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The Life I've Been Frightened Of

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"Hey, wait up!" someone shouts from behind her.

Dana has seen the guy around, but it's not even 8 a.m., she hasn't had coffee yet, and she's really not in the mood to fend off advances.

"I think you dropped this," he says, though, and holds up her Reds scarf.

She takes the fabric from him with a quick 'thank you', expecting some stupid comment about how minor league baseball isn't really baseball at all, or--worse--how women and sports don't mix.

"So you're from Iowa?"

The question throws her for a second, but then she nods.

"I'm more of a Foxes fan myself, but I gotta say, if the Reds keep it up, they'll have a shot at winning the league in a few years."

That's the moment that gets the first smile out of her, and from the way his face lights up, she thinks maybe she judged him a little too quickly.

"I'm Casey," he says, holding out his hand. She takes it and offers her name in return.

"Well, Dana, it was nice meeting you."

With that, and another smile, he's gone, and Dana remembers she has a class in five minutes.

'If this isn't a morning full of surprises', she thinks on the way to the lecture hall, not yet knowing what else the day has in store for her. She finds out a few hours later, though, when she walks into her first Mass Comm lecture and finds Casey already waving at her from a row in the back.

 

---

 

From that moment on, they're inseparable. She helps him with assignments and he takes her to football games. And sometimes, it happens the other way around. He glares at every guy who so much as sits next to her, and she teases him relentlessly for being jealous.

Until one day, a few months later, she gets a new roommate and introduces her to Casey.

At first, she's amused by how utterly rattled usually so confident Casey is whenever Lisa is around, and she mocks him without mercy.

"Now I know why it's called 'hitting on someone'," she says after another meeting between her roommate and her best friend.

"And why is that?" Casey asks.

"Because you do it with the grace of a sledgehammer."

She's already laughing, but his pained expression only sets her off more, and he has to drag her by the arm so they make it to class in time.

As it turns out, the sledgehammer approach doesn't bother Lisa, or maybe she finds it endearing, because when he asks her out one night, she immediately says yes.

After that, it's Casey and Lisa who are inseparable. Dana tells herself she doesn't mind, that she's happy for them, but part of her wishes Lisa had never shown up. Which isn't a nice thought to have about a friend, but she can't really help it.

 

---

 

By the time Casey waves a velvet box in her face, she's genuinely excited and talks him through the proposal.

"How do you know all this stuff?" he asks after a while.

"How do I know what a proposal sounds like? You have heard of this thing called 'movies', haven't you?"

He rolls his eyes.

"No, I mean, how do you know what Lisa likes?"

Dana shrugs and puts away her interview prep for this week's internship.

"She told me."

"She told you?"

"Yep."

"Just like that, she told you?"

"Yep."

Dana doesn't see what's so hard to understand about this, but the incredulity on Casey's face doesn't disappear, only takes on a slightly amused edge.

"So was this before or after you baked cookies and braided each other's hair?"

"You know what?" Dana says, getting up and heading for the door, "if you're so confidently sexist, why don't you go ahead and ask Lisa to marry you without my help. I'm sure you've got it all covered."

That's when the smug look turns into pure panic.

"Dana! Don't go! I'm sorry, please don't go."

He's on his feet now, holding on to her arm and turning her back towards him.

"Please? I need you."

That, combined with that annoying puppy dog look of his that he's got down to a T, does it, and she hates the fact that that look gets her every time. But she's got an ace up her sleeve this time because he needs her, and she doesn't think he's ever said that out loud before.

"Fine," she says on a drawn-out sigh, exaggerating her annoyance just a little bit. "But as payment for my generous help," she pauses until she sees him nodding, "you're going to do my interview for me this week."

He doesn't look too worried until she adds, "Get ready to ask some serious questions about off-shore yacht racing."

 

---

 

Later that night, she's perched over notes for her last journalism seminar, when Casey stumbles into her room. She doesn't even have to ask what happened.

"She said no??"

He just nods and runs a hand over his face. Somehow, he looks a decade older than he did when she last saw him.

"Do you want to crash here tonight?"

"No, I think Lisa will be back eventually. I sort of... ran out on her at the restaurant earlier."

"Oh."

Dana's not sure what she's supposed to be doing, but when he sinks into her mattress, she knows she'll do whatever she needs to cheer him up.

"I just don't want to be alone."

 

---

 

They end up in his dorm room, talking about anything other than Lisa, and eventually, he passes out into a fitful sleep. Dana watches him for a while until she, too, falls asleep.

The next morning, she decides Casey needs more distraction, so they skip classes and take a trip to New York City. She buys him ice cream and he buys her dinner, and they stand in line at the Empire State Building for hours just so they can be the last ones up. She explains to him in detail which building is which, and promises him brazenly that eventually, they'll work in this city, side by side.

They spend the night in the cheapest room they can find--a dingy double on 128th Street--, and before he falls asleep, Casey takes her hand. She doesn't think much of it until the next day, when she wakes up with him curled into her back, his arm wrapped firmly around her. It's not exactly odd to wake up like this, but for a moment, she's glad that Lisa rejected him, and that more than anything makes her wriggle out of his arms.

