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H50/Chaos fic: Interagency Cooperation 3/7

April 19th, 2012 (06:52 am)
mellow

feeling: mellow

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE
PART FOUR
PART FIVE
PART SIX
PART SEVEN



PART THREE

“You know,” Danny says, his voice hushed even if they’re not out of the car just yet, “this is part of the reason why I never wanted to become a spy.”

Billy is lounged in the seat next to him. They’ve been in the car all morning, staking out the boat and waiting for the right moment to move. Where Danny is getting restless with the anticipation of the ensuing part of the so-called mission, Billy seems entirely indifferent. The Scot lifts one eyebrow, casting a sidelong glance at Danny. “Because adventure and heroics go against your core principles?”

Danny glowers. Because he’s grateful for the CIA on many levels. In general, he likes to think there are spies out there protecting national interests so he can go to work with one less worry on his mind. And he also can’t deny that it’s sort of nice to have the entire case laid out for them; it’s spared him from certain peril while Steve knocks heads together to get the answers that he’s looking for.

But now, in the daylight, Danny’s struggling to maintain such gratitude. Because while the CIA has national security as their overarching goal, clearly they have being annoying as part of their short term quotas. Because Billy, the tall agent he’s paired with, hasn’t stopped spewing friendly nonsense since he piled in to Danny’s car to start their day.

And it’s a big day, full of said adventure and heroics. Because somehow – and Danny’s still not sure how this happened – he has been assigned to oversee the planting of the wire on Ito’s boat. Normally, Danny might think this is a job better suited to Steve, but when Michael – CIA leader extraordinaire – suggested Billy, apparently Steve took that as a personal challenge to show that he could loosen the reigns as well.

Which, normally Danny would approve of that. Steve has a superhero complex that grates on Danny’s every last nerve as he has to run around as the Tonto to Steve’s Lone Ranger, trying to keep the idiot from getting himself killed.

However, throwing himself purposefully in harm’s way is not exactly the alternative he’s been looking for.

Especially not with some CIA agent who seems to be perpetually happy.

“No, because sneaking around on the docks, planting bugs on the boats of suspected gangsters is stupid,” Danny says, barely controlling his exasperation. “Right up there with running around and kicking down doors without getting a warrant.”

Billy seems to consider that, nodding his head with his lips pursed. “Well such legalities are generally helpful in a court of law,” he agrees. “But come now, who doesn’t love a good wire tap?”

“Oh, I have no problem with wire taps,” Danny says, motioning to himself. “I have a problem with risking life and limb to set them.”

This time, Billy looks at him earnestly. “You know, for a cop, you lack a certain inherent recklessness that one would normally associate with a profession where guns are carried on a daily basis.”

Danny snorts. “Yeah, yeah,” he says. “Just because I have enough common sense to want to survive, somehow I’m the odd duck of the group.”

“See, and I’ve never understood why being the odd duck was really so bad,” Billy says in an entirely conversational manner. “I mean, so much better than being, say, the normal duck.”

Danny has been so busy building his case to rant about that he almost doesn’t notice how utterly inane the response is until he’s gaping blankly at the other man.

Billy nods quite readily, as though he hasn’t said the stupidest thing possible, given their current situation. “Of course, being human, I’m not sure I’m really one to judge the quality of ducks at any rate,” he says.

Danny’s gaping turns to disbelief and he makes a face of disgust. “Never mind,” he says. “I’m not the odd duck. You’re the odd duck.”

Frowning, Billy shrugs. “This is possible,” he says. “Though, if I may admit, I am more like you than I may let on.”

“No,” Danny says promptly, looking back out at the shipping yard in frustration. “You are a foolhardy CIA agent that runs around breaking up fights and spends the next day in casual conversation that makes absolutely no sense.”

“Perhaps,” Billy relents. “But I do prefer situations where I can greatly reduce the amount of peril that befalls me.”

