title The Dinner 

author Peggy Kemp 

summary CJ/Danny with a bit of Toby/Andrea Life's defining moments 

Disclaimer I do not own them, nor will I ever own them. They belong to Adam Sorkin and the wonderful actors who play them.

THE DINNER 2/3

CJ arrived at Sylvanioís to find her favourite table had been reserved for her. She was ushered to her chair by Julio, who was not only the waiter, but also the son of the owner. CJ had discovered this restaurant the first time she had been in Washington over a decade ago. She made an effort since then to eat at Sylvanioís every time she was in town. Now that she was in Washington she ate there whenever she worked late, which was often.

Over the past ten years she had watched Julio grow up from a 16 year old busboy to a 26 year old with a firm grasp on all the intricacies of the restaurantorial world. When Mario and Therese Sylvanio had started their restaurant it had been a hole in the wall a few blocks away. As their restaurant had become more successful it had moved location to its own building. The Sylvanio family had become friends with several of their long-term customers, including CJ. They had even tried to fix her up with a couple of cousins. CJ had kindly put them off, stating that her career kept her too busy to play the dating game, but she appreciated their friendship. It was at this restaurant that CJ had come to celebrate her selection as the White House Press secretary.

CJ sat down at "her" table. It was in the furthest corner away from the door, with a good view of the restaurant. Sometimes on nights when she felt the need to relax CJ would come here just to watch the people. On days when she was feeling more introspective this seat also offered a spectacular view of the city lights out towards some of the monuments. It was a peaceful place, with Mario, Therese and the rest of the Sylvanio clan working hard to ensure that every meal was a delicious and memorable experience. CJ sat down at her table. Julio bustled away, and arrived back a moment later with ice water and a menu. CJ smiled at him, and waved away the menu. " Bring the menu by later, Julio." She said, "I think someone may be joining me."

Julio looked at her in surprise and grinned. "How wonderful, Ms. Cregg. What does your guest look like? I will direct them here." CJ turned to back at the door, and grinned. "That wonít be necessary." She smiled. "Here he is." Danny walked in the door. He had taken the time to get into a clean shirt and to shave. CJ guessed the shirt was from his ever-present overnight bag. As a reporter Danny always had to be ready to take off for a story at a moments notice. CJ knew he kept a bag packed in his cubicle in the White House press area, and suspected that he had one packed at the Post and in his car. That was likely where the razor come from too.

She smiled at Danny and gave a slight wave over. She remembered their earlier conversation, and kept up the pretence of this being a chance meeting. But her broad smile betrayed how glad she was that he had taken her up on this. "Oh, Danny. How nice to see you. Are you meeting some one or would you like to join me." Danny chuckled. He drew a pale ivory hued rose from behind his back, and said softly, "I am meeting someone, and I would love to join her." CJ smiled as she accepted the rose, and placed in her lapel. Danny smiled appreciatively at CJ as he sat down. CJ nodded to Julio, and he came back with the menus. CJ and Danny opened them up and glanced through them.

"What would you suggest?" Danny asked. "I take it youíve eaten here before." CJ grinned wryly. "Only too often." She said. This is where I get most of my nourishment after a late night at work. I never feel like cooking for myself when I work this way. Besides, I find it relaxing to watch the people." Danny nodded. "Yes, I like to do that sometimes too. Itís amazing how much a perceptive observance of people involved in a story can tell you about them, and about what the story should be about. You can get a lot of insight just by taking the time to watch the people involved." Danny sat back in his chair, and said. "This is a very relaxing atmosphere. I can see why you like it here." CJ nodded. They took a few moments to discuss the menu options. They were both hungry, and settled on the Chicken Parmesan with pasta, and a fresh garden salad.

Julio asked if they would like something to drink before dinner. CJ ordered a glass of white wine, but Danny ordered a mineral water with lemon twist. "I have to redo my column after we are done with dinner." He explained. "I work better with a clear head." "Whatís wrong with your column, Danny?" CJ asked. Danny looked down at his drink. "Letís just say I wasnít in top form, today." He said wryly. CJ chuckled and nodded. Danny looked at her sharply. He was almost afraid that she had noticed. A frightening thought popped through his mind that this was nothing but a pity date. Then she continued. " I was having a pretty rough day myself. I have to re-write most of the questions Leo wants to submit in our next poll." CJ rolled her eyes upwards. "Just what I need." She grumbled. "More work." They were both laughing when Julio arrived with their dinner.

