CAUSE AND EFFECT

by

GM

mahalo Barb H for additional scenes and use of Dora Bergman


March 73

Formidable, dusky clouds crawled across the blue-backdrop sky, blocking the golden sun. Precipitation sprayed against the windows in anticipation. The air smelled of rain and humidity and the precursor-edged mist clinging to the breeze. A dark, tempestuous storm hovered on the horizon -- a harbinger descending on the islands.

'More than an apt analogy,' Dan Williams inwardly sighed.

Biting his lip restrained him from blurting out an impulsive and regrettable comment likely to create an indoor storm front even more intense and fierce than the one outside. Pacing beside the lanai doors streaked with rain, Tropical-Storm-McGarrett already descended on this beachhead. Williams, the second-in-command of Hawaii Five-0, weathered the onslaught with as much forbearance as possible. Even Williams' exemplary calm nearly slipped away under the persistent barrage of reproach. During a brief clearing in the squall, Dan jumped in with a hurried explanation.

"Steve, we had no evidence on Markham. His alibi was solid. I couldn't hold him any longer."

"You didn't WANT to hold him!" The boss's correction bit sharply, incisively through the muggy air. "You have resisted Markham as a suspect from the beginning!"

Williams tried not to rise to the baiting tone while still defending his position. "Steve, he's too obvious! The guy isn't smart, or clever, and this 'Kahala-killer' is ruthless. Markham is a talented burglar, nothing more."

McGarrett glared at his associate and visibly strove for composure. "Criminals learn new tricks in prison, Danno. Markham's MO is written all over these burglaries. Unforeseen mistakes happen. Mrs. Talmage came home, interrupted the burglary and Markham killed her!" The words, never quite even-tempered, quickly escalated to strained, loud challenge. Irate and disappointed, McGarrett tenaciously drove home his point. "He has no business out on the streets and that's just where you put him!"

"Maybe Markham was the teacher in prison," Williams countered forcefully. "He could have taught someone else techniques -- "

"Someone released at the same time?"

"Not necessarily. Someone copied the MO when Markham was released last month! Two of Markham's cellmates were sent up for robbery and burglary. They've been out for a few months. It could be one of them!"

With the debate now intensified to a shouting match, both men realized the inappropriateness of their behavior. Neither, however, conceded their respective points. They retreated to separate locations in the room; McGarrett at the lanai doors, Williams standing behind a chair facing the desk.

"Look, Danno." McGarrett finally sighed, his voice absolute, his tone smooth. "Markham fits the MO. He has access to two out of four burglary scenes. And alibis can be manufactured." His tone unwavering. "All my instincts are telling me Markham is our man."

Mentally, Williams stepped back from the confrontational edge and regrouped. Usually right about these instinct things, Steve, in this rare case could be wrong. The intense pressure leveled by Governor Jameson could cloud his intuition. At first the burglaries victimized rich locals for some weeks, annoying the wealthy residents of the Kahala beach area. Then Mrs. Talmage -- a society friend of the governor's -- became the first and only murder victim and quickly turned into a banner case in the press. Labeling the criminal the 'Kahala-killer', media reports whipped the incident to extreme proportions. Until the murderer was apprehended, Five-0 remained on the hot seat. The pressure exceeded the usually high-stress work of the state police unit, with McGarrett caught in the middle. Between bad publicity, the governor, the overworked officers hounded for results, Steve's popularity hit low ebb. Then the governor scheduled a press conference for Four o'clock, to announce Markham as the arrested suspect in the murder, without knowing of the ex-con's release.

Williams felt the stunt a blunder on Jameson's part and refused to be held accountable for a politician's maneuverings. McGarrett, however, suffered the brunt of the heat from Williams' decision to spring Markham, so, in turn, Dan was the recipient of McGarrett's full wrath.

Adversely, Dan's own instincts told him Markham was not the right suspect. Burglars could accidentally kill someone during the crime, but Markham did not read as a killer. The ex-con did not project the guilt of a small-time hood that unintentionally took a life. The bottom line: they needed to prove whose instincts were right, and so far, the scanty evidence just did not support either theory to prove their respective points.

"The important thing, Danno, is to catch Mrs. Talmage's killer yesterday! We had a prime suspect, and you let him walk!"

Irritation got the better of Williams and his retort dripped with sarcasm. "Suddenly my instincts -- my judgments -- aren't good enough? If you think that, Steve, then why keep me on the payroll?"

"That's not what I meant!"

"Isn't it? I'm second-in-command of Five-0, but you don't trust me enough to respect this decision -- my decisions --"

"It has nothing to do with trust --"

"It does!" Williams threw back sharply. "Well I'll prove I'm right! I'll prove I'm better than you think I am, Steve. I'll have Mrs. Talmage's killer here before the governor's Four o'clock press conference!"

Visibly steaming with irritation, McGarrett's barely controlled temper pushed to the boiling point with the challenge. Anger simmered in his strained voice. "Markham is our killer. Once he's under lock and key, then you can prove whatever you think you need to, Danno! Right now he needs to be back in our custody. I want you out on the street and until you find him don't come back!"

"Then I better get busy and invent some charges so the governor will be happy when we arrest the wrong man!"

Even as he slammed the door in a dramatic exit he regretted the barbed anger only partially directed at McGarrett. Part of his irritation targeted the governor, part his miscalculation. Another piece of vexation at himself came from the sudden streak of insecurity leaping into the conversation. Truly happy with his position in the state police unit, he had no idea why the self-pitying strain of flagging confidence surfaced. Deep down, in his heart, he did not doubt Steve's trust and reliance on his skills and talents.

Why did this case bring out the worst in him? Uncharacteristically, this time he allowed his 'impressions' of a suspect to overrule political expediency. Police were unofficially able to hedge on some rules and regulations without jeopardizing a case or seriously impeding the rights of a suspect. Dan chose not to cut corners in this case, because he really did not believe Markham was their man.

Why did this incident bring out the worst in McGarrett as well? Probably a combination of pressures and self-imposed expectations drove the boss to the limit of patience and tact. They had been on the edge before, and would be again, but it was never a place Dan liked to share with Steve.

Worse than the sticky situation with the governor was that his judgment conflicted with McGarrett -- never a wise move unless he was totally, one hundred and one percent right. Even then, Steve hated being wrong, and it made for a ruffled relationship between them. Neither liked those office conflicts and were always contrite and relieved when the sparring ceased and they again worked in tandem. Friction became inevitable when the elements of stress, long hours and intense personalities were mixed together in the same environment. At Five-0 the confrontations were usually abruptly upon them and immediately resolved. He hoped the current discord would pass quickly.

Williams went to his office, just on the other side of McGarrett's, and looked over some papers while he simmered away the vexation. At the end of the day they would be cooled off enough to discuss the case rationally, come to some common ground, and go out to a late, peace-offering dinner together. Right now, however, that serene solution seemed far away. Markham's associates were well known and Williams intended to track down every lead until he found the suspect, just to prove Steve wrong! He would start with the cellmates, Connors and Kailana. Maybe he could find something out about them to support his own theory. It would just have to be done quickly. His intentions were to wrap this up by three o'clock, in plenty of time for the governor's press conference at four!

"Shall I bring a shield?"

Dan glanced up at Detective Ben Kokua, standing in the doorway of the cubicle. Sheepishly, he smirked at his colleague. "I'm just doing battle with one foe today, Ben."

"Good to hear that." The tall Islander offered a tentative smile. "I think you scared away all the secretaries."

At a glimpse Williams saw none of the clerical staff were at their desks. The argument was more heated than he realized and no one wanted to stick around when the McGarrett volcano erupted. This kind of strife did not happen often, but when it did, no one liked to be a participant, or even a bystander.

"Sorry," he apologized to the empty room.

"Maybe I'm not the one you should say that to."

Williams' grimace was rueful. "You're wise beyond your years, Ben. I could have used your sage advice a few minutes ago. But Steve can be so -- so stubborn sometimes!" He exhaled slowly. "So can I."

Kokua smiled. "No comment."

"The governor's putting a lot of heat on us right now and I didn't help by releasing Markham."

"It was a judgment call. We can't always be right."

Williams stared at McGarrett's closed door, now more of an insurmountable barrier than a piece of wood. "I should go back and settle this." His unconvincing observation came with no motivation to go step into the volcanic caldera again. "Right now the lava's too hot in there."

Kokua shook his head. "Glad it's your burned skin, Danny, not mine."

"Well, it'll be all of us near the eruption point if we don't find Markham by the end of the day."

"Will you be anywhere near Kaimuki? I'll treat you to lunch at my house. I want to check in on Sarah."

Mrs. Kokua was expecting their third child and Ben was a conscientious husband, solicitously concerned for his wife, as was all the Five-0 staff. The small unit of detectives was a tight extended family. The welfare of each dependent was important to the others, particularly McGarrett, who watched out for his ohana like a shepherd with a large flock.

Also in the family -- Jenny Sherman, the unflappable secretary was the glue to the entire state police force and to McGarrett and Williams in particular. Chin Ho Kelly's wife and eight children were part of that group, along with Sergeant Duke Lukela, a regular HPD officer on staff, his wife and three kids. To the bachelors, Williams and McGarrett, the family unit of Five-0 was important, every person's welfare was monitored. Williams coached some of the Kelly kids on the Five-0 little league team. McGarrett took the adults sailing during the rare times off when the office was closed. In times of crisis, whether a family emergency, or an injury (which happened all too often) to one of the detectives, the group came together in support and unity.

The thoughts guiltily reminded him of the recent argument with his friend, almost tempting Williams to go back into McGarrett's office and offer an apology. Almost. Two things stopped him; the hunch that he was right, and the need to prove it to Steve. If he was wrong, Steve would think him foolish, or inept, and Williams could not stand that. He never wanted to be anything but the best for Steve.

