Epilogue to: The Young Assassins

 

NOTHING PERSONAL

 

by

 

G M

 


 

The leather encased badge/ID belonging to Dan Williams, and the driver's license of Curt Metzger, were turned over and over in the hands of Steve McGarrett. The moment he saw them, accompanied by the audio cassette tape, he understood all the stunning and horrifying implications of the articles.

 

A numbing cold stabbed right through his bones. Heartbeats pounded against his chest while his senses froze. He could not move or think through the chilling shock of realization. Then, in near slow motion, he moved into his office in a kind of trance. He flung open the lanai doors behind his desk and leaned a shoulder against the doorframe, staring with viewless eyes onto the lawn and trees of the Palace grounds. Unconsciously he continued to shuffle the identification items in his hands in an almost nervous compulsion -- a cushion of disbelief warring with the terrors of stark reality.

 

As a cop, he understood he engaged in a war with an invisible enemy. The band of terrorists known as the People's Attack Group randomly executed innocent people in Honolulu for several weeks. 'Nothing personal murders,' dubbed as a catch phrase from the press. He knew when HPD had captured two of the terrorists yesterday that the strange new form of urban warfare would escalate and incite more mindless, motiveless killings. Instead, the PAG had struck back with a terrifying stroke of vengeance that was probably more affective than they could imagine. He was afraid that was the first miscalculation that might cost him more than he could conceive, more than he could bear.

 

Again studying the items in his hand his heart constricted anew as the initial shock dissipated and the true grip of fear clutched him. Curt Metzger, a European expert on terrorism, had become a friend through his many consultations with Five-0. His blunt, right-wing attacks of the PAG in the newspapers made him an obvious, high publicity target for the group's hate and revenge. Danno, of course, represented everything the group hated -- one of the top cops of Hawaii Five-0. It did not get much more establishment and symbolic than that! Metzger happened to be lunching today with the second in command of the state police agency. The set up must have been more of a ripe pineapple than the terrorists could forgo. Two prime hostages snatched in one stroke.

 

For a moment his mind filled with harsh self recrimination. He should have foreseen Metzger as a target when the expert wrote incendiary articles about the terrorists and consulting with Five-0. He should have seen his staff as possible targets because of their very high profile enforcement jobs. In reality he knew he was just searching for a way to deal with his sense of helplessness. He had no control over these mad radicals in the first place. Now striking a cutting blow literally and personally to his heart, they moved the advantage entirely into their venue. His only modicum of optimism was that the terrorists did not know how deeply this hit him on a personal level.

 

'Nothing personal,' he repeated to himself. The wrenching irony brought his anger and pain to the surface and with a clenched fist he threw a punch into the dooframe. 'Dammit, how could I allow this to happen?' He shuffled the ID's in his hands. 'How could you allow Curt and you to be captured, Danno?' he mentally criticized Williams. 'I am counting on you to keep Curt -- and you -- alive .'

 

Whom was he kidding? The momentary anger evolved from hurt and frustration, fading into acute anguish. There was no defense against faceless, amoral strangers who walked up to victims and executed them for no reason. How could a professor or even a seasoned cop protect themselves against such anonymous terrorism?

 

Feeling weary and heartsick, McGarrett turned and placed the articles on the desk. He set up the tape and pressed the cassette deck to play. Feeling his body tremble in anticipation of the message he slumped down into his chair.

 

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At one forty-seven this date the People's Attack Group has captured one chronic liar named Curt Metzger and one storm trooper named Dan Williams. They are being held as prisoners of war and are under sentence of death as enemies of the people. You, however, can save the lives of these criminals. We stand ready to exchange prisoners Metger and Williams for comrades and brothers Victor and Driver. If you don't accept our offer, your Fascist pigs will be executed. And our retribution will not stop there. As long as Victor and Driver remain in chains we will continue to take prisons of war and execute them. No man, woman, child on the island will be safe from our vengeance.

 

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With an unsteady hand he stopped the tape. He carefully, deliberately, placed the driver's license on the desk. Then he opened the leather case and stared at the ID and badge. Lightly he rubbed his thumb over the cool metal of the gold shield. He forced himself to study these personal possessions. They were tangible links to his friends; their safe keeping, in some symbolic way, would extend to the hostages.

