Oh, The Places You'll Go

Fake Plastic Smiles

Notes: Because I was on holiday and I watched 'Bring It On' and suddenly it was obvious that Casey hadn't just been a gymnast. Set pre and post canon. One tiny spoiler - you'll have to squint. Thanks again to phoebesmum for the beta.


1988

"You want me to come with you to what?!"

"The National Collegiate Cheerleading Championships, Daytona Beach."

"Are you insane?!"

Casey McCall bridled.

"Actually, the athletic abilities of the..." he trailed off, shaking his head at Dan's horrified expression. "C'mon, Danny," he wheedled. "There'll be hot girls in short skirts. Besides, it's not like you have a choice. Jim said you should come."

"Oh well. If Jim said. And there are short skirts. And it's Florida." And you're there, he thought.

"And Northeastern are in it, as well as the fact that CBS are covering it, which means ..."

"Which means 'we gotta do one better,'" Dan's impression of the gruffly spoken managing editor of KXRS was good enough to make Casey smile and bad enough to make him slap Dan around the head.

"It'll be cool," he said. "Be a good way to end your internship. You and me, hanging out together in the Florida sunshine."

"Plus the camera men and the sound recordist and the segment producer and ..."

"One big happy family," grinned Casey.

***

"OK," said Dan, wincing. "I thought the teams down on the mat were supposed to be doing the cheering. This is crazy."

Casey had been ordered out of the van by Janine, the segment producer, who told Dan that if Casey told her how to place one more shot, he would find himself on the receiving end of a shot of a different kind. Dan had anticipated a battle and was surprised to find Casey readily agreeing to watch the competition from the stands. The open-air auditorium was packed. They found themselves about three-quarters of the way up the steeply banked rows of seats. Supporters of different teams were waving a rainbow of flags and banners as if they had never heard of lactic acid build-up. They were also yelling. Loudly.

"I told you, cheerleading is an increasingly popular sport."

"Activity."

"Sport."

"Sticking your hand up a girl's skirt was never called a sport in my high school. Recreational activity, definitely." Dan slid his eyes towards Casey and was rewarded by seeing his face flush. "Aww," he said, pinching Casey's cheek, "you're such an innocent."

Casey pushed his hand away and rolled his eyes.

"One call from me to your journalism professor and I could squash you like a bug, Daniel Rydell."

Dan patted Casey's shoulder.

"If that's what you'd like to think."

The crowd quietened. An expectant energy filled the auditorium as the first bars of music pumped out of the P.A. system. The first squad in the preliminary rounds of the coed division, Texas Tech, ran out onto the large, blue mat, assuming their start positions. Over the following two minutes Dan's expression turned from one of scorn to one of astonishment. He turned to Casey, to find his eyes glued on the flying and tumbling women and men in front of him. This was not how he remembered cheerleading to be. The routine ended to wild applause.

"Casey?"

"Hmm?"

"That was ..." Dan struggled to find the right word.

"That was what?" Casey was distracted, looking at the judges who sat behind a long, covered table. They were in a little huddle.

"Impressive," Dan managed. "That was impressive. The way they flipped the girls in the air like that? Impressive."

Casey turned his attention back to Dan.

"Basket toss with a toe-touch dismount," he said.

"Was that the one where the girls scrunched up into little balls then did, like, a star-jump in the air?"

"No. When the men throw the women up in the air like that, it's always a basket toss, but there are different dismounts. The toe-touch dismount was when the legs were straddled and straight, toes were pointed, knees were up, and the arms were out, like a T shape. The scrunchy ball exploding thing is an X-out." The music started up again and Casey sat up straight, watching the next squad run out and whip up the crowd into a frenzy. Dan narrowed his eyes. Casey seemed to know an awful lot about cheerleading. But then, he was always good with research.

