A/N: Finally, finally, FINALLY I've finished this thing. My reviewers are the most awesome and patient people EVER, and I'm sending a great big resounding "THANK YOU!!" to you all :D I had hinted at upping the rating to "M," but as I started writing, it just didn't go in that direction. It didn't ring true for the characters at that point in their relationship. Seriously, though, this site needs some D/B nookie. Or just some more D/B, period. I've read and reread Michelleypie's brilliant fic "Skin Deep" about seven times now. No joke.
They were flying down the winding road like bats out of Gina Gambaro's weave, the city lights far in the distance.
Betty would've taken this opportunity to nap if she hadn't anticipated being scraped off the pavement with OxyClean and a spatula sometime in the very near future.
Despite the rapidly setting sun, Daniel had donned a pair of aviator-style sunglasses because, according to him, he was just that cool. Although he was usually low-key, put the man behind the wheel of a car and he turned into a road Nazi of the highest rank.
"You know," he bellowed at the driver in front of him that had the nerve to go a mere 75 mph, "if you push the pedal to the right, magical things happen…ACCELERATION FOR INSTANCE."
By the time they'd almost literally hit el Mansion de la Meade, Betty had totally rethought her views on pubic transportation. The guy that had sat next to her on the bus this morning, the one with a grand total of four teeth and breath that had a right hook like Chuck Norris, was starting to look like a practically viable dating option when compared to riding shotgun with her drool-worthy boss.
They screeched to a halt in front of the massive wrought-iron gates, both of which were emblazoned with the letter "M."
"What've you got in there-- King Kong?" Betty quipped, noting the over-the-top grandeur.
Daniel spared her a sour glance before shouting into the trendy little intercom, "This is Daniel Meade. You can open the gates."
They waited a minute. No response. "Uh…sometime this week would be nice."
"Please state your identification code," blared a tinny voice that sounded strangely familiar.
"Identification code? What the hell?" Daniel looked at Betty who merely shrugged.
"We'll also need a handprint," the voice blared again.
Recognition dawned on Daniel. He smirked as he leaned out the window. "How 'bout you use the boot print that'll be on your ass once I get a hold of you, big tranny sister?"
"Well aren't we touchy tonight?" was the response, but the big gates opened with an intimidating groan nonetheless.
Daniel made an obscene gesture at the camera mounted above the intercom speaker and his lead foot dropped on the gas pedal once again.
Daniel parked the car with all the finesse of a man with a death wish and turned to openly stare at his Betty. She was warm and sleepy and looking particularly edible in her summery yellow wrap-around dress. Her whimsical, pink, Betty-esque headband with the little daises struggled to hold back her wild black tresses.
Daniel wasn't stupid. He knew himself better than most people thought he did. He knew he had issues. He knew that he was quite possibly the loneliest man on the East Coast, at least. He knew the reason all his conquests of late had grown just a little curvier, just a little shorter, and just a little smarter with each female he dazzled, and why he requested that said girls keep their glasses on during sex. He knew he was pining for someone he didn't deserve.
And he also knew, at this very moment, that he didn't much care.
Betty was unaware of his scrutiny. She was busy taking in the well-kempt splendor around her. Although she'd been here many times before, the setting sun now cast a golden glow on everything that made the grounds seem even more rolling and vast.
The grass had deepened into a blue-green shade, and it was so perfect that she half expected to see the Teletubbies come skipping up.
She felt a soft touch on her upper arm and realized with a rising blush that Daniel was getting touchy-feely again. His knuckles lightly caressed the skin of her upper arm, sending chills charging over her entire body despite the warmth of the evening.
Betty didn't know whether or not to be relieved that he was completely unaware of what he was doing. Well, that wasn't completely true. Daniel was in a trance and yet all too aware of how her skin was baby-soft and how his knuckles actually made light, split-second intentions everywhere they went.
He wasn't used to that, having mostly known skin stretched taut as a drum over the long arm bones of models.
Fevered blue eyes moved to her lips. He would remember how they tasted until he was so much dust in a pine box. Their first kiss had been a tease, really. He wanted to make this one last. And last, and last…
He leaned in even closer and his heart thrilled when she didn't move away.
That's it, stay still for me, baby, give Daniel what he needs before he shrivels up into a sorry, withered, love-sick raisin...
"If you guys are done feeling each other up, dinner's almost ready," Alexis announced blandly from somewhere to the right. In the shadows, all that was visible was her tomato-red dress. Daniel didn't have to see her face to know she wore Alex's trademark smirk.