Danny gives a snort. “Could have fooled me,” he mutters.

“Oh, come now,” Billy says with a hint of cajoling. “I’m here to do what needs to be done, same as you. But while you choose to voice your discontent in a dour manner, I simply prefer a bit more optimism in my daily deflections.”

“So that’s what you call that nonstop running of your mouth,” Danny snipes.

“As I seem to recall, you haven’t exactly been hard pressed to join the conversation,” Billy points out.

Danny shifts uncomfortably. This is, maybe, more true than he’s ready to admit. After all, of the group, he is known as the talkative one, although Danny is less inclined to think that’s a personality tick as he is to chalk it up to the only one being moderately grounded in the total reality of life.

Still, he’s not about to admit that. “Well, I’m just trying avoid going deaf by your nonstop Scottish diatribes,” he says resentfully.

“I’ve heard that most people rather enjoy Scottish accents,” Billy continues, conveniently ignoring the jibe.

Danny sighs, sinking back into his seat, feeling his failure acutely. “Yeah, and most people think that Hawaii is a tropical paradise,” he mutters. “Shows how much common sense most people have.”

Billy looks at him for a moment, brow furrowed. “You know,” he says. “If I may make a suggestion--”

“You may not,” Danny snaps.

“--it might help to direct your hostility toward more productive outlets,” Billy continues, regardless of Danny’s clear protests. “I have seen living proof that negative energy directed toward a frenzy for justice can actually be quite productive.”

This is not what Danny wants to hear. Although, Danny doesn’t really want to hear everything except maybe, for once, Steve saying book ‘em, Danno, because that would indicate that this case is over and that Danny has managed to plant a bug and survive. And that he hasn’t been arrested for murder himself after spending a day listening to a Scottish loudmouth yap incessantly in his ear.

“I’m perfectly productive,” Danny tells him pointedly. “And you know what, I’m perfectly reasonable, too. This entire bust is being thrown together in a slipshod manner. It’s flying by the seat of our pants and we’re walking into boats and planting bugs with questionable legal grounds and hoping – just hoping, mind you – that we don’t get caught and shot and dropped off at sea.”

“Rubbish,” Billy says. “I promise you, my teammates and I have spent a thorough effort on devising this plan.”

“It could get us killed!” Danny objects.

“Aye, this is true,” Billy agrees. “But such risks are inherent with the job.”

Danny sits back and makes another face. “Inherent with the job? Sure, but that doesn’t mean we have to go after this kind of thing with a smile on our faces.”

Billy grins coyly. “I would reckon it’s a wee bit more enjoyable than the permanent scowl you seem stuck with.”

Danny groans, dropping his head back against the seat and pounding it there a few times. “This cannot be happening,” he says. He lifts his head, shaking it. “And here I thought my partner was the only psycho practicing questionable law enforcement techniques. And now here I am, sitting with some Scottish madman who wants to do equally stupid things only he doesn’t have the common sense to stop smiling when danger presents itself!”

“I can do an accent, if it helps,” Billy offers.

Danny throws his hands up. “Great, an accent,” he says. “And, you know, how does someone from Scotland end up with the CIA anyway?”

Billy lifts his eyebrows. “Now that is a long and colorful story,” he says.

“Oh, and now suddenly you’re going to get tight lipped?” Danny asks with a bit of bitter bemusement.

“It involves great detailing of espionage and betrayal, and really, the ending is a bittersweet mixture of disgrace and redemption,” Billy says.

“Which means?”

Billy squints out the window curiously. “Which means that I think you may have better luck trusting me if we overlook some of the key words, such as decommissioning and deportation,” he says.

This catches Danny’s attention. “Wait, what?”

But Billy is moving, hand on the door as he pauses tensely. “See, I knew that wouldn’t do,” he says. “But really, now’s not the time. Looks like we may be on.”

