Lines in the Sand
Sometimes you cross lines that you can't go back. Three times Steve crosses those lines and how he finds his way home (with a little help from Kono).
A/N: A reinterpretation of some key events in seasons 1 and 2, centered around Steve and Kono.
Steve has never really considered himself a true soldier. The drills, the grueling training, the backbreaking hells he's gone through – they've all been more of a means to an end for him; a way to see how far he could push himself, how much beyond the limits of strength and endurance and willpower he could go. He's a SEAL; he understands the sanctity of the chain of command, of how missions are made or broken upon the precision of a terse directive, but he also knows how far away those orders could be when it was just you, crawling through a humid, sweltering jungle with 140 pounds of gear on your back, bloodied, dehydrated, delirious. That was when victory hung on the edge of sanity; when it boiled down to guts and instinct, ingenuity and improvisation.
A solider is called to obey orders, carry out commands and lay his life down for God and country. Steve loves his country, but he prefers to keep his eyes open, listen to commands and interpret them on his own. When he lays his life down, he'll call the shots, weigh the worth. It's what makes him a bad soldier, but one hell of a commander.
But for all his insouciant flaunting of authority, Steve's military career has taught him that there are some rules you don't break, if you want to find your way back home.
When he joined Five-0, it was like jumping headfirst into an alternate universe, where instinct and resourcefulness still mattered, but sometimes got buried so deep behind layers of protocol and bureaucracy even Steve has trouble shoveling out the bullshit on occasion. He had to learn some new things, relearn others, but even so he finds himself easing slowly into this new world, different from anything he had known previously.
Steve uses "full immunity and means" a little too loosely, thrusts it out front like his badge as he barrels through walls and kicks down doorways. It's the only way he knows how to get things done, after all. Even here the rules follow him, hard to forget with Danny nattering incessantly in his ear about due process and standard regulations. He smiles at Danny during those times, and decides wisely to choose his battles.
Some rules are universal, the ones you don't ignore. You get your partner's back, trust he has yours. You put family first, duty second. You follow the evidence, no matter where it leads. You separate the good guys from the bad, know implicitly which side you're on. You take care of your own.
But somehow, in the year he's been with Five-0, Steve's blown past so many doors he has trouble remembering which one he came through first. Even here there are lines in the sand, but he's dived across so many of them they've turned into vague smudges, blurring and bleeding into one tangled web. Rules he once thought sacrosanct he discovered could turn pliant, able to be molded and chiseled at will.
Yet because of this, he makes sure there are other lines, new ones he's drawn around himself and the people around him in an attempt to regain his bearings. These are the ones he eyes warily, calculates dimensions of, and reminds himself to remember his footing.
So Steve watches himself and his team carefully, watches one member in particular, and finds himself struggling to make his way back to a world that once fit neatly into borders and parameters, a familiar one where victory hinged on discipline and the tools he brought to the table.
There are some lines you cross that you can't get back over. Some lines you cross where you lose your way back home.
The first inkling Steve gets that his new job might be a bit more than he bargained for is when he gets a call from HPD dispatch informing him that there is a situation developing with Detective Chin Ho Kelly. It starts to sink in when he rushes across the police line with Danny to find Chin on the ground, a bomb strapped around his neck, and Victor Hesse on the other end of the phone.
Steve's been in these situations before; prepped and drilled for this exact eventuality, but when it was your own man kneeling there, all that goes out the window for the first ten seconds as your brain tries to catch up to reality. Steve feels the beginnings of an all-too-familiar dread rising inside him, but another part of his mind is already analyzing the situation, synapses zinging away at millions of possibilities, and years of honed training and instinct have him leaning into that cool, detached part of himself, relying on it to clear away everything else.
Even as Kono runs up, terror transparent in her eyes, the initial panic has been replaced by a cold, smoldering fury in Steve's chest. It only takes a second for Steve to reach a decision when Chin tells them about the asset forfeiture locker, and as he meets Kono's eyes across from Chin, fiery and resolute, he makes the call.
"I'm just trying to measure the level of insanity we're dealing with?" Danny asks him.
"High. Very high," Steve answers, and it's a blessed relief not to have to sit there helplessly and think, but to jump into action and fucking do something. Even if that something was plotting the theft of ten million dollars, but Steve was never one to look back and agonize over decisions he's already made. He plots a course and takes it, and deals with whatever consequences as they come.
