Everyone was still in the living room when Danny came downstairs. Chin, Lori, the SEALs. They were all still there. Drinking beers, laughing, sharing stories.
Their voices had drifted upstairs, had been a constant presence and reassurance as he and Joe had taken care of Steve.
This once, he had let them.
All the way back here – from the hard bed of the truck where they had found him, to the soft cushions of his own bed – he had just quietly accepted their support. Knowing Steve, stubborn, pig-headed, island self-dependence – it had been tough to watch. Worrying on some level. Scary even.
Danny was so sick and tired of being scared.
He stopped half way down the stairs, taking a moment to study his friends – old and new. Everyone was still dirty and sweaty, they looked exhausted and tired. But none of them seemed to be ready to go home just yet, to get a decent shower and a good night's sleep. They had all just stuck around after they'd gotten here a little while ago – after they had gotten Steve home. Seeking comfort in each other's presence and providing it at the same time.
No man is an island. Neither was Steve.
"How is he?" Chin asked and the room suddenly fell quiet. Everyone was looking at Danny expectantly as he made his way down the last few steps.
It wasn't like they all didn't know that Steve was a mess. Sore and bruised all over. Burned.
He hadn't said how he'd gotten those marks on his chest – or much at all – but Danny had a pretty good idea. He refused to dwell on it, though. Because it didn't really matter. Like the bruises, the burn marks would heal, fade, and eventually disappear. Steve would be all right, probably sooner than anyone expected.
They all knew he would be. But they still needed to hear it again.
"Smelling a lot better but still too stubborn for his own good," Danny said, forcing a smile.
"How so?" Chin asked, raising up an eyebrow. He wasn't buying Danny's attempt to reassure them, not for a second. Probably because he knew them both a little too well by now.
"Oh, you know Steve," Danny said, trying to sound annoyed to create a sense of normalcy, "if it was up to him he'd be down here with us, having beer himself."
Gutches barked out a laugh at that. "Sounds about right," he said, smiling satisfied.
Yeah, it does, Danny thought, hoping that tomorrow it would no longer be a lie.
"The way his shoulders and arms were cramping up I bet he couldn't even get the bottle up if he tried," Jacks added with a grin and took a swig from his own beer.
From anyone else, the comment and the mocking tone of his voice would have sounded disrespectful, like the man wasn't even aware of just what kind of hell their friend had been through these past few days. But coming from Jacks, Danny heard only the veiled yet utter relief it held.
If anyone, Jacks and the rest of the SEALs knew how much worse this could have ended. They probably had plenty experience of rescue missions actually ending worse. Losing one of their own, a brother.
Danny inadvertently clenched his hands to fists. He, too, had lost partners. Grace. Meka.
This could have ended so much worse.
But it hadn't. They were all here.
So he decided not to think about the what-ifs anymore. Steve was safe. And he was going to be all right.
"Got another one of those?" Danny asked, nodding at the bottle in Chin's hands.
"There should be a couple left in the fridge," he answered.
Danny made his way over to kitchen as the conversations in the living room picked back up again. He dug his phone out of the pocket of his pants as he went. He'd lost all sense of time somewhere above the Pacific ocean, wasn't even sure which day it was. All he knew was that it was long dark outside.
Everything had happened so fast.
The screen of his phone lit up. Thursday. 11:23 p.m. Danny decided it was useless information, realizing that he didn't really care what day or time it was. Because it was too late to call Grace anyway.
Grace, who smiled at him from display, bright and beautiful. He'd been thinking about her a lot on the plane – when they had left Oahu and when they had returned.
"I'll think about you the whole time."
Steve's voice suddenly echoed in his mind and Danny couldn't help but wonder if he actually had. While Wo Fat had tortured him, had Steve thought about him? Had Steve been waiting for him to get him out of there?
The irony of it all made Danny sick. He really needed that beer. Or something stronger.
Tearing his eyes away from his little girl, he found Kono leaning against a counter in the kitchen. She, too, was holding a bottle of beer in her hands. It was still nearly full, yet the logo had been all but scratched off. She was blankly staring down to where her thumb was still working on the remaining bits of paper.
"Hey," Danny said softly, a little surprised to find her in here, all by herself. He hadn't even noticed that she wasn't in the living room with everyone else.
When she heard his voice, Kono looked up at him with tired eyes. Still, she straightened her spine and squared her shoulders a little, trying to at least appear strong when Danny could see that she was feeling anything but. The corners of her mouth twitched. It looked like she even attempted to force a smile but couldn't quite manage it.
