Author's Notes: I've been a fan of "Hawaii Five-0" half my life, but this is the first Five-0 fanfic I ever finished. The poems quoted are "Song" by Christina Rossetti and "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death" by W.B. Yeats.
Disclaimer: The characters herein belong to Paramount/Viacom, or at least they're releasing - finally - the DVDs.
Steve McGarrett straightened up slowly and leaned against the bunker wall, breathing heavily from adrenaline and exertion. Stanwood lay curled on the ground, no longer posing a threat. He clenched his fist, feeling the sharp twinge of bruised knuckles.
A smart lawyer might be able to argue police brutality. McGarrett didn't care. There was no law to protect murdering scum like Stanwood and his band of young assassins. McGarrett wouldn't rest until he saw them all behind bars for the rest of their lives.
No, there was no room for regret. Not for the man who had executed Kurt Metzger, not for the man who had murdered his best friend. Danno. Stanwood had been running from the powder room, where they'd been holding Williams. He had been too late after all. He hadn't cried since his nephew had died, but he could feel tears burning the corners of his eyes. He rested his face against cool concrete and wished he could turn back time.
Something alerted him to a new presence in the room, the scrape of a shoe against pavement, a breath exhaled in a soft sigh. He turned slowly, hardly daring to hope, and saw something that caused him to briefly revise his belief in a higher power.
Dan Williams stood at the entrance to the tunnel. His forehead was bleeding from a jagged cut and splashes of dried blood decorated the sleeves of his white dress shirt. He stared at McGarrett, his blue eyes wide and uncertain.
McGarrett stared back at him for the long seconds it took to adjust to the idea of Williams alive and relatively well. The rage drained from his body and he straightened up, his face relaxing into a slight smile. "How is it, Danno?"
Williams swallowed heavily and glanced at the ground before walking slowly towards him, as if he were unsure it was over. He stopped a foot away from McGarrett and sighed. "Close."
McGarrett didn't want to think about what that meant. The fresh blood on Dan's forehead told him that Stanwood had tried to follow through with the execution. But Williams had survived, somehow. "Yeah," he murmured. He clapped Williams twice on the shoulder, leaving his hand there. "Yeah, too close. Let's go." He squeezed Dan's neck affectionately and steered him towards the bunker exit. "Book him," he snapped to the closest HPD officer, content to leave Stanwood and his young minion for others to look after. Right now, he needed to look after Danno.
He still had his arm around Dan's shoulder as the exited into the bright Hawaiian sun. Williams flinched at the sudden light and McGarrett pulled him closer protectively. "You okay?"
Williams smiled, the wide, unguarded smile that had charmed women on every island in Hawaii and from most of the mainland states. "Yeah. I just didn't think I'd ever see the sky again, you know?"
"I know." McGarrett turned to face his friend. "Let me look at that cut. What did he hit you with?"
Williams jerked away from his touch. "His gun. It's no big thing."
"No big thing? He could have killed you." Like he killed Kurt, he thought. If Stanwood had used the gun to shoot instead of to bludgeon, he'd be getting ready to bury another friend. "I'm taking you to the hospital." His words came out sharper he'd intended, the renewed fear and rage bleeding into his tone.
Williams shook his head. "No hospitals."
"You could have a concussion or worse." He concentrated on sounding conciliatory. Even exhausted and traumatized, Williams was a match for McGarrett in stubbornness.
"I don't care. I don't want some stranger poking and prodding at me." He took a deep breath, but McGarrett could feel him trembling beneath his hand.
Alarm bells went off in his head. "Did they hurt you anywhere else?" he demanded, imagining a dozen different scenarios, each one direr.
"No," Williams replied quickly. "I just can't handle a hospital right now. It would be like more captivity." His face burned with the shame of the admission. "Please, Steve."
McGarrett couldn't refuse the plea. He patted Williams once more on the shoulder, then reached up and cupped his face gently. "Sure. Sure, Danno." He steered the younger man to the nearest Five-O car. "On one condition," he added, as he opened the passenger side door.
Williams looked at him suspiciously. "What?"
"That you let me look after that cut. And that you agree to go to the hospital if I think it's necessary."
"That's two conditions," Williams retorted, but he smiled slightly as he slipped into the car.
McGarrett shook his head and walked around the car to the driver's side. He paused before opening the door and took a moment to just watch his friend. He thought back to the first time he had seen Williams, more than ten years earlier at the HPD Academy graduation. He had presented the award for the top cadet to a young man with crew-cut sandy hair and the face of a teenager. He hadn't paid much more attention then, other than to be surprised to learn that the young man was actually a college graduate in his mid-twenties. And then he put him out of mind.
