The get-together started off unexpectedly. Chin found himself driving toward the McGarrett house with steaks and a six-pack of Long Boards. After the previous night, he owed Danny an explanation and Steve a meal. On his way over, Kono called, informing him that grilling on a Saturday afternoon sounded like a hell of a plan and she'd bring her board.
He never called ahead, which could have been the smartest move or the most disastrous. But spontaneity was the spice to life and Chin held up the six-pack as an offering when Danny answered, his eyes perking up at the amber bottles.
"Beer and steak, huh? If you grill, I'll clean," Danny said inviting him in.
"Great...um, Kono's coming over too. Is that cool?"
"I don't know," Danny said with a weary shrug. "I'd ask Steve, but he hit the shower after spending all morning rearranging files."
"Yeah. Apparently, Steve's father stored some of his cases at home. Which meant starting at sunrise. He started reorganizing them using some secret Knights of Templar type code or somethin'."
"He say what he was looking for?
"No, because that would require something called communication."
"We know that John and Governor Jameson had meetings with Wo Fat. Maybe he's looking for more clues into that."
"If you ask me, he didn't know what he's looking for. He hasn't been displaying the greatest attention span of late. If I was a little more devious, I'd slip that damn muscle relaxer in one of his protein shakes."
"He still not sleeping?"
"Let's just say his ninja skills are lacking at night."
Steve emerged out of the shower clean-shaven and in a sleeveless olive shirt and cargo shorts. He made small talk, but was clearly not in a sociable mood and retreated into his office.
"Real chatty," Chin remarked.
"Welcome to my world," Danny said.
Kono arrived with veggies and fruit from the farmer's market and Danny helped her unpack. "Since the whole gang is here, maybe you should contact Lori? Invite her over."
Chin noticed Kono's hesitation, but she pulled out her cell and texted their fifth member.
Danny and Kono chitchatted about Grace's play. Chin chimed in with the time Kono forgot her line in middle school and burst into song to cover up the mistake. They all broke into laughter, but someone was missing from the festivities.
"Packers and Bears are the big game, bet Steve would enjoy the match-up," Chin suggested.
Danny stood to retrieve their leader when someone knocked on the door and Lori anxiously entered. "Is um...Steve around?"
"He retreated into his bat cave. I was about to haul him out." Danny crossed his arms across his chest. "Why?"
"I was summoned to the governor's office early this morning." Lori ducked her head and took a huge breath before looking up at them. "He said if we don't get a statement from Steve this weekend, he's sending someone from HPD to do it for us."
The TV was on mute, adding to the collective silence of everyone deep in thought.
"I'll do it," Danny volunteered, even though his tone gave away how much he didn't want to.
"Maybe I should?" Lori suggested. "I don't share the same close-knit ties. Maybe it'd be easier to –"
"No," Kono interrupted, looking apologetic. "Steve's very private. It'd be harder if you conducted the interview."
"I'm doing it," Chin said not allowing any arguments. Deep down, he always knew this would be his job. "You're too close," he told Danny before he could object. "And cuz, I'm sorry. But –"
"But what? I'm a rookie? Too young?"
"I don't want you to," Chin said in all honesty. "And I doubt Steve would either."
"And what? You two aren't close?" Kono challenged.
"I can rein myself in. Keep things from becoming too emotionally volatile and allow Steve to get through the interview." And maybe let him get something out of it, Chin hoped.
Danny silently fumed and Chin decided to nip things in the bud. "You guys are partners. Steve drops his guard down around you, but this...it's different. I don't think he'd be as comfortable with giving you all the details."
Chin let that hang in the air. Let the ramifications sink in.
Steve was well aware of second-hand trauma and he'll do whatever it took to avoid exposing his team to it. But Steve needed to debriefed by someone. Get that terrible weight off his shoulders. Chin knew he could convince Steve to trust him, to let him in. Just as Steve's father trusted him.
Chin looked over at the solemn expressions of his team and made a decision. "Come on. We're all here; it's a beautiful day. Let's celebrate it first."
Steve came out of his father's office after Kono and Danny both pestered him a half a dozen times regarding the locations of the grill, charcoal, spices, matches, and everything else under the sun.
"You'd think after a couple of weeks, you'd know where everything was stored, Danny," Steve said.
"I must've gotten scrambled with the million rules I was forced to remember," Danny deflected, seasoning the steaks. "Besides, I can't do everything myself. Once I lavish these beauties with my gamma's famous recipe, I'll let the grill master take over."
Steve smirked at Chin. "Grill master?"
"Hey, I came in second during HPD's annual cook-off back in the day," Chin smiled.
Looking around the kitchen, Steve stepped toward the glass backdoor. "Are Kono and Lori out there?"
"Yeah, playing Frisbee," Chin answered, walking over. He watched Steve survey the outside, his shoulders relaxing only after spotting the rest of the team. "Want to help me set up?"
