This is another of those 'I don't know how I came to write this' situations. Really, I don't. I hadn't even thought about this story and then I was talking to a friend on Sunday and I told her about it - and there it was. Since then I've had ideas for 2 sequels (I think) and I still have part 3 of Debris somewhere in my head. I've been told its a little sentimental...
TITLE: Shadow Play
AUTHOR: Morgan firstname.lastname@example.org
SUMMARY: Beneath that prickly surface lurks a heart.
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.
SPOILERS: The Lame Duck Congress
There are a lot of shadows in the corridors of the West Wing. Its not something I usually notice, I don't have the time to dwell on anything as esoteric as the interaction between light and darkness - or at least not in architectural terms. The light and darkness in people, the interplay between good and evil, I know a lot about that. I trade on that - read the person, make the argument and find the deal that will get them on the President's side. I'm very good at what I do, but even if I wasn't, even if my mind wasn't full of chess moves, missed opportunities and lost strategies, I'd still know that the woman before me was in pain.
CJ Cregg is someone who has at times exhibited a disturbing ability to get under my skin. I'm careful not to let her know that, I have no interest in giving hostages to fortune here. I don't think it would serve any useful purpose if she realised that on occasion something that she has said has challenged my certainty or changed the way I've thought about a problem. It can't be an easy role to fulfil, putting herself in the firing line of my arguments, but still she does it.
I've never argued with anyone for twelve weeks straight before. Not even Andi and when our marriage was coming to an end we elevated arguing to an art form. I've never argued with anyone about the same thing for twelve weeks and had him or her be right. I really hate that.
After the shooting - and months later, in this building in particular, those are words that can instil an unnatural pause in a conversation. After the shooting, I was angry and confused and burning to do something. Even I realise that is not a good combination. I knew that then too, but somehow I couldn't stop myself. I was unfocused, consumed with the need to punish and harm those who had come within a hair's breadth of destroying us. There is a considerable irony to the fact that I have always believed myself to be the great defender of rights and liberties. It scares me to learn how easily I could lose a lifetime's guiding principles.
But now, with a little distance and a more balanced vantage point, when I remember those dark days what I think about is CJ's unflinching stance in the face of my truculence and belligerence, her ability to stay focused on the campaign while the place went to hell around her and the concern in her eyes while she fought me.
It was the day of the Midterms, actually it was the night of the Midterms, as I sat with my colleagues and friends looking up at the rain darkened sky, drinking beer and musing on the whims of democracy, that I realised I had inadvertently fallen in love with her.
But even if that wasn't the case I'd still be standing here debating the pros and cons of stepping into her office and disturbing her reverie. Still be standing here trying to decide if any of the words I could summon might give her comfort, even for a fleeting moment.
Its a circuitous route that has led me here tonight - Carol told Ginger who told Bonnie (the conversation that I overheard) that Danny Concannon had been offered an Editor's job. According to Carol (via Ginger) the buzz from the press corps is that there is no way he will accept it. Then, while we were playing chess the President told me he'd spoken to CJ about Danny; I know what he said to her, that he'd been clear any relationship between a Press Secretary and a reporter was impossible. I'm fairly sure CJ had long ago reached that conclusion herself; but if Danny were to take an Editor's job that wouldn't be an issue. The face I'm looking at right now isn't the face of a woman who believes that things are going to work out.
It's selfish of me I know, but from the part of me that isn't only interested in being her friend and her colleague, I'm glad. Its with some reluctance I'm prepared to admit there is a less self-interested part of me that simply wants her not to have been hurt, that wishes there were some way of making her feel better. And it is that part that has the loudest voice in my head - because although the daunting realisation of my feelings is still fresh in my mind, I know I have not leapt so far into the darkness that I believe there is any chance she feels the same way.
Indecisiveness is just one of the things I now realise that I am capable of. Its right up there with jealousy and a sort of light-headedness I get when we're arguing passionately about something, or she touches me. Obviously these are all vulnerabilities that I refuse to acknowledge to myself - I am too old and jaded to let another human being effect me so much... and yes I am still standing outside her office door wondering whether I should go in or not.
'Toby?' Her expression, when she looks up to see me standing there is one that I suddenly realise that I am vulnerable to. She does not, as she could so easily have done, look disappointed that I am not a certain reporter, come to trade quips and banter with her. Instead her lips curve into a small sigh and a little of the tension that had snapped into her posture slips away. 'Can I help you with something?'
