Crash and Burn - Chapter 27: Ho’opa’apa’a

Sabrina pulled the collar of her T-shirt up from where it had fallen down her shoulder. She really should stop wearing this thing if she wanted to preserve it a little while longer. It was getting a bit stretched and soft from wear. But she craved the sense of contentment she felt whenever she put it on. She smiled sadly at the thought. I was the only tangible thing she had left, and she was slowly ruining it. Just like she’d ruined—

Her doorbell rang.

She looked up from the towels she was folding and took a peek at her phone. Her brother was early. Sure, he’d offered to bring her some groceries and share a pizza with her, but he still ought to be at the office at this time. She shook her head. Marc and his protective mode. She’d been uber-grouchy that morning when he’d picked her up from the hospital, yet he skipped work early to spend time with her...Make sure she was all right. Make sure, without a doubt, she wasn’t somewhere shooting people.

The doorbell rang again, followed by three rapid knocks.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m coming. Keep your pants on,” she whispered as she walked to the door.

Maybe she should put on a pair of pants instead of wearing just her cotton hipsters, she thought, glancing down her bare legs and feet. But it was her brother, and the T-shirt was large, covering her to mid-thigh.

There was more knocking just as she reached for the doorknob. She rolled her eyes, yanked the door open...And the scathing retort died on her lips before she could utter it. Because it wasn’t her brother on her doorstep.

It was Steve McGarrett.

Steve ran his gaze over her. From her mussed hair, wide-open eyes, slightly parted lips, down the bruised mess on her throat, over the plain, dark-blue T-shirt with a yellow emblem on the left side of the chest, down shapely bare legs to her also-bare feet, and back up. His eyes heated a little, when they brushed over the emblem on her shirt—the SEAL trident. The shirt had once been his. His gaze lingered on her throat a little longer, before he met her gaze.

“Can I come in? We need to talk.”

Gotten over the initial shock at seeing him at her door, Reena quickly stepped to the side, letting him pass.

She skipped the three steps down from the door ahead of him, showed him to the sitting area. “Want a beer?”

Steve sat on an armchair, but shook his head. “No thanks, this shouldn’t take long.”

“Okay.” She sat on her sofa, tucked her legs under her, carefully arranging the hem of the T-shirt so her panties would show. “What’s up?”

He leaned forward, placed his forearms on his knees, entwined his fingers, and stared down at her carpet for a few moments, trying to ignore that enticing glimpse of thigh. “I want you off my team.”

She felt her spine stiffen. “Excuse me?”

“You heard me.”

“No, I think I heard that you want me off the team.”

He nodded.

“Look at me,” she snapped. When he did, his eyes were bleak, and her tone softened. “Where is this coming from, Steve?”

“Where?” He laughed mirthlessly. “You have to ask? Just look at you!”

She lifted her hand to her throat. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“Of course it was. I’m the team leader.”

She rolled her eyes. “So if Chin has an accident on his bike tomorrow it will also be your fault?”

“It’s different.”

“How is it different?” she rasped, her throat already hurting, but she wouldn’t back down. “We’re both part of your team. Are you telling me Chin isn’t as important? He’s been with the Five-0 longer than me.”

It was different, because it had happened to her. But he couldn’t tell her that. “It did happen on the job. I...We should’ve been there with you.”

Reena sighed. Men and their stubborn protective streaks. “We’ve been through this at the hospital. You were doing your job. I was the only one available. If I had been with you, God knows what would’ve happened to the Edwardses.” She coughed a little, swallowed to moisten her throat. “And you should pay no heed to what Marc said. He was being an ass.”

“He was right.”

She shook her head. “No, he wasn’t.” She pointed at her neck. “This wasn’t your fault. I knew what I was getting into, and I went anyway. It’s what we do.”

He shook his head, opened his mouth, but she interrupted him, “I humbly serve as a guardian to my fellow Americans always ready to defend those who are unable to defend themselves. I do not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions. I voluntarily accept the inherent hazards of my profession, placing the welfare and security of others before my own.” She smiled grimly. “You’re welcome to correct me if I got anything wrong.”

“You got it right,” he admitted. “But it doesn’t apply. You’re not a SEAL.”

“I’m an offspring of one,” she rasped back. And I love one, she added mentally. “You could say it’s in my blood.”

“Your father was a SEAL?” This was the first time she’d ever talked about her father, beside that one time, at the beginning of their relationship, when she told him about the affair her mother had had with a married man, and adamantly refused to say anything else.

“Sperm donor, not father. And yes, he was a SEAL. So the ethos does apply.”

“Sabrina—”

I will never quit. I persevere and thrive on adversity. My Nation expects me to be physically harder and mentally stronger than my enemies. If knocked down, I will get back up, every time. I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to protect my teammates and to accomplish our mission. I am never out of the fight.

“That’s enough, I get the picture.” Steve sighed. “It’s just that you—”

She shot to her feet. “I’m a woman? Is that it?”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Woe to me. I’m a woman,” she went on, as if he hadn’t spoken. “A poor, pitiful creature that isn’t as strong as the boys, can’t run as fast as the boys, can’t shoot as well as the boys, can’t fight as well as the boys...How many times have I heard this spiel before. I kicked the shit out of bullies who said those things in school. I kicked the shit out of such bullies in training. I still kick the shit out of such bullies. I just never thought you’d be one of them.”

He stood. “Sabrina—”

She glared up at him, hands akimbo, eyes blazing with anger. “I thought you knew me better than that. Instead you, too, see me as a defenseless, weak, fragile little woman who needs to be protected, needs to be told what to think, needs to be told what to do, because, God help me if I don’t have a man around to guide me by my delicate, little hand.” The only thing that ruined the incensed image she was going for was her wheezing voice that changed frequency and power with each word.

Steve was in her face instantly. “That’s not what I meant and you know it,” he growled. “Stop putting words in my mouth. Why does everything with you have to end up in an argument? I didn’t come here to fight?”

“Could’ve fooled me?” She poked him in the chest. “You waltz in here, telling me you want me off your team because I’m a woman—”

“It’s not because you’re a woman!” he roared.

“Why then?”

“Because I don’t want anything to happen to you, you idiot.”

“Don’t call me an idiot!” she shot back.

“Because when I heard you were at the hospital, I thought I might never see you again.” He made a choking sound, grabbed her shoulders, shook her. “I don’t want you hurt, not on my watch.”

She shook his hands off, glared. “I can take care of myself, Steve. I don’t need you to watch my back.”

“I know that!” he snarled. “That’s what scares me. Because you’re too damn independent. You’re good and you know it. And you’re stubborn. And I can’t always be there...I can’t—” I can’t lose you. Not again.

Instead of saying it aloud, he did the next best thing. He did what he’s wanted to do ever since she showed up in his life again. He curved his hand around the back of her neck, pulled her up on her tiptoes, and took her mouth.

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