Marshall Pittman's final act of revenge before he died was to send the tapes from the wire taps to Gabrielle. Let the games begin.
Timeline: Begins evening of the season finale except that the package for Dani never arrived with the tapes in it, resulting in Nico not having an excuse to go over to her house that night, so technically nothing has happened between Nico and Dani yet. Dani does not yet know Marshall is dead.
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Danielle Santino froze mid-bite as she listened to the deceptively sweet voice of Gabrielle Pittman on her voicemail while eating breakfast.
"Hello Danielle, I just thought you might like to know that Marshall sent me the original tapes from the wire taps. Don't worry though, I'm prepared to negotiate with you. Lets see. I'll allow your patients to maintain their privacy, as long as you keep your hands off Nico. Maintain your professional relationship with him but nothing further. No friendship, no relationship. Clear enough? I hope so, wouldn't want any of your patients sessions to 'accidentally' leak to the press. Oh, and just one more thing, let's keep this little arrangement between us, no need to upset Nico. I've got compromising material on him too if you get any funny ideas in your head. Keep in mind that he's going through enough right now, I just told him that they found Marshall's body. He's dead. So Nico is dealing with the death of his best friend and all that. I'll be in touch."
Dani struggled to breathe, dragging ragged gasps of air through her rapidly tightening throat. Mercifully her children had already left for school, she didn't want them to see her fall apart. No matter how hard she tried she couldn't get enough oxygen into her system. Her skin was hot to the touch. She was burning up, suffocating, dying. Heart racing, she told herself everything was okay, that there was nothing to panic about. But the vice grip around her neck didn't listen, it continued to stop any air from getting through to her tingling limbs. She collapsed onto a stool, head in hands and elbows leaning on the island in the middle of the room. The kitchen was bright and cheerful but the chaos swirling around her obliterated every ounce of tranquility it usually brought her. She was not sure anything would ever be able to make her feel safe again.
Forcing years of therapy training into action she slowly relaxed each muscle group in her body, tensing them briefly, then releasing them. Breathing through her nose while counting to six, then breathing out on a count of four, Dani slowed down her heart rate until she was able to think clearly again. She tried to be logical about her situation. Gabrielle Pittman was not the type to make empty threats. What didn't make sense was why she felt a need to tell her to keep away from Nico. Frowning in confusion, Dani started a text message to Nico, hoping to get clarity before remembering Gabrielle's sickly sweet demand that they keep the 'arrangement' between the two of them.
As a therapist she knew that the best way to deal with a bully was to report them to the correct authorities in spite of any emotional blackmail. But she had a higher responsibility to her patients. Nico was her friend, and her personal life would suffer if she had to cut him out, but Gabrielle held the power to destroy her entire career. Not to mention the power to expose her clients deepest, darkest secrets. Rubbing her temples with two fingers, she tried to fight the migraine she felt coming on. Gabrielle had pushed her too far this time.
In spite of her momentary panic attack, Danielle Santino was not the sort of person who let bullies push her around. Somehow, she needed to get those tapes out of Gabrielle's hands. But it seemed that she would have to find a way to make that happen without the help of Nico. He was always there to protect her when she needed him. This time he was in trouble and she wasn't sure if he even knew what Gabrielle was planning. All she knew was that there was no way she would let Gabrielle have the final say. That woman was going down, no matter what it took.
Taking a few more deep breaths, Dani went upstairs to take a scalding hot shower, dressed in her favorite power-suit, checked her make-up, then made her way to the central office. She rushed down the hallway, heels clicking briskly on the linoleum. The clock on her cellphone cheerfully informed her that she was running five minutes late for the meeting. She resisted the urge to throw it at the wall. The thing had been nothing but trouble all day.
Matt was the first to notice her when she walked into the office, his eyes meeting hers squarely with a mix of pain, regret, and anger. It was overkill really, the way Matt tried to make her feel guilty every time he saw her. Especially considering the way he had chosen to break the emotional attachment between them. Coach barely spared her a glance before resuming his constant frowning over stacks of papers and player names.
Nico stood stoically at the side of the room, his gaze even and guarded. Which made her question yet again what exactly it had been that Gabrielle thought there was between the two of them. He barely blinked when she entered a room. He certainly didn't have any feelings for her beyond that of a coworker and friend.
"Well, look who finally decided to join us," quipped the coach sarcastically. The slight grin that tipped the edge of his mouth took the bite out of his words as Nico gestured to a chair for Dani to occupy. Tall, dark, and dangerous looked slightly more disheveled than usual. He was missing his usual leather jacket and attired in a simple black button down shirt and dark grey trousers. Although both were immaculately pressed and creased in all the correct places, probably due to his military background, the purple bags under his eyes could not be hidden. Dani felt a surge of sympathy rush through her as she saw the pain he kept out of his eyes written in the lines and shadows on his unshaven face.
