When It Rains in America

By Seema )

Disclaimer: Sorkin, Sorkin, Sorkin.

Author's Note: Fault goes to various individuals. Victoria for mentioning the lack of Casey/Dana fic, Christine for pushing and commiserating and Gail for enabling. Set after "When Something Wicked This Way Comes" and "Cliff Gardner." My gratitude to Christine for betaing this baby.

"It's been raining three days. Three consecutive days." Casey McCall held up three fingers for emphasis as he passed Dan Rydell on the way into their office. He had a hell of time getting to work this afternoon. Waiting out in the rain for a cab, getting soaked because his umbrella kept inverting, and then, just when he thought he was home free, he stepped in a puddle, just inches away from the main door. He'd swallowed the four-letter word hovering on the tip of his tongue and headed into the warm lobby, making a beeline for the elevator, where he ran into Sally Strasser. She'd smiled at him, seductively -- as if there were any other way Sally smiled -- so he wedged himself in the corner of the elevator, answering Sally's questions monosyllabically. Finally, the elevator doors opened. Sally went right, and he went left, meeting Dan -- who was armed with a clipboard -- on the way. "That's 72 hours, my friend."

"I know, Casey. I can do the math," Dan said, following Casey into their office.

"When was the last time it rained for three whole days?" Casey turned to face Dan.

"I can't tell you for sure, but I can say that this is not the first time it's rained three days in a row and it's certainly not the last." Dan shrugged out of his sports coat and laid it on the back of his chair. Leaning over, he turned on his computer.

"This is New York City, Danny, not Seattle."

"I know it's New York City. Seattle is on the other side of the country."

"In Washington." Casey settled himself on the sofa, stretching his legs out and leaning his head back against the armrest.

"Is it raining in the great state of Washington?"

"It always rains in Seattle," Casey said. He shifted his position slightly so he was on his side and looking directly towards Dan.

"The Mariners are playing in Seattle today," Dan said. He tapped a few keys on the keyboard.

"They are?" Casey racked his brain. Suddenly it was all a blank. He couldn't even remember who was in the starting line-up.

Dan made a face in Casey's direction. "Yes, against Oakland. You should know this, Casey. You get paid to keep track of this kind of stuff. Anyway, it doesn't matter if it's raining in Seattle. The Safeco stadium has a roof. They can close the roof and the grass won't get wet. The Athletics and the Mariners will go on, regardless of weather. And so must you."

Casey stared gloomily out the window. "I can't write when it's raining."

"That's ridiculous." Dan pushed back in his chair.

"Somewhere in America, it's not raining. I should be there." Silently, Casey amended, anywhere but here. Of course he'd never voice that thought to Dan. Danny could get funny about things like that, probably would take it personally. As if Casey's bad mood had something to do with Dan, when in reality it had nothing to do with Dan and everything to do with a woman he'd known for fifteen years.

"I'm sure you're right," Dan answered non-committally. He leaned back in his chair, sprawling his jean-clad legs out.

Casey swung his legs over the edge of the couch and sat up to face Dan. "I bet it's not raining in Houston."

"It's not. It's 70 degrees, clear skies, a light wind out of the east."

"How do you know this?"

"The Internet." Dan pointed to the computer. "You may have heard of it."

"I have, but I don't make a habit of checking on the weather in Houston."

"You're a journalist, Casey. We do things like this."

"Like checking the weather in Houston?" Casey asked.

"Yes."

"There are no games in Houston today." Casey got to his feet and proceeded to stalk across the room to the window. He leaned against the window, palm against cool glass, and stared down. The amount of fog made it difficult to even see the lights in the building directly opposite theirs, let alone the traffic on the street below.

"A good reporter knows what's going on, even if there isn't a game."

"How does this help me write?" Casey turned away from the window.

Dan arched an eyebrow. "You think you'd do better in Houston where it's not raining?"

"Clearly, you're not taking me seriously."

"I'm taking you very seriously, but I'd take you more so if you'd sit down and write the show."

"I've been trying, Danny." Casey started to pace in front of the sofa, before stopping short in front of Danny. "I can't remember what the starting line-up for the Mariners is."

"That is serious." An appropriately concerned expression crossed Dan's face. "Just work through it. You're a professional writer. Writer's block is part of the job. Even I've experienced it."

"Natalie threw water in your face." Casey despondently made his way back to the sofa.

