DISCLAIMER: Not mine.
NOTES: Thanks to Jess, who rocks. Thanks to Shana for showing me the other side of my hometown. Thanks to Luna who helped make Monty more than the prize behind door number two. Thanks to Jae and Mosca who found time.


THE POSSIBILITY OF A WORLD

October 2000.

This is how it ends, Dan thought. He'd never imagined this and now it had happened and he watched Casey sit quietly in the dark in their office, looking out at the skyline.

He couldn't pin down exactly what was going on, but he'd known six weeks earlier that Casey had decided something. Casey had come into the 10 o'clock rundown wired to the limit, giddy and fearful and trying not to show anything. Dan wondered now, as he hadn't wondered then, if Dana knew what Casey had decided. She'd been distracted in that rundown and all the weeks since. She would rub the elegant diamond ring Sam Donovan had given her, and stare at Casey and then look at Dan with something he thought was pity.

But nothing had come of it, initially. Casey'd gone home that night and come back the next day and seemed off, but said nothing. He'd seemed to be less in the office, but Dan hadn't been able to pin it down specifically. Hadn't been able to pin fucking anything down. Not Dana, not Casey. Not anything. He'd pushed and probed and gotten shit for his troubles. Natalie hadn't known anything, and if Natalie hadn't, then Jeremy hadn't and Kim hadn't. And all he'd gotten for this feeling of something being wrong was Casey snapping at him to stop making mountains of things that weren't even molehills.

Except, then Dan's agent had called him. To let him know about a rumor she'd heard. Casey was casting about for anchor jobs. News anchor jobs. Or anything news and not sports in DC.

That night, after the show, Casey'd confessed. He'd been thinking about it, he'd whined. He'd been thinking about it for a while.

"Without telling me? What the fuck, Casey?"

Casey'd explained in halting phrases and glances at the desk, the window, anything but Dan, that he wanted to get out of sports. Along with that, Lisa had met someone. She was moving to DC to marry some reporter. So, Casey was going to DC, too. Job or no, he'd said.

Dan hadn't been able to see straight. It'd been so infuriating, so Casey to leave his job and leave sports because of Charlie or something. And he knew that Casey'd been to him, or not telling him something. But Casey hadn't been willing to say anything more. He'd fluttered and grunted and left the office walking rapidly and not looking behind him.

It'd been less surprising when the NBC affiliate in DC, smarting from the loss of a longtime anchor hastily replaced with a younger man whom no one liked anymore, had offered Casey the main anchor spot. Six and eleven and good money, though Dan had known it hadn't been as good as Sports Night. And starting in late October. Negotiations had gone quickly and CSC had waved its hands and sighed and let Casey go.

Dan had found himself in meeting after meeting, as worried reps from Quo Vadimus and CSC had stared at him like he was a hand-me-down. They'd wanted two anchors and one of their anchors had been a real star and now they had socks on Christmas morning. Dan tried smiling and then tried just being bored. He couldn't fake enthusiasm and he couldn't fake apathy. It'd been in CSC's power to ditch Sports Night. It'd been in their power to take the money left over with Casey gone and hire away someone from ESPN. Dan had thought about sitting under the lights and smiling at no one and hadn't been able to breathe. Isaac had sat across from him and smiled at him. Dana hadn't met his eye.

Casey hadn't come to any of the meetings. Uninvited and unwanted and sometimes the network kids had groused about him. Dana had looked down and Isaac had snarled and Dan had boiled in his seat. But Casey had just whizzed around, prepping his move and buzzing on some weird high that had him bouncing off walls and always, always, away from Dan. Dan had tried to get him to talk to him, even just to offer advice or kind words in bars. He'd tried to pin down something in editing rooms and make-up chairs and Casey'd just grinned weakly and looked like he might bolt at the sound of a feather dropping.

Two weeks before Casey'd planned to leave, when it had already become a story and spawned speculation and odds making on the Internet, CSC had summoned Dan, Dana and Isaac to the thirtieth floor. Calvin Trayger had flown out and said in his dry monotone that Sports Night would continue and Dan would be the sole anchor. Dan had sat in the plush chair across from his billionaire boss and just said, "Okay." He couldn't have imagined any of this.

Casey hadn't wanted Dan's help packing. Dan had packed all of Casey's stuff after the divorce, sweating in the New York City heat in July. In Casey's new desolate apartment, they'd had beers and watched sports. Dan had played with the laces of his sneakers when Casey had disappeared into the bathroom for a half hour. This time, Casey'd waved him off and said he'd hired movers. "I have more stuff now, Danny, I'm leaving it to professionals," Casey'd said and then left to the editing room, to pull tape, to whatever Casey did when he was avoiding Dan.

When Casey'd gotten the job offer, Dan had become conscious that he'd been getting fat. Not David Wells featured in Sports Illustrated fat, but he'd known he could end up as the sole anchor and everyone would be looking at him. He'd started jogging and then worried about breaking his ankle or pulling a muscle. He'd started swimming every day, lap after lap. He'd started lifting weights with some trainer from the gym who had a stupid porn star mustache and had come on to him casually the first day. Dan had blown him off gently and they'd never revisited it. He hated the weightlifting, the straining and the pushing. It felt like work and Casey. The swimming felt like work felt, too, but every day he sank into water and came up for air and sank back into water. He wanted coming up for air to be a familiar feeling.

Dan had lost weight and looked more buff, he supposed. Kim had leered at him after the show, a week before Casey left. He'd taken her out for a drink and even slept with her. The next day she'd laughed at him again and everything had been normal. Normal for the last week Casey was at Sports Night.

And tonight had been the last show with bonhomie and good wishes from Dana and Jeremy and Natalie and everyone. People'd given Casey gifts and clapped him on the back. Casey had smiled nervously and hugged people too close. He'd been close to tears, Dan could tell, but he didn't cry. They'd had the party two days ago, with the network suits and everything and too much vodka and gin. Tonight, it had been just the show and everyone had left. Dan wondered if they had left to let him talk to Casey alone.

He stared at Casey and forced himself to enter the office. Casey just looked at the skyline.

"Is there," Dan paused and heard his voice crack, "is there any chance that you will finally tell me what's going on?"

Casey shook his head. He said, without a quaver, "I've told you everything, Danny."

"You haven't told me everything, Casey. You're lying to me." Dan couldn't get worked up anymore. Everything bad had happened and he couldn't get off the tracks before the train barreled over him. Dan sighed. He sat down on the couch and now Casey was staring at him and not the skyline.

"I'm not lying to you. Danny. You can call me anytime. But." Casey looked down at his feet. He breathed in like he was summoning strength. "Danny, this is something I have to do."

That was that. Casey hugged him and took his box away and walked out. He didn't want to go out for a drink or anything, he had a flight in the morning and moving in. To Dan, it was the cruelest part of the whole thing that Casey wouldn't even drink with him to say goodbye.

*

Every day he swam. Slicing into water, holding his breath and closing his eyes surrounded by water, and coming up gasping for air. The network boys started coming by because the initial spike in ratings from interest and promos ebbed away. CSC had picked up more affiliates and the PR department could bat away inquiries with smiling talk of increased viewers but Dan knew they were losing market share and he was failing. He took some of their suggestions. He tried to remember the righteous anger he'd once had about their inability, and told himself now it was Sam Donovan and not so bad.

He called Casey every day, more than once a day. Dan had never been good on the phone and his natural reticence blended with Casey's casual determination to blow him off. The calls were unsatisfactory. Most of the time, Casey didn't even know what had happened in the games, anyway. "Dan," he would say, "I'm looking at totally different wire copy here." Dan would sigh and clench his fist around the phone.

Casey did fine. His initial rise in ratings from interest and promos wasn't a spike but a jump. A steady rise in a station already in the lead, now blessed with a witty and urbane anchor. Dan bugged Casey for tapes and Casey promised left and right to send them. They came a month after his debut and they had already seen the reviews from Tom Shales and the national media.

Dana showed him a review from a folksy local columnist in the Washington Post of Casey's stellar transition. Most of Bob Levey's column dealt with high school antics and announcements of reunions and jokes about the traffic. At the end, Levey noted how much he liked Casey and saluted the serious message of Casey's first commentary. Casey had his eyes on the prize, Dan thought, he was going to turn himself into a talking head.

Casey left messages on his machine the first two months. He would call at two am, after watching the one am rebroadcast and say, "Great show, Danny." Sometimes he sounded drunk. Once Dan thought there was someone else there, that Casey had called him after fucking some girl because Casey had sounded sated and well fucked. Someone had giggled in the background. Casey would add things he'd thought Dan could fix sometimes and he was always right. Sometimes Dan was home when Casey called but he didn't ever pick up the phone because Casey talked more to the voicemail than he talked to Dan. The shows weren't great. Sometimes they were good and mostly they were only okay. But Casey saying they were great was a lie Dan could forgive easily.

