Author's Notes: A fix-it for "Ka Ho´oponopono" (2x13), because the ending of this episode wouldn't stop haunting me. The title of my story is taken from the following quote by Walter Anderson, "We're never so vulnerable than when we trust someone - but paradoxically, if we cannot trust, neither can we find love or joy".
Many, many thanks go to my betas, verasteine (for her patience and for being critical in the best possible way) and zolac_no_miko (for having an eagle eye for details and for always teaching me new things).
Spoilers: massive ones for 2x10, 2x13
Warnings: language, mention of violence and torture, PTSD symptoms
NEVER SO VULNERABLE
The car door bangs shut and Steve stares at the back of Joe's head through the window. Joe slowly walks away, not looking back once. Steve drops his gaze, listens to Joe's receding steps on the pavement.
He notices Joe's gait is slightly unsteady, though he doesn't falter and doesn't allow himself to pause. Steve knows only too well how it feels like to have someone beat the crap out of you to force you to give up information, remembers the sound and feel of fists hitting flesh and the metallic taste of blood in his mouth.
He swallows, represses a touch of nausea.
There's a small voice inside of Steve urging him to go after Joe, to not allow him to leave like this, to make sure he gets home safely, but he can't make himself move. He sits there, staring at the deserted street, seeing Joe's bloodied face instead.
He thinks about secrets and insubordination and the feeling of warm, firm hands on his shoulders while he's sitting on the floor of a rickety old helicopter carrying him towards safety and home.
Steve's eyes close, and suddenly he's feeling shaky. He knows he's coming down from the adrenaline rush and it's time to get home. He wants nothing more than to fall into his bed, go to sleep, and forget this day ever happened, but he can't shut off the images and voices whirling around inside of his head.
There's Jenna's bloodied, lifeless body lying on the dirty floor of the bunker like a discarded rag doll; there's the nauseating smell of blood and burnt skin and Wo Fat's voice demanding to know about Shelburne; Hiro Noshimuri in the trunk of Joe's car, beaten and bound; images of burnt-out cars and the voice of a stranger talking to his father at the front door; the expression on Adam Noshimuri's face when Steve points his gun at him; Joe's voice insisting over and over again he's trying to protect him.
Steve opens his eyes again, shakes his head. He balls his hands into fists and hits the steering wheel, hard, welcomes the pain as an escape from the chaos inside his own head. He wonders if his world will ever start making sense again.
His fingers curl around the top of the steering wheel in a white-knuckled grip, and he's startled by a sudden feeling of pain when his skin tenses. He stares down at his hands, notices hand-shaped bruises forming on his right forearm.
For a moment, he's confused to see them there, but then he recalls Sutherland holding on to him for dear life, remembers desperately fighting to keep a grip on him and feeling him slip out of his grasp…
Steve looks away, tries to suppress the bitter feeling of failure and guilt. This afternoon – no, yesterday –seems like a lifetime ago. Resting his elbows on the wheel, he presses the heels of his hands against his eyes, forcing himself to focus.
A car horn honks directly behind his truck, causing his hand to go for his weapon before he realizes his truck's still parked in the middle of the street, blocking the way. He hesitates, his eyes straying to where he'd last seen Joe, then he tears his gaze away.
Joe is able to handle himself and Steve knows he can't handle Joe right now. Keeping a wary eye on the rearview mirror, he starts the engine.
There's another honk from behind and then the car swerves around Steve's truck on the left. Steve tenses when the silver SUV passes, resisting the urge to draw and duck. He's only able to relax once the SUV's in front of him, pulling away fast. He keeps his eyes on the tail lights of the car until they vanish around the next corner.
He knows he has to get to a place where he's secure, where he's able to hole up and think and make sense of the mess his life has become. He needs to get home.
Steve forces himself to concentrate on the street and driving and not on the thoughts and images still vying for attention inside of his own head. It helps that he's on the highway now which is never really deserted, even at this time of the night.
He splits his attention between the other cars and the street, his eyes honing in on a black BMW coming up behind him. He slows down, forces the other car to pass and keeps an eye on it until he's sure there's no danger.
