After long and careful consideration, Dan had decided that not only had aliens sent Sally among them to beguile, befuddle and bewitch, they had also put something in the water. Something uncanny.
It meant that when he walked up to Natalie and asked something like, "Hey, Natalie, you think you can give me a couple of extra seconds in the 20s?", she didn't say, "Sure, Dan, no problem," which would have been ideal, or, "Eh, let me check with Dana," which would have been acceptable, nor, "Nope, sucks to be you," which had been known to happen depending on how deep into the doghouse Jeremy had managed to get himself through means both elusive and mysterious.
Instead, she said, "Is this so you can tell Casey you've got a little crush on him?" which was not, in any way, shape or form, ideal or acceptable, nor in any way related to Natalie's own relationship status, as far as Dan could see. Ergo, it had to be the aliens.
"You know what, never mind," he said, by way of sticking it to those wacky little green men.
Natalie smiled at him and went back to doing whatever it was she'd been doing. Trying to establish a direct line of communication with the alien home planet, possibly. "All right."
"Great," Dan said, walking away while he still possessed his sanity, or what passed for it these days.
"Natalie seems to think I have a little crush on you," Dan said, because a good offense beat a good defense every time. Well, some of the time. 50% of the time, depending on what sport you were talking about.
"Then Natalie's less observant than I'd have given her credit for," Casey said, which Dan wasn't sure qualified as a defense at all, until Casey added, "I think it's pretty obvious to anyone with eyes to see that you've got a huge crush on me," which definitely wasn't a defense.
Dan wasn't sure what the odds of a good offense beating a good offense were, or vice versa. He suspected that if he asked anyone, they'd laugh. "Do I?" he asked, which felt more like a warm-up than an actual action.
"Yeah." Casey smiled at the camera and shuffled his papers. "But hey. At least you've got great taste."
"I do, don't I?" Dan rolled his eyes at the camera and refused to shuffle his papers, because his papers were fine the way they were. "Plus, let's not forget, the feeling's pretty much mutual."
"You're damn right it's mutual," Casey said. "You love me, I love you, and everybody who's watching on TV loves us. It's a positive love fest around here."
"20 seconds live," someone said. They didn't sound particularly loving, but then, everyone had their off days.
By some miracle, they managed to make it through the show without any love confessions.
Dan got into a bit of trouble when Casey waxed lyrically about a particular baseball match for a while, but they went to Kelly Fitzpatrick right after, and Casey gave him this smile that honest to God made his heart skip a beat, so that was all right. Nothing new under the sun, moving right along.
"You want to go for a drink?" Dan asked, as he'd done dozens, if not hundreds, of times before. He'd pretty much put the whole Natalie thing from his mind at that point.
"Are you asking me on a date?" Casey asked, by way of a helpful reminder.
Then again, Dan reassured himself, they did stuff like this sometimes. They joked around. Friends did that. Heck, even friends with crushes did that. It was perfectly normal behavior.
"Do people ask other people to go out for a drink without it also being a date?"
Casey shrugged. It was hard to remember sometimes that Casey had been married for almost ten years, but then, from time to time, he'd get this expression on his face like someone'd taken away his puppy and beaten it in front of his eyes, and Dan would think, 'right, Lisa' and feel a bit guilty for having let it go on and on without doing anything much about it other than stand there and watch.
"All right," Dan said. "You want to go on a date? No promise that there'll be sex at the end of it, and you can pay for your own drinks, but hey, at least there'll be free bar snacks."
"Well, hey, if you put it like that," Casey said.
The thing was, Dan figured they had a good thing going. They could have had a great thing going, assuming he'd taken Casey aside before the wedding and told him a thing or two. Then again, they also could have had no thing at all, after a disastrous first date or a stupid argument or the discovery that one of them snored or something. It happened. People got together, people broke up.
People didn't get together, they didn't break up.
"You know, if you want to get to take me home tonight, you're going to have to up your game," Casey said.
"Funny. I was just about to say the same thing." People - well, women were looking. They always did, when Casey sat down somewhere. Part of it was fame, sure; people see someone in real life they recognize from TV, they're going to look. Part of it was pure Casey being Casey, though.
"Are you saying we're boring?" Casey asked. "Because I, for one, do not agree with that assessment. Nor do a couple million people who watched our show tonight. We're funny, we're charming and we know more about sports than any ten regular people put together."
"And yet here we are, drinking by ourselves," Dan said. He'd discovered that there was a trick to discouraging people from walking up to you and starting a conversation. Discouraging people from walking up to your good friend and longtime crush and starting a conversation worked much the same way. "Makes you think, doesn't it?"
