by bj

Dan tells himself, at nine in the morning when he wakes up and at noon when he gets to work, that he is better. At two o'clock when the sandwich guy arrives downstairs, when Dan pays for his lunch and eats alone in his office--working, not avoiding, working--when Casey is laughing with everybody in the conference room, he says quietly, "It's okay."

It is. Really. He hasn't had a thing in almost two weeks. Since the sale. Unless you count the little one--doesn't even qualify as an attack of any kind--the small blip on his fine-o-meter at Dana's party the weekend after Quo Vadimus saved them.

Saved, nothing. It's just money. It doesn't mean anything.

This is what he says to himself whenever Casey avoids talking about contract renegotiations in September.

At eight-thirty in the evening he tells Abby he's fine and she blinks at him. Disbelief.

"You're not," she says. Which is somehow better than if she had said 'I don't believe you'.

"I really am," he says. He feels like begging. Fix me. Fix me or tell me I can't be fixed. Don't care which. Just. Stop jerking me around.

"What happened at the party?" she asks after a moment, resettling her arms on her crossed knees. The way she leans forward makes him feel like prey.

"Nothing," he says firmly, for the fifth time since he arrived. Possibly sixth.

She spreads a hand over the arm of her chair, raising her fingers. "Were there a lot of people?"

He shrugs, looking away from her. "I didn't take a census or anything--"

"Did you know all of them?"

"Probably not, I mean. There were a lot of--"

She nods and he says, fuck, to himself. Why doesn't she ever just believe him? "And," she says slowly, "did you have--"

"I'm fine," he says.

She tilts her head and looks at him steadily. "How long have we been doing this?"

"Way too long."

Tiny tiny smile, one of the ones he likes best. "I'm starting to agree. Sometimes it sounds to me as if you don't want to get better."

He doesn't need to get better, because, "I'm. Fine." Emphasised with vague hand gestures.

Sometimes he wonders why he lies to her--it's not like she could go out and tell everybody he's a thousand things that are not even close to fine. It's not like she believes him anyway.

"If that's how you really feel--" She lifts her arms, elbows pointed out, and smooths her slacks over her thighs impatiently. She starts to stand.

"I threw up," he says. In a rush, suddenly. He wasn't going to say, he'd told himself he wouldn't, but now.

She sits again. Quiet understanding, too much sympathy. "I know."

"I was talking to people. I know them, not like. Not very well, but I know them, you know people who work for the same network. And there was Dana."

"What'd she do?"

He says, "It's Dana, Abby. She was drinking. She was talking."


"So Paul and Peter took the LA thing," Dana said.

"Yeah," Dan said, passing his empty glass from one hand to the other. She'd backed him up to the wall, there were four people on the windowseat beside them. Strangers. People from elsewhere. Sportscasters, he thought they might be. MLS.

"Gonna miss them," one of the seated strangers said wryly, English accent wrapped around her Caribbean voice. Dan thought he might have hit on her at the Christmas party.

Dana grinned. Her lips were very red. Big Red margaritas. Sharon the floor manager's recipe--cinnamon and strawberry slush and tequila. Lots and lots of tequila. "God knows," Dana said.

Dan swallowed, speaking around the acidic tickle in his throat. "I need another--"

"I can't believe PacifiCast settled for Paul and Peter, for Christ's sake." Another stranger, standing unexpectedly over Dana's shoulder, blocking Dan's escape route.

Dana snorted. "If you want Elmer and Bugs, sometimes you have to hire Pete and Porky."

Dan didn't get that, but he wasn't really listening--he was swallowing the bitter burn of bourbon on its way back up. And anyway Dana was more than a little drunk.

The first stranger recrossed her legs--he'd definitely hit on her, he recognised her white-strapped ankles, her nearly-bare rootbeer- dark thighs--and said to Dan, "Can't believe you guys didn't take it."

"Casey said he told you to take it, Danny," Dana added, as if reminding him.

"You should have taken it," Shapely Ankle Woman said firmly.

He looked from the straps of her heels to her face. "Why?"

Dana cocked her head. Crossed her arms. "It was a good offer."

He turned back to her. "I know." Too good for only one of them.

"You would have loved it," she said.

"I know." He would have been bored to tears. Woman With Ankles stood, closer than he'd thought she was, and leaned toward him.

She said, "You would have been very good, Dan." Her long fingers resting on his upper arm. Squeezing. Intending to reassure.

He would have been embarrassing. He needed away from them. "Dana--" he said, restlessly.

"Why didn't you go?" Dana said, her voice high and plaintive.


Casey, an arm raised, two bottles of beer in his hand. Across the room. A small empty space around him.

