TITLE - On Shaky Ground
AUTHOR - herowlness
RATING - PG13
PAIRING - Mac/Cassidy, with allusions to L/V UST
WORD COUNT - 3859
SUMMARY - At the Phoenix Land Trust, Inc. Christmas party, Cassidy and Mac finally get to spend some quality time together.
SPOILERS - Largely through 2x09, with a minor reference to 2x10.
DISCLAIMER - Not mine.
PHOENIX LAND TRUST, INCORPORATED
cordially invites you to a holiday celebration
Thursday, December Twenty-Ninth
at Neptune Grand Ballroom
RSVP to 619-839-8100
"It certainly looks authentic," Veronica confirms, as she traces the embossed company logo on the backside of the invitation. "Are you going?"
"Why should I?" Mac questions, her confident tone belying her uncertainty. "I'll be bored out of my mind making small talk with complete strangers."
"There is the possibility for networking," Veronica notes, ignoring her friend's dubious disposition. "And you'll know Cassidy at least, right?"
Mac feels the corners of her mouth tugging upwards at the mention of the younger Casablancas's name. She tries to hide the smile, but – of course – Veronica notices.
"Wait a second – you and Cassidy … ?" she trails off meaningfully.
"No!" Mac responds immediately, not really sure what she's objecting to.
"But you'd like to," Veronica infers, not even waiting for confirmation. "Then you have to go. You can eat delicious gourmet food, network with potential future business associates, and spend time with Cassidy. What more could you want?"
"No chance of rejection?" she offers weakly.
"Are you telling me that my bad-ass computer guru who can take on firewalls and encryption keys without blinking an eye is afraid of a boy?"
"Two words, Veronica – Janie Marshall."
Veronica nods in response, considering her very valid argument. After Janie pursued Dick the previous year, aiming above her 02'er zip, he publicly rejected her and caused most of her classmates to shun and ridicule her. Janie had ended up transferring to Pan High after the teasing reached intolerable levels.
"Believe me when I say that I know what you're afraid of, Mac," Veronica begins slowly after a few more moments pass. "But speaking as one who's been mocked by the vast majority of the student body simultaneously over the past months, it's nothing that you can't handle.
"Besides, Dick's name is very appropriate. Public humiliation really isn't Cassidy's style – in part because of what his older brother has put him through, I suppose. But, if you'd like, I can try to get Logan to find out if he's bringing a date to the party."
Mac shrugs, working to keep her face impassive, so as not to tell Veronica just how much the concept of Cassidy having a date bothers her. A part of her wants to tell Veronica not to worry about it, to not involve Logan Echolls in her problems – particularly because he is hardly known for his subtlety. She wishes that she didn't care if Cassidy has a date. Further, she wishes that she had a guy she could bring as her own date.
She wishes that Cassidy were bringing her as his date to the party.
Before she can respond to her friend's offer, a hand snags a frosted sugar cookie from Veronica's lunch tray, which is accompanied by a voice saying, "So, Vee, are we still on for movie night next week?"
"What happened to your own lunch, Logan? Did they stop awarding Pirate Points for being a jackass?" she snarks, ignoring his question.
"Funny," he returns, rolling his eyes. "Movie Thursday night? Yes or no?"
"Sure. I was thinking we'd do an 80's night – The Princess Bride, The Breakfast Club, that sort of thing."
Logan nods, a small smile on his face, and Mac wonders how someone so bent on uncovering the truth at every turn can be so oblivious to the fact that she's agreeing to spend a night alone with a boy who's probably still in love with her.
"You want to join us, Mac?" Veronica asks, and Mac resists the urge to laugh at the slightly panicked look that crosses Logan's face at the question. Yeah, he most definitely does not want to share Veronica's attentions – even if it is only with her.
"Can't," she replies, popping a tater tot into her mouth. "That's the night of the holiday party." She waves the invitation for effect, amused by the smile that stretches across Logan's features at her reply.
"Oh, Logan, that reminds me. Mac and I were just talking before, and we were wondering if she needs a date for that night. The invitation doesn't mention a date, but we have never been to such a formal business affair before. Do you know if Cassidy has asked anyone?"
Mac has to admit that she's mildly impressed with Veronica's subtlety. She should have figured that Veronica would find a crafty way to figure out if Cassidy had a date without sharing the fact that the only reason Mac cares is because she wants him for herself.
"He hasn't mentioned anything, but I don't think so. I can ask, if you want," he offers.
"That would be great. Thanks, Logan," Veronica responds, flashing him a warm smile.
As Mac watches Logan perch on the bench and continue to nibble at bits of Veronica's lunch, she wonders how much longer it will be before the pair starts up their relationship once again. Of course, the fact that Veronica's dating Logan's best friend is more than a minor impediment, but she can see how crazy they still are about each other.
