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Fan Mail From a Flounder

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"Roll VTR, 60 seconds live."

"Have I told you today what a miraculous invention the internet is?" Dan asked, sliding into his chair with a grin. Alyson swooped in to primp his hair and powder his nose.

Casey looked up from tapping his script on the desk. "Several times, yes."

"Can I tell you again? Because I don't think you're feeling the love. I, my friend, am feeling the love, the love, for the internet in all its permutations."

"You do realize I'm not listening to you?"

"The internet is majestic, inspiring -- truly the platform of the masses." Dan reached for his script.

"Hold still," Alyson said, grabbing him by the ear and dabbing at his cheek with a spongy triangle.

Danny sat still and rolled his eyes up so he could see her. "Alyson, did you know that the TCP/IP system functions in two layers?"

"TCP and IP," Alyson said, letting go of him. "Good show."

"Good show," Casey said.

"She knew that," Dan marveled. He adjusted his earpiece. "Dana, the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol Server listens on port 25."

Dana wasn't impressed. "Dan, we're all very happy you finally remembered your password, but now it's time for the show we sometimes do. Care to join us?"

"Of course I would," Dan said grandly, "I'll have you know I've been called a 'pillar of journalistic integrity.'"

"In ten," Dave announced.

Casey glanced at Dan. "Who called you that?"

"OriolesQ429, hailing from the great land of Baltimore dot com," Dan said, "which is a little thing we like to call an ISP."

"Baltimore dot com?" Casey wondered aloud.

"Dot com," Dan repeated, savoring the words.

Dave started counting. "In three, two--"

Dan smiled for the camera. "Good evening from New York City, I'm Dan Rydell alongside Casey McCall. Those stories plus the Lions maul some Cowboys, the Rams beat a dead horse in Denver, and the Blackhawks lose to the worst team in the Western Conference."

"We've got the good, the bad, and the ugly, but mostly the ugly," Casey promised. "You're watching Sports Night on CSC, so stick around."

"We're out," Dave reported.

"Two minutes back," Kim followed up.

Dan took a sip of water.

"I think you should know, you used 'permutations' wrong," Casey informed him.

Dan shook his head and swallowed. "It's not possible. I'm a pillar of journalistic integrity."

"You're a lunatic."

"I am many things," Dan nodded sagely.

***

"I love e-mail," Dan announced, cruising through the bullpen and snapping his fingers. "Kim, don't you love e-mail?"

Kim scowled. "Not as much as I love chicken salad, Elliot."

"Okay then," Danny said, walking backwards. "Chicken salad is good. E-mail, I think, is better, though non-edible, and you can't really put dressing on it." He stopped. "Now I'm hungry."

"So am I, Elliot," Kim complained.

Dan spotted Jeremy sitting at his desk. "Jeremy! E-mail -- tell me everything you know," he said, wheeling a chair over and straddling it backwards.

Jeremy turned away from his computer. "The first e-mail was sent by a man named Ray Tomlinson, an engineer who worked for Bolt Beranek and Newman. In 1968, the U.S. Department of Defense hired BBN to build ARPANET, the precursor to the internet we know today. During his time at ARPANET, Tomlinson modified a SNDMSG program to send mail between non-local machines, and in 1971 he sent the first e-mail message--"

Casey came out of their office, saying, "There's something I need. It's sort of loud and annoying?" He pretended to think. "About this tall, a little whiny. It does this thing where it talks at you non-stop, but when you actually need it, it's nowhere to be found." He snapped his fingers, like he was trying to remember something. "It's a...a partner! Sort of brown hair, gets distracted easily. He was wearing sneakers and muttering about MIME the last I -- oh! There he is over there!"

"Encore," Dan clapped. "Really. Broadway caliber. I see Tonys in your future. Also me not talking to you." He turned back to Jeremy. "Tell me more."

Jeremy nodded. "But, and this is the interesting part--" Casey gave him a look that suggested otherwise. "--unlike Alexander Graham Bell's famous first phone call -- 'Mr. Watson, come here; I want you.' -- nobody really knows what the first e-mail said. In the process of working out the bugs in CYPNET, Tomlinson had sent several test messages, not knowing which would go through. So it's very likely that the first e-mail was actually something like, 'QWERTYUIOP,'" Jeremy said, gesturing along an imaginary keyboard and shrugging.

"Queertywhat?" Casey asked.

