As they crossed the clouds, the castle grew in size and brightness, the glow nearly blinding. "What makes it so bright?" Steve asked.
"All the alchemy," On'ashi said.
"And all the crystals," A'skelkal added. "The castle is covered with them."
"Do they sing?" Steve asked.
"Not for her," On'ashi said, shaking his head. "They may for you."
"It will be a like a chorus," A'skelkal said. "No one has heard it for generations."
"I see," Steve said, reaching into his pocket when the crystals began vibrating. The rainbow one was casting its colored lights all around them, the singing ones calling out to the castle.
"They are calling to their rerz-usks," Kym'kl told Steve.
"Do you hear it?" Dl'elda asked, her cheeks pink in excitement. "The castle is singing."
The miners stopped to listen. Very faintly, they could hear the humming of the crystals, the sound exquisite by any standard – Human or Esri.
"They are happy about your arrival," On'ashi told Steve. "And they are glad Dl'elda is coming home."
"They are singing for me?" Dl'elda asked, clapping in happiness.
"Of course they are," On'ashi confirmed with a bright smile just for her. "They missed you."
"I guess Rachel knows we're here," Steve said as they approached the glowing castle. It was looming over their heads, the crystals glowing brighter and singing louder the closer they got to the white wall that surrounded it on all sides. It too was glowing although not as brightly as the castle itself. Just as they were about to knock on the plain white gate to request admittance, it opened on its own. Behind it were five faeries dressed in what looked like military uniforms, all straight lines and solid blocks of grey and black. These faeries had short hair and wore trousers rather than dresses. Studying them closely, Steve realized they were actually males. He supposed baby faeries had to come from somewhere but it hadn't occurred to him that there were faeries of both genders.
"The Queen is expecting you," the faery guard in front said. That he was not pleased with their arrival was apparent. He flew up until he was eye level with Steve, studying him with a stern expression. "You must swear an oath that you will bring no harm to our house or those who reside within."
"I will defend my ohana and myself," Steve said, including all of the miners and Dl'elda. "I will not be the cause of any altercations."
The guard stared him at him eye-to-eye, finally finding what he was seeking. "You may pass," the guard said. All of the guards turned toward the castle, the head guard proceeding them, two guards bringing up the rear.
Dl'elda was sitting on Steve's shoulder. The tight grip she had on his collar told him everything he needed to know about her anxiety concerning entering the castle.
The wide white doors swung open as they approached, the interior of the castle nearly dark compared to the outside. As they entered and their eyes began to adjust, the darker walls and black marble floor were soothing after the piercing brightness of the outside.
Steve stopped with the miners in the huge foyer when the guard held up one hand. "Attend here," he said before flying off around a corner.
"She wants us to think she's in charge," Kym'kl whispered to Steve, laughing at Rachel's foolishness.
"She was until he swam through," A'skelkal said in satisfaction.
"I've upset the apple cart?" Steve asked.
"I don't know what apples are but I'm pretty sure you're right about upsetting it," A'skelkal said.
"Is she going to yell at us?" Dl'elda asked Steve in a quivering voice.
"Maybe. But you don't have to worry. She's not going to …." Anything else he was going to say was cut off by Dl'elda's excited reaction to the two faeries who flew around the corner. She squealed, hurtling toward them. When they met, they hugged and cried and talked and laughed. "Her parents?" Steve asked Kym'kl who nodded, smiling over at the reunion.
"C'mere, c'mere," she said to her parents who were not letting her go now that they had her back. "This is Steve."
"Hello," Steve said.
"Thank you. Thank you so much. I can't tell you how much… oh…. Thank you," Dl'elda's mom gushed.
"You're welcome," Steve said, smiling at the family.
"We are in your debt," Dl'elda's father said, nearly as excited as his wife and daughter. He was doing a little better job of hiding it.
"Not at all," Steve said. "It was our pleasure to see that she got home safely."
"Kir'rila couldn't come. He broke his arm in the Plains. Steve had to fix it. Then there was a blizzard. It was really really cold and Steve had to carry me and Kir'rila to the mines. The miners let us in. Kir'rila is still there. Steve fixed my wing when it broke. His crystals sing to him."
Steve thought Dl'elda had said all of that in one long breath, her parents listening to every word.
"We were told you are Kir'rila'vor," Dl'elda's mother said warmly.
"I was told the same," Steve said with a laugh. "Hard to argue with the miners and the crystals."
"They sing for you?" her father asked, studying Steve.
Steve took the crystals out of his pocket, the song now familiar but no less beautiful.
"You are Kir'rila'vor indeed," her father said.
"Thank you," Steve said.
"We are the ones who owe you thanks," Dl'elda's mother corrected. "I am E'perit. This is Daaird'o."
"I'm glad to meet you," Steve said. "Dl'elda missed you both. And was a great help on our way to the mines."
"I didn't do anything," Dl'elda said, shaking her head. But she was smiling broadly up at Steve, beaming with pride.
"She's a very brave faery," Daaird'o confirmed, kissing his daughter on the head.
"Danny and I hope to see her again, the next time we swim through," Steve said.
"Of course. Send word when you arrive and we will meet you on the ocean side of the Plains," E'perit agreed.
"I think that would be easier," Steve had to agree. "The Plains apparently don't like me very much."
"They swallowed Kir'rila," Dl'elda said.
"That's true," Steve had to agree. "The blizzard was my fault."
"In the Forest?" Daaird'o asked.
"Yes," Steve agreed. "I'll know better on the trip back."
"You become accustom to it," E'perit said although she didn't sound completely convinced.
"I guess you would," Steve said with a nod. His focus turned from Dl'elda's family when the tread of Human sounding footsteps approached from around the corner. It wasn't long until a beautiful girl appeared. She was unmistakably Danny's daughter, her brown eyes red from crying.
"Hi," Steve said, crouching to meet her eye-to-eye. "I'm Steve."
She studied him, looking over at the miners before returning her gaze to him. "I'm Grace."
"It's lovely to meet you, Grace," Steve said with a warm smile. She looked a little lost, her wings still and drooping over her head. "Your father sent a message to you."
"He did?" she asked.
"He did. He told me to tell you that Danno loves you," Steve said, watching a little of her sadness lift.
"I thought he'd come," Grace said.
"He very much wanted to," Steve said. "But he broke his arm and wasn't up to traveling with us. He's in the mines waiting for you."
She nodded, looking up at Dl'elda who was fluttering over Steve's shoulder. "I'm glad you're home safe."
"I am too," Dl'elda said. "Kir'rila and Steve protected me. They made sure I got home."
"Did your mom tell you that you are coming back to the Human world with us?" Steve asked her gently.
"Uh huh. She said I can swim through and visit whenever I want," Grace said, her bottom lip quivering a little.
"Of course you can. Danno and I will come through with you," Steve promised.
"Are those your crystals singing?" she asked, listening intently.