Kono is the one who gets in the car with him, goes along with his plan to break into the asset forfeiture locker without a word. The silence in the car is taut and wired, but the set of Kono's jaw and the wildness in her expression mirrors his own, and he knows that there is nothing to do but move forward. Back at the office, money in hand and preparing to go meet Hesse, Steve hands Kono a sniper rifle.
"Can you handle one of these?" he asks.
Kono merely takes the rifle out of his hands mutely, steel in her eyes. Steve notices her white-knuckled grip, the set of her shoulders, and he touches her elbow gently.
"We're going to get Chin back," he tells her, as she swallows visibly and jerks her head in a nod.
Forty-five minutes later it's all over, and he senses rather than sees her come up beside him. Together they stand there numbly, watching Chin's ten-million-dollar ransom go up in flames.
That night they all find themselves at Chin's house, mostly because, Steve thinks, there lay an unspoken desire on all their parts to reassure themselves that Chin was whole and intact; that Five-0 had come this close to disaster today and escaped unscathed. The events of the day have left Danny giddy and louder than usual, as he slaps Chin on the back and hands out Longboards. Danny quips a one-liner that has Chin, still looking pallid through his tanned complexion, crack a grin, and Kono's lips quirk up behind her beer bottle, although Steve doesn't miss the way she hovers unobtrusively over her cousin, eyes never leaving his face. Steve leans back against the kitchen counter, watches his team, and feels something like gratitude flood through him.
"Guys, as much as I appreciate you baby-sitting me, it's been a long day and I need to hit the sack," Chin finally says, and he looks bone-weary in the way Steve knows that only a near brush with death can bring.
They file out of his house, saying their tired goodbyes, and Danny takes off in the Camaro. Kono looks at Steve. "Give me a ride back home, boss? I rode here with Chin. Didn't want him to drive, you know, after – after everything." Her voice comes out thicker than normal, and Steve nods in understanding.
"Yeah, of course."
The silence in his truck as they drive is a world apart from the tense, adrenaline-fueled one that filled it hours earlier. It's turned into something opaque, draining, settling over them like a heavy blanket, flowing and filtering into the creases and spaces between. It's late, but the night still feels unfinished, somehow, to Steve, and he glances over at Kono, who's leaning against the window and looking out at the quiet streets.
Feeling his gaze, Kono turns and shoots him a thin smile, and he reads the same sense of restlessness in the tightness around her mouth, in the clench of her fingers against the edge of the seat. Five blocks from her house she directs him into a beach parking lot, and that's how they find themselves sitting on his truck bed, legs dangling over the side, a six-pack of Longboards beside them.
Steve lets the sound of breaking waves and the muted radiance of the moonlit night wash over him, and the silence that lay between them stretches its arms and lifts off into the balmy ocean breeze.
"Thanks for earlier. Telling me that we were going to get Chin back," Kono murmurs.
Steve looks over at her. "It was the only possible outcome," he tells her, simply.
Kono looks down, hair sweeping across her face, thumb idly scraping at the label of her bottle. "When I blew out my knee, found out my pro surfing career was over, I kind of went off the deep end for a while," Kono begins, voice low, and Steve has to strain to hear above the crash of the surf.
"I moved back home with my parents but I was going crazy, and Chin let me stay with him for weeks at a time. I went off on a binge – partying, drinking, god knows what else – Chin would head out the door on his way to work in the morning and bump into me just stumbling home, incoherent. On the weekends he would barely even see me, but there would always be a meal of some kind on the table or in the fridge, a note telling me where he was in case I came home to find him gone. There were a few times when he even had to come pick me up from whatever shithole I ended up in because I was too fucked up."
Kono takes a deep breath. "He never said anything about what I was doing, not once. Even when I got burned out from all the hard partying and stayed in bed for days at a time, he would check in on me, but left me alone, gave me the space I needed to mourn or grieve for what I had lost. I think he knew that when I was ready, I would talk."
Steve listens to Kono, absorbs the gentle cadence and rhythm of her voice, and realizes that this is a story she probably hasn't told many people.
"So what happened?" he asks after a moment's silence, his voice gruffer than he intended it.
Kono smiles softly, looking out across the hushed stretch of beach. "I thought for a long time. Then one day I stepped out of my room, and asked Chin what it took to join HPD. And every step since he's been showing me the way."
