Notes: Beta by Nestra. Written as a Yuletide Treasures gift.
Casey picked up the phone and answered it before he even registered that it was ringing. "Hello?"
"My plane smells like feet."
"'Hello, Casey,'" he said pointedly, sitting back in his chair. "'How are you? Why, I'm fine Daniel, thanks for asking.'"
"Feet," Dan repeated.
Casey rolled his eyes. "It must be very traumatic for you."
"You remember last July when it rained like crazy and then got insanely hot, and then the air-conditioning broke? When Elliot left his shoes to mold in the control room overnight? You remember that? This smell is worse."
"The shock and horror." Casey typed a sentence, stared at it blankly, and then deleted it. "And I suppose the person sitting in front of you looks like the Unabomber."
"Nope," Dan said. "Juan Peron. His doppelganger, I swear to God."
Casey smiled to himself. "Is Che sitting behind you with the backup dancers?"
Dan breathed into the phone for a minute. A baby squalled somewhere in the background, a miserable, petulant sound that reminded Casey of Charlie as an infant. "Casey, if Madonna shows up and breaks into a musical number mid-flight, I'm going out the exit-row door head-first. That is beyond the pale. It's so beyond the pale that we'll need a GPS receiver to find the pale again."
"Don't be so melodramatic."
"Hardy har har. This is all your fault. I wouldn't be on this plane if you hadn't alienated the entire Galaxy franchise on air last week."
"And I feel terrible about it, Danny. If only I'd known." Casey typed a sentence, and remarkably, decided it was worth keeping. "I'll be thinking of you, particularly your expression as Juan Peron reclines his seat into your kneecaps."
"I'll get even with you, pal."
Casey's smiled widened until it hurt. "You're welcome to try, young Daniel. Just remember that I have a secret weapon, and his name is Jeremy Goodwin."
Dan made a disgruntled noise. "Yeah, well, they're closing the plane door now, so I've gotta go."
Ten minutes and three script pages later, Dana opened the office door and stepped inside, halting there abruptly and blinking at him.
"Why are you humming 'Don't Cry For Me, Argentina'?" she asked.
"It's a very long story that involves Dan being trapped on an airplane next to a stranger with a foot fetish."
Dana nodded. "Ah, Dan called. That's why you're so chipper."
He raised an eyebrow, glancing away from the computer monitor momentarily but still typing. "Chipper? I am not chipper."
Dana squinted at him and then smiled indulgently. "Of course you aren't."
"I am not chipper," Casey protested.
"And why would you be?" she said.
"Why would he be what?" Natalie said, walking around Dana to deposit a stack of tapes on Casey's desk. She was wearing heels and a sleek black number that inspired him to whistle appreciatively. "Thank you," she said, "now include me in this conversation, please."
Casey pointed at Dana. "She thinks I'm chipper."
Natalie looked to Dana. "Did Dan call?"
Dana smirked at him. "Yep."
"Am I missing something?" Casey said, unhappily saying goodbye to the writing groove he'd been in just moments ago.
"Casey, you're always missing something," Dana said. "By the way, Peter's stuck in Greenville. I got Bobbi Bernstein to replace him. Are we going to have a problem with this?"
"Nope," he said, shrugging.
"Good." Dana turned her attention to Natalie. "So what's with the snazzy dress?"
"You think it's snazzy?" Natalie said.
Dana raised her eyebrows. "I said 'snazzy' and I meant 'so sexy I think I'm jealous'. What's with the dress?"
"I have an interview," Natalie said, hugging her clipboard close. "This evening."
"Oh," Dana said, blinking rapidly. "Well."
And then Dana and Natalie both started talking and hand waving at the same time.
"It's not --"
"You should --"
"I mean --"
"You first --"
Casey dragged his hands down his face. "Will you people get out of my office?"
It was times like this that he wished he hadn't been so smug about Danny getting stuck with the Galaxy assignment, because Danny's presence in the office would have given him a way to escape. Either by throwing Danny to the wolves, or by striking up an inane conversation with his partner that would drive the wolves out of their office.
Of course, just thinking about Danny being stuck between Smelly Feet and Juan Peron immediately put him into a better mood, and Casey tuned out Dana and Natalie to focus once more on that night's script.