After the first six teams, and a plethora of information about jumps, stunts, pyramids, tosses and dismounts, there was a short break and Dan wandered off to find them both a drink. He checked in at the van. Janine was happy with what they were getting so far. It would cut together to create an interesting montage. They chatted briefly about the potential winners and appropriate questions and then Dan headed back to Casey. Someone else was in his seat. A dark haired man in his early thirties with the body of a gymnast, broad shoulders and a narrow waist. Powerful. He and Casey were deep in conversation. Casey was demonstrating something, his hands and arms tumbling over each other to make a point. The stranger was laughing.

"Hey," Dan said, pulling up short.

The stranger looked up at Dan, squinting in the sunlight.

"Hey." They stared at each other, Dan feeling the lack of his years under the man's steady gaze. He held out Casey's coffee. Casey took it without a word.

"Casey," said the stranger. "Aren't you going to introduce your friend?"

Casey smiled, chagrined.

"Sorry," he said. "Coach Fitz, this is Dan Rydell. He's m ... our intern. Dan, this is Coach Fitz. From my ch ... from my college days."

"Good to meet you, Dan," said Coach Fitz and stuck out his hand. Dan took it. It was a very firm shake. He got the impression he was being sized up. Coach Fitz turned back to Casey showing no indication of getting out of Dan's seat. Dan wasn't sure what he was expected to do, so he hovered, vacillating between attempting to join the conversation and pretending to be absorbed in the 'entertainment' on stage.

"So, how's Sean?" asked Coach Fitz.

Dan felt, rather than saw, Casey flinch.

"I wouldn't know. We lost touch after college."

"Really? But the two of you were always so tight. Best buds." Dan couldn't help but be interested. He had a vested interest in Casey's ability and desire to retain friends.

"Sean?" he asked.

"Yeah." Coach Fitz grinned. "Man, you should have seen the pair of them. Real practical jokers of the squad. Half an hour before competition and the flyers can't find their briefs. Everyone is franctic, tearing the place upside down. Sammi and Ivy are crying 'cos they don't want the whole world looking at their non-colour-co-ordinated panties. Jai's telling them not to be so stupid and she'll go out with no briefs at all! It's only when I realise that Sean and Casey are the ones shouting the loudest that I realise it's them. So I work on the weakest of the pair." At Dan's lifted eyebrows he added, "Casey, of course." Dan grinned and the coach continued, "And in less than a minute he's squealing like a pig and Sean is groaning, head in hands, like it's any surprise his best friend's got a case of the guilts. The girls get their briefs back, Sean tells Casey he'll get his later and the squad go out and place third in the regionals. Best finish ever."

Dan laughed. Casey had been a cheerleader! Well, that certainly explained his encyclopaedic knowledge of the sport. Activity. Whatever. There would be much fun-poking. He was looking forward to it.

"Casey piked out!" he grinned.

Casey groaned.

"A cheerleading jump joke," said the coach, straight-faced. "Don't get many of those." He checked his watch. "They're about to start again, I'd better get back to the squad. They'll be in pieces by now. Good to meet you, Dan. Casey, I'm sure I'll see you around." Casey nodded and Dan squeezed out a faint goodbye. The coach got up and headed down the row, pushing past knees and bags without a word, leaving behind a wave of disgruntlement.

Dan plopped into his seat.

"Warm heart, that guy," he said.

Casey smiled but it didn't reach his eyes. Hmmm, thought Dan, my Spidey-sense is tingling. What's going on here?

"So," he said, as casually as he could muster, "Sean. Your best friend from college, huh?"

"Yeah, he was. We did everything together. He used to think up the stupidest things. One time we scaled the dorm building with traffic cones and made a helipad on the roof. He wouldn't get down until he'd seen a helicopter."

"Did he? See one?"

Casey shrugged.

"Probably not. I got hungry so I left him to it."

"You left him? Poor Sean."

"Oh, don't worry about him. He got his own back."

"Oh?"

"Yeah, it involved a glass of flat beer that turned out to be ... not beer."

"Oh!"

"Mmm."

"Sounds like a good guy."

Casey took some time to reply. The next team had begun their routine and Dan had realised with shame that he now recognised a Double Nine and a Cupie without being told before Casey said,

"He was."

