LIFE’S BUSINESS BEING JUST THE TERRIBLE CHOICE

story idea by Anna

written by gm

 

 

 PG-14+ -- VIOLENCE AND INTENSITY+

Contains scenes of torture and brutality

 

 

June 1977

 

 

“I’m still suspicious of Tommy Keola’s statement.” Steve McGarrett closed the door of the Five-0 office and locked it.  “Something doesn’t ring true.” 

 

“Yeah.”

 

“And his alibi is shaky,” McGarrett insisted as he started down the walkway of the second floor.

 

“Yeah,” Dan Williams agreed absently, checking his watch. 

 

“In the morning, I want you and Chin to check the other witnesses.  Duke and I will go over a time line.”

 

Mmmm.”

 

“And that meeting with General Lao is scheduled for tomorrow, so if I run over with witness statements, you’ll have to cover for me with the Keola interrogation.”

 

“Okay,” Williams muttered, again checking his watch and trotting down the central staircase inside Iolani Palace.

 

McGarrett had to pick up his pace to keep up.  Smiling, he off-handedly stated, “Of course, I could be wrong about everything, don’t you think?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

On the landing, McGarrett stopped, amused, and watched his second-in-command jog down most of the steps leading to the first floor.  The footfalls echoed loudly in the empty, old building.  Almost down to the bottom step, Williams stopped, slowly turning.

 

Chagrined, he offered an embarrassed smile.  “Guess I haven’t been paying attention.  Sorry.  What were you saying?”

 

“Who is she?”  He ambled down to join his friend.  “Anyone I know?”

 

“Nah.  She just moved in on my floor.”

 

“When are you meeting her?”

 

“Well, she comes down by my front door every night to take in the sunset.  You know, at the makai end there, it’s almost as good as my lanai.  She’s at the mauka end -- no ocean view.  So I was trying to think of a witty way to ask her out.”

 

Continuing, McGarrett stepped onto the wood-slatted floor.  “You mean you don’t have a date yet?”

 

“Not yet.”

 

“Moving a little slow.”

 

“I’ve been busy with this Keola case.”

 

Suddenly the front doors burst inward and a breathless man lurched inside.  “McGarrett!  Where is McGarrett?  I'm with Bangkok PD!”  Holding his side, stumbling, he struggled to his feet.

 

Two figures then silhouetted in the doorway.  Without warning, they fired at the intruder and he immediately went down to the floor.  McGarrett and Williams both drew their revolvers.  As the two shooters brought their weapons up to fire on the officers, both policemen shot.  The gunmen collapsed.  Racing to the doorway, each officer checked one of the two gunmen:  Asians, no ID.

 

“All pau,” Williams declared of his man.

 

“Same here.”

 

Then each retrieved and pocketed a fallen pistol. Williams raced to the corner of the lobby area and dialed for emergency services.  McGarrett returned to the downed man.  He was a young, thirty-ish, Oriental man with a thin mustache.  Breathing was labored for the young casualty.  McGarrett felt for a pulse and found a faint beat.  The man’s dark eyes studied him, veiled in pain.

 

“McGarrett,” he whispered.

 

“I’m McGarrett.”

 

“Green Jade.”  He fumbled, removing a ring from his hand and placing the bloodstained jewelry onto McGarrett’s little finger.  “I am Green Jade.  Code name.  Heard you are the one to trust here.”  He choked, blood foaming out of his mouth.  ”Golden Triangle -- smuggling -- drugs -- operation double agent --“ he coughed until he was breathless.

 

“Don’t talk,” McGarrett advised, keeping the man from sitting up. 

 

Williams joined him and assisted in placing a hand over the man’s bleeding chest wound.

 

“Don’t give up the Jade to anyone.  Until you know you can trust them,” he wheezed. 

 

“Your code name is Green Jade?” McGarrett asked, trying to get his bearings, dazed at being so alarmingly and surprisingly flung into the heart of intrigue. “Who should I trust?”

 

“No one from Asia.”

 

McGarrett traded glances with Williams.  “We’re working with General Lao from Bangkok –“

 

“No.  Jade network comprom --“ he coughed out blood.  “Compromised.”  A fit of coughing sprayed red drops everywhere.

 

McGarrett looked to his colleague with a silent question.

 

“Ambulance is on the way,” Williams grimly studied the stranger.  He shook his head, assessing that medical aid would probably not make it in time.  “You’re saying you’re with the Bangkok PD and you can’t trust your own people?”

 

He shook his head.  “Traitor in Jade network,” he gasped.  “Don’t trust anyone.  Don’t give the ring to anyone here.  Pacific Triangle --“ he choked, coughing until he collapsed.

 

The faint wail of sirens drifted on the sunset Trades through the open doors.  Checking for a pulse, Steve shook his head. 

 

“All pau.”

 

“Great,” Dan sighed.  “International drug smuggling.”

 

“Yeah,” McGarrett growled. 

 

Studying the ring slipped onto his finger, he rubbed some blood off the jewel.  It was a gold band with an inlaid, emerald-colored, triangular piece of jade.  Green jade triangle.  Pacific triangle.  It was a convoluted enigma and the key had just died.

 

“What do you think about his suspicions of Lao?”

 

“I don’t know, Danno But when a man dies in my arms and his last breath condemns someone we hardly know, I have to take it seriously.”  He removed the ring and slipped it into his jacket pocket.

 

“You think that ring is hiding something?  Or is it a symbol?  Maybe that you can be trusted?”

 

“I’m not sure.”

 

The sirens warbled loudly and the screech of tires was close.  McGarrett started checking the man’s pockets, as did Williams.  They found no wallet, just a handful of bills, change and a room key for a Waikiki hotel. 

 

“When the officers need statements, I want you to handle things.  When the excitement calms down, meet me upstairs.”

 

HPD officers cautiously came in past the dead bodies.  McGarrett ordered them to check the grounds to make sure no other intruders were around.

 

After making himself seen to be leading the investigation, McGarrett gave a nod to Dan and slipped upstairs.   He called a trusted contact. Oscar Goldman, head of the Office of Scientific Intelligence in Washington.  Goldman reported that Pacific Triangle was a code name of an Asian/Pacific drug cartel.  McGarrett had never heard of it, but Oscar assured it was a deadly organization backed by ruthless Communists from Cambodia and Vietnam. 

 

“Be careful, Steve.  Pacific Triangle is a tough bunch.  If this dead man’s network went sour, there will be more killers out there to make sure he didn’t tell any secrets.  Don’t admit to anyone that you spoke with him.  I’ll try to see about Pacific Triangle from my end.  And listen, pal, above all, don’t trust anyone.  And don’t admit you know anything, please.”

 

Instantly plunged into international intrigue was nothing new, but it chilled him to hear the dire warnings from his soberly concerned friend.  “Don’t alert anyone in DC that we know anything.”

 

“I can be discrete, you know, old pal.”

 

“I know.  Thanks, Oscar.”

 

“Keep me informed.”

 

“I will.”

 

When Williams joined him, Dan said to be sure and tell the Washington bureaucrat that it was a balmy 72 degrees in Hawaii.  Overhearing the loud admonition -- as intended -- Oscar sourly pointed out he was gazing out the window at freezing rain.

 

After he was off the phone, Dan told him the dead agent and the two gunmen were taken to the morgue under John Doe aliases.  Relating his conversation with Oscar, Steve said they would keep all this secret for now and let it go through channels.  They would see what happened and who popped out from behind the palm trees next.

 

“Let’s go check out his hotel before anyone knows what happened to him.”

 

 

*****

 

 

Construction for a new shopping complex clogged traffic on the always busy Kalakaua Avenue.  Driving impatiently, McGarrett swung the big Mercury onto Lewers and parked as close as they could to Kalia Road.  They walked the rest of the way, past the construction, to the Halekulani, the classy colonial-styled hotel with bungalows right on Waikiki.

 

“Lao is maybe part of the mystery from Thailand.  The gunmen were Asian.  The dead guy warns us about conspiracies from Southeast Asia.  That’s no help in Hawaii with so many refugees and Asians,” Dan pointed out tartly as they walked past the multitude of restaurants and nightclubs in the heart of Waikiki.  The night was warm and breezy and everyone was out having fun.  “We don‘t have much of a head start.”

 

“Maybe the room will help.”

 

The hotel desk clerk vaguely remembered a man of the dead man’s description checking for mail earlier in the evening.  He was registered under the name of Phu in room 203, Ewa of the lobby. 

 

Opening the door, Steve sensed more than sighted a blur at the corner of his eye.  No time to react, he just felt Dan push him out of the way. He heard a whoosh of sound sing past his ear.  Off balance, when he regained his footing he drew his weapon and checked the wall behind him.  A wicked-looking ninja fighting star was imbedded in the plaster.  Hardly hesitating, he joined Williams, who had raced into the room.

 

A man dressed in black, with a black hood, lunged out the window.  Dan jumped through and raced after him.  Torn between joining his friend and checking out the ransacked room, McGarrett took only a moment to assess the damage here.  They had interrupted the intruder -- not much was torn up.  Only two drawers dumped over.

 

About to dash out after Dan, he stopped as his eyes snagged on something underneath the drawer.   He turned the drawer completely over and peeled off an envelope taped to the bottom.  Pocketing it, he then ran out the door and down stairs.

 

From the poolside lanai, McGarrett watched as Williams chased the man in black.  Both about the same size, the intruder was keeping his distance from the officer.  McGarrett knew he would never catch up with them if he followed on foot.  He ran to the front of the Halekulani and watched.  When they crossed Kalia, the man in black turned Ewa.  Anticipating the chase path, he sprinted through the lobby and across the street -- into the labyrinth of the construction site. 

 

Cutting through the construction maze instead of going around, he thought he would intercept the chase.  Occasionally he spotted the men through the various steel girders erected on the site.  Several times the criminal threw things at Williams, or looked like he was about to get away by some daring jump or leap, but Dan tenaciously kept after him.  Almost to Kalakaua, the fleeing assailant ducked under some steel beams.  McGarrett paralleled them on a clear walkway through the building, then veered on an intercept course.  If they kept up on this route, their paths would converge momentarily.

 

Just a few feet ahead, the perpetrator raced close, Williams only a few arms’ length back.  Still on a dead run, it was then Steve spotted another black shape peeking around a corner just ahead.  Something silver in the man’s hand only abstractly registered as a ninja star. 

 

As happened so frequently when a life and death crisis was upon him, events transpired almost instantly, but in a kind of slow motion where all his senses recognized and reacted to the stimuli with complete thought and premeditation.  Running, he drew his weapon.  The man, now concealed behind the building, did not present a target lying in wait. Danno, astride of Steve, but separated by a gap in the planks, couldn’t see the second man.  If he stopped to fire he might not make the right angle . . . .

 

“Danno!”

 

The man’s hand raised and the silver flashed against the night. 

 

Continuing to charge ahead, McGarrett threw a shot at the man hoping to distract the aim of the deadly weapon as he leaped across the open catwalk and tackled Williams.  Both tumbled and crashed into lumber and equipment.  Groaning, Steve could hardly move.  His whole body ached from the collision and it took a moment to catch his breath.

 

 

*****

 

 

“Steve?”

 

Dan untangled debris as fast as he could.  McGarrett blearily blinked open his eyes. 

 

“Steve, you’re bleeding pretty bad.”  Dan already had both hands clutching around McGarrett’s upper right arm.  “Man, something must have stabbed you.  We’ve got to get you to a hospital.”

 

Without waiting for debate, he used one hand to help lift the shaky cop to his feet, then aided Steve in coursing through the treacherous construction site.  When Steve asked about the object of their pursuit, Williams reported the fleeing suspect was nowhere to be seen.  Neither was the man in black whom he had seen for only a second before being tackled

 

At the sidewalk, a thin Oriental man and a stocky Asian with long-ish hair stopped them.  The latter was General Lao, their contact in the Bangkok drug case.  Dan was instantly suspicious of the man -- named by the dead man as a possible leak -- showing up here at the end of their chase.  He didn’t have time right now, though, to process his qualms or think about them too deeply.  His focus was on taking care of his heavily bleeding boss.

 

“Mr. Williams!  Is Mr. McGarrett hurt badly?  How may we help?”

 

The thin man was the General’s Assistant, Diem. 

 

Williams sharply refused.  “No, thanks, I can handle this.”

 

He hustled McGarrett into the Mercury parked just down the block.  They roared through the crowded Waikiki streets; down Beachwalk to Ala Moana.  The siren wailing and the revolving blue light stuck on the dash, heavy night traffic and pedestrians slowly parted to give way.  Swinging the big car around to the other side of the Ilikai Towers, Dan screeched to a halt at the Kaiser Hospital emergency room doors. 

