Loa Pa'akiki ala hele*

By Cokie

Started thinking about this after 4.21 and knew that if Steve didn't have PTSD prior to that time, he would certainly have symptoms after. I hope you enjoy! But first, I need to thank Sam and Sockie for once again doing their magical beta work on this story. And Sam created another image for the cover, so be sure to take a good look at it. She does awesome work! Mahalo.

~~~H50~~~

Lou Grover slid from the passenger seat of the S.W.A.T. truck and waited for his team to gather around. "Good job today, men," he gratefully told them after they had diffused a hostage situation on the campus of the university earlier. "And now I'm ordering you all to go home. You're off the clock."

The men began taking off their vests and gear as they wearily entered the back of police headquarters. It was just on this side of midnight and they had been at it since early afternoon when the call had come in. Lou was proud of his team and thanked them all personally before entering the building behind them. He was ready for a quick shower and vegging out in front of the TV to catch up on several things that had been saved to the DVR over the past couple of months. Before leaving town, his wife had 'ordered' him to clean out those shows because they were out of space in the system.

And tonight, that was Lou's only plan. Well, TV and beer. And maybe a pizza. That is, if he could find Chicago style pizza at the local place. Pizza was one thing… no, make that the only thing he saw eye-to-eye on with Detective Williams. While they differed on the toppings and the thickness of the crust, they both knew that a decent slice of pizza wouldn't be caught dead with a piece of fruit on it. In his eyes, that was near sacrilege. Lou stored his gear in the locker room and grabbed his keys, ready to leave HQ. On his way to the door, he ran into Duke Lukela, who was shaking his head and muttering beneath his breath.

"Hey, Duke. Looks like your night isn't going so well. Saturday evening is always the worst shift to pull, isn't it?"

"Yeah, and this Saturday takes the cake. We got problems."

"What's up? Anything I can help with?"

"You tell me, Captain. Come take a look." Duke motioned Lou to follow him to one of the holding rooms off the hallway. They entered the side room and he took one look through the one-way mirror.

"Aw, shit," Lou mumbled.

They both stared at Steve McGarrett who was seated across the table, one hand cuffed to the metal ring in the center of it. He was wearing shorts and a dirty tee shirt smeared with blood and sweat. His hair was plastered to his head and his knuckles and face showed signs of a recent fight. He was staring at his hands as if he had no idea how they ended up looking like that. What on earth did he do?

"What the hell did he do?" Lou asked, shaking his head. "Drunk and disorderly?"

Duke shook his head. "Disorderly, yes. Drunk, no. He beat up two guys on the beach. An off-duty officer called for back-up and then tried to break up the fight." The older man sighed. "And Steve punched him, too. I was just on my way to call Detective Williams when you stopped me in the hall."

"Want me to take a shot at him?" Grover asked.

Duke looked relieved. "Would you? I'm not sure what we should do. I sure as hell don't want to put the leader of the governor's task force in lock up overnight to cool down. But he's not being very cooperative right now."

Lou slapped the officer on the back. "Hold off informing Williams for now. I'll call if I need back-up but my guess is that Steve needs some way to vent a lot of pent-up frustration."

"You're right about that," Duke agreed. "I'll be in the bullpen if you need me."

Lou opened the door and shut it behind him. Not knowing the exact mood his 'prisoner' was in he waited for Steve to speak.

"Looks like you got the short straw," Steve finally said without looking up.

"Nobody 'sent' me; I volunteered," Lou replied, pulling out a chair and straddling it.

Steve shook his head and mumbled, "That was a dumb-ass move."

"Tonight, I'm guessing you are the King of dumb-ass." Lou pulled his keys out of his pocket and leaned across the table to unlock the handcuff.

"Better watch it. They considered me a flight risk. I might head out the door at any moment."

"Only if you go through me," Lou assured him. "And looking at you right now, it would be no contest. Now, how about you start talking. What's gotten into you?"

Steve remained silent, staring at the table.

"You know, I'm not going away," Lou reminded him. "What got you in this mess?"

McGarrett shrugged, then winced when the movement brought pain… a face which was quickly noticed by his friend.

"Were you hurt? Need the ER?"

Steve sighed. "No, I don't need the ER. I'm fine."

"Hmm… well, if you're fine, I must be bordering on magnificent, because no one in his right mind would call you fine."

"So… you're saying I'm not in my right mind?"

"I'm sayin' it's time to talk, my friend."

A knock at the door interrupted their conversation and Duke walked in. "Sorry to barge in, but Jennings, the cop you decked, said 'no harm, no foul'. The female victim stated you were trying to help her get away from the two men and Jennings understands you reacted on instinct and hit him. So," he paused to look at Steve, "I guess you're good to go. But Steve—"

McGarrett sighed, knowing a lecture was coming.

