Jenna calls him out of the blue one day and says she needs to talk to him, that it's urgent. He's happy to know she's back on the island, but he hears the slight note of desperation in her voice and braces himself for bad news.
Turns out she's found her fiancé, except he's being held in North Korea and she wants Steve to go with her.
"I need someone there to watch my back. I need you." Jenna's eyes are wide and beseeching, and Steve is about to tell her he doesn't think it's a good idea, that she's talking about North Korea here and that may be too insane and risky even for his questionable standards, but then he pauses.
Ohana, he remembers, and swallows his words, tells Jenna she can count on him.
The click of a pistol being cocked echoes coldly around the small clearing as he's knee deep in dirt and dead foliage, miles from the South Korean border. When he turns around and is faced with the barrel of Jenna's gun, it takes a while for the betrayal to sink in, because it's so obvious, so easy. It doesn't really start to hit Steve until he's marching trussed and tethered in front of Wo Fat, and then he almost wants to laugh at the irony of it, at how doing the right thing and following the rules, at how finally keeping his word, would be his downfall.
In the bunker, Steve is tortured in periodic intervals, and he pushes like a soldier into that impassive part of himself, that hidden, secret corner of his mind carved by countless hours of training and clandestine ops. He's played this game before, but he doesn't remember it ever being quite so excruciatingly painful.
He should've seen this coming, been more vigilant, more guarded. He's been off his game, lately, looking to play nice and color within the lines, wanting to just sit by the ocean and have a beer with a girl. Joe would probably say he'd gone soft, should've stayed back with the SEALs.
But here's the thing: maybe it's not such a bad thing to have grown soft around the edges, Steve thinks. He's spent so much of his life learning how to close himself off to outside distractions, figuring out the extent he could narrow down his world to just himself and the limits of his own will, he thought he'd lost the ability to let people in. After everything – he'd forgotten what it was like to have a family. He'd thought joining Five-0 would be a means to an end, a way to avenge his father, but somewhere along the way he's slipped into the shapes and patterns of his new life so seamlessly he has trouble remembering what life was like before, a jaded monotone of gray and black that pales against the sheer tropical brightness and intensity of Hawai'i.
He's hanging from chains in a desolate room with no light or hope, a million miles from anywhere, and even while grimly contemplating the fact that this might be where his road ended, Steve can't bring himself to regret coming here. He would have done the same for any of them, Danny or Chin or Kono, but right now he just misses them, Danny's good-natured grousing, Chin's cool levelheadedness, Kono's luminous vibrancy. He thinks of Kono, and mostly he misses the lost opportunities, of discovering how to peel back her nuanced layers of self-assurance and vulnerability to reveal the edges and contours underneath, of seeing whether those lines would fit around his. Seeing if he could get the puzzle piece to finally match up; if she would let him.
He wishes he had told her.
He wants to go home.
They come back and beat him, asking questions he doesn't have the answers to. The blows and kicks land with deadly precision on his face, his stomach, his torso. The smack of fist hitting flesh echoes loudly in his ears, and the lightning crack of a snapped rib is deafening in the abrupt silence. Something in Steve snaps too, that rigidly twisted crevice in his chest, cracks splintering at last along its walls until it erupts outwards in bursts of colors and flashes so vivid they explode behind his eyelids. Just before blackness blessedly envelops him, he has one fleeting, aching flash of moonlight gleaming off dark hair, of warm brown eyes and a dimpled smile.
When he comes to, Jenna is dragged struggling feebly into the room. Steve's insides are a shrunken, empty shell; he doesn't have space left for anything in him, anger or bitterness or sorrow. He looks at Jenna out of dead eyes and only asks her why. Jenna is crying, and she tells him a story about her fiancé, and what actually hurts the most is he gets it. He gets why she did what she did, and the terrifying thing is he's not sure he wouldn't have done the same if it had been his own father, his sister, (her).
"It wasn't for nothing," Jenna whispers as she tosses him the pin, right before she dies, and Steve finds out that he does have something left inside him after all, as he howls in shock and rage and anguish at Wo Fat.
Jenna bought him a chance, but even escaping is futile; there's nowhere to run but into gunpoint. Lying in the back of that truck, his brain's pain receptors on fire, he thinks it's over, that maybe Jenna died for nothing. Only that's Danny's face behind the tarpaulin amidst the rat-tat-tat of gunfire, and although Steve's having trouble comprehending how or why, somehow he's being supported between the comforting solidness of Danny and Chin as a helicopter churns down.
There's a group of familiar faces around him, but Steve's having trouble focusing through the haze of distress and confusion. He tries to move his head, his entire body a blaze of agony, searching for an anchor, a glimpse of long dark hair, but all he feels is Lori's arms around him, wrapping him close.
Onboard the chopper, safely skimming away over miles of untamed terrain, is when it starts to sink in that he's free, that this nightmare might just be over. The sudden exhilaration sweeps over him like a tidal wave; Joe's hand firm on his shoulder, Lori smiling at him, Danny dependably mustering up another joke, and Steve's grinning so hard it hurts his face, feeling an overwhelming gratefulness towards them all, each and every one. Except the person he most wants to see isn't there, and he can't figure out why.
