Oh, The Places You'll Go

Voice In The Wilderness

Notes: This was a labour of love. You could call it a sweeping epic. If you wanted. It does cover a vast swathe of time - pre, during and post canon - and contains a lot of spoilers. My grateful thanks to phoebesmum and lordessrenegade for their betas. Couldn't have done it without them.

This is a novel length story. If you have time to read it all the way through, that's great. If you don't, here are some handy links to get you to where you left off.

Prologue
Hanover
LA
Californ-eye-ay
Hanover and Boston
LA Revisited
Dallas
New York
New York, New York - So Good They Named It Twice
Epilogue


Prologue

Intense white light ripped him from himself, blowing him into fragments, particles that were him and yet not him, speeding in every direction through the eternal, brilliant white light, reaching out for infinity. The initial roaring of static faded as his atoms fled the prison of his body, his soul and he became nothing.

"Danny. Come on Danny, wake up, man." Casey knelt beside his friend, gently shaking his shoulder and trying hard to keep his voice calm. "Danny, come on." There was no response. Casey fought hard against rising panic as he stared at Dan. Dan's dark hair highlighted a face that was bleached white, the hook of his nose and curve of his lips thrown into sharp relief. His eyelids flickered wildly, fingers twitched. Casey took some comfort in those movements - Danny was in there, fighting. He was going to wake up. Then Dan stopped moving.

"DANA!" Casey roared, his voice frenzied. "OhgodohgodohgodDannyohgod," he babbled, trying desperately to remember anything, anything at all, about first aid. He fumbled for Dan's wrist, trying to locate a pulse.

The door to the office flew open and Dana rushed in, Natalie and Jeremy hard on her heels.

"Casey, what ... Oh god, Danny!" - and Dana was kneeling by Dan's other side before Casey had even registered her presence in the room.

"He's got a pulse, I'm pretty sure," Casey forced out through his constricted throat. "I haven't checked if he's...if he's breathing."

"Ambulance, Natalie," said Jeremy gently, taking the stunned woman by the shoulders and steering her out of the office before joining the others around the prostrate body. Jeremy bent down and tilted his head so he could watch Dan's chest. It wasn't much but there was a perceptible rise and fall. Not daring to believe the evidence of his eyes, Jeremy placed a hand on Dan's sternum. After a few seconds he nodded his head deeply, lifting it again to lock eyes with Casey.

"He's breathing."

"Thank god." Dana's heartfelt response covered the choking sound that somehow pushed its way past Casey's tightly clamped lips. Casey picked up Dan's hand and threaded their fingers together.

"Come back to us, Danny," he pleaded. Dana enveloped Dan's other hand in both her own and looked over at Casey. His face was almost as pale as Dan's and Dana thought that she had never seen him so fragile and lost. For an instant she could see the boy that Casey had been: gangly, geeky and insecure. Then she felt Dan's body jerk convulsively, and the boy was gone.

"Danny! Danny! Come on, you can do it," urged Casey, over and over again.

In the nothing of white light, no sound, rushing back from infinity, atoms joining atoms, becoming more, body, mind, soul, sound, static, rushing, roaring, being. Dan opened his eyes. At first he saw only white light, heard only white noise. Then he remembered why he was and his senses flooded back. There was a voice and a face, then more voices and faces and a weird stain on the ceiling and the itch of carpet under his head and a strange tang in his mouth and warmth enveloping his hands. He blinked. Once, twice but all those things were still there. He closed his eyes again.

"Oh no, you don't," said Casey grimly. "You're not flaking out on me again." He slid his free hand under Dan's shoulders and pulled him up to a sitting position. Dan's forehead rested on Casey's chest and they remained without speaking in an awkward embrace until Natalie, ashen and unnaturally subdued, brought the paramedics into the office.

The paramedics gently removed Dan from Casey's grasp, helping him to the couch.

"Can you tell us what happened, sir?" the first paramedic asked.

Dan just shrugged and looked over at Casey who had not moved from his position on the floor. The paramedic followed his gaze and repeated his question, this time aiming it at Casey. Casey answered, his eyes glued to Dan.

"We were talking about the script. Dan was demonstrating a play from the Orioles' game and then he ... well first he just stopped talking, then he started to look, I don't know, vacant? He swayed a couple times. I got up to go grab him but he just crumpled onto the floor before I could get there."

"How long was he out, sir?" the other paramedic asked, as she flicked the beam from a pen-torch into Dan's eyes.

"Umm ... let me think." How long? Casey had no idea. It had seemed like nanoseconds and it had seemed like eternity. Clearly there was scope inside those parameters for a wide variety of time frames. Casey mentally shook himself - this was not the time to get hysterical.

"Maybe coupla minutes. Five, max," he stated more confidently than he felt.

"Did he hit his head?" Casey replayed with extraordinary clarity the moment Dan fell. He saw the colour leaching from Dan's face; the unseeing stare of his eyes and the gentle swaying that became a lurch. He saw his own perspective alter as he moved swiftly from behind the desk and as he did so he saw Dan's knees tremble then give way. He heard Dan utter a tiny, bleak moan and collapse gracelessly without another sound. He saw his hands go around Dan's head before it hit the ground, heard himself cry out, "Danny!" in a tone he had never heard from himself, saw Dan lying on the floor, white and trembling ...

"No," Casey managed to remember he was supposed to answer a question. "No, I got to him in time."

"Thank you, sir." She redirected her attention to Dan.

Casey wondered if it was because of a lifetime spent watching highlights that he could not stop repeatedly rewinding and replaying the incident in his head. He wanted to make it stop but could not shift the images moving behind his eyes. The paramedic spoke to Dan.

"Sir, could you tell me if this has happened before?"

The question shocked Casey out of his ceaseless tape loop. He jerked his head round to stare at Dan, who would not meet his eyes. He heard the whispered, "yes," the word twisting in his gut like a knife. He gazed at the unseeing Dan, eyes full of reproach, his still silence a contrast to the shocked murmurs from the others.

"How often, sir?"

"Um, I think that's the fourth this month," Dan kept his eyes firmly locked on his knees.

"Danny!" Dana's voice was high and brittle; Casey saw Dan wince. "How could you not ...?"

"Dana," Jeremy interrupted in a warning tone. Dana put a hand over her mouth and blinked quickly to dispel the prickling behind her eyes.

"Look, things are pretty much under control here, right?" continued Jeremy, exchanging nods with Casey. "Why don't we go and see Isaac - let him know what's going on? And then there's the matter of finding a couple of replacement anchors for tonight's show." It was a measure of how shocked Dana and Natalie were that they did not attempt to argue but let themselves be led out of the office by Jeremy like sheep following their shepherd.

"Four this month, sir. And before that?"

"Honestly, I couldn't tell you exactly," Dan said. "It's been going on for years." He paused. "Started back in college. It was bad for a while but it got much better. For years, actually. But they - the episodes - they started getting worse again a few months ago. It's not panic attacks. It's not a tumour. I've seen neurologists and psychologists and who-knows-what-ologists but no one's got answers."

Casey had been sitting stunned since Dan's first word. This had happened before? Why hadn't Danny told him? For fuck's sake, they were best friends. But as Dan continued to speak, Casey's emotions mutated from anger to deep concern and self-recrimination. Danny was sick. Had been sick. And Casey had never known. Surely, as a friend he should have been able to work it out, been able to help. There must have been signs. God, he was a bad friend.

"Well, sir. It's up to you. We can bring you to the hospital to get checked out, or we can leave you in the capable hands of your friends here. In all truth, if you've already done the rounds of the docs, you're probably better off with a good night's sleep rather than another needle-stick." The paramedics began to pack up their kit. Dan finally lifted his head and smiled at them.

"I'll stay here. You guys go and do some real life-saving, wouldya?" He flashed a brief Danny-grin and Casey could see that, once again, he'd charmed total strangers with consummate ease. The paramedics smiled back, said their good-byes and left. The room fell silent. The two men sat, both wondering where they went from here. The silence stretched out, long enough to move past uncomfortable into painful.

"Danny." Dan's eyes flicked briefly up from his close examination of the threads of his jeans and met Casey's momentarily before sliding away again.

"Danny, come on, man. Look at me," Casey said gently. Dan closed his eyes and his Adam's apple bobbed as he appeared to struggle against his emotions. Casey waited. Eventually, Dan lifted his head and opened his eyes, meeting Casey's gaze fully for the first time since he had come to. Dan's lips quirked in a little, thin smile and he shrugged his shoulders. In Dan's expression Casey read fear, pain and apology. It was the apology that broke him and in a second he was by Dan's side, hugging his friend for dear life.

"Danny, Danny, Danny, you gotta stop scaring me, man," he muttered into Dan's ear.

"I'm sorry, Case." Casey's arms slid from around Dan's back to grip his arms, moving him back so that they were face to face.

"Don't apologise," Casey said fiercely, shaking Dan slightly. "Don't you apologise to me." Dan's mouth was a perfect O of surprise. "I let you down. You're sick, Danny, and I haven't been there for you. I'm the one who should be apologising." His voice calmed. "I am sorry, Danny. I'm sorry I haven't been a better friend. Let me be one now. Tell me what's going on with you."

Dan stared at Casey for a long, hard moment. Expressions chased one after the other across his face. Casey could almost hear the thoughts pounding through Dan's head. The desire to be heard fighting the desire to be hidden. That was Dan. That had always been Dan. He tried to keep his face open, inviting, unthreatening and was rewarded when Dan nodded swiftly, moved back into the corner of the couch hugging his knees defensively, opened his mouth and began.


Hanover

After his brother died, Dan's world shrank to the size of his bed in his college dorm. He climbed into it, still in the suit he had worn to Sam's funeral and he stayed there, not moving, not crying, for days. His roommate's girlfriend, Jess, would bring him plates of food that he never touched, and would remove and take away one part of his funeral garb at a time. Dan allowed her to do this, though it felt to him that he was being stripped of his shield. Most people his age had never dealt with death and did not know what to do when faced with its consequences in someone's eyes. In Dan's mercifully brief experience, college kids, when they saw a guy in a funeral suit, could usually at best mutter an, "I'm sorry, man," and would make excuses to leave as soon as possible. Without that suit on, he was just a guy in a bed. A sad guy in a bed. Unprotected by the aura of death.

When Dan had been in bed for a week, Mike, his roommate, came in and sat down next to him. He looked at the pale, unshaven boy huddled under the covers and shook his head admonishingly.

"Dan, my man. You gotta do something. Cry, get mad, get high, something. 'Cos this ain't healthy, man. Life threw you a pretty fucking crappy curve ball but you can't lay down and die just because Sam did. I know shit about shit but I'm pretty sure he wouldn't want you to do that. Here," he continued, thrusting a joint towards Dan, "try this. It'll help."

Dan sat up, regarding the joint with horrified fascination. He'd never been into alcohol or drugs at school. Neither had Sam. There was always too much else to do. And then there had been that conversation, and Sam had gone and got mind-bendingly high and mind-blowingly dead. Suddenly Dan was furious with Sam for his stupidity, and in reaction grabbed the joint from Mike and took a long pull. The sweet, burning smoke ripped at his throat and he coughed until his eyes streamed. Mike laughed.

"Fucking first-timer, huh? How about some blow-back?" He explained the principle and Dan nodded. Later he never knew if it was the effects of the marijuana or the feel of the soft lips of his roommate as he gently blew smoke into Dan's mouth that got him so intoxicated. All he knew was that in seconds the dead lump of pain weighing down his core was lessening. And, after a few more blowbacks and a couple of tentative tokes, the pain was moving. It didn't disappear. Couldn't disappear. But instead of a black hole of sorrow in his centre, it was spreading out, thinning, moving into every cell of his body. He was wearing his pain like a new suit of armour. For the first time since Sam's death Dan felt that he could move without having to contemplate each individual muscle in sequence.

Mike cracked a joke about Dan's general crustiness after his self-imposed bed exile. It wasn't funny but Dan laughed and laughed and laughed. He could feel his cheeks tighten and his ribs begin to hurt, and he realised that Sam would never laugh again. Of all the things Sam would never do, this one struck him as unbearably sad and Mike watched the split-second transformation from hilarity to tears. Embarrassed and gruff as any teenage boy caught in an emotional moment, Mike shuffled his feet and said, "Hey man, it's gonna be OK."

Dan could feel the pain of Sam's loss like an electric charge across his body. He hugged his knees tight to his chest, burying his face and rocking himself as he sobbed.

"Ah shit," groaned Mike, running a hand distractedly through his hair. "Dan, I'm sorry. I never meant for ..." Mike had an uncharacteristic moment of lucidity, where he suddenly understood what it was to be a child in a man's body, away from his family in a time of extreme need, and he knew what that child would want.

"I'm here, man," he said simply as he pulled Dan into a hug. "I'm here." And after a while, the warmth of Mike's body against him and the patient, gentle pats on Dan's back brought him back to himself and he began to calm down. "Feeling better, huh?" asked Mike as Dan straightened up.

Dan nodded, then his hand went to his stomach, his red-rimmed eyes flew wide open and he said urgently, "I gotta ..." before leaping to his feet and running for the bathroom. Mike smiled ruefully, shook his head and patted his pocket.

In the bathroom Dan retched violently but brought up nothing but bile. He got off his knees and washed his face, taking care to avoid looking in the mirror. He turned around to grab a towel. Mike was leaning in the doorway, grinning.

"I hear you, man," he said. "I wouldn't advise looking at you right now. 's not pretty." Dan chucked his towel at Mike's head. "You know what you need?" Mike asked from beneath the towel. He freed himself and held out a newly rolled joint, saying in a fake English accent, "This'll tend to make you high." At Dan's quizzical look he expostulated, "Withnail and I! Man, don't tell me you haven't seen it? Don't they have cinemas in Connecticut? Film fucking changed my life." He shook his head and waggled his hand. Changing one bad accent for another, he added, "You have much to learn, Daniel-san." Dan reached out and smiled.

And so Dan found he could replace one shield with another: the funeral suit was exchanged for dope. Every morning he would light up as soon as he woke. If he managed to inhale the first few breaths almost before his eyes opened he could do it in that grey foggy space in time where he did not remember Sam was dead. By the time that fact hit home, the weed was also kicking in and it protected him from the full impact of realisation. Halfway through the first joint he could get out of bed, and by the time it was finished he could shower, dress, eat and make his way to class.

Dope got him through every day. Once outside his dorm it helped him interact with people, students and teachers alike. Ironically, it helped him to focus in class, to write interesting, incisive papers, usually on topic, almost always A-graded. It made him witty, eloquent, the star of any debate. It made him join the college paper, writing sports reports. It kept his mind away from Sam and the crushing guilt he felt about Sam's death. It stopped him wondering why his father was always busy or out when he called home.

People who met Dan almost invariably liked him - he was charming, good-looking, fun - but, despite this, Dan didn't have many friends. The dope and grief combined to give him a curious aura. Without being able to identify what it was, people often sensed the presence of something else lurking behind the glossy public exterior. It made them slightly uneasy without knowing why. Pot couldn't paper over all of Dan's cracks. Social situations made him nervous: he could be the life and soul of any gathering, for a few minutes. Then he would feel hunted. Trapped. Making any kind of excuse he would head for the quickest exit and light up, his hand shaking. He never went back in. People got used to it after a while, nicknamed him 'Hit-and-run Danny', and would tell him parties started an hour later than they did so he at least got to be there when they were getting going. But it didn't make them close. It didn't make them genuine friends.

That was why nobody really noticed when Dan started to space out. He would find himself tuning back into lectures aware that he had missed some time, or be in the middle of a conversation when everything would fade to black briefly before bursting back in glorious Technicolor. He would laugh it off and anyone in the vicinity just put it down to another Hit-and-run Danny quirk. At first Dan blamed his episodes - as he took to calling them - on staying up far too late far too often writing papers or watching reruns of games. He allowed himself to become a little more worried one day in February; the first time he came to himself, face pressed into the beer-stained carpet of his dorm room without any clear knowledge of how he came to be there.

Through the swirl of noise in his head, Dan could hear a keening voice, a wordless, throbbing grief. As the world came back into focus the voice faded and Dan pushed himself quickly to his knees, shaking his head like a dog coming out of the water. For a few minutes he retained his position, staring off into some unknown void. Then he stood briskly, brushed off his clothes, found the phone, picked it up and dialled.

"Hi. I'd like to make an appointment, please."

***

It had been snowing hard in Hanover and Dan shivered and huddled deeper into his great-coat as he headed up North Main Street to Dick's House. All around him students were going the same way, laughing, shouting and calling to each other across the street. Dan barely noticed the clamour until an arm wrapped itself around his. Startled out of his trance, Dan looked for the owner of the arm. It belonged to a small, vivacious brunette who Dan recognised as someone from his English Lit class.

"Hey there, Danny boy. Don't tell me the pond's a-calling, calling you?" Dan must have appeared completely nonplussed because the girl smacked him on the chest and gave him a quizzical grin. "The Polar Bear Swim? Occom Pond?" When Dan's expression did not change she tried again. "Winter Carnival?" She knocked on Dan's forehead. "Hello? Earth to Dan?"

Finally comprehension struck. This was what everyone had been discussing for weeks. He hadn't paid too much attention; he knew he would never join in. "Oh, the Winter Carnival. Big snowmen, freezing your ass off, and lots of spiked hot chocolate, right?"

"Right!" the girl grinned. "You coming?"

"Nah," replied Dan, "I've got somewhere I need to be."

Something in his tone made the girl's expression change from happy to concerned and she asked, "You OK, Dan?"

Dan was momentarily speechless. No one ever bothered to ask him that any more. He used to have a stock answer ready, but he hadn't used it in months and couldn't remember either what it was or whether it was appropriate to the current circumstance. The girl repeated her question.

"Yeah. No. Sorry, I don't know ... it's just. You know. It's winter, and it feels a long time till spring." Dan's face twisted in a fleeting grimace and the girl nodded sympathetically, rubbing his shoulder with her free hand.

"I hear you," she said. "Gets me like that sometimes." At the sound of a shout she jerked her head round, waving vigorously in the direction of a group of five people brandishing sandals and towels in the air. "Swim time. Gotta book," the girl was grinning again. "You take care, Dan. Spring's coming. You'll see," - and with that she was off, running to join her friends. Dan watched them for a minute as they play-fought in the snow, and felt the familiar knot in his stomach. It wasn't that he didn't want that kind of life for himself, the kind that was carefree and came with a side-helping of friends; it was that he couldn't have it, didn't deserve it. He tore his gaze away from the cheerful band and continued his lonely trudge to Dick's House.

Dr Jim Griffin was a middle-aged, slightly overweight man with a neat beard and friendly eyes. Dan liked him immediately. He thought that most people probably felt they could trust this man with their deepest, darkest secrets. He, however, was not most people. Dr Griffin listened to Dan's description of his episodes and asked all the usual questions about sleep, alcohol, drugs, diet, headaches, illness, stress. He looked in his eyes, listened to his heart and pinged his knees with a hammer. Dan answered dutifully, lying only when he felt he had to, and let the doctor poke and prod him without a murmur. When these preliminaries were over, the doctor pulled his chair over so that he sat face to face with Dan.

"OK," he started. "Now, why don't you tell me what this is really about?" Dan's face dropped.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that you, Daniel Rydell, are not being entirely truthful with me." He waved dismissively as Dan opened his mouth to speak. "No, don't go getting on your moral high horse. I'm not accusing you of deliberately misleading me, but I've got your file, Dan. I checked out your transcripts. I know you're flying high with a 3.8 GPA, I know your professors think highly of you, I know you're a budding sports reporter on The D, I know your brother is dead." Dan gasped and winced with pain.

"Look, I'm sorry to be so blunt. Have to tell you, I'm concerned about you, Dan. These episodes are worrying, and we need to find out what's causing them. Your brother's death seems as good a starting point as any."

"Why Sam? I mean, I could have a tumor, or be going crazy or ..."

Dr Griffin interrupted gently. "Dan, 'when you hear hoofbeats behind you, don't expect to see a zebra.'"

"Huh?"

"The principle of Occam's Razor, Daniel. Don't make assumptions you don't have to. Look for simplicity in all things."

"Oh." Dan found that he was not as interested in what the doctor had to say as in the fact that he had heard the word 'occom' in two different contexts in the same day. He wondered how often that happened. He giggled to himself.

"Dan? Stay with me here," the doctor commanded. Dan wriggled an apology.

"You're scared, Dan. That's why you're here. You feel that you're losing control of your life and you're worried that one time you'll have an episode when you're crossing a busy street, or leaning over a stairwell. You might. I haven't known you long enough to know how much you value your life but I know that it's enough to bring you to me. We're going to fix you, Dan. And in 'we', I'm including you." The doctor paused and smiled at the boy perched rigidly on the chair opposite. "Dan, relax. I'm going to refer you to the counselling service - I think you have a lot to work through," and as Dan opened his mouth to protest again, he added, "I'll send you to the syncope clinic for some tests as well and for an MRI scan - put your mind at rest."

"Whatever you say, Doc," Dan said, standing and swinging his bag over his shoulder.

"I'll schedule the appointments for as soon as possible. I take it you haven't told anyone else about this?" Dan shrugged his agreement. "You might want to rethink that policy. You need someone to watch out for you, Dan."

"Thanks, Dr. Griffin." Dan swiftly headed for the door, only too recognisable sensations building in his stomach.

"You're welcome, Dan. Talk to you soon, OK?" said the doctor, to the click of the door closing. He regarded the door contemplatively then, sighing, dragged his chair back to his desk and pressed a button.

"Tina, can you get Counselling Services for me?"

Outside, Dan had just enough time to run round the side of the building before throwing up, the colours violently staining the snow. Straightening up, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, grabbed the bottle of water stashed in his bag for just these occasions, took a swig and swirled it around before spitting it out. Reaching into his bag again he took out a joint, gratefully putting it to his mouth. He leaned against the wall inhaling the pungent smoke and feeling his heartbeat return to its normal slow, steady rhythm. Letting out a long, hissing breath that curled in the frosty air, he ground the half-finished joint out on the wall behind him, shoved the stub in his pocket and began the walk back to his dorm.

***

Dr. Griffin was true to his word and Dan had his first counselling appointment the following week. The MRI and other tests had also been booked for the beginning of March. Dan thought about the doctor's advice to tell someone else about his problem. He was right about one thing. Dan was terrified about having an episode in a dangerous situation, though in a tiny corner of his mind he wondered if he was being punished for Sam. That if he, too, died it was meant to be. And part of him was OK with that; the idea of not-being. But the day before Dan's first session was Sam's birthday and after a tearful call from his mother he realised that it wasn't within his choice to die or not to die. He couldn't put her through any more distress. Putting the phone down he turned to Mike who was flopped on his bed reading issue 6 of 'The Punisher' for what seemed to Dan like the hundredth time.

"Hey, Mike," he said softly. Mike closed his comic and flipped over to lean up on one elbow. He hadn't missed the pleading tone in Dan's voice as his roommate tried to soothe his mom without success. He gazed steadily at Dan and waited for him to continue.

"There's this thing I need to tell you about but I'm not sure how to start, so I'm gonna need you to ... no, that's wrong. I've got this problem. It's kind of scary and I'm getting help but I need ...wait. It's ..." The words that came so easily when Dan was directing his charm offensive were now intangible. As soon as Dan reached to grasp one to craft a coherent sentence, it slipped away, leaving twisted, fumbled remnants of speech spilling from his lips. This was the first time Dan had been truly honest in a long time and it dawned on him that he had forgotten how to be Dan. It was as if the shiny exterior he had pasted on himself was smothering the real Dan, taking him over atom by atom, cell by cell. He looked imploringly at Mike and his mouth formed a silent 'Help me.' The edges of the room started to bleed colour, cleansing, bleaching; and as the white light swelled to fill the room the sounds of real life diminished and Dan could hear only the tumult of white noise and that same shattering keen. With the last of his awareness he saw Mike coming towards him, not surprised but grimly determined. Then Dan was gone.

Regaining consciousness Dan opened his eyes to find that he was lying on his bed, Mike in a chair beside him, loosely gripping his wrist. Mike became aware of Dan's eyes on him and tightened his grip, waving Dan's hand in the air.

"Just checking." He smiled sheepishly before letting Dan's hand fall back on the comforter. "That was a pretty bad one, huh?" he continued. Dan's eyebrows raised in a question.

"Man, we live together. You think I haven't noticed? Sometimes when we're talking, it's like you just go someplace else for a spell. But I've picked you off the floor a couple times as well."

"But if you knew about ... my thing ...why didn't you say anything?" Dan asked, puzzled.

"Figured it was none of my business. Thought if you wanted to tell me, you would. I've gotta cousin who's epileptic."

"I'm not epileptic," said Dan hastily.

"I know, "Mike raised his hands in a placating gesture. "I'm just saying that I'm not without experience in the whole passing out arena, is all."

"Sorry man," replied Dan. "The whole thing's a bit..."

"Freaky?" supplied Mike.

"Yeah," nodded Dan with a rueful smile. "Listen, thanks for ..." he waved his arm vaguely over himself and the bed. "And thanks for those other times. The ones I didn't know about."

"Welcome, man," Mike paused. "You said you were getting help?"

"Mmhm."

"OK. That's good. Just want you to know I've got your back."

"Thanks, man." And with that last exchange, the pressure of being honest-Dan became too great. He sat up on the bed, rummaging in his pocket and pulled out a part-smoked joint which he passed to Mike.

"Spark it up, big boy!" and swiftly honest-Dan was back in restraints, confined to a dark corner while shiny-Dan and Mike stayed up all night swapping stories of high school misdeeds.

***

By the time Dan was in his third week of counselling sessions with Marguerite it was coming up to Spring Break. Whilst other students were planning hedonistic trips to Daytona or Cancun, Dan was planning how to lie to his counsellor. The sessions were going better than he had expected. Originally he had been able to hide successfully behind shiny-Dan without having to exert too much effort. Dan's physical work-up had come back clean. It was only after providing the necessary for blood and urine tests that Dan had begun to panic about the marijuana showing up. Would he get kicked out of school? Would they tell his parents? It would kill his mom. But the Fates had smiled on him and no tox screen had been ordered, the good doctor clearly taking Dan at face value. Because of this reprieve Dan considered that maybe he should attempt to connect more with the counselling sessions. If the blame couldn't be laid against his body's door perhaps the culprit was his mind. So he tried to uncover honest-Dan and engage in the therapeutic process. He had managed to talk about his family before Sam's death, his feelings after the accident, his fragile relationship with his parents but he knew that he could not answer the one question he knew was coming.

"... and then I hung up the phone and that was the last time I spoke to him." Dan looked down at his fidgeting hands whilst Marguerite directed her warm, steady gaze at him. The silence lay between them. Dan felt its weight like a lifeless body. Sam's body.

"It's OK to feel how you feel, Dan," said Marguerite, empathy suffusing her voice. Dan looked up, tears in his eyes and said simply,

"I miss him."

Marguerite nodded and, as Dan did not continue speaking, then added "I sense there's something you're holding back. Something about that conversation. " She paused, and Dan felt the concern radiate from her. "If you're not ready to talk, that's OK too," she said gently.

"No. You're right." Dan readied himself for the lie. He appreciated that Marguerite was well trained and he would have to get around both her intellect and empathic sense. He had spent time practising both his words and body language until it seemed that the lie was not really a lie; it was real in the world of shiny-Dan. He moved his legs a little way apart, laying his hands loosely on his knees, bending slightly forward and making eye contact with the therapist.

"It's nothing. Really. We talked about this girl in his class that he liked and what my roommate was like, and whether Don Mattingly was ever going to have his record broken. You know he was the first player to hit six grand slams in one season?" Dan's tone brightened perceptibly as he spoke about his beloved baseball. "He beat Ernie Ward and Jim Gentile's record of five and the Yankees beat the Red Sox six nothing. I watched the game with some guys down at Thayer Hall. It was pretty much a bonding experience. Though not for those guys supporting the Red Sox, I suppose." Dan caught himself in the tangent before he began warming to his theme. He pushed his hair out of his face and smiled apologetically at Marguerite.

"Yeah. So. I called Sam straight after the game. We talked about baseball, girls, college. He was so excited about getting his driver's licence." He waited for a beat, letting his body droop, eyes sliding away. Get it right, Dan.

"I never told him I loved him. I never ..." he allowed his voice to crack; the emotion was real, even if the words avoided the truth. "It was the last time we spoke. Then he died and he didn't know. I'm sorry, Sam, so sorry." Dan began to sob for the first time in months, knowing that he was sincerely sorry; for what he had said, not what he had omitted to say. He was desperately sorry, would do anything, to have waited until face to face with his brother before telling him, to take back his confession, to have it not be true.

Marguerite sat silently with Dan as he cried, her whole body exuding warmth and compassion. She held out a tissue which Dan clutched gratefully. It took a further five tissues before Dan was ready to continue. He wasn't sure how he made it to the end of the session and stumbled for the door; raw as though his entire body had been scoured by sandpaper. Halfway down the hall he realised he had forgotten his bag. Still dazed from the emotional gauntlet he had just run, Dan pushed open the door without knocking, it swung open silently. Marguerite was tapping at a keyboard, her back turned away from the door. It wasn't until Dan mumbled an apology as he wandered into the room to pick up his bag that she became aware of his presence. As she spun her chair round to face him Dan could see the computer screen clearly. At the top of the page his name: Daniel Rydell. In the middle, session notes from that day. Dan saw only one sentence. It sent him spinning out of the room at top speed, heedless of Marguerite's calls, and out into the biting March wind. He didn't even make it to the side of the building this time before he threw up. He bent, winded, hands on thighs, head throbbing with the worthlessness of his lie.

"Did Sam know Dan is gay?"

Dan did what he always did. Took a swig of water, lit up a joint and never went back.

***

Blundering through the gathering dusk, Dan fixed his concentration on moving forward - one foot in front of the other, using the predictable, repetitive motion to distract him from the dark thoughts crowding his brain. Six simple words had stripped away the painstakingly applied layers and left Dan naked and small; exposed to the violent, crashing waves of loss and guilt that threatened to overwhelm him. His breath came in short, unsteady gasps.

Dan finally achieved the sanctuary of his room. In his haste he wrenched at the drawer of his bedside table sending it crashing to the floor. The contents spilled out and Dan scrabbled wildly through the resultant wreckage. Books, tissues, letters, all were tossed aside. Dan needed to get numb. Now. He needed his stash. By the time he found the necessary items the uncontrollable shaking invading his body made it virtually impossible to roll a joint. Dan's thoughts were jagged shards of incoherence. He shut his mouth tight around the smoke, holding it in as long as he could. Slowly the anaesthetising power of marijuana began to dim the clamour in his brain and smooth the edges of thought. Dan discovered infinitesimal silences between the constant firing of synapses. He reached out for those weightless dark spaces, spinning them together in his mind joining silence to silence like a black web around his strained nerve endings. Taking strength from the drug Dan forced the web to expand, each strand bleeding out to form a perfect sphere. In his head, now, only silence. Dan focused hard on the image he had created and, as his anxiety fell away, remembered how to breathe.

Dusk had crept through the window long before Dan moved again. He knew he could not maintain his tranquil state indefinitely. He knew he would have to face at least part of the chaos in his brain but he had to be able to control it so it did not swallow him alive. Needing to hold on to the image of the sphere Dan's first movements were deliberate, slow. He rolled another joint: a weapon against the possibility of destruction. Dan imagined a small, transparent section appearing in his sphere of calm. Through it he could see his thoughts swirling incessantly. In his mind he took the sphere and shook it as if it were a Magic 8 Ball, watching the hole to see which thought should appear.

"You're gay."

Dan regarded this thought. Though the dope provided an effective barrier to pain he was surprised by his lack of reaction. "I'm gay," he repeated unperturbed. Of course he was. Had always been. Even before he had a word for it he had known. When he was nine years old the twins next door had taken him down to their summerhouse to play 'I'll show you mine if ...' It was the sight of a naked Kevin, not Lara, which made butterflies dance in his stomach. In junior high he developed a violent crush on Mr. Ottakar, his English teacher. That was what had first made him want to become a writer. In high school he fell in love with Ben Straker, linebacker on the school football team and secret poet. It hadn't gone far - furtive kisses in dark corners, love poems slipped into lockers. It was brief and intense and beautiful. It was first love.

To Dan, "You're gay," was a bald statement of fact without emotional connotation. The interrelation of that fact with others, however, was a different story. Dan inhaled hard before giving his mental Magic 8 Ball another shake.

"Sam knew."

This one hit him harder. Dan remembered with perfect clarity the day he told Sam. He had arrived at Dartmouth that morning and was looking forward to throwing himself into the hectic rush of being a freshman ñ getting to know as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time. All it took to form a bond with Mike was the discovery of a mutual love of the New York Yankees.

In the afternoon, Dan and Mike headed down to Thayer Hall, the student rec centre, to watch the Yankees play the Red Sox and to do some serious socialising. The game was about half an hour old when Dan first noticed him. He was reclining in a battered old armchair, hands behind his head and Converse-encased feet propped up on the table in front of him. His well-toned body was sheathed in stonewashed Levis Red Tabs and a faded black, tight T-shirt emblazoned with the name of an obscure band. He was lightly tanned and wavy blonde hair fell around a face blessed with inquisitive, bright, blue eyes. Dan thought he had never seen someone so beautiful. He engineered an introduction to this angel and spent the remainder of the game bantering with him about baseball statistics. His name was Thad and he was a second year medical student. At the end of the game Thad had to leave but not before the two had made tentative arrangements to meet again the following day.

Dan walked home elated. The Yankees had won. Don Mattingly had scored his sixth grand slam in one season. Dan had met Thad. Dan knew he had been flirting shamelessly but he was pretty sure Thad had been too. There was only one person Dan wanted to talk to about his day - Sam. Sam was more than Dan's younger brother; he was his best friend. They made an extraordinary double act. Dan was the evil mastermind who thought up crazy schemes, and Sam was the genius who worked out how to make them happen. Their mother had said she was delighted Dan was finally going to college as she was running out of neighbours who would still speak to her. Sam, on the other hand, was broken-hearted at the idea of losing his partner in crime. Dan had had to work to reassure him that they could and would remain best friends.

So when he picked up the phone to call Sam, Dan did not think to censor his description. At first he could not get a word in edgewise as Sam was overjoyed at finally getting his driver's licence. He told Dan about the celebration he was planning with a couple of friends. He shyly mentioned to Dan that he had invited Sarah, a new girl in his homeroom on whom he had developed a rather obvious crush. Unable to contain himself any longer Dan embarked on a review of the game (interruptions for exclamations on the greatness of Don Mattingly) and meeting Thad. Dan's description of Thad was glowing - the young man would not have recognised himself in it - and transparent. When Dan finally came to a halt there was a silence at the other end of the line.

"Sam?" queried Dan. "Are you still there?"

A small, scared, child-like voice answered with a question.

"Danny, are you gay?"

Dan was too wrapped up in his new crush to notice the uncertainty in Sam's tone and breezed, "Yeah, Sam. Always. Didn't you know?"

