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?”
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.
Steve smoothed out his suit jacket, checking it from every angle he could in the mirror. The less they had to fuss over him, the better. All those people surrounding him, touching him like he was a mannequin and not a human being made him want to run the other direction.
Of course, if they let Danny in that group, he might not mind so much.
So much for being sure he wouldn't be in danger of falling for anyone on this assignment.
Not that it mattered if he did. He was still in the Navy, and DADT was still law. And the Navy would send him wherever it wanted, so any thought of a relationship on an island full of Navy connected people was a pipe dream.
At least he'd have an easy reference to fake attraction to the girls--he could just look off to the side and see Danny and he'd be all good.
At the sound of a soft knock, Steve straightened his suit one more time and went to open the door for Danny. “Time to lead me to the slaughter already?” Steve asked.
Danny had a blank sort of look on his face, one that made sense when his eyes traveled all the way down the length of Steve's body and back up before meeting his eyes. The sudden flush on Danny's face left little doubt as to the cause.
"Uh…yeah, sorry,." Danny said. "They’re getting ready to bring the girls in.”
Steve braced himself, focusing on breathing for a moment before he shifted his focus to Danny. “Okay, wrangle away.”
He followed Danny down the hall to the stairway, where dozens of people stood staring up, all waiting for him to descend like some stupid king or something.
He'd felt less exposed on a street in Kandahar with three bullets left and a half-rusted car to hid behind.
He started slowly down the stairs, barely controlling a twitch as almost everyone below burst into applause. He searched the crowd below, zeroing in on Danny, who was watching him with a smile.
One more deep breath and he continued down the stairs, focusing on Danny the entire way.
Once he was miked up, Steve lost sight of Danny as the hoards descended with their makeup brushes, combs, gels and lint rollers. When they decided he was presentable enough, they disappeared, leaving Danny at his side, holding out a bottle of water.
“Drink this,” Danny said. “It’s going to be a long few hours.”
“Few hours?” Steve asked, his lungs constricting at the idea.
“At least,” Danny said. “That’s assuming none of the girls trip over their dresses getting out of the limo.”
“Is it too late to quit?”
Danny nodded. “Yes. So drink that water and let’s get started getting this over with.”
Steve accepted the water gratefully, finishing it off before he handed the empty back. Danny nodded and promised to have more waiting between takes.
He turned to leave, but Steve wasn't quite ready to let go of him yet. "Hang on," he said, holding onto Danny's arm. "Is this what wrangling looks like?”
“Yeah." Danny's grin was half evil, half joy, and all designed to make Steve's perfectly tailored pants a little tight. "Sucks, doesn’t it?”
“I don’t know," Steve said, lowering his voice and leaning in. "Kinda depends on who the wrangler is.”
Danny answered after a beat, his voice hoarse. “Guess you’re lucky you got me, then, huh?”
“It certainly is the best thing that’s happened since I signed on to the show, yeah,” Steve said, the chance to actually be honest about something in this place making it a little easier to breathe.
“Glad to hear it," Danny said with a smile. "Now go get ‘em, Stud.”
Steve rolled his eyes, even though the joke somehow made it easier to jump into the madness that was about to begin. “Just because I like you," he said, before he turned away, "doesn’t mean I won’t shoot you.”
Steve checked his watch as he finished the last of his crunches. He'd need to hurry if he wanted to get breakfast and then get showered and ready for the day.
A quick shower gave him only a few minutes to plot his day. The late night of shooting meant he hadn't had time to do any looking around after hours. He needed to be more focused, more efficient, so he could maximize his time and find out who was behind the gun smuggling so he could get out of this house.
He just hadn't counted on Danny.
He'd known all the names when he'd gone downstairs last night. But Danny had been so distracting, between his encouraging smiles to Steve, and the way Danny seemed to be making friends with everyone on the crew after less than a day.
Steve absolutely had not been too distracted watching who Danny was talking to that he couldn't remember who was Cindy or Candy or Sandy. He'd just been tired, that was all.
Danny had given him back his focus just as easily as he'd taken it though, and Steve had made it through. Eventually. But the late night of shooting had been followed by some difficulties falling asleep after Danny's flirting when he'd walked Steve to his door.
Steve toweled off and threw on cargo pants and a t-shirt, feeling almost like himself for the first time in days. Faint voices came from the kitchen as he got to the end of the staircase. Danny's was instantly recognizable, but he other sounded like a child, which was the last thing anyone with any sense would allow into this house.
