Author: Littera Abactor
Fandom: Sports Night
Feedback: All kinds welcomed with effusive - nay, embarrassing - gratitude.
"'Lo." He didn't sound dead. He didn't even sound sick. If it was this late and he was still at home, Dana wanted him to sound sick. Very, very sick.
"Danny. It's one o'clock."
"We have this little thing we do here, Dan. It's called a television show. And this may come as a surprise to you, but you are a part of that show."
"I know that, Dana."
"Your part in the show requires you to be here."
"I will be. I'll be there by four, and I've written part of my script here. It's just –" There was a pause. "It's just that something is taking a little longer than I thought it would, and I can't leave until it's done."
"What is this time-consuming thing?"
"It's, um, it's a surprise. I have to go now, Dana. I have to punch." There was a click, and Dan was no longer on the phone.
Dana wanted to be thinking about how to get Dan to the office, or how to hurt him somewhere it wouldn't show on the air. Instead she was thinking, he has to punch?
* * * * *
"Casey, what does Dan punch?" Casey was sitting at the computer. His hands were not on the keyboard; they were dismantling an orange.
She was going to kill them both. She was going to kill them both, and then she'd have to find two new anchors, so she wasn't going to be able to kill them until after the show tonight. Assuming there was one. "I don't think 'kangaroo' is a responsive answer to my question, Casey."
"Wasn't it a riddle? It sounded like a riddle." Casey ate an orange segment and made an unhappy face.
"It wasn't - wait. You thought that kangaroo was a good answer to a riddle asking what Dan punches?"
"You said punch. It made me think of kangaroos." Casey frowned at his orange, then started sorting through the bottom drawer of his desk.
"Punch makes you think of kangaroos?"
"Well, kangaroos and Cheerios, but I know you wouldn't be cruel enough to bring up the Cheerios. And anyway, I think Dan." His voice cut off sharply as he stopped sorting and started inspecting something Dana couldn't see. Dana waited. She didn't enjoy talking to his back. "Ah. Oh. Dang." He sat back up again, hands empty except for the orange.
"You think Dan?" she prompted.
He looked at his orange, then held it out to her. "Do you want this?"
"No. Don't you want it?"
"Yes, but I'm prepared to give it up."
"You think Dan what?"
Casey stared intently at her. "Look, is this conversation making sense to you? Because it isn't to me."
Dana waved her hands in the air inarticulately and left, adding another name to her death list.
It wasn't until she was halfway down the hall that she realized she'd never gotten the answer to her question about Dan punching.
* * * * *
"Dan, I don't care what you're punching. Get in here now."
"I'm, I'm on my way. I just need to finish something."
Dana reached for all her reserves of patience and found them absolutely depleted. "Daniel, you had better finish whatever it is quickly, because I am putting Natalie in a cab and sending her to your apartment and if you are still there when she gets there you will rue the day." She heard the words as they left her mouth and vowed she'd make Danny pay for forcing her to talk like a character in a romance novel.
"Don't send Natalie," Danny said, sounding alarmed. "I'll come right in."
"You're right. You will. You know what else you will do? You will pick up your cell phone right now, and you will call Kim right now, and you will narrate your entire progress from your apartment to your office, where you work, starting right now. And if you fail to do this, or fail to make timely progress, Natalie will come for you."
"Um. See, the thing is, I should probably take a shower before I -"
"Daniel. No. You will not take a shower. You will not do anything except get in a cab and get here."
The pause on the other end was much longer than Dana wanted. Finally he said, "OK." He didn't sound happy about it, but she was satisfied. Partly satisfied.
* * * * *
Natalie moved into Dana's office so quickly that Dana never saw the door open or close. "Dan's here," she said. The tone in her voice made Dana look up. It wasn't a happy tone, exactly, or an angry tone. More of an awed tone, or possibly a shocked one. Whatever it was, Dana knew it meant her happiness would not increase any time soon.
"Does he have a script? Is he ready to go?"
"He has most of his half of the script written, and Casey has everything else written except for the box scores and the Arizona-Carolina game." Natalie was...bouncing? Yes, that would definitely be bouncing, that thing she was doing on the balls of her feet.
