Moving house was a nightmare the like of which I have not experienced for some time - fanfic is cheaper than therapy!
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 7
The thing about the Press Secretary's role is that it involves dealing with the press a lot - and since no comprehensive way has yet been found of doing this without direct interaction, CJ could often be found talking to reporters. This was something that did present a problem on those occasions when she needed to be pried away to deal with an emergency. Rushing up to her and saying, 'there's an emergency,' was clearly not an option, not unless you wanted the entire press corps on your tail in less that 10 seconds.
To deal with this situation CJ had developed what, at the time, had seemed to Carol a rather complicated code system. She had provided her assistant with a range of excuses, with which to interrupt her in the middle of a conversation with a member of the press. They ranged from the relatively innocuous, 'you're late for a meeting,' code for 'there is something else you need to deal with,' through to 'the building's on fire,' code for 'the President is just about to resign,' - which they both hoped they'd never have to use.
Locating CJ without any difficulty at all; Carol found the height thing really helped on occasions such as this, she crossed over to her and waited for a gap in her conversation with Katie.
'I'm sorry CJ, but your mother is on the phone, and she's insisting she speaks to you.' CJ's eyes went wide at Carol's statement - either because she thought she might actually have to speak to her mother, or because she had remembered that this was code for, 'Toby is just about to burst a blood vessel.' Either way, much to Carol's relief she excused herself rapidly and waited until they were out of earshot before she demanded,
'What's gone wrong now?'
CJ paused in the doorway of Toby's office and took a moment to observe the occupant - she could tell he wasn't happy. He was standing with his back to her, looking out of the window, the same position that gave her the opportunity to watch him unobserved meant also that she had no way of judging his expression. However, she had long been proficient in the art of using Toby's body language as a guide to guessing his mood. Back arched, shoulders hunched, a certain irritability in the way he was fidgeting - these were definitely not good signs.
'Toby?' she said quietly, 'you were looking for me and...?' the rest of the sentence died, forgotten, as he turned around to look at her and she saw his face. He looked awful, eyes bloodshot, face pale, brow furrowed from a frown that appeared permanently etched there. A thousand terrible scenarios of death and destruction streaked through her mind before she managed to get out the words, 'what's happened?'
'I've just spent a couple of very pleasant hours with Phillip Cauldwell,' he said in a voice as brittle as finely spun glass. It was difficult to respond, and the words hung there, suspended between them like the portents of doom they were until he added, 'he had some very interesting observations to make.'
'Phillip's a Congressman,' CJ said, an unnecessary observation if ever there was one. Nothing gave her a clearer indication of her companion's mood than the fact that he let get away with stating the obvious without comment, 'you were supposed to be meeting with members of the Senate.'
'Oh, he just dropped by, to share some views with us.'
'About the Bill?'
'At first - but he soon strayed onto more interesting subjects, like you.'
She wasn't surprised. She'd been half expecting something like this for over a week now, it was classic Phillip, a back door approach rather than a direct confrontation. She'd allowed herself to believe that the time that had elapsed since she'd last spoken to him had given an opportunity to calm down and she'd been wrong about that. She'd merely given him time to plot his strategy more effectively. She should have pre-empted this, she should have done something to stop him involving Toby in what was essentially a private fight. This was about their past, it had nothing to do with her relationship with anyone else.
'He was trying to bait you?' She surmised, stepping into the office and closing the door behind her.
'You could say that.'
'Did he succeed?'
'CJ.' It really wasn't such an outrageous question. Toby wasn't exactly famed for his calm approach to challenges. He was well known for having a temper, for liking to inflict verbal damage on those who got in his way. The one saving grace here was that although he might explode with anger he never seemed to stop thinking. So while there had been countless occasions on which she had witnessed him losing his temper, she had never known him to lose his judgement. It was slightly uncomfortable to realise that she might be the weak link in that argument - she wasn't sure she was ready to be the reason he broke that record.
'It's a reasonable question under the circumstances.' He ducked her gaze, never a good sign, and she waited with a sinking heart for what she knew was coming next.
'Sam got in between us,' he acknowledged finally, 'there was a good chance I was going to do something we'd all regret if he hadn't been there.' Well, good for Sam, although CJ supposed he had now been dragged into this mess as well.
