Word Count: 9k
Spoilers: Through mid-season two.
Warnings: Contains war violence, language, and OC character death.
Thank you to mischief5 for her wonderful input, suggestions, and support.
Steve opens the door and the uniformed lieutenant stiffens upon seeing him. Steve knows within seconds why the officer is here, why he can't look him in the eyes. "Is your father home, son?"
Steve's mouth doesn't work; he just stares at the officer's regretful face. Before he understands what is happening, Dad ushers Steve into the living room as he steps onto the porch. The stove timer buzzes, the scent of roast chicken wafting in the air, and for a split second, Steve thinks Mom will freak out if it burns.
Then it hits him, like two hands shoving him off a cliff so fast he can barely catch his breath.
Is this real?
He looks out the window and a cold realization grips his spine, sinking into bones. His mother is never coming home again; she'll never walk through that door and complain about Steve's football equipment lying on the sofa or fuss at Mary for talking on the phone instead of doing homework.
A sharp pain rips through his heart and into his gut.
"Is it true?"
He whips his head around at the sound of Mary's strangled voice, her eyes red and puffy. Steve forces his legs to bend, lifting his sister into a giant hug. "It's okay, Mar. I've got you."
"I overheard that cop...he said...said it was a car accident?"
He didn't overheard hear anything, his thoughts drowned out by the damn stove blaring in the background.
Dad slowly walks inside in a daze and closes the door, leaning against it as he stares vacantly up at the ceiling.
Steve takes a step forward, but his father throws up a hand and Steve freezes, confused, his chest hitching. "Dad?"
"I've got...I've got to make some calls." His father shoves himself upright, nostrils flaring. "Don't you smell that smoke, Steve?"
Mary clutches Steve's shoulders and he's torn between reassuring her, running toward the kitchen, and begging his father not to leave.
Dad pauses halfway up the stairs, and for a fleeting second, Steve thinks he's going to turn around and wrap his arms around him and Mary.
"Steve. Take care of your sister while I handle some things. Okay?"
Dad doesn't wait for an answer before escaping and Steve kisses Mary's forehead, holds her against his chest, tries to keep from curling into a ball because he can't fall apart now.
"You want to help me take the chicken out of the oven?" he whispers in Mary's ear.
"No, I don't want to help you take the chicken out!" Mary yells. "I don't care if the oven explodes and burns the whole house down." She digs hers nails into his skin and presses her wet face against his throat. "God, Steve. Why? Why did this happen?"
But he doesn't know why, and the throbbing in his chest settles into a deep, permanent ache.
Crowds of people attend Mom's funeral: staff and students from her school, the entire HPD family. Streams of men and women walk by him and Mary with strings of condolences. Steve doesn't know what is worse, all the awkward hugs or the feeling of being trapped in the middle of some morbid parade.
But slowly the crowds disappear, leaving Steve alone with his mother one final time, and all he can think about, obsess over, are her last words before leaving for the store. "I love you, Steve."
Tears flow down his face and he angrily swipes them away, because he didn't say 'I love you' in return and the regret eats him up inside.
Annapolis in late June is brutal; Steve's face is sweaty, the back of his shirt glued to his skin. He swallows another gulp of water, the liquid settling uncomfortably in his empty stomach.
He stands in a sea of huddled shoulders and smiles, thousands of families waiting to say one final goodbye.
Two years ago, he never dreamed of being here, of following in his father and grandfather's path, but now, Steve relishes the idea of shedding his old skin and shaping into something harder. Stronger.
There's no need for a duffel filled with personal effects since the Academy doesn't allow them and he stands clad only in cargo pants and the dark t-shirt on his back.
A hand touches his shoulder and Steve looks into the bright blue eyes of a proud Navy mom. "Would you like to come over here with us?"
"I'm not by myself," Steve says.
Families flock toward plebes who stand alone – orphans, the Navy calls them. He glances at a gaggle of aunts and uncles, sisters and brothers, all clamoring around an eighteen year old with blonde wavy hair.
Steve brushes a hand over his shaved head; he'll skip the barber's line – two years at the Army/Navy Academy prepared him in more ways than one.
"Are you sure?" the mom asks, the emotion from today spread across her freckled face. "My son Tommy is –"
"I'm fine, ma'am. I'm waiting on someone, but thank you."
Her eyes soften and she nods. "Okay, hon."
Steve waits in the sweltering humidity, pulls his t-shirt away from his chest, his hand ghosting over the acceptance letter in his back pocket. Hundreds of hours of studying advanced science and math, community service, and hitting the gym have finally paid off.
"You did it."
Steve spins around at the voice of Uncle Joe as he walks over dressed in uniform. "I did, sir," he says, beaming. "Thank you for helping me obtain Senator Davidson's recommendation for the application."
"It wasn't hard with your grades and test scores. You're third generation. You deserve this." Steve stands tall and Joe grins. "Did you decide on your major?"
There's a gleam in Joe's eyes; Steve bites his tongue and resists strategizing about his plans, not when he has four years of school ahead. But Joe knows. He understands Steve's long-term goals.
"You know the Blue Angels are going to fly after the swearing-in ceremony," Joe says casually.
"I'm looking forward to it."
"You won't be able to see me, but I'll be here."
The crowd around them grows heavy, families hugging each goodbye, emotions tittering on the edge. Steve knows it's time to enter the hall for processing.
Joe grabs his shoulder and gives it a tight squeeze. "I'm proud of you, son."
It shouldn't mean this much, but god, it does. Steve's stomach reels as he soaks in the pride and affection like a sponge.
Joe gives him a pleased nod and a smile, and Steve forces his lips into a casual, tempered one of his own. "Thank you, sir."
Then he turns around and joins the growing masses walking forward. Steve enters Alumni Hall to accept his boots and uniform, ready to surrender his civilian life and be welcomed into the arms of the Navy.
