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Forever in Paradise - Steve's POV

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It was a stupid, stupid plan.

And Steve knew from stupid plans--he'd pulled off some his superiors had called a lot worse than stupid and been dead right.

They'd worked, but that was hardly the point right now.

"McGarrett, if your father's company is involved in shipping the guns--"

Steve held onto his military composure with every ounce of training Joe White had ever drilled into him. "I know, sir. But…."

"It's a solid cover," continued Commander Roark. "You came back to see your father, the company needs some PR, it gives you access to shipping records as well as the house--we couldn't have set it up better if we'd had a year to plan."

All of which was perfectly logical.

And it was still a stupid plan.

"I'm not exactly Suitor material," Steve said.

Roark laughed. "From what your team says you get more than enough attention."

Sure, when it helped him keep up his own lies about who he was.

Then again, wasn't that really what this whole assignment would be about? At least this way he didn't have to worry about falling for anyone. Not a single one of the contestants on that show would be his type. How hard could it be?

He was a soldier, through and through. He could do this.

"Okay," he said. "I'll do it."

***

Steve did his best to hold still as the makeup and hair people fussed over him for the tenth time. It took him less time to gear up for an op than it did for them to get his hair and face just right for each shot.

The producer, Frank Gil, had asked Steve a barrage of questions about what he was hoping to find in the house--true love, of course (because 'a cache of stolen guns' might have given things away). Steve needed every bit of skill he'd picked up for some of his more interesting covert ops that involved less equipment and more coercion to make it sound like he was all in for finding love.

After all, it wasn't like any of this was going to make it on the air. Might as well sell it until he found what he'd come for.

“Cut," Gill said finally. "Let’s take five.”

Thank God. Steve stood up, only just remembering not to run his hands through his hair and mess up the perfect work, just in case they had to do more. He nearly walked into the boom mike as he made a beeline for Gil.

"Do we need to do some more of these today?" Steve asked, trying not to sound like he'd rather be getting all his teeth pulled.

"Just one or two glamor shots," Gil said. "Then you can start getting ready for the arrival of the Contestants."

Hopefully Steve's smile at the thought looked less strained than it felt.

One of the PAs Steve had seen around the house came around the corner with someone new. Short, but not tiny, not by any means--this guy worked out. Slicked back blond hair and bright blue eyes that somehow looked way too intelligent to be wrapped up in this shitshow.

“Boss," the PA said, already turning to leave, "new guy."

The new guy shook Gil's hand. “Danny Williams."

“Great to have you here, Danny,” Gil said. “We heard good things about your work on Enchanted over in the UK. Appreciate you stepping in last minute.” Gil turned to Steve. “Steve, this is Danny Williams.”

Because of course Gil would think he was deaf and or stupid, since the guy had just been introduced. Steve shook the hand Danny offered him, though, warm and a little callused, leaving a tingling feeling behind on Steve's palm.

“Great to meet you,” Steve said, holding eye contact a little longer than he probably should for social politeness, but something about those eyes wouldn't let him stop.

Danny's smile was a little tentative. “You, too.”

“Danny will be your go to guy,” Gil said.“He’ll make sure you stay on schedule, and if you need anything, you just ask him.”

Oh. So this was his 'wrangler.' He'd heard the crew talking about some new guy from England, someone who was apparently a master at crafting reality magic or some shit. He just hadn't expected the wrangler to come with a Jersey Shore haircut and look like he'd just stepped out of a boxing ring.

To add insult to injury, Steve had almost been attracted to the guy. That would've played right into his hands, no doubt. “Got it,” Steve said shortly. And he did, he got it. But he was going to need a minute to adjust. “Be back in a couple of minutes.” He turned on his heel and went out into the garden.

***

Steve had mostly managed to compose himself by the time Danny found him sitting on a bench in the garden. Steve glanced up at him, not bothering to soften his tone. "Come to wrangle me already?"

Danny sat down a little closer than Steve was comfortable with. “You know that word, huh?”

Great, another one who thought he was stupid. “Hard not to pick up on the lingo,” Steve said. “Especially when they all seem to think I have bad hearing to go with my bad judgment.”

“What bad judgment?”

“The decisions that landed me here.” None of which he could really talk about, and he needed to keep the lies to a minimum. “Never mind. Doesn’t matter.”

Danny twisted to face Steve, his knee on its side on the bench. “You know,” he said, the words slow and thoughtful, “this wasn’t what I’d planned to be doing with my life, either.”

