melissas_corner: (Steve/Danny)
[personal profile] melissas_corner
The cab ride to Hickam is quick and silent, for which I'll be eternally grateful. I have a feeling if there'd been any traffic I'd've been hard pressed to not jump out of the car and go AWOL. But once behind the fence of the base I no longer have that option.

As usual with the military, it's a bunch of 'hurry up and wait' orders. Men are still loading the DC10 with supplies and those there to catch a ride to the mainland are just mostly standing around. Not wanting to give myself too much time to think about what I'd rather be doing, I offer to help load and am surprised when my offer is declined.

With nothing better to do until take-off, I sit on a crate that's nowhere near the ones being loaded and send Danny a couple of last minute sexy texts and a few cutesy ones to Grace along with reminders to Kono and Chin.

"Commander McGarrett, Sir?" An impossibly young Airman approaches and throws me a sharp salute when I look up from my phone.

"Yes, Airman?"

"You can board now, Sir."

"Thank you." I stand, pick up my bag and board the plane, giving a half-hearted salute in return to every person who snaps to attention at my approach.

Luckily the rules are relaxed in flight otherwise it would have been a very tense and awkward trip with the men nervous to talk for fear of disturbing me. To show I'm not easily disturbed, I put in the earbuds Grace gave me for Valentine's Day and hit play on her playlist on my phone.

I know I doze off, always do during a flight, but I wake just before the pilot begins our descent. I find myself reluctant to open my eyes, a small part of me hoping it's all a dream. But it's not and reality comes crashing in when the rear door opens and Privates begin unloading the cargo.

I skirt around most of them and make my way to a car that's parked off in the distance which I'm sure is for me. The other passengers are junior officers and enlisted so they'll be catching a bus to the base.

"Commander McGarrett?" The Lance Corporal assigned to drive me looks like she's not even old enough to have graduated from high school.

"Corporal." I return her salute and allow her to take my bag and stow it in the trunk while I slide into the passenger seat. Still not in the mood to talk, I don't encourage her and thank her training when she doesn't even try to start a conversation.

I close my eyes for the drive, composing my first letter to Grace in my head. I plan on writing her one letter every day I'm away. I know she'll most likely get them in clumps what with the military postal service being what it is, especially from overseas posts, but it doesn't matter; I promised I'd write and write I will.

"Sir?" I must have dozed off again, damn jet lag, because I startle awake at the softly spoken word. "Didn't mean to startle you, but we're here." 'Here' being the Bachelor Officers' Quarters where I'll be staying until we ship out.

"Very good." I clear my throat of the roughness it seems to have picked up while I was napping. "Thank you, Corporal." I know some officers like to forget they were ever anything but their current rank, but not me. Never know when you'll need someone of a lower rank to watch your six.

"My pleasure, Sir." She salutes, then spins sharply on her heel and marches back to the car after I return it.

"Smooth Dog!" A voice I haven't heard in years calls out behind me.

"Pitt Bull!" I turn and spy one of my former team members, Bill Pittman.

I extend my hand for him to shake but he slaps it away and gathers me in for a bear hug. I forgot he's the touchy-feely type. "How you've managed to not get writ up for sexual harassment is beyond me."

He laughs. "It's because everyone loves me!" And it's true. Despite his call sign, he's really a pussy cat. I've yet to meet another man less likely to be a black ops soldier.

"Do you know what my mission will be?"

"Patience, Grasshopper." He claps me on the back and uses that to steer me into the building. "At the mo it's just you and me here, well in this particular building." Pendleton has more than one building for its unmarried officers. "You can use this room." He opens a door on his left and flicks on the light.

The room is exactly how I remember them looking: twin bed that's really little more than a cot, one dresser, one side table with a lamp, one table with two chairs and a bathroom with a toilet, pedestal sink and miniscule shower. The walls are Marine green, the floor a non-descript grey, the curtain on the one window over the bed is a slightly darker green than the walls and matches the blanket folded under the pristine white sheets and pillow stacked on the end of the bed.

"Home, sweet home," I mutter, dropping my bag at the foot of the bed where my footlocker would have sat, if this was a permanent assignment.

"Yeah, well. Can't beat the rent!" Pitt grins at me. "Of course this is for temporary assignments."

"Oh?" Guess all my assignments stateside have been temporary, then.

"Yeah. Mine has a TV and is wired for cable."

"Ooo. Cable!" I snicker. "You're moving up in the world, Pitt."

"Fuck you, McGarrett." He laughs with me. "Brief is 0800 tomorrow. Late chow's in twenty. Want company?"

I shake my head. "Thanks but no. I'm just gonna grab a tray and bring it back here. Promised some people back home that I'd call when I landed."

