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why we fight

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"You okay, man?"

Lincoln asks Steve the question as they're driving back to the Palace in the wee small hours of the morning, with another criminal caught and on his way to jail, the scent of cordite and the adrenaline of a raid still coursing through Steve's blood. He takes his eyes off the road long enough to look across at Lincoln, and he knows he's frowning. "Sure."

There's a question in there too, one that Lincoln evidently hears loud and clear. "It's just you got a hell of a knock back there," he says mildly. "And you didn't seem to shake it off like you usually would."

Steve lifts one eyebrow but he doesn't look over at the other man. It's a very accurate summation. "You trying to tell me I'm losing a step?"

He's half teasing, half not, and Lincoln holds up his hands, shakes his head. "I would never." He almost sounds like he means it. "Just checking in. That's all."

"It's nothing a couple of Tylenol won't cure," Steve tells him and he's glad that Danny's not sitting in Lincoln's seat, asking him these questions. Danny wouldn't leave it at that because Danny knows him too well. Danny would push a little more, would needle him a little, asking him if he wasn't getting too old for this line of work, getting down in all the dirty places, insisting on leading the raids and chasing down the bad guys. Since remarrying Rachel, Danny's cut back on that stuff a little, is happy to let the newer members of the team earn their stripes and they're just as happy to let him. Steve, though, has never quite mastered the art of letting go and he can practically hear Danny calling him out on his Type A, Control Freak personality from here.

"As long as you're sure." Lincoln still has that mild tone to his voice but Steve knows that the other man is merely humouring him, that he doesn't believe it in the slightest. He also knows Lincoln won't push it any further than that, not when the Palace is in sight and there are other ears about to be privy to their conversation.

Lincoln might not push it, but that doesn't mean that the words that he was no doubt thinking aren't racing through his head, along with some other thoughts that he's been having himself. He's been doing this a long time, chasing criminals all over Hawaii and the one thing that he's learned is that they just keep coming and coming. No matter how many the Task Force puts away, there's always someone ready to step into the vacuum they create, always another mystery to solve, another crime scene, another court room.

It's exhausting and there are days, more and more of them lately, where Steve wonders why he keeps on doing this.

It's just tonight, he tells himself. It's the lateness of the hour, the ache in his bones and muscles that comes more easily these days, lingers longer than it ever did back when they first started the Task Force and it was just him and Danny and Chin and Kono. Tomorrow will be another day and it will all look different after a good night's sleep.

It always does.

He's so weary when he gets back to his office that stripping off his tac gear in the office and putting his weapons back in the armoury is the most he can do. He leaves his t-shirt, doesn't bother changing, just grabs the keys of his truck, waves to the rest of the team and tells them to come in late tomorrow morning. Whoops of delight follow him out the door and he smiles as he makes his way through the almost empty streets and back to his house.

It's silent and dark as he turns the key in the door and steps inside, takes off his boots without sitting down and pads quietly up the stairs. There's no sign of Eddie on the couch so he knows exactly where he is and, sure enough, when he reaches his bedroom, by the light of the bedside lamp he can see that the dog is lying on Steve's side of the bed, looking for all the world as if he's going to stay there for the rest of the night. "Nice try," Steve tells him, scratching behind Eddie's ears, grinning as the dog whines and looks up at him. If he was a person, Steve thinks there would be a look of betrayal on his face. "Downstairs, Eddie," he says and Eddie whines again but he hops down and makes his way downstairs.

Steve watches him go, but a sleepy chuckle from the other side of the bed captures his attention. "Hey," he says as he looks down and meets Noelani's gaze, her eyes still half closed and not looking like they're going to stay that way for long. "I didn't mean to wake you... it's okay, go back to sleep."

Her eyes shut all the way as her lips curve in a slow smile that he'll never get tired of seeing. "You're home," she murmurs, and he smiles too as he sits down on the bed, reaches out to brush back her hair. She nuzzles into his touch, a contented little sigh escaping her as his hand moves along her shoulder, down to her hip, then across to the six month swell of her abdomen. He lets his hand linger there, in what's become one of his new favourite hobbies, and the baby pushes against his hand, like it knows that he's there.

It makes Steve ridiculously happy.

"Yeah," he whispers. "I'm home."

He's not expecting a response but he gets one in the form of a ferocious kick, strong enough that it makes Noelani's eyes open wide. Steve bites back a laugh, sure she's not finding it funny and he moves his hand over the offending spot as if his touch can soothe the sting. "Sorry," he whispers to Noelani.

She's still smiling as her hand closes on top of his. "Daddy's girl." It's not the first time she's said it, it probably won't be the last and it always makes Steve smile. Noelani frowns, though, narrows her eyes. "Are you okay?"

He leans down to kiss her cheek before he stands. "I am now," he tells her as he strips off his clothes, depositing them all in the laundry basket before slipping into bed beside her, wrapping his arms around her and resting his chin on top of her head. She hums into his shoulder as his hand slides across her stomach and he remembers now, in the still of the night, why he's working so hard to keep Hawaii a safe place. "I love you," he whispers.

For a second, he thinks that she's already asleep. Then he hears her mumble, "We love you too," and he kisses her as he closes his eyes, ready to sleep.