Danny’s attention is redirected out the window, and his objections fall silent as he watches what Billy’s indicated. Because there’s movement on the boat – the full contingent of crew accounted for from CIA intel and Kono’s double checking – moving from the deck and onto the dock.

“Going for lunch no doubt,” Billy muses.

“Yeah, because everyone wants to be well fed before committing major international crimes,” Danny mutters.

“Judge their career choices, yes,” Billy says, his hand on the door handle. “But not their wisdom in maintaining a well balanced diet even under duress.”

Danny wants to protest, except that it’s possible that he agrees, especially since he’s suddenly regretful that in all their waiting to plant the bug, they have neglected to eat anything and he’s actually noticeably hungry. This is something else to complain about, and he’s about ready to, when the crew of the boat moves away and out of sight.

“I think that’s our cue,” Billy says, still watching for any sign of movement.

“Then let’s get this over with,” Danny says, and he opens his door.

Billy is only a beat behind him, and as Danny eases his way out into the open, he tries to keep his pace casual but quick. He notes, with trepidation and satisfaction, that Billy falls in obediently a half step behind him, his longer legs walking at a clipped rhythm to match Danny’s.

Danny knows they look the part: somehow the CIA had thought to provide coveralls that would make them look like dock employees to anyone not paying much attention. He also knows that they have a good hour or so before the ship is to set sail, and that while there is a chance that someone might turn out from lunch early, it’s not overly likely, and really, it’s the best chance they have. Without the bug in place, they’re going to have a hard time fully implicating anyone, and considering how many other unknowns there are going into the bust, any extra details gleaned really will be worthwhile.

So, in theory, Danny knows this is the right move.

But in application, it feels damn reckless. More than that, he feels unusually vulnerable without Steve or another member of 5-0 by his side. Sure, he rants and raves about Steve’s suicidal tendencies in the field, but he still trusts Steve to get the job done. There may be more explosions and gunplay that Danny generally prefers, but Steve’s incurred more personal peril off the job than he has on, and Danny finds some comfort in that.

And sure, Billy seems adept enough – Danny did see him in the fight in the alley – but he’s also had to listen to the man ramble nonsense all day long, and so it seems only reasonable to question if he’s capable in the field or just capable of talking someone into total submission.

To think, his team thinks Danny’s the loudmouth. They clearly haven’t spent any time locked in a car with the wondrous talking Scotsman.

There’s no time to voice these concerns, though, and really no point to it anyway. They’re on their own for this, and no matter how Danny feels about the risks, it’s too late to turn back now.

In this, Danny’s not sure of Billy’s steadfast presence next to him is a blessing or a curse. Because, it’s true that having a willing partner for such things tends to minimize the risk of a total flake out, but it’s also true that people who are unaware of their own peril tend to make stupid decisions. And Danny knows this because he has a partner who thinks he’s some kind of superhero.

So a Scotsman who lacks common sense doesn’t really seem like any kind of improvement.

Still, as they ease their way on the boat, Danny is marginally glad not to be going this alone. At least this way, when Danny’s looking one direction, Billy can be looking the other. So they’ll at least be able to see if they’re about to be caught and/or killed.

Small blessings. Ever since moving to Hawaii, that’s been his key survival tactic, and it serves him well as he moves as quietly as he can across the deck. At the door, he turns stiffly, fingers hot and clammy on the handle. When he tests it, he moves easily, and it creaks opens.

He glances back to Billy, who just shrugs.

With a glower, Danny pushes it the rest of the way open and sneaks inside. Billy slips in behind him and they wordlessly fan out, sweeping the room as best they can. Danny strains to listen –hears the water, the sounds of other boats at sea – but the boat they’re on is quiet and still. Seemingly vacated, just like Billy’s intel suggested.

Across the room, Billy’s posture seems to ease, but when he makes his way back toward Danny, his voice is still hushed even if he’s smiling. “You still have the bug?”

