I'm not sure that I'm exactly happy with this, but I wanted to finish it. So there we go.
AUTHOR: Morgan email@example.com
SUMMARY: A short sequel to Current Affairs
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
Sirocco - part 2
CJ was in a good mood, considering how long she'd spent in a confined space with the President spouting trivia at her she was in a very good mood. Toby's face when he'd turned around and seen her standing there had made the journey, the trivia and the exhaustion completely worthwhile. Especially since he'd spent their every phone conversation throughout the last five days being careful to make sure she understood that he wasn't missing her at all.
She hadn't believed that at the time and she certainly hadn't believed it in the moment when he'd realised she'd got back twelve hours early. He'd looked at her with exactly the expression her six year old nephew wore when faced with a particularly well gift wrapped present. She smiled since thinking about presents led her mind onto the subject of unwrapping where it lingered for a while before she then decided that wasn't a line of thought she wanted to dwell on right now, although, maybe later.
'Well, well, well - madam Press Secretary - you look ravishing.'
OK. This wasn't a problem. It was inevitable that she and Phillip would come face to face in public eventually, there was even some insane logic to the fact that it would be tonight, the Social Security Bill having passed the Senate and this being something of a celebration of that. She just wished that they weren't about to do this with fifty people looking on, including the President, the Vice President, her closest friends and colleagues... and Toby.
'Congressman,' she turned slowly to face him.
'You look well CJ.'
'Thank you, I hope you enjoy the party, if you'll excuse me I...'
'This is quite a party, the Bartlet administration doesn't win that often so I suppose its understandable that you would want to celebrate this victory, such as it is. There really isn't anything in the legislation to be proud of CJ, you've changed nothing.'
'It's a start; we are aware of the limitations of the legislation, it isn't as far reaching as we'd like, but this is the measure we could get through the House and the Senate.' It was the answer she'd be giving the press for the next few days, she wasn't entirely surprised when Phillip wasn't placated by it.
'It's a drop in the ocean.'
'I don't believe that's true.' She started to turn away, unwilling to prolong the discussion when his voice rose.
'You betrayed this country.' Instantly every other conversation in the room was silenced. Sam started to move, to intervene, but Toby's hand on his arm stilled him.
'Don't. Let her handle this.'
There was a subtext to this conversation - that much was absolutely clear to CJ. Phillip might not think this was the most radical, far-reaching piece of legislation ever to reach the statute books, but that wasn't a good enough reason for this public display of anger and bitterness. It was perfectly clear that he had transferred his problem with her to antagonism to the whole administration.
'We've betrayed this country?' she repeated incredulously turning back to him, 'that's quite an accusation Congressman, I hope you're prepared to substantiate it.'
'We've had nothing but compromise and empty promises from this administration, nothing that you've done has made the slightest difference to the lives of ordinary Americans. There's a lot of rhetoric, a few fine words get thrown around - but nothing actually changes, does it?'
'Nothing changes? I'm so tired of hearing that from people who should know better. Go and tell that to all the extra teachers who've been employed, to the children who have health care for the first time in their lives, go and tell them that we compromised and did the best we could and now they have when they have didn't before. Its very easy to be critical when you aren't called upon to contribute anything - isn't it? There isn't much intellectual rigour involved in looking at every hard fought victory and saying "you didn't do enough," especially when you weren't the one getting your hands dirty.'
She barely paused for breath as she continued.
'And you've done that Congressman, every time we've been digging deep, every time we've been fighting to keep a measure alive you've been there, criticising us for compromising and complaining when we hold fast to our beliefs. Coming up with some spurious reason not to support us because you don't have the guts to say "this isn't enough, but its better than nothing, so lets do this today and try for something more tomorrow." But it would just about kill you to do that, wouldn't it? Its much easier to stand there from some assumed position of moral superiority and point out our failings, anything rather than dealing with yours.'
'That's not true.'
