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By Raietta

* * *

CATEGORY: Sports Night fandom, slash, Dan/Casey

RATING: PG for astonishing lack of sex or naughtiness in this story, but R for the language.

NOTES: The overall theme of this story is very similar to an aspect of the beautiful young adult novel, Celine, by Brock Cole. I strongly recommend that you read this novel. More notes can be found at the end of this fic.

VERBOSE WARNING: One of my sexy betas, Aris, called this a Japanese noodle dish of a story, as opposed to a hearty steak dinner of a story. I'd heed her label, if I were you. =0) This story is neither loud nor sexy. Although it's a Dan/Casey pairing, Casey never shows up in the flesh. The m/m is definitely present, but very muted. Aris also said I write like a Texas cowboy in this story (approvingly, but still). Just thought I should warn you. There is an almost-finished sequel to this where the slash factor rises exponentially, but for now, my other sexy beta, Revenant, suggested that this is pre-slash. She also said there's nothing wrong with being a Texan cowboy, and as I have a lot of family in Texas, I'm going to agree. (Yeehaw!)

LOVE TO: My two sexy betas! I have yet to come across more fabulous ladies than you.


Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt-- marvellous error!--
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

--Antonio Machado

* * *

He was searching for the box of Kraft macaroni and cheese that he *knew* was somewhere in the bottom of the pantry when there was a buzzing at the door. Dan stood up, and -- whoo! Head rush. He put a hand on the pantry door to steady himself, and grimaced.

Shaking his head, dog-like, he put down the jar of salsa he'd found instead of the macaroni and cheese. The salsa had expired in '96. Dan figured he should probably throw it out, that and the can of sliced mushrooms that had expired in '82. He reached down for the mushrooms and-- Hey! There was the box of macaroni and cheese: hiding behind the mushrooms, which was a bad sign if ever there was one. He hoped it was still edible. Although, there really wasn't much any amount of time could do to dried macaroni and powdered cheese.

The buzzer sounded again.

"All right, all right," he called, as if the visitor could possibly hear him, and strolled through the living room to the door, where he pressed the intercom.


There was a moment's pause, then a tentative, "Hey..."

Dan frowned. "Can I help you?"

"Hey... Danny?"

It's Charlie, Dan thought, with surprise.

"It's Charlie," the voice said, and Dan smiled. "Can I, uh, come in?"

"Hey, Charlie! Sure, come on in," Dan said, and buzzed him through.

Then, immediately on the heels of his happy It's Charlie! thought came the thought, *Fuck*. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. Of all the people he really, really didn't want to see today, the day he was feeling sort of okay and was about to eat Kraft macaroni and cheese, Casey had to show up at his doorstep. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.


He opened the door for Charlie and Casey, then went back into the kitchen, where the water for the macaroni was boiling over. "Aw, fuck." He pulled the pot off the stove and nearly scalded himself in the process. Muttering, he poured some of the water in the sink, and then put the pot back on the coil and began to tear at the Kraft box.

Shuffling of feet at his back, then a soft, "Hey."

Dan turned and grinned. "Hey Charlie!" It was nice to see Charlie. He hadn't been able to hang out with him... recently. He supposed, since he'd brought Charlie with him to Dan's, that Casey wasn't here to pick a fight.

"Hey," Charlie said, looking as little and Casey-like as ever, bundled into a jacket for the spring cool, his jeans neat and devoid of holes or grass stains, his ears pink. His hair was cropped short, like Dan's was. Dan squatted down and gave Charlie a bear hug, which Charlie returned somewhat stiffly, then stood back up and ruffled Charlie's neat blond hair.

"Whatcha up to, big guy?" Dan asked, then turned back to his box and began picking at the cardboard again. "You and your dad want some macaroni and cheese? It's Kraft," he added, as if this was a great enticement.

"No thanks," Charlie said, in his little super-polite voice. He started shuffling his feet again, standing in the middle of the kitchen.

"Here, siddown," Dan directed. "Take off your jacket. Stay a while."

Charlie sat at the kitchen table and unzipped his jacket.

"So, what's up?" Dan said, finally getting the box open and pouring the macaroni into the water.

"Nothing." Charlie took off his jacket and folded it neatly on the chair next to him.

"It's great to see you. Been a while, Charlie. We should go see a movie or something some time."

"Yeah, okay," Charlie said, and Dan was finished messing with the pot and turned back to him. Charlie looked very uncomfortable and uneasy, sitting at the table. His little hands were folded together on the table.