It’s instinct, maybe, but Danny frowns at him. “Of course I have the bug,” he shoots back harshly, his voice a tense whisper. “I’m not going to storm a gangster’s boat in a suicide run without at least bringing the bug!”

Billy lifts his eyebrows, not nearly daunted enough by Danny’s vehemence. “Then perhaps you’d like to be planting it now, yeah?”

Danny rolls his eyes, but digs into his pocket and produces the device. This one is smaller than he’s used to, provided by the CIA. He might be impressed were he not so annoyed at having his life endangered at the moment. “Any suggestions?” he asks.

“I think planting it would be advisable,” Billy says in all seriousness. “And activating it, of course.”

Danny glares. “I meant where, smart ass.”

“Ah,” Billy says, eyes roving the room. “Some place convenient but not conspicuous...” His eyes settled and his face lights up. “There.”

Danny follows his gaze and even though he wants to disagree, he finds himself unable to come up with anything better. He moves closer but shakes his head. “A lamp,” he says. “Seems a bit cliché, doesn’t it?”

“The classics never die,” Billy reassures him. “And since I would prefer to avoid death myself right now, I suggest we leave it and run before one of our nefarious friends gets the itch to come back from lunch prematurely.”

Picking up the lamp, Danny hurriedly unscrews the bottom, hitting the transmit button before sticking it in place. Billy is watching by the window, chewing his lip anxiously, as Danny finishes up his work and moves back toward the door.

“We good?” Billy asks.

“We’ll be good once we get the hell of this boat and back into the safety of the car,” Danny says, moving quickly past him and heading out the door.

In the open, Danny feels more conspicuous than ever. As he makes his way off the boat, Billy close behind him, he keeps waiting for something horrible to happen. For someone to show up, for someone to see them.

When he’s back on the solid ground and there’s no sign of danger, he almost can’t believe it.

The car is in sight and the job is almost done and for a second, Danny thinks everything might just work out okay after all.

At least, until three gang members turn the corner and Danny almost runs right into them.

“Whoa, hey,” Danny says, holding his hands up. His instincts are to run, but he reminds himself that he still has a valid and working cover to fall back on. “My bad.”

The gang members look less than thrilled. Danny recognizes them from their pictures, even IDs one as one of the major lieutenants behind Ito, which he knows is less than ideal, especially since they’re scowling.

Billy stops next to him, shaking his head. “Always the klutz, this one,” he says breezily. “But can’t hardly blame him. Once we finish our rounds on the dock, we’re due for a much needed lunch break.”

It’s the first time that the Scot has talked when Danny doesn’t have the overwhelming urge to pound his head against a wall. It occurs to him briefly that all his conversational overtures may be just as much a guise as they are a true personality flaw, but there’s not really a lot of time to consider that as they try to talk their way past three grumpy looking Japanese criminals.

“Anyway, gents, excuse our interruption and we’ll let you be on your way,” Billy continues easily, and he’s moving forward when one of the gang members stop.

“This is a secure portion of the dock,” he says.

“Aye,” Billy agrees. “Dock personnel only.”

Danny shrugs, joining the facade. “You think we’d hang out here for fun?”

None of them look convinced. The one who spoke before, inches forward skeptically. “We are well acquainted with dock employees.”

This isn’t an ideal twist, though probably not unsurprising. Criminals like to know who’s who; it helps control all the variables. It helps spot potential problems, like cops and CIA agents out to get you.

So, in general, Danny knows that this does not particularly work in his favor. At all.

Billy seems unfazed. “We’re relatively new hires,” he says. “I was hoping for work in the tourism industry when I came to this island oasis, but the practical realities of affording a piece of paradise made me settle for this. Doesn’t pay great, but after a few hours, the smell really isn’t so bad.”

“We’re just running extra sweeps today,” Danny furthers the charade. “Apparently they don’t trust us to handle it on our own, so they usual guys still have to double check all our work.” He manages to sound annoyed, which isn’t too hard, once he diverts all his anxiety into abhorrent frustration.

