The Truth Won't Set You Free
Steve stood frozen as he couldn't believe that she was actually here. The shock of seeing her right now felt eerily similar to what he felt when he first found her alive in that cabin. The same feelings came rushing back as Steve swallowed the lump in his throat.
"Hey Steve, Danny," Doris smiled nervously as she stood outside the door.
Danny had his arm across the door, instinctively creating a barrier between Steve and Doris.
"You boys going to let me in?"
Danny looked back at Steve, silently asking him for permission. When Steve nodded Danny moved his arm out of the way.
Doris walked in and went straight over to Steve to give him a hug.
"Steve, I'm so glad yo-" her hug as well as her sentence were cut off by Steve who stepped back.
Danny stood and watched uncomfortably as his best friend struggled to keep his emotions at bay.
"Steve, since when do you not give your mother a hug?"
Danny's eyebrows nearly hit the roof; Doris actually had the gall to ask that question?
"Since you came for Wo Fat's funeral but not to see your own son in the hospital," Steve stated matter-of-factly. Danny was impressed by how emotionless Steve had made that sound.
Doris snapped her head around as she looked at Danny accusingly.
"You told him? You knew it would only hurt him!"
Danny just about opened his mouth to defend his actions when Steve jumped in.
"No. You don't get to get angry at him. What did you expect Doris? That he would keep that from me? Unlike you, Danny actually knows that you don't keep secrets from the people you love."
Doris looked back at Steve as her eyes got a little glossy.
"Daniel, can you please give us some privacy, I want to speak to my son alone."
Before Danny could look at Steve to see if he wanted him to leave or stay, Steve answered for him.
"Danny stays, anything you have to say to me you can say in front of him. Besides you're probably just going to lie the entire time, so what does it matter?"
Doris didn't like that answer but knew that she really had no choice. She nodded and took a seat on the single chair in the living room.
As Danny closed the door and turned to head to the couch he saw that Steve hadn't moved. He looked like a statue, frozen in place. His eyes were on the ground and Danny could see a slight shake in Steve's hands. He was thankful that Steve had wanted him to stay because quite honestly, he needed to be here as much as Steve needed him here.
Danny walked up beside his partner and squeezed his shoulder. This got Steve's attention as he snapped out of his trance and looked at Danny. Danny's heart fell to his stomach as he saw the raw emotion in his partner's glossy eyes. The years of lies, deceit, and betrayal were etched so deep in those blue eyes that it took Danny's breath away.
Danny gave Steve a small smile reassuring smile, "I got you babe."
Steve smiled back. That was exactly what he had needed to hear, that was exactly why he needed Danny here. Somewhere along the line Danny had become his rock, the only thing in his life that had kept him from drowning when everything seemed to be dragging him under.
Steve took a deep breath and sat down on the couch, Danny followed suit.
Steve looked up from his intertwined hands and into the eyes of his mother.
"Where have you been for the past year?"
"I've been moving around a lot, not staying in one place too long, I could give you a list of all the places but it might take awhile," Doris smiled at Steve but Steve remained stoic.
Seeing that Steve was definitely not going to throw her a bone she continued.
"It wasn't safe to come back Steve, I had to keep running, and I had to stay off the grid which is why I couldn't call or text."
"So if it wasn't safe, why would you come back for Wo Fat's funeral? Explain that me Doris because I just can't seem to wrap my head around that. You were hiding from Wo Fat, yet you show up to his funeral when you know everyone attending are most likely after you. Why would you risk everything just to say goodbye to him?"
Doris looked down at the ground as she held onto her hands tightly.
"It's like I told Danny Steve, I wanted to see Wo Fat go in the ground myself. I wanted to see for myself that the man who had caused my family so much pain was actually dead."
Steve closed his eyes and clenched his jaw as he looked down at the ground and shook his head.
"Stop lying. For once in your life just stop lying and tell me the truth."
Danny could hear the pain laced in those words and he felt for Steve, he had been lied to his entire life, enough was enough.
"I'm not lying Steve, I swear that's why I ca-" Doris stopped mid sentence as she watched Steve get up and storm out of the room like a man on a mission.