-"go home and get some rest. You've been going at it hard and heavy since you've been back."

Duke's plea was ignored and the officer looked at Lou and shook his head.

"So, we're good to go?" Lou asked.

"Yeah," Duke replied and opened the door. "Back hallway is clear if you want to go out that way."

Grover stood and again stared at Steve who slowly got up, unable to hide the fact that his body was hurting. "Come on, let's pop this joint," he said while waiting for Steve to head down the hallway first. "We need to sign for your things."

"Didn't have anything with me," Steve flatly stated.

"No wallet or phone?"

"Nope."

When they reached the door, Lou asked, "Where's your truck? Impound?"

"Ah, no, it's at home. I'll get a cab."

Lou snorted. "The hell you will. You know I'm not letting you out of my sight." They reached the truck and Lou opened the passenger door. "Only, for the record, this time you're ridin' shotgun."

That statement elicited a wry grin from Steve. "You're loving this, aren't you?"

Lou suddenly became serious. "Contrary to what you may believe, I'm not finding any pleasure in this at all." He climbed into the truck and turned to his passenger. "Let me get this straight. You left home with no wallet, no keys, no phone? What the hell were you thinkin'?"

Steve stared out the passenger window and thought before speaking. "I was on the beach and had a sudden urge to go for a run. So… I did." He didn't mention that he had thrown his bottle against the chair, breaking the amber glass into several shards. The feeling of "flight" was so overpowering that he had to move… anywhere… to get away from there as fast as he could.

But he didn't intend to tell that to Lou or anyone else.

"Wait a minute," Lou said after processing Steve's comment. "They picked you up on the beach at Waihine and you had started running at your house?"

"Yeah, I guess." Truth be told, he really didn't have a clue where he had been picked up.

Lou shook his head and started the truck, muttering, "Crazy fool," beneath his breath. "Do you want me to call your partner for you?"

An emphatic and loud "NO" was Steve's reply. He pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes and repeated, "No," in a calmer voice. "He's got Grace this weekend. I don't want her to see me—"

"Fair enough," Lou agreed and pulled out of the parking lot. "It's up to you to tell him, because you know he'll find out anyway."

"Yeah," Steve sighed in a resigned tone. "I know."

The two were silent on the way to the house; Lou patiently waiting out his friend and Steve anxiously waiting for the other shoe to drop. He soon pulled the truck into Steve's drive and killed the engine.

"Uh… thanks for the ride," Steve said and opened the door.

"Not so fast."

Here it comes, Steve thought. Lecture time.

"Mind if I come in?"

Steve slid from the seat and turned to his friend. "Would it make any difference if I said no?"

Grover looked out the windshield and slowly shook his head. "No, not tonight. You're stuck with me for a while."

"Look, Lou, I'm sorry. But go home to your family. I'm fine. It won't happen again."

Grover got out of the truck and closed his door. "Yeah, right. You're as fine as frog's hair, as my granny used to say. Besides, my family is in Chicago visiting the mother-in-law."

"Why are you here and not with them?"

Lou shuddered. "Because they are visiting the mother-in-law," he slowly repeated, using air quotes around the title.

"Ah." Steve walked to the door and hesitated. Turning the knob he found the door unlocked.

"That was brilliant," Grover muttered behind him as they entered the house, Lou heading straight for the kitchen.

Steve followed more slowly, but opened the fridge and pulled out a beer. Lou watched the move and deftly plucked it from his friend's fingers. "Coffee."

"I don't want coffee," Steve flatly stated.

"Well, I do, so tell me where the stuff's located."

Steve closed the refrigerator and pulled the canister of coffee from the cabinet.

"Thanks, want me to do the honors?" Lou asked. "I need it strong and black."

"I can handle it," Steve said. "Strong and black."

Lou watched as Steve worked and when Steve turned to set two mugs on the table, Lou held out his hand to stop him. "Pull up your shirt."

"What? No," Steve replied and turned back around. Lou grabbed him by the wrist and looked at the new scars from his capture in Afghanistan. His touch stopped Steve in his tracks.

"Your arm has barely left your side all night," Lou calmly explained. "I want to see what's going on under there. Now, come on."

Steve held his ground. "You once told me we 'weren't that close'. We still aren't, so let it go."

Instead of letting go, Lou stepped closer. "Listen, I don't know all that went on while you were gone; you've been keeping a pretty low profile. But I've heard the scuttlebutt and I know you were injured. If what went down tonight caused any further damage, you need to deal with it now."