*

December 2000

Isaac had his back. Christmas Eve they stood in Isaac's office and each had a glass of fine scotch. Isaac sat down and looked over the skyline. "It'll be fine, Danny," he said into the silence.

Danny smiled and sipped his scotch. "Cause it's definitely not fine now, right?"

"No." Isaac drank his scotch and watched the city for a moment. "It's not fine now but you'll find what you need. And just because it's not fine doesn't mean it's bad.

"The first time I saw you and Casey on-air, back in Dallas, I remember thinking those boys ain't bad." Isaac laughed. Dan just smiled. Isaac looked over him and stared at him seriously. "But you know, Danny, even then I thought that you were the better part of the partnership. When you're on, you're on." Dan started to say something, but Isaac waved him off. "Don't tell me how great Casey is. Tonight, you just sip your scotch and you take your compliments." Isaac leaned back in his chair.

Dan finished his drink and stood to leave. The lights of the city looked bright and cold. He turned back and said, "Merry Christmas, Isaac," and left.

*

February 2001

In the locker room at Madison Square Garden, the trainer for the Caps leaned over to him and said, "Casey's having fun in DC, isn't he?"

People milled around, and the room stunk of sweat and equipment. Dan breathed in and just nodded. He assumed Casey was having fun. He knew Casey saw Charlie a lot and he missed a lot of good games. He didn't really know anything else. The trainer had thick, bushy eyebrows and he waggled them as he leaned over again. "I mean, I didn't know Casey was that way. If I had, I would'a hit on him a long time ago."

Dan breathed in and felt nothing but water around him. He smelled rank sweat. He nodded and didn't even realize he was doing it. The trainer looked him up and down. He waggled his obscenely large eyebrows and leaned in close again. He had large open pores on his nose. The trainer said, "Did you and he ever ... 'cause if so, Danny ..." Dan looked at him. The trainer waved his hands to ward Dan off and backed away.

Dana found him in the bar. Dan had three empty glasses lined up in from him, and three empty shot glasses. He sipped his fourth screwdriver and waited for the alcohol to hit him. Dana sat down across from him and looked at him sadly.

"You knew." Dan could hear himself saying it, sounding cold and sober, and his own voice sounded miles away.

"You knew, too," Dana said softly.

Dan shook his head. "I didn't know that was why -- you knew that, though. He told you." Over and over again, he had been thinking, Casey should have told me, Casey could have told me and even three screwdrivers and three shots of tequila hadn't drowned that out.

Dana ran her finger over the rim of one of the shot glasses, tracing the small circle. "Danny. He didn't tell me on purpose. I was -- I was just there when it happened." She clasped her hands together.

"When it happened? Lightning struck him and he thought, shit! I'm gay. I should leave Sports Night and not tell anyone? The purple TeleTubby appeared in a vision to him and tapped him on the head with his purse?" Dan took a long drink of his screwdriver. He signaled to the bartender for another one. Jack shook his head no, and Dan sighed. "Shut down. Dana. I maybe knew he sometimes, he occasionally slept with guys, but. Fuck. Explain it to me." Dan pulled out a cigarette from the pack he'd bought an hour ago when he got to the bar. He lit it with his new lighter and looked at Dana's strained, sad face.

"Fuck," she said with a sigh, "I wish I weren't fucking pregnant cause I really don't want to do this without a drink." She watched the smoke rising in spiral patterns from his cigarette with longing.

Dan stared at her. "You're pregnant?"

She looked down. "Yeah. Yeah, I am. Just two months."

Dan interrupted, "Congratulations." He moved his cigarette away from her. "I really -- I mean that, you know. Congratulations to you and your husband."

She sighed again. "I know, Danny." She put her hand over his. "It was back in October. I went to talk him, cause Sam had proposed. Sam had proposed and I was actually worried that he might be upset. That Casey." She laughed a little. "So I found him in the editing room and I told him and said, 'Are you upset?' and he said, 'I'm fine. I'm fine.' And he didn't sound fine, really. So I asked again.

"And he looked at the screen and he said, 'Dana, really, I'm fine. I'm gay.'" She laughed quietly and looked down at the glasses. "And I looked at him and he looked at me and he was -- he was more surprised than me. And I was pretty fucking surprised."

Dan poured the dregs of all his drinks into one glass. He swirled around the little alcohol and drank it down. "So. He suddenly realized this? And then he said to you, 'I'm gonna quit Sports Night and not tell Dan,' right?"

Dana shook her head. "He decided that the next day. He mostly just sat there and babbled. About how he'd never really said that to himself. He said -- he said he'd slept with five women and it had never felt quite right. And he'd slept with twelve men and he ..." She grabbed the cigarette out of his hand and took one long drag. She didn't inhale and handed it back to him. "He asked me not to tell you, Danny."

"And you've been talking to him all this time, right? He actually talks to you."

"He does and he doesn't. He talks to me a little."

"About his boyfriends? About all these new fun gay things he's doing while he's lying to me and blowing me off?" Dan hadn't had this much to drink since his twenty first birthday and he was still sober.

Dana looked at him with pity written all over her face. Dan tried to snarl. Dana said, "He's had three boyfriends so far. I don't know what new fun gay things he's doing other than that. This is what he wanted, Danny. He wants to be happy and do these things cause he hasn't been happy doing -- doing those old not gay things. But he does care about you."

Dan started a new cigarette and glared at her. "I hadn't noticed. I hadn't noticed, Dana."

He was hung over and achy when he woke the next morning. What kind of fucking world, he thought, what kind of angry god gives you a hangover this bad when you never even had a buzz in the first place. His head ached, his ratings were down, he couldn't take a vacation because he worried his replacement would get better ratings, and his best friend hadn't told him the most important thing happening in his life. Some kind of fucking god that didn't like Dan Rydell seemed to be ruling the heavens.

Six hours later he sat on the doorstep of Casey's townhouse. He only had the day. He had a show to do the next day. He had a show to do every day but Saturday, and he did it by himself at the anchor desk.

Casey parked his sleek SUV. He got out of the car gingerly and stood by the SUV, looking at Dan. "Dana," he said quietly. "Dana called me last night."

Dan stood up. "What the fuck, Casey? What the fuck?" He knew he was snarling.

Casey walked up to the doorstep. He stood right next to Dan, and Dan could smell that he had changed his aftershave.

Casey swallowed. He looked at the ground and kicked at his steps. "Danny. I should have told you. I -- I know that. I'm sorry you found out that way."

Dan took a step closer, crowding Casey against the doorway. "Nice pro forma apology, there, Casey. Let's get to the heart of this, shall we? You didn't tell me. Why didn't you tell me?" Dan bit off the rest of his rant.

Casey closed his eyes and inhaled. He opened them again and bit his lower lip. "Look, Danny. I know I should have. I -- I had my reasons. Maybe they weren't very good," he paused again. "I -- Danny, we used to change together and work out and all these things -- I. I thought you would freak." He couldn't look Dan in the eye as he said it.

Dan clenched his fists and stared at Casey's feet. "You are still fucking lying to me. You could not possibly think that about me."

Casey looked him in the eye. His breathing was ragged and Dan could see that Casey was clenching his fist with his keys still his hand. "You know what? Here's the thing. Here's the thing," Casey's voice sounded thin but resolute. "I. I wanted. I wanted you. I was sitting in the editing room and I said this thing and it felt good. It was good to say it. And I knew, at the same time that I knew that it was true, that I. That there was thing and it was about you."

Dan stepped back and leaned against the other side of the doorway. Casey lived in some chic suburban row of spiffy townhouses. He watched a woman in blue sweats push her baby in some expensive stroller and walk her yippy little dog at the same time. He looked back at Casey, covering his face with his hand.

Casey rubbed his forehead. "So, that's the story, really. Blah, blah, I love you and I fucked up and didn't tell you anything cause I thought. I thought I would spill the beans."

He looked up at Dan. Casey took one step towards him and tentatively, quietly placed his hands on the sides of Dan's face. Dan closed his eyes as Casey kissed him. Casey kissed him and Dan thought suddenly of a girl he'd fucked when he was seventeen. She had been fifteen and chubby and eager and she kissed him with the same hunger Casey kissed him with now. Dan had slept with the girl, even though she was drunk and sloppy and kept babbling about how much she wanted him.

