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Go Thy Way, Daniel

by Marguerite

     Subject: SportsNight: Go Thy Way, Daniel
     Date: Sunday, February 16, 2003 4:16 PM

     Title: Go Thy Way, Daniel
     Author: Marguerite <>
     Rating: PG-13 for language and adult situations
     Classification: D/C friendship, some C/Dana but not really,
     Summary: Dan's delicate spiral, through the eyes of his
     closest friend.
     Spoilers: All 45 beautiful episodes. Our story begins some
     six weeks after "Quo Vadimus."
     Thanks to Ryo, Anna, and Ria for the kind of beta you only
     get from people who love you enough to tell the truth. I
     love you, too.

Go Thy Way, Daniel

     Go thy way, Daniel; for the words are shut up and sealed
     till the time of the end.

"Take your time, organize your thoughts. I know this is difficult."

Casey couldn't decide if Abby's eyes were blue or green. He knew Dan liked her, which was good enough for him, and that Dan trusted her, which would be good enough for any ten people. In spite of that, he still had a gut-level uneasiness about having called her, something that made him want to watch his step, to ask questions.

"I'm just saying, couldn't this be seen as some sort of violation of doctor-patient privilege?" Casey tapped his fingertips on the polished wood of Abby's desk, watching her slowly swivel back and forth as she considered her reply.

"Not under these circumstances. You came to me because you wanted to tell me some things that might help me evaluate Dan's condition. I'm just getting additional insight from someone who cares about him enough to take the risk."

"You're good," Casey said, pointing at Abby until he realized his finger was trembling. He smacked one fist into the palm of the other hand for emphasis. "You can tell."

Abby stilled her chair and leaned forward. "I don't have to be a genius to figure it out. You called me, remember? You said you were worried and you wanted to help. That's quite a risk to take, and it's a sign of a very deep friendship."

He hoped it was. The sick feeling that was moving from his stomach to his throat felt more like the aftermath of a double-cross.

"You're not betraying him," Abby continued, confirming Casey's suspicion that she could read minds. "Not helping, not calling me - now, that would be a betrayal."

"I suppose." Casey decided Abby's eyes were blue. Decided he really liked her, after all. She kept that blue gaze focused on him. He was going to have to come up with something, to put in words what had only been intuition born of a long-standing camaraderie. "He was coming out of it right around the time Continental Corp was sold," Casey began, slowly. "Then, after a few weeks, it seemed like he got a lot worse. Very fast, as if now that he didn't have to worry about the whole job situation, he actually had the time to be depressed. Does that make any sense?"

He was relieved when Abby smiled at him. "It makes perfect sense. I think you're reading exactly what's been going on in his head. Can you remember how it started? What brought it to your attention first?"

"I'm not sure where to start." He paused to steady his voice. "I mean, I'm not sure what the actual beginning was."

"It's not a basketball game, Casey. There's not a coin toss."

"That's football. Basketball, it's a tip-off."

"That's why they pay you to report sports and they pay me to listen to people. Just find something you think is relevant and tell me about it."

This was it, then. Finding a place in a story and jumping off from there. It was what he did every day when he came in to write the show.

"There was something about a week ago," he said, closing his eyes. He needed to visualize the memory so that he could narrate it, like videotaped highlights. "Dan did this thing when Jeremy came with me into the office."

     As for me, Daniel, my spirit was pained in the midst of my
     body, and the visions of my head affrighted me.

Calvin Trager and Quo Vadimus had been the owners of Continental Corporation - and, by extension, Continental Sports Channel and "Sports Night" itself - for six weeks. These were the dream times, Dana often told her team, the times when their only limits were their imaginations and the stupid crap that professional athletes kept pulling.

No more J.J., no more Luther Sachs. No more notes from suits, asking Casey and Dan to dumb-down the writing. Paradise.

After the first couple of weeks, "Sports Night" had become nothing short of miraculous. Article after article called the show witty and incisive, thought-provoking and informational. Critics praised the brilliance of Dan and Casey's writing, using the differences between Luther Sachs and Calvin Trager as an example of how to help talented people produce their very best work.

"Do you even know how to spell laissez-faire, Jeremy?"

"Ouch. You really know how to wound a guy." Jeremy kept walking beside Casey, putting his hand over his heart as he grinned. "I'm just saying that Quo Vadimus has adopted a laissez-faire management style, and that it seems to suit you well."

"I'm enjoying it."

"Dana's enjoying it, too."

In fact, Dana's productions were becoming baroque, now that she had the budget to experiment and expand. Other benefits were also coming their way. Jeremy and Natalie had once again found one another, not only increasing their productivity and making them a lot easier to be around, but also reducing the stress level on the rest of the team. Even further behind the scenes, Casey and Dana were warming to one another again after the vicissitudes of the Dating Plan.

Casey and Jeremy rounded the corner and headed for the writing team's office. "And when Dana enjoys something, we all tend to enjoy it." Casey opened the door and peered inside. "Well, except Dan."

Dan sat hunched over on the couch, his face in his hands. Wadded-up pieces of paper surrounded him like a flock of pigeons. Dan's hair was standing on end as if he had spent hours running his hands through it, and a day's worth of stubble shadowed his sharp features.

"Calvin Trager's laissez-faire isn't working for you too well, Dan?" Jeremy inquired with a raised eyebrow.

"It's not laissez-faire if you're in here every ten minutes checking on the work I've done, especially since I haven't done any, of which I'm sure you'll remind me sometime in the very near future."

The words rocketed across the room. Caustic, dripping with venom. Far angrier than the innocuous question warranted, they were enough to make Jeremy backpedal, hands raised in the air. "Dan, honestly, I didn't--"

Casey glanced at Jeremy, hoping his face registered sympathy, and nodded in the direction of the door. "Can we have the room?"

"Hey, it's your office." Jeremy departed, ghostlike, letting the door close behind him.

"It's actually my office," Dan shouted at the glass partition. "Casey's office is in an undisclosed location. If someone would care to disclose it, then maybe I could have some peace and quiet around here!"

The sourness in Casey's stomach started to spread. He placed his sweaty palm against his abdomen, willing the acidity to dissipate. "I just want to write my part of the show, Danny. I can do it here, or I can do it in the middle of Sixth Avenue if you prefer, but it's easier to do it here and better if I can do it with you."

Dan rubbed his eyes with his knuckles, and when he looked up there was, just for a second, a spark of the old Danny. He didn't speak. His hands shook a little as he unclasped them. He picked up the legal pad and a pencil and started tapping the point against the paper.

It was neither first time nor the first day that Dan had been moody and unreasonable, and Casey's annoyance was simmering, refining itself into anxiety. Taking his seat at the desk with a deep sigh, Casey typed a few sentences at the keyboard while stealing glances at his partner. Dan, for his part, was drawing concentric circles on the paper and filling in alternate layers with the side of the pencil lead.

Somewhere, in the midst of the rebirth of CSC, Dan had disappeared. Not the physical presence of the man, but his soul, the joie de vivre that made working with him for thirteen-hour days a delight.

All that was left of Dan was...this shell.

"Danny?" Casey said softly. An opening.

"Let it go." Terse. Morose. "It's fine. I'll have my segments before the 6:00 rundown. I just need..."

Tell me what you need. Please. Please, Danny, anything but this silence and this anger. But Casey couldn't say it aloud. Instead, he sat with his hands folded on the desk, watching as Dan worked through whatever was going on in his head.

"I need some air," Dan said at last. His mouth formed a pale ghost of his usual smile. "Stretch my legs."

"Okay." Casey spoke slowly. "Listen, we can go grab lunch if you want--"

"I'm not really hungry," Dan cut in. He rocked forward on the couch. "But...thanks." He got up, lurching a little, and steadied himself on the table.

"Danny." Casey looked over at him, his heart beating far too quickly, far too loudly, threatening to drown out what was left of his intelligence. "Is there...can I...?"

Dan paused with his hand on the door. His head was bowed, his face shadowed. "It's not you, Case," he murmured. "It's me. It's"

An arrow through the heart, burning, tearing, destroying.

