A/N: For those reading Guardian: Love Explored watched for a line of text starting with GLE - *. You can read the rest of the chapter there if you want to read the shorter watered down version first.
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Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters and make no money doing this. I'm just having fun playing with them.
Curled up on the couch between her grandmothers, Grace was reading her book to them. Grandma Williams had heard her read many times during their video chats, but this was a first for Grandma Bradley.
Finishing the chapter, she tried to stifle a yawn. Even with the nap, it had been a long and eventful day.
The little girl was very surprised to have Grandma Bradley here. Even though the woman had always scared her a bit, she'd missed getting to know her grandmother. This evening she'd been really nice, even to Danny and Daddy.
She hoped this meant she would see more of her now. Closing the book and setting it on the coffee table, Grace smiled at Dianne.
"Are you coming back tomorrow?"
The English woman smiled back. "I would love to, if you don't think I'll be in the way."
Dianne was a bit surprised when Beth laughed, but the Jersey woman quickly explained. "This house is something of a central hub for the whole family when they aren't working. I'm pretty sure an extra body won't be an issue."
"In that case, yes, I'll be here. Should I bring anything?" Dianne wasn't sure what a Sunday with the family would entail.
"A bathing suit, if you brought one, is always a safe bet given the location and their propensity to end up in the water. Otherwise, just dress comfortably. They're a pretty laid back group."
As the two women spoke, Grace started drifting off.
"Gracie, why don't you go climb into bed in my room? I'll be up as soon as Grandma Bradley's car picks her up."
The little girl nodded and reached over to hug Rachel's mom before trudging up the stairs. When she heard her close the door, Dianne looked to Beth.
"I appreciate you being willing to share your time with her." She looked slightly embarrassed. "I hate to admit it, but I find myself a bit jealous of how easy your relationship is with everyone. I know I've not earned my place with them and I suppose I wonder if I ever will."
Beth took her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. "You'll find your place with them. I know they can be an intimidating bunch, but you'd be hard pressed to find a group that cares more about each other than they do." She couldn't hide the adoration and pride in her voice.
"I'd believe that after what I heard at dinner. They are definitely a loyal lot." Dianne wondered how she'd ever though so meanly of Daniel.
"That they are. Paul and I are thrilled that we'll be here full-time soon." Dianne looked surprised and Beth remembered that nothing had been said at dinner. "We're the last of the family in New Jersey, so we're in the process of moving to Hawaii. We miss having a large family around us and we'll have that here. Plus we want to be here for Grace."
"I wish I could do that too, but it's just not realistic for me right now." Mrs. Bradley hated that she was going to be half a world away.
"Well, make the most of this visit. I know it will be hard. I can only imagine the pain of losing a child, but I hope you will let us all be there for you like we are for each other. And when it's time to go back to England take the boys up on the offer to video chat. That's how we've been able to stay close to Grace and Danny from Jersey."
Dianne looked down at her lap. "I'm not even sure I know how to do all that." She hadn't mentioned it earlier, but she'd never bothered getting into all the new technology since she'd never really had a reason.
"Do you have a computer with a web camera?" Beth asked.
Dianne gave her a completely confused look. "I have a computer that is so old it's probably about to give up and die. I take it I'm going to need some new equipment?" She sounded a bit nervous.
"Don't worry. I bet Chin and Kono can help you figure out anything you'll need while you're here. From what I know those two are pretty savvy and for simple web chat it's really quite easy."
Hearing a car door shut outside, the women moved to the front door.
As they walked up the path, Dianne reached for Beth's hand. "Thank you. It means a great deal to me that you are being so kind after how atrocious I was to Daniel. He never deserved it. I realize that now."
Beth pulled her into a hug. "We all make mistakes, but Daniel is determined to make this work for Grace's sake and I support that. For her sake and our own, we need to move beyond the mistakes of the past and focus on building a future. I'm just glad you're finally seeing how wonderful those two really are."
Mrs. Williams watched as Dianne slipped into the care and the driver shut the door.
"Ma'am, I'll wait here until you've back in the house." The driver smiled courteously. His boss had warned him whose house this was and was taking no chances of getting fired if anything went awry.
"Thank you." She returned his smile before heading back to the house.
Beckoning his partner forward, Steve opened his arms in invitation. "Danno, relax. I'm not going to water board you to make you start talking." He wrapped his arms around his lover. "I want you to talk because it's clear to the people you care about that you need to, but I won't force you to talk to me."