"GAH!" Daniel, eager to make his shocked excuses, fumbled behind him for the car's door handle, pulled it, and sprawled out onto the stone floor of the parking garage, ass first. Betty quickly, efficiently, and silently slid out.
Betty's head was ducked and her shoulders were shaking. Oh, God, I've hit on her and made her cry…she's still so very young and vulnerable…why wasn't I more careful? Daniel thought despairingly.
A closer look proved that she was laughing her cute, perfectly rounded ass off.
She pointed to Daniel with a quivering index finger. "You…" she snorted, unable to finish, "you went…SMACK…heeee!"
Daniel wanted to do nothing more than ravage her on the spot, Alexis be damned. Alexis took the moment to glide up and put a long arm around Betty, the corners of her mouth twitching and a suspicious flush across the bridge of her nose. "Betty, why don't you go on inside? Mom will have a nice, tall glass of something pleasantly toxic made for you." She brushed a light, brisk kiss across her cheek and gave her a gentle shove. "Go on, now. Theeeeere's a good girl. That's right."
Both siblings watched her retreating figure, Alexis smiling and waving brightly when she glanced over her shoulder with barely-contained mirth, and Daniel too transfixed by her retreating backside to move.
He felt a sharp slap on the back of his head. The sound rang out into the humid dusk. An alarmed bird flew out of a tree.
"Put your eyes back into your head!" Alexis snapped fiercely.
"Well, I can't very well do that if you're slapping them out of my skull! What's your deal? Finally got that PMS you've always wanted?"
"One word: Betty. What in the roasty-toasty hell are you thinking?"
Daniel drew himself up to his full height and was almost able to meet her eyes without standing on his toes. "You've got something against Betty now?"
"Of course not, numb-nuts. But Betty's a nice girl and an enormous asset to the company and has the potential to be one of the greatest feature writers Meade Publications has ever had. And I don't want you chasing her off because you can't keep your thingy in your pants."
"At least I still have a thingy."
"Oh, now that wasn't even clever. And it's beside the point." Alexis looked at him sympathetically. "A relationship with you would break her, Daniel. She'd never be the same." She put a hand on his shoulder and he shook it off.
Daniel laughed humorlessly, her words stirring the same already-existing fear in his heart like a big cruel spoon. "You were wrong when you said your eyes were the only things the doctors couldn't change. They could take away your balls, Alex, but they couldn't take away that damn sanctimonious attitude. I see you're still blathering on about things you don't understand…love, for instance."
Alexis flinched briefly as if wounded, but Daniel was pretty sure nothing cut her that deeply anymore.
He brushed past her into the house.
Betty was pretty sure that it wasn't appropriate to listen to stories about her boss's childhood exploits while downing whiskey with his mother.
Still, the mental image of baby Daniel stealing a bottle of vodka and toddling off naked through the yard at the Meade family reunion was distinctly amusing. And strangely familiar…
"He rendered an encore when he was twenty-one…" Claire reminisced fondly. "And again last year…the press had a field day…"
Ah. She thought that story had a familiar ring to it. And she absolutely had NOT Googled the images online during her lunch break the following day…no, sir, because that would have been WRONG.
The man in question came power-striding in, his hair mussed like he'd been running his hands through it. Betty scooted over on the sofa and tried to stifle a giggle, her eyes sparkling.
Daniel eyed her. "How many of those have you had?" he asked, tapping her glass with an index finger.
Betty held up two fingers. Daniel gave her a stern look. She rolled her eyes and held up three fingers.
Daniel reached for the decanter in spite of Betty's kittenish slaps to his wrist. "Hold on while I catch up."
Claire delicately stifled a burp. "Just like the good old days, I see. We all need a few stiff ones to tolerate each other's company."
Daniel really, really didn't need to hear the phrase "stiff one" tonight in any context, let alone with Betty's hip touching his and Alexis snickering into her own snifter of brandy.
"I'll bet Daniel's had a stiff one in his hand all week, Mom," Alexis snorted.
"Oh, Daniel, I've always said having alcohol in one's office is a bad idea," Claire sniffed offhandedly.
"Yes, Mother," Daniel ground out through gritted teeth, wishing to God on high that Alexis were still a man for just three seconds…
"It causes you to do unwise things…like write 'Fey Sommers has crabs' in lipstick on the transparent wall behind one's desk…" Claire rambled on.
