Nico pulled into his apartment complex. He released Dani's hand and walked around the car to open the door for her. He offered his hand and locking the door with the car remote led her to the elevator.
I can't believe we're really doing this. I can't believe he is letting me into his home and his life. I never imagined we could have this.
Nico punched the button for the top floor and keyed in the code when requested. It appeared that this was a secure building. Neither had spoken since agreeing to talk later at the apartment.
When the doors opened they stepped out into a spacious open layout apartment. It had modern and classy appliances, furniture, the works. What struck Dani the most were the floor to ceiling windows.
"Wow, this is beautiful Nico." Dani smiled up at him, still holding his hand.
"There are other things of greater beauty" Nico replied looking down at her.
Dani dropped her head blushing. No one has ever spoken to me this way.
Nico squeezed her hand and stepped away. "Would you like something to drink Dani? Glass of wine perhaps?" Nico asked already going through cabinets.
"Sure that would be great." Dani smiled and started walking towards the windows.
She placed her hand against the glass. I never imagined his place to be so open, so inviting.
"Not what you expected?" Nico smirked at Dani from across the room.
"No, definitely not. It's so open with the windows. I figured you for a few windows, very little light kinda guy just because it's more secure." Dani answered.
"This is the one place I never have to hide" Nico whispered. I can hear the pain laced in my voice I wonder if she can.
Dani could hear the sorrow and emotion in Nico's voice and turned to face him this time. She could see he had paused what he was doing on the counter.
"Are you okay?" Dani asked, crossing the room and laying a hand on Nico's arm. He stiffened before relaxing under her touch, something Dani did not fail to notice.
"How are you doing Dani? Are you okay with this, with being here?" Nico deflected.
Dani wasn't having it. "Tell me what is bothering you Nico". She took the wine glasses he had poured out of his hands and he followed her to the couch.
Well that's new. She is not going to let me get away with that anymore is she? Shit. I'm in trouble now.
"It's just…" Nico started but changed his course of action "I don't want to tell you. I can't tell you." He sat at the other end of the sofa. Dani set the glasses on the table in front of them.
"Can't tell me, or won't tell me, Nico. And you with all your semantics know the difference." Dani met Nico's eye contact without hesitation.
"Both" Nico replied breaking the connection and staring at something across the room.
Dani followed Nico's gaze. On the wall where he looked and then averted his gaze was a shadow box. Dani looked at Nico then got up and crossed the room.
Upon approaching the box she saw various awards and medals, clearly from his time in the military. But she only knew one of them. The distinctive Purple Heart was nestled among other citations that were clearly of merit.
Dani realized what Nico meant. He thinks that when I really see him I will run, that he can't hide himself from me here.
"You don't want me to see you clearly, that's it isn't it." Dani looked at Nico sitting next to him on the couch this time. He didn't meet her gaze.
"Dani, it's not that I don't want you to. It's that you won't. Like I said this is the one place I never have to hide. You are the only person who has ever been here. But I don't think you can understand what I've been through. Things I won't hide from you but just simply can't tell you. I will never lie to you but there is just some stuff I don't think you want to know. Can't know. Shouldn't know. If you knew the truth you would be running out that door and never looking back." Nico glanced at her and then away, trying to read her expression.
"But Nico, I want to see you clearly. I want to know everything about you and your life, what you can tell me that is. I want to understand you." Dani reached over and took Nico's hand. They didn't make eye contact, and although Nico tensed at the contact he relaxed again too.
"I don't think I want you to understand me. I said you know me, and that's true. You are only the second person to ever know me, really know me. But understand me, I've never had that, not even Marshall and I had that." Nico still gazed at the wall across the room.
"You want me to think that you're dangerous." Dani sighed; she knew it would come around to this topic eventually.
"I am Dani. More than you can grasp." Nico looked at Dani with flat black eyes. Dani didn't even blink.
"I know that you are Nico." Dani squeezed his hand.
She doesn't get it.
"And yet, here you sit. In my home, holding my hand. Dani, I've killed people. I've killed people with that very hand you're holding. I don't think you can handle my past." Nico met Dani's eyes which had been trained on his face.
He is trying to push me away before we get in too deep. He wants me to make the choice to leave him. He wants me to protect myself from him. Not going to happen.
Why doesn't she get it? I want her to save herself. Do I love her, yes. But should she love me, no. It will destroy us both. And she is still holding my hand, what am going to have to do to have her get it?
"We've been over this Nico. I know of your past. I may not know exactly what happened or what you had to do but I get it. You killed. You murdered. You think of yourself as a killer. As someone capable of killing at any second. You did plenty of things you're not proud of. You want to protect me from that, and I get it, but Nico I know all of those things. This is not news to me. Let's phrase this differently, I do understand you, I just want to understand all of you." Dani waited for Nico to respond.
Nico internally flinched. Killer, murderer. She was right, that is what I think of myself. But why isn't she running away? She is so calm. I don't understand.
"How can you know this about me and sit here calmly holding my hand? How can you see me so clearly and not run the other direction Dani?" Nico asked turning to face her.