Steve's eyes darted around the lanai and Chin opened the door, allowing the ocean breeze in. "Don't you want to get away from these walls?"
Peering outside, Steve glanced back at the desk drawer in the living room, his expression pensive.
"Do you need to grab something first?" Chin asked.
Steve looked at the drawer again. "No," he answered after a second's thought to Chin's relief.
"All right, Mr. Grill Master," Danny sing-songed. "Everything's ready."
Danny carried the plate of steaks onto the porch and Chin glanced over at Steve who followed Danny and stepped outside. Chin relaxed as he watched Steve lift his face to the sky, close his eyes, and soak up the sun.
"I never get tired of these kinds of days," Chin said.
Steve breathed deeply. "I can't believe I forgot what it smelled like out here."
"Oh my God. Does your grill have launch codes or what? Do you really need this many knobs and dials?" Danny lambasted Steve over the large contraption. "What the hell are you compensating for?"
Steve rolled his eyes, walking over. "Perhaps modern grilling is too complicated for you."
"Modern grilling? Are you kidding me? Is that what you call all of this? What happened to charcoal and a wire rack?"
A giant weight lifted off Chin's shoulders as he watched Steve playfully rib Danny. Chin chuckled at their antics, at Kono and Lori running all over the beach, and he simply took a moment and relished this slight reprieve.
Steve retreated to the office after dinner, the remnants of the barbeque a fading warmth under his skin. It had been good to retreat a little, but there were too many things that drew him back inside. Too much work. Too many questions to get lost in. A dark lure returned him to the depths that continued to sweep him under.
Nothing had changed from that morning or the previous day or week. He still walked around with a giant hole inside him – a hole that needed filling.
He was surrounded by remnants of his father's life, his obsessions. Dozens of cardboard boxes were filled with reports and random photos and loose-leaf papers written in his father's scrawl. And at the bottom of one of the boxes, old newspapers from the Friday High School sports section, including a clipping of when Steve had made the regional playoffs, and a championship game his father had missed.
He hadn't discovered a scrap of data involving his dad's investigations into the Yakuza, no holy grail of encryption cipher. Resting his elbows on his knees, Steve clutched a digital recorder in his hand.
"You ever try knocking?"
"I did, because I was taught manners as a child, but that would require you to hearme knock. And for the record, I called out your name," Danny said, entering. "Taking a trip down memory lane?"
"I forgot I'd made a copy of this," Steve said, turning the device over in his hand. "Must've stashed it with the rest of my father's stuff when I moved in."
"Is that more of your father's case notes?"
"It's the recording from the last time I talked to him," Steve said, caressing a thumb over the play button.
"Don't tell me that's –"
"It's of the call between me and Hess."
Danny crouched beside Steve. "You are notgoing to listen to that."
"I thought maybe –"
"Maybe what? It's fucking morbid. There aren't any answers in that recording. I've heard it, all right? You don't need to listen to it again."
Steve wondered, if he squeezed hard enough, would it break? How much pressure would it take?
"Hey? Are you even listening to me? Steven?"
"He was calm at the end." Steve glanced over at Danny. "Pragmatic to a fault. He apologized about lying to me and until this day...I still don't know which lie he was referring to."
"It's ironic," Steve continued, sweeping his gaze around the beige walls of his childhood. "My father's secrets drove Mary and me away. But I've surrounded myself with new ones, from my time in intelligence to the SEALs. It's like they're a part of me."
"No, they were a part of your job, and despite how it appears otherwise, life and work are not mutually exclusive. It's what we make of it."
Steve gave Danny the faintest of smiles. "Sounds like a fortune cookie."
"Or perhaps common sense," Danny told him, adjusting himself until he sat comfortably on the floor.
Steve bounced the recorder in his palm and put it back in the box. He could feel Danny watching him and Steve caught his gaze, noting the restless energy coming off him in waves.
"Something on your mind?"
Danny's face fell. "The governor wants you to give a statement regarding well...you know. What happened."
"That was on my time. I was working as a private citizen, not a representative of Five-O."
"And you were captured by a recognized terrorist after we connected him with materials to build a dirty bomb on Hawaiian soil."
"One has nothing to do with another!"
"Hey. I get it. Seriously. But –"
"But what?" Steve snapped. "Let Governor Denning use it to get the rest of you in trouble or –"
"Look," Danny interrupted. "I know you see conspiracies behind ever corner and for good reason. But it's standard procedure when it comes to...well..."
"Having a record of the activities of a known enemy," Steve said, reciting familiar words, latching on to them.
"If you prefer using military speak, then what you said."
Steve had given debriefings on things far worse. Things involving more blood and death, from days hidden in hills of sand to weeks covered by mud and dirt. The screams of the dying he could never save because they were not the prime objective were forever imprinted in his brain.
It was part of the job.
"You're right," Steve said. "I should have done it days ago."
"I don't know about that."
Getting to his feet, Steve tried absorbing the sudden images and emotions assaulting him. His lungs constricted and he had to steady his breathing. "Who's taking the statement?"
