nell65: (by roulade)
[personal profile] nell65
Sorry - I didn't realize it was going to be too big, and now I have the story posted upside down. I hate that.



Part I

Steve was trying and failing to figure out what to say when he was rescued by a phone call from Cath. He answered before the second ring. “Yes?”

Cath’s voice was somewhere between amused and worried as she said, “I just got the strangest call from Jo Lupo.”

“Oh crap,” Steve said, then switched his phone to speaker and put it down on the desk. “You’re on. We’re all listening.”

“Jo said Zane has tapped into a bunch of Navy satellites and is going to redirect them shortly, for a two minute window. She said he was sending me an email with a link to some code and to please click the link as soon as the two-minute window closed. The code will erase any sign of what he did. I received the email, on a closed network mind you, a minute ago. The countdown clock it contains gives me eleven minutes to decide what to do. She said to call you if I had any questions.”

Steve was silent as he considered his options, which were basically to try to extricate himself now, or plunge ahead. He generally preferred the plunge straight in approach, but with this case already ringing a lot of bells in high places, he wasn’t sure exactly how the fallout would implicate Five-O.

“Steve?” Cath sounded more worried and less amused now.

“For what it’s worth,” Danny spoke up, “he probably didn’t hack your network. I’m sure his DOD clearances give him legitimate access.”

Steve took a deep breath. He was already in this up to his neck, and they might as well see it through. “Do it. Please.”

“I expect a full report later.”

“You’ll get it.” Steve couldn’t help grinning, already feeling the first hints of a future adrenaline rush. “I think you’ll find it very interesting.”

“I’m sure I will.”

Cath ended the call and Steve stood up. “My guess is we will hear from them soon, and that they are cooking up some sort of night assault. We should get changed and geared up.”

The call came about forty minutes later. It was Zane, on Steve’s cell phone. “Hey. We found them. I’m texting you some coordinates. Meet us there in an hour, and if you could turn your headlights off when you leave the paved road, that would be good.” There was a pause, and then he added, “Thanks. We owe you. Which is worth a lot.”

“That was them?” Danny asked.

“Yes.” Steve pushed his phone back in his pocket. “Guy has an unbelievable ego.”

Danny raised his brow and shot Steve a speaking glance. “Mmhm,” was all he said.

Steve made a face at him, but otherwise let it go.

“Do we have a location?” asked Chin.

“Yes.” Steve answered. “He’s got to be using their DNA tracking equipment, to have found them so quickly.”

“He said he built the original prototype,” Danny said. “He must have had it with him, in that bag of goodies he was carrying around.”

They piled themselves and the gear into Chin and Kono’s vehicles, the bit about ‘turn off the paved road’ convincing Danny to leave the Camaro behind, and headed out to face whatever fresh hell Donovan had devised for them. Steve scrubbed his face with dismay when he realized he was actually thinking in Danny-Williams-eze, and firmly ordered himself to get a grip.

Zane’s coordinates led them to a small gravel road that eventually turned into little more than a dirt two-track as they climbed higher and higher into the foothills on the north side of the island. The track petered out at a small and quite unused looking bungalow, which was set close to the edge of the falloff and commanded a fairly impressive view of the land spread out below them. To Steve’s surprise there was a second SUV parked beside his truck. The moon was waning, but the night was clear and their eyes had adjusted to the starlight.

Jo appeared in the drive, presumably alerted by the sound of their vehicles. She had changed her clothes as well, and, like them, was dressed in a dark tee shirt tucked into dark cargo pants. Her handgun and her taser were holstered on her belt, and her knife was once again strapped to her thigh. She waved them off to park on the far side of the house. With a terse “this way,” she led them to the edge of the old lawn area. Zane was bent over a folding camp-table, frowning down at a confusing tangle of equipment tied into three laptop computers.

The second car was explained by the presence of two more armed men. Both were wearing dark, semi-military looking fatigues and reinforced body armor with RI logos. Jo introduced them as Patel and Davis, the other half of the security team that had come with them from Oregon. The men offered firm handshakes and nods, their eyes watchful and considering. Their bearing, like Jo’s, fairly screamed “not-really-former military.”

Steve didn’t know whether to be relieved or horrified to learn that Zane and Jo had such competent looking backup. While he was still trying to work that out, he heard Kono exclaim, “Cath? What are you doing here?”

Spinning around, Steve was gob-smacked to see Catherine Rollins strolling up to their now not-really-small-at-all group.

“Hey guys!” Cath smiled cheerfully and gave them a jaunty wave. “Jo called as my duty shift was ending, and invited me to the party. Picked me up just outside the gates.”

“They go lingerie shopping AND they like big guns. How incredibly freaking cool is that?” Zane was grinning like a loon as he stared at his wife.

Steve caught Cath’s eyes and smiled at her, probably looking a bit like a loon himself. “Really freaking cool.”

“Zane.” Jo’s growl managed to convey both pleasure and warning.

“Right, boss lady.” Zane turned and gestured out over the nighttime panorama below them. “See those lights?”

He pointed to the only lights close by. It was hard to make it out entirely through the tree cover, but it looked like a construction site, partially excavated for a large house perhaps. The site was ringed with security fence and a few mounted lights, glowing arctic blue against the darkness. Inside the fence was the hole in the ground, some scattered earth moving equipment, a construction trailer and two shipping containers.

“That’s where Beverly and her crew are holding Parish.”

“How are they not seeing us up here?” Danny asked. “Surely they have better security than just the fence?”

“They do, but they love their high-tech. You can fool with shit like that. Like, you know how you can make your own recording of nothing happening, and loop it into security cameras to fool people?” Zane asked. “Well, you can achieve the same effect with satellite monitoring. It’s tricky. You have to be able to guess which satellite systems they’re using. But, it’s possible. I’ve created a blind loop in a half-mile radius right over us, one that will last until dawn.”