"Okay - see you later," he said to Dan's back, to his slumped shoulders.

Casey tried to shake it off. He started to type something about how no one should be surprised when a 325-pound football player, pumped up by coaches telling him to "kill" since he was a teenager, was arrested for beating up his girlfriend. It was normally the sort of story that brought out his most impassioned writing, but not today. Not when Dan was struggling like this. Casey's fingers were leaden and his brain foggy. Gray, everywhere. He pushed away from the desk and went in search of Dan.

It didn't take long to find him stretched out on the sofa in Editing, one arm flung over his eyes. Elliott was there, too, arguing with Natalie about a couple of extra seconds of basketball footage, but they clammed up when Casey came in.

"We can do this later," Natalie said, almost shoving Elliott out the door. "See you guys at the rundown."

"Yeah," Casey said, watching them retreat. He perched on the arm of the sofa and looked down at Dan's pale, impassive face. "What the hell did I do to you?" he asked. Brilliant, he scolded himself. Take your frustration out on Danny when he's hurting. You're such a big man, McCall.

Dan squirmed and turned away, burying his face in the sofa cushions. "Nothing, Casey."

"Well, then, what the hell did Jeremy do to you? 'Cause you rained pretty hard on him."

That made Dan sit up and actually look at Casey. No wonder he'd been hiding his face. Those dark circles under his eyes were really going to challenge Allyson's skills. "What're you talking about?" Dan asked in a low rumble.

"You unloaded on Jeremy. He made a joke about Trager, and you got a little unhinged, there."

"What did I say?"

He looked so confounded that Casey had to take a steadying breath before he gave a recap. "You insinuated that he was checking up on you. That he thinks you're not doing your job."

The confounded look was replaced by one of painful remorse. "I did that?"

"You don't remember?" Casey asked. Fear was winning out over his anger, making his hands sweat and his mouth go dry.

Dan groaned.

"Danny, you don't remember? It was, like, ten minutes ago, and you don't remember?"

"I honestly don't."

They looked at each other, shuddering as if in a sudden chill, trying to read each other's eyes.

"I have to apologize to him," Dan said as he tottered to his feet.

"That's not all you have to do," Casey added.

"I'm sorry, Casey."

"I didn't mean you had to apologize to me." There it was again, the fear masquerading as anger, seeping into his tone. Casey counted to three while Dan stared at him with those dark, anxious eyes. "That's not what I meant, not at all."

"Then what--?"

"Danny!" Casey spun around and passed Dan, blocking the door with his body. "Talk to me, man."

"I don't know what you want me to say. My memory's a little fuzzy, sure, but--"

"Cut the crap!" Panic. Grabbing Dan's arms, Casey held tightly, willing him to feel the desperate pounding of his blood.

"Ow," Dan protested. "What's the matter with you?"

"What's the matter with me? With me?" Casey barked out a humorless, jittery laugh. He loosened his grip, freeing one hand to touch Dan's shoulder gently. "It's me. I'm right here."

"I know that," Dan said, shifting, letting a little of his weight rest against Casey's palm. "You always are."

"Then could you, for the love of God, let me help you?"

It came out louder, more desperate, more terrified than he had wanted. It made him wince. It made Dan's face crumble.

"Casey," he whispered. He lowered his head, touching it to Casey's shoulder for a moment. "If I had the faintest damn clue what was going on in my head, then you'd be the one person I could tell."

Casey patted Dan's back. "Okay."

"I'm going to..." Dan pulled away, ducking under Casey's arm to make his way to the door. Casey followed a few steps behind. and tried to be comforted when Dan clasped Jeremy's shoulder and spoke softly to him, making him smile.

Tried to be comforted.

It wasn't working too well.

     I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him
     the interpretation.

"He's gotten better since then."

It had been two weeks since his first visit to Abby's office, and Casey was back to give her an update "from the foxhole," as it were.

"There were lot of people helping him. He had you, right?"

Casey sighed and shifted in the chair. "I...tried." Still replaying Abby's words in his head, he brightened. "So you see some improvement?"

Abby shook her head. "You know I can't tell you that, right?"

"Right." Damn. "Well, he seems more willing to talk, and that's a start. And his writing is on fire, and by that I mean with flames like an Olympic torch."

"I've been watching the show. It's very, very good, Casey."

"But there's this thing. It's not the writing, or the talking. He's..." It hurt too much to say the words. "He's lost some weight."

"I've been watching the show," Abby said again, only softer. "And Dan comes in to see me twice a week. I've noticed. It was only a matter of time before you did, too."

His newest emotion, shame, caught him around the throat. Thickened his tongue. "I didn't really want to see it," he mumbled. "That sounds incredibly pathetic."

"Not at all. I understand, Casey." So much compassion in those blue eyes, in that measured, soft-spoken tone. "None of us wants to see it. When did it first hit you?"

As he had done the first time, Casey closed his eyes. Today he let his fingers wander over imaginary keys, as if he were writing the story instead of narrating it aloud. "We have a wardrobe assistant. Her name's Monica Brazelton." Monica Brazelton, who was not to be trifled with, had made him look.

     And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and
     supplication, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes.

"We're at the limit on Mr. Rydell's pants."

Casey looked up, startled by the voice and bewildered at the non sequitur. "Hey, Monica. What is it, exactly, that you're trying to tell me?"

Monica's mouth quivered and turned down at the corners. "There's a limit on how much we can take clothes in before they lose their structural integrity, Mr. McCall. And we're at the limit on Mr. Rydell's pants." She held up two leather belts. "I put new holes in with an awl, but he's going to need clothes from a boy's department if this keeps up."

Leaning forward with his elbows on the desk, Casey steadied himself. "He's lost that much weight?"

"You haven't noticed? You're kidding me."

"I'm really not." Casey opened his hands and spread them apart. "He's not a jockey. I don't do a weigh-in before the 10:00 rundown." Too harsh. She's trying to help. Change the tone. "Tell me what you've noticed, Monica."

She tucked her hair behind her ears, and Casey could see a pale streak through her makeup. A tear track. "He's skin and bones," she declared. Casey admired her for looking him in the eye even though her voice was tremulous. "You can count his ribs. If he were a dog, the SPCA would file charges against his owner."

"Hey, it's okay..." Casey got up, banging his knee on the desk and hissing softly at the sharp stab of pain. He put his arm around Monica's shoulders just as she began to lose control, making hiccuping noises as she sobbed into his shirt. "When it's cold like this, he wears sweaters a lot. And he doesn't change clothes in here anymore," he said, half to himself and half to Monica. "He comes in, already dressed."

"That's because Maureen and I can't keep up with the changes far enough in advance to get him clothes. Every night we're still taking in his clothes twenty minutes before air -moving buttons on his jackets, putting more padding in the shoulders so the sleeves hang right."

"And the thing with the pants," Casey sighed.

Monica nodded, sniffling. "I shouldn't put this on you, Mr. McCall. I'm sorry."

"Don't be." He tightened his embrace. Why hadn't he seen this? What had he missed, how had he not known, how had he not realized that Dan wasn't just avoiding eating dinner with him - Dan was avoiding eating at all. "I'll talk to him."

"Don't tell him I..."

"I'll find another way."

Pulling back from Casey's arms, Monica gave him a watery smile that didn't register in her blue eyes. "Maureen would kill me."

"I suspect that you may be the power behind Maureen's throne." Monica had certainly made some home truths known, back when Casey was going through what Dana called his "emperor phase." It was Casey's turn to force a smile. He hoped Monica wouldn't call him on the despair behind the expression. "I appreciate your going out on a limb like this," he said.

Monica shrugged. " him," she whispered. "He's a good man."

"He is, indeed. And a lucky one, having you to look out for him." Casey patted Monica on the shoulder. "Don't worry. It'll pass."

