Changing Tides

Sometimes it's the small things that cause a fundamental shift. Kono comes to a realization while Steve is away.

A/N: Set in season 1, before the disruptions and intrusions to the ohana. I've been a lurking fan of this pairing for a while now and thought it was time to try my hand at contributing something.

This is how it begins: You trundle along your day-to-day life, secure in your routines and snug in your perceptions of your world, until one day you wake up and find the world has somehow shifted. It might be a subtle thing, like noticing the shadow of a cloud falling across your board as you float over sun-drenched waters; a patch of ocean that's a slightly different hue of azure than the rest. Or it can knock you flat, tilt your world, like the rogue wave that flips you over and sweeps you down beneath an otherwise calm sea.

This is how it begins: They're sitting in the break room watching some silly show on TV, on one of those blissfully rare days when they've already wrapped up a case and have a breather before the next big one appears, and Kono and Danny are ragging on Steve when his phone rings. He's half laughing when he steps out to take it, but when he comes back in a few minutes later his face has that intense steely McGarrett look, and Kono braces herself for the next big one.

"Got called up. I'm shipping out tomorrow morning," Steve says, and flips an open manila case file across the table towards Danny. "You're in charge, Danno. Don't burn the house down while I'm gone."

Danny's jaw drops a little and he looks at Steve like he just sprouted a second head. "Excuse me? Got called where? What are you talking about?"

Steve is already halfway out the door, throwing his words over his shoulder. "Reserves, Danno. I get the call, I go. I did swear an oath."

Danny sputters and looks frantically from Kono to Chin. "What did he just say? What does he mean he's in the reserves? He's five-oh – isn't he retired from the SEALs?"

Kono lifts her shoulders in a shrug, and Chin quirks an eyebrow at him. "He did transfer to the reserves when he moved back. Maybe they need him for a special Super SEAL job."

Kono heads out the door just as Danny throws up his hands in exasperation and yells loudly enough to be heard throughout the entire office, "What the hell does he expect the rest of us to do? What kind of task force is this if the fucking commander can just up and leave whenever he wants?"

Kono finds Steve in his office, methodically dumping clothes and equipment into his duffel bag. "Ho, boss," she says softly, leaning against the doorframe. "What's happening?"

He looks up and regards her briefly. "I may be gone for a bit, so make sure Danny doesn't pop too many blood vessels in the meantime."

"He'll be okay. We can hold down the fort."

Steve cocks his head towards her. "I know you can."

There are a million other questions Kono wants to ask him, but his attention is currently focused on scrambling around his office and she knows that he probably wouldn't answer them anyway, so she bites her tongue and slips out.

"Kono." His voice stops her and she looks over her shoulder at him expectantly. "I uh, need a favor. Give me a ride to the naval base tomorrow?" He looks sheepish as he straightens up, and she can't help but shoot him a small smile.

"Sure thing, boss."

Kono pulls up to Steve's house ten minutes early, but he's already waiting out front, looking much too eager and alert for this hour of the morning. She hides a yawn as he slings his duffle into her trunk and slides in next to her.

"Morning," he greets her cheerfully, and Kono thinks to herself that there is probably nobody else in the world but McGarrett who would be thrilled to be called to duty at six-fucking-am in the morning.

On the drive he's tapping his fingers on the dashboard, humming under his breath to whatever radio station she has on, and Kono wonders fleetingly just exactly what-is-happening-here and is-he-ever-going-to-come-back-to-them.

"Do you know where you're going?" she finally asks, and involuntarily her hands grip the steering wheel a tiny bit tighter.

"If I told you, I'd kinda have to kill you," Steve deadpans, but his eyes are laughing at her, and she shakes her head in mock exasperation.

"The least you can do after I hauled my ass up at the crack of dawn to drive your ass to the base is to tell me what all this urgency is," she quips back.

"Why do I have a sneaking suspicion you would've been up this early anyway catching a wave?" He smiles playfully at her. "It's a classified op. I won't even know until I get there."

"I didn't know the Lieutenant Commander could follow orders like such a good solider," Kono teases, but she notices the way Steve's eyes shift a little as he glances over at her, and how he doesn't really say much more during the rest of the ride. It's not long before they're at the base and Kono is pulling up before the checkpoint.

Steve eases his tall frame out of her car smoothly and goes around to grab his bag. Kono has this sudden urge to tell him something inane like "good luck" or "be careful", but the words die in her throat when she remembers that really, who is she kidding, it's Steve McGarrett.