Was that honesty, or just a tactic? “You mean you didn’t intentionally set out to be one step above a pimp?”

“Hey!”

Steve’s couldn't help but smile at the righteous indignation. “Sorry, really. I don’t think you’re a pimp.” And he didn't. Something about Danny seemed to genuine to be a master manipulator. Then again, the best manipulators seemed that way. “Unless, of course, you actually call me ‘Stud,'” Steve said.

Danny's laugh sent a little shiver through Steve, one that he tried to ignore. “I solemnly promise never to call you ‘Stud’ with any seriousness whatsoever,” Danny said. “And as for intentionally setting out to do this, no. I didn’t.” Just when Steve was about to prod him, Danny added, “My wife was English, and a degree from film school didn’t do me a lot of good as a Yank in King Arthur’s Court, so to speak. So I took the job I could get to be with her and my daughter.”

He must have loved his wife very much to go to those lengths. “So what happened?”

“I was drunk and stupid and my wife caught me kissing someone else.”

Or maybe not. “Ouch. I see now why they put you with me instead of one of the girls,” Steve said with a crooked grin. “Worried they couldn’t trust you?”

“Yeah, uh….” Danny looked away, rubbing at the his neck, Steve's eyes lingering at the slightly pink spot there after, “they don’t know about that. And if that was the case, they’d have put me with the girls.”

With the girls...oh. That meant... . “Oh,” Steve said. “I can see why that might’ve been more of a marriage-breaker.”

“I’d say.” Danny looked back at the flowers. “Especially since she moved my kid a million miles away to punish me. The joke was on her, though. The moment this job came up, I took it.”

“Hey," Steve said, trying to lighten the mood before he got in any deeper. "I thought your job was to get me to open up to you, not the other way around.”

That laugh again. Steve had to take a deep, careful breath to avoid showing what it did to him. “Yeah, well, I thought you might want to know what you were getting into,” Danny said. “Since apparently you didn’t know what you were getting into when you signed on, judging by your extreme aversion to everything from the nickname to being wrangled. Did they tell you it was going to be weeks of lying by a pool with the girls followed by an engagement or something?”

“I knew what I was signing on for,” he said, which was true enough. The fact that the reasons he was signing on were more important than how much the op itself sucked hadn't mattered. “I just…I didn’t have a lot of other options, so I signed.”

“So, what, six months ago you’re a Navy SEAL off being a badass in some country I can’t pronounce, three months ago you’re taking care of your ailing father’s shipping company, and suddenly your only option is this month’s Stud?” Danny just grinned in the face of Steve's glare. “I said I wouldn’t call you that seriously. I didn’t say I wasn’t going to mock you with it.”

The honesty startled a laugh out of Steve, the first real one he could remember having in days. Steve’s delighted laughter was a surprise, “Things happen,” Steve said. “The business…when Dad had his heart attack, he couldn’t run it anymore. And I realized I was missing out on having him in my life. Then I saw the decisions his officers were making in his absence, and I couldn’t help it. By then they’d done some things that were…less than ideal business, we’ll call it. And this opportunity came up, with a chance to change things, so…I did what I had to do.”

“So basically," Danny said, "we’re both here because we can’t be anywhere else, no matter how much we want to be?”

“Sounds like it, yeah.”

“Okay, I’ll make you a deal,” Danny said. “Let me do my job, so I can stay with my daughter, and I promise to be the least annoying wrangler I can possibly be, and not to be a manipulative asshole.”

Honesty was an unexpected tactic, but Steve would take it, if it was real. “Okay,” he said slowly. “On one condition. Be straight with me.”

Danny raised both his eyebrows. “Sorry,” he said, deadpan, “that didn’t even work for my wife.”

Steve laughed again, and it felt amazing after the stress of the last few days. He hoped like hell this guy was for real, because Steve was going to need someone like him to get through this. “You know what I mean,” Steve said, after a moment, looking Danny in the eye.

“Yeah, I do,” Danny said. “And I will be as honest with you as I possibly can.”

“As you can?”

“Well…I’m not giving you the details about the guy I met at the bar last week, for example. Unless,” Danny said, leaning in and lowering his voice, “you ask really nicely.”

Fuck. What that voice did to Steve below the belt should be illegal. Probably was in at least three states. He managed a laugh, though he knew some of his reaction had come through by the way Danny's eyes darkened, and he leaned in a little more.

This was going to be more difficult to navigate than a minefield.

But so much more fun.

***