“Work is stupid,” the child said. Her voice was tinny, so maybe Danny was talking to his daughter.
“Yes," Danny said, "but work pays for things like food and Hello Kitty backpacks.”
“I don’t like Hello Kitty backpacks anymore.”
“Who says I was talking about you?”
Steve stopped in the doorway of the kitchen to see Danny bent enticingly over the island, his phone only just visible. The little girl on the screen had to be his daughter.
“Hey,” the girls said, “is that the guy you’re protecting?”
Protecting? That was an odd way to describe it. Danny looked over his shoulder, his lips thinning. “Yeah," he said. "Which means I have to go.”
“Don’t go on my account,” Steve said, leaning over Danny’s shoulder and absolutely not enjoying the feel or the smell of Danny in the process. He waved at the phone. “Hi there!”
"Grace,” Danny said, sounding resigned, “this is Steve.”
“Hi, Steve! Is Danno protecting you?”
“Every chance he gets,” Steve said. He had no idea what Danny had told her, but he wasn't about to contradict it.
“Okay," Danny said. "Time to go to work.” Danny managed to move Steve out of the way, and Steve absolutely did not pout about it. “Gracie, have a great day at school.”
“I will. Love you, Danno!”
“Love you, too, Monkey.”
Danny hung up the phone and stuffed it in his pocket, digging into his cereal without so much as a hello, let alone an explanation of any of that. Steve stared at him until he finally sighed and looked up. “What?”
“Yeah, she, uh…she has this idea that I’m some sort of knight in shining armor, and that I’m protecting people every day, so….”
Which any girl might get if her father worked on a show about a prince. “Well, you did say you needed to protect me from the contestants,” Steve said.
Danny went back to his cereal without explaining the even more important part. Steve continued to stare until finally Danny looked up again. “What?”
He didn't sound thrilled, but he also invited the question, so…. “Danno?”
“It’s her nickname for me,” Danny said.
“Ah.” Finally, ammunition for the next time Danny pulled the 'Stud' card. “Got it.”
Danny finished his cereal. “Got what?”
“Okay.” It didn't quite sound like it was okay, but clearly Danny didn't have time to waste as put his bowl in the sink.. “I’m going to go change.”
Steve grinned. “For a full day of protecting me?”
“Yeah, from yourself.”
Which Steve probably needed with the thoughts going through his head, but what he wanted and what he needed were often two different things. “Whatever you say, Danno.”
Danny's sigh was long suffering this time. “You know I could shoot you, too, right?”
“Yeah, but you only shoot with cameras.”
Steve only just caught the eye roll as Danny turned and headed for the stairs.
"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?
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."
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.
As a born and bred Hawaiian, Steve was a little insulted by what some of the girls were doing to the art form that was hula. He was grateful, however, for all the covert tracking skills he'd learned, because they let him appear to be interested in Sierra's self-proclaimed mastery of the hela step, while tracking every move Danny made.
At the first break, Steve made a beeline for Danny.
“Having fun?” Danny asked.
Steve made sure no one could see the face he made that said it was anything but fun. “How much longer?”
Danny shrugged. “So far everything is going smoothly, so hopefully it’ll be relatively quick?”
Relatively. Yeah. “Why do you think I’m working so hard to keep it going?”
“Yes, you’re performing like a true stud,” Danny said, giving Steve his most angelic look.
Steve sighed, but he was unable to keep any semblance of annoyance on his face. Danny looked away, lips thinning into a line as his shoulders slumped a little.
“Hey,” Steve said.
Steve studied him for a second. “You were somewhere else there for a minute. Something wrong?”
“Just miss Grace,” Danny said. “I came all the way here but I still don’t get to see her, you know?”
Steve’s put a hand on Danny’s shoulder, feeling the heat of him through his thin t-shirt. If his own situation wasn't enough reason to find the guns and end this farce, Danny definitely added an extra motivation. The sooner Steve solved the case, the sooner Danny would be with Grace.
And out of Steve's life.
But that wasn't the important part. “Maybe you’ll get to see her sooner than you think?” Steve said.
“Not likely,” Danny said with a thoroughly fake smile. “But at least there’s video chat.”
Steve gave him an encouraging smile. “That’s gotta help, right?”
“It does.” Danny laughed. “I thought it was my job to keep you from letting this place drive you crazy, not the other way around.”
