Disclaimer: I had a hard enough time writing the minimal dialogue for this, let alone being able to actually write the series. That belongs to cleverer heads than mine.

Author's Note: While I like to think that kiss in "Special Powers" was their first, this idea popped into my head and wouldn't let me go. Also, the Superbowl they watch in Part I is Superbowl XVII, 1983, Washington Redskins vs. Miami Dolphins. Near as I could figure, they would've been 18 then.


I

The first time he kissed her, they were freshmen in college. He lived directly above her, had met her playing pick-up football that very first weekend of school, and it was the Superbowl, and everyone who cared at all about football was gathered in the student center. This was a big one, after the strike. He was the golden boy, tall and good-looking and all-American; she was the pretty blonde tomboy drinking beer like there was no tomorrow and screaming at the television more than anyone else without really caring who won.

He perched on the armrest of the couch she was sitting in (when she wasn't on her feet), and leaned across the back of it to talk in her ear. "What's got you so excited? You're from New York."

She didn't even turn to look at him, just grinned with her thumb pressed to her mouth. "I just like sports." And with that, she was on her feet again, roaring at a touchdown, and he was laughing alongside her.

Later, after the Redskins won and the beer was drunk and the chips were eaten, he walked home with her. She was giddy, laughing and walking backwards and retelling plays. He was laughing too, steering her away from trees when she came too close and marveling at her ability to recall even the most unimportant details of the game.

At her door, just as he was about to head upstairs to the men's floor, she stopped him. "You should do that," she said, her hand familiarly on his chest.

"What, play pro football?"

She laughed and smacked him on the arm. "No! Commentate. You were great tonight."

"All I did was make sarcastic remarks."

"It was good," she said, and smiled at him so sweetly that he couldn't help himself and bent down and kissed her briefly on the mouth. When he pulled away, she cocked her head at him quizzically. "What was that for?"

He grinned at her. "Good night, Dana."

As he walked off, he could hear her fumbling her key into the lock. As she opened the door, she turned and yelled down the hallway, "Good night, Casey!" He grinned and waved back over his shoulder without looking at her, knowing he'd see her again soon.

Two weeks later, he met Lisa.

II

The second time he kissed her was after Lisa turned him down the first time. They'd just returned for their sophomore year, and he'd missed both of them madly over the summer. He'd finally gotten up the courage to ask Lisa out (as he'd tell Dan years later, he's never had that ease, that fluidity, with women), and she'd said no, that he just wasn't what she was looking for. He wound up drunk in Dana's room, talking (according to him) and whining (according to her) and asking for advice.

"Look, Casey," Dana said, waving her cup around the room (drinking in solidarity, of course); "if she doesn't want you, then why would you want her?"

"Because she's pretty, and smart, and she cooks really well, and she's pretty, and I like her."

"Well, that's a great list of reasons, isn't it?" Casey half-giggled, and Dana laughed at him. "Did you just giggle? You did, didn't you?"

"Not a bit of it. I laughed in a very manly fashion." He did it again. "Except that I didn't at all."

Dana laughed, uproariously – she's always been his favorite drunk, and her laughter is contagious. He started laughing too, and crossed the room to lean against the desk where she was perched, like a gracefully rough canary, and tapped the lip of his cup to hers. They came together with a slight plastic clack, a sound that always seems woefully inadequate.

"You always know how to make me feel better," he said, and turned to her, balancing his hip against the edge of the desk.

She reached up and ran her hand along his jawline, a casual comforting gesture that he'd never experienced before but still felt familiar. "Any time," she said, and smiled, and just like the last time, he couldn't help himself and was kissing her without any warning. But this time, his hands came up to her face, and her hand cupped the back of his head, and he was leaning into her like he hadn't asked out another girl that very day, and she was leaning too like he wasn't the totally platonic friend she always swore he was. And as his right arm slipped around her waist, he knocked his half-full cup off the desk, sending vodka and orange juice spilling all across her tile floor, and just like that, the moment was broken.

He stepped back as she averted her eyes and shoved her hair behind her ears. In looking for something to look at, his glance fell on a roll of paper towels across the room, and in two long steps he'd reached it and was tossing it back towards her. She caught it, effortlessly, and started cleaning up the mess.

"Here, let me help."

"No, Casey, it's fine."

"I'm so sorry – I didn't mean – "

"It's ok," she said; "it was an accident." But she still wasn't looking at him, and he knew that what she meant was, it was a mistake. This wasn't like the last time, not something they could just ignore with no consequences the next day. But they'd both try anyway.

"Maybe I should just go."

"I think you should."

He stepped past her and, without thinking, reached down and rubbed her shoulder. "I'll see you later."

When the door closed behind him, she stopped mopping up the spilled drink, her head falling and elbows folding. She wouldn't sleep for a long while that night.

Two days later, Lisa asked Casey if the offer still stood.

III

The third time he kissed her, they were juniors and he was returning from a semester abroad in Germany. He hadn't seen her since they'd parted at the end of sophomore year, and she was there to meet him when he got off the plane to school, with a huge smile on her face. He dropped his bags when he saw her and picked her up into a giant bear hug, his arms around her waist and hers around his neck. He spun her all the way around and kissed her briefly before putting her down, and she was laughing before her feet hit the ground.

She swatted him lightly on the arm. "It's good to see you!"

He grinned at her as he picked up his bags. He then proceeded to pass them off to her and walk off. She didn't move an inch.

"What do you think you're doing?"

"That's why you came, isn't it?"

"Oh, you're very funny, you know that?"