All in all it was a nice relaxing dinner, just what CJ had needed. As they ate their chicken they both relaxed into old patterns of conversation. It was much like their old chats on the campaign trail. CJ found the conversation challenging and invigorating. Danny not only understood her humour, but often he gave as good as he got. They were so relaxed in each otherís company. CJ looked back over the years she had known Danny, and thought how lucky she was to have a friend like him. She realized that the more time she spent with him, the more time she wanted to spend with him. It had been the same on the campaign trail. She had deliberately chosen to distance herself from Danny when she had received the appointment as Press Secretary, but even the five or ten minutes a day she saw Danny always left her wanting more. She really missed their old campaign trail friendship.

CJ and Danny began reminiscing over events on the campaign trail and early White House days. Danny laughed about Joshís secret plan to fight inflation, and they were both laughing about their different perceptions about a few events that had happened during the campaign. CJ had laughed about the time Danny caught Josiah Bartlet sleepwalking, and then told him her take on it. Danny was shocked. "You donít really mean that Toby Ziegler seriously thought I was going to write a story about Bartlet sleepwalking, do you?" Danny was almost aghast before he saw the humour in the situation, and began chuckling. The bell on the door chimed as another customer entered. CJ glanced over across the restaurant, and gasped. "OH NO!" she groaned. "Speak of the Devil!"

Danny turned around. Toby Ziegler and Congresswoman Andrea Wyatt walked into the restaurant. CJ suddenly remembered that Sylvanioís was only a 5-minute drive away from the concert hall where the ballet had been performed tonight. On performance nights Sylvanioís had a special on mochacino and dessert. He turned back to see CJ tensing up. "Relax CJ." He said quietly. "We are just two people who worked late in the same building and decided to grab a bite to eat together. There is nothing wrong with what we are doing."

CJ looked at him. "Thatís what you say, Danny. And honestly, thatís what I believe. But that is NOT what Leo McGarry or Toby Ziegler think. Honestly, if I hear the words ĎConflict of Interestí one more time I think Iíll scream."

Danny frowned. "You donít honestly mean to say - that they have spoken to you about?" "About my friendship with you. Yes, they have. They have noticed our friendship, and commented on it. Basically they think Iím too friendly with most of the Press." CJ sighed. "As much as I love this job, I honestly donít know if Iíll have this chance again next term. If Leo had his way I think heíd talk the President into removing me." Danny looked shocked. "But youíre the best Press Secretary that Iíve seen at the West Wing." He said.

CJ smiled. "Thank you, Danny." Then she continued, "I know Iím good at my job," she said. "But Iíve noticed that I am not always included in a few of the "boyís clubí things that go on around the place. My opinion isnít always considered as highly as it should be given my experience and my background." CJ suddenly looked flustered, as if considering the political ramifications of expressing those views to a reporter. Danny was just too comfortable to talk to.

Danny reached over the table, and put one hand on top of hers. "Relax CJ. This entire evening is off the record. As far as Iím concerned, we are just two friends who decided to grab a bite together. I want you to know that I would never use our relationship to get a story. I value our friendship too much".

Toby chose that moment to approach the table with Andrea. "CJ!" he said with forced brightness. "I didnít expect to see you here." Danny leaned back swiftly, moving his hand away from CJís. Toby stared at them thoughtfully. " Did the two of you attend the ballet, too?" Toby inquired.

"No," CJ said. I worked until 10:00, and discovered Danny when I walked through the Press area. Neither of us had eaten, so we decided to grab a bite. I eat here all the time when I work late." She looked around the restaurant. "Would you like to join us?" she asked. Toby looked around and realized that every other table in the restaurant had filled up with the after-theatre crowd while he had been debating how to approach CJ. "I guess we will" he turned to Andrea, and continued. "If you donít mind." "Not at all." Andrea said. "Iíve been wanting to meet some of the people you work with."

CJ motioned to Julio, and asked for two chairs. "Of course, Ms. Cregg." Julio babbled. "I am pleased to meet more friends of yours." Toby raised an eyebrow. "I guess you do eat here often." He said. "Too often," CJ agreed. "Sometimes it seems that the only way to get my desk cleared is to tackle it when no one else is around.

CJ decided to take control of the situation. She turned to Congressman Andrea Wyatt, and reintroduced herself. "I donít know if you remember me, but we met on the campaign. My name is CJ Cregg. I work as the White House Press Secretary." She turned slightly towards Danny, as she continued. "And this weary newspaperman is Danny Concannon. He works for the Post. Danny this is Congresswoman Andrea Wyatt."

