TITLE: "If The Fates Allow" (Part One)
ARCHIVE: Yes, please.
SUMMARY: A merry little Christmas.
NOTES: Everybody knows we don't own these characters; we're simply having a wonderful Christmastime. If you want to sue us, oh, don't look down. Props to the people they do belong to, and to the actors who make them what they are. Please send us feedback, we'll be eternally grateful.
If The Fates Allow
"Chestnuts roasting on an open fire...."
Toby grimaced. "Annoying songs. Slush. Bad traffic. Also, don't sing."
"Holly," C.J. countered. "Colored lights. Mrs. Landingham's special cookies! You could use a little Christmas spirit, Toby."
"Aside from what's obviously wrong with that--"
"Holiday spirit in general," she amended quickly. "Another thing, quality time with your family."
He raised his eyebrows. "Quality time with your family, that's in the plus column?"
She thought for a moment. "I think we can both count that one."
Leo appeared in the open doorway of C.J.'s office. "Guys."
C.J. looked over his tuxedo and whistled. "You're very dapper."
"I clean up all right, huh?" He beamed and checked out her gold dress. "You're looking quite well yourself."
"Ready to go?"
"Good God, yes," Toby replied.
They followed Leo down the hall. "We've got a serious problem, Leo," C.J. complained.
"Toby's not jolly."
Leo chuckled. "I'd never have predicted that."
"We're going to spend the next six hours in the company of two hundred and fifty diplomats, lobbyists, and generally awful people," Toby grumbled. "You expect me to be jolly?"
"Two hundred and fifty awful people who are extremely pissed off that they're meeting us in a hotel instead of schmoozing the President in the White House," Leo reminded him. "Not to mention that we ought to be at the holiday address, and I haven't had time to eat today." C.J. looked at him with reproach. He shrugged apologetically, and added, "And yet, I'm jolly."
They walked on through the foyer of the West Wing. Toby touched C.J.'s arm. "Hey. Seasonal affective disorder."
She looked up mischievously. "Is that mistletoe?"
Toby shot a disapproving glance at the ornament above the door. "No," he said, emphatically, and strode out.
C.J. smiled to herself as she trailed after him. "Good."
* * *
"Batra, Chawla, Kwaw, Gaut, Hattori. Batra, Chawla, Kwaw, Gaut, Hattori." C.J. repeated the names of diplomats as she walked up the hotel steps.
"Are you going to remember those?" Leo asked.
"Yeah. Batra, Chawla, Kwaw, Gaut, Hattori. Got it." She stopped suddenly and grabbed Leo's arm. "Gaut's the one with the mustache, right?"
He nodded. "Batra always looks angry, Chawla's a drinker, Kwaw will want to show you pictures of his grandkids, Gaut is the one with the mustache and--" Leo paused and motioned with his head. "That is Hattori."
"I'm sure Carol would have quizzed you with flashcards," Toby remarked. "Are we going in?"
"Yes, we are."
Leo watched C.J. ascend the stairs that led up to the stage and as she started to speak, he wandered back towards the bar.
"Good evening, sir." The bartender smiled. "What can I do for you?"
"Eggnog, please. Plain." Leo grabbed a handful of cookies from the bar and turned around to watch C.J.
Toby strode purposefully towards the bar. Taking a cookie, he asked, "When are we leaving?"
"Here you go, sir."
Leo took his eggnog from the bartender and drank it quickly. "Relax, Toby. It won't be that bad."
Toby grunted in disagreement before taking a second cookie and walking closer to the stage.
"Would you like another, sir?"
Leo glanced at his empty cup. "Please." Picking up his refill and taking a sip, he followed Toby.
C.J. joined them as she came down from the podium. "How'd I do?"
"Who cares?" Toby muttered.
"I thought I heard people grumbling while I was talking, or maybe that was just Toby." He ignored her pointedly. She continued, "Batra looked like he wanted to find a puppy to kick."
"Batra always looks like that," Leo commented. "You're fine."
"Salincourt's going to get on our case about tobacco," Toby said, watching the guests expertly. "Hattori's going to call us weak, and Marbury--"
"Hattori's all talk and no action, and Lord deliver us from Marbury," Leo cut in. "Hey, C.J., taste this eggnog. See if it doesn't taste funny to you."
He handed her the half-empty glass. "We're going to hear a lot of complaining about the Lindstrom Act," C.J. predicted. She took a swallow of the egg nog and froze. "You've been drinking this?"
"You think it tastes funny too? I thought it might be because of the cookies, but--"
"Leo--" Her voice wavered. "There's alcohol in this."
The two men stared at her.
"No, there isn't," Leo said, flatly. "I already had a glass."
C.J. nodded slowly. Toby took the drink from her hand and sipped it. He looked up at Leo for a second, turned on his heel, and stormed away.
"There can't be--" Leo broke off in the middle of his denial. After seven years, the familiar sensation was startling. He felt the building warmth in his veins, looked at C.J.'s stricken expression, and his own face fell. "I drank the first one really fast," he said, wretchedly.
"Oh, God, Leo." She stepped closer to him and touched his shoulder. "You should go."
"No." He swallowed hard. "It'll be okay. We can handle this."
"I'm going to call Margaret."