"You got a girl on that island of yours?" I'm not surprised that Pitt knows I'm back in Hawai'i.

"In a manner of speaking." I know I can tell now if I want but I find myself not wanting to share Danny with anyone.

"You got a pic?" I know Pitt's expecting someone more like Kono than Grace but I'm not going to lie. Grace is my girl back home, after all.

"Yeah, here." I pull out my phone and thumb through the pictures until I get to the one I want: Grace standing in the surf of my cove holding a starfish that's nearly as big as she is.

Pitt's eyes get huge when he sees that 'my girl' is in fact a girl. "A bit young for you, isn't she?"

"She's my partner's daughter."

"Partner?" I know he's making the correct connection at my use of that word.

"Yeah, on the task force I run."

"Right." He thumbs through my pictures. "This her dad?" He holds the phone so I can see a picture of Grace and Danny that she obviously took.

"Yeah, that's him." I run my thumb over their faces before putting my phone back in my pocket.

"Good for you, Man." I can tell he really means it and am relieved that the first person I told, more or less, is accepting of my relationship with Danny.


He claps his hands. "So, I guess I'll get out of your hair. Let you make your calls. Meet in the mess at 0700?"

"Sure." I walk him back to the outer door of the building. "Can't wait to catch up."

He laughs. "Doubt we'll have the time. But we'll see. Night, Smooth Dog."

"Night, Pitt."

The trip to the mess is accomplished quickly, not a wide range to choose from on late chow, and soon I'm back in my temporary quarters, swallowing my food without tasting it so I can concentrate on talking to Danny and Grace.

Picking up my phone, I dial Grace's number, hoping she's not still in class because I find myself needing to hear her voice.

"Uncle Steve!" She answers the phone before the first ring even finishes.

"Baby Girl! You with Danno?" I ask even though I know she must be if she's calling me 'Uncle Steve'.

"No, I'm at the beach with Auntie Kono and Uncle Chin and Auntie Malia."

"The beach, huh? Danno must love that."

"He's not here."

"Yeah, I figured. So where is he?"

"The hospital." That's not the answer I was expecting.

"What? Why?"

"Steve?" Chin's voice calms me some. "He's fine. Hurt his knee chasing a perp."

"How bad is it?"

"They might have to operate again."

"Shit." The first time I leave the island and he goes and hurts himself so bad he might have to go under the knife.

"Yeah. Grace is staying with me and Malia until he can take care of her again."

"Where's Rachel?"

"She and Stan got called away on business."

"Oh, man, this is bad."

"We're handling it, Brah. Don't stress."

"Don't stress?! Are you kidding me? He's hurt and I'm three thousand miles away."

"And he's being taken care of by the best nurses."

"He at Queen's?"

"Yeah, they know him there."

I chuckle. "They know us all there."

Chin laughs too. "Hey, you know where he keeps the spare key to his place? Grace's gonna need some clothes."

"You can use the stuff at my place. In fact, why don't you and Malia stay there until Danny's able to take care of himself and her?"

"We just might. Oh, Grace wants to talk to you again."

"Uncle Steve?"

"Yes, Keiki?"

When you coming home?" I can hear the tears in her voice.

"Oh, Baby, don't cry. I wish I knew but I promise I will, okay?"

"No!" Her wail hurts my heart. "I need you. Danno needs you."

"I know, Ku`uipo, but the government needs me, too."

"Miss you."

"Miss you more."


"Yuh-huh. I love you."

"Love you more."


"Yuh-huh." She giggles, just like I knew she would.

"You be a good girl, okay?"

"Okay." She sniffles. "See you soon?"

"You bet."

"Bye, Uncle Steve."

"Bye, Baby Girl." I keep the phone to my ear until I hear the click, then I take a deep breath and try to compose myself before dialing Danny's number.

"'llo?" Danny answers after five rings which tells me they have him sedated.

"Hey, Danno."

"Steve. Where are you? I hurt my knee."

"I heard. I'm at Pendleton."

"Why're you in Cali?" He snickers and begins singing LL Cool J's Going Back to Cali.

"They got you on the good stuff, huh?"

"Oh, yeah. Why weren't you there? The idiot ran across the roof tops. That's something you'd've enjoyed, right? Being Batman?"

I laugh softly and don't answer. "I told Chin he could stay at my place until the doctor clears you."

"Okay." I can hear a woman's voice but not what she's saying. "Sorry, Babe, there's a pretty nurse who wants to sleep with me. Put me to sleep! I mean – aw, fuck it! Love you!" Then the line goes dead.

I sit on the edge of my cot, brace my head in my hands and fight back tears. I've never cried this much in my whole life, not even when my mother died. Apparently falling in love has turned me into a girl. God, I wish I was home right now.