'All you had to do was walk away - how hard could it be?' She wasn't at her most sympathetic right now, and in fairness it wasn't really Toby she was angry at. But Toby was the one in range, she couldn't get to Phillip, so Toby was the one she was mad at.
'I don't know CJ, let's see. First I had to listen to him talking about how intimate the two of you were, how fast you jumped into bed together and then he told me you were using me to hurt him. So just which of those things did you imagine I would be able to walk away from?'
'Oh - now I understand perfectly, you weren't defending me, you were justifying how long it's taken for you to get me to sleep with you!' Even as she spoke the words she knew she'd gone too far. Toby reacted as though she had slapped him and her stomach wrenched at the thought that she had probably just destroyed whatever he might have felt for her. But she couldn't call back the words now, and so she ploughed headlong on. 'You need to understand one thing about this situation, it isn't about you and it isn't about the president's domestic policy agenda. This is about Phillip and I - and normal rules do not apply. I don't need you and Sam to protect me, I don't want you to be talking to him about anything other than the Social Security Bill; and if he tries to make you talk about me I expect you to walk away, regardless of what he's saying. Anything else and you play into his hands - is that clear?'
While Toby recognised what she was saying, he didn't think it was practical. Fighting Phillip Cauldwell about the Social Security Bill and keeping him from hurting CJ had coalesced into the same fight for him and he wasn't sure he knew how to draw the kind of line she was talking about.
'Understand this, I will walk away before I allow him to damage this administration - that's always been my position and nothing that has happened between you and I has changed that.' He couldn't reach her; there was nothing he could say right now to either calm her down or offer her comfort, and even if he could find the words he was sure she wouldn't accept them. He was worried and hurt as well, and although he knew what he ought to do was keep quiet, that wasn't who he was.
'I notice you aren't racing to deny all the things he told me about you.' It was possibly the worst thing he could have said to her right then, he saw the fury in her eyes and couldn't decide if he was sorry or glad.
'There's nothing to deny.' It wasn't the answer he wanted to hear, but it was the answer he deserved.
Toby flinched as CJ slammed the door on her way out - he returned to gazing despondently out of the window and wondered what he was going to do now.
Several hours later he still hadn't reached any firm conclusion about that. He had however, driven away his staff with a ferocious bad mood, even Sam had withdrawn from the field of battle. His meeting with the President and Leo had been mercifully brief and the painkillers he had taken had done nothing at all to diminish the insistent pounding of his headache. He ought to go home and get some sleep, he ought to remove every trace of CJ Cregg from his life. Unfortunately he was instead standing outside her office door for the third time in twenty minutes facing the unpalatable fact that he wasn't going to be able to leave without at least trying to talk to her.
CJ was pacing. She was reliving every moment of the horror of her fight with Toby and rapidly coming to the conclusion that she had been an absolute bitch to him. She had said unforgivable things to someone she cared about and although some of her annoyance had been justified she had still been way out of line. She should probably be worrying that this made it impossible for them to combine a professional and personal relationship; but in fact all she could think about was the look in his eyes as she laid into him. She was going to have to apologise if she wanted to have any chance of sleeping tonight.
CJ opened her office door to go in search of Toby at precisely the same moment that he stepped up to it to knock. Carol had long since departed for the day and so there was no one to witness their immediate reaction to each other - which was probably just as well, since neither of them had much in the way of a poker face at that moment.
'I was just coming to find you,' CJ found her voice first.
'I wanted to make sure you were OK,' she blinked back unexpected tears and said unevenly
'Don't even try to be nice to me, not after the way I spoke to you.'
'We both said things we didn't mean - and you were right, letting him goad me into an argument about you was a mistake.'
'I went too far,' she pointed out, closing the door behind them as they stepped back into her office. Toby tried to see past the shadows in the room to look at her eyes, her face - he thought she looked tired and worried, and he knew he had played a part in that.
'Yes, you did,' he agreed, not sparing her, surprised when she didn't respond immediately, watching the way she bit her lip nervously. Almost as though she was worried about what he might say next. 'I know you think this is your problem and that you should be the one to sort it out, but CJ, Cauldwell isn't playing that game, he's out to damage all of us if he can - and you can't manage this on your own.' He reached out to touch her cheek with his fingertips, surprised and relieved when she turned her face towards his caress. 'You don't have to do this on your own, let me help?'
