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Out of the Depths

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Beautiful art work by mischief5.

 

 

***

Breathe. In and out. Focus. Just focus.

His head snapped back from another punch. And another. Steve rolled with the direction of the hits, decreasing their force of impact.

Don't panic.

He kept his chin down, took fists to the forehead instead of the nose or jaw. His neck was strong. He spent years building up the muscles, taught himself not to flinch when struck. It avoided broken bones and heavier damage, but the pain –

Pain is temporary.

The two guards took turns pounding on him. One of them had really bony knuckles. They stopped to take breaks in between sessions to smoke before starting over again. He hoped their hands hurt.

***

They left him hanging high enough to keep the strain on his arms and shoulders, but not enough to kill him. A few inches more and he'd slowly suffocate from the restriction to his lungs.

This was about pain, softening him up for whatever Wo Fat had in store for him.

Each breath sent an agonizing ripple effect down his entire body. His head throbbed. He'd lost count of the number of cheap shots he took to the skull on his march through the jungle.

In the silence, he didn't think about how or why he got into this mess. But an angry voice in the back of his mind gnawed away at his mental barriers. It was chastising and cruel, and Steve had to chase away all the self-doubt it conjured.

***

"So, you traded me for Josh?" he asked Jenna through busted lips.

"Yes."

Her answer twisted the knife in his back. Jenna sobbed in the corner and Steve wanted to ask her what the fuck did she expect would happen? But he hung there, tried shifting the weight off his abused wrists onto his toes, his mind swirling with emotions that had no place right now.

"I'm so sorry," Jenna cried softly in the background.

But Steve buried his emotions, slammed the door on all thought except on how to escape and evade.

Escape and evade.

***

The cattle prod repeatedly touched his skin, sent nine thousand volts of electricity through him. Steve screamed as his muscles locked up into a single spasm. The current seared his flesh and it took every ounce of self-control not to whimper when it was removed.

He denied everything about Shelbourne at the top of his lungs, wrapped his hands around the chains above his shackles to ease the pain in his shoulders. Wo Fat stood only inches away from him, close enough for Steve to snap his neck with his legs – if only he could move them.

Wo Fat laid the cattle prod on top of the metal drum and Steve knew what came next. The first few blows smashed Steve in the mouth then went lower. Steve blew out all the air from his lungs and flexed his abdominals as Wo Fat punched him mercilessly.

"What's so important about Shelbourne?" Steve breathed when Wo Fat stopped to observe him. "Why do you care?"

Anger seethed in Wo Fat's eyes and he assailed Steve with his fists. Steve kept his muscles tight, protected his vital organs the best he could, but Wo fat whaled on him like a slab of meat. Over and over and over again, until he couldn't breathe.

A vicious blow to the face left him seeing stars, but Steve had the last laugh and smiled with bloodstained teeth. "You don't have any idea where Shelbourne is, do you?"

The fury suddenly ended and he dangled from the ceiling, his toes brushing the floor when Wo Fat marched across the room with one of his goons.

Steve noticed movement out of the corner of his eye. Jenna took advantage of the distraction and reached inside her shirt pocket, tossing something at his feet.

"It wasn't for nothing," she said.

Shocked, Steve covered the piece of metal with his foot and locked eyes with Jenna as she spoke a million apologies in silence. He barely comprehended what happened before Wo Fat strolled right up to her—and put two bullets in Jenna's chest.

Steve flinched at the unexpected execution.

A white-hot fury burned away all his mental walls. "I'm going to kill you! You're a dead man! You're a dead man!" he screamed at Wo Fat's icy expression.

***

Adrenaline pumped through his veins and overrode all his nerve endings. He crunched his body in half and slipped the metal pin from his toes to his fingers. The movement should've hurt, but it was a muted, disconnected kind of pain. With a click of the tumblers, he freed his wrists from the manacles and dropped down to the floor, the sensation of pins and needles assailing his arms.

He crouched in front of Jenna and closed her eyes. Steve wanted to feel anger, guilt – something – but he didn't feel anything at all. She had no tags, so he grabbed her necklace and slipped it into his pocket.

He operated on pure adrenaline. Kill Wo Fat then escape. Nothing else mattered.

Instinct and training took over, guided him down the corridors. When he heard footsteps, Steve ducked behind the corner. He made quick work of one guard and subdued the second in a chokehold. Grabbing a discarded rifle, he clutched the weapon as he climbed up the stairs into daylight.

Taking three steps away from the bunker, he crumpled from a blow to the back of the head.

***

Steve woke to darkness and a rolling in his gut. His hands were tied in front of him and he swallowed blood from his bleeding lips. He gagged, almost threw up, his eyes drifting closed against their own accord. He floated above the blackness and forced his eyelids open, taking in his blurry surroundings.

The vehicle swayed back and forth, and for a moment, Steve wasn't sure if he was in Columbia or Afghanistan. It didn't smell like either. He lifted his head, only managed a few inches before he couldn't bear its weight any longer.

The guard yelled and kicked Steve in the leg. And when the language registered in his battered brain, the last forty-eight hours slammed into him.

Steve lacked the energy to yell back and strained raising his hands to protect his face if the guard lashed out further. The guard settled however and Steve looked on in a daze.

He should strategize his next move. Search for opportunities and exit points. Except nothing made sense and his head pounded and his body felt like rubber. Maybe he should lie in wait. Save what little energy he had left for one last shot at his enemy.

Steve would die soon, that much he was sure of. His only consolation – he'd take Wo Fat with him.

***

Things faded in and out, and Steve knew he'd lost time. An explosion rocked the vehicle and it braked to a sudden halt. His heart thumped louder in his ears while adrenaline coursed through his system. They were driving backward.

His head felt like a giant anchor and it was just too much effort to raise it again.

The guard moved toward the back—then everything erupted in chaos.

This was his cue to escape, but his brain was too wrapped in a layer of fog to react. There were more explosions and gunfire, and the eerie silence that followed added to the sensation of dreaming. The tarp lifted up and Steve couldn't believe his eyes when Danny appeared.

"I found Steve! He's alive! Steve's alive!" Danny shouted.

Steve blinked, gazed up in amazement, his brain telling him this wasn't real. Then Danny climbed inside the truck and Steve automatically lifted his battered wrists to be untied. "Danny. Where's Wo Fat?"

"Shuddup, would ya," Danny snapped.

The tarp moved aside again and Chin appeared, his face sagging in relief. Joe materialized beside him and smiled at Steve's astonished gaze as if to say, 'did you think we wouldn't come for you?'

Steve released a harsh, choked breath.

"We've got to get going," Danny said, removing the last of the rope around Steve's wrists, his expression both worried and angry. "Can you stand?"

Steve stared at Danny in grim determination because, damn it, dream or not, he could stand without help. Steve dug his fingers into Danny's shoulders, and to his dismay, had to be lifted to his feet. Once vertical, the world pitched sideways, forcing Danny to grab him.

Chin clambered into the truck, his gaze assessing, but calm. "How about we give you a hand?"

Steve arms wouldn't work and Danny and Chin draped them over their shoulders to take on his weight. "Easy, brah, we'll do all the heavy lifting," Chin told Steve.

Joe took point and his men fell in, flanking around them. Maybe he was dead because Joe and Steve's team appearing in the middle of North Korea was something out of the movies. But rocks and twigs dug into the soles of his feet and the danger around them was sharp and deadly as a knife.

Steve tried moving faster, but his legs refused to bend let alone run. Danny and Chin reeked of gun oil, fear, and sweat. And it wasn't until Steve stumbled that he realized how heavily he had to lean on them.

***

He couldn't believe an antique chopper hovered in the LZ. Chin and Danny tightened their hands around his arms while Steve kept waiting for a hail of bullets to rip everyone to pieces.

The chopper landed and Lori ran over, wrapped her arms around him in a hug, and his whole body stiffened. Wade yelled and Chin and Danny ushered him toward their ride. Hands were on him, steady and supportive. He couldn't climb inside on his own, but before he knew it, he was settled between Joe's knees.

A rifle appeared out of thin air and Steve grabbed it, pulled back the slide, and chambered a round. The magazine was full and that was good. Reassuring. The AK-47 was hard and solid, something to hold onto as the world bounced around him.

He didn't know how to react to all the eyes evaluating him. But he smiled. Curved his lips so they stretched and pulled at the skin around his mouth, blood painting lines down his cheeks. Joe patted and squeezed Steve's shoulders.

He expected a fist to the face. For all this to explode into pain and the damp smell of a bunker. Danny sagged in relief, something Steve couldn't mimic, so he gripped the AK-47 harder.

Danny joked about thanking him when they got home and Chin told him about getting married. Steve smiled even more because it sounded too surreal. He even grinned at all the ribbing and laughter that followed, all the voices a backdrop to the noisy rotor blades. His eyes roamed the small compartment, scanned and counted the various faces. When Steve's gaze landed on Danny's haunted expression, he looked up at in him question.

"We had to leave Jenna's body behind," Danny told him.

Steve didn't respond and turned his head to watch listlessly at the blurring trees, the chopper jolting hard to the right. He jerked with the motion and breathed heavily before checking the magazine of the AK-47 again.

They circled a tiny swatch of grass and landed with a bump and a whine.

"Why don't you hand the rifle over to Joe?" Danny asked.

Steve gave Danny a hard glare without surrendering his weapon.

Joe hopped out first. "Wade and his boys will secure the perimeter. We should probably go inside to regroup. Formulate our exit strategy."

Joe's words were a familiar comfort to all the fucked up chaos. Steve monitored Wade's men as they fanned out. Chin and Lori exited with their own weapons at the ready. They were knee deep in enemy territory and Steve did a visual sweep of the area while Danny fidgeted anxiously in front of him.

When Steve climbed out, Danny shouldered most of his weight and limped them toward a ramshackle shelter out of Apocalypse Now. Steve expected to be shot by a sniper's bullet and didn't know what to make of things when he wasn't.

Kono met them on the porch and he couldn't get past the fact she was actually there. That any of them were.

"Boss," Kono said, moving toward him with a burst of energy. As she closed the distance, her grin went from wide to flat, her eyes betraying a rare fury before she reached for the AK-47. "Let me grab that."

"We've got it," Chin told her, intercepting Kono's hands and squeezing them reassuringly. "Come on. I think we all need to go inside and sit down."

Kono brushed Steve's arm with the barest of touches. "I'm fine," he told her.

Kono frowned and led them all inside. The room stank of cigarette ash and barn animals. Steve hadn't realized he'd been deposited onto an old broken-down sofa until he sank against the musty cushions. He fell asleep for a second, but his eyes snapped back open at the weight of another person beside him.

Joe regarded Steve with melancholy sadness and a worn smile. He rifled through a large nylon military-issued medical kit and spread out supplies onto a clean cloth.

"Shouldn't we take him to a hospital?" Danny asked, hovering.

"Can't risk it," Joe dismissed. "We'll perform whatever triage is needed and evacuate."

Steve homed in on that familiar voice of authority and found himself sitting forward, ignoring the pain. "Do we know Wo Fat's location?"

"No," Joe answered, pulling out a suture kit. "But there's an exit plan in place and we have satellite imagery. We're not totally blind. With his defenses temporarily knocked out, he's bound to be on the run."

"We should leave now," Steve breathed. He looked down at himself, skipped over his chest and stomach, his gaze landing at the rifle lying on his lap. "Do we have Kaye's body?"

"No. I told you that in the helicopter," Danny said. "Don't you remember?"

Steve stared past Danny's anxious face, past those of Kono and Chin. He gritted his teeth against the sudden flashes of sights and smells, of burning flesh and sizzling skin.

The copper smell of blood. His and hers.

His stomach revolted and Steve threw up a meager amount of liquid. When the first jag ended, a second one began, and he dry-heaved for eternity.

"Goddamn it! I told you he needs to go to a fucking hospital!" Danny yelled.

"And I said we couldn't risk it," Joe snapped. "This is an acute stress reaction. It's not unexpected. Don't start losing it now!"

"Losing it? Hello? We just staged something out of the freaking A-Team! Except this doesn't end with a wisecrack and the credits."

"Danny." Chin's voice cut through the tension. "Come on, brah. Let's give them some room."

Steve had a death grip on the arm of the sofa. He dug his fingers into the upholstery, and his whole body trembled in a vain attempt to control his breathing. Joe was there like a solid force, his hand on Steve's shoulder, ensuring he didn't tip over. Nothing more, nothing less. Because, right now, Steve needed control – of his brain, his body. He knew Joe understood that.

Steve had to keep it together; pull himself up by his bootstraps.

"I'm good," he grunted from the pain he tried hard to ignore. Steve looked up at Joe and straightened his abused body, fighting the groan that escaped his lips. He couldn't afford to look at his team, allow their worry to influence him. "We need to move out."

"Okay, son. But do what I say. No arguing," Joe told him. "This will probably hurt."

"Just do it, sir," Steve said.

Pain wasn't a problem; he could focus on that. Use it. Control it.

***

Danny paced, body quaking with a mix of exhaustion and rage. He wanted to punch Joe for being allowed 'in'. Maybe even Steve for his bullish behavior. But deep down, Danny knew that wasn't true—if anyone deserved a Jersey-style beat-down, it was Wo Fat. But the mere thought of flesh smacking bone made him physically ill.

While Danny wore a path in the floorboards, Kono stood simmering. "Did you see his chest?" she hissed at Chin. "How...I mean what…?"

"Shhhhhsh," Chin whispered when Kono's voice trailed off. He wrapped an arm around her shoulder and pulled her close. "We're going to get through this."

Anger and grief were powerful emotions. They charged the air with negativity and tainted everything. Danny sucked in a breath, forced all those dangerous feelings out in the exhale. They were law enforcement officers; it was their job to restore order.

"Come on," he said walking toward Chin and Kono. "We can do this." He noticed Lori buzzing with anxiety by the outside door. "Over here, Weston."

With everyone in a circle, Danny had to be even-keeled. "Look. There's one more leg to this marathon. We've got to keep our wits about us. Believe me, I'd do anything to be locked up in a room with Wo Fat." Danny's face burned hot and he counted to ten to calm down. "...but that won't help Steve. We came here to bring him home."

"And after?" Kono asked, eyes drifting toward the sofa.

"Let's get to Hawaii first," Danny said, looking from face to face. "Then we're going to take care of our fearless leader, even if he doesn't want us to. I'll be damned if I'll let him go all tough guy on us."

Because training or not, no one walked away unscathed from this. It wouldn't be easy. Danny might have to perform an op over a Navy SEAL. And maybe, just maybe, if he could help Steve, it would ease some of Danny's own feelings of powerlessness. Give him a recourse other than the dark path of revenge brimming just beneath surface.

Danny watched while Joe listened to Steve's lungs with a stethoscope, then used a penlight to check pupil reaction. God, Danny wanted to do something. Be useful.

Danny looked over as Wade entered, his weapon at ease, and approached Danny's huddled group "Everything looks clear. Lt. Jacks will ride a klick ahead of us to the airstrip, make sure no one's waiting on us. Frank knows a back way there."

"Joe's getting Steve ready for the trip," Chin told him.

"Speaking of," Danny said stepping closer to Wade. "I understand the need to get the hell out of here, but unless that medical kit has a CAT scan and an x-ray machine, we're taking a pretty big risk loading Steve onto a cargo plane for over nine hours."

"Interrogations are not pretty. I've seen enough to recognize all the signs. They're mean to inflict pain, not kill. You can't get intel out of a dead man." Danny bit his lip to keep from telling Wade what he really thought of his answer, but the SEAL didn't give him a chance. "Commander McGarrett did his duty. He survived. It's my job was to get him back to friendly territory."

"Why couldn't we stop at an in ER in Seoul?" Kono asked, walking over as she geared for action.