"IHOP," Dan said, wanting pancakes.

"No. "Q-W-E-R-T-Y-U-I-O-P," Jeremy repeated patiently, picking up his keyboard and pointing at the top row of keys.

"QWER-TEE-YEW-EOP," Dan read.

"Okay," Casey said, grabbing Dan by the shoulders and wheeling him away. "It's time for you to come with me."

"Bye, Jeremy!" Dan called, pulling his feet up and waving.

Casey rolled him through their office door and then kicked it shut. "Write your script," he said.

"I wrote my script," Dan said. "I have written my script."

Casey pushed him over to the desk. "You wrote the date. And you got it wrong."

"Fine," Dan sniffed, reaching over his chair and backspacing.

Casey went to sit at the round table. "Write your script."

"Fine," Dan said again, trying to remember the date but getting distracted by his e-mail program. It would know the date, too, so he was perfectly justified in opening it.

It found fifteen new messages and chimed. Over at the table, Casey twitched.

Danny clicked on the little cartoon mailbox. "Hey, Jenna from Anaheim agrees with us on Pat Bowlen."

"Smart girl."

"She also thinks I'm sexy."

Casey coughed. "Jenna from Anaheim thinks you're sexy?"

"Jenna from Anaheim thinks I'm sexy," Dan said, opening the next e-mail.

"Well, at least someone does," Casey said, eating some potato chips he'd found. "Even if it is Jenna from Anaheim."

"The lack of support I get from you is appalling."

"What? You want me to tell you you're sexy?"

"No, Grasshopper, I want you to know it."

"You are a lunatic. Sitting right across from me in my office is a lunatic."

"A sexy lunatic, and I think you'll find this is my office. I'm sitting in my office, reading my e-mail. By the way, Chuck from Boston says I'm a wicked bomb, and I have no idea what that means, but I'm going to pretend it's good."

"Does Chuck from Boston think you're sexy too?" Casey finished his potato chips and crumpled up the bag.

"He didn't happen to mention it, but he did take the time to say that Doug Flutie is like a god to him. Additionally, 'WHOOO-HOO!'"

"Write your script," Casey said.

"Sure thing." Slouching in his chair so that the tiki pencil cup partially hid him from Casey, Danny opened a mail with the subject line "beware these men of steel." He skimmed at first, just to see if it was worth his time, but it turned out to be funny and thoughtful and probably the best letter he'd ever received.

"Wow," he said, scrolling back up and reading more carefully.

"What?" Casey asked, looking over at him. "And it better have something to do with Wayne Gretzky coming out of retirement."

"Wow," Dan said, blinking.

"Larry Bird?" Casey tried.

"Sophie."

"Sophie Bird?"

"No. She -- she wrote me this letter." Dan waved at the monitor. "Sophie from Wesleyan University wrote me this wonderful, amazing letter. Come read, Case. It's really...it's really something."

Casey sighed, but got up. "Just do me a favor? Tell me who the Bulls are playing tonight? So I can at least pretend you're taking some interest in the world outside your e-mail."

Dan rolled his eyes. "They're at Orlando and they're gonna lose. Now come read this. She called me a twenty-first century prince."

"A prince, huh?" Casey came over and crouched down behind him, putting one hand on the monitor for balance and letting the other one rest on Danny's shoulder while he read. Dan scrolled down for him when he nodded.

"Yeah, Danny. That's -- that is really nice," Casey said finally, getting up, his hand lingering on Dan's shoulder for a moment before he went back to the table and grabbed his notepad. "I've got tape to watch." He left.

"'The subtlety and flair of a man who knows what he's doing and all that he's capable of,'" Dan read aloud, getting up and spinning his chair around so he could kick his feet up on the desk.

"Dan, I'm supposed to tell you to work on your script," Natalie said, coming in and looking at him reproachfully over the top of her clipboard.

"I'm a twenty-first century prince, Natalie, and Casey's jealous," Dan told her.

"Be that as it may, we have a show to put on tonight, and Dana's got no problem with firing royalty."

Dan raised his eyebrows. "She's done it before?"

Natalie pulled some hair out of her mouth. "Done what?"

"Fired royalty?" Dan said.

"Dan, I have no idea what you're talking about," Natalie said, leaving. "Write your script!"

"I will," Dan called after her. "With both subtlety and flair! Because I am a man who knows what he's doing!" He turned back to his computer. "I wonder what day it is."