Casey drew back and dropped his hands to his side. Dan hadn't realized until he saw the blood that the girl hadn't done that before. She had winced and he hadn't cared then. Looking at Casey with his bruised lips, leaning back against his doorway and covering his eyes again, all Dan could think of was the little stains of blood on the couch. The smears of red on his cock. He saw red.

"You," Dan seethed. He clenched his fists and hit the wall behind him. "You did all these things for me, didn't you? Turning down Conan, getting me the job in Dallas, Sports Night? All this fucking shit not -- all this because you wanted to fuck me?"

Casey backed up and said, bleating, "No. No. Danny. I wish -- no. That wasn't it."

"You wish? You fucking wish?" Dan saw red and Casey's pale hands thrown up in protest.

"I. I didn't know. I was mostly afraid, I was always afraid and I didn't think. I wish I could say that I acted out of -- that I cared more than I was afraid. It wasn't like that, Danny. I swear."

Dan walked to his car and all the way there, even as he drove back to airport, he could hear Casey saying, "Danny. Danny. It wasn't like that."

*

March 2001

Dan still swam. Every day. Every day he didn't call Casey and swam his laps. He swam faster and felt himself fall in the water and lift out of the water, gasping for air. He stayed lean and trim and fit and knew he could be cancelled and unemployed at any moment. Casey wouldn't help him.

Catherine shuttled him from event to event, and he didn't think any of it mattered. It was March and cold and rainy and he wore a suit that had cost more than he should have paid. He wandered away from the crowd and leaned against a cold wall in a place he didn't want to be. He listened to the music.

A short woman with a nice rack and round hips walked by him, drawing out a cigarette from a black pack with a red design on the front. He walked over and said hello and bummed a smoke off her. She wore glasses and had long hair and he wanted her as soon as he lit the cigarette. He wanted everything.

She was a researcher, she said, a junior little story editor on some hit NBC show. "I work for the Senator from New York. Not the actual Senator, mind you. I work for the show," she said with a small smile. She probably had to make that clarification a lot, he thought.

He was drunk and tired. He worked every day and even on his one day off a week, he watched sports and took notes. He looked down at the researcher and couldn't think of a thing to say to get her in bed. He said, "My best friend wants to fuck me."

She inhaled sharply. "You're being an asshole." She stamped off.

"Wait," he called. He caught up to her, she in heels and short, he in dress shoes and taller. "Wait. Look -- why do you think I'm an asshole?"

"Because you are. You know you are." She looked up at him with a fierce expression.

"Okay. But not to you."

"It's not a turn-on. So. You know what? Stop it."

Dan grinned. "Okay. Stopping now." He took a drag off his cigarette. He heard the music in the hallway, being piped in from the heart of the party. "You don't hear much PJ Harvey at big snazzy events like this," he said waving upwards at the speakers.

She looked at him with a suspicious gaze. "No. You don't hear much PJ Harvey. And this, this is actually my favorite song of hers." She looked up wonderingly.

"From To Bring You My Love," Dan said with a smile.

"Yes. Yes, it is. It's track four, actually." She had a small smile now.

"You know what Elvis Costello said about track four." She smiled broadly at that and she was suddenly beautiful. Then she regarded him suspiciously. Dan said quickly, "I like PJ Harvey. But this song scares me. A lot of her songs scare me." Dan smoked his cigarette and looked down at her, willing her to smile more.

The small smile grew. "She is kinda scary. I mean, the songs. This one, I always thought, sounds like a threat." The song finished and a new one started. She smiled wider and Dan thought he was in. "This - this one is John Hiatt, Lift Up Every Stone, is the song in fact. I'm not sure what demented freak would put John Hiatt next to PJ Harvey, but I guess I shouldn't complain."

"You like music?"

"I'm a complete music geek. It's kinda sad," she said, still smiling.

"It's not sad at all. I like it. If you don't mind an asshole saying that." She didn't.

Her name was Hannah. The next morning he found her in the living room looking over his CDs. She looked up and blushed. "I know, I know. It's just wrong. But I said I was a music geek. And I try not to, but I do end up trying to figure out people based on their music taste." She lit a cigarette and moved away from the CDs with a mock shuffle of embarrassment.

"What have you learned about me?"

"Danny. Why are you mad at your best friend? The one who wants you." She regarded him seriously, in her borrowed t-shirt and pink underwear, smoking her cigarette and sitting on a table.

"I only have one best friend. And I'm not - it's not because he's gay. That's not why." Dan walked over to her purse and took out a smoke for himself.

"Okay, that's not why. I believe you. So, you know, just wondering - why are you mad at him?"

Dan looked over at his bookshelves and away from her. He kept thinking he should take down the two photos of Casey he had up, that he should make that gesture, but he always forgot when he got home from work. He told himself he forgot. "Okay. You know what? He's really - I actually think of him more as my ex-best friend. And it's not because he's gay, it's because he didn't tell me. He didn't tell me and he -- he abandoned me. So."

He walked over to the bookshelves intent on moving the framed photos of Casey, but Hannah started talking about breakfast and he forgot again.

She didn't know anything about sports. But she started reading Sports Illustrated at her gym since they had started dating, except she said "fucking" and not dating. He would call her up once a day and she would laugh and listen to him explain some sporting event. Dan had never been good at the phone, but Hannah seemed to be an expert. She would talk when he couldn't think of something to say, and make sympathetic noises or nonsensical exclamations when he did speak.

She never returned to the subject of Casey again after the first morning and he didn't want to talk about Casey ever again, so that worked out, too.

*

April 2001

Casey slid into his usual seat at the end of the bar under the television. He smiled at the bartender and got his usual drink while the bartender switched the station to CSC and turned up the volume so Casey could hear it. Casey had been coming here every weeknight but Fridays for the last three months and he didn't even have to ask for anything anymore.

When Casey first got settled in DC, he'd said too much about his situation to someone at a bar, and the guy had looked at him with raised eyebrows and said, "You get to be seventeen all over again, don't you?" Casey hadn't enjoyed being seventeen the first time around but the second time wasn't so bad. He went to the clubs and didn't like it much. He went to Velvet Nation and spent a half hour worried about his new SUV and where he'd parked it. He had met someone that night, not at the club, but at the McDonalds near the club where he'd gone to get a milkshake and fries. Casey'd tried Chaos, too, and met a guy but ultimately, Casey didn't like to dance very much and he didn't like the music they played either. After those first two weeks, he stuck to bars, one of the Starbucks in Dupont Circle and Kramerbooks. Which also hadn't worked out so bad.

In his lifetime, to date, Casey had slept with twenty-five men and five women. The second number, Casey felt sure, wasn't going to increase before he died, but he was making good progress on the first. His first month in DC and his only foray to the clubs had brought him thirteen through eighteen. The guy from Chaos had been number fourteen - Casey had offered him a ride home and when they'd gotten there, the guy had mumbled something about his roommate being home. At three AM, they'd fucked in the back of Casey's SUV, parked right on the street. Casey had found it a little embarrassing, but mostly he'd been thinking how much he loved being in DC and how happy it made him to not be in sports.

He'd told his agent why he wanted out of sports when he'd told her he wanted to leave sports. He assumed his higher ups at the station knew and he didn't do anything too obvious or pick up anyone who looked younger than twenty-five. He liked the job, too.

He'd met his first boyfriend through work - Mike was an aide for a local Congressman and Casey had talked to him briefly before interviewing Mike's boss. They'd looked each over and Mike had made sure to follow Casey out as he left the Congressman's office and had handed over his number. Casey had made the same mistake with Mike as he'd made with Pixley -- he'd been too honest. Mike had dumped him after three weeks, telling Casey to call him when he was over Danny.

The logo and promos came up and he heard Danny's voiceover. Danny sounded clipped and like he'd maybe been smoking again - a slight burr that no one else would have heard. Casey smiled and remembered Danny sucking on a cigarette in a bar in Dallas. He lingered over the memory of Danny's mouth and pursed lips. Casey counted back in his head to the intro automatically and right on time, Danny appeared grinning at his new desk. Casey kept meaning to ask Dana what they'd done with the old desk now that they'd replaced the anchor desk with something more appropriate for one person.

Casey hadn't been as honest with his next two boyfriends. Peyton hadn't been too interested in anything longer than a month anyway. Zach had gotten tired of Casey calling him in the middle of the day and two other times a day just to chat. Last week Casey had gone out twice with a guy he'd met in Kramerbooks, but Ethan was Jewish and from Connecticut and loved sports. Ethan had curly black hair and was razor thin, but the similarities were enough that Casey hadn't felt right about calling him again. It had seemed cruel to both of them.