 

McGarrett was a realist and even in a time of intimate crisis he could not ignore facts. There was no way he could do anything to release prisoners for an exchange of hostages. He could not recommend it to the Governor and he never would. It would go against every principle of ethics and sense he had as a cop. It would encourage more murders, more acts of terrorism, here and now and in the future, everywhere in the world. It would open the door for slaughter here in Hawaii and he could not allow that to happen.

 

Once more he ran his thumb over the etched state seal and words on the badge. 'Ua Mau Ke Aa O Ka Aina I Ka Pono. The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.' An old Hawaiian phrase encompassing the belief that the well being of the land and people were linked to their respect and love of the land and each other and in a higher power. He had always felt that motto an expression of his mission in life. In a rather arrogant way McGarrett saw himself as a righteous protector of justice in his office as head of Five-0.

 

However, now the words and meaning blurred into indistinct greys of confusion. Momentarily he questioned the ideals and principles at stake here. The connotation of 'life' had a very personal and specific meaning today. The lives of two valuable friends hung in the balance between life and death. How right did he have to be this time? Just once could not he bend?

 

'Just once can't you give in?'

 

It was a snatch of a conversation long ago. It was Dan's voice asking, probing. Dan's version of reverse psychology, a ploy he often used so McGarrett could think through his motivations and reasoning.

 

McGarrett thought back to another hostage situation. Dan wounded and held captive in a hospital. There had been consideration beyond the threat to Dan's life on that day, too. Steve forced to surrender to those other factors. Luckily it had all worked out with Dan safely rescued.

 

This occasion would not be so easy. Proven killers without ethics or identities held two men labeled 'enemies' as captives. The two hostages were victims the terrorists had hand picked from animosity as well as political consideration.

 

He thought over the ultimatum to release the HPD prisoners in trade for the hostages. An impossible request coupled with a deadly threat. It pressed him with a sudden sense of hopelessness.

 

'They must feel very threatened by Curt,' he mused. 'And how those animals must hate Danno,' he thought with a frightful chill. 'You are everything they find contemptible and threatening, Danno. Please be careful.'

 

He tried to imagine the treatment of his friends and found the possibilities too morbid to explore. Curt's frank, tactless approach to the truth became a liability in this circumstance. Danno, McGarrett's lip twitched with a ghost of a grin, Danno could be smug, even cocky when confronted with scums who represented a threat. This time he hoped his friend was very, very cautious. The assessment of his friends' personalities caused McGarrett grave concern. The two hostages would never be meek or compromising in any way for their captors. Not endearing traits to insecure terrorists who liked to do their speaking with bullets.

 

"Please just keep your head, Danno," he whispered aloud. He closed the leather case and turned it over in his hands. 'Curt's a civilian. You're the expert here, Danno. I'm counting on you to take care of Curt,' he thought in a silent, mental transmission he wished could be telepathically received by his friend. 'And I expect you to take care of yourself, my friend.'

 

The thought brought a new, even more fearful angle to the dilemma. Dan would certainly never knuckle under to any concessions the terrorists might try. If there was any negotiation with the prisoners at all. When the arrested terrorists were not released? Then Five-0 would have to somehow find the hostages before the shooting started.

 

When the bullets started to fly, who would be the first to fall? A frightening question. At the end of this long list of terrors he hardly expected a new one, but it rocked Steve to the soul to realize he might be able to save only one of his friends. He placed the leather case on the desk next to Curt's license and studied the two ID's. His eyes were automatically drawn to the badge case.

 

Because of who he was and what he represented, Dan would seem the most vulnerable target for the assassins. Who better to use as an example, as a symbolic strike against the system than a state cop? A new wave of cold fear swept through his nerves. It was a chill anguish of recognition that there was almost nothing he could do to save the hostages.

 

The cold pall of fear was beginning to thaw, mingled with the bubbling heat of anger. A heat that promised to be a long lasting burn, culminating in some final eruption at the end of this ordeal. The unknown terrorism had suddenly altered to be very, very personal. Somewhere, sometime there would be a reckoning. The pain and helplessness he felt now would be vindicated through justice, and he hoped, more importantly through the safe return of his friends.