Steve hasn't gotten very far when his phone starts vibrating on the dashboard, making him start.
The truck swerves, but he quickly gets it under control again. He pulls his car over and grabs for the phone, thinking of all the things that have already gone wrong today and wondering what else might have happened to make someone call him at this time of the night.
He has eleven missed calls and there's Danny's name flashing on the screen. He doesn't know if he's relieved or disappointed not to see Joe's name instead, but settles for relieved, deciding that no news is likely to be good news. Steve hesitates for a moment, then accepts the call.
Danny's voice sounds tense, and Steve fingers tighten around the cell while he waits for him to go on.
"Steve? You there, babe? Come on, talk to me!"
Realizing he hasn't made a sound yet, Steve forces himself to say, "Yeah, I'm here."
"Thank God," Danny mumbles, and then yells, "Where the hell have you been?"
Steve winces, quickly putting the cell down and on speaker. "Danny-" he begins, but that's as far as he gets.
"What kind of crap are you and Joe pulling now, huh? Is this some super-secret ninja stealth mission kind of thing or what? Did you think we wouldn't notice when you and Joe suddenly vanish without a trace for hours, especially now that Joe's become Mr. Popular in yakuza circles? Are you half on your way to Japan now, is that it?"
Steve blinks, bewildered. "What? No, I'm-"
"So help me God, Steven, if I find you anywhere near something that qualifies as an airport or with a boarding pass to any kind of obscure destination I'll not be responsible for my actions! If you have any intention at all of joining Joe on his crazy crusades from now on I'm going to kick your ass, you hear me?
"I may have gotten used to your brand of crazy by now, but it's beginning to get obvious that Joe's even worse, and I refuse to deal with two of your kind on a daily basis! I doubt my blood pressure could take it, and I have a daughter to think of!"
Steve's patience snaps. "Will you listen for a moment?" he yells. "I'm not on my way to Japan, I'm not planning on going there, and if Joe does I'm sure I'd be the last one to know about it!"
No one's more surprised at his outburst than Steve himself. He rubs one hand over his face, feeling vaguely embarrassed.
There's sudden silence on the other end of the line.
"Fine," Danny finally says, sounding a bit calmer. "That's… good to know, I guess. The first part, at least."
"Jeez, Danny, where the hell do you even come up with ideas like that?" Steve asks, trying for levity and knowing he just sounds forced.
"Precedent and experience, babe."
"So what did Joe do now?" Danny wants to know.
Steve wishes he had kept his mouth shut. How quickly Danny's able to change mental and emotional gears during one single conversation never fails to blindside him. He opens his mouth to say something, but Danny once again beats him to it.
"And don't you dare say 'nothing', because nothing doesn't get you pissed off like that, alright?"
Steve closes his mouth again with a mutinous glare at the phone. He thinks of Joe and Adam and Hiro Noshimuri, but there are too many things to say and yet not enough and he's not sure he wants to talk about any of it at all.
He's distracted by the headlights of another car, watches them coming closer and slow down a bit until the car has finally passed him. He tracks the tail lights in the rearview mirror until they are gone.
He realizes he can't stay here. His truck's out of the way of the other cars, but it's Kalanianaole Highway. He's out in the open, in plain sight, and it's his usual way home. It's too obvious, and he's sure Adam Noshimuri knows where he lives.
"Steve? Hey, anybody home? You still there, babe?"
"Yeah," Steve says tersely, coming to a decision. "Listen, I can't talk now. Just hang on for a moment, okay? I need to… change location." Staying isn't an option, but this is a conversation he can't have while driving.
"Okay," Danny says, stretching the word in a way that makes it sound more like what the fuck, but he falls silent as if able to sense that Steve can't afford to divide his attention.
Steve starts his truck for the second time and steers it back on the highway. He drives until he's reasonably sure he hasn't picked up a tail, passes two intersections and then turns right at the next one.
He keeps his eyes fixed on the rear mirror while he's driving slowly through the residential street. There are no headlights and no movement on the street behind him.
