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Off The Grid

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Due to his past service in the Navy, Steve McGarrett knew how to play the long game in order to bring down an enemy. When it was clear that the IMF had had no further leads on identifying the mysterious terrorist known only as the Gui Lao, he volunteered to go inside a Hong Kong prison as an inmate. The plan was to hook up with a possible connection to the weapons and drug dealer thought have orchestrated numerous actions against the US including the murder of the Hawaiian governor and numerous others including, not so incidentally, Steve's own father. The seven months he'd been here, however, was beginning to tax even his dedication.

The boredom was bad enough. Worse, though, was that while Steve was stuck in Pik Uk Prison, the Gui Lao continued his attacks. Then there was the fact that his mission hadn't proved successful. If someone here had regular dealings with the Gui Lao, they hadn't traded on it to keep the other inmates off their back. Steve had made contact with the guy who seemed to have access to anything a prisoner might need from the black market and who seemed to know everything about everyone else, but Kamekona hadn't caught even a whiff of the Gui Lao's influence in here with them. Steve believed him; Kamekona had sussed out that he was a plant despite the meticulous background he'd been supplied by the IMF that included actually killing the men he'd been convicted of murdering. Sure, Kamekona hadn't correctly identified which agency or even which government Steve worked for, but then Steve's Australian accent was flawless.

So when the theme song to the old cop show, Hawaii Five-0, started playing over the prison's PA system, Steve was on his feet in an instant. He and the Secretary had worked out the song as a prearranged signal and he had the length of it to reach the rendezvous point where a team waited to extract him. Before he reached it, the door to his cell swung open. Others had been freed too, as evidenced by the sudden squeal of alarms and then shouts and cries as prisoners and guards clashed.

He had no choice but to wade into the melee. Once upon a time, the Navy SEALs had honed his body into a weapon, while the IMF then gave him the opportunity to use it. Fist and shoves eased he was forward. An elbow strike to a nose behind him removed someone else's hands that tried to draw him back. Steve didn't know, didn't care, who he fought as the song played on.

Making it out of his own cell block relatively unscathed, Steve figured he wouldn't be so lucky when he moved into the next. While he'd been convicted of murder, he hadn't been rated as a highest risk prisoner like the men he moved amongst now. Fortunately, they were still more concerned with going after the guards or personal enemies, so he skated past the first few opened doors relatively unnoticed.

That didn't hold, however. Now before him was a cluster of men, maybe ten total, locked into a life and death battle. Seven months of keeping quiet and backing down from any confrontation had grated as badly as the boredom, so Steve simply letting his body move in the ways he was trained, which was a freedom in and of itself. He grabbed the first guy in his way and pivoted, slamming him against the bars of the opened door, then once more against the wall to make sure he was out. Blood spattered the walls and back onto Steve, from a broken nose – or broken head – but Steve wasn't done, nor was he worried. It wasn't like this was the first blood that had been spilt in this dingy corridor, not even today. Remains of previous altercations, of blood, puke, and piss had left permanent stains and odors that would take years to wash out.  

Letting the body drop, Steve barely turned in time to block a new fist that still sent him reeling. His back hit the door, jolting him and sending a spike of pain up and down his spine. He blocked another swing automatically, then went onto the offensive, using his feet as well as his hands in blows hard enough to break bones. It was only as this man fell that Steve figured out he was one of the guards, and that he had probably killed him; if not directly, then by rendering him defenseless before the rest of the prisoners. Steve felt a moment's regret, but no guilt. The guards assigned here to Pik Uk weren't much better than the prisoners, many of them bullies and taken to preying on the weaker or vulnerable men.

He took out two more men before he could slip beyond the fray. He lost his shirt in the next confrontation, certainly no real loss, however, since he only wore it to keep from being beaten, as the laundry soap was even harsher than the body soap and both had left him with a seven month itch. He also earned himself a few more bruises and what might be a cracked rib or two, but nothing that would slow him down. Nothing other than more bodies and fighting – and his conscience – between him and his rendezvous.

Born on the Islands, Steve was intimately familiar with the instrumental theme now playing as his countdown, and knew he had enough time left in the approximate three minutes to make a detour before his extraction. Without Kamekona's friendship, Steve's prison stay would have gone a lot worse than just boredom and formalized exercising, and Steve was a great believer in paying his debts. It wasn't like the former Sumo wrestler was a convicted murderer or anything worse. If he had his way, Steve intended to have the IMF recognize Kamekona as a confidential asset and pay the man for his information and the connections that could prove useful in future missions. 

First he had to get to Kamekona. Steve had no doubt in his abilities to sneak or fight his way through to yet another cell block, success also required cooperation from whomever the IMF had sent in to hack the prison's computerized security system. Cooperation he was not yet getting as he stood underneath the CCTV camera up in the corner, stuck in front of the locked door he needed opened.

Steve broadened his gestures to his unseen watcher to get the door open, assured the watcher with expression as well as gesture that he wasn't going to the extraction point until he finished this bit of business first. Any IMF field agent should have the wherewithal to be able to roll with unexpected complications and, indeed, this one finally sent the command for the door to open, though not before waiting a few extra seconds to express his own opinion on Steve's restructuring of the plan.

The two guards on the other side of the door proved less of an obstruction than the locked door. Steve put both of them down in seconds, strike to the knee, strike to the neck, head smashed into a wall with a thunk that promised a concussion, and a simple punch to the second man's face that felt incredibly satisfying. He snaked his way through this new set of inmates after overpowering the guards. Kamekona wasn't amongst them, however. Steve took another body shot or two along the way, including one blow to the head that set him reeling and no doubt wuold blossom up into a spectacular bruise, but made it Kamekona's cell otherwise unscathed by the time the drum solo flowed into the next repetition of the main theme.

"Kamekona, you in there?" he shouted, not wanting to get another knock to the face as one unfortunate inmate had when a fellow prisoner had used an unlocked door as a weapon when he'd tried to escape the on-going brawl.

"Mick?" Steve heard shouted back. "Dat you?"

"Come on, we're getting out of here, bruddah. Time to holoholo," Steve told him, dropping his accent and dropping into the pidgen language of his youth; he'd known Kamekona was kama'aina on their first meeting. That might have influenced his acceptance of the other inmate even before Kamekona proved himself, but then Steve had never claimed to be the perfect agent. That was everyone else's thoughts on Steve's abilities.

"Damn, brah, you be da kine," Kamekona praised him as he came out of hiding from within his cell, slapping Steve on the shoulder hard enough to send him into the wall opposite if another screw hadn't been there to catch hold of and put down.

"We've got till the end of the song," Steve warned Kamekona. "Follow me." If you want to live, he couldn't help but think; the early works of James Cameron were almost weekly viewings during his time in the Navy.

While still bulking in his original Sumo weight class, Kamekona moved fast. Or maybe it was adrenalin and the possibility of getting the hell out that let had him keep up with Steve. Kamekona even threw his own hits to keep anyone from impeding them. Just as the song finished its final notes, Steve slammed through the last door and into a storage room. He ignored Kamekona's asking if they'd taken a wrong turn. Second later, a hole opened up within the middle of the floor, proving that he hadn't.

"Double the size," he yelled down to the IMF point man, knowing Kamekona would otherwise never fit.

Again, training proved out and the sonic weapon was reactivated a second time, sweeping in a wider diameter, and then a grappling spike was shot up into the ceiling, a heavy coil of climbing line trailing, complete with ratcheting carabineers and a foot loop.

"Kamekona don't rappel," Steve was quickly informed.

"Then Kamekona gets to stay," Steve answered him right back. "Get on the damn line. All you have to do is put your foot in the loop and pull on this." He mimed how the rig worked. "Or I could just give you a push. It's only a ten, fifteen foot drop and you'd probably bounce."

"I'll bounce you," came Kamekona's retort, but he moved and set himself in place, showing a gratifying amount of trust given the real fear that crossed his expression as he followed Steve's instructions.

"Whoa," Steve heard from down below as Kamekona shimmied down; from a woman and Steve wasn't remotely sexist, had even trained a few for the IMF, but he had to admit that he was surprised they'd sent a female agent. With China's retaking of Hong Kong as part of their territory, much of the city's famed cosmopolitan and progressive stance on matters like women's rights and equality had returned to more parochial views and she could have had quite the time of it as mission lead.

Steve didn't wait until Kamekona had gotten himself free. He could have simply dropped with little concern to injury, but if he misjudged something, it wasn't only his ass on the line. So he hot-roped down, something he'd done on any number of missions and from significantly higher altitudes.

"Agent McGarrett?" he was asked as soon as his feet touched the ground.

The woman wasn't anyone Steve recognized. She looked young but capable, quite attractive with a touch of home in her features too. Korean, he thought, blended with something else, most likely no more than third generation. That undoubtedly explained her presence here in Hong Kong; the IMF didn't have that many Asian looking agents that weren't already on permanent assignments. No doubt she was older than she looked, but was still new enough to the agency since Steve couldn't even put a name from a file to her.

"And you are?"

"Agent Kalakaua."

Still no recognition, but Steve had done his stint as a training officer for only nine months before requesting to be put back into the field. And even then, he tended to rely upon a small number of agents when he put together his own teams. "Okay."

Agent Kalakaua held her position for a few seconds to see if Steve was going to say anything more, then gestured to Kamekona as she also started passing over a couple of guns to Steve. "Who's your friend?"

"Just that, a friend. Now don't we have somewhere to be?" He forestalled any more comments and did his own gesturing to get the agent – and Kamekona – moving. He hadn't heard anyone up above them yet, but it was going to be obvious soon enough how he'd escaped, and he'd prefer that they were well away from the area before that happened.

"Yeah, sorry," she said and smiled at him, suddenly looking more lethal than lovely as her eyes took on a certain glint that Steve recognized from years in the Teams. He wasn't surprised that once they reached fifty or so yards from the hole, she paused and struck a match on the brick of the right wall of the old, abandoned sewer system the IMF had identified before Steve had gone into the prison and lit a long string of det cord.

Steve appreciated anyone liked using C-4 as much as he did. Especially one who liked to do it the old fashioned way.

*********

The last person Steve expected to find in the van that Agent Kalakaua led them to was Chin Ho Kelly. Not that Chin didn't have the computer skills needed to hack into and override a Chinese prison system; he was one of IMF's best, actually, which is why he was considered a protected asset and very, very rarely made it into the field. He was also a friend and someone Steve was damned happy to see right now, despite being embarrassed by the thought that Chin might have left the safety of the IMF just to bail him out or that they would have let Chin out from under their protective eye just for Steve.

"I don't mean to bring up the elephant in the van, Steve, but what's with the very large stray?" Chin asked by way of greeting from behind the wheel. He also gave a quick nod to Agent Kalakaua, who in turn patted him on the shoulder before taking a seat in the back and rummaging for a med kit.

"Who, Kamekona?" Steve responded, directing the Islander to the back bench while he took a seat next to Agent Kalakaua, across from the big guy. "He's kama'aina. Kept me sane and fed me intel. Didn't deserve to be there in the first place, so – "

"So we're gonna give him his freedom," Chin surmised with a quick look over his shoulder before he pulled out and into the street.

"Yup. Assuming you called in the sweepers?" Even if Chin hadn't been the only one waiting for them in the van, he would have been the one on the computers and the one to see that Steve was bringing an asset out. Calling that into their bosses would have been automatic. As was the next procedure. Steve also hoped Chin had mentioned Kamekona's size, otherwise the pick-up team was going to have a very rude surprise.

Chin nodded, meeting Steve's gaze in the rearview mirror. "They're on their way. Rendezvous should be in about five minutes."

Good, Steve thought, then, repeated it aloud, "Good. So, Chin, how is it you're here?"  Whether he wanted to hear the answer or not, Steve really needed to know.

"I took the field exam," Chin smiled back at him. "Crazy, right? But I couldn't let my little cousin – "

"Chin!" Agent Kalakaua suddenly called out, her skin turning a delicate pink. She looked furious; Chin unrepentant.

Steve schooled his own expression to neutral, not wanting to get in the middle of that fight; Chin's family was notorious for their grudges as well as their loyalty – half of his clan had practically disowned him for joining an intelligence agency instead of the Honolulu police force like so many of the rest of them, while another quarter of his family had stopped talking to Chin when he'd willingly moved away from the Islands. Obviously, if Agent Kalakaua was a cousin to the Kelly clan, she had put herself in the same kind of position with her own defection, and the two of them were undoubtedly tight, maybe only having each other at this point. That wouldn't prevent good natured teasing, however –

"Hey, you don't need to do that," Steve started to call Agent Kalakaua off when she finally had found what she'd been looking for and shifted his direction to take hold of his jaw. "At worst it's just bruising and – "

And she wasn't bringing up an alcohol wipe and butterfly bandage. Instead she'd found a long swab and was attempting to stick it down Steve's throat.

"DNA test," she explained brusquely, although Steve had quickly picked up on that when he'd begun choking.

"It's me, Agent Kalakaua" Steve assured her. "Chin can – "

"It's procedure, Agent McGarrett. I'm just confirming it's you."

"You're very thorough," Steve had to tell her, not sure if he was impressed or amused.

"Mick?" Kamekona interrupted. "Are you not Australian?"

"Sweepers approaching," Chin called back before Steve could answer. "Brooms are out!"

Meaning the pick-up team was less then a minute out and they needed to be ready for the exchange about to take place.

"Mick," Kamekona repeated. "Are you not Mick?"

Steve gave the big guy a grin and quickly whipped up one of the guns Agent Kalakaua had given him during their liberation; the stun gun. He let it run for a good fifteen seconds, which even then almost wasn't enough to put the former Sumo heavyweight down.

"You'll be fine, Kamekona," Steve reassured him just as his eyes started to close. "I always take care of my friends." He then wrenched the side door open and started pulling on Kamekona's body to get him to the opening. Agent Kalakaua moved to help and between the two of them, they got his shoulders to the agents in the van opposite them. It was possible that Kamekona's heels hit the pavement before the other team got him up and into their own transport, but Steve thought he'd be okay, not just now but in the future.

"Messy bringing him along," Agent Kalakaua huffed out as she retook her seat and tried to regain her breath and composure.

Heavyweight class, indeed.

"I thought it went rather well," Steve said with a grin and his own puffing.

The look she shot him reminded Steve of the ones Chin used to give him back in high school, when Steve might have suggested or done something that the adults around them had taken exception to.

"Mind telling me what you were doing in a Chinese prison?" she then asked.

"Mind telling me why you broke me out?" Steve countered. Not that he wasn't happy about it, after all, but he hadn't completed his mission so he hadn't gotten any word out to be removed.

Agent Kalakaua's expression turned to shock. "This wasn't a rescue mission?"

Steve felt his own shock, but was better trained to keep it hidden. "Not on my behalf," he answered truthfully. Then thought it through and didn't like the conclusion hereached. "If the Secretary wanted me out of there, it must be pretty bad out here."

She nodded, then looked away from him though she still started to explain. "We were after a file. We lost it."

"We?" Steve had to ask. "Who lost it? You?"

It was Chin who answered. "Agent Bass."

Agent Ben Bass, Steve did know. He was a good guy, if also a bit young. One of the up and comers, according to Secretary Jameson, and Steve had agreed. "What happened?" Somehow, Steve didn't think Bass was resting up in a hospital somewhere, or on a plane back to HQ so as not to get in Steve's way when he took over the lead. Not when Agent Kalakaua still refused to look in Steve's direction, and Chin was more concerned with watching her than watching Steve – or the road.

"It was a letter drop. Classified file," Agent Kalakaua finally answered with the rest. "It should have been a simple intercept. We knew which train the courier was on." She took a deep breath, screwing up her courage no doubt, and Steve didn't really need to hear the rest to know the outcome. He did need, however, to hear the details to know what he was up against, so he couldn’t spare the other agent's feelings.

"But there was one thing we didn't know," she continued. "Who the courier was."

Finally she turned to face Steve. "I was tasked with getting that information, so that Ben – Agent Bass could detain and get the file. That part went without a hitch, until we discovered we weren't the only ones after it. Even so, Agent Bass made his escape and we were all moving toward the rendezvous, but it was too late." Her voice dropped down to a whisper. "I reached him in time for him to die in my arms. It was my op. I put him in the field. And she left him just alive enough for me to see him die."

Steve reached out and put his hand on her shoulder, squeezing once before letting go; they didn't know each other well enough for him to be offer any more significant comfort. Nor did she look like she wanted to be comforted; she was trying to school her face into something harder. Something she no doubt thought was more professional.

"I'm sorry," he told her.

She nodded in acknowledgement and pulled out her phone, touching the screen and flipping through several apps and pictures until she got to the one she then held out to show him. "Do you know her?"

Yes, Steve did. Not to anyone's benefit.

"That's Jenna Kaye. Contract killer. Works for diamonds." Kaye worked for the type of people that, had the IMF known of their involvement, they wouldn't have sent a rookie team out to handle the intercept.

"Just what was in that file?" he asked, already dreading the answer.

"Chinese nuclear launch codes. Well, actually North Korean launch codes, more likely, but is there really a difference?" Agent Kalakaua muttered somewhat rhetorically. "IMF's been looking for an emerging extremist, code name, Gui Lao. The Ghost Man. He's determined to detonate a nuclear weapon however he can. We knew Kaye worked for him before, but we had no intel that she had been brought in on this one."

"What else do you know about this Ghost Man?" Steve asked before he could censor himself.

The Gui Lao had been Steve's mission and Steve's alone, although he supposed he could see why the IMF had found the need to send in another team. The Gui Lao was a phantom in all senses of the word, more rumor than substance, to the point where most of the others in the field of covert operations and terrorist investigations assumed it was actually the name of a group of people – a gang or organization like al-Qaeda – instead of believing that everything done in that name was the actions of one man.

"As much as you do now," Agent Kalakaua answered him.

Totally wrong, of course, but Steve could wait until later to fill her in. Assuming the Secretary wanted him to work with Kalakaua and Chin instead of going off on his own or pulling together one of his standard teams.

"But if Kaye has nuclear launch codes, you can bet the Gui Lao has gone from a person of interest to enemy number one," Kalakaua continued.

Steve was more interested in why Chin was stopping the van.

"We're here," Chin told them. "It's the payphone."

Of course it was. The IMF didn't waste any resource, nor did it do much by the way of urban renewal for their safe houses or contact points, preferring to blend in with the local area no matter that it might be a deserted street whose neighborhood had seen better days, one of the areas that had become blighted and mostly vacant since the Chinese take over.

Steve hopped out of the van and over to the phone. Graffiti, the bane of every city, proclaimed this territory to belong to the Luen Triad, and that someone's mother slept with foreigners. He ignored the rest and punched in his ident code on the keypad, then leaned forward for the retinal scan when a panel on the phone slid away.

Identity confirmed, the phone told him in a feminine voice.

Welcome back, Agent McGarrett, a second voice then took over when Steve lifted the receiver. In your absence, the IMF has confirmed that the Gui Lao is or was a Level-1 nuclear strategist for Chinese and North Korean intelligence. Files disclosing the true identity of the Gui Lao can be found in the lower levels of the Ryongwang Pavilion in Pyongyang, North Korea. In order to infiltrate the underground intelligence area, your team will need to impersonate General Byeon Seung. We believe the Gui Lao will do everything he can to destroy any record of his identity. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to penetrate the highly-secured archive inside the Ryongwang Pavilion and retrieve the Gui Lao's file before he can destroy it. New intel suggests the Gui Lao is already en route, leaving you –

A new voice intruded, not even pretending to be human: Fourteen hours, fifty-two minutes.

– before the original male voice continued, to infiltrate. To save time, we've chosen your team for you: Agents Kalakaua and Kelly. As always, should you or any member of your team be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions. This message will self-destruct in five seconds. Good luck, Steve.

Steve quickly hung up the phone receiver and took a step back lest the connection's termination prove messy given the decrepit state of the phone box and surrounding wall. The five seconds passed while he waited, with nothing happening, leaving Steve to let out a gusty sigh and scout around for a piece of trash. He wasn't about to go poking at an explosive device with his fingers, even if it was very small and obviously not working correctly. Luckily trash was abundant, including pieces of what might have been a crate or possibly even a piece of furniture; one long enough that he could prod the still open plate on the phone without getting in the range of any shrapnel. Seconds later, the familiar hiss and smell of fried electronics wafted out and Steve turned back to the van.

"What do we have?" Agent Kalakaua asked as he reentered and retook his seat.

"We're going into North Korea," Steve answered her, more abruptly than he probably should have, but his thoughts were circling around the mission and the obvious fact that  he wouldn't be the one going in as General Byeon. Even wearing a mask, he was simply too big in height and musculature to make a convincing North Korean. Or one of the Chinese military, he supposed, since China's own military ranks were practically interchangeable with North Korea's, and he wouldn’t be able to identify Byeon until he got to a terminal.

From up front, Chin gave a quiet laugh. "I thought you said North Korea. But you did mean South – " He stopped upon meeting Steve's amused but implacable gaze in the rearview mirror.

"Oh, shit."

********

If Steve had thought seven months in a Hong Kong prison was a trial to his patience, he found it paled compared to playing tourist while someone he'd known years ago but not now – and his young, female cousin – took the lead on the next part of the mission. Still, North Korea was actually a place he hadn't visited before, not for the Navy or the IMF, so it was actually interesting and a little surreal to be wandering around in a city so little known to the outside world.

He'd spent time in Beijing though, as well as quite a few Japanese and South Korean cities over the years, so in some ways it was familiar. It was not just the local architecture that caught his eye, but the… revisionist landmarks such as their version of Paris's Arc de Triomphe, the Juche Tower that had to be meters taller than the Washington Monument, and their own Burj, the Ryugyong Hotel that, after some twenty plus years was still unfinished. 

In all other ways, though, there were only his feelings of agitation and unease to keep him occupied. Most of the locals, not that there were all that many, eyed him with suspicion and distrust, while even the other tourists were keeping their distance for the most part. His cover was that of a journalist, an American this time since they were the most brazen right now in gaining access inside North Korea, and while his credentials had allowed him entry into the country and further allowed him access to most of the landmarks – at least to be able to stand outside the buildings with his camera – he wasn't used to being on the sidelines. Even while within the Hong Kong prison, he'd been active if not successful, the outcome resting on his own shoulders. Here, though, he could only listen as Chin and Kono, as Agent Kalakaua had finally told him her given name and requested that he use it, worked their way through the checkpoints and guards.

Chin looked enough like the General he was impersonating to go sans mask, needing only to gray his hair and affix facial hair to match that of his counterpart, with the uniform and the General's reputation taking care of most everything else. Kono had gone in as his aide. Since both of them were portraying Chinese military on a routine visit, it was unlikely that anyone within knew either of them well enough to spot something that might be off.

Through his earbud, Steve abruptly heard Chin say:

"Okay, seven security guards. X-ray machines. Cameras.  Metal detectors."

It sounded like he was almost up. Steve had been tasked with insuring the technological needs of the mission were implemented, although Chin had been the one to set up the hack and program that would enter Chin's identity and schedule into the on-site system, back-dated a few weeks.

"Just what we expected," Steve reminded him sotto voice, making it look like he was talking into his camera mic and not the tiny dot on his collar that went with the nearly invisible earbud all three of them were wearing. They'd extracted their intel and necessary equipment from one of the IMF's Hong Kong safehouses before Steve had flown separate from the other two into North Korea and now had less than an hour left of the time table the IMF had given them. "You can do this."

