Title: Collapse
Author: august
Email: appelsini@hotmail.com
Codes: CJ/T
Spoilers: Set mostly before the White House, although everything up to the end of Season Two.
Archives: With thanks.

With thanks to Sabine, who paid the toll booth, and Penelopody, who rode shot-gun the entire way

Summary: "And then, she fell into this."


*

One night, in a bar in New Mexico, Toby had sworn he would quit smoking if they made it to the Chicago primaries. They did, and he did, and all it meant was that she was trapped in a rental with a cigarette-less Toby who was arguing with Sam about the Gulf War. Sam had tried to flip her for the front seat, but she called shotgun, turning to him and simply saying, "look at the length of my legs, Sam."

By the time they headed to Chicago, the four of them were well accustomed to spending many hours traveling many miles across many states. They had fallen into a pattern since the campaign began – it was easier for them to work in the back seat of a car than it was to sit on the end of a cell phone while driving across Kansas. And, despite the fact that they had convinced Leo to stop hiring mini-vans that seated eight, they were, as Josh had put it, "like the Partridge family on political crack".

Except that Toby went and quit smoking.

CJ stirred, and realised she was, in fact, awake. She was awake, and Sam and Toby were still arguing. "There's only so much a girl's constitution can take, you know. I fall asleep, you're fighting. I wake up, you're fighting."
"Toby's pulling Washington Post statistics on me," Sam offered, from the back seat.
"Toby, be nice to Sam." She sat up straight, stretching her back, and held her hand out to Toby, who passed her a bottle of water.
"Sixty-three percent. And Sam's telling me that a high polling equates to a mandate to enter the war."
"Which war?" She asked.
"Gulf," Toby replied, irritated, and she stifled the urge to call him surly.

"You know, when I went to sleep you guys were arguing about, um-"
"-the Boer war." Josh offered.
"Yeah, the Boer war. What are you, going through every war in the history of, you know?"
"It's just proof that you can lead boys from Brooklyn and Napa to water, but you can't make them enjoy the view." Josh muttered.
CJ laughed, loud, and shifted to face him. "You're a funny boy, Josh. How come you're not playing 'Name that War?'"
"What, are you kidding me? I'm not being Toby's whipping boy just 'cause he's breaking the shackles of nicotine."
CJ laughed again.

And then, in the silence, Sam began to talk.
"I'm not, in fact, saying there was a unilateral mandate to enter the war. The Washington Post, Toby, is not the totality of my argument – those polls were made to manufacture consent!"
CJ and Josh laughed out loud, and she smiled to herself as she noticed how they had fallen in synch with each other, especially when Josh said, "Sam, there's not one person in this car who doesn't realise that polls are made to manufacture consent!"
CJ tag-teamed it, "A Washington Post poll found sixty-three percent supported US troops in the Gulf War. You know why? I bet there was not one alternative in the question. It would have been, 'do you support the war – yes or no', no caveats, no other scenarios provided."
"CJ's right, Sam. When the same poll four months later, with the alternate scenario being dead US solders, the percentage dropped by a third," Toby countered, as he simultaneously scanned the road map by his side.

"I agree with you, Toby! I agree with you. A mandate doesn't come through a newspaper poll; the sixty three per cent is irrelevant."
"So, really, what are we talking about here?"
"It's a by-product of going to war." Sam said, in what CJ not-so-secretly called his 'I-went-to-Princeton' voice. "You're looking for some sort of public consensus for entering the war? It doesn't work like that. You think the public understood why we went into Korea? Why we went into Vietnam? – that's the by-product of going to war."
"That the US public were deliberately denied an understanding of the complexity of the reasons behind the crisis in the Gulf? That they were not told that Iraq was virtually created and then deliberately divested of Kuwait in an attempt to divide the region? They weren't told that the CIA put Hussein and the Ba'athist facists in power by giving his assassins a lists of trade unionists and socialists-"
Sam interrupted, "-and no one was told that the Clark Commission found up to 200 000 Iraqis had been killed by allied fire, while the Government banned CNN from showing pictures of US tractors bulldozing Iraqi bodies. Again, you think I don't know this?"
"I think that you don't understand it."

