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Disclaimer: See chapter one
Rating: PG-13 for subject matter
Pairing: Nico and Dani
Previous Chapters: Ch 1 - Stepping Into The Darkness ; Ch 2 - Lost But Not Alone ; Ch 3 - Things Fall Apart
Note: This story is AU from here on in. The information on Feng Shui is the way I understand it. My go to book on the subject is Feng Shui Your Life by Jayme Barrett. Given Nico’s calm, uncluttered character it seems a fitting practice, especially since it is hinted that he may have had a life of turmoil in the past. For those not familiar with Feng Shui, it is not a religion but a way of handling the energy that flows around us for a more tranquil life.
Enjoy!!

Fear of Flying

Ch 4 - The Center Cannot Hold

By Lattelady

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“Why is it,” Jonathan puzzled, “that the hardest thing in the world is to convince a bird that he is free, and that he can prove it for himself if he’d just spend a little time practicing? Why should that be so hard?” – From Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
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“I know you need more information but could I have some coffee first? I don’t do well in the morning without caffeine and ahhh...this isn’t exactly an ordinary morning.” Dani knew the only way to get her life back under control was to do as Nico asked. They had to rehash the night before. He would help her dig for memories of what had happened. It wasn’t going to be pleasant but it was necessary.

“Is your stomach doing better?” He moved back into the kitchen glad for the excuse to give her space. She was hurting and he’d discovered that he liked letting her lean on him. Nico had been around long enough to know that comfort like that was deceptive. It enhanced and skewed feelings and left pain and confusion in its wake. He would do what he had to keep her going but nothing more. Dani was still wide-eyed and shaken, looking for any port in a storm. He couldn’t be that port, because he was only an illusion. He would concentrate on protecting her physically; do his job and nothing more. Then when she left maybe he could pretend that even pale from fear and red-eyed from crying Dani Santino wasn’t the most desirable woman he’d ever met.

“Food would be pushing my luck but I can handle coffee.” Her lips curved upward but she couldn’t make the rest of her face smile. She knew she wasn’t fooling anyone, least of all the very astute Mr. Careles.

“If you can keep this down you earn yourself a latte.” He reached across the breakfast bar with a glass of water in hand. “I don’t want you getting dehydrated.”

“It’s a deal.” She nodded and ignored his questioning expression. They both knew he wasn’t bargaining. If she wanted coffee, she had to drink the water, so she took a tiny sip despite having quenched her thirst in the shower half an hour earlier. When it stayed down without making her insides tumble, she finished the glass. “I think the problem before was uh…panic. I knew something was wrong but couldn’t put the pieces together until you told me about the Rohypnol...”

He leaned on the granite breakfast bar that separated them and examined her carefully. The dark smudges under her eyes were his undoing. He never gave excuses or explained his actions but this time he couldn’t help himself. “I had to tell you…” He slid his hand toward her, close but not touching. “If there had been any way…” He wished that he could carry the knowledge for her, so she could remain untouched by his world populated by darkness and shadows but it was far too late for that.

“It’s okay, Nico…” her voice broke unable to go on. “Well…it isn’t okay but…” She shook her head and instinctively, reached for his hand, squeezing it to emphasize her words. “Knowing the truth, from the beginning, will help me get to the end of this.”

“Right now I can help you again, by making coffee,” he whispered as he pulled his hand out from under her smaller one.

“Oh, yeah, sure, sorry.” Dani’s lips tightened and she shivered slightly as her fingers brushed against cold granite, where before they had been touching warm skin. “Uh…ya know if the security business doesn’t work out for you, Mr. Careles, I think you have a future as a barista.” She watched his sure steady movements as he ground coffee and filled the portafilter to his espresso machine.

“I’ll keep that in mind, Dr. Santino.”

Dani turned away feeling hollow and alone, convinced the drug was still playing tricks with her mind. This was Nico, what was she doing?

Her eyes drifted over the lovely uncluttered rectangle that made up the main part of his loft. If she hadn’t seen the book on Feng Shui in his bedroom, she wouldn’t believe he lived here, despite his clothes hanging in the closet. It would be too out of character for the Nico Careles she knew. But she had seen the book and with it came understanding.

