The Only Living Boy In New York
by HYPERFocused

Sprawled out on the bed in their New York apartment, Ephram Brown was engrossed in his Freshman Orientation guide. He wasn't expecting six foot two inches of curly blonde enthusiasm to land on top of him, and toss the book away with a "Dude, there's a week 'til class. Don't we have something better to do?"

Ephram couldn't argue with that logic, or build up more than a token protest. Especially when Bright started unbuttoning his long sleeved shirt, and kissing his way down his chest, teeth a little too sharp on Ephram's nipples in that way Ephram hadn't known he liked until Bright showed him.

He reciprocated eagerly, pulling off Bright's rugby shirt, and running his hands down Bright's wide back until they cupped his ass, and Ephram couldn't help squeezing. Bright wriggled out of his jeans, pushed Ephram's down around his ankles, then insinuated himself between Ephram's thighs.

It was incredible, Ephram thought: the heat and pressure of their cocks as they ground together, even through the boxers they both still wore. Ephram shoved back at Bright, loving the solid weight on top of him, Bright's panting breaths hot on his neck, and ear, until a stray elbow hit the TV remote, and "... alongside Casey McCall, and you're watching Sports Night, on CSC," came blaring out of the TV.

A flash of memory: He and Colin half naked on his father's couch in a rare hour when the house was theirs alone. His dad was out treating Everwood's riff-raff, and Delia was playing over at Sam's. Colin's dark curls were soft and fine under his fingers., his perfect pale skin spotted with a constellation of freckles Ephram liked to trace like the dot-to-dots he'd loved as a child. They'd been watching Sports Night then, too. Colin's love for the show was something he carried over from his friendship with Bright, probably. Immediately the mood was gone, and Ephram pushed Bright away, feeling guilty.

"I can't do this. I'm sorry," he told Bright, sitting and pulling his jeans up, and putting his shirt back on. He could feel Bright's eyes on him, waiting for Ephram to look at him, but he just couldn't. He knew Bright was still hard, that he'd probably been this close to coming, but he just couldn't go on. He hated feeling this way. He probably should have just said no, when Bright suggested coming out to New York with Ephram as well. What the hell was he doing, thinking he was ready for another relationship?

Ephram felt the bed shift as Bright got up and went to the bathroom, shutting the door behind him. He heard the shower running. Bright came back a few minutes later, with his erection gone. Ephram didn't know if he'd taken care of it himself, or if the cold water had done the job for him.

"He would have been okay with this. You know he would." Bright sat back down on the bed next to him. He moved to put his arms around Ephram, but Ephram squirmed and pulled away. He was a disloyal asshole. He didn't deserve Bright's comfort.

"I know. It's just - I feel like we're betraying him." It was still a weird situation. He and Bright had gone from extreme dislike to wary tolerance to friendship, and finally they'd really bonded over the loss of Colin.

It wasn't even the same Colin they'd lost. Bright's best friend had been taken from him on an ill-advised night of drunk driving. In many ways, that was when Ephram's Colin had been born. And while Bright was grateful to have had almost ten years of friendship with Colin, he was a little envious that Ephram had shared so much more, in the small amount of time they'd been together.

For his part, Ephram wished he had known Colin as a boy, healthy and full of promise. Though really, it wouldn't have been the same. He'd never known that Colin at all, except for the occasional glimpse that came through by accident.

Now, neither Colin was around, but what Ephram and Bright did have, was each other. Colin had expressly wanted it that way. He'd written them each a letter telling them so. Ephram had found the idea of his boyfriend, the Yenta, amusing, one of the few laughs he had after Colin's death.

His note to Ephram had said a lot of things: how grateful he was for the time they had together. How he didn't want Ephram to brood. Whatever they had been to each other, Ephram should move on. "Somebody is going to love you as much as I do, and I want you to let that happen," he said. At the time, Ephram didn't think that could ever be true.

"I won't. I can't," he'd told himself when he first read the letter, days after Colin's death. The very idea had seemed like a betrayal. Now, he felt worse for believing Colin had been right all along.

