I. oh baby refrain
from breaking my heart
It was a hot summer night in Dallas the first time Dan Rydell met Casey McCall. It went something like this:
“So you’re the new guy.”
“That I am.”
They were at some shindig for new hires to mingle with the existing crew in someone’s backyard. Erasure was playing on a boombox.
(That’s the way Casey describes it years later when recounting their origin story. Dan would never call it a shindig, and he certainly would never say “origin story” with a straight face. Unlike Casey, he has a modicum of cool.)
“Jeez, you’re just a kid.”
Casey gave him a once-over that made Dan’s ears burn. “Exactly, a child.”
“And you’re how old, oh wise one?”
“Almost 24,” Casey replied, and Dan swore he puffed out his chest.
“Ah, nearly a quarter of a century. Congrats, my young friend.”
Casey tilted his head to the side, squinting like he was trying to unravel a mystery. It was the most attention someone had paid to Dan since before Sam died. Dan hated how unfairly attractive Casey looked, with his dumb polo shirt and perfectly coiffed hair.
“I like you, Danny.” A heavy hand landed on his shoulder. “I see greatness in our future.”
It’s Dan, died on his lips after a coil of heat sprang up inside him.
“Whatever you say, Case.”
(When he thinks back on it years later, that blinding smile he got in return was probably the origin story of Dan falling in love with Casey.)
As far as slow burns went, this one was like an Olympic Torch that never went out. Dan was the wet behind the ears intern who followed Casey, a lead writer, everywhere. Teasing comments about how they were attached at the hip were not uncommon. Dan was positive that his crush was as obvious as a zit on prom night.
Dana, the assistant producer (and Casey’s best friend since college), was particularly observant. But then again Dan was pretty sure he’d seen the same thing in her eyes a few times. If she had figured Dan out, she was in no position to cast stones.
Casey was one of those people that everyone fell a little in love with. Sure, he was a dork, but he somehow made dorky sexy. Casey was long lines of corn-fed all-American wholesomeness that you wanted to mess up and discover the dirtiness that was dormant beneath. Dan’s fantasies at night — in his tiny apartment that he shared with two other people — were of how he might get Casey to fall apart, first with his hands and then with his mouth.
Dan had fooled around with a few guys but he’d mostly been high during it, trying to desperately forget that his life would never be the same again. Happy sex hasn’t really been a thing he’s had, not since before Sam. Even then, his experiences were more of the ‘terrified teenager who had no idea what they were doing’ nature, and all with girls.
Sex with Casey would probably be fun. Ridiculous, because Casey is ridiculous. And hot. Sex with Casey McCall would be ridiculously hot. Dan would come into his own hand, whispering Casey’s name.
Of course, the topic of sex with Casey was completely theoretical, seeing as Casey was married. A married man, with a kid on the way. Lisa had been a thing since Dan was still in high school, apparently.
“College freshman sweethearts,” Dana said, looking at them both from across the room. “I introduced them. Can’t believe they’re having a baby.”
Dan kept nodding like a bobblehead. He couldn’t seem to control it. He watched Casey tuck a strand of Lisa’s hair behind her ear. He asked the bartender for another drink.
Life went on; it had no choice but to. Dan went back to school but took a few days off some months later to visit Casey and Lisa’s baby. Charlie, they’d named him. He had a pudgy face and dark hair like Lisa. Dan couldn’t fathom being a father, and in all honesty it had been hard at first to picture Casey as one. Then he’d witnessed the way Casey’s eyes had shone as he looked down at Charlie, and it all made sense.
He returned to Dartmouth with a weight in his stomach. Things would never be the same again.
Dan interned every summer at the radio station until he graduated and was then offered a job. So he left New Hampshire, ignored his dad’s critiques about putting all his eggs in one basket, and got a shitty one-bedroom in downtown Dallas. Casey was moving up in the ranks and taking Dan with him. They were still attached at the hip, except Casey was now a father and Dan was quietly fucking guys in private while chasing women in public. If he liked to fool around with blonds, that was his business.
“You should tell him,” Dana said, a few years in. They’d moved from radio in Dallas to television anchors. Dan heard rumors that Casey’s name was being thrown around to take over Conan’s show. He was a ball of anxiety thinking of him in L.A., tanned and beautiful, driving a convertible down PCH.
“Tell him what,” Dan slurred into his Jack and Coke.
“That you’d miss him. That you love him.”
Dan scoffed. He peered at her over the rim of his glass. “Pot, kettle.”
