Title: Bad Habits – Part I

Author: Stinger (stangs@prodigy.net)

Spoilers: None. This occurs sometime during the first season before Rosslyn.

Rating: PG-13 – Adult Language and Situations

Description: Toby finds a reason to remove his wedding band

Category: Romance/Series

Disclaimer: all WW characters belong to Aaron Sorkin et al. This is just for fun because Toby floats by boat. Cheers.

Parings: Toby and a new Character

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Setting: West Wing – 7:15pm Thursday night in May.

THUMP.....WACK.....THUMP.....WACK.....THUMP.....WACK – Toby's been bouncing that stupid rubber ball against the wall for the last ˝ hour. Thinking about nothing and everything at the same time. More or less just wondering how he ended up here. Not here here, as in 'in the White House', but here as in, 'in the White House at 7:15 on a Thursday night when everyone else is long gone.' Lately he's been thinking he needs to go home earlier. Why should he always be the last one to leave, except for Leo, who must actually live here.

Sam sticks his head in the door, "I'm outta here Toby" Ginger's got a copy of the Stackhouse memo, with some additions – have you decided how you're gonna handle him tomorrow? I just don't see how we can let it go at 6%, even if we do cut the..."

"Yeah – I've got it covered, Josh signed off on it a half -hour ago before he left. I didn't know you were still here" looking at his watch. "Want to get a drink?"

"Can't man, it's Thursday, maybe tomorrow." – And Sam's out the door.

Toby shakes his head as he picks up his briefcase and shouts – "Ginger! I need a copy of..."

"...the Stackhouse memo" she says walking into his office and handing him a pile of papers - "Sam's made some notations in the margin. The meeting's scheduled for 4:00 tomorrow afternoon. You have senior staff at 8:30 – followed by a 10:15 with the Farmer's and Planter's Association. Then at 5:00 prep for Meet-the..."

"What could the Farmer's and Planter's Association possibly want from me?" he asks her as he closes the top of his laptop.

"I would seem normal to assume they want to talk about farming and planting. Ask Josh – he's the one who put it on your schedule."

"Who's schedule was it on before it was on mine?"

And she does that eye thing that she does, where one eyebrow goes up and the other one down and gives him the 'are you the stupidest person on the planet' look?

"Figures. Go on home Ginger." He says as he walks out the door, stuffing the Stackhouse memo into his already overstuffed briefcase and wondering when Ginger turned into such a smart ass. Working for him must be rubbing off on her – and he smiles to himself just a little bit. He likes spunky women.

 

 

 

 

 

###################

7:25 pm Ellipse

Still mulling over Ginger's smart ass remark, and the remarkable absence of almost all staff in the west wing on Thursday nights, Toby takes the usual route to his car by cutting across the north end of the Ellipse. Lost in thought, he hears someone shouting in the background and the next thing he knows he's staring up at the clouds - flat on his back with a woman's legs sprawled across his face.

She lets out a grunt, rolls off him onto the ground, lifts her head up, holds her glove up in the air and yells "Got it!" Then proceeds to collapse back on the ground mumbling "shit, shit, shit."

Toby starts to sit up, "What the hell..." he mumbles. Just then another one of them runs up next to her lying on the ground, "Hey, good catch Tan!" Toby looks at him – and he's just standing there staring at the both of them. After a few seconds he thinks to add, "Uh, Tan – can I have the ball? Game's over ya know, it's almost 7:30" – he's pointing at his watch.

She holds out her glove and he grabs the ball and runs off toward what apparently serves as the infield for a softball game.

"Asshole" she mumbles still lying on the ground.

Toby sits up to take stock of the situation. Here's what he sees: a dark curly-haired woman with café au lait skin, maybe in her late 20's (he's never been very good with ages), wearing a blue baseball hat, shorts and a t-shirt that says 'Sure you can trust the Government, Just ask a Whale or an Indian' lying on the ground next to him, repeating the words "shit, shit, shit" like a mantra under her breath.