Steve sighed and shook his head. Resigned, he lifted the tail of his shirt. "Bruises, nothing more. See?"

Lou stared at the mess on Steve's left side. Faded yellow and green bruises were still evident up and down his side, but prominent in the midst was blue and purple mottling which Lou knew would be black and even more painful in the morning. "You should have that looked at," he told Steve.

"It's nothing."

"Yeah, right. Why don't you go clean yourself up while I wait for the coffee."

"Don't suppose you'd take it to go, will you?"

"Not a chance."

While Steve was upstairs, Lou rummaged around in the downstairs bathroom and found supplies that he could use. He came back into the kitchen, poured himself a cup of coffee and opened the freezer. He debated whether to go look for his errant friend when he heard footfalls on the stairs. Steve appeared a moment later wearing a clean shirt and a cleaner face.

"Come on over here," Lou ordered after glancing at his friend.

"What?" Steve asked, but moved next to Lou who was standing near the sink.

"You know that old saying, 'this will hurt me more than it does you'? That's a lie. Hold out your hands."

"I don't need any… OW, Lou that hurts!"

Grover didn't bother wasting time; he grabbed Steve's wrists and tugged his hands over the sink then capped the bottle of peroxide and smirked. "Didn't hurt me one bit. Now, you want some coffee? We could go sit on the beach."

"Ah… how about the lanai? The beach chairs might need some clean up."

"I see," Lou commented. After they were seated outside, he handed an ice pack made from ice cubes, a baggie and a towel over to Steve. "You might want to put that on your face. That is, if you intend to see out of that eye tomorrow."

Steve sighed, but leaned back in the chair and held the pack to his aching face.

"Since you appear to be mute tonight, I'll start," Lou began.

"I'm OK, Lou."

"See, listen to what you're sayin', Steve. It's not even reasonable. We both know you're not OK, so why don't you get it out of your system? First, how about you tell me what went on tonight?"

Steve knew he was going to have to talk. Grover was like an old dog with a new bone, but that didn't make it any easier for him to open up. But he was smart enough to realize that Lou wasn't planning on leaving anytime soon. So, he began to talk.

"I grabbed a couple of beers around sunset," Steve began, "and went outside to sit down. I just…" he sighed and then admitted, "I just don't know what to do with myself these days."

"I guess that's understandable," Grover agreed. "I mean I don't know much of what happened on your trip, but I know you are here and Catherine is not. Is it something you can fill me in on?" Lou had heard rumors but he refused to feed into them and wanted to hear exactly what had happened from the source himself. "And I get it… I know you don't want to talk about it."

Steve huffed. "Yeah, but it's all I can think about. Long story short, Cath knew of a kid who was taken by the Taliban and I went with her to Afghanistan to try and get him back. We rescued several kids, but unfortunately Najib wasn't with them." He paused, before adding, "They had a grenade and I was suddenly down. Cath got the kids out of there, but I… was taken."

Lou noticed the hesitation in his voice and even though he didn't know details, he knew they weren't good. One look at Steve's body told him that. But he remained quiet, giving his friend the time to open up and vent.

"Ah… several beatings and a near beheading later, I was rescued. Was shot by friendly fire, but somehow I made it out of there alive. Woke up in a base hospital and Danny was there. And Cath was not. He had been trying to get in touch with her, but hadn't had any luck, so I didn't know… I had no clue what had happened. The CIA wasn't really happy with my involvement… even though this op allowed them to take down a key player that we thought has been dead for a couple of years… so they should be happy, but we were put on a plane for home as soon as the doc said I could fly. We tried to reach Cath but got nothing. I didn't know where she was. I made it home a couple days later and got a phone call from her. She's safe." He hesitated once again. "For now. But she's still looking for Najib. The CIA has me on a 'no fly' list to get back there, so she's on her own."

Lou sighed. He understood. This, on top of the old baggage Steve has been carrying was weighing him down. And he knew that Steve had to get rid of some of it soon before something major happened in the field. It was one thing to pick a fight with some locals, but in a high-pressure, highly volatile job like Five-0, he would be like a powder keg if he didn't get help.

"That's rough," Lou admitted. "It's a lot to deal with. And if I'm guessing, it brings a lot of guilt with it."

"I should be there," Steve quietly said.

"Maybe so, but apparently the CIA thinks otherwise. And if you tangle with them, things could get real ugly real fast. And that would hurt both you and Catherine. You were wise to come home and not cause any ripples. I'm guessing she is there under their radar?"

Steve nodded. "Yeah."

"Have you heard anything else from her?" Grover quietly asked.

