Casey frowned as he walked into their office. "Am I homophobic?"
"No." Dan looked up from his magazine. "Why do you ask?"
Casey flopped into the armchair. "Dana said I was homophobic. I made a comment about one of the women from the bachelorette party being a bitter lesbian, and she called me a homophobe."
Dan smirked. "You were talking about the one who got her thinking about the six month dating plan, weren't you?"
"How could you tell?" Casey replied sarcastically. "I wasn't being homophobic, I was just..."
Dan turned his attention back to his magazine. "Well, also being mean and bitter, but definitely rude."
"You don't think I'm homophobic?" It shouldn't matter, because he wasn't, but it annoyed him that Dana thought he was.
Dan sighed and turned his page. "You're not homophobic, Casey."
"How can you be sure?"
Dan sounded bored. "How can I be sure?"
Casey frowned at Dan. He was sure Dan was deliberately being obtuse. "Yeah."
"How can I be sure that my best friend and co-worker, the guy that I end up spending nearly twelve hours a day around, isn't homophobic?" Dan rolled his eyes. "You're not homophobic, Casey. You're just mean."
"Good. Well, not good, but... good." Casey got up and walked over to the desk, starting on that day's script.
"I wouldn't have been your friend for ten years if you were homophobic," Dan added as an afterthought.
Dan looked up at him. "You remember Alex and Michael from college, right?"
Casey thought about it. He could vaguely recall Dan introducing them at parties. Honestly, he could only remember that Dan always seemed to have a crowd of friends at college. It used to be enough to make Casey wonder if he'd somehow wasted his college friend-making opportunities. "Vaguely."
"You didn't act any differently to them."
"So because you had gay friends in college, I'm not homophobic?" Casey asked, and Dan gave him a quick look. It was just a split-second of something, just enough to jar Dan's slightly bored grin for a moment. It was the type of look that Casey would have needed to rewind, pause and slow-mo to figure out its meaning.
"Did you think any worse of me for knowing them?"
Casey snorted. "No."
"Did you treat them as anything other than two guys with a limited understanding of sports?"
"You're not homophobic, Casey."
"Just mean," Dan added with a teasing grin and turned back to his magazine.
Over the next few months, Casey totally forgot about that conversation. Between job fears, the sale of CSC and the Quo Vadimus purchase, everyone was concentrating too much on making the show good to worry about random comments. In fact, he didn't think about Dan's comment until months later, after everyone had realized that Calvin Trager really was going to let Isaac run the show the way he wanted, and everyone had started to relax, knowing Sports Night was safe.
It was supposed to be another celebrity challenge, but Dan's chance to reclaim his manhood, yet again, was thwarted by the helmet's sudden disappearance. No helmet, no game. No game, but everyone gathered and prepared for a night of lively drinking, resulted in taking shots and playing drinking games. They were in the midst of 'I Never', and a game that had started off rather fun had somehow devolved onto a highly sexual level.
"I never had sex on the subway," Chris announced. Casey looked around, watching as Kim, Dave and Dan dutifully emptied their shot glasses. It was a good thing that Kim had such a high tolerance for spirits, Casey thought as he watched Dan's unsteady stance.
"I've never slept with a porn star," Natalie said, beaming when Jeremy didn't reach for his glass. The only one who did drink was Kim.
Will's eyes widened. "Really?"
"What was it like?" Chris asked.
"False. Advertising," Kim pronounced with an exaggerated pout, causing most of the office to laugh. "Who's next?"
"It's your turn," Jeremy replied to her, supporting a rather drunk Natalie at his side.
Kim smiled widely. "I've never kissed a girl." The guys glared at her and one by one, downed their shots.
"That's not really fair," Elliott complained. "I mean, it's targeting the guys."
"Not necessarily," Kim replied. "I could have kissed a girl at college, or as part of a threesome, or on a dare. I just haven't."
Chris glared at her. "In that case, it's time for revenge."
Kim shook her head. "Not so fast. It's Casey's turn."
"It's still time for revenge," Chris muttered, looking meaningfully at Casey.
Casey got the hint. "It's pretty clear what my question will be." The girls groaned. "I never kissed a guy."
"Sometimes, you are very petty, Casey," Dana slurred, swallowing her shot. There was no denying that the woman was a lightweight. Kim and Natalie clinked their shot glasses together and downed the liquid. Then Natalie leaned forward, and filled up another glass.
"It's not quantitative," Jeremy pointed out, slurring slightly. "You only drink once, regardless of how many guys you've kissed."
"This isn't for me." Natalie shook her head slowly and smiled a rather drunk grin at Dan. "It's for Dan."
"Big mouth," Dan muttered darkly, but reached across and took the glass from Natalie's hand. He swallowed it quickly, and then turned to Dana. "Your turn."
Dana just blinked at him. "Okay... I've never... I've never been this drunk while playing this game."
"That really doesn't count, Dana," Casey pointed out reasonably.
"Besides, you get drunk on the smell of shots," Natalie added. "No one's going to drink to that."
Dana pouted. "Well, I'm going home. It's..." She trailed off as she squinted at her watch. "What's the time?"
Casey looked over at the clock, squinting until the large numbers came into focus. "It's nearly five."
"Almost," Casey confirmed.
"In that case, I think everyone should be going home," Dana declared. "You all need to back here in seven hours for the midday rundown, and some of us will have bad hangovers as it is."
The crowd was silent. After a moment of thought, Kim asked, "Is anyone sober enough to drive me home?"
Dan blinked. "Casey might be." Casey shot a quick glance over at Dan's helpful tone, wondering if it was a sly jab at Casey's lack of experience. Dan frowned as he thought, and Casey realized Dan was too drunk to be quite so subtle.
Dan slurred slightly as he said, "But he can't drive us all home. Probably best to chip in for cab fare together." Will and Chris nodded, and everyone started to work out which direction they were headed, and how many cabs were needed.
"You kissed a guy?"
"Casey." Dan looked up at him wearily. "So not your business."
"Well, yeah, but..." Casey shrugged and flopped into their armchair.
"Still not your business." Dan's keys seemed to clatter a bit too loudly.
Casey leaned over, grabbing the messy pile of newspaper from the couch. "I just... didn't know."
"Yeah, I figured."
He twisted his head around, to look over at the loud keyboard sitting on their desk. "Meaning?"
"Meaning the shocked expression on your face last night pretty much made that clear." Dan sighed and stopped typing. "If it helps, I wasn't keeping it from you. I thought you knew."
Casey's newspaper crumpled under his tight grip. "Why did you think I'd know?"
Dan shrugged. "Because I introduced you to Alex and Michael. Because I wasn't trying to hide that I was sleeping with them. I thought it was pretty obvious."
"You were sleeping with them," Casey repeated woodenly.
Dan laughed. "Okay, you hadn't realized that, had you?"
Casey spoke slowly, working on autopilot. "No, not yet."
"Well, now you know," Dan said and turned back to the keyboard.
A few days later, they hadn't brought it up again, but Casey had to ask. "Do you still sleep with guys?"
"Do I still...?" Dan parroted, looking at Casey in surprise. "You know, this is still none of your business."
Casey crossed his arms, and leaned back against their table. "It is my business."
"It's our show. Calvin might not be Luther Sachs, but this is still something that could kill our ratings pretty quickly."
Dan grinned. "It could bring us a whole new audience."
"I'm serious, Dan."
"Yeah, I know. But it's still none of your business."
Casey huffed in impatience. "Do you still do it?"
"No," Dan said, perching on the desk. Casey felt relieved, until Dan added, "And even if I did, I wouldn't tell you."
He pushed himself off the table, standing up straight. "Why not?"
Dan looked at him and pronounced each word carefully. "None. Of. Your. Business."
"You tell me about the women you date. I tell you about my dates. Why is this not my business?"
"Because it would change the way you behave, Casey."
"What do you mean?"
Dan shifted on the desk, swinging his legs as he spoke. "You'd suddenly become self-conscious about comments. The next time you called me a woman, you'd stop yourself and wonder. You'd start to keep an eye on me in interviews, and start editing my script, to make sure that I didn't come across as vaguely gay."
"Well, probably..." Casey acknowledged.
"I'm not going to live like that, Casey. I don't make it obvious. You never realized. I don't need you watching over me all the time." Dan shrugged. "Not to mention, you're not a great liar."
"So?" Casey asked, confused.
"So, someone would say something, and your reaction would show. That, in and of itself, would be enough to start rumors."
Casey deflated at that comment. After a pause, he said softly, "You could trust me with this, Danny."
Dan smiled gently. "I really couldn't. I need to check the tape," Dan said and walked to the door.
"Okay." Casey shrugged. "I just... wanted to know."
Dan stopped with his hand on their door handle, and turned back to face Casey. "I don't, okay? I'm in sports journalism and I'm a smart guy. I know the consequences of this."
"Good," Casey said as Dan walked out. "I just wanted to know."
Dan was using the laptop, the keys making a soft sound as he typed. He was sitting at the table, writing in starts and stops, the way he always did. It was such a familiar scene, familiar sight and familiar sound, that Casey normally didn't even notice it. Today, he was wondering how it could feel so familiar. How it could reassure him that Danny was still Danny, even if Danny was suddenly... not quite who he thought Danny was.
He must have been staring, because Dan looked up at him pointedly. "What?"
"Do you miss it?" Casey blurted out.
Dan blinked at him. "Do I miss what?"
"Umm..." Casey said, stalling. "Working on the computer? You seem to use the laptop all the time."
Dan shrugged. "Not really. I like the keyboard."
"It's too small."
"The keys feel better. Softer. More... bounce."
Casey grinned. "Bounce?"
"I'm making writing a tactile experience," Dan said, and then turned back to his page. Casey snorted and turned back to the PC, complete with its larger, harder and louder keys.
Things between him and Dan weren't precisely bad. They were just... a little strained.
Casey was man enough to admit it was mostly his fault. He was on edge, uptight. It was the strain of wanting to ask questions and knowing he shouldn't. Knowing he couldn't, because Dan would just turn around and tell him it wasn't any of his business.
He knew Dan was technically right. It really wasn't anything to do with him. And Casey trusted Dan. He did. He knew that Dan wouldn't do anything stupid, but... He still wanted to know.
It was strange to have this thing, this huge part of Danny's life that Casey couldn't ask about. That he wasn't allowed to know about. It wasn't as if Casey spent all of his time asking Dan about his family or his sessions with Abby, but those were different. He didn't need to ask. He knew Dan would tell him eventually.
And that was the nub of it. It wasn't that Dan hadn't wanted to tell him about this, it was that Dan wouldn't have told him. He'd told Natalie. He'd known Casey for five years longer. He'd slept over at Casey's place; he'd held Casey's month-old son; he'd shared Casey's sandwiches. But he didn't want Casey to know about this.
It hurt. It hurt in a way that it really shouldn't have. They weren't a pair of women twittering about painful break-ups and the latest fashions. They were men. They talked about sports and drank beer; they shared stories of sexual conquests. And if Dan didn't want him to know about some of them, it really shouldn't have mattered.
But it did.
"Catherine Zeta Jones," Dan said, leaning back on the bar stool. Dana and Natalie were discussing something at the table behind them, and somehow the topic of celebrities had come up.
Casey shook his head and reached for his beer. "Nope."
"You wouldn't sleep with Catherine Zeta Jones?"
"Isn't that hyphenated? Zeta-Jones?"
Dan shot him a sharp look. "I don't think you're right, but I doubt you could tell if I was saying it with or without a hyphen." Casey shrugged and swallowed. "But my question remains. You wouldn't sleep with Catherine Zeta-Jones?"
"I don't have good luck with brunettes."
"I've never seen you date a brunette," Dan leaned back on the barstool, and it looked like Dan's will was the only thing stopping gravity and intoxication from dragging him to the floor. "How could you know you don't have good luck with them?"
"My first kiss was with a brunette."
Dan snorted. "And from one bad adolescent kiss you will blame all brunettes?"
"I prefer blondes," Casey said, thinking of Dana, Pixley and Sally. He thought about Lisa, and decided that strawberry blonde was still more blonde than red.
Danny started humming something under his breath, and then shook his head. "I can't believe one kiss could be that bad."
"Spin the bottle. She bit my tongue. It was bad." Danny snickered and Casey glared at him. "What about your first kiss?"
"Mine?" Dan blinked, and a wistful smile appeared on his face. "My first kiss was with a redhead. Cathy. It was... fun."
"Uh-huh." Dan looked far too smug. "You know that 'seven minutes in heaven' game? Sometimes it really is seven minutes in heaven."
Casey rolled his eyes. "I wasn't so big on party games."
"You were spending your time wearing leotards and doing splits," Dan shot back with a grin.
"What about the first time you...?" Casey started and then trailed off as he realized what he was about to ask. He really didn't think he was quite drunk enough for that.
"First time I slept with a girl? I was fifteen, she was a brunette, and it was... not bad. Could have been better, I'm sure, but..." Dan shrugged. "I still enjoyed it. What about you?"
Casey nodded, even though that wasn't what he was going to ask about. "Senior year. Blonde, drunk and half-forgotten."
Dan nodded ruefully. "I had a lot of those in senior year too." Casey had the urge to ask if that had been with guys or girls, but swallowed another mouthful of beer instead. It tasted flat against his tongue.
It mattered because Casey wanted to ask and had to keep censoring himself. It mattered because he kept waiting for Dan to confide in him, to take him aside and tell Casey about these faceless, nameless men that he'd slept with. Casey was surreptitiously watching Danny for signs of an approaching confession, and it never came. Dan was just Dan and Casey was just edgy.
The bad thing about this was that it affected Dan, too. Casey was uptight, his script was dull, and his jokes were flat, and that made Danny tense. It made Danny work harder to cover it, to be funny enough for both of them, which made Casey feel guilty and ridiculous; in turn, Casey's words became even harder to find.
Their everyday banter became short and terse. The show became lifeless and forced, and when Dana asked what was wrong, Casey could only shrug.
Dan echoed his shrug and said, "It's the ides of June. Bad time of year."
Dana scowled at them. "That's the ides of March, you morons. What the hell is up with you two?"
"Nothing." Dan shook his head and Casey found himself mimicking.
"There isn't anything wrong, Dana. It's just... June. The weather's lousy and the pollution count's up and Rod Thorn is no longer head of the NBA's Basketball Operations department," Casey whined, waving his hand loosely as he spoke.
"Hmph." Dana watched them carefully. "It's just a general malaise?"
Dan nodded. "It's a general malaise."
"A vague apathy," Casey added.
"An overwhelming ennui."
"A general mal..." Casey frowned. "Wait, we've used that one."
Dan grinned. "A certain feeling of comme ci, comme ça."
He raised an eyebrow at Dan. "Maybe, maybe not?"
Dan blinked. "What?"
"That's what you said," Dana explained, smiling.
"Comme ci, comme ça. Maybe, maybe not," Casey translated.
"Oh." Dan paused. "Maybe I meant je ne sais quoi?"
"A certain feeling of I don't know what?" Casey asked doubtfully, and Dan's brows lowered in thought.
Dana cleared her throat. "Whatever Dan meant, could you guys try to fix it?"
"We can certainly try," Casey said helpfully. "But I think the weather thing is kind of beyond our control."
"And I don't think either of us could get Russ Granik to fire Stu Jackson, but we'll certainly try," Danny added with a grin.
"Then I'll leave you to mourn Rod Thorn and I'll assume that everything will be fine." With those words, Dana turned to leave. For a while, she was right.
Dan was being petty and Casey had lowered himself to the same childish standards. The C-breaks had turned into snide bickering, broken by occasional obvious silences as they both pointedly ignored the other. Ignored the other for about thirty seconds, and then started squabbling again.
Casey wasn't sure what they were fighting about. This wasn't a case of not understanding the other person's point of view; it was that he honestly couldn't remember. They'd been fixing something after the eight o'clock rundown, and it had turned into the kind of prolonged argument that belonged in a school playground. Dana had rolled her eyes and said they were just like her brothers, fighting because they were bored.
"Two and a half minutes back," Dave announced over the PA, and Casey settled into another sulking silence.
Dana's voice buzzed in his ear. "Casey?"
"The Houston game was five-three, not four-three."
Casey glared into the camera. "So?"
"So your script, and the teleprompter, says four-three."
"Got it," Casey said and reached for his pen to add in the correct scores. Or tried to add the scores, until he realized his pen was out of ink. Irritably, he looked at Dan. "Give me your pencil."
Dan's eyebrows rose in disbelief. "I don't think so."
"Dan, don't be ridiculous. Give me it."
"Bite me." Leaning back in his chair, Dan twirled the pencil in his fingers. "It's one score. You'll remember it. You've done it before."
"I could remember it, but I don't want to." He couldn't believe that Dan was being so ridiculous about something this stupid. "Give me the pencil so I can write it down."
"Hmmm..." Dan tilted his head, a mockery of deep thought. "No."
He glared at Dan and Dan glared back. "You can be childish and refuse, or you could act like a professional and give it to me."
"Or you could bite me."
"Or I could fuck you," Casey growled back, and then blinked at his script with the deafening realization that he'd actually said that.
The studio seemed unnaturally quiet, and Casey shuffled the papers just to have an excuse not to look over at Dan.
"Swear jar," Dana said over the PA. Try as he might, Casey couldn't hear any amusement in her tone. She sounded cranky.
She cut him off easily. "Swear jar, Casey." He sighed but Dana didn't let it go. "Do I need to remind you how it works?"
"No. I know the rules." Of course he did. When he'd first started working with Dana in L.A., she'd instituted the swear jar. At the time, he'd hated it. It wasn't as if he swore much to start with, but those first few months had cost him hundreds of dollars.
"You swear at the office, or on the set, or near a camera, it's fifty dollars. Fifty dollars a swear word, Casey."
It had always seemed ridiculously expensive, but after the first few months, he'd stopped swearing at work. It had certainly helped his career in L.A. When one of the main sports reporters had been surprised on-air, and swore rather loudly and creatively on live television, Casey had suddenly found himself allocated to the more popular sports. At the time, he'd toasted Dana and her swear jar.
"I know, Dana. But I don't have the cash on me."
"But you will have it tomorrow morning?"
Casey sighed and bent his neck. "Yes, Dana." Something sharp poked his arm, and he looked over to find Dan holding out his pencil and watching him speculatively. Casey took the pencil, but had a mental blank as to the correct score.
"It should be five-three," Dan said blandly.
"I'm sorry," Casey said uncomfortably after the show. Dan had already changed into street clothes, and was lounging across Kim's chair with his feet on her desk. The others had gone home, or gone to Anthony's. Dana's tight glare had made it clear that he needed to apologize to someone else.
Dan glanced over at him, and then turned his attention back to Kim's computer screen. "You're sorry?" he asked, without much interest.
Casey grimaced. "I'm sorry. For what I said."
"Yeah?" Dan clicked the mouse a few times. He was acting far too casual, and it just made Casey feel worse.
"I'm sorry for being childish, and for calling you unprofessional."
"And for swearing?" Dan asked, leaning forward to stare at the screen.
Casey felt about eight years old, like being forced to apologize after breaking someone else's toy. He had to fight the urge to look down and scuff his foot against the carpet. "And I'm sorry for swearing."
"Uh-huh," Dan said, biting his thumbnail and watching the monitor. Slowly, Dan moved his hand away from his mouth and settled it on the mouse. Then he scrunched his eyes and clicked.
"What are you doing?" Casey leaned over Dan's shoulder, getting a brief whiff of Dan's airy aftershave and the slightly citric smell of make-up remover.
Dan kept his eyes tightly closed. "Did I explode?"
On the screen the Minesweeper face smiled and asked for Dan's name. "You won."
"Yes!" Dan scrambled to the keyboard. He typed in "Ha!" and hit enter. When the highest scores for each level showed up, they read "Ha!", "Ha!", "Ha!"
Casey blinked at the computer screen, still leaning over Dan. "And again I ask, what are you doing?"
Dan closed down the game. "I'm playing with Kim's mind. It drives her nuts that someone keeps beating her high scores."
He was still looking over Dan's shoulder when Dan turned to say something else. Dan's cheek grazed against his, surprisingly soft and warm, and Casey quickly stood up straight, not quite sure why it startled him so much. Dan just looked over his shoulder, the victory grin still shadowing the corners of his mouth, as he watched Casey calmly.
Casey shook his head and just blamed it on being overly tired. "Don't you think she'll suspect you?"
"Doubt it," Dan replied smugly, swinging his legs as he spun the chair around.
"She's looking through the computers for proof of a good player. I reset the scores on the laptop and I've been throwing games for the last month."
"You sabotaged your own scores just to allay suspicion?" Casey wondered aloud and Dan nodded. "You play on the computer, too. What if she checks that?"
Dan bounced to his feet and placed a hand on Casey's shoulder. "That's the beauty of it. Kim's seen you play. She knows how terrible you are, so she's not checking that computer."
"Thanks," Casey deadpanned.
"I get to screw with her mind and I get to keep my highest score. This is a beautiful scam."
"You'll never get away with it," Casey said, feeling like he'd stepped out of a cheesy murder mystery.
Dan laughed evilly, following the clichéd cue. "But I already have."
"Really?" Casey asked lamely as Dan bent over and switched the computer off.
"Yeah. Kim thinks it's Jeremy."
Casey chided Dan's back, "Danny."
"It's okay. Jeremy's got Natalie defending his honor."
"Are we going to be punished for this?"
Dan leaned back against Kim's desk, grinning smugly. "I don't think so. Natalie's sure it's one of the production guys."
"Dan." Casey sighed. "Are you sure that's wise? This may backfire badly."
"This from the guy who just swore on the set of a live national broadcast?" Dan said easily, rolling his eyes.
"We weren't on air, and I said I was--"
Dan held up a hand and shook his head sharply. "I know," Dan said and one side of his mouth quirked up, as if he was thinking about saying something but decided against it.
"Still, I'm sorry. I've just been..." Casey shrugged.
Dan raised his brows. "Jumpy? Edgy? Neurotic?"
Dan speared him with a disbelieving look. "Casey, for the last two weeks you've been so politely distant I've wondered if you remember that we're friends. Or you jump down my throat the second I open my mouth."
Casey felt the corners of his mouth tense. He thought he'd covered his bad mood better than that.
"You do remember I'm your friend, right?"
Casey cringed. "I'll try to stop acting like such a jerk," Casey said uncomfortably, already wanting this conversation to be over.
Dan shook his head and stood up straight. "No. I mean, you remember I'm your friend?" Casey nodded, confused, and Dan continued, "So you know you can talk to me about whatever's bothering you, right?"
"Nothing's bothering me." The response was so automatic Casey didn't even have to think about it. It just sprung, fully-formed, from his lips like some ancient Greek god... Casey frowned, trying to remember the mythological reference.
"Nothing?" Dan narrowed his eyes. "Casey, the only time I've seen you edgier than this was during the divorce. That's a pretty big nothing."
"I don't know what's bothering me, okay?" Casey retorted with a little more force than necessary.
Dan took half a step back, holding his hands up. "Fine. But if you figure it out, you know you can talk to me."
Casey let his breath out in a long hiss. "I know." At least he sounded reassured, and that seemed enough for Dan.
Casey couldn't sleep. It wasn't particularly surprising. It just happened from time to time. Dan could never understand it because he fell asleep at the drop of a hat. Casey had seen it in cars, buses, planes and trains. Dan just closed his eyes and leaned his head against any handy surface, and within five minutes, he was asleep.
Casey always took at least half an hour to fall asleep. Always. Regardless of how tired he was, his body refused to fall asleep easily. He'd lie there, staring at the ceiling and trying to empty his mind. He either fell asleep or lay there for hours, until he just had to get up and do something. Turn on a game, read a book, reorganize his kitchen cupboards.
That was why Casey was rearranging his linen closet at four in the morning.
It was a smaller linen closet than he used to have, but on the other hand, there was less linen now. Interestingly enough, it all seemed to fit in the same linen to space ratio; just enough shelves for just enough linen. Casey wondered if it was a universal truth that linen closets would always be just right, and bedroom closets would always be too large or too small.
There were fitted sheets, flat sheets and a winter bedspread on the top shelf, and the pillowcases were now stacked in a neat pile on the left. The second shelf had bath towels and hand towels. He'd followed the toweling theme, so the dish towels were on that shelf, too.
The next shelf down, second from the bottom, was Charlie's shelf. That was where Charlie's bedding lived on the nights that Charlie didn't stay over. There was a bright blue sheet and a garish matching comforter, covered in some bright cartoon that Casey wouldn't be able to name if his life depended on it.
Charlie had chosen it. It had been in the first month after Casey had moved out, back when he'd just realized that there was nothing temporary about this separation. Lisa had said that she wanted a divorce, that she'd been unhappy for too long, that obviously they just couldn't make their marriage work. She'd talked about it like it was an old car, some old piece of junk that wouldn't start any more. It seemed appropriate that Casey never had been any good at fixing cars.
Casey's first reaction to the news had been to take Charlie shopping. Lisa had accused him of playing Santa Claus, of trying to buy his son's love. She'd been furious, said it was dirty and underhanded, but Casey hadn't meant it like that. Not really.
He'd just wanted Charlie to have something that was his. For Charlie to know that just because his father had moved out, just because Casey now lived in a one bedroom apartment within walking distance to work, that it didn't mean that Charlie wasn't welcome. It didn't change anything; it didn't mean that Casey wasn't Charlie's Dad.
At the time, it made simple sense; he wanted Charlie to have a home with him, but he'd since realized that a one-bedroom apartment wasn't Charlie's home. Charlie's home was with Lisa, in a pleasant house in the suburbs, with his own room and a small yard out the back. Casey's apartment was just 'Dad's place' to his son.
So, he'd bought the fold-out couch and then they'd bought bedding, and unpacked it together. He'd dubbed that shelf as Charlie's, so Charlie would know that he always had his own space at Casey's apartment. It never made Casey's place home. And it didn't stop Casey's heart from breaking a few weeks later, when Charlie looked at him seriously and asked if he'd come back home if Charlie promised to do his chores and work harder at school.
Shaking the thoughts out of his head, Casey turned back to organizing the shelf. He neatened Charlie's sheets and Charlie's comforter, and put Charlie's pillow on top of it. He'd also found an old teddy bear of Charlie's tucked up the back. He wondered if Charlie even knew it was here, or if Charlie had purposely hidden it. Shrugging, Casey sat it on top of the comforter and then turned to the remaining bedding spread around him on the floor.
There was a summer bedspread that his mom had given him, and that he still hated with a passion. Casey was tempted to just throw it out, but guilt made him shove it to the back of the bottom shelf. Then there was the spare comforter, which Casey folded and put back in. The idea of letting Dan use Charlie's bedding always felt weird, so he kept a spare comforter just in case Dan stayed over. That had happened more frequently, ever since Dan realized that, even when really drunk, he could still easily walk from Anthony's to Casey's place.
The only thing left was a dark red sweater that Casey couldn't remember buying. Shrugging to himself, he stood up and shook it out. He closed the closet door with a certain sense of pride, and was about to hang the sweater in his bedroom closet when he remembered. It wasn't his sweater; it was Dan's. Dan had left it here weeks ago, and Casey kept forgetting to give it back. Sighing, Casey left it over the back of his couch, and decided to bring it in tomorrow.
Occasional insomnia was something he and Dana had always had in common, even back in college. Once exams started, they'd both be awake until the indecent hours of the morning. Lisa called them night-owls, and joked how convenient it would be to have those extra hours to study. He'd just laughed it off, uncertain as to how to explain that just because they couldn't sleep, didn't mean they weren't tired.
In Dana's case, it made her edgy and hyper, full of manic cheer. In his case, it just made him cranky. Especially these days, when he had a whole group of people telling him to get a good night's sleep before the bags started showing up.
When he dragged himself into the office, Dan greeted him with the last comment he wanted to hear. "Have you been sleeping?"
"No, Danny," Casey snapped spitefully. "I spent the whole night having a New York renaissance."
"I just meant--"
"Don't tell me to get some sleep, okay?"
Dan shook his head, and pushed the script away from him. "You need to sleep, man. You can't survive indefinitely--"
"If this segues into your story of the seventy-two hours of bio-chem study, I am going to shove that pencil through your eye."
Dan blinked at him and turned back to his script with a frown. "Well, someone got up on the cranky side of bed today," Dan muttered under his breath.
Casey glared at the script in front of Dan. It looked like he'd already finished a third of it. Just the thought of writing was enough to make Casey's head pound. "Yeah, Dan, I purposely got up on the cranky side of my bed," Casey griped. "I woke up and decided that what I needed to make today fly by was a bad mood."
"God forbid I should imply that you have any control over your bad temper." Dan slammed his pen down on the table. "If you need me before the rundown, I'll be in editing," Dan said, standing up.
Casey groaned and rubbed at his eyes. This was not a good way to start out the morning. In a list of ways to start the morning, it was way down the list. Then, Casey remembered the sweater. "Wait."
"What?" Dan said tightly, but stopped angrily gathering pages.
"You left this at my place," Casey said, handing over the sweater. "I didn't mean to snap like that. I got like an hour's sleep last night, and as it is, I'm going to have Natalie, Dana and Alison riding me about this."
Dan took the sweater and grinned. "If you snap at them, you're going to be in real trouble."
Casey flopped down on the couch. "I think you're right."
"I frequently am." Dan grinned and sat down beside Casey. "I've been looking for this for ages."
"It was in the bottom of my linen closet," Casey said distractedly.
Dan watched him closely. "How come you're not sleeping?"
Casey sighed and let his head fall back against the back of the couch. "There isn't a how come, Dan. I'm just not sleeping."
"There's always a how come."
"There's always a reason."
"No, there isn't. I just have trouble sleeping sometimes." Casey stared at the ceiling. "It comes, it goes. It just happens."
Dan snorted and Casey glanced at him out of the corner of his eye. "You have trouble sleeping when you're worrying about something."
"No, I don't."
"Yes, you do."
"No, I don't," he said, sitting upright. "I'm the one losing sleep. I think I'd know if something caused it."
Dan scoffed at him, twisting his lips into something that vaguely resembled a frown. "It's probably the fact that you don't understand what causes it that causes it."
Not even Casey could follow that logic. "Care to repeat that argument for those of us who don't live inside your head?"
"You don't sleep because you're stressed," Dan explained with a wave of his hand. "If you had the ability to recognize when you were stressed, or what you were stressed about, you'd probably deal with it. Instead, you just lose sleep over it and wait for it to go away."
"It just happens, Danny. It's not psychosomatic."
"I didn't say it was," Dan said, stretching his neck to the side and standing up. "I'm just saying it happens for a reason."
Casey snorted. "Where's your proof of this ridiculous claim?"
"When Dana was seeing Gordon, you stopped sleeping as much."
"I was still spending the same number of hours in bed." Casey leered as he added, "I was just spending them with Sally."
Dan's mouth tightened, the way it always did when he mentioned Sally. "Okay, not counting now, when was the last time you lost sleep?"
"Hmmmm..." Casey thought about it. "There was that week in September."
"When you were going all psycho-dad about Charlie possibly being bullied?" Dan asked pointedly.
"Uh... yeah." Come to think of it, that was when Charlie had been having trouble.
"I rest my case," Dan said, sitting down at the table again.
Casey huffed and pushed himself off the couch. "It doesn't prove anything."
"Sure," Dan said sarcastically.
"It doesn't." Casey sat down at the desk and picked up his pen lethargically.
Dan laughed. "It does, Casey, but let's just let that go for now. Are you watching the tennis on Monday?"
"Probably." Casey shrugged. "It's the Wimbledon finals. Everybody will watch it."
"Yeah, but are you watching it on Monday night?"
"I might tape it, and watch it Tuesday."
"I'm thinking about inviting some people over to my place. Make a party out of it." Dan twirled the pencil in his fingers. "You interested in coming?"
He almost said yes, but... "Considering my current mood, it's probably better if I'm not around people." Dan kept watching him, so Casey added, "Besides, I've got Monday off. It won't hurt me to get an early night."
Dan turned back to his script. "Okay."
Casey did have an early night on Monday. He had a long relaxing bath and then set the VCR to tape Danny and Wimbledon, and got into bed by ten.
Of course, that didn't help much when he couldn't sleep.
He counted down the minutes after eleven, and then gave up on sleeping, and wandered into his living room to watch the second half of the show. Dan looked good, even sitting beside Bobbi. To be honest, Casey had to admit that Dan and Bobbi were getting along much better these days. At least Dan no longer spent the day before stressing about sharing the anchor desk with her.
Casey rewound the tape and watched it from the beginning. Watched Dan's serious expression as he reported the latest infamous legal case; watched Dan's bright, and somewhat forced, smile as he reported the soccer highlights.
At a quarter to one, Casey decided to call Dan and see if the invitation for tonight was still open. Dan's phone went straight to the machine, meaning he was either on the phone, or the match had already started and he didn't want to be disturbed. Shrugging, Casey jumped in the shower, then threw on some clothes and headed over to Dan's place.
He arrived with a six-pack of beer and buzzed Dan to let him in.
"Yeah?" Dan asked distractedly, his voice crackling over the intercom.
"Could you let me up?"
"Casey?" Dan didn't sound too enthused, but Casey had hardly been the life of the party lately. "Yeah, sure. Come on up."
He took the elevator up, and knocked on Dan's door with a little trepidation. Dan wouldn't have mentioned it to him if he wasn't invited. He was almost sure of that.
Dan answered it, blinking at the bright corridor light. Casey just blinked at Dan's outfit. It was an unusual sight: bare feet, long bare legs, bright red boxers and an old, off-white t-shirt. Casey's mind seemed to have stalled on the thought that Dan's t-shirt was far too thin and far too tight.
"Are you going to come in?" Dan asked, stepping away from the doorway and rubbing his eyes tiredly.
Casey took a good look at Dan's scruffy hair, flat on one side and sticking up on the other. "You were asleep?"
"I thought you were having people over?" Casey asked uncertainly, shifting on his feet. The beer bottles clinked lightly.
"They decided to watch it at the station. I figured I'd get an early night, and watch the tape with you tomorrow."
"Oh," Casey said as Dan hid a yawn behind his hand. "I thought... I'll go."
"Nah," Dan replied with a wave of his hand. "You're here now. Come in and watch the match."
"Sure?" Casey asked, even as he followed Dan into the dimly lit room. He grinned when he realized the TV was already on.
"And you can share those beers," Dan added with a sleepy grin.
Casey snickered and sat down on the couch, but Dan disappeared into the bedroom. "You will be watching this, right?"
"As much as I appreciate free beer," Dan called out from the other room, "I'm not getting dressed for it." He walked back in with a comforter messily thrown over one shoulder.
Casey watched Dan settle onto the couch, comforter tucked up to his chest, beer sitting beside him and remote in hand. "All set there, Danny?"
Dan nodded happily. "All set. Hey, kick your shoes off. Get comfy." Casey did as he was told, and then reached over and yanked the comforter until it covered him, too.
"Share and share alike, Dan. I'm sharing the beer, you share the comforter."
Dan snorted. "I'm sharing my TV and my couch. Isn't that enough?"
Dan rolled his eyes but didn't try to pull the comforter back. Instead, he just shifted on the couch, huddling beside Casey. "Fine."
Then the commercial break was over and they both turned their attention to the screen. It wasn't until the next commercial break, about ten minutes later, that Casey noticed how quiet Dan was being. Tennis might not be Dan's first love, but Danny was normally pretty vocal about all sports, even the ones he detested. When Casey looked over, Dan was fast asleep; eyes shut, mouth slightly open, and breathing the deep, steady breaths that would eventually become loud snores.
Everyone looked younger when asleep and Danny was no exception. The soft line of Dan's jaw always made him look young, but fast asleep, he looked like a college kid sleeping off a big exam. It wasn't that Dan looked older when he was awake, so much that... Dan looked on. Dan smiled and charmed and flirted when he was awake. There was always that faint tension around his eyes, that slight stiffness to his shoulders; all that extra energy coiled and waiting to be released on air.
It was just part of Dan. It always had been.
When they'd first met, Dan had seemed to be constantly rushing from one thing to another. He helped out with the drama production, went on political rallies and worked on the student newspaper. He held down a part-time job at the local station, and somehow managed to go to parties and date a string of gorgeous girls, and get ridiculously good grades. Just listening to him would make Casey feel old and tired. Dan was constantly doing one thing, planning another thing and discussing something else entirely.
But these days, Dan wasn't quite as energetic. Casey wondered it if was just age creeping up on Danny. Danny was rapidly approaching thirty, and he had a demanding job with long hours. He wasn't a college student with energy to burn any more.
Another part of Casey suspected it had more to do with Abby. Dan had been far more... settled since seeing her, far less mercurial in a lot of ways. It was oddly troubling to think that he'd taken things for granted about Dan that really weren't Dan at all. Or at least weren't a healthy part of Danny.
A sudden cheer from the television distracted Casey and with a sheepish grin, he realized he'd been sitting and staring at Dan. At least Dan wasn't awake to tease him about it.
Thinking of that, Casey figured he ought to go and let Dan sleep.
He shifted the cover back, and Dan responded by muttering in his sleep and leaning sideways, wrapping a loose arm around Casey's shoulder. Dan pressed his head against Casey's shoulder and mumbled something in his sleep. Casey rolled his eyes. Even asleep, Dan didn't like his guests to leave.
Casey leaned forward, trying to pull Dan's arm down without disturbing him, but Dan just dropped it to Casey's waist and held on tighter. Casey sighed, but was loath to wake Dan twice in one night. It wasn't as if Casey was going to fall asleep; he'd just end up watching the rest of the game on his couch, anyway.
It seemed unnecessary to wake Dan up just so he could go home. It was a far better idea to sit here and wait for Dan to turn over in his sleep. Then, Casey could escape quietly, without disturbing Dan. Strangely content with this plan of action, Casey settled back against the couch, wrapping an arm around Danny, and made himself comfortable.
Casey's first thought the next morning was surprise - surprise at the weight lying on his chest, surprise at the sound of snoring against his shoulder. Blinking himself awake, he looked down to see Dan snoring contentedly. Somehow, they'd both ended up spending the night half-lying and half-sitting on the couch.
The television was still on, but Casey was pretty sure he hadn't even seen the end of the match. "Danny?" Dan didn't respond, so Casey nudged him gently. "Dan?"
Dan muttered incoherently against Casey's chest and tried to bury his head against Casey's sweater. Some people weren't awake until they'd had a shower or a cup of coffee. Dan wasn't awake until he'd had a shower, a strong coffee and a decent breakfast. "Danny? You have to wake up."
It was still pretty dark, so they'd probably only napped for an hour or two, but Dan would be far more comfortable in bed. "Dan, wake up."
"Wha' time 'sit?" Dan asked blearily, raising his head to glare at Casey. The glare was somewhat mollified by the way that Dan's t-shirt was rucked around his underarms. It was hard to be intimidated when Dan was only half-dressed.
"Don't know," Casey said while Dan pushed himself into a sitting position and pulled down his t-shirt. "Judging by the darkness in here, it's pretty early."
Dan's glare stepped up a notch on the cranky scale. "I have good curtains, Casey. Lack of light means nothing."
Casey stretched and then looked at his watch. It was an expensive watch. Lisa had given it to him for his thirtieth birthday. "It's... That can't be right." But his watch had never been wrong before.
"What time is it?" Dan asked sharply.
Casey grimaced. "Twenty past twelve?"
"Shit!" Dan surged up, dashing for the phone. Apparently, adrenaline was a great replacement for caffeine. "Dana's going to kill us."
Casey groaned. "Yeah, she will."
Dan urgently pounded the phone's keys, and then held up a hand for Casey to be quiet. "Yeah, Dana... No. Casey's here too... yeah, we're fine." Dan grimaced and Casey could just imagine Dana's worried anger. "I'm sorry, Dana... Yes, I'm sorry... We just overslept... Yeah, Casey's... You want to...? Sure," Dan said, gesturing at Casey to come over there. "He's just coming, Dana."
Dan handed him the phone and Casey took a deep breath as he lifted it to his ear. "Morning, Dana."
"You overslept?" She sounded incredulous.
"You overslept? Casey, seriously, how do you two just sleep through the midday rundown?"
"We didn't sleep through," he objected half-heartedly. "We weren't sitting in the conference room sleeping through it."
"You just sat at Dan's place and slept through it."
"Sorry?" he tried hopefully. Dan shot him an understanding look.
"You overslept. Isn't Dan's alarm working?"
Casey cringed and shot a look at Dan's bedroom, where Dan's alarm had probably trilled for an hour or so, completely impotent against the noise of the TV and the silencing effect of a closed door. "I think it's working."
"But it didn't wake Dan up?"
"We watched the match last night and fell asleep on the couch. We didn't hear it."
Dana snorted and Casey had the distinct impression that she was trying not to laugh. "Put Dan back on."
He shrugged at Dan's raised eyebrows and passed him the phone. "Yeah, we fell asleep in front of the TV...Hmmm..." Dan paused for a moment, staring at Casey. "He looks better. Tired instead of dead on his feet," Dan announced with a grin. "If we leave now, we could be there by one..."
Casey looked at his watch, but didn't point out to Dan that midday traffic made that ETA highly unlikely.
"Really? Thanks, Dana. You're the best... Really, thanks." Then Dan laughed at something and said, "I will, I promise. See you at three."
He hung up the phone and Casey watched him curiously. "Three?"
"As it's a Tuesday, Dana gave us a reprieve until three." Dan grinned and then slapped him over the head.
"Ow!" He scowled at Dan, rubbing his forehead. "What was that for?"
"That was for not using the annoying alarm on your watch." Shrugging, Dan added, "I promised Dana I'd do that."
"In the grand scheme of things," Casey said with a cautious grin, "it's worth a little pain to be able to have a shower."
"And clean clothes."
Casey nodded and then frowned. "I have to go back to my place for those."
"I keep saying you need to leave a spare set of clothes here," Dan said, stretching his arms above his head and forcing his t-shirt to ride up a couple inches. Casey heard Dan's back crack as he leaned backwards.
"I'll try to remember next time," Casey replied with a smile, knowing that he would never remember to bring them. Dan grinned back at him, and he guessed Dan knew that too.
"Give me twenty minutes to shower and dress, and then we'll go to your place. And we'll probably still have time for breakfast," Dan said cheerfully.
Dan took one look at him when he came in on Wednesday morning and announced, "You're sleeping again."
Casey rolled his eyes, but couldn't stop his lips from twitching up. "Good morning to you too, Danny."
"You are," Dan said as he crossed their office and placed two hands flat on the desk.
Casey nodded. "I am."
"Alison is going to have a field day. No bags under the eyes, no cranky glare," Dan said as he leaned across the desk, staring critically at Casey's face from barely a foot away. There was an absurd moment of watching Dan studying him, watching Dan's eyes flicker across his face. Then Casey noticed Dan's almost smirk, and he realized Dan was just trying to psych him out somehow. Casey might be tired, but he wasn't going to back down from a staring match.
Casey distracted himself from Danny's scrutinizing gaze by trying to classify the brown of Dan's eyes. He was vaguely disappointed that he could only come up with the cliché of chocolate brown, which wasn't particularly accurate. Muddy brown would be better, although it did lack a certain flair. There had to be a better word. Warm, maybe...
Then Dan's gaze met his and something changed in Dan's expression. Something that made Dan swallow, that made his eyes widen a bare fraction. It made Casey vaguely uncomfortable, made him wonder what the hell was happening. So he did the first thing that came to mind. He pulled a face.
He pulled his jaw to one side, raised his eyebrows, stuck his tongue out, and crossed his eyes. When Charlie was a baby, he used to do to make Charlie laugh. It made Danny laugh too.
Dan dropped his head to the desk and let out a loud guffaw. "Oh, man," he said, still chuckling. "Where's a camera when you need one?"
"I'd say they're still in the studio," Casey replied, smiling. It felt surprisingly good to hear Dan laugh. He wondered how much of a pain he'd been lately.
"We have a new entry on my birthday wish list," Dan wheezed. "This goes straight to number one." Dan really did keep a mental wish list. Any time of the year, he had at least five presents that he wanted. It made him easier to shop for, and was Dan's not so subtle way of making sure Casey bought something Dan actually wanted.
"It's kicking the Spice Girls and mallomars out of their reigning position?"
"They have lost their number one spot."
"They must be crushed," Casey offered dryly.
"I'll try to break it to them gently."
Casey grinned at that comment, and then realized Dan hadn't told him the new gift. "So what do you want now?"
Dan grinned from ear to ear. "Make that face on air."
"And that would be better than the Spice Girls?" Casey asked uncertainly.
"Come on, Casey. It'd be great!"
"For your birthday, you want me to expose myself to public humiliation and mockery?" Dan nodded enthusiastically. "You had a better chance with the Spice Girls."
Dan snorted and sat down on the couch. "You have no sense of adventure."
"I fail to see how making a goofy face on air is adventurous," he replied, turning back to his script.
"You are a timid, timid man." When Casey looked up, Dan was smiling at him warmly. Casey had to smile back.
August was passing in a blur, the way it always did. Every year, June and July felt normal, then August started and suddenly, it was only a few days to his birthday. Casey had eventually just accepted the fact that regardless of how long August looked on a calendar, it would always feel about a week long.
He was half-way through the 'week of August' when Natalie started quizzing everyone on their favorite cartoon characters. Apparently, it said something important about your basic personality, but Casey had tried to tune out as much of her explanation as possible.
When she asked him, he replied easily, "Donald Duck."
Natalie rested a hand on her hip, watching him closely. "Warner Brothers."
"Which Warner Brothers cartoon character is your favorite? Bugs Bunny? Daffy Duck?" Casey was thinking about it as Dan walked in, startling Natalie by creeping up behind her.
He tapped her on the shoulder and she spun around. "Argh! Dan, don't do that."
Dan laughed and didn't look at all contrite. "Sorry, Natalie."
"Dan, who's the Martian guy in the cartoon?"
Dan sat down on the couch, brow furrowed in confusion. "Who?"
Casey rolled his eyes. Pitching his voice higher, he said, "Where's the kaboom? There was supposed to be an earth-shattering kaboom!" It wasn't a particularly good impersonation, but it made Danny and Natalie giggle.
"Marvin the Martian," Natalie said, still snickering as she marked it down on her clipboard. "Dan?"
"Favorite character?" Dan asked and she nodded. "Wile E. Coyote."
"Interesting choice," she said, bobbing her head as she noted it. "You guys get the update on the NASCAR highlights?"
Dan waved a piece of paper. "Got it in my hand."
"Good." Natalie nodded curtly and headed off.
"So," Dan said after she left. "We're a pair of evil masterminds?"
"Who get outsmarted by wildlife."
Dan grinned. "We're not particularly bright masterminds, are we?"
"I don't think so." Casey turned back to his screen for a moment, but couldn't resist the joke. "I'm kind of surprised you picked Wile E Coyote."
"Really?" Dan raised an eyebrow. "Why?"
"I would have thought you'd prefer Elmer Fudd."
As soon as the show was over, Natalie bounced over to the anchor desk. "So, Marvin? Wiley? You guys coming out with us tonight?"
"You bet," Casey said as he pulled off the earpiece. "I even brought a blue t-shirt."
Natalie beamed and turned to Dan. "Wiley?"
Natalie pouted. "Why not?"
"He's waiting for his latest delivery from ACME," Casey suggested with a grin.
Dan smiled. "Hey, anytime you want to lend me a couple dehydrated goons? Go right ahead." They stood up and started back to their office.
"I thought they were minions," Casey said as they walked through the bullpen, Natalie tailing them.
"Dehydrated goons? Huh." Casey shrugged. "Either way, they were a cool idea."
"Certainly beat the giant slingshot."
Natalie pushed between them and then spun around and stopped, holding her hands up to stop them as well. "So, Casey's coming and Dan has no excuse?"
Casey looked to Dan and waited for the explanation. As far as Casey was aware, Dan didn't have any plans tonight.
"I have plans," Dan said, shrugging.
"What plans?" He and Natalie shouldn't speak in sync. It was disconcerting to hear her enthusiasm trilling over his own words.
Dan looked from one to the other. "You guys need to try to not do that. It's kind of freaky."
Casey nodded. "I noticed."
Natalie nudged him with her elbow. "What plans?"
Dan grinned but he looked a little uneasy. "There's an old college buddy in town. I promised I'd get together with him."
Natalie tilted her head. "You're not looking forward to it?"
Danny cringed. "It's going to end up comparing careers, cars and houses. Trying to prove who's more successful."
"But you'll win, right?" Casey asked and Dan smiled at him.
"And, when he walks into El Perro Fumando," Natalie said with a sharp, take-no-prisoners smile. "And sees you enjoying a large blue margarita and having a great time with a bunch of good-looking people, he'll already be jealous."
Dan rubbed his hands together and smirked. "That's a great idea."
"I know how to play the 'old school friends' game," Natalie said smugly.
"The only problem is finding a bunch of attractive people at this time of night."
Casey found it hard to sympathize with Dan when Natalie hit him with her clipboard.
Dan was playing with the margarita glass, tapping a toothpick against the rim.
"Are you going to drink that?" Casey asked pointedly.
Dan looked at the half-empty glass and then turned to Casey. "I've already had one. I don't want to get too drunk."
Casey scowled for a second while Dan went back to staring at the blue concoction. Dan had been oddly terse since they got here. He'd ducked into their office to call his friend and then they'd come here. Casey had hoped that relaxing with friends would reassure Dan that he lived a highly enviable life, but Dan had been tense and lost in his own thoughts. "You really think he's going to brag that he's more successful than you?"
Dan's eyes narrowed. "It's not that he's going to brag. It's just... He always had a way of making me feel unsuccessful." Dan dropped the toothpick on the bar and swallowed deeply. Casey watched Dan's Adam's apple bob, and then dropped his gaze to the bar top. "He always made me feel as if I was wasting my time. As if my priorities were all screwed."
"Even in college?" Casey asked wonderingly, and Dan nodded. "You were a bizarrely together college student. I'm kind of frightened by the idea of someone who made you look bad."
