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Five Things That Never Happened (to Dan Rydell)

by Shrift

Notes: Cassandra said I should do a 5 Things. Nestra told me to do one for Danny, and now she's cursing my name. Nestra beta-read this story with much cringing and forbearance.


  1. Speak No Evil

The black road undulates in front of him, yellow and white reflective stripes arching and snaking into the infinity symbols on his unfinished math homework. It's pretty cool, like he's driving a boat instead of his dad's brand new 1986 Buick Century. The car's still kind of like a boat, though, size-wise. It's totally not the car to be seen in, but Danny just got his driver's license, and it's burning a hole in his Velcro wallet. Trent and Ryan only have their learner's permits, but now none of them have to depend on their parents when they want to go somewhere.

Carrie and Ryan are making out in the back seat. She giggles when Ryan works a hand up her sweatshirt, and her charm bracelets jangle against the car window. Danny doesn't look in the rear view mirror because he's made out with both Carrie and Ryan on separate occasions, and neither of them were good enough at it to risk crashing his dad's car. So Danny just turns up the radio and rolls with it, sucking down the cheap beer he'd poured into a plastic sports cup before they'd left Ryan's house.

"Dude," Trent says, and then he's passing Danny the joint. Danny takes a hit. The paper's wet like Trent's been slobbering on it, but Danny doesn't say anything. Trent's the one who scored this bag, and it's really good shit. Danny holds the bitter smoke in his lungs until his pulse starts pounding in his temple, and then exhales through the cracked car window.

He's gonna need to buy, like, ten million car air fresheners before the night's over unless he wants his ass busted from the smell.

The road drifts up and down again, lights streaking and running in watercolor. He looks over at Trent and offers the joint.

The braying horn of an eighteen-wheeler cuts through his fog too late. The world spins in bright sparks of panic and headlights. The seatbelt is tight across his chest as he brakes and spins the steering wheel. In the back seat, Carrie is screaming.

*

Everyone says Sam is really smart. They've been saying it since he was a little kid, but he didn't get he was different until the other kids looked at him funny and called him a freak in class when he answered the teacher's questions. He guesses other kids can't do their oldest brother's college calculus, either, or build a computer without directions out of a pile of hard drives, modems, power supplies, and system boards.

So Sam figures he must be smart, only he doesn't get this. How Danny's dead. How Danny's body is in the coffin that's being lowered into the ground. Empirical evidence suggests that Danny's really dead, because mom's sobbing, dad's face is as blank as a DOS prompt, and his older brother looks angry, wiping at his eyes with the back of his hand. David looks angrier than the time Danny accidentally broke some of mom's heirloom china, panicked, and blamed it on David when mom started yelling.

Never seeing Danny again doesn't make any sense. It isn't right. He wants Danny to show up, smiling that goofy, lopsided smile of his, and announce it's all a practical joke so mom and dad can ground him for the rest of his natural life.

The dirt is damp and cool in his hand. It falls on Danny's coffin with a hollow thump. Sam wonders why it isn't raining. It always seems like it's raining in the movies.

*

People are still milling around the house when Sam goes up to their room. He knows he'll get a lecture about responsibility and politeness tomorrow, but Sam can't bring himself to stay down there with the remains of the Mitzvah dinner. Their heavy silences make him want to scream his throat raw about how Danny would have hated that they're sitting shivah; he thinks that Danny would have wanted them to tell jokes and funny stories instead of staring at the walls.

Danny's stuff clutters the desk and a corner of the room, his catcher's mitt balanced on top of the computer monitor. Sam climbs the ladder to their bunk beds and crawls onto Danny's mattress. He thinks that he should have asked Danny to stay home that night, should have challenged his brother to a game of Asteroid or Pac-Man, or asked Danny how to get Debbie Rosenberg to go on a date with him. The permutations of things he could have done are endless; Sam cries himself to sleep.

At the end of the week, his dad will come into the room with cardboard boxes and take all of Danny's things away, and his parents will never mention Danny's name again. Sam will retreat into his studies and graduate valedictorian two years early from high school, and it will be okay because he won't have any friends.

College will be better for Sam, with its string of girlfriends and academic achievement awards, but he will mention his brother in his speech at his graduation from MIT, and his voice will catch when he admits how much he still misses him.

His mom and dad will refuse to talk to him during the car ride home.


