Settling in to a new job is always awkward, but this one more than most. Alan was down to one of his last ditch devices: honesty. He was particularly uncomfortable having to resort to that one, but with the trial starting in less than a day and all of his other strategies to change Denny's mind having failed, it was either that or putting knock-out drops in Denny's drink.

"You're not well," Alan started. "People in your firm aren't going to tell you that because they like you. Plus, you wield a great deal of power. But you have about as much business being in that courtroom tomorrow as you do holding a loaded shotgun."

Denny did a double-take. "Do you know who you're talking to?"

"Look, I offer this because a) I don't care if I get fired, and b) someone very dear to me died with Alzheimer's. And when I think I see even the possibility of symptoms . . ."

"The fact that you may have Alzheimer's does not entitle you to criticize me," said Denny with all the easy polish of a six-o'clock news bite.

"These people have waited fourteen months for trial." Perhaps he could reason with the professional if not the man.

"They want me."

"Because they think you're prepared."

Now Denny flared. "Who do you think you are? I hire you; you're here a week, and you're trying to tell me what to do? Nobody—nobody—tells me what to do!"

Tenderly, Alan caressed Denny's hands. "Dad, you're my father, and you don't even remember." It was the kind of moment that had brought tears to the eyes of Lifetime viewers by the thousands.

Denny blinked. "I’m not your father!" He jerked away.

"I had you for a second."

Alan had.

"Don't laugh at me; I'm the picture of health." Denny clamped his fingers together and stared down--his courtroom pose that bellowed, "I'm not wasting any more of my time with this idiotic argument."

That had been four years ago.

Beads--no, bowling balls--of sweat poured off of Denny's puffed and florid features as they struggled to move the walnut entertainment center across Denny's living room. Although not naked, the experience reconfirmed that seeing Denny in this state was every bit as disturbing as Alan had anticipated it to be. Memories of estates that had sued fast-food restaurants, energy pill manufacturers, personal trainers, or 900 number services for the sudden cardiac death of fat old men overdoing it came to grisly mind, and Alan let fall his end amid an impressive stream of profanity from the other side of the unit.

"I'm sorry, Denny, but perhaps we should get some of your staff to do this. I'm not as young as I used to be. Or as limber." Missing a beat, Alan rubbed his sacroiliac region in a poorly timed afterthought of misdirection. "And your doctor did say--"

Weight shifted so as to spare his bad hip, Denny leaned against the sofa, flushed, panting and sweating. "My blood pressure's fine. You heard my nurse."

"Your 'nurse' is a prostitute in a Hello Nurse costume, you do realize?"

"She knows how to use cuffs. Both kinds. I'm fine. If your back's up to it, grab your corner." Denny squatted down and felt for a grip.

"Why are we doing this?" Alan tried again. "You have at least a half-dozen illegal immigrants on the premises who would be happy to do something else to earn their stay."

Denny's tone was distinctly less amiable now. "If you don't want to help me, that's your business. Then get the hell out and call Gregario to take over."

Alan stood his ground. "I want nothing more than to help you, and you are more than smart enough to realize that. It's beneath you to suggest otherwise to a friend just because you're scared of your failing health."

Denny's face and tone were unreadable. "And you're smart enough to know that the help I want from a friend has nothing to do with having the damn living room rearranged. So can you give me that, or are you going to call someone I pay by the hour to take your place?"

Together, they finished the job in silence…save for Denny's grunts.

Gown left open the wrong way around, legs splayed apart, feet dangling off the exam table, Denny addressed his doctor. "And I'll need a refill on my Viagra."

The doctor kept eyes to his notes. "That's going to have to wait until your blood pressure comes down. Even with the addition of a second medication, it's still concerning me. I want you to avoid strenuous activities--" He paused and acknowledged Alan who was sitting, legs demurely crossed, in the exam room chair with a full frontal view of…Denny's everything. "--in either capacity, until it's under better control."

Denny and Alan offered him wide-eyed stares.

"What does he mean?" Denny asked.

Alan shrugged and offered Denny his pink and white polka dotted boxers.

The doctor rubbed his forehead and turned his head even farther away from Denny's parted legs. "Just take it easy until for now."

"That's all right," Denny muttered "I can get it cheaper off the streets. Damned Medicare Part D."

"Hillary was going to fix that. If you'd--" Alan again tried to wave his shorts at him.

"Don't start with me!" Denny cautioned. He hopped off the table, landed with a painful looking limp, then, mercifully, headed towards his clothing.

"Blood pressure!" The doctor tossed a last minute warning as he closed the door behind him. Although, as Denny had dropped his gown before doning the boxers, to whose blood pressure the doctor was referring to was a wide open question.

But over time things, change and people change. Denny and Alan's friendship had evolved and gone where few men had ever gone before. 1 They could talk about things that mattered. They could talk about things that were hard.