Colin's note to Bright had been short. "Take care of him," was all it had said. Bright hadn't shown it to him until long after he was a permanent presence in Ephram's life, and Ephram's father and Delia had been used to setting a place at their table for him instead of Colin. But really, it shouldn't have been much of a surprise. Bright had been following Colin's instructions for months: Lugging Ephram and his bike around town in his truck. Giving Ephram unasked- for advice (though more often than not it was valid.). Inviting himself along to Ephram's recitals.

Ephram's dad had known Bright was in love with Ephram before Ephram knew it himself, or at least before he admitted it. He seemed happy about the prospect, though Ephram couldn't help thinking snidely that he was happier still at the prospect of Dr Abbott's reaction. "That's a nice, polite boy there. Bright's got a good head on his shoulders, you could do worse," he'd commented to Ephram, one night after Bright had cleared the dinner dishes without being asked.

"You're making me look bad, Bright," Ephram had said, knowing he'd have had to be asked twice before he got up to do the dishes.

"Not possible, dude," Bright had answered, bringing a full flush to Ephram's face. Ephram had thought about it later, and realized his father was probably right.

When Bright offered to go to New York with him, "There must be some school there that will take me, you shouldn't go out there all alone," Ephram didn't point out that he'd grown up in New York, and would probably be fine. As it turned out, even in a few years, it had stopped feeling like home. He was glad for the comfort of Bright's familiar boundless energy.

Ephram's dad had been pleased that Ephram wouldn't be alone, as well. "Bright will look out for you. That makes me feel better about you not living in a dorm." There had been some debate about where Ephram would live. His dad had taken some convincing to allow him to stay in the rental apartment Ephram's grandparents still owned in the city. Even after all these years, Andy and his in-laws weren't close.

Harold hadn't been as thrilled, but had admitted "At least that boy will keep you out of trouble," to Bright, when he'd made the big announcement. He preferred not to hear about anything going on between them "beyond the realm of normal roommates. I'd like to think you've got a two-bedroom place for a reason."

Bright didn't say, "Yes, because Ephram needs a place to study and practice his piano," though he told Ephram later that he wanted to, just to see his father's reaction.

"I'm glad we'll be very far away from your father's reactions," Ephram had said.

At first, they straddled the line between roommates and something more. Ephram wasn't ready for anything like romance, but the comfort Bright offered him was slowly turning from 'a friend helping a friend' into what Ephram had to admit looked a lot like love.

Certainly Bright had to be feeling something pretty strong to put up with shit like Ephram had given him today. "You need to close your door, E" Bright told him, after their botched make-out session that day.

"What are you talking about?" Ephram looked around the apartment. Nothing looked out of place, and no one had left the door open.

"You know, close the door on the past, so you can move on. No matter how much we want it, Colin is not coming back."

"Bright, do you mean closure, maybe?" Ephram tried not to laugh. "Have you been watching the Oxygen channel again? Or Dr. Phil?" He really didn't get Bright's fascination with pop psychology.

"Yeah, that's it. Wasn't that what I was saying?"

"Close enough. So, how do you propose I get it?" Ephram wondered.

"Dude, I saw how you freaked when that Sports Night bit came on. You need to go see Dan and Casey. Tell them about Colin. I bet they don't know."

"I can't imagine why they'd care." Why should they? They'd been pretty nice to him and Colin when they were in Everwood, but the story was over a long time ago, and it wasn't like they'd kept in touch. Still, Ephram thought it wasn't the worst idea in the world.

"Doesn't matter, you aren't doing it for them, you're doing it for you," Bright pointed out. "Besides, they seemed like decent guys. I bet they'll be glad to see you." Bright was probably right. He would feel better if he told them, no matter what Dan and Casey's response might be.

"You just want us to go so you can run into some sports stars. I know your game," Ephram said, trying to lighten the mood a little.

"Dude, no. I think you should go without me. It's not about me, it's about you and Colin."

Ephram was surprised for a moment, but not for long. Bright was often thoughtful in unexpected ways. "Really? That's pretty generous. I'm sure I won't run into anyone I'd recognize anyway."

Bright beamed at him, then punched him on the shoulder. "You wouldn't know Shaquille O'Neal if you ran into him in the bathroom, E," he teased.

"Well, except for the bruises from running into an eight foot tall basketball player."