"That's quite a vocabulary you've got there" Toby starts, as she sits up holding her right elbow against her side and glaring at him. She shakes the glove off her left hand and starts to speak.

"I could have let that one go you know. I mean, I saw you standing there. And I could have just let that ball go sailing right over your head, but you know, we were only up by one run...If I let that ball go at least one and maybe two or three people score on that hit and then we lose."

"Is that an apology? Because if it is," he says getting to his feet and brushing off the dirt and grass from his pant legs, "it needs some work."

"Why should I apologize? You're the one out for a leisurely stroll in the outfield. – Jesus Christ."

"You know this is a public park – federal property as a matter of fact – ANYONE can walk here ANYTIME they feel like it."

"Yeah, well ANYONE can get knocked on their ass too!" she says as she tries to stand up, but clearly her right arm is hurting her and then she starts in with "shit, shit, shit" all over again and sits back down.

"Here we go again..." Toby says as he rolls his eyes. He glances over to the infield and notices that it's deserted.

"Sorry, my vocabulary is a little lacking right now, this hurts like a motherfu...."

"Looks like your teammates left you behind." He interrupts before she can finish her expletive.

"Yeah, well it's Thursday night." She says as she struggles to stand up again.

Toby reaches a hand down to help her up and comments "That looks like it hurts."

"Your powers of observation are remarkable" she deadpans just as a car pulls up next to them with three of her teammates.

"Hey Tan," yells the driver. "You okay?"

She turns to the car and puts a big smile on her face - "Yeah, I'm fine Jules. Just having a conversation here with the brick wall I ran into."

"Need a ride to your car?" Jules asks her. Basically Tanner knows she's checking to see if she's okay with this guy talking to her, or if she needs to be rescued.

"Nah, I'll see you at work tomorrow."

"Good game Tan" yells the asshole from the outfield as the car drives off.

"Thanks, dumbshit" she mumbles as the car disappears.

"Why didn't you tell them you hurt your arm?" Toby asks her pointing to the right arm she's cradling in front of her now.

"Maybe I didn't want them to know. The only person on this team who plays worse than me was that woman who just drove off. She was behind home plate tonight. If I'd let that ball go, I'd be behind home plate next Thursday. You can bet your ass, I'm not gonna let that asshole in the back seat know this hurts."

"He seemed like a nice enough guy to me." Toby shrugs.

"I guess that shows how much you know." She says wincing as she bends over to pick up her glove. "Look, do me a favor will you, just point me in the direction of Constitution Ave. and I'll be on my way."

"I think you need to get that looked at."

"Yeah, well that's kind of what I had in mind. But since I can't beam myself to the emergency room Scotty, I'm gonna have to drive. Now, which way is Constitution..."

Toby rolls his eyes as she starts walking in the opposite direction of where she needs to go, thinking that this woman is a complete mess, but then again – she does have spunk. He grabs his briefcase off the ground, catches up to her, puts his arms on her shoulders, turns her around and says, "I'll drive you. You're a danger to others as well as yourself right now." She glares at him but lets him lead her over to his car about 30 feet away. She notices where he's parked and as she climbs into the car she tells him he's parked in a restricted area and could get towed. He smiles and says "I guess today was my lucky day then" and closes her door. As he walks around to his side of the car he's smiling just a little bit. If you weren't C.J., you might miss it, but it's there, it's definitely there.

Toby drives a black Toyota Camry. If you ask him about it, he'll tell you it was made in Tennessee by American workers, so technically it's not a foreign car.

She's staring straight-ahead holding her arm and trying to control her breathing when he gets in the car and says "Buckle up for safety." She rolls her eyes and reaches her left arm over to grab the belt and lets out a faint squeal and slumps down in the seat with her eyes squeezed shut. He can see the tears in the corners. "Let me help," he says as he leans over to reach the belt. This is when he notices, as his cheek brushes against her hair that she smells beautiful. It's the scent of flowers, and soap, and candles. And it shocks him for a moment that a person can smell this good. He breathes in deeply and then leans back and clicks the belt latch.

