You might not enjoy this. Its... different. I've been unsure if I should post it or not. Its for Claire who gave me the idea, sort of, but who also said 'I can be very sweet sometimes' which persuaded me to try to prove her wrong.
If you've had a difficult day, if you're feeling crap about yourself - maybe don't read this. But then again, what do I know, it might help. Or you might think, what the hell is she going on about?
Either way - consider yourself warned.
TITLE: In The Blood
AUTHOR: Morgan firstname.lastname@example.org
SUMMARY: CJ reaches breaking point and calls for help from an unexpected source
RATING: PG13 - there are some adult situations
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
In The Blood
I blame myself. I should have known that something was wrong with CJ way before this. In my own defence, I did know, for a few minutes the day after the shooting, when we were talking about whether or not she should do the morning shows, I knew that something was bothering her. But she told me she was fine, and right then, with all the other things we had to deal with, it was a good enough answer.
My abiding memory of CJ during the hours after the shooting is of her briefing the press, every time I looked at a television set it seemed as though her face was there. Two briefings in particular stand out; the first one, around midnight, when we really had no idea what was happening and we sent her out there just to prove to a watching, waiting world that we were still functioning. Despite those laudable intentions I couldn't help thinking that it showed on her face and in her answers that we were barely holding on. The second briefing I remember was later, it was the one with the other victims, the one when she tried to make gun crime and its effects real. I remember her face as she talked and I remember the shiver that ran up my spine as I listened to her.
Afterwards, when we lurched into the insanity of the midterms perhaps I should have wondered how she was coping, asked if, in all the time she was spending looking out for everyone else, she was looking after herself as well. But the simple fact is that I didn't notice; I had no idea that she was in trouble. I noticed the President, I worried about Toby and Charlie and I kept track of Josh's recovery - but I didn't think about CJ. Now, all I can hear about is the sound of her voice on the phone a moment ago and the sense of devastation I picked up from her as soon as I heard her speak.
Its possible that I sounded irritated, Margaret had gone home, I couldn't find the file I needed and the phone was ringing.
'CJ - is that you?'
'I need you to help me.' It took me a while, because it wasn't what I was expecting to hear.
'I need some help.' OK - this time I got what she was saying, I got that she was close to tears and I only wondered a little why she'd called me.
'Where are you?'
'In my office, I'm sorry, I don't...'
'Don't worry about it. I'm on my way.' It wasn't like her to sound so lost and even if it was I wouldn't know about it, CJ isn't someone who comes to me for help, I'd never felt as though we were that close.
When I got to her office I no longer had a problem understanding why she'd called me. There was a bottle of scotch and a bottle of pills in front of her on the desk. Her expression was naked, and it scared me how easily I recognised what I saw in her eyes, scared me because I'd seen that look more than once, when I looked in the mirror.
'CJ?' The bottle was open and to my experienced eye, it looked as though one measure had been poured. She's cradling a glass in her hands, and although she looks up when I spoke she follows my gaze down to rest upon the glass.
'I can't sleep,' she says, 'I haven't been able to sleep properly for months - since the shooting. I thought this might help.'
'How much have you had?'
'Just one glass, I lost my nerve. I wasn't sure that this was something I wanted to do.' No matter how upset she looks I wasn't quite following this, I've seen her drink at official functions, I know she isn't a recovering alcoholic, and I had never for a moment had the impression that her use of alcohol might be out of control. I know that doesn't mean anything - people can hide their problems, hell I hid mine for years.
'Do you drink a lot?' She shakes her head, putting the glass on the desk and pushing it away from her.
'Hardly at all.' I believe her, she looks scared to death right now - and hers isn't the face of someone accepting that they are an alcoholic.
'Then I don't understand, having a drink to relax isn't a crime, I'll admit its not the ideal solution to your problems, but...'
'My father's an alcoholic.' OK - well now we have a whole different ball game, and I understand what she's so afraid of. 'I don't want to feel as though I need to drink Leo - I saw that, saw him live that nightmare.'
