OK - so remember this? Its been slightly delayed by my holiday - but hey - I saw the season premiere at last, so that's clearly a good excuse. You really don't want to know how close I was to crying at times!
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 8
There is nothing worse than watching someone you care about going through hell and not being able to help them. That was the nightmare Toby was currently living. Throughout the long night he'd watched CJ's increasingly frantic attempts to chase the Post's story, both of them becoming more convinced as the night wore on that it would break within a couple of hours . He'd been present when she'd had her first, difficult conversation with Leo, and although they had talked over the phone so he hadn't been able to hear the Chief of Staff's reaction, he could tell it wasn't good.
There was nothing he could do to help her, she didn't seem to even want him to try. She'd clicked into professional mode and she was 'handling' the crisis, almost as though it didn't involve her at all. Their conversation of a few hours before seemed to have been completely forgotten, there was no way that she was prepared to let him in, or let him do anything to help her. So, he was sitting here, forced to watch while her career apparently self-destructed, completely powerless to intervene. He was hating every minute of it.
He could try to remind himself that there was very little they could do right now, that the story had not hit - and that whatever they came up with as a response would depend largely on the angle of the story and the way it was reported. CJ seemed to be preparing herself to be painted as a bitter, vindictive woman who had taken revenge on the man who had scorned her - and although Toby knew that they could spin that a different way, put Cauldwell in the dock for what he had done, just as easily as he had put CJ there, he wasn't going to be able to do that if she decided that she should do the noble thing.
He knew she'd written a letter of resignation. They'd had a brief fight over that somewhere around 2am, when she had asked for half an hour on her own, and guessing how she intended to use that time he had attempted to talk her out of it, an attempt that had failed. Right now his greatest fear was that she was going to refuse to allow them to defend her, that she would go and see the President, offer her resignation - and that it would be accepted. She was adamant that this was her problem and that there was no way that anyone else would be involved.
His every attempt to talk about this with her had been rebuffed, and he hadn't been able to explain that wanting to defend her had very little to do with how he felt about her and far more to do with his belief that a relationship that had been over for four years was not grounds for resignation. The way he felt about her meant it was incredibly difficult to watch her go through this and, at the same time respect her apparent need to maintain a professional fašade. Which was why he was not saying much, biding his time and basically trying to pretend that he didn't hate to see her being put through this by someone like Cauldwell. In fact, he was starting to think Sam should just have let him beat the living crap out of the man.
Sam and Josh had both been in and out throughout the night, lending support, offering advice. Neither of then had got much further than Toby in talking to CJ about what she should do. In fact, Sam had told him their conversation had taken the form of her bringing him up to speed on the morning briefing - just in case she wasn't there to give it herself.
At five Toby had managed to persuade her to go home for a shower and a change of clothes, although she had refused to let him drive her. It wasn't exactly the ending to the evening that he had envisioned and the only sign she gave him that she remembered that before this happened they had been in the process of making alternate plans was a polite but distant apology for taking up so much of his time. Now an hour and a half later they were slumped disconsolately around Leo's office, waiting for the Chief of Staff to arrive.
'OK - what do we have?' Leo asked striding into the room with Margaret half a pace behind, as he divested himself of coat and briefcase she handed him a sheaf of messages which he glanced at before returning his attention to the group of tired and dispirited people before him. 'CJ?'
'The Post have it, they're looking to run it tomorrow morning.'
'This is from Cauldwell?' She hesitated, all eyes in the room on her,
'It looks like it. What I've heard is that there was an off the recordconversation yesterday between a member of Cauldwell's staff and a Post reporter. During the conversation it was mentioned that the Congressman had been involved with someone who is now a senior member of the White House staff.' She paused, ran a hand through her hair and looked around her at her male colleagues, 'as I'm sure you realise it didn't take much digging or imagination to find me. Right now I'm sure the Post are looking for someone who can confirm the story. If they find a witness prepared to go on the record they'll definitily run it, if they can't they'll go back to Cauldwell.'
'And will he talk?' Leo asked, not doubting her analysis for a moment. CJ hesitated, wishing she could give him the certainty his question deserved. But it had been four years since she had considered herself even moderately well informed about what Phillip Cauldwell was likely to do. Indeed the events that had caused the collapse of their relationship made her question whether she had ever had that level of access tot he inner workings of his mind.
'Leo - I honestly don't know what he'll do, I wish I could tell you, but I'm not even happy about making an educated guess ont his one.'
'Are the Post going to be able to find someone prepared to go on the record to confirm your relationship?' This was so humiliating - although having her private life trawled over by her closest friends and colleagues was nothing compared to what she'd experience when the story went public. She shuddered at the thought of how the press corps would treat a Press Secretary in the unusual position of having to explain his or her activities. She stole a rapid glance at Toby, seeking support or solace and perhaps a little strength, but finding only an impassive and carefully controlled expression.