Operation Nobel Anvil isn't the most eloquent of titles; an anvil is the object dropped onto cartoon villains. And while the Navy converts satellite imagery and infrared into video game-like imagery to analyze, then yes, it's very cartoon-like. Except the Kosovo cease-fire has collapsed and Serbian forces are on the move again.
"ETA on the drone, Ensign?" Commander Rodriquez asks.
Steve flicks his gaze at his readings. "Minus two minutes to the target, sir."
His palms sweat around the flight controls as he guides the Predator over the battlefield. This isn't recon – they've crossed that line already – but according to his CO, the Serbians violated Resolution 1199.
This will save lives. Illegally according to NATO, but this is the work he does, what he's sworn an oath to uphold.
He swallows hard, his hands shaking a little, the drone wobbling a few degrees in reaction. The landscape swirls in grays, punctuated by blips of heat-green.
"Steady as she goes, Ensign."
"Yes, sir." Steve exhales, slowly and evenly, calming the blood rushing in his veins. He focuses on separating emotion from the task, studying his readings. "Distance to target, t-minus one minute."
The Balkans are located hundreds of miles from their carrier in the Mediterranean, hundreds of miles between his fingertips and the nose of the drone. He checks the targeting system, the swarms of neon representing tanks, jeeps, artillery – men.
His mind fills with this morning's recon images of mass graves, burning bodies, thousands slaughtered. His heart is a fist banging against his chest and he guides the drone down the valley, avoiding anti-missile fire, adjusting the camera to zoom in closer, finger curling around the trigger.
"Ensign McGarrett, you are cleared hot," Rodriquez says. "Fire when ready."
His skin prickles with sweat, radio static pops in his ears. The neon-green blobs form into vehicle and human shapes. He holds his breath, the targeting cross hair lighting up red.
Steve squeezes the trigger, the screen filling with a balloon of white light, and he stares unblinkingly.
"We have confirmed destruction of the targets," Petty Officer Foster relays beside him.
"Excellent work, Ensign McGarrett," Commander Rodriquez says. "Good job, everyone."
The lights switch on, the automatic security doors unlatch, and the screen fades to black.
"It's over, Ensign, there's no bonus round," Rodriquez says.
"What?" Steve glances around; all the stations are empty except for his.
"Pulling that trigger again won't be so hard tomorrow." Rodriquez leans next to the console. "After a while, it's just another dial or switch to turn."
"Yes, sir. I understand that."
Rodriquez shakes his head. "Soon enough you'll complete your rotation on this tin can and be behind a desk analyzing chatter. Just remember, Ensign, even if there's a thousand miles between you and the front line, the end result will always be the same."
Steve gasps awake, his legs tangled up in the sheets of his rack. He stares up at the ceiling, distorted flashes of color fading away, blurry red and green shapes punctuated by the heavy thudding of his heart.
He can't sleep now, too overrun with adrenaline and vestiges of things he can't remember. Not wanting to wake up his bunkmate, Steve pulls out a flashlight and re-reads the lateral transfer request and application into BUD/s training.
Commander Rodriquez had it wrong. Steve plans on closing the distance between him and the battlefield, because he doesn't belong anywhere else.
A ragged gouge in the rock marks the path. They're two hours behind schedule, and by the time they unload and hike six miles into the canyon, it'll be full daylight. Steve grips his M4; it's his second trip into the Arma Mountains, another hunt for a top Taliban leader.
They pass around a bend, the vehicle bouncing crazily over the rocky terrain. Steve grabs the handle above his seat just as gunfire erupts from the cliffs in multiple directions and RPGs bombard the lead Humvee.
Bullets rip through the door and Steve ducks, flattening his body across the floorboard. "Everyone move, move, move!" he yells at the others. He crawls out the other side, throwing himself to the ground as the vehicle blows apart.
Steve rolls onto his back, PO Riley diving out behind him with the heavy M5. "McGarrett, I've got this."
Another volley smashes into the Humvee and Steve scans the cliffs. "Riley! At your two and three o'clock!"
Riley unloads on the enemy, allowing Steve to take cover behind the remains of their Humvee. He adds suppression fire and does a quick sweep, locating the others pinned down behind a boulder.
"Now, Riley, I'll cover you!"
But Riley remains, firing until he runs out of ammo, then scrambles toward Steve, a bullet striking his helmet and dropping him like a dead weight.
"Riley!" Steve screams.
"I've got him," Foley yells, running over. He hauls Riley to his feet. "Let's go!"
"Greer, radio for an extract!" Steve yells. "Tanner, launch some grenades at the nest at your four o'clock!" Steve glances over at the first Humvee engulfed in flames. "Someone provide me with some fucking cover!"
Tanner shells the hillside, blowing up bits of mountain while Foley lays down suppression fire. Steve runs toward the first Humvee, coughing against the fumes and dust.
He recognizes Commander Sykes dragging Bailey out of the driver-side door, the petty officer's right arm missing from below the elbow. The rest of the platoon staggers out, half of them burned or bloody.
Bullets slam into the burning vehicle and Steve returns fire. "I've got you, sir!" he yells.
"Fall back behind us, McGarrett!" Sykes screams at him.
Smoke blurs his vision, but he squints, tracking the muzzle flashes. He spots a Talib with a rocket launcher sneaking down the path and Steve squeezes the trigger, the guy's body jerking with each bullet's impact. Another solider appears from around the curve, and he charges at Steve, screaming in Dari and firing his rifle.
Steve ducks and rolls, bullets peppering the ground inches away. He comes back up on one knee, shooting dead center, obliterating the guy's chest.
Someone lays down cover fire, but for three seconds, Steve's feet remain rooted to the ground, watching the dark pool spread beneath decimated the remains of the body.
"McGarrett, run!" his CO yells.
Steve sprints toward his platoon as they continue cover fire, the sounds of rotor blades fast approaching.
