TITLE: "With Explanation Kind"
AUTHOR: Luna (lunavudu@a...)
ARCHIVE: Ask me; it's at http://www.geocities.com/spark_fanfic/violet
SUMMARY: Tell all the truth, but tell it slant.
NOTES: They're not mine. Props to Emily Dickinson and Peter S.
Beagle. Godzilla-sized props to Jess. Please send feedback.

With Explanation Kind

The grand jury has been impaneled.

The grand jury is watchful, blank-faced as the glossy fake oak on the
walls. They sit in cheap blue chairs; they can't possibly be
comfortable, but in the high-ceilinged room they make no complaints.
They shift in their seats, cross and uncross legs, rustling trousers
and pantyhose. They take notes intermittently, though some seem to
be doing so just to keep their hands occupied. The grand jurors have
ordinary human faces, bumpy noses and freckles and frizzy hair,
goosebumps raised by the whir of air-conditioning and ceiling fans.
C.J. is beginning to hate them.

It seems that she has barely spoken all day. The lawyers do most of
the talking, and she confines herself to the appropriate one-word
answers. It makes her uncomfortable, because she is used to
answering questions with nerve, with confidence, with authority. For
this day, too, she has prepared statements, but they are tiny and
inflexible. "Yes," she says. Or, "No." Or, "I don't recall."

They say juries are sympathetic to the color blue. But the jury has
probably heard it too, and she doesn't want to look too desperate.
Her suit is dove gray; the skirt ends just above the knee. She has
worn it countless times before and it has never been so
uncomfortable. She does her best to sit straight in her chair and
maintain eye-contact. She's used to being watched, used to feeling
people's eyes and judgments passing over her. It should not be
twisting her up so badly, but her insides feel like a taut length of
knotted twine.

She's had good coaching; there are very few questions that she hasn't
rehearsed with Babish or Ainsley or her own lawyer. They ask about
how Leo McGarry and Toby Ziegler brought her into the campaign when
she was a virtual unknown with negligible experience. They ask about
last year's State of the Union. They ask about her interactions with
the Press Corps in general and Danny in particular. They ask about
Rosslyn. They ask about Manhattan, Kansas. And they ask about
several of the hundreds of times she has stood in front of the image
of the White House and lied.

She gives them the careful answers she has practiced, even when her
instinct is to add an explanation. Seven times, they ask whether
anyone ever asked her to lie. That's an easy one. Four times, they
ask whether she never had reason to suspect the President's
condition. That's her least favorite question of all. Each time,
there is more irony, more sarcasm, more disbelief. Each time, she
wonders how much she believes her answer. Each time, she looks back
at the jury as she says no.

A few eternities pass before she can step down. It's hard to believe
they're done, hard to believe she's ever done anything but sit still
and test the limits of her self-control. She holds herself steady
through the reminders that she can't discuss this, that she's still
under subpoena and may be called back at any juncture. She holds her
dignity as she leaves, holds down the sigh that is nested in her
throat.

Her lawyer comes up behind her and touches her arm. "C.J.," she
says, "You did wonderfully in there."

"Did I?" She runs a hand over her face. "Am I going to have to come
back?"

"Yeah. Probably another half dozen times. But you handled today
very well. You're great under pressure."

"I should get that tattooed across my chest," she quips, and pictures
it for a second, pictures herself pulling open her shirt like
Superman to reveal her crime-fighting motto. "Or maybe not."

The lawyer smiles fleetingly and stops walking along with her. "Feel
good about yourself today," she calls. The sigh spreads its wings
then, but C.J. lets it fly only when the elevator doors have closed,
and she is briefly in a private place.

She could go back to the office. She wants to, but she won't. She's
used to being looked at, but she doesn't think she could stand the
curious glances and the worried ones and the suspicious ones. She's
not allowed to talk about it, so she dreads being asked about it. Of
course, she ought to go home but that's the last place she wants to
be. Second to last. Instead she drives to a place she isn't
supposed to be, at least not right now. She lets herself in with the
spare key she's not supposed to use. And then the last of her energy
is gone, and she falls apart and falls asleep.

Toby gets home by one in the morning, a bit earlier than usual. He
drops his briefcase by the door and wearily sheds his jacket; his tie
has long since been discarded. He turns the light on, sees her and
shakes his head, frowning. He says her name, says it again louder.
She doesn't stir.

His sofa is old and narrow, but comfortable. She's curled up with
her face buried in the cranny between the back and the arm and the
cushion. Her hands are folded under her neck; her knees bent and
ankles crossed. Her jacket is draped over the corner of the couch,
but she still has her shoes on. Her breathing is muffled and slow.
Toby stands beside her, shakes her arm slightly, touches her shoulder
blades with one tentative fingertip as if he expects wings to spring
from them. She barely even moves.

Nervously, he shuffles into the postage-stamp sized kitchen, rinses
out a glass and fills it with water. He dips his fingers into it as
he carries it back to her, and sprinkles a few droplets on her face.
She sniffles softly and tries to turn away. He repeats the splashing
gesture with a little more water, and speaks sternly. "Wake up."

She does, in one burst, jerking away from him and sitting up
straight. "Hey."

"Hello," he replies, setting the glass down on the table.

She rubs the water off her face, blinking helplessly. "I'm sorry."
A yawn rumbles through her body like distant thunder. "For, you
know, coming in."

"Yeah." He retreats into the kitchen as she stretches out. "Well.
Do you want a drink?"

"Sure. What do you have?"

She can hear cabinet doors and the refrigerator opening and shutting
in a flurry. "Actually, I have nothing."