My internal vacillation about whether to speak to her or leave her be, is now redundant. As such it has left me slightly at a loss, the great communicator momentarily without words - fate has a warped sense of humour.
'I thought everyone else had gone home,' I say, hardly one of the greatest opening lines I've ever scripted, 'I've been playing chess with the President.' She groans, and rubs her hand over her eyes.
'Did you beat him?'
'CJ.' It is, I believe a question she should not need to ask.
'How many times is that now?'
'Twenty-eight - he's a terrible chess player. I don't know why he won't accept defeat on this.'
'Because he's as stubborn and competitive as you are. He's going to be impossible tomorrow - you do realise that?'
'To be honest, I've never been clear how we tell the difference.'
She smiles tiredly and I take another couple of steps into her office, so that I am no longer lingering in her doorway.
'Are you all right?' I ask, ducking her gaze and fidgeting awkwardly because the very fact that I have asked her this question will make it apparent that I know what has been going on in her life.
'I've been better - I don't seem to be having a very good day.'
'I heard something about Danny,' I mention vaguely and then regret it when I see her grimace.
'He's been offered an editor's job, he just told me he isn't taking it.'
'He's a very good reporter,' I say tentatively, 'they don't always make the best Editors.' I know that she is too intelligent and too honest not to see my point and she shrugs and runs a hand distractedly through her hair, unable to argue the point because she knows I'm right.
'I suppose I'm just disappointed. I thought if he weren't part of the press corps any longer we could, maybe...' her voice trails off and she shakes her head. 'I can't blame him, I won't consider a relationship with a reporter and he can't stop doing what he does best. That doesn't seem to leave us with anywhere to go.' For a moment her expression becomes introspective and I know she is dwelling on thoughts and feelings about what she has lost. 'I'm not saying we would have made it or anything; but it would have been nice to try, it would have been nice to have someone to come home to once in a while.'
I know exactly what she means - especially since she is the person I would most like to come home to, or come home with or however the hell we'd work it out. But it isn't going to happen.
'You going to sit here for the rest of the night?' I ask, fighting off strong emotions that make my voice sound slightly irritated. She doesn't seem to notice and I know that's because over the course of a day I often sound like this.
'Maybe,' she looks around her, 'Josh and Sam have gone for a drink, Josh said I could join them if I liked but...'
'I don't think I want to sit in some bar and watch the two of them fend off groupies.' Now I know she's feeling sorry for herself because on another day she'd probably see that as the height of amusement. Her pride and her emotions have been more than a little battered by this experience and what she needs is some time and space to lick her wounds. As much as I want to be the one to comfort her about this I know that my role is limited. That isn't who I am to her right now.
'And sitting here feeling sorry for yourself is a far more productive endeavour?' My tone is sharp, deliberately, and it has the desired effect. She looks up at me with a half-amused expression, reminding me fleetingly of a cat just about to stretch out a paw and scratch its owner.
'It wouldn't have killed you to be sympathetic you know.'
'Are you kidding? I don't think sympathy is in my repertoire.' She cracks a smile at this, a real smile, one that lifts her tired eyes, transforms her face and makes the breath of a cynical man catch in his throat as he wonders when she will stop effecting him so much.
'I suppose it was a little too much to expect - and your approach is refreshingly different.'
'You going to go for that drink?'
'I don't think so,' she shrugs, 'I think I'll go home, have a bath, drink some wine and tomorrow will be easier.' There's a wistfulness, a reluctance in her tone and I know that she really doesn't want to go home to her empty apartment any more than she wants to sit in a crowded bar with Josh and Sam.
She tilts her head and regards me levelly, her eyes holding mine, asking the question. I'm afraid that in some things - this thing at least I am a coward - I look away.
There are many things I would willingly do for her, but not this. I can't sit and listen to her talking about Danny and not let out some of my feelings. I don't have that in me. And I don't want to be her shoulder to cry on, not now at least. Some day I want to be the person who gets to hold her, but I can't risk her thinking that I'm offering something more than friendship because I feel sorry for her. Two lonely people, one of them on the rebound, it doesn't sound like a recipe for success to me.
When something happens between us I think there ought to be passion and sparks flying across rooms. I want to be able to say things to her that will burn the air between us. And I will, just not now.
'OK - goodnight.' I turn and head for the door - all the time making deals with myself because I know that if I turn back now, if I relent and offer to buy her a drink I'll regret it. But all the time I know, with the certainty of someone who's heart is no longer strictly his own, that if she as much as speaks my name I'll be lost.