If only he could believe his own words. But Casey watched out of the corner of his eye when Dan came into the office and changed into the clothes Monica had "accidentally" left behind. Dan's skin was waxy and sallow, almost too fragile a cover for the sharpness of his ribs, the points of his collarbones and shoulder blades, the steep rise of his hip.

The walking dead.


Casey tipped his head back, blinking away the heat and moisture.

Oblivious, Dan buttoned up his shirt, talking offhandedly about a women's amateur hockey team from Montreal scoring a record number of goals. He stuffed the shirttail into his pants, which were still big enough to allow a lot of room for that sort of thing, and zipped himself up. He turned around faster than Casey expected, before there was time for Casey put on a fake smile instead of whatever expression was on his face, the one that made Dan stop in mid-sentence.

"Casey?" Dan cocked his head. "You okay, there?"

His laughter felt like dry heaves. "Am I okay?"

"That would be what I asked you, yes." Dan stared at him with dark and sunken eyes.

"Shouldn't I be asking you that?"

The words hung in the air, frozen. Neither man moved for several agonizing seconds.


"When was the last time you ate? Or slept, for that matter?"

"I'm busy," Dan shrugged, lowering his head the way Charlie did when he had a secret. "I lead a busy life. Sometimes I forget to eat."

"What about sleeping?"

"I sleep just fine, Mom!" Dan slammed his fist down on the table. "I enjoy sleeping. I wish I could do more of it."

"Isn't there anything you still enjoy, Danny?"

"I really, really enjoy sleeping."

"Do you enjoy Sports Night?" Casey could hardly hear himself talking above the rush of blood in his ears, and while he couldn't really hear Dan's response he saw the mou, the slump of his shoulders.

Oh, God, Dan didn't enjoy the show. Dan, who'd once said that anyone who didn't enjoy Sports Night was probably dead.

     O my lord, by reason of the vision my pains are come upon
     me, and I retain no strength.


"I'm sorry?"

"It's called anhedonia," Abby clarified. "It's when a person loses interest in everything that had formerly been meaningful."

Casey snapped back to attention. He rolled the word around in his mouth, the way he did when trying to commit new information to memory. "Anhedonia. Sounds like a country in a Marx Brothers movie."

"Only not so funny."

"Not funny at all, no."

"Does Dan think that anything is funny these days?"

He had to think about it for a moment. "He laughs. Sometimes it even, you know..." Casey pointed to his own eyes. "We've gone to some movies, and he's coming out with us to Anthony's after the show most nights."

"So you think he's starting to feel better?"

"I'm seeing some improvement. He's making plans to go to Paris next June for the Tour de France, even if Trager doesn't pony up. He kids around with Natalie and Kim. I think he's gone on a few dates, even. So, yeah, I think he's feeling better." He smiled, feeling the release of the tension in his face. "He's doing very well. Maybe on his way out of the woods."

Abby's expression wasn't what Casey expected to see. Her mouth was tightly set and the worry-lines around her eyes were deepening.

"You're not going to like what I have to say to you, Casey."

"The hell--?"

"You need to understand something, and it's a hard thing to explain. It's when they start to feel better that you have to be most careful with certain depression patients."

"Most careful, meaning...?"

"That's when, if they're so inclined, they finally have enough energy to kill themselves. Before, it was too much trouble."

Oh, God.

"You think Danny's going to..." He couldn't make himself finish the sentence. Resting his arms on the desk, he let his head droop, feeling his breath coming out in rapid puffs.

"Casey." Abby patted his back. "I just think you need to watch out for him. Make sure he's got something to occupy himself, something he enjoys. Keep reminding him that tomorrow's going to be better."

Yes. Absolutely. Tomorrow would be good. Casey bit his lower lip for a moment and nodded. "We get the advance copy of our GQ interview tomorrow. Danny was...really on that day. He was smart and hilarious. This will perk him up. It's going to be a good one."

It did not turn out to be a good one. They sat in their office, each with his own copy. Dan began to read aloud. His voice caught on some of the words.

"'Rydell went on the air one night and told the world that he'd been a poor role model for his younger brother, Sam, who idolized him, and that Rydell's lapse of character had been the indirect cause of Sam's death. Looking at Rydell now, a lanky man with an endearing gawkiness about him, it's easy to think that he's playing the role of the younger brother he lost.'"

Casey shook his head and took over. "'Sometimes, that part of their relationship bleeds into their on-screen personas. Rydell's introduction of his partner borders on hero-worship, while McCall introduces Rydell with the gentle, almost patronizing tone of the older sibling. Rydell asks questions wide-eyed, leaning forward to hear the answers, whereas when McCall questions his counterpart, he reclines in his chair as if he already knows what the response will be, as if he's taught Rydell the words.' Wow." Casey folded the magazine and looked up at Dan over the glossy cover. "That's weird. I'm patronizing? Seriously?"

Dan shrugged. "Don't ask me. I'm so blinded by hero-worship that I wouldn't know if you were." His head was buried in the magazine, his eyes hidden from Casey's concerned gaze. "Did you get to the part where he talks about your cheeks?"

"I'm sorry?"

"Right here. 'In stark contrast to Rydell's brooding, quirky good looks--'"

"You're making that up!"

"Just below the photo on the second page. 'In stark contrast to Rydell's brooding, quirky good looks, McCall is the sandy-haired, apple-cheeked boy next door.' You're apple-cheeked, my friend."

"You're a pain in the ass, Danny."

"Do you think they meant, you know, those cheeks?"

Casey gave him a sour look. Dan started to laugh, chuckling at first, then breaking out into a full baritone roar. It was infectious, just like everything about him, and Casey laughed along until there were tears coming out of his eyes. Suddenly Dan was on his feet, rushing up to Casey and throwing his arms around him.

"I'm not ashamed to be your 'brother,'" he whispered. "I'm ashamed of myself. For being an ass. It's not the first time, either."

"And it won't be the last." Casey patted his back, then pulled away, holding Dan's shoulders. "Know what? I'm okay with that."

"Thank God." Dan pulled away, his face reddening a little. "Pizza?"

It was so...normal.

Dan paused with his finger above the numbers on the phone, looking at Casey with one eyebrow raised. "Case? You with me, bro?"

So normal, demanding that the anchovies be only on Dan's side and not touching any of his own slices, and Dan's eye roll as he placed the order, and the best-two-out-of-three card cut to determine who would pay. So normal, the shared cab ride, watching as Dan got out first and bounded up the stairs to his apartment, two at a time.

So normal.

Oh, thank God. Thank God.

     Then the king, when he heard these words, was sore
     displeased, and set his heart on Daniel to deliver him; and
     he labored till the going down of the sun to rescue him.

"I've been watching him, like you said. I think you're wrong."

"I'm not," Abby said, pushing her bangs out of her eyes. She needed a haircut, Casey determined, but she was still a pretty woman.

"I don't see any signals," he insisted. "He's joking around, he's gained back whatever weight he lost, he's writing -well, I've never seen him do better. I don't see anything like suicidal behavior."

"You have, but you haven't processed it yet. How many of your metaphors about Dan are about death? 'The walking dead,' 'dead on his feet.' Your subconscious is trying to tell you something, Casey. You have to pay attention."

"No." He punched the arm of the chair with his fist. "Those are just figures of speech. I know Danny better than anyone else in the world, and he's not showing me any signs of...of what you're talking about."

"Of course he hasn't. People who send out signals want to be stopped. They leave a trail leading to their bed and the bottle of pills they didn't take all of. People like Dan, people in that much pain - they just want to die. That's what makes them dangerous to themselves, because the methods they choose aren't the ones where someone has time to intervene."

He had a sudden vision of Dan in a pool of his own blood. Gray, lifeless. Cold.

"It's done before you can have time to react," Abby continued. "People like Dan pull out a gun at home, alone, a gun no one knew had been bought. People like Dan throw themselves under subway trains late at night when the platforms are empty. They're determined and they use foolproof, permanent methods. That's where Dan is right now. He can't be alone, and you can't stay with him 24 hours a day."

"I can damn well try!"

"He needs to be hospitalized."

