Through The Darkness – Part One
Grace is practically bouncing in the seat with excitement as Danny pulls into the school's parking lot. He spares a glance at her in the rearview mirror as he waits in the parent drop-off line. She's got her backpack on her lap and her permission slip clutched in her hands as she waits impatiently to get out of the car.
"Are you excited for today, Monkey?" Danny asks, turning around in his seat so he can face his daughter.
"Yeah!" Grace beams at him. "I can't wait to go help!"
Danny chuckles and turns back around, inching the car forward in line. Truth be told, he wasn't exactly keen on letting Grace go on this "field trip" with her class. In fact, he wouldn't even call it a field trip. A field trip was supposed to be fun, like a day at the aquarium or the zoo, not going to a hospital after school. When Grace had brought home the permission slip two weeks ago along with the letter from her teacher, Danny thought she was crazy, wanting to drag a bunch of 8 year olds to a veteran's hospital. The letter explained that the third graders were learning about community service and that instead of picking up litter in the parks or volunteering at animal shelters like the other classes, Grace's teacher wanted to take her class to the VA to connect with soldiers returning from war.
It seemed like a ludicrous idea, at first. He didn't want his daughter going there and being scared by missing limbs and broken spirits. He was sure he wasn't the only parent that thought this way, but Grace was insistent on going. She came home each day and told him how many kids had turned in their permission slips and how much she wanted to go. She taped the permission slip to the coffee pot every morning and gave him her best puppy-dog eyes when he just glowered at the piece of paper. Finally, after talking with Grace's teacher, and a few of the nurses at the facility, he signed the permission slip for Grace last night. Just in time too, as today is their first trip. Hence why Grace is about to bounce right out of the car with excitement.
As they inch closer to the front of the school, Danny turns back to her and tries to hide his trepidation with a smile. "Remember Gracie, listen to your teacher and the nurses, okay? And don't wander off. I'll pick you up around 5, all right?"
He watches in the rearview mirror as Grace rolls her eyes, but nods along with what he is saying.
"I will, Danno." She meets his eyes in the mirror and smiles. As the car pulls up to the front of the line, Grace unbuckles her seatbelt and scrambles up to the front of the car, poking her head between the front seats. She throws her arms around his neck and plants a kiss on his cheek. "Love you Danno!"
He barely has time to answer her back with a quick, "Love you too, Monkey," before she is out of the car and heading into the school. Danny watches her go for a moment, brunette pigtails bouncing through the crowd, before the cars behind him start to honk their horns. "Okay, okay. Hold your horses people," Danny mutters as he puts the car into drive and pulls away from the school.
"Let's go, Steve," Makani calls out as he enters the room.
Steve sighs heavily and turns his head to the side so he can see his nurse. Mak is standing a few feet away, at the foot of the bed, watching Steve carefully. "I told you, Mak, I'm not going."
"Oh yeah you are. Doc's orders, remember? She said you needed to get out of your room and socialize. The kids are gonna be here soon so let's get you ready. Can't have you scaring them all off on the first day." Mak comes around the side of Steve's wheelchair to unlocks the wheel, but his hand is quickly intercepted. Mak stills his movements and eases back a step, but keeps his eyes on Steve.
Steve releases his grip and frowns over at the nurse. "I can do it." With that, he releases the locks himself and grabs the wheels. Spinning the chair around, he maneuvers himself away from the window.
Grace fiddles with the tag she was given as her eyes move around the hallway nervously. There isn't much to see, just tiled floors and walls with artwork hanging on them, but she looks anyway. The nurse is still talking, giving them all final instructions. Don't leave the rec area without supervision, don't wander off, and don't touch any medical equipment. Grace sighs quietly and tries to be patient as she turns the pass over in her hands again, staring at the large, orange "V" on the front with the words "Rehab" and "Visitor" below it.
"Keep the badge on, Grace," her teacher reminds her as they start to move as a group down the hallway.