"Stop in a hospital with the commander looking like that? We don't have time for questions and we certainly couldn't afford risking capture. From Wo Fat's dossier, he's got eyes and ears everywhere," Wade explained.

Chin sighed. "He's right. Besides, how would we pay for it?"

Kono looked dejected and Wade out of place. "As SEALs, we're highly trained medics. If push comes to shove, we can perform some basic battlefield surgery. Commander White would never allow us to ship out if Commander McGarrett were in that kind of danger." Wade cleared his throat. "Excuse me while I give Joe a hand."

Danny resisted the urge to follow, ignoring the hiss as Joe moved Steve's arms to remove his filthy shirt. Or when Wade returned with wet rags and antiseptic bottles.

"Shouldn't we help?" Kono asked.

"No, not with this," Chin told them. "Some pain you don't want your loved ones to witness."

Kono looked away when Steve made a strangled sound and Danny did the same, the two of them battling the same urge to assist.

"Maybe we can make the trip easier?" Lori suggested, stepping closer onto the porch. "I mean. It's going to be a bumpy ride."

Because getting hauled inside the cargo hold of a C-130 was already hell on Earth.

Danny spotted Frank ambling his way over and he waved at the pilot with his most charming smile. "Hey, buddy. Let me ask you something? Do you think we could dismantle your sofa?"

***

The ride to the airstrip surrounded by paranoid SEALs was nerve wracking. After half an hour, Danny saw bad guys in every treetop. By the time they arrived, his shirt was drenched in sweat. Chin and Kono had Steve propped up between them, and he looked even worse, if that was possible. His sickly grey pallor made his eyes seem huge and alert yet somehow confused, and he hadn't relinquished his death grip on the rifle.

"I just radioed the pilot," Joe told them from the front passenger seat. "The bird's gassed and ready to go."

"Let's load up and hightail it outta here," Wade ordered his men.

SEAL Team Nine climbed out and did a quick sweep and gave them an all clear. Kono and Lori exited first with their pillaged items from Frank's place and Chin helped Steve out of the back of the vehicle while Danny followed them up the ramp. A cargo plane lacked all passenger amenities and Kono and Lori arranged several sofa cushions on one of the uncomfortable jump-seats.

"Unless you want Steve to get an infection, I'd suggest covering-up those cushions," Joe said. "Come on. We dropped off most of the medical supplies, but I earmarked some for us."

Lori and Kono opened up a couple emergency blankets and draped them over the cushions while Steve hobbled inside and surveyed the cargo hold.

"I'll take that now," Danny said, pointing at the rifle. Steve stared at him as if he didn't understand the request. "Your rifle. Federal regulations prohibit them, remember?"

Steve gave a weak nod, relinquishing the AK-47 with a shaky hand, which Danny promptly gave to Wade.

"Come on," Danny clapped. "I have experience loading children into car seats." When the joke didn't even earn him an eye roll, Danny knew Steve had reached his limits. He carefully took Steve by the bicep and elbow. "I know how much this is gonna suck, so on the count of three, we're gonna lower you."

"I'm fine," Steve mumbled.

"Obviously we differ on the definition of fine", Danny snorted.

Steve either had cracked or bruised ribs and Danny knew from experience how much it hurt to move up and down. The jump seat had a cushion on top of it and a larger one to lean against. Steve groaned and grunted, but Danny finally got him situated.

The plane's engines started roaring and the pilot radioed that they had the final clearance.

Joe wandered over with his black med kit and squatted beside Steve. "All right. I made you a deal back at Frank's. No painkillers or fluids until we were on board."

"I didn't...I didn't want to slow you guys if we got ambushed," Steve explained.

"You did good, son," Joe told Steve with a hand to his shoulder. "Real good."

Steve's expression, his quiet acceptance, hurt Danny to his core. God, if John McGarrett were alive today, Danny might actually punch the guy in the face. Fuck good intentions at sending your children away. Your commanding officer shouldn't be a substitute father figure.

Joe unrolled a coil of IV tubing, handing a bag of saline to Danny. "There should be a hook you can use in the kit."

Danny located the hook and found a bolt to secure the bag. Chin sterilized a patch of skin at the crook of Steve's elbow with a wipe while Joe expertly slipped in the needle.

The scent of medical cream and sterile dressings hit Danny hard. Between the gauze and bandages for the burns, there were only hints of the black and purple bruises underneath. He dug his nails into his palms to keep his anger at bay.

Joe pulled out an oxygen mask; Danny panicked and Steve waved his hand. "I don't need that."

"Who said I was askin'?" Joe set the O2 tank on the floor next to Steve. "You're experiencing pain when you breathe and I'm not going to take any chances when we're about to go twenty thousand feet up."

"I don't have broken ribs."

"Did I say this was a discussion?" Joe asked. "Take the mask. I'm not risking a pneumothorax from a possible fracture."

Steve placed the mask over his face and seemed to breathe easier with it on.

"We'll be home before you know it," Joe said and gave Steve an ampoule of morphine in the thigh.

Chin settled next to Steve and buckled himself in. "We'll keep an eye on his vitals."

Joe gave Steve another pat and took his place twenty feet across from them. Danny sat in the red jump seat on Steve's right and secured his arms between the straps.

"Mark this on your calendar because I can't wait to get to Oahu," he told Steve with an exaggerated grin.

"Yeah," Steve breathed, closing his eyes, the pain lines around his face slowly fading.

Kono came over with a wool blanket from somewhere and draped it over Steve. Satisfied that Steve was comfortable, she adjusted the straps and secured them without yanking too tightly.

By the time they were airborne, Steve lolled his head onto Danny's shoulder.

***

Danny nodded off and startled awake several times during the flight. He checked on Steve, noticing that even asleep, his body was coiled and tense. Steve's eyes twitched wildly in REM sleep, and for a second, Danny feared that the morphine had him trapped in a nightmare.

With his shoulder serving as Steve's pillow, Danny felt every hitch of breath or mumbled curse. When the dreams got bad, Danny whispered nonsensical things until Steve calmed.

Chin glanced over at him in silence and Danny shrugged. "Hey, it works on Grace."

"And SEALs apparently," Chin said with a tired smile.

***

The flight back felt like a slow crawl and Danny would've given anything for an iPod or a laptop to keep him occupied. Everyone was bone tired and emotionally worn to the core. All except for the SEALs, who slept soundly through every bump of turbulence.

Unfortunately, the morphine wore off an hour before landing and Steve bolted awake, ripping off the blanket. Chin earned a fist to the face the moment he touched Steve. Danny waved Joe and everyone else away and went for the tried and true method of getting his partner's attention.

"Hey! Knock it off, McGarrett; some of us are trying to sleep!" Danny snapped his fingers and Steve froze his breathing heavy and ragged. "Hello? Over here."

Steve blinked fuzzily at Danny and Danny looked him directly in the eyes. "That's it, buddy. No need to cause a scene."

"Danny?"

"Yes, Steven?"

"Where…?"

"We're on cargo plane heading home. Got less than an hour before I can kiss the ground." It took several seconds for Steve to slowly put the pieces together and Danny schooled his concern behind sarcasm. "Do you remember your field trip to North Korea?"

Steve's impersonation of a plank of wood worried Danny, but Steve's eyes slowly focused and he leaned back against the cushion without a word.

***

Chin made a few discreet phone calls right before their descent, and when they finally touch downed, an ambulance waited on the tarmac. Steve was either too exhausted or too smart to argue about riding in it.

Seal Team Nine gave their best wishes and headed home in quiet acceptance of a job well done.

Danny hopped into the bus with Steve, and the rest of the team and Joe followed behind them in their vehicles.

***

Between their badges and Malia's interference, the ER resident didn't ask twenty questions on the how and why of Steve's condition. Danny was ushered out of the examination room just as one of the nurses cut away the rest of Steve's shirt, revealing his eggplant colored back.

Malia took Danny by the elbow into the hall. "Don't worry, I've paged Dr. Singh. He's an ex-corpsman and knows how to handle Navy guys."

Chin arrived a few minutes later, his expression bursting into joy at seeing his fiancée. The two embraced while Danny ignored a hot streak of jealousy. By the time Joe and Kono dragged themselves over, Malia insisted they go to the cafeteria to eat.

Salad, bowls of creamed corn, and several hamburgers later, Danny and company retired to cheap plastic chairs in the waiting area. He fell asleep with his head propped against his hand.

Kono roused him out of dreams of helicopter crashes in time to crowd around Dr. Singh. Steve's scans and x-rays were clear – no internal bleeding or severe head trauma. He had a laundry list of issues: concussion, two hairline rib fractures, swollen jaw, and bruised muscles in general. Not to mention electrical burns and various lacerations.

"Let me guess. He wants to check himself out?" Danny sighed.

"Maybe we can handcuff him to his bed?" Kono asked. And by the look of things, she was deadly serious.

Danny made a mental note to talk to her later; he didn't like the darkness stewing behind her eyes.

"I want him to stay overnight for observation, but he's very adamant about leaving," Singh finished. "Perhaps one of you can convince him otherwise?"

Despite the perfectly sane medical advice, no one argued about Steve wanting to go home. "It's all right. I'm already sleeping on his sofa since I'm in between apartments. I'll keep an eye on him," Danny said.

"I'm afraid you might need to do a bit more than keep an eye on him. The commander needs to be on complete bed rest and under careful observation," Singh argued. "Perhaps I can arrange for a service to –"

"No," Danny growled his blood pressure jumping. "You don't understand. I'm his partner. You get it? Of course you don't. How could you? But while you have no freaking clue, I can assure you that I am up to whatever task it entails to get him on the mend. Capiche?"

Ten minutes later, Danny was the proud owner of care instructions an inch thick and a handful of prescriptions. After another cup of bitter coffee, he hoped it'd be enough to get him through what should be an intense evening on top of the last horrendous seventy-two hours.

***

Danny drove carefully, took curves at ridiculously slow speeds, and even hissed when he hit a pothole. He couldn't tell if Steve's even noticed; his thousand-yard stare out the window might as well have been ten miles. Luckily, the pharmacy by Steve's house had a drive-through and they parked in front of the McGarrett home a few minutes later.

Danny killed the engine and unlocked the doors when a hand unexpectedly encircled his arm.

"Wait a second," Steve said his voice raw as gravel.

"For what?" Danny demanded, but Steve opened the glove box, fiddled with a lock-box and pulled out a Sig Sauer. "Whoa? What the hell?"

"I should do a sweep. Make sure it's clear."

"No, no, no," Danny said, hopping out of the driver's side and intercepting his partner. "We're home now."

Kono had the presence of mind to buy Steve an ugly Hawaiian shirt and sweats at the gift shop to go with his hospital issued slippers, so he only looked like a half-dead manic clutching a weapon and leaning on the car door.

"Who do you think is waiting on us? Wo Fat is thousands of miles away, Steven."

"His operatives –"

"Are not here." But it was like arguing with a deaf mule. "Look. We'll go inside and I'll clear the house myself."

Danny thought Steve just preferred being armed, the Sig offering the protection that his normal abilities couldn't. "Fine," Steve answered, although it was obvious he'd prefer to recon the whole property.

Joe had returned the team's weapons to them in the hospital parking lot and Danny readied his. "Stay behind me," he ordered, holding out his arm.

Even if Steve belonged in a hospital bed, there was no way he'd stand down until Danny completed this act of the play. Steve stayed close while Danny swept the house efficiently. He shouted 'clear' in all the appropriate corners and doors. And even went upstairs, swearing a streak of profanities for using up what little fumes he had left.

Danny returned to the living room, stored his weapon in a desk drawer, and gestured for Steve to do the same. Steve, the stubborn ox, set his Sig on the coffee table and literally collapsed onto the sofa with a loud groan.

"You have broken ribs, take things slowly."

"Hairline fracture."

"What?"

"Doc said hairline fracture. I told Joe they weren't broken."

"I am not debating this with you. Don't move," Danny told him on the way to the kitchen.

Opening the cupboards, he snagged a box of oyster crackers, a thing of organic yogurt, and two coconut waters out of the fridge and returned to the living room. "Here. Eat this. You have meds to take and I doubt you want to throw up any time soon."

Steve nibbled on a few crackers then took the spoon and quickly polished off half the quart.

"Guess it's been two days since you've eaten?"

Steve paused mid-swallow in thought. "Yeah."

Steve had a tiny row of sutures along his left eye that matched the ones to his bottom lip. He tapped the spoon against the yogurt, watched it bounce off the plastic, looking like he had something to say. Danny didn't push things. Instead, he played drug peddler, handed Steve his antibiotic, pain pill, and muscle relaxer. Steve swallowed all three at once with a chug of water.

"I'm gonna take a shower," Steve said, breaking the silence that followed.

Danny jumped to his feet in response. Yes, he was aware Steve was a freaking SEAL, but that didn't stop him from waiting to see if Steve's legs gave out.

"Maybe you should just hit the sack. Why push it?"

"I can take a shower, Danny."

"Did you get forget about those burns?"

Steve gritted his teeth and gave the front of his shirt a quick glance. "Hard to forget a cattle prod," he said, his voice flat.

God, Danny didn't need to hear that right now. He deduced most of what had happened to Steve, but the new image was a little too visceral. "You can't get the dressings wet."

"The docs covered the burns in sulfadiazine. It'll protect them against the water."

"Okay, but those meds are gonna hit you like a ton of bricks. I didn't travel eight thousand miles to rescue your ass just so you can drown in your bathtub."

Danny was prepared to wage this battle but relented when Steve just gave him this look. This raw, painful expression. "I've got to get rid of...I can still smell…"

"Yeah, I gotcha," Danny sighed, his defenses breached. "Just. Let me grab you a towel."

Steve studied the staircase like it was Mount Olympus and nodded down the hallway, using the wall to help him walk. "I'll be in the guest bathroom."

Danny went to the closet, grabbed a towel, and paced a few minutes, trying to decide his next move. When he didn't hear the sound of running water, he peeked inside the bathroom to find Steve sitting on the closed lid of the toilet with his shirt halfway buttoned.

"Change your mind?" Danny asked.

"I'm so fucking stiff...I can't..."

"Hey, hey. It's okay. I'll help. Let me do most of the work, okay?"

Danny made quick work of all the buttons and started peeling off the shirt. "Lift your left arm just a smidge." Steve's arm flopped in response and Danny rolled down the first sleeve. "Now lift your right arm."

Steve obeyed, helping remove the rest of the shirt, and Danny tossed it on the sink. But Steve sat hunched over, pale and forlorn, his jaw clenched tight.

"What else do you need, babe?"

Steve kept himself propped up with his arms despite the fine tremors running down them. "I don't think..." He took a sharp breath, his expression a mix of defeat and anger. "I don't think I can stand up long enough to take a shower."

"Okay. Everything's going to be fine. Just give me a sec. I'll be right back." Danny ran into the kitchen and returned with a chair. "Don't say a word. I'll buy you a new one." Steve glowered at the chair while Danny stuck it under the showerhead. "Now all you have to do it just sit there. You know...allow the hot water to run."

Resigned to his limitations, Steve contemplated the shower like a strategic target before using the toilet tank to help stand. "Thank you."

"Yeah, no problem."

Danny put the towel on the counter and walked away as the water turned on, his whole body puttering on fumes. But he didn't give in, didn't think about the last two heart-stopping days.

He couldn't.

He kept the bathroom door partway open and checked the guest bedroom across the hall to see if it had sheets and covers. He contemplated the TV, vetoed the option, and decided to keep moving around because if he stopped to sit, he'd never get up again. The shower ran for five minutes, then ten, edging at nearly fifteen before Danny's worry gave him heart palpitations.

By the time he made a decision to go check on Steve, the water stopped.

A few agonizing minutes later, Steve appeared out of the bathroom in a pair of gray sweatpants, shaky as hell, one hand a death grip on the frame. "Danny...do you think you could…?"

