Summary: It’s been over a year since Dan let himself watch Sports Night.
Fandom: Sports Night
Pairing: Dan Rydell/OFC, Dan Rydell/Casey McCall
Original Story: The Gods Grown Old by phoebesmum.
A/N: Major thanks to my beta, kmousie, for all her awesome help and cheerleading with this fic.
It’s A Wonderful Life (Ghosts Grown Old Remix)
It’s been over a year since Dan’s watched Sports Night. He’s got plenty of excuses, all of them true—between his show, the new manuscript that’s rapidly approaching deadline, and making time for Rachael, Dan’s days are packed.
That’s all true, but of course it’s not the real reason why.
Dan just can’t bring himself to watch and finally see what the show is without him.
He still talks to Isaac regularly. They talk on the phone, they meet up for lunch at least once a week, schedules permitting. But for months now, Dan has found himself preoccupied with what Isaac doesn’t tell him, what lurks in the pauses.
Isaac never brings up Casey. He’ll talk about the show, about Dana and Jeremy and the people who have come in to replace Natalie and Kim and Dave and Chris, what Calvin Trager’s up to these days. But they don’t ever talk about Casey, and that’s entirely because of Dan, because he was the one to institute the no-talking-about-Casey rule, over Isaac’s protests.
So it’s not like Dan can really complain now.
Dan loves his job, honestly. He loves being on television, crass as that might sound, and the network gives him a lot of leeway, the freedom to do and say what he wants—as long as it doesn’t get them fined by the FCC. He loves talking about politics, being able to call people out on national television instead of griping about it at dinner or in a bar. And even when people disagree with him, and they really do sometimes—they’re still taking him seriously when they do it. It’s a good feeling.
He loves his job, but—but there’s always a but, always something lingering in the back of his mind when anyone congratulates him on his show, on his success, on how far he’s come since Sports Night, since the days when he used to say I’m Dan Rydell alongside—
But those days are gone, of course. They’re gone and Dan can’t just go back, not even if sometimes he almost wishes he could.
He runs into Natalie sometimes. Natalie, who’s always dressed to kill every time he sees her, whose hair is now blonde and God, it still throws him every time he sees it, he always has to do a double-take just to make sure it’s really her.
One night, in a trendy bar, Natalie had leaned in and said, her voice only slightly slurred, "Dan—do you ever miss it?"
He hadn’t needed to ask her what she meant. "Sometimes," he’d admitted, and just then, in that moment, it felt like the biggest understatement he’d ever made.
Dan still can’t believe the book has done as well as it has. He knows it’s good, knows that for him, it is and will always probably be one of the biggest accomplishments of his life. But he definitely hadn’t expected to even be on the New York Times’ bestseller list, much less at the top of it. He hadn’t expected the rave reviews, the fanmail from readers all over the country telling him how much they love it.
Rachael had expected all of it, though. Dan had shown her one of the drafts, and she’d been so encouraging, so full of confidence, both in the book and in him.
He’s signed more copies of it than he can possibly count, he’s gone on The View and The Today Show, he’s done a book tour across America. One day, hopefully a long long time from now, when they write his obituary, the words ‘bestselling author’ will absolutely be in it.
Still, whenever someone asks him when he got the idea for the book, Dan always remembers that one drunken night at Anthony’s, when he’d pitched the idea to Casey over a couple of beers, and Casey had said, sincerely, that he thought it was a great concept and that Dan should definitely write it. "Seriously, Danny," he’d said. "It sounds amazing, you really should write it."
Dan hasn’t seen Jeremy or Dana in months. There’s no strategy or anything dire in it, they’ve all just been busy. He doesn’t get the chance to talk much with Dana either, but he and Jeremy still exchange regular emails, talking about sports, politics, whatever random trivia Jeremy finds interesting, including weather patterns. Even though Dan’s never been a weather geek, that was always—
Anyway. Even though Dan has absolutely no problem replying to Jeremy’s emails, he’s always left a little surprised at how much Jeremy leaves out. He doesn’t talk about Sports Night, about any of Dana’s antics, any of the show’s near-catastrophes.
And there are no hints about reconciling with Casey. And that is just—the Jeremy of old would have hinted. The old Jeremy would have absolutely thought it was his duty to meddle—gently of course, with nothing but the best intentions, but still, he’d have meddled.
But this Jeremy doesn’t.
And so every time Dan opens an email, only to find Jeremy’s thoughts on Karl Rove, or Duke’s chances this basketball season, or how the Midwest has some unusual pressure systems, he has to make sure that he doesn’t feel even a little bit disappointed.