"You can thank me by being the best man at my wedding. I'm getting married," Chin announces, and though there are cheers and whistles, Steve can't help but think that some part of it feels wrong.
"Kono?" he finally manages to utter, trying to convey everything he wants to ask through just the syllables of her name.
The look Chin shoots him is both knowing and sympathetic. "First one I told, brah. She's running SAT/NAV on the ground. She'll be there soon."
Steve nods blearily, eyes drifting closed. The pain and exhaustion catch up to him at last and he's out like a light.
Steve wakes up to a distant rumbling beneath his body and a pounding migraine behind his forehead. It takes him a minute through his grogginess to realize he's strapped into a seat, various body parts wrapped snugly with gauze. He brings a hand to his taped ribs and grunts in discomfort. Someone shifts in the seat beside him, and he looks over to find Kono rubbing the sleep out of her eyes, peering at him in concern.
Steve feels a rush of something – gratitude, delight – at seeing her, a slow blossoming in his chest. "Hey," he says softly.
"Hey." Kono smiles shyly at him, worry and apprehension barely concealed in her eyes. "You gave us quite a scare, boss."
"Didn't mean to. Sorry," Steve murmurs, and involuntarily reaches out a hand to her face, delicately, before the soreness in his arm becomes too much to bear.
They stare at each other for a few quiet seconds, before Kono clears her throat and asks, "How you doing? You have some pretty nasty battle wounds there."
"I'm better, now," Steve answers honestly, because all of a sudden his aches and pains are mostly forgotten, replaced by a radiant contentment. "Where–where are we?"
"On a plane headed back to O'ahu from our successful humanitarian mission," Kono replies with a touch of her familiar cheek, leaning back in her seat to stretch her arms and legs, lean and lithe.
Steve swallows hard, and glances around to see Danny asleep in an adjacent seat, Chin deep in conversation with Joe a few rows over. An unexpected swell of dizziness smashes over him and he groans with sudden nausea. Kono immediately bends over him, placing a cool hand against his forehand.
"You ok? We had a medic check you out in South Korea, but we need to get you to a hospital on the island. You should rest."
Steve can hear the anxiety in her voice, and he tries to nod, tell her he's okay, really, but he's seeing spots across his vision and senses another encroaching wave of nausea. He closes his eyes, giving in to the wooziness. Then an impulsive thought grips him, and he reaches unsteadily for Kono's hand, clutching on.
"I remembered," he struggles to tell her, words coming out slurred and garbled. "Ohana."
Kono grasps his hand in return, fingers reassuring and strong. "I know." She sounds shaky, breath hitched and jagged.
"'s want to go home," Steve mumbles, barely conscious now.
"We are. We're bringing you home, Steve."
Just before the darkness overtakes him once more, he sees her smile at him again, and it feels like hope, fluttering against his ribcage.
Steve wakes up to a crystal clear Saturday morning several days later, and idles away a few minutes gazing out at the stunning cerulean of the sky, safe in his own bed.
He spends a perfect morning in paradise: going for a walk along the beach, absorbing the languorous heat of the sun on his injured, healing body, listening to the comforting crash and pull of the ocean waves. He stops by Liliha Bakery for a coco puff, then drives around aimlessly on tranquil, palm tree-lined streets until he meets Danny for lunch over hot plates of loco moco. The colors and tastes of home seem more vibrant, (real) somehow, and Steve relaxes into it, into the texture and blend of flavors in his mouth, into the friendly chatter of pidgin around them, into the familiar arc and sweep of Danny's hands as he gestures dramatically over his food. They pay Kamekona a visit at his shaved ice stand afterwards, and then Steve heads home, feeling more lighthearted and at peace than he has in a long time.
There's something he's been putting off doing, wanting to be in the right state of mind. The thought nags at him now, and he figures he's already let enough days go by as it is. Steve pulls out his phone and calls a contact at Langley, and waits impatiently as he gets re-routed several times before he finally tracks down Jenna's former boss at the CIA. After a brief conversation, Steve finds out that Jenna's parents are both deceased, but he has a number for her sister.
He steels himself, dials the number. It's never an easy call to make, even when the person on the other end of the line or other side of the door is a complete stranger, but this is different because for a little while, however the way it ended, Jenna was one of theirs.
Her sister picks up, and Steve speaks. "Ms. Kaye, my name is Lieutenant Commander Steve McGarrett of the Hawaii Five-0 task force. I'm calling about Jenna," he begins.
It's a lengthy, awkward conversation, full of bewilderment and tearful silences. He doesn't tell her the whole truth, but he tells her enough to make it matter. He's still on the phone when his doorbell rings. Steve crosses the hall and answers it to find Kono standing outside, lifting a six-pack of cold Longboards sheepishly.
He's taken aback to see her yet he can't stop the small thrill of pleasure that runs through him, despite the task he's in the middle of. He motions her in, points to the phone against his ear, and Kono nods and bustles into his kitchen.
