So, I started this ages ago and then forgot to finish it. Ooops. In the meantime its become a slightly longer story than I intended - but hopefully that's OK
AUTHOR: Morgan email@example.com
SUMMARY: In the sequel to Collison Course, CJ and Toby deal with the consequences of the rest of the staff finding out about their relationship.
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.
Debris - part 2
CJ took a sip of very strong coffee and wondered idly whether Air Force One could survive without one of its sections. She wasn't asking too much, she had no plans to endanger the life of President Bartlet or any of his senior staff. All she wanted to know was if the plane could still fly if the section containing the press was depressurised.
It was just conceivable that she wasn't at her very best. That her normal equable temprement was suffering not only from lack of sleep (which she was used to) but also from the realisation that she and Toby were going to have to discuss their relationship with the President and Leo. It wasn't a conversation she was anticipating with very much relish.
The delay in addressing this, which she suspected was deliberate, was hardly ideal. She had been waiting for over two hours now for her colleagues to acknowledge that they knew. But for a group of people who usually discussed everything they were being particularly tight lipped on this subject. The only reference anyone had made to the fact that she and Toby had been caught, was Leo, and he'd only mentioned it in passing. Although she got the distince impression that he wasn't happy - because what he'd said was,
'Did it have to be him? Couldn't you have tried a little harder and found someone who would really have made the press pay attention?' As an omen about how the inevitable talk would go, it wasn't promising.
Her instinct was to confront this, to manage the message and the information - that was what she trained to do after all. But she had been faced with a wall of silence and worse, the necessity of talking to the press about what Senator Fox had said about drugs. It was extremely frustrating. She was extremely grateful that the press corps had not caught scent of the real story breaking around them. Although realistically she knew it was only a matter of time before they heard something. The more people who knew that she and Toby were having a relationship, the more chance there was that someone would talk to the press.
But she had dealt with the matter of Senator Fox - even though a few of her thoughts had been elsewhere. She had dismissed his amateurish remarks with a stream of well informed, research based facts and figures that would enable the press to make up its mind about who was a slightly comical, self-important figure and who was invoved in a serious attempt to change America's attitude to drug use and treatment. However, having dispensed with the matter so swiftly and competently she now had nothing to do but worry about what she was going to say when they asked her about Toby.
Another sip of coffee and her attention drifted away; it was inevitable, she supposed that she would be thinking about how this all got started right now - she was after all, going to have to explain to her friends. And frankly she could understand a little of their amazement - she would not have picked her and Toby as a couple.
She remembered she'd had a headache that afternoon, Carol had found some painkillers but they'd made no appreciable impact and she had been tentatively pushing a few vegetables around on a plate, wondering if eating something substantial would maker her feel better. But knowing really, that the headache was born of stress and tension and wasn't likely to disappear until the stress and tension did.
The press corps were at their most belligerent, scenting a story in the criticisms of the Bartlet administration made by a few senior Democrats in the last two weeks. Their suggestions that the Presidency was stalled and without any new ideas or direction had done nothing to raise morale within the West Wing. Commentators had started to talk about possible Democratic challengers for the nomination, started to talk about the man she worked for as though he were a spent force. The press referred to the rumours at every briefing and she was constantly asked to comment on them - the problem was they really didn't have a response.
'True or false,' a voice said from the doorway; she sighed, since it was the voice she least wanted to hear right now. 'This is an administration that has lost its way?'
'Toby,' she said, trying to forestall the rest of this conversation. He didn't listen, which wasn't anything new.
'True or false this is an administration without concrete policies, without the slightest idea about how it is going to bring about its much vaunted agenda of change? In short is this an administration that is wasting the time of the people who voted for it?' Since he had been increasing in volume as he worked his way through that diatribe she had been immeasurably relieved when he'd slumped down onto her couch and rubbed his hand wearily over his face before looking up at her. 'The correct answer by the way is "True" and not "the President is keen to focus on the issues and not engage in very premature discussions about the election."'
'Lets not do this now, ' she said, although since he had been quoting her response from this morning's briefing it was perfectly reasonable for him to want to talk about it.
'What the hell are we doing CJ? I mean day after day, what are we doing? We're sending you out there with nothing, with "the President doesn't want to talk about this right now" we're getting destroyed.'
'Is that what you came here to do? Work in the White House, become the President's Press secretary, spend your time talking about absolutely nothing in more ways than the press can enumerate.'
CJ sighed heavily, it wasn't so much that his analysis was right, it wasn't even that she had felt the same way for the last few weeks, it was more that it was Toby who was saying it to her. She could live with the press criticisms, with them pulling apart every initiative, which after all was their job. But when Toby, who always before had been the one who told them the truth, no matter how unpalatable, when he lost faith, then she really started to worry.
'I know you're frustrated.'
'You're damn right I'm frustrated!' His momentary burst of temper faded almost as quickly as it had flared. 'Its not your fault, my getting angry with you won't solve anything.' Actually she had been glad that he was still capable of getting angry about anything and she wouldn't have minded him carrying on yelling at her if it had left her with the impression that he still had some fight left in him about this.
'The press will get tired of this, they'll find something else to write about, we'll move on.'
'I know, but that won't change their being right - will it?' She could still remember with startling clarity how slowly and carefully he had pushed himself to his feet, how much she wanted to say the one thing that would send him storming out into the corridors of the White House determined to put the world to rights. She'd seen him do that, seen him full of a burning, righteous indignation - and as irritating as it had been to deal with him at such times, she had never expected to miss it. This hopeless, misplaced anger was far more alarming.
She had meant to call him back, to try, however difficult it was to find some words that would reach through his seemingly impenetrable barriers, but he had spoken first.
'Come and have dinner with me,'
'We've both had a crappy day; come and eat with me in a crappy restaurant with terrible service and we can be lousey company together.'
'When you put it like that it's an invitation that's almost impossible to refuse.' Either her acceptance, or the way she couched it had produced the first hint of a smile in Toby for some time. He turned to go and then paused in the doorway as though something more had occurred to him.
'CJ - you understand I'm asking you out? On a date?' She hadn't realised of course. It hadn't occurred to her for a moment that was what he was suggesting until he had actually spelt it out for her. She must have looked stunned because he said, 'well, I can see I made that clear. Do you want to change your mind now?'
Several months later, deeply embroiled in the most serious relationship of her life it was still shocking to CJ to realise how close she had come to turning him down.
To Be Continued