"He's only 7'1"" Bright corrected.

"Jerk," Ephram said, then kissed him to take away the sting. He felt better, now that he had a game plan. Damn, Bright really was rubbing off on him, if he was using sports metaphors.

After a little online sleuthing to find out where Sports Night was shot, Ephram set off for the CSC offices. He packed his backpack with a book, his iPod, and a copy of the Pinecone with Colin's obituary in it, and hoped there wouldn't be a hassle getting into the place. He thought about calling ahead, but didn't really know what he'd say. "I'm the former boyfriend of a guy you did a story on a while ago"? Yeah, that'd go over well. "So there's this dead kid..." Probably not so good either.

"I don't know what I'm doing here, Colin," Ephram said to himself, as he walked into the CSC building. Even after all this time, he still found himself talking to him. He understood now, why his father had talked to his mom, the year after she'd died. Ephram had never seen his mother the way his father had, but he could still feel her presence; even more so now that he was back in New York. It was like she was just around every corner, if only he'd look in time.

He wondered what his mom would have thought about all this. Would she have liked Colin, or Bright? Been disappointed that her son was in love with a boy? Worried about bringing this news to her Hadassah meetings? Were she and Colin together now, somehow, laughing at him and telling him not to be such an ass?

But it was different with Colin. Two years gone, and memories that had been painfully sharp were now worn smooth. What once had been truths now felt like stories, cemented in the retelling, but somehow separated from reality. He felt guilty about that, even though Colin himself had said he should move on. He wished he could remember things perfectly, the way his father did. Instead his brain twisted and turned things until he didn't know what was true anymore.

He was glad to have his music. Unlike the people in his life, it always made sense. Notes on a page could be interpreted, adapted and enhanced, but the essence of the piece was there in black and white. It was something he could trust. Sometimes it was the only thing in his life that was constant.

Pressing the elevator for the 49th floor, he steeled himself for what was to come.


Dan Rydell was walking down the halls of the Sports Night studio, on his way to talk to Natalie about the extreme bowling story she'd proposed - a sport more ridiculous than soccer -- when he saw the kid step off the elevator.

He looked very familiar, but Dan couldn't quite place him. Pale and lanky, with short, fine dark hair, he didn't look like an athlete, but Dan could see he had a nice, wiry build under his black long sleeved t-shirt and jeans. And he'd have to age the kid up a few years. College age, probably.

He didn't have that wide-eyed "Wow, I'm going to work at Sports Night!" look, so Dan didn't think the kid was one of their new interns. In fact, Dan guessed, he had no interest in sports whatsoever. Which begged the question, what was he doing at Sports Night? Maybe he was one of Jeremy's relatives.

Surrounded by the chaos of a busy studio, and all the activity that went into putting a television broadcast together, he seemed quite out of place. Beyond that, his almost blank expression made him look a little bit lost. The way he just stood there like he had no idea where to go didn't help change that impression.

Dan knew he should recognize him, but it would probably turn out to be like one of those situations where you saw an old friend at the grocery store, or perhaps someone you had gone to school with, and just as you were about to greet them enthusiastically, they turned out to be your dentist's assistant, or the guy who worked at the video counter. Someone you saw regularly, but weren't expected to know by name. Certainly someone who would look at you oddly if you hugged them.

Most days, Dan let people approach him, anyway. Even though Abby had helped him through a lot of his social anxiety, he still didn't so well with conversations that didn't involve a camera.

He should probably just go up to the kid and ask him what he was looking for, rather than stand in the hall like an idiot. Natalie was waiting for him, anyway, and he was not in the mood to feel her wrath. She might look like a sweet young thing, but there was a core of iron inside that softness. She was like a jawbreaker inside a marshmallow.

"Hey," Dan said, holding out a hand as he passed the kid. "I'm Dan Rydell." He assumed the kid knew that, but you never knew. "You look like you're not sure where you're supposed to be. Can I help?"

"You don't remember me." The kid didn't look especially surprised at this.

"I'm sorry. I'm sure I should know you. It's just that I meet so many people in my line of work. It's nothing personal. You do look familiar."

"Ephram. Ephram Brown," he said expectantly. Nothing. "From Everwood."