The aged oak hardwood floor was covered with two large Oriental rugs. The one in the living room was deep red and cream, highlighted in blue. She squinted until she knocked loose the memory of what the colors stood for. Red was passion, courage and power; white was honesty, faith and grace; and blue was serenity, calm and compassion. The rug in the dining room was blue and cream, highlighted in pale red. It set the scene for a tranquil meal with stimulating honest conversation, though she had trouble picturing the tough head of security entertaining…and when she did, it was a image she found distasteful. The idea of Nico and the lovely Mrs. Pittman laughing quietly over an intimate late night dinner turned Dani’s stomach. To help wipe it from her mind she examined the living area.

A black leather sofa created the illusion of two rooms instead of one. That piece of furniture practically shouted Nico’s name. Black was strength, protection, intelligence and shrewdness.

Like the dining room, most of his furniture was cherry in early Arts and Crafts design, while his art was antique Chinese. It made an interesting and unusual combination. The clean lines and beautiful wood of the Mission style pieces made a striking backdrop for a few intricate designs in jade and two silk wall hangings

Dani looked over her shoulder into the kitchen where he was working. Nico moved with economical grace, surrounded by black granite, shot with blues and grays. Behind him there were tall cupboards, a large range, oven and refrigerator on the wall that backed up to the bedroom; in front, all she could see over the breakfast bar was an almost professional looking espresso machine and a high arching neck of the faucet above the double sink.

“Dani?” He caught her staring and wondered what had her so entranced.

“I…uh…can’t believe all that glass.” She turned quickly and pointed to one long wall of the loft. A gray rainy morning began to lighten as the sun rose somewhere behind dark angry storm clouds. The glass blocks along one side of the bathroom made sense when she realized the glass started in the living room, continued on past the kitchen into the bedroom and bathroom. It reached to the pressed tin ceiling two stories above and ran to the floor.

“Those windows are what sold me on the place. They’re insulated and filter. No one can see in but we can see out.” He wanted to tell her that he’d had bulletproof glass used for the second layer of panes but decided that even Dr. Browning would think that was taking the truth too far. All the work had been done before he’d moved in years earlier. He didn’t regret it. The expense had given him peace of mind when he’d needed it badly. It had been shortly after he’d started with Pittman and even three years of law school hadn’t been able to completely eradicate the moments of paranoia that had haunted him in the time after The Seals. He supposed Dr. Santino would have said he’d had PTSD but it was long ago and the diagnosis was irrelevant to who he was today.

“Let’s take these into the living room.” He held a latte in each hand and nodded for her to go ahead of him.

“Rain pounding on glass is one of my favorite sounds. It’s soothing.” Dani curled her legs under her in the corner of the sofa and leaned back on a square pillow covered in deep red silk. She was relieved when Nico sat down beside her and never wondered why.

“Not exactly what you were expecting?” His eyebrow rose in curiosity.

“I wasn’t expecting anything.” She shrugged. Sure, she’d wondered where he lived but this tranquil relaxing loft didn’t mesh with the tough cold exterior he presented to the world or it wouldn’t have this time yesterday. “I was curious, and if I’d had to guess it would have been more Bat Cave than The Fortress of Solitude.”

“That’s superhero stuff.” He frowned, recognizing her references to Batman’s famed hideaway below Wayne Manor in Gotham City and Superman’s lonely stronghold in the barren north. “I’m no one’s idea of a hero.”

“Last night you were mine,” her voice cracked and her eyes began to swim again. She reached out a tentative hand and touched his arm.

“If I’d been doing my job, none of that would have happened.” He’d known that she was an important team asset. After Terrance King was shot following the first play-off game, he should have been more vigilant. He told himself that his guilt had nothing to do with the fact that she fascinated him as no woman had since the early months with Gabrielle or that he found her mind and ethics as sexy as hell. Dr. Dani Santino was a small package of emotional dynamite that could easily blow his calm, cool, façade into a million pieces. “I should have taken better care of you.”

“That’s just plain ridiculous. You’re only human for crying out loud.” She felt temper breaking through the lassitude that had been her constant companion since waking to a pounding head and devastating news.