She is quiet for the rest of the day, and she's sure he notices, but he doesn't bring it up. They hit the road again after lunch, and when he drops her off at her dorm, the hug lasts longer than she's entirely comfortable with.

It only gets worse when he shows up the morning after with flowers and a thank you that turns into him awkwardly asking her out. She doesn't know what to say, and is saved by Lisa's arrival, who promptly throws her arms around Casey's neck and starts apologising.

Dana stays in her room while they talk, and when she sees the ring glinting on Lisa's hand later, she ignores the scratchy feeling behind her eyelids and hugs her friend.

 

---

 

They've been interning with a small radio station in L.A. for five months when Dana applies for a paid position higher up. Casey tells her again and again she's more than qualified for it, and she knows she has the necessary experience for the job, but she still feels like a wreck for two whole weeks.

Casey eventually corners her after everyone else has left one night. She's busy sorting through old tape and doesn't even look up when he comes in. They haven't seen each other in a few days; he was out of town on assignment, but she's pretty sure she knows why he's here now.

"Did the others send you to tell me what a delight I've been to work with?"

"Not exactly the word they used, but yes."

"Oh?" she asks, feigning interest, eyes still on the box in front of her.

"Yeah. It was more along the lines of 'impossible' and 'nightmare'."

That's when she looks up, finally, and his wince tells her all she needs to know, although, to his credit, he doesn't say a word.

"That bad?"

"Hardly noticeable," he lies and sits down opposite her.

"Worse than in college?"

No answer this time, which is answer enough in itself that she draws her knees up to her chest and buries her blotchy face in her hands. That time in college was bad enough, when her skin was a mess for the entire week leading up to graduation. But compared to now, she remembers it more as an inconvenience than anything else.

"Listen, it'll be fine. You're definitely capable--"

"Damn right I am!" she says from behind her hands.

"--and they'd be fools not to hire you."

That earns him a disgruntled glance he clearly didn't expect.

"You think they won't hire me?"

Casey rolls his eyes at her, a familiar sight since she sent off the application.

"I didn't say that. Of course they'll hire you. I'm just saying, if they didn't, they'd be fools."

"But how can they be fools if you're sure they'll hire me?"

"Dana, it'll be fine. I promise."

She wants to argue more, but he looks so sincere that she can't help but believe him. For what must be the first time in days, she relaxes enough to smile.

"Thanks, Casey."

"Anytime," is all he says, but instead of going home, he grabs a bunch of tapes and gets started on sorting them.

Three days later, she gets the job, and takes Casey out for drinks.

 

---

 

"Dana!"

"In here," she says, attention still on the news sheet in front of her.

"Dana!!"

"In here!!"

Casey comes barging around the corner.

"There you are!"

She hopes the look she shoots him suggests how much of an idiot he is because she doesn't have the energy to argue. She can't resist a little dig, though.

"What are you, deaf?"

"Yeah, haha, very funny. Listen, I need to tell you something!"

Before he gets the chance, though, she remembers she has something to tell him, too, about a feature he's working on.

"I got a call earlier from Andy Stewart over on 3rd and he mentioned--"

"Dana, stop, I have news!"

"Well so do I, and if you're going to interrupt me, at least have the decency to bring me a bagel."

Casey just looks at her as though she's lost her mind, but she's fairly sure she hasn't.

"What? Are you going to interrupt me, not bring me a bagel, and then just stare?"

"A bagel? What does a bagel have to do with me interrupting you?"

"I don't know, I just haven't had lunch yet and I'm hungry."

Now Casey gets that look that says he's this close to strangling her, and Dana knows when she's beat. It was a long shot anyway, Casey bringing her food. Even if he remembered to, he'd eat it himself before it ever got to her.

"You said you had news?" she asks, digging in one of the desk drawers for an old chocolate bar and trying very hard not to squeal when she finds one.

"Lisa is pregnant!"

If he wasn't so wrapped up in the news himself, she's sure he'd make a joke about how long it takes her to react.

"I'm sorry?" she eventually manages, mostly to buy herself some time.

"I'm going to be a father!"

Still nothing. Dana isn't exactly numb, but she also doesn't feel as elated as she did when she learned her niece and nephew were on the way. It must show, too, because Casey's face falls just a bit, and that hurts more than anything, knowing she is the cause.

"Aren't you happy for me?"

"Casey, are you sure?"

"That Lisa is pregnant? Yeah, pretty sure. She peed on a stick and everything."

"No, I mean, are you sure this is what you want?"

"Of course! Why wouldn't it be?"

"Well, for one, you might have to give up your job. Have you and Lisa talked about that?"

"No, we haven't, but I don't think she'd ask that of me. She'll probably be happy staying at home with the baby. And if she isn't, I'll be glad to do it."

That's not the answer Dana expected. She bites her lip, searching for an appropriate reply while she still fiddles with the half-forgotten chocolate bar.

"See!" Casey yells suddenly, "You're not happy for me at all! Are you saying I shouldn't be a father?"

That... is not what she meant.

"That's not what I meant. Of course I'm happy for you. It's just so..." she tries to find a word that isn't 'worrying' or 'ill-timed' or 'unfair', and settles on "...sudden."