Steve takes a left turn into a smaller side street and parks there next to a Bougainvillea hedge. He shuts off the engine, feeling himself relax a bit when there's still nothing to see in his rearview mirror. No one will find him here, and if someone followed him, he'll see them coming.
"That bad, huh?" Danny's voice breaks the lingering silence before Steve can, as if he somehow knows it's safe to talk again.
"What?" Steve gets the feeling he's lost the thread of the conversation somewhere between here and the highway.
"Look," Danny explains, "I may not be able to see you right now, but I know you and I'm getting some definite paranoid vibes here, okay? Come on, Steve, what's going on? What's wrong?"
It turns out all it takes to make what's left of Steve's defenses crumble is a simple question. He can't help it – he laughs. It's bitter and a little bit desperate, and he doesn't even know where to begin answering Danny's question.
"Okay, that's it," Danny says, his voice tense again. "Sit tight. I'll come and get you."
"What?" Steve says, startled. "No, you won't! I'm perfectly capable of driving home on my own, Danny!"
"Yeah? So why the hell aren't you doing it?"
"Because I'm talking to you!"
"I seem to recall that's never stopped you from driving before."
Steve pinches the bridge of his nose. "I don't-" he starts, when something Danny's said suddenly registers in his mind. "You've been tracking me!"
"Yep. Well, actually Kono did. You know I'm not great with stuff like that. She says hi, by the way. Look, Steve, I came by your house after work and you were gone. I tried to call you for two hours, but all I got was your voicemail. Then I tried calling Joe, only to find out he's not answering his phone, too.
"So I might have gotten a little bit worried, especially considering what happened the last time you didn't answer your phone, not to mention Joe's new hobby of poking the angry yakuza bear. That's when I called Chin and after discussing our options we decided to better be safe than sorry, even if it meant stepping on some Navy SEAL toes.
"As a result Kono got to play with the magic table and track down the GPS of your truck and phone, Chin's busy breaking into Joe's apartment right now, and I was planning on grabbing Lori and staking out Adam Noshimuri's house if everything else fails."
Steve blinks, tries to take in what he's just heard. He's still stuck on Chin breaking into Joe's apartment and Danny planning a stake-out at Adam Noshimuri's house, when Danny speaks up again.
"Oh, and just in case you're intending to get all big bad Super SEAL at us now for violating your privacy or any crap like that you might want to keep in mind that all of this might have been avoided if someone would have seen fit to simply answer his goddamn phone!"
Steve props one elbow against the window and presses his fist against his temple, not really sure if he's pissed, or stunned, or something else entirely.
"I was… busy," he says, feeling the vague need to defend himself.
"I bet," Danny retorts. "Since you obviously aren't that busy anymore now, would you please just tell me what the hell was so important that it caused you and Joe to go into secret-ninja-mode and disappear for hours in the middle of the night?"
Steve sighs. There's no way this conversation will go over well. "Look, Danny," he tries one more time, "can we talk this over later? Like, tomorrow?"
"I don't think so," Danny replies, his voice unyielding. "The last time you sounded this bad and I let you go, I ended up watching you get arrested for murder after breaking into the governor's mansion, so excuse me if I'm not really keen on a repeat performance."
There's barely veiled worry in his voice just below the irritation and Steve knows he's finally done it. There's no way Danny will allow him to drop the topic now.
Deciding to just get it over with, he says, "Adam Noshimuri kidnapped Joe and I got him out."
There's a moment of dead silence on the other end of the line.
"There are so many things wrong with what you just said that I don't even know where to start," Danny then says slowly, his voice carefully controlled.
"Did you really just say that you broke into the house of Adam Noshimuri, the current head of the yakuza, alone, without telling anyone where you were going and why, without even leaving a goddamn note? Please, please tell me I got that wrong and there's some kind of reasonable, sane interpretation of what I just heard!"
"I knew what I was doing, Danny," Steve retorts with a hint of annoyance. "It was hardly my first rescue mission."
"You're not on some kind of SEAL-mission here, Steven! In case you have forgotten, this is Hawaii and not the 'Stan!"
Steve sighs inwardly, rests his head on his hand. "Look-"
"Why the hell didn't you call for backup?"