There were four of them, Mandy was riding with Bartlet and Leo. Josh and Sam had this history, but she knew that was alright because so did she and Toby. She sat and listened to Toby and Sam argue, noticing that Josh was doing the same, and wondered whether they were both tired in the experience of being there before.

"You think I don't understand why vision of our tractors ploughing their civilians into trenches was banned?" Sam almost stuttered, like he was indignant with it all.
"Say it."
In the silence, Sam murmured, "because bulldozing bodies reminds people of the holocaust."
"So what are we arguing about here?" Toby replied, equally as quietly. Sam sighed, loudly, and looked at the window.

"You wait till he brings out his Lloyd George quote, Sam," she offered, over her shoulder. "For as long as I've known him, there hasn't been an argument without Zeigler quoting Lloyd George."
"Lloyd George said, about the first world war-"

CJ groaned.

"Lloyd George said, 'if people really knew, the war would be stopped tomorrow. But, of course, they don't know, and they can't know.'"
"Toby!" Sam leant forward. "That's exactly what I'm saying."
"Sam, of the many, many things you have said over the six hour detour of the fourth circle of hell that has been this car-ride, agreeing with Lloyd George was very, very far from being one of them."
"I think what Sam is trying to say is-" She was going for funny, and Toby cut her off.
Not joking, he said, "CJ, you don't even know who Lloyd George is. You don't get to say anything until you can tell me who Lloyd George is."
After a too-long moment she said, "what?"
"I know they never really covered that in your Masters at Berkeley, but after two decades, you've really had ample time to look it up."

She was in the front seat, quietly humiliated, quietly seething. To anyone else, anyone else in the world, she would've slapped them down. Toby, she knew, didn't deserve that.

On questioning, neither of them could remember when they first met. CJ remembered turning him down when he asked her on a date in college; Toby remembered her driving him to a hospital after he put his fist through a car window in New York City. Amongst the things they don't talk about is the night that Andi left him.

They drove in silence, until Toby suddenly banged the steering wheel. "Goddamnit."
After a second, Sam asked, "what?"

The car slowed, and Toby made a u-turn. "I missed the fucking exit."

*

She answered the knock on her hotel door to find Toby, standing with both hands behind his back. She crooked her eyebrow at him, and he produced a bottle of scotch in one hand.

It was his apology, of sorts, and she wasn't accepting it.

"I don't drink scotch."
"I know." He said, presenting a bottle of tequila in the other.

She stared at him for a moment, and then stepped back. When he didn't move, she sighed and said, "come on, get inside."
"Not that I think that getting you drunk is the best way to make you forget that I was an asshole today, but-"
"-I don't want to drink, Toby."
He stared at her a moment. "Okay."
"I don't want to drink with you, is all I mean."
"Okay." He repeated.

She shut the door behind him and before he could say anything, she spoke again.

"I'm not a lawyer, and I wasn't hired to be a lawyer. I wasn't hired to be a speech writer, I was hired to do my job-"
"-yes."
"Which I am expertly qualified in and which, might I add, you couldn't do if your ass was on fire."
"I know."
"I know you know. And I shouldn't have to expect respect from you because we're friends. I shouldn't have to expect it at all."
"I know that too."

She stared him down, again, and then crossed the room. Ricki Lake was on the television, and she hit mute, momentarily transfixed by the animation of the women on stage.

"You should never have quit smoking before Chicago."
He laughed, a little, and sat on the couch. She fished a couple of cans of Coke out of her bar fridge and set them on the coffee table before sitting down next to him, crossing her legs and waiting for him to speak.

"The night Andi left me, she told me she was sick of being a conduit for my anger. And do you know what I told her?"
"Yes, I do. You told her that the word she was looking for was receptacle. Not conduit."
"Yes, I did."
"You're an asshole sometimes, Toby.

