“A reporter from the Los Angeles Times called me for a reaction quote today,” Matt said.
Danny frowned over his girly glass bottle of ice tea. “Reaction quote to—“
“"We have been the cowards lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away,”” Matt recited from memory.
“Oh, God.” Danny leaned back into the corner of the couch and threw an arm over his eyes.
““That's cowardly.”” Matt continued. ““Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it's not cowardly. Stupid maybe, but not cowardly.””
“Just five minutes,” Danny said. “Five minutes of my life without someone talking about Bill Maher. Is that too much to ask?”
“They called me,” Matt snapped, grabbing Danny’s ankle and shaking it hard. “Because apparently I’m somebody who gets to have a public opinion on these things nowadays, and I’m going to be freaking out about that as soon as I’m done with this other thing.”
“This other thing being whatever stupid ass quote you gave the reporter?” Danny asked wearily.
“You know what gets me about this?” Matt demanded. “ABC is hemorrhaging money from the advertisers who’re pulling out, and they’re not going to renew the contract of a guy who gets paid to be as offensive as possible. They’re gonna fire him for doing his job.”
“Well that’s not so bad,” Danny said, visibly relieved. “I was expecting you to say something like—“
“And, I mean, God forbid someone point out the difference between physical and moral courage,” Matt carried on, rolling right over him. “These guys believed in something strongly enough to spend years planning their own deaths over it. And conviction isn’t the same thing as being right, but they had conviction. Meanwhile, we’re the nation that can’t get past Pepsi versus Coke.”
“Okay, that’s a bit more problematic,” Danny said, sitting up. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner – that’s definitely going to hit the early edition. I should—“
“I didn’t take the call,” Matt said.
“The guy left me a voicemail and I haven’t returned it yet.”
“O-kay,” Danny said slowly. “A guy calls you to ask you to rant about something you’ve been ranting about to everyone within earshot for a week, and you don’t take him up on it?”
“Answer me this,” said Matt. “Since when do advertisers screw networks to the tune of millions of dollars over a thirty second quote with no profanity or sexual content? Since when is there a price tag on public political speech? This guy called me to find out what I think about what Maher said – it doesn’t matter what I think. It doesn’t matter what Maher said. It matters that he said it at all, and now a bunch of billionaire CEO’s are telling him ‘hey we don’t do that anymore.’ That’s what matters.”
“I agree,” said Danny, and Matt scowled at him in the way of somebody who was too indignant to deal with agreement. “That makes a lot of sense. Of course, it’s a load of crap as long as you don’t call the reporter back.”
Matt slumped. “Wes will—“
“Wes will back you up.”
“The network will—“
“You’re pissed that people are telling Bill Maher to shut up, but you don’t have the guts to open your mouth about it,” Danny said.
They sat there on opposite ends of the couch, staring at each other for a long moment. “Where’s my phone?” Matt asked into the silence.
“Atta boy,” Danny said, and tossed it to him. “Only, uh, stick with the last thing about a price tag on political speech and skip the whole Pepsi bit, okay?”
“Whoa, okay, easy.” Danny grunted, getting his weight properly centered under Matt’s shoulder, trying not to hurt him. Though it was a good bet that a kick from an elephant wouldn’t hurt Matt right now.
“What would I do without you?” Matt asked, squinting goggly-eyed somewhere off to Danny’s left.
“You’d screw up your back all over again by sleeping on that terrible couch,” Danny said. “Come on, you can sleep all day before the Writer’s Guild banquet. One foot in front of the other – right foot – uh. The other one – there you go.”
“No really,” said Matt. “I’d be lost without you.”
“You’d be lost in your own damn house,” Danny muttered, and maneuvered Matt through the door, across the room, and carefully down onto the bed. Shoes off – Matt could sleep in his sweats and t-shirt – blanket from the foot of the bed. The routine made him smile – Matt wasn’t so much a sloppy drunk as a comatose one, and Danny’d done this a few or ten times.
“C’mere,” Matt said, making uncoordinated crablike snatches at Danny as he tossed the blanket over him.
“You need something?” Danny asked, bending over him. “More water? You can’t have any more Vicodin for a while, but I’m leaving it on the nightstand.”
“I need,” said Matt, and kissed him, with unexpectedly good aim.
“Matt,” Danny said, drawing quickly back. “Hey, don’t – you’re drugged and you’re not – I really don’t think—“ Matt was staring up at him – well, mostly at him – pupils blown shockingly big. He looked soft, tender, a little goofy, a little hurt. His lashes fluttered as Danny watched, and his eyes closed. “You’re drugged up to your back teeth,” Danny said softly. “And you don’t know what you’re doing, and you’re going to be really mad at me because I gotta tell you about this thing I did eleven days ago, and you’re probably unconscious right now, anyway. And you’re not over Harriet.”
Matt’s head rolled gently to the side, and he let out a soft, chuffing breath.
“Yeah,” said Danny. He touched Matt’s rumpled hair, and walked out.
“I’m firing the writers,” Matt said, bursting into Danny’s office.
Danny looked up from his desk. “Why?” he asked mildly.
“Because we’re paying them to sit around and eat off craft services,” Matt snapped. “And I, for one, am sick of coming down in the afternoon to discover that all the double-stuffed Oreos are already gone.”
“Mmm?” said Danny, attention returning to the papers in front of him.