It wasn't surprising that Chin was nervous, he'd only been a field agent for all of seven weeks

"Connecting in three, two, one," Steve continued, pushing a button on his camera that would link his screen with the camera in the glasses Kono was wearing, so he could see what his other two team members did. He could also expand his camera's connections into overriding the internal security system – once he'd gotten a long enough snippet of film from Kono's perspective to insert as a loop of empty corridor if necessary.

Kono was the one who took the lead at the final checkpoint, speaking flawless Korean as she chastised the guard before her for not properly acknowledging the General when Chin had shown his falsified – yet flawless – papers. Steve checked his own equipment again and hurriedly reloaded the bit of virus that wormed through the North Korean's security station with a perfect match for all the biometric checks they used to identify people: Chin's image, fingerprints, iris scan and even DNA (although the IMF didn't think the North Koreans or the Chinese actually went so far). In the minutes after Chin and Kono advanced, the virus deleted the doctored data, though it didn't bother to restore the correct information. It deleted a few more such records of recent visitors (and would stay in place for another couple of days doing the same to new visitors) so that later, when it was found out, no one would be able to pinpoint whose data had been deliberately deleted.

The hallways leading to the section their intel said held the records rooms were empty. Steve did his part in making sure any watching cameras continued to record the corridor as such, before finally giving Chin the go ahead to breach the first potential room. Chin pulled out his own piece of tech to override the locking system, while Kono kept watch for any arrivals.

It proved not to be the records  room. Maybe someone's office. Months ago at best, given the level of dust and cobwebs that adorned it.

Room two wasn't the right one either, although it was one that was good to have identified. Steve's camera was recording everything Kono saw and he'd make sure this portion got uploaded to the nearest IMF drop site before anything else.

"Jesus, are those missile launch systems?" Kono asked.

Nuclear launch systems from what Steve could tell and Chin quickly confirmed.  Sitting on several desks, not abandoned given there wasn't a layer of dust around as in the previous room, but also not manned. They were lucky in that, of course, but Steve had to wonder why a couple of the desks were empty of even their equipment. And when they had become so. North Korea's posturing over launching a missile should South Korea give them provocation during some upcoming joint US-South Korean wargames in their mutual waters looked like it might be more than just a threat from a noisy, hysterical madman trying to fill his crazy daddy's shoes.

A dilemma for a different day, however, as the longer it took them to find what they'd come for, the greater the likelihood of his team getting caught. That would be provocation in and of itself.

Room number three proved to be what they sought. File cabinets stood along all three walls, with a sturdy table, chair and, of all things, an old fashion microfiche machine occupying the center of the room.

"I'm sorry about Mary," Chin suddenly said out of nowhere, as he started opening drawers and closing them just as quickly when a quick glance showed him he was in the wrong area. "She was a cute kid. I always liked her."

The image Steve was watching gave a quick jerk, just enough to let Steve know that Kono was just as surprised as he was by Chin's choice of topic. As far as anyone within the IMF knew, Steve's sister had died three years ago. Now was a hell of a time to bring up condolences.

"I wanted to say something, before you went away, especially coming so soon after your dad's – Shit! It's gone!" Chin suddenly interrupted himself, bringing all of their thoughts back to the mission instead of the incredibly awkward conversation Steve and Chin had almost had.

"He beat us in."

Steve could think of stronger things to say other than shit, but kept his tongue about this news as well as the former conversation. He kept it even when someone else's voice intruded on their radio frequency.

"Check in, Team Leader. Over," a man's voice sounded, speaking Korean. "Repeat. Check in, Team Leader. Have you made it into the Archive Room?"

Steve wasn't a tech guy like Chin, but he knew his way around a radio, knew at least enough to figure out their intruder wasn't actually on their frequency, but was overriding it. Overriding several frequencies, including the primary one the local North Korean military currently used.

Chin and Kono were experienced enough to know not to respond, to say nothing at all at this point, though Steve could hear the gasps and heightened breathing. Could see, too, that the two agents were running now, along the empty corridors though they slowed when they heard footsteps encroaching on their position.

Split up, he was telling them in his head although he remained silent as he did his own hurried walk toward the building, not that he had any idea of what he could do to aid them. There was no reason to suspect their cover was actually blown, not yet at least, but the North Korean's were aware that something was amiss in their secret facility, and it would be just as bad for either Chin or Kono to get caught up in the task of looking for the intruders as being caught as the intruders.

Luckily, they knew procedure well enough in this case too, and weren't so attached by their familial relationship to ignore what needed to be done. Just before they reached the stairwell that would lead them to the upper levels, Kono quickly darted in to give her cousin a kiss before sprinting off and away from Chin. Steve's view of her progress was choppy and partially obscured as she started stripping away the uniform she'd worn. Underneath she was wearing the clothes of one of the support staff, one of the women who cleaned up and looked after the library up above, while she made her way to a different exfil point.

"Team Leader, awaiting your go-sign," the damning radio transmission returned while Steve made his own way toward the national library housed within the Pavilion along with the North Korean Intelligence Department. "Standing by to detonate."

Steve knew how to curse in seventeen different languages at last count, and he ran though all of them now in response to one word: detonate. He was too close, his team too, for all that he knew – Kono having lost or ditched the glasses somewhere and there was too much sound coming over the comms for Steve to be able to identify where either of the other two might now be. Detonate meant the mission was over – was a failure – even if the Gui Lao hadn't managed to beat them to the files.

Alarms started going off, with the Koreans inside the library exiting in a surprisingly orderly fashion, but then they wouldn't know about an impending detonation. For all Steve knew, this could be a fire alarm that someone tripped. Indeed, a dapperly dressed Korean was moving toward him, a business man or government official going by his suit and the briefcase he was carrying.

"We must exit," the man instructed Steve in accented English, his hand reaching for Steve's arm. "That is a fire alarm and we will not be allowed back in until the all clear."

Steve managed to find something like a smile for the concern and had little else he could do but allow himself to be chivvied along. His height, his race – his everything – was working against him right now, and he couldn't come up with a plausible reason to stay inside the Pavilion to look for his people.

Once outside, though, he thanked his benefactor and stepped to the side, giving into a moment's hope that the transmission about detonating had simply been a ruse all its own, a way of flushing out his team, maybe… He had faith in Chin and if Kono was anything like her cousin, he could extend that faith to her too. Certainly she'd maintained herself admirably in the little time he'd known her, even during the business about Bass and through every other misstep or left field mishap that had come their way.

Assuming he could ever find them again, he might have found himself some new team members on a more permanent basis, Steve thought as he absently watched the well-dressed Korean man walk off. He was distracted by his current worry upon noticing that whatever the Korean had in his odd looking briefcase was significantly heavier than what might be held within typically, going by the unevenness of the other's gait, then doubly distracted when the man turned back to face him, now as far as a couple of hundred feet away, and waved.

Steve didn't have time to wave back, not that he would have. Detonation ensued, coming from nearby and under his feet. Steve had just enough time to throw the kill switch on his camera that would destroy the internal electronics and fry the memory card, but no opportunity to cushion his drop to the ground or even cover his head when the retaining wall nearby exploded into a hail of brick chunks and shrapnel.

******

This wasn't the first time Steve had awakened in a hospital. Not even the first time he awakened in restraints. Because it wasn't his first time at this kind of rodeo, he was also adept at playing possum, and right now he needed the kind of intel that would most likely be withheld from him if anyone knew that he was awake.

He knew he was in a hospital; the sounds and smells were distinct, no matter the country, although some did have a few extra tells. Wherever he was, was more modern than he thought he would have ended up in, more modern than the intel on basic North Korean health care, but if it was a military hospital… their military did receive all the perks, money and upgrades over that going to the civilian population. Or he could have been taken to a Chinese hospital – military again, most likely, as some form of detainee. Even if his actual cover hadn't been blown, he'd been an American nearby when a piece of cultural North Korean architecture had been blown up.

The languages around him were wrong for China, however, and even some of the accents. South Korea then, and that was quite the surprise. Somehow either his credentials had held up and there had been some sort of intercession, or the number of casualties had simply been too great and, for once, the two countries comprised of one people were putting aside their ideological differences in order to render humanitarian aid. The restraints sort of contradicted that line of thinking, however, although he supposed he could have partially regained consciousness sometime earlier and had a poor reaction to being looked after. For the most part his bouts of PTSD and memories of some bad times in the SEALs were under control, but now and again he did come up swinging when he was rudely awakened.

Korean wasn't the only language being spoken around him, however. It took him a moment to tune out the nearer sounds to pick up the English, took him even longer to realize he was hearing a television or radio, tuned to either an American, British or Australian station. The absence of any discernable accent from the newsreader had him thinking American, but that wasn't always the case for international reporters.

"Details surrounding the intricate system of gas lines that run beneath the square are still forthcoming, but the majority of those lines date back to earlier regimes and it is thought they have not been updated in at least –"

"Everybody lies," came a closer voice, one that sounded like it was talking to Steve directly. "For the greater good, of course," the woman continued, going so far as to touch Steve's arm that he might know that, indeed, she was addressing him. That she knew he was awake.

He opened his eyes and found a blonde woman standing over him. Not someone he recognized, though he knew she was American from more than her non-accent. Governmental lackey, probably, from the Embassy. Steve nodded to acknowledge her words, but made no move to engage her and wouldn't think of telling her who he really was at this point. He might not know everyone within the IMF, but there were code words and protocols that she would have used were she sent by his superiors. That she didn't and they hadn't… Steve couldn’t give anything away at this point. If he'd been disavowed, identifying himself and confirming it would be the worst thing he could do.

The blonde lifted her hand from Steve's arm (he was confident she'd gotten nothing from his body responses; it was reflex to maintain a slow, steady pulse even in such a case as this). She gestured off toward a television that Steve could partially make out if he twisted his head a little. The on camera reporter was continuing on about the damage and the casualties, something else Steve needed to put out of his mind, at least until he knew about the rest of his team. It was tragic, and in some way also his fault even as he had no doubt that the Gui Lao had been the one to set off the explosion. The mission took precedent over all things, however, which meant he had to extract himself and make contact with the IMF to find out his own status as well as the status of his team. If that meant blowing off an Embassy drone, so be it.

"We can put all of this behind us, Mr. Yablonski, if you're honest with me. Your producer, unfortunately, is unavailable at this time to tell us why you were sent to North Korea, and I need to know if we have to make up a story to appease the North Koreans, or if you really are as innocuous as you appear."

Knowing innocuous was not really one of his traits, Steve had little doubt that she'd believe the lie the IMF had set up for his cover, not after what had happened. He also wasn't ready to trust her about a willingness to construct a cover story; sure, she might actually do it to keep the North Korean's off his back, but that certainly didn't mean that she would let him go free, and the time to muddle through all of the levels of bureaucracy that would be needed to fabricate either a CIA or even a Naval Intelligence background that would stand up to her scrutiny wasn't something he really had. Not if the Gui Lao had truly gotten the jump on them.

She suddenly leaned over toward him, close enough to kiss had either of them been inclined, but instead of doing something like that, she held up a small recorder to his ear and hit playback.

Awaiting your go-sign, Team Leader. Standing by to detonate.

CIA most likely, then, herself, which meant that cover story was definitely out.

"The worst part for you, Team Leader," she then hissed in his ear, "is that we need a scapegoat, and you're really the only one we have lying around right now. If you want –"

"Hey, none of that here," another voice intruded on them, with the blonde being dragged away from Steve. "This is a hospital, not a hotel," a Korean looking nurse scolded them both and tried to drag the CIA operative out of the room. "Visiting hours are ending."

"I'm from the Embassy. See, here is my identification –"

Lori Weston, Steve read. Good to know, not that he hoped he'd become involved with her again.

"Come back tomorrow."

This time, the nurse got some help in the form of an orderly who could have given Kamekona a run for his money in sumo. Lori Weston left, but not before shooting Steve an angry glance full of warning. The door closed behind all three of them, leaving Steve alone in his room. A private room, which had to mean Embassy/CIA Lori Weston wasn't going to believe him short of his calling the Secretary directly for her to vouch for him (something he wasn't about to do), nor was she going to leave him alone for very long, despite imposing or impolite orderlies and nurses. That also meant that Steve needed to extract himself. Now.

The restraints – actually two sets of handcuffs –weren't much of a challenge; it turned out he wasn't so much in a hospital room as someone's office or something. Maybe someone's past office that was now mainly used for storage and when the number of patients exceeded the number of hospital beds. Turned out he didn't even need that kind of advantage, as the nurse had dropped his admissions file onto his stomach when she'd removed Ms. Weston from the room instead of putting on the nearby desk. An admissions file, that contained a get-out-of-jail-card-free in the form of a paper clip.

Once he removed the first set of cuffs, Steve took a glance at the file to see the extent of his injuries, although his body had already told him he'd sustained nothing severe enough to keep him here. Scalp lacerations but only a mild concussion; other superficial contusions and lacerations over various parts of his body – frankly, no reason for him to even be in a hospital save for his lengthy loss of consciousness, and the small needle mark on the outside of his forearm that she hadn't hidden well enough undoubtedly accounted for the length of his unawareness. Good stuff, whatever Lori Weston had used, as Steve had thought his headache and cotton-mouth to be only from the blast.

If he wasn't also missing his shoes, socks, shirt and jacket, Steve would be good to go. Not that he was going to let his state of undress stop him regardless.

He checked the door out of thoroughness, totally unsurprised to find it locked from the outside. His room had no windows (another reason he doubted it was a real patient's room), but it did have an en suite bathroom, and that had a window. Not big enough for him to pull his body through, but enough that he could orient himself in the building that he might find a more appropriate room. He could also see enough to know it was still daylight, or more likely daylight again, though the sun was setting.

In the meantime he used the facilities and did his best to remove the blood, dust and grime from the blast. Returning back to the main room, he gave a quick glance through cabinets and drawers, not actually expecting to find much of use, though the pair of ragged slippers was a nice treat, even if they were a little small to cover his entire foot. No weapons, of course, though he debated about someone's lunch utensils; the chopsticks as well as the American style knife and fork.

They were dirty, likely thrust away in some rush and while he wasn't averse to using whatever he needed to in order to complete his mission, Steve didn't really want to have to incapacitate a friendly or even someone from the CIA with bacteria laden items when it wasn't necessary. The wooden chopsticks, conversely, were still in their wrapper and held together. He wasn't sure how he might use them (although with food sounded good enough; from his stomach's aching it had been hours since he'd last eaten), but he'd used stranger things as weapons in his past, and they were lightweight and easily stored in his waistband, so there'd be no difficulty in carrying them even if he never used them.

A few more minutes of looking around didn't have him finding anything else especially useful beyond the handcuffs. Nor did he think he had the time to jury-rig anything from the bits and pieces he did uncover. He hopped back up onto his bed – standing this time – and had enough reach to push up one of the two foot by four foot ceiling tiles ubiquitous to even South Korean buildings, it seemed. He had to scout a couple of them before he found a heavy stud instead of the flimsy metal framework, then discovered that while his injuries weren't in anyway serious, his body ached from what had happened to it when he pulled himself upward into the ceiling's ventilation crawlspace using only his upper body strength.

It was a tight fit, but he didn't have a far distance to crawl along and the standard sizing of the tiles helped him keep track of where his room (and bathroom) ended, and the next one started – a room or a hallway. This time he propped open the tile only the width of one of his chopsticks set under one of the corners, then lowered himself flat and skewed his head until he could look out through the tiny opening to see the reflection against the handcuff he also slid into the opening.

The image was grossly distorted, but enough to make out that this led to a room. He waited a good three minutes and watched, seeing nothing moving in the blobs of shadows and colors; if it was occupied, it was so only by another patient and one without a doctor, nurse or visitor present. His only recourse now would be speed and surprise, as there was no way to hide removing a ceiling tile.

Upon lifting the tile fully away and tossing it atop one of the others, Steve let the cuffs and stick drop, then unfurled his body into the opening in a forward roll while gripping the support beam. Once again his body protested the actions it was called upon to execute, and once again Steve ignored his body's signals and simply did what needed be done, including making the twelve foot drop onto the floor.

The room and its beds were occupied, but with sleeping or unconscious patients. Steve managed to land between their beds. He moved quickly to the room's single window. This one was big enough for his body and made to open to let in fresh air. A narrow casing more than ledge ran under it, not really wide enough for him to walk along, but he could use it for a handhold if necessary.

Two stories up, with something like a thirty foot drop. He could handle that with little more trouble than the fifteen foot drop he'd contemplated back in Pik Uk. The potential for a bad landing remained the same, however, perhaps even worse. Although, he'd at least get immediate treatment if he did injure himself.

Free climb it was then, only, as he actually crouched on the sill and began looking for his series of handholds, he noted that the window away from him had an actual ledge underneath it, one that ran the rest of the length to the edge of the building and that might give him several more options as well as better holds.

He'd just lowered himself to hanging from the casing while casting his eye on how to reach the ledge, when the window above it opened and Lori Weston stuck her head out.

"Are you sure that's the way you want to play this, Mr. Yablonski?"

Steve wasn't in the position to shrug, so he gave her an insouciant grin. "I'm sure you prefer a challenge, Ms. Weston," he called back up to her. "Embassy work can be so boring, don’t you think?"

She gave a snarl and started muttering into her sleeve – her own covert mic, Steve presumed – which meant she had back-up either on-site or nearby. Which also meant that he was once more out of time.

The near thirty foot drop was now closer to twenty, and from what he could see, there was a good barricade of shrubbery surrounding the building wall below him. Hopefully nothing with thick branches or actual thorns, and counting them, he had more of a fifteen foot drop, onto a cushioned ground instead of concrete. He'd definitely dropped down onto worse.

"Farewell, Ms. Lori Weston," he didn't stop himself from calling out as he let go and pushed off just enough that he wouldn't scrape the front of his body along the rough brickwork he was passing.

At the last seconds he pushed farther, enough to tuck his head down to his chest and roll backward so that he would breach the shrubs with his shoulders and back instead of risking getting entangled or ending up with a twisted or broken ankle. It was more awkward to do a tuck and backward roll, but he managed, even if he ended up rolling mostly sideways as he slid through the greenery and onto a strip of grass. Once he gained his feet, he pulled the slippers he'd tucked into his belt and toed them on. A convenient grind of hydraulics of a nearby truck going about its business around the corner drowned out his curses from his less than graceful landing, and drowned out whatever Weston was yelling at him too. He headed off that direction, figuring he could catch a ride on the tail of it at least through the grounds of the hospital without getting caught by Weston's people or the truck driver.

He discovered he'd been kept at the Seoul National University Hospital, which was surprising, because, really, he should have been taken to Osan or Kusan, either of the in-country US Air Force bases, or even more so to the Joint Security Area overseen by the UN on the DMZ, if the concern really was whether they'd have to turn him back over to the North Koreans. Being in Seoul did put him more under the auspices of the Embassy than the Military, so someone had bought his story, but Weston's involvement had him smelling a rat. Fortunately, by being in Seoul, he didn't have to deal with any of the concerned parties, as the IMF had a relay here, and once he found a phone and made a call, he should be able to drop off of everyone's radar but for his own people, not to mention maybe get the greater mission back on track.

The truck actually got him into the city; he dropped off in one of the residential areas where he might scrounge a shirt or jacket to better blend in once he reached one of the more commercial areas. Enough South Koreans still hung their laundry out to dry that he found a jeogori that fit well enough. Hitching a ride got him into the Gangnam-gu district, where his Caucasian self wouldn't stand out. A quick stroll through an outside café got him a phone left on a table while its owner went to refresh his drink. Steve picked up his own after finding he still had his wallet and enough won to get both a bottle of water and a brined anchovy kimchi pot.

He finished the pot and headed back out onto the street before making the call.

"Consolidated Insurance. How may I help you?"

"SAT 20. Agent 82-Delta-Echo requesting immediate evac."

"Rendezvous Alpha 113."

"Confirmed.  Alpha 113."

After Steve hung up, he stripped the phone of its SIM card and dropped both pieces down two different drains leading directly into the sewers. He had almost an hour to kill before making the rendezvous, and was only ten or fifteen minutes away from the evac point, which meant he could find something a little more substantial sustenance-wise. Finding a Lotteria was probably considered sacrilegious or at least gauche, but after seven long months in a Hong Kong prison, Steve desperate craved a western style hamburger or even chicken wings.

Finishing off his rib burger and fries, he picked up a cup of patbingsu, which of course wasn't even close to the shave ice of his childhood, but was cool and sugary with its taste of strawberries and bananas over the syrup sweetened azuki beans and ice chips. He then ducked into one of the tourist hotels and did a little better clean up in the public restroom, so at least he looked a little more presentable even if he didn't feel so.

A brisk walk stretched the muscles he'd let tighten while he ate, and then he saw the car, complete with diplomatic plates heading his direction. If Lori Weston ended up being in the car, he'd feel a little foolish, but then she'd been the one who'd ignored protocol – or he'd know the IMF had indeed disavowed him, which meant Weston was likely his only chance, though he'd have to come up with a damn good story this time around.

It wasn't Lori Weston. Patricia Jameson was still female and blonde, actually more attractive than Weston in Steve's eyes though she was undoubtedly twice Weston's age, but a lot of that, he knew, came from familiarity and something a lot like relief and comfort even as he was shocked as hell to be picked up by the Secretary herself.

"Madame Secretary," he greeted one of the only people he wholly trusted in his life as he ducked in and took a seat in the spacious backseat abutted to the driver's and shotgun seat up front so he was facing Secretary Jameson and her companion. "I wasn't aware you were in South Korea at this time."

"I'm not," she answered with a wicked smile that disappeared almost as quickly as it had shown up. "Not since American terrorists blew up part of Pyongyang. Yesterday I flew in to meet with UN officials at the DMZ. Now I'm headed back to Washington to hand the President my resignation."

Steve nodded, not that he agreed with Pat's decision to throw herself on her sword, but because he knew and respected that she was the type of woman to do so anyway. He'd have to work damn fast to insure she wasn't a casualty to the Gui Lao or his own fuck ups.

Beside her, her companion made his own noise of disagreement at Pat's determination, and she shot him a fond look before returning her attention to Steve. "My Chief Analyst, Danny Williams." she said with a nod to the man next to her.

Steve shifted his gaze to better study the man he'd simply noted (along with his computer and the weapon he carried on his hip), quite liking what he saw although Steve gave no indication, out of habit and purpose. "Do you have a pen?" he asked as he reached out his hand and Williams automatically moved his own to offer in a shake.

"Pardon me?" Williams stuttered when Steve withdrew his hand enough so the shake fell through, but didn't pull it all the way back.

"A pen," Steve repeated with a little of the impatience and frustration he'd felt all day bleeding through. At least he refrained from snapping his fingers.

"Yeah. Okay."

Of course, why Williams was carrying a pen when he had both a computer and a smart phone, Steve didn't know, but was still happy for. He grabbed at it in a further show of impatience and started drawing. On his hand since he didn't have any other surface.

"Steve, what happened in North Korea?" Pat asked as Steve continued to sketch the face of the man who'd led him from the library.

"Chief Analyst, you say?" Steve responded to Williams instead of Pat.

"If you're implying that I made a bad call," Williams started, a little of his own heat coming out in his voice, along with an accent that was pure Jersey, if tempered by time spent away.

"Eurasian male. Late forties. A little under six-feet, no more than one-sixty, one-seventy pounds. Cropped black hair and lean, muscular physique. Moves like he's had significant training in martial arts. Who is he?" Steve finished as he shoved his hand Williams' direction so that the other could see the face that he'd drawn.