Steve takes a long swig of his beer and leans back on his elbows. He tries to read the meaning behind Kono's words, the things she was trying to say about herself, and Chin, what he meant to her and what losing him might cost her, and for one fleetingly clear, almost painfully lucid moment, Steve is fiercely glad he had chosen to come home, had taken the steps necessary to bring him to this new family, to this moment (here). Today was the first day he had really crossed a line – a real line – saw its walls and perimeters and chose to deliberately break into it, but if it led him to this second, Chin safe asleep in his apartment; Danny at home with his daughter; Kono next to him in companionable silence, wind shifting strands of her hair and both of them watching the sea and sand; then he would gladly pay whatever price required.
"Hey," Steve eventually says to her, clearing his throat. "With everything that happened, I meant to tell you – that shot you took was aces. I couldn't have done it better myself."
Kono doesn't say anything, just lifts her bottle and clinks it against his lightly. They stay that way, drinking their way through the six-pack, until the sun peaks over the horizon and reaches blossoming tendrils of pink and gold across a milky sky.
The second time Steve crosses a line is when he picks the lock to the governor's mansion and finds himself breaking into yet another place that would most certainly cost him some quality time in a cell if caught.
He's definitely making a habit of this, Steve reflects to himself ruefully, before he climbs the stairs, breaks into the governor's desk, and uncovers the photos that change everything.
By the time he confronts the governor, Steve is acting mostly on emotion and instinct, and he doesn't have much of an extraction plan except for a vague notion that he would get her to confess or fight his way out. Having pointed a gun at the governor's head, he could pretty much kiss his badge and "full immunity and means" goodbye, but Steve brushes those thoughts to the peripheral of his mind and lasers his focus on the shifting of her eyes, the movement and location of her hands, as he charges – no, fucking bulldozes – over the line.
He's so focused that he barely registers the sound of someone else creeping into the room, and then there is nothing but the searing pain of an electric shock, sharp, against his neck.
In his cell, the only thing Steve has is time. Seconds and minutes from Steve's life crawl by with apocalyptic slowness, replaying over and over in his head like a jerky film reel. His father's voice over a phone line. The crack of a gunshot, the ringing left in his ears even half a world away. Mary Ann's retreating back as she boards a plane. The bite of cold metal around his wrists, Chin's impassive face. The fear in Kono's eyes across the booking room.
The first few days it's Danny who comes to visit him every day, louder and more animated than normal. Steve knows that Danny is worried; that his voluble updates and status reports are intended to reassure Steve, but all he can dully register is the flourish and flurry of Danny's gesticulations through the glass, as the tangled coil of wrath and vengeance deep in Steve's chest glows a tiny bit brighter.
He's slightly surprised to sit down one day and find Kono on the other side of the window, gamely flashing him a dimpled smile.
She looks a little more haggard than the last time he saw her, under the garish fluorescent lighting of HPD, but the fear is gone from her eyes and Steve can't help the keen surge of relief that flows through him at seeing her in front of him, free and unhurt.
"Kono. You okay? Are you…back?" Steve asks through the phone, endeavoring to get a handle on his jumbled thoughts.
Kono shrugs resignedly. "Suspended. Pending an IA investigation."
"Shit. I–I'm really sorry," Steve says lamely, that tight ball flaring intensely against his ribcage, tempered with something that feels suspiciously like guilt. He's so frustrated he wants to punch something. He's in a fucking hole, Kono's out of the game, Danny and Chin are running down dead-end leads, and Wo Fat was running free out there, probably laughing his ass off.
"I should be asking you. You okay in there?" Kono raises her eyebrows, looking pointedly at the heavily tattooed, scarred inmate twice the size of Steve sitting two seats over.
"I went through BUD/S. This is a walk in the park," Steve deadpans, and Kono rolls her eyes good-naturedly.
"Either way, you look like shit, boss. We'll have to get you out of there soon."
"You didn't really have to come," Steve offers, even though a small corner of him he doesn't want to think too closely about has been inordinately glad to sit here in front of her, for a little while.
"Please, brah. Someone had to make sure you hadn't taken out the entire convict population by now." Kono gives him a crooked grin and Steve attempts to match it. "Hang in there," she says quietly, into the phone.
"Yeah. You too," he replies, and tries hard not to pay attention to the sinuous grace of her long legs as she turns to get up and leave.
The night Five-0 gets reinstated by the new governor, they end up at a local bar, a continuation of their impromptu celebration earlier in the office. After everything that's happened, after all the adrenaline-fueled mania of the past few days, Steve is in surprisingly good spirits. There's a budding unease that prison might have etched the shadows in his heart into sharper relief, but tonight at least he can believe that things are going to be okay, that everything can be salvaged and put back together again.