"Hey, Betty." Daniel said, suddenly turning to look at her.
"Have I ever given you a tour of this place?"
"You want one?"
"Sure. Lead the way, boss-man." She put her small, warm paw in his with absolute trust.
His heart was lifted up at this but then sank with guilt; not that he was planning on jumping her as soon as they reached one of the east-wing bedrooms, mind you. But he was well aware that his offer sounded something akin to a "Let me take you upstairs and show you my, uh, trophy collection" line at a bender in the Phi Sigma Kappa house.
He stumbled a little, the whiskey taking effect, as he led Betty to the grand staircase. She stumbled behind him with tipsy enthusiasm.
The upper floors had a musty odor that was not unpleasant; it was more of a "this place is really, really old and we're really, really rich" type of smell. The corridors were cool and dark, lit only by a few candles and a dimly lit bulb or two. It was almost as if the house were ashamed to hold its ornate splendor up to the harsh light of day.
Kind of like the Meades themselves, Betty mused, her arm linked with Daniel's. It was obvious that he was distinctly uncomfortable in his own family's estate. She was all but convinced that he wanted to show her something more than just the visual, tangible beauty of the place to kill time before dinner; it was like he wanted her to look right through it, somehow, to spite it. Every object she stopped to admire had some kind of ambiguous story attached to it—"this is the balcony where Mom swallowed a bottle of pills and Alex and I used to play with Legos..."
"Holy shit, that's a big fish," Betty said, forgetting her propriety at the sight of a huge blue marlin, stuffed and mounted and 2,000 lbs.
Daniel grinned, looking at Betty and then the marlin and then back at Betty. It could've eaten her easily. So could he. But to distract himself from dirty thoughts, he said, "Dad chased that thing for four days, dragging Alex and me in his wake. He was so obsessed with that fish that we started calling him 'Captain Ahab.' I think he secretly liked the nickname."
Betty's mind, still a little silly from the whiskey, conjured up an image of Bradford with a peg-leg on the deck of a ship. Her ricocheting thoughts turned more serious then; she wanted to blurt out to Daniel that his father's dying wish revolved around his well-being. But now wasn't the time nor the place for that conversation, if ever.
Instead, she reached up as far on her tiptoes as she could (and yet still had to pull him slightly down) to reach his cheek to kiss it.
She felt sure the resulting flush of color across the bridge of his nose was a trick of the light.
The study, at first glance, appeared slightly warmer than the rest of the place. The house staff had stoked a fire in the grate that cast a golden, comfortable glow that the rest of the estate lacked. Plus, it was chock full of books, wall-to-wall, floor to ceiling. Betty gave a squeak of delight.
"Great Expectations, first edition," she breathed happily. "How'd you guys ever get a hold of this?"
Daniel shrugged. His father had a way of procuring things that made one suspect he'd sold his soul to Satan ten times over. "I dunno. Nobody's ever even opened it, I'll bet."
He laughed at the sheer adorableness of Betty's horrified expression as she plunked down on a couch in shock. "If you don't open it, how can you smell it?"
She cracked it open and held it up to him. "It's the best smell in the world," she said wistfully.
"You are very odd, Betty Suarez."
She gazed downward, her expression unreadable. "I know. I'm reminded daily."
Daniel took her face in his hands. "Hey. I didn't say it's necessarily a bad thing."
Betty genuinely smiled then, a smile that made him feel that if he could make a person like her happy, if only for a second, he wasn't the rat-bastard people thought he was. "Whoa, there, sailor," she teased. "Keep cranking out the charm, you might make me fall in love with you."
A few months ago, they'd have both snorted with mirth at the thought and then gone out for pizza or something. Now, though, the fire in the grate felt altogether too hot.
"I lost my virginity on this couch," Daniel said suddenly.
Betty shifted uncomfortably. "No kidding. Who with?" I'm not curious, really, just making conversation, who the hell was she, was she pretty, was she smart? Betty hoped, strangely, that she hadn't been smart.
"My nanny." Daniel examined a fingernail.
Betty stared at him agog. "Shut UP."
The beginnings of a smile began to form on his lips and spread rapidly. "If I did that, I couldn't tell you just how much I'm bullshitting right now."
Betty elbowed him lightly in vengeance. "How did you really lose your virginity?"