Dan's lips quirked into an almost-grin. "I'm starting to think this was a bad idea," Dan said and emptied his glass.
"Dan," Casey said seriously, resting a hand on Dan's shoulder. "You're under thirty and you co-host a national broadcast, which consistently rates third in an extremely tough market. You do a job you love, with people who genuinely care about you, and you regularly receive letters from attractive women offering various sexual favors. I think you pretty much define successful." Dan smiled softly, and Casey had the brief thrill of knowing he'd said the right thing. "But if you're not feeling up to it, you can go home and I'll tell him you came down with the flu."
Dan laughed. "Nah, I think you were right the first time. If one of us is going to feel awkward and second-rate, it should be him."
"That's the spirit," Casey cheered him, raising his glass and clinking against Dan's empty one. "Use your fame to make all other men feel inferior."
Dan was still snickering when someone slithered up behind him. The guy's hair was dark brown and artfully messed, and his suit was slick and understated. He smiled at Dan and Casey grudgingly admitted the guy was good-looking. Glancing behind him, he saw the guy was good-looking enough to garner both Natalie's and Kim's attention. Maybe there was a reason why Dan felt threatened by him.
"Hey, Dan," he said in a friendly tone. There was something about it that made Casey's hackles rise.
Dan grinned a little too brightly. "Did you find it all right?"
"It was easy enough," Dan's friend said, leaning one hand on the bar. "But who names a bar 'The Smoking Dog'? I think the ASPCA would have something to say about the idea of encouraging pets to smoke cigars." Casey decided he really didn't like this guy. Casey turned away, looking over his shoulder to hide the unimpressed glower that he was probably wearing. Kim caught his eye and shrugged.
When he looked back, the guy had moved closer to Dan, and was resting his forearm on the bar. He was telling Dan how his conference had run behind schedule. Dan was nodding along easily and Casey understood why Dan had been on edge: the guy had been late. Casey felt a little bit reassured in his irrational dislike for him.
Casey almost spilled his drink in surprise when Kim suddenly spoke behind him. "So, Dan, who's your friend?" Smiling warmly, she stepped closer to them and held out her hand. "I'm Kim. And you already know Dan, who seems to be very rude about introductions."
"Michael," the guy replied, shaking her hand.
Dan shook his head. "Sorry. Michael, this is Kim and Casey. I work with them at Sports Night. Guys, this is Michael. He's an old friend from Dartmouth."
Casey nodded his head at Michael, but didn't offer his hand. "Did you want to stick around and have a beer?"
"Or a giant blue margarita?" Kim offered with a sly smile.
"Actually, I'm starving," Michael said, looking at Dan. "I though we could go have dinner somewhere. Catch up on old times without boring everyone to death?"
"That's probably a good idea," Dan said and slid off his stool. "I'll see you guys tomorrow."
"Have fun, boys," Kim said with a knowing smirk and Dan's eyes narrowed for a second. "Don't forget you've got the Jets' interview tomorrow."
"Twelve-thirty. I know," Dan replied, rolling his eyes at Casey.
"It was nice meeting you, Michael," Casey said civilly. The guy nodded but didn't respond, which really annoyed Casey. There was no excuse for bad manners. As Dan turned to go, Casey rested a hand on Dan's wrist. "Remember what I said, okay?"
Dan smiled, and this time there was some warmth there. "I will."
Casey was typing up the baseball results when Kim sauntered in. "Dan has a hickey."
Casey paused and then looked over at her smug grin. "What?"
"Dan has a hickey," she repeated.
"How do you know that?" Dan hadn't been into the office yet. He was still doing that interview with Bill Parcells.
"Jim's shooting the interview and he gave me a call to say that Dan has a hickey."
Casey looked down at his keyboard and considered his reply. Asking who Jim was would be pointless. Asking why Jim had bothered to call Kim was probably self-explanatory; half of the guys Kim met wanted to sleep with her, and she'd say the other half were either shy or unavailable. He could ask why Kim cared that Dan had a hickey, but he really didn't need another lecture on the power of information and the entertainment value of gossip. In the end, Casey settled on, "Huh."
"Huh?" Kim asked, clearly expecting a different reaction.
"What do you want from me? A parade?" Casey shrugged. "It's not the first time Dan's come in with a hickey."
She sighed. "Fine. Anyway, these are the stats for the Cardinals game," she said, placing them on his desk.
"Thanks," Casey said and then turned back to his script. The second she was out of sight, he stopped pretending to type. Deleting the gibberish of the last two lines, he wondered about Danny's hickey. As far as Casey knew, Dan wasn't seeing anyone, which implied that he must have met some woman last night.
Casey leaned back in his chair, thinking it was kind of unfair that Dan could do that, could meet a woman and charm her into bed that same night. Casey was attractive, and despite Dana's occasional mockery, he knew how to flirt, so there wasn't any logical reason why Dan could do the one-night stand thing so easily. He just could.
On the good side, at least there'd be an interesting story to break up the afternoon. Dan was many things, but discreet wasn't one of them, Casey thought to himself with a grin.
Maybe it had more to do with the fact that Dan was a natural born storyteller. As long as you didn't let his frequent asides distract you, Dan weaved a good tale. Unless, of course, you asked for detailed explanations; unless you interrupted his flow with unimportant questions; which Casey did a lot.
Dan would say this was because Casey was ferret-minded. Casey liked knowing the details. He liked knowing the cast of characters, understanding their motives and attitudes, before he started a story.
The other reason was because he liked annoying Dan. There was a certain fun in seeing how many times he could interrupt before Dan would give up altogether. So far, Casey's record was nine times, during an enthusiastic report of Dan's last game with David Duvall. Dan had eventually stalked off, muttering about idiots with no appreciation for golf. Casey had heard the condensed version from Jeremy anyway.
Turning back to the computer screen, Casey tried to concentrate on the script. He was actually staring at the screen and wondering how Dan met her; how Dan had ditched Michael. He wasn't really working, but if he stepped outside his office he was pretty sure he'd get accosted by Natalie and her amateur gambling ring. By now, Natalie was probably giving odds on the hair color of Dan's mystery woman. Casey wasn't quite immature enough to bet on his best friend's romantic life.
Instead, he was going to sit here and wait for Dan to tell him all the juicy details. So, of course, the next half-hour passed at a snail's pace, as slow and deadly as Chinese water torture. Casey could almost feel the minutes dripping onto his skull. When Dan showed up, Casey was certain Dan's arrival saved his sanity.
"Hey," Casey said brightly, beaming at Dan.
Dan frowned and closed the office door behind him. "What?"
"What what?" Casey replied, confused.
"Everyone's grinning at me. And you're usually not so pleased to see me," Dan said suspiciously.
"I'm always pleased to see you."
Dan's eyes narrowed. "What gives, Casey?" Casey tried to look innocent, tried to silently encourage Dan to confide in him. Dan didn't look convinced. "The only time you look that innocent is when you know what's going on. Spill."
Casey grinned. "You have a hickey." From the way Dan's hand flew to his neck, Dan was well aware of that fact. Although with the camera make-up, the alleged hickey couldn't be seen.
"Regardless of that, what's going on?"
"You have a hickey," Casey explained. "And everyone knows you have a hickey."
Dan sat down on the couch, glaring at the carpet. "How?"
"Kim knows the cameraman."
"Great," Dan said sourly, his jaw tense.
After a few quiet seconds, Casey prompted, "So?"
"So, how did you meet her?" Casey leaned forward eagerly. "Is it someone we know?"
"Just once, I'd like to have a personal life that wasn't common office knowledge," Dan said, reaching for the notes Casey had left on the couch for him.
"I think you need to change jobs for that to happen."
Dan sighed. "Probably."
"So..." Casey said, watching Dan's less than thrilled expression. The night mustn't have ended well. "You want to talk about this later?"
Dan nodded and started looking over the notes from the rundown. "Much later."
"Casey, you remember sharing and punishment?"
Casey thought for a second. "Isn't that 'Crime and Punishment'? I haven't read it in ages."
Natalie glowered. "Sharing with me, or being punished. You remember?" For such a tiny girl, Natalie possessed the intimidation factor of a seven foot quarterback. Logically, it stood to reason that somewhere in the world there was a very physically impressive man with a very timid temper. "Do you remember the concepts of sharing and punishment?"
"I thought I was exempt from that?"
"You are, because I don't have an agreement with you. I have an agreement with Dan."
Casey was manly and brave, but right then, he was mainly relieved. "Okay."
"But you remember?" Natalie asked, staring at him.
Casey nodded. "Sure."
"Could you remind Dan?"
"Why? What hasn't he shared?"
"Last night," she said peevishly. "He came in with a hickey this morning, but he refuses to share any details."
"He's going to get punished for this?" Casey briefly wondered when his workmates had crossed the line from charmingly eccentric to outright crazy. Maybe it had been on his last night off. "It was one date. Surely he's entitled to a little privacy?"
Natalie frowned. "He hasn't shared with you either?"
Casey shrugged. "Not yet."
"Huh." Natalie watched him closely for a long moment.
"Apparently, you haven't shared with Natalie," Casey said when Dan returned from editing.
Dan sat down on the couch, crossing his ankles over the arm of the chair. "Are you going to nag me about this, too?"
Casey shook his head, and turned back to his script. "Not nagging. Just stating a fact." Dan eyed him doubtfully and Casey clarified, "Natalie asked me to remind you."
Dan snorted. "She's enlisting your help to make me share. There's a really obvious joke in there somewhere."
"She said you had an agreement."
"We had an agreement about you and Dana." Casey shot Dan a look but Dan waved it off. "It helped Natalie scheme and it let us avoid excess heartbreak or jealousy."
"That worked really well," Casey said sarcastically.
"When you and Dana start flirting, the office goes haywire. The sharing arrangement is damage control."
"I don't think we're as bad as that," Casey said and Dan shrugged. "Is there a reason why you're not sharing?"
"A private life is supposed to be private," Dan said grudgingly. "And Natalie's got a big mouth."
Casey snickered. "Pot, meet kettle."
"You and Natalie are the two biggest gossips in the office," Casey said with snide grin. "That's a pretty hefty boulder from a really glassy house."
Dan stared at him for a moment. "Have you got those clichés out of your system?"
"Make hay while the sun shines, Danny."
Casey tried asking Dan about last night gently, but Dan side-stepped the questions. He kept changing the conversation topic, making Casey forget about the mystery woman. He'd avoided Natalie's questions too.
Casey would have been impressed if he wasn't so frustratingly curious.
By the time they went on air, Casey had devised a different mode of attack, a sneakier approach. If he couldn't get Dan talking about the mystery woman, he'd get Dan talking about his night out with Michael. Lull him into a false sense of security. Eventually, Dan would let something slip.
"So," Casey started after they threw to Kelly for a few minutes. "I can't shake this feeling of familiarity."
"Familiarity?" Dan asked, grinning at him.
"I feel that something is familiar."
"In your highly organized, habitual and, dare I say monotonous, lifestyle, you're experiencing a sense of familiarity? I'm shocked." Dan tried hard, but couldn't quite keep a straight face. "I'm absolutely astounded."
Casey rolled his eyes. "There is a sense of familiarity and I think it's Michael."
Dan blinked. "Michael?"
"He seems familiar." Casey thought it was probably just because everyone went to school with someone like Michael; everyone knew at least one irritating, smug alumnus who couldn't wait to show you up.
"Casey, why are we talking about this?"
"He seems familiar," Casey said. He didn't add that he wanted Dan to talk about his night out, but couldn't ask outright, because Dan would see through that ploy in a second.
Dan looked over his script. "Could be because you've met him before."
"Really?" Casey was bad with names. Actually, he was bad with faces, too. Well, he was bad with remembering people in general, but he really couldn't remember meeting Michael before. "You sure?"
"When I was in college," Dan added, not looking up. "He used to be blond."
"I don't remember him at all."
"He was the guy who supported the Red Wings because his brother-in-law did."
"Oh." Casey frowned, suddenly remembering the somewhat smarmy business major. There was something extremely annoying about people who said they supported a team, but actually had no personal interest in, or knowledge of, said team. If you didn't follow the sport, you should be honest enough to say so. "And you're still friends with him?"
Dan jerked his head around and shot Casey a wary look. "We were… close friends in college."
"What?" Casey was more confused by Dan's reaction than Dan's reasonable answer. Dan shook his head sharply and then gestured at the clock.
Dave's voice came over the P.A. "And we're back in three, two..."
Casey waited until the next C-break and then tried again. "So, despite Michael's superficial loyalty, you had a good time last night?"
"Casey, just drop it," Dan said tersely.
"Why?" Casey asked, and gave up on subtlety altogether. "Did something interesting happen?"
Dan glanced at him briefly. Dan's eyes were surprisingly blank, which was highly unusual and probably not a good sign. "We went out. We had a couple of drinks. That was it, okay?"
"Okay," Casey said, holding his hands up in surrender. Dan cleared his throat and turned back to his script. Casey read over the next few features and watched Dan carefully ignore him. "I just don't get what the big deal is."
"I was good friends with him in college. Can you drop it now?"
Casey sighed and waited for the red light to glow on the cameras. The next two sections of the show passed quickly enough and Dan seemed fine. The trick was knowing the difference between really-annoyed-Dan and just-a-little-thrown-Dan. Bothering one was a bad thing, bothering the other was a lot of fun.
When Dan didn't initiate conversation during the first ten seconds of their next break, Casey decided to push a little more. "I thought I was your only friend when you were in college," he said with a teasing grin.
"I had plenty of friends at college," Dan replied with a quick smile. "Unlike you, I wasn't burdened by the dork-factor of being on the gymnastics team."
Dan was right; compared to Casey, he'd had a crowd of friends willing to party with him. But Casey's lack of friendships was caused by his awkward shyness during his early college years, not by being on the gymnastics team.
Casey snorted. "Well, I was your only good friend at least." Dan had had a crowd of people he called friends, but… those friendships seemed to be very superficial. Everyone knew of Dan, everyone laughed at Dan's jokes or admired Dan's grades, but they barely knew Dan.
Casey had been surprised at the number of people who said Dan was 'a great friend', but didn't know the little details. They didn't know Dan had technically grown up in Connecticut, but considered New York his home. They didn't know that Dan could roller-skate with an impressive amount of skill, but was inexplicably hopeless on a bike. They didn't know that Dan watched figure skating, even though he didn't understand the scoring system at all.
They seemed to think that Dan actually suffered from homesickness. They saw Dan's bright (and to Casey, almost brittle) cheer after speaking with his Dad, but didn't see it was Dan's way of hiding the strain in his family relationships. And none of Dan's 'friends' understood why Dan always drove at the speed limit, and never drove under the influence.
"You weren't the only person who knew me," Dan responded, looking at the timer.
Casey noticed that Dan didn't deny that a lot of his so-called friends hadn't really known him. "Really?"
"Really?" Casey asked again and Dan glared. "How many of your college friends knew you wanted to be a ballerina when you were a kid?"
Dana laughed through their earpieces, and Casey wondered when he'd grown used to semi-private conversations being suddenly interrupted. "A ballerina?"
Dan looked up at the camera in defiance. "Is there something wrong with that?"
"There are a lot of things wrong with that," Dana replied. "But picturing you in a pink tutu is on the top of that list." Casey blinked and wished that mental image hadn't just been inflicted on him.
"I was four, okay?"
"He liked the sound of the word," Casey added with a grin.
"You did?" Dana sounded skeptical.
"Yeah," Dan replied. "I didn't actually know what it meant."
Casey waited for Dana's reply, but she must have been distracted by something more urgent. Their earpieces remained silent, and after a moment, Casey turned his attention back to Dan. "So."
Casey leaned back in his chair. "How many people know?"
"Everyone standing in the control room, and probably half of the people in the studio," Dan replied with a grimace.
"From college," Casey insisted. "How many college friends knew about that?"
"You." Dan looked up at the ceiling in thought.
Casey grinned. "And?"
"And..." Dan's brows lowered as he thought. Casey was just waiting for him to admit that Casey was right. "Michael. And Alex."
"Two friends," Casey hooted, holding up two fingers. "Two friends. Two is not plenty, Dan."
Dan looked at him out of the corner of his eye and shrugged. "It's plenty enough."
"It's a pretty small number. Just two. Just Alex and Michael." Casey frowned for a split-second, trying to work out why that seemed familiar.
"I don't get close to a lot of people," Dan replied glibly.
Glancing up at the clock, Casey started mentally counting himself back from the commercials. "Apart from dear Alex and Michael," Casey said and then realized. Realized where he knew those names from and remembered Dan's casual grin. Realized that the Jeopardy answer to clueless was 'What is Casey McCall?'.
"Apart from them."
"Alex and Michael?" Casey asked, but his own words were echoing in his skull. 'You were sleeping with them.' For a moment he thought he'd said it out loud, but Dan still was smiling, so he knew he hadn't.
"Yeah," Dan replied, sounding bemused. "Michael and Alex."
"Alex and Michael," Casey said slowly, staring at Dan and wanting his mind to stop whirling now. He wanted the thoughts to stop now, because he might be oblivious but he wasn't stupid. Michael was Michael-Michael. He was college-Michael, none-of-Casey's-business-Michael. He was Dan's-slept-with-guys-Michael. Suddenly, Casey didn't need any more information to work out where Dan's hickey had come from. "Alex and Michael from college?"
Dan half-nodded, and Casey knew that Dan knew that Casey knew. Or that Casey had just remembered that he knew. Shaking his head, he tried to dislodge the fog of sudden understanding from his mind.
"We're back in ten, Casey." Dan just watched him, his face perfectly calm. Ridiculously calm, considering that Casey had just clicked that Michael was actually Dan-still-sleeps-with-guys-Michael.
Casey swallowed and glanced at the timer again. "Yeah."
"You cool with the intro?" Dan asked quietly.
Casey nodded and blinked at the teleprompter until the words 'Alex and Michael' and 'Michael and Dan' blurred back into their script. Taking a deep breath, he got his game face back on. "I'm good."
Casey was furious. He'd spent the rest of the show slowly fuming, and by the time the end credits had rolled, he'd stewed in his own juices long enough to become a very cranky casserole.
He was furious at himself: for letting this get to him; for misspeaking three times during the last twenty minutes on air; for not realizing sooner. He'd had all the information at his fingertips, and he just hadn't realized, hadn't understood the connection until it was right in front of his face.
If he was angry at himself, he was positively livid at Dan. Dan, who hadn't warned him that Michael was that Michael. Dan, who hadn't told him why Casey shouldn't have kept asking about last night while they were on air. Dan, who had told Casey very clearly that he didn't do that, didn't sleep with guys, any more.
Casey had dragged himself through the show, and kept his smile firmly pasted on, but the second they were out, he was gone. He yanked the earpiece out, shoved it onto the desk and stormed over to wardrobe. He'd almost lost a button pulling the shirt off, but he'd managed to return the clothes undamaged, handing the rumpled pile to Monica without a word.
Striding back to the office, he ignored Jeremy's raised brows and Natalie's hushed, "What's up with him?"
He also ignored Elliott's reply. "I don't know, but I don't want to stick around to find out."
He closed the office door behind him, and stood with his back to it, staring at the dark sky. Dan's jacket was still on the coat rack and Casey clenched his fist as he waited for Dan to return.
The office door opened quietly, and Casey waited for the soft snick of it closing behind Dan before he turned around. "What sort of a stupid stunt...?" Casey growled, walking over to Dan in quick, sharp steps.
"I wasn't the one forcing the issue during the breaks," Dan replied, setting his shoulders firmly.
Casey's jaw was so tense it hurt. "No, you were the one..." He didn't say the rest of the sentence because it should have been clear why Dan was at fault.
Dan should have apologized, but instead, he just glared back at Casey. "I was the one who what?"
"I'm not an idiot, Dan."
Dan's smirk became decidedly mean. "Could have fooled me."
It was enough to make Casey take the few steps between them, to make him use that extra inch of height to fiercely stare down at Dan. He grabbed Dan's wrist, digging his fingers into the bare skin and hissed, "You were the one who let some guy fuck you, and then wore the hickey to work."
Dan's face paled and his lips compressed into a tight, angry line. "Are you in love with me?"
Casey blinked, thrown by the non sequitur. "What?"
"Are you screwing me?"
"Then what the hell does my sex life have to do with you?" Dan demanded heatedly, pulling his wrist back and giving Casey a firm shove backwards.
Casey stumbled, more from the unexpectedness of physical violence than from the actual force behind it. "Because it's my show, too. And I don't want to see it go down in flames," he said as he regained his footing and put a few more feet between them.
Dan closed his eyes for a long second, and said tightly, "I'm ignoring that bad pun."
"Dan, it's my career. I don't want it ruined because you can't control your hormones."
Dan glared at him as if he'd been punched. "That's rich, coming from you."
Casey leaned back against the desk, trying to make himself look far more relaxed than he felt. "Meaning?"
"Meaning the amount of restraint you showed around the moll gunning for Dana's job was truly impressive," Dan spat back at him.
"Sally was and is, and you didn't care as long as you got your rocks off," Dan said quickly. "And as long as it didn't affect your career."
"Sally wouldn't have affected your career either." Casey stood up. His hands were fisted, and he could feel his nails biting into his palms. "Michael would."
Dan's eyes narrowed to dark slits. "Just for your peace of mind, Casey, I was discreet. You don't need to worry about your career just yet."
"Not until next time," Casey sneered spitefully.
"There won't be a next time."
"Somehow, I find that hard to believe."
"Yeah?" Everything about Dan's posture screamed challenge, and Casey wasn't about to back down.
"I seem to recall you promising me that before." Dan hissed and broke eye contact, turning his head towards the sinister skyline. Casey felt a vicious thrill. "Or it could be that you proved that your word can't be trusted."
After a moment of tense of silence, Dan breathed in loudly. "I didn't lie to you."
"You didn't?" Casey snorted. "So the part about you not doing that any more was true?"
Casey couldn't believe Dan's nerve. "Are you going to stand there and tell me that you didn't let Michael fuck you?"
"That just insults my intelligence."
"Casey, what I did or did not do with Michael is none of your--"
Casey took half a step towards Dan before he realized it. "Don't even try that line." He walked over to the couch, keeping the invisible boundary between them. "Frankly, it's wearing thin."
"It isn't your business," Dan growled.
"Yes, it is," Casey said, uncurling his fingers and noting the bruised crescents imprinted on his palms.
"Maybe I don't want to work with a partner who's going to screw me over by fucking around!" Casey exploded and then realized what he'd said. He certainly hadn't been thinking that. Now, he wasn't sure whether or not he wanted to take those words back.
"You know what, Casey? Fuck you," Dan barked and thundered out.
It wasn't until a good ten minutes later that Casey calmed down enough to notice that Dan had left without even collecting his jacket. Casey left it there for Dan to collect tomorrow.
The next morning, Dan called to say he'd be late. He left an impersonal message saying, "It's Dan. I'm currently stuck in traffic. Be in as soon as I can." Casey spent a moment wondering why Dan hadn't even said 'hi'. Then he cleared it from the machine and went to Dana's office to make sure she knew.
She was standing up behind her desk, bent over copies of today's rundown. "Casey," she said, surprised. Pulling off her red-framed glasses, she gave him a searching look. "What are you doing here?"
"Dan called to say he's stuck in traffic," Casey explained as he walked inside. He considered sitting down but Dana's chairs were always uncomfortable. Just a little too short for him to feel at ease.
Dana nodded once. "He called me ten minutes ago."
That meant Dan had called her before he called Casey. Casey guessed he didn't care. After all, he'd sat in the office and let the machine get it anyway. "I just wanted to make sure you knew."
"I do," Dana said, and then looked at him like a piece that refused to fit into the puzzle. "Why are you here today?"
"I work here." Casey waited for her to make sense. It was possible that he was being overly optimistic.
"It's your day off." Dana blinked at him and smiled hopefully. "You know that, right?"
"My next day off is the twentieth," Casey pointed out logically.
"What day is it today?"
"It's Tues..." Casey trailed off as Dana tapped a pink fingernail against her desk calendar. "Ah. It's the twentieth."
Dana nodded. "And it's your day off."
"Apparently." Casey sighed and wondered how he'd lost a day. "I thought it was the nineteenth."
"I know." There was something about Dana's gentle smile that reminded him of the eighteen year old girl she'd been in college: considerate, well-mannered, and able to throw a mean punch. "Go home."
"I could help with the script," Casey offered.
She was strangely insistent. "Casey, go home."
"Because you and Dan had a major fight last night, and I think Dan will be counting on you not being here." Her tone was understanding, but it still made Casey bristle.
"That fight wasn't my fault. It's so typical that you automatically take his side," Casey grumbled, folding his arms across his chest.
"I'm not taking anyone's side." Dana sighed and walked around the desk. Stopping in front of Casey, she tilted her head back to look him in the eye. He was reminded of how short she actually was. "I'm not taking Dan's side, but he has to go on air tonight. I don't want you hanging around here, bored and picking at him."
"I'm not going to spend my day tearing him apart." Casey almost said that he didn't need to waste an entire day doing that; he could probably do it in an hour. The unkind thought made him look away.
Dana just patted his check. It was an affectionate, and vaguely patronizing, gesture. "Casey, give him a day to settle down, and then work through this." She pulled away and went back to gathering notes from her desk.
"What makes you think he needs time to settle down?"
Dana raised an eyebrow. "The way you guys were growling at each other last night."
"Growling?" Casey had been under the impression that their office was basically sound-proof. Sure, it wasn't technically sound-proof, but with the door closed it managed to silence out the bullpen. "You could hear us?"
He really hoped she didn't say yes.
Dana paused and looked at him wearily. "I could see the pair of you circling each other like rabid hounds. I didn't need to hear you to know you were growling."
"Ah." Casey was overwhelmingly relieved. Having that conversation overheard would bring up a lot of issues Casey didn't want to deal with yet.
"Casey?" Dana had her notes stacked in her hands. "Do I need to worry?"
"About me and Dan?"
Dana's blue eyes were clear and knowing, but it was impossible to miss the support in her gaze. "This has been building since June." It wasn't really a question, but she made it sound like one.
"Maybe earlier," Casey admitted. He couldn't remember when that drinking game had happened, but it felt like years ago. Like he and Dan had been off their rhythm for decades.
"The CSC sale shook us all up," Dana said softly, placing the files back on her desk. "But you and Dan really took it to heart."
Casey's shoulders slumped, but he didn't think this had anything to do with the sale. "It's just..." He waved his hands, but it didn't make the words come to mind.
Dana gestured at her couch, and then perched on the arm. "Yeah?"
Casey sat down and then scrubbed a hand though his hair. "Sometimes, I'd like it to be easy. It just... feels as if my entire life is full of difficult relationships."
Dana reached over and took his hand between hers. Her hands were small, but they were warm and strong, and her grip was firm. "What do you mean?"
Casey thought about it. He noticed that Dana's door was closed, even though he couldn't remember either of them closing it. "I mean... I loved Lisa, don't get me wrong."
Dana nodded. "But?"
"But for the last five years, or maybe more, I spent each day walking on eggshells. I wasn't sure what to say or what to think and... It was just difficult, Dana. Marriage shouldn't be about censoring your every action and still managing to screw it up." Dana squeezed his hand, but didn't interrupt. Casey swallowed. "Then there was you and me."
Dana's sweet mouth twisted down. "Me?"
"Should I shut up now?" Casey asked uncertainly, suddenly aware of who he was talking to.
Dana pushed a strand of hair away from her forehead. "No, go on."
"We're friends. We've been friends for years. We flirted and whatever, but we were still friends, right?"
Dana's head bobbed tentatively. "Yeah."
"Then suddenly, we weren't." Casey shrugged. "We kissed, and... We were almost but not quite dating, and then everything went... weird."
Dana laughed, and the sound was incredibly reassuring. "That's probably the best way to describe those months."
"Everything went weird and suddenly I didn't know where we stood."
Dana's brows lowered in concern, or possibly in guilt. "You didn't?"
"We'd always been friends. We flirted, we got a little jealous, but underneath that, we understood each other. We knew each other and we got on," Casey said, the ideas starting to flow. "I knew that I could talk to you. I knew that deep-down, regardless of how much we disagreed or psyched each other out, you actually liked me."
Dana leaned forward, holding their joined hands up. "None of that changed."
"It felt like it. It felt like..." Casey said uncomfortably.
"Like if we argued, I wouldn't like you anymore?" Her shapely brows rose, and he looked down at his hands.
"It felt like... I had to work to make you like me. That if I relaxed, if I stopped trying..." Casey trailed off, and wished this stuff came easier to him. Wished it didn't sound so stupid and irrational.
"That if you relaxed, I was going to look at you and think, 'Hey, I've known this guy almost half my life. Why didn't I see he's a total loser?'" Dana snorted, sounding amused. "You thought I'd suddenly realize that you weren't worth my time?"
Casey pulled his lips into a smile. "Just forget it."
She tilted her head, looking at him critically. When she spoke, her eyes were as soft as her voice. "I never meant to make you feel that way."
Casey's smile came a little unstuck. "I know you didn't."
"I never meant to make you feel that way," she said again. Her regret was heartfelt. "I never meant to make you feel you weren't good enough, or that you had to become someone else. I never meant that."
Casey's throat closed for a moment and he had to look away. "I never said you did," he said gruffly. "It was just the way I felt." He kept his eyes on the mottled carpet and didn't look up when Dana cleared her throat. He wondered if it was possible for silence to echo.
She dropped his hand and stood up, walking over to sit on his other side. "I've come to a conclusion."
"A conclusion?" Casey asked, and was pleased that his voice felt normal again.
"I don't think we're good for each other." He shot her a quick glance and she smirked. "Romantically, I mean."
Casey had to grin at her light tone. "Really?"
She nodded. "I think we've known each other too long."
"Sixteen years is a long time," Casey supplied.
"Exactly. We reduce each other to socially awkward freshmen. It's not good for us," she announced with a flourish.
"You could be right."
"I think I am." Dana flashed a bright smile at him. There was something intoxicating about Dana discovering a new theory. She had a joyous enthusiasm that was simply endearing. "I think we're good friends but we'd be a terrible couple. Just thinking about dating makes us forget who we are."
"And who are we?"
"We are two mature, responsible adults," she said firmly.
Casey was helpless to resist her cheer. "We are capable and lovable people."
"Attractive and charming."
"Witty and erudite."
"And we are very good at what we do," Dana said and then gave into her giggles. Casey laughed too. "We need to remember that."
Casey was still snickering. "Yeah."
"I'm glad we've come to this conclusion."
"Me, too." Casey returned her smile. "I didn't want to think that I'd, you know... caused you too much pain."
"You didn't?" Dana sounded mildly surprised.
"I tried to let you down gently," he pointed out.
Dana leaned her head back, staring at the ceiling. "You did it very graciously. But I can't deny there was some pain caused." He looked over at her, but her smile was happy, if a little wistful. "You're a bit of a heartbreaker, Casey McCall."
Casey snorted and remembered his aunt telling him that he'd grow into quite the heartbreaker some day. Casey was pretty sure she hadn't expected it to take until he was over thirty.
"But it was a good kiss," Dana said thoughtfully. "Sometimes it's worth a little heartbreak for a good kiss."
Casey grinned. "It really was a good kiss. The sex would have been very good." He flushed slightly when he realized what he'd just said.
Dana hmmm'd appreciatively. "The sex would have been great." Casey shot a shocked look at her and she shrugged one shoulder. "What? I'm not allowed to have a libido? Don't be such a guy."
Casey shook his head and had no idea how to respond to that.
Dana rolled her eyes. "So, how does this link to Dan?"
He blinked in surprise and said, "I don't know how great sex links to Dan."
Dana nudged him with her bony elbow. "Not the sex. How does the me and Lisa thing link to Dan?"
Casey grimaced, almost unwilling to return to the subject. He'd have been happier contemplating great sex with Dana.
Dana nudged him harder.
"It took me ten years to figure out what Lisa wanted from me - just to leave her alone and get out of her life. It took the next year and a half to figure out what you wanted, too."
"I didn't want you to leave me alone," Dana said, but there was a hint of uncertainty in her tone.
"No, but it took me that time to realize you didn't really want me as a boyfriend." Dana nodded quickly and Casey continued. "Now? I can relax around you, and around Lisa, because it's... resolved."
"No more walking on eggshells." This was the reason he and Dana were friends. Sometimes, she just got him.
"But as soon as we were sorted out, my friendship with Dan went off the rails."
Dana scowled. It wasn't a pretty expression. "Draft Day."
"You guys have been bad since then?" She sounded worried.
Casey tried to reassure her. "Dana, we're professionals. We're not going to let that happen to the show again."
"That wasn't what I asked," Dana pointed out doggedly.
"It hasn't been all bad," Casey said, staring at the blue sky outside Dana's window. "It's just... we're fine and then we're not. And it's not all my fault," he assured her quickly. "But..."
"I don't know. You, Lisa and Dan are the only people who've known me over ten years." Casey wondered if the sunshine ever poured through her window. He doubted it, but he thought it should. "Maybe my relationships just come with an expiration date."
"Expiration date?" she echoed.
"Maybe I'm just bound to screw them up after a certain number of years."
Dana bumped him with her shoulder. "He's been your best friend for over ten years. You're not going to lose him over a bit of an argument." Dana watched him carefully, and he was reminded of the way she lost Gordon, the way she lost Sam. Dana probably wasn't the best judge of these situations.
Casey wanted to believe her, but he wasn't quite as sure. "Thanks."
Dana stood up, smoothing her long skirt. "What's this argument about?" He could almost hear her unspoken thought: maybe a bit of interference wouldn't be a bad thing.
"Just... stuff," Casey said lamely, shrugging at her. "I don't want to gossip behind Dan's back. It's kind of personal."
She seemed to accept that. "Okay, but if you need to talk, my door's always open."
Casey twisted his neck towards her office door, which was currently closed. "Actually, it's not."
Dana cleared her throat and half-grinned. "Very funny. Now, go home and get some rest. You can sort this out with Dan tomorrow."
He wandered home, dawdling along warm city streets and gawking up at the towering skyscrapers like a tourist. He had an entire day, fourteen unexpected hours, and he didn't know what to do. No plans, no arrangements. In the end, he called Lisa.
She was surprised to hear from him. "Casey? What's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong, Lisa." It was a valid first reaction; he and Lisa didn't call up for casual chats these days. "I've got today off work. I wanted to have Charlie this afternoon."
"It's not your day to have him." She sighed and sounded tired. It was easy to picture her standing over the phone in the kitchen, leaning on the counter and rolling her eyes. "It's only Tuesday."
"It's a bit short notice, Casey."
"I know." Casey shrugged and then recalled that she couldn't see that. He wondered if she could imagine him as easily as he imagined her. She'd only been to his apartment twice, so probably not. "It was a spur of the moment decision."
"I have to pick him up in a couple hours," she said reasonably and Casey knew she was thinking about giving in.
He kept his tone friendly and civil. "Nanny's day off?"
"Did you have any plans with Charlie?" That would be the deal-breaker. If Lisa had plans, there was no way Casey would get to see him. Trying to cancel Lisa's plans was like trying to avert a natural disaster: you took your life into your hands and, generally, didn't achieve a thing.
She hesitated for a moment. "Not really. Nothing that can't be rearranged."
Casey grinned. "I could pick him up from school and have him home to you by about... eight?"
"What are you doing with him?"
"I thought I'd take him to the movies," Casey said, even though he hadn't had any such plans. Charlie would enjoy it. "I'll buy him dinner before I bring him back."
"Make sure he doesn't fill up on popcorn." He could easily picture her unimpressed frown, but he didn't care. He was surfing the wave of victory. Victory over what, he wasn't sure, but it was victory all the same.
"I'll make sure."
"And don't let him eat too much sugar. I don't want him bouncing off the walls until midnight."
Grinning triumphantly, Casey said, "I'll make sure he eats well."
"And not a minute after eight, Casey."
"I'll see you at eight," Casey agreed happily, already planning where he'd take Charlie to eat. "Bye, Lisa."
"Goodbye." The click, as she hung up, echoed down the line.
Casey let Charlie choose the movie and ended up sitting through some kid's film with talking animals. He wondered why the animals always talked. What was it about talking creatures that sparked a child's imagination? Casey had never seen the appeal of it.
Shifting on the too-small seat, Casey tuned out the cheery voices and thought about Milo and Otis. When Charlie had been five, it had been his favorite film. Casey could remember a lot of warm Dallas afternoons with Charlie curled up on his lap, watching that film over and over. Now, Casey couldn't even remember which one was the dog.
Back then, he'd had weekends off; a stretch of sixty hours a week to spend with Charlie and Lisa. And as often as not Dan, who seemed to drop in on a semi-regular basis.
Casey grinned, remembering a Sunday afternoon years ago, when Dan had dropped by yet again. At that stage, Casey knew the movie so well he could almost hear Dudley Moore's voice in his sleep, so when Charlie asked to watch it again, he almost groaned aloud.
Dan had caught Casey's look of annoyance, and diverted Charlie's attention by asking about the tape. Dan did what he always did; squatted down to Charlie's eye level and spoke to Charlie like an equal. For that alone, Casey would have been Dan's friend.
Charlie had watched Dan seriously and solemnly explained that Milo and Otis was the best movie in the whole world.
Dan had winked at Casey, and asked Charlie just as seriously if Charlie was sure that Milo and Otis was better than Superman. Charlie nodded and went to get the cover. He proudly gave it to Dan, and Dan made quite a show of looking at it carefully. Casey could still remember the way that Dan had nodded and said, "I'll have to take your word for it, Charles. I don't think I've seen this."
It wasn't the first time Casey had looked at Dan and Charlie together, and thought that Danny was going to make a wonderful father some day. Then Dan had turned to him and asked, "Can we watch it, Casey?"
Dan had smiled happily and Charlie had been almost bouncing with excitement, so Casey had had no choice. He'd nodded and set up the VCR, trying not to be too sour about this film swallowing another ninety minutes of his life. He'd hit play, and had been about to sit down on the couch when Dan stretched his legs along it. "Sorry, Casey. You can't watch," Dan decreed, mock-seriously.
"You always spoil the endings of films. I haven't seen this before. I want to sit down and enjoy this with Charlie." Dan's eyes had twinkled as he added, "Why don't you go read the paper?"
Casey had always loved sitting down and reading the Sunday paper from front to back, but back then, it had been more of a guilty pleasure. He loved Charlie dearly, but it was impossible to read a paper and look after a five year old kid.
"Will you guys be okay?" The question was for Dan, but he directed it to Charlie.
Charlie sat up straight, his 'big boy' pose as Lisa called it and said, "We'll be fine, Dad."
"Okay," Casey had said and ruffled a hand through Charlie's soft hair.
"Yeah, we'll be fine," Dan added with a grin and Casey ruffled his hair for the hell of it. The gel in Dan's hair made it stand up at odd angles, and Dan smoothed it back down with a grimace. Charlie had laughed, which just made Dan ham it up more.
The door to Dan's apartment building had never seemed so uninviting. Casey shifted his weight on his feet, standing on the shadowed doorstep. He glowered at the buzzer as if the button itself would bite. Spending yesterday knowing he shouldn't talk to Dan had made it drag, and had made him wonder if they'd pushed the friendship too far. A lot of friendships had broken up over lesser fights, Casey was sure.
Casey thought he might have been wrong about not bringing a peace offering. He could always go find a bakery and turn up at Danny's with breakfast. That might increase the chance of Dan letting him up. On the other hand, if Dan was really mad, pastry wouldn't change his mood.
Taking a deep breath, Casey pressed the buzzer and then heard the hiss of static of Dan answering. The words dissolved on his tongue, and the electrical susurrus seemed impossible to break.
Dan sighed through the static and then spoke. "Come on up, Casey."
"Thanks." He spent the elevator ride rehearsing his apology, but couldn't work out anything beyond 'I'm sorry'.
When Dan answered the door, Casey was expecting him to have just got out of bed. Instead, Dan was up and dressed, looking wide awake in jeans and a very baggy, burgundy sweatshirt. Dan looked like a kid who'd grabbed his big brother's clothes by mistake.
"Come in," Dan said, but the sweatshirt told Casey far more than Dan's careful tone. Dan dressed according to mood. There was a reason why Dan always wore a sweatshirt when his Dad came to visit. Dan would say it was because his father wasn't the type of guy to be impressed by slick suits. But it wasn't a coincidence that Dan wore loose sweatshirts whenever he felt uncertain. It was an extra layer of defense; the bigger and baggier, the better.
Dan dropped his keys on the bench and his hand was almost covered by the over-long sleeve. "I was about to go out."
Casey closed the door behind him. "Can you postpone it?"
"I was about to go over to your place," Dan said, absentmindedly running a finger along the counter top.
Casey watched Dan's hand just a second too long before replying, "Yeah?"
"Yeah. I was going to force you to let me in."
Casey grinned at the mental image of Dan breaking a door down. "How were you going to do that?"
Dan looked at him guardedly. "Your spare key."
"Ah." Casey nodded, looking around Dan's messy but clean apartment. As always, Dan's couch was bare and ready for Dan to stretch out on, but the armchair sitting beside it was stacked with magazines, opened mail and loose bits of newspapers. Dan tended to wait until the pile grew to the height of the armrests and then sacrificed an afternoon to clearing it out.
"Do you want coffee?" Dan asked, walking around the counter.
"Sure." Casey wandered over to the other side, watching Dan fiddle with the coffee-machine. The silence felt like a separate entity, looking over his shoulder. It was so palpable that Casey was almost surprised that Dan only poured out two cups.
Dan served it strong and slightly bitter, just the way Casey liked it. "It's good."
"Thanks." Dan almost looked surprised, but he shouldn't have been. Dan had always made a great cup of coffee. Casey rolled the flavor over his tongue, thinking about it. Apart from Dave, and Lisa, Dan's skill with a coffee-machine was unsurpassed. "Talk."
Casey looked up from his cup. "Huh?"
"You came here to talk, so talk," Dan said, adding milk until his coffee was a warm caramel color.
Casey swallowed another mouthful, playing for time. He still had no idea what to say. Normally, he planned these things in advance, prepared a suitable speech. If he had something important to say, he preferred to have it already worked out. He made fewer mistakes that way.
Of course, that had never worked with Lisa. Or with Dana.
Or with Dan.
"I'm sorry?" Casey hazarded.
"I said, you came here to talk," Dan repeated with a small frustrated sigh, "so talk."
Casey shook his head. "No, I mean, I'm sorry. For Monday." Dan kept watching him. "For what I said."
"Did you mean it?"
"I know you're sorry that you said it, but did you mean it?" Dan asked his coffee cup mildly.
"No. Well... some of it." Casey frowned and shifted his arms on the counter. "I don't want another partner."
"Good." Dan smiled for the first time that morning, and it made Casey feel like a rat to realize he'd caused Dan's uncertainty. But the sense of shame was still mixed with anger. He never would have got upset enough to say that if Dan hadn't lied to him. "I'm still pretty angry, though."
"Cas--" Dan stopped himself with a grimace, and bowed his head. "Why?"
"You lied to me. You lied right to my face." Not that how he'd lied made a difference. "I thought you trusted me."
"I didn't lie to you, Casey," Dan said slowly.
Casey opened his mouth but closed it again when Dan held his hand up.
"At the time, when I told you that, I hadn't slept with any guys since college." Dan paused. "If I didn't trust you, I would have made up some story about a leggy blonde and a night of great heterosexual sex."
Casey blinked, thinking about that. Dan was right. If he hadn't wanted Casey to know, he could have lied. Casey would have believed him. "I didn't think of that."
"I figured." Dan's teasing grin was a little stretched.
"I just... I thought you'd lied."
"I didn't." Dan picked up their empty cups and dumped them in the sink. "That's the one lousy thing I didn't do."
"It was still a stupid thing to do."
Dan spun around a little too quickly. "You're going to lecture me on not letting my sex life affect my career?"
"Danny..." Casey started gently.
"Because you're really not qualified to present 'Keeping Sex out of the Workplace'." Dan glared at him, and clenched his jaw, clearly trying not to say anything more insulting.
"Can't I just be worried about you?" Casey refused to look away, refused to break eye contact. Dan wasn't the only one who could use pleading puppy-dog eyes to his advantage. Dan breathed deeply, and caved under the McCall gaze.
Danny sighed and walked around the counter, standing beside Casey. "Of course you can." They were both leaning forward, staring at Dan's fridge. It wasn't the most scenic view for patching over a fight, but it was comforting. It was familiar, to stand side by side with Danny, shoulders almost touching.
After a while, Casey said, "I still don't see why you did it." His tone sounded surprisingly snide.
"There's a couple things you've got to get straight," Dan said firmly, turning to Casey. "I slept with an old flame. I am not the first, only or last person to do so. Regardless of what you may personally believe about the world's moral and sexual codes, it actually happens pretty often."
"And?" Casey prompted and Dan raised an eyebrow at him. "You said 'a couple of things'. I assume there's a second point?"
"And you've got to stop talking about 'it' as if I'm shooting up cocaine. It's sex, Casey. It's not fatal or destructive behavior."
"It's not good for you," Casey stated confidently.
"Regardless of what you've been told," Dan said, his eyes tense. "Regardless of what you've been taught about 'stranger danger' and not getting into cars with dirty old men, I'm not taking my life into my hands by sleeping with some guy." Dan huffed out a breath and pushed himself away from the counter. "It's no more dangerous than going home with some woman from a bar."
Casey let that thought rattle around his brain, thinking about it as Dan watched him out of the corner of his eye. "That's still pretty dangerous." Dan was wearing that flat, smooth smile that meant Dan was freaking out about this and trying hard not to let it show. "After all, you slept with Bobbi Bernstein."
Dan barked out a surprised laugh. "I never claimed I had taste."
Casey snickered and that seemed to be that. Dan stretched and then pulled the sweatshirt over his head. "Do you want to head into the office?" Dan asked as he pitched the shirt at the chair of junk.
Casey watched it land on the top of the pile, and then glanced at his watch. "No."
Dan blinked at him. "Why not?"
"We don't have to be in until twelve."
"So coming in early will set a bad precedent. People will start to expect us in at eleven."
Dan sniggered. "I'd believe that if I didn't know you, Casey. You love the place so much you're in before twelve most days."
Casey shrugged and tried a different tactic. "What would I do in the office for an extra hour and a half?"
"You'd do the same thing you do for the rest of the day," Dan said, sitting down on his couch. Apparently, they weren't going anywhere. "Sit around and wait for somebody to give you something to do."
Casey rolled his eyes, but didn't give Dan the satisfaction of a reply. He sat down beside Dan, perfectly content to waste the extra time talking. Useless conversations were highly underrated.
Dan settled back into the couch. "Why don't you want to go in?"
"It could be awkward." Casey shrugged.
"Dana and I Talked yesterday."
"Talked?" Dan gave him a bemused glance. "You just pronounced that with a capital, didn't you?"
Casey grinned. After working with someone for five years, you started to hear their pronunciation. Or started to understand their idiosyncrasies. One or the other. "It was a big talk."
"A big talk?"
"A huge talk," Casey confirmed.
Dan grinned conspiratorially, leaning forward. "Did it, perchance, end in a kiss?"
"No." Casey frowned for a second, and then asked, "Why would you think that?"
Dan stretched back on the couch. "Last time you described a conversation with Dana as a monumental Talk, note the capital T," Dan specified with a smirk, "the conversation ended in a kiss."
"There was no kissing."
"Will there be kissing?"
Casey shook an imaginary ball in his hand, and then peered down at it carefully. "The magic eight-ball says 'highly doubtful.'"
"So, there's no time limit attached?" Dan asked with a teasing grin.
"This isn't, like, a ten week kissing plan, right?"
Casey paused for a second, letting the horror of that suggestion sink in. "No. There were no plans of any sort. There was, however, an agreement. We made an arrangement."
Dan watched Casey carefully, and stretched an arm along the back of the couch. "An arrangement?"
Casey nodded. "An arrangement."
"What type of arrangement?"
"A dating arrangement."
Dan made a face. "Please say it doesn't involve time limits."
Casey laughed at Dan's obvious concern. He was touched, too, but he was mostly amused. "It doesn't involve time limits. It is an arrangement, implemented immediately, that will continue for the foreseeable and not-so-foreseeable future."
"Casey, put me out of my misery," Dan said pleadingly. "What was the arrangement?"
"We're not dating."
Dan squinted at him. "You two had to arrange to not-date?"
Casey rolled his eyes. "It's an important decision, Dan."
"I would have thought it was the default decision." Dan waved his hand dismissively. "Unless you're currently dating, you are, by extension, not dating. It shouldn't be something you need to discuss to make sure that you're not."
"No, we agreed that we weren't going to date."
Dan blinked and froze for a second. "Seriously?"
Casey nodded. "Seriously."
"We've decided we're not good for each other. We're officially off-limits." Casey thought about what he'd said, and then added, "For each other. We can date other people, just not each other."
Dan looked off to the side, and then said softly, "Wow."
"The you and Dana thing's been going on for as long as I've known you, Casey." Dan turned to him with a concerned expression. "You sure you guys can do this?"
"We came to an agreement. We have an arrangement."
"Yeah, but..." Dan paused, picking at the armrest. "It's one thing to tell yourself that someone's off-limits. It can be a lot harder to convince your heart of that."
"We can do this, Dan. We are capable, intelligent people," Casey said, and hoped that Dan agreed. Because Casey was pretty sure, he was almost certain, but... Dana and Casey had been wrong about stuff like this before. Dan could be right. And when it came to this type of stuff, Dan frequently was. "Aren't we?"
Dan beamed and nodded. "Yeah, you are." Casey was warmed by Dan's confidence in him. Then Dan said wonderingly, "That's kind of..."
Dan smirked. "Monumental."
"I told you."
Casey was trying not to laugh as Alison played with his hair. Dan was sitting beside him, patiently waiting his turn. Dan was also staring at his reflection and muttering under his breath. "I don't see why I can't do it. It makes no sense."
"You can't do it. Just accept the fact."