"Because I love you. You think your past defines you, but it is not who you are today. Is it a part of you? Yes. Are you still capable of that? Yes. But would you just go and do that? No. Nico, I don't doubt for a second that if it was necessary you would kill again" Dani paused as Nico actually flinched.
"But would you do it if it wasn't the last resort? No." Dani finished.
"And you believe this is your heart to be true?" Nico asked of Dani.
"Yes, without a doubt." Dani met Nico's gaze confidently.
"Love and trust are two different things Dani. I have never had both from the same person. Did I trust Marshall, yes, with my life. But I didn't love him, not even like a brother. He drove daggers into my back more times than I can count, but I knew he would have my back when it counted. Did I love Gabrielle, yes, but did I trust her, no. She and I used each other for what we wanted. We loved what we could take from each other, not in any way did I trust her. What you're offering me is the first relationship of any kind in which I would have both love and trust. I just don't know if I can do it Dani." Nico stared at the wall again.
"Why, Nico? Why don't you think we can have both?" Dani stared at Nico's turned face.
"Because I already trust you. If I love you, I mean really love you, I will have to let you all the way in. If I let you all the way in you will be past every single wall I put in place to protect myself. If I do that and you decide you can't handle it, our relationship, me. I would be done. I need you to decide." Nico looked back at Dani's face.
He wants me to decide if I can handle it. I've already said I can. I love him for Godsake! I would never leave him.
"Nico I want in. I want you. I love you." Dani whispered.
"And you think you can handle in? You think you can handle me. Because right now we could salvage our working relationship, but if we do this we will never be able to go back. If we make the conscious choice, both of us, to love each other, then this is it for me. There will never be another and you will share my burden." Nico warned Dani.
"Nico I already share your burden because you trust me. I love you, all I'm asking is that you please love me back." Dani pleaded with Nico.
Dani could see the war that was going on inside Nico's head. Oh just make the decision Nico. I know he has to think everything though but just do it already, stop trying to be the martyr.
"There is just one more thing I need to know, Dani. Are you afraid? Afraid of anything about this relationship, because if I decide right now that I love you then that is it. There is no turning back." Nico looked directly at Dani, daring her with his eyes to look away.
Dani didn't answer immediately, instead she thought about that. Do I believe that some things with him will be really hard? Yes. Am I afraid? No. Is there anything at all that scares me? Hmmm…I don't think so. And then it dawned on Dani. There was one thing that scared her, scared the crap out of her really.
She looked at Nico and knew that her eyes betrayed her and one by one she saw his walls slam back in place.
"Your terrified; I can see it in your eyes. Just don't even try to deny it Dr. Santino. As good as you are you can't keep the truth from me. You fear me" Nico whispered.
I can hear the pain laced in his voice, but that's not it. He is trying to distance himself with that Dr. Santino crap again. It actually gave him away this time.
"No Nico" Dani whispered back.
"Don't try and spare my feelings Doctor. We are long past that. Just spit it out. You are afraid of me." Nico spat out and then crossed the room in the blink of an eye to call the elevator. "Let's go then. Let me take you home Doctor."
Dani didn't move, she simply glared at Nico. "Afraid yes. Terrified yes. Is there fear in my eyes, probably. But Nico it is not fear of you, but fear of losing you." Dani threw out.
"What?" Nico stood still as a statue, he had to comprehend what she just said. Did she just say?
"I'm terrified that you're going to decide I can't handle something or that I ask the wrong question and you're going to walk out that door. I don't fear anything in your past, anything you could possibly tell me. I don't fear you right now in the present. The ONLY thing I fear is the future, a future without you. I couldn't bear to lose you." Dani had tears rolling down her cheeks and Nico crossed the room to her side.
"Dani look at me." Nico whispered, tugging on her hands that were covering her face as she dropped them into her lap.
"You mean that?" Nico asked. There might be hope.
"Yes" Dani gulped out. And it is true. I can see the truth in her eyes.
Nico sat back down on the couch and pulled her into his chest. "I'm sorry." He whispered into her ear.
Dani lifted her head surprised. Did he just say?
"You're right. You can handle it. You can handle me. I want you in my life Dani." Nico looked at her earnestly.
I can see his walls coming down.
I can feel my walls coming down.
"I don't want to be in your life Nico. I don't want to be your friend anymore. I want to be your life. I want you to love me." Dani looked at Nico. I'm going to make him make the choice.
I know she is giving me an ultimatum, and I don't even care. I want what she is offering.
"I love you" Nico answered Dani's unspoken question, and with that, all of his walls were gone. At least between them.
Dani began crying again, but tears of joy. It was the first time he had said it. He loves me!
Dani reached up and pulled Nico's head down for a kiss. Both put everything they had into that one act. When breathing became necessary they both pulled back only to have Dani lean her head on Nico's shoulder.
I could never have imagined in all my years that I would have this. That I could have this.
Finally! He finally said it. He loves me!
They just sat there holding each other for the longest time. Each was just contemplating the gift they had been given.