Oh, the Spidey-sense was tingling all over the place. And it wasn't a good feeling. With a sense of foreboding, Dan asked the question.

"What happened to him?"

Casey didn't move a fraction of a millimetre but Dan knew that inside he was curling up on himself, spraying out spines like a porcupine. No response.

"Casey, what happened to you and Sean?"

The routine ended and Casey clapped without enthusiasm.

"Casey. Where did he go?"

Casey turned to Dan and grimaced, mouth stretching across pale cheeks.

"He kissed me."

Dan provided his impression of a stone. Casey's hands found each other and his fingers twisted and twined.

"He kissed me on Graduation Day and I couldn't handle it. I didn't want it. Want him. I'm not ... I yelled and I ... I told him I didn't want to see him again. I never have."

The bottom fell out of Dan's stomach. It took all his willpower not to drop to the floor in search of it. He could kick himself. Would, given half the chance. He knew Casey was due to get married in a couple of months, had met his fiancee, Lisa but still. There was a vibe. He knew there was a vibe. He was never wrong. Was he wrong? Had he said anything? Was he supposed to? Did Casey think he was disapproving? Oh god, he was so confused.

"Oh," he said, non-commitally.

Two routines later, Casey said,

"I miss him sometimes."

That's it, thought Dan. I have to stop working on this crush. I have to get myself under control. He'll break my heart and he won't even know it.

***

Backstage was a tale of two tournaments. The winners of each division were yelling and screaming in pitches so high the local dogs must have been fleeing for their lives. The teams not placed were quiet, dejected, gathering their things together and holding on to each other. Dan was stunned to see two bases from the Clemson squad leaning on each other, tears rolling down their faces. It mattered that much? To guys?

Casey had called Louisville coed squad as overall Champions from the second their routine had finished. He was right. And now Dan was corraling them all together for a short interview. It wasn't easy. No sooner had he got most of them in one place then an adoring friend or relative would appear and pounce and suddenly one or two would peel off and there would be more rounds of hugging and exclamations and "I know! I can't believe it!"s complete with ritual hair flick. He would have to apologise to the mom/best friend/boyfriend/Auntie Susan and return the escapee to the group. It felt like hours by the time they were finally ready. Casey indicated that the camera should start rolling.

"Wait!" A diminutive, auburn girl began jumping up and down, flapping her arms. Not more cheers, thought Dan, and Casey made the cut sign.

"What is it?" he asked, through only slightly clenched teeth.

"Lucas isn't here. We can't do it without Lucas." And suddenly ponytails were bobbing everywhere as the others nodded in agreement and started muttering about the whereabouts of the elusive Lucas.

"Then if we can't manage without him, could someone possibly direct me to Lucas?" asked Dan after a minute or so of babble had failed to produce any results.

"He was just in the ... oh wait," said the tiny redhead, pointing behind the camera, "there he is." She jumped up and down again, waving violently. This time the rest joined in, all yelling "Lucas!" as if he was a new cheer. Dan turned and looked at Casey, eyebrows raised. Casey shrugged as if to say, what do you expect? They just won. The first Dan saw of Lucas was his back as he jogged past to join the rest of the squad. More honestly, the first Dan saw of Lucas was his butt, nicely defined by the blue lycra uniform. Dan gave it an internal thumbs up of appreciation. Then the prodigal cheerleader disappeared under the hugs of his fellows and the next thing Dan saw was his smiling face as he turned and apologised to the crew.

"Sorry, guys. I could see you getting ready from over there but my mom had brought along the pastor and half the congregation and I couldn't get away. They'd come such a long way, I couldn't be rude." He pushed a lock of burnished gold hair away from his face. Dan found himself mimicking the gesture.

"No problem," said Casey. "It's a crazy day for all of you. Are we ready to get started?"

"Sure," said Lucas, flashing his white teeth at Casey but shining sky blue eyes on Dan.

