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See Part 1 for disclaimer.

Part 9

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C.J. watched as Toby leaned against his desk, twisting the gold wedding band on his finger, then sighing with resignation and letting his hands fall to his sides.

Talking about his feelings was not one of his favorite pastimes. In fact, it ranked pretty close to having to say Ďpleaseí on his list of things he loathed to do. Could he really open up to her about his deep secrets and fears? It only took one look at the pain and confusion in her eyes for him to make his decision.

"Remember when we met?"

C.J. was surprised when she heard him ask her the last question she expected. "I think about it quite a bit, actually," she answered, unable to completely hide the smile the memories evoked. "Lindstromís campaign in Illinois. I seem to recall you didnít make too many friends there."

Toby snorted. "They were all morons who couldnít find well constructed sentence or complete thought in a book of Shakespeare. They made Sam and his damn imagery look like Hemingway."

She laughed in agreement.

"You were different."

C.J. looked up to see him gazing at her intently. "So were you."

He shook his head. "I had the talent they were lacking, but other than that..." he trailed off. Taking a deep breath, he said, "The bus rides on the campaign trail? The middle of the night, and everyone was asleep but us."

Toby looked out a window to the black night sky, as if he was reliving those long nights. C.J. would be awake with heady excitement that came with the first major campaign. Toby awake from habit. He would sit in the back of the bus, as far from everyone else as he could, and work on his laptop. In the beginning, when she would come back and try to talk to him, he would brush her off. C.J. was nothing if not persistent, however, and soon he looked forward to the evenings and their talks. She was so intelligent, surprisingly funny, and very proud of what they were doing.

"One night I asked you why were so enthusiastic about Lindstrom. Do you remember what you said?"

She thought for a moment, then answered, "I said because he was a good man."

"Yeah."

"And you argued that it didnít matter if the candidate was a good man. What mattered was that he was an effective politician."

"Yeah," Toby sighed and ran his hand over his head. "Like I said, you were different. You were idealistic. You still are, C.J. I, on the other hand, am just like the rest of them. Cynical."

"No," she said softly. "Thatís just what you want people to think. And you do a good job of it. But, I know better. Rick Lindstrom for all of his good qualities was not an effective politician. Still, you about killed yourself the last few weeks of the campaign working as hard as you did, even though it was clear to everyone, even me, that we were going to lose. You did that because you believed in him and what he stood for."

"After we lost, I was completely disillusioned," C.J. admitted. "I decided you were right. Good men and women donít win elections, effective politicians do. So, I stopped working on individual campaigns after that, and focused on activist political organizations. That way I could protect myself from having to learn that lesson over and over."

He glanced over to her and immediately looked away again, uncomfortable with the admiration in her eyes.

"You were stronger than I was, though," she continued. "You kept working on campaigns. And you lost every one, not because you werenít good at what you do, but because you chose to support the good man instead of the effective politician," she said passionately. "You encouraged your candidates not to run away from issues because they were unpopular, but to embrace them because they were important." C.J. paused, then said softly, "Youíre not like the others, Toby. You are different."

Her words hung in the air as he shuffled his feet and anxiously fingered some papers on his desktop. Unsure what to say, he pushed forward, "Well, um, when that campaign was over, and I went back home to New York, Andy said she wanted a divorce."

C.J. winced at the sound of anguish in his voice.

"I didnít see it coming," Toby said, his voice deep with emotion. "I should have, though. I was always away on the campaign trail. She was in Washington in Congress. We had found lives separate from each other."

Clearing his throat, he then said, "I tried to talk her out of it. But, after a few weeks together, it was clear something had changed between us. So, when she asked again for a divorce, I didnít fight her. I just wanted her to be happy, and I knew she wasnít happy married to me."

Toby paused to see her gazing at him attentively, taking in every word he said. He struggled to find the words to continue. "So, we got divorced and I went back to work campaigning. I didnít forget you, though. I tried to keep up with what you were doing and a few years later, when Leo was looking for a press secretary for Presidential Candidate Jed Bartlet, your name immediately to my mind. Leo was impressed with your work and I think he figured since we already knew each other, you would be able to deal with me when others couldnít."

