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Can't You See That I'm Lonely?

by A S Lawrence

[Story Headers]

Lisa's the prettiest girl he's ever seen. Out of his league. Girls like Lisa don't date boys like Casey, that's just how the world is. But - maybe it's crazy - he has this feeling that, if he asks her, she won't say no.

He asks her.

She says no.

Two weeks later she's lurching back from a party, stops to throw up, and her girlfriends leave her behind. She's wandering around campus, lost and freaked, when Casey finds her. He steers her dorm-ward, sees her safely home. And the next day, she remembers him; and she smiles.

That's how it begins.


He was sixteen when he first knew. Early spring, and they'd driven Jake's father's car down to Mardi Gras. That was when he realised he might be a little bit... just vaguely...

"More than a little bit," Jake said (mouth swollen and still wet from Dan's lips), but he was laughing. Dan wasn't. Danny panicked, ran and didn't stop running for years, years in which he slept with every girl who crossed his path, trying to convince himself it wasn't true, it couldn't be, it was a one-time thing, an accident.

Then he met Casey. And he knew for sure.


There's a twister blowing, Bruce sings, and Danny flops back on his bed, watches the world spin, houses whirling past, and chickens, and mad old women on bicycles, stares into the vortex that rips the sky open and snaps down reality in one greedy bite. He digs in his fingernails and wills normality to return. But it's still reeling when he hears a knock on the door, and, when he stumbles across to open it, there's Casey. And, beyond him, Technicolor, a yellow brick road stretching out to limitless possibilities.

The two of them? They're not in Kansas any more.


"This is my wife," Casey says, meaning the hard-faced blonde who glares at Dan from the diner booth. "And this, this is Charlie."

Charlie nods solemnly, and Dan's heart lurches. He's a tiny, perfect Casey: tousled sandy hair, big, serious brown eyes behind the ugliest glasses in the world, a tense, hunted air about him. Dan knows that tension in Casey, hates it, but in a little kid it's insupportable. He smiles politely at Lisa, but, for Charlie, the warmth is real.

If ever a boy needed a friend, that boy's Charlie McCall. And that, at least, Dan can be.


It's so far minus outside that 'zero' is an imaginary concept, which, come to think, it is anyway. Here in the bar, though, it's warm and cosy. You're nursing a beer - strange town, strange hotel, no risks, no chances. Leave that to Casey. He's found some weird, sickly liqueur, and he's knocking back shots like water. One for Lisa; one for losing the Late Night gig. One for his dad. One just because.

It's an accident waiting to happen, but you're there. When the crash comes, you'll pick up the pieces.

It's what you do. It's what you'll always do.


On a long-ago college trip to Mexico, Casey ate a bad burrito and came home with a little intestinal hitchhiker. The cure was almost worse than the condition, and his stomach's never really been the same since. At home or away, he'll only drink bottled water and, even so, his half of the bathroom resembles a pharmacy counter: Pepto-Bismol, Milk of Magnesia, Alka-Seltzer, all lined up in tidy rows.

It doesn't make him the world's most appealing roommate. He thinks Dan will be relieved the day the network finally springs for separate hotel rooms.

Dan just smiles, and says nothing.


Lone Star throws a big company picnic every year: softball, barbecue, a mini-fairground for the kids. People throw footballs, play guitars, bask in the sunshine; children run, shrieking. Tammi from makeup juggles fireclubs, promises Casey she'll teach him how. Lisa stays in the car, engine running, air-conditioned.

Danny's coming up to bat. Leaning back, Casey sees Charlie nearby, crouching, motionless. On his hand is a butterfly, huge, blue, vivid.

Charlie reaches out a finger. Casey hisses, "Don't!" and Charlie looks up, startled. "It's fragile, Charlie. Try to touch it, you could kill it."

Dan swings, connects, and starts to run.


They take it in baby steps. It's all so new to them: Dan just a few years out of college, blinking in the light, Casey not much further along. Now suddenly it's network dinners, awards ceremonies, public appearances, fan mail, autographs. Interviews. Interviews which have to be carefully scripted after the first time Danny speaks his mind and nearly loses them both their jobs.

They don't know what the hell they're doing; haven't a clue where it is they're going. All they can do is fake it. But god: are they ever going to have some fun along the way.


When the firebell sounds, everyone obediently troops out to freeze in the parking lot. Casey had the forethought to grab a jacket. Dana didn't. He drapes it over her shoulders, pulls her close for warmth. Then he realises: Dan's missing. Abandoning Dana, he wades through the crowd. Nobody's seen Danny, no-one knows where he is. Heart stuttering, he turns to fight his way back indoors, just as the all-clear sounds and Dan comes sauntering around the corner.