"Goddamn it, McGarrett!" Sykes screams at him. "When I say fall back, you fucking move!"
Sykes grabs him by the shoulder, yanking him toward a ditch, and shoving him toward the ground. By the time Steve crashes into the dirt, the canyon fills with mortar fire from the support helos.
He chokes on sand and smoke, his body shaking. He squeezes his eyes closed, his stomach rebelling at the scent of charred flesh surrounding him. Steve breaths through his nose, gagging at the memory of men torn apart by his bullets.
A hand slaps him on the back. "You all right, McGarrett? Are you injured?" Sykes demands.
Steve wets his lips, sucks in a breath, willing his body to obey, his mind to focus. Keep his attention on the job. On his buddies. "I'm good, sir."
Steve hurries over toward a whimpering Bailey to help with triage.
"We've got him, sir," Tanner says, injecting the wounded man with morphine while Greer handles the rest of the bandages.
Steve scrubs his face with the inside of his elbow, his nostrils filling with the sickly smell of blood and piss. He scans the smoldering ruins of the canyon, at browns, yellows, and golds. Of flesh colors, not neon green.
A tremble wracks itself down his arms, but Steve flexes the muscles, keeping it from reaching his hands.
He curls his bruised fingers. Nothing's broken. He's good. Checking his ammo, Steve readies his weapon and takes a position over his platoon, waiting on his CO's next orders.
At night, the desert cools down and Steve sips on his sixth quart of water and reassembles his rifle. He doesn't think or calculate; his hands work the brush down the barrel on autopilot, his thoughts a whitewash to the humming oscillating fan across from him.
Steve's head jerks up at his name, but Sykes waves his hands dismissively when Steve starts to his feet. "At ease, Lieutenant."
But all his muscles tighten even more and Steve wonders how long it'll be before they learn to relax.
Sykes looks over at Steve with steel blue eyes and shakes his head, pulling out a canteen from his rucksack. "Here. It's a little watered down, but it'll help you sleep."
"I'm not tired," Steve defends, but he swallows a gulp, his eyes watering in protest. "Fuck."
"Take a few good tugs, Jay Gee, you have tomorrow off."
"I don't understand," Steve says, coughing as the alcohol burns down his throat.
"You kept your head today McGarrett, but I need you to be just as sharp the next time and the time after that. If you need to talk to anyone –"
"I'm fine, sir."
"But if you're not, you can talk to me or the Chief. Anytime."
Steve doesn't understand the concern; he doesn't even remember much from today or even the number of his enemy kills. They're not his first ones, not really.
"What about Bailey?" he asks.
"He's stable. They'll transfer him to a hospital in Kandahar in a few days." Sykes stares at Steve's hands and Steve looks down and notices them clutched into fists. "Get some sleep."
Steve nods, but sleep is a long time coming because whenever his thoughts drift away, he's bombarded with images of blood and the shredded remains of a man's chest riddled with bullets. So he focuses on the scattered parts of his M4 all over the table and he picks up the brush again and the bottle of solvent and sets to work.
The stagnant air cooks the mud brick building to an unbearable temperature and Steve drags Dwayne's lanky body inside one of the bombed-out rooms and quickly lowers him to the filthy floor.
"I...I'm sorry, LT."
"Shut up," Steve breathes, sweat rolling down his face.
"Shoulda...shoulda known better," Dwayne wheezes.
Steve grabs his med kit out of his rucksack, dumping out the contents. "You don't have x-ray vision. You couldn't have known the door was booby-trapped."
Dwayne gasps out a breath, his pupils mere pinpoints. "Thank god for morphine, huh?"
Steve grits his teeth and hastily cuts the remains of Dwayne's BDUs with his knife, his eyes going wide. Shrapnel has penetrated Dwayne's thigh and groin, blood pumping out from several gaping wounds.
Steve swallows down nausea. He has to stop the bleeding.
He unbuckles his belt, yanking it free and quickly ties it around Dwayne's thigh. Then Steve tears open a packet of anticoagulants, dumping the powder inside the wounds before applying a HemCom bandage.
It's not enough to cover the biggest gaping hole and he digs his fingers inside the cavity, tries locating the femoral artery over all the squirting blood. God. Where is it? Did it retract back inside? There. It feels like a leaky hose and he pinches it between his fingers.
But he doesn't have anything to keep the artery clamped and there's hemorrhaging everywhere. He tears open another bandage one-handed with his teeth, stuffing it inside Dwayne's thigh, pressing hard. But there's not enough bandages in the world to slow down the bleeding.
"Go," Dwayne rasps.
"We will soon."
Dwayne's dark hand weakly flails at Steve's forearm and all Steve can think about is the two of them playing flag football yesterday. "You've...missed the first...the first ..."
Steve locks eyes with Dwayne. "We'll make the second extraction together."
"If you miss it..."
"Just hold on," Steve growls. "I'm getting us out of here."
Dwayne coughs a wet gurgle. "LT."
Crimson soaks through the bandage under Steve's clenched hand. "During our next leave, drinks are on me."
Dwayne curls two fingers into Steve's shirtsleeve. He iknows./i Just like Steve knows. "McGarrett."
"Don't," Steve grits, biting his lip. "Just don't."
"The intel...got to..."
"The intel's safe."
Dwayne's hand flops to the floor, his head lolling to the side.
"Dwayne?" Steve yells. "Don't do this, man. Don't do this!"
Steve presses his fingers to Dwayne's neck. There's no pulse.
He can't remove his right hand, can't let the femoral artery go. Steve stares at Dwayne's unmoving chest, at his vacant eyes. He should begin CPR. He needs to – needs to let go of the artery – needs to–
Moisture prickles his eyes as Steve pulls his friend into his lap. "I'm so sorry. God damn it. I'm sorry, man."
His head jerks at the sound of distant small arms fire. He can't stay here; he can't let Dwayne die in vain.
