TITLE: Current Affairs
AUTHOR: Morgan email@example.com
SUMMARY: In the sequel to Past Tense, CJ and Toby explore their feelings for one another, with her former lover in the wings and the rest of the staff looking on.
DISCLAIMER: The West Wing belongs to NBC et al. I'm not quite sure why I'm doing this, I just am - but its for entertainment purposes only - no disrespect is intended.
Current Affairs - part 2
Where on earth was she going to start? CJ looked across her apartment at Phillip as he tried to nonchantly examine her bookshelves. He was obviously hurt and confused and she was just about to make things a thousand times worse.
'I'm sorry about tonight,' she began when the strained silence threatened to become unbearable, 'it was wrong of me to just leave - but there are some things going on that I need to explain to you.' She looked up to find him watching her intently and took a breath, she was the President's Press Secretary damn it, how hard could this be?
'First of all - there have been some concerns that our,' she hesitated over the word relationship and decided not to use it, 'connection, will give the impression that some sort of deal was made to ensure that the Social Security Bill passed.'
'CJ - you can't seriously believe that anyone will think that I would agree to help the bill pass if you went out with me?'
'It doesn't matter if anyone believes it or not - the suggestion will be damaging enough, and I'm not prepared to take that risk.'
'So you're going to put your career first?' It was possibly the worst thing he could have said, and to his credit he seemed to realise that mere seconds after the words had left his mouth, 'CJ...'
'I honestly don't think its a decision you have any right to be critical of.' Her words hung like weapons in the air between them, raising the spectre of another time and place and a battle in which she had never stood a chance.
'You're right, I'm sorry.' He crossed the room to stand closer to her, 'I just think that we belong together and I don't want to lose you again.'
CJ closed her eyes and fought back an instinctive urge to respond to his entreaty, to simply step into his arms and forget everything else. She'd done it so often before, four years ago they had built a whole relationship around finding a place to hide away from the world together, a shelter from the storm of their lives. But she no longer wanted a relationship that would keep her suspended outside reality, she wanted real, grounded; something that would give her strength in adversity, not encourage her to run away. When she did not react Phillip asked,
'Is that why you left tonight? Because you've been under pressure? Because your colleagues have been talking about the impropriety of our seeing one another?'
'Not exactly - although it has been mentioned.' She looked desperately around the room, seeking either inspiration or an escape route and finding neither. 'You assumed I was single,' she said finally, 'you asked me out, told me about your divorce - but you didn't ask me if I was seeing anyone.'
'CJ - this is Washington, nothing is a secret. I asked around and no one mentioned a significant relationship, so I just assumed...' his expression changed, as though he had suddenly realised what she was trying to tell him. 'That was clearly a mistake on my part, there is someone isn't there? You were with Toby Ziegler tonight, is it him?'
'Phillip,' she shouldn't really have been surprised that he had recognised Toby, the political community in Washington was a small town in the sense that everyone knew everyone else, or at least could put a name to them.
'Was he the reason you left the reception tonight?' It was a particularly astute question and it gave her no real option but to tell the truth.
'I don't understand. What's going on, why didn't you say anything, what kind of game are you playing CJ?'
'Please try to understand, I'm not trying to hurt you. Toby and I aren't having a relationship.'
'Then what...?' She waved his question away.
'Could you just let me finish? We aren't having a relationship but there are some feelings between us and we both want to explore them. I can't do that and carry on seeing you - and even if Toby wasn't involved I'd still be sitting here telling you that we can't see each other now, maybe if it doesn't work out with Toby and I, in a couple of months perhaps...'
'Why him? What does he have that I don't?' It was the one question she had been hoping he wouldn't ask, but at the same time it was the question she'd been waiting four years to answer.
'Honestly?' His nod was abrupt, determined, but she wasn't sure he really wanted to hear this. 'He's never betrayed me Phillip.' The sharp intake of breath was his first response. She waited, knowing that he would not be able to leave the challenge unanswered.
'I wanted to be President CJ, was that such a crime?'