"There was no time," Steve snaps. "I didn't know how long they'd keep Joe alive."
"Phone call, Steve," Danny counters, sounding distinctly unimpressed. "As we've established before, you're perfectly able of making one phone call while driving."
"It was Joe, alright? I owe him, Danny!"
"That's no excuse to go and get yourself killed, dammit!"
"Danny, he saved my life! He lost his goddamn career because of me! Getting him out of there was the least I could do."
"I know that, babe, okay? If you think I'll ever be able to forget what happened in North Ko-" Danny breaks off abruptly, inhales deeply.
Steve's breath hitches and suddenly his skin feels too tight, but then Danny continues and Steve hones in on his words, uses them as an anchor.
"Okay," Danny says, "let's try that again. I'm grateful to Joe and I get what he means to you, I really do, he's family, but what the hell do you think the rest of us are? How do you think I would have felt, would Kono and Chin have felt, if you had managed to get yourself killed tonight, huh? You ever think of that, Steve? You're not in this alone!"
"I'm not that easy to kill, Danno," Steve says. He's trying to sound reassuring, but he's not sure he manages to do more than keep his voice steady. "I knew what I was doing. There was no need to drag any of you into this."
Steve's only too aware of what his friends are willing to risk – have already risked – on his behalf. He's more grateful than he could ever say, but sometimes the what-could-have-beens still make him start up from his sleep in a cold sweat.
He's not about to put their lives at risk if he doesn't have to.
Danny sighs. "Look, I know you're trained for this kind of stuff, and I don't doubt your abilities or what you're capable of, but that's entirely not the point here! I don't care whatever harebrained reasons you had for once again going it alone, no matter how noble and self-sacrificing they undoubtedly were.
"What I do care about is keeping you in one piece, if only because, for some reason, Grace has gotten fond of you and would be really, really unhappy if something happened to her Uncle Steve. The problem is, I'm sometimes getting the impression I'm the only one of the two of us who thinks that's important!"
He stops, and Steve hears a thud in the background that sounds suspiciously like a fist hitting a solid object. He can't help wincing.
"You know what, I really can't do this over the phone," Danny says, sounding both weary and frustrated. "I want to see your face while I'm yelling at you, so let's talk about this later, okay?"
Steve considers saying no, because he can and because he's not in the mood for any more lectures or arguments tonight, but then he remembers Danny's worried tone and his own annoyance crumbles right along with his resolve. "Fine," he murmurs grudgingly.
A slight movement outside of the car draws his attention and he quickly scans the street, but it's only some branches swaying in the breeze. He checks the rearview mirror, but there's nothing to see. The street's as empty and quiet as when he first arrived.
"Good. Now that that's settled, there's one other question I need you to answer right now. Are you hurt? Are you really on your way home or to the nearest ER?"
"That's two questions, Danno," Steve says, because he can't help himself.
"Yes, Steven, that's two questions. Thank you for stating the obvious. How about answering them? That's what you normally do when someone asks you a question, just in case you don't know, which, I'm sure, is probably a very real possibility in your case."
Steve slumps a bit in his seat, leans his shoulder against the car door. "I'm fine, Danny."
He hears Danny take a deep breath.
"Okay, you'll forgive me if I don't find that statement as reassuring as you probably think it is. Just to clarify, are we talking about the I-got-my-head-bashed-in-but-I'm-used-to-it kind of fine, or the the-bullet-didn't-hit-any-vital-organs kind of fine, or perhaps my personal favorite, the I-just-fell-down-a-cliff-but-I've-had-worse kind of fine, or a real, honest I'm-fine kind of fine? Because, after what you just told me, I'm finding that kind of hard to believe, though I'd really, really like to."
"Danny, will you stop it?" Steve asks, exasperated.
"I'll stop as soon as you tell me the truth."
Steve rolls his eyes, even though he knows Danny can't see it. "There's not a single scratch on me, okay? I'm fine."
There's a short pause.
"Not a single scratch?" Danny echoes then, his voice wavering between disbelief and suspicion. "Really? I am talking to Steve McGarrett, right?"