She then looked at Danny,
"Where is he going?"
Danny knew exactly where Steve was going, or better yet, exactly what he was going to go get. Before Danny could answer Steve charged back into the room throwing all the pictures from the envelope onto the coffee table in front of Doris.
Doris's eyes went wide in shock as she picked up picture after picture. Danny snuck a look at Steve who was hovering over his mother with a stone-cold face. He knew no matter how put-together Steve looked on the outside, he was breaking down piece-by-piece on the inside.
"Where did you get these..." Doris looked up at Steve with tears in her eyes.
"Why does it matter where I got those from? That's you isn't it, with Wo Fat and Yeun?"
Doris looked back down at the pictures and Danny couldn't believe the next words out of her mouth.
"No Steve...no, these are fake."
Steve saw this coming from a mile away.
Doris stood up so that she was now face to face with Steve.
"Steve I swear to you, these are fa-"
"STOP LYING TO ME!" Steve yelled into her face. Steve was breathing heavy as tears started to fill his eyes.
Doris was visibly shaking now and Danny sat a little bit straighter in his seat. Steve's calm, cool, demeanor was gone, the flood gates were now open and he knew that every emotion that Steve was about to go through would be on display for all to see.
Steve's anger dissipated just as quickly as it had appeared, and the devastation and pain laced in his next few words seemed so foreign to the Navy SEAL that he barely recognized his own voice.
"Mom...please...for once in your life, just tell me the truth, I deserve that much."
Danny's heart broke. Steve sounded like a lost child. He hadn't heard Steve call Doris, mom, in a very long time, that showed him how desperate Steve had become to get answers.
Doris looked at Steve's tear filled eyes and knew right then and there that this was it. She could no longer hide the truth from him, no longer try and protect his feelings; it was time to come clean.
Doris took a deep breath and took a hold of Steve's hand.
Steve looked up and the desperation he felt was quickly replaced with anxiousness; he was finally going to hear the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth; or so he hoped.
"You're right; this has gone on long enough, I can't keep this from you anymore. Sit down Steve, I'll tell you everything."
Danny moved over as Steve came and sat back down on the couch. This was it, the moment Steve had been waiting for for years. Danny couldn't help but feel like this moment right now, the quiet and almost peaceful moment that had filled the room only moments ago, was just the calm before the very gigantic, very massive, very destructive storm and he braced himself because not only would he have to make it past the storm, he had to make sure he brought Steve through it too.
"It started when I was with the agency, well before I met your father. I was working for a small team headed by someone who I considered my role model. He took me in as a rookie and taught me everything I knew. Not only that but he gave me confidence, he trusted my instincts, and eventually I was his head of command when it came to completing missions. About 2 years in, we ran an unsanctioned op. I didn't know at the time that it was unsanctioned, I took my orders from him and never questioned it, I didn't think I had a reason to."
"The op was to take out Yeun," Steve chimed in remembering his conversation with the agent he had killed after the explosion that had him and Danny trapped.
"Yes. It was to take out Yeun. We were given intel that Yeun was responsible for numerous murders all over the world and was a threat to national security. Everything was set up to take him out, we had it all planned, or so we thought," Doris looked down at the ground and closed her eyes as the memories came flooding back.
"On the day of the op we followed Yeun's car. Once the car was parked I was given orders to take him out. It was dark and I couldn't tell if it was Yeun in the car or not. I told my superior that, but he told me to stick with the plan, that no one else ever drove Yeun's car besides him, his wife didn't even know how to drive. I took the shot and when we approached the vehicle," Doris paused as she recounted that tragic day. She took a second to collect her thoughts and continued. "When we approach the vehicle Lei Kuan was in the car, turns out she got her license two weeks before, we had no idea."
Doris looked up at Steve and Danny with tears in her eyes.
"I killed an innocent woman that day."
Danny swallowed the lump in his throat. As much as he hated Doris for everything she had put Steve through, he felt bad for her. Taking a life is never easy, but taking the wrong life...he couldn't imagine what carrying that kind of a weight around would feel like.