It hadn't really been just that since their conversation in the garden, but he couldn't say that. Not yet. Maybe not ever, unless he was willing to make a lot of changes in his life when this was over.
Which was not something he needed to be thinking about right now.
“How about we get each other through it and go from there?” Steve said.
Danny met his eyes for a moment before he said, “I’d like that.”
The problem with searching the house and the production facilities was that the place was almost never quiet. Steve skulked around until almost four in the morning before it was quiet enough that he could do his snooping.
Gil's office was no help, but they'd never really suspected him. His assistant didn't seem to be doing anything overtly wrong, either, judging by the paperwork--though if the guilty party had made this easy, Steve wouldn't be in his current position to begin with.
He searched the trailers, but there was no sign of guns or contraband. If they were hiding anything, it was in the house. Or maybe it wasn't there yet. Maybe they were waiting for their next shipment.
Which meant finding a way to search the rooms when people weren't in them, as well as finding a way to search all the places he'd just searched again.
They should've sent in someone on the crew along with him. The crew would be able to get around to places Steve couldn't while he was filming, and he'd have help.
Of course, he could always ask for help.
Something told him Danny would be willing to help if he really knew what was going on. Except Danny was a civilian. And Steve would be asking him to risk his job, the one thing keeping him on the island with his daughter, to do it.
It wasn't worth the risk.
The sun was coming up when Steve finally slipped into bed for a quick nap. He'd spend extra time in make up and have a little bit of a short fuse all day, but he'd gone a lot longer with a lot less sleep. He'd at least be able to function.
He'd just have to control himself.
Going to sleep at the crack of dawn didn't stop Steve's body from waking up not long after. He pulled the covers up over his head, but it was no use, so he opted for a protein shake instead. He lingered over the shake, but when he couldn't find any reason to be hanging around other than hoping Danny would show up, he went up to his room.
Maybe a hard workout would at least get rid of the cobwebs in his head.
Steve yawned as he checked his appearance in the mirror. The workout had helped him think a little more clearly, but it had been no substitute for sleep, not long term. He wanted nothing more than to have an early night and deal with things tomorrow.
Instead he was in a tux and headed downstairs to send one more contestant packing.
The soft knock at his door was familiar. Steve opened it to find Danny on the other side, as expected. "Time to lead me to the slaughter already?" Steve said, as he walked out, pulling his door closed behind him.
"I think you're supposed to be the one doing the slaughtering," Danny said, as he studied Steve. "You okay?"
"That depends? Does it count as okay if I considered crawling out the window and scaling down to the ground to run away?"
"From the third floor? No." Danny put his hand on Steve's arm, warm and instantly comforting. "I can't get you out of doing this, but if there's anything I can do to make it easier, let me know."
Steve swallowed carefully before he said, "You already have."
Danny's face flushed a little as he turned, dropping his hand. "Okay, let's go."
At the bottom of the stairs, Danny put out a hand to stop Steve. "Hang out here, I'll come get you when they're ready."
He was grateful for the opportunity to avoid everyone else a little longer, as he wandered into one of the unused sitting rooms and took a seat in the corner. It was a familiar spot, one where he could see everything going on around him without having to be that close to any of it.
It was especially welcome just then. He'd been a lot more tired than this in his life, but it wasn't just exhaustion weighing on him. He'd found nothing, not one thing so far to help their case, and he was so busy all the time that he wasn't sure how he was supposed to find anything.
At this rate he'd be married off to one of the girls before he had a chance to find anything.
Danny's voice brought him out of his reverie. “They’re ready for you."
“I can see that from here,” Steve said, glancing out at the activity.
“The sooner you get out there, the sooner it’ll be over,” Danny reminded him.
At this rate it would never be over. “I’m starting to think it’ll never be over.”
“Well, get out there and send one more girl packing and then you’re down to five…that’s close to being over.” Steve wasn't ready to get out there. He wanted to just sit here in the dark. But Danny wasn't about to give up. “What’s going on?” he asked, perching himself on the edge of Steve's chair.
“I don’t know,” Steve said, looking up at Danny. “I guess I thought it would be easier than this.”
“Yeah, they don’t really paint it as this much work when they’re trying to get you to sign, do they?”
“It’s not that, it’s just….” He'd never had this much trouble hiding things from someone. And he couldn't start having trouble with it now. “It’s nothing,” he said, getting up quickly. “Let’s go get it over with.”
