TITLE: If Protocol Allows (14/14)

PROMPT: Crystal Clear

RATING: PG

PAIRING: Nicholas/Danny

SUMMARY: The Neighborhood Watch has been done away with and the village has cooled down, but while Nick is doing his best to 'shut off' and connect, Danny is trying to 'turn on,' but is it really what Nick wants anymore? And what will the new day bring?

WARNINGS: This chapter includes fluff and tears.

DISCLAIMER: No 1337 pwnzors, I swears on the Precious.

Nicholas stroked Danny's cheek gently with the tips of his fingers as he lay beside him. They'd moved awkwardly from the living room to Danny's bed, reapplying underwear for vanity's sake, yet with a hint of reluctance.

Now, with the early-morning darkness beginning to break just outside the thinly-curtained bedroom windows, sending a pale caste of blue over the room, Nicholas couldn't help but sigh, curled against Danny's sleeping form, letting the rise and fall of Danny's lungs rock him gently where he lay.

He could remember, looking back, only one other moment like this in his life. It was like looking on the face of completion, finding something you didn't even know you were looking for, but then it's there, and all you can do is cling to it and cherish it, because you never know when it will fly away.

His heart yearned for Danny, so intensely that he felt a tear flash at the corner of his eye and fall to the pillow before he could stop it.

The tear was partially his relief, his heart shedding the cold armor and accepting this love for what it was, but part of it was for Danny, because Nicholas ruined people. He brought them down, because he was so good; he would push himself to keep them safe, simultaneously pushing them down, not because he wanted to shine, but because he was so afraid to fall, so afraid of what they would lose in him if he were to be 'only human.'

He told himself Danny wanted it this way. He needed to believe that he, just as he was, was good enough, whether he had the fastest moves and the best skills, and whether he was strong or weak. That would be enough for Danny.

It would be enough for Nicholas.

He already knew Danny's faults. He loved each of them, as they were, and would never stand to see him change, nor would he suffer the judgments of others on Danny in any thing that he did. Those imperfections, his love of cartooning and action movies, his tomfoolery and boyish nature, and the wisdom he seemed to carry in the face of unerring innocence, those things made him perfect.

At least, perfect for Nicholas.

Nicholas pressed a kiss to Danny's temple, watching his partner smile softly and murmur in his sleep, his hands holding fast to Nicholas's hips, as they had been since he'd realized Nicholas would lie with him. It hadn't taken Danny long to fall asleep, but before he had, he'd laid his head beside Nicholas's, studying his expression, that same sweet smile playing lazily across his glowing features.

"Are you alright?" Nicholas had asked, brushing damp locks from Danny's forehead.

"M'fine," Danny had sighed, "Better'n fine, really, Nick."

"I'm glad," Nicholas whispered, "I'm glad I'm here with you."

"Just promise me something," Danny murmured, his hands straying from Nicholas's hip for a moment to cup Nicholas's face.

"What is it?" Nicholas breathed, concern marring his face for a moment.

"Promise me…you'll be here…when I wake up?" Danny asked, stroking Nicholas's cheek, a hint of fear in his eyes.

"I promise I won't leave you," Nicholas said, his voice soft but his tone firm, as he tangled his fingers in Danny's damp hair and brought him in for a gentle, languid kiss, their tongues teasing each other slowly between barely-parted lips before breaking away slowly.

He'd gazed into Danny's eyes until they were firmly cloaked by his eyelids, his breathing becoming steady and deep, but Nicholas couldn't sleep. Part of him needed this moment, only the second in his entire life, to last as long as it could. Part of him was terrified it wasn't even real.

The sun continued to climb in the sky, now bathing the bed in its warm glow, making pools of color splash brilliantly along the rises and valleys of the sheets, dancing along the curves of their bodies, wrapping them in its radiance. The shadows on Nicholas's face disappeared in its light, as the sun turned the pale blue it had placed on Danny like a death veil into the warm pinks and reds of life, his breathing just as even and reassuring as if no such transformation had ever occurred.

"Danny," Nicholas whispered, speaking to his partner as he slept. He wanted to say what he was thinking when Danny awoke, but he was too afraid, unwilling to release control, to shut off completely.

"I wish there was a way for me to love you better," he continued, sure now from his first utterance's lack of effect that Danny wouldn't rouse, "I wish there was a way for me to be the man you think I am. You…people look at me as if I've never had a fault, as if I can be the strongest and the bravest, as if I'll never fail. I know I've seen it in your eyes.

"I'm not blaming you of anything, and I'm not asking you to stop idolizing me, because I don't think it would deter you in the least, even though it should. Because, Danny, deep down, underneath all the gear and the uniform and the paperwork and the protocol, I'm just an insignificant little man from Kensington who's afraid of the ocean and other people's blood. And I'm terrified of letting you down."

"S'a silly thing to say," Danny murmured, his eyelids barely flickering.

Nicholas froze, his blood turning to sludge in his veins, realizing Danny had been awake through the whole sappy business. As if sensing this, even through his half-sleep haze, Danny tightened his hold around Nicholas's waist and pulled him in close, pressing a kiss to Nicholas's collarbone, tucking his head under Nicholas's chin.

"From the moment I saw you," Danny breathed in words almost too soft to be real, "I knew…you were everything I ever wanted to be, Nick, and everything I ever wanted. It was crystal clear to me, the moment you first smiled for real, and not some silly pressed-lip trash, that you were the most brilliant thing in the whole world.

"And I used to think…I used to think that it was me who wasn't good enough, that you'd never see past the fumbling, and I'd always have you at arm's length. But that would've been good enough, you know? For me, leastways, it would have been good enough."

"But," Nicholas choked, "What do I do…if I can't save you? From…people, from them, from me?"

Danny lifted his head free and shifted slightly away, making Nicholas's heart leap into his throat, his certainty that Danny would leave so overwhelming that he didn't realize at first that Danny was actually looking down at him, propped on his elbow, smiling that mischievous grin that made Nicholas want to pull him down and kiss him into unconsciousness for the love of him.

"Fuck them," Danny snorted, his hand resting on Nicholas's rib cage, rubbing his side in small, soothing circles. "An' risin't a thing you could do that could hurt me, Nick, not now, not…except…losing you."