So - this is part 5, and just in case the romance is getting a bit too much for you - all I'll say is, don't worry.
Thanks to Suz and Claire (and Fi although she won't read this) who listen and laugh and give the best advice in the world.
TITLE: Current Affairs
AUTHOR: Morgan firstname.lastname@example.org
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 5
Toby changed position slightly so it was possible for him to look across the room and see CJ, while still ignoring everyone else at the party. If it hadn't been for her presence this whole evening would have been unmitigated torture. He wasn't exactly enjoying himself right now, but at least he wasn't involved in some inane conversation with a person he had no wish to speak to. His plan for the evening was a simple one, he was just going to stand here, drink his champagne and think about CJ.
He'd been concerned about her this week, and although over the last few days she seemed to have shrugged off her worries about Phillip Cauldwell, Toby was still wondering if her certainty that he would 'do something' was due to her superior knowledge of the man, or if she was just not ready to let go of the relationship she'd had with him.
He hadn't called her on this, and his own reticence surprised him. He wasn't given to subtlety or sensitivity in his treatment of others and normally his approach to personal problems was reminiscent of a bull in a china shop. So, what was holding him back now? Was he afraid that if he pushed her he'd lose her? Or was it simply that he was wary of asking a quesation the answer to which he might not like?
There had been times in the last week when he had been in serious danger of being happy. A condition he had precious little experience of, and one he was attributing solely to CJ - certainly nothing else about this week threatened to crack his facade of carefully controlled pessimism. It seemed inconceivable that their relationship could have changed so entirely and in such a short time, and although it was of little significance in the overall scheme of things, he couldn't help but wonder what had brought about that change? What had prompted her to take a chance on someone with as poor a track record with relationship as him?
He smiled, perfectly aware that she had no idea he was looking at her and that he was safe to watch and speculate for a while yet. She was wearing the gold suit and he had no idea if it was a coincidence or if she had known, somehow, that he really like that particular outfit - or at least the way she looked in it. The last time she'd worn it he hadn't been able to stop looking at her, he'd actually thought she might notice, thought or hoped perhaps. It had been on the tip of his tongue to ask her to have dinner with him that night, but the moment had passed; not helped by the fact that he had been convinced that she would say no.
'Somehow I have the impression you are as pleased to be here as I am.'
There was of course, one person who Toby had been avoiding all evening, one person guaranteed to help him cross that line between almost enjoying himself and being in his own, personal version of hell.
'Your Honour,' he turned around, trying and failing to rearrange his features into an appropriate expression, 'its a pleasure to be here.'
'We both know you don't mean that,' Roberto Mendoza, member of the Supreme Court and a man with an uncanny knack for torturing innocent Communication's Directors smiled, almost gleefully at the discomfort of the man before him. 'And yet you are here.'
'I've never felt entirely safe disagreeing with the President - although I realise that's something you don't have a problem with.' Mendoza laughed and said conversationally,
'You know the worst thing about being on the Supreme Court? You listen to arguments all day, but no one actually argues with you. I have missed your refreshing approach Toby.' Toby sighed, resigned to a period of torment.
'I wish I could say the feeling was mutual sir, but all honesty, the day you were no longer my responsibility was one of the happiest days of my life.'
'I was wondering why Ms Cregg was here,' Toby followed his companion's eyes as they travelled across the room to find CJ, actually he was hoping she would recognise a silent plea for assistance, but she showed no sign of having seen him. 'Is she supposed to stop you from getting into trouble? Or is her job to protect me?'
'Neither - she's here at my invitation, this is a social occasion.' The Judge's eyes darted back to Toby,
'I see,' he breathed, 'this wouldn't be a date, would it?'
'All due respect sir, but is that any of your business?'
'No,' he agreed, 'but I am interested. We never talked about you Toby, all those hours planning, strategising, you lecturing me - and we never talked about you. Why was that?'
'Because it would have been an excruitating experience for both of us?' Toby offered.
