Just Checking

Matt Albie couldn't remember the last time it had taken him more than ten minutes to find Danny. They had a connection, a bond that transcended pesky limits like time and space, and whenever one was in need of the other, the other was inevitably there. OK, there was that pesky award ceremony and its spotlight on the basket of dinner rolls and the empty seat where his best friend and partner should have been, and Matt vaguely remembered missing one of Danny's bachelor parties, though he couldn't for the life of him remember which one.

Still, with a few exceptions, Danny was always there when Matt needed him. Matt yelled, Danny came. Danny groaned, Matt pestered him until he talked. The entire process took three minutes. Five, tops. If they were on different floors or in buildings across town, it might take ten. The drive between their houses took six, if you ignored pesky things like stoplights and traffic signals.

But now, standing in the drifts of coconut-snow still mounded on the set of Studio 60, it was fifteen minutes since the writer had asked Cal, "You seen Danny?" and Matt still had no idea where his best friend was. He'd checked the offices, the writers' room, the VP room upstairs, their favorite stairwell, even the roof and the executive producer was nowhere to be found.

Matt decided he'd try the stairs one more time before he completely freaked out and called Danny's cell in a wild panic, because he knew that he'd just feel stupid about it later. But he was rapidly working himself into a wild panic anyway, because the last time he hadn't talked to Danny for any length of time, he'd found out that his friend had lost eleven clean years for a long weekend.

Thump. The muffled sound drifted down the stairs.

Thump. As Matt ascended the staircase, his nerves calmed considerably. Thump. Thump. Thump. It was a sound that Matt hadn't heard in years, but he recognized it. A grin edged his mouth, then edged away again when he realized what exactly that sound meant, even though Matt had already known, probably before Danny did this time. At least he'd found him.

Danny Tripp, executive producer extraordinaire and all-around good guy (with a minor recovering drug problem) was seated in the stairwell. His back was against the wall, one leg stretched out and the other bent to prop up his left arm. In his right hand, he held a tennis ball. More accurately Matt's tennis ball, but that wasn't the point. Matt stopped several feet away and watched as Danny threw the ball, listened to the Thump it made against the opposite wall and the Thump that echoed back as it bounced across the floor back to Danny, who picked it up and started the process all over again.

Matt's dark eyes narrowed as he watched his friend with the gaze of someone who knows another person inside out and backwards. His partner's eyes were unfocused, his rust-colored hair was rumpled like he'd been running his hands through it more than normal, and his glasses were nowhere to be seen.

Oh, yeah. Matt recognized this scene all right.

With a sigh, he settled next to Danny on the floor, both legs straight out in front of him, and watched the ball Thump against the wall again. "Where were you? You took off right after the show finished."

Danny didn't remove his distracted gaze from some far-off point in front of them. "I took a walk." He caught the ball again and threw it with more force than strictly necessary.

Matt turned his head, his eyes sincere and more than a little calculating. Danny shifted uneasily and barely caught the ball when it bounced back to him at an angle. "What?" he snapped defensively, still refusing to meet the other man's eyes.

"Nothing," Matt responded indifferently, mimicking Danny's obstinacy from earlier that day.

Danny grabbed the ball and his knuckles whitened because he was squeezing it so hard. "Fine."

Matt marveled at his friend's drastic change of mood since the last time he'd seen him, with that satisfied smile on his face and that scary content look in his eyes. "Fine," he agreed with no animosity.

He waited.

Thump. "I'm an idiot."

Matt blinked. "I thought you said you…you know, said it."

"I did."

"…And that makes you an idiot."

"Yes!"

The younger man shook his head a little and ran a hand through his own disheveled black hair. "OK, explain to me again what 'I said it' means, because apparently I'm lost."

Finally Danny turned to look at him, his brown eyes creased with stress. "I think my exact words were 'I believe I'm falling in love with you. If you want to run, I understand, but you better get a head start 'cause I'm coming for you, Jordan.'" He sighed heavily and he smacked his head against the wall behind him with a Thwack that drowned out the tennis ball's Thump as it bounced to a halt by Matt's right shoe. "And I think I mentioned my two failed marriages and the cocaine thing, too."