"They are," he said, reaching into his pocket to take them out. They glowed brighter and sang louder than they ever had before. "You are making them sing like that," Steve told her.
"I've never heard one sing before," Grace said, reaching out to touch one of them.
"It's because he's Kir'rila'vor," Kym'kl told her warmly.
Grace studied the miner before returning her intense gaze on Steve. "You are?"
"That's what I'm told," Steve said. "I didn't know until I came to find Danny. He told me that I am."
She nodded, deciding that it was true and she would trust him as a result. "Can we go see Danno now?"
"If you're ready, we can," Steve said. He stood, looking over at Dl'elda who was staring at him, tears streaking down her face. "None of that, love. We'll be back, I promise."
She nodded as bravely as she could, turning in her mother's arms, her sobs muffled by her mom's shoulder.
"She'll be okay," E'perit said softly. "Thank you."
Steve nodded, reaching out his hand for Grace. She took it easily, looking around the castle foyer one last time before nodding. Steve led her out, pacing his steps to match hers. She was still thoughtfully quiet as they crossed the clouds, the miners talking softly around them.
"Can I hold the singing ones?" Grace asked up to Steve.
"Of course," he agreed, reaching with his free hand into his pocket for them. "Here you are."
She held them on her palm, the song wrapping them all in its lyrical sounds.
"They are very glad to have found you," Kym'kl told Grace. "This song is even more beautiful than it is for Steve."
"It's a different song?" she asked.
"Your songs aren't the same one," Kym'kl said. "The crystals are singing to celebrate your return."
"Is it different for Danno?"
"A little," Kym'kl said. "It sounds very much like Steve's song."
She nodded like it made complete sense. Steve didn't doubt that to her it did.
"Can I fly to the mines? To see Danno?" she asked, looking up at Steve.
"I can't fly. And I promised Danno I'd keep you safe," Steve said.
"It's safe on the clouds," she said. "And I'll get there faster."
"Dl'elda was taken from the clouds," Kym'kl told Grace firmly. "Steve promised your father."
She sighed but nodded unhappily.
"Once we get to the mines, you can fly down," Steve told her in what he hoped would be an acceptable compromise. "As long as you won't get lost."
"I won't," she said in excitement. "I'll find Danno."
"All right," Steve said. "Once we get to the mine entrance, you can fly to Danno."
"Okay," she agreed with a great many nods.
It didn't take especially long for them to cross over the clouds and reach the entrance to the mines. Kym'kl unlocked the gates, letting them all through before locking them back.
"If you get confused, fly right back to us," Steve was saying, standing at the top of the steps.
"I will. I promise," she said brightly.
"All right. Go find Danno," Steve laughed, watching her fly down the steps and out of sight. "I hope he doesn't kill me."
The miners laughed, slapping Steve on the back. "She'll be fine. No one will be dying today. The crystals will help guide her if she gets confused," Kym'kl assured him.
"Good," Steve said with a nod.
The return trip back through the mines seemed to take only half the time it had taken on their way to the clouds. Steve didn't try to figure it out. Maybe Time was adjusting itself. Or maybe the relative familiarity was making it seem that Time was moving faster.
They heard Danny before they saw him, regaling Grace with the story of how they crossed over to find her. Her answering laugh was all they needed to know about the happiness of the reunion. They had matching smiles on their faces as the miners and Steve entered the crowded main chamber, most of the dwarves present.
Danny looked over at Steve as he entered, beaming at him. All the weariness, the pain, the anxiety were erased, love and relief replacing them. He looked 10 years younger. Steve had no choice but to smile back, Grace sitting on Danny's lap one of the most endearing sights he'd ever seen.
Danny picked up Grace to hold her with his left arm, crossing over to where Steve was standing. "Thank you," Danny said quietly, kissing Grace's head. "I can never repay you."
"You don't owe me anything," Steve responded, warmth in his voice and eyes. "She's back with you, where she belongs."
"Thank you," Grace said to Steve, smiling up at him. "You got my Danno back for me."
"You're welcome," Steve said, deciding to accept their gratitude. There seemed to be no point in arguing with them. He knew he'd lose.
"You never had lunch," A'skelkal said, bustling them to the table. "Sit. Sit. I'll get your dinner."
"Thank you," Steve said with a nod.
"In'kyn and Et'tur have asked to come with us through the Forest," Danny told Steve when they were sitting at the table, almost no space between them.
"That's very kind of you," Steve said with a nod at the two dwarves beaming at them.
"It'll keep down the nightmares," In'kyn said. "We'll cross the Plains too. Help control the terrain."
"Your alchemy will handle most of it," Et'tur said, the other dwarves nodding in agreement. "But many dwarves make for light work."
"Thank you," Steve agreed. "I didn't know you had alchemy."
"We have it. It's different from yours or Kir'rila's but it will help in the Plains," In'kyn said.
Steve nodded, looking over at Danny and Grace again, the love between them nearly visible. Danny caught Steve's eyes, smiling like he never intended to stop.
The moment was broken when the miners brought out huge mounds of food. Everyone at the table ate and talked and laughed. They were celebrating the reunion of father and daughter. Steve suspected they were also celebrating the fact that Danny had found his Kir'rila'vor but Steve was not going to voice that idea out loud.
When they were sure Steve, Danny, and Grace had had enough to eat, they all went to the warm, comfortable room with the soft chairs and the blazing fire. The miners gave Steve and Danny tankards of what tasted like ale although Steve intentionally did not ask. Grace had a mug of rich hot chocolate. She fell asleep before she finished it, Danny picking her up.
"This one needs to get into bed," Danny said softly.
"We put a bed in your chamber for her," Kym'kl said.
"Thank you," Danny said.
"I'm going to turn in as well," Steve said, standing next to Danny. "We'll see you early tomorrow."
"Sleep well," Kym'kl said, the other miners adding their wishes for a restful night.
Danny settled Grace in the smaller bed when they were in their chamber, Grace barely stirring as Danny put the warm blanket over her. "Thank you again," he said to Steve when he had straightened, looking up at Steve.
"I told you that you didn't owe me anything. Not even thanks," Steve reminded him with a warm smile, studying Danny carefully and seeing some of the lines of pain back around his eyes. He looked tired but happy. "Should we wait another day to start back to the ocean?" Steve asked.
"No. I'll be fine. Unless you need the day to rest."
Steve shook his head, pulling Danny gently over to the bed. "I'm good. Are you going to be able to swim through the portal with one arm?"
"There's a reason Humans mistake Esri for mermaids," Danny told him with a laugh.
"All right," Steve said, helping Danny settle in the bed. "Is the mor-eri you charmed still waiting for us?"
"Oh," Danny said, his eyes wide as he looked up at Steve. "I completely forgot."
"He's there still?" Steve asked with a small frown.
"He promised to stay until we needed him. Damnation."
"All right," Steve said as he turned for the door.
"Wait. Where are you going? You're not going back to edge of Faeryland tonight, are you?" Danny asked.
"No. I'm going to go ask one of the dwarves to go release him."