"Is Steve –" she started but broke off immediately, swallowing thickly.
"He'll be fine," Danny assured her quickly, giving her elbow a short squeeze. "You know Steve, takes more than a few knocks on the head to do any real damage," Danny added offhandedly as he turned and went to the fridge. He grabbed a beer, twisted off the cap and took a long swig from the bottle before he turned back around to face Kono.
She was watching him with a confused frown, like he'd just spoken to her in some foreign language and she was trying to figure out what he'd said. Danny noticed her hands, how her fingers were now twisting around the bottle, tight and tense like she was fighting to hold something inside herself that couldn't be contained.
Frowning himself, Danny took a step towards her. "Hey, you okay?"
She huffed out a shallow laugh that almost sounded like a strangled sob. Danny watched her shake her head, noticed how she pressed her lips to a thin line and stared blankly at some point somewhere over his shoulder.
Drawing in a deep, shaky breath, her eyes eventually found him. "I don't get you," she said quietly after a long pause. Then she turned away from him, setting the bottle down on the counter behind her.
"What?" Danny was about as lost as she looked.
"Any of you. I don't get you," she repeated, her voice rising in anger, quivering slightly like she was barely able to keep it steady.
Danny didn't understand. He reached out to touch her arm again. "Kono, what–"
She pulled herself away, out of his reach with a quick, jerky movement that made Danny flinch.
"How can you sit in there and laugh and joke about what happened," she suddenly burst out furiously, her head whipping around to face him again. "How can you make fun of what … what that monster did to him?"
The accusation hit Danny by surprise, it stung like a slap in the face and he found himself struggling for words. "I– We didn't–"
"He tortured him," she all but shouted, anger and pain shining brightly in her confused eyes and Danny found himself overwhelmed by the onslaught of her raw emotions. Emotions that he himself had tried to shove aside, to deal with later. Or never. Emotions that seemed too scary to confront.
"Kono–" he started but didn't even know what to say.
"You were there, you saw what he did to him!" she just went on relentlessly and yes, god yes, he had see what Wo Fat had done to Steve, he had seen the blood and the burns. But he wished he hadn't, wished he could just erase those images from his mind and pretend none of this had ever happened.
"He's hurt, Danny!" she added, and it sounded like an accusation, because this wasn't about the blood and the burns. Deep down, Danny knew that she didn't mean the surface damage to his body, the wounds that would heal on their own. But somehow he was afraid to acknowledge that, quite possibly, there had been wounds inflicted upon his friend that ran deeper than that. And it were those wounds that really scared Danny. Because when they found him, Steve had been so, so quiet and that had made everything just that much more real and terrifying, because Steve was never that quiet. He was always–
"How can you just act like he's fine?"
"Because somebody has to!"
The words were out of his mouth before they registered in his brain. And when they did, the hypocrisy of it all hit Danny like a ton of bricks.
He just stood there, paralyzed for a moment, his thoughts fractured into a billion pieces.
"I just don't get you."
Kono's quietly spoken words barely made it through the haze in his mind. He almost missed the fact that, this time, there was no anger in her voice – just more confusion and pain and sadness.
She turned away from him and left.
Danny still just stood there, staring blankly after her, not seeing her at all.
He didn't get himself either.
After a while, he closed his eyes, released the breath he'd been holding and raked a hand through his hair. What the hell was he doing? Telling everyone – including himself – over and over again that Steve was fine because this time … Steve hadn't. The one time his partner, his friend had come out a of a bad situation not insisting that he was fine, Danny found himself doing it for him.
Because somebody had to.
He had joked before that Steve could be missing an arm and still tell them he was fine. That stubborn idiot was always telling them he was fine. And Danny hated it when he did that.
And yet, here he was, telling the same lie for him.
Because this was not how it was supposed to be. Steve was supposed to be fine. But instead, there had only been silence, quiet acceptance of help and the implied acknowledgement that, no, he wasn't fine this time. And it scared Danny. To think about what it would do to a person. Being tortured – by the man who was responsible for so much pain in his life – and to be betrayed by a friend and to helplessly watch her get shot to death.
What had all that done to Steve? The thought alone seemed too scary to confront. So he hadn't. And instead, he had tried to tell himself and everyone around him that Steve was fine this time, too. Thinking, maybe, that if he said it often enough, it would become true eventually.
It was irrational and stupid. To hope this would all just go away. To pretend everything was fine until they all believed it enough to go back to normal.
