The first time Della got kissed by Dan Foster was, typically, at a Christmas party. Cal's, in fact, which guaranteed that people would be acting a little wild and trying to slide down the banister rail. The disastrous mess around the Steven Collins scandal was not quite forgotten and Della thought it contributed to the madness, what with everyone hoping to work out the lingering, sour taste that the whole affair brought to The Heralds' table.
Editor Cameron Foster was a noticeable absence, but then, he had probably gotten advanced word that his son would be there, which seemed to be reason enough for him to steer clear. Or maybe it was just all about Cal, who was not quite in the dog house – he got THE story, after all – but was visibly, clearly not at the top of his game lately. Collins had broken something in Cal, and whatever else that shallow, adulterous murderer did, it was for Cal's sake that Della hated him.
So she had gone to the party with every intention of making sure Cal had a good time, but DCI Bell and his surprisingly pretty wife crowded around Cal early and protectively and Della found that she had been unexpectedly absolved of her avowed responsibilities. She drifted through the crowded house, laughing more the drunker she got, until she ended up as part of the audience listening to Dan spin a crazy story about something he did in Greece that, once again, miraculously did not end up with him in jail. Della mostly gazed on Dan's wife, an absolutely stunning brunette who was a solid four inches taller than her husband and built exactly the way a (rumored) former exotic dancer was supposed to be built: skinny, firm, and perfect. She was, apparently, now the muse for some big-name artist and spent most of her time naked, at least that was what Dan claimed loudly and often. Nonetheless his genuine love for her was apparent in the way he touched her, orbited around her, and laughed at her (terrible) jokes.
Della wasn't specifically jealous, because she wasn't that attracted to Dan despite his boy-band looks, but she was mildly envious of how good the couple looked together, and how much they seemed to enjoy being married. Dan caught her mooning and grinned, but she was too pissed to care. She raised her bottle in salute and let herself drift back into the party.
She was getting ready to leave when she felt an arm around her waist.
"You okay to drive?"
"Not. Cab!" She pointed at Helen and, more importantly, Pete, who was actually sober and her ride home.
Dan nodded with a smirk, his arm still wrapped around her waist, then bent down and kissed her firmly on the corner of her mouth before letting go and following his wife out the door.
The second time he kissed her, they were on assignment together, because Cameron was cruel like that. Della preferred working with Cal, but he seemed determined to kill himself in a post-Steven Collins Affair alcoholic stupor. The longer that went on, the more "affair" seemed the appropriate description of Cal's actual relationship with Steven Collins, and the less anyone was able to do anything about his self-immolation. Della had turned into a glorified babysitter, and it galled her even if she was sorry for Cal. Nonetheless, being sent to the field with Dan felt more like punishment than freedom.
Dan was still just a contract hire – he said he preferred it that way – and the lead they got about some vague political corruption was not worth shoving staff at. She already had the nuts and bolts of the story down based on anonymous sources, but they had no actual proof, which Dan took as a personal offense. Theoretically, Della was on point. Technically, she discovered her main job was to keep up.
Two days and a loopy 700 mile road trip later, they landed in Edinburgh, Scotland, and Della stood dazed and bleary at a hotel counter as Dan schmoozed the manager on duty. He was pouring out a breathtaking tale of woe about their terrible, horrible, no-good honeymoon and they needed some help and wasn't their good friend Sir Edward McDougal staying here? Could they possibly see him, or leave a message? He was out? Terrible, terrible, news and would the staff mind letting them wait in the lobby?
"What's that, then? How is this discrete?" She asked irritably, sitting on the uncomfortable bench sofa in the lobby with Dan sprawled next to her, looking rumpled and decadent and ill used.
"McDougal isn't coming out of that meeting with the Cabinet until late tonight, so we have plenty of time. After sitting here for a couple of hours, staff won't notice us. When we get up to join some guests going upstairs, no one will even think twice, eh?"
"Borrowing trouble," Della grumbled.
Dan sat up and leaned into her space, whispering at her smugly. "The louder you are, the more people want to forget you're around."
Della frowned back at him, but he smirked and fell forward, kissing her soundly on the lips like any husband would do to distract his obviously disgruntled wife. It wasn't short, and his tongue whipped hot and wet across her lower lip, and Della suspected he had a lot of practice at saying "I'm sorry, Dear" in just this way. When it ended, she decided that ignoring him and trying to think of a better plan, or at least a getaway plan, might be the best use of her talents.
Several hours later they were breaking into McDougal's hotel room, rifling through his papers and taking digital pictures of the incriminating documents in question. Della kept frowning the whole time, but she couldn't argue with success.