Danny shook his head. "They can't. This is awful. I can't believe I did that to him."
"You can't go to Faeryland. I'm not even sure you're going to be able to make it back to the ocean the way you're feeling. If the miners can't release the mor-eri, I'm going to have to go back to Faeryland and do it myself," Steve said firmly.
Danny sighed, shaking his head. "I'm sorry. I would never hold him intentionally."
"I know that," Steve said. "I'll go to Faeryland in the morning. We'll stay the night here and start for the ocean the next morning."
"All right," Danny agreed reluctantly. "I'll teach you to talk to them. It won't take you very long to learn."
"The mor-eri isn't going to hurt any of the faeries, right?" Steve asked as he took off his clothes and got into bed with Danny.
"No. He can't cross over without me there. Or you. You'll find him without too much trouble. Tell him I'm sorry."
"I will. Can I take him a gift of some sort?" Steve asked.
"You can take him several crystals. They like to put them in their nests."
"That's easy enough," Steve agreed. He lay down next to Danny, turning onto his side to look over at him. "If I hadn't been ordered to swim through the portal, would I have found you?"
"What do you think?" Danny asked, his eyes crinkled at the corners, an amused expression on his face.
Steve had to smile back, reaching over to kiss Danny lightly. "I think it was inevitable. Because we are koijaw-vor."
"Exactly. I used to dream about you. After Rachel left me. I never saw your face but I knew who you were."
Steve nodded at that. One more thing that only made sense now. It never would have before. "Did you know it was me when I surfaced?"
"No. It took me a while. And I sure wasn't going to tell you. You can still change your mind, you know," Danny said softly.
Steve shook his head. "I can't change my mind any more than I can change my eye-color. Unless you want to do that too."
Danny laughed, running his fingers through Steve's white hair. "Nope. And you'll get your tattoos back, I promise."
"I know," Steve sighed.
"Yeah. There are 1800 steps. 1800."
"It's a lot of steps," Danny agreed. "I'm really sorry you have to climb them again tomorrow."
"It's fine," Steve said, waving it away. "I'll be back in time for lunch. I'm sure at least one of the miners will go with me."
"I'm sure they will," Danny said, shifting restlessly.
"Your arm really hurts, doesn't it?" Steve asked, watching him.
"A little," Danny had to admit.
"Okay," Steve said, leaving the bed and pulling on his robe. That Danny didn't bother to protest told Steve everything he needed to know about how much pain he was really in. "I'll be back in just a minute. Do I need to bring Kym'kl?"
"No. Just something to reduce the pain," Danny requested.
Steve nodded and left the chamber. It was only a few minutes later that he returned with a mug, steam rising from it. "Here you go."
"Thank you," Danny said, scooting up the bed with Steve's help to lean against the headboard.
"Cha'ima and A'serhom are going to Faeryland with me," Steve said when he was back in the bed.
"They'll finally get to go shopping," Danny said with a smile. "You won't be back until after lunch. How do you feel about dress shops?"
Steve sighed. "I have a little sister. I'm not entirely unfamiliar with the intricacies of dress shopping."
"You have a sister?" Danny asked in surprise.
"Is she in Hawaii?" Danny asked.
"She lives in LA. My father sent us to the mainland when our mother died. Which she didn't. But he thought she did."
"I'm sorry," Danny said uselessly.
"It made me who I am," Steve said with a shrug. "Mary Ann was only 12 when Dad sent us away. She grew up wild. She still is in a lot of ways. But at least she hasn't gotten arrested in the past year."
"Something to be said for that," Danny said. "I take it you aren't especially close."
"Not really, no. Mostly I'm bail money to her," Steve said in regret. "Maybe I'll bring her across some time. Might give her a perspective."
"It just might," Danny said. "She probably feels different, like she doesn't quite fit in. But can't figure out why."
"I think we both did," Steve agreed. "At least the Navy gave me direction and a purpose. She never got those."
"'Be all that you can be,'" Danny said, hiding his smile behind his mug.
"You know that's the Army," Steve said, trying to scowl at him but not succeeding.
"Ehhh…whatever," Danny said, waving it off. "So when I move to Hawaii, will Grace and I have a place to live?"
"Really?" Steve asked.
"I don't want to make any unfounded assumptions," Danny said.
"Aren't we getting married here? Why would you have to ask about where you'll be living?"
"Do you have an apartment?" Danny asked.
"I inherited my father's house. I have my own stretch of beach right outside my back door."
"Oh. A land baron," Danny teased.
"Sure," Steve said. "You can be my serf."
"I don't think so," Danny laughed. "But I am going to get a private detective's license and open my own business. You'll join me?"
"I've never thought about it," Steve said. "I thought I'd retire from the Navy. I have no plan B."
"Your father's murder altered your entire future."
"That's for sure," Steve said. "I guess I was supposed to be home when the Admiral called and ordered me to swim through the Portal."
"Apparently," Danny agreed, putting his mug on the small table and moving down in the bed.
Steve made sure he was warm and comfortable, kissing him gently before settling beside him, his long arm thrown over Danny's stomach just below where his right arm was strapped to his body. He barely had his eyes closed before he was sound asleep.
"Yes, Gracie, I'm sure Steve will be back in time for dinner," Danny said to his daughter when she asked him for possibly the one millionth time when Steve would be back. He'd also explained at least that many times why she couldn't go to Faeryland with Steve. The very last thing Danny was willing to do was risk losing his daughter to a mor-eri when he'd just gotten her back.
"Why isn't he back, Danno?" she asked again. "He left right after breakfast."
"I told you, Monkey. Cha'ima and A'serhom went with him. They wanted to go shopping. Why are you so worried about Steve? He'll be fine."
"What if Mom…" She stopped, looking down at the picture she'd been working on. The dwarves had provided her with paint and canvas, giving her something to do while they waited for Steve to come back.
"Rachel isn't going to do anything to Steve, I promise," Danny said, kissing her head. "His alchemy has gotten very strong. And he has qac-ll. You think she's going to cross anyone who can tune the crystals?"
"No," she agreed, looking a little more relaxed at Danny's reminder. "And we're moving to Hawaii to live with him?"
"We are," Danny said. "He and I are getting married. You're okay with that, right?"
"Uh huh. Mom said he was a brute but she's wrong."
"She is," Danny said. "Would I have fallen in love with him if I didn't trust him?"
"No," Grace said. "I'll be glad to get back to the Human side of the Portal."
"Why's that?" Danny asked, studying her carefully. But she didn't look upset when she said it so he was able to release his sudden anxiety.
"It's pretty here. But…I like the Human world better. There's less…upsetment."
Danny had to laugh at her description. "The Human world can be pretty dramatic. But in completely different ways."
"Mom hates it there."
"I know, Monkey. And I'm sorry about that. You know we can swim back here any time you want to."
"Uh huh. But I want to live with you. And with Steve," she said, delicately dipping her brush into the blue paint to color the sky.