The interview ran smoothly after that. When it ended, in the flurry that followed, Lucas seemed to be the one who ended up with the handheld microphone. He brought it over, eschewing the sound man in favour of Dan.

"Here," he said, holding it out. "This belongs to you." He twizzled it around. "It's a bit like handling a Spirit Stick. You ever done that?" His wide eyes looked innocent but Dan knew he would make sure their fingers brushed when the transfer of the mic was executed.

"I'm not sure I could live up to your standards," Dan said, fingers uncurling to take the weighty metal.

"I'm thinking of becoming a coach. Could use some practice."

And there the microphone lay, heavy in his hand, the skin of his palm tingling where Lucas' nails had trailed subtly across it.

"Are you guys heading straight back home?"

"No, it's late. And it's a long way. We'll go back in the morning. You?"

"We've still got a lot to do here. All the cutting and editing can be done in the broadcast van. We've got," he checked his watch, "almost three hours to make our slot. That sounds a lot, but Harvey, the executive producer may not want to show it sight unseen. That means an earlier finish. It all depends on what else has been happening today." Dan ran out of steam.

Lucas smiled.

"So you're staying?"

"Yeah."

"Can I see you later?"

"Yeah."

See, thought Dan. I can pick up vibes - he looked at Casey, deep in conversation with Janice - I can.

***

It was as dark as it could get in a mess of trees and shrubs in a Florida hotel complex. Dark enough not to be discovered, but light enough to be able to thrill in the sight of a well toned body clad in a figure hugging T and cut-off denims, full lips and a so-happy-to-see-you dick bobbing in the night air. Dan slid onto his knees, wrapping his hand round the base of Lucas' cock, licking his lips before stretching them around the head ("Open wide!" singsongs the man in the paper mask), tasting bitterness, smelling soap and musk and pine. Lucas twined his hand in Dan's hair, pulling. Dan would have groaned if his mouth was less full. Maybe that's why dad is always on at me to have it cut, he thought. Maybe he knows how good this feels.

***

"Where've you been?" asked Casey, opening the door. "I thought we were going to dinner." He narrowed his eyes. "What've you been up to?"

Dan stepped past him and headed straight for the bathroom. He ran the taps in the basin and looked at himself in the mirror. His pupils were so large his eyes shone black. His lips looked coloured in, redder, fuller. Strands of hair stood out at odd angles. He let the cold water run over his hand and attempted to control his locks. He splashed his face and dried it, noticing dust on the knees of his pants. He brushed it off with a grin, and returned to the bedroom.

"Sorry," he said. "I was just. Hot."

"What have you been up to?" Casey repeated. He was sitting on the bed, pulling on his shoes without undoing the laces. He was not having much success. Dan watched the struggle and felt his heart swell. Idiot Casey! Sometimes Dan didn't understand where his crush had come from. Other times he understood only too well.

"Undo the laces, Casey. For such a neat freak it's a weird little foible."

"Am not a neat freak."

"Are too. And you're not five either, so let's skip the rest of that."

"Fine," said Casey, undoing the laces. "So how about instead you tell me what you've been up to. You're obviously hiding something."

OK, thought Dan. Why not? Nothing to lose. He's put it out there. Now it's my turn. If he's gonna do a Sean on me, it might as well be now. Single stroke of the axe. He shook his head. Bad metaphor.

"I, er, hooked up with one of the Louisville squad," he admitted, lounging against the desk.

Casey looked up from his Gordian knot, shocked.

"You did?"

Dan nodded. Casey said nothing for a fraction too long and gave his full attention to the shoelace problem.

"Louisville, huh? And here was I thinking you'd find it easier with one of the losers. Pick off the weakest in the herd." There was a smile in his voice but Dan thought he could discern an edge.

"I would have you know that at Dartmouth my skills are legendary."

"You mean at the bottom of a graph on how not to get girls?"

"Your dry wit would go down well with roast chicken or fish. Try more robust humour with a joint of lamb."

Casey faked throwing a shoe at Dan's head. He threw up his arms in defence.

"It wasn't the redhead, was it?"