He takes her to GW 5 minutes away. As he pulls up in front of the ER entrance and she unlatches the seatbelt with her good hand, he jumps out of the car and goes around to open her door. As she gets out of the car she thinks of something and starts mumbling "shit, shit, shit." again. "Now what?" He's completely at a loss as to what could be the source of this particular diatribe.

"I locked my purse in my car before the game. They're not gonna look at me without my insurance card." He sees tears forming in her eyes and he understands that the arm really hurts her very badly. "Give me your keys. You said Constitution? What block?"

She smiles at him for the first time, and his heart skips a beat. "Between 17th and 18th heading towards the Lincoln Memorial."

"What kind of car do you have?"

"Same as yours, Camry, except silver" she says as she's searching both of her pockets with her good hand for her car keys... and they're not there. And she gets this look on her face, it sort of falls, and he can't believe it but it nearly makes his heart break to see that look of complete surrender on her face. Like this is the absolute last straw.

And she loses it, right there on the sidewalk in front of the GW Emergency Room entrance – she loses it. She flops down on the ground and starts sobbing. "I don't have my keys, I must have lost my keys." And he doesn't know how to deal with a crying woman. He never did. So he does the only thing he can think of, he sits down on the sidewalk with her and puts his arm around her shoulder – careful not to touch the injured arm - and lets her cry until she can get a grip.

Eventually, he helps her up and leads her into the ER entrance. She signs in and he deposits her in a waiting room chair and goes to speak to the admitting nurse. After a couple of minutes with her, and as quick dash outside to move his car into the parking lot, he comes in and sits down next to her. She looks so tired. Her head is leaning back in the chair, her eyes are squeezed shut, but the tears are still leaking from the corners, running down the side of her face into her ears. 'Could this day possibly get any worse she's thinking?'

He has no idea what he's doing here but for some strange reason he can't leave her right now. Not like this. He puts his arm around her, and she leans her head on his shoulder – and he thinks how good this feels to him, to have his arm around her and her head on his shoulder. Secretly he does this just so he can smell her scent again.

"You do have insurance, right? They're gonna look at you because I promised them that you would call them tomorrow with your insurance information. So I'm just checking...you do have insurance."

"Yes, I have insurance." she sighs and lifts her head up to look at him. "What else did you have to give them besides a promise and a smile?"

"Plastic." He says.

"My hero." She sighs and puts her head back down on his shoulder.

They've been sitting in the ER now for about 45 minutes and every few minutes he thinks she's gonna jump out of her skin. Every couple of minutes the muscles in her arm spasm and she holds her breath until they release. Reflexively he tightens his hold on her until she breathes out, and then he eases up.

She opens her eyes and glances over at the TV in the waiting room. "Hey, I forgot to ask your name. Should I just call you Brick Wall? Or BW for short?" "Toby" he says "and your name's Tan, like in the color? Not quite off-white – not quite khaki?" "Aren't you the funny one? Bet if I put those three colors in front of you, you wouldn't know the difference. Tan short for Tanner. Do me a favor Toby?" she asks, "will you check out what's on that TV over there?"

He's been sitting in the same position for so long that it feels good to get up and stretch. He walks over, watches the TV until a commercial comes on and then comes back and sits down. "A blonde woman named Tina just one a million dollars" he says. "Damnit, damnit, damnit," she says, "My money was on Colby." Just then the nurse calls "Tanner Vaughn?"

Toby stands up and helps her stand, "Can he come with me?" she asks. The nurse shrugs and says that's fine. "Do you mind? She asks. "It's the least a brick wall can do" he says and they walk into the back.

##################

9:05pm

"Well Ms. Vaughn, what we have here is a buckle fracture of the right humerus, near the elbow." The doctor says pointing to the X-ray on the wall.