Dan slid his eyes around to the side, glaring at Casey. "I don't see why not."
"You've spent years proving you can't do it."
Dan sighed, and slumped in his chair. "So I should accept it?"
Casey nodded and Alison's brush skidded through his hair. "Sorry," he said, sitting up straight. Alison raised an eyebrow, but didn't rebuke him.
Dan twisted around in his chair. "I don't want to accept it."
"I don't want to."
"Accept it and move on, Danny."
"No," Dan said, sliding around until he faced the mirror again. "I refuse to accept it."
"You can't do it, Danny. Why won't you accept that?"
"Because you can do it."
Alison's annoyed huff was quiet, but Casey still heard it. Casey snorted, but carefully kept his head still. "So anything I can do, you can do better?"
"Well… not better." Dan grinned. "But certainly as well as you."
"Care to speak a little German, Danny? Or how about some Spanish?"
"Un tequila, por favor?" Dan said, pretending to lift a glass. "It works."
Casey rolled his eyes. "Now say something else."
"Locos. Señoritas. Señor. Taco." Dan stopped, obviously thinking about it. "Gato. El Perro Fumando."
"Any more random words?"
"No. I think I've exhausted my vocabulary." Dan swung around on the chair, spinning it the full three-sixty degrees, until he was stuck with his reflection again. "What about Yiddish?"
Casey raised an eyebrow. "Can you hold a conversation in Yiddish?"
"Would you believe me if I said yes?" Dan asked hopefully. Casey rolled his eyes again. "Didn't think so. But just for the record, I do know a lot of prayers in Hebrew."
"I'm not doubting your ability to memorize prayers, Danny. I'm trying to work out if you can speak a second language."
"And you know I can't."
"So you cannot, in fact, do everything I can do?" Casey asked as Alison gave him a final brush over and moved to Dan.
"Obviously, I have to have an interest in doing it." Danny closed his mouth obediently as Alison started sponging on foundation.
"I'm not sure whether or not I should be offended," Casey said slowly, knowing that Dan couldn't reply. "I am a well-educated man. Well-rounded. I have many skills."
Dan rolled his eyes, and Casey continued, "I have many enviable talents. I would have thought there was a wide range of things I can do that you'd want to do. But the only thing that interests you is my ability to move my eyes in separate directions."
Casey had to work hard to keep a straight face. Technically, he couldn't move his eyes in separate directions. He wasn't even sure if that was physically possible, but he knew how to make it appear that way. Someday, he'd let Dan in on the trick, but as long as Dan teased him about his uncool status and his love of gymnastics, Casey felt perfectly justified in keeping the secret. Everyone had a party trick. Casey didn't have to share his.
He'd done it at a party years ago, when everyone was drunk enough to reveal their party tricks. Dan's had been a remarkable control of Spin-the-Bottle. They'd got into a circle to test him, and Dan had been able to accurately spin it at whoever they named. Casey's trick had been to cross his eyes and then move each eye to the side and back.
When Dan asked him how he did it, Casey had been drunk, and still a little stung by Dan's inability to explain the bottle skill. So, he'd said that he'd practiced by staring straight ahead, and slowly developed the ability to move one to the side. Of course, Casey had done no such thing. He'd just found that if you crossed your eyes tightly and then looked to the side, no one could see the first eye move.
Every so often, like today, Dan decided that it was a skill he really wanted to master, and would start spending time staring straight ahead, concentrating on just moving one eye left or right. It resulted in an expression that Natalie called 'emotionally constipated' and Chris called 'psycho gym teacher.' It resulted in the expression that was on Dan's face now.
"Dan, relax your face or your make-up will look blotchy and uneven," Alison chided firmly. Dan sighed and stopped pulling the face.
Casey watched him carefully, and could almost see the serious glare of concentration start again. Dan needed to be distracted. "What did you tell Natalie?"
"About…?" Dan asked out of the corner of his mouth.
"About the hickey."
Dan held up three fingers, a gesture that meant 'I'm getting my make-up done, as soon as I can move my face again, I'll reply.' It was a surprisingly useful gesture to know.
Casey stood up, and perched on the make-up counter, watching Alison blend and brush, covering Dan's skin with the layers of potions and powders that made their skin flawless on TV. Casey couldn't help thinking that there was an impressive amount of artifice behind their appearance.
When Alison moved on to Dan's hair, Dan replied. "I caved."
"You shared?" Casey asked, keeping his voice lightly bored.
Dan almost nodded, but stopped himself just in time. "I told her about Claudia."
"The leggy blonde?" Casey grinned, and a small part of him was reassured that Danny had confided in him. Not Natalie, but him. He felt a little bad for being so petty about Dan's friendship, but comforted himself with the thought that he'd keep the secret better than Natalie.
"Legs to the floor, my friend," Dan said with a comical leer.
Casey smirked as he remembered what Dan had said. "Did you tell her about the great sex?"
Dan looked a little shocked. "You think I'd go bragging to Natalie with all the messy details? I'm far more of a gentleman than that, Casey."
Casey snorted. "A gentleman and a scholar?"
"These days, I'm just a gentleman," Dan replied looking up to Alison. Alison nodded, and Dan stood up, fixing his collar in the mirror.
"So there was no bragging about your conquest?" Casey asked, finding the idea a little hard to believe.
"No bragging." Dan grinned and then added, "But there may have been some strong hinting."
When he walked around the corner, Casey saw that Natalie was sitting on their anchor desk. "So you've heard about the Flaxen Amazon?" she asked as he sat down at the anchor desk.
Dan was just a few steps behind him. "Casey knows about Claudia."
"I can't believe I gave you tips to making your smug college friend--"
"Michael," Casey supplied helpfully, and Natalie just kept talking.
"--jealous, and you ditched him because a blonde at a bar winked at you," Natalie finished firmly. "You are such a man, Dan Rydell."
"Um…thanks?" Danny replied, equal parts uncertain and amused. Casey sat back and decided to enjoy the 'Natalie and Dan Show.' There was no way he was getting in the middle of those two.
"It wasn't a compliment," Natalie replied snidely.
"Natalie," Dan said beseechingly, "I was just taking your advice to heart."
Natalie eyed him, obviously not convinced but willing to hear him out. "Really?"
"The whole idea was to make him jealous about my life, right?" Dan asked, and Natalie nodded. "Things were going badly. He started talking about his new car."
"What type of car is it?"
"It's a Porsche, Natalie. The guy owns a Porsche!"
Natalie grimaced. "Not good."
"So, I thought on my feet. I showed him up the best way I could. By talking to a buxom blonde while he was in the bathroom and then leaving with her, giving him the casual 'you understand, right, buddy?' as I left."
"Fair enough," Natalie declared slowly and then narrowed her eyes at Dan. "Buxom?"
Dan smirked. "She was well-endowed."
"I thought you said she was leggy?"
"She was leggy and curvaceous." Dan made some wavy movement with his hands. He was either suggesting a 'curvaceous' woman, or outlining an hourglass. "She had quite a body."
"She sounds suspiciously like Sally," Natalie said, and Casey thought she smelled something fishy.
Dan wasn't put off by her disbelief. "She was totally like Sally," Dan said with a smarmy grin. "Except she wasn't that freakishly tall and she wasn't, you know, a total mandroid."
Casey spluttered and Natalie lifted a hand to her headset. "If you weren't wearing make-up right now, and about to go on camera, I'd kiss you on the cheek, Danny," Natalie said with a happy smile.
"Dana told me to."
"The mandroid comment?"
"You betcha," Natalie replied. "Have a good show, guys."
Casey shook his head, and called out to her as she was halfway across the floor. "Hey, Natalie?"
She turned around and yelled back. "Yeah?"
"Did you need to tell us anything?" Casey asked, gesturing at their scripts.
Natalie flapped a hand dismissively. "Nah. Just wanted to make sure you knew about Claudia."
"Okay, then," Casey said and turned back to his script. Then he looked at Danny. "Curvaceous?"
"It's an apt description."
"Yeah…I just would have thought you'd say 'curvy.'"
Dan grinned. "I'm full of surprises."
Natalie bounced over after they pulled out their earpieces. "That was a good show!"
Casey grinned at Dan and dropped his earpiece on the table. "It was indeed." Their banter had sparkled, their throws had been smooth; the footage and the voice-overs had been seamlessly inserted. All in all, it had been a great show.
"I'm so relieved. We were expecting it to be bad and we thought that maybe, just maybe, it would be okay," Natalie babbled. "But we really hadn't expected it to be good."
Dan looked slightly offended. "You were expecting it to be bad?"
"Well, the last show you guys did together died about halfway through, and then you ended up fighting. So, yeah. We were expecting it to be bad."
"We're professionals, Natalie. We know what we're doing," Dan said with an easy smile.
"Not only do we know what we're doing, we do it well," Casey pointed out, grinning at Dan. "We're a team."
"We're a team that rocks," Dan said happily and high-fived Casey.
Natalie laughed. "Whatever helps you guys sleep at night." Then, she stepped closer to Dan, and kissed him gently on the cheek. Dan smiled.
"What was that for?" Casey whined when it was clear that there was only a kiss for Dan.
"Dana told me to."
"The mandroid comment," Dan supplied helpfully.
Natalie watched Casey closely. "You got a problem with that?"
Casey shook his head. "Heaven forbid I stand in the way of Dan getting kissed by a beautiful girl."
"Well, the show tonight was really good…" Natalie said as she walked over to Casey. "I suppose that warrants a kiss, too." Casey bowed his head dutifully and Natalie placed a soft kiss on his cheek. Her perfume smelled of vanilla and strawberries. It almost made him hungry.
Dan laughed at the self-satisfied expression on Casey's face. "You are so immature."
Casey shrugged and followed Dan over to wardrobe. When he looked beside him, he was surprised to see Natalie following them. She walked very quietly. "Anything we can help you with?"
"I want to talk to Dan about kissing beautiful girls," Natalie responded with a grin.
Dan snorted. "You looking for some pointers? Because if so, I'm happy to give play-by-play instructions as long as I get to see the tape."
She rolled her eyes. "In your dreams, Dan."
Dan grinned. "And Jeremy's too, I suspect."
"I wanted to talk about Claudia."
"Should I step out?" Casey offered politely. They both frowned at him, and he wondered if the resident gossips had forgotten he was there. "Just offering."
"Don't worry about it, Casey," Dan said.
Casey shrugged. "Okay." The three of them stopped walking, and stood to one side of the hallway.
"So…" Natalie paused dramatically. "Claaaaudia?" She stretched the first syllable into its own word.
"I am an open book." Dan spread his hands wide. "What do you want to know?"
"What's her last name?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know?"
Dan shrugged sheepishly. "I was drunk, we barely flirted, and then she came back to my place. We didn't swap medical histories, Natalie."
Natalie's lips pursed. "She was easy?"
"Hey, those are outdated sexual stereotypes. I am all for a woman being sexually empowered." Dan grinned widely. "I appreciate a loose woman."
Natalie smirked. "You also appreciate the charity of strangers."
Dan stretched his neck back. "I really can't deny that."
Sighing, Natalie said, "Do you know anything about this girl?"
"I know that blonde isn't her natural hair color."
Natalie narrowed her eyes and once again, Casey got the impression that she didn't quite buy Dan's story. "What's her shoe size?"
"Nine and a half," Dan replied without hesitation. "And she was wearing these pale pink stilettos. Let me tell you, she had very fine ankles."
"Stilettos?" Natalie asked wearily, and Dan shrugged. "That really says everything, doesn't it?"
Casey looked from one to the other, and wondered what he'd missed. "Not to sound like an idiot, but what do stilettos say?"
"They say fashionable," Dan said, gesturing enthusiastically. "A woman who's prepared to go through pain for the sake of looking great."
"They say sexually confident," Natalie added. "A woman who looks good and has few objections to a one-night stand."
"If Sally was shorter, she'd wear stilettos," Dan pronounced and Natalie nodded.
"Ah," Casey said, almost wishing he hadn't asked.
"They also say a woman prepared to date a TV celebrity for the sake of appearing in publicity photos," Natalie said, looking at Dan.
"They do?" Casey asked, confused. "A pair of shoes says that?" Apparently Dan and Natalie could converse in clothing shorthand. Casey already spoke four languages; he felt no obligation to learn another.
"They do," Dan assured him.
The corners of Natalie's mouth turned down. "Will Claudia be appearing in future publicity photos?"
"I don't think so." Dan leaned back against the wall, and Casey tried to hide his curiosity. He had no idea what excuse Dan would use.
"Why not?" Natalie asked, a strong warning in her tone.
"She came back to my place because she lives with someone."
"She has an annoying roommate?"
"She has an annoying boyfriend," Dan replied. "I learned my lesson with Rebecca. No more attached women."
Natalie pushed a strand of hair away from her face, and then gave Dan's arm a quick squeeze. "I'm sorry, Dan."
When Dan smiled bravely, there was a little too much pain behind it for Casey to be comfortable. "Thanks."
"Just remember, she wore stilettos," Natalie said seriously. "She wasn't a big loss."
Dan made a face. "I think our priorities are vastly different."
"You'd prefer sex and lack of commitment?" Natalie spoke as if she were pronouncing a death sentence.
"I'm just saying it has its appeals."
"You know one of the appeals it doesn't have?" Natalie asked, and Casey blinked at her phrasing.
"Scraping you up from the emotional mess she'll leave you in." Dan started to say something but Natalie kept talking. "Rebecca left, and you were a pile of emotional debris. And she wasn't even living with Steve Sisco, let alone sleeping with him."
Dan blinked slowly and Casey knew she'd hit a tender spot. Dan swallowed and said, "Good point."
"I don't like to bring out the big guns," Natalie said, resting a hand on Dan's shoulder. "But you need somebody to kick your ass once in a while. For your own good."
"Being cruel to be kind?" Danny joked, his eyes tense.
Natalie pressed a kiss to his cheek. "Only because I love you."
Dan's smile was soft. "Thanks, Nat."
"Any time." She stepped back and looked down at her watch. "I've got to go. Dana will be looking for me." Saying that, she turned on her heel and started trotting back. Dan watched her leave with shadowed eyes.
"Hey!" Casey called out. "How come Dan got a second kiss?"
"For doing a good show," she called over her shoulder.
He turned to Dan, and was glad to see Dan had shaken off the hurt expression. "I think there's a certain favoritism going on in this office."
They started walking to wardrobe again, and Danny's reply was glib. "I think you're right."
Casey's brows rose. "You do?"
"Yeah," Dan said seriously. "I've been kissed by our assistant producer many times, but I don't think I've ever been kissed by our executive producer."
"I think you're being favored by the hierarchy," Dan stated. "And I'm being placated by a pretty girl."
"It's always worked before," Casey said as they walked into the changing area.
Dan laughed and moved over to where his jeans and t-shirt were hanging up. "I have an appreciation of aesthetics."
"I've never denied that," Casey said, pulling off his jacket and hanging it on the spare hangers provided. He was pretty sure Monica would come in and re-hang it, but intent had to count for something.
He turned to the wall, and started unbuttoning his shirt. It was the way they always dressed, not facing each other. Dan said he was overly modest, but the real cause was the way Dan put on his pants. For some reason, Dan had trouble balancing on one leg. Whenever he tried to pull his pants on standing up, he'd end up doing this awkward hopping dance, bouncing on one foot as he pulled the other leg up. It reduced Casey to giggles every time.
Casey pulled up his jeans, and was reaching for his polo shirt, when he thought of something. "Spin the Bottle."
"What?" Dan's voice was muffled, and when Casey looked over his shoulder, he saw Dan pulling his t-shirt over his head.
"You kissed Dana when you played Spin the Bottle. Back in L.A. that time." If Casey remembered correctly, Dan had managed to kiss all the attractive single women playing.
"Doesn't count," Dan said with a wave of his hand.
Casey watched him doubtfully. "It doesn't?"
"Dana was your section producer. I didn't work for her." Dan started gathering his suit and hanging it up.
Casey shrugged and sat down. "So I'm still the hierarchy's favorite?"
"Yes, you are."
Casey noticed that Dan was still in socks. He resigned himself to waiting for Dan to methodically loosen all the ties and then tighten them again. Dan had to be the only person Casey had ever met who treated sneakers respectfully. "Will you ever give Claudia a surname?"
Dan shook his head. "I can't."
"Natalie would recognize it," Dan said, leaning over his laces.
"It'd be Schiffer."
Casey snickered. "I've got to say, Danny…"
"She was quite a loss," Casey said and Dan grinned. "Although, I'm sure that Tim Jeffries will be relieved."
Dan looked up at him. "How do you know that?"
"I have to read something at the dentist's." Dan scoffed and moved onto the other shoe. Casey shifted on the chair, bored. "Hey."
"Yeah?" Dan looked over the shoe in his hand.
"I was wondering, does Michael…" Casey paused, watching Dan's reactions. Dan's smile dimmed a little, but that was the only change. Casey figured he was allowed to keep talking. "Have a girlfriend?"
Dan blinked and then snorted. "No. Michael has no interest in the fairer sex."
Dan went back to tying his shoe. "Why did you ask?"
"It was just the way you spoke about Claudia's boyfriend."
Dan raised an eyebrow. "And you assumed Michael was living with a girlfriend?"
Casey shrugged. "Well, yeah."
"He doesn't live with his girlfriend, Casey." Dan finished tying his shoes and walked to the door.
Casey stood up, feeling incredibly dense. "Okay, I get it. It was a silly assumption and I shouldn't have made it."
"He lives with his boyfriend," Dan said, walking out the door.
Two nights later, Dan gave him a lift home and for some unfathomable reason, decided to park.
"You're parking?" Casey asked incredulously, blinking at Dan.
Dan hit his blinkers and pulled into the spot. "It's a great spot," Dan replied assertively, turning off the engine.
"So you're parking?"
"It's a great spot."
"But you don't need to park. You're just dropping me off," Casey pointed out reasonably.
"But it's a great spot," Dan repeated. "It's right in front of your building. Why can't you see it's a great spot?"
Dan was right. It was a great spot. "I can see that it's a great spot."
Pulling the keys out of the ignition, Dan asked, "How often do I drive?"
"About once a week. And then you spend the next day complaining about how hard it is to park in New York City."
"And that is why I'm parking."
Casey blinked at him. "But you don't need to park."
"It's a great spot. Of course, I need to park." Dan grinned at him. "It's driving karma, Casey."
Casey eyed him doubtfully. "Driving karma?"
"Driving karma. You don't drive in the city, so maybe you don't understand the rules, but trust me on this. It's driving karma."
Casey sighed. "And one of these rules is that you park, even though you don't need to, just because it's a great spot?"
"Yes." Dan smiled and nodded. "If the unseen forces of the road give you a great spot, you have to take it."
"'Unseen forces of the road'? You did just say that, didn't you, Danny?"
"If you snub the unseen forces, if you refuse to accept their gifts graciously, they will not gift you again," Dan said seriously.
Casey snorted. "Really?"
"Yep. If you don't accept the parking space in the way that it was meant, if you ignore their generosity, you will find yourself unable to change lanes when you need to. You will find yourself cut off at every turn, and hitting every red light on the way home. It's driving karma."
"I think it's more likely a sign of insanity," Casey said, and Dan glared at him. "But obviously, you're parking."
"Do you want to come upstairs and grab a beer? While you show the unseen forces of the road that you appreciate their gifts?"
Dan nodded, and Casey led him up, wondering if he actually had any beer in the fridge. Luckily enough, he found he was down to two bottles.
"Lucky," Dan said when Casey mentioned it. "It's karma."
"You think your driving karma affected the amount of alcohol in my fridge?"
"Don't mock it, Casey." Dan opened his bottle, scowling at Casey. "Karma's a powerful force."
"Apparently it is," Casey said, walking over to the couch.
Dan sat down next to him and grinned. "What time is it?"
Casey glanced at the clock. "It's two-fifteen."
The amused grin stayed on Dan's face. "And we're drinking beers?"
Casey laughed, understanding where Dan was headed with this. "Yes, we are."
"You know what we should be watching?" Dan said, but Casey was already picking up the remote and switching the TV on.
"West Coast Update."
Dan nodded. "West Coast Update."
It was only natural that they'd feel a certain amount of healthy competition with the guys over at WCU. He and Dan weren't the kind of guys to rub it in to Peter and Paul that their show was… well, better. In every sense of the word. Instead, they kept it as a private joke, an easy drinking game. "Puns and clichés, one sip each," Casey said as WCU appeared on the screen.
"You take Peter, I'll take Paul," Dan said, gesturing at the screen with his bottle.
Casey nodded. It wasn't until the second commercial break that he realized the flaw in this plan. "There's a flaw in this plan."
Dan looked over at him. "We only have one beer each?"
"We only have one beer each."
Dan frowned at his bottle. It was more than half-empty already. "What's the fun of a drinking game if you can't get drunk?"
Casey switched off the screen. "Highly limited fun, Danny." Danny glanced across at him, but didn't comment on the awkward rhythm of 'highly limited'. "We need to do something."
"We should talk," Danny decided.
"Don't we do that all day?"
"Stop being onerous, Casey. Think of a subject."
Casey grinned. "I'd tell you about my day, but you were there. I'd ask you about what Jeremy said, but I already heard it from Jeremy." Dan nodded, totally unsurprised. "We could discuss the show, and how great it's been for the last three nights, but we were both there."
Danny laughed. "Are you trying to say we spend too much time together?"
"No." Casey shook his head. "I'm saying we're boring conversationalists."
"Well, if we have nothing to talk about, I'm going home," Dan said, but didn't stand up. "Do you think twenty minutes counts as graciously accepting a perfect car space?"
"Probably not," Casey replied, just to tease Dan.
"Then I'm not leaving yet."
Casey didn't even try to hide his amusement. "Okay."
Dan lasted just a few moments in silence, and then turned to Casey. "Are you sure there's nothing you want to ask me?"
"How come I have to ask you?"
"Because you're boring. I could come up with an interesting question, and then you'd suck all of the interesting out of it," Dan said with a grin. "Then I'd just end up with a boring conversation. If I wanted to be bored, I'd sit here in silence."
"So this is an open forum to ask you a question?"
Dan waved a hand through the air. "Ask away."
Casey settled back on the couch as a question popped into his head. He was pretty sure that wasn't the type of question Dan was talking about. "Any question?"
"Any question." Dan sat up, leaning closer with a triumphant grin. "What is it, Casey? You know there's something you want to ask me."
"Why did you and Michael break up?" Dan just blinked at him, so Casey clarified, "In college. Why did you break up?"
Dan's eyebrows drew together. "I should probably go."
"You said any question," Casey pointed out childishly.
"Yeah, but…" Casey hadn't leeched the interest out of the conversation, but Dan seemed to have just leeched the fun out of it.
"I've got no problems telling you," Dan said clearly, looking over at the blank TV screen. "But I think you'll have problems hearing it."
"Tell me," Casey said gently.
"Are you sure this isn't..." Dan trailed off uncertainly. "Are you sure it's not going to weird you out?"
"I asked, didn't I?"
Dan scowled. "That doesn't mean you really want to hear the answer."
"I think I can handle it." Casey sighed.
Dan watched him carefully, leaning back on the couch. "Sure?"
"Well, I'm currently thinking of Michael as a Rebecca-alike who doesn't look as good in a dress, but I'm pretty sure." Casey shrugged.
Dan laughed, and his serious expression lightened. "Okay. I... I really liked him."
Casey snorted and put his legs up on the coffee table. "I'm assuming you must have."
"The thing you've got to get is that I really liked him." Dan looked down at his hands as he stressed the words. "I really liked him."
"You were serious about him?" Casey asked softly.
"Yeah." Dan swallowed. "I..."
"Really liked him," Casey finished for him and Dan nodded. "How long were you… seeing him?"
"A little over five months."
"That's pretty long for you in college," Casey said, thinking aloud. "I can remember most girls didn't last more than a few weeks."
"I really liked him." Dan spoke quietly, as if admitting a secret. Casey suddenly wondered if Dan had ever told anyone else. He didn't want to ask.
"So that would have been, what? Your Junior year?" Casey asked, and Dan nodded. That had also been the year that Dan had been reconsidering his study choices, debating over whether he should focus more on print journalism than television. Casey guessed it had been a year of bad decisions all around.
"Yeah," Dan said, and then fell silent, obviously lost in his own thoughts.
"You know," Casey said slowly, "I don't see the appeal."
"The appeal of what?"
"That's probably why you've never slept with him," Dan responded with a quick grin.
"Even if the sex was great, I couldn't put up with someone that..." Casey waved a hand vaguely, searching for the right word. "Smarmy."
Casey nodded. "He's like Gordon, with the lawyer bits taken out." Dan's eyes bulged in surprise and Casey felt a little guilty. "Should I stop criticizing your ex--" Casey had no idea what to call it, so he used Dan's word, "--flame now?"
Dan blinked and then said, "Feel free to dislike him."
"Because I do. Dislike him," Casey clarified. "He's smarmy and slimy, he made you nervous at the bar and he kept you waiting. Then, he just railroaded you into leaving," Casey finished. "I didn't like him at all."
"Huh." Dan smirked. "Who'd have thought you'd have good taste in guys."
Casey laughed. "That's a lot of help to me."
Dan looked up at the ceiling, obviously thinking about it. "On the other hand, you like Shane McArnold, and I have it on good authority that he's a twit."
Casey grimaced. "As Jeremy has told me many, many times."
"Can we leave Shane McArnold's twit-status alone?"
"Sure." Dan nodded. "After all, I wasn't the one bragging about him asking me out."
Casey groaned. Danny wasn't going to let him forget that, and Danny hadn't even been there at the time. "Let's go back to the topic of Michael's ex-status."
"I don't know, Casey. I'm having more fun with Shane McArnold's twit-status."
Casey let his head fall back on the couch. "I still think Michael's a heel."
"He's a heel," Danny repeated, laughing too hard for his words to be easily heard. "Did you actually just call some guy a 'heel'?"
"I could have called him a cad, or a knave, or a scoundrel." Casey had to fight to keep a straight face. "I thought heel was more appropriate."
"Why didn't you go all the way to dirty, rotten rascal?" Dan asked, still sniggering.
"That would have been too much," Casey replied seriously, and Dan cracked up. When Danny stopped laughing, Casey continued. "I still don't see the appeal. He seems so selfish."
Casey waved a hand in the air. "Self-interested. Self-oriented. Self-absorbed. Like if it wasn't about him, he wouldn't care." For a second he wondered if he was channeling Dan. He was pretty sure Dan had said the same thing about Lisa, once upon a time.
Dan played with his beer bottle. "That was the appeal, Casey."
"That was the appeal," Dan repeated quietly. "I wasn't… I wasn't as grounded in college. Hell, you were there. You know that."
"Dan--" Casey started to defend Dan, but Dan interrupted him.
"I'm not saying I was a bad student, I just… I couldn't stand being alone. I couldn't stand my own thoughts, because they'd always end up back home." Dan swallowed, and Casey knew what he meant. "The best solution was just to keep busy. To always be doing something."
Casey nodded. "Yeah, I remember."
"I had to be doing something because… I couldn't stand being around other people, either. I'd go to parties, and I'd have to leave early, have to slip out the back, just to get away from the crowds."
Casey hadn't noticed that; he'd just thought that Dan was a busy student. "So you were better one-on-one?"
"Not really." Dan shrugged uncomfortably, turning the bottle in his hands. "Most people made me uncomfortable. I just… couldn't relax. I kept thinking that if I relaxed, I'd say something, I'd let something slip about Sam, and then… Then I'd have to tell them the whole story."
"You told me the whole story," Casey said gently.
"Yeah, but… you understood. I mean, you never…" Dan said slowly, "You never blamed me for it. You never turned around and said it was my fault."
Casey spoke firmly. "No one would, Danny."
Dan opened his mouth and closed it again. "At the time, back then, it felt like it."
"They wouldn't blame you for it." Casey was vaguely horrified at the idea, at the thought of Danny in college, certain that it was his fault. He tried very, very hard not to hold Jacob Rydell responsible.
Dan's jaw was tense. "Most people, I wasn't comfortable around them. I wasn't comfortable around most of the people I slept with."
"But you were comfortable around Michael?" Casey thought that making Danny comfortable might be enough to redeem Michael. Casey could forgive selfishness and sliminess, if he made Danny feel better.
"Yeah." Dan breathed deeply, and almost smiled. "He didn't care, you know?"
"He was selfish and self-centered, but he really didn't care that much about other people's pasts. He was much more focused on who you were now, how you affected his life." Dan's voice was oddly fond. "He didn't care what I'd been like back in high school, and he really didn't want to know."
Casey wasn't sure that was a good thing. "Did you tell him about Sam?"
Dan nodded. "Yeah. I was pretty drunk, and he was in the middle of studying. He literally just shrugged, said 'Whatever' and put me to bed."
"Didn't he… say anything about it?" Casey asked, concerned. It seemed wrong that someone should hear that and just not react, although Casey himself… Well, when Dan had told him, bucked up by Dutch courage, Casey had been fairly speechless. He hadn't known what to say. But a few days later he'd brought it up again and tried to reassure the self-doubt in Dan's dark eyes. He wasn't sure if he'd succeeded, but he'd tried.
"He never brought it up again." Dan grinned tightly, but his eyes looked relieved. "Neither did I."
"So that was the perfect college relationship? Just not talking about it?" Casey felt hypocritical, but couldn't help the sarcasm in his tone. He was wrong; there was no way he could forgive Michael's sleazy selfishness.
"At the time, I wasn't very reliable myself. I'd get… I'd just get stuck. I had to leave parties, or I couldn't go. Not for any real reason, just because I couldn't. I was a bad boyfriend."
"So you were a bad boyfriend." Casey shrugged. "Doesn't mean that you should have to put up with someone like that."
"He was motivated and a bad time-keeper. He'd miss things and just not show up. And later explain that he got caught up studying, or whatever." Dan took another swallow of beer. "He was too self-involved to mind that I was a bad boyfriend. It was a good match."
"And you really liked him?" Casey asked dryly.
Dan nodded. "He was… he was attainable, Casey. He knew my faults, and he knew my history, and he didn't care. He was gorgeous, and he was intelligent and confident. He was interesting and the sex was…" Dan trailed off with a wary look towards Casey.
"Go ahead," Casey said, and really hoped Dan didn't share anything too detailed.
"The sex was great," Dan finished with a grin. "I was really happy."
"Yeah?" Casey asked, although one look at Dan's wistful smile proved he was telling the truth.
"I even considered changing majors."
"That was related to Michael?" Casey asked and Dan nodded. "You were waxing poetic about the appeals of print journalism, of reporting on politics and current events, of shaping the opinion of the nation. How the hell did that relate to Michael?"
"I was thinking of getting out of sports journalism."
Casey knew there was a link he just wasn't getting. "And?"
"And falling in love with a guy is not something that's generally accepted in the sporting professions."
"Oh." Casey blinked. It was something that you just knew. If you were in sports, you were a straight, manly guy. You didn't go home at night to another guy in your bed. "But you love your job."
Dan rolled his eyes. "Well, duh."
"But you were going to give that up?" Casey asked. For some sleazy, slimy guy who obviously just didn't care, Dan was going to give up Sports Night? It made no sense.
"I didn't know how much I'd love my job. Back then, it was just lots of studying, and thinking that this thing with Michael might end up permanent."
"Would you give it up now?"
Casey nodded, suddenly needing to know. "For Michael."
"No." Dan's reply was quick.
"Because now I know other things."
"What things?" Casey prompted.
"I know that I love Sports Night. I know that I have a great job, and great co-workers, and that I'm a pretty lucky guy to have a job like that."
Dan leaned back on the couch, and added, "I also know about Michael."
When Casey looked over, Dan was frowning. "Why did you break up with him?"
"He cheated." Dan's tone was low and hurt.
"He slept with someone else?"
"He slept with quite a few 'someone else's."
Casey sat up. "Yeah?"
"He went through a small crowd," Dan said bitterly. "Apparently, he just wasn't a 'one person guy'." Dan made quotation marks in the air with his fingers.
Casey felt the scowl form on his face. "Really?"
"In his defense, he never said he was. I just assumed."
"That doesn't defend him," Casey said tightly.
"You know the worst thing about it?" Dan asked, turning to Casey. "It wasn't just that I felt stupid for taking him seriously, when it was obviously just a bit of fun. It was the number of friends who approached me after we broke up and said that it was good that I wasn't seeing Michael any more, since they'd heard he slept with so-and-so at this or that party. It seemed like everyone knew except me." Dan looked at him but Casey didn't know what to say. "I felt like such an idiot."
The silence stretched on; Dan staring at his bottle, and Casey trying to figure out what to say. Then, Dan quietly said, "And I just helped him do it to someone else."
"Danny," Casey said softly.
"He mentioned his boyfriend over dinner. Then he asked me up for a nightcap and I let it happen. I knew what I was doing and I let it happen anyway."
"Why?" Casey asked, and then wondered if that was just being cruel. He hadn't meant to be.
"Because I missed him." Dan swallowed and set his empty bottle on the coffee table. "I missed that feeling that everything would be fine, just because he said so. And he's still a very attractive man."
"Oh," Casey said, and Dan nodded. "I'm sorry, Danny."
"Sorry you asked?" Dan guessed with a wry grin.
"Sorry he hurt you," Casey replied earnestly.
Dan nodded again, but didn't reply. Instead, he pushed himself off the couch and stood up. "I think that's long enough to graciously accept a gift."
"Probably," Casey said, and then yawned.
Dan grinned. "I'll see myself out."
Casey dragged himself off the couch, wondering when he'd gotten this tired. "Goodnight, Danny."
"See you tomorrow."
"Hey guys," Dana said cheerfully.
Casey finished typing his sentence. When he looked up, Dana had closed their door and was leaning her back against it, her hands crossed behind her. Something was up.
"What's up?" Casey asked, watching her closely. Dan glanced up at Casey's serious tone, and put his pen down on the table.
"Final arrangements for Sydney." Dana smiled uncomfortably. "We've had discussions with the network."
Olympic fever, as Natalie had labeled it, had infected most of the staff. There was only a month to go and everyone was counting down the days, brushing up on their stats. However, Dana had been surprisingly quiet about the arrangements. Isaac had just told everyone to wait for a final decision.
Dan scowled darkly. "'Discussions with the network?' I thought we were past that crap."
"Dan," Dana chided, turning to him. "We're having budget discussions. It's not the end of the world."
Dan looked skeptical. "It's not?"
"It's a very generous budget," Dana said, slouching against the door.
"What's the catch?" Casey was sure there was something wrong.
"There's some fine print attached to the budget." Dan started to splutter something, but Dana held up a hand to silence him. "It's not the end of the world, Dan. I've discussed it privately with Isaac and he agrees with them."
"Did he agree because it's a good idea, or because they sign his paycheck?"
"Danny," Casey said harshly, interrupting before Dan said anything too insulting. "Give Isaac some credit."
"Sorry." Dan shrugged, and Casey could see that he really wasn't convinced.
Dana sighed. "He agreed because they have a good point. He said that in an ideal world, this wouldn't be a relevant concern, but in an ideal world, he also wouldn't have to travel over an hour to get home each night."
Danny's lips quirked. "Okay," he said more calmly, "what's the fine print?"
"You can't go to Sydney," Dana said slowly.
Casey felt his brows lower. If this had something to do with last year's gag order, he was going to get very vocal with the network. "Why can't Danny go?"
Dana turned to face him. "Either Dan can't go or you can't go. The network won't send both of you."
Dan was frowning again. "They're only sending one anchor?"
"They're sending two," Dana replied smoothly. "Two anchors/reporters, one producer and two dozen technical staff. Compared to CSC, it's a very generous budget."
"Dana, back up," Casey said as she walked over to his desk. She paused for a moment, and he explained, "Tell us what's happening here."
She perched on the desk. "The current plan is that two anchors stay here, two go to Sydney. Whoever stays here covers Sports Night and West Coast Update. Whoever goes covers the Olympics in more detail. Either way, it's going to be a busy two weeks."
Dan leaned back in his chair. "West Coast Update?" Dana nodded. "And they're not sending Casey and me?"
"They don't want their two most well-known anchors half a world away. If something terrible happens over there, god forbid," Dana added with a quick glance up at the ceiling, "Sports Night would be kind of screwed without at least one of you."
Casey blinked at Dan. "I don't know if I'm comforted by that thought."
Dan shrugged. "Me either."
"They've got a good point, guys." Dana breathed in deeply. "Besides, we're working hard on the ratings here and viewers expect to tune in and see at least one of you. I don't want to disappoint them for two weeks straight."
Dan nodded. "Fair enough."
Casey thought for a moment, and then grinned at Dan. "I think I should go."
Dana swiveled around and stared at him. "Why?"
"I'm the senior partner here. I think I have priority."
Dan snorted. "You're not senior, Casey. We started working here at the same time."
"Oh, so you meant senior as in senior citizen. My mistake," Dan said.
"I think I should go," Casey repeated, waiting for Dan to fight him for it.
Instead, Dan just shrugged. "Okay. You go, I'll stay."
Dana looked from one to the other. "You guys sure?"
"Casey's argument is that he's ancient, and therefore deserves some sunshine on his stiff, old bones. I can't argue with that."
"You do realize it's winter over there?" Dana asked in amusement.
"Technically, it's spring," Casey replied smugly. "But, still. Sunshine."
"And a shrimp on the barbie?" Dan asked, in a shocking Australian accent.
Casey brought his hands up in a praying motion. "Dan, how many times do I have to plead with you? Don't. Do. The accents."
Dan just rolled his eyes. "I am unappreciated in my own time."
"You'd be unappreciated in any time."
"So, you guys are set?" Dana asked, hopping up off the desk. "Casey's going and Dan's staying here?"
Casey nodded. "Hey, you mentioned two anchors."
"So who's the other anchor?" Casey asked, and saw Dan's sharp little smirk. Danny knew something he didn't.
Dana shrugged as she opened the door. "Your choice. You and Dan can choose between you."
Dan looked at Dana and grinned widely. "Peter or Paul?"
Dana nodded. "When you work it out, let me know," Dana said, and disappeared out of their office, closing the door behind her.
Casey let his head drop to the desk and groaned. "Peter or Paul?"
Dan's voice was ridiculously carefree. "Peter or Paul."
"The Bobbsy Twins of the West Coast?" Suddenly his hope for wonderful Olympic coverage fled out the window.
"The two little dickey birds themselves," Dan replied with a grin. "Casey, Dana just said that whoever stays covers our show and theirs. Why else would we need to cover theirs?"
Casey shrugged. "They were planning to ship them both to Alaska for the month?"
Dan snickered. "Not quite."
"Fine," Casey said and sighed. "You're taking Peter."
"Okay," Dan replied reasonably. "You can have Paul. And his puns."
Casey looked up and glared at Dan. He seemed to be having far too much fun with this. "Okay, you take Paul."
"Sure. You can have Peter and his love affair with clichés."
Casey sighed and dropped his head again. "This is going to be hell."
"For two weeks."
Danny nodded calmly. "Yeah."
"This is going to be two weeks of hell," Casey whined, scowling at his desktop.
"Two weeks of hell, Casey."
"It's going to suck."
"The Olympics are going to suck!"
"Two weeks of hell," Dan supplied helpfully.
Casey stared balefully at Danny. "How can the Olympics suck, Danny?"
"Because you haven't thought of the solution."
"There's a solution?" Dan grinned widely and nodded. Casey felt hope creep back into the room. "You have a plan?"
"I have a plan."
Casey smiled. "What's the plan?"
"I'm not going," Dan said.
Casey's face fell. "How does that help me?"
"I don't think you should go, either."
"You think we should both stay here?" Casey asked doubtfully, thinking about it. Going to Sydney would be good for their careers, but it wasn't as if he or Dan really needed the extra publicity. It wouldn't hurt them to stay here.
Dan nodded. "And let the Bobbsy Twins traipse over to the other side of the world."
"Fly away Peter," Casey sing-songed, grinning widely.
"Fly away Paul," Dan replied with a laugh.
Smiling, Casey hit save on his script. "Your plan has merits."
"It's a good plan?"
"It's a good plan."
Dan stood up, script totally forgotten. "We need to tell Dana."
Casey grinned. "Let's do that."
Dana wasn't in her office, wasn't in the bullpen, wasn't in the control room. She was, however, in Isaac's room.
"Aha!" Casey cried as he spotted her leaning over Isaac's desk. Isaac and Dana looked up warily as he and Dan sat down opposite him.
"Did you boys need me?" Isaac asked with a hint of an amused smile.
"Actually, we were going to ask you where Dana was," Dan replied.
"But she's here, so we don't need to ask," Casey finished.
"Okay, I'll bite," Isaac said, stretching back in his large leather chair. "What did you need to see her about?"
"About the upcoming weeks of hell," Casey replied, staring at Dana.
Isaac looked over at Dana, and she just shrugged back. Isaac sighed. "Weeks of hell?"
"The Olympics," Dan supplied.
Casey nodded. "Or, more specifically, how we're covering the Olympics."
Isaac looked at them firmly, and said, "We're not sending both of you, and that's final."
"We know," Dan said with a grin. "We both want to stay."
"Both of you?" Isaac asked carefully.
"Both of us," Casey replied. "We don't want to get stuck with Peter and Paul for a half a month."
"Two weeks of hell," Dan said, stressing each word.
"You've got to let us stay," Casey pleaded.
"You sure?" Dana said, planting one hand on Isaac's desk.
They looked at each other, and nodded. "Both of us."
Dana's mouth stretched into a terrifyingly bright grin. "Have you told anyone?"
Casey blinked at her. "Not yet."
Isaac turned to Dana. "Don't?"
Dana took a deep breath, twisting her fingers in front of her. "You know how you said that the producer position was up for grabs, but that it would come down to Natalie or Sally, but Sally has more experience, so she'd get it?" Dana burbled out in a rush.
Isaac nodded slightly. "Yeah?"
"Well, I spoke to Sally about Natalie and Sydney, and she said that she'd be happy to let Natalie go to Sydney if both Peter and Paul got to go, too." Dana stood there, smiling hopefully at Isaac. "Can she?"
Isaac's brows rose. "Can Sally stay? Or can Natalie go?"
Isaac turned to Casey and Dan. "Are you boys happy with this?"
Casey leaned forward seriously. "Two weeks of hell, Isaac. I will go insane if I have to spend fifteen days sitting beside Paul and his puns."
"Or Peter and his clichés," Dan added with an exaggerated shudder. "And if it means Natalie gets to go, added bonus."
"Do it," Isaac said to Dana. "Go talk to Sally and get this organized. I want you, Sally and Natalie in my office by the end of the day, and I want this down in writing. By tomorrow, I want the arrangements finalized and I want everyone to know."
Dana nodded, blonde hair bouncing around her face. "You got it, Isaac."
"And you boys," Isaac said, turning to face them. "Keep this under your hats. I don't want word to get around about this until after Natalie's position is confirmed."
"Okay." Casey nodded, and then turned to Dan. "Hey, Danny?"
"Turns out we're not going to Sydney."
Dan grinned. "Best news I ever heard."
"I'm going to Sydney! I'm going to Sydney! I'm going to Sydney!" Natalie was jumping up and down, holding Dan in a loose hug. Casey heard her excited squealing before he saw the pair of them.
Casey walked back into their office quietly. "Did I miss something?"
Dan stepped back, holding one ear. He looked like he was in a little pain.
Natalie spun around, beaming. "I'm going to Sydney! I'm going. I'm…" She gestured frantically with her hands, and then bounced on the balls of her feet. "I'm going to Sydney!"
Casey laughed. Her enthusiasm was contagious. "Good for you."
"I know! I'm going to--" Natalie stopped and her smile dimmed. "Are you guys cut up about not going?"
Casey blinked at the sudden change of subject, and Dan said, "Nah. We'd rather be here together than stuck with Peter and Paul."
Natalie swiped him on the arm. "Hey, those are my guys you're talking about. Well, temporarily my guys. While I'm in Sydney!"
Casey decided to act before she started bouncing again. "As a grumpy, middle-aged man, I reserve the right to keep all youthful enthusiasm out of my office. Scat, Natalie." He made shooing motions towards the door and she just laughed.
"I need to tell Kim, and Chris, and Elliott, and Jeremy. And Dana," Natalie added, standing in the doorway. And, Casey noted, starting to bounce again.
"I think Dana already knows," Casey suggested dryly.
"I'm going to go tell her again." Natalie spun around, walking backwards through the bullpen as she replied, waving her arms around. "I'm going to tell her that I'm going to Sydney, and that Dan insulted my new guys."
"Tell her Dan said to keep an eye on their puns and clichés!" Dan called out after her. Natalie stuck her tongue out, and Casey had to laugh.
Casey was sitting quietly at Anthony's, reading over his birthday cards. He'd tried building them up into a tower, like a pack of playing cards, but it hadn't worked. The birthday cards were all different shapes and sizes, and even with the pile of bar napkins supporting the foundations, the structure just kept leaning to one side, and toppling over.
The last attempt had resulted in Natalie's card lying open, lounging across the messy pile. Casey read it aloud. "'To a grumpy, middle-aged man on his thirty-fifth birthday.'" You had to love a birthday card like that.
Kim stopped on her way past his table, and blinked at him. "You okay there, Casey?"
Casey took another sip from his new glass. "I want to talk to Natalie."
"Is there a reason why?"
"She's my new best friend," Casey replied in a stage-whisper. "I want to tell her that."
"That she's your new best friend?" Kim asked doubtfully.
"Shhhh!" Casey raised a hand to his lips. Thankfully, it wasn't the hand holding his new glass. He should remember not to lift that hand. "Not so loud."
"I don't want to hurt Danny's feelings."
Kim laughed. "I'll go get her."
It took an eternity for Natalie to arrive, so Casey spent his time trying to work out who was left. Everyone had come out for the birthday celebrations, but... Now, he could only spot a couple of people. There was Kim and Elliott at another table. Natalie and Dana were at the bar, talking to a bunch of guys. Jeremy was hanging beside them, looking out of place and a little amused. Danny was nowhere to be seen, but Casey was sure Danny would have said goodbye before leaving. So, Danny was still here somewhere. Probably with some leggy blonde.
He watched Kim say something to Natalie, and point at Casey, and then Natalie left with Jeremy in tow. Dana was left standing there, amongst the crowd of dark suits, talking and smiling, bubbling like a glass of golden champagne. Her pale hair shimmered as she laughed. No one could deny that she was beautiful.
"I'm your new best friend?" Natalie asked when she got to his table.
"What about Dan?"
"He was my old best friend. You are the new one," Casey stated with a broad grin.
Natalie smiled. "You really like the gifts?"
Natalie gestured at the neat pile of gifts. He'd made that pile before he'd opened Natalie's. That was probably why it was so neat. "How come it's not on the table, with the other presents?"
Casey gestured at the seat beside him, where the green bottle was hiding out of sight. "I don't want Jack to see it. He might get… thingy about outside alcohol."
Natalie blinked, and then turned behind her to yell across at Jack. "Hey, Jack, can Casey drink a bottle of alcohol he was given as a birthday present?"
"It's his birthday, right?" Jack replied, wiping a glass.
Natalie nodded. "Yeah."
Natalie turned back to Casey and grinned. "You can drink it openly, Casey. I checked with Jack."
Casey beamed, and lifted the bottle on to the table, setting it beside the matching set of shot glasses. "See? This is why you're my new best friend."
"She's your new best friend?"
"Shhh. I don't want Danny to… Oh," Casey said, looking up to see Danny laughing over Natalie's shoulder. He frowned apologetically. "Sorry, Danny. I was trying not to hurt your feelings."
"Why is Natalie your new best friend?"
"She got me the best gift ever," Casey replied seriously.
Danny nodded. "Alcohol."
Casey stared at him in shock. "How did you know?"
"I heard her yelling at Jack. I came over to see what it was," Danny said with an amused grin.
"So, if I'm your new best friend," Natalie asked slowly, "What does that make Danny?"
"My second best friend," Casey replied firmly.
"I'm feeling a little left out here." Casey turned to see Jeremy frowning at him. "I got you a good present as well."
"Good point." Casey leaned back in his seat as he thought about it. Natalie had bought the bottle, but Jeremy gave him the shot glasses. Without the shot glasses, the bottle wouldn't have been as much fun. "Okay, Natalie's my new best friend. You're my second best friend," Casey said, pointing loosely at Jeremy.
"What about Dana?" Natalie leaned forward a little. "She got you the Mississippi Mud Cake. You said you loved that cake."
"I did. It was really, really good," Casey agreed, smiling at the memory of the rich, chocolaty cake. "Okay, you're my best friend, Jeremy's my second best friend, Dana's my third best friend, and Dan's my fourth best friend."
"Well, as your second best friend, I think I'm going to take a seat at your table," Jeremy said and sat down beside Casey.
Dan raised an eyebrow. "Fourth?"
"You got me a book," Casey replied, pointing in the direction of the pile of presents.
"You like books."
"It's a book."
"It's a good book."
"It doesn't compare to alcohol or cake."
"When you read it, Casey, you'll really enjoy it."
"Well, until I read it, you're staying at fourth."
Danny sighed dramatically. "Fine, but I expect my status to be elevated very soon."
Natalie's laughter gleamed. Soft and warm, and if Casey squinted, he was sure he would see the dust-motes floating in the sound. "Accept and move on, Dan. Casey's drunk. He's not going to change his mind."
"I'm not…" Casey trailed off, thinking about it. "Okay, I'm a little drunk."
Natalie snorted. "You're buzzed, Casey."
"High as a paper kite," Jeremy added.
"Yeah?" Casey grinned. "I kind of feel like a paper kite. Fluttering about on the breeze, high above the buildings and the cars and the people. Able to go wherever I want. See the world without being tethered to anything or anyone." Casey nodded at the pleasant mental image.
There was a moment of silence while the others looked at each other. Eventually, Dan spoke. "Wow. You are really wasted."
Casey made a relaxed gesture. "I'm a bit drunk."
"What are you drinking?" Dan asked, leaning across the table.