"Went for coffee," he explains, blinking surprisedly, and hands Casey a cup.

Dan's safe. All that's likely to kill him is Casey himself.


Casey's grandfather was a loud-voiced giant of a man: white-haired, shambling, stooped and deaf, but, to a child, a demigod, awe-inspiring, terrifying.

Lisa is ice-cold and perfect in black Armani; Charlie, suited-and-tied, seems waiflike and lost. Casey's own palms are damp; everything else is numb. Standing by the casket he remembers the gruffness, the hectoring. Remembers, too, the unexpected, unseasonal gifts; the jokes, well-worn and hoary; the old-fashioned songs, remembered by no-one else in this world. The flashes of kindness, of humanity, all the more precious for their rarity.

"I'll miss you, you old bastard," he whispers; and moves along.


By now, Casey surely knows everything about Dan: likes, dislikes, prejudices, foibles. Strengths and weaknesses.

Family tops that list. Dan's father's offhand, distant - Casey understands that - but his mom? She's no-two-ways-about-it crazy. What fiftysomething woman regularly phones her son at work, at home, in the middle of the night, then says nothing, just sobs down the line while he tries helplessly, futilely, to console her?

But Danny won't hear it, saying only, "It isn't her fault," and, once, "It's mine." Eventually, five years on, he'll finally tell Casey why.

And, though Casey now sympathises, still he will think: she's crazy.


They've had an Offer. They have to say it like that, with a capital letter, because New York wants them. Isaac-fucking-Jaffee, for god's sake, wants them! And Dan can't wait to go.

Except ... he walks familiar streets for the last time; pays a final visit to his favourite record store, bookshop, restaurant. Starts to hear again the accent, so grating at first, that's faded over the years. Stands gazing at landmarks, drinking in the city's history.

He's hated every minute of his time here. And, now that he's finally about to escape ... he realises, it wasn't so bad after all.


Lisa wanted a nice townhouse, with a yard for Charlie to play in. Lisa got it. She wanted high ceilings, and cool white walls, and hardwood floors; a cream leather sofa, Egyptian cotton sheets, a flat-screen TV.

Dan found a loft in a converted warehouse: brick walls (cold in winter, hot in summer), the couch he inherited when he first left home, records and books spilling out of packing cases and across the dusty floor; beer and day-old Chinese in the refrigerator, not a matching plate or cup to call his own.

Sometimes Casey forgets to go home at night.


The red light's blinking when Dan staggers home, aching for the two hours' sleep he can squeeze in before admitting it's already tomorrow. He hits playback en route to the bathroom, filters out phone spam through running water. Stops dead, towel in hand, as Casey's voice says, "Danny? I - um, I ... no, it's okay, never mind, I'll see you tomorrow."

Dan's had eight years to learn Casey-speak - and the call came from the office. At 4.00am. That tells him all he needs to know. He's seen it coming for a while. He's ready.

This is what friends gear up for.


No public school's good enough for Lisa. She tracks down a private academy that'll accept Charlie as a day scholar. Its curriculum's heavily sports-oriented ("That should make you happy," she snaps, when Casey balks at the fees), but Charlie remains hopeless. He's good at math. Art. And music. Within a month, he's asked to join the choir.

"Choir!" Casey sighs, but lets Lisa drag him to a concert, anticipating boredom, embarrassment. Then Charlie's clear treble rises in descant, pure, unwavering, and, unexpectedly, tears start to Casey's eyes; he fumbles for Lisa's hand. For just that moment, they're still a family.


Debra asks Dan for his autograph in Anthony's one night; tells him she's crazy about Sports Night. Dan smiles politely, and she keeps on talking. Turns out Debra's sports-crazy, period. Debra knows baseball. She knows football, hockey - even soccer, but hey, nobody's perfect. Dan asks for her number; he'd like to see her again.

He does. Every night, for six months. Right up until the day he calls round unexpectedly and finds her kissing her roommate. Alicia.

"I guess the best man won," he tells Casey, and suddenly starts to laugh, and laugh until Casey thinks he will never stop.

17. &#!&: DIE HARD

Casey's not a quitter. All his life, whatever he's set his mind to, he's done well. The last failure blotting his conscience was coming third in a spelling bee when he was nine - and that only made him the more determined to do better next time. He still won't admit defeat. He'll rebuild his marriage, make it work, or die trying.

Some days he thinks it might come to that.

At home he bites his tongue, turns the other cheek, grins and bears it.

One rainy Wednesday he walks into work and slams his fist into the conference room wall.


The office walls aren't soundproof. Everyone hears - *"Stay the hell out of my business, Danny!"*, the door slam - and nobody dare say a word.

