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."
"You know, when I went to sleep you guys were arguing about, um-"
And then, in the silence, Sam began to talk.
"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."
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.
"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, 'if people really knew, the war would be stopped tomorrow.
But, of course, they don't know, and they can't know.'"
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.
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."
She stared at him for a moment, and then stepped back. When he didn't move, she sighed
and said, "come on, get inside."
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-"
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."
"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?"
"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
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?"
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?"
There was a whisper of a smile, and then he coughed before saying, "I never meant,
I never meant it to be like that."
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.
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.
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 took his back-pack, and they walked towards the car.
"How was ride to California?"
The engine running, she tentatively asked, "how was your plane ride?"
He laughed, but it caught in his throat.
"I'm sorry we couldn't come, Josh."
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.
"Can we go? Please? I think this Californian air is making you all insane."
He glared at them, and then got inside the car.
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.
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?"
"It's not a serious thing, Sam, it's Utah."
"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.
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."
"And thirdly, you know why?" Josh addressed the table.
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.
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?"
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.
"I hate this, this thing." She waved at the space between them. "I hate
that it's awkward."
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.
"Do you think it, we, could be different in our forties?" He rattled the ice
in his half-empty glass.
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 said good-bye, and hung up. Someone had organised her apartment and packed her things in L.A. And then, she fell into this.
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.