"Hey," Dan said, "where's your dad? In the living room?"

"Well, actually," Charlie said, then stopped. Dan looked at him. "Well, actually, he's not here."

Dan felt his eyebrows rise alarmingly high. "He's not?"

Charlie shook his head.

"Huh," Dan said. Dan had babysat for Charlie before, generally when Charlie was a tiny little thing in diapers and Winnie-the-Pooh overalls, occasionally when Lisa and Casey were gearing up for the divorce, during the divorce, and then a few times after the divorce. It hadn't happened in a while, though. Dan missed it. He very stupidly hadn't realized that fighting with Casey would have repercussions concerning Charlie. This was awfully impromptu, but what the hell. "Did he drop you off here or something? Does he have a note for me?"

"...No," Charlie said.

Dan stood in the middle of the small kitchen. "No?" Charlie shook his head. "Is he gonna call?"

"...Probably not."

Dan stood for a moment, then sat down across the table from Charlie. "Does Casey even know you're here?"

Charlie paused for a second. Reluctantly, he said, "No, I don't think so."

"Okay," Dan said slowly. "Okay. What's up, Charlie?"

Charlie looked down at his hands.

Dan waited. On the stove, the macaroni boiled happily.

After a long moment of silence, Dan said softly, "It's okay, Charlie. You can tell me. I'm not mad at you."

"Don't call Dad," Charlie said.

"Where does he think you are?"

Charlie shrugged. "With Mom."

Dan nodded. "Okay." He nodded again. "Okay," he repeated. "So where does your mom think you are?"

"With Dad."

"Okay." This made sense. "How come you're here, then?"

Charlie shrugged. "I dunno."

This was going to be rather difficult. "Why does Casey think you're at your mom's?"

"Promise you won't call Dad?" Charlie looked up at Dan, and the expression on his face tore at him.


"And not Mom either?"


Charlie looked at Dan, and seemed to see that he meant it.

"Well," he said, "I can't go to Mom's this weekend."

Dan waited.

"She's got this guy over. Keith. He's a surgeon."

"Wow," said Dan.

"Yeah. They're going to New Jersey this weekend."

"New Jersey?" Dan wrinkled his nose. "What on earth for?"

"Beats me."

"All right." Dan waited some more.

Charlie hunched one shoulder and looked at the refrigerator as he spoke. "Dad doesn't know. It would just make him... you know."

"Yeah," said Dan. He knew, all right.

"Like when Mom dated that one guy, the pilot."

"Do you always categorize your mom's boyfriends by their jobs?" Dan asked, despite himself.

Charlie shrugged.

"Okay, go on."

"Yeah, so Dad always gets a little weird, and I didn't tell him that Mom was going out of town with Keith this weekend. He doesn't even know Mom's going out with anyone right now."

Dan nodded.

"And Dad's going out with that lady."

"Christi," Dan supplied.

"Right," Charlie said. "And Mom doesn't like her at all. So Dad's going out with Christi, and they're busy this weekend, but..."

"But it's your turn with your dad this weekend."

"Yeah." Charlie looked away from the fridge, and said, "Your macaroni's boiling over."

"Aw, damn," Dan said, and got up and turned off the stove and moved the pot over. Then he sat back down. "Thanks. Okay, continue." He folded his elbows on the tabletop.

"So Dad tells me to tell Mom that I need to, you know, stay with her, but Mom's going to New Jersey with Keith."

"And your dad doesn't call your mom to tell her this?" Dan said, raising one eyebrow. Casey, you really suck, he thought.

"No, he called, but Mom wasn't there. So I told him I'd tell her."

"And you didn't."

Charlie shook his head.

"So your mom dropped you off at your dad's place, and you took the subway here, and you need a place to spend the weekend."

"Yeah, basically," Charlie said.

"Okay." Dan sat back in his chair. "Let's recap. So Lisa's out with Keith the surgeon, and Casey's out with Christi the ad exec." Charlie nodded. "And you're out in the snow." Charlie gave a little half-smile. Dan sighed and shook his head. "Dang. That's quite a situation."

"I would've stayed at Mom's, but I don't have my key, and besides, there's no food there."

"Well," Dan said cheerfully, getting up, "there's Kraft macaroni and cheese right here, big guy."

"Cool," said Charlie, and smiled for real this time.

