Oh, The Places You'll Go

Return To Oz

Notes: This was originally a drabble. But gothamsthirdrobin and suchthefangirl asked for more. And so nicely, too. When it hit me why Dan left, I almost didn't want to write it. But I girded my loins (at least, I think that's what I did) and this is the end result. Set post-canon. Some spoilers for the end of season 2. Beta'd by phoebesmum. WARNING: Non-con.


After Dan left, Casey's world became black and white. He had barely noticed at first as sharp, vibrant colors leached, lumen by lumen, becoming more subtle, flat, mere tints. Until one morning the spectrum had vanished: an external monochrome landscape to match the emotional wasteland inside. Casey, uncharacteristically penitent, took this occurrence with a measure of serenity. He deserved this, he thought. This was his punishment.

"If Danny was here, he'd convince you you had a brain tumor." Casey remembered sunglasses; Dan's shoulder under his hand. He smiled at the memory, then frowned as another thought crossed his mind.

"If Danny was here, this wouldn't be happening."

It had been strange at first. Each morning he would wake up expecting color, missing it with an intense pain when it did not materialize. He told no one, learning to read the subtle distinctions between one gray and another so that he didn't make any glaring errors that might set alarm bells ringing. In time, the world of shade and shadow became second nature. So he almost missed the red light on the answering machine as it blinked three times.

Casey walked over to the light, mesmerized. This was red. Wasn't it? It had been so long since his eyes had been asked to recognize anything other than a spectrum of grays that he could not be sure. He reached out to touch the light, snatching his finger away at the last second, convinced that the heat of the color would burn. Instead, he redirected the finger to press the message button. Later, he would not understand how he had not known, how it hadn't been obvious, but when the first hesitant words fumbled from the tape into the air in Dan's voice — Dan's voice — the shock was so great that, until he adjusted, he heard only intonation and pitch, the raspy darkness and uncertain staccato a greeting from long ago and far away. Then nothing. Silence. A momentary panic that this was it, this was all there would be. But then no, not silence. Casey could hear breaths, unsteady and shallow. He waited, his seized lungs forcing him to mimic Dan's breathing. So intent was Casey on his aural sense that he did not notice the tiny pulses of color that blossomed and died above the machine with every recorded breath.

"Say something," he begged the mechanical Dan. "Say something." A hitch in the breathing and then, miraculously, words. Just three, but Casey heard them fall into his ears, crystal clear each one.

"I miss you."

And though Casey was shot through the heart with a long forgotten emotion suspiciously like joy, he could not miss the mushroom cloud of color that exploded from the machine and remained, solid and unmoving in the air, as if an easily distracted child had abandoned coloring in a picture. He stared at it, fascinated, barely hearing the click that indicated the end of the message. The patch was clearly delineated from the surrounding gray, adding color to the top of the answering machine, a portion of the green glass vase that stood next to it and the warm, neutral tone of the wall. Casey put his hand into it and was amazed to realise he had forgotten the color of his skin: blue veins like rivers across the tan plain; brown curling hairs like sparse vegetation. He pulled out his hand and his skin returned to muted monochrome, everything around him still the same dull shades. Everything except the small cloud of color. Small enough, reasoned Casey, to have been created by three words. Three words that spilled out of the speaker into the surrounding air. Three words that gave Casey hope. And hope could never be colorless, could it?

Picking up the cordless handset, Casey edged backwards, one hand stretched behind him to avoid falling. He grasped the rear corner of the couch and sidled around it, then kneeled on it, leaning over the back, eyes never leaving the color cloud. He felt the heavy weight of the phone in his hand and ran his thumb across the buttons. It would be so easy to call Dan now. It did not matter that he had not spoken to him in — how long? Of course he had the number memorised. Ever since he'd stolen it from Dana's address book. A few taps on the keys were all that stood between them.

He took a deep breath and held it, trying to quell the fierce pounding of his heart. 'Come on, you coward,' he thought. 'You didn't even have to make the first move. Dan did. Dan always does. The least you can do is call him.' Casey exhaled a long, low breath. He could feel his body shaking with — what? With fear? With expectation? And it was this that decided him. Dan would be in LA feeling exactly the same way. It was cruel to keep him waiting. Casey dialled and lifted the handset to his ear. Dan's phone rang exactly once before Casey hit the cancel button. He dropped his head onto the back of the couch and closed his eyes, panting.

The last time Casey had seen Dan it had been so angry, so vengeful. Casey could not have regretted his actions more. Equally, he regretted Dan's. They should never have allowed things to get so out of hand. Fucking your best friend and partner as a climax to a bitter power struggle was not exactly recommended in any of the self-help books Casey had forced himself to read. And Dan's parting shot? Well, that had been the thought that Casey woke up with in the morning and went to bed with every night ever since.

***

Dan had been spoiling for ... something ... for weeks. He'd done everything he could to push Casey's buttons, including humiliating him on air. Casey had been furious. White-hot angry. And whenever someone told him to let Dan off the hook it was all he could do not to punch them in the face. Dan had done a good job of convincing everyone he was truly contrite but Casey knew he wasn't, not really. He could see it in Dan's eyes, which had hardened like diamonds. Then the station went up for sale and nobody knew where they were any more, so Dan and Casey clung together, two drowning men. Only they weren't trying to save each other, they were scrambling over one another to reach the only life-jacket. An offer came in from LA and Dan was all for it. He was restless and unhappy and desperate to be gone. But Casey ... Casey was not so sure. Casey had responsibilities — Charlie, an ex-wife — and he couldn't just pull up stakes and leave. They fought about it, like they seemed to fight about everything those days. Dan accused Casey of being selfish; Casey accused Dan of being a coward.

When Calvin Trager bought out CSC and Sports Night was saved, it should have been a night of celebration for them both. No more decisions to be made. Their jobs were safe, the show would go on. But that night, while everyone all around them were drinking glass after glass of champagne and exchanging hugs and war stories, Dan and Casey sat at the bar, the tension so thick around them it was as though they were protected by an invisible force field. No one came near them. No one even appeared to notice their presence. It was Dan who broke the silence. It was always Dan.

"I can't do this any more, Casey." His voice was hoarse, as if he had had the shouting match by himself, as if it was all over and there was nothing more to be said.

Casey felt the anger beginning to pool in his gut like hot lead, but kept his cool and answered, "Do what?"

"This," Dan replied, his hand a sword slicing the air between them. "You. Me. Working together. Friends. Whatever. I can't do it any more."

Casey didn't say a word. Instead, he got off his stool and grabbed Dan's wrist in a vice-like grip. He yanked at Dan's arm, pulling him towards the door. Dan's eyes widened but he kept silent. Casey hit the door straight-armed and kept going, raising the arm higher to call for a cab. He did not look at Dan, but kept his fingers firmly wrapped around Dan's limp arm.

A taxi pulled up and Casey shoved Dan in before him, giving instructions to the driver. Dan pushed himself as far away from Casey as possible. He sat hunched over, cradling his freed wrist in his other hand, soothing himself with soft sweeps of his thumb. Casey felt the anger swell again. Dan shouldn't be hurt. Dan didn't have the right to be hurt. He stared at the steady motion of Dan's thumb, and, mouth suddenly dry, his tongue flicked out to lick his lips. Dan turned his head and looked straight into Casey's eyes.

"What the ...?"

Casey was across the seat in a flash, his hand shoved against Dan's mouth, forcing him back, head cracking on the glass. "Shut up! Not here. Shut up!" He glanced at the front of the cab, seeing the driver's shocked expression in the mirror. He narrowed his eyes, staring the man down. It worked. The driver's eyes shifted back on the road. Casey returned his attention to Dan whose eyes remained locked on Casey's face. In the dark, Casey could not read their expression, but the tilt of Dan's head was as familiar to him as air: he was being taunted.

He felt a slow, hot, wet trail tickle across his palm and he snatched his hand away as if Dan had held a lighted match to it. He saw Dan's tongue slip back inside his mouth and hardened in response. This only fuelled his anger and he dug his nails in his palms to prevent himself lashing out. No one else had ever inspired this degree of rage in him. Not even Lisa at her worst. Casey hated the feeling, hated not understanding it, hated being out of control. He broke eye contact with Dan, staring past him, out of the window, concentrating on breathing in, breathing out. The cab pulled up at Casey's apartment block and Casey paid the driver. He got out. Dan sat passively until Casey came round to open his door.

"Get out," Casey said. He barely recognised his own voice in the dark, threatening tones. Dan did as he was told. They made it past the doorman with little fuss and reached Casey's apartment without a glance or a word being exchanged. Casey handed his key to Dan, and stood back a little to let Dan open the door, the harsh halogen lighting making him squint. Dan fumbled the key on the first attempt, freezing as Casey cursed. He tried again. The door swung open and Casey bustled him through it, slamming it behind them both.

They stood in the unlit hallway, face to face, too close, as always too close, daring with their eyes. In private, at last Casey could give in to the mad swirl of anger constricting his lungs, speeding up his heart, burning through his veins. His hands came up and he shoved Dan's chest, hard. Dan stumbled backwards, but kept his balance.

"What the fuck?!" yelled Casey, stepping towards Dan and shoving him again. "What the fuck?! You can't do it any more? What is that? A threat?" — shove — "A promise?" — shove — "A dare?" — shove.

Dan's passivity broke. He pushed Casey back.