"Ah, it's the call," Dan said, trying to sound ironic. Dana frowned, her face pinching with fragile worry, and he realised she'd heard bitter and frustrated. "I have to--"

And she moved aside for him, head turning, clutching at her half- full sixteen-ounce glass. He thought Ankle Woman might have sighed heavily, and that he might have lost a chance for a confidence- boosting sympathy lay. His windpipe was narrowing dangerously. The sweat he'd been trying to ignore began trickling down his spine.

Dan stopped in the middle of the living room, watching Casey wave him over. "Come on," Casey said. "We're calling the Open."

Can't. Do. Tennis. Can't. He nodded, a jerk of his head, but turned towards the bathroom.

"Where're you going?" Casey said.

"Gotta--" He hooked a thumb down the hallway.

Casey shrugged and said to the small crowd in front of the TV, "Danny's gotta hit the little girls' room."

Light party laughter. Casey grinned at him. "Hurry up," he said.

Dan didn't answer. Fled slowly into the dark hallway, into Dana's shiny white-tiled bathroom. Locked the door. Missed the first two games.


Two weeks after the sale Casey tries to make Dan go with him to a Mets game. Dan says no. Sixteen times, by his count. Maybe he should try twenty.

"Why not?" Casey says, leaning over as Dan tries to look away. Maintaining eye contact.

"Because!" Dan says. "I don't. Want. To go."

"'Kay." Casey shrugs. Casey leaves. Dan stares after him, not quite able to believe Casey just takes his word for it.

He thinks he's probably become too used to Abby's intuition. That must be it. Because, after everything, after all that has happened, Casey can't really think it's over.

"Some people will do anything to avoid acknowledging change," Abby says.

"It's not change," Dan says. He stretches an arm across the back of her couch. "Nothing's changed."


Dan looks along his arm, at the odd rectangular glow of the lamp on the wall. "Really."

Abby looks too. She says, "You're glad you didn't leave?"

He grimaces. "Yeah."

"You sure about that?"

"Yes," he says slowly, meeting her eyes.

Abby nods. Dan waits.

Finally, she says, "When you decided to stay--"

"I didn't decide," he says, a little angry. "They kept the show. How could I--why would I leave?"

"They kept the show, and Casey was staying anyway, and things were done with Rebecca. You had no reason to leave, right?"

She gets it. "Exactly."

"Nothing to run from."

"Yes." Not that he would have been running, but he doesn't feel like arguing the point. She wouldn't believe him anyway--it's possible she has less intuition than plain old-fashioned mistrust. Doubt.

She runs a finger from her ear down her jaw. She taps her chin thoughtfully. "And you were feeling good."

He lifts his hands--here sits a guy who is feeling good. A guy who is fine. "Still am." Where is she going with this?

"Of course." She waves her tapping finger vaguely in his direction. "You also felt like they expected you to stay. You felt obligated to stay."

What the hell. "Wait a minute--"

"Did they rescind the offer when Casey said no?"

"No, but--"

"So you could have gone."

"Well, yeah--"

"Casey told you you could do it. That you should do it."

He says harshly, a warning, "Abby--"

"You didn't go because, for some reason, you knew--you know--in your bones that you can't do it by yourself. Even though--"

"For God's sake--"

"Even though." Her eyes quell him. She is quiet when she continues, "Even though nothing here has changed, and all those unchanged things are the things that hurt you in the first place. The things you've been trying to get away from for, I don't know, Danny, a really long time."

He stares at her. He can't believe she can say this shit, say it so calmly, and expect him to take it and pay for it and come back for more. Thank her for the service. He takes a deep breath. "I. Wanted. To stay."

She nods, lacing her fingers together over her stomach. Dan can tell she doesn't believe him.

"I did," he says.

"I know," she says.

She knows. She knows nothing. She can't accept that sometimes Dan's life is not controlled three-hundred-sixty degrees by Sam, by his parents, by whatever the hell unhealthy attachment she thinks he has to Casey. Sometimes--not often--there is the rare occasion where he makes his own decisions, has his own wants, is an individual with free will and.

Everything isn't about how fucked up he is. He clenches his fist on the arm of the couch, refusing to look at her for the two minutes left in his hour.

When he leaves, he takes a butterscotch candy from the bowl on her desk. He says, "You really don't."


Casey closes their office door slowly, like slamming it at an eighth the speed.

Dan paces randomly for a moment, then stands smack between the chair and the couch, waiting for Casey to say something.

And when he does: "What the hell--"

Dan holds his hands up and pushes the question back a little. "It's nothing. I'm fine."