“No shit?” Danny exclaimed. After a thoughtful pause, he added, “Wow. That’s not good.”

Zane shrugged. “If you can build it, someone can break it. Eventually, anyway. And satellites are old tech.” He went on, “they also had some ground monitoring, but that was easy to mess with. Anyway, we’re not trying to hide that we’re here, only how many of us there are.”

“What?!” Danny again.

“Well,” Zane looked mildly exasperated, “It’s a trap, right? They want me, and my designs. But we have to spring the trap to get Parish out, so….” he shrugged again.

Steve touched Danny’s elbow, hoping to head off another outburst. He said, “And you’re absolutely positive that your guy is in there?”

“Yes.” Zane said. “I’ve spent a lot of the last year trying to figure out how to disable or fool my own system, but it’s a beautifully simple design. And Isaac made it better.” He spread his hands and his voice rang with absolute confidence, a man telling you the sun rises in the east. “I know he’s there.”

“How did you come to develop this horribly invasive thing anyway?” Danny demanded.

Zane shoved his hands in his pockets and raised his eyes to Jo’s. Steve wasn’t completely sure, in the starlight, but going by the muscle twitch in his jaw, it seemed to him as though Zane was waiting for her to pass some sort of judgment.

Jo folded her own arms across her chest and raised her chin. When she spoke, her voice was especially graveled, and to Steve’s surprise, ever so faintly full of what sounded more or less like mockery. “Oh go ahead. Tell them. They’re all out here, helping us. They deserve to know.”

With his gaze fixed firmly out in the middle distance, Zane nodded. Speaking slowly, enunciating with great care, clearly intending to say it only once, he said, “I developed it on the fly, to play a practical joke on someone.”

After an astounded pause, Danny burst out, “What! The! Hell?!”

He moved into Zane’ space, hands on hips, jaw thrust out as he spoke. “This demon device of yours is the result of a fucking prank?” He waved his arm theatrically, taking in the whole of the panorama below them. “Not such a funny joke, now, is it?”

Zane squared his shoulders and raised his own jaw, glaring down at Danny with his usual overweening confidence firmly back in place. “A moment of inspired genius, actually. Thanks. And it’s already been used to find lost children, buried mountain climbers, and shipwrecked sailors. Just so you know. It’s not always bad to be able to pinpoint exactly someone’s location. So, seriously dude, fuck off.”

Zane looked at Steve. “If I haven’t figured out how to break it yet, no one else has either.”

“And then they wouldn’t need your ego or your disruptions,” Jo snapped.

“Damn straight, babe.”

“Hey! Everybody calm down.” Steve glared around the group, ending with his gaze on Zane, “I assume you have a plan?”

Zane took a step back. “Me? For getting Parish out? No way, man. I’m smart enough to actually know what my limits are. That’s your job. Your job and Jo’s.”

“You want me to take charge of this, now?” Steve was incredulous.

“Would you actually follow any plan that wasn’t yours?” Zane shot back.

Steve scowled and Chin said, “He’s got you there, Steve.”

Steve swept them all with his meanest dirty look, just for good measure including Zane, Jo and a smirking Cath in his glare. “Fine.” He snapped. “Sergeant Lupo? I assume you have some preliminary ideas?”

“Yes Sir.” Jo stepped up to the table and typed in some commands on one of the screens. “Parish is here,” a green hotspot appeared on a layout of the building site below them. “Barlow is here,” and another orange dot bloomed. “And here are the rest of the consortium people.” A series of red dots popped up. “Seven in all.”

“Consortium?”

Zane answered, his eye roll audible in his voice. “They’re all cold war relics. Intellectually if not chronologically. Just be glad they don’t call themselves C.H.A.O.S.”

Jo cleared her throat and Zane took another half a step further back from the computer table. She continued, “With nine of us to seven of them, my preference is to send Davis, Patel, Zane and your team straight in through the front gate, while you and I slip in from the west to secure Parrish.”

“You like a head on assault, Sergeant?”

“Always, Sir.” She grinned wolfishly. “And Beverly knows that, and she knows that I know that she knows that, and I know that she knows, and so on. But in this case, they think we are out numbered, and they won’t shoot to kill because I think they want to jack Zane into another neural matrix. That’s what all that power is for.” She pointed on the screen to the six large generators hooked up to the larger of the two container units, the same one Parrish was in. “So it really seems the best option.”

“Neural matrix?”

“Long story short,” Zane’s tone was flat with what Steve recognized, after a confused second or two, as barely leashed anger, “they have developed a way to tap into the cortex and observe what the dreamer is doing in a controlled dreamscape. It’s a kind of living death, an unbelievable violation of mind and body.”

Steve leaned down next to Jo, looking over the layout on the screen. Low voiced, he asked, “Are you sure you want Zane in on the assault?”

“I don’t want him here at all,” she hissed, “but he’s safest where I or Davis and Patel can keep eyes on him.”

“Will he slow us down?”

“I’m standing right here, you know. And we can all hear you.” Zane said irritably, his flash of anger dissipated; or swallowed.

Jo went on as though Zane hadn’t spoken. “No. He won’t slow us down. He can keep up.”

“Can he use a gun?”

“I live in a house with a gun range in the basement. Yes. I can use a gun. A whole bunch of them, in fact. All different kinds.”

“A gun range in the basement?” Steve was impressed. “That’s kind of awesome.”

Jo beamed at him, and Steve’s heart did that weird pitter-pat that all men who liked women felt when a beautiful woman smiled at him straight from her heart. If he had a tail, it probably would have been wagging. “Yeah.” Jo said, her voice soft. “It is totally awesome.”