Steve laughs out loud as Jenna challenges Kamekona to a shot contest and the big Hawaiian falls unexpectedly behind on the fourth one, and he lets the palpable sense of release and liberation engulf him. Danny hands him another tequila shot and he takes it alongside his partner and Chin, enjoying the beginnings of a slight buzz. He knows the inevitable crash that comes after being constantly on edge for such a prolonged period is just around the corner, but he's holding it at bay for now.
Sensing someone missing, Steve glances around and spies Kono perched at a table in a corner, picking absently at the label on an empty beer bottle and looking lost in thought. Steve makes his way over to her and deposits two shots and Longboards on the table.
"I think you're falling behind," he informs her, nodding at her empty drink. "I seem to remember someone telling me once that they used to be quite the partier."
Kono looks up at him and grins. "You heard right. I could still probably drink you under the table."
"Is that a challenge I hear?" Steve quirks an eyebrow at her.
"I would never presume to challenge you, commander," Kono smirks, taking a long swig from her new bottle.
A burst of raucous laughter from the rest of the group by the bar draws their attention, and Steve observes Chin gazing over curiously at them. Kono smiles fondly in his direction. "It's nice to be together again," she says offhandedly, but Steve doesn't miss the wistful note in her voice.
"Hey. You'll get your badge back. We'll figure something out," Steve says softly, involuntarily leaning closer towards her.
"Yeah," Kono grimaces momentarily, then straightens up, brightening. "So what was that you mentioned earlier about undercover work?"
"Oh, I don't know. I'm sure we could find a use for your expertise, off the books," Steve winks at her conspiratorially.
"By which you better not mean dressing up in skimpy outfits like I've done for every other undercover op," she scoffs. "I think it's past time I've paid my dues. In fact, I'm graduating myself. The new girl can do those ones from now on."
"Jenna?" Steve looks over at the woman in question, who at the moment was snorting with mirth at something Kamekona had just said. "I don't know," Steve frowns doubtfully. "I'm not sure she would be able to pull it off with quite the same...flair."
Kono reaches for her shot glass, tips her head back and takes it clean, and Steve finds himself watching the curve of her throat, the smooth angles of her collarbones under the dim lighting. She slams her glass down, catches him looking at her, and smiles slowly, suggestively.
"Are you flirting with me, McGarrett?" Her voice is throaty, subtly teasing.
He downs his own shot smoothly, then meets her eyes steadily. "You tell me."
Steve is used to thinking of Kono as the rookie of the group, just another team member (subordinate), another one of the boys who only happens to look like a girl, but of late he's having difficulty shoving her back into those established confines and definitions. He keeps catching little, unexpected things about her that throw him off guard: the dimple in her left cheek, the infectious, entrancing lilt of her laugh, her willingness to go far beyond her call of duty, her fervent loyalty to those she calls family. Her stubborn recklessness, breathtakingly familiar. Her tough-as-nails exterior; her slip of vulnerability on a serene Hawaiian night, beside the sea.
He doesn't know if it's the potent mix of alcohol invading his senses at last, the pounding throb of bass that envelops them in their darkened corner, or simply the afterburn of dealing with weeks of fucked up madness, but Steve draws nearer until he's pressed up tight in her space, arm brushing hers, close enough to know that she smells of coconut and a hint of something heady, like the ocean. He hears the slight catch of her breath, notices the way her eyes flicker down to his lips, sending a low rumble of anticipation thrumming through him. He has just enough faculty to register faintly that this – this – would be like throwing a burning match onto an explosive fuse, like storming his way through a meticulously built, heavily fortified military barricade, a place there was no going back from, but he's already bending towards her, the spiked beating of his heart a muted roar in his ears.
Until Kono presses a palm against his chest and shakes her head imperceptibly, once, twice, each a slash that goes straight to his gut.
"Not here, Steve," she whispers, barely discernible over the music. "Not like this." She looks at him for a long moment, expression unreadable, before she swings her legs off the stool and walks away.
He watches in suspended disbelief as she makes her way over to the rest of the group, sees her put a hand on Chin's arm and say something before she exits the bar. Chin meets his eyes across the distance, but Steve can't be bothered to figure out whether that's anger or goddamn pity in his eyes, because that's when the crash finally comes, exhaustion flooding his system so stark and sudden Steve drops his head down into his hands.
"Fuck," he groans.