She jumps up off the exam table "That can't be, I just fell down catching a fly ball. I don't see a fracture," she's got her face right up close to the x-ray, "Toby do you see a fracture?" Toby shrugs and gives the Doctor his best 'I'm really sorry about all of this' look. "Tanner, he's a Doctor. You know that means? He actually went to medical school. Why don't we just assume that they might have taught him how to read an X-ray during his eight plus years of medical training and accept that he's a little better at this than you are?" "But I don't see a fracture..." she's squinting at the x-ray.

"Never-the-less Ms. Vaughn, I assure you that 'I' see a fracture. The good news is that with a buckle fracture of this type, you'll only be in a cast for four weeks, any other type of fracture and you're looking at almost twice that."

##################

One hour later, with a brand new cast on her arm and a bottle of Vicodin in her pocket they're back in Toby's car leaving the hospital.

"Do you think I should have gotten the teddy bears instead?" she asks him staring at her arm? She's selected a cast covered in red, green, and blue balloons.

"I think you should have gotten white."

"White's boring Toby. Are you trying to tell me I'm boring?"

"Oh, you are far from boring. I can't remember the last time I had this much fun in the ER. How long were you going to argue with him over that x-ray?"

"Until he saw it my way. I can be very convincing you know."

"That's one word for it" he mumbles under his breath as he starts the car. "Where to?"

"Well let's see, I live in Alexandria, but I can't leave my car parked on Constitution. I'm not as lucky as you are Toby. Come 6:01 tomorrow morning, they'll tow my ass. Then again, I can't get my car without my keys, so driving it home isn't in the cards tonight. But I could call AAA. They could at least tow it to a gas station for me. If I lie and say it won't start at least the tow will be free. Then again, what if they ask for the keys... You know what Toby, fuck it. At this point I don't give a shit what happens to the car. I'm tired, angry, thirsty, hungry and totally pissed off."

"Okay! I get it! Look, it's 10 o'clock. How about I get you something to eat, and then I take you home?"

"How about something to drink instead?"

"What's the bottle of pills say?"

She pulls the bottle out of her pocket and hands it to him. "I don't know, you read it."

"Do Not Use While You Are Breast Feeding"

"May Cause Drowsiness, Alcohol Could Intensify This Effect"

"Use Caution When Operating A Car Or Dangerous Equipment" He hands the bottle back to her.

"Yeah, definitely, let's get that drink" she says. He puts the car in gear and starts driving.

"Um, how's that arm feel?" he asks.

"Broken, how's yours?" She deadpans and puts her head back on the headrest.

Toby takes her to a bar he knows well.

#####################

They walk in and take a table for two by the windows. Toby orders a scotch, and Tanner orders a tequila shot and a beer. His eyebrows rise when he hears what she's ordered. "It's been one hell of a fucked up day Toby" she says by way of explanation. "I didn't say anything" he holds his arms out in mock innocence. "I can see your vocabulary is back."

She excuses herself to go to the ladies room. Their drinks arrive and Toby downs his and asks for another. A couple of minutes later she comes back to the table looking flushed and now, very very pissed off. "Toby, I need to ask you one more favor. And if you laugh I'll kill you. Follow me." She says heading back toward the bathroom. He gets up and follows her wondering what's going on – knowing that this just can't be good. She stops at the door to the ladies room, and turns around "I need you to unbutton my shorts Toby. I can't get the button thingy undone with my left hand. And you can stop smiling." she hisses at him. He thinks maybe this actually could be good after all. She averts her eyes and lifts up her t-shirt with her left arm and he unbuttons her shorts, his hands grazing the warm smooth skin of her stomach as he does it.

"Don't move," she orders and ducks into the ladies room. Now Toby feels like an idiot loitering outside the ladies rest room but he does what he's told and waits. The skin of her stomach was so soft and warm when he touched it – he unconsciously brings his hands to his face to see if he can smell her. She steps out and raises her shirt again. "Let's complete the circle here – will you please button me up now?" This time she doesn't avert her eyes, but instead watches his hands as he moves to button her shorts, taking slightly more time than he really needs to complete the task. He knows it, and she knows it too. Something passes between them. This is when she sees it. Watching his fingers button her shorts. A wedding band on his left hand, a goddamn wedding band. It twinkles in the light.

