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[ it's just sex, except for how it's not ]
“Do you have the shot sheet for the Orioles?”
Casey completely and utterly ignores him, for the fifth time. “You can deny it all you want, but I know, Danny. I totally know.”
Dan rolls his eyes. “You know nothing.”
Casey grins triumphantly. “Aha!”
Laughing, Dan shakes his head. “I’m going to find the shot sheet,” he says, pushing his chair back.
“By virtue of you saying that I know nothing you have now confirmed that there is something for me to know,” Casey says, getting up and following him across the room. “Plus, I totally know. So you might as well tell me so I don’t have to humiliate you in a room full of our closest friends and colleagues with this knowledge that I have that you say I don’t.”
Dan gives Casey an exasperated look. “Casey, seriously. I’m trying to work here. I need the shot sheet.”
“Danny, please, just please, please tell me,” Casey says in a rush, grabbing the front of Dan’s shirt. “I have to know. It’s driving me nuts.”
“I couldn’t tell,” Dan says, deadpan, and then he backs away from Casey and towards the door. “And there’s nothing to tell, so.”
“Danny, there is! There is something to tell, and you know how I can tell? Because you’re not telling me something!”
Dan nods. “Well that there is some logic I just can’t argue with. I’m getting the shot sheet.”
“You come in late, you look tired all the time, and yet you look happy so it’s not that you’re having trouble sleeping, which means your ability to sleep is fine,” Casey says, ticking points off on his fingers. “Which means that you’re not sleeping because something is keeping you from sleeping, and that something is good because, as I said before, you look happy.”
Dan leans against the table. “I am happy.”
Casey’s finger points straight up at the ceiling. “Aha!”
“Casey, you saying aha doesn’t actually mean anything anymore. An aha is to be reserved for some sort of epiphany or revelation, and you’ve had neither. I’m going to have to take away your aha-ing privileges. You’ve abused your aha privileges one too many times.”
Casey sighs. “Danny.”
“It’s nothing,” Dan says, finally meeting him in his eyes. “Really, it’s okay.”
“But it’s not nothing, it’s something,” Casey says, for once not playing, not amused, not triumphant or gleeful or sarcastic. There’s a worry line pressed between his eyes on the bridge of his nose and his lips have gone thin and tight. “Can you at least tell me if this thing that’s making you lose sleep and be happy and secretive is going to be one of those things that ends up with you drunk on my doorstep at four in the morning, heartbroken? Because I know it’s a woman, Danny.”
Dan lifts an eyebrow. “How do you know it’s a woman?”
“Because your brand of happy these days has been Well Laid happy,” Casey says, smirking. “Danny I’ve known you for twelve years, I know when you’ve had sex.”
“No, I’m saying what if it’s a man? Maybe I’m not telling you because I’ve recently discovered I’m gay and I’m afraid you’ll judge me.”
Casey rolls his eyes. “Danny. If you were gay, you’d tell me.”
“Well that not withstanding,” Dan says, finally making it to the door and pushing it open. “I’m going to get the shot sheet.”
“If you show up at my door at four in the morning in a drunken, heartbroken state, can I have my aha-ing privileges back,” Casey calls from inside the office.
“You bet,” Dan calls over his shoulder, nodding at Elliot as he passes by him. “I think he’s gone a little crazy.”
Elliot just raises his eyebrows back at him. “I think he’s been a little crazy.”
Dan smirks. “That too.”
Natalie looks up at him from her desk with an inquisitive eyebrow quirk. “Whatcha smirkin’ at?”
Dan’s smirk turns into a smile easily. “Casey thinks I’m having an affair, and he’s pissed I’m not talking about it.”
Natalie’s eyebrows raise. “Does he?”
Dan nods, sitting down on the desk in front of her. “Says I’ve been too happy lately, and secretive.” He leans forward, lowering his voice. “Also says he can tell when I’ve been, and these are his words… well laid.”
“Men are so charming,” Natalie says, standing up. “Danny? Will you help me with something?”
“I’m your man,” Dan says, catching up to her and matching her stride. “What’s this thing I’m helping you with?”