'What about the pills, where did they come from?'
'My Doctor gave them to me, they're supposed to help me sleep.'
'Have you taken any?'
'Did he offer you any alternative to medication?'
'She,' CJ corrects me gently, almost absently, 'and no, this was her big idea for making me feel better.'
'CJ - I'm the last person in the world you should be talking to about this.'
'Are you?' She gives me this look, candid, vulnerable, trusting. 'I would have thought you were exactly the right person for me to be talking to right now.'
'You going to take the pills?' She looks at them for a very long moment, I can see her weighing up the options with her customary care, it reminds me of a moment in one of her briefings when she's been asked a question she isn't prepared for.
'Probably not, I don't want them to slow me down. I want to sleep at night, not feel sleepy all day.'
'They'll kill the pain, for a while.' That was the voice of experience and I'm not sure that I would have wanted her to know that much about me; but we weren't playing by normal rules anymore.
'I want to feel better, I want to stop replaying those minutes over and over in my head, I want to go to sleep and not be afraid that I will have nightmares. Maybe if I could just get a undisturbed nights sleep.' Her eyes fall on the whiskey bottle again and I know she is thinking that a drink might help her sleep, might help her forget what she has lived through for a while, or at least help her to stop caring.
I have a choice here, I can be a boss or a friend. Being her boss means telling her she needs to get some help, discretely finding her someone to talk to, suggesting she take some time off over the next few days. Being her friend means putting myself in position to be the person she talks to.
'Get your coat,' I say, not sure how I came to make the decision, just knowing that I am going to do it.
'Where am I going?'
'We're going for a drink.'
'Leo - you don't drink.'
'Yes, thank you CJ, I haven't forgotten. I'm not going to have a drink, you are, I'm going to watch.'
'I'm not going to go to a bar with you.'
'Why not? Its perfect,' she raises an eyebrow and I know I'm going to have to explain, 'you can drink as much as you like and not worry about how you're going to get home.'
Sadly I have an intimate knowledge of some of Washington's quieter, more discrete bars. I take her to the quietest, most discrete one I can think of and still I worry that someone will see us, recognise us, and then the rest of the week will be spent dealing with the press' questions about whether or not I'm drinking again. At least I don't remember the barman - not that that means much, but when he gives no sign that he recognises me, I decide he must be new.
I order scotch for her, water for me and find us a seat in a booth in a dark, distant corner of the bar. Although, if I was a journalist looking for the White House Chief of Staff and Press Secretary in a bar, a dark corner is the first place I'd look.
I don't say anything as I push the glass towards CJ; this is something she is going to have to work out for herself. She gazes into the amber liquid, I guess seeing dangers and escape routes there, I guess she's probably seeing her father as well - and everything he went through, is still going through. She needs to decide if she is going to take the same path, although, and I'm not going to tell her this right now, the fact that she is sitting here, making this choice, means she's a long way from losing this fight.
'What are you afraid of?' I ask into her silence, the internal struggle she's going through too reminiscent of many of my own struggles for me to standby and watch without feeling anything.
'Everything,' she throws out glibly and then frowning, adds carefully, 'I'm afraid of losing control. I'm afraid of bottling up my feelings. I'm afraid that I might get to need this stuff. I'm afraid of how angry I am when I think about how scared we were, how damaged we all still are. I'm afraid of this overwhelming feeling of sadness. The alcohol won't help with any of that - will it? '
'No,' I answer her with an honesty that I think takes us both by surprise and she looks me in the eyes for seconds that threaten to trickle into minutes. I have no idea what she sees there but when she eventually breaks the gaze her next move is to decisively push the glass away.
'This isn't what I need,' she says, 'I don't know what it is I need or how to find it - but going looking for it in the bottom of a bottle is a nightmare I don't want to start.' She rests her face on the palm of her hand, slumping forward as though she's just realised that she's sitting here with me, that I suddenly know too much about her vulnerabilities. I can't help thinking that the feeling is mutual. 'Have I scared you Leo?'
