SPOILERS: through Mommy's Bosses/season two

NOTES: While this my be my sixteenth completed fic for The 4400, it's actually the second one I started. I began this before the second season had ended, and I stole the Theory Room scene and second kiss in Want Vs Need from this, causing Sera Bella to be even less substantial. But I just couldn't give up on it, despite how fanciful it is. For example, this only works if you imagine it takes place before Maia became overwhelmed by her visions. Consider making yourself a cup of coffee or tea to contrast with the sweetness and fluffy texture. For the record, I found the line in Gone II about the "bad Italian place" ridiculous. Aside from the fact that the people in my life with the most refined palates are almost all geeks (that's not to say all my geek friends have refined palates, just that there's a significantly larger ratio among them), the idea that a guy named Marco Pacella would ever end up at a bad Italian place seems rather silly to me.

DISCLAIMER: The 4400 and all things associated with it belong to other people.


SERA BELLA

Maia's dire prediction had dampened the cheer of Diana's dinner with Marco but not his enthusiasm. During their morning chats over coffee at work, he would invariably ask if she was busy that night. Although she had found excuses several days in a row, he continued to ask in new and witty ways. She couldn't help but find it charming and a welcome distraction from her everyday worries as an NTAC agent and the mother of a 4400.

One morning, Marco got something in his eye and took off his glasses to deal with it. Then he looked up at her with those big brown eyes full of hope, and she couldn't help but wonder why she was delaying something she'd been looking forward to, deep down. It made her think of how she'd save her favorite Halloween candy for last, but sometimes it'd get stale from the waiting.

"You busy tonight?"

He blinked at her in surprise then hastily shoved his glasses back on his face. "Not particularly." The nonchalance of his voice belied the big grin that flashed across his lips. "I've been...thinking about going out to this place I know. Wanna come?" He made it sound so casual, but she knew he must be excited by the prospect.

"Sure. How about six thirty?"

"Six," he countered, "and be sure you're both wearing flats."

"Both?" It was her turn to blink in surprise.

With a serious expression but amused voice, he explained, "I'm...not about to leave Maia out of this."

She nearly laughed in astonishment."You think we need a chaperone?"

"Someone should protect my virtue." He raised his eyebrows and gave her that almost-smile of his.

She had to work not to smile in return. "Well, I suppose..."

"Shall I come up, or...would you prefer to meet me in the lobby?" He was always so practical and conscientious.

"With the way Maia can be about picking her clothes..."

"I'll come up."


With no crises in the works, the day passed surprisingly slowly, offering Diana numerous spare moments to contemplate the bold choice she had made. She burdened him with her troubles, yet she knew so little of his life outside of work. What would a date with Marco be like? Why flats? Was it possible for them to have a successful office romance? The questions filled her with a mixture of expectation and apprehension. Fortunately, no one in the office noticed her divided attention, but when she arrived home, there was no option but to let her daughter in on her secret. Maia gaped at her for a moment then literally jumped up and down in excitement upon learning she would be going, too. The rest of their time was spent trying on various outfits and hair styles. Diana was just attaching a pair of her mother's clip-ons when she heard the intercom buzzing in the hall. The clock in the living room read 5:58. Pressing the button, she asked, "Yes?"

"Mr. Pacella to see you, Ms. Skouris," came the doorman's tinny reply.

"Thank you, Alberto, please send him up." She was surprised by the little flutter in her stomach. Maybe having Maia along wasn't going to be such a bad idea, after all. Poking her head into Maia's room, she found her daughter had switched from a summery pink floral to a fancier purple dress and was considering a scattered collection of shoes on the floor of her closet. "Marco's on his way."

"I can't decide." There was sincere dismay on her daughter's face.

"Remember that he said to wear flats."

"Why?" She demanded with a frown.

"I'm sure we'll find out when we get there."

"But I don't have any dressy flats that really go with this," insisted Maia.

Scanning the jumble at her feet, Diana had to agree. "When in doubt..."

"...go with black."