'For as long as you pretend that the reason you can't support us is that we aren't being radical enough, then you're guilty of betrayal. Do you want me to pull out your voting records? Do you want me to spend tomorrow's briefing outlining the way your views changed after the elections two years ago? Shall I demonstrate how you went from supporting the party line to being a major critic in the blink of an eye- because I know the records support me and believe me I'd take great pleasure in leaving you to face those questions. The simple fact, Congressman, is that your attitude has nothing to do with our policies and everything to do with the fact that we beat you. You're betraying the people who voted for you, you're taking their votes and using them to fuel a personal vendetta. We beat you, we got here and there's nothing you can do about that. The electorate chose who they wanted to be President, get past that and start acting like a representative of the people and not some spoiled school boy who couldn't get his own way.'
Into the shocked silence that followed the only sound was the click of CJs heels as she turned and walked rapidly towards the door. The Vice President was the closest to her and he took a step towards her, clearly trying to stop her, or calm her, or both, but she brushed him off with,
'Nice party sir, pity about some of the guests,' and was out of the door before anyone else could reach her. Toby watched her go, and then saw Josh following in her wake.
'Get Cauldwell out of here,' he said to Sam, 'before I rip his face off.'
She wasn't in her office, it took Josh a good ten minutes to track her down to the press room. She was standing in her normal place, head bowed, shoulders hunched, looking anything but her usual composed self.
'Go away Josh.'
'No, sorry, I can't. A friend of mine is upset you don't just walk away from that.'
'Josh,' she shook her head and as she looked up he saw the tears on her cheeks that she hastily wiped away.
'You were incredible in there.'
'It was stupid.'
'No one thinks that.'
'I think that.'
'CJ - you defended this administration - that is what you're paid for. You were eloquent and passionate and you made him look small and mean-spirited. Come back to the party, I promise that no one is going to say a word to you.'
'I can't come back to the party.'
'You have to; Toby is chewing up Congressman in there and while I wouldn't mind if he was concentrating on Republicans he's being pretty indiscriminate about it.' That at least distracted her from the memories of her fight with Phillip.
'For the first time this week I can say he might actually be enjoying himself, I'm not so sure about the members of Congress in his path.' Josh paused, considered and then decided to take the risk. 'He really loves you Claudia Jean.' She smiled, just a little as she acknowledged,
'I'm envious actually, I wouldn't mind having someone care that much about me.' His confessions were so rare that when he did tell her something personal she was always extremely careful how she responded.
'You will, I promise.'
'Yeah - maybe. Come back to the party?'
'OK - well, the President is losing interest anyway, I think he's going to leave Hoynes to it; he's talking about a late supper in the residence; come over for that.'
'I'll think about it.'
'He had it coming CJ.'
'Yeah - but did it have to be from me?'
'I don't see why not.' He paused and then added, 'you know Sam was going to interrupt, he started to walk over, but Toby stopped him.'
After Josh had gone CJ stood in the darkened press room, this was what she did, she stood here day after day and explained and defended the Bartlet administration. Why was it so different that she had done the same to a member of their own party, to someone she had once cared about? Or was she bothered by how easy it been, that she had done it without a thought to their past association? It had surprised her that they had argued entirely about politics, that neither of them had attempted to bring up the past. Not that it mattered, accusations of betrayal were quite damaging enough.
She knew she was fortunate that there had been no press at the event. Although if one of tonight's guests decided to leak the story she could still be spending tomorrow explaining what she and her former lover had been arguing about - and if it got to that stage no one would believe they'd been arguing over politics.
And what was she going to do about Toby? He clearly had no compunction about leaving her to fight her own battles. She'd known all along that the only way their relationship could possibly survive was if it was based on equality, and now she had a reminder that he agreed, that he saw their relationship in those terms. It was a little daunting, but more or less reassuring. She should probably stop thinking about the past and concentrate on the present.
The President had decided that showing his face at the party was more than enough, he had left the whole event in the capable hands of Vice President Hoynes and had decamped to the residence - taking his senior staff with him. Although it was becoming increasingly clear that his senior staff were not in the best of moods.
'Why are we here?' Leo asked
'Because it's a while since we've done this and I thought an opportunity to spend some quality time together would be useful.' His Chief of Staff looked distinctly sceptical at this explanation.