"Jeremy," Casey called, walking out of his office, "can you get me the stats on -- what are you doing?"
Jeremy didn't look up from the towering construction of post-it notes, sharpies, whiteboard erasers, and staple-removers on his desk. "Yes, Casey. How can I help you?"
Casey stopped and stared. "So, did you use up all of our office supplies for the month?"
Jeremy shook his head. "We still have pencils and printer paper. See, I figured out the exact architectural structure that would allow me to build one more story, only I'd already used everything at my desk..."
Casey was about to ask Jeremy if Danny put him up to this, but he remembered just in time exactly where Danny wasn't. "Yeah, that's great, Jeremy. Why don't I get back to you on that?"
"Sure," Jeremy said, giving Casey a perplexed look over the rims of his glasses. "Have your people call my people. We'll do lunch."
"There's no need for mockery," Casey told him, pointing at Jeremy as he walked backward toward editing.
Jeremy stood up. "Oh, I think there is."
Kim passed by Jeremy's desk, pausing briefly while she snatched something from Jeremy's sculpture. "Ooh, highlighter! The supply closet was all out."
Jeremy's eyes went wide, and his hands waved air at the toppling construction on his desk as if the breeze would keep it upright. "Ah!"
"You fought the law," Casey said.
"No!" Jeremy said as his building dissolved with a clatter and a bang of flying staple-removers.
"And the law won," Casey said, turning around at the end of the hallway.
He wasn't quite sure why he was in Dana's office. He'd come in for some reason, obviously, but before he'd even opened his mouth, Dana had recruited him in the hunt for her missing eyeglasses, which they had eventually discovered were still on her head.
Pointing that out had probably been a mistake, because then Dana had been free to fixate on Natalie's job interview.
"Where do you think it's at?" Dana said.
Casey hung his head. "Dana..."
She twirled her desk chair back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, and then suddenly leapt up and paced the length of her office. "It can't be ESPN. I would have heard."
He sat back on the overstuffed couch and watched Dana's blonde hair bounce frantically with every step. "Dana."
"Do you think it's FOX?" she asked, stopping in front of him. "No, Natalie wouldn't work for FOX."
"How do you know?" Casey asked.
Dana arched her eyebrow and stared at him as if he was the most obtuse man on planet Earth. "I know, Casey. I'm a woman. It's what we do."
Dana sat down in her chair, her momentum rolling it back a few feet to knock against the wall. "God, please don't let it be ABC."
"Um," Casey said, "I believe I have a script to finish. So I'll just... go and do that."
Dana irritably waved him out of her office. "Fine! Don't be my shoulder to cry on! I'll be fine. Just don't get too fond of the 20s, buster! Next rundown meeting, your butt is toast!"
Casey closed the door behind him and took a deep breath. Elliot turned the corner, took one look at Casey, blanched, and went back the way he came.
"Right," Casey said to himself, stepping away from the door. "The script won't write itself. 'Atta boy."
Casey left the late rundown meeting with the overwhelming urge to throttle Dana. He could hear his phone ringing halfway across the bullpen, and he jogged to pick it up. "Casey McCall."
"Guess where I am now."
Casey sat down on his desk, tossing aside his legal pad. "Considering the destination printed on your boarding pass, I'll take a wild stab and say Los Angeles."
A chorus of honks nearly drowned out Dan's reply. "I am stuck on the 405, my friend."
"Blue sky, palm trees, and the sweet smell of exhaust fumes. What more could a guy ask for?"
"I am bored out of my mind, Casey," Dan moaned.
"I am sorry to hear that, my friend."
"Entertain me," Dan said. "Please. I'm stuck in a traffic jam and on my way to cover a story about Major League Soccer."
"Play the alphabet game," Casey suggested, reaching around and stretching to grab his coffee mug.
"That tends to be a more wild and exciting game when the car is actually moving," Dan said.
Casey took a sip of cold coffee and grimaced. "Uh... crossword puzzles."
"Casey, you are the only man I know who brings crossword puzzles on a plane trip," Dan said. "You can tell me the truth -- you're secretly a forty-eight year-old housewife with a muumuu fetish, aren't you?"
"You've guessed my secret shame," Casey told him, grinning to himself. "Please, whatever you do, don't mention this on national television."
