Title: The Heart Remains a Child
Summary: C.J. and Toby talk up a storm.
Spoilers: In the Shadow of Two Gunmen
Disclaimer: If you thought that I thought that these characters were mine you'd be wrong.
Notes: This is all C.J. and Toby with a wee guest appearance by Leo. I welcome any and all feedback. If you want to archive it I'll be thrilled to bits. Please let me know. Enjoy!
Seems like ages ago and I already knew him. I don't think he'd slipped in and fingered my soul at that point, though. Most likely not. In any case, he was engaged to Andie Wyatt and she and I were friends, or at least friendly acquaintances.
It was odd - some sparkling Christmas party that I was not ready for. He didn't seem to notice my despondency. He started right in on some paper I'd put together which had been published somewhere or other. We argued. Unsurprising really. And in assuming that I could and would fend for myself, that my opinions were worth the attention of his sharp mind and sharper tongue, that political and intellectual banter with me was more pleasurable than mingling with the silver-dusted crowd, in all of that he demonstrated more respect for me than Paul had done in three years.
I left Paul the next day.
November 17, 2000 The West Wing
A slate gray winter morning outside. And inside the West Wing C.J. Cregg was, as became her position, speaking with the press.
"I'm afraid that's all there is for this morning's episode. But I suppose you'll all be back at one. You don't give a girl much chance for beauty sleep here." She smiled as they chuckled mostly out of politeness and then walked out of the Press Room, nearly bowling Toby Ziegler over in the corridor.
"Are you doing this on purpose?"
She looked at him blankly. "Doing what on purpose?" Her voice was light.
"Making me suffer." Toby followed C.J. past some staffers.
"What?" He didn't answer her. She stopped and turned to him. "What?"
"Don't just blithely stand there and question me, C.J. This is serious."
"I haven't the faintest idea what you might be referring to." Toby sensed amusement brimming behind her decidedly expressionless face.
"You don't think you went overboard?"
"The press this morning."
"You're not helping me here…"
"This is a whole new kettle of fish and we're not planning to burn any bridges at this point? Do you recall saying those words?"
"You're the Press Secretary, C.J. Seriously, you were mindlessly hurling cliches at them. You don't think..."
"...Thank you very much Toby. I so need to hear this from you. If you remember, you didn't give me an option. You won't let me tell them what's really going on. And don't you dare think it was mindless."
"It's just until..."
"I know why we're waiting. We can't tell them until we know for sure that there's a problem. But they sniff this stuff out. They're like hyenas in there. They smell things."
"Particularly when you start hurling cliches at them. They're all writers C.J. They've heard them all before."
"Guess that's why they call them cliches."
He frowned. "You have got to be a better liar than that. That's why we don't like to share everything with you."
There was a pause. "You know what? I'm going to take that as a compliment, Toby."
"Fine." They continued down the hall. "You seem unusually buoyant this morning."
"I do, don't I?"
"Particularly for one of very few people who know that we could be facing an agricultural disaster."
"What's going on?"
"Right now? Not so much." She was silent for a moment, then relented. "Later I'm planning to enjoy an evening of fine chamber music."
"Oh?" Toby prodded. "I never thought... well, that's not had quite this affect on you previously." He paused. "And you're going with?"
"William's the soloist. He's an extraordinary violinist."
"And not even an agricultural crisis will get me down today. Moreover, your rather insulting assumption that I don't deserve to be kept in the know is only serving to make me more determinedly cheerful."
"They don't know, Toby. I was just having some fun with them."
C.J. turned into her office. "Is that all?"
"Okay. Bye-bye then. Have a wonderful day." She beamed at him and reached across the desk for the phone.
Toby frowned as he held his telephone to his ear.
"No. Tonight." Pause. He fingered some papers on his desk. "Who is the soloist?" Pause. "No. I just tried there. This is..."
"Toby?" Leo stuck his head through Toby's half open door.
Toby hung up, abruptly. "Hmm?" His face was furrowed.
"No. No, you just don't ordinarily show up at my door, Leo."
"It seemed strange."
Leo gestured impatiently. "We've heard from Oklahoma."
"It's not good news, Toby. Three people are sick. One's a kid."
"It's definitely associated with the corn, then."
"Talk to Roger Tribbey."
"Right. You'll get on it, then."
"I'll get on it."
Leo nodded and headed into the hallway. "I just happened to be passing by, you know Toby. Don't read too much into it, 'kay?" He walked away.
