THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT

PART TWO

 GHOST OF THE DRAGON

by GM


McGarrett leaned against the side of his Mercury and watched the C-17 lift off the hot runway and into the clear blue sky over Honolulu. The hot and muggy July afternoon had been spent at Hickam Field overseeing the transfer of top secret government material. There had been reports of possible interference by some dangerous international spies, but the rumors had never materialized into reality. It was a relief to have a successful end to the tense assignment. There was almost nothing more stressing than running afoul of government red tape.

Crossing the tarmac, Williams and a local pilot chatted while they slowly approached. Wavy heat-lines shimmered across the asphalt and lent a surreal quality to their figures. McGarrett shifted his gaze to the man standing next to him. The tall, lean State Department 'representative' (spy, Steve mentally filled in), Webb, was the reason for Dan's reluctance to return to the Five-0 sedan. Webb's angled, sharp features pushed his countenance from humorless to severe.

"Thanks for the assist, McGarrett," the spy tossed out as he lit a cigarette. "Didn't think it would go so smoothly."

Resentment between them reflected like the summer sun on metal. McGarrett did not forget nor forgive the incident the year before when Williams' kidnapper and torturer, Jin Wu, won freedom from Webb. When State asked for cooperation on this case, McGarrett initially refused, then received orders from the governor to comply with the Federal authorities. Steve had given Williams leave to not be involved, but Danno had gone along anyway. Probably to show Webb he had fully recovered from the horrendous brainwashing experience. Avoiding Webb during most of the last few days, the two Five-0 detectives would be happy to see the last of the spook.

"I'm staying over to tie up loose ends, McGarrett. Where can I find some action in this rustic tourist trap?"

"I'm not a tour guide," McGarrett countered sharply. "Just keep your nose clean, Webb."

Webb shot a brief wave to the head of Five-0. "Will do, boss man. I don't like dealing with you rurals anymore than you like me. So bon voyage and aloha to you, McGarrett." He opened his car door. "Oh, tell your boy he can stop avoiding me and jumping at ghosts. Jin Wu didn't come back to see him -- the romance is off, I guess." He gave a sneering laugh, then slipped into the government sedan and drove away.

McGarrett snapped his fingers, agitated at the prickling, danger-edge trepidation gripping him. The subconscious alert was confusing to him since the mission had been completed without a hitch. Perhaps the reaction stemmed from the proximity to Webb. Steve was as relieved to be rid of the operative as he was to be rid of the secret material. He preferred the black and white of the criminal classes to the musty intrigue of espionage.

Almost physically shaking himself to clear away the irritation, McGarrett turned to greet his approaching colleague. "Danno, let's call it a day," he announced as his friend came up to the car.

"Gladly," Williams sighed. He crossed to the passenger side of the sedan. "I'm happy that's over."

McGarrett smiled at his own thoughts verbalized by Williams. About many things, the two detectives thought along parallel lines. About government interference on their rock, they thought exactly alike.

"So, you think Webb is right? Have we seen the last of Jin Wu?" his voice nervous. Rarely speaking of the Chinese spy, Dan still, obviously, feared a return of the ruthless dragon-lady.

"Webb thinks she's a ghost, Danno. I hope she'll only haunt you in your dreams."

"As long as my nightmares don't turn real again," Williams agreed as they pulled away.

McGarrett forced himself out of the doom and gloom aura surrounding them. Not about to allow Webb or Jin Wu to ruin the rest of the day, he changed the subject.

"Well, we're not going to worry about that tonight. Did you get those Rainbow tickets?"

"First base line," Williams confirmed with a smile. Speculatively he glanced at his boss. "You sure a British lady is going to be interested in a ball game?"

With a laugh, Steve assured, "No. No more than I was interested in that soccer match she talked me into last week."

Amused, Dan shook his head. "Poor Agnes, she likes to live dangerously, doesn't she?"

"You mean coming to a ball game?"

"No, dating you."

"Very funny, Officer Williams. Now watch yourself or I'll stick you with the check."

"Hot dogs and beer for four? I think even my budget can handle that."

 

*****

 

As Dan Williams sipped cold beer straight from the bottle, he loosened his tie and undid the top button of his shirt. Then he slipped off his shoes and socks and leaned back in the lanai chair, stretching sore, tired feet on the top of the railing. Williams was grateful the day's assignment was pau. He didn't trust Webb. A residual reaction to Webb's participation in releasing Jin Wu under diplomatic immunity.

Although Steve never mentioned his specific suspicions, he seemed to suspect Webb had a separate deal going with Jin Wu. Those spy types always had something up their sleeves. Steve should know, being a Naval Intelligence veteran, plus from their numerous run-ins with operatives here on the islands. Perhaps he was picking up Steve's bad vibes over the State agent. McGarrett really disliked Webb. Anyway, government spook stuff made Williams nervous and if he never dealt with another spy-vs-spy plot for the rest of his life, he would be happy.

Haunting spectres warred for attention and involuntarily he shivered, then thrust aside the unpleasant thoughts of his last brush with the spook-dragon-lady. He forced himself to focus on nothing more threatening than the tropical-orange sunset and rejuvenating surf. He would head down to the beach club as soon as he finished his beer. Plenty of time for a swim before he picked up Mei Lu for the ball game.

The phone rang and Williams did not move. It was on the third ring when he decided there was no use in ignoring the summons. Wearily he walked into the living room and picked up the phone.

"Hello."

"Danno, we have a break on that spy angle. We're going to meet Webb at Pearl to be in on the kill." Williams was already straightening his tie and searching around the room for his discarded jacket, shoes and socks. "I'll be there to get you in a few minutes."

"Okay," Williams sighed and tossed the phone back onto the cradle. No wonder he had no social life. Every other date was canceled because of some crisis. Pretty soon he'd run out of women on the island who would date him. He toyed with the idea of surprising Steve one time and refusing to respond an emergency to keep his date.

"Yeah, right," he griped to himself. "But I'd sure rather spend the evening with Mei Lu than Webb."

He was just finishing the bow in his shoelace when there was a rap at the door. The impatient McGarrett was earlier than Dan expected. "Steve must be in a real hurry," he muttered. Jacket in hand, he crossed the room and opened the door. He gasped in shock.

"Hello, Mr. Williams," was the silkily evil greeting of Jin Wu.

Dan's mind seized in a paralyzing grip of horror, unable to move or think for several frozen seconds. By the time he instinctively reached for his revolver, it was too late.

Jin Wu barked out harsh, abrupt sentences in Chinese. Three times she repeated a phrase his mind automatically translated to mean 'scratched by the talons of the dragon,' although Williams did not speak or understand Chinese.

"Stop!" he demanded. He clutched at his head as torturous, overwhelming waves of black pain slammed into his senses. Feeling his entire being slip into a Stygian pit of terror, he thought he screamed from the mind-agony; from the horror of what he knew was to come.

*****

Tropical evening swept quickly across summer-time Honolulu. By the time Steve McGarrett reached the ninth floor of the building, darkness shaded the outdoor walkway leading to Williams' apartment. McGarrett was about to knock, but stopped when he saw the door was partially open.

"Danno?" He stepped in, hovering near the door for a moment to allow his eyes to adjust to the close, interior dimness. "Danno?"

Williams' blue sport coat lay crumpled on the floor. McGarrett carefully picked it up, briefly examined it, then placed it on the sofa.

 

"Danno!"

The Japanese screen to the bedroom was open and McGarrett slowly walked in that direction. His skin crawled with apprehension yet he could not justify the sense of danger which pervaded his feelings in this familiar territory. The inside of the bedroom was mostly in shadow. A dark form detached itself from the black backdrop of an oriental divider. The figure slowly stepped into a patch of light. He felt a moment of stunned, frozen incredulity. The detective was caught in total surprise.

Jin Wu smiled at him. "Hello, Mr. McGarrett. I promised we would meet again."

The voice slimily, icy with contempt, just as McGarrett remembered it. Each word sent a ripple of chills along his spine as she targeted him with those evil, cunning, dark eyes. She uttered a few subdued words of Chinese. Then Dan Williams, his .38 Special in hand and aimed at McGarrett, stepped from around the screen.

"Danno," he sighed; in pity, in anguish.

McGarrett focused entirely on Williams. It was a distorted repeat of the agonized moments they had shared at the airport the year before. Although McGarrett was acutely aware of the presence of the weapon pointed at him, his attention was magnetized to his friend's face.

Williams stood stiffly, his body shaking. His face was pale; sweat glistened his skin, his expression reflecting the inner terrors raking his soul.

"Observe my legacy!" she laughed. "I own his soul, McGarrett. I have since our wonderful night together last year." She curled a piece of Williams' hair in her fingertips, toying with her prey. Waxenly sculptured, suspended in time, Dan trembled in pain or fear or a dreadful combination of both. "He is mine to command."

"Danno!"

Williams screamed. With a shaking hand he clutched his left temple, scratching the skin, as if to ward off demons inside. "No!"

"Danno!"

Jin Wu stepped closer to McGarrett. She stared at him with sharp dagger-eyes of hatred. A strangling terror, lurking at the edges of his consciousness, now flooded to the forefront of his mind.

"You wished we would meet again," she hissed with contempt. "I grant your wish. You destroyed my project," she spat at him. "Again. I cannot return home a failure -- not like my father. Not because of you." She moved closer, slowly circling; a cobra assessing her victim. "Your destruction will have to be my victory. Last year I tried to kill you to prove my superiority to my father." She stared at Williams with pure hatred. "I did not count on the weakness of the instrument of my plan."

'Thank God Danno's weakness was really his greatest strength.' McGarrett thought. The power of their friendship had saved his life once -- perhaps it would again today. He shuddered at the memory of how close he had come to death, but even closer to losing Danno. Jin Wu did not know how effective her plan had been.

"My father has lost face because of you, McGarrett. I will not suffer the same fate."

That answered questions about his old nemesis. The old spy was not only alive, but without that fantastic powerbase he once commanded. Jin Wu's operation from last year reeked of big money from somewhere. Part of his curious mind wondered if there were more international backers, or if Wo Fat had been funded by the family bank account. None of that really mattered now. All that McGarrett cared about was Williams.

She threw a contemptuous glance at Dan, then glared back at McGarrett. "Now I will finish the job."

Without looking at her, he sought an answer to the senseless agony. "Then why not just kill me? Why brainwash Dan Williams?"

Genuinely surprised, she ceased her tormenting for a moment and observed him with dispassionate incredulity. "Such ego. You and your little world here are pathetic, McGarrett. Beneath my attention. Until your foolish detective stumbled into my lair at the import company last year. The courier was the target, never you. When I discovered this pawn came as your minion," she scratched a nail along Williams' cheek, leaving a thin trail of blood on the skin. Oblivious to the slice, the quivering detective kept his revolver trained on McGarrett. Jin Wu's sneering contempt cackled in a brittle laugh. "I couldn't resist having my little fun with him. It wasn't easy bending his will, commanding my bidding over his conscience. It took all night." She viciously slit a nail across Dan's jawline. Facial muscles twitched, blood dripped onto his white shirt, but the pain never registered in his brain. Overlaid by Jin Wu's domination, Dan's will was no longer his own. "My talons are sharp. They stab straight to his heart. He surrendered his soul to me. It is mine now to command as I wish. To use against you, McGarrett. Friend killing friend. My father was never this gifted."

Few times in his life did Steve McGarrett intimately understand the throbbing passion of desperation. Pounding into his heart now came the tangible fear of seeing Danno destroyed before his eyes. Still completely convinced Dan would never kill him, Steve feared Jin Wu's reaction when he did not die at his friend's hand. The crazed she-monster would, in all likelihood, turn on Williams with all her anger and vengeance. Willing to do anything to save his friend, he begged for mercy.

"Let him go. You don't need to destroy him. If I'm the one you want then take me!"

"Killing you is simply the end result. It's my mastery of manipulation and control that is the challenge. My professional reputation is at stake."

"Dan Williams has nothing to do with your father."

"I must prove myself better than my father. You are his greatest nemesis, McGarrett, so I must be the one to destroy you."

 "Then your fight is with me, not him."

She laughed, a crackling, mirthless scrape on his already taut nerves. "McGarrett, are you blind? Williams is the tool." He eyes narrowed as she stared at him. "As leverage he is most valuable -- "

"Then don't destroy him."

Shaking her head, she pouted, "There is no profit in that, McGarrett. He must kill you and then kill himself --"

"No," Steve groaned involuntarily.

"The fate of Nine Dragons depends upon it."

"You'll need a hostage to get off this rock, Jin Wu. Webb knows you're here." The information registered as a flicker of surprise on her otherwise mask-like expression. He pressed his advantage. "He'll be here anytime, Jin Wu. Leave Williams. I'll get you safe passage off the island."

A cold smile smirked, then died, on her porcelain face. "If I learned nothing else from my father, I learned the value of escape, McGarrett. I do not need you for anything but a dramatic death."

McGarrett ignored the ranting, no use wasting his time. As calmly as he could, he talked to Dan, urging him to lay down the weapon. This time the deadly confrontation was different and much more difficult than last year: They were alone now, no ready assistance. Jin Wu literally cornered, backed to the wall, needed this sensational coup to survive politically.

Dan Williams, now a different person, changed and altered since last year. He was not the glaze-eyed robot under her thumb this time. Now he was an agonized spirit at war with the voices inside his mind. These violent, inner commands were loud and persistent. They had been deeply hidden for most of a year and now might be strong enough to overcome any other voices, no matter how committed Dan was to old loyalties.

"Danno, give me the gun."

Williams' body trembled anew under the conflicting commands assaulting his conscience. Tears streamed down his face and he seemed oblivious to the physical reactions. He continued to stare at McGarrett with tortured eyes.

The chill which had never left Steve snaked along the base of his neck like a living entity of terror. Jin Wu was gloating over something yet to happen. Steve thought back to the anarchy she had caused last year in the airport. He could not afford to underestimate her. A tight knot in his stomach told him he may already be too late.

McGarrett's instinctive warnings of subliminal, latent programming had been painfully correct. She had left an insidious, deadly dragon inside his friend's mind. Her words were catalysts to release the poisons. Danno was fighting the commands -- pressure points in his brain. If he threw them off would they destroy him? Right now the internal agonies were tearing him apart.

"Stop it, damn you!" Steve demanded of Jin Wu, knowing it would do no good, but needing to do something to fight what he could not control. He shouted to Williams, his restraint slipping. Dan was crying out from the mental agony, his knees buckling from the pain. Very slowly, very carefully, McGarrett took several paces toward his friend. "Don't give in, Danno. Fight her!"

Jin Wu called out a Chinese phrase. Dan released a soul-chilling cry. The wild, pain-filled look on his face was frightening. Suddenly the revolver kicked in his hand and three slugs sang past McGarrett's arm.

"Put the gun down, Danno," McGarrett ordered, his voice even and firm. There was no fear that Williams would kill him. Danno could have shot him just then, but their friendship was still the shield which insulated Williams and protected McGarrett. Jin Wu's programming could not penetrate their bond. "You don't want to shoot me. I know you don't," McGarrett told his friend confidently, calmly. Control regained, he spoke softly, as if only Danno and he were in the room. "You know you won't hurt me, Danno. Put the gun down." His voice was intimate now, gentle, slow and reassuring. He repeated his instructions, trying to keep calm and easy as he stepped ever closer to Williams. Their bond had saved their lives countless times before. Steve needed that link to be stronger than ever now.

With each passing second Dan was breaking apart at the seams. His face glistened with mingled tears and sweat, his forehead pinched with suffering, an agony Steve had only glimpsed briefly the year before. The gun hand shook unsteadily. With agonizing effort Williams raised the revolver to a point just above McGarrett's shoulder. Another shot was released. Steve didn't flinch. Sadly, he recognized he was in no danger -- the Five-0 marksman's aim was way off tonight.

Jin Wu shouted more staccato commands, Williams screamed. "No," he sobbed. His eyes were filled with terror as he locked gazes with McGarrett. The pistol, cradled in both hands, pointed dead center at Steve's chest. "No . . . ." With a trembling hand Williams suddenly snapped the revolver up to touch his head, then pulled the trigger!

Shocked, repulsed, horrified, McGarrett instinctively jumped back. Williams' body folded and on pure instinct Steve lunged to catch him, cushioning his fall to the floor. McGarrett's body drained, weak, his nerveless limbs barely retaining hold of his friend cradled in his arms. The pall of terror so suffocating he felt nothing but cold down to the marrow of his bones. Frozen fingers of terror clutched his chest, leaving him gasping for breath. Steve could not even mentally voice the agonized scream in his mind.

Jin Wu became a smudge of color and motion as she moved toward the door. Eyes blurred with tears and shock Steve grabbed for the bloody revolver dropped from Williams' hand. Seizing it he instinctively aimed, firing several shots. Jin Wu's body dropped and remained still. The gun then tumbled from his limp hand. Gulping in deep breaths he wrapped his arms around Dan's bleeding head.

"Danno -- no --" he finally sobbed. "Danno . . . . ."

McGarrett's brain sorted through emergency, life-saving procedures in slow motion. Knowing all the steps necessary to render aid, he remained rooted in place. Finally the shock dissipated enough for more alarms to surface. Something had to be done. He had to be sure if Dan still lived. A trembling hand hovered above Williams' shoulder -- the right side of his face still buried against Steve's chest, obscuring the horrific wound. With leaden thoughts McGarrett felt the wetness soaking his chest; saw the blood pooled on the floor, the red spray covering Danno's face, the dotted-red stain on Williams' white shirt. McGarrett's own hands and clothes were covered in blood, the crimson smeared in wild patterns.

Time no longer existed. Everything which had happened with lightning speed before was now null. Now there was a reluctance to advance into the future at all. Life had dragged down to slow motion.

Woodenly, expecting the worst, McGarrett placed a blood-dripping hand on Danno's neck. It was an automatic gesture. Several moments passed before McGarrett's mind registered that he felt a pulse on the cool skin. Startled into action, he pushed Williams' limp body away to back his wild hopes with certain examination.

The head wound was a deep gash along the right side of the skull, cutting across the temple to just above the ear -- more of a furrow than a straight hole. There was too much blood flow to know how serious the injury was. Steve felt a glimmer of hope -- perhaps the wound would not be fatal. Maybe Williams' palsied nerves had saved him from a lethal aim. Steve gently laid the injured man down on the floor then removed his jacket to press against the wound. Danno's skin was dangerously chalky and growing colder every minute.

McGarrett had been through this agony before and how well he remembered the torture of believing, even briefly, that his friend had died. Fear gripped him into near immobility of thought and movement. He was in his own form of shock. He could not think beyond the moment; past or future. Williams was alive now. That was all that mattered. The repercussions of the shooting, the self-inflicted bullet, were peripheral randoms in the limbo of time. His only concern, his only present, was that Danno remained alive.

Steve was at the phone and demanding an ambulance and back up before he was consciously aware of the actions. Without waiting for confirmation he dropped the phone and returned to Williams, pressing the red soaked material to the wound.

The warm blood now flowed through the suit jacket and onto Steve's hands. His insular cushion of shock still numbed his reactions while terror gripped his senses. All he could think of was loosing Danno. He pulled his friend's head against him to help stay the bleeding.

Completely weary and spent from the emotional ordeal McGarrett leaned his cheek down on his friend's head and closed his eyes. He told himself the whole trauma was catching up to him. It was the mental excuse he used to justify the tears burning his eyes. Then he fervently prayed. He pleaded for his friend's life to be spared. So intent was his meditation he did not hear anything of the commotion around him. He was startled when Duke shook him, loosening his hold on Williams, then pulled him to his feet.

"I'm staying with Danno."

He tried to struggle from Lukela's grasp, but the Hawaiian officer would not release McGarrett. The apartment was now filled with light and activity. Several patrolmen and HPD officers in plainclothes were there. Two ambulance attendants were kneeling next to Williams' prone body. Duke was talking but McGarrett couldn't hear or understand the words. There was no sign of Jin Wu.

"Let them help him, Steve," Duke said urgently.

Without hearing any of the buzzing conversation, McGarrett felt isolated in an almost out of body cocoon. Everything around him had a kind of ethereal quality. Dazed, he wondered where Lukela had come from. Duke explained he had heard a shooting report issued for this address. Naturally he had responded, one of the first to arrive after the investigating patrolmen.

"Jin Wu," McGarrett muttered, his eyes still on Williams. "Put out an APB on Jin Wu. She should be here. I shot her." Blood smeared a patch of floor by the door. It had not been a dream -- an illusion -- he HAD shot the woman. "Went down there. She did this."

Lukela pleaded for McGarrett to slow down. "Jin Wu shot Danny?" He seemed skeptical.

McGarrett's voice was flat as he watched the attendants move Williams onto a stretcher. "We ruined her operation --" He waved away the explanation. "Nevermind. Just get Webb on it."

'I should have let you kill her last year, Danno,' he bleakly thought. 'I would have killed her myself if I had known.'

It would have saved them from this current agony. Strange, how in a crisis like this thoughts and desires; values and reason blurred so easily. He would gladly throw justice and right and good out the window now if it could spare them from any more anguish. He would have done anything. If only he could buy back the life of Dan Williams.

*****

As McGarrett paced the uninspired hospital corridor his stunned mind rewound to that terrifying moment when Williams put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger. McGarrett's system was still shocked and overloaded from the horrific tragedy. It would probably be a long time before he emerged from the haze of distortion warping his reality. To see his closest friend place the revolver . . . he quashed the remembrance. It was more than anyone -- any two people -- should have to go through in their lifetimes. More than he could endure; the torture and brainwashing last year, now this. McGarrett felt too old for this cloak and dagger edge to his life, too worn out to conceive of losing Danno.

These events left him terrified. The importance of his friend's life never in question, this tragedy focused his priorities as never before. Steve thought he understood that after last year; after almost losing Dan, and tried to fill this year with meaning. Now his attempts seemed woefully inadequate and much too late. Hoping and praying lightning would strike twice, he prayed Dan be spared and returned to him again. It was almost too much to ask, but he fervently asked for the miracle despite the odds.

Studying his blood-stained hands trembling in the grip of fear, he hissed out a shuddered sigh to release pent-up tension. Pacing back toward the doors at the end of the corridor he came to rest against a wall. A hospital ranked at the top of depressing locations in his opinion. Sterile, plain walls were no comfort to those condemned to wait here. Too many times lives close to him had been lost and the bad news brought to him in these white, cold halls. This time he needed the news to be good.

A young, lean Hawaiian doctor with a short, dark beard emerged at a brisk pace from the OR. The body language reassured McGarrett while the blood-splattered surgical greens did not.

"The bullet angled along the side of the skull," Doctor Karman reported after politely introducing himself. "There's a hairline fracture, but no internal injury to the brain, no bone fragments to worry about. Loss of blood and shock are what we're dealing with now."

Steve allowed himself a sigh of relief. "He'll be all right." It was a hope, not a question.

The physician shifted uncomfortably, squirming under the intensity of McGarrett's stare. "Should be," he said almost guardedly. "His system is weak, of course, but he's responding as if . . . . " his voice trailed away and he shook his head. "Not as robustly as I expected for a man in his athletic condition."

Alerted, Steve picked up on the slip. "What? What were you going to say?"

"Well, it's a little fanciful, but I've seen it before in suicide attempts. If he doesn't want to wake up, has no will to live --"

McGarrett was incensed at the implied slight. "He did not attempt suicide! And if you think he doesn't want to live -- "

"I don't --"

"You're wrong, doctor!" McGarrett shouted.

Calmly, Karman corrected, "Physically, he's strong and fit. Emotionally -- well, that's not my department. The psychiatrists are the ones to suture those wounds. Obviously we're dealing with more than just physical injury here," Karman speculated vaguely enough not to be trounced by the agitated cop. "It could be some time before he regains consciousness."

"I promise you, doctor, there is nothing obvious about this incident. Nothing!"

The comment brought a flood of unpleasant ramifications to McGarrett's mind for the first time. There was no fooling a doctor, no way to lie about a self-inflicted gunshot wound; the powder burns on the head and hand, the angle of the bullet. McGarrett wondered at his sudden, uncharacteristic willingness to cover-up the shooting. An instinctive need to protect Williams from the aftermath of this incredible night. Deceit was not normally in Steve's nature. He was surprised to find how easy the pattern of lies came to mind. There was no chance of pushing this under the rug as they had done with the airport incident, as they had managed with his own brainwashing in Hong Kong. There was no way they could cover up this shooting. News had probably already leaked out through medical personnel: through media tuned to scanners, through anyone connected with the ubiquitous coconut wireless. McGarrett wondered about the future. His future, Danno's future -- they were inexorably linked and their prospects did not look good.

McGarrett's attention caught when the unconscious Williams wheeled out of OR into recovery. Bandages obscured most of Williams' blanched face. For awhile Steve stayed at the window of the unit and watched the deceptively reassuring monitors gauging his friend's vital signs. It seemed as if Danno was simply sleeping -- as if he would awaken at any moment . . . .

McGarrett looked at his own reflection in the glass, startled at the fatigue clearly scored into his face by anxiety and fear. He felt the weariness of every line and shadow, every year, every crisis, every near death. This near miss, however, had tallied the deepest wound.

Another reflection appeared and McGarrett turned toward Duke.

"Danny okay?"

McGarrett slowly shrugged shoulders, which seemed infinitely burdened. "That's what the doctor says." No other details were necessary at this time.

For several minutes Lukela sadly stared into the room. Then to McGarrett asked, "What about you?"

That question was more difficult to answer and McGarrett intended to avoid a response even to himself. This was not the time to focus on his emotions because he did not know his status. He was still in shock, still too stunned by it all to know what to think or feel beyond the anguish.

To Lukela, he generalized. "Okay." After a moment he asked, "Did you take care of everything?"

"Yeah," was the distasteful response.

"Jin Wu?"

"Don't know. Webb knew already and froze us out."

The unhappy news was enough to snap McGarrett out of his shock. He turned to Lukela. "How did he find out? He had no authority to usurp Five-0 jurisdiction."

Lukela was clearly uncomfortable as the bearer of this bad news. "The order to cooperate with Webb came right from the governor, Steve." He hastened on before McGarrett could argue more. "Somehow the press got wind of things, too. There are reporters staked out in the lobby downstairs. Boyd and Vernor made it as far as this floor before Nephi Hilton escorted them outside."

Steve grimaced. "Sharks following the trail of blood."

"Yeah," Duke agreed with disgust. "I thought you'd want to clean up," he said and handed his boss an aloha shirt and a windbreaker. "I left my car parked at the kitchen entrance so you could make a quiet getaway."

McGarrett patted his friend on the shoulder. "Mahalo. But I want to stay here for awhile."