* * *

They ate macaroni and cheese and potato chips and sliced zucchini, because Dan insisted that Charlie eat something green and leafy, or at least green, and then they went out and saw a movie by Pixar that was pretty good, except for the fact that all the people in the movie looked really funny and walked strange, but they were pixilated, so Dan decided to cut them some slack.

They ate a barrel of popcorn and drank a vat of Coke and chewed on miniature Butterfingers, despite the fact that they'd just eaten dinner/late lunch, and Dan was absolutely stuffed when they finally waddled out of the theater.

"Let's eat a hot dog," Charlie said, as they passed a street vendor, and Dan gave him an incredulous look.

"Are you nuts?" Dan asked. "Just how much food can you consume in an hour?"

"A lot," Charlie said, and Dan laughed and bought them both a hot dog.

* * *

Dan made up the couch for Charlie, and watched Charlie slip off his shirt and fold it neatly on the sofa arm, and felt bad. "Hey," he said, "you take the bed. I'll take the couch."

Charlie just shrugged and fiddled with his socks.

"C'mon," Dan said. "Off to bed with you. And brush your teeth."

"I brought P.J.s," Charlie said, "but I forgot a tooth brush."

"You can use my brush."

"Ew," said Charlie. Dan ended up searching through his bathroom cupboards, the junk drawer in the kitchen, and then the other junk drawer in the living room for an extra toothbrush, and eventually found one. It was pink. Charlie took it without commenting, and Dan thought about how much more mature Charlie was than Dan had been at age ten.

"You gonna be okay?" Dan asked suddenly, as Charlie crawled into bed. He stood in the doorway and watched his ex-best friend's son arrange his bed sheets and settle back into a pillow. He felt suddenly very protective, and worried, and sad.

"Yeah," Charlie said, and favored him with another little smile. "Thanks, Danny."

"Always welcome, Charlie," Dan said.

"Good night," Charlie said, snuggling down. "Love you."

"Love you, too," Dan said, and softly shut the door.

* * *

Lying on the couch, he flipped through the channels on TV until he came upon *Fast Times at Ridgemont High* playing on the Superstation, and settled in. He kept one ear trained on the bedroom, ready to jump at the slightest noise, and the other on the inane dialogue. He'd told Casey they should have gone into screenwriting. Surely they could come up with better material than the crap on TV and in the movies. Casey had just rolled his eyes and told him to work on his script.

He wondered what he was going to say to Casey.


He fell asleep listening to the muted noise of the TV set and the silence of his bedroom, and dreamed that he and Casey were riding up and down an escalator in a mall, trying to find the shoe department, arguing over who was going to buy Charlie's new pair of tennies.

* * *

The next morning, Dan woke up to find Charlie sitting next to him on the couch, eating a bowl of cereal.

"Hey," Dan said, groggily, and peered at the VCR to see what time it was. It was seven AM. Dan groaned.

"Charlie," he said, then cleared his throat. "Charlie, it's seven in the morning."

"Really, it's eight," Charlie replied around his mouthful of Wheaties. "Your clock's wrong."

"Ugh," said Dan, and buried his face in his pillow. "Come back to bother me at ten. No sane person gets up this early when they can sleep in."

"Okay," said Charlie, but he didn't leave. Dan sighed.

"What?" he asked, crossly.

Charlie nudged him with his knee. "Nothin'."

"Don't you nothin' me," Dan said, turning on the couch. His back was screaming. "What is it?"

Charlie just smiled. "Let's go to the park."

"It's seven in the morning!" Dan protested.

"Eight," Charlie said.

"You're killing me here, Charlie." Dan was whining, he knew it. Blargh.


Dan squinted at Charlie. "Huh?"

Charlie spooned up another mouthful of cereal. "Charlie's a little kid's name."

"Hmm," said Dan.

"But Charles sounds stupid, too." Charlie wiggled around a bit on the couch, sitting on Dan's feet. "Why'd my parents have to give me such a stupid name?"

"Charles?" Dan's forehead wrinkled. "That's a good name."

"It's wimpy," Charlie said. He made a face. "Char-ulls."

"Well, Charlie's a pretty cool nickname," Dan said. Dammit, he was waking up. Soon he would be fully conscious, and then he'd have to get up for the day.

"It sounds dumb," Charlie said.

"Well," Dan said. "Look on the bright side. You could be nearing thirty and still have everyone calling you Danny."