"I know," he says, and although she detects the anxiety he's trying to hide, most of what he's feeling is pure joy. "But it'll be great. And we have a few months left to prepare."

She smiles then, more forced than real, but his excitement is contagious, especially when he jumps up, grabs her arm and twirls her around.

"I'm going to be a dad!"

A few seconds later, he's out the door to tell everyone the news. Dana is left to her thoughts, and although she tries her hardest to get rid of the worry, she doesn't quite succeed.

They've just celebrated Casey's twenty-fifth birthday, hers is right around the corner, and he's going to be a father in a few months. Suddenly, Dana doesn't feel like chocolate anymore.

 

---

 

In all honesty, Dana does not see the breakdown coming. She listens to Casey tell her about the toys he bought (a set of cars and a doll, both of which his son or daughter won't be able to play with for at least a few more years, but she'd swallow her own tongue before she brought that up), and she thinks she's never seen him this excited.

Three days later, he's at her doorstep in the middle of the night, so drunk he lost the ability to walk in a straight line at least three glasses of whatever it was he had ago. Her first thought is that something happened to Lisa or the baby, and the dread is like a fist around her heart. But then Casey starts mumbling about how he can't do this, how he's not ready, and before Dana knows it, he's wrapped himself around her as though she's the only thing that keeps him standing. And from the alcohol on his breath, she actually might be. She forgoes the obvious quip ("Maybe you should've thought of that before you got her pregnant, or at least before the last trimester.") and lugs him to the couch instead.

She makes him drink two glasses of water while she brews the coffee that he'll need to wash down the aspirin with. She decides to splash his face with some water, too, for good measure, and after half an hour or so, he's coherent enough to answer a few questions.

"What happened, Casey?"

He may be coherent enough, she realises, but he doesn't look like he even has an answer.

"I don't know. I just... I can't do this. I can't be a father."

"What brought this on?" Dana digs deeper, earning herself a shrug in response.

"Lisa was counting the days until the baby's due, and now it's not a few months anymore, or even a few weeks. It's so close! And I can't do it."

Dana sits next to him then, a hand on his back, the other gripping on to his arm.

"Now why would you say that?"

"First of all, I know nothing about being a father! I don't know how to change diapers or how to teach someone to tie their shoe laces. I don't even know how to make toast that isn't burnt!

Third of all, you've met my father. He and I aren't exactly on the best of terms. I don't want that to happen to my child. I don't want to be absent all the time, and you know how much time we spend at work. I never had a real father, and this baby deserves more than that. Deserves more than me.

Secondly, I'm not sure Lisa is actually happy. She says she is, and she smiles, and buys things for the baby, but there's something about her that just doesn't look like she's happy, and what if I am the reason? What if the baby is? What if she would rather be out there, having fun but can't be because I knocked her up?

And c) I'm twenty-five years old! What do I know of raising kids? I don't want to screw this up, Dana. I can't."

With that, he burrows into her shoulder, one torrent of emotion over, but another already on the horizon.

"You really need to stop trying to organise your thoughts when you're drunk..." Dana mumbles, pretty sure that if Casey hears her at all, he'll have forgotten all about it by morning.

She sighs, and then feeds him the answer she's heard her mother give two of her brothers on similar occasions; that no one is ever really ready to be a parent, that no one ever imagines being able to love someone this much, that people have raised children forever. Things he should know, he would know if he wasn't paralysed with fear. But it seems to work at least somewhat; she can see the tendon in his neck loosening. At the end, she adds something of herself to her mother's wisdom, something that she believes so strongly that it shouldn't even need saying, that he should be able to look at her and see it, feel it, because there is not a doubt in her mind he won't be amazing at this.

"You'll make a wonderful dad, Casey."

He still looks miserable (though probably not nearly as miserable as the hangover will make him feel tomorrow, Dana thinks), but also grateful.

"You always know exactly what to say to make me feel better. How do you that, Dana?"

There are a ton of things she could say now, one answer more meaningful and telling than the next, so, of course, she opts for the safety of humour.

"Eh, you know, you menfolk aren't that hard to figure out. Just tell you you're good at something, and you believe it. Would've been much harder if I'd had to tell you you were bad at something. That you somehow never believe..."

He's smiling now, a little loopy grin that makes her heart skip a beat, and then another when he suddenly leans closer, his hand on her cheek (how did that even get there?) and his lips so close to hers she can taste the alcohol on his breath. For half a second, she's tempted to give in, to see what happens if they do this, finally, after all these years, because part of her has always wondered. She dodges the kiss just barely, though, when common sense kicks in. Casey, not surprisingly, chases her until she pushes him away and herself off the couch.

"Don't."

It comes out more harshly than she had planned, but the alternative would've been week and pleading, and even in this drunken state, he would immediately know the power he has over her in this moment.

"Just... don't." She turns away, waits for him to say something, and when he doesn't, she busies herself in the kitchenette, suddenly thankful for the dirty dishes she left lying around earlier. Eventually, curiosity wins out and she looks back at him, only to find him still sitting in the same position, looking more lost than ever. It does something to her, that image, and she walks to his side.

"C'mon, McCall. You need sleep."

She drags him up by his arms. He's not any more sober than he was ten minutes ago, but something tells her he won't try anything else tonight.

