"I can't talk after midnight."
Dan glanced up from the computer to look at his partner, who was sprawled out on the sofa. "You can't talk after midnight?" he repeated.
"I can't talk after midnight."
“Are you a gremlin?"
"Are you striving to be a gremlin?"
"Then why can't you talk after midnight?"
“I'm not hungry."
"I'm saying it was eat that the gremlins couldn't do after midnight."
"Why can't you talk after midnight?"
"I really don't know."
"I think you need to lie down."
Casey rolled his eyes sideways to illustrate his position on the sofa. "I am lying down."
"I think you need to do it more."
"It's time for the show."
"It's actually past time for the show," Dana called in as she passed by the door.
"By that she means it's past time for us to be at the desk," Casey translated with half a smile.
"As long as you can talk *before* midnight."
"Here's the thing."
"We use the word 'thing' in way too many settings."
"Here's the thing. Hand me the thing. The thing is. What's *that* thing? I need that *thing*. This old thing? Thing 1 and Thing 2. Books and caps from ink pens and envelopes and coffee mugs and videotapes and Christmas lights and beer bottles and news copy and window panes and green socks and Hershey bars are all *things*."
"The thing .. is .. I'm afraid it's going to extend to my on-air abilities any day."
"You know, we actually do the show at night."
"And any night, I'm going to open my mouth and out is going to come some gibberish that is less than English."
"That's why we get paid."
"Why can't you talk after midnight?" Dan asked.
I don't know."
The boys walked through the newsroom, through the control room, to the desk. In the control room Dana said to Natalie, "I can't -- spe-- talk before mid ... night."
Natalie blinked slowly. "...What?"
"Before midnight. I can't ..." she gestured to her mouth ... "talk."
"You're talking now."
"Two thirty to VTR," Will said.
"You might be off just a little in some less than subtle ways, but you are talking," Natalie explained.
"Two minutes live," Dave said.
"So what's the problem?"
"The problem is that I ca-- I ju-- I can't find the ... words to speak."
"You can't find the words to speak?"
Natalie shrugged. "Just say what you mean."
"I trip over it."
"You didn't just then."
"But I do."
"But not after midnight?"
Dana shrugged. "Not ... after midnight."
"How long has this been going on?"
"How long have you noticed it?"
Natalie frowned. "Since ..... Thursday."
"You mean you noticed it?"
"It's no- it's noticable?"
"Sixty seconds live," Dave called.
"How long has this been going on?" Dan asked Casey at the desk.
"Since, uh-- Thursday."
"And only after midnight."
"That's all I want to know."
"Dan?" Casey said.
"I'm talking now, right?"
"I do seem to be hearing a voice from your direction, yes."
"I mean I'm talking all right?"
"I wouldn't go so far as to say --"
"You're talking fine."
"So how come I can't do that after midnight?"
"Because you're distracted?"
"Then's after work."
"Only after work?"
Dan nodded to the cameras pointed at them. "You're good at what you do."
In the control room, Dana leaned over to Natalie. "Why only at work?" she asked.
"Because you're invested in work."
"So I can't talk at ... or about it?"
"You can't talk about it, either?"
"Not if it's before midnight."
"Why only here?"
"Because you love it here."
Dana nodded. "Okay."
Natalie looked at her. "That really wasn't a good answer. You're just going to let that one pass?"
"I ... can't ... talk."
"In three ... two ..."
"Good evening from New York City, I'm Casey McCall alongside Dan Rydell. Tonight we'll take you to Tulane, Tampa Bay, and Toledo where times were trying for three troubled teams."
"We'll take you to Salt Lake City, Kansas City, and the city of Santa Fe, where one young man set out to seek his fortune. All that coming up after this; you're watching Sports Night on CSC, so stick around."
"Two minutes back."
"Did you do it?" Jeremy asked, stopping by Natalie's desk the next day.
"Did I do what?" Natalie said absently.
She glanced up. "The thing?"
"You know, we use that word way too often."
Natalie sat back and studied Jeremy for a moment. "I'll do it," she promised. "Later."
"Why not now?"
"Because we're at work and I've got work to do."
"This is work!"
"This is a musical."
"This is art!"