"I talked to the governor just before I left the office, Steve. He wants you to go see him right away."

McGarrett frowned. Official interference -- a complication he had not considered. Suddenly, it seemed there were a lot of things for which he did not have control. It was as if he could not get any sure footing underneath him. A small indication of how unstable his world was without the balance of Williams in his life.

He stared back into the ICU room desiring nothing more than to keep this post until Williams regained consciousness. He did not want to talk to Jameson yet. "I'll get in touch with him later," Steve commented vaguely.

Lukela shifted uncomfortably. "He was insistent, Steve."

With a sigh McGarrett looked at his watch. It was almost Nine PM, he realized with a start. Somehow the hours had dissolved without his conscious awareness of elapsed time. McGarrett realized it did him no good to remain here so he accepted the inevitable. Advising Lukela to call him the minute Dan awoke, he glanced once more into the recovery room, then took Duke's keys and slipped out the back of the hospital.

 

*****

When McGarrett reached the door of the governor's office, he felt suddenly self-conscious. Although he made a fast stop at the hospital to wash up, he had not changed more than his shirt. His shoes and pants were still stained with blood. Never in his entire tenure as Five-0 chief had he been this absent-minded. Hoping he would do better when facing his superior he opened the door.

As soon as he swept into the room he felt the foreboding of trouble on the horizon and anger at one of the men already there. Governor Jameson and John Manicote he had expected. Webb was an intruder and McGarrett felt like strangling the spy.

"Steve," Jameson greeted warmly and rose to shake hands. McGarrett avoided the greeting and confronted Webb.

"Why didn't you warn us Jin Wu was here!"

"I didn't know until it was too late, McGarrett," Webb assured coolly.

Hovering dangerously over the CIA agent, Steve restrained the impulse to punch the man. "What did you do with the body, Webb?

"What -- "

"Jin Wu! I shot her! I've shot enough people to know when I've fired fatal strikes, Webb, and she was dying!." Grabbing the man by the collar he brought Webb to his feet. "You took the body --"

Webb shoved him away, his eyes as cold as iced-daggers. As cold as Jin Wu's hateful expression the first time -- the last time -- he saw her. "You're deluded, McGarrett. So you've lost a body. Not my problem."

John Manicote took McGarrett by the arms and pulled him away. The governor ordered Steve to sit on the other side of the oval table in the corner of the large room, opposite from the covert agent. Only instinctive respect of authority held Steve in check.

"I just talked to the hospital," Jameson interposed smoothly as everyone calmed down. "The doctor was pleased that Danny had no serious, permanent injuries."

"Yes, sir." Steve's voice and manner were stiff, just this side of civility. Still standing, he was guarded, wary of this urgent meeting which included Webb. He was also distracted. Thoughts were still focused in that ICU at Leahi hospital.

"I'm glad he's going to be all right," Manicote added.

Jameson ushered him to sit. "I thought we should get this out of the way as soon as possible," he started, only after McGarrett took a chair. "There was no way to keep this suppressed, Steve. There has already been coverage on the local evening news."

"We're not insensitive, Steve," Manicote assured. "But with the press involved we're going to have to go public on this. The sooner the better."

The questions, the comments, the verdict seemed all settled, McGarrett realized. Feeling a sense of entrapment, of nasty inevitability hanging in the air, he was also suspicious of Webb's presence.

"What do you mean, John?" he glared at the Attorney General. "Spell it out for me!" His voice and anger were rising and he fought to maintain the tenuous grip on his emotions -- a rein of control which he could almost tangibly feel slipping from him.

Manicote glanced at the others, then back to McGarrett. "The wound was self-inflicted -- there's no way to deny it."

"You can't mention anything about Jin Wu," Webb said, entering the conversation with the echo of doomed finality. "Her presence here last year, today, must be kept secret."

The head of Five-0 knew what was coming. A veteran of Naval Intelligence; he had seen cover-ups, white-washes and lies. He recognized a frame-up for a scapegoat when he saw one.

"Danno did not try to commit suicide," he said sternly, his voice trembling. "He was brainwashed! Last year Jin Wu put some kind of fail-safe programming into his head! When the mission was done he shut-down -- his heart stopped!"

Webb, now intent, leaned forward. "That was never mentioned in your report."

"I reported it to the doctor, who considered it an aftereffect of the drugs and trauma. Danno seemed fine in the check-up." Desperate, he became impassioned with conviction. "I wasn't sure it was latent programming then. Tonight it was the conditioning. The latent programming. Danno did not try to commit suicide! Jin Wu controlled him!"

Webb stared at the head of Five-0 with unflinching brown eyes which seemed empty. "Semantics, McGarrett." His tone became conversational. "Look, this was our operation. I owe you a cover up."

"We don't need your lies, Webb."

"We have a cop in the hospital with a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the head. Officially, there was no one else in the apartment," he emphasized meaningfully. "You came on the scene and found your officer --"

"That's why you took the body!" Steve slammed his fist. "No body no evidence? No way to discredit the cover story you want to spread that will ruin Danno? No!" McGarrett shouted adamantly. "You're not going to destroy him like this."

"Yes!" Webb shouted, slapping a palm onto the table. "You go along with this, McGarrett. One mention to anyone outside of this room about Jin Wu and I'll slap you with a treason charge and bury you in a hole! There is no evidence of any spies, no Jin Wu. Only your man with a gunshot wound from his own gun in his head right now!"

McGarrett came to his feet, fists balled so tightly his hands ached. "Don't you threaten me! I'll take this to Enslow, to Jonathan Kaye --"

"Who do you think cut the orders? Don't fight the government, McGarrett! There's no way to win!" Composing himself, Webb leaned back in the chair. "We have everything arranged."

McGarrett was enraged at the ultimatum. Not so much for himself, but for Dan, who could not offer a defense.

"You know what this will do to Dan Williams?" he stated in as firm a voice as he could muster. There was a tremor in the tone and he strained for control. He looked to his supposed allies, Jameson and Manicote. "The humiliation --"

"We'll do this as tactfully as possible," Manicote promised.

"My PR people are on it already in conjunction with Manicote's staff," Webb assured briskly, as if he had never raised his voice, or threatened the head of the state police. "Don't worry about anything, McGarrett." He pushed over a piece of typed paper.

McGarrett barely glanced at the page. He could hardly focus on anything at this point, his mind was swimming in disorientation. "So we just make up a story with a little truth and a lot of lies and forget it ever happened?" he said shakily, barely containing his rage as he studied a few lines on the paper. "This says Danno attempted suicide! No way, gentlemen, no way! I won't lie like this about Danno."

Jameson tried to placate McGarrett. "What do you expect us to do, Steve?"

Webb interrupted. "There are witnesses placing you at the scene, McGarrett. We can't buy them off, they've already talked to some of your over-zealous local reporters. We have to fabricate plausible fiction to fit the facts."

Steve was disgusted and he shook his head in refusal. His world was spiraling to pieces and he was powerless to ebb the destruction. Pacing in angry strides, he knew there was no way to fight it, but Danno was about to be sacrificed to the god of deceit. Truth had always been an important principle to McGarrett. In this case the distorted truth would hurt like never before. It would destroy -- not himself, or Five-0 -- but Danno. Steve wanted to protect his friend from the inevitable.

"I won't let you ruin his reputation."

"You can't tell the truth, McGarrett," Webb warned again.

"You're so good at lies, Webb," he shot back, "Does it matter what lie we tell? Why can't we just say that I found Danno in his apartment. He had been shot." Furiously he searched for some alternate story. It wasn't easy; he wasn't used to this playing fast and loose with the truth. "I didn't find an assailant and -- and --" he licked his lips and faltered to a stop. His audience was unimpressed. Before they could object, he blundered on. "When Danno regains consciousness he can claim amnesia because of the head wound. It would be another unsolved case --"

Manicote had been shaking his head and finally interrupted. "Then there would be requests for my department to come in."

"We can't have loose ends," Webb interposed. "The press will consider this too juicy. An unsolved case would scream of Five-0 cover up. The DA, Internal Affairs from HPD, the Attorney General would all be pulled in. Reporters will be tripping all over themselves to discover the truth and we can't let them get anywhere near what really happened. The best lie is something close to the truth, you know that."

"Danno's friends -- some of them very good cops -- they won't believe a word of this!"

"It will be taken care of. This is the best deal I can give you --"

"No! I won't let you destroy Danno," McGarrett reiterated sharply, bearing down on Webb with a towering rage.

"You know how nasty intelligence smears can get, McGarrett," Webb reminded dangerously. "How about if I tell the press it was a lover's quarrel? He shoots his girl then turns the gun on himse -- "

"No -- "

"A lover's triangle with you as the third party -- "

"No one in this city will believe that!"

"I could utterly destroy Williams and you and Five-0!" Webb countered viciously. "Don't make me get dirty, McGarrett. I can exterminate your good name, or Williams' reputation, or your whole staff, with such smut your head will spin! You or anyone else I want will go down. This is what I do for a living, McGarrett! I've brought governments down. I won't let you mess with my operation! Cut your losses and leave it alone or get burned!"

Faint, psychic cobwebs brushed along the inner walls of McGarrett's mind. Fear trickled through his senses as he considered the threat. He had never engaged in the dirty tricks used by some in intelligence circles. His conscience would never allow him to go over the line of his moral code. That was one reason he left the spy business; times had been changing and his ethics would not allow him to get too tainted by the filth. Now, if he pressed this too far, he could cause even more damage to Williams. Steve didn't want to think about how much worse it could get, because he knew Webb had the resources and amoral background to make this more revolting than Steve wanted to imagine. That thought kept him from taking this fight to the limit. As much as it violated his sense of justice, he would stop before he caused more grief to his friend.

"There must be a way to save Dan's reputation."

"Not without more questions than we can answer, McGarrett. You know, you make this sound like the end of the world. In a few months no one will remember why Williams left Five-0. They'll bite into some new, juicier scandal and forget about you and your cop."

Steve leaned against the wall, staring at the floor.

"We handle the case from here," Webb instructed. "My agents have dealt with Jin Wu -"

"Where is the body?"

Webb simply shrugged. "You have no need to know, McGarrett."

"Webb -- "

"Drop it!" the spy demanded. "If the body ever turned up, it would have Williams' slugs in it."

Miserably, Steve shook his head. "I fired the shots. I killer her after she forced -- after Danno was down."

Philosophically, Webb asked, "So what good would it do you, McGarrett?" On McGarrett's silence he stated, "As for Williams, he's already being transferred to the March Foundation for deprogramming."

"What?" McGarrett shouted. "Why wasn't I informed --"

"You just were," Webb snapped. "Now get used to this, McGarrett. This is my operation and you are on the outside. Period."

"This is my officer --"

"Just stay out of my way and you go back to running Five-0!" Webb shouted harshly. He explained that a report of Williams' resignation, pre-dated earlier in the day, would serve to diminish the sensationalism of the events. "Like I said, I have everything taken care of."

McGarrett exploded. "Resignation!"

"Steve --"

"No, John! Absolute --"

"Steve!" the governor nearly shouted.

McGarrett slammed his fist on the table and glared down at Governor Jameson with icy eyes. "I will not --"

"Steve! Listen!" It was a command Jameson intended to be obeyed.

Reluctantly, McGarrett sat, contemptuously staring from Jameson to Manicote to Webb.

"We have no choice, Steve," the governor said. "Attempted suicide and brainwashing -- Danny is unsuitable to remain with Five-0. I'm sorry, of course, but we have no choice. To keep him on the force would be foolhardy."

Desperate, Steve turned to Manicote. "John, he was not responsible --"

"He is, Steve," the Attorney General interrupted gently but with resolve. "He's unstable and dangerous and if it was anyone else you wouldn't hesitate to throw him off the force."

"For God's sake he's a victim here! Danno never asked for any of this to happen."

"It did happen, Steve. Like it or not, the consequences have to be faced." The governor's voice was calm and sympathetic. "John and I hate this, too. Danny's been a good officer and a good friend. But we can't condone this kind of mental instability in a policeman working for our state. He tried to kill you twice, Steve."

"I was never in any danger from Danno," Steve corrected, pleaded for understanding. His voice reflected the fatigue of depression he felt descend on his being. He had come up against a wall of immovable proportions. "There must be another option," was his last ditch effort. Already he knew the answer and it drained the passion from his heart, defeating the cause. A scapegoat was needed and was readily available. Steve -- Danno -- had lost.

Manicote shook his head. "With Danny's resignation, we give a vague report of instability and stress, then we can probably get away with this whole thing."

"You mean sacrifice Danno's future," was Steve's bitter reply.

"Better a quiet sacrifice than a public slaughter," John returned. "Do you think if the truth were known it would be any better for Danny?"

Part of Steve wanted to scream out at the injustice of it all. Another part of him wanted to weep with sorrow and regret. He gave in to neither. Feeling hollow and aching with loss, he accepted the bitter compromise. There was no way to salvage anything now. Offering his verbal agreement to the conspiracy, feeling like he was making a pact with the devil, he willingly crushed his friend's world to dust and accepted the deal with a mute nod of surrender. Webb offered to shake on it. McGarrett turned away.

"I'll have John notify Danny's relatives before it reaches the mainland press," Jameson offered.

"No," McGarrett snapped. "I -- God, I'll have to tell his aunt. And his ohana here."

"Anything but the truth," Webb reminded.

McGarrett mutely glared at each of the conspirators, then left the office without acknowledgment of his part in the dark alliance.

Forcing himself to push back the whirlpool of emotions surging within, he tried to close out all thoughts of a suddenly vacant future. He stalked to the end of the Capitol building's open air walkway. Leaning on the solid wall edging the upper level, he overlooked the back of the Palace and the beautiful grounds spread around the old building. He stayed there a long time, the sea breeze blowing through his hair, as he tried to sort out emotions and thoughts and regrets. He would have to stay there an eternity to resolve the betrayal he had just condoned.

 

*****

 

As the tinny sound of the ringing phone echoed in the earpiece of the receiver, McGarrett nervously tapped his fingers on the desktop. His stomach knotted with tension and each ring twisted it a bit tighter. He had made calls bearing bad news in his career as a cop, but never anything this personally agonizing. Never did he want to make this call. Years before, Danno and he had made a pact, to personally call the closest relative in the event of serious injury or death. He had amended that a few years back when Danno called Mary Ann after Steve was hospitalized with a skull fracture from a bomb. Mary Ann's excessive agitation forced McGarrett to make Dan promise never to call Mary Ann again unless the crisis was life threatening. He had never been obliged to call Aunt Clara, and never thought he would. Unquestionably this was the hardest call he had ever been compelled to endure.

"Williams' residence."

McGarrett licked his dry lips. "This is Steve McGarrett calling from Honolulu. I would like to speak with Mrs. Williams." It was after One AM on the east coast, but he knew Clara Williams, a theater veteran, kept late hours. "Is she there?"

"She is engaged with a dinner party," responded the stuffy, formal, female voice.

"It's very important that I speak with her," he responded sternly, his voice strained with tension.

"Please hold."

The fingers tapped more furiously in the grueling silence. This would have been so much easier if Aunt Clara was still a faceless old relative stuck on the east coast. After her visit a few years back, when she had finagled herself into helping solve a case, she had become a feisty, tenacious, permanent presence in his life. At first the relationship was through her long distance messages ricocheting off her nephew. Then came her more tangible appearances for Christmases in Honolulu the last few years. Without reservation she had adopted McGarrett as a second nephew. She had become an amusing, endearing, occasionally overbearing busybody in his life. How could he bear to hurt her like this?

The familial relationship with Danno made this situation difficult enough. The bond of affection which had extended to Aunt Clara made this call nearly unendurable.

In the back of his mind he realized the fear of this moment had lived in repose for years. When Danno had been wounded before he had been able to communicate the news to Clara on his own after a day or two. This time, out of decency, Steve had to call her personally; his duty to both Williams'.

"Hello, Steve."

"Hello, Clara."

"Sorry it took me so long. I broke my leg last week during a revival of Macbeth and it's slowed me down, I'm afraid. Is everything all right?"

The high-pitched, cultured voice belonged to a trained, seasoned thespian. The tone, struggling for casualness, came from an agonized loved one. There was no disguising the brittle snap of fear clinging to every word.

He had rehearsed this in his mind a hundred times. Now with the moment at hand he did not know how to break the news. His fingers fairly danced with agitation on the felt blotter. Mouth stodgy with dryness, he cleared his throat.

"It's about Danno. He's been involved in a shooting. But he's alive," he assured quickly. It was rushed through in one breath, a feeble explanation, but he felt it covered all the initial details. "He'll be fine."

Clara's voice trembled with anxiety. "Is he badly hurt?"

McGarrett hesitated. How much should he tell her? He decided she would have to hear at least a portion of reality.

"I don't want you to be alarmed, Clara. Danno is unconscious right now, but he'll be fine."

Of course, the news DID alarm the elderly aunt. Her voice was tremulous. "How badly is he injured, Steve? Please tell me the truth."

McGarrett licked his lips. "He was shot in the head, Clara." At her gasp he nearly dropped the phone. "Clara, are you okay? Clara?"

"Yes, yes, I'm all right, really, Steve. It's just such a nasty shock. Are you sure it's not serious? Shot in the head -- that sounds so dreadful. What aren't you telling me, Steve?"

McGarrett evaded. "The doctor said there's no permanent damage. So I don't want you to think the worst." It was a qualified lie he could live with. Clara didn't need to know the gory details now. This was shock enough for the old girl. Although she was sturdy for her seventy-odd years, she cared very deeply for her only nephew and Steve looked on her as more emotionally frail than she appeared on the surface.

More than once during her recent visits she had dropped broad hints to him privately that she expected her Danny to be kept safe. She had imperiously assigned that responsibility to McGarrett. Interpreting between the lines, Steve realized she had always been afraid of something like this and was, in her own way, asking for his special guardianship over Dan. The protection was as important to McGarrett as it was to her. He was infinitely distressed to admit to Clara, and himself, that he had failed in the bequest.

"Oh, dear, this is very bad," she responded weakly.

"Now, Clara, please, remember the doctor thinks he'll be fine.

"Are you sure he's all right? Don't try to protect me, Steve," she finished with a stern warning.

"He'll be fine," he insisted with blind temerity.

"Maybe I should come out," she said as almost an aloud thought. "I don't get around very well, but I think I should be there --"

"Clara, please, no, you don't have to do that," he interrupted hastily. "Danno won't be able to visit with you. Not right away."

He held his breath, hoping he could dissuade her from flying out. It would be an added emotional strain on everyone concerned to have to deal with Aunt Clara. Danno would certainly need time to recover. Steve would get no peace trying to keep Clara out of trouble. He needed to come to terms with this and could not afford the disruptions brought on by the well meaning, meddling aunt. If she happened to dig too deep with her interfering nature -- well, he wouldn't put anything past Webb -- not even silencing a curious old woman.

"There's something you're not telling me, Steve. I must know what's wrong!"

With a trembling hand McGarrett covered his eyes and there was dampness on his palm. He had to tell the truth. For her to find out from the press would be too cruel a blow.

"There's no easy way to say this, Clara," he started heavily, his voice miserable, shaky. "Danno --" he gulped down the wave of illness creeping up his throat. He couldn't -- absolutely COULD NOT bring himself to deceive her with the cover story. Maybe he could lie to others, but not to Clara. "Some press reports," he qualified, "say -- well, they say Danno shot himself."

There was a sharp gasp from the other end.

"Clara!" His hand fell to the desktop and he used it to steady himself as he launched to his feet. Intently he stared at the phone as if he could see through it to the east coast. "Clara!"

"Yes, I'm here," came a thready voice broken by a sob. "It can't be true, Steve. Danny would never --" Her voice broke down completely.

"I know. I know," he assured hastily. "Now please stay calm, Clara. I'm handling this," he lied. "Just take care of yourself. Do you have someone to stay with you?"

"I'm not an invalid, Steve."

"No, you're a loving aunt who's just had a nasty shock, Clara. How would Danno feel if this whole mess caused you some injury?"

Finally he convinced her that he was investigating the incident. He shared her belief that there was a mistake, and reassured her that he would do all in his power to take care of Dan.

"Even though I don't get around too well, I need to be out there with him," Mrs. Williams sniffed.

McGarrett cajoled her to remain at her home until Dan was up to a visit. With a few more weak protests Clara agreed. McGarrett was to update her in a few days and Dan was to call her as soon as possible. Steve promised to comply with all conditions and the conversation ended on a brighter note; with Clara more settled, with McGarrett assuring her Dan would recover soon.

"I'll be waiting for your call," she reminded. "I know you'll take good care of Danny until I can see him. Remember to take care of yourself, too, Steve. Good night."

"Aloha, Clara," he had muttered, musing over her inexplicable last admonition.

 

*****

 

Solitude was easy to savor in the warm night breeze floating off the ocean, in the soft darkness tinged by a tropical moon. Too many moments to count had been spent on this lanai; in the long depths of the night, in the protracted hours before dawn. Many of those times had been shared with Danno. The thought made Steve cringe and he swept back into the dark office for an escape from his thoughts.

At the desk he collapsed, face in his hands. He wondered why he didn't leave this building. Why torture himself by lingering in the one place where memories were sure to haunt him the most intensely of any place on earth? Right now, soul-deep sorrow wrenched his every fiber. He had never experienced such a crushing blow in all his life. Deaths he had endured. Failure to save someone he was responsible for -- well, that had happened, too, but never like this. Not Danno. And that's where the difference hit hard. This defeat struck his very heart. Five-0 was his unit, Danno like his brother, yet his power was limited against the overwhelming, invisible forces around them.

Determined to leave, he practically tossed reports and files into the drawers. He stopped cold when he came upon the personal article bag Duke had brought back from the hospital. Steve dumped the contents onto the desk and out tumbled wallet, change, revolver and badge. Mesmerized, McGarrett stared at the .38. Involuntarily, his hand reached out to touch the cold, unfeeling metal -- the instrument of his friend's destruction. He shoved the gun and other items into a drawer and smashed it shut, then launched from the desk.

He was on the verge of a complete emotional purge. It was a reaction of the stress, of the tragedy. It didn't matter. Whatever the reason, he wanted to hold onto his control, yet feared he could not.

The coffee machine still simmered in the outer office and McGarrett poured out a cup of the expensive, rich Kona brew that he occasionally bought as a special treat for the staff. Without volition he was drawn to the glass partitioned cubicle which had been Williams' since Dan came to Five-0 eleven years before.

McGarrett turned on the desk lamp and sat on the edge of the desk studying the decorated walls. Decor was a significant clue to personality and Danno's office reflected it's occupant in everything here: The desk was slightly messy with file folders and papers, but nothing too disarranged. In the corner was a small picture of Dan with Aunt Clara from her last visit at Christmas.

The picture made him shiver at the memory of their talk a few hours before. The conversation ending with her admonition for him to take care of himself was still inexplicable under the circumstances. Bitter advise, salt to his wound of guilt. He failed to keep Danno safe. What did his own well being matter in the shadow of these terrible events? Unable to unravel the puzzle of Aunt Clara, he pushed his thoughts to other directions.

He scanned the walls of the office which were covered with an eclectic collection: Surf posters, a photo of a volcanic eruption, a map of the state, a bulletin board and some beach and sailing photos. Nautical nick-knacks filled Danno's office and apartment. A passion for the sea had always been a shared bond between the detectives.

The awards and accolades displayed reflected the modesty of the occupant. Some small framed certificates (McGarrett had even supplied the frames) by the door revealed awards of merit in the line of duty. There were some sharpshooting certificates and a little league plaque for coach of the year for the Five-0 sponsored team. Like the occupant of the room, the decor represented a life filled with activity, purpose and vibrancy.

In anger and hurt McGarrett lashed out and struck a fist down on the desk. It was all so agonizing -- it was all over for Williams: His days as a cop -- as the successor as the head of Five-0 -- so much else -- were finished. Tears started to seep from Steve's eyes and he could not control the anger, the self-pity welling inside and spilling out. Everything that Danno was -- everything they were together -- all pau. One terrible incident finished a career and ruined McGarrett's dream of passing on Five-0 to Williams.

Unable to stay, Steve returned to his own office. Once out on the lanai the tears ebbed aside. His insides churned and rolled in waves of bitterness. As he regained a grip on his feelings he tried to sort through all the turmoil within.

This afternoon everything about life had been so normal. Now it felt like his whole world had crumbled, as if the future of Steve McGarrett was wrapped in the well being of Dan Williams. He was grieving the loss of their goals and hopes, as much as the loss of Williams as his second in command, as his partner and successor.

Glutted by self pity and remorse; a part of him said he was entitled this time. From the vantage of a few feet away he had watched Danno put a bullet in his head. Steve tried to step back and change the perspective. What about Danno? If he felt Williams' career was over, if he questioned Danno's usefulness, what would Danno think? What would he feel if he knew how defeated and finished Steve believed them to be now?

McGarrett shook his head, bringing himself back from the pit of depression. This was unacceptable. He could not allow Danno to feel less than he was. He was alive and was still the same man he had always been. So what if he was no longer with Five-0? That did not mean life was over. Danno would bounce back -- HAD to bounce back. If clinging to self-respect was slow for Williams, McGarrett would be there for him. Somehow, together, they would get through this agony to whatever awaited on the other side.

Steve felt stirrings of hope. The tears on his face were just a memory and the ones inside were fading. Dan, and he, were going to be okay. They would get through this -- McGarrett would see to it. If nothing else, his sheer determined force of will promised recovery. Lives would not change because of this set back -- not for Dan and not for himself.

Before he left the office he called Dan's closest ohana, the Kulani's, the family he grew up with. Already hearing rumblings on the coconut wireless, they were grieved to discover the rumors of Dan's shooting were true. Promising to keep them informed, he fled from the memories surrounding him.

*****

 

It was after midnight by the time McGarrett was admitted through the security gates at the March Foundation. He had gone home; showered, changed and spent some meditative time on the lanai collecting his thoughts before coming. The drive to the Foundation, located in verdant hills outside of Honolulu, gave him more time to ponder. Now at the government think-tank, he had come to no conclusions. All he knew was that he wanted to see Danno -- just see him -- even if the injured detective was still unconscious. If Danno was awake, a serious discussion of the past and the future would have to wait until a later time when Steve could handle the emotional pain. All he really wanted was to see for himself that Danno was alive.

Dr. Rathman and two armed guards met McGarrett when he entered the lobby. Rathman was the scientist/doctor/expert in charge of research concerning mind control and deprogramming. McGarrett knew his work from another government/spy/brainwashing case last year. [SLEEPER]

Now Rathman had been chosen, by higher powers, to repair the mental and emotional elements of a shattered Dan Williams. While McGarrett respected Rathman as a professional, he hoped the doctor was up to the task of fitting the broken pieces of his detective back together.

