TITLE: Frayed


AUTHOR: Morgan morgan@camelot72.screaming.net

SUMMARY: Someone is feeling a little frayed around the edges.

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.

ARCHIVE: Yes please - thanks.



There were she was sure, worse ways of spending the evening than watching her friends and colleagues take over an entire bar with their completely over the top celebrations. It was just that at the moment, trapped in neon hell with a vainglorious, noisy, boorish impromptu party going on around her, CJ Cregg couldn't remember what might rate as more unpleasant. In fairness most of the noise was coming from a bunch of junior staffers who clearly had the energy and enthusiasm to dance around and whoop, holler and yell at CNN.

Slumping further down on the bar stool she absently turned an almost empty glass in slow circles on the sticky surface of the bar. Musing on the intricacies and disappointments of life her gaze travelled from Sam, dancing with half a dozen adoring young women, to Donna and Josh, who were engaged in an interminable debate about a matter of monumental unimportance, before coming to rest on Toby, sitting in self-satisfied stupor holding a cigar and a very expensive glass of scotch.

It wasn't that she didn't understand the impulse to celebrate. The political landscape they operated in was such that their victories were few and far enough between to make each one a little special and worth savouring. The problem was, she wasn't sure this was a victory. As far as she concerned it was a response to an opening salvo that had caught them unawares, which was fine, but it hardly warranted this much merriment. And while there was a part of her that understood the need for revenge, relished the vindictive pleasure the instant of denouement had brought, that had even momentarily enjoyed seeing the smug grin wiped off the face of the Majority Leader's Chief of Staff, there was also a part of her that knew that getting one over on Ann Stark was far from the end of the game.

What had soured the experience for CJ was the relish with which Toby had set and sprung his trap. She had seen him like this before, obsessed with the fight, fixated on his enemy, on the edge of playing dirty and not caring that much and more than anyone else she knew that it wasn't a good frame of mind for him to be in. But she was just the woman who kept the press happy she thought sourly. What did she know about the machinations of a re-election campaign even the President pretended wasn't happening yet? Who was she to deny Toby his victory, or even his battle when he was so obviously energised and engaged by it. In Ann Stark he seemed to have found an opponent worthy of him, and added to this dangerous mix was a personal angle of attraction or familiarity. Even in her role as sometime bystander in his life CJ had seen this, but that didn't mean she had to like it.

And why exactly did she care? Why exactly was she allowing Ann Stark, the press, Toby, Josh and everyone in the Universe to get to her? Because she was tired, sitting in a shabby bar at close to midnight, wearing the suit she'd come to work in two days ago and because she wanted to go home.

Wearily, and with just a touch of pique, she finished off her drink, collected coat and bags and slid off the barstool in a movement that gave at least three men whiplash. She might have been amused had she been in the mood to notice, but she wasn't even in the mood to say goodbye, not really expecting anyone to notice her departure and walking with the kind of determination that cut a swathe through lesser mortals in the general direction of the exit.

She sighed at the footsteps that pursued her as she hit the street, not really questioning the inevitability of this encounter.

'Where are you going? The party isn't over.' One look at Josh, hair tousled, jacket crooked, tie hopelessly askew and not altogether steady on his feet told her if it wasn't it probably ought to be.

'I'm going home to get some sleep, I need to be fresh and lucid so that when the press ring me at 5am with some story about what you lunatics have gotten up to tonight I'll be able to save your asses.'

'You're no fun.'

'You're absolutely right, I am in fact merely the woman who speaks to the press, I say slightly clever things and I make jokes; I'm actually this administrations stand up comedienne. I wait for you great strategists to explain the long words to me and tell me what to say and after two very long days of trying to make sense of the world all I want to do is go home and get some sleep.'

She should have known really that he would hear her diatribe out and then, rather than buying into her rage, would actually want to know what was going on.

'What's wrong?'

'Nothing's wrong.'

'Is it Toby and Ann Stark?' The thing was, when he was being bumptious and arrogant it was fairly easy to forget that Josh was also capable of sensitivity and startling insight; it was one of the things she hated most about him.

'No.' The other thing she hated about him was that he knew her far too well.

'It isn't the same CJ. His pride's been hurt, and you know how he hates that. Its about revenge, Ann Stark is in his face day after day - a reminder of what happened. His ego's bruised and you shouldn't need me to tell you how we men feel about our egos. You know, or you ought to know, that he'd follow you to the ends of the earth if you asked him to.' Her brief, derisory snort of laughter sounded entirely too brittle and bitter.

