Title: "Trust People and They Will Be True to You "
Word Count: 12,000
Warning: Violence. Some language.
Genre: Gen. Action. H/C
Characters: Steve, Danny, Kono, Chin
Summary: Danny's brain catches up with current events, his face going white. "Oh my God. Look at you. With your Rambo paint and hardware from the latest issue of Guns and Ammo. You're in Super-Seal mode! Please, please don't tell me those clowns were right and that you'rethe strike-force?"
Notes: Written for esteefee for help_japan.
Thank you to ga_unicorn and everybettyfor the wonderful beta. You guys rock and keep me sane.
The world erupts around him, flashing in the shaky-cam effects of movies, silence and explosions trading jabs to his eardrums. Sprawled on the ground, Steve's fingers inch over the spinning floor beneath him in search of his gun. Automatic fire echoes somewhere east of his position, the rata tat tatfading in and out.
Pushing up onto his hands and knees, his vision blurs. People shout over the sudden gunning of engines. Is this Afghanistan or Yemen?
"Hurry up!" a voice yells.
That's an American accent; he's in the States. But where and why?
Breathing in gasoline fumes and squinting against a rising cloud of smoke, he locates his Sig by touch, hand curling around the butt when another explosion goes off behind him. The force topples him over, showering debris across his back.
And all Steve can think about before the darkness closes in is-what the hell happened?
"Commander McGarrett, can you hear me?"
Opening his eyes to a flash of stabbing light, Steve snags the wrist wielding it, bending the bones at a sharp angle.
"Let go! You're gonna break it!"
The panicked tone jolts him into reality, a young man's expression twisting in pain and hazel eyes widening in shock. Steve releases his grip, sitting up from where he lays on a gurney in front of an ambulance. Looking around, all he sees and hears are dozens of people running around with squawking radios.
This isn't a mission.
"What happened?" Steve mumbles, rubbing his eyes to push back the pounding in his head. Pull it together.
"We're hoping you could tell us," Governor Jameson says, walking up.
Steve sits up straighter, bits and pieces from earlier bombarding him in confusing waves. "The raid," he breathes in dawning horror, eyes darting around the yellow lettering on various vests and jackets.
Agents glance up from notepads and earpieces to look over.
"We were outgunned," Steve begins, knowing he's missing more. "There were a couple dozen men armed with automatic weapons." Shaking his head, he winces, swallowing back bile. "This wasn't an amateur operation like we thought. These guys used military tactics."
"You were working a larceny ring?" Jameson prods, sending a daggered look at some suit near-by to back off.
"Yeah," Steve replies, gaining his bearings, puzzling together hazy memories. "We were investigating a theft of supplies out of the Pearl Navy Station. One of Danny's informants gave us a tip on which warehouse they were storing the stuff in."
Danny? Where the hell was everyone else?
"And these were submarine parts?" Jameson presses.
"Yeah, steering gear, hydraulics, snorkel masts, internal countermeasure launchers." Rubbing at the growing lump at the back of his skull, he grasps onto the fluttering snapshots in his head. "We entered through the south entrance and discovered the crates inside were filled with Tomahawk missiles." He remembers Chin's set jaw, Danny's exclaimed oh shit, this isn't good. "By the time we realized we'd walked into something a lot bigger...things went crazy."
Flash-bangs went off and the warehouse was plunged into darkness.
His gut twists into knots and it's more than nausea from hitting his head. A man in his fifties, skin as dark as mahogany bustles over. Steve knows his name, but it's gone AWOL with most of the morning.
"I knew this should have been an exclusive NCIS investigation, Governor," the agent hisses, toeing a dangerous line with his accusation. Adjusting a cap over his thinning salt and pepper hair, he sets his sights on Steve. "Your people were in over your heads."
"It was a joint operation, Special Agent Markham," Jameson corrects, eyes flashing dangerously. "My task force had the lead on who was smuggling supplies off the island."
"And thanks to that bad intel, myagents walked right into a deathtrap."
Muzzle flashes gave away the sniper positions on the second level; six more targets attempting to out-flank them.
Steve blinks at Governor Jameson squaring her shoulders, impeccable in her suit regardless of the heat. "Are you saying that all those documents you gave us regarding the missing inventory included missiles?"
"I have three injured agents and one DOA," Markham answers, dodging the question. "Not to mention an empty warehouse and a shipment of missing weapons."
"Wait!" Steve growls, the last piece of the jigsaw slamming into place. "Where's my team?" Swinging his legs around, he hops off the gurney, waving off the EMT whose wrist he'd almost broke.
"Steve," Jameson says, planting herself in front of him, her face both sympathetic and determined. "Hold on."
"Hold on?" Steve barks, heart thumping wildly. "Are they-"
"No," Jameson cuts him off. "The warehouse was swept and cleared."
Eyes glued over her shoulder, Steve counts a single body bag being loaded into the coroner's van. Heart sick at the casualty, it fills with relief that there's only one. "I want to see all the evidence that's been gathered. Video, witness accounts-"
"Those were my people. My agents. I'm in charge of this investigation." This time Agent Markham blocks his path. And as if reading the fury in Steve's eyes, the man takes a step back, voice tinged with frustration. "This whole thing is fubared and we can play the blame game later. But right now we have three missing members of your task force and I'm not going to get into a pissing match with you. Let's find your people, retrieve those missing missiles, and haul in the assholes responsible for this."
"Um," the EMT interrupts nervously. "I haven't cleared you, sir. You suffered a loss of consciousness and I haven't finished my examination. You might have a-"
Steve folds his arms across his chest, staring the young medic down.
"If you experience any dizziness, ringing in the ears, you should probably seek out emergency care," the EMT says, packing up his stuff.
Moving toward his car, Jameson matches Steve's hurried steps. "I'll let you skip the hospital, but I'll be damned if I'll allow you behind a wheel. You're riding with me and don't you dare argue about it."
"Yes, ma'am," Steve answers, following right behind her.
No matter how hard he tries, Steve can't recollect what happened when things went to hell. Why he'd been separated from the rest of his team and how he's the only one left after the dust settled. This isn't how things are supposed to be. He doesn't leave people behind and he sure as hell doesn't allow his friends to be put in danger.
But none of that matters now. He can't fix what went wrong, but Steve can ensure things are made right.
HQ is an empty shell without its three missing members, the void made larger by its temporary occupants. Steve fights the urge to escort Jameson and Markham out, their presence a constant source of distraction. Bringing up the case notes onto the screen, he glares past them, their questions white noise around the data in front of him.
Four days ago HPD had pulled over a van with a busted taillight. After the driver's license pinged from an outstanding bench warrant, a search of the vehicle resulted in crates of circuit boards and control panels for Ohio class subs.
Staring at the inventory log of the stolen merchandise, Danny rested a hip on the table. "During my first month here, I pinched this guy for moving iPads on the black market. He gave up his guy further up the totem pole and got slapped with no time served. If anyone knows who's dabbling with stolen Navy parts, it's him."
A tip and ten hours of surveillance led to a suspected petty officer who ran the team right smack dab into the middle of an NCIS case, and ultimately, a co-investigation.
"Steve?" Jameson touches his shoulder, breaking his focus.
"What?" he asks, distracted.
"I asked if-"
But Steve's cell phone goes off and for a split second he allows himself to believe it'll be Kono or Chin on the other end telling him to get off his ass and pick them up, they've got things under control. Staring at the cell, he tunes everything out the second the words unknown caller flash. His stomach becomes a deep pit of dread and he answers it with a terse, "McGarrett."