A slight shake of the head was all the answer he got. The two drank their coffee in silence before Steve continued. "I was out there tonight," he vaguely pointed toward the beach, "and suddenly I had to move. I needed to get out of here. The doc that night told me no strenuous exercise for a month, and I haven't. But tonight… I was ready to explode. I didn't have a choice. So, I ran."

"Apparently you ran for quite a while," Lou commented.

Steve shrugged. "I remember crossing a couple of highways and then I headed back out to the beach. I was kind of in a zone, you know. It felt good. I didn't have to think about it, I just kept going."

"Until you got to the bar."

"Yeah… about that." Steve stopped again. The ice pack he had propped against his head was now squishy with melted ice so he sat up and tossed it on the table and stared out toward the water. "These two guys, they…uh… they were on the beach and they were all over this woman. At first she was laughing but when I got closer, I could tell she really was trying to get away. She started to panic and I…" He paused again and Lou waited him out.

Steve swallowed convulsively and then ran his hand through his hair. "I think I had a flashback," he finally admitted.

Lou nodded. "How so?"

"When I was over there I saw women who were treated like trash. The men… their soldiers…" he shook his head. "What they do…." He paused, trying to find words to convey the experience. "Once there were a couple of nuns… missionaries from Italy, I think. Anyway, we went in for the rescue. It... wasn't pretty. One of them died from blood loss after we picked them up that night. The other… when she was airlifted out, she was so frightened of men she had to be sedated to even get her on the chopper. When I saw the woman fighting on the beach, that's what I saw. I didn't even think about it; I just tackled the guys. Took one out with a quick upper cut, but the other was a fighter."

Lou nodded. "From the looks of your face, he was pretty damn good."

"Yeah, but I think I had him in a choke hold when a guy behind me pulled me away. So, I decked him."

"And he was a cop."

"Yeah. And he had back up."

"Why did Duke say you were uncooperative?"

Steve grinned sheepishly. "The backup were kids fresh out of the academy. They didn't know me, I had no ID and I wasn't talking. They hauled me in and you should'a seen Duke's face. He ordered them to put me in holding and they argued that I was going in lock up. One of them pushed me toward the holding cells and I pushed back. Duke had to get in the middle and he's the one who tossed me into holding and cuffed me to the table. Then he had to deal with angry cops."

"I'm thinking you and Duke are due for a conversation."

"I'm thinking I'll get an earful."

"Rightly deserved," Lou retorted. "I wouldn't mess with him."

"Yeah, he didn't deserve having to deal with any of that," Steve agreed.

"So," Lou shifted gears. "You flashed back. Why do you think that was?"

"I don't know. I … damn I, I don't want to talk about this, Lou." Steve began to fidget in the chair, trying to get comfortable, not looking at the other man. "Just… can we drop it?"

"Think it has anything to do with your girlfriend being over there by herself?"

Steve jumped up from the chair and began to pace not even feeling the pain his movement brought. "Lou, let it go."

Grover stood up and confronted Steve on one of his turns. "Keeping it inside isn't going to help anything. You've been through enough briefs to know that."

"What do you want me to say?" Steve shouted. "That I left my… my girlfriend over there by herself? That I couldn't protect her? That I royally fucked up? Is that what you want?"

Lou shook his head. "I don't want to hear that at all. I want you to realize you aren't to blame. Steve, you can't 'fix' everything and everything that happens isn't your fault. Did Catherine choose to stay behind to find the boy?"

Steve was leaning against the pillar, staring into the distance, his jaw set.

"Yes."

"Would you have been able to force her to come back?"

Steve snorted his answer to that one.

"Then how are you responsible?"

"I- I just am."

"Really?"

Steve leaned his head against the post. "Probably not," he finally quietly admitted. "Hell, I don't know what I think. But if I'm not angry at me, that means—"

"You're angry at her for staying."

Steve jerked around to glare at Lou. "But I'm not."

"Not even a little?" Lou asked, prodding more.

Steve shrugged once again and turned away. "Yeah, maybe. I don't know. I mean, I don't want to be."

"You know that this anger or rage or whatever it is needs an outlet, don't you?"

"Yeah, I guess."

"I know where you're coming from. Did you know I did a tour during Desert Storm?"

"Yeah, I read that some place."

"Hell, you read my jacket, so don't even try to deny it," Grover replied.

"Like you didn't read mine?" Steve retorted.

"Let's say I tried but three-fourths of yours is redacted. I'm lucky to even know your name." He touched Steve's arm and motioned back toward the chairs. "Let's sit back down."

"You mean we aren't done?"

"No, we're not done," Lou retorted while making himself comfortable once again. "As I was saying, I was in the Army. Saw… and did… a lot of things I didn't like. It's not easy. But you can't let any of that dictate who you are for the rest of your life. You have to let it go."