"At all?"

"There're approximately three drops of Jack Daniels stuck to the
bottom of this bottle," he tells her. "Other than that, nothing."

C.J. raises a hand to massage the side of her neck. "How'd you let
that happen?"

"It's a serious oversight, and one that I can't explain." Toby sits
down sheepishly next to her.

Her laughter is hollow and chilling as an open window in
winter. "Try flying that one past a team of lawyers."

"Ah," he says, glad she broached the subject before he had to
try. "Judgment Day."

"Part one of a series," she says, the laugh dimming to a sour smile.

"Of course you can't talk about it."

"You did go to law school, didn't you?"

"And of course it wasn't pleasant," he adds.

"I'm not dead yet." She tilts her head back and lets her eyelids
fall. "I'm just resting."

He nods, not surprised but wishing it was otherwise. "I'm sure you
were fine."

"You're sure?" Her eyes snap open. "How do you know I didn't have a
nervous breakdown? How do you know I didn't start crying and tell
them I drink too much and drive too fast and harbor impure thoughts
and once stole a stapler from the office?"

"I don't," he admits, idly twisting his fingers together. "Did you?"

"Not really," she murmurs. "Not this time."

He regards her seriously. "I didn't expect anything else from you."

She acknowledges the implied compliment by letting her tense
shoulders slump. "I lied," she says, after a moment.

"You're not supposed to talk about it."

"I wasn't talking about the grand jury. I think." She shakes her
head, confused and bitter. "The truth, the whole truth, and nothing
but the truth. It doesn't exist, does it?"

"It's an abstract ideal," he admits.

"There's this gap, this void..." She trails off, drawing an aimless
arc in the air. "Between the things we think we see and the things
we let ourselves take in. We never know anything for real, do we?"

"C.J., it's late for one of these--"

"I don't care. I'm going to sit here and have disturbing, dramatic
insights into human nature, no matter what time it is."

"Okay."

"We lie," she says, her tone harsh. "We lie by omission and we lie
outright, and we lie to people we love and to strangers, and under
oath, and to ourselves. We're dishonest. We're liars. And it's not
like I was unaware of this, but I've always thought I..." She turns
her eyes to him then, and they are clouded and wet. "I thought I was
a decent person."

"You're a person," he emphasizes, putting a hand to his chin. "You
can't expect to be better than human."

"You do it all the time," she points out.

"I never claimed to be a person," he says, awkwardly forcing
lightness into his voice. She rolls her eyes, but some real mirth is
returning to them, so he continues, "Was it my stapler you stole?"

"I don't recall," she deadpans.

"Because I've been, you know, hunting around for a culprit."

Her eyebrows arch gracefully. "Shouldn't you be more concerned with
the fact that I've been harboring impure thoughts?"

"Is that a mortal sin too?" Toby wonders. "As bad as stealing?"

"As bad as lying," C.J. answers.

There is a roughness in her voice, a desolation, and he knows it is
past time for him to kiss her. As he does it, he puts his hands on
her shoulders, clasping them tightly as though he could draw the
despair out of her with his touch. He says her name, says it again
louder. She unbuttons her blouse herself, not noticing the tremble
of her hands. He presses her gently back as his mouth moves lower,
burning along a path where she can imagine words inked into her
skin. She has no prepared words for this, but again her
articulations are broken into small, precise pieces. "Yes," she
says, and "Don't," and "Don't stop."

He must have carried her to the bed, she thinks later, because she
definitely wasn't walking, and the darkness of his eyes consumed her.

"I wore gray for the jury," she says, gazing at the puddle of her
discarded skirt and stockings on the floor.

"Yeah?" he replies, in a tone that suggests she might as well be
speaking Swahili.

"You don't think it matters?"

"C.J., you could've been wearing a nun's habit for all the difference
it makes. No one in that room was going to trust you off the bat."

"Well." She swallows hard. "That's reassuring."

"It's late, what do you want?"

"To be wined and dined," she teases. "Too bad your kitchen is a
wasteland."

"And everything's closed."

She thinks for a moment and her eyes widen. "I know where there's a
bottle."

"Of?"

"Mid-range Merlot that you'll drink anyway."

He chuckles, sitting up. "Where?"

"In the cabinet above my fridge."

"That's logical."

"Thanks, Mr. Spock." She slides her fingers through her tousled
hair. "I was hiding it from myself. I drink too much."

Even in the dimness of the bedroom, he sees the shadows pooling under
her eyes and is wounded by them. "We could go over there and find
this phantom bottle of bad wine."

"We could," she agrees, lifting her head. "Although I look best with
a good dry martini in my hand. With a couple of olives. I could
really go for some olives. I wonder if we could find an open
supermarket."

He wrinkles his forehead at her. "This is a strange craving."

"Well, I'm not pregnant," she says wryly. "Are those the most
beautiful words in the language or what?"

"No," he says. An edge glints in his voice like a knife, and for an
instant she feels as if she stabbed him with it.

"Okay," she says cautiously. "So which ones are?"

He thinks of several profound things to say, solemn things that might
thrill her or tug out her tears. He voices none of them. "Yankees
win," he says.

She laughs, more genuinely this time if not joyfully. "This is only
the first of many days that'll be like this. The grand jury will be
sitting for a long time."

"Yeah."

"I'm great under pressure," she declares.

"So I've noticed," he says, and grazes the backs of his fingers
lightly against her upper arm. Though her expression is still sad, a
light is piercing the blur in her eyes. Soon, the smile will come
through. And they will go together, and search for olives and wine.

* * *

End. Feedback would be delightful.

 

 

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