There was another silence. A choking sound. Then "Danny!" in an imploring tone.

Too late, Dan caught on to his brother's obvious distress.

"Sammy. Are you OK? I'm..."

His words were interrupted by a click, followed by the buzz of a disconnected call. Sam had hung up. Dan tried to call back but heard only the engaged tone. When he eventually got through his mom answered.

"No, Danny. Sam's gone out, I'm sorry. I'll ask him to call you in the morning."

Dan put down the phone, somewhat perturbed. He shrugged - he'd fix it tomorrow. The opportunity never came. Tears coursed down Dan's cheeks as the inevitable thought rose to the surface.

"I killed Sam."

Buried memories pushed at the edge of Dan's consciousness. He could remember images and sounds from that night and the following days, but out of synchrony like a badly dubbed film. The phone call that came at midnight, the insistent ringing a warning that his world was about to be ripped apart. The warmth of Mike's car as they drove to the hospital emphasising the cold Dan felt infecting him. The sound of his mother sobbing without cease. The steady beeping of the machines. Sam's broken body: still Sam yet not Sam. The hard look in his father's eyes. A scalding cup of coffee from the machine. A doctor talking about blood alcohol levels and drug screens. The silence of the machines. Another voice sobbing, not his mother this time. The murmuring of psalms. A simple pine coffin. The words "Baruch davan emet," over and over again until Dan wanted to scream. The rabbi handing him a torn black ribbon. The recitation of the mourning prayer: "El ma'aleh rachamim". The weight of the casket digging into his shoulder. More words: "yoshebh besether `elyon betsel shadday yithlonan" - o thou that dwellest in the covert of the Most High, and abidest in the shadow of the Almighty. The endless streams of people bearing food. The oppressive silence that fell once everyone had left. The chaos of a teenager's room left to wait futilely for its owner's return. A desperate phone call. Mike's grave face. The harshness of sunlight. The repetitive thrum of the car engine. His room. His bed.

Dan knew without a shadow of doubt that he had killed his brother. Sam was three kinds of high when he ran a red light and was broadsided by a truck. The Sam he knew did not drink, did not take drugs. It would have taken something drastic to make him do something so out of character. Something like discovering the brother you idolised was gay. It never occurred to him that Sam was not the only one in the car, that Dan was not the only influence in Sam's life. The facts were incontrovertible. Dan came out to Sam. Sam got high. Sam got dead. Ergo, Dan killed Sam. It was a watertight argument, Dan believed. He couldn't think about it; it was like looking directly into the sun.

Dan rubbed at his tears with a grubby sleeve and forced the rising bubbles of memory back down again. The sphere he had created was beginning to lose its structural integrity and thoughts began to rush through him in whirling, illogical eddies.

"Marguerite knows I'm gay. She must have seen everything. She must realise I killed Sam. God, what if she tells everybody I killed Sam? Who's going to care about someone who killed his own brother? My father knows. My father doesn't care about me. He doesn't love me. Why should he? I'm useless and pathetic and half the man Sam would have been. Should have been. It should have been me. It should have been me. It should have been me. All of this. This pain. All of it because of me, because of who I am."

Dan stopped abruptly. There was an idea hovering just beyond the realms of thought, if only he could reach out and ...Yes! That was it! Free will. God had given him free will and he could use it to make a choice. He would make a choice for Sam. He couldn't alter the past but he could change the present and future. He could become the brother Sam had thought he was. For Sam he would be straight. It would be as if gay Dan had never existed. Shiny-Dan smiled at this distorted conclusion and punched honest-Dan hard in the guts before dragging him iron-clad in chains to the deepest recess of Dan's psyche.

To decide was to act. Dan took a shower, made himself presentable and headed out into the night. It was easier than he thought. He found a party, found a girl and turned on the charm. Bolstered by the drugs in his system he managed to control the inevitable nausea. Beginning to sweat with the effort of becoming a new man Dan extracted the girl from the party with whispered words and casual touches. Back at her room they shared a joint and Dan leaned over to kiss her. Her lips were soft against his and Dan almost cried from the relief of physical contact. He slipped his hands inside her sweater and revelled in the warmth of her skin. The girl started to work on the button of his jeans. As he slid himself inside her Dan was aware only of movement and sensation, nothing else mattered. He felt each thrust intensely, electricity shooting along the length of his cock to somewhere deep inside. Urged on by the girl Dan thrust harder, faster, bringing himself to climax. Dan's body resonated to his orgasm like strings on a violin.

In the bathroom, stripping himself of his condom, Dan realised he didn't know if the girl had come or not. He would have to pay more attention next time. Next time. It was only then that Dan realised what had just happened. He had lost his virginity. It was gone. Without any real thought or care it had just. Vanished. He stared at himself in the mirror, looking for a sign that something momentous had taken place. There was nothing. That made perfect sense to Dan. Sex was a place to lose himself, not find himself. The girl had already settled herself for sleep when Dan returned to the room. Dan hesitated, unsure what was expected of him. She smiled at his worried expression.

"My roommate will be back any minute," she said.

"Uh," replied Dan. "I'd better go." He began to dress himself, body hunched over in post-coital embarrassment.

"We should. Hook up sometime?" the girl suggested, a little uncertainty in her voice.

"Yeah," Dan nodded. "I'll call you." He put his hand on the doorhandle and turned back to face her. "Thanks," he added awkwardly, then left.

The mixture of dope and sex was potent. Dan knew he would never have to be disturbed by anything unpleasant as long as he was smoking or screwing. This combination now set a pattern for his life. Dan would score some weed then score a girl. Always the same type of girl. No frills, no expectations, always very, very female. Dan discovered that dope was a necessary precursor to sex; though he had convinced his mind that he was straight, his body was harder to convert. The episodes continued, but Dan had begun to see them as part of the complicated life he had to live. They were his penance and he would live by them. He could read the signs now and usually could get to a place of safety before he passed out. There were one or two tricky moments, like when he passed out on top of one of his conquests during an intense fuck. She had panicked when she could not rouse him and he woke covered in scratches from where she had tried to push him off. It was unlikely he would see her again.

Dan stayed at Dartmouth throughout the summer. The faculty supervisor of The D was also Dan's favourite professor and had managed to arrange an internship for Dan at the LA Herald-Examiner Sports Desk through senior columnist Mel Durslag, an old friend. The internship was for four months, starting in September. Dan blessed the Dartmouth system known as the D-plan where Dartmouth students were all required to stay one summer term during their four year stay, taking their long break in any of the other three terms of the year. By the time August 30th arrived, Dan was more than ready to leave. Mike had gone home for the summer and Dan had been stuck with a much less congenial roommate. It was definitely time for a change.


LA

Dan loved life as an intern. He was boarding in the room of someone he knew from college, but found that he was hardly there. With the beginning of the football season and the baseball season drawing to a close there were always a million things to be done. Dan researched, copy-edited, worked the phones, fetched coffee without being asked, soaked up the atmosphere like a sponge. He appreciated being kept busy: he had no time to think of anything but the job. At work he was solid, dependable Dan, always ready to go that extra mile, always ready with a quip and a smile. Night time was a different story. He headed out with the other interns a couple of times, but it was the same old same old. He was charming and witty for the first few minutes, and then he would begin to struggle to cope and would head for the bathroom. He didn't mind being seen as a flake. As long as it was a charming, witty, flake.

A few weeks into his internship it became clear that the LA Dodgers were going to win the National League West and head into the Championship Series. Baseball-loving citizens of Los Angeles were hoping for a re-run of the 1981 World Series when the Dodgers beat the Yankees. Dan pitched a local colour idea to his editor and was surprised and delighted to have it picked up. He was to go to Dodger Stadium and talk to fans before and after each game, getting their personal stories as well as their views on the action. It would go in as a sidebar to the main review.

A Tuesday in early October. Hazy and humid. Dan rode to the stadium in the company of Doug Krikorian who was reporting on Game 1 of the National League Championship Series. Dan felt sticky in his cotton shirt and was glad he had not worn a tie. He fingered the press pass hung around his neck, smiling at the words 'Access All Areas'. The car slowed.

"I'll drop you here, Dan," said Doug. "You shouldn't have any trouble getting people to talk to you. The team coaches will be along any minute - that's when you get the real fanatics. I'll see you in the press room."

"Thanks, Doug," grinned Dan nervously, clutching his notepad. He got out and turned to close the door.

"Hey, kid?" Dan stuck his head back into the car. "Good luck."

Dan nodded his thanks, slammed the door and watched the reporter drive off. Dan stood still for a second, watching a crowd forming around the team entrance. The atmosphere was electric and Dan could feel it buzzing through him. For a second, he almost forgot why he was there: then he plunged into the throng. He had managed to get a couple of interviews when a huge cheer went up - the Dodgers had arrived. There was a surge towards the bus and Dan, who had one foot on the sidewalk and one on the road, lost his balance and toppled over. There was a crack as his skull hit the back of the bus and he slumped to the floor, dropping his notepad as he clutched his battered head.

Dan's eyes swam. He blinked hard to clear his vision and saw a hand extended towards him.

"Come on, man. Let me help you up," came a soft voice. Still holding his head with one hand, Dan extended the other and grasped the unknown benefactor's proffered arm. He was pulled to his feet by a sure, steady grip and ushered away from the crowd.

"Here, let me take a look at that," his rescuer said, gently removing Dan's hand from the injury site. He probed gently with his fingers, apologising when Dan winced.

"You're going to have quite a bump, I would think. But you'll live."

Dan suddenly remembered his notebook and looked around wildly.

"Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit," he muttered frantically.

The benefactor looked concerned. "What is it? Have you lost something? It's not your memory is it?" He laughed, then as Dan did not respond his face became comically serious. "It isn't, is it?"

"My notebook," explained Dan. "It's my first ...I'm an intern ..." He waved his press pass at the stranger.

"Oh," the man replied, understanding dawning on his face. "Leave it to me." With that, he dived back into the crowd. Dan could do nothing but stand and wait until the stranger reappeared, a little flushed but triumphantly waving Dan's notebook. He handed it over.

"Thanks," said Dan gratefully, checking the condition of his notes: crumpled but legible. "You're a real life-saver." The truth of his words struck him and he met the eyes of his saviour.

"Really," he said gravely. "Thanks." He held out his hand. The stranger took it, clicked his heels together and bowed, eyes twinkling.

"Why, you're welcome, ma'am" he said in a stagy Southern accent. Dan stared at him then they both began to laugh. When they finally subsided Dan realised he was still clutching the other man's hand.

"You might want this back," he grinned.

"I might at that," agreed the other man, shaking Dan's hand firmly this time before releasing it. "Casey McCall."

"Dan Rydell."

Dan took a good look at Casey for the first time. He was a few years older than Dan, taller, skinnier build too, though the fashionable shoulder-pads in his lightweight sports jacket hid some of that. His hair, which clearly made every attempt to eschew fashion, was a dirty blonde and worn short with a cowlick that had obviously undergone some attempts at control. His face was a pleasing mixture of sharp angles and soft curves and his chocolate brown eyes were alive and alert. Dan could not stop smiling at him. Call it the result of a bump on the head but Dan knew, just knew with absolute certainty, that this person was going to be important in his life, their handshake the first link forged in the chain that would bond them together.

"So, Dan Rydell, you're working for ..." Casey picked up Dan's press pass and examined it, "the Herald-Examiner." He let the plastic square fall back against Dan's chest. "Impressive." He regarded Dan critically, head to one side. "You look young for an intern."

"I'm nineteen," Dan retorted, a tad defensively. "You don't look like the Old Man of the Sea yourself."

Casey grinned again. Dan decided this was a good look on him.

"He's not of the Sea, my friend, he's plus the Sea. Big baseball fan too." Dan rolled his eyes. "Is that how you treat your elders and betters?" Casey appealed plaintively.

"Older definitely, but better ..."

"Hey, I'll have you know I saved your life. You could have been crushed to death by that rampaging mob back there."

Dan rolled his eyes again and threw up his hands in the universal Jewish mother gesture.

"Oy, I wanted a doctor and I got a crazy guy with a superhero complex. It must be all that spinach I fed him as a boy."

"That bump on your head must have regressed you a couple of generations, Miriam."

"Miriam's the only Jewish name you know, right?"

"Um," Casey scratched his head and his shoulders slumped in defeat.

Dan smile was so wide he thought it was possible that it would spread right round his head, unzipping it and causing the top to fall off. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had such an absurd idea whilst sober. He laughed aloud. As Casey opened his mouth to speak his name was called. A red-faced, sweating man lugging a huge camera on his shoulder was walking towards them.

"Hey, Casey. I've got all the footage I need from out here. We should probably head in now, yeah?" The man fumbled in his pocket and dragged out a handkerchief which he used to mop his face. "Shit, it's hot. Shoulda listened to my mother and taken the job in Anchorage."

"Dan, this melting puddle of manhood is Graham. Graham, this is Dan Rydell, intern at Her-Ex."

"Good to meet you, Dan. You've got a great bunch of guys over there." He turned to Casey. "Casey, we should go."

Dan deflated. He wasn't ready for Casey to leave. He wasn't ready to feel ordinary again. Lost in his thoughts he tuned out the first part of Casey's reply.

"...press room. Are you coming?"

Dan let out the breath he had been holding and tried to nod coolly. As they headed inside Casey told Dan about his job. He was working for KHJ-TV as a researcher, writer and sometime field reporter for their tiny sports department. Like all the small cable TV stations they would get their live feed from NBC but Casey's executive producer had decreed that they needed some 'local colour' and that was why he was standing in the right place to save Dan.

"Local colour?"

"Local colour, my friend."

"You want to know why I'm here?"

"Why are you here, Dan?"

"Local colour."

"Local colour?"

"Local colour, my friend."

"Huh."

"Huh, indeed."

They had reached security by this time and Dan thrilled with pride as he showed his pass and was nodded through. Casey walked on, deep in thought.

"Dan, do you believe in coincidence?"

"I do not."

"Me either." Casey fell silent again. Dan liked the silence. It was a different kind of silence to the ones he usually endured: the abandonment by his father, the cold shoulder of a girl he forgot to call, the dark in his head when he refused to think about Sam.

As they arrived at the door to the press room Casey spoke again.

"So it must be fate, then."

Dan did not need to ask what he meant. "Yeah," he concurred.

The constant buzz of conversation assailed Dan's ears as he walked into the press room. Casey waved enthusiastically at a middle-aged man with a paunch and a Burt Reynolds moustache who stood at the other end of the room.

"That's my guy," he said to Dan. "Where's yours?"

Dan scanned the seats and spotted Doug sitting down front and to the left, a chair empty beside him. He pointed him out to Casey.

"Time to learn from the good and the great."

Graham had already started to make his way across the room. Casey and Dan stood looking at each other, unsure of what to say next. It was Casey who again took the lead.

"Listen, are you back here tomorrow?" he asked.

"Yeah. You?"

"Uhuh." He paused. "So I'll see you tomorrow?" He smiled shyly, his outward confidence suddenly gone. Dan returned the smile with interest.

"Tomorrow," he agreed. "Team entrance?" Casey nodded.

"Bring your cape!" Dan watched Casey as he strode away, chortling at Dan's remark. He stopped, looked over his shoulder and shouted in Dan's direction.

"Hannah! That's a Jewish name!"

Dan was still chuckling as he gained his seat.

There was a roar from the still half-empty stadium as the teams came out for batting practice. Doug explained to Dan that normally reporters would not sit through the two hours of pre-game but that for the post-season series the stakes were higher and there was always the possibility something could happen before the game started. He suggested to Dan that he go out into the bleachers and get some more opinions from the Dodgers fans. Dan was more than happy to agree. He felt full of energy and wasn't ready to sit still for several hours. Scrambling back out of his seat he looked around for Casey but couldn't see him or Graham, though the moustachioed man was still there, chatting to a very large man with a bald head.

"Probably sent out on the same mission," thought Dan as he headed back out through the press room door. He spent a happy couple of hours talking to fans of all shapes and sizes. Dan was in his element - no need for his normal social awkwardness. He was doing a job, controlling the interactions. Turned on a little bit of the charm and had fans young and old eating out of his palm, spilling all sorts of personal details. Everyone was excited about the Series and its possibilities: no one cared about the story behind the guy asking the questions. He made it back to the press room just before the game started, pages covered with scribbles and clutching a couple of hot dogs. He handed one to Doug as he slipped into his seat. Doug grinned and said, "You'll go far, Daniel Rydell. You'll go far."

The game itself was absorbing. It wasn't just what was happening out in the diamond. Doug would point out the little details that would make his review more than a stringing together of plays and statistics. The way the pitcher walked to the mound, the expressions on the faces of the coaches in the dugouts, the way a team did or did not celebrate scoring. It was a close fought contest but eventually the Dodgers lost to the Mets 3-2. Just before the game ended Dan headed back outside the stadium to get quotes from fans leaving the game, then he and Doug returned to the newspaper to pull their stories together.

Although he had only 250 words to write, Dan took as much care over it as he would a 3000 word feature, choosing each quote carefully, trying hard to evoke the atmosphere and portray the huge range of fans accurately. It went through five drafts before both Dan and the copy-editor were satisfied but eventually Dan had to say goodbye to his baby as it went off to the sub-editors to be laid-out. He stood in the middle of the bullpen, hands in pockets, evidently at a loose end. Doug glanced up from his fourth rewrite.

"Go home, Dan. You just finished your first by-line, go bask in the glow. We've got it all to do again tomorrow."

"You sure?" inquired Dan. "There's nothing you want me to do?"

"Sure I'm sure," replied the sports reporter. "Now get outta here." He turned his attention back to his report and a well-used bottle of White-Out.

Dan lay back on his bed, hands behind his head and contemplated his day. He felt a twinge in the back of his skull as he shifted slightly and grazed his bump. He smiled to himself as he remembered his rescue. Casey. Dan could not recall the last time he had felt so good about a new person in his life. He had gotten used to surviving without friends so it was strange for him to think that he might actually welcome inviting this stranger into his close-knit circle of one. Stranger. That was where the dichotomy lay. This guy, this Casey McCall, was to all intents and purposes a complete stranger. Dan had held maybe as much as five minutes' conversation with him, ten max, and yet Dan felt that he was already familiar. Dan shook his head, regretting the action as he remembered his bump too late, unwilling to analyse why he felt this way. He yawned, jaw wide and realised he was exhausted. Stretching out Dan hit the lamp switch and settled himself down to sleep. It was only as he was about to drop off that it occurred to Dan he had not needed to smoke a joint all day. He let the thought pass without comment and slipped into a deep, peaceful sleep.

The following day Doug drove Dan back to Dodger Stadium.

"Try not to get yourself killed this time," he commented wryly. Dan banged the roof of the car with his palm and it sped away. As Dan's eyes scanned the area he felt a twinge in his stomach. Not the predictable knot of nausea this time but a feeling he barely remembered. Butterflies. Would now be the time Casey saw through him to the worthless jerk behind the charm? Before he could chicken out he saw Casey lazily leaning against the wall of the stadium, shading his eyes against the sun. He nodded his head and Dan had no choice but to walk towards him.

To Dan's continued surprise and pleasure Casey didn't discover the worthless jerk behind the charm. In point of fact, Casey appeared to find Dan amusing, interesting and good company. They met at each Championship game played at Dodger Stadium and began to forge a friendship. After the final game and a 6-0 Dodger win taking them to the World Series Casey insisted on celebrating by inviting Dan over to his apartment to watch the re-run. Dan, who was still waiting for the other shoe to drop, was thrilled that this friendship looked set to outlast the baseball season.

***

The Herald-Examiner Sports Desk Editor had been pleased with the way Dan's sidebar had worked alongside Doug's review. People had responded well to the human interest angle. He asked Dan to continue through the World Series.

"And if you can do it without costing us money, I'd like you to do the same thing at Oakland Coliseum. Think you can manage that?"

"Yes, sir," Dan responded eagerly, though he had absolutely no idea how he was going to make the trip. Doug, of course, would fly.

Meeting Dan outside Dodger Stadium for the first game of the World Series Casey was delighted when he heard the news.

"Station can't afford to fly us up. Cutbacks. Something's up ..." he grimaced. "Anyhow, Graham and I are driving up to Oakland. Come with us. I'll be so grateful. It's not that I don't like Graham. It's just he's so ... Graham." He pushed his cowlick out of his eyes and blinked solemnly at Dan.

He knows he's irresistible, thought Dan, saying out loud, "OK, but where would I stay?"

"Crash in my room. It'll just be some crappy motel but there'll be running water. Probably."

"Running water, huh? My mom warned me about guys like you, luring innocent folk in with promises of new-fangled water from taps."

"Both hot and cold, Dan, both hot and cold."

"Oh Casey," pretend-swooned Dan. "You say the wickedest things."

Agreement thus arrived at, it was time to get to work.

After the game was over, in the whirl of excitement, Dan felt his arm yanked.

"Ramone's. Corner of West 5th and South Main. Eleven o'clock. Gotta run." And Casey was gone.

The bar was long and dark, booths set along one side of the room. It was busy. If he had been meeting anyone else Dan would have turned on his heel and run. Far away. But it was Casey, and that made Dan brave. He wove between the tables and knots of people, eyes constantly darting about in search of his friend. He was quickly rewarded.

"Dan!"

Dan's head turned in the direction of the voice and he saw Casey half-hanging out of a booth, waving. He raised his hand in reply and made his way over.

"Hey, Casey. How'd'you get this booth? The place is pretty busy." He slid onto the bench opposite.

"Erm, I may have been here awhile," admitted Casey, gesturing towards a couple of empty glasses. "I figured we'd be better off with a booth." Dan raised his eyebrows in a question. "No need to advertise that you're underage."

Dan nodded. Seemed sensible to him, and this way he wouldn't have to go anywhere near the bar. And all those people.

"So you're going to be buying all my beer? I think I like that."

"Already started, my man," said Casey, sliding a full glass Dan's way.

"Thanks. Well, here's to the Dodgers. And here's to plentiful beer."

Dan and Casey clinked their beers together.

"Let us review, Dan," said Casey, taking a large swig of beer.

"I am happy to review, my friend," replied Dan, matching him swig for swig. "I am, indeed, eager to review. We have witnessed the review-worthy."

"Indeed we have. May I begin?"

"You may." Dan and Casey settled themselves in the booth, their body language an exact mirror: both clutching a beer in one hand, leaning slightly forward, faces expressing mock seriousness. "For we are manly men who wish to converse about manly things." Casey grunted his agreement.

"The date?" he started.

"I believe the date is October 15, 1988. "

"The place?"

"That would be Ramone's, downtown LA"

"Not this place, the other place."

"Ohhhh. The other place?"

"The other place."

"That would be Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles."

Casey nodded, satisfied.

"The situation?"

"Game one of the World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland Athletics."

"And?"

"Ninth inning?"

"Correct. And the key players at this crucial time were?"

"Dennis Eckersley and the mighty, mighty Kirk Gibson," Dan raised his beer again and clinked against Casey's. They swigged in tandem, silently toasting the Dodgers' player.

Casey continued, "Gibson's knee was badly injured."

"No one thought he would play. He wasn't even in the stadium for the pre-game ceremonies."

"He wasn't in the dugout for the first eight innings."

"His knee was so screwed."

"His knee was, as you say, so screwed."

"Bottom of the ninth, Dodgers are trailing four to three."

"Two outs and a runner on first."

"Lasorda makes the crazy decision to send Gibson in as a pinch-hitter."

"Crazy decision. Guy can barely walk."

"Guy can barely walk but he gets to the plate."

"Eckersley pitches and it's strike one, strike two."

"Strike two and things look bad for the Dodgers."

"But Gibson works Eckersley to a full count. Then ..."

"Seventh pitch at bat, Davis steals second."

"Athletics could've walked Gibson."

"Could've but didn't. They played the percentages."

"They did indeed. And whose dumbass idea was that?"

"Eckersley throws a back-slider but Gibson is ready."

"Is he ever ready? He hits that ball with all the strength he has left."

"It flies into the right-field. Is it going to be ... I think it is!"

"A home run! Gibson hobbles round those bases but he's not feeling the pain."

"The crowd goes insane. The stadium's in pandemonium."

"The Dodgers storm the field!"

"They've beaten Oakland five to four!"

"I don't believe what I just saw!"

Dan and Casey were on their feet, roaring by now. They clinked beers again and downed the remainder, slamming the empty glasses back onto the table. There was an outbreak of cheering and clapping. They turned round, startled, to find themselves the focus of attention of the rest of the bar, Dodgers fans all. Dan exchanged a shrug with Casey. He grinned back at the crowd, grabbed Casey's hand and raised it triumphantly.

"Thank you, thank you," he called. "We'll be here all week. Try the veal, it's lovely," and with that he dropped Casey's hand and slid back into his seat. Casey quickly joined him.

"So much for being less obvious," said Dan, not put out in the slightest.

"Yeah," Casey shrugged. "But somehow I don't think you're going to have to worry about who's going to buy your beer."

Dan beamed.

"Nice review, my friend."

"Nice review, Danny."

Dan didn't know whether it was the win, the beer, the buzz from the crowd or Casey himself. All he knew was that it was first time since losing Sam that someone calling him Danny had felt like he was coming home.


Californ-eye-ay

The ride to Oakland was uneventful. Dan thought he now knew more about cameras and camera angles than he was ever likely to need. He also knew every last detail of Graham's sprawling family, including at least three separate internecine feuds. He had sat in back, sprawled across the length of the seat, feet out of the window. Casey, who had insisted on driving the entire way, sat next to Graham, nodding and interjecting an "mmhmm" at random intervals. They arrived at the motel late and exhausted. Graham headed off to his room lugging the camera and muttering at it as he went.

"D'you think he sleeps with it?" asked Dan.

"Her. Graham has declared his camera to be of the feminine persuasion."

"Oh, he definitely sleeps with it," stated Dan, heading off towards their room.

The room was simple, clean and functional with twin beds, a desk, a TV and the all-important hot and cold running water in the bathroom. Casey swung his bag on the bed nearest the door and collapsed next to it.

"I'm just going to sleep right here," he declared.

"Casey, you are going to take a shower and then you are going to go to sleep with your legs on the bed like a normal person." Dan rummaged through his backpack looking for wash things.

"Too tired," whined Casey, his eyes already closed.

"Let me see if I can put this another way," said Dan. "We spent hours in the car. It was hot. There was a lot of sweating and a fair amount of cursing, I might add. You and I, my friend - we stink."

Casey lazily lifted one arm behind his head, turned his head to the side and sniffed. He wrinkled his nose in disgust.

"Yeah, I need a shower." But still he did not move. Dan rolled his eyes and went into the bathroom. He ran the water and unfolded the towels. Returning to the bedroom he unzipped Casey's bag and found his wash bag.

"What do you wear in bed?" he asked.

"Why Daniel, how forward of you," slurred Casey, eyes still tight shut. Dan dropped the wash bag on Casey's head. Casey merely blew a gentle raspberry in response.

"Casey. The sooner you co-operate, the sooner this will be over for both of us."

"Grey Yankees T and green flannel boxers." Dan retrieved the items and took everything into the bathroom. Back again, he looked at the man sprawled on the bed.

"OK, Casey. You can do this the hard way or the easy way."

"Easy's always good."

"Fine. Get up and go take a shower."

"Maybe not always good."

"Then it's the hard way for you, Casey McCall." Dan grasped Casey's ankles and tugged. He paid no attention to Casey's yell as he crashed to the floor and continued to pull, dragging his friend unceremoniously into the bathroom. Dropping his cargo Dan stepped over Casey's prostrate body and shut the door behind him.

As Casey showered, Dan opened the window to air the room. He stood quietly, letting the soft breeze play over his skin. The stillness of the night reflected Dan's inner content: a feeling long alien to him. Dan leant his head against the window frame and peered out into the dark, contemplating his mood.

It was a while since he had felt so good. There was something about the previous scene with Casey that had tapped into something for Dan. Sam, he thought. It's like it used to be with Sam. Me taking care of him, making sure he got his lunch ready for school, making sure he took a bath, helping him to throw a curve ball. Taking care of Casey. It wasn't the same. But it would do.

***

The atmosphere at Oakland Coliseum was completely different to Dodger Stadium. The home fans were down two games to nothing and were not afraid to make some noise. The Dodgers fans that had been able to make the trip were equally raucous and Dan had no problems in getting people to talk to him. The difficulty he had was keeping them on topic and getting them to shut up. Everyone was infected with adrenaline, even the guys inside the press room. The game was a close contest, the Athletics finally winning 2-1, and the Series was back on. Afterwards Dan had to finish off his interviews, write and phone in his sidebar. He had thought that phoning in would have meant fewer rewrites. He was wrong. Casey and Graham were long finished while Dan and Doug still toiled. Graham had wandered off in search of food but Casey waited quietly at the back of the press room.

Eventually the copy-editor was satisfied with Dan's work and Doug waved away his offers of dinner.

"Got a girl to see," he said.

Casey and Dan headed out. Much later they returned to the motel, not entirely sober. Dan, brushing his teeth, heard low murmuring coming from the bedroom. Casey was on the phone to his fiancée, Lisa. The murmuring grew louder and more staccato. Though he tried hard to concentrate on anything else, Dan could not help but overhear Casey's half of the conversation.

"Lisa, I ...Yes, I'm aware how hard your mom is working on the ...Of course I want to be involved it's ... I can't ask him, OK. I just can't ... You know how it ... He's not your father, Lisa. Let me handle it my way, please ... I know and I appreciate it. You've just got to ... You're tired, Lisa. Why don't you go to bed? I can call you tom-" As Casey's tone calmed again Dan opened the bathroom door a crack and peeked out. Casey motioned with his hand that it was safe to come in.

"You know I love you ... I can't wait either ... G'night Lees." He grimaced as he put down the receiver.

"Sorry about that."

"Hey, none of my business," said Dan settling under the covers. Casey flopped back against his pillow with a big sigh.

"Don't go getting married, Danny. It's just one long headache."

"Wasn't planning on it anytime soon." Dan snuggled down and switched off his light. If Casey wanted to talk then he could talk. If not, well there was a big bottle of Sleep out there with Dan's name on it. Casey reached over and switched off his light too. The fluorescent sign of the motel gave the darkness the same pleasantly fuzzy edge that alcohol had given Dan's mood. For a couple of minutes the only sounds that could be heard were Dan's steady breathing and the constant rustle of sheets as Casey tried without success to make himself comfortable. Dan wondered if the sighing and fidgeting were Casey's way of indicating that he wanted to discuss what had happened. Perhaps he was no good at making the first move. He was, Dan reflected, from the midwest and midwestern men were not exactly notorious for sharing their feelings. With the squirming continuing just feet away Dan decided that if he was going to stand a chance of getting any sleep at all it was best to get it over with.

"OK, Casey, what's up?" The fidgeting stopped.

"It's nothing. Really."

"Casey, unless you've discovered a new sport of sheet origami or you literally have ants in your pants, you're going to have to do better than that."

"I don't know where to start."

"Wherever you like, man." Dan hugged his knees to his chest, ready to listen. He didn't have to wait long.

"Lisa's this great girl, Danny. Really great. You've got to know that straight off because you don't know her. And weddings make people crazy. Swear to god, stone cold crazy. It's like once we got the date picked she was this whole different person. Obsessed doesn't even begin to cover it. Everything has to be perfect, you know? She has this whole battle plan laid out and everyone has their own jobs to do. Deadlines, parameters, the lot. And that works up to a point. I mean, it's good to be organized but ..." Casey heaved another sigh but this one seemed to come from a darker place.

"She wants my dad to give her away. And make a speech. Her dad died when she was little and she doesn't have any uncles. I asked why didn't she have her mom but she said it wasn't traditional enough and my dad was going to be hers anyway so he might as well."

"I don't know, Casey. Seems like a reasonable request, not so crazy."

There was that sigh again. Dan chose to shut up and wait.

"My dad ..." Casey started. "My dad is not. Easy. It's hard for anyone outside to see. He's a churchgoer, pillar of the community, gives to charity, sits on the school board - the whole nine yards. But. It's not that he doesn't love me. He does. He's just so closed off. My whole life he's made me feel that I'm one tiny step away from embarrassing him. I've always let him down. When I went in for gymnastics he made it clear that he would have preferred a more manly sport. When I went to Gustavus in St. Peter he asked why I didn't get into Yale. When I was seven I fumbled a catch in a Little League game. It cost us the playoff. He didn't speak to me for a week. Now I'm in TV I get the feeling it would only be OK if it was network news. I don't know how to talk to him. I don't know how to make him proud. I don't know how to make him happy. I definitely don't know how I'm going to tell him my fiancée wants him to walk her down the aisle wearing a white tux and a purple Ascot."

Dan did not know what to say. His stomach lurched in recognition of the pain in his friend's voice. He thought of Lisa. How could she make Casey do this, knowing how he felt? Definitely a crazy person after all he decided.

"She should know better," he stated flatly.

"Danny, I told you, Lisa's a good girl," said Casey, his voice weary. "It's the wedding making her crazy. I wish I knew what to do."

"I'm sorry. I'm not helping. Maybe you need to decide which is worse - the rock or the hard place and go from there."

"Yeah, but which way do I go? Help me, Danny - I'm in the tall grass here."

Dan couldn't help smiling at the absurdity of this confident, older man asking him for advice. Dan: who didn't know how to talk to his own father, who couldn't hold down any kind of relationship, who staggered from one day to the next without any sense of direction. He looked at Casey silhouetted in the dark, glinting eyes trained on Dan's face. He really believes I can help, thought Dan. He really believes in me. A warm feeling spread over his body.

"OK," he said, "I'll tell you what I think but remember, standard disclaimers apply." He saw a flash of white in the gloom as Casey grinned.

"Your dad. He's been your dad forever. He does it the only way he knows how. It's going to take something dramatic to shift that and I'm not sure a white tux and purple Ascot are going to cut it. My theory is you try talking to him and you'll get exactly the response you were expecting. You could make it all about being an honour and the trust Lisa is placing in him blah blah and hold off mentioning the outfit until the day of the wedding but I think you know how that would turn out. And I get the feeling you wouldn't be comfortable sort of lying to your dad. Trust me, he'd notice that." Dan stopped to breathe. He could almost feel the intensity with which Casey was listening to him. He hoped what he was saying was worth it.

"Then there's Lisa. She's a crazy person right now. But that's right now. I'm trusting that you wouldn't decide to marry anyone if they really were a crazy person. I'm trusting that you chose to get married because you love each other and want to be together always." A slight nod from Casey.

"She's blinkered because she wants her wedding to be absolutely perfect. It's all she can see. Seems to me that to her the wedding is a metaphor for your life together. If it goes well then that bodes well for your future; if it doesn't ... well. I'm not saying that's a rational idea but it's what you've got to work with. You need to help her see past that idea to the reality of your situation. This is making you unhappy. She doesn't want you to be unhappy. At least I presume she ... Anyway. I think she's your best bet. You need to talk to her face to face. The phone's not going to work; you'll just get steam-rollered again. Do, you know, the whole reassuring thing - 'I love you, blah blah, you mean everything to me, blah blah, wedding would be perfect if it was just you and me, blah blah' - and then get her to listen." He mused for a second.

