NOTE: If you don't want spoilers for 4.21 - this story is not for you.
This is for all the McRoll fans. I realize, depending where you fall on the episode you may or may not want to read this - but I loved the episode. Don't get me wrong, part of me wants the character of Catherine to remain on the show full time. A bigger part of me, though, thinks returning to the long distance relationship is a good decision.
I never doubted Steve and Catherine's feelings for each other throughout seasons 1 & 2 and have decided I would rather feel secure in their feelings and commitment to each other and have the relationship continue offscreen than be frustrated by lack of romantic interaction on screen. Unfortunately, their relationship is just not supposed to be the focus of the show and will never be.
I personally, think the writers did a great job of finding a storyline that both honored and cemented Steve and Catherine's relationship, and have no doubt that Steve will wait for her as long as it takes. I also think his heart is breaking but has already started to heal, and will only get better with time as long as as she eventually comes home to him. The separation is going to hurt both of them, but they're strong enough to get through it.
All the dialogue and situations were taken directly from episode 4.21 with a little flashback to 4.01 and I can only take credit for my take on what they were thinking and feeling as it all played out.
I woke up this morning and just had to put this down in writing and I haven't given it the obsessive re-reads I usually do, so I apologize in advance for any errors I didn't catch. I hope you like it!
It had been more than a week. Over a week since Steve had last seen his girlfriend on a dirt road in Afghanistan and he was worried. He knew Danny was right, she could take care of herself, was more than capable. He also knew Danny had been right about him leaving the country. Deep down, he knew, but he shouldn't have left her there. He should have found a way to ditch his MA babysitters and he should have found her.
He sighed. But how would he have done that without creating a huge incident and further damaging his relationship with the Navy? If we were being honest with himself, part of him didn't care, but another part of him knew she wouldn't want him to dishonor their service like that. If he dug deep, he would admit that he was proud of his service and didn't want that, either.
There hadn't been another way. He was in an impossible situation. So he listened to Danny tell him what he already knew in his head, although his heart was telling him something else. He made the decision to leave her behind because he was injured and, for all intents and purposes, in custody on a heavily-secured overseas American military base. He couldn't blame Danny, he made the decision. If he had truly wanted to go, Danny couldn't have stopped him. But that probably would have meant leaving his life as he knew if behind because he had no doubt he'd wind up in the brig. Would he eventually get out of it, be able call in enough favors, or to make a case that they never would have known Hassan wasn't really dead if he hadn't been there? Maybe. But, it would have taken time and damaged his reputation, and he would still be separated from her.
So, he let the MAs put him on a plane out of Afghanistan and he returned to Oahu, without his beautiful lieutenant. He let part of himself hold on to the hope that she was already home, waiting for him. But she hadn't called and he couldn't reach her and if she was home she would have called, so she had to be hiding in Afghanistan. Or worse.
He shook his head, he couldn't think about that. She had been fine the last time he saw her, she was uninjured and not in immediate danger. He had been relieved she did as he asked during that firefight - stayed low with the kids. It had been close, too close, the tango had had her dead to rights and if Steve had been a second slower… But he hadn't been too slow. He had killed the man and Catherine had been safe. But after that grenade impact he had no longer been in any condition to back her up and if she'd been killed trying to save him… No - she did exactly what he wanted her to. She stayed safe and protected those children, of that he had no doubt. There was no one he trusted more. She knew how to fly under the radar - she had done it before and he knew, knew she could do it again.
But still, he had kept his ears open. Quietly asked some subtle questions about whether there had been any chatter about an American woman being captured - because the Taliban wouldn't keep something like that quiet, it just wasn't their style. No news was good news in this case. So he had let himself be escorted out of Afghanistan, leaving the woman he loved behind.
The woman he loved. He rolled that phrase around in his head a few times. He did love her, had for years. But he'd never told her. Why?