Quickly, Grace clips the badge to her shirt as they round a corner and enter the rec room. It is a large area filled with couches and tables of varying sizes. There are TVs on the walls, books stacked in crooked rows on shelves, and games of all kinds piled on tables. Around the room are soldiers, some in wheelchairs or missing limbs or sporting bandages, and all watching them with anxious smiles. Grace looks around and watches as her classmates, one by one, meander off to one soldier or another. She stays where she is until her eyes fall on one particular figure. He is sitting hunched in a wheelchair at a table facing the window well away from the rest of the room. If he is intrigued by the sudden commotion in the room, he never shows it; he just sits there staring out at the gardens.
Grace moves over to stand next to his wheelchair, but when he doesn't turn to face her, she slides into the chair next to him and turns to face him. After a moment, he turns his head enough to eye her, a frown wrinkling his brow as he looks at her. She studies his face closely for a moment, eyeing the scar on his temple briefly before she takes in his despondent blue eyes.
"Hi, I'm Grace," she sticks her hand out and waits for a moment, but when he makes no move towards it, she lowers it back to her lap. "What's your name?" He stays silent, turning his eyes back to the window. Sighing, Grace turns and looks at her other classmates, playing games and talking with the other soldiers.
"Don't worry about Steve," a voice says from behind her.
Grace turns around and looks to the tall, dark skinned man in scrubs that appeared on the other side of Steve. He has one hand on Steve's shoulder and a broad grin on his face. "Steve here is the silent type, but don't worry. He warms up after a bit." He squeezes Steve's shoulder and leans down to whisper something to the man, who only frowns harder. With a laugh, the nurse stands back up and extends his hand towards Grace. "I'm Makani, by the way, but you can call me Mak. I'm this big lug's nurse."
Grace politely shakes his hand, smiling up at him. "My name's Grace."
"Well, Grace, what do you say, how would you like to draw? I'd suggest a game, but Steve here cheats something awful at Battleship." Mak nudges Steve's arm before moving to a cabinet and returning with a few pads of paper and box of art supplies.
Giggling, Grace nods and snatches up a pad. "I love to draw. Danno says I'm an artist!" She reaches for the box of pencils and situates them between herself and Steve.
"I bet you are." Mak replies. He drops a pad of paper in front of Steve and once again nudges his arm. "Well, have fun you two. I'll be right over there if you need anything, Grace." Mak points towards the nurses' station before making his way around the room.
For the better part of an hour, Grace engrosses herself in drawing a picture of the beach. Every once and a while she glances up at Steve, but every time he is still sitting there, staring out the window. Once she is finished, she slides the paper across the table so it is right in front of his hands.
"Danno just bought a new house," she murmurs quietly, eyes studying Steve's face intently for a moment. "It's really neat because you can walk right out the back door onto the beach. I'm not allowed to go in the water by myself yet, Danno's afraid the sharks will eat me," Grace giggles quietly into her hand, and then turns so she's fully facing Steve. "That's what our beach looks like. It's really pretty. Even Danno says so and he doesn't like the beach very much."
Grace runs out of words suddenly and instead, turns her attention to kicking her feet back and forth under the chair. The other kids are starting to clean up, so Grace sighs and turns back to the table, putting the pencils one by one into their box and arranging the paper into neat stacks. When she is done, she stands up and watches Steve for a moment. "Bye Mr. Steve," she murmurs, then quickly makes her way over to where the rest of her class is gathering. When she passes Mak, he smiles at her and gives her a thumbs up, pointing over to Steve. She turns around in time to see him slid her picture into his lap. She grins back over at Mak and waves.
"See ya next week, Grace!" Mak calls out as they shuffle down the hallway.
"So I see you made a new friend there! Good for you, buddy." Mak states as he pushes Steve's wheelchair back down the hallway. He glances over Steve's shoulder at the drawing and can't help the smile. "Kid was right, she's pretty good at drawing, don't ya think?"