 

The anger helped close up the most vulnerable wounds in his psyche and steel himself for the coming battle. He snatched up the tape. He would take this to the Governor and District Attorney and apprise them on the situation. They would agree with his assessment that there could be no compromise and share his hope of finding the hostages before the deadline. They could not share in his guilt or anxiety for his friends. He did not want any such compromise. Almost as an afterthought he grabbed the ID's and slipped them into his pocket. The belongings would serve as a constant reminder that he was taking this attack very personally and would emphasis that to the terrorists at the end of this battle.

 

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"Are you suggesting we should give in?" John Manicote had asked.

 

"John, I think you know me better than that. Never! Never! Never! I say we draw the line right here and now and not give an inch, not one inch. We can not deal with people like them. You know -- you know what Danno's life means to me."

 

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McGarrett leaned against the cold metal of the dank, stale-aired bunker and fought for breath.

 

"Now -- your cop dies now!" Army's last transmission, last threat, last words.

 

The death sentence echoed in Steve's head since the pronouncement came over the radio. Knuckles bloodied from the physical release of his anger and pain, he was seconds, inches -- lifetimes away from killing this murdering animal with his bare hands. Army, the pathetic, huddled, beaten leader of the terrorists quivered on the chill concrete floor.

 

''You executed Curt!' he condemned.

 

He wanted nothing more than to continue to pummel the life out of this wretch, but that would bring him down to Army's level.

 

'Murderer of my closest friend,' he silently accused in anguish. "You murdered Danno!"

 

Just putting the possibility into thoughts sent a crushing pain through his chest. There was no reason to hope Danno was still alive. On the other side of the locked, metal door he had heard the gunshot and knew only one reason for a single shot inside the bunker. Rather than surrender the remaining hostage alive, Army chose to kill Dan Williams in revenge of his imminent capture.

 

Staring down at the pathetic, huddled criminal, he felt a wave of sick revulsion: at Army, at himself. No, Steve McGarrett could not bend, could not murder this miserable beast who had robbed him of two friends. Just as Steve McGarrett the resolute ironman of Five-0 could not give in to terrorists -- not ever-- not this one time. And it cost him the dearest life of all.

 

'Just once can't you give in?'

 

'You know -- you know what Danno's life means to me.'

 

Not even for Danno could he sink that low, but the desire for vengeance was so great, he wanted to give in to the emotions. Not even for his closest friend could he change his rules and negotiate, or bend enough to compromise with the terrorists. McGarrett's principles were intact, only his heart was broken.

 

A scraping noise at the back of the bunker filtered through his shock and grief. A blur of white caught in the corner of his eye. He turned to see a bedraggled, dirty, battered, Dan Williams standing at the furthest edge of light in the dark cavern. Too stunned to react, McGarrett slowly straightened and stared at his very much alive friend.

 

* * *

 

"Come on, I'll drive you home," McGarrett offered.

 

For the second or third time during their brief reunion he patted Dan on the shoulder. His friend retained the hand contact as they walked out of the dark, dank ammunition battery and into the bright Hawaiian morning sunlight. The warmth baked Williams and he savored the heat after spending so long in the marrow-chilling bunker of cold concrete.

 

Steve nodded at the gash on Dan's forehead. "You all right?"

 

Williams touched the wound, his fingers coming away with a smear of blood. It did not seem serious, and he was entirely too numb in mind and body to be concerned with the slight injury. Steve was just being a little too over protective.

 

"Yeah, fine," he returned.

 

"Maybe we should get you checked out by Doc."

 

"No, I'm fine, really," he insisted.

 

They paused, and Dan blinked, trying to adjust his eyes to the sudden contrast from darkness to light. 'An analogy which applied in more ways than one,' he reasoned. He walked up the concrete steps and drew in deep lungs-full of fresh, sea-kissed air, savoring the cleanliness. It was as if the stale, rank moldiness of the bunker was pushed out of his system to be replaced with crisp, renewed life. Again, a fitting analogy. As he stood on his native soil he felt as if this was his second chance, emerging from the darkness of death, the literal pit of a tomb, to the brightness of life.

 

Just moments ago he had cheated his captor/terrorist out of an execution. In the struggle he had been knocked down and left for dead, or perhaps just left behind in favor of Army's sense of self preservation. He was not ready to analyze it all now. The point was he had expected to die and now he was alive and still trying to comprehend it all. After seeing Curt Metzger executed point blank, after spending the afternoon and night under the imminent threat of death, he had a lot of emotions to sort through.