Normal. What was that even?
Hadn't pretending that everything was fine always been normal for Steve?
Had he ever known a Steve McGarrett who was truly fine? Who wasn't haunted by the demon's of his father's past?
And if pretending was normal for him … what did it mean that he couldn't pretend now?
Did Wo Fat finally break him?
Chin's voice suddenly cut through the chaos in his mind, startling him. Danny looked up to where his friend stood in the door to the kitchen, a concerned look on his face.
"Wha–" Danny stopped and cleared his throat in an effort to get his voice to sound … normal. Not hoarse and thick with emotion as it had come out on the first attempt. "What's up?"
Chin's expression darkened as he took a moment to study him. Danny could feel the dark eyes, curious and suspicious, roaming all over him, making him feel vulnerable and exposed, like it said 'coward' in block letters right on his forehead. He crossed his arms in front of his chest, to shield himself from the intent, penetrating gaze, to raise up a line of defense. Because – what? That's what he was about these days? Pretending and denial? Not facing the truth, the reality, because it was too scary for him to handle?
"You okay?" Chin asked after a moment and took half a step into the kitchen and towards Danny.
Instinctively, Danny wanted to say yes, say that he was fine. Tell another reassuring lie. Pretend. Because it was easy. Because he was getting really good at it.
But this time, he just couldn't quite bring himself to do it.
"What's going on?" Danny asked instead, deflecting.
Chin just looked at him, a small, sympathetic smile crossing his lips, telling Danny that he was seeing right through him. "Have you seen Kono?" he simply asked. "I haven't seen her in a while."
Danny swallowed thickly, her accusations still fresh in his mind. "I think she went outside," he answered hoarsely, remembering faintly that he had heard the door to the lanai click shut after she'd left the kitchen.
"Maybe you should check on her," Danny added, realizing that he'd been so caught up with himself that he hadn't even fully realized just how upset she'd been.
Chin's brows furrowed in concern, then he nodded grimly and went to find his cousin.
Danny just watched him leave. Standing alone in the dark kitchen, he had no idea what to do.
Chin found her sitting on one of the deck chairs a short distance away from the water. He stopped a few feet away from her and watched her stare blankly out into the night, arms tightly wrapped around herself, head dropped back against the backrest.
He cleared his throat to announce his presence and walked over to the chair next to hers. "What are you doing out here?" he asked quietly as he sat down on the edge, propping his arms up on his thighs.
She blew out a deep sigh, her eyes still fixed on some point in the distance. "I just needed some fresh air."
Chin knew better than to ask if she was okay. The answer was too obvious.
"Yeah," he simply said, letting his own gaze drift over the calm water. "It's a beautiful night."
She didn't say anything, just let out a short, sarcastic laugh. Like there was no beauty left in the world to see.
Chin shifted in his chair and felt something dig into his hip. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the offending object. "Joe gave me this for you," he said, holding out her badge to her.
Taking a moment, she slowly averted her gaze from the ocean to Chin and then to the badge in his hand. She took it from him, her cold fingers grazing his. Holding the shiny, gold object in her hands, she looked down at it, brushing a thumb over the front.
"Remember what we said before we left?" she asked after a moment.
We come back with Steve, or we don't come back. Of course he remembered.
"Yeah," Chin said quietly.
He watched Kono bite down on her bottom lip, her eyes searching out the water in front of them again. "What was I supposed to do if you guys hadn't come back?" she asked, sounding genuinely curious.
"We did come back. That's all that matters."
"No, Chin," she said, her head snapping back around to face him. "What was I supposed to do?" she asked again, trying so, so hard to keep her voice steady. "Break my promise? Just go home and –" She clamped her mouth shut. Unable to finish the thought, she just shrugged helplessly.
Chin didn't know what to say. Kono had stayed behind – to guide them to find Steve. He hadn't really thought about what that meant for her if they got caught, too – or killed. If she'd just never heard from them again, what should she have done? Go after them on her own? Go home and move on?
"That's all I could think about," she added quietly. "And it scared the hell out of me."
Chin just looked at her as she cast her gaze back down to the badge she was still holding in her hands, watched her grip it tightly as if she was drawing strength from it. He was only realizing it now, but without intending to do it, they'd left the hardest part of the rescue mission to her.
She had been all-in from the start, fierce and determined to get Steve back. She had wanted to be on that chopper with the rest of them, go into North Korea, the consequences be damned. Do whatever was necessary.
