So, as you will see the chapters are getting longer and longer as their silence vanishes. This is the first talk. I think someone reviewed that Nico is being chicken. I bet you won't say that anymore after this chapter. ;)

Chapter 9: The deal

Cooking dinner together and then eating it passed in relative silence. They only spoke when needed and only about the task at hand and nothing else. It wasn't uncomfortable, but more like truce. Every word more could set off a discussion they weren't ready to have before they both decided that now was the time to have it. It hadn't been agreed upon that they wouldn't talk, but the dinner making and eating kept their hands busy and gave them time to think about what to say and how to say it.

"You want coffee?" Nico asked while Dani was still drying the dishes.

"Yes, please," she replied and then fell silent again. A thousand thoughts were running through her head as she dried the plate and then put it in the cupboard. As a therapist she knew that sometimes totally honest conversations were the hardest and she wasn't sure she would like very much what Nico would tell her. He had told her already that he cared too much and that he didn't want to be her rebound guy. It hurt her that he thought she would use him in such a way, but at the same time she couldn't totally deny it. She wasn't sure what she was feeling and there was no way around telling him that.

"I'm taking the coffee to the living room," he told her and she knew her time to think was running out. Nervously she put the last pot away and then followed him into the living room where he was sitting on the couch sipping his Espresso. He had put her cup on the table next to where he was sitting, so she took the place on the couch next to him.

"Sooo, shall we begin?" she asked and didn't pick up her cup because she knew her shaking hands would give away how nervous she was. Nico turned his head and looked at her, giving her a brief nod.

"Can I start, because I need to get this out? I don't know if it will make things easier or more complicated, but I need to say this first," he pleaded with her.

"Of course," she said quietly, moved that whatever he had to say to her was so important that he would beg her so he could say it first. It also scared her even more. He placed his hand on her arm for a split second and squeezed it lightly before he got up and walked over to the large windows that went out to the patio and the beach. He had the cup still in his hands and looked outside for a moment, seemed to brace himself for whatever he had to say.

When he finally started speaking it was in a low voice and without looking at her. "I already told you earlier and I think you have known for a while now," he took a deep breath and turned around, facing her, before he went on. "I care a lot about you, Danielle. I don't know when exactly it happened that I wasn't simply intrigued by you anymore, but fell in love with you. I am in love with you," he told her and gave her a moment to fully understand what he had just told her. When her eyes widened and her lips formed a small o he knew that she had heard him. " I have been in love exactly three times before. The first woman was my first real girlfriend and a teenage love. The second one was my wife. Then there was Gabrielle. And now there's you. So far none of these love stories did have a happy ending for me and I can't say that I am happy about it, but I can live with it. My wife divorced me. It wasn't working anymore, for reasons I can tell you about later, if you want to know. Gabrielle was married to Marshall and we both knew that it wouldn't end well. Still, I let myself be strung along. It was my own fault and I am not blaming anyone but myself. However, I cannot do that again. I can let you go and watch you be happy with someone else while still being your friend. It's a hard thing to do, but I can do it. I'd rather have you in my life as a friend than not at all. But I cannot kiss you one day and fear that you will reconcile with Donnelly the next. For me it seems that at the moment you don't really know who you want or what you want. One moment you are my friend and the next you want to be my lover," he stopped and made a point by looking her in the eyes. "If you are with me, you are with me." He stopped again and took another deep breath, his voice getting quieter again when he spoke, because he had become more and more insistent during his speech. "I don't want a decision from you here and I am not giving you a dead line either. I just want you to know, so that you can understand why it is so hard for me to have you so close and not be able to kiss you or touch you. Especially knowing that you would probably let me do it and then regret it the next day. I couldn't stand it." Nico was done with his speech. He had just bared everything to her and Dani sat stunned on the couch and thought about what to say. She wanted to run to him and kiss him until he forgot everything as much as she wanted to cry for everything he had just told her.

"I don't know what I'm feeling anymore Nico," she decided to go with the brutal and honest truth. "I am attracted to you. I dream about you and I want to be with you so much at times that I can't help it. That is why I kissed you. I wanted to kiss you, it's as simple as that. I want to hug you and soothe you when you hurt, I want to kiss you good morning and goodbye and I want to snuggle up to you and let you hold me when I hurt. At the same time I miss Matt and the fact that it was the reasonable thing to end our relationship, doesn't mean that I don't love him anymore. I had such a great time with him that at times I am doubting my decision not to have more kids, just so that I would have him in my life again. But that's not how it works. You're the one who always believes in me and who is always there. I trust you with everything I have, my kids lives if it comes down to it. I can't say that for Matt... but I still want him," she shrugged helplessly, her voice shaking under the emotions and her eyes filled with tears.