Steve filed that away for future questions, and re-focused on the task at hand. After considering the layout on the screen from several angles, trying not to be openly jealous of how easily he could use the program to zoom in and out and rotate it three dimensionally, and asking Jo a few more questions about their resources, he quickly sketched out an assault plan, fleshing out Jo’s basic scheme but tossing in a few twists of his own. “There. That should do it.”

Jo nodded, and then turned to give out assignments to their squad. “So,” she concluded, “any questions?”

“Yeah. I have one.” Kono said. “If that’s the plan, why did we bring all those explosives?”

“That’s for afterward.” Zane stepped forward again. “For a variety of reasons, it’s best if we sanitize the site ourselves. There is too much there that is dangerous, one way or another. It’s better not to bring anyone else in, if we can avoid it.”

“Which you plan to do by blowing it up.” Danny had his arms crossed and was wearing his ‘I cannot believe I am hearing this insanity’ face.

“Yes. But not all with one big, noticeable bang. Duh.”

“How then?”

“We’re going to MacGyver an explosive net, then set it off with a cascading timer. It will be like lifting off the top layer of the dirt, and shaking it out. Like a blanket. ”

“Just like that.” Danny raised a skeptical brow.

“Just like that.” Zane said. “Right after we do what they’re obviously planning to do, which is push the containers and the trailer into the hole, and cover it up with the nice dirt pile they’ve left in place.”

Danny rocked back on his heels, and gestured vaguely out over the site. “And we are going to help you with this, this destruction of evidence compiled with an environmental atrocity, because why?”

“Only if you want too.” Zane managed to sound sullen, as though he were offended that Danny failed to be enthusiastic about his plans for exploding fun.

“Can I drive the bulldozer?” Cath asked.

“Sure!” Zane smiled beatifically at her.

“I want to see how you set up the explosive net,” Kono said.

“Me too,” added Steve.

“Oh, of course you would, you violent children you.” Danny’s glare took in all of them. “I swear, you are all hopeless. Completely incurable.”

“And you like us that way,” Kono grinned at him, making Danny huff and look pointedly off in another direction.

“But, first,” Steve raised his voice, just to be sure he was heard by everyone, even those were not listening as attentively as they should be. “We have to complete our assault and rescue Parrish. Get your gear and get ready to move out on my order. Five minutes, everybody.”

Steve watched Zane pull on a tac vest without any fumbling and check his weapon with every sign that he really did know what he was doing. He wondered what kind of experiences had led him to acquire that particular competency, or, after watching Jo double-check his vest while he smiled patiently down at her, if it was merely the result of Jo’s insistent training. Once she’d finished checking on Zane’s vest she looked up at him, and he bent his head to kiss her.

After watching them for another beat, Steve turned back to his own gear with a sense of relief. Whatever else was going on, Jo was kissing her husband like a woman who had every expectation of seeing him alive again and mostly unharmed, and not at all like a woman who was expecting catastrophe.

“Being voyeurs, now, are we?”

Steve turned to see a thoughtful looking Danny. He sighed. It was probably time to put that right, too.

“It doesn’t matter how or why they developed their DNA tracking system, Danny. The bottom line is that, right now, as the developers, Zane and this guy Parrish are at risk. If we weren’t helping them, Zane and Jo could have been snatched as well and it might have taken a full day or more to even figure out anyone was missing. The next thing after that would be a team of Rangers, or SEALs, or both, rampaging around the island trying to find them. And having a much harder time, without Zane’s help.”

Danny scowled, then with a huge, gusty sigh let his shoulders drop and the tension in his upper body began to dissipate. He said softly, “Yeah. I know.

Everyone followed their orders and in less time than Steve had allotted, the small complex was secured. Jo had been right. The Consortium had expected four people to sneak in, at least one of whom they wanted to trap, not kill, and set their defense accordingly. They were not prepared for seven people to burst through the front gate in a hail of gunfire.

He and Jo quickly disabled and secured the two rear perimeter guards, both distracted by the noise from the front, and the lone nurse/attendant/guard inside the container. They found Parrish unconscious, restrained on an extremely high-tech looking bed. He was older than in his photo; a soft, bearded fellow, just over medium height, putting on a bit of a belly as he closed in on middle age. Steve reached him first and felt for a pulse, happily finding a strong one. He was looking around for a way to wake Parish up when he heard Jo gasp a whispered, “oh no.”

He whirled to find her staring, eyes wide in horror, at the bank of computers and monitors behind Parrish, and, more ominously, at the two empty beds beside him. Wires and cords leading from the computers were neatly looped and resting on a small, wheeled surgical table, ready for something Steve didn’t want to think too closely about.

Jo reached out and touched one of the empty beds, her face furrowed in a tight, unhappy frown.

“What is it, Jo?” Steve asked.

“I think the second bed is for me.” Her voice had gone very, very quiet.

Something odd about her stillness made him gentle his voice even more than before when he asked, “why?”

She replied without looking at him, still gazing unseeing at the bed before her. “I don’t pretend to understand it all, or how they do it, but, it’s like being inside a super intense VR game, so intense that if you don’t know it’s a program, it feels real. It uses predictive algorithms based on extremely detailed personnel files to let the sleeper make up their own world as they play, responding to cues from the programmers. And there is no exit from inside the game.”

Steve felt his own expression morphing into one of horror as the sense of her words sank in.

She went on. “When they had Zane before, they knew they couldn’t create an NPC me that would fool him for long, if we were still together in the game.”

Steve longed to interrupt with questions, like, ‘Before? You never said anything about Before?!’ but had the very distinct feeling that if he recalled her to herself and her surroundings, she would shut right down.

Jo was still speaking. “So they pushed for the most likely, and most hurtful, breakup they could construct from their data and his fears, so he would stay away from me. Her. Whatever.” She shook her head, frustrated by the pronouns. “Anyway, in the game, virtual me turned to a man he considered, considers still, a friend. And he didn’t have many of those.”