"You were just following orders Doris, you were practically a rookie, when they tell you to take the shot you take the shot, which is what you did," Steve tried to reassure her.
"Doesn't matter, that kind of weight never leaves you, you never get over taking an innocent life," Doris shook her head and Steve nodded in understanding. In all his time in the Navy, he had never had to take an innocent life, and he couldn't imagine the toll it would have taken on him if he had.
"How did your superior cover up Lei Kuan's death?" Steve chimed in.
"The area of town she was in was really corrupt and riddled with crime. We managed to make it look like a robbery gone bad. There had been a string of robberies in recent days and we just made it seem like this was one of them, but that this one had turned violent and deadly. It worked; it was all over the news and papers, even Yeun believed it."
"Anyways, when the Pentagon found out, my superior was let go. We were told that the mission to take out Yeun was unsanctioned. I was completely shocked and completely destroyed. I had killed an innocent woman during a mission that wasn't even authorized by the Pentagon," Doris shook her head remembering how she felt when she had found out.
"Once my superior was let go, the Pentagon still wanted me, they said my skill set was impressive and that what had happened wasn't on me. I was assigned to another team who was also looking into Yeun. Their eventual mission was to bring him in, alive, they needed him alive. I found out a little while later that they had a son, he was only 3 at the time," tears filled Doris's eyes again.
"I took away a 3 year old boy's mother."
Steve and Danny both looked at the ground not knowing what to say.
"I was the only woman on my team and they thought I could use that to my advantage to get close with the Fat family. I was placed as a teacher in Wo Fat's private Montessori. At first I couldn't stand to look at him, I didn't think I deserved to be in the same room as him. But slowly I started getting close to him, I would give him extra attention, let him play a little while longer than the other kids. This one day, I saw him crying in the corner and I asked him if everything was okay. He told me that he missed his mommy and he fell into my arms crying. I knew right then and there that I had to look out for him, that I had to protect him from what was going to happen to his father once we took him down. I had taken his mother away from him; it was my job to take care of him now."
Steve tried to imagine a 3 year old Wo Fat. It was hard to believe that the monster that he had come to know and hate was once an innocent child.
"Overtime I got closer and closer to Wo Fat, and Yeun could see this. He could see how happy it made Wo Fat, having me as his teacher. I slowly started to see them outside of school and before I knew it I was seeing Wo Fat almost every day, even when it wasn't in school. My superiors were happy; everything was going according to plan."
Doris stopped there as she let Steve comprehend everything he was hearing.
Steve took a deep breath as he let all of the information digest. So this was how Doris came to know Wo Fat. He was glad that Wo Fat wasn't his brother, but he was also dreading hearing how close Doris and Wo Fat really were.
"So that's where all of those pictures were from, your time with Wo Fat."
Doris looked up and gave Steve a sad smile.
"Yeah. I got really close with Wo Fat, and even Yeun. At the time it almost felt like we were a family."
Danny noticed Steve clench his jaw.
"As the years went on I started to see Yeun in a different light too. He was no longer this monster that the Pentagon had painted him out to be. I mean, I knew what he had done, I knew all the lives he had taken, but I saw a softer side to him, a father who loved his son and a husband who missed his wife. My superiors loved how much time I was spending with Wo Fat and Yeun because the closer I got to Yeun, the easier it would be to put him away. I was brining in information that I had been finding around the house and in his office. But the older Wo Fat got and the closer I got with him and Yeun the more I started to realize two significant things; I wanted a family of my own and the line between being an operative and being a surrogate mother to Wo Fat was becoming increasingly blurred. I started to slip up and miss key information that Yeun was passing onto his associates. Sometimes I was even purposely turning a blind eye and not reporting things back to the Pentagon. I knew what I was doing was wrong so I spoke to my Superiors, I told them everything. They said I was suffering from PTSD and that I was right, I needed to step away from this case; I needed to leave the agency for awhile and get myself together. So I left, I told Wo Fat and Yeun that I had gotten a job in Hawaii and that I was moving."
"I'm sure they didn't take that well."