Danny laughed. "My lips are sealed. I mean, hey, who do I know with his own TV show?"
The phone connection buzzed for a few seconds until Casey said, "Hey, how'd the Juan Peron thing work out?"
"There were no musical numbers en route," Dan said. "Hence the reason I am still alive and breathing, and talking to you. My kneecaps, however, will never be the same."
"Things could be worse," Casey said.
Danny chuffed out a laugh. "How?"
"Natalie has an interview today and so Dana has lost her mind."
"Ouch," Danny said cheerfully. "Sucks to be you."
"Your sympathy underwhelms," Casey told him.
"That isn't a word," Danny said.
Casey circled his desk and sat down in his chair, leaning back. "May I remind you who won the great Scrabble tournament of 1999?"
"I know a diversionary tactic when I smell one, Casey."
"That sentence makes absolutely no sense."
"And this," Danny said, "is why I am the cool one. Traffic's moving. Gotta go."
Casey hung up the phone. He stared at the blinking cursor on his computer screen for a few minutes before getting to his feet. His office was too empty for him to work.
"Wait for it. Wait for it. Wait -- right there! It did it. Did you see?" Dana demanded.
Pinned against the wall outside of editing, Casey slowly shook his head. "You know, Dana..."
Dana hopped in place for a few seconds. "I have a tic! In my eye! A facial tic, Casey!"
Casey held up his hands protectively. "I'm sure that you think you have a --"
Dana thumped him. "Don't get all Mr. Condescending on me, buster."
"Ow," Casey said, cradling his arm. "Okay. It's a nervous condition. I get it."
"You better believe it," she said. "Oh! There, it did it again!"
Casey peered at her left eye. "Wait. I think I see it."
"Yeah... whoa!" he jumped. "Okay, I definitely see it."
Her expression suddenly reminded Casey of the scary mountain in Fantasia. "Stop looking at me like I'm a mutant freak, Casey."
He reached out and squeezed her shoulders. "I'm not looking at you like you're a mutant."
Dana's eyebrow slowly climbed toward her hairline. "Really. So, according to you, I'm a plain, old, garden-variety freak, just not a mutant freak, is that it?"
Trying to think fast, Casey looked over her shoulder and said, "Hey, is Natalie back from her interview already?"
"What? Where?" Dana whipped around, and Casey made a break for it. Chris and Will plastered themselves on either side of the hallway as he sprinted past.
"Suckers!" he called over his shoulder.
"Can I hide in here?"
Isaac looked up from the papers spread across his desk. He eyed Casey for a minute, and then smiled. "Sure. C'mon in."
"Thank you," Casey said, shutting the door behind him. "Dana is driving me nuts."
"Frankly, I'm shocked," Isaac said, with that innocent, wide-eyed look he'd taken to wearing after his stroke. He was so good at it that Casey caught himself pausing every time, unable to gauge Isaac's sincerity.
"I don't know why," Casey said, sitting down across from Isaac. "I mean, Dana's been driving me nuts for years."
Casey laughed. "I never thought the day would come that I'd be happy about her insane dating plan."
"Dating in the workplace is hard," Isaac said, giving Casey a sly look. "In order to make it work, you have to really want it, be on the same page."
"I don't think Dana and I are even in the same book," Casey said. At least he had Danny around to counteract that feeling. Most days, it felt like they were co-writing a novel.
"So, how's Dan doing?" Isaac asked.
"Last I heard, stuck in traffic. I pity his view of the palm trees."
Isaac's eyes were shrewd. "No, I meant how is he?"
"Ah," Casey said, folding his hands over his suddenly queasy stomach. "Things are better."
"Hmm," Isaac said.
Casey leaned forward in his chair. "Seriously. They are."
"Good." Isaac tapped his pen on his desk blotter. "Want a drink?"
"I could kiss your feet," Casey said gratefully.
"That'd be a sight to see," Isaac said, slowly rising from his chair and making his way to the mini-bar across the room.
Casey followed him. "I don't actually have to kiss your feet, do I? Because Anthony's is just across the street, and I'm pretty sure I don't have to do anything unsanitary to get a drink there."
Isaac snorted and handed him a glass with a few fingers of scotch in the bottom. "Shut up, Casey."
"Yes, sir," Casey said, and took a sip.