“Indeed, it doesn’t exactly afford much respect,” Billy says. “But why are we prattling on. Carry on, carry on. Enjoy your stay with us and all.”

Billy makes another move to leave, and Danny follows. The gangsters don’t look convinced, but Billy’s talking is so effective, even if nonsensical, that Danny’s not entirely sure they’ve processed enough of it to think twice.

At least, not until Danny and Billy get a few feet beyond and there’s the sound of a gun being cocked before an accented voice says, “Stop.”

Danny doesn’t like listening to criminals, but since there’s no place to hid a gun in the coveralls and since any contrary move he makes may result in a bullet to the back, he has no choice but to obey.

Billy is ramrod straight next to him and he sees the Scot’s expression waver momentarily before he turns around, all smiles. “Did you mishear us, mates?” he asks. “We said all was well. You can carry on.”

Danny has no choice but to follow, and he clenches his jaw tight to hold his emotions in check.

“We know all the employees,” the same gangster says, although Danny notes that he’s the only one of the three not currently aiming a gun at them.

“Take the personnel issues up with our boss,” Danny says, hands out cautiously. “We don’t want any trouble.”

The two men cock their guns.

The first narrows his eyes, face darkening. “We have already paid off your boss,” he says. “No dock personnel are supposed to be on duty today. New or otherwise.”

This is a twist that they haven’t expected and it’s one that isn’t going to work in their favor.

Billy, though, still laughs. “I told you we got the dates wrong!” he says to Danny. “I thought we were supposed to start work next weekend, but he insisted that we were on duty this week. It seemed odd with no one around, but I figured that was all part of the training experience.”

It’s actually a pretty good lie, as far as lies go, and there’s a look of hesitation from the gang members.

For a second, Danny thinks it might work.

But then the guns stay pointed and the translator laughs harshly. “Then let’s take your training to the next level,” he suggests. “One last inspection. On our boat, please.”

“Oh, I don’t know--” Billy tries to say.

The two gun wielding men step forward.

The one talking smiles. “We insist.”

Danny’s stomach churns painfully and he can barely control the growing dread spiking through his body. He considers his gun again, but Billy’s not armed and the odds aren’t that good. There’s nothing he can do except wait for a better opportunity – or hope Steve is paying enough attention to figure out what’s happened.

This is the inevitability that Danny accepts with stoic silence.

It’s an inevitability that Billy seems to accept, too, hands up. But his ready submission to this does not seem to involve shutting up.

As the two men circle behind them, Danny feels the gun in his back and he starts to walk. Billy takes an equally lurching step forward, wetting his lips. Then, quite seriously, he looks to Danny. “So, you think we’ll get overtime for this?”

The gun pokes Danny’s back harder and he closes his eyes for a moment, rallying his self control.

Billy shrugs. “No, then?” he asks. He looks to his captors with a sigh. “I knew I should have taken that job selling pineapples instead. Not as much excitement but despite the dangers of leaves poking you in the eye, it seems somewhat less eventful.”

And as they approach the boat, Danny can only think that maybe Steve was right about the CIA after all.

-o-

It’s surprisingly quiet.

After months with Danny as a partner, Steve has gotten used to the nonstop diatribes and the unending babble. Even when he objects to the nonsensical and melodramatic nature of it, it’s apparent to him now just how much he’s come to rely on it.

Michael, by contrast, is quiet and considerate. He doesn’t ramble on about fried food or gangster movies, and he doesn’t even question any of Steve’s decisions. Really, it’s everything Steve’s ever claimed to want while on a case, but it’s unsettlingly clear how unsettling it is.

Danny’s changed him, and Steve hasn’t even fully stopped to realize how. But what is clear to him is that without Danny’s unending monologues, the case just doesn’t feel right. Steve just doesn’t feel right. And for all the distractions Steve pins on Danny, the absence of such things is actually more distracting than anything and Steve finds himself fidgeting in the driver’s seat of his truck, trying to focus on the task at hand.