She wonders why it is that people infatuated with others never seem to notice when their feelings are reciprocated. It's that same train of thought – that maybe Cassidy likes her as much as she likes him – that makes her decision for her.
This company Christmas party will be her chance to talk to Cassidy and maybe – finally – find herself a guy who's just right for her.
By nature, Mac is not a nervous person. After all, hacking is hardly for the weak of mind or spirit.
Boys, however, are another story altogether.
When she's around Cassidy, she feels her heartbeat accelerate, loses the ability to think clearly, and finds her tongue tied into knots.
In shorts, she finds herself transformed into one of the waifish, brainless, 09er sluts that she detests.
She hates the feeling of weakness that's associated with her reaction to him so much that she's flirted with the idea of calling in her regrets at least three times over the past week.
But then she'd remember their time together at Java the Hut a few weeks back. She'd think of how he smiled at her, or how much her work had amazed him, or how flustered he got from their quasi-flirting. So the phone would be hung up mid-dial because she knows that she can't miss out on this opportunity to find out if she has even the slightest of chances with him.
It's official. Cindy McKenzie has fallen head-over-heels for Cassidy Casablancas.
She thinks that there should be some flashing lights or warning sights before one falls in love. She wishes that there had been something to warn her of the potential danger to her fragile heart.
"Thanks again for the ride, Mac," Veronica says, as Mac pulls her precious Beetle into the parking lot at the Neptune Grand.
"You're welcome. Besides, I can use the morale support," she confesses.
"You'll be fine. Cassidy will be blown away by your choice of such an attractive yet professional ensemble, and you'll spend the night celebrating the holiday season with your fellow employees," Veronica reassures her with a grin.
Mac glances down at her clothes, and she wishes that she could change into something more comfortable, more casual, more … her. However, jeans and a tee-shirt were hardly appropriate for a professional holiday party. She isn't the sort of girl to wear a skirt of any sort, but she thinks she looks good in her best black dress pants and a maroon top with a scooping neckline. With the matching silver jewelry she's borrowed from Veronica and the maroon scarf that's doubling for a belt, her appearance is a combination of semi-formal and artsy which is just the image that she wants to project.
Except to Cassidy. Mac wants him to think that she's fun and flirty and beautiful. And she's never really thought of herself as beautiful.
"Relax," Veronica soothes, as they approach the hotel ballroom reserved for the party. "You'll talk and dance and have a good time. Still, if you find yourself bored out of your mind, you can always join me and Logan for our 80's movie marathon."
"My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die," Mac parrots from The Princess Bride, a teasing smile spreading across her features as she brandishes an imaginary sword and prepares to fight.
Veronica – never one to be outdone – wields her own invisible rapier as they circle each other playfully. Mac laughs aloud and feels some of the tension drain from her body.
She knows that she won't go up to the Presidential Suite and interrupt their movie night. She doesn't really know what's going on between Veronica and her boyfriend – after all, she and Veronica have never been the ones to share sleepovers and gossip – but she's noticed a change in her friend over the past few weeks.
Oh, sure, Veronica is still dogged about pursuing her cases, and Mac still gets at least one call each week for some technological assistance. Nonetheless, her friend has had something on her mind recently, and Mac wonders if maybe Veronica wouldn't be happier without Duncan.
Oh, sure, the two of them have their whole 'star-crossed lovers' going for them, even though few people at Neptune High know why they really broke up to begin with. At the same time, Mac wonders if Veronica has changed more than she wants to admit from the weak-willed pastel-wearing cheerleader she was a few years back to the hard-boiled teenage investigator she's become.
She doesn't know if Veronica belongs with Logan, or if she belongs with anyone really. Veronica's the sort of girl who doesn't really need a guy, and Logan's the explosive sort of guy that would make Mac worry about those that he gets involved with.
Of course, after Duncan left to spend the holidays with his parents, she'd eaten lunch with the pair for the final few days before Winter Break, and it's clear to her that Logan adores her friend and would do anything for her.
All women deserve to find a guy that will worship them, Mac decides. She just hopes that she can find a man who is devoted to her someday.
"Lady McKenzie, you have no match when it comes to the art of swordplay," Veronica concedes, curtseying before her. "And this is the point where I make my exit. Merry Christmas, Cassidy!"
And then with a wave of her hand, her friend and ally disappears around the corner, leaving Mac alone with the one boy who can wield more power over her than she ever thought possible. The same boy that she hadn't seen watching their make-believe sword fight.
"Mac, hi. You made it. Merry Christmas," he greets her, a tentative smile on his face.