After a restless night, I'm up at 6 for PT, followed by a shower and meeting Pitt in the mess at 7.

"You look like shit, Smooth Dog."

"Why, thank you, Pitt Bull. It's lovely to see you this morning, too."

He laughs in my face. "First time away from them?"

"First time since we got together, yeah."

He frowns at me. "How long the two of you been together?"

"Was two months, Thursday."

"Holy fuck, Man! How long you known him?"

"We met when we pulled our guns on each other when I crossed the crime scene tape at my dad's."

He laughs again. "Oh, Man! Match made in heaven, huh?"

I duck my head, feeling a blush heat my cheeks. "I think I fell right then and there but it wasn't for sure until he decked me for getting him shot and using his daughter to make my point."

Pitt just blinks at me. "I think that was English but damned if I know what you just said."

A chuckle escapes. "Sorry. He talks a lot and I guess it's contagious."

"Uh-huh. Whatever you said, McGarrett. How old's his kid?"

"Grace turned nine in October. She's the apple of his eye."

"And yours, if that wistful look on your face is anything to go by."

I can feel another blush. "She's really special."

"I bet. They both have to be to get you to fall this hard."

Pitt has a point. No one else in my past has ever made me feel the way Danny and Grace do. "Yeah, they are."

"So now that you're free to be open about this, you remembered to change your next of kin, right?"

"Fuck!" I slap my forehead. "How could I be so stupid?"

"I'm guessing that'd be a no." I glare at him but he just laughs, the bastard. "Mary knows about him, right?"

"She doesn't know, know but yeah, she knows. And Lieutenant Rollins."

"Rollins knows?" Pitt's eyebrows climb his forehead.

"Yeah. You know her and I had an on again/off again thing, right?"

"Well, yeah. Everyone knew. You are far from subtle, my friend."

"Which is why I've repressed and denied all these years."

"Except to Rollins."

"I figured the woman I'm sleeping with should know. And she was present when I outed myself to Danny. Or rather he outed me to…well, me." I shake my head. "He had a New Year's slash housewarming party for his new place. He and I were on the patio talking and he just turned and kissed me. Not that I wasn't planning on doing the same thing but he forgot the curtains were open. Everyone at his party saw."

"Wow, that's-" Pitt rubs the back of his head. "-the most I've ever heard you say that wasn't about a mission." He tilts his head and narrows his eyes at me. "You get any backlash from it?"

"Nope. Most people joked about us being married already based on how we bickered. This just confirmed it."

We've been making our way slowly through the chow line while talking and now are headed to a table under a sign that marks it as for commissioned officers only. As we take our seats, I notice that we're the only ones at the table. That's not to say we're the only commissioned officers in the mess, just that we appear to be the only two without men to lead. Most officers take their meals in the officers' mess unless they're trying to bond with their men and then they'll eat at the same table as them.

"You don't have a team?" I ask Pitt, digging into my breakfast.

"I do. It's just I thought you wanted to catch up. Can't do that at a table full of enlisted and NCOs."


We eat in silence for a few minutes then he brings up the topic of Danny and Grace again. "So, you fell right away, huh?"

"Yeah. He's a loud mouthed haole from Jersey who's always going on about proper procedure."

Pitt laughs. "A mainlander? Boy, you must have it real bad."

I sigh. "There's just something about him. Can't explain it."

"You don't have to." He puts his fork down and sits back. "You're the first to know that I'm going to be getting married in December."

"Yeah? That's great, Man." I punch him on the arm. "What's her name?"

"His name's Brad." He pauses a moment to let his pronouncement sink in. When I just blink at him, he chuckles. "You're not the only one, you know."

"But-" I falter for words. "But we trawled for chicks together!"

"Sure did. And I fucked some of them. See, I'm a gay man with heterosexual tendencies."

"Wow. I never even suspected."

"That was the point. But you-" He points one finger at me. "-you I had pegged from the first. I figured you for a heterosexual man with homosexual tendencies. I'm right, aren't I?"

I shake my head. "I'm actually bi-sexual. And until the repeal I was denying it hard. Cath was great. And she's genuinely happy that I can finally be myself, sexually."

"Yeah, it's great." Something in his voice is off but before I have time to question him about it, he declares it time to head to the briefing.

Having gotten used to the civilian way of doing things, I find the briefing very dry. Not even the power point presentation is enough to hold my attention beyond finding out what the target is, or rather who the target is.

Not able to keep focused on the brief, I take advantage of the dark room and the fact that the corner I'm in is furthest from where Pitt is going over the mission directive and begin writing Grace's letter. Since I forgot to write it last night, today I'll be writing two.