“So,” Steve says, more because he has to say something before the unending amicable silence does him in. “You’re sure about this intel?”

It’s actually a legitimate question. Steve is used to moving quickly through cases; he’s even been known to take a shortcut or two in his investigative tactics. But given that the entire case has literally fallen into his lap, he’s not as sure on the details as maybe he’d like to be. It was something, of course, to think that Danny might be right that sometimes the proper methods and procedures had their place.

Michael, for his part, seems unconcerned by Steve’s doubts. He’s still looking out the window studiously, keeping an eye on the boat that he’s identified. “It’s taken years to get us to this point,” he says. He glances at Steve. “Trust me, it’s good intel.”

Steve purses his lips and looks out of the car at the boat again. It’s been quiet since they got here, and although Steve’s caught a glimpse of people on board, it hasn’t been enough to positively ID them as any of their suspects. “You do realize that asking me to trust you is kind of a lot,” he says. “You have me putting my entire team on the line based on your word alone.”

Michael just shrugs. “I’ve entrusted my cover and the cover of my team to you on this. If this goes wrong, if you break your trust with me, my men are risking their careers and their lives, not to mention countless other missions and assets that we’ve already got in play,” he says. “I think I understand the risks pretty well.”

This is true, and Steve knows it. As a SEAL, he’s been on more than his share of top secret missions and he’s flown under the radar more than a few times. It was a part of the job he always liked; the sense of doing something truly important, protecting others even when they didn’t know it.

Maybe that’s why the public nature of 5-0 has always been hard for him to grasp. Danny worries about thinks like due process and Chin knows all about the problematic loop holes in the justice system, and Steve still wonders why it’s necessary all the time.

But, sitting there with Michael, the contrast is stark, and he’s beginning to see Danny’s point of view.

A little, anyway.

Steve lets conversation lapse for a moment, eyes trained out at the still docks in front of them. He wonders what his team is doing. He checked in with Kono no more than fifteen minutes ago, but it’s been longer since he’s heard from Chin or Danny. He trusts them, but he’d trust the case more if he’d been the one to finalize the details.

“I just like to know my team is safe,” he says, almost by way of admission.

Michael looks at him again, eyebrows raised. “That’s a mutual feeling,” he says. “I have my men in the field without any kind of weapon to back them up. How do you think that makes me feel?”

It is a salient point that Steve hasn’t thought about much. Of course, it had been a non-issue. Since the CIA had no jurisdiction, the agents had no more right to carry a concealed firearm on Hawaiian soil than any other visiting civilian.

Still, sympathy is hard to muster, especially when Steve still wants to hold his grudge. He doesn’t like not being in control; he doesn’t know quite what to do when the choices are not his alone. He respects his team and relies on their skills and knowledge, but he’s the leader of 5-0, and he’s always taken that to heart.

So to have the CIA bail him out – first from a fight and then from a case he’s not putting together fast enough – is just a little hard to take. He tries to convince himself that it’s not his fault, that he did as much as he could given what little he had to go on, but it’s hard nonetheless.

And maybe Danny’s right; maybe the problem isn’t that he doesn’t trust the CIA but that he knows the rulebook they’re playing by. He understands a thing or two about bending the rules to make a case work, but on the other side of the equation, it’s not as easy to cope with. It’s like watching a bull walking through a china shop without knowing if or when they’re going to start charging at will. The sense of impending disaster is unsettling, especially with lives on the line and criminals at stake.

Yet, these men are like him. Michael’s quiet and laid back, but he’s got the same off-kilter sense of planning as Steve. In most cases, Michael’s more low key, but somehow Steve suspects that when push comes to shove, Michael will employ aggressive tactics just as readily and as deadly as Steve will.

Anything for justice.

Anything for his team.

“My team is good,” Steve says finally, nodding thoughtfully as he continues watching the boat for signs of movement.

