TITLE: "Thirst" 

AUTHOR: Luna (lunavudu@aol.com

ARCHIVE: Yeah. But get the format right, please? 

CATEGORY: General. Rated G. 

SUMMARY: In every bar there's someone sitting alone. 

NOTES: Sorkin, Wells, Warner Brothers, and NBC own 'em. I'm just workin' for the man. Big ups to Jess -- as always -- and to Kim Addonizio, the author of the brilliant poem "Glass", which frames this story. Give me feedback and I'll stand you a round.

 

Thirst

*In every bar there's someone sitting alone and absolutely absorbed
by whatever he's seeing in the glass in front of him,
a glass that looks ordinary, with something clear or dark
inside it, something partially drunk but never completely gone....*

He liked the stillness.

It came in with the twilight, filtered through windows that probably hadn't been cleaned since the disco era, and lingered in the dim warmth at the far end of the bar. Toby sat down, nodded to the bartender -- Jessica knew the drill; JD and ice and keep them coming steadily -- and felt the quiet settle over him. He wanted to relax into the atmosphere. He wanted the weight to slip from his shoulders and dissipate. He wondered how many drinks it would take tonight before that happened, if it happened at all.

It had taken the better part of autumn, but during the last couple of weeks, he'd begun to have more good days than bad. Since the elections, he'd started sleeping properly again -- at least, through the small portion of the night between coming from work and going back. He had stopped waking up, disoriented and disturbed, from dreams that he couldn't or wouldn't remember. Most of the days were lighter; many of the nights were easier.

This was not one of them.

Jessica set the first drink down in front of him. Though it went against his instincts, Toby was trying to turn his mind off. He stared into his glass moodily, forcing himself to concentrate on what was present. *The glass,* he thought. *The liquor. The bar top. Nothing else. Nobody else.*

Familiar footsteps approached, distracting him. "Hey there."

He looked up. "Hey."

C.J. took the seat next to him. "Sam said you left early."

"I left at eight. How'd you know I was here?"

She smiled. "This is not a way in which you're unpredictable."

Toby shrugged and took a drink. "What're you doing here?"

"I'm having a Midori Sour," she replied, speaking both to him and to the bartender.

"You drink like a woman."

She scoffed. "That's a pretty silly, sexist thing to say. And besides, I don't drink like a woman. Josh does."

"I'll give you that. Why are you having your Midori Sour--" he made a face at the bright green drink -- "in this bar? Why are you here?"

"Well--"

"Don't start that why-are-any-of-us-here stuff."

"I wasn't going to." She sipped her drink. "You left early. You never leave early. And you know, for the last few months...."

Toby frowned. "I thought we weren't going to have this conversation."

"Why would you think that?"

"Because I tried to make it clear that I didn't want to have this conversation."

"You did," she said, gently. "I just don't care."

"Oh." He drained his glass and signalled for a second one.

"Is it so hard to believe that people actually worry about you, Toby?" she asked after a moment's pause.

He tilted his head and looked at her. "Excuse me?"

"When people ask how you're doing, you act like they're asking for your secret PIN code, like they're trying to probe you for information. You do this thing with your eyebrows--"

"I don't do anything with my eyebrows."

"You furrow your brow. Like you think people are out to get you, when the opposite is true. People worry about you. Your friends worry about you. It's not a capital crime." She picked up her glass. "So. How are you doing?"

"I'm fine." Toby looked as if he was studiously trying not to furrow his brow. "I mean it. I don't know why you'd think you need to worry about me."

"I'll itemize the list of reasons and have them on your desk in the morning." She shook her head incredulously. "Since the summer, I've been watching you walk around in this fugue state--"

He looked into his glass. "Just say it, C.J."

"What?"

"You're the one talking about how we should talk about things. I know what you meant. Just say it."

"Okay." Her tone was cautious. "Since the shooting, I've been worried about you. It's not like any of us knew how to deal with getting shot at."

*Sure I did,* he thought. Aloud, he said, "I told you I'm fine."

"You weren't, though," she said, watching him intently.

He met her eyes for a second. "I talked to the President."

She was surprised. "That's good."

"I really am fine."

"That's good too."

They drank in silence for a while. Toby wished she would go away. He'd meant it when he'd said he didn't want to talk about this -- not at all, and not with her. Tense and tired, he nursed his drink and tried to beam his thoughts to her. *Not tonight. Not tonight. Not tonight.*

Maybe it worked, or maybe she just sensed his walls going up, because C.J. changed the subject when she spoke again. "I nearly had a screaming match with Ainsley Hayes today."

She waited expectantly. After a long pause, he grudgingly asked, "About what?"

"Women's rights and--"

Toby shook his head knowingly. "Don't tell me."

"Abortion," she admitted. "I didn't start the argument."

"I find that hard to believe."

"I didn't! She was prowling around, and she stopped in my office to ask me a question about the Supreme Court. I tried really hard to like that woman." C.J. smiled ruefully. "But she started shrieking at me, and I found myself wanting to dump my coffee on her head."

"Sounds like a rational conversation," Toby said sardonically.

"Hey, I'm perfectly capable of calm disagreements," she deadpanned. "I have them with you all the time."

"Calm?"

"I haven't poured coffee on you yet," she pointed out, lightly. He shrugged. She finished her drink. "Toby?"

"Hmm?"

"Why did you leave early?"