"I think, I'm beginning to think, she was right. We would have these arguments, these all-over-but-for-the-shouting arguments, and they were never about her. It just, it just went straight through her, because I knew, I thought I knew, we would survive it."
"You were wrong."
"Yes, yes, I was." He flitted his gaze to her, and back away again. "I am."

CJ stared at him, and wasn't blind to the fact that it was all repetition and history, fueled with alcohol and apologies.

"Last month we were in Kenosha, and there was that crazy with the thing about the United Nations. Do you remember that?"
"Vaguely," he replied, "about the International Convention on the Rights of the Child?"
"Yeah. And when we were back in the hotel room, all of us, talking about what we were gonna do about the UN."
"Yeah. I remember."
"And you and Josh were tag-teaming it, talking about how we can't set ourselves apart from the rest of the world? How we can't run the UN and ignore it at the same time?"

Toby didn't reply as he cracked the seal on the bottle of scotch, and poured himself a glass. She watched the liquid splash against the side of the glass.

"I said that I thought the US has a responsibility to implement the treaties it signs. Do you remember that, Toby?"
"Yeah."
"Yeah. I thought you would. You humiliated me that night, and you humiliated me today. 'Name for me, please, the effect of international ratification of an UN resolution on current domestic legislation'. Like I was a school-child, like I was three fucking year old school-child."
"CJ-"
"-I swear to god Toby, if you tell me that children don't go to school when they're three, I'm gonna hit you with that tequila bottle."

There was a whisper of a smile, and then he coughed before saying, "I never meant, I never meant it to be like that."
"I know. But it is. And. And." She stopped, and sighed. "Pass me a Coke?"

She tipped her head back as she drained the can, drinking because she didn't want to talk, drinking because she didn't know what else to do. As she leant to put it back on the table, he put his hand at the base of her neck. He pulled her towards him, lips were stained with scotch.

Her hand on his knee, her fingers gripped him as she kissed back. When she looked at him, she sighed. They were silent as his hand ran up her arm, as it touched, catalogued, her collar bone.

She closed her eyes. She said, "this didn't work in our twenties, and it didn't work in our thirties."

And when he stood at her door, bottle of scotch tucked under his arm, she kissed him again, aware that he was hard against her thigh.

"Goodnight," she said.
"Goodnight," he replied, pulling the door shut behind him.

*

They flew to California while Josh flew to New Hampshire. They'd won Chicago, they'd taken it to the board, and Sam was right, they were going to clear that table. They won Illinois and Josh lost his father.

Los Angeles was exactly as she remembered it, even know she'd only been away for months, and had no reason to expect it to change. From time to time she dreamt about dragging Bartlet into Triton Day and presenting him, like a head on a silver platter, screaming, "see! You can change your life!"

Or, at least, little parts of it.

On the third Los Angeles morning, Leo pulled her aside.
"Heya CJ, Josh's plane gets in this afternoon."
"Yeah?" She studied the morning paper, dismayed by the absence of Bartlet's photo and barely listening to Leo.
"Yeah, look, I want you to take a car out and pick him up."
"Pick him up?
"Yeah. We're gonna move up to the Bay Area tonight, I don't want Josh to-"
"-Yeah, but shouldn't Sam-"
Leo waved his hand. "Nah, he'll just whip him up into a frenzy. Can you do it?"
"Yeah, I mean, of course."
"Thanks." Leo gripped her arm, and when she looked back down at the paper, she couldn't remember what she'd been looking at.

The first thing she thought when Josh walked out of the gate was that a man his age should never carry a back-pack. The second thing she thought was that he didn't look like a man his age, he looked dog-tired and she wasn't sure what she could say to make it different.

He raised a hand and waved.

"I get an escort?"
She impulsively hugged him, and was surprised when he hugged her, hard.
"Sure do. We flipped for it, but Sam cheated so I won."

She took his back-pack, and they walked towards the car.

"How was ride to California?"
CJ laughed. "Excruciating. Toby started doing his whole Woody Allen 'LA is the demi-god of evil thing'. I thought Donna was gonna punch him."
"Tell me she did."
"Sorry. But you know, I did point out that Toby and I used to, you know, he used to visit me twice a year in LA. I think he just loves being the east coast intellectual."
Josh snorted, and climbed into the car.