"Can you tell me again, how she–she died?" Jenna's sister asks, her voice trembling and breaking, a thousand miles away, over a tenuous phone line.
"She died trying to protect one of her teammates. She was loyal and courageous to the end," Steve tells her. "I'm so sorry for your loss." He knows all too well, even as he says the words, that it isn't enough, that it will never be enough.
After the call ends, Steve releases a long breath and collects himself for a quick second, bracing himself against the edge of his coffee table. When he turns around, Kono is leaning against the kitchen doorway, looking straight at him. If she heard any of his conversation, she doesn't say a word.
"Well," Steve drawls. "This is a surprise."
Kono arches an eyebrow at him, mouth quirking up around the edges. "So I realized we never did go through that pack you brought to my place the last time. What do you say? Have time for a round?"
Steve recognizes her words for what they are, Kono's own way of extending an olive branch, and he grasps it gratefully.
"I might be able to fit you into my schedule." Steve smiles slowly at her, and her answering grin, wide and dazzling, dimples in full view, curls in his stomach.
They drink round one out on the lana'i, side by side on two deck chairs, looking out upon the quiet stretch of beach in his backyard and the sun-drenched waters.
"Thank you," Steve says, breaking the silence, "for coming to get me."
Kono takes a sip of her beer and shrugs. "You made a promise to me once, about taking care of your own. We were just upholding our end of it."
Steve chokes a little on his mouthful as the shame flares up again, hot and unrelenting. "Kono," he starts tentatively, unsure whether this would end in additional bruises to his current collection. "I should've gotten you out, out of the whole IA and Fryer mess, when I got out –"
"Steve." Kono cuts him off with a touch to his arm, light yet insistent. "I didn't come here to guilt trip you. You were right, we can't change what happened, and I'm done dwelling on it. I wanted to tell you that I'm ready to move forward, and I meant to tell you that earlier, but you know – North Korea happened. And all I kept thinking was what if I didn't get to tell you–" she stops, inhaling deeply, and turns her head to look at him. "The thing about ohana is, you forgive them, even when they fuck up."
Steve's throat tightens, and he grips his bottle a bit more firmly. "Yeah," he replies, letting out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding.
"The one thing that took me the longest to get over," Kono admits quietly, "was thinking you guys had forgotten me."
The words cut into him, and Steve realizes with a pang how wrong he had been about everything. He'd been so busy scrutinizing boundaries and perimeters, blowing heedlessly past some while drawing painstaking boxes around others he'd been scrupulous not to overstep, he had completely missed what was in front of him. In his attempt to play by the rules and avoid crossing a line with Kono, he had unwittingly crossed an even bigger one.
"I couldn't– could never do that to you," he says huskily, pitched low. "Even when you were gone, that never happened."
Kono squeezes his arm softly. "Okay," she says.
The colors of the afternoon are slowly changing. The slanting rays of the sun turn the sand into a rich, honeyed yellow, the hue of the waves tinted a bruising indigo, sky and sea preparing for another magnificent Hawaiian sunset. Kono's hand is still on his arm, the heat of her sinking into him, saturating skin and muscle and bone.
"So about moving forward," she murmurs after a comfortable stillness, and he hears the possibility in her voice, the untold opportunities that aren't lost but right here after all, tantalizingly in front of him.
Steve pauses, hesitates for a long while, hovering again on a perilous precipice, on the razor-sharp line between two certainties. "Things will change, might get messy," he warns, quiet caution in his voice.
"Sometimes change can be a good thing."
Steve watches Kono now, takes in the calm assurance in her eyes, the play of sunlight on her hair, and understands that at some point along the way, coming to a head in that bleak, forsaken room in North Korea, all the uncertainty and hesitation has bled out of him. What's left is only this – clarity. There will be countless more things to come to terms with – fresh lines to cross, a new definition between him and Kono, Wo Fat still at large – but all that matters right now is here, home on his lana'i, with the person beside him. Somewhere between all those lines, blending and jumbling together, he had found Kono.
He's done with the shifting boundaries and acrobatics, now. No more reasons to turn away.
It feels like the most natural thing in the world for him to reach over and cup her cheek, trace his thumbs along the curve of her jaw.
"So…how about like this?" Steve asks her, searching her eyes, lips curling up in a smirk.
"Like this," Kono affirms, breathlessly, just before he presses his lips against hers. The kiss is slow and smoldering, building into a quivering simmer in his belly, and he feels Kono's arms wind tightly around him, slender fingers weaving through his hair. When he finally pulls away, he reads a lazy contentment, a graceful ease in the quiet lines of her body. She smiles at him, languid and bright against the setting sun, and Steve's heart beats a hushed staccato deep within his chest.
"We'll figure it out," she tells him simply, threading her fingers gently through his. Steve's breath catches in his throat as his fingers tighten around hers, and he thinks that maybe some lines were always meant to be crossed.
A/N: I am truly flattered and humbled by all the kind and encouraging reviews I've gotten for this story, so I wanted to thank each and every one of you readers, even if I don't respond personally to you all. I hope you've enjoyed the last part.