He isn't expecting a response though, and just keeps up a quiet monologue as he maneuvers Steve's wheelchair back to his room. Once there, he moves to take the picture of Steve's hand and is surprised when Steve grips it even tighter. "Whoa, okay. Take it easy. You can hang on to it for a while then. Just thought you might want to hang it up." Mak shrugs as he parks the wheelchair next to the bed and locks the wheels. "You want a hand or are you going to be stubborn again tonight?"
Without saying a word, Steve pushes up with his arms and clumsily maneuvers himself from the chair to the bed. Mak waits patiently while Steve grunts and struggles with his own body until he is settled.
"Of course you're going to be stubborn," Mak mutters. "Almost forgot who I was talking to." He moves the wheelchair out of the way and silently checks Steve's vitals. "You need meds now or can you wait until after dinner?"
Steve just stares up at the ceiling, hands clutching the drawing to his chest.
"Right. Okay then. Dinner will be around in a few. I better see some of that food gone or I'm gonna tell Doc. You know she'll kick your ass into next week if you don't start eating." With that, Mak moves towards the door, hovering just outside long enough to make sure Steve is actually settled before he moves on.
Danny is just closing the case file in front of him when a voice booms from behind him, "You closed the Robinson case yet, Williams?!" Danny has to stifle the sarcastic comment that wants to slip passed his lips and quickly covers it with a small cough. He grabs the file and spins his chair around to face the man behind him.
"Yeah, got it right here, Cap. Case closed." Danny hands over the file and watches as the Captain briefly flips through the paperwork and nods.
"It's about time," he mutters as he tucks the file under his arms and heads back towards his office.
Behind Danny, Meka starts to laugh. It starts out a small chuckle, but by the time Danny turns around to face his partner, Meka is near hysterics, doubled over and wheezing with laughter. "Oh man," he manages as the laughter starts to die down. He leans back in his chair and wipes a few tears from his eyes. "Sorry man," he finally says. "It's just, I can't believe Cap is still holding a grudge! It's been two months already!"
"Yeah, laugh it up, pal. Just don't forget I wasn't the only one that got busted back down to robbery. You're on his shit list as well." Danny turns back to the computer, not angry with his partner, just not wanting to continue the conversation. He clicks through his email, even though there is nothing new to read, and pretends to be busy shuffling papers around his desk as the rest of the precinct goes back to work.
"Aw, no hard feelings, right Danno?" Meka leans a hip on Danny's desk and clasps his shoulder.
"Would you stop calling me that? Only Gracie gets to call- forget it." Danny shakes his head as Meka starts grinning again.
"Well listen man, I'm heading out. Gotta go pick Billy up from school."
Danny looks down and at his watch and watches as it ticks just passed four o'clock. He sighs heavily and leans back in his chair, wondering what he's going to do to occupy himself for another hour until he can pick Gracie up.
"Don't you have to go get Grace?" Meka asks as he pushes himself away from Danny's desk, grabbing up his keys and his suit jacket from the back of his chair.
"No, not yet anyway. It's her first day of her community service project so she won't get back to the school until around 5 or so." Danny leans forward in his chair and picks up his pen to start working on more paperwork. Might as well get some work done while he's waiting, he figures.
"Oh that's right! Her class is visiting the VA, right?" When Danny nods, Meka huffs out a surprised sound. "I can't believe you actually let her go. Amy threatened to pull Billy from his teacher's class if that was their project. Thankfully they're just picking up trash at the park!"
Danny shrugs noncommittally. He's still not sure he made the best decision by letting her go, but he figures that if Grace is upset when he picks her up tonight, they'll figure something else out. "She's a brave kid. She'll be fine," he tells his partner, but the words fall flat even to his own ears.
"Yeah, well anyway," Meka can sense his partner's unease and quickly moves on. "Amy wanted to know if you and Grace wanted to come over this weekend for a cookout. She hasn't seen Grace in a few weeks and Billy's been asking."
"We'll see. We're still trying to unpack the house and move in. Grace wanted to paint her room this weekend, but I'll think about."
"All right, man. See ya tomorrow then!"
