TITLE: "If The Fates Allow" (Part Two)
NOTES: See part one.
"Good evening, Mr. Hattori." Leo extended his hand and C.J. motioned Toby over.
"Did you call Josh?" Toby asked quietly.
"Yeah. I should probably call him again."
"And tell him what?"
"I don't know." C.J. studied Leo and Hattori.
"Be glad Danny Concannon isn't here."
"I'm always glad when Danny's not around."
"But it was good to see you, Leo," Hattori smiled warmly and shook Leo's hand again. "I'm heading over to the bar. Would you like something?"
*Yes.* Leo nodded, then expelled an exasperated sigh when he caught sight of C.J.'s face. "I'll come with you. I can get it myself."
Following Hattori, Leo noticed a different woman standing behind the bar. He helped himself to a handful of peanuts and tried not to think about all the bottles in front of him.
Leo took his glass from the bartender, and as he took a sip, he was both disappointed and relieved to find she had given him just what he asked for.
He swallowed quickly. "It was water," he said, waving the empty glass under C.J.'s nose.
"It's not that I don't trust you--" The shrill ring of her cell phone interrupted her. She pulled it out reluctantly. "Excuse me."
As she walked away, Leo leaned wearily against the bar. *It's so close,* he thought. *It's so easy.* He hated feeling tempted, hated having to restrain himself, and the thought of drinking himself into indifference was growing steadily more attractive.
"McGarry!" an altogether too merry voice saluted him.
Leo gritted his teeth. This was not going to make him feel any better. "Your Lordship."
Marbury dropped onto the stool to Leo's right. "It's a beautiful thing," he declared, gesturing with his whiskey glass.
Leo blinked. "I'm sorry, what?"
"Diplomacy. Right here in this room, my man, we have the oil that makes the world's gears turn, distilled down to its ultimate essence." Marbury took out a cigarette. "Some stunning women, too. Got a light?"
"I don't smoke."
"More's the pity." Marbury scanned the bar and found a book of matches. "The only thing that could be more perfectly political than this gathering would be a room full of unmarked bills."
"Maybe that's how you do things."
"It's how things have always been done. The Magi came to the cradle bearing gifts." He looked askance at Leo. "You don't seem to be enjoying this event."
"There are things I'd rather be doing," Leo admitted coolly.
"Oh, have some spirit, Leo!" Marbury drained his glass with gusto.
Leo brooded for a long moment, then stood up. "Excuse me."
He walked determinedly across the room. Toby abandoned a doomed conversation with a pair of insurance lobbyists and fell into step with him. "How's it going?"
"Spectacular," Leo snapped. "Is any actual work getting done here?"
"We're making some progress with the HMO people."
Leo walked faster, frustrated. "I'm going to the bathroom."
"I was headed that way myself. It's over this way." Toby steered him out of the room.
As the men's room door swung shut behind them, Leo whirled around, stopping Toby short. "Go away."
"No," Toby said, simply, watching as Leo paced back and forth.
"What is it that you think I'm going to do in here?" he snarled.
Toby clasped his hands behind his back. "I don't know, and I don't want to know."
"This is ridiculous," he snarled. "I'm a grown man."
"Act like one."
Leo glared at him. "What the hell did you just say?" Toby did not repeat himself, only met Leo's eyes impassively. Leo glared back at him. "You're supposed to be out there doing your job."
"I'm in here doing my job," Toby said, evenly. "I work for you, Leo. And it is ridiculous. It's ridiculous that such a monumentally stupid accident could happen. It's ridiculous that you're standing here trying to pretend it's not bothering you."
"I'm doing fine!" Leo protested angrily.
"I know you're fighting it, Leo." He furrowed his brow. "I think you already know better than to deny that. I think you already know why I'm standing here."
They studied each other intently. After a long time, Leo turned away, and caught sight of himself in the mirror. He looked like he felt -- sick and desperate. He let out a ragged breath, defeated. "You're right."
"Yes, I am."
Leo went to the sink, splashed some cold water over his hands, and ran them over his face. "Thank you for saying it."
"I'm doing my job," Toby replied. "You ready to go back?"
He nodded sadly. "I wasn't going to the bathroom in the first place."
Toby looked at the floor. "Yeah."
* * *
"Why haven't you called me?"
C.J. walked into the hall and took a seat on a padded bench. "Hi, Josh."
"What's going on down there?"
"Leo is walking around pretending that he doesn't want a drink, and Toby and I are following him everywhere he goes."
"I'm coming down there," Josh said firmly.
"You're not coming down here."
C.J. tried to peek into the ballroom without moving from her seat. "Well, for one, by the time you drive all the way here, this whole thing will be over."
"I want to be there."
"Josh, you can worry where you are just as well as you could worry down here."
Josh took a few steps forward and banged his head against a pillar in frustration. Without taking his eyes off the President, Sam leaned towards him and whispered, "Serenity now!"