"Sure." Pause. He raised his voice. "Ginger?
"Yeah," she called.
"Get C.J. in here."
I've respected her for an age. Well, always really. But it wasn't until the shooting that I realized the extent of this. I watched her stand before the press and respond to them in a time of unraveling crisis. And I became aware that I didn't just respect her as a fine Press Secretary or because she performed so effortlessly in her chosen role. Because there she stood, doing a poor job, looking shaken and alone, and I admired her all the more. It was horrifying.
And since then I've walked a narrow path around her. Because I did not want to make this feeling into something it couldn't be. Unfortunately my heart, or some similarly undisciplined organ, appeared to be doing that without any assistance. It wanted her within reach. And sometimes I forgot how to separate it from me.
November 17, 2000 The West Wing
"We have to notify the public of this, Toby. There are others out there right now using those exact same chemicals. And people eating…"
"I know. But it's essential that we're certain. There are people's lives involved both ways."
"How certain do we need to be. Ten people dead certain? Twenty?" C.J.'s eyes caught the light dangerously.
She shook her head, resigned. "We're not certain, yet?"
"No." Pause. "This going to leak?"
"I've not seen anything around. They've reported the little boy, Ben Leslie, in a local paper but there's no hint of a larger story. He's just sick - causes unknown."
"OK. I've got a conference with Tribbey - the Secretary for Agriculture. We'll let it fly as soon as…"
"I know you will." C.J. sighed.
"I thought you weren't going to let any agricultural crises get to you today."
"Yeah. That didn't work out for me, I'm afraid."
Toby smiled fractionally. "We'll let you know immediately we do."
"Good. OK. I'll keep you informed about the boy." She left.
Now, of course, I've got him all tangled in my mind. I watched the heart of flesh break through its stone casing like lava as he poured himself into the aftershocks of the shooting. The fact that he was wrong and still somewhat right, the fact that he was shaken; these things impressed me. I'd seen it before, of course. I'd seen so much before. It's just harder when we're working so closely. And now I can't seem to forget all I've seen.
Danny amused me. He interested me too. This doesn't amuse me. And frankly, it's far more than mere interest.
November 17, 2000 The West Wing
A knock came at the conference room door.
"Yes." Toby had asked not to be interrupted but he was not surprised. C.J. motioned that she needed to speak with him and he stepped out.
"Toby. It's one o'clock now. I need to go to the briefing."
"We don't know…"
"Toby." C.J.'s face relayed urgency and disappointment.
"Hold off on this." She met his eyes for a still moment then nodded once.
"Okay." She spoke sentences in that one word.
Toby stepped back inside.
//Half an hour later…
"You're sure, Mr. Secretary?"
"Yes. If Doctor Nathwani is right."
"I am confident, sir." The doctor's voice came through the telephone speaker. "Well, almost confident."
Toby spoke caustically. "Oh well, if you're almost confident. Doctor, this is a question of life…"
"…That's not what I meant, sir. And I am a doctor. I take these things very seriously."
Toby sighed. "Fine. I assume you'll keep checking though. And you'll keep us apprised of the situation."
"Of course." The doctor was probably offended.
"Thank you." Doctor Nathwani hung up. "Thank you, Secretary." Toby smiled and they shook hands on their way out.
She looked up from her desk. "News?"
"I'm sorry." She raised faintly surprised eyebrows at the apology. "I kept you waiting on this."
"You know I trust your instincts as I do mine. I trust you to do what's right, what's needed. There's news?"
"The boy has meningitis. The other two patients have the flu. The corn crop is fine."
C.J. thought for a moment. When she spoke she was clearly irritated. "I can't believe it."
"I was determined… determined," she emphasized, "not to be upset by your crisis. And yet…"
"But it's finished. You can go to your concert now." C.J. looked at him thoughtfully, seeming to note an anomaly in his tone.
"It will be wonderful to see my nephew."
"Tonight. William Chee. The soloist. He's eleven. He's some kind of child genius and he's playing with the NSO. The National Symphony. My sister is ridiculously proud. Well, I suppose it's not so ridiculous."
"Oh. Your nephew. William Chee."
"It's very exciting."
"I'm sure it is."
She glared at him. "Right. You can leave now."
Toby almost smiled. "Thanks C.J."
"Thanks for trusting me. It's … well, it's nice."
"Nice? Toby, how the heck did you get to write speeches for the President?"
His mouth twitched as he left her office.
"C.J.'s on the phone." Ginger stuck her head into Toby's office.