2. Sitting in a Tree

"Fuck." Danny grinds himself back, pushing himself up on his hands and knees. Casey bites him on the shoulder and shoves Danny down with another push of his hips, his weight pressing on Danny's back. Their skin is wet, slipping, sliding. Breathing hard in pants and grunts, Casey making that really sexy groaning noise that means he's so turned-on he can't remember how to be a repressed Midwesterner.

Heavy breathing, the creak of the mattress, the rhythmic thump as the mattress hits the frame of the bed. Danny slides his hand down and jacks himself, and his whole body just twitches around Casey's dick.

"Fuck, Danny --" Casey hisses, resting his sweaty forehead between Danny's shoulder blades before thrusting harder, moving his hips in this really fucking good twist that, yes, there, and sex is never this good, except that it is.

It can't last, and it doesn't, because, "Jesus Christ!" Lisa's in the bedroom doorway, blue eyes wider than Danny's ever seen them. And she's taking a lot in, the way Casey's straining body must look with Danny sprawled on his hands and knees underneath him. Acres and acres of naked and sweaty.

There's no way they'll be able to pass this off as Greco-Roman wrestling.

Lisa's screaming mad. "It's a trial separation, Casey, that doesn't mean you get to fuck around!"

"Lisa, it's --" Casey says, and he's moving around like he's trying to cover them up. Danny wants to tell him that it won't help, but he's not going to say anything. All he has on his side is silence right now. Silence and a panicky spike of adrenaline that makes him feel like he's about to have a heart attack.

"Don't you --" and she's so angry she can barely talk, working her wedding band off her finger. "Don't you fucking dare, Casey McCall!"

She throws the ring at them, and Casey ducks, the metal band ricocheting off the lamp and rolling under the bed. Lisa storms out of the bedroom. Danny thinks she might be crying.

Casey shifts back quickly, too quickly because now Danny feels like his guts are trying to follow him out. Casey's swearing as he pulls on a pair of jeans, barely getting himself zipped up as he clears the doorway. Danny buries his face in a damp pillow and shivers. He has beard burn on his face.

"Holy shit," he says to the pillow. "I'm the other woman."

*

Casey kisses him back, and this shocks Danny so much that he almost drops his bottle of beer. It's --

He didn't mean to. Kiss Casey. But the fact remains -- he's kissing Casey, and Casey is kissing him back, so clearly he doesn't mind. Casey doesn't mind so much that he shifts closer and puts his hands on Danny's face. Casey tilts Danny's head and starts stabbing and sucking with his tongue, his stubble scraping over the sensitive skin around Danny's mouth. Danny just lets go of all dignity and whimpers, because Casey's just climbing on and going to town.

His beer's suddenly gone, and he thinks Casey took it and put it on the coffee table, or something. There's just the stretch and flex of Casey's body against him, and then Danny's on his back on the couch with Casey between his legs.

Invasion of the body snatchers. The real Casey has been kidnapped and replaced with this Pod Casey, but Danny's not sure he cares, because Pod Casey is getting hard and sucking sloppy kisses onto Danny's neck. The real Casey would never let Danny slide his hands down Casey's back, wouldn't arch into the touch. The real Casey wouldn't let Danny grab his ass and shift him an inch to the right, oh yeah right there, but Pod Casey just groans in appreciation.

Danny likes Pod Casey. A lot.

"You do this with guys," Casey says in his ear. His breath is hot and humid, tickling his earlobe.

"I -- yeah," Danny breathes. He didn't know Casey knew that, but fuck, it's not like he's been subtle about it for the last ten years. He wiggles his hips, and Casey hisses. And then they're nose to nose, Casey staring down at Danny's face with this fierce look, and it's making Danny really fucking hot.

"I want to fuck you," Casey says, and knocks Danny speechless for a moment, because Casey totally isn't cool enough to say something like that and make it sexy. But it is sexy, and Danny stares until Casey blushes a little.

Maybe it's the real Casey McCall in there, after all, Danny thinks, and stupidly says, "What?"

"You heard me, Danny."

"What?" Danny repeats.

Casey must get that Danny wants to hear it again, because he blankets Danny with his body and says into his ear, "I want. To fuck you."

"Okay," he says.

