"Could I have everybody's attention?" The First Lady tapped a fork against her glass. "Right now two secret service agents are escorting the President down here from the residence. He thinks he's coming to find me to approve of his tux for his meeting with the President of France. I'm going to turn out the lights now; you all know what to do when he comes in."

Safely out of earshot, Josh turned to Sam, amused. "You think he's gonna fall for that?"

Sam laughed. "Not a chance."

The lights went out.

*****

"My wife tries this every year, you know," Bartlet said to the secret service agents, buttoning his sleeves as they walked down the long corridors. "Every year she tries to throw me a surprise birthday party. It gets more and more elaborate, she tries harder and harder to keep it from me. But every year I find out about it. Still, it's awful fun to watch her give it her best shot. My wife is very cute, don't you think?"

"Yes, sir," the agents said impassively.

"Hey, watch it fellas, you're talking abot the Firtst Lady of the United States."

"Yes, sir."

"All right," he said, standing outside the ballroom, "here I go." He walked in slowly, looking around and, pretending to go along with it, called out softly, "Abby?"

"SURPRISE!!" As the lights came back on everyone jumped out and yelled, noisemakers blaring. Bartlet clutched his chest and stepped backwards as if they had scared him half to death. "HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!"

Abigail cam up beside him. "Were you surprised?"

"Yes."

"Really?"

He nodded emphatically and grinned at her, then said, "No."

"How do you --"

"I'm the leader of the free world, sweetheart, I have my ways."

*****

"Hey, C.J."

She turned around. "Oh, hey, Leo. It's a great party."

"Yeah. Abby put a lot of work into it. Say, you haven't seen Toby around, have you?"

"He's not here. I was talking to him earlier today, and I don't think he's coming."

"Oh Abby's going to kill him. Why not?"

"His father's funeral is tomorrow, you know, he wasn't really in a party mood."

"He'd probably feel better amond friends."

"Thas what I told him," C.J. sighed. "But you know Toby, he never listens to reason."

"Actually," Leo smiled, "I think he's got a reason all his own."

"Indeed."

Leo left, and Katie came over to her sister. "Do you have any idea how awesome your job is?"

"Well, this is certainly one of its highlights."

"I don't think there'll be much of this for me as a teacher."

"I'd imagine not."

"Hey, would you mind if I went out with Zoey and Charle after the party? They were telling me about a great club they hang out at a lot."

"Not at all, have a great time. I'm glad you've become friends with them."

"They're so cool. Well, I'll see you later."

"I won't wait up."

*****

"Excuse me, everyone, if I could just interrupt for a moment," Bartlet, said, beginning a toast. "I'll make this brief. First, to my beautiful wife, who has once again masterminded an extraordinary birthday party for me, and has once again failed miserably in her attempts to keep it a secret. To be perfectly honest, dear, I will concede I was in the dank on a number of details, so congratulations -- you get better at this every year. But you could've done better than a tuxedo fitting, couldn't you? Also, a big thanks to every person in this room: you have never wavered in your support of me, helping me every day to retain my credibility, sanity and faith in humanity, and I cant think of a group of people I'd rather be with tonight on my... 39th birthday."

Laughter arose from the crowd. "How many 39th birthdays has this been, Mr. President?" Josh teased him.

"I don't think I like what I have just been accused of. Anyway, enough of this -- you can all go back to the party. Oh, one more thing," he added, listening to the pulsating beat of the pop dance remixes playing. "Who the hell is in charge of the music here?"

"I am!" Zoey giggled.

"Sweetie, I don't know whose party you were trying to set to music, but it couldn't have been mine. How about some Frank Sinatra, some Englebert Humperdink?"

"Englebert who?"

Bartlet sighed. "Our nation's youth simply has no appreciation for good music anymore. You know what, it's my birthday, and I am going to pick one song I can dance with my wife to."

He whispered something in Zoey's ear, and in a minute the opening notes of "This Guy's in Love with You" played, and Bartlet took his wife's hand, leading her to the dance floor; Charlie took Zoey's.

C.J. felt a pang of lonliness and her friends and colleagues paired off and started dancing. She headed to the bar to appear as if she had something to do, but when she turned around she saw Toby standing in the doorway. He smiled a little when he caught her eye. They moved toward each other slowly, and put their arms around each other when they met and began to dance.

"I didn't think you were going to be here."

"I wasn't. But I realized you were right."

"About what?"

"I realized I really didn't feel better alone."

"I knew you wouldn't."

She buried her face in his neck and he drew his arms tighter around her back. He was silent for a long time. He seemed more upset than he had been all week and she was pretty sure it was something new that was troubling him, but she didn't press it. She knew it wasn't her counsel he was seeking -- only her company.

*****

Sam elbowed Josh. "Hey, what do you think's going on over there?"

"Where?"

He pointed. "With C.J. and Toby."

Josh raised an eyebrow, intrigued. "That's a good question."

"You know, I've seen the two of them together sort of like that before, in some vaguely compromising postitions. But that -- that is blatant."

Josh shrugged. "Maybe she's just helping him through his father's death."

"Yeah, maybe." Sam wasn't convinced.

As the song ended, the First Lady passed by them and Josh pulled her aside. "Do you know anything about that?" he asked, indicating the two, who were still in each other's arms after the music stopped.

"No," she said, a little too quickly, then laughed at them. "You boys really need to go on a date or two."

"Don't we know it."

*****

Toby pulled away and looked down, uncomfortable. "I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"I wasn't entirely honest with you before."

"It's okay...."

"My mother called me about a week and a half ago. I told you I knew he was dying, but -- she called me, and she told me he had another heart attack. She said he only had a few days." He couldn't look at her as tears welled in his eyes. "She begged me to come see him..."