Meka heads out the door and Danny leans back in his chair with a sigh, closing his eyes. He wants nothing more than to clean up the mass of papers strewn across his desk and head out for the night, but he knows he needs to get at least one more case file finished. Meka may not care that the Captain is royally pissed at the two of them and holding a grudge, but Danny does. He didn't work his ass off solving homicides in New Jersey to have one case and a pissed off cop ruin the rest of his career. He's bound and determined to get back into homicide and solving real cases, not dealing with tourists that got robbed.
"I'm not paying ya to sleep here, Williams! Get back to work!"
Heaving out a sigh, Danny sits back up and nods to the Captain. The precinct is relatively quiet now, most of the detectives having gone home to their families save for the ones chasing down a few last leads. With no one paying him any attention, Danny quietly unlocks his bottom desk drawer and pulls out a thin case file. Before he can change his mind, Danny closes the drawer and takes the file with him, heading towards the evidence locker.
He nods to the officer stationed there and quickly signs his name in the log. As he is putting the pen down, he notices the name right above his, "C. Kelly", hadn't put down any case number. He frowns at the log, then looks up to question the officer sitting there, but thinks better of it when he finds the guy texting instead of monitoring the log. Danny shrugs and continues on into the room. Officer Kelly is likely still in here, unless he'd not bothered to sign out. He'd check him out and see what he was doing in there.
The evidence locker is located in the basement of the police station and is little more than rows and rows of shelves filled with evidences boxes and filing cabinets filled with old case files. Danny moves down to the last row containing the most recent cases and quickly makes his way down to the second to last shelf. He'd been coming here often enough the last few weeks, he knew where his evidence was by heart now. He reaches up to the shelf and is surprised when his hand meets nothing but air. Looking up, Danny realizes that his box of evidence is missing.
"What the hell?" he questions. Stepping back, Danny eyes all the other boxes on that shelf, thinking maybe someone had accidentally moved it or put it back out of order. All the other boxes are in the correct order though; only his case evidence is missing from the shelf.
Danny is almost back to the door when he remembers the name scrawled above his in the logbook. "C. Kelly". He is the only other officer to have signed in the book in the last few hours and he wasn't signed out. Danny moves quietly through the rows until he reaches the back of the evidence locker where there are tables set up. Sitting at the very last table with an evidence box and its contents spread all over the table he finds Kelly.
"Officer Kelly?" Danny calls out, not wanting to spook the man. The guy looks up, alarmed, but doesn't move from where he is hunched over the evidence. Danny moves a few steps closer, close enough to see his case number scrawled on the box. "What are you doing down here? And what the hell are you doing with my evidence?"
Kelly straightens up then, eyes flicking from the papers in front of him back to Danny. "You're Detective Williams?" he questions, picking up a piece of paper that looked to be in Danny's own handwriting. "What happened with Doran?"
"Excuse me?!" Danny asks, taken aback by this guy's abruptness. Who the hell is he to come in here, rifle through Danny's cold case, and start questioning him about suspects. "Who the hell are you?!"
Kelly drops the paper and holds his hands defensively. "I'm Officer Chin Ho Kelly. I was-"
"John McGarrett's partner." Danny finishes, finally recognizing the name. And suspected of stealing $50,000 from HPD lockup, Danny thinks but doesn't voice. He's heard rumors, mostly from Meka, about Kelly and how he'd supposedly stolen the money. HPD could never prove it was him, but that didn't stop them from treating him like a criminal. They couldn't fire him out right, but they found reasons to demote him until he was little more than a traffic cop. "That still doesn't explain what the hell you're doing here with my evidence."
Kelly studies him for a minute before responding. "John was more than my partner, he was my best friend. When he was murdered, I begged the Captain to let me assist with the investigation, but he refused. I could've lived with that had the guy been caught." Chin looks down at the pictures spread out before him, grisly pictures from the crime scene and the autopsy. When he looks back up at Danny, his face is void of any emotion, but his eyes are haunted. "It's been more than two months and his killer is still out there. And worse than that? The Captain's declared it a cold case so no one even touches it anymore. What kind of justice is that, huh? McGarrett was a great cop, a great man. He deserves better than that."