"Of course it might also help if you got her slightly drunk first. Or you could use sex. I'm pretty pliable after a good screw. Could work." Dan could see Casey's eyes blinking rapidly. "Yeah, well," he added hastily. "That's what I think anyway. But what do I know?" Dan came to a standstill. Casey's eyes were closed now but Dan was still aware of the tension in his body. It was a long minute before Casey spoke.

"I think you might be right. Not sure about the whole alcohol and sex thing, but on the whole you might be right."

"No alcohol and sex? I thought that was the best part," Dan rejoined.

"Probably alcohol or sex," said Casey. "When they're combined Lisa can be ... erm ... yeah." He trailed off.

"Oh," said Dan faintly.

"So anyway, she's coming out to LA next weekend. I'll talk to her then. It's not like I want to take the whole thing away from her. Just the white tux. She can even have the speech. At least it's not about me; I think my father could manage to say a few nice things about Lisa, he's always liked her."

"Sounds good." When it became clear that there was no more coming, he added, "G'night, Casey." Dan hitched the covers up around his shoulders and settled himself for sleep.

"G'night, Danny. Thanks." Dan was beginning to drift off when he heard an urgent whisper: his name.

"Wha'?" Full of sleep he prised open his eyes to find Casey sitting up in bed ramrod straight. He shook his head to dispel the fuzziness and leaned up on one elbow.

"What is it, Casey?"

"It's not me is it, Danny?" asked Casey, sounding scared and alone. "I mean it's not my fault that my father thinks I'm a waste of space - is it? Am I as useless as he seems to think? Do I always make the wrong choices? Is this the life I'm supposed to have? What if he's right, Danny?" A hand gripped Dan's heart and squeezed it in an iron grip. He wanted to touch Casey to reassure him but the friendship was still new enough to make him uncertain. Words would have to be enough.

"Casey, no. Your dad is ... misguided. Who knows why fathers do the things they do? Maybe he's jealous of your life, maybe you had more freedom than he ever did and he resents you for it. Maybe he's a perfectionist who is always doomed to disappointment. Whatever the facts he's wrong about you, Casey. I haven't had a great year." Dan paused. "No, that's not right. It's been fucking awful. And having you in it has made it a whole lot better, I swear. I think you're probably the best friend I've got." Dan thanked the dark and the leftover buzz from the alcohol for allowing him to be honest in a way that was usually impossible. Somewhere inside him a prisoner in chains cheered. He saw Casey's shoulders relaxing from their rigid pose.

"Why was your year so bad? What happened to you?" A long pause.

"Danny? Did it have anything to do with Sam?" Dan froze, horrified. How could Casey possibly know about Sam? What could he know? He began to feel panic rising. Do something, say something, stop this happening.

"Sam?" he asked, unable to keep the quaver out of his voice.

"Last night. I had to go to the bathroom. When I came back you sat up and said 'Sam' then lay straight back down. I don't think you were even awake. So who is Sam?" Dan fought to get control over the fear inside him. He concentrated on breathing - in for five, out for five. His lack of response obviously disturbed Casey.

"Listen, it's none of my business. I just thought. You helped me, that's all. I could return the favour?" The uncertainty in Casey's voice touched Dan. Could he tell him? This wouldn't be the same as talking to the counsellor. This was someone who actually cared. Dan still didn't understand why but there it was. Would it be so bad to let Casey see a small part of the real Dan? Taking a deep, shuddering breath he answered his friend.

"Sam is ... Sam was ... my little brother." He heard a sharp intake of breath.

"Danny, I'm so sorry. What happened?"

"Just over a year ago he was killed in a car wreck," Dan spoke in a flat monotone, closing his eyes to avoid Casey's gaze. "He was my best friend." He told Casey a censored story of Sam's last day and the days that followed. He explained how in his family loss had not united them, but torn them apart. That the loss of Sam had left each of them isolated in their own prison of grief, unable to reach out. That it was worst with his father - the relationship had completely broken down and he feared it would never be repaired.

At some point in his painful soliloquy Dan became aware of a soft weight on his shoulder. It was warm and comforting. When he drew to a halt he opened his eyes to see Casey crouching in front of him, face a picture of concern, one arm outstretched. Dan's lips curved in a sad smile.

"Oh, Danny," Casey's voice was thick. He patted Dan's shoulder gently and lifted his other hand in an open gesture. Dan's breath hitched and he scrambled up into Casey's waiting embrace.

"I'm not going to cry," he muttered fiercely into Casey's ear.

"You do whatever you want to, Danny," Casey replied. "Whatever you want, it's OK."

Hot, sharp needles pricked Dan's eyes, his throat full and constricted. He was not going to cry. Instead he concentrated on the physical presence of Casey. The warmth of his body, the hardness of muscle pressed against him, the softness of skin and hair against his cheek. The prickles faded and his throat eased but Dan became aware of a different problem. His body had responded to its closeness with Casey's in the only way it knew how: he was hard. A fiery heat in Dan's cheeks competed with the heat that was pooling around his groin. Too violently he pushed Casey away. Casey rocked back on his heels, his eyes a question mark.

"Danny?"

Dan stammered out a feeble apology, grabbing the sheet and pulling it over his lap. Casey stared, his mouth twitching.

"You are so obvious," he stated, highly amused. Dan blushed more deeply, hoping that this was all some horrible nightmare.

Casey gently pulled away the sheet and his hand grazed Dan's erection.

"D'you want me to take care of that for you?" he asked, his voice matter of fact. Dan was immobilised, unable to move, unable to breathe, unable to think of anything but the brief touch of Casey's fingers against his cock.

"Hello!" Casey sing-songed, waving his hand in front of Danny's face. "Earth to Danny!" A distant echo - spring is coming, you'll see - and Dan spluttered into life.

"But. You're not gay. I'm not gay. We're ..."

"Not gay," Casey interrupted. "I know that. You're nineteen, Dan. You could get hard if you hugged a telephone pole. I don't want to fuck you. You were just so sad; I thought I could help you feel better. Whatever you want, Danny - I told you."

"Y...y...you've done this before?" queried Dan, his heart beating out a furious rhythm.

Casey shrugged. "When I was a freshman in college, my roommate and I weren't exactly getting the girls. You wouldn't guess from the fine specimen I am today," his teeth flashed, "but I used to be kind of a geek. We worked out that sometimes it was better to have someone else's hand, even if it belonged to a guy. A way to break up the monotony."

"So it's OK if I want you to...?"

"It's fine." Casey traced the length of Dan's shaft through the thin cloth. Dan's skin puckered in reaction and he shivered.

"And we're not gay?"

"We're not gay," Casey laughed. "I'm getting married, remember?" Gently he pushed Dan down onto the thin bed and slid in beside him.

"If you close your eyes you can imagine I'm anyone you want: Elizabeth Shue, Belinda Carlisle, Jessica Rabbit even." Dan did as he was told, but he seemed unable to shift the image of Casey's shining eyes.

Casey's hand slipped inside Dan's boxers and long fingers curled around his cock. Dan's body went rigid. Casey laughed again.

"Relax, Danny! This? It's no big deal. You're supposed to enjoy it. Remember to breathe, OK?" Dan's mind was a whirl of conflicting emotions. Casey's attitude was infectious; he was so straight and he seemed to think this was ordinary, nothing special. On the other hand, Dan had spent so long battling against himself that he was not sure he could trust his own feelings. Then Casey's thumb rubbed gently against the swollen head of Dan's penis and Dan didn't care any more, he was lost in sensation.

Casey swiped his hand over the tip of Dan's cock, collecting the droplets that had begun to gather there. He stroked downwards, his hand warm and slick. Dan's hips thrust forward, pushing himself imploringly into Casey's fingers. Casey responded, beginning to pump slowly, tracing a steady circle with his thumb. The sparks of electricity collecting at the base of Dan's spine ignited, firing lightning bolts into every cell, scorching his skin. As Casey added pressure and speed Dan could feel his release rising up inexorably like a flood tide.

"Casey!" he whispered, desperate but unsure.

"It's OK, Danny. Let go." Casey bent and kissed Dan fleetingly on the corner of his mouth. That was all it took. Clutching the bed sheets with one hand and jamming the other into his mouth to prevent himself from crying out, Dan came, eyes wide, hips slamming into Casey. He slumped backwards, gasping and breathless, feeling the spreading wet warmth of come against skin. Casey's hot hand withdrew leaving Dan cold and clammy.

"Better?" asked Casey, his voice bright.

"I ... er ... yes. Thanks. That was ..." Dan breathed out sharply. Suddenly shy, he continued, "Can I do anything for you?" sure he had felt an answering response when his hips had connected with Casey.

"Probably better not. Lisa - you know?"

"Oh. OK." Did Dan feel relieved or disappointed?

"I'm going to clean up." The bed groaned as Casey got up and headed for the bathroom. Dan heard the sound of running water and nothing else. Then an unfamiliar sound, a muffled grunt. The water stopped and Casey returned.

"Your turn. You don't want to be concrete in the morning."

Dan did as he was told then settled himself for sleep for the third time, his brain numbed from exhaustion.

"G'night, Casey."

"G'night, Danny."

And this time, they slept.

In the morning Dan was relieved to find that nothing appeared to have changed. There were no eggshells, no kid gloves, no broken glass. It seemed Casey was right: no big deal. And if trusting Casey's tale implicitly would save Dan from having to confront the real him, the self that was subdued and not truly gone, then that was what he would do. Blind faith, Dan decided, was better than blind panic. All the same, he couldn't help sneaking glances at Casey when the three of them sat down for breakfast. He seemed so. Normal. Discussing plans for today's coverage with Graham, ordering his pancakes with a precision which would have made any editor proud, making jokes about the service. Normal. Like jacking Dan off had just been on the list of Things for Casey to Do: file report, eat dinner, shower, call fiancée, masturbate friend. Though this sense of normality was what Dan wanted, a small part of him wished that Casey would do something to show that he had remembered what happened. Had been affected by it. Because it wasn't normal. Not in Dan's definition of the term and probably not in Casey's either. So, Dan reasoned, the fact that Casey was behaving as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred must be, at least on some level, an act. And if it was an act, what did that mean? Dan could feel the panic start to rise. Blind faith, he intoned to himself. Blind faith. Believe him. Hold on to him, because he's all you've got. Do not fuck this one up, Dan, just follow his lead. Normal is the watchword. And so the day followed the pattern of the previous one except that the Dodgers won and when the lights went out in the motel room that night, Dan and Casey went straight to sleep.

The World Series was over in five games. A shock win for the Dodgers sent Casey, Dan and Graham heading back to LA in high spirits. When Dan tipped his backpack onto his bed, he was surprised to see the little leather bag that accompanied him everywhere. It hadn't occurred to him once during the trip to smoke a joint - in fact he had completely forgotten that he had taken it with him. He tucked the bag into his bedside table, wondering if he had really replaced drugs with Casey. He chose not to give the matter further thought. Life returned to normal and Dan, continuing to take his lead from Casey, began to forget what had happened in the motel, categorizing it under 'unexplained phenomena' in his mental filing cabinet. Lisa came down to visit Casey and Dan was invited to meet her.

She doesn't look like a crazy person, was Dan's first thought as he slid into a booth at Ramone's. He saw a tall, slender woman with sleek red-gold hair pulled back into a careful ponytail. That, and the simple, elegant suit she wore, immediately caused her to stand out from the rest of the big-haired, over-accessorized crowd.

"I like the suit " Dan leaned over the table to shake Lisa's hand. "Is it Dolce and Gabbana?" He was rewarded with a beautiful smile.

"You know fashion?" she asked incredulously. She turned to Casey. "You told me he was into sports. This is definitely a pleasant surprise." Addressing herself to Dan again she spoke mock-confidentially. "Casey knows nothing about fashion. I've done my best with him but ..." she waved a hand dismissively over him.

"I know," said Dan. "He thinks Lacroix is a game played mostly by Canadians." Lisa giggled. Dan found it difficult to reconcile the girlish sound with the cool, confident woman sitting opposite him.

"Hey!" Casey interjected. "I am here, you know."

"Sorry, baby," pouted Lisa, stroking his arm whilst winking at Dan. "But you're such an easy target."

"Yeah," agreed Dan. "Like Quayle in the Vice-Presidential Debate."

"Yeah, Casey," Lisa grinned, "You're no Jack Kennedy."

"But does he want to be Robin to your Batman?" asked Dan. "Inquiring minds want to know."

When Lisa went to use the ladies' room Casey confided in Dan that he was going to speak to her later about the situation with his father. It was the first time he had mentioned it since Oakland and Dan took Casey's willingness to bring it up as further evidence that what had followed had been No Big Deal.

"Go for it, Casey. She doesn't seem like a crazy person to me."

Casey raised his eyebrows. "You haven't asked her about the wedding," was all he said.

Lisa returned and Casey set off for the bar via the bathroom. Dan and Lisa were left staring at each other, not knowing what to say next. OK, Casey thought Dan; let's see what all the fuss is about.

"So tell me about your wedding, Lisa," he said.

Half an hour later, Dan had made up his mind. She was definitely crazy. Way, way beyond crazy. For the first few minutes he had been interested as she gave him a general overview of her plans. Then the specifics started. Each detail, argument, decision meticulously minuted and reported. Dan felt his will to live begin to evaporate. Every time Lisa broke eye contact he would look wildly at Casey who sat grinning smugly back at him. He writhed in his seat, desperate to go to the bathroom but unable to get a word in edgewise.

"Help me", he mouthed at Casey as Lisa pulled what seemed to be endless swatches of fabric out of her bag. Casey put his hand over Lisa's.

"Honey," he soothed, "if you show everything to Danny now, how will he have any surprises at the wedding?"

Lisa looked up from the myriad pieces of material. "Oh!" she exclaimed. "I suppose you're right."

"I'm coming to the wedding?" asked Dan, his heart swelling.

"Of course," stated Casey firmly.

"Lisa?"

"Casey likes you; I like you. Casey wants you at the wedding; I want you at the wedding. It's how this thing works. You'll find out yourself one day, Dan."

"Wow! Thanks. It would be an honour." Dan sagged back against the leather seat, boneless with delight. It wasn't until much, much later that Dan allowed himself to wonder whether going to the wedding was a good idea. The same hand that had wrapped itself so efficiently around his cock was going to be putting a ring on Lisa's finger, sealing their bond for life. That had to be weird, didn't it? He felt himself slip a little off balance and scrambled for safety, shoving the memory out of sight and holding on to the word 'normal' as if it was a lifebelt.


Hanover and Boston

Christmas arrived and, with it, the end of Dan's internship. It was with trepidation that he headed back to Dartmouth. LA had given him so much, a great job, interesting colleagues, a seat at the World Series, respite from his episodes, Casey. In Dartmouth there were yards of bad memories, scowling girls whom he had forgotten to call, familiar and painful landmarks such as Dick's House. At least he had managed to get a place off campus sharing with three studious seniors. He didn't think he could have coped if he had gone back to the same room, Mike also having moved off campus to live with Jess.

Dan found himself missing Casey badly, though they spoke on the phone at least once a week. He had been determined to stay away from marijuana, but the dark nights of winter made it difficult for Dan to see any light at all, and eventually he gave in and got high. And when the familiar buzz began to crawl through his body Dan welcomed it in. Throughout that term and the next, Dan fell back into old patterns. The episodes started again, though infrequently. The worst one happened as Dan rode the train to Casey's wedding. Nervous of seeing Casey again, Dan had gone to the train toilet to smoke. Halfway through the joint he could feel his sight beginning to dim and realised what was coming. His immediate thought was to get onto the floor but as he stood everything whited out, the train braked violently and he was thrown to the ground, hitting his head against the basin.

He came to several minutes later and staggered out of the toilet, clutching his head to find a line of irate passengers waiting to get in. Dan made it back to his seat wondering whether all his encounters with Casey had to involve transport and a crushing headache. After that he was pleased just to get through the wedding without further incident. Lisa had her perfect day, Casey had a sensibly dressed father and everyone had a lot of champagne. Casey introduced Dan to a friend of his from college, Dana Whittaker. She was a tiny, blonde bundle of energy and she and Dan danced the night away. It was a superb day and Dan could not understand why, when he returned to school, he was a little sad.

***

The summer following Casey's wedding Dan went to intern at SportsChannel New England in Boston, the station Casey had joined just before his job with KHJ-TV vanished as a result of its sale. Casey had used what little influence he had at the station to pull some strings.

"It'll be like LA all over again," he had said. Dan wished rather than expected this to be true. After all, Casey was an old married man now; his priorities would have to be different. But the opportunity to hang out with his best friend whilst getting vital experience was too good to pass up and so Dan arrived in Boston, excited and eager to start his internship. He sublet a studio apartment from a second cousin who was travelling overseas. Back with Casey again, Dan's mood improved immeasurably. He spent many convivial evenings at the McCall marital home, where Lisa tolerated his presence remarkably well for someone who had been married only a few months. Perhaps he brought out the maternal instinct in her; she was always feeding him and trying unsuccessfully to fix him up with 'suitable' women. Between his busy days at the station and his evenings with the newly-weds, or rotating dates with interchangeable women, Dan had less time for introspection. He felt more at ease than he had in a long time, and found he had little need for his usual course of escape. His relaxed state also expressed itself with a decrease in the frequency of episodes.

Casey often had to spend the night away from home in search of a story, and Lisa found Dan invaluable at these times. They would hang out together, drinking and poking fun at the one person that brought them together. One night in mid September, just before Dan went back to school, Lisa knocked on his door. From the lopsided smile on her face it was obvious that she had already started drinking. Dan did not notice the dangerous spark in her eyes. She explained that Casey had been sent on a last minute dash to Baltimore. She didn't know details. She didn't care. Dan invited her in and set to work to catch up to her state of inebriation. Several drinks in, they sat on the couch enjoying their usual pastime of laughing at Casey.

"He does what with his socks?" asked Dan incredulously.

"He pairs them up in little balls then puts them in color order in the drawer."

"He puts them in color order?" sputtered Dan. "What? White, white, white, white, black?"

"You'd be amazed how many shades of white sports sock there are, Danny," Lisa nodded sagely. "Don't forget that some have two stripes and some have three."

"Oh my god, you're a saint, Lisa. I think I'd kill him. Or at least contrive some accident whereby he would no longer require his anally-retentive sock collection."

"Ah, but he'd still have his underwear drawer," was Lisa's comeback.

Dan shook his head in defeat. "Not going there." They lapsed into silence. The mood shifted subtly. Lisa moved closer to Dan, her thigh pressed hard against his, and leaned her head into his shoulder. Dan, still warm and fuzzy from the alcohol, patted her hair vaguely. Lisa snuggled deeper into Dan's shoulder and heaved a sigh.

"You see, he doesn't get what I need."

"Who?" asked Dan, confused.

"Casey," whined Lisa, wriggling round and sliding her legs over Dan's.

"Oh," Dan replied, a small warning light beginning to go off in his brain.

"He doesn't seem to understand that a girl like me needs to be top of a guy's list of priorities." She wrapped an arm round Dan's neck. The warning light was joined by an alarm bell.

"You understand though, don't you, Danny? You'd never put your career and sport," Lisa practically spat the word, "ahead of me. Would you, Danny?" She slipped her fingers between the buttons on his shirt, her long fingernails gently scratching at his chest. She lifted her face toward his, eyes soulfully wide, lips pouting. The sirens screeched now and Dan, hastily sober, got swiftly to his feet, grabbing Lisa and throwing her unceremoniously against the couch.

"You're drunk, Lisa. You don't know what you're doing. This never happened."

In a nanosecond Lisa's expression changed from stunned disbelief to hate.

"You know what your problem is, Danny? You can't stand that Casey is with me and not you."

Dan shook, unable to reply. What was she saying? What did she mean? Shutters crashed down inside his head, isolating nascent thoughts before they had a chance to ripen into unwelcome revelation.

"Yes!" she hissed in triumph as both her finger and words stabbed at Dan. "You want him. But he's never going to sleep with you, Danny. He sleeps with me. He fucks me. He married me." She grabbed her breasts, pushing them towards him. "You got these? No? Tough break. Casey loves these."

"Get out, Lisa," Dan's tone was low and dangerous. He walked to the door and held it open.

"With pleasure," Lisa flounced out of the apartment. The door slammed behind her, Dan leant against it, legs trembling. He felt a familiar surge in his stomach and ran for the bathroom, voiding the entire contents of his stomach. How could she say those things? Dan felt violated, dirty. He ran the shower, stripped rapidly and stood under the scalding water, rubbing at his skin until it was as raw as he felt inside. Rationally, he knew that Lisa's vindictiveness was an act of self-preservation against his rejection, but his damaged soul fought against rationality. Spiteful, fucking bitch. Insightful, fucking bitch. A memory surfaced of a night in a motel room. Dan scrubbed harder. Angrily towelling himself dry, he found a joint and smoked, pacing fretfully. It wasn't enough. He smoked another, and another.

An insistent hammering sounded in Dan's head. He came to in a rush, finding himself on the floor, naked, cold and sore. He winced.

"Some fucking hangover!" He rubbed his forehead. The hammering got louder and Dan realised that it was coming from outside his head. He staggered to his feet, wrapping his towel around his waist, and stumbled bleary-eyed to the door.

"Casey?" his eyes narrowed against the harsh glare of fluorescent lighting. "You back already?"

Casey pushed past him into the living room his face a stone. Dan shrugged and closed the door quietly, the echo of banging still bouncing round his skull. He padded after his friend.

"You want a coffee? I could use one."

Casey turned fiercely to challenge Danny, stepping close to him, apparently unaware of Dan's state of undress.

"What the fuck went on here last night?"

Dan flinched. "Inside voice, Casey."

"Don't play with me, Danny. What the fuck did you do to Lisa?"

Dan's intestines knotted as memories flooded back. He paled. "What did she say?"

Casey started to pace, running his hand through his hair so it stuck up on one side. Dan had to fight the urge to flatten it.

"She won't say. Exactly. But she said she never wants to see you again. She said some pretty nasty things about you, Danny."

This was it, thought Dan. A declaration of war. Battle lines drawn for the heart and mind of one Casey McCall. Well, let Lisa be the Nazis - look how it turned out for them in the end. Dan would be the English, in it for the long game. He made a conciliatory gesture.

"Yeah, she probably did. And to be honest I could say some fairly malicious things right back." That stopped Casey in his tracks. He stared at Dan, mouth working but no sound coming out. Dan jumped in before the righteous anger in Casey's eyes could form into words.

"Look, Casey. Lisa and I are in each others' lives because of you. That doesn't mean that we have to get along and it doesn't mean that you get to know every little detail of why we don't. The best thing for all of us would be for you to realise the world doesn't revolve around Casey McCall. That Lisa and I can deal with what passes for our relationship without affecting our relationships with you."

"She's my wife, Danny."

"I know that."

"And you're my best friend."

"That I also know."

"I can't lose either of you." Casey worriedly ran his hand through his hair again.

"Don't be so dramatic, Casey. Look, I can't say that I ever want to see that, that harpy, again." He held up a hand in apology against Casey's wounded expression. "But I'll calm down. She'll calm down. It's not like we run in the same circles. You're all we've got in common. I'll see you when I see you. I'm not going to put any pressure on you - you've got to live with her." He watched Casey noticeably relax at this last statement.

"I've gotta tell you though, Casey. When you're with me I don't want to hear about whatever cute thing she just did, what a fantastic meal she cooked you, what a bitch she's being, how amazing married life is. I don't want to know. Understand?" He gazed steadily at his friend, praying that Casey couldn't see through the outer shell to the quivering jelly beneath.

Casey shook his head. "No, I don't understand. I don't understand how everything was fine before I left and now it's not. I don't understand how Lisa can say things about you that are patently untrue." He held up his hand, preventing Dan from interrupting. "I don't understand why you're so angry at her. I don't understand why I'm not punching you in the face right now. You called my wife - my wife - a harpy, goddamit! I don't understand why the only thing I can feel right now is fear. I don't understand any of it." He stopped, taking a deep breath. Dan could see that he was shaking.

"Casey, I -" he attempted, trailing off as Casey shook his head again.

"Not now, Danny. I can't. I just can't." Casey held his position for several seconds, eyes closed. He shook his head a final time and walked back towards Dan. He placed a hand square against Dan's bare chest. "Love you, man."

"Love you too, Casey." Dan remained immobile. The door clicked shut behind Casey and Dan began to breathe hard, the imprint of Casey's hand on his chest burning a brand onto his skin. He began to sway and the world went white.

On waking, Dan's hand went immediately to his chest, gently touching the place where Casey had made contact as if there would be some mark, some reminder. Sober and alone, Dan had to face the fact that Lisa had pulled the rug from under his feet. All the time he had spent dancing around his feelings and she had gone straight for the sucker punch. Inside him honest-Dan clamoured in his chains and would not go unheard.

"You love him," his inner voice declared. "You are in love with him. He rescued you and forced you to remember how to be alive. He makes you feel valued, trusted, loved. He can keep your pain at bay; he can make you feel safe. He's the brightest star in your sky, beautiful and transcendent. You want to know how it feels to touch him, kiss him, make love to him, fuck him, give him everything of you." Dan squeezed his eyes tight. He begged his inner voice to shut up. Casey was married. And Dan was not gay. He would not, could not feel this way. It was time to leave.

***

Back at Dartmouth, Dan renewed his acquaintance with his favourite anaesthetics, drugs and sex, with redoubled fervour. Now he had to run both from his guilt over Sam and his feelings for Casey. He worked hard to bury them deep. Most of the time he succeeded. He had, however, also renewed his acquaintance with his episodes. After the Lisa incident they had come at the rate of at least one a week. Dan was terrified by the frequency of attacks, and had returned to the doctor to find that Dr. Griffin had been replaced by a young man, recently qualified. He flicked through Dan's file, noting the results of previous tests. He saw the abandoned course of counselling, and accepted Dan's excuse that talking therapy was not for him. So, following the psychiatric rule-book (talk, drugs, shock and commit as Dan saw it), the doctor suggested an anti-anxiety drug which Dan took for a few weeks to show willing. The side-effects were unpleasant - headaches, blurred vision, diarrhoea - and the episodes showed no sign of ceasing. Dan stopped taking the prescription, and did not go back to the doctor.

Dan had not seen Casey since his return to college despite Boston being only a two-hour drive away. He wanted to blame Lisa entirely for stopping Casey visiting him, but then, he hadn't made any effort to visit them either. There were a few phone calls back and forth, but Dan didn't want to risk having Lisa pick up so he let Casey make all the effort. Late in the spring term Dan was alone in the house, hard at work on a paper (His housemates had headed upstate camping for the weekend. Dan had declined their invitation explaining that he was only an outdoorsman if it involved a field, bleachers and some form of ball.) The phone rang. Annoyed at having his concentration broken Dan picked up and growled,

"What?"

"Danny."

Dan's scowl immediately lifted. "Casey, good to hear your voice."

"Danny, I have to talk to you about something."

"Whatever you need, Casey. You know that." He paused then added, "as long as it's not about Lisa."

"It's not about Lisa, Danny."

"'Cos if it's about Lisa I don't wanna know, Case."

"It's not about Lisa,"

"It's not about Lisa?"

"It's not about Lisa," Casey confirmed.

"OK. Shoot."

"It's a little about Lisa."

"CASEY!" Dan yelled down the phone. He imagined Casey at the other end of the line, eardrum exploding with the noise. He saw that explosion setting off further explosions, like a well-organised firework display, culminating in the spectacular finish of Casey's head bursting open, brains and bone creating beautiful patterns in the air. He liked the image. Tuning back into Casey he heard,

"... tell you over the phone. I'm coming up there. Don't move." Dan could almost hear Casey's brain, sadly still in one piece, ticking over. "Actually, you'd better move. It'll take a couple of hours to get to you and you'll get cramp if you sit still that long."

"Casey, you're an idiot."

"I'm coming up now, Danny."

"You can't tell me now?"

"I'll tell you when I see you."

"'Kay. Drive safe, Casey."

"Always do." Dan hung up. Two hours. What was he going to do with two hours?

Dan opened the door to Casey in rubber gloves.

"You're early," he accused.

"You're a woman," retorted his friend.

"You drove too fast," Dan said, stepping back to allow Casey to enter the house.

"You cleaned," Casey's voice was surprised.

"Found I had to wait around for someone. Thought I'd use the time productively."

"Ahh, Danny. For me?" grinned Casey.

"Feh," Dan waved his hand dismissively. He collapsed onto the couch, attempting to snap off the recalcitrant rubber gloves. As he struggled, the couch sagged next to him. Finally flinging the gloves across the room, Dan gave his attention to Casey. Casey's expression was unreadable and Dan wondered what was coming next. He waited patiently.

"Lisa's pregnant," blurted Casey.

"Lisa is what?"

"Pregnant. She's ... we're ... having a baby!" Casey smiled goofily. A split second sting of poisonous jealousy - now two people would come between him and Casey - swiftly drawn by a startling realisation.

"God, Casey. There's going to be a person out there with half of you in them. That's ... that's amazing!" Dan was rewarded with a smile of 100 watt brilliance. He tugged Casey into a hug and slapped him on the back.

"Congratulations, my friend. A tiny half-Casey McCall. Wow." Dan subsided.

"I know. I can hardly believe it. I'm going to be someone's Dad. How scary is that?"

"Plenty. But you'll do the job, man. Not sure about his Mom, but ..."

"Danny," said Casey wearily.

"Yeah, yeah. Lay off Lisa." He stood up. "I'm getting a beer, you want a beer?" He wandered into the kitchen.

"I've got to drive back."

"You're going straight back."

"Yeah. I promised Lisa. We've got an appointment with the OB-GYN tomorrow."

"You drove two hours up here. You've been here two minutes and now you're going to drive two hours back?"

"Yeah."

"Why didn't you just tell me over the phone? Would've been a hell of a lot easier."

"I wanted to see your face when I told you," said Casey simply. Dan sagged back against the kitchen counter. That kind of thing he did not need to hear. That kind of thing made him wonder if Casey could really be so oblivious, or if he was some Machiavellian genius whose every utterance was crafted to make Dan expose the feelings he tried so hard to bury. He breathed deeply. Brother, he's your brother he reminded himself.

"I'm making you a sandwich," he called.

"You're making me a what now?"

"I'm making you a sandwich. You won't have eaten yet and you've got a long drive. You're taking a sandwich."

"What are you, my mom?"

"You have to look after yourself. You've got responsibilities now. It'll be a great sandwich. I can make a really good sandwich."

"OK, Nessa, you win."

Dan poked his head out of the kitchen and grinned. "You been reading up on Jewish names? What, you're up to N now?"

Casey had the grace to blush.

"It'll be a stupendous sandwich."

"I like alliteration," said Casey.

"I know, Casey. I know."

***

The summer passed without incident. Lisa had a difficult pregnancy, and that gave both her and Dan an excuse to keep out of each other's way. Over the months Dan had learnt to control his feelings for Casey. On some level he was aware that it was all so much self-deception, but it kept the guilt at bay, and that was a matter of survival. Then a phone call on a cold November day sent Dan racing for Boston. Slightly out of breath from taking the stairs two at a time, Dan opened the door to Lisa's room. Exhausted by the birth, she slept soundly. A few feet from the bed Casey was sitting in an armchair, a bundle of white in his arms. His eyes were fixed to the new arrival, but when he heard the soft click of the door his gaze shifted to Dan, his face holding its expression: his eyes soft and full of love and wonder, a tender half-smile playing on his lips. The power of the look hit Dan like a fist in the stomach. He remembered the same expression on his mom's face when she would tuck him up in bed at night. Or when she was sick and he would bring her breakfast in bed. Or when he told her he had been accepted at Dartmouth. He hadn't seen that look in a very long time.

"Danny!" Casey whispered. "Come see what I made!" He grinned like a Cheshire cat. Dan gave an answering grin and went to kneel by the chair staring in awe at the tiny, perfect person swathed in a big, white blanket. The baby's eyes were closed, an undefined nose separating two healthy pink cheeks. Dan gently traced the outline of the baby's face.

"I thought babies came out squashed," he said.

"They do, if they're late. First ones are usually late. Lisa was in a hurry. As usual."

Dan nodded solemnly, absorbed.

"What, erm, type is it?"

Casey stifled a snort.

"What type? Is that any way to talk about my son and heir?" - proud father all the way. Dan covered Casey's hand with his own.

"Congratulations, Casey. This is probably the best thing you've ever done."

"I know it," Casey agreed. He looked at his son. "Charlie Mitchell McCall, meet your Uncle Danny." He proffered the baby to Dan, encouraging him with a smile.

"Uncle Danny," echoed Dan, gingerly taking Charlie from Casey. He settled the baby into the crook of his arm and looked tenderly down at him. "Hey, Charlie. You know what? Apart from your mom and dad there's no one who will love you as much as I will. You remember that." He stroked a tiny fist with his index finger and was thrilled when Charlie stretched out his hand and curled his fingers around it.

Casey leaned forward and touched his son's cheek.

"Whatever you do, Charlie, if you make this man your friend it will be the best decision you ever made." Dan had no answer. Casey, whether by word or deed, never failed to amaze him with his unswerving belief in Dan's worthiness. On dark days, this was sometimes the only thing Dan could cling to. His eyes, shining with unshed tears remained on Charlie's face and the two men sat, unmoving and silent until Charlie woke and made his presence felt. At the sound of her son's cry, Lisa began to stir and Dan knew he was surplus to requirements. Reluctantly he handed Charlie back to Casey and, dropping a kiss on both male McCalls' foreheads, made himself scarce.

***

In later months, Dan would look back at that time of perfect peace and wonder what went wrong. Lisa suffered badly with postpartum depression. She had expected to sail into motherhood, and it did not happen. The tiniest problems with Charlie became catastrophic crises completely beyond her coping abilities. She cried every time he did, and could not sleep. She felt hopeless and worthless and slowly withdrew into herself. Casey had at first been puzzled by Lisa's reaction to Charlie, then scared. Lisa had never been fazed by anything, she hit life head on and now she could barely bring herself to touch her son in case she damaged him. She seemed to drift through each day without any real sense of it beginning or ending.

Casey was at a loss. He had to work, to earn money for his family, but he couldn't leave Lisa and Charlie. In despair he called Lisa's mom and a decision was reached. Lisa and Charlie would move to New York to stay with her mother until Lisa got sufficiently better to come home. It broke Casey's heart to be separated from his family. Every spare second he had he spent with them, though sometimes it appeared to him that Lisa didn't even notice whether he was there or not. Throughout it all, Dan suffered alongside him. Casey would call most nights, just to have someone to talk to. Dan had been glad to relax his no Lisa rule. He couldn't help but sympathise with her - though he was very aware that the sympathy was time-limited.

"I'm trying to be supportive, I really am," Casey said for the hundredth time.