The engine running, she tentatively asked, "how was your plane ride?"
"It was, ah, you know." He stopped. "Did you know Bartlet offered to go with me to New Hampshire."
She glanced at him. "Are you kidding me?"
"No. I thought I was going to have to have him escorted back to headquarters."
"What is it about you New England kids? Just can't wait to get back?"

He laughed, but it caught in his throat.

"I'm sorry we couldn't come, Josh."
"Nah, you're not. It was, small, and. Trust me, you're doing better things here."

She noticed him look out the window again, and she wanted to pull the car over, wanted to take him to a bar and get him drunk. Wished she was more than a recent friend who only just learned his middle name, wished she knew his mother's name, wished she knew his siblings. If he had siblings.

Instead, she began, "so, we had this interview yesterday, did you hear it?"

*

Around the time of Bartlet's second inauguration, she will start having dreams about impeachment. Inexplicable dreams, where members of the press corp cross-examine Sam, where Bartlet mutters, "why don't you remember my name?".

She will learn that the world will not change when she is shot at, nor when she spends the seventh consecutive day in front of a grand jury. She will learn, eventually, that it just goes on, with an unstable center.

But, sometimes, it will shift, like spots in her vision just before the migraine. Like the first time she hears him refer to her as his partner, or all the times she will say "maybe we can't do this". When they keep going back, because they won't remember how to do anything else.

*

She had lost count of how many times they had packed the trunk of a car.

Sam crossed the car-park reading a newspaper, and when he looked up he had the 'okay, what about this one?' look on his face.
"Who died?" CJ asked.
"Wait. Let me guess." Josh stood with a hand on his forehead, eyes closed. "Strom Thurmond?"
Toby laughed sharply. "Josh, that guy's made a pact with the devil, he's here to stay."
"Angela Lansbury?" Mandy asked, pulling luggage out of the trunk and re-arranging it. "You know it is a physical impossibility that things can fit in a space one day, and not the next."
"Well if someone," CJ glared at Sam, "would stop insisting on buying fresh fruit every time we pass a stall on the side of the road-"
"-CJ, fresh fruit is the best favor you can do your body." Sam replied, indignant.
"I thought that was primrose oil." Josh interrupted, barely containing his laughter.
She turned to Josh. "No, it's Evian. You know, 'do yourself a favor, by-pass pollutants.'" They leaned against each other, laughing, until Toby opened the driver's door and pressed on the horn.

"Can we go? Please? I think this Californian air is making you all insane." He glared at them, and then got inside the car.
"I think Toby has his seat belt on already," Josh whispered, and they collapsed in laughter again.

*

New York was hard, in all the ways it was supposed to be, and then, again, in all the ways that only she and Toby understood it to be. Which meant nothing, really, in the face of the fact that she had kissed him on the way to Chicago and that the helicopters beating over New York had always reminded her of him.

They had become so accustomed to pizza and bad Chinese take-out that once a week Leo ordered them into a "proper restaurant with menus and cutlery". There were normally threats, and lies, and occasionally no proper restaurants with menus and cutlery, but when it was New York City there was no excuse.

"So, who wants to move to Utah?" Sam announced, over dessert.
"Does anyone actually move to Utah? I thought people just kinda grew there and then, you know, died."
"Don't make fun of Utah, Josh." Leo passed the wine list to Donna.

Sam shook his head. "You see what happened here? I had the perfect set-up for a story. Who wants to move to Utah?" He pulled a newspaper clipping out of his pocket and began to read. "Two rural towns in Utah, La Verkin and Virgin, will next month vote on ordinances that declare the United Nations unwelcome within their town limits. Amongst the many requirements of this legislation, U.N. symbols will be banned on town property, and residents who support the United Nations will be required to post signs reading 'United Nations work conducted here'."