"That's what I want too," he said, watching her create an amazing picture of the Human world. He didn't think it was just parental pride that made him think she had some real artistic ability. She stopped painting, tilting her head to one side to listen intently.
"Steve's back," she said with a broad smile.
"Then let's go find him," Danny said, standing and holding his left hand out to her. She took it, going to the main chamber. Steve hadn't gotten there yet but it was crowded with dwarves looking forward to his return. The miners chatted happily with Danny and Grace while they all waited.
"Hello," Steve said with a laugh when he entered the chamber. "We're back."
"Steve," Grace squealed, running over to him and throwing her arms around his waist.
"Hi Grace-Face," Steve said in amusement, leaning down to kiss her head. "Everything okay?" He was mostly talking to Danny. Grace nodded against his stomach, not loosening her grip.
"She was concerned when you weren't back for lunch. She thought maybe Rachel had caused trouble," Danny explained.
"Nope. We released the mor-eri then went dress shopping," Steve said, shrugging out of the backpack. Grace had eased her hold and he was able to crouch in front of her. "I brought you a gift."
"You did?" she asked, all wide eyes.
"I hope you like it," Steve said, pulling out a light blue dress made of sparkling fabric. Her squeal of delight was all he needed to know about whether or not he'd made the right choice. "You like it?"
"It's beautiful," she said, holding up to her and twirling around. "Can I try it on? Please can I?"
"Of course," Danny laughed. "It's your dress."
She nodded before running out to their chamber.
"You didn't need to buy her a dress," Danny said to Steve with an indulgent smile.
"He didn't have a lot of choice," A'serhom said when she came up to them.
"He didn't have any choice?" Danny asked, looking down at her and back up at Steve.
"And he didn't buy it," Cha'ima added with a smile just for Steve.
"You stole it?" Danny asked with an adorably confused expression.
"Of course not," A'serhom laughed.
"The storekeeper gave it to him," Cha'ima said. "Insisted he take it."
"Oh," Danny said with a smile.
"Yeah. I tried to pay her but she refused," Steve said with a shrug.
"She wasn't going to take your crystals," Cha'ima told Steve.
"It's the reason I took them," Steve said, pulling random crystals out of his pockets.
"Did you give some to the mor-eri?" Danny asked.
"He took three of them," Steve said.
"Then why do you have more than you had when you left?" Kym'kl asked Steve, studying the crystals.
"Some of the faeries gave him more crystals," Cha'ima said when Steve remained stubbornly silent about the mysteriously appearing crystals.
"The faeries gave them to you," Danny repeated, looking up at Steve with amused affection.
Steve shrugged, stuffing his hands in his pockets, refusing to meet Danny's eyes.
"And what did you do to deserve these crystals, Steven?" Danny asked.
"Nothing," Steve mumbled.
Danny raised a skeptical eyebrow and looked over at Cha'ima and A'serhom for an explanation.
"When we stopped for lunch, there was practically a parade of faeries who wanted to talk to him, touch him, give him crystals," A'serhom said with a smile up at Steve.
"Because he returned Dl'elda safely," Cha'ima said warmly.
"And because he's made you so happy," A'serhom said to Danny.
"I see," Danny laughed. "News travels fast in Esri."
"Apparently," Steve said. "Dl'elda and her parents came and had lunch with us," he said with a smile at the thought of her.
"Good," Danny said with a nod.
"Not so good since they want him to help organize a faery revolt," Cha'ima said.
"Not good," Kym'kl said, shaking his head. Danny was frowning, looking up at Steve.
"What did you say?" Danny asked him.
"I said no," Steve assured him.
"Good," Danny said. "Good thing we're leaving tomorrow."
"Doubt it will make much of a difference," Cha'ima said. "They are pretty set on removing Rachel from the throne."
"That's on them. We have no part of it." Danny's frown turned into a smile when Grace came racing over to them in her sparkly blue dress. Her cheeks were pink with excitement, her fluttering wings lifting her off the floor even as she tried to run across it.
"Isn't it beautiful, Danno?" she asked in pure happiness. She twirled around so he could see all of her dress, the skirt billowing out as she turned.
"It's gorgeous," Danny said with a huge smile. "Did you pick it out?" he asked Steve, his eyes brimming with affection.
"Yes?" Steve said.
"Excellent job," Danny said, bending enough to kiss Grace's head. "It's the most beautiful dress I've ever seen. On the most beautiful little girl in either world."
"Oh Danno," she giggled, looking up at him and at Steve. "Thank you, Steve."
"You are very welcome, Grace-Face. I'm just glad you like it."
"I do," Grace said happily. "It won't be ruined when we swim through the portal, will it?"
"We'll put it in one of our waterproof packs," Danny assured her. "It will be fine."
"Good," she agreed, twirling again so the skirt spun out from around her.
Danny was finally able to talk Grace into taking off her new dress so she could get into bed. The next day was going to be a long one and they all needed to get some sleep so they'd be ready for the trip back.
Once he actually got her into bed, she fell asleep right away. Danny sat with her, smiling at her until Steve returned with the tea to ease Danny's pain.
Danny drank it all, settling in the bed when Steve climbed in with him. Only minutes later, they were both sound asleep.
"Thank you again for everything," Danny said to Kym'kl when they were ready to leave the next morning.
"You owe us nothing, Kir'rila," Kym'kl assured him. "Alert us when next you swim through. We will meet you at the edge of the Plains to make your journey easier."
"We will," Danny agreed. "And you will let me know if you need us to return."
"You can be certain," Kym'kl agreed, unlocking the door across the main entrance. "Safe travels, Grace, Kir'rila'vor."
"Thank you," Steve agreed with a nod. "Your help will not be forgotten."
"We will see you soon," Kym'kl said. He was surrounded by dwarves as they watched Danny, Steve, and Grace start off through the Forest with In'kyn and Et'tur leading the way.
"Happy places?" Danny asked with a smile up at Steve.
"I'm with you and Grace," Steve responded, making Danny laugh.
"Thank you," Danny said, holding tight to Grace's hand. "You aren't planning to fly away, are you?"
"Nope," Grace assured him, reaching out for Steve's hand. "Staying right here."
"Good," Steve said with a nod.
The trip back through the Forest was immeasurably easier than it had been the first time. Steve didn't know if it was his alchemy, Danny's magic, Grace's presence, or having the dwarves with them. Whatever the reason, the Forest was brighter, easier to navigate, not anywhere nearly as intimidating.
It took almost no time to reach the edge of the Plains with no blizzards to slow their way. The Plains too seemed to respect their journey, very few rocks threatening to rise up, the terrain remaining mostly quiescent. No mor-eri flew over their heads, Danny not needing to cast his chameleon charm.
"Are the miners preventing the Plains from slowing us?" Steve asked.
"Partially. It's also you and Grace," Danny said, charming a rock to settle back down.
"The Plains feel your love and are absorbing it," Et'tur said over his shoulder.
