September 17, 2000
kestrelsan@ispwest.com
Thanks go to Em for her quick beta, her great insights into Casey, and for some well-appreciated prodding :)


Where we have been

by Kest



1.

It was a nice night, crisp, clear--the kind of night that made him think of October baseball and the third week of the football season rather than early summer. Neon billboards like stadium lights, the quiet roar of New York at three a.m. When he was ten his father had gotten tickets to the fifth game of the A.L. championship from a guy at work, Yankees and the Royals, and it had felt like this--cool, even with the Royals' jacket his dad had given him; quiet, because they were there early for batting practice and the stadium was just beginning to fill. He'd gotten a few autographs that night, he remembered.

Danny hadn't made it very far--Casey could see him a block ahead, a few blocks from the bar he'd just left, following Danny out after that interesting little scene. Dan had his hands in his pockets and was staring into a darkened storefront window; from the distance he looked like an ad for some sleek yuppie clothes line, or cologne, maybe. But just from a distance.

"Hey," he said, when he was close enough for Danny to hear.

Dan turned and dug his hands deeper into his pockets. "Do you believe this shit?" he said, and Casey was surprised to see that he was really angry; not just pissed-off or annoyed, but really angry.

"Pretty wacky," he agreed.

"Look at all of this crap in here," Danny said, shaking his head and turning back to the window. Casey followed his gaze but couldn't make out anything distinct; a couple of oddly-shaped objects glinting half-heartedly in the street lights. The window hadn't been cleaned in a while; there were smudges of grease dotted like crushed flowers all along the front of it.

"People give up this stuff, you know," Danny was saying. "Grandpa passed it down before he hit the grave, or Aunt Betty, or whoever. They give it up for some cash; but you know what? It's just crap, anyway."

Casey nodded. "Are you going to call her?"

"That's the sad part, that some poor guy's gonna come in here and buy it, knowing it's crap; but maybe it's funky, or would go well in his guest room, or maybe it reminds him of some other piece of crap his Grandma Millie had way back when."

"Danny, you're not going to get symbolic on me, are you?"

"You know, I think I'd rather not be talking about Rebecca right now."

"Okay."

Danny stood up straighter and looked away, shifting into his personal Danny-gear. That kind of pissed Casey off, because it was so typical Dan and so smoothly done that half the time Casey didn't realize he was doing it. Just Dan going away for a little while. "I'm going to walk home."

"Danny, it's, like, twenty-five blocks."

"Yeah. You can go back the bar--I'm cool, I'm fine."

"Sure," Casey said, and didn't move.

"I'm serious, Casey. I'm not bothered by this at all. I'm just gonna walk home, take in the sights. I can't remember the last time I just walked around New York at night."

"There's a good reason for that."

"Casey---"

"It's a nice night. I'm just going to take in the sights with you. Is that okay?"

"Whatever."

"Isn't this a nice night?" he said, still kind of pissed off but mellowing, because it was Dan and this was what he knew to expect from Dan. It was faintly ridiculous to let it get to him now.

"Whatever," Dan said, and moved off, Casey staying close to him--not too close, just a few steps behind. Dan was wound tighter than one of those little golf balls they used in the Cayman Islands, the ones that wouldn't go as far when you hit them, so you could play a smaller course while having the experience of a pro-size course. Just like one of those balls, Casey thought. He wondered how hard you'd have to hit it before it exploded from the pressure.

They went for a few blocks without speaking; uncharacteristic, Casey thought, but it was okay. They passed another line of storefronts, a few apartment buildings and a deli that looked familiar, but he couldn't remember if it was anywhere near the studio. He was wondering if Danny really knew where he was going and how to get back to his apartment from here. He wasn't sure himself, so decided not to bring it up.

"This was a stupid idea," Dan said as they were crossing the fifth street they'd come to. "It's going to take, like, ten hours to get home."

"We can get a cab."

"Yeah," Danny said, looking around half-heartedly, slowing as they reached the opposite curb so that Casey drew up even with him. "You know what bothers me the most?"

Casey, caught in the middle of looking for a cab and not really paying attention, paused and refocused. "That it wasn't Raquel Welch?"

"It's too easy, Casey. It's way too easy for her."

"So you're going to make it harder?"

"I think I owe it to her to make it harder."

"I think that's a plan better left on the drawing board."