"Get your fucking hands off me!" he growled. "I am so sick of you always having to be the one in charge. The senior partner. The fucking world-weary pro. Seen it, done it, got an award for it. You always have to be better than me. More money, more status, more pull with the network. You don't give a fuck about me. About me — Dan. You just want Ol' Faithful Danny sitting by your side, making you look good. KTLA wanted us both. Not me with you, but me and you. Partners. Proper partners! Do you know how good that made me feel? Do you?" He made as if to shove Casey again but twisted his hands into the soft cotton of Casey's shirt, yanking Casey towards him, their faces only an inch apart.

"You never wanted me to grow up, did you, Casey?" His voice was a violent whisper now, cold and dark and shot through with something so close to hatred that it made Casey shiver. "You wanted the same Danny you first met. The one that would hang on to every word you said. The one that could be picked up and put down and used just when you wanted him. Me in my place, you in yours. Well, I have news for you, my friend," and Dan twisted the shirt again, catching Casey's hairs and making him wince. "I did grow up. And I'm as good as you are, and sometimes even better. And I deserve more. From the show, from the network, from my career, but most of all from you."

Somewhere deep inside, Casey knew that Dan was at least partially right, but the ferocity of his emotions made it impossible to acknowledge.

"Oh, get a grip, would you?" he returned, voice dripping with contempt, anger burning like a fuse. "Poor little Danny, always so hard done by. It's hardly my fault that I've been doing this longer than you. I worked hard to get where I am and I'm not giving anything up just so you can tell your shrink you feel better about yourself. Crazy fucking lunatic." Despite the dark, Casey could have sworn he saw Dan's eyes flash.

"Fuck you, you self-important jackass!" Dan unclenched his fists and twisted his hands round, holding them up as if to say 'that's it, no more'. But the fuse had reached the powder keg and as it blew, Casey could neither see nor hear, only feel. He grabbed Dan's shoulders and pulled him in, crushing their mouths together. This was not a kiss, it was an attack. Dan's lips opened under his, but Casey did not have a chance to celebrate this tiny victory before Dan was fighting back, his tongue invading Casey's mouth, violating, his hand wrenching at Casey's hair.

Opening salvos over, the real battle commenced. Casey used his height to manoeuvre Dan into the bedroom. The unforgiving neon of street lights filtered through the window, bathing them both in harsh luminescence. They stalled at the bed, Dan finding the soft hollow behind Casey's collarbone and biting down hard. Casey couldn't contain a gasp of pain and Dan pulled back, gloating, his eyes searching Casey's half-illuminated face.

"You fuck!" snarled Casey, tightening his grip on Dan's shoulders, forcing him back against the bed until his knees gave way and he tumbled backwards, pulling Casey down on top of him. Dan lifted his head, mouth searching for Casey's. Casey pushed down on him, hard, sucking Dan's lower lip between his teeth, nipping it with restrained subtlety, sending a message, letting Dan know he could take what he wanted, do what he wanted.

Dan writhed under Casey's weight, pressing their hips together. Casey could feel Dan's hardness answering his own. Somehow this only served to make him angrier; explosions were firing off in his head, bringing down a mist of smoke and sparks over his eyes, blinding him. Dan's hands were on him now, under his shirt, raking at his skin. Casey recoiled instinctively, which pushed his own hard cock into Dan's belly. Dan's lips were curved in a distortion of a smile and Casey wanted to beat it out of him, beat him until all that was left was bloody pulp.

Pushing himself into a sitting position he captured Dan's wrists. He started to thrust them above Dan's head but this was the moment Dan decided to behave like a bucking bronco. He fought Casey tooth and nail, scrabbling with hands and feet for purchase on the sheets, twisting wildly from the waist. Casey lost his balance and toppled to the side, one leg still resting across Dan's hips. Dan grabbed it, flipping it and himself over so that he lay between Casey's thighs, using Casey's weight against him to pin his arms underneath his sides.

He laid one arm across Casey's chest to keep him in position whilst the other worked on Casey's belt. The jangle of the buckle and the heavy sound of breathing were the only sounds in the room. Casey's rage made him want to struggle to free himself, but his desire screamed at him to keep still, to let Dan bring about his release. Dan undid Casey's pants with a dexterity that spoke of years of practice. Casey couldn't let that one slide.

"How long've you been a cocksucker, Danny?" he taunted in a playground voice. Dan's response was to push his arm up higher, pressing against Casey's throat, choking him. Casey thrashed but Dan held firm. Resting his body weight on Casey and leaning his head on Casey's chest, he shoved his free hand into well-worn flannel boxers, wrapping his fingers around the thick cock as if he owned it. Casey gurgled and contorted violently again, this time freeing an arm. He grabbed the one at his throat, yanking it away, causing Dan to cry out and tighten his grip around Casey's erection.

It didn't take Dan long to recover and the next thing Casey could feel was Dan biting his nipple, sending his pain and pleasure sensors haywire, then slithering down his body, scraping with his teeth as he headed south. Casey's grip loosened and tightened around Dan's forearm, wanting what came next, yet wanting to stop it. Dan took advantage of his vacillating and regained control of his arm, sliding the hand along the side of Casey's ribcage, nails digging into the softer flesh of his abdomen, whilst his other hand slowly jacked Casey in long strokes. He ran his thumb along the length of Casey's hipbone, causing the skin to pucker and Casey to squirm, then released Casey's cock, hooking his fingers around the two waistbands and pulling the material down around Casey's ass.

Dan shifted position again, drawing up his knees so he was on all fours, hands at the top of Casey's thighs, holding him down, keeping his legs parted. Casey could feel the heat radiating from Dan's palms, the slick sweat beginning to create a barrier between them. His cock strained, aching for the return of touch. Casey's brain was working on a primal level only, everything red and black and hot and fierce, no sense or order to his thoughts. He just wanted. His breath shuddered as Dan rubbed his rough cheek across Casey's balls and up his shaft, flicking out a tongue to stroke the engorged glans, flattening and sweeping downwards as his lips followed, stretching around the head, still wearing that same distorted smile.

As the hot, wet cavern surrounding him sent Casey into sensory overload, he shoved up with his hips, connecting with the roof of Dan's mouth, sliding across the smooth hardness, pressing into the soft flesh just behind. Casey grabbed at the sheets with both hands, twisting and pulling, fingers spasming. Dan moved one hand to encircle Casey's penis at the base with finger and thumb, controlling, guiding. He slid this circle back and forth around Casey's cock as his mouth worked up and down the shaft. Casey moaned involuntarily. He was close to the edge, spinning out of control. Out of control. Abruptly aware, he struggled up onto his elbows; Dan looked up, his mouth still full of Casey. Then Casey saw it. The brutal expression in Dan's eyes. This was about power, Casey remembered. It was about power, it was about control and he was about to give Dan the victory.

That couldn't happen, Casey thought. That must not happen. Ignoring the buzzing sensation building deep in his groin, he waited for Dan's mouth to reach the apex of its journey. Dan swirled his tongue around the tip of Casey's cock and Casey was nearly undone. But he had always been good at sticking to a plan. He sat bolt upright, grasping Dan's ears and tugged violently, rocking him back on his knees. Dan's mouth came away with a jerk, leaving Casey's penis bobbing ungracefully, a string of saliva stretching and contracting between belly and head.

"What the fuck, Casey?" Dan demanded, face contorted with pain, hands clutching at Casey's trying unsuccessfully to shift them.

"Don't move," ordered Casey. "I'm going to let go. Don't you dare move." Dan did not reply. His breaths came fast and deep through his nose. Casey let go and pulled up his legs, swinging them round and shifting himself to the edge of the bed. He stood up, letting his pants fall around his ankles, and stepped out of them, toeing off his shoes. A soft sound from behind, Casey thought it sounded almost like a hiccup, made him turn around to see Dan rubbing his eyes with thumb and finger, smile vanished, replaced by a look of quiet desperation. He faltered.

"Danny?" He spoke gently.

Dan's head whipped up and around and the sneer was back. "Yeah? What? I'm here, I'm not moving, so what now, McCall? Or are you all big hat and ..." — his eyes travelled up and down Casey's half-naked form — "... no cattle?" That was it. Sympathy gone. Casey was back in control. He started to unbutton his shirt.

"Take your clothes off," he commanded.

"What if I say no?"

"Take your fucking clothes off, Danny." His shirt crumpled onto the bedroom floor and he bent quickly to remove his socks. Not a very authoritative position, Casey thought.

"I'll have to move."

"Just do it."

Rising from the bed, his insolent eyes holding Casey's gaze, Dan began to undress. He stripped slowly, revealing a little skin at a time. Trying to regain control, reflected Casey. Trying to drive me mad with his body and his shimmies and his smell and his, god his beautiful cock. Eventually Dan stood, naked, the smirk still playing on his lips. And at that moment Casey hated him. Hated him. He took two strides towards Dan and, swinging from the shoulder, landed a punch against his jaw. He heard the crack of bone on bone, felt the jarring impact ricochet up his arm, stopping his fist dead in mid-air, saw Dan's face turn from the blow. He took a step backward, readying himself for the return punch but it did not come.

Dan's head came around slowly to look at Casey, eyes holding the same fuck-you expression. He touched his little finger to the corner of his mouth, smearing the blood across his lower lip like lipstick, his tongue snaking out to lick it off. He lowered his hand to his side, standing there quiet, controlled, only the minute flaring of his nostrils indicating that this situation might be in anyway untoward. Casey saw the blood beginning to forge a channel from the cut, smelled the metal tang in the air. The area around Dan's jaw where bone had collided with skin was bruising already, and in the half-light Casey couldn't make out the colors, knew though that they were livid and wrong.