 

 

*****

 

 

The throbbing pain in his arm was escalating to take precedence above all the other aches.  From Williams’ stricken expression, from the soreness, he knew he’d been noticeably injured.  Steve felt weak and light headed the whole drive over to the only hospital in Waikiki.  The way Danno hustled around and barked orders he knew he was bleeding heavily and his friend was desperately worried.  The arm wound wasn’t pumping like an arterial cut, but it hurt horribly and he was grateful, for a change, to relinquish himself to Dan’s solicitous managing of the situation.

 

Immediately raced into an ER room, he heard Dan arguing with someone, but he closed his eyes and the turmoil and pain slowly faded away.

 

 

*****

 

 

There had been worse injuries in the history of Steve McGarrett, but Dan’s sense of alarm now did not factor in the past.  The profuse hemorrhaging was frightening and the only thought in his mind was to get Steve help quickly. 

 

What made it worse, he knew in the back of his mind, was that Steve had leaped over to save him from the threat of that man in black.  Something silver -- a flash or an impression -- flitted through his memory.  Foremost, though, was the end result of the furious action.  Steve had risked himself and this was the payment.

 

The ER doctors and nurses had Steve whisked away to a room before the administrative people could halt them.  Dan hovered at the part in the curtains, although a tough looking nurse would not let him enter the immediate area past the curtain surrounding the bed.  He made sure, however, he was within easy sight of McGarrett whenever Steve opened his eyes.  To calm his own fears, he started giving information to the doctors; Steve’s blood type, cause of the injury.

 

“He’ll be all right,” the doctor pronounced after what seemed like forever.  “A slice in his muscle. Was he impaled by something?  Nothing too long.”

 

“Could have been,” Dan contemplated, the critical few moments of being tackled; discovering Steve’s wound and racing over here were a blur in time and nerves.  “There was a lot of junk at the construction site.”  A memory of the silver flash glinted into his mind.  A weapon?  Like at the hotel -- a ninja star.

 

“No vein or artery damage.  It will be painful, though.  We’ve given him a local and a sedative.  He’ll be fine.  After he feels strong enough, you can take him home.”  He wrote out several prescription notes.  “Antibiotics and something to help him with the pain.”  He handed the notes to Dan.  “He should check in with his own physician in the next few days.”

 

Nodding, thanking the man, Dan stepped over to the side of the bed, amused at the thought that Steve would voluntarily check in with Doc Bergman for a follow-up.  Breathing out a sigh of relief, he studied his resting friend, feeling shaky from the residual crisis and the knowledge that this was his fault.

 

McGarrett’s eyes blinked open.  “Danno.”

 

“Hi.  You’re supposed to rest for a bit before you leave.”

 

Nodding, McGarrett admitted he heard the instructions.  “You okay?”

 

“Yeah.  Fine.  What did you think you were doing?”

 

“You didn’t see the ninja with the battle star.  Had to do something.”  He motioned for help to sit up.

 

“The doctor said it impaled you, but not too deep.”  McGarrett nodded, struggling up.  Exasperated, Dan reiterated, “You need to rest,” but when his boss persisted, he complied and helped McGarrett to rise slowly and carefully.  “You should stay here for a while.”

 

“I’m feeling all right.”  McGarrett’s eyes narrowed.  “What?”

 

Williams shook his head.  What could he say?  He was disturbed at McGarrett’s heroics on his behalf and that the selfless action led to injury.  Upset that despite medical and police advise, Steve would probably escape because he hated to be confined, or in a hospital.

 

“Mr. McGarrett?”

 

General Lao and Assistant Diem entered the partitioned area.  The suspicious characters showing up here made Williams instantly wary.  Alerted, he barked out, “McGarrett isn’t interested in an interview --“

 

Quan Li Diem and I were concerned,” Lao stated evenly, as if Dan had not spoken.  “We are afraid this nasty business is connected to the case that you two might have stumbled into tonight.”

 

McGarrett flicked barely a glance his way.  Dan masked his surprise and said nothing.

 

“What case is that?” McGarrett blandly asked.

 

“The dead body at your office.  One of my agents.”

 

Glancing at the exhausted and hurting Five-0 chief, Dan wanted to end the interrogation before they got into a territorial fight.  He used the most logical excuse available.  These men did not know Steve and would not know that caving in to weakness was uncharacteristic for him.

 

“Why don’t you guys drop in at the Palace in the morning?” Dan curtly suggested.  “We’ll talk then.  For now, Mr. McGarrett has been wounded.  He’s on medication and I need to get him home.”

 

Lao seemed unperturbed, but Diem critically studied Williams.  Dan didn’t flinch.  Bluffing, he was pretty good at.  He focused on Lao, but was aware Diem still stared at him, giving him more scrutiny than he did to McGarrett.  Strange.

 

“Gentlemen, until tomorrow,” McGarrett nodded in clear dismissal.

 

Wearing an expression denoting his irritation, Lao backed out.  Diem stared neutrally at the officers then, with a slight bow, disappeared with his leader. 

 

McGarrett raised his eyebrows and nodded after them.  “Let’s go.”

 

Under the protest of the doctor, Dan hustled through the paperwork and extricated his boss from the hospital quickly.  When they pulled onto Ala Moana, heading for Kuhio, McGarrett studied his detective.

 

“Pretty slick escape plan, Danno. Mahalo.  I’m getting vibes that you didn’t like them much.”

 

“They were outside the construction site.  I nearly ran into them when I was moving you to the car.”

 

Scowling, he thought that over for a few moments.  Phu’s words ringing in your ears?”

 

“Yeah.  Until we know who to trust, we don’t trust anyone on the home team or visitors.”

 

“Right.”  Leaning his head back, he closed his eyes.  “Nice maneuvering.”  Still resting, he fingered Dan’s arm.  “I’m only letting you get away with this because it’s a ploy.  Don’t think you can boss me around under normal circumstances.”

 

“Never,” he assured ruefully.

 

More serious, McGarrett admonished, “I don’t want you to feel guilty about this either.”

 

Noncommittally, Dan shrugged.  Steve’s instincts had always been great.  That he was clairvoyant was sometimes suspected.  At his silence, McGarrett coerced a confession without too much trouble.  Under Steve’s interrogation, he always folded quickly.

 

“You were trying to save me.”

 

“I couldn’t just let you get hit when I could do something to stop it.”

 

Sourly, Dan reminded he was still functional enough to get out of the way if someone warned him of danger.  Dryly, McGarrett admitted he had tried yelling at his friend, but Danno didn’t acknowledge it.  That didn’t make the younger man feel any better.  Pulling up to the parking level of Steve’s apartment, he glanced around warily before exiting.  Helping Steve to the elevators, he didn’t breathe easy until they were safely in the condo.

 

Settling his friend on the sofa, he put out the prescription notes, promising to drop them at a pharmacy on his way home.  He returned to the living room to find McGarrett had reclined against the cushions – a sure sign of surrender to the discomfort.  Again, he cringed, knowing the injury must be pretty painful to get Steve down like this.  And, again the lance of guilt in his heart because Steve was playing the hero and trying to save his neck.

 

"Is there anything else you need before I take off, Steve?"

 

“You’re not going anywhere yet, Danno.  We have some things to discuss.”  McGarrett waved the envelope in his hand.  “This is what I found in Phu’s room.”  He removed a sheet of paper from the inside. 

 

Dan sat on the arm of the couch.  “What is it?”

 

“Code,” McGarrett decided, reading the scrambled letters in three columns.  “One I can’t decipher right now.”

 

“Maybe one of your covert friends can help,” he suggested around a yawn.

 

Nodding, McGarrett bit his lip.  “Yeah.  This is too important, Danno.  We can’t leave it here.”

 

“I’ll take it back to the Palace.”

 

Laboriously, McGarrett plunged his feet off the coffee table and groaned as he sat up.  “I’ll go –“

 

“Steve, I can handle this.  You need to –“

 

“Danno, I’m going.”

 

Clearly unhappy with the ultimatum, Williams stood and paced over to the door, his head hung, silently fuming.  How could he argue with his boss, who was also the most stubborn man he knew?  Just once he’d like to win an argument -- particularly when it was for Steve’s own good. 

 

Slowly, McGarrett made his way to the car and Dan drove them back to the office in silence.  It was late now, and the Palace seemed quietly eerie in the deep dark of the moonless night.  Only the Victorian styled street lamps cast yellowish glows over the deserted grounds.

 

Pulling in off the Richards Street entrance, Williams was especially wary of everything surrounding them.  He parked in the rear, by the enormous banyan tree and they entered through the back doors.  In the dim light from the outer lamps, they saw the once beautiful front doors were now covered in plywood since the elegantly etched strained glass had been shattered in the gun battle.

 

Arduously, McGarrett trod up the steps, Williams beside him, always checking the shadows, intently alert to any sound.  Once inside the Five-0 offices, Dan locked the main door and they secured themselves in McGarrett’s office.

 

In a mute admission to his injury, Steve settled onto the sofa.  He asked Dan to bring him the phone and he called Goldman.  Without giving away too much, he explained their situation.

 

“I need the code-key, Oscar.”

 

“I don’t want to say too much on the phone, Steve.   I’ll see what I can do.  That’s all I can say right now.  I’ll contact you tomorrow via messenger with something more helpful.”

 

“Thanks, Oscar.”

 

“You know, Steve, you owe me, pal.  I had another half-hour of sleep left.”

 

“I’ll make it up to you next time you’re out this way, Oscar.  Promise.”

 

“Okay.  Good luck.”

 

Moving to the desk, he spread out the pages and started scribbling notations on a scrap piece of paper next to the list.

 

“You have it figured out already?”

 

“No.  Just playing around with it.”

 

Dan moved to the side desk and dialed over to HPD to get an update on the crime team results from the shootout downstairs.  So far none of the three dead men were ID’d.  The two shooters wore clothes with Manila labels.  The third-shift officer reminded, with asperity, it was the middle of the night and most lab people were at home asleep. 

 

Wishing he could say something acerbic about Five-0’s hours being a lot longer than HPD's, he simply encouraged the man to get back to them as soon as he could.  Seeing Steve was tiredly leaning on one hand while staring at the coded sheet of paper, Dan moved over to sit on the edge of the desk.

 

“Let’s call it a night, Steve.”

 

“This is too important, Danno.”

 

Thinking furiously, he had to come up with a viable reason for Steve to leave.  When the night’s injury and activities caught up with him, Steve would just move over to the couch and catch a nap, but probably not go home.  At this rate, he would have to carry his boss out because McGarrett was exhausted, reacting to the trauma of the injury, the blood loss and the sedatives.  If only the doctor would have been smart enough to smack Steve with a whopping shot to put him out for the night.  That was about the only way to keep McGarrett off his feet.  Especially when he was committed to solving a mystery.

 

“Steve, you’re beat.”

 

“I can do this --“

 

“But not tonight.”  Sighing, he wished once again that could win just one argument with Steve.

 

The door opened unexpectedly.  Williams came to his feet.  McGarrett intuitively, protectively, folded up the letter and placed it in the most available case folder on the desk.  By the time the two unexpected visitors entered, only police files were visible.

 

“What are you doing here?” Dan demanded, taking a few steps toward the visitors, keeping himself protectively between his boss and the intruders.  “How did you get in here?  The front doors were locked.”

 

“Extraordinary circumstances require unusual methods,” Lao responded, barely glancing at Williams. 

 

Lao and Diem stepped into the center of the room. Their focus was on McGarrett, but Dan noted Diem suspiciously glanced his way several times.  Wary.  As if not sure what to expect.  The feeling was mutual.

 

“Rather late for working, isn’t it?” Diem asked suspiciously, circling around to close in near Williams.

 

“This is late?” Dan flung back sarcastically.  “You don’t know Five-0 hours.”

 

The irony didn’t seem to register on the newcomer.  Lao stared at the head of the police unit.  “We were under the impression you were too injured to do anything but retire to your home.”

 

“Then why did you come here?” McGarrett wondered, staring at the man with cold eyes.

 

Lao motioned toward Williams, explaining they came to speak to Dan, whom they thought would be working after the emergency here.  They asked about Phu, wanting all details concerning the dead man.

 

“We need your cooperation,” the General plainly explained.  “At least hear us out, McGarrett.”

 

“I don’t cooperate with people who break into my office.  Unless you want to end up in the local jail, I suggest you leave.”

 

Giving a slight bow, Lao ignored the order and explained his mission was of the utmost urgency, of great importance to his people as well as McGarrett’s citizens of Hawaii.  He pleaded to elucidate his side of events and allow the police chief to be the judge.  Although his methods were extreme, he was justified and he promised McGarrett would agree once he learned the whole story.