Danny ran over and shouldered Steve's weight, shuffling them forward. "Okay. We're all good here. Looks like the meds did the trick." He was surprised Steve lasted this long, but everyone had a threshold. "Come on, almost there."

They hobbled down the hall, step by step, and Danny unloaded Steve onto the bed where the man literally conked out. Lights out. Nobody home.

"Guess you ran your batteries out, huh?" Danny scrubbed a hand over his scratchy face and shook his head. "It's North Korea. What could go wrong?" He pulled the sheet up to his friend's waist. "I told you not to play Superman."

His eyes drifted to the blisters that need to be redressed. Burns that Danny's imagination had morbidly filled in the blanks for him thanks to Steve's disclosure regarding their source. So, he dragged his feet out of the guest bedroom and returned with supplies from the pharmacy, glad that Steve was out.

His eyes roamed over his friend and couldn't find a single inch of skin that wasn't marred by a bruise or cut. "Oh, babe."

Danny averted his gaze, took the sulfadiazine, and applied a liberal amount to his fingers. He focused on the task at hand, covered the burns, and breathed through his mouth to lessen the smell. Once done, he bandaged them with gauze and tape. Then he switched to an antibiotic cream and carefully tended to Steve's wrists.

By the time he was done, Danny wiped away the sweat stinging his eyes and stored the supplies in the bathroom.

Then his stomach revolted and he lost half his dinner three seconds later. Wiping his face with a rag, he stumbled back into the living room and turned on the TV. With the blissful sounds of white noise in the background, Danny laid on the sofa, pulled up the covers, and prayed for sleep to overtake him.

***

Sleep never came, not really. There were twenty and thirty minute stretches of dozing, which only made him feel worse. He couldn't turn his brain off or flip the switch on all the crazy thoughts and images in his head. At dawn, he brewed a fresh pot of coffee made from some kind of Hawaiian blend he couldn't pronounce.

After a cup, he took a long hot shower and emerged feeling somewhat human in a clean t-shirt and shorts. He made oatmeal and toast, drank a second cup of joe, and headed toward the guest room with a tray.

Steve's head shot up at the squeak of a floorboard and Danny froze. "It's um...me," he said, not wanting to have to defend himself with a tray full of breakfast. Steve had that bleary wild-eyed look about him but hadn't moved or made a sound. "You okay there, buddy?"

Danny set the tray down on the nightstand and cautiously moved toward the bed, hands out for Steve to see. "Now would be a good time to form words. I don't require full sentences since that's a lot to ask for at this ungodly time of morning. But you've got to give me something before I start to worry that your brains leaked out your ears dur–"

"Danno," Steve growled. "I'm fine. I'm just..."

"Lying around in pain being too stoic of a bastard to ask for help?"

"Don't start. I'm not in the mood."

"Oh, you're not in the mood? I'm sorry. Then perhaps you'd like to just get out of bed and come to the kitchen like a normal person when it's time to eat?" Danny waited a beat, knowing Steve couldn't get up without a lot of pain. The day after any physical trauma was the freaking worse. "You know my Aunt Ne-Ne got into a head-on collision once, damn airbag saved her life. She walked away from it without a single broken bone, but the next morning she could barely move."

Danny wandered toward the curtains and pulled them back, allowing the early sunshine to bleed into the room.

Steve threw a hand up to block the light, letting out a strangled noise from the motion. "Damn it! Please close that!"

Danny quickly drew the curtains and stood beside the bed. "Come on, tough guy; let me give you a hand?"

Steve mumbled okay and Danny helped him sit up, trying to tune out all the grunts of pain, using pillows to prop Steve comfortably against the headboard.

"I've got blueberry oats and multigrain toast with flax because even your bread had to be special," Danny said, pulling the tray closer.

"You brought me breakfast in bed?"

"Don't get used to it," Danny snorted, snagging three amber bottles from his pants pockets. "And these are your early morning dessert."

"That stuff made me feel like shit."

"No, getting pummeled made you feel like shit."

Steve didn't argue and gingerly adjusted himself into a sitting position before taking the spoon with a shaky hand. After a couple of bites, his whole arm trembled like a Parkinson's patient, spilling most of the oatmeal back into the bowl.

"Sonofabitch!" Steve cursed, looking all the world like he wanted to toss the tray away.

"Hey. Cut yourself some slack," Danny soothed. "You were suspended by your own body weight for God knows how long. It's gonna wreak havoc on your muscles."

Steve's modus operandi since the rescue had been long bouts of silence. It made gauging his thoughts and feelings even more difficult. Danny fidgeted before taking a step forward, but Steve stopped him cold with a glare. "You're not feeding me."

"It's called helping."

"I don't need help eating."

Steve balled up his hand into a fist, focused on it until the tremors ceased. But as soon as he reached out for the spoon again, the trembling renewed.

"I promise, it's not a problem," Danny started again.

"I'm not a child or a damn invalid!" Steve snapped, smacking the spoon on the bowl.

"Fine." Danny threw his hands up in frustration. "Perhaps I'll find you a bib so you don't end up sleeping with dried oatmeal all over yourself."

Danny stormed off because that's how he handled things when he had zero sleep in days and even less patience for injured, emotionally stunted SEALs. He paced back and forth, burned off steam, and noticed the tiny red light flash on his cell phone. Shit. He'd turned it on silent last night.

There were eight missed calls and three texts all from the team. Jeesh, it was only seven in the morning. He scrolled down to the most recent message, and his eyes nearly popped out of his skull.

From Chin:
Governor wants a meeting with us at eight sharp. I'll pick you up. Kono's coming over to help with Steve.

Damn it! It wasn't unexpected, and it wasn't like they were going to hide the rescue once they got back, but Danny had hoped he'd have more time. And sleep to deal with the bureaucratic shit storm.

Wiping a hand through his hair, he tried pulling himself together. Christ. Danny glanced at the hallway, cursing himself over how he'd handled Steve. He was supposed to be taking care of him, not throwing a fit on the first bump in the road.

Okay, think.

Kono would be over in less than...he checked the time and cursed again. Ten minutes given the ride time needed to go into the city. He'd already showered but still needed to shave, throw on some professional clothes, and oh – coach his youngest teammate on how to care for their boss, who'd just been tortured and psychologically traumatized even if he wouldn't admit it. No problem.

God help him.

***

Kono didn't go to bed after coming home from the hospital. The adrenaline rush that had fueled her throughout the mission was long gone. She felt scattered, the relief at rescuing Steve a faded memory to the fire raging inside her. She longed for payback. To make those responsible to feel every bruise, every laceration, every ugly burn that had been inflicted on Steve.

A death by a thousand cuts came to mind, but such thoughts ran roughshod through her head. She'd been raised by good people, a family that championed justice, filling the ranks with generations of cops. She believed in those values; they had guided her through thick and thin.

As a rookie, she’d been allowed to make a real difference with Five-O and treated as an equal. It was an unlikely opportunity given to her by an even more unlikely source. Steve was more than a boss, more than the force of nature that leaped off rooftops and took out bad guys with moves out of the Bourne Identity. To be allowed inside his inner circle was true honor and to see such trust so utterly and brutally violated...

No. She couldn’t think about it anymore. Giving into her anger gave those who caused it a victory. Buzzing with nervous energy, she went out toward the beach and into the one thing that always gave her serenity. She allowed the waves to take her away. Swimming at night, using the moon as a guide, had been a welcome distraction. Cleansing.

But her skin still felt gritty despite twenty minutes under the hot spray of the shower. When her cell phone had gone off at six in the morning, her pulse doubled, expecting to hear the worst. That some of Wo Fat's goons had sought retribution or that Steve's injuries were far worse than first thought. But none of her paranoia came to fruition and she gladly agreed to Chin's request without a second thought.

***

Standing outside the McGarrett home, she wondered at the amount of violence it'd witnessed. How much raw emotion it sheltered from the outside world within its walls.

She walked up the steps and Danny greeted her, looking frazzled.

"Hey, come in." He knotted his tie and ran his hands over his hair. "Did you sleep? I hope you slept because, believe me, you're gonna need a mountain of patience today, I'm just sayin'."

"How many cups of coffee have you had?" Kono asked.

"Three. No. Four," Danny said, collecting his wallet off the coffee table. "Why? You want some?"

"I'm good, brah." Kono's eyes drifted across the sofa at the blankets haphazardly folded in the corner. "Rough night?"

Danny rubbed at his puffy eyes. "You could say."

"How's Steve?"

"Being a pain in the ass."

Kono thought of admonishing him but didn't because under that tough Jersey attitude was a heart of marshmallow.

She followed him inside. "No one likes needing help. When you got poisoned a few months ago, how much did you hate all the attention?"

"I could still walk, thank you very much."

"Yeah. And you were still pissed and cranky. The boss, he's another whole another breed of tough guy. It's harder on him."

"Listen to you being all wise for your young years," Danny teased.

"When I blew out my knee, I got it from all sides. Family, peers, friends. I didn't want to depend on them or feel their sympathy." Kono shrugged, her voice turning cold. "I wasn't stabbed in the back by a friend and led to slaughter."

Danny's smile faded and Kono pointed at the white pharmacy bags before he could say anything. "Everything I need in there?"

"Yeah. He's already had his morning doses of everything. Antibiotic is once a day so we're good there. Pain pill four times, so again around noon. Same with the muscle relaxer. His dressings won't need changing until tonight." Danny's face flagged. "He can barely move. And his head's bothering him, I think." He bumped his fist against his chin. "I really hope he just stays snowed under, ya know?"

A car horn honked outside and Danny looked at the window. "If you need anything...if something happens or, I dunno, McGarrett decides to –"

"Don't worry," Kono said, laying a hand on his shoulder. "I've got this."

"Yeah, okay," he said, smoothing out his shirt. "Wish us luck."

Kono watched as Danny ran out the door and didn't relish her day ahead.

***

Kono should have brought a book or a few cold case files. It was odd being in Steve's house. She'd seen it used during assassination attempts, as a crime scene, but never alone with all the ghosts that walked around.

It didn't feel like Steve; the art and furniture dated from his childhood. Maybe it brought him familiarity or comfort. It didn't fit with a guy used to sleeping on bedrolls across the world. But after a year, maybe it should reflect Steve more?

There were tiny bits of him in places. A new plasma TV with rows of action and war blu-ray DVDs on the shelf. She thought the cabinet filled with antique firearms belonged to his father, but the more modern, way cooler military ones were Steve's.

Magazines filled the bookshelf: Guns and Ammo. Modern Warrior. Oceanography. Naval Times. Among all the light reading were rows of pictures, some of military buddies, the others of the Five-O team. She smiled at the ones from a recent barbeque and last month's bowling night. The far left one was taken at Chin's birthday.

Jenna was at the far end, her arm over Kono's shoulder, both of them laughing. Kono slammed the picture down and kept herself from yanking it out of the frame.

It was almost lunchtime, but luckily, she knew how to make a mean pasta salad. Every twenty minutes or so, she stopped by the guest room to check up on Steve. By the time the pasta and bread sticks were done, she heard a curse. Kono turned off the oven, slowing her steps as she reached the door.

"Boss? It's me, Kono. I'm coming in."

The room was dark compared to the rest of the house. Kono paused, allowed her eyes to adjust, searching out the McGarrett lump sitting up in bed, ready to spring.

"Steve?"

"Kono?"

"Yep, I've got lunch ready. If you just give me a –"

He struggled to his feet, begged off her help even if he really needed it. "I've got to hit the head," he grunted before shuffling into the bathroom.

She wasn't surprised when he emerged, using the wall like a cane, and headed toward the living room. With an arm braced against his side, he lowered himself into the recliner with a groan until he rested his head.

Kono piled lunch into bowls, loaded the bread sticks onto a plate, and dropped the food and glasses of raspberry iced tea onto the coffee table.

"Thank you," Steve said, reaching for the bowl with a grimace.

Steve chewed slowly and Kono finished before him given his sore jaw. She contemplated turning on the TV, but Steve hadn't, so she didn't search for the remote.

"Where's Danny?"

"Meeting with the governor."

"Alone?"

"No, Chin went with him."

"You should call them. Have them check in when they're done."

Steve didn't ask anything regarding the meeting; then again, he probably didn't have a clue about the frantic hours leading to their unsanctioned trip. In fact, he seemed perfectly content to stare at the walls in thought. Part of Kono was curious as to what was going inside his head until she realized maybe she didn’t want to know. Because Kono knew Steve had faced many unspeakable things as a soldier. And to see him this vulnerable compared to what she imagined he must have experienced in the past was unsettling.

When she gathered the empty bowls, one of the spoons clamored to the floor and Steve jerked his head at the noise.

"Sorry," Kono apologized, flustered.

"I'm fine," he answered, even if his hands were balled into fists in preparation to punch someone. He uncurled his fingers and stared down at his bare chest. "I should probably put a shirt on."

"I'll grab you one."

Kono hurried up the stairs, shaking not in fear but in anger. Anger at seeing Steve so on edge that an unexpected noise startled him. That he could be spooked by a falling spoon. She resisted the urge to slam her hands into the dresser in front of her.

Where was the justice she fought so hard for?

Drawing a steady breath, she focused on the task at hand. His drawers were filled with mostly t-shirts, but Kono rummaged around until she found a green plaid button-up so he didn't have to raise his arms as much.

She returned to the living room and made sure he saw her come around the recliner. He refused her help and Kono ignored how many times it took him to put the shirt on and went over to the windows.

“Dude, it's stuffy in here,” she said, reaching for the curtain.

“Don't,” Steve called out.

Kono glanced behind her. “You don't want to enjoy the breeze?”

“Just leave them closed.”

Steve's steely tone brooked no argument and Kono let the curtain drop from her fingers, feeling for all the world like she was walking on eggshells.

"Do you need something?" she asked, trying to find some way to help, and she covered a huge yawn. "Sorry. I hadn't realized how tired I was."

"You've had a rough couple of days."

"So have you."

Steve's eyes drifted away, and just as Kono thought he'd zoned out again, he broke the silence. "Did you guys bring my stuff here?"

"Stuff?" Her eyes glanced at his bare feet. "You only had your shirt and pants, brah."

"My clothes." Steve sat up with a grunt. "Do you still have them?"

"I dunno. Why?"

He scanned the room like a crime scene. "My pants? What about them?"

"I haven't seen your clothes," Kono said. But Steve wasn't listening, edging forward on the recliner. Kono stopped short of touching him, not knowing how he'd react, which really put her on edge. "Take it easy. I'm sure Danny knows where they are. They might have even been bagged and tagged out of habit."

"There was a necklace," he said.

"I'll take care of it. Don't worry." Steve looked up at her, his face scrunched up in either pain or confusion or both. "I'll make sure to stop by HQ tonight or in the morning," she reassured him.

But Steve switched topics. "Have you heard from them?"

Now it was her turn to feel lost. Didn't she just tell him? "You mean Chin and Danny?"

"Yeah."

"No, I'll check my phone. See if they've texted." She pulled out her cell. "I got a couple from each of them. They're gonna be stuck there a while." Kono shook her head; there were six from Danny alone. "I'll let them know we're good."

Her fingers danced across the tiny keypad. "You wanna tell me about this necklace?" Kono had inkling, one that grated on her nerves like worst kind of scraping sound.

"It was Jenna's."

"Yeah?" She went for nonchalant, tried not to let her anger show, her cheeks flushing hot. "I'll search for it if you want," Kono suggested, trying to do what Steve wanted.

Her phone vibrated and Kono read the incoming text.

"You're popular," he mumbled.

"It's from Lori. She's on a break."

"What does she want?"

"She's just checking in."

"That's all?"

There was odd tone to his voice, one she couldn't place. "You want to tell her anything?"