"Chin. Unless you want me to?"
"No," Steve said, forcing his heart to slow down. "Just Chin and me."
Saying the words out loud had a slight calming effect to the pressure building in his chest.
Danny's face twitched. "I understand."
Steve hated this. Hated how much he couldn't stand the thought of sharing the shit that woke him up at night in a cold sweat. He felt humiliated and angry at being so screwed up.
"Hey," Danny said, grabbing his shoulders. "Don't worry about it. Okay. I get it. I do. Because Christ...I...I don't want to...I mean..."
"It's okay. I don't want you to...I just couldn't..."
"Hey, babe. Look at me. Are you looking?" Danny demanded until Steve obeyed. "Good. I'm here. Twenty-four seven. You got it? I'm not going anywhere so after you do this...you say the word. Or in your case, I'll just look for that face of yours. And I'll be here. Because we're partners. Got it? Always watching each other's back."
"Yeah," Steve agreed, breathing easier, trying to rein in his emotions. "Got it."
"You know it's okay to feel messed up about this, right?" Danny said, squeezing Steve's arm. "That no one expects you to be fine after what happened. This wasn't a brawl in a warehouse or on a shipping container. Hell. It wasn't even a real fight because at least then you could defend yourself. Someone hung you up and deliberately, maliciously hurt you. Used barbaric measures to cause pain to gain a name. A fucking name."
"I know, Danny."
"I know you know. All I'm saying is cut yourself a break."
Steve wiped hand over his face. "I hear you."
Danny frowned. "'Do you? Because you know me, I'm just gonna keep on tellin' you, because I know you, my friend. Repetition, that is how you learn, isn't it?"
It felt good returning outside for the second time in a day, something Steve hadn't realized how much he'd taken for granted. He sat back enjoying the sunshine and just breathed.Chin settled into the chair next to him and handed Steve one of two water bottles.
"I remember coming here for a few private barbeques with your father. Kind of like the ones we had earlier."
"We used to have them all the time when my mother was alive." Steve took a small sip of water, forcing fond memories away. "There's no need for small talk. I'd rather complete the after action report."
"We can do that." Fiddling with a recorder, Chin pointed the microphone in Steve's direction, rattling off the date and time. "Please state the circumstances surrounding your decision to escort Jenna Kaye into North Korea."
"She asked me to," he said without a second thought. But debriefings were only about cold, hard facts. "Agent Kaye was given information regarding the whereabouts of her missing fiancé," Steve began.
He wouldn't give away intel regarding his overseas contacts or how he made it into South Korea and acquired a weapon and a jeep.
"When you reached the rendezvous point, what was the first indication that something was wrong?" Chin asked.
"The man they claimed was Agent Kaye's fiancé had a hood over his face, but after months of captivity, he was still 180 pounds with a healthy build and tan. Once I determined it couldn't be Josh, we fell back."
"Did you have an escape plan for such a scenario?"
Steve paused and, for a second, his mind went blank. "I paid a local to follow us in a second vehicle. At two miles out, I made him wait while Kaye and I took the first jeep in. If things went south, we'd escape and evade and return to the vehicle."
He'd forgotten about the back-up plan until now and Steve tried not to let the fact disturb him.
"What happened that prevented you from escaping?" Chin asked.
"I'd been distracted," Steve said, watching the ocean.
Blue waves become swatches of green and Steve's pulse pounded in his ears.
"I heard the sliding of a weapon. I couldn't understand why it came from behind me because the only person who was..." He tasted blood from biting his lip. "It was Kaye. By the time I registered she had a sidearm pointed at me..."
How had he missed her concealment of a weapon?
"I was hit from behind," Steve finished.
He remembered the pain to the back of his skull and staring up in a shocked daze at the man who ordered his father's murder.
Steve swallowed a drink, allowed the water to coat his throat. "He wore fucking dress shoes in the jungle."
"Steve, I need it for the record," Chin said. "Who –"
"Wo Fat ambushed me," Steve answered. "It was the plan from the start. Capture and interrogate me in his territory. The perfect op."
"How were you..." Chin stopped, breathed slow and steady. "What happened next?"
"I was disarmed of my spare weapons and neutralized as a threat."
"I was still stunned." He recalled a flurry of fists. Of metal on bone. "They removed my boots to make escape difficult. Used a Lighterman's knot around my neck to keep me under control."
"Wait. A what?"
Steve looked Chin in the eyes. "Standard rope knot for securing tugboats. In this case, they added two and a half hitches and when pulled –"
"The knot constricted," Chin finished, looking sick.
"We walked nine klicks before arriving at a bunker," Steve continued and stared out at the ocean again. "I was forced into a smaller room, incapacitated, and chained by my wrists to the ceiling. I knew then that my capture was for the long term." Chin couldn't understand these things the way Steve did. What he'd been prepared for. "I was suspended so that my feet barely touched the ground. Enough to cause pain but not immediate death."