Casey was crouched underneath his desk in the dark, typing at the laptop on the floor in front of him, when the phone rang again. He carefully poked his head over his desk and brought the phone down to the floor.
"Hello?" he said.
"Why are you whispering?"
"I'm hiding from Dana," Casey said, turning down the brightness of the laptop screen.
"Ah," Dan said. "That's a good reason."
"I thought so. Hey, where are you now?"
Dan sighed. "Awash in a sea of brake lights, Casey."
"That's almost poetical," he said. "Congratulations."
"You mock my ennui."
Dan's mournful tone made Casey laugh, and he had to clap his hand over his mouth lest Dana discover his secret hideout. "That I do," he choked out.
"Hey," Danny said softly when Casey finally stopped snorting into the receiver. "I know why I got this assignment, you know."
"Yeah," Casey said, leaning back against his desk. "Luther Sachs is trying to woo Phil Anschutz for some business deal; why else do we ever have extended coverage of Major League Soccer?"
"I know that," Danny said impatiently, "I mean, I know why they picked me."
The moment of hilarity winked out of existence. "Yeah?"
"I wasn't the easiest guy to work with for a while there," Danny said. "I've been doing a lot of rebuilding since Draft Day."
"You have, have you?"
"I think you know I have."
"I know you have, do I?"
Dan snorted. "Now you're just stalling."
Casey didn't bother denying it. "Yes, yes I am."
"Casey..." Danny sighed. "Where do you think we're at in the rebuilding process?"
"Where do I think we're at?" Casey said. "I think we're... good."
"Good. That's good."
Casey let out a big breath. "Great. So --"
"I mean, considering that we haven't really talked about it, or anything," Danny continued.
"And I think there's some stuff we should probably get out into the open --"
"Danny!" Casey said, exasperated. "Do we have to do this now?"
There was a moment of silence. "Look at it this way," Dan said. "Wouldn't this be infinitely more uncomfortable if we did this in person?"
Casey clenched his jaw. "I'd just like to mention that I'm incredibly annoyed by the fact that you have a good point."
Danny chuckled. "I try."
"What was that all about, anyway?" Casey surprised himself by asking. "Were you jealous of the top one-hundred list?"
"Of course I was, Casey. I'd have to be Mother Theresa not to be jealous that you made the sportscaster A-list and I didn't."
He stared at his laptop. "That's what made you so crazy? The stupid list? Because I'm telling you, Danny, it was ridiculous that you weren't on it."
Danny sounded tired when he said, "Give me a little more credit than that, partner."
"Okay," Casey said quietly. "What made you so crazy, Danny?"
Dan's laugh had an edge to it. "I have this thing I do. When I'm worried about disappointing somebody."
"A thing you do."
"Yeah," Danny said, laughing again. "You know, self-sabotage."
Casey closed his eyes so he could pretend that Danny wasn't so far away. "Why are you worried about disappointing me, Danny?"
"Are you an idiot? Of course you're not an idiot, but are you an idiot? You're the most important person in my life, Casey. That's why I'm worried about disappointing you."
He wasn't the best at the big, emotional stuff, and he had the smoking wreckage of his marriage to prove it, but even Casey knew that the moment needed a gesture. "It doesn't matter if you disappoint me, Danny."
"Of course it matters --"
"It doesn't matter if you disappoint me," Casey talked over him. "It doesn't matter because you're my best friend and I love you. Even when you're being an idiot."
It was a while before Danny said anything, and when he did his voice was suspiciously thick. "Okay."
"Good," Casey said. "Now tell me what you think of tonight's intro, because personally, I think it's missing something. 'Those stories, plus --'"
"I have really good taste in best friends."
Casey smiled. "That you do, Daniel."
Danny sniffed. "Now hurry up and read me the intro. I think traffic's gonna start moving soon, and I have to hang up when it does, because I have no idea where the hell I'm going."
Casey expected Dan to call again before he went on the air, but what with hiding from Dana, being forced to listen to one of Jeremy's impromptu lectures about Alpha Centauri, finishing both halves of the script, and grabbing dinner, time suddenly stopped crawling and started leaking out of the hourglass while he wasn't paying attention.
Just when he found a moment to retreat to his office and pick up the phone to dial Danny's cell phone, Natalie happened.