*

Casey looks a little rough when he opens the door, unshaven and wearing sweats that predate their friendship. Danny gestures with the pizza box and the case of beer in his hands, and Casey finally steps to the side. Danny blows by Casey and walks into the small kitchen like he lives there, dropping the pizza onto the counter and crouching down to put the beer in the nearly empty refrigerator.

Casey's standing behind him silently when Danny stands back up, offering a bottle of beer. Casey takes it automatically, holding it like a new father with a dirty diaper.

"Looking a little lost, there, Case," Danny says. Casey just grunts. Danny puts a stack of napkins on top of the pizza box and nudges Casey toward the living room with his hip. "C'mon. We're missing the game."

The pizza is gone but for two congealing slices and the football game nearly to half-time before Casey finally says, "Lisa took Charlie to stay at her parents' house."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah." Casey nods, staring at his holy grail of an empty beer bottle.

Danny doesn't know what to say to make his best friend feel better about his crumbling marriage, so he just gives Casey a manly, one-armed hug and gets him another beer. It seems to do the trick, though, because by the fourth quarter Casey loosens up enough to start commenting on the game.

"I have never seen a more pitiful attempt a field goal in my life," Casey says.

"Anderson could have kicked that better with his shoelaces tied together."

Casey shook his head. "Must be making up for the perfect record last year."

"He lost the zone," Danny says. Casey grins, and Danny forgets to watch the game for a couple of minutes.

"Is that ref blind?" Casey says loudly, and Danny turns his head back to the TV to see yellow flags on the Astroturf.

"It's perfectly legitimate call," he says.

"Have you gone insane?" Casey demands, turning on the couch and pressing his kneecap into Danny's thigh.

"Not that I've noticed."

Casey looks at him like he belongs in a straightjacket. "Perfectly legitimate? Are we watching the same game, here, Daniel?"

"No, Casey. There's an inter-dimensional rift between our couch cushions. I'm actually watching the Seahawks play the 49ers."

Casey throws his arms wide. "That would explain why you think it's okay that Williams just got called for face-masking when he wasn't anywhere near the guy!"

Casey's all loose from the beer, his eyes are alive, and he finally looks like the world isn't ending anymore. Danny's relief is so huge that he feels like it should be sitting on the couch next to the two of them and drinking a beer. Danny knows he must be smiling like an idiot, and it's so fucking great that he just leans forward and --

Kisses Casey.


3. It's Raining at Indian Wells

Danny doesn't know how else to apologize. He's tried everything he can think of, but Casey blocks every play like a three hundred fifty pound linebacker.

Casey's been his best friend for ten years, so Danny knows exactly how to make him angry. He learned from a pro, after all, watching from the sidelines while Lisa and Casey were divorcing. Danny thinks a fuck-you letter to Casey's ex-wife for giving him that knowledge wouldn't really endear him to anyone right now.

Not that anyone finds him particularly endearing at the moment, considering what a complete jackass he was over the Ryan O'Brian segment during their coverage of Draft Day 2000, not to mention what a jackass he was the entire six days leading up to the big event.

When he goes to an emergency session, Abby calls it something clinical, immediately following it with a long stare as she tells him that he's deliberately fucking up because he's afraid.

"Sit down," she says, and Danny does because his knees aren't so steady. "So. What are you afraid of?"

Danny stares at his hands for a long time before he answers, his eyes tracing the twists of his laced fingers. "I'm afraid that Casey doesn't need me anymore."

Abby looks at him from underneath her bangs, finally blinking her eyes. "And this frightens you because you still need Casey."

"Yeah," Danny says, and it sounds like he's about to cry. And maybe he is, but he hopes he'll make it back to his car before he starts with the waterworks.

He probably won't. Abby's evil that way.

Abby nods her head. "And this is about the list."

"It isn't about the list," Danny snaps.

"But that's when it got out of hand, didn't it?" Abby says, and sometimes Danny wonders if she's a mutant with telepathy.

He tells her so and Abby smiles briefly before leaning forward. "So what's this all about, Dan?"

The Top 100 Influential People in Sports list was the final straw on the camel's back in the "you're just not good enough, Danny" sweepstakes, but he doesn't want to admit that right now. "Why don't you tell me?" Danny says, looking up briefly so her intent expression can skewer him like a shish-kabob.

"Dan?" Abby prompts, and the truth comes spilling out of him like she's poked a hole in a blister.

"I love him, Abby," Danny says. "I love him and I think I'm holding him back." He loves Casey and ten years with him aren't enough.