"Don't cry, Dani," he said and came back to her on the couch.

"I'm just.. so sorry," she said and started to cry for real.

"Hey, come here," he said and pulled her in his arms and held her, rubbing her back until she had calmed down a bit.

"Is this ok?" she asked him and pulled a bit back, still hiccuping.

"It's fine," he assured her and pulled her back in his arms. "I still want to kiss you, but at the moment I have enough self control not to do it. You're hurting," he explained.

"So, I can still get a hug from my old friend Nico at times?" she asked him and pulled back again, this time with a small, shaky smile on her face.

"I'm usually not a big hugger," he smiled back and wiped a last tear away from her cheek, before he tried to pull away.

"See, small gestures like this one make it hard to resist," she told him honestly and kept his hand pressed against her cheek for a moment, by covering his hand with hers.

"Same here, but we wouldn't do us a favor," he pointed out.

"I know," she agreed and let go of his hand. She turned and sat sideways on the couch, her head propped up on her hand against the back of the couch. "Tell me about your first wife," she requested then.

"Well," he said and mirrored her position, "we met just before I joined the Navy. She was a College student at the time. We met at a party, nothing special. Went out for a coffee, then started dating. After a year and a half of dating I proposed and she said yes. She finished her architecture studies while I was climbing the ranks of the Navy. I became a seal when we were married for two years. She wanted kids, a family, but I was gone most of the time. When I was home I was trying to forget what I had seen or done. I wasn't exactly in the right head space for having kids. One day I came home and she told me she was pregnant. It wasn't mine. She had fallen for a colleague and we decided to get a divorce. She married him as soon as we were divorced and they are still married, have three kids, a dog and a nice home," he told his story.

"Weren't you angry that she cheated on you?" Dani asked.

"I couldn't feel much at the time. PTSD had me in its grasp that I didn't feel anything for years. The medication you get as a seal so you're able to do certain ops is also designed to keep you calm and not let you feel much. It didn't help matters," Nico explained.

"Did you still love her?"

"Probably, I don't know. Once I really understood that she was gone she had already re-married and was pregnant with their second child." He talked about it in a way that made it clear that he was over it.

"You're still in contact?"

"From time to time, yes. She's the one who decorated my apartment as an interior designer," he replied. Dani knew that he must still trust her if he let her into his apartment. "What about you and your ex-husband?"

"Oh god," Dani gave him a sarcastic laugh. "I was pregnant before we even really started dating." she said. "First love, teenagers, hormones and a mother who forbid meeting him. Sneaking around behind her back was so romantic," she remembered. "Until I was suddenly pregnant with Ray Jay."

"Oops," Nico grinned and made her giggle.

"Exactly, oops. We got married before Ray Jay came and I was pregnant again before we celebrated our two year anniversary. God, that was a mess," she shook her head. "Two kids playing house with a baby involved and one on the way."

"Did you have any help?" Nico wanted to know.

"Not really. My mother had my younger sister to take care of and Ray was off at College. But maybe it was better that way, because I had to grow up. It made me work harder, so I could still get my College degree, even with two kids. Ray worked at a diner to get some money and I studied at night when the kids were in bed."

"And once you both were done with your education?"

"Financially it got better. We bought the house and could afford a comfortable lifestyle. Emotionally it was... I guess we weren't unhappy but I can't say we were in love. Ray cheated, I buried myself in work and we lived together, but not with each other, if you know what I mean." Nico nodded. "Maybe that's why it was so easy for me to throw him out once I was ready to see what had been right in front of my eyes for all this time."

"So you don't regret it?"

"No, not at all. It's just... I'm not used to being alone, you know. That's why I talked to the fish when it's just the kids and me. Even if Ray didn't listen most of the time, there was still someone there who kept me from realizing how lonely I was in the marriage," she admitted.

"It makes having friends so much more important," Nico knew.

"I think maybe that's also the reason why I chose the profession as a therapist. I could help others fix things, that I couldn't fix, because I wasn't willing to see the problem in the first place." It was the first time she had spoken that thought aloud. "Why did you join the Navy?" she asked then.