He should have stopped it right there. He should have walked away, but Dan was winning. Casey had struck him and he had turned the other cheek. The boiling fury in Casey's brain incited him to punch again and again but the part of him that retained some cunning knew that this would get him nowhere.

Dan did not speak. His only movement to raise his eyebrows. But Casey knew what he was saying. He was saying "And?" He was goading — hit me, I win, don't hit me, I win. There was only one thing to do. And this way he wouldn't have to look at the mark on Dan's face.

"On the bed." Casey was surprised to hear himself sound so calm, so authoritative.

Dan lay on the bed, arms by his sides, eyes now inquisitive. So you want to know what comes next, thought Casey. You may change your mind about that.

"On your front," he demanded and was rewarded as a fleeting look of fear chased across Dan's face. Dan did as he was told, the sheets crumpling underneath him. He pillowed his head in his hands. Casey stared at him. The long length of his back dimpling before curving out into sweet round ass. Dan's thighs were pressed tight together, the diagonal creases across the top meeting with the seam of his ass to form an arrow pointing directly to Casey's hell.

Casey felt dizzy, the blood that wasn't racing to engorge his cock more than he had thought possible was rushing through his heart at enormous speed, leaving what was left of his brain starved. This, at least, could provide an excuse: I wasn't thinking straight. Casey's lips curved in a grim smile as he noted the inadvertently appropriate choice of words. Always practical, he reached for the bedside drawer.

Casey pushed Dan's legs apart and knelt between them. For a second he hesitated, then his fury at Dan's betrayal overwhelmed him, a red mist descending, and he was him but Not him. It was Not him that drew up Dan's hips, that pushed his cock against resisting muscles. It was Not him that wrapped his hand around Dan's cock, pumping steadily, distracting him from the tearing sound, trying to convince him to open up, take it like a man.

It was Not him that thrust, grunting, again and again, exerting his power. Abusing it. It was Not him that orgasmed and still felt unreleased. It was Not him that pulled out his rapidly wilting erection, flopping onto his back, panting. It was Not him that stripped himself of the soiled condom, flinging it to the floor where he would not have to look at it.

The moment Casey was on his back, Dan was on his feet, dressing. Through the receding mist Casey could see that Dan was still hard, had not come. That Casey had failed — he did not have all the power. That this was Dan's small victory. Dan did not meet Casey's eyes, did not speak.

As Dan reached the bedroom door, not even attempting to hide his limp, he turned to look at Casey, his eyes dark and sad.

"The thing is, Casey. I loved you. Hearts and flowers loved you. And you killed it." And without waiting for a response he turned again and left, leaving Casey shocked, alone and already beginning to swim with regrets.

***

Casey lifted his head from the couch, face burning. It had been a long time since he had allowed himself to look at that memory and nothing had happened since that had made it easier to bear. How could he have let things get so out of hand? How could he have behaved like that? Fucking Dan — no, call it by its proper name — like that. His stomach clenched. He couldn't even bear to think the word. No wonder Danny had run. But now here he was, calling, and Casey was chickening out again. Man or mouse? he asked himself and began to dial. This time he didn't hang up and with the fifth ring came the click and soft buzz of an open line.

"Hello." Dan's voice. Drawing out the first syllable and shortening the second. Casey smiled — he'd missed hearing that greeting. He was so busy with the flood of memories that hearing Dan brought back that he forgot he was supposed to be taking part in this conversation.

"Hello?" A pause. "Casey? It's you, right? I can do this by myself but it's easier if you join in."

Casey had always thought that the telephone made it easy to hide your feelings — no visuals — but he recognised every nuance in Dan's tone, the smile, the edge of apprehension, the uncertainty. His stomach swarmed with butterflies.

"Hey, Danny," he squeaked out, wondering when his voice had reverted to its prepubescent state. He cleared his throat, clutching at a pillow with his free hand.

"Hey, Casey. It's ... been a long time."

"Yeah. Yeah, it has. Too long." An awkward, gut-clenching silence.

"So ... how've you been?"

"Oh, you know, OK, I guess. Show's closing in on second so ... You?"

"Yeah, great. It's a different world out here. Really."

"Great."

"Great." Another pause and Casey shifted his legs out from under him, sliding down the back of the couch. As he did, the phone jerked away from his ear and he became aware of a disturbance in his peripheral vision. He turned his head and realised that he could see the red of the couch in the shape of a small, horizontal teardrop. Casey stared, then moved his head slowly around until it was resting on the couch. The teardrop was now in front of him and through it he could see a tear of color along the book spines on the shelf opposite. This was very strange. He became aware of a tinny voice coming from the phone, which he still held away from him.

"Casey? Casey? Are you still there?" He watched, fascinated as with those words a small stripe of color grew across the books, obliterating the teardrop.

"Casey?" Dan sounded a little panicked now and Casey's attention snapped back.

"Danny," he said, putting the phone back to his ear. "Sorry, I ... There's something weird happening. I'm still here."

"Something weird?"

"Yeah."

"Want to tell me about it?"

"Yeah." Casey could sense Dan smiling down the phone as he failed to elaborate. He let out a deep breath and felt the clouds of butterflies beginning to settle down. This was. Good.

"Casey, I know I am a man of many, many talents but telepathy is not one of them. What's weird?"

"You won't believe me."

"OK. Tell me anyway."

"Yeah." Casey tried to think of what he could possibly say that didn't make him sound insane. See, Danny, when you speak, there's color. No. My vision has of late resembled that of a dog. No. He screwed up his face.

"Casey, spit it out. Look, we could ask each other awkward questions about mutual friends and acquaintances. We could trade sports gossip. We could debate the rise and rise of conservative Republicanism. We could do any of those things. Anything to keep each other at arms' length, right? But I don't want that and I think that neither do you. So tell me what's weird or, swear to god, I will write my column next week on how much I love Jerry Falwell."

"You can't do that, you're a sports writer."

"Believe me when I tell you I can pretty much do whatever I want."

"You can?"

"I can."

"You're that good?"

"I'm that good."

"I haven't ..."

"I know. Don't sweat it. I haven't watched Sports Night either. It was too ..."

"Yeah. It was."

"So spill already. It's pretty late here so it must be practically morning over there."

"OK. So. God, this is weird. So." Casey took a deep breath and then it all came out in a rush. "After you went something strange happened to my eyesight. Not a tumor, before you ask. The color disappeared. It just faded away and the whole world has been like a black and white movie ever since. I kinda got used to it, you know. Then when I got home tonight there was your message on the answer machine. And I realised that the light telling me I had a message was red. It was actually red. I could hardly remember what red was. I played the message and ... this is insane, but it's true. Swear to god it's true, Danny. When your voice came out of the speaker this cloud of color came out. Well, obviously it wasn't a real cloud, it was like I could see color through this one patch of air. But everything else was still gray. And just now the phone got jogged and then there was another patch. I can't explain it. But there are places in the room that I can see color through. I'm not making any sense, am I?" He came to a stop and waited. There was a long pause and Casey started to panic.

"Danny? Say something."

"Are you high?" asked Dan with an air of general enquiry.

"No."

"Are you on any medication?"

"No."

"Are you seeing any mental health professionals?"

"No."

"Well, OK then."

"Well, OK then what?"

"OK, I believe you."

"You do?" Casey slumped over sideways, boneless with relief.

"Yes I do. Insane though it sounds."

"Why?"

"Why do I believe you?"

"Mmm."

"Because it was difficult to say. Because you're you. Because what have you to gain from making up such a dumb story. Because you have the imagination of a stone elephant."

"All good points. So what do you think?"

"I'm not sure I should tell you."

"Why not?"

"Because I'm going to sound like I think the world begins and ends with me. And, while it obviously does, I'm smart enough to keep it to myself."

Casey laughed but a voice in his head told him not to get too comfortable. Dan was letting him off awfully lightly. And while he was grateful, it couldn't be this easy to get it back. It shouldn't be this easy. "Come on, ride the ego train and enlighten me."

"Fine. But you asked."

A short pause while Dan gathered his thoughts.

"You lost the color after I. Left. Could've been a coincidence. But the first time you hear from me, wherever my voice hits the air it acts as a conduit to color. It's not coincidence. It's me. Or your relationship to me. Either way. It's me. Try it out. Hold the phone away from your ear and walk across the room. I'll ... sing a song." Casey knew Dan was right. Truth be told he had already come to the same conclusion, but hearing it confirmed was, in some strange way, reassuring.

"Sing a song? Better not. I've heard you sing and you're more likely to drain the color out of the room with that voice."

"I'll have you know I've been said to have a pleasing baritone."

"By whom, exactly?"

"My mom," said Dan, abashed.

"Recite a poem. That one about the spume in your eye or something."

Casey heard Dan snort down the line. "Philistine! OK, time for the experiment. Are you ready?"

Casey scrambled to his feet and held the phone out in front of his face.

"Ready!" he called. He heard Dan's voice, quiet but firm and sure, and began to move across the room, watching the phone as he went.

"I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky.
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,"

And as Casey walked, the world in the wake of the phone became a path of colors. Colors so rich and varied that Casey was not sure he could name them all. He knew he had never noticed the subtle variations in hue in the days when he took color for granted.

"And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a gray mist on the sea's face, and a gray dawn breaking."