"Oh." Matt had to admit that dumping all of that on a girl before the first date was new, even for Danny. The fact that the girl also happened to be the president of the network they worked for and recently pregnant by an idiot boyfriend only added to Matt's fears that he was going to have to watch yet another doomed relationship play out. But then his best friend had never been normal, which was undoubtedly why Danny hadn't killed him yet.

He tilted his head from side to side, weighing the possible results of the information he'd just been given. "I've heard worse," he finally offered.

His friend looked hopefully at him, his left leg sliding down to stretch out in front of him, mirroring Matt's pose. "Really?"

"Sure," the writer assured him, wracking his brain for something. A dull memory from a long time ago, when he'd been sitting on Danny's couch watching some old black and white deal while he waited for pizza, drifted through his mind. "…It was in a silent movie so I don't think there were actual words, but the guy was making obscene gestures and the lady hit him with her ice cream."

Danny groaned again and his head went Thwack against the wall. Matt was starting to worry about the potential brain damage involved in all of this. His friend rubbed at his eyes with the heels of his hands, his fingers raking through his hair again. "I'm an idiot!" he reaffirmed.

Matt figured that honesty was the only course of action left to him. "Probably, but that's never stopped either of us before." When he realized that those words weren't as comforting as he'd meant them to be, he tried a different tact. "OK, damage assessment. What'd Jordan actually say?"

"Nothing." Danny's eyes were shut tight, like he could make the whole world go away if he ignored it long enough. Matt couldn't help wondering if this was one of those times where Danny wanted to reach for a coke line, and he felt an upsurge of pride that his friend was sitting and venting instead of…well, sitting somewhere else and getting high.

He forced his spastic mind to refocus on Danny's words. "Nothing?"

Danny's head went Thwack against the wall three more times in rapid succession. "She had her mouth full," he ranted. "She had a freakin' sandwich in her mouth, and I walked away before she had a chance to swallow and tell me she was calling the cops and stringing me up on stalker charges."

Matt watched him with something akin to awe; his own mangled relationship with Harriet, now massively complicated because of his own jealousy (and maybe a little encouragement from her, because really, a kiss took two people) had at least started out with a decent pickup line. "You're an idiot," he finally agreed, and this time when Danny's head went for the wall again Matt padded the impact with his hand.

Finally the older man heaved a heavy, heavy sigh and the tension seeped out of his body like a balloon deflating. He slumped to the side, his head coming to rest on Matt's shoulder, and the two of them stayed that way for a few long, quiet minutes.

"Matt?" he mumbled eventually into his friend's black shirt.

"Yeah?"

"I think you need to be the shoulder of the two of us for a couple minutes."

"OK," Matt agreed pleasantly, feeling Danny's weight settle against him. This was the way it was supposed to be; Danny had his breakdown, Matt sat there until he got over it, and Danny went back to being the shoulders that carried the worry and the weight for the two of them again.

Matt could be the strong one for a while, until Jordan realized that Danny was a really good guy and she'd be an imbecile to pass up what he was offering her.

He looked down at his friend's tousled head and jiggled his shoulder a little. "Hey."

Danny's head still didn't come up. "Yeah?"

"You told me first, right?" It was telling of the past couple of weeks that he'd even had to ask.

But his best friend's reply made Matt realized that things really were back to normal, and that they'd stay normal this time, regardless of what Jordan McDeere decided to do. "Yeah," he muttered, and the unspoken "of course I did, you moron" comforted Matt more than he was willing to admit.

His smile broadened for the sole reason that he knew Danny couldn't see it and started a mental countdown to when he suspected Jordan would call.

"Just checking," he said simply.

Matt Albie knew that for a long time, this would be the last time he'd have to check.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Author's Note: I just had to do at least one fic for this show, because it's frankly amazing and there's no category up for it on this site yet. If you're looking for more Studio 60 fanfiction, there's a great LiveJournal community that you can find off of google. I'm too lazy to get a LJ account, so I'm posting here. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good Christmas Episode Reaction Week!