"I know why you're here, McGarrett," the blunt Rathman warned, holding up his hands. "You can just turn around and go home."

"What is that supposed to mean?" McGarrett tightened and retightened fists pumping with residual anger. He had been stonewalled enough for one night, he wouldn't take it from Rathman. "I want to see Dan Williams!"

"Williams is stable and still unconscious. There's nothing you can do for him now. Even if he was awake you couldn't see him. My patients need isolation as part of their treatment. Until further notice you are persona non grata."

Barely leashing his rage, McGarrett came right up into Rathman's face, eye to eye. A tall, broad man, the scientist remained unintimidated. "Try and stop me."

Unimpressed, Rathman nodded toward the guards. "This is private government property, McGarrett. Your title holds no authority here. Go home. You'll be notified when you can see Williams."

"That's not good enough, doctor!"

"You have no choice, McGarrett."

Even through the blind anger, McGarrett knew there was no way to win here. Just as he had been defeated in the meeting with Webb. Too livid to speak, McGarrett turned on his heels and left. He drove back to Honolulu in a daze, surprised when he found himself sitting in his car on the parking level of his apartment. Too worn out in mind and body, he trudged up to his condo and slumped onto the sofa. Sometime during the night he fell into an exhausted, restless sleep; a dreamless, nightmareless slumber.

 

*****

The next morning McGarrett arrived at the office at the unheard of late hour of Ten AM. The staff was at work, but their nervous glances in his direction made it clear they had all heard the news of Williams. A subdued Lukela met the boss in front of McGarrett's office door.

"It's all over the papers," Duke warned. He offered a morning edition of the Advertiser. "Do you want to see it?"

McGarrett shook his head. "The sharks tried to catch me for a statement. They're circling downstairs." He entered his private domain.

Duke followed. "I went along with the official version," he commented with disgust.

Steve realized the detective must have been approached by Manicote or Webb the night before. The head of Five-0 placed his briefcase on the desk and took the paper from Lukela's hand.

"Guess I need to know what 'really' happened," he said caustically.

He opened the paper and scanned the story:

Williams was portrayed as someone who seemed completely in control and normal, then suddenly snapped for no apparent reason. The papers speculated attempted suicide, but could not substantiate the claim because NO ONE would make a statement to the press. McGarrett had received Williams' resignation earlier in the day; had arrived on the scene too late to stop the ex-second in command of Five-0 from the suicide attempt. No official comment was released by Five-0 or McGarrett. The DA and Governor both issued statements that Williams was a fine officer . . . . .

McGarrett threw the paper onto the desk with a resounding slap. He crossed to the lanai doors and flung them open.

"I want you to clear out Danno's things and move into his office today, Duke."

"Steve --"

"Don't say anything, Duke. Please. Just do it."

There was a raw edge of danger in the tone. McGarrett felt so brittle he thought he might snap if anyone said the wrong thing. Right now his hurt and pain were buried in cold, consuming anger. He would use the anger to get him as far as he could, knowing there would be a time in the near future when anguish and sorrow would rule, overwhelming the rage that could not last forever. For now, the anger would serve him best to function; to run Five-0, to make the cover story believable without damaging Danno anymore. One day there would be a reckoning, Steve promised himself, but not today.

McGarrett turned back and sat down at the desk. He did not want to work; to think, to even be there. For him, there was no choice. He had to stay here and start rebuilding his life. On the other side of the island his friend would do the same thing as soon as he awoke. Of course, he would not know because he was not allowed information in that area. The thought caused his anger to bubble over and he slammed a fist onto the wood. Damn, Damn, Damn! He wondered what kind of a future could be built on the foundation of deceit. One they would have to live with, it seemed.

Slowly he removed files and papers from his briefcase. Crime, justice and punishment seemed so insignificant suddenly. For the first time in many years he no longer felt that intense, inner passion for his job. There was something -- someone -- more important. Nearly on the verge of throwing all the papers in the trash and walking out, McGarrett forced himself to think with responsibility and self-control. He had taken an oath to the people of this state and he would not ignore his duty for personal reasons.

Starting through his morning routine, he never quite committed his concentration to the effort, his focus still miles away at the March Foundation. After a time, he gave up the pretense and escaped to the lanai. Functioning meant believing in the future. He no longer cared so much for the ideals of duty and causes -- last night had destroyed his faith in a system he had truly believed to be just and right. Now his goals would have to be for himself -- for Danno. McGarrett would rebuild Five-0, do his job and wait. There would be a day when Williams would be released back into the real world and McGarrett would be there for him. When that day came, Five-0 would have to be able to function just fine without 100% of Steve McGarrett, because his attention would be focused on Dan Williams.

 

*****

When Dan Williams awoke he seemed to move in slow motion. He had trouble orienting himself in the strange surroundings. Mentally he felt fuzzy, as if his thoughts were projected through a brain-camera just slightly out of focus. His motor skills also correspondingly slow and lethargic, he found, as he shifted to his side it seemed like an agonizing process to move.

The man in the white coat who entered his room looked familiar. A tall, square-jawed man with white hair. Rathman from the March Foundation. He had been a suspect in a case Five-0 had worked on -- some time -- he couldn't quite place when.

"Hello, Mr. Williams." Rathman sat down next to the bed. "Do you remember me?" he asked in a quiet voice.

"Yes," Dan responded, his tongue thick with dryness and lethargy. He turgidity related the identification of the doctor.

"What is the last thing you remember happening to you?"

Williams thought backwards. There had been a nightmare . . . His right hand twitched violently and he brought the hand up to study the palsied appendage. A black haze filled his mind. Ever so slightly he shook his head.

"Do you remember?" Rathman quietly asked.

"No," Dan mouthed more than whispered.

"Do you want to remember?"

Shaking his head slowly, Dan instinctively felt he did not want to know the answer to that question. Pain, in his head, in his heart, started throbbing with terrible intensity. He pushed aside the threatening memories.

"How -- long -- out?"

Rathman pondered a moment. "How long have you been out? Two days." As Williams began to tremble the doctor repeated, "What do you remember, Mister Williams?"

Jin Wu. The image slammed into his mind in a full-fledged vision. She had been in the dream -- the nightmare . . . He flinched, remembering terrible, indescribable pain . . . .

His heart thumped wildly against his chest -- the weight and chill of a cold revolver in his hand. Like a video replay he recalled pointing the gun at Steve McGarrett and pulling the trigger. Miraculously, McGarrett had not been killed. There was a worse pain recollected then; the pain of black guilt when Dan realized he was a trained weapon targeted at his friend. To end that pain he had placed the barrel of the revolver to his own head . . . .

Williams gasped from the shock of the memory -- not a nightmare -- a memory! His face was bathed in hot tears, he tentatively touched the side of his head and felt the bandages. Startled, he realized he had been telling the story aloud to the doctor. He looked to Rathman. "I tried to kill Steve."

Slowly, Rathman nodded. "Do you remember why, Mr. Williams?"

"Jin Wu," he tremulously whispered. The anguish mingled with panic. "She was inside my mind. The order was in my head." He fought back a sob. "I tried to stop." He shook his head. "I couldn't -- I tried. The last shot -- the only way -- to stop."

"You clearly remember turning the gun on yourself?"

Face buried in his hands, Williams nodded.

"This was Jin Wu in your mind, again, ordering your elimination after you killed McGarrett?"

Williams shook his head. "I don't know."

Rathman placed a hand on Williams' arm to steady the younger man. "You don't have to say anymore, Mr. Williams. We're going to help you recover."

He stood and crossed to the door. He called in an aide to administer a sedative. Pausing, he watched the former detective cringe with torment. Rathman had encountered McGarrett and Williams in '78. This was the first time Rathman had accepted a patient he had known before the victim's mind had been scrambled. It was infinitely sadder this way; observing the before and after of a once whole person.

McGarrett and Rathman had butted heads throughout the investigation which had brought Five-0 to the Foundation. The similarly strong-willed, stubborn men had earned a grudging respect for each other. Williams had seemed a competent and dedicated policeman; one McGarrett had relied on through the whole inquiry.

When McGarrett had stormed the Foundation in the early hours of yesterday morning to try and see Williams, Rathman had realized these two policemen were not merely colleagues, but close friends. That factor obviously made a difference to McGarrett. Painfully, it made a difference to Williams and the trying recovery to come.

As Rathman stood observing the distraught Williams, who still shook with sobs, the doctor felt a pity he had never experienced before. Commiseration for two people who could never again enjoy the friendship which had certainly been a mainstay in their lives. The importance of that friendship had been obvious when the livid McGarrett tried to see Williams. The proof of the profound devotion of their relationship evidenced by the anguished younger detective. Rather than harm his friend, Williams -- whether programmed to or not -- had turned to suicide. The awesome sacrifice made Rathman feel fortunate he had never known friendship on that level and depth. It was a responsibility too overwhelming for a pragmatic scientist.

 

*****

McGarrett looked through the one way glass at the stark, spartan enclosure. It could have passed for a hotel room anywhere in the country except for the mirror. On his side of the looking glass there were electronic monitors, recorders and two staff members, all focused on the single occupant, Dan Williams. Oblivious to the surveillance, Dan placidly sat at a desk looking out a window. The wan face, the slumped stature, the small bandage on the side of his head, told of incomplete recovery.

McGarrett reached a hand out and briefly brushed his fingers against the glass. Then his hand clenched into a fist. His jaw worked back and forth, teeth grinding with pent up frustration. Needing to direct his wrath at some target he turned to the person next to him.

"I want to see him."

Dr. Rathman shook his head. "You ARE seeing him."

"That's not what I mean," McGarrett growled. "It's been over three weeks --"

The doctor just shook his head negatively. "And it could be three months or three years, McGarrett. I invited you out here as a courtesy. It's too dangerous for you to talk with Williams."

"I won't accept that!" Steve retorted acidly. "Danno is not going to do anything to me --"

"Can you promise he won't do anything to himself?" Rathman shot back harshly.

The rhetorical question left McGarrett without a response. In silence he fumed and turned back to stare into the room, which to him signified a bleak prison. The March Foundation considered it a comfortable, scenic-view cell. Fist still clenched, he gently pounded it against the glass barrier that was a frustrating, impenetrable blockade.

It had been over most of a month since Williams had been transferred from the hospital to the special think-tank Foundation. Rathman and his colleagues specialized in mind control and brainwashing studies. They had the delicate job of sorting through the damage done to Williams during his hypnosis/brainwashing. They would see if they could discover the extent of the subliminal programming, then deprogram whatever commands were still hidden inside Williams' brain.

During the weeks here, Dan had been allowed no contact with the outside world. He saw only Rathman and staff. McGarrett had not been allowed to see or talk to his colleague. Now that he stood only a few feet away, Steve almost wished he hadn't come. It was good to see Dan, good to know he was recovering well. His hair had partially grown back over the area of his head wound. Thinner, slower, he seemed in relatively good health. Yet, the man who blankly looked out the window was not Danno. There was some indefinable spark of glitter; in the face, in the eyes, which symbolized the former Williams personality, which was now missing.

Steve's angle changed and he glanced at his reflection etched in the glass. 'Through the looking glass darkly,' he thought. His own image was off-center, unnatural. The face staring back at him was not Steve McGarrett. The reflection of an empty shell, as empty as the shell of the Dan Williams in the room. They were incontrovertibly altered and they may never be able to go back again to what they were. This was the first moment he truly comprehended that grave truth and it depressed him more than he could fathom.

"I've got to see him," Steve insisted firmly, but less harshly than before.

Rathman shook his head. "His last conscious program was to kill you."

"I know," McGarrett said flatly. "I was there."

"Then don't be silly about this. You don't know and I don't know, what effect your appearance will have on Williams. I know you don't want to cause any irreparable damage, McGarrett. There's enough to sort out all ready. You would just complicate things."

Of course he did not want to put any more stress on Danno. To not talk to him however, to not see him -- really see him in the same room -- this was a new kind of torture.

"How are things coming?"

"I can't --" Rathman stopped himself. "We're progressing steadily is all I can say."

McGarrett nodded thoughtfully, accepting the vague answer. Contemplatively, he pinched his lower lip as he silently studied his friend. "All right, doctor, then when CAN I talk to him?"

Rathman shook his head in exasperation. "McGarrett, you aren't listening. You can't meet with him until he is cured. Period. Don't call us, we'll call you."

Rathman turned away to leave and McGarrett grabbed his arm. "I can't just leave it like this."

His emotions over this were very private and it would be a sign of weakness to expose his inner feelings to Rathman, who had become a kind of adversary. He could not explain to the specialist how important this was. Dan was his closest friend. They had been through hell together and the only way back was together. There was so much unresolved. He could not abide this lack of closure to a relationship which meant everything to him -- the only real relationship in his life of any meaning and endurance. There needed to be a resolution to the past and a new building of the future.

The blunt doctor was not giving any leeway in the tug of war. "I explained our strict regimen. It cannot include you, McGarrett. I'm sorry."

"I can observe some of the sessions --"

"Definitely not!" It was an absolute command.

Instantly, McGarrett knew he was onto something. "Why? What are you hiding?"

"Classified information," was the maddeningly firm reply. "As a favor to you I allowed you in today to see for yourself that we aren't mistreating Williams, or subjecting him to cruel experiments of any kind. Now, I think you better leave."

"What are you keeping from me, doctor?" McGarrett demanded. He came to a stop between Rathman and the door and he planned on being an immovable object until he got an answer.

The doctor levelly glared into McGarrett's eyes. There was defiance and stubbornness there, but at last compassion overruled them and his expression softened.

"You won't like it, McGarrett."

"I haven't liked anything about this whole damn mess!"

Rathman offered a slight nod. He asked the detective to accompany him to the cafeteria for coffee. With a glance at Williams, Steve refused the offer and demanded he get the explanation immediately.

Sighing, Rathman agreed. Without mincing words he related that Williams had complete recall of all the events of his programming. Clearly, he remembered shooting at McGarrett and then shooting himself. He was also completely aware of the professional and personal repercussions of those acts. Considering himself a inadequate, he wished to be completely disavowed by Five-0 and McGarrett.

McGarrett's first reaction was to sweep aside any consideration of failure. Danno had not been in control -- none of this was his fault.

"Don't tell me," Rathman said, holding up a hand to halt McGarrett's tirade. "This is the way Williams feels. That's another reason I don't want you to see him. There are a lot of unresolved psychological problems connected with this brainwashing. It will take time to sort them out. The bottom line is he is depressed, guilt-ridden and washed out mentally. We -- he -- has to rebuild his mental stability. Until then he stays here as our guest. When we think he is ready to talk with you it will be arranged."

Several objections leaped into McGarrett's mind. This was not 1984 and they could not keep Dan a prisoner. As head of the state police he must have certain rights. Worst of all was the vagueness about a cure. It could take months or years. The thought of Dan imprisoned in this place; imprisoned inside his own mental cell of guilt and loneliness, was almost overwhelming for McGarrett. He couldn't allow it. What could he do to alter it? Dan held hostage, imprisoned by criminals -- in those situations he could, had, engineered rescues. How could he rescue Danno from his own guilt, of a prison of his own making? Within Williams there had always been a deep capacity for guilt.  Over the years, McGarrett had worked hard to build self-confidence within his friend.  This place now was worse than a backslide to square one, it was devastating.

Beyond those basics were other disturbing questions. What happened when Dan was proven cured? Would he -- would Steve -- always worry about subliminal commands coming to the surface? Could they ever be sure Williams was cured? Would McGarrett reflect that doubt when he saw Dan again? It would shatter his friend if there was any element of suspicion in his mind.

Then there was the question of what Dan would do when he was free. Few were the options for someone publicly labeled a washed-out cop. With the adverse publicity, how could he live as a normal citizen?

Steve took one more look at his friend, placing a palm on the glass. "Keep me informed," he ordered, then turned and left.

 

*****

 

"I came to kill you"

Dan Williams pointed a finger at his face, pretending to fire a gun. Jin Wu hovered behind him as a transparent ghost.

Gunshots blasted, reverberated through McGarrett's mind, echoing painfully in every element of his brain.

Blood sprayed from the end of Williams' finger. A gash opened on the right side of his head and blood oozed out.

Steve tried to talk but had no power of speech.

"I have to kill you." Dan told him. "I have to kill I -- " he placed the bleeding finger to his head. "I have to kill"

 

"No!" Steve screamed, jolting up from the couch. Gasping for breath, he fell back down on the cushions, disoriented.

Another nightmare.

Chilled and trembling, he burrowed into the cushions for warmth. Keeping his eyes open, he focused on the city lights dotting his Diamond Head view. Groaning, he took deep breaths until the shaking subsided and he could sit up without vertigo. Rubbing his face with his hands in a vain attempt to scrub away the residue of fear, he finally felt stable enough to stand.

Walking to the kitchen he drank some water and stepped out to the lanai for fresh air. The summer night air warmed his skin and cleared his chest of tight clogs of tension. The faint thrum of traffic helped anchor him to the real world, pushing aside the intangible spectres of the phantasms haunting his dreams. Ghosts were no strangers to his nights, but these horrors shook him to the soul. All too close to reality, the recurring nightmare of Williams' shooting tortured him too frequently.

The clock read after Four AM. No sense trying to return to sleep. Preparing and dressing for the day, he arrived at the March Foundation a little after Five AM. As usual, the guard refused to allow him entrance. This time he managed to penetrate the strong-hold as far as the public foyer, and debated with some lowly night assistant. Electronically sealed doors kept him safely away from important personnel.

The scenario read the same as all other visits -- his irritated, stubborn responses also consistent with past visits. Finally venting his anger and frustration, he left, driving straight to the Palace. As always, he would bury himself in his work and hope exhaustion would keep the nightmares at bay for a few nights. With papers in front of him, pen in hand, he tapped the desk, wondering if the nightmares would cease when he finally talked with his friend again.

*****

As usual, for the duration of the summer, McGarrett closed the office late, well after the tropic sun had set beyond the pacific. On this eve the last glow of moon silver-tinged the August night. The old-styled lamps in front of the Palace lit the grounds with small orbs of light. McGarrett crossed the driveway, fishing in his pocket for his keys. He stopped at his Mercury to unlock the door and became aware of a presence behind him. Hand on his revolver, he turned to face a woman. Recognizing the familiar face, he sighed. Disappointed in his instincts, he thought he should have felt his skin crawl if Margie Vernor were anywhere in the vicinity.

"Hi, McGarrett."

"Ms. Vernor."

He climbed into the car without further acknowledgment of the TV reporter.

"Come on, McGarrett. Don't you think you've carried out this silence long enough?" She effectively placed herself next to him, blocking the door.

"No," was his curt reply.

"It's been weeks and you still won't spill the coconuts, McGarrett. What really happened with Dan Williams?"

"No comment."

"That's what you've told everyone, McGarrett. I know this has to bug you. He was your top dog here, and you just let the DA bounce him from the force. Your star pupil is all pau. What gives?"

The persistent reporter caught him at the end of a long day, a long few weeks. He had felt a sense of finality about the entire day; new officers chosen to join the team, the clearing away the old. Perhaps it would be best to give the reporter what she wanted, and move out from the shadow of the past.

"The investigation was handled by the DA to avoid a conflict of interest."

"And you allowed control to slip out of your hands? That doesn't sound like you, McGarrett."

He thought back to that grueling confrontation in Governor Jameson's office, when the future of Five-0 and Dan Williams had been decided despite McGarrett's opinions or objections.

"They had the law on their side," he finally replied.

"What do you think of their findings? Do you think Williams tried to commit suicide?"

McGarrett stared straight ahead, not seeing the Palace grounds, but a blur of memories he could never suppress.

"McGarrett?"

Startled from his thoughts, he replied, "I don't like their findings. That is, however, what the DA believes. I can offer no proof to refute the charges."

The Vernor was incredulous. "So you're just going to let it go? You're not going to fight it, McGarrett?" Her attack came as rapid-fire verbal bullets. "What happens to Williams? What happens to the inter-structure of Five-0? What happened to the infamous volcanic-tempered-McGarrett? You usually go to the wall for your men, McGarrett, why not now? Did Williams fall from grace? Or is Five-0's reputation more important than a stressed-out cop?"

Uncharacteristically, Steve ignored the insults, the accusations flying too close to the truth. Control over his Irish temper came easily when he considered the possible consequences of injudicious comments he might make.

"Dan Williams is now a civilian of the State of Hawaii. As for Five-0," he said, gulping down the dryness in his throat, "it goes on. We're bringing some new detectives onto the staff. We'll be sending out a press release with the details."

"What about --"

"Enough, Ms. Vernor! Interview over!"

For the first time in the session he glared at her and saw her visibly react to his hard glower, or perhaps to the cold crispness in his tone. Whatever it was, the reporter stepped out of the way and he closed the door.

"Thanks, McGarrett. For nothing."

Without acknowledgment he backed the car out and sped the Mercury away.

 

*****

 

McGarrett paced the entrance foyer with sharp, incisive strides. The afternoon shift staffed different people than the unfortunates who confronted him on his occasional excursions in the middle of the night. Today, his nerves were taut with anticipation. He had received a perfunctory summons by Rathman to come immediately to the March Foundation. As he paced he pondered what the invitation might mean. Optimistically, he hoped he would finally be able to meet with Williams.

For several months he had been denied any visitation with or update about his friend. In that time he had struggled with an indefinable emptiness he could not really cope with. His life was now forever changed and he had not come to terms with the alterations.

The cover story had been accepted by the press with hardly a ripple. Cops gone bad were easy prey for the media. Williams' reputation was ruined and he was branded as one of the statistics; an emotionally wrecked cop who could not endure the pressure. Soon after the sensational story broke, it was old news. Dan Williams, as Webb predicted, became just another name to the fickle press.

The public may have forgotten the events, but Five-0 would never be the same with Williams 'retired'. Steve, Dan, Five-0 were all so interrelated it was hard to separate them into distinct parts. From the beginning, Steve's goal had been to train Williams, groom him as the future successor. Then when the time was right Five-0 would be turned over to him, to run as it had always been run. Now that was impossible. With the loss of that dream of the future, McGarrett found he had lost interest in Five-0, too. The passion was washed away and replaced with a mundane sense of duty. He would do his job because it was his obligation, but there was no enthusiasm left in the office, or in his heart.

Rathman arrived and McGarrett offered him a curt greeting.

"You'll be happy to know Mr. Williams is ready to see you now," Rathman said with a broad smile.

McGarrett nearly shouted with sheer elation. "That's wonderful! How is he?"

"A little rocky, but under the circumstances, stable," was the doctor's reply. They started down a corridor to an elevator. "He's been briefed on what has been going on in his absence. The retirement and so forth."

McGarrett felt a pang of relief. It would save some agonizing scenes now that Danno knew about the ruse constructed to save everyone's face except the wounded ex-officer.

"How did he take it?" McGarrett asked quietly. His regrets were he had not fulfilled his duty to personally deliver the bad news. Nor had he been there to cushion the blow for his friend.

"Very well," Rathman replied. "You've trained him well, McGarrett. He knows the ropes."

As they rode the nearly silent elevator up, Rathman condensed the highlights of the official report which would be forwarded to McGarrett. Essentially, the diagnosis stated that Williams was as stable and cured as they could possibly determine. There remained no latent programming, no threat to McGarrett or anyone else in society or to Williams himself.

"What about that fail-safe order to self-destruct?"

Rathman hesitated before he replied. "We could not positively determine the existence, or non-existence, of a self-destruct program."

"After the first torture his heart stopped."

"Sounds like a self-destruct ploy, but there was no evidence of that the second time he encountered Jin Wu."

"Then what do you call the suic --" McGarrett trailed off, the impact of the doctor's comment hitting him full force. The thought brought an icy fist clamping around his heart. Steve fought for a voice lost in the grip of fear. "The shooting. What does that mean?"

"We aren't operating in a perfect science, McGarrett. I can't give you guarantees. I can't be one hundred percent sure he'll ever be normal again. I can only give you my professional opinion. As far as the suicide attempt goes, well, he wanted to discuss that with you himself. Still, I am confident Williams is no longer a danger to himself or to you," he finished. There was a flash of uncertainty across his expression. "I'm not sure Williams is as confident in himself. He remembers everything he did and he's coping with it very well," Rathman added. He stopped at an unmarked door. "I think you should be prepared for a different Offi-- Mister Williams than you knew before."

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"Getting around all the psyche mumbo-jumbo, McGarrett, just think about the situation. Someone was playing inside his mind. The games got murderous, then suicidal. Do you think you'd be the same after that?"

Steve had no answer to the rhetorical question. He had experienced his own kind of mind games in Hell. They had never reached the ultimate point of Williams' experience. This was territory he could not quite comprehend.

"Just want you to try and understand," the doctor said.

Steve almost scoffed. 'I understand a lot more than you think.'

"He's going to need all the help he can get. And a good friend."

Rathman opened the door and gestured McGarrett inside. Once the detective was in, the door was closed behind him.

The room was different from the one he had seen before, but still very spartan. Dan stood by the window. He turned when McGarrett entered, his eyes, his readable face, were colored with apprehension. This close and in the reflected sunlight, Steve was startled at the pale complexion, taut with anxiety, which had visibly aged. The scar on the side of the head remained a vivid reminder of the ugly incident, and Danno's hair had turned predominately frosty-white -- a pigment reaction to the upheaval. Changes were more than just on the inside from this tragedy. Nervously, Dan rubbed at his right temple. For the first time McGarrett wondered if his friend was on medication. Suicide-threats were sometimes kept on sedating drugs until the doctors felt they were stable. The possibility chilled Steve.

Suddenly fidgety himself, McGarrett gulped down a knot of anxiety in his throat. He strove for a firm but quiet tone disguising his anxiety.

"Danno. It's so good to see you." The truth spilled out, laced with all the affection and concern he had harbored for months.

The younger man blinked and seemed a bit surprised at the warmth in McGarrett's tone. "Hi, Steve," he responded with an attempt at a smile. A little life -- emotion -- sparked in the stark blue eyes.

"How're you doing?" McGarrett hoped his sincerity would soften the stiff words.

Williams looked away and nodded. "Better than last time."

The calm, coherent, dispassionate, monotone manner was unnerving to Steve. He remembered the highly emotional scene they had gone through last year when Danno had realized his extreme actions during brainwashing. McGarrett preferred that passionate purge to this constrained, depressed calm. Probably because he sensed the control was not directed at him. It was an instinctive survival mechanism Dan had erected around himself. A protective endurance technique which barricaded emotions of any kind.