Oh. Damn. He had a flash of guilt then, the memory returning. He and Casey had gone to the small Colorado town to do a story on a promising young athlete who had made a near miraculous recovery from a car accident. He'd been in a coma, and not expected to recover. A world-renowned neurosurgeon (who happened to have recently moved to Everwood, - in the kind of synergistic coincidence that only seemed to happen on TV) performed the risky surgery that brought him back to consciousness.

The boy wasn't the same, he'd lost a lot of his memory, and probably had a long way to go until he was at his best, but still, he was flourishing. It really was a remarkable story, which made Dan feel even guiltier for not recognizing Ephram right away. It had been a remarkable weekend as well. He and Casey had taken a couple of extra days off, staying at the bed and breakfast for a bit of a romantic getaway.

Now the reason for Colin's emotional improvement was standing right in front of Dan, obviously disappointed at Dan's blank look.

Dan tried again. "Oh! You're Colin Hart's friend. Sorry, about that. I'm sure I would have placed you if you'd brought some of those mountains with you. What brings you to New York?"

"I just started the jazz program at the New School."

"I've heard that's really good. Piano, right?"

"Yes. Thanks." He smiled, finally. "I always assumed it would be Julliard, but now I'm glad it's not."

"Are you and Colin still...?" Obviously he'd said something wrong, from the way Ephram blanched in reaction. Damn.

"That's sort of why I'm here. You hadn't heard, I guess." Ephram looked down at his hands. Dan didn't know what the story was, but from Ephram's reaction, he could tell it wasn't just the typical "You're going to one school and I'm going to another" breakup.

Just then, Natalie stuck her head around the door. "Dan, I'm not getting any younger here." She sent him one of her patented death rays, and then went back inside.

"She's scarier than she looks," Dan told Ephram, apologetically.

"The cute ones usually are. Looks like you're needed in there." Ephram gestured to the conference room.

"Yeah, I'm supposed to be in a meeting, but I'd just as soon beg out of it. Tell you what. Why don't you wait right here, there's a coke machine and some comfortable chairs. I'll go tell Natalie we need to reschedule, then you and Casey and I can talk."

"I don't want to interfere with your work. I could come back." Ephram looked uncomfortably down at his hands. Dan suspected if they didn't talk today, Ephram would be unlikely to set foot in the building again.

"Don't worry about it. It shouldn't be long either way." Dan saw Kim approaching and motioned her over. "Hey, I know. Here, this is Kim. Kim, Ephram. She'll get you set up with something to eat. You look like you could use a sandwich." He mouthed 'thank you' in Kim's direction as she led Ephram towards craft services. He could always count on her to soothe ruffled feathers, whether or not she knew the reason. She was a big help, even if she wasn't his secretary. Plus, she would be the first to tell you: she was a babe.

It turned out he couldn't get out of the meeting with Natalie - she was leaving shortly to film the segment in question, --so he hoped Ephram could amuse himself for a while. Well, not amuse, he didn't look like he had much a sense of humor today, but at least not run off before Dan could find out what was wrong.

He could tell it was something big. And even though he'd only spent a little while with Colin (and even less with Ephram) he had felt a connection to them both. They'd never spelled out that they were in a relationship, but it was obvious. And if he and Casey thought they had a hard time, with the still conservative nature of sports casting, they could hardly imagine what it must be like for two teenagers in a small town. They had talked about it, after. How much Ephram reminded Casey of Dan. How the story of Colin's injury made Dan think of Sam.

Not that he didn't think of Sam every day, still. He wondered what it would have been like if Sam had only been injured. Would Dan still have blamed himself, watching his brother lose everything that made him Sam, not knowing if he'd ever come back? Stupid question. But how amazing it would have been to see Sam improve, to see him walking around again, nearly whole - even if he wasn't quite the same boy they'd all known. Maybe Dan's father wouldn't have hated him, then.

He and Casey had meant to keep track of the boys, seeing a bit of themselves, and their friendship turned relationship in the way Ephram and Colin interacted. Dan promised himself he was going to keep an eye out for the kid from now on, especially if he ended up at school in New York. It was time he gave something back.