Casey circumnavigated the room, then stood, encircled by a ring of color, bright and wonderful against the surrounding grays. His chest heaved suddenly and he clamped the phone back to his ear, listening to Dan's steady, familiar voice.

"I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying."

He closed his eyes, wrapping his free arm tight around his chest. If Dan's voice could give color to his external world then it must be doing the same to his internal world. Casey imagined the color returning inside, red blood once more pounding through his body, thoughts rainbowing across his mind. He could see the images Dan was describing, in colors stark and vivid. He hadn't realized how much he had missed that. He felt the push of tears against his eyelids and swallowed hard against the swelling lump in his throat.

"I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over."

Dan's voice faded away. Casey tried to hold on to it, to the cadences, to the rhythms, to the texture and fix it to the images inside his head, but as it slipped away, so did the color, just a little, a photograph left out in the sun.

"Casey? Did it work?"

Casey's eyes flew open and he smiled with relief as the color path still hung in the air.

"Yeah, Danny. It worked. It worked."

"Well that settles it," said Dan, matter-of-fact.

"What?"

"I am your god."

Casey laughed then. Big gusts of laughter coming up from his toes and shaking his whole body. It had been so long since he had laughed so hard that his muscles ached from disuse. But he didn't stop, didn't want to shake this feeling of almost-happiness that had eluded him for what seemed like most of his adult life. Dan laughed too, and the warm tones wrapped round Casey like a comfort blanket. Eventually, the laughter subsided and a silence fell, the two men connected by the sound of their breathing. This time it did not feel awkward and Casey was suddenly aware that there was something he should be saying, something he should have said so many times.

"Danny, I'm sorry." He heard a sharp intake of breath at the other end of the line and tightened his grip on the phone, his stomach clenching.

"Casey ..." Dan sounded sad, broken.

"I am so sorry. I am. I ... It should never ... I can't believe I ... You don't know how much I hate myself, Danny." Casey blinked rapidly, the stripe of color appearing and disappearing before his eyes, a rudimentary zoetrope.

"I do know. Because I know how much I hate myself, so ... I'm sorry too, Casey. You weren't the only one at fault."

Casey let out a juddering breath. Hold it together, he told himself. Hardest won victories and all that.

"Dan. Sorry. Do you mind me asking? Why did you call?"

There was a long pause.

"Because I miss you. Because you don't throw a good thing away, even if it's broken, without seeing if you can fix it. Because I thought what I told you was the truth. Because it wasn't. Not entirely."

Casey's head whirled. There were so many questions he wanted to ask but he knew the repair work had to come first. And for that they would both have to be brave.

"How are we going to do this, Danny?" he asked.

"Honestly? I have no idea. And I don't even know if I can, but I do know I want to try."

"Me too. But can I ask a favor?"

"Uhuh."

"Can we not talk about ... it ... for now. I'm not ready. It's ... too much. I just want ..." He screwed up his courage. "You. I want you back in my life and I promise I will help fix this if it's in my power but for a little while can I just enjoy you? You and me?" He felt Dan stiffen. Knew he'd got the reference. Hoped he hadn't pushed too far.

"I understand," replied Dan at length. "And I would even go so far as to say I agree with you. Which is ... an interesting feeling. We're not ready. But I think we will be." He paused. "So. How's Charlie? Tall? Less geeky than his dad?"

When Casey finally got off the phone it was light. He was exhausted but even after he had settled down in bed, the cotton sheets cool against his skin, he could not sleep. Dan was in his head, laughing and joking, weaving rainbows out of fistfuls of nothing, looking at him, serious and questioning. "What happened next?" imaginary-Dan wanted to know. Casey winced and faced his memories.

***

The morning after, Casey woke to a bitter taste in his mouth, a throbbing ache down his chest and the words "I loved you and you killed it" on a loop through his brain. As he remembered the events of the previous night he flushed with shame, curling his body into the fetal position. Who was that man? It wasn't anyone Casey could bear to recognize as himself. How could he have treated Danny that way? Why had he? He groaned and pushed the heels of his hands into his closed eyes, gripping his head and rocked back and forth. Dan had said that Casey used him and he had been right.

Casey played obtuse very well but that didn't mean he was. The sleepy little Minnesota town where he'd grown up had not been that sleepy. Casey had known how Dan had felt about him since they had first met. At first he had thought it was a belated teenage crush, a hero-worship sort of thing, but it was obvious pretty soon that it was more than that. Much more. Dan did a terrible job of hiding how he felt, especially after a few drinks when he would look at Casey with soulful eyes that seemed to contain the pain and love of the entire universe. Those times, Casey had worked hard to resist being drawn into his orbit.

It had always been so easy for Casey to get Dan to do exactly what he wanted. He knew precisely how to play it, just the right amount of cajoling in his tone, full-on eye contact, a slight touch on a shoulder, an arm. It worked every time. Dan would put up some token resistance (sometimes he didn't even get that far), drop his eyes, blush a little, then agree. Casey used this on everything: getting Dan to come out for a beer, asking for help with a deadline, a blind date with one of Lisa's friends, bringing him to Dallas and then New York. So yes, he had used Dan.

But Dan had been wrong about one thing. It hadn't been about making Casey look better, but about making him feel better. He always felt better when Dan was around. Not just better — happier. Over the years Dan had cultivated an impeccable poker face so that eventually Casey couldn't be sure what he felt any more. And it was at exactly this point that Casey realized — no, admitted — why being around Dan made him so happy. It was just life's cruel joke that this was when relations between them took a sharp turn downhill, resulting in the shameful, humiliating scenes of the night before.

Casey willed himself to sit up, to start the day. He swung his legs over the edge of the bed and his foot touched something cold. He reached down and picked it up, stomach clenching in horror as he saw the discarded condom encrusted with dried blood. Dan's blood. Casey raced to the bathroom. Wrapping the condom in reams of toilet paper he flushed it, disregarding who knew how many city ordinances in his rush to dispose of the evidence. It was swiftly followed by the contents of Casey's stomach as he vomited uncontrollably. When there was nothing left but bile, Casey ran the shower, grateful for the hot water pounding over his head, down his body, hiding the tears that streamed from his eyes.

As he rode the elevator Casey began to sweat. His breath started coming in shallow gasps and he could feel his hands tremble as he gripped the rail. There was a bitter taste in his mouth and a rushing in his ears. He was terrified. What could he say? There was nothing he could say. He thought about getting straight into the next elevator down, but that would make him a worse coward. The least he could do was face Dan and try to find some way to fix this stupid, stupid mess. Each step towards the office drove his heart rate up higher and higher until he could feel the blood pounding in his throat, in his head, in his fingertips. He opened the door. No Dan. Casey crossed the room and sank with relief onto the couch. Breathing space, he had breathing space. And he needed it. Badly. He put his hands on his knees and began to draw long, shuddering breaths, trying to calm himself down. The door swung open and he lifted his head with a jolt, the color draining from his cheeks.

"Hi, Casey. How're you doing?" a cheerful voice asked. Casey's brain took time to adjust to the fact that it was not Dan at all, but Bobbi Bernstein, Dan's erstwhile lover, and now Sports Night's replacement anchor of choice, taking her coat off, hanging it up and going to Dan's seat as if she belonged there.

"Casey? Are you OK? You look terrible."

He gathered his thoughts. "Yeah. Sorry. Rough night. Erm, Bobbi?" She looked at him expectantly. "What are you doing here?"

Bobbi narrowed her eyes.

"Covering for Dan. Dana called."

"Where's Dan?"

Bobbi's head jerked a little sideways and her eyebrows furrowed. "You don't know? You always know. I figured he was sick or something." Before Casey could reply, the phone rang. Bobbi picked it up.

"Bobbi Bernstein ... Oh, hi, Isaac ... Yes, he's ... I will ... he looks pretty awful actually... OK ... Bye." She replaced the receiver slowly, carefully, concentrating on the task as if she was frightened it would break. Without looking up she addressed Casey. "Isaac wants you. Right away."

Casey's stomach dropped through the floor.

"Is it Dan?" he asked, wide-eyed.

"I don't know." Bobbi shook her head. "But Isaac sounded. Off. You'd better go."

Casey made it to Isaac's office in record time. The managing editor was sitting behind his large, wooden desk, head propped on steepled fingers. His expression was shuttered. Casey bypassed the chair set out to receive him and planted his hands on the desk, searching Isaac's face for any clue.

"Danny," he said. Question or statement, it didn't matter. Isaac closed his eyes and Casey could see the lines bleeding from their corners. 'When did Isaac get so old?' he thought. Isaac opened his eyes again and looked straight at Casey.

"He's gone," he stated bluntly.

Casey's legs began to tremble and he collapsed ungracefully on the chair behind him.

"Gone." Question or statement, it still did not matter which.

"Yes."

Casey could see Isaac struggling with powerful emotion. Dan's 'special bond' with Isaac was legendary; they were more like father and son than anything else. At the least, Dan's sudden departure would hurt Isaac deeply. And if he knew what Dan had been through? It didn't bear thinking about. If he knew, he'd fire me, Casey thought. And why not? Maybe he should.

"Gone," was all he managed to say.

"Yes." And Casey could see Isaac working himself up to something more. "He didn't tell you?"

"No." Casey's voice was bleached bones in the desert.

"I didn't think so. He was ... it was the strangest conversation. He said he was sorry but his sick days and vacation time came to two months' notice and he wouldn't be in again. I tried to talk him out of it, obviously. But he just said 'I'm gone, Isaac. I'm dust in the wind. I was never real anyway'. And then he ..."