Steve checks his watch, calculates how little time he has left before reaching the final extraction point, and loses his ticket home. He steals himself, buries everything into the pit of his stomach, then pushes it down even further.
He reaches over, closes Dwayne's eyes, forcing himself to his feet. He has to think and strategize the quickest route over the border.
Steve hauls Dwayne up and slings him over his shoulders in a fireman's carry, not allowing his legs to buckle under the immense weight. He gnashes his teeth together and takes the first step of many through enemy territory.
Steve sits in a stuffy tent, the worn out sofa squeaking when he fidgets. He sits across from Dr. Faye, a middle-aged woman with short auburn hair who speaks with in a soft mid-western drawl.
"How has your appetite been this week?" she asks.
"Fine," Steve answers.
He eats at every scheduled chowtime like clockwork.
"Notice any changes?"
Like what? Steve wants to ask. Eating is like tying his boots before walking outside. "I have to eat four thousand calories a day, ma'am."
Dr. Faye gives him a pleasant smile. "How many hours of sleep do you get, Lieutenant?"
"Four to five," Steve says automatically.
"And on your off-days?"
She quirks an eyebrow. "Lieutenant?"
Steve doesn't actually keep count, but he tries for a more honest guess. Even during mandatory off-hours, there's still work to do. "About five or six."
"And in the last few days?"
He stares at the plaques nestled on the tiny bookshelf, trying to untangle this week's hours from the knots in his head, from escorting Dwayne's body for transport to multiple debriefings in between. "A few hours here and there."
He studies the wooden desk to the left, at how the front right one leg has two books under it to keep the whole thing even as he listens to the shrink scribble down notes.
"And how would you rate your anxiety levels?"
Steve actually looks up and stares into her curious brown eyes. "I have to wear a Kevlar vest any time I step outside the barracks. Even if it's to go to the head. Ma'am."
The ends of her pink lips quirk into a resigned smile before Dr. Faye peers down at the folder in her lap. "This is the tenth temporary base you've been assigned to in the last six months. And that doesn't include deserts, jungles, and mountain ranges."
"That's the job."
"It is," Dr. Faye says, frowning. "And during all those jobs, how many men have you lost under your command?"
He's been anticipating the question, but it still feels like a punch to the gut. "Petty Officer Lawson was the first."
Dr. Faye leans back into her chair, her face sympathetic. "That had to be hard on you."
"It wasn't easy," Steve snaps testily. He bows his head and blows out a breath. "Yeah, it was hard."
"Do you have nightmares about the event?"
"PO Lawson died in your arms and you carried him out of enemy territory on your back." She glances down at her file again. "For five miles."
Steve straightens in his chair. "I did what any other SEAL would do."
Dr. Faye doesn't blink at his answer. "Have you noticed any mood swings?"
"I don't have combat stress, ma'am." Steve leans over, elbows on his knees. "No painful thoughts or flashbacks. Or very long bouts of insomnia. No nausea or shakiness. I'm trained to notice signs of stress disorders in my men so I can recommend them for counseling." He licks his lips, keeps his voice neutral, authoritative. "I'm fine."
Dr. Faye meets his steady gaze with an equally resilient one of her own. "You will remain off active duty for the next week until I clear you, Lieutenant. I'm writing you a script for Ambien. I want you to sleep eight hours in a row for the next three days and return for another evaluation." She holds out the piece of paper. "Get some real rest and we'll talk again on Monday."
Steve takes the script in his hand, knowing this session is mandatory, that he needs a clean bill of health to return to duty. "Yes, ma'am."
Dogs bark in the distance, maybe one or two klicks away. Steve can't tell anymore. He thought he'd lost his pursuers last night, following a path too rugged for jeeps, but he can't shake them. If he uses the river, it'll cover-up his scent, but they'll expect that, knowing he needs to follow it.
Steve checks his watch, blinks against the blurry numbers, and he tries recalculating his slowing gait to determine distance. Three days, three days of sleeping half an hour here and there in ditches. Of running, always running, but not nearly fast enough, not far enough. He's covered maybe twenty of the needed forty miles to reach…
His boot slips out from under him and Steve stumbles, falling face first into the ground, biting off a pained yell. He rolls onto his back, panting for air, the world blurring in and out of view, pain pulsating through his leg.
He forces himself onto his elbows and gasps from the blossom of white-hot agony above and below his left knee. Steve checks the bandages, his fingers coming away tacky with blood. He'd used up the last of the Quick Clot this morning. The first wound is a through and through, but the second bullet is still inside somewhere.
He wipes the sweat from his forehead, his skin radiating too much heat. He drags himself toward the river, grabs his canteen, and crushes his last iodine tablet inside. After filling it with murky water, he swallows a few sips that leave a metallic taste in his mouth.
His whole body trembles, icy waves down his spine despite the fact it's the middle of summer, the temperature hitting over a hundred and five degrees. He rests his head against the muddy bank, the water lulling him…
Steve jerks awake at the noise of barking dogs and soldiers nearing the river. He recognizes the uniforms. It's the PLA. No wonder they've stayed on his tail this long. Filling his lungs with air, he dives under the water before the platoon reaches his position.
He wades under the current, kicking with his right leg, trying to cross eighty meters, the brackish water obscuring his vision. One minute ticks away, then two, his lungs protesting the pressure, his leg screaming. But he moves upstream, tries adding some distance between him and the enemy.
He finally pops his head out, and takes a breath, listening for the enemy.
"American soldier," someone yells in broken English. "We have food and water. Give up. Rest."
Steve spots the enemy searching for him across the river. He squints, searching up and down the water, trying to assess if he's about to be outflanked.
"You go wrong way. Give up or you die here."
But Steve remains perfectly still, waiting until the platoon continues searching along the east side of the river and out of sight. He needs to keep going, keep heading toward the border. Steve pulls out a tiny waterproof pouch from his vest, verifying that the radio transmitter is safe. Once he crosses into Afghanistan, he can signal for an extraction; it's too dangerous while he's on Chinese soil.
