A/N: Well, this is me, back by popular demand, and I mean that literally given the reaction I got to the concept on this sequel to 'Taking Care'. If you're here and you haven't read that story, you might want to do so, otherwise this fic might not make masses of sense to you! For those that did read the prequel, that was Season 1, this is Season 2, with my own unique twists, and much DaNico - enjoy! :)
Disclaimer: All recognisable characters from Necessary Roughness belong to other folks that aren't me.
"Wow!" Dani gasped in air as she fell back against the pillows of her bed. "If that's you not even bringing your A game, I'm gonna need to hit the gym just so I can keep up when you're back up to strength," she chuckled.
Nico did the same, as he landed next to her, breathing just as hard. His shoulder ached some but he barely noticed it amongst the euphoria. He and Dani had waited long enough to reach this stage in their relationship. He'd be damned if being shot a total of almost six weeks ago was going to keep him away from her any longer.
"Hey, not that I don't appreciate the ego boost given the circumstances," said Nico, wrapping his good arm around Dani and pulling her closer, "but I wasn't exactly doing all the work," he noted, kissing her bare shoulder.
"Mmm," she happily snuggled closer, resting her head on his chest. "Well, I've waited a long time to get you out of my guest room and into my bed," she admitted, sure she felt a blush rise in her cheeks even after everything they shared here today.
"Well, now you got me here, I'm happy enough to stay," he told her easily.
Dani knew there were two meanings to those words. Literally staying here together just like this would be so good. At the same time, she knew Nico was also referring to her proposal that he officially move in with her and the kids. That would lead to him sharing not just her home, but her room and her bed on a permanent basis. Dani still wanted that, she really, really did. Unfortunately, she hadn't quite gotten up the nerve to talk to Ray Jay and Lindsay about it yet. Dani sighed heavily.
"I don't know how the kids are gonna take it," she admitted. "I mean, they like you, I know they do," she continued, propping up her chin so she could look up at Nico. "What's not to like, right?" she smiled.
"Dani, I'm not perfect," he rolled his eyes, even though he was smiling right back at her for the sake of the compliment too. "Besides, it's going to be strange for them. The only man they ever had in the house before was their father, right?"
"Well, yeah," she considered. "But they've had you in the house for a while now too. No complaints so far."
"We talked about this before," he reminded her. "My being a guest here is very different to me moving in permanently. It'll change their perspective of me. One minute I'm a friend in need, and the next I'm... I'm gonna be the man who's trying to replace their father, Dani, even though that is not what I'm trying to do, at all."
She knew that already, of course she did. Nico was such a good guy to have thought about all this. She was sure she didn't deserve him to be so thoughtful and sweet. Dani was very grateful for the thought, even if he was pointing out all the flaws in her plan that she really liked. Nico moving in permanently ought to be so good, but he was right, it would be different when the kids started looking at him as potential step-father material rather than just good old Nico, friend of the family.
Nobody had ever specifically said Dani and Nico were dating. They had not talked about themselves, and they were never more than generally friendly in front of the kids. Dani had kissed Nico on the cheek once or twice in Ray Jay and Lindsay's view, hugged him as well, but that was all. They didn't act like lovers or boyfriend/girlfriend, and Dani wondered how much her teenage tearaways thought about the relationship between the two adults in the house.
"I'm gonna have to do the grown-up mother-kids talk thing again, aren't I?" she said, blowing her hair off her face.
"I think so, yeah," Nico agreed, helping her out with the troublesome hair that seemed determined to fall in her eyes. "If it helps, I can be there too, or I can be somewhere else if you'd prefer?"
"Oh no, you're gonna be there, mister!" she told him, poking a finger into his chest. "You just made the big mistake of offering to take some of the heat off me, so I'm gonna let you," she said definitely.