And then he had singled her out to stay behind, to just watch them take off without her, not knowing if she'd ever see any of them again. It was always easier to take the risk yourself than to watch someone you care about do it. He knew that, knew how unbearably hard it was to be the one left on the sidelines, to watch and do nothing except hope and pray for the best.
And Kono, she had just stood there, watched them all climb on that chopper, silently wishing them good luck.
Chin wasn't sure he'd been able to do the same.
"I'm sorry," he said quietly, eyes still fixed on the badge in her hands. "I'm so sorry."
"Don't be," she said, her voice suddenly firm and determined and Chin found himself wondering why that even surprised him anymore. He saw every day what a strong, beautiful woman his baby cousin had become.
"It was my job, someone had to stay behind," she stated with so much conviction it almost hurt.
"I know, I just – Maybe it should have been me. I didn't realize what I was really asking of you," he admitted.
Kono huffed, a small smile crossing her lips. "You can't always protect me, Chin," she said and then turned her head to look at him. "You don't have to."
"I know," he conceded after a moment, wondering if protecting her hadn't been exactly what he had tried to accomplish by making her stay behind in the first place.
He held her gaze for a long moment before he looked down again, seeing her hands still gripping the badge tightly. He reached out a hand to cover hers with it. "And you don't always have to be so strong. It's okay to get scared sometimes."
"I still am."
The quiet admission took him by surprise. "Of what?"
"Of being in that situation again," she said. "I don't ever want to feel like that again, that helpless."
"I wish I could promise you that you won't, but –" He didn't bother to finish the thought. They both knew there were no guarantees.
"I'll try," he nevertheless added after a minute, giving Kono's hand a firm squeeze before he withdrew his own.
"You don't have to," she said, shaking her head determinedly. "I'm part of Five-0, just like you."
"This wasn't about Five-0," he reminded her. "This was about ohana."
Kono nodded. "I know." She then bit her lip again and Chin watched her take a deep breath and swallow hard before she spoke again. "What happened to Jenna?" she asked, surprising him with the question. "I mean, I know that she– that she's dead, but –"
"Danny and Joe found her in the bunker where they held Steve," Chin explained, glad to be outside right now as his own memories of those dark, oppressive halls came flooding back into his mind. "She'd been shot."
"Do you know if … if he did to her what he did to Steve?"
Chin frowned. The thought that Jenna might have been tortured, too, hadn't even crossed his mind.
"No, but I don't think so," he said grimly after a moment. "She gave him what he wanted," he added bitterly. What Wo Fat had wanted was Steve. And Jenna had delivered him, alone and without back-up. And they had let her.
Because they had trusted her.
"I can't hate her," Kono said quietly, sounding almost as if she was ashamed of how she felt. "I want to, for … all this," she added, as if she was trying to justify herself even though she didn't need to. "But I can't."
No. Chin couldn't hate her either.
"She thought she could save her fiancé. She was naïve to believe him, but–" Chin broke off, swallowing hard. Somehow, he couldn't bring himself to admit – out loud – that if it had been him in her place, he'd done everything to save Malia's life … If there had been just the smallest, tiniest sliver of hope – how could she not have tried? Who was he to judge her for betraying the team to save the one person she loved?
It was a scary thought. Were they really that fragile, that easy to manipulate, that open to an attack?
He felt Kono's hand cover his, give it a gentle squeeze. "I know," she whispered as if she had read every singly scary thought that had just crossed his mind.
"She could have come to us," Chin said, giving her hand a firm squeeze in return, gritting his teeth and deciding that – no – they were not going to make it that easy for people like Wo Fat. They could protect each other and the people they loved. If they stuck together, trusted each other. "She should have told us what was going on. We would have found a way to help her."
"What does this say about us?" Kono asked, staring off into the distance again. "I mean … that she didn't."
The question felt like a punch to the gut.
"After she left – or pretended to leave, did you ever try to reach out to her?" Kono asked, the tone of her voice holding no accusation. Her words still stung, revealing a truth Chin had tried to deny and ignore ever since they had found out that Jenna had been hiding on Maui for the past months.
"I mean, she said she was tracking down a lead about her fiancé. Did you ever try calling her to see if she was making progress … or just to ask how she was doing? Cause I didn't."
He hadn't either.
"We were her friends and we left her alone with this," Kono continued, brutally honest and so unafraid to face the truth, her own part in all of this, that Chin felt like a miserable coward next to her.
"She must have been so scared," Kono added and then drew in a deep breath. "Maybe she just needed a real friend and … none of this wouldn't have happened."