"And the problem is?"
"Did you tell him not to take a shower before he came in?"
"I told him he had to get in here without delay, and, yes, I told him not to waste time showering."
Natalie's eyes widened. "Oh." And she was gone.
Dana sighed. Then she pushed the heels of her hands against her eyes. Then she counted to ten. Then she counted backwards from ten. Then she considered counting to one hundred by tens. And then she levered herself out of her chair and moved off to look at her anchor, feeling not at all equal to the task before her.
* * * * *
There was a large crowd near Danny and Casey's office. When Dana walked through it, moving quickly, it failed to disperse. She shot evil looks at everyone within range, then slammed the office door open.
She stared at Danny. He was wearing an ancient t-shirt and even more ancient jeans. He was liberally covered with white stuff. He had big patches of white stuff in his hair, and his hair also contained a healthy chunk of what looked like plaster. Natalie was picking at this with a comb.
Casey was at the desk. He looked angry.
Dana took a deep breath, wishing there was some way to make the punishment fit the crime. And then she took another deep breath. "Is that...bread? Do I smell bread?"
Casey, sitting ramrod straight behind his desk, snapped, "Yes, you do."
"Danny made bread!" Natalie announced. "It's actually really good!"
"So that stuff in his hair..."
"Bread dough. And it's kind of dried in. But he made eight loaves of bread! Yours is on the table."
Dana walked over to the table and picked up what was undeniably a loaf of bread. It did look sort of tasty. And it was still warm. And it smelled good. Like a woman in a dream, she tore off a hunk and ate it. "In heaven," she announced, "There will be bread like this all the time."
Danny beamed, then winced. "Ow!"
"Sorry," Natalie said, combing with her left hand and eating with her right. "It's kind of stuck. Mmmmm."
Casey got up, moving like the Tin Man after three days in the rain. "If you people will excuse me, I have work to do," he said pointedly. And then he stalked from the office.
Danny smiled, and it was not his good, happy smile. More like his evil, happy smile.
Dana sensed a bad moon rising. She sensed trouble on the way.
* * * * *
The eight o'clock rundown was history and the show was fast approaching. Dana had somewhere else she needed to be. Nineteen somewhere elses, in fact. But she was drawn back to Dan and Casey's office yet again.
And yet again, the office did not contain Casey. It did, however, contain more than Dan this time; it contained a wardrobe assistant bearing two ties and two shirts and an attitude of patience. Dana paused in the door.
Danny, distracted from his writing by Dana's movement, looked up and saw the wardrobe assistant. "Hey, Dana. Hey, Monica, how's Snickerdoodle?"
"A lot better. The vet thinks he'll be fine."
"Take my advice and go for biodegradable decorations next year. Tinsel just isn't worth the heartache. Or the bills." There was a pause. Danny seemed to be waiting for something. Monica seemed to be expecting something. Dana wished she could get Creedence Clearwater Revival out of her head.
"Um, Mr. Rydell?"
"Right here, Monica, and I thought we talked about the whole Dan thing already."
"Right. Dan. It's just, it would be good to know if we should start on the suits or not."
"Definitely not. Go home, young Monica. Go home to your cat, who needs you to soothe his fevered brow, if you get fevers from tinsel, and take him to eating disorder counseling. Forget about the suits. They don't need you."
"You're sure? Because we don't mind staying, we really don't, and it's better to get started if, you know. If."
"Monica, you know how much I esteem the fine people who make the difference between me looking like a man who knows his ties, a cool man, a with-it man, and me looking like I've been dressed by Casey."
Dana stepped in; she might not know what was going on in it, but it was still her show. "Actually, Monica, don't go home. We still do have the show to do, Dan. The show that has been slipping your mind so very much today?" Monica took the opportunity to slip out.
"I promise you, Dana, the show and the well-being of the show have been in my thoughts pretty much constantly today."
Dana stared at him for a long moment, but he didn't break. In fact, he looked supremely self-satisfied, flipping a casual pencil through the air, smiling faintly. She went on the attack. "Who finally got the bread dough out of your hair?"