Maia grabbed a pair of shiny, paten leather shoes with low heels just as the bell rang. Trotting to her entry, Diana opened the door to a freshly shaved Marco.

"Good evening, Diana. You look lovely."

"Good evening." She said it automatically, which was a good thing; the change in his appearance diverted her attention to the point that she wasn't fully aware of her words. He was sporting his regular rumpled hair and distinctive glasses, but she had never seen him in a suit and tie before, least of all one that was so well fitted and flawlessly pressed. An expensive pair of Italian leather shoes rounded off the look. Marco cleaned up nicely. Add another four inches, and he could be a model. In one hand, he held a bunch of anemones, in the other, a lavender rose with sprigs of baby's breath and fern.

The corners of his mouth quirked up. "May I come in?"

"Oh, of course." Diana stood back, pulling the door with her and gesturing toward the living room. "I'll get some water for those. Maia should be ready in just a minute."

Instead of sitting on the sofa, he followed her into the kitchen and filled her chosen vases while she trimmed the stalks of the flowers under running water.

"They're beautiful," she murmured while arranging the anemones in a squat, bulbous vase.

"I'm glad you like them." He focused on adjusting the baby's breath in such a way as the rose stood perfectly upright.

"You didn't have to."

Pleased with his efforts, Marco set the bud vase on the ledge that looked into the dining room, where Maia would see it. "I...wanted to start the evening out right."

"These are one of my favorites," she admitted, glancing over at him. "How did you know?"

"I'm good at guessing."

"Maia told you."

He pretended to look hurt. "You spend too much time at work; not everything is so insidious."

"So how did you know?"

"Well...for Maia, it was easy, but for you..."

She tilted her head and raised an eyebrow expectantly.

He stepped close enough for her to catch a minty whiff of his breath before he took the vase from her hands. She followed as he carried them into the living room to set them on the large, lower shelf of the half wall, just where she would have put them. Then he casually took her elbow. His cool, damp fingers against her skin caused a small shiver to run through her. Leading her to her own entry, he directed her attention to a small trio of pictures hanging there. "These are the only images of flowers I've ever seen in your house, aside from Maia's room, and...they're the first pictures you see every time you walk in." They were watercolors of anemones.

"Is that for me?"

They turned to see Maia examining the rose with delight.

"Marco brought it for you."

"Thank you!" She turned with the bud vase in her hands, about to say something, but stopped and stared for a second. "Nice suit, Marco."

"Thank you, Maia. You look very nice, yourself."

Gazing down at her feet, she squirmed a little. "I wasn't sure which shoes to wear."

"Those are perfect."

"Mom, can I put the rose in my room?"

"On your dresser, where it won't spill."

While Maia was depositing her treasure, Marco lifted a thumb toward the entry closet. "There's an eighty percent chance of showers tonight."

Nodding, Diana opened the door and pulled out her raincoat.

"May I?"

He was holding out his hands for it. Torn between amusement and uncertainty about his gallantry, she decided he deserved to have his fun and handed it to him. "Thank you, Marco." Although he did nothing untoward, some heightened sense of awareness between them instilled a sensuality to the simple act of helping her on with her coat. She turned, and for a moment, their eyes met, causing a little spark of anticipation in her chest.

"Do I have to wear my coat?"

Diana was so entranced by the poorly hidden ardor in his eyes that she was almost startled by her daughter's reappearance. With a blink, he was mild Marco once more. Reaching past her, he took out Maia's coat and helped her into it.

"It's supposed to rain, Maia."

She gave Marco a quizzical look. "Then how come you don't have to wear one?"

"Mine's in the car," he explained. "So, are you ready?"

"Ready." Maia took his hand, and he lead her out the door while Diana locked up behind them. Still not completely comfortable with this spiffed up Marco, Diana took Maia's other hand, and they rode the elevator to the lobby.

"I managed to find a spot right in front." Marco pulled his car keys from his pocket and the lights of his sport coup flashed outside as he deactivated the alarm.