"No, you're not."
"Leo!" C.J. exclaimed, in disbelief.
"No." He spoke in a grim undertone. "I said we'll handle this, C.J. Tonight is important; it needs to go smoothly. We're professionals." His voice softened. "And I don't want Margaret to know."
"I'm calling Josh," she said, decidedly.
"Tell him to stay at the speech. We don't need him rushing in here like the Charge of the Light Brigade." C.J. seemed about to disagree, or to cry. Leo looked at her meaningfully. "It's really fine."
She shook her head as she took out her cell phone. "No, it's not."
He wished he didn't know she was right.
* * *
Toby stood still, frowning stonily at the bartender and anything else that crossed his field of vision. He was waiting for a quiet moment. It took a while, but eventually the middle-aged woman came to the end of the bar and stopped across from him.
"Can I help you, sir?"
"What's your name?"
"Corinne. Corinne Waltuck." She was slightly flustered by his steady glare. "What can I--"
"How long have you worked here?"
"Four years. I don't understand; is something wrong?"
"Did you serve Leo McGarry a drink a few minutes ago?"
"Yes," she said nervously. "I did."
Toby's voice was carefully modulated. "Are you a sadist, or are you an idiot?"
Corinne stepped back. "Excuse me?"
"It's certainly possible you're an idiot," he continued implacably. "I'm just not sure how, as someone in this country -- let alone this city -- you could be that ignorant. A year ago, every newspaper in this country ran the story that Leo McGarry is an alcoholic. You put brandy and bourbon in his drink."
Corinne gasped and pressed a hand to her mouth.
"Either you did it out of malice, in which case, I am going to make your life a living hell, and I certainly won't be alone in the effort..." Toby shrugged. "Or you're an idiot."
Her eyes moistened. "I've been working doubles all month. With the holidays, it gets so busy." Her voice caught, and tears rolled down her cheeks. "My daughter has the flu. My son fights with his stepfather all the time. I get home in the morning and the house is a mess. Sometimes at work I'm just running on empty, and--"
"I honestly don't give a damn," he informed her bitterly. He turned away and faced the room, his gaze scanning the various guests and flickering back to Leo and C.J.
"I'm sorry," Corinne whimpered behind him. "I'm so sorry."
"Go away," Toby growled without looking at her. She did.
* * *
C.J. took a few steps away from Leo and hastily dialed Josh's number.
"Hey, Josh." She paused, covering her ear with her free hand. "What's going on over there? I can barely hear you."
"This place is falling apart without you, as usual. What's up?"
"Something happened with Leo."
"He seemed jolly enough when you left."
"He's been drinking, Josh."
"Well, he didn't mean to, but--"
Josh shook his head. "Wait, explain this to me. How does one accidentally ingest alcohol?"
C.J. sighed. "I don't know how it happened." She looked around the room before resting her gaze back on Leo. "Toby's set up camp by the bar. The bartender will probably kill herself before the night is over."
"Are we sure it's her fault?"
"Well, it sure as hell isn't Leo's fault!"
"I didn't say it was." Josh slowly let out a breath. "I should come down there."
"No, you stay there and deal with whatever it is you're dealing with." C.J. rubbed her forehead. "He didn't do this on purpose, Josh."
"Okay. Call me back soon, let me know what's going on."
She promised she would, and hung up.
C.J. slid her phone into her handbag. "Mary."
The lobbyist smiled falsely. "I've been wanting to talk to you for some time about Congressman Divisadero. He's really been going against us this year and it would certainly help if we had the support of--"
C.J. cut her off. "Can we talk about this later?" Without waiting for a response, C.J. hurried off in Leo's direction.
* * *
It was taking all the powers of concentration he had, but Leo was paying attention.
"...And my granddaughter watches 'Dawson's Creek'," Kwaw said gravely. "I find the amount of sexuality being presented to youth in today's media disturbing. Doesn't the President find it disturbing?"
"No, he really doesn't," Leo calmly replied. "The President finds it disturbing that parents don't take the time to have open discussions with their children so that they learn to make responsible judgements about what they see in today's media. Also, the President finds it disturbing that the youth of today think 'Dawson's Creek' is a good show."
Kwaw smiled politely and drank some of his martini. Leo's eyes followed the glass automatically. *God, that looks good,* he thought.
C.J. approached, watching Leo's gaze with concern. "Ah, Ms. Cregg," Kwaw said. "We were just discussing today's television shows. Wouldn't you say we should be worried about violence on television?"
"I think we should be more worried about violence in reality," she answered distractedly. "Leo, if I could speak to you for a minute?"
They walked along the periphery of the room, greeting various people in passing. "It's refreshing," Leo remarked.
C.J. whipped her head around and stared at him. "What?"
"Talking to a lobbyist who isn't tied to Hollywood's purse strings." She was visibly relieved. He rolled his eyes. "For Christ's sake, I'm all right. I don't need a babysitter."
"You don't look so great," she said, truthfully.
Leo was tense, too keyed up. The eggnog hadn't been much, but he could feel the edge of it, could feel the old need pushing against his self-control. He clenched his jaw and started to make his way back into the crowd. "I can do this."
"I believe you," she assured him, but stayed close behind him anyway.
Continued In Part Two.