A/N: Time for that talk that Dani & Nico need to have!

(For disclaimer, etc. - see chapter 1)

Chapter 18

Dani Santino looked like a woman possessed when she arrived home from the IRS office. She ought to be happy, in a way, in a lot of ways actually and she knew that. Somewhere underneath the rage it was very clear to her how grateful she really ought to be for the unexpected assistance, but for now it was being drowned out by anger. She had made it plain, Dani knew for a fact that she had made it crystal clear, that she liked to handle her own problems in her own way. Sure, it was nice to have support from her partner, from her friends and her kids too, but there were just some things Dani needed to figure out on her own. The IRS was one of those things. It was nobody's business but hers and Ray's. Her ex was less than helpful and so Dani had been dealing with it solo. Now it had been dealt with for her, and she was not amused.

"Nico!" she yelled as she came through the front door, slamming it in her wake. "Nico, I need to talk to you!" she continued as she stormed down the hallway.

Silence greeted the doctor as she headed for the kitchen. A note pinned to the fridge let her know her other half had to go out on an errand. The kids were at school and Jeanette had sensibly opted to stay at the mall a while until Dani and Nico finished their 'discussion' over the IRS situation. It would've been the perfect time to figure things out, and now Dani found Nico wasn't even here! It made her all the more mad.

Throwing her purse on the counter, Dani pulled out her cell and dialled. She wanted to scream when it went straight to Nico's voicemail. Taking a deep breath, she left a message:

"Nico, it's Dani. Could you please call me just as soon as you get this, honey? Or better yet, maybe you could get your butt home as soon as? Okay then, bye-bye."

The over-the-top sugary sweetness was just a reaction to how mad she was. If she yelled on his cell, he'd be ready for a fight and right now Dani would prefer to catch him off-guard. After all, that was what had happened to her this morning. She had walked into the IRS office with all her papers and reasonable arguments, then been completely struck down when the man told her that the tax debt had been paid.

Dani couldn't understand how such an amount had miraculously been paid off. It sure wouldn't have been Ray that did such a thing, she knew that. Lo and behold, the records had been checked, and Dani's blood had started to boil up in her veins when she heard the name of her benefactor; Nico Careles.

They were supposed to be partners, equal in their relationship. Nico had asked Dani if she needed assistance with the IRS and she had told him no, she did not. It was sweet of him to offer, but Dani knew for sure she made it very clear she didn't want him interfering. He must've used some of his mysterious contacts or secrets tricks because when the guy at the IRS showed Dani the evidence, the amount owed had decreased before it was even paid off. She growled just thinking about it. Nothing she could do now except wait for Nico to get home and then have it out with him. Until then, Dani doubted she would be calming down at all!

Nico got back into his car and checked his voicemail. One from Dani made him smile, at least until he played it. She sounded wrong and he knew it. Sure, she was saying perfectly reasonable things, but the tone of her voice was off. Nico winced as the message ended, knowing that just as soon as he got home he was headed into a fight. Checking his watch he knew it was better they got this over with before the kids came home from school so he put the car in gear and took the turning towards home immediately.

Maybe he had over-stepped the mark. He had originally just intended to help decrease the tax bill Dani was facing by any means necessary, and when his sources didn't seem able to do much, he decided just to pay off the whole amount and be done. It was supposed to be a pleasant surprise. Even though Dani told him she didn't need the help, Nico couldn't help but want to give it. Now it seemed maybe on this one occasion he had made the wrong call.

Pulling the car onto the drive, Nico made himself battle-ready. Dani was a formidable woman when she hit full-Santino mode, and he had a feeling she would be right there when she saw him walk in. There would be no calming down between her appointment and now, there hadn't really been the time, and besides, it would all kick off again when she had the chance to let rip at him.

Taking a deep breath, Nico got out of the car and headed for he front door, letting himself in cautiously. He looked up the stairs and into the living room, wondering when Dani would appear from. Suddenly she came storming through from the kitchen.