“To say nothing of the fact that I didn’t hire any of these people and they’re a bunch of talentless hacks who think slipping on a banana peel is the very height of late-night comedy.”
“Bananas are funny,” said Danny, making a note in the margin.
“I’m funnier!” Matt shouted.
Danny glanced up briefly. “Well, I’ll give you that one,” he said, and turned to look for a stapler.
“So I’m firing them,” Matt said. He waited a beat for a reaction, then spun on his heel.
“No you’re not,” Danny said, just as Matt touched the doorknob. “And you know why?”
Matt let out a huge sigh, shoulders slumping. “Because there are termination clauses in their contracts and we’d end up paying way more in severance than we would on their salaries,” he said. “Fine, fine. The almighty buck wins the day again.”
“No, actually, that’s not why,” Danny said, and Matt turned, blinking.
“Naw.” Danny found the stapler beneath a stack of folders and stapled his document with a decisive slam. “We’re not firing them because I give it another two weeks tops before their deep loathing for you causes them to walk out, which means we won’t have to pay severance and we can afford to get some new people who you can work with.” He flashed a look up at Matt. “Who you will work with, by the way.”
Matt’s chin came down and he eyed Danny for a long moment. “Two weeks?”
“Fifty bucks,” offered Danny.
“You’re on.” Matt turned and opened the door. “But I give no promises about what I’ll do if day fifteen rolls around.”
“I’ll tell Suzanne to get more double-stuffed Oreos,” Danny called after him.
“Cal thinks we’ve got another three weeks before the new camera emplacements are ready, so just keep it in mind until then,” Danny said. “Other than that, we’re good.”
“Great,” Matt said, waving him absently away as he pulled his laptop closer.
Danny turned to go, then stopped. “You’ve taken the sketch off the board,” he said.
“What sketch?” Matt asked his keyboard.
“You know what sketch – the only one you’ve taken down. It’s Wednesday night, Matt, don’t you think maybe we could leave it until Friday and then decide?”
“Nope,” Matt said. “It wasn’t working in rehearsal.”
Danny frowned at him. “Actually, it was great in rehearsal,” he said. “Tom and Harriet were brilliant.”
“It just wasn’t that funny.”
“It’s not side-splitting, no,” Danny said. “But it’s comedy, and it has appeal. Who hasn’t been there?”
Matt hissed out a breath between his teeth. “I’m not going to be one of those guys,” he said, swiveling to look at the board. “One of those writers who throw their dirty underwear out there on the stage and call it art. Who think writing about their life is automatically smart or edgy – it’s not. It’s mostly just embarrassing to watch, actually.”
“Sure,” said Danny agreeably. “And you don’t think yanking the sketch now, when Harriet’s already done it in rehearsal, won’t be equally embarrassing?”
“I’m not worried about embarrassment,” Matt snapped. “I’m worried about bad art.”
“Well then stop,” Danny said. “Because ‘Dear John, I’m moving on’ is good. It’s not rolling-in-the-aisles stuff, no, but it’s got something, and that thing is good. And I’d like to point out that you’re a personal writer – it’s what you do. You write about the things that piss you off every day, because you’d rather laugh about them. So explain to me how writing about your break-up with Harriet is any different. And put it back on the board.”
“Oh God,” said Matt. “Is it really that obvious?”
“Yep. Put it back up.”
“Do you think Harriet knows?”
“Considering she’s smarter than your average turnip, I’d think so, yeah. Put it back up.”
Matt bit his lip. “Tell me I’m not one of those guys.”
“You’re not one of those guys,” Danny said. “Those guys think their audience is their therapist. You just think your audience is your due. The sketch is good – it’s dry and it’s funny and it belongs on the board.”
“Fine,” Matt said, pushing to his feet. “I’m putting it up. But I’m only doing it because you’re right – it would be completely humiliating to take it down now.”
Danny smiled. “Harriet likes it, you know,” he said, and walked out.
“It was a good show,” Danny said.
“Good enough,” Matt said. The music of the wrap party faded slowly behind them as they walked further up the beach.
“They’ve all been good shows,” Danny said, and gently bumped shoulders. “Thanks.”
“Hey, I write so I don’t have to do anything else,” Matt said. “And we should quit before we get out of hand here.”
“Yeah.” Danny stopped walking, and Matt turned to face him. The ocean behind Danny was silver moon bright, and the waves were loud enough here to drown out the party noise entirely. Danny looked happy; not stressed, not guilty, not faking it. Just happy.
“You know, Harriet wasn’t upset,” Matt said. “About the sketch. There was no drama, no yelling.”
“I wasn’t upset, either.”
Matt took a slow, careful breath and stepped closer. He’d had nothing to drink at the party, and the ocean and the night and Danny were all sharp and super real. Danny was watching him, smiling a little, not moving.
And then Matt panicked and stepped back, because God he was sober, what was he thinking. If this . . . if Danny didn’t . . . half the point of getting drunk was the chance to plausibly fake forgetfulness afterward. But he hadn’t wanted Danny to think he was just being stupid and drunk, and he didn’t want -- he shouldn’t have to taste it on me. But if Danny really didn’t, if Danny wasn’t just being nice and responsible when Matt was completely stoned--
“Oh my God, stop being an idiot,” Danny said. He took two steps, slid his arms around Matt’s waist, and kissed him.