***

"'The last of a dying breed, a twenty-first century prince who exhibits not only class and honor, but who also appreciates a good clean ass-kicking,'" Dan said, strolling into the six o'clock rundown five minutes late.

"Nice of you to join us, Dan," Dana said, glaring at him over the top of her glasses.

"Not a problem," Dan said, taking a seat between Casey and Natalie. "For tonight, I believe you'll find me both 'magnanimous and affable.'"

"What's he doing?" Will asked Chris.

"It sounds like a speech," Chris said.

"Is it a speech?" Will asked.

"It's a letter," Natalie said, leaning forward eagerly. "Dan got a fantastic letter from Sophie."

"Who's Sophie?" Chris asked.

"I'm sure I don't care," Dana said, interrupting them. "Tell me, what do we know about Orlando?"

Jeremy got to his feet. "Metro Orlando has over 93,375 hotel rooms, with 13,291 of those in the city proper. Over 35 million people visit the city annually--"

Dana held up a hand. "Okay, anybody but Jeremy." Jeremy sat back down.

"Doleac isn't playing," Casey said.

Dana nodded at him. "Thank you, Casey. See how easy that was?"

"It was a really great letter," Natalie said again. "Wasn't it, Casey?"

Dan turned to Casey, who was suddenly pretending to circle things on his script. "Was it, Casey?"

"Danny?"

"Casey."

"Danny?"

"Casey?"

"Both of you," Dana yelled. "Knock it off!"

Natalie sighed. "She signed it 'Love, Sophie.' Isn't that sweet? Oh! What was that thing she said about grace and sophistication?"

Dan reclined in his chair. "'A twenty-first century prince,'" he quoted, using his on-air voice, "'who embodies a sophistication and grace practically unheard-of among men who understand the infield fly rule.'"

"Someone remind me to pull the plug on Dan's e-mail account," Dana said. "Or, better yet, could we perhaps send him some sort of an e-mail bacteria that causes him not to be so obnoxious? Jeremy?"

Jeremy looked up from his clipboard. "I'm sorry, was -- did you want me to stop him from being obnoxious or cut off his e-mail?"

"One of those things is definitely impossible," Casey muttered.

Elliot frowned. "I thought Casey was the one that understood the infield fly rule."

"I am," Casey smirked. "Dan gets confused about the part with the runners."

"And also the part with the ball," Dana added.

"I am among men who understand the infield fly rule," Dan continued, lacing his hands behind his head and pushing further back in his chair, "embodying sophistication and grace." His chair tipped and he fell backwards. "Ouch."

"So," Dana looked at her notes, "how are we on time?"

***

"...fighting chance, but only if the Bulls get lost on their way home."

"All right, folks, that's it for today. Be sure to tune in tomorrow, when we have yet even more sports coverage."

"You've been watching Sports Night on CSC, have a good one."

"G'night."

"And we're out," Dave said, and Dan pulled his earpiece out and turned to Casey.

"Good show," Casey said.

"It was!" Dan said. "Do you think Sophie watched? Maybe she sent me another e-mail."

"Good, 'cause I'm getting kinda sick of the last one," Casey said.

"You're just jealous," Dan said, pointing at him, "because I am famous and adored and you're not. This calls for a drink!"

Jeremy lurched out of the control room, Natalie clinging to his back like a monkey. "We're going to Anthony's. Hop on!"

"Please don't," Jeremy wheezed. His glasses were slipping down his nose and Natalie's arms were wrapped around his neck so tight he could barely breathe.

"Excellent." Dan clapped his hands. "As men, as sports anchors, as human beings, it is our duty to join you. Lead on."

Across the street and five shots later, Dan leaned over Casey to get a better look at Kim and said, "Did I mention she said I was a twenty-first century prince?"

"Apparently they don't teach those girls how to count at Wesleyan," Casey said. "Here in the twentieth century."

"I'm a whatsit!" Dan slapped the bar. "Thingy. Ahead of my time!"

"Are you going to write her back?" Kim asked, idly stirring her drink with a cocktail sword.

"Write her back? I'm supposed to write her back?"

"Men." Kim slipped off her stool and went to sit at Dana's table with Natalie and Jeremy.

"Uh oh," Danny said. "That's not good. That's never good."