But Dan Williams hadn't been the kind of police officer that stayed out of mind for long. Over the next five years he had brought himself to McGarrett's attention time and time again, through his skill as a marksman, his solid record of arrests, and a combination of insight and doggedness in his investigations that set him apart from the rest of his colleagues. When a position became available in Five-O, there had been no question in McGarrett's mind of whom he wanted to fill it.
As he gazed at Williams through the prism of time and memory, he could still see the man he had brought onto the Five-O team seven years before. Williams was older, in his mid-thirties now, but at times like this the shade of his younger self bled through, filling McGarrett with a warm sense of affection. It terrified him to think how close he had come to losing him today.
He opened the door and slid behind the wheel, but as he went to put the key in the ignition, his hand shook and the keys tumbled to the floor.
McGarrett bent down to pick up the keys, his face hidden for a moment while he composed his features. "Clumsy," he said, as he fumbled for the correct key. He took a deep breath and concentrated as he inserted the key into the ignition, but a hand covered his before he could start the engine. He looked up sharply. Williams was gazing at him with a mixture of apprehension and concern written across his face.
"Let's just wait a minute," he suggested and withdrew his hand.
McGarrett felt strangely bereft. "I'm okay," he protested, but it was a hollow statement. He still felt shaky and the last place his attention would be was on the road. That would be absurd – saving Williams from armed terrorists only to kill him in a traffic accident. He gripped the steering wheel tightly and stared out the front windshield. From the corner of his eye he could see Williams watching him, gnawing on his lower lip.
"I'm sorry," he said finally.
That startled McGarrett. "Why?" he asked, turning to face his colleague.
Williams looked out the window towards the bunker. "Because I walked out of there and Kurt didn't."
The last three words had been barely a whisper, but they seemed to echo in the sedan. McGarrett sucked in a sharp breath. "Don't. Don't ever say that. Don't even think it," he said harshly. And then he remembered what he had told Manicote and the Governor: that the hardest part of the situation was that Metzger was a civilian. As if Danno's profession somehow made his kidnapping acceptable. As if he could have lived with Danno's death, but not Kurt's. And yet, although Kurt's death was still raw, those moments in the bunker, when he believed Danno was gone too, had been unbearable.
McGarrett watched as a thin trickle of blood from the cut on Dan's forehead curved around the bones framing his eye socket. He pulled out a handkerchief and gently dabbed at the cut. Again Williams jerked at his touch, but McGarrett took hold of his chin and held him still as he finished wiping the blood away. "Hold this in place until we get to your place. You could need stitches, you know." He was changing the subject, but he was still too shaken from the day's events to give Williams the reassurance he needed.
Even the hint of a hospital visit was enough to rekindle a spark of defiance. "It's a head wound. Head wounds bleed a lot. It's no big thing.
"No big thing?" Again McGarrett could hear his voice raising and he twisted the ignition viciously, revving the engine. "You keep saying that, but it doesn't make it true." He turned to glare at Williams and saw his friend smiling slightly. "Are you laughing at me now?" he demanded, but couldn't help grinning back.
"No, of course not," Williams replied, laughing outright.
McGarrett shook his head, but the weight that had been pressing down on him since he'd opened the package with Dan's badge and Kurt's driver's license eased. It returned with Dan's next words.
"I need to talk to Elizabeth."
McGarrett remembered his last encounter with Metzger's widow, when he had personally delivered the news of her husband's death. Elizabeth had been inconsolable, as the hope he had tried to keep alive in her earlier was irrevocably extinguished. He had stayed with her until her sister had arrived and then fled in the face of her naked grief, a grief he knew could so easily have been his own. "You can do that tomorrow," he said, knowing that the meeting was guaranteed to be painful.
"I need to do it now," Williams replied. It was clear from the set of his jaw that he wasn't prepared to back down.
But McGarrett was reluctant to subject Williams to the emotional fallout the meeting would generate. "A day won't make any difference."
"Not to me," Williams agreed. "But it will for Elizabeth."
"If you won't drive me, I'll find someone who will." It wasn't an empty threat. Any one of the HPD officers on the scene would be more than happy to take Williams anywhere he asked. Unlike McGarrett, still an outsider after 15 years, Williams had come up through the regular police ranks. His elevation to the Five-O offices had caused some comment, but very few of his former colleagues envied him the long hours and high-pressure cases the state police handled. The news of his kidnapping had sent ripples of anger through HPD and there had been no shortage of volunteers to storm the bunker this morning.
McGarrett hated being outmanoeuvred, even by his closest friend, but he also knew he wasn't capable of denying Williams anything at this moment. "Are you sure you want to do this now?" he asked with one last attempt to divert the headstrong detective.
"No, but I have to."