"Well, Danny?"

Williams tore a piece of paper in half. "No, thanks, Ben, I'll be all around the island today, mostly outside the city." He glanced over his list, then folded it into his pocket. "You check these three names, including Connors, who might be our man, so be careful. Take back-up."

"I'll see if Duke can help. What about you?"

"I'll check Grover and Kailana. We better have results by three or we'll be explaining to Steve why we failed."

Ben agreed readily. "I'll try for two-thirty." He wanted out of the office before another eruption.

"How's Sarah doing, anyway?"

"She can't wait for this week to be over. She's sure the baby will come anytime."

Williams gathered his papers and joined Kokua at the door. "Tell her hi for me. And remind her I'm still buying a ball glove for the baby boy."

"Way to go, Danny!" Already the father of two sweet little girls, it was no secret around the office that Ben, and the other detectives, were hoping for a boy. "I'll tell her."

Williams stopped at Chin's office, where Jenny and Chin Ho were hiding out over coffee and banana bread.

"It's safe to come out now." Williams' sighed, only half-kidding.

Chin's expression was one of parental disappointment. "Two immovable objects make for one big headache." The long-suffering tone clearly revealed his rebuke.

"Thanks for the proverb, Chin, but this headache won't last for long. One of us will treat the other to crow for dinner tonight."

"You two should be ashamed of yourselves," Jenny reprimanded.

"I know, Jenny, but these clashes are inevitable every once in a while." Dan meant to be assuring, but it came out flat. "I shouldn't let him get under my skin like that." With a regretful nod toward the closed door at the end of the office, he sighed. "But volcanoes have to blow off steam."

"Maybe you should tell that to Steve." As always, Chin's advice was wise and easier said than done.

Jenny gave Williams a slight nudge on his arm. "Maybe we can all get back to normal chaos then. Talk to him, Danny."

Dan again glanced at the door with McGarrett's name. He didn't have the humility or the patience right now. There was a good possibility he was right, and Steve was wrong, and he would not concede on that point until he returned with evidence one way or the other. "We'll settle everything when I get back. Which I hope will be about three. And save me a piece of that bread, will you?"

"Drive safely," Jenny, warned. "The storm's coming in."

"I was already hit by one, I don't want to be caught again." Williams' winning smile underscored the joke and breezed out the door with confidence.

Shaking her head, Jenny studied the closed door, disturbed by the morning's raging squall, but encouraged by the uplifting attitude of the departing detective.  Danny Williams was the level-headed, calming influence in the office, the exact counterpoint to McGarrett's excitable and sometimes harsh dramatics.  They complimented each other perfectly most of the time, working on cases from different angles and energies and meeting in the middle, symbolically and literally, to solve crimes.

It was a wonderful prize for the stern and aloof  boss to possess such a wonderful relationship going with his second-in-command. The strong personalities sometimes debated, but, like today, it would be over soon thanks to Danny's easy-going personality.  Probably before the sun set it would have all blown over, or if not smoothing out their professional opinions, they would declare peace over a friendly dinner.  It all worked because Danny was able to see compromise where others could not with the headstrong boss.

*****

Unable to concentrate on the witness statements in front of him, McGarrett leaned back and sighed with displeasure. Arguments with Williams were always heated, intense and short. Like spats with a kid brother, the conflicts left them both contrite and ready to work for common ground. Dan WAS like a younger brother, following in his footsteps, yet with valuable talents of his own. There was no room on the team for second best. McGarrett had seen the best in Williams when he recruited him from HPD years before. Since their early cases together, a mentor/pupil relationship evolved into a friendship deeper than the aloof leader expected. He considered Dan his best friend and knew the perspective was reciprocated.

Atypically, McGarrett felt his attitude this time a bit extreme. Out of line for attacking Dan's judgment call, Steve knew Williams had excellent reasons for releasing Markham. Steve blamed the pressure from the governor, harassment from the press and the other heavy caseloads as straining the unit -- the unit's boss -- to the limit. Five-0 officers functioned with tension on a daily basis, but this week's intensity brought the worst out in everyone. He should not let Jameson's irritation boomerang onto his guys, but sometimes it happened. The angry words sizzled the air of the office, impossible to recall. The only option now for a graceful compromise was to give Danno's theories some attention and prove them wrong while also reviewing his suspicions of Markham. There WAS the outside possibility that HE was wrong, but he was not ready to admit that yet.

Jenny came in with phone messages, a coffee refill and slices of banana bread. "Here, you'll need to replenish your energy."

The obvious dig at the argument was enough to chasten McGarrett. "That bad, huh?"

"I haven't heard such a donnybrook in a long while," she lectured. "You two know better."

There was no way to get around the truth, and McGarrett succumbed to her superior logic and propriety. "I know. I let my Irish temper get the better of me."

She wagged a finger at him. "I'm not the one who deserves that excuse."

"Jenny --" His patience straining under the continued criticism, he bit back an impulsive retort. "Danno should have checked with me before releasing a suspect."

The secretary shook her head. "You've been short-tempered with him ever since that mess when he was charged with shooting that unarmed young man."

"That's not true!" Steve denied it instantly; aware he flinched at the reminder of the nasty incident he could never quite put out of his mind. From Jenny's sour expression, she caught the prevarication. The self-defense came too quickly. "This has nothing to do with Danno trying to resign." He turned away, staring out the window at the spacious front lawn of the Palace, not wanting her to see the regret in his eyes.

"Save two of those slices for him." Unimpressed by the reversion to authority, or the equivocation, Jenny shook her head. "You've taught him too well." With that cryptic comment she left, leaving the boss to stew on the conversation.

"What's that supposed to mean?" He wondered, half-knowing the answer. It was not his fault Danno picked up a talent for stubbornness -- one of Steve's worst habits! Dan should be more selective on emulation!

With a sigh he tried, and failed, to not think of the scaring incident of Dan's resignation over a charge of shooting an unarmed youth. *[episode -- PIG IN A BLANKET]* Had he been harder on his friend since that loss of faith? Dan's loss of faith in him? Or his own loss of faith in Dan? Williams quit Five-0 in front of the media -- Steve winced, the memory still painful -- unforgivable treason if anyone else had committed the act. Steve still felt ambivalent over Kono Kalakaua leaving last year. But Dan quitting . . . . Steve made excuses to the media, to himself, and fought harder than ever to win Williams back to the team. It had all worked. Steve proved the charges wrong and a humble and grateful Williams had profusely thanked him and returned to the fold.

"I'm just glad that one of us didn't give up on me." Williams' heartfelt thanks that meant more to Steve than anything else Danno -- or anyone -- could have told him.

Had Steve forgotten the painful occurrence? Not a chance. Had he forgiven Dan? Of course. They were the closest of friends. Had he been harder on Williams lately? Didn't he split duties with Williams more so they worked on separate cases and angles since that nasty incident? Was he avoiding Williams because he had not truly forgiven his friend? It was a bitter speculation that left him guiltier about the recent argument. As soon as Williams returned -- after the all important pain-in-the-neck governor's press conference -- they would have a serious talk. Meanwhile, he would try to bring his case to a conclusion and ignore the unpleasant inner truths, which now would not be silenced.

*****

The apartment complex where Tod Connors lived was an older, weatherworn building gradually creeping into dilapidation. The ex-con was not home and the neighbors were too disinterested, too unobservant, or too distrustful of the police to offer any good information. No one had sighted Connors all week and no one knew where he might be. Ben had knocked on every door on the floor, plus interviewed the manager, and still no useful tips. He leaned against the wall to avoid the pelting rain that had swept in on the eastern portion of Oahu during the investigation. A glance at his watch confirmed what his stomach told him, that it was past noon. He looked over the list of names again; noting Dan had been thoughtful enough to give him the people not far from Kaimuki. Deciding on a quick lunch at home, he was determined to finish off these assignments and help Danny with his part of the list. Jogging down to his car, Kokua radioed to Williams while he drove through the wet streets. No response from his associate. Dan was probably out of the car following leads.

*****

Maneuvering the muddy road was no easy task. Wrestling with the last of his late lunch at the same time was a challenge even for such a veteran of fast-food car lunches as Williams. Finishing the last of his mahimahi sandwich and fries, he gulped down some soda as his LTD slid on the narrow road edged by a gully. In the hillsides near Mililani, the center of Oahu came under the brunt of the spring storm. Sliding into the oozy driveway of an old house, he parked between a rusty, aged, battered Chevy, and the deep ravine running alongside the property.

Williams's feet squished the red, volcanic mire as he walked to the lanai. Knocking on the door, he scraped mud off his shoes, noting someone else had done the same thing. That and a functioning car in the driveway indicated someone should be home. Removing his ID case preparatory to identifying his official status, he announced his presence and pounded again, stooping to peer in a window for signs of life.

Kailana was a long shot, but there was no trace of Markham or Grover in the other spots he traveled so far. Glancing at his watch, he bit his lip, anxiously -- it was closing on three PM. If this Kailana lead did not come through for him he was out of ideas. He would have to return to McGarrett with some good explanations and egg on his face. Again a glance at his watch confirmed he had little time left.

Hearing a noise at the side of the house, he stepped around the corner, slowly drawing his revolver. Moving over by the car to get a fuller view of the house, he sensed, rather than saw or heard someone behind him. Too late! A force slammed him against the car. Crushed by a wall of muscle, Dan fought for breath and control of the gun as the bulkier man wrestled like a madman, ripping Dan's jacket from the force of the struggle.