"We work in sports!"
Jeremy grabbed a chair and dropped urgently into it. "This is an important part of the things that are associated with the sports which we love. The pageantry. The excitement. The dedication. The beauty."
"Those are the things which we love?"
"I’ll watch your feature, Jeremy."
"This isn't timeless, you know."
"It's a feature, right?"
"On a sport that has been around for a while and will be around for a while more?"
"And the next time anything even close to this sport will be televised will be at the Olympics, right?"
"I'd say it is kinda timeless, little man."
"Kinda rolls off the tongue."
"Dan!" Jeremy leaped out of his chair as Dan passed. "What do you think?"
"What do I think about what?"
"About the kur?"
"The musical freestyle."
"Which is what?" Dan stopped walking.
"It's a sport."
"It's a respectable sport."
"In which the players ..."
"Ride horses. It is considered the truest form of communication between horse and rider."
Dan started walking again. "Do they jump?" he asked.
"It's not about excitement and risk. It's about the quieter thrill of truly discovering something about yourself as a rider and as a human being."
"They don't jump?"
"And you want to do ..."
Dan shrugged. "Sounds a little boring."
"Well, I've done it already and it isn't boring, but Natalie still hasn't watched it."
"When did you give it to her?"
"Almost two hours ago!"
They reached Dan's office, and Jeremy and Dan parted company. It was Dan's turn to flop down at the sofa as he asked Casey, "Can you talk yet?"
"Of course I can. It's the middle of the day."
"'Cause you're right, you know: Last night you couldn't talk at all."
"I mean at all."
"I was there."
"Guys?" Dana stepped halfway into the office and stopped. Casey stood instantly at the look on her face, and Dan sat up on the sofa.
"What's going on?" Casey asked.
"No. Um. Isaac ... Sid Janus ... some things, because I, um -- because ..." Dana winced at the way her sentence wasn't working.
"Dana," Casey said, taking her by the shoulders. "Start again."
"Something's happening today."
"Erin Alexandra?" Dan asked.
"Should we be worried?"
"Saga lost its best show."
"Why is that our problem?"
Dana looked at him silently for a long time.
Casey sighed. "Damn."
"Why is this our problem?" Dan repeated.
"They're mad at us," she said. "Their opinion is clear, but they need reasons to come down here. Not good reasons, but reasons. Now they have a reason: share points. Now they have an outlet: Saga."
"Who are 'they'?"
"They are Luther. They are JJ. They are Burt and Sid and Ray and Eddie and just about everyone who works above us in this building."
"But we've got an outlet?" Casey pressed.
Dana closed her eyes and tried to find words for the real problem. "There have been talks," she said slowly, "of making drastic changes in the show's management and production should it change hands."
"And they want it to be .. who?" Dan asked. Dana's breath caught.
"They want it to be Chris and Will, Elliot, Kim, and Natalie and me."
"It won't be you," Casey said.
"How do you know?"
"Because Isaac won't let it happen."
"It won't be Isaac's say."
"He'll make it his say."
"Casey, they want it to be Isaac."
Casey's hands were close to shaking. "Do they know," he asked slowly, "that without the same people we are not the same show?"
Dan closed his eyes and Dana let him answer. "That's what they want," he said.
For a moment no one spoke and no one moved and not one of them opened their eyes. Then Dana moved away from Casey's touch, back out into the newsroom. "I have to-- have to talk to Natalie," she said.
"I need her to know ... about ......" Dana shrugged in frustration and stormed away.
Casey walked back to the desk. "It's Wednesday," he said.
"So, have you noticed Dana has been stuttering since Thursday?"
"Yes, I have."
"You think that's when she found out?"
"No, I don't."
"I don't mean that's when she really found out. Just maybe she suspected, is all."
"No, I think she just suspected today. I think Thursday is when something happened between the two of you."
"Nothing happened between the two of us."
"Something happened on Thursday."
"Nothing happened on Thursday."
"Well ... we've got like a million lonely Thursdays to contend with unless Isaac or Dana manages to fight this thing and win," Dan said. "So you know if you've got something to say to her, say it now."
"I always have something to say to her," Casey said wistfully.
Casey shrugged. "When do I have the time, but after midnight?"