"I heard you lost something," the voice on the other end mocks.
"Who's this?" Steve demands, snapping his fingers for someone to start a trace.
"That doesn't matter."
"Yeah?" Steve answers. Markham's on his phone, nodding at Steve to keep talking. "What do you want?"
"To ensure that I finish my business without interference. Sounds like a respectable offer."
"Listen to me, you-"
"No, you listen. You're gonna lay off for twenty-four hours. No SWAT, no NCIS or ATF. Keep away from my affairs and your team will be set free. I know 5-0 doesn't play by the rules, so you're gonna make sure everyone else stays the hell away. That's the deal."
"How do I know-"
"I'm sending you a little video. If I see one boat. They die. If I hear a chopper. They die. If you try to take me down, I'm taking them with me."
The call ends and Steve resists the urge to fling it across the room, his brain deciphering all the thinly veiled clues as he pulls up his e-mail onto the overhead screen.
His heart might have stopped, his imagination filling in for the lack of audio as twenty seconds of Chin, Danny and Kono burn into Steve's brain. And it's more than their determined faces that he dissects; it's the sand beneath their knees and the bits of blue sky poking out in the background.
Hitting replay, he searches for signals or clues. When nothing comes, he rewinds it again.
A hand stills him from repeating that same twenty seconds and his world expands from a single laser line to Jameson's frown. "I've been calling your name," she tells him.
"I know where they are," he says, pulling up a map that Chin had downloaded yesterday.
"You do? How?" Markham demands.
But Steve doesn't answer, magnifying the map, scanning the shoreline for the best approach.
"Nā Mokulua is off the coast of Oahu," Steve informs the governor, ignoring the fuming agent. "It's made up of two islets-"
"We don't need a geography lesson, Commander," Markham growls.
"They're part of the State Seabird Sanctuary," Steve continues without missing a beat. "It's off-limits to civilians this time of the year and enforced by the local government agencies. The islands are isolated, making the perfect place for a smuggling operation." Acknowledging Markham by looking him in the eyes, Steve brings up a file on the LSD. "Yesterday, Danny and I went over your team's surveillance records from last week. They were following a person of interest who made over a dozen visits to the Pearl Navy Station. A Chris Barrett, who happens to be a Parks and Recreation agent on Nā Mokulua."
Jameson quickly connects the dots. "And your team has been taken as human shields?"
Steve maintains a cool exterior despite those familiar words, thinking this isn't the first time he's dealt with such a situation. "I think we accidentally stumbled over a major smuggling ring with probable terrorist connections. And the Big Kahuna in charge took my team thinking we already knew his base of operations was on Nā Mokulua. He's closing shop and when he's finished packing up, he'll kill them."
"I can authorize a strike force to-
"No. No strike force," Steve cuts the governor off. "Choppers and boats can be easily spotted even without binoculars. Mokulua has steep slopes and cliffs, in the right spot, one guy can monitor the approach by the Coast Guard or SWAT if it comes in by air."
Flustered, Jameson looks up at Steve incredulous. "Then what are you suggesting?"
"I'll go in on my own."
"Wait, I can't..."
"It's our only viable play," he tells her.
Because Steve's not going to put his friends further at risk; this is what he's been trained to do.
Jameson gets him, has read most of his record, even the classified parts, but there are pieces missing. Parts blacked out or never inserted into his jacket. Nasty little secrets. Not even a governor of Hawaii has that type of clearance.
"But you just said that a chopper or boat would be easily spotted?" she asks.
"Cutters, yes. But if I get dropped off from a small skiff a couple miles from shore, I can go in without detection." Jameson's face is a myriad of emotions and Steve takes the opportunity to exploit them. "We're up against a ticking clock. We have to act now to save my team and keep those missiles out of terrorist hands."
"You're not taking his suggestion seriously, are you, Governor?" Markham stares at Jameson in disbelief, ice blue eyes locking with Steve, a slow realization dawning on him. "What branch did you serve?"
"Really?" Markham says, that hostile exterior melting into mutual respect. "Special Ops?"
"SEAL," Steve answers, sizing the man up again.
"Figures," Markham snorts. "Only a Snake Eater would think your plan's a reasonable one."
"Special Warfare Officer. Same team. Spent half my life picking you boys up. Transferred to NCIS nine years ago." Nodding at the map, Markham asks, "Already plotted a place to land?"
For the briefest of moments, Steve feels at ease, like he could speak more freely. "Because of the rocky shoreline, only the west beach is accessible by sea."
"Yeah," Markham says thoughtfully, eying the map. "So, you'll go ashore on the east?"
"Was thinking from the north. Channel's shallower and only two hundred feet wide." It's always about surprise. "They won't be expecting anything from that direction."
"Excuse me, gentlemen," Jameson interrupts, noting the swift defrost between both men, turning her attention toward Markham. "You're in agreement with McGarrett's suggestion of going it alone?"
"He won't be alone," Markham says solemnly. "The rest of his team is waiting for him."
Nā Mokulua is made up of two tiny islets; Moku Iki is nothing but a chunk of uninhabitable shale and rock. The bird sanctuary sits on Moku Nui, the larger, double-humped island the home of thick jungle and rocky inclines. A Navy cutter drops them off ten miles from Moku Iki, using the sister islet as cover. Markham steers a tiny Tarpon, a small seventeen-foot boat with a big boat attitude. It glides smoothly over the water, the tiny engine purring quietly.
Steve double checks his gear, inspecting the bag containing parts to his compact Colt M4A1 assault rifle. He inventories his extra clips, grenades, radio, and med-kit. His GPS is uploaded with the latest maps and he sticks his vest and knife inside his pack.
"We're five miles out," Markham tells him, keeping the Tarpon steady over the chop.
Nodding, Steve zips up his wet suit, slipping on his flippers. "Thanks for taking me out."
"I'd go with you if I could."
"I'm sorry for the loss of your agent," Steve tells him out loud, vowing something else to himself.
"They're my responsibility. I was overseeing another operation for my director and approved the joint investigation."
Steve's not going to placate him with words; the raid on the warehouse had been a huge miscalculation.
"How long have you've been in the reserves?" At Steve's curious look, Markham snorts. "You're too young to be retired. I know Uncle Sam doesn't like spending a million dollars on a sailor he can't use."
"Six months," Steve says like he can't fathom it.
Six months since he lost his father and mother all over again. Five weeks since he sent his sister away after finally reconnecting with her.
"Must be tough."
Looking up sharply, Steve can see a thousand memories sketched out across the other man's wrinkled face. "What do you mean?"
"Adjusting to civilian life."
The tiny boat dips and sways with the currents and Steve seeks out the shoreline, calculating the distance. "Haven't really thought about it."
"Really? So, you've gone from working with people who can read your every thought, react to your every move in tandem without a single word to a bunch of-"
"I work with the best team on Hawaii," Steve growls.
He can't afford this right now. Thinking of his team when his mind should focus on the mission. Moku Nui looms three miles out, dawn rising over a new day. Night vision won't be necessary, but the sun won't be overhead and he'll use the fading twilight to conceal his arrival onto the rough beach.
"Do you trust them?"
"What? Of course I do." Markham stares at Steve with the same disposition of his father, with hidden knowledge and an unwillingness to share it. "I trust them with my life," Steve feels the need to clarify.