Dan hasn’t quite gotten used to the ring yet. Most days he doesn’t even notice it, but there are moments—when it catches the light, when he finds himself idly running a finger over the polished surface, that he gets hit all over again with what it is, and what it means.
Everything else he’s used to by now. Waking up next to Rachael in the mornings, seeing her beauty products next to his things in the bathroom—but the ring still surprises him sometimes.
They have a good marriage, Dan knows. He loves Rachael after all, beautiful, poised Rachael who is honestly one of the smartest people he knows, who loves him and his success—who is everything that Dan could ever want, everything that he should want.
Dan makes sure to call her when he’s going to be unavoidably late getting home, he doesn’t forget important dates, and he tries so hard not to make the mistakes that he saw Casey make with Lisa years and years ago.
And of course, Casey was completely wrong about Rachael. He was. He’d thought she was just like Rebecca, and aside from their names both beginning with R, nothing could be further from the truth.
Rachael loves him, after all, while Dan knows that Rebecca never really did.
And yet—what Dan remembers most about Rebecca isn’t how she broke his heart, but how Dan had been convinced for a while that she was everything he could ever want in someone.
Time has a funny effect on memories, Dan’s found. It’s gotten harder and harder to remember his old anger towards Casey. He remembers being absolutely furious when Casey had tried to warn him about marrying Rachael, he remembers being so unbelievably frustrated at what Casey was trying to do—or what Dan had thought Casey was trying to do, which might not have been the same thing after all.
Because—because the truest thing about Dan, the thing that he is never going to confess, not to his wife or his shrink or his rabbi or anyone—is that he has never felt about anyone the way he did about Casey McCall. Period.
It wasn’t just lust, or love, or friendship—although of course it was all of those things, every single day—it was those moments where he and Casey were so perfectly in sync that Dan genuinely believed that this was the one person who had always understood him, who would always understand him.
It wasn’t true, of course—not all the time, at any rate. Of course Casey, oblivious Casey, never once suspected, would have never thought to suspect—and that was all right, for a long time, that has been just fine with Dan. If he’s really honest, it worked out perfectly for him, because Casey’s obliviousness never gave Dan the opportunity to lose the closest friendship he’d ever had in his life.
Until that day when Casey had told Dan not to marry Rachael. And suddenly, Dan exploded, not just from that one comment, but from years of slights both imagined and all-too real, from too many years of wanting and wanting and never having—
And there was Rachael, who wanted Dan in the exact same way that he wanted her, and Casey, who didn’t want Dan in the way that Dan had always wanted him, and never would.
Really, was it any wonder that he’d finally snapped?
And so Dan had walked away, and he held on to his pride and his anger and didn’t call, didn’t bridge the divide that grew and grew between them. And in a year and a half, he still hasn’t budged.
But a year and a half has passed, and it’s gotten easier for Dan to remember the good along with the bad, to remember the things about Casey that he’d loved, admired, respected. To remember that while Casey was often hurtful, he was never malicious about it—there had never been anything deliberate about Casey’s actions.
A year and a half has passed, and mostly Dan just feels tired. And in the moments where he lefts himself feel it, he’s a little disgusted with himself, that he can’t bring himself to pick up the phone and call his best friend and finally admit that this life, while wonderful and blessed, isn’t anywhere close to where he’d once planned or hoped to end up.
But Dan doesn’t let himself think about that too much, because he’d go crazy if he did. Just like he’d go crazy if he finally admitted that while he loves Rachael, she’s always loved him more than he loves her.
Dan’s been smiling to himself about today’s date all day. He has the night off from the show, and had to resist the urge to call Matt, his substitute anchor, and tell him to be careful, since this is Thespis’s special day. Of course, nothing’s happened as far as he knows, but it never hurts to be careful.
During dinner at one of their favorite restaurants, Rachael asks him what’s on his mind. "You seem—I don’t know. Like your mind’s somewhere else."
Dan shakes his head and smiles a little bit, despite himself. "Nothing, it’s—just the date."
Rachael smiles back, but in a bemused way. "November 23rd? Is there some special significance I’m missing?"
Dan stops and thinks for a second, Yeah. It’s the date of my first anniversary. He’s wondered, sometimes, what would happen if he actually brought some of this, any of this, out into the open. He wonders what would happen if he talked to Rachael about Casey, if he admitted out loud that he missed him, that he was sorry for the rift that he’d created.
He won’t do it, of course. And still—she’s waiting for an answer, and Dan’s got one, after all. He’d even written a Wikipedia article about Thespis a couple of years back, in a fit of nostalgia, dredging up every fact that Jeremy had told him, all those years ago.
Dan can’t share all of his ghosts with her, but maybe he can share this one.
And so Dan smiles at his wife and asks her, "Have you ever heard of a ghost named Thespis?"