"It's a good plan, Casey. A righteous plan."

"Are you gonna call her?"

"I'm thinking that wouldn't make it hard for her at all."

"I'm gonna get a cab," Casey said, veering to his right to step off the curb a few feet into the street, looking down the line of street lights glaring off the pavement, leaning forward in the universal cab-hailing stance, wondering at his returning annoyance when this was Dan and this was what he did, and hanging around and listening was what Casey did. It wasn't like anything had changed.

"It should have been Raquel Welch."

"You're right," said Casey. "It should have been." He saw the bright yellow gleam of a cab and waved it over, feeling Danny step up behind him.

"I'm just saying." Danny was right next to him.

"Danny," Casey said, ignoring the cab driver who had stopped in front and was staring out the window at them, bored and a little impatient. He caught Danny's eyes, and that wasn't the easiest thing to do--Danny wasn't able to meet anyone's eyes for very long before they shifted away, searching for something else to come along, a handy interruption for anything important enough to be looking straight at someone. "You can fuck this up, or you can not fuck this up."

For once, Danny's gaze didn't waver, though he wasn't looking very happy about it. "Yeah, and what odds are you giving me?"

Casey didn't answer as he let Danny get into the back of the taxi first, following him in because his apartment was only a few extra blocks away from Danny's place. Those weren't odds he cared to make, even though he already knew which it would be--there was no sense voicing odds like that; kind of like pitting the Vikings against the Bengals. You could hope for the Bengals, and it was always fun to root for the underdog, but at the end of the day there wasn't much question of who would come out on top.

He leaned forward and gave the driver the address, because Danny was sitting on the other side of the seat, not looking at either of them, his shoulders a little hunched.

"Don't worry about it," Casey said, after a few minutes of silence. "It'll be fine."

"Yeah?" Danny sounded subdued, a little hopeful despite it.

"Yeah," he said, glancing out the window so Danny couldn't see his face.

They rode for a few blocks in silence, Danny sulking or not sulking---Casey couldn't decide which. Maybe he was just being quiet, and if Casey could think of something to say he would say it. A few half-formed conversation starters drifted through his head, but he couldn't face the thought of the energy they would require. So he settled for staring at the back of the taxi driver's head, instead.

"Do you want to come up?"

Casey felt his breathing quicken, loud in the close confines of the car; he had to consciously take control of it, felt it even out again. "Maybe."

Danny didn't reply, but Casey knew what he had meant, and knew that he'd end up going up with him. It had been a few weeks since he'd been to Danny's apartment, since the last time, probably. The details of that were a little fuzzy; they'd been drinking, either during a game or at the bar--he couldn't remember which, and had a sudden fleeting worry about his memory, the reminder of age.

The cab was pulling over in front of Danny's building, and Danny gave him a quick glance, a question. Casey found himself nodding. "Yeah, sure. Okay."

****

He wasn't sure exactly what Danny got out of it, though he was pretty sure what he himself got out of it. Physical release, the comfort of being with someone familiar, someone who'd seen him naked countless times in less charged settings: at the gym, on the road. A recent development, all things considered--maybe five times, total. Yeah, it was definitely five, and he could remember the first time. They hadn't even been drinking, just zoned out on exhaustion, watching Sportscenter at two in the morning at Casey's place, unwinding from the day. He couldn't remember whose idea it had been to unwind in that particular way--likely, it wasn't an idea at all, just something that sort of developed, crept up on them. Physical release and the comfort of familiarity. He hadn't been particularly disturbed by it or felt the need to talk about it the next day. It wasn't the kind of thing they would talk about, anyway.

Danny disappeared into the kitchen, and Casey wondered if he'd gone to get beer. But he came back with bottled water instead; Casey was grateful for that, it was a better choice.

"Shit. I can't believe we have to be up in six hours." Danny handed him the water and went past him into the living room, restless, not quite pacing but working up to it.

Casey took a sip of the water, not really tasting it, then followed him, setting the bottle down on an end table along the way. Danny paused in the middle of the room, glancing over at him with eyes that didn't quite reach his. Casey was very sure that he didn't want Danny to say anything more, so he drew closer, brushing a hand down his back, light at first then more sure, up around the back of Danny's neck, massaging. Dan was shaking a little under his hand--christ, this thing with Rebecca really had fucked him up--and Casey felt him relax slowly, feeling a little thrill of accomplishment because he knew he was one of the very few people who could bring Danny back to himself. He waited until the shaking stopped, until Dan's head rolled slightly forward in release before he kissed him.