"He needs me."

"He has you. He needs to be hospitalized."

Casey unclenched his fists and brought his palms to his forehead, leaning on the desk. His vision was swimming.

"You want me to have Dan committed," he gasped. Could he actually be saying those words? They sounded distant. Muffled. Illusory.

"Unless you have medical power of attorney, you actually can't." Abby's voice was measured, but beneath the professional veneer there was an undercurrent of sorrow. Casey recognized the sound - he hadn't spent a lifetime in broadcast journalism without hearing below the surface of the spoken word. "But I think he'll go along with it if you tell him it's a good idea."

"A...a good idea?" he had trouble articulating the concept. "You think telling my best friend that he needs to put himself in the loony bin is a good idea?"

"It's not like that, Casey. It's a quiet place where he'll get round-the-clock care and intensive therapy."

"It's where you send crazy people!" He wiped sweat off his forehead. Why was it so hot in here? Why was the room tilting wildly to the right?

Abby got up and poured Casey a glass of water. She placed it on the desk, then sat down again with her hands folded in her lap. "If Dan had a car accident and broke his leg, wouldn't you take him to the emergency room? If he were a diabetic, wouldn't you want him to get insulin?"

Casey knew where she was going with this. He took a sip of water - he'd forgotten how metallic and malodorous tap water was after all the years of bottled water on the set - and shook his head. "It's not the same thing."

"It's exactly the same thing. Dan's sick. It's not a value judgment, it's not character assassination."

"It is character assassination when you have a public persona," Casey argued, and Abby nodded in agreement.

"You're right about that part - but the most important thing isn't Dan's image, it's Dan. He has an illness that needs to be treated."

"He's getting treatment," Casey protested, gesturing around the office.

"I've done everything I can do. Dan's not getting better, Casey, and he's not going to unless he gets intensive help."

Not going to get better. Casey fought back the shudder that threatened to wrack his entire body.

"He's lived with this for a long, long time," Abby continued. "He's suffered far too long. When you and I started college, we didn't have this tragedy hanging over our heads. Imagine if you'd known the kind of pain he's been living with."

Dan had been nineteen when Casey met him at the podunk station where they'd covered third-string sports. Their salad days. Late night movies, and Lisa being so sure she'd married the Next Big Thing, and cheap beer, and Danny with the girl du jour, always wisecracking, always making everyone laugh. Just a kid, but something on fire behind his eyes, something melancholy and desperate behind the jokes. Pain, too much pain for someone that young, and when Casey found out why, it was the first time in his twenty-four years on the planet that he had cared that much about someone else's affliction.

The salad days were gone, and Lisa was gone, and most of the time even his beloved Charlie was gone, and there was only Danny.

Danny, who would never forgive him if he did what Abby was telling him to do.

Danny, who was going to die if he didn't.

"We have a thing tonight, a photo shoot," Casey said softly. "I'll be with him the whole time. I'll try and talk to him, after." He took a deep breath and let it out again, slowly. "I'll call you tomorrow if he agrees to go to the hospital."

"Call me no matter what. If he doesn't go, then we'll--"

"I know." The certainty of what was to come bore down on him, made his chest tighten, made his throat ache. "I don't think I can take it," he whispered.

Abby put her hand on his forearm. "Remember how much more pain Dan's in, and how long he's been like this. Keep thinking about him. That's how you'll get through it."

Photographers, champagne, a view from the rooftop garden of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. All the things Dan used to love, like the last meal of a condemned man, placed before him. Let me give you this, Danny, and you'll be whole again.

"The Burghers of Calais. Not, as some would have you believe, a monument to the McDonald's in Paris."

Dan was showing the impressive bronzes to a cute young redhead, who giggled a little at his attention. Over the years Casey had come to realize that what seemed like effortless charm was actually Dan's desperate attempt to get people to like him.

He wished Dan understood that they'd like him anyway, even with the bumps and flaws in his personality. Dan was the genuine article, a nice man, a mensch. The only person who didn't know that was Dan.

"Excuse me," Dan said to the young woman, "but I'm actually here to get my picture taken with that guy over there. In case the backdrop of the city wasn't good enough."

"Nice meeting you," said the redhead, who finished her glass of wine and went back into the museum.

Casey walked up to the group of statues and cocked his head at Dan. "McDonald's in Paris?"

"Hey, I do what I can to make the women of America laugh." Dan was holding his second glass of champagne in his fingers. "I haven't had a drink in a couple of weeks. This stuff's going straight to my head."

"Good thing we took a cab, then."

"Mmm." Dan continued gazing up at the tormented bronze faces. "They all died together, you know. Jean de Brienne, all of them. Martyrs to the cause."

Casey wasn't sure he liked the tone of that remark. "We're martyrs to the cause of Quo Vadimus tonight, so we'd better let those guys take some pictures. When Calvin gets the bar bill..."

"He'd better have something to show for it. Right." Dan straightened his tie and walked with Casey to where the producers and the PR people were waiting. "Do me a favor and shoot me," he said.

Casey's mouth went dry. He looked at Jeremy, and over Jeremy's shoulder at Isaac. They stared back at him as if trying to read answers in the set of his mouth or the lines around his eyes.

"Danny?" Natalie asked in a small voice. Always sharper than the rest of them, always the first to intuit something.

"Metaphorically speaking," Dan amended. "Bad choice of words. I'm sorry. Someone get these people some champagne, okay?"

"We don't have to do the pictures right now," Casey began, but Dan cut him off.

"Let's go have fun, Case." Dan gave him an impish smile. I'm overreacting, Casey thought as he fixed his tie and went through his paces in front of the photographers.

He and Dan posed in front of a version of "The Thinker," mimicking the contortion of the massive limbs. They stood back-to-back with Central Park behind them. They held up their champagne glasses in toasts to one another. They were two handsome men, basking in the attention, making grand gestures when Dana or Natalie blew wolf whistles at them. They were laughing the whole time, laughing so hard that tears welled up in Dan's eyes. "Are we finished?" he gasped.

"Yeah, we got plenty, thanks," said the lead photographer.

"Let's get a cab," Casey said, faster than he'd meant to. There was something in the way the glow of the sunset hit Dan's face that brought out the sharpness. Something in the reflection in his eyes just wasn't right.

The photographers were packing up their gear and moving it inside while Dana was quizzing one of them about his camera. Natalie and Jeremy ushered Isaac inside as well, out of the chilly autumn air. The bar was closed now, the glasses cleared away, and it was just Dan and Casey on the terrace overlooking Central Park. Dan's tie was loose, flapping a little in the breeze, and he was looking not at Casey but beyond him, at something only Dan could see.

"You look tired," Casey observed. "It's tough, doing all the publicity stuff, isn't it?"

"Lots of acting," Dan agreed. "I'm tired of it, Casey."

"Then let's go home. We're done here."

"Right. I'm done," Dan said softly. "I'm sorry, Casey." He turned around and leaned far, far over the balcony. Too far. A casual observer might think he was looking down, or even being sick, but Casey saw his center of gravity shift.

He grabbed what he could reach, which was Dan's shoulder, and slid his hand down to Dan's upper arm. He grabbed at the hard, sinewy bicep, not getting enough purchase for his fingers, and felt the soft material of the jacket give way. "Shit! Danny!" he cried, scrabbling for something else and finding Dan's hand.

Dan's lesser weight was still enough to propel them both forward, almost over the edge.

"Let me go, man," Dan whispered.

"I'm not letting go."

Dan turned to look at him, and Casey's heart felt as if it were going to burst out of his chest. There was nothing of Dan in those eyes. Nothing. Just an abyss.

"You can take me with you," Casey declared, not knowing how he managed to sound so brave when he was actually frightened out of his wits, "or you can let me pull you back. But no way in hell am I letting you fall alone."

Out of nowhere, someone grabbed Casey around the waist. Jeremy. He tugged hard enough at Casey that their combined weights were sufficient to counterbalance Dan. Casey kept hold of Dan's arm while Jeremy pulled them all to safety, and the three of them ended up sitting at the feet of Jean de Brienne, gulping breathlessly.