Williams twisted his hand so he might better view the ink drawing in the light from his computer. "A crude drawing, but by your description, that could be Wo Fat. 190 IQ. Served in South Korea's Special Forces. Last posting was with the JSA on the DMZ before retiring to take over the family import-export business at their headquarters in Hong Kong. A business that has strong hypothetical ties to both the local Tongs and the Yakuza, although no one in the family has ever been linked to anything criminal. A business that also takes him into Beijing and Pyongyang on a regular basis, as well as many other capitols around the world. Rumor has it he has residences in Stockholm and Riyadh as well as the one we know about in Hong Kong. And in Honolulu."

Williams' recall of someone not so much on the IMF's radar without having to consult his computer would impress Steve, if he wasn't convinced that he'd been played from the moment he'd stepped on the courtyard outside the Pavilion. It was that damn smile and wave. That was all he could think about.

He turned to Pat again. "Wo Fat is the Gui Lao," he told her. "You have to alert the Chinese that one of their strategists has a North Korean nuclear launch device and one of his operatives has the codes to activate it."

"What the hell makes you say that?" Williams scoffed.

"Because I saw it missing in the secure room, then saw this guy –" Steve only just kept from shoving his pen-marked hand back in Williams' face "– carrying the damn thing while he led me out of Pavilion as if I was a lost child," he snarled back, damned angry at himself for not twigging onto Wo Fat when he should have. For not figuring out until now that the bastard had obviously known him.

Steve turned his mind back to something he could handle. "He set the North Koreans on us with his radio trick and set off the explosion to cover his tracks," he explained when even Pat was looking at him with skepticism as well as sympathy. "It could be weeks before the North Koreans know it's missing, longer still for them to admit it to even the Chinese. Unless we tell them first."

Pat's expression turned to simple exhaustion. "As far as the Chinese and the North Korean governments are concerned, we just bombed Pyongyang. On the eve of our bringing in the Third Fleet for some timely wargames. I have no doubt at least North Korea is planning their own retaliation, which most likely will involve South Korea, so even they aren't real happy with us right now." She paused and took a deep breath.

"And the blame, right or wrong, points to the IMF. The President has already initiated Ghost Protocol, gentlemen. The entire IMF has been disavowed."

Thus her pending offer of resignation, which meant they were all fucked. Williams looked just as taken aback as Steve, which made Steve feel a little better. Had the other man already known they were now floating on the wind while Steve had wasted his time trying to get something going, he'd really begin to hate the guy instead of just finding him a waste.

Sure, he understood why Pat needed an analyst – even had the proof that Williams was probably pretty good at it with his remarkable memory – but missions were risked and completed by agents, while the analysts sat at home and more often than not were part of the reason some missions failed.

"So what happens now?" he asked, unable to stop his own exhaustion from showing through.

"I've been ordered to take you back to Washington, Steve, where the DoD will label you as a rogue extremist and hang the bombing on you and your team."

Truthfully Steve expected nothing else. Not really any difference than if he'd turned himself over to Weston, but at least this way it would be his own country meting justice, instead of the crazy-ass dictator. Or being turned over to the Chinese.

Only Pat wasn't done talking. Explaining.

"Unless, you were to escape somewhere between here and the airport, having assaulted Mr. Williams and me."

"Ma'am?"

His own question was echoed by Williams, who sounded just a tad put out.

"You would then illegally scrounge whatever material you could from a backup supply cache in Seoul Yongsan Yard that I've overlooked," Pat continued, the smile in her eyes with no hint of it otherwise touching her expression. "The same cache where your team are waiting for further orders."

"Ma'am," Williams tried again. "You may want to – "

Pat kept on talking, paying no mind to Williams at all. She reached into her jacket and took out a small case that she then worried in her hands. "You would then disappear, and this conversation never having taken place, your intentions would remain unclear. If any one of your team is caught or killed, they will be branded terrorists, out to incite global nuclear war. Your mission, should you choose to accept it..."

She paused and sighed, then snapped open the case. Inside were a handful of flash drives, one of which she took out and handed over to Steve.

"You are my best, Steve. I'm so sorry it's come to this, after all the sacrifices you made.

If we don't meet again, I just want you to know I've always considered you a friend and I am glad – "

Whatever Pat Jameson might have been glad about was drowned out in an explosion of shredding glass and gunshots and the rear window disintegrated behind her. Williams was quick on the mark, throwing himself in Pat's direction and pulling her down, but it was too late, the initial shot had blown through the window and through her skull, leaving her face a red ruin. Too late to save her life, Williams' move still save his own, as the next shot passed through his seat and into the driver, another damn head shot and somebody out there was too fucking good, tagging them in a moving car.

With the driver out of the picture, the car wasn't moving as fast or as well, but it still had the momentum to breach the curb and in the next moment, the car was sailing, as were their bodies, nose down over an embankment and into the fucking Han River they'd been paralleling. Steve barely had the wits to take a deep breath as the car rolled a couple of times then began to submerge, having never fastened his seatbelt. He'd taken a knock or two to the head as the driver had tried to evade further shots and then when the car fishtailed when the driver had proven unsuccessful. He made a grab for Williams as well as a sturdy handhold, but Williams seemed to be going for the pouch Pat had been carrying while also trying to pull the hard drive from his laptop, doing nothing to secure his own position as he pulled loose of his own seatbelt to reach the airborne flash driver carrier and evaded Steve's fingers.

In the next moment they probably would have been swept apart anyway, by the surge of water that started pouring into the car from the shattered windshields. Steve let his body tumble, having practically lived in the water even before joining the Navy, as the backyard of his parent's house in Honolulu was bordered by the Pacific Ocean. He'd learned to swim before he'd learned how to walk. Williams seemed to know enough to not waste his energy fighting either, to float toward the air bubble that was rapidly being squeezed out but temporarily protected by the seats, as the car had flipped over as it sunk, with the roof being their current floor.

"You okay?" He asked as soon as Williams' head popped up next to his and the analyst stopped coughing.

"Yeah."

Not that Williams sounded convincing, but Steve's own voice was a bit ragged for a number of reasons, though nothing that would slow him down either.

"The first shot took out most the back window and the surge has pushed in the rest," he told the other man, who was facing Steve, not their way out.  "Take a deep breath and stay with me." This time, Steve had no problem grabbing hold; Williams was holding on more tightly than Steve was.

"Ready?"

That earned him another, "Yeah," and the two of them took a series of deep breaths almost in synch before Steve gave a tug and pulled Williams down with him.

The only visibility came from the street lights shining along the river bank above them, highly distorted and defused, and from the front head lights of the car that had not yet shorted out. From what Steve remembered from spending some of the Navy's time in Seoul close to twelve years ago, the Han River was both broad, and deep, having been used to transport people and cargo for hundreds of years until its shared geography with North Korea made relying on it for commerce and transportation quite unreliable. It hadn't taken the car all that long to reach bottom, however, so they couldn’t be all that deep – certainly not deep enough that they wouldn’t have enough air to reach the top as long as they kept their heads and moved properly upward. A man could drown in less than a foot of water, however, once panic set in, so Steve remained concerned.

It wasn't Williams that gave them trouble, however; he'd chucked his jacket as soon as they breached the car and was keeping up well enough. Just as Steve as about the breach the water, he could make out small traces of air bubbles that weren't coming from either of the two of them. Familiar traces. Bullets, which couldn't actually hit them while they remained in the water with any sort of velocity, but they'd be sitting ducks above the water line, and from the number he'd noticed, there was no longer just one gunman after them.

He didn't really think, just grabbed hold of Williams and started dragging the other man back down, wrapping his considerable strength around Williams' wrist when he started to tug away. Since the choice was either follow Steve to where there still might be an air pocket in the car or lose all of his air in fighting Steve, Williams acquiesced and actually beat Steve to and back into the car. The air pocket was only inches, but still there.

"There are shooters up above," Steve explained once he could talk between gasps well enough to be understood.

Williams nodded, like he'd either noticed himself, or was at least willing to trust Steve with this. Given the information he'd been able to rattle off the top of his head about Wo Fat, Steve didn't doubt his own dossier was also in Williams' head. So the analyst had to know Steve had been a SEAL, had to know enough of what that actually meant –

"So, what do we do now?" Williams asked.

"You wait here."

"Where else am I going to go?" Steve heard as he headed back down into the water, but stayed in the car this time. There had to be something…

Like any Embassy car, this one held every kind of emergency equipment that might be needed, including a full roadside repair kit. Steve fished out one of the flairs, happy to note it was one that would burn in water, then looked around for something to attach it to. The only things floating were the bodies, but beggars couldn't be choosers. Pat's was the only one free and Steve grimaced as he pulled the cap then tucked the burning flair into the waistband of her skirt. Fortunately, it didn't take much to maneuver her through the back windshield and out into the current. He clawed for the air bubble again after that and took a quick breath, then tugged at Williams again to get them moving. In the opposite direction of Pat Jameson's highlighted body.

It turned out the shooters were the South Korean police, lining one of the pedestrian bridges over the river, their cars lined up front to back along the road the Embassy car had veered off of. By the time a very familiar blonde managed to stop the turkey shoot, Steve and Williams were climbing out of the water behind the buttress of another pedestrian or bicycle bridge, well away from the area the cops and other interested parties were looking.

Wet and bedraggled, Williams didn't look anything like the put together company man in the car. To start, he stood considerably shorter than Steve had guessed, no more than five-six or seven to Steve's six feet. He was also built like the clichéd brick shit house, another fact that hadn't been readily apparent sitting across from Steve in the car but was now obvious out of his jacket and with his dress shirt plastered to his chest like a second skin. 

"Why would that work?" were the first words out of his mouth as they made their way across the street and into a nearby alley before someone caught sight of them.

Having no idea of what Williams was asking, Steve simply said, "Why would what work?"

"The flare on Secretary Jameson's body," Williams clarified, wrapping his arms around his chest either from the coolness of the night air bringing up goose flesh, or because of the desecration Steve had performed, "Why would you think that would work?"

"It did, didn't it?" Steve countered, not really ready to explain himself.

"Yeah, I know, but… But why? I mean, how did you know that would draw their fire?"

Williams looked so confused that Steve had to say something. "I didn't," he admitted. "I played a hunch."

Williams stopped moving for a moment. "Okay," he said. "All right," and then he started back up. "So what was your scenario? You're being shot at in the water. So, all of a sudden, you decide to light up a flare and swim around? I mean, what did you assume they'd be thinking?"

"Thinking?" Steve repeated, becoming amused by how affronted Williams seemed to be getting.

"Yeah," Williams challenged him.

Steve gave a small laugh. "I didn't assume they were thinking. I assumed they were shooting. At anything that moved. I just gave them a target that wasn't us."

Williams sighed and shook his head. He finally looked around at their surroundings instead of following Steve blindly, and stopped once again. "There," he said, pointed at what looked like a new American-made Camaro.

"What, you had your car shipped over to South Korea for a three day junket?"

The look Williams turned on him was anything but amused. "Very funny. Were you really intending on walking to the train yard?" he then countered. "I doubt they have back alleys the entire route, and we don't exactly look like locals or tourists."

"So you want to steal a car?" Steve put it out there, just to make sure. "Like that won't make us conspicuous."

"Any asshole who does import his back home sports car here, probably isn't the type who's going to go running to the police when he discovers it missing," Williams pointed out. "And, it is after midnight, so unless he's here visiting his special lady – or gentleman – friend for a couple of hours, he's probably not going to miss it anyway, not until morning. We'll have abandoned it long before then."

It did make sense, not that it appeared that his opinion actually mattered, as Williams had already broken off and was heading over and proving his books smarts translated into at least one practical application as he popped the lock and hotwired the engine into starting even before Steve finished walking over to join him.

"Nicely done. But slide over, I'm driving," Steve said as he got there.

"The hell you are!"

"Do you know you're way around Seoul?" Steve countered. "Do you even know where the Yongsan rail yard is? Because I do. To both those questions."

Williams' only answer was a scowl, but he nonetheless levered himself over the stick between the two front seats and buckled himself into the passenger side. Steve tossed him the first aid kit and additional flare he'd taken from Pat's car, adding the one set of handcuffs he still had left from his hospital escape (the remaining chop stick having gotten lost somewhere between there and here) and his wallet with its few yon left.

"Here, that's all I have in the way of resources other than my training," he told the other man. "What have you got?"

Williams snorted, but pulled the gun he'd managed to retain from his belt holster and a single clip. His own wallet followed, filled with won, Euros and American dollars along with a faded photograph of a young girl that he carefully tried to dry off against the upholstery. Then the pouch full of likely corrupted flash drives. Lastly, of all things, he pulled a Saint Michael's medallion from around his neck.

No way had Williams ever been military. Cop maybe, before joining the IMF, but as analyst? Most likely the medallion had belonged to someone else. Father or brother, perhaps, or even mother. Maybe the mother of that little girl in the picture, and if that was so, Steve wasn't about to ask. Not when Williams' expression was just daring him.

Not that Steve was one to back down from a dare, but the two of them were all each other had right now, maybe just the two of them against the world if Pat had been wrong about Chin and Kono making it to the rail yard, or at least been wrong in the two of them having the patience to wait just in case Steve managed to make it there himself.

"Adding in yours, we have a little over five hundred dollars, given current exchange rates or places to convert the money. A pretty well stocked first aid kit," and without having to ask, Williams was handing over a couple of aspirin, "that actually held up to its manufacturers claim in being water proof. One P30 –"

"Compact size," Steve had to note.

"– with two sets of thirteen rounds."

Compact maybe, but Williams shot .40 S&W rounds, not the more standard 9 mm.

"One roadside flare, one set of handcuffs…" He let his pause linger, along with giving Steve a look, but Steve really didn't have anything to say about those.

"And not much else to take on a guy with the capability to launch a nuclear weapon unless there is something interesting in the glove compartment."

Putting action to words, Williams popped the glove compartment, obviously not locked and, therefore, probably not containing anything useful, but everything was pulled out and looked through with a thoroughness Steve could appreciate. Williams used the comb, although now that his hair was drying, it was a little more obvious as to why he'd gone heavy on the products to keep it slicked back when they'd first met. Williams' hair was practically fluffy with its waves and curls, and quite a bit blonder than it had first appeared, making him look a hell of a lot more like one of the guys Steve used to see hanging around the beach back in Honolulu and not a government spook.

Steve was glad he kept his own hair cut short; when it dried au natural, it didn't look all that different from how he purposely combed it.

After ten or so more minutes, Steve started recognizing the area specifically instead of having been just headed in the proper direction and making such turns to keep it that way as he'd been doing. He hadn't actually gotten them lost, which was all the mattered, even if it had taken him a few extra minutes to find his way to the right final streets.

"We're only a couple miles out from the cache," he pointed out. "And I doubt we're going to find any place better to ditch the car."

He kinda expected Williams to grouse about having to walk two (okay, nearly three but everything else from here on in was industrial, not commercial and any car, much less a shiny new Camaro, would have stuck out like a Caucasian here in South Korea) miles, but he didn't say anything as Steve brought the car to a stop in amongst a parking lot half-filled with other cars abandoned overnight when the nearby establishment had closed at midnight.

"Do you actually know where we're supposed to find the cache?" Williams asked once they finally made their way past the security fences – and no doubt real security – and made there way into the rail yard.

At this time of night, there didn't seem to be any actual trains coming in and out, but there were collections of rail cars making the circuit, with men loading cargo into some in preparation for morning. Dodging them wasn't difficult given the number of stationary cars lining the tracks around them.

"It's supposed to be a green car," Steve recalled from his mission brief.

He made a point of memorizing all the rendezvous spots amongst the local environs and had reacquainted himself with those in North Korea (1), the nearest part of China (3), Hong Kong (7) and here in South Korea (5) before he'd made his own way to North Korea just – damn – three days ago? He was surprised Williams hadn't.

"Green, great. The most common color around us after graffiti." And there was the grousing.

 

"It's number forty-seven. There should be a pattern to the movements."

Whether Williams agreed with that or not (whether it was even true), he turned to take in the yard opposite Steve, calling out colors and numbers softly while Steve kept such observations to himself. It seemed they had mutually decided that to go chasing after moving box cars made little sense as they could have then kept missing green, number forty-seven, and instead they kept track of the cars moving around their stationary point.

After five minutes or so of no luck, however, Steve wondered if they would have to try something else and was about to suggest –

"All right, there. Forty-seven."

Steve turned Williams' direction. "I don't see it."

"Forty-seven. There. Oh, shit!"

Williams took off at a dead run, something Steve had little trouble catching up to with his longer legs even if he still wasn't clued in on what they were chasing.  They both had to dodge around stationary cranes and abutments, Steve nearly braining himself as he followed Williams' pointing finger instead of keeping an eye on his path, but he swung himself around the structure that could have stopped him short and in doing so, finally saw the elusive number forty-seven. Green.

Williams headed toward the handhold near the door's opening, twisting long enough to point out the electronic pad near the back end of it. An electronic lock made sense, even if it didn't hold what it should behind its locks, but punching in his ident code while jogging along side a moving box car – and while avoiding more impediments – was not a fucking cakewalk.

"Press enter!" Williams yelled at him when nothing happened after Steve entered his code.

A whirring sound followed, with a panel slipping away just like at the Hong Kong phone booth.

"Retinal scanner!" Williams yelled again, but yeah, Steve knew this part.

He hoisted himself up, awkwardly holding himself steady long enough for the scanner to actually work, and all the while hoping that when Pat had said Ghost Protocol and overlooked cache, she'd meant she'd somehow insured that Steve's identity confirmations would still be recognized by the IMF here.

"Watch out!" Williams yelled at him once more, giving Steve just enough time to push himself back away from the boxcar and tumble into a roll to avoid another stationary crane.

By the time Steve regained his feet and caught back up, Williams was disappearing into the opening left behind by the sliding door and Steve was hoping he had one more daring feat of athleticism in him to make the leap himself because his body was screaming at him that it was done. Williams didn't just look like a brick shit house though, he had the upper body strength to give Steve the impetus he needed with a timely thrusted hand.

Agent confirmed.

"Steve?" He heard Chin's voice above him, not yet having the breath or strength to roll over and confirm. "Bruddah, we thought you were dead!"

"We are," came from Williams who was doing his own pretty good impression of a beached fish.

"Who's this?" Kono inserted herself into the conversation, her expression turning from distrust to concern to relief when Steve managed his turn so he could look up and see that neither she nor Chin looked any worse for the wear from their own adventure getting out of North Korea.

"Agents Kalakaua and Kelly," Steve introduced his team with a brief jerk of his head before letting Chin pull him to his feet. "Danny Williams, IMF's Chief Analyst." He then introduced Williams in return.

"Analyst?" Kono asked as she turned to Chin, not doing much to hide her distain, even as she started opening drawers in the tricked out box car to offer an assortment of clean, dry clothing.

Steve took the towel thrown his direction, and the bottle of cold water Chin produced, but had more important things to deal with than how he was currently dressed. He pulled the flash drive Pat had given him out of a neoprene pouch he always carried with him in one of the lower pockets of his cargo pants, pulling out a few more things such as a tin of matches, a sewing kit and a spool of wire he'd forgotten about when he'd divested himself of anything that might have been useful for Williams to sort through. That earned him a dirty look from Williams who moved slowly to do his own investigating of what this cache contained, one that Steve deserved, but didn't let himself worry about either.

He tossed the drive to Chin, who in turn pulled a computer interface down from one of the walls until it made a small table positioned over the floor. Chin motioned Steve over to the tabletop and pointed at a small rectangle on the flat screen before gesturing with his thumb.

Agent confirmed, an electronic voice said again as Steve gave the computer his thumbprint. With this, the contents of the flash drive began unzipping and decrypting along a series of monitors hung from the bulkhead opposite the door. Steve recognized the image of Jenna Kaye and had to bury a growl when further images of Victor and Anton Hesse appeared too.

The Kaye file had to be from the intel collected during the first part of the mission, the details that had sent Bass, Kono and Chin out to the Philippines. Steve already knew everything the IMF had on the Hesse brothers; from all accounts Victor was the brawn between the two, had been the shooter when the Gui Lao – Wo Fat – had ordered Steve's dad killed, along with Joe White, his dad's best friend and then governor of Hawaii. Anton Hesse was the brains, the one who'd graduated from the University in Belfast, and who was rumored to be a leading expert on nuclear technology. Who also played at being a very dangerous arms dealer.

Williams gave a quick glance at the files, then ignored them to come over to the table, having changed out of the remains of his suit into a pair of sweats, a soft, comfortable looking sweater (not that Steve was paying attention to how the color of it brought out the vivid blueness of his eyes), and a pair of sneakers. Of course Williams didn't need to study the files; he'd probably been the one who'd put them together for Pat. And Bass's team.

"May I?" he asked Chin, who was hovering between them, his expression one of proprietary defensiveness when Williams made a move to touch the keyboard within the table computer.

Chin looked to Steve first, then nodded when Steve gave the go ahead. Fortunate for them all, Williams didn't bristle at having to be vetted; Kono was looking downright vicious to have someone interfering with her cousin's domain.

"Since I can't access the actual files back at HQ thanks to Ghost Protocol – "

Right, Steve should have mentioned that first off, going by how pale Chin and Kono both turned.

"Can you get me an internet connection?" Williams asked Chin, ignoring the disavowed elephant in the boxcar with them.

Chin nodded mutely and did whatever needed be done before stepping back again.

"Okay, this is some of the public stuff on Wo Fat," Danny started opening up several windows and typing in a series of URLs. "Business prospectus, company website, and a video of him accepting honors when he retired from the South Korean Army. This is the man you saw in Pyonyang? The man you say is the Gui Lao?" He asked, turning to look at Steve.

Steve nodded, memorizing the features of the man he'd been chasing now for almost four years. He didn't look up to see Chin or Kono's reactions; Chin had been there for him when his father had been killed, had been the one along with Pat Jameson who'd helped him channel his grief and rage into something more productive than suicide by mission, which would have been what would have happened had he been able to get away from them to take on the Hesse brothers on his own.

Williams kept his gaze and nodded slowly in return. "Okay. This is why I might believe you," he offered, calling up another window and another video file.

"This was a presentation Wo Fat made six years ago to a UN committee. The reason he got on the IMF's radar in the first place and why we kept tabs on him even though he was allegedly an ally."

The grainy video had obviously been taken by an early generation phone camera or more likely a hidden camcorder and from far enough back in the room that it was hard to make out Wo Fat's features. The voice was the same though; the one who had oh so politely led Steve from the Pavilion library.

How will the world finally end? It is my job to predict the unthinkable. To treat the death of billions as a game. After years of this, I was numb. Until a new question crossed my mind. What happens after the end of the world? Every two or three million years some natural catastrophe devastates all life on Earth. But life goes on. And what little remains is made stronger. Put simply, world destruction is an unpleasant, but necessary part of evolution. What happens then, I wondered, when mankind faces the next end of the world? I looked to Hiroshima, Nagasaki. Thriving cities rebuilt from the ashes, monuments to the unimaginable, dedicated to the concept of peace. It occurred to me that nuclear war might have a place in the natural order. But only if it could be controlled. Only if it touched every living soul equally.

"That was for real?" Kono asked. "This guy really said that – really meant that – and now we think he's the Gui Lao?"

Steve didn't answer her. His mind was already mapping out his next steps. How to find Wo Fat, the Hesses, or Jenna Kaye. Any one would lead him to all the rest. He just needed to find a connection, find someone with a connection.

Even as Steve pulled away from the table and the others, going to one of the drawers to find what he needed, he heard Williams finally answer Kono's question.