"He what?" Casey watched Isaac's fingers clench and unclench.

"He told me he loved me and he hung up."

"That was it?"

"That was it."

"He's gone?"

"He's gone."

As emotion upon emotion rushed in, jostling for primary position, Casey's mind shut down. He sat, a stone, staring at Isaac, not moving, not speaking, barely breathing. Isaac looked alarmed and half-rose from his chair. Casey shook his head, the smallest of movements and Isaac sank back down, the creaking leather the only sound in the room. After several minutes, Isaac finally spoke.

"Casey, we have to make a decision. I'm sorry, but we have no choice."

Casey's eyes were dull.

"What decision?"

"Whether you are going to go on alone as sole anchor or we give D... the job to Bobbi Bernstein. Either way will be hard for you, I know. Hard for all of us. But you most of all."

Casey furrowed his brow. What was Isaac wanting from him? He tried to kick-start his thought processes and they sputtered briefly into life before fading again.

"You want ... me to choose?" he queried.

"Only if you feel you can."

"I think ..." Casey looked down at his hands splayed across his thighs, fingernails smooth and clean but a little long. Must remember to cut them later, he thought.

"Casey!" Isaac's voice was gentle but insistent.

Casey blinked and raised his head to meet Isaac's steady gaze.

"Bobbi," he said. "Better do it with Bobbi. If we're gunning for second it's too much to do on my own. Besides, the 18-39 male demo love Bobbi."

"Yeah," agreed Isaac. "They do." He nodded once. "It's the right decision, Casey." He paused, waiting for a reaction. None was forthcoming. "Do you need to go home?"

Casey shook his head.

"I don't think I should do that." The idea of returning to his apartment opened a yawning pit in his gut. Return to the scene of the. Of the crime. Briefly, he wondered if he could ever go home again.

"OK," said Isaac. "If you think you can do the show ..."

"Yeah. I can do it. I'll just go and ..." he waved his hand towards the door, blinking hard to refocus his gaze.

"Casey?"

"Hmmm?"

"I'm here. If you need to talk about ... anything."

Casey felt disconnected from his body, unaware of where he was in space, unable to comprehend the feedback that let him know one foot was being placed in front of the other, that his arms were swinging lightly at his sides, that his head was bowed. Somehow, he made it to the men's room where he fumbled with the cubicle lock because, body numb, he could not figure out how the separate movements of thumb, fingers and wrist worked together to slide the bolt across. Sinking onto the toilet seat he stared straight ahead, dry-eyed.

In all the scenarios he'd played out in his head on the way to work, this was one that had not even crossed his mind. Dan gone. Lost. He knew he should feel something but wasn't sure what it should be. He said the words aloud: "Dan's gone," using them to try to find the bruise, to push on it. But there was nothing. Nothing at all.

***

Enough, Casey thought. That's got to be enough for one day. It was only a couple of hours before he had to get up for work. He needed rest. Imaginary-Dan nodded, running his hand through Casey's hair, soothing.

"Sleep now," he said and Casey knew no more until the persistent beep of the alarm dragged him from the blackness of sleep.

His first act was to head to the living room. Sure enough, the trails created by Dan's voice still hung in the air. But the colors Casey could see had lost their brilliance, dimming as if they were losing power, had burnt too bright for too long. His heart sank a little, but he supposed it had been too much to ask, that it would be that easy to have color return to his life. He bowed his head, for a moment lost in thought, then sighed and went to make coffee.

Life continued pretty much as normal, except for the fact that it wasn't normal. His life. The last time it had been? The day before Draft Day 2000. Probably. Maybe not even then. Casey talked to Dan a couple of times a week. Nothing big, just news and chit-chat and stories about life in LA, life in New York. They were mending. It was slow, but they were mending. Dan liked to call Casey on his cell, get him to go places like the rink in Central Park, Fifth Avenue, the Village, Union Square Farmers' Market — vibrant places. Places that shook with noise and bustle and saturated the air with smells of garlic, of sweat, of ripe melons, of life.

And he would make Casey hold the phone out in front of him and would talk, mostly nonsense, sometimes reading an article out loud, sometimes snatches of poetry and songs. And the scene would change inexorably, as if someone was turning up the color on the TV. Casey would stand and watch, feeling the scene come to life, loving its richness and warmth but knowing at the same time that he was apart from this, it was only a temporary respite from the dullness of his world. He could try to reach it, walk into the middle of it, but it would be gone, behind him, and a new scene would be there when he turned around.

One time Dan called him while he was in the office. He wasn't alone. Dana and Isaac had come in to discuss coverage of the World Cup with him and Bobbi.

"It's Dan?" asked Dana in a stage whisper. Casey nodded.

"Put him on speaker!" demanded Isaac, his face lighting up.

"They want me to put you on speaker."

"Sure," said Dan. "Casey. This will be ... Cool. Sure."

Casey pressed the button.

"Danny!"

"Danny, my boy!"

"Hey, Dan."

"Guys, it's so good to hear you. Dana, I hear you got a little project going on the side now. How's that going? And Isaac. Isaaaaaac ... You just have to imagine the bear hug I'm crushing you with right now. Bobbi, hope you're keeping Casey on his toes. If he doesn't get a smackdown at least once a week his ego runs out of control."

And then everybody was talking at once, telling funny stories. It was as if by making Dan laugh they could atone for their lack of physical presence in his life, Casey thought. It was the telephonic equivalent of a hug. And all the while, as Dan laughed and interjected and relayed his own anecdotes Casey noticed the room slowly changing, filling with color as Dan's voice poured from the speaker. As the resonant, warm tones of his laughter filled the air, so the colors expanded until everything Casey could see in every direction was bright, vibrant, alive. Casey wanted to laugh, to shout "Did you see that? See what Dan can do!" But he knew they would look at him with that step-away-from-the-lunatic expression that had been so prevalent in the early weeks following Dan's departure.

He folded his arms and contented himself with a fond smile, affection reaching out from him like cords of gossamer silk, wrapping around these people that he loved. And then he was almost in tears at the realisation that he could not remember the last time he had allowed himself to feel that way. Sure, intellectually he had never stopped caring about these people, but love? That emotion had vanished from his repertoire, along with hope, desire, passion, disappointment, remorse, regret and a host of others. He had been numbed, evened out, the peaks and troughs of his emotional waves clipped, his feelings confined to a narrow channel somewhere between indifference and vague satisfaction. This love, this raw warmth that Casey felt deep, deep in his gut was red and pulsating and powerful and all-encompassing. There was not one thing that Casey did not love at that second.

"You did what?" Isaac was asking.

"Grew a goatee."

"Really? What's it like?" Dana's voice contained a note of fascinated horror.

"It's like a goatee, Dana. What do you think? It's not like I stuck an actual goat to my face."

"I think you'd look good with a goatee."

"See? Thank you, Bobbi. You are now, and have always been, a woman of impeccable taste and in no way a psychotic stalker lady."

"Dangerous ground, Rydell."

"Yeah, but I'm in LA, safe from pointy shoes and death glares, so I can say what I want. Isn't that right, Casey?"

Casey's limbs felt filled with hot syrup, viscous and yielding. He pulled himself together at the sound of his name.

"What's that, Danny?"

"Distance makes me safe."

"Yeah," he said, the irony of the remark not lost on him. "It does." He let the conversation continue another few minutes and then stood.

"Gotta go now, Danny. We've got a show to do."

Everyone said their goodbyes. Then it was Casey's turn.

"So you'll call?" Dan asked when Casey had taken him off speakerphone.

"No." Casey surprised himself with his answer.

"No?"

"I'm coming out there, Dan. I'm coming to LA."

˜

Casey sat in his less than comfortable airplane bucket seat, tapping his foot. Feeling emotions again was all very well but he was terrified. Utterly terrified. The kind, middle-aged lady sitting next to him had patted his hand and told him that planes were statistically the safest way to travel. Yes, he wanted to say, there are fewer plane than automobile deaths, but if you factor in the hours in your life spent on each form of transport the death rate evens out. That you were equally likely to die on a plane as in a car. What he actually said was thank you. Besides it wasn't flying that was causing this terror, like a battalion of mice gnawing at his gut. Well, not just the flying.

Isaac had called him into his office before he had left. He had looked at Casey for a long time before he spoke.

"I hope you know what you're doing, Casey," he had said.

"Isaac, I ..."

"I mean it, Casey," Isaac had interrupted. "Do not hurt that boy. If you do, I will personally see to it that your ass is kicked from here to Alaska. Do you understand?" Casey had nodded, mute. "I don't know what happened between the two of you before he left, and I think that's probably best, but I heard his voice and I saw your face and I am an intelligent man, Casey. And an experienced one at that. If you have felt love you can see it, if you have felt pain you can see it, if you have felt guilt you can see it. I have felt all those things and more and I am telling you now. Do. Not. Hurt. That boy."

Casey had stood up straighter and nodded again, lips pressed together. Isaac had taken a step towards him and patted his arm.

"You're one of the good guys, Casey McCall. You've been telling yourself otherwise, but you are. Wouldn't keep you around if you weren't. I hope that ... you get what you need. I hope you both do." He had turned and walked to the window. "Safe trip," he'd said, his back to Casey.

And now Casey was on the plane, on his way to Dan and he knew exactly what he needed and the fear that he wasn't going to get it was what set his foot tapping, his leg trembling and his heart pounding.