"Good. Because that's the hardest lesson to learn when we return from all those dark places- that no one else understands. To trust people again."
There isn't a day that goes by that Danny doesn't rant at Steve for breaking procedure or ignoring someone's civil rights. In the middle of war zones, dropped off in places he wasn't allowed to talk about, such niceties don't exist. Out there, people died on a daily basis without a second glance, bodies dumped in shallow or mass graves. He had a job to do and it was never pretty, wounds both visible and invisible quickly triaged before being sent after the next target.
Steve had lived for every freaking moment. But now. Watching the shoreline of Moku Nui creep closer, he thinks back to Kono's carefully controlled expression during the General Pak thing. When Steve had to react viciously to keep them all alive.
"We're nearing three miles," Markham announces.
Steve pushes everything to the back of his mind, mentally going over the maps, visualizing the terrain. His head still pounds from having his skull bounced about, the three Tylenol from earlier barely making a dent in the pain.
Whatever doesn't kill me makes me stronger. And leaves a hell of a headache.
"Wait for my signal. Don't engage until I send it."
Slipping his arms between the straps of his pack, Steve puts on his face mask, readying for his dip into the ocean.
"What the hell?" Markham growls.
Steve hears the chopper coming in, sees it in the distance. "Get on the horn; tell whoever that is to go back!"
"I'm on it," Markham shouts, grabbing his radio, barking at the person at the other end to order the chopper away.
It's either a private charter or some tourist company trying to get a good morning view. It doesn't matter because if they can see the chopper then those on the island can. "Are they turning?" Steve yells, praying that a bunch of daytrippers doesn't get his team killed.
"We've got the pilot on the radio; this wasn't a scheduled flight," Markham says, simultaneously chewing out the person on the other end of the cell.
The chopper makes a U-turn, adjusting course and veering back toward Oahu.
"I think it turned in time," Markham says, slowing the boat and killing the engine. "All set."
"Yeah, let's hope so," Steve answers, chest tight with tension.
"Leave no man behind, frogman."
Inhaling fully, Steve doesn't say a word and dives into the ocean.
Accepting a civilian job doesn't mean he's stopped working out or his conditioning exercises. Staying fit takes discipline; keeping his skills sharp requires much more. Swimming, running, practicing drills on base in his off time. Steve does it all in between cases. His job demands it and he does whatever it takes to retain that edge.
He makes it ashore in forty-nine minutes, crawling across sharp rocks and sand toward a large clump of grass. A group of brown-plumed Shearwaters nesting nearby take to the sky, their cries a warning of his presence. The beach quickly disappears into undergrowth and he keeps low, crabbing under a tree for cover. Breathing heavily, he takes the time to settle into a normal rhythm, allowing his lungs to calm down and oxygenate the rest of his body.
Shrugging off his pack, he unzips his wet suit and changes into dry cloths. As he smears his face with camo paint he listens to the chirping jungle. With his equipment secured, he quickly assembles his rifle, screwing on the suppressor muzzle last.
The island is a speck in the ocean, but five miles is a lot of territory to cover in a short amount of time. Recon is the key to outmaneuvering the enemy and Steve enters the brush, seeking out the most used trail and keeping just off the path to remain hidden. When you're outnumbered, always go for stealth.
Checking his GPS, he keeps track of his progress, following a dirt track that should take him around the east side of the island. Egrets trade mating caws high above in the trees and he continues forward, avoiding twigs and watching for divots in the ground. Pausing, he notices a hint of ash over the sweet smell of hibiscus and yellow ilimas.
Crawling out of the brush, he picks up a cigarette, the smell of the crushed butt still freshly, acridly strong. An indentation in the dirt shows where two people stopped for a moment, their bootprints heading up the trail. Tracing his fingers over the soil, he notices several older sets of prints on top of each other, indicating a patrol area.
The egrets grow silent and Steve quietly backs up into the dense foliage, laying flat on his belly. Lying next to large twisting tree roots, he waits, ears straining over the slowly quieting jungle. Two men in black cargo pants and olive fatigues round the twisty trail. They walk cautiously, armed with AK47s, scanning the lush foliage for trouble.
Stopping a few meters away, one of them takes out a cigarette and lights it. Both their features are shadowed by boonie hats and the one not smoking leans against a tree to wipe at the sweat on his brow.
"Base-camp to Patrol Three. What's your status?"a radio squawks.
"We're halfway to the beach. Everything's clear. Over," Cigarette Guy answers.
"Keep your eyes sharp for more choppers."
"On it," Cigarette Guy says, finishing his smoke. "You want us to hurry back to help out with our demonstration?"
"Negative. We're gonna make sure our little warning will be the first thing anyone sees if they land on the west shore."
"Roger that. Check back in fifteen. Patrol Three out."
Steve resists taking them out now. With radio checks every fifteen minutes he can't risk tipping off his presence. So he waits for them to continue on and checks his GPS for the quickest path to the west beach, because he doesn't like the sound of this little warning.
He can't do a full-out run to the beach, not if he doesn't want to give away his position. There're at least two other patrols in the area. And who knows if there's a fourth one.
The island might be off-limits to civilians during the next two months, but it's open during daylight hours for the rest of the year. The locals love this secluded slice of heaven and Steve follows a trail that leads west. He can see the sandy white beach from the brush and slows his steps as he veers closer.
A flock of angry shearwaters screech loudly, circling the sky above their nesting grounds. Using a palm tree for cover, Steve peers through his scope toward the source of the commotion. Three men drag a fourth out of the jungle at the other end of the beach.
Steve clenches his jaw, recognizing that slicked back hair and pissed-off Jersey attitude.
Danny takes a rifle butt to his spine and is forced to his knees. Hands tied behind his back, he head butts one of the thugs, earning him a smack in the face. Off balance, he's knocked to the ground. Two thugs roughly haul him back up, automatic weapons aimed at his head.
Moving his scope side to side, Steve bids his time, finger resting on the trigger. Peering through the lens, the mil dots surrounding the target center start to blur. Not now.Head throbbing, he squeezes his eyes closed and blinks to clear his vision. Blowing out a breath, he peers through it again.
Range to the target is five hundred meters. Wind's out of the north at eight or ten mph. Shooting from a slight decline makes things easier and he calculates his altitude and elevation, fingers adjusting the ballistic drop dials.
A third thug dressed in black directs things, holding a video camera. The goon on the left backs up two steps, his AK still on Danny. The goon on the right lowers his rifle, pulling out a .45, aiming the muzzle at Danny's temple.
It'll take two seconds to fire and re-aim each time. Six seconds to get them all. Steve sets his sights on the goon playing executioner, adjusting the cross hairs at the base of the man's skull.
Executioner Goon's fingers start to curl...and Steve squeezes the trigger.
Swinging his trajectory eight degrees, his takes out AK Thug with another pull of the trigger.
Video Goon drops his camera and Steve fires twice before the guy gets a shot off.
Listening to the jungle choir slowly return to normal, Steve hustles toward the beach, legs pumping furiously. He finally gets to Danny who has struggled to his knees after ducking for cover.
"Where did you come from?" Danny exclaims. Staring at all the body next to him he yells, "What if you missed? Oh wait. You don't miss, I forgot. But he still could've pulled the trigger. People have these things called nerves and muscles."
"I went for the apricot."
"The part of the brain that controls involuntary movement. And nice to see you too, partner," Steve says, shouldering his weapon and snagging one of the bad guy's radios. Kneeling, his pulls out his knife and cuts through Danny's bindings. "You hurt anywhere?"