“Just a little thing I need help with,” Natalie says, walking into the stairwell. “The elevators are acting a little weird today so we’re gonna take the stairs, okay?”
“Okay,” Dan says, except he only gets half the word out before Natalie is turning around and shoving him up against the wall, pressing her body to his. “Nat--”
Natalie grins up at him. “Can you guess what the thing I need help with is now, Danny?”
Dan’s eyes fall shut as Natalie’s leg presses into him. “You need help practicing your dominatrix skills?”
“Don’t need help with that,” Natalie says, leaning forward until her lips are only inches away, breath hot against his mouth. “Nor do I need practice.”
“No, I don’t suppose you do,” Dan says, melting against the wall as she closes the distance between them and presses her mouth to his. She tastes like altoids and ambition. “Thought we said not at the office,” he manages to finally get out.
“This isn’t the office,” Natalie says, grinning up at him, eyes dancing with amusement. “Do you see desks here? Do you see computers? ‘Cause I don’t. I see stairs.”
Dan finds it hard to concentrate enough to talk when she starts nibbling at his neck, her fingers skating over and down his sides. “Same building, Natalie. Anyone could walk in here. Casey, Jeremy, Dana, whoever it is that you’re so terrified of finding out, any of them could walk in here.”
“I’m not terrified of anything, Dan,” Natalie says, immediately stopping and raising her head back to look at him. “Just because I want to keep this between us doesn’t mean I’m ashamed or feel guilty.”
Dan nods, even though he doesn’t believe her. “Okay.”
“I’m not,” she says, hands resting on his hips, thumbs rubbing up underneath his shirt to the skin beneath it. “Really, Danny, I’m not afraid of people finding out.”
“Fine,” Dan says, smiling softly and raising his hands to cup her face. Leaning forward he kisses her. “Good.”
“I just think it’s better like this,” Natalie says, pulling back and no longer grinning. “Once one person knows everyone knows, and once everyone knows everyone’s invested, and they think they’re being concerned and ‘good friends’, when in fact they’re just being nosy, and butting in where they’re not needed or wanted.”
Dan snorts. “Right, and that would be a problem for you because you never butt into anyone’s business.”
She looks at him for a long moment and he wishes that he could have kept his mouth shut and just let it be what it was for once. “You think I’m ashamed.”
Dan shakes his head. “It’s not that I think you’re ashamed.”
“Well I gotta say, Danny, it’s either about your insecurities or it says a lot about what you think about me as a person, so I’m kind of rooting for your insecurities at this point.”
“Look, I just…” He pauses, slumping against the wall as Natalie extracts her arms from around him and backs up to look at him with her arms crossed. “I don’t understand what the big deal is. We’re making this bigger than it is. I mean, aren’t we? And Casey knows, Nat. He doesn’t know what he knows, but he knows something’s going on. And I bet Dana does too. And the longer we keep it a secret, the bigger the fall out’s gonna be when people find out, and they will, Nat. They will find out, because people found out about Sally and Casey and they found out about Sally and Gordon, and they will find out about this. Whatever this is.”
She nods, but it’s her ‘I’m so pissed at you I could kill you’ nod, not her ‘I understand where you’re coming from’ one. “What do you think this is?”
He shuts his eyes. “I don’t know what it is, Nat. That’s the whole point.”
“Because I thought it was sex,” Natalie says, voice softer now, closer than it was before. If he opened his eyes he knows she’d be right there in front of him, but he doesn’t want to see her look of pity. Oh poor Danny, he’s having another existential crisis. Poor broken Danny. “I love you, ya know? I’d go so far as to say that, aside from Dana, you’re my closest friend. When I need someone to talk to, to bitch at or to or with, a shoulder to cry on, an ego boost… when I need those things, who do I come to?”
Dan opens his eyes and looks down at her. It’s not pity he sees, it’s amusement. “Me,” he says, unable to help the smile that comes. He’s never able to help the smile that comes when Natalie’s smiling, never has been.
“So yeah,” she says, hand reaching out and grabbing his shirt, fingers curling into the soft grey cotton. “It’s sex, Danny. But it’s not just sex. You know what I’m saying?”
“Yeah,” he says, because he does.
