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Conflicted

Rating: G
Pairing: Nico/Dani
Disclaimer: I don’t own Necessary Roughness. I simply like to let the characters out to play at times
Beta: Olfactory-Ventriloquism – any errors are mine because I can’t help tweaking things.
Timeline: How I would have ended A Load of Bull, without Matt.
Note: This is dedicated to all the women who work in male dominated professions and don’t use tricks and games to get ahead. There was something about the incident with the reporter that bothered me.
Fear of Flying Chapter 9 had to be sent back to my beta for a second go round and will be posted when I get it back.

Conflicted

scott-cohen-as-nico_200x221

By Lattelady

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was almost two thirty in the morning when Dani gave up the attempt to sleep in her lonely bed. She did the rounds, quietly opening first Ray Jay’s and then Lindsey’s bedroom door. A smile crept across her face as she watched each child sleep. This was an old habit, something she’d done since her son had been a few months old. When her daughter had come along, Santino had included her as well. She was convinced that God made children adorable in their sleep to prevent child abuse, because no matter how badly they behaved when awake, in slumber they captured a parent’s heart.

She walked to her guest room and stared at the door. As much as she’d like Jeanette’s company, Dani knew her friend was exhausted. The blonde was trying to get used to the huge demands pregnancy made on a woman’s body. It was better to let her sleep.

Ten minutes later, Dani had put her teakettle on the back burner and stood on her tiptoes to try and reach the box of tea she wanted when there was a knock at her outside office door.

At that time of the morning, she knew it could be either of two men, but she peeked through the curtain to be certain. It was with relief that she saw dark hair, and a long black coat. She gave a quick thank you to the powers that be that it was Nico. No matter what problem he brought her way, it would be easier to deal with than another round of emotional tug of war with Matt.

“You’re early. It isn’t 3 AM, yet.” She smiled and held the door open, glad she’d put on a light sweater over the tank top and drawstring pants she’d worn to bed.

“I don’t like to be too predictable.” Nico looked at Dani’s tried face and sagging shoulders and wondered if he should have come. He couldn’t understand why people put themselves through the pain and agony of getting involved with others. Gabrielle had taught him that lesson. It still amazed him that it had taken so many years to realize he’d been in love with a memory.

“Come on in. You didn’t wake me, I was making some tea.” She turned and headed toward the kitchen where a kettle begun to whistle, leaving him to close and lock the door.

Nico followed behind her. He found her up on her toes, stretched as tall as she could get, but still the container of tea was out of her reach. “Here, let me.” He was directly behind her with only inches to spare. “Did you want the Rooibos?” He looked down into her face and felt her body brush against his, as she rocked onto her feet.

“Yes, please.” Dani slid between him and the counter, aware of his long warm length pressed lightly against hers and glad he was Nico. He might look with probing eyes, but he didn’t ask questions, when he already had the answers.

“Good choice. No caffeine but it still has a nice strong flavor.”

“Ahhh…you like tea.” She smiled. “Another layer to the Careles onion has been peeled away.”

“Dr. Santino, I like many things.” He returned her smile as she put tealeaves into the infuser of her orange cast iron pot. He had almost the same pot, except his was an antique, with a finish that had an almost black patina.

“Would you like some?” She offered and picked up a second handless cup from the counter where she kept the set.

A few minutes later they were settled in her office.

“Okay, Nico, what can I do to help you. I don’t think you came here simply for tea.”

“I…uh…find myself conflicted,” he admitted and handed her a one-dollar bill.

She shook her head and put the money on the edge of her desk. “What no audio thingy, this time?”

“Audio scrambler,” he supplied the word for her and reached into his pocket to pull out a small black box. “You’re right, it’s probably a good idea.”

“Doesn’t it bother you that most of your conversations need to be blocked?” Dani sputtered.

“Scrambled,” he corrected and smiled. “And no, that gives me no conflict what-so-ever.” He pulled his phone from his pocket and opened the screen, accessing the video file he was looking for. “It’s the locker room footage from the reporter.”

“Who lied?”

“Terrance.” Nico offered her the phone but she closed her eyes and shook her head.

“Thanks anyway.” Dani turned him down with a sour expression on her face. “There isn’t enough mind bleach to remove that image.” Her checks flushed and she looked distressed.

“What aren’t you telling me, Dr. Santino?” Nico looked her over carefully. She was embarrassed and trying to hide it.

“Nothing.” She shrugged and made a mental note to have a discussion with TK. Inappropriate nudity left him open for lawsuits, even if he was only doing it for shock value, as he had with her.