In the first one I tell her about the flight, the men on it and how old I felt next to them and how I listened to the music she downloaded onto my phone and thought of her. I close it with a description of my room and a McGarrett traditional closing line: Remember that I'll always love you wherever you may be.

I've just signed my name and tucked it away in the back of my mission briefing folder when the lights come back on.

"Commander McGarrett." Pitt's voice rings through the room. Man never did need a microphone.

"Commander Pittman." I fight the urge to stand and salute. He may have a couple of years in grade on me but he's never demanded that much respect from me.

"Can you tell me what the mission directive is?"

I had a feeling he called on me because he thinks I wasn't paying attention but after a year and a half of discussing cases in the bullpen of Five-oh headquarters with all the distractions that entails I've learned how to multitask. "To find and dispatch Marcus Atreyu with extreme prejudice. We have as long as it takes but the brass would prefer if it took no more than three months."

Pitt presses his lips together in frustration and I know he's well on his way to being pissed that he wasn't able to call me out on not paying attention. "Where is his last known location?"

"About thirty miles north of the Afghan border. Sir." I throw him a bone hoping by showing some respect it'll soothe his hurt feelings.

"Very good. Dismissed." Everyone begins gathering their things before leaving the room. "Steve." Pitt stops me before I even exit my row. "I realize it's been a while but that doesn't give you leave to not pay attention. There are a lot of lives at stake here."

"I know, Bill."

"Then why?"

I shrug. "I can read the packet to get all the info you just said. Plus I know Atreyu."

"And that's why you're not going to be writ up for that display of insubordination."

"I'm sorry, what? Prove I wasn't writing notes about what you were saying."

"Hand them over, then." When I just sigh and lower my gaze he says. "Thought so. I know you miss them but save the letter writing for when you're not in a mission brief, okay?"

"Yeah, sure. But just so you know, in the civilian world you have to multitask during a brief so." He rolls his eyes and thumps me on the shoulder. "I can't believe that lasted all morning. I'm used to a brief taking only a few minutes with the same amount of information. Care to join me for lunch?"

"Can't. Meeting with General Coglianese."


He grimaces. "Brad's flying in. I've got a couple days of leave before y'all ship out."

"Of course." I try to keep the disappointment from my voice but know I'm not entirely successful.

"Why don't you join us? I'm sure Brad won't mind. Besides he's been looking forward to meeting you."

"I don't want to impose. You don't get a whole lot of time with him as it is."

"Not an imposition. 2000 in the common room? My treat."

"I have money, Pitt." Does he think I'm a charity case?

"I'm sure you do but I want to pay. I'm sure I owe you for something."

I sigh. "Fine. I'm not going to argue."

"Good. See ya at 2000." He shakes my hand and disappears behind a door with the General.

Left with nothing better to do, I head to the mess. Grabbing a tray, I carry it back to my room where I eat while texting Danny, Chin and Kono. Just as I finish eating, I remember Mary. Quickly dialing her number I hope she's home. We haven't spoken much since my brief visit with Wo Fat in North Korea.

"Now's not really a good time, Big Brother," she says in lieu of a greeting.

"What's going on?" I can hear lots of movement in the background.

"I'm shopping."

"Uh-huh, like I believe that."

"Steve…" She uses that whiney voice that she knows I hate. "Is this important?"

"Kinda, yeah."

"Is someone hurt? Grace? Kono?"

"No, nothing like that. Although Danny is in the hospital again with his knee."

"Then why'd you call?"

"I wanted to let you know that I've been deployed."


"Yeah. I just got briefed so I have no idea when I'm leaving or when I'll be back."

"Steve…" This time her tone reminds me of the little girl who used to follow me around and bug the shit outta me.

"I know. You should know I forgot to update my will. Should anything happen to me, please let Danny have whatever he wants. Especially the house. Just don't tell him I said to give it to him. Say I'd want him to have it. Or, even better, say I'd want him to have it for Grace. Using Grace is a great way to get him to accept something he normally wouldn't."

"Danny, huh? What about Cath?"

"There isn't really anything of mine she'd want."

"But aren't you two 'dating'?"

"Not seriously, no."

"But you're dating Danny seriously?"

"Well, yeah - wait, what?" She couldn't have just said what I think she said, right?

Mary laughs. "I asked if your thing with Danny is serious."

"My…thing?" I think she broke my brain.

She sighs. "Yes, Steven. Your thing with your partner. You're not as subtle as you think."

"Mary…" I have no words.

"Don't worry, Big Brother. Uncle Sam had gotten real good at pretending to not notice men like you. You never acted before Danny, right?"

"I never acted before this year."