"Did you find out on Thursday?" Natalie asked.
"About Alexandra and Isaac and Saga Sports? Did you find out about it on Thursday?"
"If I had found out on Thursday, I would have told you on Thursday."
"Why would you think that --"
"You haven't been able to talk since Thursday," Natalie said.
"Except after midnight."
"I found out this morning."
"Then what happened on Thursday?"
Dana sat silent for a moment. "Nothing," she said at last.
"So. What's up with Jeremy and this ... horse .... thing?"
"I don't know."
"You haven't watched the tape?"
"It was really boring."
"Did you tell him?"
"What did he say?"
"He said, and I quote, ‘Natalie, Natalie. You just don't understand the monumental amount of precision training and conditioning that go into such a splendid exhibition. Would it help if I added a section on that to the tape?'"
Dana looked up with raised eyebrows. "He's really that certain?"
"He's nervous," Natalie explained. "So what should I tell him?"
"What did you tell him?"
"I told him we weren't airing it."
"He chose not to believe me."
Dana sat still for a moment. "I'm talking," she said suddenly.
"About Jeremy's ... thing ... I'm talking. How come I can't .. sp...talk when it comes to ..... anything else?"
"If by anything else you mean the show, I don't want to think about it, so shut up. If by anything else you mean Casey, then it's because your unrequited love for him is interfering with your ability to formulate a coherent sentence. And--" Natalie held up a hand. "Before you argue with me, know that we do not have time for you to argue with me. It'll take you twenty minutes to get the sentence out."
Dana held up both hands, clenched them into fists, and then shrugged.
"When you've turned that into English, lemme know," Natalie said.
"Was ‘okay' you turning it into English?
"Then I'll see you later."
"I don't doubt it."
"Bye bye." Natalie left Dana alone.
When Natalie was gone, Dana sat in her office and wondered why her mind was stuck on something other than her biggest problem. His hands on her shoulders. His eyes. The way he was the only one who understood her when things got the way they got. She ached for him right now, for his arms, for his comfort, and until Thursday she had thought she could have that again despite their failed attempt at romance.
But she couldn't go to him now; not since nothing had happened on Thursday.
Natalie left Dana's office and walked straight to Jeremy in the edit bay. "God help us," she said as she entered the room.
"Well, he's not helping me get this segment aired."
"Shut up about your segment, Jeremy, the world is falling down."
Jeremy turned away from the screen to look at Natalie. When he saw her face he stood, took a step forward, and didn't let himself lay his hands on her shoulders. "What's going on?" he asked.
"Saga wants us."
Jeremy shrugged. "They can't have us."
"Why can't they?"
"We have contracts."
"Contracts that keep us employed."
"Contracts owned by Continental Corp."
"They can't do it."
"Why can't they?"
"I won't let them."
"They've done it."
Natalie walked a couple of paces away and turned to face him again. "I have to do something," she said. "I don't want you to take it the wrong way. It's just that I have to do it."
"What is it?"
"I'm just doing it because I'm really scared and because it's all in the world I feel like doing."
"What is it?"
Natalie stepped forward into Jeremy's arms. He rested his chin on her hair and knew that she knew it was all he felt like doing as well. They weren't and maybe they would never be together as a couple again, but her arms were still the only ones that afforded him this comfort.
"They can't," he said again, softly, and she believed him.
"I'm never, ever, ever going to believe anything anyone says, ever again."
Dana didn't lift her head to speak, and the words were muffled in her arms against the side of the chair.
“Now, Dana, don't lose it," Isaac said.
"Nothing's happening yet."
"Is talking to us."
"They're going to."
"There's a chance they might."
"Isaac ..." Dana lifted her hands. "Tomorrow morning you're going to walk in here and Luther Sachs is going to be waiting. Or a message from him. Or one of his people."
"JJ .. Sid .. Billy .. Ray .. They're his people."
"He owns the network, Dana; we're all his people."
"Until tomorrow, when he tells you to tell us all good-bye." Dana's breath caught as though she were crying. Maybe she was. She didn't know. Care. Rain rattled at the window that should have been too steady to rattle in rain. The world was falling down, and it was happening tomorrow. Today. Thursday. The clock read 12:15.