"We have a situation." Matt rolled his eyes dramatically causing Nico to turn the full intensity of his impassive gaze on him, daring him to continue taking making light of his favorite phrase. "Marshall Pittman's body was located early this morning. He is dead. My sources tell me Gabrielle Pittman has the wire tap tapes from Marshall, and as of yet I have been unable to convince her to hand them over." He spoke the word 'convince' with the same tone as someone would use when speaking of a particularly despicable species of cockroach. Dani felt a wave of relief flood through her body at his words. He knew about Gabrielle having the tapes. Everything was going to be okay. Well once Nico got therapy over losing his best friend.
"I am using all available resources to recover the tapes, however at this point I feel it is necessary to ask you all to begin preparing for the worst. If there is anything from the past few months that has happened within this building without my knowledge, now would be an appropriate time to inform me so I can do damage control." If Dani hadn't known any better that would have sounded like the speech of a man admitting defeat. But Nico never gave up. Not without a fight. The fact that he was now, made her concerned that the death of Marshall was hitting him even harder than she had expected. She had known they were best friends and had fought together in battle, but it seemed she had underestimated how deep the bond went.
Matt ran his fingers through his hair and shrugged at Dani before looking over at Nico, "Well there were a couple of times Dani and I, you know..." Dani gasped at the flippant tone in his voice given the seriousness of the situation, taking note of the acrimony she could see on Nico's face through her peripheral vision. By the time she turned to face Nico fully his mask was back in place, no hint of underlying emotion remaining.
"I can assure you Donnally, your extracurricular activities would be news to no-one, given your 'intimate' relationship with the press." The hard, callous tone in Nico's voice sent chills through the bones of even the thick-skinned Matt, who raised his hands in submission and plastered an innocent look on his face.
"Hey, you asked," Matt finally caught on to Nico's dangerous mood and shut up as Nico shot him a withering glance before continuing. Dani could feel her cheeks growing warm and was not sure if it was from embarrassment at Matt's airing of her personal life, or anger that Matt thought it was okay to make wise cracks about their relationship. She looked down at her fingers and proceeded to push down the cuticles of her normally perfect nails.
"I have ensured that there is an injunction in place which will send anyone who publishes anything covered by confidentiality laws from the tape to prison for a long time. I also have a team of the best hackers combing the internet continuously who will ensure if Gabrielle attempts to put anything online it will be removed instantly." He paused and took a deep breath before continuing.
"If you all don't mind, I think it would be in everyone's best interests to keep the matter from the players for as long as possible. I have concerns that their reactions upon hearing might make the situation more volatile than it already is. That's all I have to say for now. I'll let you know when there is any progress on the situation." He checked a buzzing on his phone and his face darkened. Tilting his head towards the door, he gestured for Dani to leave with him.
"Doctor Santino, if I could speak to you privately." Dani looked up from her nails to see a hint of anger peeking through Nico's mask as he gazed in her direction. Nodding but squinting at him curiously, she followed him out of the room, waving goodbye to an annoyed looking Matt. The coach barely noticed them leaving, too caught up in his own world. He trusted Nico to take care of everything, he was simply paid to build a winning team and he would prefer to keep the players as sheltered as possible. For once, he and Nico were in agreement.
Nico walked in silence until they reached her car, Dani struggling to keep up with the pace of his wide strides. His face was stormy as he held open the door for her to get in. Remembering Gabrielle's warning to keep away from Nico she tried to protest,
"Nico, I've got a lot of things to deal with today, is this something that can wait?" He shook his head no, and stood immovable as a stone wall holding her door open until she climbed in. He climbed into the passenger seat, the violence of his emotions radiating throughout the small car.
"Drive." It was an imperative, spoken in the tone hundreds of men had not dared to disobey on battlefields in years gone by. She could do nothing but obey his command, not daring to ask him for an explanation for his erratic behavior. She could only hope that she was not breaking Gabrielle's list of rules about keeping her hands off Nico.
A tense silence began to build up in the car between them, interrupted only by Nico's impassive driving directions. Dani watched the minutes slowly tick over on the radio LED clock, glancing over at Nico's furious face every few seconds and wondering when he would finally crack and tell her what had him so angry. His emotions were not purely about Marshall Pittman's death, they seemed much more personal, and terrifyingly, they seemed directed at her. Eventually Nico demanded that she pull into a rest stop just off the freeway.
Quietly, he spoke in a voice full of barely contained fury, glaring at her across the narrow space that separated their seats. "Doctor Santino, have I ever given you reason not to trust me?"