Dan couldn't help thinking about the young man waiting in the next room, and the disquieting feeling he had that something really bad was wrong. He plopped down on the seat next to Casey, and took the laptop from him. "It's important," he told him, by way of apology. Casey's solitaire game could wait. He surreptitiously Googled "Colin Hart" while Natalie was blathering on.

Damn. The boy's obit was the first thing listed, followed by a link to the New York Magazine article about Dr Andy Brown, and the "Miracle of Everwood." Suddenly Dan wanted the meeting to last a lot longer. He'd never been comfortable with death, and the reminder of Sam wasn't going to make things any easier.

Casey's 'Danny Radar' was perfect, as always. He noticed Dan's lack of focus on the proceedings, and gave him a nudge. "Are you all right? You just said 'good idea' to a soccer story."

Dan just shook his head at Casey's concerned look. "I'll tell you about it after the meeting." Casey nodded, and squeezed Dan's knee under the table.

Natalie's motor finally ran down, and yes, Dan did get the gist of her conversation. He'd always been good at multitasking. He debated telling her what was going on, but she'd never met Colin or Ephram anyway, so he decided to wait until he'd talked to Ephram.

When they finally got out of the meeting, Dan sent Casey back to their office, then went to get Ephram. He was looking a little more animated. "So anyway, Rabbi Marx put his hands over my ears so I couldn't hear what he was saying in his blessing," Dan heard Ephram laugh.

"Yeah, he did the same thing to me." Jeremy said, amused. Dan was glad the kid had bonded with Jeremy already. Or maybe they already knew each other. He approached them quietly.

"I see you've made a friend. Or did you already know each other?"

"No, we didn't. Turns out we both went to the same temple. We were comparing Bar Mitzvah stories," Ephram explained.,

"Jewish geography," Jeremy added. Then he got up, and said, "Good luck." He patted Ephram on the shoulder, and mouthed "Tell them; it's okay," as he saw Dan approach.

Ephram looked up at Dan, and caught the stricken expression on his face. "What did you do, do a Google search? Send one of your research assistants out for the story?"

Dan didn't know what to say. "Ephram, I - fuck - Let's go talk. Casey's in the office, he'll want to be there, too. In on this, I mean." Ephram hadn't even said what he'd come to say and already Dan was feeling panicky and upset.

"All right." Ephram followed him into the office, where Casey was sitting backwards on his swiveling chair, legs stretched out in front of him. Dan motioned to the couch.

"Have a seat. Do you want something to drink?" Ephram raised an eyebrow and held up the half-full bottle of Code Red he had carried in from the other room.

"I'm fine." Ephram sat stiffly on the couch, hands folded around the soda. He didn't say anything for a moment, just looked up at Dan and Casey, as if he was waiting for one of them to start things off. Finally Casey did.

"It would probably help if you just said it. Nothing's as bad as it seems before you get the words out." Casey tried to reassure him.

"Yeah, it is. But Bright said I needed to talk about it, and I think he's right."

"Bright?" Casey asked.

"He's my boyf - my roommate. He came out with me from Everwood. You probably don't remember him, but you did meet. He was Colin's best friend, - before the accident."

"Tall, blond, jock type?" Dan had a vague recollection. Ron and Erick had mentioned him when they told him and Casey about the accident. If Dan's memory was right, Bright had been involved in the accident that took Colin's health and memory. He wondered how Bright and Ephram had come together.

"Yeah, that's him."

"How did... wasn't he responsible for the accident? I'm surprised you guys are close now."

"Yeah, well, he feels guilty enough. And really, it was both their faults. He's a good guy. It was his suggestion that I come see you. Tell you about Colin."

"Ephram. I'm sorry. We had no idea." Dan said. "We'd always intended to stay in touch with you guys, but it just didn't happen."

"Do you want to tell us about it? When we met you, Colin seemed pretty healthy. What happened?" Casey leaned forward, and looked Ephram in the eye, giving him that intense gaze that Dan knew meant he had Casey's full attention and support.

"He was pretty good for awhile, but it didn't last. A few months after you left he started getting sick. Acting strange. My dad had to operate, and things didn't go well this time. Colin didn't make it through the surgery."