"No," Steve said flatly. "Where is she?"

"With Chin and Danny at the governor's," Kono repeated for the second time.

Steve shifted in the recliner, settling at a slight angle. He didn't argue when she handed him his meds, dry swallowing them before she could grab him a glass of water.

The silence was long and heavy, and just as she thought Steve had fallen asleep, his eyes flew open. "Danny and Chin?"

"They're at the governor's for a meeting," Kono told him, hiding her growing worry behind a tired smile.

"Good. Inform me of their status," he said, closing his eyes and his body relaxing.

Kono pulled her cell out of her purse and debated calling Danny or Chin. Was Steve's concussion worse than it appeared? He had scans and tests at the hospital, but head injuries were tricky. She hovered next to the recliner, cell firmly gripped in her hand. She stared at Steve's bruised face, gritting her teeth at how often he must've been in hit in the face and head.

Gnawing at her lip, she decided to give him time. Repeated beatings, jet lag, hopped up on a whole lot of drugs, and exhaustion were a powerful mix. Leaning back into the cushions, she didn’t turn on the TV, not wanting the distraction. She would check on him hourly, but Kono would let him sleep, hoping she was just paranoid.

***

Kono drifted asleep to the hypnotic waves lapping against the beach. She wasn't sure what woke her, but she opened her eyes, stretching out the kinks in her back and shoulders. Instinctively, she glanced at the recliner and found Steve sleeping restlessly, muttering under his breath.

His body shuddered; his right leg kicked out. Kono couldn't stand watching him in such distress. Standing, she called out his name—just as Steve bolted awake with a hoarse scream.

With a gasp, Kono nearly fell backward onto the sofa. Steve sprang to his feet in seconds, eyes darting around the room. "Kono?"

"Damn, brah. You scared the crap out of me!" Quickly gathering her wits, Kono's embarrassment switched to concern with one look at Steve. "Hey, are you all right?"

The stitches and cuts were ugly and vivid against his graying pallor. Steve wobbled on his feet, grabbing the bookcase to hold him up. His face blanched further and he stumbled toward the bathroom. "Fuck," he said, breath hitching as he went to a knee.

Kono knelt beside him, fingers on his shoulder. "Tell me what you need."
Shaking and sweaty, he fumbled for her hand, gripping it tightly. For a split second, Kono panicked at seeing him so weak and fragile, not knowing what to do. But she took a deep breath and spoke calm and clear. "Are you nauseous?"

"Yeah," he whispered.

Okay. She could do this. “I'm going to help you toward the bathroom."

Taking his bicep, Kono tried to guide him to his feet but then Steve stiffened. "No. Wait!"

Kono froze. "What is it?"

"The room's spinin'."

Nauseous and dizzy. Could be the meds, or the concussion, or maybe a combination of the two. "We'll just wait here a sec." Kono gently rubbed circles over the taut muscles of his back and Steve pressed his head into her side. It was a profoundly trusting gesture and Kono held him closer.

After several minutes, his breathing eased, and the shaking settled. He shifted his weight and leaned more into her.

"All right,” she said. “I think the bedroom is the best place right now. You can lie down and I'll grab you a trashcan if you need it."

"No...just..."

His voice was muffled and Kono wasn't sure of her next step. "What do you want?"

"Back..."

He didn't want to return to the guest room. Kono didn't understand why; then again, Steve had always been a mystery. "Okay, we'll return to the recliner."

She knew it would be better on his injured ribs versus laying flat.

They stood up together, his grip on her arm bound to leave bruises. Kono didn't care and turned them around, easing Steve into the recliner. Then she searched his refrigerator and found a bottle of local ginger ale.

"You should sip this; it'll help your stomach," she said.

He didn't reach out for the bottle and Kono knelt by the recliner. "I know what it's like when a part of your body that you've always relied on is broken. It sucks. It's infuriating and you want to get up and prove to the world that you're better than it." Steve listened to her, watching her through bruised eyes, and Kono touched his arm. "Give it time, brah."

She handed him the bottle and Steve closed his fingers around it. Kono held his arm steady as he lifted it to his lips and she kept the drink from spilling all over him when the trembling started.

"I'm good," he said after several swallows.

Putting the ginger ale on the coffee table, Kono headed back to the sofa.

"Kono," he whispered fighting to stay awake.

"No, worries brah. What are families for?"

She watched him drift asleep, realizing that he planned on camping out in the recliner. Kono couldn't help the pang of sadness it caused knowing he felt the need to remain out in the open in the living room. Sitting in the dark, she glanced at a room normally bathed in sunlight and tried to quiet the voice in her head that things were very wrong.

***

When she heard the car pull up, Kono went to meet Chin and Danny on the porch.

"Something happened," were the first words out of Danny's mouth.

"No, I just didn't want you guys to wake up Steve. He's sacked out in the recliner."

Danny's tense postured eased a bit. Chin narrowed his eyes at her, noting what Kono hadn't said. He looked dead on his feet, but then again, she doubted any of them had really slept much.

"What took you guys so long? Was it the world's longest meeting?" she asked.

"Something like that," Chin snorted. "The governor wanted to know every detail of what happened. We didn't tell him and that began the game of asking every question a dozen different ways."

"Which thus led to an in-depth discussion of policies and procedures of the unit, yadda yadda," Danny said, flapping his hand.

"What? Why?" Kono asked alarmed.

"Hey." Chin laid his hands on her shoulders. "It's not like that. The governor's a little ticked we went off the grid like we did. He can't do anything because we acted as private citizens. He's glad we were successful, but he thinks it's another sign of a behavior problem and wants to keep us in line."

"Five-O is all good then?" Kono asked.

"Yeah," Danny reassured her. "But we have to be there again bright and early tomorrow to go over our last two months' of cases, including everything on we have on Wo Fat."

"Despite giving us the runaround, the governor didn't take too kindly to what was done to McGarrett," Chin said pointedly. Then he and Danny shared a 'look' and Chin's expression became grim. "He also wants Steve to give a statement."

"A statement?" Kono repeated.

"A full one. For the record." Danny punctuated with air quotes. "But we might have mentioned the copious amount of drugs Steve was on. And that perhaps asking him to recall his experience in glorious detail could wait a day or two." Danny gave the door a fond look. "But right now, I am famished."

"I told Malia we'd have dinner." Chin hooked a thumb behind him. "So, cuz, you want to come with us in the morning?"

"Naw, dude. In fact..." She nervously licked her lips. "I think someone needs to keep an eye on Steve. I'm worried about his head injury. He had some memory problems and –"

"What do you mean memory problems?" Danny interrupted. "Like I can't remember my own name or just forgetful?"

"Like I had to tell him where you guys were three times," Kono explained upset. "Maybe he needs to go back to the hospital?"

"Are you kidding me?" Danny waved at the door. "There's no way Steve will agree to go back to the ER."

"Hold up," Chin said, raising his hands. "Were there any other memory issues?"

"No. I mean..." Kono blew out a breath. "He's acting really odd. I can't explain it," she said frustrated.

"It's okay." Chin stepped closer and rubbed his hands up and down her shoulders. "Look. Steve's probably just stressed. We can't expect him to bounce back in just a couple of days."

"I know," Kono relented.

But deep down, maybe she had expected him to just pop back up? Brush himself off and be his old self like he always had.

"I'll keep a close eye on him tonight. See what happens," Danny said, looking frayed.

"If nothing else, I could have Malia stop by and check him out," Chin suggested, easing everyone's tension.

"Okay. That's a good idea," Kono said, feeling a little better. "I'll come back to tomorrow morning to help."

Danny gave her a wan smile. "You sure? I figured you'd be sick of SEAL sitting duties after today. It's not fun."

"It's not supposed to be. I'll go get my stuff and see you in the morning," Kono said over her shoulder, not waiting around to see if they agreed.

***

Kono slept like a rock and woke up feeling like wadded-up dishrag. She got up early and ran by HQ and into the evidence locker. It took a second to find the sealed plastic bag. There wasn't a case number printed on it – just a name and a date.

It wasn't breaking the chain of custody, not really. The North Korean thing wasn't a case. And that's how Kono referred to it her head, because if she thought too hard or too much, her body shook. She hesitated, fingers crushing the plastic, but she removed the necklace and left.

***

Danny swung open the door before she could knock, looking like nine miles of bad road. He squinted against the sun. "Before you ask, I look and feel like shit. Why? Because someone decided that taking his meds was a bad idea. Which meant he didn't sleep; therefore, I didn't sleep." Danny lightly banged his head again the door. "We finally reached a compromise after I threatened to turn the volume up on the infomercial for the Super Juicer Three Thousand."

"He took his pain pill, but not the muscle relaxer," Kono summarized.

"Why, that's a very astute and accurate theory, Ms. Kalakaua."

"Dude, those things don't mix well. When I blew out my knee, taking both of them at once made me all kinds of loopy."

"Yeah, well, maybe that's a good thing because apparently the key to recuperating is to clean weapons. All of them."

She let him bleed off energy as he released an internal valve until he simmered below a boil. Once he was done ranting about being up all night, the worry lines appeared again. Kono patted him on the shoulder and told him to make Five-O look good at the governor's office.

***

Steve sat at the kitchen table, field stripping a sidearm, and Kono counted three or four others strewn apart in pieces. "Is that a custom Sig?"

"No," Steve said without looking up. "It's a MK23."

Kono whistled. "Nice. That can make a two-inch group at fifty yards. Ten rounds?"

"Twelve. I own the military issue." Steve pointed to the decocking lever. "This silently releases the cocked hammer. Allows for better stealth."

Kono raised her eyebrows, impressed. "Magazine release is kind of large."

"Wide enough to use with gloves," Steve said his voice flat.

"Maybe in a couple of weeks, we could go back to Hickman and you could give me some more pointers on calculating trajectory in wind conditions."

Steve didn't seem to hear her suggestion, his focus solely on the Sig. He removed the magazine, retracted the slide to the stop, verifying the chamber was empty. It was mesmerizing watching him, his focus complete. Steve could clean his weapons with his eyes closed, but this – this was something else entirely. This type of methodical precision seemed like a desperate attempt to latch to something familiar.

He pushed the magazine out with a small screwdriver, catching the spring before it hit the table. There. As his thumb pressed downward on the feeder, she realized the real fight was the way he battled to control the tremble of his fingers.

When the tremor took over both arms in a constant shake, he put down the magazine and picked up the stripped barrel of another pistol. He grabbed a wire brush, twirled it around between his fingers, staring at the bottle of solvent.

"You know, when I was fourteen, I volunteered at one of those haunted houses. I was this ghoul," she laughed. "I was chained to this wall for three hours with decent give. Plenty of breaks but, man, my arms hurt so bad, I could hardly move them for three days."

Steve gripped the cleaning brush even harder. "I didn't think about how long I was there," he said. Before Kono could say anything, Steve cleared his throat. "If you handle the gun oil, I'll put everything back together."

Kono noticed the safety goggles on the table and confiscated them. Steve would finish cleaning his weapons no matter what.

"Hand me the brush and we've got a deal," she said.

 

***

Steve dozed in the recliner an hour later and startled awake with a yell.

Kono read her novel, let him catch his breath and collect himself. After a few minutes, she casually went into the kitchen and brought him a hot glass of jasmine tea and a couple soft oat cookies she found in the pantry.

"Want me to turn the TV on?" she asked.

His face was lined with pain and he grimaced when he touched and inspected his jaw. "No."

Kono returned to the book she'd been half-reading in an attempt to feign normalcy after his most recent nightmare.

Her cell phone buzzed and she read the incoming text. "Lori said she's going to be stopping by that new barbeque pit that opened up later and wants to know if you want her to drop off some smoked ribs and pulled pork?"

"Tell her no thanks."

"You sure? I heard their food's off the hook."

"I'm sure," he said, struggling to his feet.

Kono tactfully thanked Lori but declined the offer. As he walked across the room toward the door, she noticed Steve couldn't stand fully upright. He checked all window locks in the living room, made sure the curtains were drawn, and the security system was set. Her heart skipped a beat when she noticed his service weapon in the waistband of his sweats.

"Hey," she said coming up to him. "I'll inspect the back."

Steve studied her a second before nodding. "Okay."

He set the weapon on the coffee table and painstakingly returned to the recliner. It hurt Kono just watching him lower himself back down.

Walking into the kitchen, she ensured the back door was secured, glad that he trusted her with the task, but increasingly worried about his obsessive need to double check everything all the time. Kono understood the basics of trauma, but that was something she associated with crime victims. And the idea that Steve fell in that category – she gave herself a mental headshake and focused on her objective, yanking on the door a little too roughly.

Returning to the sofa, Kono watched as he fought the urge to sleep. His eyes closed and snapped back open. But Steve didn't read and didn't want the television on, which left awkward stretches of silence.

Since he wasn't really sleeping, Kono closed her novel. "I went to HQ and found the necklace." Kono subconsciously rubbed at her jean's pocket. "I don't understand why you want it," she blurted.

"I couldn't do any more for her."

"Do anything? She lied to us! Lied to you! Led you right to Wo Fat and for what?"

Steve's whole body tensed. "You weren't there."

"So she had a change of heart at the last second?" Kono couldn't stop her words from spilling out of her mouth because the whole thing was bullshit. "I'm sorry, but Jenna doesn't deserve my sympathy. We let her in. Gave her trust and she stomped all over it."

"It's more complicated than that," he responded his voice hollow.

"She handed you over on a silver platter to be..." Kono bit her lip, felt herself lose control.

She had fond memories of shopping with Jenna for Danny's birthday present. Of staying up for thirty hours straight, chasing down bank account numbers and money trails of an arms dealer. Then of the two of them giggling, punch-drunk on coffee, and crying after the caffeine crash.

Kono curled her toes into the floor. She looked over at Steve, watched him stare out at nothing. She hated seeing him like this, acting so un-Steve-like. It made her want to shake him by the shoulders and tell him to snap out of it.

She couldn't stand being inside this cave with its drawn shades and lingering silence.

"I'm going to get some fresh air," she said over her shoulder, but Steve didn't seem to hear.

***

Walking with the ocean breeze was like breathing in calm and she returned a few minutes later. Kono felt like a jerk, but Steve was half-way dozing in the recliner and the only thing he mumbled was something about the alarm.

She stopped to observe him sleep, to see if this time, it was in peace. His eyes didn't twitch and Kono hoped it was a good sign. She sat down and folded up her legs when she noticed the sound of a car engine.

"Who is it?" Steve demanded, startling her with his voice.

"I thought you were asleep?"

He had his weapon drawn by the time a man in a suit exited a black sedan. "If I was a betting person, I'd say this guy was a fed," Kono said looking out the window.

Steve pulled back the curtain and slid the Sig into the waistband of his sweatpants. "Not a fed. CIA."

Kono wasn't sure how Steve knew that, but after a knock at the door, and a thorough check of his credentials, he let the man inside.

***

"I'm Agent Bale, Commander," the man introduced himself, removing his sunglasses. He sweated heavily in his dark suit and tie and wiped a hand over his short-cropped hair. "I was hoping you have a few seconds to talk?"

"Where's your partner? You guys usually operate in pairs," Steve asked, sitting in the recliner.

"Agent Lynch is having a similar conversation with Detective Williams," Bale answered, taking a seat on the sofa. "Could we do this in private?"

Steve sat up straighter, and god that had to hurt, but he hid the pain behind a mask of ice. "I don't work for the agency anymore. You're in my home. My rules. And Officer Kalakaua stays," he said, using a tone reserved for suspects.

The Sig was still in his waistband, and between his bruised face and the hostility rolling of him in waves, Steve looked a little scary.

"Very well," Bale said smoothly. "According to our sources, Agent Josh Baylor had been in the hands of a small group working within the People's Army of North Korea. Did Agent Kaye give you any intel regarding this hostile faction?"