"I don't talk about writer's block around Natalie anymore."

"Good move, my friend, good move." Casey slumped in the sofa, covered his face in his hands. "What are the chances it'll stop raining?"

Dan quirked a grin. "It's not going to. The weather forecast calls for heavy downpours through Sunday."

"Sunday?" Casey tried to keep the desperation out of his voice. He remembered that this past Saturday morning, while overcast, had been nice, and he'd spent the day with Charlie, shopping for some new sneakers. Then they'd gone to McDonalds -- fine dining for a kid Charlie's age -- before dropping him back with Lisa. Saturday had been a good day until the skies over Manhattan had opened up.

Dan nodded. "Yes." He returned to the desk and resumed typing.

"That's a lot of rain, Dan."

Dan looked up from his keyboard and said, "The state of New York gets thirty-two to fifty-eight inches of precipitation a year."

"This looks like it's going to be a fifty-eight inch year." Casey said gloomily, looking out of the window. "Which still doesn't help me."

"The rain isn't your problem, Casey. The rain is your excuse."

"My socks are wet, Dan. The rain is most certainly my problem."

Dan frowned. "How long have you been walking around in wet socks?"

"Since I got in." It had occurred to Casey then to get another pair of socks from Wardrobe, but the brief non-encounter with Sally in the elevator had frazzled his brain to the point his only coherent thought was to get to the relative safety of his office.

"You got in at noon."

"Yes."

Dan looked at the small clock on his desk. "And it's three now."

"Yes."

"That's a long time to be walking around in wet socks."

"I know." Casey sighed dramatically. He flexed his fingers, unclenching and clenching them into a fist and then he did a little hop-skip action.

"I don't know what you're doing over there, Casey. I'm writing our show."

"I'm getting into the zone, I'm getting into the game. I'm a team player, Danny."

Danny looked up from his screen. "So sit down and write the show."

Casey shook his head. "Can't do it, Danny." He stared gloomily out of the window.

"You need to solve this thing with Dana."

"What?" Casey turned, startled.

"This thing with Dana. You need to do something about it."

"There is no 'thing' with Dana. Only a dating 'plan'." Casey didn't mean to sound defensive. The whole newsroom was talking about him and Dana, about what they were, what they weren't, and they were all trying to help in their own pushy ways, but he needed to figure out a way to carve out some space for himself. Maybe not dating Dana would be the place to start, Casey thought, but hell, he wanted to date Dana, had wanted to data Dana for a while now, and maybe it'd be better if everyone at Sports Night started to mind their own business. Like hell that would happen.

Dan perched on the edge of his desk. "Dana doesn't know what she wants or what she's doing. Hence, the dating plan. If you care about this show at all, you'll talk to her. Now." Danny leaned forward. "Casey, it's time to take some action. You're going to have to try plan A."

"Which is talking to Dana?" Casey swallowed hard.

"You catch on quick, my friend."

"And plan B is?" Casey asked, stalling for time.

"Dana coming to talk to you."

Casey considered this. "That's not going to happen," he said finally. "She's already got a plan."

"Exactly. So you have to do plan A since obviously plans B through Y aren't going to work."

"I have that many plans?"

"You have that many plans." Dan pointed to the door. "Now go. Talk to Dana."

"That's twenty-five plans." Casey reluctantly stood up. How the hell was he supposed to get Dana to stand still for the time it'd take to go through twenty-five plans? "That's a lot of plans, Danny."

"It is."

"I don't know what any of them are."

"It's okay. Plan A is your best bet."

"Right. Plan A." Casey looked at Dan. "You stopped at Y."

"Yes. Yes, I did." Dan got up from his chair again and gently put his hand on the small of Casey's back, nudging him towards the door.

"So why isn't there a plan Z?"

"There is a plan Z. But it has an even less chance of working than the other twenty-five. Best not to mention it."

"Since you know what plan Z is, you should tell me. Especially if it's my plan. I have a whole alphabet of plans and I only know what plans A and B are. It's only fair you tell me about the others."

Dan pushed Casey out the door. "Go talk to Dana. Now. We have a show to write."

"Will you tell me about plan Z later?" Casey asked, stopping just outside of their office. He didn't bother lowering his voice; the office was loud anyway, and most everyone was staring at him and Dan anyway.

"Yes."