"Merry Christmas, Cassidy," she replies, glancing around the ballroom as he escorts her inside. "Am I the first one here? I'm not that early am I?"
"Um, yeah, I guess," he admits after an odd moment of fumbling. "Feel free to help yourself to a drink at the bar, if you'd like. Dinner should be served in ten to twenty minutes otherwise."
She feels her brows furrow in confusion as he hurries out of the room – likely to make sure that everything is going as scheduled for the rest of the night. She's sure that he's nervous because this is his first corporate celebration, and he wants it to go well. At the same time, she wonders where everyone else is or if there is something that Cassidy is keeping from her.
She's no Veronica Mars – not by a long shot – but even she can tell that something doesn't add up here.
With each passing minute, Mac's anxiety multiplies. She's not worried about her and her feelings – at least, that's not the only thing that's on her mind anymore. After all, Logan had mentioned in passing that Cassidy had spent a lot of time planning his company's first holiday party, and if she is the only attendant, his work would all be for naught.
"Uh, Mac?" Cassidy begins, his voice filled with uncertainty as her heart goes out to him. "I got you something. For Christmas, or just as a thank you. Or, um, yeah."
He extends an unwrapped white, square box that has only the holiday-hued ribbons spanning it to give it any color. It's simple yet festive – the perfect gift for an employee.
She accepts the box, shaking it gently to see if she can guess what's inside, and she knows that that's all she is to Cassidy – his employee. He may have appreciated her work on his company website and letterhead, but that doesn't mean that he likes her the way she likes him.
She unties the ribbon and opens the box to find a scarf, hat, and pair of mittens. Her once-high hopes plummet as she realizes that this is nothing more than a more fashionable and professional alternative to giving a relative a pair of socks. At least with socks, she can get some use from them. She has little use for the hat or mittens in southern California.
"Thanks, Cassidy. I love the colors," she enthuses, working to hide her shattered emotions. Still, her words are true – the yarn used for the knitting is a warm amalgamation of blues and purples with a strand of bright magenta ribbon running all about the pieces. As Mac nervously runs her fingers through her hair, she notices that the magenta ribbon almost perfectly matches the color of her latest streaks.
She looks up at him, not quite sure what that means. After all, the probability that he just happened to pick out a gift that would match her hair is minimal, right?
"You're welcome," he replies, a shy smile covering his features. "When I was picking out the yarn, I found this variegated skein, and I thought you'd like it. I added in the ribbon though, after I finished each piece."
"You – you made these?" she asks, her amazement clear. She figured that maybe he had his family seamstress or whomever just add in the ribbon after he purchased everything, just to personalize them a bit.
Then again, Cassidy has shown her time and time again that he is hardly the average 09'er, so perhaps her surprise is a bit unwarranted.
He nods in response to her question, and his smile is filling her stomach with nervous butterflies. She wonders what's going to happen next, and she finds herself half-hoping that no one else shows up for the party – if only so that she can have more time alone with Cassidy.
"I know that you probably don't have much use for these," he begins hesitantly, but she hurries to counter his point.
"This scarf is gorgeous and wearing one with everyday clothes is really fashionable right now."
"Somehow I doubt that being fashionable is high on your list of priorities," he returns with a raised eyebrow. "But that's okay – I like that you're not superficial like most of the girls at school.
"I was thinking that maybe you could wear them when you go skiing or something. After all, it can get pretty cold up in the mountains."
Mac cocks her head quizzically, wondering what has happened to the down-to-earth, rational Cassidy that was sitting beside her a moment ago. He can't possibly be so dense as to not realize that her family doesn't have the money for the yearly trips to Vail or Switzerland or wherever it is that millionaires like him go skiing nowadays.
"I mean, Logan and Dick and I were talking about maybe getting together at the Echolls cabin at Lake Tahoe. I was thinking that maybe you'd like to come along."
"I hardly know how to ski," Mac confesses, her mind running a mile a minute as she tries to figure out the meaning behind his invitation. Does he want her to come along and hang out with him and the guys as Mac, the great friend? Or does he want her to come along and spend time with him and him alone as Mac, his girlfriend?
"I can teach you," he responds immediately. He blushes as soon as the words are out of his mouth, pausing before mumbling, "I mean, if you want."
"I'd like that," she replies, wanting desperately to believe that he's inviting her along because he likes her as more than just a friend.
A wide grin spreads across his face at her response, and she wonders if – maybe – he's going to lean in and kiss her. Not that she knows much about kissing boys, having kissed only Jeremy Sanford at a party in seventh grade. All she remembers from that experience is a mashing of lips and the locking of braces – neither of which was overly memorable. She thinks that kissing Cassidy will be much better than that.
She only hopes that she gets the opportunity to find out.