"That's…well," Steve said.
"Don't you feel it, Steve? The Plains tasting our happiness?" Grace asked him, her hand sweeping the rocks and terrain about them.
Steve considered the question, concentrating on feeling the Plains beneath their feet and its atmosphere enveloping them. It was different from the first time. He didn't feel the animosity that had prevailed on the trip over. He hoped that the Plains hadn't been reflecting any of his somewhat negative emotions.
"Did I make the Plains unhappy?" Steve finally asked Danny.
"No, Babe. You didn't upset it. It's quieter this time because love calms it," Danny assured him.
"Good," Steve said with a nod. They had stopped to have some lunch and some water, the miners producing an enormous amount of food from their relatively small backpacks. One more Esri mystery he wasn't going to bother trying to understand.
As they were picking up the last bits of their lunch debris, what sounded like horse hooves grew louder and closer. They all looked in the direction of the sound, very soon seeing four cer-urns getting closer and closer. Steve was very happy to see Ale'tin galloping toward them, Sul'ia right next to him. They were accompanied by two shorter cer-urns, clearly intended for the miners to ride.
"Hello," Danny said to the four cer-urns when they stopped in front of them. "Thank you for coming for us."
The cer-urns neighed in greeting, Ale'tin nudging Steve in greeting. Steve caressed his muzzle. "I'm happy to see you too."
Sul'ia nudged Grace lightly, nodding his big head.
"Yes, I'm Danno's," Grace laughed, rubbing Sul'ia's nose. "Will you let me ride with him?" Sul'ia neighed in confirmation, turning his huge eyes to look over at Danny, snuffling at him.
"It was an accident," Danny assured him. "It's feeling much better." Sul'ia neighed in confirmation.
The miners were talking to their smaller cer-urns, In'kyn producing the apple-like fruit Steve had gotten used to seeing. The cer-urn crunched it, eyeing the second one. But it disappeared in the other cer-urn's mouth before the first one could snatch it.
"They good with giving you a ride?" Danny asked the miners although he was pretty sure about the answer.
"They are," In'kyn said.
"Good. Are we ready?" Danny asked, looking up at the saddle on Sul'ia.
"We are," Steve said, standing just beside Sul'ia and cupping his hands. Seeing he had no choice, Danny stepped into Steve's hands, letting him hoist him into the saddle. When he was settled, Steve hoisted Grace up behind him, making sure she wasn't going to slide off. The miners were already on their cer-urns so Steve mounted Ale'tin, feeling comfortable and ready to go.
With the help of the cer-urns, it seemed to take no time at all to arrive at Tr'kelel where they were greeted by the residents, just as they had been the first time. Y'iaold and his family were excited that Steve and Danny had returned with Grace, and were almost as excited to greet the miners. They assured them that feeding all five of them would be no problem and there would be plenty of room in the stables for all the cer-urns. The family was delighted to talk with Grace, to hear all about her adventures. She answered all of their questions, much laughter shared.
Shortly after they had finished eating, the travelers headed for bed. Even though the trip had been much easier and far less dramatic, it had still been tiring for them all. Grace was especially feeling the effects, practically falling asleep in her dinner.
The family woke them when the sun was barely up, feeding them a delicious hearty breakfast. Danny assured the miners that if they wanted to return to the mines, it would be completely safe for them to do so. Even though they hadn't yet seen the beholders, he was certain they would be shadowing them the rest of the way to the ocean. In'kyn and Et'tur discussed it, In'kyn ready to return to the mines. But Et'tur said they had come this far and he really wanted to visit the ocean while they had the chance. Et'tur prevailed, In'kyn giving in easily enough that they knew his protests were mostly out of form rather than a real refusal to go.
The cer-urns greeted them happily when they entered the stables, Steve helping Danny and Grace onto Sul'ia before he mounted Ale'tin. The miners were settled in their saddles, so after many thanks for the hospitality, they entered the woods, the bright trees greeting them with a soft, cool breeze.
"Are the beholders with us?" Steve asked, looking around but not seeing them.
"Not yet," Danny said. "They may not journey with us this time. Do you want them to come?"
"No. I was mostly curious," Steve said. "This trip has been so different."
"Much easier," Danny agreed. "Not that it matters. I'd do all again 1000 times if I had to in order to get my Gracie back."
"Love you too, Danno," Grace said, hugging Danny from where she sat behind him.
"And I'd be right with you," Steve said with a smile. "How's your arm?"
"You know," Danny said, dismissing the question. What was there to say?
"When are we swimming through the portal?" Grace asked.
"Tomorrow. It will be too late when we home today," Danny said.
"'Kay," she agreed, looking over at In'kyn and Et'tur who seemed to be arguing about something. She couldn't hear their discussion but In'kyn was gesturing to make his point. "What they fighting about?"
"I doubt even they know," Danny laughed. Steve agreed with his assessment, watching the miners with a smile.
It seemed like no time at all passed until they arrived at the ocean, the smell and sound greeting them before they could see it. Grace was so excited to be near the water, Danny agreed to allow her to fly to the beach and wait for them there.
"Is that a good idea?" Steve asked as she flew out of sight.
"We'll be there in three minutes," Danny said with an indulgent laugh. "Nothing is going to happen to her."
"You sure?" Steve asked.
"She's the daughter of the Portal Keeper," Et'tur reminded Steve. "No harm will come to her."
"True," Steve said, visibly relaxing.
"Especially with you protecting her as well," In'kyn added.
"Are you staying with us tonight?" Danny asked them as they approached the treehouse.
"If it won't be an inconvenience," Et'tur said.
"Not at all," Danny assured them. "I don't know if there will be anything for us to eat."
"If they know you are coming home, there will be," In'kyn said knowingly.
"Do they know we're coming?" Steve asked. They had stopped the cer-urns, Steve and the miners dismounting. Steve helped Danny down, his arm making dismounting too awkward by himself.
"We'll find out when we get inside," Danny said, kicking off his sandals and removing his mmu-fum-omuu pants. He went directly into the water, letting the waves greet him, splashing him head to toe. Grace flew over to him, landing by his side and laughing as an especially large wave tried to knock them both down.
"Careful you two," Steve called with a laugh. He watched as the miners took off their boots and their heavy work pants, wading into the ocean to stand next to Danny and Grace.
"I wish the mines were closer," Et'tur said.
"We all do," In'kyn said in agreement.
Steve was content to watch from the shore. Normally he'd be head deep in the water as well but he thought it was important to give them a little space. Even though he was half Esri, this wasn't really his world. At least not completely.
The cer-urns seemed to sense his thoughts, nudging him with their noses.
"I'm fine," he assured them with a smile.
"You homesick?" Danny asked as he waded out of the orange water.
"A little," Steve admitted. "The ocean is supposed to be blue."
"It will be tomorrow," Danny reminded him with a smile. "Let's go see if we have anything to feed two miners and a faery."