'Well, maybe I'll call him on that one day, although somehow I can't see it. In fact, right now I'm fairly sure I could pack my bags, wander off into the sunset and none of you would notice my departure.'

'I'm fairly sure we'd notice when there was no one to talk to the press.' It wasn't Josh who'd spoken and they both turned as Toby stepped out of the shadows, puffing on his cigar and looking somewhere between a gangster and a labour organiser. 'Go back inside Josh,'

'I was just...' Josh looked between them and clearly decided not to stray into what was dangerous territory, 'OK. I'll see you tomorrow CJ.'

'Don't break anything, don't get into fights, don't fall asleep in the gutter,' was her parting shot, although his dismissive wave of acknowledgement did not fill her with confidence that her warning would be heeded.

'What's wrong?' Everyone seemed to be asking her that lately and it didn't make it any easier that this time it was Toby.


'Its not like you to walk out on a celebration.'

'I'm not sure there is anything to celebrate. I don't understand how we made anything better today Toby, and if you think we did, that our motives were pure, then you are more obsessed with beating Ann Stark than you know.'

'There's nothing pure about it, we have to beat her, that's what party politics is about. This is the way campaigns work, vilify the enemy, celebrate your victories, you know this CJ.'

His impatience, the implication that he thought she was being na´ve or foolish didn't help her mood. She glared back at him, although he seemed not to notice, and the tension sizzled in the cold air between them until something shifted in her eyes and his and with a long sigh CJ said,

'I hate it when you get like this,' at exactly the same time as he said the same thing; predictably his reaction to the coincidence wasn't exactly equable.

'What do you mean, "when I get like this?"'

'You know what I'm talking about, when you turn everything into a private vendetta, when you get so focussed on something you fail to notice who is in your way and who you're stepping on, when you're so sure you're right and only you know how to handle something that you stop listening to other people. We don't have time for you to decide to play hardball flinch with your old girlfriend.' It was odd that he very calmly corrected just one of her statements, but that failed to warn her of the storm that was brewing.

'Ann isn't an old girlfriend.'

'Old flame then, or the one that got away, whatever the hell it is, we don't have time for you to demonstrate how intransigent and uncooperative you can be. This is a team game, we win when we work together.'

'I haven't forgotten she's the enemy and neither should you, we can't afford for you to get psyched by her.'

'I'm not the one who's psyched by her.' Her defence fell on largely deaf ears, not least because although she wasn't psyched by Ann Stark, her effect on some people, on one person in particular was deeply disturbing.

'This is what I mean CJ, you get psyched, you lose your focus and you start to second-guess yourself.'

'I fail to correctly predict when we are going to take a hit?'

'You make it personal.'

'So do you.' Pausing for breath she was surprised when he shook his head and threw away his cigar. 'She'd love this if she could see it, us fighting, divide and conquer is one of her favourite strategies.'

'You seem to know a lot about the subject.'

'I do.' Those solemn eyes met hers, held her gaze for interminable instants before he added, 'it takes me a while CJ, but I do wise up eventually, and I never forget the difference between the people who betrayed me and the people who stood by my side, even though they disagreed with me.'

'I need to get some sleep.' She was too tired to continue this argument, too tired to analyse the rush of adrenaline and emotion that had surged through her at his words and far too tired to wonder why he had not accused her of jealousy when thanks to a sudden burst of insight she realised was what she had been experiencing.


She started to walk towards her car, changing her mind when she remembered she'd been drinking and instead starting what might prove to me a lengthy and largely futile search for a cab. Glancing over her shoulder she was surprised to see that Toby was following her.

'What are you doing?'

'I'm following you to the ends of the earth.' Somehow, tonight, that didn't seem too outlandish a statement.

'I'm going home to get some sleep.'

'Then it will be a slightly shorter journey than I anticipated.' He gazed fixedly back at her and she felt a tingle of excitement, this wasn't how she's anticipated the evening ending.

'Its bad manners to listen to other people's conversations,' she pointed out, not prepared to let him see that she was even remotely rattled by what was happening.

'You were talking about me, it was justifiable.'

'I'm getting a cab.'

'Fine - we can share.'

'If we share a cab you'll hardly be following me will you?' She stepped off the curb and gestured to a passing cab that screeched to a halt just in front of her. 'Find your own form of transport, I'll see you in ten minutes.'

As she got into the car she clearly heard him say, 'So, we're officially designating your apartment as the ends of the earth?'

And she didn't bother to tell him quite yet, that having bought into this following her business he was about to find out that she was more than capable of leading him a merry and circuitous dance; in fact she was looking forward to it.

The End





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