"Who now has a nuclear launch device and has only to meet with Jenna Kaye to get the launch codes."

Not for long, if Steve had anything to say about it.

He found a cell phone and dialed the number he'd burned into his brain at Pik Uk prison.

"Wailoa's Shaved Ice. Best ice in all of the islands," came the response. A woman.

Steve wasn't surprised, even when the area codes hadn't matched. Since the advent of cell phones, numbers often didn't match locations.

"I'd like to speak to the big guy."

"It's just me, brah. How can I help you?

Steve took a deep breath, so that he wouldn't growl into the phone. "Tell your boss that his friend from summer camp is calling. And cashing in."

It was the woman on the other end's turn to pause. "Give me a number that I can get back to you."

Steve pulled the phone from his ear and hit the user info, ready to read it off to her. It didn't matter that this number got out; even if it wasn't intended to be a burn phone, it was now, and Steve would dump it once they were on the move again. His only concern was that once it was dialed back, someone within the IMF would pick up on it and set out to trace it. Trace them. Yeah, that wasn't going to work. Fortunately he hadn't mentioned any names (out of habit, not conscious intent), and if Kamekona really wasn't hanging about the number he'd given Steve – Mick – in prison if Mick ever needed to get a hold of him, it should take some time for anyone to make the connections.

"Hey, I need a drop box email, totally anonymous and totally secure. Five minutes ago," Steve called out to the cluster at the computer.

"Give me a minute," he then told the woman on the phone.

"Hey, it's your dime," she laughed with the brotherhood and island spirit Steve couldn't help but miss now and again.

Kono was the one who brought the address over, looking as unsure and as uncomfortable as he'd seen her, showing her lack of experience, although Steve supposed there weren't many people in the world with the experience to calmly deal with the real and imminent threat of nuclear war.

"Thank you," he made sure to tell her, holding onto her hand for just a few extra seconds that she might take comfort from his calm.

She gave him a brave smile and returned to Chin's side.

"Miss, I've got an email address," Steve turned back to his phone call. "I need the big guy to email me back within the next fifteen minutes. After that, the address will not be valid so I will have to come for him. Personally."

Steve didn't like to threaten someone who didn't deserve it, nor was the threat something he had the time to actually go through with, but Steve figured she wouldn't know that, even as it was obvious that she did know at least something of Kamekona's real business.

"No worries, brah." And with that, she actually hung up before Steve could end the call.

Steve started pulling apart the phone as he started back toward the others, but Chin shook his head and reached out his hand.

"Let me redirect that last call first," he suggested to Steve. "Even if they have more assets on site than us, and you were on the phone a good minute too long, back home they're going to have to be going through another agency, the DoD directly or the NSA probably if Ghost Protocol has truly been enacted. They'll have to go through the CIA here, I would imagine, all of which will take time. Should I be nice and have them running around Australia, or take out a little of our… pique and send them to Russia?"

"Russia would make more sense if we really are terrorists," Steve pointed out.

"So, you've got a plan?" Williams asked when Steve returned to the computer.

"Can you tell me where Jenna Kaye is right now?" he asked in return. Once she'd gotten involved and killed Bass, the IMF had to have put eyes on her and had their analysts put together several options for getting the codes back from her.

Williams rose to the task, not the challenge. "After she killed Agent Bass in Caloocan, she headed to Budapest. From there she's scheduled to check in to the Burj Hotel in Dubai. Twenty-three hours from now," he added with a quick check to the watch he'd also found for himself. "Intel suggests she'll be there to meet one or both of the Hesse brothers."

"So there it is." Steve met each of his ad hoc team's gazes. "For the launch device to work, Wo Fat needs the activation codes. Obviously he's sending the Hesses to buy them from Kaye. Secretary Jameson is dead. The President has invoked Ghost Protocol and we're shut down. No satellite, safe house, support, or extraction once we leave here. The four of us and the contents of this cache are all that remain of the IMF. And as of this moment, any action is unsanctioned. So if you want out, speak now.

Although both Chin and Kono looked a little green, they also looked willing if not actually eager. Williams simply looked resigned, but then he would have been one of the ones going over every possible scenario once the launch codes had been lost. Really, having a name and identity for the other end of Kaye's leash was useful, but only helped them in the details, not the actual mission. Well, the next part of the mission.

When no one spoke, Steve continued. "Our ultimate mission is Wo Fat. We're all that stands between him and his goal of setting off a nuclear device. Nothing can be left to chance. Which means that everyone connected with this man is considered an asset with valuable information about our target."

He gave Kono a directed glance, which she tried to ignore as she burned a hole staring at the image of Jenna Kaye, but a small nod of her head told Steve she was listening, and got the specific message he was sending to her without having to call it out and embarrass her in front of Williams.

"No one can know we're still on-line. We lose Wo Fat now, we've likely lost him forever." Steve had no intention of losing Wo Fat now that he knew who the man really was.

"So, what's the play?" Chin asked.

"Hesse will take delivery from Kaye in twenty-four hours," Williams reminded them. "We cannot let the launch codes leave the hotel, but we need Hesse to lead us to Wo Fat. He'll only do that if he has the codes."

"Or if he thinks he has them," Kono pointed out.

"Right. So. We need to intercept the sale, replace the authentic codes with counterfeits and follow Hesse to Wo Fat," Steve laid it out.

"Well, that's simple enough," Chin said, obviously trying to lighten the mood. "We snatch the codes, I gin up some fakes. Then Kono doubles for Kaye and sells those codes to Hesse while we keep the real ones."

"And how do you propose we just snatch the codes from Kaye?" Williams asked. Even though he had to know the typical scenario, if he was the one who read through every field report to come up with the big pictures and better ways of doing things.

"We take her out," Kono said instantly.

"Only, according to fearless leader, here, everyone is an asset," Williams reminded Kono, his tone softening remarkably for all the sarcasm it had started out with, leaving Steve to conclude that Williams had known about Kono's relationship with Bass.

That he'd known, but maybe hadn't bothered to mention it to anyone else, which was quite chivalrous and off-book for a chief analyst.

Kono looked unhappy, but nodded as she had the first time Steve had warned her more subtly. "Right, she's an asset. I get it. Sorry."

Steve let Chin draw her back into his arms, figuring when Williams didn't make any sign of discomfort with that, he also knew that the two were related.

"So we don't touch the Hesse brothers, either," Williams pointed out with a directed look Steve's way.

Obviously, Williams knew entirely too many things.

"They will all pay," Steve said to reassure Kono she'd get her revenge for Bass, to reassure Williams that he had his own grasp of the big picture. It wasn't like payback was going to bring back anyone who'd been lost.

"They will answer for the wrongs that they've done, but it has to be after we hit Wo Fat."

********

Dubai was just as much a set of contradictions as China, Brazil, or even Hawaii, really. Filled with great, cosmopolitan cities known the world over, yet so much of the surrounding countryside was shantytowns, farms, and natural beauty. Of course, the sands of the Arabian desert were an austere beauty, especially to those island born, but after time spent in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan, Steve could appreciate the endless vista of sand, sky and water.

Then there was Dubai, the city, a fairytale collection of some of the most stunning architecture in the world. This wasn't the first time Steve had been to Dubai on IMF business, but his past trips were generally clandestine meetings on the docks or in the waters seven and a half miles out, with one memorable meeting out in the desert itself.

The team had flown from Seoul to Ankara, then from Ankara directly into Dubai, taking seventeen of the nineteen hours they had left before Kaye was due at the Burj. It had taken them nearly four hours to raid the cache of anything useful, and spread out through Seoul to convert enough of the stashed funds to get the tickets, some food, more appropriate clothes, and set up the rest of the trip. For his part, Steve had slept through most of the flights and when he had awoken, it looked like the rest of the team was doing the same, although he had caught Kono reading an Japanese anime novel during the part of the flight out of Turkey.

She was reading it again, or maybe a new one, while Steve drove them toward the hotel. Taking a taxi would have left less of a paper trail for them to have to cover, but they couldn't go over last minute details in the presence of a taxi driver and Williams was definitely proving to be a last minute go over and over the details kind of guy.

"So let's assume I've never done anything like this before," he was saying, to the amusement of Kono and Chin – of Steve himself, though he was better at keeping his game face. "Even if we can double whichever Hesse is coming and Kaye, how do we keep them in separate rooms while having them think that they're in the same room?"

"We give the hotel a facelift," Steve directed back over his shoulder. "Whichever Hesse will think he's arriving at Kaye's suite, but, really, he'll be walking into our decoy room. Where Kono will double Kaye. I think it's going to be Victor, by the way, as far as which ever Hesse. He's the muscle, with Anton normally staying in the background."

"Downstairs, Steve will double for Hesse and meet with the real Kaye, while I keep the security cameras and hotel systems for registering any of our interference," Chin chimed in.

"Okay, so what am I doing?" Williams asked.

"You?" Kono asked, turning in her seat to meet William's frown with a mischievous grin. "You're the helper!"

Williams' frown didn't look all that serious and there might have even been a chuckle in his voice when he repeated the word helper. "Great. Okay, so to the extent I understand what you're really talking about here, your plan is for us to walk into the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, where we will alter its infrastructure with the hopes of convincing two people that they've had a meeting, which actually really never happened."

Kono nodded, the smile still easy on her face. "Exactly."

"That's not a plan, that's a suicide pact."

"Do you have a better one?" Steve challenged. Williams had been right there with them when Chin gathered up the mask technology and could have objected or offered something else at any point during the last twenty hours. That he didn't told Steve his answer, and indeed Williams was only shaking his head, with a look of bemusement instead of challenging Steve in return. The guy was prickly enough, but he also had, so far, proven smart enough to roll with everything. It was easier to forgive his questions and doubts when Steve remembered Williams did his agenting from behind a computer, not in the field.

Steve kept that thought in the back of his mind as the four of them entered the hotel, walking with deliberate purpose and not heading toward the check in. Chin had already managed to secure them the room above and below the one Kaye had reserved, and had the appropriate key cards and access to get them inside. The elevators themselves did not require any further security, so they simply walked past anyone else around them as if they knew where they were going and had the perfect right to be there.

Chin had managed to dig up the basic plans for the hotel, those, along with a wide variety of pictures off of random people's recommendations, blogs and travelogs, gave them a pretty thorough idea of what to expect. Kono had chosen a smart suit that was similar to those some of the senior hotel staff wore, while Chin had worked up an appropriate hotel badge for her. She peeled off from the three of them to move into the back of the house, her intent to find a waiter's uniform that Williams could wear once Kono, as Kaye, got hold of the diamond payment; the payment that he in turn would use to pay the real Kaye for the real codes. That was actually Steve's biggest concern about their plan, timing the diamond exchange, though Williams' bitching about having to be the waiter was its own problem.

He ignored his headache, though (both the physical and metaphorical ones), once they entered in the room they were going to use as their base command (the one above Kaye's), and even Williams moved directly to the waiting tasks, helping Chin set up the computers and then pulling out the mask machine from the one larger suitcase they'd brought along with their briefcases and carry-on totes. Chin called up the series of images they had on both Jenna Kaye and Victor Hesse and made the connection between his computer and the mask maker so that it could get started. Theoretically, they would have enough time to make three, planning to have an Anton mask too, just in case Steve had guessed wrong as to which Hesse brother would make the exchange.

"ETA on dry cleaning," Steve contacted Kono over the tiny, near-invisible earbuds and mics all four of them were using. Chin had gathered a set of ten from the South Korean cache… just in case.

.

"On my way up," Kono answered immediately, and with no trace of concern in her words or voice.

Success, then, even for someone Williams' height. Or lack thereof.

"Good. Fifty-four minutes to door knock," Steve reminded them all with a quick check of his watch.

"Damn."

"Chin?"

Chin looked up from his computer. "Okay, this is a slight wrinkle, but nothing to worry about. We're just going to have to go into the server room from the outside."

"What?" Williams asked.

"The firewalls on this building's server are military grade," Chin told them. "This would be a cinch if I could call Toast back at headquarters, but Toast doesn't exist anymore, and neither do we. I can hack it, but it will take too long."

"Then hardwire in," Steve all but ordered.

"There's four layers of next-gen security between us and the server room, Boss. There's no way I can get to it from here. And if we can't get to the server, we won't control the elevators or security cameras. Which means we can't fool Hesse into going into the right wrong room."

"Great," Williams offered, his voice full of sarcasm. "This operation is over before it even begins."

"No, it's okay. We can get to it. From the real outside," Chin assured them.

"We?" Steve repeated with a touch of his own sarcasm, having figured out exactly what Chin was talking about.

Chin looked sheepish. "I'm on the computer."

"Don't look at me," Williams quickly spoke up, his hands raising from prepping their guns. "I'm just the helper. And waiter."

Fine. "What floor is the server on?" Steve asked Chin.

"One hundred and thirty."

"One three oh?" Steve repeated. "What about vent ducts?"

Chin shook his head. "Pressure sensitive."

And at the same time, Williams muttered, "Not enough time."

"Elevator shaft?"

No joy again. "Infrared sensors."

"Not enough time."

Not helping, but Steve didn't have the energy to reprimand Williams, not when all his effort was focused on what Chin was asking – demanding – that he do. The Burj was the tallest fucking building in the world, and one hundred and thirty floors meant he was going to be climbing approximately two thousand feet above the ground. A good third of a mile, and plenty of time to think about what would happen if he ended up falling.

"How am I supposed to do this?" He had to ask, even as he started stripping to put on the climbing suit that Kono had been the one to find and decide necessary before they'd left South Korea. Chin wouldn't have suggested this if he didn't have some idea.

Right?

"With these," and Chin pulled out a set of gloves, similar to wet suit gloves but with even tackier palms and some kind of electronic stripe that ran across the back from middle finger to wrist.  "They build up an electrostatic induction that will have you literally sticking to the glass. You can break the bond with a rolling motion," and here he made a hand wave pretty damn similar to some of the hula moves of their youth. "When the meter is blue, that's full adhesion. Easy way to remember: blue is glue."

"And when it's red?" Steve asked while he made the final adjustments to the fit of his suit, seeing the other color when Chin slapped the gloves against on another.

"Dead."

Terrific.

Williams wandered over while Chin showed off the gloves. Steve braced, ready for some sort of scathing remark or doom-saying, but the analyst surprised him, reaching out to adjust a fold of the neoprene against the back of his neck.

Steve absolutely did not shudder at the feel of Williams' competent, surprisingly gentle hands.

"Here's a glass cutter," Williams then offered, holding up something else that must have been picked up from the cache. "Heavy duty and hopefully strong enough for the kind of glass they have here. If you can't – "

"And here's your server interface," Chin interrupted with more equipment.

"Both going back here," Williams took back over, putting them into open pouches on a belt he then snaked around Steve's waist from the back.

Steve took over adjusting the fit before he had to adjust something else. Now definitely wasn't the time for his long dormant libido to sit up and take notice. Especially not over someone like Danny Williams, who may or may not have a daughter.

"Okay, Steve," Chin called out from back where he'd taken a seat in front of his computer again. "The hotel server is eleven stories up and seven units over. To the left once you're facing the glass from the outside."

Nearly three hundred feet he'd have to climb, horizontally as well as vertically. Sure, no problem.

"Forty-two minutes to door knock."

Except for that. Steve really doesn't need a countdown. But given that's the time left before Kaye is due, the only thing that mattered was getting out and getting climbing. Which meant the window to their own room had to be cut away first.

Williams seemed to get that and pulled out another glass cutter, getting started on the side opposite Steve. Chin had to take over along the top, since even standing on a bar stool, Williams wasn't tall enough to make the cut clean and precise to the frame. Williams stepped back up, though, helping Steve balance the now freed glass inside instead of taking a chance of it falling outward and killing someone – or several someones with shrapnel. Steve then backed away to let Chin take his place as he and Williams slid it over; he really didn't need to tax his muscles this early in the endeavor when he was going to need all of his strength to make what was, essentially, a free climb up the tallest building in the world.

Steve put on his goggles and then the gloves and engaged the electronics, then once his exit was clear, he took a position with his back facing the endless sky and slid carefully to port until he could affix his left hand against the next glass window.

It stuck.

Steve tried the rolling motion he'd been shown and got used to the feel of the glove pulling away. The next time he slapped his palm against the glass, he did so at the top of his reach and let himself dangle for a second, to become familiar with the strain. It was different than free climbing, the pressure wasn't solely on his fingertips, and it took him a moment to adjust to those differences from past training that was embedded as muscle memory. It worked, and it wasn't like there was anyone else who'd have even close to his training. The only easy day was yesterday; the SEALs' motto was something that hadn't really changed just because he'd let himself be recruited into the IMF.

Blue, glue. Red, dead. One limb's movement at a time, wash, rinse and repeat.

"Twenty-five minutes to door knock."

Thank you, White Rabbit Williams.

"What the hell is that?"

Okay, that was new and just as useless to Steve as ticking clock. "What the hell is what?" he asked Williams back.

Chin was the one who answered. "It's a sandstorm. It's a long way off, Steve. Long way. Shouldn't be a problem."

Says the man who'd be inside when it struck. Actually, Steve would need to be also, if it had any of the strength of the one he'd experienced years ago in Fallujah. Not a skin scouring one that would lay bone bare in minutes, but the amount of dust as well as sand that had been put into the air had made breathing problematic and had left him coughing out the dust from his lungs for what felt like days. And screw visibility in the normal sense; he hadn't been able to see because of how dried out his eyes had become, despite the particulates he'd needed to wash away.

"Twenty-four minutes to door knock."

"Where's Steve?" Kono's voice then came over the comms before Steve said anything to Williams.

Someone must have pointed, because it was Kono again who spoke:

"You've got to be kidding me."

Steve tuned them out to run the numbers over again in his head of how many frames he'd crossed.

"Twenty-three minutes to door knock."

He thought about screaming, but realized he'd made it. "I'm at server level," he informed them instead and reached back for the glass cutter. Which he realized he wouldn't be able to use with the glove on. Which meant he'd be keeping his body from reaching terminal velocity and not even having reached halfway down to the ground, with one hand, and his toes which were wedged against the frame of the window he needed to cut through.

"Twenty-two minutes to door knock."

"The countdown is not fucking helping, Williams."

God, he'd have to crouch while he did this, curled over with his left hand raised as high as he could reach, just to cut a crawlspace big enough to go through without also damaging the part of the window he still needed to cling to. The only way he was going to be able to get in once the hole was cut would be feet first, releasing his gloved hand at the last second and hoping his center of gravity was inside lest he go sliding right back out again.

Piece of fucking cake.

Between the rising wind, which had already been noticeable up this high, and the sweat pouring out his body from the neoprene and all of his exertions, holding onto the glass cutter was becoming a chore, as was making the cut clean and uninterrupted. Steve found himself actually missing the fucking countdown when he realized he was taking too long in having to repeat cuts over sections he'd stuttered along, and in the end he said fuck it.

He'd cut an arc of at least two hundred and fifty, give or take the dashes of glass he hadn't cut through in his fumble-fingers, which should be good enough. He tried his elbow first, then a knee, finally pushing back, using his gloved hand as a fulcrum that he could put his weight behind breaking the glass inward with his heels.

It took three tries, but then he was sliding in, just like he imagined, and the neoprene that had been constricting and making him broil now did its thing in letting him roll over the shattered bits of glass without taking any cuts to places he wouldn’t have been able to reach. The scratches on his arms he didn't even notice.

"I'm in."

"That's great, Steve," Kono cheerleaded.

"You're halfway home," Chin reminded him, sounding encouraging too, but all Steve could feel was exhaustion in that he still had so much to do.

"Time check," Steve had to request, not sure if he needed to know more than he needed to be reassured that Williams was still there with the team.

"Eighteen minutes. Plenty of time for a ninja like you, McGarrett."

Steve could let his smile out since he was alone. He pulled himself to his feet, shaking the last bits of glass from his body and hair, then started looking for the equipment Chin had shown him he'd need to find.

"Okay, I've located the server and I'm inserting the interface."

When his only response was a beep from the blinking box in front of him instead of over the comms, he added: "Please tell me we're online."

"Yeah, we're live," Chin finally spoke up, already sounding distracted by whatever he was doing. "I now have control of the elevators and the security cameras. We're golden. Time to redecorate."

The 'redecoration' would be done by Kono and Chin, they each had a portable sander-engraver that could alter the plaques showing the room numbers; Chin had already programmed in the font and decorations that might need to be touched up. Along with the waiter's suit for Williams, Kono should have also brought up a serving cart, which Williams needed to prepare and get comfortable with while he also changed and kept an eye on the security feeds Chin set up for the lobby and the floor Chin and Kono needed convert.

 

"Dammit, Kaye is at the elevators ahead of schedule," Williams' voice broke the tiny breather and bit of congratulations Steve had been giving himself.

"Go," came from Chin, obviously talking to Kono.

If the timetable had been moved up, they needed Kono in place now.

"Can you open this door?" Steve asked, moving to the entrance of the server room.

"Me?" Williams responded. "No chance in hell?"

"Chin, can you talk him through it?"

"He'd also have to deactivate the security alarms on the door, and there just isn't time to break both encryptions, even if I was up there."

Steve was open to suggestions. "I need to be down there, guys."

"The way you got there?" Kono suggested, her voice muffled and distracted as she pulled on whatever she'd decided to wear as Jenna Kaye and made the hotel room ready to receive Hesse.

Not even if his muscles weren't jelly, but all Steve told them was, "There's no time for that kind of climb either. Chin, what would happen if the alarms did go off?"

There was no reason to suspect security had offices or patrols on every floor, maybe not even every twenty floors. He could run down eleven flights pretty damn fast –

"Basic emergency measure, nothing to alert the guests, but it's possible the elevators would go to lock down for a few seconds while they ran a test to make sure the alarm wasn't a false one. The interface I set up will hold up to a basic test ping, but if they decide on a restart, they'll get back full control and we're right back where we were when we first arrived."

"You mean fucked?" was Williams' contribution after Chin's explanation.

"Well, yeah," Chin admitted, sounding out of breath now while he tried to do a two-person job in the same amount of time.

"Then we're not gonna make it."

"We have to make it, Williams," Steve growled, looking around for another option. He wasn't the electronics and computer wiz Chin was, but he was in a room full of computers and electronics. There had to be something –

Like a big-ass spool of polyurethane cable that had maybe been left behind when they'd upgraded their systems. It looked wide enough in diameter that it might support his weight, but thin enough that he could make a knot in the end of it after threading it around his tactical belt.

"Never mind, I've got it covered," Steve told them and got down to business.

If the cable was just the standard length of fifty feet or so, they wouldn't have bothered with the spool. Rope spools like the Navy used were usually six hundred feet, so even if some of this was missing – and accounting for the span he needed for his waist – there would be enough.

Positive visualization. Otherwise, he'd be too frozen in fear of all that could go wrong with this to even move. Like how even though the spool's diameter was actually higher than the top arc of the hole he'd cut in the glass, he'd weakened the glass with his hole and the rest of it would shattered once Steve's weight pulled the spool against it. Or the cable had been miscoiled or even knotted at some point on the spool so it wouldn't unroll cleanly, leaving Steve dangling just shy of two thousand feet up.

Only rookie jumpers called Geronimo or something similar when they took that final step, and the petty officers drilled that out of you, if your fellow sailors didn't take care of it first. Still, Steve thought his dive through the hole back out into the sky with only a thin cable keeping him from falling to his death deserved something. And if it was good enough for Butch and Sundance...

"Oooooooh, shiiiiiiiit!"

"Steve?"