"I'm going to go talk to Dana." Casey backed away slowly. "I'm going. I'm really going." Dan closed the door and Casey stood for a moment, before resolutely walking towards Dana's office. It was only the knowledge that Danny was watching him that kept Casey from turning on his heel and heading in the opposite direction.

"You're going to go talk to Dana?" Natalie appeared at Casey's shoulder.

Casey nodded. "Dana is my producer. There is nothing odd about my going to go talk to Dana."

Natalie fell into step with Casey. "I agree."

"Why are you using that tone of voice?" Casey narrowed his eyes as he looked at Natalie. She was carrying a clipboard and several videotapes, obviously heading to the editing bay.

"What tone of voice?"

"The tone of voice that says there is something odd about me going to talk to Dana."

"I'm not using any tone of voice." Natalie sounded indignant at the mere accusation.

"There! There it is again." The words came out louder than Casey intended. "You're doing it again."

"I'm not doing anything, Casey. I'm just walking with you to Dana's office."

"Yes, but why are you walking with me?" He didn't mean to sound suspicious but what Natalie knew, Dana knew, and vice-versa. Casey wouldn't put it past Dana to send Natalie to pump him for information. Great, Casey thought, just great. This 'thing' with Dana was making him even more crazy and paranoid than he already was.

"Because I was going this way and so are you, so it makes sense that we go together." Natalie sounded forcefully peppy, the bounce in her step unmistakable.

"So you don't think it's odd I'm going to go talk to Dana?" Casey asked.

"No, not at all." Natalie flashed a smile at him. "In fact, I think it would be a good thing, because you guys can, you know, talk." Natalie flashed him a wide smile. Casey refrained from sighing; whatever he said to Dana, Natalie would know in a nanosecond. If Natalie knew, then the whole newsroom would know and which meant this day, which he hadn't thought could get much worse, would and could. Just then, Natalie punched his shoulder as they stopped in front of Dana's office. The door was closed. "Good luck."

Casey stared at her. "Why did you say that?" It was a struggle to keep the paranoia out of his voice. What had Dana told Natalie? What did Natalie think he would say to Dana? Whose side was Natalie on anyway?

"Say what?"

"Good luck. Why did you say that?"

Natalie shrugged. "Because it's the appropriate thing to say."

"Good luck?" Casey furrowed his brow. Yes, he did indeed know four languages fluently, but at times like this, the semantic intricacies of Spanish seemed more understandable than English.

"Because you're going to talk to Dana," Natalie said patiently, as if talking to a small child. Come to think of it, she had recently used that tone of voice with Charlie.

"Which isn't odd at all," Casey said, putting heavy emphasis on the word 'odd'. "But you seem to think I need luck."

"Because you have something to say to her that she doesn't necessarily want to hear, but really, it was just something that slipped out." Natalie leaned over and punched him again in the arm. Casey rubbed the spot painfully; Natalie didn't hold back. He suspected he might have residual muscle soreness for a few hours, if not for the next day, thanks to Natalie's fist. She eyed him suspiciously. "Are you scared of Dana? Because you look it."

"No," he answered firmly.

"Good. Because you shouldn't be."

"Do you know how many times you say 'because'?"

"Approximately eight times in every one hundred words or eight percent of my conversational output." Natalie flashed him a bright smile, showing just a glimmer of tooth between her parted lips.

Casey stared at her. "You calculated your conversational output?"

"No, Jeremy did."

"That's scary." Casey wondered how he'd react if someone he was intimately involved with came up with a 'conversational output' measure. That was Natalie and Jeremy's thing and Jeremy was smart and Natalie found things like this cute. That was their thing. Not his.

"It's really scary. Now, go."

"I can't believe we're still standing here talking about this." He glanced over his shoulder at Dana's closed door. He wondered if Dana was actually inside, ear to the door, listening to this entire conversation. And then he realized he was being paranoid again.

"That makes two of us." Natalie looked down the hall and then back at Casey. "I'm to show these tapes to Isaac. You, on the other hand, are going to go in there to talk to Dana about whatever the hell you need to talk about. I don't know if you need luck or not, it was just something I said." Natalie took a deep breath. "So I'm going, okay?" Natalie fluttered her fingers at him and then left him standing in front of Dana's closed door. Inhaling sharply, Casey knocked.

"Come in!"