"No."

"Wait." Kono couldn't believe her ears. "You knew who had Jenna's fiancé?"

Bale ignored her, never took his eyes off Steve. "But you reached out to some of your contacts to determine the target's strength before escorting her?" Steve didn't answer and Bale pressed on, unperturbed by the silent treatment. "We got word when you crossed the border, but the question was how did you –"

"Hold up a damn minute!" Kono growled. "You knew who had Josh? You knew what McGarrett was doing?" Bale's defiance and lack of respect only infuriated Kono even further. "You did. And you didn't do a damn thing for months?"

"Classified Black Ops don't exist, Kono," Steve said evenly.

She wanted to yell, 'what the fuck? That's an answer?' But there was something about Steve's expression – not right now – that Kono followed, still fuming.

"Did you get any intel you'd like to share on Wo Fat's operations inside North Korea. Anything he told you?" Bale pressed.

Steve smiled an irrational grin and chuckled. "Just firsthand details of his preferred interrogation methods. I could demonstrate them, if you'd like?"

Steve's didn't have the info Bale wanted or he wasn't willing to share. The realization was clear as day on the agent's frustrated face. "We still need to wrap up a few loose ends. Did you see Kaye and Baylor's bodies?" Steve didn't answer fast enough and Bale leaned his elbows on his knees. "I can't close my files without some type of visual confirmation of proof of death. Were there bodies or not?"

"She died. That's all you need to know," Steve grit out through clenched teeth.

"I need –"

"I don't give a damn what you need. I told you what you needed."

"And Agent Baylor?"

"I didn't see Josh, but Kaye thought he was dead and that's all the proof you're getting."

Bale stood, loosening his tie. "Good enough. Jenna Kaye and Josh Baylor were killed in a boating accident off the coast of Oahu last week. Their bodies were never found." He nodded at Steve and Kono like they'd completed a cordial conversation. "I'll show myself out."

Kono didn't have time to pick up her jaw from off the floor before the door closed and Agent Bale was gone, his dirty little deed complete.

***

The Sig remained on the coffee table within easy reach. Steve told Kono he wasn't hungry when she offered to make lunch, but Kono put two and two together and returned with an icepack.

"Here," she said, standing by him.

"What's this for?"

"I figured you needed it."

Steve gratefully took the icepack and pressed it to the right side of his jaw.
Kono wanted to linger and demand answers and yell and rant. But she went back to the kitchen and grabbed things to make a protein shake so Steve could take his pain pill.

She poured the organic milk in a little too fast. Nearly ripped open the quart of Greek yogurt. All the while, she thought about underground bunkers and jungles and all the times Steve was out there, doing dark and dangerous things for his country, and how that country would have abandoned him if things had gone bad.

Kono thought of her mother and father. Of Chin and her cousins and her family at Five-O. What she wouldn't do for any of them. What she had done for the team. She peeled bananas, chopped them up, and put them in the blender with the cottage cheese. She couldn't push away the images of Chin with the bomb strapped around his neck and how they all pulled together to save him.

Locating the honey, she added a couple spoonfuls and turned on the blender, listening to it drone. Kono remembered Jenna's frantic call on speakerphone, how they used the signal to track down the bunker.

She returned with two large glasses and sat on the side of the sofa closest to the recliner. "Jenna should have come to us. We would've –"

"She didn't think she had a choice. She was trapped. The CIA had to deny all knowledge."

Had Kono become tone deaf? Because Steve sounded like he was miles away and by the look of his vacant eyes, maybe he was.

"Were there bodies or not?"

Kono couldn't believe such callousness and disregard. Couldn't fathom treating human beings like numbers on a piece of paper.

"Whatever happened to leave no one behind?" Kono asked, her throat dry.

Steve rested the ice pack on his leg and looked up at her with eyes that had seen too much. "Sometimes, it can't be helped."

Josh and Jenna never made it out of North Korea.

Kono looked at Steve, at his sacrifice beaten all over him, and she wanted to keep the flame of hate alive. But it wouldn't fix things.

Jenna had betrayed them all, was responsible for hurting Steve, but did she and Josh deserve to be just erased like that? Made not to exist for convenience's sake?

Once again, Kono was left wondering about the fairness of it all. She would do anything for family and knew what it was like to have her back up against the wall, forced to accept a deal from the devil to protect those she loved, walking the line between conflicting principles. It was nearly impossible to reconcile her anger and sadness.

Glancing up at Steve, she saw a glimpse of real emotion behind his eyes, raw and unfiltered. She'd become accustomed to seeing that force of nature.

She pulled out the necklace from her jean's pocket. "I forgot to give this to you."

Kono walked over and put the silver chain into Steve's palm, his fingers closing around it.

Kono couldn't help it; she bent over and gently wrapped her arms around him, held Steve close until he relaxed a little. "I'm glad we got you back," she whispered in his ear.

Kono knew she couldn't erase North Korea, but maybe she could help make it a faded memory.

***

Chin spent the last few days in meetings and the rest of the time with Malia. After stepping off that cargo plane, he couldn't stop running home to make love to her, waking up with her warm body pressed next to his. He needed her to help ease away the endorphins and spiraling emotions of the rescue. Having an anchor helped him deal with what he knew happened in that bunker. Because when he fell asleep, he'd see dead bodies hanging limply in chains.

After calling it quits at HQ, he called Kono for an update on things, and for the second day in a row, she ended the conversation with, "You gonna drop by anytime soon?"

It was after eight at night and Malia had the late shift. If he took the next turn, he'd be at McGarrett's in less than twenty minutes. He swung by the drive-thru of the local juice bar and grabbed the wheat grass and ginger drink Steve mainlined in the mornings.

Parking his car in the familiar driveway, he balanced the tray of drinks while pocketing his keys. By the time he reached the porch, Danny emerged in the doorway. "You psychic?" Chin asked in amusement.

"No. Super SEAL has his sonar jacked to the max," Danny grumbled, leaving Chin to close the door behind him.

Danny made a beeline for the sofa and threw his hands up in annoyance. "Why did you turn off the TV? I hate moping around in silence."

Steve sat on the edge of the recliner in a worn blue button up shirt and black sweatpants. Chin tried not to stare at the exhaustion that framed Steve's face or how the dark shadows under his eyes amplified his cuts and bruises.

"It was too loud," Steve mumbled.

"Too loud? Any lower, it'd be on mute. And it was National Geographic. No explosions or car chases, just the quiet chirping of Mother Nature." Danny stomped off into the kitchen, returning with an armful of stuff. "Does your head hurt? Because if it does, you should have of told me instead of just sitting there like a goof."

Steve's agitation was obvious in the tension of his shoulders, the way his eyes scanned and rescanned the room. "My head doesn't hurt," he said, getting up.

"Where are you going?" Danny demanded.

"Checking the alarm," Steve yelled back.

Chin set the drinks down on the coffee table and glanced at Danny. "You call this recuperating?"

Danny rolled his eyes, arranging gauze and tubes of medicine on the other half of the table. "He's been crawling the damn walls since I got home. Rearranges stuff in the kitchen, makes sure the books are all sitting just so. And this..." He grabbed the Sig lying on a small desk and stuffed it inside a drawer. "It's like childproofing the room. He's giving me angina."

"Sounds like you both need to chill."

"Whatever. He just took his meds; it'll be a few minutes before they kick in."

But it was more than that and Chin wondered how many wounds had been scraped raw by the CIA visit Kono told him about.

Steve crossed the living room and into the kitchen, bypassing the recliner, his gait a slow prowl.

Chin just stared as, feathers ruffled, Danny held up the medical supplies, shouting, "Hello? You checked the back door when I got home. Nothing's changed, I promise."

Heedless to Danny's ranting, Steve wiggled the knob, pulled back the window curtain, and started the tedious trek back.

"Come on," Danny sighed louder than necessary. "What do I have to do to you to get you to sit down and keep still? Put you on a leash?"

Steve went stock-still at his words, his body rigid.

Chin wasn't sure what happened, and by the look on Danny's face, neither did he. But Steve wasn't with them right now, his eyes vacant and hollow. Chin moved then paused, not wanting to crowd him. Not knowing what this was.

Danny was ready to hold or corral or support Steve in any way, but kept his distance. "Hey, babe, you with us?"

Steve looked straight through them and Chin heard him mumble under his breath, like he'd employed some coping technique. Chin gestured at Danny, who practically vibrated with worry. "He'll be good. Give him a sec."

"I'm...I'm fine," Steve said clearly lying. "Just...

Danny must have sensed something because he moved into Steve's personal space, his voice unusually quiet. "I think we've had enough conversations about you and standing because, really, babe. You suck at it right now. And yeah, I know, you can run a mile in a second flat and free climb Mount Everest, but for the next couple of days, let's practice sitting."

"I'm sick of sittin'."

"Yeah, well, I'm sick of this island heat, so now we both have something we can't change to complain about." With a hand on Steve's arm, Danny led him to the recliner with all the deft and gentle care that belied his words. "You know this wouldn't have happened if you'd left Animal Planet on."

Danny prattled on, his chiding tone soft and lazy. Steve all but sank in the chair, visibly calmer. Danny didn't stop his litany, his words a soothing cadence as he peeled away the bandages on Steve's wrists. "Don't think I'm not racking up the partner points here. I expect you to do all my paperwork for weeks, even if you are the boss. And let's discuss vacation days, shall we?"

Chin watched Danny meticulously wash each wrist using a sponge and a bowl of water, then carefully apply antibiotic ointment to the raw gashes before wrapping each one in fresh bandages. All the while, Steve rested there, occasionally opening an eye to watch.

It suddenly dawned on Chin that Steve let Danny do this. Allowed his partner to feel like he helped in some small way.

Everything must have a limit because just as Danny fumbled with the topical burn cream, Steve caught his arm. "I'll take care of the rest."

"You sure? Because..."

"Yeah," Steve breathed, pulling himself straighter. He had this woozy look about him, but even as the pain medication hit his system, he was unwilling to yield full control. "I'm good."

Clearly in full mother-hen mode, Danny stood when Steve did, but stayed put as his partner grabbed the medical supplies. Steve glanced at Chin, thanked him, and headed toward the bathroom.

When the door closed, Danny held his head between his hands. "He's going to put me in an early grave."

"You did good, brah," Chin told him.

"Yeah, I did such a fucking fantastic job. Triggering...whatever the hell that was."

Chin thought back to the moment Steve froze. With fear. Shock even. Chin couldn't help it; he had cop instincts. And he thought about Danny's words during that moment and the possible conclusion was a puzzle he didn't want to solve right now.

"Even McGarrett's not immune to trauma. When stuff like that happens, we need to be prepared on how to handle it. And from where I was standing, you took care of it like a pro."

Danny's cell vibrated and he scrubbed a hand over at his face before looking at it. "It's Rachel. Grace is in her first play tomorrow night. She's going to be a sun-daisy."

Chin gave him the biggest grin. "That's awesome."

"Yeah, awesome," Danny said glancing at the bathroom.

Danny's stress and exhaustion were evident in his voice and the heaviness of his shoulders. Steve leaned on him a lot and that type of pressure, that weight, was horribly draining. Danny was an amazing friend, bearing the brunt of Steve's frustration, allowing Steve to lash out at the only person he could trust to handle it.

But Danny needed a break from such responsibilities.

"Go," Chin told him. "I'll come by tomorrow night and keep an eye on things." Danny hesitated and Chin wouldn't give in. "We're talking a few hours. See your daughter's first play. If Steve found out you missed it, he'd be pissed."

"You're a life saver," Danny breathed in relief.

It felt good that Chin could help in this small way, for both of them.

"Don't sweat it, brah. I want to. I'll come by after work," he told him. "Besides, it's my turn."

***

Crime didn't stop because your leader was in the hurt locker. A tip on an ongoing money-laundering racket came through from an old informant and now Chin had a new list of offshore accounts to track down. He was drinking lukewarm coffee at his desk when a network message popped up: Requested upload is now complete.

Someone rapped at his door and Danny poked in his head in Chin's office. "I'm back from my meeting with the Assistant DA regarding all our pending court cases."

"Yeah?" Chin looked at his watch; it was already after four in the afternoon. "That started at what? Ten this morning?"

"Yes, well. I can thank the governor for such a fun-filled day. I get to look forward to round two on Monday."

"I have even worse news," Chin said, his fingers dancing across the keyboard. "Someone gained access to our system a couple of hours ago and transferred some data to an offsite computer."

"What? How?"

"Wait," Chin said, tracking the ISP. "It wasn't hacked; it was...what the hell?"

Danny stood over Chin's shoulder. "Since I can't read all that gibberish on screen, you care to translate?"

"Steve logged in remotely from his laptop and downloaded about thirty different files."

"Steve did what?"

"He uploaded everything and anything pertaining to Wo Fat." Chin sighed, not surprised. "I'd say right after you left for work."

"Does he think he can play detective from home?" Danny ranted. "And do what? Magically locate Wo Fat? Use a laser guided missile and take him out?"

"Who knows, brah," Chin said, leaning back in his chair. "McGarrett isn't used to being sidelined."

"Yeah, well, most sane people call it recovering. Of course, that requires things like taking it easy and I don't know – resting." At Chin's quizzical look, Danny sat on the corner of his desk. "Last night, he went to his room upstairs. And his floorboards creak. I think he was awake more than asleep."

"Kono was going to hang out over there today, maybe I'll..." But Chin's words were cut short by the appearance of his cousin in the door. "What are you doing here?"

"Um...Joe and Wade dropped by to visit McGarrett," Kono said, her smile vanishing at their intense expressions. "After thirty minutes of the most awkward small talk, I told them I'd give them some time alone. You know. Do the military bonding, buddy thing. Thought I'd drop off a late lunch for you guys. Why? What's wrong?"

"What time did they come over?" Danny asked.

"Around three."

Shutting down the computer, Chin gathered his stuff. "I'll find out what's going on."

"Want me to come with?" Kono asked.

"No, I'm good. I'll let the computer run my program. Besides, you've done your part the last couple of days." Chin stabbed a finger at Danny, who was about to tail him. "Enjoy Grace's play. I promise if anything major comes up, I'll call."

He blamed paranoia coupled with a heavy case of protectiveness, but after this last week, Chin had no problem giving into both.

***

After the third knock, Joe answered the door wearing camo fatigues and a neutral expression that was hard to read.

"Hey," Chin greeted him. "You off early?"

"Kind of," he said evasively. "My class was canceled. Wade and I were going out for lunch and thought we'd stop by and see Steve."

There was an air about Joe White, a shrewd confidence from years getting things done, sharing the least, and gaining the most from others.

Chin wouldn't get a single shred of info from the man that he wasn't willing to share. "I'm sure Steve appreciates the company. He's going a little stir crazy."

Joe's mouth twitched. "He was never really good at resting up. Dedication to the job took precedence. Helped him keep focus."

Wade walked onto the porch and slipped on his sunglasses. "Detective Kelly, good to see you again," he said, then nodded at Joe. "I've got to get back to base."

"I'll meet you in the truck." Joe gave Chin a wan smile, allowing days of weariness to show in his features. "Your team did a helluva a job this week. I'm glad Steve has you guys to watch his back. But more importantly, to draw strength from."

"Is there anything I should know about before going in?"

"Just that Steve can get a little ahead of himself," Joe told him with a clap on the shoulder.

It was a quiet warning without betraying Steve's confidence, giving Chin only the barest preparation.

***

Walking inside, he scanned the empty sofa and recliner. "Steve? It's Chin." He drew open the curtains, spreading sun throughout the house, making loud purposeful steps walking around. "Steve?"

McGarrett could be in the bathroom or sacked out after having visitors. But Chin's gut said otherwise. He found Steve behind his father's desk in his office, tapping a pencil against a yellow notepad, looking all the world like his old man when he'd been sucked into a case.