"Hurt? I certainly saw my life flash before my eyes," Danny breathes, finger checking the pulse in his neck. "But then I saw you and I figured I was either in Hell or-"
"Grab a weapon."
"How about telling me what's going on?" Danny growls as he picks up AK Goon's rifle and sidearm.
"We need to get out of the open," Steve says, grabbing Danny by the elbow and tugging him along.
Danny's face is flushed, his hair damp with sweat, his breathing ragged, but he stumbles after Steve, yanking his arm away.
They enter the thick jungle, Steve leading them deep into the brush, the canopies of the trees blocking out the light. Pushing aside low flowering plants, he finds a fallen tree covered with ferns and sits under the natural cover. Steve looks Danny over, sees he's a bit rough around the edges. His left eye has a nice shiner and the right side of his face is covered by cuts. But he's alive and whole and that's all that matters. Pulling out a canteen, Steve takes several swallows and hands it over.
"Thank you," his partner says, gulping it.
"Easy, small amounts," Steve admonishes. "You'll make yourself sick."
Wiping the edges of his mouth, Danny presses the canteen against his forehead. "I can't believe how close that was."
Staring death in the eye is a shock to the system and Steve would love to give Danny a moment to decompress, but there's no time. "Why did they try to kill you?"
"I dunno, man. Something about a chopper. One of the guys was freaked that it was air recon for a strike force." Danny begins to take another drink, canteen inches from his lips when he stops and just stares. Eyes widening like his brain is catching up with current events, his face goes white. "Oh my God. Look at you. With your Rambo paint and hardware from the latest issue of Guns and Ammo. You're in Super-Seal mode! Please, please don't tell me those assclowns were right about the chopper? And that you're the strike-force?"
"Are Kono and Chin okay?"
"Yeah. They're a little banged up, but they're fine. And stop dodging the question."
"Are they inside or outdoors?"
"Hello? Where do you see buildings?" Danny asks, spreading his arms wide. "We were tied to some trees in the middle of Camp Mercenary."
"How many men?"
"You're not going to answer me are you?"
"I need a number."
"I counted fourteen...that I could see. All pretty heavily armed."
Pulling out his GPS unit, Steve brings up a map. "Can you show me where exactly?"
"No, but I'll take you."
Frustration exacerbates the ice pick digging in the back of his skull and Steve tries to rein in his frustration. "I can travel faster on my own. If you stayed on the same route the whole time then I can pinpoint where-"
"Whoa, whoa. What part of all pretty heavily armeddo you not understand? I'm going with you."
"No, Steven. They're my friends, too. I may not be geared up like a ninja, but the last time I checked, I know how to hold my own in a fire-fight," Danny growls, pulling the mag out of the AK, checking it and slamming it back in.
Gently pushing the AK's muzzle until it points the ground, Steve lowers his voice. "A fire-fight is exactly what I'm trying to avoid."
"You know what I mean."
"Look. You wanted to know if I was the strike force? The answer's yes. Engaging in high risk hostage situations with multiple hostiles is what I do."
"It's what you did. You're not a SEAL anymore."
"I know that," Steve says testily, surprised how hearing it bothers him. "You guys are my team now."
"Then trust us," Danny asks, giving him that rare hurt expression.
"I do. Every day," Steve insists. Danny doesn't argue but his eyes are filled with doubt. And Steve wants him to know that he trusts him with his life. He trusts Danny and Chin and Kono and no one else. Checking his watch, he growls. "Look. We don't have time for this. These guys have fifteen minute check-ins and when they don't answer..."
"Then let's get moving."
"Alright, but you need to get dirty."
"Excuse me?" Danny laughs.
"You're wearin' a blue dress shirt that sticks out like a sore thumb."
Danny visibly burns with the need to fight Steve on this, but he stares down at his shirt before sighing in defeat. "Fine," he huffs. Digging his fingers into the ground, he grumbles even more while rubbing soil all over his sleeves and chest.
Antsy about the time, Steve yanks clumps of grass, smearing dirt and green stains over Danny's back.
"You're getting some type of sick pleasure out of this, aren't you?"
"I'll buy you a new one later." Satisfied that Danny is no longer a flashing neon sign, Steve dusts off his hands. "We're good. Come on, follow my lead."
SEALs blend into their environment, never seen, never heard. They're ghosts. Drag a New Jersey detective used to stomping around on pavement and the whole stealth things goes out the window.
It's the fifth stick to break since they entered the undergrowth.
"How long did it take you to walk?" Steve whispers.
"About twenty minutes."
At a slow walking pace that's about one meter every two seconds. Maybe every three if Danny struggled the whole time. They have a little over half a mile. More than once Steve's started to use gestures only members of his SEAL team would have recognized. But he stops himself, switching to universal signs, Danny nodding at each one.
Danny. He's kept right up with Steve without complaint, not a single eye-roll or smart aleck remark. His constant presence has been a comfort. But no matter the familiarity, doubt gnaws a hole in Steve's gut. This situation shouldn't be any different than chasing a perp, but this environment screams black opand Steve's not sure he can completely shed out of his old skin.
Tuning out one's emotions is vital in situations like this. Practicing dissociation every time he pulls the trigger or makes a tough call. Inside those dark places, if you're allowed to be swayed by the carnage, you return to the real world a shell.
And a shell can't smile at your partner's constant ribbing, or appreciate that perfect sunrise over the ocean. Or call your new team family and mean it.
"Dom, this is base-camp, over," the radio crackles.
Steve dials down the volume to one, presses the speaker to his ear while Danny practically vibrates in frustration. Holding out a hand, Steve listens in.
"Dom, this is base-camp. You were supposed to radio when the demonstration was done.Over."
Static crackle and pops, the voice growling, "Oyster, Nate. Respond!"
"Patrols one through four. Protocol Delta."
Danny's on the verge of stroking out and Steve pockets the radio in his vest. "They know something's up. If we're lucky, they won't find the bodies on the beach until we locate their base-camp."
"And if we're not that lucky?"
Steve doesn't answer. He just picks up the pace.
The blur of fur darting across their path is Steve's first sign of trouble. Danny crouches next to him, eyes pin-balling everywhere. Steve waits and listens, fingers ensuring his rifle's set to semi-automatic. Danny's a live wire, straining for sounds of danger, sweat beading and dripping down his face.
The chittering orchestra of insects doesn't miss a beat and Steve listens for the slightest nuance. Danny elbows him, eyebrows scrunched up in question, biting his lip to keep from growling why the hell did we stop?
Mongoose,Steve mouths. Danny stares, the vein in his temple twitching. Like Steve's just called Bon Jovi a boy band or suggested bowling is America's favorite pastime. It must be taking every ounce of self-control to keep that inevitable Williams rant at bay.
Then the chittering whips into a frenzy before fading into a dead silence.
It's easy to detect the approaching boot steps, a figure in fatigues cautiously going down the trail. Danny freezes, holding his breath, watching the man pass them by. His eyes ask what now? And Steve shakes his head. Wait for it.
Twenty seconds later, a second thug winds his way down, rifle barrel nervously swinging side to side. Allowing the enemy to pass while the element of surprise is on Steve and Danny's side is irresponsible. Not when the bad guys can regroup later.
His suppressor is good for concealment from a distance, but the crack of the bullet will be as loud as a .22. Pulling his knife from his vest, he looks to Danny, expecting resistance but finding quiet acceptance instead.