Williams called him Steve, and he sounded… concerned. That was almost as exhilarating as twisting his body until he was literally running down the side of the Burj. Steve had fucking loved making HALO jumps out of the back of planes, something he really hadn't done except once or twice since joining the IMF, and not something he'd done in the last five years.

SEALs might be fucking crazy, but by and large they were also fearless, at least in some things that would have others crying and pissing in their boots. And. They. Got. Things. Done.

Except when they ended up twenty-five mother fucking feet too short!

Williams was standing at the edge of window, looking up. Looking amazed too, from what Steve could make out, right up until Steve was pulled short.

"Your line's not long enough!"

"No shit!"

But twenty five feet, when a good eighteen of it was the opening he needed go through…

Steve could do this.  He started to race horizontally along the windows, running away from Williams and his team, to build up his momentum. He was a third generation Navy boy, as well as an Eagle Scout and he knew how to make knots, including ones that held his full weight but had a quick release, since he didn't really know what kind of cable was wrapped up within the polyurethane, so couldn't know if his K-bar would cut through it at all much less in time.

By the time Steve was running back toward the opening and safety, he could make out William's look of incredulity, but mercifully he wasn't staying anything, at least not loud enough for Steve to hear over the pounding of his lungs and heart. At the halfway mark Steve pushed off from the glass as if he was an acrobat and pointed his body, toes and all as if he was a ballerina, as if he was an arrow aimed directly into the center of the dark opening. He pulled the quick release.

It was beautiful, masterful, he was fucking flying, straight and true and no more than a foot, foot and a half too high.

He said fuck. Danny shouted fuck. And then Steve was impacting head first into the frame above the opening and falling, too dazed to even try to scramble and save himself. He was falling far enough to think about it, to promise himself to dwell on the strengths of his team and put all of his energy into hoping they could complete the mission without him instead of wallowing in all the ways he'd fucked up. Only he'd just gotten as far as acknowledging the promise before his body stopped and smashed once more into windows, rattling his head hard enough that for a few seconds he wasn't able to think about anything.

Coming back to himself he realized he'd been stopped by Danny, who was more than halfway through the window himself, his big, wonderful fingers clamped around Steve's ankle in a grip worthy of a bear trap. Steve took a moment to let his brain marvel at how truly hideous the prescription bottle orange color of the waiters jacket looked on Danny, before it got with the program and tried to figure out how – if – he could help Danny in getting himself back up into the hotel.

Adrenalin was a marvel, giving Steve new strength in his cooked spaghetti-feeling arms, and he'd been the champ at stomach crunches back in boot. As long as Danny stayed secure (and Steve couldn’t even imagine how Danny was secured), Steve thought he could rock himself up until he could get his own grip around Danny's waving hand, transferring the responsibility to the both of them instead of it just all being on Danny's shoulders to maintain the hold between them.

From that position Steve managed to grab the sill when Danny practically dead lifted him, by curling his forearm. And that had Steve's weight now distributed between the two of them, instead of just all on Danny. He rattled against the glass below him again when Danny let go of his ankle to transfer his initial grip to Steve's other hand, but that let them both work together without Steve having to stay contorted like a pretzel. And then it was just a matter of Danny working himself up and backward, while Steve used his legs to climb and pull himself up.

Kono was there to help, adding her own surprising strength given she was maybe half Danny's size, even with several inches on him. Steve managed to crawl over Danny's body to gain the floor, then rolled to help Danny come fully back into the room in return while Kono kept them steady. Upon success, the three of them pitched over onto their backs, gasping great gulps of air and remaining basically puddles of quivering limbs and the terror of what ifs.

Until Chin let himself back in through the door.

"What'd I miss?"

They could only come up with laughter, slightly hysterical, but a release in its own right and enough of one that they pretty much got it together in synch, with Kono standing first, then Steve, and the two of them helping Danny up.

"So, this next bit shouldn't be as tricky," Chin started in as the three of them came over to stand behind him at this computer. "Steve, you're going to wear this contact lens. When Kaye hands over the launch codes, all you have to do is look at each page, for three to four seconds. The camera and electronics in the lens will copy each page and transmit the data wirelessly to the briefcase Kono will have. Built into the case is a printer hidden behind a false wall that will copy each page in turn, but after the software has scrambled the numbers."

"I want to try it."

Chin nodded and handed over the lens. Steve had a bitch of a time getting it in and then keeping it in place, but it couldn't be worse than running down the side of building, right?

"Yeah, the lens might be a little uncomfortable. Are you going to be able to manage?"

"I can't really see out of the eye, but it's fine."

"Good. Then blink twice to activate the shutter."

Steve did as Chin instructed, then looked over the sheet that popped through a slot in the briefcase lining, the printer quiet enough that he wouldn’t have known it had done its job if the paper hadn't have glided out. Glad that this was going right, Steve accepted the towel that Kono brought him out from the bathroom to wash away the sweat, then started putting his suit back on. Over the neoprene, but that couldn’t really be helped given they really were running out of time. Less than five minutes by his count.

"Last thing with the codes, is here is the tracking device," Chin said, handing over something that looked a lot like Steve's smart phone. "And this is what you're tracking."

He pushed a symbol which turned the screen to a cardinal point map with a great big blinking green arrow when he directed Steve's hand to point at the papers now clipped together in the briefcase.

"The paper clip?" Steve guessed.

"Actually, it's the paper itself." Chin looked pleased, maybe even proud, leaving Steve to wonder if he'd been involved in its design.

"It's coated with isotopes, which give off a unique signature that only these devices can pick up on. Hesse or Wo Fat could run the pages through any number of tests, not that I expect they'll think to bother, and not come up with anything that will tell them there's been a substitution or tampering. And we'll be able to follow wherever the pages go. Even if they switch briefcases."

Steve was impressed. "Range?"

That earned him a frown from Chin. "Not that good. It's, like, half a mile. Safest thing to do would be not letting Hesse out of our sight."

Since that had been Steve's intent in the first place, even if he had to split the team to keep eyes on Kaye as well as Hesse, Steve didn't see it as an insurmountable problem.

"Shit! That's Hesse," Danny suddenly exclaimed from where he'd gone back to watching the security feed. "God damn motherfuckers, it's the both of them!"

"Why the both of them?" Kono asked.

Danny was shaking his head. "I didn't think. Anton's probably here to authenticate the launch codes."

"While Victor plays as his muscle," Steve extrapolated. It wasn't Danny's fault; Steve should have known that's the way the brothers were going to play it. He was the one with the history with the Hesse brothers, while to Danny they had simply been more files for him to memorize.

"Well then, we're blown," Kono said, a mixture of resignation and panic.

"We are not blown," Steve growled. Not because of those two.

"We will be as soon as he sees the counterfeit launch codes," Chin pointed out.

"We are not blown," Steve repeated.

.

"They're at the elevator," came from Danny.

"Delay them."

"Not my expertise – " but even as Danny was saying it, he and Chin were switching places, Steve on Chin's heels.

They watched Anton and Victor enter elevator seven and punch in their destination: Jenna Kaye's room number. Immediately after, Chin rerouted the command to take them to floor one hundred seventeen, the one below where Jenna Kaye was waiting for them, then programmed in a series of stops of twenty floors between the lobby and one seventeen even though no other buttons lit up inside the elevator.

"Chin, how long would it take you to reprogram the software in the briefcase?"

Chin looked up. "Just a few seconds."

"Why?" Danny asked, his tone showing, however, that he knew exactly what Steve was thinking.

Steve didn't disappoint. "To make an exact copy of the real launch codes."

"No," Danny responded, looking sick as well as vindicated. "You're talking about handing over active nuclear launch codes to people who intend to use them!"

Steve nodded, skipping over Kono's look of horror (at the idea or maybe because now was really not the time to be arguing), and meeting Danny's own look of fury with a level of calm that Steve didn't really feel. Except, yes, he did, because there wasn't any other way. "Yes, I am, Danny. Chin," he then said, turning back to their computer geek, "reprogram the case."

"Stop, Steve," Danny turned to something more like pleading than demanding. "Just listen to what you're saying. You're fixating, not on the mission but on pay back. Against Hesse and against Wo Fat for what they've cost your family. You're not thinking clearly."

"Danny, you're the one who's fixating. Who's thinking too damn much. The mission is not the codes. They were always just the hook to get to Wo Fat. The trap to catch the Gui Lao."

"Guys, they're on floor thirty-three and climbing!" Chin called out.

"We can do it with bad codes," Danny arugued.

Steve shook his head. "You know that won't do it. You know that won't work. Failure to a terrorist is just a rehearsal for success."

"Floor forty-one!"

"We lose Wo Fat today, he shows up somewhere else tomorrow. He finds another way. With no IMF to stop him."

"No." Danny grabbed the case, taking a step back as Steve rushed forward to grab it back. Danny shifted the case behind him and took more steps, until he was backed up right to the open window, the heel of his back foot maybe an inch off the ledge and the case hanging out into the wind.

Steve aborted any further movement toward Danny. "Danny, please. Give me the case," he tried to coax. "Nothing can be left to chance. You said that in the boxcar and then on the drive here. You're the analyst. Tell me there won't be another way for Wo Fat to get those codes even if we neutralize the Hesse brothers and Kaye today."

"Fifty-three!"

Steve flicked his glance toward Chin, just the quickest look to convey that he knew and he was sorry and that they'd figure this out. That he got this and would do what he had to, even if it mean neutralizing Danny, so that neither Chin or Kono would be put into that position.

"Tell me that this is his only avenue, Danny, right here, right now, today," he challenged Danny. "You tell me that, I'll say you're right and we'll walk away. Let the exchange go on and just let it play out with the hope that we'll get to Wo Fat before he pushes the fucking red button."

"It's a switch."

"What?"

Danny gave a chuff of a laugh. "It's not a big red button, but a switch. Or I'm assuming the North Koreans have emulated the Chinese in this, as they have just about everything else in the nuclear program. No one knows, however, because we've never seen one of their working launch devices."

Steve thought he might get whiplash from the change of subject, but he was game to play. Anything to keep Danny from dropping the briefcase. Or himself out the side of the window.

"Actually, it is a fucking red button," Steve said with his own laugh. "We saw a room full of them when we were going after Wo Fat's Intelligence file. Remember, I told you and Secretary Jameson about that."

Danny nodded, then gave a big sigh. "Good to know," he added, moving back into the room and away from the window. He continued walking until he stood right in front of Steve, holding the briefcase out. "You're right. Wo Fat has the connections and organization to try again. This is our first and best actual means to get to him."

It was easy not to look smug, Steve was feeling anything but smug. Because, yeah, he was right, but that didn't mean it was going to work. And then he would be the one who handed over nuclear launch codes to a madman eager to use them.

"Oh, fuck," Kono suddenly spoke up from where she'd kept herself silent and practically hidden during the argument. "The masks didn't work."

"None of them?" Chin asked in surprise.

She nodded.

"We go without," Steve ordered. An easy one for once.

"But –"

"No, Chin. We have no choice."

"Steve, you'd be walking in on Kaye unarmed. Face-first. Literally. I mean," Chin continued, "how do we know they haven't met?"

"How do we know that they have?" Steve countered. "Doesn't matter, anyway, like I said, we have no choice. And, Danny, you and Chin are going to have to change outfits. Chin is never going to pass as my brother. We do have to believe that Kaye knows she's expecting the both of them. Can you do a faint Irish accent?"

"Boston was practically next door to Weehawken," came Danny's perfectly accented response as he started pulling off his jacket and letting his pants fall as he unbuttoned them.

"Chin, you're going to have to play waiter."

"Keep your pants, Chin," Kono suggested as she hurried to Danny's side, handing over the gray suit pants Danny had arrived in, and holding onto the jacket as Danny deftly wrapped and knotted his tie with the movements of someone long experienced.

At least he'd kept his dress shirt on under the waiter's jacket, so they avoided all of those buttons.

"The ones I found for Danny aren't going to fit you, and there seemed to be several set ups of these hideous jackets and black slacks. You'll need dress shoes, though, instead of sneakers."

"Okay," Chin acknowledged and began bending over in his chair. "They've reached floor one hundred," he then warned them as he raised his head.

"Stop them on every damn floor from now until seventeen," Steve ordered. "Then the fucking briefcase. Kono, when he's done that, get going. Take the stairs, just in case."

She nodded, a quick flash of pleasure that Steve showed the confidence that she could handle that with no more fuss.

Steve had to wonder who she'd worked with before, to preen under so slight a compliment to her competence and fitness, but then even if it was only Bass, considering they'd been together, it was likely Bass did everything he could to keep Kono cosseted. At least as much as she would have let him. Being a rookie field agent would have been working against her too.

"Danny?' Steve then asked.

"Give me the lens."

"What?"

"Kaye isn't going to believe I'm the muscle when you're standing next to me looking all… Navy SEAL." By the look in Danny's eye, that hadn't been his first choice of a descriptor, and Steve dutifully ignored the flutter that lodged in his stomach and worked at removing the contact instead.

Danny had apparently already found the lens holder and solution, holding it out so Steve could drop it in, then quickly swishing it around a couple of times before removing it and doing his own insertion.

"I fucking hate these things," he muttered, but had it in place quicker than Steve had managed nonetheless, closing the case and looking up at Steve before gesturing with his chin toward the door.

"If we're not careful, the Hesses are going to take to the stairs themselves, for all the crap they've been putting up with in the elevator."

Steve nodded and strode forward, Danny at his side even as he had to keep blotting his eye with a handkerchief, and Kono at their heels with the reprogrammed briefcase in hand. The three of them took the steps at double time, slowing only at the last two – or one in Steve and Danny's case since they would be exiting a floor earlier than Kono – so as not to arrive at their destinations breathing hard.

Steve kept them at the corner of the recessed stairwell for another few seconds, giving Kono a little more time so they wouldn't be too far out of synch when the meetings started. He and Danny would confront Kaye first, their mics upped in gain so that Kono could take her cue from Kaye herself when she let the real Hesses in.

"Goggles," Danny suddenly said, right as they reached Kaye's doorway.

Steve turned to look at him, then caught sight of what Danny had been talking about. He'd put on his shoes and suit, but as he hadn't removed the climbing suit, he had also forgotten about the goggles he'd dropped around his neck. Stuffing them into his inside pocket, Steve then looked again at Danny and received a nod.

Steve knocked.

"Come in," they heard through the door.

Steve reached for the handle and turned, not surprised at all when there was one of four guards standing just behind the door to pull it open when Steve rattled it. Jenna Kaye stood well behind the other three, back near the large glass dining table all of the suites held, her back to the overlooking windows so that to look at her meant dealing with the glare. Of course, with the approaching sandstorm,  the sun had dimmed enough that Steve still had a pretty good look at her.

Jenna Kaye was young for such a renowned assassin, with attractive if plain features and a pixie cut to go along with her almost waiflike appearance. She looked more like someone's secretary, especially with the glasses she sported, set down on her nose as she'd been studying a handful of papers Steve doubted were the launch codes. She was smartly dressed enough, so that she wouldn’t have stood out in amongst the types who did business here in the Burj, but she wasn't wearing designer clothes. More like something off the rack that fit her well enough, but also let her fade into the background as someone of little consequence.

"Which one of you is Victor?" she finally asked, after Steve and Danny had both been very professionally frisked, the goggles and the smart phone-tracking device Steve carried raising no flags.

Steve stepped forward, successfully holding back his sigh of relief since the question seemed to confirm that Kaye did not know the Hesse brothers by sight. And once again as he heard Kono parrot Kaye's question through his earbud.

"I am," he said with his own Irish accent, though he was better at an Aussie one, and French. He held out his hand as if for a shake, then brought Kaye's up to his mouth so that he could kiss the back of her palm. Victor had always been a slimy, charming bastard. Not just the muscle, but the glad hand between the two brothers, the front man to Anton's Machiavellian quietness. "I admire your work, Miss Kaye."

She seemed flustered under his attention, but Steve didn't trust it for a moment.

"Sit," she offered, her hand gesturing to the two chairs set side by side and opposite the one she took. Confirmation that she'd been expected both Victor and Anton; that they'd gotten another assumption right.

Steve waited until Danny chose first, then took his seat, noting the glasses and the decanter of what was likely first rate Irish whiskey set on the small oval table between his and Danny's chairs. While the odds were that the liquor hadn't been doctored in anyway, he made no move to pour, nor move to taste when one of her lackeys came over and did it for them at a small gesture from Kaye.

"Where are my codes?" Danny asked her instead, completely ignoring the interplay with the drinks.

"Where are my diamonds?" Kaye countered, a twinkle in her eye at Danny's directness.

From the frisking they'd been given, it was obvious neither of them were carrying the diamonds.

"Close by," Steve told her when Danny said nothing.

.

"You have my payment?" they heard from Kono, over their comms. The one thing the frisk hadn't revealed.

"When I see the codes."

"No diamonds, no codes," Kaye responded, her mouth forming a moue of disappointment.

"No codes, no diamonds," Steve countered, even as he listened in at Chin's arrival below, the pouring of tea, and Kono's demand that she be able to inspect the diamonds.

"Are we at an impasse?" Kaye asked

"You know who we work for," Danny told her, his voice flat, calm, entirely untroubled and not playing her game. "Are we at an impasse?"

"We come back with the codes, or we don't come back," Steve allowed a little bit of menace to color his tone.

"I've killed the best before," Kaye gave warning, though again she made a gesture with her hand and the bodyguards stayed stationary, not doing anything to add to her threat.

"Do you care for some sugar?"

"Enough," from Danny. "You want payment, I want guarantees. While I authenticate the codes, Victor will make the call and you get your diamonds delivered. It's that or we all go home in buckets."

"Nobody leaves this hotel alive, baby," Steve clarified, this time letting a little of Victor's eagerness – his crazy – show through.

Kaye stared them down for a few long seconds, long enough for Steve to flip his attention back to what was going on with Kono, but he brought himself back to the matter at hand when Kaye pulled up a purse that she'd kept at her feet.

"Get the papers."

"Is there a problem?"

This was the first real moment, when she could just as well be reaching for a gun as for the codes, and there was little either he or Danny could do but duck and take cover, while Steve tried to find something he could use to fight back.

It was the papers, though, no gun. Kaye handed them to her closest bodyguard, who in turn handed them over to Danny, with no one else in the room moving. Danny gave Kaye a final look (warning, promise, Steve wasn’t really sure what she was seeing since Danny was beside him) then, for all intents and purposes, set about ignoring everyone else as he made a show of reading every single line on each page. Stalling long enough for the copies to get made, even as Kono was stalling in the room below them.

"It's locked."

"Ah, forgive me. There must be a key. One moment, please?"

Steve started, just enough that he was embarrassed, though he was pretty sure he hadn't really given himself away with either feeling, when Danny handed over his phone and gave Steve a look. Right. The call. It made sense between the Hesse brothers that Anton would be the contact man about this part, and it wasn't like Steve's phone was real enough to enact the ruse that he was calling for the payment to get delivered.

"My mistake. It is a combination, not a key," Kono was telling Victor. "Let me –"

"You tell me the numbers."

"Zero."

"They're good," Danny announced, taking his time to straighten each page one to the other, and giving Kono the go ahead that she was good.

"Zero. Zero," Kono finished quickly.

"Now, if I might have them back until the diamonds arrive?" Kaye asked, no longer quite so coquettish.

Danny handed them over to Steve, to let him hand them to Kaye, a not so hidden jab at her own paranoia, but Kaye simply smiled as she accepted them, and poured herself a drink from the bottle of wine icing at her elbow.

"It is a pleasure doing business with professionals," she allowed them, tipping her glass in a vague salute. "Or so I dearly hope."

Danny ignored her riposte and leaned over to pour a couple more fingers of the whiskey into the two glasses. "If you don't mind, I prefer waiting to toast until one, I'm sure the drink is worthy and, two, after I'm sure the adversary is too."

Kaye let out a peal of laughter, nearly drowning out Kono's quick warning that the Hesses had the launch codes and were on the move.

At least that meant Chin was also on his way with the diamonds. That they could wrap up this end of the farce and get on to the next.

Even as Steve was thinking this, there was a discreet knock on the door, with minion one going to it and letting Chin in. No chit chat here; Steve barely acknowledge his teammate. Just took the pouch that Chin offered and turned to toss it to Kaye while Chin hurried back out of the room. He'd be on his way back to their base, while Kono settled her nerves and tidied up after her own confrontation, wiping all traces of her presence in the room.

Kaye quickly poured the diamonds into hand. Steve had no doubt they were real. The Hesses were bastards, but they were also damn successful in their own end of the business and you didn't get that way by cheating your customers. Steve even had a moment to be impressed that Kaye obviously handled diamonds often enough that she also knew they were real, without resorting to a loop or other test. He wasn't about to question it, nor ask why she then poured them loose back into her purse instead of back in to the pouch; Kaye was also a professional, and was moving to hand the launch codes back to Danny personally.

At the last second, though, she didn't release them, was looking at Danny hard as he rose to take them from her and, although Steve had no idea how, he knew they were blown. Even before she shrilly screamed, "Kill them," Steve was up out of his chair, his hand finding the decanter and swinging it into the gunman who was coming up on him on his right.

A good lead crystal decanter was outrageously expensive, weighed as much as ten pounds, without the whiskey, and this one was nearly a foot in height. When impacting against the side of someone's head, it wasn't the crystal that broke, even if both Steve and the gunman ended up with whiskey all over them, The gunman also had blood, and in an instant Steve had the gun, though he was loathe to shoot it if he didn't have to, since the gunshots would likely be heard by anyone else on the floor, resulting in security and local law enforcement becoming involved before his team could take care of everything.

Still, Danny was just an analyst and, counting Kaye, even with one down there were still four people intent on killing them.

Only there were really only two, given the man abruptly out cold at Danny's feet and the fact that Kaye was using the distraction of the fight to escape, not get involved.

"Kaye is on the move!" Steve called out as he took on his second gunman, falling back on SEAL training as well as IMF skills to disarm the man first, since it didn't matter who fired the gunshot.

"I've got her."

"Kono? She's an asset!" he reminded Kono, while trading blows. "We need her alive!"

Kono didn't respond beyond the sounds that Steve thought was her running through one of the halls.

"Kono, acknowledge!"

"Fine, dammit."

"Steve, I've got people other than the Hesse brothers moving along the corridor," Chin chimed in, proving he was back in their room. "They're all heading to the elevators."

"Keep all of the elevators from stopping on the floor," he ordered Chin, taking down his second guy and turning, just in time to see Danny put down his second in moves that no analyst should know, not even one with the build of a boxer.

"Someone will get tired of waiting, though I doubt the Hesses will take the stairs even to the floor below if they have company," Steve finished his original thought even as half of his brain was trying to figure out what he'd really just seen. Krav Maga, maybe, by way of even more back alley street fighting, with a lot of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu thrown in.

Steve could see the dirty street fighter, the boxing and obvious weight lifting, but in no way was Danny ever military and even if he'd gotten into martial arts as a hobby, he'd moved far beyond that and into the realm of someone who practiced daily. Maybe Danny had served a stint in prison, since that wouldn't have necessarily put the IMF off of him depending on the charges, but that didn't really feel right either –

"Shit. Victor and Anton are splitting up," Chin's warning broke into Steve's thoughts. "They've scared the other patrons into going back into their room, but I think that I lip read that they're each going to take the stairs, Anton going up and Victor down to meet up on floor one hundred. Victor has the briefcase."

"I'll take Anton," Danny said before Steve could, expertly checking both of the guns he picked up from the two he'd taken down, keeping one in his hand while he tucked the other against his back.

