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A Secret Island In Your Mind

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He sleeps restlessly next to her, and she watches him. There's too much on his mind, there has been ever since he came back to Hawaii; the latent ghosts and stresses of his father's death haunting him, but the last few months, it's been worse.

She remembers him sleeping like a log, back when he was still in the service with her, whether it were stolen hours on a base somewhere or nights in her apartment in San Diego. He could sleep anywhere, like most special forces guys, and she'd watch him with a smile before turning over and going back to sleep.

He still sleeps with a forced stillness, but it's the little shifts and grunts that wake her, attuned as she is to minute things everywhere. It's harder to drift off now, when she can feel the tension in him that never fully leaves.

It'll be five more years like this, she reckons, before the tension draws grooves in his face, greys his hair, and ages him with its steady pressure. "Like water on a rock," Danny said once, watching Steve from across the backyard, working on the Marquis with the determination of a man whose skills with cars was mediocre at best.

She wonders, as she does so frequently these days, if Danny loves Steve in the way that Steve loves him. Deep and all encompassing, a strange charge between them Steve will never let go off. He was never hers to have and therefore it only breaks her heart because, alongside everything else, it's quietly breaking his under the pressure.

If Danny does, he's never shown a sign of it, preferring to bicker and snark and tell Steve off in a way no one else has managed to get away with before. Maybe it's mere affection, from him, maybe Danny hides the stronger things underneath the surface. She wishes she knew.

Steve shifts again, minutely, the tension in his face stark in the sparse light. She reaches out but stops short of touching. In some ways, Steve reminds her of her brothers, both younger than her, both in love with life and its possibilities. At least, that was Steve when she met him, the seemingly carefree Navy SEAL, slightly too cocky for his own good but not as cocky as the guys standing next to him.

She's watched him mature with the fondness of a woman who knows that opportunities like him come rarely, a man not willing to commit but equally happy to let her have her space. It's the best private life a female Navy intelligence officer could choose, and it's made her happier than a lot of her women colleagues.

If Danny gave a sign, though, she'd let Steve go in a heartbeat, because not loving him enough comes with the terrible burden of wanting him to be happy. Happier, certainly, than he's been lately, as much as he hides the stresses and pains during the day, she sleeps next to him half the nights of the week and she knows what she hasn't told him yet.

Like this, there is no happy ending for him. He gives too freely, too openly, is persuaded too easily for the things that swirl around his life, for the mother that won't let him go and won't be who he needs. For Danny, who gives too much and will unwittingly break Steve's heart, for the enemies that he made before he was born.

Steve shifts, brings a hand up to his face to rub at his eyes. He blinks twice before he sees her, sitting up. "Cath?"

"It's okay," she replies automatically, like she did to her brother Russ when he would wake from the night terrors that plagued him for a while. "Go back to sleep."

Steve, ever stubborn, pushes up to his elbows. "You okay?"

She's grateful for the dark that hides the moisture she blinks from her eyes; the tone of his voice, ever careful, is rich with concern for her. "I'm fine," she replies, with a smile that increasingly becomes a lie. She's no different, she thinks sometimes, from the people around him that borrow him and use him and never gave him a life of his own.

Except Danny. It always comes back to Danny.

She settles back down, if only to placate him, and he relaxes, lets himself sag down in the pillows. She turns on to her side, keeping the smile in place, and he smiles back before closing his eyes again.

The tension doesn't really leave him when his breathing evens out again, and it takes a long time before she slides into an oblivion of her own.

--
finis.