The first thing that Casey noticed was the way Dan stood, hands in his pockets, legs crossed at the ankles, leaning without there being anything to lean on. The second thing he noticed was the goatee. Neat, short hairs that clashed with the little boy pose, made Dan seem more grown up somehow. The third thing he noticed was the color. Dan stood enclosed in a Technicolor bubble, pulsing at the edges. If it was possible this color seemed even more real than that he had seen in New York — high definition TV to an analogue signal. The fourth thing he noticed was that Dan's smile still had the power to reach in and squash his heart like putty. And that it didn't matter that thousands of people were milling around them, some hurrying, others yelling, laughing, hugging, still others quiet, lost, searching, because Casey took a step forward, into Dan's Technicolor bubble, and the rest of the world ceased to exist.

Casey made no move to touch Dan. It was not yet his right. But he stood in front of him and grinned, taking in everything, the gold bristles scattered in among the dark ones, the lines etching a life-map of emotions onto Dan's face, the guarded joy in his eyes, the smudges under them.

"Hey, Danny," he said.

"Hey, Casey." He held out his hand for Casey's bag, but Casey shook his head. They turned and headed for the exit. "Good flight?"

"Yeah. Except not one of the stewardesses wanted to induct me into the Mile High Club. Not very friendly."

Dan laughed and in the easy banter that accompanied them to Dan's car, Casey's fear receded.

At first glance, Dan's house seemed to suggest that he had totally adapted to the LA lifestyle. Large rooms with big windows, tastefully decorated, expensive art on the walls, it didn't seem to be the Dan Casey knew. But then Dan showed Casey into the study. In anyone else's home this would probably have been a walk-in closet, but here, this was Dan's slice of New York. Books crowded shelves that went from floor to ceiling. CDs overflowed onto the floor and were stacked in rickety piles. Dan's mahogany desk that he had picked up in a flea market stood under the one tiny window and could barely be seen underneath articles, writing pads, empty mugs and other detritus. The black leather swivel chair that Casey had teased Dan about buying, saying that if Dan wanted to become CEO of a Fortune 500 company he was going to need a lot more than the right chair, was turned away from the desk, facing Dan's state of the art stereo system. There was a small armchair shoved into one corner, open jewel cases covered in dust suggesting that it was not regularly used. The room even smelt of Dan.

It was a sanctuary. Oh Danny, thought Casey. You haven't adapted at all. You're still wearing masks. You'll be one person out there and another in here. This is the place where you get to be real, where you get to remind yourself that you do exist.

"Look, Casey, you want to sit down? I mean, I know we've gotta ... and I know it's small but it feels right to be in here, you know? Just let me ..." and he busied himself tidying the CDs from the chair in the corner, the cases clattering together in his hands. "You want coffee?" he asked without looking at Casey. "I want coffee." Casey murmured his agreement and Dan disappeared.

Casey wandered over to the desk and picked up a copy of The Economist, flicking through it idly. He dropped it and saw a copy of Time poking out from beneath some notes on what looked like women's hockey. He ferreted it out, as he did so dislodging the pile, causing a domino effect that ended with papers all over the floor. Embarrassed, he gathered them up and was about to put them on the desk when he saw that he had uncovered a photo frame, turned upside down. Unable to help himself he picked it up and turned it over.

The photograph was of the two of them together, dressed in tuxedos, arms slung around each other's shoulders, grinning like loons. Casey recognised it. It was from The Television Journalism Society Awards back in 1996. They'd been nominated for Best Anchor Team. Hadn't got it, but by they'd been so drunk they hadn't cared. Casey smiled and rubbed his thumb over the glass. God, they looked so young. And Dan had kept it. He heard footsteps and hastily replaced the photo, shoving the papers back on top. He made it to the chair just as the door swung open and Dan came in with the coffee.

They sat mirroring each other's body language, leaning forward, legs together, hands cradling hot mugs of coffee, the past lying between them like a bloated corpse that they were too afraid to touch lest it explode. Casey took a sip of his coffee. It was too hot and burnt his tongue but it tasted good. Strong and bitter.

"So," he said.

"So," said Dan.

"I suppose we have to ... I mean, I'm ready. Are you ready?"

Dan looked calm but Casey saw his knuckles whiten as he tightened his grip on his mug.

"Yes, I'm ready."

Casey knew that this was his conversation to start. He just didn't know how. His mind whirred over options as it did when he was having problems with a script. He could go with flowery and alliterative, short and punchy, funny. No, not funny. This wasn't TV. This was Dan and he deserved no less than the real Casey McCall. The one Casey had spent the past few years trying to get to know. He took another sip of his coffee. Still too hot.

"I've always been in love with you, you know," he said in a conversational tone, ignoring Dan's rapidly paling face. "Maybe not the first time we met, but pretty soon. You weren't the first guy I'd wanted to sleep with either. I've not been exactly ..." he turned his face away a little, and half-smiled, "... straight with you. I never acted on those feelings and then Lisa came along and I fell in love with her. There've been men since you've been gone, but ... So anyway, then I met you, this funny, smart, talented, sad, beautiful boy and how could I not want you? But there was Lisa and then there was Charlie, so ... I ignored it. The wanting. Tried to, at least. Wasn't easy until you learned to stop wearing your heart on your sleeve." Casey smiled as Dan bridled.

"I mean, I always knew you lo... cared, but you covered well. I managed to talk myself out of my feelings. Of course I loved you, you were my best friend. All so very heterosexual." Casey shook his head with a rueful grimace and took a gulp of the now drinkable coffee. He dropped his head. He didn't think he'd ever been this honest with anyone. It was hard and brutal and he hated it. But it was for Dan and so he continued.

"Then one night we were playing poker with the guys. You were raking in the chips. Natalie couldn't believe that you were getting so many good cards. You'd just won another pot and she grabbed your hand. It was like, I don't know, ten high or something. You'd beaten her full house with a ten high. She was all over you then. How many times had you actually had a winning hand, what was the worst one you won with? All that. Turns out you'd been getting bum hands all night. I think two kings was the best you mentioned. Anyway. You'd been bluffing. Superbly. That's when I realised that it wasn't a poker face you had on, it was your face. You'd got so good at hiding it was like you weren't there anymore."

"It was strange. We were all sitting around, laughing and drinking. That beer that Jeremy brought back from Canada when he was doing the Leaf/Hawks thing, you know. And all I could think was that I wanted to reach across the table to grab you and rip your face off. The mask, I mean. Demand the real Daniel Rydell stand up. I was so angry at you. Took me a while to realise that was because you'd taken my safety blanket away. Knowing how you felt, it was comforting. And it was gone. There was nothing. Of course, life being what it is, that's when it occurred to me that I'd always assumed that someday, one day, you and I ..." He looked Dan straight in the eye. "Would be together." He laughed, mirthless. Dan's mouth contracted but he said nothing.

"On the other hand, how I thought that was ever going to be executed ..." Casey finished the coffee, but didn't put the mug down, instead turning the cooling material between his hands.

"And then. Shit. Happened. The List, Draft Day. And you hated me, Danny. It was ..." he breathed out heavily, "... a real punch in the gut. I mean a killer blow. I was used to you being there, being with me and suddenly you weren't. And you weren't just not there, you were actively against me. It ... it hurt like hell and it was easier to hate you too than feel that way."

"And then everything became a big fight. Every. Last. Thing. If it wasn't me starting it was you, if it wasn't you it was me. And I felt vicious and nasty and I blamed you. I thought CSC being sold could be the best thing that happened to us. But it was the worst. Because there was no reason for you to leave any more. And I wanted you to go. I needed you to go. To get my life back. To feel normal, whatever normal meant, I don't know." He shifted in his seat, unable to find a comfortable position. Dan moved too, putting his untouched coffee on the desk, then clasping his hands between his knees.

"That night at the bar, I felt suffocated, drowning in air. And you said 'I can't do this any more' and that was it. Snap! I knew that if I was going to stay alive that this was a fight I had to win." Casey stopped, shuddering. Come on, he urged himself. You're so close. "So I dragged you out of the bar and took you home and ..." Casey's brow furrowed and his lips thinned. Say the word, Casey, say the word.

He closed his eyes and shook his head, fighting the memories. Taking several deep breaths to steady himself he reminded himself why he was doing this, why it was so important. Because this was Danny. Because the only way past it was straight through. Because he had to look in the mirror when he shaved. He opened his eyes and found the strength to look at Dan. Dan whose eyes were big and round and full of pain.

"I raped you."

He had thought it would be a relief. To say those words. But it wasn't. His chest still felt as though a boulder sat on it and he was finding it difficult to breathe. Dan had clamped his hand over his mouth now and a tear was shimmering on his eyelid, but he made no sound. Odd, thought Casey. I'm sure there was more room between us. He seems much closer now than a minute ago.

"I did that," he managed to continue after an prolonged silence. "I punished you because I was angry. I punished you because you didn't love me. I punished you because I couldn't let you kill me. I punished you because I'm a screwed up son of a bitch who couldn't let you see how much I needed you. And god, I'm more sorry than you could ever know." Casey noticed his hands were clenching his light cotton pants. Gonna crease, he thought.

"It seems. Impossible. That I would do something like that. But I did and I can't undo it though I wish I could. I wish I could. I've suffered the loss of you every day since and that's fair. It is. But you called, you came back and I suppose my hope is," he paused and watched the tear drop and speed down Dan's cheek. "My hope is that you'll forgive me." He slid from the chair to the floor, craving the solidity of the ground.