"How's the President's speech going?" C.J. asked.
"About as well as we expected it to go. Amron and Gottlieb are being complete jackasses." He paused. "Let me come down there, C.J."
"The President would understand."
"Leo wouldn't. You're where you're supposed to be."
"How did it happen, C.J.?"
She looked at her shoes. "The bartender made a mistake. It was just -- the bartender made a mistake."
Josh sighed. "Am I telling the President?"
"Will you call me later?"
C.J. allowed herself to sit for a few minutes after she ended the phone call. Finally, she took a deep breath and walked back into the ballroom.
Glancing around the room, she saw a man with a mustache walking towards her. "Ms. Cregg!"
"Mr. Gaut. How do you do?"
He smiled broadly. "It's a pleasure to meet you."
"You, too, sir."
"I was speaking with Sant Chawla earlier about holiday traditions and..."
C.J. tuned Gaut out as she scanned the room, looking for Toby and Leo. She was slightly alarmed not to see either one of them.
"...And that's how Chawla does it."
"I put photographs--we're big with photographs of people that we love." Gaut smiled conspiratorially. "And even ones that we don't love."
"Hanging on the tree?" C.J. asked with surprise.
"Yeah, we put pictures of the people that we love. Family, mostly."
Scanning the room again, C.J. spotted Toby; he motioned to her. "Excuse me." When she reached Toby's side, she asked, "Where's Leo?"
"Hattori snagged him." Toby motioned towards the men in the corner. "Leo's supposed to make some closing remarks."
Toby pulled a sheet of paper from his pocket and handed it to C.J. She scanned it quickly, handed it back to him, and walked onto the stage.
"Ladies and gentlemen, if I may have your attention. On behalf of the Bartlet administration, I would like you think each of you for coming here tonight..."
Leo listened from the back of the room, absorbed both with what C.J. was saying and with his own thoughts.
"...Thank you again for coming, and to all, a good night."
In the midst of the laughter and applause, C.J. swiftly descended the stairs followed Toby and Leo out of the ballroom. Once they were in the hallway, she dug around in her handbag and pulled out her phone. "Josh? It's C.J. We're headed back."
* * *
Leo walked heavily into the dimly lit Oval Office. "Sir."
Jed was sitting on the couch. He scoffed. "Really, Leo. This is a time when I'm not being your boss, and you don't have to call me--"
"We're in the Oval," he interrupted softly, sitting down across from the President.
"Well?" Jed demanded, obviously concerned.
"I'm..." Leo searched for a word. "Very tired."
"How bad is it?"
He spoke dismally and bluntly. "I want a drink."
"I know. I'm sorry."
"Seven years," Leo mused. "I never thought I'd have to start over."
"It isn't your fault." Jed reached out and rested a hand on Leo's shoulder. "Josh told me the bartender made a mistake?"
He looked miserable. "I don't understand how I didn't notice. Eggnog's thick, but... I drank it and I didn't think."
"It doesn't matter." Jed leaned closer. "You got through the night."
"If C.J. and Toby hadn't been--"
"But they were."
"You got through the night," he repeated in a sympathetic tone. "That proves a hell of a lot to me, my friend."
They sat together in companionable silence for some time. Leo spoke up. "I thought you were flying straight to New Hampshire after the address."
"I sent the girls on without me."
Leo raised his eyebrows. "I bet Abbey's not thrilled about that."
"Abbey understands." Jed regarded him meaningfully. "Go home, Leo. You need some sleep. You got through the night. You'll get through tomorrow."
He considered this, then nodded and stood up. "Yes. I will. Thank you."
Leo stepped into his office, took a beat and broke into a grin. "Planning a coup?"
Josh, Toby, C.J., and Sam were grouped by Leo's desk. Sam stepped forward and spoke anxiously. "Leo, is everything all right?"
"The night's over, guys," he told them. "C.J., Toby, take a walk with me."
They exchanged glances with the others and followed Leo down the hall. "Hattori's coming by on Thursday to work out some kinks," he told them.
"It won't go anywhere," Toby said.
"Probably not. I'm going to set up a meeting with Batra for after the holidays." He stopped by the door and turned to face both of them. "I need to thank both of you."
They looked bashful. "We didn't--" Toby began.
"You did, Toby." Leo tilted his head. "I think you know better than to deny it."
Toby shuffled his feet and Leo turned to C.J. "And you." He gave her a small smile. "You've been beautiful tonight in every sense of the word."
She blushed. Before she could speak, Leo leaned up and kissed her gently on the cheek. "Merry Christmas."
He left them quiet and thoughtful in the doorway. C.J. looked up and a whimsical expression played across her face. "I think that might be mistletoe after all."
Toby shook his head. "Are you going home now?"
"Yeah." He opened the door for her, and they walked out into the darkness.
The End. Please send feedback.