 

Cradling his slinged, injured arm, McGarrett pondered the proposition.  Glancing at Williams, then back, he gave a nod.  “You have two minutes, Lao.”  McGarrett gathered several file folders into a stack.  “Take care of these, will you, Danno?”

 

With a nod, Williams took the stack and exited, closing the door after him.  Uncomfortable leaving Steve in there with the sharks, he understood McGarrett wanted the code list hidden.  He quickly slipped the incriminating coded letter out of the folder and shoved the others in his ACTIVE box. 

 

With very little time, he wasn’t sure exactly what to do with the letter.  They were pitted against seasoned professionals -- cops, spies, killers, drug runners, double agents -- it didn’t matter which -- any or all of the above.  These guys knew their stuff.  After hours they could come in here and toss the whole office and find the letter.  Dan was out of his league.  He was, however, a good cop, and that lead him to rely on some old, historic methods.  Poe: hide in plain sight.

 

He then crossed to the secretary’s desk and slipped the coded letter into a new envelope.  Hastily he scribbled KING KAMEHAMEHA CLUB address on the front – attention: Jonathan Higgins.  Then he put it in Jenny’s OUT box and slapped some stamps on it.  As a hasty afterthought, he slammed the Five-0 return address label in the corner.

 

With a deep breath, Dan returned to McGarrett’s office, unhappy to hear and see things were getting rough.  The two Asians were close around the desk and Steve’s expression was angry.  Defensive about his wounded friend, Dan instinctively moved to act as a physical and morale barrier for his boss.

 

“Time is up, you two.  Mr. McGarrett needs to get some rest.  He lost a lot of blood tonight.”

 

Diem closed on him like a stalking cobra.  “You came back here to decipher the coded letter from Phu,” he hissed, eyes narrowed.  “Why else would you return so late?”

 

“We demand you give us the letter!”  Lao gave a nod to his companion.

 

Diem pulled a pistol from behind his jacket.  Dan instinctively reached for his revolver, but Diem placed the gun against his chest before he could bring it up to aim.  “Drop your weapon or you die.”

 

There was no doubt Diem would kill him.  In those vital seconds, Dan weighed the danger if he allowed the thug to gain control over them.  Could he follow through with his draw fast enough to beat this man’s trigger finger?  Looking into the cold, black eyes, he knew he couldn’t.  This man would murder him without effort or thought.  He could try a fast draw, but would it be good enough?  It wouldn’t matter to him, of course, he would be dead.  

 

“Do what he says, Danno.”

 

The command was delivered with acceptance tinged in livid anger.  At the edge of the tone was a familiar ring of anxiety.  Steve really wasn’t sure what Diem would do and that worried him.  Or perhaps he wasn’t certain of Dan’s critical choice in this moment of destiny.

 

Reluctantly, with a sigh, Williams slowly cleared his hand from his jacket, showing the man his empty palm.  After removing his .38, and McGarrett’s, Diem backed away but kept the pistol leveled at Williams.  His dark eyes held a dangerous menace when staring at them, settling on Steve.  What was Diem planning on doing to his already weak and hurting friend? 

 

“You will give me the letter, McGarrett.  Otherwise, I will kill your officer.”   He turned the pistol toward the head of Five-0.  “Or I will kill you.”

 

“Don’t,” Dan demanded.  “I’ll take you to it.  It’s in the other room.”  

 

With his eyes, directed at McGarrett, he tried to signal that he had a plan in mind.  Disturbed, McGarrett’s jaw worked tightly, unhappy with the ploy.  As soon as he was in the other room, he would do something to distract Diem and hopefully take possession of the weapon.  Simmering, Steve did not know the details, but had enough faith in him to silently accept the chance at escape.

 

 

*****

 

 

When Dan opened the door to the outer office, he knew instinctively something was wrong; the feel in the air, the smell, the sound.  The shadows moved.  A trap!   Unarmed outnumbered, it would be foolish for them to risk a fight.  This moment, however, would be the time when their enemies least expected something.  Probably his only chance to take control of the deadly hostage situation. 

 

Diem slid through the doorway after McGarrett.  Dan executed his ploy at the same instant he felt his friend make a move.  Steve pushed to the side, jabbing an elbow into Diem.  A shot rang out and as Dan tried to wrestle the gun away, a violent force slammed his face into the doorframe.  Dazed, head ringing, as he sank to his knees, he realized Diem had anticipated an escape attempt.  From the edge of his vision, he saw Steve trying to fight back, even while being slammed to the ground by two slight, agile Asian men dressed completely in black.  Dan sourly guessed they were the ones he chased through Waikiki earlier in the evening. 

 

Diem took a fistful of his hair, a gun to his throat.  “Where is the letter, Williams?”

 

If he complied, they would be killed.  Although it seemed hopeless, fighting back was the only option.  He flung out, knocking the weapon aside and attacked Diem.  From the corner of his eye, he noted McGarrett struggling with the ninja men.  One of the gunman shot wild, bullets plowing into the wall.  Twisting around, hoping to help with the other assailants, he dishearteningly saw Steve already on the floor.  A fist slammed into his face and sent him back to the ground again, slightly atop McGarrett.

 

A crease -- red and spreading with blood -- furrowed along Steve’s upper shoulder and onto his neck.  A ricochet must have hit McGarrett, he assessed with ill realization.  His botched attempt to fight back got his friend shot!  Feeling queasy himself, he wasn’t seeing or thinking clearly.

 

“Williams.  Enough.  Give us the letter.”

 

“I don’t have --“

 

Diem kicked him in the ribs.  “This is how I get answers, Williams.  Help your friend to his feet.  You are going to tell us the whereabouts of the papers you took from Phu’s hotel.”

 

“I lied,” he spit out angrily.  “We don’t have any papers.”

 

He was kicked again, this time until he could hardly breathe from the pain and savagery.

 

“Do you remember the papers now?”

 

“I was trying to save our lives!  Even if I knew about them, you’d just kill us now any --  He was kicked with several more blows.  “There are no papers!” he gasped.

 

“Perhaps McGarrett will have a better memory under the influence of my therapy.  We will take you both with us and give you the rest of the night to change your mind.  In a very short time, you will be begging me to listen to anything you can tell me, Williams.”

 

Dan looked at the spreading blood on Steve’s neck.  It had trickled up to his hairline.  It looked bad, but in reality was probably just a crease.  Impossible to tell.  Covertly, his fingers rested on Steve’s neck.  Still a pulse. 

 

An idea came to him -- either the worst mistake of his life, or a brilliant idea that would save his friend.  If Diem believed Steve was dead, would he just leave the body?  Or put a bullet in his head just to make sure?  If he left the body, Steve would be free.  He had to take the risk.  The only other alternatives -- captivity/torture/death -- were unacceptable.

 

“He’s dead.  You killed him.”

 

Diem grabbed Williams by the arm and pulled him up.  Dan fought back and earned another blow to his head, this time it felt like the butt of a pistol connecting with his skull.  He sagged to the wall.

 

Vision grey, turning to black, he struggled to stay conscious.  That was the only way this would work. “He’s dead.”  He tried to shove at them, distract them from checking McGarrett.  “I won’t tell you anything.”  He staggered into Diem, fumbling to keep the attention on him.  “There are -- no papers.”

 

Diem spoke in his own language and shoved Dan toward the men dressed in black.  “You better hope there are, Williams.  Or you will be dead.  Very soon.  But not after a great deal of pain.”

 

Diem stepped to check on McGarrett and Dan attacked him again.  This time, whatever cracked his head was enough to send him spiraling into black oblivion.

 

 

*****

 

 

Cold water in Dan’s face made it seem he was drowning.  Gasping, constricted air made him gag and choke.  Coughing uncontrollably, he hunched over, but restraints on his arms, wrists and ankles -- tight and cutting into his flesh -- halted the involuntary process.  Blinking open dripping eyes, he calmed the initial panic and the coughs and gasps subsided.

 

Breathing heavily, Dan settled down, reason asserting that the limited oxygen intake was due to a gag wrapped rigidly tight across his open mouth and against his tongue.  His hands were so firmly bound he could barely feel his fingers when he flexed them.  Blinking against a bright light in his face, he could see nothing beyond the spotlight in his eyes.

 

Diem and one of the ninja men -- with a bucket -- stepped into the edge of the light.  No sign of Steve.  A measure of relief filtered through the preliminary fear.  They had bought his story about Steve being dead.  They took only him.  Then Steve was -- hopefully -- all right.  If he wasn’t -- well -- he might never know.  He could very well be dead before Steve could find him.  And if Steve was hurt too badly, or if they had finished him off, then the rest of the Five-0 team might never know what happened.  They would certainly never find him -- wherever he was --  in time for a rescue.  Somewhat versed in spy games during his tenure with Five-0, he knew the circumstances now were dire for him.  These guys meant deadly business.   If, however, his plan worked and Steve survived, his friend would be out looking for him right now. 

 

“Williams.  All I need is the information.  The letter.” Diem held what looked like a riding crop or some other kind of long cylinder he kept slapping against his leg in a nervous, threatening gesture.  “I know you have the papers.”  Motioning to one of the others, the assistant removed the gag.  “I need them.”

 

“What’s so important about this letter anyway?”

 

His voice tightened.  “You hold no allegiance to anyone implicated here.  You are merely a policeman.  Your involvement was accidental.”

 

“Your man Phu came to us for a reason,” he pointed out, stalling.  The longer they talked the less time for other, nastier alternatives.   “Obviously, he didn’t trust you.  What’s on the list?”

 

Diem advanced, slapping the tube across Dan’s face, leaving stinging pain on his cheek.  It felt like warm liquid dripping along his jaw and neck.  He ground his teeth together.  Don’t think of the letter, he admonished silently.  It was not his fight, but he was privy to the secret all the same.  Phu had died for the letter -- whatever it meant.  Beyond that, he knew to give in was to certainly die.  Quickly, maybe, but dead was dead and he didn’t want that.

 

Gritting his teeth against the pain, he focused on what he knew.  He trusted Steve, his personal anchor.  Steve trusted him and included him in the secret.  He could not betray Steve’s confidence.  Diem was not getting the location of the letter.

 

“Tell me where you put the list.  Surely it is not worth your life to keep such information safe.”

 

“I don’t know any --“

 

The tube hit him again, this time twice -- once in the face and once on the neck.

 

“The letter.”

 

“No --“

 

Innumerable times the weapon smashed into his head, face or shoulder.  The pain made him cry out at first, but after a time he clenched his jaw, closed his eyes and stubbornly endured the cruelty.  He could not say anything.  Steve trusted him.  Just ignore the pain.  Suffer through it.  Steve would rescue him.  All he had to do was hang on long enough for his friend to come.

 

 

*****

 

Trembling, McGarrett fought against the ropes binding his feet, the cuffs at his wrists, and tried to scream out through the gag over his mouth.  His wounded right arm ached from the strain, but he ignored it.  Freedom was more important than the agony now.

 

No one could hear him.  Secured in a room above the warehouse floor, through the smeared and dirty half-window of an old office, he could see the spectacle on the ground floor without being seen.  Below, in a small storage area, centered in an iris of light, Dan sat tied to a chair, two bright lights pointing at him while the rest of the building was in darkness.

 

Against the knotted cloth in his mouth, though, Steve screamed and cried out for his friend to notice him.   He fought against the handcuffs secured to a metal rail, even though it was painful to his injured arm, his frustration momentarily overpowered his preservation instincts.  Unable to bring any attention to himself, he relaxed his injured limb and with his left hand continued to fight against the bonds in a futile rage against the helplessness.  Danno was being mercilessly beaten and he could do nothing.  When Williams’ head rolled limply to his chest, McGarrett held his breath.  Was he dead or unconscious?

 

Down on the ground floor, Diem checked Dan for a pulse and gestured for the other man to do something.  Water was again thrown into Williams’ face, but there was no response.  Diem turned and trotted up some nearby metal stairs and stopped when he stood next to McGarrett.

 

Steeling himself not to react, he stared at the still figure on the floor below.  No movement.  If he revealed the rage he felt, it would give Diem more of an advantage.  Complete control.  He tightened his nerves, forced himself not to give in to the terrible anguish flooding him.  Only taut control would serve him, although he sensed the Thai officer already had that.  Steve clenched his fists and fought to stabilize -- conceal -- his emotions.

 

“Mr. McGarrett.  Your foolish friend is stubborn.  How stubborn?”  He shrugged at the rhetorical question.  “Will he die before he reveals the location of the papers?”

 

He removed the gag and McGarrett snapped his head around. 

 

“Danno!  Danno!”

 

“He can’t hear you.”

 

“Let him go!  He doesn’t know anything about a list and neither do I.  The man you say is an agent gave me nothing!”