"Why don't you tell them to call you Dan?"

"I did," Dan said. "Or, actually, Daniel. But it didn't stick, for some reason."

"Yeah," Charlie said pensively. They sat together for a moment, silently, Charlie munching on his Wheaties and possibly contemplating a sad, sorry future where, at age thirty, everyone still called him Charlie, Dan thinking about getting some coffee made.

"Hey," Charlie said, and nudged Dan again.


"Let's go to the park," Charlie said, and Dan sighed.

* * *

It was a not-quite-perfect almost-Spring day, and the playground was filled with kids running around and goofing off on their day off from school, while parents cupped their elbows and conferred on the sidelines.

Dan sat on a park bench and surreptitiously eyed the buxom young mother directing her two children onto the miniature seesaw while Charlie wobbled and caromed around the playground on Dan's rollerblades. The rollerblades were at least ten sizes too large for Charlie's little feet, but Charlie had insisted on using them, so what the hell. Dan sat back and closed his eyes and enjoyed the feeling of spring sunlight on his face, then a cloud rolled across the sky and the warmth on his face went away.

Dan wondered what he should get Charlie for lunch. Chicago-style pizza? McDonald's? Hmmm...

There was the scraping of rollerblade wheels on the sidewalk, and then a thump as Charlie plopped down next to him on the metal bench.

"Hey," said Dan, and opened his eyes.

"Hey," Charlie said, and smiled. Dan smiled back. Charlie was such a good little kid.

"That's Tim, over there," Charlie said, pointing to a kid swinging a baseball bat and shouting at another kid with a catcher's mitt. "He's in my class."

"Cool," Dan said. "You wanna go over there and say hi?"

"Nah," said Charlie.

Dan shrugged, and nodded. "You wanna play catch or something?"

"We don't have a ball," Charlie said.

Huh. True enough.

"Dang," Dan said, and smiled. Next to the seesaw, the buxom young mother swiped a stray hank of hair out of her eyes and grinned at her children. Nice. Very nice.

"Hey, Danny?" Charlie said.


"Can I ask you something?"

Uh-oh. Dan sat up on the bench. "Sure, of course you can. What's up?"

Charlie looked down at his knees, then up at the playground, then said, "How come you and Dad aren't friends any more?"

Aw, shit. Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit.

Dan rubbed at an eyelid. "What makes you think we're not friends any more, Charlie?"

Charlie gave him a look that said Dan's question didn't even dignify a sarcastic answer.

Dan sighed, deeply. "Charlie. It's not... that is... I mean...." He sighed again. One of the buxom young mother's children was crying now, and she was busy comforting her. "Has your dad said anything to you about it?"

"No." Charlie looked forlorn and very serious. "Except that you can't hang out so much anymore. He says you're busy."

"Ah." Dan's head felt very heavy all of a sudden, and his chest felt tight. This sucked. This sucked bad.

"He's really mad at you," Charlie said, looking at Dan.

"Oh yeah?"

Charlie nodded. "Yeah. When I asked him if you were gonna come over on Wednesday, he said 'No, he's busy', and his voice got all quiet like he does when he's mad, and his hands clenched all up. Like a fist." Charlie demonstrated, curling up his hand and holding it up for Dan to see. "You can just tell. His face and everything. And he never talks about you or anything."

"Ah," said Dan.

"But see, he used to talk about you all the time."

"Huhm," Dan said.

"So?" Charlie put down his hand. "How come you and Dad are mad at each other?"

Dan looked back over at the seesaw and saw that the young mother and her two kids were gone. He tried hard to think of the right thing to say to Charlie, who deserved better from everyone, from him, from Casey. Who deserved to be told everything, told the truth, without sugarcoating or evasion.

"Well," he said, trying to get his act together, "well. It's difficult to say." Then, "Well, actually, it's not. I kinda..." Damn. "I humiliated your dad on the air."

Charlie looked at him, waiting for more. God, he looked like Casey. This was incredibly hard.

"I..." Dan stopped, and tried again. "You see, Charlie, your dad and I got into a fight, and I wanted to hurt him, so I said things I shouldn't have said on the air, live, on our show, and that hurt him a lot, and now...."

"Why'd you fight?" Charlie said. "Why'd you want to hurt him?"

Dan looked down at his lap. Then up at the sky. "Well... you see-- okay. Okay." Dan shook his head. "You know that I've been seeing a psychiatrist, right?" He made a chopping motion with his hand. "A therapist. Whatever."