"My favorite drink." Casey grinned at Natalie.
"Jaegermeister," Dan said slowly, picking up the bottle. "A really big bottle of Jaegermeister."
Dan gestured at the bottle. It was a quarter empty already. "You've drunk all this?"
"Yeah." Casey emptied his cup, and held it up for Dan to refill. "And, I'll be drinking more. You're welcome to join me…?" he offered, looking from Dan to Natalie to Jeremy. Natalie was watching Dana at the bar.
Jeremy shook his head. "I'm sticking to beer."
"And you should be too," Dan said with a tiny frown. It really was tiny, only touching his forehead and the corners of his red lips.
"I'm not drinking beer," Casey pointed out carefully. "I'm drinking Jaegermeister."
"You're not allowed to drink Jaegermeister."
Natalie's ears perked up at this, and she suddenly started paying attention. "You're not allowed, Casey?"
Dan was still staring at him, looking concerned and a little angry. "You promised us. You promised me, you promised Dana, you promised Lisa. No more Jaegermeister."
"No." Casey shook his head. "I promised I wouldn't buy Jaegermeister. And I haven't."
"And yet, you have a very large bottle of the stuff." Danny was right. It was a very large bottle. Natalie was the best.
Casey grinned at the thought. "Did I mention that Natalie's my new best friend?"
"I want to hear more about the alcohol," Dan said firmly.
Dan should have lightened up. It was a birthday celebration. He was officially thirty-five years old. He could drink if he wanted to. "I didn't break my promise," Casey muttered resentfully, standing up to grab the bottle back from Dan. He swayed on his feet, and sat back down with a thump. Jeremy looked at him strangely, but Casey had the bottle in his hands. "It's a present."
Dan stared at him. "From?"
"Natalie," Casey said, beaming at his new best friend.
Dan frowned at Natalie. "I can't believe you bought him Jaegermeister."
"I didn't know he wasn't allowed to have it," Natalie pointed out, shooting Casey a worried glance.
"I like Jaegermeister," Casey pointed out. "I am the Master of the Hunt."
Dan rolled his eyes. "But it doesn't like you."
"Yes, it does. It loves me and it makes me feel great. On top of the world. High as a kite. Giddy as a schoolgirl."
"I don't deny that it makes you giddy. I don't even deny that it makes you grin like a loon," Dan said, and Casey beamed at him.
"Exactly," Casey said, holding his bottle close.
"It also makes you feel like killing yourself the next day," Dan pointed out sourly. "You do remember that, right? The total hangovers you get when you drink that stuff."
Casey waved away Dan's concerns, like he was swiping at a large, stealthy fly. "Hangovers are for wusses. Tonight, I am Master of the Hunt."
Dan sighed and turned to Natalie. "You bought him the stuff. I think it's your responsibility to go explain to Dana why Casey needs tomorrow off."
"He needs tomorrow off?"
"Oh, yeah," Dan said, like some bad eighties song. "He'll have fun tonight, and won't be able to stand up straight, but you don't want to see him tomorrow. You definitely don't want to put him under studio lights."
Natalie's forehead formed into parallel furrows. It was kind of cute, in a weird geometric way. "Really?"
"Just tell Dana about the Jaegermeister. She'll know what I'm talking about. Tell her Casey's now the 'Master of the Hunt'."
Natalie shrugged and walked over to Dana. Casey watched her animated walk, her quick, lively steps. Almost like a pony. A show pony, Casey mentally corrected.
"She's a show pony," Casey announced, to no one in particular. Dan blinked at him, and nodded automatically.
Casey grinned at Jeremy, almost sitting up straight. Well, leaning on the table just a little. From this angle, the overhead lights at Anthony's glimmered in the reflection from Jeremy's glasses. "Why are your glasses so..." Casey waved vaguely with his hands, but Jeremy just stared at him.
Casey lifted his hands to his eye-level, and outlined a rough square around his head.
Jeremy looked confused. "So boxed?"
Casey frowned and shook his head, and then remembered the word. "Big. Why are your glasses so big?"
Jeremy blinked owlishly at him, staring through the thick lenses. "Big?"
Casey nodded, and then realized that was a bad idea when the room started to sway. "They're really big," he said, closing his eyes until gravity straightened out the room.
Jeremy turned to Dan. "Is this why he isn't allowed to drink it?"
"Got it in one," Dan replied quickly, pulling a chair up to the table.
Casey closed his eyes while Jeremy asked, "Does he always get this bad?"
Dan's snort was oddly familiar. Casey wondered if he should be able to recognize Dan's snort with his eyes closed. "He gets worse. Give him another few glasses, and he'll be reciting Shakespeare."
"You recite Shakespeare when drunk?"
After a moment, Casey realized that question was for him. He opened his eyes and nodded. "I like the speeches. Especially the St Crispin's Day speech. 'Band of brothers' and all that patriotic stuff."
"Okay," Jeremy said slowly.
"What's St Crispin's Day?"
"You don't know?" Jeremy asked, surprised.
"I have no idea," Casey replied, wondering where he'd put his glass. "I know the speech, but I don't know St Crispin's Day." After a moment, he added, "I want to celebrate St Crispin's Day. It sounds like a fun holiday. We could have a day off, and everything. Maybe a parade."
"And we'd eat apples!" Casey declared with a broad sweep of his arm. He knocked over his empty shot glass, but Jeremy picked it up and straightened it on the table. "Apples, Jeremy."
"Crisp green apples for St Crispin's Day. Or maybe red apples. I wouldn't want to discriminate on the basis of colour," Casey enunciated carefully. "There will be no racism against apples on St Crispin's Day. It goes against the spirit of the season."
Casey punctuated his point by slapping his hand against the table top. It kind of hurt. "Ow," he said as he rubbed his palm, and glared at the table.
"And he gets worse than this?" Jeremy was asking Danny.
Danny nodded, so Casey interrupted by poking Jeremy's shoulder. "Tell me about St Crispin's Day."
Jeremy stared at him. "Why do you think I'd know about St Crispin's Day?"
"You're dusty," Casey said, pointing out the obvious. "You know this stuff."
"Well, yes, I do," Jeremy said, and started in on a long explanation that started with Shakespeare and English battles, and somehow involved October the 25th, and shoes, and Christian princesses. Casey nodded, listening to the low, certain tone of Jeremy's voice. He tuned out the words in the middle, but drew his attention back by the end.
"…Of course, there's also a French version of the myth that says that St. Crispin was born into a wealthy Roman family in the third century A.D.. He converted to Christianity pretty young, and was disinherited by his family. Christianity wasn't an approved lifestyle for a noble Roman. So, no longer able to rely on his parents' cash, he had to provide for himself by becoming a shoemaker. Teaching the gospel was his life's work, and he made shoes in his spare time. Well, he did, until he was put to death for his beliefs in Soissons, France in 288 A.D."
Jeremy stopped and Casey stopped staring at the ceiling. "Is there more?"
"I think that's about it," Jeremy replied.
Casey looked over and realized that Dan wasn't paying attention. He was watching some redhead at the bar. "You should tell Danny."
"Ah." Jeremy nodded, but didn't start the tale again. Casey was almost disappointed.
Casey shrugged, and turned his bottle over in his hands. Then, he looked up at Jeremy. "You're very dusty."
"Thanks," Jeremy said, blinking owlishly through his big glasses. "I think."
"Dana says he's got tomorrow off," Natalie said, as she sat down in a chair beside Dan. "She checked with Rick earlier today, just in case Casey decided to really celebrate."
"Smart woman," Dan said and they started talking quietly about rundowns and scripts. Boring conversation that Casey didn't care about. Well, not right now.
"You're very knowledgeable," Casey said to Jeremy. "Did you know that?"
"I did," Jeremy replied with a smile, "but thanks for noticing."
Casey turned to Natalie, waving at her until he got her attention. "Did you know Jeremy's very knowledgeable?"
Natalie's laughter gleamed again. "Yeah, I did know that." She winked at Jeremy. "He's a real catch."
Casey smiled, because Natalie and Jeremy were dating again, and happy again. And he wanted his friends to be happy. And dating.
But not necessarily each other, because that would just cause problems. For starters, the ratio of men to women was far too high for that to work.
"Apparently, I'm dusty," Jeremy was saying to Natalie.
"Dusty?" she asked.
Jeremy shrugged. "Casey said I'm dusty."
"Casey?" He looked up at Natalie, and smiled. "Why is Jeremy dusty?"
"Because he is," Casey replied. Natalie didn't seem to understand. "Jeremy's dusty. Like those old books, kept up the back of the library, the ones so old you're not allowed to borrow them. And when you open them, you can smell the dust, and the years, and the knowledge soaked into the pages. Dusty."
"Thank you," Jeremy said, his ears a little pink.
Casey shrugged. "You just are."
"What am I?" Natalie leaned forward on the table, and Casey suddenly spotted his glass.
He reached forward to get it, keeping a hand on the table top for balance. "You?"
"A glass of whisky," Casey said easily.
Natalie's eyes went wide. "How come?"
"Jeremy told me." Casey tilted his head in Jeremy's direction.
Natalie snorted. "I was about to be really weirded out, but that makes sense."
Casey unscrewed the top of his bottle, and carefully held the glass on the table top. The trick was to make the bottle and the table sway at the same time.
"Are you sure you should be doing that?" Jeremy asked in a worried tone.
"I have perfect motor control," Casey replied. He glared at the neck of the bottle, willing it to pour just a dribble of alcohol into his glass.
"Even though you can't sit up straight?" Jeremy asked doubtfully. Casey looked up, and wondered when Natalie and Dan had defected from his table. At least he still had his second best friend.
"If you want to pour it for me, go ahead, Mom."
Jeremy hmmm'd, looking over the thick rim of his glasses. "It's probably safer for all concerned. Pass me the bottle."
Casey slid it across to him. "You can have some if you want," he said, as Jeremy poured the brown liquid into the shot glass. "I have more glasses."
"I know you have more glasses."
"I bought them for you, remember?"
"Oh, yeah." Casey laughed, and slid sideways on the seat, nudging Jeremy's shoulder. The glass in Jeremy's hands jerked, and splashed over his fingers. "Sorry."
"Here," Jeremy said, handing him the slightly sticky shot glass. Jeremy sucked his fingers into his mouth, and then pulled a disgusted face. "You can drink that?"
Casey took a sip of his drink. The herbal taste was a bit strong. "It tastes better when it's cold."
"It's pretty cold, Casey."
"It's supposed to be served at minus four degrees," Casey recited.
"Celsius or Fahrenheit?" Jeremy blinked and then added, "It's obviously not Kelvin."
Casey shrugged. "It's supposed to be cold enough to chill your hands. It should numb your tongue, and then burn your throat and warm your stomach. It's a great drink."
Jeremy shrugged. "To each his own."
Casey nodded, and swallowed another mouthful.
Casey had finished a few more glasses, and was having a bit of trouble controlling his hand gestures. "How do you know you're in love?"
Jeremy blinked, the big glasses still in place, and frowned. "How?"
"You and Natalie are in love. How do you know it?" Casey explained.
"Because she tells me," Jeremy responded. "And I tell her."
"But I could say that." Casey reached for his glass, and then frowned when it was empty.
He thought about asking Jeremy to pour him another, but decided that was too much effort at the moment. "I could say 'I'm in love with Natalie'. It doesn't make me in love with her."
"No, it doesn't," Jeremy replied evenly. "It makes you a liar."
"But how can you tell?" Casey whined.
"That you're not in love with Natalie?"
"That you are in love with someone." Casey paused, and crossed his arms on the table, resting his head against the cool surface. "I've been in love with two women in my life, and I'm not even sure how you know."
Jeremy shrugged. "You just do."
Casey squinted at him. "You're not very knowledgeable about this, are you?"
Jeremy adjusted his huge glasses, and then spoke. "It's someone that you care about, that you don't want to see hurt. It's someone that you'd do almost anything to protect. Someone that you want to see happy."
Casey snorted. "That would describe most of my friends. There's got to be a better description."
"I'm getting there," Jeremy said, leaning back. "It's someone that you understand, for the most part. You don't have to understand why their mind works a certain way, but you know it does."
"You can see their flaws and their virtues, and you love both of them. Because you know that without one, you wouldn't have the other." Jeremy paused, and had a sip of his coke. Casey didn't know when Jeremy had stopped drinking beer tonight, but he knew that Jeremy was far more sober than he was. There was a possibility that everyone in this bar was more sober than he was. "Even when they drive you crazy, even when you know they're doing the wrong thing, you still love them. When you fight, it hurts, but when you're getting along, it's great."
"That's a pretty bad description," Casey pointed out, taking care to say his words right.
Jeremy looked offended. "I think it's pretty accurate."
"It could describe me and Danny," Casey scoffed.
"That's because you're good friends and you love each other."
Casey buried his head in his crossed arms. "Yeah, but we're not in love. Where's the difference?"
"Being in love is a mixture of love and lust. You've got to lust after them as well, and you've got to kiss them."
Casey frowned and dragged his head up into the light. "You could love from afar," he said, scowling at Jeremy.
"That's not being in love," Jeremy pointed out with a self-satisfied smirk. "That's infatuation. You just watch and pine and pretend that they're perfect. If you don't know someone, you can't be in love with them."
"Yeah. You have to kiss them, you have to talk to them. You have to fight and argue and laugh. You have to know them, the good points and the bad points. If you can do that, and then still feel like you're the luckiest guy in the world because they're beside you? You're in love."
"Huh." Casey thought about that for a few long seconds, resting his head on his hand. "Maybe I've only been in love once," he said slowly.
Jeremy shrugged. "That's just my definition."
"I like your definition," Casey said. "It sounds… right."
"Thanks," Jeremy replied.
"I like it too," Natalie said, and Casey glanced over to see her beaming at Jeremy. He would have asked how much of that definition she'd overheard, but he was too drunk to care.
Danny's car was warm and big and wonderful. "Your car is wonderful," he told Danny.
Danny shot him an annoyed look, an annoyed I'm-supposed-to-be-concentrating-on-the-road look. "Sit up, Casey."
"It's wonderful," Casey said, pulling himself into a straighter position in the passenger's seat. He started sliding towards the floor again pretty quickly. "It's big and warm and wonderful. Just like you."
"Just like me?" Danny gave him a quick confused glance, and then turned back to the red lights in front of them.
"Yep." Casey nodded. "You have a big, warm heart, Danny. You're pretty wonderful, too."
Danny smiled. "Thanks."
"And so's your car," Casey said, trailing a hand over the leather seats. "Big and warm and covered in leather." Casey thought about it, and then added, "That's not like you."
"Okay, Casey? I need to drive, so can you be quiet for a bit?"
Casey nodded happily, but didn't speak. He could be quiet for Danny. Not a problem. He could sit here, and try not to slide down the comfy leather seats, and just enjoy Danny's big, warm car. It really was big – an old tank of a Mercedes that Dan had picked up for about ten grand in Dallas. Danny had had it repainted, and finished, and slowly had the engine fixed up. Now, it was shiny and black, with a smooth, purring motor, and lots of leg room.
Not like Dana's car or Jeremy's, where Casey had to bend his legs in half and squish up to fit in. Nope. Danny's car was big. And warm. And wonderful. "Your car is wonderful," he told Danny.
"Shhh," Danny said gently. "We're being quiet."
"Oh. Okay." Casey nodded and closed his eyes, and when he opened them, Danny was leaning over him.
"Casey, you need to get up." Casey blinked, and realized Danny was standing outside the car. "We're at your place," Danny told him.
"Oh. Okay," Casey said, and had an odd flash of déjà vu. He tried to stand up, but the pavement slanted beneath his feet. Danny caught him with an arm around his waist. "This is your city, right?" Casey murmured into Danny's jacket.
Danny stood him up against the car, and closed the car door. "Yeah?"
"Could you get it to go…" He bounced his hand up and down, searching for the word. "Flat again?"
"I'm sure it will be flat by morning," Danny promised generously.
Casey smiled. "Thanks, Danny." Danny always knew how to fix these things.
"C'mon, let's get you upstairs."
Danny led him inside, and Casey decided he really liked the elevators. He liked the two corners; if he stood there quietly, it didn't matter how much the floor moved because the walls would catch him. He tried to explain this to Danny, that the corners would keep him safe, but Danny just patted his arm and stood in the middle of the floor, surfing the shifting surface. Casey watched him in awe. "You have good balance."
Dan snorted. "Sure." Somehow, Danny steered him across the waves of carpet and got him sitting down on his couch. Danny was good with things like that.
Casey leaned back into the cushions, hearing Danny messing around with something in the kitchen. "There's provolone cheese there if you want a sandwich."
Danny's voice came drifting back. "I'm not hungry. Are you?"
Casey thought about cheese and bread and cheese, and his stomach gurgled uncomfortably. "No. I'm really not."
"Okay," Danny said, and sat down beside him, passing him a glass of water. "Try to drink that."
Casey stared at the glass in his hands. "It's my birthday," he said slowly.
"Yeah," Danny replied with a grin. He gestured at the glass. "Drink that."
"But…" Casey frowned.
"Drink that, and then we'll talk."
"Okay," Casey said, and slowly swallowed the water. There seemed to be far too much water for such a small glass. Reaching the bottom of the glass felt like an achievement. He passed the empty glass back to Danny.
Dan placed it on the coffee table. "So, your birthday?"
"It's my birthday."
"You're thirty-five now." Dan grinned. "Officially middle-aged."
"I didn't get a birthday kiss," Casey pointed out with a pout. "First year I didn't get a birthday kiss."
"When I was a kid, I got them from my mom. When I was in college, I got them from Lisa." Casey paused, thinking about it. Sliding down the couch, he let his head lean against the back of it. "When I was married, I got them from Lisa."
"Glad to hear that," Danny said with sparkling eyes. Casey liked Danny's eyes. They always sparkled when he laughed. There was something very trustworthy about eyes that laughed.
"When I was divorced, I got one from Kim and one from Natalie," Casey said, counting them out on his fingers. "This year? I got none."
Danny looked at his watch. "There's still about twenty hours left of your birthday, Casey. You'll probably get a kiss."
He waved his hand at Danny because it was too much effort to shake his head. "That doesn't count. It's supposed to be during the birthday celebrations. Or just after them. Not the morning after."
"Maybe it's the start of a new period in your life?" Dan suggested breezily, watching Casey in amusement.
That was a sad thought. "A period where nobody loves me?"
"I'm sure that your mom still loves you. She'd give you a birthday kiss if she could. But she lives several states away."
Casey frowned, suddenly depressed. "So nobody in this state loves me?" Danny snorted. He tried to cover it as a cough, but Casey knew a Danny-snort when he heard one. He sat up and glared at Danny. "Did you know that nobody loves me? You should have told me."
"Casey, you have a lot of friends in this state, who actually live in this city," Danny said gently. "They care about you a lot."
"But not enough to give me a birthday kiss."
"Would you have preferred a birthday kiss from Jeremy?"
"Yes! Even with his really, really big glasses," Casey said, leaning an arm on the back of the couch to keep himself upright.
"Well, I'll mention that to him in the morning," Danny said, laughing a little.
Casey crossed his arms crankily. Danny wasn't supposed to be amused by this. This was a serious concern. "Okay, you're no longer my friend."
Danny grinned. "Not even your fourth best friend?"
"Because you're not taking this seriously."
"It's not exactly a crisis," Dan said with a smile.
He stared at Danny. "Nobody cares enough to kiss me on my birthday, Danny. That is a crisis!"
"We all care about you, and next year, you will receive many kisses," Danny said, placing a warm hand on Casey's shoulder. "But I can't do anything about this year."
Casey frowned. "Why not?"
"There's no one left at the celebration." Danny shrugged. "I can't call them back."
Casey blinked, thinking about that. "There's you."
"You could kiss me."
Danny's eyebrows jumped towards his hairline. He wondered if Danny's eyebrows were sad that they could never quite reach their goal. It must be hard to have an unreachable target. "I don't think so."
"Why not? Kim did. Natalie did." Danny watched him seriously. "Jeremy would."
"It's not happening, Casey."
"You kind of suck," Casey said, going back to folding his arms and frowning. "This is why you're not my friend."
"I'm not your friend because I won't kiss you," Danny said slowly. "There's something very wrong with that logic."
Casey glared at him, and Danny sighed. "You expect all of your friends to kiss you? Unless there's CPR required, I don't see any reason why friendship should include mouth-to-mouth contact."
Casey stared at Danny in shock. "No!"
"No," Casey repeated, flailing his hands wildly. "A birthday kiss is not on the lips! I get birthday kisses from my mom. Ewww!" Danny blinked at him, so he repeated it for Danny's benefit. "Ewww!"
"Not on the lips?" Danny asked seriously.
"On the cheek. Or on the forehead. Not the lips!" Casey shook his head to get the bad mental images out of his brain, and nearly spun himself out.
After a moment, Danny said, "Okay."
Casey's head was still spinning a little. He blinked and waited for it to clear. "Okay, what?"
"Okay, I'll give you a birthday kiss."
"Since it means so damn much to you," Danny said with a roll of his eyes.
Casey grinned. "I take it all back. You're my best friend."
"You are such a dork," Danny said, and leaned forward to wrap a strong hand around Casey's neck.
"Hey!" Casey objected.
"You are," Danny said, kneeling up on the couch. He pulled Casey towards him slightly, and pressed a dry kiss against his forehead. "Happy Birthday, Case."
Casey smiled happily. "Thank you."
Danny stood up. "Feel better now?"
"Much." Casey nodded.
"Let's get you to bed," Danny said, pulling him off the couch. Casey stood up and let Danny hook an arm around him.
They were fine until they got to the doorway, but then Casey's rug decided to attack his ankles. He fell against Danny, managing to bring them both crashing to the ground. Danny shifted, half-under him and half-beside him and Casey pulled back, trying to untangle himself. He would have been fine if the room had stayed still.
Instead, the room peevishly kept twisting, and Casey ended up losing his balance again, almost-falling on top of Danny. He saved himself with an arm on the floor, and looked down to see Danny's face just below his own. Almost too close.
"You okay, Casey?" Casey watched Danny's lips move, watched them stretch and soften around the syllables.
"Yeah," he said breathlessly, not wanting to move. He could feel Danny's chest rise and fall beneath him.
"Can you move?" Danny asked, and Casey decided he liked O. He liked the way it shaped Danny's mouth.
"Don't want to."
Danny's tongue sneaked out and wet his bottom lip. "No?"
"No," Casey replied, and leaned down, closing the gap between them. Danny's lips were warm beneath his, soft against his tongue. For a split second, Danny's hand grasped at his hair, then Danny slid it down to Casey's jaw. His fingers just rested there, not pulling him closer, not pushing him away. Just warm and solid and there. He tried licking at Danny's lips, wanting Danny to let him inside, but Danny kept his mouth firmly closed. Casey was pretty sure that a good kiss shouldn't go like that.
After a confused moment, he pulled back and stared down at Danny.
Danny's voice was just a little breathless. "Time for bed, Casey."
Casey blinked, a little surprised at the idea of taking this to bed, but he was already half-hard against Danny's thigh. And Danny knew what he was doing. "Okay," he said, his own voice barely above a whisper. He got off Danny, and with Danny's help, got himself into a standing position. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest.
Danny led him over to the bed, and sat him down. He started on Casey's buttons, and pulled his shirt off. He left Casey's t-shirt on. "Shoes, Casey."
Casey nodded, kicking his shoes off obediently. He noticed that Danny was still dressed. He hadn't even taken his shoes off. "Aren't you…?"
"Shhh," Danny replied softly. "Take your pants off. It'll be more comfortable to sleep in."
Casey frowned. "But--"
"Pants, Casey," Dan said firmly and Casey pulled them off. He got them stuck around his feet, but Danny quickly unraveled them and got them off. Danny pulled back the covers and then gently pushed Casey down onto the sheet.
Danny was tucking the covers around him, when Casey reached out and grabbed his wrist. "Danny?" he asked in a small, uncertain voice.
"You need to get some sleep, Casey."
Danny's wrist tensed under his fingers. "But--"
"You're very drunk. And you need to get some sleep," Danny repeated softly.
Casey blinked, very confused. "But I kissed you."
Dan sat down on the edge of the bed, leaning close to Casey, but pulling his wrist out of Casey's hand. "You're straight, Casey."
"Thoretically," Casey pointed out, wondering why that sounded wrong.
"Theoretically?" Dan suggested, and Casey nodded. "There's nothing theoretical about it, Casey. I've known you for eleven years, and during that time I've seen you date, love and lust after women. It's not theoretical."
"It could be."
"But I kissed you."
Dan brushed Casey's hair off his forehead. "You're straight and you're very drunk. It doesn't count."
Casey blinked. That didn't seem right, but Danny probably knew what he was talking about. "Sure?"
Danny smiled, a small, sweet smile that softened his face. "I'm sure," he said, and stood up.
Danny was almost at the doorway when Casey spoke up. "Hey, Danny?" He'd already switched the bedroom light off, but Casey heard his footsteps stop.
Dan paused, and it was impossible to see him in the shadows. "Yeah?"
"Am I wearing contacts?" It sounded like a stupid question, but it was generally better to ask Danny than to poke himself in the eye. He'd learned that the hard way.
"You took them out after the show," Dan said lightly. "Goodnight, Casey."
Sometime during the night, Casey found himself in the bathroom being violently sick. He knelt in front of the toilet bowl until his knees froze and the nausea passed. When he was sure he'd thrown up everything he'd eaten in the last week, he stood up and flushed.
He rinsed his mouth out, grabbed a packet of painkillers, and headed back to bed.
He hated Jaegermeister.
Casey woke up the next morning alone in his bed, with every hockey player in Canada using his head for a goal. Cracking one eye open, he saw the painkillers sitting beside his bed and swallowed two dry.
Then he groaned, hid his head under a pillow, and fell asleep for another five hours.
When he woke up, the headache had dulled to merely excruciating, so he dragged himself out of bed to the kitchen. He poured himself a glass of water, swallowed another two painkillers and vowed to never drink again. Then he saw his cell phone sitting on the counter and decided to give Dan a call.
Dan's cell barely rang before Dan answered. "Hey, Casey."
"Am I imagining things, or do I have today off?" He really hoped he had today off. If not, he was going to have to call Dana and tell her he was sick.
"Rick's filling in."
"Wonderful," Casey replied without much enthusiasm, taking his cell back to bed with him.
"How do you feel?"
"Like I've gone all the way past dead and woken up on the other side."
Dan laughed. "Let me know if you meet Elvis."
Casey lay back on the bed. "I take it I drank a lot last night?"
"It was a big bottle. Wait until you see how much you drank without assistance. You're lucky you don't have alcohol poisoning," Dan teased.
"But what a way to go." Casey almost smiled. Dan snorted. "From what I can remember, and the amount that I can't, I'm assuming I had fun."
"You had a hell of a good time," Dan replied, and Casey could hear the grin in his tone. "Just ask Jack."
"Did I quote any Shakespeare?"
Casey sighed in relief, glad he hadn't embarrassed himself too much. "Good."
"You tried to recite Milton instead. You got about ten lines into 'Paradise Lost' and gave up."
"That's much better," Casey said dryly.
"Go relax, Casey. Have a bath or something." There was a pause, and Casey could make out the general hubbub of the busy office. "We'll see you tomorrow."
"Tomorrow," Casey agreed and switched off the phone. He lay back on the bed for a few minutes and then got up to run a bath. A good, hot, relaxing bath.
Sinking into the tub, Casey decided Dan was a genius. This was exactly what he needed.
Most of the previous night's memories remained pleasantly blurred, until Casey tripped over a fold in the rug and fell over, cursing loudly. Sprawled out on the floor, he scowled at nothing in particular and was glad no-one had seen that. He got up and kicked the rug back straight.
As he dusted himself off, he suddenly remembered falling before. Remembered falling on Dan, Dan's lips beneath his, and Dan's hand cupping his cheek. He walked into the bedroom in a daze, and collapsed on his unmade bed, thinking of Dan and kissing; recalling Dan's hand on his forehead, telling Casey it didn't count.
The scariest thing about it was that he didn't feel particularly ashamed about it. Sure, embarrassed as hell, and he was pretty sure that being kissed by someone that drunk must be a sloppy and unpleasant experience, but not actually ashamed. It wasn't like some bet, like he'd done something stupid and fairly disgusting.
In fact, it wasn't even something that he was sure he didn't want to do again. Looking at it in the cold light of day, he couldn't understand why he'd done that, but he could remember enjoying it, the soft feel of Danny's mouth beneath his, the half-remembered taste of Danny's skin. Could remember being hazy and uncertain, and sure there was going to be more, more of Danny's mouth, more of Danny's skin; being nervous and confused, and excited…
But Dan said it didn't count. Casey was sure of that. He couldn't remember why it didn't count, but he could remember Danny saying that. And Dan had more experience in first kisses, so he should know what he was talking about. And if it didn't count, it shouldn't matter if he enjoyed it. Or was drunk enough to think he'd enjoyed it.
It was giving Casey a headache. He decided it was way too complex to deal with while hung-over, so he read Dan's book instead.
Jeremy was hovering over his desk. Casey looked up from his page briefly. "Yeah?"
"Have you finished the new NASCAR intro?"
"The baseball highlights?"
"Waiting for the final scores."
"The Olympics medals feature?"
"Waiting for Danny to give me a second opinion."
Jeremy watched him doubtfully. "So you really have nothing better to do than sit around reading a novel?"
"It's really cool," Casey said enthusiastically, showing Jeremy the cover. Jeremy walked over to the table, looking closely at it. "It's all about this archaeologist who's putting together clues to work out an ancient murder."
"It is." Danny was right. Casey loved this book. It had been ages since he'd been so sucked in by a novel. He couldn't wait to see how they worked out the killer.
Jeremy still stood there.
Casey sighed and marked his page. "Yes, Jeremy?"
"I have nothing to do either."
"You want to talk? Shoot the breeze?" Casey waved magnanimously at the spare chairs around the table.
"That saying makes no sense," Jeremy said as he sat down.
"Shoot the breeze?"
"Yeah. Why would you shoot the breeze? What could it possibly accomplish?"
"And there you have the reason for the saying." Casey pushed his book into the centre of the table. "You're wasting time. You're doing something that will have no productive result."
"But it's only talking," Jeremy pointed out. "I could accept that explanation if the saying meant wasting time, but it doesn't. It's not like I can sit around linking paperclips and say I'm 'shooting the breeze.'"
Casey frowned. "Why would you want to link your paperclips together?"
"Because I have nothing to do. Needless to say, all of the paperclips in my drawer are now connected in a chain."
Jeremy shrugged. "It's 2'3" long."
Casey blinked and figured Jeremy must be really bored to be measuring the chain. "You need a good book."
"Don't have one with me. I could always read yours," Jeremy joked, eyeing the novel speculatively.
Casey laid a possessive hand across its cover. "Not until I've finished."
"Fair enough." Jeremy sighed, looking out the window. "It's a great view."
"I think so."
"Do you think my glasses are too big?"
Casey's brows rose in surprise. "What?"
"Do you think they're too big for my face?" Jeremy asked seriously. "Do you think I should wear smaller frames? Or contacts?"
"You're asking me for fashion advice?" Casey asked incredulously, and Jeremy nodded. "You do realize the rest of the office will laugh at you for that?"
Jeremy shrugged. "You wear contacts every day, so I assume you once wore glasses. I'm not going to go to a golfer for advice on my backstroke."
Casey let that painful metaphor glide over his head. "Okay."
Casey figured what the hell. "Take the glasses off." Jeremy did so, and Casey looked hard at him for a moment, trying to be critical. "Put them back on." Casey leaned back in the chair and considered Jeremy's appearance.
"So?" Jeremy asked pointedly.
"I don't think your face gains anything by not wearing glasses."
"But yours does?" Jeremy asked doubtfully.
Casey nodded. "Glasses make my chin look huge. I don't understand why, I just have it on good authority that they do. Besides, they tend to reflect the studio lights."
Jeremy accepted that. "Okay. What about smaller glasses?"
"I think they'd look cool on you, but…"
Jeremy raised an eyebrow. "But?"
"Your current thick frames are pretty geeky," Casey said and Jeremy frowned. "Very Clark Kent-ish. They have a certain geek appeal."
"Geek appeal?" Jeremy was clearly confused.
"Natalie is a very attractive girl."
Jeremy blinked at the change in subject, but nodded. "I know."
"She could have her choice of guys."
"You'd better be building to something here."
"And she is attracted by your geek appeal," Casey pointed out. "She finds your geeky personality and geeky appearance highly attractive. If I were you, I'd think carefully before changing that."
"Ah." Jeremy nodded. "You think I should discuss this with her?"
"Definitely." Casey grinned and was glad to get out of that conversation without insulting Jeremy or getting Natalie mad at him. "Why did you ask me?"
"You said my glasses were big."
Casey didn't remember that. "When?"
"I have to admit, there is a great deal of that night I don't remember," Casey said with a sheepish smile. "I said your glasses were big?"
"You asked me why my glasses were so…" Jeremy used both hands to outline a square around his head. "Big."
Casey blinked. "I must be fascinating to talk to when drunk," he said sarcastically.
Jeremy laughed. "You were certainly entertaining."
Casey snorted and wondered if Dan would agree. That led his thoughts to confusing, and complex, places. "Can I ask your opinion on something?"
"Well, seeing as my workload is so busy, go ahead."
Jeremy was a smart guy. He'd back Dan up. "Does a drunk kiss count?"
Jeremy frowned. "As a kiss?"
Casey blinked. That wasn't the right answer. "Really?"
"It has to. If it didn't count, I would have received far fewer kisses over my lifetime," Jeremy pointed out logically. "I am not ashamed to admit that when Natalie first kissed me, she tasted strongly of margaritas."
"Yeah," Jeremy replied confidently, and then stood up as Natalie walked into the room. "Looking for me?"
"Do you have some time?" Natalie asked, glancing down at her clipboard.
"As much time as you need," Jeremy replied.
"Good." Natalie grinned at him. "Oakland's having a good season. I want you to look over the stats and find out the last time they did so well. Then I want you to pick a few other teams and do the same. I'm thinking of doing a feature, and focusing on the best season for each team. Not sure how well it will work yet, so I need some background info."
Jeremy nodded. "I am the geek for the job." Jeremy was already wearing his joy-of-research smile, and muttering to himself as he walked out the door.
"You frequently are," Natalie said as he walked past her. Then she turned to Casey. "Am I still your best friend?"
"Still?" Casey asked, raising an eyebrow at her. "When did that happen?"
Natalie pouted. "Your birthday."
Casey frowned as he thought, and did remember something about… ranking his friends? "You are a close friend and I love you dearly."
"But Dan's your best friend again?" She almost sounded hurt.
"I've known him for eleven years and I spend about ten hours a day around him," Casey explained gently.
Natalie grinned. "That's kind of a relief. I mean, I wouldn't want to have to tell Dana that she's been downgraded to my second best friend."
"You'd choose me over Dana?"
Casey should have expected that. "Natalie?"
She tilted her head to the side. "Yeah?"
"Does a drunk kiss count?"
"Does it count?"
"Yeah," Casey said. "If you kissed someone, while really drunk, even though you're not really interested in them, does it count?"
"It's a kiss. Of course it counts."
"Even if you're not interested in them? Not attracted to them at all?"
Natalie stared at him. "Have you ever kissed anyone, while drunk, that you're not attracted to?"
"Yes?" He wished he sounded more certain.
"The answer is no, Casey. If you're drunk, you must be attracted to them on some level. Maybe they remind you of someone. Maybe it's the type of person you normally wouldn't date because of work, or boyfriends, or silly agreements. Maybe there's a lot of practical reasons why you aren't dating them, but when you're drunk, you act on the passionate urges."
Casey was doubtful. "Passionate urges?"
"You act on the passion!" Natalie exclaimed, waving a hand wildly. "You feel attracted to someone, and you kiss them, and you don't care about the consequences! Sometimes it's the step you need to take to turn attraction and feelings into a relationship."
"I don't think there were feelings involved."
"Maybe you don't know you have feelings," Natalie replied earnestly. "You get drunk, you act on your feelings. That's how it works. Then you have to acknowledge your feelings, and move on to the next step."
Casey frowned. "I think I'd know if I had feelings, Natalie."
"Maybe you're repressing your feelings," she suggested. "Maybe you have feelings, but you don't want to acknowledge them. Maybe they're secret feelings."
"You could secretly be in love with this person. Maybe you're just having a hard time seeing that."
Casey froze for a second. He was pretty sure that wasn't right. "I don't think so."
"You know what I think?" Natalie asked with a scary gleam in her eye.
She leaned over the table, talking softly to Casey. "I think you need to think about your secret feelings, and then act on them."
Casey reached for his book, holding it up in front of him like a protective shield. "I'm going back to reading my book now."
Natalie stepped back. "Okay."
"Okay?" he asked warily.
"Just think about the secret feelings," she called out as she left his office.
Halfway through chapter eighteen, Dan interrupted him by rudely pulling his book away. "Danny! Give it back."
"In a minute," Dan said, watching him carefully. "I have a very serious question for you, and you need to pay attention."
Casey sighed, but noticed that Dan was carefully keeping the book open at the right page. "Shoot."
"Have you and Dana revoked or renegotiated your non-dating agreement in any way?"
Casey blinked at the wordy question. "No."
"Not in any way?" Dan asked seriously.
"Not in any way."
Dan kept staring at him. "And you're telling me the truth about this?"
"We're not dating, Danny. We decided it and we're sticking to it. Nothing's changed."
Dan nodded, and passed Casey his book back. "Just needed to know."
"Because Natalie seems sure it has," Danny said, stretching his neck. "Or that it will. Now, I'm all for supporting you in whatever way you want, but I need to know if I'm supposed to be helping you get Dana or not."
"Not," Casey said firmly. He didn't want their workplace to turn into a romantic minefield. Not again.
"Then I should be having a quiet word with Natalie about no more schemes."
Dan sighed. "There were schemes involved last time. None of them worked, but they were put in place."
"But you're going to stop them?"
"Yes, I am." Danny nodded.
"Thank you," he said. Danny grinned back at him. "Can I go back to reading my book now?"
"You're enjoying it?"
"Loving it, Danny."
"Then go ahead," Dan said graciously, and disappeared out of their office, probably going to track down Natalie.
He read for about twenty minutes, and then decided he needed a good sandwich. He'd also like another opinion on the whole drunk kiss thing. Natalie said yes, but she got stuff wrong; for example, him and Dana. Dan said no, and Casey generally trusted his opinion. The problem was that Jeremy said yes, and Jeremy was a smart guy. Casey needed someone else to tip the results back in Danny's favor.
He ran into Kim in the food table. "Hey," she said, stirring her coffee.
"Does a drunk kiss count?"
She blinked at him. "What?"
"If one of the kissers is really drunk when they kiss, does it count? Does it have to be acknowledged?"
Kim snorted daintily. "No."
Casey grinned. "I knew there would be at least one voice of reason on this issue."
"It doesn't count," Kim stated confidently. "Drunk sex doesn't count either."
Casey felt his eyes widen. He was pretty sure that full sex counted. "It doesn't?"
Kim shook her head. "No."
"Wow." He'd really thought that counted.
"Sex during the full moon doesn't count either."
Now Casey was confused. "Really?"
"Or if I'm wearing green," Kim said seriously.
"Yeah, if I'm wearing green, the guy doesn't count at all." Kim grinned widely, and Casey got the sinking feeling she was messing with him.
"You're messing with me, aren't you?"
"Yep," Kim said easily, sipping her coffee.
"I'm going back to my book, now."
"Hey, Isaac," Casey said, popping his head around Isaac's doorway. He was going to go back to his book, but Danny was sitting there typing, and… Casey had decided that he needed another opinion. "You busy?"
"Busy enough," Isaac replied with a smile. Casey took it as a sign to come in and sit down. "Why?"
"I have a question for you."
"You are a worldly man, Isaac, who has been to many places and seen many things. You are wise and knowledgeable about the ways of the world."
"Stop buttering me up and get to the damn question."
Casey laughed. "If you kiss someone while drunk, does it count?"
"Does it count as what?"
"As a kiss." Casey shrugged. "As whatever it would have counted as if you'd been sober."
"If I say no, will you get out of my office?"
Casey wasn't distracted by Isaac's cranky sigh. "It doesn't count?"
"Why wouldn't it count?"
"Because your judgment's impaired. Because if you were sober, and thinking rationally, you never would have done it. You can't be held to a kiss while you're in that state."
Isaac leaned back in his chair and put down his pen. "Give me a practical example."
"Say you're so blindingly drunk you can barely stand up straight?"
Casey nodded. "Yeah. And you kiss someone in this state."
Casey waved that thought away. "A woman other than Esther."
"A woman other than Esther?" Isaac asked carefully.
"Let me get this straight," Isaac said slowly, staring at him. "I'm so drunk I can barely stand up and I kiss a woman, other than Esther, and you want to know if it counts?"
Casey nodded, but he had a sinking feeling he already knew Isaac's answer. "Yeah."
"You'd better believe it counts."
Casey sighed in disappointment. "So everyone keeps saying."
"And if you asked Esther, she'd say the same thing."
"If you'd walked in on Lisa kissing some guy and she'd said she was drunk so it didn't mean anything, would you count it?"
"Definitely," Casey said firmly, suddenly glad that his marriage had broken down for far more mundane reasons.
"Then why would you think being drunk would make a kiss not count?"
Casey sighed deeply. "Wishful thinking?"
"I think so," Isaac said pointedly.
"I'd better leave you to your work," Casey said, standing up.
"Good idea," Isaac said dryly.
Danny was typing quietly, and Casey was reading. He'd barely started chapter nineteen when the phone rang. He glared at it but it kept ringing, so he picked it up. "Hi?"
It was Dana. "Casey, can I see you in my office?"
"Now?" he asked, putting the book down anyway.
"Okay," he said, and she hung up.
"Who was it?" Danny asked as he stood up.
"Dana. She wants to see me," Casey replied.
"Why?" Dan asked and Casey shrugged.
"Better go then."
Casey nodded. "I am."
When he got there, she was leaning on her desk and biting her lower lip. "Close the door."
He closed it behind him. "Why did you need to see me?"
"Natalie's giving me funny looks."
Casey let his head drop to his chest. They could have talked about this on the phone. And he could have kept reading and just pretended to be listening. "Have you tried sending a note home to her mother?"
"Casey, she's giving me funny looks."
"I don't see the problem. Natalie gives everyone funny looks."
Dana's eyes narrowed. "She keeps asking me what happened on your birthday, and then doesn't believe me when I tell her. She keeps saying that when I want to talk, I know where to find her."
Casey sighed. He was starting to get sick of not knowing what had occurred the night before last. "What happened on my birthday?"
"I met a guy called James. Jimmy to his friends. We were talking about being night-owls, and staying up, and I mentioned that my next night off was Friday. He said that he's got a late meeting, but that if it turns out he's free, he'll call me. So I gave him my number, and I'm really hoping he calls, but he hasn't yet and--" She stopped her distracted diatribe and blinked up at him. "And that has nothing to do with this."
"Okay," Casey said slowly, waiting for Dana to get to the point.
"Natalie's giving me funny looks," Dana stated and then sighed.
Casey remembered this part of the conversation. "She's giving you funny looks."
"And she keeps asking about your birthday, but obviously doesn't believe me."
"You mentioned that."
"And she just stopped in to tell me to be a little patient, because guys are dense. Sometimes they have trouble acknowledging their feelings."
Casey scowled. "That seems to be a theme today."
"And she said not to worry, because drunk kisses count."
"Oh." The light bulb that flashed on inside Casey's brain was almost blindingly bright. "What happened on my birthday?"
Now Dana was giving him a funny look. "I just told you about Jimmy."
"That was the only thing out of the ordinary."
"We didn't kiss?" Casey couldn't remember kissing her, but that was no guarantee it hadn't happened. That would make things far too complicated.
She stared at him, open-mouthed. "You and me?"
Casey sighed in relief. "Good."
"I'm this close to being offended by that," Dana said with a frown, "but I'm going to forgive you on the basis that you got so completely trashed that night."
"Thank you," Casey said sarcastically.
"Do you know why Natalie's giving me funny looks?"
"I think so." Casey cringed.
"I was asking her a question earlier, and I think she's assumed that we kissed."
Dana watched him critically. "Why would she assume that?"
"Because I asked her if drunk kisses count."
One shapely eyebrow rose. "If they count? What in the world made you think they wouldn't?"
Casey shrugged. "Danny."
Dana snorted, showing her obvious respect for Dan's romantic advice. "They count. They're embarrassing and awkward and sometimes done for the wrong reasons, but they count. You can't just ignore them."
Casey shrugged again.
"You can't ignore them, Casey."
"You can claim ignorance," Casey pointed out quietly.
"Let the other person think you can't remember."
"But you do?"
"I do, but…" Casey shrugged again, and then realized he was doing that far too much in this conversation. "That way, no one has to be embarrassed or ashamed. You can just pretend it didn't happen."
"But it did."
"But no one has to feel bad and face that fact," Casey said, and Dana stared at him, obviously not convinced. "It's taking the high road, Dana. It means I don't have to go to them and say 'I'm sorry,' 'I was really drunk,' 'normally I would never'…"
"It's cowardly, Casey."
"And they don't have to smile at me and say 'you're a really nice guy,' and 'don't take this the wrong way,' 'but never in a million years'..." Casey blinked, thinking about what he'd just said. He hadn't really thought about the implications, but it was most likely true.
Dan would probably be a little more imaginative in his excuses, and he'd probably use sports metaphors, but it would be the same basic speech. After all, Casey had been pretty willing; drunk and sloppy, but willing. If Dan had been interested, it would have been more than one barely-tolerated kiss.
Casey guessed that if you both knew what the kiss meant, it didn't matter if it technically counted or not. He looked up to see Dana watching him with a soft, understanding expression. "It's the high road," he assured her.
"It's not, and it will lead to bad things," Dana predicted. "But if you want to talk about it…?"
He cringed at the idea. "Thanks, but no thanks, Dana."
"Regardless of our agreement, once upon a time we were interested in each other. The conversation would be awkward."
Casey nodded. "Embarrassing and awkward."
"Just because we had a few weeks--"
"Months," he corrected.
She rolled her eyes. "Fine. A few months of almost dating, doesn't mean we can't talk about this stuff, Casey."
"You're not going to let go of this, are you?" Casey asked wearily.
"I want us to be friends who can talk about more than sports and work. I want to be able to tell you about Jimmy, without worrying about awkwardness and if you're going to become jealous and annoying." Dana stood up, pushing herself off the desk. "I want us to be friends, and not just say we are."
"This isn't about jealousy, this isn't about romantic interest in you," Casey said clearly. "It's about an awkward and embarrassing conversation I don't want to have."
"Casey, look at my romantic history," Dana said with a self-deprecating grin. "I thrive on awkward and embarrassing conversations."
Casey laughed. "It's just a subject that I really don't want to discuss right now. It's nothing personal, it's just…"
"Awkward and embarrassing."
"Fine. Go talk to Danny about it," she said with a dismissive wave of her hand.
Casey swallowed and then asked, "Danny?"
She laughed. "I know you, Casey. You'll end up talking to someone about it. You can't help it."
"Yeah, I'll go talk to Danny," Casey replied with a tight smile and left her office.
Casey slunk back into their office and was kind of relieved to note that Dan wasn't there. He still didn't have anything to do, but at least he could not-do-it in peace. He picked up his book and stretched out on the couch, flipping over to chapter nineteen.
Around chapter twenty-two, Dan dropped in to say he'd looked at the feature, and the third and fourth sections seemed 'clunky'.
Casey marked his page and sat up. "Clunky?"
"Clunky." Dan nodded. "They don't flow, Casey. It breaks the rhythm."
Dan stuck the video in the machine, and Casey saw what he meant. "That is clunky."
Casey sighed, putting his book away. "Any ideas how to fix it?"
"Not really…" Dan said apologetically, and played the tape again. They watched it through a couple of times, and then talked about it, about better phrasings and if the footage was appropriate. Eventually, they came up with a solution. So he went off to editing to fix it, while Dan started working on the football highlights.
Halfway through rewriting the fourth section, Casey realized he was making a big deal out of nothing. Being around Dan wasn't any more awkward than it used to be. They were just Casey and Danny, and one little kiss didn't have to change anything.
Taking the high road was the right choice. More people needed to understand that.
A couple of days later, Jeremy announced, "Did you know that during the late nineteenth century, 'breeze' was a colloquial word for rumor or scandal?"
"Really?" Casey said, intrigued.
"Yeah," Jeremy replied. "By as early as 1910, it had traveled over to the U.S. and had taken on the meaning of 'empty chatter.' It then became incorporated into a lot of sayings, some of which are still used today."
"Like 'shoot the breeze'," Casey supplied with a grin.
"And quite a few variants of that phrase."
"That's pretty interesting," Casey said, and then noticed that Dan and Natalie were staring at him. "I didn't know that."
"Neither did I," Dana replied, staring at Jeremy. "Now, as it's the rundown, and we do a show about sports, not etymology, could we talk about something relevant? Like sports?"
Jeremy shrugged. "I just thought it was interesting."
"It really isn't," Natalie assured him.
"I was interested," Casey pointed out.
Dan smirked at him. "You're a language-geek."
"So the rest of us weren't interested," Dan replied with a good-natured grin.
Casey shrugged. "I was." Danny just rolled his eyes and Dana tried to get control of the meeting again.
Natalie had already had a couple of margaritas when she wandered over to the bar. "It was a great interview, Danny."
Dan smiled tightly and nodded. "Thanks, Natalie." He sounded pleased, but Casey noticed that Dan's smile seemed permanently set on 'sharp'.
Jeremy came up to the other side of Natalie, and he seemed far steadier on his feet. "We're going to leave now," he said as he wrapped an arm around Natalie's waist.
"So this is the big goodbye?" Dan asked, spinning around on the barstool.