Steve knew his matter of fact recounting bothered Chin, although he hid it well under a steady voice – a voice that shook a little now. "And was Agent Kaye with you?"
"Not until later," Steve answered, plowing on. He split his focus between the words and the images. Didn't stop staring at the sea. "The guards used the time to soften me up. Focused on striking me in face and abdomen. When I was first hauled into the room, I got in a couple kicks, but after a few strikes to the kidneys, things got a little fuzzy."
"Did you ever see Agent Kaye again?"
"Not long. I think...no. Maybe half an hour?"
The waves lapped at the shore and he felt himself getting lost in them.
"When did you see her again?" Chin asked, luring Steve back.
"When she learned the truth."
"About what? Steve?"
He could still feel the manacles rub his wrists raw. How he tried holding onto the chain to relieve the strain. He closed his eyes, but that intensified the heat boiling beneath his skin.
"I let her in," he grit out. "Went with her no questions asked. Not a single one because it was the right thing to do. I told Danny...I told him I'd do it for any of you."
He still couldn't wipe away the image of her aiming a weapon at him. Or the pain from the dagger of betrayal that sank in his back.
"What truth did Jenna learn?"
"That Josh was dead. That Wo Fat did what he did best. Manipulate people."
"She told you he was dead? She was taken prisoner with you?"
Steve inhaled the ocean breeze.
"The guard brought her in. Chained her to the wall because she ceased being useful."
Chin shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Played with his water cap before taking a drink. "Did you guys discuss –"
"What we discussed...has no bearing on this interview."
Steve glared at Chin and Chin held his ground. "She didn't tell you why –"
"Jenna traded me for her fiancé. She made a desperate choice."
Steve watched Chin weigh some internal struggle before pressing on. "Were you ever moved?"
"No. Guards periodically came in and ensured I wasn't in any shape to escape. They'd beat me for a while until Wo Fat came in to interrogate me about Shelbourne."
"And the first time you had ever heard the word Shelbourne was from a recording between Wo Fat, your father, and Governor Jameson?"
"And you have no idea who Shelbourne is?"
"You said Wo Fat interrogated you. Did he torture you?"
Steve watched the water reshape the shore. He barely noticed as Chin waited. "He used a cattle prod. High voltage and low current. Maximizes pain to localized parts of the body. If held long enough in place..." He swallowed. "It sears the skin."
Steve balled up his hands, ignored his sudden nausea. "It locked up all my muscles. It felt like my jaw was going to snap in two."
Chin bowed his head and then looked up, his voice thick. "And he used this several times?"
"Yes. I told him I didn't know anything about Shelbourne." Steve breathed, wiping the sweat off his face. "When he put the rod away...I actually thanked God."
"It was okay that you felt relief," Chin told him.
But Steve didn't want to hear it. He just wanted to complete the AAR.
"Despite our history, the whole interrogation was methodical. A method to secure intel." Steve locked eyes with Chin. "Then it got personal."
"Because he switched to his fists?"
"I asked why Shelbourne was so damn important." Steve's smile twisted. "I made him lose control. He whaled on me like I was a slab of beef. But he'd snapped. I madehim snap."
The feel of vindication slowly turned into a solid lump in his throat.
"Then something happened. One of his men needed to talk to him and he went to the other side of the room." Steve had never thought back to those moments, tried blocking them away. "Jenna tossed me something. I saw a metal pin and covered it with my foot. When I looked up at her..."
He remembered Jenna's face, her remorse. Her strength at knowing what was coming before Steve did.
Steve crunched the water bottle in his hand. "Wo Fat walked back over after a minute."
"He came back to interrogate you more?" Chin asked sounding horrified.
"No." Water dripped over the plastic rim of the bottle. "He shot Kaye point blank in the chest."
"Wo Fat murdered Jenna in front of you?"
Steve stared at the sand under his feet, anger swelling for his failures. "He was right there. Stood only inches away from me and I couldn't..."
Chin touched Steve's arm and he stiffened at the contact, but Chin didn't let go.
"You were chained to a ceiling and had just been tortured."
"I know how to kill someone more ways than you'll ever know." Steve's eyes flicked to Chin's. "And I still couldn't do a fucking thing."
"I used the pin Jenna gave me. Got out of my shackles. Checked to see if she was still alive. Closed her eyes and grabbed her tags."
"What?" Steve asked glancing up.
"Nothing. I didn't know you managed to escape."
He had. And for a few seconds, he'd been on autopilot, instinct and training meshing into a single purpose.
"I took out some guards. Found my way up to the surface and was recaptured."
Steve felt his heart saw through his chest. "I woke up tied up in the back of a truck. I was barely conscious, but still I knew."
"That there was no escaping. No backup. That I was dead."
"But we found you. Steve? We foundyou."
His hands shook. Steve breathed through his nostrils and out through his mouth. Anger and humiliation collided for failing so miserably. For not being strong enough to handle what Wo Fat did to him. For not dealing with it now.