“But,” and Steve wondered at the wisdom of what he was saying even as it fell from his lips, “If I’m understanding, it had to be someone he could believe you would choose. Over him.”

“Oh yes. It was.”

He winced in sympathy. For both of them. “Ouch.”

“Yes.” She smiled grimly. “He eventually figured it out anyway of course, and helped blow it up, from the inside and the outside.”

“I can believe that.”

“This time,” she shivered and touched the empty bed once more before stepping back and away, “this time I think they planned to jack me in with him, hoping to keep him inside indefinitely. Probably inventing device after brilliant device just to rescue me from endless danger. Even once he figured it out, which he would do eventually, if he knew it was really me, he would never save himself and leave me behind.”

That struck way too close to home, and Steve impulsively burst out, “Jo! Whatever you do, don’t leave him because you think it will keep him safe, that he, or anyone, will be better off if you and he aren’t together. It won’t work. I promise you. Better to face whatever it is together. As a family.”

She looked up at him, her dark eyes measuring, and he realized he had revealed far, far too much. A sudden smile warmed her face and she reached over and squeezed his arm. “I know. Been there, done that, it didn’t work. I’m all in now, whatever comes.”

What came next was a loud hail from Danny, giving the all clear. They had killed two guards on the way in, and had two men secured. The men seemed to have been in charge, or, at least, they weren’t wearing fatigues or scrubs, but rather trousers and collared shirts. They were grimly silent as they knelt in the dirt outside the trailer, their hands restrained behind their backs while Chin and Davis trained their guns on them.

Steve sent Cath and Patel to assist Jo in waking or at least moving Parish. He turned to Danny. “Zane and Kono?”

“The second container. Looking for the Beverly person.”

A single gunshot rang out and he and Danny ran for the source of the noise. It turned out to have been Kono, shooting off the padlock. Zane was pulling open the doors when Steve and Danny skidded to a halt. They were just in time to see Jo appear around a corner, the wildness about her eyes fading as soon as she saw that Zane was unhurt.

The container turned out to be mostly a cell, lit by harsh fluorescent bulbs. It was outfitted with only a cot, a chair, a dry toilet and a handful of flat screens mounted on the wall, four of them dark and two with images of a quiet, nighttime camp. Steve knew for absolute certain that there were four living people on the ground outside the trailer, and two bodies. And even so the silent, empty images on the screens made him want to run to double and triple check on Chin and the rest.

The cell held one barefooted occupant. The slim woman they had seen on the hotel security camera. She was on her feet, backed into the far corner.

As soon as she saw them she started forward, her face wreathed in what Steve read as genuine happiness and relief. “Oh Zane! Jo! Thank God you’re here.”

“Stop right there, Beverly.” Zane had raised his weapon and had it trained steadily on the woman.

“On your knees, Beverly,” Jo ordered, slipping around behind Zane, her own gun also raised and pointed at Beverly.

“You don’t understand!” Beverly began, but Jo just waved her gun once more. “Down, Beverly. Now!”

“We do understand,” Zane said. “We understand very well. I can see the collar. I saw it in the security footage. That was smart. If I hadn’t, I’d’ve already shot you.”

Steve looked back and forth in confusion while Beverly sank to her knees. He said, “I don’t understand!”

“Hands on your head,” Jo ordered, and Beverly complied without saying anything else. “Zane?” Jo’s tone held as much question as order.

“Got it.” Zane held out his gun to Danny, who accepted silently, though his expression spoke volumes. Zane skirted around Beverly, keeping a wide berth until he was directly behind her. He pulled out a pair of plastic restraints from his utility belt and efficiently secured her hands behind her back. Then, to Steve’s utter surprise, Zane began to gently gather up Beverly’s shoulder-length hair, securing it in a high ponytail with an elastic he brought out of another pocket.

“What the hell is going on here?” Danny barked, surprised consternation visible in every line of his body. “Why are we in a beauty shop now?”

It was Beverly who answered, her eyes steady on Jo, who stood in front of her with her gun still raised. “I’m not helping Decker out of my own free will. He collared me. Literally.”

Steve looked again, and realized that what he had assumed was simply a metallic, collar-style necklace must be something else all together.

Zane had dropped to one knee and bent to examine it carefully, but without touching it or her. “What’s it do?” he asked.

“Do you remember the vaccine?”

“Yes.” Zane didn’t quite snarl, but it was close.

“Same idea, only fatal. The collar triggers the explosions if I get outside whatever Decker sets as the perimeter.”

“More explosions?” Danny cried. “What the hell is wrong with you people?”

“Tiny ones,” Zane answered. “Inside her. All the major arteries?”

“Yes.”

“Damn.” Zane said, but without much heat. “It’s all soldered together. I’m sure a cut breaks the circuit and triggers the failsafe.”

“Probably. I was unconscious when they put it on.”

“Okay.” He stood up and brushed off his knees. “I’ll have to look at their systems.”

“Be careful. I’m sure they are full of deadmen’s switches.”

“Or, in this case, dead woman.” Zane sounded quite unconcerned. He took his gun back from Danny and walked out of the cell.

Jo looked at Steve and ordered, “Do NOT turn your back on her!” and rushed out after Zane.

“What the hell?” Danny said again.

“Zane hasn’t seen the other container yet. He didn’t know about the two empty beds.” Steve kept his eyes on Beverly as he spoke.

“I figured as much. If he had, he probably would have put a bullet between my eyes. Collar or no collar.”

“Was Jo right? Was the plan to jack her in too?”

Beverly nodded, faint regret gleaming in her eyes. “Yes. It was the only possible chance for keeping him inside, and alive.”