Crawling out of the water, Steve limps towards a birch tree and takes out his knife, carving away a large strip to remove the crusty, gray part of the bark, chewing the cambium layer.
Steve continues walking, quelling down the agony in his leg, the sun beating down on his back. After half an hour, his clothes are dry and his skin feel like it's on fire. Every step saps him of his energy, his reserves long since depleted. He uses the trees for support, limping forward, always forward, always west.
He stumbles again, unable to catch his fall, the pain so great; all he can do is dig his teeth into his fist to swallow the sob trying to escape his throat.
An odd buzzing overcomes his hearing and he nearly passes out. Lying in the dirt, doubt slowly creeps in. Did he accidentally veer off course? What if he's closer to Tashkurgan than the Afghan border?
He shivers again.
Get up. Get up, get up, get up.
Steve crawls on his hands knees and uses a tree trunk to help stand, clinging to it when a dizzy spell hits. He moves, one foot in front of the other.
His leg gives out thirty minutes later and he knows he's done. He can't get up again. His head feels like it's going to explode and he digs out the transmitter with trembling hands and switches it on. It's a desperate a shot: the Wakhan Corridor is Chinese territory, but Steve's team has been involved in riskier SAR ops before. There's a good chance someone will sign off on it. If only he had more time.
Three days. He should have lasted longer. Should have – Steve pushes himself up with his hands, but he has no strength left, and his arms give out.
He thinks of his men. They're safe, most of them on leave to visit family. He took this assignment so no one else had to.
A wave of dizziness washes over him, his stomach rolling. He thinks of Mary, tries remembering what she looks like. He hopes she doesn't cry too much, that time and distance will ease the pain. He wonders about Dad and hopes he'll be proud of Steve.
God, his leg hurts, and he digs his fingers into the ground, feels himself lose consciousness.
He startles awake again, too weak to lift up his watch, or to swat away the insects buzzing around his leg. Judging by the sun, it's late afternoon, dipping into evening. Another tremor racks through him and his eyes drift close, the sound of rotor blades ghosting on the edge of his hearing.
Hands touch him everywhere, men leaning over him. "Commander McGarrett, just lie still," one of them says. "We've got you. Everything's going to be fine. We're getting you out of here."
Steve wakes up in tiny increments, his tongue feeling fat and heavy. It takes a few minutes for the odd buzzing sound by his head to coalesce into a low hum of equipment. He peels open gritty eyes and waits for the ceiling to stop spinning, but the dizziness only triggers a bout of nausea and he groans despite himself.
His eyes slide inside his head until they recognize the blurry image of his Chief sitting in the chair next to him. Sanchez looks old and tired with dark smudges under his tanned skin and the start of a three-day-old beard. Steve wants to say something, anything, but his lips feel like stretched rubber bands.
Sanchez grabs Steve's shoulder, carefully avoiding all the tubes and wires snaking out from under his hospital gown. "Don't you worry about a thing, sir. We're taking turns and one of us will always be here. We have your back."
It must be the drugs because Steve's chest tightens for some reason at the thought.
"They're going to transport you to the base in Ramstein in a few days." Sanchez gives Steve's shoulder a squeeze. "You had us worried there for a second; you took your sweet time kicking a nasty fever, but you're going to be fine."
Steve fights the tug of exhaustion, his body tingling with the feeling of millions of pins and needles. He huffs out a breath, annoyed at how difficult it is to find the energy to talk. "The...uplink?"
Steve sighs in relief, breathing deeply on his oxygen cannula, trying to calm a new bubble of panic. "And my leg?"
"You've got a couple holes, but the docs say you'll return to duty after a lot of PT."
Steve starts to nod off when Sanchez's voice breaks through his fog-covered brain. "McGarrett…Steve. Do you want me to call your family?"
Steve's eyes fly open. "No."
"Are you sure? Docs think you'll be laid up a while. I could –"
"No, I don't want to..." Steve's voice drifts away, his brain a jumble he can't sort through right now. "I'll call them later."
But he probably won't, unsure if he could handle Dad or Mary's worried voices over the phone and thousands of miles away, or worse, if they don't…
Steve stares up at the tiles, forcing needless thoughts out of his head; his only concern is to heal up and return to duty.
Steve's been the pallbearer at three funerals and the attendee for more friends than he cares to count. It's been a few years since he's had to wear his uniform for another one. It's not even up to regs: his breast lacks over a dozen new ribbons, and he's ashamed at the disrespect it shows to his father who'd been a stickler for such things.
He doesn't have time to grieve or to commiserate with those who know more about John McGarrett than his son. His sister isn't there, but after over a decade of separation, Steve isn't totally surprised by her absence.
It's better this way, because right now the only goal in his life, his mission, is to hunt down Victor Hesse and bring him to justice one way or another.
Steve wakes up at 0400 on the dot, his brain still entrenched in military time, and he's on his feet in seconds. His whole body is one large bruise; sleeping on the floor didn't help, but he won't sleep in his father's room - not until he buys a new bed.
He's in and out of a shower despite the exhaustion gnawing on his bones, the throbbing of his shoulder waiting for the numbing effects of his next pain pill. But Steve stands in the middle of his living room, a space he hasn't inhabited in ten years, breathing in the scent of fresh bleach.
He needs to swim, needs to replace the sharp chemical smell with sea and board wax. Steve knows better than getting his wound wet, but he needs to do something, be somewhere, and work out this itch under his skin.
It's too early to call...to call who? His men? They've been reassigned. His new iteam,/i the civilians he conscripted into the governor's task force. What had he been thinking accepting such a change, dragging others along based on such a spontaneous tactical decision?
He walks toward a cabinet filled with books and pictures and...
Steve slams his eyes closed, the echo of gunfire loud in his ears, the feeling of helplessness compounding the itch and restlessness and ache that goes more than muscle deep.