"Yes, Danny, really. What do you want me to do, swear a holy oath or something?"
"… No. No, it's okay."
There's barely hidden relief in Danny's voice and Steve feels a touch of remorse when he realizes he's managed to really scare Danny tonight.
"I guess that leaves Joe then," Danny adds after a moment, causing Steve to cast a wary glance at the cell.
"Don't get me wrong, Steve, I'm glad you're still in one piece, but for a man who has just successfully conducted a rescue mission you seem to be in a rather sour mood. I also can't help noticing that you seem to be more angry with Joe than with Adam Noshimuri right now. I know it's probably none of my business, but I can't help wondering what exactly Joe did this time."
Steve closes his eyes, rubs one hand over his face. Trust Danny to always put his finger right into open wounds. "Danny..."
Steve sighs. "I'm not angry, I'm just..." He tries to find words that will make sense to Danny without giving too much away, but fails.
"...tired." he finally says, and it's the truth, even if it's only a very small part of it.
"Yeah, I get that," Danny says, his voice softening.
He pauses for a moment, but when Steve doesn't speak, he asks, "Joe's alright, though, isn't he?"
"Yeah," Steve replies wearily, trying not to think of Joe's bloody face and the glimpses he's seen of what went on in Adam Noshimuri's house tonight. "Yeah, I guess he is. He took quite a beating, but it's nothing he can't handle. He didn't say anything, but he'll get help if he needs it."
"You gotta love Navy SEALs," Danny murmurs under his breath. "So why isn't Mr. Tough Guy with you? Where is he?"
"… I don't know."
"What do you mean, you don't know?" Danny asks, confused.
"He got out of the car and walked away," Steve says, trying not to sound bitter. "I don't know where he went, and right now, I don't really care."
There's a moment of silence, but Danny's thinking so loud Steve can almost hear him over the phone.
"What did he do?" Danny asks, again in that soft tone he sometimes has. Steve finds himself wishing they could go back to the yelling.
He looks out of the window at the deserted street and dark hedges. There's no movement in the puddles of light from the street lamps, nor in the shadows in between.
"He helped Hiro Noshimuri fake his death," he says, keeping his gaze fixed on the flowers of the Bougainvillea hedge right in front of him.
It doesn't make any more sense now that he's said it out loud.
"He did what? Whoa, whoa, back up for a moment, okay? I thought Joe killed that guy! Why the hell would he help him?"
Steve can't help smiling a bit at hearing Danny echo his own question to Joe. His smile turns bitter when he stares at the empty seat beside him and feels once again the hot sting of rejection.
Hearing Joe say he had helped the man escape who had given the order to murder Steve's mother had felt like a slap in the face… or perhaps more like being stabbed in the back.
"I have no idea, Danny," Steve brings himself to say. "Joe refused to tell me anything."
"He simply sprung that on you, just like that?"
Steve tells him about the little argument he had with Joe about starting a war with the yakuza and Danny huffs.
"Don't take it personally, Steve, but that Army of yours doesn't teach manners in SEAL school, does it? In normal society, it's usual to say 'thank you' when someone saves your ass and not blame them for your own mistakes."
Steve looks at the phone and can't decide whether to shake his head or smile. "It's the Navy, Danny," he says in a long-suffering tone, and then adds, "I guess Joe just doesn't like to need rescuing."
"Yeah," Danny says. "I get that – invincible Navy SEAL and all that crap – but you know what? I didn't hear you snap at us when we came for you in North Korea."
Steve freezes, wishes that damn subject would stop coming up tonight. His hands curl into fists, clenching so tightly that his fingernails threaten to break the skin of his palms. He tries to fix his gaze on the street lamp, the flowers, but there are too many shadows outside, closing in on him like the walls of an old bunker.
Suddenly, his head's filled with noise – voices, electric sizzling, screams, the clanking of chains, the sound of gunshots.
I trusted you.
It wasn't for nothing.
Tell me about Shelburne.
What about Joe White? What did he tell you?
Joe White… Joe White doesn't know anything about Shelburne, okay?
I was tortured over Shelburne. I was tortured!