“And working for you.”

“Yes.” She lifted her shoulder and chuckled without humor, “Well, for them. I’m sure I wouldn’t be around long after I got them safely established inside the neural net.” She smiled then. “It’s my design, you know. And Zane came up with some amazing, ground-breaking tech, before. He would do it again. All without putting anyone else at risk, or having it fall to the DOD. That’s the beauty of the matrix. And there is the strong possibility that once he knew they were inside the game, with Jo as his motivation and Parrish as his partner, he would manipulate entirely new materials as well as new designs.”

Steve felt his gorge rise as he realized that, even now, on her knees, in restraints and wearing a death collar, the woman was actually proud of her work.

“Well, this is incredibly creepy,” Danny said. He turned to Steve. “Did you know about all this? And just not tell us, because it is too obviously insane to be real, except that it is, because here we are? Having this unreal conversation?”

“No. I did not know.” Steve held Danny’s eyes until Danny nodded, accepting that he was telling the truth.

Danny looked at Beverly and asked, “What happens now?”

“It depends entirely on Jo,” Beverly replied.

Steve wasn’t sure if he was more relieved or more regretful to have missed the confrontation Jo and Zane had inside the medical container.

“It was pretty scary, actually,” Cath said. He and his team were all sitting under a tree at the edge of the compound, taking a short rations break as the sky began to turn purple with the promise of dawn. Cath was holding forth to a rapt audience. They had all heard the noise coming from the medical unit. “She’s a yeller, but he isn’t. He went very, very quiet instead. Eerie quiet. All coiled fury and no indication of what he was going to do next.”

“Where was Parrish?”

“We’d managed to get him on his feet, but he kept fading in and out on us. So Patel took one look at Zane’s face, then leaned down and slung Parrish over his shoulders and just took off. I should have seen that as my exit cue, but, it all happened so fast!”

Cath paused to laugh, a little shakily Steve thought, before continuing. “Zane had walked in, looked around and just froze. Went cold all over. Jo came in yelling his name, looking utterly terrified. When she saw him, she got all still too.”

She looked around, “That’s when Patel beat tracks and I missed my mark.”

Returning to her story, she went on, “So, Jo starts murmuring to him, like talking to a baby, or a frightened kid. All, ‘It’s okay, babe. Didn’t happen. Nothing happened. We’re safe. We’re outside. I’m safe. I’m right here’.”

Steve reached over and stroked a finger down Cath’s wrist. “Beverly’s group had Zane and some others jacked into their system a few years ago. It was,” he stuttered, remembering Jo’s face, Beverly’s smug triumph, “it was really bad. According to Jo.”

“Must have been,” Cath shivered. “So, she figured out pretty quick that he wasn’t responding at all. And then all of sudden, she gets this look on her face, and it’s like, whoa, terrifying, face of vengeance, and she picks up a metal stool and hands it to him and says, ‘smash it babe. Grind it to dust’.”

Cath sat back with huge expulsion of air. “So. He did.”

“It sounded like he was going to take the whole container apart.” Kono still sounded a little awed.

“No kidding,” Steve agreed. “I looked in after it was all over and they’d taken Beverly off to the trailer. Every piece of equipment was in little bits, wires pulled out of their housings, furniture overturned. I can’t believe one guy could wreak so much damage in such a short time.”

“Oh, it wasn’t just him. She did her fair share,” Cath said. “There is clearly some intense history there.”

She looked at Steve and raised an inquiring eyebrow.

Before Steve could decide how to respond, Danny commented, “I know Beverly was half convinced he was going to come kill her next.”

“Yeah.” Cath nodded vigorously. “I know he thought really hard about it, after he’d finished smashing the last of the computers to bits. He looked to Jo, but she made him make up his own mind. Said she didn’t care either way, what he did, she was his forever and she hated Beverly, but she wasn’t going to give him permission or blessing either.”

“So that’s why he’s in the trailer now, trying to figure out how to get that damn collar off her?” Chin asked.

“Yep.”

They finished their food in contemplative silence, and if Cath scooted closer, to press her thigh against his, that was only fair because he’d leaned back and angled his body so she could lean against his shoulder.

The rest time ended when Danny stood up. “We should go get the cars and the other gear. Probably take about an hour.” Danny said. “Who’s with me?”

Steve rose to his feet. “I want to get my truck back.”

Chin said, “I’ll come too, and I’ll go see if either Davis or Patel wants to retrieve their vehicle.”

Steve glanced down at Cath. “If we’re going to help with the clean up, you might as well get started with your Bob the Builder fantasy.”

Cath beamed at him as he hauled her to her feet. She landed in his arms, so he kissed her, because, well, he was helpless when she smiled like that.

Kono said, “Dibs on the digger.”

Chin came back from the trailer, Davis following him.

“How’s Zane doing with the collar?” Steve asked.

“He’s about to take it off. Either Beverly walks out of the trailer in five minutes, or,” Chin shrugged, “she doesn’t.”

It was three minutes, and Beverly walked out. Jo escorted her to the perimeter fence, handcuffed her to the chain-link netting, and returned to the trailer.

During the hike back up the hill to the vehicles, Steve, Danny and Chin all attempted to learn more about RI and it’s employees, but Davis proved closemouthed in the extreme. Only his charming smile as he ducked their questions convinced Danny to stop harassing him further. Steve did gather that Davis, as a team leader under Jo, was terribly embarrassed and angry, both for his fallen men and at them, for failing to protect Parish. He also appeared to genuinely respect Jo, and regarded Donovan with a sort of paternal exasperation, proud, mystified and annoyed in equal measure.

