"Out where?" Casey asked.
"In New York?"
"In the world."
"You've been working here too long," Isaac told her without looking up from his desk.
"You should go out there."
"In the world?"
"In New York."
"Why should I go out in New York?"
"Because a good brisk walk will help you finish that sentence you've been trying to finish all day."
"It's like --" She stopped and squeezed at the empty air with three fingers. Her left hand raised to her face before she noticed its motion and dropped it firmly to her side.
"What?" Casey asked without looking directly at her. He kept his eyes for the most part on the window and its skyline, and without seeing her knew she was more comfortable this way.
"It's like two distance runners start at the beginning of the race, and then ..." She stopped again and flung both hands into the air.
"Dana?" Casey waited.
"Two distance runners?"
"Could it be race cars?" Dan asked.
"Nevermind," Dana repeated. "We don't have time for parallels right now. Danny. Did you finish that segment on the Preakness?"
"Yes, except for that I don't really understand anything about the Preakness."
"What's to understand? Fusaichi Pegasus will probably make a late bid, a lot of other horses with funny names will try to win instead of Fusaichi Pegasus, a lot of people will lose a lot of money, and in the end, many of our viewers will be angry if Fusaichi Pegasus loses. Got it?"
Dan opened the door of Isaac's office and then turned. "I'm having a hard time getting into this," he said.
"Into the Preakness?"
"Into the show."
Dana closed the door in front of him. "You're having a hard time getting into the show?"
"We've been sold, haven't we?"
"Fox has dropped out of the bidding."
"The only bidder we have is Dinsey."
"Then, I'm thinking ..."
"Dana .. I'm just saying --"
"I understand." Dana nodded and turned to face Casey and Isaac, as well as Dan. "Listen. Right now, on this night, we've got a show to do, and right now, on this night, we're doing it for CSC. We're doing it for Continental Corp. We're doing it for you, Isaac, and for me, and, guys, for the two of you." She lowered her voice. "I love this show. You love this show. That is all we ought to need to get into it."
"Yes, ma'am," Dan said quietly, and waited a moment before opening the door to leave the office.
Casey followed Dan from Isaac's office and back to their own. "Fifteen minutes," Dana reminded them before she left them and made for the control room.
"So," Dan said.
"This is it."
This is what?"
"This is our last show."
Casey looked up abruptly. "What are you talking about?"
"Any minute, Casey -- any minute we're going to know. We're going to hear that Disney's closed the deal and we're going to hear that they're dropping CSC like a sack of rocks."
"You don't know that yet."
"I don't have to know. Because it's so obvious anyone could."
"Listen, Casey, it's time to talk about it and I mean seriously talk about it."
"I don't want to seriously talk about it."
"I want to stay here forever and do Sports Night."
"So do I."
"So why can't we?"
"I think eventually someone would have us removed from the building."
"This is our building. This is our place of business. This office of yours in this great glass high-rise in New York -- this is it for us, Danny."
"L.A. can be it for us, too."
"Dan, I've got Charlie. And Lisa's got her life, and we're not married anymore."
Casey shrugged. "You can do it without me."
Dan looked at his partner. "No, I can't," he said.
Casey reached for his shirt and jacket. A moment later he dropped them and looked up again. "Will it really happen like that?"
"Today we're here and tomorrow we're not?"
"I think it might."
"It wouldn't happen that fast."
"It wouldn't matter. CSC would be history, and if they're buying us, which they are, Disney already knows what would take its place. Tomorrow, next Thursday, in the fall -- it means what it means, and this is it." Dan held Casey's gaze even as the phone started to ring. "It's time to start talking to the people in L.A."
Casey slowly nodded and turned away as Dan moved at last to answer the phone.
Seventy-five minutes later, Dana hung up the extension in the control room and closed her eyes.
"Dana?" Jeremy said. He watched her but she didn't turn to him and didn't answer.
"Who was it?" Natalie asked.
"It wa-- It was Isaac." Dana opened her eyes and found the monitors, fixing her gaze on Casey and wishing he could hear her. "He heard from the network."
"I didn't ask."
"What's going on?"
Dana leaned forward and said over the intercom, "Everyone. I need you in here, please."
"Everyone," Dana said, and then stopped speaking. She didn't say a word as Dave and Chris and Will turned in their chairs. She didn't speak as Casey and Dan came in from the anchor desk. She was silent while Maureen and John and Monica came in from one side, Alison and her team from the other; she said nothing while people whose names she suddenly wished she had known gathered round.