Dana was lying on her sofa, legs up on the armrest. She was wearing a skirt. A beige skirt. When she saw him, she sat up, but didn't fix her skirt, despite her left thigh being clearly exposed. Casey stared. He was pretty sure gawking at one's boss constituted sexual harassment of some kind, but she made no move to cover up and so he didn't look away.

"Dana." Casey stood awkwardly in front of her.

"Casey."

"It's raining." He noticed Dana had done something different with hair, highlights maybe, or even a trim. She looked good. And he liked the blue blouse with the thin white stripes on it, the fact that it was open at the collar and when she leaned forward like that, he could see the swell of cleavage. He took a step backwards.

"I know. And it has been raining. For three days. It's going to rain until Sunday."

"This is what I hear," Casey said.

"It is not, however, raining in Seattle." Dana shifted position on the sofa, adjusting her skirt in the process.

"It's not?" Casey frowned. "It always rains in Seattle." He wondered if Dan had told Dana he was coming.

"Not today."

"It wouldn't have mattered anyway. You know, if it was raining or not. The Mariners have a covered stadium."

"This is true." Dana eyed him pensively. "Something on your mind, Casey?"

"No."

"Did you need something?" Dana's expression was nothing short of inquisitive.

"No." He wanted to mentally kick his brain into gear. What was it about Dana that he completely lost all coherent thought and reason when he was in her presence? In any language, he failed to find the words he wanted to use on her. He wanted to say, "That was some kiss, Dana, some kiss, and I'm pretty sure you can still taste me, because I've got you burned on my lips." But of course, his mouth felt dry, his throat scratchy, and he stood in the middle of Dana Whittaker's office feeling like a complete idiot.

"Ah." Dana got up. "So you just wanted to tell me it was raining?"

"Yes."

She was standing very close to him now. "When clearly I can see that that is the case by looking out of my window."

"Right, but did you know it was going to rain until Sunday?" Casey took another step backwards.

"I did." Dana sat on the edge of her desk and folded her arms against her chest. "Because that's the beauty of five-day forecasts, Casey. They tell you what's going to happen with the weather during the next five days."

"I knew that."

"I know you knew that."

He turned around and then he looked back at Dana. "Dan sent me."

"You need Danny to send you to me?" She sounded more amused than hurt.

"He sent me because plans B through Y aren't going to work."

"What are plans B through Y?" Dana looked bewildered and Casey understood her confusion well.

"Plan B is you coming to talk to me. The rest, I don't know about."

"Why would I come talk to you?" Dana rounded her desk and pulled the chair out. In the background, rain pelted the window in constant rhythm.

"Because," Casey said, once again at a conversational loss. He hated, absolutely hated, that Dana could take all of the words out of him.

"You say 'because' a lot."

The words now slipped out easily. "So does Natalie. It's eight percent of her conversational output."

"I did not know that. Intriguing." Dana tipped her head to the side. Soft blond hair skimmed the angular planes of her cheekbones. He wondered if she did that on purpose, that she knew he liked to look at her in specific detail, and she knew exactly how to draw attention to herself.

Casey wanted to answer that Dana ought to listen to Natalie more often, or at the very least, run her crazy ideas by her first, but instead he settled for the safe response. "Trust me. It's eight percent." Casey offered a smile. This was easy, he thought, talk about everyone and everything except for us.

"You calculated that?"

"No. Jeremy did."

"Scary." Dana frowned.

"That's what I said." Casey resisted the temptation to add "Great minds think alike." He pondered using this as evidence, their thoughts were on the same wavelength, she should let him take her to dinner tonight, not in six months, tonight. But he knew she'd demure. He didn't like the way her doubt made him feel. Now that stung, harsh, bitter, cold -- any number of adjectives, but in the end it came down to the same thing; she made him crazy, in ways both good and bad, but she could wound him just as deeply as Lisa had.

"So you want to tell me about these plans of yours?" Dana leaned forward on her desk, resting her weight forward on her palms.

"Not especially."

"But you're here."

He nodded. "I concede the point." He tried to concentrate on a spot above her head, didn't want to look directly at her because her blouse was open and he could see the edge of white lace.

"Do you have a problem, Casey?" Dana straightened and crossed her arms against her chest once again. The tone of her voice took him off-guard. She sounded distant, almost hurt. He felt a guilty pleasure over that. After all, wasn't Dana the one who had started the whole mess in the first place?