"I'm going home," Isaac said.
"He'll get over it," Dana told him absently.
"He likes the turtle."
Dana stood slowly and started for the door. "Dana?" Isaac said quietly.
"Yes?" Dana didn't turn around.
"Don't cry yet."
Dana brushed at her eyes. "Okay."
Somehow she managed to find her way to her own office. It was cold outside tonight. Damned April, pretending to be January or March. She didn't want to go out and find her way to her cold apartment. She didn't ever want to go anywhere that wasn't here.
What she wanted was the same comfort she had sought for every fear and every heartache that had come her way in sixteen years. Only, since Thursday, she couldn't ask him for his shoulder or his arms or the comfort of one of the flannel shirts he wore.
So she put on music, and she danced.
The office was dark, strange and comforting in a single effort, and her skin stung with the air against her as she moved. It was the song she needed, she decided. Because it had to be the song, because it couldn't be anything else, because it couldn't be Casey that she needed. In sixteen years she had ached enough for her dearest friend. Now she lacked not only a reason to go to him, but she also lacked the energy and time.
Still, though, she had the energy to dance, and for tonight, for the moments when her mind went blank and she was able to forget about the days, the dancing was almost as satisfying as the needing him. Or anyway needing the song.
At half past three she sank into her desk chair and dropped her head onto a pile of overdue paperwork. It was three paces to the sofa, which would be so much more comfortable for sleep. But suddenly it was morning and she hadn't moved from the desk all night.
There was no denying it was Thursday now. The sun was up and glaring off the Far Side daily calendar on the desk, and Natalie was sitting on the sofa staring at Dana.
Dana looked at her watch and yawned at 11:20. "Good morning."
"Dana?" Natalie repeated.
"What happened last night?"
"Where did you sleep?"
"On my desk."
"On .. your desk?"
"Not completely on my desk."
"Why did you sleep on your desk?"
"Because it was closer to me than my sofa and I didn't want to sleep on my floor."
“Why didn't you go home?"
"Because I was asleep."
"Why were you asleep?"
"Because I was sleepy."
"Why were you sleepy?"
"Because I’d been awake for a very long time."
"How long had you been awake?"
Dana closed her eyes. "Probably less time than it seemed."
"You have to talk to him."
"You have to talk to him."
"Because things are never going to be right unless you do."
"Things are never going to be right anyway."
"You're not fighting."
Dana frowned. "No. We're not fighting."
"So what's wrong?"
"You kn-- you know why we're not fighting?"
"You're starting to not be able to speak again."
"Because we're not talking."
Dana closed her eyes. "I want to go ... back to sleep."
“There's a sofa right over there."
"There's a de- there’s a desk right here."
"Your neck is stiff."
"Your hair is messy."
Natalie laughed. “Okay.”
"Why should I t- talk to him if we're not fighting?"
"You know that sentence made little if any sense, right?"
"I'm saying, why am I – why are … you … telling me to talk to him … if you know we're not fighting?"
"Because things aren't right between you and you're miserable."
"What happened with the feed from Martinsville?"
"I'll have it in half an hour."
"Just .. talk to him?"
"What … should I say to him?"
Natalie shrugged as she spoke. "Hello."
"Hello .. Hi .. good morning .. Whatever feels natural."
"What feels natural is going back to sleep."
"Then do that first. But please talk to him today."
Dana nodded slightly, and Natalie left her alone.
In Dan and Casey's office, almost the same level of progress was being attained.
"Does today seem to be starting slowly to you?" Dan asked.
Casey rubbed his eyes and at last looked up slowly from the sofa. "What?"
"What do you think she's doing?"
"About the whole thing. About the show."
Dan shrugged. "What can she do?"
Casey focused on a point above Dan's head. "The show without them ..." he began.
"...without Kim and Elliot..." Dan continued.
"...without Chris and Will ..."
"...without Natalie ..."
"It isn't the show."
"It couldn't be the show."
"We couldn't do the show."
"We wouldn't want to do the show."
Dan rubbed his eyes and hunted for a topic. "I fired my publicist last night," he said at last.
"What's the point of having a publicist when you plan on never, ever, ever doing what they say?"