Andrea Wyatt smiled, as she shook hands with CJ and Danny. "Just call me Andrea," she said She turned to Danny. "I do believe Iíve read your column, Mr. Concannon." "Call me Danny." He interjected. Andrea nodded and said, "Fine, Danny it is. I have read your work. That was quite a piece you did on Abbey Bartlett during the campaign." Toby nodded. "Yes, it helped out the Bartlets a lot. There were some astute political reasons behind that piece." "Plus it was a good piece." Danny said with a mischievous grin.

CJ spoke up. "How was the performance tonight?" Toby looked at her as Julio approached. Andrea answered the question. "It was quite well done. It was the Venetian School of Ballet performing. Some of those young dancers could have been no more than 17. They were doing a world tour, and were quite amazing." Julio bustled up to the table and presented the group with mochachinos and rich double fudge cheesecake smothered in raspberry sauce. "Compliments of the Chef." He said cheerfully. CJ grinned as she took the first mouthful. This was one of her favourite desserts and Mario knew it.

Danny and CJ enjoyed the dessert and conversation with Andrea and Toby. Toby was on his best behaviour around Andrea, and that had made for a much less acerbic conversation than CJ suspected Toby wanted to have with her. She didnít fool herself, though. She was reasonably certain that sometime before this week was out Toby would find a way to continue the conversation with a few more biting barbs and pointed inquiries.

Danny and Toby seemed a little uncomfortable around one another at first. Both men were admirable wordsmiths. Their love of language created the recognition of language as a powerful tool in the right hands - and a powerful weapon in the wrong ones. Both felt that language was the most powerful force that humankind had been provided with. In the end that common bond of recognition was a stepping-stone between them. . Initially they chose words carefully, and warily considered the words of the other. By then end of the evening they were both much more casual, and actively enjoying the conversation.

The conversation continued with a few more reminiscences and familiar stories. Toby found some of Dannyís insights quite intuitive, and Andreaís contributions to the conversation were colourful and full of her characteristic enthusiasm for life. After a while Toby seemed to be relaxing. He found himself enjoying the company, although he secretly wished that he could have found a table for two tonight. The few months he had been dating Andrea had been like water to his soul. He had forgotten just how much joy this woman had brought into his life. He found himself staring at her with admiration in his eyes. He noticed that Danny stole a few glances at CJ with the same look in his eyes. It gave him more food for thought.

The conversation turned to politics as it often does in Washington. Toby made a wisecrack about a certain Republican Senator that shook Danny so much he almost dropped his drink. He was in the middle of an intense investigation about the man that would almost certainly destroy his career. Toby noticed the reaction, and asked what the problem was. Danny paused. He gave a wry grin. "This time I have to ask you to let this be Ďoff-the-record.í"

He looked at CJ, Toby and Andrea and became very serious. "Iím in the middle of an investigation of the man, and I have uncovered some" he paused to consider his words "rather unpleasant facts about him. When they are reported -" Danny paused again, "And they are sufficiently serious that they must be reported. When this information comes out it will probably destroy his career." Danny leaned back and looked across at CJ. "Sometimes I hate that part of my job. I love to report the news, but I hate it when Iím writing a story that can damage a personís life. Or when the story has to be told, but you know that it is going to have an effect on innocent parties. In this case it will devastate the manís wife and children. I know there is a fine line here between what is right and the publicís right to know. Often find myself in a debate with my conscience over what is news and what is tabloid journalism." Danny sighed. "In this case I see no other recourse."

Toby nodded. "You found the Mafia connection." He said. Danny nodded. "That rumour has been running around, but I found proof of it. Among other things" Danny confirmed. " It will be out as soon as I can get the final confirmation. With a story like this one I like to use as many sources of confirmation as I can. I will not write something that could destroy a maní s life on the word of one or two disreputable sources."

Toby nodded. This was the longest amount of time he had ever spent with Danny, and the conversation was revealing a side of Danny that Toby was almost surprised to see. Often he painted all reporters with a very black brush, but this conversation was revealing a serious journalist with a strong code of ethics regarding his life and journalism. The thought crossed his mind that the concern he had about CJís friendship with Danny was probably unfounded. He could see that Danny wasnít going to risk this relationship by abusing her trust just for the sake of a story. His typically cautious nature brushed the thought aside, but he found himself beginning to have a burgeoning respect for Dannyís character, intelligence and wit.