"Why are we getting out at the lobby?" asked Maia.

"We're taking Marco's car."

"We get to ride in Marco's car?" Maia practically skipped outside with excitement.

Diana had to know, "What's wrong with our car?"

"Our car is boring. His isn't."

Marco just shrugged and held open the passenger-side door, offering Diana his hand to guide her into the seat. Considering how messy the Theory Room could get, she was impressed with the tidiness of his car. It was unlikely he'd had the time to get it detailed before coming, which suggested he kept it fairly neat. Hadn't he reminded her and Tom to wipe their feet when they'd entered the Baker house? A bit of a neat freak, herself, this little glimpse into Marco's personality pleased her.

"Sorry for having a two-door." His apology was to Maia, not Diana, as he helped his young passenger into the seat behind the driver's.

"I don't mind. It's kind of fun." Maia plunked herself down with a happy bounce.

"Don't forget your seatbelt," he instructed, beating Diana to the punch.

Maia hadn't grown up with seatbelts, and Diana was constantly having to remind her. She wondered if Maia had told him about that particular mother-daughter problem, but after he sat down and buckled his own, he lifted his chin to her. "You, too."

She'd been so distracted and unused to being a passenger while going somewhere with her daughter that she'd forgotten. "Of course."

Once she was buckled up, he turned on the engine and the CD player. By the second word of the first song, Maia gasped excitedly, "Is that Sinatra?"

"I take it you...don't have this CD, yet?" With an almost-smile, Marco glanced briefly into his rearview mirror.

"I haven't heard this song before."

"Glad I could introduce you to a new one."

At the first stop light, he pointed out the instrument panel on the dashboard. "With three of us, I...need to run the defroster, but other than that, you have your own set of controls, including one for heating the seat, if you need it." Looking behind him, he added, "Let me know if it gets too cold or hot for you, Maia."

"Green light!"

"Thank you, Maia." Turning back to the road, Marco headed toward the Sound.

"So where are we going?" asked Diana.

"To a little Italian place I know. I'd like to warn you...try not to be too surprised by anything when we get there."

"Why? What might be surprising?" Thanks to Maia, Diana didn't have to ask the question herself.

"You'll understand once we're there."


Used to being the driver, she had nothing better to do than scrutinize the man behind the wheel. Despite having a sporty car, Marco was a cautious driver; he displayed none of the aggressive, reckless tendencies she often associated with similar vehicles. His movements and gear shifting were smooth and unhurried, qualities which seemed innate in him. The observation brought to mind thoughts she wasn't quite ready to consider, though her increased pulse suggested otherwise.

In the back, Maia hummed along with Sinatra.

Being a Wednesday night, traffic was fairly light, and Marco seemed to have a remarkable knack for avoiding the worst of it by using sidestreets and backroads Diana'd never been aware of. Within twenty minutes, they were passing a number of nice restaurants near the water. Most of them were for seafood, but one was an Italian place she'd read about in the paper and had always wanted to try. Sera Bella was supposed to be fairly extravagant and reportedly served some of the best Italian in town. Her heart sped up a little as she saw its refined, arched entry approach, but Marco kept on driving. At the corner, he turned right, then right again, then again and again. In the end, he pulled up in front of Sera Bella.

"So...why did you pass it the first time?"

One thumb pointed behind him, "The song wasn't over, yet."

Diana hadn't even noticed. The depth of his consideration moved her with a sudden intensity, and she had to resist leaning over and kissing him. Instead, she beamed at him and reached out to squeeze his arm.

He gave her a funny look, kind of like the confused but hopeful one he'd had before she'd kissed him in her kitchen the other night. Then he shrugged and smiled. "Maia, would you mind grabbing my coat for me?"

"Sure, Marco."

"Wait a minute, okay?" he said to Diana before getting up and helping Maia out of the back seat. Tossing his coat over an arm, he buttoned up his suit jacket then took Maia's hand and came around to the passenger side. Opening her door, he offered her his hand. It was a simple gesture, quickly executed, but it was still unfamiliar territory. His hand was firm and warm, with skin softer than she'd expected, and she felt a bit of regret in having to let go.