"Auburn," corrected Dan.

"It wasn't, was it?"

"No."

"Good. Although I think I'd've known if it was. You'd have heard her all over the complex." Casey stood up and star-jumped into a cheer "D-A-NN-Y, he can make my panties fly!" He flopped back onto the bed and grinned at an unimpressed Dan who folded his arms and attempted to look disapproving.

"Go on then. Who?"

Come on, Dan, he told himself. Spit it out.

"Actually, it was Lucas."

Casey's grin froze. The seconds stretched out. And as time slowed down, the silence became a mixture of tiny noises. Dan could swear he could hear his hair growing.

"Lucas?" And time snapped back again.

"Yeah, Lucas."

Casey looked horrified. At least, Dan thought it was horrified. For some reason his eyes weren't focussing properly.

"Why didn't you tell me before?"

"Tell you what?"

"You know what." Casey started to tie one end of the left shoe lace to one of the right shoe. "That you're. That you're. That you're."

"Gay? The word won't kill you, Casey."

"That you're gay. Why didn't you tell me?"

Dan shrugged.

"Never came up."

"You don't like girls at all?"

"Never say never."

Casey's shoulders slumped.

"You should have told me before."

"Why?"

"Because ... Because ... Because it's ... because I need time to get my head round it. And you're about to leave. And ..."

"Honestly?" said Dan, as Casey rubbed at his eyes. "I thought you kinda knew."

Casey's head jerked up.

"How would I know?"

"It doesn't matter."

"It doesn't matter?"

"If you don't know how you would know then it doesn't matter."

"Does it matter that you've stopped making sense?"

Dan sighed.

"C'mon, Casey. Give me your shoes. We need to get dinner."

~

2002

Dan sipped his beer.

"They've got to lose spirit points for that," he said. "That captain's smile is so plastic you could extrude it and turn it into an ice-cube tray."

"Well, yes," conceded Casey. "But you may want to consider how crashing her knee into the base's shoulder when she was coming off that Liberty may have affected her ability to smile naturally. In fact, that mistake may be where the points are deducted. I merely guess."

Dan muttered something about know-it-alls and if they knew so much why were they sitting in a bar watching the NCA Cheerleading Championships on ESPN2 instead of being among the judges in Daytona. Casey ignored him and lifted his bottle to his lips.

"You know," he said after a moment, "it's all changed from when we covered it back in '88."

"Yeah?" queried Dan. "Brightly coloured uniforms. Check. Tiny tiny skirts. Check. Enough hairspray to singlehandedly cause the hole in the ozone layer. Check. Screaming audience. Check. More money spent per capita on competitor's dental work than the entire economies of Western Africa generate in a year. Check."

Casey swiped across the table at Dan's ear. It was half-hearted and an easy dodge.

"Go on then, oh cheerleading guru. Tell me what's changed."

"You're not interested."

"No, but you're going to tell me anyway so I might as well fake it."

"OK," Casey sat up straighter. "In '88 there were, what, eight national or regional cheerleading competitions. This year there are seventy-two. Seventy-two! It's a national industry. There are All-Star teams who make cheering their life. Which sounds bizarre to you and me, but seems to make them happy, so. States are beginning to recognise cheerleading as a sport, which comes with all kinds of benefits."

"Activity," teased Dan.

"Sport." Casey smiled at his friend and continued. "The routines get more complex by the year, all sorts of other dance forms are being incorporated, influences are yanked from all over. It's pretty impressive."

Dan reached over and patted Casey's head.

"Good little cheer boy," he said.

A hand interposed itself between the two men, tapping Casey on the shoulder.

"Casey?" a deep, warm voice.

Dan turned to see Casey leaping off the bench, laughing and throwing his arms around the strange man.

"Sean! God, it's good to see you!"

Sean? ...Sean ... Sean! The guy who'd kissed Casey. The guy who'd been his best friend. The guy who Dan had managed to avoid becoming. He stared. Casey drew back and sat back down, sliding along the bench to make room for Sean. They launched into conversation, swapping news, very busy, on TV, one kid, Charlie ... three! That must keep you on your toes ...