"There isn't one."
"Anyway, she was bubbly enough as to make me feel decidedly less than famous."
"I thought it was a he."
"In a round-about sort of way."
Small talk. It was all they could manage, so they needed more of it. "I watched Jeremy's segment," Dan said.
"Yeah? How was it?"
“If we show it to Alexandra she may not want the show anymore."
"Really? Well, then, by all means ..."
Their laughter was forced.
"Don't break yet," Dan cautioned when he heard the tension in Casey's laugh.
"I need this to not be happening."
"It might not happen."
“The hell it won’t.”
"Nice pep talk."
"April absolutely sucks."
Dead silence. Now Casey said it aloud. "Dead silence, Danny, dead damn silence. This is wrong."
“It's off-the-charts insane."
"We've got a run-down meeting."
"I'll bet that's going to be fun."
“A real beach party. Come on."
In the conference room, Dana was staring blankly at a piece of paper on which nothing was written. Beside her Natalie colored the margins of an injury report with a purple crayon, and across the table Jeremy, his face drawn in a frown, studied a full-page Horse Illustrated spread on riding to music.
"It says here that it's the rider's own rhythm that affects the horse, rather than the music," Jeremy said into the silence.
"You mean the horse won't break into the Charleston if you ride to Ella Fitzgerald?" Dan laughed.
Dana looked up from her piece of paper. "You do the Charleston to Ella Fitzgerald?"
"Well, I don't really have that much free time ..."
"Who has the green?" Natalie asked.
"Honey," Casey said. "You're the only person here who's using crayons."
"Well then the sunshine's just going to have to be purple, I guess."
"You were going to color the sunshine green?"
Natalie looked up. "Better green than purple."
"Purple, yellow, blue, plaid, orange, green, or grey, it's not going to stop this rain," Isaac said as he walked slowly into the room. He took his seat opposite Dana at the end of the table. "Before you ask, there has been no word, there have been no messages, no phone calls, nothing to suggest to me a hint of what's going on beyond what we all already know. I've got a meeting with Burt and JJ at two-thirty. Sally Sasser's been calling me all morning hoping for the inside scoop, and my wife already figured out that something's wrong, so I'm not in the mood for guessing games. Before you ask."
"Can I ask --" Dana started.
"Well, I suppose it would surprise me if you didn't."
"--was it Saga who came to CSC or was it CSC who went to Saga?"
"I don't know."
"Why don't you know?"
"Because there have been no messages, Dana, no phone calls, nothing to suggest to me a hint of what's going on beyond what we all already know. So let's put it aside for the moment and get this meeting underway."
Dana nodded. "Item One," she agreed, and the meeting came slowly, uncertainly, to order.
Less than ten minutes later they were done, and Dana followed Isaac from the conference room. "Let me sit in on the meeting," she said.
"Let me sit in."
"Because they asked me to come to a meeting and they didn't ask you to come."
"I was under the impression that the invitation was open to any of the Sports Night senior staff."
"Why not today?"
"Because I said so."
"Because you're afraid I'll throw a fit with Luther's people?"
"Because you have an uncanny ability to throw Luther's people into a fit of their own."
"Let me sit in."
"Go do your show."
Dana hesitated. "Okay," she said at last. "You'll let me know if, um … You’ll call me if you change your mind?"
"You'll call me the mi-- the minute you know?"
She stared at him. "Okay."
“If this doesn't go our way --"
"We'll talk about it when it happens," she said, and he nodded, and they went their separate ways.
Dana's way was to her office for just a moment of quiet. When she woke, nearly an hour had passed, and she sprung into action, determined to make working an excuse for keeping her mind off Isaac's meeting.
"Dana," Jeremy said from the doorway, knocking lightly on the frame.
"What do you need?"
"I was wondering if you would have time to look at this segment on the musical freestyle. I know you're very busy. But I think this segment would ultimately be worth the time. I've made some changes from the original, and I think it's even interesting to the masses now."
Dana, from her seat on the sofa, looked slowly up at Jeremy. She stared at him for a long time without speaking. At last he nodded and raised a hand. "Nevermind," he said, and ducked back out of the office.