McGarrett knew all about such walls. He had maintained his own for so many years he could easily detect them in others. It was heartbreaking to see Williams revert to the method. It meant his protégé' had been so hurt by events he could no longer take the risk of feeling anything. A kind of emotional death. For someone so full of vivacious exuberance, it made the present Williams seem like a shadow-person.

Unable to deal with this unexpected obstacle, Steve paced the room as he spoke. He had to break through the ice-wall and touch the real Danno.

"What do you remember?"

"Everything," was the simple reply.

'The hypno-therapy did not even allow him the luxury of partial amnesia,' Steve agonized. His own recollection of his experience in Hong Kong had been stages; steps of remembrance until the final memory of horrific events. Somehow it seemed kinder to recall a bit at a time. He thought back to the terrifying scene at Dan's apartment, still a raw nerve.

"Part of my therapy means I have to face the past," Williams said quietly. There was a hint of hesitation to go on, but he seemed to force himself. "I'm sorry I've hurt --" The brow creased and he stared with troubled eyes at the wall. "I'm sorry -- I've -- that I've let you down."

"No, you've never let me down, Danno. Never." McGarrett closed the distance between them, trying to establish some eye contact. Dan refused to look at him. "I've always been proud that you were on the team. And when I wasn't happy with your work I was never timid about voicing my opinions."

A shadow-grin twitched at his lips. "True," was the younger man's shaky response. He cleared his throat and after a moment said, "I have a lot of things I need to say to you, Steve. But not here."

"Whenever you're ready, Danno."

"No, I mean after we leave here. Didn't Rathman tell you I'm being paroled?"

"No. When?"

For the first time Williams turned and looked into McGarrett's eyes. Amusement sparked his expression. "Now," Dan said with wonder. "Can I get a lift back home?"

McGarrett was speechless for a moment. "Ah -- great!" he said finally. Then exuberantly, he patted Williams' on the shoulder. "Great! Wonderful!" He laughed at the magnificent surprise.

Dan grinned and the humor collapsed the invisible bridge between them. Steve fondly placed a hand on the back of Williams' neck. "Let's get out of here."

 

*****

 

On the drive back to Honolulu, they talked of many things mundane to avoid thinking about the reality they could not bring themselves to discuss. At least now McGarrett had his friend with him, literally and figuratively under his protection. As they drove, Williams lost little of the tension gripping his entire being. Now away from the secure, albeit monitored confines of the Foundation, he expected in Dan an overwhelming sense of freedom. All Steve saw now was anxiety and apprehension. By the time they pulled into the familiar, curved driveway of McGarrett's beach house, Williams was feeling a bit more at ease. Parked in front of the garage was the white '69 Mustang and this surprising development took Williams' mind off his nervousness.

"My car's here."

"I had your things brought over --" McGarrett hesitated for a moment, then forged ahead. "After what happened at your apartment, I didn't want you going back there. All your stuff is in the spare room here." He parked the Mercury next to the Mustang. "Consider this your place for as long as you want."

Williams shook his head. "No -- I can't, Steve."

"Why not?"

"I won't," Williams insisted. He launched out of the car and walked through the row of trees to the strip of beach at the back of the house. McGarrett followed at a run. He easily caught up with his friend and walked apace of him along the beach.

"What's wrong?"

"Rathman told you his results. Don't you understand what they mean?"

"He said you had been deprogrammed."

Williams came to a stop and stared out at the placid bay. "As far as they're able to determine." The painful words matched the younger man's tortured expression. "They can't make promises, Steve. They can't guarantee I'm deprogrammed."

"I know, Danno, I got the standard lecture --"

"I'm still a threat to you!"

McGarrett seized the shorter man by the arm. "You were never a threat to me, Danno," he insisted sternly. "Never! Believe me!" McGarrett paused, unsure what to say next.

Williams tried to shrug away from the grasp, but was held firm by his determined companion. "How do we know what will happen tomorrow or next year? Jin Wu could pop up on your doorstep and I -- I could -- I can't take the risk --"

McGarrett's grip tightened. "Jin Wu is dead. I shot her."

"But Rathman said there was no investigation, no body --"

"Webb's tricks, but I shot her, Danno. She's dead. No more threats from her. You're safe."

Unable to accept the assurances, Dan insisted he could not stay. Williams shook his head. "It's too dangerous, Steve. If I leave the island --"

McGarrett's grip tightened. "You would never harm me, Danno. I KNOW that. You've got to believe it too." Silence met his imploring. Pressing, he demanded, "Why are you talking like this? It's not like you to run away ---"

"I'M not like me!" he anguished.  "Everything is changed, Steve, most of all me!  You know that better than anyone."

"You can't leave!  This is your home!"

"I can't be a danger to you.  There's got to be distance between us.  It's my job to keep you safe."

It was a jumble of past insecurities, former worries, future anxieties all crashing together in his desperate desire to keep his friend safe. 

Losing his patience, McGarrett repeated actions taken during their last, tense confrontation were orchestrated by the spy mater Jin Wu.  None of it reflected on Williams, and in fact, the detective had valiantly overcome the binding mind-control to break free and not do as the woman commanded.  Stubbornly, Williams was not swayed.

"Do you really think I blame you?"

"You should blame me! You should hate me! I tried to --"

"No --"

"-- to kill --"

"You tried to kill yourself," McGarrett corrected, his voice filled with compassion. He took hold of Williams' chin and Steve forced his friend to look at him. There was both danger and affection in his expression and tone. "You're not leaving my sight," he threatened in an almost parental tone of sternness. "After everything we've survived I will not let you abandon ship."

"We'll never know if the subliminal programming is still in my head, Steve." Williams tried to pull away, but McGarrett held a hand at the back of Dan's neck. "I could be a time-bomb to you."

"Or yourself," McGarrett countered grimly. He had not intended to voice his concerns, but this seemed to be the time to clear away their fears, then concentrate on the future. Soberly, he revealed, "I'm afraid your self-destruct program is still there. You've proven you're more of a threat to yourself than to me."

Williams shook his head. "It wasn't the programming," he said miserably. "I put the gun to my head, Steve. Jin Wu didn't."

"She brainwashed you, Danno. Her programming made you pull the trigger. It's not your fault."

"I was programmed to kill."

"There's no way you could ever willingly kill yourself!" McGarrett snapped. "Not me and not yourself!"

Tears streaked the younger man's face and he didn't bother to wipe them away. "I could if I had to save you."

Steve drew his shaking friend into a tight hug and held him there for a long time. He felt himself tremble from the anguish coursing his soul; hurt for what his friend had gone through, pain at the new knowledge that Williams had done all this, or believed he did, to save McGarrett. His eyes pooled with tears, and he shuddered as the horrific implications settled into comprehension. For the first time since the whole nightmare of Jin Wu had begun, he wept. Some of the lament was for the grief behind and ahead of them. Part of the breakdown was from his affection for this man who misguidedly insisted on being so heroic and noble. Williams had taken a bullet in the head -- possibly choosing that over being a threat to McGarrett. Part of it was for all they had lost, and the frightening, unexplored future where they stood on the threshold of a terrifying frontier.

It was frightening to think of the lengths of sacrifice Williams would go to in the name of friendship. What could Steve possibly do to payback that kind of loyalty and love? He didn't know, but he was going to use all the time and energy he possessed to try.

When he regained enough control of his emotions to speak, he stated, "I still don't believe it.  But, that's behind us, now, Danno." His voice was still shaky. "We can't keep wondering what really happened, or if you're totally cured. Or if Jin Wu is alive or dead. We'll probably never know for sure, knowing Webb."

He subdued the anger which flashed into his mind at THAT unresolved problem. What no one knew was that McGarrett had his own 'old boy' intelligence connections and they were quietly searching the globe for Jin Wu.

"The doubts will drive us insane if we let them," he continued. He pulled back, but retained a firm grip on Williams' shoulders. "We start fresh here and now. If we let this ruin us, then Jin Wu and Webb have won after all. I won't allow that, Danno. Not after all we've been through."

The tears spent, Williams wiped his face dry.

"You can't leave," was McGarrett's adamant insistence.   

Slowly, he nodded in tentative agreement. "If I stay here," he deliberated cautiously, "I don't want you doing this because you think you owe me some obligation or something."

"What does that mean?"

"I just don't want this hanging over our heads. Like you owe me a debt."

'I do owe you more than I can repay,' he thought silently. Aloud, he said, "I'm doing this because you're my friend, Danno. Is that okay?" he finished wryly.

Williams nodded. "Thanks."

"Now, let's consider this a closed subject." McGarrett stepped away and raised his eyebrows in silent emphasis that his demand had better be met. He put an arm around Dan's shoulders and directed them toward the house. "Let's get you settled in. I'll let Duke know I'm taking the rest of the day off."

*****

They spent the evening in low-key conversation and subdued activity. For the most part Williams ambled through the house or walked on the beach, as if studying new and foreign territory. McGarrett fixed dinner, then helped Williams unpack some of the belongings boxed in the spare room. McGarrett kept a careful eye on his friend who maintained restrained and rigidly controlled reactions for the rest of the day. How would he react to the sorting of articles and memories from the painful past?

The first major hurdle came when Williams found the box marked OFFICE. Slowly, he opened the lid. Framed pictures and awards were on the top. Williams removed the photo of Aunt Clara and him.

"I called her before you came today," he said quietly.

McGarrett had been removing books from a box and now stopped. He sat on the floor next to Williams.

"What did you tell her?"

"The version of the lie Webb wanted," Dan responded with a bitter tone. "What good would the truth do for her?"

McGarrett didn't respond to the obvious that Clara already guessed the suicide story to be a lie. She knew her nephew better than that. "Rathman gave you the cover story?"

"Yeah, and Webb. He dropped in a few days ago."

Steve ground his teeth in anger. "He had no right to disturb you."

"Before they released me they had to know I would stick with their program," Williams explained.

"He threatened you?"

"Not in so many words, but he made it clear I wouldn't go anywhere until I agreed to the plan."

Covert activities were dirty games. After Korea the games became worse, the tactics less just, the black and white issues blurred to grey. Leaving NI for Hawaii Five-0 turned out to be the best decision of Steve's life. In the past twenty years a lot of covert operations entangled him, but he held jurisdiction on this rock along with a lot of leverage. Only a few cases went sour, and most of those involved Wo Fat. Only Enslow's nasty operation tainted his staff, to his everlasting regret. Now Dan and he were forced to play the dirty games again or suffer the blackmailing tricks of Webb and his ilk. As a rule, McGarrett did not give in to threats or extortion, but there were always exceptions. For Dan's safety he would submit to Webb's lies.

"So I told Aunt Clara I was overstressed and -- and went for an extreme solution." He gazed out of the upstairs window, seeing beyond the crystal blue water of the bay. "She took it like a trooper," he said distantly. There was regret and hurt in the uneven tone. "But she was torn up about it, Steve."

For several moments Williams became still, unseeing.

McGarrett was concerned at the overly-controlled reaction. So far today he had seen a lot of heart-breaking emotions from Williams. Among those extreme feelings, anger was not surfacing. There was no rage, just hurt.

Just like last year after the initial brainwashing. Then, the disorientation, the confusion the rebellion, but not a volcanic blow-up. McGarrett worried at the lack of fire in his formerly impulsive, flashpoint-anger friend. He was concerned that bottling that rage would only make the recovery process extended and more difficult. Also, he worried that Williams could not come right out and say, in conversation -- not confession -- that he had shot AT McGarrett, then shot himself. Of course, McGarrett had not been able to discuss it with anyone either, but he sensed some deep avoidance here which also made him anxious about Danno's long-term health.

Steve touched Williams' arm. "Danno?"

"Yeah," Williams started. "I'm okay," he said quickly. "It's just that so much will never be the same. Kinda hard to get use to." He put the photo aside, upside down, then reached into the box for another item. His hand was shaking so badly the next picture frame rattled. He quickly placed it on the floor without looking at it.

"Maybe we should save this --"

"I have to face this sometime, Steve."

"Not today."

Ignoring the advise, Williams withdrew a square, carved wooden case from the box.

McGarrett grabbed hold of the box. "Let's come back to this later," he adamantly advised.

"I can handle it."

Determined to struggle through this tough test, Williams pulled the box from McGarrett's reach and unclasped the lid. Inside was a familiar leather badge case and .38 revolver. As if stung, Williams dropped the box.

"You take this, Steve. I won't touch it -- not any gun again." He looked at his friend. "Especially with you around."

Williams had gone white with fear. McGarrett closed the case and put it aside. He wasn't sure where this extreme reaction was coming from, but he responded as calmly as he could.

"It's just your revolver, Danno."

"I don't want to take any chances, Steve. The last time I held this --" he searched for another track of explanation. "I can't trust myself with a weapon, Steve. Never. I can't be sure what will happen."

The reaction seemed a ridiculous extreme. McGarrett did not voice that opinion. He did reiterate (he figured he would have to repeat this phrase for some time to come) that Williams was cured and according to Rathman, no longer a threat to anyone including himself and McGarrett. He also mentioned that since Williams was a former state policeman, it was only common sense to carry a gun. All retired cops carried pieces for protection. There were many people out walking around who could come after Williams in revenge for his actions in the line of duty. All policemen, especially Five-0 detectives, had a lot of enemies.

Williams adamantly insisted he would never carry or fire a gun again. He asked McGarrett to take the revolver and never bring it back. Acceding to his friend's wishes, McGarrett removed the .38 from the box. He then handed the badge case to Williams.

"I hope you want to keep this." The thin metal shield meant so much to McGarrett: his authority, his ideals, his career, his life. He knew it meant as much to Williams. Although it hurt to know the badge was now just a sentimental ornament, McGarrett hoped Williams would respect it as much as he had that first day he'd presented it to the young, new Five-0 detective when Williams was freshly promoted from HPD.

Almost reverently Williams gripped the badge in his hands. It was a symbol of everything his career had meant to him. He looked at McGarrett, knowing they shared common feelings about the past and what this badge meant to them both.

"Yeah, it's something I want to keep," Dan admitted quietly. "Mahalo."

He slipped the badge into a back pocket of his jeans. For a moment he ran his fingers through his hair. "This isn't as easy as I thought it would be," he said quietly. Then he replaced the lid to the storage box. "I need to get out."

Williams trotted downstairs and out the back to the beach. McGarrett followed at a more leisurely pace and sat on the deck at water's edge. He watched his friend slowly amble along the tide line toward the park just down the shore. Until these last moments, he had not realized how slow this recovery was going to be for both of them. Williams had a lot of deep scars that would take a long time to heal. Unsettled and fatigued, McGarrett felt they had not yet finished with the trials and strains to their friendship.

 

*****

Arms filled with grocery sacks, McGarrett came in the front door of the beach house and dropped a few of the bags on the table. After Dan's release Steve had stayed here with him for a few days. Once assured his friend could handle the freedom, and his recovery seemed stable, Steve returned to work, dropping in most evenings. Typically, another crisis gripped the state police unit and there had been no time to return for a visit for several days.

Today McGarrett had left the office before noon to get the shopping finished and give them an early start. He had stocked up on plenty of yogurt and health foods for their weekend trip. Despite his friend's resistance, this weekend Williams was going to eat healthily. This would be the first time Steve had been back to his house on Kauai for many months so the cupboards there were bare. He was looking forward to the holiday. That recent, explosive situation with the dock unions had been a nerve-wracking business. [episode -- LION IN THE STREETS]

"Danno?"

McGarrett placed the sacks on the kitchen counter, moving aside several empty beer cans cluttering the small area. He noted some empty prescription containers: the plastic splintered and smashed into shards on the counter. Upset at the evidence of drugs and liquor, McGarrett picked up a destroyed vial and examined it, noting the pills had been sedatives. He checked the sink and found some partially dissolved pills in the drain.

"Danno?"

Now concerned, he made a quick search of the house, then went outside and scanned the beach. The Mustang was parked in front of the garage, so Danno had not left . . . there, just beyond the nearby trees, he spotted a lone figure slowly walking toward the house. Williams took a seat on one of the chairs set up on the boat deck at the water's edge. McGarrett jogged out to join him.

"Steve!" Williams paused for a few seconds, visibly trying to collect his thoughts. "Did I forget you were coming?"

McGarrett clenched his teeth to restrain any reaction to the absent minded greeting. Williams was a wreck -- probably had not slept or eaten well in days. Perhaps he should keep a closer eye on his friend. Maybe Danno was not fit to be on his own, yet. 'Ease up,' he admonished himself. Danno had been out of the Foundation for just over a week. This period of adjustment was going to be a bit rough on Williams. On McGarrett, too.

"No, it's a surprise," McGarrett reassured. "Friday. I've got the weekend off. I thought we'd take off for Kauai. Sound okay?"

"Sure."

"How are you doing?"

Williams slumped farther into the chair. "Okay," he said unconvincingly. At the corresponding silence from his companion, he glanced at McGarrett. The doubt there was obvious. "Really."

Steve took a seat next to his friend. "What about the pills?"

"Oh, those," Williams frowned. "They went into the sink."

"So you can handle things without them?"

Dan shrugged. "Getting hooked on pills is a complication I don't need. Besides," his tone grew bitter, "I can't seem to handle things anyway."

He launched from the seat and went into the house. McGarrett followed in time to see Williams fling himself onto the couch and put his feet up on the coffee table, staring out the open glass doors to the sea beyond.

Steve drew in a breath and steadied his temper and nerves. Under normal circumstances he would not put up with this defeatist garbage from anyone, especially Danno. Williams had always had a capacity for harsh self-criticism and Steve usually did not tolerate the self-doubt. These were not normal times, however, and he had to add extra measures of patience and understanding in dealing with his friend.

McGarrett picked up some pro-environmental pamphlets scattered on the sofa and took a seat. "Want to talk about it?" The tone was a little stiff but it was the best he could manage. He felt uncomfortable with this vein of conversation, but perhaps Dan just needed someone to listen to him.

Williams turned to briefly brush eyes with Steve, then looked away. "I don't know what to say. I can't put it into words -- all the frustration and . . . " he trailed off.

"What?"

Williams shook his head. "Everything." His voice was pathetic and forlorn, as if he was the only one in the world with an overwhelming problem.

In this case that wasn't true, Steve thought. Williams was one of two with this overwhelming problem. Steve couldn't offer any advice on how to cope because he himself had not figured out how to forget the traumas of brainwashing and torture.

"I can't get past the -- shooting."

There would be no easy or fast way out and Steve didn't know where to start. He leaned forward, elbows on knees. "It fades, Danno." Williams gave a brief nod. Unable to accept this depression any longer, McGarrett blurted out, "For now, you're not to worry about it."

Surprised out of his doldrums, Dan looked up. "What do you mean?"

"Don't try to sort it out this minute. Give it some time, Danno. Ease up on yourself. You're always too tough on yourself, you know," he gently reminded. After receiving no response he lightly slapped Dan on the leg. "Come on. Let's get ready. We're sailing to Kauai."

"Yeah -- " the message finally registered. "What?" Dan laughed, astonished. "YOU took the whole weekend off? Did the Honolulu criminals take a holiday?"

"No, only one criminal catcher," McGarrett countered wryly.

"Steve, you don't have to baby-sit me. You've got a job --"

"To hell with the job for today!" was McGarrett's stern retort. "Your recovery is more important than anything I could accomplish at the office."

Embarrassed, Williams shook his head in a gesture of incredulity. He stared at his friend for a moment. "Thanks for never giving up on me, Steve. Again -- always. I couldn't get through this without you."

This time it was McGarrett who was embarrassed by the praise. He clapped his friend on the shoulder and kept his hand there for a moment. "We're in this together, my friend. Now, come on, get packed." He came to his feet, then looked back, still concerned. It was going to take more than a sail to Kauai to mend the fragmented structure of Dan Williams. In his heart, McGarrett hoped he was up to the task of the repair job. It was the most important work he would ever undertake.

"Come on, Kauai is waiting. And no complaining about the food, either!"

 

*****

McGarrett awoke abruptly, eyes snapping open, his right hand clutching the revolver under his pillow. He knew he had been woken suddenly by some noise -- years of experienced instinct told him that -- his extreme reaction to some unconscious input. Without moving he assessed the room and felt no foreign 'presence' there. The only thing he could detect was the constant sound of Kauai surf blown in off the cool night wind through the open window.

No -- there was an ever-so-faint muffled sound . . . cry -- moan. Steve bolted upright. Danno. McGarrett instantly jumped out of bed, flung open his door and burst into Williams' nearby room.

Dan was lying on the floor, entangled in bedding, wrestling with invisible demons. Barely coherent mutterings included Steve's name called out several times. Other phrases included an agonized refusal for some unspecified command. Danno seemed to be reliving the torture sequence and probably the shooting.

"Damn nightmares," McGarrett cursed as he knelt down and unwrapped the sheets. "Danno," he called gently. He laid a steadying hand on his friend's trembling shoulder. Firmly he shook Williams, touching the tear-streaked face with his other hand as he continued to call Danno's name.

Desperately, Williams clutched onto McGarrett's arms, holding on as if to a life-preserver. Dan's eyes blinked open and stared at his friend with stark fear. Weakly, he drew in several sharp, shuddered breaths, then fell back against McGarrett.

"It's all right, Danno," he whispered soothingly, injecting forced calm into his own strained voice. "It's over. It was only a nightmare."

Williams wiped his hands across his face. "I don't remember --"

"It's okay, it's over."

Williams sat up and took several more breaths. He glanced at the travel clock on the beside table.

"A hell of a way to come into Five AM on a Sunday morning," he unsteadily muttered. With a subdued voice he apologized. "Sorry."

McGarrett tightened his hold on the shoulder he had never released from his steadying grip. "It's okay. I understand." Involuntarily, he thought back to his own terrible bout with nightmares after his ordeal with Wo Fat in Hong Kong. The nights were the worst, made infinitely unbearable if endured alone. He was glad he was here with his friend when Danno really needed him. Starting tomorrow night he was going to sleep over at the beach house more often.

Williams patted McGarrett's arm. "I'm okay, now. Thanks."

"Sure?" McGarrett did not release his hold.

"Yeah," Williams whispered. "But I don't think I can go back to sleep. I'm gonna go for a swim."

McGarrett was reluctant to leave, to even let go of his friend. This incident had shaken him. Until this dark moment he had not realized how tenuous Danno's recovery appeared, how surface-thin was the veneer of healing from the brainwashing. He shivered -- for the agony tangibly coursing through his friend -- for the vivid memories of his own nightmares.

Williams pulled away. Shaky, but determined, he came to his feet and reiterated his intention to go for a swim and clear his head. The words strove for optimism while his voice was achingly unsteady.

McGarrett matched the attempt at normalcy and came to his feet, admitting it was time for an early jog. With forced cheeriness he promised to fix a healthy breakfast when he returned.

Once cushioned in the solitude of his own room, McGarrett sat on the bed for a time. Dawn crept into the sky and lightened the landscape with the brushstrokes of subdued purple light. He heard the back door slam and glanced out the open window to see Williams dive into the choppy surf. This was Danno's way of coping with stress, just as McGarrett used jogging to deal with emotional problems. It provided no answers, but sometimes it exhausted the body enough to allow the mind time to seek solace and respite.

A chill raced along his spine -- a delayed reaction to the frightening morning wake-up. Amazingly he had forgotten these nightmares were standard residue from torture and brainwashing. He wondered if he had pushed it from his mind deliberately. Coming face to face with the fear invoked nasty reflections of his own brainwashing nightmares. It made him ache all the more for what Danno was going through.

The introspection made him feel very isolated suddenly. He quickly changed into his jogging clothes. On the way past Williams' room he grabbed Danno's shoes so his friend could join him on a long jog along the beach. Steve did not want to be alone right now and he knew solitude was the worst thing for Williams as well.

 

*****

"Well, what do you think, Duke?"

McGarrett turned from his observation of the Palace grounds and glanced at his colleague. Out of nervous habit he snapped his fingers as he walked. They were standing on the lanai just outside of McGarrett's office. Late afternoon sun cast long shadows from the pillars across the white walkway. McGarrett sipped his coffee and glanced back out to watch the rush-hour traffic (an oxymoron if he ever heard one).

"You mean about Carew staying on the team?" Lukela shrugged. "So far he's been tough to handle, but an adequate cop."

"Don't be so enthusiastic, Duke," Steve sarcastically countered.

"He's a wild paniolo, Steve. You'll have to keep him in line."

"Sure, but he's a good cop," McGarrett defended of his impulsive offer for Jim Carew to join Five-0.

Carew had been bounced off of the Boston PD for violently exceeding the bounds of his job. He came to Hawaii seeking revenge against some mobsters who had murdered his family. McGarrett wasn't sure why he had asked the easterner to join; sympathy, desperation or instinct. Whatever the reason, the deed was done. Carew became part of the team, with Truck Keala and next week Kevin Wilson. That put the unit back up to a full staff of permanent detectives.

An actual physical pain twinged at his heart. Like a stab wound -- an emotional reminder that this was just plastic surgery. To McGarrett, the team would never be the same and this was the best he could do for now. Well, he shouldn't sell his staff short. In time, they would rise up to a different level of teamwork, of quality, than there had been in the past.

McGarrett leaned against a pillar and thought back to the countless moments like this at the end of the day, when the detectives would come out on the lanai and unwind from a tough case. Hours had been spent out here, with his friend, in the fresh breeze. Imagining -- No, he couldn't walk down that mental path. He had to make the best of his future: Truck, Wilson and Kimo, as he nicknamed the malihini, hoping the Hawaiian application of ' Jim,' would help ease the newcomer into the Hawaiian routine.

Steve's optimism now blunted, he walked into the office and suggested they finish up on the last of the day's paperwork. There was a lot to catch up on after their miserable week. Another case against Alika fell through, and investigations were backing up because the new staff just didn't seem to have the Five-0 work routine down yet.

". . . the Manoa jewelry heist is being handled by Kimo and the Franklin hit-and- run is Truck's case. I'm also coordinating with Chief Tom on the Pearl Harbor security for the anniversary."

Duke Lukela paused from reading his notes and looked up from the paper at his boss. McGarrett stared out the open lanai door, leaning back in his chair, a foot pressed against the back wall. Out of nervous habit, McGarrett's fingers snapped briskly. Duke would bet Steve hadn't heard a word he said. The distant expression on the chief of Five-0 indicated thoughts far from the office.

No surprise. There had been so much tension lately with the new team, then the Alika tug of war. Always in the back of McGarrett's mind, too, was the problem of Williams.

Danny's transition back into the mainstream of Hawaiian life had been a challenge for them all. McGarrett's sense of duty had warred with his desire to spend time with his friend. He had tried to give each option equal attention. In the end, duty finally won out, but in physical presence only. When Steve worked at the office his thoughts were not here at all. It had been particularly hard in the last few weeks since McGarrett had been wrestling with integrating new detectives into the Five-0 structure. Some of those officers were not fitting well. In Lukela's humble opinion, McGarrett was really in need of a vacation. Steve always seemed to be in need of a vacation, because he hardly ever took one, but desperately needed to get away now.