Jeremy and Danny seemed to have found some amazing rhythm - Casey could recognize Jeremy's work with ease, but since Casey had left, the marriage of Dan's voiceovers and Jeremy's choice of shots worked like magic. It was still just a few seconds too long, though. He said "make it shorter" under his breath and grinned.

Jeremy was the only one from the show who'd seen his house here in DC. Dana had used up her vacation time in eloping with Sam and now said flying made her throw up. Dana said everything made her throw up. Isaac planned to come down in the fall. Natalie claimed to want to visit but he suspected she just said that to be nice. Casey sighed and didn't count Danny.

Jeremy had come down for Louise's wedding to some grad student at Gallaudet, staying with Casey at his Alexandria townhouse. Casey and Charlie had tried to make a simple pasta dish for Jeremy and Jeremy had politely claimed to enjoy the resulting mess.

Casey had told Lisa first, after Dana, before they both moved to DC. She had looked at him blankly and then burst out laughing. He'd looked at her, almost offended. She'd said, almost kindly, "Casey, I knew," which had made Casey laugh. He'd wished she'd told him. She had looked at him seriously and had said almost without a trace of her normal asperity, "You know where I grew up, Case. I didn't realize at first, but eventually, I figured it out. I figured it out."

They had agreed that Casey would tell Charlie. Casey thought about easing his son into the revelation, but couldn't figure out the tactful, non-traumatic way to ease Charlie into the realization that Casey had boyfriends and not girlfriends. He had told Charlie over pasta in a pizza crust at Generous George's in Alexandria, after the move, while they drank coke from glasses as big as a brandy snifter. It wasn't as bad as explaining the divorce, but it had scared him more. Charlie had stared at him for a few minutes. The first thing he'd said was "Was mom really hurt when you told her?" Casey had shook his head no and wondered when Charlie had become a better person than either of his parents.

Lisa's house with her new husband the White House correspondent was in the same development as Casey's. When he bought the townhouse, the agent had bragged that Justice Clarence Thomas had a place there. Casey didn't say that that was more of a negative to him. Charlie stayed with Casey three days a week and Casey made sure to be home every night he was there. He hadn't introduced anyone to Charlie, waiting for someone he cared about before he took that scary step.

Danny was good by himself, but he worked too hard. Danny had the demeanor of a substitute hoping no one would notice that he was there. Casey thought Danny acted like someone who needed to get laid. He smiled briefly at a fleeting image of Danny at nineteen, wearing cutoff shorts and taking off his t-shirt to wipe the sweat from his forehead. Casey shifted in his seat and blinked. He'd heard from everyone that Danny was getting laid these days but it didn't show in his performance. Natalie said Danny's new girl was loud and too cynical. Jeremy said the girl was pretty, smart and slightly weird. Dana would only say that this wasn't one of those girls Danny was trying to save and Hannah seemed to be fond of Danny, so that was good. Then she told Casey to ask Danny himself.

Danny had an edge of anger to his performance in the last few weeks. Casey thought he should wait and Danny would get over it. Would get over everything. He watched Danny gesture with his hands and grin. Before October, Casey had felt weird or embarrassed or just blocked out all the times he'd picture Danny naked. He'd once - in all honesty, more than once - pictured Danny in his head when he was having sex with Sally or with Lisa. He'd never said the name but it always left him feeling a little ashamed. He'd done the same thing with one or two of the guys he'd slept with since coming to DC and it still felt a little dirty. He tried to tell himself that people often fantasized about celebrities, or so he'd read, but he wasn't thinking of some stranger, he was thinking about Danny.

Danny had a great ass and smooth skin on his legs and chest and arms. Casey had seen pretty much ever part of Danny over the years except his cock, and he'd seen a little of that, even. Casey looked up at the screen and imagined Danny on top of him, his hands on Casey and Casey could only sigh. Never happen, he told himself. Wanting something wasn't always the same as having.

He missed Danny. They hadn't spoken since that Saturday at his townhouse. Casey had come home with his groceries from Giant and felt his stomach clench at Danny sitting on his doorstep. After Danny had run off, Casey had gone inside and stared at the Post, pretending to read it. He'd remembered his groceries in the SUV two hours later. He'd taken the chocolate ice cream out of the bag and put it on the passenger seat to eat first, and it had started to melt. Every day since, Casey had gotten into his car and had seen the small brown stain on the other seat. He would run his hand over it and think that soon, maybe, Danny would stop being mad and call him.

Someone sat down next to him at the bar. He glanced to his side and thought, blond, mid thirties, and turned back to Danny. The blonde man said, "He's adorable, isn't he?"

Casey laughed. "Adorable indeed." He looked at the guy seated next to him and this time noticed the bright blue eyes and welcoming smile.

His new friend tapped his fingers on the bar. He said to Casey, "So you're the one who always makes the bartender switch to this."

Casey nodded his head. He looked over at the guy again. He said, "I'm going home when it's over and the bar closes." The guy met his gaze and smiled. He put his hand on Casey's.

Casey and the twenty-sixth man he would have sex with left together right after Danny said, "Good night, Mom." and waved to the audience.

*

Montgomery was his name and he preferred to be called Monty. When he told Casey, he explained that his mother had named after Montgomery Clift. "My mother refused to believe Clift was gay," Monty had said. "Liberace? Richard Simmons? All straight as an arrow according to my mom." He laughed again.

Monty, Casey thought, gave world class fucking gold medal quality blowjobs. They'd been seeing each other about two weeks. Two weeks of the kind of blowjobs where Casey would need to check to see if his legs were still attached to the rest of him afterwards because the orgasm was that amazing. Casey hoped he showed his appreciation sufficiently.

Monty let Casey call once a day from work and would chat about sports and other nonsense. When work got busy for Monty, he would just say, "Can't banter now, Casey. Try me later." Casey liked him and even after only two weeks, he had started to think that it would be nice to have Monty around a lot.

Monty had already told him he was too busy today, so Casey killed time by calling Jeremy. Jeremy commiserated with him about the lousy teams in DC and then started talking about the book he was reading.

"It's by Samuel Delany, Casey, have you ever heard of him?"

"No. No, I haven't heard of him."

"Samuel Delany. It's really good. There's this scene where they have the only survivor of a world and they've taken him to this facility where they -"

Casey looked at the newsroom of his station from his relatively plush office. "Jeremy, did I need to follow all the pronouns in that sentence? Cause you lost me at the second 'they.'"

"Um. Don't worry about it. Anyway, just understand that this man - Rat Korga - he doesn't have a world anymore and he's in this facility where they've fixed him up and it's all more technologically advanced than where he's ever been. And he says - wait, let me find the book."

Jeremy put Casey on hold and he listened to the muzak CSC had programmed years ago and then a quick caffeinated female voice hyping Sports Night. Jeremy came back right as the recording purred "Dan Rydell."

"Okay," Jeremy said, "here we go. He says - the one without a world since it's been destroyed and he's the only one left, in one sense, and he says, 'I had a world. But it is true to say I never had a world. You have given me the possibility of a world. What world will you give me?' Isn't that great, Casey?"

Casey paused. "Jeremy, this isn't speaking metaphorically about me and Danny, is it? I mean, that's not what I'm supposed to take from this, right?"

"No. I don't do that, Casey. I would just say it. I have just saaid it. That metaphor thing - that's just something you and Dana do. And Dan, too, I guess," Jeremy paused. "This is a really good book. You might like it. I mean. Well. Delany's gay, if that's a plus for you." Jeremy hesitated a little on the last sentence and Casey could picture him in Sports Night's crowded newsroom, hunching over his phone while staffers buzzed by him.

"It's not really a plus or a negative, Jeremy. You think I should buy books by Samuel Delany... let me write that down." Casey fiddled with a small plastic cow on his desk. It had been Charlie's when he was four and he had presented it to Casey on Father's Day that year, with solemn ceremony. Casey'd kept it and he still remembered Charlie climbing in his lap to tell him the cow's name and the cow's whole life story.

Jeremy was still talking. "Well, you really should. Only don't start with this book, because Delany gets very complex, playing with language. You should ease into it. Most of his books are out of print, though they are re-issuing them, this year, I think. But if you can find, say, Out of Dead City - that's a good starter. Don't start with Dhalgren, whatever you do. I started to read that when I was seventeen, and I still haven't finished it."

Casey promised to look for it, and then Jeremy had to get back to work.

*

It was Saturday and Casey was in Kramerbooks, alone. He wandered in and out of the stacks and remembered to look for Samuel Delany books. He could only find Dhalgren and he respected Jeremy's prohibition. Charlie was with Lisa, and Monty had some work thing that would keep him busy until the evening. Casey had thought about calling one of his friends in town, but then he'd decided to enjoy an afternoon by himself. Except he wasn't really enjoying it much.