He grits his teeth hard enough that it hurts, forces himself to breathe, to look at the familiar interior of his truck all around him and the flowers outside, to feel the seat upholstery pressing against his back and thighs.
There's a hint of worry in Danny's voice and Steve tries to speak, to tell Danny to give him a moment, but all he gets out is, "Danny, I-" before the words get stuck in his throat.
"Shit," Danny mutters.
Tell me about Shelburne.
There's a burning pain and Steve knows his fingernails have broken through skin.
What about Joe White? What did he tell you?
"It's alright, babe. Just take it easy, okay? You're alright."
Danny's familiar voice breaks through the sounds and voices in Steve's head and he latches on to it, uses it to orient himself, to push the other voices echoing inside his head down and away. There's a new sound in the background and needs a moment to figure out Danny's pacing.
"You back with me, babe? Steve?"
Steve forces himself to slowly unclench his fingers, takes another shuddering breath. He wipes suddenly sweaty palms on his trousers, ignoring the blood stains he's leaving on the fabric. His heart's pounding in his chest as if he's just been through a fight and his throat feels parched.
"Yeah," he finally manages to bite out. "I'm… here."
Danny releases a breath.
Steve rolls the window down, just enough so it's slightly ajar and he's able to breathe the cool night air. The breeze carries the scent of flowers and the salty tang of the sea. He focuses on inhaling and exhaling slowly and evenly, keeps his gaze locked on familiar sights, reminds himself where he is.
It's the worst reaction he's had for weeks and he knows he has no one to blame for this but himself.
"Sorry," he says hoarsely. So much for trying to reassure Danny.
"Cut the crap, will you?" Danny says, but there's no real heat in his words. "What is it with you and apologizing for things that are not your fault? I should have known better than to bring that up after the night you've had. Are you alright?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I'm good." Steve rubs one hand over the stubble on his face, tries to think.
"You…" he begins, has to clear his throat and try again. "It's not your fault. I… I brought it up before. With Joe."
Danny has fallen silent, but Steve knows he's listening intently, can feel the weight of his attention.
"I guess I just kind of… snapped. When he told me about Hiro."
Steve falls silent for a moment, gathering his thoughts. Danny doesn't say anything, doesn't interrupt, just waits, and Steve's grateful for it.
"Joe's known about Shelburne all along, Danny. He knew. I told Wo Fat he didn't know anything, but he did. Jenna's dead because of Shelburne and I-"
His voice chokes and he has to break off. There's the sound of gunshots reverberating in his head and he feels himself shudder.
"I just wanted – needed – to know why," he breathes.
It wasn't for nothing.
Steve thinks of Jenna's lifeless body on the floor of that bunker and he's not sure he agrees.
"Did he tell you?" Danny's gentle question brings him back, and the understanding in his voice almost feels like too much.
Suddenly, Steve's glad he's talking to Danny on the phone. He doesn't think he could bear to see Danny's face right now and he doesn't want anyone to see whatever's showing on his.
He pulls himself together, concentrates on Danny's question.
"No," he says. "He tried to get me to back down and when I didn't he just… got out and left."
He's not sure what hurts more, the rejection or the indifference towards the sacrifices that have been made, towards what he himself and his team had to go through because of Shelburne, because of secrets Joe's known about all this time.
It's so silent in the car and on the other end of the line that he can hear Danny breathe. He leans his head against the cool window and listens, starts counting the breaths.
"I'm sorry," Danny finally says when Steve has counted to twenty-nine, his voice so quiet that Steve has to strain to hear him.
Steve almost asks what for, but stops himself. He knows what Danny's referring to, and it's all the things he doesn't want to think about and wishes he could simply forget.
"Don't be," he manages to say.
Danny breathes a sigh, makes an exasperated little sound, but doesn't comment. "So where does that leave us with Joe?" he asks instead.
Steve straightens and shifts in his seat, dropping his head against the headrest. Staring at the ceiling of the car, he thinks of Joe's words, of watching him walk away.
"I don't know," he breathes, and it's hard to get the words out through the sudden lump in his throat. It feels like betrayal to even consider not trusting Joe. He can't bring himself to think about this right now – it's too much.