Danny watches, shocked, as Chin drops back down in his chair and hangs his head between his hands. He understands where Kelly is coming from. He and Meka may not be as tight as he and his partner were back in Jersey, but if Meka was murdered, he would still do everything in his power to hunt down the son of a bitch responsible. Kelly's loyalty is admirable, honorable even. It doesn't fit with all the rumors he's heard about the man, even if Danny is never one to listen to gossip. He gives Chin a few minutes to collect himself, then pulls out the chair across from him and sits down.
"I get it," Danny murmurs, eyes dancing over the pieces of paper in front of him. "Are these copies of the case file?" he asks, picking up a piece of paper that Danny knows for a fact has been locked in his desk drawer.
Chin nods quietly, moving to gather up the paper before Danny stops him. "Yeah, sorry. I knew no one would let me near that file so while I was working graveyard shift a few weeks ago, I picked the lock on your desk and made copies of everything. I was planning on destroying them after the case was solved."
Danny let's out a chuckle and shakes his head. "Picked the lock on my desk? Nice." He flips open the original file and starts leafing through the pages until he gets to his notes on Doran. "Truth be told, I shouldn't have it either." At Chin's questioning look, Danny shakes his head, smile playing on his lips. "You haven't heard? Cap knocked me down to Robbery. If he knew I still had a homicide file open in my desk, there'd be hell to pay. Your secret's safe with me."
He shares a knowing smirk with Chin before looking back down at his notes. "When the ballistics report came back linking this case with another unsolved murder from a few years ago, I knew we were dealing with illegal weapons. Doran was our best bet. He's a weapons dealer and has kept pretty well below the radar the last few years." Danny leans back in his chair and flips through a few more pages of notes before he comes up with the one he wants and hands it over to Chin.
"I tried to get a search warrant for his place but the judge said we didn't have probable cause. Meka and I went after his girlfriend and got nothing, so we went after him ourselves for a little chat. We got to his place and found it vacant. Place had been cleared out in a hurry. We put out an APB out on him, but nothing ever came of it." Danny shakes his head as he takes another look at Doran's photo. "It never made sense that he had taken off. His car was gone, a good amount of personal property was gone from the house, no recent credit card purchases or withdrawals indicating that he was trying to leave the islands. It was like he just disappeared."
"And he was your best lead?" Chin asks. "Nothing else stood out?"
"There were shoe impressions on the floor and partials on the furniture around the body, but nothing concrete. The rest of the house was untouched as far as CSU could tell. No forced entry, no tripped alarms, no prints except for McGarrett's on any of the doors and windows." Danny lists off, each piece of evidence they didn't have feeling like another nail in the coffin. "We never had much to start with and when Doran went missing, it just killed the whole case."
Chin nods, looking up from the paper he was reading. As he lowers it, Danny can see it's the transcript of the call that had come into HPD. "What about his son? Did you talk to him?" When Danny doesn't answer right away, Chin pushes forward a copy of McGarrett's phone records. "You requested his phone records and his last call was to his son, who was overseas at the time."
"Yeah, on a classified mission." Danny answers. He pulls up his copy of the call transcripts though he nearly has it memorized. "According to the information given to HPD, McGarrett's son was on a mission when he received a call from his father whom he believed to be in distress. He instructed another soldier to relay back to base that his father needed police assistance. No more detail was given."
"What did Steve have to say? He must've had some clue as to what was going on if he called for HPD." Chin urges, digging through the rest of the notes in the folder. "How come there isn't an interview or statement from Steve in here? Did you talk to him?"