They walk back to the table and he pulls out her chair for her. She's a little more pissed off right now than she thinks rationally that she has a right to be. She drinks the tequila shot, chases it with beer and asks, "So Toby, tell me, how long you've been married."

He looks up at her, he's been staring at his scotch thinking about touching her again when he hears her.

"Pardon?"

"The ring Toby, the wedding band? How long have you been married? And what would the little woman think if she knew you were out having drinks with me right now?"

He senses that she's pissed, she thinks he's a married man. "I'm divorced." he says softly, so she can barely hear him. But she does.

"Divorced?" She thinks this can't be good. Begin married was almost better than this scenario. "How long?"

"Eight years" he whispers.

"So why the ring?" She asks, more curious than angry now.

"Force of habit." He says.

"That's some nasty habit you've got there Toby. And I'm a smoker, so nasty habits I know all about." She says finishing her beer.

####################

11:45pm

"You live here?" he asks as he pulls up to her apartment building in a not-so-nice neighborhood in Alexandria. "Is it safe?"

"Well there's safe, and then there's safe," she says. "It's safe enough." She unbuckles her seatbelt and he gets out of the car and opens her door. "I appreciate everything you did for me tonight Toby." She stands on her tippy toes and gives him a light kiss on the cheek. He walks her into the building and to her front door. "The key's under the mat" she says and he bends down and retrieves it. He opens her door for her and hands her the key back. He wants to say something more. Maybe just smell her scent one more time. But she speaks first. "Good night Toby, and thanks." And she goes in and closes the door behind her.

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8:27am Friday

Toby's in his office on the phone holding a set of car keys in his hand. "What do you mean it's not there!" he yells into the phone, "it has to be there! Was it stolen? Well find out! I don't have the license number, just the keys. It's a silver Toyota Camry registered in Virginia. Call me when you find it." and he slams the phone down.

Ginger yells from the bullpen - "Toby, you've got senior staff in 3!" He starts shuffling papers on his desk. "Ginger! I need the Stackhouse memo." She brings him a copy idly wondering out loud what he did with the copy she gave him last night. Toby mumbles something about looking for car keys this morning and dashes out for the staff meeting with the Stackhouse memo in his hand.

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3:55pm

Josh is in Toby's office talking about soybean subsidies in Iowa and Stackhouse playing hardball on the 6% increase holding the Ag. Dept. appropriations bill up in committee until he sees some commitment from the White House on the increase.

Bonnie sticks her head in Toby's office. "Toby, DC Police on line two."

"Hold that thought" he says to Josh picking up the phone and punching line two. "Toby Ziegler. Yeah, that's right. Silver Camry, Virginia tags. Yes I know it was illegally parked... Yes I know it was blocking a lane on Constitution during rush hour." He pauses and scowls "No... I didn't know there were three unpaid parking tickets. Look, bottom line, how much?" He winces. "How long? I'll be there by 4:30. Do they take checks? Figures." He hangs up.

"Toby, I thought your car was black." Josh says.

"I had it painted" Toby says standing up and walking towards the door, it's time for the Stackhouse showdown.

"And registered in Virginia?" Josh trails behind him into the hallway perplexed.

"Gentleman, let's do this." Toby says as he walks into the Mural Room. "Senator," Toby says shaking hands with Senator Stackhouse. "I understand you want a 6% increase in soybean subsidies which will primarily benefit approximately one thousandth of one percent of Americans." As the Senator begins to reply Toby cuts him off. "Here's what we're willing to do today. The White House will fully support a 3% increase, if and only if you agree to babysit the bill all the way through committee to the floor, and you cut the ethanol research rider this time around."

"Harrington won't like it. Ethanol research is an important initiative to Americans – especially those that live in Iowa Toby."