"Damn, Ephram. I wish you'd told us. We would have been interested. We would have tried to help. Do something." Dan tried to apologize. He wasn't sure what for, exactly, but he knew it was necessary.

"Thanks. I don't know what you could have done, but I'm sure Colin would have liked you to be involved." He told them more about what it had been like, how the town had turned on his family, blaming his dad for Colin's death just as they'd lauded him for Colin's recovery earlier. Though there were equal numbers of people who'd said Colin's miraculous first recovery was due to the grace of God, and his death was due to "Dr Brown meddling where he ought to have left things to the Almighty." About Amy's breakdown, and the guilt he felt for any part he might have played it, though it wasn't his fault Colin wasn't interested in her anymore.

He told them how he and Bright had found solace in each other after Colin's death, and how he fought himself daily over the guilt he felt for being with Bright, even though Colin himself had suggested the idea.

"So what made you decide to tell us today, finally?" Dan asked.

"Bright and I were, well, you know, fooling around. And it was really good until I rolled over on the remote, and Sports Night came on. It made me think of Colin. Besides your interview, it was his favorite show. And I had to stop, I was feeling so guilty. " Ephram looked down at his hands again.

Dan didn't know what to say. "I'm sure he wouldn't have wanted you to. He seemed like a nice kid." Apparently that was the right thing. Ephram's expression lightened.

Ephram went on. "Can I ask you guys something?"

"Of course." Casey answered.

"If something were to happen to you, would you want Dan to move on? Or would you feel better knowing he was being - I don't know - true to the memory of you?"

Shit., Dan tried to cover. They really weren't supposed to be so obvious. "Casey and I aren't ---"

"Out at work," Casey finished, looking over at him. "It's OK. We'd just like to keep it quiet. And yes, I'd want him to be happy. Dan's my best friend, no matter what else. Why would I want him alone and miserable?"

"Well, you'd want me to mourn awhile, wouldn't you?" Dan asked, only half kidding.

"And give a hell of a eulogy. It would surely be my due." He raised a sardonic eyebrow. "But then I'd want you to find someone to make you happy. You know that, don't you?" Casey gave Dan a smile that made him weak in the knees, something he'd always thought was a ridiculously cheesy clich.

"Well of course I would. The Eulogy, I mean. I'm not sure who else would put up with me. I can't imagine wanting to be with anyone else, anyway. I've already broken Casey in."

"Yeah, because relationships are like , tennis shoes," Casey joked.

"That's not such a bad analogy," Dan pondered, mind following Casey's tangential path. "Sometimes they get knotted together, and other times they need to get run through the washer. But ultimately, they're the most comfortable part of you. And that particular pair won't fit anyone else quite right."

"Do you guys use sports metaphors for everything?" Ephram wondered. "Bright does that all the time, too." He sighed. sounding - for a moment - like the normal teenager he must once have been. Dan knew Ephram was only about eighteen, but he had the oldest eyes Dan had ever seen.

"Pretty much, yeah." Casey said. "Though once in awhile I'll throw in a musica l one, or Dan'll quote some dead poet."

"Dartmouth, Casey. Blame it on my classical education."

"Whatever." Casey sniped. Casey was a little touchy on the subject, even t hough he spoke five languages, and hadn't nearly flunked out because he was so fucked up his freshman year.

It was getting late, and it looked like Ephram had done what he needed to do there. But Dan was determined not to let him get away without some insurance the kid would be all right.

"I should go. Bright's probably wondering how it all went, and I'm sure you guys need to get back to thinking up ways to say 'won'." Ephram started repacking his bag.

"Yeah, we should get back to work. But let me give you our home numbers. If you ever need anything..." Dan said.

"Really, Ephram. We mean it. And let us know how you're doing. It can help to have a friend in this town, especially when you're first starting out." Casey said, earnestly/.

"And let us know when you have your next recital. Or even when you play at a piano bar. If you ever do that, we've got an office full of people who'd love to hear you." Dan knew they'd be there, if schedules permitted.

"Especially if the blue drinks are a dollar off." Casey laughed. Ephram just looked confused.