In the few seconds of grappling, Williams recognized Grover, the ex-con, and had the fleeting image of someone else running from the house. Knowing he was fighting for his life, Dan elbowed the larger man in the throat, jabbing for an advantage. Grover squeezed the trigger, a bullet pelting the ground near their feet. Dan twisted his hand, trying to keep the stronger criminal from raising the gun. His foot slipped on the slimy mud and Grover fired again. When the bullet plowed into his leg Williams folded to the ground in pain, still making a last, vain grab at the revolver. Grover kicked him away, landing several solid blows to his head. Groggily Dan felt the ache of one more kick before tumbling and sliding down the mud-slick slope of the ravine.

Tumbling and sliding down the muddy slope, Williams' breath was knocked out of him when he abruptly slammed into some solid object. Gasping for air, he struggled against the blackness that was strangling out all senses, even the pain. Helplessly, he felt his mind slip into darkness.

*****

Bright sunlight reflecting off the metal on his desk-pen set drew McGarrett's attention from his engrossed reading of reports. He glanced at the clock, surprised it was after three. Vaguely he remembered eating a slice of the banana bread Jenny had brought in earlier and some kind of lunch, but he could not recall what it was. Shoving away from the desk he stretched and stood at the lanai, opening the doors to the crisp, warm sun and fresh air. The storm had swept through Honolulu and on to the mountains to leave the city bright and sparkling. Studying the grounds, the city, he wished his conscience could feel that cleansed. Disagreements with his staff were never something he liked especially with Dan. Real arguments were rare, but inevitable when his second-in-command and he were both too stubborn to compromise.

'Me, mostly too stubborn,' was his honest confession. Was that what kept him at a subconscious distance since the resignation episode? Did his stubborn pride create a distance between them?

Danno could be unreasonable sometimes, but never immovable. It made for short, intense confrontations that were soon pushed aside by rationality. After Williams left that morning, McGarrett calmed enough to decide to strengthen his opinion. Studying the evidence reports again, however, opened his mind to give his friend's position serious consideration. It was possible Markham was not guilty of murder. Two alibis could not be broken. So perhaps one of his ex-con friends borrowed the Markham MO. Or, Markham was an accomplice with the others. Grover and Connors had alibis for only one of the robberies. Kailana was the only ex-con in the clear. Chin had discovered only a few hours ago that Markham's former cellmate Kailana was living in Hilo taking care of a sick relative for the last two months.

If he looked at the facts objectively, not with the subjective tunnel of timetables and governor's press conferences, he had to admit Markham was looking more innocent than the other two cons. Considering options, he thought he would notify the governor to cancel the press conference, then get more manpower out looking for Connors and Grover.

More important on a personal level, he did not think he had treated Danno any different the last few months since the brief and public resignation. If he had, then he had to take a long, hard look into his own heart. Danno could be impulsive and self-doubting, but never, never disloyal to Five-0 or to McGarrett. He had complete faith in Danno as a colleague and as a friend and that had not changed, he was sure.

So his first task was something more important than the governor's publicity. He crossed to his desk and punched the number for HPD dispatch, asking to put a call through to Williams' car. Gathering the papers in neat stacks, when the intercom buzzed he slapped the button instantly.

"Danno, where are you? We have a lot to talk about."

"Uh, Steve, this is Duke. I'm responding to an HPD call. A car registered to Markham failed to pull over for a traffic violation. A patrol car is in pursuit of it south on the H-1."

"Stay on it, Duke! I'll join you!"

McGarrett dashed out, calling for Chin to drop everything and join him. As he raced from the office he ordered Jenny to contact Williams to join the chase.

*****

The engine of the wrecked car was still smoldering when McGarrett's sedan screeched to a stop on the shoulder of the freeway. Chin and Steve were relieved no HPD cars were damaged, and no obvious signs of police personnel injured in the accident. Spotting Duke, the Five-0 officers joined the HPD man near the front of the car. The cracked, bloodied windshield told most of the story, but McGarrett asked for all the details that Lukela could give him.

"The car's Markham's." The sergeant stated this, gesturing to the license plate as he strolled to the driver's side of the car. "According to the description on your bulletin, Steve, neither one of these men is Markham."

McGarrett stepped to the passenger side and observed the battered body through the open door. "Connors," he voiced thoughtfully. "Who's the driver? Not Markham, you're right."

"Looks like Grover." Chin guessed, studying the mangled face for some familiarity to a suspect. "Grover and Connors together."

Grimacing with perplexity, McGarrett studied the two bodies. Duke gave a run-through of the brief chase that ended in the fatal crash of the suspect's car. Property strewn out of luggage in the back seat looked like jewelry and personal affects related to the recent burglaries.

"Looks like you AND Danny were right, Steve." Chin's bland observation matched a neutral tone.

McGarrett was non-committal of the conclusion, but silently did agree it looked that way. Chin vocalized the idea that Markham, Connors and Grover all seemed to be involved in the burglaries and probably the murder of Mrs. Talmage.

"If so," McGarrett countered, reluctant to give up his theory, "then where is Markham?"

Glancing at the bodies, his eye caught on something that was out of place, his mind taking a moment to deal with the incongruity. He stared through the window to get a good look before leaping to incredible, impossible guesses that could not be remotely true. On the floor by the dead man's shoes was a police special .38. Next to the gun was a partially open leather case holding what looked like a Five-0 badge. Blinking to allow his eyes to adjust to the dark interior, he wondered what Connors, the passenger, was doing with a .38 revolver and a police shield? Using a handkerchief, he extracted the gun and case, staring at them with numb shock. He leaned against the car for support, his knees weak.

"What is it, Steve?"

McGarrett shook his head, unable to answer Chin, unable to voice the fears choking him from comprehension of the discovery. The Hawaii Five-0 shield and ID belonged to Dan Williams. Only a violent confrontation with the Five-0 officer would give the criminal possession of the weapon and badge; a confrontation which Williams obviously did not win.

Kelly and Lukela joined him at the side of the car. Observing the articles, they exchanged glances, then stared at McGarrett. No one voiced the most evident fear they shared. Steve flipped open the revolver chamber and spun it around. Two bullets missing. Sniffing the barrel, he recognized the scent of recent discharge -- enough to leave the telltale traces of gunpowder.

"Get me the keys." McGarrett hoarse order a bare whisper.

Duke leaned across the grisly remains of Connors and removed the keys from the ignition.

"I'll do --"

"Give them to me." McGarrett's command was absolute.

Accepting that their leader had to do this on his own, Lukela surrendered the keys. Slowly Steve moved to the trunk. Flinching, he opened it and nearly gagged on the breath caught in his throat. The trunk was empty. He sighed deeply, shaking with residual alarm. No body. Taking an officer's gun and ID meant there was little chance the policeman was still alive. Where was Williams' -- body?

"Danny might be with Markham, boss." Chin's tentative explanation barely registered on the chief of Five-0.

McGarrett could not believe his friend was dead. Neither could he subvert the stark reality that there was very little possibility that known murderers would take an officer's gun and ID, yet leave him alive. Logic fed his greatest dread, yet hope that he was wrong this time was the only thing that kept him from anguish profound enough to overwhelm him.

Motions numb and clumsy from distraction, Steve rummaged in the glove box and found the registration -- Markham's address in Manoa. He ordered Duke to send a patrol car over there -- for some reason instinct told him finding Markham -- or Danno -- would not be that easy.

"Where was Danno's last stop?"

Chin shrugged. "I don't know. He never said --"

"Find out!" McGarrett snapped. "Ben might know. " He stared at the two dead criminals, anger and hatred bubbling inside him. They were the last ones to see his friend and now there was no way they could tell him what had happened. In sharp strides he crossed to his car. "I'll get HPD to check on Connors' and Grover's places. Duke, tell Che to get his people here now. I want forensic evidence on this car, on the bodies -- everything. And I want it yesterday."

"Will do."

McGarrett called the Palace just to make sure this was not a big mistake -- in case Dan had turned up since he left the office. Jenny gave him the answer he dreaded, that there was no word from Williams and had not been all afternoon.

'He was avoiding you, McGarrett,' his condemning thought resounded in his mind. 'He didn't want to talk to you until it was safe to come back. You drove him away. The last time you'll ever see him, and you drove him away in anger!'

"Steve!"

"What!" he nearly shouted back at his secretary, startled from his guilty reverie.

"I asked what's wrong? You sound -- anxious."

McGarrett closed his eyes, blocking out the gorgeous Hawaiian afternoon, shutting away the image of his concerned secretary. A more disturbing vision intruded -- that of Williams stalking from the office that morning. He opened his eyes and stared at the ground.

At his side, Chin offered, "You want me to handle this, Steve?"

Steve shook his head and compromised, giving a veiled version of his suspicions, deleting the blackest possibilities. "Looks like Danno's missing, Jenny."

"Oh, no."

"Is Ben there?" A momentary silence. "Jenny?" It was a strained command he tried to color with compassion, but he had no time for sympathy now. "Jenny, it's going to be okay. We'll find Danno," he assured without feeling the optimism. "Get an APB out on Danno and his LTD and Markham. Make sure dispatch puts out a general inquiry of who saw Danno today -- I want specific times and places. Please put Ben on."

The detective must have been standing right there because only a second later Kokua was on the line.

"Steve, Danny didn't tell me everywhere he was going. Out of the city was what he said. Grover was one he was checking out. He told me to be careful --"

"We'll find him, Ben. We need specifics, though. Find out where he's been. Use back up. We still haven't located Markham, either. Get back to me as soon as you know something."

When Kelly reported his tasks completed, McGarrett gave him the assignment upon their return to Honolulu to report to the governor. The press conference and the deadline seemed ludicrous now. Even the burglaries and murder of Mrs. Talmage were more of a footnote than a concern.