"Senator, with all due respect, ethanol research means zip to most Americans. When Detroit can produce a car that runs on corn oil, it will be an important initiative. Harrington's a junior senator and you're the whip. I suggest you use it." Stackhouse pauses and then nods. "Thank you gentleman, I think we're finished here." Toby says and exits.

Five minutes later Toby's stuffing papers in his briefcase and Josh sticks his head in. "Are we going somewhere?"

"Ginger!" Toby yells, ignoring Josh's comment. "I'm leaving. Leave the Meet-the-Press briefing package on my desk, I'll pick it up in the morning." And he walks out. Ginger and Josh look stunned.

Josh walks through the bullpen on his way back to his office. "Donna! Get me a priest – we need to perform an exorcism as soon as possible."

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4:28pm

Toby's shaking his head and signing a credit card receipt for $350 dollars.

"That's it sir. All I need now is your license and registration."

"Here's my license," Toby hands the license over, "But I'm just picking the car up for a friend. I'm not sure where the registration is."

"Must be a good friend for $350 bucks" says the clerk. "Why don't you check the glove box. No registration – No car." He's smiling in a really irritating sort of way.

Toby unlocks the car and roots around in the glove box. Among 11 Jiffy Lube receipts, a stack of unused napkins, straws, kleenex, rubber bands, a lipstick, a tire pressure gage, and three unpaid parking tickets, is an owner's manual still in the shrink wrap, and her registration.

"Ah...ha" he climbs out of the car and presents the registration.

The clerk copies the numbers onto a form, verifies the VIN on the car and hands it back. "You should tell your friend that parking on Constitution between 6-9 am is no-no."

"Yeah, I'll do that" Toby says and pulls her purse out from underneath the front passenger seat. At least it's still here he thinks.

Toby walks around to the other side and attempts to climb into the driver's seat. He crashes his knee into the steering column and mutters "shit" under his breath thinking to himself 'how can anyone this short actually be allowed to drive a car?' as he slides the seat back a good 8 inches from it original position.

##################

12.8 miles and 45 minutes later Toby parks the car outside her apartment, grabbing his briefcase and her purse as he climbs out. He makes a mental note to see if they can legislate the number of cars allowed on 395 South during rush hour on a Friday afternoon. Surely they can do something about the traffic.

He knocks on her door and waits. About 30 seconds later she answers the door and clearly she's been crying again. She's still wearing the same clothes she had on 24 hours ago. Last night her hair was in a ponytail under the baseball hat. Today it's free of the hat and he can see that it's very curly, and to be perfectly honest, kinda messed up. It's a little longer than shoulder length. Some strands are flying everywhere, and he notices that her hair in the sunlight shines in a couple of different colors, some of it's darker than her skin, some of it lighter. The whole is much more than the sum of its individual parts and Toby's breath catches in his throat for a second when he sees her. She is beautiful.

She sees him standing at the door and bursts into tears. He thinks it's because she's in pain and he steps into the apartment and closes the door behind him. He takes her by the arm and pushes her to sit down on the couch. Then he leans over and grabs a tissue from the box on the end table and hands it to her.

"Does it hurt that much he asks?" She shakes her head no. Now he's really confused. Does this woman ever do anything but cry? Normally, when confronted with a situation such as this, Toby would toss her car keys on the table, and bolt for the front door. But something keeps him here, makes him want to do whatever he can to stop her crying. Whatever it is, it's the same thing that kept him up last night, thinking about her. She blows her nose on the tissue and it makes him smile because it's the most un-ladylike thing he's ever heard come out of a woman before. She blows her nose like a diesel truck and it makes laugh.

"It's not funny." But it's not the nose blowing she thinks he's laughing at.

"Okay, it's not funny." He says trying to hide the smile on his face. "Do you want to tell me exactly what's making you cry now, or have you been doing this since I dropped you off last night?"

"You have to promise me that you won't laugh, because I don't think I can bare it if you laugh at me again."

"Okay."

"Say it."

"Say what?"

"Say 'I promise.'"

"I promise. Cross my heart." And he does that X thingy on his chest for a little levity.