He can feel his father within the walls decorated with nautical equipment, in the furniture that hasn't been replaced in a decade, his eyes landing on the chair his father had been tied to when he'd been killed.
Steve looks away, anger and regret and guilt boiling into this knot, a knot with no release, no outlet. Not even after putting two bullets in the guy who ripped his life apart. It doesn't change the pain or ease that unreachable burn between his nerves.
Maybe he'll take a walk on the beach, and after breakfast, stop by HQ, see how his new team is settling in.
Steve feels like a live wire radiating too much juice, his heart banging against his breastbone. Nick Taylor lies dead from Steve's bullets, a reality he's unable to reconcile with memories of the two of them holed up for weeks inside mountains and under desert sand.
Danny walks over looking half-relived, half-annoyed. "You have got to start doing a better job picking your friends."
Steve heaves out a rapid breath, allowing Danny's comment to bounce off his chest. "Tell me about it. I chose you, didn't I?"
"Huh, yeah," Danny says with a smile.
A sharp heat radiates across his bicep and Steve looks dumbly at the laceration, wrapping his hand around his bicep, blood dripping between his fingers.
"Will you get over here before you bleed all over the beach?"
Steve sits on gurney while an EMT checks his vitals and wraps a bandage around his arm, his adrenaline receding into a hard, cold numbness. The squawking of police radios and the soft lapping of waves morph into a wall of white noise. Dozens of emergency lights flicker off and on, hypnotizing him, which is strange because he shouldn't be able to hear the ocean above the chaos.
He stares past the flash, flash, flash of reds and blues, gazing listlessly at the lanai, a house riddled with bullet holes and Molotov cocktail remains. Instincts slowly recede and his brain kicks into overdrive as he takes the images, pieces them together with memory and reflex, remembering how the inside of his home became another set of defensible positions.
It hurts like a dull spoon boring into his chest. His gaze strays toward the beach, at the MEs loading up a body bag, the spoon twisting agonizingly slow inside.
"Hey, Earth to McGarrett." Steve stares confused at Danny's snapping fingers. "Hell-o. There you are."
Steve blinks. "What?"
"You kind of zoned out on me."
Steve looks from Danny's face toward the crowd of cops and emergency responders. "We should probably secure the scene."
"And we will, but first, you need to get that arm taken care of before gangrene sets in."
Steve's body is bloodied and bruised, but it doesn't compare to the growing hurt inside. He catches sight of the coroner's van as it pulls away, and before he can jump off the gurney, a hand rests against his chest. Steve looks over at Danny's tired face, allows Danny to push him back down, to sit, to wait for his adrenaline-fused go, go, go to taper off.
"Even Rambo takes a moment to breathe," Danny says.
Steve actually laughs at that and he nods at Danny then the EMT, and takes the next few moments to gather himself.
Hours after the CSI guys and HPD finish canvassing his home, Steve deals with the governor and Homeland security, then oversees the transfer of General Pak's family to another safe house for the night. After a dozen different people have trampled in and out of his living room, Steve stands in the middle of it, alone with the newest spotted bloodstains, shattered windows, and busted doors. The scent of gasoline still lingers faintly in the air.
He notices footsteps and watches in confusion as Chin, Kono, and Danny return carrying armloads of stuff.
"What are you..."
"Here." Danny shoves a giant roll of plastic into Steve's hands. "There's another one in the car."
Steve stares at Danny's back, his mouth agape.
Chin walks by him, pulling out boxes of nails from a shopping bag. "Did you really think we'd leave with your house in shambles, brah?"
"I..." But Steve doesn't say anything, too caught off guard by his team's actions.
Kono quirks an eyebrow at him and pulls out a couple six packs of Longboards from her stash of goodies. "I assume you have tools around here? A couple hammers might be helpful."
"Yeah. Um. Hold on."
Steve lays the roll of plastic on the floor and runs over to the garage, yanking out boxes and checking one of his workbenches for hammers.
When he returns, Danny hands Steve a beer. "As an officer of the law, I'm forbidding you from getting behind the wheel or operating any type of heavy machinery since I know the EMT gave you some pain medication. But since you've had kind of a rough night, I figured one won't hurt."
Steve takes the bottle, still reeling a little from everyone's gestures. "Mahalo," he says, and looks at Chin and Kono. "To all of you."
Stave paces, bouncing his hand against his hip, watching the orange-yellow sun slowly melt into the sea. For a second, he thinks of following the waves to the end of the horizon and never looking back on what's been a distant memory for most of his life.
He inhales the Hawaiian surf: salt and iodine with bits of shell, reminding himself that this is home. That he doesn't miss the smell of aviation fuel and burning tires, of his skin reeking of gun oil. But maybe he does. Maybe he longs for briefings and recon, obtaining and neutralizing targets. Of clear sighted objectives.
Closing his eyes, Steve wills calm over the pulse points across his skin and the blood roaring beneath it. He wants to run or swim or climb, something.Stretch his muscles until they tremble and burn, until his legs can no longer carry him – then work them some more.
There is a sudden crunching noise of sand behind him and Steve whirls around with his fists raised, his knees automatically bending...
"Hey, whoa," Danny says startled, throwing up his hands, palms open. "Easy. Is that anyway to greet a friend?"
Steve drops his arms to his sides, invisible fingers tapping a staccato beat along his spine. "Sorry," he says, standing from his readied stance.
Danny relaxes minutely and studies Steve's face, eyes narrowing. "I guess I should have known better, after you know..."
Danny stares incredulously, eyebrows arching into sharp angles. "After being framed for murder then thrown into solitary for a week like some animal. And let's not forget getting shivved then escaping. Which, by the way, we still need to discuss."
Steve clenches his jaw. "I'm good."
"Right," Danny huffs. "Because you always jump when you hear someone approach."