Dan removed his hand from his mouth but the words were not what Casey expected.

"You didn't rape me."

Casey froze. He tried to form a coherent thought but the only thing in his head was a peculiar buzzing. He looked at his legs sprawled across the floor, feet almost touching Dan's. It was too close, too intimate for this twist in the tale. This revelation. He drew them up against his chest, wrapping his arms around them, putting space between him and Dan. He saw Dan notice the reaction and nod to himself. Casey waited.

"So, I guess I'll do what you did. Start at the beginning. That's fair, right?" Casey blinked. Dan appeared to take this as acquiescence because he kept going.

"You were right about me. About how I felt. About you. God, I fell for you so hard I thought I'd never get up. And it was strange, you know? Sometimes I knew it was hopeless and other times. Other times I'd be so sure that you li ... lo ... had feelings for me too. Could be anything that'd spark it off. A look, something you said, something you did. So I let those times fuel my ... crush. Figured hey, maybe one day."

"I guess I didn't know enough back then to hide what I felt. I was just me, Dan, and if you wanted you could look at my face and read me like a book. All of my life just sitting there. Waiting for someone to check it out. More like a trashy tabloid than Charles Dickens but hey, it was mine. Then, I don't know, it must have been just before Lisa got pregnant with Charlie. We were in a bar, in Boston, all of us drinking. And you and I were having this totally intense conversation about college basketball and for some reason I started feeling uncomfortable."

"I looked round and there was Lisa, staring. Not at us, not at you. At me. And it hit me like a, like a, like a speeding train. She knew. She knew exactly how I felt about you. The look she gave me? Man, if she'd had poison in her purse that night it would have gone straight in my drink. I felt ashamed. For the first time, I felt ashamed of who I was and what I wanted. She made me want to hide. So I hid. It was hard, layering this other guy over the top of me. But I was still a kid, and parts of me were changing so fast that it began to feel that this other guy was me, even if underneath the fundamental things stayed the same. Who I was, what I wanted." Dan rubbed his forehead with the heel of his hand.

Casey gazed at him, seeing past the goatee and the lines to the boy he had known, heart breaking for him and all he had put himself through. The lies we tell to keep ourselves sane, he thought. How do we even know what truth is any more?

"So the years went by. You got divorced and I let myself hope that maybe now ... but nothing happened. You treated me the same way you always had. Little brother, junior partner. It wasn't enough, Casey. But I didn't know how to tell you because it wasn't about us; it was about me and figuring out who I was underneath all the disguises: Casey's friend, son, brother, TV anchor, colleague. I suppose I started to resent you. You were always there in the way. In my head, in my office, in my face. I couldn't see past you. It was like you were blocking my way into the light, casting me in permanent shadow."

"It was such a mess. I was so mad at you because it seemed like you were always one step ahead of me, you were never going to let me catch up, be your equal. But at the same time I still loved you. You'll have to take my word for it when I tell you how sick I was of that. I wanted to make it stop. God, I wanted to make it stop! But I didn't know how." The leather chair creaked as Dan pulled his legs in and up, resting his crossed hands on his knees, matching Casey's position. Casey's stomach tightened. He wasn't sure he was ready for this.

"I did my best to make you hate me, to make it easy for me to hate you. Worked kinda well, don't you think?" His lips curved into a small, contrite smile. "Then the LA offer came in and I thought, 'This is it, this will solve all the problems. We'll be proper partners and everything will be OK again'. Stupid, really. Naïve. When it looked like we'd be staying put ... Well, let's just say 'I can't do this anymore', was an understatement."

"Your reaction, though. That was a shock. We'd been fighting, sure, but I'd been so preoccupied with my own stuff that I didn't realise quite how deep your anger ran. Then you kissed me — or maybe punched me with your lips is more accurate — and a little part of my brain lit up. It said this is it; this is your chance to get it out of your system. This isn't making love, it's making war. This was how I could prove that I was equal to you. Better even. At first I was just busy giving as good as I got, but then I realised you were so mad that I could win. And not just win. Obliterate you."

Casey flinched and Dan's fingers fluttered as if he wanted to reach out and touch him.

"I chose to suffer, Casey. I chose non-violence. I chose to sacrifice myself. It was hard work, just like Chavez said. And it didn't stop when I left. It didn't stop for a very long time. But I was patient, I knew where your buttons were and I pressed them for all I was worth. You were too fucked up to see what I was doing, or to stop. Did you think I couldn't have stopped you? Did you really believe that you were so powerful? It was my choice, Casey. And if I was complicit, then it wasn't rape." He paused, and in the quiet of the room, the ragged breathing of both men sent Casey's thoughts once again scurrying back to that night. To Dan's passive resistance.

"And I know you thought it was. I let you think it. That was wrong of me and I apologise, I know how much you've made yourself suffer. It wasn't you. It was both of us. You wanted to hurt me and I wanted to be hurt. It was the only way out. What I said to you when I left, that I loved you and you killed it. I should have added 'thank you'."

Casey didn't know what to do. The whirlpool of emotions forced its way up his throat and erupted in a hiccupping half-laugh, half-sob. He pushed his hand into his mouth, biting down hard; concentrating on the sensation of physical pain, chest heaving with trapped eddies of unnameable feelings. Dan's fingers fluttered again, then tightened around his legs. Casey fought to get himself under control. There was something. Not right. About Dan's arguments. Dan was persuasive, powerful and Casey wanted so much to believe him, to move past this sullen darkness. It would be so easy to give in, to let Dan's burning gaze erase the deed that stood between them. Was it too much to ask for a little peace? Even for a little while? His eyes flicked sideways and he was startled by the gray tones of the books on the shelves. He'd been concentrating so hard on Dan, drawn into his world of color, that he'd forgotten the monotony of his own. He took his hand out of his mouth, the even imprint of tooth marks reminding him of junior high and braces.

"What do we do now?" he asked, as much himself as Dan.

"I don't know."

Casey's tongue flicked out to moisten his lips.

"Could I?" he asked, voice wavering. "Could I touch you? Would that be OK?"

"Yeah," said Dan, uncoiling. "I think I'd ... I'd like that."

He slipped onto the floor, kneeling in front of the still huddled Casey, hands loose in his lap. Casey's tongue flicked out again and he swallowed. He scrambled to his knees too, the scant inches between them feeling like miles. He reached out a hand, tentative, and slowly, slowly, millimetre by millimetre let it sink down and cover Dan's. At the first touch of skin on skin Casey gasped, his head jerking up, meeting Dan's eyes, asking for recognition of this moment. Dan bit his lip, his mouth curving in the way that drove Casey crazy with wanting to kiss the pain away. His hand moved under Casey's. For a split second Casey was terrified that it had been too much, that Dan was more damaged than he'd admitted, but then Dan's fingers pushed up and through, interlacing with Casey's, the soft pads stroking his skin.

Casey felt shivers of electricity running up his arm. He linked their free hands, turning them over so that his thumb could circle Dan's palm. Dan wriggled a little at the touch and Casey stored that fact in a file he intended to label 'Danny likes'. He resisted the urge to explore further, wanting Dan to set the pace, to take control. He was scared to go too fast, too soon, to startle Dan away. But then he remembered what Dan had said — "Did you think I couldn't have stopped you?" — and realised the ridiculousness of treating him like some timid woodland creature rather than the strong, independent man he was. Casey bent his wrist, pulling Dan's arm toward him, his thumb creeping past the yielding heel of his hand to sweep over the barely buried veins and tendons that lay beyond.

There was a tiny hiss of indrawn breath and Dan shuffled forward, knee bumping between Casey's, parting them, finding a way in. They were close now, breath mingling, linking them together. All Casey could see was Dan. Pupils wide, black and shining, a flush building under tanned cheeks, lips parting and closing, parting and closing with each shallow breath. All Casey could feel was Dan. The warmth of a thigh resting between his, the smooth, dense muscle of his arm, the delicate, fluttering touch of his fingers. All Casey could smell was Dan. A new cologne: unfamiliar, muted scents of dark spices, but behind that the aroma of Dan that Casey had forgotten he knew. Stale coffee, stale cigarettes and his own distinctive perfume, gathering in creases and hollows, beating from him in waves.

Casey's hand had reached Dan's shoulder and now found his face, touching every centimetre of it as if determined to create an incorruptible sense memory. He smiled as his fingers smoothed across bristles. It was much softer than he'd expected. He'd never managed to get past two day old stubble himself: too scratchy. This. This was different. He moved on, tracing up Dan's jaw line, his cheek cool underneath spreading fingers. Dan pushed his head into the palm of Casey's hand. Like a cat, Casey thought.

He startled at the touch of Dan's hand in his hair, parting the short, thick strands, twisting them around his fingers, tugging the roots lightly. The hand dropped lower, cupping his neck and Casey shivered even though Dan's palm was hot against his skin. Then Dan leant forward, tugging again, pulling Casey's head towards him. And hot, dry lips were sliding across his and the prayer of butterflies that had gathered in Casey's stomach rose up and burst across his brain in glorious, multi-colored flight.