Toby looked at his watch as he lifted the receiver. "C.J. Where are you."
"Outside the Kennedy Center. I just wanted to…"
"Is William's recital over?"
"How did it go?"
"He was astounding. Astounding. The boy's a genius."
"Why are you calling, C.J.?"
"I wanted to ensure there wasn't an emergency of some kind that I needed to deal with."
"Right. Well. There's this reception thing for William."
"You should go."
"I guess I should. But the thing… well…"
"You want there to be an emergency?" Toby sounded dubious.
C.J. breathed her relief. "Well…"
"Uh… we're very concerned about the movement of Indonesian forces."
C.J.'s voice shifted. "Again? Damn. Well, I'm glad I checked in. I'll see you in a few minutes."
"Sure. See you." Toby chuckled slightly.
One night, as she spoke to me from a hotel room in New York City, I recognized that I could no longer relate without her. Even when she's miles away I view things again with her eyes. When she's near every moment separates into intimate particles and I can feel time slow. Not that I ever lost it. Really. I have always been right more often than not. I just appreciated viewing things under a different light. People especially. She has always looked at people differently than I have.
That same night, as I leaned my head on my hands and listened to her delighted rampage about Governor Henessey and education issues in New York State, I discovered that over a lifetime more than one person can fill your mind.
And this night she came from the Kennedy Center and sat in my office as I worked. This night she sang in my veins. It was dizzying and maddening in both senses.
I knew, then, it would be a long time before I dreamed without her. Perhaps forever.
November 17, 2000 The West Wing
"What are you doing?"
Toby glanced up irritably, his eyes grazing almost too quickly across her prone figure. She had taken over his couch. Her shimmering blue-gray dress was bunched around her knees and she'd kicked her shoes off, planting her stockinged feet firmly on a chair.
After a moment's silence Toby sighed. "Tell me about it."
"Tell you about what?"
"Why you left your nephew's reception to come and plague me."
C.J. looked at him blankly. "No reason."
Toby sounded exasperated. "C.J. You know I can read you like a book."
"Yes I can. You're inordinately legible."
"You were so thrilled about this all day. It was infuriating. And now you're already back here, when you should be congratulating your family and enjoying their company."
"So what's going on?" He stood and made his steady way to the couch where she was lying. "Move over." He sat beside her when she complied.
"William was great."
"Astounding. He's a genius."
"Don't tell me you interrupted my work to repeat yourself."
"I didn't interrupt you." He stayed silent. "Okay. I did interrupt you but I'm not repeating myself." The silence continued. "Fine. He was wonderful. Carly couldn't have been more thrilled. And I was truly thrilled for her. He finished and she stood there in the wings almost shaking and he looked to her first. You know, Toby, Carly is my baby sister. She's the youngest of all of us. And she has this whole life. Michael's a patent attorney; William's a child genius. She has this house in the suburbs and two cars and a dog and this… just this life."
"So?" C.J. looked bewildered.
"Don't tell me you want that life, C.J. You're…. you're the Press Secretary to the President. And not just any President, President Bartlet. You are… what you're doing is significant. It's of primary importance."
"But… I'm not sure…"
"Be sure." His voice softened minutely. "Is it children you want?"
"I don't think so. I… That's some of the problem, Toby. I don't want her life but I feel I should. I want to do this." Her voice strengthened. "I really want to do this."
"Then do it."
"Right. Yep. You're right."
"You don't even like dogs."
"It's not the dog I want, Toby. You understand. Sometimes this all seems frighteningly incomplete, somehow."
"It's complete. It's enough. You are amazing. You're living a life others dream of."
"Okay." He smiled gently and there was a fleeting moment when she thought she saw something in his eyes. But it was only the dust sparkling in the air. "You can go now."
C.J. bristled. "Thanks." She unfolded herself from the couch and stood before him for a frozen moment before stepping away. He rose as she left.
"I know how you feel. I understand what you're saying and I know how you feel."
She met his eyes. "I know you do."
"Yeah." His tone was soft in the yellow light of the room.
The look in his eyes made my heart take pause.
I felt that fairy lights should sweep the room and dazzle us, or white lightning should crackle in the air, or the universe should converge into one tiny shaft of brightness. Instead we were left staring awkwardly into another's eyes, seeing more in one person than could fill a mind and soul but not daring to reach for it.
The moment lasted too long and I breathed again.
"Okay. Well, I'll see you tomorrow."
"Right." He stepped away from me.