Amazing how priorities could shift and completely change in the blink of an eye. This morning the ridiculous politics of the case seemed so vital and critical. Important enough to drive a wedge between him and his best friend. If only he could take back the bitter words, the senseless shouting that was so petty and meaningless now.

The argument -- who was right and who was wrong -- could not be more trivial. It was devastating enough to think he might never see Dan again. What if the disagreement -- McGarrett's stubborn Irish temper -- drove Williams to reckless procedures while tracking Grover or Connors?

In such a hurry to prove his point, could Dan have been careless, distracted, when confronting the ex-cons? Did it cost him his life? The imagery of a collapsing domino line flashed in his mind. Cause and effect. Mrs. Talmage's murder, pressure from the governor, McGarrett's irritation, ending with Williams' motivation to prove his theory correct. Had the chain of events lead to one inattentive split-second in the life -- and death -- of Dan Williams? Fervently he hoped not.

McGarrett groaned, leaning his head against the car roof and muttering a quiet prayer for his friend. "Please be alive, Danno." His broken voice a whisper. "Just be alive."

On the drive back to Honolulu Duke radioed a negative report on finding anything at Markham's. According to neighbors no one had been to that address for several days. First dropping Chin off at the capitol, when McGarrett stormed into the office he was surprised at the late hour.

A small TV set on a secretary's desk showed the governor's press conference in progress. Chin Ho Kelly, behind Jameson, officially represented the office, but McGarrett did not pause to find out what the interview revealed. His focus was on the single goal of retrieving Williams.

"Tell me something new, Jenny," he declared as he stalked into his office.

The secretary handed him a stack of messages and he tossed them to the desk, knowing only minutiae would be represented there. He had noted her strained, anxious expression, but ignored it. If the news were the worst he would know soon enough. If it was the expected emotions as a result of the disappearance, then he could not allow himself to be caught in the morass of sorrow. His own regret was heavy enough to sink the island, and Jenny's along with it would be too much to bear just now.

"Grover's, Connors' and Markham's apartments have been checked. No sign of Danny anywhere, and no witnesses reported seeing him at those locations."

"What has Che found out?" He paced around the desk, fiddled with a file, then crossed to the lanai doors.

"He's working on -- "

"Tell him to get up here now with whatever he's got." The machine-gun delivery hammered through the air as he strode a track by the doors, finally slamming them open with a crash. "Who saw Danno last?"

"Patrolman Yoshi Nakamura spotted him before noon. Danny was heading Ewa on Nimitz."

"That's it?"

"No one else remembers seeing him." Softly, she finished. "No one thought to notice," she whispered.

Of course, hours ago it was a routine day with no hint of tragedy in the future. Why would anyone think sighting Danno this afternoon would be significant? Who would consider it would be the last time anyone would see him? What indication had there been that the last, angry words he spoke to his friend would be the final, parting message between them?

Jenny rested the notepad on the edge of the desk. "He's more than just missing, isn't he, Steve? Duke mentioned something about finding Danny's gun. You think he's -- that something's -- happened -- don't you?" McGarrett gave a silent nod of assent. She picked up the plate with two slices of banana bread. "He asked me to save a slice for him."

'Don't do this,' he silently pleaded. 'We have to keep the faith that he's alive.' Aloud, he admonished, "Jenny, I promise we'll find him."

He could not give the total assurance he wanted -- the certainty that Williams still lived. McGarrett realized it was because he did not believe it himself. More than anything he wanted to retain that hope, but the dread, perhaps the guilt, squashed the optimism he normally felt when Dan was in danger and things looked bleak.

The tension broke from a knock at the door. Jenny left without further comment, and Che Fong entered.

Retreating to her desk, Jenny leaned her face in her hands, determined not to break down in tears, but surrendering ground to the losing battle. This was a dangerous job and injuries were unfortunate side effects of the occupation. Every time one of the detectives were hurt, or framed, or attacked in the press, like the mother hen she was, she hurt too. In the past there had been close calls when it seemed one of the men would die. Grueling hours of tense waiting often passed, until doctors who held the detective's lives in their hands revealed their fate.

Despite her stubborn resolve another tear slipped down her cheek. Why did it have to be Danny? Too charming for his own good, he was everybody's kid brother around the office. Even the young girls who joined the organization, at first attracted to Williams, and were politely rejected (he would never, ever date a secretary), soon realized he could be a fun, charismatic and loyal friend. Older than a few of the girls on staff, his boyish good looks and jolly personality inspired everyone to adopt him as the eternal youth of the unit. Steve could be stern and mostly business, Danny would be the one to lighten the mood and keep everyone's spirits up.

Loving all the officers like family, she had special grooves in her heart for Steve and Danny. The argument this morning had made her cross with these two good men. Like the strong souls they were, occasional conflict was unavoidable. Now it seemed so ludicrously ironic that after the bitter friction they might never have the chance to make amends. The thought stabbed her with such profound pain more tears seeped from her eyes. Unbearable to think they had lost Danny forever, she could not imagine what this would do to Steve. Especially after the terrible morning rift. One thing she knew, if Danny didn't come back, nothing would be the same around here for any of them. And Steve would never, ever forgive himself.

Ben returned looking like a raging beast. Hurriedly wiping away her tears, she was too late -- Ben had caught her. The emotional reaction dissolved his anger and he took her in his arms, promising everything would be all right. They would find Danny alive. The words were cracked with emotion and false hope and Jenny sniffled back more tears.

*****

There was no telltale emotion in the lab chief's inscrutable expression as Che approached Steve's desk. McGarrett tensed in anticipation of more disappointment.

"I hope you can give me something to go on, Che." The flat tone belayed the hopeful comment.

"Mostly negatives, Steve."

"Danno's life depends on something better than that!" he snarled. The dead silence echoed the unsuitable, rash outburst and quietly he added, "Sorry, Che. What do you have?"

"No tangible clues on the bodies or in the car. Danny's revolver was fired recently and Grover had powder stains on his hands and shirt." He paused, studying McGarrett as if gauging the best delivery of the next set of facts. "On the gun, and on Grover's shirt, and pants, " he blundered ahead, "were two blood types, one Grover's, from the accident. One type the same as Danny's."

McGarrett leaned hands against the doorframe and released a sigh. Indirectly, another nail in the coffin. Optimism waning, he gave a nod for the forensic specialist to proceed.

"The car was in the rain, so only average dirt and grime from the roads and freeway were on the tires. On the shoes of the suspects, however, I think I have something for you."

Like the desperate man that he was, grasping at straws, Steve leaped at the thin possibility. "What, Che?"

"Soil on the shoes. Reddish mud with leaves. It was still wet. Considering the rain up in the mountains, I would say they were there just before they died. The composition is consistent with the countryside in the middle of the island. Not around the pineapple fields, somewhere with more trees."

"That's it?"

The lab chief was discouraged. "I thought it would help."

"It does," McGarrett admitted with chagrin. "You might have just found Danno for us, Che. Thanks." He rushed out the door. He stopped at Kokua's cubicle. "Ben, Connors and Grover were in the middle of the island just before the wreck. That rings a bell, doesn't it?"

Kokua slowly shook his head. "Not to me. I was mostly concentrating on Connors." He slammed a hand onto the desk in anger. "I should have been the one tracking Grover! Danny gave Connors to me so I could be closer to home! I should be the one out there now!"

McGarrett let out as breath of frustration. "Don't get off track, Ben. We've got to stay focused on finding Danno. What about the middle of the island?"

Kokua shuffled through some of the reports. He handed some to McGarrett while he quickly scanned other lists. It would be easy to miss some small detail in the rush, but McGarrett was intent, guided now by more than just purpose. Instinct told him there was an answer just beyond his reach. It was there. The incredible sixth sense he possessed assured him he had seen it and so had Danno. They were on the same track now, although he was hours too late, he guiltily reminded. If only his stubborn pride had bent enough to compromise this morning, Danno would be here now. He tried to shut out the fear that it was far too late for detection and deduction. He might follow on Danno's path, but the damage was already done. He had to hope the series of mistakes were not fatal for Williams.

"Here!" McGarrett shouted, slapping the paper. "Kailana! The other cellmate! He's got a house in the Waianae's past Mililani!"

"But Chin told us this morning Kailana's been on the Big Island for months."

"Chin told us after Danno left, Ben. After!" McGarrett reminded, the entire morning clearly etched in his memory. Practically every word, every exchange, every moment was recorded there forever.

"Danny must have checked at Kailana's house." Kokua warmed to the theory

"It's been raining there all afternoon. That would explain the mud on the shoes." Steve threw down the papers. "Let's go."

McGarrett ordered Jenny to call for back up and the other Five-0 detectives to meet at the house. As they drove he monitored the converging of available units, although they would be one of the first on site. Ben was noticeably quiet, brooding over what they would find at the house and about the misguided morning that had put Williams in peril. So much or so little could have been said or done to alter the course of the day. McGarrett had pushed his friend, Williams had chosen to cut Ben some slack. Elements of both placed Dan in an isolated point in the center of the island with two or three criminals and he could vividly imagine what happened. Cause and effect.

"Why didn't he have back-up?" Ben asked miserably. "He could have asked me, Steve. I would have stuck with him."

Steve did not want to encourage the brooding, but found his own guilt overwhelming. Loyalty should have been his first concern, not one-upmanship. There should have been no risk for anyone on the team today, but his miscalculations, his aberration in methods had cost Williams, perhaps the highest price.

"I put him out here on his own. Danno had a mission today. He had something to prove to me." The quiet admission agonized him. "He was distracted."