"Sam?" Josh held up the article. "Did you actually cut this out of the newspaper? I mean, with scissors and everything?"
CJ laughed, spitting her drink across the table.
"Josh, why are you making fun of me? This is a serious thing."

"It's not a serious thing, Sam, it's Utah."

Leo glared.

"It's not a serious thing," Josh waved a breadstick, "because I'm not even a constitutional lawyer, but I can tell you that no municipal fucking county is going to over-rule state or federal jurisdiction when it comes to over-riding ratified U.N. conventions."

"Not to mention the ERA," CJ pointed out as she stole his breadstick.
"Not to mention the ERA! Discrimination on the basis of support of the United Nations? I'm sure it's not exactly what they had in mind, but it'll do."

Leo leaned forward, and she recognised the faint smile on his face. "Actually, Josh, you're gonna find that the state jurisdiction probably gave the local government administrative power to make council regulations. It can't over-ride something that it empowers."

"Ah, the classic ying-yang of the legal system," CJ laughed, to herself, because the last time they talked about the U.N. was anything but a success. And when she glanced across the table at Toby she suspected he was thinking the same thing. She wished, briefly, that he still smoked, so she could say, "come on, I'll talk to you while you smoke a cigarette".

Instead, Josh: "Secondly, we run the U.N. It's our ball-game."
Sam leant forward. "What kind of an argument is that?"
"Seriously? They want xenophobia, what they gotta do is ban the other countries from the U.N. None of these lousy foreigners, and then it can be all U.S, all the time."
Sam, disgusted, turned back to his food. "You're an idiot sometimes."

"And thirdly, you know why?" Josh addressed the table.
"Cos it's Utah." Toby dead-panned.
"Cos it's Utah," Josh repeated.

Leo stood up and dropped money onto the table. "I'm going back to the hotel. Someone be responsible tonight, please."

No-one spoke up.


Shortly afterwards the campaign team of Bartlet for President found themselves in a bar called Tank! She noted the exclamation mark because it seemed superfluous for a minimalist bar with only back-lighting and plastic chairs. Sometimes, she thought she could quite easily hate New York.

"Hey." She stood up. "My glass is empty, and it's my round. Orders, please."

When she walked to the bar, she caught the end of Sam and Josh's conversation.
"God bless Utah!" Sam held up his glass. "Because, because..."
"Because no-one else will," Josh finished, and she watched them knock their glasses together.

She was slightly drunk, and couldn't get the UN or Utah or effect of international ratification of an UN resolution on current domestic legislation out of her mind. She was slightly drunk, and knew Toby was waiting for her over the other side of the bar.

"I was thinking," Toby said as she set a drink down in front of him, "on the Presidential campaign, if worst comes to worst we can get Dumb and Dumber over there to stand in front of the Plaza with campaign signs, waiting for the filming of the Today show." She looked over at them, and laughed.

"You were quiet during dessert, Toby, why?"
"I like apple pie."
"You do not, in fact, like apple pie and besides which, you weren't even eating apple pie."
"Nope, but I do like, and was drinking, scotch."

She sat next to him, having found years ago that he was easier to talk to when direct eye contact wasn't forced. She looked at their feet. His shoes were brown, clashing with his navy trousers.

"I don't want you to not say things because of me," she said, suddenly.
"CJ? Double negatives?"
"You didn't talk about the UN, and I don't want that to be because of what happened-"
"-it's not."
"-because of me."
"It's not. It's seriously, you know, Josh was a one-man show there. And I haven't, he's laughing, it's good to see him laughing."

"I hate this, this thing." She waved at the space between them. "I hate that it's awkward."
For the first time, he leant back a little and looked at her. "I know."
"It's going to be hard if we have to start being careful of each other, like this."
"We've always been careful of each other, CJ."
"No." She met his gaze. "We haven't."
"No. We haven't."

He touched, briefly, her fingertips gripping the wineglass. She bit her cheek, and looked at him again.

"Is there a reason we get drunk and always end up like this?" She murmured, as if anyone else in the world would be interested in what they were saying.
"I'm not drunk now," he said, carefully, deliberately.
"Me either," she replied, with equal gravity.