Had Natalie been screaming the whole time?

Casey winced at the pain lancing upward from his wrist, and exchanged a quick glance with Jeremy. He'd guessed, or Natalie had guessed, and somehow he'd been able to move fast enough. Jeremy's glasses had fallen off in the struggle and he was reaching behind himself, blindly searching for Natalie's hands.

The only sounds on the terrace were their ragged gasps and the tap of Isaac's cane, faster than they'd ever heard it.

"What the hell happened?" Isaac demanded. Casey had never heard such fear in his voice. Dan looked up, bewildered, and Casey followed his line of sight. Natalie was peering at them from behind Jeremy, her arms clasped tightly around his waist. Isaac had made his way over to them, wide-eyed, leaning over on his cane. Beyond him was Dana. Her mouth was open and she touched three fingers to her lips. She was shaking.

"Oh. God." Dan ran his hand through his hair. "I haven't had a drink in..." His gaze dropped to Casey's arm, which he was cradling against his chest. "Did I hurt you?"

"Yeah, Danny." Casey could barely speak. "You hurt me."

Jeremy leaned over to retrieve his glasses. His hands were trembling so much that Natalie had to put the glasses on for him.

"Casey...Jeremy, I'm..." Dan looked at Isaac. "I'm sorry."

"All right, then. Let's get moving. There are four photographers still in this museum and the last thing we need is art." Isaac's words were sharp but his expression was one of deep sadness. They went slowly, allowing Isaac to move at his own dignified pace, using the elevator down to street level instead of the grand marble staircases.

The photographers had scattered, which was fine with Casey. He turned his attention to Dan, who seemed to be fading like the sunlight. "Share a cab?" he offered.

"Nah. I'm okay."

"Dan. C'mon." It was Jeremy, hands on his hips. "We don't have to come in tomorrow. You can stay with Nat and me. I promise we won't have sex in front of you or anything, and she'll make you breakfast. Waffles. Whatever."

"Well, if you're throwing in waffles," Dan said, his mouth set in a tremulous smile. "Look, I'm sorry, okay? I'm sorry."

"It's okay," Dana whispered. "Let's put Isaac in a cab, then you and Jeremy and Natalie go back to your place. I'm going to walk home from here. I need...some air."

Fresh stab of realization - Dana hadn't seen this coming.

"I'll walk you." Casey put his hand on Dana's shoulder. Gentle, this time.

Dan glanced at Casey's wrist. Only Dan could convey such emotion with a deadpan expression. "Put some ice on that."

"I will. Get some sleep, Danny." He and Dana watched as Isaac got into one taxi and Jeremy, Natalie, and Dan into the other. Fearing what he was about to see, he allowed himself to look at Dana.

"God, Casey," she murmured, her blue eyes wet with tears. "He...he wanted..."

"I know, I know." He put his arm around her as they started walking down Fifth Avenue. "I've been talking with Abby -his therapist - for a couple of months. She says..." It was so hard, saying the words aloud. "...she says he needs to be hospitalized."

"Yeah," Dana sighed, pressing closer to Casey as a cool breeze wafted around them from the park. It was new for her, so much for her to process all at once. "What're we going to do, Casey?"

"We're going to get him into the office tomorrow morning -we'll call Jeremy, and he'll tell Dan we're having a meeting. I'll get Abby to meet us. We'll convince him, somehow."

"Okay." Strange, to hear Dana be so acquiescent. She paused, and Casey stopped with her. A carriage went by them, smelling of grass and horse dung. "Casey, how long has Danny been like this?"

"A long, long time," he said, linking Dana's arm through his and walking her down the street.

"Since Sam died?" Dana asked.

They both knew the answer, and it was yes, and Dan had been this way for the twelve years they'd known him.

     Now as he was speaking with me, I fell into a deep sleep
     with my face toward the ground; but he touched me, and set
     me upright.

"Abby's waiting in my office," Dana said as she hung up Isaac's phone. Natalie was alternating between jumpiness and weeping, leaning into Jeremy's side, but his eyes were lackluster and he looked as if he barely had the strength to stand up, much less hold her.

"Tell me about Dan," Isaac said.

"He had a good night. I mean, I kind of poured him on the sofa and he stayed there, and either he was sleeping or he fakes snoring really well." Jeremy reached under his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "He just stopped off for a's room."

"Okay." Isaac leaned against the window. He held his left hand against his body, and it was trembling. He probably hadn't slept. None of them had. Not last night, when Dan had nearly fallen. The fall of Daniel Rydell, Casey thought, and for a moment he wondered if there might be an extra room at the hospital for him. He rubbed his wrist, which was black and blue, like a hospital bracelet made of bruises.

Dan strolled into the office, hands in his pockets. Of all of them, he looked the most rested. "I got your call -what's going on?"

How the hell could he not know?

Everyone looked at Isaac. "Danny, why don't you sit down for a minute?"

"Isaac, if this is about last night, I wasn't used to the alcohol - I haven't had a drink in weeks and it just hit me weird. I'm sorry."

"I'm sure you mean that, Dan," Jeremy said softly. "But I'm also sure you meant what you did last night."

Dan's mouth tightened into a straight line. It looked like a bloody slash against his pale skin. "Uh-oh. I get it - the gang's all here. Ganging up on me."

"We're worried about you, Danny," Isaac said. "You scared us last night, and we think you're scaring yourself, and we think you need some help."

"I'm getting help. I'm seeing Abby twice a week, and--"

Abby walked into Isaac's office just as Dan said her name. He squinted at her as if she were radiating light. "I should've known that a roomful of television producers could get a moment like that to work on cue," he whispered. He turned toward Abby, his eyes narrowed. "Have you been talking to Casey?"

"That's not important--"

"It is important!" Dan turned on his heel and strode over to Casey. With one accusing finger, Dan pointed at Casey's chest. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

If Dan had dealt him an actual blow, Casey couldn't have been any less steady on his feet. "I'm trying to help you, Danny."

"By bringing Abby into this?" His voice sounded unnaturally bright in the room. Tight. High-pitched.

"I was asked to intervene," Abby said before Casey had a chance to explain himself. "Dan, we've been trying to help you for so long, and it's just not working. We need another way."

"Such as?" He raised an eyebrow at Casey.

Casey swallowed, and when he spoke his voice sounded thick and foreign. "Somewhere you can be looked after. A hospital."

Dan choked out a bitter laugh. "I knew it was going to come to this. One drunken incident, and...and..."

"Danny," Isaac whispered.

"You're going to put me away! You're going to fucking put me away!"

"We're going to get you the help you need so you can get better. Don't be angry with them, Dan," Abby said softly. "They called me because they love you, and they're afraid of losing you. Look at their faces."

Dana and Natalie were crying, and Jeremy's face was paper-white. Isaac's expression was grave, the left side of his face falling as it always did when he was tired or worried. Then Casey saw himself reflected in the window -pale, with dark-ringed eyes, and tears he didn't know he was shedding because he was so numb with grief.

From there he met Dan's gaze. Dan's eyes watered. "Oh, God," he murmured. "Look what I've done."

"You didn't..." Natalie began, running up to Dan and throwing her arms around him. "You didn't do anything, Danny, it's not your fault, oh, God, it's not your fault..."

"Natalie." Dan stroked her hair, looking over her shoulder at each of his friends in turn. Stricken. Aghast. Lost. Finally, his wild eyes settled on Casey. "What do you think I should do?"

Casey's heart shattered into a million sharp fragments that lodged themselves in his throat and in his eyes. "I think you should go with her, Danny," he said with a firmness he didn't actually feel.

Dan nodded and he gave Natalie a kiss on top of her head, then he put his hands down at his sides. "Okay, then," he murmured. "Let's go, Abby."

"Want me to ride with you?" Casey asked. He wasn't sure what he wanted the answer to be.