Nico smiled at that, might even have laughed if his mind wasn't already whirring with possibilities. The last thing he wanted to do was screw up with Dani, but how her kids took the news of his potentially moving in here could really blow this new relationship clean out of the water. As if they didn't have enough to worry about already. In a couple of days the new season would be starting up and free time would become scarce as they both got back to work. Nico hadn't really noticed that he'd sighed so heavily until Dani asked what it was for.
"I was just thinking about things, mostly work," he admitted. "You know there will be comments at the facility, about you and me?"
"So we'll be water cooler talk for a while, doesn't bother me," Dani waved away his concern with a flick of her hand. "What does worry me is you going back to work too soon. You sure you're ready?" she asked, looking seriously at him.
"Dani, I am more than ready to be doing something, anything after so long," Nico smiled. "You and the kids, you've looked after me so well, but honestly? I'm bored of sitting around. It's not me."
"I know," she smiled right back at him. "And I do love that you're all man of action as well as man of mystery," she admitted, eyes sparkling with fun and passion. "But y'know if you want something to do, you don't necessarily need work..."
She hadn't even finished the thought nevermind the sentence before he had her flat on her back, kissing her until she couldn't breathe. Sure, they had work to face in a couple of days, and the kids to deal with before that, but right now there was just Dani and Nico, alone together. The world could get lost for another hour... or two.
Dinner around the table was not always enforced, but tonight Dani knew it was necessary. The kids didn't seem like they wanted to argue the point, possibly because Nico had insisted on cooking. As much as Dani knew Ray Jay and Lindsay loved her food, there were certain dishes they particularly favoured when Nico was in the kitchen. Maybe they really liked them or maybe it was all just a novelty right now. Either way, she was glad to have them doing as she asked without complaint, and at the same time accepting her new man into their lives pretty easily.
What bothered Dani was that it was all going too well. As Nico had said, having him around as a guest was vastly different to him moving in as a permanent fixture. Though she hoped Ray Jay and Lindsay would be okay with it, Dani really didn't know for sure. They had been through so much already, with the divorce and everything. So many adjustments and now she was throwing one more onto the pile. Dani would've thought about backing out except she couldn't bear to. She loved Nico so much and after coming so close to losing him, she just could not stand the idea of taking things any slower.
"Last chance to change your mind," whispered Nico as he finished plating up the food in the kitchen.
"No. Definite negatory on the mind changing," she said with a shake of her head. "I want you to be here with me, Nico, with us. However tough it is for the kids, they will understand in the end. They have to, right?"
He couldn't answer that since he had no idea. Nico could only be hopeful as Dani was that Ray Jay and Lindsay took the news of his moving in well. There were no guarantees, especially with teenagers, that much Nico knew for sure.
Taking two plates each through to the table, the adults served the food to two grinning teens who immediately thanked them. Nico overstretched his arm putting down Lindsay's plate and winced just a little, enough for her to notice.
"Oh my God, are you okay?" she checked, with genuine concern apparently.
"I'm fine," he promised. "But thank you for asking."
They were good kids who had come to care about him, and that was still taking some getting used to. For all that Dani complained about them both sometimes, Nico always knew they couldn't be so bad, even before he met them. Dani was just such a great person, he didn't doubt she was a good mother, and he'd seen plenty of evidence of it these past few weeks. She had raised Ray Jay and Lindsay to be polite and courteous, grateful and caring. It was still a little strange to realise that they appreciated and liked Nico himself. He had expected to be met with resistance, but then, so far he had been a temporary guest, and an injured one at that. All this was about to change in the blink of an eye and though he perhaps didn't show it, he shared Dani's apprehension in telling the kids about his moving in permanently.
The four started to eat, and each Santino took a turn at complimenting the food. Ray Jay expressed a wish to eat this well every night, at which Dani's eyes widened.
"Not that your food isn't awesome, Ma, seriously," he back-pedalled at lightning speed. "I just meant..."
"I know what you meant, and it's fine," she assured him, patting his hand. "I'm glad you like Nico's food. It's been fun having him here, right?" she tried, looking from her son to her daughter with too wide a smile.