 

They're woken up by someone very insistently ringing Dana's doorbell. Dana makes it to the door before Casey even moves, but she can still hear him groan from her bedroom.

"Lisa!"

Dana's not sure whom she expected, but Lisa would've been at the bottom of her list. They haven't really kept in contact since college, have only seen each other the few times Casey dragged her along, but when they did, there was always the undercurrent of friendship there. Dana can't help noticing how good Lisa looks now, although the effect is somewhat diminished by the look on her face.

"Is he here?" Lisa asks, pushing past Dana and into the apartment.

"Yeah," Dana starts an explanation, but Lisa cuts her off.

"Did you sleep with him?"

"What??"

Lisa's left eyebrow has all but disappeared under her hairline, and not even the hand resting on her belly makes her look any less furious.

"Did you?"

"Of course not! You know we're just friends!"

"Yeah, right," Lisa replies with a pointed glance at the couch that clearly hasn't been slept on, before she turns to Dana's bedroom.

Dana doesn't bother joining them, not after Lisa's accusation. She's known for a while that Lisa was jealous of her and Casey's relationship, but she thought it was just because they spent so much time together, not because Lisa actually thought there was something going on between them. Dana is saved from thinking about what to do with that piece of information by a particularly loud shout, and a door handle banging against a wall.

Casey comes tumbling out of her room behind a fuming Lisa, but where Lisa all but storms out of the apartment without so much as a goodbye, he stops in front of the door, turns around as if only now remembering Dana was there, and hugs her so tightly to his body she almost can't breathe. Over his shoulder, she would only see the accusatory glance Lisa is most likely sending her, so Dana closes her eyes instead and breathes him in. A tiny part of her is scared that this will be the last time she ever gets close to Casey again, that she might lose her best friend over this, but when his hand grips her shoulder one last time before letting go, she knows not even Lisa could get between them. And when the door falls shut behind them, Dana is more relieved that she'll stay friends with Casey than sad knowing she won't with Lisa.

 

---

 

It all happens more more slowly and subtly in Dallas.

 

There's that time that he brings her flowers to work.

"What are those for?"

"Those are for you."

"I figured as much, since you, you know, just gave them to me. And I didn't ask who they were for, but what."

"First of all, it's whom," he says with a grin that tempts her to smack him with the flowers he just gave her, no matter how lovely they might be, but she settles for a "shut up!" under her breath. "And second of all, do I need a reason?"

She eyes him sceptically.

"You usually have one, is all."

"Well this time I don't. But if you'd rather I give them to someone else, someone who doesn't require a reason..."

Dana averts his grab for the flowers by ducking away.

"Not a chance. These are mine!" she calls over her shoulder, then turns.

"They're beautiful, by the way. Thank you."

His smile is wide and terrifying, and it makes something inside her clench and writhe.

"Beautiful flowers for my beautiful boss."

"Ahaaaaa!" she points a finger at him, trying to hide the blush rising in her cheeks (he's never called her beautiful before, and it doesn't even really matter except it does), "So that's the reason! You're trying to get on the boss's good side. I knew you had ulterior motives."

It's meant to sound at least a little intimidating, but she has a feeling her smile takes the sting out of her words.

"You got me," Casey plays along, hanging his head in mock shame for a second, then looking back up, the trademark glint in his eyes. "Did it work?"

She lets him wait for the answer, knowing their little moment is almost over. "You'll find out when the next round of promotions come along, won't you?" It's an empty threat (or promise)--he doesn't have anywhere to go--, but he smiles anyway and crosses his fingers, making her laugh again.

 

A few weeks later, he takes her to dinner after the show. That, in itself, is not unusual, and she doesn't even notice that something isn't quite right until she's already at home, still stuffed from the meal he insisted on paying for when they usually split the check. She tries to remember if there's a special occasion that she somehow missed, but nothing comes to mind, and when she notices the faint taste of the dessert still on her tongue that he talked her into, she thinks for an absurd second about checking the date to see if she's forgotten her own birthday. A moment of contemplation (and a quick glance at the calendar she can't resist after all) later, she's none the wiser. But then she remembers that Casey's been in a great mood lately, not only at work, but in general, and maybe inviting her to dinner is just his way of showing it.

She decides not to dwell on the suit he wore instead of his usual jeans and sweater, or the smell of his cologne she likes so much, or the fact that she's the only one he invited.

 

There's also the time that they go out drinking together. Well, times, really, but more often than not, their coworkers are there with them, and those times don't even really count.

"Bringing in Dan was a great choice," she admits one night over her second mojito.

"I know!" Casey says when he really wants to say 'I told you so', and she can't even blame him this time because he did tell her so, and she almost said no anyway. He deserves this win.

"You were right."

"I... what?"

He looks so genuinely stunned that she does a little double-take. Surely, this isn't the first time she's told him he's right? He's not often right to begin with, but the times that he is, she's sure she has told him.

"I don't think I heard that right," he says, his surprise mostly gone now. "Could you repeat that for me?"

Dana decides to humour him.

"I said 'you were right'."

"Can I have that in writing, by any chance? I want to have this historic moment on paper so I can frame it."

"How about I shoot you and then have it engraved on your tombstone? 'Here lies Casey, beloved husband, father and friend. He was right, once.'"

