DISCLAIMER: So not mine.
NOTES: Nick Harper wrote the song Tyger, which inspired the story and the title. Jess, Luna and Shana were invaluable to this story not sucking. Everything I write, I realize, owes something to Melanie Thernstrom's The Dead Girl. Especially this.

Five Thousand Tigers


October 2000

Casey flopped on the bed in his undershirt and boxers. It was still hot, even after midnight, and the blanket on the bed was as cheap and itchy as it had looked. The back of his legs and neck felt sweaty and coarse against the wool. He would never stop sweating, he thought, he would lose ten pounds an hour in sweat and in the morning be nothing more than an underdressed skeleton.

"This," Danny said, lying next to him in undershirt and boxers, "this is the stuff of some stupid porn movie." Casey stared at the ceiling. He was bone tired. He would have melted into the bed but the mattress was lumpy and it was too unbelievably hot. Also, he was drunk. Pretty drunk. Danny kept talking, with that peculiar loopy cadence he had when he, too, was pretty drunk. "I mean, the whole thing. Plane cancelled and what have you, all the nice places booked and we end up in this shithole. With one bed. And the fucking air conditioner is broke. And then, you know what happens next." Casey turned to look at Danny, and Danny was staring at the ceiling with a wide smile.

Casey sighed. He sat up and, for a change, stared at the walls. He was definitely drunk. The room briefly eddied around him. He put out his hands for balance, and they sank into the lumpy mattress. "But in a porno, wouldn't one of us be a woman?"

Danny laughed. "They make gay porn, you know. It would be stupid and just like this. Two drunk guys, all sweaty. And one of us would turn to the other and say something about needing a woman. And then the other would say something about not being a woman but still giving great head." He snorted and started giggling.

Casey watched Danny scratching his stomach through his thin undershirt. It was insanely hot in this piss-poor room. He wondered if the walls were sweating, and decided he'd give at least one of his kidneys if Danny shut up.

Danny kept giggling and talking. "And then, you know, one thing leads to another. 'Cause it's porn." He slapped his hand down two or three times and finally connected with some part of Casey for emphasis. The bed bounced, and did even that with a depressing inadequacy. Danny's hand on Casey's thigh felt even warmer than the hot room, and sweaty. Casey pushed it away and wondered if buying all that booze on the airplane and drinking all that booze in the airport had been such a great idea. He stood up, feeling resolute. He would end this inane discussion. He would do something.

Danny groaned. "Please, please. Sit down, don't walk. The floors are cheap, too, they'll collapse on you."

Casey began walking, carefully. "I will sit down if you stop talking about porn."

"Done," Danny said. Casey sat down on the edge of the bed and stared at the wall. There was one cheap painting, a garish thing that contrasted with the indeterminately dark walls. Danny must have been looking at the awful painting, too, because he said, "That's supposed to be a tiger, don't you think?"

Casey looked intently. His contacts were dry and his eyes hurt. But it was a tiger. He felt the room swirl as he looked away and turned to Danny. "Charlie did a report on tigers. For school -- they're endangered. Poaching and habitat loss, you know."

"Did you write the report?" Danny asked, grinning up at him. Danny was propped up on his elbows.

"I didn't write the report, Dan. I edited it. Fixed some grammar. Suggested some different word choices." Danny grinned wider, and collapsed back onto the bed. "Anyway, in the report, there's only like 8000 tigers left in the wild. But they think one is killed every day." Casey stared at the awful painting. He liked it more now that it made him think of Charlie.

Behind him, Danny hiccuped. Then he sighed and said quietly, "Don't you think that would be lonely? I mean, if there used to be millions of you, of your friends and family, and now there's only five thousand, it would be lonely."

Casey thought he knew what Danny was talking about. He felt sad, and then resolute again. "Danny," he said. "Danny, we -- we haven't been right lately, have we?"

Danny sat up suddenly, and said, unsteadily, "The show is fine."

Casey turned slightly, and said, "You don't sound convinced."

"I am perfectly convinced that the show is fine."

"Didn't sound like it."