"Still no word on the stabbing at the Sheraton last night," Duke continued. "But I just got a report that the horse jumped over the moon," he looked back at McGarrett, "and the Menehune ran away with the spoon." He stopped and placed the report on the desk. He waited. Nearly a full minute elapsed before McGarrett turned around to face him.

"That all, Duke?"

"I think so," the Hawaiian responded meaningfully. He took a seat in one of the white chairs in front of the desk. "Your mind's not here, Steve."

"I know," he sighed in admission. He leaned his elbows on the desk, entwined his fingers and hooked his chin on his hands.

"Take off. I can handle things here."

A brief smile of affection and appreciation flashed at Lukela, but it quickly died. "Mahalo, Duke, but you've been taking up a lot of slack since -- well, lately."

Lukela shrugged easily. "No problem. I'm keeping track of the favors." Seriously, he said, "There are more important things to worry about sometimes than the job. I think this is one of those times, Steve."

"But --"

"Danny needs you," he interrupted firmly. "You want to be there -- I think you need to be there for him. You certainly need to get out of the office. When was the last time you saw Danny?"

"The beginning of the week."

"So what are you doing here?"

The rare expression of indecision rippled across McGarrett's strong features. The desire to give in to the advice was tempting. Clearly personal feelings rarely won over years of discipline and commitment to the job.

Duke hoped that job-preoccupation was all that was behind the reluctance. Maybe he misread the situation. Perhaps Steve felt uncomfortable being around Danny. That was a depressing thought. As close as the two friends were, Duke would hate to see this tragedy slip into a deeper, even more desperate situation. Danny had been hurt by the events of the last year. Steve had been emotionally hurt right along with Williams. Both were victims, although McGarrett, as usual, didn't think of himself as having a problem. Probably because before, Danny and Five-0 were synonymous, now Steve had to make a choice. Which one deserved priority status?

Nobody had been the same since this chain of tragedies began. If they didn't turn this around right away it could become an irreversible pattern of defeat and depression. That would do more profound damage than anything they had yet seen.

"You're a wise, good friend, Duke," McGarrett said quietly. "Your support has been indispensable during this mess."

"Then let me help with this, Steve. You're worried about Danny. Go see him."

McGarrett shook his head. "I'm not doing him a lot of good, Duke. I've been at the office most of the week. When I talk to him on the phone he's distant. He's never angry, Duke, just in pain. I don't know how to break through." He sighed deeply and pounded a fist on the desk. "Sometimes he looks at me -- as if he's trying to pull himself away. As if he's scared of something -- of me. I don't know how to help him." With deep frustration he shook his head and launched from the chair to lean on the door-frame, facing the lanai. "Without Five-0 to bond us together, maybe I'm afraid we have nothing in common anymore."

"You think Danny is pulling away from you?"

"Drifting, maybe. He's different since -- well, of course he would be. How could he ever be the same again?"

"This won't go away overnight, Steve," was Duke's quiet reply. "But you're not going to give up. Maybe you just need to spend time with him. You'll keep trying to reach Danny. If that's what's important to you."

"Danno's recovery is the most important thing in my life right now," McGarrett shot back.

Lukela almost smiled at the predictable reaction; Steve instantly defending Danny, instantly supporting the team. The Five-0 detectives could handle international criminals and plots and mobsters. It was much more difficult to deal with their own personal trials than to talk about crime and impersonal danger.

The Five-0 family had always been close. Even when he was still a patrol sergeant, Lukela affectionately had been drawn into the fold. Steve and he had worked together for years and had always had a common bond in their matching ideologies and personalities. They differed in their level of intensity and in their handling of emotions. Duke found it easy to be blunt about anything, including his innermost feelings. Maybe being a husband and father for many years gave him an edge over Steve in that respect.

Steve was blunt, but not about things inside his heart. Expecting the guys to know how much he loved them and worried over them, he rarely spoke of those feelings. After Chin's death, Duke thought there would be a difference. Steve had loosened up some, but never enough to make personal thoughts easy to say. When something went wrong, particularly with Danny, Steve would let it eat away inside and suffer silently, but hardly let on how deeply he hurt. Lukela didn't know why Steve reacted the way he did, but just accepted it as one of Steve's many idiosyncrasies.

With the new team -- Duke didn't see any personal connections there. They were co-workers and that's as far as it went. Steve and he were too emotionally stretched right now to take on any new adoptees into their private world.

He brought his thoughts back to the present. He had to get Steve out of here or the boss would brood for the whole night.

"Go see Danny, Steve." He lightened his tone to try and turn Steve's black mood around. "I can't go home with a good conscience unless I know you'll be okay. And I want to go home. Now."

A rueful smile was like a fleeting shadow on McGarrett's face. "Thanks, Duke." He rose and placed his hands on the Hawaiian's shoulders. "You'll know where to reach me."

*****

 

Distance -- a word defined in relative terms. The distance from Honolulu to Aina Haina. Relatively short for a sightseeing tourist. Long and protracted for a man uncertain of what awaited at the end of the journey. The initial crisis of Dan's brainwashing, absence and recovery ebbed into the past like the gentle roll of surf on Waikiki. The nerve-tearing emotional extremes, the intensity of pain, receded behind them now. Most days, when he could spend them with Dan, were consumed in pleasant, casual hiatus. Their relationship entered a different and foreign level. Socializing in the last eleven years meant rare time off together playing tennis, jogging, or sailing, mingled with the ever-present discussions and dealings with the Five-0 caseloads. Never one to completely put work aside, McGarrett never bothered separating career and time off when with his associates. The closest friends came from his unit.

The scenario now shifted. His closest friend now unjustly, controversially expelled from Five-0, caused a divergence in their paths. The brainwashing/suicide crisis caused it's own unique stress that Dan could only deal with, to a certain extent, alone. The incarceration in the Foundation began the rift McGarrett now dreaded. Weeks of dealing with the crisis in separation forced him to work hard to bridge that gap. Which tumbled into his newest apprehension -- the looming anxiety their paths would diverge so far they would no longer find common ground. What would become of their friendship then? Could their friendship survive beyond Five-0?

When McGarrett arrived at the beach house he didn't know what he expected. He found the house neat, orderly and -- empty. Aside from a stack of environmental leaflets on the table, no evidence of an occupant presented itself. An abrupt stab of panic thrust into his heart. Did he wait to long? Had Dan left? Double-checking with a glance out the window, he reaffirmed the Mustang in the drive.

A thump upstairs followed by a muffled curse eased some of his fears. Anxiously, he trotted up the steps and in the office/library found Dan with a hammer in one hand and a thumb in his mouth.

"What are you doing?"

"A bad job of putting up shelves," Williams responded around the sore digit.

With effort, McGarrett bypassed his editorial comments and fell back on proper investigative procedure. "Why?"

"I cleaned the house. Twice everyday this week. I've been swimming and surfing every day. I'm running out of constructive things to do. Then this morning I realized you could use some extra room for your books."

Obsession took many forms, Steve accepted. Williams, usually a neat person, took that and other traits to extremes when forced to occupy his time. Steve understood. Anything sounded good to keep the introspection and memories at bay. New shelves . . . . yes, he had spent too much time away. And, yes, he would have to organize something for Dan to do with his time.

"Why don't we discuss renovations over dinner. What have you got?"

"Steak, chicken. We could barbecue. Or salmon, rice, nori, yellow tail. We can whip up some saimin and sushi."

"Sounds great."

An aficionado of good cooking, McGarrett enjoyed preparing food. Most meals with his second-in-command were in restaurants, so teaming up on kitchen work became a unique and efficient experience. Not his usual chatty self yet, Williams had to be drawn out, but soon their conversations flowed from one interesting point to another. Still sensitive to his public exodus, Dan rarely talked to anyone or visited his extended family. Far from a loner, the isolation proved against his nature. Gradually striking out to public encounters seemed a good sign of recovery.

Asked about the pamphlets on the table, Dan revealed his spare time gave him a chance to indulge in projects long abandoned because his job rook up most of his life. The Five-0 staff rarely affiliated with public support of political or controversial causes because of the risk of a conflict of interest, and the consistent lack of time. Issues like gun control or law enforcement were almost part of their job, but more sensitive policies, like propositions, endorsing candidates or following grass-roots movements were touchy. Now Dan could spend time furthering the cause of dolphin and whale protection and conserving endangered Hawaiian wildlife. A calabash -- adopted -- Kulani brother, had dragged Dan to several ecology rallies, sparking an interest in the overly-cautious ex-detective.

Dusk darkened the house by the time they finished eating, cleaned -up and both read through the hand-outs. Steve expressed his own appeal to the same causes and Dan offered ideas how he could help without risking his status as the head of Five-0. The evening ended all too quickly, with Dan promising to keep him updated on his activities, and Steve planning to fix a gourmet meal for the weekend. Driving back to Waikiki, Steve wondered how he ever imagined there could be a problem, a separation between them. They had never said a word all night about Five-0 or cop issues, and Steve found he didn't miss it one bit.

 

*****

On the afternoon when Dan read the article in the paper on the killing of Kevin Wilson, he was frustrated. Wanting to call Steve and offer some assistance, he knew he couldn't. No longer with Five-0, he would only get in the way. He could contact some of his old informants . . . . already on his way toward the beach house before he stopped in his tracks. He could do nothing. As much as cop killing hurt; as much as he ached for Steve, Dan had to stay out of the investigation. Sourly, he accepted that this was just not his business anymore. Angered, he threw down the paper and went around to the front of the house.

Without thinking where he was going he jumped into the Mustang and took off north on Kalani Highway. Mindlessly, he beach-hopped until late evening, where he returned home to wait. McGarrett would call or come here, would need to talk, and at least Dan could offer a sympathetic ear. 'They also serve who only stand and wait,' he quoted. Bitterly, he knew that was all he could do to help.

 

*****

Williams drove the Mercury slowly through the entrance of the Valley of the Temples. The gate area was clogged with reporters who clamored to the car when they saw the occupants. McGarrett and Williams had been pestered by the press for the last months in regard to Williams' abrupt exit from Five-0. Neither man would issue a statement, yet a few reporters persisted in dogging them for a sensational story. With distaste, Dan realized being with the chief of Five-0 today -- in the same car! -- would probably make the six o'clock news. Williams snarled with contempt for the scavengers. His only outward reaction was to speed up to get past the mob.

The winding road coursing through the cemetery was a black ribbon threaded through emerald-lush fields. This was a place which evoked reverence on any occasion, but when the reason for coming was the funeral of a cop, the mood was especially somber. He had not known Kevin Wilson very well and knew the wife, Lori, even less. He was here to support Steve.

Three days before, the newest member of Five-0, Wilson, had been gunned down. McGarrett was taking the death harder than Williams had expected, which was why the former Five-0 detective was here. It always hurt when a fellow officer was killed. McGarrett always deeply felt the regret when the officer was working with or for Five-0. Wilson had not been well known at Five-0, so Williams was surprised at the level of Steve's remorse. The reasons really did not matter. McGarrett needed Dan to be there for support and out of concern for his friend he had offered to drive McGarrett to the windward cemetery.

The day was bright, sunny, and rather hot for October; cooled by windward mists which blew dampness across the open space of the plot-filled hills. As McGarrett and Williams made their way to the gravesite, Dan reflected what a beautiful day it was. The last time he had been here, for Chin's funeral, it had been dark with low storm clouds. Involuntarily, Williams glanced up the hill toward the section nestled close to where the verdant valley of the vast cemetery met the towering, eroded pali of the Koolau mountains. When he turned back he noted Steve's gaze had drifted in that direction as well. For a moment McGarrett brushed eye contact with him and offered a brief nod to express that everything was okay. The reassurance was reflected in McGarrett's eyes.

Duke joined them and offered a subdued greeting. McGarrett moved to stand closer to Lori and Williams stepped back to an inconspicuous spot behind some HPD officers. The brief service was conducted by a local minister and was simple and short. After the prayer an officer played taps on a single trumpet.

For a few moments the former second in command mingled quietly with other officers while the head of Five-0 escorted Officer Wilson to the mortuary limousine. Williams gravitated toward Duke, who was talking to a plainclothes officer. Dan didn't know the sharp-featured, whipcord man, but guessed he was the other new detective, Carew.

"Have you met Jim Carew, yet?" Lukela asked.

"No, I haven't, but I've heard a lot about you, Mr. Carew."

Williams made sure to keep his voice and expression neutral. He had heard about Carew's blundering arrival to Honolulu. The former Boston cop had come into town with a gunslinger attitude and revenge against some mobsters on his mind. Once that was resolved, McGarrett had talked the cowboy into joining Five-0. Carew HAD given McGarrett major problems and Dan suddenly realized he resented the detective for that. Now that he looked up into this man's flint-sharp face, he felt a raw danger and anger flashing from the detective's expression. Perhaps it was only Dan's imagination, but through Carew's hard, narrow eyes, Williams felt the anger projected in his direction.

"I've heard a lot about you, Mr. Williams." There was a sneering emphasis on the word 'mister'.

"Don't believe everything you hear," Williams warned flippantly.

The return threat came boldly, not concealed in any way. "I know when something's genuine. Or worthwhile."

Dan felt like squirming; from the direct and antagonistic stare of Carew, from the awkwardness interjected into the introduction. Suddenly, Williams realized he was being baited. Carew wanted to put Williams at a disadvantage -- possibly even invoke a confrontation. Why? What had he done to Carew?

"Danno!"

McGarrett's curt summons from a few feet away served to distract and diffuse the intense Carew. Dan bid hasty alohas to the detectives and joined McGarrett

'Saved by the bell,' was Dan's wry thought. He didn't know why Carew had an ax to grind with him. He was confused and surprised by the hostility, but did not let the reaction bother him. Something to ponder later. For Steve's sake, he would never make a scene. Besides, he would probably never meet the new man on the team again. Williams had put Five-0 behind him and had vowed, for his personal peace of mind, not to return to the Palace or other well known haunts. He could meet with Steve or Duke at other locals, but never at the familiar citadel of the state police. The office held too many memories and he was not sure how he would react if he went back there as an outcast, an interloper. Perhaps that was how Carew viewed him and resented his presence at the funeral. Very small minded of the guy, Dan thought, but everyone had their own reactions to this blending of old and new. If Dan didn't have Steve in his corner, he would probably feel a lot more resentment and bitterness too. Although what Carew had to be upset about, Dan couldn't fathom.

When McGarrett and Williams reached the Mercury, an unsettled Steve paused at the door. "Let's go up the hill for a minute," he said over the roof of the car.

With a nod of understanding, Williams agreed. The short drive was traversed in silence. When they reached the appropriate section they walked to the dark tombstone marking the grave of Chin Ho Kelly. They stood mutely as they studied the grass-covered plot. Each man was wrapped in his own thoughts and memories of detectives and funerals past; of mortality and time, of death and life and regret and hope.

"This is the first time I've been back," Williams said quietly. "Somehow I never seemed to have the time to visit."

McGarrett nodded. He looked up and scanned the lush, emerald fluted mountains looming over the cemetery. "Funerals always force you to reflect," he commented cryptically.

Williams glanced sharply at his friend. There was something eating at Steve; more than Wilson's death, more than the reminder of Chin. Dan was about to inquire, then stopped. This was not the right time or place. Steve's morose, dark, Irish heritage was sometimes susceptible to this brooding, and a cemetery was not the right place to confront the black emotions backed by such a strong race memory.

Finally, McGarrett turned back to the car without comment and without looking back at the grave. For a moment, Williams did look back, then he too walked away.

 

*****

 

Carew and Lukela watched the two distant figures farther up the hillside.

"What's McGarrett doing?" Carew asked.

"Visiting another policeman's grave," was Duke's subdued response. He had been back to that site several times. He had made his peace, yet knew Williams, and especially McGarrett, had more ghosts to lay to rest. It was a long process, but it looked like progress was being made.

"So what's Williams doing here?"

The abrasive tone instantly caused Duke to snap back, "He came out of respect." He turned a level, chill glare at the new detective; a silent warning to back off.

"He hardly knew Wilson," was Carew's blundering return.

"Neither did you," Lukela replied sharply.

"I'M on the team. Williams isn't. Williams showing up here is like a slap in the face to every good, brave cop."

Lukela bristled and closed the gap between Carew and himself. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"He's a wash-out -- a coward. He even botched his own suicide --"

"Shut up, Carew!" Duke ordered.

"He has no business here," Carew maintained. "What's he doing with Steve, anyway?"

Lukela barely held onto his boiling temper. Obviously, Carew had missed the subtleties of the relationships of Danny Williams and the officers at the funeral. Danny didn't need a badge to be considered a member of the cop fraternity. To those who had served with Williams, the distinction of retirement, for whatever reason, was a thin line. Dan would always be one of them. He always had been and always would be one of the best liked officers ever in the ranks of HPD or Five-0. What had really gone over Carew's head was the still strong bond existing between McGarrett and Williams. Danny had come here today out of respect and support for McGarrett, not for Kevin or Lori.

"If he was such a hot cop he should know better than to interfere."

"What is that supposed to mean?"

Almost itching for a fight, Carew came right up into Lukela's face, eager for a confrontation. "He's a coward! Wilson was Five-0. Steve should be with Lori, not being dragged off by a failure."

"He's here to help out Steve."

"Elbowing his way back into Steve's good graces, you mean. What's he trying to do? Now that Kevin's dead, get his old job back even though he can't cut it?" The tone was pure acid.

Unable to control his temper any longer, Lukela growled, "Look, bruddah, I don't know what your problem is, but you better get rid of it or stay out of my path."

"Open your eyes, Duke. I'm not the only one who resents a coward showing up here."

"Well, you're the only one dumb enough to shoot off his mouth," Lukela snapped back. "Danny was a better cop than almost every man here. It's none of your business why he left Five-0. You keep off of his back or you'll have me on yours! You got that?"

Carew took a few steps away. "Sure," he said, but the cold resentment in his tone and demeanor indicated his viewpoint had not changed. He turned and walked to a company sedan parked at the curb.

"He better settle down," was Duke's doubtful, muttered comment to himself. Silently, he thought, 'If he ever spouts off about Danny to Steve, it'll be Carew's last insult around here.'

Lukela found himself hoping to see that confrontation, although McGarrett did not need the added stress of Carew's sour attitude. Steve deserved better than Carew, Lukela reasoned, but he wasn't sure Steve knew that. After Dan had left, little effort or thought had gone into replacing the regular detective staff of Five-0. Steve seemed to have lost interest in the day to day workings of the unit, making a valiant effort to rebuild the team, but his heart was clearly not in the work anymore. Unfortunately, with Carew, the hasty decision showed. Duke was not going to be the one to rock the boat, however. A few more months and he would retire. In that time he would give McGarrett his best energies and hope that Steve could get along without any of the old guard after that.

 

*****

After the funeral, Williams rusticated at the house for a few days -- swimming, surfing, pacing the beach, disturbed and frustrated over his sense of limbo. He was of no practical value to Steve, or anyone else, and the meaninglessness of his existence ate at his conscience. Once figuring he could survive as a beach bum indefinitely -- this crisis underscored how boring his idle life had become. Surfing, swimming and hanging out with the Kulanis could last only so long. An instinct deep within his soul; born of friendship and innate caring for McGarrett, created a profound need for him to do something -- anything -- to help Steve. What could he do? He was completely useless as a cop, as a friend.

Hours of self-analysis sorted the difficulties between his inability to help on a logical level (he was no longer with the official police force and therefore could not act in any official capacity), and his common sense which wondered why he needed any official sanction anyway? Somewhere in between the two poles was the recognition that if he got involved with investigating the Wilson murder, it could cause a lot of conflict of interest for himself, his old friends at HPD and Five-0, and ultimately, mostly, for McGarrett. Could Dan risk bringing more bad publicity to Five-0? Could he sit back and do nothing when his friends were hurting?

Once he had thought through all the options, there remained only the initial, important consideration he had started out with: how could he help Steve?

Without wasting anymore time analyzing the pros and cons, Williams grabbed his car keys and took off.

When Dan hit the streets of Honolulu's slum area behind Chinatown, he was overwhelmed with trepidation. He felt exposed and conspicuous -- as if his unofficial standing were telegraphed ahead. At least he DID NOT have to worry about Steve finding him -- McGarrett was in San Francisco. After wandering a few streets he relaxed and settled into a more practical attitude. These were the streets he had grown up around; had walked a beat on, had traversed many times as a patrolman and detective. These people might know he was no longer with Five-0, but in this neatherworld of existence he doubted that distinction would hold any merit. On the wild edge of society you held power only through the strength of the healthy respect afforded you by the locals. Williams had always held his own among these street people, and with a tinge of excitement/danger he knew he would soon see just how he was regarded without a badge and gun to protect himself.

A short, slump-shouldered young Chinese man with stringy, dark hair ambled out of the doorway of a Chinese herb market. Williams increased his stride and laid a firm hand on the man's shoulder.

"Maki."

The man glanced over his shoulder. It took several seconds for recognition to filter into realization. His face froze with apprehension.

"Williams." He stared in amazement at Dan's whitened hair. "Man, what happened to you?"

Dan steered the man over to the wall. "I need some names, Maki."

The young Oriental shook his head. Slowly the anxiety was replaced with confidence, then cocky bluster.

"Hey, you ain't with the cops no more, Williams. I don't have to --"

Dan took hold of the man's shirt and slammed him into the wall. "That's right, Maki. No more rules, no more legalities. Just you and me. You want to see who's tougher?"

With deliberate care, the man negatively shook his head. The fear was returning.

"Just because I don't carry a badge anymore, doesn't mean I'm out of your life. I need to know who hit Wilson."

"I don't --"

Maki was slammed against the wall once more.

"No negative input here, bruddah. Meet me tomorrow at noon, Aloha Tower. You bring the names of the hit men and I'll bring cash. Since I'm not on the force anymore, your rate of payment has just been raised beyond State approval."

For the first time, Maki relaxed. He reclaimed possession of his shirt and stood away from the wall. Several steps away from Dan.

"Sure, Williams."

Dan pressed a finger in the center of the informant's chest and applied pressure until the man winced. "If you don't bring the names, Maki, you'll be sorry."

With a short nod the informant indicated he understood the message. As quickly as possible he slipped past Williams and scurried down the street.

Williams walked the half block back to his Mustang and slipped into the driver's seat. Then he collapsed against the steering wheel, relieved the drill was over. He had not really believed he had it in him to muscle the little runt. The need to help Steve had been the impetus to ignore the foolhardy venture, to ignore the illegalities, and use desperate measures. Relieved the bluff worked, he rubbed at the stress headache throbbing at the side of his head. Beyond the initial success of the ploy; beyond the relief he had not been jumped in the alley by Maki and friends, was the realization that deep inside him, Dan Williams the cop still existed.

 

*****

 

Much the same as the last time he had seen it, years before, Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco still held a unique charm found only in the famous city by the bay. Much of that appeal was lost on McGarrett. Pacing in front of a fish monger's cart on the wharf, he waited for his contact. Glancing up from his third check on his watch, he spotted two familiar figures approaching. Although he had known him for years, Napoleon Solo never seemed to change. Average build, height, good-looking, Solo seemed like a business-man instead of one of the foremost covert agents in the world. The arrogant swagger, the wry expression in the brown eyes -- beneath the devil-may-care attitude, his honed survival instincts skeptically assessing the world. The wary traits were magnified in his companion, Illya Kuryakin, who never seemed to age in the several years since they'd met. Blond haircut like a rock-and-roll star, his suspicious attitude exuded a cool, aloof air, accentuated in every angle of his lithe, slight frame.

"Napoleon, Illya." Steve shook their hands. "This must be important."

"Too important to discuss on phone lines," Solo quietly assured as he steered McGarrett toward the piers.

"And too risky for telex machines," Kuryakin furtively added. "We must converse where no listening devices can hear. And no eyes can pry." He gestured to the ocean, to the people thronging the tourist mecca along the wharf. "Our request for your travel is justified, I assure you."

Solo had been a fellow Naval Intelligence officer in Korea when McGarrett was stationed there. After the war they took divergent, but similar paths -- McGarrett eventually into law enforcement, Solo immediately into UNCLE. , an international enforcement organization. A few years ago, UNCLE underwent an internal upheaval and Solo and Kuryakin, the two top agents, resigned. Now free-lance security specialists, they made a lavish living traveling the globe dealing in secrets.

"I'm sure it is urgent, otherwise you would have come to me."

"We've been watching you for an hour," Kuryakin informed. "You are not under surveillance."

"Why should I be? There's nothing suspicious about coming to San Francisco -- "

Napoleon shook his head. "You are very high profile now, my friend. In certain nefarious circles you are well known, just as Illya and I are infamous. We can't be seen together for too long. Not this time. We'll save that for our next trip to your fair paradise. How's Danny?"

"Slowly improving."

Solo nodded sympathetically. "Takes time, Steve."

Kuryakin flinched. "Brainwashing is never a pleasant recreation."

Without a word, Steve knew empathetic memories knitted them all together now in a brotherhood not of their choosing. First hand, the four of them shared the anguish and terror intimately known to veterans of torture and captivity.

They walked down one of the docks, drifting away from the crowds. Rarely called upon to practice the clandestine moves of a covert agent, McGarrett found himself leery of everything and everyone. Mostly, he grew concerned about the reason he had been so urgently summoned to the mainland.

"What have you discovered?"

"You asked us to track someone for you."

"Jin Wu?" Steve asked, holding his breath.

"Wo Fat," Solo countered. "Three years ago after his coup failed with the toxins he stole from Hawaii, he faked his death."

Inside, Steve's heart felt like it had been hit by a blow. What he suspected was true and the discovery left him cold. No mental preparation worked when dealing with Wo Fat. "He's alive?"

"And actively at work. He is still top dragon in the Nine Dragon Triad, Steve," Napoleon related with regret. "They say Nine Dragons has great influence here."

"Wo Fat is here?"

Kuryakin tightly shook his head. "No, Hong Kong. But there are rumors a traitor in his family is trying to usurp Nine Dragon authority here in San Francisco."

"Jin Wu?"

"Exactly," Solo smiled tightly.

McGarrett felt ill. Father and daughter -- was it possible to be rid of either one? "I killed her."

"But the body disappeared," Illya reminded with a foreboding tone to his voice. "One of Wo Fat's children, or someone close to him, is here threatening his power structure."

"She comes here every afternoon to lunch at the Golden Dragon." Solo gestured with a nod to a nearby Chinese restaurant with huge, curved windows fronting the bay. "That's her favorite table, the one at the corner."