By the time they returned, Cath and Kono had figured out how to work the bulldozer and digger in tandem and successfully pushed the medical container into the pit in the ground, along with all its generators. Parish was sitting up and drinking water, looking dazed and grateful. Patel, Zane and Jo were walking the construction site, collecting all the random bits of trash and tools and tossing them into the pit.

Zane fell on the bags of equipment and quickly organized a production line, attaching what was nearly all of Five-O’s supply of C4, along with a good portion of their grenades, to long lines of Christmas lights already rigged with charging caps to trigger the explosions. When they asked where on earth Zane had come up with everything, he laughed and replied, “Dollar stores.”

Once he figured out what was going on, Parrish stumbled over and took charge. He proved to be an acerbic and exacting taskmaster, even in his current state. But he also worked more quickly and carefully than anyone besides Zane, and asked no questions about what had been done to free him or what they were planning to do next.

Seeing that all was going well and they would be finished soon, Steve relinquished his spot on the line and strolled over to Jo. She was frowning at their collection of five prisoners; her arms folded tightly over her chest. They were slumping in the early morning sun, wilted and defeated under the watchful eyes of Davis and Patel. “What are you planning to do with them?” he asked.

“I think,” she sighed hugely and looked up at him, “I think I have to call Mansfield. Tell him what’s gone down, and let him make the call.”

“That’s probably best. Kick it up the ladder when you can, soldier.”

She huffed, but she also smiled. Then she moved away and pulled out her phone, squaring her shoulders for what was undoubtedly going to be a very difficult conversation. Called over by Zane to help with the timers, Steve put Jo’s command problem out of his mind.
Then he heard her raised voice, protesting whatever the General had ordered. He and Zane rose to their feet almost as one, and moved to intercept her frantic pacing.

As they drew closer, she finally stilled. “Fine. Yes, Sir. I understand, Sir.”

She was obviously furiously unhappy about it, though, Steve thought, judging by her clenched jaw and hot eyes.

“Sir. I would like you to convey your orders to Commander McGarrett directly, sir.”

Jo held out her phone to Steve. He wanted nothing more than to refuse, but the pleading glare she shot him had him holding out his hand. He lifted the phone to his ear, braced for the General’s anger, but magnificently unprepared for the order he received.

Handing the phone back to Jo, he knew he must look as stunned as he felt, because she smiled bleakly at him. “Not the decisive order I was expecting,” she said.

“Me either.” Steve shook his head, still processing.

“What does he want?” Zane asked, worried frown lines appearing between his eyes.

Jo answered, still sounding stunned. “The five of them buried with the rest of the rubble.”

Zane absorbed this in silence, wrapping his arms around his chest and rocking back on his heels as he searched Jo’s face, looking for what Steve could not tell. Then at last Zane said, “That guy Decker,” he jerked his chin towards the older man in civvies with short, grey hair and wary eyes, “he was in charge, when they had us all jacked in before. If you’d been any later, he would have killed us all, Jojo. Starting with me. And he was going to do it again.”

Steve turned to look at Zane in surprise. “That’s…not what I thought to hear you say.”

Zane turned his head and looked Steve squarely in the eye. “Part of what I do for the DOD is design weapons. Some of them are already in use. Including our DNA targeting system. It’s already been mounted on modified drones, already been successfully tested in the field. My hands stopped being clean a long time ago.”

“Fine.” Jo took a deep breath, turned and drew her handgun, preparing to shoot the men on the ground.

Zane yelled her name and at the same time Steve lunged, just barely managing to catch Jo’s wrist, forcing her arm upward before she fired. “Not so fast, sergeant.”

She struggled against his hold, grinding out from between gritted teeth, “I haven’t been in the service for a long time, Commander. I don’t have to take any orders from you.”

“You dragged me into this thing, so, yes, you do.”

She fought him for a few seconds more, but Steve knew she wasn’t really trying, or she would have kicked him, and probably managed to break his hold. When he felt her relax he released his grip on her arm and stepped back. She spun and swung her gun hand around, only to have Zane seize her upper arms from behind and lift her off her feet, turning bodily to keep her gun pointed away from the men. “Dammit Zane!” She yelled. “It’s my job! It’s my responsibility!”

“No!” Steve yelled back. “It’s mine. You asked the General to task me with it, and he did, so back off.”

“I did not!” She’d stopped struggling, but, wiser about Jo than Steve was, Zane hadn’t let go of her. “I just wanted to make sure you wouldn’t arrest me for murder afterwards!”

“Whoa! Hold up! What the fuck is going on here?” Danny inserted himself between Steve and Zane and Jo. “Murder? What murder?”

Steve sighed and scrubbed his jaw. Maybe he should have let Jo do it already, easier to argue about it afterwards. And less torture for the men on the ground, listening in shock or resignation to a fight about who was going to kill them. He took another deep breath, then answered Danny. “Mansfield ordered us to clean the site, including the five men from the consortium.”

It took Danny a beat or two to process this, but when he did, his eyes nearly popped from surprised anger. “What? Steven! We don’t do that shit!”

Jo shook off Zane’s hands, and he let her go. She marched up to Danny. “We don’t either, Detective Williams! But those are the General’s orders. I have and I will defy him for a lot of things, but Decker’s life isn’t one of them. He’s slipped out of my hands twice already, with dire consequences each time. People died, people he killed. Good people.” Her voice softened, tinged with both determination and regret. “I agree with Mansfield. The possibility of loosing him for a third time is not an acceptable option.”

Davis coughed quietly. He’d slipped up to their little group while they were talking. “Ma’am, we’re ready for your order.”

Jo slid her gaze to Steve, and he nodded once, acknowledging that the order was hers. She looked up at Davis. “Do it.”

Danny swung his head from side to side, obviously furious and bewildered that no one from Five-O was sharing his outrage or moving to stop Davis and Patel. As the first body tumbled to the ground, he spun on his heels and stalked off, fury radiating from him with every step he took. He was also ominously silent.