"What happened isn't your fault," Chin said, not sure what else to say. His words didn't sound convincing to his own ears even though he meant them. He didn't want this to be her fault, wanted to protect her, absolve her from the guilt he saw so clearly in her eyes.
But she was right, too. While they weren't the ones who had lured Steve into Wo Fat's trap, they hadn't done anything to prevent it from happening either. They had left Jenna alone, made her an easy target for a man like Wo Fat. Yes, she had been the one foolish enough to believe the lies, she had been the one who had looked Steve in the eye and betrayed him, all of them. But they had just let it happen.
"We have to start taking better care of each other," Kono said, squeezing his hand again.
"We will," he vowed, wrapping his fingers tightly around hers, knowing that he was drawing more strength from her that he was offering in return.
Somehow, Danny found himself upstairs again, in the hallway in front of Steve's bedroom. He was tired and exhausted, but all keyed up and agitated at the same time – shaken by the realization that he had no idea what to do, how to help Steve get through all this. All he knew was that he had suddenly felt this overwhelming need to see him, to do something, anything at all. Hoping that maybe the answers would just present themselves to him up here.
But now that he stood here, in front of the bedroom, one hand on the doorknob – he just felt stupid. Because it wasn't going to be that easy. There wasn't going to be an easy fix for any of this. Because this had been going on for so long, was complicated and complex in ways Danny wasn't even sure he understood. The deaths of his parents, Jameson's betrayal, Wo Fat, that box full of secrets, having to send Mary away again, Jenna, and god knew what else … it had all led to this.
How did he expect to be able to fix any of it?
The answer was simple. He didn't. Not really.
He was only here for his own benefit. Wanted to do something just to be doing something. Anything. To rid himself of that feeling of helplessness that seemed to have taken a hold of his entire being, that made his hands tremble ever so slightly, made him nauseous and furious and terrified all at the same time.
But Steve, he was probably – hopefully – fast asleep, resting, recovering. As he should be right now.
This wasn't the right time for Danny to … make himself feel better.
So he took a step back, ready to go back downstairs, to leave or maybe stay. He didn't know.
But then Danny heard faint noises coming from inside the bedroom. He frowned, his hand instinctively reaching for the doorknob again as he held his breath and listened. Quiet, shuffling movements were all he heard on the other side of the door.
Closing his eyes, Danny sighed and dropped his head forward, leaning his forehead against the door.
Earlier, he had watched Joe give Steve some pills. They were supposed to have him rest easy for at least eight hours straight. But Steve seemed to be even too stubborn to give in to the drugs.
Maybe he was sleep-walking. Or worse. What if it was some scary flashback that had Steve up and moving around? What if he was stuck in some kind of hellish nightmare? What if he didn't realize he was home?
Once again, Danny didn't know what to do.
Maybe he should go downstairs and get Joe. He probably knew better how to deal with whatever was going on inside the bedroom.
The thought was accompanied by a sharp, stinging pain inside Danny's chest.
Danny was grateful that he'd been around, that he had organized the whole rescue mission to North Korea to get Steve back – without regard to the repercussions an unsanctioned op like that would have for his career, his life. But at the same time, the man's presence in their lives was a constant reminder of the fact that there was still a big, important part of Steve's life that Danny didn't really know anything about. So many things that made Steve the man he was were blacked out for him, redacted, like one of those stupid top-secret mission reports.
A loud thud from the other side of the door had Danny push it open and rush into the room before he realized it, a more acute sense worry overwriting his concerns about Steve's mental state and the threat it could pose to his own safety.
The room wasn't as dark as Danny had expected it to be. Light coming from the en-suite bathroom shone through the half-opened door, illuminating the larger room softly.
Steve stood in front of the dresser beside the bed, one unsteady hand on the top for balance, the other was rummaging aimlessly through an opened drawer. On the floor next to the dresser lay a lamp – still intact, somehow unbroken after being pushed to the side and off the top by the hand that was still struggling there for purchase.
Danny let his gaze wander for a moment, taking in the opened doors of the closet, the clothes and linens that had been ripped out and then dropped to the floor and onto the bed.
He looked back up to Steve, taking a few steps in his direction. But he didn't seem to notice him at all, too distracted, too focused on whatever he was looking for in that drawer. Danny noticed how Steve's breaths came in short, shallow puffs, how his chest – a grotesque mosaic of small, white bandages and large, purple bruises – was covered in a thin sheen of sweat. His body was begging, aching to rest, to recover, but his mind seemed to be too stubborn to give in to those demands.