Dana shrugged, didn’t deny it. “Maybe we’re bad people, Dan.”
Casey was arguing with Lisa on the other side of the bar. It was happening more and more lately. “No. No, we’re not,” Dan replied, even as a sliver of happiness went through him as Lisa stormed off toward the bathroom.
“If you say so,” murmured Dana.
Dan didn’t begrudge Dana when she took her shot. Dana was great, and she’d kept Dan’s own feelings under wraps for so wrong she deserved a medal. Especially in the presence of Natalie, whose life force was gossip. Dan was fine with it. Hell, he encouraged it. Casey deserved to be happy, and if he were homosexually inclined to even the slightest degree, Dan would know by now.
It wasn’t like he’d been waiting around all this time for Casey to let down his hair like Rapunzel, so he could climb the friggin’ tower. Casey’s friendship has been the most important thing in Dan’s life. Incidentally being okay with the concept of dating Casey, if Casey were to ever say, “go out with me, Danny?” was secondary to everything else they had together.
“We all have people like that, don’t we?” Dan implored Kim at Anthony’s one night, while Casey and Dana sat awkwardly in a booth.
(Sometimes Dan thought he spent his life looking at Casey from afar, despite spending so much time right next to him.)
“People like what?”
“You know, those friends that you aren’t pining after every moment of every day or objectifying, but you’d still say yes if they ever asked you out.”
Kim placed her hand over his on the bar. “Dan,” she said, voice solemn, “I can promise I’m never going to ask you out.”
“And I greatly respect you for that.”
Dan doesn't look over again, so he has no idea if Casey and Dana leave together.
II. I'm so in love with you
I'll be forever blue
Maybe it was the fact that it was a new millennium. Maybe it was the fact that Dana had moved onto the mysterious Calvin, and Dan never dug Rebecca’s number out of the trash even after the show was saved. Maybe it was the fact that the damn Erasure song that had been playing the first time he met Casey was now popular again, covered by some band whose name sounded like Weezer but was not in fact Weezer.
Whatever the reason, Dan began quietly dating someone over the summer. A male someone.
“I’m sorry, you're what?” Casey’s eyes were very large and round when Dan told him.
They were in Casey’s office. Which was really their office. Dan was attempting to jot down ideas for tonight’s script and having no luck. Casey had gotten up to go get them some water. It’d seemed as good of a time as any, seeing as he’d never write this damn thing if he didn’t clear the air.
“I’m quietly dating.”
“You’re quietly dating.”
Dan tapped his pen against his notepad. “I am indeed.”
“Okay. Okay. And what exactly does that mean?”
“It means it’s on the DL,” Dan replied, ever patient.
“The DL.” Sometimes it was impressive how unimpressed Casey could sound.
“You look very muppet-like right now.”
“Don’t change the subject.”
Dan leaned back in his chair and laughed. “You do! Your eyes are boggled, and your hands are flapping at your sides.”
“And you’re quietly dating.” Casey paused, pointedly. “A man.”
Dan sighed. “You know I see men.”
“No, I do not, in fact, know that you see men.”
“Oh my god. The annual summer party my second intern year in Dallas.”
Casey frowned. “What about it?”
“I went home with Jeff from lighting’s cousin! Who is a guy!”
“Of course you remember the name of someone you met once ten years ago.”
Casey’s arms flapped wider. “Because it’s a ridiculous name unless it’s followed up by Nicks!”
“Oh my god.” Dan slumped forward on the desk and buried his face in his hands.
“You did not leave that shindig with someone named Stevie.”
“People who unironically use the word shindig in general conversation should not pass judgment on names. And yes, I did. If I recall correctly, you said, ‘Be safe, boys’ with a creepy smile. I had to promise him you weren’t my weird uncle.”
Casey sputtered. “I was drunk! And I meant driving! I didn’t — I wouldn’t —oh my god, Danny.”
Dan laughed. “Water under the bridge my young friend, but my point stands. You have seen me hook up with men before. I repeatedly make reference to Piazza’s good looks and how he probably plays for the team.”
“I thought you were just being inclusive!”
“Casey, my man, you are hopeless.” Dan shouldn’t have been disappointed that Casey had clearly missed his bisexuality all these years. It wasn’t overly surprising; Casey’s self-centeredness was his worst quality. Still, he was.
“So you’ve — you’ve met someone you like enough to date. Publicly.” Casey’s voice sounded strained.