"Hey, Marco," greeted the valet. "Nice suit."

"Thanks, Val."

"You know each other by name?" Again, Maia voiced Diana's own thought.

Marco offered one of his almost-smiles. "I'm...kind of a regular."

"You can regularly afford a place like this?" Diana teased him with incredulity. "I need to ask for a raise."

With a tip of his hat to Marco, who responded with a grin and a wink, the doorman opened one of the elaborately etched glass doors for them.

"You're really pulling out all the stops," agreed Maia.

Again with the almost-smile.

Inside, the lobby was filled with soft light, dark wooden columns and lush fabrics in rich hues. There was a quiet, muffled quality to the sound, like the decor was blocking out the gaudy noise of the less elegant world outside. Steering them to the cloakroom, Marco handed over his coat then helped Diana out of hers.

"Honestly," she confided, "you didn't have to bring us to such a fancy place."

Leaning close, he confessed with blithe confidence, "I'm not about to waste a chance like this."

His warm breath across her cheek sent an enticing quiver down her spine.

"They have shawls and throws...if you think you'll be cold," he offered, apparently unaware of what had caused her to tremble.

"Thanks, but I'll be fine."

Once Maia's coat was also stashed, he strategically placed himself between them. Offering each an arm, he led them to a tall, dark, wooden stand, behind which stood an even taller, darker Maitre d'.

"So, Marco, who's the dish?"

It was not what she'd been expecting from such a formally dressed man.

"Dish? What century are you living in?" Diana was surprised by the censure in Marco's voice. "The lady is a Federal Agent and has credentials as long as your arm. I would appreciate it if you'd addressed her respectfully, not as an object."

"Sorry, Marco...ma'am." Half-bowing in apology, the larger man's hasty acquiescence was even more surprising.

By way of explanation, Marco released Maia's arm and gestured with amusingly uncharacteristic stiffness, "Diana, this is my cousin Antonio. Antonio, Diana."

"Nice to meet you, Antonio." She offered her hand.

He took it in both of his and kissed it. "Please, call me Tony."

"Tony." Other than the thick, dark hair and deep brown eyes, she could see little family resemblance.

Miserly reclaiming Diana's hand from his cousin, Marco gestured to Maia. "And this is Maia, Diana's daughter."

"Two beautiful ladies? This must be your lucky night."

Maia rolled her eyes at this. Diana resisted the urge to do the same but couldn't hide her smile.

"Is our table ready?"

"Right this way, Marco, ladies." Tony guided them through a column-flanked arch into a wide, two-storied room with a wall of windows, a sunken hardwood floor and a piano at one end. There were a handful of tables in front of the floor. Behind those were two tiers of plush booths, one set a few steps higher than the other so each had a view of the stage and the Sound. The second floor was essentially a U-shaped balcony filled with more booths and supported by columns. Just as Tony was pulling out the table for a corner booth on the upper tier, musicians in zoot suits made their way onto the floor.

Maia gasped in excitement. "A live band?"

"Wait 'til you hear what they play," grinned Marco secretively as he gestured for Diana to sit before him.

"Don't you want to sit in the middle?" wondered Diana.

"It might be...inconvienent later if I do."

"Why?" asked Maia.

"You'll see," was his unsympathetically cryptic response.

"Then I'll sit in the middle!"

"No, Maia. I want to sit next to Marco."

"You want to?" he repeated with a big grin.

"Yes." Bending close, she whispered suggestively into his ear. "Want."

Being so near, she could see the subtle blush as it formed on his pale skin, even along the tips of his ears that peeked out beneath his dark hair. Pleased with the result, she settled herself in the middle.

"Uh...yeah...well..." he stammered with a sudden lack of composure.

"Marco, you gonna sit?" Tony placed a hand on his cousin's shoulder and gave him a nudge toward the edge of the booth.