Danny smiled against Steve's chest. "I know I need to talk or I'm going to lose it and I will not do that in front of my baby girl." He wrapped his arms around the Seal's waist. "I want to talk to you, not someone else."
Steve ran his fingers gently through his partner's hair trying to sooth him. He'd discovered, the night before, that the small action that would earn him a serious rant and possible threat of violence during the day was perfectly allowable when the day was done and they were alone. Last night thought Danny was going to start purring when he started absentmindedly playing with his hair while lying in bed.
"Come on, let's sit down and talk." Steve pulled him toward the bed. Kicking his sandals off, he leaned back against the headboard and scooted toward the center.
Removing his shoes, Danny gave the Seal a long look before sliding onto the bed beside him. He wasn't sure he could handle seeing Steve's face when he fell apart over his ex-wife's death.
Sitting in silence for a while, Steve recognized the Jersey native wasn't quite ready to start talking yet. "I promise I'm not going to think less of you for being upset or crying over her. Daniel, I know things have been ugly between you in recent years, but they weren't always that way." The Seal reached over and laced his fingers through Danny's, carefully folding their hands together.
"I keep thinking his is all some strange nightmare. That I'm going to wake up and everything will be normal again." Danny heard Steve's breathe catch and realized what he'd said. Squeezing his hand more tightly, he amended his words. "Not everything. Not this. I wouldn't want to lose this. Honestly I wouldn't want to lose having Grace full-time either. Just Rachel's death and Grace seeing it; those are the things I want to change."
They sat in silence for a while. Somehow Steve knew that his partner didn't need him to speak yet. He just needed him to listen. He needed to process and Danny tended to process verbally, he'd learned that very quickly.
"Until Dianne showed up I don't think it had really sunk in that Rachel was dead. I don't think it really made sense. Even now, I'm mad as hell at Stan for what he did to Grace, but Rachel being dead almost seems unreal. Part of me just doesn't believe it's true." He quieted for a moment, obviously thinking. "Maybe it'll be more real at the funeral when I actually see her. That'll be great."
The last statement was full of sarcasm. Steve could only imagine the breakdown Danny envisioned having in front of a full audience. Thanks to Max, he had an alternative to offer. Though part of him hated to push his partner to the breaking point, he had considered that letting it really letting Rachel's death within the confines of their bedroom was far kinder than letting it happen in a more public setting.
"Danno." He waited for him to turn toward him. "Would it help to see? To not wait? I know it's strange, but I suspected you might not really get it until you saw." Steve realized he was rambling and fell quiet.
"What? Are you offering a late night raid to the morgue or the funeral home?" Danny could only imagine Steve breaking in to find her body in the middle of the night. Visions of him in the all black ninja gear surfaced.
Steve looked surprised before remembering he hadn't actually explained.
"No, Danno. Nothing so dramatic. I had Max send me a picture. I wanted to be prepared. The team and Grace, we all saw her, so we know, but you didn't and while I'm glad you didn't have to see her like that..." He wasn't sure how to explain why the thought this had ever been a good idea. The Seal suddenly felt completely incompetent to handle this conversation. "Never mind, forget I…"
"Steven, breathe babe. I think that is one of the strangest and sweetest things anyone has ever done for me." He waited for the Seal's eyes to meet his. "Yes, I would appreciate seeing it."
After a few seconds of stunned silence, Steve dug his phone out of his pocket and found the email from the medical examiner. He was thankful Max had been careful to clean as much of the blood away as he could before taking the picture.
Steve brought knee up and motioned Danny to move. When his partner moved, he bent the other leg to the side so Danny could settle between his legs, using one leg as a backrest, his side against Steve's chest. This new position would make it easier to hold the detective close if needed and he strongly suspected it would be needed.
"I'm ready." Danny took a deep breath and looked up at him before accepting the proffered phone. He stared in shocked silence for a moment.
"Oh god, Rachel." His voice broke as the phone dropped to the bed. The death of his ex-wife was suddenly very real. Curling into Steve's chest, he let the Seal's strong arms envelope him a she sobbed.
Steve held him as tightly as he could without hurting him, not caring the salty tears were soaking his shirt. He'd been expecting this. He knew Danny felt nothing by halves and he'd once loved the mother of his child deeply, no matter how short lived or long ago it was. Years of frustration and anger couldn't completely wipe that away.