 

“Perhaps,” Diem shrugged.  “Then why did Williams lie and try to convince me you were dead?  To save you from capture.  Because you know –“

 

“Because he was protecting me!”

 

“As you are now protecting him.”  Diem slapped his palm with the bloodstained rubber tube.  “Choices can be treacherous enemies or treasured allies.  Your choice for silence may be the death of one who has chosen to guard you with his life.” 

 

Diem lashed out and the weapon cracked on the metal railing next to Steve’s injured arm.  He barely flinched, steeling himself not to react again.  Was the torture to start on him, now?  He had endured torture before.  Even wounded and already hurting, he could do it again.  If he could sit up here and watch his friend beaten, he could get through anything.

 

Why didn’t he just give in?  What did that letter mean to him against Danno’s life?  Nothing -  except the knowledge that Diem could not let them live. They knew too much.  He had to stall.  As long as they were alive, there was hope.  They had to hold on until they could find a way out of this.  But how long could Williams endure the pain and torture?

 

“There is a reason this simple bludgeon is so effective,” the master torturer continued conversationally.  “No bullets, no loud noises, nothing sophisticated.”  He hit the rail again; the metal reverberated.  “Rubber on flesh -- it tears and stretches and, underneath, it bruises -- even breaks bone if the blow is heard enough.”  He smacked his hand.  “Nerves and muscles bruised, skin ripped.  If the chest is hit hard enough, a blunt object can even induce heart attack.  Did you know that?” 

 

Gulping down nausea, Steve ordered, “Let him go.”

 

Diem slapped his hand again.  “I think not.”

 

McGarrett’s jaw tightened with suppressed rage.  “He knows nothing about a list.”

 

The sickening irony, of course, was that he couldn’t give in even if he wanted to.  Danno hid the papers.  If Steve told their enemy that intelligence, the violence would be solely focused on Williams until he died probably.  This way, at least, maybe Diem would finally give up and believe them.  Doubtful, but it was the only chance they had.  Stick to the story.  But would they live long enough to profit from the ploy?

 

Diem placed the end of the tube on McGarrett’s chin.  “I searched your office.  It is not there.”  He flexed his hand and Steve noted he was wearing the jade triangular ring.  Phu gave you this,” Diem told him.  “What is its importance?”

 

“I don’t know.”

 

Diem struck him in the face with the back of his hand, the ring cutting into his skin, stinging.  Blood trickled down his jaw.

 

Phu talked to you before he died.”

 

“He said nothing.”

 

“You went to his room --“

 

“He had a room key!  Your man was already there and searched the place!”

 

“Not all --“

 

“There is no list!  Let us go!”

 

“I am afraid I can not do that, Mr. McGarrett.  I can not return to my -- friends -- without that list.”

 

“There is no list.”

 

Diem circled, hitting the tube against his palm.  “Do you wonder why he is down there suffering and you are up here?”

 

Steve said nothing, nor did he reveal that was indeed one of the questions in his mind.  Right after how he was going to get loose and kill this monster.

 

“At the construction site, you were injured.  Your friend, he was more upset than I have seen someone in a long time.  Why?”  He paused, but Steve remained mute.  “Because you were hurt protecting him.  You were stabbed.  But in his heart, he was stabbed  with guilt, with the fear that greater harm could have been done to you, because of him.  That is the power you hold over him.”

 

Forcing himself not to react, Steve said nothing, but his mind furiously worked on the memory of tonight? -- it seemed an eternity ago -- when so much happened.  How could casual observation -- over a matter of minutes -- reveal so much about them?  Diem saw right through to their cores it seemed.  Intelligence being the cornerstone of victory over an enemy, Steve’s heart sank at the possibilities -- their susceptibilities already exposed to one who would callously use them against Dan and him.

 

“Of greater interest, I think, is your reaction, McGarrett,” Diem continued silkily.  “You could have tried shooting my man.  You might have hit him.  But your friend would have been hurt or killed.  So, instead, you risked your life to save him.  That showed me something even more valuable.  Your weakness, McGarrett.  You would do anything to save your friend, would you not?  Like give up a list -- papers that mean nothing to you -- to save your friend?”

 

All his concentration went into keeping his voice steady.  Keeping the anger and not the fear foremost in his thoughts.  This monster had them cold.  He knew their deepest vulnerabilities and was exploiting them mercilessly.  They were helpless and exposed with no way out. 

 

“Let him go.  We don’t have your list.”

 

Diem pushed the rubber tube against his cheek.  “Here is the truly amusing part of this amazing tale, McGarrett.  Williams thinks you are dead.  What do you think he would do if he knew you yet lived?  If you were watching him suffer and you did nothing?”

 

It could be a trick.  Or it could be true.  The news put a new and terrible spin on the scenario.  Danno would feel he had nothing to lose believing him already dead.  Something about the story didn’t ring true, though.  Something he couldn’t quite grasp whispered that Diem was tricking him.  How?  Why?  He couldn’t decipher the mentality of his enemy.

 

What he could do was keep stalling.  Keep up the bluff game -- make Diem wonder who had the information and where it was.  That would hold the man’s attention he hoped and distract him from hurting Danno any more.  Covertly, he continually glanced at his friend.  Still no sign of life. 

 

“No response?” 

 

Stick to the story.  Stall.  Bluff.  “I have no papers.”

 

“You lie!”  Roughly replacing the gag, Diem slapped the bludgeon on the rail again. The calm torturer façade was slipping.  “I told you a half-truth, McGarrett.  He wanted me to believe you were dead.  He provoked us into violence to take the attention away from you so we would leave you and take only him.” 

 

Good thing he was gagged, his gasp would have given him away.  What was Danno thinking!  Danno acting as bait to protect him!   It was not hard to imagine or expect.  Injured, weak, wounded -- yes -- Danno would do anything to keep him from further harm.  Anything!  

 

The rubber tube was slapped against his chest.  He coughed, chomping on the gag,  gritting against the pain, against uttering any audible reaction to the hurt that radiated from his breastbone, along his injured arm and through his torso.

 

 “A very foolish man, your young officer.  I think he would do anything to protect you, McGarrett.  Do you think he will die for you?  Slowly?  Painfully?”

 

In an angry, vicious rupture of the cool controller, he slapped the bludgeon against McGarrett’s chest again, this time with bruising force.  Diem savagely promised he would have his information.  One of them would stop being heroic and talk.  Or they would die.  Spinning away, with a swift jog he returned to the warehouse floor. 

 

The bluff had not worked.

 

McGarrett screamed, but no one could hear him through the gag.  NO!  Diem was right.  Danno would do anything to protect him.  Go through any torture,  any pain and even die for him.  He knew it with a certainty as solid as knowing the sun would rise in the morning over Diamond Head.  I’ll tell you!  Don’t hurt him again!  He mumbled through the gag. 

 

Feet and hands  restricted, he could make no movement, no sound that would bring back Diem or warn Danno.  In horror, he watched as they tried to revive Williams again.

 

 

*****

 

Cold water on Williams slowly roused the injured policeman.  Impatient, Diem slapped his face until Dan returned to complete consciousness.

 

“Where is the list, Williams?”

 

“I don’t know,” he answered slowly, thickly, his mouth and cheeks swollen, everything aching.

 

Diem ripped his shirt open, buttons popping to the floor.  “Where is the list?”

 

Dan shook his head.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

Diem stepped out of the center of the lights and looked up at McGarrett.  The devil’s eyes widened in recognition of Steve’s undisguised horror.  Then Diem smiled.  An evil, triumphant expression of complete control and sadistic pleasure derived from a helpless victim’s pain.  In that moment, Steve knew a new level of hatred he had never known harbored within him.  There had been experiences when he hated enough to kill: Korea, Wo Fat’s treachery.  Never like this.  Never believing he could take Diem’s throat in his hands and murder without remorse or hesitation.

 

Mentally crossing the line of justice and law should have shaken him.  In this agonizing moment of torment, it did not cause even a tremor of guilt.  Never believing he was really capable of cold-blooded murder, he knew it now.  Unleashed, he would instantly – righteously – kill Diem in his tracks.  His conscience would feel no remorse in destroying a mad animal.

 

Dan’s short-sleeved white shirt was now ripped and stained with blood.  Flinching, McGarrett agonized as blow after blow rained down on his friend’s  skin.  Diem occasionally paused to question, but after awhile it became a rhythm of violence and punishment rather than interrogation.  In the eerie lights, red, shiny rivulets coursed lines down Dan’s face and chest.  Steve could hear the agonized moans, the subdued cries of pain with each blow. 

 

Steve watched, trying to toughen himself not to react, but failed miserably.  Tears moistening his eyes, he blinked them away, but still recoiled every time a strike connected on flesh with a stomach-churning thud.  Cringing, he again tried to get free, continued to silently beg his friend to pass out. 

 

Trials didn’t build character, they tested character.  Integrity built character.  Strength of spirit helped with the choices you made and built quality and resilience -- aided in enduring trials.  He was witnessing a test of character unequalled by few.  And it was his fault.  Danno was doing this to protect him!

 

For once, he wished his friend was less valiant.  If only Danno had not revealed his weakness to Diem.  Dan couldn’t have known, of course, what he was doing when he lied and pretended Steve was dead.  In that act of heroism, Diem knew Danno’s weakness was his concern for McGarrett.  And Diem knew the reverse.  Otherwise, Steve would not be subjected to this torture -- watching his friend hurt.

 

“Give in!” he screamed through the gag, unable to bear the torment any longer.  “Tell him, Danno!” he shouted in futile command. 

 

No secret was worth this.  They would take their chances and reveal the truth.  Maybe they could still work out a way to survive.  If not, Danno would die anyway from this treatment.  Steve could not endure any more of the torment.  With horror, he watched as Diem roughly took hold of Danno’s hair and shook him until the battered victim coughed.  He couldn’t hear, but saw his officer shake his head.  The rubber hose was brought out again and Steve winced, crying out when the baton thudded against Danno’s chest.  Now Danno was coughing up blood, barely reacting as each strike hit him.  Head bowed, he hardly moved as the tube connected with his face or shoulders or chest.

 

McGarrett cursed himself for the stupid bluff.  Anguish melded into anger.  First at Diem, then Phu.  Then, inexplicably, Danno.  At this rate, Williams was going to be killed.  For what?  Drug games?  Someone else’s problems?  The anger escalated to blinding hot rage.

 

 

*****

 

 

When Diem returned, McGarrett was raggedly distraught, fighting to regain emotional control.  The original plan was useless and painful -- perhaps fatal -- for his friend.  Danno would die protecting him.  It was time for a new plan.  As soon as the tormentor removed the gag he blurted out a confession.

 

“I had the list.  I got it from Phu’s room after we scared away your thug.”

 

Diem smiled with satisfaction.  “Ah.  Then the pain is over for your friend.  Just tell me where it is.”

 

“I don’t know.  I gave it to Danno to hide.  Only he can tell us.  But, he won’t talk to you.”  This was the only possible way to save their lives.  If this bluff didn’t work, they were both dead.  “He’ll talk to me.” 

 

“And you will persuade him to reveal the location?”

 

“Only if you let us live!”

 

Diem smiled.  “This sounds like a trap.”

 

McGarrett scoffed.  “What can we possibly do to threaten you?  Let me talk to him.  I had the list.  I gave it to him to hide.  I don’t know where it is.  He’ll tell me.”

 

“Why?  Why you and not me?”

 

Steve’s sneer was natural.  “Has your torture been effective?  No.  He won’t talk to you.  He’ll tell me.  To save our lives,” he honestly told him.  “A trade.  The papers for our lives.”

 

Diem nodded slowly.  “All right.”

 

 

*****

 

 

Up close, the battered face and body were revolting and Steve hesitated, cringing, momentarily stunned at the despicable thrashing poured out on his friend.  Bleeding from the mouth and one eye, Williams’ other eye was swollen shut.  His breathing was raspy and shallow, his face, and his chest under the ripped shirt,   were puffy and mostly splattered with red. 

 

The anger that had sustained McGarrett for the last while melted away at the inspection of his friend.  Far worse than he imagined, Dan was gravely injured.  Afraid to touch the younger detective, he crouched down and took a deep breath.  Settling his nerves after a moment, confident he could speak without cracking into a  groan, he addressed the injured officer.

 

“Danno – can you hear me?”  He gently shook an arm, afraid to touch his shoulders.  “Danno.  It’s me.”

 

He shifted, then flinched.  “Steve?”  Blood dribbled from the corner of his mouth.  His eyes remained closed, but he tilted his head.  “What – are you here for me?”

 

“Yeah.”  His voice cracked.  “I’m here for you.”

 

“How’d you find me?”