"What!? I coulda sworn you two were fucking back when I was there last."

"Yeah, no. I only acted because of the repeal."

"Well, shit. I owe Kono a hundred bucks."

I laugh. "You never should have bet her. She's here. She knows what we do."

"Yeah, but I was so sure…" Her voice trails off and I can hear someone talking to her. "Hey, look, I gotta go. Call when you can, 'kay? Bye, Aloha nui loa." And she's gone before I can say anything.

I dial Danny's number telling myself it's just to check up on him but I know that's a lie.

"Hey, Babe." Danny answers on the second ring. While he sounds tired, he doesn't sound stoned, which I see as a good thing.

"Hey, how ya doing?"

"I'm fine."

"Liar. You, my love, are a lying liar who lies."

He chuckles. "Okay, so I'm not fine but I am okay. Once the swelling's gone down the docs'll do an MRI and make sure I didn't FUBAR it."

"Mm. I love it when you speak military," I say in my best impersonation of Gomez Addams.

"Do you, now?" His voice has taken on a sultry tone and I can only hope he's alone.

"Yeah and when I get home I'll show you just how much."

"So, tomorrow, then?"

I laugh to keep from crying. "Sorry, Babe. We don't even have a ship out date, yet."

"Why not?"

"That's classified." He says the words along with me.

"Fuck, Steve, I need you."

"I know, D. You have no idea how much I want to say I have a family emergency but we're not even registered as domestic partners so you're not considered family." He huffs. "But that reminds me. I called Mary and told her about us."

"So it won't come as a surprise should something happen to you and I'm listed as next of kin?"

"No, because I forgot to change my will."


"I told her to let you have whatever you want."

"Steve…" He begins to protest but I can't let him finish.

"No, Danny. If I hadn't gotten sidetracked by that fucking case, I would have changed it and you'd get everything. This way Mary gets some things."

"Your medals?"

"Actually, I think she should have Dad's and you two can decide who should have mine."

Are your dad's the ones on the wall in your office?"

"Yeah. If she wants them to stay put, don't push it. She was deeply hurt by his sending us away."

"And you weren't?"

"I understood."

"Did you?"

"Do you really want to talk about this, now?"

"Hm. You have a point. So what're you wearing?"

"God, Danny!" I choke on my laughter. Leave it to my boyfriend - and how awkward it feels to call him that - to diffuse the situation with humor.

"Oh, wait, let me guess: it's classified, right?"

"No." I know it frustrates him, not being privy to everything, but there are just some things he shouldn't know.

"So, answer the question, then. No, let me, cargo pants."

"No, Daniel, I am not wearing cargo pants."

"Then what are you wearing?" Annoyance tinges his tone.

"Green camo fatigues."

"Oh, God!" He groans, putting me on alert.

"What? Danny?"

"I actually have a thing for a guy in uniform. Literally."

"Huh. I guess technically I do, too."

"Who?" Jealous Danno is hot! "Oh, wait-" He chuckles. "-that'd be me!"

"Yep." Someone knocks on my door preventing me from saying more. "Hey, look, D, I gotta go. I'll call again soon, 'kay?"

"Okay. Love you."

"Love you, too."

I open my door to find a Private who, unlike all the other enlisted and NCOs I've encountered this trip, actually looks old enough to be in the military. "Can I help you?"

"Yes, Sir. Commander Pittman regrets he'll have to reschedule dinner. Unfortunately he forgot about a prior engagement." Meaning Brad's been delayed or Pitt decided he couldn't wait to be reacquainted with his boyfriend.

"Prior engagement, huh?"

"Yes, Sir."

"He have any suggestions of what I should do for dinner tonight, then?"

"He said if you'll go to Bates' and tell them Pitt sent you, they'll take care of you."


"Yes, Sir. It's a local steakhouse/bar. All the men head there in their off hours."

"And how did he suggest I get there?"

The Private holds out a set of keys. "He says to take one of the motor pool cars, Sir."

I take the keys from his hand. "Thank you, Private. I'm guess this car is waiting outside for me?"

"Yes, Sir."

I nod. "Thank you. Dismissed." His hand twitches and I know if we weren't inside he would have saluted.

"Very good, Sir. Have a good night."

"You, too."

A quick shower and a change into civvies and I'm out the door. The car Pitt picked for me is not what I'm expecting. Knowing Pitt as I do, and his fondness for punking me, I figured he'd get me a tiny compact that would require me to become a contortionist to get in and out of it. So it is with a lot of surprise that I press the button on the key fob and watch the lights flash on the sleek black Hummer sitting in front of me.

If Hummers weren't such gas guzzlers I'd have one back home. As it is my Silverado eats a lot of my paycheck each week and I don't drive it near as often as Danny's Camaro.