Jeremy shook his head. "We're thinking of stopping in at the midday rundown, on the way to the airport."
"That's a bit out of your way, isn't it?" Casey asked. He'd never actually driven out to the airport, but Dan had bitched about the trip often enough that he had a good idea of the inconvenience it caused.
"I have to say goodbye to Isaac," Natalie announced.
Jeremy rolled his eyes. "Hence, tomorrow."
"Ah." Dan nodded. "I'll make my goodbyes then."
"No words of wisdom for me now?"
Dan paused, thinking about it. "Be careful of drop-bears."
"Drop-bears?" Natalie echoed.
Jeremy's eyes narrowed. "They don't exist."
Casey stage-whispered to Jeremy, "That's what people say about Dan's cunning and guile." Dan's glare was flat and unimpressed.
"We'll see you guys tomorrow," Natalie said with a shake of her head, and let Jeremy lead her out. The two of them had never been particularly subtle about their romance, but Casey thought you'd have to be blind not to notice how happy they looked right now. It was sweet, as long as Casey didn't have to listen to them blissfully ramble about each other.
The pair of them had flights for Australia the next day, along with quite a few of the technical crew. Most of the technical crew was from the West Coast Update team, so Sports Night wasn't losing too many people, but it was still strange to think that tonight's show was the last show with everyone together. Well, for the next two weeks, at least.
It was a very good show, even if Dan hadn't seemed to notice. "You don't think I have cunning and guile?" Dan asked, a little too seriously.
"I think they are cleverly concealed," Casey responded easily, toying with his beer. It was only a week since the god-awful Jaegermeister hangover, and the 'no drinking' pledge had already changed to 'no spirits'.
Dan stared at him, obviously trying to work out if that was a compliment or not. Casey shrugged and changed the topic of conversation. "Natalie's right."
"She frequently is."
"It was a good interview."
Dan nodded. "Natalie said great, but..."
Casey laughed. "Fine, it was a great interview."
"But it wasn't an exclusive," Dan finished sourly, glaring at his glass. Casey wasn't sure if Dan was drinking Scotch or bourbon, but it was some dark spirit that Casey wasn't going to ask about.
"It was still a good interview."
"But ESPN had it first."
"They had it like half an hour earlier, Danny. It's not a big deal." Casey sighed. When Danny had a bone to pick, he could be very tenacious about it. Like a dog with a bone. Casey decided that if he was going to be that repetitive, this needed to be his last beer.
"Of course it isn't a big deal. I spent the last three days working on that," Dan growled. Casey nodded. Dan had put serious effort into getting Bobby Knight on camera. As it turned out, so had Jeremy Schaap. "And not only was it not an exclusive, we weren't even the first network to screen it."
Dan scowled. "So, not an exclusive, not the first to broadcast it, but at least it wasn't a bad interview. Nice to know I can take comfort in something."
And this was professionally-annoyed Danny. This was the Danny who shared Casey's office for a few weeks each time Casey won an award. Dan didn't get bitter, he got frustrated and angry at himself. So, for a few weeks, he lost his sense of humor when he wasn't in front of a crowd and he really focused on his job; as a result, the show sparkled and Dan's writing was… simply inspired. It was great for the show and great for ratings, but Casey was always relieved when normal-Danny returned. He missed being able to laugh, and no-one made him laugh like Dan.
Casey could have stepped back and let the show reap the rewards of Danny's high self-expectations, but it was bad enough that Natalie and Jeremy would be gone for two weeks. He didn't need Dan gone, too. "It was a good interview."
"Yeah, whatever, Casey," Dan muttered, holding up his glass for Jack to refill.
"It was a live interview, and it was good."
"It wasn't an exclusive."
"It didn't need to be."
Dan just glared at that. "If it had been an exclusive, I'd be celebrating with Dana over there. But it wasn't, regardless of how 'good' you think it was."
"It was a good interview." It had been. Dan had really been on his game tonight, and the ex-Indiana coach had opened up under Dan's combination of charm, intelligence and irony. It was an excellent piece of journalism. "So what if it wasn't an exclusive? It's not a big deal."
"Sports Center--" Danny started.
"Sports Center got it too. It's not a big deal," Casey repeated. "Who are our main rivals? In our timeslot, who are the two stations that consistently beat our ratings?"
Dan swallowed a mouthful of beer and then answered wearily. "ESPN and Fox."
Casey nodded. "And ESPN got the interview, but Fox didn't. It's a win."
Dan shook his head. "At the best, it's a tie."
"It's a win. We got something big that Fox didn't. It's a win, Danny." He caught Dan's eye, and didn't look away until he was sure Dan believed him. "It's a win."
"I did good?" Dan asked uncertainly.
Casey grinned widely and squeezed Dan's shoulder. "You did damn good."
"I did good," Dan repeated, and this time, he sounded pretty pleased with himself.
"Yep." Casey finished the last of his beer. "You did."
Dan grinned. "If I did that good, we should be celebrating."
Casey gestured around at Anthony's, noticing Dana talking to a guy he assumed was Jimmy. "I think we are."
"You're sitting there with an empty beer. That's not celebrating, Casey." Dan's smile seemed innocent, so it was a sure sign he was teasing.
"I'm celebrating responsibly."
Dan snorted. "I think that interview was good enough to warrant us both getting drunk."
Casey squinted at Dan's helpful, butter-wouldn't-melt-in-my-mouth tone. "You think?"
"I'm pretty certain."
Casey shrugged, but ordered another beer anyway. "If we're both hungover tomorrow, you're going to regret it."
Danny laughed and he sounded happy. "Have I mentioned how much of a wuss you are?"
"Remind me to mention it to you again."
Casey wasn't sure how they'd ended up back at his place. It had something to do with catching the rerun of Danny's interview, but Casey suspected it had more to do with the fact that Dan could walk back to Casey's apartment. Either way, it had also involved stopping at a liquor store on the way, and picking up more beers.
Casey slouched back on the couch, nursing his umpteenth beer in his hand and thinking that there was a good chance that his liver would go on strike if he kept drinking like this. This was the second time in a week that he'd got drunk. Well, the second time in eight days. Certainly, he wasn't as drunk as on his birthday -- it was physically impossible to reach the same level of intoxication just drinking beer -- but he was still pretty buzzed. And this time, Danny was traveling the road to intoxication right along with him.
"That was a good interview," Danny said thoughtfully.
Danny was smiling; that small, pleased, half-smile he wore when something unexpectedly good happened, like fluking a golf shot or his mom sending him a care package. It was the smile of a happy Danny.
"I know," Casey replied, turning back to the screen. The credits rolled across the screen, and the opening sequence to West Coast Update started. "We're going to be doing their show for two weeks, you know."
"I know," Dan replied, gesturing at Peter and Paul onscreen. "We don't have to write their stuff, do we?"
Casey shook his head. "Probably not." He thought about pointing out that Sally somehow managed to write their scripts without them, but figured Dan knew that. Besides, mentioning that would also bring up the nasty thought that puns and clichés could still be part of the show.
Danny picked up the remote, and started flicking channels. He stopped on the most awkward kiss Casey had ever seen. "That doesn't look pleasant," Casey said with a worried frown.
"It looks very uncomfortable," Danny said, staring at the screen in horrified fascination. Casey leaned over for the remote, and pulled it out of Danny's hand. He changed the channel, flicking until they landed on some old eighties sitcom.
"Hey, I was watching that," Danny whined.
"Well, it was giving me nightmares."
Dan snorted. "That's because you're a wuss."
"You can't call me that any more," Casey decreed with a frown, flicking onto a black-and-white film. He stared at it for a few moments, wondering if that was Cary Grant or not. "Is that Cary Grant?"
"It's Ralph Bellamy. Born the same year," Danny replied after a moment. "1904."
Casey shot Danny a look. "Why do you know that?"
Danny shrugged. "Just do. Why can't I call you a wuss?"
"You overuse that word." Casey frowned at the TV, and then flicked over to some music channel. "You're a writer. You should be more imaginative."
"So I can still insult you, I just can't use that word?" Danny asked and Casey nodded.
He flicked back to the movie. "You know, I never got the appeal of Cary Grant."
"Okay," Danny said slowly, obviously bewildered.
"Lisa had a thing for him," Casey explained. "Dana, too. Apparently, they used to watch his movies and eat chocolate and drink wine. It used to be a regular thing for them in college."
Danny shrugged. "So?"
"Never got why they liked him. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying he's a bad actor." Casey sighed and flicked back to West Coast Update. "I just never saw what made him different from all the other actors of his time."
"It's called charisma, Casey. It's something he has," Dan said, and then paused dramatically, "and you never will."
If Casey had had popcorn, he would have thrown it at Danny. "We should be eating popcorn."
"Do you have popcorn?"
"Then that's why we're not eating it," Danny replied. Their conversation hushed as Peter and Paul mentioned Bobby Knight. Then, they screened highlights of Danny's interview.
He blinked at the screen. "That's highly edited," Casey said after a moment.
Dan shrugged. "Not really. It's just taking his answers and getting rid of my questions."
Casey sighed. "Have I mentioned those two are a pair of idiots?"
"Yeah, but tomorrow, they'll be idiots on the other side of the world," Danny replied.
Casey thought about that and laughed. "You should run for President, with that as your slogan."
"Vote for me and I'll send all the idiots to the other side of the world!" Casey exclaimed, throwing his arms wide.
Danny snickered and pushed Casey's arm down so he could see the screen. "So after I win a handful of Emmys for Sports Night, and write a bestseller, I'm running for President?"
"Hmmm…" Casey grinned. "Do you think you could find time to cure cancer, too?"
Danny grimaced. "I don't know, Casey. I've got a busy schedule. I could do it, but only if I gave up on world peace."
"Oh, that's a tough one." Casey's brows furrowed as he thought about it. "I mean, I think more people die from wars, so that's probably your top priority," he said, and then laughed at the ridiculousness of the conversation. There was another commercial on, and it featured another lip-locked couple. "Is it my imagination or is there a lot of kissing tonight?"
"'Sex is everywhere, but nowhere around me,'" Danny crooned and Casey elbowed him. Danny had a tendency to randomly sing when drunk. "I don't know. What do you define as a lot of kissing?"
"Well, there's this commercial, there was Natalie and Jeremy in Anthony's, and there was Dana and Jimmy outside of Anthony's--"
"Jimmy?" Dan looked surprised.
"Either he's the Jimmy she met on my birthday, or Dana's started to move fast with guys." Casey paused, trying to remember his thought. "So, three kisses, plus the Most Uncomfortable Kiss Ever."
"It's only four kisses," Danny pointed out reasonably.
"It seems like a lot."
Dan snorted. "Only because they don't feature you."
"That's a good thing."
Casey smirked. "It's much better than being involved in the uncomfortable kiss."
"Better to have kissed awkwardly, than never to have kissed at all," Danny announced in a faux-BBC America voice.
Casey tried not to cringe at the terrible accent. "Only a bad kisser would say that."
"A bad kisser?" Danny repeated incredulously.
Casey nodded. "Only a bad kisser."
Danny stared at him. "Are you implying that I'm a bad kisser?"
"I'm not really implying it," Casey said, and Danny looked a little reassured. "I'm outright stating it. You must be a bad kisser."
"I'm a great kisser!"
"I'm a great kisser," Danny said again, sounding truly offended. "Ask any of my ex-girlfriends. I can kiss."
"Danny, I'm not going to go polling the crowd of women you've slept with just to hear that you can't kiss."
"This is a baseless opinion," Danny shot back, hands moving quickly as he spoke. "You have no proof, you have no testimonials. This is totally baseless."
Casey blinked. "I have first hand experience."
Danny shook his head. "That doesn't count."
"I kissed you. The world did not move, Danny."
"You were so drunk it probably did."
"It was not a good kiss. However, I am a good kisser," Casey said, confident because he was a good kisser. Lisa, Dana and Pixley had all agreed on that fact. "Hence, the problem lies with you."
"You're a bad kisser, Danny," Casey said decisively as he turned back to the screen. He flicked past a few stations half-heartedly until Danny pulled the remote out of his hand.
Dan glared at him, muting the TV. "I am a good kisser and that doesn't count."
"Why doesn't it count?"
"Yeah," Casey replied, watching Danny closely. He knew that kiss counted.
"Because I didn't kiss you back."
Casey frowned, thinking. Dan could have a point. "Why didn't you?"
"Because…" Dan blinked and then waved a hand in defeat. "I don't know. I'm drunk and I don't know. But I had good reasons, I'm sure."
"Is it possible that it's because you're a bad kisser?" Casey asked helpfully.
Danny looked wounded. "I'm a good kisser!"
"No, you're not."
"I am, too."
Casey turned and rested a hand on Danny's knee. "Danny, I know you're a bad kisser and the sooner you admit that to yourself, the sooner you can move on." He paused, and then added, "Learn to overcome your failings."
Danny glared. "I'm a good kisser, and I can prove it."
"Right here, right now, mister. I can kiss you and prove that I'm a good kisser."
Dan's brows shot up. "No?"
"No." Casey shook his head. "I don't want another bad kiss."
"I am a good kisser," Danny said, standing up and swaying a bit. Danny stretched over and supported himself with a hand on the back of the couch. Casey realized Danny was a bit drunker than he was. Then he wondered if 'drunker' was a word.
"Is 'drunker' a word?" Casey asked, as Danny leaned over him, raising one knee onto the cushion. Danny was staring at him intently, a mix of challenge and offended pride. "Danny, what are you--"
Casey was interrupted by Danny's mouth settling on his. It was warm and wet, but there were teeth clacking, and noses squished against each other. Casey's neck was stuck at a weird angle, and twisting his head just made it worse. All in all, it was a pretty bad kiss. Uncomfortable, awkward, and… bad.
He settled a hand on each of Dan's shoulders, and pushed him back. "That was a bad kiss."
Danny scowled at him. "That's because you're not cooperating."
Casey snorted. "No, it's because you're a bad kisser."
Danny tipped his head back, staring at the ceiling in frustration. Casey's eyes were drawn to the length of his neck, to the long stretch of throat and the Adam's apple that bobbed when Danny swallowed. He was still staring when Dan dropped his head back down and spoke. "We have to test this again."
Casey blinked and drew his attention away from Dan's neck. "Why?"
"Give me one chance to redeem myself," Danny said. He pointed a finger at Casey. "And don't make it awkward."
Casey glared. "I'm not the one who can't kiss."
"Just let me lead, okay?"
"This isn't dancing, Danny. It's kissing. You seem to be confusing the two." Casey blinked. "Maybe that's what you're doing wrong."
Danny sighed, and straddled Casey. "Just… shhh," Dan said, pressing his thumb against Casey's lips. "One kiss and then you eat your words."
Casey rolled his eyes and then nodded. "Do your worst." Dan snorted.
Dan's hand slid around to Casey's cheek, an oddly familiar gesture, and then Danny leaned forward. Casey waited for another bad kiss, but instead, Dan brushed his lips against Casey's. Dan stayed still for a moment, just breathing against Casey's mouth, and Casey closed his eyes without meaning to. Lost himself in the smell of beer, and aftershave, and the faint citrus of makeup remover.
Dan pressed another soft kiss against his lips and moved so slowly that Casey found it hard to let Danny lead this. Taking a deep breath, Casey held himself still as Danny kissed him again. And again. Danny's breath grazed his skin, almost as damp and soft as his kisses. Casey followed the pressure of Danny's hand, let his head be tilted at a slight angle and almost groaned in frustration when the kisses remained shallow and controlled.
He rested his hands on Danny's thighs, because he needed to touch, even if he wasn't supposed to. Danny didn't chide him, didn't stop, just kept almost-kissing him, so Casey figured that was okay.
When Danny's tongue finally came out to play, Casey's lips were already parted in invitation. Danny licked his way inside, keeping it slow and shallow, and Casey was sucking on Danny's tongue, trying to urge the kisses deeper. His fingers clenched, clawing into the tense muscle of Danny's thighs. Danny got the hint.
Casey could hear the needy little whimpers he was making, but really couldn't bring himself to care. Not when Danny's mouth was warm and lush, not when Danny was driving him insane with these slow, thorough kisses. It was as if Danny was trying to explore and claim every inch of Casey's mouth; indulgently taking his time, making sure there wasn't any place Casey could hide.
It was intoxicating and overwhelming, and then suddenly, it was over.
Danny was pulling back, breathing a little heavily, with a crooked grin pasted on. "See? I can kiss."
"Danny…" Casey didn't try to hide the shameless pleading in his tone.
"Casey, it's--" Dan paused, his hand still on Casey's cheek. "It's a really bad idea."
"I don't care," Casey said, wrapping a hand around Danny's neck and pulling him down into another kiss. For a moment, he felt the strain against his arm as Danny tried to pull away. Then Danny gave up and kissed Casey back.
This time, it wasn't gentle and it wasn't slow. It was hot and heavy; messy, wet kisses only interrupted to gasp for breath and then dive back in. Casey's hands were scraping up Danny's thighs, skating up his back, pulling ineffectually at Danny's clothes. Danny's fingers had somehow delved under Casey's t-shirt, and were doing sinful things to Casey's chest. Scraping across his skin, tugging lightly at his chest hair, and for a moment Casey thought of Sally and her long, sharp fingernails. Then Danny was kissing him again, all tongue and desperate hunger, and all he could think of was Danny, his demanding mouth and his talented hands.
Danny's fingers trailed down his stomach. When they undid his pants, Casey buried his groan inside Danny's mouth. Then Danny was cupping him through his boxers, squeezing lightly.
He dropped his head to Danny's shoulder, begging hoarsely. "Please, Danny, please." He wasn't quite sure what he wanted Danny to do. To squeeze him tighter, to kiss him, god, anything. Just more, and now.
The one thing he didn't want was what Danny did. Froze. Just stopped completely.
Casey's eyes flew open, and he found Danny staring at him with wide, almost horrified, eyes. "Danny?" He reached out to touch Danny's shoulder, but Dan scrambled back with a surprising amount of coordination.
Dan stood there, blinking at him. His mouth opened and closed, but he didn't say anything. Just stared at Casey, looking a little disgusted.
"I've got to go," Danny said in a rush. He grabbed his jacket and fled out the door.
Casey sat there, staring after him. It took him about ten minutes to understand that Danny wasn't coming back.
He fell asleep on the couch and woke up with a crick in his neck, but not too much of a hangover. While walking in to work, he tripped over the sidewalk, nearly sprained his ankle, and had three separate cars honk at him when he dashed across the road. The worst thing was that there was a chance that the morning's walk would be the high point of his day.
He wasn't looking forward to the fun of having to see Dan, so he hid in Dana's office for a while. He was stretched out on her couch when she stormed in at twenty to twelve.
"Casey!" she shrieked in surprise.
Casey cringed at the sudden noise.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Dana had a hand splayed against her chest, breathing sharply. "Scared the living daylights out of me."
Casey thought about lying and then decided he wasn't up to it. "Dan."
Dana blinked. "Is this a case of seriously hiding, or did he get you drunk last night and dare you to do something stupid?"
Dana sighed. "Well, you can only hide in here until noon rundown. Then, we're saying goodbye to Natalie and I may need my office for half an hour to sniffle in peace."
Casey sat up. "She'll only be gone for two weeks."
"I don't know if you've noticed, but things around here run more smoothly when Natalie's around." Dana's half-smile was a little self-deprecating. "I run more smoothly when Natalie's around."
"If you don't want her to go, tell her." Casey sighed. That seemed like the simple solution. Tell Natalie she shouldn't go, and Natalie would stay.
"Then Natalie wouldn't go."
"But I want her to go," Dana said.
Casey looked at her. "No, you don't."
"I want what's best for her."
"But you just said…" Casey shook his head. This was too ridiculous for him.
Dana huffed. "I don't want her to go, because I'm happier when she's around, but I want her to go. It'll be great for her career. And she'll come back."
Casey's brows lowered as he thought that through. "Okay, Dana? She's going. You'll be miserable. That's basically it, right?"
"I wouldn't be grumpy to me when you're hiding in my office," Dana said, and then headed out the door with a stack of pages. Casey rolled his eyes and stretched back on the couch.
The noon rundown ended up being postponed until two, as apparently Elliott and Dave had decided to throw an unofficial farewell party. Somehow, they'd managed to spread the word around, buy snacks, contact the people who were leaving and get Isaac to agree to it, all within half an hour. It defied the laws of time and space.
Casey almost fell asleep and ended up sneaking into the conference room at ten minutes past twelve. He snuck in behind a group of West Coast Update technical people and caught the end of Isaac's speech. Only Isaac could wish them a successful trip and a safe return using space travel metaphors and basketball analogies.
The party quickly shrank into different groups of people talking. Casey wove between the make-up women and the camera guys, and started munching on a few chocolate cookies from the table. Casey wasn't in a particularly talkative mood and food tables were always a haven for the antisocial.
Looking over the crowd, Casey could see that Dan had already been cornered by Peter. After one enthusiastic conversation at last year's Christmas party, Peter had decided that he and Dan shared some kind of golfing brotherhood; the spirit of the green, maybe.
It was just a pity that Dan didn't agree with that idea.
Any integrated gathering seemed to include Peter discussing his current handicap and Dan sending desperate 'save me' glances to anyone walking by. Normally, Casey would ease Dan out of the conversation – frequently using the handy excuse of Dana or Isaac needing to talk to both of them – but today, Casey studiously turned in the opposite direction and grabbed another handful of chips.
He spun around at a tap on his shoulder.
Kim was standing there, smiling sweetly at him. "Can you pass me one of the little cheesecakes?"
"Because I can't reach over the other side of the table." Kim frowned, managing to look both pretty and hazardous for his health. "And Elliott won't pass them to me." Elliott grinned from the other side of the table.
Casey leaned over to pass her the plate and instead of picking one or two, she took the whole platter.
"Thanks," she said easily, already heading away from the table. Casey blinked and then followed her to where Natalie and Dana were talking about rundowns and technical jargon.
Natalie was bobbing her head and talking enthusiastically, but stopped when she saw him. "I need to talk to you."
Natalie nodded. "Yes."
"Aren't we talking right now?" Casey asked, bemused.
Natalie stared at him firmly. "We'll talk later," she said, and then turned back to Dana. "You really think the heat could interfere with the VTR timing?"
Casey shrugged and let it go. He left Natalie and Dana to talk now, and drifted amongst the party. He found it fairly easy to walk from group to group, to stand at the back and pretend to listen to the conversation while he watched the clock count down the long, boring minutes. He kept catching himself looking for Dan.
Dan would be talking, frequently the center of some group, smiling widely and gesturing with his hands. Casey found he could almost guess which sport Dan was talking about by watching those long fingers draw football fields in the air. It was too easy to remember those fingers on his skin. He was still staring at Dan's hands when Isaac's voice interrupted his subtle voyeurism.
"Are you trying to avoid the party?" Isaac asked warmly.
"You've been here half an hour and you've barely talked to anyone," Isaac chided gently, sipping his coffee.
Casey tried not to grimace. He'd been far less than sociable today. "You were watching?"
"I like to keep an eye on my boys," Isaac replied and Casey felt the familiar warm thrill of this man considering him almost-family. There were a lot of days when he felt closer to Isaac than to his own father. There were a few days when Isaac felt dearer, too. He wondered if Isaac knew how important he was to him, to Dana, to Dan; possibly to everyone who worked underneath him.
Isaac grinned wryly. "If I don't, I always seem to end up with the network breathing down my neck."
Casey snorted. "'Always' is an exaggeration." He looked up to see Chris and Will laughing with Dan. From the imaginary shot Dan threw, they were probably talking about basketball.
"Frequently, then," Isaac amended. Casey turned to see Isaac watching him closely. "Are you and Daniel fighting?"
That was a question that totally broadsided Casey. "Huh?"
He blinked, trying to get his thoughts in order. He wasn't sure what they were doing, but he was pretty sure they weren't fighting. "No. We're not fighting."
"Then what's going on?"
Casey looked at Isaac, at his dark skin and grey hair; at the wrinkles around his eyes, clearly caused by years of worry, happiness and compassion. Then Casey lied through his teeth. "Nothing's going on, Isaac."
Isaac's lips flattened into an unimpressed line. "Either you think I'm an idiot – and you know I'm not – or you haven't noticed that you and Dan have been acting strangely for a while now." Isaac's tone was mild but he was unmistakably serious. "Not even you are that oblivious."
Casey opened his mouth to deny it, but Isaac silenced him with a look. "Dealing with Daniel can be difficult at times, but you're not always a ray of sunshine either."
Casey had a sudden flash of his mother when he got caught skipping class in high school. She had called him by his full name and used that same disappointed tone. "I know that, Isaac. We're not fighting, we're just... dealing with things."
Isaac didn't look away from him. "If it's something serious, I want to know."
"It's personal." Last defense of the cornered man: claim to be embarrassed.
"The personal has a way of becoming the professional around here." Isaac paused, looking over at Dan. "If there's a chance of another Draft Day explosion, I want to know about it."
Casey blinked in surprise. "There's no chance of that, Isaac."
"If I'd asked you before last Draft Day, you would have said the same thing," Isaac said with a small knowing smile, and Casey had to agree. Isaac paused and then continued, "I'm not going to pry. Lord knows I already know far more about my staff's personal lives than I need to. But, if it's serious, if it's going to affect the show, I expect you to tell me."
Casey nodded. "Yes, sir."
The party ended with more hugs, and Natalie and Jeremy promising to call and email at least once a day. Possibly twice. According to Dana, seven or eight times would be best.
When Natalie pulled out of a teary hug with Dana, she spotted him. "Walk me to the elevator," she said, in a surprisingly good imitation of Dana's ordering tone.
"Me?" Casey asked and Natalie nodded. "Why me?"
"Because I need to talk with you," Natalie said as if it should be obvious. Jeremy was talking to Dan on the other side of the room, and just shrugged when he caught Casey's look. Casey shrugged back and followed Natalie to the elevator doors.
"I'm going to be gone." Natalie leaned forward, and Casey found himself ducking down to be closer to her level. "I'll be gone," she repeated in a hushed tone of voice.
"So will Jeremy," Casey said and Natalie lightly slapped his shoulder.
Natalie stared at him. "I'll be gone and Dana will be working with Sally."
"You see my point?"
Casey swallowed. "We're going to have trouble."
"Yes, you are."
"Is it too late for you to cancel?" Casey wondered aloud, panicking at the thought of two weeks of the Professional Women's Grudge Match.
Natalie glared at him. "Are you serious?"
"No," he assured her urgently. "You're going. Dana will be miserable. I already got the Cliff notes on that. I just didn't think I'd be miserable, too."
"That's why I'm warning you."
He sighed. "You realize I'm going to be stuck in the middle?"
Natalie didn't seem very sympathetic. "You should have thought of that before you slept with Sally."
Casey boggled at her. "I should have foreseen that sleeping with Sally would end up sucking the fun out of the 2000 Olympics?"
"You should have known it would cause complications." Natalie frowned at him and then shook her head. "But you're a guy. You're automatically an idiot where sex is concerned."
Casey scowled at the silver elevator doors and considered denying that. Then he saw the determined look on Natalie's face and thought better of it. "You just wanted to warn me?"
"I'm just saying I'm going to be gone for two weeks. Dana needs someone to talk to."
Natalie took a deep breath and pushed back an errant strand of dark hair. "How much time do you spend talking to Jeremy and Isaac when Dan's got the day off?"
Casey shrugged. "I spend time talking to Dana too."
"Exactly. And Dana's going to lose her best friend for two weeks."
Casey blinked at Natalie's bright, helpful smile. He wasn't sure if he liked the direction that this conversation was heading. "So she's going to need people to talk to?"
She patted his shoulder in a very patronizing way. "I knew you'd get it eventually."
"So everyone's been warned to indulge Dana's talkative nature?"
"Most people don't need to be warned. You're special," Natalie said with a sharp smile.
"Special?" Casey had a sinking feeling that he might need to remind Natalie about his agreement with Dana. No dating. Just because she was going to be in Sydney, didn't mean he and Dana would change their minds.
Natalie smirked. "As in 'special needs'."
Casey snorted, secretly relieved that Natalie just seemed concerned about Dana. "I walked right into that one."
"Yes, you did." Natalie rocked back on her feet and smiled hopefully at him. "So, I'm going to be gone…?"
"And I'm going to be spending more time talking to Dana," Casey repeated dutifully.
"Good boy," Natalie said and Casey fought the urge to bark at her.
"Hey," Casey said as he walked into Dana's office.
"You know the rundown's at two?" Dana asked, dabbing at her mascara with a tissue.
"Yeah." He watched her check her make up in a small, hand held mirror. She widened her eyes, blinking at her reflection, and then put the mirror away.
Then Dana looked up at him. "Were you planning on just standing there?"
"You can't just stand there, Casey."
"Why…? Because you can't," Dana said with a faintly amused smile.
Casey grinned. "Why?"
"Because I said so."
"Because you have a script to write." Dana's lips twitched.
Dana held up a hand to stop him and let out a few almost sniggers. "And don't ask me why."
Casey stood there for a few moments. "Rundown isn't until two," he pointed out brattishly.
"And you don't do any work before the first rundown?"
Casey smirked. "Not if I can help it."
"Let's leave aside the fact that that's blatantly untrue." Dana shook her head. "Why are you in here?"
Shrugging, Casey said, "Orders from Natalie." Dana raised an eyebrow, so he explained, "Apparently, I'm the understudy."
He nodded. "For the role of friend. If something happens to the main friend, I step up as back up."
"Step up as back up?" Dana repeated, in a teasing tone.
"Are you going to accept my gesture of friendship or mock my phrasing?"
Dana laughed. "I'm multi-skilled. I can do both."
"I'm a funny woman."
"I've always said there was something funny about you," Casey said dryly.
Dana rolled her eyes. "Go to your office and do some prep work for the rundown."
Casey sighed melodramatically. He'd been having fun playing truant. "Fine."
"Oh, and Casey…?" Dana asked as he got to the door.
He turned around. "Yeah?"
Dana smiled brightly. "Thanks."
"Any time, Dana."
Casey dawdled back to the office. When he saw it was empty, he sat down at the table and started looking through the day's scores. Dan walked in a few minutes later.
"Here you are." Dan sounded surprised.
"Here I am," Casey replied, not looking up.
"Did you know it's one-thirty?"
Casey looked up at the wall clock and stared at it intently. "Well, the small hand's between the one and the two, and the big hand's pointing to the six, so... Yeah, it is one-thirty."
Dan snickered. "Are you still learning to tie your shoes as well?"
Casey sat up, pushing his shoulders back straight. "My Mommy does that for me."
"That does explain your fashion sense," Dan teased. Casey just rolled his eyes. "Still, it's one-thirty."
"So, it's one-thirty and this is the first time I've talked to you today."
Casey looked down at the scores. "I've been busy."
Dan snorted. "You've done nothing."
"I've been busy doing nothing," Casey replied without looking up.
"Casey, we need to talk."
Casey kept circling scores and underlining team names. "You know, that phrase doesn't inspire confidence in any man." He looked up at the sound of Dan closing the office door.
"Regardless of that…" Dan pulled a chair out and turned it around, straddling it backwards and leaning his arms on the back of the chair. "We need to talk."
Casey bit at the inside of his cheek. "You think?"
Dan looked out the window. "I'm pretty sure, yeah."
Casey sighed and put his pen down on the table top. "Okay."
"Okay," Dan repeated slowly.
There was a moment of silence. Casey crossed his arms for warmth. "So talk."
"Okay," Dan muttered and nodded to himself. Then he looked up at Casey. "We need to talk about last night."
That phrase shouldn't have made Casey's heart beat a bit faster. It shouldn't have made him twitchy and uncertain… but it did. Casey didn't trust his voice, so he just nodded.
Dan looked him straight in the eye, his face serious. "I wanted to say that I'm sorry."
His heart skipped a hopeful beat. "Sorry?" Casey repeated, his voice just a little choked.
"Yeah, I…" Dan trailed off, rubbing the back of his neck uncomfortably. "I shouldn't have let it get out of hand, Casey. I know better than that."
Casey swallowed as his heart stuttered back into a steady rhythm. "You do?"
"Yeah…" Dan's lips twisted into an uncomfortable grimace. "Casey, I know you when you're drunk. I know how far you'll go for the sake of a bet. I shouldn't have let you goad me. And I shouldn't have let it keep going."
"Because I'll do anything on a dare?" Casey asked with a trace of bitterness.
"You once spent an hour quacking like a duck because Dana bet you twenty bucks that you couldn't do it."
Casey couldn't remember that. "Really?"
"Your drunken pride knows no bounds," Dan said with a grin and then added, "Or knows no shame. One of the two."
"Ah." Casey leaned over his crossed arms a little more, suddenly cold in the air conditioning. "So if I did it for a bet, why did you do it?"
Dan flushed slightly, looking away. "Casey…"
"No, really, Dan," Casey said, sounding far angrier than he felt. "Why did you do it?"
"I'm not saying I'm proud of it, I just…" Dan trailed off, shrugging. "Come on, you slept with Sally. You know how it goes."
Casey felt his jaw tense. "Remind me."
"You can't have the person you want, so… you know." Casey remained silent, forcing Dan to continue. "If you can't have the one you love, love the one you're with?"
Casey was sure it was just stung pride that made his stomach drop to his toes. Wounded pride and…
Nope, just wounded pride.
He glared at Dan's hands, wrapped tightly around the back of the chair. "So I was just a replacement for…?"
"Michael," Dan admitted in a small voice. He sighed and then glanced up. "Hey, I'm not saying it's a nice thing to do, but it's something that happens. I didn't mean to do it, and I did stop as soon as I realized, but… yeah, I should have known better. I shouldn't have let it get out of hand."
Casey braced his elbows on the table, resting his head in his hands. He stared at the day's scores and breathed deeply, thinking about the situation; thinking about the taste of Dan's skin and the warmth of Dan's fingers, the strength of Dan's thighs beneath his hands. Then he thought of all the reasons why Dan's confession should have made this easy. "Okay."
"Okay?" Dan repeated uncertainly.
Casey forced himself to smile. "It happens, right? Just two drunk, confused people. It happens." Dan nodded once, but didn't interrupt. "You realized and you stopped us before anything really… happened."
"I am sorry, Casey." Dan looked wretched, the regret obvious in his eyes. There was a part of Casey that wanted to make him suffer. Not for any particular reason, just because he wanted to.
Of course, there was a bigger part of him that hated seeing Danny suffer. "It's really nothing. And a drunk kiss doesn't count anyway, right?"
Dan's answering smile seemed a little tight. "So no big deal."
"No harm, no foul."
Dan nodded slightly. "And we're… okay?"
"No harm, no foul," Casey repeated. "We're fine."
Dan sighed and his shoulders slumped in relief. "Good." Dan stood up and turned the chair the right way around.
Casey looked down at his watch, just to look away from Dan's genuine grin. "Hey, it's one thirty-five."
Dan's brows rose. "And?"
"I needed to see Dana about something before the rundown."
Dan snorted, well aware that if Dana said she needed to see him, she meant it. "Better hop to it."
"Yeah," Casey said confidently, and then fled the office.
"You're back," Dana announced drolly as he walked into her office.
"Any particular reason?" she asked.
Casey shook his head and thought of all the ways he couldn't tell her why he was hiding out of Dan's sight. "No."
"You're just procrastinating?"
Dana's expression was a combination of amused, confused and just a little annoyed. "Did you want to talk about something?"
"Not really," Casey replied, sitting down on her couch. "Did you?"
"Okay, then." Casey shrugged and then settled onto the couch.
After a moment, Dana asked, "Is this how you're going to act for the entire two weeks Natalie is away?"
"I'm considering it."
"You're just going to randomly walk in on me instead of writing your script?"
Casey smiled at the thought. "Do you have any objections?"
"I have several, but would any of them make you change your mind?"
Dana narrowed her eyes. "On what?"
"Do you think any of them would change my mind?"
"Do any of them involve money, fame or beautiful women?" Dana asked rhetorically, tapping her pen against her page. "No, they don't."
Casey grinned. "Then we should probably just assume this is how the Olympics are going to be."
Dana sighed, and ran a hand through her hair. "You realize I could pay for somebody to kill you in your sleep, right?"
Casey snorted. "How?"
"I earn plenty, mister, and Jeremy has connections."
"The nerd mafia?" Casey stretched back on Dana's couch. "I'll keep an eye out for anyone wearing a pocket protector."
Dana laughed. "That is such a stereotype, Casey."
Casey blinked, thinking about that. "I guess I should actually be scared of anyone who understands computers."
"You're already scared of anyone who understands computers."
The two o'clock 'noon' rundown passed quickly. He didn't have anything prepared, and Dan knew it, but Casey managed to fake it. The rundown rushed by in a blur of ideas, everyone offering opinions on today's stories, on which sports should be in the first ten minutes and what would be bumped to the second half of the show. Since the temps, employed to help over the Olympics, didn't actually start until tomorrow, everyone was also distracted by divvying up the extra tasks.
There was enough work to keep the office busy, people running around for most of the day. There was even enough work to keep Casey's mind focused firmly on the job, to keep his attention distracted from the curve of Dan's lips, from the graceful lines of Dan's hands. In fact, he barely noticed either of them until after the show that night.
The next day began with Dana asking, "So this is how we're starting mornings now?"
"I think it's a good idea," Casey replied with a grin.
She pulled off her glasses. "You don't need to keep stopping in, Casey. I'm not going to go off the deep end if I'm left to my own devices." Dana leaned back in her chair, the leather protesting slightly underneath her.
"Am I annoying you?"
Dana huffed, but kept smiling. "Your concern is sweet. A little irritating, but mainly sweet."
"So there's no problem, right?" Casey grinned and fell back into her couch. From the worrying groan the couch made, he decided not to do that again.
"My only problem is whether or not these heels are too short with this skirt, and what I'm going to order at my business lunch with Isaac."
"Technically, it's a business dinner. At five o'clock," Dana added as she stood up and then perched on her desk. "Going over the budget again."
"Where are you going?"
"That faux-Italian place around the corner from Anthony's."
"Ah." Casey nodded, thinking about the mouth-watering lasagna there. "Is Isaac paying?"
Dana blinked at him. "What does that matter?"
Casey grinned. "If Isaac's paying, I say go for the lobster."
"And if I'm paying?"
"Hmm…" Casey paused. "Bacon carbonara. Can't go wrong with that."
Dana rolled her eyes at his straightforward solution. "Why not just say a big steak?"
"Because you don't like eating big steaks," Casey pointed out.
"Yes, I do. I was raised in a household with seven large men. We like our steaks big and bloody." Dana pulled a growling face, probably to show her carnivorous leanings, but it just made Casey laugh.
"I know you like steak, but you don't like eating steak in public."
"Oh, yeah." Dana smiled sheepishly. "I forgot about that."
"I believe your exact words were 'juicy steaks and expensive, easily stained clothes shouldn't mix'."
"I think the same should apply to lobster," Dana said after a thoughtful pause.
"So it's the carbonara?"
"I think so."
Casey stood up, rather pleased with himself. "For what it's worth, I think the shoes are fine."
Dana snorted softly. "Thanks."
"But I'll ask Danny to stop in and have a look. He's better at this stuff." Dana smiled brightly, and Casey was almost out of her office before he remembered something. "Hey, Dana?"
She slouched behind her desk, and sighed. "Yeah?"
"Did I spend an hour quacking like a duck?"
She boggled at him for a moment, and then burst out laughing. "I totally forgot about that!" she wheezed.
"So it happened?" Casey asked, disappointed for some reason.
"Back in Dallas. Best twenty dollars I ever spent," Dana said, still sniggering. "I couldn't believe you did it for an hour."
"I can't remember it at all."
"That's probably for the best."
"Yeah," Casey agreed and headed over to his office.
Casey was diligently working on his script when Dan and Jeremy wandered into the office, mid-conversation.
"--are so wrong, on so many levels," Dan was saying with a wave of his hand. "You're wrong."
"Apart from the way I'm totally right," Jeremy replied.
"You are totally wrong."
"Look at the tape. Compare the scores. Average it for a lifetime of playing." Jeremy pushed his glasses up, frowning at Dan. "I'm right."
"He will never equal the best."
"Let me make this simple for you," Dan said, leaning close to Jeremy. "He will never be as good as Michael because Michael is the best. It's as simple as that."
"Your mindless hero-worship of Jordan aside…" Jeremy trailed off, as he glanced at Casey. "Are you okay, Casey? You look a bit pale."
Casey lurched to his feet, grabbing his notes. "I think I left something in Dana's office," he blurted out, walking out the door as fast as his unsteady legs could carry him. "It's important," he called back.
Behind him, he could hear Danny say something else about 'MJ' and Casey knew they were talking about Michael Jordan; he knew it. He knew it. But just for a second, just a bare fraction of time, he'd thought of Dan and Michael, and things that he shouldn't.
Casey's pulse was pounding in his ears, and his smile felt like a grotesque parody, but he just concentrated on walking through the bullpen, following the corridor around to Dana's office. To Dana's quiet, out of sight, empty office.
Once inside, he closed the door and then collapsed against the solid wood. He stood there, eyes closed and panting for breath, trying to force himself to calm down. There was no logical reason why it should freak him out so much. Just one harmless comment; one perfectly reasonable, professional, sports-based comment. Certainly no reason to panic. After all, it wasn't even related to him; it wasn't anything to do with him and Dan and intoxicating kisses.
Intoxicated kisses, he mentally corrected himself. Not intoxicating, not overwhelming; just drunk kisses that didn't mean anything. That shouldn't mean anything. That should already be forgotten. It wasn't the type of thing he should be dreaming about; it wasn't even the type of thing he should be thinking about.
But he couldn't stop thinking about it.
Not at work, obviously. At work, he was busy. His mind was occupied and Danny was just Danny: obnoxious and endearing; intelligent and articulate; witty behind a computer keyboard and charming in front of a camera. It was just Dan being himself.
The problem was when work stopped. When Casey walked home through dark, empty streets and found himself thinking of strong shoulders and muscled arms. When he turned on the TV at home and caught the show on rerun, and then spent the rest of the show staring at Danny's lips, at Danny's mouth. When he lay awake in bed, and his mind jumbled together years of changing together; piecing together inches upon inches of bare skin, replaying half-remembered and half-dreamed kisses until he was hard and aching.
The last two nights had been filled with this obsessive lusting over Danny, and both had ended the same way. Lying in bed, jerking himself off roughly and thinking of Danny's hands, Danny's mouth, Danny's skin. Then, he'd wake up in the morning, sticky and mortified.
He'd try to do the right thing, try to think of something else; distract himself by reciting player names and game scores, but sports led him back to thoughts of Danny. In fact, almost everything led back to thoughts of Danny. Wherever he looked in his apartment, he could remember Danny laughing, Danny talking. He'd sit in the living room and remember a thousand nights of Danny sleeping on his couch. He'd stand in the kitchen and remember Danny laughing over his highly organized closets, mocking the neatly stacked dishes. He'd wander into his bedroom, and recall Danny helping him carry the chest of drawers in, bitching all the while about Casey's love of old, heavy furniture. Wherever he went, he couldn't escape the memories and those memories always led to thinking about Dan in a far more than friendly manner.
He'd never thought of Dana like that. He'd never have… presumed such an intimacy with her, even if it was just inside his own head. There wasn't any excuse for doing it to Dan. And just thinking about it was making Casey's face burn.
He opened his eyes, partly to distract himself but mainly to stop the thoughts of Dan's smile, and Dan's back, and Dan's thighs, and found Dana watching him from a few feet away.
"Are you okay?" she asked gently, but he wasn't able to form a glib response. Dana's brows were drawn in concern. "Casey, are you okay?"
Casey nodded and was about to tell her he was okay, he was fine, nothing to see here, but the words wouldn't come out. He should have made up some story, food poisoning from the craft table or how he was surprised by a bee… Instead, he stood there silently as Dana walked closer, holding her hand out as if he was some spooked pony, about to flee. The metaphor felt apt.
"What's wrong?" He shook his head, but she took another step closer and rested a hand on his arm. "Tell me."
"Do you think I'm gay?" he blurted out.
She froze completely, staring at him. "Gay?"
He swallowed and nodded. "Gay."
"Do I think you're gay?" Her voice rose to a squeak.
"Do you think I could be?" he asked earnestly, suddenly needing to hear her answer.
Dana watched him doubtfully. "Gay as in happy?"
"Gay as in…" Dana sighed. "Why would I think that?"
"You've known me for fifteen years, Dana. If I was gay, if there was a chance I was, you would have noticed it by now. You would have picked up on something. Noticed something." Casey realized his grip on her shoulders was probably too tight. He pried his hands off her. "Right?"
Dana took a shocked step backwards, shaking her head slightly. "I don't even…" Then she pulled herself together, looking at him firmly. "Is this the people in business affairs?"
He just stared at her.
"They've got weird ideas down there, Casey. Last time I confirmed my business expenses, one of them even suggested that I was sleeping with Isaac."
"Isaac?" That was enough of a shock to stop Casey's blind panic. "They thought you were sleeping with Isaac?"
"They inferred it."
Casey blinked, thinking aloud. "As if Isaac would cheat on Esther..."
Dana frowned slightly. "As if I need to sleep my way to the top," she corrected him firmly.
Casey shrugged. "That too."
"They have some funny ideas about you and Dan, but no rational person would believe them," Dana said in a comforting tone. "You can't let them get to you."
He nodded woodenly but didn't ask about the 'funny ideas'. "Yeah."
"Nobody would think you were gay, Casey." Dana smiled, obviously considering the crisis averted. "There's nothing to worry about."
The thought wasn't as comforting as it should have been. "Thanks."
"Casey?" He looked up and Dan continued, "You haven't been down to business affairs recently."
Casey shook his head. "No."
"Dana just mentioned that they upset you. Recently."
"Yeah. She suggested that I accompany you next time. Make sure they don't mess with your head too much," Dan said with a grin.
Casey's smile felt almost natural. "After all, that's your job."
Dan chuckled. "You know, that's what I told Dana."
"So next time I go down, I need you to baby-sit me?" Casey asked as he turned back to his notes.
"Either that, or just remember they're a different breed of nuts down there."
"They're a different breed of nuts?" Casey frowned. "Like macadamia?"
"Like a different level of crazy."
It was countdown. Two hours until the Olympic coverage officially started and there wasn't anything left for the New York team to do. The feeds had been checked – three times just to be certain – both shows had gone off without a hitch, and now everyone was waiting around to catch the first live screening.
Casey was considering going home.
"I think I'll go home," he said, walking back to their office.
Dan stared at him. "Kim?"
"Yeah?" Kim looked up from her desk.
"Tell Casey why he can't go home yet."
Kim stared at Casey as if he'd suggested going home during the middle of Draft Day coverage. "The 2000 Olympics officially start in two hours. You can't go home."
"It's an opening ceremony. I can watch the repeat tomorrow," Casey pointed out reasonably.
"Dana!" Kim yelled out and Dana came dashing out of the control room, looking slightly panicked.
"Is it the feeds? I keep telling people we're going to have trouble with the feeds," Dana babbled nervously, running a hand through her soft, blonde hair.
Kim looked at her. "It's Casey," Kim deadpanned.
Dana blinked. "Casey?"
"He wants to go home," Dan supplied.
Casey groaned. "It's just the opening ceremony."
"It's the opening ceremony, Casey." Dana's sharp finger stabbed at his chest. "You have to be there."
"But I'm not there," Casey replied. "I'm here."
Dana's eyes narrowed. "If you can't be there, you should be here. Not at home."
"Opening ceremony, Dana."
"Okay, that's it," Dana declared with a wave of her hand. "You're staying here for the ceremony and you're coming with me. Let's go."
Dana clapped her hands briskly. "Come on."
"Hurry up," she said and spun on her heel. He stared after her, and she called out over her shoulder, "Come on, Casey."
"You realize our workplace gets nuttier every day?" Casey muttered to Dan. Dan just shrugged.
"Casey!" Dana called out impatiently.
"Fine." Casey sighed wearily and trotted after her. "I'm coming." He could hear Kim laughing behind him.
When he caught up to Dana, she asked, "Do you think there's anything wrong with the feeds?"
"You've checked them three times in the last half hour," Casey replied, following Dana into her office. "They're as good as you can make them."
"But the question is: will that be good enough?"
"That's always the question." Dana sat down on her couch, and patted the seat beside her. He sat down and asked, "Why did you need me here?"
"I decided you can keep me company."
Casey rolled his eyes. "Great."
"Well, if Natalie was here I'd be talking with her..."
"And instead, you're worrying about the feeds."
"Well, that and other things," Dana admitted with a sigh.
"I still think those shoes are fine," Casey offered, hoping to divert Dana's attention.
Dana stared at him. "This is a different pair of shoes, Casey."
"Black, short heels, closed toes. They look the same."
Dana toed one foot out of her shoe and held it up for Casey's inspection. "Totally different style. Different height and width of the heel. Very different shoes."
Casey stared at them, but really couldn't see the difference. He secretly thought that Dana, Dan and the rest of the women's shoe buying public, were a little insane. "They're black court shoes. And really, that's already more than I need to know."
Dana snorted, and put her shoe back on. "You know, I was down at business affairs earlier."
"Yeah?" Casey asked warily.
"Checking out about the new requirements for cab vouchers," Dana said airily. "You know, they mentioned that you hadn't been down there for at least a month."
"I thought you'd been down there recently," Dana said casually, leaning back on the couch so she could see him clearly. "I was going to have strong words with them."
"Precisely what makes a word strong? How is it different from a weak word?"
"How I say it," Dana said firmly. "Have you been there recently?"
Casey shrugged. "Not recently…"
"But you let me believe that?"
"I never said I had."
"What's going on?" Dana scowled at him. "'Fess up."
Casey smiled widely, thinking about being on-air, about announcing highlights for sports he hated. "Nothing's going on."
Casey kept the smile firmly in place. "Yeah?"
"What's going on?" Dana asked softly.
"It's…" Casey closed his eyes for a long moment, but the compassionate look was still on Dana's face when he opened them. It was hard to lie to her when she looked so worried. "It's…"
"Awkward and embarrassing?" Dana offered.