After that, Cameron softened up and teamed Della and Dan together regularly. They looked like a young working couple and Dan acted like a professional grifter while Della appeared innocent and confused. They could get anywhere, on any pretense, and acquire anything they needed, and within three months they were The Heralds' "go to" team for anything dirty, political, and difficult. Their stories never scored a front page headline but the bylines were worth both their body weights in gold and they knew it. Liz started calling them 007.5, but Cal preferred "Wonder Twins" (when he was sober). Cameron, disturbingly, referred to them collectively as "My Pet". Dan laughed like it was an in-joke, but refused to explain it.
It was how they ended up on kiss number three, though, because even for the gifted and the blessed, luck eventually runs out.
Doing a piece on gun runners had not been Della's idea, and she had not volunteered for it either. She suspected it had actually been docketed to Cal, who went MIA four days prior and was likely to stay that way for a while. Dan took to the whole idea with a frightening enthusiasm while Cameron waved his hands dismissively and shouted at Liz about his coffee.
It was Della's idea was to stalk the suspected gun runners, because it seemed like a far safer and saner plan than pretending to be buyers, which of course had been Dan's suggestion. The story was not important enough to garner a budget for more than buying a couple of lunches, so Della was pleased that her plan de facto won the argument. Their contact gave them enough information to go on, including the news that the local street cops were in on the deal, which made their stakeouts even more risky.
They assumed, when they parked Dan's nice BMW in an alleyway near a warehouse, that they were tailing a possible sale. Dan carried a camera set up for night vision, and Della had DCI Bell on speed dial just in case. They stood on the old crates, looking in the windows of the warehouse, with stunned expressions.
"This is wonderful," Dan trilled quietly, his mirth barely contained. "Is that a pony?"
Della pocketed her phone. "I never got parties like that when I was a girl."
"I'll buy you all the Disney Princesses dresses you want, love."
"Shut. Up." Della dropped down to the alley and froze as a door opened and several high ranking members of the gun running ring stepped out, obviously leaving their daughters with the wives and the pony and the Princesses party decorations inside. Dan grabbed her arm and pushed her into the dark shadows near the wall, and they started creeping away as quickly as they could. The problem was, the group of men could only go the same direction, and their path was going to take them right by the BMW not-so-subtly parked in a dirty alley right down the way. Della felt Dan's grip on her arm tighten as they continued to outpace the men who were strolling and laughing behind them, hugging the walls for whatever cover they could keep. There was a moment that Della thought for sure they were sighted, but the good natured party bringing up the rear seemed more focused on acting like teenagers out after curfew.
Della and Dan finally turned into the alley with the glaringly obvious and beautifully out of place silver BMW sitting there. The group of men were less than a block behind them. Dan went straight for the driver's door, obviously expecting to peal out of the alley at high speed, but Della shoved him and quietly opened the back door. Dan stared at her in confusion, so she reached out and grabbed his tie, pulling him on top of her as she scooted backwards, hooking her foot into the door pull to swing it gently shut. Dan was over her on hands and knees, still looking confused.
"We drive out of here and they'll know something's up. C'mere." She hiked her skirt up to her thighs and then yanked on Dan's belt to pull him down on top of her.
"You filthy, dirty girl!" He laughed and settled lower, letting her wrap her legs around his hips.
"No, no! I'm just admiring your creativity under pressure!" The last word was punctuated with a slight bump of his hips, and she smacked him on the back of his head before they both froze. Loud voices were right outside, and it was clear that the group of men had noticed the car and decided to check it out. Della wrapped her hand around the back of Dan's neck and pulled, and they were well into a mashing lip lock by the time a shadow appeared in the window.
"Heyyyy! Ha! Look, Frank! Ha!" A large man with a pot belly rapped on the window and the other men joined him in laughing as they all peered into the car. Della did not really have any problem looked flustered and embarrassed right then, but was surprised by Dan's reaction.
"Shove off! Pricks!" He yelled and banged the window. The men just roared in laugher and smacked the car bonnet as they trundled off, yelling encouraging obscenities at the couple inside as they went. Dan's expression immediately cleared, and Della giggled.
"You being all macho now?"
"Shut up." He glared down at her, still propped on his elbows and nestled snuggly between her thighs.
"Masher!" Della laughed for long enough for Dan to smile at her and lean down to kiss her, a long, thoughtful kiss that Della instinctively opened her mouth for, letting their tongues touch lightly. There was nothing else to it but somewhat surprisingly romantic affection, and Dan raised back up right about the time Della thought things were getting too bizarre, even for them.
"Thought I should do something worth the title. I hate having a reputation I didn't earn," Dan said, a little to breathlessly for Della's comfort, before giving her a smirk as he hustled backwards out of the car.