'We didn't talk about my marriage or my family. I'm sure you checked it out - made sure I was faithful husband, a devoted father - but we hardly talked about what my family means to me. Except once, in passing.' Toby waited, his knowledge of the man before him leaving him in no doubt that something else was coming. 'I'm going to give you saome free advice - when I met the woman who is now my wife it changed everything, it was differenct to every other relationship I'd had. I felt as though I'd been waiting for it, preparing for it for all my life. I waited for something that special for a long time, but I'm glad that I did. I am a great deal happeier than I used to be.' His eyes raised on CJ once more before he added, 'you're far more of a pain in the ass than I ever was Toby. If you find a woman prepared to put up with you - see that you hold onto her.'
Toby opened his mouth to reply, to point out that he and Mendoza had absolutely nothing in common, that their experiences couldn't possibly be compared and then to contradict the Judge's assumption that he was less of a pain in the ass, but, perhaps fortunately, a familiar voice got there first.
'Toby, I'm sorry to interrupt you, but I'm afraid my pager just went off, I need to get to the White House.'
'Why did your pager go off? Why didn't my pager go off?' Toby asked, nose firmly out of joint. CJ looked him dead in the eye and said clamly,
'I don't know Toby, possibly because Leo wants to talk to me and doesn't want to talk to you? I'm only telling you because we both know there will be no dealing with you if you think there is something going on that you don't know about. Of course you can stay here if you like but...'
'No, its fine, I'm sorry sir,' Toby turned to Mendoza, who'd been watching their entire exchange with considerable interest. 'I'm afraid the White House has called.'
'So it appears. It was a pleasure Toby, as always. Ms Cregg, there's an ancient Chinese curse that might be appropriate to your situation, "may you live in interesting times."'
'Thank you, sir, I think,' CJ responded and then as she and Toby walked towards the exit she asked, 'do I even want to know what that was about?'
'Probably not. So, what's going on?'
'Nothing,' she said with a rapid sidelong glance in his direction. She increased her pace fractionally and he had to hurry to catch up with her.
'What do you men, nothing?' He looked over at her in sudden realisation, 'do you even have your pager with you CJ?'
'Of course, I never go anywhere without my pager.'
'OK - did it go off?'
'Not exactly - in fact not at all.' She smiled mischeviously and explained, 'I thought I ought to get you away from Mendoza before he put you in a bad mood for the rest of the evening. This way you can tell Leo you were there, you can even say you spoke to the guest of honour - but we get to have coffee at my place instead of enduring a moment more of a truly boring event. I don't think I could have sat through the speeches.'
'CJ,' Toby shook his head in admiration and amusement at her gall. 'Thank you.'
To the accompaniment of the gentle clink of crockery Toby stood in the living room of CJs apartment and tried to overcome his surprise - whatever he had been expecting, it wasn't this.
'Have you lived here long?' He asked crossing to the small kitchen as CJ poured hot water onto the coffee beans she had just ground up.
'When I first came to DC I stayed in a hotel for a few weeks, and then I rented this place.'
He nodded and glanced back over his shoulder at the bare, almost stark surroundings. He could tell more about her personality from her office than this room. Everyting was so neutral, so careful - he'd known as soon as he'd stepped through the front door that she couldn't possibly have decorated it herself. In fact, as far as he could tell the only things she had contributed to the room was a large, old fashioned desk and several shelves of books.
'I don't exactly have the time to decorate Toby,' she said almost defensively as she picked up the tray and followed him over to the couch, 'and I'm actually not here that much. It wasn't as though I was living here in Washington, like the rest of you.'
'I understand all that,' he looked at her searchingly for a moment, 'I just imagined that you would be someone who's home environment mattered to them - I'm surprised that's all. This place looks like you just unpacked.'
'I invite you into my home and you criticize it, some guest you are.' He started to respond but she handed him a cup of coffee instead and looked around the room, trying to see it through Toby's eyes. It really wasn't a room that said anything about who she was. When she'd moved in part of the apartment's charm had been its neutral decor. She'd seen so many other places where she'd known she'd have to redecorate if she was going to survive living in them - and she didn't have the time for that. But now, over a year later she had to admit, at least to herself, that it was a little depressing.
'I really need to do something about it, don't I?' She said ruefully, 'I'm not sure when I'll find the time.'
