Steve got home about an hour later. Alone. Everyone had accepted that he wanted some time to himself.
As it got dark outside, he found himself sitting in the study at his dad's old desk, staring at the Champ box in which he still kept all the pieces of evidence his father had collected – even after it had been stolen and its contents had been returned to him piece by piece. The stuff belonged in there, like the box itself was just another piece of the puzzle that he still hadn't been able to put together.
The thing somehow reminded him of Pandora's box. Nothing good had come out of it. The only difference was that there sure as hell was no hope left in it either.
He didn't intend to open the box tonight. Not that it would change anything, all the evils had already been released and couldn't be just locked back inside. Instead, they seemed to be spreading, slowly invading other parts of his life. Parts that he couldn't afford to be affected by the secrets and the lies and everything else. He couldn't let these things distract him from doing his job right. There was too much at stake. He couldn't risk other people getting hurt just because Shelburne and Joe and Wo Fat were on his mind.
More important things.
Yeah, maybe finding Joe, getting answers about Shelburne and locking Wo Fat away were more important to him than having a healthy, rich breakfast. But were they really more important than Five-0, than putting the scum that destroyed lives on this island behind bars? Wasn't it selfish of him to let his own demons get in the way of his promise to protect and serve the people of Hawaii?
Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't. It didn't matter anyway. Because even if he was being selfish, there was nothing he could do to change the fact that his job was starting to be affected by that other part of his life. And from here on out, things could only get worse – that much had become very clear today. The mess with Shelburne and everything connected to it wasn't something that could be compartmentalized, not anymore. It had gotten far too big to fit inside a box – he couldn't just lock it away, block it all out and be somebody else when he wore the badge.
The balance he had been trying to maintain had been disrupted, his grip on the situation was slipping.
Fight or flight.
That was what it came down to.
It was up to him. All he had to do was choose, do what he should have done months ago. Before his friends had risked their lives for him. Before Jenna had given hers.
Give up, admit defeat. Or take back control.
It was late, a little after eleven, when Steve walked into the anteroom of Denning's office. The room was dark, his assistant long gone home for the night. Denning hadn't, though. Steve had seen light in the windows of his office from the parking lot.
Taking one last, deep and deliberate breath, he knocked on the door.
"Come in," Denning's voice droned from inside, sounding as if he wasn't aware of the time.
Firmly gripping the handle, Steve pushed the door open and walked inside.
"Commander," Denning greeted, eyes narrowing apprehensively.
Sitting behind his desk, Denning looked at him for a long moment with pursed lips – as if he wasn't sure whether to say something or not. Eventually, he simply shook his head and waved a hand to the chairs in front of his desk. "Come on, sit." He dropped his elegant pen onto the desk and leaned back in his chair, watching Steve closely as he nodded and took a seat. "What can I do for you, Commander?"
"I need a favor," Steve stated simply.
Denning just quirked an eyebrow at the request. With one hand, he gestured to a well stocked serving cabinet to his left. "Can I offer you drink?"
Steve shook his head no.
Folding his hands above his stomach, Denning tilted his head to the side. "What do you need?"
"To do what?"
"To make sure I can do my job right again."
The left corner of Denning's mouth twitched up and he dropped his eyes to his hands for a short moment. "And what job exactly are you talking about?" he asked, looking up to meet Steve's eye again.
The question surprised Steve. "I'm sorry?" he asked, not sure what Denning meant.
"I was just wondering. Are you talking about your job as head of my task force? Or are you talking about your personal vendetta?"
"Sir, I don't–"
"Nine months ago," Denning cut in, his voice still calm, "when you requested that I reinstate Five-0, you asked me to do it so that you could bring in Wo Fat."
"I know, Sir, but–"
"See, when you're talking about the job, I'm not quite sure what exactly you're referring to," Denning said frowning, the tone of his voice hardening, "bringing down one man or protecting the people of Hawaii."
"Both," Steve stated firmly without thinking about it. "Sir, I'm not going to lie to you. I am not going to stop looking for Wo Fat until he is locked inside a cell without any chance of ever getting out again. But you knew that when you reinstated the task force."
"I did," Denning admitted with just a hint of a smile. "Make no mistake, Commander. I, too, want the bastard behind bars. What I'm concerned about is your personal involvement in all this. It's easy to lose sight of the big picture when you are too focused on just one man."
"I know, sir. That's why I'm here."
Steve inhaled a deep breath before he started to speak again. "As you know, Wo Fat is after someone or something called Shelburne. Joe White, he told me Shelburne was an alias he used when he killed Wo Fat's father. But I don't think that's the truth." He paused, looking for some kind of a reaction from Denning, but his face remained impassive. "I believe that Shelburne is the reason why my parents were murdered, I just– I don't know how it's all connected. I need to go and find Shelburne. Before I can get back to doing this job . . . I'm going to need some answers."