"Of course I do." He smiled at her as he took the bags from her hands and they headed towards the exit. "So, where's Lisa?"

IV

The fourth time he kissed her was years later, when they were rising stars in television. She was known by those who knew her as an excellent producer with an encyclopedic knowledge of sports and a knack for always getting things done, and if she hadn't run her own show yet, well, she would soon. He had interned on a string of shows, which had developed into being a correspondent for a string of shows, and he was known as charming and quick-thinking and funny with a natural rapport with anyone he met. When he got a call from a group of producers looking for a host for their new late-night show, it seemed like he was unstoppable. Until Dana called him with another offer: a sports show, with his buddy Dan he'd met while they were both working Superbowl XXII (and for all that Dan was a sophomore intern in college back then, he'd never met anyone he'd rather work with), with her producing. In Dallas. It was everything he could want from his own show. Except for Dallas.

When he chose Dallas, for Dan and Dana and sports, Lisa screamed at him, like nothing he'd ever heard come out of her mouth. Dan was a fine sportscaster, she said, he didn't need Casey's charity. Dana was a good producer, she said, she'd find something else. What the fuck did Casey think he was doing, turning down the best offer anyone could ever hope for, for nothing but a low-brow redneck local sports show in Dallas, where he'd never get anything better? All she'd ever wanted was what was best for Casey, for their family. And when baby Charlie woke up crying from the noise, they each stormed out, Lisa to the baby and Casey to the street.

He called Dana, asked her to meet him at their bar, the bar they'd spent every major sporting event at since they'd graduated college and moved independently to New York. She showed up with a huge Dana grin on her face, clapping him on the back and saying, "McCall! We got ourselves a SHOW!"

He tried to smile at her, but she saw right through it. She always did. "What's wrong?"

"Lisa."

"Ohh. Dallas?"

He nodded miserably.

"Let me buy you a drink."

At 2:00, they were firmly shut out onto the street, both of them much the worse for wear. Dana was dancing to music only she could hear; Casey's hair was mussed and disheveled and he was having trouble standing firmly upright.

"I have to – I have to go home," he said, dreading facing Lisa's wrath.

"Casey," Dana said, facing him straight on, her hands on his shoulders in that straightforward way that only drunks have, "Casey, this'll be a good show. This is just the beginning."

"I know," he said.

"Lisa'll come around. Dallas is better for kids."

"I know."

"And you and me, we'll be back here in five years, I promise you. In the big time!"

"Do you?"

She grinned at him. "Nothing's gonna stop us." He grinned back at her, and just like in college, bent down and kissed her. But as he moved into her, she moved back, murmuring into the space between them, "Casey…"

He closed his eyes. "I know." He stood upright, but kept his arm slung around her shoulders. "You promise this show will be good?"

She nudged him with her shoulder. "None better."

When he got home, he climbed into bed next to his wife, who was lying with her back to him, pretending to be asleep. (He knew she was pretending: she snored slightly when she was actually asleep, but she'd never believe him if he told her.) His hand ran down the length of her arm, and he whispered into her ear, "I'm sorry." She rolled over and smiled weakly at him with tears in her eyes. "I couldn't turn this down."

"You just wanted sports, didn't you?"

"That's all I wanted." He couldn't believe she understood. "I'm sorry I didn't ask you."

"It'll be alright." But it wasn't.

V

The fifth time he kisses her is totally unexpected and completely familiar. He's been, once again, completely avoiding the fact that he's been in love with her since he met her; she's been throwing herself into work after another bad break-up the month before. It's New Year's Eve, which means they traditionally end the broadcast with confetti and horns accompanying the sign-off, and someone pops outside the studio to open a bottle of champagne – if they're working tonight, everyone they love best is working, too, so they celebrate it right here, in the place they love best.

This year, when they return from commercial to do their countdown and on-air celebration, Casey catches a glimpse of Dana through the control room door. She's smiling, of course, but he can see (he's known her long enough) that it's a strained smile, and he knows that she wishes there were someone here to celebrate with her.

Dan's spinning witty remarks next to him, and Casey's bantering in the way he's learned to do even when he's not focused, but he's watching the clock more than the teleprompter and Dana more than both. When they finally get to the last ten seconds and he and Dan count them out, his heart is pounding, because he can't believe what he's about to do. And then bells are ringing and horns are blasting and he hears the pop of a champagne cork in the corridor, and through the confetti he can see the teleprompter:

"I'm Casey McCall."

"And I'm Dan Rydell."

"You've been watching Sports Night on QVSN."

"And from all of us here, have a very happy New Year."

And almost before Elliot clears them, he's pulling his earpiece off and walking through the crowds of people flooding the studio (and how did they move even faster than him?), looking for Dana. He pauses in the doorway when he sees her standing behind her chair, fiddling with her headset, and she looks up at him.

"Happy New Year, Casey," she says, and smiles.

He says, "Yeah," and before he can think twice he's taken the four long steps to reach her, wrapped his fingers around the back of her neck, and is kissing her as he's only done once before. He's dimly aware of the celebrations going on in the other room, but all he can concentrate on is the feel of her arms around his neck and her mouth under his. And when he finally pulls back, he whispers, "Happy New Year," into her ear, and she smiles for real.

"Whatever happened to the statute of limitations?" she asks.

"New Year's is exempt," he says, and she laughs. "It's a well-known rule. Whoever taught you, taught you wrong."

She smiles as she picks a piece of confetti out of his hair. "We should join the celebrations," she says, but her arms don't move.

"We should," he agrees, but he doesn't drift away, and then she pulls down gently on the back of his neck and presses her mouth to his, and he knows things will be different this year.