She hesitates and then says "...I can't take my clothes off."

"Pardon?"

"I said, I can't take my clothes off! I can't get them off! They won't come off! What part of that don't you understand?" He starts to smile..."You said you wouldn't laugh!"

"I'm not laughing" he manages to say with a straight face.

"Good, because you wouldn't like it very much if you were trapped in that suit you're wearing for the next four weeks either." And she flops back on the couch with a pout on her face that is absolutely breathtaking. It changes the whole outline of her face, she looks so much younger, and way too vulnerable...

"Would you like me to help you take your clothes off?" Under any other circumstances that statement would sound absolutely obscene. However, considering the events of the last 24 hours where this woman is concerned, he really shouldn't be surprised that he's now volunteering to remove her clothing.

"Would you help me, really?" she asks. She sounds like a 12-year-old child at that moment and his heart skips a beat. He nods his head yes, and she gives him a quick kiss on the cheek and says, I'll be right back and goes into the bedroom.

############################

She turns to face him, sitting on the couch. Awkwardly he reaches forward and then stops. He thinks that maybe he should do this without looking, but then he'd have to feel his way through it, so maybe that's not a good idea after all. He clears his throat. Okay, there's nothing to do but just dive right in – he'll look, but he won't see. He shifts on the couch so he's sitting on the edge.

He takes the bottom edge of her shirt and slips his hand inside. He has to bunch it up and pull it to slip it off her left arm. Now it's bunched up around her neck on one side and he can see her left breast encased in a cream color lace bra, the darker color of her nipple shows through the lace. He takes a deep breath.

She's decided she's going to try not to look at him while he does this. Last night in the bar when she watched him unbutton her shorts she almost couldn't breathe – passing out right now wouldn't be a really good idea.

"I think I need to take the sling off before I can get the shirt off your other arm" he says. He moves his hands behind her to the clasp on the sling. He has to lean forward and over her shoulder to see the clasp, and his hands brush the smooth skin of her back as he unclasps it. She shudders feeling the soft hair of his beard against her neck. "Did I hurt you? He asks alarmed. "No" she whispers, and he feels her warm breath against his skin. His hands gently pull the sling free of her cast and off her neck. She shakes her head back and forth a few times and rolls her neck around with her eyes closed. "God Toby, you have no idea how good that feels." The subtext of that statement is right there beneath surface for both of them to ponder.

Now he attends to the shirt again. He has to stretch and pull to get it over her head without disturbing her arm. At last it's free of her head and he slides it off her cast. Now she's forgotten not to look at him. She's looking at his eyes as he looks at her sitting before him. He thinks she might say something – but she doesn't. For two reasons's really. The first is that in about 30 seconds she's going to be free of the god-awful clothes she's had on for more than 24 hours. And the second is that she doesn't want him to leave just yet. The way he's looking at her makes her feel self-conscious, and beautiful at the same time. His gaze doesn't leave her for a long time – they're both just breathing – a little heavier than before.

She shifts on the couch to turn her back to him. She wants him to unhook her bra. He instinctively reaches over and releases the two hooks, leaving her back exposed. The bra has left red marks on her skin it's been on so long, and he idly runs his fingers over the marks until he notices she's pulled the bra off from the front.

Slowly she turns back around – he sees two perfect breasts exposed above the cast she holds close to her stomach and she has a defiant kind of smile on her face. It's a look that screams 'look at me!' so he does. She leans over and kisses him. It's a kiss that lasts much longer than she intended, but not nearly long enough for either of them. He moves to place his hand behind her head to enforce the kiss but just as he brings it up she breaks it off and walks into the bedroom and closes the door.

What in the hell just happened? He thinks rubbing his hand from his face over his forehead. He jumps up and starts to pace in the confines of her small apartment. He looks at the pictures on her bookshelf, and the books too. Idly fingering the titles as he hears the noises of drawers slamming and water running from the other room.

'That was dangerous... much too dangerous. What am I doing?' she thinks.