"You've met her," Illya supplied. "We'd like you to make an identification."

Suspicious, he studied the spies. "Why? Obviously you're not going to arrest her."

Kuryakin shrugged. "We have no authority and no reason to do any such thing."

"She brainwashed Danno -- "

"Steve," Napoleon interrupted harshly, "She's a spy working on three sides. A triple agent. No one wants her dead because they don't know how much her absence will damage their little spy games. Do you think anyone would care that she toyed with your friend's brains? She's beyond your justice, Steve."

"But not yours," he snapped back. "Why are you doing this? Not because of Danno. What's the game, Napoleon?

Walking close enough to McGarrett to rub shoulders, Solo shrugged and quietly responded, "Wo Fat's daughter gave us some grief last month. We never saw her, but we tracked her down. Before we exact retribution, we want to see if she's the same one causing you problems."

"What will you do with her?"

"You don't want to know," Kuryakin assured.

From their intent, deadly expressions, McGarrett knew some things were better left unknown. Could he send this spy to her death? He knew Napoleon well enough to know the former UNCLE agent was too resolute to want anything less than fatal retribution. Remembering her control of Dan, her commands as she ordered him to kill, as he turned the gun to his head -- Yes, he could easily, happily, send her to her justified end at the hands of other spies.

Napoleon nudged him and Steve looked up to the restaurant. A short, lean woman with black, short-styled hair sat at the table in the corner by the window. The build was similar, the features similar, but not the same. The woman was not Jin Wu. With relief, Steve told them, with certainty, this was not the woman who captured Danno.

"Are you sure?" Napoleon pressed. "Plastic surgery could have -- "

"No," Steve assured him. "The bearing is all wrong. I'll never forget her arrogance, the way she moved. And the facial structure is off, not just the looks."

Disappointed, the three walked back toward the street. Napoleon apologized for the fool's errand. McGarrett reassured it would have been worth it had the woman been their target. Willing to do almost anything to know if she still lived, he asked them to continue their search in his behalf.

"So, she's not Jin Wu, but you're convinced she's your target?"

The two agents exchanged veiled glances.

"Yes," Napoleon slowly acknowledged. "She's one of Wo Fat's relations, and we have some unfinished business with her."

"Then Jin Wu is dead," Steve hopefully concluded.

"An old gypsy saying," Illya commented, "reminds us to never plan the funeral until we have the body."

Napoleon shook his head, an amused grin playing at his mouth. "Your cryptic gypsies have a saying for everything, Illya, but that's one of the better ones." To the Five-0 detective, he offered, "We'll find out about Jin Wu for you."

Knowing better than to ask too many questions, McGarrett accepted the reassurance.

At the back of his mind, he wondered if he had turned into something as revolting as Webb -- an obsessed machine seeking his own ends by whatever means necessary. Condoning Solo's and Kuryakin's actions might put him in the same category of ruthlessness, but he didn't believe he had crossed over to their merciless level, to Webb's soul-less tactics.

At the curb, Napoleon called a taxi. With a handshake he dismissed, "Wish we had time to visit, Steve, but we'll keep in touch."

"Next time in Honolulu," Kuryakin bid as he shook hands.

Looking back through the cab window, his friends already faded into the crowd. Pondering the perplexities of the mysterious meeting, he wondered if Jin Wu still lived. Her father had nine lives, he hoped she had used up her one the last time they met in Honolulu.

 

*****

 

Because of the intense workload of Five-0 -- orienting new staff, Wilson's murder, Alika's ploy to embarrass and cripple Five-0 -- McGarrett had not been back to the beach house in some time. Reorienting himself back to work after the mysterious meeting in San Francisco with his espionage friends, left him disturbed. Plunging back to work with the problems in Hawaii made life even more complex.

The disgusting ordeal with the Alika smear campaign against Five-0 -- against McGarrett personally -- had really hampered the police unit. It had not only threatened the reputation of Five-0 and McGarrett, it stunted the efficiency of the police force by making them a laughing stock. As a result, the Governor had brought in an independent investigator -- an internal affairs officer from HPD. The officer had challenged McGarrett's authority and subjected the new detectives to unfair scrutiny. It would take a long time and a lot of successful cases to wipe the mud off their badges. Even so, McGarrett wasn't sure the unit, himself, or HPD would ever shine again in the public eye. On a more personal level, he didn't think he could ever trust Governor Jameson again. After the mess with Danno, then usurping McGarrett's authority on this last case, he was leery of Jameson's motives. [episode - GOOD HELP IS HARD TO FIND]

Looking forward to his trip out of the city and away from the hectic muddle of fitting new detectives into the unit, he was doubly anxious to see his friend and refocus on Danno's recovery. About to leave the office, he stopped as a telex message rolled off the machine. As he read the words he slumped into the nearest chair, overcome with relief, mingled with an old, familiar anger.

TO: STEVE MC GARRETT

FROM: SOLO

NO PROOF SHE DRAGON TURNED TO DUST.

WE BELIEVE SO.

OLD DRAGON STILL USING SHARP NINE TALONS.

Jin Wu, the dragon, supposedly dead. A tremendous relief. No more hauntings from her. But the old dragon, Wo Fat, was really alive. Well, he knew that three years ago in Hong Kong, knew his old Moriarty probably still lived. But Jin Wu would never again threaten Danno. For that, Steve would gladly trade off the threat of Wo Fat. Tearing the telex message up and throwing it away, he sent off a quick, cryptic acknowledgment to Napoleon. He would find out the details later. Right now, he had some very good news to deliver to someone in Aina Haina.

As he cruised down the drive toward King Street, he wondered if, subconsciously, he had been avoiding his friend. Things had not been smooth recently -- not between them, not at Five-0. As much as he cared for Williams and was ecstatic at the slow, but steady recovery, Steve knew the situation was still emotionally volatile. Dan chafed at his inactivity and lack of direction in life and Steve was too busy to offer any practical aid. Now with the trouble at the office decreased he felt more confident in facing Dan's problems.

The thoughts disturbed him. Couldn't he handle both Five-0 and his friend? As long as he held the office he was obligated to give his best to the job -- he always had. Yet, he promised himself to never again let his friendships suffer because of work. Now both demands vied for his attention. Which would he choose?

As he waited at the front drive of the Palace he was paged on the radio. Tiredly, he reluctantly answered the call from Sergeant Paul Nakamura.

"Sorry to disturb you so late, Mister McGarrett, but I didn't know who else to call."

"What is it, sergeant?"

"I'm up here just past Mokuleia, before the road ends. Danny just drove his car into a ditch --"

"Is he all right?" McGarrett felt his whole body go cold as he awaited the response.

"He's banged up some, but nothing too bad. He won't let me call an ambulance or take him to a hospital, so I thought I'd better call -- "

"I'll be there as soon as I can. Are you sure he's okay?" Already McGarrett wheeled the Mercury onto King Street and raced toward the freeway. "How badly is he injured? Why won't he go to a hospital?"

"He's not hurt seriously," Nakamura responded tentatively. "I just think it's a good idea if -- if you get up here to handle this."

Making new records for low altitude flying up the center of Oahu, Steve's race toward the North Shore was spent in tense concern for his friend. When he pulled up alongside the HPD patrol car, he noted the Mustang, up the road, tipped front-first into a muddy stream. The white convertible was banged and scraped. He wondered what the driver looked like.

"Where's Danno?" he asked Nakamura, who came from somewhere on the other side of the Mustang.

"Sitting on the curb by his car," the officer returned. About to charge on, Steve was stopped by the officer. "He's doing okay, Mr. McGarrett. The reason I called you is -- well -- he's been drinking. He didn't want it reported."

McGarrett's first instinct was to deny the absurd charge. In the next second he knew if the officer on the scene gave such a report it must be true. The patrolman could be trusted, he'd worked with Five-0 before. There was no reason to doubt the man. Bitter disappointment and confusion added to his anxiety for Williams.

"Are you arresting him?"

Nakamura was surprised. "No, sir!"

Harshly, McGarrett reminded the man there would be no special treatment for cops -- or former cops. Nakamura covered himself by stating Williams would probably not qualify for legally drunk. Admitting to drinking a few beers, and in a single-car accident, Nakamura didn't want to make it an official report. The compassion in the tone was evident and McGarrett wasn't sure if he should censure the officer or thank him.

"After all Danny's been through," Paul explained, "I couldn't book him."

Was the pity from the embarrassing accident? More likely from the rumors circulating the back rooms of HPD concerning Williams' resignation from Five-0. McGarrett never personally heard any specific comments (HPD personnel KNEW better than to let that happen!), but it was impossible to not be aware of the rumors. Some pitied Williams, some were confused by the vague reports of a suicide attempt, some denied a stalwart like Dan would ever quit, or ever attempt to kill himself, yet could not explain the abrupt exit from Five-0. A few pressed for a closer investigation and found their inquiries leading back to the cover story that Williams could no longer handle the stress of police work. Considering the high rate of suicide in police ranks, the incident seemed reasonable. Some detractors blamed McGarrett. Many (Five-0, McGarrett, and staff, had their share of enemies) were glad to see such a high profile policeman fall -- the price of arrogance and Five-0 pride. Whatever Nakamura's opinion, he was trying to protect Danno and it earned him bonus points in Steve's eyes.

"Besides," Paul finished, "Danny feels really rotten about this mess."

"He better," McGarrett warned.

Rounding the car, much of Steve's wrath dissipated back to concern. Williams, head in hands, sat on the curb, leaning against the convertible. While he seemed scraped and held a cloth to his face, no serious injuries were obvious. One of Steve's first, inconsequential thoughts, was that Dan had just barely recovered from the bullet scaring, now he had more scrapes. Vacillating between irritation and worry, anger finally won out.

"What the hell did you think you were doing?" he barked as he came up next to his friend.

Williams' head snapped up. Stiffly coming to his feet he swayed slightly and caught himself on the car.

Steve grabbed onto his arm, instantly contrite. "How bad are you hurt?"

"I'm okay, really, Steve." He turned away, violently pounding the side of the car with his fist. "I came out for a spin around the island -- blow off some steam! I asked Paul not to call you!"

Instinctively reacting to the anger, Steve snapped back, "He was doing his job! You're lucky he didn't arrest you!"

"Lucky, yeah, that's me!" Dan shouted back. "The luckiest guy in the world!"

A tow truck arrived and Williams moved away, McGarrett following down the road. Stopping some distance away, Williams watched the convertible hauled out of the ditch. McGarrett watched Williams. Polo shirt torn and muddy, scrapes and abrasions along his arms and face, Williams must have been thrown from the car into the soft, damp earth.

McGarrett took a breath and started again in a forced-calm tone, but composed nonetheless. "I want you to go to a doctor."

"I'm okay!" Dan shouted. "Forget it!"

Another deep breath. "We can't, Danno. I need to know what happened. This is not like you." The mellow words came out more as accusations than concerns, but it was a start. "What's happening? What's wrong? I need to know before I can help you."

"I had a few beers and took that last curve too fast!" Dan flung back. Stalking back toward the car, he kicked one of the tires. "I needed some space! I needed to escape!" In emphasis he slammed a fist into the side of the car. Hissing in pain he cradled his hand. "Damn!" He returned to a few violent kicks to the tires -- feet were much better to use than fists when pummeling inanimate objects.

The all-too-familiar action brought sober realization into McGarrett's attitude. Too many parallels in their lives, sometimes. He had been waiting for the anger, the pent up hurt and frustration to crack open the surface of Danno's controlled temperament. Relieved the eruption finally occurred, it was a little more dangerous and threatening than Steve wanted. Knowing his friend well, he wondered what set off the explosion.

Understanding lent the compassion necessary to bridge the gap. Steering them away from the car, Steve sat on an old stone wall of a bridge, Williams joining him. Now that his volcanic temper subsided, he filtered past his feelings of impatience and focused on Dan. On the defensive, consumed with guilt, anger and self-condemnation, Williams was now prepared to talk.

Gently he checked-out Williams' hand. "Nothing's broken, thankfully. Feel better?"

Ruefully, Williams nodded and offered a grin. "Yeah."

Nakamura brought over personal items from the Mustang. A ball cap, beach gear, strips of ripped newspaper, Steve noted. Glancing curiously at the shredded print, McGarrett recognized the lead article in the Star-Bulletin, the one slamming Five-0. The recent, ugly dock worker's confrontation, the tragic murder of Kevin Wilson, Alika's most recent grievances. It didn't take a Sherlock to figure this was the fuse to set off one very sensitive former Five-0 detective. As he studied Dan, he met knowing eyes clearly expressing anger at the obvious trail of evidence.

"I always hated the attacks from the press. Now," embarrassed, he shook his head and looked away. "I can't take the pressure anymore. The helplessness. I wanted to help with the Wilson case. And this smear campaign -- I wanted to go out to Kahala and strangle Alika!"

"So did I," McGarrett wryly agreed.

"At least you can fight back, do your job --" Abruptly closing his mouth, he took a breath. "This is my fault."

“How could it be --“

“Mark Maynard.  You heard his slams against you on the evening news.”

Steve’s lip rippled in disgust.  Mark Maynard was a crime reporter for the TV station KLB.  The reporter, the year before, had discovered confidential information on the Jerrico kidnapping case and leaked it on the news.  The victim had died and McGarrett went on a personal campaign to get Maynard removed from the media corps of Honolulu.  The efforts had not worked and Maynard declared war-over-the-airwaves against McGarrett and Five-0.

Maynard had delivered a great deal of nasty and vicious speculation about Williams when Danno had abruptly resigned.  Then when Alika’s discrediting efforts hit, Maynard had flung out one of his most wounding editorials.

Saying of McGarrett: “Because he is a man of such personal vanity, good men have been resigning in disgust to have been replaced by incompetent sycophants.”

Williams was studying him closely.  “He was talking about me.  Making it sound like I resigned because I hated you --“

“Danno, anyone who matters knows the truth.  About Maynard and about --“  He was about to say about Dan’s resignation.  That was not right.  No one knew the truth but a handful of men.   

“They don’t know the truth,” Dan opposed sharply.  “I can live with them thinking I’m a washed up mental case, that I gave up because I couldn't cut it.  That there was a break-down or even incompetence!  But this is too much.  I have to set the record straight --“

The mere thought of spilling the facts behind the brainwashing and resignation were appalling to McGarrett.  Never far from his mind were the threats Webb leveled against them.  The nasty spy had the power to really destroy their lives with invisible, threats that could come out of no where and make this horrible situation even worse.  He would never allow that to happen.

“No you are not!”

Defiantly, Dan stared at him for long moments, both sharing the anger, resentment and bitter regret at the wrongs committed against them.  Helplessly mired in the disgust that they could not change the past and had little control of the future at this point.

Unwilling to dwell on the morose frustration, McGarrett pushed them to do something about the present. "Come on," Steve invited, taking his friend's arm and heading toward the Mercury. "Let's get back to town. We need to take care of those scrapes, then you can explain everything." As per usual, it was a McGarrett order not a suggestion.

"I wasn't drunk, Steve."

"I know."

On the cruise back toward Aina Haina, Steve valiantly kept the car at a sane speed. Emotions running high, concentrating on his companion, he drove automatically toward the city, knowing this was a key point in Dan's recovery. A pivotal counsel session he did not want to botch.

"I had to get out, Steve," came Dan's first quiet, miserable words. "I'm so angry and frustrated that I can't help you! If I was back on the force -- " Abruptly he stopped, looking out the window at the pineapple fields. "I had a few beers," he started again, "and did what I always do and opened up the Mustang."

"This is not the answer, Danno."

"I know."

The tone alone exposed the old truth that McGarrett's condemnation was worse to Dan than the accident, the injuries, the embarrassment, even the original anger at his helplessness. Salvaging something of his old pluck, he continued the confession.

"It was stupid. I'm sorry, Steve. If this gets out -- Damn! What an idiot I am! I was so upset about not helping you and I've made it worse. The last thing you need is more mud thrown at Five-0. And I've given the media new ammo!"

"Whoa," Steve edged in forcefully. "You know I don't give a damn about the press! They can't hurt me. You're the vulnerable one here, Danno. Five-0 can take care of Alika and the press. You need to take care of you right now."

"Maybe that's the problem -- the heart of all this, Steve. I can't make the separation, can I? I can't accept it! I can't be there for you!" He slammed his fist into the dash and groaned. "OWW! Damn! I need to stop doing that."

With one hand he patted his friend's shoulder. With the other he gripped the steering wheel in a death grasp, sympathetically sharing all of Dan's rage and impotence. Accepting what they could not change this time was the hardest part of this new, disheartening reality forced upon them. Getting through it became a daily challenge. Sometimes there were no answers, only the hostility. Sometime after that came the slow process of healing.

Reconstructive silence served the remainder of the drive as they traveled toward the waning sunset. When they pulled up at the beach house McGarrett shut off the engine and lights. The house was dark, the surf a soft, resonating peace to their tumultuous senses.

"Feel better?"

Dan surrendered a subdued grin. "Except for the hand." He released a long sigh. "We really can't go home again, can we?"

"No," McGarrett croaked past the tight emotion in his throat. One of life's hardest lessons. No going back. No magic solutions. "I keep thinking how we could have handled Alika so much better with you there. Or the other half-dozen cases we've had recently." Just the idea of going in to the office, now, seemed more like drudgery than anything else. Losing Dan from Five-0 was a blow he felt every day. Danno, on the other hand, lost his career, his future, his way of life. Forcing himself to speak what they both regretted, he voiced, "We have to accept things as they are, not how we want them to be, aikane."

Dan nodded, exiting the car without a word. Visually tracking him to the ocean where he sat down on the sand, Steve questioned his next move. Only one course now. As difficult as it was, they had to put this to rest tonight. No going back. No more false expectations and wishes hanging over their heads. Following his friend to the surf, he sat in the sand.

"Some days I feel like I've got everything under control, Steve. Then I think of her. "I'm still haunted by her face, her voice. You'll want to throw me in a padded cell when I tell you there are times I turn around expecting to see her there." The tone was a course, grating whisper. "Sometimes I -- I think I see her."

"For a change I have some good news. You don't have to worry about Jin Wu anymore, Danno. She's dead."

Williams stared at McGarrett. "You didn't tell me you knew for sure."

"Napoleon confirmed it for me today. She's dead."

"Positive?"

McGarrett shrugged. "Well, Napoleon said there was no body -- no positive proof -- but he thinks -- he's pretty sure she's dead. Wo Fat is still alive, still leading the Nine Dragons, but Jin Wu is dead."

Breathing a deep sigh, Dan nodded his head, silently showing the tremendous relief from the statement.

"And about everything else, I'll help you any way I can, Danno, you know that."

"Yeah," he nodded, his voice thick and hoarse. "It's the only thing that keeps me from going off the deep end, Steve. And I promise you I'll make this work. Somehow." A vow more to himself than his companion. "I've got to."

"I know, Danno, and I promise I'll be there for you." He patted his friend's shoulder in reassurance.

Clearing his throat, Dan related, with a measure of confidence, his plight was not hopeless. Nervously he rubbed at his right temple, massaging away a headache, a persistent, residual token from the shooting. He knew he still had what it took to earn a living. Inside his soul, some elemental piece of himself had not died when he had pulled the trigger of his own revolver pressed against his head, when he had been bounced out of Five-0 for political expediency. Dan Williams still lived and breathed and was about to return to the human race.

Before Williams had made progress on his personal attempt of solving the Wilson murder, McGarrett and Five-0 had tracked down the murderers of Kevin Wilson. The lack of success did not diminish Dan's enthusiasm for his new line of interest. He may not be able to function as a cop anymore, but his skills in investigation, detection, bombs, handwriting analysis, and the myriad other talents accrued in nearly twenty years of law enforcement, made him a valuable commodity in other areas. He could call in some favors from old pals around town and line up something in the private investigation angle. It wasn't first class anymore, but he could make a living at something he liked, being with his friends, and still live in the islands that he loved. When he got down to basics, what more could he ask for?

Gnashing his teeth and keeping silent, McGarrett accepted the disheartening realities Williams outlined. Danno's life had to be outside of Five-0 -- they had known that for months. Saying it and accepting that reality were two different things. If Danno now truly accepted it and could move on to progress with his life, then Steve had to accept it, too. Even if it was one of the most disappointing moments of his life.

 

*****

 

McGarrett paced down the sand a short ways, turned, glanced at his watch and walked back toward his beach house. Since Williams' return yesterday from Christmas on the mainland with Aunt Clara, Steve had not seen his friend. McGarrett could not get away from the current caseload, Clara's broken leg was not mending well and she could not travel, so Dan went east for the holidays. Checking on his friend several times over the holidays, the visit seemed good for both nephew and aunt, and eased some worries for the over-protective McGarrett.

Steve glanced at his watch again when he reached the back door. For several years now he had owned the comfortable two-story cottage. Originally renting it from Doc Bergman for awhile, then he finally purchased the house; a small guest cottage, garage and a large parcel of land in Aina Haina. The spare house was kept empty for Bergman, who requested occasional occupation when on Oahu (the former ME had retired to Maui). Steve didn't get much of a chance to stay here for more than a day or two on weekends, and stayed even more infrequently at his house in Kauai that he bought last year. Since Williams' release from the Foundation, McGarrett visited so much he practically resided at the pleasant house to keep a close watch on his friend.

Until Dan's shooting, it had not penetrated that McGarrett had a lot of opportunities for enjoyment outside Five-0 if he would only give himself the chance to find them. Since 1959, he had been devoted -- consumed -- with his career. Girlfriends, friends, hobbies, had all taken distant second places to his job. He had lived and breathed Five-0 with almost single-minded determination.

In that space of over two decades he had lost a few detectives, a number of personal friends, several women, and almost, finally, the closest friend he had ever had. Chin's death had jolted him into some awareness of the way he had closed himself off from life. He compensated with more free time with women companions, with his detectives. Earlier in the year he over-compensated when Tom Riordan's son died from drugs. Steve obsessively investigated, almost ruining the career of an innocent doctor in an over-zealous attempt to help a friend. It wasn't until Dan had shot himself that McGarrett had realized, too late, that there was more of a direction to his days than just work. There had to be, because Five-0 could no longer fulfill his purpose in life.

He had started to comprehend the concept somewhat after Chin had been killed. McGarrett had consciously loosened up; spent more time with Dan and Duke, tried to establish a steady relationship with Nicole Wylie, then Agnes DuBois, tried to relax and enjoy the things the islands had to offer. It had been a half-hearted effort because McGarrett had not given the new attitude enough commitment.

After this jarring set of events with Danno, he had straightened out his priorities. McGarrett finally understood how much he NEEDED Danno. He promised himself to never again let his friendship suffer for any reason.

This was a second chance at working things out. It did not matter what had happened in the past: Five-0, Wo Fat, Jin Wu, politics, were all mud in the water to obscure the central issue, which was and always would be, their friendship. They had forged it around the job, yes, but that was only the beginning step. They did not need Five-0 to be the structure of their future. They had always expected it, yes. When that opportunity collapsed, they -- Steve -- should have realized they no longer needed that skeletal support. He truly believed they had been through too much, formed too solid a bond, to let it collapse from external forces. Their relationship stood on it's own merit and own strength. They could build a new future without Five-0.

He looked up at the sound of a car pulling up the curved driveway. The convertible Mustang had just returned from the shop yesterday and Williams had spent this whole morning test driving. Involuntarily, Steve grinned. Dan gave the impression he had acclimated back into the culture without a ripple.

Dan jumped over the car door, waved and trotted down to the beach to meet McGarrett. "Sorry I'm late, Steve. Running on Hawaiian time. I was at the King Kam club renewing my membership. I ran into some red tape -- I didn't ruin lunch, did I?"

McGarrett was unable to restrain his laugh. Danno was like a kid late for curfew -- filled with valid excuses and too enthusiastic to notice any concern on the part of the parent. He was almost buoyant with energy.

As they walked back to the house McGarrett assured, "Nah, you're lucky this time. All raw fish."

"Great," Dan said. "It's been too long since I've had sushi. When I eat alone I don't have the patience to fix it. Anyway, the club," he explained as they set the table. "I let my old membership lapse and I don't have current employment or residence -- I'm not even renting from you so this doesn't count," he gestured vaguely at the house. "Luckily I'm on the good side of the chairman of the board of directors, Higgins, remember him? He vouched for me. Rick would have too, of course, but it's nice to have friends in high places."

McGarrett smiled. It was absurd, but it felt good to have such normal, ridiculous problems. It felt wonderful to hear Danno chatter about mundane matters so far removed from murders, crime and spies. The beach house had an open lanai which led into a living room and breakfast area from a huge, glass sliding door. Once the food was set on the table they sat facing the ocean and eagerly consuming the lunch.

Dan pulled a copy of the classifieds out of his pocket. He had already circled several job ads and a few rental possibilities. To McGarrett, the jobs looked a bit menial and most of the apartments were small places up on the windward coast. His initial reaction was disappointment. His own house, in a private enough suburb, was an easy, quick distance from Honolulu, while his apartment nestled in the back side of Waikiki. If Dan moved north he would be an hour away. It was unreasonable, but McGarrett's preconceived notions had included something closer to the city -- closer to McGarrett, just as things had been before.

Mentally he stopped himself. Looking at Dan -- enthusiastic, optimistic, healthy -- the longish hair covering up the bullet-scar -- this Danno was so close to his old friend. Far away from the shattered Williams after the shooting. Life would never be like it had been before Jin Wu. He had to lose that idea, but so far that mental discipline had been impossible.

"You don't want something closer to town?" he asked, taking another helping of sashimi with his chopsticks.

Dan shrugged. "I wouldn't mind something around here," he gestured broadly, "or Hawaii Kai, but prices are too high. Since I don't have a job yet, I can't afford it." A bit frustrated, he sighed. "I guess I should look for a job first, huh? Repairs on the Mustang were unreal."

Steve had never given a thought about the money situation. Dan's pension was not extravagant, but should be comfortable. In these inflationary times it would not get him far, but Steve had supposed there were savings put away somewhere. As practical a person as he was, he never stopped to consider the financial side of Williams' new status. McGarrett's healthy income was padded by solid investments and frugal living over the last two decades, plus, money coming in from his Navy reserve status.

"You can stay here as long as you want, Danno."

"I know. Mahalo."

"If you need something to hold you over for awhile --"

Dan waved away the idea. "No, I'll be fine. But even I would get tired of being a surf bum seven days a week. So I'll look around for work, then find a place to live."

Casually, Steve asked, "Any prospects?"