Dan continued to be unfazed. "It was a team effort, a team effort. Actually, it was mostly Jody, who has this miracle goop. It's goopy, but miraculous."
"Which is why your hair looks like the reason the wet look went out of style four minutes after it came in?"
"Jody promises me that she can rectify that before the show."
"Dan, where's Casey?"
"I have no idea where Casey is, Dana."
"Dan, where's Casey?"
"Dana, I know this will come as a surprise to everyone here, but I'm not Casey's keeper."
"Dan, where's Casey?"
"Sulking in editing, but he thinks I don't know that so –" Dana turned and lit out for editing, moving fast, ignoring the voice of Dan shouting from the office. - so don't tell him!"
* * * * *
Dana couldn't see anyone in editing through the door, but she had faith in a few things in this life, among them that she'd never please her mother, that Casey would never really want her, and that Danny would never lose track of Casey. So she walked in projecting confidence and snapped "Casey" at the office as a whole.
"What?" Casey still was not visually in evidence, but that was definitely his voice. His pissed-off voice.
"Are you editing?" She moved into the room, sonar receivers set to "McCall."
"Yes, Dana, I am editing." Ah ha! He was under the desk.
She sidled quietly up to the desk and then whipped her head down below it. The move was impressive and would've been more so if she hadn't whacked her head on a chair that was, thank God, padded. The chair made a protesting noise and shot backwards.
"Ow," Casey said in sympathy. He was coiled up under the desk with a flashlight, a notepad, at least three pens that Dana could see, and something he was hiding behind his back.
"Out," she said, channeling her righteous anger - he'd made her look under the desk and therefore made her hit her head and she hated looking foolish in front of anyone, but especially him – into her voice.
Casey wilted slightly, but stayed in the game. "I'm working, Dana."
"You are obviously not working on anything that requires your presence in the editing room. Out!" She pointed, viciously. "Out, out, out!"
Casey scrambled out from under the desk, looking sheepish and juggling a number of things – the flashlight, the notepad, the pens, and – and a brick of cheddar cheese. A large, half-eaten brick.
"Dinner?" she asked, pointing to the cheese.
"Why yes, it is."
"If you were trying for a more balanced meal, Casey, I believe Dan has some bread to go with that."
"I know he does." Casey stormed off. Dana stared after him.
* * * * *
"Yup?" Natalie did not look up from her computer.
"Is Casey on Atkins?"
Natalie did look up, after all. "Casey? No. Is he? Why would Casey be on a diet? He never gains weight ever."
"I caught him eating cheese in the editing room. A lot of cheese."
"Just cheese. Also, there was the thing with the orange, earlier."
"You aren't allowed to eat oranges on Atkins phase one."
"Right. And that's what he was doing with the orange."
"Not eating it?"
"Not eating it. Now that I think about it, he also didn't eat anything off the craft services table last night."
"And he didn't eat any of Dan's bread, either. I've been meaning to get to the bottom of that. He was really weird about it."
"Right. Whereas he did eat cheese. Cheese was his whole dinner."
"Oh my god!" Natalie sprang up from her chair. "Casey's on Atkins!" She headed out at her top scurry.
Dana followed. She knew she shouldn't, but she followed. She had to get back to her office, anyway. She pretended she didn't hear Natalie in full cry on the newsroom floor, letting everyone know that Casey was on Atkins; she neither paused nor flinched, though she couldn't quite keep her eyebrows level and normal when she heard Elliot's response to that. And Kim's. Especially Kim's.
But when Natalie came level with Dan, who was making his way back from the elevators, Dana did pause, just out of sight. She was interested. She was legitimately interested. There was the welfare of her show to consider.
"Dan," Natalie said breathlessly, "did you know Casey's on Atkins?"
"Yes." Dana winced. Dan would have done better to lie, even though he wasn't all that good a liar.
Natalie inflated and grew spikes. "You didn't tell me."
"Couldn't, with Casey right there."