"You're doing good, Casey," soothed Dan.

"It's just ... I resent the hell out of the fact I can't kiss my son goodnight every night."

Dan listened to Casey breathe down the phone.

"He's changing so fast, you know? He's my son. Why should I have to miss this? She's the one with the problem."

"It's OK to be angry, Casey."

"I am angry," said Casey, voice tightly controlled. "And then I feel guilty for feeling angry, because it's not her fault. It's not anyone's fault."

Dan said nothing, hoping that Casey could feel the voiceless support he was pouring down the line.

"I just want ..." Casey's voice cracked, "my family back."

"Oh god, Casey. It's going to be OK. It'll be OK, Casey, I promise."

Dan could almost see Casey biting down on the emotion, refusing to be beaten by something so messy.

"Danny?"

"Yeah?"

"Thanks. Knowing I can talk to you. It helps. You know?"

"Any time, my friend."

Casey's stress was just one more factor in Dan's continued pot-smoking throughout the remainder of his final year at Dartmouth. Exam stress was another. As he headed towards finals the episodes became more frequent; culminating in his late, breathless arrival to one exam. Dan considered it a miracle that he managed to make it to Graduation Day. Further good news was that Lisa and Charlie had been home successfully for a month and that Casey was able to attend the ceremony.

Walking across the stage to collect his degree, Dan scanned the crowd. He saw his parents, mother dabbing at her eyes, father expressionless. His eyes flickered to the back of the rows of guests where Casey leant against a pole, grinning from ear to ear and clapping wildly. Dan felt the contrast, between sharp and soft, between frost and incandescence. He wished, not for the first time, that families could be made and re-made. That the ties that bind could be severed without guilt. That home could be wherever his heart belonged.

Ceremony over, Casey treated everyone to coffee and cakes. Though he tried hard, the conversation was difficult and stilted, and it was with relief that the two men saw Dan's parents off before heading back to Dan's house.

"Danny," said Casey, breaking the tense silence.

"Yeah?"

"I've got to tell you. Your Dad?"

"Yeah?"

"He's pretty much a cocksucker." For a split second Dan looked as though he had been slapped in the face by a wet fish. Casey cursing? Casey cursing his Dad? Then he began to laugh: a great big guffaw that came up from his toes and took over his whole body. Casey chuckled, a rich treacly sound. Eventually Dan subsided.

"Good summary."

"Thanks."

"You should be on TV."

"I am."

"You are?"

"I am."

"I should watch."

Casey slapped Dan around the back of the head. Pushing each other like two overgrown children, they arrived at Dan's house. Flopping onto the couch with a beer in hand, Casey's expression grew serious.

"He really is a bastard, Danny."

"Yeah, I know."

"I didn't realise."

"No."

"I've been pretty wrapped up in Lisa and Charlie lately, haven't I?"

"They're your family, Casey. That's your job."

"But it's not your job."

"No," said Dan patiently, as if talking to a small child.

"I mean, I've put a lot of stuff on you these past months. You've been a rock."

Dan muttered something about that being what friends are for.

"Yes," continued Casey, his voice insistent. "But I've been more of a sponge. I can't remember the last time I asked you how you were doing."

Dan shrugged.

"So how are you doing? What's going on with you?"

Casey's face was open, inviting. Dan suddenly felt tired of dealing with his problems alone. He had managed to tell Casey about Sam with no ill consequences. Maybe it would be a relief to tell him about the episodes. It was a while since he'd spoken about them to anyone, a long time since he'd had Mike to watch his back. Casey would be concerned, he would try to look at the situation rationally and work out a logical answer. That was one thing Dan loved about Casey, that he thought the world's problems could all be resolved through logic and debate. Just as he made up his mind to speak, the phone rang. Inwardly cursing, Dan grabbed the receiver. He didn't even have time to say hello.

"Casey, I need Casey!" a hysterical Lisa sobbed down the line.

"Lisa, are you OK?" asked Dan concerned. Casey stared.

"Casey, get Casey!" Dan silently held out the receiver to his friend. Casey took it, his face pale. Dan slumped backwards on the couch, good humour evaporated. He could hear the high-pitched frantic tone of Lisa's words in full flow as Casey endeavoured to calm her and find out what was happening.

"Lisa ... breathe, honey ... I can't understand what you're ... is Charlie OK?... he's what? ... did he eat? ... did you call the doctor? ... and that means ... no, honey, breathe ... you're not a bad mom ... probably colic ... well I'm with Danny, Lees ... you'll be fine ... no, of course I ... you know that ... it'll be OK ... yes, I'll come home ... I don't know ... two hours maybe? ... call your Mom ... I'm hanging up now, just stay calm." He leaned over Dan and placed the receiver back in its cradle, his movements steady and deliberate. Dan hovered between worry over Charlie, disappointment that Casey would have to leave, and bitterness over Lisa's unswerving ability to get in the way.

"Fucking lunatic!" Casey hissed through clenched teeth, flushes of colour staining pale cheeks. Dan stared aghast at Casey's form, vibrating with tension.

"One day. I just wanted one day." Casey stared into the distance, eyes unseeing. "She won't even let me have that."

"Casey," tried Dan, tentatively reaching out to touch his friend's arm. Casey shook it off and stood abruptly.

"There is nothing wrong with my son!" He began to stride round the room, clenching and unclenching his fists as if his fingers sought to release the violent energy within them by squeezing the life out of the air itself.

"There is nothing wrong with my son!" Casey repeated, anger gathering in his voice. "And I am sick. Sick! Of working all day then coming home and cleaning up, making dinner and double-checking everything she's done with Charlie. Not because it needs double-checking, because god knows she's a good mother, but because she's fucking insane!" Dan's eyes followed Casey as he paced, a caged animal railing against his captor. He had never seen Casey like this: getting him to express his feelings was usually like extracting a particularly recalcitrant wisdom tooth. Such fierce anger made Dan concerned that Casey had been repressing his emotions for too long.

"And I'm so tired of being supportive. And I'm so tired of waiting for things to go back to normal. What is normal?!" Casey spat the words. He stopped suddenly, grinding the heels of his hands into his eyes. Dan could see him deflating. Casey looked at Dan, the anger dissipated.

"I just wanted one day," he said softly. "I wanted to have a day when I was Casey McCall, Dan Rydell's friend. Not Casey McCall, Lisa's husband and Charlie's father. But you can't sign off, can you?"

Dan shook his head.

"I'm sorry," said Casey. "This isn't your problem. I'd better go."

Dan walked Casey to his car. They hugged goodbye and Casey prepared to leave. Just as he was about to pull away, he rolled down the window and leaned out.

"Danny, I can't believe I forgot. You were going to tell me something."

It took Dan a second to realise what Casey was talking about. Perhaps he was lucky they had been interrupted; it didn't seem like Casey needed any more to worry about right now.

"Nothing important, Casey. You get home to your boy."

"Sure?"

"Sure." Dan watched the car until it was out of sight.


LA Revisited

A few days after graduation Dan flew out to LA to interview for a job at KTLA. Doug, who had moved into broadcasting after the Herald-Examiner folded, had recommended him to the managing editor of the station.

"It'll be a snap," Doug said when he called Dan. "I told them you were a hotshot writer with a brain and a pretty face and that they'd be foolish to pass up the opportunity to kick start your career."

"Wow! Thanks, Doug," said Dan somewhat taken aback. He couldn't understand what he had done to inspire such generosity. To Doug it was simple - Dan was good: a good writer, a good guy. He deserved a break.

Dan sent off his reel and examples of his writing and was delighted to get a call a few days later inviting him to LA. The interview itself was short and painless and Dan was offered the job on the spot. As he headed for the exit, lost in thought, a similarly distracted woman barrelled into him, shedding the sheaf of papers she was carrying. Dan stooped to help her gather them up. He met her eye and smiled broadly.

"Dana. Dana Whittaker - now there's a sight for sore eyes!" Dan had known that Dana was an associate producer at KTLA Morning News so he had been half-expecting to bump into her. He hadn't expected to do it literally.

"Dan! Hi! Wait a minute. Dan Rydell. You're the Dan Rydell that was coming in for interview." She smacked her forehead with the heel of her hand. "Duh! I should have figured." She grabbed a few more sheets. "Why didn't Casey call and let me know you were coming?"

"I haven't told him." Dana cocked her head to one side, blue eyes inquisitive.

"Why not? You're best friends aren't you? He talks about you a lot." Was it just him or did Dan detect the subtlest hint of underlying jealousy? He wondered what that was about.

"Yeah. We are. I just didn't want him to get all excited if it wasn't going to come off. You know he's a big puppy, all waggy tails and jumping up."

"And then he piddles on the floor!"

Dan let out a laugh like a pistol crack. He had forgotten how much he had liked Dana. One more reason to be glad he got the job.

"So we'll be working together," he said.

"You got the job? That's great!" Dana threw her papers up in the air again as she flung her arms around Dan in a congratulatory hug. The multi-coloured sheets fluttered down around them like confetti.

***

LA had been good to Dan in the past and he was happy to be going back. In the couple of weeks before he started he visited Casey and Charlie in Boston. He knew that he was going to miss having Casey close by but, truth be told, he was aware that five minutes away or five days he would be unlikely to spend any more time with his friend. Casey had his hands full. Not only was he working to keep his family together, he had recently become part of the SportsChannel New England anchor pool and was beginning to build himself a reputation. Dan accepted his place on Casey's list of priorities; it was still his goal to be as little hassle as possible, to stick around for the long haul. Besides, telecommunications had made huge advances from the days of a pair of tin cans and a piece of string. Distance wasn't so important. So off Dan headed to share an apartment with a sports-mad, party-hard nut ("I know a guy who knows a guy," Dana had said) and to start his life fresh.

Dan found the new job fascinating but stressful. His favourite way to relax was to watch whatever sport the TV had to offer with a beer in one hand and a bong on the table. His roommate, Bill, would join him if he wasn't headed out to some bar or other.

"Joints are so, like, East Coast," he had said when Dan had first offered. Dan met this with a shrug: when in Rome.

When Dan had first moved in, Bill had tried to coax him along on his many nights out but had been met with a friendly but implacable brick wall. Once Bill accepted that this did not mean that Dan was either (a), square or (b), a narc, they rubbed along just fine.

As Dan grew more familiar with his co-workers he began to socialise a little more, though the fear of being found out as worthless continued to nag at his consciousness. Dana's company particularly he enjoyed. She was smart and funny and would regale him with tales of Casey in college. Dan loved hearing them, and Dana's thinly veiled criticisms of Lisa. It didn't take long to confirm his earlier suspicion: Dana carried a torch for Casey. No, make that a bonfire. Dan understood how that felt, though he was convinced he was over his own crush, and it was partly through solidarity that he spent so much time with Dana trying to build her self-esteem and self-confidence around men.

Months passed and Dan grew used to life on the West Coast. His job was going well, he was making new friends, there was the odd girl, the odd episode, nothing to write home about. Casey was also good, it seemed to Dan. Lisa was much better, and the marriage had regained its footing. Charlie grew apace, judging from the photographs Dan and Dana both received on a regular basis. Occasionally Casey would put Charlie on the phone and Dan, perfectly serious, would make conversation with him, discussing the latest sports news and purple dinosaurs. The first time Charlie attempted Dan's name was a red letter day. Casey's career went from strength to strength - he was now substitute anchor of choice across all SportsChannel East Coast franchises. Dan did not like to be disloyal to his friend but sometimes thought the success had gone to Casey's head a little. Where before he had been confident and together, now Dan wondered if it wasn't tinged with arrogance. He came close to calling Casey on it a couple of times but stopped short out of fear that Casey would push him away.

The day Dan made his first in-studio report he called Casey immediately he got home. Still high on adrenaline he poured out the story in a stream of enthusiasm.

"Danny, that's great!" said Casey. "Could you just hold on one moment?" Dan could hear muffled voices in the background. Foot tapping, twisting and untwisting the cord around each finger in turn Dan waited for Casey's attention.

"Sorry, you were saying?"

"Kent, the exec producer, he was saying that I've got a real feel for the camera."

"Uhuh?" Was it Dan or did it seem that Boston was further away tonight?

"Yeah. He thinks I'm going to kill with the female demographic. Apparently that's good because it stops them turning over when the sports section is on. So ..."

What Dan was about to say was lost as Casey interrupted, saying loftily, "Of course, the writing is the crucial thing. It needs to have structural integrity. There's no point saying anything if you're going to say it badly. The audience expects more. You need to be grammatically correct or you can't get your message across. And I know you, Dan. Always dangling your modifiers." Dan's leaking bubble of excitement dropped towards the floor. How he managed to refrain from telling Casey where he could stick his dangling modifiers he didn't know.

"Thanks for the tutorial, Casey," he said dryly. "I'll keep it in mind."

"Any time, Dan," replied Casey, oblivious to Dan's tone. "It's always helpful when you're starting out to have a mentor, someone who can provide constructive criticism and an encouraging pat on the back."

"Is that so?" Dan returned, a dangerous edge in his voice. "And tell me, Casey, would such a mentor actually need to see what the mentee had done in order to offer such advice or would their superior mental powers make having, you know, evidence, an unnecessary formality?"

"Well ..." began Casey.

"Did you see my report?" - low and quiet now, a threatening hum behind the words.

"What?"

"Did you see my report?"

"Well, no, Dan, you're not syndicated you know."

"Jackass," stated Dan, cold as a northern sky in winter, and slammed the receiver down. Seething, he dropped onto the couch, legs pumping up and down with nervous energy. Jackass! he thought. Arrogant, fucking, jackass. His eyes, restlessly searching the room, lighted on the ever-present bong on the coffee table. Might as well take the edge off, Dan reflected. But it was no good, the marijuana didn't settle him as it usually did, and Dan found himself halfway to Dana's apartment before he realised what he was doing.

"Casey's a jackass," Dan snarled at Dana as she opened the door.

"Hello, Dana. Hello, Dan. Good to see you. You too, please come in." She stepped back, shaking her head in admonishment.

"Sorry, Dana. It's Casey's fault. He's a jackass."

"I get that. You look like you need a beer. Do you want to head out to the balcony?"

Dana's balcony overlooked a small courtyard garden some five stories below. Dan steadied himself against the rail and stared down into the greenery. As always he wondered how it would feel to tumble down through the air to the ground below. Would he be aware of the pain? Would the soft grass swallow him in its expansive embrace? At the sound of Dana's footsteps he turned, clearing his mind of morbid thoughts, reaching out gratefully to take his drink.

As the evening cooled so did Dan's temper. On some level he was aware of a strange energy, residual from the phone call. Dana was sympathetic as ever, and together they compiled a list of Casey's ten greatest jackass moments. Top of the list was the time when Lisa had dumped Casey in senior year and the following week he asked Dana on a date. A few days later, when Lisa had changed her mind (though not before she had slept with the college star quarterback, Dana informed Dan caustically), Casey had denied that the conversation between him and Dana had ever taken place.

"God, Dana! What a jackass!" Dan said, horrified.

"To Casey, jackass extraordinaire!" Dana raised her glass in salutation. Dan leant over and clinked it with his bottle.

"And yet we love him," he sighed, his face a silent film model of woe.

"And yet we love him."

Silence. Dan lounged back against the balustrade, arms outstretched, relaxing into the moment.

"Stupid jackass!" Dana blurted out, banging her glass on the small plastic table to emphasise her point. Dan burst out laughing. Then his laugh choked off abruptly with a gurgle as if he had been strangled. He swayed, first forward, then back, arching out over the railings. The beer bottle slipped from his hand, shattering on the concrete floor, liquid staining the surface like blood.

"Danny! Quit messing. I'm going to have to ..." Dana's words were lost as Dan swayed again, further back over the balustrade, his centre of balance reaching tipping point. His feet began to leave the floor. With a scream Dana was on her feet and grasping for Dan's limp arms. Her weight was slight compared to his and it took her more strength than she knew she had to haul him to safety. The momentum from the pull caused Dan to fall heavily into her. Dana stumbled backwards and crashed against the table. They followed it to the ground in a tangle of limbs.

Dan's inert body lay half on top of Dana crushing her arm underneath it. His head rested at an awkward angle against her chest. Dana lay still, dazed, heart beating a thousand miles a minute. She realised that Dan was out cold. Wincing she lifted her free hand and stroked his hair.

"Time to wake up, Dan," she said in the calmest voice she could muster.

Dan's eyelids began to flutter. He was aware of a rapid thudding and the impression of being soothed. The world crystallising around him Dan located the source of both these sensations. He jerked up, scrambling to his haunches. Rocking back on his heels from the suddenness of the motion, Dan put a hand out to steady himself against the floor: shards of broken glass sliced into his skin.

"Fuck!" He snatched his hand up and stared as a forest of red flowers began to bloom on his palm.

"Dan," said Dana weakly, pushing herself into a sitting position. She massaged her crushed arm.

"Danny," she repeated, a little louder. Dan raised his head, tearing himself away from the coalescing pools of blood on his hand.

"What just happened?" Dan could see Dana beginning to tremble, lips pressed tightly together. He took in the scene: broken glass, overturned table, Dana on the floor, pale and shaken, face showing pain and anxiety. He answered her question with his own.

"Why are you hurt? Did I do something to you?"

"You, you ..." Dana's voice caught on a sob. She pointed towards the railings. "I had to pull you back." Tears slid out of wide, scared eyes. There was a sharp intake of breath as Dan realised how close he had been to discovering the answers to his questions. He shivered.

"Dana. God. Shit, you saved my life. Thank you doesn't seem to be quite enough."

"You're welcome," she smiled wryly. "But what happened, Dan?"

"I don't know," he lied. "I must have passed out. I haven't eaten all day, then there was the Casey thing, and the beer ... Maybe it was all too much for my system."

"You have a delicate system?" Dana raised her eyebrows.

"Nah," Dan mustered a grin. "But it's the best I can come up with at short notice." He stood and offered his uninjured hand to Dana.

"Gently," she requested. "I know I'm going to feel this in the morning."

"Me too," said Dan, looking at his bloodied hand. Dana followed his gaze.

"Come on, you," she said, taking his other hand. "Let's get you cleaned up."

Dan didn't go home that night. The shock and trauma of the evening had left them both drained: neither was ready to be alone. In bed, Dana curled up against Dan, pulling his arm around her waist. Dan fitted his curves around hers, taking pleasure in the warmth and softness of her body. Despite the severe disturbance to his equilibrium caused by the terrible effects of his latest episode Dan felt oddly content. He had never shared a bed with a woman he cared about before. Truth be told, he had gone out of his way to avoid having to sleep with the women he had fucked. But this was different. He was surprised at the surge of protectiveness he felt for Dana as she lay sheltered in his arms. Dan wondered if he had been missing something by always opting for the anonymous screw. He enjoyed the sensation of being, for once, the strong one, the comforter. He thought about spending every night like this, finding a girl, falling in love, maybe even getting married. Briefly he considered whether that girl might be Dana but dismissed it out of hand as too weird. Dana was his friend, not his lover. And he owed her his life.

"Thank you," he whispered into her hair.

"Don't do it again," she mumbled.

Casey called the day after Dan's flirtation with death to apologise for his behaviour the night before and berated himself so harshly that Dan didn't have the heart to stay angry with him. So Casey could be a jackass: it didn't mean much when compared to the sum of his parts. As it happened, Dan's first in-studio report was a complete success and he was asked to contribute on a more regular basis. His youth and enthusiasm had struck a chord with the show's target demographic and the station owners were keen to promote him. Within months he found he was being given the opportunity to take on substitute co-anchor duties. People were starting to take notice of him, he even got fan mail and Dan thrived on the attention. It was so much easier to get people to like him when he had his charm and banter ready scripted.

In the summer of 1992, the first Olympics in decades to host all IOC members took place in Barcelona. Dan loved calling the highlights, particularly because each segment would open and close with The Queen of Tarts and the Queen of Spades, as his somewhat vitriolic co-anchor called Monserrat Caballe and Freddie Mercury, singing the Olympic theme tune. Every time he heard the bells ringing Dan's hair stood on end. These things were supposed to be stirring, he thought, and he was definitely stirred. Basketball was the big thing that year. The amateur rule had been dropped and the USA had sent over the Dream Team, the greatest collection of talent in any sport, anywhere, any time - Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Charles Barkley to name but four. They couldn't lose. And they didn't. Dan felt a little sorry for the other teams facing the Dream Team, but it seemed that the rest of the world considered it a privilege to be playing against such opponents, with one player marking Magic Johnson even going so far as to wave to his team mate on the bench to get him to take a photograph. The USA scored over one hundred points in every game. After they had beaten Croatia 117-85 to take the gold medal, Dan had written and presented a report on the glorious Dream Team. It was a ratings winner. Dan was so pleased that he could even forgive the USA for not making the medals in baseball, where Cuba had run out the eventual winners.

Dan made his mark with the Olympics and was given more and more responsibility. The sports segment in the show was expanding, and he was added as a permanent second sports co-anchor alongside the news anchors. There were times when Dan was too busy to give Casey a second thought and there were times he missed him so much it ached. Their paths crossed a few times over the next twelve months and it was always in the weeks immediately following a meeting that Dan felt loneliest. It was also at these times that he was more likely to suffer an episode. Dan did not understand the link but was willing to put up with it for the sake of seeing his best friend.

One day in late September Dan got a cryptic message from Casey on his answering machine. "I'm going to Dallas. I hope you like cows."

"Why would I need to like cows?" Dan asked Bill.

"Maybe he's going to start a new life as a cowboy," suggested Bill.

"Casey a cowboy? Man, he'd just keep falling right off that horse."

"Maybe he's going to prospect for oil and buy you a cow."

"Maybe you've been smoking too much pot."

"Maybe you're right."

They didn't solve the riddle that night but a few days later Dan got his answer.

"Danny!"

"Hey, Casey. How was Dallas?"

"Dry."

"You take the family?"

"No. Business." Dan could hear the excitement simmering in Casey's voice.

"Casey, spill it."

"I've got a new job."

"A new job?"

"My own show. Lone Star Sports. No more travelling around the East Coast. No more hotel rooms. No more pretending to like idiot anchors who think they know everything. My own show, Danny!"

"Congratulations, Casey! That's fantastic news. So the McCall family are relocating to Dallas. That'll be a new vacation destination for me."

"No."

"No what?"

"Not a vacation destination."

"You don't want me to come visit you?" Dan was crestfallen. Surely Lisa couldn't have embargoed that?

"No I don't. What I want is for you to come do the show with me." The smile in Casey's voice was palpable.

"You want me to come do the show?"

"Yes."

"What do you mean?" Dan's stomach started to fizz.

"Daniel Rydell, didn't you graduate magna cum laude?"

"Er, yes."

"Then how did you get to be so dumb? I want you to be my co-anchor. I told them I would only do it with you." Dan was speechless. There wasn't anything he wanted more. Co-anchor on a sports show with his best friend. Maybe he was being rewarded for trying to live his life the way Sam would have wanted.

"Danny? Aren't you pleased?"

Dan laughed aloud.

"Casey, are you kidding me? That's incredible! That's ... that's more than incredible. It's ... I don't have the words." He collapsed against the wall, holding himself up on jellied legs.

"Well you'd better find them, because I showed them that reel you sent me, the one with the Dream Team follow-up and they were most impressed with your wordsmithery."

"Wordsmithery?"

"Yes, boy wonder, your wordsmithery."

"I'm pretty sure that if I used words like that they would fire me on the spot."

"So don't use them. Use others. I'll buy you a thesaurus."

"I don't want a thesaurus."

"You don't?"

"I'm not having you impugn my vocabulary."

"If you use words like impugn I'm not going to get a chance."

"Casey?"

"What?"

"Thanks, man. I mean it." Dan grinned down the phone. "Thanks."

"De nada. Anyway, I'm selfish. I need a klutz next to me to make me look good."

"I have a whistle. I'm just saying."

"Honestly? I can't think of anyone I'd rather have with me, Danny. Not anyone." There was a lull in the conversation and Dan slid with a bump to the floor.

"There's more," added Casey.

"Yeah?"

"Dana's coming too."

"Dana's coming too?"

"She's coming too."

"Casey, that's just ... that's just ..."

"Thesaurus."

"Amazing? Awesome? Fantastic? Unbelievable?"

"I know. She's been looking to move up, and they've got an exec producer who's retiring in a few months. He's going to train Dana up to take over. I have to say she got there on her own merits. I just pointed her in the right direction. I told her not to say anything to you until I was sure how it was all going to turn out."

"It turned out just fine, Casey. It turned out just fine."

The next day Dan went out and bought himself a cowboy hat.


Dallas

Dan never wore his cowboy hat. He saw plenty of men who still wore Stetsons in downtown Dallas where the station building was and knew it was a look he could never pull off. For a start he didn't have the tan or the appropriately weather-beaten visage. He hung the hat on the wall of his bedroom in the small house he rented in Cochran Heights. It felt strange to have a whole house to himself - driveway, porch, yard - and he wasn't sure what to do with all the space. Casey and Lisa had rented a one-storey villa in the northern suburb of Addison chosen because Lisa was determined Charlie was going to get into Greenhill, the local private school, and seemed to think he could pick up intelligence by osmosis. Charlie had a lawn and swingset and could not have been happier.

Even with Casey and Dana to figuratively hold his hand, Dan found the first few weeks of the job a particular strain. His charm was on overdrive, as he did his best to make sure that everybody liked him. He had the shakes and nausea so often that Dana, taking a look at his pallid face, asked him if he needed to see a doctor. Just nerves, he told her. Dan was happy to get back to the privacy of his little house where he would control his fear with a joint or two. As it got closer to airtime, so Dan's nerves got worse, culminating in an episode merely hours away from their on-air premiere. He woke to an insistent ringing. It was Dana, nearly screaming down the line with a mixture of panic and rage.

"Get your sorry butt in here now, Daniel Rydell! It's three hours to air and you're supposed to be writing. What the hell have you been doing?" Dan did not dare tell her the truth; he did not want to remind her of that terrible night in LA. He also could do without her well-intentioned nagging.

"Dana, I know, look I'm sorry. I got stuck in the shower. Swear to god, the door jammed and I couldn't get out. It's broken now, but it was either the door or me. I'm calling the landlord first thing tomorrow. I'll be with you in ten. I'm out the door." He hung up before she could say anything else.

The show went well, though Casey seemed to have a black cloud following him, and Dana decided that she could forgive Dan, for which he was very grateful.

"Is Casey pissed at me for being late?" he asked her.

"Not that I know of. He hasn't said anything," said Dana.

"He's pissed about something, that's for sure. He had Martha in tears over his tie. That's not like Casey."

"Hmm. Perhaps I should have a talk to him; I don't want anything disrupting the delicate balance of our organism."

"Our organism?"

"You know, the show."

"Have you been reading those 'How to be a Big Success in Business' books again?"

"No, I have not," said Dana indignantly, hands on hips.

"And by you have not you mean ..."

"Just one. Or two. But that's all."

Dan grinned. "Don't worry about Casey, he's probably just had a fight with Lisa. It'll blow over. I'm sure your organism will be in fine fettle."

"Isn't that something to do with a horse?"

"That's fetlock, Dana."

"Ah." They wandered off in opposite directions.

Life at Lone Star Sports settled into a groove. Dana took over as executive producer, Casey and Dan found that their banter translated well to the small screen, the staff bonded. Dan relaxed. He was now able to go out for drinks with one or two colleagues without needing Casey or Dana with him to shore him up. He'd had trouble finding a supplier for his marijuana and when eventually he was able to get hold of more, found that he had lost interest, didn't need it. He had other fish to fry. Well, one particular fish who went by the name of Lulu.

Lulu worked in personnel. Dan had met her his first week in Dallas when he'd had to fill in a bunch of forms. He had sat on the edge of her desk as she checked through them, turning on the patented Rydell charm. She had looked up from the papers, eyes unfocused, a frown creasing her forehead.

"I would prefer it if you used a chair," she said in a polite Texan drawl before returning her gaze to her work.

"Of course," said Dan, sliding off the desk, "I like the look of yours."

"Already taken." She did not look up again.

"We're going to know each other eventually, why not now?" - said with a 100 watt smile and his best Bogart impression.

Lulu merely raised her eyebrows and replied, "Mr. Rydell, I would be better if you did not distract me at this time. Perhaps if you find it difficult to wait you could come back in fifteen minutes."

"It'll take you fifteen minutes to read my forms?"

"No, it will take me five. The other ten I shall spend preparin' myself against your return." Dan stared. There was no flirtatious smile on this woman's face. She meant what she said. He was not used to such abject failure of his charm offensive; sure some people responded less well than others, but this woman seemed to actively dislike him. Flustered, he beat a retreat.

"I'm not going back in there, Casey. That woman scares me."

"Which one?"

"The one with the curly hair and those big earrings."

"Oh, Lulu."

"Yeah, her. Scary."

"Well she's certainly efficient but I'm not sure I would go as far as scary. What did she do to you, Danny?"

"She didn't like me."

Casey grinned at his friend.

"She didn't like you?"

"She didn't like me. How could she not like me?" Dan started to pace around Casey's office. Though the solidity of his friendships with Casey and Dana had gone a long way to convincing Dan that he was a good person, his sense of self-worth remained inextricably linked to how people at large perceived him. As a result, it was constantly on a knife-edge, and the idea that he might be disliked caused a tremor that had the potential to bring everything crashing down around his ears. "Everybody likes me, I'm inherently likeable."

"Yes, you are, Danny."

"But this ... Lulu ... chooses not to like me. For reasons that pass my understanding. And now I have to go back and talk to her again."

"I'm sure she will like you this time."

"You think?"

"You know I don't care, right?"

"Right."

At the appointed time Dan returned to Lulu's desk. She was sitting with her hands clasped together, her expression neutral. Dan paid special attention to her hair: shoulder length, dark brown, shot through with glints of gold. It curled, wriggling across her head. Like snakes, Dan thought. Medusa. That's who she is. Evil.

"Mr. Rydell," she greeted him as he approached, with a slight nod of acknowledgment.

"I hope I'm not late."

Lulu checked her watch.

"No. Perfectly on time. Well done." Dan felt like he was being schooled. He determined to try again to win her over.

"I trust everything was to your satisfaction?" he asked with patented smile #1.

"There are some questions I'm goin' to need to ask" - with no answering smile.

"Ask away," said Dan. He sat on the chair in front of her desk, crossing his legs and leaning back, hands behind his head and stepped up the smile wattage. No response. Lulu shuffled through the forms, extracting one from the pile and placed it neatly on the top.

"Your medical history form is incomplete. You have noted some hospital investigations but there is no diagnosis here. We need that for insurance purposes."

"What if I told you that they were taking pictures of my brain to use as an example of perfect intelligence?"

Lulu blinked at him. Dan brought his arms round to fold in front of his chest and bent forward.

"There's no diagnosis because they couldn't find anything wrong."

Lulu made a note on the form.

"And your mental health?"

"I'm sorry? My what?"

"Your mental health. It's stable?"

"I'm not sure if I ... Yes! It's stable."

"This isn't personal, Mr. Rydell. It's my job." She made another note before selecting another form from the pile.

"Ah, yes. Family history. Again, for insurance it's vital that we have all the details. I need to know causes of death for your maternal grandparents and ... brother." Lulu's voice dropped on the last word, as if she knew she had gone too far. Dan's face blanched. He avoided eye contact but his voice was steady as he replied.

"Heart attack, stomach cancer, car crash." He stood up. "Is that all you needed?"

Lulu nodded, mute. Dan turned to leave.

"Mr. Rydell? Dan? Wait." He stopped.

"I'm sorry. That was insensitive. You were just so ... and I've had enough of that to last me a lifetime, believe me ...but I shouldn't have ... I'm sorry." For the first time Dan heard genuine emotion in her voice. He turned back to her, leaning on the chair. She looked up at him, eyes wide with distress, twisting a corkscrew curl round and round her finger. His lips quirked in a not-quite smile.

"Sam is ... Sam was ... We were very close. It's not something that should ever be just a note on a form. Do you understand?" She nodded. "Look I'm sorry if my behaviour in any way offended you. I certainly didn't mean to. So we're both on strike one. Do you think we could start over?" She nodded again. Dan came around the chair and extended his hand "Hi, I'm Dan Rydell, and you are?" She took the proffered hand with an open smile. She was really very pretty when she smiled, thought Dan.

"Lulu Clayton. Pleased to meet you."

"Listen, Lulu, I've got to go and do some work now or Dana will have my hide stripped and tanned and made into cowboy boots. But I'm coming back. OK?"

"OK."

Dan was true to his word. He would stop in to chat to Lulu for a few minutes every day. He turned down the high-voltage charm, instead bringing her items of gossip from the wires or, as he got to know her better, newspaper clippings that he thought might pique her interest. He found out about her job, her family, her friends, her opinions, ambitions and dreams, the men who had turned her off charm for life. He regaled her with tales of stupidity, mostly his but sometimes Casey's and even on occasion Dana's. After a few months of this Dan realised that Lulu was the first real friend he had made since Casey. Dana he had inherited and Bill couldn't be avoided. For Lulu, however, he had had to go out of his way to make the effort, though Dan was not sure if it could be termed effort if he was enjoying himself so much. Behind Lulu's cold professional front lay a sarcastic sense of humour and an energy that appealed to Dan. They started to hang out outside of work.

Lulu was determined to educate Dan as to what being in Dallas meant. She took him to The Sixth Floor Museum where they spent hours staring out of the south-facing windows, imagining the procession of the motorcade and the fatal shots from the Book Depository. Dan fell head over heels in love with the Bar of Soap, a working Laundromat complete with beer, pool and live bands. They haunted Ad-Libs Improv Comedy Club, goading each other to come up with the craziest suggestions. They visited parks, nature trails, the farmer's market, bars, clubs, even went line dancing once, though Dan swore never again. Then the end of September rolled around and with it came the State Fair of Texas.

"It's fantastic, Daniel," Lulu explained as they sat drinking coffee outside a local caf. "It's huge, stalls and exhibitions everywhere. And the corny dogs? You're not a Texan unless you've eaten a Fletcher's State Fair corny dog."

"And this corn dog would be better than all the others because ...?"

"Because it's from Texas."

"Ohhhh. And I guess your State Fair is better than any other State Fair because ..."

"It's from Texas," they finished in unison.

"Well I suppose I can't just take your word for it."

"You suppose right, Dan. And I just happen to have managed to procure two tickets to the Red River Shootout."

"The Red River Shootout?"

"Uhuh."

"The University of Oklahoma Sooners against the University of Texas Longhorns?"

"The very game."

"One of the greatest rivalries in NCAA football."

"Why are you tellin' me this, Daniel? I know it already." Dan grinned. Sometimes he forgot she wasn't Casey. And that sports were just a pastime to Lulu, not a way of life.

"So you're taking me to the Cotton Bowl?"

"I am."

"I wonder if it's recovered from the Soccer World Cup."

"You're makin' no sense again."