“If he’s threatened you in any way…”

“Oh, please, do I look threatened?” She squinted at him, more angry than questioning.

“No,” Nico studied her. He’d never met a woman like her. She was strong, had a fascinating mind and a value system that he admired.

“Besides the obvious, why is Nico Careles conflicted about that video?”

“Obvious?” he questioned.

“Yeah, the damage to the Hawks that a sexual harassment suit would have caused. What else it bothering you about it.”

Nico’s eyes glinted. He tilted his chin to the left and shook his finger slowly at the doctor. “You are a very perceptive woman.”

“It’s part of what I get paid for.” She sipped her tea and watched the man across from her. They still hadn’t come to the issue at hand. “But the…uh…situation has been taken care of. You have the tape. Terrance gave the interview…and as we discovered, we have a whole other problem to deal with.”

He smiled and wondered if she realized that she’d said ‘we’ instead of ‘I’. It was good to know that she trusted him enough to help her in dealing with TK’s suspected drug problem.

“What has me conflicted, Dr. Santino, is that I didn’t like Ms. Saris from the beginning. She was pushy and out to get a story at any cost. My first loyalty is, and always will be, to The Hawks… but…” He shrugged refusing to expose his feeling of doubt any further.

“Nico, I was there. I saw the look in your eyes when Coach made his decision and I don’t think it was simply about sacrificing Damon Razor to protect Terrance.”

He put down the cast iron and porcelain teacup and stood. “This was a mistake.” He needed to say more, but was uncomfortable about revealing anything about himself, especially if she was able to read him so easily.

“Wait, please, sit back down.” Dani reached for him but didn’t make contact. She was convinced he would be out the door, if she did.

“I’m not sure what else there is to say.” He reached for his audio suppressor but didn’t turn it off.

“Let’s try this.” She smiled softly. “How do you feel about women in an NFL locker room?” When he didn’t respond, she reached for his dollar bill and held it up. “You can be honest with me. I would never tell anyone. This is one of those situations where a friend is needed more than a therapist, but since you’re more comfortable with me in a professional capacity, we’ll do it your way.”

“I know what the law says about equal opportunity and sexual harassment.”

“I’m sure you do.” Dani had watched and listened to him, over the last year. She’d come to the conclusion that, though he wasn’t a practicing attorney, he probably had the degree, or at least had studied the subject in depth. “But that wasn’t what I was asking.”

“My feelings about it are irrelevant.”

She nodded, giving him that much. Feelings were one thing; it was how you acted them that counted. “Then what is your opinion?”

“Women can be disruptive and a distraction.”

“Spoken like a man.” She grinned at him.

“I am a man.”

“Yes, you are,” she sighed, and her shoulders drooped. “And about the only one in my life who isn’t giving me trouble.” She wasn’t even going to think about Matt. Ray had been trying to dodge her about the taxes they had yet to settle. Ray Jay was broken hearted one moment, thrilled the next, and Terrance, well Terrance was always difficult.

“It’s good to know I can add some balance to your life.” He didn’t like to see her hurting, but there was nothing he could do about it.

“Let me be sure I understand you. It is your male point of view that has you conflicted?” She quickly got them back on track. She’d seen the way he looked at her and was afraid she’d start crying, if anyone gave her the least bit of sympathy.

“As a woman, how do you feel about having to spend time where men are in different states of dress and running in and out of the shower?” He probed. It was her turn to have to answer the questions.

“I don’t really think about it in that context. When I am there, it is because I’m needed. I’m doing my job. Sometimes, it’s heartbreaking.” She kept picturing Terrance after he’d walked off the field in the middle of the game against Chicago.

“Do you feel safe?” He wondered if she realized that he was always there whenever she had to go into the locker room. He trusted the team, but couldn’t seem to stay away.

“Yes.” She studied him carefully, looking for some clue to what was going on in is complicated mind.

“But you’re different. You’re Dr. D, not one of…” he snapped his mouth closed. He’d been bubbling over in frustration, and that would never do.

“Not one of who?” Dani got up and knelt on the floor beside the couch where he was sitting,

“One of these,” his voice was back to normal but he held out his phone to indicate Noelle Saris and female reporters in general, and that was when Dani saw it all.

“You’re conflicted because as much as you dislike that woman and what she did, you know that what happed in the locker room was sexual harassment and that puts your morals on a collusion course with your loyalty.” It was a statement and not a question. Who would have guessed Nico Careles was a closet libber.

“It’s not that simple. I’m convinced Ms. Saris manipulated the situation and Terrance rose to the bait.”