"I have no problems." An out and out lie and Casey knew Dana knew him well enough to hear the subterfuge underlying his voice. Another thing they had in common: the inability to tell a convincing falsehood.

"Danny must have sent you to me for a reason." Dana picked up a pen and begin making notes on a notepad in quick, almost illegible scrawls. The ink smeared across her hand and she dropped the pen and looked at Casey. He was tempted to ask her what she'd written, but decided against it. "Casey?"

Deciding to change the subject, Casey said, "I can't write. The show. Can't write it."

Dana frowned. "So you came here. What did you expect to find? A cure for writer's block? Gotta tell you, Casey, I haven't found it yet. Damn, there are days when I wish I did because sometimes you and Danny are so stiff, so stiff--" she clenched her fingers into a fist "-- and I think, God, if only I could fix that, but I can't. So you've come to the wrong place, Casey. Writing is your job, so do it."

"What is this, 'Tough Love with Dana Whittaker'?" Casey asked. He held up a hand. "I didn't come here because I wanted you to fix me, Dana." He put his hands down on the desk and stared intently at her. "You're the executive producer of Sports Night, so you should know what's going on with me. But you're not just any producer, Dana, you're a good producer. Best damn producer I've ever worked with." He stared at her intently. "We do good work together, Dana."

"You and Danny do good work together." Her voice was threaded with uncertainty.

"We're pretty damn good too." He lifted his chin defiantly to look her straight in the eye. Dana backed up so she was leaning against the far wall, arms still crossed against her chest. He wondered if the body language was an intentional hint to him.

"Are you talking about the show or something else?" she asked softly.

"I think I've moved on to something else." Casey swallowed hard. Now or never, buddy, he thought. Now or never. Casey took a deep breath. "Dan thinks I have a 'thing' for you. No, let me amend that. Dan Rydell is right. But don't tell him that or it'll go to his head and you know Danny can be insufferable when he's on to something."

"What's the matter with you, Casey?" Dana asked, her brow furrowing in concern.

"The dating plan."

"It's brilliant, isn't it?" Her eyes lit up. Casey couldn't understand the enthusiasm she had embraced this idea. It was wacko, even for Dana, who had had some wacko ideas in the past. Of course, these were not things to say to a woman whom one was trying to take out to dinner. Casey took another deep breath.

"No, no, it's not. You've had good ideas in the past, Dana, brilliant ones even. This isn't one of them."

"Now, Casey--" Dana held up a hand, but Casey ignored her.

"Six months is a long time, Dana."

"Good things are worth waiting for."

"I've known you for fifteen years." He didn't mean to sound frustrated. Dana lowered her head, seemingly doing her best not to look at him at all. "And maybe Danny got a little bit of it wrong. I don't have a 'thing' for you, Dana, this is more than a 'thing'. Give me a chance to prove it to you."

"But are you absolutely sure?"

"Yes, yes, I am." Casey didn't smile, just looked directly at Dana, daring her to look back. She focused her attention the notepad in front of her. "One hundred percent."

"See, I don't think you are."

"I think I am." He lifted his chin defiantly. "I think the dating plan is for you, not for me."

"Excuse me?" Now he had her attention.

"You say it's all about me and making sure that I know what I want. But maybe it's the other way around. Maybe you don't know what you want and you're pushing me away, making me think it's all about me when it's really all about you. Because you don't want me to know that I know it's really all about you and has nothing to do with me at all. So it's all an elaborate plan of yours to not date me because you have some kind of issues about dating me that you don't want me to know about so you're making this six months so you can figure it out."

"I have no idea what you just said."

"I said that this dating plan is for you, not for me." He pointed in her direction. "Maybe you're not over Gordon."

"I'm over Gordon."

"Gordon has a post-graduate degree." Casey didn't know quite what he meant by that statement; it just came out. Another mental kick in the ass.

"You always had a thing about post-graduate degrees." Dana sounded smug and for a moment, he hated her. Hated her for choosing Gordon, for allowing Gordon to deceive her, and then turning the show over to Sally in a desperate attempt to hold on to a man who didn't value the one thing that made Dana so alive. Casey knew he'd never ask her to pick between him and the show; he already knew what would win out if that contest ever played out. Another thing on a great long list of things, he wanted to tell Dana.

"I don't have a thing about post-graduate degrees, but I do have a thing about you making this about me when it's really about you," Casey said finally.