Cute guys wandered by him and looked at him questioningly but Casey thought of Monty and kept his eyes on the books. A year ago he would have been in New York and he could have called Danny. He stared at the magazine rack and saw Sports Illustrated. He realized a year ago he wouldn't have called Danny at all. Fifty- one weeks ago had been Draft Day 2000 and fifty-two weeks ago he and Danny hadn't been in any kind of hang out on a Saturday kind of place. Casey flicked his fingers across the cover of Sports Illustrated and thought about Draft Day last year. He wondered whom Dana would bet with this year.

*

Casey leaned against the headboard of his bed and gripped the sheets, hard. Monty was between his legs and Monty's mouth, his tongue, his hands were working that magic Monty did. The heat of his mouth, his quick, thin fingers, the way he swallowed Casey's cock, even, Casey thought, the feel of Monty's forearms moving against Casey's thighs - Monty should fucking patent this, he thought. Casey came and thought he must look like one of those cartoons with stars circling his head. When he could move, he pulled Monty into a quick kiss and fell asleep quickly after Monty had dressed and left to get back to his place.

He woke at three in the morning, feeling contented and beyond sated. He remembered that Draft Day was in two days. Danny was still mad at him and Casey kept waiting for the sign that things would be okay soon. He felt the after glow of Monty's ministrations and decided to call Danny now and leave a message of good wishes on his voicemail.

He heard two rings and then someone answered. He heard a groggy voice, a woman's voice saying, "Wha - um, fuck. Good evening?"

Casey cleared his throat and said, "Um. I thought -"

"Is this a wrong number? I mean. Fuck," the woman said, "this isn't my phone. This is Danny's." She sighed. Casey thought this must be Hannah and grimaced.

"I was calling for Danny - I thought I'd reach the voicemail."

"And yet. I mean, not an invalid assumption - he can sleep through bombs going off, I swear," Hannah mumbled.

Casey thought about the times he'd slept next to Danny in hotel rooms, watching the rise and fall of Danny's chest and telling himself whatever he used to tell himself when he wanted Danny and wouldn't admit to himself. "Yeah. Um," he said.

"Well, I can wake him up if you want -"

"No. No, don't wake him up." Casey decided to never again do something after a mind-blowing blowjob, because he clearly didn't think well after them.

"Okay. Well, I'm up now, sort of, and I've got a pen here, and - wait," he heard her scrambling with something and then she said, "and I've got this ATM receipt for paper. So fire away with the message, then."

Casey swallowed. He thought. Hannah cleared her throat. Casey said, "Tell him - tell him Casey called. And ..." Casey paused again. Hannah said okay more softly than before and Casey thought she had recognized his name. He wondered what Danny told people about him now. "Tell him I wish him good luck with Draft Day and - and that I know he'll do better than I did last year." He rubbed his forehead. "Can you - sorry, can you read that back to me, cause I want to make sure it sounds okay."

Hannah snorted. She said, "Okay," and managed to convey an implicit fuck you in the two syllables. Casey understood why Natalie didn't like her. Hannah said, "Casey called - begin parenthesis - at 3 am cause he was too afraid to talk to you and wanted to get the voicemail - end parenthesis -"

"Um - wait a minute," Casey sputtered.

"Dude. It's three am. You woke me up. I'm allowed to make editorial comments, okay?" She kept reading. "He called to wish you good luck with Draft Day and that he - begin parenthesis - CM - end parenthesis - knows you - begin parenthesis - DWR - end parenthesis - will do better than he - begin parenthesis - CM - end parenthesis - did last year. Is that sufficiently clear for you?" She was chuckling a little. Casey wondered what she looked like.

"It's - it's fine. Thank you. I'm sorry I woke you up."

"It's okay," she said quietly. "I'll give him the message, Casey. Sleep well."

*

Dan played with message at his desk, early in the morning of Draft Day 2001. He traced his fingers over Hannah's small handwriting. She had written in a mixture of print and cursive. She would loop back to cross her t's and it looked like half a kite sometimes. He put the message on the edge of his desk, away from him.

He'd borrowed one of Hannah's CDs, the latest Wallflowers one. She'd asked him if he liked it, and when he'd said he did, she'd asked him his favorite songs. He'd said 'Witness' and 'Hand me down' and she'd taken the CD away from him.

"You're taking it back?" He'd said looking at her while she rooted through his CDs to retrieve it.

"Yes. Look, whatever. I'm a music geek and maybe I'm reading too much into this - but, dude. Those are two depressing-assss songs about being second best and unwanted and I don't think you should be listening to them. I mean, music isn't just wallpaper and it's just gonna - it will enflame your depressed gland. So. I'm taking it back."

"The songs aren't what's - I'm not depressed." She had bent over and he had crooked his neck to look at her fit calves and trim ankles. Hannah worked out every weekday, and she would leave his apartment with her gym bag in one hand, waving her cigarette in the other hand and joking about seeing which would kill her first.

"Music matters." Hannah had stood up and looked at him. "Well, it matters to me. I mean. I just think you shouldn't be dwelling on things from that perspective." She had taken the CD and put it in her gym bag.

He'd said he could buy his own copy. Hannah had noted that Jakob Dylan and company would appreciate that, but she would find it in his CDs and hide it.

"Until when?" he'd asked. And she had just looked at him and didn't answer.

Yesterday, he'd woken up to find the message from Casey next to his pillow. He'd read it and walked into the kitchen. Hannah had stood by the counter, smoking a cigarette and drinking a coke. "You saw that?" she'd said, nonchalantly. She had taken a drag of her cigarette.

"Yeah." He hadn't bothered to put on socks or anything at all, had just gotten out of bed, and he'd stood naked, his feet cold against the tiles of the kitchen.

Hannah had started talking, rubbing her fingers on a pasta sauce stain on the counter. "So. Yesterday at work, we were all arguing about some song to play in the bar scene. It's a two-minute scene, but I wanted the right song, you know? And usually the big guy's got that all covered, but here he just writes 'something popular and rock-y,' so we argue about it. Of course, I want something cool and everyone else's like, let's call WB and get something popular. Which makes sense, cause most jukeboxes suck and would play some latest from pop crap thing ..." He'd realized she hadn't even really been talking to him. She was just filling the space while he thought.

"I wanted them to play something by Tom Waits, 'cause it made me think of you." She'd smiled at him.

He'd put the message down with his bills and magazines and unread mail. He'd gone over to her and pulled her close to him, the buttons of her shirt - his shirt she'd borrowed - scratchy against his chest. "Did they go with the Tom Waits?"

She'd put down her drink and held the hand with the cigarette away from him. "No. They went with some crap from Staind. Can you imagine?"

He had gotten to work today early to be as prepared as possible. And he sat at his desk before even Dana had come in and took his ten minutes of nothing. When Casey had been here, Dan thought, half of his day had been banter and not work. Now he couldn't afford that, and he took his ten minutes of nothing every day so he didn't implode. Today he didn't surf the net or play computer games, today he sat at his desk just staring out the window.

An hour before the broadcast he sat behind his desk, reviewing the order of teams for the hundredth time. He had made his predictions and knew everything backwards and forwards but he reviewed the fundamentals one more time. Jeremy sat on his couch, eating yogurt and reading some paperback. Dana came in and sat in the chair, followed by Natalie a second later who perched on the table. Dan regarded the three of them. "Is this an intervention?"

"An intervention?" Natalie asked. "It's not an intervention. We like hanging out in your office. You have the best view."

Dana looked up at him. "Should we be intervening, Danny? You addicted to smack?"

Dan shook his head. "No. No smack here at all."

Dana snorted. "Damn. I could use some smack." She rubbed her stomach. She was just starting to show, the pregnancy softening her face as her belly expanded.

Natalie smiled. "I could smack you, if you want."

Dana frowned. "No, I wouldn't want that. It's not a good thing to smack a pregnant woman, so you can't."

Jeremy put down his book. "You say that a lot."

Dana frowned at him. "I say people shouldn't smack me a lot? What a surprise."

Jeremy shook his head and smoothed his tie. "No. You say we can't do things to you because you're pregnant. And then you make us do things for you."

Dana deepened her frown at him. "Well, I am pregnant. You got a problem with that?"

Jeremy leaned back and put his hands up. "No! No problem at all. In fact, Dana, is there anything you need right now? I'd be happy to get it for you."

Dan smiled. He said the first thing that came into his head. "You know, you're all going to be fine."

Dana looked at him, suddenly serious. "What do you mean, Danny?"