McGarrett knew he had lost the argument, so he leaned forward and opened the glove compartment, pulling out a small first aid kit. "Then hold still, while I clean the cut up. You don't want to go there looking like Frankenstein's monster."
Williams rolled his eyes, but held still patiently. The bleeding had stopped for the most part, but bruising was spreading like malevolent ripples from the point of impact. The thin gash itself wasn't deep enough to warrant stitches, McGarrett decided after a close examination, but it would probably leave a scar. "This is going to hurt," he warned as he dabbed at the cut with an antiseptic towel.
Williams tolerated the fussing patiently, but after McGarrett finished taping a bandage over the cleaned cut, he grabbed McGarrett's right hand, shaking his head at the swollen and bruised knuckles. "I'd hate to have been on the other end of that."
"He got off lightly," McGarrett snarled, the raw hatred in his voice surprising even himself. He backed the car out of the makeshift parking lot, uncomfortable with the look of concern Williams was giving him. He was relieved that Williams didn't press the topic, not wanting to reveal just how close he had come to killing Stanwood with his bare hands.
The drive to the Metzger residence occurred in silence. Williams stared out the window, as if he were memorizing every sight. McGarrett glanced at him once and saw his lips moving silently. At last they pulled up in front of a white rancher on the university grounds. "You can still change your mind and do this later."
Williams just looked at him and got out of the car. He paused at the edge of the driveway, then squared his shoulders and marched to the door. He hesitated again, his hand hovering in front of the doorbell. Gently, McGarrett leaned past him and knocked on the door.
McGarrett had expected Elizabeth's sister to answer the door, but Elizabeth opened it herself. She looked surprised to see him. "Steve?"
McGarrett stepped through the door and pulled Elizabeth into a tight hug. "How are you holding up, honey?" he asked, noting the dark smudges beneath her eyes, the new lines around the mouth.
She shrugged. "It's hard. But I tell myself that Kurt wouldn't want me to lose myself in grief."
"No, he wouldn't," Williams said, stepping around McGarrett.
Elizabeth stepped back, shocked. "Danny?" For one terrible moment McGarrett thought she would turn on Williams, blame him for Kurt's death, but then she threw her arms around the younger man. "Oh, Danny. You're safe. Thank god something good came out of this."
McGarrett wanted to kiss her for that. He saw Dan's shoulders relax and he knew Williams had been steeling himself for rejection.
"I'm sorry, Elizabeth," Williams whispered. "I'm so sorry. I'd do anything to bring him back."
Elizabeth pulled back and looked at him. Dan's misery was painted clearly on his face and McGarrett could see it visibly affect the grieving widow. "I know, Danny. And Kurt would have known that as well." She brushed the tears off her face. "Come in. I'll make some tea."
McGarrett hesitated, but Williams nodded and followed Elizabeth to the kitchen. They sat down at the kitchen table, watching silently as she drew strength from the measured actions of domestic ritual. The kettle boiled quickly, an empty mug on the counter attesting that it was not her first cup of the morning. Quickly, efficiently, she brewed a fresh pot of tea, then gathered mugs, milk and sugar on a tray. Only when three cups had been prepared to her satisfaction did she sit down next to Williams.
For the first time she seemed to notice Dan's dishevelled appearance and the fresh blood staining the bandage on his forehead. "You're hurt, Danny," she exclaimed. "Shouldn't you be at the hospital?"
Williams glared at McGarrett, forestalling any editorial comments. "It's nothing, just a bump."
McGarrett could tell that Elizabeth didn't believe him, but she knew enough about stubborn men not to argue. "Did you come straight here? You must be famished. I'll make you a sandwich." She started to stand, but Williams stopped her with a gentle hand on the shoulder.
"It's all right. The tea is fine." He took a sip to reassure her. "I needed to see you. Kurt would want me to make sure you were holding up all right."
Elizabeth shook her head. "How does one hold up to something like this? I keep expecting him just to walk through the door. And then I remember." She tried to smile, but the corners of her mouth trembled. "Were you…" She swallowed back a sob and continued. "Were you with him when he died?"
Williams nodded. "It happened very fast. I don't believe he suffered at the end."
McGarrett gripped Dan's shoulder, dismayed. He had hoped that Williams hadn't witnessed Metzger's death, had at least been spared that torture.
Elizabeth took a deep breath and reached up and traced a finger over the bandage above Dan's eye. "But you did." It was a statement, not a question, but not one that Williams would ever acknowledge. "It must have been awful."