"Yes." Marco cleared his throat, gave himself a little shake, unbuttoned his suit jacket and calmly sat.

First, the big man chose elaborately folded black linen napkins from the table and spread them across their laps. Then he effortlessly slid the substantial table back into place and passed them their menus. Removing the white napkins, he said, "Your waiter will be with you shortly."

"Thanks, Tony."

As soon as he was out of earshot, Maia wondered aloud, "Why are the napkins black?"

"Black is closer to the color you're wearing," explained Marco. "They wouldn't want to get white lint on your pretty purple dress."

"That's neat." Maia looked down at the cloth in her lap with a new appreciation. "I've never been to a restaurant with black napkins before."

Diana wasn't about to confess she hadn't either. Opening her menu, she was surprised to find it had just two pages, with only a few options per category. Despite having noted bottles at other tables, there was no mention of wine, unless it was an ingredient. Also, there were no prices listed.

"Mom," there was a hint of distress in her daughter's voice. "I'm having trouble reading this." The elegant script was a bit challenging.

"What would you like, honey?"

"Spaghetti and meatballs."

She noticed Marco try to hide his grin. "Uh...I'm afraid they don't have that, today. How about lasagna?" he suggested.

"I guess so."

The band started playing some swing, and Maia soon forgot to worry about what to order, enchanted by the couples who were gliding across the dancefloor.


They hadn't been seated three minutes when an older, elegant woman in a flowing dress made her way to their table. Setting aside his napkin, Marco stood hastily and buttoned his jacket. "Auntie Regina." He greeted her with a kiss on the cheek.

"Marco." Her voice was smooth, low and mildly chiding. "You call for a special table then don't introduce me to your guests?" She indicated Diana and Maia with a graceful sweep of her hand.

"I'm sorry, auntie."

"We've only just arrived," offered Diana.

"Auntie Regina, this is Diana and her daughter Maia."

"Pleased to meet you," nodded Regina.

"Pleased to meet you," chorused Maia and Diana.

"I hope you are enjoying yourselves so far."

"The band is great." Maia was beaming.

"I'm glad you like it. There are not many your age who would appreciate it. May I ask how it is you know my Marco?"

Marco cringed. "Auntie, it's only our first date."

"Mommy and Marco work together," Maia explained.

Regina turned to Marco. "Così questa è lei. You came here for your first date? How sweet."

"I knew I could get a good table on short notice." He gave her a sly grin.

Turning back to Diana and Maia, Regina smiled. "Thank you for providing Marco a reason to visit. It has been too long."

"I was here two weeks ago," insisted Marco.

"Sneaking into the kitchens to talk baseball with Tony hardly counts." She waved a hand dismissively at him. "You should come more often. Siete troppo sottili."

"Yes, auntie." His put-upon expression made Maia giggle.

Addressing Diana and Maia, she continued. "If there is anything you would like, do not hesitate to ask."

"Thank you," replied Diana, "that's very kind of you."

"May I have spaghetti and meatballs?" asked Maia.

Diana's could feel her cheeks start to color, but Regina seemed amused by the request. "Of course. Ah, here comes Silvio. I'll let you order." She tilted her head just so, and Marco obediently kissed her cheek again. "Ballo con me stasera."

"Yes, auntie."

"Have a good evening."

"Good evening," responded Diana.

Maia waved. "Bye!"

Unbuttoning his jacket, Marco sat back down just as the waiter arrived with three glasses and a carafe of water. Like Marco and Tony, the waiter had thick, dark hair, but unlike them, his eyes were an almost distracting light gray.

"Are you ready to order?"

"I'll have spaghetti and meatballs," piped Maia.

"I'd like the seafood pasta."

Marco asked. "Who's cooking tonight?" He'd never bothered to open his menu.

"Luciano."

"Then I'll have the eggplant parmagane."

"Eggplant?" Maia's voice was skeptical.