 

Gently, he supported Dan’s face in his hand, cringing at the warm blood slick against his palm.  He gulped down a moan of anguish.  This was the part where he revealed everything Danno had gone through was for nothing.  The words caught in his chest and he cleared his dry throat to build courage.

 

“They brought me here.”

 

One eye opened and Dan tried to focus.  Blood seeped from his nose into his mouth, then oozed obliviously onto his chin.  Finally, he stared at McGarrett.  “I told them you were dead,” he whispered hoarsely.

 

The anger returned in a spike of irritated pride.  How dare Danno try to protect him at the cost of his own safety!  McGarrett could take care of himself!

 

“It didn’t work,” he harshly reported.

 

“Guess not.”

 

Kneeling close, Steve realized there was no one behind them that he could see, anyway.  His injured arm no longer in a sling, he gritted his teeth and moved his right hand to the back of the chair.  Laboriously, pain lancing through his nerves with every movement, he slowly loosened the knots binding his friend’s hands and ankles.  The ropes were slick with blood and he kept his lips closed in a tight line to keep from moaning his disgust or expressing the anguish that vacillated between pity and rage over the ordeal. 

 

“Listen.  I want you to take Diem to the letter.”

 

“No.”

 

“Danno –“

 

“He’ll kill us.”

 

Diem stepped into his line of vision.  “Yes. I will kill him if you don’t.”

 

He hit McGarrett’s injured arm and Steve sagged to his knees, doubled over in pain.  Falling against his friend, he focused beyond the agony enough to continue untying the bonds.  A brief brush of eye contact revealed Danno knew what he was trying to do and was awaiting a signal.  Steve nodded. 

 

He launched up, slamming into Diem and knocking down one of the lights.  The Asian’s head cracked on the floor.  Seeing instantly the man was unarmed, he turned back to his friend.  Williams had collapsed to the floor, struggling just to get up on his hands and knees.  Groaning, Steve grabbed him by an arm, forced him to his feet, pushing him to stumble into the darkness.

They came up against a huge metal door that was chained shut.  Almost completely supporting Williams, he trudged along the wall, searching for an exit.  Finally finding a small access door, he rushed through. 

 

The  air was balmy and fresh compared to the dusty warehouse.  Nearly spent from fatigue, he scrambled over to some abandoned equipment and old metal drums.  Crumpling into the sand, he fought to catch his breath.  Williams lay against a drum, panting, wincing with every breath. 

 

It was still night, but the moon was just coming up and casting a low, subdued, pale illumination off the water next to the old warehouse.  From the view of the harbor and Diamond Head in the distance, he placed them on the mauka side of Sand Island.  

 

“We’ve got to make it to the road, Danno.”

 

“Go for help,” Dan wheezed.

 

Steve wouldn’t even consider more misplaced heroics.  “I won’t leave you here for the sharks.”

 

“You can get away.”

 

“Not without you.”

 

“I can’t even walk,” he whispered.  “You can’t carry me.  Go - while you can.”

 

The cold, heartless, hateful logic was more maddening than the insult of selfless gallantry.  Faced with a chance to save both their lives, there was nothing else he could do.  Forced to choose between his safety and Danno’s uncertain welfare, Steve chose to go with the sure bet.

 

“You’re sticking with me.”

 

Painfully, he labored to his knees, then his feet.  His right arm pulsating with soreness, he used his left arm to pull Williams up.  Spent and aching, Danno moaned, trying to help, leaning on the steel barrels.  As they walked down toward the beach, two black-clad forms came out of nowhere and tackled them.

 

Before Steve could fight back, or even get his bearings, he was leveled with a kick to the face.   Then savagely, Diem battered on Steve’s injured arm with the crop.  With an unexpected show of energy and defiance, Williams pushed away from his captor and folded across McGarrett. 

 

“Stop.  You’ll kill him.”

 

“I think that would be an asset.”

 

“Then you don’t get the papers.”

 

Diem kicked him off McGarrett and, grabbing onto Steve’s collar, pulled him up to his knees.  “That was for the very nasty headache I have, McGarrett.  It would take little provocation to keep going until you bled to death.”

 

“Don’t hurt him,” Williams coughed.

 

Releasing the Five-0 chief, he crossed over to Williams, huddled in the sand.  “I should have saved us all much time and directed my efforts at your superior.  You cannot abide his suffering.  I should have focused on that.  He claims he did not hide the papers, but you did.  Tell me their location now and you both live.” 

 

Glancing at his friend, Dan’s good eye blinked at him, then narrowed.  He knew Steve had told the truth.  Steve hoped he understood it was to save their lives.  Not to diminish what he had gone through.

 

“Tell me!”

 

Williams looked to McGarrett.  Struggling up to his knees, Steve shook his head.  “Only if we go with you.”

 

Dan nodded in agreement.  “You take us both,” he insisted, the demand diminished in impact because it was slurred from his barely moving, cracked and bleeding mouth.  His damaged face registered no expression.  “Both of us go.”

 

“It’s the only opportunity we have to get out of this alive,” McGarrett insisted between clenched jaws. 

 

Straining, he edged on his knees over to Williams.  It was a move for unity and strength for him.  If this didn’t work, they were going to die.  Somehow, it gave him comfort to know it would be side by side.  But he would fight to the last breath to make sure that didn’t happen.

 

“I will leave you here,” Diem countered to Steve.  “If Williams gives me the papers –“

 

“No,” Dan resolved firmly.  “No deal.  You’ll just kill us.  We both go and you release us or no papers.”

 

“You’re going to run anyway,” McGarrett reasonably pointed out.  “We won’t find you.  Releasing us is a bargain.  There would be no where to hide with the deaths of two Five-0 officers on your hands.”

 

“Impossible,” Diem countered harshly.  “Your officers could be searching for you now.  It is too dangerous.”  His eyes narrowed at Williams.  “Unless I keep McGarrett here until you return.”

 

The younger cop shook his head.  “McGarrett’s deal,” he croaked.  “Or no deal.”  Unsteadily, he drew in a deep breath.  “Let us both go.  The only way.”

 

“And how will I receive my list?”

 

Phu’s list,” McGarrett corrected harshly.  “We go back to the Palace tonight and retrieve it.  Your men go in and get it.  Let us go.  If it’s a double cross, you know where to find us.  But once you have the papers, you don’t have to come back to Hawaii again.”

 

At Diem’s signal, the two ninjas appeared and roughly grabbed Dan, then McGarrett, bringing them to their feet.

 

Diem grabbed Dan’s hair and forced him to look at McGarrett.  Placing a knife blade at Steve’s throat, he promised death to both of them if there were any tricks.  McGarrett would be the one to die first -- slowly and painfully. 

 

“Do you understand?”

 

Nodding, Dan agreed.

 

 

*****

 

 

Suspicious still, Diem tied their hands in front of them.  That offered limited mobility, but a better chance of escape or defense than if their hands were bound behind them.  They moved to a big Lincoln parked outside the warehouse.  Williams had to be dragged, unable to stay on his feet.

 

Hustled into the back of the car, Steve was surprised to find Lao already there in the passenger seat.  Williams was flung in beside Steve, then Diem climbed in last.

 

The streets were quiet as they coursed from the island to Nimitz Highway.  Judging it to be around four or five AM, they would meet little in the way of witnesses here or at the Palace.  Normally, there were patrolling guards on the Capitol and Palace grounds.  Because of the escalated violence there last night, maybe there was increased security.  If one of the patrolmen was paying attention, he might spot something suspicious about this big car showing up before dawn.

 

Surreptitiously, he tried to nudge Dan, but the officer had passed out.  His wheezing breaths, bleeding from the mouth, occasional groans and coughs evidenced the seriousness of his injuries.  Broken ribs sliced into a lung maybe?  His face was grey and his skin was cool and clammy. 

 

Desperate fear chilled Steve.  The grave situation was worse than he imagined and, for the first time in the horrible ordeal, he felt he might really lose Dan over this madness.  He couldn’t allow that.

 

“We have to get him to a hospital.”

 

Diem scoffed.

 

“He’s badly hurt.”  The despair made him queasy with dread and helplessness.   “If he dies, you get nothing!  Take him to a hospital!”

 

“If he dies before I get those papers,” Lao interjected, turning to stare at him, “Then you both die.”

 

“Then it’s in both our best interests for him to live.  Take him to a doctor.”  He shook Dan’s arm.  No response.  Another plan came to mind and he knew it would be unpopular for all concerned, but it might serve all their ends.  “Let me talk to him.  When we get to the Palace, let me ask him where the papers are hidden.  He’ll tell me and you take him to the hospital.  When I know he’s going to be cared for, I’ll take you to the letter.”

 

The car slowed and Lao ordered his driver to park it at the curb outside the walled square of the Palace grounds. 

 

”You take us to the papers.  I don’t care which one of you.  That matters not.  I want the letter now.”

 

Steve gently shook Williams’ arm.  “Danno.  Can you hear me?”

 

He nodded, head leaning against the side of the car, eyes closed.

 

“Tell me where the papers are.  I can take it from here.  We’ll take you to a hospital and then I’ll give them the papers.”

 

Dan shook his head.  He barely opened one eye.  “If you know, they’ll torture you,” he whispered.

 

Grinding his teeth, McGarrett restrained a growl in livid reply.  He was trying to save his friend’s life and Danno wanted to be a hero!

 

“Tell me where the papers are, Danno.  Tell me.  I want you safe,” he whispered sharply.

 

Williams shook his head.  “I’ll take them.  They have to let you go.”

 

“No.” 

 

Angry beyond words, Steve fumed, trying to come up with a new plan.

 

Lao ordered the driver to continue and they pulled into the grounds, the Lincoln parking in the back by the banyan tree.  Diem gave Lao a set of keys that Steve recognized as his own.  Lao went to unlock the back doors of the Palace. 

 

Around the corner of the building, Steve noted a security guard step into view, then cautiously dip back behind the wall.  He had spotted the Lincoln. 

 

Almost in the instant he thought it, Steve brought up his elbow and smashed it into Diem’s nose.  From the pain of moving his injured arm he nearly blacked out, but he used the agony to push into the smaller Oriental.  It got Diem out of the way and Steve hooked his bound hands around the throat of the driver, yanking his head back and snapping his neck.  Unable to get his hands free fast enough, he knew Diem was struggling to get at a weapon in his jacket.

 

Dan lunged over and grabbed Diem’s hands with both of his.  Steve finally looped off the driver and slugged Diem with his fists.  Then he opened the door and pushed Diem out.  Dan shoved the man to the ground and McGarrett tumbled on top of him.

 

Lao returned to see about the commotion, drawing a weapon.  The security guard ordered him to halt and Lao fired.  Two more shots and Lao was thrown to the ground.  Diem punched Steve’s wounded arm with a fist and kicked him out of the way. 

 

Shots zinged above him, directed at Diem.  Steve’s head slowly cleared of the throbbing agony.  The Oriental grabbed the limp Williams to use as a shield and stumbled toward the knotted trunks of the banyan tree.   Dan twisted out of Diem’s reach and the criminal made a lone dash for the cover of the tree.

 

Steve stayed on the ground, catching his breath.  Calling out, he identified himself and ordered the security guard to get HPD back up and an ambulance.  Shuffling up on his good elbow, he crawled over to Williams.  Placing both hands on his friend’s neck, he sighed with surprised relief that Danno still lived. 

 

Utterly exhausted, he rested his head on Dan’s shoulder, aware of guards coming to check on the dead man, asking what happened and how he was.  It was hard to focus on anything but the pain of his own body and the indescribably anguish inside emanating from Danno’s injuries.  With difficulty, he focused on duty.

 

“There was a man -- slight, thin -- Oriental . . . .”  he gestured off toward the banyan tree.

 

“I thought I saw some kind of shadow moving around in there, Mr. McGarrett.  But when I went back to check, there was no one there.”

 

“Get some help.  Search,” he tiredly ordered.

 

Then the aftermath was a blur of motion and sound.  His world closed to everything but the shallow, raspy breathing he heard from the chest beneath his ear.  Danno was still alive.  Everything was okay.

 

 

*****

 

 

When McGarrett walked into the hospital room, it seemed unnaturally bright.  Everything was so white, except the visible splotches of bruised skin on the face and arms of the man in the bed.  Most of Dan’s face was covered with bandages, but what he could see made his lip curl in distaste.

 

Natural sympathy warred with the exasperation and resentment still simmering inside.  Danno had done this for him, to save him.  He would have done the same in his friend’s place, of course, but that fact did not mitigate the crime.  Didn’t Danno understand this was far worse than his own torture?  Watching his friend suffer and edge closer to death with each painful blow had been far more difficult than enduring it himself.  Indescribably worse.