Dan's carefully composed features crumpled momentarily, revealing a depth of anguish that left McGarrett breathless. Then the mask reformed and Dan took Elizabeth's hand in his. "Kurt knew – we both knew – that the odds of getting out alive were next to nothing. He came to accept it, even though he wanted more than anything to come home to you." He smiled and brushed a tear off her cheek. "We had a lot of time to talk. He made me promise that if I survived and he didn't I would tell you that your love was the best thing in his life. He asked me to remember something for you." Williams paused and closed his eyes, two vertical slashes forming between his brows as he concentrated.
I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me:
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree.
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet:
And if thou wilt, remember
And if thou wilt, forget."
Elizabeth smiled through her tears. "Christina Rossetti. It was a favourite of his. Did he teach you the second verse?" When Williams shook his head, she canted her head slightly to the side and quoted:
shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on as if in pain.
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget."
" 'Dreaming through the twilight'," Williams whispered. "I like that. I think that's how he would want you to think of him. He told me he would rather you forgot him altogether than have you remember him with pain."
"Yes, that sounds like Kurt." She cried then, but as a release, her face against Dan's shoulder. When she looked up again there was a peace in her eyes that hadn't been there before. "What was your poem, Danny?" she asked softly.
Dan's eyes darted quickly to McGarrett, a brushing glance so brief McGarrett nearly missed it. Then he spoke, so softly they had to strain to hear the words:
law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years ahead seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death."
This time it was McGarrett who supplied the attribution. "Yeats. 'An Irish Airman Foresees his Death'." He thought of Kurt and Danno sitting on the cold floor of the bunker quoting poetry as the seconds ticked away in their lives. He wondered if they had found a measure of comfort in the timeless words. He couldn't.
Elizabeth touched Dan's cheek. "An elegy for an indifferent hero. Kurt must have suggested that one." She smiled when Dan's head snapped up in surprise. "He always said you never quite realised just how brave you are."
McGarrett thought that Kurt had known his second-in-command all too well.
"Do you remember the first time we met you? At the surf meet? We'd come with Steve to see his wunderkind in action."
Williams grimaced. "I wiped out, big time. Not much of a first impression."
"You could have been killed," McGarrett snapped, his temper still so close to the surface that even the memory of that close call was enough to ignite it. "We thought you were drowning in front of our eyes and you were worried about making a first impression?"
Williams shrugged. "Well, I didn't like losing much, either. Particularly since you forbid me to enter any more competitions after that."
"I didn't forbid you," McGarrett protested. "I just suggested that it wasn't in your best interests any longer. Well, it wasn't!" he said, as Williams rolled his eyes.
Elizabeth gazed at Williamsn fondly. "You're wrong. You made quite the impression staggering out of the surf, droplets of water sparkling about you in the sunshine. I remember Kurt saying that you reminded him of Theseus emerging from the waves with King Minos's ring." She laughed out loud when Williams blushed. "But what became clear almost immediately was that you had absolutely no clue why Steve was nearly frantic with worry. It never occurred to you that you could have been hurt, did it."
Williams shook his head. "You can't get up on a board expecting to be hurt. That just creates danger." He scowled when McGarrett snorted. "It's not a question of courage. It's a question of not letting unnecessary fears get in the way of doing what needs to be done."
And that, McGarrett thought, encapsulated Dan Williams. Doing what needed to be done, whether it was dangerous or mundane. He could almost see Danno in that bunker, pushing aside the fear to analyse their options, search for a way of escape.
"Kurt knew that about you. He would have been comforted having you with him," Elizabeth said softly. She gazed down at her mug. "Thank you for coming, Danny."
It was a dismissal. McGarrett touched Williams on the shoulder and gestured for them to go. He looked back as they headed towards the front door. Elizabeth was still sitting at the table, looking into the mug, as if there were a message in the tea leaves meant only for her.
Williams insisted on taking a shower as soon as he got inside his apartment, leaving McGarrett to his own devices. The first thing he did was call for delivery. He knew Williams hadn't eaten since the ill-fated lunch with Kurt and McGarrett had done little more than snatch at food. Danno was normally the one who made sure he ate properly when they were working around the clock. That reminded him that while the crisis had passed, the case was far from over. He called Chin for an update on the arrests at the bunker, satisfied to hear that everyone had been booked. Before he hung up, Chin reminded him to check in with the Governor.
McGarrett dialled the familiar number a little guiltily, knowing he should have informed the Governor immediately. Not only had Jameson taken an active role in the case, but he was genuinely fond of Williams. McGarrett might have selected Williams for Five-O, but the Governor had made the official appointment, and he was well known for his loyalty to his people.
Predictably, Jameson's first concern was Dan's welfare. McGarrett quickly reassured him that Dan was safe and that the terrorist threat was contained. He then asked leave to delay his full report until the next morning.
"I thought you said Danny was all right," Jameson said, anticipating the unspoken explanation. "Or are you bird-dogging him for your own peace of mind?"
