes good care of her. He's nice to me."
"I'm sure that's true." Stan was able to give Rachel not only monetary security, but the emotional stability that Danny's job prevented him from offering. He was also positive if Danny thought for one minute that Stan wasn't good for Grace, he'd have never stopped fighting for custody, nor would he have consented, albeit reluctantly, to the move to Hawaii.
"Uncle Steve, do you think Danno will get married again?"
The sudden shift in conversation had him glancing to Danny's position. He willed his partner to hurry up and make it back to the table. "I'm pretty sure if he meets the right person it could happen."
"What about Aunt Kono? She's at least a nine right?"
"I would say so." Steve was suddenly seeing Danny's clarity in not bringing their teammate. His hands might have been tied when it came to making this night any easier for his friend, but he could at least clear up the Kono situation. "But I don't think she would really go for your dad."
"Does she have a boyfriend?"
"You remember Kamekona?" It wasn't really like Steve was outright lying, only planting a seed of information. Grace could draw her own conclusions. He was afraid she wasn't going to buy it, but just when he was about to build a better case for the big guy, Grace nodded in understanding.
"Aunt Kono must really like shave ice."
Steve had to bite his lip to keep from laughing. "I hear she can't get enough of the stuff, but let's keep that between us." Of all his teammates, Steve was pretty sure Kono would come the closest to taking him out.
"I don't think their discussion is going good." Grace's eyes sought out her parents once more.
"How about we forget about them?" Danny might be flying solo for the moment, but maybe Steve could ease Grace's suffering. "What happened to this night being about you?"
Grace seemed to consider his question. "It is my birthday."
"Exactly. So should we order another lava cake? Maybe find a good spot for the fireworks?"
"I'd rather do something else."
Steve tracked the nine year old's gaze as it went to the stage where one of the local bands had just finished a set. "It's time for Friday night family time. They have it every week."
"I'm pretty good at karaoke." Steve picked up Danny's beer, intent on draining it if he was going to have to perform in front of an audience. It most definitely had not been part of the plan, but he was nothing if not flexible.
"It's not karaoke; it's a hula dance off."
"Hula?" Steve nearly choked on his drink. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "Really?"
"I've always wanted to enter, but you have to have a partner. Mommy gets stage fright and Stan is from Massachusetts. He doesn't know how to dance." Grace stared at him hopefully. "Do you know how to hula, Uncle Steve?"
Steve sent one more glance to where Danny and Rachel were still 'activating' each other and then to Stan, who had his back to them at the bar with his Blackberry pressed to his ear. He returned his gaze to Grace. "I'm from Hawaii, aren't I?"
Grace grabbed his hand before he could change his mind. "Let's go."
Steve almost changed his mind on the spot as the MC for the event brought out costumes for the four competing teams. A grass skirt and coconut bra was almost as degrading as the black strapless number and fishnets he'd teased Danny about. At least he got to keep his flip flops.
"This is going to be so much fun." Grace squeezed his hand as they waited for their turn on stage. "I bet we'll win first prize."
"Of course we will." Steve eyed their surrounding competition. A couple of moms waved at him. The one brave granny gave him a wink. He smiled down at Grace. "McGarrett and Williams is always a winning combination."
It turned out that Steve was right. Whether it was Grace's exuberant moves, her declaration to the MC that it was her birthday, or the fact he was the only brave male up there, he and the nine year old took the grand prize, which turned out to be a statue of a big golden pineapple. Even better, their names were broadcast over the loud speaker as an introduction prior to their performance, and had apparently broken up Danny and Rachel's discussion long enough to draw both of Grace's parents to the stage in amiable support.
"Did you see us?" Grace headed straight for her family once she and Steve exited the stage to a stirring round of applause and catcalls.
"You were wonderful." Rachel hugged her daughter.
"Your partner wasn't half bad either." Danny eyed Steve. "Expert diver, helicopter pilot, and now the hula. Will the wonders never cease, Steven?"
"Shut up, Danno."
"Uncle Steve said you should keep the statue at your house, Daddy." Grace offered the prize to her father. "That way we both can see it."
"That was very thoughtful of your Uncle Steve, baby." Danny took the award, kissing his daughter on the forehead.
"It will add some glitz to your place." Steve was glad to see his partner seemed to have calmed down. Rachel was in one piece. Stan was nowhere in sight, but the lack of blood on Danny's clothes was a good sign. "Besides we know how you love pineapple."
"Almost as much as I love family birthday dinners."
"It's only once a year, Daniel." Rachel's voice held an edge, but her eyes softened as she looked at Grace. "We can manage to do anything once a year."
"I want to do the hula again next year. I want to do it every year!" Grace grabbed her mother's and father's hands, shooting a quick glance over her shoulder to Steve before looking imploringly up at her dad. "Can we make it a new tradition, Daddy? Please?"
"As long as Uncle Steve agrees to be your partner next year, Monkey."
Steve growled when Danny completely ignored the slashing motion he was making across his throat. He quickly dropped his hand when Grace turned in his direction. He gave her a quick thumbs up. "Sounds like a plan, partner."