Michael smirks a bit. “I’ve read your file,” he says.

Steve huffs a small laugh. “That’s reassuring,” he says. “When I pulled yours, it said you were a banker.”

Michael shrugs, still smiling. “I always have had a flair for accounting,” he says.

Steve laughs in spite of his continued reservations. But before he can reply, Michael’s sitting up straighter in his seat and Steve sees why. “We’ve got movement,” he says, leaning forward and squinting.

Michael nods. “Six marks,” he says. “That’s the full crew manifest.”

Steve strains to make out some faces, and some of them do look familiar. “So it is our boat.”

Michael doesn’t look at him, but still smirks as he watches. “I told you our intel was good.”

Steve casts him a wary sideways glance. “Yeah, well, the case still isn’t closed yet,” he says.

Michael doesn’t reply to that, just lifts his chin toward the boat. “Looks like they’re clear,” he says. “The cruise isn’t set to take sail for another hour. That should give Billy and your guy ample time to get in and plant the bug.”

This is all true, and Steve knows it’s silly to be annoyed at the fact that Michael’s the one still seeming to call the shots despite the fact that Steve made it very clear that he was in charge.

Steve is thinking of something posturing to say when two new figures slip into the scene. Danny is a step ahead of his CIA counterpoint but almost a full head shorter. His pace is brisk and his eyes seem to be moving constantly, scanning the area. Even from a distance, Steve can see that Danny is not thrilled with this assignment, and he looks like he feels especially vulnerable in his coveralls sans gun.

And if Steve’s uncomfortable watching his partner climb onto the gangster’s boat because of that vulnerability, then no one has to know.

Although, when Steve glances over at Michael, he gets the distinct impression that Michael doesn’t exactly feel much better about the situation.

The CIA agent with Danny, however, seems completely nonchalant. He keeps pace with Danny but looks decidedly less tense. His hair is spiky and his expression entirely good natured, even as they board an enemy vessel with very little backup or protection.

“You sure your man is focused on this job?” Steve asks, studying him critically from a distance.

Michael inclines his head. “Something you should know about CIA types,” he says, looking at Michael. “We aren’t always what we appear.”

There’s humor in the statement, but Steve doesn’t feel like laughing, especially as Danny and Billy slip inside the cabin on the boat. He shifts uneasily in his seat, eyes trained on the door. “Well, I think I’d feel a bit better if you were,” he says.

Michael shrugs. “I understand,” he says, and he sounds relaxed but when Steve glances at him, he can see the tension in his shoulders. “Trust is hard to earn.”

This is true in theory, but Steve thinks about how easy it was to trust Danny, how quickly they became partners and how Steve can’t imagine it any other way. “But once you have it--”

“--it’s pretty hard to shake it,” Michael finishes for him, just as intent on the door.

For a moment, there’s silence between them, and this time Steve is okay with letting it linger. Because he’s got more important things on his mind – namely, making sure that Danny gets out before anything goes wrong.

Not that anything necessarily has to go wrong, but he’s beginning to understand Danny’s trepidation on most cases. It’s harder to be certain of anything when it’s not your decision guiding things. He’s always pegged Danny for being overly reactive, and while Steve isn’t ranting and raving right now, he certainly feels on edge while the CIA’s game plan runs its course.

Sitting there while the seconds tick by, Steve wonders again why he didn’t insist on taking the most dangerous job himself. Normally, that’s how he would play it. It’s not in his nature to send other people into perilous situations unless absolutely necessary. But with so many unknowns in this case, Steve knows that he has to be running point, even if that means he’s not always directly in the line of fire. More than that, when it was clear that Michael wasn’t going to make the drop on the boat, Steve had had no choice but to make the same decision.

And it does make sense. And he does trust Danny.

It’s just hard.

Tapping his foot and chewing his lip, Steve glances at the clock. He shakes his head. “It’s taking too long.”