In the newsroom he found Kim. "Kim," he said. "I was wondering if you would have time to look at this segment on the musical freestyle."
From the office, Casey heard him and laughed. "By the end of the day I'm going to be the only person who hasn't seen that thing."
"How did you get out of it?" Dan asked.
"Wit and guile."
"I threatened his young life."
"What time is it?"
"There's still time to pull the fire alarm and postpone that meeting of Isaac's."
Dan shook his head. "And who's going to listen to the fire alarm, this week?"
"Aah, well." Casey shrugged. "I'm going to go look at some tape."
Casey walked through the newsroom and was intercepted by Natalie as he crossed the conference room. "Casey," she said, hanging onto his elbow till he either had to turn and face her or fall to his death.
"Hi," he said. "I almost didn't see you there. Maybe next time you should drop some sort of net from the sky to keep me from escaping."
"Casey, what happened on Thursday?" Natalie asked. Casey lowered his hands and rolled his eyes away from Natalie.
"Nothing happened on Thursday," he stated firmly.
"It's been a week, and the two of you still won't come clean."
"About the reason you haven't said ten words to each other that weren't directly related to the show in the last seven days."
"I'm actually making an educated guess."
"Are you figuring all of Dana's words in the ten? Because some of the words she's been saying this week weren't really intended to make it into the sentence."
"I'm counting what counts, and you haven't. So what's going on?"
Casey sighed and looked away. "Months ago," he said, "I told her to ask me another time."
Natalie raised her eyebrows. "Did she?"
“She tried on Thursday?”
"And nothing happened. She couldn't get the words out."
"Then how do you know what she was planning to ask?"
"I told you?"
Casey laughed. "I'm saying, Natalie, trust me on this."
"Yeah, because I'm totally inclined to believe what you say about romance, dreamboat."
"She was trying,” Casey said. “I knew what she was trying to ask."
"But you didn't answer."
"She didn't ask."
"You didn't answer."
"I thought it best."
"Didn't know my breath from a breeze."
Natalie patted his arm. "Go answer her now."
"She can't talk."
"She can talk after midnight just fine. Go to her tonight."
"I can't talk after midnight."
Natalie blinked. "That's an interesting turn of events."
"Except it's not really a turn; it's been happening since Thursday."
"Answer her. Who cares if the two of you can't speak?"
Casey nodded slowly and they parted.
Isaac's meeting was postponed, and then postponed again. With each new whisper of anything at all from that direction, the tension grew. With each new word that was a lack of anything concrete, the frustration started to build, so that each rundown meeting got progressively worse.
It was 9:30 at night when Isaac finally sat down in his office with Burt and JJ.
"Tell me the way it is, and do it quickly," he said.
"Isaac," Burt said. "We're going to go through this step by step."
"I want the last step."
"We're doing this professionally."
"I want the bottom line. None of this fooling around."
"Have you noticed, Isaac, that you spend almost as little time speaking as you possibly can?"
"Well, I don't have much extra time on my hands," Isaac said. "I'm under a lot of pressure to keep the show from getting flushed down the toilet. Makes for a harried lifestyle, you know."
"Have you noticed, Burt, that any time I say something, you follow it with my name?"
"I have noticed that, but that's not why I'm here."
"Well, that's a relief."
Isaac lifted his hand in nearly mock disbelief and waited for Burt to continue.
From the hall outside the office, it was impossible to hear what was going on. "I wish they wou-would raise ...their voices," Dana said.
"Yeah, because a shouting match is going to be the first clue that everything's okay," Dan agreed.
“Then I wish I was in there."
"Go in there."
"I'm not invited."
"Then stand right here with the rest of the commoners till the meeting's over."
Dana brushed back her hair and shrugged. "I like doing this," she said quietly.
"You like doing what?" Natalie asked.
"I like—I like listening from the hall outside Isaac's office door."
"Not two seconds ago you didn't like it."
"I never said I didn't like it, I said I wished it worked."
"Why do you like it if it doesn't work?"
Dana shrugged. "We do a lot of it. We’ve ... passed ... a lot of time in this hallway, outside this office."
"And you're afraid we won't be doing that anymore," Casey said, very softly.
