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We Might as Well be Strangers

by A S Lawrence

[Story Headers]

Lisa is a homemaker.

It isn't the life that she intended. She has a BA in art history; when she left Wyoming, she'd thought she was going places. Europe, first, then New York: a placement in a gallery, maybe, or a museum, something part-time, just enough to fund the MA in a couple of years and, after that, who knew? But there was Casey; and Casey was charming, with his diffident, little-boy smile, and the shaggy blond hair falling into his absurdly serious brown eyes, and she couldn't say no to Casey - who could? But that was okay. Casey was going places too. They could go there together, Lisa thought.

They could have gone anywhere: they were young and smart, ambitious and talented. But where they ended up was Dallas, and Dallas hadn't been kind to Lisa. Jobs in her sector had been few, and the market fiercely competitive. She'd ended up defaulting to secretarial work, hating every moment of it, hating the people still more. And so, when she found herself facing an unplanned - unplanned, not unwelcome, no - pregnancy, it had been easy to listen to Casey when he sat her down for a long, earnest conversation. She was obviously unhappy, he'd said, and he was making good money, what with the new show starting, the promotion to lead anchor; wouldn't it be better for her, better for the baby, if she became a full-time mother, at least for a few years? Especially, Casey said, if you took into account the prohibitive cost of good childcare, and all of Lisa's arguments ("Sure, Casey, why don't I just single-handedly set the women's movement back thirty years?") melted in the face of how adorable Casey was, how much she loved him, how he could use a word like prohibitive in ordinary conversation and not even realise, that he might be a dork but, god, he was her dork, and she was keeping him if it killed her.

So she'd quit the job, and done it with a smile. She'd devoted the last few weeks of her pregnancy to organising the new nursery (powder blue walls and a Peter Rabbit decal, a roundel of carousel horses circling endlessly above the crib, fluffy white blankets and a proper Winnie-the-Pooh, not the Disney kind; she'd planned it all, all so careful, so perfect) and scheduling her days once the baby arrived. There would be lots of time, she reasoned: time enough to keep the house immaculate, the way Casey liked it, to learn how to cook proper meals from scratch, to read all the books she'd ever meant to read, watch on video all the movies she'd ever missed, to take the baby out for long, leisurely walks; maybe even time to start putting together her coursework, start planning her MA once the little one was in nursery.

Then the baby came, Charlie came. And all of Lisa's fantasies came tumbling down around her ears. There was no time. There was screaming, and colic, and dirty diapers and broken nights; there was pacing and rocking and, when that failed, pleading and tears. There was isolation; there was mind-numbing, soul-destroying, gut-wrenching, endless tedium. The house grew filthy, meals were slopped together at random or ordered from the growing collection of take-out menus. There was never a moment to call her own, never a moment's peace and, most of all, there was a husband who was never there, who didn't seem to understand, or care, or make the slightest effort to put himself in her shoes, who honestly seemed to believe that she did nothing all day, that she'd let the house get into this state because - because what, because she liked it that way?

This wasn't what she'd planned, what she'd expected. She'd never realised that I didn't have time, I was busy with the baby could sound so feeble and inadequate. She hadn't bargained for the disappointment, too weary to be called disgust, on Casey's face. She'd seen the same expression often enough - on Casey's mother, when she looked at Lisa, on Casey's father all the time - and yet she'd never thought Casey would look at her that way.

And one more thing, but maybe the worst of all: she'd thought that there would be time at least for sleep, hadn't known that constant exhaustion would be part of the deal. She didn't even realise how tired she'd become until the night of the Lone Star Sports launch - which she'd been looking forward to, even though all her good dresses were three years out of date, but then they couldn't find a babysitter and so she missed it anyway - when Casey came home at three in the morning, just as she'd finally managed to get Charlie off to sleep for the fourth? the fifth? time that evening, and he'd shut the door a little too hard and, as she heard the thin, fretful wail start up in the nursery, she also heard herself, yelling at Casey - yelling, screaming, swearing, calling him every name she could think of and a few she didn't know she knew, blaming him for Charlie, for loneliness and boredom and the relentless, grinding, utter fucking misery that underscored every second of her waking life, and when was she ever not awake? - and she wanted so badly to hit him, she grabbed for something to throw, could only find pillows, threw them anyway, and watched his face freeze into perfect, blank, polite oblivion as he turned his back on her, walked out the door, and didn't come back.