He studied the scratches on the bar and wondered what he could tell her. For a fleeting moment, he considered the possibility of telling her everything, of opening the doors he'd closed against memories. It wasn't really an option.

"I was finished with what I was doing," he answered finally, and did not look up to see her dubious expression.

C.J. stood up. "I should go."

"You should," he agreed.

She ran a hand through her hair in frustration. "You're a pain, you know that?"

"So they tell me."

"Worse than Ainsley Hayes."

He glanced up sharply. "Never compare me to a Republican."

C.J. rolled her eyes. He turned back to his drink, listening to her footsteps as she walked out.

*Everything's there: all the plans that came to nothing, the stupid love affairs, and the terrifying ones, the ones where actual happiness opened like a hole beneath his feet and he fell in, then lay helpless while the dirt rained down a little at a time to bury him....*

She watched him through the smeared glass, shaking her head, then opened the door and walked into the bar. "Hey, Hemingway."

He was resting his head in his hands, and he looked up at her, bemused. "You're back."

"Apparently." C.J. jingled her car keys. "Come on, let's go."

Toby blinked. "Go?"

"It's three-thirty in the morning," she informed him. "You can't sit in here all night, and you certainly aren't driving yourself home."

"How did you know I was still here?"

She half-smiled. "Remember what I said about you not being unpredictable?"

"No," he said, after thinking about it.

"Well, you're not. And Jessica called me."

Toby cast a dour look at the bartender. "Traitor."

Jessica shrugged. "I have to get some sleep too, you know."

C.J. tapped her foot impatiently. "Are you coming?"

He stood up, unsteadily. "How does she even have your phone number?"

"Toby!" C.J. snapped. "Now."

"I'm coming," he said meekly, and followed her out. The cold air hit him hard as they crossed the parking lot. C.J. hustled him into her Nissan. "Wait. My car."

"I'll drop you off in the morning." She started the engine. "You don't think I'm going all the way across town to your place, do you? We have to go to work in about three hours."

He was finding it difficult to follow her train of thought. "What?"

She pulled out of the parking lot. "We're going to my house. You'll sleep on the couch. And believe me, you will pay for making me haul you back and forth all night."

Toby said nothing. He leaned back in his seat and shut his eyes, drowsy and confused as C.J. drove. She pulled over in front of her house and looked at him, exasperated but not unkind. She nudged him. "We're here. Come on."

He climbed out of the car awkwardly and made his way up the front steps. "You did, once," he mumbled.

She unlocked the front door and led him into the living room. "What?"

"Pour coffee on me. You don't remember that?"

"Not really, no."

"We were arguing about...." He waved a hand vaguely in the air, trying to remember. Giving up, he sank onto her couch. "It was during the campaign."

"Well, I was probably right." She left the room and returned with a pillow and two folded blankets. "And you were probably wrong."

She tossed the blankets at his head. He caught them ineffectively. "Not very calm of you."

"Go to sleep," she instructed him. "I'll wake you up for work."

"Yeah." He kicked his shoes off and she started out of the room. "C.J.?"

She came back, wearily. "What?"

"Tonight--" He stretched out on the couch, closing his eyes. "It's my anniversary."

"Oh." She crossed her arms and leaned on the wall. "I'm sorry."

"So am I." Toby looked as if he wanted to say something more. C.J. waited, but realized after a few minutes that he had fallen asleep.

*Just a blessed peace that seems final but isn't. And finally the glass that contains and spills this stuff continually while the drinker hunches before it, while the bartender gathers up empties, gives back the drinker's own face....*

He was awakened by the impact of ice-cold water on his face. "God! For the love of--"

"Get up," C.J. ordered. "You made me get my couch wet."

She reached around him, blotting the cushion with a towel. As Toby sat up, his head pounded viciously. He grimaced, and C.J. regarded him with a smirk. "A little tender this morning, are we?"

"Shut up. What time is it?"

"Quarter to six." He groaned. She handed him the towel and headed into her small kitchen. "Get a move on."

He wiped off his face, wincing the morning light. "Coffee?"

"It's not really good for hangovers, you know. That's a myth. What you need is--"

"Coffee," he repeated, in an urgent, plaintive tone.

She relented and brought him a cup. "Drink it fast."

He obeyed, and before long she was hurrying him outside and into her car. On the way back to the bar, he covered his face with his hands, hating the sunlight with every fiber of his being.

"Aren't you meeting today with Pasciacepe and Walsh?" she asked, as she turned into the lot.

He rubbed his eyes, exhausted. "Yeah. No. Sam is. I'm working on the tobacco thing."

She stopped the car. "I'm going to need to know how that goes."

"Of course. I'll be there in half an hour."

"Make it an hour," she suggested. "Go home, take a shower."

"Yeah." Toby opened his door and paused uncomfortably. "I should say...."

C.J. stopped him with a smile. "It's all right."

"I know, but--"

"It's all right." She looked at him earnestly. "Your friends worry."

Toby returned her serious gaze. "I'm fine. I'll see you at work." She nodded, and he got out. He trudged over to his own car and leaned against it, scowling harshly at the bright sky. In the stillness of the early morning, he lifted a hand to shield his eyes and watched C.J. drive away.

*Listen, it's simple, I'm saying it now, while I'm still sober,
while I'm not about to weep bitterly into my own glass,
while you're still here-don't go yet, stay, stay,
give me your shoulder to lean against, steady me, don't let me drop,
I'm so in love with you I can't stand up.*

 

--feedback is as always welcomed.

 

 

 

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