And all the while Dan stared. Sean had short, salt and pepper hair, more salt now than pepper. He had a kind face with features that were amorphous if taken separately, but together made some sort of sense. He had broad shoulders but was no longer in shape, though a well-tailored suit did well to disguise the fact. When he spoke, his whole body was animated, and Dan could see the joker that Casey had described all those years ago.

Pictures were pulled from wallets and admired in manly fashion. What was it with dads? Dan wondered. Couldn't they just admit they were proud and be done with it? He took a swig of beer and put his bottle down a little more noisily than was necessary. Casey and Sean both looked at him. Sean's face curious, Casey's guilty.

"Sorry," said Casey. "We're being rude. Sean, this is my partner, Dan Rydell."

There was an awkward silence. Dan could see Sean's eyebrows trying not to furrow while he looked down at the photo of Charlie and then up again at Dan. Dan watched Casey's face change as he realised how his words had been misinterpreted.

"We co-anchor Sports Night on QVS," he inserted into the dead air. "Haven't you seen it? I'm ... offended!" he pounded the table in mock-anger and Sean laughed, but Dan thought he could see a hint of desperation in Casey's eyes.

"Sorry, Case. I've been living in England for, must be eight years now. We get Fox and ESPN but not you guys." He held out his hand to Dan, looking him in the eye for the first time. "Good to meet you, Dan. Any friend of Casey's ..."

Dan shook. Sean had a firm, dry grip and a steady gaze. Dan sensed that here was a WYSIWYG guy. Something was. Off. He couldn't put his finger on it. But it was definitely off.

***

On Monday, Dan sat in front of his laptop wondering if he could write each sentence in his pre-Draft report with each word starting with the initial letter of the team being reviewed. Bengals bag big Buchanan but blow Bledsoe. Perhaps not. He looked over at Casey.

"Sean seems like a good guy," he said.

Casey's fingers skittered to a halt on the keyboard. He didn't look up and Dan could have sworn he blushed.

"Yeah," he replied. "He is. Was. Is."

Dan considered Casey for a few seconds, then returned to his script.

"What rhymes with Packers?" he asked.

***

On Tuesday, the co-anchors stood at the Craft Services table. Dan bit into an apple whilst watching Casey build an unfeasibly large sandwich that seemed to be based around the idea that provolone was a basic food group in itself.

"Three kids, huh?"

"What?" Casey layered pickle on top of the nth slice of provolone.

"Sean. Three kids. That's, like, a loooot of kids."

"Mmhmm." Casey placed the final piece of bread on the sandwich and attempted to take a bite. At least half the filling found its way to his shirt front and from there to the floor.

"A lot of kids," repeated Dan and wandered off in search of a cloth.

***

On Wednesday, Dave called sixty seconds back from a C-break. Dan shuffled his script and looked sideways at Casey.

"You know, it's a shame you and Sean lost touch. He seems really straight. Er, decent."

"In 3, 2, 1. And we're back."

***

It was past three on Friday morning when Dan found himself outside Casey's apartment, banging on the door.

"OK! OK! I'm coming!" Casey's muffled voice sounded irritated. This did not bode well. The door opened and Casey stood there still tying up the hastily slung on sweatpants, sleep befuddled, hair sticking up, faded t-shirt rumpled. Dan's heart gave a squeeze. He couldn't help it. Casey opened his mouth, probably to berate him, but Dan did not give him the chance.

"Are you still in love with him?"

Casey's jaw dropped.

"What the fuck?!"

Dan pushed past him, veering right into the living space. He thought about sitting down on the squashy, blue couch Casey had bought as a reaction against Lisa's minimalist aesthetic, but decided he had too much nervous energy. He strode to the window and turned, leaning on the sill. Casey had shut the door and stood at the other end of the room, looking cross? bemused? helpless? guilty?

"Are you still in love with him?"

"Danny, I have no idea what ..."

