The black ink of letters is engraved in a delicate scribble, almost fading as the sun's rays shine straight on the light marble of gravestone. Steve doesn't need to read them thoroughly, he knows them by heart, still remembers every tiny detail from that day - a day when the life of a good man, a best friend, ended, a day when the life of another man turned completely upside down.
They say life is nothing but a constant change, a river that's never twice the same. Yet Steve feels like his own life is even more chaotic. Just as he settles down, something blows up everything he has built.
The latest change isn't that drastic, though the thought of it still shocks him, making his heart freeze for a moment before taking on a rapid pace. And he feels like a helpless idiot sometimes, when his hands shake nervously, his stomach filled with nausea, but all the while with a big goofy grin that lights up his face. The moments of disorientation and hesitation he experiences serve as a great ammo for Danny, who constantly laughs at him and pushes his buttons. But he's also the one who provides great support, tuning down his teasing to repeat even a couple times a day if needed, that he will do great.
Steve hopes so, he really does.
Lately most of his thoughts wander to this one aspect, to its different shades and perspectives. Which also brings up thoughts about his father, and about Freddie too. To the point when he couldn't avoid it anymore, driving almost involuntarily here.
He stands looking at the letters barely visible in the bright sun, before sitting down on the grass, placing two bottles of beer right beside that stone. For a moment he just stares at his friend's name, trying to suppress the bitter, gruelling memories invading his mind.
"Hey, Freddie," his voice cracks and he swallows, his throat suddenly dry.
Scratching the back of his head, he sighs, "It's been a while, huh?" Nodding his head, more to himself than anything else, he reaches for the bottle. "Yeah, sorry 'bout that. Job is crazy," a long gulp of beer moistens his throat and spreads the first tiny wave of relaxation through his body.
"I've seen Kelly recently and your baby girl," Steve says, looking at the gravestone, but seeing his friend's face. Just like they'd be sitting on the porch of Freddie's house, or maybe on the lanai at Steve's. He shakes his head, thinking about that Wednesday a few weeks ago, when he met with Kelly and little Lucy.
"Well, not a baby anymore, she's five now," the realization had struck him like lightning, it has been five years already, five years since Freddie's death...
But he pushes that thought aside, thinking back to the little laughing girl, a great resemblance of Kelly, but with something so distinctively Freddie.
"Man, she has your smile," Steve chuckles, "That stupid, broad smile. Fortunately she looks pretty with it, not like you, shitweed," snorting at his friend, he brings the bottle to his mouth and takes another sip.
"Your girls are doing fine. I'm keeping tabs on them," and he really does, not in a way that's too controlling or obsessive, but enough to feel like he's protecting them the way Freddie would ask him to do. "Lucy is growing up so fast, she already rides a bike." When he had seen that blonde pixie in lilac shorts embroidered with butterflies riding so fast down the pavement, with a fluffy teddy bear in a sailor hat sitting in the basket attached to her bike, he couldn't suppress the pure happiness and suffocating pain that had filled him.
Taking another long sip, he closes his eyes for a moment, to constrain the tears. It was a beautiful sight, one that his friend should be able to see every day. "Wish you could see her..." Steve whispers, keeping his eyes closed.
He empties almost the half of the bottle, trying to drink away the guilt, which slowly creeps in. It had taken a lot of work and many years to finally work it out, to let himself realize that it wasn't entirely his fault and if roles were reversed, it would end up the same way. Thanks to his team, his Ohana, he opened up again, learning step by step how to be happy once more.
There's one person that has brought, and still brings, the most of this light into his life, radiating warmth and blissful peace, anchoring him.
Her beautiful face appears in his mind so easily, the image already tugging at the corners of his mouth to make him smile. Though he always denies it, Danny and others are right and he probably is grinning like an idiot whenever he thinks of Cath.
Lieutenant Rollins, as Freddie called her. Steve smiles instantly as he remembers his friend's words, That's the real deal, man. Try not to mess it up. And it makes the next words fall out of Steve's mouth easily, with a tone of pride, which he is sure, Freddie would partake in.
"You know, Bubba... I, uh, I'm going to be a dad too," he says, a broad smile curving his lips, "Cath is pregnant."
Each time he says it or even thinks about, it still feels like the first time he spoke about it aloud. Unbelievable, shocking, but turning all his insides into a puddle. Steve remembers Cath's face when they looked at the plastic stick with a small plus that seemed to be lightly glowing, for a second depriving Steve of any breath. And then his heart was pounding so fast and loudly, it felt like it was going to jump out of his ribcage. Catherine's soft body melting into him, her sweet tears dampening his shirt.
Steve has spent whole nights watching her, every flutter of her eyelashes as she dreams about something, taking in all the glow illuminating her face. However silly it seems, that first night he had placed his fingertips at the curve of her belly, still flat, but this time touching it had felt so much different.
"Four months now!" he blurts out, still sitting on the grass, opening his eyes wide. The same way he looked every time he said it aloud, or like at every ultrasound - memorizing the pace of his baby's heartbeat, which echoed in his head for a few days after.
Setting the almost emptied bottle down on the grass, Steve huffs with a chuckle, "I have never been more happy in my life. And absolutely terrified," he admits, shaking his head.
The further along Cath got, it still didn't get any easier, at least for him. Books about pregnancy and newborns are stacked not only in their home, but also in the drawer of his desk at HQ. Though Danny laughed at him at first, he gladly offered his own knowledge and experience. That is until Steve had asked him about dilation and pushing out the placenta, which suddenly turned Danny's grin into disgusted wince, and a deathly pale detective had stormed out of Steve's office.
It wasn't that funny for Steve, because he was seriously concerned about any complications and any pain Cath might suffer. He wants to, needs to be prepared for everything. Which probably makes him act a bit crazy sometimes.
"Yeah, you can laugh it up, Bubba, but damn it's scary," he tilts the bottle toward the gravestone and sighs, "I get worried over every tiny grimace on Cath's face, shit, man, her morning sickness was worse for me than for her!"
At moments he felt so helpless and lost, any kind of training couldn't possibly prepare him for it. But he tries, though fortunately the morning sickness slowly subsided and now he only has to bravely face Cath's mood swings. Which, admittedly, have been quite entertaining recently as she has some sort of hormonal boosts, leading to sex in the most unexpected moments, on the most unexpected surfaces.
Still, when it comes to details of pregnancy, learning about possible complications, preparing the nursery and thinking about every step into the future, he feels desperate and hopeless.
"No idea how she keeps her cool," he tells Freddie, but softly, almost to himself. Cath always seems so calm and composed, squeezing his hand and kissing him softly whenever he starts to worry. And she never protests upon his operation schedules, which he prepares for every possible scenario. She laughs at him, sure, but never stops him from whatever he needs to do, to feel secure and ready.
"Knowing Cath, she's scared too, but tries to be brave so I won't feel even more helpless," he smiles to himself, because that's exactly what she's doing, making him once again wonder. how does he deserve her?
So many things had happened, yet she's still with him, always by his side, supporting and waiting for him. He hopes she knows it goes both ways, there's not a thing in the world he wouldn't do for her. And the echo of Freddie's words comes back, this time evoking a smile on Steve's face as he can gladly tell his friend that he took his advice.
Raising the bottle higher, Steve tilts it, toasting his best friend, "Here's to not messing up."