"I was trained to handle this."
Chin moved closer, rested his hand on Steve's shoulder. "You were tortured. No amount of training can prepare you for that."
But it was supposed to.
Steve's body thrummed with adrenaline. "The only thing that kept me conscious...was that I was going to kill him. With my last breath, I was going to kill my father's murderer."
"You're going to bring him to justice. We'll do it together," Chin vowed.
Steve believed him because he believed in his team; because if he didn't, what else did he have? "Yeah, we will."
Chin turned off the recorder, exhaling heavily, and sat quietly, obviously collecting his thoughts before breaking the silence. "You know Jenna called us. I think Danny told you. It must have been before she was taken prisoner. She tried to help in the end."
Danny had told him, but for some reason, it only resonated with Steve now. "You used her signal to find us."
"We did. If she hadn't taken that chance..."
Steve swallowed, lost in thought, head reeling. If only he'd figured out a way to escape earlier.
"I'm gonna go inside," Chin said. "Do you need a few?"
Chin got to his feet and gave Steve's shoulder another squeeze. "This isn't something you just get over, brah. And it's definitely something you don't handle alone. We're your 'ohana. Your team. We're whatever you need. But you've got to let us."
"I know," Steve said, glancing up. "Thank you. I mean it."
Chin's footsteps faded away, leaving Steve to the peace of the lanai and the ocean waves.
Steve sat and observed the ebb and flow of the sea. He wasn't ready to go inside, but he couldn't sit still any longer. Standing, he walked toward the waves, white bubbles painting lazy lines in the sand. Kicking off his slippers, he pulled off his t-shirt, let it fall away on the beach, and stepped into the ocean.
Water splashed up to his waist by the time he realized what he was doing.
In the back of his mind, he knew this wasn't the brightest idea, but Steve waded further in and eased onto his back. Nothing could touch him out here; the warm ocean soaked into his skin and bones.
He was weightless. Free.
Time had no meaning out here. The ocean was ageless; the water below had graced every continent on Earth a million times over. The sea didn't recognize rank or name, fish or sailor. She just encompassed all who embraced her.
Steve didn't know how long he'd stayed out there; it felt like hours. He was farther from the beach than he realized and he used a sidestroke to return home. It hurt. Abused muscles stretched and pulled around his ribs.
He breathed through the pain, focused on slow and easy strokes. His arms trembled with the strain of being used before they were ready, but this was what he did. Who he was.
Never quit; always win.
He wouldn't give in to his body. Not again.
After a battle to reach shore, he entered the shallow waves, and stumbled onto the beach on rubbery legs.
"Have you gone insane?"
Steve smiled, grinned ear to ear at Danny's familiar voice, allowed Danny to prop him up when his knees wobbled. Steve leaned on him, waited for his legs to hold his weight.
"I'm good," Steve said, catching his breath a minute later.
Danny was surprisingly quiet, a steady presence at Steve's side.
Kono, Chin, and Lori all stood on the back porch, waiting for them.
Chin walked over and wrapped a fluffy beach towel around Steve's shoulders. "Enjoy your swim?"
"I did," Steve said, feeling strangely energized and bleary at the same time.
"Looks like you lost your shirt there, boss," Kono teased and tossed him a new one.
"Thanks," he said grabbing it mid-air.
"First, someone is going to take another shower after his dip in an ocean filled with salt, sand, and god knows what else."
"Yes, mom," Steve told Danny and headed for the bathroom.
Steve was tender and achy even after the shower, but he didn't mind. He took care of his burns and returned to his living room and sacked out on his recliner, idly watching the game.
He felt their eyes on him, the non-so-subtle glances. Steve fought the urge to yell at them to knock it off. Between giving his statement and his importune swim with little sleep, he was wrung out. It was a pleasant soreness, one he could manage. Control.
He stared at the healing pink skin around his wrists, at hands wrinkled from the ocean, and realized what he needed.
He studied his team piled onto the sofa and chairs. Chin and Kono debated game strategy, Lori and Danny engaged in conversation, Danny gesturing like he was conducting an orchestra.
Steve glanced at them and took the first step. "I need to do something. And I could use your help."
Steve studied the calendar and sipped a glass of orange juice as he contemplated the dates. His pen hovered over the squares as he sought which day to circle.
"You know the danger of being your own boss is allowing yourself to make those tricky decisions." Joe walked into the kitchen with a wrench. "I was right, by the way. The pump to your air conditioner is shot. You'll need a new one."
"You didn't have to look at it," Steve told him.
Joe took an old rag out of his pants pocket and wiped his oily hands. "I was already here."
Despite his team's need to camp out at his place the last week, Steve didn't mind Joe calling and coming over. "Thanks. I'll order a new part before Danny complains about sleeping in a sweat box."
Joe chuckled and pointed at the calendar. "You contemplating a vacation?"
"No, my return to work."
"Maybe you should use a pencil."
