"Michael Jordan has come out of retirement to sign a one-year contract with the Lakers under new coach Phil Jackson. Our hoop dreams have come true, my friends. Number 23 is back.
"That was a CSC exclusive. You're watching Sports Night. I'm Dan Rydell, alongside Casey McCall. That's it for us. Have a good night."
<"Music-go. Animation-go. We're out.">
Dan turned to his deskmate and slapped him a high-five. Dana, Natalie, Jeremy, and the others came running out of the control room with whoops of triumph, high-fiving and hugging each other. Isaac strolled toward the group with a dazzling grin on his face, and everyone surged like a human tide, enveloping him in a massive hug.
Isaac finally managed to struggle free and slapped Casey on the back. "We'll see if lightning strikes thrice."
Casey lifted his brows. "Try saying that three times fast."
Jeremy squinted behind his thick glasses and looked inquiringly at Natalie.
"In a word, baseball."
"Oh, right. How could I have forgotten that?"
"How could you not?" Dan shrugged and gave Jeremy a knowing look.
Casey veered away from Isaac and got in Dan's face. "Never insult him in my presence."
"Oh, yeah?" Dan leaned in closer.
"Be careful who you deitize."
"This from the man who genuflects at the mention of Sammy Sosa's name."
"Sammy's a god."
Dana shook her head and put her arms around Natalie and Isaac. "And you wonder why we'd rather stay home with a pint of Black Raspberry Baccio and a good book."
Isaac took a second to smile at his anchors, then steered the three of them toward the hallway, saying absently, "Me? I don't wonder. No." He laughed quietly, and Dana and Natalie joined in with deceptively girlish giggles. "Dan? Casey? Go home. Ladies, Scotch, in my office. The rest of you, good job. Goodnight."
Casey looked at Dan, shrugged, and slung his arm around Dan's shoulders. "I'm too jacked. Beer?"
"Sure." Dan paused. "Hey."
"No lectures on His greatness?"
"I'll take that as acquiescence."
Dan gave him what passed for a threatening look and steered them into their office, where they slipped back into their street clothes and set off together.
* * * * * *
Even after midnight, it was still incredibly hot and muggy. Lightning skittered across the horizon, the odd neon pink and orange tendrils of a summer electrical storm. O'Brien's was packed to the gills, thick with smoke, and only marginally cooler. They found a table hidden way in the back by the john, and Dan clapped Casey on the back. "Guard it with your life. The usual?"
Casey squeezed into the chair against the wall and dropped his bag on the other. "Sounds good."
Dan pushed his way through the throng to the bar and came face-to-face with a new bartender, a dead ringer for Liam Neeson except for the extensive scarring. He leaned in and yelled his order. "Two Amstel Lights."
The bartender's face contorted and his gigantic mitts curled into fists. Lightning streaked through the sky outside and cast an eerie glow on the guy's zipper face. Dan's mind flashed on some old Boris Karloff movie, and he took an involuntary step back, revising their order with a nervous cough. "Make that two Guinness." Two glasses were slammed down so hard on the bar in front of him, tufts of foam flew in a five-foot radius. Face frozen in a polite smile, Dan paid and grabbed the glasses, and would've taken off running if the bar wasn't so crowded.
Winding his way back through to their table, he lowered himself into the free chair, handed Casey his beer, and took a long gulp from his own.
"What? Oh, sorry." Dan lifted up and yanked Casey's bag from under him, tossing it beneath their table as he settled back into his chair.
"What's this?" Casey held up his glass and grimaced at the thick, murky substance that sloshed over one side and down his fingers.
"New bartender. Boris Karloff, I swear to god."
"Wuss." Casey shook his head and took a cautious drink.
"You know it." Dan downed another hefty swallow, set his glass down, and toyed with the rim, slumping back to watch his buddy's face contort into a grimace of violent distaste.
"Barrel scrapings." Casey wiped away froth with the back of his hand.
"Wuss." Dan casually downed another swallow and smiled at Casey. "Smooth."
"So's hemlock, but you don't drink it."