No one answered. For almost five minutes they clustered at the door in silence, hearing nothing from inside. At last, one by one, they gave up, until Dana was alone in the hall. She leaned back against the wall and slid down it till she was sitting on the floor. Inside, faintly, she could hear the gentle drone of Isaac's voice. Her whole life was dependant on his voice for a moment or two. She was glad she didn't know what he was saying.
Isaac's meeting didn't end until fifteen minutes to air, and five minutes later Natalie's voice came over the intercom: "Ten minutes to air. Senior staff in the conference room, please."
Casey was the second person to enter the conference room. Dana was sitting in her chair tearing up the blank sheet of paper with trembling hands. As they entered the staff saw her, and panicked, and took their seats in silence. Casey sat beside her, and Natalie wordlessly took Casey’s usual chair.
"This will — just -- only take a moment," Dana said thickly when everyone had gathered. "Isaac spoke to me a moment ago." For just a minute she couldn't speak, and no one else bothered. She clutched at the bombshell for just a moment more before letting it fall.
"Saga wants Sports Night and CSC has decided to let them take it."
The silence was heavy, and too long for eight minutes to air. "They want the on-air talent," Dana said at last, glancing down the table's length and focusing on no one. "They want the technical director. They want the associate producer." She waited a beat before saying, “That’s all they want.” Casey and Jeremy and Dave and Dan stared at Dana and Natalie, Elliot, Chris, Will, and Kim. The moment of silence was all-encompassing, and Dana didn't bother to steady her hands. "So that's it," she said. "That's what they want. They're going to strike a deal tomorrow. In the meantime --" She cleared her throat. "We've got a show to do. So let's do it while we can."
Despite her words Dana remained sitting as the rest of the staff filed out. Casey touched her shoulder as he passed her. Natalie stood by Dana's chair, waiting till everyone else was gone.
Dana looked up at Natalie. "They can't have it," she said. "They can't have my show."
"It's not fair."
Dana stood and brushed angrily at her clothes and followed Natalie to the control room. "Show me twenty," she said as she took her seat.
"Do you want twenty B?"
"I don't ... really ... care." Dana waved her hand.
"Doesn't care," Dave repeated, and put up twenty B.
"I ne -- I need to -- Casey, Dan, I'm moving the, um, the Martinsville feed to the twenties. Bring up the Lakers and keep the lead where it is."
"Dana," Kim said. "The Martinsville thing isn't anything."
"What do you mean?"
"It's nothing. Kelly called in."
"Wha-- where does that leave us?"
Dana turned to Jeremy and his eyes lit up. "I can make it fit," he promised.
Dan heard and dropped his head onto the desk. Natalie raised her eyebrows in doubt, but neither of them argued. It was two minutes to air.
"In the forties," Dana instructed. "Fill with Sampras."
Dana felt herself go automatic. The words coming out of her mouth she could barely hear; she could not define. Slowly the night became something of a dream state. She felt distant, and Natalie was running the room. Dana felt sick to her stomach with anger and fear.
It was the show in danger. It was losing everyone. It was Isaac's face when he told her, and the tears that she refused to shed.
And it was not being able to go to Casey when she felt this way. The last seven days had been uneven and unbalanced and inferior to even any normal nightmare week. She felt distant, and for a while she could not speak a word.
And then from her haze she heard Jeremy's segment begin, and, slowly, as waking, Dana raised her eyes to watch.
It was a beautiful segment. It was probably boring to some, and, yes, it was more like art than sport. But Casey couldn't take his eyes from it, and Dana couldn't look away. It was a complete and beautiful image of the things they cared about.
Pageantry. Originality. Dedication.
Unconventionality. Beauty. Passion.
It was Sports Night.
Dana dropped her head onto her arms and started to cry.
Silence was only accentuated by Dave's soft voice calling to the studio in twenty. Jeremy's segment ended, and Dana lifted her head and patted his arm. "It's good," she sniffed.
"I can tell," he said dryly, but his voice was gentle. She got it, as he did, the words to explain why the show couldn't be the same show for any other team.
"It's not the music," Jeremy told her. "It's the rhythm."
"Natalie's got the wheel," Dana replied, and left the room.