And then for just a moment more she was silent, because of these people before her who she could stare at, just stare at forever. she knew them now and she would never see most of them again. They were dedicated. They were hard-working and strong and for the most part they were cheerful, and at the moment they were all staring at her with the same expression on their faces.
Suddenly she panicked, and there was nothing in the world she wanted more than to be out of this room right now. If she didn't leave now she would be sick; if she didn't leave now she would start to cry. "We've been sold," she blurted, even as she spoke turning to escape. "We're Disney's, and I think that's it for Sports Night." The control room door closed behind her against the silence and the soft murmur from those peopole she didn't know well enough, and she charged blindly away from their presence and into the newsroom.
Two seconds later she spun back the way she'd come. "Casey," she called sharply. "Dan. Natalie. Elliot. Jeremy. Chris. Kim. Will. Dave." She was relieved when she saw that they had followed her from the control room, just them. Her group. Her people. At the thought she almost lost it again.
"Dana?" Dan said, and they all waited.
"We need our luck to change and we need it to happen now," she said. "Let's go."
"Let's go where?" Natalie asked.
"It's up to the lot of you. Let's just go."
"Let's go out," Jeremy suggested.
"How far out?" Casey asked.
"I was thinking Albuquerque, maybe Zimbabwe," Jeremy said. "Nat?"
"The Carolinas. Or maybe L.A."
"L.A.'s going to come soon enough," Dana said quietly, and as she said it it hit her again that Natalie wasn't included in the offer. "What about ... well, we could drive to that place." Her eyes found Casey.
"Which place?" Natalie asked.
"Dana, it's like a forty-five minute drive," Casey said.
"You got somewhere to be tonight, McCall?"
Casey shook his head. "No, ma'am."
"Which place?" Jeremy repeated.
"It's this ... little place where Dana and I broke down on our way to the stadium two and a half years ago."
"Only fitting we should break down there again," Dana muttered.
"Which stadium?" Jeremy asked Casey.
"That ... one."
"It's got that red gate," Casey offered. "Anyway. We broke down. The, um -- whatever that car was called -- blew a ... something, and we were stuck at this little roadside thing for over an hour."
"And it's your vivid imagery that really brings it to life," Dan said flatly.
"Yeah, whatever. We've gone back there a couple of times, and tonight ... I don't know, it might be fun."
Dana nodded. "To the park, then?"
Jeremy shrugged. "Good as anything tonight. What phone is ringing?"
"I've got it." Kim stepped a few cubicles away and picked up the ringing phone. "Yeah?"
"You see," Dan started, "You see how easy it is to mistake her --" Casey elbowed him.
"Dan. It's for you."
"Who is it?"
"I don't really care." Kim tossed him the receiver. With a shrug, Dan caught it. A moment later, he covered the mouthpiece and whispered, "Hey, go ahead. Write the directions down for me in case I forget. I'll meet you later."
Casey grabbed a post-it, wrote down the directions, and stuck them to Dan's forehead. "See you there." Dan nodded, distracted, and turned back to his phone conversation.
Dana grabbed Casey's arm. "Come on, we can take my car. Natalie, Jeremy, you guys don't have cars here, do you?"
"I've got room over here," Will called. "Anyone who needs a ride."
"I've got room, too," a voice said from nearbye, and they turned to see Alison from hair and make-up and Monica from wardrobe. "Is it all right if we come?"
"Come on, let's go," Natalie said, and grabbed Dana's arm.
It took a few tries to find the right roads in the darkness once the small caravan of cars had left the city. It was almost two when Dana hit the breaks so suddenly that Alison had to swerve to avoid rear-ending her. "Casey?" she asked. "Is this it?"
"This is it," he agreed. "You can pull in right up there."
"I see it." Dana swerved the car a little sharply into the lot of the roadside park and cut the engine.
The night darkened as the two other cars pulled in and stopped, turning off their headlights. Dana shivered a little as she got out of the car. The park was smaller than she remembered, and darker, with only a streetlamp burning here and there to remind her that other people had been here before, that her despondent group were not the only human beings left on this Earth.
Casey took her hand from behind. "Hey," he said. "Wasn't there a trail over ... there somewhere?"
"You want to go into the woods this late?" she asked.
