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by A S Lawrence

[Story Headers]

There are times, now, when Casey feels as though he's become an outsider.

It's nothing he can put his finger on, nothing he can complain about - and in any case, who would he complain to, now that Dana barely speaks to him any more, when Isaac only looks at him sadly? Natalie never drops by the office nowadays, while Jeremy and the tech crew seem suddenly to have recalled that Casey is the star of the show and behave toward him accordingly - polite, respectful (and when were they ever that?), but distant. Kim still treats him exactly the same, but then, Kim treats everyone pretty much the same, which is to say, with thinly-veiled contempt, so that's no consolation.

There are little things, odd things. He'll be watching the rerun of that night's show and suddenly realise that he's been lit badly, or shot from his most unflattering angle. Or that Monica, or the new girl, whatever her name is, has had a sudden bizarre lapse of taste when it comes to picking out his tie for the night. And they could be mistakes; they could be accidents. Or it could be deliberate. He can't be sure, and he doesn't quite dare ask.

He's afraid of what the answer will be. He's afraid that one day someone will come right out and say to his face what he knows they're all thinking: tell him that he's the one to blame.

They're wrong. It wasn't his fault.

It wasn't his fault!

He hadn't thought anything of it when his agent called him up, asked if he'd like to go back on the morning show. He'd done it before, a couple of times, and it'd always gone well. Today had been no exception: he'd been funny and charming, witty and smart. He'd flirted outrageously with Tracy, she'd eaten it up, and the audience had loved him.

He watches it when he comes back to the office, pops the tape in the machine and runs it through a couple of times - well; maybe four or five. Why not? He'd done a good job. Why shouldn't he bask a little?

He's left the door open, so he doesn't hear Dan come in. But he knows he's there; doesn't need to turn his head. He can smell Dan's soap and his aftershave, the unique scent, so familiar to Casey after all these years, of his skin, his hair. Hear his breathing.

That's all he can hear. Dan is silent. Too silent. And, when Casey finally turns, Dan's face is cold and still, his mouth drawn tight. Casey hears his own voice from the TV, thin and tinny, saying, "No, there's nobody special in my life, I haven't been that lucky." And, heart sinking, he understands the look on Danny's face.

"No-one special," Dan echoes; his voice is flat, remote; speaking seems to be an effort, and he's looking at Casey as though at a stranger. Or an enemy.

What can Casey say? He could apologise, sure. But why should he? What was he supposed to do? Out himself - out them both - on national TV?

He waits for Danny to say something else, to turn it into a joke: forget about me, did you? - something like that, something to show he's forgiven. Dan knows, or he ought to, that it's not that Casey's ashamed of what they have together, embarrassed to speak of it, or guilty, or that he's written Dan off as not good enough, thinks of him as his dirty little secret. It's just that ... if ever they were to come out, they'd plan it. Together. They'd announce it together. Isaac would give them his blessing, Calvin his backing, and it'd all work out. It's not a thing you just drop into conversation over bagels and bad coffee: Oh, and by the way, I've been fucking my co-anchor since he was a kid in college, can you pass the sugar?

"It wasn't the right time," he eventually says, knowing how lame it sounds.

Dan's eyes fix on his, and the look in them is as distant as his voice. "Yeah. It never is, is it, Casey? You think it ever will be the right time?"

"I don't - "

"What are you waiting for, Casey? A written invitation? International come-out-of-the-closet day?"

"I - "

"Because you're going to be waiting a long time, if that's the case." Casey can hear the anger now, carefully controlled; anger and something else, something deeper, something worse. "They ask you a question, you give them an answer. An honest one. That's all I'm asking, Casey. Just for once in your life, be honest. Would that be so bad?"

Casey can't believe he'd even ask that. "Yes!" he says. "Yes, Danny, I do think it'd be that bad. I think if I went right ahead and outed us without talking to the network first, then that'd be our jobs, right there. Our jobs, and our careers - god, the way this country's going, it could be our lives, Danny. Yes, I think it would be every bit as bad, and probably a whole lot worse."

Dan's shaking his head, side to side, side to side. "I think you're wrong," he says. "I don't think that's how it'd play out. I think Calvin would see a whole new market out there. You think gay men don't watch sport - you think they don't play it, you think we're the only ones on TV? And just who do you think we'd offend? Anyone we care about, Casey, anyone we could honestly give a damn?"

"Lisa - " Casey ventures. "And Charlie..."

"You think they don't know?" And it's only then that Casey looks properly at what's in Dan's eyes, sees how his hands are shaking, and realises that underneath that shell of calm, there's a volcano ready to blow.