Charlie shrugged.

"Her name's Abby. Anyway, I'm seeing this person because...."


Dan looked over at Charlie, who was gazing at him seriously. "Because of Sam."

Dan nodded. "Yeah. Because of Sam."

"You told me that," Charlie said. "And, when Mom and Dad got divorced, you told me about Sam, remember?" Dan nodded again, remembering his stumbling little lecture about how life changed people, but those people still loved... or something...

"You told me that sometimes sad things happened to people, but that they still loved you all the same," Charlie said, "and you said that it was okay to be sad...."

"Yeah," Dan said, and smiled a little.

"Yeah," said Charlie.

"Yeah...." Dan cleared his throat. "And... well, I haven't been feeling... very good... recently." He sighed. "I haven't been feeling good for a very long time, actually. Sometimes I'm able to push all the sad and sorry and bad things I'm feeling away, and I'm happy, but after a while the sad stuff just comes right up to the surface...." He looked at Charlie, who nodded at him encouragingly.

"And... well... talking to Abby... I have been feeling-- not good, lately. And... things with your dad... they just..."

"Yeah," said Charlie, and Dan swallowed again. Oh please God, don't let me cry, he thought desperately.

"It's not that I don't love your dad, Charlie, because I do. A lot. I love your dad a lot. But, well, we fought. And I said stuff I should never have said, and I was bad on-air. So...."

"Yeah." Charlie said. He was back to looking at his lap. Dan had this incredible urge to reach out his hand and curve it over Charlie's short-shorn head, and after a moment he did. Charlie's hair felt good under his palm. He ruffled the short blond hair, then slid his hand to Charlie's shoulder, and patted him, trying to be comforting. Charlie looked like he never got enough hugs. He was such a reserved little guy.

"Are you guys... gonna make up? Be friends again?" Charlie said.

"I don't know." Dan's chest felt even hotter and tighter, saying that. "Maybe...."

Charlie nodded.

"But... maybe not."

Charlie nodded again. Then, after a moment of silence, he said, "Dad's not very good at making up with people." He leaned into Dan, tucked under his shoulder, and kicked his feet. "Like, when Mom and Dad were splitting up, that's what Mom always said. That Dad can't forgive people, and he can't make up with them, and that he's too hard, or something."

"Charlie--" Dan said.

"Mom said he's unforgiving." Charlie said the word "unforgiving" like it should be capitalized, like it was a word that he didn't fully understand, but which he knew was monumentally important. "And Dad says the exact same thing about Mom. That she's unforgiving, and that's why she got the divorce."

"They just... your dad loves your mom a lot, Charlie," Dan said. Charlie sighed. "I think your dad is always going to love your mom a lot. It's just... they couldn't go any further together, that's all. And it was better for you, and for them, but mostly for you, to just stop being together, because they hurt each other too much when they were together. And they hurt you...."

Charlie shrugged angrily, leaning hard into Dan's side. "Whatever. All they did was fight. They treat me like a baby, but even babies know what's going on. But I know what really happened. Mom wanted to get away from Dad, and Dad didn't know how to say anything to make it right again. And they didn't get a divorce for me. They didn't even think about me, except to be mean to each other. I'm like that thing. That thing in that book."

"What thing?" Dan asked, when he really wanted to say, Oh, no, Charlie, that's not it at all--

Charlie squirmed, irritated. "I can't think of the word. I mean, I know what's going on, but I can't say the words." He gave a frustrated sigh. "I'm not stupid, you know." He sighed again, an explosion of sound. "I just can't think of the words."

"I understand, Charlie," Dan said softly, and it was true, he did. He understood perfectly, intimately, how it was to know something, to know an entire life, an entire situation, but be unable to voice it to another human being, unable to convey the rights words to express it. Sometimes he felt like if only he could just get out the words just right, just perfect, everything that was so jumbled up and painful and hard and strange in his life would even out, flow together, and he wouldn't be living in this bizarre twilight any more. But he was such a second-rate writer, he was so bad with words. He'd been trying all his adult life to find the right words, in work, in friendship, in love, and it never turned out right. He just wasn't good enough, and now it showed perfectly, just look at him and Casey, how he'd fucked that up, how he'd never be able to get it right again.

"I wish you and Dad weren't in a fight," Charlie said.

"I do, too," Dan said.