"Hey," Danny called softly, but got no response. "Hey," he called again, moving into Steve's peripheral field of vision to finally get his attention.
Suddenly, Steve froze and then slowly turned his head. Two confused, frowning eyes found Danny.
Danny just spread his hands a little to indicate the chaos around them. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" he asked quietly, still not convinced that Steve wasn't stuck in some scary place inside his mind.
Steve's frown darkened as his eyes lost their focus and started wandering around the room. "Where's my stuff?" he asked, his voice sounding hoarse and rough and Danny could see him swallow convulsively against the dryness in his throat.
"Your stuff? What stuff?" Danny asked, trying to keep his voice quiet and soft. He closed the distance between them and stood next to the dresser. Tilting his head to the side, he tried to get into Steve's line of vision, to get his attention without touching him, afraid to trigger some sort of reaction that he wasn't prepared to handle. "Hey, Steve, what stuff?"
"My stuff!" Steve insisted loudly, slamming the drawer shut with more force than he should possess in his doped and beat up state. Holding on to the top of the dresser with both hands now and panting harshly from the effort that small outburst had cost him, Steve didn't look up. His blank, unfocused eyes kept darting around, looking for something. "My-my-my clothes, my pants," he added angrily, balling his hands to fists and Danny could see the violent tremors running trough his arms.
"Hey, calm down, okay," he said a little more harshly, putting a hand on Steve's elbow. He now knew what this was, knew what Steve was looking for.
At the light touch, Steve's eyes finally focused on Danny again. "Danny, I need–"
Before Steve could finish, Danny had reached into the pocket of his pants with his free hand and pulled out the delicate gold necklace, holding it up for him to see. "You looking for this?" he asked and watched Steve look at it, his frantic eyes clouding over with relief and sadness. "Found it in your pants' pocket before I tossed 'em out," Danny explained.
He watched as Steve tried to grab the necklace but it seemed like he just couldn't make his arms work accordingly. Danny reached out, turned Steve's hand and then gently let the necklace drop into the waiting open palm. Then he closed his hand around Steve's, helping him to take hold of it, because he wasn't sure Steve could muster the strength to do it on his own.
As soon as he held the necklace, the tension seemed to simply leave Steve's body. Taut, cramped-up muscles unlocked and he started to sway a little. Danny wasn't sure he could hold him if he fell. "Come on," he said, tightening his grip on the elbow and taking hold of Steve's upper arm with his other hand. Then he slightly pushed Steve back towards the bed behind him. "Sit."
Steve heavily dropped down on top of the sheets and hunched over, propping his elbows up on his thighs. What little strength he had left seemed to be focused on holding on to the necklace in his right hand.
When he was sure that Steve was seated somewhat steadily, Danny crouched down in front of him and put a hand on one of Steve's knees. He wasn't sure what to do. He just wanted to get his partner to lie back down, sleep, rest, because god knew he needed it. But Steve didn't seem to be ready just yet. So Danny just stayed where he was, watched him and listened to his breathing slow down and even out.
"She's dead." Steve's voice was so low and soft, Danny almost didn't hear him.
The image of Jenna's lifeless, broken body flashed though his mind. He shoved it aside quickly. "I know," he said, giving Steve's knee a gentle squeeze.
Steve looked up at him, the unasked question clearly visible in his eyes. 'How do you know?'
"We were looking for you in that bunker," Danny explained.
Steve dropped his gaze to the ground and clenched his hands to tight fists, making his arms and shoulders quiver again. "You shouldn't have come," he ground out, setting his jaw tightly.
Danny closed his eyes and sighed. Whatever happened to 'leave no man behind'?
"I shouldn't have let you go in the first place," he said.
I'll think about you the whole time.
Steve looked up at him again but his eyes were unfocused and glassy, making Danny feel like he didn't really see him at all. "It was too dangerous. You shouldn't have come," Steve insisted, his voice deep and raspy.
"Let's not do this right now," Danny said and stood. He wasn't ready to have this conversation yet, still didn't know what to say or do about this whole goddamn mess. "You should rest. Come on." He gave Steve's shoulder a quick squeeze before he picked up the scattered shirts and towels from the bed and tossed them into the opened closet. When he turned back around, Steve still hadn't moved. He just sat there, staring at the necklace in his hand.
"Please," Danny asked softly.
"It wasn't worth the risk."