“It’s not illegal to be a tease, though I think it is immoral. All we can do is keep a close watch on her when she’s around the team. Women like Saris, doing things like that, undermine ever female who works in a male dominated profession,” Dani sighed and tried to stand. Her legs shook and Nico reached a steadying hand to help her to her feet.

“Easy,” he whispered.

“Thanks.” Dani blinked quickly to be sure her eyes weren’t filling and gripped his arm for added support.

“You’re tired. I should go.” He would have risen, but she was too close and she was still holding onto him. Their eyes met and both let go of the other at the same time.

“Wait, let me put this into some perspective for you.” She reached for the teapot, pouring more into his cup. He surprised her by taking the pot out of her hand and serving her.

“Old Japanese custom,” he smiled gently. Santino had one of the popular reproductions of a 17th century pot that could be found in almost any tea store. The originals had been used to brew the water over a fire and then let the leaves steep.

“I know.” Dani returned to her chair, kicked off her slippers, and curled her legs under her as she sipped her tea. “Women are allowed to hold jobs and go any place a man can, and as a woman, I think that’s a good thing. What happened in that locker room was not. Unfortunately, we’ll never really learn the whole truth. But whatever it was, it put you into a position where two loyalties were placed into conflict.”

“I think we’ve had this conversation before.” He was reminded of how she helped him regarding Gabrielle.

“Not really.” She played with her teacup, not wanting to meet his probing gaze. “This is about ideals, the other was actions. I’ve gotta say, as a woman, I admire your ideals.”

“Because you think it is alright for women to be in a men’s locker room anytime they want?” He knew that wasn’t it, but he didn’t like the way her compliment made him feel.

“No, I like that you think they should be comfortable and safe to do their job, even if it is in a men’s locker room, a fact, that on some level bothers you and adds another layer to your feelings of conflict. You’ve got your hardwired XY chromosomes telling you one thing and your belief system saying another. It doesn’t help that you don’t like or trust the woman involved.” She looked at him across the small space that separated them, and he knew that she understood that he was always there so she would feel comfortable treating the players, no matter where they were or what their state of dress may be. He knew that she understood too damn much about him.

“You give me too much credit, doctor. But…uh…that was helpful.”

“Good.” Dani smiled. “Tomorrow you, Coach Purnell, and I should get together and decide the best course of action regarding TK and his new problem.”

“We’ve planned a surprise drug screening, first thing in the morning. No one will question it since it is getting close to the time when decisions have to be made about cuts. Donnelly suggested it, and it’s a good idea.”

“Uh…yeah.” She cleared her throat and looked away.

“Dr. Santino…Dani…are you all right?” He shouldn’t have asked, and he knew it. He backpedaled immediately. “I should be going.”

“Wait, please.” She stood, picked up the dollar bill off her desk, and handed it to him.

“I gave that to you for a reason.” He glared. As much as he thought of her as a friend, he understood the legal consequences, for her, if she ever had to testify to anything he said. There were times it was easier to keep her safely shielded as a professional.

“I know,” her voice cracked. “And I am using the profits from my practice to pay for a confident.”

“I’m not a therapist.” He frowned.

“No, but as the head of security for The Hawks, there are times when your job requires you to have information about people, in the organization, that isn’t common knowledge. I’m buying a few minutes of your time. Besides I know that you see everything that is going on around the Woodlands anyway, and I need…uh someone to listen.”

He really did admire the way her mind worked. She had him trapped and he knew it. No wonder she’d been able to make progress with Terrance when no one else could. “Sit down.” He guided her back to her chair. “I told you once before that I can’t fix people, that is your job, but I’m willing to earn a dollar.”

“You know that Matt and I ended it?” she asked, though she was sure of his answer. “Hell, you’re probably one of the few who knew we were even together.”

“Yes to both observations. Are you sure your friend, Jeanette, wouldn’t be the wiser choice for this conversation?”

“I can’t tell her this. She knows almost everything, but she’s pregnant and so I can’t tell her…tell her…” Dani shook her head wanting to deny what she felt. Taking a deep breath, she plunged right in. “Matt wants children, and I’ve already had mine. What’s killing me is that there is this tiny, little voice that is saying that if I really loved him, I’d want his child.”

“It sounds like your ideals are in conflict as much as mine were.” Nico didn’t have a clue what else to say. He was in his late forties and had always thought that Juliette Pittman was his daughter. It was all part of the trap that Gabrielle had set. When he found out she wasn’t, he didn’t stop loving Juliette, but he’d felt a deep loss.