“How can I be human if I’m a superhero living in the Fortress of Solitude?”

“Shut up, Careles! If I want to thank you, I will. If I want to call you a hero, I’ll do that too and you’re just going to have to live with it. After last night…and…uh…this morning…” her words stumbled and broke. She looked at him with sad dark eyes and had to take a deep breath before she could go on. “It would have been terrible to wake up at home, with no memory of what happened or worse yet on some gurney in an emergency room. Nico, you’re an extremely private man. Do you think I don’t know how difficult it must have been for you to bring me here, into your home?”

“But that’s just it, Dani, it wasn’t difficult at all. I brought you here because this was the safest place I could think of.” He put his arm along the back of the couch careful not to touch her but kept it close enough to feel her presence.

“And you say you’re not a hero?” She looked up at him out of the corner of her eyes as she sipped her latte.

“We’ll see what you think when we’re done with this.” He picked up the iPad on his coffee table and began what he knew would feel like an interrogation to her. He was back in guard duty mode and nothing was going to keep him from finding out what he needed to know. “I want you to walk me through last night. I need to hear everything, no matter how inconsequential it may seem. But first, who are you seeing beside Matt Donnelly and have you turned anyone down recently?”

“You make me sound...” she gasped. She hated the cold tone in his voice and the sordid implication that there was a parade of men in and out of her life. It hit too close to the way she felt recently to be comfortable. “What does who I date have to do with last night?”

“That’s what I’m trying to find out. You can either tell me or the police.”

“You’re the man with all the answers.” She crossed her arms over her chest and her chin rose in challenge, doing her best to take control of the situation but it was hard to feel in charge when she was curled up on his sofa in nothing but his robe. “I can’t believe you don’t already know.”

“Humor me. I’ve been a little bit busy this week, Dr. Santino.” His lips tightened, he was glad to see her display a small amount of her usual scrappy personality and hated that he was going to have to crush it. “It’s your choice, me or…” he shrugged and picked up his cell.

“Hold it, I can’t believe that Marshall Pittman wants this getting out anymore than I do.” She challenged.

“You’re right, he has his concerns but, if you won’t answer my questions, going to the authorities is the lesser of two evils.” Nico’s face was grim and hard, showing no trace of how difficult it was to press her like this. He didn’t like having to use emotional blackmail when she was still so fragile but he needed answers, if he was going to find out who had tried to hurt her. “We’d all rather this didn’t come out, especially now, in the middle of playoffs--”

“Well that’s big of you, Mr. Careles. God forbid I’d upset the playoffs,” she huffed. “And you can tell Pittman to stuff---”

“Stop interrupting and hear me out,” his sharp words sliced through her rising temper like a knife. “The entire Hawks Organization likes and respects you. Since Terrance was shot, I’ve watched you calm their fears and help them work through anger. More importantly you are part of the team and as such, need to be kept safe. People have to get the message that anyone; anyone at all, involved with The Hawks is off-limits. It doesn’t matter if that person is a player, wife, girlfriend or a part-time janitor. It has to be known that there are consequences.” He began to punch numbers into his cell.

“Wait, stop, you win.” She grabbed his wrist and grappled for his phone. All of her fight collapsed, leaving her cold and unsure of herself. “I’ll answer your questions.” Her mother had always taught her not to bluff unless she could live with the outcome if someone called her on it. Dani should have known better. Nico didn’t bluff and he never gave in.

“All right.” He put his cell on the coffee table. “Okay then, who besides Donnelly and who have you turned down recently.”

“I…uh…I’m not seeing anyone, not anymore and the only person I’ve turned down lately is Matt.”

“Why didn’t you want to tell me?” Nico wasn’t sure which surprised him more, that Dani wasn’t with Donnelly or that she’d feel the need to keep it from him. “Were you trying to protect him?”

“No! No! If I thought for one moment he would do something like that to me or anyone, I’d kick his ass and then hand him over to you to do…whatever it is you do." She fought guilt and embarrassment as she tried to explain. “He wouldn’t…he isn’t the type…He wasn’t pleased when you interrupted us but for one very small second I was relieved and then you told us Terrance had been shot.”