"One of the best foods on earth, especially when Luciano cooks it." Marco grinned smugly. Turning back to the waiter, he added, "And some stuffed mushrooms beforehand."

"Wine?" asked the waiter.

Marco leaned closer to Diana and gestured at the room. "The whole basement's a wine cellar, so they have just about everything you could think of. Is there anything special you'd like to try?"

A half dozen names popped immediately to mind, but they were all very expensive. She'd been dabbling with wines since a Napa Valley trip with Philip some five years ago. In the end, an enthusiasm for wine was the best thing she'd gotten from that thin-skinned, arrogant, self-absorbed microbiologist. Just the thought of him made her appreciate Marco more.

"Diana?"

Blinking, she turned to him and, again, had to resist the urge to kiss him. "You decide."

"I'm not that good at choosing..." After a moment's indecision, he handed his menu to the waiter. "Please bring us whatever you think would go best with the seafood. And a Shirley Temple for the young lady."

"Shirley Temple?" wondered Maia. Apparently, the drink hadn't been popularized before Maia's abduction.

"You'll see."


Within a few minutes, their appetizer and drinks were brought out. Marco managed to trick Maia into trying the mushrooms by assuring her she was too young to appreciate them and should stick with the rolls that had accompanied them. Even more surprising, Maia liked them, greedily popping down about half of them. It was understandable; they were delicious. The wine was also fairly spectacular, with a full body and impressive depth of flavor. Diana didn't recognize the label, only that it was Italian. She looked forward to trying it with her meal. Maia enjoyed her drink so much that they had to order her another one.

Once they were done with their mushrooms, Silvio returned with finger bowls and a fresh set of black napkins. Only once had Diana ever experienced finger bowls, and that was at a small, posh wedding. She hadn't been aware there were places that used them. Maia thought it was kind of fun and made much ado about cleaning her hands. Once they were done, the band returned from a break and began playing a waltz.

Maia clapped her hands in delight. "Oh, this is one of my favorites," she murmured, plainly admiring the people on the dance floor.

Setting down his wine, Marco asked, "Have you ever waltzed before, Maia?"

"Only once, at my aunt Katherine's wedding." There was a touch of wistful longing in her daughter's expression. It wasn't often she talked to others about her past.

Marco stood, buttoned his jacket and moved to the other side of the table. "Diana, do you mind?" She almost didn't follow him, but caught on just in time to nod without much delay. "Maia, would you care to dance?"

With a grin and a flounce, Maia was on her feet in a heartbeat. Marco led her to the dancefloor, and after a few false starts, had her stand on his expensive shoes just like a father might with his daughter. Diana wasn't sure which was more surprising--that Marco knew how to waltz or that she was so moved by his consideration of Maia. By the end of the dance, he had Maia waltzing on her own.

Twirling Maia at the end, Marco bowed to her, and they returned to the table with happy smiles. He saw her seated comfortably before returning to his place. Then the salads arrived. Maia didn't like hers because it had "strange things" in it. Diana admitted she hadn't learned to like capers until later in life, herself. Salad was followed by a soup of winter squash that was both savory and sweet, with accents of nutmeg. It was like a warm, little cup of heaven, and Maia all but inhaled hers despite the pretense of being dignified at such a fancy restaurant.

Between the soup and entrée courses, Marco's aunt appeared at the corner of the dance floor. A single look from her was all it took for Marco to beg their pardons and beat a hasty path to her. Regina had a full figure and was slightly shorter than Marco. From a distance, you couldn't tell their age difference; what you noticed was what a fine pair they made. Waltzing was one thing, but Marco plainly knew more than the basic box-step with a twirl.

When the song ended, he gave his aunt a peck on the cheek and returned to them, dabbing his forehead with a handkerchief as he made is way to their booth. There was only the slightest hint of his being winded by the exercise as he apologized for his absence. "Gotta pay the price for a good table on such short notice."

"You dance really well!" Maia seldom paid anyone such unabashed compliments.