Dan leaned back and stopped smiling. "I mean - when they cancel us or fire me or whatever. When it all comes down, you'll all be fine. You're going to find great jobs. Or they'll keep you when they replace me. And they should. They should keep you." He pushed away the list of teams. He didn't need it, he'd memorized the thing days ago.

Dan thought no one rushed to assure him that those things would never happen. Dana said softly, "You're doing a fine job, Danny."

Dan snorted and shook his head. He knew he wasn't doing fine. He was doing some variant of not quite good enough. He didn't know what else to do but work harder and it still came out not quite right. Isaac had stopped trying to compliment him and now just stared at him after the show and told him to relax. The ratings weren't going down, but they never went up after the first dip when Casey left.

Natalie said, "I've always thought - if I knew I was going to die, die very soon - I've always thought I would want to gooo out watching some really funny movie and shouting out the window, 'Fuck you all.' " Dana stared at her, a little alarmed.

Jeremy said, "Remind me to make sure the windows are sealed when your time comes." He smiled. "But, you know, Dan, Natalie's right."

Dana moved her alarmed gaze to Jeremy. "She's not right. She's a little crazy and - I don't even know what she's right about."

Jeremy said, "Dan. Wouldn't you want to go out laughing?"

Dan pushed the list again and said, "I don't want to go at all, Jeremy."

The message fluttered to the ground. Natalie picked it up, and because it was Natalie and not Jeremy or anyone else who actually respected other people's privacy, she read it. She looked at him. "Casey called you," she said quietly.

"Natalie," Dan said and glared at her. "Leave it." He stood and snatched the message from her hands. He balled up the message and threw it away. He thought about setting it on fire. He started laughing. He turned and looked at all of them. "I guess," he said, still laughing a little, "I guess it is pretty funny. When you think about it."

Dana still looked upset. She said, "What's pretty funny?"

Dan waved his arms. "All of this is funny. It's funny that the show was almost cancelled when we were doing everything right, and now we have a decent budget and promotion and we're back to being almost cancelled and now it's because I can't - I can't do this thing I've worked my whole life to do. That's actually - when you think about it - that's actually pretty funny." He laughed. "Or at least, absurd. Which is another way of saying funny."

Jeremy looked at him and said, "Dan. I once read this thing by Molly Ivins. She said in times of trouble we can cry or throw up or laugh. And crying makes your eyes red and throwing up hurts your stomach so it's better to laugh. So. That's what I think."

They left and everyone went to work. Dan looked around his office five minutes before air and thought about Casey. Fuck Casey, he thought. He laughed again. Because, really, wasn't Casey's problem that he wouldn't fuck Casey? He laughed again and walked to the studio.

Dan joked on air during Draft Day that people could pass the fifteen minutes between selections a number of ways. "Last year, I went with having a nervous breakdown, and I really don't advise that to you fine people watching us. So stick with watching CSC and enjoy the commercials, " he said.

Dana walked out and stood in front of him, leaning against the desk. She looked at him with a small smile. He waited for a lecture. Instead she said, "You think you're pretty funny, don't you?"

"Well. I thought crying or throwing up would lower our ratings even more."

She put her hand on his hand and squeezed. She smiled at him again. "You are pretty funny, Dan."

*

July 2001.

Dan swam. He reviewed the latest overnights in his head as he moved through water and thought about the games, the press conferences, breaking stories. The ratings were up slightly and he was always happier during baseball season. He went into work every day, took his ten minutes of nothing and danced on graves, he thought. They would still be cancelled or he would be fired, but he was going out laughing and shouting out the windows, at least.

He kept forgetting to move the pictures in his apartment, but he didn't call Casey.

He called Hannah at work almost every day and she usually put up with him, chattering away in her way, but sometimes she blew him off. He saw her nearly every day and he knew every inch of her body like he could recite every winner of the World Series.

He worried that she would leave him. He was right. She told him after the show. She'd waited in his apartment for him to come home. She stood in the living room, holding her bag where she'd put her books and CDs and clothes that she'd left there.

"The thing is," she said, "the thing is I heard this song and I thought of you." She was almost crying, he could tell. "And I know, I know that most people don't do that - they're not as all geeky as me and they don't look to music for these things. But I am that I am, or something." She sniffled and wiped her nose with her hand. "I listen to music and every new CD I buy, I look for revelation. But this was an old one, and. I was listening to it and I thought of you and I thought that's just not right. I mean, you shouldn't - it's not a good thing when I'm listening to Leonard Cohen and the song is 'The Stranger Song' and I think of my boyfriend." She always over-explained things and she went on for a moment. "Not stranger like weird, I mean. It's like Camus and L'Etranger and killing people on the beach."

She lit a cigarette and her hand shook. He thought, as she left, that she was a better writer than he'd thought. Or at least she knew how to make an exit. She'd stood in the doorway and said, "Leonard Cohen was right. 'It's hard to hold the hand of anyone who is reaching for the sky just to surrender.' " And then she left and closed the door behind her.

*

August 2001.

Dan sat on the porch of Elliott's house in Brooklyn and smoked a cigarette. He looked down as his Shiner Bock and wondered again where Elliott had found it. In Texas, he and Casey had always drunk Shiner and they had probably gone through a case a night some times. Then they came to New York and couldn't find Shiner anywhere. Jeremy had looked it up for him once on the net and pointed out that Shiner was only registered in certain states and it hadn't come to New York yet. Available nowhere in New York except for Elliott's house, he thought. He took a long drag on his cigarette and took a swig of his beer. Cigarettes always tasted better with Shiner, he thought.

Natalie came outside and he briefly heard the sounds of the party and a snippet of music before she closed the door and sat down next to him. She wrinkled her nose as the cigarette smoke drifted towards her. "I never liked Hannah," she said, waving her hands to get the smoke away.

Dan moved the cigarette to his other hand. "I always did."

"I mean - she got you smoking again. Not to rob of your agency there, as my brother would say, but I blame her." Natalie hugged her knees.

"My agency? Your brother would say that?"

Natalie grinned. "He's a grad student in comparative literature. He always uses literary terms for everything. Or academic terms. And he would say agency."

"Well. My agency is available now. You could even say it's free agency now." He drank more of his Shiner and swirled it around in his mouth to savor the rich flavor.

"That was a lousy joke. Don't ever use it on the show, okay?" She went on without waiting for his assent. "You should quit smoking. Things are fine. They're totally fine. It's like - it's like we've got stars in our pockets like grains of sand." She laughed and slapped her back pocket for emphasis.

"Stars in our pockets like grains of sand? Does that mean something good?"

"I - I don't know what it means. It's a nice phrase, though. It's the title of that book Jeremy was reading. I'd see it all the time in my apartment." She smiled at him and looked out at the street.

"Jeremy left it lying around? So he didn't like it." Dan stubbed out his cigarette against the step. He looked out at the street and saw nothing but Elliott's street.

"He liked it. He took notes."

"He took notes? I don't take notes on any books anymore, much less ones I read for pleasure." Dan drank the rest of his Shiner and put the cigarette butt in the empty bottle.

"Jeremy takes notes. He takes notes on romance novels. But he really liked this book, and he said it was very complex and he wanted to understand everything, so he took notes."

Dan smiled at Jeremy taking notes on some Harlequin bodice-ripper. He started to say something, but Natalie interrupted him. "Dan. You know what you should do? You should make up with Casey."

Dan shook his head to say no. He couldn't frame a decent reply to Natalie why he wouldn't make up with Casey but he knew he couldn't.

"You miss him," she said seriously.

"I - I miss who I thought he was. I don't miss whoever that guy was who left - who left us and blew me off and. I don't miss Casey. I miss who I thought he was." Dan stood and started back to the party. He opened the door and heard the music playing, a man and woman singing about love.

Natalie came up behind him and said, "You don't believe that. That's just something you say so you don't think about how you should call Casey."

Dan turned back to her. "Natalie." He heard the song ending and people laughing. "Who was that song by? The one that was just playing."

She shook her head and walked ahead of him back into the party. "I don't know, Danny. I have no idea."

Dan walked back into the party. Hannah, he thought, would know who sang the song.

*

It took him a week or two to work everything out. But he knew what to do, in the end. Dan stood outside her door, with flowers and knocked on the solid wood. She opened the door halfway and said quietly, "Danny."

"Hannah." He handed her the flowers and said, "These are for you." He smiled his best smile. She took the flowers and walked back into her apartment. He followed her in. She grabbed an empty pasta sauce jar and put water in it, then the flowers. He stood behind her and put his hands on her shoulders. She tensed under him.

"Hannah. I've been thinking and I think - I would like us to try again." She didn't say anything and she fiddled with the flowers. "I miss you every day," he said.

