Author: A S Lawrence (phoebesmum)
Summary: The more things alter, the more they remain the same. Until, that is, they finally change completely. Seventeen connected ficlets, shifting points of view.
Fandom: Sports Night
Spoilers and/or Warnings: None; assumes familiarity with the entire series.
Title, Author and URL of original story: 17: Both a Constant and an Ever-Changing State by mardia
Note: Many thanks to kmousie for beta assistance above and beyond the call of duty.
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
The last real fight they ever have, the fight that doesn't just signal the end, it flags it down by the side of the road, hits it over the head with a brick and steals its car –
– yeah, that fight –
It's pretty nearly also the first real fight they ever have. Not quite, but almost.
Does that sound like they've spent the past ten years in perfect domestic harmony?
Think again. Casey won't fight, you see. If there's a problem he'll avoid it, and if you try to confront him he'll avoid you, while if he's angry he'll go stiff-lipped and silent and withdraw completely. Which to Lisa, brought up in a household where everyone believed firmly that a good quarrel was the best way to clear the air, is teeth-grittingly frustrating. There's no clear air in their house, only the lowering atmosphere that signals the build-up of a storm. For most of those ten years she's been living with a nagging pressure headache behind her eyes. And tonight, tonight the storm has finally broken but, instead of blessed relief, all it brings is more pressure, more tension still.
"Jesus Christ, Lisa!" Casey, who never, ever yells, finally yells. "What the hell is it you want from me?"
And she breathes in slowly, deeply, evenly, trying her best to be calm, be reasonable, to be the good wife she's tried to be for the past ten years, and she says, "I just want you to care about us more than you care about Dan-fucking-Rydell. That's all."
There. It's said. And now …
Now Casey is looking at her, white-lipped, nostrils flaring, nothing but contempt in his eyes. Then he turns on his heel and walks away, and the door slams behind him.
That's all. No burst of outrage, no laughter or contempt. He didn't deny it.
Not that he could have. Not convincingly. The unwelcome third-party presence of Dan Rydell in their marriage has been the fly in the ointment, the elephant in the corner, the snake in the grass – oh, an entire, unnecessary menagerie. To Lisa, Dan is a deadbeat, a loser, a glib, slick snake-oil merchant who takes advantage of Casey's good heart (if she's charitable) and his desperate need to be liked (if she's not) and who's got where he is in life by riding Casey's coattails and leeching off his success.
But to Casey … oh, Casey thinks that the sun shines out of Dan's ass. Lisa's suspected for some time that he's more than half in love with the guy, if he'd only admit it to himself. God knows, they spend every waking hour together –
– god. She hopes it's only the waking hours. If it's anything more than that …
But it has been more than that. Nights when Casey's crashed at Dan's after work, as if there were no taxis in New York City, trips out of town when they've been stuck in some backwoods hotel together with nothing to do except … what?
Casey never talks about those trips.
Lisa sits down at the kitchen counter, pours herself a glass of wine and wonders how they're going to fix this. Whether it's even worthwhile to keep on trying. She has tried, telling herself it's for Charlie's sake, Charlie needs both parents, but who is she kidding? Charlie's neurotic and miserable and, to tell the truth, so is she. For that matter, so's Casey.
We'll talk about it when he comes home, she thinks. Sit down and discuss it like adults. We can't go on this way.
But Casey doesn't come back that night. He doesn't come home the next day either, just calls mid-morning, tells her stiffly that he's staying with Dan overnight, and asks her to give his love to Charlie.
When Casey finally does return, the morning after that phone call, he finds his bags packed and waiting in the hallway.
Hi-ho silver lining
And it's devastating, of course, it's heartbreaking, it's the end of Casey's world. He'd tried so hard, done all he could, and (he'd thought) made a decent job of it, certainly no worse than thousands of other men. He'd been a faithful husband, a loving father, a generous provider, and to have it all thrown back in his face like this, to have everything he loved and held dear snatched away from him – he doesn’t know how he can stand it.
So why, that first night, as he lies in the unfamiliar, uncomfortable hotel bed, unable to sleep for brooding on the wrongs that have been done to him – why does the thought creep into his head: well, now that's done. And I'm glad it's over.
Lilacs out of the dead land
"Come out with us tonight," Dan wheedles, but Casey just grunts. He's having none of it. That's how he ended up where he is, all alone in an empty, soulless apartment. He misses his home, he misses his own bed, he misses his son. Being disinclined to shoulder the blame himself, he blames the world in general and, in particular, whoever he happens to be talking to at any given time. Maybe it doesn't make him the most fun person to be around, but that's not his problem either. He's not having any fun, why the hell should anyone else?