"What does it mean when they say they'll call me this week?" she said, her hands clenching the edge of his desk.
"Uh, that they like you?" he guessed.
"What does it mean when they say they find my resume impressive?"
Casey blinked at her. "I... think it means that they find your resume impressive, Natalie."
"What does it mean --"
"Hey!" Casey said, interrupting her. "When did I become the HR guy?"
"Well, Dan's not here," Natalie said.
"What you do want me to do?"
Natalie rolled her eyes and flung her hands toward the ceiling. "Why do men always want to do something?"
"Uh..." Casey floundered. "It's what we do?"
"You're supposed to listen," Natalie said, heading for the door. "This is why I need Dan."
"Right." Casey grumpily thought that if Danny was here, he wouldn't mind throwing him on Natalie's mercy, but since he wasn't, they were both doomed to disappointment.
Natalie poked her head back into his office. "Oh, and by the way, they need you in wardrobe."
Alyson passed him off to makeup, and makeup passed him off to Dana, who for some reason hustled him into the studio to make nice with Bobbi. Sound wired him while Casey traded superficial smiles with Bobbi, who had been considerably less psychotic lately, he was pleased to note.
Casey glanced over his script again before he looked over at the control room and noticed that nobody was smiling. Isaac stood in the back, leaning on his cane, while Elliot and Kim seemed glued to the phones. Dana looked more frazzled than normal, and the fact that Natalie was watching her carefully wasn't a good sign. Casey's stomach dropped a little. They'd been expecting bad news from the network for a while.
"Hey, Dana," he said into his mic. "Is something up?"
"Sixty seconds," Dave said in Casey's ear.
"Casey," Dana said, "we've got a replacement for Dan on the Galaxy piece. We may need you to improvise in the 40s, okay?"
"Yeah, fine," Casey said, confused. "Dana, why do we have a replacement for Danny?"
"Good show," she said.
"Dana?" he said, voice growing louder. "Why do we have a replacement for Danny?"
"Rolling VTR," Dave said.
Casey plastered on a fake smile and said his lines, and when the break came, he said, "Talk to me Dana."
"Just concentrate on the show, Casey," she said firmly.
"What's going on?" he demanded, remaining behind the desk only because there wasn't enough time for him to get to the control room and back before they were on again. Nobody answered him, and after catching sight of Bobbi's increasingly uncomfortable expression, he decided to let it go until the second half of the show.
The first half passed in a haze of worry. He was lucky that Bobbi really was good at her job, or the show would have tanked worse than it did whenever he and Danny were fighting. Dana shrewdly took the soccer feature from Casey, and he unhooked his mic as Bobbi said, "The Los Angeles Galaxies are neck-and-neck with the Kansas City Wizards for the playoffs this year, and in just a moment, we'll take you live to the Rose Bowl stadium, where --"
Casey stalked into the control room. "Someone tell me what's going on now."
"Casey," Dana said.
She looked at him, and it was a look that reminded him exactly how Dana Whitaker had dealt with all of her hulking brothers. "Calm down."
"I am calm," he lied.
"Casey," Dana said, staring at him from her perch behind the console, "Dan's missing."
Dana nodded slowly. "He didn't show up at the stadium. His cell phone is turned off, and he isn't answering his voicemail."
"Missing," Casey said again. He was pretty much stuck there.
"Elliot and Kim have been on the phone since we heard," Dana continued soothingly. "Do you think you can finish the show?"
"Wait -- what?"
Isaac stepped forward. His eyes were bright. "Can you finish the show, Casey?"
"Yeah, of course I can," he said automatically. "Piece of cake."
It wasn't. Or perhaps it was, but Casey was too preoccupied to notice. He sat behind the desk until Dave said, "We're out," and then he ripped off his mic and went back to the control room.
"Anything?" he asked.
Jeremy looked up from his laptop and shook his head. "Nothing."
"Hey, Isaac," Casey said a little too loudly. "How about another drink?"
Isaac nodded. "Good idea. I think I could use one, too."
"Dana --" Casey said, turning.
"We'll let you know as soon as there's anything to know," she assured him.
"Good. That's good," he said, and followed Isaac to his office.
"For God's sake, sit down," Isaac told him, pushing Casey down into a chair with his good hand. "The only time I've seen you look whiter was at last year's Christmas party when Dan got you to do the Electric Slide."