"I just don't think it's worth the risk."

"'It' meaning what, exactly?" Danny demands. "Meaning 'us', Casey? Meaning 'me'?" He waits for an answer; waits. Eventually he says, quietly, "I'd do it for you. I would've done it right from the start. But you never would, Casey. I loved you, man and you- " He stops talking suddenly, stands biting his lower lip, gazing at Casey as if he's never seen him before, or to fix him in memory.

This is how it's always been with them: they've lied to each other and themselves, damaged and failed and disappointed, torn at one another with words and, when words lost the power to hurt, with silence. The battles have been raging ever since they met, a succession of minor skirmishes with, from time to time along the way, a Stalingrad, a Pearl Harbour, a Gallipoli. Lisa had been Vietnam, pointless and bloody, an ugly, interminable conflict from which no-one had managed to emerge with any dignity. But this - this cowardice, this betrayal: it seemed so little a thing to Casey, nothing more than a simple lie of omission. But to Dan, it's Hiroshima. After this there will be nothing left of them but silhouettes on the wall.

"If you haven't got the guts to tell the truth," Dan says tightly, "then I will." He puts out his hand to pick up the phone. Casey catches his wrist.

"You can't out yourself without outing me," he says, trying for calm. "Go ahead and put your neck on the line, if that's really what you want to do, but I won't let you take me down with you, Danny. You do it, you do it alone."

Dan's mouth is twisted in bitterness. "Why do you think that?" he asks, and he shakes Casey's hand away. "Do you honestly suppose, Casey - do you honestly think you're the only one?"

And there it is. There's the second bomb.

It's all over after that, bar the shouting. Not that there is any shouting. Dan is polite and distant, treating Casey like a stranger, like a chance acquaintance. Calvin won't release him from his contract, insists he has to work his full three months, but after less than a week of shows so dead they seem to suck the life out of the very air around them, he changes his mind. Dan's gone the next week. Not just gone: gone, vanished without trace. Casey had thought for sure he'd take up another offer (and they'd come pouring in, just as soon as the news broke), or maybe hole himself up in his apartment and write the book he'd been talking about for so long. But no. One day he was there, the next - nothing. He'd gone, and all that remained of him were echoes and empty memories.

And now Casey's left behind. Wondering if they all hate him; sure that they do but not daring to ask, to have his fears confirmed. He walks into rooms, and conversations stop; he catches whispers: never cared enough, could have tried, didn't deserve... People glance at him, and then look away quickly, the way that they might look at a burn victim or a cripple. Which is appropriate; he has, he knows, lost the best part of himself.

It's not my fault! he wants to tell them, but he's never quite known how to spin that lie. And now that it's, finally, the truth, there's no-one willing to believe him.

But that was long ago, and times move on. So do people. Natalie finally gave up on waiting to fill Dana's shoes, took the first job offer that didn't insult her capabilities, and moved to San Diego. Six months later, Jeremy swallowed his pride and followed her there. Kim took over Natalie's job; Elliott, to no-one's great astonishment, promptly left the show and, more surprisingly, the business, went home to Chicago to help run his family's haulage firm. Others come and go (and Casey never does learn all of their names), and now there's almost no-one left who remembers there ever was a Dan Rydell.

Only Casey is still exactly where he had been then. But that's okay. It's where he wants to be. When you've reached the peak of your career, then what's left? Where else can you go?

(Ah, Danny. Where did you go?)

Casey's had plenty of time to work on his cover story. Of course he's happy. Why wouldn't he be? He's still young and handsome, he's successful and rich and popular. He has everything a man could possibly want.

Only it gets lonely, up here at the top. And at night, watching the shadows crawl across the walls, waiting for a call that never comes, he wishes...

What, exactly, he doesn't know. Only for something more. Or perhaps for something other.

Perhaps for something he's lost.

Perhaps only for the grace to forget.

May 2006

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Fandom:  Sports Night
Title:  Hibakusha
Author:  A S Lawrence   [email]
Details:  Standalone  |  PG-13  |  *slash*  |  9k  |  06/10/06
Characters:  Casey, Dan
Pairings:  Casey/Dan
Summary:  "After this, there will be nothing left of them but silhouettes on the wall."
Notes:  Written for musesfool's MP3 Challenge on LiveJournal; prompt: The Postal Service, 'We Will Become Silhouettes'.
Disclaimer/Other:  If I owned Dan and Casey, I would spend far less time writing fanfic and otherwise faffing about on the computer.

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