But it takes a lot of effort to maintain that level of uninterest, and one evening he finds himself saying yes. And, by the end of the second giant blue margarita, Casey's remembered that the world isn't all that bad after all.
Blood, sweat, tears and the whole damned thing
What goes up must come down/Spinnin' wheel got to go round.
The lyrics scratch at the edges of Casey's brain, bugging him. Damned if he can remember who the band is – the song's on a compilation CD somewhere, maybe even back at what-was-his-house, and he doesn’t have the time or the inclination to go digging for it - but it sums up the situation. Eighteen months ago he was going through the worst time of his life, and there was Dan, all Pollyanna-perky, thick-skinned and insensitive, forever trying to cheer him up when he didn't want to be cheered, jollying him along, trying to bring him out of himself when he'd much rather stay safe and warm on the inside. And now that time's scabbed over that wound – not healed, because that's never going to happen – here's Dan, snarling one minute, moping the next, either bouncing off the walls or acting like his dog just died, and god, isn't that a joy to be around. Casey doesn't know what the hell's wrong with him and, you know what? He doesn't much care. Get over it, already.
Oh, all right, okay, yes, he does know. Casey won an award, Danny didn't, and Dan's jealous. Like that's news. Danny always has been jealous, though he tries to hide it – jealous of Casey's experience, his success, hell, probably even jealous of Casey's marriage given that Danny's never managed to hang on to a relationship longer than six months. Truth is, Dan's the Ed McMahon to Casey's Johnny Carson; he's a sidekick, a stooge, he'll never be any more than that, and Casey knows that Dan resents the hell out of it. It may be subconscious – Casey wouldn't know, he's not a shrink for crying out loud, Dan's got that woman, that Abby, for that – but it's there. Unspoken, but there.
And then one day something gives and it isn't unspoken any more. The truth hurts and, guess what, Dan turns right around and says the first mean thing that comes into his head, like the spoiled brat he is, and that's it. It's over. Ten years of friendship, gone. Just like that.
If it can be lost so easily, maybe it was never worth having after all.
Casey tells himself this, over and over, throughout a week of sleepless nights. Then it's Passover, which means nothing to Casey but, evidently, a great deal to Dan and, in the interests of the show – nothing more – Casey figures he can be the better man and reach out.
It's coincidence that he sleeps so soundly that night.
The Pacific Ocean's completely different from the Atlantic
If he hears one more word about Laker Girls, he won't be responsible for his actions.
I told many, many people
Jeremy doesn't have a weak head for liquor. His Aunt Trixie, god love her, has a weak head for liquor: one small cocktail makes her flirty and giggly, which is not terribly attractive in a woman in her fifties, while a second one turns her into a blubbering wreck, and that's worse. There's always a niece or a nephew on Trixie duty at any family gathering, either running interference between her and the bar or at least making sure that her shoes stay on and her blouse remains buttoned.
Jeremy, on the other hand … well, just put Jeremy in the same room as an unopened bottle of wine, hell, the room next to that bottle, and he'll be spilling State secrets before you know it. Jeremy has no head for liquor, none at all.
There's champagne at the 'hurrah, we're saved!' Quo Vadimus meet 'n' greet. And that, as it turns out, is a very bad idea. Or at least, so Jeremy, waking fully-clothed on Natalie's sofa the next morning, jackhammers in his head and a vague memory of saying something to somebody, thinks.
Then he remembers. Oh. Casey. Dan. CaseyandDan. Casey and Dan and the assumption he had so blithely – and, and he can't stress this too strongly, incorrectly – jumped to when he'd first met them. He'd always sworn he'd keep that particular funny, funny story firmly to himself.
Still. Maybe it's not so bad. Casey can take a joke. Can't he?
Jeremy tries to remember whether he has, in fact, ever seen Casey take a joke when the joke's on him, but that just makes his head pound all the more and so he gives up on it.
When Natalie eventually deigns to rejoin the world, Jeremy tells her all about it. He laughs an oh my gosh, I'm so naïve, it's a wonder I'm allowed out on my own sort of laugh, and it barely sounds strained at all.
Natalie simply stares at him, apparently dumbstruck, for what seems like a small eternity, then screeches, "You said what?!"
Oh. Um. Whoops?
Heartattack and Vine
Casey considers it's only polite to let Dan in on Jeremy's little misapprehension, his faux pas; after all, if there's something they're doing that's causing people to think of them that way –
– then it's best they know about it, maybe figure out what it is, and stop doing it.