“Quietly,” Dan corrected. “I ran it through the channels. As long as I don’t do PDAs, it’s cool.”
“Channels? There are channels?”
“Yes, Casey. We do have a PR team at the network for a reason.”
“Well excuse me, I don’t sit around envisioning circumstances in which private relationships would have to be run through channels that I never really knew existed. And why are these channels hearing about this before I am?”
Dan pinched the bridge of his nose. “Can you please behave like a sane, rational human being for two friggin’ seconds.”
Casey opened and closed his mouth. “Uh-huh. Okay. You’ve run it through the channels. Why now?”
He didn’t meet Casey’s eyes. “It’s a new millennium?”
Dan was going to have to schedule a session with Abby the next day to analyze the dullness in Casey’s voice at that reply.
Joe was nice. He was laid back, worked part-time as an extra, and was a bartender on other nights. At a gay bar in the Village, actually. They’d met when Dan discreetly wandered in, hoping for a hookup, nothing fancy. Maybe get the guy to sign an NDA if he recognized him.
Joe recognized him and instead of looking around the place to score, Dan spent the entire night talking sports with the bartender while lowkey flirting. They didn’t sleep together until two dates later (which, if you wanted to be picky about it, were simply meetups at the bar while Joe worked) later.
It was almost like hanging out with Casey, except orgasms were on the table. And, well, he wasn’t Casey.
Casey thought “Joe” was a dull name and didn’t like that Dan would see him after work instead of going to sleep.
“It’s no more dull than Dan. Also, what is it with you and the names of the guys I hook up with? Would you prefer if it was Stevie?”
“I will not dignify that with a response.”
“And it’s not like our schedules match up otherwise. And, when did you become my mother?”
“For your first relationship with a man, it’s a bit dull of a name, is all I’m saying. And I’m only looking out for your sleep cycle. A lack of sleep contributes to many health issues.”
“Thank you, Sally Jesse, for your concern. Duly noted. And if you think gay relationships require names like, I dunno, Trevor or Connor, I’d ask exactly what type of porn you’ve been watching lately.”
Casey turned bright red. It was satisfying.
“And I never see you anymore,” Casey concluded. He had ducked behind his computer screen, his words were mumbled, but Dan heard them anyway. His pulse quickened.
It had only been a few weeks. Joe was cool enough to see more than once, but Dan knew it wasn’t a love connection. He was enjoying regular sex and doing date-like things because yes, he was a romantic at heart.
Casey admitting he missed Dan, though — that was impressive. Potentially selfish, but also vulnerable. Because Casey’s tone was devoid of manipulation. He sounded… sincere.
“I’m free tomorrow night. We’ll hang at your place? Catch up on some of The Practice?”
“You just want to look at Lara Flynn Boyle.” But Casey was grinning now.
“Nah, I want to look at Dylan McDermont.” Dan winked.
Casey’s blush deepened. It was intriguing, to say the least.
Dana cornered Dan in the hallway the next day and shuffled him into a supply closet.
“I don’t know what you’ve heard, but I’m not that kind of girl,” Dan said.
Dana crossed her arms over her chest. “Casey has an issue with you dating Joe.”
“Our friend is many things, Dana, but despite his weird hangups about Joe’s name not being fabulous enough, he is not actually homophobic.”
“What? No, you know what, I don’t even want to know. And he kind of is a bit homophobic when it comes to lesbians. But that is neither here nor there right now. Point is, he’s got an issue.”
Dan waved her off. “He’s feeling a little neglected, we worked it out. I’m coming over tonight.”
“Hmmm. No, it’s more than that. He’s been digging for info, asking me if I knew you dated men, asking me what your type is.”
Dan laughed, but it stuck in his throat. “So he’s miffed that he was an oblivious idiot. It’s not a big deal, Dana.”
She arched one perfectly shaped eyebrow. “Uh-huh. Maybe so. But why is he so obsessed with this all of a sudden? Why is this a thing now?”
“There is no thing. But it’s cute how delusional you are.”
“Mm, it’s even cuter how clueless you both are.”
She whipped around, gave him the finger, and left Dan standing in the closet like she suddenly knew something he didn’t. Which she couldn’t. Casey wasn’t — he didn’t — it was ridiculous to even entertain the notion.
Except he did just that the remainder of the day.
Dan watched Casey like a hawk when they got to his place. But Casey wasn’t doing anything differently. He got Dan a beer, but he always did that. He sat close to Dan on the couch, but he always did that too. He smiled brilliantly at Dan while Dan attempted to work out the twist in the episode, but he always...