"Good plan," Steve agreed, following Danny into the woods and up the rope ladder. He was surprised at how well Danny was able to handle the climb with only one arm. Steve knew there was a time he would have been surprised at the amount of food waiting for them on the table but now he just took it in stride. "How many miners did they think were coming?" he asked with a laugh.
"You never know," Danny said, going to the room with his bed. He quickly put on a clean mmu-fum-omuu, this one dark green. "You want one?"
Steve shook his head. "The miners kept my clothes clean."
Danny nodded, going to the edge of the treehouse to look for Grace and the miners. It didn't take long after he'd called for them to appear on the rope ladder, Grace flying up. "We need to eat," Danny said.
They settled at the table, the food as delicious as it was plentiful. They all ate as though they had been without which the miners put down to the journey. "Always takes extra food," In'kyn said to a general agreement.
"Are we getting married tomorrow before we swim through?" Grace asked as she ate more bread.
"We're planning to," Danny agreed. "You can wait until afterwards, right?"
"Of course," Et'tur said. "We may stay an extra day at any rate."
"You're welcome to stay here," Danny said, the miners agreeing to his generous offer.
After they had all they wanted to eat, Grace and the miners decided to return to the ocean for a twilight swim. With a sincere promise to be very careful and watch out for each other, the miners went down the ladder and raced through the woods as Grace flew off.
"What's wrong, Babe?" Danny asked when it was just him and Steve in the treehouse.
"Nothing," Steve said, refusing to meet Danny's eyes.
"Seriously? You think you can pull that on me?" Danny asked, sitting next to him and putting a warm hand on his arm. "We don't have to get married."
"No. No, that's not it," Steve said, shaking his head.
"What's on your mind?" Danny coaxed.
"I'm just trying to absorb it," Steve said. "When I swam through, I was a reserve Navy SEAL. No family except Mary. No idea what I'd be doing with the rest of my life. When I arrive here, I find out not only is there another universe I can visit but I'm only half Human. Then I meet my soulmate and become a step-father."
Danny nodded solemnly, not trying to convince him that any of his thoughts or emotions were off the mark. "It's been a lot. In a short amount of time."
"It has," Steve said, finally meeting Danny's eyes, his full of something akin to confusion. "I don't regret it. I don't want you to ever think that."
"I know, Babe," Danny assured him. "And I need to remind you again – we don't have to get married here tomorrow. We don't have to get married once we swim through the Portal. Grace and I will go to New Jersey. We won't contact you again if that's what you want."
"You know it isn't," Steve said, reaching out and pulling Danny onto his lap to hold tight. "I want to start our life together. I can't imagine not having Grace around."
"You've only known her for a day," Danny pointed out.
"Seems like a lot longer. She's already flown into my heart."
"I understand that," Danny agreed, kissing his head. "We'll sleep on it tonight. And if you want to get married in the morning, we will. If not, we won't."
"I want," Steve said. "Who performs the ceremonies here?"
"The Beholder Major will preside," Danny said. "I preside over a lot of weddings when I'm here. I held six before you arrived."
"You aren't the only one who can legally do them, are you?"
"No. But there is a legend that a marriage presided over by the Portal Keeper will be long lasting and fruitful."
"Except the Portal Keeper's marriage wasn't long lasting," Steve pointed out.
"If she'd have told me she was Faery Queen, it would have lasted a lot longer," Danny said.
"Why did you not know?" Steve asked. "Seems like something the Portal Keeper would know."
"Their monarchy is an elected one," Danny said. "Strange, I know. But she didn't mention it. And faeries pretty much stay in the clouds."
"Ah," Steve said. "Well. This marriage will be long lasting. But not fruitful as far as kids are concerned."
"Unless we adopt," Danny said. "But we aren't going there right now. Don't add it to the list of things you can't stop thinking about."
"I won't," Steve promised. "Grace and the miners need to come back. It's almost dark."
"Go and get them," Danny laughed. "I'll pile up some blankets for the miners. Grace likes sleeping in the hammock."
"Good plan," Steve agreed. He stood Danny up then went down the ladder to cross over to the beach. The three strays were sitting in the sand, watching the sun laze its way down past the horizon. "Time to come in," Steve said, looking down at them with a smile.
"I'm hungry," Grace announced.
"You just ate," Steve laughed.
Grace shrugged, reaching out for his hand. "I'm a growing girl."
"Can't argue with that," Steve said. "You coming?"
"We are," In'kyn said. They both stood to brush the sand off before following Steve and Grace back into the woods. Grace flew up to the treehouse as Steve and the miners climbed up the ladder.
Danny gave Grace some fruit, the miners deciding they could do with some as well. There was much laughter as the fruit disappeared, the happy voices winding down as the night deepened.
"Go get in the hammock," Danny said to Grace, kissing her head.
She nodded but didn't move from where she was sitting.
"Come on, sleepy head," Steve said, picking her up to carry her over to the hammock. She wound her arms around his neck, snuggling her head beneath his chin. He soaked in her warmth, releasing some of the tension he didn't know he was holding.
He lay her gently in the hammock, wrapping her in the blankets Danny had left there. Making sure she was warm and asleep, Steve went into the room with the big bed. Danny was gazing into the cupboard, his head tilted to one side.
"What cha'doing?" Steve asked as he approached.
"Deciding," Danny said, glancing over his shoulder at Steve.
"Deciding what?" Steve asked, standing beside him, their shoulders bumping.
"You know," Danny said.
"I don't know," Steve said, turning Danny enough to kiss him on the mouth. "Grace is asleep. The miners are on the next level up. We could…."
"Are you trying to seduce me, sailor?" Danny asked, smiling up at him.
"What do you think?" Steve said, kissing him again. "Will anyone interrupt us?"
"No," Danny said. "But we don't have a door. I'd rather wait until we had one to hide behind."
"All right," Steve agreed reluctantly. "Come to bed at least. I'll kiss you and give you a taste of what's to come."
"Mmm…sounds perfect," Danny said, following Steve toward the bed. "Take off your clothes."
"You certainly are pushy," Steve said untying Danny's mmu-fum-omuu.
"Can be," Danny said, working on Steve's buttons and zipper. "Take off those ridiculous boots."
"They weren't ridiculous when we were in the Plains."
"Or during the blizzard," Danny laughed.
"Thanks for reminding me," Steve said with a scowl.
"Oh. Stop," Danny said, raising up on his toes to kiss Steve.
"Right," Steve said, taking off the rest of his clothes and getting under the covers. Danny very soon joined him, pressing up against him. "I feel like I need to tell you…I… uhm… I'm in love with you."
"Okay," Danny said.
"That's it?" Steve asked with a frown.
Danny laughed, reaching over to kiss him. "I know you do. Because I love you too."
"Good. That's good," Steve said with a sigh. "So when I was taking Grace to the hammock, I was thinking…."
"Yeah?" Danny said.
"She's just so perfect," Steve said. "And…"
"Yeah," Danny said. "We'll keep her safe and keep her on our side of the Portal. You have my promise."