"It's pretty simple: My father was in the Navy and so I wanted to join the Navy as well."

"Was he a seal as well?"

"My dad? God no. He wouldn't have survived hell week," Nico replied and flinched slightly at the thought.

"What's hell week?"

"It's a week during the training where they deprive you of sleep and ride you the hardest. Only if you get through it you are allowed to start the Basic Underwater demolition training."

"How man get through hell week?" Dani was truly curious now. She had heard things about the Navy Seals and had a basic idea of what they were doing, but she didn't know much about their training.

"About 80% are gone after hell week. Only a few make it to the end," he informed her.

"So what did your father do in the Navy?" she went back to the original question.

"He was a ship technician and served in Vietnam," Nico said. "He was one of the guys who only joined because of the money and the lack of other options. He wasn't cut out for the Navy or war. He was good at the technical stuff and so they kept him once he got back from Vietnam, but he never went out for combat again. Until this day he changes the channel if he sees a report or news about a war."

"I guess he wasn't too fond of the idea of you serving as well," she guessed.

"No, but I needed to get away from home and he understood that," he said and elaborated when Dani looked questioningly at him questioningly. "I never had the best relationship with my mother. She wasn't a bad mother, just one who only accepted things her way. That was ok until I hit puberty. Once I had my own opinion about things it didn't work anymore. We were fighting about everything and nothing . That never changed , not even when she was already sick."

"She dead?" Dani wanted to know.

"Yeah, for 18 years now. Lung cancer. She was a heavy smoker."

"I'm sorry," Nico said and placed her hand in his on the back of the couch, squeezing his fingers.

"It's alright. As I said, we were never close," he replied and gave her a squeeze back. They were silent for a moment while their fingers remained linked and Dani softly stroked hers over his palm. Then nearly at the exact moment they realized what they were doing and both looked at their joined hands.

"I guess this isn't exactly 'just friends' behavior," Dani sighed and pulled her hand away.

"No," Nico agreed and stared at his now empty hand. He missed her touch already.

"I'm sorry, Nico, I really don't mean to lead you on. It's just... ," she stopped because she really didn't know how to explain it. "I'm sorry," she then said again.

"You don't have to apologize every time you touch me now. You're always talking with your hands and you're always touching people and comforting them. It's part of who you are and I don't want you to change," he told her with a soft look in his eyes. "But you know that the last months weren't easy for me and now that Marshall is dead... I'm a bit on the edge here and for me it's a very fine line between not enough and too much at the moment," he admitted and looked down for a second to hide the emotions in his eyes.

"How about this: the next time I get the urge to touch you or hold you , I will ask you first and you tell me honestly if it's ok or not?" she proposed, knowing that to anyone but them this arrangement would probably be completely ridiculous.

"Sounds like a plan," he nodded. He looked her in the eyes again and saw sympathy for him written all over her face.

"Not tonight, Dani," he shook his head lightly, knowing what she was asking without saying anything.

"You have to let yourself grieve at one point Nico, or it won't get better," she insisted.

"I know, but not tonight. I think I unloaded enough for a day," he replied and realized as he spoke how drained her felt from his declaration in the beginning. The talk about his past afterwards had been ok, because those ghosts didn't haunt him anymore. Telling her about his feelings though had exhausted him.

"We should get some rest, it's late," Dani said, guessing his thoughts.

"You want to go out for breakfast tomorrow morning? There's a small diner down the road. We past it when we got here," Nico offered, got up from the couch and stretched.

"It's probably a good idea for us to get out of this house for a while," she agreed.

"Good. Nine thirty ok?"

"Perfect. Goodnight Nico," she smiled and got up as well. Awkwardly they were standing in front of each other. It would feel weird just going to their rooms. Shaking hands was out of the question either. "Is it ok if I give you a good night kiss on the cheek?" Dani asked, sticking to their agreement.

"Yes," Nico replied and had to chuckle at the absurdity of the situation. He leaned down and placed a soft kiss on her cheek as she did the same.

"Sleep well," he wished her and returned the small wave she gave him when she stood in her bedroom door before she closed it. He switched off all the lights in the living room, poured her cold coffee down the drain in the kitchen and then went up to his room to get some sleep. Tomorrow was going to be another exhausting day, because they were far from being done talking.