"You think that," she says.

Danny's fingers are starting to hurt. "Yeah."

Abby looks at her desk for a moment and then turns back to face him. "You think that Casey thinks you're holding him back."

"Is my brain on a teleprompter back there?" Danny asks, craning his head to see her empty desk chair.

"Are you?" Abby asks.

Danny unlaces his fingers and tucks them under his thighs. "Am I what?" he says, looking at the floor.

"Holding him back."

He doesn't know how long it takes him to choke out, "I don't know."

*

It's no big deal, Danny tries to tell himself as he walks away from Casey. It's no big deal that Casey doesn't want to come to the Seder. He figures Casey's probably still uncomfortable with him after Danny insulted his intelligence and professionalism on national television, and plus, Casey's about as un-Jewish as they come.

Danny thinks that Casey would have fun with Jeremy's upcoming rewrite of the Haggadah, but he can't communicate that around the lump of shame in his throat, so he just walks away.

And it's okay, because secretly, Danny believes Casey will show up anyway, if only to make stupid yarmulke jokes. It's enough to sustain him through Jeremy's endless revisions, stealing plates and napkins from craft services, and Dana leaning over his chair to ask, "So. What the hell is a seder, anyway?"

Dana forgave him after he quietly asked for a Draft Day T-shirt and put it on right there after they finished the second round broadcast. He hugged her and apologized to her bandaged cheek over and over, and Dana sniffed deeply and said it was okay.

He wants Casey to show up. He needs to Casey to show up. And his need is so palpable that everyone seats themselves around the transformed conference table, leaving Casey and Danny's regular chairs empty. Danny stumbles through the speech he didn't prepare for, and doesn't know quite what to say because the person he needs most isn't around to hear it.

A million apologies later, Danny sits down. Jeremy rests his hand on Natalie's shoulder for a moment before directing his play. Danny's jealous. Jealous that Natalie's here and Casey isn't, jealous that Natalie can forgive Jeremy lying about dating a porn star long enough to be here for this Passover dinner when Casey's just doing something he didn't want to talk about at a video store.

He doesn't want to talk about anything these days, Senior Camp Counselor Casey, whom Danny loves beyond reason. Even when Casey's being an egotistical asshole and Danny's being a reactionary, jealous freak.

Nobody taps on the conference room windows while Isaac plays Moses, Dave is God, and Natalie is the evil Pharaoh. They drink four cups of wine and eat, and because Danny does this every year, he manages to go through the motions until there's nothing but crumbs and stains littering the white tablecloth.

Someone pats him on the shoulder, and before Danny knows it, he's alone with the mess in the conference room.

Well, almost.

"Dan? You should ask Casey --" Jeremy says.

"Go away," Danny tells him.

"I'm sorry," Jeremy says. "I really thought he'd come."

"Go away now," Danny says.

Jeremy hesitates for a couple of minutes before he finally leaves, and then Danny really is alone.


4. I Never Talk to Strangers

Danny sits by himself in the cafeteria on Wednesdays. Normally he brings his lunch and eats in his cubicle, but Abby made him promise to eat in the CSC cafeteria once a week. Everyone in the building works different hours, so it's never completely empty when he goes.

Danny hates it. But he goes, because Abby scares him.

"Hey."

He keeps his head down. Nobody ever talks to him unless they want to borrow one of the extra chairs.

"It's Dan, right?"

Danny looks up, blinking, feeling that shiver of panic in his blood, and it's just Jeremy. He knows Jeremy. It's okay. He swallows around a dry bite of sandwich.

"Y-yeah?"

Jeremy stands too close, the fluorescent light reflecting oddly off his glasses. "Yeah, I was wondering if you had the stats on that LPGA stuff I e-mailed you about this morning?"

"Um, yeah, I, uh --" and Danny has to look away, because Jeremy's making eye contact. "I've got it all ready, um, up-upstairs. I can go get it --" He shoves his chair back and it makes a loud squeal on the tile.

And suddenly everyone's looking at him. Looking at him like he's a freak. He is, Danny knows he is, but he'll never get used to people looking at him and knowing, like he's naked with 'freak' tattooed all over his body.

Okay, so Danny has one small tattoo on his body, and if he has his way, his mother will never know about it.