"Are you telling me I shouldn't pick a goal?"
"I'm just saying you should be flexible."
"It's been ten days," Steve growled in frustration.
"Yes, it has."
It wasn't like Steve had any new bullet holes or stab wounds. "And my progress should be better."
"Based on what?" Joe pressed.
"I've been injured before, sir," Steve reminded him.
"I know. I visited during some of the times you were healing up. Watched you get pinned with the Purple Heart on two of those occasions."
"And at the rate I'm going this time..." Steve tossed the pen down and scrubbed a hand over his face. "I should be further along."
Joe gave him a dubious look and simply sat back in his chair. "When you led your SEAL team, did your unit suffer casualties?"
"Unfortunately. Yes, sir."
"And you made the final okay when it came time for your people to return to the unit?"
"If he was medically cleared."
"But you still checked him out yourself before letting him return?"
"A piece of paper only tells you so much," Steve said, remembering how badly some of his men wanted to return to duty. "I used my gut and my own experience to make the final decision to ensure that no one under my command returned before he was truly ready."
Joe got up and grabbed a glass of water. "And when one of them was captured by the enemy and was later given a clean bill of health. What did you do?"
"Not a single member of my team were ever held prisoner by the enemy," Steve told him.
"And you should be very proud of that," Joe said. "But it doesn't give you much of a shoreline to use. Does it?" He looked at Steve's empty glass. "Want some more juice?"
"I can get it," Steve answered and went over to the refrigerator.
"I hear you're going to practice the SEAL fitness test?"
Steve grabbed the jug and leaned against the refrigerator. "I need to test myself. See where I'm at."
"And do you think that alone will help you pick the date on that thing?" Joe pointed at the calendar.
"I'm not doing the test alone," Steve answered a little defiantly.
"Is this really necessary?" Danny demanded, standing outside in a ratty New Jersey Devil's t-shirt and gray sweatpants.
Steve ignored the griping while he tied his shoes.
"It's five in the morning," Danny complained.
"The sun isn't up yet, Steven."
"I always get up at this time."
"Or maybe you've already been awake a while." Steve glared but Danny was tenacious. "Is this where we pretend that you're not up half the night?"
"This isn't the first time I've dealt with insomnia. It was a hazard of the job."
"But you have another job now. One with resources."
"The Navy has resources, too. I've used them after several missions."
"And how about for non-missions?" Danny mumbled under his breath.
There were trails that ran for miles behind his father's property and the two of them embraced the predawn air.
Danny scanned the horizon, scrutinized the worn dirt path and lush grass. "Not that we're gonna do it, but what isyour typical run?"
"Five miles every other morning when I can. Ten on the weekends."
"I swim five miles on the off-days."
"You're sick, you know that?"
"We'll go for two today."
"One and a half. And it's going to be a light jog. Maybe a slow walk. No arguing," Danny wagged a finger at him. "It's been eleven days, Steven."
"Let's go," Steve ordered and began an easy pace.
"You know twenty minutes isn't half bad," Danny told him in the kitchen after showering. He scurried around to make lunch to take to work. "In the police academy, you had to run a mile and half in under twelve minutes."
"I normally run a mile and a half in eight minutes, Danny."
"And you will again." Danny ignored Steve's glower and collected the bowl of salad he'd made last night. Opening a utensil drawer, he pulled out the salad tongs. "Think of it as baby SEAL steps."
"You need to take it easy," Danny said, pointing the tongs at him.
Steve saw the flash of metal and grabbed Danny's wrist and twisted hard, the tongs clattering to the floor.
He immediately released his grip at Danny's yelp. "Fuck. I'm sorry, man. I'm sorry."
"No, it's fine. I shouldn't have –"
"What? Come too close to me with tongs!"
"This isn't a race, babe. Remember what I said about it being okay to feel screwed up about this?" Danny didn't wait for an answer. "Because it is. So, we'll continue taking things as they come. And if getting you ready to do some crazy SEAL fitness test is the right way for you, so be it. But it's not a cure all."
"I know," Steve relented and hating the fact that Danny was right. "I know."
At four in the morning, he bolted awake in a cold sweat from dreams he couldn't remember. Taking a quick shower and eating breakfast, he went out to watch the sunrise. Steve dug his toes into the wet sand, admiring the gentle waves, and watched Kono walk over.
"I love the ocean at this time," she said, removing her peach sarong and pulling her hair into a ponytail. "What's the time of this test?"
"To be competitive, five hundred yards in eight minutes. But the max allowed is twelve."
"Now that sounds like a race I could hang with." Kono checked out the surf, rolling her arms in easy circles to warm up. "I say we shoot for a hundred yards in four minutes."
"Three," Steve countered.
Kono's eyes twinkled competitively. "Okay. Three."
Steve prepared lunch. Red lentil and bean soup with turkey sandwiches on rye bread. His shoulders and arms burned from overtaxing them and he would need to soak in an ice bath later tonight.