Casey laughed involuntarily. "The day that will live in infamy."
Isaac handed him a glass of scotch and then ambled back to the decanter to get his own. "You know, before you left, I made Dan promise never to let you drink whatever it was you'd been drinking that night."
Casey grimaced. "Jagermeister."
"Yeah," Isaac said, chuckling as he sat down. "Casey, are you sure that Dan didn't just... need some time?"
"What?" Casey said, staring at Isaac in confusion before the indignation hit. "Of course not. He was fine. He was on the way to the stadium. Something must have happened."
Isaac looked tired, his face drooping more than usual. "Are you sure?"
"Yes," he insisted. "I'm sure. Danny and I talked. Things are good."
Isaac propped his chin in his hand and eyed Casey for a moment. "Don't take this the wrong way, Casey, but I was really hoping that this was just Dan being Dan."
The scotch burned on the way down. "Yeah," he said. "Maybe he got lost?"
That seemed to perk up Isaac. "You think?"
Casey thought about it. "He gets lost in the grocery store. But he always asks for directions."
They lapsed into silence and sipped at their scotch, both of them looking anywhere but at the telephone. When it finally rang, the noise startled both of them badly and Casey almost ended up wearing the rest of his scotch.
"Hello?" Isaac said eagerly. "No, Esther, we haven't heard anything. Yes, I know it's late. Just a little longer, okay? I love you, too. Good night."
Casey rubbed at his eyes. Not thinking about what could have happened to Danny was impossible, just like when Charlie wasn't where he was supposed to be. He could picture both of them lying in a ditch somewhere without even trying.
Natalie slipped into the room and sat on the arm of Casey's chair. "Who's up for a game of cards?"
Casey glared at her.
"Come on," she said brightly. "Poker. Five card stud, deuces wild. Who's with me?"
"Count me out," Isaac said.
Natalie bumped his shoulder with her hip. "Casey?"
"I really don't feel like taking my mind off the fact that's Danny's missing, so you can take your diversionary tactics and shove them --"
"Take that as a no," Natalie interrupted, her hands up.
"You do that," Casey told her, and then looked at Isaac. "I'll be in my office."
"Might be for the best," Isaac said.
He stared at the ceiling above the couch. He was using one of Danny's sweatshirts as a pillow and refused to be embarrassed about it. The production team for the West Coast Update bustled around the bullpen, but none of them dared breach the sanctity of his office. The spectacle he had made of himself on the way through the room must have done the trick.
"Hello, Casey," Sally said from where she was artfully posed in the doorway. "I heard about Dan."
"Now's not a good time," Casey said.
Sally smiled indulgently. "You know how Dan is. He probably met a pretty girl and lost track of time."
"Sally," he warned.
She tossed her head and her hair swung over her shoulders. "Like it or not, Casey, he's not the most responsible --"
Dana ducked under Sally's arm, her arms flailing. "Line two!"
Casey nearly sprained something getting to the phone. "Hello?"
"Funny thing happened on the way to the stadium," Danny said groggily.
Casey closed his eyes and let out the breath he'd been holding for hours. "Danny?"
"So what happened? Were you abducted by illegal aliens?"
Danny hummed in amusement. "That would be a cool story. But no. See, there was this pile-drive. No, pile-up. Big pile-up. On the highway."
"Good, because for a second there, I thought you might have wandered into a WWF match."
"Shut up," Danny said good-naturedly. "I have drugs. For my arm. And I can't feel my nose."
Casey finally looked up and noticed that Dana and Sally had left. "Are you okay?"
"Um, I have -- what do I have, pretty nurse lady?" Danny's voice grew faint for a moment. "A concussion and a broken, um, arm-thing."
"So you're okay," Casey said, relaxing his death grip on the receiver.
"Yeah, but dude, the rental car is no more."
"Who cares about the car?" Casey demanded.
"She was a good car. I named her Mindy."
Casey smiled. "Mindy?"
"Yeah. Hey, Casey?"
Danny sighed. "I want to go home."
Casey wanted Danny to come home, too. "We'll take care of it, partner. You just stay awake."