"Cool," Grace bounced on her toes. "I can't wait to tell Kono and Uncle Chin. Maybe they'll come watch next year."
"Why should they have to wait? " Danny pulled his cell phone from his pocket. "I recorded the whole thing. We can show them on Sunday."
Rachel cleared her throat. "Speaking of Sunday, Daniel shall I have the car bring her to your place around noon?"
"That will work."
The civility had returned to his partner's tone, but the coolness was still present. It appeared he and Rachel had returned to their neutral corners, going about business as usual. Danny didn't look at his ex-wife as he pulled Grace in for a quick hug. "You have a great spa day tomorrow and Danno will see you on Sunday."
Grace smiled up at her father. "Did I hear Stan mention something about a surfboard? Maybe the pink Island Flyer that I showed you?"
Danny rolled his eyes. "Forget everything you heard after the volcano came, Radar." Danny kissed Grace again. "Be a good girl for your mom."
"Come along, Grace." Rachel took her daughter's hand. "Stan is waiting for us with the car."
Grace pulled away from her mother just long enough to wrap her arms around Steve's waist, giving the Commander a quick hug. "I'm glad you came, Uncle Steve."
"Me too, Gracie." Steve hugged her back. "I'll see you on Sunday."
Grace caught up to her mom, waving to Steve and Danny as they both watched her disappear through the throngs of tables. Once she and Rachel were out of sight, Danny let out a heavy sigh. "Shit. I need a beer."
Steve nodded. "I just danced the hula in front of two hundred people, including Sandrine, who I'm sure will never look at me the same again."
"With your luck Sandrine will probably find your hula moves completely adorable. The grass skirt and coconuts will turn out to be a secret fetish and she'll want to role play. I bet you twenty she slips you her number before the night is over."
"You expect me to bet against myself?"
"I expect you to buy your partner a beer."
"I'll do you one better." Steve remembered the open tab that Stan had been bragging about. "I'll let Step-Stan buy us both a few rounds."
"I knew there was a reason I agreed to be your partner. Your sense of entitlement comes in handy." Danny slapped him on the back.
"You agreed to be my partner because you were scared of the governor, and if I'm not mistaken usually your over developed sense of fair play makes you very cranky when I invoke my mere right to act in any manner I see fit in procuring a positive result."
"Must you ruin the moment by mocking me with your disastrous views on the ends justifying the means?" Danny led the way to the bar, taking a stool as Steve explained to the bartender that they were with Stan's party. He asked for two of their best imports and ordered the bartender to keep them coming.
"You alright?" Steve waited for their beers to arrive before breaking the silence.
"A horse. A fucking horse!" Danny plunked the statue of the pineapple on the bar. "Can you believe that?"
"I remember Mary liking horses before our mom died." Steve took a drink of his beer. "She had one of those Trapper Keepers with horses on it and folders to match."
"All little girls have a love affair with horses, Steven." Danny shook his head, running his hands along the sides of his hair. "I had sisters, too. It's like equine DNA is imprinted in their extra X chromosome. You didn't see my old man indulging the fantasy. Who does that?"
"A self-righteous bastard with more money than God." Steve took another swig, eyeing his partner.
"Exactly!" Danny punched the air with pointed finger. "Who the hell does he think he is?"
"Are you trying to piss me off more, Mr. Sensitivity? Because you could just point out the fact he screws her every night and then gets to have breakfast with my baby girl each morning before school." Danny picked up his beer taking a long drink.
"I'm just pointing out that maybe the present had more to do with Rachel than it did Grace." Steve had run the theory over in his mind. Steve might not have ever been married, but it didn't take a leap of understanding to put his place in any red-blooded male's shoes. If he could still see the sparks between Rachel and Danny, then there was no doubt Stan could see them too. "In Stan's eyes, you're the enemy. He's tried every tactic to evade you, but you just keep hanging on. This move showed his desperation."
"Does he not realize he's already won?" Danny put his beer down, that uncharacteristic defeated tone returning to his voice. "He has my wife, he sees my daughter more than I do. I live in a shitty apartment on an island I hate. He has the spoils of war, Steve. What else does he want?"
"You on the first plane back to New Jersey would be my guess." Steve would never allow that to happen but if he were in Stan's shoes it would be the thing he hoped for every day. "And possibly your balls on a platter."
"That won't be happening anytime soon." Danny took another swallow of beer. "Either scenario."
"I'm pretty sure he's aware."
"Then what? I should just prepare myself for more birthday dinners like this, more surprise presents? An Italian sports car in a couple of years? A trip around Europe after that? How the hell am I supposed to compete?"
"Don't you get it, Danno? That's the thing that pisses Stan off the most. You don't have to compete. You already have Grace's heart, hands down and therefore you claim a part of Rachel that will never be his. You two share something he can never touch, no matter how much damn money he tosses on the table." Steve's dislike of Stan was growing by leaps and bounds. The man had better watch his step or he would find out what Steve was realizing more every day. Fathers might do anything for their children, but partners would also go to any lengths to protect one another. "You are Gracie's Dad. You, Danno. Not Stan."