"I miss you," Charlie said, and he sounded very matter-of-fact about it, not shy or embarrassed at all.

"I miss you, too, Charlie," Dan said. "A hell of a lot." He felt a brief twinge of guilt for using the word "hell" in front of a kid.

"Mom and Dad are so stupid," Charlie said, angrily again, sounding resentful, tired. "I wish I could just go live with you."

"Charlie...." Dan didn't know what to say. "It's just because they love you."

"Whatever. Mom and Dad date the stupidest people. Like Christi, she's icky. And so's Keith."

"Well," Dan said, "I don't think Christi's going to last, actually. Don't worry about her."

"But he's always dating these really bad people. Like that Pixley? Pixley? Yeah. She was awful."

"Errr...." Dan was swiftly feeling more and more out of his depth in this conversation. Good grief.

"And Mom's boyfriends are all jerks. Like, yeah, jerks." Charlie frowned. "Like, whenever they come over, and I'm there, they always look at me like they'd forgotten Mom has a kid. Like, all surprised and annoyed. I wish she'd go out with you."

Dan couldn't help but burst into laughter at that one. "Oh God, Charlie, I don't think that's ever going to happen."

"Yeah, Mom doesn't much like you." Charlie nodded. "Sometimes I wish you and Dad lived together."

Dan's heart rate jump-started into high gear. He swallowed audibly and fumbled with his jacket, so discombobulated that he almost fell off the playground bench.

"Like on those TV shows where the best friends are always together? That would be so cool. But what I really wish is if you and me could just live somewhere."

"Well, Charlie..." Dan began, uncertainly.

"You're a lot cooler than Mom or Dad," Charlie said. "And you're never mad at me. And you never make me feel bad, like when that one time at your work? When I was in Little League, and I lied to Dad? You were a lot nicer about it than Dad was."

"Yeah, but..." Dan stopped and collected his thoughts. "That's just because I'm never around. If we were together all the time, I bet you'd find a lot of things that're annoying about me in no time." He smiled at Charlie, but Charlie shook his head.

"Dad's never around, either, but I still wish I could just hang out with you all the time. Or maybe my babysitter. She's nice, too."

Dan couldn't stand it anymore. This conversation was just... way too much. It was ripping his heart out and scaring him to death all at the same time. He straightened up and gave Charlie a little one-armed hug. "Hey, big guy. Let's go get some lunch, how about that?"

"Okay, cool," Charlie said, and got up, wobbling a little on his too-big rollerblades.

Dan stood, and stretched out his back. He could feel his spine popping. Ugh. "Where do you wanna go? You want fast food? You want Chinese? You want steak?" He grinned, and Charlie grinned back.

"Burger King! Let's have Burger King," Charlie said, and Dan nodded.

"Sounds good," he said, and Charlie took his hand and they made their way out of the playground.

* * *

That night, Dan gazes long into the shadows in the living room, the shadows on the ceiling, on the walls. The TV has something on, some movie that he doesn't recognize, and he watches it blankly for a while, stretched out on the couch. He's listening for the little body in the bedroom again, just like last night, listening for nightmares, to make sure he's still breathing in there, not gone.

He wants to tell Charlie that it's all okay. That no matter what happens, he and Charlie will still be friends. That no matter what happens, Dan will still be there for him, will still hang out with him, talk to him. He'd never realized, until now, today, just how big of a role he actually has in Charlie's life, how frighteningly important a role.

It's scary, and sad, and wonderful, and he feels honored, to be in this role. Honored.

He wants to tell Charlie that he's going to be all right, and that even if Casey never forgives Dan, things will still be okay.

He figures that it's probably true. Even for himself. No matter what happens, it won't be the end of the world. It might break his heart for a while, and change things, change his life, but it won't be the end of the world.

He wants to tell Charlie all of that; that Casey may be a little bit hard to live with sometimes, but he will always love his son, and that Lisa may have been a hard wife, but she tries very hard to be a good mother. He wants to tell Charlie that whoever his parents date, it will not change the important things, the things that matter, and even if it does, it will not be forever. None of this will be forever.

Dan slings an arm over his eyes, as he feels that weird pricking feeling behind his eyelids, the familiar sensation that means he's going to cry in a minute if he doesn't get his act together. His throat is tight and aching. Goddammit. God damn it.

What is he going to tell Casey? What is he going to tell Casey?