"So. What's the longest you've ever had to swim before?" Kono asked around a bite of sandwich.
"Treading water or outright swimming?"
"Hmmm. Treading has got to get old after while."
"Ten hours," Steve said cryptically.
Steve pulled out a chair and powered up his laptop. Checking his e-mail, he paused at the one from the CIA. After scanning the contents, he hit delete with a scowl.
"Nothing I didn't already know." Kono studied him and Steve leaned back in his chair. "Jenna's parents are deceased and I inquired if she had any other immediate family. But she didn't."
Kono looked up at Steve, her voice quiet. "Why were you looking?" Steve didn't answer, but Kono didn't go for it. "I thought you were tired of secrets?"
People deserved to be remembered, not erased.
Steve tried not to think of the last time he saw Jenna, closing her eyes and leaving her behind. He looked at Kono, his voice low. "I didn't know what to do with her personal effects."
"At the end of the day, she was still part of Five-O," Kono said as she roughly pulled back the hair in her face. "I guess that's why what happened hurt so much." Steve rubbed at the pink skin across his wrists while Kono walked into the living room and scanned the various pictures. "I think this is the perfect place to keep one of them."
Steve joined her in front of the bookshelf, pulled out the necklace from a box, and draped it around the corners of the silver frame. He looked over at Kono, at the sadness in her eyes and at the way she scrubbed her palms down her thighs.
"This was a good idea," Steve told her and put an arm around her shoulder and pulled her close.
Chin walked into the back room of Steve's house and chuckled. "I thought you'd have some crazy gym back here."
Steve only owned a set of free weights and mats to practice yoga. "I prefer using nature's gravity and the outdoors."
Chin smiled in appreciation. "How's the training going?"
Korea had been two weeks ago, and while not in top form, Steve felt more in tune with himself, with his body.
"I'm not a hundred percent. I'll use the fitrep to test how far I've come."
Steve needed a touchstone.
"And you have to pass this to stay in the reserves?"
"Every year. It's the same test used for those seeking to join the SEALs."
Chin whistled. "Do I want to know how many sit-ups and push-ups it requires?"
Steve pulled back the curtains of the two bay windows, basking in the sunlight streaming in. "A hundred reps each in two minutes."
"Damn. And I thought I was doing well to get those in five."
"Kono and Danny would say I should try for a reasonable amount."
"Yeah?" Chin dug through his gym bag and changed into a sleeveless HPD t-shirt. "Why not see how far we can go? Numbers are arbitrary."
Steve crossed his arms. "Really?"
"Goals are good, but they're limiting with either too many or too few numbers."
"They set a bar to strive for."
"They do," Chin said with a coy grin. "But sometimes we don't know where that bar is. It's up to us to discover it."
"My dad used to say something like that."
"They were wise words, brah."
Sometimes, it was easy to forget that Chin knew his father during a time when Steve hadn't.
"From the time my mom died to when I turned sixteen, my father buried himself in work. As his partner, you probably saw more of him than I did."
"I might have known him, but he was my trainer. It was more professional than personal. Given what he was investigating, maybe it was to protect me."
Those last words hit Steve hard and it must have reflected on his face because Chin laid a hand on his arm. "Oddly enough, we became closer friends after I was kicked out of the force. But one thing was for certain: he was very proud of you. And I know he'd be proud of what you did for a friend. He'd say, Non sibi sed patriae."
"Not self but country," Steve recited the familiar words.
"It's a code that you and father both lived by. One that went beyond country."
"You live by that code, too. All of you guys do."
"You said you'd do anything for any one of us. That street goes both ways, brah."
"I stand by my earlier words. This is ridiculous," Danny said into the ocean breeze. "Get a physical. Pass it and get back to work. I don't see why you have to do this stupid SEAL thing."
Steve finished his last set of calisthenics. "Because I need to."
"Yeah, yeah. Your need for routine is a little OCD." But then Danny stood closer, his voice soft and kind. "I know you're going to push things today. But please, please be careful. Okay?"
"I'll be fine."
"Says the guy running in swim trunks."
Lori walked over, twirling a whistle. "You guys ready?"
Steve completed one more stretch and rolled his neck. He glanced at the sincerity in her expression and tried hushing the whispers of Jameson and Kaye in his ears. "Thanks for coming out."
"And give up playing referee? Wouldn't miss it for the world," she replied with a wink.
Kono waited for him on the beach, Chin beside her. Joe stood with both of them and gave Steve a thumbs up.
Lori blew the whistle and Steve began his run with Danny alongside him.
Steve hit his stride a half a mile in. Found his rhythm while adrenaline flooded his veins. Sweat pooled in his hair, dripped down his back and off his face.
He wasn't at his peak, far from it. Twinges at his side kept him from going all out. When he closed in on that one point five mile mark, his stride slipped, and his muscles signaled the need to slow down.
"Almost there, babe," Danny panted at his side, red-faced, but determined.