Jeremy raises his hands in placation. "Hey, it's no rush. I mean, we don't actually go on the air for," he glances at his watch, "another eight hours."

"Good point," Danny says. Jeremy smiles like he understands, and Danny thinks that maybe Jeremy does know a little bit about being a freak.

"Are you done?" Jeremy asks. "I can go up with you. It's kind of on the way for me."

Danny takes a deep breath. "Yeah, okay."

The trip up is okay except for a few tense moments in the elevator, and they're just about to Danny's cube before he remembers why he doesn't ever want anyone to come into his office. But they're in his cubicle before he can think of a reason not to be, and Jeremy sees it.

The wall.

It's not what you think, he wants to say, only that would be a huge, flaming lie.

His wall is covered in magazine pictures and newspaper clippings, all carefully arranged with thumb tacks, and it's a scary, lame, single-white-male-stalker-freak shrine to Casey McCall.

Jeremy just raises an eyebrow and then ignores the wall of Danny's secret shame, and for that, Danny could kiss him. He could, but he won't, because if he does, Natalie will have his balls smashed in a video editor before he could hum the intro to "Ol '55."

Danny hands Jeremy the folder and then stands there awkwardly, hands in his pockets, as Jeremy shuffles through the folder's contents.

Jeremy mutters under his breath and then says, "This is really good." He snaps his fingers dramatically. "I have something for you upstairs. I'd planned to research it myself, but Dana has me producing a segment on miniature golf as some kind of sadistic punishment for invoking the spirit of Thespis --"

At Danny's look, Jeremy shrugs and says, "It's... a long story."

"Yeah," Danny says carefully. He knows. His life is one long story.

Jeremy shakes his head. "Anyway, I have something for you. Come up with me. It'll just take a minute for me to get it together."

Danny's pretty sure his face is going as pale as white rice. "Oh no. No. I-I --"

Jeremy gives him the weirdo look. "Um..."

Danny hates going up there. He hates it more than the cafeteria, because Natalie and Dana Whitaker and Isaac Jaffe are sharp people, and they see things. See too much. He was pouring coffee one day after running some stats up to Jeremy and Natalie and his cuffs weren't buttoned, and when he turned around, Isaac Jaffe was standing behind him with a sad expression on his face.

He saw the scars. He didn't say anything, but Danny knew.

Danny's been very careful since then to wear long sleeves or a jacket. And he really doesn't want to go upstairs.

"Seriously," Jeremy says. "It'll only take a minute." Jeremy takes him by the arm, and Danny is trapped. Doomed. He is dead Danny walking.

He breaks out into a cold sweat on the elevator. Danny hasn't puked in a while from nerves, but he might today because the bile is already burning the back of his throat. He suddenly, desperately wants to call Abby and blabber his problems in one long breath, but his cell phone is on his desk downstairs.

The elevator dings and Jeremy steps out. Danny follows because the walls are starting to press in on him and he's not feeling athletic enough to try escaping through the roof hatch. Dana Whitaker strides past, her eyeglasses pushed up into her blonde hair. She stops suddenly and backpedals, giving Danny a hard stare.

"Who's this?" she asks, squinting at him.

"This is Dan," Jeremy says. At Dana's silence, he continues with, "From downstairs in research."

"Really," Dana says, drawing it out like she's auditioning for a Raymond Chandler movie.

"You've met him before," Jeremy says. "Many, many times."

Dana squints even harder. "I have, have I?"

"Yes! There are witnesses who will attest to this fact!" Jeremy says, flinging his arms wide and waving them in a fairly accurate imitation of a drunk pigeon.

Danny watches their conversation like a Wimbeldon audience, idly wondering if he can make a break for the stairs before anyone notices.

"You are a paranoid freak!" Jeremy is spluttering, his face red.

Dana snorts. "I shall disregard everything you say because it's clearly a plan undermine my self-confidence. You wouldn't happen to know of any other Roman gods who'd like to make my life a living hell, would you Jeremy?"

"Thespis is Greek and a ghost," Jeremy says, "and this conversation is over. Dan?"

Danny trots after Jeremy in order to get away from the freaky lady who is clearly in need of therapy even more than Danny is.

He waits patiently while Jeremy roots around in his neat desk, piling smooth pieces of paper spotted with post-it notes into a file folder. Jeremy hands Danny the file, and then starts loading Danny's arms with books, maps, and even a half-full projection slide carousel.