And then all of a sudden the mantra crooning in his mind changes from God damn it to God damn *you*. God damn you, Casey McCall. God damn you for a cold bastard, a cold unforgiving man. God damn you for a son of a bitch. God damn you for an anal-retentive, unemotional, confused, silly, middle-aged man. God damn you for a fucking arrogant, proud, divorced, child-rearing virgin. God damn you, God damn you, God damn you. God damn you.

God damn you for making me feel this way, for taking my insides and pulling them out, for seeing me when I'm insane with this strange aching grief, this disease that's just eating me alive, and twisting the knife in my side. God damn you for not trying harder. God damn you for not forgiving me. God damn you. God damn you for being the best thing that ever happened to me since the day I met you, and God damn you for not realizing that, for needing *everything*. It's not enough that I'm your fucking sidekick, it's not enough that I am nothing compared to you, in talent, in looks, in intelligence, in anything at all. God damn you.

Dan curls into the couch, away from the muttering TV, the shadows on the walls, and knows that he is crying outright now, heavily and silently. He doesn't want Charlie to wake up, to hear him. He doesn't want anyone to ever know about this, to ever find out that he has been reduced to these tears, to this pain in his body that's like acid pulling him apart, because of some man. Some man with sad, serious eyes and a snarky grin. He doesn't want anyone to ever know about this, ever. Ever.

Not even Abby knows this.

The tears keep on coming, until his whole face is hot, not just the wet parts of his face-- but then his whole face *is* wet, so maybe that's why his whole face feels like it's burning. His fingers are curled up next to his mouth, and he has to consciously keep from gnawing on them. Drawing blood. Eating himself alive. Some part of him, not a small part, wants to do just that, yearns to just swallow himself whole. Start on the hands, bite until they're gone, and proceed until all of him is gone. All of him. Until there's nothing left of him to fuck anything else up, nothing left to be hurt with, or to hurt.

Goddamn. God damn.

Eventually, he is able to stop crying.

He rubs a hand over his face and sighs. Tomorrow is Sunday. In the morning, he'll maybe take Charlie to a pancake house, that sounds good, and they'll eat pancakes together, and orange juice, and eggs, and toast, and sit together in a booth and maybe talk. Later he'll have Charlie do his homework, and then even later than that he'll take Charlie back to his mom's, back to Lisa's place, and see that Charlie goes into the building. And then leave.


* * *

Lisa's apartment block looms before them. Charlie has been quiet ever since they left Dan's place, Dan's messy bachelor pad. They'd talked nonstop in IHOP, shoveling in poached eggs (Charlie) and pancakes with strawberry syrup (Dan), guzzling orange juice, talking, talking, talking. But not talking about Casey, or Lisa, or Dan's fight with Casey, or anything that might hurt to talk about. Charlie drew on his paper place-mat, and beat Dan at tic-tac-toe.

Then, home, and homework. Charlie sat at the kitchen table and did his math and Dan sat next to him and read the Sunday paper.

"How come you like sports so much?" Charlie suddenly asked, startling Dan out of his focus on the comics. All the comic strips were about golf. God, he hated that. He loved golf, but he hated golf jokes in the comics. Ugh. Then again, maybe he didn't love golf as much as he had just a week ago, not since, well-- And the Sunday comics just rubbed it in--

"What?" Dan said.

"How come you like sports so much?" Charlie said.

Dan thought about this for a moment. "I dunno. I guess... huh." He should've had a really good answer to that-- hell, he was a writer, right?

"Sports is the last great spiritual vacation for the modern American," he finally said.

"What?" Charlie gave him an incredulous look. "Are you quoting someone?"

"Uh, no," said Dan, feeling embarrassed. He'd forgotten that children generally had no use for bromides.

"'Cuz that's really dumb," Charlie continued. "Sports is the last great vacation... whatever."

Dan sighed. "True. It is a dumb thing to say."

"Going to Disney World is a vacation," Charlie said, in full miniature-professor mode. He elucidated further. "Going fishing is a vacation. But sports? That's not a vacation."

"Sorry, Charlie."


"Charles. Right. I don't know what I was blithering on about."

"Spiritual vacation...." Charlie now looked thoughtful. "What's that mean?"

Dan sighed again. He seemed to sigh a lot when Charlie was around. Good for the lungs. Eh. "I do not know, Cha--" Oops. "--Arles."

Charlie frowned at him, twiddling his pencil. "So how come you like sports so much? I mean, isn't it boring?"