Steve gave Lourdes one last hug, noticing that, while her eyes were shining with supposed tears, her makeup was flawless, and her face bore no streaks. He'd never known so many women possessed such a talent before this show.
As Lourdes was led off to do her last shots for the camera, Steve looked around for Danny, eyes narrowing when he saw Danny leaning in a little too close to one of the PAs. Steve walked over to them, not even bothering to listen for a break in the conversation. “We’re done shooting.”
Annoyance was a look Steve had seen on Danny's face a few times, but never directed at him. “Yeah, I understand what cut means,” Danny snapped, as the PA hurried off quickly.
“Sorry," Steve bit out, "didn’t mean to interrupt before you got her number.”
Something in Danny's face softened. "Sorry,” he said. “That came out wrong. Besides, you should know better than anyone here that she’s not really my type.”
And yet that didn't seem to help. “Well, you were married to a woman….”
“Yeah, which ended when I realized I wasn’t really into her,” Danny said quietly. “Or any other women.”
Which Steve knew, at least when he was awake enough to be logical. “Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean…I’m just really tired. Am I needed for pickups, or can I go to bed?”
Danny looked around. “Hold on,” he said, hurring over to Gil. After a quick conversation, he came back. “I got you out of pickups tonight," Danny said, "but you have to do them at ten tomorrow instead.”
He'd have agreed to do them at 7 if it would get him out of it tonight. “Thanks,” he said, hand on Danny’s shoulder. “I’ll be fine tomorrow, I promise.”
“I know. Come on," Danny said, pushing Steve towards the stairs and sleep.
A good night's sleep let clarity prevail. Steve was ready to do whatever it took to get through everything today as quickly as possible. The faster he wrapped, the sooner the place would be quiet enough for him to do some more snooping. And the sooner he solved the case, the sooner Danny could go back to his daughter.
And what happened after that...well, he couldn't think about that just yet.
He'd just finished making his shake when Danny walked into the kitchen, a Grace-shaped smile on his face.
“You look more awake this morning,” Danny said, brushing a little closer to Steve than probably necessary to get to the cereal.
“Yeah, sorry,” Steve said. “I didn’t mean to be so….” Jealous? Yeah, he couldn't say that. “I didn’t get a lot of sleep the night before,” he said instead.
“I’m not surprised.” Danny nodded at Steve’s glass. “If I had to drink that every morning, I wouldn’t be in a hurry to sleep either.”
Steve took a drink. “Don’t knock it until you try it, Danno.”
“Whatever you say, Stud.”
Steve rolled his eyes as he took another drink. "So who was that poor PA I scared off last night?"
"Why?" Danny asked. "Thinking of having her fired?" He frowned, studying Steve more closely. "You're not thinking of having her fired?"
"Of course not," Steve said, doing his best to sound offended. He had no intention of actually trying to have her fired, even if the thought had maybe been running around in his subconscious.
Danny stared at him a moment longer. "Okay, I believe you. I think."
"Your trust in me is completely underwhelming," Steve said. Then again, considering he was lying to Danny constantly about certain things, it wouldn't be surprising if Danny did have some trust issues.
He seemed a little too perceptive for that.
Steve finished off his shake, ignoring the way Danny kept studying him. "I'm going upstairs to shower and change," Steve said, brushing past Danny. "See you soon."
“Only five girls left,” Danny said from beside the camera. “Do you see any special connections forming?”
“I think there might be a special connection forming, yeah,” Steve said. He fixed his gaze on Danny, making it clear, at least to Danny, who he really meant.
“You’ve been spending a lot of time with Kiley,” Danny said. As much as it sounded like a normal question, it felt more like an accusation.
Steve shrugged, giving Danny a look that had been working for him since the eighth grade. “Kiley’s a great girl,” Steve said. “She’s smart, and she has a lot to offer.” He grinned, watching Danny squirm a little as Steve added, “And I’m a sucker for blonde hair and blue eyes.”
Danny cleared his throat. “So is it just Kiley?”
Before Steve could answer, Gil came in, breaking rule one—never interrupt a hot set. “Sorry,” he said, “but we just got a call. Steve, I’m sorry, but your father’s had another heart attack. He’s in the hospital.”
Steve didn't hear anything else through the rush of white noise in his ears. He met Danny's eyes, anchoring him in place so he could think again. "I need to go," Steve said.
Danny nodded, but it was Gil who said, “We’re packing up now to take you. We leave in ten minutes.”