Besides: Dan will see the funny side of it. Dan's a funny guy. He'll laugh. Casey's pretty sure he'll laugh.
Dan doesn't laugh. He just says, "Huh," and looks up at Casey, eyes dark and unreadable. "He said that, did he?"
Casey keeps the irritation out of his voice, just barely. "He did say that."
"Huh," Dan says again, then he pushes back his chair and walks out the door. "I need to look at tape," he says, and that's the last Casey sees of him till showtime.
The unexamined life
"I had to go out," is all Dan says when Casey asks him, but Casey can see he's white, greenish-white beneath his make-up, and it doesn't take a genius to put two and two together and get Abby.
Illogically – because, really, the whole thing's ridiculous, can't two guys just be friends any more without somebody getting the wrong idea – Casey finds this kind of insulting. What, is it such a horrible idea, the two of them together?
Then he thinks about that a little more and finds, to his surprise, that no. No, it's not. It's not that horrible an idea after all.
This is the thing: you can't un-think a thought, un-feel an emotion. You can't slam the lid back on Pandora's box and pretend that nothing ever happened, and now that Casey's started to think of Dan that way –
– he's finding it more and more difficult, to say nothing of harder (as it were) to think of him any other way.
Which makes things awkward, to say the least. Casey remembers the girls he used to date back in high school, the ones who'd let him hold their hands and buy them a coffee or a soda or whatever and maybe, just maybe let him kiss them, the ones who would then, inevitably, say Let's just be friends.
They never could be just friends again. You take that one step over the line, there's no going back.
Casey's not going to step over any lines, not until he's good and sure what waits for him on the other side. It's Platonic, he tells himself firmly; it's Dan's mind that he loves. And yet, and yet …
Dan's hands on the keyboard, long, clever fingers flying effortlessly over the keys; Dan's eyes, wide and liquid, lifting from the screen to meet Casey's across the room; Dan's smile, oh, Danny's smile!
The sleepless nights have returned, haunted by the shadow of that smile, sweet and sidelong and full of nameless promise. Casey dreams by night and, by day, he finds he can't stop looking.
You have to hand it to him: Jeremy's a smart guy; he realised something about Casey that even Casey didn't know. And Lisa? Ah; poor Lisa, more sinned against than sinning. Casey owes her an apology. Maybe someday he'll be man enough to put it into words.
At the moment he's got enough problems, choking on all the words he knows he can never say to Danny.
Tell you what I want, what I really, really want
So Casey has a secret, a grinning, lurking skeleton in his closet – which, he supposes, is the most appropriate place for it – that must never be revealed. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever.
That's okay, that's fine. Casey's an adult. He knows how to keep his mouth shut.
"You know Lisa thought I was in love with you?" he says to Danny, reeling up the stairs and through his doorway, plummeting across the room and falling flat on the bed, or at least mostly on the bed. "Or anyway," he clarifies, "She thought I cared more about you than I did about her." (He's rather pleased with himself for being able to speak so clearly. He's had it up to here with all those jokes about him and Jägermeister. Casey, unlike some people he could name, Mr Jeremy Goodwin, most certainly does not have a problem holding his drink.)
"She thought that." Dan's voice is oddly flat.
"Yup," Casey says, and hiccups. The room seems to be at a very odd angle. Then it rights itself, and he realises that Dan's hand is cradled around his skull, lifting him gently and settling him securely on the pillow. His eyes well with tears. No-one ever had a friend like Danny, so good and kind and caring. Casey knows he doesn't deserve him, but he doesn't care. Dan is his, and he's never going to give him up.
"Here's the thing," Casey says, and his hand shoots out and clamps around Dan's wrist. Dan doesn't struggle; just sits down quietly on the edge of the bed and waits for whatever Casey has to say.
"She was right," Casey mumbles. And, just like that, he's asleep.
It's Casey's proudest boast that he's never in his life been hung over.
It's also his biggest lie. Or, well … under the circumstances, maybe his second biggest. When he wakes up the following morning – alone, of course, how else? – the only things on his mind are aspirin, water, and gallons and gallons of black coffee.
All of which, he finds, are neatly laid out for him, on his bedside table and in the kitchen.
Danny, he thinks fondly, then shoots bolt upright and spills his coffee. Danny!