Dana sighed heavily and shifted her position. Outside, the rain continued to fall, but with less intensity than when Casey had first arrived in her office. "It's not about me, it's about you. This is what's best for you."

"See, you keep saying that. But here's the thing, the real thing," Casey said earnestly. "What's best for me right now is you letting me take you to dinner tonight. Some place we both really like and where we can talk and not be crazy."

"Are you calling me crazy?" Dana sounded hurt.

"Yes." He held up his hands in an expression of surrender. "I'm calling you crazy. Your dating plan is nothing short of insane."

"I think my dating plan is brilliant." Dana cocked her head defiantly.

"Everyone else thinks it's crazy."

"How do we know, Casey?" Dana looked at him pensively. "I mean, how do we really know?"

He took a step in her direction. "Not waiting six months to figure it out is a good start."

"I don't want to be your rebound," Dana said so very quietly he had to strain to hear the words. Casey's expression softened.

"And I don't want to be yours," he said, equally sotto voce.

"So you see? Six months makes sense." She sounded desperate now. He wanted to push that doubt just a little more, make her think it through. Dana looked pensive now and he wondered whether he was finally getting through to her.

"We've known each other fifteen years. It's not a rebound," he said with confidence.

"And you're sure?" Dana asked apprehensively.

"Yes."

"How can you be sure?"

"I just am." He took another step closer to her. "You've got to trust me, Dana."

"I do trust you."

"I hear a 'but' in there."

"This thing, it isn't good for the show." Dana took a deep breath, looking almost relieved. "There, I said it."

"I know it isn't good for the show. That's why I'm saying, let's scrap this dating plan and let me take you out to dinner tonight. You, me, a bottle of wine, and we'll talk. We'll be normal people, not crazy people."

"There you go again, calling me crazy. That's not the way to get me to change my mind. And consider that a freebie, McCall. When you start going on your six months worth of dates, don't ever call the woman 'crazy', okay? It doesn't count if you drive the date off. It's gotta be the real thing, genuine, heartfelt and you--" she jabbed a finger in the direction of his chest "-- have to be your charming and seductive self."

"You are crazy, Dana." He smiled. "Maybe that's what I love about you. Maybe I need that in my life."

Dana pressed her hand against her face. "Is it still raining?" She sounded suddenly tired.

"Until Sunday. So the five-day forecast says. We already had this conversation," Casey said flatly.

"Because it's not good for the show, Casey. You and me. We're not good for the show."

"You already said that." He didn't mean to sound impatient, but Dana had a way of wearing down a person, of putting up barriers and excuses until the other person wilted out of frustration. He knew her tricks and games and wanted her to know that he was here to play, that he was going to win.

"We're a third-place show, Casey. We can do better."

"And you think we're going to keep the show in third-place? That viewers are going to say the producer is dating the co-anchor Casey McCall so let's not tune into the show?" He stared at her in disbelief.

"No, I'm saying that I need to concentrate on the show." Dana ran her hand through her hair. After a moment, she turned to look out the window.

"And that's why you came up with the dating plan?" Casey asked quietly.

"Maybe."

"Be straight with me, Dana."

"It's about the show." Dana turned back to face him. "It's not the same thing."

"You are the show, Dana."

"No, you and Danny are the show. The viewers tune in to watch you and Danny. I'm just the one who makes it go."

"For the record, I don't think this 'thing' with you and me has anything to do with us being in third-place."

"Maybe not, but I can't take that chance." Dana sounded confident now, sure. More like her old self. More like the Dana he'd known before Gordon. Maybe another time, he'd ask Dana, try to find out if maybe this wasn't about him or the show but rather rediscovery: finding the Dana Whittaker Gordon had lost.

"If you let me take you out to dinner, the show would move right out of third-place."

Dana didn't perk up quite the way he'd hoped. "How do you know?" Dana asked.

"I just know. I know it the same way you know dating me would leave the show in third-place or worse."

"We're a damn good show. We don't deserve third-place." Dana began to pace the length of her office. Despite her precariously high-heeled shoes, she still managed to move with amazing speed and fluidity. Casey moved out of her way.

"I know that."

"Then you've got to leave me alone, let me do this. Without distractions." She stopped in front of him.

"So I am a distraction?" The realization was oddly comforting.

"You've been a distraction for fifteen years, Casey." Dana took a deep breath. "And right now, I have to do something about this show."

"I can help you with that."

