SPOILERS: The Fall's Gonna Kill You
DISCLAIMER: These characters belong to Aaron Sorkin.
Not me. Depressing, that.
SUMMARY: In purdah: hidden behind a screen, curtain,
or veil; seclusion.
THANKS: As ever, to Jo. Now go bring the Donna.
Also to Morgan, even though she does too much
FLAUNTING.


In Purdah
Ryo Sen

She's still in shock when I find her in her office,
huddled not on the plush couch, but in the wooden
rocking chair's uncomfortable embrace. I'll never
understand how she can fold her legs up under her like
that, but she's managing. Her head is tilted back,
resting tiredly against the polished wood, and her
eyes are closed.

I try to make a little noise, shuffle my feet enough
to alert her to my presence, but not startle her.

The echo of a smile flickers past her lips. "I heard
you, Toby. You're not that light on your feet."

At least she can still make fun of me. That's got to
be a good sign. I nod, although she's not looking.
"The President talked to you?"

"No," she whispers, all traces of amusement leeched
from her features. CJ Cregg is a beautiful woman, but
right now, there's an element of tragedy in her
expression that would make a painter weep.

She still hasn't moved. It's eerie, seeing her so
still, so frozen.

I shift in the doorway, unsure. "I thought--"

"Leo talked to me," she cuts me off. "Is it raining?"

My gaze flicks past her to the half-open blinds
slicing the moon into shards. "No. It's not supposed
to rain until--"

"Monday. I know. I just--Forget it."

"CJ--"

"It's stupid. Forget it."

I venture further into her darkened office, pushing
the door shut softly behind me. When she gets angry,
CJ yells very loudly. And there's an undercurrent
surfacing in her tone.

"CJ, what are you--"

"It's just... It's May, Toby." Her brow furrows, and
she finally moves, one hand fluttering its familiar
way to her hair, smoothing it into place. She does
that when she's unsettled.

"Yes," I nod, leaning carefully against the edge of
the couch.

Her eyes open slowly, as if she's dreading what she
might see. She keeps her gaze focused on the ceiling.
"It's spring. Shouldn't this have happened in
November? Or the frozen month of February?" Her
voice grows more and more shrill as she slides towards
anger. "During a blizzard, maybe, or at least a good,
moody thunderstorm?"

"CJ--"

"I'm serious, Toby." She finally levels her gaze on
me, and now I can see the dried tear tracks on her
cheeks. Her eyes are haunted. "It's 71 degrees
outside, the cherry blossoms are out and--and then
*this*? It doesn't fit."

She stills after this outburst, awaiting my response.

"No," I say finally. "It doesn't."

"It's May," she repeats, a note of realization in her
tone.

"Yes." I watch her closely.

A grin eases its way across her face. "It's sweeps."

I frown at her. "What?"

"For TV. The ratings," she explains, beginning to
chuckle. "May is sweeps."

"Right." I'm still not sure where she's going with
this. Or why it's funny.

She's laughing now, sporadically, and looking at me as
if I should get it. I don't.

"Toby, we're about to hand CNN, MSNBC, and all the
local affiliates' news programs their highest ratings
in years!" She's rocking slightly in the chair, still
giggling helplessly. Hysterically, even. "All we had
to do," she manages, "was commit an enormous and
potentially felonious fraud!"

"Okay." I have no idea what to say right now, so I
just stand here, mute. Watching this amazing woman
shriek with laughter over the roasting we're about to
get from the press. She baffles me, sometimes.

"Don't you see?" she asks, attempting to bring herself
under control. "The local news--they won't have to
run those horrid, attention-grabbing stories on, you
know, dog attacks and teenagers drag racing on city
streets and the cockroach that Billy Bob Forehead
found in his soup at the neighborhood steakhouse!"

And she's lost again, burying her face in her updrawn
knees.

For lack of a better idea, I move to the couch and
perch on the end closest to her. And I watch her
shoulders shake, and listen to the harsh edges of her
laughter. And wait.