Chin debated knocking or calling out Steve's name again, but the floorboards creaked under his shoes. Steve's body tensed at the noise. Chin wondered wildly how many ways Steve could kill with a pencil and the thought sent a chill down his spine.

Steve flexed his hand, his eyes flicked up, and narrowed at Chin. "How'd you get in here?"

"Joe and Wade let me in when they left."

Chin could tell a lot about a person by their eyes: micro-expressions, pupil dilation, gaze. Steve was assessing him, weighing and sizing up his words. He leaned back in his chair with a wince and pushed his notepad away, but didn't say anything.

"Whatcha working on?" Chin asked casually.

Steve huffed out a breath and waved a hand across his desk. "Trying to build an algorithm."

"Perhaps you should use your laptop for that?"

"I like to work out the differentials by hand first."

"I'm guessing we're talking about control tables and not machine code?"

"Yeah," Steve mumbled, pressing the heel of his hand into his eyes. "I'm having trouble with the..."

He quickly nabbed his pencil and scribbled in the notebook, writing with a flourish and stopping just as quickly as he began. Steve regarded his notes, his brow furrowed.

"Does this have anything to do with the files you downloaded earlier?" Chin asked without getting an answer. Steve was lost in thought, a couple days of scruff blending in with the bruises and dark circles under his eyes. "Maybe you should take something? You look like you have a headache."

"I need to focus."

Recalling the time that the files were accessed from the network, Chin knew Steve hadn't taken anything since he woke up. Chin eyed all the messy flow-charts, half-erased and written over. Steve was knee deep in something and Chin knew this was about push-pull.

"What are you running an algorithm on?"

Steve cupped his chin. "One I used in Naval Intelligence to track down terror cell movements."

"Do you really think Wo Fat uses a pattern?"

"People make mistakes."

"And some people can make all the right decisions in the world and be blindsided." Chin watched Steve contemplate the yellow pad like the answers would magically appear. "Do you really think this will work?" But it was like talking to a statue. "Steve?"

"I've got to find him," Steve said without looking up. "I've got to make it mean something."

Chin wanted to ask Steve what it was, but he didn't think even Steve really knew. Jenna's death. Steve's torture. His parents' murders. Or the accumulation of over twenty-years of pain buried in secrets.

"I could call Lori. With her background in Homeland Security, she might –"

Steve snapped up his legal pad and stood, his chair rolling out from under him. "This is a private investigation."

It wasn't the fatigue or pain etched in Steve's features that alarmed Chin. It was the anger. The mistrust.

He debated what to say, with what tone of voice, when he noticed the Navy forms on the far end of the desk. "What are those?"

"Just some paperwork," Steve dismissed, stuffing the forms under a folder. Chin quirked an eyebrow in a cut the BS gesture and Steve sat back heavily into the chair. "I asked Wade when he came over if I could take part in additional training exercises with some of his teams."

That was the last thing Chin expected to hear. "Why?" Steve didn't look at him and Chin wouldn't let him off the hook that easily. "You thinking about returning to full service?

"No," Steve swiftly denied. "But my reserve duty is only one weekend a month."

"Because running the governor's task force doesn't keep you busy enough?"

"This will help Five-O."

"Really?" Chin poured on the sarcasm. "Learning the latest in disarming IEDs and sneaking aboard nuclear subs is going to help improve evidence gathering?"

"I have access to tools and training second to none," Steve argued, his voice low. "I should take advantage of it."

"Is this really about how to raid our next warehouse in the most efficient manner?"

"As team leader, I need to be prepared to handle any possible emergency. You guys depend on me and those who I swore to protect depend on me. It's my job."

God, did Steve really hear himself?

But Steve wasn't ready to listen to the other possible reasons why he latched on to the idea of training more. Not yet. Chin knew when to cut his losses.

"Look. Let's order an early dinner. Maybe take it onto the lanai. When was the last time you've gone outside?"

Steve was caught off guard by the question, but he hid it by grabbing his pencil again. "I need to do this."

Push-pull.

Chin came here to help, not provoke. "Okay, brah. I know a little about algorithms. Two heads are better than one. Show me the Navy Intel way and I'll see what I can do."

Steve finally relaxed in his chair and glanced in surprise when he realized he'd snapped his pencil in half. "There's a cup filled with pens on the shelf behind you. If you want to grab a few, I'll show you where to start."

 

***

Chin took Steve's search pattern analysis and tried meshing it with the program on the laptop. Except Steve's handwriting was illegible and trying to get him to explain his process was challenging when he couldn't recall it.

"God damn it!" Steve growled after staring at his notes for several minutes.

"If this were easy, then they'd let anyone into Naval Intelligence," Chin consoled him.

Steve balled up his fourth or fifth piece of paper and threw it in the trashcan. "I used to do this stuff for hours on end and now I can't even keep up with my train of thought for more than a few minutes."

"It's getting late and you're not exactly firing on all cylinders." Chin rubbed at his eyes, a tension headache working its way between his temples. "I'm going to order some take-out."

Checking his watch, Steve blinked fuzzily at the time. "Have you heard from Danny?"

"He went to see Grace in her play."

"It's almost ten."

"I'm sure they went out to a celebratory dinner."

Steve stood up and used the edge of the desk to push off into a slow, painful gait. "This is way past Gracie's bedtime."

"It's Friday night," Chin argued, following Steve into the living room.

Steve paced back and forth, repeatedly calling Danny on his cellphone."Danny isn't answering," he growled, hitting speed dial again. "Try yours."

Arguing with Steve in command mode was fruitless so Chin dialed and hit Danny's voice mail as well. "I'll text him to call us."

After he hit send, Chin looked up; Steve was on the sofa struggling to put on a pair of work boots.

"Whoa. What are you doing?"

Steve tugged on the laces of his left boot. "Got to... find Danny."

"Hold up. We don't even know if he's in trouble," Chin told him. "Look. I'll call HPD. Get them to trace his signal. Let's think before we do anything rash."

Steve stood up and reached into a desk, pulling out his Sig. Chin pocketed his phone and moved to stand directly in front of him. "Stop and think a moment. Getting into your car half-cocked won't help things. We have no direction to go, no intel."

His words weren't getting through to Steve and the thought of trying to physically restrain him was something Chin was afraid would injure them both in the process.

But the noise of a car engine changed the game and Chin beat Steve to the window, his heart thudding in his chest. "It's Danny," he said, entering the alarm code.

Danny entered and took one look at both of them and threw up his hands. "What the hell is going on?" He pointed an accusing finger at Steve. "Why are you armed and dressed for a jog?"

"You wouldn't answer your cell," Steve growled.

"No. Because Rach and I took Grace to that new seafood place with these giant fountains where my giddy daughter dropped my cell into the water during a very aggressive game of Angry Birds," Danny said with a roll of his eyes. "Now your turn."

Chin could tell Steve had reached his limits for the night. "Everything's fine. Just a false alarm." He tried defusing things, noticing the white paper bag in Danny's hand. "Hey, is that leftovers?"

Chin could tell Danny wanted to continue his rant but he was far too perceptive for that. He could see as easily as Chin how frazzled and washed out Steve appeared. "Yeah. Baked Cod with lemon. Let me guess. You two didn't eat dinner?"

"We were a little busy,” Steve said.

"Busy? Doing what? Because busy usually means working." But Danny must've sensed the tension in the air, as he set his sights on his partner. "I swear. How did you function before I took over your sofa? Are you sure you commanded a SEAL team?"

It took all of two minutes for Danny to roll in, secure Steve's weapon, and get him to sit down. "You do remember that I am detective and I carry a service weapon and a back up? I know how to handle myself out there in the big scary world of seeing my daughter in a play."

Steve grabbed Danny's arm in a steel grip, the muscles in his forearm bunching in knots. "Don't ever let your guard down. You hear me?"

"I won't," Danny said, his voice sincere. "Promise."

Chin saw Steve's gaze shift to his and Chin sat next to him, taking his shoulder. "Always, brah."

With the crisis averted, Danny gestured at Steve. "Have you seen a mirror lately? You're a mess. And I'm going to take a wild guess that you forgot to follow your pain med schedule. You know the instructions on the bottle are not a suggestion."

Chin got to his feet, feeling every long hour of this day in his bones. He'd tell Danny about Steve's extracurricular activities in the morning; no need to wind him up any more than he already was. But for tonight, he would leave Steve in capable hands.

***
The get-together started off unexpectedly. Chin found himself driving toward the McGarrett house with steaks and a six-pack of Long Boards. After the previous night, he owed Danny an explanation and Steve a meal. On his way over, Kono called, informing him that grilling on a Saturday afternoon sounded like a hell of a plan and she'd bring her board.

He never called ahead, which could have been the smartest move or the most disastrous. But spontaneity was the spice to life and Chin held up the six-pack as an offering when Danny answered, his eyes perking up at the amber bottles.

"Beer and steak, huh? If you grill, I'll clean," Danny said inviting him in.

"Great...um, Kono's coming over too. Is that cool?"

"I don't know," Danny said with a weary shrug. "I'd ask Steve, but he hit the shower after spending all morning rearranging files."

"Files?"

"Yeah. Apparently, Steve's father stored some of his cases at home. Which meant starting at sunrise. He started reorganizing them using some secret Knights of Templar type code or somethin'."

"He say what he was looking for?

"No, because that would require something called communication."

"We know that John and Governor Jameson had meetings with Wo Fat. Maybe he's looking for more clues into that."

"If you ask me, he didn't know what he's looking for. He hasn't been displaying the greatest attention span of late. If I was a little more devious, I'd slip that damn muscle relaxer in one of his protein shakes."

"He still not sleeping?"

"Let's just say his ninja skills are lacking at night."

***

Steve emerged out of the shower clean-shaven and in a sleeveless olive shirt and cargo shorts. He made small talk, but was clearly not in a sociable mood and retreated into his office.

"Real chatty," Chin remarked.

"Welcome to my world," Danny said.

Kono arrived with veggies and fruit from the farmer's market and Danny helped her unpack. "Since the whole gang is here, maybe you should contact Lori? Invite her over."

Chin noticed Kono's hesitation, but she pulled out her cell and texted their fifth member.

Danny and Kono chitchatted about Grace's play. Chin chimed in with the time Kono forgot her line in middle school and burst into song to cover up the mistake. They all broke into laughter, but someone was missing from the festivities.

"Packers and Bears are the big game, bet Steve would enjoy the match-up," Chin suggested.

Danny stood to retrieve their leader when someone knocked on the door and Lori anxiously entered. "Is um...Steve around?"

"He retreated into his bat cave. I was about to haul him out." Danny crossed his arms across his chest. "Why?"

"I was summoned to the governor's office early this morning." Lori ducked her head and took a huge breath before looking up at them. "He said if we don't get a statement from Steve this weekend, he's sending someone from HPD to do it for us."

***

The TV was on mute, adding to the collective silence of everyone deep in thought.

"I'll do it," Danny volunteered, even though his tone gave away how much he didn't want to.

"Maybe I should?" Lori suggested. "I don't share the same close-knit ties. Maybe it'd be easier to –"

"No," Kono interrupted, looking apologetic. "Steve's very private. It'd be harder if you conducted the interview."

"I'm doing it," Chin said not allowing any arguments. Deep down, he always knew this would be his job. "You're too close," he told Danny before he could object. "And cuz, I'm sorry. But –"

"But what? I'm a rookie? Too young?"

"I don't want you to," Chin said in all honesty. "And I doubt Steve would either."

"And what? You two aren't close?" Kono challenged.

"I can rein myself in. Keep things from becoming too emotionally volatile and allow Steve to get through the interview." And maybe let him get something out of it, Chin hoped.

Danny silently fumed and Chin decided to nip things in the bud. "You guys are partners. Steve drops his guard down around you, but this...it's different. I don't think he'd be as comfortable with giving you all the details."

Chin let that hang in the air. Let the ramifications sink in.

Steve was well aware of second-hand trauma and he'll do whatever it took to avoid exposing his team to it. But Steve needed to debriefed by someone. Get that terrible weight off his shoulders. Chin knew he could convince Steve to trust him, to let him in. Just as Steve's father trusted him.

Chin looked over at the solemn expressions of his team and made a decision. "Come on. We're all here; it's a beautiful day. Let's celebrate it first."

***

Steve came out of his father's office after Kono and Danny both pestered him a half a dozen times regarding the locations of the grill, charcoal, spices, matches, and everything else under the sun.

"You'd think after a couple of weeks, you'd know where everything was stored, Danny," Steve said.

"I must've gotten scrambled with the million rules I was forced to remember," Danny deflected, seasoning the steaks. "Besides, I can't do everything myself. Once I lavish these beauties with my gamma’s famous recipe, I'll let the grill master take over."

Steve smirked at Chin. "Grill master?"

"Hey, I came in second during HPD's annual cook-off back in the day," Chin smiled.

Looking around the kitchen, Steve stepped toward the glass backdoor. "Are Kono and Lori out there?"

"Yeah, playing Frisbee," Chin answered, walking over. He watched Steve survey the outside, his shoulders relaxing only after spotting the rest of the team. "Want to help me set up?"

Steve's eyes darted around the lanai and Chin opened the door, allowing the ocean breeze in. "Don't you want to get away from these walls?"

Peering outside, Steve glanced back at the desk drawer in the living room, his expression pensive.

"Do you need to grab something first?" Chin asked.

Steve looked at the drawer again. "No," he answered after a second's thought to Chin's relief.

"All right, Mr. Grill Master," Danny sing-songed. "Everything’s ready."

Danny carried the plate of steaks onto the porch and Chin glanced over at Steve who followed Danny and stepped outside. Chin relaxed as he watched Steve lift his face to the sky, close his eyes, and soak up the sun.

"I never get tired of these kinds of days," Chin said.

Steve breathed deeply. "I can't believe I forgot what it smelled like out here."

"Oh my God. Does your grill have launch codes or what? Do you really need this many knobs and dials?" Danny lambasted Steve over the large contraption. "What the hell are you compensating for?"

Steve rolled his eyes, walking over. "Perhaps modern grilling is too complicated for you."

"Modern grilling? Are you kidding me? Is that what you call all of this? What happened to charcoal and a wire rack?"

A giant weight lifted off Chin's shoulders as he watched Steve playfully rib Danny. Chin chuckled at their antics, at Kono and Lori running all over the beach, and he simply took a moment and relished this slight reprieve.

 

***

Steve retreated to the office after dinner, the remnants of the barbeque a fading warmth under his skin. It had been good to retreat a little, but there were too many things that drew him back inside. Too much work. Too many questions to get lost in. A dark lure returned him to the depths that continued to sweep him under.

Nothing had changed from that morning or the previous day or week. He still walked around with a giant hole inside him – a hole that needed filling.

He was surrounded by remnants of his father's life, his obsessions. Dozens of cardboard boxes were filled with reports and random photos and loose-leaf papers written in his father's scrawl. And at the bottom of one of the boxes, old newspapers from the Friday High School sports section, including a clipping of when Steve had made the regional playoffs, and a championship game his father had missed.

He hadn't discovered a scrap of data involving his dad's investigations into the Yakuza, no holy grail of encryption cipher. Resting his elbows on his knees, Steve clutched a digital recorder in his hand.

"Hey, Steve?"

"You ever try knocking?"

"I did, because I was taught manners as a child, but that would require you to hear me knock. And for the record, I called out your name," Danny said, entering. "Taking a trip down memory lane?"

"I forgot I'd made a copy of this," Steve said, turning the device over in his hand. "Must've stashed it with the rest of my father's stuff when I moved in."

"Is that more of your father's case notes?"

"It's the recording from the last time I talked to him," Steve said, caressing a thumb over the play button.

"Don't tell me that's –"

"It's of the call between me and Hess."