"Um, okay. I'll be sure to let you know. Thanks." Ephram reached out a hand to shake Casey's, but Casey pulled him into a hug. Dan envied the ease with which Casey did that. But he stifled his inhibitions and did the same, noting how Ephram was tense at first, too, then relaxed into it for a moment, before pulling away.

"Thanks," he said. "I feel a lot better now. Bright was right."

"Speaking of Bright, here." Casey dug through their closet, handing Ephram a duffle bag.

"Listen, let me know when it's time for Colin's yahrzeit. I know, he wasn't Jewish, but I'd like to say a kaddish anyway." Dan told him.

"Yeah, that'd be really good." Ephram squared his shoulders and headed out of the office. Dan and Casey walked him out to the elevators, and watched as he got on. Then they went back to work.

"Pretty amazing kid. I wish I'd known you at that age," Casey said, after Ephram had left, lugging a bag full of Sports Night swag for his boyfriend. "I bet you were like that. Calm and serious on the outside, and smart and snarky on the inside."

"I wasn't nearly as cool," Dan had replied.

"Then I might have had a chance to catch up."

Dan hadn't been able to resist kissing him just then, quickly. It was something they'd vowed never to do in the office, but which happened fairly regularly anyway,-luckily never in view of anyone else.

This time, that stolen moment wasn't enough. Work or no work. It wasn't so much that he was feeling especially amorous. It was more that he needed that connection to Casey. Needed to know they were both alive, and this was the best - or at least the most enjoyable - way to prove that.

"I'm running low on paper," he told Casey, once they were settled back to work - or at least looked like it. He really couldn't concentrate. "Do you want to help me get some?"

Casey didn't look up, just said, "I think you're perfectly capable of carrying a twenty pound box all the way from the supply closet to here, my man. If you need an excuse to slack off, just do it. But don't take too long., In case you've forgotten, we still have a show to write."

Dan tried again. "Casey. We need to go to the supply closet, and we need to go right now." It didn't seem to be working. He could hear Casey's fingers flying across the keys, and the little murmurs he made when he was pleased with what he was doing. He made the same murmurs when he was pleased with what Dan was doing too. Dan very much wanted to make Casey make those sounds. In the supply closet, right now.

"Dan, unlike you, my writing is flowing just fine. I don't need these petty distractions to kick start me into action." It was probably true. Casey could compartmentalize with the best of them. Only the most immediate of tragedies would visibly affect his work performance. He'd be the picture of calm professionalism on-air, and while preparing for the show.

Later, after the credits rolled and he and Dan were on the way home, having begged out of the usual Anthony's run, he would finally let go. But before he could do that, he coped best by immersing himself in his work.

Dan, on the other hand, could not separate his anxious self from his work persona, much as he tried to. Dan-the-Man, Dan, the life of the party, was a construct as flimsy as the toothpick house he'd made in his eighth grade art class. It crumbled under any real pressure.

What would help, he knew, was Casey's reassuring presence. Casey's touch, grounding him and making him feel safe. Casey's lips would drive away the twin demons of (possibly needless) guilt and memory.

"Casey, please. I really could use a hand. You know the door sticks sometimes." God, he wished Casey wasn't being so obtuse.

"You need help. With the door. Because it sticks."

"Yeah, a person could get trapped in there and nobody would know."

"I can see that would be a problem. I really should help you out with that." Good, Casey finally got it. He followed Dan out of their office. They passed Dana on the way to the supply closet. "We're getting paper."

"And I look like I care about this, why?" Dana responded, shooting them a fuck-off-and-die look. Not one of her better moods, apparently.

"How long is it 'til Sam gets back in town?" Dan asked. Dana's glare was enough to shut him up until she'd flounced off. He could feel Casey's hand on his shoulder, little trembles that showed Casey was holding off a snicker.

"So, does the supply closet door really stick?" Casey asked Dan, as they approached it. No one was around, the hall nearby silent except for the ticking of a clock, and the random noises the nearby copy machine made even when it wasn't running copies.

"Well, yeah. Especially if your back is up against it," Dan confirmed. He pushed Casey into the closet and up against said door, pressing full length against him, and kissing him thoroughly.

When they broke for air, Casey said, "I thought we weren't supposed to do this here. Are you all right?" Dan knew it was a rhetorical question. Obviously he wasn't. The 'not while we're at work' rule had been more his idea than Casey's.