He's leaning towards her, and she's mentally urging him to move faster – so that they can share their first kiss, but she's also wanting him to move slower – so that she can hang on to her mental image of their first kiss a bit longer before being confronted by reality.
And then he's suddenly scooting his chair back and standing up and walking away, and her mind tortures her with reasons of why he's leaving and where he's going.
"It appears that dinner's ready to be served," he says by way of explanation a few moments later, reclaiming his seat.
"Tonight," the server begins with a slight French accent, "we have Vegetable Medley with Edamame, as well as Butternut Squash Soup and Hummus."
Mac is completely taken aback at this pronouncement, almost unable to believe his words until she sees the very vegan-friendly dishes being laid out before her. She'd worried that she would look somewhat unprofessional at dinner, picking at her plate and refusing to eat meat dishes. She'd mentioned that to Veronica, actually, who had dismissed her fear, saying that most businessmen would simply dismiss her eating habits as being a part of her artistic personality.
She wonders if perhaps Veronica mentioned her concerns to Logan, who then passed that information along to Cassidy. That would explain the multitude of vegan dishes, she supposes. But she still almost found it difficult to believe that Cassidy would risk alienating other more carnivorous clients and employees simply to satisfy her lifestyle choice.
"I'm sorry that none of the other employees were able to make it," she says, sipping at the delicious soup.
"I'm not," he returns unapologetically. "Kendall wouldn't have been much fun, believe me. There aren't enough rich men for her to sink her claws into."
"And your other employees?" she prods.
"Are all present and accounted for," he answers after pausing for a moment. "My company won't really be getting off the ground until 2006, and until I start making some capital, I won't be hiring anyone else. Why pay a secretary to sit around and do nothing?"
"Of course," Mac responds automatically, mulling over his response internally. "So this 'company party' … ?"
He squirms almost imperceptibly in his chair at her probing question, and she wonders what he's trying to hide. Has Dick put him up to this? Has this whole night just been the beginning of her social downfall at Neptune High? She quickly glances around the ballroom, unable to find any feasible hiding locations at first glance.
Then again, a well-placed camcorder or camera phone can do wonders to ruin one's reputation.
Finally Cassidy lets out a big sigh before beginning his confession. "You're the only one that I invited, since you're the only employee other than myself who I thought might have an interest in attending."
Mac glances over at the boy sitting beside her, almost afraid of what he's going to say next as he's staring at his plate and hiding his face from her with his hand.
"I know that I'm more than a year younger than you are, and I know that I'm only a junior. I mean, you probably are looking for a guy who's older than I am, or a guy who's more artsy than I am. I just … I was hoping that maybe you'd give me a chance."
"Are you asking me out?" Mac asks, her breath getting caught in her chest as she wonders what sort of surreal universe she's stumbled into.
"I guess so, yeah," he agrees with a nod, looking up at her for the first time since he started this whole confession. She sees a hopeful light in his eyes, and she wonders if maybe they actually do have a chance to be together.
She pinches her arms a few times for good measure – just to make certain that she's not dreaming – before she responds.
"I think I'd like that."
"Should we seal it with a kiss?" he asks, and she nods while wondering how much of his query is bravado. Despite being an 09er, she somehow doubts that Cassidy is as much of an oversexed Casanova as his jackass of a brother.
When his lips meets hers for a sweet kiss, she wonders how it's possible that Cassidy could have grown up surrounded by all the superficial egomaniacal 09ers and still turned out as wonderful as he did.
His hand curves around the back of her neck as he deepens the kiss causing Mac to determine that the how or why doesn't really matter. All that matters is that Cassidy is wonderful and romantic and totally hers, and his lips and tongue are really putting poor Jeremy from seventh grade to shame.
After what somehow seems like both a blissful eternity and yet not long enough at all, Cassidy pulls away with his usual shy smile playing on his lips.
"Any interest in dinner and a movie tomorrow night?" he asks after a moment of companionable silence passes between them. "La Dolce Vida is showing at this theater in San Diego. And what are your plans for New Year's? Logan mentioned maybe having a small party in his suite, if you want to go. Or –"
Laughter is bubbling past Mac's lips by this point due to her amusement by both Cassidy's enthusiasm and rapid-fire approach. She doesn't know what the future has in store for either of them, but she is certain that she'll enjoy this time with him for however long it will last.
She thinks that it's amazing how much her outlook on life – on men in particular – has changed simply over the course of an evening. She started off the night on shaky ground, unsure of where she stood in Cassidy's eyes.
And now, she sees him gazing at her adoringly, and she's sure that she has a matching smile on her face, and she knows that she's found the right man for her.
Thanks for reading! I hope that you enjoyed it, and I'd absolutely love to hear what you thought.