Danny's mouth twitched. "Who died and made you Dr. Phil?"
"Nobody died. I just happen to be excellent at adapting to my surroundings." Steve's skills had never been put to the test more than they had since partnering with Danny Williams. "I can hula and dole out therapeutic advice. It's not that difficult."
"Still, I really wanted this birthday to be special." Danny killed the rest of his beer, sliding the bottle over so the bartender could replace it with another. "I wanted her to remember it forever, you know. I mean I might have bought Grace the new board and that took a huge chunk of my pay check mind you, but I risked my life for her gift. Weeks of lessons and amazingly hot body or not, I am telling you the novelty of seeing Kono in a swimsuit wore off quickly, my friend. Give our sweet, innocent teammate just a little bit of power and she quickly morphs into your female counterpart, Ramboette. The surfing Nazi almost killed me with her 'learning exercises'. Did I mention the sharks, Steven? There were sharks and sand and jelly fish. Lots of public humiliation thrown in for good measure, too."
"Don't forget the sunburn." Steve couldn't help the grin as he recalled the first trip Danny had taken to the beach with Kono. The haole had not listened to Chin's suggestion he wear a rash guard with full sleeves. "You suffered big time partner."
"And all Step-Stan did was lay down a small fortune to purchase a page out of Grace's favorite book. I worked at it."
"You worked at it because you love Grace, and you knew what would make her happy. You put her needs before your own. Grace is a smart girl. She's going to realize what you did for her. She'll love the surf board, but more important, she'll love that surfing will be something she does with her old man. She'll never forget that. The horse will get old."
"Are you kidding me?" Danny snorted. "Did you see the way her eyes lit up like a fucking Christmas tree when she saw that thing? I'll be living with Black Beauty until Grace goes to college."
"You're going to let her keep it?"
"Of course I'm going to let her keep it." Danny pinched at the bridge of his nose. "It's not like I have any other choice? I might have talked trash to Stan about this being different than the move and the choice of school, but in the end we both know I'm going to cave."
"Then you'll just have to one-up Stan by learning to ride."
"I'll what?" Danny sputtered.
"You heard me. You'll learn to ride a horse-make it another thing you and Grace share. You learned to stay on a surf board, Jersey, or so Kono swears, a horse has got to be easier."
"For mister 'I can adapt to any circumstance' it might be easier, but I am thinking that for mere mortals like myself, climbing upon a four-legged death machine and expecting to morph into Clint Eastwood would not be very realistic."
"I don't know about that, Danno. Aren't most horse jockeys really, really short?"
"That's so cute-kicking a guy a when he's down. What's next for Steve McGarrett-shooting stray puppies?"
"I'm just trying to help."
"I know." Danny took a deep breath, letting it out slowly as he stared at Steve. "You are such an ass most of the time, but despite your completely unlikeable nature, deplorable friendship skills, and that you are quite possibly the world's worst wingman I appreciate your effort tonight. Really, I do. Grace isn't the only one who's glad you came."
"Was that supposed to be a thank you?" Steve frowned at his partner, taking another swallow of beer. "Because I think it came out wrong."
"Really?" Danny brought his hands up, a sure sign Steve had completed his mission of taking his partner's mind off of the birthday fiasco. "You are criticizing my ability to verbalize a gesture of indebtedness? Have you forgotten that you have no such aptitude at all when it comes to any common human courtesy, for example saying you're sorry?"
Steve was intent on proving his friend wrong by letting his actions speak for themselves. He gestured for the bartender to bring another beer, which he promptly slid in front of Danny. "You're welcome, Danno."
"You really are an idiot." Danny took the beer with a put-upon sigh. He took a long drink before holding the cold bottle to his head. "This may all be a moot point because in all likelihood I may not survive until Grace graduates high school, hell middle school is a reach."
"You're going to watch Grace graduate college, Danny. You'll walk her down the aisle when she gets married, and enjoy being a cool crotchety grandpa who shreds waves and rides horses with his grandkids." Steve made sure to look straight at his partner so Danny would see his 'serious as shit' face was firmly in place.
"You're a fortune teller now? Is this never-ending parade of surprise talents ceaseless?"
"You don't need a psychic, just someone to watch your back." Steve had made it his priority mission, right up there with avenging his mother and father's death by destroying Wo Fat. "I'm on that job so we just have to find someone to teach you to ride."
"You're not going to let this go are you?"
"After my brilliant idea to get Kono to teach you how to surf worked out so well?" Steve shook his head, knowing the declaration he was provoking. "I'm sure Chin has a hot cousin somewhere on the island that knows how to ride a damn horse."
"I hate you so much." Danny groaned. "You know that, right?"
"I know exactly how you feel about me, Danno. Our partnership is completely mutual." Steve rapped his beer bottle against the detective's. A year ago the old Lt. Commander Steve McGarrett would have never believed he'd be committed to such a team, forged to another person the way he was to Danny Williams but this new Steve he was becoming wouldn't have it any other way. "Now about that little morning ritual of yours…"
The End…for now