"That poor stadium. It's usually home to thrilling end to end battles, games of strategy, skill and, you know, scoring. Soccer? You're lucky if you get more than two goals in ninety minutes. Where's the drama? It's ... boring."

"Borin'? Borin'? Did you not see the quarter-final between Netherlands and Brazil?" Lulu's face was animated.

"Indeed I did," said a surprised Dan. "I reported the highlights. Casey was down at the Cotton Bowl. I didn't know you cared."

"There's a lot you still don't know about me, Daniel Rydell. And one of those things would be the interest I have in the lower halves of soccer players."

"The lower halves ...?"

"Well," Lulu blushed, "not all the lower half. The legs, the ass, you know. They're just so ..." she trailed off.

"Why, Lulu Clayton, I do believe I have found your Achilles heel."

She grinned, showing white, even teeth. "Not so much an Achilles heel, more an unscratchable itch. But that game was awesome, Dan. I was lucky to go - I know a person who knows a person. Romario, now his skinny legs I don't like, but what he can do with his feet is not human. He's this scrawny-assed kid, and he's takin' on the whole Dutch defence, these guys twice his size. And he slips past 'em, see, collects the ball from a cross and volleys into the net. Bam! You shoulda heard the drums, Dan. It gave me chills. Then they get another and you think two nothin' down to Brazil, that's it for the Netherlands but no. 'Cos here comes Bergkamp and there are two defenders in front of him, then one, then it's him and the goalie and whadda you know, the ball is in the net! Two one and there's still twenty-six minutes left. The Dutch are breathing fire again and they're not goin' down without a fight. The game's goin' end to end and then somethin' happens in the Brazilian box. Bergkamp thinks it's a handball and he's givin' the ref an earful. They get a corner and it floats in just perfect. Winter's wearin' stilts and the ball was always goin' in. They're level. Eighteen minutes left to play." She stopped to take a sip of coffee. Dan's eyes were fixed on her, head propped up with his hands.

"Now the old Brazil, they would have shattered. Broken like the delicate glass ornament they were, heads down, game over. But this is a new Brazil and they're strong and tough and they're gonna win this thing. And they stream forward like they're stampedin' cattle, Branco's goin' wild, he catches Overmars in the face with his elbow and the Dutchman goes down like a sack of yams. The crowd's insane and someone shoves Branco to the ground. Now they're all at it, pushin' and shovin' and yellin'. The ref's blowin' his whistle fit to burst but no-one's listenin'. Eventually Brazil gets the free kick and somehow Branco drives from twenty-seven yards out and it fairly creeps past the post and into the net. Nine minutes to go and Brazil are in the lead again. And that's the way it stayed." She drained the rest of her coffee.

I could kiss her right now, thought Dan. Then, where did that come from?

"You know, when you talk like that I could almost like soccer. I'm not getting sick around you 'cos you'll take my job!"

"Nah, wouldn't want it. Can't be on TV and drool at the same time. I know where my priorities are." Lulu had accompanied her narrative with actions and a curl had dislodged itself and slipped in front of one eye. She tried to blow it away without success. Dan found himself fighting the urge to reach out and tuck it behind her ear. He mentally shook himself.

"So. State Fair. When's the game?"

"Sunday."

"I'm free Sunday."

"I know."

"So who's playing?"

"Dan!" and he ducked out of the way of her playful slap.

Dan tried to discuss this new development in his feelings with Casey. Thinking about it later he realised that after Casey had returned from an emergency wisdom tooth removal had possibly not been the best time.

"Casey, you gotta help me."

"I carn shpeak you dummy."

"I can translate. Come on, you know there's nothing I wouldn't do for you."

Casey rolled his eyes and took a swig of water, forgetting that his mouth was numb. The water dribbled out and onto the script he was attempting to write. He made a strangled sound of annoyance and Dan laughed, wheeling his chair forward to dab at Casey's mouth with a handkerchief. Casey flinched.

"Gentwy, gentwy."

"My Babel fish suggests gently or gentry for that particular attempt. I'm going to play the odds and go with gently. I choose not to believe that you wish to discuss the landed aristocracy at this time." Casey narrowed his eyes and Dan tucked the handkerchief back in his pocket.

"I think I like Lulu," he stated baldly.

"You wike Wuwu?" Dan sniggered and Casey fixed him with another baleful stare.

"Uhuh. I wike, er, like Lulu. I think. I mean, the other day she was talking about soccer and I wanted to kiss her. What's that about?"

"She wazh talkin' abow shoccer?"

"Yes."

"And you wanted to kish her?"

"Yes. "

"Even though you weawy hay' shoccer?"

"Yes."

"You're wight. You wike Wuwu."

"So the liking is established. I'm cool with that. At least I'm pretty sure I'm cool with that. For I am Dan, seducer of women. But. Here's a problem."

"Wa' pwobwem?"

"She's, like, one of my best friends. I don't know if she likes me that way. It was never important. I mean, of course it was important that she like me. But she didn't have to like me, like me if you get what I'm saying?"

"Hardwy ever," sighed Casey.

"It's not my usual modus operandi is all."

"You hab a MO?" Casey raised his eyebrows.

"Yeah," he stood, twizzled the chair round and sat again, straddling it, arms wrapped around the back. "You know. For I am Dan..."

"Shedusher ob women."

"Right. It's usually easy. Go into bar. Find cute girl. Talk to cute girl. Buy her a drink. Charm the pants off her. Then, you know, keep the pants off her." Casey made a moué of distaste.

"But it's different with Lulu. We're friends already. I can't do that ... that other stuff. It wouldn't feel right."

"You hab to be honesht wib her."

"Really? I can't just get her drunk and see what happens?"

"Itsh an opshun."

"You think?"

"A weawy ba' opshun." Dan's chin sunk onto the backrest.

"Yeah. So be honest is your advice?" Casey nodded, then wiped the escaping drool.

"Honestly? Your advice sucks. Clearly you are still high from the painkillers, my friend. I'm honest and she shoots me down, what will happen to my self-respect?"

"You hab shelf-wespeck?"

Dan grinned ruefully and patted his pockets. "I'm sure it was in here somewhere." He paused. Casey turned back to his script.

"Are you sure there's nothing else you want to say? No pearls of wisdom, no fail-safe techniques?"

"Danny!" Casey exploded as best he could, wincing with the pain. "My mowf hursh beyon' bewief. I hab to wite a scwipt for the wepwaishment anchor becozh he carn ge' in tiw the show. My faish looksh li' a badwy formed chipmunk, I carn dwink pwopewy and I am shtarbin' hungwy but I'm not awwowed to ea' for li',eber. Wiw you pwease shut up and weave me awone!"

Dan pedalled his chair backwards, wiping his face.

"Sorry, Casey. Didn't think. Probably not the best time." Casey nodded his appreciation. Dan got up to head back to his own office.

"Weaving you awone now," he said and ducked before the eraser hit him on the head.

***

75,587 people packed into the Cotton Bowl to watch the 89th Red River Shootout. Dan and Lulu found themselves packed into a section full of Longhorns supporters. It was a good place to be. With 43 seconds left on the clock the Longhorns were ahead 17-10. The tension was at fever pitch with the Sooners at fourth-and-goal from the three yard line. This had to be the final play. Either the Longhorns would read the play and run out winners or the Sooners would sneak in a last second touchdown to tie the game. Lulu clutched Dan's hand, infected with the excitement of their neighbours.

"This could go either way," she muttered. Dan nodded and squeezed back.

On the field the two teams lined up against each other. McGee, the Sooners quarterback took the snap and headed right, handing off to Allen who had crossed behind him. Allen headed around the left end to be turned inside by Reed, the Longhorns linebacker. There was just one player left between Allen and the touchdown - Texas nose guard Stonie Clark. Clark was a 330 pound giant and when he dug his cleats into the turf, lowered his shoulder and hit Allen square on the shoulder pads, there was no doubt in any Longhorns fans' mind that Allen was going down. And he did. Closely followed by Clark. The whistle went while Allen was still on his knees, head in his hands. The Longhorns had won. The crowd went wild, Dan and Lulu on their feet in celebration with the rest of them. In the melée everyone was hugging, high-fiving, punching the air. Lulu threw her arms round Dan.

"We won!" she yelled and then suddenly they were kissing. Once Dan got over the surprise and the delight that he hadn't needed A Plan he realised how much he was enjoying himself. Lulu's body was soft against his and her mouth was warm. He felt a response in his groin, becoming light-headed as the blood drained from his brain on more urgent business. He almost stopped kissing at that point, stunned at his body's reaction. He could not remember ever achieving an erection with any of the women who had passed through his life without the aid of a little chemical enhancement. And when he and Lulu tumbled into bed later, laughing and tearing at each other's clothes and Dan got the same easy response; he couldn't help but wonder if finally he was being let off the hook.

And that was that. Dan had a girlfriend. Their relationship was much the same as before, just with the added bonus of an awful lot of sex. In all the time that they spent together Dan never thought he was in love with Lulu. He cared about her, he wanted her, they had fun together. He was grateful that being with her was so easy. She wasn't complicated, she wasn't demanding, she enjoyed her own life too much to want to be truly part of his. He was pretty sure he loved her in his own way, whatever that was. But the heart-rending angst and self-flagellation that had gone hand in hand with his abortive attempts at romantic yearning was conspicuous by its absence, so he couldn't be in love. Could he?

"Does it matter?" asked Casey when Dan broached the subject with him one day over coffee.

"What do you mean does it matter?"

"In love. Love. Does it really make that much difference?" Casey's tone was light but his eyes were hooded, hiding.

"It might to her."

"Do you know that?"

"Well ..."

"Has she said she loves you?" Dan considered this carefully. The word 'love' had been mentioned but only in conjunction with things like 'when you do that,' 'fucking you', 'arguing with you about soccer'.

"Not as such, no."

"Has she bought any kind of matching clothing for the two of you?"

"No." Dan began to smile.

"Has she stopped and sighed outside jeweller's shops?"

"No."

"Or bought Bride magazine?"

"No."

"Or named your as yet unplanned children?"

"No."

"I think you're on fairly safe ground, Danny."

"Really?"

"In my exceptionally limited experience, yes."

"It is exceptionally limited, isn't it?"

"Danny, we're concentrating on your stunted emotional growth, not mine." Casey cocked his head on one side.

"Yes, Dr. Ruth. Please continue."

"If she's not in love with you, and, honestly, it doesn't sound like she is, then it doesn't matter that you're a confused screw-up who wouldn't know love if it smacked him over the head with a three pound rib-eye."

"Gee, Casey, tell it like it is."

Casey shifted in his seat so that he was looking Dan squarely in the eye.

"Seriously, Danny. Sometimes this stuff can be almost impossible to figure out. Where love stops and in love begins. Who knows? You start to be attracted to a friend you love ... like you and Lulu ...it doesn't have to mean you're in love, does it? You can love someone and want them but it doesn't quite tip the scales. It isn't necessarily fireworks and not eating and not sleeping and counting the seconds and all of the crazy highs and lows that leave you reeling when you fall in love. But who's to say? It's like love on a sliding scale. There should be points and rankings and statistics. Then maybe we'd stand a chance of understanding it."

"Wow!" replied Dan, muting the slight feeling of disquiet that echoed in his brain. "You've seriously been thinking about this, haven't you?" Casey's eyes slid away from Dan's.

"No. Yes. Maybe. But it's no big deal," Casey moved as if to get up but Dan stopped him with a touch on the arm. If Casey said it wasn't a big deal, ten to one it was.

"Casey, is something going on?"

"No."

"You'd tell me if there was, right?"

"Right." Casey managed to stand this time, Dan's hand falling onto the table, setting the coffee cups rattling.

"You're sure?"

"If something ever goes on in my life that could be of the remotest interest to anyone besides me I'll let you know, Danny."

"Lulu never calls me Danny."

"I know. Come on, we've got work to do."

***

Every now and then Lisa would take a weekend away. She told Casey that she needed to remember who she was away from the family. Although he did not understand, he was happy to let her go. In the build-up to these weekends she was always on edge, difficult to please and tearful. She would return a calmer Lisa, more affectionate to Casey and less easily provoked by Charlie. Dan loved these weekends. He would hang out with Casey and Charlie at the house; they would take trips to parks, museums or just play in the yard. Charlie adored his Uncle Danny who was never afraid to get dirty or to get down to his level to talk to him. Dan worshipped Charlie right back. Here was someone into whom he could pour his love without worrying that it was wrong. He was fascinated with the differences in Charlie week to week, and the way he got so excited about the smallest discoveries. When he was with the little boy Dan saw the world through Charlie's eyes, and it was like being reborn.

One such weekend, the three of them headed for Celestial Park. They had been here countless times before but Charlie never tired of it. He raced ahead down the tree-lined path whilst Dan and Casey sauntered behind, chatting aimlessly about the show.

"Not too far now, Charlie!" called Casey. The little boy's coltish legs skip-hopped to a full stop. He turned and waved, squinting into the sun, skewiff baseball cap failing to do its job.

"'Kay, Dad!" and he was off again.

Casey sighed. It wasn't as if he would get lost. They knew exactly where he was headed. Charlie was obsessed with the human sundial. In the middle of the sundial were month-engraved stones. Stand on the appropriate one and your shadow would be cast onto the apposite time-engraved stone. Time didn't matter to Charlie and he would jump from one month to the next, shouting out random numbers. The sundial was reached by climbing some steps and entering through a gap in a stone wall which was itself surrounded by a circle of shrubs. A natural phenomenon caused by the sundial's positioning meant that all sound, even whispers were echoed. Charlie loved to hear his own voice coming back at him.

"Charlie!" yelled Dan. "Bet you can't race back here before I count to ten!" Charlie turned on a dime and ran as fast as he could whilst Dan counted,

"One! Two! Three! Four! Five! Six! Seven! Seven-and-a-half! Ooof!" This last as Charlie collided with Dan's legs, giggling madly.

"Ha, ha! I winned!" He grabbed Dan's hand in triumph.

"Sure did, buddy. You're super-fast. You sure you're not The Flash?"

"Huh," Charlie's high voice was full of scorn. "I'm better'n The Flash."

Dan shot a grin at Casey who shook his head, bemused.

"How do you always do that?" he asked. Charlie hummed a tuneless little ditty, kicking the gravel as he walked.

"Do what?"

"Get him to do what you want but think it's his idea."

"I got skills, baby, I got skills."

"Can't give them to me, can you?"

"Sorry, Casey. I'm afraid I hold the privileged position of not being his dad. You, he's genetically programmed to disobey."

They had reached the steps by this time, and in time-honoured tradition Casey reached for his son's free hand and he and Dan swung Charlie, squealing with glee, up a step at a time. Reaching the top Charlie tore loose of the two men and dashed for the middle of the sundial where he jumped on March, watching the shadow he cast and shouting "Twentyten!", waiting for the echo of "tyten!" before moving on to April and repeating the procedure.

"D'you think we should tell him about Daylight Savings Time?" asked Dan.

"Nah, why burst his bubble?" Casey leant back on the stone wall watching his son.

June. "Onetyfour!" A pause for the echo.

July. "Five!"

August. "Threeseventy and six!"

"Two squillion and eight!"

Charlie stopped and looked behind him.

"Dannyyyyyy!"

"What?" shrugged Dan, standing on May. "I can't tell the time?"

"There's no such number as squillion. You made it up!"

"And yet onetyfour is perfectly valid?" Charlie screwed up his eyes and regarded Dan balefully, not deigning to reply before he turned and continued his game.

September. "Tenteen!"

"Thirtyseventeenhundred!" Charlie chose not to acknowledge Dan's presence.

October. "Two!" His voice became a little more vehement.

"Milliontyfour!"

November. "Fivetysix." Still more fervent.

"Twelveteenmilliontyhundred and five!" That was too much for Charlie and he launched himself at Dan who caught him under the arms and, swinging him upside down, commenced tickling the writhing boy. Charlie laughed and screamed in equal measure, face going red, small fists balled and fighting back.

"Attack your Uncle Danny would you? Let's see if I can't tickle that tendency out of you!"

Casey, laughing at the spectacle of his child flopping in Dan's arms like a fish on a line, cautioned, "Careful or you'll tickle his breakfast out of him too."

"Good point, my friend," agreed Dan and righted Charlie who immediately attacked his leg in the form of becoming a limpet, his face a picture of intensity. Echoes of Dan and Casey's loud laughter rang around the stone circle. An elderly couple dressed in matching sweaters joined the little party at the sundial, exchanging nods of greeting and smiles for Charlie. Dan prised him off his leg.

"Come on, bucko. We'll get you an ice-cream." Charlie's face brightened and he was eager to be off. They paused at the steps to tie Charlie's shoelace, Dan criticising Casey's efforts and making Charlie laugh. They made an interesting picture; tall tow-headed man crouched in front of an identikit child, looking up smilingly at a dark man whose hands rested one on the child's head, one on the stooping man's shoulder. The elderly couple gazed at them thoughtfully, the man leaning in to the woman to murmur. Perhaps they were new to the park or were unaware of the clarity of the echo, but Dan and Casey heard the whisper clear as a bell.

"One of those modern families, dear. Two daddies, you know."

Dan and Casey barely made it down the steps before collapsing with mirth. Charlie regarded them, puzzled.

"Ice-cream!" he demanded, tugging Casey's sleeve. Casey wiped his eyes.

"They thought we were...!" Laughter bubbled up again preventing speech.

"Two daddies!" Dan giggled.

"Ice-cream!" demanded Charlie again, tugging Dan's sleeve this time.

"A modern family!" said Casey gleefully. Fresh paroxysms.

"ICE-CREAM!" shouted Charlie, clearly feeling someone needed to take control of the situation.

That did the trick. Looking at the seriously annoyed face of the small child the men subsided.

"Sorry, Charlie," said Casey. "C'mon. You can have two scoops. But don't tell Mom, OK?"

"OK." Appeased, Charlie skipped off down the path singing "Two scoops, two scoops..."

Dan and Casey followed behind, still chuckling. Dan smiled to himself. He had come a long way. In the past a comment like that would have sent him reeling, petrified that everyone could see through his disguise, terrified of Casey's reaction. Now he was just amused. If he didn't know better he might almost accuse himself of being happy.

"What a pair, huh? How long d'you think before news of Charlie's two dads gets round the bridge clubs of Addison County?" Dan grinned at his own bad pun. Casey, unusually, did not respond with a put-down, and a surprised Dan glanced sideways to catch a pensive expression on his friend's face.

"What's up, Casey? They're just a couple of old folks. It didn't mean anything." Dan was unsure. Just seconds ago Casey had been enjoying the joke and now there was this ... silence.

"Casey, c'mon! Anyone with eyes can see we're not a family."

"Aren't we?" Casey asked with genuine curiosity.

"Noo!" Dan wondered where the shifting sand under his feet had come from.

"What's our plan today, Danny?"

"Get Charlie an ice-cream, head home, you'll play with Charlie while I make lunch. We're helping him with his gardening project for Greenhill this afternoon. Charlie will eat and be bathed, which will almost certainly end up with you wetter than him, after which I'll cook dinner for us and we'll eat it in front of the TV. Then we'll sink a few beers and I'll probably crash at yours and tomorrow takes care of itself."

Casey looked at Dan. Dan made the effort to hear his own words.

"Oh!"

"Yeah. Oh," replied Casey in a tone Dan could not pin down. He didn't sound pissed or upset or happy. What was it?

"So we're this weird little family when Lisa's not around. So what?" Where was this going?

"Not weird." The same unfathomable tone.

"Not weird?"

"No." The steady scrunch of shoes on gravel halved as Casey stopped. Two steps later the sound ceased. Casey looked straight at Dan, his body squared and pugnacious as if he expected to be shot down.

"I think we make a great family," he declared.

"A great family?" Dan did not know what to think.

"Yeah. You, me, Charlie, we make a great family. Swap you for Lisa and not so much." Aha, thought Dan. This was about Lisa. That made sense. Much more than thinking that Casey was entertaining suspicions about his feelings towards Dan. He reached out and patted Casey on the shoulder.

"Lisa, huh?" Charlie came hurtling back down the path towards them, blazing a trail of dust. "We'll talk about this later, yes?" Casey nodded and the two moved off; Dan, bending down to pick up Charlie, remaining oblivious to the peculiar look Casey sent his way.

Later arrived, finding Dan sprawled recumbent across Casey's leather couch, one arm flung over his face whilst his host sat upright and rigid in the loveseat that sat beneath a big bay window. The room was large with whitewashed walls and dark-stained polished floorboards. It was sparsely furnished and immaculate. Dan's first impulse every time he visited was to take some of Charlie's toys and scatter them about the floor in an attempt to make the place feel more lived in. He had done it once but Casey's reaction had been so severe and out of character that he had never tried again. Dan had blamed Lisa. It was still his favourite game.

Even with his eyes closed, Dan could feel the tension emanating from his friend. Though Casey hadn't brought up the conversation in the park Dan knew that it had been playing on his mind all day. It was just a matter of time, Dan thought. Best to let Casey come to him, that way it would be less like pulling teeth. The silence endured another few minutes, Dan listening to the fidgeting of his friend. He was so finely-tuned to Casey's moods that he recognised the exact millisecond Casey opened his mouth to speak.

"Danny?"

"Hmmm," came the lazy reply.

"You know the Lisa rule?"

"The rule about Lisa or the rule by Lisa?"

"Danny!" Casey warned.

"What?" queried Dan, letting his arm fall off his face to trail on the floor. "It's important to be grammatically correct if one's meaning is to be thoroughly understood."

"I did not say that. I can't believe you're bringing that up." Casey rose and began to pace before changing his mind and subsiding back into the loveseat.

"I might be paraphrasing a little," admitted Dan, narrowed eyes watching Casey as he smoothed out imaginary creases in his trousers. "Look, sorry, Casey. I was just yanking your chain. The Lisa rule, right? The one I invented. The one where you don't mention her to me. Ever. Yeah, I'm aware of its existence."

"Do you think we could suspend it?"

"Suspend it?"

"Yeah."

"Not revoke it?"

"No."

"For how long?" Dan was stalling for time. Clearly what was about to come was troubling Casey a great deal and Dan, as his loyal friend, would become troubled on his behalf. Therein lay the problem. Casey could criticise his wife, he could curse her up and down and it would go no further than these four walls. Dan could not say a word. Because Casey and Lisa were married, and sooner or later the problem would be resolved and Dan would be the one who had said the awful, unforgivable things. He would bear the brunt of Casey's guilt. And he was not prepared to give Lisa the satisfaction. On the other hand, he didn't see how he could keep quiet. Willpower, he supposed and prayed that he had a sufficient supply. He became aware that Casey had spoken.

"Just this evening."

"I suppose the precedent has already been set."

"It's been a while," Casey pointed out. "There's just ... I need to talk to someone, Danny and you're my best friend."

"Emotional blackmail will get you everywhere. OK, consider the Lisa rule suspended for the duration of this evening. Shoot." But Casey said nothing, just clasped his hands between his knees and rocked minutely back and forth, eyes concentrated on a patch of floor about three foot in front of Dan. Dan banged the floor with the palm of his hand startling Casey out of his reverie. He adjusted his face to its most sympathetic expression and infused his tone with empathy. At least he had got something out of his encounters with counselling, he reflected.

"Casey." Just one word.

"It's all a fucking sham, Danny" - the quiet desperation of his voice more shocking than the words themselves. Dan kept his expression immobile.

"I can't give her what she wants; she can't give me what I want. We fight all the time. If it wasn't for Charlie, I ..." his shoulders drooped and he looked ten years older, defeated.

"What does she want?" nudged Dan.

"That's easy," laughed Casey bitterly. "Status, money, not to live in this 'Texas hell-hole'. A holiday in Europe and a house in the Hamptons. And a husband who somehow manages to be a big-shot at the same time as putting her first."

"And what do you want?"

"Another Charlie," whispered Casey staring at his knees.

"And she won't ...?"

"She says she can't bear the idea of going through the PND again. She said it took a year of her and Charlie's lives and she doesn't intend to lose any more. The doctor says it's unlikely to happen a second time, and she would be monitored, but she won't change her mind. She won't even sleep with me. I don't know what she thinks I'm going to do. Change her pills for breath mints? Spike every condom with a pin? Everything between us. It's all so. Accusing. There are these moments where I'll glimpse the old Lisa, when it feels like everything could be right again but then something happens and the shutters come down." Casey rubbed his forehead with the heel of his hand.

"Why do you want another baby, Casey?" For the first time that evening Casey's eyes lit up and he became animated.

"The first time I held Charlie I knew I loved him more than life. You know, you were there. But every day I spend with him I love him even more. He's this miracle in my life; I can't believe that I was part of making something so special. Still am part of it. I want more of it, Danny. I need more of it." Dan considered this and proceeded with caution.

"Do you think you would want a kid so bad if your relationship with Lisa was working?"

"It's why it's not working, Dan."

"Is it?" probed Dan, his voice very gentle.

"Isn't it?" Casey was barely audible.

"Does Lisa like you, Casey?"

"She loves me," stated Casey, staring at Dan.

"Does she like you?" Casey broke eye-contact, his gaze slithering to an abstract print on the wall.

"No," his lips formed the word without sound.

"Do you like her?"

"No." Casey stood suddenly and turned to stare out of the window, leaning his head on the cool glass, trying without success to surreptitiously to wipe his eyes with one thumb. Dan pretended not to notice. After the wall clock ticked by a long minute Casey spoke again.

"But I do love her, Danny. And we have Charlie. And that should be enough. Shouldn't it?"

No, thought Dan. No, it isn't enough and you know it. You're trapped and miserable and so is she and maybe you love her but it's not the right kind of love. It's not the love that you want, that you need, that you crave. And another child wouldn't give you that either.

"It is what you want it to be, Casey," he answered, swinging his legs round and creaking upright on the couch.

"It's just ... She won't even touch me, Danny. Not at all. We sit in different chairs, we go to bed at different times and if she accidentally rolls against me in the night she flinches away. My wife flinches!" He banged his head against the glass. Dan, alarmed, got ready to move.

"How long?" he asked.

"It's been getting worse more or less since we moved here," Casey replied, stilling his head again against the pane, staring out at something Dan could not see. "We had a huge fight just before we started going on air and it's been sliding away since then."

"Jesus, Casey that's a year and a half ago. Why didn't you say something?"

Casey sighed and said nothing. The silence was pointed.

"Yeah, the rule," said Dan. "I forgot the rule. Casey, I'm sorry, man. The rule sucks. I can revoke it now if you want. I have the power to do that, for I am the rule-maker and the rule-breaker all in one neat little package." He was happy to see the glimmer of a smile on Casey's face.

"Thanks. Maybe, I don't know." Casey placed both palms flat on the glass, pushing back until his arms were outstretched, head bowed. He exhaled noisily.

"I can't believe I'm going to say this. But I'm a guy, Danny. And I've got ... needs. OhgoddidIreallysaythat?" Dan did not need to see Casey's face to know that it had flushed a scorching red. A brief flash of light illuminated a shadowy corner of Dan's brain. A sudden sense memory of a hand, a voice, a fluttering kiss, the intense dark pleasure of his orgasm, Casey's eyes glittering in the night. Now it was not only Casey whose face burned. Dan's stomach lurched. Was Casey simply unburdening himself or was there an implication behind the words. Quid pro quo? He realised a response was needed and blurted out the first thing that came into his head.

"But there's still Lisa - you know?" A spark beginning to grow in Casey's eyes was immediately quenched.

"Yeah," Casey's voice was flat. "There's still Lisa." The silence hung heavy in the air. Then Casey pushed himself away from the window and, twisting round he half-staggered across the room to fall at Dan's knees. He placed his hands one over the other on Dan's bare knee, his head lowered as if in supplication.

"Help me, Danny. I don't know what to do."

Danny looked at Casey, a tow-headed little boy at his feet and forgot his own concerns. Gently he took Casey's hands and helped him onto the couch. He stood and went to the kitchen, returning with two fresh beers, handing one to Casey. They sat shoulder to shoulder for a few minutes, Casey's eyes dry but desperate. Dan knew he held no answers. He knew Casey knew that too. All he could give Casey was a sense of normality; ground him in the here and now. Taking a long pull on his beer, Dan spoke.

"Have you seen what the Yankees have been doing lately? They've won six games straight."

"Then they lost one."

"Hey, we were 7-13 in June before that run. Now we can hold our heads up a little." Dan's voice held the optimism of the eternal fan.

"Yeah sure, 13-13 with one game to go. It's going to be a great month for the Yankees."

"You wait. It's going to be the start of a New York Yankees renaissance."

"A New York renaissance?"

"Yes. A New York renaissance. A renaissance of the baseball variety."

"You don't think they're going to die like dogs?" Dan smiled; Casey was getting into their usual rhythm of strike and counter-strike. He saw Casey's face being to lose its sharp edges of tension.

"Casey are you impugning the honour of my baseball team?"

"The team that were 10-16 in May? I thought it was the general opinion that teams were supposed to win more games than they lose?"

"Well, yes. But it's a long season."

"It would have to be."

"You just wait, Casey McCall. The New York Yankees are going to go all the way."

"What? World Series? Funny, man, funny."

"OK. It is possible that we won't win the league this year."

"Possible?"

"Probable?"

"Better."

"But we could still sneak in as a wild card."

"And you believe that?"

"Yes."

"You truly believe that?"

"Yes I do, Casey."

"Dan, Dan, my man. You've got to get over this unreasonable obsession with the Yankees. They're only going to break your heart."

Later, when sleep could no longer be postponed, Dan untangled his fingers from Casey's and headed up to the guest bedroom whilst Casey wandered off to rinse the beer bottles. If someone had asked him who had reached for whose hand and when, he could not have answered.

It was a hot night and Dan lay spread-eagled on the guest bed, covered only by a thin cotton sheet. He obsessively replayed his earlier conversation with Casey in an attempt to understand exactly what he was feeling. He had gotten so used to the status quo that it was difficult to know where to start. Doubly difficult without the aid of narcotics. Casey and Lisa. There was a time when he would have been delighted that Casey's marriage was in trouble, that Lisa's days could be numbered. He would have danced a little victory dance and got very drunk to celebrate. But now it was just sad. Sad for Casey, even sad for Lisa. He knew he always came down hard on her but it was impossible to deny that she had some good qualities - she was a great mom to Charlie. And how many of those hard edges had been put on her by the life she had lived till now. God, Dan thought. I'm turning into a Lisa apologist. Stop it now! And Casey. Casey, what had he been saying earlier? What was going on between those lines? He'd been distraught, yes. But had he wanted Dan or was it just the ramblings of a man who had lost his way? And if Casey had made it clear that he wanted Dan to return the favour after all these years, what then? There was Lisa and there was Lulu. There was Casey and there was Dan. And in Dan's mixed-up mind he wasn't sure who belonged where any more.

Through the thin partition wall, Dan could hear Casey in the bathroom as he moved about preparing for bed. The water ran and shut off, then ran again. It ran for a long time. On the edge of Dan's consciousness he became aware that there was no other sound and again his mind flashed back to the motel, Dan lying in bed, floppy as a jellyfish and Casey, brisk and bright, heading into the bathroom. It had taken him a long time to wash his hands. He listened harder. Still only the constant rush and gurgle of water. Was he? Heart beginning to pound Dan twisted over onto his front, ramming a pillow over his head, his hardening cock pushing into the mattress. He wasn't going to think about it. He refused to think about it.

***

"I'm sorry, Lulu. This has never happened before." Dan rolled over onto his back and lay staring at the ceiling. Lulu reached out and squeezed his hand.

"It doesn't matter, Dan. It's not important. There's always ... other stuff we can do." Dan smiled at her. She was kind but she was wrong. It was important. His body, which had finally been responding the way he had wanted it to, was failing him again. And Casey was to blame. Casey with his confusing signals. Come here, go away. I'm straight, but you'd make a better wife than Lisa. Dan's mind was in turmoil, had been for days.

"Yeah, you're right. Look, I'm kind of tired. Do you mind if we just sleep?" Lulu answered by draping Dan's arm around her shoulders and snuggling in to his side. Dan tucked an escaping tendril of hair behind her ear and bent awkwardly to kiss the top of her head.

"You're the greatest, you know."

"Yeah, I am," grinned Lulu into his chest. Dan reached out to switch off the light and in a few minutes Lulu's breathing deepened. She was sleeping. Very carefully Dan maneuvered himself out from under her and padded out into the kitchen. Grabbing a carton of milk from the fridge and a pack of cookies he perched himself at the counter, staring vacantly ahead, mind blank. He ate his way through the entire pack on automatic, chewing and swallowing without tasting. It was nearly eight years, eight years, since he had first fought this battle. But it seemed that he never truly won, that he was always fighting an insurrection, an opponent that refused to accept defeat. He was with Lulu now. He loved her. Or at least he cared about her a great deal. And they were happy together. Or at least they had been up till now. And he hadn't thought of, of ... men in years. Or at least not in anything other than a general approval of a fine form way. And Casey was still just Casey, his best friend. Or at least he hoped to god that was true. So why did he feel as if he had gone ten rounds with Muhammed Ali?

Perhaps it was merely the fact that Casey's unhappiness also affected Dan. That the misery seeping out of Casey's pores had pooled around Dan's feet and was now lapping at his ankles. But Dan couldn't forget how his body had responded to the idea that Casey was masturbating, thoughts of his friend in his head, just feet away from where Dan had been failing to sleep. Comparing that to his earlier lack of response to his girlfriend's very naked presence was enough to tip Dan's ever-fragile equilibrium into a downward spiral. He banged his head onto the granite work-surface, immediately regretting his action. He let his cheek rest against the smooth, cool stone, gazing at his indistinct reflection in the counter. Why was it that this blurred image of him seemed more real than the real thing? Heat was building behind Dan's eyes and his breath began to thicken. Suddenly Dan sat up and gripped the counter firmly with both hands. He took a deep breath and held it, letting it out in a long controlled release. That's enough, he thought. Eight years ago I made a decision. I need to live by that decision, whatever it takes. I will not let Sam down again. This is the way it has to be: I work with Casey, I sleep with Lulu. This is the way I want it to be.

Dan moved over to the bedroom and leant on the door frame, gazing at Lulu as she slept, hair wild across the pillow, the thin sheet clinging to her body, outlining her curves. She is so beautiful, reflected Dan, his heart squeezing as he looked at her. He imagined stroking his hand across her smooth skin, thinking of the way her nipples would pucker in response. He thought about how he could drive her crazy by spider-soft caresses climbing up her back, building the anticipation of his touch on her shoulders, her neck. He remembered how it felt to be inside her, the heat of her, the tight imprisonment of her muscles around his cock, suffocating, living, dying every time they made love. Dan slipped his hand into his shorts, closing his fingers around the limp flesh. Still no reaction. God, this was so frustrating! Dan considered his options. He could trust to fate and time to solve the problem, or he could take matters into his own hands. He had subjugated his body to his will before, with a little help. The first option did not seem remotely practical - who knew how long it would take before he could function normally again, and he could not risk Lulu asking questions that he could not answer. No, there was only one choice.