Steve nodded, sighing. "Good. Now I can't imagine not having her."
"I know what you mean," Danny assured him. "Now go to sleep."
"Right," Steve agreed with a kiss. He closed his eyes, moving even closer to Danny. "Make sure you sleep too."
"I will. Stand down Super SEAL," Danny said, his eyes closed.
"Wake up, sleeping beauties," Grace's voice said the next morning. Steve cracked open his eyes, looking over at Grace. She was wearing her sparkly blue dress and high spots of color on her cheeks. "Wake up wake up. We're getting married. Come on."
Steve sat up, watching Danny also sit. "Let's go get married," Steve said, Danny laughing.
"Let's go," Danny said. "Look at you in your dress."
"It's a good dress for a wedding, isn't it?" Grace said, twirling around.
'It's perfect, Monkey," Danny said. "Go get the miners. We need to put on some clothes."
"Okay. Can I come right back?"
"Yes, you can come right back," Danny promised, watching her flutter out. "I guess she's a little excited."
"Little bit," Steve laughed. "What are we wearing?"
"Whatever," Danny said, waving it off. "Hardly matters. Put on your ridiculous boots and cargo pants."
"Right," Steve said, not at all surprised to pick them up and find his clothes freshly washed and folded, back right where he had left them. "Who does this?"
"You don't need to know, Babe."
"Will they be washed and folded at home?"
"By you," Danny laughed.
"Right," Steve said.
"Come on. Our little girl is waiting to marry us."
"Roger that," Steve said, lacing up his boots and standing. He held his hand out to Danny who automatically took it, going over to the ladder. They climbed down, the miners and Grace waiting at the bottom.
"Come on," Grace said, fluttering a foot over the ground. "Come on."
"We're coming, Grace Face," Steve said, laughing. He took her hand, Grace's right firmly in Danny's left. "Where are we going?"
"Beach," Danny said.
Steve went with them toward the beach, stopping before they got to the sand. Danny and Grace kept going, boomeranging when Steve stopped.
"What?" Danny asked, looking up at Steve.
"Who are all these people?" Steve asked, looking over at the hundreds of people filing up the beach.
"They're here for our wedding," Grace chirped, fluttering off the ground.
"Oh. Well," Steve said, looking at Danny and back to the crowd. "I guess that makes sense."
"Of course it does," Danny said. "Come on. They are waiting."
"Roger that," Steve said, going with Danny and Grace the rest of the way to the beach. The crowd moved aside as they approached, allowing them to advance toward the flower arch to their left. Under it stood a very tall Esri with long white hair. Steve was fairly certain the Esri was a woman but he was never certain with the Beholders.
"Welcome," she said when they stood beneath the arch. "You are ready?"
"I am," Danny said, looking over at Steve.
"I am very ready," Steve said. "Grace-face?"
"Ready. Ready," Grace said happily. "Isn't my dress pretty?"
"It's beautiful," the Beholder said, looking down at her. "Your father got it for you?"
"Uh huh. He got it in Faeryland," Grace said.
"It's perfect," the Beholder said with a smile. "Go ahead," she said to Steve and Danny with a nod.
"Go ahead?" Steve repeated, looking over at Danny.
"She'll preside but we'll declare our intentions."
Okay," Steve said in some confusion. Well. Why should his Esri wedding be less confusing than anything else he'd experienced since he'd arrived?
"I am marrying Steve McGarrett because he is everything I need, everything I want. He brings with him half of my soul. I am now complete because he has found me."
"Lovely," the Beholder said. "Kir'rila'vor."
"Marrying Danny is as natural as the rising sun and the ocean washing ashore. I didn't know I was missing him until I found him. Marrying Grace fulfills our circle and makes us ohana. I have been without one for far too long. My loneliness has been replaced by love."
"Perfect," the Beholder said in approval. "Grace."
"I want Danno to be happy. Steve makes him happy. Steve makes me happy too. We're a family. That's why we're gettin' married."
"Yes it is," the Beholder confirmed. "Have you any truths you must share?"
"I do not," Danny said.
"I don't," Steve said, shaking his head.
"Grace?" the Beholder asked.
"I…uhm…" She caught her bottom lip between her teeth, staring down at the sand between her feet.
"What is it, Monkey?" Danny asked gently, kneeling before her.
"I… it's… it's not that I don't want…."
Steve thought his heart might stop when Grace started to cry silently. "What, Grace-face? You can tell us," he said quietly.
"I… don't want… Mommytobemadatme," Grace finally admitted.
"Mommy's not mad at you," Danny assured her. "She understands that you want to live on the other side of the Portal most of the time. And I've promised we can swim through whenever you want. You believe that, don't you?"
"Uh huh," Grace said. "She cried when I left."
"I know, love. She loves you very much. Like I do. We aren't subtracting Mommy out of our family. We're bringing Steve in."
"Mommy's not mad at me?" Grace said.
"Of course not. She wants you to be happy. She knows living with me and Steve will make you happy. Okay?" Danny asked.
"Okay," Grace said with a nod. "Okay?" she asked Steve who nodded.
"Of course, Grace-face. We'll swim through whenever you want," he promised, kissing her on the cheek. "Will you marry me?"
"I will," she agreed, her former unhappiness evaporating.
"These decisions can be difficult," the Beholder said in understanding. "Kir'rila and Kir'rila'vor only want happiness for you."
"I love them," Grace confirmed, smiling tentatively up at her.
"I can see that you do. Your happiness feeds mine. It gives happiness to us all," the Beholder said, indicating the Esri crowded on the beach. "Your marriage will be a long and happy one."
Steve and Danny smiled at each other before meeting over Grace's head for a kiss. They knelt in unison, kissing her cheeks and making her giggle.
"Will you join us for the celebration?" the Beholder asked, beaming at them.
"For a little while," Danny said. "We need to swim back."
"Of course," the Beholder agreed, leading them through the crowd to the table groaning under the weight of the food. In'kyn and Et'tur were just behind them, telling any who would listen about how Steve defeated the Faery Queen. If their story wasn't a completely accurate retelling of the events, no one was going to complain.
Steve, Danny, and Grace accepted the congratulations and the good wishes for a long and happy life until Steve was sure his face was going to break. He could see Danny beginning to wilt as well. Grace was in Steve's arms, nodding at everyone who spoke to them but long since gave up trying to respond.
"We need to go," Steve whispered to Danny when there was a break in the parade.
"Yeah we do," Danny agreed. "Come on."
Steve nodded, following him into the woods and directly to the treehouse. They climbed up as Grace flew to the dining room. The silence was a relief, the open space allowing them to finally breathe.
"All right, Monkey. Go change into your swimsuit. Steve, you can't swim over in your boots," Danny said, directly traffic. "In'kyn and Et'tur, you're rowing us out?"
"We are," Et'tur confirmed.
"I need my wetsuit," Steve said, looking for it.
"Oh," Danny said. "About that."