As if he could read Casey's indecision, Dan shook his head. He took a moment to look at everyone in the room, his gaze lingering longest on Casey, then turned around and followed Abby out the door.

"Someone should call his parents," Jeremy said to break the horrible silence.

"I'll take care of it," Isaac responded, but Casey cut him off.

"You're exhausted - you should go home. I've met his parents, I know them. I'll do it when I get back to my place."

Dana lifted her chin. "I'm going with you. No way should you call that guy without a stiff drink in your hand and someone watching your back."

He had both when he picked up the phone and dialed. He took a long sip of the scotch as he waited for someone to pick up. Please, let it be his mom, not his dad, not...

Dammit. A man's gravelly voice, nothing like Dan's, said hello.

"Jacob? It's Casey McCall. I'm sorry to call out of the blue like this, but something's happened to Danny."

The response was measured. "Was he in an accident of some kind?"

Casey couldn't imagine ever, ever being that calm about Charlie.

"No, no, it's nothing like that. But he's been having problems - uh, emotional problems - for a while now, and we thought he was getting better but really he's not. He's seeing a doctor, and she's hospitalizing him."

"Does his insurance cover this?"

"I'm...I'm pretty sure it does."

"Then everything's going to be okay. I have to go now. Thanks for calling, Casey."

He stared at the receiver. Pressing his lips together against the curses that wanted to spill out, he put the phone down with more force than was strictly necessary, and the instrument chimed its displeasure.

"That didn't take long," Dana said. Her eyes were wide, and wet, and she was wrapping her arms around herself the way she did when she was about to lose it. "What did he say?"

"He asked if Dan had insurance, then pretty much hung up on me." Casey slammed his balled-up fists on his hips and glanced down. If he looked Dana in the eye, then he'd start to cry, or she would, or maybe that was going to happen anyway because she was pressed up against him, her arms wrapped around his waist.

"We're not going to lose him, Casey," she said, but she was weeping as she spoke. "Not Dan, not like this, not...oh, my God, oh, my God..."

"I know," Casey managed to choke out, but he could go no further, only clasp Dana tighter against his body. His hands searched out the tender skin at her nape, his fingers tangling in her uncombed hair.

She tilted her head up to look at him, and he was undone.

Not like that first kiss in his office, the one that had been so full of love and unrequited passion and amazement. This time it was about fear and loss, the need to feel connected to life in the midst of disaster. Dana's response was quick, too quick, her lithe body undulating against his until he could scarcely breathe through the sharp stab of arousal.

He knew why they were going to do this, and he could tell that she knew, and suddenly none of that mattered because they were grinding against one another and gasping as if they'd nearly drowned. Their fingers fumbled with buttons and zippers and sweaters and intimate things like bra clasps and boxer shorts.

It had been nearly twenty years since Casey had first longed to see Dana naked. All that gold, from her hair to her skin to the polish on her toenails, glimmering. Treasure. Casey wanted to take inventory of it all, but his view of Dana was obscured by his tears.

Mascara pooled under Dana's eyes, making them look even larger. She was crying, too, in gulping sobs. "Casey," she whimpered. "Casey."

He led her to the bedroom, holding her hand every step of the way, feeling not the least ridiculous that he was naked except for his socks. Feeling nothing, really, but his own version of oblivion. Whatever it would take to erase the shared vision of Dan on the edge of the roof, of Dan breaking down in Casey's arms, of Dan being led away by Abby.

He had to keep his eyes open. Focused on Dana. Beautiful, beautiful Dana, who was trying to hide her tears as she kissed him over and over. "Casey, please..."

Dana stretched out on top of the covers, letting Casey hold her wrists above her head. She watched as he slipped into her, watched as the muscles in his arms bulged with the strain of holding his weight, watched as he tried so, so hard to take her with him.

He was trying. And failing, utterly. At last Dana made some noises and tightened around him, and he let himself go with a strangled groan. Bad, unspeakably bad, and the buzz wasn't even going to last long enough to make him stop imagining Dan's funeral.

Silently Dana watched as he pulled out, then she tugged at his hands and turned over on her side, her back to his chest, tugging his arm around her waist.

"I'm sorry," Casey muttered.

"No, no, I wanted it, too."

"Not that I did you any good in that regard."

"You were fine," Dana assured him gently.

He rested his palm on her abdomen. "You faked it, didn't you?"

"No, no, Casey, it was good, really--"


"Okay, yes, I did. I'm sorry. You weren't going to I faked it."

He snaked his hand lower. "I'm sorry," he said again.

Dana turned over and cupped his face in her hands. "What you're sorry about isn't my lack of an orgasm, is it?"

Sucker punch.

"No," he admitted. "Although I really do regret that, for a number of reasons."

"We shouldn't have done this, full stop. At least, not because of this. And it was my fault, really," Dana said softly, then she kissed Casey's shoulder. "Listen...I should go."

He couldn't remember reaching for her hand, couldn't figure out why he was clasping it and tugging at it. He couldn't figure out why he was shaking his head, but he was. "Please don't leave, Dana."

For a few moments she sat still on the bed with her forehead crinkled the way it did when she was making a decision. "Okay," she said after what felt like forever. "But just to sleep. And, you know, talk."

Casey was finally able to inhale. Taking in oxygen felt better than sex. Dammit.

"I've got some stuff you can sleep in," he began, but Dana was already halfway back in bed and pulling the covers over them.

"I need to feel your skin, Casey," she whispered.

He understood. He wrapped his arms around this golden idol and held her while they both struggled with the black hole where Dan had been.

     O man greatly beloved, fear not! Peace be unto thee, be
     strong, yea, be strong.

The next morning dawned far too quickly, leaving Casey with dark shadows beneath his eyes and a tremor in his hands. Dana went home to her own apartment while Casey was showering. They hadn't spoken. When Casey got to work, Dana was not there.

She appeared at the station just before the noon rundown and she looked so weary, so inelegant, that Casey felt even worse about what had happened. "I'm sorry," he started, but Dana cut him off.

"Did Abby call?" She patted Casey on the arm and smiled up at him, her lips set tight against the trembling.

He felt weak, shaky, not just from lack of sleep but also from genuine pain at what Dan was going through. "She said he 'went quietly,' which sounds more like someone who's been arrested than someone who's having a breakdown."

"When can we see him?"

"It's going to be a while." He hated having to say it, because that made it real. "Abby said they want to keep him...not isolated, but in private, where he can think."

"Like a retreat." Dana nodded as she spoke, as if trying to convince herself. The corners of her mouth were turned down and she was fighting tears. "Casey, listen. Two of the photographers at the Met last night - they saw what happened. They're not bad people. But they have this story, and they held off on it until we could do something for Dan, out of respect for him,'s going to get out pretty soon. You'll have to deal with it on-air."

"I figured that was going to happen. Besides, I can only be 'Casey McCall, alongside an empty chair' for so long before people start to talk."

Dana closed her eyes. "I called Bobbi Bernstein. She can't do tonight, but she'll start tomorrow."

"Did you tell her--"

"I did, yes, and she's worried about Dan - and you. She loves the show, Casey, and she wants to help out. It's not forever. Just until Danny gets better."

"It's okay," Casey said, fooling neither of them.

Casey wrote the rest of the script, attended the rundown meetings, went over changes with Dana and Isaac. Just like when Dan was on vacation, only this wasn't a vacation. This was a place from which Dan might never return..

Now, in the fifties, with the cameras on him, he had two minutes. Two minutes to explain the empty place by his side, the empty place in his heart. The director pointed at him, signing the seconds left.

Casey took a deep breath, praying that the camera would stay tight on his face so the audience wouldn't see how much his hands were trembling.

"I'm going to take a moment to talk to you about Dan Rydell," he began. "As many of you have heard, Dan has been hospitalized following a long - probably lifelong - battle with depression. Those of you who were watching the night Dan talked about his younger brother, Sam...well, that was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the burdens he's borne in his heart."

He glanced at the control room. Dana's palms were pressed to the window, and she was smiling through her tears, encouraging him.

