He was there in college when Dana was stressing over finals until she could no longer see to study. There was nothing he could do for her but reach across the carpet between them and close her textbooks, then take her out to dinner and try to coax her to relax.
He was there in L.A. when it because obvious that the ship they were sailing was sinking. The show was going under, and there would be no saving it this time, and it frightened her that her nervous condition recurred. All he could do for her was untangle a strand of her hair from her headset and lead her by the hand from the darkened studio. He took her out for dinner that night, too.
He was there in Dallas, and he found her crying in his office on a night he thought his life would fall apart. She had cried for him and he had never gotten over it. There was nothing that night to be done for her but to kiss her cheek and tell her he would always be all right if she were somewhere in his life. That night, somewhere had been dinner once again.
And he was here tonight, watching her from a distance as she tried not to launch herself at his partner with intent to kill.
"Dana," Dan said as he crossed the control room. His voice was tinged with fear and sorrow so that Dana bit her lip and didn't kill him. "Can I talk to you?"
Wordlessly she followed him out of the control room, across the newsroom and into his office before he spoke. "I'm sorry."
"I know you are."
"It doesn't mean I'm not mad as hell at you, Danny, but, yes. I know you're sorry."
Dan nodded slightly. "I guess I deserve that."
"Damn right you deserve that."
"I know I deserve that."
"You deserve a sight worse than that."
"I know what I deserve."
Dana nodded. "Well -- as long as you do."
Dana turned to leave the office. At the last moment, she stopped, and said without looking back, "You know what Casey deserves, too, don't you?"
"I'm going to talk to him now."
"He's going to be pissed at you."
"Promise me this."
"Promise me you won't get mad at him back."
"Because I deserve it?"
"Because, Danny, you really do."
Dan nodded again. "I'll try."
"Not good enough."
"I promise, then. Now go make sure Natalie doesn't hurt Jeremy. I've got things to do."
Dana smiled slightly and didn't let him see it. "Yeah."
She left the office and nearly collided with Casey. "Hey," he said.
"What's going on?"
"Nothing short of the worst Draft Day we've had in sixteen years."
"Are you forgetting senior year?"
"I was, as a matter of fact, forgetting that, Casey, yes."
"Well, the town of Milford never will."
"Neither will their sheriff." Dana grinned. "Listen, Casey --"
"Please don't say it."
"I just want you to go easy on him."
"Because that was an inexcusable thing he did."
"Excuse him anyway."
Casey sighed in frustration. "Why is that my job?"
"It's what we pay you to do."
Dana lowered her voice. "He knows it was inexcusable, Casey. He knows it was wrong and dangerous and he's damn lucky I haven't killed him. So you know, go easy on him. Guilt's a hard thing to work with and it's a hard thing to live with. Please don't make it harder."
Casey looked at her for a moment. "I'll try," he promised.
Dana looked back at him for a moment and then nodded. "Okay."
"It'll be fine."
"You're a liar."
"It's what I do."
"It's what we pay you to do?"
"Maybe that's what I'll tell Danny."
"Go away now."
"Yes, ma'am." Casey grinned at Dana's grin and drew a deep breath as he entered his office.
"Hi," Dan said quietly.
"Hello," Casey stated.
"Why do you care, Dan?"
"Why do you care?"
Dan sighed. "Casey --"
"Until you answer my question, no."
Casey met Dan's gaze. "Just, no."
No, and they were silent for at least a thousand years that passed in an instant. Casey stood beside the desk, wondering whether or not he should sit down. Dan lay back against the sofa and wondered if Casey would ever speak to him outside the show again.
"I don't," he said at last. "Today I don't care."
"Then I don't know what to say."
"Why do you care?"
"Because I love sports."
"I love sports."
"But not today?"
"Not so much today."
Casey nodded. "I'm going to go make sure Natalie doesn't hurt Jeremy. Will you ... let me know ... when you care?"
"You'll be the first."
Casey nodded and left his office for the safety of anywhere else in the building.