Steve sticks to cover, emerging onto the path right behind his unsuspecting target. Wrapping an arm around the mercenary to secure his arms, Steve uses a single swipe to the throat. Quick and neat. Catching up to the second target, he uses the exact same method.
Dragging the second body away, Steve finds Danny hiding the first one.
Sheathing his knife, Steve takes a step forward and the world tilts out of control. Danny grabs Steve's bicep and Steve latches onto his partner's shoulder, waiting for everything to stop spinning.
"We should move off the path," Danny breathes into his ear.
Swallowing back a sudden bout of nausea, Steve grunts okay. Feet shuffling into the tangled thicket, he drops to a seat on the ground.
"I'm good," he breathes, the dizziness easing.
"What the hell was that?" Danny demands.
"Nothingdoesn't almost face plant on the ground!"
"I must've hit my head back in the warehouse."
"Oh, you mean when you went lone wolf on us?"
"When you take off to do something incredibly stupid and risky on your own."
Steve doesn't remember doing that, but based on Danny's livid expression, he must have. "I take calculated risks."
Mount St. Williams is about to blow and Steve silences the eruption by getting to his feet. "We've got to keep moving."
"Are you kidding me? What if you have a head injury? Bleeding on the brain? Are you going to crack open your own skull and fix it with duct tape and sticks?"
"I'm fine." Sensing an impending debate, Steve closes the distance between them, practically breathing Danny's air. "I wouldn't have come out here if I didn't think I was able to. I would have never put any of you at risk like that. Ever."
Anger, fear, worry all swirl on the canvas of Danny's face. His partner is tough as nails with an atomic hot button, but he has a heart of gold. Giving a curt nod, his body suddenly goes stock still at the noise of crunching dirt.
Three men in green fatigues hurry up the path from the beach's direction. The tallest of the three with the physique of an ox squats down, pushing up on the black bandanna wrapped around his thick head. "See this?" he asks, waving a meaty hand over the dirt. "Our rabbits are close."
Shit, Steve thinks. His and Danny's boot prints.
"Get on the radio," the Ox whispers. "Our targets are heading toward base-camp. We'll flush them out. Tell Patrol One to ready a flanking maneuver."
The other two men nod obediently. They're mercenaries wearing store uniforms that don't fit properly. Guns for hire. The first guy has all the air and manner of a real soldier. Experienced.
Pointing at both his grunts, the Ox sends them into the bush on the other side of the trail. Listening to the wind, he enters the brush twenty meters away from where Steve and Danny sit crouched, green fatigues and black bandanna melting into the jungle.
Danny rises to his feet and Steve flashes him a 'what the hell are you doing?' look.
Distraction, Danny mouths.
Carefully navigating deeper into the vegetation, Danny circles around a large ohai tree. Keeping his partner in his line of sight, Steve bides his time as the Ox inches closer to Steve's position. The beefy soldier is slow, methodical. Checking for broken vines, eyes skirting the ground then in front of him.
Danny's at his four o'clock, the Ox at Steve's ten.
Picking up a large branch, Danny nods and breaks it with a large crack.
The black-bandanna'd head shoots up in the direction of the noise, starting toward it. Unsheathing his knife, Steve slowly creeps up behind the soldier. Danny makes another loud snap of wood and Steve uses the distraction to quicken his steps.
Six meters, five, four, three, two-
The Ox spins around, bringing up his weapon. Steve rushes him, grabbing the M16, pointing the barrel upwards as it goes off. It's deafening, but Steve rips the rifle away, smashing the other man in the face with the butt. Crumpling to his knees, the Ox pulls out his side-arm in a last ditch effort. Aiming erratically, his whole body spasms with the impact of two gunshots before collapsing to the ground.
Wide-eyed, Steve stares over, finding Danny standing there holding his AK. "We've got to go!" he yells, grabbing his partner.
"Seriously? Not even a thank you?" Danny sighs, exasperated, but sprinting alongside him.
The weapon's fire will be a giant beacon to their position. While knowing where the enemy will converge is good, not knowing from what directions isn't. Steve anticipated encountering the hostiles trying to flank them, but now the Ox's buddies are more than likely headed this way, too. Running blindly isn't an effective defense and Steve uses the jungle to alert him to danger.
Danny makes an odd gasp and Steve reacts, whipping his rifle in the direction of the noise. Looking sheepish, Danny points at the gigantic spiderweb stretched between low-hanging branches. Staring at the sticky strands, Steve walks through it, tearing apart the bottom with his fingers.
"You have something against Charlotte's web?" Danny hisses.
"Come on," Steve says, stepping heavily with his boots toward some large ferns. Unshouldering his pack he nods at Danny. "Dig a hole right here," he points. "About six inches deep, three inches wide."
"Sure, why not? This is a great time to play Farmer John."
Digging through his pack, he finds a rubber band and suture kit from the medical supplies. Tearing it apart, he sets aside the thread. Ignoring Danny's "of course," Steve pulls out one of his grenades from his vest. Checking that the hole is almost ready, Steve clasps the levers, wrapping the rubber band around it. Taking the suture needle, he quickly sews a loop into the rubber band, pulling a meter of thread free.
"Do we have time for this?"
"Ten more seconds," Steve answers, grabbing the confiscated .45. Taking the thread he ties the other end several times around the base of the trigger. Setting the grenade in the hole, he pulls the pin out, the rubber band carefully keeping the levers pressed. Covering most of it up with dirt he lays the .45 on the ground. "Most mercs lack field experience," he says in a low voice. "This trap will tip us off if we got people sneaking up behind us."
"Hence the spiderweb breadcrumbs," Danny whispers, hooking a thumb back.
Piling everything back into his pack, Steve grabs his weapon and checks his GPS again. "This way."
Plunging deeper into overgrowth, sweat pours in rivulets down their brows. Steve's spent days trudging through the rainforests of Uganda and Bolivia with twenty pounds of gear. This is a picnic in comparison. They have to be close, even after taking a detour to throw the goons off their trail.
The beetle and cricket noise has slowly dipped several decibels. While still chirping and chittering, the drop in noise is unnerving. Holding out a fist, Steve stops, searching through shadows of green and black. Something's not right. Like they've just walked into-
"Get down!" Steve shouts, shoving Danny to the ground.
The space above their heads is filled with bullets, branches splintering behind them from the impact.
"Sniper!" Steve yells, searching the treetops.
Gunfire peppers the ground in front of them from another direction and Danny rolls out of the way. "Yeah, well we've got bad guys to our right!"
Danny returns fire and Steve pulls the pin to one of his grenades, lobbing it overhead.
The explosion rattles the jungle and Steve gets to one knee, adding suppression fire. "Get behind that fallen tree to your three o'clock!"
"You'd better be right behind me!" Danny yells, running.
Steve soon follows, diving under the tree. Vines and bark rain down beside him from missing bullets. Those were from a semi-automatic. Steve would bet his paycheck that the enemy had switched channels on the radio. And the sniper was acting as a spotter, telling the others about Steve and Danny's movements.
Unhooking one of his grenades he puts one by Danny's feet. "I'm leaving one of these with you. Pull the pin and throw. That's all you have to do."
"Why are you telling me this?"
"Because I've got to locate that sniper's nest and I need you to cover me. Use the grenade as a last resort."
"Are you kidding?"
"Listen. Keep moving. Fire then change locations. Don't stay anywhere for more than ten, twenty seconds."