"Hey." He's leaning against her open window, flashing her a wide grin. "Don't blow up too many buildings in the meantime. Stay out of my explosives."

She laughs, and swings him a mock salute. "I can't promise anything, boss."

Their gazes meet for a brief second. "Take care of Danno and Chin," he winks at her, and then he is striding away, and Kono watches his retreating back as she turns her car around and tries hard to ignore the sinking feeling she gets in her gut.

She doesn't expect to hear from him, of course. Why would she? McGarrett's on a top-secret mission God-knows-where, and she's sure he's fine, really. He'll probably come waltzing back into the office a few weeks later, acting as if he hadn't just blown up half a city or assassinated a president or taken out a few terrorist cells along the way.

But he crosses her mind occasionally, during those quiet moments when she's in the office doing research or filling out paperwork, or when she notices Danny getting slightly more agitated than normal. For all that Danny complains about his partner and his complete disregard for protocol, Kono knows that deep down Steve's presence is missed. They all feel the absence, though nothing is ever said out loud. It's glaringly apparent in the way they're actually trying to do things by the book this week: ticking the box for probable cause before they bust down any doors, actually reading suspects their Miranda rights, dutifully writing up a backlog of reports – no adrenaline-fueled car chases, hanging suspects off roofs, or undercover shootouts anywhere in sight.

She's not sure if it's just the nature of the cases they're working this week, but things are just so damn quiet.

Despite Danny's constant assurances of, "See how productive we're being? See how great this is? This is the way it should be," there's an itch somewhere deep in Kono's chest. A budding uneasiness that grows a little louder every day, perilous waves lapping at the shore of her consciousness; murmuring a need to do something – defuse a bomb, corner a suspect, go undercover – anything to kick start the adrenaline and propel her into action, so she doesn't have to sit here with her stack of reports and feel – whatever the hell this is that she thinks she is feeling.

She's treating herself to a grape-flavored shaved ice one evening as the sky bleeds streaks of pink into the sea, when her phone rings. It's an unrecognizable number, but she picks up anyway.


"Kono." His voice is deep, more gravelly than she remembers it being.

"Boss?" She nearly drops her spoon in surprise.

"Hey. How's it going?"

Kono has no idea why Steve is calling, and her heartbeat spikes a tiny bit in anticipation. "Yeah, it's going okay. How're you?"

"Dusty and parched. Makes me realize why I moved back to Hawaii," he laughs. "How's the team holding up?"

"We're fine. Danny's got us being good little paper pushers right now. Staying out of trouble." She adds as an afterthought, "Think he misses you, though."

"Tell him not to mope too much," Steve replies, though he sounds distracted, and suddenly Kono is aware of the noises coming out of his end, the whirring sounds of machinery and rumble of voices.

"Everything okay?" Kono ventures to ask, and there's a slight pause over the line, the faint crackle of static echoing a long way down. She wonders again why he's calling, and if it was just to check up on the team, she's not sure why he didn't call his partner instead.

"Yeah," he finally says. "I'm good. Listen – I might be unreachable for a while. Just so you know."

It's not as if he left a hotline for them to call; she wouldn't have known how to reach him anyway. But something in his tone makes her uneasy.

"Okay?" She leaves her question unsaid.

There's another pause before he answers. "It was good to hear from you, Kono. Look, I just wanted to say – "

In the background, she can hear a male voice yelling. "McGarrett – it's go time!"

"Okay, I gotta run. Talk to you soon."

Then he's gone; she's staring down at her phone, and for the first time in a long time she wishes she were somewhere other than this island paradise.

As the days and weeks pass Kono tries to be a good cop. She chases down leads and eyes the growing pile of paperwork on her desk. The itch has crawled to just beneath her skin now, and it's like something is thrumming through her veins, slick and treacherous, a silent wave threatening to engulf her. She doesn't know what it is, but she's on edge and restless, scanning the news headlines on her computer when she should be filing the latest report, switching the TV on to CNN when she's in the break room as background chatter. She's not entirely sure what she's looking for, but there's nothing breaking, nothing unusual, nothing that even hints at what a secret contingent of Navy SEALs might be doing in some distant outpost, nothing, nothing.

Danny opens the door with a clatter and Kono jumps up, hand flying automatically to her holstered Kel-Tec.

"Whoa," Danny holds up two paper bags. "Take it easy there, Kalakaua. I just picked you up some lunch."