Dan's feet drummed on the wooden floor.

"Listen Casey, I'm so broad spectrum I could be a rainbow. Sean's straight, Casey. Straight as a ballet dancer's spine. Straight. You kissed him."

It was as if the strings holding Casey up had been snipped. He collapsed onto the couch and buried his head in folded arms. It was an admission. Dan shook his head, a little part of him had been hoping he'd been wrong. Because - he started pacing - because ...

"All these years, Casey. Fourteen years. Why didn't you tell me? What did you think was going to happen?"

Casey raised his head. Dan could see the pain in his eyes and had to resist the urge to touch him, to try to take it away.

"It was. It was just a one time thing. We'd been so close, we were going our separate ways, it seemed like the right thing to do. But when he was so horrified ... Let's say age has definitely mellowed him. I realised it was for the best. I was engaged to Lisa, I wanted to be on TV. In sports. I wanted to be normal. I didn't want to have feelings for him, for any guy. It all seemed so important."

Dan banged the window sill with his palm.

"That's so much bullshit, Casey! I sleep with guys, I sleep with girls. You know it. I'm still here. On TV. In sports."

"I didn't know it."

"Casey."

"OK, I didn't want to know I knew it."

"Why?"

Casey unbent his body and threw himself backwards against the soft pillows. He covered his face with his hands.

"Because it would have made the struggle pointless. And I ..." he trailed off.

I knew it, thought Dan. There was a vibe. I wasn't wrong. I'm never wrong. He crossed the room and crouched between Casey's legs and reached up to pull his hands away from his face. He kept hold of them. Casey made no attempt to pull them out of Dan's grasp.

"You haven't answered my question."

"There was a question?"

"About Sean."

"Oh, that question."

"Yes, that one. Don't prevaricate," and he gave Casey's hands a gentle squeeze.

"No," said Casey. "No, I'm not."

Dan slid his hands up Casey's arms to his shoulders, gripping them firmly. He rose on his knees until their faces were just inches apart. Casey's breath started to come fast and shallow. Oh yeah, huge vibes - Dan felt his heart hammering in his chest.

"That's good," he said.

"Yeah?"

"Because I'm not going to place second any more."

"What?"

It was pointless trying to tell him, Dan decided. Casey was obviouly a kinaesthetic learner. He closed the distance between them and kissed him. Casey's lips were warm, dry and ... resistant. Dan moved one hand to cup Casey's neck, manoeuvred himself to his feet, then straddled Casey's thigh, sinking into the couch cushions either side of Casey's firmly muscled leg.

He increased the pressure of his mouth on Casey's and suddenly Casey was opening up to him, was reaching out to pull him closer, was making guttural sounds that resonated somewhere so deep inside Dan that he hadn't been aware of its existence. He realised too that if they got too far into this he would be lost, unable to find himself again. And that was fine - if Casey was going to be lost with him. But what if this wasn't what he thought it was? Suddenly frightened, he pulled away. Casey let out a little sound of loss that almost sent Dan straight back to his lips but he steeled himself against distraction.

He slipped off Casey's leg and sat beside him. Casey looked confused. Dan reached up to smooth his hair and smiled as Casey caught his wrist and brought it to his mouth for a kiss.

"Casey, we have to ..."

"You're going to say talk. Overrated." He moved Dan's hand down over his now bulging sweatpants. Dan swallowed hard as he felt the solid flesh, as his fingers began to curl around it. No! He snatched his hand away and Casey pouted. Wow! Casey pouted. That was. Adorable. Dan tried shaking the distracting thoughts out of his head.

"You look like my old dog, Fido, after he'd just come out of the water," Casey pointed out.

"You had a dog called Fido? That shows no imagination."

Casey shrugged.

"Whatcha gonna do?" He let his hand drop to Dan's thigh and began trailing up it. Oh god, thought Dan. Have the conversation, have the conversation, have the conversation.

"I love you!" he blurted out. Casey's hand stopped trailing. Dan didn't dare catch his expression. He stared at the veins in Casey's hand, tracing them up his arm until they disappeared, gone underground like a secret river.