Her heart pounded as she walked the length of the newsroom and down the hall. "If they sell the show, they're going to lose the show," she announced, charging into Isaac's office. Only after she had spoken did she see Luther Sachs, sitting in a chair across from Isaac and looking up at her with interest.
"That's why Luther is down here," Isaac said calmly.
"Good to see you again, Dana."
"Dana," Isaac said.
"Natalie's got the wheel."
"Dana," Luther said. "Maybe it would be best if you were to--"
"What's going on?" Dana asked.
Luther sighed. "Isaac and I are discussing Saga Sports."
"Hasn't that already been decided?"
"It hasn't?" Dana took two steps forward.
"It is my understanding," Luther said, "that Saga plans to lose most of the production and editorial staff of Sports Night on purchase."
"And it's my instinct," Luther continued, "that Sports Night will not function in any similar manner with a different staff."
"That's right," Dana said again.
"I would hate to see that happen," Luther said quietly. He looked from Dana to Isaac and heaved a sigh. "I don't come down to people's offices," he said. "I especially don't come down to people's offices to discuss things that will not make me money. People come to me to discuss those things, and I generally pretend to listen and then wave them all away."
"If it helps," Dana told him, "I was on my way to see you."
Luther stared at Dana for a very long time. "It helps," he said at last, and then he stood to shake Isaac's hand. "I'm not going to sign the show to Saga." He smiled very slightly at Dana and left the office.
Dana let out a long, shaky breath that she hadn't known she was holding, and realized absently that her face was still streaked with tears. She sank into the chair Luther had vacated and stared at Isaac for a moment.
"Yes," Isaac whispered, grinning, and clenched a fist in victory. Dana broke into a matching grin and wondered why more tears were streaming down her face.
"I don't believe it," Dana said slowly. Then, as excitement built, "Isaac ... did we really just ..."
"We're saved," Isaac said, his face alight.
"Oh!" Dana flung herself at him and hugged him, then jumped up and said, "I've got to go tell everyone!"
As Dana charged into the control room, she heard Dan and Casey saying goodnight to the world. She couldn't believe it was already midnight, and not Thursday anymore.
"Listen up," Dana called to get everyone's attention, but by now most everyone in the control room was staring at her anyway. Her tear-stained face was wreathed in a grin she couldn't begin to hide. Dan and Casey left the desk and stood in the doorway to the control room, and at last Dana drew a breath and told them.
"CSC's going to turn them down," she said. "Luther himself made the final decision."
She watched them go through the same silent disbelief that slowly built into excitement she had gone through, and then the room was alive with applause and cheers and laughter and everything that made anything that happened at an after-show party seem funny. Dana grinned at Natalie, who had her arms wrapped around Jeremy's neck like nothing else mattered. "Good judgement staying," she called to her friend.
Dan passed her with a pat on the shoulder, and Dana turned to Casey, still standing in the doorway, a smile that was almost wistful on his face.
If she couldn't talk to Casey, the sun might as well be purple and the world might as well fall down. Dana took his hand as she passed him, and led him back into the corridor where, those months ago, he'd said no.
"It's midnight," he said, and she realized at once that he was leading her as well. It was the kind of thing that could only happen with the two of them.
"I can speak again," she said.
"I can still speak," he replied.
"You can't speak after midnight?" she asked him.
"Not since nothing happened on Thursday."
Dana twisted her hands together, suddenly nervous. "Since Thursday," she said abruptly, "It's seemed as though .... you ..... as though I wanted .... damn it, I still can't speak. It has seemed to me since Thursday as though we weren't ... even .... here."
"It felt like seventeen years ago," Casey agreed.
Her voice went quiet and his followed hers. "As though I couldn't come to you ..."
"...when there was no one else ..."
"...to come to."
Casey stared at her, and she met his steady gaze.
"Oh," she whispered. "You should have told me you would understand already..."
It was a long time before she broke his kiss and raised her eyes to his again. "It's another time?" she asked.
"I th- I guess it -- I..." Casey stopped talking, because he couldn't, and put his arms around Dana at last. "Yeah," he finally said into her hair.
"It's Friday," she mumbled into his chest, and he grinned.
"As if nothing at all happened yesterday," he agreed.