“I just needed to say it out loud, to hear the words and know that they weren’t simply the result of too little sleep and a guilty conscious.” She was surprised she’d made it through the whole admission without tearing up. It would have been the last straw, and she was sure it would’ve sent Nico running into the night.

“You know cast iron teapots first started showing up in Japan in the 17th century. It is part of a much more casual tea ceremony than the traditional one. Many believe they improved flavor, and it was thought that water boiled in the iron pot helps prevent anemia.”

Dani wasn’t sure where he was going with the lecture on tea, but considering this was Nico, she was sure he had a salient point coming.

“I’ve looked, but can’t find references to the cast iron cups,” he continued. “The Japanese don’t have handles on their teacups for a reason. It’s so when they hold them; they know when the liquid inside is the proper temperature for drinking, not so hot it burns the mouth, but not too cold either. These cups, that you’ve got, are covered in cast iron and like the pot, keep the tea warm longer and at an even temperature, but it also prevents you from feeling the heat.”

“What are you saying?” she whispered. Was he telling her to jump right in with Matt?

“I’m saying that your teacups are most likely an American invention to look nice as a set. They won’t break and will keep your tea at the proper temperature for longer, but using them, you have to be willing to get burned.” His eyes had gone smoky, not a fleck of green was visible.

“I’ll keep that in mind the next time I’m…uh…choosing teacups.” Dani felt better than she had in weeks and wasn’t sure why.

After Nico left, she slowly cleaned up the small mess she’d created in the kitchen. She was able to breath freely. Her reflection in the window showed her a woman who was tired, but finally no longer conflicted. Her relationship with Matt had been too much like the one with Ray, for all those years. It was the safe, comfortable choice. She’d touched the cup and known exactly what she would get. The next time around she wanted more. She wanted to dive in and take a chance on getting burned. She wanted to bathe in fire and come out the other side still safe and whole. She wasn’t willing to settle.

As she turned off the lights and went up the back stairs, she pictured a pair of hazel eyes that could turn smoky without warning. But they were for later, much later. She needed to figure out who Dani Santino was. Then…maybe…she’d follow the friendly smoke to see if there really was fire there, instead of the ice he liked to show to the world.

The End

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The moving finger writes: and having writ Moves on. nor all your piety nor wit Shall lure it back to cancal half a line, Nor all your tears wash out a word of it...The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

If I quiet the voices in my head, I would face the day with nothing to write. - Unknown

I must go down to the seas again the lonely sea and sky...J Masefield

Cinderella walked on broken glass,
Sleeping beauty let a whole lifetime pass.
Belle fell in love with a hideous beast,
Jasmine married a common thief.
Ariel walked on land for love and life,
Snow white barely escaped a knife.
It was all about blood, sweat, and tears.
Because love means facing your biggest fears


The heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing of...French Proverb

I have drempt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after. They've gone through me like wine through water and altered the colour of my mind ...E. Bronte

To love someone deeply gives you strength. Being loved by someone deeply gives you courage...Lao Tzu

It takes chaos to give birth to a dancing star ..F. Nietzsche

How many loved your moments of glad grace, and loved your beauty with love false or true? But one man loved the pilgrim Soul in you, and loved the sorrows of your changing face...Yeats

Let us go, you and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky...T. S. Eliot

In that book which is my memory, on the first page of the chapter, that is the day when I first met you, appears the words, "here begins a new life".
La Vita Nuova

Midnight courage of the heart...Jen Kirkwood

The three o-clock in the morning courage which Bonaparte thought was the rarest...Thoreau

Did you say it? I love you; I don't ever want to live without you; you changed my life. Did you say it?
Make a plan, set a goal, work toward it, but every now and then, look around, drink it in, 'cause this is it. It might all be gone tomorrow. - Meredith Grey

Shakespeare is easy, life is hard...Wheels

Don't try to be a great man, just be a man. Let history make up its own mind...Z.Cochron

I had a job to do and I was unafraid...Jack to John Creighton

For I dipt into the future, as far as the human eye could see. Saw the vision of the world, and the wonders that can be...RWW Hipwell

Without diviation from the norm, progress is impossible...F. Zappa

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea, In a beautiful pea-green boat: They took some honey and plenty of money, Wrapped up in a five-pound note. The Owl looked up to the stars above, and sang to a small guitar...E Lear

Sweet and low, sweet and low, Wind of the western sea, Low, low, breathe and blow, Wind of the western sea! Over the rolling waters go, Come from the dying moon and blow, Blow him again to me;... Tennison

Charmed magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn... Keats

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