Once again Danny accepts Steve's every word. The weight and strength of that trust is a formidable force. Adrenaline flooding his veins, Steve takes off, Danny covering his movements.
Being a good sniper is all about patience, camouflage, and geometry. Steve has two different bullet trajectories and he quickly triangulates the angles, searching for the sweet spot. The guy's less than three hundred yards away based on the crack-bangs.
One more shot, just one more and he'll locate the bastard. His partner can't last out there forever.
Danny sprays another volley, but it's met with counter-fire. All fully automatic. The other shooters are closing in.
A ten second lull settles in, followed by pop, pop, pop.
That's the third needed trajectory. Gotcha,Steve smiles.
Leaning against a tree, he peers through his scope in the vicinity of the nest. He searches the canopies for movement or the glint off a lens. Come on, come on.
The next muzzle flash paints a perfect bull's eye. He locates a figure six and half meters up. Fourth branch. By the sniper's third shot, Steve adjusts his mil recticle, squeezing the trigger. There's a blossom of red in his lens and he switches back to automatic.
Without a sniper's eyes and ears, it evens the odds with the remaining bad guys. Now he has to locate Danny.
Turning to run in his partner's last direction, Steve spots a camouflaged figure ten yards away.
Steve squeezes the trigger, but it's half a second too late. There's pain everywhere, the velocity and force of something knocking him off his feet. It's like someone's dropped a bowling ball onto his chest. For a moment he can't catch his breath, can't move. His weapon is gone and it takes pure force of will to get his arms moving. Pushing up with his hands to get into a sitting position, a sharp pain rips down his side. Oh God, that hurts.
Flopping back down, Steve pants for air, rallying his strength to try again. Pulling himself up with a curse, he forces down the pain, searching for his weapon.
"Lose something?" Stepping forward, a camouflaged figure emerges, kicking Steve's rifle out of the way and pointing his AK at Steve. "Any last words asshole?"
Seeing the approaching shadow, Steve smiles. "Yeah, look behind you."
The guy freezes in a moment of uncertainty and Danny cracks him on the back of the head with his weapon.
Quickly disarming the thug, Danny does a quick scan of the jungle behind him. Breathing heavily, he kneels in the dirt, face frantic. "What happened? Are you hit?"
"Took a couple to the vest. Think I cracked a rib," Steve grunts, digging his fingers into Danny's shoulders. "Help me up." Struggling to his feet, the pain skyrockets and he has to use Danny for support. "How...many...?
"I took one guy out. Leaves one more, but he fled. And you're not alright. Come over here," he commands. Draping one of Steve's arms across his neck, Danny steers them behind the tree.
This is not good. Steve knows he's hurt pretty bad, cold sweat breaking out on his forehead, an ungodly fire poker searing his side. He tears a hole in his lower lip when Danny guides him to a seat on the ground.
Danny doesn't waste time undoing the Velcro to Steve's vest tab by tab. He rips the vest open with both hands. "No, no, no. This is bad, Steve, this is really bad."
The bottom of Steve's t-shirt is soaked in blood. Snagging the hem, he peels it away, revealing a hole in his lower right quadrant. Visual confirmation of the wound only amplifies the pulsation of pain coming from it. "Bullet must've...slipped under the vest."
"You think?" Danny snaps, carefully leaning Steve forward.
The motion rips a muffled scream from Steve and Danny whispers in his ear, "Sorry, man. Sorry."
"It's alright," Steve manages to gasp out between heaves for air, trying to regain a smidgen of control.
"Okay, there's no exit wound, but um...we'll figure something out. I'm going to slip your pack off." Pawing through the medical kit, Danny starts yanking stuff out. "What are these? Are these painkillers?"
It takes a second to focus, but Steve stares at the ampoules of morphine in Danny's palm. "Yeah, but I can't take them right now."
"No, I really think you can."
"This isn't the time for you to pull your 'I don't feel pain' crap on me."
Holding up his bloody fingers, Steve growls. "I said no. Just..." He waved his hand at the med kit. "I need-"
"Okay, okay you masochist. Hold on." Ripping open a field dressing with his teeth, Danny pulls out a large gauze pad. Hesitating, he locks eyes with Steve, both of them breathing like they'd run a marathon. "This is really going to hurt."
Danny presses the dressing against the wound and Steve gnashes his teeth to keep the scream at bay. Choo-chooing for air, he balls his fists as Danny wraps the gauze a few times around his middle.
"Almost done, man, promise."
Danny actually sounds sick to his stomach and when Steve opens his eyes he thinks his partner shouldn't be that white. "There's duct tape in my pack...I need you to secure the dressing tighter."
"Excuse me?" Danny wipes away the sweat at his brow. "Are you delirious? I was only kidding earlier about the-"
Steve reaches for his pack and Danny jerks it out of his hand. "What's the matter with you? You're like Grace when she's being belligerent, which is a rare occasion mind you, but she does have her moments." Finding the tape, he looks at it with disdain. "I can't believe I'm even considering this."
"It'll help keep the bleeding under control while I move around."
"Move? You're staying right here while I-"
"Get help? We'rethe rescue team and we still have two teammates depending on us. I know my limitations, Danny."
"You have a hole in your gut! Bullets don't make nice, neat wounds. They bounce around inside you like pinballs!" Danny's teetering on the edge, body visibly trembling.
"Kono and Chin-"
"And what are you going to do? Pull out your Superman cape and fly? You may think you're the Man of Steel, but you bleed like the rest of us."
Danny's right and Steve knows it. But it takes another man to help his buddy off the battlefield. That's why you're taught to wound people in war. It uses manpower and resources. Steve can't be that hindrance, it's irresponsible to try continuing on wounded at Danny's side. But he can't allow his partner to go it alone. "Look..."
Before Steve completes his sentence, the jungle rocks with an explosion.
Scrambling to his feet, Danny stares off into the darkness. "God, what now?"
"That was the grenade trap," Steve hisses, trying and failing to get to his feet. "We've got like two minutes before-
"Don't say it. You're like a bad self-fulfilling prophecy," Danny complains, grabbing Steve's pack and rifle. Then planting a shoulder under Steve's armpit, he hauls him up. "Okay, this is where you prove me wrong, right? That you're really Wolverine and you have secret healing powers?"
There's a pleading quality to his partner's voice and it takes every last ounce of energy not to cry out as Steve is brought to his feet. "Yeah," he grunts, making sure he can stand on his own, taking his weapon. Control. Gain control. "Let's move."
It feels like someone's stabbing him with a knife. Over and over and over again. Danny's right. Steve's been taught to endure torture. He learned to pay attention to an interrogator's questions. Focus how to respond to their words, not the pain. But nothing can prepare you for physical trauma. He's severely light-headed and his hands won't stop shaking. But all he can do is concentrate on walking with the invisible knife twisting inside him.
Vines and flowers slap their faces and Steve stumbles over a tree root, Danny grabbing his arm to keep him from falling. Tromping through the vegetation sends birds and critters fleeing, turning their alarm system against them.
He and Danny keep moving, keep listening for signs of their pursuers. They can't be that far from the camp. Steve pulls out his GPS, checking the map. The lines blur together.
If they fail, Kono and Chin are dead.
"You holding up okay?" Danny asks, walking so closely their shoulders bump.
"Yeah, I'm good."
"You're a horrible liar."
That's one of the traits Steve likes best about Danny; he never sugarcoats things. "We should locate the trail again."