Even though it wasn't the first time, it still surprised him how different it was than kissing Lisa--despite the years of marriage, he'd still been conscious, every time, of what he was doing, what he should be doing to turn her on. Hell, he wasn't even sure what turned Danny on, but he wasn't really worrying about it. It was strange, of course, not to know what turned his partner on physically when he knew that Danny hated pesto, or that he would always opt for red wine when there was no beer available, or that he kept a secret stash of Ho-Ho's behind the Baseball Encyclopedia in the office. But it didn't worry him. He wondered if it was the same for Danny, who'd made an obsession of figuring out what turned women on--if he was trying his finding out on Casey, or if it was just a fuck-it kiss like it was for him.

"Are you going to stick around?" Danny had broken off the kiss though their mouths were still slightly touching, not looking at Casey.

For a second, Casey really thought about it, wondered if this comfort thing, or whatever it was--Dan's neediness and insecurity, this particular reaction to crises--was a little fucked-up and maybe not such a good idea right now, considering that Danny was probably still thinking about Rebecca, and he wasn't even sure if that pissed him off or not.

But he didn't feel like catching another cab, and kissing Danny had turned him on more than just a little. Plus he was sort of looking forward to that moment when Danny took off his shirt and he got to see him, so different from when he saw him at the gym or on the road, cooped up in a hotel room, exhausted by twelve-hour days. He liked Danny's body--it was fit without being painfully athletic. He'd skipped that workout craze, unlike Casey, who'd had a few best-forgotten months a couple of years ago when his body was his only constant, and he'd spent upwards of two to three hours a day in the weight room.

"Yeah, sure," he said, and kissed him again. The heat coming off of Danny's body was drawing him in, until he discovered that they were on the floor and Danny's shirt was off, and he'd missed that moment, after all. Then he wasn't really thinking anymore: about Rebecca, the show, the job offer in L.A.; how the hell he was going to act tomorrow and if it was all going to be like it never happened, the way it was each time before. That was okay, too.


2.

"Did you get the stats on the new Mariners pitcher?"

"They're not gonna call him up, Casey." Dan was staring at the screen of the laptop, as he had for the last ten minutes, fingers tapping the touchpad in a rhythm Casey had found annoying about five minutes ago but had since resigned himself to.

"They did call him up."

"Since when?"

"Since two hours ago. Look over to your right." Danny did so, mechanically following the command, then stared down at the update sheet like it had appeared simply to irritate him.

"This is ridiculous," he said flatly.

"Yes, it is. We work in sports, Danny. Sports is what we do, and those magic little sheets tell us what's new and improved in the world of sports."

"No, this is seriously ridiculous. How the hell am I supposed to be thinking about this? No human being could be expected to concentrate under these kinds of circumstances."

"You already said that."

"When did I say that?"

"Before, when you said that--while you were doing your little show in the newsroom."

"I'm sensing a distinct lack of compassion from you, Casey."

It was like a game to him, Casey thought--not a dick-you-around kind of game, but one where only Danny knew the rules, and knew them so well he couldn't even see that it was a game or think to play it any other way. He was beginning to wonder if Dan took this thing with Rebecca at all seriously, or if it was just an excuse to let off some steam.

"I need some food," Casey said, to himself more than Danny.

"How can you be thinking of food at a time like this?"

"It isn't that difficult, Danny. I need food. You need to talk to Rebecca. It's amazing how simple these things really are. If you called around you could probably find out where she's staying."

"Food might help," Danny said musingly. "Are you going to that deli across the street?"

"I could."

"I'm going with you. I think food will definitely help. I can feel my confidence returning."

It was warm outside with a late-afternoon stickiness, and even warmer in the close quarters of the deli. Casey wished he'd left his sweater upstairs. They kept the air conditioning blasting up there, and it was always a slight shock to be out in the natural air and realize that it wasn't the middle of November. Danny was staring through the glass case of the deli, muttering to himself about something, and Casey was waiting in line at the counter, not really to the point of impatience but getting there.

"I'm thinking turkey on rye," Dan said from behind him.

Casey nodded. "A wise and enviable choice."