Already slightly flushed, Marco's cheeks colored further. "Thank you, Maia." But it seemed he didn't want to pursue that line of thought, for he lifted his chin and observed. "Here comes dinner!"

The meal certainly deserved all of their attention. The wine went beautifully with Diana's dish. The pasta had every kind of seafood she could think of, all of it cooked perfectly in a sublime tomato cream sauce. Although Diana and Maia didn't normally share food, Marco was able to persuade her daughter to try a bite of his eggplant parmagane, which resulted in a grudging admission that it was good. Then he offered a bit to her. While Diana was unable to imagine a mere eggplant dish might compare to her meal, she couldn't say no, not after Maia had tried it. Instead of passing the fork to her, as he had with Maia, Marco held it up, intent on feeding her, himself. There was something so intimate about the gesture, she found herself momentarily lost in his expectant gaze.

"It's actually pretty good, mom."

That snapped Diana out of her little trance, and she opened her mouth for the forkful of vegetable and cheese. Once she took a bite, all romantic thoughts were swept aside by the amazing symphony of flavor. A brief groan of pleasure escaped her as she chewed the delightful morsel.

"Like it?"

Her focus briefly returned to Marco, and she made a noise of assent, followed by little hand gestures of excitement.

He smiled knowingly. "I can switch with you, if you like."

Swallowing, she shook her head. "As tempting as that might be, that's what you wanted..."

"I don't mind."

She could tell from his expression that he really wouldn't, that he would happily give up this favorite thing for her, and, again, the sentiment moved her. "I'll stick with what I have, but I wouldn't mind another bite."

With a pleased smile, he offered her another forkful, which she enjoyed as much as the last.


Once their meal was over, they ordered desserts, though Diana was too full for anything more than a gelato and a cappuccino. As they waited, Marco seemed to grow uncomfortable, until the band began playing another waltz.

He turned to her with an uncertain smile. "Diana, would you...like to dance?"

Despite her full stomach, somehow, she couldn't say no. Besides, she wanted to know what it was like to dance with him.

Leading her down to join the other waltzing couples, he confidently took her in his arms and started swirling her around the floor. Although she hadn't waltzed many timed in her life, with him in the lead, it seemed like child's play. She had managed to avoid saying anything before, but now she couldn't help herself. "I didn't know you knew how to dance."

Plainly holding back a smile, he explained, "When I was an undergrad, there was a big swing club at my university...mostly math and science majors. I joined for the fun of it, and...in hopes of meeting girls."

"And how did that work out for you?" Her bland tone belied the eyebrow she raised in faux disdain.

"Not too well," he confessed with a laugh. "Lots of ladies liked to dance with me, but...they always went home with someone else." Shrugging, he added, "Unlike the other big brains in the Theory Room, I was born to this." His mockingly superior tone softened into sincerity. "My mother, she was...kind of particular. Refused to raise a child who didn't appreciate the finer things in life, and...waltzing was at the top of the list."

"Sounds like a great mom."

"She was."

Although Marco was certainly old enough to have lost a parent, Diana hadn't been aware of it, one of the many basic details she didn't know about him. "Oh, I'm so sorry."

"It's all right." There was a hint of sadness in his voice, but it was not for himself. "Besides, you know what it's like."

"Losing one, yes. Having a great one...not so much."

There was a brief crease between his brows. "Wanna talk about it?"

She gave him what she hoped was a reassuring smile. "Nah, I'd rather dance." And they did. There was something oddly liberating about it, and she found herself laughing quietly as he twirled her and bowed at the end. She even wrapped her arm around his as they made their way back to their table to find an impatient Maia. Their desserts had been delivered, but her daughter had politely not begun hers without them.

Marco had ordered the tiramisu, and, again, he offered her a bite of his. This time, she did accept his offer to trade; his dessert went so much better with her cappuccino.

Once Marco had paid for the meal, Regina arrived to see them out and make sure they'd enjoyed themselves. Maia gushed about the band as Marco retrieved their coats. This time, Diana stood in front of him with a teasingly impatient look as a way of expressing that she expected him to help her into her coat. Maia noticed and imitated her, eliciting a wry comment about classy ladies from an observing Tony.