"Would that be the dirt path we just stepped on?" Danny asks, looking at him with concern.
Steve's boots crunch onto the rocky soil and he stands there, dumbly wondering when that happened.
More shooting erupts and it's Danny shoving Steve into the earth and wet grass. Rolling onto his back is instinct and Steve fires blindly into the darkness.
Danny's next to him, adding to the counter fire before his AK finally clicks empty. Cursing, he tosses it to the ground and pulls out his Sig. Arms straining, he aims side to side, searching for a target.
There's more gunfire, but this time it's not aimed in their direction. New shots are fired, forming a mini-exchange off in the distance.
Then the brush falls deathly silent, Danny and Steve's raspy breaths the only source of noise.
"What now?" Danny whispers.
Did the mercenaries turn on each other?
Steve forces himself to his feet, the world spinning. Arm bracing his side, he uses a nearby tree to stand. "Don't know."
"This is Kono Kalakaua of 5-0, identify yourself!"
Steve can't believe his ears.
Danny's caught between laughing and crying. "That would be your partners in insanity! Williams and McGarrett!"
There's a lull, followed by scrambling in the thicket. Kono and Chin emerge slack-jawed and wired with adrenaline.
"Holy crap!" Danny laughs both stunned and relieved. "Thank God."
Kono runs over first, face streaked and plastered with dirt. "I knew it!"
Chin's more cautious, stepping closer, eyes inspecting every hidden angle. When he's within inches of Danny he engulfs him in a giant hug. "Good to see you, bro."
"How the hell did you guys escape?" Danny asks, smiling like a goof.
Pulling from his embrace, Chin nods at Steve and Danny. "As soon as we heard World War Three break out, we knew something was going on."
"I found a rock sharp enough to cut through my ropes and gave it to Cuz here. We could tell something was going on when fewer of the guys in the camp came back from patrols," Kono tells them, keeping an eye on the jungle. "Then we heard the explosions."
"And that was our cue to make a break," Chin adds. "We took out our two guards and started heading toward all the noise."
"Should've guessed the boss was behind it all," Kono grins. "So, where's everyone else?"
"Um, we're it," Danny coughs. "Super SEAL decided to reenact D-Day on his own."
Kono and Chin both look awe-struck, standing there at a loss for words.
Steve's dizzy in relief, a lopsided grin on his face. He allows a second to bask in finding his friends, taking it all in, before reality sinks in. "What about the missiles?"
"They were all loaded into a flatbed truck," Chin tells them, his face breaking into a mischievous grin. "I might've put bullets into all its tires when we made our run."
"That's awesome," Steve whispers, like the weight of the world has been lifted from his shoulders.
Chin's staring at him. Realization finally clicking, his eyes pass over Steve's form. His face blanches when he sees the rapidly spreading stain on Steve's cargo pants. "Is that your blood?"
Kono steps closer, eyes skating down at the growing dark stain. "Boss?"
Steve doesn't answer them, tries to give Kono a reassuring smile that fails miserably. "Danny," he rasps. "Remember...when I said I knew my limits?"
Danny grabs Steve by the front of his vest, trying to hold onto him as he sways drunkenly. "Steven?"
"I think I've reached 'em."
His legs buckle and Danny has him, wrapping both arms around his shoulders. "Easy. Easy. I've got you."
Steve gives in, allows Danny to hold him up, the rest of his body crumpling beneath him. Danny takes Steve's weight, slowly easing him to the ground. His stomach is rolling and Steve cranes his neck to see what's going on. Danny pulls back the flaps to his vest again, revealing a bandage soaked through with blood.
"Kono could you take this pack off me?" Danny asks her. "There's a med kit inside and duct tape. Find the duct tape."
There's a rustling of noise and Kono's suddenly at Steve's left side, handing over the kit, eyes wide and scared. "What happened?"
"He was shot," Danny answers, tearing open another dressing.
"You shouldn't have kept searching for us," Chin admonishes Danny.
"We weren't going to stop looking for you and Kono. Besides, the bad guys were on us," Danny growls, obviously not in the mood to argue.
Steve claws at the ground as Danny takes the second bandage and applies it to the first one. It hurts like hell; the invisible knife is now burrowing deeper into his flesh. He fights not to pass out and clings to consciousness, holding on to the bits of conversation going on all around him.
"But we took care of the guys coming after you," Kono says, voice faltering. "That can't leave too many others. Right?"
Danny starts adding a layer of duct tape and Steve's world blurs into a series of white hot fireworks.
"How many did you guys take out?" Chin asks.
"Eight," Steve tells them, instincts overriding all other brain impulses.
"No talking," Danny orders him. "I'm doing all the talking."
"We knocked out three at the camp," Chin fills them in. "That leaves three or four more, depending if we saw everyone in the operation."
"Okay, let me think," Danny says, rubbing at his forehead. "Steve, what was your plan once you found us?"
"Radio for an extraction."
"Radio?" Danny sing-songs. "That's great. How about doing that now so we can all get out of here?"
Steve's arms feel like taffy, his fingers fat and heavy. He struggles with one of the pockets on his vest; Danny finally bats away his hand and digs the radio out for him.
"Okay, now we're talking!" Danny says as he lifts free the radio. His expression immediately falls flat and he groans. "Except it's got a bullet hole in it...Damn it! Wait, what about the one you got off that goon?"
"It's cheap...doesn't have military channels." Steve licks his dry lips in thought. "Leave me here," he tells them. It's the most strategic move they have. "Go down to the beach and find a way to signal for back-up."
"Excuse me, you are obviously delirious; that's not gonna happen," Danny snarls.
"The quicker reinforcements arrive, the quicker this will all be over," Steve argues.
"I might not've gone to SEAL school, but I do know that you guys don't leave each other behind." Danny leans over, squeezing Steve's shoulder. "We're your team now, remember?"
"You stay, we stay," Kono says.
"Damn straight," Chin echoes, staring at Steve, silently daring him to argue.
Steve doesn't have the energy to fight, so he just nods in acquiescence and closes his eyes as a wave of nausea washes over him.
This triggers some type of panic-mode in Danny, because his voice goes up an octave and he begins snapping his fingers. "No, no falling asleep!" he demands. Steve's eyelids snap open as he feels Danny's fingers on his neck. "Do you always have to go all out on everything? A hummingbird's pulse has got nothing on yours right now."
Nearly ripping apart the med kit, Danny doesn't stop talking. "I'm giving you one of these morphine shots. Before you start your yammering, I'm going to be carrying you over my back like a sack of potatoes because you're not walking, end of story. And it's going to hurt like a bitch, so do me a favor and be quiet."
Despite his big preamble, Danny holds the ampoule up, waiting for Steve's permission.
But there's more to it than just accepting the morphine. Steve looks to Chin and Kono, finally resting his eyes on Danny. "Do it."
The jungle is a swath of green brushstrokes, flowers glowing with pink and yellow halos. Every rainforest has a different scent, from sickly sweet to festering rot. Home smells like fresh rain and sand, but all he breathes is blood and sweat. The odor is overwhelming and he tries not to gag, squeezing his eyes closed against the bouncing ground below.
Crickets, flies, birds. Noises pan in and out with other voices.
"You want to take a break? I'll take McGarrett for a while."
"No, I'm good."
"You sure, Danny? You look kind of tired."
"I've got him."
Steve hears the flapping of wings take to the sky, his muddled brain going on high alert. He tries to shout out a warning, but Danny's already yelling, "Down!"