"'Just once'", Casey joins in, "'on a glorious spring day in Dallas, Texas; the city that was then renamed 'City of Casey's Victory'.'"

"'Casey's Victory?' Isn't that a little too much?"

"Nope. Nuh-uh," he shakes his head vehemently. "I was right. You said it. That means I win. Hence, my victory."

"You know, now that I think about it, maybe you weren't right after all."

"You can't take it back now!" he says, with that pleading look of his. "You already admitted that I won!"

"Funny! The thing is, I don't recall saying that."

"I'm pretty sure you did."

"No, Casey," Dana says, smacking her hand against his shoulder, "that was you."

"Fine, you said I was right, I said I won. Happy now?"

Dana nods. "Yes. Alright, it's late, I'm going home," she stops giggling, already wrapping herself in her coat. "See you tomorrow."

She's almost out of earshot when his voice rings through the crowd.

"So is that a 'no' to getting that in writing?"

 

And then there's that time at the show's Christmas party, the party that he ends up spending almost entirely at her side even though Lisa's right there.

Dana's seen Lisa around, of course, but they were never really friends again after L.A.. Not that they've talked about it, or that Dana and Casey have. It's become one of those things that nobody brings up even when everyone knows about it, the elephant in the goddamn room that none of them ever wanted in the first place.

She imagines she can feel Lisa's eyes burning into the back of her skull, and suddenly, every innocent touch she usually shares with Casey becomes something that burns and blazes and leaves her scorched--a hand on her back, fingers brushing the length of his arm, elbows bumping together, knees touching under a table.

She doesn't breathe easily again until she's home alone in her bed and allows herself a chuckle over how ridiculous the entire thing is.

 

After that night, though, she's more conscious of him whenever they see each other, and she's not sure she likes it. She's not sure she likes the attention he gives her either, nor the fact that she doesn't like it. It should be normal, natural even, but something's changed in their dynamic, and that more than anything bothers her.

But then the day comes when she gets a phone call from New York, a job offer not just for herself, but for Casey and Dan, too. After that, everything changes. Dan suggests they ought to have drinks. "To celebrate," he says, and they do, with more alcohol than is entirely sensible, and a song from a jukebox that has her dancing on the table before the night is over.

Later, when they've been thrown out of the bar and are trying to walk to whichever apartment is closest (Dan's, she hopes), she's sandwiched between them and she feels better than she can remember feeling in perhaps ever.

 

---

 

"Hey, Casey," she breathes, glad he picked up, not Lisa.

"Dana! Hey!" he shouts, clearly excited to hear from her. The thought makes her smile. "How's New York?"

"Crowded," she says, remembering the hour and a half it took her that morning just to get from her apartment to her office, "noisy," she adds, listening to her neighbours fight for the third time that week, "rough", from the chipped concrete to the long hours. "Beautiful." A memory of them on the Empire State Building teases her, but she pushes it away.

"Yeah, that sounds about right." His voice is softer now, as though he remembers it, too.

"But I'm almost done setting it all up. Dan gets here next week."

"Yeah, I talked to him yesterday. You should see his apartment, Dana! I've never seen so many boxes. I don't think there's anything he hasn't packed yet. He made me drink from a plastic cup the other day..."

Dana giggles. Truth is, she's been living like that, too.

"Sounds familiar..."

"Are you telling me you still haven't unpacked?" he laughs. "Dana, you've been there for three weeks now!"

"Three weeks during which I've set up our entire show, Casey! I've met with the brass, I've interviewed people, I even had to describe your exact hair colour to one of the stylists today."

"Wow, that last one sounds like the real challenge!" he teases, and all the weight that's been gaining falls off her shoulders, just like that.

"Oh, it was." She tries not to sound tired; they haven't bantered like this in a while and she finds she misses it. But she is tired all the time, and the yawn that she hopes he doesn't hear proves that better than anything.

"Tell you what. As soon as Lisa, Charlie and I get there, I'll help you unpack."

Dana laughs again at that.

"Don't you think you'll have enough unpacking to do in your own place?"

"Lisa can manage. Between you and me, I think she doesn't want me helping anyway, I'd just ruin her perfect system." Dana thinks she can almost hear him roll his eyes.

"I don't have a system," she says, apropos of nothing, because she's not comparing herself to Lisa. Maybe she just realises she should have a system, that maybe with a system, she'd be living in an actual apartment by now rather than out of boxes.

"I know," Casey interrupts her train of thought, "I like it better that way."

Before she can answer, Dana thinks she hears a series of noises in the background, and her suspicion is confirmed when Casey's voice becomes more businesslike, more serious--colder, somehow.

"Lisa's home, I gotta go."

"Alright. Big plans for tonight?" she asks, more to be polite than out of genuine interest.

"No, but she's not in the best mood lately, and if she caught me on the phone with you, I don't think she'd be very happy."

That... is not what Dana expected to hear. Or wanted to hear, really. She doesn't want to know about the problems they're having, or about Lisa's jealousy, because deep down, she still feels a bit guilty about what happened in L.A., which is stupid because nothing happened, but she can't help feeling she's at least part of the reason why Casey and Lisa are fighting so much.