 

Then there had been the outright disobedience!  Danno had argued with him -- defied him!  In the past, they had debates and even angry exchanges of strong words.  Never had his second-in-command refused to follow a direct order!  Steve had been trying to save his friend’s life!  Then, so had Dan.  And Danno would rather suffer and die than let him take control of the situation.

 

HE was the head of Five-0!  It was a matter of wounded pride.  McGarrett kept telling himself, in a practical sense, obedience was essential.  Any officer in Five-0 needed to obey him implicitly, without question.  Danno, of all people, had broken that faith.  To save him.  That made the loss of control all the more bitter.  It was Steve’s responsibility to take care of his people!  Especially Danno!  Irish pride, he admitted without shame.  One of his strongest and sometimes more irritating traits to others.  His pride sometimes got him into trouble.

 

Choices made in the course of events robbed him of his duty.  Danno deprived him of his natural obligation.  It was selfish and prideful and he recognized those propensities even as he fumed at his friend for what he saw as a betrayal. 

 

Unsure how to approach his friend, he leaned against the wall and stared at the woeful figure laboriously breathing from  bruised lungs and fractured ribs.  Before he came in, he received a complete diagnosis from the doctor.  Steve’s own injuries sore, but minor in comparison, McGarrett saved his mental energies for sorting through the complexities of sacrifice, terrible choices and painful friendship.

 

Some of the injuries were even more directly his fault.  If he had acted sooner to deal with Diem, he could have saved Dan a lot of pain and injury from that second round of terrible torture. 

 

Hating to linger in the hospital, hating the reason he was here this time, Steve knew he could accomplish nothing more at the office. Energy spent, he had come to a natural point of exhaustion.  He could not go home – the solitude only brought on specters in the shadows and nightmares when he slept.  Vivid, horrific dreams of the torture, of Diem, of Dan’s suffering and  bleeding form impaled in the bright lights.  As he had been in real life, Steve was helpless in the nightmares – unable to help his friend or effect a rescue. 

 

Easing into a chair, he protectively held his slinged arm and talked softly, asking Dan to wake up.  This was the second day in the hospital, he impatiently told his friend.  It was time to come back to the real world.

 

In truth, it was probably better that Williams remained safely under sedation.  When he awoke, the pain would be terrible.  Sighing, he knew he should leave and get on with his own business.  Two days of chaos had been swirling at the office and he needed to return there to get a handle on Five-0. 

 

What a horror it must have been for Chin Ho Kelly and Duke Lukela yesterday.  Both received wake up calls from HPD explaining that the top two officers in Five-0 were in the hospital!  There had been a break in at the Palace and the Five-0 offices were wrecked!

 

Chin had been by last night when Steve was awake and out from under the influence of pain- killers.  He had stayed the extra night in the hospital to catch up on his rest and frequently visit Williams’ room.  In a way, he was impatient to talk to his friend.  On the other hand, he was reluctant to discuss what they had done, the wrong choices they made, the pain caused unintentionally.

 

The door opened and Chin motioned for him.  McGarrett took a last look at his friend and joined Kelly in the hall.

 

“The Governor wants to talk you as soon as you can, Steve.  The Thai Consul General is making a lot of noise about having those bodies released.”

 

“Let him squawk,” McGarrett snapped, stalking down the hall.

 

He had enough to worry about without politicians getting down his collar.  The whole dirty business with the drug smugglers was now up in the air since Lao and Diem  were crooked parties in the crimes.  What worried him was that Diem was still at large.  There was an HPD guard at Danno’s door, but Diem was cruel and ruthless.  If he wanted the papers bad enough, he might make a try for them again. 

 

That was the last and worst failure.  After all of this, no one but Danno knew where the incriminating evidence was!  At least he had the jade ring left by the dying Phu.  No clue what importance it held, but he was in possession of it -- part of Lao’s personal affects.

 

 

*****

 

 

Waking to the muted, soft glow of a sunset sky, Dan stared out the window for a time, thinking through the nebulous thoughts and feelings filtering slowly through his confused mind.  Things didn’t look quite right.  And he felt slightly detached and removed. 

 

Pain killers.  They always made him feel funny.  Everything looked a little off-center and blurry.  He reached up, realizing one eye was covered in a bandage.  Carefully touching his face, he discovered several bandages lacing his face.

 

Torture.  He had been beaten and bloody.  Remembering the pain was hazy, but he knew if he moved much it would return in a restrained form -- a recovery-memory of the terrible misery inflicted in the beatings.

 

Fortunately, much of the detail and hurt was eased by time and sedation.  He knew there had been some desperate moments.  Steve was mad at him.  For not giving Diem the secret.  And there was a fight in the car.  Glancing around the room, he was disconcerted that McGarrett was not here.  What did that mean?  Did Steve make it?   They were fighting with Diem and the Asian was trying to get a weapon.  They all fell out of the car.  Then blank.  What if he killed Steve!  Everything he had done was to save McGarrett!  Then the choices he made; trying to trick Diem, the torture, the deals -- had been for nothing!  Instead of saving his friend, he had killed him!

 

Fumbling for the call button, he plunged it frantically.  A nurse finally arrived and he demanded to see McGarrett.  His words were a little slurred and he could hardly sit up.  He didn’t make much of an impressive authority figure, but he hoped the desperation in his tone was enough.  When she told him there was no McGarrett here waiting for him or asking about him, he panicked. 

 

Scrabbling for the phone, he clumsily dialed the office -- trying several times before his mind, eye and fingers could coordinate enough to place the call.  No answer!  What had happened!  Did Diem wipe out their whole staff?  Unable to think clearly, he couldn’t remember when Diem and Lao had taken them to the Palace.  Day or night?  Who would have been there?  Did they find anything?  Did they kidnap Steve?  His imagination ran riot over the gruesome possibilities.

 

Shoving the phone down, he thought for a moment, trying to decide on his next move.  Call Steve’s place.  Maybe he was recovering still.  The thought receded the panic slightly.  Steve’s arm had been in bad shape.  The fight would have caused more damage maybe.  Hands shaking, he started dialing again, arduously making his hand and fingers work in tandem with his memory.

 

A strong, steady hand settled over his.  “Danno.”

 

The phone dropped and, with a groan, he twisted around, falling back on the pillow in relief.  “Steve.  I worried – thought -- you were dead.”

 

Keeping a grip on the hand, McGarrett sat on the bed and offered a poignant half-smile.  “I’m fine.  Take it easy.”  Assessing him for a moment, he locked onto Dan’s uncovered eye.  “You’ll be okay, too.  Just some recovery time.  Everything’s okay now.”  He released the hand, but patted his arm.  “You’ll be all right.”

 

Dan nodded, accepting the diagnosis with unquestioned faith.  It felt good to have Steve in charge again.  He was always the strong one, the anchor, and the stalwart and steady rock to lean on. 

 

“You’re really okay?”  Steve’s arm was bandaged and there were some fresh bruises and cuts on his face.

 

McGarrett frowned with concern.  “Yeah.”

 

Relief slowly settled into his fuzzy senses and he leaned back, feeling the need to confess and talk.  Make everything right.  The drugs, he knew, even as he rambled.  “I was scared for a while.”

 

McGarrett’s face darkened.  “So was I.  Do you know how close you were to getting killed?”

 

The glower, the sharp, hard tone was enough to tell him it was way too close.  Edges of anger tinged the look he received, and he knew all was not forgiven.  His choices had been met with resistance all along from Steve.  Now that they were out of danger he shouldn’t expect that to fade away like the tide.  Failures and inefficiencies were not forgiven easily by McGarrett.

 

“It didn’t work out quite the way I hoped.  They were supposed to leave you --“

 

“So you could be the lone target?”  Now the anger was unbridled.  “I know how to handle situations like this, Danno!  You wanted to be a hero and you could have been killed!  That was bad enough but -- you know how twisted they were?  Did you know they made me watch what they did to you?”

 

Dan winced, shaking his head.  Steve’s ire and disturbance were startling.  For the first time, Dan had second thoughts about his decisions.  All along he had been acting in the only possible way -- protecting his friend.  The opportunity to step up as target was his responsibility.  He knew the secret.  It should not have been shouldered off onto his superior.  No, he was right, but Steve sure didn’t see it that way.

 

“I did what I thought was right,” he croaked. 

 

“I’m the one in charge!” came the instant counter-claim, not even acknowledging the comment.  “It’s my responsibility --“

 

“This isn’t the Navy,” Dan reminded, irked at the attitude.  “Just because you’re the boss doesn’t mean you have to take the blame or the punishment or whatever.”  Stubbornly resolved he made the correct choices, he defiantly maintained his stance.  Worn out, he leaned his head into the pillow.  “I had to do what I thought was best.”

 

McGarrett dropped his face in his hand.  “I know.”

 

Dan touched his arm.  “Sorry.”

 

Nodding, McGarrett sighed, lifting his head to study Dan.   “I think that should be my line.”  He shook his head, mutely conceding the untenable dilemma.  “Please, don’t ever do that again.  I can take care of myself.” 

 

Pointedly looking at the sling, he commented, “I don’t know about that.”  He meant it as a wry observation, but the sober reality of events weighed the words with gravity.  “We just have to hope it never happens again.”

 

“It better not,” McGarrett warned sternly. 

 

Perhaps it was the medication that pushed him beyond reasonable limits.  Maybe Pentothal was in the painkiller.  Or the medication confused and distorted barriers and reason.  “I can’t promise that,” he spoke from his heart, not his head. 

 

Even in his diminished capacity he knew he had just crossed a line.  Steve’s face-hardened and his eyes took on an indefinable frost.  Not famous for stubbornness like his boss, Dan still retained a measure of doggedness that was resolute.  Tenaciously, he would not back down.

 

Stiffly, McGarrett stood.  “We’ll take this up later.  Right now I need to know what you did with those papers Lao wanted.”

 

It was a surprise to think after all the pain the mess was still unresolved. 

 

“What day is this?”

 

“Thursday.”

 

“And everything at the Palace happened Tuesday night, right?”

 

“Right.”

 

“Call the King Kamehameha Club.”

 

Slightly perplexed, McGarrett responded, “I had a message from Mr. Higgins.  I wondered what that was about.”

 

“Higgins.  Ask him if he received a package from us that he doesn’t understand.”

 

Cocking his head, a little awed, a little surprised, wryly, McGarrett coughed.  “You mailed it to Higgins?”

 

Closing his eye, settling tiredly against the pillow, Williams explained those frenzied moments in the office when the enemies cornered McGarrett.  He had no time to hide it beyond their ability to find.  He had to get it safely away.  When they searched the place, it was probably something they handled -- threw around -- believing it to be part of the mail.  If Jenny found it the next day, she would have mailed it.

 

Chuckling, McGarrett patted his arm.  “Well done, Danno.”

 

Dan opened his eye, pleased Steve’s irritation had been replaced by a glow of pride.  Smiling, he felt like everything had been worth it in that moment of open praise.

 

“Bet Lao and Diem will be mad.”

 

“Lao’s dead.  Diem --  Displeasure wrinkled his brow.  “ -- got away.”

 

The instantaneous dread he felt flush through every nerve must have registered on his face. 

 

Leaning close, Steve gripped onto his arm.  “There’s a guard in the hall.  I won’t let anything happen to you.”

 

“He could come after you --“

 

“I’ll watch out.”

 

“I hope so.”

 

“I have a whole police force at my beck and call, Officer Williams.  I’ll be fine.”  Patting his arm, he seemed reluctant to leave, but slowly backed away.  “Rest.  Don’t worry.  I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

 

He slipped away. Dan frowned, now unable to close his eye.  Diem was still out there.  And still wanted those papers, he was sure.

 

 

*****

 

 

Renewed admiration for his friend’s skills and cunning nearly overshadowed his exasperation at Dan’s protective instincts.  Steve didn’t like being hemmed by anybody.  His friend’s motives were good, but restricting.  And dangerous.  What if Diem, or some other thug, threatened them?  Danno would not back down and think of his own safety.

 

In the hospital room, he had nearly snapped out that Dan was not the only one who could watch his back.  Glad he had restrained that comment, he knew Dan was the one he trusted most and wanted at his back, but now could not really trust as far as his own welfare.  This had nothing to do with his pride or his stubborn attitude as Danno must think.  It had everything to do with Williams’ safety and how Steve would be unable to handle the loss of this friend. 

 

The thought that he could not keep Dan from throwing himself into danger for him was appalling.  He had known that for years.  Had seen it in action.  Never so abundantly or  revoltingly as two nights ago when he watched his friend tortured.  What was he going to do about this inexplicable impasse?