"That's what I was thinking. It's hard to go wrong with turkey on rye. And you just can't beat rye."

"Not if you want to stay out of jail."

"Do you think it's too bland, though? Boring, I mean. I don't want to be seen as a boring kind of guy. Get some pastrami on there, too."

Casey sighed and stepped up automatically as the line moved forward, thinking that there were just two more people ahead of them and it was quite possible he could order and get them the hell out of there before Danny completely lost it. Possible, but not looking probable.

"So, can you believe her?"

"Danny, how long are you going to keep this up?"

"I don't have any control over this thing, Case. And you know what? She took that control away."

"She did," he agreed, and caught the eye of one of the guys behind the counter, who'd just come up from the back to help out. "Ham and cheese on wheat, turkey on rye; no mayonnaise."

"Since when do I not eat mayonnaise?" Danny asked.

"You're not a young guy, anymore."

"Thanks. That was definitely something that needed reminding."

"I'm just saying, Danny, that I understand what you're going through. And things have been crazy enough around here without Rebecca showing up again stringing you along, sending you flowers and what-not, and you not being able to do anything about it. And you're thinking about the L.A. job and what a great opportunity it is, but you can't really think about too much because we still have no idea what the hell's going on with our old jobs. Things are in chaos and we're just along for the ride." He accepted the wrapped sandwiches handed to him over the counter then paid the girl by the register, holding one of the packages out to Dan.

Dan took it automatically. "Yeah. Something like that."

"Can we stop talking about it, then?"

"I'm not buying this blasť act of yours, Case. Just so you know," Danny said as they left the deli and crossed the street.

"Sometimes you just have to go along for the ride."

"I'm not buying that, either."

****

Danny was right in a way and wrong in so many other ways; but he was right in the way that he was having a hard time getting worked up about any of this. Not because he wasn't as depressed as hell that their jobs were on the line and they could be bartered around like so many blips on a stock screen. But he wasn't quite to the point of believing it, and denial was highly underrated.

"Okay, Danny," Case said as they got out of the elevator, bypassing their office in unspoken, mutual agreement and heading for the editing room. "I can get just as neurotic and crazy about this as you’re being."

"I have my doubts about that."

"So do I, but I'm willing to pull on the gloves and give it a shot." He looked over at Dave as they passed through the backstage. "Hey, Dave? This ladder's been up here all day. I've walked underneath it, like, seven times now. I mean, how much bad luck do we need? Plus there's karma to consider."

"Stop with the karma," Dan said nervously.

"Could you get a grip to move it?"

Dave was looking at him like he'd sprouted wings and a few tentacles, but nodded good-naturedly enough. "Yeah."

Casey turned to Dan. "All right, we're gonna go in there and we're gonna focus now."

"That wasn't bad," Dan said, as they entered the room and sat down.

"I told you I could give it a shot. Can we get back to the show now? You know, the part where we're supposed to be writing it?"

Dan was looking at the sandwich in his lap like he couldn't remember what it was or how he'd gotten it. "The show."

"Yep."

"Can you believe she sent me flowers right out of the blue?"

Casey sighed and replaced his sandwich in the bag. "Back to the office."

"Yeah."

"Can't focus here." He decided that if he just let it go, just let Danny be crazy and what-all, he was going to be far easier to deal with. And he was finding it surprisingly easy not to think about last night, likely because every time it crossed his mind he found away to shove it back out. He wondered if that was something he'd perfected, or if it was just instinct.

"The vibe's all wrong in here."

"Yes."

They stood up and left the room. "Out here I can focus."

"Yes."

"Focus on our writing."

Casey was just about to turn around and tell him to forget about it, he'd write the damn copy for both of them, and who the hell cared because it was very likely the show was going to be ripped off the air and they'd only have a few more shows left to screw up, anyway, when he heard a voice behind him.

"Hey, Danny. Did you get my flowers?"

****

He'd always liked Rebecca, though he hadn't been sure of the attraction at first--she was cute, if a little mousy. But she'd always been able to see right through Danny's bullshit, which he supposed was the source of the attraction, really. She wasn't looking at all mousy, now--pretty damned good, actually--and Dan had been laid bare by more than just the ladder, which had been rather funny in a fucked-up sort of way.