"Easier said than done," Steve huffed, easing back into the chair and scrubbing his hand over his face before propping his head up with his fist.

"I know that," Lou replied, nodding his head. "When I opened up to you a couple months back I knew then that you were headed for a crash. I could read the signs. I read them because I saw them all in myself. "

"Talk's cheap, Lou."

"Yeah, it is. But it helps. I've got a proposition for you."

"What's that?" Steve wasn't ready for commitment, but he would listen.

"I'm guessing you don't want to talk with anyone in the Navy, right?"

"I don't want to talk about it at all." Steve shot back.

"Meet me. Once a month. Anywhere you choose and we'll talk. I'll listen. You'll listen. We can both get things off our chests. I'll be honest with you, Steve. Since I came out here, I haven't had anyone I can open up with. I need an outlet, too. Someone who understands."

"Just once a month?" Steve asked, not immediately dismissing the idea.

"Yeah. Not even on a schedule. That way, if one of us needs to vent, we can call the other. No one has to know. I know you've got Williams, but I get the feeling he doesn't understand where you're coming from."

"You got that right," Steve admitted. "I mean, he's a good friend and my partner, but sometimes he doesn't have a clue. I've got a good team, but I can't lay all this on them."

"Then take me up on my offer. You'll be helping me in the process. Hey, maybe we can even get a boat and go fishing sometime."

Steve grinned. "For bass?"

"Not funny, McGarrett. Do we have a deal?"

Steve sighed, then looked at his new friend. He knew Lou was only trying to help. He just didn't like the fact that he needed help. "Three months. And then we reevaluate."

Lou held out his hand. "Then it's a deal."

Steve reached out and shook his hand. "I've got to be crazy to agree to this," he muttered.

Grover laughed and reached into his pocket. "One more thing." He set a bottle on the table between them.

"What's this?" Steve asked.

"That, is a bottle of pain pills that I found on your counter. They are to use when you are in pain or when you are being a pain. You qualify for both." Lou picked up the bottle and shook it. "I find it interesting that it is almost full and you've been back home two and a half weeks. Any comments?"

"Don't need 'em."

"The hell you don't. I know you're hurting. Ain't no way you can cover it up." He glanced at his watch. "It's going on four. The ERs are probably winding down, so why don't you let me take you in and get checked out?"

Steve shook his head. "They can't do anything but tell me I have a broken rib. Treatment is to do nothing."

"Is it broken?"

Steve hesitated, and then nodded. "Yeah, I felt it shift. I already had a couple of cracked ribs. Tonight sealed the deal."

Grover pushed the pills across the table. "Tomorrow… or today… is Sunday. Pop a couple of these and go to bed. Don't get up until you're ready. I'll make sure you aren't called tomorrow."

Without even realizing it, Steve yawned. And then Grover yawned.

"OK, up from there," Lou said, reaching out his arm. "I'm beat and I know you are, too."

"Want some more coffee for the ride home?" Steve asked, picking up the empty cups.

"Nah, I plan to crash as soon as I get there. I might sleep all of tomorrow, too."

They walked back through the house and Grover continued to the front door, Steve behind him.

"You gonna be OK?" Lou asked.

Steve hesitated, choosing his words. "I'll make it," he finally admitted. " I'm nowhere near happy with the situation, but for now, I can't do anything about it. But that doesn't mean I'm letting this go. I've got feelers out in the 'Stan. But I have to let her do this her way."

"I'd like to see you try to do it any other way," Lou said. "Whoo boy, when they get a notion in their pretty little heads… you might as well just nod and agree because you aren't the one in control."

"Yeah," Steve agreed. "Lou… thanks."

"Any time, my friend. Now, next time I find your sorry ass in jail I'm gonna kick it to the cell myself. Do you comprehend me?"

"You and who's Army, Lou?"

"Big, bad SEAL do you think I'm scared of you?"

"I could take you," Steve replied.

"Not tonight, man, not tonight. Now get some sleep."

"You, too. See you Monday. Guess I have to grovel to Duke before then."

"Good luck with that one," Lou said with a chuckle. "Hey, if you need anything, call."

Steve nodded. "Yeah, thanks."

He closed the door behind his friend and stared at the steps toward the bedroom. That room held too many other memories. Looking at the couch, he made his decision. One which his body would hate him for in the morning, but the need for sleep won out. He looked at the bottle of pills Lou had dropped into his hand when he left. Yeah, maybe it's time, Steve thought, heading to the kitchen for water.

*The title means "Long, Hard Road"