Creeping into the room, Dan slid out a drawer in tiny increments, constantly checking on his sleeping girlfriend. He supported the drawer with one hand and rummaged with the other, fingers closing around what he wanted, hidden out of sight at the back of the drawer. Holding the item in his teeth Dan replaced the drawer, the tiniest creak causing him to stop in his tracks, but Lulu slept on. Grateful that she had not woken, Dan slipped out of the room and then out of the house, stepping onto the back porch. The night had cooled and Dan shivered slightly as he sat down on the steps leading into the small, paved yard. There wasn't much in the yard, just a couple of potted plants and a ball and scooter that Charlie used when he visited. Easy to take care of - Dan liked it that way.

He held the item he had retrieved in both hands. He had not needed the contents of the battered little leather bag in a long time, but had never trusted himself enough to get rid of it. Unzipping it, he tipped it upside down, rearranging the items into a straight line parallel with the step. Everything he needed was here. He picked up the cigarette papers and placed one on his knee, discarding the box at his feet. By the time the joint was rolled Dan's neat line of paraphernalia had become a heap. The first inhalation scoured Dan's chest like metal wool, the pungent sweet smoke curling into his lungs, filling corners and blind alleys that had long been neglected. Dan controlled his instinct to cough, allowing the drug to do its work. His body tingling pleasantly Dan deliberately began to think of Lulu. Her curves, her softness, her mouth on his cock and, like the slow, inevitable pull of moon on water Dan began to swell and harden. He smiled. He could do this. Everything was going to be fine. Sweeping his kit back into the small bag, Dan flicked the roach into one of the pots and went inside to Lulu.

It wasn't smooth sailing of course, Lulu was bright and there was a big row when she realised what Dan was doing. Luckily for Dan, her argument had been more with his lack of honesty than his actual drug use. Once Dan had charmed and coaxed his way out of trouble, Lulu startled him by asking to join him. So their relationship took on a new dimension, and if Dan ever thought about why he needed marijuana to sustain a supposedly healthy relationship, he did not say so. And on the opening day of the football season, when Dan woke in his yard with no memory of how he came to be there, his first episode in well over a year, Dan put it down to the stress of the job, ensuring everything that he had tried to repress stayed that way.

***

Lisa had bitched and moaned about going back to New York ever since arriving in Dallas so when Casey started making noises about relocating Dan thought he was just keeping the peace. When Casey had taken Lisa and Charlie to New York for a few days in early March, Dan believed that it was merely a trip to see Charlie's grandmother. But when Casey took Dan to one side and mentioned the words 'Luther Sachs', 'Continental Corp' and 'interview' he knew that things were about to change. A national show. Their national show, and all Dan had to do was make sure he didn't blow the interview. Casey was full of hope for his marriage as well as his career. He had convinced himself that his relationship with Lisa would improve once they were in New York, the city where Lisa felt she belonged. If Lisa was happier then that would filter through to her relationship with Casey. Dan didn't have the heart to disabuse Casey of this notion. He wasn't sure that Casey would like New York Lisa any better than Dallas Lisa; she would be the same woman in more expensive clothes.

When Dan told Lulu about the new show she was genuinely happy for him.

"So I guess I can still see y'all on TV, since you're goin' national."

"Yeah. Lulu, I ..."

"Don't bother yourself, Daniel. I know it's over. We were never serious enough for you to consider stayin' or for me to think of goin' with you. Been fun though, right?"

"Right." Dan grabbed her hand and pressed the palm of it to his lips. "A lot of fun."

They looked at each other and grinned.

"For old times' sake?" suggested Dan, his eyebrows raised.

"Hell, yeah!" replied Lulu and they raced each other to the bedroom.

They lay in bed, limbs tangled, panting and sweaty, a maelstrom of discarded clothing, pillows and sheets surrounding them.

"I hope you'll find what you're looking for," Lulu's voice was uncharacteristically serious.

"I'm sorry, what?" asked Dan who had been drifting in a post-orgasmic haze.

"There's something about you that's always struck me as kinda sad," Lulu explained. "It's like ... I don't know ... like you're not complete. Like you're missin' a piece. And I can't decide if you had it and it's gone or if you've never found it. Am I makin' any sense at all?"

"You're the greatest, you know," Dan said, hugging Lulu to him.

"Yeah I am, Danny, I am." And for the last time Dan smoothed Lulu's rebellious hair and kissed her goodnight.


New York

Much as he had enjoyed working at Lone Star, Dan knew he was going to like Sports Night even more. There were two reasons for this: New York and Isaac Jaffe. Dan was prepared to be delighted with everything in New York. The city was a second home to him. Though he had grown up in Connecticut, his maternal grandparents had lived in Brooklyn and he had spent many holidays with them until they died, Oma rapidly following Opa when Dan was fourteen. When he was a child Dan had had Sam to explore the city with, to share his discoveries and, though it felt strange to be revisiting old haunts without him, in a way it brought Sam closer to him. Thinking of Sam the child was much less painful than thinking of Sam the adult that never was.

Besides, Dan did not have to time to wallow in grief and guilt. The pace at CSC was hectic in the run up to the premiere of Sports Night. And the chaos was ably led from the front by the managing editor, Isaac Jaffe, a highly respected figure in the world of journalism. Dan had loved Isaac from their first meeting, when Isaac had greeted him with a firm handshake, a steady gaze and a thoughtful nod that made Dan feel that he had taken possibly the most important exam of his life and had passed with a result that far exceeded anyone's expectations.

Dana had arrived in New York a few weeks earlier than Casey and Dan to start to get her team together. By the time Dan met senior associate producer Natalie Hurley she and Dana had already formed a strong bond. It seemed to be based around shoes and contempt for the male species. Dan decided to leave well alone. Natalie was tiny and dark where Dana was tiny and fair, and where Dana's energy seemed to be concentrated in her head, Natalie's filled her entire body: it was in the way she spoke, the way she moved, the way she thought. When Dan first met her she was wound so tightly that he was frightened to touch her in case she exploded. He could see that under her nervousness was a fierce desire to do well.

Kim and Elliott, the associate producers were more laid back. Kim was sexy and knew it, all Asian curves and high heels. She knew more about women's softball, lacrosse and the Detroit Tigers than anyone else in the room and her special talent was sweet-talking agents into giving the show face time with some of the top athletes in any sport. Elliott had a cherubic face and had clearly spent more time watching sports than playing them. He was a powerhouse of inane trivia and a master of research. The first team was completed with the addition of Chris, Dave and Will, technical directors. Only a few days into preparation, Dan looked around the table in the rundown meeting at the still unfamiliar faces and knew without a shadow of a doubt that Sports Night was going to be a hit.

Dan and Casey were sitting in their shared office, attempting to write the script for the show. Dan loved the office. Its glass doors looked out onto the bullpen and this meant that Dan could keep an eye on what was going on. He soon learnt the rhythms of the newsroom, the ebb and flow of people altering depending on time of day, breaking news on the wire, hot gossip. There was only one desk in the office and Casey had commandeered it. Dan didn't mind. If Casey wanted to denote his senior status by his choice of office furniture, then so be it. Dan wrote on his laptop on a slightly rickety round table on the other side of the room. The office was also home to a comfortable, if utilitarian, couch and armchair, plenty of books, the inevitable TV monitor, a great view of the New York skyline and a plethora of sports equipment for demonstration purposes only. Dan and Casey's days had a certain regularity. Come in, wander around checking out the latest gossip, or as they liked to call it, news, first rundown meeting, avoid writing until second rundown meeting, attempt to get a script together, third rundown, fourth rundown, slight panic and show. Some days they liked to get the panic in a little earlier than others but the rest was pretty much standard. So it must have been some time after the second rundown meeting when Dan said,

"I miss Lulu."

"You do?"

"I do."

"Because you know you wanna shout?" A smile tugged at the corner of Casey's mouth.

"Casey!"

"Come on, now."

"Casey."

"Weeeeeelllllll," long and drawn out. A crumpled sheet of paper hit Casey square on the forehead.

"Hey!" he exclaimed. "Don't injure the talent."

"If I knew where to find it ..." The threat was left hanging in the air.

"So you miss Lulu?"

"Uhuh."

"Is that just another titbit of information to store in my Things I Know About Danny File or are you going to elaborate?"

"Elaborate."

"OK then."

There was a break in the conversation, both men idly tapping at their keyboards.

"I miss Lulu." Casey stopped tapping and sighed.

"I believe we have already established that."

"So you're allowing the premise?"

"Why would I disallow the premise?"

"Because it would amuse you."

"It may indeed amuse me to deny you your premise at some point but I am choosing for that point not to be now."

"So you're allowing the premise?"

"Yes, Daniel. Could we, in any way, move on? It would appear that we have a live sports show to do in a few hours time and we are one crucial element down."

"Which is?"

"The script, bonehead. Talk."

The door flew open and Natalie bounced in, her initial nervous energy now entirely transformed into a crazy enthusiasm for her job and the people with whom she worked.

"Run down in ten," she announced. "Oh and Casey, Dana says that item on the Alomar spitting thing won't fly in the forties so you're to take another look at it," and before either man could acknowledge her presence she was gone. Dan's gaze lingered a little on the spot where she had stood. He looked up to find Casey watching him, one eyebrow raised. Dan grinned a little sheepishly.

"Oh," said Casey.

"Oh," said Dan.

"Oh," they said in chorus.

"Her?"

"Yeah."

"You don't think she's a little ...?"

"Intense? Yeah, but I kinda like that."

"I was going for manic."

"I thought you liked Natalie."

"I do."

"But you don't think I should date her?"

"What makes you say that?"

"The extremely marked frown you're wearing right now."

"I didn't mean ..."

"What, you think I'm not good enough for her?" said a belligerent Dan, getting up off his chair and moving towards Casey.

"Danny, how could you say that?" a shocked Casey responded.

"You think she's not good enough for me?"

"N-n-n," stammered Casey, passing his hand over his eyes.

"What then? Our chakras are mutually incompatible? Our star signs are permanently misaligned? She's too short? I'm too crazy? What?" Dan was well inside Casey's personal space by now. Casey pushed his chair back to regain some distance and lifted a hand.

"Chill, Danny. I've just never encouraged fraternisation in the office."

"You've never encouraged ... Christ, Casey! You do realise you sound like a 1950s public information announcement?"

"Yeah, well, do whatever you want, Danny," muttered Casey. He stood, grabbing his backpack and left the room. Dan stared for a second then followed him, not ready to let this one go. Casey was in the men's room, taking out his contact lenses.

"What're you doing there, Casey?" asked Dan.

"I'm poking my finger in my eyes for fun and entertainment, what does it look like I'm doing?" replied Casey, caustic and sharp. He squeezed a couple of drops of cleaning fluid into the lens he had removed, gently rubbing with his little finger. He used another bottle to rinse and then transferred the thin sliver of plastic to its case with a delicate motion, all the time ignoring the reflection of an agitated Dan. Slowly, he repeated the process with his other eye.

"What's wrong with your eyes?"

"They're sore, Danny, OK? And I'm not going to go on TV tonight with red eyes so I'm giving them a rest. Is that all right with you?"

"Let me look," Dan stepped up to Casey and grabbed his chin, tipping his head forward and slightly to the side to catch the light. "Yeah, they look a little red. Maybe you're getting an infection." Casey's hand came up to grasp Dan's wrist lightly, pulling it away from his face, dropping it to fall loosely at Dan's side.

"Always with you the positive side," he said, taking his glasses out of their case. Dan took a step away and leaned against the washbasin.

"Why do you think Natalie is wrong for me?" Casey settled the glasses on his nose.

"Jesus, Danny, you're like a dog with a bone. Let it go already, would you?"

"No, I want to know. What's wrong with Natalie? She's cute, she's funny, she's smart, she loves sports. What more could a guy want?"

Casey turned towards his friend, blinking owlishly through the heavy black frames.

"Don't get me wrong, Danny. It's not that I don't like Natalie. I do. I like her a lot. It's just that she's wrong for you."

"Yeah, I get that. Now tell me why."

Casey sighed. "You really want this?"

"I really want this."

"She's a terrier, Danny. She'll latch on to something and she'll keep worrying at it until she's got it out. You need to be able to hide in the dark places. She won't let you. You need someone who will accept the whole of you. Know that there are some parts of you that they can't reach, won't reach. Be happy with that anyway. Someone who'll let you be quiet when you need to be quiet, and crazy when you need to be crazy. Someone who just loves you for you, Danny. I don't believe that Natalie is that person."

"Yeah, well," Dan muttered, staring at his feet. "Let me know when you find the right one. 'Cos, you know, you've proved yourself such an expert."

"That was uncalled for, Danny." Casey's voice was quiet as he gathered up his belongings.

"I'm sorry," whispered Dan as the door swung shut behind his friend.

Following his conversation with Casey, Dan could not bring himself to ask Natalie for a date and pretty soon his crush faded away. Anyway, he reflected, life was far too busy to have any time for a personal life. Luther Sachs was a ruthless taskmaster with his finger held permanently over the eject button who pushed the Sports Night team hard to catch up with the big boys at ESPN and Fox. The whole team worked like dogs, chasing the stories, polishing, improving. Ratings point by ratings point they crept up from fifth, to fourth, to third. The first year of the show Dan's new apartment lay mostly untouched, boxes still unpacked, dust gathering in crevices. On the rare occasions he found himself with enough energy to crave a warm body next to his he would walk the streets of the city, scoring, finding bars, finding women. The old skills never left him. He got what he wanted when he wanted it and if it left him somehow unsatisfied, by the next day he would be too busy to care.

Dan thought he worked hard but Casey worked harder. He was in the office for long, long hours. Sometimes Dan suspected he slept there. Dan couldn't help but feel that if things had improved the way Casey had hoped back in Dallas then he would have been spending more time at home with his family. But he never dared broach the subject, the suspended Lisa-rule having come back with full force, this time instigated by Casey, a Berlin wall between them.

***

Their second Christmas in New York rolled around and Dana was determined to throw an office party. She announced it at a routine rundown meeting.

"We're young, mostly single and some of us are attractive," she said, putting an arm round the shoulders of Natalie and Kim, "and we're an office. We have a duty; we owe it to ourselves to have a party."

"What does Isaac say?" asked Casey.

"Isaac says I can have whatever I want and that any party poopers will be made to wear dunce's hats and forced to dance on nails."

"And what did Isaac actually say?"

"He said, fine. OK? He said, fine. And I am choosing to take that as meaning that I can do whatever I want and you have to do what I say."

"If the power trip makes you happy, Dana, who am I to refuse you? But can I ask for one thing?"

"What?"

"Can it not be in the office?"

"Why not?"

"'Cos we'll all have to come in the next day and we'll have stinking hangovers and the place will smell like alcohol and we'll be finding empty beer bottles and random items of underwear in strange places for weeks."

"Casey, I don't know what kind of office parties you've been privy to in the past, but I'll have you know that the parties I throw are a model of taste and decorum. However, I will concede to your request, if you will concede to mine that you take that stick out of your ass and have some fun!" Everyone laughed and Casey rolled his eyes.

Dana had rented a private room in a local bar. Purple velvet-lined benches lined the wall on two sides with long tables set in front of them. A few stools were dotted around the polished wood floor. A DJ spun discs at one end of the room and the other end housed the bar, optics gleaming. Gaudy baubles and tinsel hung from every available surface. From Isaac down, every single member of the Sports Night team was there, many wearing idiotic items of clothing bought for them by their Secret Santas. Alcohol flowed freely, thanks to the unexpected largesse of Luther Sachs, who was generally thought to be reducing his tax burden and the party was in full swing.

Dan leaned against the bar, pleasantly mellow, surveying the scene. In the middle of the dance floor Kim swayed alone, arms aloft, eyes closed, supremely aware of the mesmerising effects of her undulating breasts on every straight male in the room. Natalie had cornered Will and was explaining something to him earnestly, her finger jabbing repeatedly at his chest. Dan recognised the hunted look in Will's eyes. New Dave (the original had left to be replaced by another technician with the same name. Dan thought this was to make it easier on Casey who was notoriously useless with names), Chris and Elliott stood a little way away, drinking and laughing and failing to rescue him. Casey and Isaac sat at a table, faces animated yet serious. By the way Casey's arms were waving about, Dan was sure he was discussing the demise of Charles Barkley. Dan hoped that Casey wasn't going to attempt to demonstrate Barkley's rebounding skills: he was sure Isaac didn't want to see white-man-can't-even-pretend-to-jump. And Dana - Dana was working the room like a true professional. Or at least it seemed that way from a distance. As she spun closer to Dan and he could hear her margarita laced tones telling all and sundry how much she loved working with them, no really them, and wasn't the tinsel sparkly, he realised this was not Dana, the commanding executive producer, but Dana, the social butterfly.

Watching them all from his vantage point at the bar Dan felt an odd sensation. It wasn't the shakes and nausea that were still inevitable in certain social situations but the warm squeeze of his heart as he realised that these people were his family and he loved them, every one. And for that night Dan thought that might be all that he would ever need.

He pushed himself off from the bar and sauntered over to Isaac and Casey, bearing beers in both hands. Clattering his burden onto the table he tapped Isaac on the shoulder.

"Excuse me, is this guy bothering you? I can ask him to leave if you want."

"Danny!" beamed Isaac, laying his hand over Dan's and patting it. "I was wondering when you were going to come and rescue me."

"Hey!" pouted Casey.

"C'mon, Casey," said Dan. "There's only so much of your shoddy impressions of talented basketball players that one man can take."

"Hey!" pouted Casey again.

"Ah shuddup and drink." Dan pushed a beer across to him. Casey shrugged and grabbed it.

"Beer!" And Natalie was upon them, closely followed by Will.

"If I'd know beer was all it took to shut her up about the graphics department I'd've signalled one of the guys oh, two hours ago."

"Shut up, Will," said Natalie good-naturedly, curling her hand round a bottle.

"Understood," and Will wandered off to seek sympathy from the others. It was a fruitless task but he clearly felt he should make the effort.

"So what are we talking about?" asked Natalie, settling herself next to Isaac.

"Oh you know, how the human race is going to hell in a handcart since we gave women the vote," deadpanned Isaac. Natalie grinned.

"Old man, if I wasn't so drunk and I didn't love you so much I would stomp on your foot right now."

"And you would be wanting a job to come back to?"

"OK, I would stomp on Casey's foot right now."

"Be my guest."

"Hey!" protested Casey.

"Is it just me or is Casey's vocabulary somewhat limited tonight?" queried Dan.

"It's limited," agreed Natalie.

"It's limited," agreed Kim who had stopped swaying and had joined them, wrapping her arms around Dan's waist. She was very warm and very soft, and Dan resolved that the reptilian part of his brain was not going to go there.

"It's limited," agreed Dana whose social spinning had landed her at their table with absolutely no idea of what was happening.

"Hey!" Casey again.

"See," said Dan. "That's the only thing he's said for the last five minutes. Guy's supposed to be a writer for a living and all he's capable of producing is the same monosyllable with minuscule changes in inflection. I want another co-anchor."

"I'll do it," suggested Kim.

"You're definitely prettier than him," Dan concurred, "but it is important that my co-anchor doesn't have inappropriate fits of the giggles every time a sports term is the slightest bit rude."

"I don't do that."

"Tight end!" Natalie blurted out. Kim giggled.

"I see what you mean," she said.

"I'll do it," suggested Natalie.

"No offence, Nat but until you can get past that thing you do where you substitute the 'y' of Yankees for 'w' ..."

Natalie spluttered beer out of her nose. Wiping it off with her sleeve she replied, "Maybe in a year or two."

"Come see me then," said Dan.

"I'm still here," grumbled Casey.

"No one cares!" trilled Dana, clapping her hands with excitement at the opening chords of 'Boogie Shoes'.

"I love this song!" Her shoulders started to shake in time to the music.

"Come on, Isaac, this dance is mine," and Natalie pulled him onto the dance floor.

"Dan?" Kim raised an eyebrow. How could he refuse? As he danced Dan looked over the top of Kim's head to distract himself from her entirely too obvious attractions. He laughed as he saw Dana kick off her shoes, clamber onto the table and begin to dance, shaking her behind and clapping her hands. Casey, still on the bench stared up at her, his mouth hanging open, eyebrows raised. Dan had to give Dana credit for the fact that she didn't do anything half-heartedly. She bent down towards Casey, feet still shuffling, singing at the top of her lungs. She had the attention of most of the room now. Dan could see Isaac shaking his head, smiling and Natalie with her hand over her mouth. Was she expecting disaster?

Just then, unnoticed by her, Dana's foot caught her margarita glass and it went over, spilling the last half-inch of pale green liquid onto the table. She stamped her foot down into the spreading fluid and slipped, losing her balance. Later Dan couldn't figure out how something could happen at normal speed and in slow motion at the same time. As Dana's feet went from under her, Casey half-rose from his seat and grabbed her as she tumbled towards him. There was a flurry of limbs and then Casey was standing, Dana in his arms with hers wrapped around his neck, their faces just inches apart. Dan knew this pose. In the movies, this pose, this pause always came before a kiss. He held his breath. But the kiss didn't happen. Casey set Dana on her feet and said something to her, face concerned. She replied with a too bright smile, picked up her shoes and headed off towards the ladies' room. Dan turned and caught Natalie's eye, raising one eyebrow. She shrugged and gave a mischievous smile. So, thought Dan, was that the way the wind was blowing? Lisa had better watch out. He felt a strange twinge and recognised it as the same jealousy he had felt for a split second when Casey had announced Lisa's pregnancy. Learn to share your toys, Daniel, he berated himself.

***

Draft Day 1998. Everyone at Sports Night was buzzing with excitement. Somehow the old routine never got stale and actually covering it was a step up again. Dana fizzed around the office, shouting out orders then immediately rescinding them, Natalie trailing behind discreetly handing out rundown sheets and soothing ruffled feathers. Dan couldn't decide whether he should offer Dana a Valium or prick her with a pin. He leant on his office doorframe watching the show, taking bets with himself on when Will was finally going to tell her to shove the board up her ...

"Casey! Draft Day, baby!" He raised his arms for a double high-five. Casey pushed past without answering and Dan stared after him, arms frozen in mid-air, wrists limp, forlorn. He dropped them to his side.

"Casey!"

"Yeah, Dan, what?" Even sharply dressed by Maureen, Casey looked tired.

"Draft Day, baby!"

"Uhuh." Casey rifled through the desk drawer, slamming it in disgust when he obviously didn't find what he needed.

"Draft. Day? Most important day in the NFL calendar?"

"I think the Superbowl may rate quite highly in some people's minds."

Dan opened his mouth to answer but was forestalled by the intercom.

"Five minutes. First team to the studio."

"This isn't like you, Casey."

"This is me, Danny." Casey headed out of the door.

Dan trailed Casey into the studio.

"I'm just saying you're usually a lot more excited about Draft Day, Casey. What's going on?" He settled behind the anchor desk, allowing himself to be poked and prodded by hair and make-up and wired in by sound. Across from him Casey submitted to the same routine.

"Nothing's going on, Danny. Will you just drop it?" Dan flicked his eyes to camera 2; knowing Dana would be listening in. He raised his eyebrows briefly in communication. Dana leaned into her microphone.

"Casey, Dan, this is a big deal for us. We've only got the first round so we need to make the most of it. Stay on the ball, please. Good show, everybody."

"Good show," chorused Casey and Dan, checking over their scripts.

"Stand by, audio. Stand by, VTR."

Dan glanced over at Casey. That frown was going to become permanent if he wasn't careful.

"Three minutes in. "

"April 18th, Casey. It's a big day in history. Did you know that?"

"Strangely enough April 18th is the one day I've missed out in cataloguing all human events since time immemorial."

"You've been cataloguing human events since time immemorial? That's quite a feat."

"Not really. Time immemorial only starts before 1189 so that leaves me only 809 years to remember."

"Oh well, that's OK then. I'd hate to think you had, for example, 810 years to remember." Dan was happy to see the ghost of a smile on his friend's face.

"But in all 809 years of extensive cataloguing you missed out April 18th. You have done yourself a disservice, my friend. It is a big day indeed. For example it was on this day in 1923 that the Yankee Stadium opened."

"Thirty seconds to VTR."

"Show time. More of this later."

"Really?" Casey grimaced. "Can't wait."

"Sixty, and roll VTR." Casey assumed his game face.

"In three, two ..." and the floor manager signalled Dan in.

"And hello to you football fans from New York City, the place to be on Draft Day 1998. I'm Dan Rydell alongside Casey McCall and we'll be bringing you all the first round news in this special edition of Sports Night."

"We'll take you behind the scenes for those last minute trades, see who's taking sides in the Leaf/Manning debate, ask the questions is this the most predictable top of the draft ever and is Jerome Avery truly the second coming of Warrick Dunn? All that and more coming up after this. You're watching Draft Day on CSC, so stick around."

"We're out." The smile slipped straight off Casey's face.

"Two minutes back"

"Also on this day, the longest ever professional baseball game. Rochester Red Wings against Pawtucket Red Sox."

"Fascinating."

"Aren't you going to ask me how long it went on?"

"No."

"Eight hours and 23 minutes. They played 33 innings in total. 33 innings!"

"That's an interesting fact, Danny," deadpanned Casey.

"It is. Now see why you can't dismiss April 18th as just another day."

"One minute back."

"Thirty seconds back."

"Ten seconds."

"Ready on three."

"In three, two ..." Dan sat up straighter and switched his smile onto full beam.

"OK folks, so you know the rules. There are seven rounds and each team is assigned one pick per round based on the reverse order of finish in the 1997 season. That means the Indianapolis Colts get to go first. Nineteen compensatory picks have been awarded to the fourteen teams that suffered a net loss of certain quality unrestricted free agents last year. Before we get to the meat in the sandwich, let's take a look at what's been needed to bake the bread. Casey."

"Thanks, Dan. So what's happening out there on the boards? Who are the movers and shakers in the world that is the NFL draft? How about Fred Taylor, the Florida running back? He ran an outstanding 40 time in the 4.40 range in his individual workout in Gainesville and is now established as the second running back in this draft behind Curtis Enis. Dan?"

"Casey. And then there's Tebucky Jones, the safety from Syracuse - try saying that seven times fast! This athlete is a natural for the secondary though he only has limited experience. He has a huge upside because of size and speed and could climb into the top of the second round, possibly even ahead of team-mate Donovan Darius. Casey?"

"You just wanted to say Tebucky, didn't you?" And Casey was off, rounding up the rest of the up and comers. Dan relaxed for a second, leaning back in his chair, legs sprawling. Casey was in full flow, and if you didn't know him you might not notice that his smile didn't quite make it all the way up to his eyes.

"... and a sleeper who I believe will come good is Pat Tillman of Arizona State who has proven himself as one of the most intelligent and productive players on the college level. Although too small to succeed as an outside linebacker in the NFL, he could easily move to safety or a nickel line backer role. This man should be a special teams warrior. Does the name Bill Bates ring a bell? Guys, if you're listening, throw out the charts on Tillman - he is a football player. Dan?"

"With so much talent out there we're going to go for a little lie down. When we come back there'll be more pre-Draft debate and we'll tell you how this thing is going to go - blow by utterly predictable blow. You're watching Draft Day on CSC. Don't go far, now."

"We're out."

"Two and a half minutes back."

"Great job, guys," enthused Dana into the mic.

"Tebucky Jones, Dan?" asked Natalie.

"Yeah. What of him?"

"Second round?"

"Yeah."

"And we're only covering the first?"

"Your point is?"

"You just really like saying his name, don't you?"

"Yeah." Dan turned to Casey.

"On this day in 1958 the federal court ruled that Ezra Pound should be released from the insane asylum where he was sent in 1946, an act which led to him avoiding charges of treason."

"One minute back. "

"I hate the internet," Casey slumped in his chair.

"I, for one, think the anti-Semitic fascist should have died in misery," continued Dan with an air of insouciance. "But that's solely my opinion."

"I really hate the internet," intoned Casey.

"Thirty seconds. "

"Ten seconds back. "

"Ready four. "

"In three, two ... "

"Welcome back ..." And Dan and Casey passed the show back and forth between them like a well-rehearsed relay team until finally Dan said,

"And with that we hand you to Katie Carmichael over at Madison Square Garden."

"And we're out."

"Fifteen minutes, guys," said Dana into the anchors' earpieces. "Don't go far, they may decide to ramp up the tension only to 80% today and come back in ten." She turned to Will. "Give me a preview of FX-8."

Casey yanked out his earpiece and pushed his chair back.

"Lucrezia Borgia and Clarence Darrow were both born on April 18th. Two very different people you would say, forever joined by a coincidence of time." Casey shot Dan a glare.

"For Chrissake, Danny. Will you shut the hell up about April 18th? I'm tired, I'm pissed and I just want to do my job. OK?" He disappeared towards their office with loping strides. Dana came through from the control room.

"Wanna tell me what that was all about?"

"Yes I do."

"Well?"

"There's a slight difficulty with that."

"What?"

"I don't have a clue what that was about."

"Danny!"

"Honestly, Dana. I don't. He's been in this foul mood all day. You know as well as I do that he's been a little off-centre for a while. Not the usual Casey. I mean, he walks like Casey and he talks like Casey but that doesn't mean ... you know."

"This is a big show, Danny."

"I know, Dana."

"Luther Sachs is watching. I want the second round next year, Danny. We've got to show him we can do it well. You understand?"

"Yeah."

"Go fix him, would you?"

"I'll do my best."

"That's all I'm asking." Feeling inexplicably nervous Dan followed his partner. As he approached their office he saw Isaac leaving it. Dan knew Isaac pretty well by now; they had been working together almost two years, and he thought he could read every expression the man had. But this one had him stumped. It wasn't grave, and no one could do grave quite like Isaac; it wasn't pleased or proud or fierce or gentle or relaxed or any of the other moods that Dan could have pinned down in an instant.

"He's all yours, Daniel," said Isaac, halting Dan with a touch on the elbow.

"What's going on, Isaac?"

"He's all yours. Be nice to him, Danny."

"I always am," replied Danny, becoming more agitated.

"Yes, you are. You're a good boy, Danny." And Isaac walked away. Dan could see Casey through the glass wall. He was sitting on the couch, hands on his knees, staring into space. An image flashed into Dan's head. His father in the hospital waiting room, all those years ago, had worn the same expression Casey wore now. What the hell was wrong? He hit the door, straight-armed, ignoring the startled expression on Casey's face.

"Are you sick?"

"What?"

"Seriously, Casey, are you sick?"

"No, Danny. What ...?" Casey was confused now.

"Is Charlie sick? Lisa? Your mom? Your dad?"

"No one's sick, Danny."

"You promise."

"I promise. What's the matter with you?"

"Nothing. It's nothing." Dan passed his hand across his eyes and sat down on the armchair with a sigh.

"We should be getting back," said Casey. Dan stretched out a hand towards him.

"We've got time. Stay there. OK, so nobody's sick. That's good. But there's something going on with you, Casey and I want you to respect our friendship enough not to serve me up a heap of bullshit. Whatever it is, you can talk to me."

Casey's lips twisted in a wry smile and he threw himself back against the couch with a bitter, "Ha! No, Danny. That's where you're wrong. I can't tell you about it."

"Casey, man, you can tell me anything. Anything." Had Casey put the emphasis on 'you'? Casey's face contorted again and Dan felt it like a physical pain. Somehow he had let Casey down. He racked his brain to think of anything he could have done, but came up empty. Casey didn't look like he was going to talk any time soon so Dan tried another tack.

"Ninety two years ago today San Francisco was almost totally destroyed by earthquake and by fire which raged for four days and four nights. Thousands of people died, many many hundreds of thousands more lost their homes. It could have been the end but it wasn't. Plans for reconstruction were being made even as houses burned to the ground. San Francisco wasn't going to let itself die. It was reborn out of the ashes, beautiful and full of promise. Proof that man can and must keep moving forward. To stand still is to give up. San Francisco is a symbol that change and reconstruction are hard, painful tasks but ultimately uplifting." God, Casey looked like he was about to cry. What the hell was going on? Dan reached for his friend's hand and gripped it; Casey returned the pressure with interest, his knuckles white

"I'm here, Casey. Always. You don't have to talk. You don't have to do anything. I'm here." Casey's pain-lined face eased fractionally. The intercom crackled.

"Casey. Dan. To the studio please." Dan released Casey's hand.

"Come on. First pick Leaf or Manning?" The two men began the walk back to the studio.

"Manning."

"Sure?"

"Yeah."

"Not like his pops then?"

"No."

"You know Albert Einstein died on this day?"

"Danny!"

"1956. At Princeton."

"1955."

"Really?" Their voices faded as the studio door closed behind them.

***

A week after Draft Day, the phone rang in Dan's office. Without looking up from the script he was working on, Dan fumbled for the receiver, hidden under piles of discarded paper.

"Daniel Rydell." Shit, he thought as a sheaf of notes slid to the floor.

"Dan, it's Lisa."

"Lisa, Casey's not here right now. It's his day off." He tucked the phone under his chin and crawled under the desk to recover the fallen papers, and if there was something strange about telling Lisa her husband's schedule it did not register.

"I know it's his day off," she snapped. "I just thought ..." She was silent. Dan could almost hear the cogs whirring.

"Lisa?"

"It's Casey's day to see Charlie. He hasn't shown up."

"What do you mean, hasn't shown up? He lives with you." He sat up abruptly, narrowly missing smashing his head into the underside of the desk.

"Not any more." It was Dan's turn to be silent. Casey had moved out. What the hell? No wonder he had been in such a foul temper lately.

"Dan? Daniel? He didn't tell you?" Lisa sounded genuinely surprised.

"No. Nothing. I knew something ... When did this happen?"

"A week ago."

"A week ago?!" Dan scrambled to his feet.

"Look. Can we skip the specifics? Casey hasn't shown up to see his son, he's not answering his cell, and I don't know where he's staying."

"You don't know where ..." Dan mentally kicked himself. Casey's renewed interest in the gym. The sports bags in the office. Ten to one there wasn't a racquet or a jockstrap in sight.

"Dan? Are you there? Look, I need to know why Casey isn't here."

"Why?" asked Dan, a red hot anger beginning to pool in his chest. "Has he prevented you attending an important luncheon date with your latest charity cronies?"

"Daniel." Dan felt the temperature drop several degrees. He imagined icicles forming on the unseen wires between them. "I honestly don't give a damn what you think of me. You're not something I'll be asking to keep in the divorce. You have me down as a cold-hearted bitch - well that's your opinion and you're entitled to it, no matter how unreasonable and biased it may be. But just because Casey and I no longer live under the same roof it does not mean I have ceased caring about him. Casey loves Charlie more than life. He wouldn't let him down without reason. It would not happen. Now Charlie has been sitting here waiting for three hours. I need to tell him something, you understand? I would very much prefer it to be something good."

Dan's heart dropped as Lisa's words sunk in. Casey would never leave Charlie in the lurch. It was a small step from that thought to the conclusion that Casey must be in trouble.

"I'll sort it out, Lisa," he said, voice grim.