Danny crouched beside Steve. "You are not going to listen to that."

"I thought maybe –"

"Maybe what? It's fucking morbid. There aren't any answers in that recording. I've heard it, all right? You don't need to listen to it again."

Steve wondered, if he squeezed hard enough, would it break? How much pressure would it take?

"Hey? Are you even listening to me? Steven?"

"He was calm at the end." Steve glanced over at Danny. "Pragmatic to a fault. He apologized about lying to me and until this day...I still don't know which lie he was referring to."

"Jesus, Steve."

"It's ironic," Steve continued, sweeping his gaze around the beige walls of his childhood. "My father's secrets drove Mary and me away. But I've surrounded myself with new ones, from my time in intelligence to the SEALs. It's like they're a part of me."

"No, they were a part of your job, and despite how it appears otherwise, life and work are not mutually exclusive. It's what we make of it."

Steve gave Danny the faintest of smiles. "Sounds like a fortune cookie."

"Or perhaps common sense," Danny told him, adjusting himself until he sat comfortably on the floor.

Steve bounced the recorder in his palm and put it back in the box. He could feel Danny watching him and Steve caught his gaze, noting the restless energy coming off him in waves.

"Something on your mind?"

Danny's face fell. "The governor wants you to give a statement regarding well...you know. What happened."

"That was on my time. I was working as a private citizen, not a representative of Five-O."

"And you were captured by a recognized terrorist after we connected him with materials to build a dirty bomb on Hawaiian soil."

"One has nothing to do with another!"

"Hey. I get it. Seriously. But –"

"But what?" Steve snapped. "Let Governor Denning use it to get the rest of you in trouble or –"

"Look," Danny interrupted. "I know you see conspiracies behind ever corner and for good reason. But it's standard procedure when it comes to...well..."

"Having a record of the activities of a known enemy," Steve said, reciting familiar words, latching on to them.

"If you prefer using military speak, then what you said."

Steve had given debriefings on things far worse. Things involving more blood and death, from days hidden in hills of sand to weeks covered by mud and dirt. The screams of the dying he could never save because they were not the prime objective were forever imprinted in his brain.

It was part of the job.

"You're right," Steve said. "I should have done it days ago."

"I don't know about that."

Getting to his feet, Steve tried absorbing the sudden images and emotions assaulting him. His lungs constricted and he had to steady his breathing. "Who's taking the statement?"

"Chin. Unless you want me to?"

"No," Steve said, forcing his heart to slow down. "Just Chin and me."

Saying the words out loud had a slight calming effect to the pressure building in his chest.

Danny's face twitched. "I understand."

"Danny...it's just..."

Fuck.

Steve hated this. Hated how much he couldn't stand the thought of sharing the shit that woke him up at night in a cold sweat. He felt humiliated and angry at being so screwed up.

"Hey," Danny said, grabbing his shoulders. "Don't worry about it. Okay. I get it. I do. Because Christ...I...I don't want to...I mean..."

"It's okay. I don't want you to...I just couldn't..."

"Hey, babe. Look at me. Are you looking?" Danny demanded until Steve obeyed. "Good. I'm here. Twenty-four seven. You got it? I'm not going anywhere so after you do this...you say the word. Or in your case, I'll just look for that face of yours. And I'll be here. Because we're partners. Got it? Always watching each other's back."

"Yeah," Steve agreed, breathing easier, trying to rein in his emotions. "Got it."

"You know it's okay to feel messed up about this, right?" Danny said, squeezing Steve's arm. "That no one expects you to be fine after what happened. This wasn't a brawl in a warehouse or on a shipping container. Hell. It wasn't even a real fight because at least then you could defend yourself. Someone hung you up and deliberately, maliciously hurt you. Used barbaric measures to cause pain to gain a name. A fucking name."

"I know, Danny."

"I know you know. All I'm saying is cut yourself a break."

Steve wiped hand over his face. "I hear you."

Danny frowned. "'Do you? Because you know me, I'm just gonna keep on tellin' you, because I know you, my friend. Repetition, that is how you learn, isn't it?”

***

It felt good returning outside for the second time in a day, something Steve hadn't realized how much he'd taken for granted. He sat back enjoying the sunshine and just breathed. Chin settled into the chair next to him and handed Steve one of two water bottles.

"I remember coming here for a few private barbeques with your father. Kind of like the ones we had earlier."

"We used to have them all the time when my mother was alive." Steve took a small sip of water, forcing fond memories away. "There's no need for small talk. I'd rather complete the after action report."

"We can do that." Fiddling with a recorder, Chin pointed the microphone in Steve's direction, rattling off the date and time. "Please state the circumstances surrounding your decision to escort Jenna Kaye into North Korea."

"She asked me to," he said without a second thought. But debriefings were only about cold, hard facts. "Agent Kaye was given information regarding the whereabouts of her missing fiancé," Steve began.

He wouldn't give away intel regarding his overseas contacts or how he made it into South Korea and acquired a weapon and a jeep.

"When you reached the rendezvous point, what was the first indication that something was wrong?" Chin asked.

"The man they claimed was Agent Kaye's fiancé had a hood over his face, but after months of captivity, he was still 180 pounds with a healthy build and tan. Once I determined it couldn't be Josh, we fell back."

"Did you have an escape plan for such a scenario?"

Steve paused and, for a second, his mind went blank. "I paid a local to follow us in a second vehicle. At two miles out, I made him wait while Kaye and I took the first jeep in. If things went south, we'd escape and evade and return to the vehicle."

He'd forgotten about the back-up plan until now and Steve tried not to let the fact disturb him.

"What happened that prevented you from escaping?" Chin asked.

"I'd been distracted," Steve said, watching the ocean.

"By what?"

Blue waves become swatches of green and Steve's pulse pounded in his ears.

"I heard the sliding of a weapon. I couldn't understand why it came from behind me because the only person who was..." He tasted blood from biting his lip. "It was Kaye. By the time I registered she had a sidearm pointed at me..."

How had he missed her concealment of a weapon?

"I was hit from behind," Steve finished.

He remembered the pain to the back of his skull and staring up in a shocked daze at the man who ordered his father's murder.

Steve swallowed a drink, allowed the water to coat his throat. "He wore fucking dress shoes in the jungle."

"Steve, I need it for the record," Chin said. "Who –"

"Wo Fat ambushed me," Steve answered. "It was the plan from the start. Capture and interrogate me in his territory. The perfect op."

"How were you..." Chin stopped, breathed slow and steady. "What happened next?"

"I was disarmed of my spare weapons and neutralized as a threat."

"Neutralized?"

"I was still stunned." He recalled a flurry of fists. Of metal on bone. "They removed my boots to make escape difficult. Used a Lighterman's knot around my neck to keep me under control."

"Wait. A what?"

Steve looked Chin in the eyes. "Standard rope knot for securing tugboats. In this case, they added two and a half hitches and when pulled –"

"The knot constricted," Chin finished, looking sick.

"We walked nine klicks before arriving at a bunker," Steve continued and stared out at the ocean again. "I was forced into a smaller room, incapacitated, and chained by my wrists to the ceiling. I knew then that my capture was for the long term." Chin couldn't understand these things the way Steve did. What he'd been prepared for. "I was suspended so that my feet barely touched the ground. Enough to cause pain but not immediate death."

Steve knew his matter of fact recounting bothered Chin, although he hid it well under a steady voice – a voice that shook a little now. "And was Agent Kaye with you?"

"Not until later," Steve answered, plowing on. He split his focus between the words and the images. Didn't stop staring at the sea. "The guards used the time to soften me up. Focused on striking me in face and abdomen. When I was first hauled into the room, I got in a couple kicks, but after a few strikes to the kidneys, things got a little fuzzy."

"Did you ever see Agent Kaye again?"

"Yes."

"When?"

"Not long. I think...no. Maybe half an hour?"

The waves lapped at the shore and he felt himself getting lost in them.

"When did you see her again?" Chin asked, luring Steve back.

"When she learned the truth."

"About what? Steve?"

He could still feel the manacles rub his wrists raw. How he tried holding onto the chain to relieve the strain. He closed his eyes, but that intensified the heat boiling beneath his skin.

"I let her in," he grit out. "Went with her no questions asked. Not a single one because it was the right thing to do. I told Danny...I told him I'd do it for any of you."

He still couldn't wipe away the image of her aiming a weapon at him. Or the pain from the dagger of betrayal that sank in his back.

"What truth did Jenna learn?"

"That Josh was dead. That Wo Fat did what he did best. Manipulate people."

"She told you he was dead? She was taken prisoner with you?"

Steve inhaled the ocean breeze.

"The guard brought her in. Chained her to the wall because she ceased being useful."

Chin shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Played with his water cap before taking a drink. "Did you guys discuss –"

"What we discussed...has no bearing on this interview."

Steve glared at Chin and Chin held his ground. "She didn't tell you why –"

"Jenna traded me for her fiancé. She made a desperate choice."

Steve watched Chin weigh some internal struggle before pressing on. "Were you ever moved?"

"No. Guards periodically came in and ensured I wasn't in any shape to escape. They'd beat me for a while until Wo Fat came in to interrogate me about Shelbourne."

"And the first time you had ever heard the word Shelbourne was from a recording between Wo Fat, your father, and Governor Jameson?"

"Yes."

"And you have no idea who Shelbourne is?"

"No."

"You said Wo Fat interrogated you. Did he torture you?"

Steve watched the water reshape the shore. He barely noticed as Chin waited. "He used a cattle prod. High voltage and low current. Maximizes pain to localized parts of the body. If held long enough in place..." He swallowed. "It sears the skin."

Steve balled up his hands, ignored his sudden nausea. "It locked up all my muscles. It felt like my jaw was going to snap in two."

Chin bowed his head and then looked up, his voice thick. "And he used this several times?"

"Yes. I told him I didn't know anything about Shelbourne." Steve breathed, wiping the sweat off his face. "When he put the rod away...I actually thanked God."

"It was okay that you felt relief," Chin told him.

But Steve didn't want to hear it. He just wanted to complete the AAR.

"Despite our history, the whole interrogation was methodical. A method to secure intel." Steve locked eyes with Chin. "Then it got personal."

"Because he switched to his fists?"

"I asked why Shelbourne was so damn important." Steve's smile twisted. "I made him lose control. He whaled on me like I was a slab of beef. But he'd snapped. I made him snap."

The feel of vindication slowly turned into a solid lump in his throat.

"Then something happened. One of his men needed to talk to him and he went to the other side of the room." Steve had never thought back to those moments, tried blocking them away. "Jenna tossed me something. I saw a metal pin and covered it with my foot. When I looked up at her..."

He remembered Jenna's face, her remorse. Her strength at knowing what was coming before Steve did.

Steve crunched the water bottle in his hand. "Wo Fat walked back over after a minute."

"He came back to interrogate you more?" Chin asked sounding horrified.

"No." Water dripped over the plastic rim of the bottle. "He shot Kaye point blank in the chest."

"Wo Fat murdered Jenna in front of you?"

Steve stared at the sand under his feet, anger swelling for his failures. "He was right there. Stood only inches away from me and I couldn't..."

Chin touched Steve's arm and he stiffened at the contact, but Chin didn't let go.
"You were chained to a ceiling and had just been tortured."

"I know how to kill someone more ways than you'll ever know." Steve's eyes flicked to Chin's. "And I still couldn't do a fucking thing."

"Steve..."

"I used the pin Jenna gave me. Got out of my shackles. Checked to see if she was still alive. Closed her eyes and grabbed her tags."

"Her tags?"

"What?" Steve asked glancing up.

"Nothing. I didn't know you managed to escape."

He had. And for a few seconds, he'd been on autopilot, instinct and training meshing into a single purpose.

"I took out some guards. Found my way up to the surface and was recaptured."
Steve felt his heart saw through his chest. "I woke up tied up in the back of a truck. I was barely conscious, but still I knew."

"Knew what?"

"That there was no escaping. No backup. That I was dead."

"But we found you. Steve? We found you."

His hands shook. Steve breathed through his nostrils and out through his mouth. Anger and humiliation collided for failing so miserably. For not being strong enough to handle what Wo Fat did to him. For not dealing with it now.

"I was trained to handle this."

Chin moved closer, rested his hand on Steve's shoulder. "You were tortured. No amount of training can prepare you for that."

But it was supposed to.

Steve's body thrummed with adrenaline. "The only thing that kept me conscious...was that I was going to kill him. With my last breath, I was going to kill my father's murderer."

"You're going to bring him to justice. We'll do it together," Chin vowed.

Steve believed him because he believed in his team; because if he didn't, what else did he have? "Yeah, we will."

Chin turned off the recorder, exhaling heavily, and sat quietly, obviously collecting his thoughts before breaking the silence. "You know Jenna called us. I think Danny told you. It must have been before she was taken prisoner. She tried to help in the end."

Danny had told him, but for some reason, it only resonated with Steve now. "You used her signal to find us."

"We did. If she hadn't taken that chance..."

Steve swallowed, lost in thought, head reeling. If only he'd figured out a way to escape earlier.

"I'm gonna go inside," Chin said. "Do you need a few?"

"Yeah."

Chin got to his feet and gave Steve's shoulder another squeeze. "This isn't something you just get over, brah. And it's definitely something you don't handle alone. We're your 'ohana. Your team. We're whatever you need. But you've got to let us."

"I know," Steve said, glancing up. "Thank you. I mean it."

Chin's footsteps faded away, leaving Steve to the peace of the lanai and the ocean waves.
.

***

Steve sat and observed the ebb and flow of the sea. He wasn't ready to go inside, but he couldn't sit still any longer. Standing, he walked toward the waves, white bubbles painting lazy lines in the sand. Kicking off his slippers, he pulled off his t-shirt, let it fall away on the beach, and stepped into the ocean.

Water splashed up to his waist by the time he realized what he was doing.

In the back of his mind, he knew this wasn't the brightest idea, but Steve waded further in and eased onto his back. Nothing could touch him out here; the warm ocean soaked into his skin and bones.

He was weightless. Free.

Time had no meaning out here. The ocean was ageless; the water below had graced every continent on Earth a million times over. The sea didn't recognize rank or name, fish or sailor. She just encompassed all who embraced her.

Steve didn't know how long he'd stayed out there; it felt like hours. He was farther from the beach than he realized and he used a sidestroke to return home. It hurt. Abused muscles stretched and pulled around his ribs.

He breathed through the pain, focused on slow and easy strokes. His arms trembled with the strain of being used before they were ready, but this was what he did. Who he was.

Never quit; always win.

He wouldn't give in to his body. Not again.

After a battle to reach shore, he entered the shallow waves, and stumbled onto the beach on rubbery legs.

"Have you gone insane?"

Steve smiled, grinned ear to ear at Danny's familiar voice, allowed Danny to prop him up when his knees wobbled. Steve leaned on him, waited for his legs to hold his weight.

"I'm good," Steve said, catching his breath a minute later.

Danny was surprisingly quiet, a steady presence at Steve's side.

Kono, Chin, and Lori all stood on the back porch, waiting for them.

Chin walked over and wrapped a fluffy beach towel around Steve's shoulders. "Enjoy your swim?"

"I did," Steve said, feeling strangely energized and bleary at the same time.

"Looks like you lost your shirt there, boss," Kono teased and tossed him a new one.

"Thanks," he said grabbing it mid-air.

"First, someone is going to take another shower after his dip in an ocean filled with salt, sand, and god knows what else."

"Yes, mom," Steve told Danny and headed for the bathroom.

***

Steve was tender and achy even after the shower, but he didn't mind. He took care of his burns and returned to his living room and sacked out on his recliner, idly watching the game.

He felt their eyes on him, the non-so-subtle glances. Steve fought the urge to yell at them to knock it off. Between giving his statement and his importune swim with little sleep, he was wrung out. It was a pleasant soreness, one he could manage. Control.