"You could find someone else to call and pretend it was Casey," she said quietly.

He inhaled and kept his hands on her shoulder. He exhaled and then said, "I miss Casey. I do. But I want you. I want you separate from that." She relaxed a little under his hands. He decided this was the time to try anything. "I mean, you won't be happy with me. But give me one more chance. I won't be happy anyway."

She turned around and smiled at him. Her hands were around his waist. "Danny. You screwed up the quote. 'You won't be happy with me, but give me one more chance. You won't be happy anyway.'"

He squeezed her shoulders. "I know. But, Hannah, you would be happy anyway."

She grinned and leaned against him. She said, "You really can't go wrong quoting Stephin Merritt."

"Magnetic Fields. Fucking genius albums every time, I tell you," he said, stroking her hair. "So. Um. I heard this song - it was a man and a woman singing, a duet - and the chorus was something like 'I don't want you to save me, I want you to love me.' And I thought Hannah would know that song."

She thought. Then she said, "I think it's Shea Seger. A duet with Ron Sexsmith, who's actually pretty amazing. It's a nice song."

"I liked it. It was a good song."

She looked up at him. "Yeah. It's her first album and she's young. I think the next album will be better." Then she kissed him and everything was much better.

*

Dan took his ten minutes of nothing. He tried to wrap his mind around the possibility of not being fired or cancelled. They were slowly ticking up. He wasn't dancing on graves anymore, he was actually just having fun doing his job. It had been his alone now for almost a year and he was only just realizing it.

He surfed the net and noticed the blinking icon on the bottom of his screen. He clicked on it and Outlook popped up to remind him that September fifth was a week away and he should buy Casey's birthday gift. He blinked. He couldn't remember when he had added that to his calendar. He must have done it in January when he updated everything. He had surfed his way to Amazon before realizing he was doing it.

He was working on autopilot, looking for Casey's wishlist. He and Jeremy had helped Casey set one up last year, it should still be there. Maybe Casey had even updated it with someone else's help. He started scrolling through the list, noting that Casey had updated it earlier this month, anticipating his birthday probably. He could see Casey spending a merry afternoon clicking on everything that he wanted his family and friends to buy him. A grin of avarice on his rectangle head, Dan thought.

Dan went past all the books - most on sports but some on political things. Casey was apparently planning some crash course in current events. Or, Dan thought, he was boning up on all the things he already knew for that great commentary job around the corner. So the gay thing could be completely out and not just an open secret that no one cared to call him on.

He had worked his way past thirty books to things Casey had added in April. He stopped and stared. Tom Waits. Casey McCall, who thought the Starland Vocal Band was a good band, had, in April, added Waits's Heart of A Saturday Night CD to his wishlist. Dan wondered if it was a sign. Then he shook his head and bought it and got gift wrapping and regular shipping. He paused at the screen and stared at the gift message part.

Dan thought he could wrap his mind around maybe not getting fired in the next six months, he could live in a world where he hadn't spoken to Casey in the past six months, but he couldn't quite understand the state of things where he didn't buy Casey a birthday gift. He didn't have any message for Casey.

He clicked on the message part and typed "from DWR." He clicked through everything else quickly, not even looking. The confirmation email showed up in his inbox and he deleted it without looking. His ten minutes of nothing were done.

*

September 2001

Casey had taken off the eleven o'clock broadcast the day of his birthday because Monty and Charlie had decided he needed a party. After the six o'clock was done, the staff at the station threw him a small party and everyone sang Happy Birthday. He felt his smile wither and he said, "That's protected intellectual property so remember not to sing that on the air." He had come to think of these moments as phantom pains from a damaged leg. The nerves had been damaged, he thought, not severed, because he couldn't imagine a world where Danny never ever spoke to him again. He had spent seven months waiting for feeling to return and he still believed it would happen. He wondered if he should call Danny but now it had been seven months since they'd last spoken. The time felt larger and heavier every day.

He still watched Sports Night every night, but he didn't go to the bars very often anymore. Monty would come home from the IRS and Casey would come home from the station and they would watch in bed, or downstairs in the living room. Monty hadn't quite moved in, but it was an increasingly academic distinction.

Casey drove home and looked over at the small stain on the other seat. Monty had asked about it back in May and Casey had intended to say something quick and casual. Instead he had babbled, babbled more than he should have about Danny and Danny being angry with him and the unbearable something of Danny being angry with him. He had thought at the end of it, when he came up for air, Monty would nod and say, "Okay. Getting out of car now. Call me, maybe." Instead, Monty had nodded and said, "I figured." Then he'd smiled and squeezed Casey's knee and went back to watching the road.

Monty had grown in Baltimore with an impossible name, a beanpole of a boy who couldn't fake being straight even at age nine. He'd done well in school, he claimed, because he had so few friends there were no distractions. He'd worked for the public defender's office, passed his CPA exam two years after the bar exam, and now prosecuted tax scofflaws for the IRS. Monty liked to bare his teeth like a vampire after he told people his job. "I am the face of pure evil," he would say with a sly glance, "I audit people and rake them over the coals and take from them their money."

At home, Monty would explain that the people he went after were perpetrating fraud and he would talk about the way people thought they could take advantage of all the benefits the government provided but scheme to make sure they didn't pay their share of the costs. He thought his work made a difference and he was always a little embarrassed saying that.

Casey liked the smell of him, his merry grin and his obsessive affection for westerns. "Hot boys in leather chaps? Casey, how can you not love them?" he'd say and pop in some awful thing with Clint Eastwood. Casey loved having sex with him. Casey would sometimes close his eyes at work and picture Monty stretched out on his bed under Casey's hands. It was a nice image.

At some point Casey realized he'd been dating Monty for longer than anyone he'd dated in his life. He'd said as much to Monty who simply raised an eyebrow. "You were married to Lisa for how long again?"

"That was different."

Then Monty had smiled. "Things are good now."

Casey said, "Yeah."

Monty had smiled wider. "So, if that changes or things become more good or something, we'll check back in then, right?" And that had been that. Monty stayed over at Casey's more and more and they talked every day and Casey had started to maybe think that things were more good lately.

Casey had introduced Monty to Charlie with more trepidation than he'd had about the conversation at Generous George's. They'd all gone up to Camden for an Orioles game, which had added to Casey's cold sweat because he kept looking over his shoulder wondering if this would be one of the games that Danny snuck out of New York to see. Charlie regarded Monty with a cool glance for the first two innings but somewhere around the third started laughing and joking. He'd rolled his eyes when Casey and Monty had briefly held hands in the car, but he did the same when Lisa and her new husband nuzzled after dinner.

Now, his son and his boyfriend were getting together to plan his birthday party. Casey almost laughed at the absurdity of it, at how far this reality was from where he had been. And, he thought, tapping on the steering wheel, it wasn't absurd bad, it was absurd good. This was all good.

Danny, he thought. Danny couldn't stay mad at him forever. He could picture Danny in his office on the forty-ninth floor, in jeans and his white sweater sitting on the couch and he couldn't picture that Danny wouldn't ever want to speak to him again. His mind wandered to Danny in jeans and the way his ass looked. He sighed and saw his exit ahead.

His townhouse seemed crowded with people. Lisa came up and hugged him first. "Thirty-six, Case!" she crowed. "If I remember my advertising days correctly, you've just stepped out of a valuable demographic." She clapped him on the shoulder and led him up the few stairs.

"Oh, thanks, Lisa. That was just the special message I needed today." He grinned at her and she laughed.

"Someone needs to remind you of the important things." She giggled and drifted off as Charlie ran up. Charlie began noting the people who hadn't been able to attend, including Lisa's husband and some people from the station. But he gestured at the dining table, and pointed out all the gifts.

"There were some that just arrived today, and I opened the boxes, but not the wrapping. You can do that."

Casey sighed and said thanks. Monty insisted on everyone eating first, before what he kept calling "the plundering of the booty." Casey looked around his living room and tried to notice the people present, not the one missing. Two or three ex-fucks turned friends, people he'd met at Starbucks or Kramerbooks, some people from the station who weren't working that night, his ex-wife, his boyfriend and his son. Not bad, he thought, really, not that bad.

People drifted out after the food and he waved goodbye from his perch on the sofa, watching Monty listen to Charlie explain his science project. Lisa stood behind Monty and gestured to Casey with a twist of her hand that she thought this one was basically okay. He grinned and waved her away.

By ten thirty nearly everyone was gone and only a few presents waited on the table. Charlie pointed at them while Monty washed dishes. "Dad, you should open these before it's not your birthday anymore."

"I will, Charlie, I will. And I still have two hours, you know. Speaking of which, young man ..." Casey waved his hand indicating Charlie needed to be upstairs, in bed, quite soon.