Tough time, Dana finally ventures, shaky-voiced, and Lot of pressure. Kim rolls her eyes, and Elliott mutters, "No kidding," but what can they do? Casey's the front man, he's their mealticket, and they can only go with the flow and hope he'll get over himself sooner rather than later.

Days pass, weeks: it doesn't happen. There's only second-rate scripts, late deadlines, missed meetings, lacklustre broadcasts. And, eventually, the network begins to sit up and take notice.


Hang around Times Square long enough, eventually you'll meet everyone you've ever known. Still, Casey's pretty sure that the woman who's just said hello is a perfect stranger. She laughs at his confusion - "Casey, it's Paula!" He blinks. Paula Dalton. High School. Stringy, sallow, flat-chested, charmless. Not any more.

He has guilty memories of having teased her, so inviting her for a drink seems the least he can do to make amends. He doesn't ask himself why he carefully picks a bar where no-one will know him.

Next morning, he'll tell Lisa he had to work late at the office.


Casey checks his face in the bathroom mirror, searching for - he's not sure what. Maybe a big, red letter 'A'. But he looks no different now than yesterday.

Why should he feel bad anyhow? Think about the life he's been living. He's practically a stranger in his own house. Lisa treats him like a necessary evil, there to pay the bills, nothing more. She turns away from him, doesn't love him. Maybe she never did.

So, okay. What he did was wrong. It won't happen again. But when you come right down to it - Lisa only has herself to blame.


Isaac is a man of immense faith. He believes that his team of talented misfits is capable of producing the best damned sports show in the world; that even the meanest-spirited of network bean-counters will eventually acknowledge this. He believes in family, the love of his wife; in a merciful and beneficent god.

He believes that everything happens for a reason.

When he wakes in a hospital bed, half his body no longer under his control - just for a moment, his heart hitches with doubt.

But only for a moment. For what good is belief if it cannot be tested?


Casey breaks the news so, so carefully, as if telling Charlie his hamster had died; sits close by, watching protectively. You choke through the broadcast, waiting for the sky to fall - as though it hadn't fallen years ago. You survived then; you will now.

You'll do it alone, you think, as you pull on your coat, but then there's a touch to your arm. You turn, prepared to see concern in Casey's eyes, but not (god help you, there's no other word) such love. And something within you that you'd thought long dead and buried is reborn from his smile.


Dana waited till the boys were safely out of sight, then, "Did any of that make any sense?" she demanded.

Natalie shrugged. "Not much."

"I mean - did you ever see two grown men so freaked out by a little bomb scare?"

"Not since the last time."

"A bomb scare! How ridiculous is that? We're a sports network!"

"Some people hate sports, Dana."

"And they want us to lean on them?!"

"Looks that way," Natalie agreed. She didn't seem too bothered. Dana said so.

Natalie shrugged again. "They're cute."


"So..." Natalie flashed a smile, "They don't have to be smart!"


"I was giving her space." Dan's voice fades, slurring. "Didn't wanna look ... y'know. Jealous. Possessive. So I backed off. I was so sure ..."

Casey rests a gentle hand on his arm. "Maybe she thought you didn't care."

"Then she thought wrong," Dan mumbles. And he's asleep.

Bitch, Casey thinks. But, no: that's unfair. He knows what damage a bad marriage can wreak, how hard it is to let go of the wasted years you'll never get back.

Still: Bitch! he thinks again. He tucks the sheet tenderly around Dan's huddled shoulders; goes to the door and turns out the light.


Isaac stays for the show, but soon gets tired. Dan notices him flagging, and trips on a cue. Next C-break he slides over, murmurs a few quiet words, beckons Kim to call Isaac's driver. Everyone waves. And then they troop off to Anthony's.

It's a weird kind of party, without the guest of honour, but, hey - how long's it been since they had anything to celebrate at all?

Isaac's back! The news ripples round the bar, until even total strangers find themselves grinning for no reason. Isaac's back behind the wheel, and all their bad times are surely over.

... surely?


At times Dan feels disconnected; lost amidst a flurry of irrelevant activity. He keeps up a good front - he interacts, makes conversation, writes his scripts, plays to the camera; he remembers that once all this was important to him. But somewhere along the way, something vital has been lost. His energy, his enthusiasm, his drive; his soul, maybe.

All these years, he's tried so hard. But his best's never good enough. It's Casey who wins the awards, makes the lists, reaps the benefit; Dan trails in his wake, unnoticed.

He'll always be in Casey's shadow.

There is no justice here.


"I'm sorry," Dan says, and, "Please." But it's too late. His gut twists the way it did when he was eight years old and his football smashed his father's study window, when he was sixteen and had to explain away the broken taillight, the dented fender; eighteen, at college, answering the phone ...

All his life, everything he's touched, whatever's precious, he's ruined, he's broken. He should have known one day he'd lose Casey, too.

