TITLE: Trying To Beat This
RATING: PG, for language
SUMMARY: CJ's thoughts and feelings the day of the press conference.
SPOILERS: definitely 18th And Potomac, possibly Two Cathedrals
WRITTEN BY: Amber
DISCLAIMER: None of this is mine, except the conversations, some of which
actually took place a month or so ago. The characters and the rest of it
were created by Aaron Sorkin, beautifully I might add. It's all more likely
than not owned by the network or the production company, neither of which
know anything about the show, or the real world for that matter, except how
much money they're making from it. (And we're going to overlook the fact
that that mostly applies to Aaron Sorkin himself.)
Also, the title is part of a line from the song "Sick Cycle Carousel" by
Lifehouse. I couldn't get a title for this story no matter how hard I tried,
so this will have to work.
FEEDBACK: Please. Even a quick note, good or bad, at email@example.com
would be greatly appreciated.
AUTHOR NOTES: This story is not my first West Wing fanfic, but it is the
first one to ever be completed. I am writing it for two reasons really. The
first is to deal a little bit with something I am going through, and the
second is because, while it won't be necessary, this story will help to
explain another story I have started, if and when it gets posted.
CJ knew she should be happy. After all, the President had just
announced that he was running for re-election. Her world should still be
intact. She was still right here with everyone else that she cared about,
everyone else who was a part of her life.
She hadn't even really known Mrs. Landingham. Which made her angry a
few reasons. Part of it was a sense of loss, because she would never get the
chance to know her better now. And Mrs. Landingham was one of those people
that, hell, you should have known. There aren't a whole lot of really
genuinely good, caring people in this world. And to have one *right there*
and not notice.
Another reason she was angry was that her entire world felt like it was
cracking under her feet, all because of the death of someone she hadn't
really known in the first place. If it was going to be this bad anyway, if
she was going to lose sleep and be awake until four AM and hurt like hell, it
might as well be for someone she knew. Right?
The funny thing was, her life aside from that was completely normal.
She found out about the older woman's death, and things were still the same
the next day. Except that one thing, nothing had changed. The President and
First Lady had still done the television appearance. They had still all
attended the President's press conference. Even the good news there didn't
seem to break through her totally. And now even that was over, and it was
almost midnight, and she was sitting in Toby's office with the people who
were virtually her family and pretending to think.
The five stages of grief were wrong. Or maybe they only applied if you
knew the person. But there had been no denial. The anger and resentment had
mixed with the depression so that any time she was alone she spent her time
questioning God or fate or whatever it was that would let so many bad
circumstances come together to take a life. Lots of if-only‚s. If only Mrs.
Landingham had politely refused to come back to the White House that night
and gone straight home instead. Or if only she had even taken a different
route. If only the drunk driver had not been there. If only she would have
refused logic and stuck with her stubborn decision not to buy the new car in
the first place!
Still, CJ didn't know why she'd even be this concerned in the first
place. It didn't help that she felt guilty for even feeling upset in the
first place. No one else on the senior staff seemed to be taking it this
hard. They had seen and talked with Mrs. Landingham as much as she did.
Most of them even knew her better than CJ had. Still, it hurt.
Earlier that day, in the afternoon after the funeral, CJ had gone in
search of anyone else to talk to. Without realizing it, she ended up in
Toby's doorway. "Do you have a minute?" she asked.
He looked up, surprised to see anyone. He had figured they were all be
preparing for that evening. He nodded.
She came in and sat down on her couch. "I can't really make sense of
"His decision not to run again?"
"Not that. Mrs. Landingham."
He didn't say anything for a minute. Then, "What can't you make sense
"All of it. I don't mean the big cosmic things, like why it happened.
Though I have been thinking about that too. I mean, I can't understand why
I'm so upset about it. I didn't know her."
He thought for a long moment. When he finally answered, his response
was very unlike him, as if he was clutching for straws to get his point
across. "Well, for one thing, she was always there. That makes a
difference. Because she was a..." He struggled for the word, which he
rarely needed to do. "A ‚force‚ almost. Like, she was a
person too, but we
didn't know her in that capacity. Not like we should have. But we saw her
every day, said ‚hello‚. She was nice to us. Just a good person.
"But I feel like I lost a best friend or something," she said, though
that wasn't quite how it was.
"More like an aunt," he mumbled, mostly to himself.
"I did have this same problem when my aunt died, though," she said,
surprising him. "I didn't think I should be upset then either."
"Then maybe you're trying to rationalize something that you shouldn't."
"I don't feel like I have a right to feel like this."
"If you feel that way there's obviously a reason for it. You're not
less entitled to be upset than someone else just because you didn't spend
your Sunday afternoons at her house. I'm sure there's somebody else feeling
just as guilty because they're feeling almost nothing."
"Yeah? Thanks, Toby." She got up and left.