"Danny and I have worked together for seven years, and we've been friends for a dozen. He's the most devoted colleague I've ever known, and he's such a good man..." His voice, his instrument, began to give out and he struggled against the pressure in his chest, desperate to speak, desperate to be heard. "You can't imagine how much...his friendship has meant..."

In his earpiece, he heard Natalie's voice. "Casey, it's okay if you need to stop. Push your script aside and go to commercial if you want Isaac to finish for you afterwards."

Swallowing convulsively, Casey shoved the pile of papers away. "We're going to take a moment or two to pay some bills, then we'll be back. You're watching Sports Night on CSC..."

"We're back in two," Dave said from the control room before Casey could finish the sentence.

Casey didn't even see Isaac's swift entrance, barely registering the techs who wired him and the makeup woman who put a quick dusting of powder on his face. He heard the soothing tones of Isaac's voice. "It's going to be okay, Casey. I've got your back."

"I'm so sorry," Casey whispered. "I didn't think I was going to implode like that."

"I'm impressed that you made it that long without imploding," Isaac's voice was compassionate. "Seriously, it's going to be fine, you did fine. I'm just adding a few words." He sat quietly as he waited to be counted in, then spoke into the camera.

"My name is Isaac Jaffe, and I'm the managing editor of Sports Night. On behalf of Casey McCall and the entire crew of our show, I am going to say a few words about our show's co-anchor, Daniel Rydell.

"There is not, on the face of God's earth, a man of more integrity. There is not a man with a more affectionate heart or a nobler spirit. There is not a man about whom I'd be prouder to say 'this is my son.' I love Dan with all my heart, and he is in my prayers every waking moment. I ask for the prayers and good wishes of all who know him, and all who watch him on television. And I want to say this to this man who is my friend, my associate, and my son."

Isaac paused, and his left arm began to twitch. Casey scooted his chair closer, near enough so he could take Isaac's hand and squeeze it.

"'O Daniel, thou man greatly beloved, give heed unto the words that I speak unto thee, and stand upright, for now am I sent to thee.' I'm here for you, whenever and wherever you ask. God speed, Danny. God speed."

"And...we're out," Dave said.

The studio was silent, although Casey could hear Natalie's soft sobbing through his earpiece. He turned to Isaac, lightheaded and sorrowful and a million other things for which he knew no words. "That was beautiful, Isaac."

"Thank you," Isaac replied with a solemn nod. "That means everything, coming from you." He waited patiently as the techs unhooked him, then he rose and held his arms open to Casey. "I know, I know," he murmured as Casey finally allowed himself to be supported, to be comforted. "We'll go to the hospital first thing tomorrow, okay?"

"They won't let us see him."

"Then we'll see his doctor. We'll see the nurses. We'll see whoever will talk to us, and we'll gather information. That's what we do." Isaac patted his back. "Casey, do me a favor, would you?"

Unable to speak past the painful tightness in his throat, Casey nodded.

"I'm wiped out. There's no way I want to sit in a car for an hour and a half tonight. May I spend the night at your apartment?"

Casey glanced at Dana, who inclined her head toward Isaac. There wasn't going to be a repeat of last night. There probably wasn't going to be a second time for them, ever -the first had been for all the wrong reasons, anyway.

"Won't Esther be worried?" Casey asked, shaking the image of Dana's shoulder blades out of his mind.

"I'll give her a call. She knows I'll feel better if I can keep an eye on you," was Isaac's quick reply.

Too quick, and the look in his eyes said something deeper. Oh. Isaac was worried about both "his boys." Casey smiled and patted his arm. "Thank you - I appreciate the company. I'll feel better if you can keep an eye on me, too."

Isaac's exhaustion took a toll on his mobility. It was a good twenty minutes before he got a change of clothes from the office and met Casey in the lobby. The cab had been waiting, the driver impatient and a little surly until Casey promised him a good tip. Isaac made his way into the back seat and handed his cane to Casey as the car went off into the night.

"This was a hell of a day, son. A hell of a day."

"Definitely goes in my book as one of the worst, ever," Casey agreed, staring sightlessly at the deserted streets.

"You did an incredible job tonight. Not too many people could get back in the saddle the way you did. I'm proud of you."

Those weren't words Isaac bandied about. Casey swallowed tears, again, and rested his cheek against the cool window.

He hoped Dana was going to be all right. But by the time he got to the apartment, drank a glass brandy with Isaac, and shucked his clothes in favor of the pajamas Charlie had given him for Christmas, all he could think about was Danny, lying alone in the dark in a strange place.

     ...for as for me, straightway there remained no strength in
     me, neither was there breath left in me.

Casey tried to work over the next two weeks, but something about Bobbi's perfume made his skin itch, and the sound of her fingernails on the keyboard set his teeth on edge. Eventually he took a laptop into the unadorned room that was supposed to have been his office from the beginning and started over.

Bobbi had protested, feeling terrible about it, saying Casey should work in his own office. She didn't mean to drive him out of the room. Casey had explained, politely but wearily, that he was better off in a place that didn't hold any reminders of Dan. That was something Bobbi could understand.

Natalie and Jeremy brought him lunch every day, from places he'd never gone with Dan, and often stayed for an impromptu picnic on the floor. Natalie never said if Dana had told her about that night, although Casey suspected the women had discussed it thoroughly.

For her part, Dana was behaving as if nothing had happened between them. It was probably for the best.

At the end of the third week, Isaac called Casey and Dana into his office. He motioned for them to sit in the chairs, which almost never happened. "Are you feeling okay?" Dana asked, running a hand over her upswept hair.

"I'm feeling fine, thanks," Isaac replied. "Would either of you like a drink?"

"Now you're really scaring me," Casey mumbled. He looked at Isaac, who was studiously avoiding his gaze. "What's going on?"

"I just got off the phone with Danny."

The rush of oxygen was exhilarating. "That's...that's wonderful! How did he sound?"

"Much, much better. Still pretty quiet, though. He said he's up to having a visitor - just one person, just to see how it goes."

Dana reached for Casey's hand. "I can get someone to sit in for you--"

"He asked to see me," Isaac interrupted.

So that's why Isaac had been looking at his blotter.

Casey didn't trust his voice. He nodded abruptly, wincing as Dana's hand tightened around his and her nails dug into his skin.

"Casey," Isaac said gently, "he's confused, and probably very embarrassed. At a time like this, no matter his age, a man wants to talk to his father. And since his father's not what you'd call available--"

"Or human," Dana muttered.

"I get it," Casey said. He did, too, in some recess of his brain, somewhere near whatever part let him stand up and walk toward the door. Somewhere near the part that let him say, "Tell Danny I miss him" as he left the room.

Dana didn't follow him. He didn't hear the click of her heels on the floor, didn't smell her perfume. Whether she had enough sense to leave him alone, or whether Isaac had barred the door with his body, Casey didn't know. But he was grateful that no one saw him shut the door to the spare office, relieved to be alone to sort out this new, raw grief.

After the show, when he'd said goodnight to Bobbi and was washing the last of the makeup off, Isaac came in to see him.

"Hey, Casey. That was a good show."

Casey kept his eyes on the mirror as he dabbed at a spot on the left side of his jaw. "I'm glad. Who knew that Mark Cuban could actually give a good interview?"

"Only you could've made him sound like anything but a Neanderthal." Isaac perched on the edge of the other sink, the one Danny usually occupied. "Dan looked good, Casey."

"Good." There was another spot somewhere, something he'd missed. He kept looking.

"He's put on some weight, and he looks rested. No dark circles under his eyes. And he's smiling the way he used to, you know, that crooked smile he had when he made really bad jokes?"

"That's good."

"It's not a bad place. It's not the cuckoo's nest. It's neat and quiet, and there are big chairs by a window that overlooks a park. Danny's got them all eating out of his hand - the nurses, the doctors, the patients, all of them."

"Good for him."

"Casey." It was a different tone, the one that brooked no objection. "Put down the damn washcloth and look at me."