"You should be ashamed, a good Irishman like you. This stuff is mother's milk."
"I'd rather drink that."
"Whoa!" Dan recoiled, grabbed the edge of the table, and tried to shake the image out of his head. "That's sick, man."
Casey just sat back, looking pleased with himself, and even managed another drink with barely a shudder.
* * * * * *
An hour and a half later, they staggered out of O'Brien's trying to hold each other up, each thinking the other was drunk and in need of assistance. They stumbled down the street together, talking louder than either of them realized, finding the most minor things uproariously funny, not really noticing the glares and knowing looks of passersby.
Two beautiful girls walked past them, arms linked, giggling behind their hands, and through his beer-induced haze, Dan heard one of them say, "Cute couple." He stopped dead, pulling Casey to a screeching halt so fast they both almost fell over, and swung around to stare at the figures disappearing into the brightly lit doorway of a convenience store.
"Couple?" Dan's brow furrowed.
"What? Oh, probably. Just our luck, huh?" Casey exhaled a theatrical sigh and hiccuped loudly. "Come on, loverboy." He grabbed onto Dan, practically dragging him bodily down the street while Dan muttered to himself.
A familiar doorway loomed before them. Dan squinted at the number on the building. "This me?"
"Yeah. Home sweet home." They walked through the dark alcove to the door and turned to face each other.
"They were talking about us."
"No, they weren't, we were."
"We were what?"
Casey seemed perplexed for a second, then started to laugh.
Dan grabbed him and hissed, "Shhhhh!" He glanced around, looking for any suddenly lit windows. "You wake my neighbors, I'm toast." He wasn't sure how it happened, but the next thing he knew, Casey's bag had hit the ground, and Casey was holding him, pushing him back into a darker corner.
Casey had called him that a million times, but never with that undertone of intimacy. And then Casey was kissing him, and his alcohol-soaked brain could barely comprehend what was happening, only how good Casey tasted, how surprisingly soft his lips were, how his tongue slid inside and invaded his mouth.
The adrenaline rush cleared his head a little, and other details crept in, odd little flashes of contrast some part of his mind mulled over while they kissed. Casey was strong, his body firm and warm, trapping him against cool stone walls. Trapping. It was weird to feel overpowered; weird to feel Casey's rough, late-night stubble on his face instead of soft, womanly skin; to smell the remnants of masculine cologne mixed with smoke and sweat instead of designer perfume; to feel Casey's trapped erection grinding against his own, rather than the press of soft breasts against his chest.
His mind did a double-take. This was Casey kissing him. Casey. Drinking buddy, co-anchor; his closest friend for most of the last ten years. The guy he'd helped through a painful divorce; the only person who had really been there for him after Rebecca. It was Casey's hard-on burning through his jeans, setting him on fire with a need he never knew he possessed. And like lightning out of the clear blue, it hit him. All these years, it had really been Casey he'd wanted. Holy shit. Was he in love with Casey?
Someone walked past them, and they instinctively slunk deeper into the shadows. Casey drew back and looked at him, and they both stood there staring into each other's eyes, trying to recapture their breaths.
But it was Dan who spoke first, fighting down the thundering of his heart. "November 23rd."
"So you said." Casey reached up and touched Dan's cheek. "I gotta go throw up now."
"You do that. You wanna use my john?"
Casey glanced toward the door and seemed to seriously consider the idea, but then shook his head. "Nah, I can make it home."
"Okay." Dan let him go, but didn't move away.
"It wasn't you."
"I hoped not."
Casey smiled and slid his hand down Dan's arm. "It was nice. You're a good kisser."
Dan broke into a smile and handed Casey his bag. "You're not so bad, yourself, but I'd heard rumors." Before Casey could reply, he'd propelled him back to the sidewalk. "Later, buddy. Call me when you get in."
"Yeah. See you tomorrow."
"Don't remind me."
Dan stood there, watching him go, and couldn't resist tossing out one last comment, "You puke in front of my building, I'm toast."
The sound of Casey's laughter followed him inside.