"I like it. It's ... spooky."
"Okay, then, agent Mulder, have a good time."
Casey shrugged. "I'm just saying it's fun."
"I know," Dana relented with a smile. "Let's go find your trail."
"Hey," Natalie called, making them both jump. "What does a person do for fun here by the side of the road?"
"Casey and I are going to go see what there is to see in the middle of the pitch-black woods," Dana offered. "You're welcome to join us."
"They are not pitch-black; there are streetlights," Casey protested.
"Either way," Natalie said with a shiver, "I don't think I'll come with."
"Neither will I," Jeremy said. "Every time I go into the woods, I end up in the hospital."
Natalie laughed as Dana and Casey walked away. "Every time you go into the woods, you end up in the hospital?"
"Sprained ankle. Severe poison ivy. Stress-induced fainting spell. I never make it out of the forest on my own two feet." He sat on a picnic table and she joined him there, looking up past the streetlights at the stars.
"Jeremy," Natalie said slowly. "I'm not drunk, and I'm not having moodswings, and I honestly think that there's something you should know."
Jeremy turned to face her and found her gazing unwaveringly at the stars. "What is it?" he asked almost nervously, and waited in something close to hope for the answer.
"I hate your living guts," she told him, and he blinked, this not being quite what he expected. But she went on. "I don't really, though. And working at Sports Night was wonderful before you, but after ..." She fell short of the words she needed to express herself on an occasion such as this roadside park afforded. It was quiet here, and intimate, and Kim and Elliot were playing a game of basketball on a court across the field, and Chris and Monica had just joined the game and were cleaning up; Dave, Will, and Alison were on the other side of the park, walking slowly and pointing things out in the sky. It was a special kind of night, and she needed words.
They came when Jeremy lightly touched her shoulder. "Your hands were always right there, Jeremy," she said. She looked straight at her shoulder, where his small hand rested. "Right there on my shoulder making sure things were okay. And they were."
Jeremy caught her gaze at last. "Natalie," he said. "I'm not drunk, either, and I rarely experience moodswings, and all I can say is this: whatever happens; wherever we all end up; I'm going to be close enough to you to put my hand on your shoulder, and to hell with circumstance"
Natalie broke his gaze. "We could be on opposite sides of the country. I could be in Texas and you in Connecticut. I could be in Hawaii and you in Alaska."
"I'm saying we could be really far apart, Jeremy. We don't know."
"You think I'm going to get a superior offer from the guys up north, Natalie?"
Natalie huffed a frustrated breath. "Alaskans have television, and you could be working on it, while I could be working for some network in Hawaii -- or L.A. -- or, hell, Albuquerque and we could be separated for the rest of our natural lives. We have to face that."
"I won't face that."
"No, I won't face that, Natalie. It doesn't have to be like that."
"Yes it does!"
"No. It doesn't." His hand was still on her shoulder and now he turned her to face him. "It doesn't, because I won't let it be. This is my life, Natalie, and no matter what happens -- and no matter who broke up with whom, and no matter where we go from here -- I want you in it."
After a long moment, she nodded. "Okay, then," she said finally, and her gaze was locked on his and permanently separated from the stars.
Half a mile away on a hill-top clearing, Dana was just noticing those stars. "Wow," she said. "I never knew there were so many lights out here, either."
Casey took her cigarette and put it out on the rock they were sitting on. "What lights?" he asked, waving a hand at the darkness around them.
"Up there," Dana said absently, and Casey laughed.
"You mean the stars?"
"Yeah, there are a lot of them."
"Are you going to L.A.?" Dana asked.
Casey sighed and was silent for a while. "I don't know," he said at last. "I mean, I've got Charlie. He and Lisa live here. Do you know how hard it would be for me to see him, Dana?"
"L.A. is a long way from New York."
Casey sighed again. "I don't know," he repeated. "Dan wants to take the offer. You want to take the offer."
"It's a nice offer," Dana agreed.
"It's the best we're going to get."
"But, Charlie," she said.
"Right." Casey sighed for a third time, and Dana looked at him more closely.
"What?" she asked.
"I can't work without you and Danny, Dana," Casey said.
"I'm serious, and what's more you know I am."
"I know you are."
"I can't work without you and Danny. Not in L.A., not in New York, not in Ohio -- I can't work without the two of you. I'm completely dependant."