Casey shakes his head. "You've got to be kidding me." He steps closer, almost boxing Dan into the corner. "That just now? That meeting we had just now wherein you implied Chris, Will, and Dave are sleeping together, told Elliot to avoid the danish guy from now on, had a long and essentially useless fight with Natalie about the Washington Wizards, for God's sake, and topped it off with an insult to Dana and a suicide threat. Are you saying that was nothing? 'Cause it sounds a lot like something to me."

Dan had been watching Casey's hands and the angry flick of his eyes-- left, right, left, right--now he looks over Casey's shoulder. He can't see much of the newsroom through the frosted squares. Only yellow desks and the dark shapes of people. He swallows and he shrugs.

"And it sure as hell doesn't sound fine," Casey says.

Casey grabs Dan by the back of the neck and Dan flinches. He lets Casey look him in the eye. Casey takes a deep breath, shakes Dan gently a couple of times.

"Don't do this again," Casey says, louder than a whisper.

Dan's pretty sure there's nothing he can say to that, so he nods and moves his shoulder a bit, asking Casey to let go, let him out.

Instead Casey turns and pulls Dan with him by the collar. "Get out of here," Casey says, smiling a small smile, anything but tentative, pushing Dan towards the door.

"Why?" Dan says. He holds a finger up before Casey can even open his mouth. "I'm going to apologise," he says.

"Yes," Casey says.

"Now," Dan says.


"To Dana. And Natalie, Chris, Will, Dave, and Elliot. "

"Yes indeed," Casey says.

"I'm going now."

"Would you like me to hold the door for you, ma'am?"

Dan smiles, grabbing the handle before Casey can reach it. "That won't be necessary, but thank you."

As Dan is leaving, Casey adds, "Tell me chivalry's dead."


"--the point isn't that he missed the basket, the point is that he--"

"He missed the damn basket, Natalie!" Dan threw his rundown in the air. "He can't be MVP, he missed the basket. By like a hundred feet."

Natalie scowled. "Closer than you've ever gotten to scoring in the NBA, Danny."

"And next week we have the Border Challenge," Dana said sternly. She pointed at Casey with her glasses. "You're staying here." She pointed at Dan with the index finger of her free hand. "You're going to Niagara Falls."

He gave her a suspicious look. "It's golf," she said, defensive.

"I know," he said.

"You like golf."

"I do."

She smiled. "Guess who's going to be there?"

He said, "If you say any name ending in Duvall, I swear to God, Dana, I'll throw myself down the fucking waterfall."


The show on the last Wednesday of June was really good and in their office Casey said to Dan, "Come across the street with me. I'll buy you a drink."

Dan went with him, and they sat at the bar discussing waivers until two in the morning.

Later, Dan can't remember what their conclusion was, if they reached one at all, but he tells Abby he hadn't been that comfortable with Casey since before Christmas.

"Really?" she asks. "That long?"

Dan nods. "Yeah." He unwraps a coffee-flavoured chocolate lump and adds casually, "Maybe longer."

She gives him a surprised, speculative look. He meets her eyes squarely and shrugs, chewing steadily. It is what it is.

He tells her he's feeling the uncertainty and the fear slow down inside him. Settling, shrinking. He really starts to feel better. Abby tells him there's still work to be done, but the doubt is dissolving almost hourly and he's sure there's no anger replacing it.

He stops clenching his teeth in meetings, snapping at people for small inconveniences. He sleeps through the night for three days in a row.


Then Natalie presents him with another reel. She says it's five minutes and would he please look at it before she turns thirty and is too old to be on television. He smiles ruefully, nods.

"And no lying," Natalie says with a little smile of her own.

"Absolutely," he says, grin becoming forced. She pats his shoulder and leaves him in his office.

He puts the tape in his in-basket and leans forward over his desk. He reads his blotter calendar upside-down. Nothing but interviews and Will's birthday and Abby.

"What's the word on Sheffield and the players' union?" Casey says, entering without even a glance in Dan's direction.

"Ah," Dan says. He doesn't remember--something about legal costs. "Jeremy's got it," he says after several moments, Casey finally looking, Dan can feel the stare against his back.

"Yeah?" A binder snaps open and shut.

Dan swallows. "Pretty sure."

Casey stops in the doorway and Dan turns his head, meeting his eyes. "You're supposed to have it," Casey says.

Shit. Dan winces. "Yeah?"

"Yeah." Casey nods, face so serious.

"I'm sorry," Dan says.

"It's fine, Danny. Just, y'know." Casey looks away, tapping his pen on the open door. "Just pick it up, okay?"