"I didn't jump," Steve growls. He's just on edge from too much adrenaline and too little sleep.
"No, you were just milliseconds away from using one of your ninja moves on me."
No, he wasn't, but Steve doesn't want to argue; he's wrung out and antsy. He balls up his hands, slowly uncurling his fingers as he turns around to gaze at the ocean. "Have you heard from Kono?"
"No, she still won't answer the phone. Chin went over to her house, but she wasn't there."
"I'll go over there tomorrow, see if she –"
"Or you could give yourself a break and give Kono a day or two to process things before barreling over with battle plans about getting her reinstated." Danny moves into Steve's line of vision, the ocean breeze rustling his hair. "I thought cooking for her would be nice start." He sighs when Steve stares at him without saying a word. "What about talking to the new governor again? Maybe if we –"
"No," Steve snaps, his heart thudding loudly in his ears.
"Why not? I bet under different circumstances other than right after your apprehension –"
"I don't know anything about Denning and I'm not going to risk exposing any more vulnerabilities to him," Steve growls.
"Vulnerabilities?" Danny looks to the sky in exasperation before settling his frustrated gaze on Steve. "You know, forget cooking Kono dinner. Have you thought about taking a few days off to get yourself back together? Because, babe, you really look like shit."
"You can't?" Danny rolls his eyes, flinging his arms about. "Give me one good reason why you shouldn't take some time off other than some egoistical, megalomaniacal need to play Superman."
Because Steve needs to burn the excess fuel in his veins.
"I have to find out what my father was discussing with Wo Fat."
"Do you realize that a week ago you broke into the governor's mansion? The state's highest political figure? Not only that, you took out her whole security detail and threatened her at gun point?"
"She was dirty."
"You didn't know that at the time!" Danny shouts, his face reddening. "You had a hunch and you just took off –"
"She lied to me," Steve yells. "From day one." He swallows, because – god. Fuck. He scrubs his hands over his stubbled face, feeling knotted-up inside. "It was all to keep an eye on me. Five-0. All our work has –"
"Hey! Stop right there." Danny steps up to Steve, nose to nose. "All our work has been for good. Jameson might have been corrupt, but the people we've put away, the lives we've saved?" He sucks in a breath. "Nothing can take that away from us."
"I trusted her," Steve says as if confessing.
It'd been much more. She'd used her relationship with his dad to manipulate him, exploit all his weakness, control him.
"I know you trusted her, babe, and it sucks," Danny says softly. "And I know that's a serious fucking blow to your honor code, but don't let it taint everything else. Don't give her that power."
But it's not that easy to change course while his brain is wildly charging full steam ahead without direction.
"Yeah, okay," Steve says, spinning around just as Danny's fingers brush against his shoulder.
"Look." Danny sighs. "I'll tell you what. I know you're dying to go for a crazy ten-mile run or climb some ferocious mountain, because you, my friend, are one lightening rod of nervous energy. But you were almost gutted yesterday so how about we grab dinner, maybe a six-pack, and just chill?"
Steve stares off into the ocean, tries diverting restlessness into mental focus. He can feel Danny right next to him, like a solid presence, a breaker to the nervous energy threatening to tear him apart.
Steve breathes and forces the air out of his lungs. "Okay," he says.
"Okay," Danny repeats, relieved.
The truck lurches over bumps in the dirt road, every jut like a backhand to his face and head. It's just enough to bring him to the edge of consciousness, allow the pain to swell and burn across his beaten body, only for him to drift back into the darkness until the vehicle jerks again.
Steve tries keeping his eyes open long enough to be awake when Wo Fat returns because he only needs a few seconds to plunge his thumbs into the bastard's eyes and into his brain.
Steve drifts in and out, floating above nothingness, the pungent mix of vehicle exhaust and sweat nauseating him. He's never quit a day in his life, the word erased from his vocabulary, but he knows deep inside this is it. And knowing he's not the only casualty from his failure hurts more than Wo Fat's fists ever could.
The truck pitches forward and his world tumbles along with it. Pain whirls around him in a mass of noise and confusion. Then the tarp pulls away and Steve blinks in shock at Danny's face staring back at him. But it can't be Danny, because he's safe and secure thousands of miles away. In Hawaii. Beautiful fucking Hawaii that Steve will never see again.
"I found Steve! He's alive! Steve's alive!" Danny shouts.
Danny is suddenly there, broadcasting concern and agitation in waves, and all Steve can do is respond, raising his wrists for Danny to untie the rope, his brain caught in a tug-of-war with reality. "Danny. Where's Wo Fat?"
"Shuddup, would ya," Danny snaps.
Steve doesn't understand. It'd been his time to die; he'd accepted it.
Chin appears at the back of the truck, then Joe, and it's like a dream, a crazy, insane, delusional dream, but then Danny's hands are on him, gentle and urgent, and he's saying things in that impatient, I'm tired of repeating myselfmanner.
"What?" Steve asks in a daze.
"I asked if you could stand, but I see that's –"
"I can stand," Steve defends.
But it's like Steve's a marionette with his strings cut and his knees buckle as soon as he's semi-vertical. Danny shoves a shoulder under Steve's armpit and wraps an arm around his waist while Chin takes Steve's other side, book-ending his body between him and Danny.
Things get fuzzy and painful. His shoulders feel like they're on fire and he's stumbling and grunting and practically has to be carried. But the more pain assails him, the more determined Steve is to keep moving, even if a part of him thinks the whole rescue is in his head.
His skin boils and pops from the cattle prod, and no matter how loud he screams, it never stops burning.
Steve gasps awake, his eyes snapping open, his vision filled with blurry white. White ceiling, white sheets, white walls. By the time things stop spinning, he notices movement to his left, and it takes a few seconds before he recognizes Chin sitting in a chair next to him.
Steve blinks in awareness as Chin slowly leans over the railing, his face calm, but his eyes worried. "Hey, take it easy. You're safe."