He stared at the healing pink skin around his wrists, at hands wrinkled from the ocean, and realized what he needed.

He studied his team piled onto the sofa and chairs. Chin and Kono debated game strategy, Lori and Danny engaged in conversation, Danny gesturing like he was conducting an orchestra.

Steve glanced at them and took the first step. "I need to do something. And I could use your help."

***

Steve studied the calendar and sipped a glass of orange juice as he contemplated the dates. His pen hovered over the squares as he sought which day to circle.

"You know the danger of being your own boss is allowing yourself to make those tricky decisions." Joe walked into the kitchen with a wrench. "I was right, by the way. The pump to your air conditioner is shot. You'll need a new one."

"You didn't have to look at it," Steve told him.

Joe took an old rag out of his pants pocket and wiped his oily hands. "I was already here."

Despite his team's need to camp out at his place the last week, Steve didn't mind Joe calling and coming over. "Thanks. I'll order a new part before Danny complains about sleeping in a sweat box."

Joe chuckled and pointed at the calendar. "You contemplating a vacation?"

"No, my return to work."

"Maybe you should use a pencil."

"Are you telling me I shouldn't pick a goal?"

"I'm just saying you should be flexible."

"It's been ten days," Steve growled in frustration.

"Yes, it has."

It wasn't like Steve had any new bullet holes or stab wounds. "And my progress should be better."

"Based on what?" Joe pressed.

"I've been injured before, sir," Steve reminded him.

"I know. I visited during some of the times you were healing up. Watched you get pinned with the Purple Heart on two of those occasions."

"And at the rate I'm going this time..." Steve tossed the pen down and scrubbed a hand over his face. "I should be further along."

Joe gave him a dubious look and simply sat back in his chair. "When you led your SEAL team, did your unit suffer casualties?"

"Unfortunately. Yes, sir."

"And you made the final okay when it came time for your people to return to the unit?"

"If he was medically cleared."

"But you still checked him out yourself before letting him return?"

"A piece of paper only tells you so much," Steve said, remembering how badly some of his men wanted to return to duty. "I used my gut and my own experience to make the final decision to ensure that no one under my command returned before he was truly ready."

Joe got up and grabbed a glass of water. "And when one of them was captured by the enemy and was later given a clean bill of health. What did you do?"

"Not a single member of my team were ever held prisoner by the enemy," Steve told him.

"And you should be very proud of that," Joe said. “But it doesn't give you much of a shoreline to use. Does it?” He looked at Steve's empty glass. "Want some more juice?"

"I can get it," Steve answered and went over to the refrigerator.

"I hear you're going to practice the SEAL fitness test?"

Steve grabbed the jug and leaned against the refrigerator. "I need to test myself. See where I'm at."

"And do you think that alone will help you pick the date on that thing?" Joe pointed at the calendar.

"I'm not doing the test alone," Steve answered a little defiantly.

***

"Is this really necessary?" Danny demanded, standing outside in a ratty New Jersey Devil's t-shirt and gray sweatpants.

Steve ignored the griping while he tied his shoes.

"It's five in the morning,” Danny complained.

"Your point?"

"The sun isn't up yet, Steven."

"I always get up at this time."

"Or maybe you've already been awake a while." Steve glared but Danny was tenacious. "Is this where we pretend that you're not up half the night?"

"This isn't the first time I've dealt with insomnia. It was a hazard of the job."

"But you have another job now. One with resources."

"The Navy has resources, too. I've used them after several missions.”

"And how about for non-missions?" Danny mumbled under his breath.

There were trails that ran for miles behind his father's property and the two of them embraced the predawn air.

Danny scanned the horizon, scrutinized the worn dirt path and lush grass. "Not that we're gonna do it, but what is your typical run?"

"Five miles every other morning when I can. Ten on the weekends."

"Every other?"

"I swim five miles on the off-days."

"You're sick, you know that?"

"We'll go for two today."

"One and a half. And it's going to be a light jog. Maybe a slow walk. No arguing," Danny wagged a finger at him. "It's been eleven days, Steven."

"Let's go," Steve ordered and began an easy pace.

***

"You know twenty minutes isn't half bad," Danny told him in the kitchen after showering. He scurried around to make lunch to take to work. "In the police academy, you had to run a mile and half in under twelve minutes."

"I normally run a mile and a half in eight minutes, Danny."

"And you will again." Danny ignored Steve's glower and collected the bowl of salad he'd made last night. Opening a utensil drawer, he pulled out the salad tongs. "Think of it as baby SEAL steps."

"Funny."

"You need to take it easy," Danny said, pointing the tongs at him.

Steve saw the flash of metal and grabbed Danny's wrist and twisted hard, the tongs clattering to the floor.

He immediately released his grip at Danny's yelp. "Fuck. I'm sorry, man. I'm sorry."

"No, it's fine. I shouldn't have –"

"What? Come too close to me with tongs!"

"This isn't a race, babe. Remember what I said about it being okay to feel screwed up about this?" Danny didn't wait for an answer. "Because it is. So, we'll continue taking things as they come. And if getting you ready to do some crazy SEAL fitness test is the right way for you, so be it. But it's not a cure all."

"I know," Steve relented and hating the fact that Danny was right. "I know."

***

At four in the morning, he bolted awake in a cold sweat from dreams he couldn't remember. Taking a quick shower and eating breakfast, he went out to watch the sunrise. Steve dug his toes into the wet sand, admiring the gentle waves, and watched Kono walk over.

"I love the ocean at this time," she said, removing her peach sarong and pulling her hair into a ponytail. "What's the time of this test?"

"To be competitive, five hundred yards in eight minutes. But the max allowed is twelve."

"Now that sounds like a race I could hang with." Kono checked out the surf, rolling her arms in easy circles to warm up. "I say we shoot for a hundred yards in four minutes."

"Three," Steve countered.

Kono's eyes twinkled competitively. "Okay. Three."

***

Steve prepared lunch. Red lentil and bean soup with turkey sandwiches on rye bread. His shoulders and arms burned from overtaxing them and he would need to soak in an ice bath later tonight.

"So. What's the longest you've ever had to swim before?" Kono asked around a bite of sandwich.

"Treading water or outright swimming?"

"Hmmm. Treading has got to get old after while."

"Ten hours," Steve said cryptically.

"Damn."

Steve pulled out a chair and powered up his laptop. Checking his e-mail, he paused at the one from the CIA. After scanning the contents, he hit delete with a scowl.

"Bad news?"

"Nothing I didn't already know." Kono studied him and Steve leaned back in his chair. "Jenna's parents are deceased and I inquired if she had any other immediate family. But she didn't."

Kono looked up at Steve, her voice quiet. "Why were you looking?" Steve didn't answer, but Kono didn't go for it. "I thought you were tired of secrets?"

People deserved to be remembered, not erased.

Steve tried not to think of the last time he saw Jenna, closing her eyes and leaving her behind. He looked at Kono, his voice low. "I didn't know what to do with her personal effects."

"At the end of the day, she was still part of Five-O," Kono said as she roughly pulled back the hair in her face. "I guess that's why what happened hurt so much." Steve rubbed at the pink skin across his wrists while Kono walked into the living room and scanned the various pictures. "I think this is the perfect place to keep one of them."

Steve joined her in front of the bookshelf, pulled out the necklace from a box, and draped it around the corners of the silver frame. He looked over at Kono, at the sadness in her eyes and at the way she scrubbed her palms down her thighs.

"This was a good idea," Steve told her and put an arm around her shoulder and pulled her close.

***

Chin walked into the back room of Steve's house and chuckled. "I thought you'd have some crazy gym back here."

Steve only owned a set of free weights and mats to practice yoga. "I prefer using nature's gravity and the outdoors."

Chin smiled in appreciation. "How's the training going?"

Korea had been two weeks ago, and while not in top form, Steve felt more in tune with himself, with his body.

"I'm not a hundred percent. I'll use the fitrep to test how far I've come."

Steve needed a touchstone.

"And you have to pass this to stay in the reserves?"

"Every year. It's the same test used for those seeking to join the SEALs."

Chin whistled. "Do I want to know how many sit-ups and push-ups it requires?"

Steve pulled back the curtains of the two bay windows, basking in the sunlight streaming in. "A hundred reps each in two minutes."

"Damn. And I thought I was doing well to get those in five."

"Kono and Danny would say I should try for a reasonable amount."

"Yeah?" Chin dug through his gym bag and changed into a sleeveless HPD t-shirt. "Why not see how far we can go? Numbers are arbitrary."

Steve crossed his arms. "Really?"

"Goals are good, but they're limiting with either too many or too few numbers."

"They set a bar to strive for."

"They do," Chin said with a coy grin. "But sometimes we don't know where that bar is. It's up to us to discover it."

"My dad used to say something like that."

"They were wise words, brah."

Sometimes, it was easy to forget that Chin knew his father during a time when Steve hadn't.

"From the time my mom died to when I turned sixteen, my father buried himself in work. As his partner, you probably saw more of him than I did."

"I might have known him, but he was my trainer. It was more professional than personal. Given what he was investigating, maybe it was to protect me."

Those last words hit Steve hard and it must have reflected on his face because Chin laid a hand on his arm. "Oddly enough, we became closer friends after I was kicked out of the force. But one thing was for certain: he was very proud of you. And I know he'd be proud of what you did for a friend. He'd say, Non sibi sed patriae."

"Not self but country," Steve recited the familiar words.

"It's a code that you and father both lived by. One that went beyond country."

"You live by that code, too. All of you guys do."

"You said you'd do anything for any one of us. That street goes both ways, brah."

***

"I stand by my earlier words. This is ridiculous," Danny said into the ocean breeze. "Get a physical. Pass it and get back to work. I don't see why you have to do this stupid SEAL thing."

Steve finished his last set of calisthenics. "Because I need to."

"Yeah, yeah. Your need for routine is a little OCD." But then Danny stood closer, his voice soft and kind. "I know you're going to push things today. But please, please be careful. Okay?"

"I'll be fine."

"Says the guy running in swim trunks."

Lori walked over, twirling a whistle. "You guys ready?"

Steve completed one more stretch and rolled his neck. He glanced at the sincerity in her expression and tried hushing the whispers of Jameson and Kaye in his ears. "Thanks for coming out."

"And give up playing referee? Wouldn't miss it for the world," she replied with a wink.

Kono waited for him on the beach, Chin beside her. Joe stood with both of them and gave Steve a thumbs up.

Lori blew the whistle and Steve began his run with Danny alongside him.

***

Steve hit his stride a half a mile in. Found his rhythm while adrenaline flooded his veins. Sweat pooled in his hair, dripped down his back and off his face.

He wasn't at his peak, far from it. Twinges at his side kept him from going all out. When he closed in on that one point five mile mark, his stride slipped, and his muscles signaled the need to slow down.

"Almost there, babe," Danny panted at his side, red-faced, but determined.

Steve dug in, hit a second peak, Lori's whistle sounding in his ears as he reached the beach.

Kono handed him a bottle of water and he took a couple of swallows. With a surge of endorphins, he signaled that he was ready and they entered the sea together.

He used the sidestroke, the one required for the fitrep. This stroke had propelled him through the Gulf of Aden to the Red Sea, the stroke of his childhood and of a SEAL. And it was the stroke that would prove that he was still the man he was over two weeks ago.

He slowed to half speed, his chest aching. His oxygenation levels were off. He saw Kono a few feet away and used her strength to go the last hundred meters.

Staggering to his feet, he felt Kono take his arm and give him a slight push forward. "Two thirds down, only one third left, boss."

Chin threw him a towel and Steve wiped the sea salt from his eyes and face. Lori handed him another water bottle and Steve took three large gulps as he walked toward his back porch. His team followed close behind him as Steve reached one of the blue mats.

He and Chin began their push-ups side by side. Steve did the first ten on a runner and swimmer's high. By the eleventh push-up, his body screamed for him to stop.

But he went for twelve and thirteen, because his arms and shoulders had endured far worse, survived hanging from chains for hours. He did fourteen in spite of the pain. Completed fifteen at the memory a cattle prod against his skin.

Number nineteen was a slow, wobbly thing and he felt himself fading.

"Don't forget...we set our own bar, brah," Chin breathed next him, matching Steve push-up for push-up.

When he reached twenty, Steve screamed it at the top of his lungs.

"You're doing great," Joe told him. "Don't worry about the numbers, you'll build on them. This is recon. Now move on to the last stage."

He rolled onto his back, his heart ready to explode. Sweat stung his eyes and Steve looked over at Kono and Chin, at Danny's worried but determined face.

Steve looked at Joe as he readied for the last qualification. "Would you…?"

Joe took Steve's ankles and kept his feet steady. "You can do this, son."

Sharp pain assailed his side and chest with each sit-up.

"One," Chin breathed next to Steve.

Steve glanced over at Kono holding Chin's feet, Chin purposely keeping Steve's exact pace, locking eyes with him in fierce determination.

"Two," Steve grunted.

"Come on, boss!" Kono encouraged as Steve reached three.

"Just get to five, partner," Danny said crouching beside him. "Just do two more. It's a win, I promise."

Kono, Chin, and Lori yelled in unison when Steve hit number four.

Steve panted, but beneath the drone of pain, the support of his team drove him on, gave him strength.

With one last burst of energy, he curled forward, bent his body when it shouldn't. Pushed himself until his chin finally touched the top of his knees.

Five.

Steve lay on his back completely spent and heard the cheering of his team around him. Strong hands helped him sit and Steve leaned into his team, allowed their hands to shore him up.

And he held on to that. Dug his fingers into their shoulders, their arms. Rested his forehead onto the nearest neck and breathed, "Thank you."

***

Steve sat quietly on the lanai listening to the ocean, thinking about the events of today. Of that fulfilling moment on the beach with his team, but also of other things. Like why he was still wake in the middle of the night. He heard Danny wander over, his sleep-ruffled form barely illuminated by the moonlight.

"Do you know what time it is?" Danny grumbled.

"No."

"Neither do I, but it's late. Like even night crawlers are asleep. I thought you'd be out like a light after today?"

"Couldn't sleep."

"Want to talk about it?"

"Not really."

Danny looked out at the waves and yawned. "So does that mean you know when you'll be returning to work?"

Steve thought about the circle he made in the calendar after the fitrep, but not the one he had planned to make that morning. "I have an appointment with someone on Monday. I'll know more then."

"You getting another physical? Because I don't think you really need one after today."

"I'm going to talk to someone on base. Someone who knows more about this stuff than I do."

Someone who could give Steve a piece of his missing shoreline.

"Oh. Wow. That's really good, babe. Seriously," Danny said. "If you don't mind me asking...what brought this on?"

"I took the victory today. I was able to gauge where I was physically, but...that's not going to get me back in total shape." Steve searched the stars in the sky, thought about his conversation with Joe in the kitchen. At the words in between the lines. "I've been hurt in the line of duty before. I know how to deal with that. But I've never been captured by the enemy. Never been...I thought maybe it was my fault. That if only I'd been smarter or stronger."

"I will never pretend to know what you experienced and I won't belittle you by saying that I understand. But I know what it's like to feel helpless in life and to be furious at not being able to fix or control things." Danny gently bumped his shoulder against Steve's. "As I've said before, you're not alone in this, babe."

"That is something I am sure of." Steve sought out Danny's eyes in the darkness. "I've always known that I had you guys. That you had my back. But after these last few weeks, after what you did for me today..."

"Okay, okay. Come here, you big oaf," Danny said, wrapping an arm around Steve and pulling him in a big bear hug. "God, stop trying to talk about feelings; it's obviously a foreign concept to you."

Steve laughed, hugging his friend back, and allowed himself to think that maybe he'd be okay soon, body and soul.

***
fini