'And I'm jet lagged so I don't feel tired yet and if I'm awake you all have to be.'
'That's more like it - what else?'
'And I want to know what's been going on while I've been away.'
'You know what's been happening, we've spoken on the phone six or seven times a day.'
'You're no fun.' The President looked around the room, his eyes coming to rest on the man standing by the windows gazing out into the darkness. 'How's Toby been?'
'Toby was fine.'
'Yes, he's been in meetings with the people from Ways and Means all week - and he saw some representatives from health insurance companies as well.'
'I thought those situations were both deadlocked?'
'They aren't now.' The President looked at his oldest friend, reading him without any difficulty at all.
'Leo - what did you do?'
'I didn't do anything - Toby did it all on his own.' President Bartlet smiled and shook his head in mock disapproval before asking,
'Just how scarey do you think he was - on a scale of 1 to 10?'
'On a scale of 1 to 10 - I'd say 11. I thought the least I could do was give him an opportunity to express some of his - disquiet.'
'You turned him loose on them; knowing what kind of mood he was in?'
'That's pretty much how it went.'
'I would have killed to be a fly on the wall for that.' Leo grinned, the really devilish grin he had when something completely off the wall amused him.
Josh walked past as they were both contemplating what they had missed, he caught their expressions did a rapid double take.
'Everything all right?'
'Fine - Josh, did you find CJ?'
'Is she OK?'
'I'm not sure,' he glanced to the door and saw CJ walk into the room, 'but I think she's getting there.'
Toby watched CJ as she entered the room. He didn't turn around but observed her progress in the window. A ghost of a smile crossed his face as having stood and looked around her for a while Donna drew her into one of her many arguments with Josh. He wasn't close eneough to hear what nonsesnce they were bickering about this time but the exchange made CJ laugh. It was good to see.
He frowned as Sam joined the group, his expression impossibly earnest, his intention clearly to talk about Phillip Cauldwell. Sam meant well, Toby had no doubt about that, but CJ didn't need to talk about the confrontation right now. He watched her stiffen, her smile fading and he knew that she was trying to prepare herself for Sam's concern.
But they had all reckoned without Donna, who adroitly placed herself Sam and CJ and started talking to him as rapidly and enthusiastically as she could. Toby let out the breath he hadn't realised he was holding and watched as Donna neatly manouvred Sama way from CJ. Donna, he decided was much too smart to work for Josh. Or perhaps that was part of her interest in the job - permanently having the upper hand.
He watched the short interchange between Josh and CJ but wasn't displeased when CJ cut it short to grab a drink. He saw her scan the room while she sipped a glass of wine and watched the way she smoothed a hand over her dress in a gesture that was surely subconscious, before she approached him.
When she came to a stop beside him he was distracted for a moment by their reflections, or rather by the way her dress dipped subtley at the front and then slid easily over the rest of her body. Damn, he wanted to go home. Having her so close and having to remember that they were in a room full of people was surely a form of torture. When she smiled he knew she knew what he was thinking about and he cleared his throat in a hurry before saying the first thing that came into his head.
'I think we're going get through Ways and Means.'
'Really?' Her eyes narrowed, 'what did you do?'
'I talked to them, it wasn't a big deal - their heads are up their asses.'
'If you talked to them like that I can see how you persuaded them to change their minds.' She didn't give him a chance to respond to that. Looking at him over the edge of her wine glass, her expression serious she said, 'thank you.'
'What for,' he shuffled, uncomfortable with something that might be gratitude.
'For not asking me how I'm doing or if I'm OK. For not coming after me, for being smart enough to let Josh come after me. For stopping Sam from intervening and letting me handle Cauldwell.'
'You weren't supposed to know about that,' he said dismissively, 'but it wasn't exactly a hard call CJ - if anyone knows how well you can hold your own in an argument it would be me, don't you think?' He didn't want to talk about this anymore, Phillip Cauldwell was a subject he gave little thought to and on a good day, he hoped and believed she could say the same thing. 'I'm not going to ask you if you're OK - because I'm sure you aren't, having Cauldwell berate you in public can't have been pleasant experience - especially with him flinging around words like betrayal. But he's a bug, you squashed him, if it was the other way around do you think he'd be spending five minutes feeling guilty about how he treated you?'