"I am convinced. If my voice wavered or something, it was because of the earthquake. When I sat up, there was an earthquake. Or I'm really drunk or something. One of those two." Danny stood up and only swayed a little. "The show is fine."

Casey looked up at him and said, "The show is fine. I mean us. Like Danny and Casey who have been friends for 12 years, that us." Danny looked serious for a moment and reached for Casey's hands, pulling him up so they were both standing. He started to say something about the cheap floor, or something about how they needed to talk about what was wrong, but Danny hadn't let go of his hands. Casey tried to pull away, but he just ended up backed against the wall across from the bed. He recognized the look in Danny's eyes as his teasing expression.

"Dan. Stop it." Casey tried for his stern, adult voice, the one he used on Charlie. It didn't work on Danny, who was pushing closer to him and still hadn't let go of his hands. Casey opened his mouth to say something, which was his only excuse. Because Danny kissed him and because Casey had opened his mouth to say something, it became a kiss with tongue. Casey couldn't think of an excuse for why the kiss lasted as long as it did.

He broke it off and said, "Dan. Stop it." He definitely had the stern voice down this time. But Danny was grinning widely and then giggling. His lips looked bruised and red. Casey opened his mouth again, and Dan kissed him again, and again with tongue. They were pressed together, covered in a sheen of sweat. Dan was so warm that Casey felt almost feverish. Dan let go of Casey's hands to put his hands on Casey's waist and Casey touched Dan's shoulders. Dan was grinding his hips against him and Casey had a sudden vision of himself, legs up in the air as Danny fucked him, and Casey saying, "Come on, stop joking," in the stern voice. He shoved Danny away, and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

"Damn it, Dan. Stop it." Casey took two steps and sat down on the edge of bed. He shifted a little and rubbed his eyes. He wouldn't look at Dan.

Casey stood up and said, "I have to pee." He went into the bathroom and closed the door behind him.

**

"You were in there for, like, ten minutes," Danny said when Casey emerged. He blinked and looked at Dan, sprawled out over the entire double bed.

"I had to pee," Casey said. "I had to pee, I brushed my teeth, I took out my contacts." Casey tugged at his shirt. "I took out my contacts."

Danny grinned as he said, "I timed you. It really was ten minutes."

Casey ignored him. He walked to the lone dresser and sat down on it, to be away from the bed and Dan. He rubbed his thighs and felt the sweat on his legs, remembering that he needed to be resolute.

"Dan," he said. "Seriously. We need to figure out this -- this not getting along thing." He paused and actually looked at Danny. "And I don't mean this you acting like an idiot thing tonight, I mean us for the last few weeks, or months. I want to talk about this not getting along thing without you shoving your tongue down my throat."

Danny adopted a serious face and sat up. "Okay."

Casey said, "Like yesterday -- yesterday we were definitely off. I don't get it." He remembered the office, the airport and the flight. Things had been fine at the game and while they were working, but the rest had been awkward and defensive silences, odd bursts of sarcasm and thwarted attempts to connect. He thought he had a handle on Dan's bad mood. "Was it that thing Natalie said, cause--"

Danny frowned. He cut him off. "I wasn't upset with what Natalie said. I have a pretty clear grasp on Natalie's issues, you know."

"Right -- I mean, she was just in a mood cause of that thing with Jeremy. It wasn't -- I don't think she thinks that way." Casey walked over to his bag and looked for more alcohol. Before they left for the airport, at the office, Natalie had joked about the bad idea of letting their anchors take the same plane anywhere. She had pointed out that the Secret Service never let the President and Vice-President fly on the same plane, with pointed looks to make it clear which of the two of them was the Dan Quayle of that analogy. Casey found another airplane bottle of whiskey in his bag, and walked back to the dresser to take another swig.

Danny looked pissed off again. "Casey. I don't care about what Natalie said. I didn't then, I don't now."

Casey handed Danny the whiskey bottle and watched him take a quick drink. "It's okay -- it was a stupid thing to say."

Danny put the cap back on the now empty bottle, and stared at Casey with narrowed eyes and that particularly belligerent set of his mouth that always made Casey think of serial killers, or drill sergeants or his father. Danny stood up and put the bottle down on the dresser, almost slamming it down. "I wasn't fucking pissed off about it. You know what pissed me off? I mean, seriously, do you know?"