"Mostly it makes me think that I could be lying in bed right now," Casey said.
"Hey," Dan said. "If you'd been a little funnier and a little more charming, I could have been lying right there with you, doing things to you that are illegal in several countries."
"Pretty sure talking exhaustively about why Jamie Mills should've scored three times instead of one isn't actually against the law anywhere. Annoying and possibly even alienating, I'll grant you, but not actually illegal."
"First of all, Jamie Mills was cheated," Dan said. "Second of all, you love it when I exhaustively talk to you about Jamie Mills. You're a slut for me talking exhaustively about Jamie Mills."
"Sorry, who's Jamie Mills again? I forgot."
Dan laughed and told himself he did it because he felt relieved. Maybe he did. They got like this sometimes, flirting with danger, but then Casey'd say something or he'd say something and they'd be all right again. Safe. Back in the friends zone, and friends joked around.
"Tell you what," he said. "You tell me three things that are great about Jamie Mills, and I'll buy you a drink."
"How about if I just unleash my devastatingly handsome smile on you?"
They called it a night after another couple of drinks, which was probably for the best.
"So where are we going, your place or mine?"
"Here's a crazy idea. How about you go to your place and I go to mine?" Casey said.
Dan wanted to kiss him. He'd have the element of surprise, of Casey being in a good mood. It wouldn't have to mean anything. He could kiss Casey right here, right now, for a solid ten seconds at least, and then he'd step back and say something funny to make it all meaningless.
"I was thinking I could go to your place and you could go to mine. You'll love my place. My place is great," he said. "I've got a new coffee machine."
"I heard," Casey said.
"Ten kinds of coffee," Dan said. "Sixteen settings."
"I heard it doesn't work."
"Lies, damn lies, and slander. And possibly also libel," Dan said. "It works. I may not know how, I may not know when, but it works. Someone somewhere is making delicious coffee with this machine."
"So it doesn't work."
"Yet," Dan said. "There's a manual. I've been studying it."
"I've narrowed down the language to either being Korean or Vietnamese."
"Well done. Truly, I am impressed," Casey said. "So this is you, angling for a chance to spend the night at my place, so that tomorrow morning, you can get a cup of coffee without needing to learn either Korean or Vietnamese."
"Both in one night might be a bit tricky, even for someone of your intelligence," Casey acknowledged.
Dan spread his hands. "So what do you say?"
"Can I make fun of you for not being able to figure out how a coffee machine works?"
"I don't see how I could possibly stop you."
Dan'd been at Casey's place before. He'd call it his home away from home, except that the office was already that, and there were only so many homes a man could have.
"Hey," Casey said, bumping against his shoulder. "This coffee machine thing's getting you down that much, I'll have a look at it tomorrow, all right? I interviewed a Korean ice skater once."
"A true friend would have kept me from buying the damn thing in the first place."
"Guess I'm not a true friend," Casey said. "Guess I have ulterior motives for acting as if I like you. Better be careful. You never know what nefarious things I may be up to."
"You don't," Dan said. "Like me. Remember? Huge crush."
"All is explained, then." Casey smiled.
Dan kissed him. He realized it was a mistake almost immediately, even before Casey kissed him back (with more enthusiasm than skill, Dan would have liked to think, except that would have been a big, fat lie, because it was Casey, so 'mind-blowingly good' had pretty much always been the only option).
Casey kissing him back made everything more complicated. Dan told himself that if Casey hadn't, he'd have stepped back by now and kept himself, both of them, from getting into even more trouble than they already were. He should have realized that Casey was going to screw it all up.
Barring that, he should maybe not have kissed Casey first.
"All right," Casey said. He was breathing a little hard. "So."
"I'll grab some blankets and make myself comfortable on the couch," Dan said. "Thanks, man. You know how much I love my morning coffee."
"Danny," Casey said.
"Please don't tell me you're out of coffee or something."
"Why - " Casey licked his lips. Dan had kissed those lips. Mere seconds ago, he'd been kissing Casey, and it had almost certainly been the second-worst mistake of his life. "Why don't you come to bed with me and talk to me exhaustively about Jamie Mills?"
"I still think that's illegal in several countries," Dan said.
"I'm willing to risk it if you are," Casey said.
"You swear you're not out of coffee?"
"Would you like to check?"
"Nah," Dan said. "I believe you," and the crazy thing was that he did, too, always, about everything.