 

"You all right, Danno?" Steve asked quietly, his face creased with anxiety.

 

Dan offered McGarrett a slight nod. "Yeah."

 

The word was an uncertain lie, accentuated by the slight trembling of his shoulders. He made a conscious effort to calm his nerves.

 

McGarrett's grip tightened. With a heartfelt tone of relief he urged, "Let's get out of here."

 

Steve steered him out of the courtyard of Harlow Battery to a knoll where HPD squad cars were parked. An officer was just driving up with McGarrett's sedan. Dan slumped on the passenger side and leaned his head back on the seat. After pausing to issue instructions to an officer, Steve got into the Mercury and they drove away.

 

As they coursed through the crater of the extinct volcano of Diamond Head, Williams glanced over at his companion. In the rush of the rescue only abstractly had he noted McGarrett's unusually disheveled appearance. Now it was beginning to register: Steve's hair ruffled, tie and suit dirty, knuckles scraped and bleeding. When he had first seen Steve in the bunker, the head of Five-0 had been leaning over Army's inert form. Now all the evidence finally clicked. McGarrett had beat the hell out of Army! Despite the serious aftermath of the kidnapping experience Dan couldn't help but smile.

 

"I guess Army resisted arrest, huh?"

 

The quip did not elicit a smile from McGarrett. Instead, the boss's set jaw seemed to tighten. For the first time, Dan noticed Steve's hands which tightly gripped the wheel, were actually shaking.

 

Dan sat up straighter, a little frightened, a little awed by the implications. When the shooting had started Army (Dan had never known the last name) had come to kill him. Dan had rushed him in an offensive desperation, unwilling to go down without a fight. He had been hit on the head, knocked aside, and Army had fled. McGarrett's arrival must have been the distraction that saved his life. When Steve had confronted Army, the terrorist/murderer had come violently head on with all the frustration, anger and anxiety building up within Steve McGarrett for the last, trying day. Curt Metzger had been executed yesterday. Steve had come into that bunker probably expecting to find HIM with a bullet in his head. Army never had a chance.

 

'Army was lucky to live,' was Dan's ironic, grudgingly pleased reaction to the retribution. His thoughts sobered to the serious implications of the suspicion. Steve had unleashed a whole lot of violence onto Army. The physical pummeling was a way for Steve to release the pent-up anguish built up during the crisis.

 

The last day he had given fleeting thought to the agony Steve was going through, having two friends, Metzger and himself, held hostage by terrorists. Dan knew his friend had suffered through the hostage situation. Now he was just beginning to understand how deep that pain might be. The knowledge of what Steve had gone through had added to Dan's anger and fear over the situation. Obviously, from their perspectives, they had been through a lot and it would take some time for both of them to resolve the anxieties.

 

He remembered how frantic the 'spontaneous-combustion' Steve had been when he had been wounded and held hostage years before. Steve practically tore down the hospital trying to get to him. At that time he had been more seriously wounded than now, and had not been faced with immediately dealing in the aftermath of terror. This situation was entirely different, his spent nerves and energy seemed too raw to cope with any more emotions. Between them, the inner turmoil from the crisis was too intense to ignore. There was such a mass of tangled feelings he did not know where to start to unravel them all.

 

"I'm sorry about Curt," Dan apologized quietly. The mention of the deceased man's name brought a flashback slamming into his mind.

 

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"As prisoners of war you have no rights except those granted you by the People's Attack Group. If you cooperate you will have the right to eat, sleep and breathe."

 

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The melodramatic rhetoric one of them had spoken in an opening statement had at first seemed ludicrous. Yet the words would echo in his nightmares for some time, he thought. Even with his eyes open, riding down a sunny Honolulu street, his mind snapped back to that black, nauseating moment when Army had entered the steel cell, pointed the .45 toward him and Curt, and shot Curt in the heart. With the memory came a slimy sweat to his palms and a sickening twist of fear to his stomach. Unconsciously he wiped at the red splatters on his shirt sleeve.