"Guilty as charged," McGarrett chuckled. "I just want to keep an eye on him for awhile. Make sure he's handling everything all right. He spoke to Elizabeth. I think he helped her. I just want to help him."
"Of course, Steve," the Governor replied. "Take as long as you need. Danny is what's important now."
Those tasks accomplished, McGarrett wandered through the apartment, studying the contents as if he were examining a crime scene. It was a game he played sometimes to keep his investigative skills sharp.
The apartment was relatively tidy and austere, the sign of a man whose real home was in the office, but here and there a detail jarred the picture: Several books lying discarded on a coffee table, markers indicating that each was still being read; pillows scattered haphazardly on the couch, the duvet on his bed pulled roughly into position; two days worth of dishes in the sink. Signs of a man who liked order, just not too much. He glanced along Dan's bookshelf and smiled. The books were arranged alphabetically and by genre – and probably chronologically for duplicated authors, but were stacked unevenly, as if individual books had been hastily replaced. Several were out of their spots and McGarrett imagined Williams reorganizing every couple of weeks, scowling at the chaos he couldn't avoid.
He wandered over to the table and noted the current reading selections: a nearly pristine copy of The Brothers Karamazov, a dog-eared copy of The Dogs of War, Black's Law Dictionary and Kurt Metzger's latest book. The last was a painful reminder that they had brought Kurt onto the case as a consultant, had led him to his death.
The bathroom door opened and Williams came out, hurriedly dressed in a t-shirt and sweat pants, towelling his hair dry. "How are the brothers doing?" McGarrett asked, holding up the Dostoevsky.
Williams grinned. "They're not very happy." He cocked his head to the side, studying McGarrett's face. "Are you okay?" he asked, changing tack with unnerving directness. "You look a little lost."
"Just thinking about Kurt." His face must have given something away, for Williams grimaced in sympathy.
"I'm sorry," he said. "That must have been a terrible phone call to receive."
Not as terrible as it could have been, McGarrett thought. He couldn't give voice to the words, however, for they seemed almost a betrayal of the dead man. Yet he couldn't deny that once the initial shock had passed and he had been able to grieve Kurt properly, there had been a tiny surge of joy that Danno was still alive, that there was still time. "Telling Elizabeth was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do," he admitted.
He was saved from having to answer any more questions by the doorbell ringing. "That was fast," he said brightly, moving to the door and reaching for his wallet. He paid the delivery boy, adding a hefty tip for the timely arrival, and slid the large box onto the table.
"You ordered pizza?" Williams frowned. "You hate pizza."
McGarrett shrugged. "But you like it." He paused, suddenly uncertain. "Did you want something else? I can call for Chinese."
"No, pizza's great." Again McGarrett was treated to a dazzling Williams smile. "But I would have been happy with something you like too." Williams ducked into the kitchen again to grab plates, forks, knives and napkins. "I hope you at least ordered vegetarian for yourself." His eyes widened when he opened the lid and saw a meat lover's delight.
"I thought you might need something substantial," McGarrett said, almost shyly. "You're always saying vegetables aren't enough to fill you up." He waited for Williams to fill his plate then grabbed a piece for himself. He had to admit that it smelled delicious and he took a deep bite from the crust, chewing with unexpected satisfaction. The satisfaction melted away as he watched Williams stare down at his plate. "What's wrong, Danno?"
Williams shook his head, dislodging a tear that fell on the centre of his plate. He grimaced and wiped his eyes angrily. "Everything. Here I am, sharing a pizza with you and Kurt's dead. It should have been me. It's not right."
McGarrett swallowed heavily and blinked back the sympathetic tears that welled at the corners of his own eyes. He wanted to grab Williams and shake some sense into him, but he forced himself to remember how trauma could bring emotions too near the surface. "No, it's not right," he agreed. "It's not right that Kurt is dead. But I'll tell you something that is very right. You. Here. Alive. That's the rightest thing in the world." Williams shook his head harder and wrapped his arms around his body, closing himself off. "Listen to me, Danno," McGarrett urged, suddenly afraid that he was losing Williams after all. "Kurt's death is a terrible waste, a tragedy for Elizabeth, a loss for us all. But don't ever think that I would trade you for him."
Williams looked up at him, his eyes bright with unshed tears. "I'd trade myself. In an instant."
McGarrett moved his chair around the table until he was sitting next to Williams. "I know you would, my friend. You've proved that a hundred times."
"It should have been me," Williams repeated dully. "Kurt was an innocent civilian. It was my job to protect him."
"You did your best, Danno. I don't need to know what happened in that bunker to know that you did everything you could."