They mentioned the party in their expose, and everyone agreed it was the Princesses decorations that made the story worthy of front page news. But neither one of them ever talked about the back seat of his car again.
When Dan's wife left him later that year to run away with the big-name artist she had been modeling for, Cameron made a joke about it in front of the entire staff. Dan pretended not to care, a duck with water rolling off his back, but Della got up and left in the middle of the meeting.
That afternoon, Dan cornered her in the coffee break room as she angrily banged her spoon around in her mug. He looked a little lost, a little confused, and kissed her on the cheek before quickly walking out.
Cameron eventually called her in and gave her a lecture on professionalism that she wanted to throw back in his face. She signed the paper he put in front of her and it went down as the only written reprimand on her company record. Ever.
Cal eventually showed up, begging. Cameron ripped his old contract into dramatic shreds and gave him a new one that everyone knew sucked, but Cal was not at the point of being choosey anymore. Cameron made Della baby sit him, which she discovered after a couple of days was surprisingly unnecessary. Whatever personal hell Cal had toured during his "vacation" apparently burned the worst of out him. Also, he already seemed to have a personal keeper who kept him on a short leash.
"Who keeps texting you, then?" She asked irritably as Cal whipped up his phone to study it again. It seemed that every five minutes he was sending or receiving, and while personal texting at your desk was something that HR frowned on and would even fire you over, Cal had some kind of exemption in his contract for it. He admitted as much to Della when she first caught him tapping at his phone, and then laughed when he said it was the only part of the contract that was in his favor.
"What's her name?" She leered at him, but he did not take the bait.
"A. Friend." He focused on tapping his message for a bit, then looked up. "Or do you think that means something?"
"What?" She looked over from where she was actually working to frown at him. Dan told her she only looked like an adorable bunny rabbit when she frowned, but she decided that was no reason not to keep trying.
"My 'friend'." He used air-quotes. "He's good to me. He pulled my ass out of the gutter. He and his wife…" Cal looked off for a second, surprising Della with his soft-spoken honestly. "He saved my life. That's my friend."
She squinted at him. "Oh."
"Like you and Dan," Cal waved a hand at her, as if explaining it.
"Not much. He's an annoying brat who's used to getting his way and makes me drink wine instead of ale."
Cal gave her one of his shrewd, thoughtful looks and it unsettled her. She had not seen him this sober nor this smart in a very long time.
"That's why you take him out all the time for coffee. Why he stops by your desk every ten minutes. Why you two do dinner at Emperor's Garden five nights a week. Because he's annoying."
"No, because we're friends. He's had a rough time of it since his wife left." She took the high road, because it was not the first time someone had accused her of having an affair with Dan…or, more accurately, of Dan fucking around with her. "Not because he's 'a friend'." She air-quoted back at him.
Cal raised his eyebrows and then his phone beeped, distracting him with another text message. Della shook her head and got back to editing. Cal's comments, like most things Cal, did not leave her alone though. She thought about them during lunch and then that night, out drinking with Helen and Pete, and over the next few days as she sparred with Cal and worked with Dan on the side. One thing Della would never say about Cal was that he was not observant; he saw things and that was why he was a better reporter than 95% of the people in the room, even coming off a nearly year-long bender and probable psychological breakdown. Della put her own eyes on Dan, to try and see him again as an outsider might, and after several weeks of intent study, she was both surprised and resigned by the fact that it really did look like Dan was her boyfriend. Except not.
She showed up at his apartment that night with take out, and watched him as he set out the egg rolls and kung pao chicken on the coffee table. He looked tired, and his apartment was a shadow of the beautiful flat he had been sharing with his ex-wife a year ago. It wasn't as if Dan did not get better offers than what Cameron gave him to stay with The Herald, because he always discussed them with Della before turning them down. Which, Della thought as she snagged the beer bottle he passed to her, was as good a line of attack as any.
"Why do you stay?"
"It's a nice enough place. You know I don't do anything here but sleep in between stories." Dan shrugged and shoved food into his mouth.
"I mean, with the paper. With your father."
Dan looked at her, suspicious but chewing.
"With me." She clarified and took a very long swig of beer, but as she lowered it Dan shifted down the couch and lifted the bottle out of her hand, placing it carefully on the table before leaning into her.
By now, his mouth was a little familiar, not strange or exotic but friendly. Except for the way his tongue was flicking out over her lips, and the way he kept leaning and pushing until she was shoved up against the arm rest, cattycorner on the couch with Dan half on top of her. As the kiss went on, and on, and on, Della softened up and let Dan pull her close. When he let go of her, she tapped her fingers against his cheek.
"Oh," she said, knowing she probably looked shell shocked, but Dan just grinned.