"No, no, you can't. Your job is to write the best damn sports show you can. My job is to get us out of third place." She looked at him sadly. "I need you in the game, Casey. I need you to be a team player."

"I am and I am. I'm both. You say the word, Dana, and I'll come out swinging. Hell, I come out ready to play every single day. Every. Single. Day."

"And you need to keep doing that. I can't get us out of third place if I don't have you on my team."

"I've always been on your team, Dana."

"And you need to keep focus. You need to think of this as spring training."

"Spring training?"

"Yes." Dana eyed him speculatively. "Go out there and write, Casey. Don't stand here and whine to me about how you can't write a show you write every single day of the week and then tell me you can help me get us out of third place. Go." She pointed to the door. "Go do your job and let me focus on mine."

He held up a hand. "Fine, fine. About the show, I get that. And six months. I got it all now."

"Casey?" Dana's voice was very soft, and he couldn't help but be seduced by the way the syllables of his name rolled off her tongue: smooth and rounded.

"What?"

"I think the plan's a good one."

"I'm not even going to answer that, Dana. You know how I feel," Casey said. "At least I know now it's all about you. You're using me as the excuse to hide behind." He put his hand on the door knob. "I don't know how that makes me feel." With that, he went out the door.

"You talked to Dana?" Jeremy fell into step beside him.

"Where did you come from?" Casey looked over his shoulder nervously. He was sure Natalie had to be hovering somewhere nearby and hell, maybe even Danny too.

"The men's room, but if you're looking for a more scientific explanation, the birds and the bees for instance, I'm going to have to refer you to your mother."

"The men's room will do just fine, thank you." Casey slowed down. Sometimes this newsroom was a place out of a carnival, a spooky funhouse with people just appearing or knowing things. It was, Casey thought, nothing short of supernatural the way things just happened. "It's just there are always people. Coming from everywhere. I can't keep up."

"This is a newsroom. There are people here."

"I'm aware of that, but it's the 'appearing suddenly' thing that makes me nervous."

"As it should, as it should." Jeremy clapped Casey on the shoulder as they made their way into the newsroom proper.

"So it's nothing magical, just a crossing of paths." Casey dropped back slightly, allowing Jeremy to step in front of him in order to navigate through the maze of desks.

"That's exactly what it is. Serendipitous, one might say."

"One might say."

"So the dating plan is still in effect?" Jeremy asked in a low voice, slowing down a little to allow Casey to catch up with him.

"Yes." Casey couldn't keep the frustration out of his voice. He really, really, really didn't want to talk about this anymore. He'd go on his six months of dates, and then when it was all over, he'd take Dana out to dinner and she'd admit that he'd been right in the third place, that her plan was stupid in the second place and she should have said yes in the first place.

"You told her it's insane?"

"I told her it's insane. Natalie told her it's insane. But she's got her reasons."

"She doesn't want to be your rebound." At Casey's shocked experience, Jeremy added, "Natalie told me Dana told her that."

Casey groaned. Of course. How could he forget? Jeremy and Natalie were practically the same person these days. "No, she wants to fix the show."

"That's a more admirable motivation than being your rebound."

"She should have just said that from the beginning. I can understand not wanting to be the third-place show or having any distractions. I speak four languages and I graduated from an Ivy-league school and I can understand something like that," Casey said. "She should have said, 'Casey, I want the show to be in second place. I want to kick the crap out of ESPN and CNN SI.' But Dana didn't say that. She said, 'Casey, I think you should date other women for six months.' That's what she said. She should have said the first thing, but she didn't. So now, it's six months I've got to wait and in the meantime, she's going to fix the show."

"But you have to admit, it's a more admirable motivation."

Casey stared at Jeremy in exasperation. For such a smart guy, sometimes Jeremy could be awfully dense. And annoying, Casey silently added. Jeremy could also be damn annoying. "It doesn't change how I feel," Casey said finally.

"Six months go by pretty quick."

"That sounds like a long time, Jeremy."

"It goes by fast. Trust me. You'd be amazed at how fast 184 days go by."

"One hundred and eighty-four? I counted one-eighty-three." Casey stopped short in dismay. An extra twenty-four hours in addition to the 4,392 he'd already calculated seemed interminable.

"On the 184th day, you can take Dana out to dinner. So it's really 184 days. You can ask her out on the 183rd day though."