"This is the awkward and embarrassing conversation?" Dana asked, sounding a little shocked. "The drunken kiss had to do with… Wait. How does the drunken kiss relate to this?"
Casey swallowed. When he spoke, his voice was far quieter than he meant it to be. "I kissed a guy."
Dana's eyes widened. "Whoa."
Casey didn't have a clue what to say, so he just shrugged. "Yeah."
"No, I mean… whoa." Dana blinked, finally, and pushed a strand of hair out of her eyes. "A guy?"
She paused, still watching him as if he'd just announced he'd once been to the moon. "You kissed a guy?"
"You kissed a guy?"
"You kissed a guy?"
"How many ways are you going to say that?" Casey snapped defensively.
"Until I find a way that makes sense," Dana replied.
Casey snorted humorlessly. "I don't think that's going to happen."
"Maybe not," Dana said, staring down at her hands. "Did you think it was a girl?"
"I knew he was a guy. It was pretty unmistakable that he was a guy," Casey finished nastily.
"I was just asking. I just thought… you know…"
"The Crying Game?" Casey glared at her in disbelief. "It wasn't anything like that."
Dana grimaced. "No?"
"Then… what…" Dana trailed off and then stretched her legs out in front of her. "What the hell was it like?"
"It was…" Casey waved his hand vaguely. "It just happened. I was drunk and… I don't know, Dana."
"Huh." Dana sat there in silence for a moment. Her brow furrowed, and he wondered if he should have lied. If it would have been smarter, easier, better, to lie. "Who is he?"
"I'm not going to tell you that."
"Okay," Dana said slowly. "Is he straight?"
"He talked about an ex-boyfriend. He's not straight."
Dana nodded, taking that in. "I stand by my original reaction."
Casey sighed and hunched over on the couch.
"It was just one kiss, Casey. It doesn't mean anything," Dana offered, but he could hear that she didn't believe it either. "Okay, it probably means that you shouldn't drink so much, but…"
"But it doesn't mean anything, because drunk kisses don't count," he said in a low tone.
"Point taken." She flushed, looking embarrassed. "But you were drunk and you kissed a guy. You found you didn't like it, so it doesn't mean anything. Just means you're sure that you're straight."
"But I'm not," Casey admitted quietly.
Dana's head spun around to face him. Suddenly the phrase 'eyes as wide as saucers' made sense. "You're not straight?"
"I'm not sure."
"But it was just a bad kiss, right?"
Casey took a deep breath and ordered his thoughts. "Firstly, it was more than one kiss. It was several kisses. Secondly, it wasn't bad."
"It wasn't bad?"
"It was… good," Casey admitted cautiously.
"As good as our kiss?"
Casey nodded, but didn't say it was actually better. "Thirdly… I don't know what thirdly is, but I know that this isn't how I should be reacting." Dana nodded carefully, and he continued, "I should be… I shouldn't be thinking about it, and I can't stop thinking about it. And I want…" He glared at the carpet, feeling miserable.
"Yeah?" Dana asked in a tiny voice.
Casey felt as if his chest was about to cave in. "I want to do it again."
"Huh," Dana said, and they were silent for a long while. He was stuck thinking about it, about lust and desire and the sensation of Dan's lips against his throat. He didn't want to know what Dana was thinking about.
Dana stood up and walked over to the dark window. She tapped on the glass absentmindedly. "What did you want me to say now, Casey?"
She turned around, a slight frown on her face. "How did you think I'd react to this?"
Casey shrugged. "I don't know, I just… You asked, and…"
"What did you expect me to say?"
"I expected you to--I don't know." Casey sighed, and scrubbed a hand through his hair. "I thought you'd remind me that I'm in the wrong career for this kind of dilemma. That just thinking about being gay could kill our ratings, could ruin the show. Could destroy my career."
Dana's face was calm. "You thought I'd say that?"
Casey shrugged and looked away. "I guess."
"You thought I'd tell you that you have a contract here for another two and half years, and that as long as you work for Sports Night, you're straight?" Dana glared at him. Her voice was sharp and angry. "Sports is a profession filled with straight men and if you don't fit that bill, it's going to be hard to sell you. So if you need to figure out your sexual identity, it'll just have to wait three years until you can do it on your own time. You thought I'd say that?"
Casey nodded slightly. "Pretty much."
"You already know all that," Dana said in a gentler tone. "You don't need to be told it, Casey."
"You're right." Casey stood up, running a hand through his hair. "I do know that."
Dana sighed. "You know the realities as well as I do, but you should also know I'm not JJ. I would never tell you to change who you are just so marketing will have an easier job."
He cringed. He hadn't meant to imply she was anything like JJ and the other network sycophants. "I didn't mean--"
She cut him off. "I'm not like that. I wouldn't do that to you."
"I know, Dana."
She looked at him carefully. "Do you?"
"I do," he assured her.
"Good." Dana walked closer to him and wrapped a hand around his arm. "If you want to go ahead with this, you have to be smart about it, Casey. Make sure it isn't anyone in sports, or in media. If you're going to explore this, do it with an accountant or a sales rep. And don't tell anyone at this office."
"Anyone. Secrets this big don't stay secrets for long, and this office tends to gossip. They won't mean to, but someone will overhear something, and it'll hit the tabloids before you know it."
"What about you?"
Dana blinked. "Me?"
"Can I tell you?"
Dana looked down. "Don't."
"You already know," he pointed out.
"I'm going to pretend I don't," she said and he snorted. "Every big sporting event results in either you or Dan going a little crazy. I choose to believe that this is just another example of the stress getting to you."
"You really think that could be it?"
Dana snorted. "Knowing you and Dan? It's pretty damn likely that this is just some Olympics induced insanity and that in two weeks' time, you'll both be normal again."
"That does sound pretty likely."
"Give it two weeks," Dana suggested helpfully. "Wait until all the medals are handed out. You'll probably find it's nothing."
He stayed for the opening ceremony. He had vague recollections of some little girl singing, and enough color and movement to remind him of Charlie's last school play. It would have been easier to be cynical about the entire thing if not for the way Dan sat there, staring at the screen, his mouth partly open in a childlike smile.
For Casey, it had as much to do with the Olympics as the half-time show had to do with the Super Bowl. You'd never hear him complain about the inclusion of cheerleaders into any sport, but it was basically entertainment for the masses. It wasn't sports. It was filler.
Danny, on the other hand, seemed to see it as a show of unity, as a display of the human spirit. He always said there was something marvelous about the entire idea of different nations competing, of people overcoming different political, social and theological beliefs for the same simple goal: to be the best a person can be. He said it was an example of modern diplomacy, of all the ways the world was improving.
Casey thought that was a load of political hogwash, but it was pretty hard to argue logic in the face of Dan's wondrous optimism. So instead of arguing about all the reasons he shouldn't have to sit through an opening ceremony just because it was loosely affiliated with sports, he thought about Dana's theory.
In fact, he didn't just think about it, he Thought About It. It was the type of concentrated rumination that required capitals.
The interesting thing was that the more he thought about it, the more plausible it became. They worked in high stress jobs, in the type of jobs where you put in eleven hours' work for one hour of a final product, and then came back the next day to repeat it. It was a pressured environment, and they frequently dealt with it in unexpected ways.
There was Dana's camera equipment, for example. The list of words Dan had stuck inside the cover of the dictionary, explaining which words sounded different but meant the same thing, and which ones sounded similar but had opposite meanings. Jeremy had a troll doll stuck under his desk, simply because Natalie had given him the ugly creature as a gift and even though he hated it, he still considered it a good luck charm.
Strange things happened. The six month dating plan, for example. The fly that no one could ever find, regardless of the fact that it was there.
And Casey's reaction to certain things wasn't always proportionate. Those certain things generally involved his alma mater, or Charlie, or Dana, or Dan. After a week or so he tended to get over it. A month or two later, he could even look back and laugh at the ridiculousness of it, but at the time they seemed like things that could tear his world apart.
In the broad scheme of things, over-reacting to a kiss wasn't too far-fetched. In fact, it made far more sense that he was just blowing this way out of proportion.
Dan was a very good looking man. You'd have to be blind not to notice. Casey's mind was stressed and was taking two objective facts (fact one: Dan was attractive; fact two: Dan and Casey kissed) and coming up with a ridiculous conclusion (that Casey wanted Dan), so it was probably best to ignore it. It was probably best not to stress himself out about it; to just let his mind think what it wanted, while the rest of him concentrated on covering the Olympics.
It would probably be even better to stop thinking of his mind as a separate entity.
Dan suddenly laughed at something, and Casey nodded, pretending he'd heard what Dan had said. Dan rolled his eyes affectionately, and flapped his hand in a 'don't worry about it' gesture.
Casey watched Dan's crooked grin and decided that he really was taking this whole thing too seriously. If, in the privacy of his own bed, he found his thoughts straying to the memory of Dan's mouth, to the idea of Dan's skin moving against his, it didn't have to make a difference to the rest of his life. It was just how he was dealing with stress at the moment.
No big deal. Nothing to worry about.
Since it was barely eleven, Casey wasn't surprised that Dan wasn't in their office yet. Dan didn't like getting out of bed unless there was no other choice. Casey, on the other hand, had no objection to getting out of bed and this morning, he'd been glad to jump straight into the shower, to wash away any evidence of the night before.
Casey shook off the vague guilt and hung up his coat. Then he decided to go see if Dana was in yet. As he'd expected, she was.
Sitting at her desk, she was tapping a pen against her lips as she read over something. He laughed when she suddenly stopped and glared at the smear of lipstick on the pen.
"Hey, Casey," she said as she gingerly felt around her lips for smudged lipstick.
He gave her a nod. "You're fine."
"Your lipstick's fine."
Dana sighed and pushed the paperwork away from her. "It's an old habit."
"I always forget I'm wearing makeup."
She tilted her head to the side, watching him in a rather birdlike fashion. "You okay?"
"I'm fine," Casey replied easily. "Did you hear about--"
"No, I mean," Dana paused, rolling her hand in an airy circle, "are you okay?"
"Yeah." Casey could feel himself grimace slightly. "I think I am."
"I thought I wasn't supposed to talk to anyone about it?" Casey teased her, but the joke fell flat.
"Yeah…" Dana sighed and started tapping her pen against the desk. "I was thinking I didn't handle it so well yesterday."
"You handled it fine." He walked over and covered her hand with his. It was meant as a reassuring gesture, but it also stopped the annoying tap-tap-tap. "You handled it fine."
She blinked up at him. Behind him, her office door opened. Casey pulled his hand back, but he saw Elliott's glance dart down.
"Dan wants to know if he has to get out of bed," Elliott said, poking his head around the half-opened door.
"If he has to get out of bed?" Dana echoed.
Casey grinned. "I think it's going to be hard to move the studio into his bedroom."
"What is Dan talking about?" Dana asked, rolling her eyes at Casey's remark.
"He wants to know if today's rundown has been moved to four," Elliott explained. "If so, he says he's not getting out of bed until two."
"The four o'clock rundowns start tomorrow." Dana shrugged. "That's assuming we can get all the new schedules running smoothly today."
Elliott nodded unenthusiastically, and Casey guessed the temporary schedule was going to be just as hard on the technical crew as on him and Dan. "So I should call Dan and tell him to get out of bed?"
"Tell him to get his lazy ass in here by twelve. Not a minute later," Dana said firmly.
Elliott shrugged, obviously doubtful that Dan would be in on time. "I'll tell him."
"Word for word," Dana called out as Elliott closed the door behind him.
Casey glanced at the clock. "I think Danny's going to be late."
"Does Dan know?"
"That he's going to be late?" Casey asked, a little confused by Dana's question. "I'm pretty sure he does."
"Does he know about…?" Dana looked hesitant, as if she didn't know what to say, what she should say. The last time she'd looked that uncertain, Gordon had been standing beside her. "The kiss?"
"He drove me home," Casey said, stalling as he thought.
"And I was pretty wasted. Apparently, I told him," Casey improvised.
Dana's brows rose. "Apparently?"
"The next day, Danny told me not to worry about it." It wasn't the exact truth, but it was close enough. There was no way in the world that he was going to tell her everything that had happened.
"He said it didn't count."
Dana cleared her throat. "Did he react better than I did?"
Casey almost laughed. "Dana."
Dana tapped her fingers on the desk. "I'm just... I'm trying to work out the right way to react to this."
Casey shrugged. "I don't think there is a right way."
"Sure there is. If someone gets married, you say 'congratulations.' If someone gets divorced, you say you're 'so sorry to hear about it but it's probably for the best.'" Dana's brow furrowed. "There should be a set reaction for someone telling you they're gay. Or could be. Possibly," Dana added quickly.
"Hope that works out for you?" Casey suggested.
Dana snorted. "Hope that works out for you?"
"It's supportive, it's positive and it implies a polite amount of interest."
"You don't think that's a little too..."
"Blasé," Dana finished with a small frown. "It's a life changing announcement. Shouldn't that require more than a catchphrase?"
"It doesn't change your life," Casey pointed out. "It's only a big deal to the person going through it. Like marriage. Or divorce."
"Hope that works out for you," Dana said cheerily, testing the phrase. Then she repeated it in a more compassionate tone. "Hope that works out for you. Hope that works out for you. Hm..."
"It could work."
"We live in a fascist society," Dan announced at the noon rundown, which actually did start at noon. Dan had overslept and it showed in the scruffy five o'clock shadow he was currently wearing. Evidently, if Dan had limited time, he'd choose coffee over shaving.
"No, we don't," Kim replied.
"We do. We live in a society that dictates our lives. Our jobs, our clothes, our appearance." Dan leveled a glare at Dana. "Our facial hair."
"You're shaving after the rundown, Dan." Dana looked down at her notes. "Now, about the US Open--"
"I want to grow a goatee," Dan interrupted.
Dana sighed. "You're not growing a goatee."
"I want one. Just for the Olympics. It could be an Olympics special. Two weeks of facial hair." Dan pointed at Casey. "Casey could grow a beard."
Casey raised his hands in defense. "Leave me out of this. I'm perfectly happy with my smooth-cheeked, boyish good looks."
"Thanks for the support, man," Dan said, scowling at him before turning back to Dana. "I still want to grow a goatee."
"Daniel?" Dana asked sweetly. "If you try to grow a goatee over the next two weeks, I am going to personally make sure that you do the soccer play-by-play coverage. For every game."
"Fine." Dan sank down in his chair. "But after the Olympics, I'm taking a week off and growing a goatee. You'll see how good it looks and then you'll regret not letting me grow one for the Olympics."
"I doubt that," Dana said sarcastically.
"I'll take a week off and I'll grow it!"
"In two weeks' time," Dan announced, "I am going to grow a goatee."
"Hope that works out for you." Dana stopped, obviously realizing what she'd just said. Then she caught Casey's eye and they both started sniggering.
Dan's brows lowered in concentration as he looked from Dana to Casey speculatively. "I'm still growing my goatee," Dan said suspiciously.
"Dana's upset about the mascots."
He stopped typing and found Elliott standing in the doorway. Casey shared a quizzical glance with Dan and then asked the age old question. "What?"
"She's upset about the mascots."
"One's an eel," Elliott replied.
"It upsets her."
"How could you tell?" Dan asked snidely, now cleanly shaved. He was still sulking over the threat of soccer coverage. Casey suspected that disappointed pout would be making a guest appearance in tonight's 'I dream of Danny' special.
Elliott grinned. "I think the people in graphics are trying to use the shredder for ritual suicide as we speak."
Dan snickered. "Dana's being her usual charming, diplomatic self?"
"Hey," Casey objected. "Dana can be charming."
"She can't be diplomatic," Dan replied in an amused tone and Elliott nodded sagely.
"That's part of her charm."
Danny shot him a fast look. "Well, maybe you should go tell our charming producer to stop freaking out about the eel?"
Casey sighed, feeling like he'd drawn the short straw when he wasn't looking. "The goatee really wouldn't suit you, you know."
Danny flicked his wrist at him. "Go away."
"She's in her office?" Casey asked as he stood up. Elliott nodded.
"What sort of country has a snake as a mascot?" Dana demanded as soon as he stepped into her office.
"Elliott said it's an eel," Casey replied.
"Apparently, it's Eddie the Eel," Dana said suspiciously. "What sort of country has a snake as a mascot?"
"It's an eel," Casey said.
"It's a snake that swims." She wiggled one hand in front of her. "It slithers through the water."
"It's freaking you out because it knows the fish?"
Dana scowled. "Don't mock my fear."
"You fear fish. It's hard to take that seriously." Dana glared at him. Casey sighed, and walked around her desk to see the graphic she had printed out. He studied it for a second, and then said, "Would it help you to know the eel isn't a mascot?"
"He's Eddie the Eel," Dana said. "He's a mascot."
"There are four mascots in that picture."
"There are only three official mascots."
Casey stared at her. "Haven't you been paying attention to them? They've been on every PR release."
"It's a bunch of brightly coloured cartoon animals. How much attention do you want me to pay to them?"
"Enough to notice there's only three?"
Dana rolled her eyes at his sarcastic tone. "So the eel isn't a mascot?"
"The eel isn't a mascot. The bird, the porcupine and the... what the hell is that?" Casey asked, pointing at the middle one.
"It's a platypus." Dana smirked. "You can recognize the mascots but you have no idea what they are?"
Casey shrugged. "At least I knew there were only three."
"Well, I know there's a platypus, a kookaburra and an echidna."
Casey blinked and then glanced down. "You're reading that straight off the print-out, aren't you?"
"Maybe," Dana said, grinning brazenly. Then she looked at the page and frowned. "But if there's only three mascots…"
"Who added the fourth one?"
Casey shrugged. "Who gave you the picture?"
"Graphics department. They're trying to work out the..." Dana trailed off, realizing who was behind this. Her eyes glittered dangerously as she said, "Did you know they're scared of me down there?"
"I'm thinking they're going to be even more scared of you," Casey said carefully, "when they see your reaction to this."
Dana nodded sharply and grabbed for the phone. "Damn right they are."
"Dana, in this time of being short-staffed, it could pay to be just a little diplomatic," Casey suggested.
"I'm the boss." Dana spread her arms wide, gesturing at her office. "I don't have to be diplomatic."
"Be that as it may..."
"Be that as it may?" Dana raised an icy eyebrow. "I'm the boss, and they tried to freak me out by including a snake as a mascot."
"It's an eel," Casey said, "and they weren't trying to freak you out. They were playing a practical joke."
"They were playing a practical joke on me." Dana punctuated her point by stabbing the desk with her finger. "They're supposed to be frightened of me, Casey."
"Lord knows I am." Casey sighed.
She paused in the middle of dialing. "You're frightened of me?"
"You frighten me frequently," Casey said somberly.
Dana huffed. "That's not much of an accomplishment. A lot of people frighten you."
"Right now it's you, my ex-wife, and the IRS," Casey said and then shrugged, "and the rest of my friends."
Dana laughed and put down the phone. Casey considered it a victory.
"Okay, I won't cause anyone in Graphics physical harm," Dana said slowly, "as long as the correct graphics are on my desk when I get back."
"Where are you going?"
Dana shrugged. "Lunch?"
"How about Anthony's?" Casey smiled hopefully. "My treat?"
"Why?" Dana asked warily.
"It'll give Graphics about an hour to fix it," Casey admitted.
Dana snorted. "I'll meet you at the elevators."
Casey nodded, and headed back to his office to get his jacket. Conveniently, Elliott and Dan were in there talking.
"How did it go?" Elliott asked reluctantly.
"Graphics added an unofficial mascot," Casey explained as he put on his jacket. "You'd better tell them that if they know what's good for them, they'll get the correct copy to her desk within an hour."
Elliott's brows shot up. "You got her to wait an hour? How did you delay the blood-soaked carnage?"
"I'm taking her out for food." Casey turned to Dan. "If you need me, we'll be at Anthony's."
"Anyone else going?" Dan asked without much interest.
"Just us. I've got my cell," Casey said, and checked his pocket to make sure that he had it.
Dan looked at him for a moment and then nodded. "See you when you get back."
Casey held up a hand to silence Dan as he finished writing his sentence. He jotted down a couple of words to remind himself where he was heading with it, and then gave Dan his attention.
Dan had perched on the edge of Casey's desk, twisting his back to face Casey. "Isn't Charlie coming in today?"
"Yeah." Casey turned back to writing. If Dan wanted to avoid his script, fine, but Casey was on a creative roll. A creative roll that Dan seemed determined to halt.
Dan walked around and leaned over Casey's shoulder to read Casey's notes. "Aren't you forgetting something?"
Casey blinked and read over it, trying to ignore the sensation of Dan's breath against his neck. Then, he spotted the missing comma. "Thanks," he said as he added it.
"You did need that comma," Dan said, wandering around to the other side of the desk, "but that wasn't what I meant."
"I don't think I'm missing any other punctuation."
"No, you're forgetting something."
Casey frowned and concentrated, but couldn't think of anything. "What?"
Casey snorted. "Charlie isn't coming here until five thirty."
Dan raised an eyebrow. "And the time is…?"
"I don't know, Mr. Wolf." Casey looked over at the clock, expecting it to say about two. Instead, it happily ticked the seconds past five forty-five. "Damn."
"Yeah. The new schedule keeps messing around with my internal clock, too."
"Is Charlie here?" Casey asked, as he organized the notes sitting on his desk.
"At the moment, he and his decidedly hot new nanny are in the conference room." Dan grinned. "How long has she been working for Lisa?"
"Hands off the nanny, Danny." Casey grimaced at the rhyme and stood up.
"I haven't had my hands on her, yet."
"Keep it that way," Casey said, shooting a sideways glare at Dan.
"Regardless of Lisa's irrational claims, I am not the cause of her high nanny turnover."
Casey blinked at the phrase 'high nanny turnover' and tried not to think about nannies and food. "Actually, you are," Casey replied and headed out the door.
Dan stopped him with a hand on his arm. "No, I'm not."
"You freaked the last one out by calling her Rebecca."
Dan looked confused. "Her name wasn't Rebecca?"
"No, it wasn't." Casey rolled his eyes. "And the one before that quit because of your ten minute tirade against soccer."
"It's soccer," Dan pointed out, slightly outraged.
"She coached an Under Thirteen girls' soccer team."
Dan shrugged. "How was I supposed to know that?"
Casey started walking again. "And the one before that? I think we all remember the orange juice incident."
Dan's jaw dropped. "That was an honest to God accident."
"She asked you to open a small glass bottle and ended up with you face down in her lap, and orange juice down her legs."
"I tripped!" Dan objected loudly. "I tripped, Casey. The floor was uneven and I tripped. It could have happened to anyone."
Casey chuckled. "Just goes to prove that you and Charlie's nannies are not a good combination."
Dan sighed dramatically. After a moment, he said, "I think you're jealous."
Casey felt the color rise in his cheeks. His voice was slightly strangled as he asked, "Jealous?"
Dan waggled his eyebrows. "I think you have intentions towards the nanny and don't want me as competition."
Casey almost sighed in relief. "She's twenty-two. I am not interested in someone over a decade younger than me."
"But you've got to admit she's a looker."
"I'm not denying it," Casey said as they rounded the corner and the girl in question came into view. Sandy blonde hair down to her waist; wearing a practical t-shirt and jeans that really didn't disguise her long legs or ample bust; and she had the type of bright smile that had always attracted Dan. Still, she was just a girl, Casey repeated to himself, and hoped Dan would agree.
"Lisa sure knows how to pick the pretty ones." Dan turned to Casey. "Do you think she could pick one for me? If I asked nicely?"
Casey snorted and didn't mention that these days Dan was the only person Lisa disliked more than Casey. "You still want a nanny?"
"I think so."
"You do need one."
Dan leered, an expression that somehow still managed to look attractive on him. "I need one that looks like that."
Casey rolled his eyes and opened the conference room door. "Hey, Charlie."
Charlie looked up and smiled. "Hey, Dad."
Casey slunk back into the office and nearly jumped when Dan walked in a step behind him.
Dan just grinned. "Is Charlie gone?"
"Yeah," Casey said as he flopped onto the couch.
"I should have said goodbye." Dan took a good look at Casey and sat down beside him. "What's up?"
"What's up, Casey?"
"Nothing's wrong. Can you just drop it?"
Dan snorted. "Last time you told me to drop it, did I drop it?"
"And the time before that?"
Casey rolled his eyes. "Didn't help then, either."
"So what makes you think it'll work this time?" Dan asked, stretching his legs out and crossing his ankles over the chair arm.
Casey tried not to notice the length of those legs, or the way those jeans discreetly hinted at Dan's strong thighs. "Eternal optimism?"
"It's my weekend with Charlie," Casey said, diverting his attention to the white ceiling above them. "I love the Olympics and all, but…"
"It's your weekend with Charlie." Dan sighed. "Did he take it hard?"
Casey shook his head, thinking about Charlie's serious expression. There were times when Charlie's parentage was clear. Casey was sure he could remember making that same expression, trying to look mature and practical when he just felt childish and hurt; trying to remember that his father was busy, that he had responsibilities, that of course he wouldn't have time to attend something as unimportant as a gymnastics meet...
He just hated that the times when he most clearly saw himself in Charlie were also the times he most felt like his father. "He took it well."
"Yeah. He said that he understood, that the Olympics only happened every four years and they're important." Casey sighed and tried to shake off the melancholy mood. "He's studying them at school, you know."
"The Olympics?" Dan grinned. "Now there's a subject I'd be good at."
"You should offer to help him with homework," Casey said, getting up and going back to his script. From the concern in Dan's eyes, he realized that must have sounded a little too bitter.
"If you get stumped with the homework help," Dan said, smiling gently at Casey, "feel free to mention my name."
"I'll do that," Casey said, starting to feel his own smile form.
Dan nodded and stood up. "Although, you know who'd be really great at homework help?"
Casey looked up and matched Dan's grin.
"Jeremy," they said in unison.
Jeremy's emails came with surprising regularity. Dan looked at the times and laughed, saying that old body rhythms died hard. After doing a few quick calculations, Casey understood what Dan meant. The emails were sent like clockwork, at noon and midnight Sydney-time.
Natalie's phone calls came at stranger hours. Basically, she seemed to call any time she remembered them. The calls were short, and frequently were just a quick check with Dana. Casey was still getting used to sitting in Dana's office and having a quiet conversation suddenly interrupted by her direct line ringing.
Casey glanced over at Dana, who was spinning her large office chair around as she listened quietly. To Dana's credit, she was managing to keep her compulsive worrying about Natalie down to a reasonable level.
"That sounds fine," Dana said slowly. "Although, if you try switching around the assignments, it may work better…"
Dana was silent for another moment, nodding into the handset. "Yeah, sure. I'll talk to you late--" Dana stopped and stared at the phone. "She hung up on me."
Casey shrugged. "You don't sound surprised."
"She said she had to go, but…"
"She hung up on you?"
"Yeah." Dana sighed and hung up the phone. "What were we talking about?"
"The Men's basketball last night," Casey supplied, rocking on his feet, "and the relative merits of each team."
"And the many ways in which the US team was clearly better than the South Korean team." Dana grinned as Dan stuck his head around her office door. "Yes, Dan?"
"I was looking for Casey," Dan said, leaning on the doorway. "But I see he's here with you."
Casey stood up, seeing this as a clear reminder that he actually needed to go start writing his script sometime today. "I am indeed."
"How unexpected," Dan replied drolly. Casey blinked, trying to work out what Dan meant. "Anyway, I'm looking for the tapes of last night's basketball game."
Dana held a tape up to Dan. "Here you go. I was watching it this morning."
"Not to spoil it for you," Casey stage-whispered, "but Dana thinks that our team rocks."
Dana raised an eyebrow at him. "We're a good team, Casey."
"I know that."
"Then why the snide comment?"
Casey grinned. "I wanted to make sure Danny knew that," he said, gesturing towards Danny. "Besides, I don't think that was snide."
"It was a little snarky," Dan pointed out.
Casey turned to him with a mock-glare. "Whose side are you on?"
Dan beamed at Dana. "The side that pays me?"
Dana laughed and shooed them with her hands. "Okay, boys. Out. I've got work to do."
Casey nodded and followed Dan out the door. "You want to watch this with me?" Dan asked, holding up the tape.
"Nah. I watched it last night."
Dan's brows drew together. "But that would have been screened at… about four in the morning."
Casey nodded, walking to their couch. "Four-thirty, actually."
"You're not sleeping again?" Dan asked with concern.
"Danny, we did shows from eleven to twelve and two to three," Casey pointed out, thanking his lucky stars for the lack of puns involved in that second show. "I didn't get home until after four, and the game was just on."
"But you're sleeping fine?" Dan yawned widely. "Because I think only one of us should be exhausted at a time."
"It's the Olympics, Danny, and I'm fine."
It was sort of true. Not true in the strictly black and white sense, but true in the overall sense. When he slept, he slept fine. It was just that he wasn't sleeping quite as much. Technically, they were still only working twelve hours, three in the afternoon (although rundown didn't start until four) to three in the morning, but the problem was that Casey's body was used to being at work at twelve. He was used to waking up at half past ten, and he was still waking up at the same time. And since he was awake, he figured he might as well be at work, or at least watching tapes at work.
The other problem was Olympic Fever. The Olympics were on, and for a bunch of sports fanatics, like the crowd that worked at Sports Night, it was bound to be a big deal. Everyone had favorite sports, choice events that they were excited about. That was the problem. Whenever he turned the network feed on, there was always something interesting to watch.
They'd finish up the show and Danny would head home, but there was always something interesting on at the station: basketball or fencing, cycling or baseball. Casey would end up staying, just to watch five more minutes, and by the time he called himself a cab, it would be six or later, and sunlight would be creeping between the skyscrapers.
Of course, he wasn't the only person losing sleep. Dana was only getting a few hours a night, and from the bags under Kim's eyes, she wasn't doing much better. Dan was dashing from the studio as soon as he was changed, and only dragged himself in a few minutes before rundown, but the second hour on air was getting to him. From the way he was yawning through the Men's freestyle heats, he was barely awake.
"My god, how much longer can that guy take?" Elliott asked, staring at the screen.
"Do you think he'll drown?" Kim replied.
"He could drown."
Casey rolled his eyes. "I don't think he's going to drown."
Will snorted. "He's taken ninety seconds to swim a hundred meters."
"He hasn't finished yet," Chris pointed out.
"Fine," Will said. "He's taken ninety seconds to swim less than a hundred meters."
"What do you think, Danny?" Kim asked, without looking away from the screen. "Will he drown?"
Dan blinked blearily at them. "Huh?"
"Will the swimmer drown?" Kim repeated.
"Olympic swimmers generally don't drown," Dan said slowly. "It's the way it works."
Kim snorted. "They don't usually take over a minute to finish, either."
"Danny?" Casey asked, jerking his head towards their office door. "Come on."
Dan got up and followed him out, but didn't ask any questions until Casey closed the office door behind them. Scrubbing a hand over his face, Dan scowled. "What? Isn't the script basically finished?"
"Yeah, but you look exhausted," Casey replied, yanking at the blanket that lay over the back of their couch.
"So lie down." Casey pointed at the couch, and Danny sat obediently. "Lie down."
"Why?" Dan yawned again.
"We don't go on air until eleven. You can get a couple of hours sleep in, if you lie down now."
"But what if there's a last minute addition, Casey? There are always last minute additions," Dan whined pitifully, as he kicked off his shoes.
"I can add them to the script." Casey stood there, waiting for Dan to lie down. "I'm capable of doing that."
Dan surrendered and settled his head onto the armrest. "Thanks," Dan said as Casey spread the blanket over him. As Casey tucked the cover up to Dan's chin, Dan reached up and wrapped his hand around Casey's wrist.
Swallowing, Casey was suddenly very aware of Dan's fingers against his skin, of the way Dan's hand almost reached all the way around his wrist, of the warm strength in Dan's grip. "Not a problem, Danny."
Danny smiled broadly at him and pulled his hand back. "I appreciate it."
Lying in bed, the image of Dan's smile came to mind easily. He couldn't help it.
Casey had tried fighting it, tried ignoring it. He'd tried cold showers and fast, guilty, jerk-off sessions. None of it had helped. He still thought of Danny when he came home, still imagined Danny in bed beside him, or naked and dripping in the shower. Danny in the office, grinning sharply and watching Casey with that knowing gaze, with that confident, worldly expression that kept making Casey's breath catch.
It was so easy to imagine edging closer to lick at Dan's smile, to taste the other side of that grin. The thought of Danny lying on their couch came to mind, and Casey could just imagine leaning over and kissing Danny. Of course, in his imagination, Danny responded warmly, wrapping his arms around his shoulders and pulling Casey closer, kissing him back.
Thinking about kissing Danny, about Danny kissing him, was enough to make his cock stir, was enough to make his tired limbs want more. Want things he couldn't have, like Danny squirming beneath him, like Danny's warm hands on his skin. It was too easy to creep his hand down his own chest, to slowly slide his fingers over his stomach and close his eyes, and pretend it was Danny's hands. Imagine Dan's fingers on him, and Dan's mouth on his.
It would be easy to lose himself in Dan's mouth. To keep kissing Dan until Casey's entire world consisted of the taste of Dan's tongue, the sensation of Dan's lips, and the sound of Dan's stifled moans. Biting down on his lower lip, Casey imagined the rough burn of stubble against his skin, imagined how tender his lips would feel, stinging in that too-sensitive way.
But it would be a waste to have Dan right there, touching him, and not explore further; not to drag his tongue across Dan's stubble covered cheek, not to lick and bite his way along Dan's jaw line; not to bury his face in the crook of Dan's neck and just smell him.
Dan would smell citrus-y and clean, like that smooth, expensive aftershave he preferred. Casey would have to nuzzle, would have to run his tongue between the strong curve of Dan's shoulder and neck, just to see if Dan tasted as good as he smelled, to see if he could make Dan shiver or gasp with soft kisses or sharp bites.
Casey cupped himself through his boxers, enough to ease the throbbing ache, but not anything more. He had a brief sense-memory of Dan's hand on him, of Dan's fingers holding him through the cotton. Pulling his hand away, Casey clutched at the spare pillow beside him. He didn't want this to end just yet. Not when Dan was so clear in his mind that Casey could almost reach out and touch him. He didn't want this to be another quick, shameful session, jerking off and feeling guilty and coming just from vague shadows of Dan.
Casey stretched his hand up, rubbing at his collarbone. It made him think of Dan, of what Dan would be wearing. Probably a t-shirt or maybe even that red shirt he looked so good in. Top button undone, open collar framing his long neck, just enough room for Casey to pull it aside as he licked and nibbled, but not enough give to keep going. He'd have to undo it, starting at the top so he could keep kissing as he went.
After the first couple of buttons, he'd be able to push the cotton across until it revealed one strong, somewhat tanned shoulder. Biting down into the muscle until Danny hissed, Casey would force his unsteady hands to keep undoing buttons. He'd suck against the teeth marks savagely, wanting to bruise Dan, to leave him with a definite mark; a hickey dark enough that Dan would see it the next morning, and the morning after, and hopefully, the morning after that.
Dan's hands would grip onto his arms, pushing away slightly, trying to get Casey to stop without actually wanting him to stop. Casey would be good. He'd let Dan stop him and lick an apology onto the tender spot as he unbuttoned the rest of Dan's shirt.
Casey squeezed his cock tight, fighting the urge to stroke fast and hard. Taking a slow breath, he lightly trailed his fingers down his chest, tracing the places where he'd kiss Dan. Lingering on the places where he'd stop and tease.
He'd nuzzle along Dan's collarbone, pausing at the soft hollow below Dan's neck. He'd kiss his way down Dan's chest, wrinkling his nose at the sparse, almost ticklish hairs. Casey pinched his nipple, rolling it between his fingers as he thought about kissing Dan's; running his tongue around the walnut-brown aureole, tracing over the hardened peak lightly. Whisper-light, again and again, making Dan sigh and breathe out his name. Then he'd bite down gently, and drag the sensitive skin between his teeth. The thought alone was enough to make Casey groan aloud.
He was fumbling for the lotion beside his bed, messily squeezing some into his palm as he pictured Dan's bare chest, still lightly tanned from the last time Dan went sailing. He thought of Dan's smirk, remembering Dan telling him the secret to a great tan was sailing shirtless. Trailing a cool, slick finger down his stomach, Casey imagined following the same path with his tongue, tracing down Dan's torso with slow, sucking kisses.
Dan would be breathless, squirming under him. Probably have his hands on Casey's shoulders, trying to nudge him further down, but Casey would keep it slow. Casey started stroking himself, hissing at the relief of friction on his aching skin.
Scrunching his eyes tightly closed, Casey imagined Dan's lusty hunger, imagined pressing his lips against the softness of Dan's belly, imagined thrusting his tongue into Dan's navel in an obvious tease. Quickening his own strokes, he imagined pulling Dan's jeans off him, easing his boxers over his hips. Tried to picture Dan's cock, hard and gleaming with pre-come, jutting out from his body desperately.
He'd bite at the sharp angle of Dan's hip, chewing lightly on the bone until Dan's fingers twisted into his hair. Until Dan pulled at him, dragged Casey's mouth to his groin, stretched Casey's lips around his cock.
Casey writhed against the sheets, working his hand faster on his cock, wondering if Dan would gasp or moan, wondering if Dan would say his name. Dan thrusting into his mouth and Dan's hands tight in his hair and Dan crying out his name and Casey had to move his hand faster. Had to groan, and thrust, and clench his jaw as he shattered.
The next morning, Casey woke up at ten to three with his boxers dried to his skin. Despite the utter grossness of that sensation, he felt good. Not hyped up on the Olympics, not trying to work out what he should watch first, but… good. Happy.
Standing under the hot spray of water from his shower, he couldn't shake the feeling that it was going to be a good day. The sky was bright blue, he'd had a decent nine hours' sleep, and there was a week and a half of the 2000 Olympics to go. It felt like everything was right with the world.
The good mood lasted all the way into the studio, and he was whistling tunelessly by the time he walked into the conference room. Dan took one look at him and grumbled, "All morning people should be lined up and shot."
"Technically?" Casey smiled brightly at Dan. "It's mid-afternoon."
"All afternoon people, then," Dan muttered and then yawned loudly.
"Okay, people," Dana announced as she walked through the door with Kim in tow. "Let's get this show on the road."
"I have come to a conclusion," Dan said after the rundown. Then he yawned so widely his jaw cracked.
"Did it hurt?"
"The yawn?" Dan asked in confusion.
Casey grinned and followed Dan back to their office. "Coming to the conclusion."
Dan rolled his eyes. "Just because it hurts when you think, Casey, doesn't mean the rest of us suffer from that condition."
Casey laughed and held their office door open for Dan. "Okay. What's your bright idea?"
"Naptime?" Casey asked, leaning back against the edge of the desk.
Dan nodded. "I am instituting an official naptime."
"Did you turn three and I didn't notice?"
"Casey, I'm serious about this."
"You're a man in his late twenties who just used the phrase 'naptime' as a serious suggestion." Casey gave Dan a long look. "There's a limit to how serious I can be about this."
"We have a four o'clock rundown, right?"
Casey nodded. "Four to five, roughly speaking."
"The next rundown is eight to nine, and then ten to ten-thirty. With me so far?" Dan asked patronizingly as he sat down on the couch. "How much writing do we get done between each rundown?"
"Theoretically, we get the script written by the eight rundown, and just make adjustments after that."
Dan stretched his arms along the back of the couch and Casey absently noticed the curve of Dan's forearms. "How much writing do we actually get done before eight?"
Biting his lip, Casey thought about it. "Um. Maybe half?" The other half was written between nine and ten. As much as Dan joked about it, they were both night-owls. Ideas and words came faster after sunset. Jokes were sharper if they'd been awake for at least six hours before writing them.
"Exactly," Dan said fervently. "Most of our scripts are written in two hours. So I think the three hours between the five and eight rundowns could be sacrificed to a better cause. Without any great loss in the quality of our writing."
Casey breathed in deeply, wondering if he was going to regret this conversation. "A better cause?"
Dan grinned. "Naptime."
"You're suggesting that instead of spending our afternoons pretending to write, we spend them sleeping?" Casey asked and Dan nodded enthusiastically. "That includes my lunch-break. I think I'd rather spend that time eating."
"I'm not saying you have to sleep."
"No. You don't have to, but I do." Dan tilted his head, giving Casey a quick glimpse of long neck. "I'm instituting naptime. From now on, if anyone needs me between five and eight, I'm going to be asleep on our couch."
"Is this because of last night?" Casey flicked through the score reports sitting on his desk. "It wasn't that big a deal, Danny." When he glanced up, Dan was frowning.
"Casey, I introduced West Coast Update as Sports Night. If you hadn't been thinking on your feet, I wouldn't have even noticed. As it is, I don't think Sally's too pleased."
"She thought it was an intentional plug." Casey grimaced as he remembered Sally's chilly displeasure. "Thinking of Sally…"
Dan raised an eyebrow. "What?"
"Have you noticed the West Coast Update scripts haven't been as bad as they usually are?"
"They haven't been as cringe-worthy as I expected," Dan said slowly, watching Casey. "In fact, they've been a lot better than I expected. Why do you ask?"
Casey shrugged. "Wondered if I was the only one that noticed."
"It's not just you." Dan reached over for his bag, speaking as he pulled something out. "The scripts have actually been good. But don't tell Sally I said that."
Casey blinked as Dan pulled a pillow out of the gym bag. "A pillow?"
"Naptime, Casey." Fluffing the pillow back into shape, Dan placed it over one of the armrests and then toed off his shoes. Lying down, he pulled the blanket over his shoulders. "My alarm's set to go off at eight, so I'll see you at rundown."
Casey stared at the Mary Poppins bag. Next Dan would pull out a full sized umbrella. "You have an alarm in there?"
"I came prepared," Dan said and closed his eyes.
"Hard to believe you were never a Boy Scout."
Twenty minutes later, Dan was fast asleep and Casey had decided to give up. It wasn't that Dan's snores were disturbing, it was that he kept getting halfway through a sentence and then losing it. He kept finding himself staring at Danny, at the slack lines of his lips, at his fingers curled up against the pillows. So far, he'd wasted twenty minutes and had only two sentences to show for it.
Quietly, he got up from the desk, grabbed his wallet, and gently closed the door behind him. Kim raised an eyebrow at him as he passed. "Danny's sleeping," Casey said in way of explanation. "Wake him and die."
"I prefer him asleep. He's easier to handle," Kim said with a grin. "But I'll let the others know."
"Where are you going?"
Casey pointed down the corridor. "Dana's office."
"Oh," Kim said quietly, and Casey decided he was better off not knowing the reason for her thoughtful response. Shaking his head, he made his way down to the Executive Producer's office. The door was slightly ajar.
"Dana?" he asked, as he pushed the door open.
Dana nodded curtly, her lips tightened into an unimpressed frown. "Just the person I wanted to see."
Casey stepped inside, not liking the sound of that. "Yeah?"
"Close the door behind you." Casey did and Dana continued, "I just had a very interesting conversation with Isaac. Do you know why?"
Casey had a sinking feeling that he did know why. He sat down on the couch and wondered how big a deal this was going to be. "Because Isaac's a very interesting man?"
"No." Dana's frown tightened. "Because he got an interesting phone call from Sally this morning."
Dana picked up her remote and walked towards him. "Casey, this was last night's West Coast Update." She flicked on the TV, and the image of Dan in his suit and tie from last night appeared. Dan was grinning easily in the still shot, and Casey knew which moment Dana was about to play. It was last night's introduction.
When Dana hit the play button, Dan started talking. "This is Dan Rydell, alongside Casey McCall, and you're watching Sports Night on QVN."
Beside him, Casey spoke up. "Or you would have been, if you'd tuned in three hours ago. Since you didn't, you're watching West Coast Update on QVN. You only have yourselves to blame."
Dana stopped the tape and turned the TV off. "You see my point?"
Casey sighed and slouched into the couch. "Sally spoke to me about it last night."
Dana cleared her throat, watching him closely. "I know the pair of you can be idiots when it comes to getting a laugh, but don't, okay? Just don't."
Dana tapped one heeled toe, and stared down at him. "This is a stressful time and everyone is working as hard as they can to make QVN the team that CSC never was. This is not the time to stir up old show rivalries. Especially not when our associate producer and their presenters are on the other side of the world. Do not make this difficult on everyone around you. Is that clear?"
"Isaac spent half an hour on the phone with Sally this morning. I spent half an hour in a meeting with him. Then, we spent another half hour on a conference call convincing her that you two weren't being spiteful, you were just stupid."
Casey shifted on the couch uncomfortably, watching Dana's jaw clench. "Dana, we didn't think it would be this big a deal."
"It is, Casey. So far, we haven't heard from the Network Execs, but if we do, if this becomes the reason we get saddled with a network breathing down our necks again, you and Dan are not going to be popular around here."
"It was just a joke." Casey could have denied it, could have said that it was accidental. But if he said that Dan was just tired, it would cause far more worry. There might even be suggestions of getting Dan a replacement for the West Coast Update shows, and that... didn't bear thinking about. If they were going to be tired and overworked, Casey wanted to be tired and overworked beside Dan.
Besides, if he hadn't added that last bit of sarcasm, it wouldn't have been a problem. "It was a joke, Dana. I thought it would be funny. It wasn't meant to be a slight against West Coast Update, it wasn't meant to be a slight against Sally. I did try to tell her that."
Dana sighed and her shoulders relaxed. "Because you two aren't spiteful?"
"Just a little stupid."
"But seriously," Dana said, holding his gaze, "don't do those jokes. Don't compare Sports Night and West Coast Update. It will set people off and this will turn into a battleground for the next week."
"I'm sorry," Casey said, genuinely wishing he hadn't added that last barb. He was also a little flattered that he'd improvised and everyone seemed certain it was pre-written. "I won't do it again."
"Good." Dana dropped the remotes back on her desk. "Do you want to talk to Dan about this, or should I?"
"I'll tell him," Casey said quickly.
"No more jokes about the shows."
"But we can still joke about Eric the Eel as much as we like?" Casey grinned, expecting Dana to smile, but her face twisted into an uncertain frown. "Right?"
"Sure," she said unconvincingly.
"Is there a reason we can't joke about Eric the Eel?" Dana bobbed her head and half-shrugged. Casey watched her carefully. "What's wrong?"
"Do you think the people in Graphics could be psychic?" Casey barked out a surprised laugh. She frowned. "Casey, I'm serious."
"So far today, people have been serious about naptimes and possible psychics in other departments. This is not a normal working environment."
Leaning back on her desk, Dana grinned. "Never claimed it was."
"I think I was promised a normal working environment in the fine print of my contract."
Chuckling, Dana replied, "I don't think you've ever read the fine print of your contract."
Casey shrugged and then nodded. "Why would Graphics be psychic?"
"Eric the Eel. Eddie the Eel," Dana said, with a fast wave of her hand. "There are big similarities there, Casey."
"There are times when I worry about you."
"But do you think they're psychic?"
Laughing, Casey shook his head. "No."
"Really?" Dana asked hopefully.
"It's just a coincidence," Casey said firmly. "Now get your jacket. I'm taking you out for lunch."
Dana's eyes narrowed. "Why?"
"As a thank-you," Casey said, getting her jacket. He held it out for her to put on.
"For checking over Sally's scripts," Casey said with a smile. It explained why West Coast Update seemed so easy, so well put together. As Dana was still starting each day at midday, she was out of the office before they went on-air for West Coast Update. "You've been checking them before you go home at night, haven't you?"
Dana looked pleased and surprised. "How did you know?"
"They're too good to have been Sally's."
Dana's smile was quickly dampened. "You know what I said about show rivalry?"
"Don't repeat that outside of this office," Dana said firmly, and then beamed at him. "But I'm glad you noticed."
"Come on. Bacon carbonara on me."
"But what if I want the lobster?"
"They weren't that good," Casey replied with a grin and Dana laughed.
Dana laughed when she spotted him hanging around her office door. "Casey?"
Spinning around to face her smile, he couldn't help grinning too. "Hey."
"You are like the antithesis of stealth."
Casey shrugged. "Dan likes to think he's the stealthy one," he replied, following Dana over to her couch.
"When Dan's the stealthy one," she said, flopping down and kicking off her shoes, "you've got to worry."
Casey snorted. "Come to lunch with me."
"Is this another thank you?"
"What is it then?"
"It's me asking you to lunch because I don't want to look like a loser who's eating alone," Casey replied.
Dana blinked. "I eat lunch alone."
"Which proves my point."
Dana glared at him. "Go write your script."
Casey drew in a big breath and sighed dramatically. "I can't."
"Why not?" Dana asked with a hint of a grin.
"Is he sleeping on your keyboard?"
"No," Casey replied, rolling his eyes at her.
Dana rolled her eyes back at him. "Then why can't you write?"
"I just... can't." Casey shrugged. There was no way to explain that spending three hours in their office while Dan slept resulted in about half an hour's writing, and two and a half hours of just watching Danny. "It's distracting."
"Something like that."
Dana twisted around on the couch, drawing one leg up underneath her. "Can't you just wake him up?"
"Official naptime," Casey replied seriously.
"You know," Dana replied, stretching her neck, "I really didn't think Dan meant that."
"He used the word naptime in the middle of a rundown meeting." Dana chuckled. "I think I had a right to assume he was joking."
Casey grinned, remembering Dan's little announcement. "All in all, it's a practical idea. He's more awake on air and the scripts retain their typical brilliance."
Dana snorted. "It's a ridiculous idea," she mocked easily, "that just happens to be practical."
"It's very practical. Apart from the fact that I now have to eat lunch alone." He widened his eyes at Dana, waiting for her to cave.
"You're going to sit on my couch, giving me that 'woe is me' look?" Dana rolled her eyes but he could see her starting to crack under the emotional pressure.
"I'm just saying come to lunch with me. We'll eat, we'll drink, we'll be merry." Casey grinned. "Or you could be Pippin, if you want."