"Yeun understood, but Wo Fat, he was only 9 he didn't really get why I had to leave, he was devastated," tears sprung to Doris's eyes again as she remembered saying goodbye to Wo Fat. "He wouldn't let go of me, he grabbed onto my leg as I was leaving their house, it killed me to leave but I knew I didn't have a choice, I had gotten in way over my head, and I hated myself for it. I was supposed to a professional, I knew better than to get emotionally attached, but I loved that little boy like he was my own, I practically raised him."
Steve felt like he had been punched in the gut. Even after hearing everything he had heard, those last few words from his mom were hard to swallow. Doris loved Wo Fat, Doris had raised Wo Fat for years...Doris LOVED Wo Fat.
Danny looked over at Steve and could see the effect of Doris's words. Steve was holding his shaky left hand in his right. Hearing that Doris loved Wo Fat was a shock to his system, he couldn't even imagine what Steve was going through.
Doris could see how hard hearing this was on Steve, and she truly felt bad for the pain she knew she was causing him. She leaned forward in her chair and reached over the table to grab Steve's hands in hers.
"I'm so sorry Steve; I know how hard this is for you to hear, after everything that's happened. But you have to understand, this was before your dad, before you, before Mary, before Wo Fat became who he became. He was just a grieving child who had lost his mother."
Steve merely nodded in response, not really knowing what to say.
Doris sighed as she sat back and continued.
"When I moved to Hawaii I met you father and fell in love with him. I didn't want to complicate his life, he was a good man, with an amazing heart and I just couldn't bring myself to burden him with my life before him."
"So you lied to him."
"Yes I lied to him. I lied to him because I loved him, I didn't think my past would affect my life with him. I wanted to put all of that behind me and start fresh."
Steve look up with furrowed eyebrows.
"Wait, if you wanted to put everything behind you and start fresh why did you go back to visit them? I mean some of these pictures are from after you and dad got together, after Mary and me."
"I wasn't planning on going back to see them, but after spending a year away, I missed Wo Fat so much. I knew it was going to be hard to leave him but I never knew how hard until I moved to Hawaii. I tried at first to put them behind me, to start fresh like I said, but the more time went by, the more and more I missed him. I know I wasn't his biological mother, but I thought of him like a son, and I knew I couldn't stay away, I knew I couldn't not see him ever again. So I started making trips back to Japan, just to see him. I told Yeun and Wo Fat that I had time off from school whenever I went to Japan. Wo Fat was so happy, he was a little older now, he still didn't understand why I couldn't live with them but he cherished the time we had together."
"You should've told dad, you shouldn't have kept that from him. I can see why you kept it from him when you first thought that you were never going to go back, but the minute you started going back to Japan, he had a right to know."
Steve looked up at Doris accusingly. If she had told his dad the truth from the beginning maybe things could have been different.
"I know Steve, believe me I know. I hated lying to your father, I hated keeping this from him, but with Yeun being wanted by the Pentagon I didn't want to put your father in any danger."
"Are you sure that was it? Don't tell me that it didn't cross your mind that dad might not want you to go back if he knew about Yeun."
Doris looked from Steve to the ground. Steve was too smart for his own good sometimes.
"Okay, fine. That did cross my mind, but I really didn't want your father involved in all this, I wanted to protect him. And then you and Mary came along and I wanted to protect all of you from this. We were so happy, we were a family, I didn't want anything to get in the way of that."
Steve smiled as he thought about their life before Doris faked her own death. They really were a happy family, Steve could still remember waking up every Sunday morning to Doris and Mary making pancakes and sitting on the couch with his dad watching football until breakfast was ready. They were a perfect family in every sense of the word, until Steve was 16 and that perfect world came to a crashing halt.
"All those "trips" you had to take for research for school; those were all just covers to go to Japan to visit Wo Fat, weren't they?"
Steve had always found it so weird how his mom seemed to be the only teacher he knew who did such extensive research for weeks at a time. Sometimes she was gone for 2-3 weeks at a time.
Steve reached over and picked up the picture of Wo Fat's high school graduation. He felt a small pang of jealousy as he stared at Doris with her arm around Wo Fat. That was a picture he had thought he would always have with his mother.