"You had all day. You could've said. You'll pay for this. You'll pay." Natalie had sprouted talons now, too.
"Natalie." Dan was using a voice of reason, and Dana almost felt bad for him; the voice of reason had never once worked on Natalie. "Casey knows I know. I've been talking him out of it all week, and I have to get him talked out of it, by tonight at the latest, or Wardrobe's going to have to start taking in his suits. And there's a fine line, Natalie, between annoying Casey and humiliating him. Annoying him is good, it's fine, it works; Casey is putty in my hands when he's irritated. But when he's humiliated and he thinks I'm responsible, it takes an act of God to get him to give an inch.”
"And this excuses your failure to tell me something I clearly need to know because?"
"You'd tell everyone." Danny was cool, calm, relaxed, apparently unaware he was signing his own death warrant. He was even inclining slightly against the wall. Dana couldn't help admiring that. It was insanity, but it was noble insanity.
"He doesn't want anyone to know. He'd be humiliated if everyone knew."
"Everyone does know, now." Natalie sounded satisfied.
"Right. But I didn't tell anyone. You figured it out on your own."
"Actually, Dana told me." Natalie was sounding interested now, interested despite herself in the revealed workings of Casey's mind and Dan's plan; Dana's interest had a lot more to do with self-preservation. She should have seen this coming. She should have. On what planet was a television producer regularly out-thought by anchors? On no planet. Except, apparently, hers. Planet Dana. Dana's personal hell.
"Right. Whichever. The key thing is that I am not responsible for the public exposure of Casey's increasing self-consciousness and age-related paranoia, induced, I am convinced, by that horrible literature professor he's dating. Dana is responsible for his humiliation. And you are. And you two are not exactly the anti-diet forces around here."
"Hmmm." Natalie was clearly trying to find the reason she was still allowed to be angry.
"I did this for Casey's good, Natalie. I did it for the show's good." Danny was coming around third, moving well into the home stretch of Natalie-appeasement, and Dana could see his knowledge of that written all over his body. He was inclined forward now, looking Natalie straight in the eye, his hands over the heart he was apparently speaking from. Dana thought he was overplaying it a bit. "And if you think that I've got to be punished for that, then fine. I'm a man. I can take one for the team."
Natalie paused. Dan was obviously holding his breath. Then she rocked forward, pointing her finger at his face. “Casey's the one who's going to be punished for this mess," she said. "It's his fault for going on that stupid diet." She paused, then moved in for the kill. "You're going to be punished for being sexist."
Danny flinched. Natalie smiled, showing a lot of teeth, and strode away, leaving him gazing thoughtfully at his hands. Then he looked up, straight into Dana's eyes; she'd thought he didn't know she was listening.
He was smiling.
"I'm taking one for the team," he told her. But his grin said something else. And when he walked away, he was humming; Dana thought it might be "Peter and the Wolf."
Danny's plan was clearly still unfolding. Dana wondered if it was too late to move to Russia. She understood the winters there were very nice.
* * * * *
The ten o'clock rundown had to be canceled after Arizona, on the road and apparently under divine guidance, had destroyed Carolina, knocking them out of the playoffs and giving the Sports Night staff just two hours to redo most of their postseason predictions and graphics. Jeremy was working on a worst-case Super Bowl scenario that he swore would come to pass, Natalie was frantically editing Arizona-Carolina for highlights, and Danny was hovering over her shoulder watching, commenting, and rewriting the entire first half of the show against time.
Casey was not present, and Dana didn't have time to think about him. She had just enough time to poke her head into editing. "Dan, Casey will be here for the show." It wasn't a question. She wasn't going to let it be a question.
"Of course he will be. He's a seasoned professional." Danny didn't look up. "'Tails between their legs.' We can't say that. It's clumsy. And cliched. Casey'll burst something. He's going to be mad enough tonight without cliches."
"Because if he isn't here for the show, Dan, I will know who to blame."
Danny spared her the briefest of glances. "Yes, you will. Angela Montgomery-Phillips, M.A., Ph.D., rising young star of the English department at Columbia University."