Dana frowned at him. "What?"
"Jeremy would have got that joke," Casey muttered.
Dana shot him a sympathetic smile. "Missing your nerd-in-arms?"
"It's 'Lord of the Rings'. It's not like it's some weird piece of computer jargon," Casey pointed out, slightly offended by the nerd-reference.
"If it was computer jargon, you'd be a geek. And possibly useful when the printers break down. Instead, you're the kind of nerd who probably speaks Elfish."
"I'll have you know that J.R.R. Tolkien was an accomplished student of languages. A lot of research went into Lord of the Rings."
Dana laughed. "A lot of research?"
"Yes." Casey nodded. "A lot of research."
"What was he doing? Gathering artifacts from the ancient civilization of hobbits?"
Casey crossed his arms. "I'm not sure if I want to have lunch with you any more."
"Because I insulted your hobbits?" Dana asked with a sharp grin.
"It's a classic book, Dana. It's a classic!" Casey gestured with his hand as he talked. "It draws on the central English mythologies from Beowulf to King Arthur, telling us of an epic struggle between good and evil. It's not to be mocked."
"I never realized you were such a literature nerd."
Casey blinked, trying to work out if there was any way he could deny that. "It's a classic story, Dana. I'm just saying, there should be some respect for the classics."
Dana stretched her legs in front her, rolling her ankles around in small pointy-toed circles. "It was a childhood favorite, wasn't it?"
"When I was twelve," Casey admitted, "it was my favorite book."
"Jeremy read it at eight. You were kind of slow, huh?"
Casey frowned at her. "I come here to ask you out to lunch, and you're insulting me?"
Dana chuckled. "You started it, buster."
"The losers eat alone crack?"
"Let me rephrase that," Casey said, plastering on his most charming smile. "I want you to come to lunch with me, because I would like to spend an hour with your warm friendship and sparkling wit."
Dana burst out laughing, but stood up. "Okay, Charm Boy. Lead on."
Casey waggled his eyebrows at her as he held the door open. "Me not looking like a loser is an added bonus."
"...and we'll be back after this break," Casey told the cameras.
"Two minutes back," Sally announced in his ear, which was strange and unnerving at the best of times. To Dan's credit, it didn't seem to unnerve him at all. Of course, when Casey had complained about it earlier, Dan had cited it as a hazard of fraternization within the workplace.
Dan tapped his pencil on the anchor desk. "You want a ride home tonight?"
Casey blinked. "Why?"
"Because I've got to mail a letter tonight, and there's a mailbox on the way to your place."
"You could have sent it in the office mail," Casey replied, looking over the next segment's script.
"Forgot," Dan replied with a shrug. "So do you want a ride?"
Dan raised an eyebrow. "You suddenly have issues with my car?"
Casey snorted. "Why would I have issues with your car?"
"Last I knew, you were calling my car big, warm and wonderful," Dan said with a decidedly proud grin. "I'm just making sure the two of you haven't broken up since then."
"Yes, Danny, that's the reason I don't want a ride," Casey deadpanned. "I've broken up with your car. I'm sorry, it's just too painful to be around her at the moment."
"I should have warned you. She's a bit of a heartbreaker."
"Are you guys ready for the next update?" Sally asked. It wasn't that her tone was cold, it was that she always sounded a little... confused by their banter. Like she thought she should be amused, but just found it annoying. Casey guessed that working with Peter and Paul would erode anyone's sense of humor.
Dan claimed she'd never had a sense of humor to start with. "We've got it covered, Sally."
"Just checking," Sally replied, and chuckled in that low way that still sent Casey's mind to R-rated places.
"Anyway," Dan said, turning to him as if they hadn't been interrupted. "Why don't you want a ride?"
"I'm staying late at the station."
"Really?" Dan asked, with the type of disbelief that the Spanish Inquisition would have used when someone claimed it was just the plants that made people heal faster.
"Gymnastics final on tonight," Casey replied, trying not to be too dorkishly gleeful about it.
"Yeah?" Dan asked, with the shadow of a mocking grin.
"Men's all-around individuals," Casey confirmed. "Starts at four, so I'm going to hang around and watch it live on the network feed."
Dan just shook his head and turned back to the broadcast. "Now that you're back, we'll take you straight to the latest rumors..."
Casey yawned his way into work the next morning. He'd stayed in the office until seven, meaning he wasn't home and in bed until almost eight. And he couldn't get to sleep until nearly ten. Four hours' sleep did not make for an alert sports anchor.
Dan blinked at him. "I think you need to join me in naptime."
"I'm not--" Casey yawned. "Sleeping in the office with you."
"Napping, Casey. There's an important difference."
"Is it important enough for me to strangle you?" Casey asked tiredly.
"Okay, a slight difference," Dan amended with a quick smirk. Casey rolled his eyes and hung up his jacket. "Still, I think you could do with the shut-eye."
"We only have one couch," Casey pointed out.
Dan shrugged. "We could share it?"
Casey looked at the couch. Then he looked at Dan, and then at the couch again. "Share it?"
"Okay, maybe that wouldn't work," Dan said with another shrug.
"Well, considering we're both close to six foot, no, I don't think it would."
Dan scowled at him. "I'm six foot!"
"You're five eleven, Danny."
"I'm six foot."
Dan stalked over to Casey and poked him in the chest. "I'm six foot and I'm assuming you're so sleep-deprived you can't see that fact."
"I know I can see over you," Casey said, pretending to peer over Dan's head.
"I was going to offer you the couch, but for that comment? You can make your own naptime arrangements."
Casey smirked at Dan, but ruined the effect by yawning again.
Dan sat down, fluffing up the pillow that had somehow become a fixture since naptime started. "Sure you don't want the couch?" Dan offered as he toed off his shoes.
Casey shrugged and walked closer. "Yeah. I'm not a fan of naps anyway."
"Don't know what you're missing," Dan replied with a grin that made him look all of five years old.
On pure impulse, Casey ruffled a hand through Dan's hair. "Good night, Danny." Dan just rolled his eyes and lay down, pulling the pillow under his head.
Casey did what he normally did during naptime. He went to bother Dana.
There was a gentle tug on his shoulder. "Casey?"
Casey yawned, and blinked his eyes open. Then he groaned and shut them again. "Huh?"
"Eight o'clock rundown's about to start," Dana said quietly.
He opened his eyes again and found Dana staring down at him, looking rather amused. "I fell asleep?"
"On my couch, no less."
"Huh." Casey stretched his jaw, and pushed himself off the burgundy couch.
Dana pushed back a strand of blonde hair. "Why were you sleeping on my couch?"
"I wasn't." Casey yawned, and then continued, "I wasn't sleeping. I was waiting for you to get back from wherever you were."
Casey shrugged. "Yeah."
"Just a hint, Casey," Dana said with a bright smile. "Waiting doesn't usually involve snoring."
Casey smiled sheepishly. "Sorry."
Dana strode over to her desk, gathering clipboard and notes. "Why don't you stop by the food table and then come to the rundown?"
Casey nodded, fighting the urge to yawn again. "I think coffee would be good."
"We're out of milk, so it'll have to be black," Dana said as she walked to the door.
"We're out of milk?" Casey called out, but she was already out the door. Shrugging, and whining to himself about the unreasonable lack of dairy products, Casey made his way to the craft services table. One black coffee and one ham sandwich later, he was awake enough to face the world, and more importantly, his co-workers. He grabbed an apple just to be on the safe side.
Danny grinned at him when he sat down at the conference table, and Casey briefly wondered what Dana had said. "Told you naptime was a good idea," Dan said under his breath, as Kim talked about the twenties.
"Yeah, well. Sometimes your good ideas are good ideas--"
"Like naptime," Dan supplied.
Casey nodded. "And sometimes they're just insane."
Two days later, Kim interrupted actual writing time to announce, "Water Polo finals are on tonight."
Casey stopped typing and looked over at her. It took an extra few seconds for Dan to stop working on the laptop. "I think I speak for both of us," Casey said reasonably, "when I say: what the heck?"
Dan raised one hand, waving at Kim. "If he's using the word 'heck,' he's sure as heck not speaking for me."
Kim rolled her eyes. "Women's Water Polo. The final games are on tonight. I'm trying to work out who's going to be here to watch them with me."
"Nah," Casey replied and turned back to his script.
"Why not?" Kim demanded firmly.
"First of all, it's Women's Water Polo, starting at five in the morning. Give me one good reason I'd want to watch that."
"It's the inaugural event. It's the first time this sport has been played on an Olympics level," Kim said, resting her clipboard against her hip. "It's groundbreaking sports."
"It's wet female athletes in swimsuits," Dan pointed out with a leer. "That's almost worth losing sleep over."
Casey snorted. "It's a game between Australia and America. I'm not losing sleep for that."
"What?" Kim asked, brows drawing in confusion.
"He wanted Kazakhstan to win," Danny explained.
Dan shrugged. "He likes saying the word Kazakhstan."
Kim walked over to the desk, and dropped her clipboard noisily, just in front of Casey's fingers. Casey looked up, more out of curiosity than actual fear. "This is a world first event and your only interest is getting to say a funny word?"
"I take offense to that. I wanted to follow that team to victory. My heart was broken when they lost," Casey replied, mock-seriously.
"It must have been broken a lot," Dan said snidely.
"Out of six countries," Casey replied, "they came last. They played five games, and scored a total of twenty-three points. Do you know the total scores of the opposing teams during those games?"
Dan shook his head. "Not a clue."
"Forty-one," Casey said mournfully. "They stole my chance of announcing that Kazakhstan, yes, Kazakhstan had won gold."
"Poor baby," Kim replied. "But that does prove you've been following it."
Casey grinned. "Yeah, but I can't afford to be awake until eight a.m. when I have to be on the air until three the next morning."
Kim nodded, knowing when the battle was lost. "You want me to tape it for you?"
"Yeah," Dan replied, nodding his head. "Casey and me--"
"Casey and I," Casey corrected under his breath, and then glanced up to see both Kim and Dan staring at him. "Sorry."
"Casey and I," Dan said with a roll of his eyes, "will watch it in the morning."
That night, Casey was almost tempted to stay at the studio. Kim had managed to convince Elliott, Chris, Dave and Will to stay and watch, as well as some of the WCU crowd. There was a wide selection of caffeinated drinks and take-out containers from four different restaurants on the table, and Dana was sitting on the phone, talking to Natalie.
For a moment, he was tempted to stay, to drink a lot of coke and deal with tomorrow when it came. Instead, he remembered that he had a standing date to watch the game with Dan in the morning, so he bade a quick goodnight to Natalie, and headed home.
Peeling out of jeans and shirt, Casey stepped into the shower, feeling as if he'd been awake for far too long. Which wasn't completely untrue.
He'd meant to have a quick shower, to wash off the day's non-existent grime, and then go to bed. Instead, he found himself standing under the hot water, staring at the shampoo Dan had convinced him to buy.
He could still picture Dan's enthusiastic grin as he said, "It's not a girly-shampoo, Casey. It's an expensive, quality shampoo. This turns hair-washing from a chore to an indulgence."
Casey picked it up, squeezing a small amount into his hand. More than anything else, he'd bought it because sometimes it was worth indulging Dan; worth spending an extra twenty or forty dollars just to see Dan's face light up in a grin when he spotted it in Casey's shower.
Casey rubbed his hands together, having fun turning the creamy liquid into foam. Then he rolled his eyes at himself. He was a little old for making bubbles. He rinsed the foam off his fingers, trying to remember that he was tired, but that didn't make him three years old.
He stepped further under the spray, tilting his head up to feel the water against his face, to let it run down his neck and chest. Turning around, he stretched his shoulders under the heat, luxuriating in the relaxing warmth. Pushing his dripping hair off his forehead, he caught a whiff of Dan. No, not Dan. Dan's shampoo. That soft vanilla fragrance that mixed with aftershave, car air-freshener and make-up remover to make a scent that was Dan.
Casey licked his lips, thinking of that smell and wondering if Dan would taste the same way. If Dan would taste like vanilla and citrus and clear water when Casey licked him.
Probably not, Casey thought as he brought his palm to his mouth. It didn't taste like Danny. Didn't taste like anything except clean skin and a hint of soap that must be from the shampoo.
But that's what Dan would smell like when he kissed Casey, when he stood close enough to wrap his arms around Casey and hold him still. Casey stretched under the water, imagining Dan's arms sneaking around his waist.
The water was warm against his back, and it was easy to imagine Dan pressed against him, bare skin against bare skin. Casey closed his eyes, imagining Dan kissing his shoulder, biting down lightly. Licking his way up Casey's neck and chuckling when Casey squirmed, when Casey pressed back against him. Dan would press a light kiss to the nape of Casey's neck, and then move to the other shoulder, biting and nuzzling until Casey whined; maybe until Casey begged.
"Please, Danny. Please..." Casey heard himself groan as he stretched a hand forward to brace himself against the tiles.
Casey rubbed his hand along his stomach, pushing at Dan's imaginary wrist, trying to force his hand lower. Dan would laugh, low and sexy, and slowly slide his fingers down, over Casey's stomach, over Casey's hips, down until he was cupping Casey's cock in his loose grip. "Is that what you want, Casey?"
Casey let himself nod in reply, tightening his hand around his cock.
Dan would probably stroke him slowly, teasing him under the hot water, but Casey couldn't go that slow. Couldn't do anything other than work himself hard and fast, imagining Dan's hand and Dan's lips, and Dan's body pressed tight against him. Couldn't do anything other than lean his shoulder against the cold tiling and push himself over the edge, spraying the white tiles.
Casey stood there for a few moments, or rather, he leaned there until he was sure his knees weren't going to give way. Then, he rinsed himself off, washed down the tiles and turned off the taps, tightening them so they wouldn't drip all night. Slothfully, he dragged himself to bed and crashed.
Casey was in the middle of dreaming of Dan's mouth, so hearing Dan's voice wasn't much of a surprise.
But it was surprising to hear Danny say, "...pick up if you're there."
Casey blinked himself awake, and realized the sound was coming from his machine. "...You're usually up earlier than me," Danny was saying, "so do you want to go in early and watch the match? I got a text message from Kim saying it was..."
Casey stumbled out of bed, and grabbed at the phone handset. On his second attempt, he picked it up and switched off the machine. "Hey."
"You were sleeping?"
"I do occasionally do it."
Dan chuckled. "There's a lot of things you only do occasionally, Casey."
Casey let that remark go, mainly because he couldn't think of an appropriate comeback. "You want to pick me up?"
"Sure. Be at your place in half an hour?"
Casey yawned. "See you then."
"Cool," Dan replied and hung up. Casey listened to the low moan of the dial tone for a moment, and then jumped in the shower quickly. Half an hour later, he was washed, dressed and just finishing up a cup of coffee as Dan buzzed downstairs.
"I'll be down in a second," Casey replied through the intercom, and grabbed his jacket. Dan was double parked out the front of his building. Casey jogged around the side, and slid into the passenger's seat.
"You've made up with my car?" Dan asked as he started the engine.
"We've come to an arrangement."
Dan's gaze slid from the road for a moment, then quickly returned to the traffic in front of them. "What are the terms?"
"I've accepted that whatever I do, she's still going to want to see other people," Casey replied and Dan snorted. "And she's accepted that a quick ride in a cab doesn't mean I'm cheating on her."
"Sounds like you have a very open relationship."
"A girl like this?" Casey asked, leaning forward to pat the dashboard lovingly. "You can't tie her down to traditional moral judgments."
Dan laughed loudly. "If you say so."
"She didn't make it!" Dan exclaimed, standing a foot in front of the TV screen.
"She did." Casey stood beside him, waiting for the judges' call. "She made the shot in time."
"She didn't, Casey. The timer rang before it landed."
"It rang after."
Dan snorted. "It rang before. Her shot landed after."
"Before," Casey replied, not taking his eyes off the screen. "Higgins' shot landed before the timer, and you're too biased to see that."
"I am not," Dan replied sullenly.
"You are, too." Casey turned to Dan, suddenly remembering that since it was on tape, they could always fast-forward to the judges' call. "You're so hyped about America winning the first Women's Water Polo gold medal, that you've lost your objectivity. And your mind, because she clearly made it."
Dan narrowed his eyes. "I want America to win because we're the better team."
"And yet, Australia still beat you."
"No, they didn't, because she didn't make it."
Casey spun around and called across the office. "Hey, Kim!" When Kim looked up, he gestured at her to come over.
"You got to the end of the game?" she asked, standing in the doorway.
Kim smiled. "What do you think?"
"Australia," Casey replied quickly.
"America," Dan said firmly.
Kim shrugged apologetically at Dan. "Australia."
"That last shot counted?" Dan asked in disbelief. "That so shouldn't have counted."
Casey smirked. "Told you it was in."
"...the bronze medal went to Russia, while Australia and America battled it out for the gold. Tied at three-three, the gold finally went to Australia due to a last second goal shot by Yvette Higgins. Unfortunately, Kazakhstan didn't make it to either of the medal games," Casey read off the teleprompter with a grin, "but at least I got a chance to say Kazakhstan one more time."
"That's all for tonight," Dan continued smoothly. "We'll see you in two hours' time for the West Coast Update."
"Unless you hang around to catch the Sports Night repeat at one, in which case, we'll see you in an hour's time."
"This is Dan Rydell, alongside Casey McCall, and you've been watching Sports Night on QVN." They held their smiles until the end credits kicked in, and then stood up. "I still don't think that last goal should have counted."
"Give it a rest, Danny. It counted and there's nothing you can do about it," Casey said as he pulled off his mike. "Now I'm going to go order Chinese, and then I'm taking over the TV in our office."
Casey grinned. "Because I like Chinese food. It's a very enjoyable take-out food that makes you feel satisfied without being overly full."
"That wasn't what I meant," Dan said, "and you know it."
"Then you should say what you mean."
"And mean what I say?" Dan asked, obviously picking up on the 'Alice in Wonderland' reference. "Why are you taking over the TV?"
"Because this is the Olympics, and I'm surrounded by sports. In fact, I'm surrounded by sports I can watch. So I'm going to."
Dan stared at him. "You're going to watch sports on my TV and not tell me what it is?"
"Mine. My office, my TV."
Casey walked into the office in question, laughing at Dan's attempt at possessively claiming their office. "We both work here, we both use the TV. But if you don't want me using it, I can always go use one of Dana's."
Dan pulled off his jacket, carefully placing it over the back of one of their chairs. "I didn't say you couldn't watch my TV, I just wanted to know what you were watching on it."
Casey grabbed the remote and sat down on the couch. "Gymnastics final."
"Wasn't that on a couple of days ago?"
"That was the Men's All-around Individual Final. This is the Men's' final in floor, pommel horse and rings."
Dan gave him a long look, and then shrugged and sat down beside him. "Pass me a Red Bull, and we'll see just how boring this sport is."
Reaching around to search the fridge, Casey rolled his eyes at Dan's lack of enthusiasm. "Feel free to find something else to entertain you for the next two hours."
"Nah." Dan waved his objections off. "Even watching guys in leotards is worth a bit of free Chinese take-out."
"Who said I was buying you take-out?"
"Then what makes you think I am?"
Dan grinned widely at him. "The fact that if you don't, I'll just end up eating half of yours anyway."
Casey groaned, knowing Dan was right. "Fine. What do you want?"
"Sweet and sour pork. Honey chicken. Fried rice."
Casey raised an eyebrow. "Anything else?"
"Do you think we could fit in chicken with cashews?" Dan wondered aloud.
"Fine." Casey sighed. "Sweet and sour pork, chicken with cashews, and two large containers of fried rice."
"And honey chicken."
"And honey chicken," Casey agreed, reaching for the phone to order.
By the time they were halfway through the second fried rice, and had decided to leave the sweet and sour pork in the fridge for later, Dan was actually watching the screen with some interest. "I've got to say, that's pretty impressive."
"Pommel horse," Casey replied with food in his mouth. Then he chewed and swallowed, like his Mom had taught him, and continued talking. "My favorite event."
Dan turned to him with a sharp grin. "The one you were best at?"
Shaking his head, Casey replied, "I sucked at it."
"Just because you enjoy something doesn't mean you're good at it."
"Didn't you do gymnastics for years?" Dan asked, obviously a little confused.
"Yeah, but... I wasn't great at it, Danny. I was just reasonable." Casey smiled, remembering college years. Spending hours doing something he loved, without having his father ask him why he bothered; why he wasted his time on something he was never going to win. "I liked the floor routines, but I didn't have the control to be much good at the rings. And I certainly didn't have the control to be anything but passable on the pommel horse."
"Really?" Dan blinked at him and then took another mouthful of fried rice. "I just... always imagined you being good at it."
Laughing, Casey turned his attention back to the screen, watching the Russian contestant swing from arm to arm. "I enjoyed it. But I never competed on a state level, let alone Nationals."
"I still love it, though." The young man swung about on the television set, and Casey watched his movements with awe. "So much power combined with so much control? It's subtle and graceful, and the ultimate example of trying to beat your personal best. Of trying to make this time, this try, just a little more perfect than the last one."
Dan was uncharacteristically quiet, so Casey turned to look at him. With a fond smile on his face, Dan was toying with the ring of his can and watching Casey. "I didn't know you loved it so much."
Casey shrugged. "It's not the coolest of sports to follow."
"Then it's just as well you're not the coolest of guys," Dan wisecracked, but his gentle smile took most of the sting out of his comment.
One day blurred into the next, and half of the Olympics passed in a haze of sporting enthusiasm, misdirected lust and constant tiredness. He was pretty sure that Danny wasn't suffering from the misdirected lust but he was certainly feeling the tiredness.
"I'm exhausted," Dan announced after yet another Olympics-flavored rundown.
"Then it's just as well it's your naptime."
"Really, Casey, I'm exhausted." Dan yawned and Casey found himself yawning in sympathy. "Even with naptime, even with going home straight after the show and not getting up until I absolutely have to, I'm so tired I could sleep for a week."
Casey nodded, grabbing his jacket and making sure his wallet was in the pocket. "That could be because it's naptime," he suggested helpfully.
"Sleep. For a week." Dan dropped his head to the back of the couch, blinking as he kicked off his sneakers. That, in and of itself, was a sign of how tired Dan was these days. Dan was a big believer in undoing the laces first. "That's what I'm going to do after the Olympics."
"Sleep for a week?"
"Uh-huh." Casey found himself watching Dan's legs as he stretched out on the couch, and then pulled half-heartedly at the blanket.
Casey leaned back against the desk, mainly to make sure he didn't walk across the room and tuck Danny in. "Didn't Isaac say three days?"
"That's a general policy," Dan muttered, resting his head on the pillow. "I'm a special case."
Casey snickered. "I'm not denying that. But Isaac made it pretty clear that we take turns at taking three days off." Apparently, it was new network policy, and it made enough sense that Casey didn't even have the heart to begrudge it.
"Me and Isaac have a special bond," Dan replied sluggishly, and Casey knew Danny was fighting sleep. "He'll let me..." Dan trailed off and Casey allowed himself a moment of watching Dan's eyelashes shadow his cheek, his slightly parted lips; the curve of Dan's jaw, half-hidden by the blanket drawn up to his neck.
When the urge to touch was almost overwhelming, Casey pushed himself off the desk, tightly wrapped both hands around his jacket and walked purposefully out the door. Dana was meeting the tech crew until six, so he headed off to Isaac's office.
Isaac was sitting at his desk, reading over some report. He looked up as Casey came in and said, "Roger Bannister."
Casey blinked and sat down opposite Isaac. "Roger Bannister?"
Isaac nodded. "A man who proved the impossible was possible."
"Roger Bannister," Casey said again, trying to place the name. He knew he knew it. "The first man to break the four minute mile?"
Sighing, Isaac leaned back in his chair. "Did you know that, back then, we believed that the human body couldn't run that fast? That your heart would literally explode in your chest?"
Casey tried not to laugh at the mental image of track runners exploding with a cartoon-like 'kablam!' "Now we know better."
"Do you know how long it took for someone else to break the four minute mile?"
Casey shook his head. "Not a clue."
"Three weeks." Isaac smiled and tapped his pen on the report in front of him. "Three weeks later it was broken again. Nineteen people broke it in that year alone. Now, high school kids run it."
"Just goes to show," Isaac said with a broad grin. "It's only impossible the first time you do it."
"Huh." Casey smiled, liking the sound of that. "I guess that's an important thing to remember around here."
Isaac chuckled. "It gives me hope that one day one of you will do something impossible – like making sense." Isaac closed the report and pushed it away. "So what did you want to see me about?"
"You were there when I explained how it's going to work."
Casey took a deep breath through his nose, and then stated optimistically, "Dan wants a week off."
"And again I say, you were there when I explained how it's going to work," Isaac said firmly. "Why am I repeating myself?"
Casey shrugged. "Early onset of senility?"
"You've been spending far too much time around Dana," Isaac replied evenly, but Casey could hear the smile in his tone.
"I get bored during naptime."
Isaac stared at him for a moment. "I don't want to know."
"Naptime was Danny's--"
Isaac held up a hand. "I really don't want to know. I think there are some things about this office I'm better off not knowing."
Casey felt his brows rise. "Plausible deniability?"
"Something like that. Give me one good reason why I should give you two a week off."
"Not both of us," Casey replied quickly. "Just Danny."
Isaac raised an eyebrow. "Go on."
"He's exhausted, Isaac. And three days is barely enough to get our sleeping patterns back to normal, let alone actually catch up on the two weeks of sleep deprivation."
"So I give him a week, and then you take a week?"
Casey shrugged. "Three days'll be fine." When Isaac just kept watching him, Casey quickly explained, "Danny sleeps more than I do."
"Am I about to find out he's booked a week's holiday in Bermuda?"
Casey laughed. "Dan's far too superstitious to go anywhere near the Bermuda Triangle. It makes the inner sailor in him want to start tying things down to the hull."
"You've never been sailing, have you?"
Leaning closer, Isaac whispered conspiratorially, "Stay away from the boating metaphors, son."
Casey raised his hand in a mock-salute. "Aye, aye, Captain."
Isaac chuckled warmly. "Why are you in here asking for Dan's time off?"
"Because Danny needs it."
Isaac narrowed his eyes, and Casey wondered what he suspected. "Does Daniel know you're in here?"
"Danny's asleep," Casey replied casually. It was true.
Isaac kept watching him. "Hmmm."
"So can Danny have the time off?"
"You know that thing about telling people how much you care for them...?" Isaac asked casually and Casey willed himself not to flush; willed himself not to think about Danny, and to just concentrate on the fact that he was sitting here talking to his boss. His boss's boss, technically. "That still applies, Casey."
"I'm asking for an extra few days off. I'm not asking for his hand in marriage," Casey bit back, just a little too sharply.
Even though Isaac was sitting down, even though Casey was objectively taller than him, he somehow managed to tower over the desk. Isaac Jaffee was a formidable man. "And you think being rude is the way to ask for it?"
"Dan can have the time off," Isaac said, relaxing into his chair, "but I don't want you blowing a fuse because you're exhausted while he's working on his tan. Understood?"
"Loud and clear." Casey stood up and tried to manfully slink out of Isaac's office. At the doorway, he paused. "Made the impossible possible, huh?"
Isaac smiled faintly and Casey was suddenly glad Isaac was in his corner. "That's something we should all try to do."
As Casey read over the finished script, Dan sauntered back into their office. He really did saunter, it was a smug walk of achievement. "Your special bond is still intact?"
"My special bond with Isaac is stronger than ever," Dan responded with a big grin, stopping a foot in front of Casey.
Casey looked back down at his notes. "You got the time off?"
"Despite new company guidelines that it should only be three days, I got the entire week off." Dan rocked back on his feet. "You want to know why?"
"Because you and Isaac share a special bond?"
"Because we share a special bond."
Casey turned to the next page and read over the printed words. "I'm happy for you."
"I've got a week off, and it only came with one tiny little condition."
Casey glanced up, wondering what Isaac had made Dan promise to do or not do. "Yeah?"
"You have to be willing to take your leave after I get back." Dan smiled winsomely at him and Casey smirked.
"I wouldn't call that a tiny little condition." Grinning wider, Casey enjoyed the slightly panicked expression in Dan's eyes. "I mean, it's been a long two weeks. I'm looking forward to those three days of relaxation."
"Casey!" Dan exclaimed in a somewhat strangled tone. "You can't be serious. I need those extra days of sleep."
"As do I."
Dan's frown slipped into a scowl. "But I need it more. You're used to working on no sleep. I can't do that. I just can't."
"Then it sucks to be you," Casey said, turning back to the notes in his hand. The papers were pulled out of his hands by a very unimpressed Dan.
"What'll it take to make you switch days with me?" Dan demanded. "I will make Natalie go shopping with you if I have to drag her to the store at gunpoint."
"You don't own a gun."
"I'll buy one!"
Casey grinned. "I don't need new clothes."
"Casey, I've seen your wardrobe. You always need new clothes."
Casey rolled his eyes and headed off to Dana's office. "Enjoy that three day vacation of yours."
Trotting along beside him, Dan didn't give up. "Caseeeey! I need that vacation time."
"Not enough to be polite about my wardrobe," Casey pointed out.
"I'm your best friend and I was just stating an objective fact. Now gimme the time off."
"No," Casey replied and ducked into Dana's office, closing the door behind him before Dan had a chance to follow. Casey leaned back again the door, ignoring the jerks as Dan tried to force it open. "Hey, Dana."
"I've accepted the fact that you two act like eight year olds," she said, looking up from the piles of tapes around her desk, "but do you have to do it in my office?"
"Have to? No." Casey grinned. "We just choose to."
Dana huffed. "What do you want?"
"Script's finished." Casey waved the printed pages in his hand, but didn't move away from the door. "Brought it in for you to check before the rundown."
"You want to bring it over here for me to read?"
"If I do that, Danny will come in."
"And that's a bad idea because...?"
Casey shrugged. "I'm messing with his mind."
Dana shook her head, causing the shorter strands at the front of her hair to fall over her eyes. She pushed it back with a sigh. "Give me the script and then get out."
"Fine." Casey took a few quick steps away from the door and turned around just in time to see Dan come tumbling through the doorway. He wasn't the only one who laughed.
"Hey, Dana," Dan ground out as he drew himself up on his knees. "Fancy seeing you here."
"Yeah, fancy that," Dana replied sarcastically.
"Casey, you have to give me the time off." Dan turned pleading eyes on Casey. Then he started shuffling forward on his knees, holding his laced fingers in front of him. "Please, please, please, please. You have to give me the time off."
Casey swallowed, and tried not to think Dan-on-his-knees thoughts. "Get up, Danny."
"Time off?" Dana asked, only sounding vaguely interested.
"Isaac said I could take a week off only if Casey agreed to take his days off after I got back."
"Ah." Dana went back to sorting through the papers on her desk.
"Casey," Dan whined, shuffling closer. "I need that time off."
"Danny, could you get up?" Casey asked uncomfortably. "It's an extra four days off, not a reason to humiliate yourself in public."
Dan shrugged. "What's a bit of humiliation between friends? Besides, a tired man has no use for pride."
Behind Casey, Dana snorted.
"Casey, please," Dan pleaded as he shuffled closer, dropping his head and grabbing hold of Casey's legs. That was bad. Having Dan's hands on his thighs was bad; having Dan's hands on his thighs, while Dan begged so desperately, was really bad.
"You can have the time off, Danny, just get up." Casey stepped back quickly before the thought of Dan's fingers could overcome his basic sense of public decency. Or embarrassment.
"Never underestimate the power of shameless begging," Dan said brightly as he stood up. He brushed down his knees. "Thank you, Casey."
"Just remember that you owe me for this."
"I do indeed." Dan grinned, perfectly happy now he had what he wanted. "Name it, and it shall be yours."
"I'll let you know when I figure out what I want," Casey said and then noticed that Dana was glaring at them.
"Could you two get out of here?"
"Yes, ma'am," Dan responded cheerfully and Casey shrugged at her.
As the days dragged on, the station just seemed to get crazier. Or the people who worked there did. One of the two. Dana started wearing a particular pair of black shoes, calling them her 'lucky pumps'. Chris and Will started reciting the lyrics to 80s pop music when they were bored. Everyone started going a little unwired.
Casey's insanity stayed out of the office, apart from the occasional jolt of lust that hit when he didn't expect it. Sometimes, it was just glancing over as Dan flirted with some girl in the elevator, or reaching for his pants in wardrobe and getting a glimpse of Dan's strong back. Other times, it was more obvious, like Danny on his knees, begging so desperately, working his hands up Casey's thighs. That had inspired Casey's fantasies for days. But he figured that as long as he was keeping the insanity out of the workplace, there was no harm in indulging this ridiculous lust.
No harm in lying in his bed at night, and imagining Dan's hands on his skin, Dan's body against his. Dan's shapely lips stretched around his cock. There was no real harm in whimpering Dan's name as he came.
After all, it was just another form of stress-induced insanity. Everyone was starting to suffer from it, and Casey's was just a little more focused than most.
Even Kim started to show signs of the pressure. She suddenly insisted that women's sports were overlooked and tried to force them to cover it in more detail by leaving tapes of women's sports all over their desk, and somehow hiding the other, more relevant, tapes. Casey suspected that Elliott had helped her.
While Casey spent an hour trying to find the rest of the tapes they actually needed to see, Dan just started watching them. After a wasted hour, Casey admitted defeat and dropped onto the couch beside Dan. "What are you watching?"
Casey blinked at the screen, taking in the boats and very blue water. "Gee, I never would have realized that."
Dan rolled his eyes. "You know there's no point looking for the tapes, right?"
"Kim hid them so we'd watch these," Dan said, gesturing at the small piles of tapes. "So sit down, watch the tapes, and Kim will bring us the others when we need them."
"You really believe that if we just sit back, it'll all work out." Casey sighed. "You're very content in your world of denial, aren't you?"
Dan grinned. "It's a happy place to live."
Of course, that was just the tip of the insanity iceberg. The peak of the craziness came when Dan walked in one afternoon, at half past three, shockingly early for Dan, and asked Casey to smell him.
"What?" Casey wondered if he should suspect Candid Camera, or something like that.
Casey blinked. "No."
Dan actually seemed sincere. "Smell me, Casey."
"Seriously, Dan? No."
"You're no help," Dan huffed and walked over to the desk.
"But smelling you would be helpful?" Casey asked doubtfully.
"New aftershave. It smells… weird."
"Then why did you buy it?"
Dan shrugged. "Mom sent it to me as an early birthday gift."
Casey frowned slightly, thinking that it was only the end of September. "That's a really early birthday gift."
"It's a present." Dan's eyes took on the familiar gleam of accepting gifts. "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth."
"You should, you know."
"Look a gift horse in the mouth. It's a good sign of a horse's general health."
Now it was Dan's turn to look rather confused. "Who told you that?"
"Pshaw," Dan said with a wave of his arm. "Anyway, Mom gave me aftershave but..."
"But it doesn't smell good?"
"I don't know." Dan shrugged. "It's not bad, it's just strange."
"Huh." Casey went back to reading over today's notes, and was interrupted a few moments later.
"Am I going to get any work done, or are you just going to keep interrupting?"
Standing up, Casey stalked over to Dan. "Fine," Casey huffed, settling his hands on Dan's shoulders. He leaned in quickly and took a deep breath through his nose. He resolutely ignored the fact that he was standing so close to Dan, that Dan's skin was barely an inch from his lips, that Dan was standing there, letting him do this. He ignored that, and concentrated on the smell of Dan. He smelled of vanilla and pine air-freshener, and something strangely sweet. Not quite sickly sweet, but close. Pulling back, Casey said, "That is weird."
"You see my point?"
"Yeah. It's not bad, but...weird."
"There is a definite weirdness going on," Dan replied. "I don't know what it is, but it's weird."
"It's sweet," Casey replied. "Not flowers sweet, but... fruit sweet, maybe."
Dan's brows furrowed as he thought. "You think?"
Casey leaned in again, smelling Dan's neck. He froze there for a moment, trying to work out what the scent was. It was vaguely fruity, but he couldn't actually name it. He sighed in annoyance and Dan laughed.
"You smell like fruit," Casey replied in confusion. "I don't know which fruit, but you do."
"It's very weird."
"Are you two finished necking?" Kim asked snidely, and Casey realized he still had his hands on Dan's shoulders.
Pulling his hands back, Casey explained, "Dan's new aftershave smells weird."
Kim raised an eyebrow. "Yeah?"
"We think it smells like fruit," Dan said, "but we're not sure. What do you think, Kim?"
Casey stepped aside and let Kim smell Dan. "Hm. Pears."
"Pears?" Dan repeated.
Kim nodded. "You smell like pears."
"You might be right," Casey said as he leaned over her to sniff the other side of Dan's neck. "Yeah. Danny does smell like pears."
"My mom bought me aftershave that smells like pears?" Dan wondered aloud.
"Apparently," Kim replied as she stepped back.
Someone cleared their throat, and Casey glanced behind them to see Isaac standing there, shaking his head. "I really don't want to know," Isaac said, and then walked to the conference room.
"Last day of the Olympics," Dan said slowly. "Have you ever heard five better words?"
Casey paused, thinking. "Five minutes to air?"
"That's four words," Dan replied quickly.
"Not in every language," Casey pointed out as he sat down at the anchor desk.
"Let's stick to English, shall we?" Dan leaned on the desk, tapping his fingers on the wooden finish. "Best five word phrase is 'last day of the Olympics.'"
"Best three word phrase?"
"Hmmm... It's not yours?" Dan asked with a grin.
Casey stared at his partner. "Is there something you're not telling me?"
"Remember back in Dallas, and there was that crash in the parking lot? One of the worst moments in my life was when they said it looked like the black Mercedes was totaled." Dan paused and then smiled. "Then Steffi said, 'It's not yours'. Those are three good words to hear."
Casey laughed and shook his head. "Do you have favorite two and one word phrases as well?"
"Of course. 'It's free', obviously." Dan smiled. "And 'safe'. That can be a life-changing phrase."
"I really shouldn't have asked."
"But you did."
Casey rolled his eyes. "Thanks for pointing that out. Since I said that a minute ago, obviously I wouldn't have remembered on my own."
Dan laughed as he sat down in his seat. "I like to help the elderly."
Casey sighed and turned to the camera. "If it's fine with you, I'm going to spend the next thirty seconds imagining beating you up for that comment."
Out of the corner of his eye, Casey watched Dan fiddle with his tie. "I bet that's not what you're imagining."
"No." Dan shook his head confidently. "I think you're imagining the same thing I am."
"An entire week of sleeping."
Casey turned and gave Dan a flat glare. "Not all of us are off tomorrow."
Dan smiled the cheesiest grin Casey had ever seen. It would have been right at home on a used car salesman. "Yeah, I forgot."
"You still owe me for that," Casey muttered, trying hard not to be amused by Dan's obvious good mood.
"I know. And when you figure out what you want, I shall be at your command," Dan said warmly, "but until then, I'm going to enjoy a week of sleep."
"Are you still growing the goatee?"
"Since I plan to be asleep, I don't think I'll be using a razor."
Casey snorted. "You're growing a goatee by default?"
"Something like that," Dan said and then turned to the cameras. "We'll have all those stories and more. You're watching West Coast Update with Dan Rydell, alongside Casey McCall..."
Casey stood up from the bar stool, and tried not to feel sorry for himself. Everyone at Anthony's was having a good time. Most of them were having a good time because they didn't have to be in at the studio tomorrow morning. Casey did.
"You're going?" Dan asked around his glass of beer.
"It's five-thirty. I need to sleep."
"We need to talk." Dan stood up and Casey noticed the slight sway. "Before you go to bed, we need to talk."
"It can't wait until tomorrow?" Casey asked, letting Dan lead him to a table.
Dan collapsed into the seat with an 'oomph' sound. "Natalie's back tomorrow."
Casey dragged another seat to the table and sat down. "And Natalie will stop you talking? Really, if Natalie had that power, she'd be much better paid."
"It's self-preservation," Dan said with a sharp nod. "I need to know what you're going to tell her so I don't get in trouble for not sharing."
"Self-preservation?" Casey frowned into his empty glass. For some reason, he'd brought it over to the table with them. "I thought the sharing thing only applied to me and Dana. Or stuff about me and Dana, at least."
"It does." Dan shot him a meaningful look.
For the life of him, Casey had no idea what Dan was talking about. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Over the last two weeks, you've been spending time alone with Dana in her office--"
"She's our producer."
"You've taken her out for lunch, just the two of you, at least eight times--"
"You were napping," Casey pointed out. "I didn't want to eat alone."
"And Elliott saw you holding hands," Dan finished, taking another sip of his beer. "Natalie's going to find this stuff out, possibly straight from the source."
"Dana?" Casey scoffed, knowing full well there wasn't anything for Dana to tell Natalie.
"Exactly. I need to know what's going on." Dan watched him with alcohol bright eyes, but the concern was clear. That expression stopped Casey from telling Dan he had no idea what he was talking about. "I mean, the Olympics were a big thing and I knew it was going on, but I didn't want to push. Not when everyone was struggling to keep everything together."
"You knew what was going on?"
"You and Dana."
"There is no me and Dana," Casey said firmly. "As you know, we're friends. We're not dating."
"Sure, and pigs will go flying by that window any time now."
"I'm not dating Dana. I'm not interested in dating Dana."
"Casey, Casey, Casey." Dan shook his head, taking another sip. "I've noticed, okay?"
Casey swallowed but his tone still came out too defensive. "You've noticed what?"
"You. The last two weeks." Dan shrugged. "With this type of stuff, you're usually a cat on a hot tin roof."
"You don't stress out so much as get... really enthusiastic about stuff. It's the type of manic cheer people show before pulling out an Uzi and mowing down all their coworkers."
Casey raised an eyebrow. Just because he didn't make everyone around him suffer when he had extra work, didn't mean he was about to go postal. "Really?"
"The last two weeks?" Dan asked, spreading his hands in the air. "You haven't done that. You haven't been uptight, you haven't been cheering anything and everything. In fact, you haven't shown any of the typical McCall signs of stress."
Casey thought this was ridiculous. "Which means that I'm dating Dana?"
"You've been..." Dan trailed off, watching Casey closely. "Content, almost."
"So, because I've been dealing with a stressful time in a mature and responsible way, without killing everyone I work with...? This is ridiculous, Danny," Casey spat out. He stood up, leaving his glass on the table. "I've got a show to do tomorrow, so I'm going to bed."
Dan reached out and snagged his wrist. "I'm just saying that something's going on. Maybe you're not 'dating' Dana, but you have been spending a lot of time around her. And you have been happier lately, Casey. I'm just saying..."
Dan tilted his head to the side, watching Casey. "If you're not dating her, maybe you should be thinking about it."
"We have an arrangement."
"It's an arrangement, not a suicide pact. I'm sure she'd--"
"I don't want to date her," Casey interrupted.
"Whatever. But something's been going on lately to make you happy, and I'm telling you, you should be going after it. You're a good guy, Case. You should be happy." Dan let go of his wrist and Casey took a step away from the table. "Maybe I'm wrong, maybe it's not Dana, but whatever it is, you should figure it out and go for it."
"You don't have a clue what you're talking about," Casey said, as civilly as he could manage. "Good night, Danny."
Casey got a night of restless sleep, spending most of his time not thinking about Dan's comments. Not thinking about Dan; about his warm hand on Casey's wrist, about the gentle smile that said he was genuinely concerned about Casey. Of course, not thinking about Dan soon turned to not thinking about how Dan had looked, eyes sparkling and happy, color high in his cheeks, collar unbuttoned and loose as he drank. Casey figured it was the last day of the Olympics, so it didn't mean anything if he indulged one last time.
He dragged himself to work, almost forgetting that the midday rundown was scheduled at midday again. At least he wasn't the worst looking of the group. Jeremy had his head down on the table and when he looked up, he was pale with violet circles under his eyes.
Casey was taken aback when he saw him. "Are you okay, Jeremy? You look ill."
"Jet-lag," Jeremy muttered and put his head down on the table again.
"Apparently," Natalie added helpfully, "Jeremy's not a great traveler." Natalie, Casey noticed, apparently was a good traveler. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, she'd come back from Sydney with a tan, a few new outfits, and far too many great tales of the Olympics. It made Casey tired just looking at her.
"Casey, you're going to sort out the twenties?" Dana asked, making notes on her rundown sheet.
Casey nodded. "Shouldn't be too hard."
"Good. And Rick will be in at three to replace Dan." Dana looked around the room, and shot Natalie a pleased grin. Even Casey had to admit it was nice to have everything back to normal. "So, that's it. I'll see everyone at eight."
Casey stood up from the anchor desk and pulled off his mike. He nodded to Rick. "Good show." It had been. Rick didn't quite have Danny's flair for being on-camera, but he did have a definite skill in wording a clever metaphor. Casey had to respect a talent like that.
"Good show," Elliott said as he walked over. Then he and Rick continued their discussion on one of the stranger topics to be discussed in the studio, fly fishing. Shaking his head, Casey headed back to the office.
He pulled off his jacket and switched on the TV, flicking through stations. He was about to give it up as a lost cause when Dana stepped into their office. "What are you watching?"
Casey switched off the TV. "Nothing interesting."
"You do remember you're not hosting West Coast Update tonight?"
Casey sighed and let his head drop against the top of the couch. "No. I totally forgot."
"I thought you might."
Casey stood up and decided to bring the suit back to wardrobe tomorrow. "Thanks."
"You know," Dana said, crossing her arms and leaning back against the glass wall, "Isaac mentioned that you asked for Dan's time off."
"Anything to get some time away from Danny," Casey joked as he pulled on his jacket.
Dana snorted. "How come you didn't just tell him?"
"And give up the chance to have him owe me one?" Making sure his keys and wallet were in his pocket, Casey added, "If anyone understood the fun of psyching Danny out, I'd have thought it'd be you."
Dana grinned briefly. "Queen of the head-games, baby."
"So, are you going to tell him?"
"Nah." Casey smiled at her. "I might need that favor some day."
When Casey got home, the light on his machine was blinking an angry red. There was one message, which turned out to be from Dan.
"Hey, Casey, it's me. I was going to call you when you got home, but I got too tired. Anyway, I just wanted to make sure we were cool. I've been thinking about the Dana thing, and maybe you're right. You haven't been talking enough about Dana for it to be her, so maybe it's got nothing to do with the fact that you've been spending hours alone together. Maybe it's something totally unrelated. It could be doing the extra hour of television coverage. I'd suggest it's working with Sally, but I really don't think that's it. But you've been happier lately, you really can't deny it. So... yeah. If you want to talk, give me a call during the daytime. If not, we'll catch up when we catch up."
Casey wasn't sure whether he wanted to erase the message or grab the phone and call Dan now. In the end, he just replayed it a couple of times, and went to bed feeling very unsettled.
His dreams were fractured and senseless; glimpses of Dana and Charlie, Sally and Lisa. He woke up more tired than before he went to sleep, but took cold comfort in the thought that at least he wasn't dreaming of Dan any more.
Casey approached the next day in the same mindset he used to use for college midterms. He was there to do a job, to write a script and host an hour of television; he wasn't there to stuff around. He got in at eleven, and started on the script. By noon rundown, he was close to finished, or as close as he could be without the relevant scores.
The problem was that he was then left with seven hours to fill in until the next rundown, and nothing to really do. There was only so much time that could be absorbed by proof-reading, so Casey took a pile of Olympics coverage tapes and hid out in the editing room.
He was fine for about an hour, and then Dana scurried in and threw herself on the couch. "Did you need something?"
"Me?" Dana shook her head. "No."
Casey raised an eyebrow.
"I'm absolutely fine," Dana continued. "I don't need anything. The day's going well." A shadow crossed the carpet as someone walked by outside and Dana slid down a little further on the couch. "And if that's Natalie, don't let her know I'm in here."
"You're hiding," Casey said slowly.
Dana shook her head. "No, not hiding. I'm just... avoiding a certain conversation."
"Should I even ask?"
"Apparently, I have missed opportunities."
Casey rolled his eyes. "Okay..."
"Apparently, over the last two weeks, I have missed my opportunity to become the next Mrs. McCall."
Casey snorted. "Natalie does understand that I didn't actually propose to you, right?"
"According to Natalie, that's because I missed my opportunity."
"Huh. You know, I didn't even see that opportunity go by."
Dana smiled and sat up a little on the couch. "See, I've been trying to tell her this. That we're not dating. That I'm happier not dating you. That the world makes sense as long as I don't consider you a romantic possibility."
"Dan mentioned that we've been spending a lot of time together," Casey said as he turned back to the screen.
Behind him, Dana snorted. "Like he'd know. He spent most of his time sleeping."
"Same goes for Natalie. She hasn't even been here. Just because we've gone out for lunch a few times does not make it a date. And it doesn't mean that you want to date me." Dana nodded at her own point, then started tapping her nails on the window frame. "Does it?"
Casey shook his head. "No. It just means that Natalie and Dan are busybodies."
Dana stood up, rocking back and forth on her feet. Casey wondered if that was hard to do in heels. "But there's no truth to it, right?"
"What do you mean?"
Dana bit her lip, and tugged at her shirt sleeve. "I mean, they're not seeing something that we're ignoring, right?"
Casey blinked at her, thinking about Dan's message. "What if they were?"
Dana shrugged, avoiding eye contact.
For a moment, Casey was tempted to say that Natalie was right, to say that Dan was right. That he'd been secretly dating Dana without noticing it. He couldn't help thinking it would be easy. So very easy to just say yes; to pretend that it was Dana who'd driven him nuts for the last two weeks, who'd taken over his fantasy life, who'd made him grin like an idiot whenever she smiled.
On the other hand, nothing was ever easy when it came to Dana.
Clearing her throat, Dana took a step towards him and then stopped. "I don't think they were right." She sounded uncertain and unsure, and he felt like the worse kind of louse for even thinking about taking advantage of her.
"No," Casey replied definitively. "They're putting two and two together and getting five, Dana. We know that we're just friends."
Dana nodded, and let out a long breath. "Yeah."