Homemaker. Homewrecker. Failure.

Casey is a heartbreaker. Not that he intends to be; it's just the way he walks through the world, beautiful, oblivious. And it's not that Casey is callous or uncaring. Unthinking, yes, but he doesn't realise it; you can't hate him for it, even as you wish you could. There's just one thing you have to understand about Casey, and once you've factored that in, all the rest of it falls into place, and that thing is this: that everything that matters to him matters, not for what it is, but for what it is to him.

Dan does, in fact, understand this. Dan has come to terms with it. He knows exactly what his assigned part is in Casey's life, and he accepts it. He's there to listen; he's there to be supportive. A shoulder to lean on, Casey's own personal cheering section. Good. Old. Danny.

His own problems? Well, if Casey's in a mood to care, he'll care; if not, not. There's no predicting which it'll be. And if Casey ever does make a move to help him, it won't be because he, Dan, needs it; it'll be to make Casey feel good about himself. That's okay. No-one does anything purely out of disinterested motives - do they? After all, Dan has his own reasons for sticking with Casey; for letting Casey treat him as though Dan exists only for Casey's own convenience.

So when someone knocks at Dan's door at - he checks the bedside clock: fuck, at 3.30 in the morning! - he knows there's only one person it can be. He rolls out of bed anyhow (what else can he do?), drags on a pair of boxers and a teeshirt and stumbles to the door, rubbing his eyes. And says, "Hey, Casey," resignedly, unsurprisedly (he tries not to yawn, but he can hear his own voice, sleep-fogged, barely recognisable), as his friend wanders haphazardly into the room and stands blinking at him as though he's uncertain how he came to be there.

"You okay, man?" Dan asks, when Casey doesn't seem as if he's ever going to say anything at all, and Casey shakes his head and blinks again.

"Fight with Lisa," he eventually mumbles.

Dan doesn't ask what the fight was about. He knows he'll only get half the story, the half that shows Casey in the best light. He's well aware that, in all probability, it's Lisa who deserves sympathy. But he's not inclined to give it to her. Lisa has something that he never will have, and he's in no mind to grant her the benefit of any doubt. Maybe that's unfair. But, god: what isn't? As if life was ever fair. As if the compromises he's had to make ...

... he doesn't think about those.

"You walked out?" Like that wasn't self-evident.

Casey shrugs, looks embarrassed, nods. "Yeah. You mind if I sleep on your couch tonight?"

Dan moved into this place two weeks ago; he hasn't had time yet to think about furnishing it. He went out and bought the first bed that looked big enough and comfortable enough; his stereo's unpacked, and his records and books are in open crates, where he can get at them at need. His couch he inherited from the apartment's previous owners: a two-seater, ancient and lumpy, which not even a Munchkin could sleep on in any comfort. Casey certainly can't. He sighs, because he can never say no to Casey, never say no.

"The couch'll kill you, Casey. It's a big bed. You want half?" And he watches for the fallout.

There it is: a small, concerned furrow between Casey's eyes; he knows Dan's history. "I don't - " he begins, trying (Dan can tell) to be polite, discreet, tactful, but this is Casey, and those things are not Casey's forte; and, tired as he is, even having known how Casey would react, Dan can't help himself. He snaps.