So he wasn't sure which it was that bothered him when he left them behind in the viewing room to sort out whatever they were going to sort out--whether it was Rebecca looking damned good or that look on Danny's face, so totally open, like Casey had only seen him a few times before. Six times, maybe.

He passed by the office without really thinking about it, then caught a glance of Dana sitting in the conference room, by herself, without even a schedule sheet or notepad and pen. He went in and closed the door behind him, because he didn't feel like going to the office and there were a limited number of areas in the studio in which to be alone.

"Hey," he said, because he didn't think that Dana had even noticed him.

"Hey." She was still staring straight ahead, hand on the table in front of her, palms down like she was locked in position.

Casey sat down a few chairs away, and finally Dana looked over at him. She hadn't lost that strained, harried expression she'd been carrying the last few days, but it was more settled now, like she'd come to terms with it.

"Danny's with Rebecca."

Dana smiled; not a happy smile, but not a particularly sad one, either. "Rebecca's here?"

"Yeah."

"Oh. What's she doing here?"

"Just stuff. She's talking to Danny."

"You said that already."

Casey sat back in the chair, fingers tapping the metal part of the arm rest, and changed the subject. "He wants us to talk about the L.A. job."

"You should be talking about it. It's a good offer."

"I know."

"But you're not going to take it."

Casey knew she'd meant him and not both of them. "No."

Dana sighed and rested her left cheek on the palm of her hand, still looking at him.

"I should probably tell him I won't be going to L.A."

"You should." They sat there for a few moments, not speaking, then Dana sat up and tugged at the bottom of her shirt, straightening it and pulling herself together in the same motion. She stood, looking around her as if she'd forgotten something, then shrugged and gave Casey another smile, a little tighter this time, before opening the door. "You'll be fine, Casey."

Casey didn't answer as she left, just sat there and listened to his heart beat, wondering if that could be at all true and deciding that he really didn't want to think about it. He got up a few minutes later and went back to the office, settling back behind the computer to stare at his disaster of a script. It read like so much cold spam.

So it was a kind of a relief when Dan returned. Casey opened his mouth to ask about it--about him and Rebecca and what the hell they'd been talking about, even though he wasn't at all sure that he wanted to know--but Danny was looking blank and closed-off. Casey knew that look. So he let Dan settle in at the table, his back to him, before speaking.

"We need to talk about the L.A. job."

Dan swiveled around, stared at him for a second then pulled the chair forward, his eyes lighting up. With eagerness or just relief, Casey couldn't tell.

"Great job in L.A."

"Yeah," Casey said.

"Let's review---"

"Danny."

"Solid network, big audience, more money, warm weather, Laker girls."

"We got girls here, Danny."

"We don't have Laker girls, my young friend."

Casey looked away then back again, suddenly finding that he was having a hard time meeting Danny's eyes. "I can't do it."

Danny just looked at him, straight at him like he wanted to say something else but decided not to at the last minute. "I know."

"Can't take Charlie out of school." Jesus. He still couldn't meet Danny's eyes.

"I know."

"He does well in school, he's got friends...." He could hear himself babbling, knowing it was the truth but so much not the truth that it scared him, made him wish that Danny would just leave the room for a couple of minutes. But Danny was still looking right at him as if he could see through the lie but wasn't calling him on it, not yet.

"I know."

Casey glanced over at the door, willing it to come into focus. Danny was going to go off to L.A., and it was better for all of them, right? Maybe Rebecca would transfer back out there, too. It would be so easy to ask him to stay. He knew Danny would do it--he'd stay in a flash if he told him he didn't want to work without him, but that he had to be in New York. Danny would stay in a heartbeat. "Danny…you gotta go out there yourself."

"Casey...."

"You can do it without me, Dan." The funny thing was, he didn't have any doubts about that at all. Danny could do it without him, and he'd be damned good at it--maybe not as good as with him, but damned good.

Dan seemed a little shell-shocked, from what he could see of him, and finally glanced away to stare at the wall behind the desk. "This is it?"

Casey found that he could look at him again, now that Danny wasn't meeting his eyes. "You can do it without me," he said, trying to muster up some enthusiasm. "You should think about it."

"Let's write."

For a split second, Casey wanted to shake him, shake him out of the whole Danny-avoidance thing; because if he was going to have to think about not working with Danny anymore, he wanted to be damned sure that Dan was going to have think about it, too. "Okay," he said at last. He turned back to the computer, feeling Dan's eyes on him and wishing that he would leave, just leave the office for a few minutes because he wasn't sure how long he could last before telling him that of course Danny couldn't take the L.A. job. That if he left him now he wasn't sure what the hell he was going to do.