Casey shook his head. Danny wiped sweat off his forehead and sat back down on the bed. Casey felt baffled, baffled and frustrated at the endless back and forth of the last few months.

"What really pissed me off was you," Danny said. "Your 'be nice to wounded widdle Danny' thing. I know my importance to the show, okay? I know perfectly well Natalie's being a bitch to me cause of Jeremy. It didn't bother me. It bothered the fuck out of me that you assumed I had to be placated and sucked up to."

Casey gripped the empty bottle and let it go. "You were mad at me? What the fuck, Danny? I'm sorry, I must have imagined the last few months of our lives when you've been, I don't know, fucking psycho about these things." He shook his head again. "So you're fine with all that now? Let anybody call you my sidekick or compare you to Dan Quayle, or put me on a list and not you, and it's all fine with you now? Could you have given me that update sooner, cause I think it might've helped me out a lot."

Danny stared at Casey. Danny sighed and the belligerence left his face; instead he looked resigned. "Whether you believe me or not, I did get over it. Mostly. Enough that I'm not gonna crack over Natalie. And it drives me crazy that you - - I'm a fully grown adult. I can moveee on."

Casey tried to focus. For Danny to talk about being an adult after coming on to him like a horny teenager on a dare seemed offensive. He wanted to bitch him out. He wanted to make him cry.

Danny had lain back on the bed, propped up on his elbows again. Casey wanted to say something to him about not doing that, that it made his stomach look like a more-than-incipient beer gut, but he stopped himself. Casey counted to ten, and said, "Five thousand tigers is wrong. It's eight thousand."

Danny looked baffled, or so Casey thought from what he could see from eight feet away. "You've backed up, like, a half hour there, man. Tigers again?"

"I said there are eight thousand tigers left. And I didn't add, but I meant to say, in the wild, not counting ones in zoos and professional ones. You said five thousand."

Danny sat up completely. He looked Casey in the eye. "It's five thousand. I know that."

Casey knew Danny was trashed, but decided to try again. He rubbed his forehead with the heel of his hand. His hair was damp and plastered to his head. "Danny," he said, "What did George Clare want from you tonight?"

Danny sighed. "You know exactly what he wanted. Give me a break."

"No. I think I know, but look, why did you talk to him?"

"Because he wanted to talk to me. Are we not supposed to even talk to people from other networks now?" Danny sat forward so he was even closer to Casey's perch on the dresser.

Casey reviewed everything he knew of Danny's contract. He could calculate in his head, even this drunk, how expensive it would be for even George Clare and ESPN to buy out his new contract. ESPN could afford it. Something lurched in his stomach. He said, "You want to be on SportsCenter? Is that it?"

Danny laughed, and it sounded harsh, or something other than Dan. "Yes. I want to be on SportsCenter. How would I live without you, Casey?"

Casey couldn't wade through the heat of the room and couldn't see anything in Danny's eyes at all. He knew the walls were red, though; he could see the color jumping out at him. "We're good for each other. I mean. You and I work well together, we have something. You -- you're the best editor I've ever had."

Danny snorted. "You sure know how to woo a girl, man." He stood, and mumbled something about needing to pee. He went into the bathroom but didn't close the door. Casey didn't look; he kept his head down.

Danny finished and stood in the bathroom doorway. He was backlit to Casey, his face again nothing but a blur. Danny said, "I was being sarcastic. We both know why Clare talked to me where and when he did."

"So you don't want to leave?"

"God," Danny said. He walked back to the bed and sat down right across from Casey. He looked tired. "Casey, George Clare is trying to scare the noon anchors he's in negotiations with. So he talks to me in a big public place. I'm not leaving the show. If I were leaving, you would be fine. And I would be fine. So, calm down. And stop worrying about every little fight we have. Or be all protective like I would crack if someone said something bad about me."

Casey clenched his jaw. He said, "So. In the future, I should assume that you don't care when people deprecate your career in comparison to mine? And not be nice to you about it. Okay. Let's hear it for Abby, I guess."