“You felt guilty.” He could read it on her face and hear it in her voice. That was why she had been reticent about answering his question.

“Partly.” She looked up at him needing to say it all. “When we sat through that interminable night, waiting for word on Terrance, it put things in perspective. I realized that if I could be relieved that Matt and I didn’t…well you know…”

“Yeah, I do,” he whispered.

“I had been about to make another stupid mistake, in a long in of stupid mistakes.” She leaned her head on her hand with her elbow on the back of the couch inches from Nico’s arm. “Throwing Ray out was the last sane thing I did where men are concerned.

“In that waiting area, I decided, no more trying to make something out of nothing, no more singles’ parties or trying to give substance to an old crush that was nothing more than eye candy in a class room. Most importantly, I realized that a one-night-stand is just that, one night. It’s not an area where I…uh…have a lot of experience and it messed up my head. I can’t think of any other reason I’d pursue a relationship that was scary---”

“You’re afraid of Matt Donnelly?” he hissed and grasped her shoulders, pulling her closer. “That’s information I should have had weeks ago.”

“No—no, you don’t get it.” Her hands rested instinctively on his chest. “I’m not afraid of him.” Dani’s eyes darted from his face, to his shoulders and finally to her palms pressing lightly against his white button-down. Embarrassed, she curled her fingers into fists and inched away from the contact she knew he avoided. “It’s not the man who frightens me but involvement with him.”

“You’re sure?”

Dani’s chin rose so she looked him full in the face. “Matt and I hopped into bed, knowing little more than the other’s first name. I kept thinking it had to mean something, when it was simply that I was lonely.” She could feel her face flush but saw only compassion coming from the depths of his dark eyes. “I’m not sure why I’m telling you all this.”

“Maybe you needed to say it and I happened to be here.” His words whispered along her skin and made her feel dizzy with longing, as his hands slipped down her arms and away. He’d been seconds away from pulling her into an embrace that would be disastrous for both of them.

“Yeah…and…well… then I decided to take a page from your book while I was learning how to be a single adult.” Dani forced a smile and tried not to think how cold she felt since he wasn’t touching her anymore.

“My book?” He frowned, unsure what she meant.

“Ya know, some birds are meant to fly solo.” As she said it, she was struck with the realization that it wasn’t true about him. She’d seen the pictures in his closet. They weren’t of a man who flew best solo. Caught on film for all to see was a team player, a man who had been a member of a group, an elite group that had trusted each other with their lives. Why she’d ever doubted it she didn’t know. Nowadays he was a unique player for The Hawks and it didn’t matter that he never touched a football or that black was his team color.

No wonder he’d been in such conflict when he’d come to her for help. He’d been caught between a woman he loved and an old comrade who had his undying dedication. Dani realized loyalty to Marshall Pittman was why Nico flew alone, such an admirable quality but such a waste of a good man.

“Dani, is that why you were in that club all by yourself last night?” His half-truth had come back to haunt him. The bird who was happiest flying sole had been is ex-wife. It had been a bitter lesson. As he’d told Dani when she’d been on her date with JD, his ex had been a Jackass. It wasn’t that she cheated on him, her Navy career had been too important to her for that. Early on she’d set her sights on an important spot in the Pentagon. There had been no room in her life for a shell-shocked Seal, who had been one of only two men to survive an incursion. “Were you trying to explore this newfound, belief?”

“No, not really. I was there to meet my friend Margo. I didn’t know she wasn’t coming until after I was inside Solstice. Despite evidence to the contrary, I know a woman is more likely to have problems if she goes to clubs and bars alone.”

“Good, then I don’t have to worry about a repeat performance.” He stated. It helped stomp out the need to tell Dani the complete truth about his divorce and to get him back to the job of investigating what had happened to her. “Start from the time you parked your car at the club. I want to hear everything you remember.”

“Okay,” she sighed. This Nico she knew how to deal with. He was the man from late nights in cars and visits at odd hours. He was all business. He didn’t make her knees shake or her skin tingle, except when they brushed against one another.

Ch 5 - Turning and Turning and Turning

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Quotes

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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