"Oh," is the only response she can come up with.

"Yeah. But hey, I'll call you tomorrow, okay?"

"Sure. Have a good night."

"Night, Dana."

The click of the phone when he hangs up sounds more final than it should, and she goes to bed wired, unable to sleep. She thinks about Casey, about Casey and Lisa and Casey and her, and how somehow, without even meaning to, they've made a mess of things.

Right before she eventually does fall asleep, she thinks how good it is, though, to be in this city now, just like she promised him years ago. It was never an actual goal, but now that she's reached this part of her career, it feels like it was, and she's just fine with crossing that off the list.

 

---

 

Their early years in New York are hard on both of them, and Dan, too, but where she and Dan can focus on one thing at a time--the show, always the show first--, Casey is juggling more stuff than he can handle.

In the end, it doesn't come as a surprise to anyone when he announces he and Lisa are splitting up.

 

---

 

She wasn't lying when she told Natalie she never had a plan to get Casey to fall in love with her. She didn't, not when he was married, and not after he and Lisa split up. Somewhere along the way, though, she managed anyway, and if the kiss they shared five minutes ago is any indication, she did quite well at that.

All the little steps to producing the show are so ingrained in her being that she doesn't need to focus much to do her job, so she takes the minute and a half that Dan spends on a Yankee game to dwell on the kiss, their first--fumbling drunken attempts aside.

She would be lying if she said she hadn't thought about what it would feel like, hadn't wondered how they would fit together, perhaps even more than once in all the years they've known each other.

Now that she knows, she doesn't think she can ever go back. There was something heady about the kiss, something familiar, and something unexpected in that familiarity. She isn't enough of a romantic to say it felt like coming home, but the truth is, there are few things they don't know about each other. And now there will be even fewer.

As she watches Casey grin away all through the next commercial break, Dana finds she can't wait to see where this takes them.

 

---

 

For those wonderful three hours after the bachelorette party, her dating plan had made sense. Dana remembers how clearly she'd seen things then, how unencumbered by dread and jealousy.

And now she sees Casey going out with other women, and somehow, between then and now, the plan stopped making sense. It's too late to take it back, though; he told her he wanted to move on, and for all intents and purposes, he has.

She sees him at Anthony's with a woman she vaguely remembers riding the elevator with once or twice. The week after that, another woman picks him up for lunch, and then yet another the week after that for a late dinner. Dana tries (and fails) not to notice them, but succeeds in not asking him which of them is Pixely.

Late one night, she wonders when it all went wrong. She remembers the ninety days of being less sad than she should've been about the breakup with Gordon, she remembers the anticipation, the slow build-up that lead to the kiss. She wishes Casey had just taken her on a date that night right then, instead of waiting to come up with a perfect plan and giving her time to come up with one that would ruin his. Ruin them.

The prospect of moving on without him now seems more scary than before, somehow, probably because part of her knows, no matter how hard she tries to fight it, that she can't love anyone the way she loves him.

Of all the things in her life, he's the most familiar. That, too, is scary. He's known her literally half her life, and for all the times she thought she'd lost his friendship, they've always found their way back to each other. She has no doubt that, in time, they will go back to the way they were before this disaster. Maybe without the flirting, maybe with more hesitation when they touch, but close enough to their earlier friendship that it will no longer hurt to look at him. She hopes that that day will come soon.

 

---

 

For a moment, she thinks she could be in love with Sam, if she let herself. But he leaves her, and then she just thinks she's sick and tired of people leaving her all the time.

Casey's never left her, she realises. There are other people, too, of course, that have stood by her for more years than she cares to count--her family, Dan, Isaac, Natalie--, but loyalty isn't quite love, and she's pushing 35.

 

---

 

Dana decides to do what she does best and throws herself into work.

"I refuse to be bogged down by this," she announces to Natalie in the control room before the show one night.

"Good for you!"

"I refuse."

"Preach it!" Natalie says, going through one of her many check lists.

"I will not be bogged down by this. You wanna know why?"

"Cause you refuse?"

"Cause I refuse."

 

---

 

She's already forgotten what exactly they're arguing about; all she knows is that she has to keep shouting, has to win at least this one fight. Why it's become so important to her that she does is another thing she's forgotten, or maybe she never knew to start with. It's just that everything that Casey does lately drives her crazy.

"Can you just shut up for a minute?!" she yells, a hand furiously rubbing against her forehead to make the headache disappear.

"No, I will not shut up! You've gone out of your way to make our lives miserable lately. The show is suffering, and you know it. And if you think I'm not going to call you out on it, you don't know me at all."

"Well maybe I don't!"

He looks as bewildered as she feels.

"Maybe you don't what?"

"Maybe I don't know you. I certainly didn't know you liked redheads." The words are out of her mouth before she can stop them; they weren't supposed to be said, even if she saw his latest... floozy pick him up after the show two days ago.

"So that's what this is about!"

Dana rolls her eyes.

"Don't flatter yourself."

"Give me a break, Dana. Give all of us a break. You were the one who came up with that stupid dating plan, and now that I'm no longer going along with it, you're mad, and you're taking it out on everyone."