"What?" Steve asked, frowning over at him in suspicion.
"Yeah. You'll have to swim without it. You'll be fine."
"But where is it?" Steve asked, his arms crossed over his chest.
"Never mind. Just take off your boots. You're going to swim in your pants, right?"
"Sure," Steve said with a sigh. He stripped out of his shirt and boots, stuffing them into a pack Danny gave him. He also put Grace's dress into it when she came out from behind the curtain wearing a one piece pink and white polka-dot swimsuit.
"We're ready then," Danny said in satisfaction. He led them back down to the ground and to the small boat. Steve waited until everyone else was piled in, pushing it into the water before clambering in himself. In'kyn had one oar, Et'tur the other as they rowed the boat into the deeper water.
It didn't take long for them to pull their oars up, waiting patiently.
"Thank you," Danny said as he stood.
"Thank you, Kir'rila," Et'tur said, smiling up at him. "Safe journey."
Danny nodded and dove cleanly into the water. Grace followed him, Steve thanking the dwarves for all their help before he too dove into the ocean.
Danny and Grace were already several feet underwater. Danny's legs seemed to have merged into a flipper he used to propel himself forward. Grace's wings had disappeared and she lay on top of Danny's back as he swam straight down. Steve followed, discovering that it wasn't necessary for him to breathe beneath the water. There were definitely advantages to being half Esri.
It wasn't long at all before they came to the Portal, swimming through one at the time. Danny motioned Steve to surface first, Steve swimming up toward the boat he could see above them. When he surfaced, he found the same boat that had brought him out to the portal, the same sailor getting ready to leave. A glance at his shoulders confirmed that his tattoos were back in place, just like Danny had promised. He assumed his hair was black again but that truth would have to wait a little longer.
"Hey," Steve called, the sailor cutting the engine to look over the side of the boat at him.
"I'm back," Steve said, treading water.
"You just splashed in," the sailor said in utter confusion.
"I'm sure I did," Steve said. "But I completed my mission."
"How is that possible, sir? You just left."
"It's too complicated to explain," Steve said, turning in the water to watch Danny and Grace surface. "We need a ride back to the dock."
"Who are they?" the sailor asked, looking at Danny and Grace.
"The ones who ensured I fulfilled my mission," Steve said, climbing up into the boat. He held a hand out to Grace and lifted her easily. He also helped Danny come aboard, making sure his arm was not sore from his swim. Steve got a towel out of his pack for Grace, wrapping her in it and kissing her head. He pulled on his polo after drying off some of the moisture from their swim. He gave Danny a towel as well, helping him dry his hair as much as possible.
"I'm fine, Babe," Danny said, sitting down.
"Sir?" the sailor said, frowning again at Steve.
"I know that it's very confusing. But I did what I was sent to do. I need to return to the dock to report to the Admiral."
"Aye sir," the sailor finally agreed, setting the boat into motion.
Steve winked at Grace who was looking around, absorbing all the familiar sights of the Human side of the portal. "You sealed it, right?"
"I did," Danny agreed. "We're the only ones who can swim through to Esri."
"Can they swim through to us?" Steve asked.
"If they know the combination. I changed it so Rachel can't cross over. Kym'kl can but that's all that I'm sure of."
Steve nodded because it made sense. Surprisingly.
The disembarked when they reached the dock, the sailor still looking at them in utter confusion. Steve didn't bother to try and explain. How could he possibly make sense of it to anyone who hadn't been there?
He led Grace and Danny to the Admiral's office, his assistant alerting the Admiral to their arrival. He looked completely confused since Steve had only just left the office.
"Commander?" the Admiral said when he came to the outer office, his assistant following him.
"If we may come in, sir," Steve said, nodding toward the Admiral's office.
"We?" Admiral Aikman repeated with a frown for Danny and Grace. And possibly Steve since to his mind, Steve had disobeyed a direct order.
"We'll explain everything, sir," Steve promised. The Admiral finally nodded, turning to lead them into his office to close the door.
"Who are these civilians and why did you fail to complete your mission?" Admiral Aikman demanded.
"I did not fail in my mission, sir," Steve said. "This is Danny Williams. He is the Portal Keeper. And this is his…our daughter Grace."
"Our daughter," the Admiral repeated, looking down at her. "You don't have children."
"I didn't. But I do now. I was in Esri for a week, sir. Then Danny, Grace and I swam through the portal at which time Danny sealed it," Steve explained.
"You left my office less than 30 minutes ago."
"I know, sir," Steve said. "Time is different in Esri. The SEAL who disappeared through the portal never arrived. He's still here."
"That's not possible, Commander. We have a tape of him being sucked through," the Admiral said with a stern frown.
"If I may, sir," Danny said, taking a step closer. The Admiral frowned at him which did not deter him at all. "Might we watch the tape again?"
"To what ends?"
"You'll see that he does not swim through," Danny said.
Admiral Aikman frowned even more but used the remote to start the recording. Just like before, the six SEALs with scuba masks and tanks were swimming in the clear blue water. As they swam away from the camera, they came closer to the black rocks of the Pu'u Keka'a reef. One of the SEALs stopped and motioned to the others to back away. That SEAL reached out and touched the black coral, snatching back his hand and shooing the other men further away. The SEAL by the coral lowered himself and peered at the coral where he had put his hand. He seemed to considered it before turning toward the camera and motioning them all to follow him. They swam to the surface, all six SEALs returning to the boat.
"Well," the Admiral said, glancing over at Danny and Steve. "I apologize."
"There is no need," Steve said. "It takes some getting used to."
"Thank you for accomplishing the mission," the Admiral said, extending his hand to shake Steve's.
"I appreciate it, sir. Danny actually sealed it," Steve said, nodding over to Danny.
"It's my job," Danny said with a smile that included the Admiral, Steve, Grace, and possibly all Humans on this side of the portal.
Six months after they had returned to the Human side of the portal, Danny was trying to convince Steve to swim through with him and Grace.
"Because Grace wants to see Rachel. We did promise," Danny reminded him, reaching over to kiss Steve. Unfair tactics, sure. But whatever it takes.
"We have five active cases, Danno," Steve reminded him. "We can't expect Chin to handle them by himself. What would that do to our PI reputation?"
"And you know we'll be back right after we leave," Danny said. He propped his head on his hand to study Steve. "What's the real deal, Babe? Why don't you want to come with us?"
"I keep dreaming that I didn't get you out of the crevice and the rocks crushed you," Steve finally admitted. "I… what if…?" He stopped when Danny put a finger over his lips.
"Your alchemy is strong enough to stop it. Plus the miners will meet us at the ocean. And Grace will be with us. The Plains will respect her presence just like when we were coming home."
Steve sighed, scooting closer to Danny's warm, bare body. "Maybe you can convince me."
"Oh. I need to bribe you with sex," Danny said, reaching out to touch Steve's familiar body.
"It's a win-win," Steve pointed out with a smile.
And they lived happily ever after…