"I am completely dependant, or I would be able to wave you off to California and stay here with my son." His voice caught a little at the thought.
"You're completely logical, or you would be able to wave us off to California -- Casey, this is it. This is the only offer we're going to get that is worth anything at all, and it's the only offer we are going to get that includes the three of us. I'm not saying you should take it. I know that Charlie is more important to you than anything, and I understand. I just want to make sure you know that the only logical thing we can do, career-wise, is to take this offer."
Casey looked at her. "I know," he said at last.
"Maybe Lisa will want to move. A lot of your income does go her way, Casey. Maybe she'll want to come with you."
"And the problem with that is that Charlie is 10 years old. And I keep doing this to him. He's a shy little kid when it comes to people his own age, and he's got friends here -- He's finally got friends here. I'm even told there's a little girl named Amy who has a crush on him. I can't just pick him up and move him to the other side of the country."
Now Dana sighed. "Casey," she said. "It's up to you. And I'm with you either way. Except for this: What are you going to do in New York forever?"
Casey looked away. "There are plenty of things to do in New York."
"There aren't plenty of broadcasts to do in New York."
"It's up to you, Casey."
"I know." He sat silently for a while before his temper suddenly flared. "It isn't fair, Dana. There are three people in my life who I need in my life. I need Charlie and I need Danny and I need you. And until all this you were all in the same city -- it isn't fair that that has to change!"
"I know," she said. "Casey, I ..." her voice wavered and she cleared her throat. "Anyway." She tilted her head back and caught the gaze of a sea of darkness. "I never knew there were so many lights."
Casey laughed. "Honestly, honey," he told her, "They're called stars."
For a while neither of them spoke, and then Casey felt a weight against him. Dana leaned on his shoulder, and whether she was tired or whether she was thinking again of their future, he couldn't be sure.
"I love Sports Night," she said quietly, and, as ever, he knew what she was thinking.
"So do I," he said.
"L.A. was nice. Dallas was nice. But this is Sports Night."
Dana shrugged. "And there is literally nothing we can do about it," she said in a wavering voice. "It's, like, two distance runners start at the beginning of the race, and one of them draws ahead and he's about to win, and then somebody trips him and he falls and that's it for him. He's worked hard and he's dreamed of this day, and right when it looks like he might finally accomplish the things he's worked so constantly for, he finds himself on his stomach in the dirt through no fault of his own and he's got to get up and start again in a different race."
Casey studied Dana for one of the silent moments between them he so needed, and in it he knew he could never let her go to L.A. without him. The weight of her head on his shoulder was the only thing that kept him from losing his own head right now. The weight of her eyes on his face could do any number of things to his mind.
"Isaac's network --" Dana stopped.
"What?" Casey asked.
"I've been thinking about networks too long," she told him.
"What do you mean?"
"That sentence was supposed to start with 'Isaac's nephew'."
Casey laughed. "Aah."
"But I said 'Isaac's network'."
"Isaac doesn't have a network."
"If he did, it's possible we would have a little less tonight to worry about."
"Isaac's nephew. He works as a trauma doctor, and when he needs a break he always considers opening a restaurant in Albuquerque."
"Yes. Isaac says it's always Albuquerque." Dana stopped, and when she continued her voice was much more quiet. "It's always been New York for me, Casey," she admitted, as though it were a sin she were confessing. "The restaurant -- the bookstore -- the whatever it was I wanted to open to get away from it all ... It was always New York for me."
Casey didn't know what to say, so he didn't say anything, and kept his arm close around Dana. They stayed still for a long time before at last making their way back to the park.
It was after three when Dan joined them at the park. Dana's team was winning the basketball game that everyone had joined, and the noise level had risen several notches. But no one missed hearing Dan's shout as he sprang from his car.
"Great day in the morning," he exhaulted, and Casey laughed. He laughed harder as his partner approached.
"Danny, you have a post-it on your forehead," he told his friend.
"Yeah, you put it there," Dan said distractedly.
"How did you find the place?"
"I've been here before. Last summer, remember? Casey, listen."
"I actually, no, I don't remember."
"Why is it a great day in the morning?"
Dan blinked. "That's a funny expression when you say it like that."
"Casey, I'm not going to L.A."
Casey's smile slowly faded. "But it works," he said at last. "I don't want to go, either, but it works, and it's the only thing that does."
"No," Dan said. "It doesn't."