"That's not what's happening at all!" she tries to defend herself, even though she knows he's not entirely wrong. "You're mad that I didn't jump at the chance to date you and now you're trying to get back at me by flaunting your various conquests in my face!"

He takes a step closer to her, and then another, until she can see the vein in his forehead throb and feel his breath come in harsh puffs against her cheek. His voice is lower, too, more menacing, and if she didn't know him better than anyone--and she does, there's no use in pretending--, she'd probably be scared.

"They're not conquests," he says in almost a whisper, "and I don't flaunt. But I think it's about time you admitted you're jealous."

"Please!" Dana snorts, trying to shove him away. "You think I'm jealous of those women? Think again!"

"I know, Dana. Because I know you."

He hasn't moved, but he somehow seems even closer than before, and she couldn't turn away even if she tried. Her heart is still beating wildly in her chest, from the fight or from their proximity, she has no idea. And his breathing is ragged and warm on her face, getting warmer still when he leans down.

That's about when she loses the ability to process what's happening. Somehow, her arms end up looped around his neck, his hands dig into her hip, and his lips feel dry against hers in that moment before their tongues meet. The rest is a blur of clashing teeth and fumbling fingers, of heat and tension and more than a little insanity.

She stops him, finally, long after he's tugged down her shirt enough to nibble across her collarbone and her hands have found their way onto the bare skin of his back.

"Casey," she whispers, then again more urgently.

Her own name in reply sounds more like a moan than a whisper, and she very nearly gives in. But there are people outside, people who could come in any minute, and besides, he's seeing someone else.

"Casey, stop!" she says, and to his credit, he complies immediately.

"What? What's wrong?"

"I... We can't..."

He's halfway across the room in an instant, which is just how long it takes her to start regretting her words. Or lack of them, because there are so many things she want so say to him but doesn't know how.

Casey storms out and doesn't look back.

 

Half an hour later, she has worked up the courage to go into his office.

"We need to talk about this."

"Do we?" he asks, anger colouring his words. "I thought you'd be perfectly happy to pretend nothing happened. Like we've always done."

That last part stings, but Dana's determined to give as good as she gets.

"And I thought you were perfectly happy dating Pixely!"

"I'm not dating Pixely!"

"Sleeping with Pixely, then."

"I'm not sleeping with Pixely either!"

"Well I thought you were happy dating or sleeping with whoever it is you're dating or sleeping with!"

He shakes his head as if to clear it, and most of the tension drains out of him.

"I'm not dating anyone. Or sleeping with anyone, for that matter."

"Oh."

"Less than an hour ago, I was kissing you, and I thought that was going pretty well, but you apparently didn't."

"I did," she admits.

"Then why did you stop me?"

"Oh, let's see. Maybe because I thought you were seeing someone. Or because the first time we tried this... this thing, it blew up in our faces. Or maybe because I don't know how to not be in the men's room!"

"The men's room??"

"I don't know what you want from me, Casey!" she snaps.

"No, Dana. You know exactly what I want. What I've wanted all this time. The problem is that you have no clue what you want!"

He runs out on her again, leaving her to the loneliness she's caused herself so effortlessly. But this time, although it tries very hard, the sob that rises in her throat doesn't get through. No, this time, there is hope. She thought all was lost when Dan told her about the men's room, and when Casey said no to her asking him out. But she remembers now, it wasn't actually a 'no', it was a 'not now'; it was just that, until this moment, she hasn't been brave enough to try again, always fearful that maybe he really didn't want her anymore, didn't love her anymore.

On a shaky exhale, Dana vows to herself to not let him wait much longer.

 

---

 

She makes the decision on a Thursday. It's a day without any exciting news stories breaking--a normal day, a regular day.

When she enters Casey's office, she tries not to fidget, but something must give her nervousness away because when he glances up from his writing pad, he gets that look in his eyes that says he knows something monumental is about to happen.

"Casey," she says, voice a little higher than usual, and his eyes are more intense than she's seen them since that moment before their first kiss.

Before anything else can happen, Dan comes rushing into the room.

"Casey, you won't believe what just happened! Oh, hey, Dana! Listen, so I was cutting tape when--"

"Dan," Casey interrupts, eyes still fixed on Dana.

"Yeah?"

"Get out."

Dana can't contain a little grin, but to her relief, she doesn't think Dan noticed.

"What?"

"Get out!" Casey repeats, more insistent now. "Get out, go away, get lost, whichever you prefer, as long as you leave this office right this very second."

"It's my office, too, you know?"

That's Dan's sulking voice, and usually, Dana would empathise, but anything that gets Dan to leave is fine with her. She'd threaten to fire him if need be, but he's already out the door, mumbling to himself.

Casey never took his eyes off her, and now would be the perfect time to feel self-conscious, but she's too happy for that.

"Casey."

"Dana."

"I know what I want now."

The smile on his face is infectious.

 

---

 

To Casey's credit, there is no carriage ride. There also isn't dinner at Café des Artistes or drinks at Moomba. It's not that she didn't like his idea of a perfect date with her, or that she wouldn't have enjoyed all of these things (even the carriage ride), but they've put enough pressure on themselves and each other, and the time for grande gestures has long passed.