Steve pinched his lip, seeing beyond the road ahead as they drove toward the bank of stormy, dark clouds obscuring the highway. In his thoughts, that final moment in his office that morning: ' "I want you out on the street and until you find him don't come back!" ' His condemning demand. His voice shook in anguished admission

Overcast skies turned to sprinkles, then abruptly to heavy rain as they raced through the small town of Mililani and into the back hills. The dirt road was almost impassable from the water and mud washing downhill. McGarrett drove much too fast and fishtailed close to the edge several times. When they whipped into the driveway of the house the sedan skidded to a swerving halt at the side of the familiar company LTD.

McGarrett leaped out and inspected the car, quickly checking the interior. No signs of violence. Crumpled trash from Kua Aina, William's' favorite sandwich shop in Haleiwa, rested on the front seat. Danno made this last stop sometime in the afternoon.

Steeling himself, McGarrett fished the keys from his pocket and moved to the trunk. Pausing for a few seconds, he slowly opened the trunk. No sign of a body or foul play. With a silent prayer of thanksgiving, another prayer of hope, he followed Ben inside. Gun drawn, his twisted stomach and nerves anticipated the worst.

Kokua stood still just inside the kitchen. The bluish bare feet of a dead man protruded from behind a counter. Dried blood pooled on the floor. Reason told him it was not Williams, but Steve held his breath, quelching down a wave of nausea until he confirmed the deceased as Markham. Done in by his pals, apparently. He did not give the criminal a second thought. Taking one end of the house, with Ben on the other, they quickly searched every room, closet and cupboard, finding no evidence of Williams alive or dead. By the time Duke and Chin arrived with several HPD patrolmen, they were finished with the preliminary assessment.

"Let's check outside." McGarrett grimly gave the order knowing a hostage, prisoner or captive would be more likely to be kept inside. Out of doors seemed a vast frontier for burying bodies. "There won't be many clues thanks to the rain, but we've got to check." He stared around at the thick trees and rugged terrain. "There's a lot of room out here."

"Maybe they took him somewhere." Chin's suggestion held little hope.

"Any ideas?"

Kelly shook his head.

"Let's fan out. Stay in sight if you can."

When McGarrett moved away, Kokua slammed a fist into the wall of the house. Chin and Lukela exchanged glances and Duke shook his head. "Let's see what we can find here behind the house."

The suggestion was met with a vile glare from the hotheaded Five-0 detective. "You mean find the grave." Ben slammed his fist into the house again. "Danny came up here alone and they killed him."

Chin glanced toward McGarrett, who was inspecting the LTD and had not heard the outburst. If he had, he certainly would have reacted to the surrendering finality of the pronouncement. "Best not to decide that until we have proof."

"I don't want to believe it at all," Duke insisted. "Let's go look around back here. Maybe they left Danny and he needs our help." Firmly he took Ben's arm and steered him away. "I'm gonna think that till I hear otherwise. If I don't do that, I can't give the search my best effort." Looking from Chin to Ben, he was the symbol of resolute pragmatism. "And Danny deserves my best right now."

Kokua nodded. "Yeah, you're right. Sorry. I'm under a little bit of stress."

Kelly patted the big man's shoulder. "I was the same way with our third baby. Doesn't get any easier."

Heedless of the sprinkling rain, McGarrett stalked around the LTD then leaned against the front bumper, surveying the terrain. In the mud he spotted something inconsistent -- a piece of blue material. Crouching down, he fished the cloth out of the mud. A suit pocket torn from a jacket. Danno's jacket, he was sure. Right next to the ravine.

A small river rushed through the gully next to the car. Higher up the Waianae mountains the rain was heavier, the clouds thicker. The overcast sky made it dreary and dark. Twilight would come soon to complete the dimness, virtually ending any chance of finding Williams. Rubbing rain from his face Steve sighed, still fighting to close out anything but optimism about his friend being alive. He stared down at the murky flood rushing through the wash and on to the sea. It was a perfect spot to throw a body.

As McGarrett moved farther downstream, Chin Ho directed searchers to fan out and follow the Five-0 chief. The situation looked bad and Kelly relied on routine to shield him from the grief already edging into his emotions. Not one to panic -- he'd seen crisis enough in his life to learn patience -- he couldn't help but think the worse. Two criminals desperate to save their skins had caught Danny. Expedience would have dictated throwing the body in the ravine. Two empty chambers in Danny's revolver indicated the body was not alive when it went into the water.

Glancing at the retreating, tense shoulders of the Five-0 leader, Kelly shook his head, hoping for the best but expecting catastrophe. Near the house, Ben Kokua was snapping orders to searchers, bustling around in an effort to stay busy, but anger and grief were already eating away at the younger detective. Ben must have decided that Danny was dead, as did Chin. A conclusion they would refrain from mentioning to McGarrett. Staring after Steve through the drizzling rain, Chin sighed. Emotions and speculations were forced aside. For now the important thing was to do everything they could to determine the certain fate of Dan Williams. When they knew, then would be the time to gather together and mourn, indulging in the sorrow they now only suspected.

*****

Choking for breath, Williams clung to consciousness without understanding what was happening. Smothered, he fought for oxygen and coughed out the water gagging in his throat. Finally able to breathe, he spit out the disgusting sludge in his mouth and greedily drew in lungsfull of air until the panic subsided. He was not drowning, his head was above water, and only rain covered him now. Survival satisfied he opened his eyes, realizing he was still in danger. Wedged against a tree trunk, he was chest deep in the muddy current of the river running down from the mountains to the ocean.

Piece by piece memory returned -- where he was and why he was here. The fight with Grover -- yes, it had been Grover who wrestled him for the gun, shot him, and dumped him into the ravine. Heavy with fatigue, his vision and thoughts fuzzy, his entire body was sore and cold, his right leg throbbing with sharp pain. Aware and knowledgeable enough, he guessed he was suffering from shock, exposure and blood loss.

The choppy, swift water splashed against his face. Carefully he shifted, the movement shooting intense agony through his leg. The wood beneath him slipping further into the river. Leaning to the left, he hoped to compensate and rebalance the log. The old, splintered trunk jolted, squeezing against his right ankle, then settled a few feet closer to the water. He dropped his head into the mudbank, staring up at the slit of gray sky, cautiously testing his uninjured leg. Trapped. Glancing uphill, he doubted he could make the ascent. If he tried to climb the slippery bank he would lose his perch of safety and probably slide into the rushing stream. Without the use of one leg, energy drained, it would be nearly hopeless to stay alive in the water if he was caught in the current.

The ridiculous thought of McGarrett's Principles surfaced -- the silly list of imperatives he attributed to Steve in the early years of their association. As a mental litany he recited them aloud, through chattering, clacking teeth.

"Number One, Steve is always the boss. Number Two, you have no personal -- whoa --" His grip slipped and he scrambled to hold on tighter without going under. "Never give up," he whispered in a repeated prayer. "Never give up. Never give up . . . ."

Studying the high, steep walls of the gully, it was impossible to tell how far he had washed downstream or where he was. It seemed late, near dusk, but that could be just the overcast sky and the close walls of the deep, narrow wash.

"Which leads me to Number Four. Do you best." Somehow, he had to fight his way back up to the rim, back to life.

Shivering, he checked his watch: five-thirty PM. With a mirthless laugh he shook his head. He missed the press conference! It was all so stupid, now. The argument with Steve was a stubborn exercise in futility. They had both miscalculated, and look where his pig-headed ideas got him! So busy trying to prove Steve wrong, he got sloppy and careless and Grover got the jump on him. A tiny flaw at the beginning of a chain could trigger unforeseen events further along the links. In police work an overlooked detail could mean a fatal blunder. Letting pride and ego get the better of him was a rookie mistake and he knew better than to fall into that trap. Death was a hard price to pay for his rare oversight, but in his business that was usually the cost of oversights.

"Sorry," he muttered through chattering teeth, closing his eyes against the rain. What if that last, petty scene in the office was the last time he would talk with his friend? Hardly the way he wanted to be remembered. "I wish I could take it all back," he whispered morosely. "Sorry, Steve . . . ."

*****

"Here, these might help."

McGarrett stood up from studying the tracks in the brush. Kokua offered a flashlight in one hand and an umbrella in the other. McGarrett chose the flashlight and used it to scan the mud path into the forest. There was no evidence of footsteps in this area, but it was hard to tell with the rain. Instinctively, he felt this was not the right direction to take a search, but he was a little gun-shy of his hunches right now. Where was his famous sixth sense when he needed it this morning? Abandoned in the flash fire of his anger and blind pride. Dulled by remorse and dread, were his instincts to be trusted now?

"I take it no one's found anything?"

"Nothing."

McGarrett started back toward the house. Walking along the thin path between the ravine and the walkway, he strafed the muddy slope with the light beam. He had searched a short distance along the wash already, finding no evidence of a struggle or a body. It was still, however, the most convenient and simple place to shove someone, dead or alive. A decent search would take hours, days.

Yoshi Nakamura, a brazen, energetic young HPD patrolman, came over to report the canine unit had arrived. There would be little for the dog to track in this mud, but the team would give it their best shot. Nakamura also said a search and rescue unit was already on the way, but within the hour they would lose the light and no one could continue until morning.

"Then they'll search in the dark!" McGarrett's intense determination would not be challenged. "Go help the officers checking the woods."

Probably more sharp than he needed to be with the young officer, Steve didn't regret his dismissal. Young Nakamura's presence here seemed an affront to the missing Five-0 officer. Yoshi often lobbied, only half-jokingly, that he was in competition for Williams' place on the Five-0 team. A few months back Yoshi had stepped in with references in hand when Danno had publicly resigned. Steve had never accepted the resignation and never accepted Yoshi's bid for admittance into Five-0. Nor would Steve ever think of replacing Danno. It would never happen, of course, but Yoshi determinedly tried, every chance he got, to impress McGarrett. Now that there was a real possibility of a vacancy, McGarrett wanted to banish the young man out of pure superstition. Without an understudy in the wings, Danno would miraculously show up and all would be right with the world.