"We also know Natalie thrives on matchmaking. And Danny isn't much better."
As he watched her, Dana stood up taller and set her shoulders straight. "I think I need to have a firm talk with our Natalie."
"Can't hurt, although you know she's not likely to change. At all."
Dana laughed. "Well, if her mind was easily changed, she wouldn't be our Natalie."
Casey got home at two in the morning, and found himself wondering that it seemed so early. Obviously, he'd gotten too used to that second hour of broadcast.
He pressed the button on his machine on the way past, and Dan's voice crinkled out of the cheap speakers.
"Hey, Casey. I thought you were going to call me. Um... no big deal. I caught the show. It was good, but... you look a bit tired. Anyway, um... I didn't really have anything to say. Speak to you soon."
Casey shrugged off his jacket and then pulled his jeans off, and resolutely didn't reach for the phone. Instead, he went to bed nice and early, and spent the next couple of hours resisting the urge to get up and play the message again.
Casey flopped into one of Isaac's chairs, enjoying Isaac's preference for comfort over form. "Jeremy said you wanted to see me?"
"Take tomorrow off."
"Isaac, I'm fine. I don't need--"
"Take tomorrow off," Isaac repeated, looking up from the report on his desk. "The Olympic coverage was good, the ratings were good and you look exhausted."
"What about the new network guidelines?"
"I spoke to the network. You know, they're currently very pleased with us," Isaac announced with a small grin. "We did better than expected with the Olympics, so I took advantage of being in their good graces, and pushed for the extra time off."
"They gave it to you?"
"A week off for everyone. Starting as soon as you like."
Casey grinned and settled into the chair a little. "Must feel strange."
"Being in the network's good graces."
Isaac chuckled. "It is a bit unusual. But I could get used to it."
"I think we all could," Casey replied. He started to stand up. "Was that all?"
"Do the show tonight, and take tomorrow off," Isaac said with a wave of his hand. "And when you come back, hopefully you'll look slightly more alive than Frankenstein's monster."
"And to think," Casey said dryly, "I used to wonder how you managed to annoy the network execs so thoroughly."
The show went fairly smoothly. A slight hitch in the thirties, when Casey announced the Carolina Panthers as 'Caroline's Panthers', followed by the wrong voice-over in the forties; but other than that, it was fine.
He was just about to head home when Jeremy stopped him at the elevators, holding a pillow. "Hey, Casey? I think you forgot your pillow."
"It's Danny's," Casey replied, hitting the elevator button. "From naptime."
Jeremy used a finger to push his glasses up the bridge of his nose. "Naptime?"
"Um... You don't want to know," Casey said finally. "Let's just say that without you and Natalie, this place gets even crazier."
"I honestly didn't think that was possible."
Casey laughed. "Believe me, it is."
"Okay, but still...?" Jeremy held up the pillow, complete with plain white pillow case. "Pillow?"
"I'll give it back to Dan," Casey replied, taking the soft object from Jeremy's hands.
"Okay." Jeremy still looked a little confused, but he wasn't going to ask why Dan had brought his pillow in. That was probably for the best. "I'll see you in a week?"
"In a week," Casey replied, stepping inside the elevator. After a few floors, he found himself staring at the pillow clutched to his chest. He had to return it to Danny, of course, but there was no point waking him up at this time of night. He might as well take it home and give it to Dan in the morning.
He felt a little silly hailing down a cab with a pillow in his arms, but it seemed less ridiculous than walking the streets of New York City with said pillow.
He dumped it on his couch and then got ready for bed, but an hour later he still couldn't sleep. So he padded into the living room and turned on the TV.
He put his feet down, put his feet up, tucked them underneath his legs, but in the end, he found he was most comfortable stretched out on the couch, Dan's pillow under his head. He lay that way for twenty minutes, watching a repeat of an old basketball game, before he noticed how the pillow smelled like Dan. Vanilla and citrus and if he concentrated, the slightest hint of pears.
Casey vaguely wondered why he always thought of Dan's scent in terms of food, wondered if that was why it made his mouth water; made him want to rub his cheeks against the cotton pillowslip and just drown in that smell. He rolled over to his stomach, breathing in Dan, breathing in air-conditioning, and make-up remover, and nights spent driving in his car. Shifting against the cushions, Casey could feel himself grow hard.
Because, apparently, that was what he did these days. He thought of Dan and got hard. He thought of Dan's red lips and fine fingers, of Dan's arms and shoulders and neck, of the way Dan smelled, of the way he'd feel under Casey's hands, the way he'd taste under Casey's tongue, and then he ended up jerking off like some overgrown teenager. It was ridiculous and it was insane, and Casey's two weeks of insanity were supposed to be over, damn it.
Sitting up on the couch, he ran a hand through his hair roughly, trying to smooth away all thoughts of Dan.
He found himself glaring at the pillow. Without the pillow, he'd been fine. It had been two crazy weeks, and then he'd been fine, until the pillow came into his house. Casey had the irrational urge to rip it up, to tear its seams and spread its filling across the floor. But it was Danny's pillow.
And Jeremy knew he had it. Unless he wanted to explain why he'd destroyed a helpless pillow, he needed to return it in good condition.
He wouldn't be able to sleep with that pillow in his apartment. He knew it. So he did the logical thing: he decided to return the pillow now.
Dan let him in with a minimum of fuss, which Casey was grateful for. As soon as Dan opened the door, he shoved the pillow at him, wanting it as far away from him as possible. It was a Pillow Of Insanity. Or a Pillow Increasing The Length Of Insanity. Either way, it brought bad things.
Dan stared at it for a few moments as Casey stood outside his doorway. "It's my pillow."
"Yeah. You left it at the station."
"You didn't have to bring it back right away," Dan said slowly, turning the pillow over in his hands.
"Yeah, I did. I wanted to," Casey said as he tried not to look at Dan, not to focus on the old t-shirt and boxer shorts he was wearing. There was no point, and it made no sense, and he was just here to return the pillow. "I wanted you to have it back."
"I-- No, I'm fine," Casey said, backing away from the open door. "I just... wanted you to have that."
"To be honest, I'm a little worried about you." Dan stepped into the corridor and placed a warm hand on Casey's arm. "Come inside and sit down."
Casey swallowed and desperately tried not to think about Dan's hands and Dan's bare skin. He let Dan lead him to the couch.
"What's going on, Casey?"
"Nothing. I'm fine." Dan didn't look convinced, so Casey added, "Absolutely nothing. Totally fine, Danny."
"Methinks the lady doth protest too much." Dan sat down beside him, watching him carefully. "Now what's going on?"
"I think-- I don't know-- I'm just..." Casey dropped his head to his hands and just wished for one complete sentence. "I think I'm going insane."
Dan laughed ruefully. "I think I know that feeling."
"Not like this."
"Casey," Dan said gently, leaning towards him, "tell me."
"I'm losing it, that's all. I'm just..." Casey trailed off, shaking his head because how do you tell someone that your nervous breakdown seems to come complete with overwhelming lust...?
"It's okay," Dan tried to reassure him as he anchored a hand to Casey's thigh. Casey jumped off the couch quickly and started towards the door.
"Look, I'm probably fine. I just-- haven't had a good night's sleep in a while. That's probably all I need," Casey babbled frantically. "Just-- a good night's sleep and this'll be nothing. Less than nothing. I'll be fine."
Dan stood up. "Casey."
"I'll see you tomorrow and things'll be fine," Casey assured him hurriedly. "I just need a good night's sleep."
Casey spun around as Dan rested a hand on his shoulder. "Casey, stop. Are you--" He didn't hear the rest of Danny's question. The primary reason was that he was covering Dan's mouth with his own.
As far as kisses went, it wasn't the most suave or sophisticated kiss in the history of mankind. It was a little clumsy and a little desperate, and probably rated somewhere between passable and moderately good.
But the second kiss was better.
The second kiss was sucking at Dan's lower lip, biting down lightly, drawing the sensitive skin between his teeth. The third kiss was licking at Dan's mouth, licking his way inside and trying to feel every one of Dan's teeth. After the third kiss, Casey started losing count.
There was the feel of Dan's lips and the rough scrape of stubble against Casey's mouth as he crowded Dan backwards, tight against the wall. Dan's hands settled on his shoulders, weakly pushing him away, but Casey didn't stop. He kept kissing Dan, pressing up against him in the most intimate of ways, and after a short moment, Dan's hands fell back to his sides.
Dan groaned as Casey rocked against him, perfect incentive to do it again and again, to suck on Danny's tongue as he ground their hips together. To feel Dan's cock harden against his own.
Casey grabbed at Dan's t-shirt, trying to pull it up and off and not really succeeding at either. Instead, he pushed at Dan's shorts until they were down around his thighs. Dan hissed when he wrapped a hand around Dan's cock and Casey had to kiss him, had to swallow those sweet gasps as he stroked.
There was something perfect about it, even with Danny's shorts around his legs and his t-shirt rucked halfway up his chest. There was something right in the way that Dan groaned and twisted a hand in Casey's hair, in the way that Dan thrust against his hand, hot and demanding. There was even something right in the way that Dan's cock slid against Casey's palm, warm and slick with pre-come, familiar and not.
Casey dropped his head to Dan's shoulder, just to concentrate on it. On the slide of skin against his fingers; Dan's urgent gasps as he pressed his head against the wall; Dan's hands clawing against his shoulders, hard enough to bruise. He wanted to commit it to memory, every pant, every groan, every roll of Dan's body against his. It was the type of thing that he wanted to remember years from now, to be able to look back and remember how Dan smelled, how Dan tasted, how he felt against Casey's skin.
To remember how it felt when Dan's thrusts became erratic, when Dan's groans became louder, when he shuddered and splattered against Casey's hand. He wanted to memorize the salty taste of Dan's neck and the sensation of Dan softening between his fingers.
It was too perfect to forget.
Then Casey realized that there was no way that Dan would forget it either, and Dan probably wouldn't remember it quite as fondly. The thought was terrifying enough to make Casey's cock wilt, to make Casey pull his hand away from Dan's skin and freeze.
With his face buried against Dan's shoulder, he counted time by his own shaky breaths and waited for Dan to do something. To push him away, to yell at him, to do whatever it is you do when your best friend backs you into a corner and starts jerking you off.
Casey suddenly realized he had no idea how Dan would react, absolutely no idea. But it was probably a fair bet that they weren't best friends anymore. "Oh, God."
Dan was still for a long time, his arms loosely wrapped around Casey's shoulders. When he did finally move, Casey was already picturing moving offices and wondering if Dan would still want to work with him. Dan dropped a hand to Casey's lower back, which didn't seem too bad a sign. He used the other hand to hike up his shorts, and then asked, "Casey?"
"Hm?" Casey responded quietly.
This time, Dan's voice was firmer. "Casey?"
Casey didn't move. "Yeah?"
Dan started rubbing his back; long, warm strokes up and down his spine. "I think you need to get some sleep." Dan turned his head towards Casey. Casey could feel Dan's lips move against his cheek. "And we need to talk about this in the morning."
Casey breathed in through his nose, and nodded against Dan's shoulder.
"It'll be all right," Dan said, moving a hand up to cup the back of Casey's neck. "I promise, Case. It'll be all right."
Casey nodded and had a sudden moment of knowing that it wasn't; that no matter what Danny said, he'd just screwed this up beyond recognition. Then, Dan pressed a chaste kiss against his cheek and said, "Come on."
"Huh?" Casey replied intelligently when Dan tapped his shoulder.
"To bed, Casey." Dan pushed him back lightly and Casey took a faltering half-step backwards. "You need to get some sleep."
"Come on," Dan said again, and then took hold of his hand and pulled him away from the front door. Pulled him towards Dan's bedroom.
"My bed," Dan said, still pulling him along. When they got to the bedroom, Dan paused, glancing down. "And trust me, you want to change out of those clothes."
Casey looked down and understood Dan's point. His pants were wet, sticky with Dan's... "Um..."
Dan smiled. "You don't get to be modest now. Now is when you change out of those clothes, get into bed and get some sleep."
"Okay." Casey could feel the confused frown start to form on his face.
"Just trust me," Dan said, starting to push Casey's jacket off his shoulders. "Get undressed."
Casey nodded and followed Dan's instructions. His fingers felt fat and numb, and his movements were jerky, but eventually he was standing there in socks and boxers.
Dan just watched him quietly and Casey kept waiting for... something. For anger or outrage, for anything but this gentle calmness. "Now get into bed, Casey."
He got into the queen-sized bed, the left side because Danny always slept on the right, and lay down. Dan turned out the lights and Casey felt the mattress move as he got into the other side of the bed. The mattress shuddered as Dan wriggled around for a bit, obviously trying to get comfortable but after a few moments, he was still.
Lying straight on his back, Casey kept his hands against his sides, trying to take up as little space as possible. He kept watching the dark ceiling, wondering when this had happened, when he'd turned into this crazy guy who molested his friends in the middle of the night.
He hadn't even meant to do it, except he had done it and he'd loved every moment of it. He'd loved the warmth of Dan pressed against him, he'd loved every little sound that Danny made. He'd loved it, and he'd done it. And Casey had the sinking suspicion that he'd do it again, which meant that the one place he shouldn't be right now was Danny's bed.
And Dan... Dan didn't understand, obviously. Didn't get that Casey just didn't seem to have any control over this any more. Swallowing, Casey thought that he should be making his excuses now, should be getting out of Dan's bed and out of Dan's apartment and going home and... chaining himself to the bathroom, maybe. He shouldn't be here. He really shouldn't be here.
Dan rolled over and rested a cool hand against Casey's shoulder. "I swear I can hear the gears turning in your rectangular head."
"Yeah?" Casey asked, thinking that he shouldn't be here and Dan shouldn't be so close.
"They make a metallic dink-dink-dink sound," Dan replied and Casey laughed unexpectedly. "Go to sleep, Casey. We'll work it out in the morning."
"Danny, I didn't mean to, and--" Dan silenced him with a hand over his mouth, and Casey had to fight the urge to just lick.
"Go to sleep. Seriously. It'll be fine in the morning."
Casey shook his head as Dan pulled his hand away. "It won't be."
"Trust me," Dan said, settling his head against Casey's shoulder. There was something rather ironic about the fact that Casey had come to return a pillow and had ended up being used as one. "It'll be fine."
Dan shifted around, dragging one of Casey's arms around him. For his part, Casey let Dan rearrange him, let Dan get comfortable with a leg draped across Casey's knees and an arm wrapped around Casey's chest. He still felt nervous and jittery, but Dan slipped into sleep easily, his body relaxing as his breaths became deep and easy.
Casey lay there, certain he was going to be awake all night. He concentrated on the sound of Dan's breathing, on the movement of Dan's chest against him. Somehow, between one breath and another, he fell asleep.
Casey woke up the next morning to sunshine. Specifically, to sunshine falling over Danny's bed. He squinted at the open curtains and tried not to groan. "You opened the curtains?"
"Mmm-hmm," Dan replied from somewhere behind him. Dan squirmed closer, spooning up behind him. Warm skin against his bare back and it felt good, in that oddly uncomfortable way that it probably shouldn't. "So you're going crazy, huh?"
Casey shrugged, not an easy thing to do while lying on his side. "I don't know what's going on. I'm just... It's just insane."
Dan yawned and tucked his head against Casey's shoulder. "Some would say you were pretty close to that already."
"I think they were talking about you, Danny."
Dan snorted, and Casey shivered at the warm gust of air against his neck. "More likely Dana."
"I'm not dating her, you know," Casey said, feeling restless but trying to lie still.
Dan wrapped an arm around his waist. "I kind of figured."
Casey shifted slightly, trying to remind his body why it was not a good idea to get excited. In fact, it was probably a very, very bad idea; but once the thought crossed his mind, it was hard to ignore the solid heat of Danny behind him, or the comfortable way that Dan's hand was rubbing circles against his sternum. Casey stared at the curtains and tried to think about anything other than Dan, but it didn't help. Even reciting the World Series winners in his head didn't stop his reaction. "Yeah?"
"Mmm-hmm," Dan replied, pressing up closer to Casey. Casey swallowed, realizing that Dan was hard. Which was possibly a very good thing.
"What are we doing?"
Dan leaned up on his elbow, then pressed a wet kiss just behind Casey's ear. "Mid-morning sex."
"Ah," Casey responded cleverly, tilting his head to give Dan easier access.
"You have any objections?"
Casey took a moment to try to remember how to form words. "Not a one."
"Thought not," Dan replied and went back to sucking kisses behind Casey's ear. It was very good, and just got better when Dan ran his hand down Casey's hip and thigh, then back up to slip under Casey's boxers.
Casey closed his eyes as Dan started to touch his cock; not stroking, just petting him, running his fingertips over the sensitive skin. "Danny..."
Dan stopped kissing, which was probably a crime in some countries. Definitely should have been a crime here. "Yeah?"
Casey shook his head. He meant 'that's so good', and 'don't stop', 'please' and 'more'. He didn't have the words to explain. Instead, he craned his neck to the side and caught Dan in a messy kiss, hoping Dan would understand.
Dan pulled his hand back -- which was not what Casey had wanted, not at all -- and cupped Casey's cheek. Kind of awkward, but good to feel Dan's tongue against his; almost good to feel the rasp of stubble against his lips. Good to feel Dan rubbing against him, his cock pressing against Casey's lower back.
Dan stopped kissing and then did some weird wriggling backward thing, making enough space for Casey to lie flat on his back. Grinning at him, Dan dived back in for another kiss, saying, "That's better."
That was much better, because Dan was kissing him and pinning him to the bed, just climbing onto Casey and rocking against him. Dan's kisses were hungry and deep, as if he couldn't get enough, wanted to get close enough to just climb inside Casey's skin. Right now, Casey was all for that idea; for any idea that kept Danny kissing him like that. He'd be all for playing basketball nude if it meant Dan would keep exploring his mouth as if oxygen was just an indulgence.
They were both gasping when Dan pulled back. Dan grinned at him, a wild, feral expression that made Casey arch against him, and then kiss him again. Spreading his fingers flat against Dan's back, Casey felt the muscles shift beneath the sweaty skin. Dan rolled his hips, pressing down just hard enough on Casey's cock to make his fingers clench and claw at Dan's shoulders. He wasn't sure which one of them groaned, but one of them did, and then Dan tore his mouth away.
"You need to be naked," Dan panted against his collarbone, pressing open-mouthed kisses against the skin. "Like, now."
Casey nodded, and tried to wriggle out of his boxers, but that didn't work too well with Danny lying above him. On the other hand, Dan was working his way down Casey's chest with light touches and hot kisses, and Casey wasn't about to stop him. Wrapping a hand around the back of Dan's head, Casey relaxed into the slow caresses.
There were long licks, slower, sucking kisses, and then short, quick bites to his nipples. When Dan started to outline each of Casey's ribs with his tongue, Casey was squirming, rubbing up against Dan shamelessly. "Oh, yeah. Nakedness," Dan said, as if he'd forgotten.
Casey was breathless, but couldn't resist teasing Dan. "Says one of the great minds of our generation."
Dan rolled his eyes affectionately, and sat back on Casey's legs. "If I was you, I'd be a little nicer to me." Dan bent forward and started nuzzling Casey's stomach. Casey groaned, pressing one hand against the bedspread as Dan kept licking and biting the same tender spot.
Arching up, Casey realized that from this position, he couldn't press his throbbing cock against anything. Dan was bent over him, and his weight on Casey's legs effectively kept Casey pinned to the bed. It was sexy and hot, and really frustrating. "Danny," Casey whined.
Dan grinned up at him and then scrambled off him quickly. Casey wasted no time in pulling off his boxers.
The appraisal was clear in Dan's long, slow look. Casey could feel his cheeks start to flush, but he had an urge to stretch, to pose for the lustful look in Dan's eyes. Dan licked his lips. "You look good. And you damn well know it, don't you?"
Casey grinned and waggled his eyebrows at Dan. Then he registered that Dan was already naked. "When did you get undressed?"
Dan smirked. "Why do you think I got up?"
"To open those horrible curtains," Casey replied, pulling Dan down towards him.
"Don't insult my curtains," Dan muttered half-heartedly, and then sank back into kissing Casey.
Sucking at Casey's lower lip, Dan nudged his legs apart with his knee. Then he lay down on top of Casey and thrust. The friction was good, but there just wasn't enough pressure. Casey wrapped a leg around Dan's thigh, pulling him closer, which seemed to work. Dan started kissing down his neck, sucking on his Adam's apple, but it was still a bit... awkward. Good, but still awkward.
"I've got an idea," Dan said as he levered himself up on his elbows.
Casey pushed himself up, pressing his lips against Dan's shoulder. "Don't stop."
"Trust me," Dan replied and then did stop. Casey didn't even try to hide his disappointed whimper. Dan ransacked his bedside drawer, pulling out a small, but recognizable, tube. Squeezing the liquid onto one hand, Dan grinned at Casey. "It's a good idea."
Dan settled his weight on to one arm, and then reached down to wrap his hand around Casey's cock. Casey hissed at the slick slide of fingers around his aching flesh. "Good idea," he managed to grind out between clenched teeth.
"Told you," Dan said as he lined up their cocks, and thrust into his fist. Casey stopped breathing for a second, trapped between the sensation of Dan's firm fingers against the underside of his cock and Dan's blood-hot cock sliding against the top.
"Fuck," Casey groaned out as the need to breathe became clear.
His hands slid across Dan's back, searching for purchase as Dan thrust above him.
Dan was breathing hard, puffing out as he bore down. "Case, we've gotta switch," he ground out. Casey just sucked at the skin of Dan's shoulder, feeling the muscles move under his mouth. "Roll over."
"Huh?" he managed breathlessly. Then Dan moved off him, which seemed incredibly unfair. "Danny..."
"Here." Dan pulled at his shoulder. It took Casey a moment to understand that Dan wanted him on top and then he was scrambling on top of him, lying between Dan's parted legs.
Dan pulled him down into a kiss, and then wrapped his other hand around their cocks. Settling his weight on his forearms, Casey groaned into the kiss as he started to thrust. Dan twisted his hand slightly, tightening his grip, and Casey lost the control to focus his kisses. All he could do was thrust into Dan's hand and gasp for breath, sloppily mouthing any skin in reach.
Dan tensed beneath him, breathing raggedly, but Casey didn't realize how close Dan was. Not until Dan threw his head back against the pillows and spurted between them.
Casey stilled for a moment, not quite sure what was expected of him, but Dan dug his fingers into Casey's hips, pulling him tight against Dan's moist skin. Dropping his head to Dan's shoulder, Casey thrust, rutting against Dan's stomach; just rubbing himself against Dan's skin, like some primitive way of marking territory. Dan's hands gripped his ass hard, urging him on. Casey groaned, breathing in that distinct tang of sex and sweat and beneath it all, Danny. It was an overwhelming combination.
Biting down on Dan's shoulder, probably much harder than he should have, Casey came and literally saw stars as his arms trembled and refused to bear his weight. Casey collapsed against Dan's shoulder and spent a few precious moments listening to his heartbeat return to its normal pace.
Then, Dan hit him on the shoulder. "As good as I'm feeling right now, you are kind of heavy."
"I need to breathe, Casey."
Casey nodded and lethargically rolled off him, bonelessly flopping onto the mattress and falling asleep.
For the second time that morning, Casey woke up to bright sunshine streaming across Dan's bed. He also woke up to Danny lazily stroking his back. "I could get used to this."
"I couldn't," Dan replied easily, sliding his hand over Casey's shoulder. "This is the second time today I've woken up earlier than you. That's just wrong."
Casey blinked his eyes open. "It's against all natural laws in the universe."
"Exactly." Dan leaned over and pressed a soft kiss against Casey's forehead. "We do need to talk."
Casey dropped his head back to the pillow and sighed. Talking would only lead to... well, bad things. He wasn't quite sure what, but he was pretty sure it would be bad. "Now?"
"I respect the right of every red-blooded male to avoid the painful morning after conversation," Dan said, stretching out on the bed, "but I need to know what's going on."
Casey stared up at Dan's white ceiling. "Yeah, because morning after conversations always work so well."
"It's a necessary evil, Casey. Like taxes." Dan sat up on the bed, stretching his back like a cat. "Or commercial sponsorship of sporting teams."
Casey sat up, gathering the covers over his lap. "Fine."
"Casey," Dan started, wrapping a hand around Casey's arm. When he turned, Dan was watching him carefully. Whatever Dan was going to say, he decided better of it. "After breakfast."
Swallowing, Casey suddenly realized he was hungry. "Breakfast?"
"Well, a shower and then breakfast and coffee," Dan amended quickly. "But we definitely need to talk before we have more sex."
Casey blinked, and then felt himself start to grin. "More?"
Smirking, Dan trailed his hand down Casey's arm. "I'm certainly happy to repeat the experience," Dan teased, rubbing small circles against Casey's palm.
"Me, too." Casey leaned over and caught Dan's mouth in a kiss. The kiss was warm and sleepy, and when Dan stroked his cheek, he could still smell himself on Dan's fingers. It made Casey surge up, pressing Dan back as the kiss suddenly got deeper.
"Talk first," Dan muttered as he pushed Casey back. "Sex later."
Casey licked down Dan's neck. "I'd prefer sex now."
"Uh-uh," Dan replied firmly, but Casey noticed that Dan wasn't pushing him away. Instead, Dan's hands were curling around his shoulders. "That way leads to those weekends of sex, where you only get out of bed for food."
"Mmmmm?" Casey murmured into Dan's skin.
"And then you never see the person again," Dan finished, pulling away. "Which is not what I want to happen here."
Casey sat back on his heels, waiting.
Dan smiled gently. "And I don't think you do either."
"I--" Casey guessed that saying he had no idea, that he hadn't really thought about it, wouldn't be too helpful. He shrugged, which probably wasn't any more helpful.
"It'll be easier after coffee," Dan said with a brief nod, and Casey wondered which one of them he was trying to reassure.
Casey spent longer hiding out in Dan's shower than was strictly necessary. He knew he was just delaying the inevitable, but that was a plan that usually saw him in good stead. Casey heard the clang of one of Dan's heavy, black pans and his hunger overcame his uncertainty. Turning off the shiny silver faucets, Casey couldn't help thinking that it was just as well Dan had gone first; he was starving.
With a towel wrapped around his waist, Casey stared at his reflection. He didn't look any different from yesterday or last week. Apart from the five o'clock shadow he didn't look any different from any other day. For some reason, he'd expected a noticeable difference. Possibly a tattoo across his forehead saying, "I slept with Dan Rydell."
His boxers were lying on the bed, on top of a pair of baggy grey sweats and possibly the biggest sweatshirt in existence. Whoever had bought that for Dan obviously thought Danny was about seven foot tall and two foot wide. Casey rolled his eyes and quickly got dressed, and then followed the sound of Dan whistling.
He leaned against the living room doorway, watching a slightly blurred Dan mix something in a bowl as he whistled some slow tune. He had a moment of wondering when he'd taken his contacts out and where he'd left them. They were probably at home, since he couldn't remember putting them in last night. Tugging his sleeves up, Casey screwed up his courage and left the relative safety of the doorway.
"This is like the biggest sweatshirt you own, isn't it?" he asked as he stepped into the kitchen.
Dan turned around and grinned. "How did you guess?"
"Never in your life have you had arms long enough to fit these sleeves." Casey held an arm out to the side to demonstrate. Dan laughed, but there was a tightness around his eyes that Casey did his best to ignore. He looked around at the bowl and eggshells sitting in the carton. "So I take it we're not having cereal?"
"Eggs," Dan replied, turning back to the butter melting in the pan. He was wearing a faded black t-shirt and an old pair of jeans that clung to his curve of his butt. Casey realized he was staring and turned his attention back to the food.
"Any reason why?"
"Everything's easier over eggs," Dan announced, only half-joking.
"Look, don't--" Dan started, looking over his shoulder. He held Casey's gaze for a moment, and then continued, "Don't just stand there, Casey. Butter the toast."
Casey nodded. "Sure." It was easier to stand with his back to Dan, buttering the slices and putting more in the toaster. Almost comforting to hear Dan futz about with the eggs behind him. He reached up for plates without looking, and placed them on the counter.
While he was waiting for the next batch of toast to pop up, he got the cutlery and set Dan's smallish table. It was a miniature dining set, all glass and black chrome, and far more comfortable than it looked. It only sat two people, but it was very unusual for Dan to have more than one guest at a time.
The toast popped up and Casey buttered it as Dan served the eggs on to the plates. Fixing up breakfast together was strange and weird. Not altogether bad, just really damn weird.
When Dan managed to spill eggs down the side of one plate, Casey couldn't help laughing. Dan stared at him for a moment and then grinned back. "Do you want to take these over to the table and I'll make the coffee?"
"That depends." Casey smirked. "Are you going to spill that, too?"
"Just go," Dan said with a roll of his eyes.
Casey shook his head and carried the plates over. He politely waited for Dan to sit down and then they started eating. It wasn't quite companionable silence, Casey noted as he sipped at his coffee, but on the other hand, at least he didn't have to watch Dan struggle for something to say. This way, he could look at his eggs as he pushed them around the plate. He didn't even need to look up to reach for his cup.
After five silent minutes passed, Dan asked, "Casey?"
"Could you look at me?"
"I thought we had to talk," Casey replied as he picked up a slice of toast.
"Yeah, but it might be easier if you looked at me." Dan reached over and lightly placed a hand on Casey's wrist. It was enough of a surprise that Casey looked up. Dan pulled his hand back. "This isn't the Spanish Inquisition. I just need to know what was going through your head last night."
"Why?" Casey bit down on the toast and nearly missed Dan's surprised expression.
"Mmm-hmm," Casey replied, chewing slowly. This would be a lot easier if he knew what Dan wanted to hear.
Dan blinked at him. "Because it makes a difference. A huge difference." Dan paused and then spoke to his plate. "Because while I've got nothing against casual sex, I need to know where I stand. It's as simple as that."
Casey nodded and kept chewing stubbornly.
"Where do I stand?" Dan demanded softly.
Casey shrugged and swallowed. "I don't know. Danny, I just... I don't know." Somehow, saying the words made Casey feel miserable, made him stunningly aware that he really didn't have a clue what was going on.
Dan stood up, picking up his empty cup and plate. "That doesn't help me."
Casey sighed but didn't say anything as Dan took his dishes into the kitchen. Slowly drinking his coffee, he listened to the sounds of running water as Dan rinsed the plates and possibly cleaned the pan. Casey found himself staring out the window, watching the grey concrete of the building opposite. He just... He didn't know what to say to Dan, how to explain any of this; how to say that for the last couple of weeks, Dan was all he could think about...
But that was probably the best way to do it. Just tell Dan that he couldn't stop thinking about him. That he wasn't sure when it had started, or why, but for some reason, he was lusting after his best friend. He couldn't stop watching Dan, watching his hands and his mouth and his eyes; couldn't stop wanting him. Casey sighed and wondered if there was any way to say that where he didn't come off sounding like the latest celebrity stalker.
Of course, Dan chose that moment to walk back in. "I get that it's difficult for you, really I do, but you've got to tell me what's going on. I can't figure this out by myself."
Casey nodded and toyed with the last piece of toast. "I know."
"So, come on," Dan said wearily, sitting down across from Casey. "Talk."
"I..." Casey took a deep breath and then emptied his cup in one long swallow. Closing his eyes, he forced the words out. "I can't stop thinking about you. I tried and I-- I don't even know why, I just can't. I keep thinking of you, and imagining you, and--" Casey dropped his head to his hands, rubbing at his temples. "I don't know, Danny."
"Hey." Dan's voice was soft and warm, but it was the hand on Casey's shoulder that was even more reassuring. "That's not a problem."
Casey frowned. "It feels like one."
"It's not." Dan scooted his chair closer and wrapped a hand around the back of Casey's neck. "How long?"
"A couple of weeks. The last two, three weeks. Since you kissed me." Casey paused, looking over Dan's shoulder at the window behind him. "But it was probably longer than that. I mean, for us to kiss in the first place, I must have... at least thought about it. I guess."
Dan nodded and licked his lips, and Casey had the sudden urge to kiss him again.
"I want you, Danny. It's as simple as that."
Dan's mouth quirked into a half-smile. "You want me? Just like that. Out of the blue?"
"Yeah," Casey replied, but his voice sounded uncertain. No wonder Dan kept watching him as if waiting for the punch line. "I kept thinking that it would all go away. That it was the Olympics, and it was stress, and it was just some new way of going insane. I thought that all I needed to do was to get through the Olympics and it would go away, and everything would be normal again."
"No offense," Dan said as he raised an eyebrow, "but that's the type of scatterbrained plan I expect from Dana. Why in the world would you think that being attracted to someone would just go away?"
"Why did you say that a kiss didn't count if you were drunk?"
Dan grimaced and pulled back. "I was trying to make it easy on you. You were drunk and confused, and I was trying to give you an easy way to get out of it. I didn't want it to turn into some ugly argument. And I didn't want you to turn around and accuse me of trying to seduce you, especially since you kissed me."
Casey's memories of his birthday were still hazy and incomplete. "I did?"
"Huh." Casey stretched his neck as he thought about that. Pushing the mostly empty plates away from him, he sighed. "At the time, it seemed like a logical explanation. Stress, or a minor breakdown. I mean," Casey paused, feeling his face start to heat, "it was the first time I'd even kissed a guy, and at thirty-five, that's the type of thing you're supposed to have figured out."
"Sexual discovery doesn't have an age limit, Casey."
"Could you make that sound any more like a PSA?" Casey demanded sullenly, feeling defensive. "I had my life worked out and this wasn't part of it. I was pretty sure I knew who Casey McCall was, and now? I have no idea. I was married, and I have a son, and this... this isn't..."
"This isn't how you saw your life?" Dan asked carefully.
Casey let out a long breath. "Yeah."
"What makes you think it isn't just 'stress'?" Dan asked with a sharp hint of sarcasm. When he glanced over at Dan, Dan smiled apologetically and Casey remembered that he wasn't the only one standing on unstable ground.
"Because I-- I thought it would go away. I thought that after the two weeks, after the Olympics, it would all be fine. It would all go back to normal. I thought that if it was just temporary insanity, it didn't matter. It didn't matter if I gave in to it. It didn't matter if I stopped fighting it." Casey folded his arms on the edge of the table, watching the last globs of egg on his plate. "I thought that it didn't matter if I watched you, if I let myself want you, because it would go away. But it didn't. I still want you and I still think about you, and I don't know. I don't know if I did the right thing, I don't know if I should have fought it harder or..." He wheezed in a shaky breath, but couldn't force himself to look up. "I don't know, Danny."
"Huh," Dan said and then he was quiet for a long while. Eventually, he said, "Let me give you some advice."
"You can't fight this stuff forever, Casey. You can try. You can ignore it and push it down as far as it'll go, but eventually, you have to face it. And if you don't deal with it, you end up miserable. Or seeking professional help," Dan said quietly, staring at the kitchen counter, and Casey wondered how much that had hurt to say. "But you're the one who's got to live with it. If it's really something you don't want in your life..." Dan shrugged and let that half sentence hang in the air.
"I don't want to lose my job," Casey said with the first scrap of certainty that he'd felt so far. "And I don't want to lose Charlie."
"That's not what I'm talking about--"
"It affects it, Dan. You know that," Casey interrupted. "It isn't something that can be considered in isolation. Regardless of how much I want this..." Casey hunched his shoulders, trying to at least be honest about this. "Regardless of how much I want you, it would ruin my life."
Dan pushed himself out of the chair and paced behind the couch, finally stopping at the window. He ran a hand through his hair and then turned around, leaning his back on the glass. "I'm not saying we have to be out about this. I'm not suggesting that we announce it on national television. I'm not saying that we have to tell anyone."
"It feels tacky," Casey said, before he could stop himself.
Dan snorted. "Tacky?"
"It feels tacky to sleep with someone and keep it this big secret. To want to be with someone and not want to tell anyone."
Dan stared at him in surprise. "Can I point out Sally? Considering you've already done that at the office, that's a really flimsy excuse for not wanting to do this."
"Sally was different."
Casey thought for a moment, remembering Sally's long legs and low laugh, remembering the pettiness and her small-mindedness. Remembering the way she never got his jokes, and always managed to be harsh and uncaring about the wrong things. "I didn't tell people about her because I didn't want them to know about her. I didn't care about her, not really. And, to be honest, I liked sleeping with her, and that was one of the few things I did like about her."
Dan was scowling at the clean carpet. "So for the sake of good sex, you'd hide that relationship. But if you were sleeping with me, hiding that would somehow be against your moral code?"
"It would be different."
"Because it's me?" Dan asked, with a smile sharp enough to cut.
"Yes," Casey replied vehemently, standing up, "because it's you, Danny. Because you're smart and you're talented, because... Regardless of what you believe, you're not at your best when you're on air. You're brilliant and charming, eloquent and witty, but that's not your best. You're at your best when someone around you is in trouble, when they need a shoulder to cry on, or someone to step up to bat for them. It doesn't matter if they're like me, and they're being idiots about it. Sometimes, it doesn't matter if you know them or not, you'll stand up because it's the right thing to do. I know you, Danny, and I know there is nothing that you wouldn't do to protect the people you love. Nothing."
Dan looked somewhat shocked, but Casey didn't let that stop him. "You don't deserve this, Danny. You don't deserve to be someone's dirty little secret. You shouldn't have to put up with someone being ashamed, being afraid to acknowledge you in public. You should be with someone, someone who's proud to stand beside you, who's proud to know you. You should... You deserve that..." Casey trailed off, out of words. He sat down, not quite sure where that had come from but certain that he'd meant every word.
"You mean that?" Dan asked. Casey nodded and Dan rolled his eyes as he walked over. "Then you're an idiot."
"You're lucky you're so likeable, Casey, because you're an idiot." Dan sat on the other chair, not even trying to hide his grin. "You spend how many years in a marriage that makes you miserable because you think it's the right thing to do, and then you say that you want me, that I'm this incredible guy, but since the situation isn't perfect, you can't do it? You're an idiot."
Casey didn't know how to react. On the one hand, Dan was smiling again and obviously pleased. On the other hand, Dan kept insulting him. "I don't think that's--"
Dan leaned forward as he cut him off. "I meant it when I said that you seemed happier these last two weeks. Do you think it's a coincidence that that's when you stopped fighting your attraction to me?"
"I--" Casey stopped suddenly, thinking about that. "I guess not."
"I thought you were going to say that you were curious about guys, that you were sleep-deprived and confused, and that you didn't mean to take advantage of me, but you weren't actually interested. Since that isn't the case, do you really think I'd want to let this pass me by without even trying to make it work?"
Dan grinned like a Cheshire cat. "Casey, you like me and you want me. You said so yourself."
Dan spread his arms wide, rather generous in his supposed victory. "What else do you need to give this a shot?"
Casey boggled at him. "A society where we could date without losing our jobs?"
"You can't have it all," Dan replied with an easy smile. Dan stood up and leaned across the table to press an open-mouthed kiss against Casey's lips. It was warm and coffee-flavored, and it was the type of kiss that had Casey thinking this just might, maybe, possibly work. Casey kissed back, tangling a hand in Dan's t-shirt.
Dan laughed as he finally pulled back. "The path of true love never did run smooth."
"I didn't say anything about love, Danny. I'm not--I'm not in love with you," Casey hastened to add. "I mean, lust, sure. But that's not the same thing."
Dan smiled at him again. "Then what's love?" he asked, as he walked behind Casey.
"It's liking someone and it's lusting after them and..." Casey shrugged. "It's other stuff, Danny. It's more than just lust and sex."
Dan laughed and leaned over his shoulder. "Okay? The sex stuff? That's new to us." Dan paused to press a quick kiss against Casey's neck. "The other stuff? That's been happening between us for years. You just haven't noticed it."
Casey blinked, leaning forward as Dan started nuzzling his neck. "Huh." Dan was his best friend, so of course he cared about him, but he was pretty sure that wasn't the same thing. It was similar, but it wasn't the same feeling. Probably. It wasn't anything like the way he'd felt for Lisa, back in the day. It was something like the way he'd once felt for Dana, though.
Then Dan wrapped his arms around Casey's chest, and Casey relaxed into Dan's warmth and stopped trying to compare. "You know," Dan said softly, and then nipped at Casey's earlobe, "when I first met you, I really wanted you."
Casey tried not to squirm as Dan pulled at the huge sweatshirt, and slipped cool hands beneath it. "Yeah?"
Dan's hands quickly warmed up as he ran them across Casey's stomach, and up over his ribs. "I spent weeks thinking about you. About kissing you," Dan said, sucking a wet kiss to the corner of his jaw. "Imagining pushing you up against a wall somewhere, pulling your dick out and blowing you there and then."
Casey gasped in a quick breath as Dan scraped his fingernails down his chest, and kept talking. "I kept thinking about you, about the way you looked during an Eastern winter, the way you'd come in and pull off your scarf and hat. Your nose would be red and your cheeks would be rosy, and you'd grin like walking a block through the cold was a fun experience."
One of Dan's hands crept up Casey's chest, whispering over his nipple. The other slithered down, under the loose waistband of the slacks, under his boxers to rest over the curve of his hipbone. "God, you looked as sweet as apple pie. I'd spend half my time around you trying to impress you with my sporting knowledge, and the other half thinking of ways to seduce you." Dan sucked hard against his pulse and Casey closed his eyes.
"Maybe seduce isn't the right word. I mean, it's not like I planned devious ways to get you naked, I just spent a lot of time imagining what I'd do once you were naked. How I'd touch you," Dan said and trailed fingers low across Casey's stomach, slowly making his way from one hip to the other. Casey bit his lip at the light touch, leaning his head back against Dan's shoulder. "How I'd kiss you. Whether you'd yell or moan."
Then Dan stopped and pulled his hands back. He pulled down the sweatshirt, smoothed it down over his torso. "Danny," Casey whined, but Dan had settled his hands on Casey's shoulders and didn't seem inclined to move them.
Dan pressed a light kiss against his cheek. "And then I saw you with Lisa. I might have doubted how much she cared, but it was incredibly obvious that you were head over heels in love with her," Dan murmured against his skin. "So I put you out of my mind. I told myself you were off-limits. And it works. You get used to being attracted to the person, and you get used to not acting on it. But it doesn't go away, it doesn't disappear. You just get used to it."
"Danny?" Casey scooted forward and swiveled around on the chair. "What are you trying to say?"
Dan watched him with dark, serious eyes. "I'm trying to say that there aren't a lot of people that you want this badly. It doesn't happen often and it doesn't happen easily. And you're an idiot if you want to throw that away because it's not perfect." Dan was watching him, waiting for...
Casey wasn't sure what.
Feeling like a coward, Casey swallowed and looked away.
He didn't look up when Dan sighed. Or when Dan gathered the remaining dirty dishes. In fact, he didn't look up until Dan was in the kitchen, clattering dishes in the sink.
There was a part of Casey, a part he didn't want to acknowledge, that wanted to leave right now. He wanted to find his shoes and his keys and go home; just pretend this never happened. Pretend that they were still best friends and he didn't know how well Dan's cock fitted in his hand; didn't know the way Dan grunted before he came; didn't know the taste of Dan's shoulder or the feel of Dan's teeth on his skin. He also wished he didn't know Dan's look of disappointment, that almost hurt expression he got when people he cared about screwed up.
But Casey knew that look. He knew it well enough to be sure Dan was wearing it now. He didn't need to see Dan to know what the quiet sounds of dishwashing were hiding. Casey spent a moment feeling guilty and then his conscience got the better of him.
When he stepped into the kitchen, Dan was standing over the sink, watching the water drain out. Dan didn't turn around, so Casey took a few more steps and cleared his throat. "Danny."
Sighing, Dan turned around. "Couldn't find your keys?" he asked dryly. "Your coat's hanging in my closet."
Casey winced, almost regretting that Dan knew him so well. "That wasn't..." Dan was staring at him, face blank. "This is all pretty unfamiliar to me."
Dan's mouth tightened as he stepped closer. "Unfamiliar?"
"Yeah," Casey said, refusing to step back. He made a conscious effort to meet Dan's gaze. "This is unknown territory."
"Of course it is. And if you want to make the quick exit--" Dan paused and sighed. When he continued, his voice was quiet; sad and a little defeated. "What do you want?"
Dan's brows rose and he took half a step backwards. "Leniency?"
"I don't know what I'm doing. This is all pretty new to me," Casey said carefully. "It's unknown territory, and I don't know the rules."
"So when it comes to the penalty calls, I want a bit of leniency." Dan boggled at him and Casey shifted on his feet and added, "I think I deserve leniency, Danny. I'm bound to screw this up at least a couple of times, and it's probably going to be from ignorance instead of actual--"
Dan kissed him warmly. Casey decided he didn't mind being interrupted like that.
Dan curled a hand around Casey's waist and smiled. "I can do leniency."
Casey was tempted to ask what else Dan could do, but that was just asking for trouble. As he thought, he ran his fingers across Dan's smooth cheek. "Danny, is there a reason you're clean-shaven?"
"Because I know how to use a razor?"
"No, I mean..." Casey gestured vaguely. "What happened to the week of growing a goatee?"
"As it turns out...?" Dan grinned sheepishly. "Actually didn't suit me."
Casey fought the urge to say 'told you so' and smirked instead. "So what do you want to do now?" Dan leered at him and Casey rolled his eyes, replying, "That wasn't what I was thinking of."
"No?" Dan asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Huh. Maybe my kissing does need work." Leaning closer, Dan sucked a kiss against a tender spot on Casey's neck. Casey absentmindedly wondered if he already had a hickey there.
"I'm not--" Casey dug his fingers into strong shoulders as Dan bit down hard. "Um. I'm not seventeen any more."
"Which is just as well," Dan murmured against his jaw. "Otherwise, this would be statutory rape, and Standards and Practices might have something to say about that."
Casey laughed. "I meant that I'm thirty-five, Danny, not seventeen."
"So there are some physical limitations that come with age."
"Aaaah," Dan said slowly. He stepped closer, pressing his body tight against Casey. "I'm sure we can overcome that with a bit of effort." He started to creep a hand down the front of Casey's sweatpants.
Casey stopped him quickly. "What's the rush?"
Dan looked unrepentant. "Have you seen the time?"
"You have to go to your place and then to the station. We don't have enough time for slow seductions."
Snorting at Dan's particular brand of charm, Casey leaned up and kissed Dan's forehead. "I'm not working today."
"Isaac gave me a week off."
Dan blinked at him for a moment. Casey was expecting some crack about Dan's 'special bond' with Isaac, but instead, Dan asked, "And when do you have Charlie?"
"So we've got four days before either of us actually has to go anywhere?" Dan looked ridiculously happy when Casey nodded. "I suggest we should indulge in the three essential S's."
"The three S's?"
"Sex, sleep and sports. Televised sports, of course," Dan amended quickly.
Casey smiled. "Ah, the three essential S's," he said and then relaxed into Dan's kiss.
Casey didn't pounce on the telephone. It was just that the telephone happened to be sitting beside him when it rang, and he had speedy reflexes. "Hello?"
Dan laughed. "I'd swear that didn't even ring before you picked up."
"I have speedy reflexes."
Dan snorted down the line. "Whatever. Is Charlie still up?"
"Nah. He's asleep in my bed," Casey replied, shooting a quick look at his closed bedroom door.
"I wanted to stay up for the show and midnight is a bit too late for a ten year old on a school night."
"He's ten years and eleven months, Casey. He probably deserves a later bedtime."
Casey groaned, recognizing the ten years and eleven months argument that Charlie had raised yesterday. "Charlie asked you to say that, didn't he?"
"Worth a shot," Dan replied unrepentantly. "So you're staying up to watch the show. Any particular reason?"
Casey refused to give in to Dan's obvious attempt at fishing for flattery. "I have no life?"
"Pshaw. I think you're tuning in to watch me at my charismatic best."
Casey rested his head back and grinned at the ceiling. "If you say so, Danny."
"It's true." Dan sighed. "Guess who I'm working with tonight?"
"Steve Sisco," Casey said, before he could stop himself. On the other end of the line, he heard the sounds of Dan choking.
Dan cleared his throat. "No."
"Yeah." Dan sounded less than enthusiastic about it. "So, if I'm not at my best? You know why."
"If he doesn't dedicate the show to his current girlfriend," Casey replied easily, "you're doing well."
Dan laughed. "Good point." There was a quiet pause; Casey listened to the sound of Dan breathing. "Anyway. I've got to get going."
Casey nodded and adjusted his hold on the telephone handset. "Five minutes to air?"
Casey bit his lip, remembering Dan sprawled naked across cotton sheets, eating pizza right out of the box. "Come over after the show."
"Tomorrow night," Casey corrected. "I'm off until Tuesday, but I don't have Charlie tomorrow night. Come over after the show."
"Okay, I'll-- Yeah, Kim, I'll be there in a minute!" Dan shouted across the office, and into the handset.
Casey rubbed at one ear and held the telephone against the other. "Ow," he said pointedly.
"Sorry," Dan said apologetically, "but, you know. Live television."
"Yeah, I know." Casey rolled his eyes. "Go. I'll see you later."
The last thing Casey heard was Dan's muffled, "Kim, will you just--" and Kim's "Talk when he gets back!" Then the connection went dead.
Hanging up the phone, Casey chuckled to himself and got up to check on Charlie. He crept into his bedroom quietly, just in case Charlie was still in that 'not quite asleep' stage, but Charlie was curled up on his side, dead to the world.
He'd managed to kick the comforter off, so Casey pulled it up, carefully tucking it around Charlie's small shoulders. Pressing a gentle kiss to Charlie's forehead, he whispered, "Sweet dreams, Charlie," and then lingered there for a moment, watching his son sleep.
The Sports Night intro music drifted from the living room. Casey closed the bedroom door firmly and made his way back to the couch. He sat down just as Dan appeared on the screen.
"This is Dan Rydell, beside Steve Sarris because Casey McCall couldn't be bothered to drag himself into the studio today. You're watching Sports Night on QVN and we'll have all those stories and more..."