"Yes, it was," Danny said firmly, balling his own hands to fists. He took a few short but controlled breaths to suppress the quickly rising anger. This was crap and Steve sure as hell knew it. Why couldn't the stubborn idiot just accept that he had been worth it. Why would he think that they, what, should have just left him there to be tortured and killed – like Jenna?
"No, it wasn't," Steve insisted, shaking his head vehemently. Danny didn't miss the slight quiver in his voice. "This whole … mess. It's not worth it. It's not worth any of it."
Danny closed his eyes, the anger leaving his body as quickly as it had appeared. He dropped down onto the bed to sit next to Steve, feeling exhausted and even more tired than he had a minute ago.
That's what he was talking about. And Danny had to agree. Whatever or whoever Shelburne was … it couldn't be worth all this pain.
"I hated him," Steve suddenly said, his voice thick with emotions that Danny couldn't quite identify. "When Wo Fat– when he shot her and I could just … I couldn't–" Steve paused, his hand closing tighter around the necklace. "In that moment, I hated him."
Danny frowned. "Who?" he asked, knowing that this wasn't about Wo Fat.
"My dad," was the quiet, pain-filled answer.
"Steve, you don't mean–"
"She died because of his secrets," Steve spat angrily.
Danny bit down on the insides of his cheeks. "You got tortured for them," he added, suddenly feeling a lot of anger towards the man who had left his son with one hell of a mess to deal with, too.
"I don't even know anything. She died for nothing." Steve paused and swallowed. "It was all for nothing."
He sounded so helpless, so broken that Danny wanted to say something, anything to make Jenna's death and all the suffering of the past days – and months – seem just a little less pointless. But Steve was right and all they'd been through … it had been for nothing. They weren't even a single step closer to finding out what the hell Shelburne was.
Was there even anyone still alive who knew?
For all Danny knew, Shelburne was a secret Steve's father had taken to his grave.
But Shelburne wasn't the real problem here anyway. The problem was Wo Fat looking for it, thinking Steve knew something about what it was. The real problem was that Wo Fat wasn't about to just let this go. He'd keep looking for answers, no matter who he'd hurt or kill in the process.
"I'm sorry you got dragged into this," Steve suddenly said, jerking Danny from his thoughts. "I don't want anyone else to get hurt because … just because my dad–"
"No," Danny cut him off, the word out of his mouth before he even knew what he wanted to say. But Steve's mind was headed in the wrong direction and he needed to stop it before this was spinning any further out of control, before he reached that point of no return.
"No one dragged anyone into anything," Danny insisted as he turned to face Steve and, once again, put his hand on his knee. "Ask those guys downstairs, they don't know anything about all this Shelburne crap." Ducking his head, Danny tried to get into Steve's line of sight, tried to lock eyes with him to drive his point home. "It wasn't about that. We just wanted to get you home."
"The fact that they didn't know why they risked their lives is only making it worse," Steve ground out, his voice angry and dangerous.
"They don't care why," Danny said quietly, wanting Steve so, so bad to understand that, no matter what happened, he had a great group of people in his corner. People he could count on to have his back. Always. No matter what. "None of us do," he added, including himself, Chin and Kono in the sentiment.
But Steve just shook his head, indignant and determined, frowning darkly. "You should care."
Confused and a little irritated, Danny moved back a little. He let his gaze wander over his partner's face, took in the pinched expression but found no answer to the question on his mind. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?" he asked, his voice coming out a little harsher than intended as he allowed his frustration take a hold of the tone of his voice.
"This is my problem," Steve said, stubbornly staring down at the necklace in his hand again. Danny let his gaze follow his partner's, saw how tightly the fist clenched around the delicate piece of jewelry.
"I'm not gonna let this happen again," Steve then vowed.
"Hey," Danny almost hissed. When Steve didn't react, he put his hand above Steve's hard fist. "It's not your fault she's dead." He squeezed the hand underneath his lightly to emphasize his point. "This is not your fault.
"Shelburne and all that … it's not your responsibility. None of this is. You don't want anyone else dragged into this, I get that. But Steve, you got dragged into all this against your will first. Don't forget that."
"All the more reason to make sure no one else gets hurt over this."
"And what about you? You push us away, who's gonna make sure you don't get hurt?" Again.
The only response he got was a small twitch of Steve's mouth. And for a brief moment it looked like he wanted to say that it was pointless. Because this was his life, had been since before he had met Danny for the very first time. Burdened by secrets and lies and death.