"A few," Dan said equally off-handedly. "Shelly Bryce, do you remember her? I ran into her the other day. She and Kelly Hatsuyuki run a travel agency. Kelly is Suzi Kelly's old friend, remember her? Anyway, Shelly said she could probably fit me in," he said between bites of sashimi and sushi. "And Sam Onoka, used to be on Vice, he's a PI now. He said he had enough work for a partner sometimes. Not to mention Magnum."

McGarrett nearly choked on his mouthful of lomi salmon. "God save us from that," he said aghast, not sure if Dan was joking or not.

"Oh, it's not so bad. I still have the touch with informants. That would come in handy . . . . his voice faded when he saw his companion's frosty, suspicious look.

"When were you talking to old informants?"

For a moment Williams squirmed under the glare, then decided the right move would be to come clean.

"When Kevin Wilson was killed. I couldn't keep out of it, Steve. I didn't do a bit of good, but I gave it a try." From the cloudy expression on McGarrett's face, he knew this was not going over well. Giving a condensed version of his experience with Maki, he talked fast to avoid the censure bubbling on McGarrett's tongue.

Grinding his teeth to keep silent, McGarrett quelched his irritation with an incredible effort of self-control. Disturbed Danno had put himself at risk on Hotel Street! was bad enough, feeling compelled to help at the risk of his safety was equally upsetting. Maki and pals could have jumped the former cop, thrown his body in the river and no one would have been the wiser! What if the press had discovered the misplaced assistance? Danno's exit from Five-0 would have been all over the front page again.

Yes, he was grateful Danno was finding his way again. It just wouldn't be easy on either of them, was his final, certain thought.

Dan hurried on, trying to ignore Steve's stormy expression. "I'm a -- I used to be a cop, Steve. Whether I have a badge or not, it's not something I can give up. Signing on with a PI, or something, is the only shot I have left. After the suicide verdict, I'll never get my own State license, I'll have to go with somebody else."

"There's got to be a better alternative," was McGarrett's curt response.

It was an effort for Steve to fight off a wave of resentment, once more, for the impossible situation. Danno had been a brilliant policeman with everything promising in front of him. His future had been stolen from him. Now what was he left with? What career could there be for a former Five-0 officer who could no longer be on the force?

His brooding must have gone on for some time. He felt the silence surround him, felt Dan staring at him. When he looked, he knew his thoughts had been openly readable.

"Steve," Dan reproved in almost a resigned sigh.

"I know."

"We need to find a way to live with this." His tone was speculative and without condemnation. It was as if he already knew the direction which had to be taken, the things which needed to be said. He had already traveled the path and was waiting for McGarrett to reach the same conclusions.

For awhile they walked along the beach which curved beyond the house and along a quiet bay. Most of the walk was spent in silence. They wound their way back to the house and settled into the chairs on the boat deck.

"Let's go see what they did to your car."

"You mean take it out and open it up?"

"That's how you clear the cobwebs out of your head isn't it?"

Smiling, Dan nodded. "Blows 'em right into orbit."

"The way you drive, I bet it does."

 

*****

 

The day could not have been more perfect if they had ordered it custom made. Dark and light clouds drifted in and out of the winding King Kam highway as they coursed their way up the windward coast. The trade winds off the ocean were stiff and cool. With the top down the wind whipped around them in swirling, fresh gusts brushed with errant rain, the remnants of a wet winter storm. The Mustang rolled in and out of the dappled sun and shade as clouds and liquid sunshine chased them up the sea-coast edge of Oahu.

"This is more than just a test drive, isn't it?" Dan finally observed after his friend's notable silence. "Is this to lull me off-guard so I'm more susceptible to therapy?"

"It's hard to know where to start," McGarrett admitted somewhat self consciously. "I wanted to clear everything away that afternoon you came out of the Foundation. But it's taking a long time for the scars to heal."

"Not that easy, is it?" Williams responded with a rhetorical question. "I know. Little things keep coming up and I -- I don't know how to deal with them."

"Yeah," McGarrett agreed quietly.

This was not exactly a therapists room, yet he already felt himself more inclined to talk in the relaxed situation. Danno had something here in a convertible psych office.

Steve almost felt this was a soul-searching session which could end up in all kinds of confessions. He couldn't remember the last time he sensed such self-consciousness. Confidence and speaking his mind were not problems he associated with himself. Then again, this was a situation he had never been in before.

McGarrett paused on the brink of confession, to steady his nerves. Thinking he was over all this, he was surprised at how strong some unresolved feelings were. Obviously, he had just ignored it without the depth of feeling going away. "The hurt and anger are dulled, but I still can't erase those feelings. But they were never -- never directed at you, Danno."

At the comment, Dan found it difficult to keep his attention on the road. He glanced at McGarrett several times, incredulous at the statement. "How could you not hate me? I hated myself! How could you not be angry at me?"

"Because I was angry at the system which had betrayed you -- us!" he snarled back. "You and I were victims, Danno. You were a political liability. You had to be quietly eliminated before you became an embarrassment."

Every word was a bitter indictment against powers which he had been unable to ward off. It had been impossible to accept then and he still could not accept it now. Williams had suffered through too much for McGarrett to easily forgive anyone connected with the cover up. Danno had been forced to end his life in trade for McGarrett's. What had been Steve's big sacrifice to save his friend public humiliation -- or to even save a career? Nothing.

"You were sacrificed, Danno. And there was nothing I could do about it. Maybe I should have resigned, too."

"No, you couldn't, Steve!" Dan flung back decisively. Unable to keep his eye on the road, he pulled off at a nearby beach and parked the car. "You've put everything you are into Five-0. I'm glad you didn't resign. I couldn't stand that, too, on my conscience."

"Is it anything to be proud of now?" McGarrett wondered harshly.

"Yes," Dan shot back. "Five-0 is you! It always has been!"

McGarrett shook his head in disagreement. "Five-0 was not me. Years ago it was when I organized it, maybe. Since then it's altered and grown. Over the years you, Danno, you and I worked together and made it something better. When you left, so did the heart of Five-0. Five-0 worked because of us."

Dan looked away. He shook his head, denying the words. "You're giving me too much credit." His voice was thick with emotion.

McGarrett pressed on. He was too far into this now to pull back. "It's true." Williams did not seem to agree. Steve sighed in frustration and looked out over the ocean. The waves were high and choppy, a matching correlation to his own inner turmoil. At last, McGarrett finished with the plaintive regret, "And, there was nothing I could do to save you."

"Then you have nothing to feel guilty about," Williams said as he spun around to face his friend.

"I don't feel guilty," Steve maintained. "I'm angry. And I can't understand why YOU aren't angry."

"What do you think that little drive up to Mokuleia was?"

A grudging smile pulled at his lips as he remembered how he had viewed that incident as a positive purge for his friend. "An expensive tirade."

Williams was continuing his train of thought. "You're feeling responsible because you couldn't save my job."

Steve wanted to force out the denial, but could not. Unable to continue with this strong, one-on-one intensity, he left the car and walked to a low, lava-rock sea wall. Dan followed his former boss and leaned on the wall. Light rain was sweeping in on the wind and Dan brushed it from his face.

With the same driving force Steve had used, Williams pressed McGarrett to admit there was nothing he could have done to alter the course of events. Once the brainwashing had been completed they both had been pushed onto an unalterable course. That was what Dan had learned and been forced to accept. He didn't like it, but he acknowledged changing inevitable events was beyond his control. It was what he wanted McGarrett to accept.

"Steve, we start fresh here and now or we can never let the past go. We said we were going to do that when -- when I was released, but we haven't. It's been too hard. Now we have to accept what has happened and move on. No more guilt and no more agonizing over what might have been. We can't live with the confusion and injustice anymore. We have to get rid of it. I can't pretend I'm with Five-0 anymore. You can't ignore that you are."

McGarrett stared out at sea for a long time. Williams' amateur psychology was entirely too probing. "Can you do that?" he finally asked.

"I think so. I hope so. I have to," Dan responded thoughtfully. "One thing would really help."

Intrigued, Steve went for the bait and asked the stipulation.

"I have to ask you to forgive me for everything. It's the only way I can bury my ghosts."

"Danno, there's nothing to forgive --"

"Steve --"

"It wasn't your fault --"

"In my mind it was! Can you --"

"Yes," McGarrett interrupted sharply. "I forgive you." It was blurted out in the tone of a forced confession under duress. After a moment he shook his head and looked over to his silent companion. "I never blamed you. Not for your actions when under Jin Wu's control. You were always harder on yourself than I ever could be." He scrutinized his friend's face and knew that was not the answer Dan wanted. "Okay," he sighed, "I forgive you," he capitulated in a much more subdued voice. This time there was sincerity backing the words.

"Now can you forgive yourself?" was Williams' quiet return.

McGarrett was wary. "For what?"

"For not being super-human. For not preventing everything from my lay-off all the way back to Jin Wu's plot and Wo Fat. None of it was your fault, Steve. Nothing you could have done would have altered or prevented the way things turned out. You have to accept that."

Steve was guarded. "Part of it is my fault, Danno. If I had voiced my -- premonition, if you will -- about the latent programming, this might have been avoided."

With a scowl, Williams said, "It wouldn't have made any difference, Steve. I was given a clean bill of health. McBride couldn't find any evidence of any danger." He released a huge sigh. "Jin Wu was more diabolical than any of us expected. We still don't know --" self-consciously he stared at his hands. Clearing his throat, he commented, "We still don't know exactly what happened, or if I'm still a threat to you. We have to believe -- really believe -- it's behind us." After it was clear there would be no response from McGarrett, Williams said "It's been nearly impossible for me to forgive myself for everything. Sometimes I'm not sure I've convinced myself yet. Not deep down, you know?"

The inner struggle with guilt related to his attempt to shoot McGarrett; his brainwashing, his suicide effort. He still couldn't even talk about what he had done to Steve, to himself. With time, he hoped to be able to cope with it all. Right now, it would be enough if he could clear away those mental ghosts for his friend. Steve McGarrett was the anchor on which his life was fastened until he could stand on his own again.

As McGarrett mentally reviewed the long list of tragedies leading up to this moment, he was amazed they had survived so much. It was a tribute to their strength of character as individuals and their strength of friendship and commitment to each other. Alone, he was uncertain they could have weathered the storms which had assailed them. Now, it would be the friendship that would pull them from this eddy of confusion to a final, safe harbor.

After all they had survived from without, it seemed a small thing to admit a few of his own failings and to the source of his strengths. Very slowly he nodded his agreement. "You're right, Danno. I have to start by forgiving myself for failing once in awhile. Not easy for me." Astonishment covered Williams' expression and for several moments. McGarrett savored the overwhelmed attitude of his friend. Before Dan could recover, Steve went on to his next surprise. "There is one thing you will have to forgive me for."

"Anything," was the ready response.

"For waiting so long to tell you -- really tell you, how much you mean to me, Danno. When everything was so black -- well, without you around my life was pretty empty."

Obviously embarrassed, Dan interrupted. "Steve, you don't have to say --"

"I have to say that you're my only real friend," he cut in. "You've become closer than a brother -- I love you. You keep my head together when I can't." Despite his fervent resolve to get through what he felt needed to be said, he found he could not keep the tangled emotions from creeping into his words, his tone. As he warmed to his theme he found it harder to keep his voice steady. "When you were at the Foundation it was like a part of me was gone, too." He paused to catch his breath. "You're my focus when I get obsessed, when my vision of the world gets blurred. I still need you with me, whether we're with Five-0 or not. Thank you for being a patient and loyal friend."

Several deep sighs escaped Steve. More emotions were revealed than he ever expected. Embarrassed by the openness, he still felt better now that these emotional remnants surfaced. It was a purge he would never want to repeat, but felt stronger for finally saying so much of what needed to be said for so long. They had covered a lot in a very intense, short period. They had left a number of things untouched. Like the future. That would be something to discuss another day.

Williams was completely silent; too stunned, too touched, for comment. For awhile they walked along the beach in mute meditation. Both were emotionally drained from the discussion. Slowly, they wound their way back to the car. Sitting on the not yet repainted hood, they watched the nearby surf crashing on the sand.

From Dan's back pocket McGarrett pulled the folded newspaper, tore it into several pieces, and threw it in a nearby trash can.

"I need you closer than Waimanalo or Haleiwa, Danno," was the simple explanation. "You'll stay at the beach house until we find you something in the neighborhood."

'A royal edict if I ever heard one!' Dan mused with an quiet smile. He suspected McGarrett was watching out for him not just out of concern or affection, but because McGarrett DID feel responsible for all that had happened. For now, Dan would let it go. He needed his friend's support as much as he needed the air to breathe. If Steve didn't want him very far away yet, then he would stay at the beach house for awhile.

"What fun will it be having you back if I can't get you to jog with me at six in the morning?"

Very slowly, Dan nodded his head. "Maybe you should have saved the classifieds," he gestured to the trash can. "If I stay in your neighborhood I'll have to get a really good job. How much does a PI make?" he speculated.

"I'm sure we'll think of something more suitable," was McGarrett's counter reply. Then a gleam appeared in his eye. "We could always go in as partners in something when I retire."

Dan laughed at that incredible, impossible option. "That sounds dangerous," he joked, then seriously reminded, "I have to do something, Steve. I can't go on in limbo like this."

As always, he became easily frustrated with the corner they had been forced into. Steve impulsively sprang to his feet. He offered a hand to his friend and yanked Dan up. He started away, but was anchored by Dan still holding the hand-lock. He turned to give a silent inquiry for the delay.

"Mahalo," Dan said quietly.

McGarrett nodded, accepting the spoken and unspoken meaning covered by the simple word of thanks.

 

*****

 

The lengthy transcript on handgun legislation was placed on the kitchen table along with a huge mug of coffee. The lanai door was open and a balmy, spring breeze rolled in from the night-dark sea. McGarrett was setting the stage for a long night's homework. He did not like business intruding on his time at the beach house, yet he did not seem to get enough done at the office to finish all the work. The problem was he just could not get focused on the job at hand. He glanced at the classified ad pages spread out on the table. Dan had circled several possibilities -- all horrible in Steve's opinion. His mind kept straying back to the more personal role of finding Danno a job. McGarrett had assumed the responsibility for Williams' welfare, and so far he had not been able to formulate a solid plan of action for Williams' future. He needed to soon because Danno's patience was quickly fading.

"Bringing the job home again?"

"Hi, Danno," he greeted without looking around.

Williams came in from the lanai, helped himself to coffee and took a perch at the edge of the table opposite McGarrett.

McGarrett restrained a smile. He had almost expected an early return by his friend. Dan was finding it hard to slip back into the social scene of Honolulu with his limited income.

"Mei have a curfew?"

"Yeah, morning classes at the U of H. I don't know why you keep your condo, Steve. You're never there. Why don't you move out here? It'd save you bucks. How can you resist this great piece of paradise?"

McGarrett gave up trying to study the legal material and glanced at his friend. His response was dry. "You've been telling me that for years."

Williams sipped his coffee. "You're here more than you're at home. Less stress than city living." Having moved to hover over the Five-0 detective's shoulder, Williams desultorily thumbed through the papers. "Move out here and I'll find a place of my own," Williams offered too neatly, too calculatedly.

So that's what the conversation -- the incessant chatter -- was about, McGarrett realized. Danno wanted an excuse to get kicked out of the beach house.

Williams paused to refill the coffee cups. "You might as well live here. You bring the office back with you. Bad habit, Steve," was the gentle reprimand. "Glad I'm not the one having to do this," was the final comment as he placed the mug on top of the papers.

McGarrett scowled at the observations which were right on target, then moved the mug. "If you're so concerned, have a seat and help."

"Oh no," Dan waved away. "I always hated this detail work. Bad on the eyes." Distractedly, McGarrett returned his attention to the papers.

Dan sipped coffee and leaned against the kitchen counter watching his friend. After an uncomfortable moment, he stuttered, "I -- uh needed to ask you something, Steve."

"Okay, Danno," he sighed, pushing the papers away, obviously he was not going to get anything done. Secretly, he was grateful for the intrusion. He had always put too much time and energy into his job while away from the office. "What's your question?" he asked, looking up at his friend.

Dan ran a hand through his hair, a sure sign of frustration or confusion. "I talked to Sammy Takamura about a security job at the Reef. He said you called him and asked him not to hire me."

"True," McGarrett admitted bluntly.

Williams was incredulous. "Steve -- why?" he sputtered. "It was a good job. Security is something I can handle. I have the experience and I still have the contacts in HPD and my snitches."

"Pushing pencils in a hotel security office, Danno." He eyed his friend suspiciously. "Since when have you been using your contacts on the street and HPD?" Dan tried to adopt an innocent expression and failed. "What have you been up to?"

"Nothing you need to worry about, just helping out on a few things with a PI I know at the club."

"Danno -- "

"I owed Higgins a favor for getting me back in the club, Steve. And I can't just sit around here doing nothing. Magnum paid good money." From his friend's glowering expression Dan hurried on. "You don't need to concern yourself with the details, Steve." On the darkening scowl he hurried on. "I've still got cop instincts, Steve." His face was earnest. "I can't just walk away from it. And if I can't be a real cop, then I'll have to go with a substitute."

"You can do better than Sammy's offer," McGarrett maintained. "Or Magnum's questionable activities!" In emphasis he rumpled up the classified section and tossed it into the trash.

Dan shook his head, muttering. Sitting next to Steve, he studied a knot in the wood table while his right hand nervously fingered the side of his head under the thick, frosty hair. "With my -- past, I can't get a PI license. So I need something else." He added pointedly, "If I could get a recommendation from my influential friend. Without your help --" Williams stumbled. "Well, ex-cops with a history of suicide attempts aren't at the top of the hiring list."

"You've got to put that behind you, Danno," McGarrett said sharply. "It's history --"

"Not to the public, Steve."

This dilemma was something Steve had pondered off and on for the last several months since Dan's release from the Foundation. Williams would need a job, although not just any job. It would have to be suitable. Even with his reputation as the second in command of Five-0, Dan would not find it easy to get good employment. For one reason, the job market in the islands was not healthy. For another, there still swirled a cloud of controversy concerning his retirement from Five-0. If someone dug too deeply they might find out the truth of Dan's dismissal. That must never happen, Steve promised himself. It would be a crushing embarrassment for Dan to live through a public dissection of the tragedy. The official story was already bad enough. In all his pondering, McGarrett had not come up with any solutions, but he knew what was NOT right for Williams. In his eyes, Dan was still the best cop he'd ever known and that deserved more than an assistant clerk for hotel security; a rent-a-guard, a tour guide, or a PI aide on sleazy divorce cases.

Neither was McGarrett in a hurry for Williams to leave the protected sphere constructed at his Aina Haina retreat. Having Danno close was McGarrett's own psychological crutch to deal with the brainwashing, the near loss of Williams and the following tragic events.

"We'll find you something, Danno, don't worry."

Williams looked up to face his friend. "Steve, this is my problem, not yours." There was heavy exasperation in the tone. "I need to handle this myself."

"Okay," he agreed. "But why throw away your time and talent on something that isn't worthy of you?"

Dan ruefully shook his head and breathed a deep sigh. "Arguing with you is like hitting my head against a lava wall." Frustrated, he tried to find the words to articulate his position. "I need to stand on my own. I really appreciate everything you've done for me, but I -- I don't know -- I need a purpose in life."

"I know that," McGarrett agreed readily. "I'm sorry if I've crowded you, Danno. It's my way of overcompensating, I guess."

Dan nodded his understanding. "Yeah," he accepted. "So what am I going to do about a job? Where am I going to live?"

"You stay here," McGarrett responded simply.

"I can't stay here forever, Steve."

"Why not?"

"You're practically living here now. We need space from each other. Privacy."

A quirk of devilment stole into McGarrett's thoughts. "We're not getting married, Danno. We're sharing a house -- a big house."

"I know," was Williams' flustered response at the tease. "I occasionally have -- women over. It's pretty crowded when you bring Agnes over. And when Nicole comes you'll want me out of the way."

McGarrett shrugged. "We'll work something out."

Williams muttered under his breath. He had not used 'signals' to warn off intruding roomies since college and did not want to start the practice again. Things were just not going the way he had anticipated.

"Look, Danno," McGarrett said matter-of-factly. "I promise I'll try not to crowd you or control your life. But, I want you around for awhile." He pushed away from the table and went to stand at the open lanai. "When you were at the Foundation there were times I wasn't sure if you would ever get out. If I would ever have my friend back. Now that you're here I want to make up for that fear, I guess." Realizing he was a little too personal, he went for a line which was more distant, yet still sincere. "You have your own room with a lanai, an ocean view and a private beach. How can you refuse?"

"I can't," Williams admitted with a rueful smile. "I can't just be a beach bum, either, Steve. I need to DO something important with my life." Williams was both frustrated with his own struggles and sympathetic to his friend's. He went to the lanai, thrust his hands in his pockets and leaned on the other side of the broad doorway. "Since my uncle died, maybe before, I wanted to be a cop. He was a good one and I wanted to be like him. When I came into Five-0, I wanted to be like you -- super-cop. I never thought I'd have to worry about another career. Now here I am, over forty years old and what am I supposed to do with my life?"

"We'll find you something, Danno," McGarrett said with iron conviction. "Trust me."

The resolve forced a grin from the younger man. It was a familiar, forceful tone he'd heard so often; rock-solid confidence that could move mountains. All Williams had to do was share the faith.

"Okay," he agreed. "But as soon as I find a job I start paying you rent."

"I won't accept it," Steve flatly countered.

"But --"

"Danno, I'm in a position to do you a favor."

"Steve, I don't want you to feel obligated --"

"You're missing the point."

Steve stepped over to stand by his friend. His voice was quiet as he told Williams to think back several years to when there had been a plot to frame McGarrett for murdering his girlfriend. He had been booked. Bail had been set and paid at fifty thousand dollars. The next morning he found out his guys, spearheaded by Dan, had put up the money. Later he learned Chin and Duke had spared what they could from their meager family savings. Dan had scrounged up the remaining bulk of the money.

"You took out a personal loan from a finance company because the banks wouldn't touch you," McGarrett pressed on with a wavering voice. This was the first time he had ever revealed his knowledge of the great sacrifice of his men. It still touched him, shook him beyond words to know they -- Dan -- cared so much about him.

"I always knew you were a great detective," Dan said quietly, striving for some light touch. He sat down on the top step. "I didn't think you were clairvoyant."

A ghost of a smile danced on Steve's lips as he sat next to his friend. "I'm not. I cornered Chin one day. That good natured Chinaman was a softy," Steve said fondly. "He broke real easy under interrogation."

"I'm not surprised," was Dan's arid response. "Who could stand up under your questioning?"

"I got a confession of the true breakdown of finances, Danno. When the bail money was returned you paid off everyone's debts and absorbed the loss." He leaned closer and made sure he had complete eye contact with his victim. "Don't refuse me this chance to do something for you."

Dan was incredibly moved by the intensity of the argument. Obviously he no longer had the heart to resist.

"I have the opportunity to help you. So please stay here while you put your life back together."

Very slowly a smile spread across Williams' face. It was a warm expression which touched his eyes. "Well, when you put it that way, I'd be happy to. Mahalo."

Steve grinned, pleased by the victory which had been more important than he understood. "You're welcome."

"I still have to find a job."

"We'll work on that next," McGarrett promised.

"That's what I'm afraid of," came Dan's sarcastic response.

"First, I'll need you this weekend to help me move."

Williams nearly choked. "Move here? Great!" His elation was cut short and he eyed McGarrett suspiciously. "Since when have you been so impulsive?"

"Must be your bad influence," was McGarrett's conclusion.

"Okay," Williams agreed, obviously pleased his friend was taking his advice. "But don't bring the office back with you, bruddah."

McGarrett said nothing, eyeing his friend with a critical gaze. He was not ready to take orders from his house guest yet. Kindly, but firmly, Williams was told to stop complaining. McGarrett returned to the table and shoved half of the weighty documents to the other end. Then he instructed the former detective what they were looking for and ordered Williams to get busy.

"I thought I was through with this thankless work," Dan sighed as he sat at the table, placing the coffee pot between them. "Nevermind. I'm not even going to waste my breath arguing with you."

"Good," McGarrett responded, satisfied everything was going his way. That's how he liked the state of his world.

 

*****

 

Dan felt a bit disappointed that Maui was rapidly changing into a tourist mecca. Another part of himself appreciated the beauty of the island should not be hoarded, but shared with anyone lucky enough to come and absorb the splendor. The new Lahaina Bay Resort qualified as one of those magnificent beauties.

Meeting his old pal Nick Kamekona in the lobby, he enjoyed the grand tour set up by the new security chief. Normally impulsive by nature, there had been no second thoughts when Nick had called the night before and asked if Dan wanted to fly over for a last-minute job interview for the position of assistant chief of security. Nick now explained that three other candidates, suggested by management, had washed out, which opened the opportunity for Nick's number one candidate, Williams.

Studying the massive open lobby, impressive grounds, jet-set quality accommodations, Dan admitted he could fit in here without any problem. It would be a new island, a new environment, and a fresh start. By the time they had lunch with the management directors, Dan felt confident the mutual inspection came off like a charm.

Ending the tour back at the lobby, Nick wanted Dan to meet with one more person in his office. Walking in, Dan was stunned to see Jenny Sherman Kamekona sitting behind the desk.

"My secretary," Nick announced with a smile.

Jenny glanced up, initially started, then rushed and gave Williams a warm hug. "Danny, it's so good to see you."

"You too, Jenny. I was hoping I'd get to visit with you."

"I work here in the afternoons. When you get the job we'll see each other every day. Almost like old times."

Dan's smile faltered, but he recovered quickly. "Yeah, that would be nice."

They offered him a seat in the comfortable reception area.

"How's Steve doing?"

"Okay," Dan responded, surprised at how difficult this reunion suddenly became. The past hitting him flat in the face was a shock. He'd thought this was all behind him. Every time someone whispered a little too loud behind his back, whenever he ran into an old law enforcement colleague and they struggled through a strained, brief, polite conversation, it all came back to haunt him. Some ghosts just couldn't be exorcised. "Still busy."

She sadly shook her head. "Poor Steve. He never let's up. Then another Five-0 policeman was killed -- there's still so much danger and politics and controversy." Realizing too late the significance of her words, she apologized. "Sorry, Danny, I didn't mean about you."

Dan brushed it aside, knowing his bravado was weak. "No, that's okay, Jenny."

"Well, I need to be at a meeting. You'll have supper with us, won't you, Danny?" Nick invited.

"Thanks, but I'm booked on a flight back to Honolulu in an hour."

"But the managers like you. I'm betting they'll offer you the job tomorrow. If so, they'll want you to start right away. Why not stay the night?"

He shook his head. "Steve's superstitious nature must be catching up with me. I might jinx the deal if I stay. Call me. If I need to, I can fly back tomorrow."