No. It can't be. It doesn't make sense, because Korea had been a one-way ticket if things went to hell. But his thoughts are confused and his head feels heavy and the pain that should be everywhere is a muted blanket over him.
And he drifts away, wondering when he'll wake up again in the back of the truck.
Steve is more lucid the next day; he doesn't even remember the nightmare that jolted him from his sleep.
He sits up in bed and plays cards with Kono – Go Fish, because he's still pumped with too many drugs to focus quite right. Kono doesn't say a word when his hands tremble. She does most of the talking and although he doesn't actually keep up with the topics, it's enough to latch on to her soft tone of voice.
She doesn't ask him about what happened or pry for information. She simply deals out the cards and clears her throat whenever he starts zoning out.
When the lunch tray comes around, Steve can't help staring at her as she pulls out her cellphone to play a game.
"Are you okay, Boss?" she asks, quirking an eyebrow at him.
He quickly looks away, grabbing a spoon to poke at his applesauce even though he has zero appetite. "I'm fine," he says.
But he steals glances at her as he pushes his food around on his plate, unable to accept the fact that Kono's in the room and he's really, well, that he's really here with her.
Steve rolls the necklace between his fingers before sliding it into the Ziplock bag and stuffing it into the pocket of his track pants. It's the only thing left of hers and he's still not sure what to do with it.
Danny hustles inside and Steve flinches when Danny claps his hands together and bounces on his heels with energy. "Okay, the car is pulled up and waiting. All that's left is your chariot and you can stop pestering the poor staff about going home."
"I've been here for two days."
"Try thirty-six hours. And being admitted and sleeping through the first night doesn't really count."
Steve is about to say he's fine, but even he knows that's barely half-true. "I want to sleep in my own bed."
"Yes, I know," Danny says, the dark circles under his eyes a testament to days of exhaustion. "And believe it or not, I actually get that, which is why I agreed to drive you."
It took Steve longer than he cares to admit to change, and thankfully, someone left him a pair of slippers so he wouldn't have to deal with socks and shoes. It's still painful to move and the doc said he'd need some PT for his shoulders, but he forces himself to stand and wait for the wheelchair.
"You just lost like ten shades of color. Maybe you should sit down and wait?"
Steve doesn't want to listen to anyone right now and he's aware there's more to it than sheer stubbornness. So he locks his legs in place and lets Danny rant until the orderly arrives. Then Danny's verbal barbs become whispered murmurings, soft hands on Steve's back, his shoulder, and it's all completely unnecessary for the few steps it takes to reach the wheelchair. But Steve actually basks in it, savors the touch, smiling a little when Danny irelieves/i the young orderly of his job and pushes Steve through the halls and out into the sunshine.
Steve carries that warmth with him, cradles it against his breastbone during the car ride home.
His body is slow and sore and it takes much longer to reach the porch and unlock his door, although the extra cars in the driveway are a dead giveaway he has company. He takes two steps into his living room and freezes at the sight of Chin in his kitchen chopping vegetables, several pots simmering on the stove behind him.
Chin looks up and gives him a warm smile. "I hope you'll be hungry later, because this is my grandfather's famous vegetable soup recipe."
The scent of onions, celery, and carrots mixing with garlic reminds Steve of Sunday dinners when he'd been a kid, making his heart ache.
Kono pads downstairs carrying a laundry bag, her face brightening upon seeing him. "I changed your linens. You can even bounce a quarter off the sheets," she says with a wink.
Steve doesn't move, his words caught in his throat.
Danny slowly walks over to stand next to him. "Rhetorically speaking, are you okay?"
He isn't, not by a long shot, and it's more than the shock of the last few days, or the fact his team has cooked and cleaned for him, something he's been doing since he was sixteen. It's the care, the beautiful, selfish care, and the enormity of it all is almost too much.
"Steve?" Danny asks, touching his arm.
Steve flinches unexpectedly at the contact and Danny yanks his hand back and Steve apologizes with a wan smile, feeling self-conscious. Chin walks over, wiping his hands with a towel, and Kono pushes the laundry bag into the corner with her foot and joins them in the living room. They stand within reach, but not too close, and the fact they can read him this well...
"You came for me," Steve whispers, voice raw. "You risked everything."
"So did you," Chin says. "When you went to North Korea to help a friend."
"You can't call dibs on that," Kono adds, her eyes fierce. "'Ohana is a two-way street."
Steve wets painful lips. "But –"
"No, no buts, Steven." The force of Danny's words grabs Steve's attention, focusing it over a cascade of racing thoughts. "You said you would have done the same for anyone one of us. But it is obvious that the thought never crossed your mind that we would do the same for you."
It hadn't and it must be written clear as day across his face, because Kono steps closer, pressing a kiss to his temple, and Chin leans toward Steve's ear, whispering, "Ku'u kaikaina 'oe."
Steve squeezes his eyes closed against the wealth of emotion breaching all his carefully constructed barriers. He takes a shuddering breath, tries controlling the tremor to his muscles, but he can't stop his arms and legs from shaking.
"Come on, babe, come here."
Steve opens his eyes to the sight of Danny opening up his arms and Steve moves into the hug, accepting all it represents, allowing the warmth to envelop him. Danny is careful, not squeezing too tight, and Steve lifts his arms despite the pain and squeezes back much harder because he doesn't remember the last time he's felt this kind of love.
"You have people that give a damn about you, Steven," Danny growls in affection, rubbing a hand up and down his back. "You might be used to being a lone wolf for most of your life, but that doesn't mean you have to anymore."
Familiar syllables bubble around his mouth, but Steve clamps down on his usual answer. It's hard battling against so many years of self-preservation, but he nods into Danny's shoulder, leaning heavily against him in trust. Steve still doesn't have the right words to say, but he doesn't need them right now.
*ku'u kaikaina 'oe." (you're my brother)
Title: Quote from Gene Roddenberry