As they're eating, she asks Danny, "Have you heard from him?"

"Who, McGarrett?" Danny rolls his eyes. "No, I haven't. Just typical of him, to go gallivanting off without even a head's up or telling us how long he's supposed to be away."

"Well, it's probably some crazy mission– " Kono offers.

"Crazy doesn't even begin to cover it," Danny gestures expansively with his sandwich. "Kono, let me remind you of one tiny thing: do you remember a certain near-death experience courtesy of one former McGarrett comrade Nick Taylor? You seem to be forgetting that Super SEAL is with a bunch of guys right now from the same stock – who are just as apeshit psychotic as Steve is, if not more so. Now if that's not a thought that gives me nightmares in my sleep." Danny shudders dramatically, then takes a big bite of his sandwich and rolls his eyes. "He's probably in the middle of taking out a small country right now."

She spends a lot of time at the gym, roundhouse kicking her punching bag to a high. Or out on the water catching the next breaker, trying to recapture the absolute, dizzying thrill that surfing once brought her.

Sometimes as she's swimming back to shore, feeling the gentle pulse of the water beneath her hips and legs, sun caressing her skin, she thinks of another place far away, where the sun beats down relentlessly on miles of scorching sand and rugged terrain. She imagines teeming, narrow dirt roads, of vendors hawking their wares in exotic, guttural cadences, of heavy-eyed women draped beneath dark shawls. Then she thinks of lights and explosions and a familiar, steady gaze, sighting down a barrel.

On those days, even the big waves don't give her what she's looking for.

They're hunting down a suspected gang leader one day, a scumbag with a rap sheet as long as her surfing credentials. When they finally break down his door they catch the tail end of him slipping out the back, vaulting over his first floor balcony, and without a second's thought Kono takes off after him. She's chasing him through a winding residential neighborhood, popping over fences and skirting hedges, legs pumping, lungs straining, sweat streaming down her neck and back in ninety-degree heat. The guy peeks at her over his shoulder, pulls a gun and aims it unsteadily behind him, firing off a few shots that go wild.

Kono's grinning like a mad woman by now, and as she pushes her aching muscles even faster, the throbbing in her chest and veins fairly humming now, reaching a crescendo, all she can think is – pleaseohgod this is what I need.

When she roars up to him, she brings him down with a hard tackle, the gun skittering out of his hand, and then she's pummeling him as she's never pummeled anyone before, kicking and punching the soft, exposed parts of his body so fast her arms and legs become whirling dervishes. Then her vision blurs, and after that there's nothing but the sound of fist hitting flesh.

It's Chin who pulls her off the guy, his arms going around her chest and back and hauling her away. She's pretty sure she lands a few hits on Chin by accident, but he brushes them off and shakes her by the shoulders.

"Cuz! That's enough. I think you got him plenty good."

That's when the haze clears and she's looking down at a raw, battered mess of a man, clutching his bloodied and nearly unrecognizable face and curled fetal in pain. Danny's looking at her with a mixture between awe and horror, and he opens his mouth as if to say something but thinks better of it and snaps it shut.

Chin's got a hand on her elbow, leading her firmly to his car. On the ride back to headquarters she catches him glancing repeatedly at her out of the rearview mirror, and she snaps, "What?"

Chin turns to look at her. "I'm sure he's okay."

There's a discerning look in his eyes, and they both know that he's not referring to the guy she just took down.

Her phone rings around 6 a.m. as she's unstrapping her board from the top of her car and preparing to hit the water for an hour or two before she heads into the office.

"Hey. Thought you'd be up." Steve's voice comes warm and solid over the line, and Kono releases a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding.

"Steve," she exhales, and it's as if whatever it was that's been zipping around deep within her abruptly falls still and silent, straining to hear over the crash of the surf, clambering through the phone. "How'd it go?"

"Good. Everything's good." He sounds smug and confident, and suddenly Kono feels a hot, irrational burst of anger towards him, for disappearing, for his fucking impertinence in calling, for all the damn things he's not saying.

"Are you coming back?" she asks bluntly.

"As a matter of fact, that's what I was going to ask you. I'm flying back in tomorrow. Wanna swing by the airport?"

A surge of rebelliousness flashes through her. "Is that an order, commander?" she bites out.

There's a brief silence on the other end. "No," Steve replies at length. "I wouldn't ask you to do anything you didn't want to do." There's another beat before he adds softly, "I know I've been gone a while. I didn't mean to leave you guys for so long. There was something I had to do, but it's done now, and I'm coming home."