She knew she'd hurt him over the last few hours, firmly closed a door they had been tentatively pushing open together. Since she'd turned him away when he would have offered support it was more than a little unreasonable of her to expect it from him now, unreasonable but human.
'We were discrete, I think they'll find it difficult to find someone - but not impossible. We should assume that the story will run.'
Josh had been fidgeting impatiently throughout her conversation with Leo and now he burst out angrily,
'Cauldwell is not going to confirm this, he has to want this to go away as much as we do - he has as much to lose as CJ does.'
'He doesn't care about that,' Toby said, speaking for the first time since entering the room. His gaze fixed on CJ as he continued, 'he doesn't care if he damages his own reputation, he's angry at CJ right now and he wants to hurt her.'
'Well, he's going to destry himself,' Josh said, 'we should just let him get on with it. This was four years ago - I can't believe we are going to be diverted from the business of government by this. CJ makes a statement at the briefing this morning, confirms the relationship, the circumstances in which it ended and we all get on with our jobs.'
'Its not that simple Josh.' Leo looked at CJ and she nodded, understanding entirely the message he was sending her. 'CJ - you need to speak to the President.'
'I want to go with her.'
'No!' Toby looked taken back when both Leo and CJ had responded so vehemently to his suggestion.
'You are going to stay as far away from this as possible,' Leo continued, 'I don't want you to talk about this to anyone Toby, is that clear?'
'As Communications Director I absolutely should be involved with this.'
'Oh, I think you've done enough already - were you thinking like the Communications Director yesterday when Sam had to get between you and Cauldwell?' There was a chilly silence in which CJ half expected an explosion, she was surprised when Toby conceded,
'That was a mistake.'
'I'll say,' he might have admitted that, but he wasn't done fighting this one out.
'Toby, please.' He stopped talking as soon as she turned to him although he couldn't say if it was the tone of her voice or the expression in her eyes that silenced him. What he was clear about was that everyone in the room must have seen the instinctive move he made to touch her, a movement he aborted mid way as he realised that they weren't alone.
Leo took advantage of that moment,
'CJ, the President is free right now, lets go do this.'
CJ really thought she'd be able to leave the room without looking back at Toby, which was probably foolish of her. She'd been convinced he was going to touch her just a moment ago - a gesture she would have welcomed right now. She didn't care that the others would have seen them, she just wanted to find a way to tell him that her intention had not been to hurt him. But he'd stopped himself and she didn't know if he had been trying (albeit slightly redundantly) to protect their privacy, or if his change of mind had been evidence of his anger, his changed feelings towards her. She didn't have the time to think about that now - but still she looked back. Their eyes locked and everything else faded away - whatever happened in the Oval Office, one thing she was clear about - this wasn't over.
There was silence in Leo's office after he and CJ had left. Sam couldn't help feeling that he should be the one to say something, offer reassurance.
'Toby - she'll be all right.'
'Will she Sam, are you completely sure of that?' Toby swung around to face Sam, but his anger dissipated immediately - it wasn't Sam he was angry at, 'I'm not just going to sit here and wait, I have to do something.' Josh and Sam exchanged worried glances.
'Toby...' Josh began but he was no longer listening, in fact he was out of the office and calling for Bonnie and Ginger. 'I want to say what can he possibly do,' Josh observed, 'but I'm afraid to ask.'
CJ paused outside the Oval Office and then was distracted by the necessity of greeting the President's secretary, 'good morning Mrs Landingham.'
'Good morning CJ,' the older woman looked shrewedly at her, 'how are you this morning?' she added softly.
'I've been better.'
'I would imagine so. The President is just on the phone and then you can go on in.'
'Thank you,' CJ turned to her companion, 'Leo I'm going to go in and see him on my own.' Leo sighed, not particularly surprised and more than a little relieved that she had not chosen to debate this in front of the others, Toby would have blown up for sure if he'd thought she was considering this.
'I think you need me to go in there with you CJ, if only to stop you doing something dumb like trying to resign.'
'There is no nevertheless CJ.'
'Yes there is.'
'Are you two going to quarrel about this for the rest of the day, or are one or both of you going to go on in and see the President?' They both turned to see Mrs Landingham looking at them, 'I'm only asking because he's a busy man.'
'Very well,' Mrs Landingham stood up and opened the door for CJ, 'Mr President, CJ is here to see you.'
'Don't offer him your resignation,' were Leo's parting words, although he wasn't sure she heard him.
'CJ,' President Bartlet looked up at his Press Secretary and immediately dispensed with formalities. He gestured to the sofa and took a seat opposite her. 'How bad is it?' he asked sympathetically.