 

For now, nothing.  Thankfully, Danno was under guard, safely ensconced in the hospital.  Diem was probably on a boat to Thailand by now.  That didn’t mean he was out of reach.  Steve already had authorities all over the Pacific looking for the criminal.  And when he found him -- he didn’t know what he was going to do.  How could he avenge what had happened to Danno?  What Diem made him feel as he watched his friend beaten?  There was no fit punishment for the monster, but he would have to settle for the due process of the law.  Satisfaction would need to come in seeing the man behind bars.  Or maybe he would just let the Thai authorities have him.  That brought an unholy glow of pleasure to his thoughts.  Imagine what they would do to a former cop turned drug smuggler!

 

Now, Steve had work to do.  First of all -- retrieving that all important and bothersome package from Higgins.

 

 

*****

 

 

Unable to fight the fatigue and the emotional weariness, McGarrett fell asleep on his office sofa.  Too many nights had been spent here – catching cat-naps during intense cases (sometimes it seemed Five-0 had nothing but intensity!).  Now, he stayed here as an escape.  Strangely, this was where the crucial drama had unfolded and he and Danno were captured.  But it was here he felt centered and secure.  Here, the nightmares that still occasionally plagued him – the vulnerability, the helplessness of the dream-state-reliving of the torture scenes – were mitigated.  It was all just in his head, of course, because this was just a building like any other.  It was, however, his power core, his symbol of everything connected with Five-0.  Being here offered a sanctuary nowhere else could.  Here, he was in complete control.  There were no monsters now – no threats.  Here, he was not helpless or out of his depth.

 

He didn’t wake up until he smelled coffee from the front and emerged to find most of his staff already at work.  Neither the secretaries, nor Chin or Duke, commented on his rumpled appearance, nor that he was wearing the same suit as yesterday.

 

It occurred to him he sometimes -- in his obsessive periods -- needed a caretaker. Danno’s role.  More than in that capacity, McGarrett missed his friend here, adding support, strength and practical cop skills to a tough case.

 

Grabbing coffee and a donut, he received reports on the findings at the shipping company.   Duke and Chin found manifests of shipments and those were being checked for drugs.  What interested Steve more were several private residences.  Places where Diem could be hiding?  That was more his focus than smuggling.

 

Physically, he had to pace himself, but emotionally, being out with his men -- busting drug smugglers and members of Diem’s gang gave him incredible satisfaction.  For two days he mostly lived at the office researching leads, or traveled with his men as they hit ASIAN PACIFIC’s holdings and properties.   Other Five-0 work was ignored while he interrogated suspects and combed the Islands searching for Diem’s whereabouts.

 

Most nights he stayed at the office; late, alone.  Secure with a constant guard outside the Palace and in his offices, he felt no threats for him.  He felt only a river of lava-hot hatred for the man who made him suffer -- injured his friend.  Getting Diem became his life.

 

When the office door opened, he absently told the officer he wasn’t ready to leave yet.

 

“Don’t you think it’s about time?”

 

Startled, he looked up, surprised to see Dan Williams slowly -- with the use of a cane -- crossing the room.  Instinctively, he jumped up to help his friend.  With a solicitous arm on Dan’s elbow, he helped the still injured man into a chair.

 

Just looking at the swollen, discolored face was painful.  He knew it showed on his expression and Dan winced at his reaction.  Steve hovered close only for a moment, then backed away.

 

“What are you doing here?”  It was an abrasive indictment instead of a caring inquiry.  Anger surfaced quicker than the compassion and pity.  “You’re not fit to be out of the hospital.”

 

“Look who’s talking,” was the wry comeback.  “I had to come and see how things were going.” 

 

The heavy bandages were gone, leaving red scars, welts and small butterfly bandages along his face and neck.  It was a slight improvement, but McGarrett chose to stare at his hands rather than study the glaring injuries that condemned him in every bruise and abrasion. 

 

“Slow.  Nothing I wanted to worry you about.”  He moved to stare out the closed doors of the lanai.

 

“You’ve shut me out,” Dan accused soberly, quietly. 

 

“You’re recovering --“

 

“It doesn’t mean I’m going to be benched on this, Steve.  I need in on this, too.”

 

Suffering from a partial blind spot to his own Irish pride, McGarrett was again reminded that his young colleague had his own capacity for pride.  And it was wounded now.

 

“There’s nothing you can do,” he honestly replied, turning to face his friend.  It’s legwork and the usual details.  You’re better off catching up on your rest.”

 

Better off out of the office?  Out of his sight?  He had been so focused on revenge against Diem, he had ignored what Dan would be going through.  He shut away consideration for the person who, in the back of his mind, brought this upon them.  It had been Williams’ choice to protect him that cascaded into torture and pain.

 

Uncharitable resentment simmered under the surface.  It was insane to feel such emotions, but he did.  Williams suffered to protect him and Steve could not forget that.  He WAS shutting out the person closest to him; the one who mattered most, who should be treated with open affection and consideration.  The torture had twisted everything around.  He didn’t really understand it, or know how to change the unjustified resentment he felt.

 

“You’re pushing me away,” came the incredulous, hurt allegation.

 

“I’m protecting you.”

 

The words cut between them like a chasm.  The irony recognized too late to call back the tide of haunted imaginings.  Steve remembered some of his initial thoughts after the terrible ordeal.  He could not trust Danno anymore, because his friend would do anything to save him.  There were no boundaries anymore.  To keep him safe, did he have to drive him away?  That was not only counter-productive, it was too painful to even consider.  Danno belonged here, beside him, no matter what the dangers.  But it was too soon.  He couldn’t bring his friend back yet, not to face the dangers of this investigation.  Maybe, he thought with a stab of self-honesty, he could not share in the vengeance.  This had to be his purge and his vendetta. 

 

Without saying a word, Dan carefully came to his feet and plodded out the door.

 

Steve sank into his chair, his head in hands, utterly miserable.  Had he turned into a monster he had seen a hundred times in this office?  The lawless renegade who could not control his actions?  Not his nature.  Neither was driving away his closest friend. 

 

Did he feel there was no place for Danno until Diem was caught and punished?  Certainly, he didn’t want his friend exposed to any threats until the criminal was dead or behind bars.  In his guilt-ridden mind, did he feel he had to deal with Diem first, before he could really face Dan?  Be free of the pain caused on all sides?  Danno had made the decisions based on his concern for him.  Wasn’t he the cause of all this?  Absolution could only come, then, by destroying their enemy.  Unable to mentally or emotionally heal until he caught Diem?  Until he killed Diem?  While no longer washed in the red-hot anger when Danno was being tortured, Steve still felt incredible hatred toward Diem.  Enough to murder him now if he saw him again?  The answer this time, was a cold, but passionate, affirmative. 

 

That was one of Steve’s residual scars.  He believed, for the first time in his life, he was capable of murder.  And that scared him almost as much as what had happened.

 

He didn’t know the answers, only that he was miserable and wanted the suffering -- the emotional kind this time -- to end.  He had to find Diem for that.  And kill him?  That remained to be seen.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

Dejected, Dan slowly walked to his car, upset about the turn of events.  In those horrendous, pain-wracked moments of torture, he had fought to keep a grip of his tongue and emotions.  It had been a challenge against unspeakable torment, but always in the back of his mind, he knew he not only had to answer to himself, but ultimately McGarrett.  Steve would never respect him if he gave in. 

 

Long ago -- eons ago it seemed – when Steve had been injured in the construction site.  Hurt saving Dan.  He wished he could win an argument with his friend.   In a way, he had, with  bloody and harmful results.  It did not feel like a victory on any side.  With that realization, came the awful, dawning trepidation that Dan had inadvertently turned Steve against him.  Resentment –was that what he read on Steve’s face?  Bitterness because of the pain he had brought upon them both?

 

Up there in the office, Steve appeared to be vacillating between wanting to clear the air with

Dan and pretending it didn't happen.  The bad choices, the torture, pain and the misguided motivations behind the torment.  Acceptance of the frustration in Steve -- and the protectiveness of Dan . . . .  What had he done?  In saving Steve, had he destroyed their friendship?  And   Steve’s trust in him?

 

 

 

*****

 

 

Typically, McGarrett was at the office late into the night.  He had the letters -- four pages of handwritten script in Thai.  It had been translated and returned to him, but it made no sense.  So he studied the original text.  It had been examined for secret, invisible marks, for familiar phrases, for anything suspicious.  Nothing. Even using the key Oscar sent, it made no sense.  And on every page were small little triangles.

 

 

p

 What did they mean?  Staring at them, he realized they looked like the jade ring given him by the dying Phu.  Retrieving the packet of belongings from Lao, he brought the ring into the light and studied the gem.

 

p

 

 

Then he studied the little triangles on the papers.  Shining his desk lamp on the ring, he moved it over the letters and symbols on the paper.  The distorted prism of the jewel altered the symbols into different letters!

 

Quickly, he used the ring to decode every symbol.  Interestingly, this was clearly in English.  The letters formed a message he could easily read.  It named Diem and Lao as double agents working for the drug smugglers in Thailand.  It listed cities -- obvious ports for moving the drugs.  And the name of a company.  ASIAN PACIFIC SHIPPING.

 

Scanning through a telephone book, he found their offices were on Sand Island.  Chilled, he wondered if it could be this easy.  No, the warehouse he and Danno were held at was abandoned -- a clear derelict.  But, ASIAN PACIFIC was probably very close.  Would Diem be dumb enough to be there?  Probably not, but their records might be useful.

 

Late night, it was hard to find an Assistant DA willing to work on a search warrant.  Then he made a few more calls to find a judge willing to sign one on such flimsy evidence.  Closing near midnight, Chin and Duke returned by the time he had the warrants in hand.

 

Only a security guard patrolled the closed gates of ASIAN PACIFIC.  McGarrett shoved through with little explanation and HPD officers combed the offices, seizing documents and searching for drugs.  No luck on the drugs, but there was evidence, in a back room that someone was living there.  Diem?  Was he dumb enough to still be in Hawaii?

 

Moving to the window, McGarrett studied the scene around the curve of the island.  A dark shape loomed not far away.  Was that the abandoned warehouse?  He had not been back.  Five-0 and HPD crime teams had been there to scour it for clues.  He had not returned.  He couldn’t, he realized.  As he understood and recognized that primal fear of reliving the pain, he wondered if Diem was counting on that?  Was Diem hiding at the scene of the crime -- the last place McGarrett would go -- until he could get off this rock?  And where were the ninja men?  Also at large.  Were they with Diem?

 

No need for him to go personally.  He wouldn’t.  He ordered Chin to take a few men and carefully search the warehouse.  Feeling  edgy at making small steps forward, he itched to find Diem.  Deciding he was too impatient to wait, he joined Kelly’s team.

 

The moment he entered the warehouse he knew this was a mistake.  Some treacherous necessity to experience it all again forced him to continue.  As if this was a punishment.  Or a  catharsis. 

 

As the others searched, Steve gravitated to the chair in the small room.  Sunlight barely glowed through filthy windows.  Blood stained ropes were strewn on the floor.  Dried blood was smeared on the chair and pooled on the floor.  His stomach curled and he gulped down a ripple of nausea.  He glanced up, into the greyness of the upper level.  Where he had been bound.  Where he sat, helpless, watching the unspeakable torture.  Observing, in rage, the center of anguish -- the nucleus of an unraveling world.

 

Near one of the light stands was the infamous rubber tube that Diem had used as his instrument of torture.  Bile rose in his throat as a rising anger hit him in such a powerful wave his body trembled.  Rage that this had happened to his friend!  Hot fury that Danno had allowed the torment to continue! 

 

In a blinding wash of wrath he picked up the rubber bludgeon and hurled it at the wall.  The resounding crash echoed in the quiet building.  Although several HPD men were there checking the scene of the crime along with Chin and him, it was all so quiet.  As if they all felt the pall of tragedy here.

 

Chin walked over to the rubber tube and studied it without comment.  Still shaking, Steve stalked out, seeking fresh ocean air and the bright Hawaiian sunlight.  Hoping the clean and soothing natural wonders of his Islands could drive away the demons within. 

 

 

*****

 

 

Despite the crush of personal trauma he had lived through in the last few days, there was other business McGarrett had to address.  Several other crimes were in varying stages of completion and McGarrett directed Duke and Chin in their duties, also meeting with representatives of the FBI and CIA concerning Diem, Lao and the drug activities that were now attracting international attention in law enforcement circles.

 

Arriving in the office late in the evening was nothing unusual.  When he flipped on the lights this time, though, McGarrett froze.  Nightmare incarnate solidified before him.  Diem held a knife to Dan’s throat. 

 

“The papers, McGarrett.”

 

That choice was easy.  The next part was the problem.  A repeat of the agonizing torment they had lived through once.  How could this be happening again?  Because he had not been thinking clearly – had not anticipated the desperation and ruthlessness of their enemy.  A shortcoming that might prove fatal. 