"Just so you know," Casey said. "This has passed cute, exceeded annoying, and is now hip-deep in obnoxious."

Dan tried to prop his head on his hand but put his elbow in the bowl of peanuts instead. "Wait, should I write her back? What would I say?"

"'Dear Sophie, will you be my friend? I've alienated all my old ones.'"

"What would you know about it, Case? I don't see you getting piles of fan mail. Everyone knows I'm the cool one in this partnership. You might be the big name with all the money and the interviews and the lists, but I'm cool, and people like me."

Casey sighed and bit his lip. "If by 'cool' you mean 'have soaked up the entire bar with your shirtsleeve,' then yes, Danny, you are beyond cool."

Dan inspected his elbow. "Huh."

"Time to go."

Casey pulled him off his stool, poured him into a cab, got in next to him and gave the driver his address. New York was dim and greasy through the window, but that was probably just the window. Dan tried to lean against Casey who wasn't dim or greasy, but Casey kept pushing him away.

"Sit up."

"No," Dan said, leaning.

"You're drunk and obnoxious, and you're obnoxious even when you're not drunk, and I don't know why I put up with you."

Dan yawned. "If it helps, I'm probably sorry."

"Not really," Casey said, putting his arm around Dan's shoulders.

"Remind me to apologize in the morning then," Dan said.

At Casey's, Dan took off his shirt because it smelled like beer. He got the couch and his usual blanket. Casey gave him a pillow, looked him in the eye and said, "I'm not jealous in the way you think I am."

Huh, Danny thought, and fell asleep.

***

Casey was gone when Dan woke up. Dan went into the kitchen and drank a bottle of water while staring into the refrigerator. He was hungover from the tequila and being an idiot. The fridge had milk, one can of Pepsi, and some loose eggs. He grabbed the milk and shut the door.

Bowls were next to the stove. Cereal was in the cabinet to the right of the fridge. Cheerios for Casey and Charlie. Froot Loops for Danny, and for Charlie when Casey wasn't around to object.

None of Casey's spoons matched and Dan ate his cereal and read the refrigerator, shifting from foot to foot on the cold tile floor. There was an e-mail from Charlie, the graduation announcement of some freckly red-headed junior McCall, and a coupon for the pizza place on the corner. Stuck to the freezer was a magnetized shopping list in Casey's square handwriting: apples, bread, Froot Loops, beer.

Dan sucked on his spoon, not exactly surprised to see himself in the middle of Casey's neatly ordered life, but surprised he wasn't more surprised. He finished his cereal, rinsed out his bowl, then jumped in the shower.

***

"Uh oh, here he comes."

"You tell him."

"No way. You tell him."

"Where's Casey? Make him tell him."

"Tell me what?" Dan asked.

Chris and Will scuttled off, leaving Jeremy at his desk and Natalie sitting on top of it.

"The internet's broken," Natalie said, eyes bright. "Jeremy was just telling me about it. It's so sexy. All the gigahertz and the packages."

"Packets," Jeremy corrected.

"Mm, packets." She shivered.

"You won't be able to check your e-mail for a while, Dan," Jeremy said. "The servers are overloaded."

"Who needs e-mail when I have apples, bread, Froot Loops, and beer?"

Natalie cocked her head. "But you don't have any of those things."

"But I could," Dan said.

"But you don't."

"But I could."

"What could you have?" Casey said, asking, but looking like he didn't want to hear the answer.

"Apples, bread, Froot Loops, and beer," Dan said.

Casey stared at him. "Oh," he said, and walked off. Dan followed him into the editing room.

"You know that's my grocery list, Danny." Casey bit his lip and raised his eyebrows. "You planning on doing my shopping for me?"

"I'll go shopping with you," Dan said.

Casey leaned against the console. "Yeah?"

"Yeah." Dan stepped closer. "You said you weren't jealous in the way I thought you were. How are you jealous?"

"I can't write you fan mail," Casey said. "I can't say those things."

"But I'm on your grocery list," Dan said. "I've got clothes in your closet, and I'm sorry for yesterday."

Casey swallowed.

"And I know why you put up with me."

"Do you?"

Danny grinned. "I got a pretty good idea." He ran his hand up Casey's thigh.

"Hah," Casey said.

"I want to go home with you, Case, and I don't wanna sleep on the couch."

"Yeah."

"Also," Dan whispered, lips brushing against Casey's ear, "you're out of milk."