"The show ..." she began.

"I said, I'll sort it out."

"Right." A pause. "Thanks, Dan."

"I'm not doing it for you," he replied and put the phone down. Dan checked his watch. Still time to get a replacement anchor. Sachs would go nuclear but Sachs could eat his ... Isaac. He'd better tell Isaac.

He burst into Isaac's office without knocking.

"Isaac, you've got to let me take off right now. It's ..." Out of the corner of his eye a blurred movement. He turned to see Dana standing by the window.

"Hey, Dana."

"Hello, Danny," she gave a little wave. That's fine, thought Dan: two birds, one stone.

"Isaac, I ..."

"Come in, Danny. Siddown. Take the weight off," interrupted Isaac, the sarcasm in his tone belied by the warmth in his eyes. Dan sat as ordered, but his legs continued to twitch, eager to be up and gone.

"What is it, Daniel?" Isaac caught the fear in Dan's eyes.

"OK, I've only got time for a precis. Casey and Lisa are through. Casey moved out last week. He was supposed to pick up Charlie three hours ago. He can't be reached. I have to go find him."

"Casey moved out!" expostulated Dana.

"A week ago, yes."

"And you didn't tell me before now because?" She leant forward.

"Because I had no idea. And it's not my place to blab Casey's business. OK?"

"OK," she backed off. Dan turned back to Isaac.

"Isaac. Come on. You know I've gotta find him."

"We need two anchors for the show, Dan." Dana again. Dan ignored her, staring hard at his boss.

"Isaac?" Isaac stood, leaning on his large desk with both hands. Dan maintained eye-contact. Isaac's facial muscles twitched; he appeared to be going through the potential consequences of his options. It seemed forever to Dan before he replied.

"Go, Danny."

"Isaac, the ..." Dana interjected.

"We'll fix the show, Dana. Dan needs to go find Casey. If he doesn't, who knows, it could be worse for us all in the long run." Dan was on his feet and at the door. He opened it, twisting his head back to face Isaac.

"Special bond," he said, and left.

"Special bond," said Isaac to fresh air.

Out on the street Dan realised he didn't have a clue where to start. He leant against the building trying to decide where to go. He couldn't fail Casey, not this time. He realised now that his antipathy to Lisa had stopped Casey confiding in him at a time when he was needed most. He kicked his heel against the concrete. Come on, think! Casey was trying to escape. He usually used work for that, so what was he using today? Alcohol, art, open spaces? It could be anything. Dan decided to check Casey's favourite places first, and if he still couldn't find him, panic was always an option.

There was no sign of Casey at the Bethesda Angel in Central Park, nor at the Planetarium in the American Museum of Natural History, nor in the Modern Languages Section New York Public Library, nor Argosy bookshop, scouting for old maps, nor on the walk at Battery Park staring out at the water. By the time Dan stopped for breath he felt like Dr Seuss. I cannot find him in a park; I cannot find him in the dark. I cannot find him with Voltaire, I cannot find him anywhere! Dan leaned against the railings, the small figure of the Statue of Liberty in the distance.

"Do you know where he is?" he asked her. No reply. "Could you call me on my cell if you do?" Ignored again he trudged back along the path. OK, so favourite places were out. Time to try the alcohol option. He checked out the usual places: Anthony's, El Perro Fumando, Cellar Door - Dan and Casey's bad day bar. Nothing. What next? Check every bar in Manhattan? Start calling hospitals? Dan called Casey's cell for what seemed the hundredth time that day. Casey's voice came through and Dan's stomach lurched as it did each time he realised it was still on voicemail.

"Casey McCall. Leave a message."

He pushed the off button. He couldn't count the number of messages he had left already, there was no point in one more. He wanted to scream in frustration. Where the fuck was Casey? Dan was exhausted. He had been pounding the sidewalks for hours, sustained only by fear and adrenaline. He needed food. He needed a drink. A short pit stop to regroup, then he would be on his way again. Dan retraced his footsteps to the bad day bar - he couldn't think of anywhere more appropriate to be. He climbed down the steps and pushed open the door, his eyes taking a while to adjust to the gloom from the bright sunshine outside. Dan and Casey loved this bar because no one knew or cared about them here. The bar staff changed more often than Dan changed his socks, and the clientele were a mixture of academics, bohemians and ancient New Yorkers. There was no TV, no jukebox and no pressure. Dan didn't realise he had been hunching his shoulders until they relaxed as he stepped up to the bar.

"Find your friend?" asked the barman, drying a glass as Dan slipped onto a stool.

"No. Not yet. But I've gotta eat. And drink. Beer."

"I wonder if I might interest you in our special?" Putting the glass down, the barman folded his arms and slid his eyes to the right. Dan followed his gaze. In the murk he made out a man slumped at a table past the far end of the bar, head pillowed on crossed arms, long body bent in the shape of a Z which was, Dan thought, what would be emanating from the man's mouth any time soon. Casey always snored when he was drunk. Dan's face opened in a smile of relief. He tore his gaze from the prodigal anchor.

"But you said ...?"

"Yeah. I know. He was in the men's room when you came before. I guess I hadn't noticed him. I'd only just come on. I'm glad you came back - looks like he could use some help."

"Yeah, that's pretty much a given. Forget the beer. Thanks."

Dan made his way to Casey. He must have been drinking for hours, Dan thought. Casey was not a good drunk: this was going to be fun. He plopped himself down on the seat next to Casey's.

"Ca-sey," he sing-songed. "Ca-sey, rise and shine!"

Casey mumbled incoherently into his arms.

"Casey, come on," cajoled Dan. "You're going to start drooling any second now and where will that leave you?"

Casey shifted slightly, flapping at the corner of his mouth with wayward fingers.

"No drool," he slurred.

"No drool. Good. C'mon, Casey. Time to go home." Dan regretted the words as soon as they were out. But at least they got Casey to sit up.

"Home? Got no fucking home. Got no fucking wife either." He pulled a face. "Although she could be fucking, I suppose. Just not me." He crashed back down onto his arms. Dan shook his shoulder.

"My home, Casey. Time to go to my home. You need to sleep this off."

"I was sleeping it off," whined Casey.

"For god's sake, don't pout. You're not five, it's not sexy and you know you can't sleep here." Casey clearly didn't intend to make his way out under his own steam. Dan sighed. He got behind Casey, placing his arms under his friend's shoulders and heaved hard, pulling him to his feet. In an awkward manoeuvre, he got Casey's arm around his shoulder and half-walked, half-dragged him out of the bar.

"Ow, ow, ow!" moaned Casey when faced with the early evening sunshine.

"That's what you get for drinking the day away," said Dan unsympathetically, trying to support Casey and hail a cab at the same time.

"Ow, ow, ow!" groaned Casey as Dan tumbled him unceremoniously into the back of the taxi, arms and legs heading in unexpected directions.

"And that's what you get for bailing on Charlie." The relief at finding Casey was giving way to anger.

"Charlie?"

"Yes." Dan gave the address to the cab driver, assuaging his fears of potential disaster on his newly cleaned seats.

"Charlie?" repeated Casey.

"He was waiting for you, Casey."

"Charlie?" Dan slapped Casey gently around the back of his head. Casey looked at him, aggrieved.

"Needle come unstuck? Yes, Charlie. Your son, Charlie. The one you were supposed to spend the day with, Charlie. Son of irate and, incidentally, worried mother, Charlie. Yes." Dan's words were like flames and Casey melted like wax, his body sliding down, shrinking until his face was pressed against Dan's chest. He began to cry. Unnerved and helpless Dan sat motionless, his anger vaporising. He could feel Casey's tears beginning to soak through his thin shirt and his hand went to Casey's hair as if by its own accord and he heard himself murmuring soft words of comfort.

By the time Dan had managed to get Casey into his apartment, made him some coffee, forced him to drink said coffee along with copious amounts of water, called Lisa, called Isaac and rubbed Casey's back while he vomited up litres of liquid it was dusk outside. Dan steered a limp Casey into his bedroom, switched on his bedside lamp and pulled back the comforter. He sat Casey down on the bed and began to remove his shoes.

"What are you doing, Danny?" asked Casey, eyes red and heavy.

"You are exhausted, my friend. Also, still very drunk. You need to sleep. Anything you need to talk about can wait."

"But this is your bed."

"I'm glad to see that alcohol hasn't completely stripped you of your powers of observation. It is indeed, my bed."

"But where will you sleep?"

"Casey, it's not even eight. It hasn't been a tendency of mine to go to bed before three in the morning for the last few years. You know, what with doing a late TV show. I'll just crash out on the couch when I'm ready. It's pretty comfortable, won't be the first time."

"I don't sleep at eight either."

"You do today." Dan finished removing Casey's shoes and socks and began to unbutton his shirt. When Casey protested Dan let him try it on his own. After watching Casey fumble uselessly for a while he resumed his task, slipping the material easily from Casey's limp body.

"Look," he said, heading for the closet, "I'm even hanging it up." Casey managed a tight little smile. Returning to his friend Dan gently pushed him sideways so he fell on the mattress then helped him swing his legs onto the bed. He leant over Casey and reached for his belt. Casey made a strangled noise and Dan glanced at him. The expression on Casey's face made Dan laugh and laugh.

"McCall, McCall, McCall, you're not all that! Whadda you think I'm gonna do? Jump you? There are a million reasons why that's not going to happen, starting with have you seen you right now? And finishing with have you seen you right now? Not to mention the fact that we're both partial to women and, did I mention, have you seen you right now?" He chuckled as he continued to unbuckle Casey's belt. Feeling his friend begin to shake, he looked up alarmed. Was he crying again? Casey was crying, tears were pouring down his cheeks, but they were accompanied by the biggest and most genuine smile that Dan had seen from him for weeks, maybe months. Somehow Dan managed to finish undressing Casey and got him stowed safely away under the covers. He switched off the light.

"Get some sleep," he said, hand on Casey's shoulder.

"Thanks, Danny."

"'s OK. What friends are for and all that."

"For finding me, I mean. Thanks for finding me."

"You'd do the same for me. G'night, Casey."

Before he could get out of the room Casey spoke again.

"Danny?" His voice seemed very small.

"Uhuh?"

"Don't go."

"What do you need, Casey?"

"I can't ...I don't know how to fall asleep on my own. Even when it was bad she was still there. I've forgotten how to fall asleep on my own. Don't go, Danny."

Dan felt his eyes prickle and swallowed hard. Already barefoot he pulled off his jeans and climbed into bed, settling on his side, facing Casey who lay poker straight on his back. It seemed the natural thing to do to place his hand on Casey's chest; perhaps he hoped his warmth could help soothe Casey's troubled heart. It was a little more strange when he began to sing a lullaby long thought forgotten, sung to him by his Oma, her voice as soft and dark as his was now.

"Shteyt in feld a beymehleh
Hot es grine tzvigelech
Zitst daroif a faygeleh
Macht es tzu di eygelech
Oif di grine tzvigelech
Vakst a golden epeleh
Mach tzu mine kind di eygelech
A brocha oif dine kepeleh
Oif di grine tzvigelech
Shlofn shoin di feygelech
Di mame zingt zay "Ah, ah, ah"
S'iz a shtileh nacht"
(In the field stands a little tree)
(It has little green branches)
(On it sits a little birdie)
(Close your little eyes now)
(On the little green branches)
(Grows a tiny golden apple)
(Close your little eyes my child)
(A blessing on your dear little head)
(On the little green branches)
(The little birdies are already sleeping)
(The mother sings "Ah, ah, ah")
(And the night is still)

As he sang Dan could feel Casey's heart steadying and slowing. As the last note faded, Casey's breathing could be heard, deep and heavy. Dan stared past his friend, out of the window into the starless night. Somewhere in the dark was an ache that he couldn't name.


New York, New York - so good they named it twice

If Dan had harboured hopes that the end of Casey's marriage would signal a new dawn for his friend, they were soon dashed. Casey did not handle the divorce well. In fact, Casey was a bitch. He was sullen, moody, prone to snapping and his head was not in the game. One by one people began to keep their distance. At least that was the only reason Dan could come up with for the hair stylists allowing Casey to go on air with a mop of hair that would not be out of place on a teenager in a very preppy private school. In the 1980s. Casey wasn't any nicer to Dan than he was to anyone else but Dan had developed asbestos armour against Casey's flames, determined not to allow himself to be pushed away. And Casey tried. He tried so hard that he told Dan he was leaving the show. That was the final straw for Dan; he had remained implacable in the face of the network which was on his back about replacing Casey and now here Casey was, running away. He snapped.

"I have been here every day, Casey. Every day. And I have kept my mouth shut because that's what you asked me to do." And you can't possibly know how hard it's been, watching you twist and turn sour. "But if you'd have asked me I'd have told you that Lisa's an angry, unhappy and punishing woman and in ten years there has never been a single moment that suggested to me she has any affection for you at all. And I have no patience for people like that." And at the moment no patience with you for letting her do this to you. Dan continued his diatribe, relieved at the release of tension, no matter what Casey might think of the words spilling out of his mouth. He upbraided Casey for ignoring his friends, for ignoring the show and it felt righteous. Kim's voice was a buzzing fly in his ear; he was ready to go on all night. But Ntozake Nelson, a 41 year old South African runner was on course to beat the 15000 metres world record and Dan's righteous anger gave way to incredulous delight and the amazing thing was so did Casey's. And in a single look exchanged between the two men Dan knew that Casey was back.

After the show Dan perched on the arm of the office couch.

"You apologised to Dana."

"Yes."

"That was the right thing to do."

"Yes."

"You apologised to Dana."

"You catch on quick, Danny," said Casey, wiping off his makeup. Dan was quiet as he waited for Casey to finish.

"You apologised to Dana."

"I know, Danny, what...? Oh!" Casey grabbed Dan's wrist. "Come with me."

Casey leant back against cold metal railings, hair buffeted by the wind. He huddled into his coat, hands wrapped around a steaming cup of coffee. Dan, leaning next to him, watched curly tendrils of frozen breath mingle with the steam before dissipating in the night air.

"Well, I'm here," said Casey. "This is your New York Renaissance, so tell me - now what?"

"Now you turn around and see why we came out here." Casey turned. Ahead of them stretched an expanse or water, dark, a void until closer to shore lights began to shine in the depths, the rivers' vast arteries taking life from the pulsing, pounding heart: New York City. Casey lifted his eyes from the shadow city in the water and Dan saw them widen. How could anyone fail to be entranced by the skyline on the Manhattan shore? The twin towers, tall, imposing, mother and father of skyscrapers, giving birth to the glittering buildings below. From a distance, the city was a symphony of light, but Dan knew that the lights were only brilliant because of the darknesses in between. Perhaps that was why he loved New York so much; its dual nature, safe yet dangerous, fun yet serious, wicked yet wonderful by turns. Dan grabbed the railing in both hands and bent forward.

"I love you," he breathed to the city.

"What did you say?!" demanded Casey, coffee sloshing from his cup as he jerked round. He hissed and wiped one hand on his coat. Dan blushed, he hadn't realised he had spoken aloud.

"I ... kinda told New York I love her. My New York Renaissance, you know," he explained, not meeting Casey's eye.

"You told New York you ... Oh! You told New York you love her! Danny, you're a strange guy." Casey slumped against the railings and exhaled heavily. A thought occurred to Dan.

"You didn't think I ...?"

"No!" interrupted Casey.

"You did!" crowed Dan. "You thought I told you I loved you! Wow. That must have been scary, huh?!" Casey grinned sheepishly. Dan slipped his hand into Casey's damp one, placed it over his heart and batted his eyelashes.

"But there's something I wanted to tell you."

Casey snatched his hand away. "Cut it out, Danny." He smiled and ruffled Dan's hair.

"See," said Dan. "You love me."

"I do?"

"Course you do."

"Oh."

"Casey, the middle of the night has come and gone, it's November, it's freezing and you're on the Staten Island Ferry with me. Your default options are (a) in a warm bar, (b) at home, warm. This is (c) above and beyond the call of duty. You love me.

"Well, if you put it that way ..." Casey studied his feet. "I'm sorry, Danny." He spoke quietly and the wind took his words away before Dan could be sure of what he had heard.

"You're sorry?"

"Yeah. For ..." Casey waved his free hand in a vague pattern. "For being such a ..."

"Bitch?" supplied Dan and Casey flashed him a quick smile.

"Yeah. Bitch. My divorce was my problem and I've made you all suffer. You more than most. I shouldn't have done that, Danny. I'm sorry."

"So that's why we're here?"

"Freezing our asses off on a commuter ferry? Damn right that's why we're here."

"I accept your apology."

Casey smiled again.

"With one condition."

And the smile froze.

"What?"

"I never have to pretend to be nice about Lisa again."

"You did that?" Casey's lip curled.

"OK. Not very successfully, but I tried. Sometimes. Kinda."

"You can say whatever you want, just not in front of Charlie."

"As if I would."

"I know."

"Evil, evil bitch."

"Who? Charlie?"

"Ha ha."

"Wave to the lady, Danny." Dan saluted the Statue of Liberty as they sailed past.

"That reminds me," he said.

"Of what?"

"We need to find you a woman."

"Not that again."

"So maybe not tomorrow. But soon. Doesn't have to be serious. If there is anyone, anyone, more in need of a good fuck than you, Casey McCall ..."

"You are so charming, Daniel. No wonder you're such a hit with women."

"I am, aren't I?"

"Surprisingly, yes."

"Watch the scenery, Casey."

"OK."

"Casey?"

"Yeah."

"It's gonna be OK, man."

"Yeah."

***

While trying to persuade Casey to get back in the game the last thing, Dan expected was to find someone with whom he thought he could fall in love. Perhaps it had something to do with how immune she appeared to his charm. It reminded him a little of Lulu. But Rebecca had something extra that Lulu didn't - a barely concealed layer of raw pain that spoke directly to Dan's own. It made him want to sweep her up in his arms and take her away from all this. Only not in dress whites.

Rebecca muddled him up. She made him say 'a neighbourhood park all covered with cheese,' live on air. She made him forsake all dignity by pleading with Jeremy to intercede on his behalf. She called him Danny. He liked it. And she seemed to like him too. Dan felt a little guilty enjoying the pursuit of Rebecca whilst Casey languished at Dana's start gate (Dan still wasn't sure what he thought about that one). He felt less guilty and more lucky when Rebecca took him to the St Regis and allowed him to gently peel her clothing away, letting him in, letting him worship her. Persistence. It paid off. Like Orlando Rojas, Dan wasn't done yet.

But then life tossed Dan a curveball and Steve Sisco, errant husband, philanderer, and all round Mr. Not-Nice-Guy re-entered the picture. Separated was not divorced, no matter how Rebecca tried to spin it. God, he had Casey to refer back to: there was a considerable difference. Suddenly the world seemed less rosy and the shadows crept back in. When Casey broke the news of Isaac's stroke Dan was horrified, but not surprised. His world was already caving in. Why wouldn't the spirits try to dance on his grave?

It was only Casey's presence that got Dan through the rest of the show. On autopilot he read from the teleprompter and bantered with the much, and unfairly, maligned Bobbi Bernstein (fuck fate, thought Dan. I'm sick of being screwed with). On autopilot, he allowed Casey to direct him out of the studio and into a waiting car. On autopilot he stood, couldn't sit, could never sit in a hospital again, waiting for something, anything from the doctors. Casey stood next to him, his hand heavy, solid, warm on Dan's shoulder the only thing anchoring him to reality. Dan's physical presence was there, in that god-awful waiting room with its plastic flowers and chairs that are comfortable for precisely 32 minutes and vending machines that always need the correct change, but his thoughts pushed to separate themselves, to renounce this actuality, this event, to take flight into a safe place. People were speaking in low, hushed tones and every word was like nails on a chalkboard. Dan held his body rigid, his face a white mask, unreadable, unreachable. Casey squeezed gently and Dan used the sensation to remind himself that he was still alive, still breathing and that this was not Sam. Not Sam. Not the same. Not the same. Not Sam. Dan caught the two sentences and turned them over and over. They were just words, nothing but a random collection of letters that had somehow become imbued with meaning. God, I need a joint, he thought. I need something to get me through this. Casey squeezed again and Dan closed his eyes, knowing he wasn't enough.

The door opened and a whippet-thin, grey-haired doctor walked in. Her face was set in an expression that could be interpreted as grave or simply professional depending on how urgently good news was needed. Those people who had been sitting leapt to their feet but the doctor motioned them down again. Dan began to tremble. Casey's grip loosened and he slid his arm across Dan's shoulders.

"You're Mr. Jaffe's people?" she confirmed. Mute nods. Not one of them was brave enough to put a voice to the question.

"I'm Doctor Govender and I've been working on Mr. Jaffe since he was brought in. As you know he suffered a massive stroke. The clot was in the right hemisphere of his brain which means he has suffered loss of movement and muscle tone along his left side. The paralysis is our overriding concern at the moment and, although it doesn't appear likely, it is too soon to know if he will suffer other consequences of the stroke."

"Like what?" inquired Kim.

"Well his vision appears clear, but Mr. Jaffe may find he suffers from spatial difficulties, memory problems or the inability to find objects. It could be that there will be some behavioural changes - stroke patients can become depressed or overly impulsive for example. There is also a condition called 'neglect' where patients deny their impairment and have reduced insight into the problems caused by the stroke."

"What's his prognosis?" asked Jeremy.

"That will depend largely on Mr. Jaffe himself. On balance, I would say his chances for an excellent recovery are high, but he'll have to work at it. It's not an easy ride."

"So will he be able to come back to work?" Natalie's eyes looked bigger than usual in her white, pinched face.

"Probably. In time. But each case is unique, I wouldn't want to make you any promises I can't keep."

"Thank you, Doctor," Dana pumped the older woman's hand with fervour. "Thank you more than we can say. You don't know how much he is loved." Doctor Govender cast her eye around the room, full to bursting with people who were clearly unrelated to her patient. She smiled.

"Oh, I think I do. We'll do our best to get him back to you as soon as we can. Now I suggest you all go get some sleep it's ..." she checked her watch, "... incredibly late and I should be off home myself. I'm sure Mrs. Jaffe will call you in the morning. Goodnight." And the Sports Night team was left alone once more. There was a momentary silence, then pandemonium as a wave of relief crashed over them. In the hugging, crying and poring over detail that followed, not even Casey noticed Dan slip away.

It was easy to find Isaac's room, Dan's pale face and cultivated air of helplessness was an arrow straight to any nurse's heart. Through the window Dan saw Esther sitting vigil by Isaac's bed, her upright posture mirrored by the monitors on the other side, holding his good hand in both of hers. Her lips were moving and Dan thought that maybe she was praying: Esther looking after Isaac's soul while the machines looked after his body. Dan's eyes travelled up the bed to Isaac's face. Isaac looked ... well, he looked melted, like half his face had gotten to close to a fire and slipped. Dan had to stop himself recoiling in horror at the change in those fine features. For the first time in their relationship Dan felt protective of Isaac, as if their normal relationship was reversed. Sure, he had been ready to walk out when the network threatened Isaac but wasn't that what any son would do for their father? This was different; this was Isaac vulnerable, not proud and raging, this was Isaac touched by his own mortality, not vibrant and powerful. And Dan wanted to reassure him, to fix him, to take away the pain and the fear.

He put his hand on the glass, laying it over Isaac's fallen cheek and stroked it with his thumb. He shouldn't be here. Isaac didn't want him to be here. He had to go. Suddenly he began to shake and his palm on the glass was moist. He clapped his hand over his mouth and began to run; mutely imploring a passing nurse with his eyes he was directed to the bathroom only just in time. Kneeling in front of the toilet, panting with exertion, hands clasped loosely on the seat, Dan couldn't help but observe the religiousness of his pose. Was this his contract with god? To suffer in order to relieve the suffering of Isaac? Dan wasn't so much of a fool that he believed in deific quid pro quo but for Isaac, this, a thousand times over.

Dan never thought that god was actually listening. Isaac was, after all, swiftly on the mend and Dan hadn't had to spend the intervening days at close quarters to any kind of receptacle. So when Rebecca called to say she was flying back to New York how could he be anything but jubilant? She was coming back. Surely that meant Steve Sisco was staying behind? But it turned out that god was listening, and had planned Dan's suffering with meticulous intent. Rebecca was going back to her husband. Dan could have withstood the news with something approaching equanimity had the man been a decent human being who clearly loved his wife, but being left for Steve Sisco? That was. That was. That was what? Insulting? Ridiculous? Painful? He stumbled through the show only half-conscious of words coming from his lips. The second he heard "we're out" for the final time he was out of his seat, heading straight for his office and the wine that had been intended for Rebecca.

Some time and too much alcohol later Dan sprawled on the office couch, his head tipped back so that Casey, who sat in the armchair, legs outstretched, appeared upside down. Dan reflected that Casey's feet looked good where Casey's head should be and that he was very, very drunk.

"How're you feeling, Danny?" Casey faded in and out of focus.

"She broke my heart," trotted out Dan patly, pulling his mouth down at the corners, playing the part of jilted lover to the full. His brow furrowed. Did she? Did she really? He prodded the part of his heart that had been ring-fenced for Rebecca. Yes, it was tender and bruised, but in that good way, when you can't resist poking a hurt to make sure it is still there. It was not raw, it did not bleed. Dan pondered this fact. What did it mean? Hadn't he loved Rebecca? He realised Casey was speaking.

"I'm sorry," Casey's solemn upside-down face made Dan want to giggle. He controlled himself.

"Thanks, man. And thanks for not saying 'I told you so'."

"I wouldn't do that." This time Dan allowed himself a chortle.

"Yes, you would! You do. You do it all the time."

"Well, OK," Casey conceded. "I do. But over the fact that Eugene Robinson would be let out on bail to play the Superbowl and that Kim would never sleep with you in a million years because she has standards and that it is not scientifically possible to make an exact clone of yourself because you can't control for nurture. But not this, Danny."

"Appreciate it."

"I'm sure you do, fella."

***

Dan surprised himself with the speed of his recovery from his supposedly broken heart. He was almost as surprised with the determination he felt about fixing up Casey's love life considering the total implosion of his own.

"Someone's gotta get lucky," he told Natalie. "And I would lay good odds on it not being me."

He was closeted in Editing with Natalie, where a meeting of the 'Could They Just Get On With It Already' society had convened. The society was highly exclusive, two members only. Jeremy had declined his invitation to join on the grounds that he "got enough of this at home".

"Your time will come, Danny," Natalie stroked his sleeve.

"I'm thinking of becoming a monk."

"Don't think so."

"Why? I'm too good-looking to be wasted in a monastery?"

"Too Jewish."

"Picky, picky, picky."

"Hey, I'm a Catholic. We're not exactly famous for our inclusivity."

"So, no kissing the Papal ring for me?"

"That's the cardinals, idiot."

"I should stick to what I know?"

"You should stick to what you know."

"What do I know?"

"You know that Casey and Dana belong together."

"If only to get him to shut the hell up."

"It's a reason."

"Doesn't need to be a good one."

"I think you should do something."

"Me? Why me?"

"Because you're Casey's best friend."

"And because the last time I interfered it went so well."

"The shirt thing?"

"Yeah, the shirt thing."

"Telling Dana was the right thing to do. Her fiancé slept with the girl who slept with the guy she's been in love with since college. She needed to know."

"Casey didn't think so."

"That's because Casey's a moron."

"I believe the preferred term is 'jackass'."

"That's because Casey's a jackass."

"That he may be."

"Remind me why we're doing this again."

"'Cos Casey's the kind of guy that's supposed to be part of a nuclear family. 2.4 kids, big clapboard house with a picket fence, gas-guzzling SUV in the drive, a golden retriever called Butch. The whole nine yards. That's what he was born for, that's where he belongs. And he needs a cute blonde wife to round off the picture."

"And Dana thinks she should be the perfect wife and mother but wants to be the best damn executive producer of a sports show that ever walked the planet,and Casey is the only man who won't object if she puts Sports Night first because he'll be here too."

"That's the plan."

"We have a plan?"

"Well, Casey was working from Napoleon's battle plan."

"What's that?"

"First you show up. Then you see what happens."

"Oh yeah, how's that working out for him?"

"Dana and Gordon have broken up so that's a start."

"Six weeks ago, Danny. He needs to do something. You need to get him to do something."

"Why can't Dana do something?"

Natalie looked at him, incredulous. "Because she's a woman, Danny!" He opened his mouth to protest but she waved him away. "And don't give me any of that feminist crap, there comes a time when every woman needs to be wooed and this is Dana's time." Natalie's eyes were fiery and she seemed coiled to pounce. Dan knew better than to argue with her in this frame of mind. It usually led to some form of punishment.

"OK, so Casey has to do something. The simple option would be to ask Dana out on a date. But we're talking about Casey; the simple option tends not to apply."

"He should make a gesture," Natalie gestured dramatically to emphasise her point, narrowly missing Dan's eye.

"A gesture?"

"A gesture."

"What kind of gesture?"

"How should I know?"

Dan slammed himself back against the couch. "We're going round in circles, Nat."

"Yeah. Maybe you should go talk to Casey."

"Maybe you should."

"But you're his..."

"...best friend," interrupted Dan. "I know, yada, yad..." Natalie glared and Dan lifted his hands in defence. "I'm gone, I'm gone."

He was as good as his word. Casey was easily found, in his new favourite place on the floor of their office leaning on the couch. He was scribbling in a notebook when Dan walked in, and closed it hastily.

"A gesture?" Casey was cautious.

"Yeah, a gesture."

"What kind of a gesture?"

"Now that, my friend, is open to debate. Something that will show her that you're here for her as a friend, but your interest runs a little deeper, you know?"

"Not really, Danny, no."

"Well you won't ask her out on a date because you're scared." Dan ignored Casey's blustering and continued, "But you need to let her know you're interested or she could get snapped up by someone else."

"Someone else?"

"Beautiful woman like Dana? You think she's gonna stay on the shelf for long?"

"Nobody says on the shelf these days."

"I do. And spinster."

"Shut up, Dan."

"But then I can't explain the rest of the plan."

"That would be no bad thing."

"Au contraire, I think it would."

"Script, Danny."

"But ..."

"Script."

With an over-exaggerated sigh and a flounce, Dan did as he was told. He managed five minutes of silence.

"I was just say- "

"Dan!"

"A gesture."

"I'm not listening to you."

"A card, a rose ..."

"Do you want me to start sticking my fingers in my ears and singing 'na na I can't hear you'?" Dan laughed.

"Yeah, actually I do. I may even go so far as to say I would pay money to see it." He giggled again at the mental image. Casey grinned at him.

"Another time, perhaps. Can you just agree to drop it, Danny? I'll deal with it in my own time."

"You will?"

"Yes."

"And by deal with it you mean ...?"

"Deal with it. In my own way. Without help, without interference. That OK with you?" Dan studied Casey narrowly for a few seconds then nodded once.

"It's OK with me."

"And you'll keep Natalie off my back?"

"No guarantees, she's exempt from federal law."

Casey grinned. "Thanks, Danny."

It may have taken longer than he had hoped, but when Dan, searching for a pen, found the rose in Casey's desk drawer he couldn't help smiling.

"Nice gesture, Casey," he approved. Though when he found the same rose in their office bin later that night, he wondered if Casey had thoroughly understood the principle.

It took another nineteen days and some clearly against the rules pushing from Dan before Casey managed the grand gesture and finally kissed Dana. Dan was pleased for his friend. A little sad for himself perhaps as it brought home once again how alone he was, but pleased for Casey. Natalie? Natalie was euphoric. To hear her talk, Dan would have thought that Romeo had had the sense to perform CPR on Juliet, that Lysander had a boat to cross the Hellespont, that Abélard had succeeded in sweeping Heloise away from her severe guardian and had held on to his wife, his son and his testicles. But it appeared fate was still enamoured of star-crossed lovers and the kiss was a prelude to nothing.

***

Dana was crazy. That could be the only answer. She had Casey practically begging to be with her and all she could do was come up with some lunatic dating plan. Six months of Casey seeing other people, for what? So he could be even clearer that Dana was the only woman for him? Dan could not understand the logic. How could Dana give Casey carte blanche to sleep with other women if she loved him? Every time Casey had a date she would have to go to bed wondering if there was a woman in Casey's. Dan knew that in a myriad of lifetimes he would never have made such a suggestion. And it was driving Casey crazy. A crazy Casey did not an easy workplace make. Dan was working twice as hard as usual, more often than not completing Casey's script as well as his own. Casey started to make errors on air and Dan was always there to cover them up - sometimes with a great big piece of gauze rather than a discreet Band Aid but he did the best he could. He was exhausted.

"Casey?" The two men were propping up the bar at Anthony's, which had become their regular after-show haunt, while the others congregated around a booth, the women cooing over pictures of Dana's latest nephew.

"Yeah?"

"Could you date someone?"

"You want me to date someone?"

"Yeah." Dan stared into his beer, both hands wrapped around the glass.

"Are you channelling Dana now?"

"I'm tired, Casey."

Casey looked at Dan, narrowing his eyes. "What are you talking about, Danny?"

"I know Dana's driving you crazy, I know that. But you're screwing up the show, Casey, and sooner or later the network's going to notice. You've got to date someone. The sooner the six months start the sooner you can be with Dana. And that's what this is all about, isn't it?"

"I'm not screwing up the show!" Casey exclaimed.

"Casey you announced that the Mets had beaten the Braves 10-9 in 11 innings to take the NLCS."

"That was pretty accurate, Danny, I got two out of three."

"You got the winners wrong, Casey. Some might consider that to be of importance."

"There was that."

"It wasn't the first time."

"No." Casey's head dropped.

"I can't keep this up, Casey. Writing for you, covering for you. You're not the only one who has stuff going on. Date someone. Anyone."

"I'm sorry. I know you're right, but I don't want to date anyone else. I want Dana. I'm in love with Dana."

Suddenly anger swelled in Dan's stomach. How had the Casey-Dana dynamic become so monumentally screwed that before the relationship even started its effects mirrored the end of Casey's tortuous marriage to Lisa?

"For fuck's sake, Casey!" he hissed. "You think it's hard for you? Try being me for a day." He drained his beer, hand trembling, and stood. "I'm going home." He was on the street before Casey could reply. He started to walk back to his apartment, striding through the dark city streets powered by his fury, fists shoved deep into his pockets. As he walked his anger away, Dan found himself disconcerted. He had been bubbling under for days, snapping at his colleagues and picking fights with technology. Only that day he had narrowly avoided throwing his laptop at the reinforced window, and it was solely the thought of Isaac's reproachful face that had prevented the computer's annihilation. Could all this be laid at the door of exhaustion? Dan did not think so. Something was not right, a sense of disquiet. But what was the cause?

Casey began to pull it together after their talk, but he did not date anyone. He was in a holding pattern: the six months would not start until his first date, but Casey had appeared to decide his first date would not take place unless it was with Dana. Dan's uneasiness continued, and then providence brought Abby to him. At first he had seen her as just another pretty girl at a bar, someone to take his mind off how alien his life suddenly felt to him. When he'd found out she was a psychiatrist, he had been a little thrown. Therapy had not worked in the past, he did not want a shrink, he wanted a dalliance, a fling, a romantic interlude. But a single slip - "My father liked me. She liked me just fine" - brought Dan to a dead stop. He couldn't keep going on the way he was. Maybe it was time to give therapy another go.