The Seal didn't try to offer any platitudes, he just held the man he loved, gently kissing his hair and forehead as he let him cry. Eventually, the Jersey native exhausted his tears, though he remained nestled in the safety of Steve's embrace.
Held securely in those arms, Danny completely understood Grace's love for letting the Seal hold her. He didn't care how tough he was supposed to be, there was something about the warmth, the hard muscle, the feel and sound of his steady heartbeat. Somehow, the most dangerous man he knew had an innate ability to make the people he loved feel safe and cherished when things fell apart.
"Thank you." Danny finally whispered, knowing Steve would hear him.
"You don't need to thank me, Danny. Like I've been telling you all day, I've got your back. You aren't facing this alone." He kissed the blond head again.
"I know, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate that you thought about this enough to know what I was going to need. That you cared enough to do that; to let me fall apart and cry over my ex. A lesser man wouldn't do that." He met Steve's hazel eyes with his red-rimmed blue ones. "Don't think I don't know just how lucky I am to have you."
Danny cut Steve's argument off with a kiss.
"You, Super Seal, are not allowed to argue. You are gracefully going to accept my appreciation. Babe, you have been the rock that is getting Grace and me both through this."
Steve actually laughed at that idea. "Yeah, sure. The rock that is going to see my shrink tomorrow before I crack."
Danny shook his head. "That doesn't make you less of a rock. It just makes you a rock that is smart enough to know that calling in reinforcements can make the difference between the success and failure of a mission." He smiled at Steve's bewildered expression. Clearly, the rock analogy was getting tangled and he'd lost the Seal.
GLE - *Switch to Love Explored if desired for the remainder of this chapter* - GLE
"Speaking of you and the mental health profession; I wanted to tell you how much I appreciate your help with Grace. I never imagined meeting Dr. James would go so well. I'd expected more resistance, but with your help she really seems to be embracing it."
Steve smiled. He'd been extremely pleased with how the appointment had gone. "I'm glad I could do something. I remember how terrified I was meeting Dr. Thompson the first time. I think it took a full hour before he pried more than a one or two word answer out of me." He grinned at Danny's shaking head.
"I'm actually impressed it only took an hour." Danny absentmindedly played with the neckline of the Seal's t-shirt, letting his fingers brush over the rough stubble on his neck.
"Well, in all fairness to your assumption, he is the first in a long line of military shrinks that ever got more out of me than was absolutely necessary to keep myself cleared for duty. I've had plenty of very quiet sessions with shrinks in my career. He's also the first one that I went to see voluntarily."
Steve's voice started to falter. Danny's fingers were starting to have a very real and likely unintended effect on him. "Daniel." The name came out far huskier than he'd intended.
The warning in Steve's voice was clear, even though the desire. The detective's fingers stilled for a space of a few heartbeats before they wrapped themselves in the shirt and pulled Steve's lips to his. He'd exhausted his tears and in that moment, he needed a very real reminder that, despite everything, he was still alive.
Fisting his hand into Danny's hair, Steve finally managed to break the frenzied kiss. Taking a deep breathe, he met his partner's blue eyes. "Danny?" He spoke the name as a question, a need to know just what his partner needed from him. Whatever it was, he would give it, but he wasn't going to make assumptions.
"Please Steven." The shorter man was ready to beg. "I need to remind myself that this," he gestured between their chests, "is real. That this has not all been a nightmare. That I'm still here."
That was all Steve needed to know. He'd been there before, had felt the need to feel well and truly alive after witnessing death and destruction.
Sometime later, the pair had managed to very thoroughly remind Danny he was alive, shower, and crawl back in bed completely exhausted.
The sheet pulled over them and Steve's long limbs wrapped around Danny, they settled in to sleep.
"Thank you babe." Danny whispered sleepily.
Steve didn't even try to argue this time. He didn't need Danny's thanks, but he understood. He wasn't even hurt that his partner hadn't expected him to handle things the way he did. Hell, had it been anyone but Danny he probably wouldn't have, but it was Danny.
Most importantly, Danny was his now and he was going to do his damnedest to take care of him just like he so often did for Steve.
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If you didn't switch over at the GLE cue above, but are interested there is a much longer M rated version of the end of this chapter posted under Guardian: Love Explored. It is the 6th chapter over there.