AUTHOR: Morgan morgan@camelot72.screaming.net

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.


Fortitude

Galileo 5. It was a name to stir the emotions, to conjure up the human spirit in all of its thirsty, intrepid fortitude - apparently, and who was she to disagree with the President about that? While she might not share his fascination about the minute details of the mission, CJ was more than a little curious about what had gone wrong and if there was anything that could be salvaged from it. There was no other reason to explain why she would be standing at the window of her office, gazing up at the heavens, waiting to see if Galileo was lost for good.

Perhaps her reluctance to go home and face her empty apartment was simply the logical conclusion to a difficult day. Was she more worried there would be a snide, gossipy story about her statement that she was great in bed or that Tad would try and damage her somehow? How did the green bean problem and what it said the nature of politics fit in with Toby's gibes about her intellect and the fact that he was two and a half hours smarter than she was? Did any of it really matter in the face of a fire in a Russian missile silo and a missing Mars probe or even a symphony that had moved a President who thought music no longer had the power to surprise him?

'You were right.' The voice from the doorway was not one she particularly wanted to hear right now and that reluctance must have fuelled the reproach in her voice as she replied,

'Was I Toby? Shall we issue a press release?' Undaunted he stepped further into the room and planted himself in front of her desk, where he knew she would have to face him, if only she'd turn around.

'You were right about the green beans, about Aquino, about the broader theme for the discussion. You're three for three today - what do you want CJ? A standing ovation, my undying gratitude?

'Your respect?' The temperature in the office seemed to drop a few degrees and he hesitated before responding to that.

'You have that already. That goes without saying.'

'Of course.' She turned away from the window and gave him a tired half smile, recognising that there really was nothing to be gained from unleashing her demons on Toby.

'I'm serious,' he narrowed his eyes, watching her, trying to track the tumbling, introspective spiral of her thoughts. 'You know that right?'

'I thought it went without saying.' Suddenly he realised that it might not go without saying, it was a shock for him to recognise that the process of doing such an important job at such a high level might actually serve to damage someone's confidence rather than bolster it. Other people he'd encountered seemed to have the opposite problem, their position breeding arrogance, a certain disregard for the opinions of others. Or maybe she was just having a bad day.

'CJ?' She sighed, forced to respond to the question he wasn't about to ask her, even though the words lingered in the silence between them.

'Sometimes I get tired of being the dumb one, the one who isn't quite as smart.'

'You aren't the dumb one, there is no dumb one. Haven't you been keeping track of this? Josh invented a secret plan to fight inflation, Sam slept with a call girl. The President rode his bicycle into a tree, and while I know he had a good reason for not concentrating on where he was going, nevertheless this country is led by a man who can't think and steer at the same time.'

The smile was a little bigger, more spontaneous and less something she was doing to make him feel better. 'I wasn't saying you were right today because it was some kind of fluke - I was telling you because I gloated earlier and I thought you'd enjoy stamping my face into the dirt about green beans.'

Of the many possible ways in which she could react to his speech she opted for bemused resignation, because after all, no matter how difficult her day had been, she really did believe that he respected and trusted her. But there was no question of letting him off the hook too lightly.

'So how long did it take you to come in here and tell me that?'

'A while,' he acknowledged with some reluctance. 'I stopped by to see the President who is hoping that his willpower alone can somehow persuade Galileo 5 to start working again. He talked a lot about your suggestion for the broader theme, how he thought you were right that there was still a way to make the classroom event special.'

'Admitting this is really killing you isn't it?'

'Admitting someone other than me is right about something? Absolutely.' He hesitated and then added, 'but that's not personal, I'd feel that way about anyone.'

'That puts my mind at rest Toby.'

'Also,' and this time he looked distinctly unhappy about something, 'I wanted to say you look beautiful this evening and I didn't see how I could do that if you were still pissed at me.'

'Oh,' it wasn't exactly what she was expecting and that explained her less than eloquent response. This was twice now that he'd complimented her for no real reason, just thrown out a comment and left her reeling, this time however he chose not to add to the remark, allowing an uncomfortable silence to stretch until he said,

'How was Tad?' As a change of subject it was as jarring as it was unwelcome.

'Tad was fine.'

'Really? That's unusual - my recollection is that Tad was seldom as good as fine.' She rubbed a tired hand over her face and sighed,

'Toby - do we have to talk about this now?'

'Judging by how uncomfortable you are? Yes - we have to talk about it now. Bear in mind that I am not, really, going to comment on the fact that you have lousy taste in men, I'm going to go straight past that and ask instead, what did he do?'

She, very briefly, considered brushing him off, but knowing Toby there was no way that he would allow her to get away with that and also, knowing Tad there was no way that he would believe her dismissal. Bracing herself for the inevitable storm, and ignoring, for the moment his crack about her taste in men she said,

'He threatened me, he thinks the fact that he and I were, something, once, very briefly, was the reason I didn't hire him as my deputy.'

'Whereas in fact you didn't hire him as your deputy because he's an oily, treacherous, self-serving, ego maniac.'

'No, the reason I didn't hire him is because Simon Glasser was better at interview - possibly because he isn't an oily, treacherous, self-serving, ego maniac. By the way I appreciate the fact that you aren't dwelling on the fact that Tad and I were, well, intimate, it makes me feel much better about my life.'

'CJ,' Toby sighed and pushed his hands deep into his pockets, his shoulders slumped, as though bearing an unendurable weight. 'You don't have to take this seriously, in fact you can ignore this, we can pretend, you know, that we never had this conversation, but, well, I'm here.'