Doris looked up at Steve.
"I'm sorry I couldn't be there for your graduation Steve. I wanted to be, so badly, I'm so sorry I couldn't."
Steve looked up as he swallowed the lump in his throat. He remembered all the kids with their parents taking family pictures at graduation. He remembered seeing his best friend Tommy trying to wiggle out of a picture with his mom and thinking how lucky Tommy was to even have his mom be there.
Danny looked over at Steve and felt a twinge in his heart. He imagined an 18 year old Steve graduating without his mother who he thought had died in a car accident. He remembered his own graduation and how important it was to him to have his whole family there. Danny's thoughts were interrupted as Steve picked up the picture of Wo Fat University Graduation.
"This was taken two weeks before you faked your own death," Steve held up the picture.
"Yeah it was. After Wo Fat's high school graduation I started to see a change in him every time I went to visit. He wasn't that sweet, innocent little boy I once knew. He was outspoken and strong and independent, he also seemed a lot darker. I started to see traits of Yeun that had made him into the notorious killer he was. Wo Fat got angrier and angrier every time I would leave. He had done some research and found out that I had a family of my own, that I had you guys, and that that was why I always left. He asked me about it and I told him how I had met your father and wanted to start my own family. He didn't get it; he didn't understand why I wanted my own family when he thought that him and his father were my family. I couldn't bring myself to tell him the truth, to tell him that I had killed his mother while trying to kill his father, so I kept him in the dark, kept telling him that I wanted my own biological kids. He didn't take that too well; he threatened to kill all of you if I didn't stay with them, if I went back to you. At first I thought he was just trying to scare me, but I had acquired some intel from the Pentagon that Wo Fat had been working alongside his father in some of their recent operations. It broke my heart, I had hoped that Wo Fat would deter from that lifestyle, make a name for himself, do some good in this world. But Wo Fat wasn't the sweet little boy I knew anymore, he was angry and powerful and his father provided him with all the means necessary to follow in his footsteps. And without a mother's presence in his life, Wo Fat became just like his father."
"So you faked your death."
"Yeah. After everything I heard from the Pentagon I knew that Wo Fat would follow through on his threats, I knew that he would stop at nothing to exact his revenge if I left. The car bombing, it was the only thing I could think to do to keep you safe. I thought that if Wo Fat thought I was dead he would just drop it, he would leave John, Mary, and you alone."
Steve thought back to the day that he saw the police officer at the door and how he knew instantly that his mother was dead. To this day he could still remember the gut wrenching pain he felt knowing that she was never coming home, knowing that she would never see him graduate, fall in love, get married, have a kid. It was devastating, and for a 16 year old it was almost too much to bear.
"You should've told us," Steve's voice was quiet, barely audible, but Doris and Danny both heard.
"Steve, how could I have told you, what good would it have done?"
"What good would it have done?" Steve's head shot up. "We could've gone into hiding, have the Pentagon make us disappear, ANYTHING but what you did!" Steve's voice was louder now.
"No, no way," Doris was shaking her head. "I would never do that to you kids. Go into hiding? What kind of a life is that for a 16 and 13 year old?"
"A better life than one without our mom," Steve's choked out trying his best to steady his voice.
Danny looked at the ground, he knew this was just the beginning of an emotional breakdown from Steve and it pained him to hear the devastation in Steve's voice.
Doris looked at Steve sympathetically.
"Oh Steve, I know you think that now, but you and Mary would have been miserable. You would've been moved around from school to school, you wouldn't be able to play sports, you wouldn't have any friends, you wouldn-"
"I would've had a family..."
"You did have a family Steve, you had dad and Aunt Deb and Mary. You had a family."
Steve shook his head and looked up at Doris.
"You really don't get it do you? You have no idea what your death did to us. Our family was ripped apart the day you faked your own death. Do you have any idea what it was like to hear dad crying in the bathroom day after day? To have to hold Mary until she slept every night because she didn't want to fall asleep because every time she closed her eyes all she could see was you. I woke up EVERY morning, praying that seeing that police officer at our door telling us that you were dead was a nightmare, that I would walk downstairs and you would be there. For months I would stare at that front door hoping that by some miracle you would walk through them and make us whole again."