"Um," Danny says, feeling the pile shift precariously.

"You don't happen to know anything about mountaineering, do you?" Jeremy asks.

I was born and raised in New York City, Danny wants to say. Kind of short on the mountain ranges here.

"Uh, no. No, I --" he says instead.

Jeremy smiles at him. "I'm sure you'll do fine. I think you'll find the history of Mt. Everest just as captivating as I do."

"Captivating," Danny repeats, slowly losing his grip on one of the folders sliding between the crook of his arm and his ribcage.

"Jeremy!" Jeremy and Danny both turn to see Natalie poking her head out of the conference room.

"Yes, Natalie?" Jeremy asks at a slightly less painful decibel than Natalie's.

"Move it or lose it!" she says. "Conference call in thirty seconds."

Jeremy swears under his breath. "Can you take this to Casey for me?"

"Oh, no, I --" Danny protests, but Jeremy drops the video tape on top of the pile anyway.

"It's right through there," Jeremy says, heading toward the conference room. "Thanks!"

"Kill me now," Danny says, but no one's around to hear.

He may have a wall devoted to Casey McCall, but actually getting near the guy? The mere thought terrifies him. Every time, he starts thinking about all the things that could possibly go wrong, and really, the possibilities are endless. What if he does something stupid? What if he says something stupid? What if Danny can't say anything at all?

Danny drops his clutter onto Jeremy's desk chair and breathes deeply for a full ten minutes before he approaches Casey's office, and he only stops the deep-breathing because his vision starts to fade a little at the edges, and he might as well stop calling it deep-breathing and call it hyperventilation.

He knocks on the office door and tries not to pass out. At the silence, Danny knocks again and says, "H-hello?"

Danny turns the door handle and peers inside the room. It's dark, and it appears to be empty, so he lets out a breath he doesn't realize he's been holding and walks inside. The office is neat and clean, smelling faintly of Old Spice cologne. A thick dictionary is open on the desk and the first word on the page is 'pumpernickel'. He puts the video tape on the ink blotter, arranging it carefully in the center.

The lights come on, and Danny jumps so hard he's surprised that the ceiling tiles are intact.

Casey McCall's at the door, wearing a pair of jeans and a blue button-down shirt and looking excruciatingly handsome. "Hi," Casey says, staring at him quizzically.

"I brought a tape," Danny says, blinking so rapidly that it's making him dizzy. "Jeremy. From Jeremy. I brought a tape from Jeremy."

Casey smiles, and Danny feels the entire surface area of his skin go hot. "Thanks, uh...?"

"D-d-d --" Danny tries to say, and the flush just gets worse. Sometimes he thinks he should declare himself mute and learn sign language, even if Abby thinks his stutter will get better once he deals with some outstanding "issues".

"Dave!" Casey says, nodding his head. "That's it, right? Thanks, Dave."

Danny has an older brother named Dave, an older brother who is taller, smarter, and better looking, and Danny's teachers at school constantly called him by his older brother's name. So do elderly aunts, people on the phone, his dentist, and even his own mom sometimes.

He thinks he should be used to it by now.

"Yeah," Danny says faintly as Casey sits down at his desk and unlocks his computer screen. Casey immediately begins typing in Word. "It's -- I'm Dan. Danny."

Casey looks up at him blankly, and then he seems to register what Danny's saying. "Yeah, sorry about that," Casey says. "I'm really bad with names."


5. Enrique de Espana

Natalie leans into their office on her tiptoes, balancing herself on the door handle. "Dan?"

Danny looks up from the laptop and takes the pencil out of his mouth. "Yes, oh Natalie?"

"What's Casey doing?" she asks.

Casey glances up from the floor where he's prowling around his desk on all fours. "I'm right here, you know."

Danny keeps typing. "His computer has been possessed."

Natalie raises her eyebrows. "His computer has been possessed by the spirit of Fido?"

"Woof," Danny says. Casey growls at them both and crawls around his desk, painfully knocking his elbow against his ergonomic chair.

"Is Eli gonna be here this afternoon?" Natalie says.

Danny nods. "Bobbi said she'd be bringing him by any minute now."

Natalie smiles. "Cool!" She turns and heads back toward Dana's office, her dark hair bouncing on her shoulders.