"Hey! If it isn't Mr Big Shot!" she said, all sarcasm and a sneer. "Isn't that what you wanna be called now? I mean, swanning in, paying off debts behind my back, that's pretty big shotty, don't you think?" she asked crossly, folding her arms across her chest.

"Dani," Nico sighed, "Come on, you know I wasn't trying to..."

"To what, Nico?" she asked him. "You weren't trying to undermine me? Lie to me? Go behind my back and do something I specifically told you I did not want you to do?"

Her attitude might be justified in its way, but at the same time, it was making Nico feel equally as mad as Dani was. He had done a nice thing, something that ought to make her happy, and yet she was ripping into him for simply the way he had done it.

"I'm so sorry for trying to help you, Dani!" he yelled back at her. "I know how awful it must be for you to have to admit that you need anybody to care!"

"Oh, do not start that with me!" she countered, pointing an angry finger into his chest. "You know I love that you care, I couldn't love that more, but we talked about this, Nico!" she reminded him. "We talked about what I need you to help with and what I don't. This was my debt, my problem..."

"That your ex-husband caused," he remind her crossly. "Dani, this wasn't your problem, it was his, and he was never going to deal with it."

"That doesn't mean you get to swoop in and take over," she shook her head. "I'm not a damsel that needs saving, and I can cope on my own!"

"Then why am I here, Dani?" he asked then, all the fight seemingly draining out of him.

Dani opened her mouth to answer and felt the same drain come over her too. The answer to his question was obvious enough. Nico was here because she loved him and because he said he loved her. Because they wanted to be together, share their lives, share everything. She wanted to say all this, but it would make her a hypocrite if she tried. They were supposed to be there for each other when they needed it, and she had needed it, however much she wished she could deny it.

"Nico..." she began, not really knowing where to take it from there.

He stared down at her, still waiting for an answer, still seriously needing to know what his role was here if it wasn't to help her and the kids. He wasn't Ray Jay and Lindsay's father. He wasn't supposed to contribute too much money. He could barely get along with Jeanette as it was. His question was legitimate and needed a reply - why was he here? It seemed he wasn't going to get an answer when there was a knock at the back door.

"I, er... I have a client."

Nico nodded that he understood and took off up the stairs out of the way. Dani watched him go and felt tears prick at her eyes. Now wasn't the moment to cry, she absolutely didn't have time for that. Other people needed her, a kid that was so nervous about public speaking he was stammering and blacking out during his own spelling bee performance. Dani shook her head and started walking towards her office. She had work to do, everything else would have to wait until later.

There was an eerie silence when Jeanette arrived home. She got this feeling of dread even as she paid the cab driver and walked slowly up the drive way to the front door. They could've still been fighting then, or better yet, making up, but Jeanette had a feeling it wasn't going to be as simple as that.

Silence wasn't good, she knew that much. A part of her wanted to just rush upstairs and hide until it was over, but that would make her a bad friend, and she wouldn't ever be that. Dani was her best girl, always had been, and if she needed support right now than that was what Jeanette would give. She got a surprise when she dumped her bags in the living room and wandered through to the kitchen to find Nico sat at the counter with a glass in his hand. Jeanette had felt sure it was Dani she would find in this position.

"Hey," she greeted him with a half a smile. "Things didn't go so well, huh?"

"Dani told you," he replied, barely looking up.

It was a statement, not a question. Of course Dani had told Jeanette what happened, and no doubt the blonde had helped tear him to shreds long before the fight ensued back here at home. Nico wasn't about to take this out on Jeanette, however much he might be tempted. He got a real surprise when she pulled up the nearest stool and sat down by him, putting a seemingly sympathetic hand on his arm.