"Commander, I appreciate your position, but I can't send the team on a wild goose chase–"
"Not the team, sir," Steve said quickly, shaking his head. "I need to do this alone," he added, putting as much determination into his voice as he could muster. "As you said, this is personal. Wo Fat has hurt enough people I care about. I will not put anyone else in harm's way over this."
"No one but yourself," Denning noted softly.
"I need to do this. With your blessing or without it."
Denning just looked at him for a long moment, as if he was looking for something particular in the expression on his face. Steve held the man's gaze, hoping he looked at least half as sure about this as he felt.
"If you're going to do this no matter what I say then why are you even here?" Denning asked eventually.
"Because this job means a lot to me. And I know I'm asking a lot, but I was hoping that it would still be here for me by the time I get back."
Pursing his lips, Denning nodded, his expression softening perceptibly. "Commander, in spite of our occasional differences, I do appreciate what you're doing for the people of this State. And I'm not just talking about the team you put together, but also you personally."
"Thank you, sir," Steve said with a frown, slightly taken aback by the unexpected compliment.
"Finding an adequate replacement would be a pain and, frankly, I don't have the time to look."
"How much time do you need?" It wasn't a 'yes', but with Denning, Steve didn't really expect to get any direct answer.
"As long as it takes."
"Fair enough. When are you leaving?"
"Tonight?" Denning asked, eyebrows raised in surprise.
"I can't waste any more time." Because he had already wasted months. Waiting. For Wo Fat to make his next move. For Joe to finally tell him the truth about everything. He should have known better. Problems didn't get solved by waiting for the solution come to you.
"What about the rest of the team? Have you told them yet?"
"No," Steve said, setting his jaw. This was the hardest part. Leaving without telling anyone, not even Danny. It felt like betrayal. But it was the only way to make sure no one else got hurt. "If I tell them before I leave they're not going to let me go alone." The only way to keep them safe. They had already followed him to North Korea, not knowing if any of them would even be able to return home – to the people they loved. The people who loved and needed them – more than he did. He couldn't risk to let that happen again.
"They are good people." Denning smiled softly. "Are you sure you don't need any back-up?"
"No, I'm not," Steve answered honestly. He had no idea what he was walking into, what to expect. He probably could use some back-up. "But as I've said, I'm not putting anyone else in danger over this. Not the team, not anyone else."
"You said something about resources. What did you have in mind?"
"Nothing in particular." He shrugged, glad to be moving on to a slightly different topic. "I have a lot contacts in the Navy, some favors to cash in. But I'm not sure what to expect, so–"
"Well, you have my number, Commander. I'm not making any promises, but you know how to reach me."
"Thank you, sir," Steve said with an appreciative nod, getting up from the chair. "For everything."
Denning simply nodded and stood, too. "Godspeed, Commander."
I'm sorry I couldn't be there in person to tell you this, but I need to find Joe White. I think he lied to me about the identity of Shelburne and I need to get the truth. Shelburne is the real reason my father was murdered, and maybe even my mother. And until I get some answers I can't do this job right.
Danno, I'm going to need you to hold down the fort for a while. I'll be in touch.
Steve re-read the letter a few times after he had finished writing it. It was a compromise – a far cry from what Danny deserved, but a lot more than what he felt was safe to offer. And he couldn't just leave without an explanation. There was, after all, a chance that he might not come back at all.
With a sigh, he folded the letter, slid it into an envelope and wrote the name on it.
With the letter in his hand, he got up from the desk and walked over to the door to his office. He flipped the light switch and turned to look over his shoulder. He never spent much time in this room, tried to avoid it, actually. The paper work wasn't exactly his favorite part of the job. But still, he already missed this place.
Sucking in a deep breath, he turned around and walked across the dark main room. The door to Danny's office stood slightly ajar. Steve pushed it open and, reluctantly, walked into his partner's office. This was it. This was goodbye.
Laying the letter down on the desk, carefully, Steve suddenly felt like a coward, like he was cheating Danny out of something – maybe his chance to say goodbye. All of this wasn't fair to him. But it was the only way to make sure Danny wouldn't be in the seat next to him on the plane to Japan that would take off from Wheeler at 0230 sharp. And he really couldn't let Danny come with him. Gracie, smiling at him from the pictures on his partner's desk was all the confirmation Steve needed. She needed Danno more than he did.
"Goodbye Danno. See you soon."
- The End-
A/N: Okay, so . . . this is it. I hope you enjoyed this last (rather short) chapter. I want to thank everyone who actually made it all the way to the end. Thanks for sticking around and a huge thank you to those who kindly shared their thoughts on each chapter. I really, really appreciate it!