The conversation continued for a few moments more, and then Andrea looked at her watch. "I need to get home, Toby." She said. "I am meeting a constituent for breakfast in the morning." "Oh, you still do that?" Toby said. "Toby! You know that morning is my best time of day." Andrea stated. "Yes," Toby said with a smile. "I remember." Tobyís tone of voice and smile held the treasured fondness of a very pleasant memory. Andrea smiled back.

Danny and CJ looked at each other, and CJ stated, "We really should be going too." Danny nodded. " Yes, I have a story to do a few tweaks on before the morning edition." Danny turned to CJ and made a request. "I took a cab over here, CJ. Do you think you could drop me off at the White House?" "Sure." Said CJ, "That can be arranged." CJ turned to Toby and Andrea. "Goodnight Toby, see you tomorrow." She shook Andrea Wyattís hand. " It was very nice to see you again Andrea."

As they paid their bill Mario took the time to whisper to CJ "Your young man seems very nice. You bring him back again. Dinner will be on the house." CJ blushed, thanked him, and walked away. Danny caught up with her at the door. "What did he say to you?" he asked. "You blushed. It was cute." CJ looked at him "Just that you were a nice young man, and I should bring you back." Danny took a risk. "Well I am, and I would like to bring you here again." CJ turned to look at him. She smiled and said, "Yes, I had a nice time, too." She waved to Toby and Andrea as they got into their car across the street. Then she opened to doors to her own car, and Danny got in.

Danny turned to watch her as they drove. She looked worried. "A quarter for your thoughts." He said. "What?" CJ said. "Well, people usually ask a penny for your thoughts, but I thought your thoughts were worth more money than that." CJ turned slightly to look at him. She drove half a block further, and then turned down a residential street and pulled over. .

CJ turned to look at Danny. She took a deep breath. "Oh Danny. I donít know what to do." She said. "About What?" Danny asked. "Danny, you know I really like you. She reached over and covered his hand with one of hers. "But this relationship could get really complicated if we let it continue. You know about the "Conflict of Interest " conversations people have been having with me - just about our friendship. What would happen if that friendship." CJ paused and took a deep breath. "Became more than just friendship?"

Dannyís eyes opened wide. It was the first time that he was really aware that CJ thought of him in the same way he thought about her. He took a deep breath, and with one thumb caressed the back of her hand. "I think we have to take that chance, CJ." He said. "You know that I will never take advantage of our friendship for a story. - even if we stay the way we are - just friends. If that friendship went deeper, I would be more careful. I would never hurt you, CJ. You know that I have a thumb on a lot of the things that go on around Washington, and I know how Mandy hurt Josh. I would never take advantage of you like that." Dannyís voice was emphatic and sincere.

Danny reached across the car with his other hand and caressed her cheek as he continued. "But I do know that if we donít give this a chance weíre going to regret it. Face it CJ. We fit together. This is good for both of us. If all you want to be is friends, I will have to live with that. But that is not how I feel. CJ, I think you know itís not how you feel either."

CJ looked at him, and nodded. "I know." She said, "But this is awfully scary. Danny, I donít want to lose your friendship. So." CJ paused and looked into Dannyís eyes. "If we were to allow our friendship to go deeper, I would want to start tentatively. What I mean is moving slowly and cautiously. If any part of it doesnít seem like itís working, we pull back immediately and remain friends." CJ looked across the car. Her eyes shone in the moonlight as she said "Danny. Youíre a good friend. I donít want to lose that friendship because we made a mistake."

"Fair enough" Danny agreed. CJ continued. "And you know that there is a need for discretion. Both of our jobs are too complicated to risk being really obvious about this. Weíll both take it slowly."

Danny smiled, and added, "If we can. I seem to remember telling myself at one point not to let my feelings go beyond friendship with you. But my heart didnít listen. I think your heartís feelings were a little bit in rebellion against your mind, too. CJ all I can say is I love to be with you. Even one moment in your presence can brighten my whole day. I really think we can work this out."

CJ smiled, and Danny reached across the car to caress her cheek again. "Danny this was a great evening." she whispered. Danny nodded. "Oh CJ. This night was everything I dreamed it would be." He chuckled - "Well except for the part where Toby walked in. I never dreamed that part. I did dream this part, though." Danny leaned across the car and kissed CJ on the cheek. His warm breath teased against her cheek. Dannyís hand continued to caress across her cheek, then slowly caressed her neck. Finally it slid around the back of her neck and slowly pulled her head towards his. The hand entwined with CJ on the seat moved slowly up her arm to rest on her shoulder. Danny kissed CJís cheek again, and then made a series of slow kisses across her cheek until his mouth rested lightly on her lips. Then Danny pulled back, a few inches, looking CJ in the eye, giving CJ the chance to make the next move. Above all he wanted this to be something that they both wanted.