Dan frowned back, thoughtfully. "Well, okay. Thing is, it's... pure." Charlie gazed at him, patiently. "It's all about the body. Breathing. The reach of the arm. Perfection of... of the body... you don't have to think. No bills, no ex-girlfriends, no spreadsheets, no car repairs, no angry best friends, just... playing. That's what sports is." He shrugged. "It's pure. It's an escape."

"But, books are an escape," Charlie said. "When you read, that's better than sports. Lots less boring."

"Yeah, but books are always mind-only," Dan said. "You gotta help out the body, too, once in a while, let your body play, not just your mind."

"Huh," Charlie said, very pensively. He looked down at his math book, then after a moment up at Dan. "But... I don't.... Am I weird because I don't like sports?"

"'Course not!" Dan exclaimed. "Don't be silly."

"But, I'm a boy." Charlie looked glum. "I'm supposed to like sports. Dad wants me to like sports. Everyone else in my class likes sports."

Dan sighed, and dropped his head. He had nothing to say to that. Charlie went back to writing in his spiral notebook, silently.

* * *

Now they arrive at Lisa's building. Dan suppresses the urge to cross himself or make the sign to avert evil. Charlie swings open the car door, hand on his backpack.

"Okay," Dan says, "when you get into your apartment, I want you to go to the window and wave, so I can see you made it in okay, okay?"

"Okay," Charlie says.

"Cool." Dan smiles. They sit quietly for a moment, not moving, Dan's hands on the wheel, Charlie's door still swung wide open.

"Danny?" Charlie says.


"Thanks for... you know. Letting me stay over."

"Charlie," Dan says, very seriously, "it was all my pleasure. I had a great time. I love hanging out with you."

Charlie smiles. Then, "You're not going to tell Dad, right?"

Dan frowns.

"You promised...." Charlie reminds him.

Dan takes a deep breath of air. There is no freedom in love. None. "I won't tell your dad. I promise. But I really think you should tell him. It's silly, you having to tiptoe around, spending the weekend at other people's places because you don't want to start any fights. Next time, just... don't be afraid of that. Just tell them what's going on, and that they're acting like children. It won't be bad, I swear."

Charlie nods. "Maybe."

"Good." Because it's ludicrous that Charlie should even think about going to Dan because his parents are twits. This whole weekend should never have happened, no matter how much Dan enjoyed it.

"I wish you and Dad would make up," Charlie says soberly.

Dan smiles. "Me too, big guy."


"Gimme a hug," Dan says, and Charlie leans over and they embrace, Charlie's grip strong enough to squeeze the breath out of Dan's lungs. Then Charlie hops out of the car and disappears into the building.

Dan idles quietly at the curb, waiting for Charlie's little waving arm at the window. When the arm appears, signaling that Charlie's okay and in the apartment with his mother, Dan will shift the car into drive and pull back into traffic, drive home. He will eat the last of the macaroni and cheese, watch TV, maybe wander around the apartment and clean up a little. Night will come, and he'll eventually go to bed, and then tomorrow he'll wake up and have to go to work. He wonders what he'll say to Casey, if Casey even allows him to speak to him, that is. If Casey sees Dan at all. Dan suspects that he will be invisible to Casey, invisible to most of the crew; except for Jeremy, who is only ever kind to Dan, and Isaac, who is the same. He is disgusted with himself for being so pathetically affected by Casey's anger. He wonders if they'll ask about each other's weekends, and what he'll say if they do.

But he doubts they'll say anything to each other.

He hopes, though. He hopes, he hopes, he hopes.

Three stories up, a small boy's face appears at a window and a thin little arm waves down at him. Charlie is smiling. Dan raises his arm back, a sort of salute, and smiles. Then, once Charlie's arm falls and Dan is allowed to go, he shifts into drive, and starts home.






1) In the story Dan has a momentary, vague urge to cross himself (Christian) and make a sign to avert evil (pagan). I am aware that Dan is neither Christian nor pagan, but Jewish, and in my eyes, Dan would still very flippantly feel like doing all he could to keep the evil that is Lisa from consuming his poor little soul, including hand signs that are not from his own religion. He’s just that kind of a guy. I also see him as the kind of guy who’d shout out “Jesus rocks!” for no apparent reason. He’s just that kind of a guy. =0)

2) I hate the title of this story. If anyone has an idea for a title to this fic, I'd be eternally grateful to you. Thank you!