The press conference had been over for an hour. The senior staff, with
the exception of Leo, were sitting in Toby's office, silent. Anyone seeing
them would assume that they were thinking about the President's announcement.
And, most likely, that's exactly what most of them were doing. However, CJ
was still thinking about Mrs. Landingham. And she figured she would be for a
Donna knocked on Toby's door, and when she received no answer she
hesitantly pushed it open. The first thing she noticed was that CJ looked
like hell, but she didn't say anything.
"Josh, Leo wants you."
"Who?" he asked. Whatever it had been that had held them was broken.
Sam had to stand up and walk over to the corner to keep from laughing.
Donna looked worried. She didn't trust Josh when he was feeling
anything at all. And out-of-it wasn't a good place for him to be right now.
"Leo. Your boss," she explained.
Sam laughed finally. Exhaustion, worry, and a hundred other emotions
had finally become too much for him. He shook his head to try to clear it.
"Please tell me that none of the rest of us were asked for," he said.
"Actually, believe it or not, you were all told to go home and sleep,"
"Josh got the easier job this time," Toby replied dryly.
Sam laughed again. "I'm going to get drunk. Then sleep. Everyone's
welcome to join me." He walked to the door and waited, not wanting to miss
too much tonight.
"I hate you," Josh told Sam before turning to Toby. "Well, tomorrow
should be interesting." He stopped. "Should we be congratulating each
other? On the announcement, I mean."
"Depends if this is what we want," Toby answered.
"What?" Josh asked, the meeting with Leo forgotten for a moment. Sam
"No, what did you mean? About whether it's what you"
"Josh," Donna cut in. "Leo. Now."
Josh looked at Toby for a minute longer before following Donna to the
side door. "Good night, CJ," he called over his shoulder as he left.
"Yeah. You too, Josh," she said without looking up from the floor.
Donna grabbed Josh's wrist and pulled him out of the room. Sam turned
with a quick wave and left as well. Toby looked at CJ.
"Are you okay?" he asked her.
She shook her head. "Actually, I was going to try to catch up with Sam
in the parking lot."
"Is that a good idea?"
She shrugged before turning to leave. "I'll see you in the morning,
"I'll come with you," he said, following her.
"If you want to." She was in the parking lot now. Sam was waiting
inside his car, figuring that at least one person was going to end up with
CJ climbed into the right passenger side of Sam's car without a word and
put the window slightly down. Toby looked over the top of the car at Sam.
They watched each other for a minute before getting in the car.
"I don't think it's wise for us all to be in a car together," Sam mused.
We're the three people most responsible for how the President appears to the
"We're going to be busy," Toby said.
CJ continued stared out the car window, enjoying the breeze coming in
the window but oblivious to the rain. It was weird the things she noticed
the last few days that she normally didn't. In some odd way she enjoyed the
haze she was in, because she figured she was more receptive to the important
They had been driving for a few minutes, Sam and Toby discussing plans
for the following weeks, when Sam turned for a moment to look at CJ.
"We're getting wet up here, CJ," he said. "Can you close the window?"
CJ pushed the automatic window button so hard her hand hurt. For some
reason she thought to herself, ‚Delores Landingham is dead, and you want me
to close the window? Aren't I entitled to have the damn window open?‚ These
are the kinds of things she'd been thinking. She closed the window, but
still faced it, angrily now.
Once again, she was worried about whether or not she was wrong to be so
upset. It didn't feel right to her to be depressed about a practical
"Are you upset, Sam?" CJ asked, looking for a third opinion.
"About the President deciding to run? Or about him ever considering not
"Neither. Never mind," CJ said, meaning to let it drop. But she was
upset and not worried about whether she was taking it out on anyone else. "I
wasn't talking about that. Are we that wrapped up in our jobs? I mean,
we're done in less than two years anyway."
"But we're going for re-election," Sam said.
She laughed bitterly. "Did you see the press? They're rabid. This was
fun for them. The papers tomorrow are not going to be in our favor. The
President won't even get the Democratic party's nomination, let alone win
next November. And if he really cared about any of these causes he claimed
to, he'd step out and let someone else get the nomination so there will at
least be a shot at keeping a Democrat in the White House."
"So, what, you quit now or something?" Sam asked angrily.
"No! No. I just realize it's a lost cause."
"Are you sure you wouldn't rather join someone else's campaign come the
primaries? You know, get the nomination for someone who can hold the White
House?" Sam asked, paraphrasing her speech.
"Maybe," she said simply.
Sam wasn't done. "You know that Jed Bartlet is the best President we
have had, and that he will still be the best in two years."
CJ sighed. She wasn't up to this. "He won't get it again in two years.