“Give them a minute,” Michael says.

Steve looks at the boat, then the clock. He shakes his head again, hand moving toward the door handle. “I’m going in.”

But just as he says it, there’s movement on the boat. The door opens and Danny ducks out, Billy right behind him. They make it across the deck quickly and as Steve allows himself to settle back into his seat, they’re already back on solid ground.

“See,” Michael says. “Everything is just fine.”

Steve isn’t about to admit that Michael’s right, but he’s more than somewhat relieved that he is. His heart rate eases as Danny disappears from view, presumably back to the safety of the Camaro.

Steve is about to contact Kono, to see if the signal is live, when Michael stiffens in the seat next to him. Concerned, Steve looks up and immediately understands why.

Because Danny and Billy have walked back into view. And this time they’re not alone.

There are three gangsters with them, two with guns, herding Danny and Billy back toward the boat.

Steve’s first instinct is to move; Michael holds out a hand keeping him back.

“We can’t just let them take them--” Steve says, indignant, and he doesn’t even know how to finish because this is Danny.

Michael’s gaze doesn’t flicker as Danny and Billy are forced back on board. “We have to let them take them.”

Steve’s ready for a fight on this; he knows Michael is better than he looks, but he has no doubts that he can take the smaller man and quickly, if he needs to.

Steve’s tension nearly snaps when Danny and Billy disappear inside and the boat lapses into stillness again.

More determined, Steve moves to leave the car.

“If we go in now, the entire mission is compromised,” Michael reminds him flatly, his voice firm and without emotion.

“If we don’t go in, Danny and Billy may be dead,” Steve counters.

“We don’t know what they know yet,” Michael tells him. “Billy’s not going to give anything up; I trust that Danny won’t either.”

Steve doesn’t want to admit to that, but his silence is telling.

“They won’t kill them until they have to,” Michael says. “And they’re not likely to kill them until they’re in open water anyway.”

“You’re willing to risk your man’s life on that?” Steve asks sharply.

When Michael looks at Steve, the struggle there is obvious. Almost as obvious as the resignation. “Unfortunately, yes,” he says.

Steve is still fuming. He shakes his head. “These guys have killed for less,” he says, remembering the pictures of their vic.

“Only after they’d figured out he wasn’t a real threat and wasn’t a real asset,” Michael says, far too reasonably. “It’s not smart to tie off your loose ends until you know where the thread comes from. These men are vicious, but they’re not stupid.”

Again, it’s logical. So damn logical that Steve sort of wants to bash his face in because this isn’t about logic. This is about Danny, and how Danny trusts Steve, and how Grace trusts Steve to keep her daddy alive.

Michael still meets his eyes, gaze unwavering. “If I thought we couldn’t get them out later, I would already be on that boat,” he says.

Steve believes that much, even if he isn’t ready to agree with it. “It’s too big of a risk,” Steve says.

“We’ve been building this case for years,” Michael reminds him. “Operatives and assets around the world have risked their lives to bring us to this point. I have to respect that.”

It’s hard to refute. Besides Wo Fat, there’s not a criminal Steve’s chased that he’s let get away. And if it were his life on the line, it wouldn’t even be a consideration.

But it’s not his life. It’s Danny.

It’s Danny.

“Besides,” Michael continues, his posture easing slightly as Steve still doesn’t move. “You haven’t seen Billy in this kind of situation. He can take care of himself. There’s no one better suited at stalling than him.”

Steve lets his hand drop and it rests stiffly in his lap. He looks at the boat again, forcing even breaths in and out. “Yeah, well,” he says, “Danny’s no slouch either.”

“Exactly,” Michael says. “So let’s get on the phone with your agent in the van and see what the bug has picked up. We might be able to see how bad this is and we can alter our next move accordingly if we have to.”

Steve nods hollowly, still watching the boat. He doesn’t take his eyes away, hardly daring to even blink as the phone rings.

NEXT