Nick agreed, shook farewell, and left. Dan felt he needed to say more to Jenny. Loyal to a fault to her Five-0 family, especially Steve, it was a hard decision for her to leave when she married Nick. As she mentioned back in '76, it was the right time for her to go. The job became more violent, the attacks against Five-0 and it's detective's more intense. She couldn't juggle a husband with such a demanding job. Many times Dan felt the detectives could not have gotten through some of their crises without the stalwart Jenny. In the last few years, particularly, he missed her support and sage counsel. As someone he deeply respected, his ohana, he felt he owed her an explanation.

"Jenny, before I leave, I want you to know something."

Anticipating his motives she responded quickly, "You don't need to say -- "

"Jenny, I can't tell you everything that happened, all the reasons why I left Five-0. But I want you to know -- " Words failed him momentarily. "You've heard lots of reports and rumors, and everything." He changed seats and took hold of her hands in both of his. "You know sometimes we were involved with -- things," he stammered. "Things we couldn't really talk about." Taking a deep breath, he looked straight into her eyes now brimming with sympathetic tears. "I did -- I fired -- shot myself, Jenny," he confessed quietly. The tears trailed down her cheeks and he felt his eyes burn with tears of his own. "It's not what everybody thinks -- "

"Of course not," she refuted loyally, instantly, but relief tinged her tone.

"There were reasons behind what I did," he brokenly continued. "But I want you to know it was not to hurt Steve. And it wasn't because I wanted out of Five-0."

"I'm sure," she choked, hugging him as she wept into his shoulder. "You would never hurt Steve. And you would never leave Five-0 if you had any choice at all," she affirmed.

Shaking from the emotional release, he cried. Never dreaming this interview would be so hard, he struggled back to a level calm enough to talk. "And you wouldn't know it from our years together, but I'm not crazy," he added, as close to a joke as he could manage.

Jenny laughed, as she always did, at his bad jokes. This time through her fading tears. "Oh, Danny, I don't know about that. I've seen some of the girls you date."

He laughed, hugging her tightly. Only for a moment, not wanting his shaky emotional state to dissolve again into another teary scene.

"I'll be all right, Jenny." He pulled away so she could see the conviction in his eyes. "Really. And Steve's okay, too. We got through this together."

Wiping her face, she patted his arm. "Of course. You two can do anything together." She studied him closely. "That's why I wonder if this is a good job for you." His eyebrows shot up and she continued. "I'd love to have you so close again, Danny, but you and Steve work as a team. When one of you left, it was never the same." She squeezed his hand. "When one of you hurt, the other hurt worse until everything cleared up. I don't think politics, or being part of Five-0, or anything else can change that, Danny. But living on a different island would be hard for both of you."

He wanted the job, but he knew she was right. He kissed her cheek. "You're the best detective we ever had, Jenny. Thanks, but I need this job. Besides, living in Maui doesn't mean I'll never see Steve again."

She shook her head. "You'll make a good life for yourself no matter what job you do. But that life will always include Steve. You're stronger together, Danny."

He kissed her again, thanking her for the best job interview he'd ever had. Daring to believe in her optimism, trying to accommodate her advice and her wisdom, he left the office more buoyed than he had felt in a long time.

 

*****

 

On the return flight to Honolulu on Aloha Airlines, Dan smiled at the pleasant reunion with Jenny. No question she was at first taken aback by his appearance. Although his longish hair covered the bullet scar, most people did comment, obviously noticing he had changed in the last months. After the Hong Kong calamity he had visibly greyed. Steve had, too, but was vain enough to cover it with some dark tint. During recovery at the March Foundation, Dan saw his ordeal with Jin Wu had turned his hair predominately white. Aged by probably ten years, his boyish good looks, once considered a curse, now blessed him with looking, instead of old, merely haggard, worn and every one of his forty years.

Maui could be the best thing for him now. New location, new people, a fresh place to rebuild his life -- away from the old faces and scenes that haunted his past. Maybe he could talk Steve into visiting some weekends. The change would do a world of good for his friend, who seemed to age visibly every time they met. The new Five-0 team, the stress and heartache of the last months, the rough cases, took their toll.

Worn out, Steve needed a vacation. Needed to leave Five-0, came the unbidden flash of criticism and Dan regretted the unconscious selfishness. Five-0 still qualified as the most important thing in Steve's life -- always was, always would be his life. Dan's absence didn't change that, he chided himself for the egotistical aberration. Steve was Five-0. The past few months Dan had needled his friend to take time off and recover from the strain they had endured, but Steve met the advice with typical, stubborn resistance. Evidence enough Five-0 remained the center of his life. Dan had no right to ask him to give that up. A little time off would do wonders for him. And probably, so would Dan living on another island. Close enough to visit regularly and keep in touch, Maui could afford them space. A chance for Steve to rebuild without the constant reminder -- Dan -- of past failures.

More determined than ever to make this work, Dan convinced himself the Maui job was the best option for both of them.

 

*****

 

Late afternoon brought long shadows across the sand. The low sun shimmering on the horizon made the tall palms spotted around the property look like elongated fingers stretched across the beach. McGarrett felt a spark of warm contentment every time he pulled into the long, curved drive to the house. This was a perfect spot to enjoy paradise.

He was surprised to see Williams' Mustang in the drive. Dan had mentioned he had set aside the day for either work with one of his ecology causes, or for serious job hunting, so Steve had not expected to see Dan until late evening. Williams took his causes seriously, although he made sure he kept a low profile. Because Williams was still trying to keep out of the public eye, his efforts for the preservation of Hawaii's resources were kept quietly in the background.

As for the job hunting, Williams was diligent, but still unemployed. He countered the footloose position by seeming to enjoy the carefree lifestyle of a beach bum. An unemployed Williams was fine with McGarrett. It was still good to have his friend there, knowing Danno was close at hand and a permanent fixture in his life again. He was in no hurry for Williams to get a job because that would significantly decrease their time together and McGarrett wasn't ready for that.

On the down side, unemployment was not doing any good for Dan's ego. As much as Steve tried to bolster him, Williams was beginning to feel depressed. It was not easy for an ex-Five-0 cop; aggressive and highly-motivational, to get a mundane job. There were some offers too menial that McGarrett simply would not sanction for his friend. Good naturedly, Williams had, so far, taken Steve's advice on the job market. Steve foresaw a time in the near future when that would change. It meant Steve would have to find a mutually acceptable compromise before Dan ended up narrating tour busses around the islands.

When McGarrett stepped through the front door and around to the dining room table, he was surprised to see an entire case of Maui potato chip bags. He loosened his tie and unbuttoned his collar as he studied the box. This was his one sinfully, irresistible junk food addiction. McGarrett didn't wait for explanations. He immediately opened a bag and munched on the incredibly delicious, greasy, crunchy chips as he strolled upstairs. Visions of how many miles he would have to jog to make up for this treat were pushed from his mind. Such thoughts would ruin the flavor and disrupt savoring the delicious snack.

"You found the chips, I hear," came Williams' voice from the spare room which had been adopted as his own.

McGarrett leaned in the doorway, still munching. He was surprised to see Dan packing clothes into an overnight bag.

"While I've been making Hawaii safe for society you hopped over to Maui, I see. Saving the whales, I hope."

Williams stopped packing long enough to grab a few chips from the open bag. "Thought I'd bring back a decent supply while I was there. Your stock of junk food is pitiful."

"What's the lure in Maui all of a sudden?" He suspected the answer was more than whales. Quickly Steve scanned the list of known women currently flitting in and out of his friend's life. None of them were connected with Maui. Jumping over to the Valley Isle for a day for an impulsive fling was moving a little too fast even for Williams. "Someone new I don't know about?"

Dan smiled and shook his head. "Not yet. I got an offer for an expenses paid day in Lahaina so I took advantage of the opportunity." He moved to the closet and pulled out a new suit. Since his departure from Five-0 he had streamlined his wardrobe, ditching several suits which were practically the uniform of plainclothes detectives. He had purchased one sharp, off-white linen suit for the few times he thought he would be needing something semi-formal. He hung the coat hanger on the top of the door so the suit could air, then he glanced at McGarrett's casual leisure outfit. "Get out a suit, Steve. I made reservations for Chez Michel's. My treat."

McGarrett dusted the oil and salt from his hands then thrust them in his pockets. He warily considered the disjointed elements of information in this conversation. Somehow he instinctively knew he was not going to like this.

"What's the occasion?"

"I won't know for sure until tomorrow, but I think I've got a great job in Lahaina."

Williams' face was lit with an enthusiasm McGarrett hadn't seen in awhile. Until now he had not realized how much it meant to Dan to have a good job. He momentarily felt guilty about his stubbornness, sometimes his outright undermining, to keeping Dan unemployed. It was a purely selfish motivation, however upon reflection, he felt no regret or guilt at his actions. Dan was above all the jobs he had so far come up with. Steve would torpedo this one, too, if it didn't measure up. Maui was a long way from this beachside neighborhood. Steve looked at his almost bubbly companion and felt a pang of guilt return. He should at least hear out the proposal. Then he should step back and objectively try to evaluate the situation. Maybe it would be just the thing Danno was looking for, what he needed. Perhaps a break with the past was the direction he needed to travel now. With a defiant mental 'no,' McGarrett refused to believe that. They had not reached this point in their lives to let things unravel now.

"I'm flying back tomorrow and spending a few days to check out the place, let them check me out." He rattled on oblivious to McGarrett's silence. "I'm gonna take a quick swim and then get ready. We have early reservations for seven."

McGarrett went back down to the ground floor, sat on the lanai step and watched Williams swim. Steve went through a whole bag of chips before his ethereal, indistinct ideas formed themselves into a viable, solid presentation he could offer Williams as an alternative to Maui. Now he had to wait for an opportunity to make this look like anything other than a last ditch effort to keep Williams here.

 

*****

 

"Jenny sends her love, by the way.."

"How's she doing?"

"Maui no ka oi. Nick loves being the security chief at the hotel. He's the one who recommended me for the job. I'll assist him. It'll be great, Steve. The resort will be a tourist mecca. It'll be a continual challenge, a job that's never the same, which is something I need."

His explanations were coming fast and crowded, as if he was rushing through before Steve could offer an objection. It was a defensive ploy and made McGarrett feel Williams knew objections were on the horizon.

"Security is something I know. Working with people -- well, I have a lot of experience with that, too."

McGarrett toyed with his water glass. He was singularly uninterested in the delicious fare he had been pushing around his plate. "Don't you consider this sleeping with the enemy?"

Williams' scowl indicated the barb had hit home. "Maybe I'll get blackballed from Friends of the Earth. I don't want to work for a resort, but I don't have many of choices. A lot of ex-cops are hotel security personnel."

"Too bad it's not in Oahu," Steve casually commented.

"Maybe that's a good thing," Dan countered, equally casual. "Something new and different. Get me out from under foot for a while."

"Sounds almost perfect," McGarrett admitted tightly, the words in direct opposition to his tone and mood.

"There are no perfect jobs around," Williams admitted. He pushed his plate away, no longer interested in the expensive meal.

McGarrett looked at him levelly. "What would be your idea of the perfect job?"

"Besides a perennial surfer?" Williams returned flippantly. Sobering he shrugged his shoulders. "Something close to this offer, I guess," he unenthusiastically remarked. The vigor and excitement of his pitch waned as their conversation sobered to subjects still too sensitive. "A continually challenging job in security or something." His expression darkened and he looked away over the ocean view afforded at their well-situated table. "I need to get out of limbo, Steve. Not enforcement anymore."

There was a lot of unspoken regret there. Steve didn't want to touch that sore spot, it was a tender subject for both of them. The perfect job, Five-0, was inaccessible to Dan forever. They hadn't covered this during Dan's employment search. It was too hard to talk about.

Dan brought his gaze back to McGarrett. "The perfect job -- isn't available," he admitted with difficulty, unknowingly -- pr perhaps knowingly -- echoing Steve's thoughts. "Short of that -- " He shook his head.

Hating himself for the bruise this would inflict on his friend, Steve pressed for an answer. Dan was leading himself right into a corner and Steve couldn't give way. A minor wound now might clear the way for them to save their future. And that was what he was fighting to preserve here, their future. Williams escaping to Maui would be running away -- abandoning McGarrett, and he couldn't let that happen.

"What?" McGarrett pressured. "This isn't what you really want, is it? Now's the time to admit that. Find the right job and you'll get your life back, I'm sure of it."

A regretful smile lingered for a moment, then Dan responded quietly, "It's a good job, Steve. I do want it."

"You want it because it's a good offer. But it's not what you're looking for, is it? Honestly, Danno."

Locking eyes with his friend, Dan recognized the resolute challenge there. Sighing, he surrendered. "Why are you pushing, Steve? You don't want me to take this job, either, do you?"

Masterfully avoiding the pitfall of contention, Steve countered, "If you could create it, what would be your perfect job, Danno? Just humor me. Five-0 is out of bounds now. What's your second choice?"

After another sigh, Dan gave a nod. "Something close. Somehow working with you again . . . ." he trailed off, staring out at the sea.

That was the hook Steve had been waiting for. His plan, fully formed, could now be presented to his primed subject.

"I've had something stirring in the back of my mind for awhile, Danno. See what you think. Sometime soon I'd like to retire from Five-0."

Williams nearly choked on his coffee. "You retire?" he scoffed.

Miffed, McGarrett countered that he had no intention of remaining with Five-0 forever. He did not say that with the current direction of the state police unit he did not foresee staying on very long at all. Without Williams there was no passion left in the organization and McGarrett felt he did not need to remain as a director. There were many others who could qualify in that position.

Williams seemed to sense his thoughts because the younger man sobered and admitted retirement from Five-0 would do Steve a world of good. Eagerly, he invited McGarrett to continue.

"Retirement is on the horizon, Danno. I'm enough of a realist to know that. I've been there a long time. After this past year, I should retire, take some time off, of course, but I know myself well enough to know I can't be a beach bum forever, either. I want to have somewhere to go, like you, somewhere challenging, but in a field similar to police work. So I thought I'd start a security consulting company. What do you think?"

He outlined details of a business catering to corporations, estates, hotels, anyone with needs for increased, sophisticated security measures. In a time of rising terrorism and world threats, and his expertise and credentials, the idea seemed perfect. With a nod of approval, Williams indicated it seemed a logical progression for someone of McGarrett's accomplishments.

"I have the money to invest," Steve went on, "but I need someone up front who can sell the company and who has the personality, talent and skill to really run things while I stay in the background." He directed a probing stare at his friend. "How'd you like the job?"

"Me?" At first Williams was surprised, then his expression altered to wariness. "Steve, you don't have to invent a job just to keep me from hotel security."

"I've been thinking about this for awhile," he defended quickly. "I've been trying to fit the pieces together. This is as good a time as any to give it a try."

"And you don't think the head of Five-0 starting a security firm is a conflict of interest?"

"Touché," Steve acknowledged. "That's why I'm the silent, financial partner and you're going to do all the initial work. We might get some heat, but what's new about that? This venture is certainly not illegal!"

"And you just happened to mention it now when I'm about to take a job?" he countered skeptically.

"You know me, I lead a fire-drill existence. It takes a crisis of some kind to push me into things sometimes."

"Me getting a job is a crisis?"

"The wrong job, yes," McGarrett clarified. There was no other way around it so he plunged in with the difficult assortment of explanations from the heart that he found so arduous to express. "All these other jobs you've applied for, I told you they were beneath you. And they were." He looked away for a moment staring at the dark ocean and tried to collect his thoughts, his courage, to say what he really felt. "I want us to go in the same direction. We could work together as if -- as if nothing had ever happened to change that."

"A big 'if'."

He turned back to Williams and leaned forward, placing his elbows on the table, allowing the intensity to surge into his eyes and tone. "That's what I've been trying to work out. A security consulting business is perfect for us, something we can build together -- our own vision. If you're willing to give it a try."

For several moments Williams was speechless. His expression reflected the reluctance and the confusion he felt. He leaned back in his chair, biting his lip as he contemplated the scenario. His eyes were pulled to the sea again. Night made the undulating waves a deep blanket of midnight blue.

"You're sure this is what you want to spend your money on?"

It was a light inquiry but laced with deeper doubts and uncertainties.

"Absolutely," Steve assured sincerely. "You'll be your own boss."

"I would want to pull my own weight," Dan insisted, a little more securely.

"You'll be the front man, Danno. A talent which suits you perfectly. You can charm in all the clients we'll need. You can write your own ticket. I'll just supervise."

A smile quirked at Williams' mouth. "You don't know the meaning of the word." He glanced across the table, his eyes sparked with the light of humor.

With the warmth of satisfaction glowing in his thoughts, McGarrett knew he had won. "Then I'll learn," he offered magnanimously. "I'll be a silent partner. Promise."

"We'll see," Dan compromised, as if he knew the impossibility of that fantasy.

"No Maui?"

Williams shook his head, ruefully conceding to the overwhelming power of his once and future boss. "No Maui," he agreed. "I'll call Nick and tell him he's got to keep shopping for a security chief. Jenny will be disappointed."

"You can talk to Nick about being one of our first clients." Enormously pleased, McGarrett raised his coffee cup to offer a toast. "Here's to the continuation of a partnership."

Dan raised his own cup and clicked the china, adding his concurrence to the toast.

 

*****

 

In between sips of hot, fresh coffee, McGarrett knotted his tie and gathered paperwork into his briefcase. Cool, crisp morning air was blowing through the open lanai door. There was a towel draped on the handle of the glass door and McGarrett assumed Williams' overnight guest was out for a morning swim. It certainly wouldn't be Danno voluntarily up at this hour. Steve couldn't think of her name, but he knew the green VW bug which he had seen in the driveway when he arrived home last night belonged to the travel agent. Giving up trying to remember the names, he stuck with the occupations or cars; still, he almost needed a scorecard to keep them all straight.

With Williams' attempts to slip back into 'normal' life, he had managed a packed social calendar. There were, however, no relationships of any depth or permanence. This was not just another side effect of the brainwashing; no strings, no serious emotions. Williams had started the trend years before after his girlfriend, Jane Michaels, had been murdered, he recalled. McGarrett wondered if, thanks to Jin Wu, Dan would ever feel comfortable again in a stable relationship.

He stopped himself short at the thought. Hardly one to even silently lecture his friend on girlfriends. Only in the past few years did he venture into extended relationships of any length with women.

Forcing himself to bring a halt to all the speculation, McGarrett took the coffee mug into the kitchen and picked out his daily assortment of vitamins. When he returned to the table to retrieve his briefcase, he stopped cold. Dripping wet, standing near the open door, was a naked woman drying her long, dark hair with a towel.

"Oh, hi, Steve."

"Morning, Shelly." The name suddenly leaped into his mind. Amazing what surprise did to the memory.

"Oh, sorry," she said and draped the towel around her body. "I forgot my manners. Some people get nervous when I swim in the nude."

"Like my neighbors?" he asked neutrally. He was impressed that his expression reflected a non-reaction to the free-spirited woman. As he recalled, she was a bit of a sensationalist and loved to shock people.

"That's why I'm up early."

"There are ordinances against this, you know," he mildly lectured. He closed his briefcase and grabbed his jacket from a hanger.

She grinned like a Menehune. "You won't arrest me, I hope."

"No," was his dry response. "And please tell Danno I want him to call me later this morning."

"Sure," she agreed.

As he walked to his car he pondered the interesting morning. It looked like he would have to reevaluate the house-guest situation. He would make a few calls when he got to the office.

 

*****

 

"Yeah, Doc," McGarrett said loudly. The marine-phone connection with the retired, former ME was garbled. On a deep sea fishing boat, Bergman was tracked down off the Big Island. McGarrett, typically, did not want to wait a few days to rearrange lives. It had to be done now! "I've got a long-term renter for your house, if you don't mind not having the place in Oahu. I didn't think you'd mind since you're rarely over here anymore. Yeah, good references and no wild parties. After all, the house is next door to mine. Thanks for understanding, Doc. Yeah, mahalo. And I hope you catch your limit out there." He hung up the phone and returned his attention to the meeting in progress.

"What about security for the governor's luncheon next week?" McGarrett asked Carew. The phone rang and once more interrupted the meeting.

"McGarrett."

"We must be officially in business, Steve. I'm calling you from our new phone in our new office."

The bright voice brought an instant smile to McGarrett's face. "I guess that makes it legitimate, Danno." He took a seat on the edge of the desk.

Grinning, Duke called in a loud voice, "Nice to know you're finally earning your pay after --" he consulted the desk clock, "after eleven o'clock, bruddah."

"Did you hear that, Danno?"

"Yeah, and tell him --" McGarrett smiled and gave the phone to Lukela.

Williams was saying, " . . . in this business I don't have to keep killer hours. Yet."

"Only a few more months, Danny, and I will be retired and laughing at my friends who are hard at work," Lukela warned and handed the phone back to McGarrett.

"Listen, Steve, I have to swing over to a place on Beritania later. Shall we meet for a late lunch around two?"

"Sure. You want to come by here?"

"Uh -- no -- uh, why don't we meet over at Nick's?"

"Fine," McGarrett said quickly to cover his foot in his mouth. He knew Danno did not want to come here ever again. To smooth over the embarrassment, he changed the subject. "I thought we needed to discuss Shelly," he said off-handedly. THAT would give his partner something to stew on for a few hours.

Duke muttered, "I've seen Shelly."

"Oh," Williams answered, his voice a little weak. "See you at two."

For several minutes after Williams hung up, McGarrett, now amused, stayed on the desk, thinking about the best way to use the uninhibited Shelly as ammunition to tease his friend. Seriously, their arrangements would have to be modified. Five-0 still looked bad after Alika's smear campaign. McGarrett had to be careful of the image he portrayed -- and a nude swimmer staying at his house was not what he needed for his image.

"Steve, what about the governor's luncheon?"

McGarrett forcibly brought his thoughts back to the meeting. "What?"

"The luncheon."

He came to an impulsive decision. "I'll be out of the office the rest of the day," he said. Only out of the corner of his eye did he catch surprised expressions from his new detectives.

"We can handle things," Duke assured.

McGarrett didn't have to explain to Lukela. He DIDN'T explain to the others. He didn't have to, he was the boss.

 

*****

 

"It's coming along nicely," Steve commented as he walked through the office filled with building materials for custom renovation. The large room was empty, but was sun-filled from two long glass doors which opened onto a lanai overlooking Koko Marina.

"Steve!" Williams popped from behind a shelf, nearly hitting his head on a board.

"It looks better all the time, Danno."

Williams dusted his hands off on his jeans. He gestured toward the phones on opposite sides of the room, placed on the floor. "Yeah. Furniture is going to be late, so we have to use the floor until Friday."

This office was the new home of AIKANE SECURITY CONSULTANTS. Located on the second floor of a small professional building, McGarrett could easily imagine bright Hawaiian paintings on the walls. Danno insisted he picked the cheery setting because of the cheaper rent outside of Honolulu. McGarrett suspected it was because of the stunning view of the bay and the tempting nearness of the boat marina. As he walked out the open lanai door, he marveled at the magnificent water, then hills beyond. He understood and agreed with Williams' decision.

In the last few weeks their security firm had really started to roll. There were a lot of details to cover when starting a new business and Steve had found the venture an invigorating and fresh challenge. While Williams was making most of the decisions, McGarrett couldn't help but involve himself in many aspects of the enterprise. It offered him something different. It also gave him an opportunity to work on a new level with his friend. He was pleased to find Williams had an impressive flair for creative organization. It made McGarrett wonder what it would have been like to have Danno there on the ground floor of Five-0's inception. Probably not much different. He would not have surrendered control to anyone those long years ago. That he was stepping aside, more or less, to let Danno have the power now was a testament to how McGarrett had mellowed over the years. Or a tribute to how good it was to work within a partnership.

"I take it you won't want me to cancel the lease?"

The obviously wry statement brought the tug of a shadow-smile to McGarrett's face. "No. I like it."

McGarrett thought he could not have chosen any better. The place was roomy, with lots of light coming in the windows. The lanai, essential addition for any place McGarrett frequented, was an extra touch of class. The location, aside from the perfect view, was only minutes from the beach house.

"So, why did you drop in? I thought we were meeting for lunch." Williams asked as he stepped onto the lanai.

"Just checking up on my investment," was McGarrett's reply.

"Oh. I thought you were playing hooky."

Slightly exasperated, McGarrett nearly flung a snide comment back to his cocky friend. Thinking better of the sharp words, he knew Williams was right. McGarrett resisted acknowledging the frequent comments because he did not want to admit his disillusionment with Five-0. There was no good reason why he refused to admit the truth to his friend. Williams obviously could tell McGarrett's avoidance of the office was progressively worse with each passing case.

"Just a stressful morning," McGarrett conceded. "Problems -- you know."

"Or detectives?" Williams probed.

McGarrett shrugged. "Kimo is a real hard-head sometimes."

"I don't know why you take that from him, Steve. You're the boss, he's a new detective. Push him into line."

Defensively, McGarrett said, "He'll come around."

"Why put up with the aggravation?"

Instantly Williams regretted the remark. Putting McGarrett in the middle was unfair. Literally and verbally Williams backed off, irritated at himself for overstepping their preconceived DMZ. For sheer emotional survival purposes, he had requested they not discuss Five-0 business. Still, months after Jin Wu, he found it difficult to accept his position as an outsider. McGarrett did not accept interference from anyone, even Dan. As always, Steve ran the police unit his way and NO ONE was allowed to crowd that authority. That Williams was able to hand out opinions and advice spoke of the singular tolerance afforded the former detective.

"Sorry, I don't mean to be critical."

McGarrett waved away to the apology. "You're just offering your opinionated view," was his light rejoinder. More seriously, he admitted, "You're watching out for me." He grinned. "My personal psychologist."

"Yeah. Flexible office hours. If you need to talk, you know my Mustang is always available."

"Deal. Now, let's go to lunch. We'll have to find out what's good around here. Someplace we can take our time and talk. By the way, I found you a cheap place to rent in my neighborhood."

"I'm moving out?"

"You were right, Danno, you need your own space. We'll talk over lunch. And about Shelly . . . ."

As McGarrett walked back into the office, Williams shook his head and smiled. McGarrett could no more be a consultant than Oahu would sink into the ocean. Some things between them would never change. Yeah, this would be a lot like Five-0, and for now, as he pieced together the shattered bits of his altered world, it was close to perfect. Dan Williams anticipated it eagerly. Not long ago, he thought his world destroyed. Thanks to Steve, he had a new world to conquer. It was going to be a challenging and unpredictable future and he looked forward to all of it, except the upcoming 'discussion' with a side of lunch.


 

Continued in:

THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT

PART THREE

The Scars of the Dragon