A/N: Loving all the reviews, thank you sooo much! And on we go...
(For disclaimer, etc - see chapter 1)
When Coach asked Dani to talk to Ryan Norton, the man on the team that they called Rhino thanks to his bulk and power on the field, she hadn't expected him to really become a client. He had a weight issue, that was more for a physical doctor to look into rather than a therapist like herself, but when Rhino insisted he wasn't eating all that much, it made her wonder what was really going on. He had to be in some kind of denial given the degree to which he was over-weight, and piling on the pounds all the time. It still seemed like it wouldn't be that hard to figure out, but the more she talked to Rhino the more Dani realised this was way more serious than they first thought. He was putting himself at risk by playing sports at his size. There were family stresses as well as work stresses, and it all needed figuring out over several sessions. She arranged for Rhino to bring his new wife and step-son to the office for a good long chat about the situation. Unfortunately, the only time they could make it coincided completely with picking Jeanette up from the airport.
"I really hate to ask you this, Nico, but..." she began, not needing to finish for him to know where she was going.
"You want me to pick up Jeanette," he stated rather than asked, already sure he was right. "Of course, that's no problem," he assured her, being the sweetheart Dani always knew he was beneath the dark mysterious stranger vibe that he showed the world.
Nico could've done without this particular little assignment and they both knew it. He had already admitted to not knowing Jeanette well and not particularly liking what he had seen so far. Dani knew he would try for her sake if nothing else, and she had already asked Jeanette to be on her best behaviour around Nico. If her BFF and her man could just get along civilly, that would be enough for Dani, at least for now.
Settling back into her usual armchair, she faced Rhino, his wife, and step-son, Ethan, on the couch opposite. It was the clear the little boy had a bit of a weight problem too, and Dani wondered if there was a connection there. It was highly likely there was one between the people on her couch being newly joined up as a family and the over-eating that was going on, however unconscious it seemed to be. She needed to focus on what was to be done here, and yet her mind kept wandering a little.
Jeanette's plane would be landing any minute now, her best friend would be here for six whole weeks! That thrilled Dani, even if she wasn't sure what impact said visit might yet have on her own relationship with Nico. At least it might help Lindsay to have another woman around that wasn't her Mom, and maybe even Ray Jay would want to be in the house more when Aunt J was here.
Shaking her head free of her own stuff, Dani concentrated again on the task at hand, on Rhino, his weight problem and his new family too.
"Okay," she smiled at each of them. "Let's get started."
"No, I need to talk to somebody about this. Now!" said Nico forcefully.
He almost never felt the need to shout, it was all about the tone of voice for the most part, and when that failed, well, he had his ways. Somehow, this particular task that he had in mind was proving tougher than he could ever have guessed. Messing around with the IRS was always ill-advised but this was for Dani, and he would do his damnedest to help her out, no matter what. Such a fact was proven by the way he was stood here now, in a jam-packed airport, waiting to meet a woman he would rather not be seeing.
It was very unfair of Nico to judge Jeanette on the one night he had seen her at the Hawks' Charity auction, but he was a man that pinned a lot on first impressions. His instincts rarely failed him, and so he had learnt to trust in them. Now he had to force them aside and listen to what Dani was telling him instead. After all, she had known Jeanette since high school and the two of them had always been 'BFF' as she put it. Nico couldn't just dismiss that. Even he had to be wrong about people sometimes.
"Hey, handsome man!"
The yell went up from just beyond the doors and Nico spun around to see a woman that was all blonde hair and European tan, waving at him like a crazy person. Embarrassed didn't even begin to cover it, but as always the fixer took it in his stride, showing no hint of his mortification when he walked over and met Jeanette half way.
"Nico Careles. I've heard so much about you lately," she said, every word as suggestive as she could make it somehow.
"Hello, Ms Fiero," he greeted her politely, not quite ready for the way she pounced on him, throwing her arms around his neck.
"Hey, why so formal?" she asked as she hugged him. "You're living with my Santino clan, bubba. That makes you and me practically family."
"I guess it does, in a way," he agreed awkwardly, patting her on the back and hoping she let go soon - thankfully she did just that, still grinning. "Let me help you with your luggage. The car is out front," he explained, determined to get on with the business of getting out of the airport as fast as possible.
Nico had more calls to make, business to take care of, and honestly, getting away from Jeanette was job one. She would be that much easier to handle with Dani as a buffer between them. Alone together, Nico was just very uncomfortable right now. He half expected Jeanette to dive on him, or the nearest alternative male, every five seconds. So far she hadn't exactly proven him wrong.
Nico put all the bags into the back of the car, and there were plenty of them to fit in. He was gentleman enough to open the passenger door for Jeanette to get into the car and then climbed into the driver's side. They were half way home before either of them spoke again, and even then it wasn't Nico that prompted a conversation.
"So, you don't like me," she said matter-of-factly.
Nico smiled slightly at her observance and straight-to-the-point attitude. He at least respected her for that already.
"I don't really know you all that well yet," he told her, never taking his eyes off the road.
"'Yet' being the operative word," Jeanette grinned in a way that would probably be scary to any regular guy.
Nico had the advantage of being a former Navy SEAL. He wasn't as easily terrified by forward women as some. He'd seen real danger and felt genuine fear. This was nothing by comparison.