Abby was unconventional but she got right to the heart of things and when she called Dan on his guilt over Sam's death he knew he was in trouble. The sessions left Dan feeling destabilised. He could barely remember who he was supposed to be, how he was supposed to behave. Abby wanted Dan to talk about his family, so talk he did, but he could not escape the nagging sensation that his relationship with his parents was just the tip of the iceberg. Dan was grateful to his colleagues for accepting his odd behaviour without question, particularly Casey, whose quiet support went a long way to making Dan feel that Sports Night, at least, was a safe place to be.

Then came the collapse of the Dating Plan. Casey finally met someone he liked, a pretty blonde with a heart-shaped face and a stupid name: Pixley. She had been date number one, who Casey had scared off with his honesty about his feelings for Dana. When they accidentally bumped into one another again, Casey had realised that enough was enough. It was time to reclaim his manhood, or so Dan had put it. As Casey left to meet Pixley, Dan felt a twinge of some unnamed emotion. He felt badly for Dana, although this whole mess was her own fault, but out of the corner of his eye he could see something deeper, something dark, the missing nine-tenths of the iceberg

Lying on the couch in his darkened apartment Dan brooded. He had come straight home from work. Casey was out on his date with Pixley, and Dan did not feel like drinking and speculating with the others. All the same, he wondered what point Casey had reached in his five point plan for seducing Pixley.

"Pixley!" spat Dan.

He had seen Casey through his divorce, through the whole crazy-Dana dating plan with reasonable equanimity. He had been concerned for his friend's sanity on a number of occasions, but had never felt as disquieted as he did now. Pixley. Just the name was like jabbing splinters under his fingernails. What was happening to him? Fidgety and restless Dan concentrated hard on his breathing to help him calm down. After a while, he began to drift away from himself, patterns tracking across his retinas, swirling and shifting, kaleidoscopic. The colours began to coalesce and Dan found himself staring at the image of Casey leaning in to kiss a woman. He saw the softness in Casey's eyes and a hand reaching up to tangle in fine, blonde hair. He saw Casey's lips part slightly as he came in for the kiss and the woman - Dan presumed it was Pixley - lift her head readily to receive it. As their lips touched, the image panned round, shifting the perspective. The lovers' lips parted and Dan found himself staring into his own eyes.

The shrivelled, hard outer casing that had protected Dan for years cracked and fell away, a cocoon that had waited too long to reach the point of transformation. Inside huddled naked Dan, pink-skinned and soft, blinking at the sudden harshness of light. The newly-released creature raised its head and, looking straight ahead with luminous eyes, uttered only one word: Casey.

And with that, Dan's hard work was undone. His mind was filled with sensation: the way Casey smelt of freshly ironed shirts and sunshine, the heaviness and warmth of his hand on Dan's shoulders, arm, back. Casey's eyes secretly expressing what his guarded face did not want to reveal. His long limbs supremely confident or terminally awkward - no in-betweens. As these thoughts flooded Dan's mind other sensations were at work in his groin. Almost without thinking, Dan's hand found his swelling cock, Casey's image never wavering as he jacked himself with long steady strokes. Through the rising pleasure Dan grew aware of a constant stream of sound: his own voice burbling Casey's name over and over and over. Dan pictured Casey's head drifting down between his legs, the heat and wetness of his mouth surrounding Dan's cock, the pressure of his tongue in just the right place. God, the idea alone drove Dan to the edge, the sensation building tortuously. Casey's hand cupping his balls, stroking the sensitive skin, squeezing, taking them into his mouth. It was too much: Dan came with force, in hot, heavy spurts, calling Casey's name.

Dan stilled; his heartbeat unsteady. Semen still warm on his belly he accepted what his body was telling him. Pummelled by scalding water, Dan remembered another time like this one. Now the feelings that had so scared him then had returned with even greater intensity. Dan had never denied he loved Casey, merely that he was in love with him: that he was attracted to his best friend on every possible level. This position was now untenable. All he could do was admit the truth. Oh god, he did not want to admit the truth. For twelve years he had done his best to believe that he was straight, that he could be the kind of man his little brother had wanted him to be. And he had done OK. There had been times, of course there had been times, when it had been harder to convince himself of his heterosexuality but he had done well, hadn't he? There had been innumerable casual relationships with girls, as well as Lulu and Rebecca, and he had truly cared about those two women. But none of it was real, everything was an illusion that had been torn apart; like looking into a broken mirror, the jagged half-reflections a truer version of his soul than his own face.

There was no help for it, no hope for it. He was Dan, Dan was gay, Dan loved Casey. Anything else was a lie, a house of cards, an uncorrupted democracy. Stepping out of the shower, Dan shivered. What the fuck was he supposed to do now? How could he face Casey? How could he face his memories of Sam? He felt as if the years had been stripped from him and he was back in his college dorm, curled up in bed, the funeral suit still on, the grief as raw and the guilt as vivid. It was unbearable. Dan moved about his apartment, shifting from one unimportant task to another, knowing that if he stood still for just one second the past would catch him and take him down. He needed help. A flash of inspiration and the apartment door slammed behind him. Dan was going in search of an old, old friend.

The next day Dan went to work high for the first time in years It was amazing how easy it was to fall back into old patterns, how quickly disguise and subterfuge could become part of one's repertoire. Casey was already in the office when Dan arrived at the station. Dan stood outside, observing him. Casey was reading, one hand supporting his head, long fingers spreading across his cheek, his forehead furrowed in concentration, tapping a pencil against his bottom lip. Dan's first urge was to march into the office, grab the pencil from Casey and kiss him in the exact same spot then ask which was better, the pencil or Dan. His second urge was to run as far and as fast as he could. He took the third option which was to go into the office and have the barest minimum conversation with Casey before immersing himself in work. He figured that if he didn't have to look up for at least an hour, he might have managed to regain some self-control, to stop his palms from sweating and his legs their ceaseless quivering. Casey tried to engage him several times with tales of Pixley but Dan managed to stonewall with pleas of a hangover.

"Casey, I have limited powers here, and if I'm going to have a script for the show I'm going to need to marshal my forces for me. No time for you, right now, OK?" He kept his eyes fixed on the keyboard.

"Yeah, OK, Danny," replied Casey, the disappointment in his tone causing Dan a twinge of guilt. A few minutes later, Casey disappeared and Dan knew he had gone to find someone who would listen. Dan was torn between remorse that he had let his friend down and relief that he had gone so that Dan could breathe. It will get better, he thought. I just need practice.

But it did not get easier and Dan resorted to more and more pot to get him through the day. He knew his behaviour was becoming more erratic: he seemed only to have two moods, manic and depressed, cycling between them with alarming frequency. Abby was still fixated on his childhood, and he was happy for her to remain there; he was not ready to deal with the consequences of his own recycled epiphany. About two weeks after Casey had started dating again, Dan woke to find himself being prodded by a steel-tipped umbrella. Following the line of the umbrella to its owner Dan realised the poker was Mrs. Liebowitz, an elderly widow who lived two apartments along from Dan. Why was she poking him with an umbrella?

"Daniel, beds are for sleeping in, you know. Floors are for, well for walking on. What you do? Drink too much? You need someone to take care of you."

"Hi, Mrs. Liebowitz. How could I have anyone take care of me when you know my heart belongs to you?" Dan tried out his patented charming smile.

"Don't try that on me, young man. Charm doesn't work so well when it comes from a boy lying on the floor in front of his own apartment, smelling like ..." She stopped and sniffed the air. "I don't know what. Get up, Daniel and go inside. You will be more comfortable, I think." Dan grabbed the tip of the umbrella.

"It would be easier to get up if you stopped poking me," he reasoned. Mrs. Liebowitz giggled, a sound that took years off her life and reminded Dan that in her day she had been considered somewhat of a wild child. She removed the umbrella from his ribs and leaned on it. Dan got to his feet, wobbling a little. Mrs. Liebowitz tutted and spun him round, brushing the dust from his jacket. She turned him back around and clutched his arm with a bony hand, concerned eyes peering from a wrinkled face.

"Daniel, what is wrong?"

"Nothing, Mrs. Liebowitz. I must have had a little too much to drink last night and decided that getting the key in the lock was too difficult to accomplish."

"Hmmm. I don't think this is it. But you are a grown man. You know where I am, Daniel, you come find me if you need to talk. Or some kugel." She shuffled off down the hallway. Dan fumbled for his key and unlocked the door. Safely on the other side he slid to the floor, shaking, head in his hands. The episodes were back. As if he didn't already have enough to deal with, thought Dan, now he had something else to hide.

To distract himself from his chaotic emotions Dan began to fixate on smaller episodes in his life. They could leave him flying high in the air or pinned like a bug under a stiletto heel. His father came by the office to pick up tickets for the big fight and accused him of looking 'a little gay.' This was a knife in the heart for Dan and he spent the next few days torturing himself over what Sam might have told their father before he had died. The opportunity to see Tom Waits came up and Dan fell over himself to get there, a genuine desire to see the singer perform becoming an all-consuming need. Dan was euphoric for days after the concert. Casey came into the office half-blinded after an eye exam. Dan took every opportunity to tease him mercilessly whilst trying hard to bury the thought that if Casey couldn't see now might be a good time to 'accidentally' molest him. When Natalie suggested a game of Celebrities Dan was only too ready to captain a team, channelling all his pent-up energy into an obsessive desire to win.

Unfortunately for Dan, Natalie could match him mania for mania and her desire to win outdid even his. Dan's team were being thrashed and he called a time-out. Heading into his office with Casey to collect a beer Dan said,

"I'm never going to get my manhood back, am I?"

"It's not really clear you ever had it in the first place," Casey replied, joking. Dan winced. Too close to the bone, Casey, too close.

It turned out that Casey had an ulterior motive for trying to get Dan alone. Earlier that day the Sports Report Top 100 Influential People in Sport had been leaked. Casey was on the list, Dan was not. When Casey told Dan, it was a blow. Not so much that Casey had left Dan behind yet again, had a higher profile for the same job, but more that the two of them had been separated. For five years Dan had never viewed them as anything but a single entity - DanandCasey, CaseyandDan. Each time Casey was recognised professionally without him it hurt. Because if other people saw them as separate, maybe one day Casey would too. And then Dan would be alone. Again.

"Well, if I could trade my 92 for your didn't make the list at all, I would." Dan knew that Casey meant that with all sincerity. And that was what finally killed him. He made it through the next five minutes of the game in a surge of adrenaline then found himself in the men's room shaking and vomiting. He forced himself back out to join the crowd. Couldn't let Casey see how he was feeling. No more sympathy. He couldn't handle it.

When the game was over, Dan asked Isaac if he could walk him to his car. Isaac was about to start on his usual faux-angry demurral, stating that he was quite capable of making his own way to his car, thank you very much but he saw Dan's tight, pinched face and changed his mind.

"Of course, Danny," he said, offering his arm to be taken. Dan clung on to it as if it was a life raft. To the uninformed observer it was not clear who was supposed to be supporting whom.

As the elevator made its way down to the parking garage, Isaac broke the silence that had fallen.

"What's wrong, Danny?" he asked, his voice exuding fatherly kindness. "Is it the list?"

"Damn the list!" exclaimed Danny, thumping the padded wall with his palm. "It's not the list. Casey deserves to be on that list. I don't. End of story." Isaac's eyes roamed Dan's face, seeing the quiet desperation in his eyes.

"It's Casey, isn't it?"

"How do you know?"

"This place is a whirlpool, everyone's moving so fast they can't see what's right there. I get to sit on the rocks, watching it all happen. And I'm an old man, Danny. I recognise love when I see it."

"Oh god, Isaac, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry." Dan's body seemed to crumple as he pushed himself into the corner of the elevator.

Isaac took hold of Dan's sweater, twisting the material in his fist.

"Don't you ever apologise for who you are, Danny. Don't you ever apologise. You are an incredible human being. You have such strength, such compassion, such love. Sure you're crazy as a betsy bug, but what's a little nuttiness between friends?"

"But it's ... I ... It's so hard, Isaac."

"I know. And I can't tell you that it will ever get any easier. I can tell you that Casey loves you more than he loves anybody else in this building. Probably more than almost anybody he's ever met. But I don't suppose that's much consolation right now."

"He was kind, Isaac. I don't think I can bear it when he's kind."

"No." The elevator doors opened and Dan walked Isaac to the waiting car. He helped him in and grasped his hand.

"I can't do it any more."

"Yes you can, Danny. You're stronger than you know." He patted Dan's head. "I'm always here for you."

"Special bond, right?"

"Special bond. Now go home and get some rest. That's an order." Dan released Isaac's hand and closed the door. He watched the car round the corner then turned and headed for the exit. He would go home. Just not yet.

***

Numb, numb, numb, make me numb - the mantra looped through Dan's head. Hunched over the bar, he stared fiercely into his glass. The bubbles rising insistently through the amber liquid held a mesmerising quality. This was a dilemma. He wanted to be drunk, but to for that to happen the bubbles would have to disappear and he wanted them too. Wanted to forget himself in the hypnotising birth and death of those tiny spheres. He sat frozen with indecision.

"If I buy you another one, you can achieve both your goals," a deep voice from Dan's right. With difficulty, Dan tore his attention away from the glass and turned his overlarge pupils to the stranger.

"I'm sorry, what?"

"I said if I buy you a beer you can get drunk and stare at bubbles," the man repeated in a friendly tone. "Should solve your problem."

"Oh." Dan had not realised he had spoken aloud. He felt faintly embarrassed but the drugs made him courageous. He scanned the stranger. He was maybe in his forties, dark-haired, wearing day-old stubble. Blue eyes, strong jaw. Oh he definitely knew he was good-looking. He was looking back at Dan in a way that made him feel slightly uncomfortable. He'd seen that look in the eyes of some of the more predatory girls he had slept with. This man wanted Dan. To accept the drink was to accept that fact. And suddenly Dan was exhausted. He spent every day trying to be something he wasn't for someone who wasn't, and it was so hard. He had to deny the best thing in his life and every day his heart broke a little more. Just this once, Dan thought. Just this once. If I give my body what it wants, maybe it will be easier to forget about him. He made a decision.

"Yeah. Beer. Thanks."

In the dank dark of an alley, no sound. Then nothing but sound: low laughter, body against brick, lips against skin, guttural moans crammed with need, cotton against leather, a button being popped, a zipper undone, knees hitting the floor. Dan heard a low groan as he sucked the stranger's cock into his mouth, flattening his tongue along the length of the shaft, swirling it around the head, tasting salt. Dan focused his awareness on the physical sensations assailing him. The feel and taste of someone's cock in his mouth. The answering response in his groin. Anything to distract himself from the insistent voice in his head repeating one single word: Casey.

A sudden thrust and the stranger grunted out his orgasm. Dan's head jerked backwards and he just managed to stop himself retching. Staggering to his feet he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and zig-zagged out of the alley, rebounding off the walls.

The next day Dan could not meet Casey's eyes. He did not want Casey to see the guilt and shame in his face. He was seething with anger at himself, for letting himself get in that situation, for enjoying it, for the dreams that had followed. Dan knew that this anger was seeping into his interactions with everyone around him. He was alienating all his friends: it was no less than he deserved. Casey thought that it was the List that bothered him. Like it mattered that Casey was #92 of Sports Report's Most Influential People. Like Dan didn't think that he should be #1. But it was a good cover story, Dan thought. As long as Casey assumed he was pissed about being left out, there would be no awkward questions to answer.

So Dan kept pushing people away, and they let him push. After a cursory appearance in Anthony's or El Perro Fumando after the show, Dan would head home and smoke himself into oblivion. He had two episodes in the space of a few days. Once he woke slumped in a stall in the men's room at work. It was testament to how far his relationships were breaking down that no one had missed him or noticed his pale face when he joined the 8 o'clock rundown ten minutes late. When David Duvall's invitation to play golf came, Dan saw it as a lifeline. Just to get away from Casey for a few hours. That was all he needed. Open spaces, fresh air and someone who was not Casey. And then it rained in Indian Wells and they were stuck on air and Dan couldn't take it any more. He pushed again. And this time it broke.

The week that followed was the second worst of Dan's existence. He was permanently teetering on the edge between despair and violence. He did not sleep, spending his nights lying on the hardwood floor of his apartment in the dark, chain-smoking. It was all his own fault. He had lost Casey because he had broken his promise to Sam. One stupid, drunken indiscretion had cost him his best friend. Enough was enough, Dan swore. If he could get Casey to forgive him he would be the straightest man that ever lived. He would daily slap Elliott playfully on the back and say something about Kim's breasts. He would chew gum or walk, not both at the same time. He would scratch himself in public then sniff his fingers. He would forget everything he ever knew about shoes.

On Passover, Dan had been forgiven and he had walked gratefully into Casey's open arms. As he was enveloped in Casey's embrace Dan knew that he irrevocably belonged to this man, whatever that should mean. Dan patted Casey's back with closed fists, maintaining a sliver of distance between them. He could not trust himself to lay his fingers on his friend. He could not guarantee that if he did he could ever let go of Casey again. His promise to Sam was worthless.

The next day, worn down by the stress of the past few months, Dan stood in the middle of the office demonstrating a baseball play when he started to sway.


Epilogue

By the time Dan had finished the only light left on the floor was coming from their office. Watching Dan's pale, drawn face Casey was pleased that he had managed to get through his tale without interruption. As Dan had opened his mouth to begin Isaac had limped into the office to check on him. His shrewd eyes had taken in Dan's defensive pose and Casey bridging the distance between them, his hand resting lightly on Dan's foot. Casey could see Dan doing his best to pretend that there was no problem and Isaac doing his best to pretend to believe him.

"I think I got it covered," he'd told Isaac gently.

"I believe you do, Casey. I believe you do." Isaac nodded thoughtfully. "Dana has got Bobbi and Steve for tonight's show. No one wants to see you or hear from you for the rest of the night. Got it?"

"Got it," Dan and Casey had replied in unison.

After the door shut behind Isaac it had not opened again. Casey made a mental note to thank him. Possibly every day for the rest of his life.

"Casey?" came a quavering voice. "Say something, man."

It occurred to Casey - dumb, thoughtless Casey - that Dan was frightened of his response. Brave, beautiful Danny who had been through so much and was still standing. Damaged, broken Danny who couldn't see that he was master of his own mending. Frightened of what Casey might say. Might not say. Casey was aware that the next words out of his mouth would possibly be the most important thing he had ever said, would ever say. But he could find no words adequate to the situation. It's in the spaces between the words that we say what we need to say, he thought. Looking straight into Dan's eyes, liquid pools of fearful hope, he opened his arms.

Dan did not move; his expression bordering on disbelief.

"You don't hate me?"

Casey let his eyes speak for him, he couldn't trust his voice. He continued to hold open his arms. Dan's expression softened.

"You don't hate me." And with a choked "Casey!" he was in Casey's arms.

Casey held on tight, one hand rubbing Dan's back as if soothing a small child. Under his hand he could feel warmth, skin, muscles, bone, breath, the reality of Danny: his Danny. Casey wondered how often he had come whisker-close to losing this without knowing. He recalled his frozen horror at seeing Dan motionless on the floor and how desperately alone he had felt in those few seconds. Casey breathed in Dan's scent and began to understand how overwhelming and complete his love for this man was. He remembered days with Danny and Charlie when it had felt like they were the only family he would ever need. He finally allowed himself to remember how it had felt to touch Danny, to give him pleasure. He thought of the way Danny had expressed his feelings for Casey, the words he had chosen ... it was as if he had opened Casey's heart and read what was written there.

Casey knew he had always loved Danny, but he had tried so hard not to question what that love meant. As a brother? As a friend? As a soulmate? The implications of anything more had been too terrifying to contemplate. To accept that he wanted Danny would have been a reversal of everything he thought he was, of everything he was supposed to be. In his state - no: continent - of denial he had never considered how Dan might feel. So Casey never came in to bat, staying in the dark at the back of the dugout, where it was safe. But today, today Casey could have lost Dan completely and his fear took on a new perspective. The dugout in his mind became illuminated by a dazzling searchlight. He was in love with Danny. It was time to step up to the plate.

Dan spoke stifled words into Casey's shoulder.

"Danny, I'm master of many languages but muffled gibberish isn't one of them. You're going to have to say that again."

Dan pulled back from the hug. "I thought gibberish was your native language. It's what your scripts are written in."

Casey shook his head. "Don't be flip, Danny. Talk to me." Dan breathed hard.

"I'm so scared." Dan's breath hitched and Casey waited patiently for him to continue. "These, these episodes, whatever they are, they frighten me. It's like I'm gone, like I'm nothing. And I'm scared that one time I'm not going to come back." Casey felt his insides clench. Whatever he could do to protect this man from further harm, he would do it.

"Danny," Casey started hesitantly. "I think I may have a theory."

"A theory?"

"As to why you keep having these episodes."

"You have a theory?"

"Yes."

"I have these things for twelve years and don't have a clue; doctors are bemused but you, who have known about it for all of, like, thirty seconds - you have a theory?"

"Yes."

"Well share it with the class then, Casey." Dan's words were glib but were belied by his worried face. He leant hard against his friend as Casey started to explain.

"I think the problem is that you lied to the doctors, Danny. I think if they had known what was really going on with you they would have it figured out. I think it's the marijuana." Casey stopped to gauge Dan's reaction. When Dan did not respond, Casey continued. "You were out of your mind with grief and loss and the dope helped. But you went way beyond recreational use, Danny. It was your lifeline. It stopped you having to deal with the pain but it just flattened it out, didn't make it go away. So you couldn't stop. And then the episodes started. You didn't tell the doctor about smoking pot because, well, who wants to get a lecture on drugs from an MD?

"You said that when you met me, that fall in LA, that you felt happy, safe. You stopped smoking so much. The episodes went away. You went back to school, you settled into old patterns and they came back. Every time you stopped using you got better. And you're using again now and it's gotten worse. It just seems like there's too much there to be coincidence ..." He trailed off.

Dan's face was drawn into an odd expression, half delight, half disgust.

"I don't believe it," his voice a monotone. Casey flinched slightly but held his ground.

"I think I'm right, Danny," he said softly.

"Yeah, no, yeah." Dan was animated now. "I mean I don't believe me. That's like, I don't know - the elephant in the room. How could I not have seen it?" He shook his head and laughed ruefully. "You must think I'm so dumb."

"Yes indeed, my friend," teased Casey. "It turns out that you have the common sense of a sea cucumber. Must be all that pot you smoke."

"Hey, don't diss the sea cucumber. They can expel their internal organs to repel intruders," Dan retorted.

"That would seem to be rather self-defeating," pointed out Casey.

"They grow back, Casey, they grow back."

"Ah." A short silence, the brittle humour lost in deep reflection.

"Not dumb, Danny. Just hurt. You didn't see it because you lived in the eye of the storm. You needed another pair of eyes to see through the chaos, that's all." Another pause. "It's just a theory."

"It's a good one, Casey."

"Yeah, I know."

The two men sat quietly, alone with their thoughts. Suddenly Dan spoke.

"I heard the words, Casey."

"I don't understand."

"The voice. When I was ... when I was wherever I go. Remember. There's always the voice. I heard it today, the same wordless cry but it was different. Words were there. They were just there, in the space where I am not. It was all one, the wordless cry, the words." Dan smiled, chagrined. "I must sound completely crazy."

Casey rubbed his thumb over Dan's cheek.

"What were the words, Danny?"

"Vox clamantis in deserto."

"A voice crying in the wilderness." And if Casey had thought his heart could not break further, he found he was wrong.

"A voice crying in the wilderness." Dan's voice caught on the last word and Casey tightened his grip on Danny's hand. Vox clamantis in deserto: the essence of Danny. Casey knew that he could spend every minute of every day telling Danny how much he loved him and it still would not be enough. He wanted to open Danny up and scrape out the black canker of guilt that had fed on his friend for too long. This man was beautiful; he should not be afraid to shine. Sam, thought Casey, it's time to let Danny know how you really feel.

"Danny, you're an idiot."

Dan let out a hiccupping laugh. "An idiot?"

"Oh yes. A great honking doofus."

"Why, Casey it's so good to know you care."

"Since you were eighteen, Danny - eighteen - you have lived your life in the way you thought Sam would have wanted. Am I right?"

Dan blanched, but nodded.

"Sam loved you, right?"

"Yeah."

"Sam loved you his whole life?"

"Yeah."

"And at least nine of those years you were pretty sure you were gay."

"Yeah."

"And even though Sam didn't know that, he knew you. He knew the person you were, gay, straight, ambidextrous, whatever."

"Yeah."

"And he loved you for it."

"Yeah."

"And part of loving someone is wanting their happiness." Dan looked at Casey, eyes full of pain, and nodded. Casey knew he was thinking about Lisa.

"Wanting their happiness, no matter what," continued Casey. "So you think that Sam, this smart boy who loved you so much, hated so much the fact that you were gay that he would have wanted you to spend your life unhappy, pretending to be something that you were not?"

"You didn't hear his voice, Casey," whispered Dan.

"No. But did you for one second stop to think that your analysis of what he said, how he said it, is only one interpretation? Didn't it occur to you that if life hadn't played such a cruel joke that you and Sam could have worked things out? Maybe he was shocked, maybe he was appalled but he was just a kid, Danny. Maybe he just needed some time. Maybe he was hurt that his brother and best friend hadn't chosen to confide in him before." Casey visualised his words wrapping round the poisonous lump of guilt in Dan's chest. The words were all he had: the power to use them was Danny's alone.

"But I killed him, Case." Dan was almost inaudible. "It doesn't matter if we could have worked it out. He couldn't handle it. He got high. He died. Cause and effect."

"QED?" Dan nodded.

"Bullshit!" said Casey forcefully. Dan's head snapped up.

"Bullshit, Danny. You're not eighteen any more. Use some logic, would you? Sam got high, sure. His reasons - who knows? Maybe he was pissed at you, maybe he was trying to impress the new girl, maybe he was celebrating his driver's licence, maybe he just wanted to. It doesn't matter. It was Sam's choice. It was a dumb choice that hundreds of kids get away with every day. It was shitty luck that Sam didn't get away with it. It was shitty timing as far as your relationship was concerned. But it was Sam's choice. And if it was Sam's choice then it can't be your fault. You said yourself the kid was a genius. He would have known the risks." Casey stopped and, taking Dan's face in his hands he stared right into his eyes.

"It was not your fault." The words tightened their grip around the canker.

"It was," but Dan's voice wavered, less certain. Casey's hands dropped to cover Danny's.

"Oh, Danny." Casey shook his head sadly. "Do you really think this is what Sam wanted? For you to deny who you really are, to have to use drugs to escape the pain, the guilt, the confusion? For you to live your life afraid of being loved, terrified of being unloved? Is this what Sam would have wanted for you?"

"It's what I deserve," muttered Dan, almost truculently.

"If you had driven the truck yourself you still wouldn't have deserved that. Danny, don't you see - the power. It's in you. I can't fix you, Danny. You have to fix yourself. God, please, Danny. Fix yourself." Casey's voice was tearful, pleading. He had no words left. He closed his eyes and fought the oppressive pain that constricted his lungs and made it difficult to breathe. A fluttering touch on his cheek caused Casey to open his eyes. Dan's fingers traced down Casey's face, his eyes wondering.

"Why do you always save me, Casey?"

"You're worth saving."

"You really believe that?"

"I do. But it's no good unless you believe it too."

"I can fix myself?"

"Yes."

"How?"

"You know how, Danny."

"Casey, I'm scared," Dan gripped Casey's hands tightly.

"I know," Casey soothed. "If you let it go you don't know what will be left."

"If I let it go, will my whole life have been a waste?"

"No!" Casey shook his head vehemently, finding more words from some deep reserve. "Everything we do leads us to where we are. All the choices you made, bad or good, all the thoughts, experiences, ideas, all brought you here today. If just one thing in your life had been different maybe we would never have met. Charlie would have never known his Uncle Danny. This show, this family, might never have happened. And I am so glad it did happen, Danny. And I can think of plenty of other people who feel the same way. Your life will never be a waste." He stopped and looked down at their entwined hands, Dan's knuckles white. There was a silence.

"It wasn't my fault," the words came haltingly, Dan's face grave.

"It wasn't your fault."

"It wasn't my fault," more confident this time.

"It wasn't your fault, Danny."

"It wasn't my fault" - and the cloud over Dan's face began to lift. Casey smiled.

"No, it wasn't."

"It. Wasn't. My. Fault." And Casey saw hope flare in Dan's eyes. He felt laughter beginning to bubble up inside him.

"Danny, it was never your fault."

"IT WASN'T MY FAULT!" yelled Danny joyfully, leaping off the couch and pulling Casey to his feet. And with that Casey saw the chain of words constricting the wizened lump of guilt pull tighter still, causing it to shatter into a billion tiny pieces. Casey let the laughter pour over him in a wave of relief. Dan laughed too, grabbing Casey and pulling him into a rough hug. They clung together, giggling and swaying until Dan's tone shifted and he wasn't laughing anymore. He was crying the stormy tears of the reprieved. Casey felt Dan's weight sag against him, heavier and heavier until it pulled them both down to the floor.

Dan's tears eventually subsided. Casey pulled a grubby handkerchief out of his pocket and scrubbed at Dan's face before holding the hankie to his nose and commanding him to "Blow!"

Dan chuckled. "Yes, Mom."

Casey shoved the handkerchief back in his pocket and kissed Dan on the forehead. They leant back against the couch and rested in silence for a few minutes. At length, Dan spoke.

"Am I fixed now, Casey?"

"You're definitely a work in progress," Casey replied honestly. "Name me one person who couldn't do with a little fixing." Dan gave him a watery smile.

"What do I do now?"

"What do you want to do?"

Dan tapped his chin in thought. Then he leapt up and crossed to his chair. He grabbed a piece of paper and scribbled a short note, picked up his bag and headed out of the office. Casey watched him go, perplexed. He settled himself back against the couch and watched for Dan's return. It didn't take long. The door opened, Dan dropped his bag by the chair and sat down next to his partner.

"Someone's going to be pleasantly surprised tomorrow," he grinned.

Casey raised his eyebrows.

"I just gave all my drug stuff to Lara."

"We're corrupting interns now?"

"I like to do my bit for society," smirked Dan. Casey rested his hand on Dan's thigh.

"You're giving it up. That's great. That's fucking awesome!" He squeezed gently and a red flush crept into Dan's cheeks.

"Well that's step one. Now there's step two."

"What's step two?"

"You know," said Dan, suddenly shy. "The being gay thing."

"Ah," Casey nodded deeply. "That." Very aware of the position of his hand, Casey continued, "I don't know what you want to do about that. It's not going to be a problem with the guys round here but ..."

"I know," said Dan. "Gay sports anchor. Not good for ratings. We all saw what happened to Shell Kirby when she came out."

"Yeah," agreed Casey. "But that was five years ago, maybe things are different now."

"You think I should come out?"

"I think you should do what will make you happy, Danny. Not telling the public about your sexuality isn't the same thing as denying it to yourself. There's no perfect solution, you're just going to have to decide what's most comfortable for you."

"What about you?" Now it was Casey's turn to blush.

"What about me?"

"How would you feel if people knew I was gay? You know they might assume that ... that you and I ... I mean that we ..." he trailed off lamely.

"Were partners in more than one sense of the word?" Casey's heart was pounding out a fast rhythm.

"Yeah."

Silence again.

"Casey, you know how I ..."

"Shut up, Danny," Casey interrupted. Dan subsided, hurt. Oh god, thought Casey, don't look like that, it just makes me want to rip your clothes off. Can't rip them off. Got to do this the right way. He could feel the heat of Dan's body through his jeans, his hand felt as if it was welded there, the sweat from his palm fixing him forever to Danny's thigh. Danny's thigh. Right next to ... Stop! Casey swallowed hard and ordered himself to concentrate. This was the moment. Now. For once in your life, McCall, he thought, don't screw it up.

"Danny, you know how you're an idiot?"

"I do believe you may have mentioned that once or twice, yes."

"I have it on good authority that I too, am an idiot."

"And whose authority would that be?"

"Well, at different times I would have to say Dana, Natalie, Isaac, Jeremy, Kim, Lisa ... pretty much everybody, really. But the most important one today is me."

"You?"

"Yes, me."

"You are the authority that has deemed you to be an idiot?"

"That is correct. May I move on?"

"Certainly."

"Thank you." Casey paused to gather his thoughts. Tricky little things they were, all in one place one minute, then scattered the next: herding cats came to mind.

"Where was I? Oh yes. I am an idiot. I am the blindest, most stupid, most idiotic idiot in Idiotville."

"I always believed it was Idiot Town."

"Danny," warned Casey. Danny shrugged.

"And part of being an idiot is that I didn't notice what was going on with you, and I should have. I believe I already apologised for that." Dan nodded his agreement.

"But the dumbest thing is ..." Casey stopped, unsure of how to proceed. He took a deep breath to steady his nerves, then another, then another. It didn't work - Casey was more scared now than when he had watched Charlie being born. He plunged on regardless.

"Danny. Fuck. I. When you were lying there. And your face was so pale. I thought you were dead, man. I thought this is it; he's left me for good. And the pain ..." His face twisted in a grimace that matched the knot in his stomach. Dan opened his mouth to speak but Casey shook his head.

"The pain. It was like nothing I'd ever felt, Danny. Not the divorce. Not Dana. Not anything hurt me like knowing you were never coming back. And I thought I couldn't feel any worse. But then you told me your story and I hurt so much for you. And I hurt because there was nothing I could do to take back all that pain you went through. And then that was the worst pain ever. It hurt so bad I thought my heart would implode. And I knew then, Danny. I knew." Casey paused again and saw reflected in Dan's eyes the tears in his own. He saw hope rising, mingled with love and longing and it gave him the courage to continue.

"You're more than my best friend, Danny. You are part of me. I could no more cut off my right arm than have a life without you in it. You make me laugh, you make me think, you make me angry, you make me crazy as hell and I wouldn't be half the man I am today if you weren't with me. Not one quarter." He took a deep breath. He needed to say the words. Danny needed to hear the words.

"I love you, Danny. I always have. It just never occurred to me it might be anything more than, you know, brotherly love. See. Idiot. 'Cos now it's so obvious. A whole fucking herdof elephants in the room. I ..." Casey was effectively silenced by the act of Dan kissing him. Soft lips against his, gently sucking, tongue tentative. He responded tenderly, his hand involuntarily finding Danny's face, stroking the skin, so familiar and yet so strange. Casey was flooded with sensation, bright and brilliant. It seemed that all the secrets of the world were here at his fingertips, in the shape of the man in his arms. Danny broke the kiss as softly as it had begun and smiled beatifically.

"Take me home, Casey. Take me home."


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