Finally, she calms, trailing off into sniffles and
deep, cleansing breaths. "Oh, Toby," she says as she
lifts her head. She wipes a hand over her face,
blurring the fresh tear tracks.

"Yeah?" I'm expecting her anger now. Maybe even to
be booted unceremoniously from her office. I'm
definitely not expecting indifference. Not from her.

She shrugs. "I have no idea."

I nod wisely. "Okay."

She stares absently at the wall to my right for
several long minutes. "I broke the law, you know,"
she observes casually.

It takes a moment to register. "CJ, you should really
talk to the White House counsel--"

She gives me an unfamiliar smile, more bitter than
sweet. "At Berkeley, I mean. I smoked pot." She's
watching me carefully.

I nod. "I did too. In college, and after."

She purses her lips as if weighing her words. "Tried
mushrooms a couple times," she admits, her tone light.
Breezy, even. "When I was thirteen, I stole this
hair thing--" She stops and grins at me. "A set of
those sticks, you know, that hold your hair in a bun,"
she explains.

"Well, I rarely wear my hair in a bun, so I wouldn't
know."

Her grin deepens to a chuckle. "You had long hair in
the 70s, didn't you?"

I nod. "Guilty as charged." She sobers, and I curse
my thoughtless word choice. "CJ--"

"I speed. I consistently go at least ten miles above
the speed limit, and yet I've never been caught. Not
one speeding ticket." She studies me for a moment.
"I have a tattoo. Did you know that?"

I stare at her, whatever I was about to say lost in
this sudden hyper-awareness.

CJ Cregg, as I have mentioned, is a beautiful woman.
With a beautiful body. A good portion of which has
been left bare by an assortment of formal gowns. I am
intensely curious about this alleged tattoo.

"You didn't," CJ surmises.

I blink. "I'm sorry?"

"You didn't know about my tattoo," she explains.

"No, I definitely did not." I want to ask for
details, for longitude and latitude, but considering
our relative states of mind, I manage to keep my mouth
shut.

"And now," she smiles softly, "you're mentally
reviewing every dress I've ever worn, and that one
time in Austin? When Donna and I were sunbathing in
bikinis. Los Angeles, too. Trying to narrow down the
possibilities, right? Let's just say it's in a very
good place, and only a chosen few have seen it."

I nod stupidly. "Okay." What possible reply could I
give?

Her smile fades like an old photograph. "I'm just..."
She shrugs, frustrated. "*That's* a secret, Toby.
That's personal. That's my business."

"It is," I affirm.

"The triquetra on my abdomen--" She stops, grins at
her misstep, and continues, "The triquetra, it has
nothing to do with my job performance. It has nothing
to do with how well I can spin a Presidential gaffe,
or how well I can smack down unruly Congressional
opponents when they come after us. This tattoo, Toby?
It's mine. It belongs to me. It's..." she shakes
her head, "irrelevant."

"I know."

"Multiple Sclerosis." She looks at me as if I should
be able to fix this for her.

Why can't I fix this? If I can't make it better, I
can at least give her the truth. "Multiple
Sclerosis," I answer quietly, "is not irrelevant."

She ducks her head suddenly, her hair obscuring her
face, and the pattern of her breathing changes. I
watch, frozen, as she struggles not to cry. "His
mind," she says, her voice dripping with tears. "That
beautiful mind. It's not fair."

"No, it's not," I agree.

"I can't imagine what it's been like for him," she
continues unsteadily. "Or for Abbey. And Liz and
Ellie and Zoey. I can't imagine having this horrible
thing just lurking in the shadows." She realizes what
she's said and gives me a wry grin streaked with
tears. "I couldn't before," she amends.

"They're a strong family," I offer. "They'll get
through this."

She nods, her lips pressed tightly together. "But we
won't, will we?"

More than anything, I want to look away. I want to
deny it, to say we'll come through this intact. But I
won't lie to her again. So I hold her gaze and say,
"I don't think so, CJ."

Then she puts her head down, resting her forehead on
her knees. And she sobs.

THE END

 

 

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