"Not really, no. I can't stop thinking about that poor kid." Dan reached up to run his hand through Casey's hair. He didn't really want to talk about it, and hoped Casey would get the hint and go back to kissing him.

"Colin or Ephram? The one who left, or the one who was left behind? " Casey knew what Dan really meant. It wasn't just about two kids from Colorado. "And Sam, right? Danny, you don't need to keep beating yourself up." Casey gave him that look again. The one that made him feel like there really was nothing lacking about him.

"I can't stop thinking about losing the people I love, Case. I don't want that to happen to us." Dan moved in to kiss him again.

"That's not going to happen."

"I don't want to think about it," Dan told him, arms wrapped around Casey's waist. "And I can't think about writing. Make me forget for a while. You're good at that." He started unbuttoning Casey's shirt, reaching in to caress a nipple, something Casey always loved.

"God, Danny. There isn't that much time." But he didn't stop Dan, and in fact starting undoing Dan's pants while he kept kissing him. When Casey sank to his knees in front of him, Dan knew he was home free. He braced himself on the stack of Xerox boxes, closing his eyes while Casey sucked him. Casey was so good at this. Whether it was slow and sensuous, the way they often were when they had time, at home; or quick and dirty, - the way it was necessary to be when anyone could come in needing toner or highlighters, Casey was always perfect at this. More to the point, he enjoyed it. He got an obvious thrill out of thrilling Dan. He held a hand over Dan's mouth to remind him to stifle his usual moans. Dan wasn't the quietest guy. When Dan had finished, Casey wiped his mouth, but he couldn't wipe the grin off of it.

"Proud of yourself, are you?" Dan asked him, once he got his breath back.

"Shouldn't I be? You're feeling better, aren't you?" Casey said.

"Yeah, I am. Thanks." Dan felt a lot better. He could see Casey still needed some attention, and made a move to reciprocate. He started to open Casey's jeans, until Casey pushed his hands away.

"There isn't time. Besides, I've got plans for when we get out of here." His voice was warm, and rough with arousal.

"Oh?" He couldn't wait to hear what it was. Casey's ideas always filled Dan with delicious anticipation.

"I want to take you home and fuck you. I've been thinking about it all day." Dan couldn't help his sharp intake of breath at the idea. But it would have to wait. He and Casey pulled themselves together, grabbing a ream of computer paper, just in time to see Jeremy walking towards them, head buried in a book of statistics. When he didn't even look at them funny, Dan knew everything was going to be all right.

The show that night was good, despite their rushed writing. Dan knew that they were both thinking about a young athlete who had died before his promise was fulfilled, and a slightly older musician, whose promise was just being realized.

Three months later: Ephram sat at the Steinway Grand, waiting for his time to begin. His first performance in front of a New York audience (he didn't count his pre-Everwood recitals), and he was a little bit nervous. But there was Bright, in his best suit, beaming proudly at him from the front row. Next to Bright were his grandparents, who'd promised -- or threatened, he wasn't sure -- not to miss a night. And walking in, a little late but very welcome, were Dan and Casey. They were here, Casey's RSVP to Ephram's invitation had said, to witness a true New York renaissance.

Ephram thought about what it all meant. Losing Colin. Having had him in the first place. Reconnecting with the extended family he'd left behind when his father moved them all to the middle of nowhere. Realizing Everwood felt like home now, and he needed to bring a little of it with him when he went back to the place he'd once considered the only place he'd ever love.

He wondered what Colin would have thought about it all. Would he have been bored by the music? Listened patiently while Ephram practiced? Tried to distract him the way he used to when he got bored with whatever Ephram wanted to watch on TV, or if Ephram was reading his Manga too long. Colin didn't have the longest attention span, something he and Bright had in common, head injury or no.

More importantly, they'd had Ephram in common, connecting with him for a few months in Colin's case, and forever, Ephram hoped, in the other. Dan and Casey taught him that it was past time for feeling guilty, and Bright had taught him it was just fine to start moving on. When his fingers touched the keys in the first stanza of Gershwin's Three Preludes, it felt like a rebirth.


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