Danny sighed again. "Look, whatever. I'd like to note that tonight, while we're both way more drunk than we should be and trapped in this piss-ant town in this sweltering room is probably not the time to try and discuss these things. Can we table this?"

"I don't want to table it. This isn't the House of Representatives. We haven't been getting along. Something's off." Danny made some sort of face and sighed. Casey continued, "This is important. We can't -- when things fester, it's bad."

"Fine."

Casey tried to think of other fights they had. If they could just figure it out, if he could narrow down the spark that was setting them off, everything would be fine again. He tried to concentrate, through the heat and the alcohol. "Okay," he said, "like two weeks ago. Was that me being too nice to you again - - or was it something else?"

"That was something else. Like, maybe, once in a while, you should admit you're pissed. Or should I say jealous?" Danny looked flushed. He was sweating more suddenly.

Casey opened his mouth and closed it again. Two weeks ago they had heard from Dana that 'Rolling Stone' wanted to do a profile of Dan. Not the show, not Danny and Casey, just Danny. The humidity and heat in the room were something palpable, Casey thought; he could swim in it. "I think I admitted I was little peeved. So, I'm not sure where you're coming from here."

Danny snorted. "You didn't admit you were a little peeved. You sniped about 'Rolling Stone' and me all day, and during the show, and then after three beers at Anthony's and Dana bitching you out, you said to me you were maybe a little pissed. So, you know, next time maybe cut out the day of being an asshole and admit you're being petty without having Dana or me point it out to you." Danny said it all quickly and ended with a bewildered look that belied his belligerent tone.

Casey realized that the walls were some version of a dark blood red. He was so tired of sweating and he felt like he was about to slide off the dresser he sat on. But he gripped the edge of the dresser, shoved off the top of the dresser and stood up straight. "Dan." He paused. "Fine. Fine. Next time I will tell you immediately when I'm pissed."

Danny looked at him and stood up next to him. He smirked. "After all, they want me, and not you. It's okay to be pissed."

Casey shoved Danny against the wall and heard the thump of his shoulder against the wall and Danny's angry "Fuck you." Casey felt the punch Danny slammed into his stomach and he saw stars for a second. Then it was a scattershot of shoves and punches; his knuckles bruising from hitting Danny, random shooting pains when Danny landed another blow. They fell onto the floor and Casey heard a crack when one of them hit the frame of the bed. The alcohol and fury and adrenaline started to run out as the pain and nausea overwhelmed him. He lay back on the ground as Danny pushed himself up, panting.

Casey lay on the floor and couldn't sit up at all. He closed his eyes. His stomach ached where Danny had punched him and his head hurt and his hands and there were other small aches and bruises he knew he would discover tomorrow. He heard Dan's quick movements and Casey opened his eyes. Things were still fuzzy. Without his contacts, the world that was more than two feet from him started to dissolve into indistinct colors and shapes. He could tell Danny was standing over him, looking at him, but he was more than two feet away and he couldn't see Dan's expression at all. Danny breathed, in and out, still panting and then turned on his heel and slammed the door behind him. Casey felt the pain of the beating wash over him, and the drunk, woozy feeling added to everything. This was the worst he'd felt in his life. The carpet was some kind of plastic, he thought, and each fake strand was like tacks in the back of his legs. He closed his eyes again.

He woke with a start, or came to, maybe. Everything still hurt but he was distinctly less drunk. He started to call Dan's name, and stopped. He dragged himself up and crawled to the bathroom. He had to pee. He couldn't quite manage standing up so he sat on the toilet like an old man. When he was done, he half fell and half lowered himself to the floor. He remembered something from a movie Lisa had dragged to him to, something with Angelica Houston, and John Cusack had nearly died after being punched in the stomach. He leaned over the bowl to see if there had been blood in his urine. There was none. As he flushed, he caught a whiff of the piss and his own sweat and started puking into the bowl.

He threw up for forever, he thought. When he was finally done, he opened his eyes and peeked into the bowl, again spotting no blood. He flushed, and the smell made him start to throw up again. It was a vicious circle, he thought.