He recalled a conversation he'd had with Danny months before, during a hostage crisis at the Palace, when Danny revealed his girlfriend Gabby was back in town unexpectedly and he'd had to leave abruptly.
Steve had been busy performing CPR on the NLM soldier they had in custody, trying to save the life of their only leverage, when Danny muttered something about being right back.
"Gabby, she's, uh… she's in town, right? And, um, or a minute there, I thought I was actually happy. Which is a weird thing for me because I don't really know what that means, but… you know, I'd forgotten about Kono leaving. I forgot about Selgado and his son. I forgot about getting shot at. Again. And then the phone rang. I had to tell Gabby I'm going somewhere, so I turn to her and I sit her down and I say, 'Don't move. I'll be right back."
"Instead of what?"
"I don't know. I figure I could've said something better than that."
"What were you gonna… Were you going to tell her you love her or something?"
"I don't know. I mean, maybe."
He had scoffed at his friend. "Okay. Well, you know what? Maybe you should be sure — how about that? - before you say something like that to a woman, okay? Because once you say it, you can't unsay it. You understand me? It's a serious thing."
Danny had asked him if he was speaking from experience - not really caring to listen to Steve's relationship advice. Steve hadn't been. He'd never said that to a woman - well not in that way. No, Danny was right - he hadn't been speaking from experience.
As Steve emerged from his musings he wondered 'why not?'. Why hadn't he ever told Catherine he loved her? He did love her. He was sure of it. But why hadn't he told her? To be fair, she'd never said it to him either. It just wasn't their way - actions had always spoken louder than words with them, and now his actions were betraying his feelings for her. His actions had been to leave her behind.
He hung his head at that realization. He had left her behind. No matter how much he told himself it had been his only option, or how many times he heard Danny tell him the same thing, in his heart he knew he had left her behind, and if actions spoke louder than words those actions weren't saying what he wanted them to.
Danny had been sitting quietly next to Steve and watching his friend discretely but carefully. Their conversation had lapsed some time ago, and the SEAL had been deep in thought ever since. Danny had a pretty good feeling he knew what was on Steve's mind and was deciding whether he wanted to say anything or just leave his partner to his thoughts. When Steve hung his head, though, Danny's decision was made.
Steve turned his head to look at him, and as much as Danny had expected to see Kicked Puppy face, it still made his heart clench a little for his friend.
"How do you know?"
"Because she's your Ramboette, and she's very, very capable - she can take care of herself."
Steve sighed. "I know that, I do," he paused for a beat, "But I left."
Danny put his hand on his friend's knee. "Babe, you had to. What else were you going to do?"
Steve shrugged and dropped his gaze back to his feet. Their conversation had been quiet, in deference to their surroundings - as they were traveling on a military plane surrounded by others and didn't know who might be listening - but Steve's voice dropped almost to a whisper when he replied, "I dunno." He shook his head sadly, "I dunno."
Steve walked through his front door and groaned softly. He was tired, and sore, and having a hard time keeping a lid on his concern. He dropped his pack on the floor and was making his way to the recliner when his phone rang. It was an unknown number and he couldn't help the title bit of hope that bubbled up in his chest.
"Hello?" The line was silent. "Hello? Catherine?"
Steve released a breath he hadn't even realized he'd been holding as relief flooded through him at the sound of her voice.
"Catherine." His knees felt weak, and he dropped to sit on the leather ottoman. "Where are you? You okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. I'm fine. Hassan's men were searching the area, and I had to lay low until they were gone."
"What about the kids?"
"They're safe. They're safe."
'Was Najib with them?"
When Catherine didn't answer him right away, Steve's heart dropped.
"No. No, but I got a lead on where he might be. I think they might have taken him across the border."
Steve felt like someone had reached into his chest and wrapped their fist around his heart. He knew, at that moment, that she wasn't coming home because he knew her, better than anyone. He could feel tears forming in his eyes at the realization.