"I can see you just fine," Casey said defensively, although he let the washcloth fall into the sink with a wet plop.

"Look at me."

Casey turned, pressing his hip against the sink, and looked into Isaac's eyes. "Okay. I'm looking at you."

"And I'm looking at a selfish little boy. You haven't asked me one thing about Danny, and you're not listening when I try to tell you. I know you wanted to go to the hospital. I tried to talk Dan into seeing you instead of me."

Shifting uncomfortably, Casey continued to listen. He could feel blood rising in his face.

"Even when I got there, I offered three times to turn around and get your ass down there in my place, but he said no. And you know why he said no, Casey?"

"Because he needed his father, not his brother."

Isaac rapped Casey's knee with his cane.


"He said no because he didn't want you to see him in a mental hospital. He also figured - and I can't imagine why -that I could make you understand what it feels like to be incapacitated and not want the people you love to have to watch."

The prickle of heat spread as Casey blushed crimson. He hung his head. "Ah."

"Yeah." This time the cane just tapped lightly against Casey's leg. "Anyway, he's being released for the weekend. I'm bringing him to stay with Esther and me in Connecticut."

Esther was a retired algebra teacher, sleek and precise, and she let Isaac think he ruled the house with an iron fist. Dan adored her. "That'll be good."

"Know what'll be better?" Isaac stood up straight, smiling up at Casey. "You come, too."

Finally, a break in the clouds. "He said it's okay?"

"He suggested it. In fact, the only way he agreed to let Esther fuss over him is if he could divide her attention by having you there."

For once, Casey decided to shut up when he didn't know what to say.

     So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no manner of hurt
     was found upon him.

"My father said, the day of Sam's funeral, that it should've been me in the coffin."

It wasn't the first time he'd heard Dan tell that story. But somehow, sitting on Isaac's lawn with the cool breeze and the smell of new-mown grass, and with Dan looking better than he ever had, the story felt as if it might have a different ending just this once.

"You don't get over that, ever," Dan continued. "But you get to a place where it doesn't consume you. That's where I'm trying to go."

"I'm glad you're going to be at peace with Sam's death," Casey said softly.

"And with my family. David called me - not studio Dave, my brother David. He wants me to visit him in San Francisco, and he's even going to fly my sister in for the same weekend." Dan flicked some grass off the leg of his jeans. "Rochelle was only six when Sam...and David had been in college her whole life, so she really didn't know any of us all that well. We haven't talked in years, not really, just a 'how are you doing' on big occasions. But I guess being put away is a big occasion, huh?"


"I'm just saying. I know I wasn't put away. In fact, they always said I could leave whenever I want to. I didn't want to, at first. But now I do."

"You want to come home?" God, could he sound any more childishly hopeful?

Dan met his gaze and smiled. "I really do. I'm not quite there yet, mentally, but the's very strong."

Casey bit his lip. Blinked hard.

"I've been watching the show," Dan commented, looking away from Casey, giving him a moment to collect himself. "Bobbi kicked your ass for about a week, then you finally got it together." He cleared his throat. "Isaac sent me a tape. From the first night, because I hadn't seen that one. You were...what you said, and Isaac..."

"Honestly, I don't remember anything about that night," Casey said. He realized that he'd wrapped his arms around his knees, drawing them to his chest, and that he was shivering a little.

"I'm sorry, man." Dan reached out for the first time - they hadn't even embraced when Casey first showed up at the house, they had been so awkward around each other - and put his arm around Casey's shoulders. "I went away. I'm sorry."

That did it, unleashing the pent-up emotions that had been battering Casey for the past months. He wasn't some guy who cried, dammit, he was a strong man, but he found himself shedding tears on Dan's leather jacket while Dan held him. Beyond words, beyond anything but relief.

"I know, I know," Dan whispered, tightening his arms around Casey. Comforting him, consoling him. And hadn't that been something Abby had said, not too long ago, that the realization that others were in pain was a sign that the patient was healing?

"I should've realized," Casey said, the words choked and strained. "Abby tried to warn me--"

"Stop. Stop that." Dan held Casey at arms' length, staring him down. "This isn't anyone's fault, and even if it were, you'd be so far down the list that they'd have to express the number in, I don't know, exponents or something." He let go of Casey and sat back on the grass, his head tipped backwards with the sun on his face. "Big brothers can't fix everything, Casey. That's some free advice from someone who's been there." Dan paused, glancing at Casey out of the corner of his eye. "Speaking of big brothers, does Charlie know?"

Charlie was Danny's biggest fan. He loved how Dan never talked down to him, always treated him as if he were every bit as intelligent and mature as an adult. It had broken Casey's heart all over again to have the talk with his son, to have to explain how Danny was sick and had to go to a hospital, just like when Charlie had to have his tonsils out.

"Yeah," Casey said. "I didn't want him to hear the details on television or from his friends at school. He's okay with it, Danny. He's worried, sure - he's quite like you, in that sense - but he understands that you're going to get well and come home."

"Yeah, but will Lisa ever let me see him again?" Dan's eyes were pained.

"She doesn't have any choice in the matter." Truth be told, Lisa had just rolled her eyes and said she'd seen this coming a decade ago, but beyond that she hadn't demonstrated enough concern for Dan even to consider refusing to let her son be in his presence. "Your first night back will be a boy's night out - you, me, Charlie, whatever sports event is live in the city, and as much pizza as any three manly men can consume."

"You have no idea how good that sounds," Dan sighed. "You can't exactly call for pizza, where I am."

"You've tried calling for pizza?" Casey leaned back on his hands.

"Yep. Between the address and my name...well, let's just say I know how telemarketers feel." He laughed, a welcome sound. "You should come out and see me - there's a basketball court, and not one other patient has a freaking clue how to guard. I need an opponent so badly that I almost asked Jeremy to visit, or Dana. How is Dana, anyway?"

Casey's hands slipped and he landed flat on his back in the grass.

"Casey? Did something happen, something that must be shared?" Dan's eyes were wide and eager. He was on the scent. Nothing but the truth would mollify him.

"Oh, God." Casey brushed his hands off longer than he really needed to, then cleared his throat. "There was an incident."

"An incident?"

"An incident with Dana."

"Of an intimate nature?" Dan's eyebrows were practically in his hairline.

"It happened the night you went away." He expected a scowl, some form of punishment for his indiscretion at Dan's darkest hour, but instead Dan chuckled low in his throat, grinning.

"You were looking for the little death while I was looking for the big one? That's real synergy, my friend."

"I think, all in all, that you were more successful than I was." Casey stopped himself and winced. "Oh, wait, that wasn't a good thing to say, was it?"

"Hey, if I can make the joke, you can make the joke. So, after seventeen years, the love was requited?"

"Not so much. More like...quenched. Only badly."

"Ah." Dan lowered his head. "I'm sorry."

"It's okay." It really was. He and Dana were still incredibly close, except that... "She's dating Sam Donovan. It looks like it's getting pretty serious."

"Ah." Dan nodded sagely. "I got a letter from Sam Donovan, in the hospital."

Casey smirked. "An e-mail?"

"No, an actual, honest-to-God letter, in handwriting and everything. He said that the only way to survive something like this was to take it one day at a time. made a lot of sense. And it helped."

"Do you..." He didn't know how to phrase it. "Do you still..."

"Want to end it? Sometimes." Dan sat up straight, tailor-fashion, and looked Casey directly in the eye. "But I can promise you this - I won't do it today. I can make it through this day without dying."

"That's a start," Casey said. He wished he could be satisfied with the answer. But he was an incorrigible big brother who wanted to fix everything. He'd give Sports Night, and everything that went with it, to protect Dan from another moment's suffering.

Dan watched him, his eyes soft and concerned, the dark brown flecked with gold from the evening light. "Esther made eggplant parmesan. She'll kick our asses if it gets cold." He rose, stretched, dusted the grass off his jeans, and held his hand out to Casey. Smiled again, surely seeing the irony. Spoke gently, and from his loving heart.

"C'mon, Case. Let me help you up."


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