The guns made sense; when Steve had meet Danny, he'd been carrying. Still… Still nothing. Danny's plan also made sense, not just because Steve wasn't going to let anyone else go after Victor, but because that would put Danny and Chin on the same floor to take care of Anton. While Kono was wherever, chasing after Kaye. That was going to have to be enough.

"Go," Steve agreed. Then, "Chin, get me an elevator. Free them all once I'm on, then go to help Danny take care of Anton."

"Roger that."

"No, I'll help Danny with Anton," Kono suddenly joined back in with what sounded like a door slamming against a wall, and a quiet, yet heartfelt "Jesus," from Chin.

"Chin, you watch Kaye."

"Why me?"

"Because if I do, I'll kill her."

Though it went against all instincts, Steve had to let them sort themselves out if he was going to be able to get ahead of Victor. Once he got into the elevator, it became mandatory, as his comm cut out and he could hear maybe one word in five along with scattered sounds of impact and what might have been a gun shot. He didn't try to intercept Victor on floor one hundred; he had little doubt that the brothers would have also made fall back plans to rendezvous off site and, no matter, if Victor had the briefcase, he also had the codes. Which only Steve could track.

Figuring Victor wouldn't wait all that long for Anton on one hundred, Steve punched directly for the mezzanine, allowing that it would give him a view of Victor's arrival, and whether Victor was going to hold in the lobby too, awaiting Anton. Kaye and the Hesses might not have recognized each other on sight, but either Hesse would know Steve, which meant he couldn't just be there in the lobby too, not unless he wanted a blood bath.

Steve chalked up being distracted by concerns with finding a good location with an eye on the elevators that he didn't hear the person moving up behind him, not until he heard the gun click right before he felt the barrel pressing against his neck. He didn't know how Victor had beaten him; Chin had made sure Steve's elevator was express, no stops along the way no matter how many other buttons might have gotten pushed.

"Hold it right there, Mr. Yablonski."

Well, that explained it. Not Victor. Lori Weston. Who was proving fucking persistent for Embassy or CIA.

"Did you really think I wouldn't catch up with you?" she asked him.

If she was truly CIA, she wasn't very well trained, or at least had zero experience in close combat.

"You and I are not adversaries," Steve tried to give her an out. "My being identified as a terrorist was simply a set-up to draw everyone off the real terrorists."

Like the one who was exiting a floor below him, right the fuck now.

"We'll find out your lies soon enough, Mr. Yablonski. And your real name," Weston promised.

"Yeah, I don't think so. And I am sorry about this."

Steve twisted and swept up with his hand, deflecting the gun away from him as Weston jerked in surprise that he was defying her. In bringing his arm back down, he bent it so that his elbow impacted against her face, her nose to be precise given her sudden howl and the splash he felt against his hand as he grabbed the gun from her while she flailed and flung her head back lest he hit her again. She was trained enough to try a leg sweep, but Steve simply vaulted over the balcony railing, landing sloppily but able to right himself before he went tumbling down the escalator heading down to the lobby.

Between the shouts of the people he had little choice but to bowled aside, Weston's continued yelling, and the gunshot she'd fired off unintentionally when he's first broke their tableau, he was getting plenty of attention, from security as well as civilians in the wrong place at the wrong time. And Victor, who proved he was only human – or as paranoid as he was egotistical – and had to look to see what the commotion was about.

Steve was about halfway down the escalator when Victor spotted him. He had a flash of satisfaction when Victor's expression turned to one of fear before he mustered a sneer that Steve had more than once vowed to remove, violently, from Victor's face. He also had to make his way through the rest of the crowd, as well as avoid the on site security that had also made him to be the source of the agitation, but in the last part, Weston proved useful. He heard her showing a bit of her own ego by demanding that Steve belonged in her custody, not the locals, who didn't take well to being told what to do by a western – American – woman. None of them even moved to detain Steve while waiting for her arrival as a result.

That meant Steve hit the exit less than a minute after Victor had passed through them – no waiting for his brother in light of Steve's arrival. Not waiting for Steve, either, in some kind of ambush as Steve had half expected. The briefcase was still moving at a fast clip he noted as he whipped out the tracking device to check. No shots followed either, which let Steve be pretty sure Victor hadn't passed the case onto someone else.

Of course, running away made quite a bit of sense, because the sandstorm had reached the city, and Victor no doubt felt assured that he could disappear into the swirling dust. And he did, but it didn't matter. The tracking device didn't give a damn about zero visibility.

Steve ran like Victor had a laser target on his back, dead on track and maybe a little grateful that Victor had moved toward one of the open air markets, looking for something to use to protect his own eyes and lungs from one of the stalls abandoned without all of the goods being taken in before the storm hit. Steve grabbed up a Koofi to wrap around his nose and mouth, watched Victor do the same as well as grab up a pair of sunglasses, and that prompted Steve to remember the goggles, which would give him yet another advantage over Victor.

The advantage didn't really help, as Victor seemed to know the maze of buildings and narrow passageways even hidden by the storm. A game of cat and mouse ensued, and although Steve was the one doing the chasing, he felt more like the mouse, concerned at every twist that Victor would be waiting in ambush. In the end, he did the waiting, though, catching his breath and his bearings as a particularly strong gust threatened to knock him off his feet and knocked several merchants tents awry. He had the damn tracker, after all, and it wasn't like Victor was going to let go of the codes, even if he ditched the briefcase. All Steve had to do was keep within range –

Of course, when the dot began moving at speeds no one could sustain even running, Steve knew that Victor had found a vehicle; that he needed do the same. He was in luck, an unfortunate had been caught by the storm with the top down on his convertible, which he'd stopped to try and raise, but the storms' winds were playing merry havoc here, too, going so far as to rip the fabric top away, and while the car's owner ran to try and catch it, Steve hopped into the driver's seat and appropriated the car.

He wasn't quite as fast as Danny (no, fuck, Williams, that guy had to be Williams even though he obviously wasn't an analyst) was at it, but Steve got the car running again and was able to extrapolate Victor's route by extending the tracking program to incorporate the city streets. He plotted an intercept while driving off, the car's owner screaming invective but otherwise powerless to stop him. Victor was making for one of the highways, in an obvious attempt to flee the city and while Steve would have little chance to catch him if that happened, Victor was, for once, observing the local laws; driving on the correct side of the road and heading to an on-ramp going the correct direction. Given that most everyone else had stopped driving themselves when the storm arrived and visibility fell to zero, Steve had only to dodge around stationary objects and little other trouble as he took the feeder road to the on-ramp and accelerated onto it – going the wrong direction and closing in on Victor quickly if the tracker was accurate in real time and dimensions.

Steve flung himself from the car at the last second before impact, calculating it would be too late for Victor to avoid the collision. The cars pancaked into one another, the force not great enough to kill, but the impact surely would have surprised and stunned Victor, which was all Steve needed as he rolled back to his feet and limped over, his gait becoming steadier as he got closer.

Once there, though, he found Victor's car flipped over and only a deployed airbag within showing any trace that Victor had been there. Clawing for the tracking device again, he found Victor still on the move, further down the on-ramp than Steve would have guessed. Steve once more took off in pursuit, refusing to give in to the despair that had taken hold. Victor could not get away –

But it appeared that he could. Even as Steve managed to close the distance, Steve could hear the roar of another engine, someone else that wasn't cowed by the storm and the traffic hazards of abandoned cars. He could only watch as Victor swung himself up on the back of the truck's open tailgate, still too far away to make the jump himself, even if he would have been totally at Victor's mercy in the few seconds he would have needed to pull himself up.

He'd failed.

Victor had escaped. Along with active nuclear launch codes. That Steve had willingly handed over to him.

He hadn't just failed, but possibly had doomed the entire world to the final war. His only hope now was Anton, and his own rather questionable ability to extract the information from Anton as to where he, Victor and Wo Fat were to meet. He'd do whatever he had to, could go as far as needed, but Anton Hesse was no stranger to pain or torture. Anton was a man who would never give up his brother willingly. Steve would have to trick him, or maybe get the info from Kaye (if she had it), but first he had to get himself to the back-up location the team had set up for when they'd finished at the Burj.

 

The small safe house was conspicuously absent of both Jenna Kaye and Anton Hesse, although the rest of his team was there, waiting, and looking none the worse for wear other than the frowns and scowls that greeted Steve upon his entrance. Since Steve was empty-handed himself, he couldn’t exactly yell at them, but he sure as hell could ask what had happened. He didn't need to, though, because Chin was starting in on an explanation before Steve had even closed his door.

"It was my fault, Steve. Kono had brought Kaye into our command, had me watching over her. I wasn't expecting Analyst Williams to come in dragging Hesse and I took my eyes off of her when the door opened – "

"Because Williams didn't announce himself," Kono interrupted with a growl, the scowl on her face taking a darker cast when she directed it toward Williams.

"Kaye got the drop on me, got my gun, and – "

"And when I came out of the bedroom to try and help subdue her again, we fought, struggled, and the gun went off," Kono interrupted again, her expression turning inward as she relayed her part in the obvious clusterfuck. "Three rounds center mass into Hesse. Analyst Williams tried to keep him alive and I managed to kick Kaye off the side of the building. If anyone's at fault, it was me for butting in when Chin could have contained her."

Steve turned his glance to Williams, waiting for him to take his turn. "Since there was no hope for Kaye, but she'd still been holding the gun that killed Hesse, I suggested we toss him over too. Hesse's blood decorated the room, along with Kaye's diamonds from when she'd tried to grab her bag while she fought with Agents Kalakaua and Kelly. That, along with the bodies in the room downstairs should explain enough of what happened, so we wiped away all evidence of our being there and left the authorities with enough bad guys that I doubt they'll bother looking for any others."

Sound reasoning, given the way everything else had gone. Hearing it didn't make Steve any happier. Nor did hearing Williams then ask him if Victor was dead, his tone indicating he thought he already knew the answer. Knew that Steve had let personal feelings overcome him too, despite the mission.

"Fuck you, Williams," Steve let himself vent some of his frustration and guilt. "Victor escaped in the storm. Yes, with the codes, but at least my asset is still alive to be able to track to Wo Fat instead of being jelly on the ground outside the Burj. If you had the wherewithal to get yourself out of the line of fire, you couldn't do the same with Anton? Or did you use him as a shield – "

"Fuck me? Fuck you, McGarrett!" Williams responded, moving aggressively in Steve's direction, though he did stop – just outside of Steve's hitting range. 

Too precisely at the edge of Steve's range, and obviously not by accident.

"I did, I've done, everything I was supposed to," Williams continued, his tone belligerent and not remotely apologetic or defensive. "Including saving your ass when Kaye twigged to the impersonation – "

"That's right, Analyst Williams," Steve grabbed at the other thing that was still bothering him, the easier thing to think about right now than where they would go from here. How they would go on from here.

"You're just an analyst. Right? Right? Who are you really, Williams?"

Well, that certainly stopped Williams in his tracks. Chin and Kono too, from where they'd been edging closer.

"What are you asking?" Williams' tone was sure as hell defensive now.

"What am I asking?" Steve repeated. "Let me see if I can put it another way."

He drew the gun he'd taken from Weston from the small of his back and pointed it at Williams. The man was good, damn good, reacting without a thought, grabbing for the barrel as well as Steve's hand and forcing him to eject the round in the chamber without Steve being able to fire. Steve let the gun drop, used his hands to break Williams' hold and do the grappling himself, but Williams was able to counter Steve's moves, slipping down and twisting aside, then blocking the series of strikes Steve advanced with, unable to counter with any of his own as Steve blocked those in turn. Almost if they'd choreographed it, they both went for the pieces they'd recovered from Kaye's bodyguards simultaneously, backing away and bringing the guns up on each other very much in synch.

In the pause that followed, Chin and Kono both moved, Kono on Williams while Chin put himself in the way of Steve's gun and pushed him further back, separating the two of them though neither of the cousins were foolish enough to try and disarm either of them.

Steve nodded, his breath coming in gasps not because of the fight, but from emotion, too many emotions and none of them under control. He let Chin stay between him and his target, his teammate, while he got himself back together. While there was still a part of him eager to keep going, to maybe kill Willliams or kiss him as he hadn't had a partner like that since the Team days… since Nick –

"Jesus, are we done now?" he heard Kono ask. "Wouldn't it have been easier to just whip them out – "

"Kono," Steve called her off. They were done, only not quite. Steve still had to know.

"How does an agent with skills like that end up an analyst?" he asked Williams when Chin drew Kono back out of the line of fire, although the guns had been put away.

"We all have our secrets."

"Not if we're on the same team," Steve objected. "Did it have anything to do with the picture you carry? Was – is – she your daughter?"

If he'd been thinking clearly, Steve could have predicted the punch that took him in the jaw. He might have even been able to predict he'd be floored by it, as he'd already had ample proof of Williams' strength when the other had kept him from being the first splash of jelly out the side of the Burj. Steve accepted the hit as something due and gave Williams a nod: message received.

Williams was right in that there were some secrets that the IMF, that even a teammate didn't need to know. The girl in the picture was off limits, just like Mary was. And Steve's mom, even if he was beginning to think her death had been the start of whatever it was between Wo Fat and the McGarrett family. The IMF had enough on Wo Fat to bring him down without Steve having to give up his memories of her, too.

"I'm going to take a shower," is all he said, moving off toward the back bedrooms and what he hoped was decent plumbing; the taste of blood from where a couple of teeth had cut his cheek from the hit was actually better than the taste of sand he could easily choke on if he let himself. "Then see if I can piece something back together for the mission."

As Steve disappeared down the hall, he could hear Chin and Kono round on Williams, neither of them quite so understanding as Steve had been. Steve only half listened, expecting Williams to blow them off if not quite so violently, and he had to stop for a moment when Williams answered Kono and said Sri Lanka.

"Would you care to explain yourself, Agent Williams?"

"I was on a protection detail in Sri Lanka. Shadowing the assets, a brother and sister.

They were never supposed to know we were there…"

Steve didn't need to hear anything more. Well, no, he needed to hear everything, but not by eavesdropping, and he knew how the rest was going to go anyway. He stuck his head into the first bedroom and found his go kit, grabbed it up and shut himself in the bathroom and turned the shower on immediately, even if he wouldn't be ready to go in for a couple of minutes. Cold water was the least of his concerns.

Steve tried to blank his mind as he stripped, tried to think ahead to his next move, anything but what Williams had to be saying. Steve knew full well what the Agent in Charge of that protection detail had found after he'd returned from tailing the brother while he'd gone for a morning PT run. The rest of the detail dead and the sister gone. The police reports had said her body had been found three days later. Or what was left of her. The IMF files said the same thing, as far as Steve knew, including the follow-up that the brother had gone after the killers and killed them in turn. In cold blood, which the Hong Kong authorities had taken exception to and had sentenced the brother to life in Pik Uk. Secretary Jameson was the only other one who knew the remaining details, knew that something had been left out.

Frankly, had Steve been that Agent in Charge, he might have given up field duty too. In some ways, he supposed he had, though it had taken him another nine months on the outside to finish everything so that he could go inside.

To find the Gui Lao, for country and for family. Wo Fat, who was still his mission.

Steve stepped under the spray and began to scrub, trying to remove more than just dust, sweat and sand.

********

Steve was not surprised to find Kamekona hiding out on a yacht, bedecked in full island glory, even if the island was Fiji. He had a troop of what looked like pool boys and bikini-clad wahine with him, laughing with each other or taking in the sun, but it looked more in fun than the usual criminal element and hangers-on, like maybe some of the extras were family and this was a reunion. Steve certainly wasn't going to begrudge him that, not when he'd shown up after Steve's basic orders through emails and phone calls. It's not like Kamekona really owed him anything; getting him out of Pik Uk had simply been payback.

"Mick!" Kamekona called down when he saw Steve at the landing. "Mick, my friend! E Komo Mai. Or should I call you – "

"Mick is fine, Kamekona," Steve yelled back up. "Aloha to you. And thank you. You have an introduction for me?"

Kamekona nodded and started for the gangway instead of gesturing for Steve to come up. "Not here," he said when he made it down to the dock. "His friends are no so friendly and I saw no reason to bring our fun down here. He likes people coming to him, anyways. We'll need a speedboat, but I've got a friend – "

"Looks like you have a lot of friends here, Kamekona," Steve said, amidst all the calls of goodbye and good luck. "Ohana?"

"A few, though most of us left generations ago to make our fortunes elsewhere. Like you, for me, today, right?" he asked with a big slap against Steve's shoulder as he led him down the dock toward another berth. "We do good business, make much kālā so maybe I go home to stay a bit? You too?"

"I am a traveler, my big friend, home wherever I go and I go wherever I want. But, maybe, there will be time to visit and share some shaved ice." Or they'd both be dead, but that wasn't positive reinforcement at all. Steve only felt a small measure of guilt for leaving the others behind, with the intent to meet up again in Hong Kong, Tokyo or maybe Manila, depending on where Steve's intel would need to send them next.

"That would be maika‘i, my friend," came Kamekona's answer. "And we are here."

Here was a sharp, well-crafted speedboat, something that could probably outrun those belonging to the local authorities and had, no doubt, done exactly that a time or two if it belonged to one of Kamekona's friends or family. Steve didn't really care, as long as if it got spotted, it didn't get them detained, and as long as it got them wherever he needed to go. There were plenty of micro islands in the area, places for arms dealers to have taken up residence or simply using them as rendezvous points. If Kamekona's contact proved less friendly than his family, Steve supposed it wouldn't matter how fast or well built the boat was.

Once they were out in open water, Kamekona turned the steering wheel over to Steve. "You have the look of a sailor, my friend. Or at least someone who doesn't like it when someone else drives."

That observation earned Steve another meaty clap; he'd be lucky if he didn't end up with a dislocated shoulder from Kamekona's demonstrative friendship. If nothing else, his bruises would have bruises.

"Now, Mick, Sang Min isn't a man to be crossed," Kamekona warned Steve. "He runs guns into the Philippines, illegals out from China. and pretty much everything but drugs. If anyone knows who has what you are looking for, it will be him, but he's not going to be easy to deal with. The only thing he trusts is kālā."

Steve grinned, though he felt anything but happy to hear about the man he was set to meet. No doubt Williams could have rattled off Sang Min's passport identification number as well as where he'd gone to primary school, along with all the other, relevant details the IMF would have on the slaver and gun runner. Sang Min was exactly the type of asshole a rookie team like Bass' should have been taking down, instead of tangling with Jenna Kaye and Wo Fat.

"I have money, Kamekona," he reassured his friend. "As much as a snakehead might demand."

Well, no, he really didn't. But he had the information that would make Sang Min that kind of money from the people who really did have it. And Sang Min sounded like the kind of man who would get off on playing governments. No doubt he'd try to sell it to more than just the CIA.

With Kamekona directing him, it took them just under fifteen minutes to reach Sang Min's chosen meeting place. Not one of the inlets as Steve has figured, but an old, rusted trawler of indeterminate origin. From whatever country of origin Sang Min needed it to show as home, Steve suspected. Escaping from such a meet would be a little more tricky than being able to go to ground, so Steve supposed he's just have to be convincing and keep Sang Min from killing him – and maybe Kamekona – once they made their exchange of information.

Any hope Steve had of Kamekona being allowed to remain in the boat until the end of the meeting ended when the two of them were instructed to climb the rope ladder that was tossed down. The one giving the instructions was carrying what looked like a Mac10 from Steve's position looking up, and there were shadows on the railing showing their guide wasn't the only one on deck waiting for them.

Nothing untoward happened though, and Kamekona made the climb with only the mildest of grumblings. Once on deck they were expertly patted down. No one said anything when they removed Steve's Glock, nor did Steve object when it was thrown over the side and into the ocean. It had been a throw away weapon, just maybe not meant to be one quite so literally. Or quite so soon.

Three men escorted them inward, Asian, young, the type that wore their razor sunglasses even down below deck. Hollywood Yakuza, though Steve didn't doubt they knew their way around the semi-automatics they each carried. He was certain he could have taken them down, especially when they'd bunched up too close together and too close to Steve when he was led down a set of stairs instead of being sent down a ladder hatch, but Steve wasn't sure he could do so without getting himself or Kamekona shot. Nor could he do so until the meeting and exchange was done, otherwise this whole trip to Fiji would simply be a waste of time.

Sang Min himself, when they were brought into one of the cargo holds, was younger than Steve had bet himself. He looked Korean, probably not yet forty; a man content in his life and his accomplishments. His crew was a mix of ages, though most were likely not out of their twenties and only a few older than forty, a mix, too, of Polynesian and Asian. A crew in every sense of the word, Steve suspected, his friends, his family, his hit men and thugs.

"Ho Cuz," Kamekona greeted him, as a close friend and without any show of being surprised or intimidated by the show of force Sang Min surrounded himself with. "This is my friend I told you about. From Pik Uk."

"How do I know it's him?" Sang Min countered, his voice grating in its skepticism and tenor, his head bobbing a little on his neck, moving in an almost mesmerizing way.

"It's him," Kamekona said in all reassurance. "You trust me, I trust you. This is the guy! My guy."

"Your guy, who works for the American government. What do you want from me, G-Man?"

Steve didn't flinch and, surprisingly, guns didn't get cocked with that revelation.

"You're an arms dealer. What do you think I want?"

Sang Min stared at him for a moment, eyes dead as the snake's movements he seemed to be copying with his head. Snakehead, in this case, seemed to be more than another word for slaver.

"Whatever arrangements you made with my cuz is between you and him. You want something from me, you pay."

"You misunderstand," Steve told him with a grin. "I'm not buying. I'm selling."

Even Kamekona looked surprised at that.

Sang Min covered his surprise with false laughter "You're selling? Selling what?"

"The future," Steve told him.

"Yeah? I got all that I need, thank you." Sang Min turned toward his men, no longer interested or ready to tell them to get Steve out of here.

"The major powers are on the brink of war," Steve said quickly, though he was pretty sure he kept the urgency from his tone, kept his words sounded as disinterested as Sang Min was feigning.

"War is very good for business, haole."

At least Sang Min was still talking to him instead of his men.

"Nuclear war?" Steve countered.

That got Sang Min turning back around. "Go on."

"I'm looking for a man named Wo Fat. You may know him as the Gui Lao. In either case, I think you know what he wants. I'll bet he even tried to buy it from you at some point."

"Go on," Sang Min repeated, confirming nothing, except such an answer confirmed everything.

"He has a case, he has codes." Steve paused for a moment to let that sink in. "But they're worthless without a tactical satellite. I want to know where he'd get it."

Sang Min raised his brow, his head still bobbing. "A man with information like that would be a potential terrorist. And to your government, a potential terrorist is a terrorist."

Steve grinned. "You help me, my friends become your friends."

Not that he had such friends right now, but if he handled this successfully, all of this, he would.

For a moment Sang Min's lips twisted and he stopped moving, again studying Steve like he was prey. Like he was interesting. None of his men moved, to come to his side and confer, to offer opinions or to threaten, welcome…

"Sorry," Sang Min finally said, with a gesture to his men and Steve started looking for a fall back position.

To hope once more than Kamekona wouldn't be targeted because he'd made the wrong kind of friend.

Only instead of the men brandishing their weapons or rushing forward, they began heading out, leaving Sang Min, Kamekona and Steve alone.

"I cannot help you," Sang Min said as the last of his men filed out. "I certainly cannot tell you that the Russians quietly sold an obsolete tactical satellite to a certain telecom in Mumbai."

"Whoever gave them that idea?" Steve asked in appreciation.