"Thanks, Jeremy." Casey stopped in front of his office. "I'm going in there now."

"Right."

"I'm going to write the a show that'll bring CNN SI to its knees, screaming for mercy."

"That's the spirit." Jeremy made a fist-punching action. Casey raised an eyebrow. Jeremy shrugged casually.

"Because Dana and I, we don't have a 'thing'. We have a dating plan." Funny, the more Casey used the phrase 'dating plan', the more he got used to it. In fact, the words were almost rolling off his tongue naturally, as if he were now completely and totally comfortable with the idea. That's right, McCall, he thought, you're now nothing short of delusional.

"A completely harebrained and insane dating plan," Jeremy said, breaking into his thoughts.

"And I sort of understand it. I don't like it, but I understand it."

"Because we don't want to be in third-place anymore."

"Exactly." Casey nodded. "I don't necessarily agree one thing has to do with the other, but that's Dana's call, not mine. I'm going to go in there now." Casey walked into the office. Dan was still sitting at his computer, typing away.

"It's still raining," Dan said, without looking up.

"So everyone keeps telling me." Casey slumped on the orange sofa, swinging his legs up and staring gloomily up at the ceiling.

"Did you talk to Dana?" Dan stopped typing and looked across at Casey with concern.

"I talked to Dana."

"And?"

"It's about her, not about me." Casey stood up and paced restlessly. Back and forth in time with the rhythm of the rain beating against the window. He looked at Dan.

"Selfish," Dan said, his voice imbued with the warmth of solidarity.

"Very." Casey sat down in the chair opposite Dan's desk. He stretched his arms out and flexed his fingers. "I'm ready to write this show now."

"Good."

"But first--" Casey leaned forward, a serious expression crossing his face "-- you tell me what plan Z is."

"There is no plan Z." Danny fiddled with the pencil in his hands.

"You said there was."

"I lied." Dan lifted his chin and look defiantly at Casey. Casey didn't flinch.

"You lied to me?" Casey asked.

"Believe it or not, sometimes I say things just to get you to shut up and do something."

"So that was what you giving me false hope?"

"We have a show to write. You can't write when you're obsessing about Dana." Dan's tone was matter-of-fact, but Casey knew that Danny had to be sick of this business. Hell, he was sick of it too. Move on, he thought, stop talking about it and just get on with it. Maybe Jeremy was right; maybe six months would go faster than he thought they would. Maybe he would have a good time meeting these other women. Maybe he would learn how to dance so when he took the floor with Dana, he'd get it right and not step on her toes. Because, God knows, Casey wanted to get this right. "In fact, Casey, you're practically impossible to be around where Dana is concerned."

"So Dana is right?" Casey knit his fingers together, refusing to make eye contact with Dan.

"Right about what?"

"That she and I, that we're bad for the show?" He had to force the words out.

"You're so very bad for the show, Casey. You have no idea. Simply no idea."

"I thought being with Dana would be a good thing for us. If it's a good thing for us, it'd be a good thing for the show." Casey hunched over, putting all of his weight on his forearms as he looked glumly at Danny.

"Things don't always work out that way," Dan said gently. He pushed a writing pad and a pen in Casey's direction. "Come on, Casey."

Casey looked at the pad, was reminded of Dana, and then looked back at Dan. "Just so you know, on the 183rd day, I'm going to ask Dana to dinner."

"Even though it's bad for the show?"

Casey leaned forward, resting his elbows on the desk. "You don't honestly believe that, do you?"

Dan shrugged. "In six months, we'll know for sure."

Casey leaned back in his chair. "Aye, there's the rub."

"In the meantime, are you going to help me write this show or are you going to sit there and obsess about Dana?"

"I'm going to help you write the show."

"Okay."

"Because we're good together, really good," Casey said. He knew Dan wouldn't be fooled by the false enthusiasm in his voice.

"Right."

"And we deserve better than third place." They stared at each other in silence and then Casey said, "So there really was no plan Z."

"No."

"Plan A didn't work."

"I know."

"You said it would."

"I said it had a better chance of working than any of the other options." Dan looked serious. "You can't blame it on the weather, Casey. That's the easy way out."

"Like a dating plan?"

"Yes," Dan said, his tone softened by measured sympathy, "exactly like that."

"I get it now." Casey reached for the football on Dan's desk. "So, are we going to do this or not?"

"Every night, my friend, every night."

the end