"Do you think it, we, could be different in our forties?" He rattled the ice in his half-empty glass.
After a moment, she said, "no." As she ground the ball of her hand into his knee, she repeated, "no."

*

There were limousines to take them to the inauguration ceremony, and it was almost like going to a prom when Leo said, "folks, your lives are never going to be the same." They had laughed, all of them, nervously, excitedly, spectacularly. For a moment, it felt strange because there was an empty seat where Mandy should have been, and no-one commented, the same way they were quiet when, in the minimalist New York City bar, Josh had drunkenly attempted to fashion Mandy voodoo dolls out of paper napkins.

CJ wore a grey grown at the inauguration, beautiful and elegant, the kind she always wanted to buy but could never quite justify. There were fireworks and champagne, and she stood ten feet away from the President as he was sworn into office.

They danced, and drank, and laughed, and despite the fact that they were surrounded by the powerful and the famous, the four of them huddled around a table and talked about all the ways they were going to change politics, change the country, change the world.

And, despite the fact that she and Toby had sworn their forties were going to be different, she found herself in an elevator with him at six in the morning. Her arm was around his neck, and he pressed her into the wall as he kissed her, kept kissing her, kept telling her she was beautiful. Despite the fact that they swore their forties were going to be different, she whispered in his ear all the things she was going to do to him, all the things she had wanted to do since the hotel in Chicago, since the bar in California.

She woke the next morning with his hand between her thighs, and she sighed back into the pillow, he'd always liked sex in the morning. He moved on top of her, she shifted underneath him, with him; his body was warm on hers and she kissed his shoulder. He laughed, a little, as she once again whispered into his ear.

She realised that she was probably still drunk because, for the first time, she thought that maybe now they were in their forties, things could be different.

*

People used to joke that she had a photographic memory, but it took her twenty years to realise that she was merely not in the habit of making the same mistake twice. She was surrounded by lawyers and doctors, or actors and egos, her currency was being on top of her game, before she knew what it was.

She read, and she studied, and she sometimes quietly marveled at the way things slid together in her mind. Yet here she was, suiting up for the third round with Toby, despite the fact that they had failed so spectacularly the first two times around.

"This is too hard," she had said, the first time, not waiting for him to shut the car door before talking.

"I'm moving to Nashville," she said, in their thirties, because she needed levity and because it was it was too hard to say anything else.

But then, in their forties, they kissed in an elevator and she realised that they might never be able to stop it.

*

It wasn't that she missed the sunshine, it was mostly that she hated rain. She hired someone to pack her house in LA, and three weeks after she moved into her Washington apartment, the boxes were still taunting her in the hallways.

She bought a text book, when she was in Wisconsin, on International Law. She doesn't have a photographic memory, but after Kenosha, she knew everything she would ever need to know about the effect of international ratification of an UN resolution on current domestic legislation.

It sat on her desk, and she stared at it when she talked to him on the phone.

"Shall I come over? I could bring some take-out."
She stared at the book. "Nah. I want to get some sleep. Maybe tomorrow night?"
There was a beat, or two, before, "sure. I'll see you at the office then."
"Yes. The White House, Toby."
He chuckled. "Yeah. Look at us."

She said good-bye, and hung up. Someone had organised her apartment and packed her things in L.A. And then, she fell into this.

*

One day.

She hears him walk into the kitchen, but doesn't turn around. He stands behind her, hands on her hips while she intently pours coffee into two mugs. He tells her she is beautiful, he tells her that sometimes he can't believe how beautiful she is. She pours milk into her coffee, stirs sugar into his.

Sometimes, these times, she wants to tell him that of all the things, the ways, she imagines herself, beautiful is the very least important. She wants to ask him what he used to say to Andi.

His hands are on her neck, his lips on her ear. He wants to fuck her, and she wants him to as he puts a hand across her throat and pulls her back against him. She grips the handles of the mugs. She knows that she loves him, that he's probably her best friend, but he's still the only person in the world who has made her want to cry over coffee.


*fin

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