"You've reached Kate Moretti. I can't answer my phone right now. Leave a message and I'll get back to you as soon as I can." The beep sounded, and Daniel realized he didn't know what to say.
He panicked and hung up, then stared at the phone and dialed again. The message played and the beep sounded, and Daniel hesitated for a moment before he started talking. "Ah... it's, uh, it's me. Daniel. Um, I—I've been thinking, and—and I—hah—I haven't been very, um—I've been sort of, ah, grumpy... and... I'm trying to say—well, I, uh, I'm sorry. So... I—you know how to find me. If you want. Or—you don't have to. Uh... okay. Bye." He hung up and laid down on the bed, certain that was the most incoherent message he'd ever left.
He fell asleep worrying that she would never talk to him again.
Kate watched her phone dance on the desk. Daniel's name flashed on the screen, but she didn't answer. What could she say that she hadn't already said? He didn't even bother to leave a voicemail. She went back to her paperwork and had gotten through half a section when her phone rang again. She frowned at it and turned it over, ignoring him. It stopped, and thirty seconds later, it buzzed twice. He'd left a message this time.
Kate sighed and listened to the message. He sounded as if every word were a knife, poised to cut him if he made a wrong move. He'd clearly had trouble leaving that message, but it was an apology, and an apology from Daniel was not to be trivialized.
Still, Kate had no idea what to do. She'd hoped when she'd left that he'd go home and get some rest. He was on edge from going so long without sleep, and she hoped that maybe he'd be more reasonable after he was rested. If he was sleeping, she didn't want to wake him, but if he wasn't—well, she didn't get off work for another couple of hours anyway, and she could check on him then.
The hours crawled by, and the moment she was free to leave, Kate packed up and called Max's cell phone.
"Max Lewicki," he answered.
Kate got in the elevator and pushed the button for the ground floor. "Max, it's Kate. Are you at home?"
"Yeah, I just got back. Why?"
Kate bit her lip. "Do you know if Daniel's asleep?"
"I don't know. Let me check." There was silence on Max's end as he went to check on Daniel. Kate gnawed the inside of her lip anxiously as she got off the elevator and walked to the parking garage. "He's asleep. Do you want me to wake him up?"
"No, leave him," she said. "Is it okay if I come over? I need to talk to him."
"Sure," Max said. "I've got papers to grade, but I'll leave the front door unlocked for you."
"Thanks," Kate said. She hung up and got in the car, hoping she could get through Daniel's thick skull this time.
Kate's voice brought Daniel out of his shallow slumber. His eyes snapped open, and there was Kate, standing in his doorway with a steaming cup of tea. She set the tea on his night table and sat on the edge of the bed. He stared at her, trying to figure out why she'd come over and made him tea, and, more importantly, why she was looking at him like she was, all sad and apologetic and nice.
"How are you feeling?" she asked as he sat up.
"I'm f—" He stopped, struck with the epiphany that 'I'm fine' was very much a cop-out on his part. "I'm alright," he said instead.
"I got your message," she said.
"Oh, you did. I, uh, I'm sorry—it wasn't very well put-together." He ran a hand through his hair sheepishly.
"It's okay," she said. "I'm just glad you're feeling better."
He gave her half a smile. "Yeah. Sorry about—you know—earlier." He shook himself mentally. Now that he'd apologized to her once, he felt like he couldn't stop apologizing.
"Daniel—" Kate stopped short and a set of little wrinkles appeared between her eyebrows. "I think... I think you need to take a break," she said.
Daniel frowned. "What do you mean?"
"You're stressed," Kate said. "You haven't been sleeping. I think you need to take a break from case work for a few weeks."
Daniel was hurt, but he wasn't totally surprised. She'd seen him crack, and she'd put on a brave face, but now it was faltering. She was afraid of him, afraid of what would happen if she stayed and he got worse. "Okay," he said.
Kate didn't seem satisfied with his answer. "What's wrong?" she asked.
"Nothing," he said. "I'm fine."
Kate pressed her lips into a thin line. Daniel realized what he'd said, but it was too late to take it back. "I don't want anything to happen to you, Daniel. I'm not blind, you know. You've been sleeping less and less the past few weeks, and it shows. You've been irritable, jumpy, anxious—I don't want you to get overwhelmed."
"I'm a big boy," Daniel said defensively. "I can handle myself."
"I'm sure you can, but you don't have to," Kate said.
Of course he had to. He'd had to for the last two decades.
You didn't listen, Natalie's voice echoed in his mind.
He heard Kate's voice follow quickly behind. I'm trying to help... I care about you, okay?
He'd had to handle himself for the last two decades, but maybe he didn't have to now. He stared at Kate and he realized that she really did care about him, and not just the parts of him she understood. His stomach turned and he noticed just how close she was, her warm brown eyes locked with his. "Kate..." he said, and his voice was a lot rougher than he'd intended.
He wasn't sure who moved first, but one moment he was transfixed by the woman in front of him, and the next moment they were kissing. He held her close, one hand on her back and the other behind her head. Her hands made their way into his hair, tugging him closer. It was passionate, but not crushing, a thank-you and an expression of relief.
"Daniel," Kate said, her voice barely more than a murmur. Her eyes were fixed on him and her hands rested on his chest.
He brushed his fingers against her cheek. He could feel it, deeper and stronger even than his condition, this feeling for her that was slow and even and so unlike the quick and wild passion of his younger years. It was strange, this deep-seated desire for nothing more than to have her around, to see her every day, to make her a cup of coffee or let her make him a cup of tea.
He suddenly stiffened and pulled away, releasing her from his arms. She wanted him to take a break from case work, and he was afraid now that he wouldn't see her. "I don't—I don't want to stop working w-with you."
Kate brushed his hair back down with her fingers. "You're overworking yourself. I don't want anything to happen to you if I can help it."
"But we could go to dinner," she said hopefully.
Daniel's first instinct was to turn her down, but in light of the last five minutes, he gave her a hesitant smile. "Sure."
A/N: Thanks a million to my beta, as always, because she's awesome and brilliant and wonderful. This concludes this particular story, and as you can clearly see, Daniel and Kate live happily ever after. As usual, thanks for your reviews. Some of them have been positively lovely.