'The press know about my relationship with Phillip Cauldwell.' CJ took a deep breath and opened her attache case, 'this is my letter of resignation, I'd urge you to accept it.'
'I'm afraid I can't do that.'
'Sir, we agreed that if this ever came out I'd resign.'
'We agreed that four years ago in the Governer's mansion in New Hampshire when I didn't know you and you didn't know me. This is a whole different game and I'm not prepared to let you resign.'
She wanted to end the discussion right there, to allow the knowledge that the President had refused to accept her resignation to give her the strength she needed to fight back from this. She wanted his reassurance that she had done nothing which ought to cost her the job that meant so much to her. But - and she suspected hers was a position the other senior staffers would understand, her own tenure was much less important than the condition of the Bartlet Presidency.
'Sir - if I stay the press are going to be asking questions, they are going to want to know when you were told about Phillip and I and what your reaction was, they'll ask questions about his involvement with the Social Security Bill and even if we can get through that there are going to be some people within your own party who are going to be extremely critical of your decision to have as a senior aide a woman who had an affair with a married man. I'd be failing in my duty to you if I didn't tell you how damaging it could be for you to be embroiled in this situation.'
The President looked at her for a long moment, giving her the impression that he was seriously considering what she was saying to him. Her letter of resignation lay on the table between them, he hadn't touched it, hadn't even looked at the words she'd spent long, tortuous hours crafting.
'CJ - you'd be failing in your duty if you didn't advise me how to respond to those questions,' he said at last. 'So, if this was about someone else, what would you be advising me to tell the press right now? That the aide in question was going to resign over something this, trivial?'
His logic was impreccable and it clearly wasn't a coincidence that he had unerringly found the weak spot in her position. There was no escaping the fact that if they were talking about someone else she would be telling him not to accept the resignation and suggesting that they aggressively defend the aide in question.
'If we were taling about someone else I'd recommend that the press were told that you knew about the relationship four years ago - and that you were assured that it was over. I'd also advise that it was made clear that the aide in question was appointed on ability and not as an excuse for annoying the hell out of Phillip Cauldwell.'
'And what would you tell the religous right of either party, or anyone else who has an opinion about the morality of the relationship?' She sighed and looked away from him; they'd never talked about this but she had always been certain that he had not approved of her realtionship with a married man. It had very little to do with politics and everything to do with the fact that he viewed life and love from a very different and far more secure position than she did.
'I'd tell them that you aren't interested in punishing someone for a relationship that has been over for four years, especially one that in many ways, she profoundly regrets.'
'Then that's what we should tell them, don't you think?'
'CJ - it doesn't matter what I think about what you did back then, whether or not I approve - what matters is that it isn't grounds for resignation and I'm not accepting yours. I think you need to forgive yourself - but that's another issue.' He picked up the letter, 'I'm just going to go ahead and throw this away - all right?'
'Yes sir - thank you.'
'The one thing I hope is after four years you've developed better taste in men,' his expression was transformed into one of pure mischief as he added, 'how's Toby taking all this?'
'Sir, I'm not sure how you know about that.'
'Well, CJ the secret service and the FBI report to me, it would be a pretty poor state of affairs if I didn't know what was going on with my staff, wouldn't it?' He smiled again as he added, 'Leo doesn't know yet, I'm saving that for a special occasion.' CJ searched for a tart response, something about being glad her personal life was affording him such amusement, but the words wouldn't come and she found herself answering his question instead.
'Toby and I are, well, its not an ideal situation. We aren't exactly blissfully happy right now, in fact we're fighting.'
'Over this?' She nodded, 'CJ he's a good man.'
'He'd bend over backwards to make you happy CJ.' She didn't have an answer to that, at least not one she was willing to share with someone who wasn't Toby - and to give him credit the President must have realised that because he returned the conversation to their original subject.
'You'll give a statement at this morning's briefing, take a few questions, get it out into the open and move on?'
'And if the Social Security Bill comes up - I should just tell the press I was one of the many people who approached Phillip for help, he's a significant player, well respected, there was no deal, no agreement - he didn't change his vote.'
'That's what happened.'
'Yes sir.' She stood up, her mind already on the statement, all thoughts of resignation gone as she focussed on a fightback.
'CJ,' the President's voice stopped her at the door, 'how sure are you that this got out through Cauldwell?'
'I'm fairly sure.' She looked back at him and waited for his response.
'If anyone asks I never told you this, what I'm about to say was never said - OK? Cauldwell is playing out of his league right now, he's assuming that you have some residual feelings for him which will stop you playing hardball with him. He's wrong. Take him out CJ - and then get on with your life.
To Be Continued