 

“And if I give them to you, you’ll just walk away and let us live?”

 

“Yes.  All I want are the papers.”

 

“That’s a lie,” Dan countered.  “You have to kill us.”

 

Diem pressed the weapon so hard against his neck that Williams started to choke as blood dripped down to his collar.  Suddenly he twisted, pulling free of the man.  Steve drew his gun and fired as Diem dove for cover behind the desk.  Dan rolled toward the long table. 

 

When he saw Diem pull a gun from behind his back, Steve grabbed Williams and tugged him back.  Pushing over the table, he huddled there behind the solid protection. 

 

Diem fired, splintering the wood, Steve hovered over Williams, shielding him from the airborne shards.  Bullet holes were raking along the length of the table and McGarrett sensed it meant their adversary was moving.  If he was wrong, it would be an instantly lethal mistake, but weighing the risk with the option of ridding them of the dangerous foe, he acted. 

 

First, he pushed Williams firmly down.  “Stay here.”

 

The command was absolute.  Implicitly demanding no heroics, no questioning of his authority.

 

Blood dripping along the fresh knife wound at his neck, Williams gave a curt nod.  The expression on his face clearly conveyed he understood the urgency in McGarrett; grasped the unspoken mandates beyond this moment.  This was Steve’s chance to balance out justice – claim back that indefinable commodity between them that Diem had stolen.

 

Crawling low on the floor to the end of the table, Steve took a breath, then whipped around the end of the table and started firing where he thought Diem might be located.  With a cry, the enemy flew back over the top, then behind the desk, his weapon flung away. 

 

Steve charged over, gun ready.  When Diem struggled to his feet, McGarrett tackled him.  Instinctive, personal wrath carried him into battle – not logic, not the knowledge he was the only one armed.  This was a grudge that suddenly demanded individual, hand-to-hand violence.

 

Diem was a slight man and McGarrett should easily best him in hand-to-hand combat.  His injured arm was a handicap, and might have evened the odds.  But McGarrett’s rage escalated with this proximity to the monster that created so much pain.  His power surged and he wailed into the clash with ferocious fervor.  As he had desired, Steve’s enemy was within his grasp.  Now was the chance to mete out justice and kill Diem.

 

Managing to fight free away, Diem struggled toward the fallen knife, grasping it in his hand.  Mercilessly, Steve emptied his revolver -- four shots into the Asian -- before he finally registered the clicking of the hammer on the vacant chambers.

 

Sitting on his knees, Williams stared at him in amazement.

 

Numb inside, Steve could only shake his head, unsure what to say.  Uncertain how he felt.  Except for the glimmer of completion pressing into his mind, like a soothing wave.  He had killed a monster.  While never feeling good about ending a life, this time he felt no remorse.  This creature deserved to die.  Kill or be killed.  No choice.  The justification did not mitigate the tremendous and unprofessional relief that there would be no more threats from this enemy.  He had done the only thing possible after what Diem did to them.  Murder? In his heart, yes?  Justifiable and defensive homicide?  Probably.  Right now, the definitions didn’t interest him.

 

Helping Williams to stand, he held onto his friend, thankful to have him alive.

 

Dan seemed in awe.  “You all right?”

 

Sore, McGarrett nodded, exhausted.  “You?”

 

“Yeah.  Thanks.”

 

Inadequate words.  Unbelievable relief.  Standing side by side, the two officers stared at the vanquished foe. Even without the true ability to read minds, McGarrett could judge what his friend was thinking and feeling – emotions parallel to his own. 

 

It had been a long and torturous road in the very literal, as well as symbolic sense.  They had been to Hell and back.  This monster had taken them there and now it was over.  Glancing at his friend, he wondered if that could ever be said.  If they could ever feel – with any finality – that this was pau.  Until a few days ago he never imagined the depths of desperation, loyalty, love and sacrifice within his friend.  Intellectually, he knew Williams’ devotion was absolute.  In an every-day duty aspect, he saw the allegiance frequently; the early mornings, the late nights, Dan’s willingness to do anything for him.

 

Anything.  No concept of that word managed to have any real impact until this week.  When Steve realized Dan would literally die for him if necessary.  That knowledge chilled him, shook him, humbled him to the core. 

 

Dan was willing to throw his life away.  Not for police work.  Not even for McGarrett’s stubborn,

unbendable principles. The life dearest to him was nearly ended because of the level of friendship Dan felt for him.

 

“My turn to save you,” McGarrett admitted shakily.  “Just don’t give me any more opportunities, please.”

 

Slowly nodding, Dan tried to relieve Steve of the revolver.  Noting his hand was shaking, McGarrett allowed the weapon to drop to the floor.  He wiped sweat from his face, then clenched his fist to stop the trembling.  One hand still held onto Williams’ shoulder, and Dan patted it.

 

He placed a handkerchief on Dan’s neck wound.  “I’ll call for a lab team,” McGarrett informed numbly, woodenly moving to the phone, grateful for something prosaic to do in the aftermath of terror.

 

 

*****

 

 

Through the open door of his office, McGarrett watched Kelly and Lukela discussing something as they read off a message on the telex machine.  One of the clerks entered from the far hallway and delivered a file to an officer talking to a secretary.  Dan Williams emerged from his cubicle to confer with Malia at her desk.

 

A week after the horrifying events of Diem and his Golden Triangle thugs, things were back to normal.  Williams, back to full duty, moved slow, still looked worn and pale, his face still badly discolored.  Most of the swelling was gone, though, and the cuts healing, the bruises diminishing.  Steve’s own injuries were vague aches that hardly bothered him anymore.  It would be a while, though, before McGarrett felt mended emotionally. 

 

For a while it was debatable if they could return to this point again -- an emotional level where they could put the past behind them and truly restore inside as well as physically.  Initially, Steve had problems getting past his wounded pride and anger to accept what Danno had done. Seeing his friend tortured because he was protecting Steve was the hardest thing he had ever endured.  Then there were the residual effects.  Being robbed of the chance to make the tough choices; sacrifice for one of his men, be the responsible leader -- that had been rough to overcome.

 

On Danno’s side, he had to deal with the slow and painful recovery, and with facing the sacrifice he made.  And, face Steve’s wrath about it!  Along with the resentment Steve still harbored.  Did Danno detect that in him?  A reluctance to step back to the place of the past because they had been driven to a point far beyond any destiny they should have shared.

 

Going through the final ordeal with Diem had been frightening, but contained a weird kind of closure.  They could put it behind them now.  The big question still remained unanswered.  Was their friendship intact, no matter what happened to assail them from without?  He couldn’t answer that yet.  The everyday working relationship was fine – smooth, cooperative.  There was something missing, though.  He felt it every time they exchanged a look, or were alone together in the office.  Diem had robbed them of a level of – something he could not define.  It was gone, and Steve felt angered and cheated at the loss; confused and perplexed about how to get back to that prized echelon of friendship they had effortlessly shared.

 

With considerable mental exertion, he focused on his paperwork.  When Chin entered to comment it was after SixPM and he was going home, McGarrett was startled.  He had managed to concentrate so heavily on his tasks hours had slipped away.  Relieved he had endured another day in this strange pocket of existence, he bid good night and went back to the report he was reading.  There was no question he would stay here.  Late.  No reason to go home.  Only still solitude there.  Little to distract him from the demons that still occasionally visited with the night.

 

A knock on the door heralded Dan’s arrival.  “Hey, ready to take a break for dinner?”

 

A traditional way to end the evening.  Now, it felt awkward.  As if they were going through the motions without any depth.  Certainly without the intimate personal connection formerly shared – taken for granted. 

 

“Yeah.  My treat,” Steve encouraged, hastily shoving the papers aside in an uncharacteristic rush. 

 

He was not going to allow this to go on.  Something decisive – even desperate – had to jolt them out of this ennui and back on track.  He would not accept that his pride, Danno’s heroism, and Diem’s malevolence would ruin forever the best friendship he ever knew.  Nor did he trust that if they continued to ignore the trauma the worst of the memories would fade and they would return to something akin to what they shared before. 

 

No, their bond was too important.  He was too impatient.  Too much a man of action to sit back and hope for something better.  He would act now to escape this quagmire they dwelled within and claim back what was rightfully theirs.

 

Idle chitchat was minimal on the drive along Nimitz Highway.  When he turned left toward Sand Island, he noted Williams’ discomfort. 

 

“Going somewhere new”? the younger man asked with an edge to the strained voice.

 

“No,” McGarrett grimly responded, his throat dry.  “Somewhere we’ve been before.”

 

There was nothing out here except industrial yards and supply warehouses.  Danno must have suspected something, but did not comment on the unusual diversion.  When Steve pulled up alongside the abandoned warehouse, he noted Dan’s fists were clenched and the detective’s face was pale.  Steve felt shaky inside and cold despite the warm tropical evening, as if all the blood had drained away and left him chilled from within.  Ice in his veins.  He wished.  He would need that, and nerves of steel, to get through this.

 

“I don’t know what else to do,” he confessed quietly, tonelessly.  “We lost something here.  I don’t know how else to bury the ghosts.  To resolve everything that’s happened.”  Silence.  “I’m going inside.”

 

Without waiting for a reply, he strode in, forcing his legs to carry him while he felt trembly and afraid.  He had been back here and it had been agony.  Why had he brought Danno back?  Not an act of cruelty, he assured himself.  A desperate plea for reunion.  This is where they had been damaged in too many ways to define.  Maybe this was where they could jolt themselves back.  Find what they lost here through shock tactics.

 

The door was sealed with an HPD lock and McGarrett kicked it a few times, bursting the door wide open.  Quaking inside, he walked through the empty room and stopped where the toppled chair and the light stands cluttered the stained floor.  The late afternoon sun cast orange-tinged light filtered through the dirt and broken glass above.  Unable to take his eyes from the dried blood on the floor, he wondered what he was doing.  How was this supposed to help?

 

The steady, measured, slow tread of footfalls seemed strangely poignant in the chamber of horrors.  Williams came to a stop beside him.  Glancing over, Steve noted his friend staring at the bloodstains.  Looking up to the second level, McGarrett was disappointed he could see nothing in the shadows.  That was what Danno had seen that night.  Steve was bound and gagged up there and Danno never knew.

 

With unexpected and startling suddenness, Williams grabbed the chair and flung it against the wall.  The crash echoed loudly, overpowering McGarrett’s sharp inhaling.  Then Dan grabbed the lights and threw them into the wall.

 

“We can blame Diem and Lao for what they took from us,” Dan whispered raggedly.  “But my choices changed everything.”

 

“Your choices.  My choices.  Diem’s evil,” he countered, his voice thick with regret.  “We changed, yes.  Now we have another choice.  Do we let this terrible experience drive us apart or can we find the strength to heal and move on?”

 

Standing there in the dying twilight, smelling the salty air and the stuffy warehouse, staring at the brownish stains and feeling displaced, Steve knew they were at a defining moment.  Would he let the pride and anger drive a wedge between him and his closest friend?  Would he dissolve that gap with forgiveness – for Danno – and himself?

 

“I don’t blame you, Danno,” he quietly confessed, knowing with a flash of insight that the statement was completely true.  “You did what you felt was right.  I can’t condemn you for your choices.  They saved my life.  Do I hope this never happens again?” His scoff was bitter.  “You bet.  But we can’t let this destroy us.”

 

In the sepia-toned light, he thought he saw tears on Williams’ face, but they were quickly wiped off.  Dan turned away momentarily.

 

Voice thick, his own eyes burning, he continued.  “When I look at you, I don’t see someone who was misguided or stubborn or who disobeyed my orders.  I see my friend.” 

 

He placed an arm around the shorter man’s shoulder and drew Dan into an embrace.  “No matter what, you are still my friend.  What happened here will not change that.  Never change that.  For me.  I hope for you, too.”

 

“It won’t,” Williams assured shakily, facing McGarrett.  “We won’t let it.”  He released a bitter chortle.  “Not after what we went through.”

 

“No, we won’t let anything break that bond.”

 

No matter what had gone on between them, the scars would heal physically, as well as emotionally.  No permanent damage.  Through the horrific events, they had seen the worst thrown at them from without.  Then came the tough emotions and decisions from each other.  Through the strength of their bond, they emerged on the other side of the pain and damage, to a new place -- a stronger bastion.  Maybe a better position, he wasn’t sure.  At least, they were on common ground together.

 

 

PAU

 

_____________________________________________________________________________

 

Why comes temptation, but for man to meet

And master and make crouch beneath his foot,

And so be pedestaled in triumph?

While shall not neutralize the black, nor good

Compensate bad in man, absolve him so;

Life’s business being just the terrible choice

 

The Ring and the Book. X

The Pope

 

Robert Browning