It was a gentle kiss, barely there, brimming with possibilities. Perhaps it was the sheer weight of promise that knocked Casey off-balance but he found himself reaching for Dan, twisting his t-shirt in his hand, trying to maintain his equilibrium. Maybe Dan saw this as a signal because his mouth pressed against Casey's more firmly, demanding. Casey could do nothing but open in response as Dan laid soft, sucking kisses against each of Casey's lips in turn, the soft bristles of Dan's goatee creating a new and pleasant sensation. Casey felt an answering pull in his groin. He could not remember the last time he had been touched with such tenderness, god knows he hadn't deserved it. But it was so easy to give in to this, to let Dan begin to strip away the layers of self-loathing, to believe.

Dan pressed again, the tip of his tongue grazing the underside of Casey's top lip. Casey twisted his hand further into faded, cotton cloth and he inhaled, catching on a stifled squeak. Unable to get his breath, he pulled away, leaning his forehead against Dan's, panting with a peculiar combination of fear and desire. Dan also seemed to have difficulty getting his breathing under control. His hand dropped from Casey's neck to take his hand.

"Bedroom," gasped Dan.

"Are you sure?" asked Casey. "Because if it's too much we don't have to ..."

"Casey," Dan interrupted, kissing him again. "Casey, while I thoroughly appreciate the care and respect you are showing me, at this juncture what I would like is for you to take your clothes off. Now."

"Bedroom."

"Bedroom."

Dan led him the short distance to the bedroom. Late evening sun streamed through the window, casting a golden glow which sprawled across the polished wood floor, brushed across the corner of Dan's neatly made bed and crawled across a brightly colored, Spanish rug. Casey revelled at the sight, turning his head this way and that, seeing color inhabiting every corner of the room, just Dan's presence now enough to banish the grays.

"I've just got to ..." Dan gestured in the direction of a door in the far wall. He let go of Casey's hand. "Make yourself comfortable." He smiled and briefly touched Casey's cheek before crossing the room.

As the bathroom door clicked shut behind Dan, the color instantaneously drained from the room. Casey staggered with the shock of the change and dropped onto the edge of the bed, heart racing. He'd been so hopeful that everything was all right now, that things were, if not fixed, at least on their way to being so. But that wasn't the case, couldn't be. His mind raced. Was he doing something wrong? Was he missing something? The sun still shone through the window and Casey could see the dust motes dancing lazily in the air. Even they seemed to lose their sparkle when Dan was not there.

The door opened again and, as Dan stepped out, it was like the lighting of the Rockefeller Christmas Tree. Casey's brain was almost overwhelmed by the rapidity of the transformation. He felt oddly nauseated.

"You've still got your clothes on," Dan pointed out, grinning. His face fell as he saw Casey, shaking and white. "Casey, what's wrong?" He moved swiftly to sit next to Casey, resting his hand on his shoulder. Casey had to stop himself flinching. He had never been so scared. Because this was it. Dan was it. Dan was the pinnacle of all he wanted. He was a metaphor writ large. And this terrified Casey — to be this dependent on another person not just for his happiness, but for his normality? There were so many ways this could fail, so many ways in which he could screw this up. The past was not erased. How could it be? How could it ever be? He looked at Dan — thoughtful, empathetic Dan — and tried to tell him with his eyes what he could not find the words to say.

Dan reached for Casey's hand and placed it over his heart. It was pounding the rhythm of an express train. He tilted his head a little, looking for something in Casey's face. He seemed to find it, the corners of his mouth curling upwards. He slid his other hand up from Casey's shoulder to rest against his neck. Casey could feel the pulse in his throat beating against Dan's palm. Just one word: that was all he needed.

"I'm scared too, Casey," Dan said. "Petrified. But it'll be OK. I know it will."

A tiny nod from Casey.

"Look," continued Dan. "Let's just lie down. Take our shoes off, nothing else and lie down. We don't have to do anything. Just be with me. Here. Now."

Casey felt himself relax a little.

"Yeah," he nodded. "Yeah, I can do that."

Two pairs of shoes lay under the foot of the bed. One neatly arranged, laces tucked in, one kicked off and abandoned where they lay. On top of the chocolate brown comforter lay the owners of the shoes. Side by side, facing each other, each with one arm tucked under their head, one lying loosely in the space between them, not touching. Silently they lay, not speaking, barely moving, the atmosphere dense around them, the intensity of their focus on each other lending the air a heavy, sultry feel, like a dark, exotic perfume.

As their breathing began to synchronise, Casey looked into Dan's eyes and read volumes there. Read the pain and suffering and love and forgiveness. Read the understanding and the desire. He could not have broken the gaze even had he wanted to. Something was happening to him, something strange, something wonderful. The fear and shame and disgust were washing away under Dan's solemn stare. Time stopped and the world went away. There was only Dan and Casey, Casey and Dan. Their breathing began to quicken as they fell further into each other, expressing their needs, their desires without touch, without words.

Casey became aware of a powerful buzz of arousal, an insistent nagging from his enlarging cock. He shifted a little, freeing himself, and his breath seized as smooth material slid over the swollen cock head. Dan matched him movement for movement, breath for breath and Casey found that they had shifted closer, their arms now brushing each other, faces close enough to compete for air.

With each harmonized breath, Casey could feel himself getting harder, feel the pressure beginning to build, a tingling spreading throughout his body. Dan's cheeks were flushed, his eyes wide and black, his lips parted and nostrils flaring with the effort of breathing. Casey thought he had never seen Dan look so beautiful as now, wide open, abandoned, lost in Casey.

Bit by bit, the tingling receded, concentrating into a bright area of sensation buried somewhere inside Casey, trying to push itself out of his straining cock. Casey balanced on the edge. Unable to fall. He wanted to fall. He had to fall.

"Danny," croaked Casey, throat dry. "Danny. Please. I have to. Please." And he grabbed Dan's hand, shoving it against his cock, thrusting upwards again and again into the curling fingers. It was all he needed. Casey took a step out into thin air and fell. A bolt of intense pleasure shot through him and his body convulsed one, two, three, four times, his eyes never leaving Dan's face. Casey felt the hot, sticky, liquid beginning to seep into his cotton underpants, coalescing on his skin.

He began to loosen his grip on Dan's hand, asking a question with his eyes. Dan's breath came in short, sharp pants, his tongue flicking out to wet his lips. A nod, infinitesimally small. Casey's hand blindly sought Dan's erection. The hardness of him was a shock and a joy. For Dan too it seemed, as his eyes widened and he let out a little moan. Casey rubbed the heel of his hand over the rough, denim material, along the length of Dan's cock. Dan pushed himself further into it, and made a strange, low sound. Almost a purr, Casey thought. He repeated his action and Dan repeated his thrust. They began to build a rhythm but in just seconds Dan was clutching Casey's shoulder and his mouth formed a perfect O and Casey could feel dampness across his fingertips.

As Dan relaxed a slow, satisfied smile began to spread over his face. Casey found himself answering it and in that moment was finally able to accept his redemption. He leaned in for a kiss, ready now to give as well as to receive. It was a beginning.

Casey broke the kiss.

"God, Danny," he said. "I've never. That was. Like nothing I've ever. Wasn't it?" Yes, he was incoherent, but what else was to be expected? He had never felt more connected, more alive, wanted, loved. How was he supposed to be able to find words to describe the indescribable?

"Yes," said Danny. "It was. I haven't. I don't know what to say."

"Amazing."

"Miraculous."

"Just, just, just ..."

"That too."

Casey draped his arm across Dan's hips and pulled him close. They lay that way beaming at each other, laughing and kissing occasionally until Casey could no longer ignore the clamminess against his skin.

Showered and exhausted Casey lay on his back; the sheets cool against his skin. It was strange to have a body lying next to him, stranger still that it would be Dan. He stretched out his hand to the middle of the bed finding Dan's already waiting for him there. Fingers entwined, they fell asleep. As he drifted on the edge of consciousness Casey finally heard what he had been yearning for. One word. A breathy whisper.

"Forgiven."

He woke on his side to find himself staring out of the window into a hazy LA morning, the sky tinged with a faint touch of pink. Rolling over quietly he saw Dan, still flat on his back, looking as if he hadn't moved an inch throughout the night. His heart squeezed a little at the rumpled hair, sleep-flushed cheeks; gray t-shirt riding up to expose pale skin. Casey's stomach rumbled, drawing his attention away from sleeping Dan. Breakfast time, he decided.

Casey stumbled bleary-eyed into the kitchen, scouring the cupboards and finding, as is always the way in a strange place, that what he needed was in the last place he looked. It wasn't until the coffee machine was whirring away and the smell of toast was filtering through the air that Casey became aware that something was fundamentally different. That he could see the pale brown of the oak cupboards, the subtle green wash on the walls, the darker green of the coffee mugs and the matching rims on the plates. That the view out of the window was more greens and browns with glimpses of red and yellow and in the far, far distance a glint of silver on blue. Casey felt weightless. He grabbed on to the counter to anchor himself to the ground. Thank god, thank god he was not in Kansas any more.

Casey stood at the sink, clutching his cup of coffee, unable to tear himself away from the window and all the promise of a new world. He didn't hear Dan pad into the kitchen and jumped a little as, standing behind him; he slid his arm around Casey's waist and rested his chin on his shoulder. Casey leaned into him. Reaching around with his other hand to steal Casey's coffee, Dan asked,

"What do you want to do today?"

Casey smiled.

"I hear the ocean out here is really blue," he said, his voice catching a little. For a minute, the only response was a tighter squeeze around his waist and Dan's heartbeat pounding fast against his back. Then Dan cleared his throat.

"Yes," he said. "It really is. Want to see?"


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