The air moves and Steve's on the musty ground, automatic fire erupting seconds later. He reaches for his gun, hand trembling so bad that he can't get his finger around the trigger. The weapon wobbles weakly in his grip and he grabs it with both hands to keep it steady.
Rata tat tat!
He swings the gun in the direction of the noise, sweat pouring down his face.
"Steve! It's okay."
Slender fingers easily push his hands down, pulling the gun from his shaky grasp, Kono's face swimming into view. "I've got you covered, boss. Chin and Danny are taking care of things," she tells him, inching away, listening to the darkness.
The whole front of Steve's cargo pants looks wet and when he presses his hand over the duct tape it comes away sticky. There's more shooting and he instinctively tries pushing himself into a sitting position but his body refuses.
"Hey. What did I tell you? We've got this," Kono tells him, stepping back and crouching by his side.
She's scared as hell, eyes flicking back and forth between the blackness and Steve. But Kono's holding her ground and Steve's chest fills with warmth despite a sudden onset of chills.
An AK echoes in the distance and Kono moves directly in front of Steve, shielding him. He thinks about his knife tucked away in his vest, but he doesn't go for it. He knows he doesn't have to pull it out. Kono has his back and those goons are no match against Chin and Danny.
They're protecting himbecause that's what teams do for one another.
The realization hits Steve—hard. A wash of emotion so intense it takes his breath away. He's always been the one to take the risks, to go all out. Willing to lay it all on the line. For God and country. In the SEALS it was all about the team, about the mission. There was nothing else.
But Steve has more to life now.
An eerie silence slowly descends around them, the reports of gunfire dying away.
Kono tenses, training her weapon, eyes scanning before her body slowly relaxes. Turning with a smile, she places a hand on Steve's shoulder, "Danny and Chin are coming."
Steve wants to say something, but nothing makes it past his throat. It takes an unfathomable amount of effort to move his hand again but he grabs Kono's, squeezing hers.
She squeezes back, eyes widening when she looks down at her red-stained fingers. Face frantic, her lips begin to move, but any words are lost in the sudden buzzing in Steve's head.
Images of a warehouse swirl in his head, flashes of muzzle fire, his team under threat.
"Get down!" Steve yells.
Men climb the stairs to the second level and Steve chases after them, but he's too late as they open fire at his friends.
"No!" Steve screams.
"Sssssshhhhhh. Take it easy," a voice tells him.
Steve's eyes fly open and he finds himself upside down and he starts thrashing.
"Calm down," someone says. But Steve only fights harder. "Okay, okay, we're stopping. We're close enough."
Steve is settled into a blanket of warm sand, his heart trying to saw through his chest.
"Steve! Take it easy. Do you hear me?"
"Danny?" Steve pants, his partner's face a blob of flushed cheeks and panic.
"Yeah. Would you mind not screaming your head off, please?"
It's like his brain is swimming in oatmeal and Steve repeats, "Danny."
"Yes, we already established who I am," Danny says, lowering himself onto the beach next to him. "But maybe you could take a second to relax? Remember how to breathe like a normal human?"
The sarcasm has a grounding effect and Steve focuses on Danny's voice, on the slow delivery of each word.
"There you go. Inhale. Exhale," Danny chants. "That's it. Now maybe you could stop digging your fingers into my arms? It kind of hurts."
Steve doesn't remembering grabbing them and it takes a lot of focus to get his fingers to release their death-grip before letting his hands fall limply by his sides.
"You're going to be okay. You understand me? The morphine's making you a little goofy that's all," Danny tells him, pulling Steve over, cushioning his head against Danny's leg.
Steve looks up at the bright blue sky, tastes the salt in the air. His chest is heaving like he's swum for five miles and he tries to reign in his body's struggle for oxygen.
Danny places a hand over Steve's racing heart, grounding him like an anchor. "Take it easy. Everything's under control because I have a plan," he declares, pulling out the grenade Steve had given him earlier. "Who needs a flare gun when you have one of these?"
A giant smile spreads across Steve's face. "That's beautiful, Danno."
"Yeah, I knew your twisted mind could appreciate the overkill."
Chin and Kono come over, Kono kneeling next Steve, grabbing his wrist.
Taking the grenade from Danny, Chin nods at the slapping waves. "I'll go hail our ride."
With the ocean breeze blowing over his face, Steve closes his eyes, drawing on the strength of his team to get him over this final hurdle.
The noise of chopper blades morph into shouts of orders, desperate voices dulling into soothing ones. Then everything descends into a placid calm, like the silence beneath the ocean. But the tranquility doesn't last long and Steve slowly returns to consciousness. Opening gritty eyes, he awakens to humming equipment and a horrible headache.
"I heard you groan. Are you finally awake?"
"Define awake," Steve mumbles, wanting to scratch at the cannula in his nose.
"Something you haven't been in almost twelve hours."
Turning his head takes forever and Steve finally gets his neck to cooperate, settling on Danny's blood-shot eyes and wrinkled t-shirt. "You look like crap."
"You're not winning any beauty contests anytime soon. Perhaps a carnival freak show," Danny says, motioning at the various IVs and other tubes snaking out from under Steve's sheets. "Of course that hasn't stopped the number of nurses stopping by to 'check on the machines'."
Steve rolls his eyes, the only movement he's capable of. "When do I..." he has to take a deep pull on his oxygen as the room spins.
"Will you just take it easy? You were in surgery for the longest five hours of my life while all the king's men sewed up your insides. You're stuck in that bed for the foreseeable future and in the hurt locker for at least a month."
"What about the-"
"I tell you what, since you have such a one-track mind, how about I answer all your questions before you ask them. The missiles were recovered during the raid. Navy special forces took the island and intercepted the ship on its way to pick them up."
Opening his eyes, Steve stares at Danny in amusement as his partner rails on.
"There are three men in custody and that Parks and Recreation agent was picked up this morning. You killed the ringleader, he was that sniper in the trees. But the others are singing like canaries. NCIS kind of took over, but since they saved our bacon. Who cares." Easing into the ugly green chair, Danny's voice loses some of its bluster. "The bad guys have all been booked. End of story. I would really love never to have to think back on the last two days if you don't mind."
Mission accomplished. Except things are not that simple anymore. Steve's not supposed to erase what took place to make room for the next time. This is his new world and his actions have consequences.
Wetting his lips, he struggles to find the right words, but Danny starts talking. "I wanted to thank you and before you shrug it off, listen to me." Danny who always knows what to say, struggles with his thoughts. "I always give you a hard time for your recklessness and your tendency to act like a maniac. That you're not hunting terrorists or warlords anymore. Don't get me wrong, you need therapy, but if you weren't youGrace wouldn't have a father and Chin and Kono would be dead."
It's not just the narcotics that mess with Steve's ability to speak and he clears his throat to hide the fact.
"You came for us," Danny continues, voice thick. "Staged a one-man assault. And from what I heard, you wouldn't take no for an answer."
"I only got part way. You, Kono and Chin, brought me back," Steve tells him.
Leaning closer on the railing, Danny's voice breaks a little. "What I'm trying to say is, and I don't believe it. But, don't ever change, Steven."
With his eyes getting heavy, Steve gives Danny a smile. "A little change, goes a long way. The only easy day is yesterday, Danno."
Feedback is always appreciated.
**Title from a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson
"The only easy day is yesterday." -SEAL motto