Often, even without the benefit of alcohol.

"It's one of those answers that could either win the day or bury us." Alan's tone shifted subtly. "Let's talk about you, Denny. You certainly knew what you were doing when you fired Nancy Wilding for being fat. What's going on? Were you retaliating because she rejected your sexual advances?"

Denny scoffed. "If I had a nickel for every girl who turned me down--" He did a well-rehearsed double-take. "Actually, I do."

The corner of Alan's mouth quirked not so much in recognition of the predictable joke, but for the predictability of Denny's use of intentional pathos to deflect a conversation that he didn't want to have. "What is it then? Is it another way to be the center of attention?"

"I should be on that case. I should be in that courtroom with you and Patrice Kelley, not in my office kidnapping hookers."

Pathos and deflection or not, this nerve was too raw and too real--too honest--for any friend to ignore.

"Denny--" Alan started to reach out to him.

"Don't. Just don't."

For a long moment they both sat in silence. Alan was the first to break.

"You need to let Lorraine make this case go away."

Even as the words left his mouth, Alan knew that they were wrong, but like Pandora's miscalculation, there was no way to stuff them back from whence they came.

He could see the entire scenario playing out in his mind with Denny front and center stage in the spotlight with everyone gathered around nervously enraptured, periodically coming crawling to him to beg-- Alan had just now--and he knew with the certainty of long experience that that was exactly what Denny had intended with his own, personal one-ring circus.

"I'll do what I want." It was Denny's final summation tone.

"Fine." Alan had lost this particular fight enough times that at least he realized that from here on by expressing more resistance to the decision, he could only make things worse.

That had been less than two months ago.

The door clicked open, and Alan strolled in with his sleepover carpetbag in one hand and an umbrella in the other. Already changed into his Victorian nightshirt and night-cap he looked like "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" meets Mary Poppins.

"Look what came today," Denny called out.

Playing the odds, Alan's gaze shot to Denny's fly.

"No. Well, yes, but these are what I meant." Denny shoved a ream of papers into Alan's hand. "Our health questionnaire, physical exam and fitness test appointments for the Coast Guard Reserve. Good thing my blood pressure's down. You don't think they'll test how fast I can get the barrel up, do you? My reassembly time isn't like it was in my army days."

"I think that's only required for Tailhook parties. Fitness test, you say?" Alan blinked at him over the top of the papers.

"Running, climbing, swimming, lifting, you know, for rescuing damsels in distress. Or I suppose it's more likely to be dashing lads in distress…" Denny's gaze grew unfocused.

Alan just stared blankly.

Denny snapped his head back and his eyes narrowed. "You don't think that I can pass it."

Alan fumbled, initially nonplussed as only Denny or Lorraine--or women of her general physical description-- could leave him. "I have no opinion on that, but I do know that there are other equally important ways to serve without subjecting yourself to cardiac strain and the very real risk of permanent injury or sudden death. After sixty years of resplendent public service--both in and out of the military--why not lean back and…wallow in the afterglow?" Alan beamed smarmy lips and flayed a palm out with a grandiose flourish.

"Because that's not who Denny Crane is. If you don't want, you don't have to enlist with me. Nobody's trying to tell you what to do--except the military, and you're not even in it yet--so do whatever the hell you want."

"I'm not going to let you go without me. That would accomplish the opposite of my interest in the matter. You know that."

"I do." Denny gave him a grudging grin. "Friends don't let friends go to sea alone. And we're best friends." The smile widened a bit and became real. "I want to do this with you, Alan. Serving together: that's most of the fun."

Alan nearly held his breath. If he didn't screw it up, he just might win this one. Thanks to Denny.

Improbably, it was Denny who broke the stalemate with his sigh. "I know what you're saying, and it's not that I don't understand or agree with you. I'm the one living in this body with all its creaks and pops and aches. I know better than you how far on the other side of the hill I am. I'm not saying your fears are wrong; I'm saying we don't have the same goal.

"I'm not afraid of dying. Everybody dies. I'm afraid of dying no longer great."

Denny clapped him on the shoulder. "Give me the damn papers, and stop treating me like a child. I'm old enough to be your father. Might well be for all we know," he tried.

It didn't earn a laugh.

Noncommittally, Alan passed over one sheaf.

"Hurry up and finish yours," Denny called as he stalked out to the living room with his. "We need to practice mouth-to-mouth. Might as well get started tonight. Nothing on TV; it's Tuesday."

Alan sat down with a Number 2 pencil and started filling in the health question bubble sheet. He'd already decided what his new and exciting phobia would be when he got to that section. He just had to remember where Denny kept his mask, fins, and snorkel.

1. "Few" being a relative term with a meaning varying up to current estimates of 30% of the male population, depending upon how one chooses to interpret that sentence.