Casey tapped his foot as passengers streamed past, craning his neck to locate Danny. A little old lady in blue velour gave him a funny look and clutched her gigantic purse closer to her body. Casey tried to smile at her reassuringly, but she scuttled away like she wanted to call security.
The stream of passengers thinned to a trickle, and just when Casey was ready to put out an APB, Danny appeared. His left arm was in a sling, the cast startlingly white where it poked out of his unbuttoned blue sleeve. He had a lurid bruise on his forehead, bags under his eyes, and he looked half-dead.
He was the best thing Casey had seen in a long, long time.
"Hey," he said, and pulled Danny into a careful hug. Danny's breath was warm on his neck. "What are you doing?"
"My nose itches," Danny said, rubbing his face against Casey's shoulder.
Casey pushed him back and scratched his nose. Danny grimaced and then sighed in pleasure.
"Give me your bag."
Casey hefted the suitcase. "You good for a short walk, or should I get one of those carts that old people use?"
Danny peered at him. "Please tell me you didn't park in the economy lot."
"I didn't park in the economy lot."
"I love you," Danny said.
Casey smiled. "I know. Come on."
He had, in fact, parked Dan's car in a great spot, if only because he'd shown up to the airport early and circled ruthlessly until one opened up. He tossed the bag in the back and then helped Danny with his seatbelt. Casey climbed into the driver's seat, put the key into the ignition, and then left the ring dangling there while he smacked his fist on his thigh. Danny jumped in the passenger seat, eyeing him warily.
"You okay over there?"
"You scared the heck out of me!"
Danny shifted and light spilled over the uninjured half of his face. "Casey, grown men do not say 'heck'."
Casey stared at him. "I was worried."
Danny stared back. "You were worried?"
"I was, I said."
"I'm okay, Casey."
Casey reached out and pulled Danny to him, bumping their foreheads together gently, his hand on the back of Danny's neck. "Don't do that again, okay?"
Danny leaned into him. He was warm and smelled faintly bitter from medicine and the hospital. "I can get behind that."
"Good," Casey said, and kissed him. The angle was bad, so he just pressed their lips together for a long moment, Danny's mouth soft and oddly unfamiliar.
Danny's eyes were wide when he pulled back, hand clenching the front of Casey's sweater. "Do I have a head injury, or did you just kiss me?"
He figured lying was pretty useless. "Yes."
Danny blinked. "Oh. Why?"
Casey shrugged. "I, uh... "
"Never mind," Danny said, tugging him forward. It was awkward for a second or two until Casey felt Danny's tongue tickling his lower lip, and then it was still awkward, but he didn't mind nearly as much. He opened his mouth, and Danny pushed his tongue inside, his cast pressing against Casey's ribs. His lips caught on Danny's teeth, and then he was struggling with Danny's seatbelt and breathing hard, their knees bumping between the seats.
The seatbelt finally popped open and tangled with Danny's arm, so he let go of Casey's sweater, shoved the belt behind him, and then pushed his fingers behind the top button of Casey's jeans. His stomach muscles twitched in reaction.
"Your fingers," he said between kisses, "are cold."
"Sorry," Danny murmured.
Danny's lips were wet and warm, the roof of his mouth slick, his tongue slightly rougher. Casey pushed his hand underneath Danny's shirt and rubbed his thumb along the skin above his hip. Danny made a soft noise of appreciation in the back of his throat.
A car alarm went off nearby, and they jerked apart. Casey conked his funny bone on the steering wheel and curled around his elbow, hissing between his teeth.
"Huh," Danny said.
The skin around his mouth prickled. "You need a shave."
"I know," Danny said, staring out the windshield. "So, did something happen while I was gone? Like maybe you grew an evil twin?"
Danny nodded. "Did Jeremy build a gay ray?"
Casey snorted. "No."
"Hmm," Danny said, finally looking at him again. "A little light in the tights. I take it the gymnastics thing wasn't a fluke, then?"
He thought about arguing that a proper uniform did not make one gay, but decided it wasn't worth it. "Probably not."
Casey turned the key and flipped on the lights, and then leaned over to help Danny with his seatbelt again.
Danny slumped in his seat. "I missed you, too."
"I know," Casey said. "You called me six times yesterday."
Casey smiled and put the car in reverse. "I thought it was cute."
"Shut up, Casey."
It was about damn time that Danny was home.
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