Dan straightens, nodding quickly. "Yeah. Yeah," he says. "I'll do that."

"Good," Casey says. He looks at Dan once more, eyes intent and searching. Dan tries to smile, and Casey bites his lip before turning away.

Dan doesn't tell Abby about the mess he made of the Sheffield story, but he does tell her that he's sick and tired of the whole thing. He says he's feeling a lot better, really, seriously, and he wishes everyone would stop worrying about him. Abby says he should stop giving them cause to worry. She says he needs to stop worrying about whether he's causing too much worry on the part of others, and that he isn't responsible for anybody's feelings or actions but his own, and no matter how hard he tries, it won't make them--

He leaves early.


"Sometimes when I make a mistake," Dan told Abby as soon as she opened the door on the fifteenth of August, "It's just a mistake."

She blinked. "Hello, Danny. Come on in," she said, stepping out of the doorway.

"I'm serious," he said, crossing her office. He paced slowly in front of the sofa while she sat carefully in an easy chair.

"I know you are, and you're right." Abby looked up at him, head cocked. "But," she added before he could say 'thank you', "I think if that were true as often as you'd like, you wouldn't be worried about whether or not I believe you. You're not even sure you believe you, are you?"

He sat heavily. After a moment he shrugged out of his coat.

"Not really," he said quietly.

"You can't do this by yourself, Dan," Abby said. "I know you've been trying, 'cause you're a brave guy and a strong guy. I admire that. And I'm telling you, you can't do this by yourself."

"No," he said.

And he was just breathing. Slow, not particularly deep. Going nowhere.

He looked at Abby and she looked at him hard before nodding sharply.

"Can we get to work now?" she asked, crossing her legs.

He blinked back the heaviness in his throat. "Yeah," he said.


"Casey doesn't like surprises," Dan says to Dana.

"I think he'll like this one," she says. "Don't you think he'll like it?"

He shakes his head. "No."

"Really?" Her face scrunches to one side in concern.

He nods. "Yes."

"I think he will. Everybody likes surprise parties," she says firmly.

"Dana," he says.

She starts walking away. "Yes, Dan?"

Catching up with her, he says, "I'm telling you, as your employee and his best friend, he won't like it."

She flaps her hand at him over her shoulder. "Everybody likes surprise parties," she repeats dismissively.

Dan stops and says, "I wash my hands of this right now," to no one in particular.

"Of what?" Casey asks, coming around the corner.

Dan considers this opportunity and decides, carpe diem, road to hell, save yourself the headache. "Your surprise party."

Casey rolls his eyes. "I hate surprise parties."

"I know that. And one would not be remiss in thinking Dana should know that as well."

"No kidding," Casey says. "Come with me, Dan."

They walk back around the corner and out the door. Casey pushes the down button on the elevator. Dan waits patiently for either an explanation or the elevator, whichever comes first.


Dan drums his fingers on the railing behind him. He taps his foot. He watches the numbers light and go dark. Casey doesn't do anything. He just stands there, on the other side of the car, in his coat, and Dan feels compelled to remind him, "I don't really like surprises either, you know."

Casey smiles. "Yes you do."

Dan's pretty sure he should know whether or not he likes surprises. He's also pretty sure he doesn't. He's certain he doesn't like them today especially. "I don't."

Casey keeps smiling, keeps quiet.

In the lobby Dan stops walking, dropping behind Casey. He says, "Casey. Stop."

"What?" Casey looks back.

"Where are we going?"



"That's not an answer, Dan."

"I'm going back to work," Dan says, turning around. He punches the up button.

Casey follows him into the elevator.

"I thought it'd be nice to go out, get some lunch. Y'know. Take a walk," he says.

Dan looks at him, confused. "Okay. Why?"

Casey shrugs. "Because."

"Casey," Dan says, tired. "I'm really not in the mood for this today, all right?"

"That's the thing, Danny." Casey does this funny half-smile thing that's way too sad or sympathetic or something.

Dan's eyes narrow, because Casey doesn't remember dates. It's rare for him to even remembers his own birthday until the first of September. Until tomorrow. Which makes today the thirty-first and Dan knows it's the thirty-first and that's the thing.

"It's okay," he says.

"You're okay?" Casey says, kind of hopefully.

"I'll survive," Dan says. Abby says it's less of a lie than 'fine' or 'okay'. "It is what it is."

Casey nods. Dan looks up at the numbers.

"So," Casey says around the thirtieth floor. "How about you buy me lunch? It's my birthday on Wednesday, you know."

Dan smiles. "I do."

"I feel like a big plate of bouef au jus."

"Please don't translate that," Dan says, pressing the down button.


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