'Yes,' I confess, 'I'm worried about you.'
'Worried about me or my ability to do my job?'
'I never worry about that.' Her sceptical look makes me think she might not have been too convinced about that and its something I am just about to challenge when she changes the subject.
'So - pills and booze are out as a potential coping mechanisms; what does that leave? Oh yes, sex.'
She looks at me in this speculative way and it takes me a split second to realise what she's talking about, that she's basically propositioning me. And I just about fall off my chair.
'Have you lost your mind?' I don't know what else to say, since it was about the last thing I ever expected her to come out with. And as much as I'd like to say it wasn't something I'd ever thought about, that wouldn't be exactly true. It isn't something I've thought about more than once... or twice. I don't know what to do, and that doesn't feel good. I'm the White House Chief of Staff for crying out loud, I thought I'd seen or heard everything - I don't have a clue what to do right now. I can hardly complain that we are having a highly inappropriate conversation given our professional relationship because I'm the one who took her out of a professional setting. I know I'm definitely not supposed to be taking advantage of a member of my staff when she's feeling low and vulnerable. I notice I'm still sitting here looking at her.
'I don't know, I don't think so, but would I know?' She answers my question with a half smile and a deprecating shrug and then she reaches across the table and touches my hand.
'What?' her thumb is circling slowly on my palm and my involuntary thought is that she is good at this, seduction - or maybe its that I'm an easy target. Lets face it, I am an easy target. My wife left me, she put up with a hell of a lot of crap from me and decided she couldn't put up with anymore. I don't blame her, I'm not angry with her - I do miss her.
'Forget it,' I tell her, 'it would be stupid, we're both a hell of a lot smarter than this.'
'I don't think we are.' Her response isn't the one I expected, isn't she going to get embarrassed because I'm turning her down? What does she know that I don't? 'Sex doesn't have to be about love, it can be about comfort,'
'I don't think Toby would like it.' That's a remark that hits home and she flinches, her attention resolutely focussed elsewhere - but I know she knows what I'm talking about. She knows I've seen the two of them dancing around each other and like everyone else, wondered if they are going to do something about it any time soon.
'I can't think about that now,' she whispers, 'its too - complicated.' I want to tell her to pick up the phone and talk to him, but I can't fault her analysis. If she went to Toby like this, they'd screw it up. 'Aren't you tired of feeling empty Leo? Aren't you lonely? Wouldn't you, just once, like to wake up with someone rather than on your own?'
Oh God she's good. She knows that's exactly how I feel because there's a part of her that she feels the same way. But as alluring as the offer is, and its getting more alluring by the second, I am not going to do this, I don't want to hate myself that much tomorrow morning.
'You're right it would be stupid; but there's something to be said for being stupid every now and again, with someone that you trust.' I'm still sitting here, she's still touching me and she's still talking. I don't quite understand why I haven't got up and left. I can't handle this, even when she's talking crap she's making sense. I'm completely out of my depth and she knows it.
I'd like to say that my strength and my willpower won out, I'd like to say that I was mature enough and in control enough to get out of the situation with some measure of dignity and without making either of us feel foolish.
I went home with her.
In the bright light of a new day I don't know if it's a mistake to think about how it felt to touch her and what her skin tasted like. I'm not sure I need to remember that I had all these plans for gentle and slow that pretty much went out the window as soon as I kissed her. Or that being with her ignited something in me that I thought I would never feel again, that I'm not sure I'm ready to feel again.
What I'm trying very hard to hold onto are these simple facts; that she slept, soundly until I left at 5am; that this morning she didn't seem horrified or shocked to find me waking up in her bed and that at the senior staff meeting she looked me in the eye without a trace of embarrassment or awkwardness - and I looked right back at her.
Just as though it had never happened.