No, as their first date, he takes her to Anthony's for lunch. They order sandwiches, talk about work, and before they've even paid, he helps her solve today's crossword. The one thing Casey insists on is making sure there aren't any other work people around, and she has to keep from smiling at how adorable she thinks he is.

There's time left after, so Casey suggests a walk along 6th Avenue, no particular destination in mind. He doesn't try anything adventurous like take her hand, but once in a while, their fingers brush, and that is more than enough.

They don't even make it past 55th Street before Dana's cellphone rings.

"Natalie? What happened?"

She spends two minutes listening to the younger woman talk about a big story they just got their hands on, all the while ignoring Casey's quizzical expression.

The second she hangs up, she announces, "We need to get back to the office."

She's already storming off when she remembers she should apologise for cutting their date short.

"Casey, I'm sor--"

"It's okay. We'll have other dates," he says, and wraps his arm around her waist. "Let's go do our show."

 

---

 

Their first thanksgiving together, Lisa takes Charlie to her parents', so Dana takes Casey to meet her family. Well, 'meet' isn't exactly the right word; they've met before. Casey knows her family better than anyone else in her life does, but all she tells her mother is that she's bringing someone.

When her family sees who exactly it is she's bringing... nobody is actually surprised.

'Go figure,' she thinks.

 

---

 

Of course her mother brings up marriage over dinner, and Dana blushes so much she's convinced her face must be on fire. She and Casey are still tiptoeing around each other sometimes, and this mortification might be enough to send him running, what with his previous experience and all. Instead, Casey takes one look at her face and starts laughing into his turkey stuffing.

It doesn't take long for her brothers to join in, and if at all possible, her face gets even redder.

 

Later that night, she almost brings up the subject, but she remembers telling him that she wants her next relationship to be serious, and after Lisa, she wouldn't even blame him if he never wanted to get married again. And what they have now is good and right and the way it always should have been, and she knows that it's more than likely she'll screw it up somehow, but if she does, it won't be over something as silly as this.

 

He surprises her again then, right before they fall asleep, when he curls up to her, and whispers in her ear.

"One day, Dana. One day."

She snorts into her pillow.

"Yeah, that's what they all say..."

Her teasing is met with lasting silence. Dana's about to nod off when she hears his voice once more.

"All?"

She snorts again.

 

---

 

The months go by in a flash, and their show is doing better than ever. They date a little and work a lot, and eventually, they spend so much time in Dana's apartment that she tells him to just move in already. They still fight as much as ever, but at least now their making up has added perks. And at the end of a particularly long day, Casey always rubs her shoulders.

It occurs to Dana one morning, toothbrush in her mouth as she listens to Casey whistle in the shower, that she's happy. Incredibly, wonderfully, endlessly happy.

She jumps out of the bathroom to call Natalie, and then joins Casey under the lukewarm spray. No one will mind if they're an hour late today.

 

---

 

"So you're sure we'll be stranded here without our show for at least ten days?" Casey asks one afternoon in late June.

"Yes."

"How sure?"

"Reasonably sure," Dana says, pouring both of them coffee.

"But not absolutely?"

"No, Casey. Nobody is absolutely sure when this strike will end."

"So what you're saying is that you're reasonably sure."

"Yes."

"Alright then. Let's do it!"

"Let's do what?" she asks, taking a sip from her cup.

"Let's do it, Dana!"

"Do what, Casey? I don't know what you're talking about!"

"The Thing is what I'm talking about!"

"The thing?" A raised eyebrow and a heartbeat later, she adds, "Are you saying 'thing' with a capital T?"

"Yes!"

"I still don't know what you're talking about."

"Oh come on, Dana! This is supposed to be a romantic moment. I say 'let's do it' and you're supposed to say 'yes' and be excited! You're ruining the romantic moment!"

"I'm ruining the romantic moment?"

"Yes!"

"By not knowing what the Thing is?"

"Yes!"

"Why don't you just tell me then?"

He rolls his eyes, bends down and whispers in her ear.

"Ohhhhhhhhh, that thing!"

"Yes, that thing. Now let's try this again. You know what you need to say?"

"I do."

He puts some distance between them and tries not to look too excited yet.

"Okay, here it comes. Dana?"

"Yes, Casey?"

"Let's do it!"

"Now? You wanna do it now?"

"Dana!!"

"I'm sorry, Casey. I just don't think now is the best time. I'm not saying we shouldn't do it, just that I'm not sure about the now part."

"What are you talking about? Now is the perfect time! We know the show won't be back for ten days--"

"We're reasonably sure," she interrupts.

"Fine! We're reasonably sure the show won't be back for ten days. That leaves us with a enough time for a quick getaway. You and I both know we'd never do that while the show was on. We'd get It done and then be right back here a few hours later."

"Are you saying 'it' with a capital I now?"

"Yes."

"I... guess you're right."

"Now, listen, we can do this any way you want, we don't even have to go snorkelli-- wait, what?"

"I said I guess you're right."

"Really? So we're doing It?"

"We're doing It!"

He jumps out of his chair and, after giving her a quick kiss, drags her out of the office with him.

"We're doing It!!"

"But Casey?"

He stops in his tracks.

"Yes?"

"If you ever refer to our honeymoon as a 'quick getaway' again, I'm going to have to kill you."