"So," Casey says, poking his head up from under his desk where he's been cursing the hellspawn of all network lines. The cruel mockery of his computer is nothing compared to this new development. "We're getting a visit from Bobbi Bernstein."

"Casey..." Danny warns.

"Make no mistake," Casey says, sitting in the office chair and clasping his hands over his stomach. "I'm eager to see young Enrique."

Danny eyes him warily. "As you should be. He's as devilishly handsome and charming as his father."

Casey snorts, but doesn't argue. Eli is a good-looking little kid. "I merely think that --"

"Here we go," Danny says under his breath.

"As I was saying," Casey says, pausing significantly and waiting for Danny to interrupt again. "I think a little warning would have been prudent, Danny."

"Okay. Casey, I thought I should warn you that Bobbi Bernstein is coming by the office today."

"Too little, too late, my friend," Casey says.

Danny tosses his pencil onto the table. "What do you want from me?"

Casey looks at him for a moment and then shakes his head. "Nothing. Never mind."

"What, Casey?"

"It's nothing."

Danny peers at him suspiciously. Eli uses the exact same expression, and it makes him look so unbearably cute that grandmothers have been known to walk up to him on the street and pinch his cheeks.

It's exactly the kind of adorable look that makes it impossible for Casey to tell Danny that he'd like a little more time to prepare for damage control in the wake of Bobbi.

"Knock, knock."

Casey and Danny both turn to the door. A small figure flies toward Danny, yelling, "Daddy!" as he launches himself into Danny's lap. Danny braces himself and catches Eli with a grunt, pulling him close for a hug and a noogie that leaves Eli giggling.

Bobbie stands in the doorway, unsmiling and holding Eli's backpack. "Dan," she says.

"Bobbi," he says. Eli slides out of Danny's lap as he stands them both up. "Hey, kiddo. Why don't you go say hi to your Uncle Casey while I talk to your mom?"

Casey takes Eli's hand and nods to Bobbi as he passes her in the doorway. While she isn't particularly cold, she isn't particularly welcoming when she nods back.

Just outside the office, Casey scoops up Eli and groans. "You're almost too heavy for this, Enrique. What are you, ten feet tall now?"

"Nooo," Eli says scornfully, rolling his big brown eyes as Casey walks through the bullpen. "Uncle Casey?"

"Yeah, kiddo?"

"Why does mommy make a face when you call me Enrique?"

Casey looks down at him. "What kind of face?"

"Like this," Eli says, and screws his face up like he's drinking sugar-free lemonade.

It's mildly hysterical, but Casey covers his laugh with a fake cough.

"Aha." Casey hitches Eli on his hip and dares to be honest. "Well, I suspect your mom thinks I'm making fun of her."

Eli tugs at Casey's collar. "Are you?"

Maybe a little, Casey thinks.

"Nope," he says instead. "I just like saying Enrique." Casey puts a thick trill on the 'r' and tips Eli upside down. Eli's laughter is loud and infectious, and a moment later the horde descends. Dana, Natalie, and Kim sweep Eli into their tidal wave toward Isaac's office, Jeremy and Elliot trailing behind them looking bemused. Whenever Eli visits the office, he becomes the official show mascot.

Casey looks over his shoulder at his office. Bobbi's talking, gesturing with one arm. Danny has propped himself against the computer desk, arms tightly folded and his eyes cast down. One drunken night at the Hotel de Espana had produced the greatest little kid in the world, and inextricably tied the two of them together for the rest of their lives. Funny thing is, Casey figures that Danny and Bobbi might actually like each other well enough if either of them had never made that trip to Spain.

Eli's sprawled on the floor next to Jeremy when Casey walks into Isaac's office. Isaac and Natalie look baffled by the complex erector set that Eli and Jeremy are assembling on the carpet. Dana hovers over them and slants Casey looks that nearly make him hear her biological clock ticking the time away.

When Bobbi appears in the doorway to say good-bye to Eli, Casey takes the opportunity to flee. After watching Bobbi and Danny battle back and forth over Eli the past few years, he's been glad that he and Lisa decided not to have kids long before they got divorced a year ago. Casey doesn't have any particularly strong urge to get re-married and reproduce anytime soon, and besides, he'll always have Eli around to spoil.

Casey finds Danny slumping on their office couch and rubbing the bridge of his nose.

"Hey," Casey says, sitting down beside him.

"Hey."

Casey slings his arm around Danny's shoulders. "So. What'd you do wrong this time?"