The tide is high, but I'm holding on
There are few things in the world more difficult than to try and co-write a script with your partner (and, by the way, there ought to be another word for 'partner', one that contains no potential whatsoever for less-than-hilarious misunderstanding), when you and said, um, 'partner' are sharing a mortified silence and unable to look one another in the eye. All this while both trying your damnedest to pretend that nothing is different or unusual or wrong and, oh, the hell with it –
"What I said last night – "
Dan lounges back in his chair and grins, easy, charming, except that Casey can see that his eyes are wide and panicked and the smile never reaches them. "Hey," he says lightly, "You were wasted, my young friend. It's okay. Don't worry about it."
Casey leaves his desk and comes to perch on the table, inches away from Dan, who looks as if he'd like to run a mile but holds his ground.
"It's true," he says quietly. "Lisa really did think I cared more about you than I did about her. Her and Charlie."
Dan tosses his head impatiently, to the ruination of his perfectly-gelled hair. "Then she's crazy," he says bluntly. "I don't know where Lisa stands in the Casey McCall Hot One Hundred these days, but I do know that Charlie's your number one, and always will be." He shrugs away whatever Casey had been going to say, and adds, "Me, I'm just glad to make the list." Then he winces, almost imperceptibly. Lists are still a little bit of an issue.
You're up there, Casey thinks, but doesn't say.
Dan seems to be finding his own hands fascinating, and Casey guesses there's more to come. Finally, "Is that why you split up?" he asks, his voice low and troubled. Casey leans forward, rests a hand on Dan's shoulder.
"We split up because we were bad together," he says. "We made each other miserable, we made Charlie miserable, we should have split up long before we did. It was nothing to do with you, Danny." Okay, maybe it was, a little, but, if so, Dan never needs to know. "Don't ever think that."
Dan finally looks up again. There's a question behind his eyes, something Casey instinctively knows will rock their world, but it never comes. Instead, all he says is, "We're cool?"
"We're cool," Casey confirms, and goes back to his computer. Engrossed in his typing, he scarcely notices when Dan leaves the room, or realises that he doesn't come back for a long, long time.
He has quite forgotten the final thing he said last night.
Demons are prowling everywhere nowadays
They are so not cool.
"M'm-h'm," Abby says, annoyingly calm and noncommittal as ever. (Some would call it 'professional', but Dan thinks it's cold and wonders, for approximately the million-and-first time, why he doesn't just find another shrink, one who might perhaps help him make some progress.) "Why do you think that is, Dan?"
He sinks deeper into the enveloping softness of her big armchair, which he suspects is supposed to create an illusion of going back to the womb.
"You know why it is," he mutters, eyeing the candy dish across the table but deciding he's too comfortable to move. Besides, he thinks he's getting fat, and that won't do. His looks, such as they are, are pretty much all he has left these days. He hasn't written anything halfway decent in – oh, god, months, he can barely muster up even the pretence of enthusiasm for the camera these days, he's tired and sluggish and nothing gives him joy any longer: not his job, not the fame or the money, not music or eating out or clubbing, not even sports … well: barely even sports. And not even sex. If it's been months since he's been able to write, then it's been even longer since he's met anyone he felt any urge to spend the night with.
Other than, you know. The usual. And that's a tale that's grown tired in the telling.
Abby has never been one to let him off the hook easily.
"I know why you think it is," she says now. "But I'd like to hear it from you."
He sighs, and gives up the hard, hurting thing, the thing that keeps him wakeful throughout the night and makes it hard to swallow or to breathe.
"Casey told me he loved me," he admits, and sees Abby's eyes widen and her back straighten. "That is," he qualifies, "What he actually said was he 'cared for me'. More than he did for Lisa. That may not be entirely the same thing."
"But it's progress?" Abby says. She makes it a question. "It took you a long time to admit the way you felt, Dan, and you're a lot more … more open-minded than what you've told me of Casey. If you've got him talking about his feelings, that's a good thing. Isn't it?"
He looks straight into her eyes. "He was drunk," he tells her flatly, and reaches for the candy after all.
No. They are so not cool.
But the little girls, they understand
"They are so not cool," Natalie says to Dana.
"Uh-huh," Dana agrees, and tells Chris to show her the chyron on Five. Which sucks, and she says so.
"It's bad for the show," Natalie says. "There's a tension."
Dana looks at her. "Who are we talking about?"
Natalie huffs out a frustrated breath. "Dan and Casey!"
"Huh," Dana says, gives it a moment's thought, then, "There's no tension." For Dana is, when she chooses to be, Queen of Denial, and of all the other rivers in Africa too.
"There's a tension!" Natalie insists. "And there are secrets. Secrets to which I am not a party."
"Well, that's what makes them secrets."