Dana, already moving on, paused in the hallway and blinked. Did Dan really think she'd blame a literature professor Casey had exactly dated six times for anything that went wrong tonight? Then Kim rushed up to her with news that the 40s were a shambles, and she had just twenty-two minutes to air. Dana shook off the Casey thing and hit the ground running.
* * * * *
"Five minutes to air. First team to the studio, please. Five minutes."
Dana turned serenely to Natalie, who was looking as much like a Valkyrie as she could, and doing a good job, especially considering her limitations. "Do I need to ask what happened to their pants?"
Valkyrie Natalie turned smug. "Freak accident. Somehow all their pants got moved to long-term storage earlier, while we were working on the Arizona thing."
"Get them to them during the second c-break?"
"Remember? Storage was outsourced."
"So the pants are?"
"On their way to New Jersey, we think. I'll get it fixed tomorrow." Natalie smiled. "Unless, of course, Casey's still on his diet. Then Wardrobe will be too busy taking in his suit coats to press the pants right away."
"Ah." They'd probably be anchors without pants all week, since Natalie seemed to be blaming them for everything that had gone wrong today since the Atkins revelation. Or maybe since the original Atkins book was published. Dana was looking around, tapping her fingers on the counter, trying to decide if she'd give Kim one more minute before she sent out reinforcements, when the first team walked in.
Actually, Dan strolled in, casual, cool, and collected, looking stylish in a pearl gray shirt, a deep gray tie with a tiny fleur-de-lis pattern, and black boxer briefs. He waved to the first camera operator, bowed slightly in the direction of the control room, and moved onto the set.
Casey, on the other hand, was being towed into the room by Kim. Kim looked incredibly happy. Casey did not. He was nattily attired in a pale blue shirt, a steel blue shaded tie, and intensely scarlet boxers with shiny hot pink words all over them. Words, and hearts. Well, just one heart that Dana could see – a big one over Casey's butt. Not that she was looking at Casey's butt. She was just looking at the huge, shocking pink heart over his butt. It was impossible to look anywhere else.
Jeremy choked. Chris and Dave collapsed laughing. She heard a gasp over her headset that had to come from Jerome, although she'd never heard any of the camera operators make an unauthorized sound on set before. Natalie, face suffused with glee, grabbed her arm. "Does it say – do those say 'stud' on them? Over the crotch?"
Dana nodded. One of the bright pink words was indeed 'stud.' Another, she could see as Casey turned, was definitely 'loverboy.' Dana just sat there, staring, as Casey and Dan donned their coats and sound equipment and took their seats, Casey moving with unseemly haste, Danny looking like he owned the place. She watched as Alyson finished her touchups on Dan and fled the set, hand pressed over her mouth, unprofessional laughter leaking from behind it. Then Dana blinked out of her daze and reached for the microphone. "Thanks for joining us at last, Danny, Loverboy. Good show."
"Good show," Danny said.
Elliot, Dave, and Chris broke into a spontaneous chorus of "Turn Me Loose."
"Dead. You are all dead." Casey had taken on a distinctly reddish glow. Dana wondered if she should have Elliot turn up the blues a bit.
"Turn me loose, turn me loose."
"I don't want you to blame Angela for this, Casey." Danny tapped his script on the desk briskly. "She couldn't know how often you use boxers as outerwear in this job."
"Never speak to me again, Danny."
"And it was such a thoughtful, tasteful gift. How many women give you tangible evidence of your amazing skill in bed?"
"I gotta do it my way."
"Danny. You're as much to blame for this as anyone. You told me I should put them on some morning so that she could see them."
"It's the only right thing to do, to wear a gift when the giver can see it. And after last night, you pretty much had to. It's not such a bad thing. You'll thank her in time."
"Or no way at all."
"I'm just saying, not everyone would be sorry that the people at work know he's a red-hot stud."
"3, 2, 1."
"Good evening. I'm Dan Rydell alongside Casey McCall. We'll have those stories plus hot briefs from the Cardinals game, a love-in from Chicago, and star-studded action in Los Angeles."
"You're watching Sports Night on CSC, so stick around."