Bibere humanum est, ergo bibamus.
To drink is human, let us therefore drink.

********

June 28, 1995
CJ's apartment
Washington, D.C.

It was the oldest excuse in the book.

She said it unconvincingly and he accepted it unblinkingly. He paid the check and took her back to her apartment, placed a quick kiss on her lips and promised to call.

Perhaps she should be concerned that he didn't seem to see through her thin lie to inquire what was really bothering her. Perhaps she should be concerned with the doubt that she would have told him the truth had he asked.

She couldn't summon the will to do either.

Perhaps she should be concerned about that as well.

The reality was that all thoughts of Tad Whitney quickly disappeared from the edges of her mind the moment the door closed behind him. She laid her coat down and sank onto her couch, resting her head against the cool surface of the wall.

She missed her brothers. Ryan and Curtis held the view that laughter was the solution to any problem. They would jump around doing impersonations of their teachers, family, and movie stars. They would serenade her, voices horribly off key and words invariably wrong. If all else failed, they would tickle her until she couldn't breath. These sessions always ended with her being tossed fully clothed into the pool, and all three laughing hysterically.

She missed her lover. Dan would hold her and stroke her hair as she talked about everything that was wrong. He would listen to everything and whisper reassuring words into her ear. Then, he would kiss her and promise to make her forget the rest of the world for the night.

She missed her friend. Toby didn't make her talk. He didn't make her listen. He didn't try to make her forget her problems and he didn't try to solve them. Yet, somehow he always made her feel better.

Ryan was California. Curtis was somewhere in the middle of the Pacific on a Naval ship. They wouldn't be making her laugh tonight.

Dan wasn't her lover anymore. She couldn't count on his soft caresses and sweet words.

And Toby...

With a sigh, she stood up and grabbed her coat.

********

The Quiet Man
Downtown Washington, D.C.

The words on the page began to blur, the black ink appeared to twist and contort into indistinguishable patterns. It didn't really matter. He knew by experience these scribbles wouldn't mean much in the light of day. Yet, he still held the pen over the yellow legal pad and tried to write.

Pausing for a moment, he lifted his glass and drink. As he lowered it from his mouth, the amber liquid captured his attention; the way it caught the light from the small overhead lamp, splintering it into a million tiny rays.

The thoughts he had been working to escape came racing back. He wondered if he was ever quite out of their grasp.

He heard her low voice taunting him with his political failures. He saw her deep brown eyes tormenting him with his personal failures.

Failure, he thought and lifted the glass back up, downing the rest of his drink.

********

CJ laughed when he first brought her here. The Quiet Man. It just sounded like the name of a bar Toby would frequent. Its only outward acknowledgment was the small, weather worn board above the door, bearing it's name in old english letters. The front windows were frosted, precluding anyone from looking in.

When she first walked in, CJ felt like she had been transported to the 1940's. An old-fashioned bar ran along the left, the bottles of alcohol filling the cabinets on the wall behind it. The entire place was dimly lit with small lamps on the walls and tables. She found it easy to imagine Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn drinking in one of the narrow booths in the back of the room.

When her cab pulled up in front of the bar, however, she hesitated. What if Toby wasn't inside? Perhaps, the more important question was, what if he was? They hadn't seen or spoken to one another since the fight almost two weeks ago.

That was how she referred to it. The fight. It was silly, really. They had certainly argued before. They often vociferously disagreed over various political views. It was one of the distinct characteristics of their friendship. There was something oddly reassuring in that.

This time was different, though. This time he didn't just disagree with her. He didn't just argue with her. He did something much worse, something he had never done before. He dismissed her. Instead of debating the merits of her argument, he dismissed it and her as naive.

Hurt and angry, she struck back. Using her private knowledge of him, she struck him where he was most vulnerable. Even through her anger, she saw the impact of her words; the slight slump of his shoulders, the way his eyes blazing with fervor went flat. She watched silently as he focused his gaze intently on the floor, then turned around slowly and quietly walked out her door.

Suddenly aware she had been standing on the sidewalk outside the bar for several minutes now, CJ took a deep breath and opened the door. Approaching the bar, a smile overtook her face as she saw older man standing behind it.

"Hey, Mickey."

"Well, if it isn't the most beautiful woman in D.C.," he exclaimed. "I thought you'd forgotten about ole' Mickey."

"That's impossible, Mickey. You're unforgettable," flirted CJ.

The smile dropped from his face. "He's in the back booth," he said. "Been here every night this week."

Sure enough, she turned to see Toby sitting in the last booth in the back of the room. His face was obscured in the shadows, but his pain he was feeling was obvious to her even from across the room.

"What can I get you drink?"

Not taking her eyes off his dark form, she answered the bartender. "Give me a moment. Will ya, Mickey?"

********

He felt her presence a split second before he heard her lilting voice.

"Of all the gin joints in all the world, he walks into mine."

The silence between them was almost painful as she stood next to the booth; he didn't look up, but slowly reached for his recently filled glass and took a drink. After several awkward seconds, he spoke, "it's, 'of all the gin joints *in all the towns* in all the world, she walks into mine.'" He set his scotch down and looked at her for the first time that night. "And I think that's supposed to be my line."

