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Forever in Paradise - Steve's POV

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"Are you sure you want to keep Kiley?" Danny asked, sifting through the headshots that littered the bed.

Steve rolled his eyes. "For the third time, yes. So can we just figure out who else makes the cut so we can go to bed?"

The images that filled Steve's were so distracting it took a moment to see the flush rising up Danny's face.

At least they were on the same page there, even if they couldn't do anything about it.

"Anyway." Steve cleared his throat. "It doesn't matter who it is, they won't last." Which sounded a little too close to the truth for comfort. "If I'm having this much trouble deciding to keep them now, it's not like they're going to make the final cut, right?"

"Fine, then how about Sierra?" Danny held up a picture.

Steve put the picture on the lei pile. "Done."

***

Steve watched several PAs herd the girls off to their part of the house. Someone cut the production lights, which caused an instant reduction in, if not elimination of, Steve's headache. How in the hell could a few hours standing there putting leis on people be more exhausting than a ten-mile trek through the jungle?

“Hey.”

Danny's hand was warm on Steve's arm. “We done for the night?” Steve asked hopefully.

“Not yet, sorry,” Danny said, holding up a stack of papers. “True confessions time.”

A dangerous concept in present company. “That could take a while.”

“Lucky for you there are specific questions,” Danny said, leading Steve forward. “Come on, set’s already up.”

More production lights did nothing to help Steve's headache, but once his eyes adjusted, he focused on Danny, which was a pleasant distraction, at least. It helped Steve get through the questions, at least until they were almost done.

“Last question,” Danny said. “Based on what you know so far, is there anyone you think you could make a real connection with?”

The most dangerous question of all. What would happen if he told the truth? The look of shock on the faces of the half a dozen crew milling around would almost be worth it, as would getting out of this nightmare.

Danny losing his job and possibly his ability to be with his daughter, however, would not be worth it, and neither would ruining his mission.

Then again, it was TV--they'd probably just do a retake and pretend it never happened.

But if he couldn't admit the truth, he could at least use it.

“I’d say there’s a definite connection in the house,” Steve said, focusing on Danny's eyes, that thing between them making his words less a lie than misdirection. “Time will tell if it’s something that could go the distance.”

The only thing more surprising than saying the words was that for once the idea of something going the distance didn't feel like a loaded gun pointed at his face.

***

The hallway was mercifully dim as Danny walked Steve back to his rooms. The idea that he needed protection was still ridiculous, but Steve wasn't going to complain if it meant a few more minutes with Danny.

"Here we are," Danny said, as they stopped at Steve's door. "Safe and sound, as promised."

"My hero," Steve teased, his hand on the doorknob. He didn't want to go inside. He wanted to keep Danny around a little longer, to stay in the bubble that seemed to surround them when they were alone together.

He should say goodnight, let Danny get to sleep, and then go do some snooping and see what he could find. The sooner he got proof, the sooner he could put himself out of his reality TV misery.

And the sooner he'd have to say goodbye to Danny.

"You want to come in?" Steve asked.

"I should probably let you get some sleep," Danny said. But he didn't move.

"Just for a few minutes." Steve leaned in. "They stocked the bar with the good stuff in my room."

Danny's laugh was better than alcohol. "Probably figured you'd need it to get through this."

Steve shrugged. Who was he to argue with the truth? "One drink?"

After a second, Danny nodded. "One drink."

***

"So we open the door," Steve said, "expecting to find a terrorist bomb factory, but instead, it's about 50 women at sewing machines, making clothes."

Danny's laughter, his smile, the way his eyes lit up, did things to Steve's stomach that made clear a third drink would be unwise. He finished his second and put the glass on the nightstand, pulling himself up against the headboard, knees close to his chest.

Something about the way Danny was lying bonelessly at the foot of the four-poster bed, letting one of the posts keep him from falling off the end, made Steve's palms itch to touch, to slowly remove every stitch of clothing and feel the skin and muscle underneath.

Something about the way Danny was studying Steve made Steve lock his arms around his knees, as if he had to protect himself.

"Why'd you go into the Navy?" Danny asked at last. "You had a family business you could've just stepped right into."

"The Navy was the family business first," Steve said, propping his chin on his knees. My dad served in Vietnam. And my grandfather, the one I'm named after, went down on the Arizona at Pearl Harbor."

"I'm sorry."

The words were quiet and sincere, the sheer honesty making it difficult for Steve to swallow for a moment. "But I liked it," Steve said. "I liked the challenge, I liked pushing myself. And I liked making a difference."

"And now here you are making a difference in the lives of millions of people every week who'll have something to talk about over the water cooler one day a week this summer."

"Yeah, I'm a real hero."

Danny raised his glass. "To the new Captain America," he said, before finishing off his second drink. He sat up, leaning against the post. "I should get going." He slid off the bed and stood there, looking at Steve. "And you should get some sleep. Or the makeup people will spend an extra ten minutes covering the dark circles under your eyes tomorrow."

"Oh, God, anything but that," Steve said.

Danny placed his glass a little too carefully next to Steve's on the nightstand. "I'll see you bright and early," he said, standing too close, and yet too far away.

"Yeah. Night, Danno."

Danny rolled his eyes. "Night, Stud," he said, as he let himself out.

***