Dan had seen Casey in seduction mode. It wasn’t a pretty sight, from what he’d witnessed. And the rest he could infer. Like, Casey would totally be an arm over the shoulder move kind of guy. It was so amateur, so it made zero sense that Dan wanted it more than breathing.
But nothing happened beyond their bodies pressed together from shoulder to elbow. Casey walked him to the door. Casey always walked him out, ever since the divorce.
“Is it possible I’ve missed some signs?”
Dana didn’t look up from her desk. “Oh, I’m sorry, does this have to do with my cute delusions?”
“Dana!” Dan spun around, then felt dramatic for doing so. He leaned forward with both hands on the edge of her desk. “It’s not possible that I’ve missed some signs, right? There’s no way I could’ve after all this time.”
Dana sat back and smiled smugly. “What did he do?”
“Nothing! That’s the problem. He did —nothing different than he has for years. Except it felt different.”
Dan rolled his eyes. “Casey is too much of a stuffed shirt to plot.”
“He’s thinking and he’s plotting. I can tell.”
Dan groaned, tightened his fingers on the desk. “I feel like I’m back in high school and should be sending him a note to check a box.”
“It’d probably speed things up if you did. This is painful to watch.”
Dan peered up her. “But not really, right?”
“No, not really. I’m very past that, Dan. Unlike someone in this room.”
Dan snorted. “Yeah, well. First love and all that, I suppose.”
Dana covered one of his hands with hers. “Do something, you numbnuts.”
Dan let out a shuddering breath. “What if we’re wrong — what if he—“ He exhaled sharply. “I can’t lose him, Dana.”
“No,” Dana agreed. “You can’t.”
Dan took a deep breath.
He broke things off with Joe the next night. Joe was cool with it. They really had been more like friends with benefits, anyway. He even told Dan to not be a stranger if he was in the mood for some fun.
Sunday they didn’t have the show and it wasn’t Casey’s week to have Charlie, so Dan asked Casey if he wanted to do brunch.
“Do I want to do brunch?” He could see the upturned slant of Casey’s mouth so clearly through the receiver. “Did you turn into a big shot New York producer since I last saw you?”
“You like brunch!”
Casey laughed. “Yeah, Danny, I do. And you make fun of me and my WASP-y ways for it.”
“I could get down with brunch. Take this Jewish boy into your WASP-y Gentile world.”
“Ok, there’s a good place near the Seaport.”
“Of course there is,” Dan deadpanned, even as nervous adrenaline coursed through him.
He wouldn’t drop the bomb in public. Casey would be less likely to make a scene in public, but it was still poor form. And decreased the likelihood of outcomes like kissing.
So, they brunched. They had drinks and an assortment of pastries. There was crab in the eggs (Danny was glad he wasn’t Kosher so he could enjoy it), french toast and mozzarella and tomato salad. They dined like kings and then dined some more.
It felt a little like a date, inasmuch as Dan paid and Casey argued the issue. But otherwise, it was pretty much par for the course. Which meant it was essentially perfect and everything Dan wanted out of life.
“Did my birthday sneak up on me?” Casey asked as they hailed a cab.
“You insisted on paying.”
Dan shrugged. “I thought it would be nice.”
“Danny. Are you dying? Because if you’re dying I’d rather you just tell me, I don’t need to be brunched.”
Dan rolled his eyes and opened the door to the cab as it pulled up. “I’m not dying. C’mon, we can watch old Twilight Zone episodes and make popcorn from scratch. I got some new seasonings.” Casey loved Dan’s fancy popcorn maker.
Except Casey still wasn’t getting in the cab. In fact, he was biting his lip, looking rather constipated.
“Don’t you uh — wanna spend time with Joe?”
“That’s over,” Dan said shortly. “Now get in the damn cab, Case.”
“That’s—” Casey sputtered and Dan tugged on his arm, shuffling him inside.
“I’m not talking about this in public. God, you are so infuriating.”
Casey glowered at him and didn’t say anything else the rest of the way.
“Since when is that over?” are Casey’s first words when they enter Dan’s apartment.
“Since yesterday. And before you start bitching, I was going to tell you over popcorn, beer, and Rod Sterling but you clearly have no respect for agendas.”
“We were just at brunch for two hours, you couldn’t have squeezed it into that conversational agenda?”
“No, Casey, I couldn't. Because brunch did not in fact consist of an agenda. And because the post-brunch agenda is multi-faceted and not suitable for public consumption.