But Williams was beyond listening to him. "I keep thinking about what I could have done differently. I should have been able to stop Army from shooting him."
"How? He had the gun. He had the advantage."
Williams slammed his fists on the table, sending his cutlery skittering away. "I saved myself. Why couldn't I save Kurt?" He froze, broken by the admission, and McGarrett realised that he did need to know what had happened in that bunker. It was the only way to help Williams.
"Tell me," he said, in as gentle a voice as he could manage. "Tell me how Kurt died."
For a moment he thought Williams wouldn't answer, then the younger man leaned back in his seat and gazed blindly across the room. "Army opened the door. He was furious. He didn't say anything, just raised the gun and fired."
McGarrett closed his eyes, imagining the scene.
"I couldn't understand why I didn't feel anything. I mean, I know that shock sometimes masks the pain, but I should at least have felt the impact. And then I realised that it was Kurt he'd shot. I looked behind me and he was lying there like a broken doll. I knelt down beside him, but it was too late. I tried CPR anyway, but I'd barely started when two of the kids grabbed me and pulled me away. I watched as Army dragged Kurt's body out of the bunker like he was a sack of potatoes." Williams buried his head in his hands. "I see it over and over. I could have pushed Kurt out the way. I could have rushed the gun."
"And you would have died," McGarrett said simply. "Think carefully, Danno. You said his body was behind you. So you were already in front of Kurt."
"He backed away when he saw the gun," Williams whispered. "I could have stepped in front of him, shielded him."
"You thought you were the target," McGarrett pressed. "You thought you were the one he'd shoot."
Williams dropped his hands. "Why didn't he? He should have known there'd be more chance of an exchange with Kurt."
"There was never going to be an exchange," McGarrett said gently. "You knew that. I imagine even Kurt knew it."
Williams nodded. "I tried to tell Kurt it would be okay, that all the Governor had to do was bend a couple rules. But he knew I was lying. He said it was amazing how the reality of fear could create the illusion of hope. I guess he was right, because when he said that there was no reason for them to keep us alive it was the first time I really believed we were going to die." He stared into the distance again. "Army hated Kurt. Hated what he'd written about terrorists. He quoted some of his articles to us. He hated me as a symbol, but he hated Kurt as a person. I should have known he'd kill Kurt first."
"Even if you'd known, you couldn't have done anything. He didn't give you a chance to act." He gazed at Dan's profile, watching the battle between guilt and acceptance play across his features. "What happened after they took Kurt away?"
Williams glanced quickly at him, then resumed his study of the far wall. "They just left me in the powder room. When Army finally came back this morning he told me that the Governor was releasing the prisoners. I knew it wasn't going to happen, but I played along. I figured it was part of your plan. He told me I'd know for sure the next time the door opened." He shuddered a little. "Sound really travels in those empty tunnels. I heard the gunfire, knew something was going down. Then I heard footsteps running towards me. I knew it had to be Army coming to kill me. So I waited at the door and when I heard him draw the bolt, I pushed it as hard as I could into him and tried to wrestle the gun away from him. He hit me with it, but I managed to knock it out of his hands. Then he hit me again and I fell. But instead of grabbing the gun and shooting me, he ran away. I should be dead now, but I'm not, and all I can think about is that I let Kurt die." A tear streaked down his cheek, but this time he didn't bother to wipe it away.
McGarrett couldn't bear it. He turned Dan's head towards him, capturing his face between his hands, forcing him to meet his gaze. "You didn't let him die, Danno. If you had pushed Kurt aside, taken the bullet for him, the only thing that would have changed is that you'd both be dead now. He wouldn't have been able to fight Army for that gun, the way you did. We would have been too late to save him." Just like I was too late to save you, he thought.
Williams tried to pull away, but McGarrett kept a firm grip on him. "I know how much you're hurting. Kurt's death hurts me too. I was the one who brought him onto the case. The only thing that makes it bearable is that I didn't lose you too. You survived and for that I'm grateful beyond words."
He pulled Williams towards him, wrapping his arms around the shaking shoulders. Williams tensed, then leaned into the embrace, dropping his head onto McGarrett's shoulder. His hands reached up and clutched the back of McGarrett's jacket, as unwelcome sobs shuddered through his body. McGarrett just held tighter, letting the anguish run its course. He had only ever seen Williams cry once before, after Jane Michaels was killed. "It's okay, Danno," he murmured. "I'm here. I won't let you go." It was a promise to both Williams and himself.
Finally Williams pulled away, eyes lowered in embarrassment. McGarrett reached up and brushed the traces of tears off his cheeks with his thumbs, the way his mother had done when he was a child. That earned the glimmer of a smile.