CJ attempted to hide her shock at his red rimmed eyes with an crooked grin. "That's okay," she said, sliding into the booth. "You say it better anyway."

"I didn't say you could sit down."

"I didn't ask."

Under hooded lids, his black eyes locked onto her bright green ones. Time became irrelevant was they communicated without words.

"I recommended Lindsay Webster for the seat in the House," Toby finally broke the silence, his voice low.

"Really?"

"No," he replied quickly, "but, I wanted to."

CJ was quiet for a moment, then smiled sadly. "I know you did."

She knew he meant it, and he knew she understood. It amazed him sometimes; how they could do that. He didn't give it a lot of thought, however, for fear it would disappear.

She waited a moment, then leaned across the table, her expression serious. "Do you want to talk about it?"

He didn't need to ask what she was talking about and he didn't have to think about his answer. "No."

"Okay."

Toby blinked in surprise, not expecting her to give up so easily, yet happy she seemed to be doing just that.

"Mickey," she called other to the bartender. When he approached the booth, she turned to Toby and asked, "What are you having?"

"Double scotch," supplied Mickey, ignoring Toby's glare.

"I'll have the same," said CJ. "And keep them coming."

"CJ," started Toby, as the older man walked away. He didn't finish his question aloud, rather with his eyes.

"Well, isn't that the plan," she asked. "You don't want to talk about whatever is bothering you, so you're here getting drunk." She shrugged. "I will, too."

If it were anyone else, Toby would think they were trying to guilt him into talking about it, or wear him down until he talked. He knew she wasn't doing either. She was just being there. "You don't have to," he said as Mickey sat her drink on the table.

"I want to." Their eyes met. CJ smiled and raised her glass. "What shall we drink to?"

"Tempting fate," offered Toby, raising his own glass.

"How about democracy in all its forms?"

"Democracy," he echoed. They clicked glasses and each took a long drink of their scotch.

Toby almost laughed as her face scrunched up.

"May I see your pen?"

"What are you doing," he asked as she took his pen and began to write on a napkin.

"I'm writing down my address, so when we stumble out of here tonight, I won't have to try to remember it. I can just hand this to the cab driver."

He didn't tell her that it was her address he remembered when he stumbled out of bars at night.

********

He really didn't want to interrupt them. It had taken awhile, but they were finally talking and laughing, occasionally arguing loudly before laughing again. Through it all, they drank. "Hey, Nick and Nora," he called. "I gotta close shop."

Toby just sighed as CJ looked around in surprise to find the place empty. "Mickey," she said seriously. "Our goal was to get drunk; tight; plastered; drunk."

"You succeeded, sweetheart."

"Thank you," she smiled victoriously.

"I called a cab for you. It's waiting outside."

"Mickey, you are the best bartender in the world, you know that," asked CJ as Toby drained his rest of his drink. With a little effort, he stood up and searched his pockets for his wallet. Pulling out a fifty dollar bill, he handed it to the older man and held his hand out to CJ. "Ms. Cregg," he intoned.

"Mr. Ziegler," she replied, her attempt to match his solemn tone ruined by a girlish giggle.

He helped her into the cab and while she started to hand the napkin with her address on it to the driver, she looked at him. "Aren't you getting in?"

He looked around the dark street and then back to her questioning eyes. "I think I'm going to walk a bit."

CJ thought for a moment, then climbed back out ot the cab. "Thanks anyway," she told the driver. As the cab pulled away, she looked at Toby. "Can I come?"

Any impulse to snap sarcastically that she should have asked before she sent the cab away died instantly as he saw the sincere look on her face. "Yeah."

He wrapped his arm around her waist to keep her from stumbling and they started down the sidewalk.

The air was cool for a July night. A light wind swept across their faces.

"I thought you didn't like the outdoors," she asked after a few minutes.

"This isn't outdoors."

"I'm pretty sure it is," replied CJ.

"It's outdoors," he said, "but, it's not *outdoors* outdoors."

"Now you're just trying to confuse me."

He sighed. "It's not really the outdoors. It's the city with concrete and buildings all around. The outdoors has grass and bugs."

"Ah," nodded CJ.

"You understand?"

"Yeah."

"Are you lying?"

"Yeah." CJ laughed. "You're a tough man to understand, Toby Ziegler."

"Nobody does."

"What about Andy?" She asked it in all innocence, but the moment she said her name, she felt his body tense. He stopped walking, slipping his arm from her waist. She turned to look at him. "Toby?"

His eyes were fixed on the dark sky as lightning flashed several miles away. A storm was coming. "Before she left for New York, she told me she wants a divorce." His voice was barely audible, but the words screamed in her ears, penetrating her drunken state.

"Toby," she whispered.

"It's ironic," continued Toby as if CJ hadn't spoken. "She left me the first time because she said we were fighting too much. She left me this time because she said we never talked."

"Is there anything-"

"No," he cut her off.

She didn't know what to say, when another flash of lightning caught her eye. "We should probably try and catch another cab," she suggested quietly. "It's going to storm soon."

"Yeah."

She reached and grasped his hand tightly and drew him closer. He wrapped his arm around her waist again, and they began to walk again. Resting her head on his shoulder, she pretended not to see the single tear finally escaping his eye to slide down his cheek.

 

 

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