But he didn't want to accept it and it took him a moment to summon the courage to ask the question and steel himself for the answer. "You're gonna go after him, aren't you?"
Catherine paused before she answered, and with every second, Steve felt the fist around his heart tighten a little more.
"Yeah. Yeah, I am. I have to. And - and I can't come back until I find him."
Steve knew he had to do something, take some action. Couldn't NOT do something. He was desperate now, grasping at straws. "Okay, well, that's fine. That's fine. I'm gonna come back, all right? I'm gonna come back. We can do this together. I'll help you find him."
"Catherine." Deep down he knew, knew what she was going to say. But he still couldn't believe he was hearing it. How much it hurt to hear it.
"No, listen to me. You've helped me enough, okay? It's better for me to do this alone. I can keep a low profile that way. It's just easier." Steve would never hear what she added silently in her head, 'And you'll be safe in Hawaii, with Danny and the team to watch your back, because I don't want you hurt because of me. Not ever again.'
Steve closed his eyes. He'd never find her. Not if she didn't want to be found. Even if he could get back to Afghanistan under the radar of the CIA and the Navy he could spend months scouring the country for her, but he knew he'd never find her. No, she wasn't coming back to him until she was ready to come home.
The fist around his heart squeezed even tighter, although he wouldn't have thought it possible. She wasn't coming home. He'd left her behind and she wasn't coming home until her mission was finished. Part of him knew, though, even though it provided little comfort, if any at all, that this was how she wanted it. She preferred it this way because she wanted, needed, to protect him just as much as he needed to protect her. And this time, she held all the cards.
When he didn't answer her she spoke again, "You know I'm right."
He felt his heart finally succumb to the pressure and break into a million tiny pieces in his chest and he bowed his head and gave in to the tears. He wept softly for a moment, holding the phone away from his ear. He didn't want her to hear, didn't want her to have to live with knowing how much she was hurting him.
"You understand why I need to do this, don't you?"
Her voice brought him out of his silent grief and he hastily composed himself, even though he could hear her voice breaking. Hear evidence of her own tears.
"Yeah, of course I do. You just promise me…"
"I promise you I'll be careful. I'll be careful, okay?"
Out of habit, he didn't voice what ran through his head next because they were the kind of words they never spoke to each other. 'You'd better be careful. Because I love you and I don't think I can live without you.' And then he realized, actions weren't going to be enough this time. Actions had always spoken louder than words, but this time he needed the words because there weren't any actions left to take. He needed the words because she had to know, and he needed to be sure she knew. The words got caught in his throat for a moment, but then he was surprised at how easily they passed his lips.
"I love you, you know."
She didn't answer right away and Steve didn't even realize he was holding his breath. He believed one hundred percent what he'd told Danny months ago in the basement of The Palace over the ailing body of an NLM soldier - that once you say it you can never unsay it - and it was a very, very serious thing.
"I love you, too."
Her words were what he hoped to hear and he welcome them, but he honestly wasn't prepared for how hearing them would affect him. They were like a balm for his heart, a warmth that washed over him, restoring and making him whole again. They calmed and centered him somehow and he just knew they'd be okay. They both would, because their love would sustain them throughout their separation, and he knew that she'd do everything possible to return to him and he trusted her to.
"Okay," he said, because it really was going to be okay. He was going to miss her terribly, and wanted more than anything in the world to hold her in his arms and give her a proper farewell, but he knew they'd be okay. "All right. Good luck, Cath."
"Thanks," she paused. "Aloha."
He appreciated her choice of word and she was right. This wasn't a goodbye - they would see each other again. In Hawaiian Aloha means more than just 'hello' or 'goodbye' - it also means affection and peace and was the perfect sentiment.
He looked at his phone for a moment, seeing that the call had disconnected, and blinked back his tears. He gently dropped the phone on the floor and cradled his forehead in his right palm. Things would be easier tomorrow, but he needed to sleep and didn't think he'd be able to if he weren't so physically and mentally exhausted. He made his way upstairs slowly, readied himself for bed and climbed under the covers, laying on his right side, imaging Catherine was there beside him until sleep finally overtook him.