'I don't know if I can do that, I don't think I know how to do that.' God he wanted to hold her, but he wasn't sure if she'd let him, she looked so stiff, so isolated, so much as though she was trying to maintain control amidst impossible circumstances.
His offer of help almost made her cry; she struggled to hold onto her determination that she could handle this, knowing that he was offering her assistance for all the right reasons; that if their positions were reversed she would be making him exactly the same offer right now. But still she hesitated, she couldn't allow him to think of her as weak, it was impossible that they could manage a relationship if that was the case.
'This isn't about strength CJ, this is about letting people who care about you help, no one is going to think any the less of you, I'm certainly not, just let me in, a little? I won't let you down' He was a very smart man.
The two steps it took her to reach him felt like the longest and hardest of her life, but he was right there and he didn't let go. He made soothing noises, stroked her head and shoulders, pulled her with him to sit on the couch and whispered endearments into her ear. In other circumstances she might have questioned whether she deserved such gentle, compassionate treatment - but right then she couldn't get beyond just how good it felt to have him hold her.
'Are we going to talk about this?' he asked an interminable time later, his mind still getting used to the feeling of her body curled around his.
'About Phillip and I?'
'Its time, don't you think?' That was extremely generous of him, since by any other consideration it was beyond time. He tightened his hold on her for just a moment and she took a quick, sharp breath - this was going to be painful, but necessary, she told herself.
'I was more reckless then, we had great chemistry, we were besotted with each other from the very first moment, it was incredible - and frightening. I thought he loved me, I really did. I absolutely believed in him, until the moment I saw him stand there and tell the world he and his wife had a strong, stable marriage and by the way he'd make a great President - and then, I don't think I've ever been so angry in my entire life. I wanted to kill him, I wanted to sweep him out of existence in the most painful way possible.'
'No, its not.' She shifted around on the couch so that she could look him in the eyes, she couldn't believe it had taken her this long to work it out. 'You believed him, didn't you? When he said I was using you to hurt him, you believed him.'
'I believed him for a split second,' he ducked her gaze, 'I'm so sorry, I don't know why I thought you'd be capable of doing that.' She didn't reply at once, and then she leaned over and kissed him softly in the cheek. 'I'm quite sure I don't deserve that,' was his response.
'The one thing I need to believe is that we are going to make each other stronger, not weaker by being together. I'm not asking for blind faith from you Toby, I want you to believe in me because you know me, because you have confidence in me. I don't ever want us to use what we might have together as a way of hiding from reality.' That told him even more about her relationship with Cauldwell and he felt his anxiety about that slip away at last, it wasn't the same thing at all, what they stood on the brink of was infinitely more complex and rewarding.
'Is the other thing he said worrying you as well?' For a moment he couldn't imagine what she meant, and then she added, 'because we can get out of here, go back to my apartment or yours and address that right now.'
'I don't want it to be because you feel you have something to prove to me.'
'OK, how about because of this?' She brushed her lips against his, deepening the kiss as he responded, pulling back just as his resolve cracked.
'I thought we had a no kissing in your office rule?' he said breathlessly.
'That only applied to a first kiss.' She smiled at him and then realised it had been several hours since she had felt like doing that. 'Maybe it isn't such a good idea, I don't know about you but I'm exhausted.'
'I actually have a headache, although it's getting better by the moment.' This time she laughed out loud at him,
'You have a headache - terrific. Some hot date you are.'
'How about dinner, somewhere quiet? As a compromise?' She nodded and he reluctantly loosened his hold on her so that she could stand and start packing away some files. He watched her, marvelling not only that they had survived such a terrible argument, but that it seemed to have made them stronger, brought them closer together.
He sighed when the phone rang, seeing his few quiet hours with her about to disappear. CJ shrugged and reached for the phone, listening for a few seconds before asking the two questions that made Toby quite certain that she was talking to a reporter.
'Has the story got legs?' Followed shortly by, 'what's your absolute deadline for this?' When she put the phone down she pinched the bridge of her nose once and then looked over at her companion. 'That was the Post, they want me to comment on a story that a senior aide to the President was having a relationship with Phillip Cauldwell four years ago.'
'Do they mean you?'
'Well, unless you know something about Sam or Josh that I don't.' There was a long silence, CJ buried her head in her hands for a moment and then looked up, at least it was clear what she needed to do. 'Find Sam and Josh, I have to talk to Leo.'
'They're going to run with the story?'
To Be Continued