"Sure, yeah," Lindsay agreed, her fork stopping half way to her mouth.
Something wasn't right here and she knew it. Her Mom was smiling too much, and Nico was suddenly looking very shifty. For all that he was supposed to be this man of mystery, he never did look shifty in front of them, not that Lindsay saw. She looked to her brother at last and Ray Jay frowned. He clearly agreed that something odd was happening.
"So, the thing is... well, as you know Nico is getting better now," Dani began at last. "He's done all his resting and his careful exercises, and it's gotten to a point where he doesn't really need us to take care of him anymore," she smiled bravely, unsure moment by moment how the kids would react.
"Does that mean you're moving out?" asked Ray Jay, though his expression was unreadable throughout.
It left both Dani and Nico wondering if the question were hopeful or filled with disappointment. The young Santino was giving nothing away.
"That's kind of what I wanted to talk to you kids about," his mother told him then, glad of Nico's hand that crept across the table and grabbed hold of hers, squeezing tightly. "How would you kids feel if Nico didn't move out? If instead, he properly moved in?"
There was an awkward pause, a silence that seemed to go on for hours in Dani's mind though she knew in reality it couldn't have been more than a minute. She looked from Ray Jay to Lindsay and back, whilst the kids seemed to be training their surprised expressions on their plates or each other only. When it seemed clear neither knew what to say, Dani was a little startled to realise Nico was now talking.
"Look, I know this has to be strange for you two," he told the kids. "You don't know me that well yet, and it probably seems as if I'm trying to push into your lives, take over from your Dad or something. I need you both to know, that's not something I would ever want to do," he said definitely, as both Ray Jay and Lindsay stared at him. "You have a father, and a mother that loves you more than anything else in the world," he stated what he knew to be a true fact, making tears come to Dani's eyes though she couldn't explain why. "She will always be your mother first and everything else second. I wouldn't ever want to change that, but I do love Dani too, and if we could all find away to work this out together, well, that'd be great," he smiled genuinely. "But if you two really don't want me here, if it's going to make you uncomfortable or anything, I want you to say so. I promise, nobody is going to think less of you or be mad at you for being honest."
"That's right," Dani nodded once, swallowing hard then as emotion overtook her.
That was quite a speech Nico just made, and it proved how much he cared about Dani that he would be so worried about her kids opinion of him and their feelings in this new situation. In that moment more than ever, Dani knew she had made exactly the right move when she chose to get closer to this man.
"Okay," Lindsay nodded then. "I mean, yeah, I guess if you wanna move in for real, that'd be okay. Right, Ray Jay?" she said with just a little apprehension, looking to her brother for approval.
"Sure, yeah," he shrugged in agreement. "You're here anyway, what's the diff?" he said, looking to Nico.
The fixer was happy enough to be accepted, to realise Dani was now laughing in relief and thanking her kids for being so accepting. What bothered him was the way Ray Jay looked away so fast, the way he shifted in his seat and avoided eye contact with anyone. Nico believed Lindsay was okay with his moving in, at least as much as any teenager would be in her situation. Ray Jay was a different story. He was agreeing because Lindsay was, because he knew it was what Dani wanted, but Nico suspected he was not entirely happy.
Right now wasn't the time to bring it up. Maybe he wouldn't have to at all. There was every chance Ray Jay would think things over and realise the situation wasn't as bad as he thought or something. Still, Nico kept in mind that if there was going to be any trouble it was going to be with the boy who had seen himself as the man of the house this past year or more, and probably wasn't too happy about having his position usurped.
"That went better than I thought," Dani whispered to Nico, and he smiled as she kissed his cheek.
Maybe it had gone well and he was just being paranoid, but that was the way Nico was, and he had his reasons for it. There was no way in hell this was all going to be smooth sailing. It was purely wishful thinking on Dani's part that let her believe otherwise.
To Be Continued...