Danny finally pushed his chair away from the desk, swiveling back to the laptop. Then, abruptly, he stood up. "I'll be right back."

Casey forced himself not to look up until he was sure that he was gone, catching Danny's back and the bright flare of his shirt as he walked away across the newsroom. He had a pretty good idea where Danny was going.

Maybe he should get out of this business altogether. This could be a sign that he should do something else--what the hell was a grown man doing reading sports scores, anyway? He should get another wife, become a stockbroker or something, whatever normal people did. He could spend more time with Charlie--maybe not as a stockbroker, true, but as something else. He thought about the alternative, having someone else to work with in Danny's place, and the thought sat coldly in his gut. Maybe this was a sign.

Dana knocked on the outside glass beside the door, startling him, because when the hell had Dana ever knocked? He glanced up and didn't even try to smile, because he could see immediately that it was over.

"MDI lost the bid," she said.

"Right," he said, nodding, not surprised. Dana was looking almost peaceful; not like a graceful loser, because she'd never been that, but like she was done and finished with it.

"I just wanted you to know."

"Thanks," he said, and watched her leave.

****

He didn't see Danny again until right before the start of the show; he'd disappeared for a while, and Casey hadn't looked very hard for him. He was almost starting to wonder if he was going to show up at all when Danny slid into the seat beside him, settling himself behind the anchor desk.

"Dana's gonna want to see us all before the show," Dan said.

Casey nodded. "I know."

"So you heard?"

"Yeah."

Danny shuffled his script in front of him, and Casey wondered when he'd finally gotten around to writing it. They were silent for a while as the make-up crew descended, doing their thing. Then they were alone behind the desk again, just waiting for Dana to call them into the control room. The rest of the crew was already gathering, but Casey didn't feel any inclination to join them just yet.

"Do you want to come over after the show?"

Casey blinked and forced himself not to react, even though he could feel the muscles of his jaw tightening just a bit. "I don't think so."

"Oh." Danny cleared his throat, and if Casey turned his head, he'd be able to see the expression on Danny's face. But he wasn't planning on looking over.

"Danny, it's not that---"

"No, it's okay. That's cool."

"I just don't think it's a good idea. Too many things going on."

"Yeah," Danny said lightly. "It's cool."

But it wasn't cool at all, he could tell. Not because he'd refused, but by refusing he made it a thing--and it wasn't supposed to be a thing, was it? Just the opposite, a not-thing; not a substitute, but something they really didn't have to think about, or rather Danny didn't have to think about, because it was just him. Just Casey. And that pissed him off, because he realized that he wanted Danny to think about it. Only it didn't matter now, because the show was through and Danny wasn't going to be hanging around New York much longer.

"We should go into the control room," he said, standing up. He didn't wait to see if Danny followed him. It wouldn't make much difference now, anyway.


3.

It was nice outside, from what he could see of it--the lights of New York at night shone clearly against the office window, not quite making it into the office itself. It was dark in the newsroom as well, because everyone had gone down to Anthony's to celebrate and he was the only one still here. He thought about turning on a light, but it seemed like too much energy at the moment. And he kind of liked it here in the dark.

The silence in the newsroom was eerie compared to its usual chaos, and it was only then that he realized that he was listening for something. But Danny was probably with the rest of them, celebrating at the bar. There was a very good reason for it. And he was happy about that--happy in a way that made him realize how absolutely fucking miserable he'd been about the show. Which is why he couldn't figure out why he wasn't happier, or at least a little more jubilant.

He should go down to Anthony's--he knew they were expecting him and were probably wondering where the hell he was, why he wasn't with the rest of the crew. Celebrating. He wasn't sure why he was still here, except that maybe he thought Danny would stick around, or pop in to see why he wasn't at the bar. And that maybe he'd ask him again.

So he hung around for a few minutes, leaning back in the desk chair, staring out the window onto the lights of New York at night. There was no sign of Danny, but Casey knew that there wouldn't be.