Why this, why today? Why did he suddenly snap?

Maybe the devil made him do it. Whatever. All he knows is, he's in hell now.


You've always been careful. As celebrities go, you're small fry, under the gossip mags' radar. But then again: you understand about slow news days.

You're leaving a club with Matthew - sweet, dry, funny Matthew, tall, slim, rangy, so like Casey, but not Casey, not - when he says something (later, you don't even remember what) and you laugh, Matthew can always make you laugh, make you do pretty much anything, lean in to him, smiling ...

... and a camera flashes.

Luther's furious; Isaac and Dana supportive. Casey says, wounded, puzzled, "How come I never knew?"

You've no idea what to tell him.


Date #13 started crying in the theatre and had to be escorted out. People stared.

Date #15 didn't shave her armpits.

Date #19 turned out to be Crazy Stalker Woman. Restraining orders were invoked.

"You do realise," Dan said carefully, "that if you and Dana aren't still doing ... whatever you were doing, the whole Dating Plan thing's pretty much been superseded?"

Casey waved him away. "I'm proving a point."

"Which is?"

Casey wasn't sure. Mostly it seemed to come down to *I'll show <u>her</u>!* "That I have a Way with Women?"

"Okay," Dan said. The door closed quietly behind him.


Getting the tickets involves surfing several not-quite-legal websites and the exchange of ridiculous amounts of money. But the glow in Danny's eyes when he opens the envelope makes it worthwhile. He insists you go along; you say yes, sure, endure the noise guiltily, watch Dan rather than the concert.

Heading back, Dan's wired, practically flying. You know he's going to crash, and halfway home he does, his head on your shoulder.

You're alone in the car; there's no-one to see if you slide your arm around him, or lift your hand, run it lightly through his hair.

No-one to see.


Kids grow up fast these days. Yesterday Charlie told Casey everything he'd learned about STDs. Casey really wasn't ready for this.

"You don't believe in sex-ed?" Dan asks idly.

"Well ..." That gets Casey flustered. "Yeah ... but this is Charlie!"

Dan seems unbothered. "Gotta learn some day, Casey." His mouth twists evilly. "One day he's gonna have sex. Gonna make you a grandfather!"

Casey's instantly on the defensive. "So? You'll be a - a great-uncle."

Dan blinks. "Only if I were your brother."

"Isn't that what you are?"


Is that all I am?

It's all I can ask you to be.


The buyout should have been the end to all their problems: the show was saved, everyone stayed in New York, happy ever after?


Not so much.

Oh, they still had Sports Night, but the heart had gone out of it - as if only its body lived on, soulless. Ironically, the show was doing better than ever. But even as their viewing figures climbed, Dan found he cared less and less. Coming in to work began to feel like an ordeal. And, looking around, he honestly saw no reason to carry on.

Casey, after all, could do it without him.


Casey was the last to know; Dan dreaded his reaction. But, surprisingly, he only nodded thoughtfully, said, "Yes. You deserve more than this. You've always been good enough, Danny, it's way overdue."

The others? Dana wasn't pleased, but she took it okay. Unlike Natalie, who didn't speak to him for two weeks. He'd've been happier if she'd just stolen his pants and got it over with.

Isaac... Dan thought he'd marshalled all his arguments, went in full of confidence; ended up slumped over the desk, crying helplessly into clenched fists. Isaac - Isaac was family. But what choice did he have?

Your last day. Somehow you hold it together through the final show; cake, champagne, speeches; handshakes, back-slapping, hugs. You'll be missed, take it easy, good luck.

Casey's vanished. Too hard for him, you guess. You keep smiling, start to leave. You never make it. Suddenly Casey's there, breathing raggedly, just gazing. Then: his hands on your shoulders, his mouth on yours and he's kissing you, hard, hot, hungry, while you flail, dizzy, incredulous. Slowly you realise the roaring in your ears is applause, laughing, whooping, cheering. Somebody yells, "It's about time!" and you know what? It is. It's absolutely time.

May/June 2006

Please post a comment on this story.

Fandom:  Sports Night
Title:  Can't You See That I'm Lonely?
Author:  A S Lawrence   [email]
Details:  Standalone  |  PG-13  |  gen het *slash*  |  20k  |  06/10/06
Characters:  Casey, Dan
Pairings:  Casey/Lisa, Casey/OFC, Dan/OMCs, Dan/Rebecca, Dan/OFC, Casey/Dan
Summary:  The history of Dan and Casey in 33 linked drabbles.
Notes:  Written for LiveJournal SN100's 'Rescue Me' titles challenge, May/June 2006
Disclaimer/Other:  The characters and situations aren't mine; the words are, although the OED might dispute this.

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