"Steve..." Doris hung her head as tears filled her eyes, Steve's words broke her heart.
Danny choked back his own tears as he closed his eyes.
"After you were gone, we weren't a family anymore. Dad became obsessed with your death and he shipped us off to the Mainland. He wouldn't tell us why, only that he was doing it to protect us, to keep us safe. We were so angry at him for breaking up our family, I even told him that you would've never done something like that," Steve scoffed. "Little did I know."
"Joe got me into the Army and Navy Academy. I hated it, I hated having to leave Hawaii. It was my junior year here, all my friends were here, everything that I had ever known was here, and just like that it was all taken away. First I lost you, then I practically lost dad and Mary and all sense of normalcy. I hated the Academy, I never wanted to go there. It was like a military bootcamp, nothing about it was normal to me. I never got to see dad, I barely saw Mary since she lived a few hours away with Aunt Deb. I started to resent dad for breaking up our family, for keeping Mary and I apart."
Danny was staring intently at Steve. This was the first time he was hearing a lot of this, and it hurt to hear. Steve had been through so much, he had had to grow up so quickly. To hear that Steve hated the Army and Navy Academy was a shock, he had always assumed that Steve had always been a SEAL at heart. But to be sitting there, hearing Steve's side of it, he understood his partner a whole lot better now.
"You must've liked something about the Academy Steve, cause you ended up joining the US Naval Academy," Doris was trying to make Steve see that not everything was as bad as it seemed.
"I joined the US Naval Academy because it's all I knew. How do you go from being in the Army and Navy Academy to finding a normal job? What would I study in college? By the time I graduated, the Army was all I knew, so I stuck with it."
"I know it was hard Steve, but look what an amazing man you turned into. The Academy's you attended made you who you are."
"And who says I like who I am?"
Danny's head shot up, he couldn't have heard right.
"Steve you don't mean that," Doris looked at him sharing the same sentiment of shock that Danny clearly felt.
"I am the way I am because of circumstance, not because of choice. I wanted a family, a normal childhood. I wanted to graduate high school with my friends and have you, dad, and Mary there to see me get my diploma. I wanted to go to college, choose a career for myself, maybe become a cop like dad, but I got none of that. The day you left my entire life fell apart. I stayed away from Mary for 10 years, I rarely saw dad before he was killed, I have trouble showing my emotions because I don't want to look weak, I have to always be in control because the thought of not being in control scares me to death, I'm not the happy spirited kid I once was, I have constant nightmares from things that happened while I was part of the SEALs. So no, I don't like who I am, and I'm not saying that to get pity from you or to make you feel bad. I need you to understand that what you did, the decision you made 20 years ago to leave, was the wrong decision, especially for our family. I would've given anything, anything, to disappear with you, dad, and Mary, at least we would've all been together, we would've been a family."
Doris felt like she couldn't breathe, hearing everything from Steve, hearing the toll her actions had taken on all of them, it was almost too much to bear.
"Mary hated dad, she never forgave him for shipping us away and splitting us up. By the time she found out the truth it was too late, she couldn't apologize to dad or tell him she loved him. She's going to have to live with that guilt for the rest of her life, and that's on you."
"I know you think you did the right thing, that faking your own death was worth it to make sure that we lived, but you didn't. Sure we were alive, physically we were breathing, but we weren't living. I had never felt so alone in my life. First I lost you, then I lost dad and Mary. Life was never the same after you left, we were the never the same...we were broken."
Danny's heart shattered into a million pieces at the sound of Steve's cracked voice. In all the years he had known Steve he had never seen such raw heart-breaking emotion, and he knew he probably wouldn't see it again. The look on Steve's face, the look in his eyes, it was something Danny wouldn't wish on his worst enemy. The years of emotional damage that had piled up were storming in like a raging hurricane, and it was leaving a path of utter destruction that Danny wasn't sure he was going to be able to clean up.