****

Anthony's was crowded and a little smoky; Casey peered through the haze to the bar, blinking and breathing in the sour bite of one-a.m. bar air. Jack gave him a nod and gestured to his left, where the crew had taken over half of the room in a jumbled, noisy conglomerate. Casey bypassed them and headed up to the bar instead, squeezing onto an empty stool in between a girl barely twenty-one, who didn't spare him a glance, and a middle-aged man who did give him a rather appraising look. Casey had to smile at that.

"Hey, Jack," he said, and Jack nodded again.

"Heard about the show. It's a good thing."

"Yeah," he said. "Thanks." Jack handed him a beer, and he leaned back against the bar, turned so he could see the crew on the other side of the room, Dana's bright hair sticking out clearly even in the haze. She was standing, gesticulating with wild, almost comic movements, and Casey could only imagine how long it would be before a table dance, if the way she was holding her martini was any indication.

"Hey, Jack," he heard next to him. "Two beers."

Casey sat still for a second, breathing slowly, then turned. "Two?"

"Yeah." Danny was looking at him from underneath half-lowered eyelids. "I was gonna buy you a drink."

"I already have a drink."

"I can see that, now."

Casey took a sip of his beer, and suddenly the man to his right vacated his stool; Danny pulled it over and sat down without a word. Jack came back with the beers, and Danny took one, putting the other one in between them.

"We'll keep it in reserve," he said lightly. He leaned over suddenly and tapped the neck of his bottle to Casey's. "Here's to last minute pardons by the Governor."

"A well-appreciated reprieve," Casey agreed, taking another sip. They sat for a couple of minutes, Danny's eyes roaming the bar like he was looking for someone, but Casey knew he was just being Danny.

"Hey, Case," he said suddenly; a little nervously, Casey thought. "Thanks."

"For what?" Casey put down his beer and started fiddling with the label.

"The stuff you said back at the office, about the L.A. job."

"It was true."

Danny flashed him a grin. "Anyway, I just wanted---"

"But it wasn't the point. Of course you were gonna be fine on your own."

Dan frowned. "Yeah, you said--and I appreciate it. I'm just saying---"

"That wasn't the point."

"Case, are you gonna let me in on this secret conversation of yours?"

"It wasn't you that I was worried about. Making it on your own, I mean."

"Oh." Danny sat there, his eyes clearing as that sank in. Then he met Casey's eyes, a little uncertainly. "Yeah?"

"Yeah."

"Good to know."

Casey wasn't at all sure about that, but it was there and needed to be said.

"Do you want to go join the others? There's some crazy, drunken reveling in the works."

Casey shrugged and raised his bottle for another drink. "I was thinking of packing it in early, actually. Catching some ESPN II."

"Yeah?" Dan looked over at him quizzically, that uncertain light back in his eyes.

"Yeah," he said. "I think they're showing one of the UEFA Champions League games tonight."

Dan made an incredulous sound, seemed about to say something then bit it off with a grin. "That should be exciting."

"That's what I was thinking." He could see Danny's face from the corner of his eyes, but couldn't quite read it. "You want to check it out with me?"

"Maybe." Danny looked away and started fiddling with the label on his own beer, pulling it off at one corner, tearing off a piece and rolling it into a little ball before dropping it onto the bar. "You know how much I love soccer."

"I do."

"You think it's gonna be a good game?"

"It should be. You know--Champions League and all. Kind of sums it up."

"We still have an extra beer, here."

Casey took their reserve beer and placed it in front of the girl next to him, nudging her shoulder and nodding to it. "There you go, sweetheart." She gave him a stony, puzzled look, then shrugged and took it before turning back to her friends. Casey looked back at Danny. "You gotta quit buying drinks for strange girls at bars."

Danny smiled; a slow smile that reached his eyes and reminded Casey how young he was, really, but how not-young in so many ways. "Yeah. I gotta stop doing that." He took another sip then left the bottle at the bar, sliding off the stool. It brought him only a few inches away from him, the sleeve of his shirt brushing up against Casey's knee. "I tore up her number."

Casey nodded slowly, feeling a sudden tightening in his chest. "You could probably still find out where she's staying."

"Yeah," said Danny, but he was shaking his head. "I don't think I'm going to do that."

"Oh."

"Yeah," Danny said. "Are you coming?" he asked, not even waiting for an answer before he turned, weaving in and around the bar's congregants, heading for the door.

Casey watched him as he walked away, smiled a little himself, and followed.