"Who was on the phone?"
Dan swallowed. "Rebecca. She was calling from downstairs, and then she came upstairs and ..." His voice trailed away as he studied Casey.
"So what do we do?" Casey asked. Dan didn't answer. "What do we do?" Casey said this time to Dana.
"We go to Anthony's," Dana said quietly, and walked past them toward her car without looking back.
The crowd at Anthony's had thinned considerably by the time the Sports Night team arrived. Jack was wiping down tables, but when he saw them he stopped and caught Dana's gaze.
"Isaac's looking for you," he said.
"Isaac's looking for you. He wants you all back at the office."
"At ten till four in the morning?"
"That's what he said." Jack shrugged. "And it's just as well, because I'm about to close up. Need anything before I do?"
Dana looked at her friends. "N-no. We'd better --" she pointed over her shoulder -- "go and see ..." Without finishing the sentence, Dana turned and led the others out of the restaurant.
For a minute the only sound in the elevator was of Dana's fingers nervously tapping the wall. Then Dan suggested, "Maybe Isaac's mad we didn't invite him out to party with us."
For some reason his statement seemed unbelieveably funny at this time of morning, and most of them broke down in giggles. "Yeah," Dana gasped, "I'm sure that's it. Isaac's mad he didn't get to stay up all night playing basketball or sitting on a rock."
"Hey, it's four a.m.," Jeremy said. "Sounds like he has been up all night. Anyone care to hazard a guess as to why?"
"Maybe he stayed up to catch the 2 a.m."
"Yeah, and be in the building when Sally found out about the sale? I rather think that would be the most hideous experience of one's life," Dana said, and this brought about another collapse of the giggles.
Ding! The elevator hit floor 49 and the laughter stopped. For a moment the doors hung closed where they were, and the small group of people inside held their breaths. Never was there so great a time as tonight to get stuck in an elevator. No one was sure whether it was good news they were going to meet or bad, but they all knew they were dreading the opening of those elevator doors.
And then, there they were, released into the offices they loved, and it was Alison who moved first and led the rest of them into their world.
Casey and Dana hung back, and he leaned toward her. "Dana," he said quietly. "Whatever we're about to hear, I want you to know something."
"Save it till we know," she replied, but he ignored her.
"Wherever you go, I'm going, too," he said, and she looked at him with eyes full of tears before they followed the group toward what was happening.
They found Isaac in the control room, and, to their surprise, about twenty other people were gathered round. Sally was there. Several of the crew of Sports Night and some of CSC's other shows were there, and standing with Isaac was a man none of them knew except Dana. When she saw the man from the bar she stopped suddenly, and her breath caught for a moment. He saw her and gave her that maddening look he liked to give.
"How you doing?" he asked of the group, and most of them muttered something without quite knowing what it was.
"Dana," Isaac said. "This is Kendall Shore from MDI TransComm. He's been working all night on a proposal to Disney, and he wanted to run it by us all before he submitted it to them."
"Wh- what is it?" Dana asked.
Kendall Shore spoke up. "It's a proposal from my network that suggests we compensate them for the Continental Sports Channel and give it a home on our line-up."
Dana's eyes widened. "You want to buy CSC?" She looked to Isaac. "Isaac, can that happen?"
"We won't know until Disney tells us," Isaac said, "but first it's up to the lot of you. I know most of you have been making plans and settling differences and trying to imagine life beyond this place." His eyes traveled the room. "Some of you may have even been successful. But I want you to consider this, and let us know right now what you think of it. I have no say over most of your shows, but you from Sports Night, I want to hear it now. Are we going to go on if Disney gives us the okay?"
There was a sound, so soft that at first no one understood it. And then they were cheering -- all of them were cheering. There were people who didn't know each other and would most definitely get to know each other and they were all cheering and shouting and clapping as though the entire world had been saved.
"Thank you," Dana told Kendall Shore. "Honestly, I don't .. I don't know what to say." There were tears streaming down her face, and Kendall smiled acknowledgement and moved away as Casey approached.
Casey wiped the tears from Dana's face and pointed to where Natalie and Jeremy were in each other's arms. Dana grinned at them, and at him, and led him a few paces away.
"Disney might not agree," he reminded her gently.
"They'll agree," she told him.
"Why do you say that?"
"Because it's always been New York," she told Casey, and he understood completely.
09 May 2000