"After you open these." Charlie handed him a largish box. A present from Isaac, who had gotten him a high-tech cheese grater. Casey grinned. His mother had sent DVDs of movies she thought she remembered he'd loved when he was a kid. Dana had sent him a book, Jeremy had sent a copy of Dhalgren, and Natalie a scarf from Barney's. Casey had the last gift in his hand, unopened, when Monty came out of the kitchen.

"Okay, some of us are old. Some of us aren't. And we all need to do things tomorrow that require sleep. Up we go." Casey followed Charlie while Monty turned off the lights and checked the locks. Casey looked down at the gift in his hand. Tom Waits. Someone had bought him the cd he'd put on his wishlist ages ago. He'd wanted that one with the song, and couldn't ask Danny which one it was. He looked at the little flap and stopped on the stairs.

"DWR?" Charlie had grabbed it from his hands. "Danny sent you a gift." Charlie smiled down at him. He waited at the top of stairs with the cd and the wrapping. Casey blinked and walked slowly up. He was getting old, the stairs seemed immeasurably higher than yesterday and he felt winded as he took the CD back from Charlie.

Casey sat on the bed, and automatically turned the TV on and to CSC. He couldn't remember the last time he'd actually seen Sports Night live, and not at one am. Monty sat down next to him and took the CD from him. "Not much for messages, is he?" Monty said with that same sly smile that he'd once used to say "So you're the one who makes the bartender switch to this every night."

Casey shook his head. "He usually - he used to write more. But this is just his initials. It's - he signs Dan on everything, except memos, I guess, or things like that. I - I don't know." Casey wondered if this was his sign. He wondered if Danny had acquired a secretary somehow and this was just some rote thing from her to do list. He wondered if Monty would be pissed at him for being so thrown by this.

They watched Sports Night in silence, still sitting on the edge of the bed staring at the TV. Danny had found his groove, Casey thought, he's completely beyond needing me. The show flowed and sparkled and he couldn't imagine it with two hosts even as he remembered sitting under the lights, next to everything he had wanted and didn't know. He still held the CD in his hands.

As the show went off the air Monty stood up and walked to the dresser. Casey turned the TV off and started to say something, to apologize, but Monty threw his cell phone at him. Casey caught it and heard the ringing. "Whom did you call," he started to say.

Then he heard, "Yo. Sports Night and all that." Danny.

He tried to say it, tried to force the two syllables past his lips. Danny cleared his throat and started to say something about a wrong number. Casey swallowed and looked down at the CD he'd dropped on the floor catching the phone. He said, "Danny."

Danny inhaled sharply. He said nothing and Casey found himself counting the seconds -- fifteen seconds and it was too long for live TV. People would change channels. Danny said, "Casey. What's - why are you calling?"

"Danny. I," Casey counted and he took sixteen seconds. People changing channels while they stared at an unchanging screen. "I got your gift."

Danny responded quickly. "Is this call in lieu of writing thank you notes?" Twenty seconds, Casey thought, before Danny said, "Um. It's after midnight so I don't have to wish you a happy birthday, right? It's too late now, I think."

Casey felt his stomach turn over. He was acting like an idiot. He was acting like an idiot and he looked up at Monty's square face and blond hair. Monty had tiny laugh lines around his eyes and mouth. Monty could see right through him and would dump him for this. For this conversation and for the way he could still be like this with Danny.

Casey gripped the phone. He didn't want Monty to dump him. He didn't want Monty to leave him, ever. He opened his mouth and said to Danny, "I got the gift so I took that as Happy Birthday. So there's no need to say it twice. Danny."

"Well, good then. I - I'm leaving now, Casey, gotta go." And Danny hung up. Casey thought this was the closest to a sign he would ever get. Casey closed the phone and looked at Monty, methodically removing his suit and undoing his tie.

"Monty," Casey said. Monty turned around and looked at him. "Monty. Thank you. I wouldn't have called him - I appreciate it. And, also." Casey stood up and walked over to him. "Also, I wanted to check in here to say. To say things are more good, for me. Definitely more good."

Monty smiled and said, "Good. Me, too, actually, so." Monty reached over and started undoing Casey's tie. "We should go to bed."

*

Casey had flown up to New York on the earliest flight they had on Saturday. Now he sat in front of Danny's door and waited for him to be home. The doorman had waved him inwith a happy, "Not seen you in a while, Mr. McCall!" Casey stared at the walls and dwelt on the grain of the wood, not the all the times he remembered from this hallway.

A short woman rounded the corner and then stood over him. "Hey. I need that door."

Casey looked up at her and started to move. He said, "I'm here to see Danny."

"And good for you, Casey, but I've got, you know, groceries, here." She shifted the bag to her hip and waved her keys in his face. "So, move to one side for the vigil, 'kay?" This, Casey thought, must be Hannah. She had keys to Danny's place. This was the first girl Danny had given keys to where Casey didn't already know what she was like in bed and what her favorite restaurant was. He sighed and scrambled up.

"You must be Hannah," he said. She wasn't at all how he had pictured her. Danny's girls tended to be head-turners and Hannah was only pretty. She was fit, he thought, but if she gained only ten pounds, she'd be chubby. And she was short. Even in her platform sandals, the top of her head only came to his chest. She regarded him with a level gaze and he understood all over again why Natalie didn't like her.

"I am Hannah. You are Casey. And now I am putting these away." Looking down at her, Casey could see the dark roots at the top where her dye job was growing out.

"Wait. When is Danny coming home?" She still hadn't opened the door. She turned to look at him.

"Milliseconds, I think. He was just parking the car." Danny rounded the corner as soon as she said it. Casey tried to smile. Danny stopped dead and looked at the two of them.

"Danny," Casey said. Danny just stared.

"Danny," Hannah said. "You know what? I left my keys in my purse or something. Let me use yours?" Casey looked down at her, confused. Danny walked forward and tossed Hannah his keys. She used Danny's keys to open the door and then closed it after her.

"Casey," Danny said. He looked different. Even watching him on TV every night, it had still been nearly six months since Casey had seen him and his hair looked different and even the shape of him. Mostly, right then, he looked wary.

"Danny. I came to talk to you." Casey swallowed. Dan leaned against his door. He sighed and turned to the door. It was locked.

"Uh. Hannah. Could you open the door?" Danny called.

"No," she said from the other side. "You know, settle this. This is my one cheap melodramatic gesture. I promise to never do it again. But stay out there and talk to him." Casey looked down and tried not to smile. He felt in his pocket and he still had the keys to Danny's place on his key chain. He decided not to mention that.

"Hannah. I'd prefer to do this inside." Danny tried again and knocked on the door. Hannah ignored him and Danny turned back and leaned against the door with a grin. "She's a peach, you know? Just a great gal." Hannah called out a thank you from inside.

Casey smiled. "I didn't dial your number on Wednesday - Monty did and just threw the phone at me."

Danny looked down. "Monty is - he's your boyfriend?"

Casey reminded himself to breathe. "Yeah. He's my boyfriend. Six months in October. You. You would like him."

Danny crossed his arms and kept looking down. "It matters that you like him, not me, Casey."

Casey sighed. "Well, I do like him. I - actually, I love him. But that's not why I'm here. I wanted to. I apologize for not telling you about all this." Danny looked up at him, his face blank. "I apologize for that. And I didn't - I didn't know myself very well in a lot of ways in the past but I never - I acted as your friend, and sometimes badly at that, but as your friend and I wasn't trying to get you in bed or something."

Danny leaned against the door and didn't move. He said, "Okay." He looked more angry again, not so blank anymore.

Casey pressed his lips together and inhaled. "I'm sorry I abandoned you. I shouldn't have done that. You had all this show stuff and I didn't have time for you."

Danny nodded his head. "Yeah. Okay. But I should have called, too. I mean, after we talked about it in February. I've been kind of an ass here, too."

Casey exhaled and felt something like the pins and needles of his foot waking up, the sheer physical relief at the almost smile lurking on Danny's face. "Okay. And you know, Danny, I still have the keys to your place. So, uh, we can go in whenever you want."

Danny grinned. "I thought so." Casey reached over to give him the keys and Danny pulled him into a real hug. "I missed you," Danny said into his shoulder. "We should'a done this sooner."

"We did it when we did it," Casey said.

They went inside and Hannah sat on the couch. "You're gonna make me watch college football now, right?" She was smiling as she rolled her eyes.

Danny plopped down next to her and grinned. "That's the plan, baby." He poked Casey. "Now. Tell me about this boyfriend you're in love with. Is he nice? Does he like sports?"

THE END.

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