'Yes, I know, you're in my office.' He sighed, raised his eyes tot he heavens, this was going to be every bit as difficult as he'd expected. There was a very good reason why it had taken him so long to get to this.

'Thank you for verifying my location, what are you the global positioning satellite? That wasn't what I meant.'

'Toby, I'm sorry, its been a long day and while I know its difficult to accept I really have no clue what you're talking about.'

'There's no way you could make this easier for me?' He held his hand up to forestall her answer, digging deep within himself, pursuing a course of action that he considered foolhardy at best. 'We're talking about Tad- we're talking about why you may feel there are some aspects of your life that aren't exactly as you'd want them to be, and I've been thinking for a while, that well, if you want to, I mean if you're interested, then well, I'm here.'

Comprehension dawned suddenly - although her first response was to shake her head, giving her a brief moment of respite from focussing on the man standing before her, who considering that he had just offered her what she thought he'd just offered, was looking incredibly miserable.

'Oh God,' and she'd started off so well. With Tad she'd been snappy and witty, with the President she'd managed a fair degree of eloquence, here and now she could do little more than summon up exclamations. That couldn't possibly have anything to do with the fact that he'd taken the wind completely out of her sails. That the smart, experienced fašade that served her so well as protection cracked, just a little in the face of honesty.

'Its just something to think about, I don't know.' Had she ever seen him look so, she wasn't going to call it vulnerable, vulnerable wasn't right, it was something between hopeful and fearful that the English language appeared not to have a word for.

'When did this happen? When did you start to think that we,' she ran out of words and waved her arms in frustration.

'I don't know, I just did. Just think about it is all I'm saying, it doesn't have to be a thing.'

She was fairly sure that it was, in fact a thing, but that wasn't what she was thinking about right now. She was still taking in this entirely new, completely unexpected piece of information.

'I'm going to think about it.'

She was being kind, and CJ being kind wasn't something he could deal with right now. This was what happened when he acted against his better judgement, this was what happened when he let his heart rule his head and allowed the fact that he wanted to make her feel better persuade him to tell her things that were best left buried.

'Whatever, I'm going to go now.'

'OK.' Distracted she let him get as far as the door before she said hurriedly, 'So - I've thought about it.' He paused in the doorway and looked back at her.

'That was fast.'

'I'm very intelligent.' His eyebrow quirked, but with some consciousness of the importance of the occasion, he restrained himself from further comment, 'its insane, you and I, together, its insane. It's a complete disaster waiting to happen, we'd argue, we'd drag our professional lives into our personal lives and we'd make a huge mess out of it. We would both have to have taken leave of our senses to even contemplate it.'

It didn't help that he couldn't fault her analysis; that he was already aware of all the points she had just made. It didn't change his feelings - but it did mean that he understood that there was absolutely no way...

'So, basically I think we should go for it.'

'Excuse me?'

Her smile was rapid and triumphant, it was impossible not to think that however ridiculous the idea seemed, the look on his face right now made every bit of the gamble worthwhile.

'I said I think we should go for it.'

'CJ, you also said you think its an insane idea - you'll understand that I'm a little, perplexed, right now.'

'It is a little crazy - but so is sending a probe to Mars, so is worrying about who does or doesn't like which vegetables and so is thinking that the President talking about Mars or about how much we can get it wrong, could inspire one kid - everything that we do here is a little crazy, why should this be any different?'

He was silent for a long moment after she finished speaking. He looked up at her twice and almost but not quite began to say something, before, carefully looking in her general direction, but not quite meeting her eyes he said, 'I was going to say something like that, that was going to be my big, impassioned speech. Only it would have been better, obviously.'

'OK. That was going to happen when? Once you were safely back in your own office and I could no longer reply.'

'Maybe I thought I stood a better chance of getting the answer I wanted if I didn't actually discuss it with you.'

'Maybe you're a complete idiot. What changed your mind?'

'You did. I can't see you lose hope CJ - it's a weakness and obviously I don't want anyone else to know about it but, I just can't, OK?'

'OK.' Neither of them spoke, but her gown rustled as she walked towards him, coming to a stop well within touching distance. No one moved, but so close to one another it was impossible for him not to look her in the eye.

'I should go now.'

'Yes.'

'Because you know I have all this,' he broke off, no longer able to concentrate on that particular thought. 'Are you going to kiss me?'

'No, you're going to kiss me, then I'm going to reciprocate.'

'You're impossible.' He observed, but did nothing to make her think that her analysis of the situation wasn't entirely accurate.

'So are you.' She shivered as his hand slid up her bare arm, pulling her just a little closer.

'This is never going to work,' he breathed.

'Not a chance,' she agreed, smiling as he moved towards her. 'You realise that the phone is going to ring any second - don't you?'

'The phone is not going to ring.' The phone didn't ring. He started and finished one of the softest, most gentle kisses she could remember and then in the next heartbeat pulled her back into something altogether deeper and more passionate. Her pulse rate soared as she stood in his arms, lips clinging together and the recollection that they were standing in an open doorway in the middle of the West Wing did nothing to reduce her enthusiasm for this moment.

Falling in love was all about risk, the recognition that they were both taking a chance with their feelings was a glorious reminder that they were alive. It was that thought that made her wonder if maybe she had finally grasped a little of what the President was so enthusiastic about, why he thought that Galileo 5, what it stood for, was so important. Or perhaps it was just that she was getting a little carried away with an increasingly hungry kiss. After all this was another of the ways in which humanity displayed its thirsty, intrepid fortitude.

End