"Usual," Danny says, and leans his head back on Casey's arm.

"Ah," Casey nods. Danny's warm all along his left side. "Your reckless seduction derailed her career."

"Oh, I'm a regular Lothario," Danny says, turning to look at Casey. He doesn't look as upset as usual, but Casey isn't taking any chances.

"Damn you for being fertile, Daniel, damn you."

"Shut up," Danny chuckles and nudges Casey's side with his elbow.

Casey tugs him closer for a moment, palming Danny's neck and shaking him a little. "You have robust sperm, Dan."

Danny stares at him like he's just quoted Vogon poetry. "Please don't ever use those words together in a sentence again."

Danny puts his head back on Casey's arm and they sit there for a while, the silence as comfortable as a pair of old sweats.

"Why do I get the feeling there's more?" Casey asks finally.

Danny sighs. "Her family's hassling her again about finding a nice Jewish boy and settling down."

"You're a nice Jewish boy," Casey says without thinking. And then he panics. Just for a moment. Because Bobbi Bernstein did turn into quite the babe. "You aren't going to --"

"What?" Danny asks. He recoils a little when he sees Casey's expression. "No!"

"Allow me to seek clarification," Casey says, pinning Danny's shoulders against the couch. "You, Dan Rydell, being of sound mind and body, will not propose to Bobbi Bernstein in some misguided attempt to do the right thing?"

"No, Casey."

Casey carefully maintains eye contact. "Because that ship has sailed, my friend."

"Hearing you loud and clear," Danny says.

"That ship left the dock many, many years ago, Daniel."

Danny stares at him wonderingly. "You are such a freak, Casey."

"Let he who is without a certain amount of freakishness cast the first stone," Casey says, relaxing his death grip on Danny's shoulders. He has plans for Danny, and those plans don't include a Mrs. Dan Rydell.

Maybe he should find an opportune moment to take Bobbi aside and tell her that she should be grateful that her parents still talk to her. Danny hasn't heard from his since the day the paternity test came back positive.

"Someone get this young man out of my hair," Isaac says from the doorway. Eli drops Isaac's hand and charges across the room, diving into a Superman pose across his and Danny's laps. Danny mercilessly tickles Eli while Casey tries to recover from a brutal sneaker-kick to the ribs. Eli eventually slides off their legs and collapses onto the carpet, breathlessly curling into a ball to protect his stomach.

"I don't know where they get the energy," Isaac says, shaking his head.

"I do. Refined sugar," Danny says, eyeing Isaac. "The kind you keep in your desk drawer for when Eli's here."

Isaac grins unrepentantly. "That's the benefit of being a grandparent, Daniel. I get to spoil them and then send them home."

"You, sir," Danny says, "are pure, unadulterated evil."

"Oh, I'm fully aware of that." Still grinning, Isaac gives them a little wave and leaves the office.

Eli sits up and wraps his arms around Danny's calf. "Daddy!"

"Yes, my son?" Danny says patiently, dropping his chin to his chest.

"I wanna go to the zoo!" Eli says, tugging on Danny's leg.

Danny raises an eyebrow. "What's the magic word?"

Eli furrows his brow. "Um. I wanna go to the zoo, alohamora?"

"That's close enough," Danny says. "Where'd mommy leave your bag?"

Eli runs over to the door, picks up his backpack, and runs back, his dark hair sticking up in tufts. He has a smudge of chocolate next to his mouth. "Daddy?" Eli asks, kicking at Danny's feet.

Danny leans forward and finger-combs Eli's hair. "Yes, running boy?"

"Can Uncle Casey come with us?"

Danny leaves one hand resting on his squirming son's head and looks over at Casey, his eyebrows raised. "What do you say, Uncle Casey?"

"Well..." Casey hedges.

"C'mon, Case," Danny says, squeezing Casey's knee and sliding his hand up Casey's thigh. Just high enough to erase any of Casey's intentions about being a good employee.

One of them really should stay behind to write the script, but Casey figures that using Eli as an excuse might get them out of hot water with Dana and Natalie. They'll just have to write really fast when they get back from making faces at the chimpanzees.

"I'd love to," Casey says. Danny smiles at him, the skin crinkling a little around his eyes. He squeezes Casey's thigh.

Oh, yeah. Casey definitely has plans for Dan Rydell.


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