But Steve didn't say that, he didn't say anything at all. He just kept staring at that stupid necklace in his hand, his gaze hard and determined. Like it was some sort of proof that if he allowed his friends to get too close to those burdens, they'd get crushed beneath them. Like Jenna.
Danny wanted to tear the stupid thing from his grasp and throw it out the window, right into the ocean, never to be seen again, swallowed by the infinite waters.
But that wouldn't change anything, wouldn't stop Steve from shutting them out.
Danny couldn't just sit there an accept that. "Steve," he started, aware but indifferent about just how desperate and pleading he sounded. "Please don't do this. Let us –"
"Danny," Steve interrupted, his voice flat and empty. "I'm tired."
There was a finality in his tone that stunned Danny, paralyzed him. Because it only reaffirmed what he already knew. Deep down, ever since he had first laid eyes on Jenna's corpse somewhere in a bunker in North Korea he had known that … they were too late.
Months too late.
Wo Fat had gotten to them where it hurt most. The team, the family. He had attacked them from within. He had used Jenna against them, given her false hope – hurting her, too. And then he'd killed her.
And Steve, he wouldn't let anything like this happen again. Danny knew him well enough to know that, to see it – even through lids heavy with exhaustion, pain and drugs, he could see that goddamn determination in his friend's eyes. Steve had decided that this was his mess to deal with. Alone. That it had to be, in oder to shield them all from the danger and pain all those damned secrets and lies entailed. And there was no way to convince him to let them in, let them help him deal with all the chaos that was constantly turning his life upside down.
Steve was struggling for control, for every tiny last bit of it. Wo Fat and his father and Governor Jameson – they all had taken so much of it away from him, had dumped him into a sea of conspiracies and betrayal where all he could do was try to somehow stay afloat.
React. Survive. Not live, like he deserved to.
But protecting his friends, his family – that was the one thing he wouldn't let them take away from him.
And this right here, Danny realized, was Steve deciding to fight back, to take back control. Even if it was just to protect them, to keep them safe.
Maybe it was the wrong reason. Maybe Steve should be doing this for himself, should be fighting for himself. Not for Mary or Chin or Kono or anyone else. But maybe it was going to be enough anyway.
Because Steve was still staring at the necklace in his hand. A reminder of the senseless pain and death those secrets and lies had caused. A memento of the past – because Steve, he would not let this happen again.
Closing his eyes, Danny exhaled a deep breath, realizing that there was only one thing he could do right now. Because if he wanted his friend to come out of this battle alive, better and in control, then it had to be fought on Steve's terms, not Wo Fat's or Danny's. And if Steve decided that he needed to do this on his own, then Danny had to respect that.
"Yeah," he said slowly, trying hard not to choke on the word. "Yeah, you're right. You should rest." He removed his hand from Steve's. One of the hardest things he'd ever had to do in his life.
I'm sorry I couldn't be there in person to tell you this, but I need to find Joe White. I think he lied to me about the identity of Shelburne and I need to get the truth. Shelburne is the real reason my father was murdered, and maybe even my mother. And until I get some answers I can't do this job right.
Danno, I'm going to need you to hold down the fort for a while. I'll be in touch.
Danny wasn't surprised when he found the letter on his desk, not really anyway. He had been waiting for this to happen ever since the day they had brought Steve home. He just hadn't expected this to come so sudden, had expected that there would be some sort of sign, a warning.
But Steve had just left, in the middle of the night and without saying goodbye. Probably because he had been afraid that Danny wouldn't let him go alone.
Being completely honest with himself, Danny didn't know if he could have. Back then it had been easy to let go. Relatively, anyway. Knowing that this day was still far away, somewhere in the future.
But now that it had finally come, a part of Danny was afraid, terrified that he would never see Steve again. That he had idly sat by all this time, waiting for his best friend to go on some hopeless suicide mission.
He tried to remind himself of all the reasons why this was how it had to be. But that didn't make it any easier to just sit here and hope and pray, to wait for Steve to come back.
It didn't make it any easier at all.
- The End -
A/N: I had no intention of writing this. I did want to write the part about Kono. Just to acknowledge her part in all this and the sacrifice she made by staying behind. But then Danny kind of hijacked the story. He's good at that. He's such a wonderfully human and relatable character. And I couldn't help but wonder how he was dealing with everything that had happened.
I've been working on this for at least half a year, probably longer. It just never felt quite right. I'm not sure if it does now but I needed to get this thing off my mind.
Thank you for reading!
Disclaimer: I don't own the show or its characters.