 

Tears formed in his eyes. He did not know where the reaction was coming from, but it was embarrassing and he roughly wiped away the wetness before Steve could notice. He had not been consciously afraid of the chance of senseless execution at first. Captured, blindfolded, he and Curt openly discussed the probability they would be killed.

 

'They have no reason to keep us alive,' Curt had said.

 

Dan had pushed aside the warning. It did not penetrate to a level of real fear until he had seen Curt killed. He still quavered at the memory. Before that it had been a confrontation of his stubborn resolve against the terrorists. He had been belligerent, even arrogant in his dismissal of them. After Curt was executed, standing just inches from him, Dan had sobered to the reckoning of his mortality.

 

"Curt's death was a tragedy," McGarrett replied, his voice raw and tight. "It was tough on Elizabeth." The words trembled with suppressed grief.

 

Williams glanced across at his friend. He wondered which of them McGarrett was trying to be steely and resolute for -- Dan or himself. Most people never saw the cracks in the haole hao, the man of iron, known as Steve McGarrett. Dan saw those vulnerable chinks more than anyone else and in moments like this it was heart rending to watch his friend suffer. When Steve hurt he withdrew deeply into painful isolation and resisted interference from even his closest friend.

 

"Tough on you, too," Williams observed, his voice choked with remorse.

 

Mingled with shock, he had been through a kind of mourning for Curt, but with the anticipation of his own imminent execution, he had not properly dealt with the murder. Obviously, neither had Steve, yet he wanted to press the issue without knowing why. Dan did not expect Steve to elaborate, although he wanted McGarrett to discuss his side of the ordeal. There was a desire to talk, get the nightmare out in the open. Discussion -- dialog -- not a monologue, would help both of them. Dan just knew he needed to hear how Steve had felt. Perhaps so McGarrett could tell him it was not his fault, that he did not blame Dan for Curt's death. Steve's blame haunted him in those lonely hours when he sat in the dark staleness of the bunker and awaited his execution.

 

McGarrett pulled to the curb in front of Dan's apartment. Neither made a move to exit the car.

 

"It must have been a rough," came Williams' rough whisper.

 

Steve stared ahead, his face slightly contorted with agitation. It was the tip of the iceberg: The beginning of a deep anguish starting to seep through the cracks of the granite resolve.

 

"Not as rough as yours," McGarrett countered, seeming to wrestle with the emotions struggling to the surface. With a catch in his throat he asked, "Were you with Curt when -- he was killed?"

 

Trembling fingers brushed again at the blood stains on the once white shirt. Williams looked from the red and white to the view through the windshield. The quiet residential neighborhood on Kalakaua Avenue, Diamond Head of Kapiolani Park, was still and peaceful.

 

Like being flipped into a negative, the bright day was blocked with stuffy darkness. He flinched; so clearly did he recollect the deafening echo of the gun blast as the bullet was fired. Again he felt the nausea of helplessly witnessing an execution. Then immediately through the memory of numb fear, then shock, came the remembrance of guilt. He had lived and Curt had not. There but for the grace of God . .

 

"I was standing right next to him." Not until he opened his mouth and a salty tear dripped onto his lips did he realize he was crying. The powerful recollection was so staggering he reasoned the grief and fear and guilt must have been right there under his skin waiting to explode. "After that I expected to die any time." With a quavering hand he wiped the few tears from his face. In semi-control of his tumultuous agitation he looked at McGarrett. "I don't know why he killed Curt instead of me. Maybe the fear. Curt didn't show any fear until Army raised the pistol at us. I was standing closer to Army -- Curt backed away in panic. He must have seemed more vulnerable, maybe. I don't know, really." He paused for breath. The silence was pressing against him. "I was the one in front. I don't know why I'm alive. I couldn't do anything to save him."

 

Without looking in Dan's direction McGarrett reached over and gripped onto his shoulder with numbing force. Steve blinked several times, but the blue eyes still pooled with moisture.

 

"When I got the report that Curt had been killed," he sighed, his voice shaking as much as his hand. "God help me, Danno, I was relieved it wasn't you."

 

Dan felt a chill slither through his body. The divulgence exposed the tortured spirit of Steve's McGarrett. The capture, the murder, had not touched him nearly so deeply as this profound confession. He had no concept of how deeply this rocked the stalwart McGarrett. To him, Steve always seemed on a kind of pedestal, their friendship mingled with a certain amount of respect bordering on adulation. It was staggering to know through emotions and not just words how much he was valued in return.