'Tell me again that you missed me,' she said after a moment's silence, her eyes locking with his, making him forget that they were standing in a room full of other people.
'I really did miss you, it was bad enough that you weren't here for me to talk to ; but when I went home there was all of this stuff to remind me of you.' She wasn't fooled for a moment by his irritation.
'Yes - you have detritus in my bathroom, clothes in my closet and since you've started sleeping in it one of my favourite shirts smells of your perfume.'
'I have a bottle of shampoo, some moisturiser and a few bits of make up in the bathroom,' she listed smoothly, 'a suit in your closet and you could have washed the shirt if you'd wanted to.'
'The point is, I didn't want to.'
'I missed you too,' she responded gazing at him with amusement and affection, she'd long ago learnt to tell the difference between his real anger and the anger that was a convenient mask for other emotions.
'Friends, can I have your attention for a moment?' The President raised his voice and people drifted into the centre of the room. CJ perched on the edge of the couch and no one was surprised when Toby went to stand beside her, although a few people raised eyebrows when he put his arm around her and she turned to rest her body against his. They were normally far more discrete about being in physical contact in public.
'Its been a long week and its good to be home,' President Bartlet continued before being distracted by the sight of his Director of Communications who, was for once totally oblivious to what he was saying. 'Toby, are you going to listen to any of this?' Toby wrested his attention away from CJ with some difficulty.
'I don't know sir, did I write any of these off the cuff remarks?'
'No Toby, you didn't.'
'Then for the sake of my blood pressure its probably better that I don't listen.' There was a wave of laughter around the room, but the President wasn't done yet.
'That's what I thought - so you can go home.'
'You can go home, and take CJ with you; she probably won't admit it but she's exhausted, its been a long week and then I decided to come straight back. I know neither of you want to be here right now, I'm being generous and recognising that. Now get out of here.'
'Do I have any say in this, Sir?' CJ asked, trying and failing to keep the laughter out of her voice.
'No, unless you want me to believe you'd rather listen to me than go home with Toby.'
'OK,' she gave into the laughter and buried her head in Toby's shoulder, knowing she was blushing. 'Lets go home.'
They left to applause, shouts and a few whistles. At the door Toby turned and addressed the room.
'I hope you all have a very pleasant evening - I certainly plan to.'
'You're impossible, do you know that?' CJ said as the door closed behind them.
'I do know that - one of the things I cherish is how much you enjoy how impossible I am.'
'I'm not sure that I wanted you to know that.' He stared at her, his eyes following his hand as it stroked over her face. He wanted to kiss her, he really wanted to kiss her - but not here. Except it wasn't only up to him. She clsed the distance between them , brushing her lips lightly against his, unsurprised when he moved towards her for a deeper, altogether more urgent kiss.
'I really missed you this week CJ - and if we don't get out of here soon I'm going to be forced to break some of the rules we made about how to behave in the workplace.' There was really only one thing to say to that.
'Then lets go home.' Hand in hand they resumed a slow walk towards the exit. The comfortable silence lasted until she asked, 'You think I should open with the Ways and Means stuff tomorrow?'
'After you talk about the summit. You going to say it was a success?'
'I'm going to say that although we were disappointed not to get a tighter agreement we are generally happy with the environmental treaty.'
'The press are going to want you to name and shame those who didn't want to sign the initial treaty.'
'Well, its not going to happen, not if we want to work with them in the future.' He adopted an interrogative tone as he asked.
'They didn't sign the treaty CJ - we're going to protect them?'
'No one's protecting them, we're just ensuring that we don't make a difficult situation worse.'
'The rain forest is being destroyed; polar ice caps are melting and we're worried about things getting worse?'
'And we're taking measures to address those issues - but if we want a global agreement we have to be prepared to work for it.'
'That's good. Use that.' Toby said, glancing over at her, 'where are we going - your apartment or mine?'
'Mine,' she said firmly; not at all distracted by the rapid change from work to their personal life.
It was the way they lived.