"Sorry," Williams muttered. "I can't seem to get a handle on things. One minute I'm glad to be alive and the next I can barely breathe I feel so guilty."
"I could tell you that there's nothing to feel guilty about, but that won't help you." McGarrett remembered his own struggle with guilt after his release from the POW camp. The Navy had offered him counselling, but he had refused, preferring to work through the emotions on his own. He didn't want Williams to have to go through the same ordeal. "You just came through a traumatic experience, Danno. Your emotions are going to be out of whack for a while. It's nothing to be ashamed about."
"I'm a cop. I should be able to handle this."
"Listen to me, Danno. You spent two days under a sentence of death. A friend was brutally murdered in front of your eyes. Nobody could be expected to handle something like that." He sat back in his chair. "I want you to know that I'm here for you. Any time you need to talk or if you just don't want to be alone, I'll be there." He grinned suddenly. "Now eat your pizza before it gets cold."
Williams laughed and wiped the last traces of tears off his face. "Pizza's just as good cold. That's why it's the perfect food."
McGarrett shook his head, but watched his friend wolf down a couple of slices without comment. "You know that was a beautiful thing you did for Elizabeth today," he said when Williams finally sat back in his chair.
Predictably, Williams just shrugged. "Kurt would have done the same for me."
McGarrett couldn't help wondering what message Williams might have had for his only living relative, an elderly aunt on the mainland. Although Williams didn't get the opportunity to see Clara Williams often, he spoke of her fondly and McGarrett knew Williams would have wanted her memories of him to be happy. Years before he had promised Williams that if anything happened, he would break the news to Clara personally. Not having to face that heartbreaking task was just one more blessing he was able to count. "Knowing Kurt, he would have flown to New York to talk to Clara."
Williams looked puzzled. "The message wasn't for Aunt Clara," he replied, a slow flush creeping up his cheeks. "I knew I could count on you to talk to her."
It didn't take a detective to interpret what wasn't said. McGarrett swallowed, unaccountably moved that even under the direst circumstances Williams had been thinking of him.
"I had a lot of time to think after Kurt died," Williams continued. "In between the plots to escape and the self-flagellation," he joked, glancing quickly at McGarrett to see if he had managed to tease a smile. "I thought I was going to die. That makes you look at things differently, gives you new priorities. I thought a lot about the message Kurt gave me for Elizabeth and what I'd asked him to tell you. And it just seemed so inadequate." He stood up abruptly and walked over to the window, gazing out towards the ocean. "People should say the important things while they're still alive, when it still means something, not leave it for some posthumous platitude. I'd like to think I didn't tell Elizabeth anything she didn't already know."
McGarrett knew that was his cue to reassure Williams that his own message would have been the same, but he sensed that Williams needed to speak. "You know you can tell me anything," he said softly.
Williams turned, smiling gratefully at his boss. "I know. And yet there's so much I haven't told you. I hope you know how much it's meant to me working with you, how grateful I am for the opportunities you've given me." He shook his head when McGarrett started to speak. "No, let me finish." He looked out the window again. "Kurt might have suggested that poem, but I knew right away that it was what I wanted you to remember. I knew if I died, you'd feel guilty, the way you feel guilty about Kurt's death."
McGarrett didn't bother to deny it. His guilt wasn't nearly as sharp or painful as Dan's, but he knew that if he'd lost both men there would have been no end to the self-recriminations. He would have spent the rest of his life wishing he'd taken that lunch meeting instead of Williams.
"Nor law, nor duty bade me fight," Williams quoted. "If I die on the job it won't be your fault, Steve. I chose this job, this life, knowing what it could mean."
McGarrett had said nearly the exact same thing in the governor's office, but he realised that until now he hadn't actually believed it, that it had just been empty words meant to soothe his own conscience. "The years ahead seemed waste of breath, a waste of breath the years behind, in balance with this life, this death," he whispered.
"I would rather have died knowing that two would-be murderers were safely in jail and you were working to bring the rest of them down, than lived to know that my life had been bought at the cost of countless others."
McGarrett got up and joined him at the window. He followed Dan's gaze out over the ocean, knowing Williams was soaking in the sight he loved so, the waves curling towards the beach and then crashing in a spray of foam.
Williams touched his sleeve tentatively. McGarrett had noticed years before that Williams rarely initiated contact with him. He had wondered about that, having seen how tactile Williams was with others, until he realised that Williams was deeply respectful of his own intense need for privacy. As with so many other things, Williams let him take the lead, reaching out only when he saw the need or when Steve's barriers dropped away.
"I want you to know I never stopped believing that you would find a way to save me," Williams said, gazing at him intensely. "I didn't know if it would be possible, even for you, but I knew you would never give up."