On the way back, Maia fell asleep, leaving Diana and Marco to drive home to the sounds of Sinatra. Reflecting on the evening, Diana couldn't avoid the feeling of contentment that washed over her. Why had she put off going out with Marco?


Much to her surprise and embarrassment, Diana later found herself being awakened by Marco near her apartment. She had fallen asleep! The food and wine had certainly made her drowsy, but she hadn't fallen asleep in a car since she was a kid. To do so required a certain faith in the driver that she'd never been able to muster once she'd gotten a license, herself.

"What should we do with Maia?" he whispered, unaware of the remarkable revelation she'd just had about her trust in him.

Looking back at her sleeping daughter, Diana could tell Maia would probably not wake up. "Think you can carry her?"

"You sure?" Apparently Marco thought it was a big deal, and it was, though much less so than her falling asleep while he drove.

"Yeah."

With some effort, together they managed to remove her sleeping daughter from the back seat. Marco carried Maia on one hip, and she put her arms around his neck without waking. Being late, Marco hadn't found a particularly good place to park on the street, but if carrying Maia so far was a strain, he gave no hint of it. With a poorly hidden smile, Alberto nodded to them as they passed his station on their way to the elevators.

Marco carried Maia all the way to bed, then he left so Diana might help her daughter into pajamas. After getting Maia under the covers, Diana returned to her living room to find Marco standing in the front hall. He held out his hands with an almost shy smile, mutely offering to remove her coat. Naturally, she indulged him. This time, instead of sensuality, his attentions filled her with a sense of comfort. There was no denying, despite her independent inclinations, that she could get very used to such treatment.

"I had a great time tonight." And she wasn't afraid to admit it.

"Well...so long as you know I can't swing that too often." There was humor in his tone.

When Diana turned around to watch him hang up her coat, she couldn't help noticing he made no move to remove his. "You don't want to stay?"

"Of course I do, but...you and Maia aren't the only ones who are sleepy." He shrugged with a self-conscious grin. "If I were to stay for too long, I...I'm not sure I'd be able to make it home."

"Oh..." Though it pleased her that he hadn't made any assumptions about how the evening would end, she couldn't help but be disappointed that he wouldn't be staying for a while. "In that case," she smiled slyly, "I should make sure you're fully awake before you go." Wrapping her hands around the nape of his neck, she pulled him into a kiss, and this time she ignored his glasses.

There was something refreshingly honest about his kiss. He made no attempt to seduce her or impress her with his romantic skills; for him, it seemed to be purely about the pleasure of the experience. Of all the men she'd been involved with in her life, none had conveyed such reverence, as though kissing her was an exquisite joy worthy of veneration. Settling his hands on her back as if they were slow dancing, he drew her close, and she didn't feel crowded in his cozy embrace.

At last, they parted, and she found herself oddly satisfied by the blush she'd put on his cheeks. She was beginning to contemplate asking him to spend the night when he let her go and reached for the door.

"I guess I'll...see you at work tomorrow."

She had completely forgotten it was a weeknight.

As he opened the door, she couldn't resist the urge to step closer and touch him, resting her hand on his arm. "You busy Friday night?" She said it lightly, not as though they'd just been kissing.

He paused with an insincerely thoughtful look in his eyes, as though he were reluctant to agree. Tapping his chin with a finger, he said, "I'll have to look at my calendar."

"Really?" She raised an eyebrow.

With an amused smirk, he shrugged with false indifference. "I suppose I could pencil you in."

"You do that."

With a nod and a wave, he started down the hall. "Good night, Diana."

"Good night," she replied, but, really, that didn't begin to cover their first real date. It had been so much more than good; it had been a beautiful evening.


Così questa è lei.--So this is her.

Siete troppo sottili.--You are too thin.

Ballo con me stasera.--Dance with me tonight.

Sera Bella--Beautiful Evening