Danny feels his stomach drop at the tone in Chin's voice. Chin has no idea that … Danny takes a deep breath. "No, we weren't able to talk to him." When Chin looks up sharply, Danny holds up his hand to stave off his questions. "He was listed as next of kin for his father, he was my first call. Unfortunately, I was told it would be impossible for me to speak with Steve at the time. The Admiral told me that moments after that call had been made, the convoy Steve was in had been attacked and Steve suffered grievous injury. He was in critical condition and later put into a medically induced coma."
Chin goes pale as he slumps back against the chair. He brings his hand up to cover his face as he takes a few shaky, deep breathes. Danny sighs in sympathy. It's almost as bad as telling Mary Ann McGarrett. If Chin was McGarrett's partner and best friend, then it stood to reason that he was fairly close to the McGarrett children as well.
"I'm sorry, man. I didn't know-"
"It's okay," Chin interrupts him. He runs a hand over his face and leans back up to the table. "You don't happen to know how he is doing, do you?"
"No, sorry," Danny answers. "The last time I called, they refused to give me any information because I'm not family. And it's been over a month since I talked to Mary Ann. I haven't had any new breaks in the case and didn't want to get her hopes up, ya know?"
Chin nods, but remains silent as he keeps reading through all of Danny's notes. Danny casts a glance to his watch and realizes that he needs to leave now if he is going to make it to Grace's school on time. He gathers up his papers and slides them back into the file before he looks down at Chin.
"I didn't give up on it," he states and watches as Chin looks up at him, confused. "McGarrett's murder. I didn't give up on it. I've spent as much time as I could, sifting through all the evidence again and again, looking for anything I might've missed. And I'm going to keep looking until I find his kids some answers. They deserve that."
Kelly looks up at him speechless for a moment before he reaches out his hand. "It's nice meeting you, Detective Williams. And thank you."
"I'll see you around, Officer Kelly." Danny stops when he is a few steps away from the table and turns around. He pulls out his phone and scrolls through a list of numbers before handing it over to Chin. "Mary Ann McGarrett's cell number. If you reach her, let me know."
"Will do," Chin answers, handing Danny back his phone. "Have a good night."
When he pulls up to the school, the bus is just unloading and Danny can make out two brunette pigtails bouncing as Grace steps off the bus. He smiles as he watches her shrug her backpack up higher on her shoulders and look around the parking lot. He can tell the exact moment she sees his car because her face breaks out into huge grin and she starts running right for him, little legs tearing up the parking lot.
As quick as he can, he unbuckles and climbs out of the car. He barely makes it a step before he's got his arms full of his little girl. When she wraps her arms around his neck and squeezes, Danny can't help but feel the weight of the rest of his day slough off his shoulders. He hugs her back, burying his face in her hair for the briefest of moments before she's squirming back down to the ground. He lets her go without a fuss, but cups her face between his hands and smiles at her.
"Hey Monkey. How was your day?" He watches in amazement as her face practically glows with excitement, her eyes dancing and her dimples coming out full force.
"It was great!" She bounces on her toes as she says it and Danny can't help but chuckle at her enthusiasm.
"Well, what do you say you tell me all about it over some …"
"Shave ice!" Grace is clambering into the backseat, backpack and all, when she stops and turns around to face him. "Please Danno? Can we have Shave Ice for dinner?!"
Danny just shakes his head and motions for her to get in the car. "No. Not for dinner." He states, waving to Grace's teacher before getting the car himself. He looks in the rearview and sees Grace's pout. "But maybe after dinner," he concedes and watches as she pumps her arms in triumph. "So what do you want for dinner?"
"The next words out of your mouth better not be pineapple or I'll make you walk home." Danny says and listens contently as Grace laughs from the backseat. "What kind of kid did I raise, huh? Wanting to eat fruit on pizza. I thought I raised you better than that," he mutters good-naturedly and listens as Grace's laugh gets even louder.
"Okay, okay," she tries and fails to sound glum. "We can get half with pineapple and half with pepperoni."
"Why thank you, Monkey. Your sacrifice is appreciated." He spares a glance into the backseat and smiles at his daughter. Sometimes it amazes him just how lucky he is. Grace smiles back at him before her face grows serious. She glances down at something in her hands. He waits her out, flicking his gaze back and forth between the road and the rearview mirror.