McGarrett was nearly overwhelmed by his faith. And yet it shouldn't be surprising, for he knew that Williams would not have given up if their positions were reversed. It was time for confession. "When I saw Army running away from the powder room, I thought we were too late. I thought he'd killed you."
Dan' eyes widened and he reached for McGarrett' hand, staring at the damaged knuckles.
"I wanted to make him hurt as badly as I was hurting. If we'd been alone, I think I might have killed him."
Williams shook his head. "No, you wouldn't have. That's the difference between the two of you."
"You don't know that."
"I know you, Steve."
But McGarrett could still feel the rage that had nearly consumed him in the bunker. It had been pushed aside by relief and joy, but it simmered beneath the surface nonetheless. It frightened him, knowing that there might be no limit to what he was capable of where Danno was concerned, but when he balanced it against having this solid ally and friend by his side, it was a risk he was gladly willing to accept. "Maybe you don't know me as well as you think you do." It was the echo of an old conversation and he could see by the slight smile on Dan's face that he remembered it as well.
"If you're looking for somebody to condemn you, Steve, I can't do that," Williams said. "I wouldn't have felt or done any differently in your place. I put Pete King in the hospital, for God's sake."
"That was different," McGarrett protested.
"You're right, it was. Pete wasn't even guilty. You knew Army had killed Kurt."
"I thought he'd killed you." That was the more terrible prospect. "If he had killed you..." He stopped, afraid that if he said any more, his own emotions would spill over. He only noticed that Danno still had hold of his wrist when the younger man let go.
"He didn't. I'm right here."
McGarrett spun abruptly away from the window, not wanting Williams to see the tears welling in his eyes. He wouldn't cry. Not even for Danno. The hand on his shoulder was firm now, the need identified and addressed.
"It's okay, Steve. It's over now."
Until the next time, McGarrett thought, but didn't say aloud, for fear that the words would take hold and become reality. Suddenly the thought that Williams might be killed without knowing how important he was to Steve was unbearable. "I could be writing your eulogy right now. I could be telling strangers the things I should have told you."
McGarrett cut him off with a sharp shake of his head. "No. You're the one who said we shouldn't leave the important words unsaid."
"Steve, you don't have to. I know."
"Do you? Do you know how important you are to me?" You know what Danno's life means to me, he had told the Governor, as they made the decision that signed Dan's death warrant. But he hadn't known himself, not truly, until those nightmare moments when he thought Danno was gone. "Do you know that sometimes the only thing that gets me through the day is knowing you're there to support me, no matter what? Every opportunity you've had you earned. Anything I might have given you, you've repaid tenfold. I could never give up on you. It would be like giving up on myself."
His words seemed to echo in the silent apartment. McGarrett had the impression of being part of a tableau, frozen in time. Then Williams moved to the kitchen and rummaged through the cupboard above the fridge, pulling out a bottle of single-malt whiskey.
"I know you don't drink, but I think we could both use something." He looked at the label. "Clara sent this to me for my 35th birthday. I meant to save it for a special occasion." He grinned crookedly. "Sometimes it's not just about the words unsaid. It's the scotch undrunk."
McGarrett watched silently as Williams grabbed two tumblers and uncorked the bottle, splashing amber liquid into each glass. He was close enough to smell smoke and spice and his thoughts turned to peat and windswept northern isles. McGarrett took a tumbler, the pull of the whisky overwhelming, and swallowed it neat, the long burn down to his stomach both a comfort and a fear.
Williams refilled his glass without a word, but didn't drink from his own. He swirled it around the glass instead, critically inspecting the legs. "My uncle used to call whisky the curse and the comfort of the Celts. Too much poetry, too much pain. Drink, a respite, but not an answer."
McGarrett nodded and thought that Dan Williams, whose smile was sunshine, was no stranger to shadows. He had long recognised in Williams a hint of the black Celt, a kinship that had drawn him to his younger colleague. Like McGarrett, he was quick to anger, quick to remorse, but he was quicker to laugh, as if his Hawaiian upbringing tempered the older, diluted Welsh blood.
"I always feared oblivion more than the pain," McGarrett said. "I remember at my father's wake, there was singing and laughter and drinking. I didn't understand at the time, but now I wonder if they didn't have the right of it." He raised his glass towards Williams . "To Kurt. He'll live in our memories, but tonight I think he'd forgive us a little oblivion."
Williams clinked his glass against McGarrett's. "To oblivion," he said, his eyes shadowed.
McGarrett didn't like that as a toast. It was too close to what had almost occurred. "To the words unspoken," he replied. "And the hearts that always heard them." He thought his father might have approved of that. Danno's mouth twitched in a shaky grin and his eyes lightened again. It was the only approval he needed.