He was still throwing up, eyes closed and maybe even crying, when he felt a warm hand rubbing his back, and heard Danny saying "Casey" over and over again in his ear. When Casey finished throwing up this time, Danny held his shoulders and moved him against the wall. Casey opened his eyes as Danny flushed the toilet and then lowered the cover. He sat on the toilet and put a wet plastic bottle in Casey's hands. Casey looked at it, unsure what to do with it, but then Danny took off the cap and said, "Water. Dude, drink up."

The water was refreshing and energizing and blessedly cool. Casey looked at the label and even managed to speak. He said, "Evian? You bought Evian?"

Danny rubbed a red spot on his jaw and then said, "Would you trust the tap water from this place?" He had his own bottle and took long swigs from the bottle. Casey's water was still cold but it was also wet with condensation and he couldn't figure out how far Danny had had to go to get it. Danny was closer to Casey, and in the antiseptic light Casey could see his expression clearly. Dan looked pensive and sad and between swallows from his bottle of water, he rubbed the red spot on his jaw. His hand was red and a little torn across the knuckles.

He looked down at Dan's sneakers, no socks, frayed cuffs of Danny's jeans.

"Dana's going to kill you, man," Danny said. You hit me in the face."

Casey thought about it. "Lie. Tell her you walked into a door."

Danny snickered without any mirth. "I'm gonna say I fell. I fell and hit just this one part of my face."

Casey winced. Danny got up and walked back into the bedroom, shucking his jeans and sneakers at the same time, leaving his empty bottle on the floor beside Casey's. Casey pushed himself up and felt a twinge in his thigh. He had a rug burn there from the last few moments of their scuffle and when he touched it, his fingers had a little blood on them. He walked back into the bedroom and sat on the side of the bed where Danny was not.

Danny had already gotten under the topsheet, throwing the blanket aside. "I bought aspirin, too." He nudged Casey and handed him three pills and a small carton of chocolate milk.

Casey swallowed the pills around the lump in his throat. He thought of Dan's tongue in his mouth, blinked quickly and thought, there's only 5000 tigers left. When he and Charlie had done the report, there had been 8000 and now somewhere here with Dan, another 3000 had disappeared. He didn't know where they had gone but he thought he knew what was wrong with him and Dan. It was all too bleak to contemplate. He got under the sheet slowly. The bed wasn't big, but he and Danny had both chosen to sleep on the edges, on their sides facing away from each other.

Danny exhaled and turned out the lights. "There are. There are others way to be with someone, to be friends, than just needing someone. It doesn't have to be..." He paused, plucking at the sheet. "It doesn't have to be symbiosis. You know?"

Casey sighed. He couldn't see anything at all in the dark. Danny started up again, his voice calm and sad and maybe a little hopeful. "It's like you think we're like these cells -- and I don't have protein x, but you do, and you don't have protein y, but I do and so together we have everything we need. And you know, all the receptors or whatever fit. But there are other ways to be, and they work, too, and being all lined up like that wasn't always the easiest way to be. So now we aren't lined up perfectly and linked along the cell wall, or whatever. We can be something just as good -- two contained cells, you know?"

"That analogy fell apart at the end," Casey said. "See, I was right there with the cells and the proteins, but by the end I was picturing, I don't know, t- cells. Two gunslinging t-cells, taking on all viruses and bacteria, fighting side by side or something."

Danny laughed, a genuine and real laugh. "Poachers. We should fight the tiger poachers. Or something." There was a pause, and Casey could tell he had rolled on his other side to face Casey. "But you see what I'm saying? We're okay. We're just -- we're not 19 and 23 anymore. We're 31 and 35 and we had to grow up sometime. We can be this, you know?"

Casey swallowed again, and there was no lump. He said yes, and rolled over so he was facing Dan. He kissed Danny on the forehead, tasting sweat, and then rolled back to his side. Danny rubbed Casey's shoulder and rolled over again to his side.

The pillows had hard, inexplicable shapes, but they both fell asleep in seconds.

THE END.

"There's only 5000 tigers left And you must be one of them." - Nick Harper

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