"You don't have to," Danny says quietly, making Steve realize he must have said at least part of his thoughts out loud. "It's alright. We can talk this over some other time, preferably after we've gotten some sleep."
He pauses, and then adds, "Listen, Steve, there's no reason yet to expect the worst, okay? Joe might get his senses back sooner than you think and perhaps he'll even be able to come up with some kind of mostly harmless explanation for all this shit. But until then… you know we have your back, right?"
"Yes," Steve replies, without thought. If all the crap that's happened to him lately has taught him one thing, it's that his team has his back – even if he doesn't want them to.
"Good, because we do. We're in this together, okay? You need to remember that goes for the entire Joe situation, too. We'll get to the bottom of this, I promise. We'll figure things out. Just give it a little time, babe."
"Okay." Steve's not sure if he shares Danny's optimism, but he's willing to try. Even if Danny's just made a promise he probably won't be able to keep.
"Do you want Chin to stay at Joe's apartment a while longer, wait for Joe and see who else might show up?" Danny asks.
Steve thinks back to finding Joe's cell on the floor, the keys still in the lock, remembers Joe leaving the car and his unsteady gait when he walked away.
His gaze catches on the glovebox.
"I have his phone and his keys," he says, realizing for the first time that Joe's left without them.
"I still have Joe's cell phone and the keys to his apartment," Steve clarifies. "I didn't even notice-" He breaks off.
"Joe's just as good at improvising as you are, Steve," Danny reminds him. "I doubt he'll need them."
Steve can't really argue with that.
"Chin will need backup," he points out. "Just in case."
"I thought about asking Kono to join him."
Steve pauses for a moment, considers what he's asking Chin and Kono to do and the way Joe's acted tonight.
"There's no need," he says, coming to a decision. "I'll meet him there."
"Oh no, no, no, the hell you will, McGarrett!" Danny retorts instantly. "The only place where you, my friend, are going tonight is home and your bed. You're definitely not going anywhere near Joe again, you hear me? Did you listen to a single word I told you before? Just stop being your stubborn stoic SEAL-self already and let us help for once, alright?"
Steve hesitates, feeling torn. He doesn't want another confrontation with Joe – if he's honest with himself, he doesn't even want to see him, certainly not tonight and perhaps not for a while to come, but he's not sure Danny's getting the whole picture here.
"Joe will not be in a good mood," he warns.
"Yeah, well, neither am I, nor will Chin or Kono be once they learn about this mess. Joe's not going to shoot them, Steve, and besides, they're able to handle themselves. Chin's the scary guy with the shotgun and Kono's Sniper Woman, remember?"
Steve snorts. "They might just need some big guns to be able to handle Joe tonight," he murmurs.
"Well, if worst comes to worst I'll help them hide the evidence," Danny says.
"I know, not funny. I'm sorry, Steve. I'll never forget what Joe did for us, both when you were accused of murdering the governor and… later on. We owe him big time, and I know you and Joe are close, but as far as I'm concerned he's still crossed a line tonight. If he wants to spend his retirement playing Mr. Secretive and doing his best to commit suicide-by-yakuza that's his problem, but he has to stop dragging you into his messes."
"I can take care of myself, Danny, and I'm quite capable of making my own decisions," Steve says with a frown. "Joe didn't 'drag me into his mess'."
"Yes, he did, but I don't want to argue about this now. Listen, Steve, if anyone has to deal with Joe over the next couple of days, let us do it, okay? He needs to cool off and you need a break.
"If he decides to pretend he's killed someone else, or give another member of the yakuza a ride in his trunk, he's on his own. We'll try our best to keep him safe, if he lets us, but that's it. And with 'we' I mean all of us, not you!"
Steve narrows his eyes at the phone. "I can take care of my own problems, Danny."
"Yes, you can," Danny agrees, "but you don't have to. You have friends who are willing to help, remember? Besides, Joe's problems are not necessarily yours."
Steve knows Danny's words are making sense and he has to admit to himself he's thoroughly fed up with Joe's secrets and crazy stunts. He doesn't want to face Joe again before the memory of this night has faded.