"There may," Natalie muses darkly, "Need to be retribution. A little punishment."
Dave and Will and Chris turn and stare at her in alarm. "If you're taking their pants," Dave pleads, "Could we have some kind of warning this time round? Because I still wake up screaming in the night from the last time."
"My eyes, my eyes," Will chimes in, clutching dramatically at his face. Chris just looks resigned, which isn't that different from his normal expression.
Kim, buffing her nails at her own console behind them, smiles, slow and catlike. "Warning would be good. I'd like to bring in my video camera. Relive those precious moments in my own good time."
Dave and Will and Chris shudder in unison, and Dana rolls her eyes exasperatedly.
"There'll be no stealing of pants, no video cameras, no precious moments, and no punishment," she states firmly, as though she were pronouncing an edict. She glances up at the next graphic, sighs, and lets it pass. "And Natalie?" She beckons her closer.
"Find out what's up with the guys," she tells her softly, "And tell them to get over it."
I want badly to see you naked
Natalie reports back to Casey. "Dana says, 'get over it'," she informs him. "Also, your pants are safe."
Casey has no idea what she's talking about. "Uh-huh," he says, carefully. "This is good news."
"Natalie says our pants are safe," he relays on to Dan. "In case you were wondering."
Dan considers him carefully, looking him slowly up and down.
"On the whole," he decides, "I think that's probably for the best." Then a deer-in-the-headlights expression crosses his face, and he jolts back as though Casey were a biohazard.
If not now, Casey thinks, Then when?
"Why?" he asks, and reaches for Dan's arm as he tries to leave the room. "No, you don't need to go look at tape. Why is it for the best, Danny?"
Dan's eyes are fixed on Casey's hand now. "Because," he says, so quietly that Casey can barely hear him, "Because it's hard enough to be around you fully clothed. Because – " Now his voice is louder, stronger. "Because you talk without thinking, Casey, and you say things you don't mean, and, what, you think that afterwards everything can just go back the way it used to be?"
"What makes you think I don't mean them?" Casey says, his own voice low. Dan's mouth twists.
"I've known you ten years, Casey. You're just now realising why things have always been weird between us, and suddenly you want to travel the road not taken? Don't I get some kind of say in all of this?"
Casey looses his grip. "You get your say." He stands back, waiting, ready for whatever might come, good, bad – whatever.
"What do you want to say, Danny?" he prompts again, and hears Dan breathe in sharply, almost angrily.
"Nothing," Dan says. "There's nothing I can say, Casey. There aren't words." And that could mean anything – yes, anything, good, bad, whatever – but there's something about the way he speaks, something about the way he stands that brings Casey a glimpse of hope, and he reaches out once more, this time just to touch Dan's sleeve.
"Show me," he tells him.
And Dan does.
Somehow the script gets written that day; somehow they make it through the show. Casey couldn't tell you how, or what, or where, or who; he's living in a bubble, dizzy, delirious, and nothing in the world seems real, nothing but the press of Dan's leg against his beneath the anchor desk, the brush of his hand as he pretends to reach for a pen. Nothing but the memory of Dan's lips on his, Dan's arms wrapped close around him, the scent of Dan's skin, the warmth of his breath.
Nothing but the feeling of finally, after an age, an eternity of wandering in the wilderness, of finally coming home.
I believe in the promised land
"And we're out," says Dave's voice, and so they are, out of the show, out of the studio, out of the office, into the elevator (another kiss there because they can't wait a second longer, but just a quick one, just enough to take the edge off the longing, except it doesn't, it only makes it worse), and 'home' is a very long way away and the cab driver knows who they are and is all eyes and ears so they wait and wait and wait again and there's the front door, and another elevator, and then the door to Dan's apartment with the key that always sticks in the lock and which Dan nearly snaps in half in his haste, and then, and then, and then …
It's been a long time coming; years, it's taken them, to finally get to this point. But here they are at last, no more questions, no more lies, no more misunderstanding or pretence. And it's too precious a thing to rush, too urgent to take slowly, but somehow they make it work, fingers sliding through hair and under fabric, mouths against temples, cheeks, necks, chests, heat and haste and desire and, oh, and need, he needed this, how did he never know he needed this so badly, why didn't he know?
And then, afterwards, the two of them, tired and sticky and sated in one another's arms.
And there's nothing left to say except that whatever tomorrow brings, tomorrow, the first day of the rest of their lives –
(Which could be anything; who would have thought, yesterday morning, that the nighttime would find them here?)
It's going to be a good day.
It's going to be a great life.