Officers called to each other, carefully picking through the mud, announcing negative finds as they scanned the area. Walking along the edge he studied the ravine, hoping for a sign of his friend, the light beam raking the area for some subtle clue. In the back of his mind he expected the more obvious evidence of a body.

*****

Abruptly jarred awake, Williams held completely still, surprised at dozing off, wondering what startled him awake. Water was lapping at his chin and he carefully tested his leg -- still trapped. With the storm intensifying and the water rising, he had no choice but to free his foot and make for the top. Tentatively edging upward, he clawed fingers into the slime and pulled up as far as possible. The ankle stuck.

Resting his head in the mud he mentally gearing for the battle he knew would not be easy. Once he yanked away with force, the trunk could be caught in the current with him still attached. In his muddled mind he could find no options. Stay trapped here and drown, or try to break free and be swept away in the river. Pick your poison.

White lines swam up and down against the black backdrop of twilight. Focusing hard, it took several minutes for him to define the light as flashlight beams against the dark gully bank opposite him. He smiled. Steve was out there looking for him, he knew. As sure as he was still breathing, he knew rescue was close at hand. If he were in trouble, Steve McGarrett would not let a little thing like storms or floods defeat him. Dan giggled, elated that this was almost over.

"Steve," he laughed. "Steve!" There wasn't a prayer his friend could hear him through the storm and rushing water, but reason held no place in his mind now. "Ste --"

Water splashed into his mouth. He raised his head, spitting and choking for breath, sputtering to keep the nasty, silty waves out of his face. There was no choice now. He had to get out. McGarrett could not hear him, not yet, anyway. If he was higher or closer he might have a chance. Twisting slowly, he clamped onto the mud with both hands and dug into the earth. The trunk slipped, pulling him under the water. Frantically raking his hands in the muck, he clutched onto a rock and inched his way above the river. Coughing and wheezing, he strained to loose his ankle and still keep purchase on the stone.

*****

"Did you hear that?"

McGarrett stood still, closing his eyes to concentrate audio senses.

Chin, who had come out with the rescue team, shook his head, but said nothing. His boss was concentrating on a different plane and he tried to hear whatever had caught Steve's attention. Beyond the rain and the water below them in the wash, he heard nothing but the background murmurs of men and dogs organizing for a search. There was little time left before dark and Kelly held out no hope of finding their colleague's body tonight. In a few days, somewhere along the ravine or even on the beach where the mountain water washed out, they would find Williams. It would be a crushing loss, but it would almost be better than the false hope they were suffering through now. Cringing as he looked at McGarrett, he knew it would be more merciful to find the body and commence with the mourning process. Disturbed that he so easily accepted Dan's death, he felt relief at having passed that monumental judgment. Better than the doubt and prolonged agony of Steve's torment. A night, maybe days of such suffering would be too cruel.

Walking along the edge of the ravine, McGarrett examined the water below and searched the muddy slopes. At times the edge of the path crumbled under his feet as he strained to see into the deep wash as sunlight slowly faded from the sky.

"Danno!" He walked, always at the brink, his entreaties more desperate as he trailed the edge downstream. Still hoping, fearing the worst, but hoping, he plodded through the mud. Everyone else seemed resigned to Dan's death, but he couldn't -- wouldn't do that. "Danno!"

Chin called him back several times, but he could not give in -- give up. Dan had to be alive -- had to be. Fear kept McGarrett searching, stumbling through the slippery clay. Hope carried his voice when desperation nearly strangled him. He needed his friend to be alive. Not just because of the uneasy parting, not because of the guilt, but because Dan was his friend.

Suddenly he caught his breath and stood motionless. Filtered through the pelting showers came the distant, plaintive cry of his name.

"Steve . . . ."

"Danno!"

Running along the path's end, he called to his friend, raking the water with the light. Chin jogged alongside, motioning for others to follow. The beam caught on a scrap of green at the agitated waterline of the river. With the distance and dim visibility it was hard to determine what the object was, but McGarrett knew instantly. Before reaching parallel with the downed officer, Steve jumped onto the mudbank at a run and stumbled and slid his way down to the water. It was left to Chin and Ben to quickly follow up with the rescue equipment and send the qualified climbers down after the impulsive chief.

"Danno! Danno!"

Heedless of the imminent danger that a misstep would plunge him into the breakneck current, McGarrett slid on the ooze until close enough to see his friend was alive, clinging literally for life to a rock.

"Hang on, Danno!"

"Steve." It was something between a relieved sigh, a sob, and a laugh. "I knew -- I knew -- knew it was you." He slipped a bit closer to the water.

Too many emotions warred in Steve's heart to analyze the stark faith of the comment. Danno never -- never -- lost faith in him! Already too numb with relief, he simply concentrated on the immediate task at hand: rescue Danno. Everything else could sort itself out later.

"Hold on, Danno, we're going to get you out of here."

"Don't, Steve, you'll -- "

Dan's mouth went under and he stretched his head up to occasionally keep above the lapping waves. Taking in water, mud and air, he choked, hands losing more of the precious grip on the rock.

Steve came up alongside the boulder and for the first time got a close vision of his friend. Completely worn, muddy, scraped and shaking, Williams clung to his stanchion more out of instinct than strength. Gripping the stone with one arm, McGarrett placed the other around his friend's shoulder.

"I've got you, now, Danno, you can let go."

Williams shook his weary head. "Can't. I'll sink."

"I won't let you!" McGarrett's desperate promise pleaded from the heart. "Let me pull you up!"

"Snagged," Williams whispered. "Foot trapped. Can't -- "

His face went under. McGarrett frenetically yanked him back, unable to clear him more than a few inches above the water.

"I won't let you go, Danno! Trust me."

"Yeah."

McGarrett called to the rescue men to hurry. Ropes flung nearby and men in life jackets scrambled down toward them. Once more Williams yanked nearly out of his grasp by the current.

"I've got you!" McGarrett raged, fighting the horror of losing his friend to the insurmountable flow of nature.

Williams coughed. "Glad you came."

"Where else would I be -- "

Brutally, Williams was abruptly jerked from the rock and pulled under the water. McGarrett felt his friend slip from his grasp in less than a heartbeat. In the same second he plunged down, blindly reaching through the mud, snagging a piece of Williams' clothing while grasping the edge of the rock with his fingertips. Slowly his hold on the crag slid, an inch at a time, as the current pulled them into the maelstrom. Knowing he literally held Danno's life in his hand, his fist clutched so tight his fingers went numb. Another tug yanked Williams downstream and the jacket sleeve ripped. Desperately McGarrett gripped the material as inch by inch it tore apart.

Williams' eyes, barely above the surface most of the time, widened as he spotted something behind McGarrett.  "Log!" he shouted. 

The top detective turned and with frozen fascination watched a clutter of logs, branches, trash and brush floating like a bobbing tank toward them.  Where they were in the bend in the gully, where Williams had beached, that was where the mammoth projectile was heading, bearing down right on top of them.

"Go!" Dan shouted, struggling to break free of his hold.

Appalled, shocked, it took only an instant for McGarrett's resolve to kick in and fight back.  "Hold on!" the material ripped more and he tightened his fingers.

"Go!" Dan struggled, wriggling away.  "Save --" the water washed over him. 

McGarrett held tight, holding his own breath, his arm feeling like it was going to drop off from the effort expended to keep the grip. 

Moments later Dan came up sputtering -- "Go!  Get away!"

Knowing what his friend was trying to do -- make him leave so he would be saved -- he stubbornly refused.  "I'm getting you out!"

Panicked, Williams' focus shifted to the rescue squad, trying to reach them.  "Get him!" he shouted to the men with the safety gear.  He turned back to McGarrett, his face, mostly submerged -- but his eyes sending the clearest message of all in his pleading.  "Save you --"  The water swept over him.  "Save yourself!"

Two rescue personnel slipped and slid into the rock by McGarrett, both of them losing their balance and relying on the safety lines to pull them out of the water.  Time was almost gone, he knew, but he could not let go.  How could he come this far and have Danno in his hands and then turn around and leave him to drown?  He could not give up!  Not even if Danno wanted it. 

The directional flow shifted and McGarrett realized he was being pulled out of the water. The rescue team was here!  But they had to take Danno! Still holding a death-grip on Williams' jacket, the coat split, jerking Williams out of his grasp. Without a second thought Steve released his fingertip hold on the rock, shouldered out of the grip of the rescuer, and lunged after his friend.  Amazingly, he managed to grab onto Danno in the maelstrom of mud, water and muck.  Seizing onto Williams' arm, McGarrett flailed back toward the muddy bank.  Moving to grip Williams under the arms, he got a more secure hold, but was caught in the strong undercurrent, sending them both down the violent river.

"What is he doing?" the rescue chief asked no one in particular.

"Trying to save Danny," Kokua unnecessarily told them as he slid down the bank.

"One of them was trying to rescue the other, while he was willing to drown so his pal could be rescued?  Never seen an argument like that before," he shook his head.  "Pupule."

"Yeah," Ben agreed, staring downstream into the darkness.  "Some argument."

"Some kind of power between them," the squad leader shook his head.  "Not see that kind of friendship everyday."

"No," the detective agreed.  "And you're gonna make sure you don't lose either one of them, either."

*****

The current, though, caught them, and tipped and tumbled them in a wild, wet ride through water and smut that was thick with dirt and garbage.  Wet earth, debris and water blinded Steve, filled his mouth until he gasped for air. Still managing a death-hold on his friend, there was no way to tell if Dan was still alive.  There was no time to tell, because his stomach dipped as they freefell down a slope, washing down with a waterfall, for a sickening drop.  With a hard crash they plunged deep into the thick of the rapids, and Steve fought to surface, always keeping an iron grip on his companion.  Tumbling, swirling, hitting against solid objects, he tried to get both arms around Williams, but the best he could do was just keep hanging on with one frozen, unwavering grip, always trying to keep his head above water, hoping he was doing the same for his friend.