"Y'know, I meant what I said about us being family," she said then, that much softer than she had been in the airport or even in the car when she first tried to get him talking. "Dan's like a sister to me, and those kids of hers? Love 'em to death!" she declared openly. "Ray was... he was an okay guy, I thought he and Dani would make it, but he just got douchier as he got older. Then there was Matt the trainer guy, and for a while I thought maybe he'd be a good fit with my Santinos but nuh-uh," she shook her head. "You I don't know so well, but I do know how Dani feels about you, Nico. You should hear some of things she's told me. Well, actually you shouldn't, sanctity of the sisterhood and all that stuff," she giggled like a teen. "But she loves you, I know she does, and she tells me how you're there for her, how you help her out, watch her back. She doesn't always think she needs that, but I know better. You seem pretty good for her, Careles."
"Thank you," he replied, feeling odd about hearing her say such things.
Nico didn't like to judge Dani's best friend too harshly, but in his head she just wasn't the kind of woman he wanted to know. He couldn't ever imagine being in a relationship with the type of woman Jeanette seemed to be, that was for sure. Now she was sat here complimenting him on his ability to be perfect boyfriend material for Dani, in her own way. He had to be grateful for her approval, and flattered by her compliments.
Into the silence came the ringing of his cell. Nico had the thing on vibrate, but set up just so on purpose, with different variations for different callers. This particular rattling on the dash told him it was a call he really needed to take.
"We're gonna have to pull over," he said, doing just that at the very soonest opportunity.
"Emergency?" asked Jeanette, but Nico shook his head slightly as he grabbed up the phone and stepped out of the car to take his call.
He was gone all of two minutes, and Jeanette barely had a chance to wonder what was going on before he was back beside her, grinning like a fool, and putting the car into gear.
"You really are the mysterious type, aren't ya?" she smiled, finding it all very amusing apparently.
"That's what they tell me," replied Nico with the smile of his own that didn't seem to want to shift.
He wasn't about to explain his call to Jeanette, simply because it was none of her business. Besides, he didn't want Dani or the kids to find out what he was up to right now, even though everything was finally falling into place.
"Y'know, it makes a change for our work to impact positively on our relationship," said Dani, snuggling closer to Nico on the couch.
It would be even better if they were in their own home, perhaps, but this was fine too. Jeanette had been left in charge of the kids tonight, because Dani was needed at Rhino's house. She felt bad abandoning her best friend on her first night, but there was no other choice.
The only option for Rhino's over-eating was that he was sneaking around in the night, whilst he was literally asleep. This was something they needed to keep watch on and ultimately put a stop to. Given the size of the guy in question and the fact he wasn't entirely in control when sleep walking, Nico had insisted on coming along as Dani's back up. So here they were, on somebody else's couch in the dark.
"I feel like I snuck over to make out with my girlfriend while she's baby-sitting," said Nico, with a smirk Dani could almost feel as he kissed the top of her head.
She giggled at the imagery, and just because they were way too old to be the kind of teenagers he was referencing. It was a nice idea though, very appealing.
"Hmm, I guess that analogy would work better if you actually kissed me," she said, bringing her head up off his chest and meeting his eyes.
"I think that can be arranged," he smiled, leaning down and putting his lips to hers.
He stopped too soon and Dani had to wonder why. It was almost as if there was something on Nico's mind that he wasn't sure about. It made her worry just a little. No matter how much she trusted him, that didn't mean bad news couldn't come and spoil things. It almost always did lately.
"I have something to ask you... about Lindsay," he admitted then.
"Okay," Dani nodded once, feeling a little confused.
Of all the topics she expected this talk to be about, her daughter really wasn't one of them. Immediately her mind raced with possibilities, all of them awful. She wondered if Nico had caught Lindsay doing what he had previously caught Ray Jay doing. She thought of drugs or shop lifting. She recalled that story Lindsay once wrote with the mother dying of a brain tumour. Dani would like to think she and her daughter had a much better relationship these days, but she constantly worried that she was just fooling herself with that belief.
"She's been feeling a little lost, out of the loop of everything lately," said Nico, reminding Dani of things she already knew so far. "I got talking to her about being lonely, how I understand what that can be like. Dani, how do you feel about cats?"
"Cats?" she asked with a small burst of laughter and a confused frown. "Oh, you wanna buy Lindsay a pet to make her feel better?" she guessed.
"Not exactly," Nico admitted, pulling his cell from his back pocket and bringing up a picture to show his girlfriend.
"Aaaw!" she squealed like a kid when she saw the beautiful black cat. "She's precious!" she declared.
"Actually Onyx is a he," her boyfriend corrected her. "He's my cat, I had him at my apartment, before the shooting," he explained, wincing on instinct the moment he mentioned that particular day and watching Dani do the same. "When I realised I was going to be stuck in the hospital for a while and then I came to live with you, I asked my neighbour to take Onyx in for a while. I was actually going to let Mrs Petrelli keep him, but honestly, she's getting older and he can be a handful sometimes..."
"And you thought Lindsay would just love to have him?" said Dani with a soft look in her eyes as she stared across at him. "You're a very sweet man, you know that?" she asked, not requiring an answer apparently as she kissed him softly on the lips. "I think that is a wonderful idea."
"Good," Nico nodded once, before kissing her back with a passion she hadn't reckoned on but didn't mind at all.
Things got pretty hot and heavy all too quickly after that. Both Dani and Nico were highly aware they were in somebody else's home, that they were dealing with a client's sleep-walking, and that there was a young child down the hall who could also appear any second. Nothing that'd breach a PG-13 rating was allowed, but even that felt damn good right now. Unfortunately, just when they were getting comfortable, there was an audible click of a light going on and a creak of floorboards down the hall. Rhino was up. Time to get back to work.
To Be Continued...