Steve waited until all five men were down and Patel and Davis had checked to make sure their work was complete before he turned to follow Danny. Chin and Kono fell into step beside him, spreading out slightly as they drew near, as though to make sure Danny couldn’t slip through their net, Cath only a few steps behind.

Danny had come to a halt in the shade of the trees where they had eaten before, and was staring out over the horizon.

Chin stepped forward, holding out his hands. “Those men killed half of their team. They had the right.”

“I can’t believe this!” Danny turned on Chin in a fury. “You’re just going to back them up, like it’s no big deal?”

“I’m not seeing that we have a lot of choices here,” Kono said. “I’m sure General Mansfield has all the authority he needs to issue that order.”

“He does.” Steve said. “And we’ll be meeting a DOD lawyer before the end of the week, armed with documents swearing us to perpetual secrecy about all of this.”

“I don’t remember, any more, when I fell through the looking glass,” Danny mused, back to staring at the horizon, still refusing to look at his team, at his friends, at Steve. “One day, I was a regular cop, doing my best to uphold the law and follow the rules that civilized living depends upon. And now I’m here. Party to a covert execution, ordered by a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.” He huffed a bit of faint, disbelieving laughter.

After another minute or so he looked over at Steve. “I think I blame you.”

Danny’s accusation stung, even if Steve understood the cause. But, dammit, he didn’t have anything to do with it this time. He folded his arms across his chest and with some effort he kept his voice sympathetic. “You always blame me. Even when it’s not my fault.”

Danny grimaced in pained resignation and shook his head. “See? That’s the thing. It usually is your fault, one way or another.”

After a pause during which no one could think of anything to say, Danny looked at Steve, slapped his hands together and exclaimed, “Well! If we’re going to help your new BFFs clean up the scene of their crimes, we better get moving.”

From the dripping sarcasm to the icy glare Danny was shooting at him, Steve knew they were a long way from done dealing with this.

“Come’on kids,” Danny called as he turned and marched back toward the construction site, waving the rest of them along with him, all false cheerfulness as he sang out, “Back to work.”

Steve exchanged long, resigned looks with Chin, Kono and Cath. It was all too clear that there was nothing they could do right now to help Danny adjust to the situation. So, they got back to work.

With ten adults, even ones operating on no sleep for twenty-four hours, it went surprisingly quickly. While Cath and Kono used the bulldozer and the digger to push the second container into the pit, the rest of them dragged the bodies into the trailer. Once they had the trailer in the ground, Zane and Steve climbed in and laid explosive charges, rigged to detonate by remote switch. After that they got it all covered with the dirt.

Zane tossed one of a handful of detonators to Steve. “Go ahead, take the first one.”

Steve did, and with a muffled ‘whump’ the explosion sent up a satisfying ten-foot fountain of dirt and dust before it settled back down. He tried to stay serious for Danny’s sake, but it was too hard and he knew was grinning madly. He did love a good explosion.

Zane turned to Danny and held out another of the detonators. “Your turn,” he said.

Danny crossed his arms over his chest. “No thank you.” He shot a significant look Steve’s way. “I don’t need to blow things up.”

“Come on.” Zane smiled, still offering the detonator, tempting Danny with it. “It’s really fun.”

Danny ostentatiously looked away.

Zane was undeterred. “It’s also therapeutic.” He leaned forward, adopting a conspiratorial vibe. “I usually imagine Mansfield.” His voice got harder, and more satisfied. “Today, I am blowing up Decker.”

Danny sniffed, but his gaze had strayed back to the detonator in Zane’s hand.

“You know you want to,” Zane was grinning again as he sing-songed.

“Oh fine.” Danny snatched the detonator out of Zane’s hand. “What do I do?”

“Just flip the switch whenever you’re ready. We’re all out of range.”

Danny narrowed his eyes, no doubt considering whomever it was he was mentally blowing up, and then very deliberately flipped the switch. Steve tried to guess who it was that had Danny smiling with satisfaction like that, but realized the list of potential victims was actually pretty long.

After the geyser of dirt settled back down, Danny cocked his head. “You know. That felt surprisingly good.”

Zane laughed. “Every time, man. Every time. It’s like sex that way.”

Then he winked at his wife and punched the button on the last detonator.

As Cath and Kono climbed into the earthmoving equipment to push more dirt into the sinkholes the explosions had created, Steve ambled over to where Zane was studying one of his monitors. “You know,” he said in a low voice, “I could have sworn you had rigged all three to go from one detonator.”

“Really?” Zane looked up with a half smile, shrugging aside the question. “I have plenty of switches. It seemed a shame waste them.”

“Thanks, man.”

He was already looking at his monitors again. “My pleasure.”

Steve called the Governor’s office mid-morning, to let them know that the Five-O team was finishing up their investigation of the convention center flash bomb and would not be coming into HQ today. To his surprise, the governor himself called back a few minutes later to tell Steve that he had heard from a General Mansfield, who had reported glowingly on Five-O’s performance, and that he was very pleased in turn.

The explosive net worked exactly as Zane had said it would. Where the trailers and containers had been, a rolling crackle of small bangs, followed by a cloud of dirt lifting a few feet in the air, and then settling back, smoothed out the ground as it went.

Afterwards, Zane brought back out his electronics and scanned the field for any un-discharged explosives. Fortunately there were only a few duds, easily disposed off.

Zane straightened up from the last one, his face and body, like the rest of them, seamed with sweat and dirt, and underneath his skin was pale with fatigue. He said, “I still need to pull up their perimeter sensors, and we’ll have to get Mansfield to send someone to take care of their cars and the earth moving equipment, but I think we’ve done enough for today. Thanks, everyone, for all your help. I really appreciate it.”