'You don't think you've been avoiding making a commitment?' Toby asked softly, 'living in a place like this means that if it all goes wrong you can be out of here in what? Hours? You aren't putting down roots in DC, is that because you think you might not be staying long?'
It was a staggeringly accurate assessment and CJ took a rapid sip of scalding hot coffee in shock. What on earth was she doing getting involved with someone who could walk in and out of her psyche as though he had his own key?
'I suppose you could look at it like that.' Her intense discomfort made Toby wish he'd never touched on the subject. 'I've upset you,' he said bluntly, 'CJ that was the last thing I intended, sometimes I get a little ahead of myself.'
'No, it's fine.' She touched his hand and reminded herself that there was nothing to be afraid of. 'You're right, its not easy to hear, that's all. I think for the last four years I've been living out of a suitcase; ready to move on at a moment's notice, running away from myself. During the campaign, that was what everyone did but,' she looked around her again, picturing the room in the warm colours she would choose if she were to decorate for herself, 'perhaps it is time to change that.'
The difficult moment passed and they moved on to other subjects. The coffee cooled, forgotten, as they edged closer to one another while they worked their way through a diverse range of subjects, arguing fiercely on some occasions and then surprising themselves by being in agreement on other things. A throwaway remark of Toby's conjured up the ghost of Congresswoman Wyatt and there was a moment of silence while they both wondered who would make the first move.
'What went wrong between the two of you?' CJ asked at last, reaching over and putting her half empty cup on the table. She looked over at her companion when he didn't answer at once, he was gazing off into the distance and presumably into the past. 'Toby?'
'I don't have a complete answer to that - and if you were to ask Andi she'd disagree with everything I'm about to say - but,' he paused again, rubbing one hand over his forehead, 'I think she got tired of living with me and my bad temper, of everything always having turn into fight - and I think she lost hope that I would change.'
'How did she want you to change?'
'She thought I should be different at home, less intense, less difficult. She probably has a point about that.' CJ looked at him, a little astonished at someone who could talk about a divorce without sounding self-pitying, trying to justify his behaviour or blame the other party for what had gone wrong. 'For all that I think I miss her more than she misses me.' He looked down for a moment and then back up at her, 'did you want to know for any particular reason? Trying to work out how tough it might be to get close to me?'
'I already know that.' She smiled suddenly and impulsively leaned forward to kiss him rapidly on the lips. She had planned to retreat and resume their conversation, she was playing games, pushing the boundaries of their new found intimacy. But she hesitated, fatally, just inches away from his lips to see what the effect of her sudden action would be, and in a split second he had reached out, grabbed her and pulled her mouth back onto his.
They pulled apart after several minutes, hours, days, weeks - CJ wasn't sure which and right then she didn't care that much. They were both breathing heavily and had ended up rather more entwined than they had been before. She closed her eyes and relived the moment, the softness and the heat of his mouth, the sudden burst of urgency that had flooded through her at his touch.
'I've been wondering about that,' Toby said as she opened her eyes, he watched her carefully for a moment and then touched a fingertip to her slightly swollen lips.
'So have I,' she replied softly, knowing he was talking about passion and desire, 'I think I have my answer.'
'Why didn't you want me to kiss you in your office?' he asked suddenly and she had to struggle to remember what he was talking about.
'Oh - I was just, well, I just wanted... Danny kissed me for the first time in my office,' she confessed at last, 'I wanted something different for us,'
'I see,' she watched him struggle not to ask the question and decided to be charitable and put him out of his misery.
'No, he never kissed me in this apartment. In fact he has never been to this apartment.'
Half an hour later she paused by the front door as he put on his coat, they had agreed that it was late and he should be going.
'Thank you for tonight.'
'You're welcome,' she leaned against the door and waited, a little disappointed with the chaste kiss on her cheek. 'Toby?' She wasn't the only one who could play games, and if he was paying her back a little for earlier then his intent floundered in the face of her expression. As a goodnight kiss it was unexceptional - but when CJ closed the door behind her guest her senses were reeling with the mixture of gentleness and passion she had just experienced - and she had just one question. How on earth was she going to get to sleep now?
To Be Continued