"So?" Dana asked as she caught up to him in the newsroom. "How'd it go?"
Casey considered for a second before he said, "It didn't, really."
"We're fine, Dana."
"We're fine. We just need time."
"You've got 52 hours and 13 minutes."
Casey smiled. "We'll be fine for the show."
"Yeah. If Natalie and Jeremy are alive, we'll be good to go."
Dana gasped. "I forgot about them! I forgot about Natalie and Jeremy!"
"What did she do when you told her?"
"Yes. What did she do?"
"She stared at me for 45 seconds without blinking and then she turned and strided away and I have not seen her since."
"What?" Dana asked.
Dana bit her lip. "What's it supposed to be?"
Now Dana laughed. "Strode is a funny word."
Casey's grin remained as he stared for a moment at Dana. At last he thought to ask, "Was Natalie mad?"
"Does it sound like she was?"
"Casey, I just related to you everything I saw her do. You're going to have to take the plunge and come to your own conclusion on that."
He lowered his voice. "What else?" She was still walking, and he followed her to the office.
"What do you mean?"
"What else is making you nervous?"
"You guessed it earlier, Casey, and I'm fine."
"Except Dan and I are fine and you still aren't?"
"What makes you think I still aren't? Am -- not -- What makes you think I'm still not?"
"I've known you for a few years."
"I just mispronounced a word. It doesn't mean ..."
Dana sat in her desk chair and turned to stare for a moment into the evening beyond her world.
"I have a budget meeting on Monday, you know," she said.
"It's just routine, right?"
Casey hesitated half a beat. "It isn't routine?"
"Isaac spoke to me a while ago."
"What about it isn't routine?"
"Luther's going to be there."
"Luther's coming to a budget meeting?"
"To express his own views on the way this network spends its money?"
"I- don't know."
Casey reached across Dana's desk and couldn't quite reach her hand. "It's all right."
"It isn't all right."
"Why isn't it all right?"
"Because Luther is hinting at dangerous territory, Casey. He's hinting at cutbacks that will create a loss of jobs."
"He said this to Isaac?"
"He hinted this to Isaac."
"There's no chance Isaac misunderstood?"
"You've met our editor Isaac Jaffee, haven't you?"
Casey laughed. "Well, what do I know about it?"
"Apparently less than I'd hoped."
"Casey, I'm ..." She raised her hands as her voice trailed off.
"I know you are," he said quietly. "But it's going to be fine."
Dana looked up. He was there. That in itself made her heart stop pounding. She wanted this feeling to dissolve, wanted it to go the way it had gone so many other nights, so long ago. He was the only one who could make it go away.
But it frightened her that Dan could lose control. It frightened her that she could lose control, and it frightened her that she was not in control of the meeting she would have to attend on Monday. In twenty-four hours, the Sports Night family could lose members, and her whole world would change again, and she couldn't control it.
"Hey," Casey said again, because he could see the tears long before they ever reached her eyes. "Dana, it's going to be fine."
"I didn't have enough t-shirts made," she said. Her voice was shaking.
"You'll do it next year," he told her.
"This was the worst Draft Day in 16 years."
"Well, we'll fix that next year, too."
"Why couldn't we fix it this year?"
He could hear the tears rising in her voice, and his was gentle. "We don't have that kind of power."
"We do it on the show."
"Well, that's the show."
"Casey, I'm just ..." She stopped again.
"I know you are," he finished.
"Mmm." She closed her eyes.
"Dana? Is there something I can do for you?"
An eternity of silence before her reply: "Close the books," she whispered.
He paused for a heartbeat or lack thereof. "What do you mean?"
"Like you did in college. Close the books and take me to dinner."
Casey's slight smile grew into a grin. "It would be my pleasure."
Dana stood and reached for her coat. "Now?"
"Any time, honey."
"It's going to be fine."
"It's a good show. It can't be that good without the team, and you're the one who can let Luther know. It's going to be fine."
"Then don't give it another thought tonight."
Casey leaned close to kiss her cheek. For tonight, it was all he could do.