And I'd go so far as to say that maybe his heart's not in it. And don't be
surprised if he changes his mind again once someone tells him what I've just
told you. He has to realize that it's more important to keep the party in
the White House than it is to keep Jed Bartlet in the White House."
Sam was getting ready to speak again when Toby looked over at him.
"Stop. Just drive."
"What, do you agree with her too?" Sam asked. "After that comment you
made to Josh in your office..." He trailed off.
"I don't know!" Toby admitted. "I don't have any idea. But the point
of tonight is to drink, then worry about it in the morning."
"Spoken like a true friend," CJ mumbled from the back seat. She started
humming a song which neither of the men recognized. Sam looked over at Toby.
"Has she already been drinking?"
"No," Toby said. "Worse. She's finally had something happen that she
can't just push to the back of her mind. So she's... humming."
"Mrs. Landingham?" Sam asked, unable to think of anything else.
"But it shouldn't be affecting me," CJ reminded them.
Sam glanced at her in the rear view mirror. "If it's affecting you,
then obviously it should be. You're entitled to feel however you feel."
‚Or fall however you fall‚ she thought. She smiled ironically.
"There you go," Sam said, noticing the smile. "The CJ we all know and
Toby stared at her in the side mirror. She was the queen of BS any
time it came to things like this. "Three years we've known each other. Do
you trust us at all?"
"Of course," she said.
"Then why are you never honest with us?"
"Because," CJ explained. "I don't do the emotions thing well.
Especially at midnight with my coworkers."
"Makes sense," Sam said. "So let's drop it." Ignoring a glare from
Toby, he parked the car outside a small classy-looking bar.
Toby got out and opened CJ's door for her, ushering her into the
building through the rain.
"Which one of us came for driving purposes?" Sam asked. He genuinely
hoped it wouldn't have to be him.
"Considering you both came here with the sole purpose of drinking, that
would probably be me," Toby said, pulling CJ to a table in the middle of the
room, leaving Sam to wait for the drinks.
"We shouldn't just sit out in the open," she reminded him. "You know,
getting drunk, in public, on tonight of all nights."
"A corner booth would be obvious. We're hiding in plain sight."
"Okay then." His answer had satisfied her, and she lapsed back into
silence. A minute later she started humming the same song again.
"What is that?" Toby asked.
"A song I heard on the radio last night. It just, I don't know, fit."
She was going to continue when Sam arrived at the table.
"Here we go," Sam said, placing the drinks on the table and sitting.
CJ looked at her drink and seemed to debate picking it up in her mind.
"Is there a point to this?"
"What?" Sam asked.
"That." She pointed to the glass.
"You might as well. You won't have the chance for a while."
"Opt for numbness," Toby told her. "You need it."
"It hardly seems productive. Also, it just plain makes me sick to think
of drinking all of a sudden. You know... Never mind."
Sam looked at her. "You need to go home."
She only nodded. He pushed his own full drink away.
"Well, come on. I'll take you two back to get your cars."
"Okay," CJ whispered.
They stood and were making their way to the door when CJ said, "Thanks,
"Sure," Sam said. "No problem. After all, what else are we here for?"
CJ walked ahead of them once they were outside. "Why's she taking this
so hard?" Sam asked Toby.
"Why aren't we?"
"Because it's not having much of an effect on us."
"Exactly. But it is on her. She'll be fine."
They reached the car, and weren't surprised to find CJ leaning against
it making no effort to keep out of the rain.
"Apathy," she told them before they said a word.
"Can't really afford it," Sam thought out loud.
"In the middle of the night you can." She waited for Sam to unlock the
doors then got in, not saying another word.
"She'll be fine," Sam told an obviously worried Toby. "She's tough."
"Yeah," Toby said, but he wasn't as sure as Sam. He'd only seen her
like this once before, and that night she'd... "Do you really think so?" he
asked Sam uncertainly.
"Yeah," Sam said slowly, concerned by the tone in Toby's voice. "Are
"Yeah, I was just remembering something," Toby said quickly before
getting in the car and slamming his door.
"Okay," Sam said, letting it drop. He got in and turned the car on.
They didn't talk on the way back to the White House. CJ sat in the back
of the car, her eyes closed, possibly asleep. Toby watched her in the side
mirror, concerned. He didn't necessarily want a replay of that other night.
She didn't really look up to it anyway. They'd all be fine.
FURTHER AUTHOR NOTES: Okay, I'm sorry that it went on so long and that it
had such a bad ending. I'm bad at endings. And, to anyone who knows me,
yeah, it's about what you think it's about. There's another story coming
after this, tentatively titled "Life and Loyalty", that I hope to have done
soon. This is partly true. I wanted to write about this, and the situation
with Mrs. Landingham offered me an easy way to turn it into a fanfic piece
instead of trying to write about it for real. Thank you for reading this,
and if you could drop me a quick note I'd appreciate it. (firstname.lastname@example.org)