Jo moved to stand beside him, wrapping her arm around his waist, his arm falling automatically across her shoulders and pulling her close. “We appreciate it. Thank you.”

They slowly collected the last of their gear and settled into the vehicles for the ride out. Kono took Cath home to shower before her duty shift. Danny rode with Chin, still too angry with all of them, and especially Steve, to linger. Davis and Patel took Parish and Beverly, about whose eventual fate Steve had declined to inquire. He had noticed that Mansfield didn’t seem to know she was there, and figured it was best to leave things that way. That left Steve with Zane and Jo.

“Do you know where you want to go?” he asked.

They looked at each other, then shook their heads. “No.”

“Why don’t you stay with me?” He smiled, improving the offer he’d been thinking about for an hour or so. “I live on the beach.”

It took him several minutes to convince them he was serious, but once he did, they accepted his invitation with grateful enthusiasm.

They stopped for some food on the way back, so by the time they arrived at HQ Danny and Chin were gone, Jo and Zane’s bags dumped in a heap in the middle of the room. Steve sighed, and Jo and Zane were too polite, or too tired, to ask any questions.

“How do you two do it?” Steve nodded toward Jo’s silhouette, sharply outlined in the setting sun. She stood in the surf, letting it break around her calves, her face raised to catch the last of the day’s warmth. She was smiling, her long hair blowing in the evening breeze. The same breeze pressed her thin linen beach shirt flush against her body, revealing the black bikini she was wearing underneath. He was reminded for about the thousandth time what a beautiful woman she was. “You make it look effortless, but, I gather, it isn’t?”

“No. Not effortless. At all.” Zane was sprawled out next to Steve on the lanai. They had been swimming earlier, but retreated to the lounge chairs a while back. “But,” and his smile transformed his expression into one blinding happiness, “So, so worth it.”

“You almost make a man jealous for that.”

Zane raised his brow. “Cath? Or Danny?”

“What?” Steve froze, beer half-way to his mouth.

“One of the easier ways to get into a system without setting off any alarms is to guess passwords. Lovers, family and pets are incredibly common keys.” He shrugged and offered a sympathetic half-smile. “I’m good at watching people, putting things together. And your password is his daughter’s birthday.”

Steve was too uncomfortable to say anything.

“Have you considered trying to work something out with both of them?”

Steve concentrated on placing his beer bottle gently on the ground, next to his chair.

“It’s not really any of my business, but I know that I’m a lot for Jo to handle, all by herself. She’s got no back up and no respite. It’s all me, twenty-four-seven, three hundred and sixty-five days a year. Sometimes, I feel like a vampire, and not the handsome, sparkly kind. The demon, blood-sucking kind. I wonder if one morning I’ll wake up, and she’ll be an empty husk, turning to dust beside me, because I’ve drained everything she had to give.”

“That’s…” Steve swallowed, flailing for something intelligent to say. He settled on, “Very vivid.”

Zane chuckled, and pointed to himself, “Geek.” He turned his face back to the shore, watching Jo. After a while he said, “She tried to run, you know. More than once. I think she knew how it would be, and was afraid. And I was afraid to hold on too tight, in case I panicked her even more. I do everything I can now to make sure she never regrets taking the chance on me.”

“So, how come you don’t have a third person?” It was a feeble riposte, but the best he had.

Zane laughed, giving Steve’s weak attempt the contempt it deserved. “It turns out I’m kind of a ragey, possessive jackass, at least where Jo is concerned. And, it’s hard to see in her now, but twelve years of Catholic School leaves its mark. Sharing is pretty much off the table for us. But, you three don’t seem that type. In fact, they both might be more than a little bit relieved to have someone around to help lighten the load.”

Steve was quiet for a long time, turning the idea over in his head, wondering if he’d suddenly lost his mind and hadn’t noticed. “How would I manage it?”

He wasn’t even one hundred percent sure he’d asked the question out loud, but Zane answered.

“You? You wouldn’t. You’d turn the whole thing over to them and let them work it out. Then you do exactly what they tell you and thank your lucky stars every day for your good fortune.”

Jo came wandering back, windblown and smiling. Zane held open his arms in invitation and she climbed into his lap. After some adjusting, she ended up straddling him to rest her head on his shoulder, turning her face to watch the sun slanting across the waves.

Zane wrapped his arms around her, hugging her tightly for a moment, his biceps bunching and releasing under the smooth skin of his upper arms. He pressed his lips to her hair before resting his cheek against her head. His voice was soft, but Steve heard him clearly all the same. “Steve? Don’t wait so long to decide you loose the window.”


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


*Author note: It’s not fully clear either timeline where Donovan finished his PhD, and at least some Eureka fen take it for granted that he doesn’t have one in timeline 2 because of several "Mr. Donovans" in S5, but lots of characters do call him Dr. Donovan during S4, which honestly makes the most sense to me. Why bother with him if there is no proof at all he can produce anything, or of his research credentials? Also, I can't believe he would be eligible for his final promotion without one. Academics/Scientists are as touchy about rank as Military types are. So I made the UCLA part up.
**Author note: Eureka canon provides conflicting information on Lupo’s military record. In the S3 Jo/Julia body swap story she claims she graduated at the top of her class at West Point, but in S4 Zane refers to her as a 'grunt' and in S5, Major Shaw greets her as ‘sergeant.’ You could make both work by waving at the timeline shift, but honestly I think the West Point business makes no sense at all. I literally cannot imagine anyone who ‘graduated at the top of their class at West Point’ having any – much less all – of Jo’s intellectual insecurities or status anxieties in the face of a bunch of out of control civilian scientists. Or her career path. Deputy Sherriff who can’t get a promotion? Really? So I decided to ignore it as a bone headed writing mistake that wasn’t caught in time.
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