I climb behind the wheel and head to the exit gate. When I'm stopped by the MP to check my ID, I ask for directions. The Private was right about everyone knowing the place, the MP gives me extremely detailed directions and soon I'm pulling into a parking spot in an almost full gravel lot in front of a weather beaten building.

The inside is exactly as I was expecting for a place that caters to a Marine base: the walls are covered with pictures of Marines in action and at play and the floor is covered by a thin layer of sawdust strewn with peanut shells. It also smells just like you'd expect a steakhouse/bar to smell: grilling meat and beer.

A sign just inside the door tells me to seat myself and so I take a table near the back where I can have a wall to my back and the majority of the room in view.

The wait staff are all young and probably from the local college or the significant others of the men and women stationed at Pendleton. The men and women navigate the crowded space with their trays raised high over everyone's heads. There isn't a single spill the entire two hours I'm there.

My steak is one of the best I've ever had but the beer leaves a lot to be desired, and not just because it's not a Longboard.

After I eat, I head back to my room and read through the mission packet and discover that Pitt got very long winded during the briefing. Everything we need to know about the target, his known associates and current whereabouts are all listed and detailed on just a few pages. The rest are descriptions of the men selected for the team.

Luckily for me, Pitt knows how I work and he's chosen commissioned officers who have been with the SEALs for several years and have similar backgrounds to me. I don't see any problems working with this group of men.

The next morning we begin the planning stage of this mission. Finally, after nearly a week, they give us the go ahead and we're given a ship out date of two days.

I set myself a routine: wake at 5 or 6 for PT, breakfast at 7 with Pitt and my team, meetings/planning sessions, lunch, drills to see the men's skill levels, dinner (usually with Pitt in the officer's mess), a call to Danny and Grace (luckily Danny didn't need surgery), a shower, write a letter to Grace about my day and answer any questions from her last letter then lights out by midnight.

Mother Nature decided to be a bitch and have it pour the morning we're supposed to leave and so our departure is pushed a day. Which turns into a week because of rain and wind.

While I really want to get the mission started so I could finish and get home, I take advantage of the extra time to make sure my team can work together like they've done it for years. I can't afford to have anyone second guessing an order given in the field or doubting another member's ability to protect them.

Finally the day comes when the sun's shining and the wind's calm enough for the DC10 to take off. It's the worst morning of my life. As the plane climbs into the sky I can't help but wonder what Danny and Grace are doing, something I've forced myself to not think about since I left home.

We land at Andrews to refuel, and pick up some passengers hitching a ride to London. Everything about this flight is routine, even the conversations between the men.

Unlike my old team, who had worked together for five years, these men had never met before being ordered to Pendleton two weeks ago. And yet they have bonded quickly. Everyone has shared photos and a few stories about their families. Several said "I never would have guessed, Sir" when I showed pictures of Danny and Grace but they all agree that she's one of the cutest kids in the world.

I manage one last phone call from a base in Germany and spend the entire time retelling my bedtime story to Grace. My men overhear and I get the good natured ribbing they usually reserve for a new father caught singing his kid a lullaby. But since it's all in good fun, I let it roll off my back and it draws us closer together.

Once we're in Afghanistan it becomes extremely difficult to call home on any kind of regular basis. Most of my days are spent away from base chasing down leads, much like back home. Atreyu proves adept at staying one step ahead of us and I begin to suspect I have a leak.

Every night, without fail, I write Grace about my day. Sometimes I even write her during the day while we're holed up somewhere waiting for our guide to find out if this is the time we find Atreyu with his pants down.

A couple of months have passed when I'm back at base stocking up on supplies and discussing my lack of success with the General. He agrees that I must have a leak and so he gives me one of his men who speaks the local language just to rule out the guide.

After the meeting, I head to my tent for a shower, change of clothes and to grab my mail, specifically the care package from Grace, before heading to the media tent to call home. During my last phone call with Danny I gave him the web address the military uses for web chats and asked him to download it so we can see each other some. One of Grace's recent letters said he'd done so and that she's looking forward to seeing me again.

I sit down at a free computer in the back away from most of the other occupied ones and enter my information to start the call. It takes several minutes to connect and I begin to worry that Danny's not near his computer. But then I see his handsome face and I can't keep from the grin off mine.

His first words to me are, "Oh, how I missed your face".

I laugh. "I missed yours, too, Danno."

"How's it going?"

I shrug. "Slower than expected but not too bad. How're things there?"

"Good. Grace's off at a sleep away camp for the week."

I frown as I mentally flip through a calendar. "Is this for school?"