Her eyebrows rose in surprise. "Well, if that was the case, then he was in for a rude surprise," C.J. observed. "The first several months of the campaign, we could barely say Ďhelloí to each other without exploding into a fight over something or other." She shook her head subtlely. "What happened, Toby?"

He ducked his head and scratched his forehead. Now was crunch time. He had to come clean with her about what he was feeling or he might lose her as a friend. He couldnít let that happen.

"C.J.," he started quietly, "when I signed the divorce papers, I wished Andy well and hoped she could find someone else to make her happy. I didnít have the same hopes for myself. I had been married to her for 13 years. She was the only woman I ever loved and I couldnít imagine ever loving anyone else. We got divorced, but I still wore my ring because I still felt married to her in my heart."

He took a deep breath. Here it comes. "But, when I saw you again, something happened." He looked into her golden eyes. "You took my breath away." He paused, uncomfortable with exposing himself so much. He decided to put the spotlight on her a little. "C.J., you said after Lindstrom lost Illinois, you decided to stop working on individual campaigns. Why did you come to work for President Bartlet?"

"Because you said he was a good man," she answered, then added softly, "and because you asked me to."

Their eyes locked in understanding. "My feelings for you scared me," Toby admitted after a few seconds. "I loved Andrea very much, but I donít think I ever felt as intensely about her as I did you. We met in college and got married five years later." He shrugged his shoulders. "It was comfortable."

"I had a crush on you when we first met," C.J. confessed. "Handsome, brilliant, funny, passionate and full of conviction," she paused then smiled, "and incredibly sweet, despite all of your attempts to hide it. I remember how you would keep a stash of blueberry lollipops in your briefcase. They were Julieís favorites," she said, referring to their candidateís 5 year old daughter. "And whenever you saw her, you would wait until you thought no one was watching, then give her one." Her expression turned serious. "And when I saw you again, four years later, I realized my feelings hadnít changed."

"I was afraid to let you know how I felt," Toby said. "I felt guilty. My feelings for you were stronger than I had ever had before, even for my wife. I didnít know how to deal with them, so I ended up pushing you away."

"Thatís why you fought with me so much," she asked in a whisper.

"Yeah. Well, that and the fact that you were wrong," he answered.

C.J. rolled her eyes and laughed. "Of course." She reached out to touch his arm. "I didnít mind arguing with you, Toby. We did that enough during Lindstromís campaign. It was you I missed. Talking to you. Working on problems with you. I missed our friendship, Toby."

"I missed our friendship, too," he replied. "And when we were in Illinois for the Presidential campaign, all of those memories came back to me and I realized that if I kept pushing you away, soon I would lose you altogether. And that scared me more than anything." He paused. "So I stopped pushing and by the time we won the election, I think our we were friends again."

"We were."

"And that was enough," said Toby forcefully. "I could see you every day and I got to work with you, and I thought that was enough." He looked away. "Until I saw you with Danny."

C.J. closed her eyes and sighed. "I had given up on any possibility of a relationship between us, Toby. I didnít think you even thought about me like that. Dannyís attention was flattering, but..." she trailed off, grappling for the words to express herself. "He wasnít you," she finally said. "I only went out with him to get back at you for saying I couldnít."

"It hurt me to see you with him."

"And it hurt me to hear you say that you werenít part of my personal life."

"I want to be part of your personal life, C.J."

"I do, too."

He searched her eyes and for the first time saw certainty. Toby felt his heart swell and a smile threaten to overtake his face. Her gaze left his, and he followed it down to the wedding band on his left hand. Andy had placed it on his finger when they got married. They were no longer married, though. She had a life without him. And now, Toby finally felt like he could have a life without her. Confidently, he slid the ring off his finger and placed it on the desk. He looked back to C.J. Her eyes shone with happiness and a grin danced on her lips.

"Can we make this work," he asked.

"Yeah."

He pulled her close and hugged her tightly. They began to laugh with relief. Her laughter was so beautiful to him. They pulled back and looked into each otherís eyes.

"I want to be with you, C.J."

"I want to be with you, Toby."

Their lips met in a perfect kiss.

They were finally together.

 

 

Battlegound - epilogue

 

 

 

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