Kono steadies herself with a quick, deep breath. Unexpectedly she remembers the solid weight of a weapon in her hand, the primal, visceral satisfaction of feeling flesh hitting flesh, of sprouting wings to take down her prey. This is what he needed, too.

"I'll be there," she says finally. "What time?"

He gives her the details but she's still feeling impulsive, teetering on the edge of something reckless. He's about to go when she interrupts him. "Why did you call me?" And not Danny, or Chin? The question hangs between them, unspoken.

Another pause, and in the silence she can almost sense him fall still, face turning quiet and intent with that characteristic laser focus.

"Because you're the one who would get it," he tells her simply, before he hangs up.

That's when the wave crashes over her, leaves her reeling. It's been building for weeks, but when it hits it has bull's-eye aim, slamming her off her secure, familiar perch and flipping her underneath to an alien place where things are a little bit murkier, where the palette bleeds into a denser, more precarious shade of indigo than the turquoise world above.

There's nothing left to do but dive deep, and suddenly Kono understands that whatever else happens, the definition of who and what Steve McGarret is has just incontrovertibly blurred.

"Fuck," she says.

She gets to the airport early the next afternoon and lets her car idle in the parking lot as she waits. She can't believe how she's kind of fucking nervous, and wipes her clammy hands on her jeans.

It's a feeling she doesn't know what to do with right now, followed by thoughts of wondering just how long she's been treading a delicate line, sweetly oblivious – all of which she'd gladly shove back into a dark corner of her mind, rammed down to never see the light of day. Kono knows herself well, and she is practical and grounded if nothing else. Being blindsided was never a position she handled well, least of all by her own feelings.

"What the hell is wrong with you," she berates herself angrily.

Then she spots him approaching, duffel casually slung over one shoulder, and whatever misgivings she's brooding on gets lost for the moment in the lithe grace he lopes towards her car with.

"Hey," he gives her a big goofy grin as he climbs into the car. "Thanks for coming and saving my ass."

Kono actually laughs at how apologetic he looks, and a part of her she hasn't managed to tamp down has never been happier to see him whole and unbroken. He's unshaven and there are shadows under his eyes, but his gaze is clear and steady and her small car fills with his presence.

On the way back, he doesn't talk about where he just came from or what he's been doing for the past weeks, but asks about Chin and Danno and some of the cases they've been working on.

The closest they get to mentioning it is when she eventually asks, "How was being back? With your team?"

"Easy," he says, with a touch of that trademark arrogance. "But not as easy as this." Then he's looking at her directly, and Kono feels something twist in her stomach.

He smiles at her gently. "And I've already got a team."

There are things she wants to ask and say, but the words kind of garble together and get stuck in her throat, so she says nothing and keeps her attention on the road.

When she pulls up to his driveway she gets out of the car and walks with him to his porch, unsure of whether she should just do the smart thing and leave and hating herself for her uncertainty. Steve's unlocking the door and she's just about to say her goodbyes and turn around when he reaches out to grab her elbow.

His eyes are looking at her questioningly and he's leaning in, and Kono has just enough time to think for one quick, stupid moment, he's going to kiss me, and if she just turned her head a centimeter that way – and boy, would that be one of the damned dumbest things she's ever done, her boss – but of course he doesn't, he's reaching around and drawing her into a hug that seems to surprise both of them.

It's a quick hug, a brief point of contact between the two of them, but she's acutely aware of the warmth and weight of his hand on her back, the way he feels solid and smells dangerous, the faintest brush of his lips against her ear.

"I remembered you," she thinks she hears him murmur, barely discernible, against the crown of her head. She knows Steve McGarrett well enough by now to know that she's probably not ever going to understand the meaning behind his words, but whatever it is, it's shifted something between the two of them, like the changing of the tide on a quiet Hawaiian evening.

It's Kono who pulls away first. "I should – I should get going."

He's looking at her with something unreadable in his eyes, his face inscrutable, and Kono's fingers unconsciously curl into fists by her side.

"I'll see you at the office tomorrow," she tells him quickly, then turns around and adds softly, "Welcome back, Steve." She feels him watching her as she starts down the path.

Kono walks carefully back to her car and safely inside, breathes deeply to reorient herself, struggling to find her way back to the still, familiar surface against a rising tide.

This is how it begins.