"Yeah, it is. All the third through fifth grade girls got to go. The purpose of the camp is to encourage them to not be afraid to pursue their dreams, even if it's usually something that only boys do, and to let them know that just because they're girls doesn't mean they can't enjoy being out in nature."

"Isn't that what the Girl Scouts are for?"

He shrugs. "Guess this is for those girls who aren't in the scouts."

"Ah." I nod my understanding. "So… other than that…?"

He chuckles. "Everyone's good. We just wrapped a case. Chin has court the rest of the week and your temporary replacement is about to quit. Tenth one since you left."

I laugh loud enough to get some glares. "Oh, Man. What have y'all been doing to those poor people?"

"Absolutely nothing," Danny says with a straight face.

"Right. Like I'm gonna believe that."

"Believe whatever you want, Babe. No one can prove a damn thing."

"Is that Grace's care package?" He points at the screen and I look to my right.

"Yes it is."

He raises both eyebrows. "You gonna open it?"

"Was thinking about it."

"So what are you waiting for?"

Picking up the small box, I pull out my pocket knife and cut the tape sealing it closed. On top is an envelope that I set to the side for now. Under that is a tin of cookies. "Please tell me Kono didn't help with these," I say, holding the tin up for him to see. He zips his lips closed, his eyes crinkled in amusement. "That's what I thought." The cookies will go in the trash later.

Under the tin is a manila envelope. I look up at the screen and frown. "What's this?"

Danny shakes his head. "No clue. Why don't you open it?"

I roll my eyes and do as he suggests. Inside I find some papers. My mouth drops open when I pull them out and get a look at the wording on the top page. "Danny? Why did Grace send me an application for Domestic Partnership?"

Danny chuckles in that way people do when something's not funny, funny but ironic funny. "I guess she overheard us talking about filing paperwork when you come home."

"Of course. I'll fill them out and send them back before I head back out at the end of the week."

He nods and we fall silent. I fight the urge to say the words that seem to always be hovering on my tongue when he's near, knowing that this is neither the time nor the place. Even if they're no longer illegal for me to say, they're private, for just him and me.

"Hey, Steve?" Danny leans closer to the screen and lowers his voice.

"Yeah, D?" I match the volume of his voice.

"I love you and can't wait for you to get home so I can show you just how much."

I nearly swallow my tongue at his words. I look around to see if anyone heard. "Danny…" I have no words. Not even the ones that were there just a moment ago.

Danny laughs at my reaction. "Relax, Babe. We can say that now, ya know."

"Doesn't mean we should."

He coughs to cover another laugh. "You're right. I'm sorry. I should have known you're still mostly repressed." He sounds angry but doesn't look it.

"It's not that. My team knows. It's just-" I run the fingers of one hand through my hair. "-those words are private. Between just us, not every man and woman in this tent."

"I said I was sorry." And now he sounds hurt.

"Apology accepted. I'm sorry, too. I'm trying, D. You just have to be patient with me. This was all illegal just a few months ago, ya know."

He sighs. "I know. Not to mention you were denying the fact that you're attracted to men as well as women."

He has a point and yet it still rankles to have him call me repressed. "Not to change the subject or nothing-" I grin at him rolling his eyes at me. "-but seriously what have you done to the cops Denning put on the team to help y'all in my absence?"

"I told you, we've done nothing." I can hear the door to his office open followed by Kono's voice asking, "Is that Bossman?"

Danny scowls at a spot over the top of his monitor. "Yes and this is a private conversation between adults."

you shouldn't be a part of the 'adult conversation'-" I can hear the air quotes. "-and it can't be all that private if you're having it here."

"With the time difference it just makes sense that we'll occasionally chat here."
Danny is obviously annoyed at having our conversation interrupted.

"Whatever. Move over." Kono appears at Danny's left and pushes him out of his chair. "Hey, Boss!" She plops into his now vacant chair and grins at me. "You look tired."

"Thanks. Can you put Danny back on?"

Her lower lip trembles as she pouts. "You don't want to talk to me?"

I roll my eyes. "I called to talk to my boyfriend, so, no, I don't want to talk to you."

"You don't love me!" She wails loud enough to get me some more glares.

"Kono…" I use my stern voice.

She blinks at me. "No, huh?" I shake my head and she sighs. "Can't blame a girl for trying, right?"

"Danny. Now."

With some muttered pidgin curses, she gets up from the chair and disappears from view. Danny flops down after another minute. "Locked the door and drew the blinds."

A timer in the lower right hand corner of my screen blinks red at me. "Damnit. I'm sorry, D. We only have a few seconds left."

"Okay. Love you. Come home to me, okay?"

"Love you, too. And I'm planning on it." He kisses his fingers and presses them to the screen just as the timer hits zero and the screen goes black.