"I was fifteen, at a boarding school in Switzerland. Hated. It. We barely had central heating and cooling, but we did have an all-girls Catholic school about a mile up the road. And access to booze through some of the older guys. And that, Miss Suarez, is all I'm telling you about that."
Betty held up both hands. "All I wanted to know, thanks."
"What about you?" Daniel had always, always wanted to ask, even when he was trying to get her to quit when they'd first met. Betty had a way about her that made one almost ashamedly and wildly curious as to where she'd been, how far she'd go…
"What is this, Truth or Dare?" Betty had folded her arms in front of her defensively. "Because if it is, I dare you to go pinch the butler's ass or something."
"Nuh-uh-uh. You asked me, I ask you."
"Your answer was lame. You didn't even supply any juicy details. Not that I wanted any," she hastily added. Off his challenging look, she said, "Oh, fine. I lost my virginity to Walter, lying flat on my back on the seat of his Pro-Buy van. I was eighteen. It was embarrassing and awkward, it hurt like a mother and if I'd have known his equipment was the size of a thumbtack, I wouldn't have even bothered. Happy now?"
She had to admit that she relished the looseness of the tongue the whiskey had given her, and Daniel's resulting shocked stare at her brashness. It wasn't often that she could shock him, after all. It was usually the other way around, since Daniel had been everywhere and done everything, it seemed.
"Not particularly," he said quietly.
"You asked if I was happy now, and no, the thoughts of you losing your virginity to Wilbur in a utility van doesn't make me happy." He leaned in closer, his face a whisper away from hers. "On the other hand, if you had lost your virginity to Johnny Depp on a carpet of rose-petals after a succulent lobster-and-champagne dinner, well then….I still wouldn't be too happy to hear about that."
Betty knew then that the time for ignoring such comments had passed. Because the room was too hot, sweat was trickling down her back, he hadn't stopped staring at her in the last few days, and dammit, she was tired of playing coy when all she wanted was to take several of those fancy silk pocket handkerchiefs of his, tie him to the bedposts, and have her noisy way with him.
She leaned in closer, their noses rubbing together briefly. Eskimo kisses. "What's it to you who I lost my virginity to?"
"I never want to hear about you settling for less. You know that."
Her voice became firm. "No, Daniel, really. I'm serious. Why do you care? Why do you keep saying these things to me? To rile me up? To toy with me?"
Daniel sighed. "When we were only friends, I could say things like that to you all day, and you'd just brush it off. But now we aren't, and consequently…you can't."
"Did those pills scramble your noodle?" Betty bit off, the light tone that her brain had intended failing to exit her mouth the same way. "Honest to God, Daniel. Think about what we have to lose." And how am I going to tell Henry that he's going to have to expedite his departure to Tucson? "Uh, see Henry, it's like this...I kind of fell rabidly love with my boss, so could you kindly piss off now?" Yeah, that should do it.
Daniel looked around the richly furnished room, only one of many. And yet he had had nothing in this house. No love, no warmth, no dignity, no purpose. All of those things had arrived to him that first day at Mode, special delivery courtesy of his father, no less, in a Betty-shaped package.
She was right, as usual.
He did have a lot to lose…for the first time in his life.
"But I'm tired of running," he said with finality. With resolve.
"So am I," was the soft reply, light as feather-down. She pushed her hair behind her ear. "I mean, seriously though, I might get skittish."
He grabbed her hand and entwined their fingers. His were pale and large and well-kempt with manicures that cost more than her monthly utility bills. Hers were small and olive-toned and the nails were neatly filed and trimmed by her sister. Their fingers wove together perfectly. As her high school art teacher would say, the image had balance.
"I'll just have to tether you down," Daniel said, lightening the mood with a goofy, Disney-villain leer. "And if you escape, well…just call me 'Captain Ahab.'"
Betty snorted. "Remind me to throttle you sometime after dinner for implying that I'm your evil, elusive whale. I may just have to bite off your leg at the knee."
Daniel, in a tight spot and facing feminine wrath, had never been more grateful to hear Alexis shout from down the corridor, "Well, the kitchen staff's scorched the duck. Mom and I are going to the Piggly Wiggly. Any requests?"
Two pairs of eyes, impossible blue to velvet brown, met and locked.
"OATMEAL!" they shouted back, in perfect unison.
And there it is. The not-so-bitter end. Quite fluffy, actually. Remember, at the end of all my fics you can just assume they get it on. Might I beg reviews one last time? xD