Crashing into something hard and prickly, Steve used it to lever himself above the water.  A tree trunk wedged into the river, he realized in the dying light of the tropical sunset.  Hoisting an arm, elbow, then shoulder up on the dam, he dragged Williams along with him.  The tree was anchored to a muddy bank, and he slowly, agonizingly inched his burden and himself up, clear of the water. 

Every muscle ached, and he could feel scrapes and cuts along his skin, but all of those were secondary.  No broken bones, amazingly enough, and everything seemed to flex and move all right, even his sore left arm that had held onto Danno for the whole crazy swim. 

Ready to collapse, he had to check on Danno first.  "Danno?"  He felt the face -- eyes closed -- no breathing.  Running his hands along the still chest panic engulfed him surging energy along every nerve, driving out the numb fatigue with alarm.  Not breathing!  Turning the victim over, he expelled water until no more spewed out, then he flipped Dan on his back and started pumping his chest, then mouth-to-mouth, feverishly laboring to drive air in and out of his system.  Finally, Williams coughed, choked, then breathed again. 

Nearly faint with relief, McGarrett crawled over to crouch beside him and gently tapped his cheeks.  "Danno.  Danno, come on.  Wake up." No response.  He squelched the rising panic, assuring there was a pulse and breathing, and tried again.  "Danno, come on.  You're okay.  You're safe.  Come on, talk to me."

Shouts filtered to his awareness.  Now that his friend was secure, he could divert his attention to a rescue.  Seeing the strafing of flashlights -- on the other bank -- opposite the flowing river from them! -- he was mildly relieved.  Yes, they were going to be saved, but it was going to take agonizing time that Danno may not have!

Standing, he shouted, called until he was hoarse, when finally flashlights scanned his position.  After several attempts, ropes were flung across the divide and he managed to secure them to solid trees behind the mudbank.  All the time, he kept glancing over at his friend, his heart aching that Danno was not waking.

Two squad members hand-crawled their way across the river and secured safety harnesses to McGarrett and Williams.  The return trip to the other side was harrowing, even though it was controlled and he was tied to a line.  Needing to take charge and assist with Williams, he grabbed onto his detective's arm all the way over on the treacherous ropes.  Water splashed over and around them, debris collided with his limbs and body, branches and muck matted the lines.

Steve's body crashed against an obstruction and he felt his fingers pried loose from Dan against his will. Spitting out the slime from his mouth and clearing his eyes, he realized the rescue teams  were pulling him uphill. Behind him men were carrying a limp body up to the top. By the time McGarrett was bundled into the ambulance, an unconscious but alive Williams was being fitted with a mask and cared for by the attendant. Gripping the blanket tightly around his shaking shoulders, Steve watched his friend, not allowing his anxiety complete alleviation. Danno was alive, but just barely it seemed. There would be no sense of relief until McGarrett got complete assurances from the doctors.

*****

The oxygen mask was strapped to Williams wan face before the vehicle jolted into a speeding pace, sliding along the muddy trail leading  to the highway.  McGarrett held a hand to Danno's head, trying to keep out of the way while the attendant tucked a blanket around the very cold victim and set up to take vital signs. 

The lips a pale blue, McGarrett did his own check for a neck pulse and flinched, then pressed his fingertips tighter, detecting barely any beat under the skin.  Slow, faint, skin icy cold, losing color.  None of it was good, and his initial elation at the rescue was gradually slipping into morose dread.  Nor did he like the grim set of the lips of the young man taking Williams' blood pressure.  Refusing to give in to the possibility that Danno would NOT make it after all this effort, McGarrett retained his touch on the matted, muddy curls and quietly conversed with his friend to wake up and respond.  After a number of gentle, then stern, then demanding entreaties, McGarrett settled on consistent, quiet whispers of declaration that all would be fine.

"Oh, man."

McGarrett looked over to the attendant, who was lifting the blanket off Williams'.  A dark stain had spread across the top of the gray material, and the medic peeled back the covering to reveal a blood stain darkening the victim's thigh.

"I should have checked for injuries right away," the young man breathed, quickly correcting his oversight by tearing the already ripped trouser leg.  The blood was flowing from a deep, even gash across the leg. 

"Bullet," McGarrett defined, remembering now the two empty slots in the .38 chamber.  That meant Danno had been bleeding for hours.  With a dead voice, he tersely repeated the dreaded realization, knowing this only diminished his friend's chances for recovery.  Why didn't he think of this immediately?

The medic piled blankets around Williams to conserve heat while he bandaged the injury.  McGarrett bit his lip, watching the slow progress of life-saving efforts that he was afraid might be too late.  The rescue could be only step one in his friend's survival, and the second part could be the most agonizing of all.  HE had done all he could to find and rescue Danno.  Now it was up to the medical professionals and Danno's own condition that would determine his fate.  His life, then, was no longer in Steve's hands, and it frustrated and disturbed the boss to know all he could do now was sit on the sidelines and wait.

*****

McGarrett was slightly surprised to see Doc Bergman standing at the gurney when the ambulance doors opened at the entrance to the hospital ER.  The older physician wasted no time on commentary, only snapping out orders to the attendants as they removed Williams and rushed the patient inside.  McGarrett jogged on one side and watched Bergman on the other side of Williams, as they ran through the corridor to the nearest ER room.  Already set up for critical care, the staff crowded in to surround the victim.  McGarrett wedged himself to the side of the door, intending to remain, but gentle hands grabbed onto his arm to tug him away.

"Steve, let them work."

Startled, McGarrett glanced at the much shorter, thin, gray-haired woman at his side. Mrs. Dora Bergman, surgical nurse, long-time friend, wife of the doctor now working to save Danno. 

"They can do their job better if you're out here and out of the way, Steve."

Her stern, but compassionate tone and expression indicated this was not a request.  To back up the order, one of the attendants was on his other side, pressuring him to exit.  A glance at his friend told him Danno was in the best of hands, the staff working feverishly to to their job and save his life. 

He couldn't leave.  He had thrown his friend out of the office this morning, and since that time regretted his impulsive wrath.  When he discovered his second had been captured and probably hurt, he could think of nothing else but being reunited with a safe and alive Williams.  If he left this room he would lose visual sight of the friend who had to survive, but had a low probability of that happy ending. He couldn't leave.

"Steve --"

He shook his head in refusal as he watched Bergman orchestrate the procedure of IV set-up, checking vital signs, staying the flow of blood on the leg.  "I need to be here."

"Danny is in the best of hands, I promise you, Steve," Dora tried to smile.  "Trust me on that.  You know Niles will do his very best.  Give them room to work."

Aware of the tussle for territory, Bergman glanced their way only for a brief second, then back to the patient.  "Steve, go on, we need to be focused and move fast.  Let us have the best opportunity to help Danny.  I'll come talk to you soon."

He knew that tone and understood that he could be detracting from his friend's chances by being a distraction and an obstruction.  Not roles he was used to fulfilling, and certainly not ones he wanted to execute when his friend's life was so critically balanced.

Dora persistently tugged at his arm and when a nurse nearly crashed into him as she whipped around the bed, he recognized the practicality of their procedures.  Taking a final glance at the obscured friend he could hardly see because of the crowded medical staff, he retreated into the hall.  Mrs. Bergman tried to steer him to a row of chairs against the wall by the waiting room, but he held fast, just beyond the door.

"What are his chances, Dora?" he asked her, his voice raw with the need to know the truth.

She shook her head to opt for a non response.

"You and Niles have been monitoring us on the ride in," he snapped out.  "Otherwise you wouldn't have shown up here in force like this!  I need to know!"

"I don't have the details --"

"He's been bleeding for hours, he was trapped in a cold river for hours, and for most of the last hour he's been unconscious."  He didn't add that for a brief time there had been no heartbeat, no breathing.  Somehow he had lost his voice when he even thought about it.

Her face set in a stubborn plane of irritation.  "You want me to guess something I can't give you, Steve.  There are a dozen variables in a situation like this."  Her face transformed to sympathy, and her tone lowered to compassion.  "You want me to tell you it looks grim but he's going to make it."

"I want you to tell me the truth," he fired back, his voice grating on the fear and sorrow so close to the surface.  "I need to know that when I left that room it was not the last time --"  His voice broke in an explosion of pain.   Fighting to tough it out, he dared not speak again, and simply shook his head.  Moving away to lean on the wall, he closed his eyes and pressed his head against the cool, white plaster.

His temper had always been volcanic, as long as he could remember.  When he was instated as the head of Five-0, he became the brunt of many a wise-cracking editorial about the fires of Pele running in his veins, and woe be to the person who set off an eruption of his legendary ire.  The flash, hot rage had always been a source of irritation to him - the sorest hot-spot in a life otherwise noted for self control. 

This morning, he had lost that ragged, tenuous thread of restraint when he argued with Danno.  It had detonated into an unleashed blast when he ordered his friend away.  He had damaged his working relationship with his second-in-command, and he had smashed the respect and honor of his most valued friend.

" . . . you don't trust me enough to respect this decision -- my decisions --"

"I want you out on the street and until you find him don't come back!"

The last scene between them that his friend must have replayed often during the strained and unhappy day.  Had he dwelled on the argument when he was up in the hills and the killers came upon him -- surprising the distracted detective?  Had he replayed the office argument while  literally he clung to life, bleeding, slipping into the rushing water, hoping for rescue?  Had he cursed McGarrett for inflexible demands that pushed him into the path of danger?