"I could do this long declaration about how I've always known there was something between us and I tried to get over it, I really did, but it was always there. But I don't want to do that. I want you to take me to bed. But if it's only going to be this once then I don't even want that." He dragged his eyes away from Casey's hand and looked him in the eyes.

"I want you. I want us. Out or in, you choose. But it's all or nothing, Casey. I can't be casual about this." He stopped. He could see Casey's jaw working, could see his eyes shining, could hope.

The hand left Dan's thigh and Dan briefly mourned the loss of warmth before it was reborn on his cheek as Casey held it, stroking his thumb along Dan's jawline.

"I can't. Do. Words," Casey pushed out. "Not like you. I can't tell you I've been in love with you forever. All I can tell you is that since the day I met you life has made more sense. That I'm in love with you now. That this may have just happened or it may always have been there. That your kiss exhilarated me and terrified me at the same time. That this is all or nothing for me too."

"You can do words," said Dan, happiness writ large across his face and he moved in for another kiss. After a few seconds Casey pushed him away.

"Danny, you don't make it easy to kiss you when you keep smiling," he said.

"No," Dan agreed, thoughtful. "It causes drool issues, doesn't it?" He wiped at Casey's chin with the sleeve of his jumper.

"Right, that's it!" declared Casey, leaping up and causing Dan to gurgle at Casey's tenting pants. Casey grinned, eyes rolling.

"Just call me Tent-Pole Tudor."

"Tenpole, dumbass."

"I know." He grabbed Dan's wrist and heaved. "Bedroom," he demanded. "Now."

"Aye, aye, Cap'n. Want me to hang a flag on your mast?" Casey yanked Dan towards him, kissing him deeply and grinding his erection into Dan's hip.

"You were saying?" he asked, breaking off for air.

"Last one in the bedroom buys breakfast?" suggested Dan and raced off ahead of Casey.

***

When Casey's mouth was wrapped around Dan's cock, in between writhing and moaning Dan wondered aloud if there was a cheer for this. Casey choked. He squeezed Dan's balls as punishment, but Dan didn't seem to mind. Quite the opposite. He twisted his hands in the sheets and gasped out Casey's name. There was a gurgling sound, vibrations resonating along Dan's cock.

"Whaaaaat?" asked Dan, close to the edge now.

Casey pulled back to the tip of Dan's cock, licking over the head he let it drop from his mouth, holding it like a microphone.

"Your cock aches." He flicked his tongue across the little fold of skin joining shaft to head. Dan groaned.

"Your balls are too tight." Casey dived down to take each one in turn into his mouth, sucking gently. Dan shivered, and his lips twitched.

"Your hips shake from left to right." He plunged down on Dan, taking his whole length in and then releasing it almost as suddenly. Dan responded appropriately. He was nothing if not a good student.

"I said UH! Devour." This Casey proceeded to do, working Dan's cock as if it was his personal Spirit Stick. Dan could feel the pressure building and he began to judder, his breath coming out in a long hiccupping hiss. Casey withdrew again. Dan looked at him, pleading, but Casey just grinned back, the devil in his eyes.

"Casey McCall, has got the power!" His mouth sank back around Dan. And Dan came, with a snort of laughter that expelled the air from his lungs as violently as the come was expelled from his cock.

"That's a blowjob cheer?" he asked once they'd recovered. "I'll be interested to see what you come up with when you fuck me."

"What?!" he exclaimed at Casey's outraged expression. "You mean this isn't standard practice?"

"Go to sleep, Danny," ordered Casey.

"'K." There was a small kafuffle over who went where, but eventually the two men settled down on their sides, Casey's body curved around Dan's, his arm thrown over Dan's chest. Dan stroked it. They lay in companiable silence.

A small, sleepy voice offered,

"C-A-SEY. He's the world's dumbest guy."

Dan was rewarded with a soft nip on his ear. He drifted off into dreams of pom-poms and spirit sticks.


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