Steve dug in, hit a second peak, Lori's whistle sounding in his ears as he reached the beach.
Kono handed him a bottle of water and he took a couple of swallows. With a surge of endorphins, he signaled that he was ready and they entered the sea together.
He used the sidestroke, the one required for the fitrep. This stroke had propelled him through the Gulf of Aden to the Red Sea, the stroke of his childhood and of a SEAL. And it was the stroke that would prove that he was still the man he was over two weeks ago.
He slowed to half speed, his chest aching. His oxygenation levels were off. He saw Kono a few feet away and used her strength to go the last hundred meters.
Staggering to his feet, he felt Kono take his arm and give him a slight push forward. "Two thirds down, only one third left, boss."
Chin threw him a towel and Steve wiped the sea salt from his eyes and face. Lori handed him another water bottle and Steve took three large gulps as he walked toward his back porch. His team followed close behind him as Steve reached one of the blue mats.
He and Chin began their push-ups side by side. Steve did the first ten on a runner and swimmer's high. By the eleventh push-up, his body screamed for him to stop.
But he went for twelve and thirteen, because his arms and shoulders had endured far worse, survived hanging from chains for hours. He did fourteen in spite of the pain. Completed fifteen at the memory a cattle prod against his skin.
Number nineteen was a slow, wobbly thing and he felt himself fading.
"Don't forget...we set our own bar, brah," Chin breathed next him, matching Steve push-up for push-up.
When he reached twenty, Steve screamed it at the top of his lungs.
"You're doing great," Joe told him. "Don't worry about the numbers, you'll build on them. This is recon. Now move on to the last stage."
He rolled onto his back, his heart ready to explode. Sweat stung his eyes and Steve looked over at Kono and Chin, at Danny's worried but determined face.
Steve looked at Joe as he readied for the last qualification. "Would you…?"
Joe took Steve's ankles and kept his feet steady. "You can do this, son."
Sharp pain assailed his side and chest with each sit-up.
"One," Chin breathed next to Steve.
Steve glanced over at Kono holding Chin's feet, Chin purposely keeping Steve's exact pace, locking eyes with him in fierce determination.
"Two," Steve grunted.
"Come on, boss!" Kono encouraged as Steve reached three.
"Just get to five, partner," Danny said crouching beside him. "Just do two more. It's a win, I promise."
Kono, Chin, and Lori yelled in unison when Steve hit number four.
Steve panted, but beneath the drone of pain, the support of his team drove him on, gave him strength.
With one last burst of energy, he curled forward, bent his body when it shouldn't. Pushed himself until his chin finally touched the top of his knees.
Steve lay on his back completely spent and heard the cheering of his team around him. Strong hands helped him sit and Steve leaned into his team, allowed their hands to shore him up.
And he held on to that. Dug his fingers into their shoulders, their arms. Rested his forehead onto the nearest neck and breathed, "Thank you."
Steve sat quietly on the lanai listening to the ocean, thinking about the events of today. Of that fulfilling moment on the beach with his team, but also of other things. Like why he was still wake in the middle of the night. He heard Danny wander over, his sleep-ruffled form barely illuminated by the moonlight.
"Do you know what time it is?" Danny grumbled.
"Neither do I, but it's late. Like even night crawlers are asleep. I thought you'd be out like a light after today?"
"Want to talk about it?"
Danny looked out at the waves and yawned. "So does that mean you know when you'll be returning to work?"
Steve thought about the circle he made in the calendar after the fitrep, but not the one he had planned to make that morning. "I have an appointment with someone on Monday. I'll know more then."
"You getting another physical? Because I don't think you really need one after today."
"I'm going to talk to someone on base. Someone who knows more about this stuff than I do."
Someone who could give Steve a piece of his missing shoreline.
"Oh. Wow. That's really good, babe. Seriously," Danny said. "If you don't mind me asking...what brought this on?"
"I took the victory today. I was able to gauge where I was physically, but...that's not going to get me back in total shape." Steve searched the stars in the sky, thought about his conversation with Joe in the kitchen. At the words in between the lines. "I've been hurt in the line of duty before. I know how to deal with that. But I've never been captured by the enemy. Never been...I thought maybe it was my fault. That if only I'd been smarter or stronger."
"I will never pretend to know what you experienced and I won't belittle you by saying that I understand. But I know what it's like to feel helpless in life and to be furious at not being able to fix or control things." Danny gently bumped his shoulder against Steve's. "As I've said before, you're not alone in this, babe."
"That is something I amsure of." Steve sought out Danny's eyes in the darkness. "I've always known that I had you guys. That you had my back. But after these last few weeks, after what you did for me today..."
"Okay, okay. Come here, you big oaf," Danny said, wrapping an arm around Steve and pulling him in a big bear hug. "God, stop trying to talk about feelings; it's obviously a foreign concept to you."
Steve laughed, hugging his friend back, and allowed himself to think that maybe he'd be okay soon, body andsoul.