Catherine disconnected the call and wiped her eyes. He had told her he loved her, said the words she'd always wanted but never really expected to hear. She thought she'd known for years, but to hear him say it somehow changed everything. Hearing those words filled her with a sense of peace that he really was okay with what she was doing, and they'd get through it.
It had been a relief to speak to him. She knew he'd been rescued, had heard through the grapevine he was alive, and she could only imagine the heat he was going to get from the military brass. But she'd held on to her faith that he'd be okay, he always was.
She knew he'd been worried about her, and felt terrible for having put him through what must have been the agony of not knowing how or where she was. But she'd had to keep radio silence - it couldn't have been avoided. He had been captured and tortured by the Taliban because of her - she couldn't risk his life like that again.
She knew he'd never leave Afghanistan if he knew she was staying, but he was injured and needed to return to his life. To the people who counted on him to keep Hawaii safe, to his ohana. Danny had come through as she knew he would. She had had no doubt that Danny would move Heaven and Earth to help his partner which is why she had been able to stay away and out of contact. She had absolute faith that Danny would take care of the man she loved and get him home safely.
She realized she hadn't asked Steve how he was, and realized it was because she knew he would have lied and said he was fine. All that really mattered was that he was alive and safe. He would recover from his injuries, the physical scars would heal and she had to, had to hope he wouldn't be left with too many new emotional ones. She was most worried about his PTSD, it had been rearing its ugly head in recent months, but if she hadn't been sure Danny loved him like a brother and would care for him as such she didn't think she would have the strength to stay away. Besides, they wouldn't be completely out of touch and she was planning on checking in with Danny from time to time to find out how Steve really was.
She secured her satellite phone to her belt and slung her rifle over her shoulder before she mounted the motorcycle she'd bought for pocket change and started her mission to find Najib. She had only her thoughts for company and couldn't think of anything but Steve. She knew she'd have plenty else to concentrate on throughout the course of her mission and hoped it wouldn't take too long because she was already missing Steve terribly, longing to hold him, feel his lips on hers, to make love to him for hours to make up for all the time they'd been apart.
It had been one of the hardest things she'd ever done, not going to him, to see with her own eyes that he was okay. She knew she could have gotten on base, but she never would have been able to leave, and that was the problem. She regretted that they hadn't been able to have a proper farewell, but was secure in the knowledge that he loved her, and they would get through this and come out on the other side.
She smiled, remembering how surprised and happy she'd been when he showed up at the airport for her flight out. She had desperately wanted him to accompany her, but didn't feel she could ask him to undertake such a dangerous mission for someone he'd never even heard of before that day, because she knew he wouldn't be able to refuse her. When he made the decision to join her, though, she was secure in the knowledge that he wasn't doing it out of an obligation, but because he wanted to, and that he was doing it for her. She knew part of it was his protective nature - he wanted to help keep her safe, to watch her back. She also knew part of it was because it was important to him, too. It was important to him simply because it was important to her, and this brought her immense joy. Actions has always spoken louder than words for them, and this action spoke volumes.
It also saddened her though, reminding her what she was leaving behind in Hawaii, and how much her actions had hurt the man she loved. Who was he kidding? She could hear it in his voice even though he tried to hide it. She supposed part of that was male pride, but part if it was him trying to protect her again - not wanting her to carry his pain as emotional her own baggage.
It didn't matter whether she heard it in his voice or not, she knew him, and she knew he was hurting, but she also knew they were going to be okay. Because he loved her. He loved her! And she loved him, too, so very much. This time, they had the words, and those words were more important than the actions had been. As she rode off toward the first destination on her path to find and rescue Najib she was secure in that knowledge. Yes - they were going to be okay - both of them.