"For what it's worth, I think she made the wrong call on this one," she shrugged, as Nico looked up and met her gaze. "Seriously? A guy paid off the IRS for me? I'd be all over him!" she declared, causing a smirk that Nico just couldn't help. "But our Dan, she's... she's the independent woman type. She's not gonna take that well. You had to know that."

"I did," he sighed, sipping his whiskey. "I just thought maybe this time, she'd let it slide. It's not as if I'm trying to take over her life or make her feel like she can't cope," he explained, glancing towards the door behind which Dani was holding her latest therapy session. "We're supposed to be partners."

"I know," Jeanette agreed, nodding her head in understanding. "But Dani is... Well, she's always kinda wanted to go it alone, and after what Ray did to her? She can't depend too much on anybody else, y'know?"

Nico did understand, of course he did. Sat here alone with a drink and all the time to think about it, he understood completely where Dani was coming from in her anger. He had gone behind her back, to do something kind and helpful, that was true, but it was still without her consent. In fact, it was something she had specifically asked him not to meddle in.

"They call me a fixer," he said sadly. "Apparently some things aren't as easy to fix. You'd think at my age I would know that."

"Pah! Age, schmage," Jeanette rolled her eyes. "You think I'm any smarter for being older? Not a chance. Finally pregnant and a million miles away from my boyfriend who I'm too afraid to tell - not smart," she declared, pointing to herself.

Nico couldn't help but wonder what that was all about, but he didn't feel comfortable in asking. From what Dani said, Jeanette and Augusto were completely in love and she had always wanted children. It made no sense for the couple to be torn apart, by a pregnancy or otherwise, but that was none of his business.

Finishing his drink, he leant back on his stool a little, considering just getting up and leaving before Dani's client went home and they had to face each other again. A little more cooling off time might be helpful in this situation, though somehow Nico wondered if it would really make a difference for today. He still had his apartment, he could go there, or check into a hotel for the night...

"Is this what I think it is?" said Jeanette suddenly.

Nico looked up to realise what she was now holding in her hands and studying so hard.

"If you think it's my grandmother's engagement ring, then yes," he said softly. "But Jeanette, you can't..."

"You were going to propose? To Dani? To our Dani?" she asked, all wide eyes and shock before he could finish asking her to be quiet about it.

"No," Nico confirmed, reaching to take the diamond solitaire from her hand. "I wasn't planning on proposing, not today, maybe not for a long time," he assured her, taking a look at the ring himself and then shoving it into his pocket. "I just wanted to get it out of the safety deposit box, just in case," he admitted.

"Wow," Jeanette gasped, looking genuinely bowled over.

Anyone would think Nico just asked her to be his bride! The truth was, he really hadn't been considering asking Dani to marry him today or even this week or month. He had been at the bank, moving some funds around after the whole paying off the IRS thing, and the thought just occurred to him that the ring was right there in the safe. Before he knew it, Nico was accessing the box and putting the diamond into his pocket to bring home.

After his fight with Dani, he felt like such a fool. Jeanette was right, he should've known how his girlfriend would react when he went ahead and did something she had expressly asked him not to do. It was hard to see the thoughtful and kind aspects of a surprise when the shock and betrayal was busy punching you in the face. Nico winced at the thought and got up to leave.

"I'll talk to her for you," said Jeanette as he got to the kitchen door - he looked back at her with no small amount of surprise on his often expressionless face. "I know you and me didn't exactly hit it off at first but... but it's obvious how much you love Dani, and I'm not letting the two of you just fall apart."

Nico found a small smile for her, and nodded in thanks before he left. Jeanette looked from his exit to the door behind which her best friend sat, doing her wonderful job that she did so well. Seemingly out of nowhere, Onyx appeared and leapt into her lap. Jeanette jumped a little with the surprise but then let the cat settle on her knees as she stroked him.

"Y'know, if only Dani were as good at figuring out her own life stuff as she was at fixing everybody else's, there would be a lot less drama in this house!" she told the cat with a sigh.

Onyx didn't say a word.

To Be Continued...