*****

When Ben Kokua entered the ER, he scanned the waiting room first, then looked around the corner.  Not far from the nurse's station, he spotted the lone, unapproachable, aloof boss.  McGarrett's once dark blue suit was rumpled and brown with mud and damp river water.  He looked a tragic wreck and Ben stood there for a moment, uncertain he wanted to approach.  He had not been on the team when Danny was seriously injured before, but had heard stories of McGarrett tearing up the hospital.  This behavior was not like that at all.  This was tight, internalized, and frighteningly cold.

When he received the message to report to the hospital, he had wondered why -- why hadn't Chin or Duke, or someone who knew Steve and Danny better been summoned?  Was it good news or bad news?

Dora Bergman emerged from the nurses room and gave him a smile.  That expression was in direct counterpoint to McGarrett, and confused, he moved forward with a little more confidence.  "How's Danny?" he whispered.

"They're still working on him," she sighed.  "I had you called for something much better," she smiled.  "Sarah is upstairs.  She went into labor, and if you hurry you might get there in time for your baby's birth."

Gasping with surprise and elation, he gave her a quick hug.  "Mahalo.  Oh, the girls --"

"Suzy and Alia are with them.  I don't know what we'd do without Chin's girls. Now go, before it's too late!" she laughed.

Ben paused to study the grim figure down the hall.  "Will he be all right?"

"I'll stay here with him until Chin and Duke arrive.  They're on the way."

"Danny?"

"Niles is doing his best."

He couldn't read anything in her expression for good or ill, and he didn't ask.  He couldn't.  His torn emotions were mixed up with thrill and concern for his wife and their little baby about to come into the world.  Childbirth was common, they had done it before, but still, there was a measure of danger for both mother and child, as well as considerable pain.  If all went well, tonight would be a blessed and happy day for their ohana. 

It was beyond unfair that at the same time Danny was here, fighting for his life.  Steve was suffering, awaiting word on his friend's fate and enduring the bitter memories of a bad day and regrettable decisions that possibly put his closest friend in danger.  It was all too cosmic and tragic and poignant that the Kokua family and ohana were surrounded with love and joy, and terrible pain all at the same time.

Summoning his courage, Kokua stepped over to the boss, slowly moving into the line of sight of the bleak man staring blankly at the floor.  After a moment, McGarrett glanced up, his eyes shadowed in withdrawn, internal torture.

"Anything you need, Steve?"

Shaking his head, McGarrett returned his gaze to the floor.

Stepping quietly away, Kokua walked back to the nurse's station, torn in the emotional directions of the moment.

"Go to Sarah.  Everything will be fine here," Dora promised.

Knowing McGarrett did not want anyone to share or witness this hurt, he left, gradually shifting his focus from the bitter drama behind him, to the joyous event ahead.

 

*****

Zoned into a nether world of pain, McGarrett's head snapped up when the OR doors opened.  Bergman emerged, his hospital gown clean and crisp and as a mental aside the head of Five-0 knew the man had stopped to change clothes.  Good or bad sign?  He over-analyzed every little detail in a hope of observing a clue of Danno's condition before any words were exchanged.  He could not bear to receive bad news, but part of his rational mind did not know how such grim conclusions could be avoided.

"Doc?"

"He's alive," Bergman quietly began.  "He is critical, Steve.  Blood loss, shock and hypothermia are going to keep him on the critical list for a few days.  Right now he's stable.  The leg is infected, not to mention all the bacteria he -- both of you -- swallowed today, and his ankle is sprained and swollen.  I'm going to keep him on antibiotics -- and you, too.  While the infection should not be readily dismissed," he smiled at the chief of Five-0, and at his wife who slipped her arms around Steve's, "I anticipate a full recovery."

Feeling like he could breath again, McGarrett nodded, tentatively smiling.  The action cracked the dried, caked mud on his face and he realized he was itching terribly.  He smelled rotten, and felt worse.  Feeling a little self-conscious, he nonetheless asked for, and was granted, a brief visit to Recovery.

Danno was hooked up to machines and the room was lit with subdued illumination, but enough for McGarrett to note the officer's skin tone had marginally improved.  Pale was a step up from deathly-washed-out.  Cleaned up after the rank, hours-long bath, Williams looked like he was resting comfortably.

"He won't be awake for hours, Steve.  Go get cleaned up and get some sleep.  You could use it."  He handed the detective a bottle of pills.  "And take your medication."

McGarrett couldn't move.  No inclination to do anything but stare at the friend whom he thought lost on several different occasions today.

"Steve, he's all right."

"I drove him away.  Then I almost lost him," he quietly whispered. "I have to talk to him."

"Tomorrow."  Bergman patted the taller man's shoulders.  "Stay for a few minutes, then go home and rest.  Danny is going to be fine."

Satisfied his world was safely intact; Steve studied his friend for a short while, rehearsing the things he needed to say, wanted to say when Danno awoke.  The messages changed a d altered, none of them working, and he knew it was because it was all one-sided.  Like the argument.  He had a lot to say, but this time there had to be a real dialog -- Danno and he rationally discussing -- not him arguing and demanding.  He hoped he knew better now than to be so stubborn over anything as trivial as police work.  Some days, it was like life and death in the office.  Today, it was life and death literally, and he appreciated the difference now. 

With a quiet whisper that he would be back soon, McGarrett went home for a long, hot bath and a good night's sleep.

*****

By noon the next day, McGarrett slipped into the quiet, dim hospital room, pleased Dan was awake, offering a slight wave.

"Hi."

"Hi, Steve." The voice was subdued with fatigue and medication. Nonetheless, the expression on the scratched face brightened as he approached. "Good to see you're okay."

McGarrett sat next to the bed. "I'm fine. You will be, too. I talked to Doc. He says you're stable and pleased with your recovery.  How are you feeling?"

"Sore.  Tired.  Okay."  Dan endured a few moments of indecision, then made up his mind. "Steve -- " Dan shook his head in mild frustration. "First, thanks for saving my life."

"I'm just glad you're alive."

"That worried me for a while, too." With a tired smile he admitted to remembering not to disappoint the boss by disobeying McGarrett's Principle Number Three.

McGarrett shivered at the memory of how close they came to tragedy. "Yeah, you've got that right."

"Secondly, " Dan continued, "I want to apologize for -- "

"There's nothing to apologize -- "

"It was out of li --"

"No, I should have listened -- "

"I should have -- "

Williams was the first to laugh. An instant later Steve was smiling at the debate, then sobered.

"Danno, I had so many things I wanted to say to you after I threw you out of the office yesterday."

"Steve --"

"Then after I knew you were missing, all I could think of was telling you it was not worth you being distracted and --"

"Steve --"

"There is no reason for you to apologize! I should have heard you out."

Williams' face wrinkled with a smile, which bubbled into a gentle laugh.

"What?"

"I was just trying to tell you something."

More than aware of the irony -- that he was breaking his fledgling vow to listen -- he nodded and with wry chastisement revealed, "There are times I could try listening first." McGarrett's quiet admission came sincerely if not easily. "You were right." He explained about the crash, finding Markham's body, and his conclusions that all three were involved in the burglaries and killings. Markham was murdered in some kind of double-cross. "Grover and Conners died fleeing from the police. So you were right -- "

"We were both right and both wrong," Dan clarified with amused generosity.

"After i thought you were hurt or missing, or worse, I knew it didn't matter who was right or wrong.  It all felt pretty meaningless then."

"We both indulged in our share of stubborn pride."

"We did." Soberly, he continued. "I was also reminded that there may not be opportunities for apologies, so we -- I -- should never say regretful things I can't take back."

Dan agreed readily. "Me, to."

A knock at the door ended the amends. McGarrett invited the caller in. Ben Kokua slipped into the room, his face beaming with pride.

"Danny, how're you doing?"

"Not as good as you, I guess."

"I'm glad you came though okay." Unable to contain his excitement any longer, Ben handed both men blue candy cigars. "Sarah had our baby last night! Benjamin Daniel Kokua!"

General congratulations were exchanged. Steve jokingly wondered why the boy didn't include his name, while Dan complained his name was relegated to second place. A nurse joined the group ordering the noisy visitors to leave and she ushered the excitable Ben out the door.

McGarrett lingered, placing a hand on his friend's shoulder. "I'm glad you're back in one piece, Danno."

"Thanks for being there for me."

Imagined and vague conflicts of the past evaporated into invisible whispers of history. Whatever slights, guilts or petty grudges once shadowed them were swept away now. McGarrett knew this unity came at the high price of nearly losing his closest friend. He would never make the same mistakes.

"That's all that really matters when you get down to the bottom line, isn't it?

"Yeah, it is," Dan softly confirmed. "Nothing else seemed very important when I thought I was going to die. I knew you'd be looking for me no matter what we'd said to each other."

With a shudder, McGarrett vowed, "I promise this won't happen again."

With a twinkle in his eyes, Dan asked, "You're not going to disagree with me anymore?"

Steve managed a quick quiver of a smirk. "I didn't say that."

Seriously, Williams offered, "No matter what else happens, Steve, I'll never let some trivial case come between us."

"Nothing came between us." Steve smoothly denied -- not a lie. The tension and distance resulting from the past was history. He would never allow himself to be trapped by such petty grievances again. At a high cost, recent events taught him the danger of alienation and anger. "Nothing."

"Well, thanks for not giving up on me. Again."

"You know me better than that."

Williams' sheepish expression came as an assent to the truth. "Yeah, just like I knew you would come."

"You better believe it!"

A grin twitched on Williams' lips. "And I know better than to argue with you about it." Sobering he confessed, "It kept me alive knowing you never give up, Steve."

"That will never change, Danno."

"It will never change for me, either. Never."

PAU