CJ moved her head towards his, and kissed his lips gently. What began as a gentle exploration of the newfound commitment became an expression of a deeper level of relationship. This was not a 10 second kiss grabbed in the corridor of the White House. This kiss was an intimate melding of purpose; a symbol of a commitment to take this relationship seriously - to do whatever it took to work it out. CJís hand moved up Dannyís arm, and shoulder until she reached the nape of his neck. Slowly she tangled her fingers in his curly red hair. What began as a slow and tentative quickly inflamed to become a heart-stopping expression of sensual longing and passion, deeper than either of them had ever experienced before. CJ had been kissed before, but never like this. It seemed as if Danny had poured his whole being into that one moment. When they broke away they were both breathing heavily, and stared in shock at one another as they realized that this was one of the defining moments of both of their lives.

Danny moved back slowly. He stared at CJ and smiled. His smile was an expression of a deep contentment. It reminded CJ of the Cheshire cat. "Well, well." Danny said, grinning joyfully. CJ looked back at Danny with shock and wonder on her face. "Well." She agreed. "What do we do now? she continued. Danny looked at her with a smile so bright it could light the Washington Monument. He said. "Well, I think we have -" Danny paused, reached over to take CJís hand, and continued, "time for one more kiss. One more kiss to set this night in our memory forever. Then you drop me off at the White House and I finish my story. Tomorrow is another day." Danny looked at CJ with love-filled eyes. "I do think we need to go out again - just to talk - so that we can define some parameters."

CJ nodded. "Iíll be honest, Danny. This scares the hell out of me. The relationships Iíve had before have never worked out as well as I wanted. But Iíve never tried to date my best friend before." She smiled tremulously. "I really think that this might be the relationship that works. I know you respect me, and that you understand the importance my career has for me. I would like to talk more about this, but I agree we both need time away to reflect about this."

Danny nodded. "I know. Itís a big step for both of us. One wrong move and both our careers could be trampled under the burden of scandal. Letís both take a couple of days and think about this." Danny took a deep breath, and looked CJ in the eyes as he continued. "Not to think about whether or not it should be. We both know it should.í" He paused, and CJ nodded. Danny continued, "But to consider what and how, and where we go from here. CJ, I want you to know that you are the most incredible woman I have ever met, and I am really looking forward to getting to know you a whole lot better."

CJ nodded, and said quietly. "Me, too. This is so odd for me. Danny, I feel so comfortable around you. I have already let you get closer than I have a lot of people. I just feel more complete when I am with you."

Danny nodded. "I know," he said. "I feel like that too." Danny smiled at CJ. "Can I look forward to a few more of these at the White House?" CJ laughed, then said. "Weíll see, Danny. Right now I want us both to avoid each other for the next few days. Letís get together Saturday morning for breakfast. Meet me at Sylvanioís at 8:00 am, and we will talk about where we go from here."

CJ looked at her watch. "Itís almost 2:00 am. I have an 8:00 am meeting with Leo. I think I had better get you back to the White House." Danny nodded. He looked at their hands still entwined, and pulled her hand to his lips. He grazed his lips across her knuckles, and then leaned over to kiss CJ again. CJ responded with increasing ardour. The last kiss had been a tentative exploration of their new relationship. It had been wonderful, but in paled in comparison to this one. This kiss was an earth-shattering and sensual expression of commitment and passion. It involved the understanding that whatever happened - this relationship would be explored. When they parted each felt that they had had a glimpse into the others soul. CJ and Danny both knew that this was only the first step on a journey that they hoped would last forever. CJ felt she had finally found a man who would let her be the intelligent independent strong woman she was. Danny felt that CJ would be the soul-mate who would journey with him along the paths of life. They both knew that they had found the person of their dreams, and they felt totally at ease with one another. That, in itself, was rare enough that the whole evening seemed unforgettable.

As CJ dropped Danny off at the White House she noted that Tobyís car was in the parking lot. She shook her head. This situation might not be as easy to overcome as she thought if the lack of trust that people had in her was that extreme. But they would find a way. She waved at Danny as he entered the building, and waved at Toby as he sat behind the wheel of his car trying to look discreet. But they would overcome it, she thought. CJ went home that night, feeling more than satisfied with the way the evening had turned out. It had been a big step they had taken tonight, but CJ knew deep within her heart that it had been the right one.

 

The Dinner - 3

 

 

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