Sang Min chuckled. "Just an enterprising third party. Working on commission. Helping old friends. Making new ones."

Steve chuckled to. "Can the satellite be shut down?"

"That would take special skills And a code."

*******

They met on the tarmac of Chek Lap Kok Airport in Hong Kong. All three of them looked happy to see Steve again, even Williams, though they also kept eyeing the plane behind him as well as the multitude of bags between where the tram had dropped them off and Steve was waiting at the foot of the stairs leading up into Bombardier Global Express, repurposed either from the German or Malaysian military by Sang Min, Steve had decided (though he bet it rivaled Bill Gates' version now in its creature comforts).

"What's in the bags?" Kono asked, though her gaze kept straying to the plane.

A Lear jet or a Gulfstream was a Chevy or Ford to the Rolls Royce behind him.

"It's our gear," Steve told them.

"How'd you get it?" Chin asked. Meaning everything, of course,

"Made a friend."

"Well, I'm glad you thought we could still help."

"Wouldn’t want to do it without you, Chin. Without any of you." And, finally, Steve looked directly at Williams – Danny, he hoped – instead of keeping his gaze wandering over them all.

"Look, McGarrett – "

"Steve."

Danny took a deep breath, then gave a short nod. "Steve. Look, before we get – "

"Danny, whatever happened in the past, it's just that. The past." Of course he meant for more than what had happened in Dubai, but Steve wasn't ready to tell him that, because Danny wasn't ready to hear it. "We still have a chance to clean this up, but we have to do it now. And we have to do it together."

Danny looked at him with no less intensity than Sang Min had before decided he would do business. "Yeah, okay," he said, and offered his hand for a shake or maybe an introduction. Like they could start all over again.

Steve wasn't about to turn such a gesture away.

"So, where are we going?" Kono asked, all smiles no doubt at seeing the two of the reconcile.

"India."

"India?" Chin and Kono both asked.

He nodded.

"Sure," and "Okay," were their responses, and they moved to pick up the hand carries in amongst the rest of the equipment and luggage, their sang-froid faked but doing a pretty good job of it.

Steve waited until Danny also moved, pointing out a couple more bags before he took two himself, leaving the rest to the flight crew Kamakona had provided, since Steve had been leery of relying solely on Sang Min from here on out.

"Love the jet," Danny told him, sounding sarcastic and irritated about either the expense or the favors exchanged on behalf of the IMF, but the sheer excitement in his eyes gave him away.

"Wait till you see the car."

*********

The car was a BMW i8, a Vision Efficient Dynamics concept plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, with a lithium-ion battery pack in front. The top speed was electronically limited to 160 mph, though Steve had little doubt that Sang Min had had that changed when he picked the model up, either from the 2008 or the just past 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show. It was supposed to go from zero to sixty in 4.6 seconds, its turbocharged 1.5-liter 3-cylinder gasoline engine in the rear producing 220 horse power and 220 foot pounds of torque. Silver with black and aqua racing strips to accent the gulf-wing doors, it quite likely was the sexiest thing Steve had ever seen.

Until he met the rest of his team coming from their hotel rooms, dressed to the nines for a party being held by their newest target, Brij Nath. If he looked a little longer, a little closer at Danny than Kono, that was his business too.

"Brij Nath," Danny had told them while they were in the air going from Hong Kong to Mumbai. "Playboy.  Multimedia tycoon. On the surface, his entire network is state-of-the-art. But it's built on illegally acquired Cold War cast-offs."

Including this, the Novosti satellite," Steve had augmented Danny's recall with the intel he'd picked up from Sang Min. "Wo Fat intends to use this satellite to launch his nuclear strike. We have to shut it down before he gets that chance. And to do that, we need to get the access code from Nath."

So they were on the move, Danny and Chin in a much simpler red Lamborghini they'd arranged for, while Steve escorted Kono in the i8.

"You know you can do this, right?" Steve tried to reassure her as she fidgeted next to him, a Grecian (well, Roman he supposed, given the code names Danny had come up with)  goddess in a sheath of white and silver that hugged her figure in all the right places.

Venus was not looking happy or regal, however. She looked scared. "And if I screw up, none of this works."

"I trust you."

"Ten days ago – fuck, was it only ten days? Whatever, I would have believed you, Steve. But now?"

Ten days was all the way back to Bass and Kaye. Ten days ago Steve was still in prison. It didn't seem all that real to him, either.

"I don't blame you for what happened in Dubai. Jenna Kaye took someone you cared about. That's not something you just let go."

Kono turned to look at him, the first she'd done so since getting in the car. Since finding out her role in the next part, really. "Did it make you feel better? When you killed the men who killed your sister?"

Steve had a lifetime of training in how not to flinch, of when not to flinch. He managed here, too, closer than it should have been, when he'd known that Danny would have finished his story about Sri Lanka and what had happened to the brother, after. Actually, Steve would have to commend Danny, someday, on how well he'd mastered his own flinch when Steve had been the one entering Secretary Jameson's car, when he'd gone from unnamed asset to Steve McGarrett, top if sometimes rogue IMF agent. As much a ghost man to Danny as Wo Fat was to the world.

Still, Steve's knuckles tightened around the steering wheel "We can't get them back, Kono. Only live with who it made us, and hope that one day we remember the good things about who they were."

Before she could remark on the stupid, fortune cookie wisdom he mentally kicked himself for spouting, Chin was broadcasting over their comms, finally having gathered the last of the details about Brij Nath, the satellite, and wherever the satellite controls were being housed.

"Okay, to shut down the satellite, we're going to have to manually tap into the central server in Nath's residential palace."

"Am I going to have to climb eleven floors up and seven over too?" Danny groused.

"Nah, there's an access point down an exhaust vent that's off the security grid. You'll just need to climb or rappel down, while I hack into the system and turn off the turbine fan that keeps the server room cool. I've got full blue prints and can guide you the entire way."

"How far down do I have to climb?"

"Well, the room's underground, and the first access point is up on the room, so that's what, fifty, sixty feet?" Chin was obviously sounding extra nonchalant as Danny's worry and vexation grew. "And you can rappel, as long as you can keep your ropes under control and don't drop too far too fast, getting down there before I get the fan turned off."

"And what happens if I do that?"

"Well, it would be pretty much like a mouse in a Cuisinart."

"Nice imagery, Cuz," Kono laughed.

"Yeah, nice," Danny repeated, all indignant, which had Steve laughing too.

"You'll be fine, Danny. Just a quick drop or climb after we enter the party. Steve quarterbacks, Kono gets the codes from the billionaire, I switch off the fan, and you move into the server room and plug in the transmitter. Kono or Steve finally feeds me the codes which I then use to pinpoint Wo Fat's location. We all converge, get the codes and the device from Wo Fat, and save the world." Chin sounded like he was trying to convince himself along with Danny by reprising their plan again.

"Okay, but you're still breezing over something I think is really important," Danny still complained. "The climbing part."

"Or rappel, your choice. There are hand and foot holds all the way down, sort of a staple ladder affixed into the shaft every five feet, so even you'll fit okay, plus I've brought a bag of climbing gear for you. Shit, Danny," Chin suddenly remarked. "Are you scared of heights?"

"I am not," Danny protested. "I just have a healthy apprehension over falling."

"Danny, if you really can't do it, we can switch," Steve offered, his mind much more on what was happening in the other car than his own driving, but he hadn't hit anyone so far so he was obviously doing okay.

"No, you'll provide better back up for Kono if something doesn't work there," Danny was quick to say. "Most people look at me in this monkey suit, especially billionaires, and they're going to think I'm a waiter, not a guest."

Steve would have protested, since in his mind there was absolutely nothing wrong with Danny in his tux other than how much Steve would have liked to have helped Danny out of it, but that would be giving too much away, nor was it apropos right now, if ever.

"You'll be fine, Danny," Chin filled in as cheerleader. "The climb will be easy compared to the heat."

"And then there's that," Danny answered automatically before he seemed to realize what he'd said. What Chin had said. "What heat?"

"Well, it's like any computer, isn't it?" Chin pointed out. "And if they need a twelve-foot diameter fan to keep things cool, it going off means the room is going to rapidly rise in temperature. Frankly, I'm a little concerned about the timing. It goes up too far too fast, it might take out the computer before you get the transmitter working."

"So, I'm climbing down into – "

"An oven, essentially. Yeah."

" Essentially."

"But you'll be fine."

"We're here," Steve interrupted before things could devolve further. "What's your ETA, Saturn? Pluto?"

"We're here too, Jupiter," Danny – Saturn – answered. "Ten cars behind you."

"Good. See you inside." Steve handed his keys to the closest valet along with a look, then gave another just as piercing to the valet who moved in toward Kono's door, intimidating him to back away. No one was touching Kono but him, not until she made the move on Nath, and as she slid her legs out, the dress falling open just enough to reveal that her legs matched the rest of the vision she presented, Steve got only appreciative looks instead of scowls of resentment over a lack of a tip. This glimpse of Kono was tip enough.

"Welcome, madam. Sir," they were greeted, then once again as Steve guided Kono up a set of seven marble stairs. Palace was right, though something more out of a fairytale than Buckingham or Versailles. Nath's home would have looked overwrought in Bel Air – or the Strip in Las Vegas. In a country that contained the largest concentration of people living below the International poverty line, it was criminal. Still, if Nath didn't ooze nouveau riche, and conspicuous consumption, he wouldn’t own his own former Russian satellite to give Steve's team a chance to stop Wo Fat.

The interior of Nath's home reminded Steve of Versailles and some of the Orthodox cathedrals he'd visited with Mary on that trip that had ended in Sri Lanka; all ornate columns and great, sweeping galleries and ballrooms with vaulted ceilings containing frescos and chandeliers almost as big as his car outside. Fountains, both permanent and floating with outrageous and fantastic ice sculptures, broke up the vastness of the ballroom they were led into, while the riot of colors amongst the thousands of people who'd come to be near Nath made the room seem almost claustrophobic, even though Steve could have likely fit his childhood home within the confines of this single room.

"Shit, and I thought the Presidential Inaugural balls were excessive," Danny quipped, announcing his own arrival in the room a few minutes after Steve had left Kono at one of the many bars scattered about the room to move into a position where he could keep Kono in sight and keep a look out for Nath.

Steve supposed it might have made sense for Danny to have mingled with the DC elite in his position as Jameson's chief analyst. Hell, he might have been her date for the Inauguration for all that Steve knew, playing as Pat's boytoy lest anyone figure out just what one of the numerous undersecretarys from the Defense Department actually did.

"Comm check," Chin suggested, announcing his own arrival. While he was dressed to appear invited on the floor, the plan was for him to find a closet or some otherwise private, overlooked room to set up his equipment within, monitoring the mission and using the results.

"Jupiter's got you five-by-five, Pluto," Steve answered.

"Venus is moving in on target," came Kono's. She'd spotted Nath before Steve had and was indeed moving – no, prowling – toward the man of the night.

There was no way Nath couldn't notice her. Everyone, male and female alike, stopped to watch her make her way. She headed first toward one of the food displays, popping off a small stem of grapes that she sucked off as she continued across the floor instead of flicking them off. Nothing so tacky as the cherry stem display, and she was doing it with no self consciousness, no awareness of how someone else might interpret her actions. Or obvious skills.

"Hook's in," Danny chuckled from wherever he was watching from.

"You do make quite an impression," Steve praised her too. "And Nath's moving toward you. Give him your back, Kono. You don't want to make it too easy for him."

"Are you gonna be talking the whole time?" Kono asked with a touch of exasperation, though none of it showed in her expression. "Kinda a mood killer, here, boss."

"Sorry," Steve apologized, unable to say anything more, as Nath had come up behind her where she'd moved to another bar and had asked just for some ice slivers, which she sucked on even less self consciously than the grapes.

"In twenty minutes, I want a glass of Cuvee Louis in every guest's hand," Nath was saying to one of the waiters who seemed to shadow the host, his voice more tinny than faint coming over Kono's comm. "And make sure all of them have a bottle to take home by the end of the night."

Steve rolled his eyes. He wasn't that much of a wine and champagne connoisseur himself, but he'd learned enough to manage on the job and in all circumstances, such as a party like tonight's. Certainly the Cuvee Louis had been one of the better champagnes, several years ago, but the price, especially, was maybe a third of what it had been in 2007 and 2008, and the Bollingers were definitely the better Extra Bruts now. So either Nath had a poor wine steward, or wasn't quite as generous as he might have his guests believing.

"Yes, sir,"

"Impressed yet?" Nath then said directly to Kono by how much clearer his voice came across.

Or it was simply a gesture to try and impress the girl, not something he'd had time to plan in advance.

"I'm more of a bourbon girl, myself," Kono told him, with just the right amount of disdain. She still turned to face the man who'd spoken to her, the differences in their heights considering her four inch heels, causing him to get an eyeful of her décolletage, not the mild amusement of her expression.

"Nice touch," Danny commended her.

 

"I'm Brij Nath. Welcome to my humble home."

"I'm in position and ready to shut down the fan," Chin told them, causing Steve to miss the verbal exchange between Kono and Nath, but he could see it was still going well.

"I guess I'm on the move, then," Danny said

When Steve tuned fully back in, Nath was lifting out a cell phone from his jacket pocket, saying, "– give me. I must take this."

"Shit," Kono muttered, to herself obviously, but still the comms picked it up. "St – Jupiter, I told you –"

"It's okay, Venus. He's not gone far. He's… "

Steve wasn't sure what he was doing with his phone, but every few seconds he would turn his head back to give a look at Kono. Everything was still on track as far as he could tell.

"He's emailing," Chin informed them. "I've tapped into the cell tower he's erected a building over."

"Emailing? Who?" Steve started to ask.

"Me, it appears," Kono laughed, when one of the waters came over to her, but with a tray of cell phones, not food or drink. "He wants to play hide and seek."

"Kinky, cuz."

Before Steve could make a comment on the off mission chatter, Chin was all busiiness again when Danny radioed he was in position at the access shaft.

"Okay, Danny, spinning down the turbine."

"Go ahead, Venus. Be Venus."

"I think the hunter in that family was Diana," Danny commented. "Or was that Artemis? I can never remember which one was the Greek and which the Roman."

"Diana was the Roman. And, Saturn, you are good to go. Start your climb."

"Yeah, about that."

"Saturn?" Steve asked in concern over Danny's tone.

"The only light source down there is the panel I have open up here.  Pluto, is there anything you can do?"

Damn. There was nothing Steve could do, not about that, but he could get Kono and Nath back on track. He started moving to intercept Kono. "Venus, I am playing a hunch," he warned her so she didn't deck him when he closed the distance between them and gave her arm a gentle tug. Kono turned, the surprise on her face not entirely feigned.

"How about now, Saturn."

"Oh, yeah, just enough red so it looks like it's on fire. Like I'm descending down into Hell with the lighting to match the temperatures you've promised. Much better."

"Best I can do, brah. And we are on the clock, here, remember?"

"Bitch, bitch, bitch."

Steve continued pulling Kono toward him, until there was no distance between their bodies at all "Still playing a hunch, here, Venus," he murmured, just before he kissed her.

It took her a second before she started to kiss back, and she picked up exactly what Steve was doing when he used the arm their embracing bodies hid to push against her side while his other held her tight. She stiffened in an instant, and did her own shoving, hard enough that she might have been able to break the hold between them even if Steve hadn't been letting go at the same moment. Her follow up was what was left of her drink, though she missed Steve and it spilled harmlessly on the floor as the crowd had parted around them the instant she pushed. She then stalked off, leaving Steve to deal with the instantly arriving waiter, a mask of mortification easy to summon up despite his pride in how perfectly Kono had played it.

 

The sound of a cell phone's ring came over Kono's comm before Steve managed to extract himself and disappear back into the crowd.

"Hello?"

"Husband?" they could hear, Kono having positioned the phone so the tiny mic that was part of her earring could pick up Nath's voice.

"Boyfriend?"

"More of a…deluded co-worker.

"Saturn, are you moving?"

"Don't remind me. Or distract me. This isn't easy, even with the harness."

"Please tell me he is not deluded in such manner as to the nature of your heart. Or, no, don't tell."

"Dammit. Jupiter, he's gone. He thinks I'm a lesbian and he hung up."

"No, he's just changing your positions in the game. He's back hunting you, Venus. Let him catch you. We are now on the clock if you didn't hear."

"My clock, right?" came from Danny. "My doomsday clock, because I'm here, and I swear it's up to eighty degrees already, maybe eighty-five in like the last five seconds. Just how hot is the room going to get, Pluto."

"Okay, you need to move about halfway into the room," Chin answered, just not the question Danny had asked. "You're looking for something that looks like it's circa the sixties, with an old screen, complete with a satellite phone with a rotary dial and a hardwire hook up."

"Half of the fucking equipment in here looks circa the sixties. The seventies at the latest. It's all Apollo 13 and the Forbin Project."

"Those are pretty eclectic movies there, Saturn. But you're on the right track. You might have to open a few panels to find the phone. You ever work with any military sat phones?"

"Can't say that I – "

"My God, you are a passionate creature," Nath's voice cut across Danny's.

As Steve had suggested, Kono had let Nath catch her and was letting him console her for Steve's horrible indiscretion.

"Let me tell you one thing, my precious. He is so obviously not your type. Completely cold, like all such men, boorish and not at all deserving. Whereas I, like all Indian men, am very hot; a match for your capricious passion. I would very much like to show you my collection of art."

"I was waiting for you to ask," Kono told Nath, her voice, maybe subconsciously, dropping into a lower, huskier register in response to the heat and innuendo in Nath's, and proving she was definitely the better choice here in seducing Nath.

Steve wouldn't have been able to keep a straight face against such obvious lines.

"I'd heard that you have one of the finest private collections in the world," Kono continued, letting Nath draw her away from the party.

Nath outright giggled. "Well, at the very least, it is private, my dear."

Steve let out the breath he hadn't consciously been holding. "Saturn, how are you doing?"

"Beyond baking like Hansel and Gretal in the witch's oven? I'm pretty sure I've found Chin's SATCOM box. Now I just need the codes to complete Pluto's link."

"I don't think I want to know what fairy tales you’ve been reading, Saturn," Steve chuckled, though he was wondering about the heat himself. Danny exaggerated and complained, sure, but he was also pretty damn good a misdirecting people when they got too close. 

"All originals from Chhatarpur District. You know, the Tantrics believe that the Swadhisthana chakra hides our most subconscious of desires."

Nath's come-ons had Danny and Chin both laughing, and Steve smiling. Danny's laughter cut off quickly, though.

"What the hell is that?" he asked suddenly.

"What the hell is what?" Steve and Chin both asked him.

"It's whirring. Going haywire. Ch – Pluto?"

"I don't… Shit! There is a virus downloading from the satellite. Wo Fat is killing the server before we can kill the satellite. If he's already in the system, he's going to have launch capability in five minutes!"

"Venus," Steve just managed to remember her code name in his growing concern. "You've got to move on him now. We need that code."

"Finally we're alone," came Kono's response. "We are alone, aren't we?"

"Yes. No one will interrupt us."

"Perfect." Sounds of fists on flesh followed, along with grunts and a pained cry, quite high in tone, but also quite male.

"Move and I break your neck. Tell me the override sequence for the satellite relay station. Say it now or never speak again."

"The codes?" Nath started to ask, only to break off with another pained groan. "Yes, forty-six, eighty-two, ninety-three, four, twenty-one. That is it. That is them."

"Pluto?" Steve asked.

"It's too late. The system's crashed."

"Crashed here or crashed there?" Steve asked, maybe grasping at straws, but Chin had mentioned that if the heat in the server room got too high, the computers could go down.

"Both, maybe? I don't know. The virus – "

"If it's there, he's revealed himself, right? You can pinpoint the Gui Lao's location even if the server has gone down?"

"Yeah, ah, yes, I can."

"Saturn, good work. Now get the hell out of there. Venus finish off with Nath and rendezvous at the valet station." Steve started for the exit himself, knowing Chin would get the info and get on the move to join them as quickly as he could.

"Wo Fat is signaling out of a state-run TV station. Channel Six. He's less than seven miles from here."

"Send the car the coordinates," Steve ordered, catching CIA Agent Lori Weston's eye where she stood across the room from him, up on a balcony and doing her own listening, either to her own people or maybe she'd been able to piggy-back onto Chin's signal.

Steve gave her a smile and a salute, not really feeling bad that no make-up in the world could hide what looked like a broken nose. At least the matching black eyes were hidden behind tinted glasses. Few people would be looking at her face, anyway. She filled out her own evening wear with aplomb, but once more it was comparing a Chevy to a Rolls, if Steve was going to compare her to Kono.

"Don't wait for Pluto and me, Jupiter," Danny grunted, his words being forced out as he made his way back up fifty feet of an air shaft. "Take Venus and get after him."

"Saturn, are you okay?" Chin asked.

"Yeah, fine. Just, the next time?"

"Yes?" Steve had to ask as Danny's words paused.

"Next time, I get to seduce the rich guy."

Steve couldn't help but smile to hear that, even though Danny was likely being facetious, not really meaning it the way it had come out. On the other hand, Danny talked too much not to have a handle on the words he used –

"Pluto, how long until the Gui Lao can launch a missile?"

"He's going to need to make contact with someone in North Korea. Probably a sub commander he's got in his pocket, though he just as likely can replicate proper sounding orders along with the authentication codes. There might be a few commanders that would have a problem firing on their fellow Koreans in the South, but I'm sure we've still got ships out there off their waters and no one's going to object to retaliating against the government that backed the recent terrorist attack on their country. China didn't blink when we did it after 9/11 and by the time they find out the attack is nuclear, it isn't really going to matter."

"The North Korean's have pretty much sucked at getting their test missiles out of their silos. Can we really expect that just because a different madman wants it to happen, it's going to go any differently?" Kono asked, Steve still hearing her through his comm, though she was racing down the steps toward him.

"We can't take that chance. And it's just as possible he's got access to a Chinese sub," Danny pointed out, his words still coming harshly and telling Steve he was still climbing.

"So, maybe five minutes," Chin told them.

Though he hated to have to leave half of his team behind, Steve couldn't wait for them with that kind of countdown. "Do I have the coordinates to the station, Pluto?" he asked, practically tossing the valet aside so he could slide in behind the wheel, while Kono slid into her own side, tossing a handful of bills out the window as Steve put it back into gear and screamed off.

"I've got them," Kono said, pulling up the HUD system that overlay the front windshield on her side. She pinpointed their two locations, the moving car and where Wo Fat was completing his business. "Turn left up ahead, take the alley on the right."

Steve followed her directions, taking his hand from the stick long enough to flick his own aspect of the HUD, long used to using the heads up displays in his helmet when he had the occasion to fly the odd Navy chopper or two. Here he needed the collision alert, as the streets were filled with people, many of them walking the same path Steve needed to drive the car down.

"Fuck, Jupiter, the Gui Lao has started the launch sequence," Chin linked back in. It sounded like he was in a moving car himself, going by the background sounds of horns and yelling that also echoed round Steve.

"How much time until the missiles are flying?"

"Four minutes!"

Kono looked at him, dread in her eyes. "We're three and a half minutes out."

"We can make it," Steve told her. We have to make it, he told himself

"Next left."

Steve took the corner at a speed that scared even himself, but the car handled like a dream and in the next moment he was hitting the brakes, not really caring that he put them half up on the sidewalk. At least here, in front of the station, the streets were empty.

"Jesus, Steve, we're too late." Chin's voice sounded shattered. "The missile's in the air. We are too fucking late."