'No, it wasn't. But you were prepared to misrepresent yourself to get there Phillip. You had no qualms about standing up and telling the world you were happily married, you were able to conveniently forget that you were in love with me - and I have to believe that you were in love with me, otherwise I don't think I could live with myself. You didn't have the guts to stand up and say despite your best efforts your marriage had come to an end - like the marriages of millions people and that you needed to move on rather than maintain the pretense.'
'I wanted to win CJ, if I'd said that I wouldn't have stood a chance.'
'We'll never know now, will we.' His response was to turn and walk to the door, and she would have let him go. But he stopped and looked back, almost reluctantly.
'I'd like to tell you I was walking out of your life with no intention of returning, but I've already learnt how hard it is to forget you and I know myself well enough to realise that I'm not ready to give up on what we could have together.' She had no response to give to that, and as he opened the door to leave his parting words were, 'and for the record, I never forgot that I was in love with you.'
It seemed that the air reverberated with the aftershocks of their confrontation. CJ blinked back tears and realised that she had no idea if she was upset because she'd hurt Phillip, or because of what they had said to each other. She pushed aside another, insidious thought, that she was upset because she had just made a terrible mistake.
The insistent ringing of the telephone bought her back to reality with a bump. She looked as the receiver for a moment, unable to remember quite what she was supposed to do to make the noise stop. When she did remember she remained unenthusiastic, she really didn't want to speak to anyone - but being constantly available went with the job.
'Are you all right?'
'Toby?' She shook her head, not quite able to understand how it was possible he could be on the phone within seconds of Phillip having left. 'Are you psychic?'
'No, I'm outside.' She crossed the room and looked out of the window, there was indeed a familiar figure standing beside the front steps.
'Have you been standing out there all this time?'
'I found a cab and had it drive round the block until his car was gone.' Amusement warred with irritation in her reaction, what could you do with someone like that?
'You're checking up on me?'
'No,' he actually sounded annoyed, of course there were any number of things that could have caused that, although her suspicion that it was her question was confirmed a moment later when he added, 'I wanted to make sure you were all right.'
'I'm fine,' she said softly, feeling that she had been ungrateful, 'he was angry, hurt. I'm worried that he might still derail the Social Security bill.'
'You know him better than anyone, do you think he'd do that to get back at you?'
'He might, we should be prepared.'
'Unfortunately being prepared for disaster is one of the things we excel at. If we could focus more on preventing disasters rather than capturing victory from the jaws of defeat every time we might get more done.' She wasn't ready to hear one of his all too frequent listings of their failures.
'We should call Josh, get him to check in with the votes Phillip unblocked for us.'
'I'll talk to Josh in the morning. There's nothing we can do tonight - OK?'
'OK.' He turned around and looked up at her window.
'Are you sure you're all right?'
'It wasn't an easy conversation - I'm glad its over. Do you want to come in for coffee?'
'Yes,' she waited expectantly but he didn't move, 'but its probably not a good idea right now.'
'It probably isn't,' she was forced to agree and yet she could have used his company, she could certainly have done with him telling her that everything was going to be all right. But that was never going to happen, she was fairly sure that Toby was incapable of uttering platitudes or sugar coating the truth. His honsety was his greatest gift and his heaviest burden. 'Thank you.'
'Don't worry about it.' She wasn't sure if he was responding uncomfortably to her gratitude or if he was telling her she shouldn't be concerned about Phillip - or perhaps a little of both. 'I suppose you realise I have to find another cab now?' he said into the phone, 'there isn't any other woman I'd roam the streets of Washigton for in the middle of the night, I hope you realise that. And if you think I'm going to burst into song just because I'm outside your window you're deluded.''
'I'm duly flattered - and I'm quite sure I don't want you to start singing.' Her only answer was the click of the call being terminated. She watched as he shrugged and started to walk away; shoulders hunched, body language suggesting irritation, she couldn't help smiling at the picture he presented.
At the corner of her street he paused and looked back. When he realised she was still standing there, watching his departure, a shadow of naked emotion crossed his face. There was more vulnerability there than CJ had ever seen from him and she was torn between sheer terror and jubilation. What had she got herself into?
To Be Continued