As much as I love talking to Danny and seeing his face, I think it was easier when I didn't have any loved ones back home to talk to. At least then I wasn't left missing them even more than before.

I find that I can't sleep because visions of Danny and the team doing their best to make sure a newbie won't stay keep flashing before my eyes. Each one ends with the team being disbanded by a frustrated Denning who's grown weary of them acting like children.

Warrant Officer Abdul Azizi is of Middle Eastern descent and is the perfect choice to play the role of another guide. The General has me tell everyone that he's bringing Azizi in to hopefully speed up the process of finding Atreyu since 'he has different connections' than Mohammed, my current guide. Mohammed seems suspicious but accepts my statement with a shrug. The fact that he doesn't argue has alarm bells going off in my head.

"Sir?" Azizi is having difficulty remembering that he's supposed to be an Afghan native and therefore does not have to 'sir' me.

"Yes, Azizi?" I suppress the urge to sigh and look up from where I'm writing another letter to Grace. I've been gone for almost five months and I miss her like crazy; a fact which has increased my letter writing from one a day to as many as I have time for.

"Mohammed shut me out again."

This time I do sigh out loud. Mohammed has found increasingly frustrating ways to make sure Azizi isn't around when he talks to his contacts about Atreyu. "What was his excuse this time?"

"I was taking too long to eat and the man he needed to talk to was leaving."

"Ask him to come here, please."

"Yes, Sir."

"And stop 'sir'ing me!" I hiss at his back rolling my eyes when he hunches his shoulders like a scolded child.

I set my notebook aside, this issue has pushed all thoughts of Grace from my mind, and get up to pour myself a glass of water. It's a trick I learned years ago. When in a humid climate where staying hydrated is a must, making the person you're interviewing desire a drink will most times get you a confession. Although there are some who say it doesn't mean you'll get the truth because most people will say what they think you want to hear just to get a drink. But I have a feeling this tactic won't work on Mohammed.

Mohammed is an unassuming little man. Most people would overlook him, maybe forget he's even in the room, which is what makes him such a good asset. And may be how he's getting away and betraying me and my team. For now, at any rate.

"You asked to see me, Commander?" Mohammed bows his way into my tent.

"Yes, please have a seat." I indicate the chair opposite my desk. With a bob of his head he does as asked. "Abdul said you went to town without him again."

If I wasn't watching him so closely I wouldn't have seen the tell-tale flash of anger in his eyes. "Ah, yes. Most unavoidable, I'm afraid. The man I was to see today had to be on the road by a certain time and Abdul was lingering over his breakfast, again."

Mohammed has made no secret of his dislike of Azizi. I'm not sure if that's because they're from different tribes or because Azizi has a 'western edge' about him from having been schooled in America but I can't let it continue. We need to find Atreyu and this man is standing in our way.

"Doesn't matter. You've been told, repeatedly, to not leave without him. If he's taking too long to finish something, come tell me and I'll get him to hurry up. Next time I have to speak to you about this, I will send you back to Kandahar. Am I clear?"

He clenches his jaw for a second before replying, "Very, Commander."

I nod my acceptance. "Very good. Thank you. You may go."

I watch him march across camp to his tent and fling the flap aside so he can enter. My gut is screaming at me that he's my leak and my gut is very rarely wrong. Only question now is how to prove it.

A couple of weeks later and I nearly have my proof.

Azizi has been 'scouting on his own' and has discovered that Atreyu is definitely in the nearby village, a fact that he 'let slip' in Mohammed's presence.

The trap set, we go about business as usual. I tell the men to leave a gap in their patrol so Mohammed can 'slip out' after lights out. They've also been told to let him go, to follow at a discreet distance and not approach until he's telling Atreyu that we're close.

Or at least that was the plan. Somehow Mohammed manages to slip out of camp completely unseen and set up an ambush, one we walk right into while looking for the son of a bitch.

Someone yells, "Incoming!" and we all scramble for cover. The next several minutes are pure chaos and I lose track of most of my men. I see one lying in a crumpled heap a few feet away and quickly dart over to him, grabbing the back of his flak jacket and tugging him to a safe spot so I can look him over.

Anger spikes when I see it's Azizi. He's so fucking young and now… I press the tips of my fingers to the pulse point in his neck, silently begging him to still be alive. My breath leaves my lungs on a sob of regret and my head drops forward on my neck when I realize there is no pulse.

Before I really have time to register that he's dead, I hear the whistle of an incoming mortar. Throwing myself over his body I brace for the explosion and resulting dust shower. Before I can straighten up from my position, something hits me on the back of my head just below my helmet and the world goes dark.

Part four


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