“I’m not ashamed,” she says, locking eyes with him.
He nods, brushing her hair back from her face. “Okay.”
Her frown deepens for a second. “You believe me right?”
He smiles. “I do.”
He can see she’s about to protest again so he kisses her, capturing her bottom lip between his teeth. He wraps his arms around her and pulls her in close, tight against him.
And this is where he always gets confused, every damn time. The moment she melts into him, makes that noise in the back of her throat. Because the thing is, it doesn’t feel like just sex to him. Dan’s had ‘just sex’ before. He’s had a lot of ‘just sex.’ Dan Rydell is the King of ‘just sex.’ (Okay, maybe not the King, but the Court Jester at least).
Just sex involves kissing, and fucking, and holding your partner until she’s gone to sleep and maybe slinking out the door early in the morning before she wakes up. For Dan, it usually doesn’t involve that because he figures the least he can do is whip up some eggs, but that’s not what he has with Natalie.
What he has with Natalie is maybe the best relationship he’s had with a woman. A relationship where he knows where she’s coming from and she knows where he’s coming from just as well. Where she laughs before he tells the joke because she knows what he’s going to say. Where she knows when to push and when to just leave him the hell alone.
What he has with Natalie is laughing together over drinks, and maybe a look that lingers just long enough to get him hard, and then a cab ride from Tony Anthony’s to his place, and sometimes to hers. Kissing up against his door on the way to the couch, making out for an hour before the first part of clothing comes off. Sex that makes his whole body tingle right down to his toes.
But that’s not the part that gets him. The part that gets him is the after. The part where she’s lying in bed next to him, naked, curled around him, fingers tracing a silent pattern on his chest, and talking about the next rundown meeting. Talking about how the next time Jeter finds his way into one of his potshots, she’s going to skin him alive. Talking about how she’d never ever admit this under pain of death, but she really does think Dan’s impromptu fill-ins are much funnier than Casey’s.
How in the morning she’s still there, and he doesn’t feel like slinking off, or making compulsory scrambled eggs to assuage his guilty conscience. How sometimes she’s up before him and in the kitchen making horrible, god awful, so bad it burns his stomach lining French toast, because Natalie can’t cook but that doesn’t mean she won’t anyway. How when they ride into work together there’s never any kind of conversation about who should go in first, because it’s not like arriving at the same time is some sort of crime.
The part that messes him up is the part where it doesn’t mess them up. The part where they’re still Natalie and Dan, before, during, and after. How it doesn’t seem to matter that he’s seen her naked, because she’s still going to depants him when he needs a little punishment, and he’s still going to mock her when she’s being unreasonable.
It’s also the sex though, because it’s amazing. It’s wonderful, the noises she makes when she’s turned on, how he knows just how to touch her now, after only three weeks. How she can look at him and quirk an eyebrow and he’ll be hard throughout the entirety of their ten o’clock rundown. How when she comes, she’s always looking at him, his name on her lips as her fingernails drag over his skin, and the way she says his name sounds like a prayer.
When Dan walks into the office forty-five minutes later he’s completely forgotten what he’d left to do in the first place.
Casey reminds him immediately. “So I had the shot sheet the whole time, you really didn’t have to--”
“I’m in love with her,” Dan blurts out, sitting down in the chair in front of Casey’s desk. Casey’s mouth shuts with an audible click. “I’m talking about it now.”
Casey nods. “In love.”
Dan nods. “Like, head in the clouds, walking on air, the hills are alive with the sound of music in love. Yeah, Casey, in love.”
Casey nods again. “Okay.”
“She doesn’t want anyone to know,” Dan says, looking away. “About us. She doesn’t want us to tell, wants to keep it between us. And I can’t.. I can’t just…”
“Sure,” Casey says, leaning forward, giving him a concerned look. “You don’t want to betray her confidence.”
“Yeah,” Dan says, nodding and looking at him. “I’m not that guy.”
Casey watches him for a moment, like he can read every secret Dan’s ever kept in the depths of his eyes. For a second Dan actually thinks maybe he can. “Danny?”
“The chances of you showing up at my door at four in the morning, drunk and heartbroken… they just went up tenfold didn’t they?”