 

'God help ME,' Dan mentally refuted. He cleared his dry throat and replied meaningfully, "Poor Curt. I'm sorry he was killed. I hate to say it, but I've never been so glad to be alive."

 

With brotherly affection Steve pulled him close. "It was too close this time, Danno. I couldn't save you. There was nothing I could do. When we had the chance to move -- I was too late." The voice was condemning, bitter and pained.

 

"You did everything you could," Dan automatically defended, even though he had not been with McGarrett on the other side of the ordeal. To Williams, he did not have to be an eye witness. On faith, he knew McGarrett had gone the limit, like he did everytime his Five-0 officers were in trouble. "I knew you couldn't give in, Steve. Curt knew that, too. We never expected -- " he cleared away the knot in his throat. "We knew you would do whatever you could, but we didn't really expect to live." Slowly he shook his head. "I don't know why I'm alive."

 

McGarrett sighed with dissatisfaction. "Too close, this time, Danno."

 

The reply was a shaky whisper. "Yeah. Too close." He would not elaborate now, perhaps, not even in his report. Not after seeing how Steve was rocked to the very soul over this tribulation.

 

"How close?"

 

Dan turned at the intent gravity of the tone. He looked into discerning eyes that were almost clairvoyant into their perceptiveness. Steve had already read too much in Dan's voice, in his expression.

 

"Too close to think about," Williams responded. He hoped it was enough to deflect farther probes. At least for now.

 

A reluctant acceptance seemed to pass across McGarrett's face. His eyes were brimming with sincere relief. "It's over. I'm grateful you're alive."

 

With a weary nod Dan agreed. "Yeah."

 

They exited the car and entered the apartment building. For the first time in days there was something less complex than life and death to think about.

 

"I'll be grateful just to take a shower," was Dan's sincere comment.

 

The quip broke the somber tension and both were smiling when they arrived at his door. For a moment they stood there until Williams remembered all possessions, including keys, confiscated by the terrorists. Obviously it was going to take a few days to get back into the groove of everyday living.

 

McGarrett opened the door with his key. He suggested, in the form of a command, Dan take a few days off for R&R. Without protest, Williams agreed. At least a few days off were required for him to sort through the adversity, but not too long. Following in the footsteps of his mentor, work was the mainstay of his life and he would never be far from the stable satisfaction found with Five-0.

 

"Want to come in?" It was more of a request than a question.

 

"I thought you'd want to be alone," McGarrett responded flatly, gazing over the walkway railing to the churning Pacific several floors below.

 

"I've logged a lot of solitary lately," was Dan's unsubtle hint.

 

Unconvinced, or needing his own solitude, McGarrett declined the request and left.

 

* * *

 

For some time Williams just wandered the apartment. He retrieved a beer from the fridge, strolled out to watch the surf from the lanai and listlessly ambled through the rooms a few times. Although fading with fatigue he was unsettled and too nervous to rest. He finally showered, changed, then returned to the lanai and slumped into a chair to watch the ocean's undulating, calming waves.

 

Without realizing it, he slipped into a light doze. In his dreams he heard a comforting, repeated litany, in Steve's voice, echoing in his mind. "I'm grateful you're alive." The rote lulled him to a restful, contented sleep.

 

A light sound yanked him from sleep. Startled, Williams jumped in the chair. A gentle hand on his shoulder eased him back against the cushion. Wordlessly, McGarrett slipped into the chair next to him. Williams' nose twitched, the aromatic odor of Chinese food wafting on the breeze.

 

"I didn't think you'd want to eat alone today," McGarrett explained.

 

"Thanks." The word encompassed the thoughtfulness and the companionship.

 

McGarrett gave a slight nod of affection. "Sure. It's good to have you back, Danno."

 

Williams' stomach growled in response. He had not eaten since lunch, just before his capture, two days ago. The aroma of the good food, the security of McGarrett's companionship, made him realize how hungry he was -- for the food and the friendship. He had not even thought about food until now, also knowing McGarrett was not here just to offer supper. Steve did not want to spend the day, thinking, alone, either.

 

PAU