“I really need you to stop saying agenda.”
Dan groaned. “Honestly? You’re making me rethink the whole thing!”
Casey rolled his eyes. “Well I’m so sorry I threw off your carefully planned—“
“Oh for the love of—” Dan grabbed Casey by his tan jacket and kissed him. “There! You happy? I skipped a few steps, but that’s the Cliff Notes.”
Casey blinked at him.
Dan realized what he’d done. “Oh, fuck, “ he whispered, and buried his face in his hands.
“Forget it, okay?” He laughed, high-pitched and shaky. “Blame it on one too many mimosas, alright?”
“Casey, I’m fucking seriou—” and then he wasn’t talking anymore, because he was being tugged forward, arms coming down in front of their bodies while Casey found his mouth and pressed their lips together.
“Oh,” Dan said after at least five minutes of kissing that consisted of teeth and tongues and Casey’s big hands everywhere
Casey huffed out a laugh against his lips. “Yeah.”
“This isn’t because I dared to date someone of the same gender that wasn’t you, is if? Because you never behaved this way when I was sleeping with women.”
“Exactly,” Casey murmured and nipped at Dan’s lips, making him shiver. “Because you were dating women. Contrary to public opinion, I did not know you dated men.”
“Yeah, well, that makes two of us.” Casey’s mouth was highly distracting.
“You knew you dated men!”
“I didn’t know you did!”
“I’ve barely dated anyone, Danny. But. It’s you.”
Dan breathed in through his nose, nodding. “How long?”
“Really long,” Casey whispered, and kissed down Dan’s neck.
Then they were kissing again, long and hard and deep.Dan didn’t want to admit he was a little weak in the knees, but damn if it wasn’t the truth.
“This’ll never work.” Dan had broken away, panting. Because he had a plan. He had a whole speech. And part of that speech — assuming Casey really was into him — was playing devil’s advocate as to why this was a terrible idea to begin with. “This is nuts, Casey.”
“We can make it work.” Casey’s voice was like honey. He was turned on, Dan could feel it, god.
“We’ll fuck it up,” Dan argued.
“And we’re TV personalities.”
“It’s a new millennium, like you said. We’re seen together all the time anyway. If we stick to the no PDA thing, I don’t see a problem.”
“It won’t be easy,” Dan countered, weakly. He blamed Casey’s clever tongue that had found the pulse in his neck.
“No,” Casey agreed. “But it’ll be worth it.”
Casey raised some good points, and honestly, Dan was tired of thinking.
He just wanted...
“God, Danny.” Casey gasped as Dan squeezed his ass, pressing against him harder, tighter. “Bed. C’mon.”
“Oh hell, yes.”
They took out a lamp, tripped over a rug, and crashed into Dan’s framed Joy Division poster on the way there.
Dan fell back on the mattress and pulled Casey on top of him. They struggled out of their jackets and shirts, fumbling at buttons and zippers. Dan didn’t want anything complicated the first time.
“Like this,” he breathed out, Casey’s skin warm beneath his mouth. He took them both in his hand and stroked, smearing his own pre-come down their dicks to ease the way. “Just like this.”
“Yes.” Casey dragged his hands up and down Dan’s sides, feather-light and maddening.
“Casey. Fuck, you drive me crazy.”
“Feeling’s mutual.” He sounded so smug, the bastard. Then he licked over Dan’s nipple and Dan nearly came.
He took his hand away, rolled Casey over and kissed him while rubbing their dicks together. Casey’s foreskin caught on the crown of Dan’s dick, making them both shiver. He wasn’t going to last, not after twelve years of wanting, but it was okay. Casey was right there with him, whimpering into Dan’s mouth and thrusting up against him.
After, Dan was pretty sure he blacked out. When he opened his eyes, Casey was tracing patterns along his shoulder blade, and humming something that sounded suspiciously like Leather and Lace.
“You are such a cheeseball.”
“Mmm. This cheeseball just made you come so hard you lost consciousness.”
Dan’s dick jumped. He supposed this was something he’d eventually get used to. He couldn’t wait.
“Maybe you should try it again, in case it was a fluke.”
Casey leaned over Dan, his eyes dark. “It would be my pleasure.”
Then they were kissing again, and Dan lost himself in the feel and shape of Casey’s lips. He hadn’t stuck to the plan and he still hadn’t told Casey he was in love with him. But it was okay.
He could do it over popcorn.