It takes until they pull into the parking lot of the pizza shop before Grace says anything else. Danny turns the ignition off and unbuckles but makes no move to get out of the car. Instead, he turns in his seat so he can see Gracie better. It isn't until he turns around that he can see what she has in her hands, a visitor's badge from the VA hospital. His heart sinks. He knew this moment was coming, the moment when his little, innocent, baby girl is faced with the big, bad, ugly truth about the rest of the world.
He reaches back and takes her hand in his, breaking her concentration on the pass. She looks up and her eyes look so sad it breaks his heart. "Gracie?"
Grace hesitates, flicking her eyes back down to the object in her hands, before she meets Danny's gaze again. "Danno, if something really bad happened to someone, would that make them stop talking?"
Danny's taken aback by her question for a moment before he's able to gather himself. He gives her hand a gentle squeeze and nods. "Well, yeah I suppose it could Gracie. A lot of things can make a person stop talking; if they're sad or angry or confused."
She nods her head, seeming to accept the answer. "If someone made them happy, will they start talking again?"
"I, uh," Danny hesitates, not sure where this is going, but Grace looks so desperate for an answer. "I guess it would depend on what made them stop talking in the first place, but yeah, I would think that if someone helped them, they would talk again. Why?"
Grace unbuckles her seatbelt and tucks the visitor's badge into her backpack. "Mr. Steve doesn't talk. He looks so sad. But I think I made him a little less sad today. He kept the picture I drew for him and Mak gave me a thumbs up."
When she looks up at him, she looks so optimistic. Danny doesn't want to give her false hope, especially not knowing all the circumstances surrounding this Steve. But the way Grace is looking at him right now, all determined and confident, Danny can't help but feel it too. "That's great, Monkey! That must've been a special picture you drew for him. I'm proud of you kiddo."
Grace beams at the praise, worries temporarily forgotten. "I can't wait to go back next week and help Mr. Steve again!"
Danny opens his mouth, to say what he's not sure, but he's saved when Grace's stomach growls. With a laugh, Danny opens the car door. "Come on Gracie. Let's go feed ya before you start to chew on the seats." Grace's peal of laughter follows him out of the car.
Long after lights go out for the evening, Steve lays on his side and stares out the window. He can't quite wrap his head around the little girl, Grace he reminds himself, from today. She had been like a sunbeam breaking out from behind storm clouds, like coming up for fresh air after nearly drowning. His scars, his silence, his wheelchair, none of it disturbed her. She didn't flinch at his glares or move on the way he expected a kid her age would after a few minutes of not being noticed. No, she had sat right next to him and drew a picture. She had talked to him and laughed, even when he hadn't responded. And the picture …
Steve moves his hand and pulls the folded up piece of paper out from beneath his pillow. With all the care he can muster with his shaky hands, Steve unfolds the piece of paper and lays it on the bed where he can see it in the moonlight. The picture is simple enough, bright blue-green ocean meeting yellow sand, a cheery orange sun sitting in the blue sky while spiky palm trees dot the sand. It's a beach. It could a thousand beaches anywhere in the world, but it reminds him of so much. It reminds him of an undisturbed childhood of frolicking in the waves and building sandcastles as tall as he could reach. It reminds him of a father's proud smile and a mother's warm embrace. It reminds him of home.
It's been nearly 15 years since he'd last step foot in Hawaii. 15 long years of grief and heartache, of struggle and sacrifice, of working hard and paying the price to be something better for his country. 15 long years of having no one to write home to and no one to visit on leave. It's been 15 years since he stood on that beach and let his toes sink into the sand and the water lap around his ankles. It's been 15 years since he could relax.
Staring down at the picture now, he can almost hear the waves crashing against one another as they roll in. He can feel the sun shining down on him and feel the sand under his feet. Closing his eyes, he holds on to that feeling, letting it carry him away for a little while.