"Oh God, Toby..." She hugged him close to her agian, tears forming in her eyes in response to his. She couldn't stand seeing him like this. She would have done anything to take his pain away, but she had never felt more helpless in her life. "I don't want you to be alone tonight," she whispered, almost desperately. "Come home with me. Katie's going out with Charlie and Zoey. Just come home with me."

"C.J...."

"No, I don't -- I just don't want you to be alone tonight."

He pulled away from her again. "I don't think that's a good idea. The funeral is tomorrow. I have to leave early to drive up with Diane."

She tensed up at the mention of her name, and remembered seeing them together the day before. But before she could respond, he was gone.

Abigail, who couldn't help observing some of the conversation, allowed a moment to pass for C.J. to compose herself and then went over to talk to her.

"C.J."

"Oh, hello, Mrs. Bartlet. It's a fabulous party."

"Well I think all the work paid off this year, even if he wasn't surprised."

"It does every year."

"Listen, you know to tell me when I'm being too nosy, right?"

"Sure."

"You look kind of upset. Are you all right?"

"I'm fine."

"Come to think of it, Toby didn't look so great himself." Abigail gave her a knowing look, and C.J. realized she was well aware of what was happening between them. "What's going on, C.J.?"

"Toby's father died, he --"

"You've been there for him."

"Yes."

"And you're upset--"

"--because he's upset."

"Okay, here's the deal," Abigail said, leading her outside of the party. "I am more than willing to walk away right now and go back in there believing that's all there is to it. But bear two things in mind: I'm the only impartial person who knows anything about this, and I'm very good at giving advice."

"That's all very true."

"Do you want to talk about it?"

C.J. thought about it, then nodded. "Yes."

"So this has brought the two of you closer together."

"Yes."

"Has it brought you back together?"

"I -- No, not exactly. I honestly only wanted to be a friend to him. But being that close, with him so vulnerable and trusting, it --"

"It rekindled something."

"Yeah. But he keeps drawing me in and pushing me away -- like tonight. I know he didn't come here for the party. He came here to find me. And he tells me all these private things he'd never say to anyone else, but just when I feel like I might be able to help him, just when I get close to him, he runs away again." C.J. threw up her arms in frustration. "I don't know what he wants. I don't even know what I want. I thought we'd put this behind us, I really did. And he's certainly in no position..." she trailed off and looked away.

"You know, C.J., I always thought the two of you would be great together. But you have the worst timing imaginable!"

"You mean his ex-wife."

"Twice now, C.J."

"I think he's still in love with her." She was shocked by her own words. It was the first time she allowed herself to confess her suspicion.

"What makes you think that?"

"I don't know what it is exactly, but there's something there. Have you seen them together?"

"Yes, I've sen it," Abigail admitted.

"The funeral is tomorrow, and he doesn't want me there. I think he left tonight to be with her."

"Hey, don't jump to any conclusions until you hear it from him. He's incredibly torn, and you aren't thinking straight. Remember, I saw you two together as well. And there was definitely something there, too."

"What should I do?"

"You have to be honest with yourself. You can tell me you don't know what you want, but you know in your heart whether you want to be there for him or with him."

"What else?"

"I hate to say it, but I'm afraid the only other thing you can do is wait. Like you said, he vulnerable, he's hurting. You have to be patient with him. Give him time to sort through his feelings. He'll come around. And in the meantime, be a friend to him."

C.J. smiled. "As always, you know exactly what to say."

"I helped?"

"Yes."

"You feel a little better?"

"I feel a lot better. Thank you."

"Anytime." C.J. started to leave, but Abigail called after her, "C.J.?"

She turned back.

"I really always thought the two of you would be great together."

*****

C.J. jolted awake, with no idea what had disturbed her sleep. She sat up in her bed, listening intently, afraid someone might be trying to break into her home. Then she heard it again -- the doorbell. She got out of bed somewhat angrily, grabbing her robe as she headed for the door. This was the first night in longer than she could remember that she had gone to bed before midnight, and now she wouldn't have a chance to take full advantage of it. She figured Katie had forgotten her key, but had trouble mustering up any sympathy even for her own sister in the moment.

She pulled the door open, ready to yell at whoever she found on the other side, but every trace of rage left her when she saw who it really was: Toby, standing there as confused and uncertain as she had appeared the night before at his door. But when their eyes met they both finally understood, without a word or a gesture, what kept drawing them to each other, and what they were doing together now. As she let him into her home she let him into her heart; there was no going back now, no stopping it. Neither one wanted to.

They fell into each other's arms easily, their bodies instinctively remembering the refuge they had found there all those years ago, the places they had gone to hide, the places they had gone to feel safe. It felt as if nothing had changed. Their breath rose and fell together, breathing each other's air; arms moving gracefully as they had before, never hesitating. It was comfortable, warm, and free.

His hot breath against her neck as he kissed her below the ear was suddenly sharply peirced by the feeling of a strange cold object on the other side of her neck. She didn't understand what it was at first. She reached back for his hand cupped around her neck, intertwining her fingers with his. Instantly she realized what it was. His wedding ring. This isn't what Abby was talking about..., she knew. This was not him coming to her having sorted through his emotions, ready to love her freely. Still, he was there, and she needed him too much to let him go on a technicality. He was there, and she knew what that meant.

She relaxed again, drawing him still closer to her. Their bodies said everything their words and minds would not yet allow them to; they knew the truth. There was no need to think of the outside world. With nothing left to fear for just a moment, in graceful steps and tender kisses they danced their way back to her bedroom.

 

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