Steve rolled from the car, not even checking to see if Kono was behind him as he raced up the steps and through the doors that were unlocked from their previous breach. "There has to be a way to abort the warhead. Right?"

"If there is one, it'll be on the launch device. We're a minute out."

Steve nodded even though, of course, no one could see him do so. "So we're going to get that case. There's no way the Chinese would have – "

Gunshots interrupted him. Steve dived to the side as the front windows behind him exploded.

"Steve?" Kono called out.

"I'm good. Victor Hesse is here with Wo Fat," Steve told his team. "Wo Fat's heading upstairs. He's mine. Chin, when you get here, disable the relay. Maybe that will slow something down. Danny, you and Kono take out Hesse!"

Steve took off running toward the stairs spilling out in to the lobby, pausing only to pull the gun from his ankle holster and firing off a couple of rounds to keep Victor's head down while he crossed the open field of fire. Victor fired back, but no where near Steve, and in an instant a third gun sounded, from behind him. Kono, then, and Steve was confident the others would soon be there to back her up.

The sounds of the gunfight tapered off the higher Steve rose. He'd have to clear each floor, three of them above the lobby, in order to take down Wo Fat, but he had the feeling the man was simply waiting for Steve. In ambush, yes, but he wasn't just going to shoot Steve down as he climbed. Wo Fat wanted Steve to be there when his plan came to fruition. Wanted to take Steve out in a more personal way, too, otherwise he would have simply shot Steve in the North Korean courtyard or at least have held onto him while summoning the authorities reacting to the fire alarm. That he didn't, meant this was just as personal for Wo Fat as it was for Steve.

That suited Steve just fine.

"God dammit," he heard Danny swear through his comm. "Hesse destroyed the relay."

"We're done then," and Steve didn't think he'd ever heard someone sound so defeated as Chin here.

"It won't matter if Steve gets Wo Fat and the case. We won't be able to transmit the abort codes."

"Can you fix it?" Danny asked him.

"Yeah. Maybe. I – "

The power went out. Not just on Steve's floor, but all over from the groans he heard from the rest of his team.

"But that's also going to be pointless if we don't have any power."

"It's got to be Hesse," Kono panted out. "He's – "

"Shit! Kono?"

"I'm okay."

"The hell you are, cuz," from Chin.

And "No, you are not okay," from Danny.

Just more bad news that Steve was helpless to fix.

"You stay here and cover Chin," Danny was telling her. "Chin get this thing rewired and back online. I'll get the power on."

Steve held his tongue against offering some sort of show of faith, not wanting to give his position away. In a few more seconds, it didn't matter. Wo Fat had found him, and was set on proving why he'd received his commendations while in the South Korea Military.

The thing was, Steve had received his own and he'd put Navy SEAL training up against any other military's training in the world. It didn't matter that he hadn't been a SEAL in nearly eight years; IMF field training was pretty good in itself, and his plain NSA credentials had given him access to US Navy bases all over the world, to past SEAL teammates and new SEAL friends so that he was as fit as he'd ever been, could still pass BUDs training with his eyes closed.

Of course, fighting in a tux wasn't fighting in his BDUs or even a wetsuit. And Wo Fat was proving to be just as instinctive a fighter as Danny had been. Losing the gun wasn't the worst thing that could happen, as long as it didn't end up any closer to his opponent, but then Steve was beginning to think Wo Fat wasn't going to use a gun, even if he'd had one. 

He wasn't adverse to using the fucking briefcase, though, and that leant considerable strength to Wo Fat's strikes. Just the act of blocking one of the augmented hits left Steve's arm numb, maybe something broken within, but it was his off hand and even if it hadn't been, Steve could fight and kill with either. He managed a throat strike that had Wo Fat choking but not going down, as the other twisted away before Steve could put his full weight and strength into it. More flurries of blows connected and were blocked, the two of them fierce and furious, totally determined to be the end of each other.

Steve's height was off-set by Wo Fat's speed, while Steve's sheer stubbornness and fear for all of mankind offset Wo Fat's special brand of craziness and fanaticism. No gun, but everything else was fair game, to the both of them, Steve managing to break Wo Fat's grip on the briefcase with the keyboard he ripped off of someone's desk.

The case spun away from them both. Steve nearly lost an eye when Wo Fat tossed anything he could get his hands on to keep Steve from going after it. Steve retaliated with a kick against Wo Fat's knee that made even Steve cringe when he hear the snap, taking a shot to his ribs that probably broke one just to get close enough. As if in mutual agreement, they both paused after this last exchange, breathing heavily and wiping away the blood that dripped from foreheads and noses, eyeing one another warily in the faint light from outside, the moon and some street lamps, lit offices from the buildings around them.

Steve could hear sounds of further fighting over his comm, Danny's curses as well as Victor's, but then Wo Fat started speaking and Steve had to hear what he was saying.

"You know that you never had a chance, right? I killed all of them, or had them killed. And you, who are the least of them – "

"Maybe the least, but still better than you, you son of a bitch – "

Wo Fat laughed at him "Not even in your dreams, boy. You can never beat me, knowing what I've done to you, and – "

"And tell him to shut the fuck up. Oh, and lights on three, Steve."

Steve gave no indication that Danny had talked to him, that the gunshot he'd heard had obviously taken out Victor and not anyone on his team. He counted back the three in his head and threw himself toward the gun he'd dropped with his eyes closed. Opening them with the lights having been restored was still blinding, but Wo Fat's own bleat of surprise gave Steve a target he didn't need to see and he emptied the entire fucking clip.

He scrambled then for the briefcase even as Wo Fat was falling, the surprise and dismay on the other's face almost enough, right up until Steve pushed the abort code and nothing happened, with the countdown showing only twenty seconds left before detonation. Jesus!

"Chin, the uplink!"

"Just a minute."

They didn't have a minute. "We've got thirteen fucking seconds!"

"Try it now!"

Steve pushed the abort button again. Nothing.

"Chin!"

"Okay …Now!"

Another flash of red; four seconds, not even enough time for Chin to try something else and this was it. This was –

Green.

"Yes!"

Steve collapsed to the floor next to the briefcase, quite unable to believe they'd pulled it off despite all of his positive imagining and cajoling of the others that they could. God, he'd been in life and death situations before, missions where the stakes were the highest and not only for himself, but never… never something like this. Something where the fate of the entire fucking world had rested on him and his team. He wanted to kiss them all. To take them snorkeling off of Hanauma Bay, skiing in Oberstdor and out drinking stout under the watchful eye of Chloe in Young and Jackson's in Melbourne. To tackle Danny Williams and –

"In the name of the United States Government, you are all under arrest."

At the sound of Lori Weston's voice over the comms, Steve began laughing and couldn't stop. He was still laughing when Weston herself found him and started to drag him down the stairs. He tried to form an apology for her nose, to remark how nice she looked in her dress and, finally, he was able to curtail his hysterics so that he was silent, even if he couldn't keep the grin from returning to his face.

Danny was just as voluble as he was also escorted from below street level back up into the lobby, not laughing but cursing and bitching and it was almost enough to get Steve laughing again, except he then caught sight of Chin and Kono, of the blood staining Chin's hands and too much of Kono's dress –

"Jesus, a little help there, Weston, don't you think?" he snarled at her. "Have you even called for a medic?"

"I don't think – "

"Yeah, that's kinda your problem, isn't it, Weston?"

Steve and Weston both turned at Danny's voice, at his arrival, Steve fighting his grin again and Weston looking absolutely shocked.

"Fuck me!" she exclaimed. "No one said this was one of your ops, Williams," she sputtered and signaled her men to let Danny go. "We had no word at all."

Danny leveled a look at her and shook his head. Even though it was all the result of his fight with Victor Hesse, Danny looked debouched; his tie pulled loose and a few top buttons missing from his shirt, his hair in total disarray and his color definitely up. No visible injuries save for some streaks of blood that may or may not have been his, and a few bruises, and if Steve hadn't wanted him before, he did now. Especially as he was quietly reading Lori Weston the riot act.

"Isn't that usually the point, Agent Weston?" Danny chided her. "That we only move in when no one else can?"

No mention of Ghost Protocol, by either of them, and Steve certainly wasn't going to remind them.

"So these are all yours?" she asked, gesturing to Steve, Chin and Kono.

"Actually, I think I am more theirs but, yes, we are all working together. Stopped the Gui Lao – "

From the whitening of her complexion, even Weston had heard of him.

"– and stopped a nuclear war. Right?" Danny then turned his look on Steve.  "That was what your less than informative 'yes' meant, am I right?"

Steve let his grin soften into a gentler smile and nodded. He took the first aid kit one of Weston's men found and headed toward Kono, pleased and not surprised when Danny moved to join them too. With no more regard to Weston and the CIA, the three of them fussed over Kono, glad to see it had been little more than a graze, digging a chunk of skin out of her side and ruining her dress, but nothing a little more formal TLC couldn't take care of. Along with Steve's broken bits, Chin's – and Danny's – burnt fingers, and whatever else might be lurking behind the rush of success and adrenalin they were still riding high on.

It hadn't even really hit Steve yet that Wo Fat was dead, along with Victor and Anton Hesse. That his family had been avenged and what that might mean for him going forth from now on. Pat Jameson too –

"How's this for a deal, Weston?" Danny said. "You handle the clean up and go ahead and take the credit for what went down here in exchange for getting us an ambulance and a couple of hospital stays without all the usual fuss and bother about gun shots and foreign nationals?"

**********

"And in other news, eight weeks later, the debate continues. Eyewitnesses remain adamant that the object was some sort of missile coming out of North Korean waters and aimed at the US Carrier Group, but officials with the Department of Defense and State, here and abroad, are insisting it was simply a drone, a test firing that they'd been warned about that had simply gone off course like so many of the other North Korean tests."

"Hell of a thing," Catherine said with a nod to the television hanging in the bar behind Steve and the report that was still making news. She took a long pull on her beer and then smiled as she set it down.

"Now that I'm not on your team anymore, all I ever get are wiretap duties and satellite surveillance."

"Next pending nuclear war, I'll make sure you're tapped," Steve assured her. "Or if there's – "

"Hey," she interrupted him. "This must be them."

She gestured to the walkway leading back to the street aside their dockside table and Steve twisted. Then nodded, with a firm smile on his face as three of his favorite people came toward his and Cath's table.

"Catherine Rollins, the rest of the band, Kono, Chin and Danny."

"I spent a week diving in the Sea of Japan thanks to you and this rock star," Catherine bitched. "I didn't even get a chance to work on my tan or visit my favorite sushi place in Kobe." Still, she rose to shake their hands, giving Kono a brief hug as one woman to another in this rough occupation they'd chosen to excel in despite all the hostility and obstacles. Catherine then turned around to lean into Steve and clasp his shoulder.

"Guess I'm really not on your team anymore," she whispered into his ear. "Be careful that you don't mess it up."

Steve hadn't thought he'd been staring and certainly not at Danny any more than either of the other two, but there was a reason Catherine now spent most of her time in observation teams, as she could pick up inference and innuendo in even the blandest expression, could read body language and extrapolate intent better than other agent Steve had ever known.

She also knew Steve better than anyone else, knew him intimately as well as professionally and informally, was a former teammate, his closest friend, and his occasional lover. When the two of them happened to be on the same continent as one another, if not always in the same country. She was easy to be around, tolerant of his faults, and understood the whole of him, not just the bits he had shown childhood acquaintances, SEAL comrades and IMF teammates. She knew him, she loved him; she was his best cheerleader and his worst nag. If he did screw this up, she was going to kill him.

"It was nice meeting you three."

"You're not staying?" Chin asked, ever the proper gentleman around a lady.

Cath shook her head. "Now that we're all back on the roster, I'm off to Kandahar in the morning and I haven’t packed. I'd say good luck with this idiot, but I guess you've already proven you have no immunity to his so-called natural charm and rousing leadership abilities."

Steve started a pro forma protest, while Chin spoke to defend him and Kono only nodded, as if she agreed with Cath. Danny was still a step removed from all of them, but he looked amused and accepted the final hug Cath gave to each of them.

"In all seriousness guys, that was a hell of a thing you had to deal with, a hell of a thing that you did. I'd be honored to work with any one of you in the future."

Once Cath disappeared and the embarrassment and awkwardness she left in her wake faded, Steve rose to his feet and gestured for his team to join him at the table. He signaled one of the waitresses for a round before sitting back down.

"Thanks for meeting me. Kono, how are you doing?"

"I'm healing," she said with a tired smile. "Not quite back to surfing good, but I'm back to mopping the floor with Chin. Should be qualified for full field duty in a week, no more than ten days. How about you? How's the arm? And ribs, wasn't it?"

Steve nodded. "All still there and working."

"I'm fine, by the way," Chin inserted himself. "Not quite as nimble with the small, fiddly bits yet, but no lasting damage from being nearly electrocuted. I'm not actually sleeping, per se," he added, still with a grin but the darkness in his eyes said that some of it was the truth. "Still with the cold sweats in the middle of the night. And I look at all these people around us, who are just happy and smiling and they are completely oblivious to the fact that they were almost vaporized. If it hadn't been for – "

"Dumb luck?" Danny contributed.

Steve was glad for the excuse to look at him. "Was it?" he challenged. "I mean, look, we were unprepared, in the dark. Disavowed. And the only thing that functioned properly on that mission was this team. I don't know how we ended up together, but I'm glad we did. And I'd like to keep it that way."

He removed a set of three phones from his pocket and dropped them one alongside the other across the table.

"You're asking to work with us permanently?" Kono asked. "As an action team instead of waiting to see if we get paired up or more of a response team?"

Steve nodded. "I know that everyone the IMF recruits is qualified, but I've had enough of the awkwardness of constant first meetings. I like consistency, and knowing that I can always trust my back-up."

Kono positively glowed as she nodded and picked up her phone. Chin looked pretty pleased too.

"Yeah, I'm in," he said as he also picked up a phone. "Seriously. I'm mean, sure, it's all going to be downhill after a first mission like that. After all, it's not as if any mission is going to be rougher than the last one, is it?" He laughed a little wildly, a little breathlessly. "I mean, that's just … It is?"

His incredulity even got a smile from Danny. When he and Kono rose, Danny followed. Not moving to take one of the phones.

Steve forced himself to keep the disappointment from his face, refused to try and coerce Danny since half of his reason for wanting the other man to say yes was selfish and totally unprofessional. Secretary Denning had already implied that they would be happier to have Agent Williams become Analyst Williams again, though Denning hadn't vetoed Steve's request to include Danny on his team.

"Thanks, Steve," Kono said warmly, tucking her arm around Chin's so that they were mostly leaning against one another in a display of closeness and affection that Steve envied and admired. The spirit of the Islands and ohana that Steve sorely missed, but hoped he might have found again for himself.

"For the compliment and your confidence," Kono elaborated as the two of them started to walk away.

"Thank you, Agent Kalakaua. Agent Kelly," Steve told them. Then, "Agent Williams?" he asked, when Danny turned away, but didn't yet take a step.

"I'm not picking up that phone, Steve. Because I don't think you want me in the field. I know that your family is dead, your mother, your father. Your sister."

Steve was surprised that Danny turned to face him here, would have accepted the words being spoken off toward the water if it made them easier for Danny to say. He was inordinately grateful, however, that Danny would face him here. And a little in awe of Danny's bravery, as he wasn't sure he could have looked himself in the eye were their positions reversed.

"I was there in Sri Lanka, eighteen months ago. I was there for one reason. One. And I failed. It was my job to protect her. I couldn’t even protect my team."

"How do you know she's dead?" Steve asked him, the words burning shame in his mouth, but he borrowed some of the fortitude in Danny's gaze and offered up his own sorrow and guilt.

Danny's expression turned to confusion. "There was a body."

"Did you see it?"

Danny retook the chair he'd been sitting in, like a puppet with his strings cut, his mind already processing what Steve had yet to say, even if in his guilt, he wasn't ready to believe it. "You killed all those Yakuza."

Steve shrugged. "Turns out they were actually Triad, but of course that doesn't matter. I had to get Mary free. My dad, and Wo Fat, the rest of us were collateral damage and then hostages and I couldn't have Mary live like that any longer."

Danny opened one of the beers that none of them had touched. He then started playing with the label before he finally took a drink. And finally spoke again. "You were sent to Pik Uk for those Triad. For life," he pointed out, though by his expression, he'd also figured out Steve's response here.

Steve shrugged again and popped open his own bottle. "That was a sacrifice I was willing to make for Mary, even if the IMF hadn't suspected Wo Fat had someone in Pik Uk."

"And six dead Triad was the ideal cover." Danny shook his head.

"Waste not, want not," Steve offered with a faint smile. "There was a plan in place to get me out."

Danny nodded. Then sighed before giving a rueful laugh. "I knew about that plan, but Secretary Jameson never told me who we might one day have to assist in escaping. I didn't know Steve McGarrett was anything more than one of her favorites. Not that he was the one in Pik Uk, or that he'd been the brother."

It was Steve's turn to nod. He also reached out to stop Danny's nervous fidgeting with the bottle label; it was already in shreds a waitress would have a hard time cleaning up. Assuming the mild rising wind didn't dispose of the pieces first.

"I accepted the Pik Uk Prison mission on one condition: That no one else could know Mary was still alive."

Danny looked at the hand Steve hadn't yet removed, then back up at Steve's face. Steve let go reluctantly.

"But you're telling me." The shake of his head that followed, and the laugh, were all directed at Danny himself. "When did you find out that I was the one in Sri Lanka?"

"I overheard you saying something in Dubai, then I pulled your file right after India. After that exchange with Weston, I had to know just who you were."

Danny flushed faintly at that. "She spent some time as the IMF's CIA liaison, but she and Secretary Jameson had some… personality conflicts. I might have been involved with convincing Weston she wanted to put in for a transfer."

"Yeah, but Embassy duty in South Korea?" Steve laughed. "I don't want to know what she did to piss Pat off, do I?"

Danny shook his head, but this time he had enough of a grin that Steve could breathe better. Until the smile disappeared again and Danny turned his gaze back to the water.

"So you had to fake your sister's death. Cutting off your ties to the last of your family."

"As long as Wo Fat thought she was alive, she would never be safe. I hated my dad for sending her and me away after Mom was killed, and I ended up doing the same thing, only the next step further. Before that trip, she and I hadn't talked to one another for almost fourteen years. We only made the connection because of our Dad's murder. But I knew… It wasn't your job to protect her, Danny. It was mine."

"Yeah, okay. I get that."

"And accept it?" Steve had to ask, still feeling his own guilt for having put Danny through all of it. He'd never once stopped to think about who the sole surviving member of that guard detail might have been, or what he might have felt. Everything had been about Mary then. About Wo Fat, as it had been for all of Steve's adult life.

"Are you going to make contact now that Wo Fat is dead?" Danny countered. "Instead of just watching her from afar?" He then nodded his head toward one of the water ferries that had just docked, and the flash of blonde, now bobbed hair in a pixie cut that was still recognizable as his sister.

Steve had thought he'd finally processed Wo Fat's death, as well as those of the Hesse brothers, but until Danny had pointed it out, he realized he hadn't yet thought it through to what would be next outside of his IMF duties. He'd only come here to Seattle so that he could prove to himself that his plan had worked and that Mary was okay, not with any thought to make contact.

That he could make contact.

"I'll make you a deal, Danny," Steve offered, moving to take Danny's hand again. "You come with me to meet Mary, and I go with you to meet Grace."

Danny snatched his hand back as if he'd scalded it again, while the burns from his time in the overheated server room were still showing the pink of new flesh. Steve didn't let him bolt though, and Danny gave up this time instead of punching Steve over her again.

"When I said I pulled your file, I meant that I got access to everything, Danny. Not to hurt or coerce you, but to know you. It was obvious just from the care you gave to that picture after we nearly drowned and got shot, that she was important to you."

"God, she was my everything," Danny said in quiet, choked tones. "I knew the divorce rate of spooks, of how much worse it was when you become a field agent, but I thought Rachel and I were better than that when I agreed to join the IMF. That we could beat those odds because we'd gotten through me being a beat cop and a detective back in Jersey. Because we loved each other and we loved Grace even more."

He started laughing at himself again and Steve's heart cracked to hear it.

"It should have gotten better when I left the field to become an analyst, but if anything, it got worse. I'd lost my nerve and, surprisingly, you can't get it back from the bottom of a bottle. At least I was only a maudlin drunk, not a mean one, but it didn't really matter. I had already lost them, too tied up in honor and duty beforehand to see, then too stupid, blinding drunk afterward. She's with a good man now, even if I hate him."

"Grace is still your daughter," Steve pointed out as gently as he could. "And I am sure that she still loves you. That she desperately wants to see you again."

That earned him a look that was both hopeful and full of denial and self-loathing. The last wasn't something Steve was willing to accept. "Danny, I said I wanted to know you, but I didn't need a file to tell me anything important. You're a good man too, ten times better than Stan whatshisname."

The laugh was still a little broken, but this time it was real instead of deprecating. "Stan Edwards, but I call him Step-Stan in my head. I've sent gifts, for her birthday and Christmas, for her graduation from the third grade, and who in the hell thinks kids need commencement exercises in the fucking third grade –"

"Have you had a chance to see her since? To talk to her?"

"I've been afraid to call," Danny admitted. "Rachel and I didn't split on talking terms and I didn't want to do anything that might make it worse for Grace."

Sacrificing his own wants for his daughter and, yeah, Steve could see how Danny understood his own actions for Mary. But if it didn't have to be that way for him and Mary any longer, maybe it also didn't need to be that way for Danny and Grace. He already knew Danny was too brave to just give up, that maybe he just needed a push. And hopefully some company.

"Look, you heard Kono tonight, it's going to be at least another two weeks before our leave is up. I was serious about you meeting Mary, and I wouldn't mind the company, if it wouldn't bother you in return. Yes, I think you should also spend some of this downtime reconnecting with Grace, but I'm not going to push or bring it up again. Your daughter, your life and your wife are your own business and I can pretend – "

"Yeah, pretend, because you've got a poker face, right at home in Vegas, my friend."

Steve found himself taken aback by the abrupt shift of the conversation and the look that Danny gave him, just the barest hint of despair lurking.  Because that hint was there, however, Steve saw it for the deflection it was. He gave Danny the out, though, since the conversation had turned pretty damn heavy for longer than he was comfortable with himself. He might have better luck putting Kono – or Cath – on it –

"Do you want another beer?"

The sorry look was still there and Danny tapped his current beer bottle to the one next to it. One of the two still filled that Chin and Kono hadn't stayed long enough to finish. "I'd ask you if you're trying to get me drunk, Steven, but obviously I've made things awkward enough for one night. How about you find out if Mary wants to be meeting someone else tagging along with her big brother whom she hasn't seen in eighteen months first? I'll hang around here in Seattle for a couple of days, and you can call me or not. I'll take this phone, too," he rose and picked up the remaining one Steve had laid out, "and I'll let Denning know that I don't think I'll be going back to Analysis on any sort of full time basis. Everything else, we can figure out along the way."

Considering he'd been given what he needed, if not everything he wanted, Steve could do nothing but nod. And watch Danny go.

Still, he'd not been a SEAL for nothing.

"Hey, Danny," he called out before the other man got too far.

Danny stopped and turned, his expression one of resignation, but also anticipation crossed with just, maybe, some amusement.

"Would you have let me get you drunk?"

Danny shook his head. "I don't do that anymore, Steven, for obvious reasons. You'd probably have better luck if you just ask me directly if I want to fuck."

Steve wasn't the only one who dropped his bottle.

– finis –