Steve's not in the habit of making promises he can't keep, though. "Danny…"
Before he can find the right words, Danny's talking again. "For God's sake, I'm not asking you to turn your back on him while he lies bleeding at your doorstep, Steven! Let's just give the two of you – mostly him – some time to calm down and figure things out, okay?"
"Yeah, okay," Steve finally concedes, swallowing his pride.
He feels the last of the tension drain out of him and suddenly he's so tired, he thinks could go to sleep right here and now. He rubs one hand over his eyes, wonders if it would be such a bad thing to sleep in his car for one night.
"Good," Danny says, sounding both relieved and satisfied. "Okay, here's what we're going to do now: You'll drive home, no detours, no rescue missions, no interfering with any robberies-in-progress. Got it? I'll be there as soon as I can."
"You don't have to-"
"Yes, I do, Steven. I brought some beer when I came by earlier and I refuse to let it go to waste. So, I'll come by and if, I say if, you really happen to be in one piece I might consider not yelling at you until tomorrow. Deal?"
"Okay," Steve says.
"Why did you come to my house?" Steve asks before Danny can hang up, reaching for the ignition key.
"Well, after the thing that happened with Sutherland… you seemed to take it pretty badly, babe, which, I have to admit, was only natural given the circumstances, so I thought I'd drop by with some beer later to try and hammer it into your thick skull that his death wasn't your fault."
Steve doesn't know what to say to that, so he settles for starting the engine. A tiny part of him's feeling grateful for Danny's faith in him, but there's another, bigger part where he's not sure if he agrees with Danny's assessment that Sutherland's death wasn't his fault.
He's the one who couldn't hold on to him and who managed to drop him and he can't forget the horror in the man's eyes when he slipped out of his grip and started to fall. Sutherland was an unscrupulous bastard, but Steve still can't help feeling he failed him.
Steve's too tired to argue with Danny, though, especially about something he doesn't even want to think about.
"Yeah, that's what I thought," Danny says. "That's another conversation we're going to have tomorrow, babe. I'm on my way to the parking lot right now."
Steve steers his truck back on the street. He's thinking about Adam and the yakuza and empty parking lots and too many people who know where he works, with whom he works, and where he lives.
"Be careful, okay? I probably did start a war with the yakuza tonight."
There's a short pause. "If you did, it wasn't your fault."
"Maybe not, but it still happened."
"Yeah, I'll give you that," Danny says. "I'll be careful. Actually, I'm never not careful. Just try to follow my lead for a change and get yourself home in one piece, okay? That includes not breaking any speed limits and remember, no detours, not for rescuing Navy SEALs in peril, or any kitten stuck in a tree!"
"You'd really want me to leave some poor girl's kitten stuck in a tree?"
"Better the kitten than you."
"Hey! I know how to climb trees!"
"Right now, the only thing you need to know how to do is drive. Home. Slowly and carefully."
Steve hears the sound of a car door opening and closing, followed by the familiar roar of the Camaro's engine. In front of him, he can see the lights of Kalanianaole Highway.
"I can do that," he says.
"I should hope so. Figuring out traffic rules can't be that much of a challenge for an ex-Navy Intelligence guy who's used to cracking complicated codes."
"Yeah, but deciphering codes is fun and traffic rules are boring."
"… That actually explains a lot. I swear you're more of a child than Gracie sometimes. If you think you can manage to stay awake without my help I'm going to call Chin now, make sure he knows what's going on."
"I'll be fine. Danno?"
Danny hangs up and Steve reaches over and presses the disconnect-button on his cell display. Taking a right turn, he pulls his car out on Kalanianaole Highway, pointing it towards home.
The situation hasn't changed since Joe's left the car, but Steve's feeling calmer now, and he's quite sure he'll be able to sleep tonight. He's beginning to think there may be a solution to this mess, even though he can't see it yet.
For now, all Steve's still willing to deal with for the rest of the time he's awake is a shower, a beer, and convincing Danny he's alright before he ends up falling asleep in a chair somewhere.
Joe, the yakuza, and Shelburne can wait until another day.
- The End -