"Casey, it's okay! What, you think you're so hot, I won't be able to keep my hands off you?" He turns away, a little sick, a little disappointed, heads back to his bedroom. Over his shoulder, he flings, "Sleep on the couch, do whatever you want to do. Suit yourself." Shuts the door - quietly, quietly; he doesn't let it slam. Leans back against it for a second; breathes in, hard. Again. And once more.

There. Better now. All better.

He ditches the teeshirt, but hangs on to the boxers; gets into bed, rolls onto his stomach, pillows his head on his hands. Waits. It's a good twenty minutes later when he feels the bed dip. He lies still, feigning sleep, waiting to hear Casey's breathing soften; thinking, perhaps once it's safe, he can let himself sit awhile, just watching. Not touching, never touching, but ... he can look, he can want, he can dream.

But he falls asleep, still waiting.

Still wanting.


Danny is ...

So many things. A harbour, a haven, a hideaway from harsh reality. Casey would be lost without him. Danny understands him, as nobody else ever has; he can talk to Danny about anything, and Dan will listen, not condemning, not judging; he'll sympathise, when need be, and other times he'll give Casey the kick in the ass that, though he didn't know it, is exactly what he needed. It's been five years since they met, and in all that time Dan has never not been there for him.

Casey pretends he thinks of Danny as a protg - wasn't it magnanimous of him, he implies (never actually saying) to get the kid his start at Lone Star? Don't they work well together, don't they shine? - but he knows that's not true. Casey's had a six-year start, but Dan was well on his way to overtaking him: fresh out of college, twenty four years old, he was already doing on-screen slots back at his job in LA, sometimes even sub-anchoring. Left to himself, who knows how far he might have gone?

But the only place he's gone is to Dallas. Casey asked him to come here, asked him to ditch the LA job and come talk to the Lone Star people, and that's what Danny did. Casey acted as though he were doing him a favour, but both of them know it was the other way round. And both of them know they'll never acknowledge it.

Dan's a friend; a good friend. The sort of friend who, when you knock on his door in the dead hours of the morning, will get up and let you in without question. Who'll make you coffee in the morning, and feed you eggs and toast, and listen to you if you want to talk, and if you don't want to talk ... well, that's okay, too.

The sort of friend who'll let himself be remade into the kind of man that he isn't, if you can't deal with what he is.

Casey sits for a long time in the darkness of Dan's room, listening to Dan's steady breathing; he watches as faint light begins to glimmer through the curtains and outline Dan's back and shoulder (sheen of skin, flex of muscle), the nape of his neck, the dark tousle of his hair against the pillow. He longs to reach out and touch - only for comfort, nothing more; but Dan - Dan would want more, and Casey can't give him that. Can never give him that. Never will. Never.

This isn't the sort of friendship you risk. Maybe there's an emptiness gnawing at your gut, a hollow feeling inside of you. What if there is? Ignore it hard enough, pretend it isn't there and, sure enough, eventually it won't be. And everything will be fine; everything will be normal.

Casey likes normal. Casey likes quiet and calm and peace. There used to be a lot of shouting, back home; he promised himself as a kid that when he grew up, things would be different. He likes his life to be orderly and predictable and comfortable and safe, safe most of all.

He'll work on it. He'll go back to Lisa, and they'll try again. Try harder, this time.

So Casey sits and watches, only watches. And when Dan wakes up, later that day, he's alone in his bed, as he knew all along he would be.

Casey will always be gone in the morning.

And morning will always come far, far too soon.

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Fandom:  Sports Night
Title:  We Might as Well be Strangers
Author:  A S Lawrence   [email]
Details:  Standalone  |  PG-13  |  het *slash*  |  12k  |  01/25/06
Characters:  Casey, Dan, Lisa
Pairings:  Casey/Lisa, Casey/Dan
Summary:  One unhappy marriage; one sympathetic friend; one choice that can't be made.
Notes:  Pre-series; some liberties taken with Charlie McCall's age.
Disclaimer/Other:  I didn't invent these boys, but the people who did don't seem to want them overmuch, so may I keep them?

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