She comes back out into the living room. "Free at last!" She announces. He turns to her from the bookshelf he's been examining. She's managed to slip into a Calvin Klein tank top. God bless Calvin Klein. The tank top may cover everything, but it conceals nothing. He wonders if she knows this.

She knows this. As scared as she is right now, she knows this.

She moves back to the couch and sits cross-legged leaning her back against the arm. He moves to the couch and picks up the sling and holds it out to her? She shakes her head no, she doesn't want it back on right now. She finally breaks the silence. "Toby, can I get you a drink?"

"If you show me where it is, I'll get us both one." He says.

"In the kitchen, under the first cabinet on the left."

He enters the kitchen, opens the cabinet and finds three bottles of booze – a half bottle of Smirnoff, an unopened bottle of Dewar's, and a bottle of Jose Cuervo with about three drops left in it. "What'll it be?" He calls from the kitchen.

"What have I got?" she yells back.

"Scotch, vodka, and three drops of tequila."

She gets up from the couch and walks into the kitchen leaning against the doorway. "Vodka" she says from the doorway startling him – he's still bent over looking at the bottles in the cabinet.

She retrieves two glasses from the cupboard, fills them with ice and sets them back on the counter.

"Straight up? He asks?

She opens the fridge and removes a bottle of tonic water and sets it on the counter in front of him as he's pouring the vodka in her glass. He leaves just a tiny bit of room for the tonic water, but it's enough.

He opens the bottle of scotch and pours his own drink next then turns to her, hands her her drink and holds up his glass to make a toast. He has no idea what he's going to say when he does this – so he clinks his glass against hers and drinks – no words. For a man who makes his living with words, he is conspicuously speechless when it counts the most. This is what she does to him. Makes him feel like a 16-year-old boy with a crush – hoping to get a smile from the prom queen in the hall between classes.

She leaves the kitchen and he follows. He clears his throat. "Um, Tanner. Will you have dinner with me tomorrow night?" It comes out before he can stop it, but then if he's been reading the signals correctly, she should give him the answer he wants.

"Have a seat Toby" she says gesturing to the couch. He sits and she takes his hand and sits next to him. Specifically, she takes his left hand, the one with the wedding band on it and she holds it in hers. "I would like nothing more than to have dinner with you tomorrow night Toby – but I have to say no." She's tracing the ring on his finger with her index finger. "You don't know anything about me Toby – but the one thing you need to know right now is that I can't be with a married man." He starts to say something but she drops his hand and moves her finger to his lips to silence him, "or an unmarried man who can't let go. I'm afraid that you fall into the latter category, and will break my heart."

He breathes in deeply and nods his head – and he thinks that this whole thing was a very very bad idea. What was he thinking. "I really should be going." He says standing and searching for someplace to put his glass down. She stands up slowly and takes it from him. He walks to the door, grabs his briefcase from the corner where he dropped it when he came in, and turns around to say something. That's when he puts his hand in his pocket and feels her car keys. He's forgotten about them.

He pulls them out and tosses them on the couch – "Almost forgot...I brought your car back."

She looks at the keys on the couch and nods. "I though for sure I'd be towed this morning."

"Nah," he says as he opens the door "it was right where you left it." And he closes the door behind him.

She leans back against the door and closes her eyes. "Liar" she whispers as the tears escape from the corners of her eyes.

 

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I takes all of two minutes for her to remember that if he drove her car, he can't have his own here. She grabs her keys and rushes out the door. He's two blocks away talking on his cell phone when she drives up. She rolls down the window. "Get in the car Toby." He looks at her for a moment, says something into the phone, then flips it shut and climbs in.

"Where to?" she asks.

"Take Memorial Bridge and turn left onto Virginia" he says. He won't look at her in the car. He mostly stares at his lap during the ride home, breaking his silence only when telling her what lane to get into on the bridge.

She pulls up in front of his building 20 minutes later, "The Watergate, wow!" she says. He nods.

He thanks her and opens his door. As he climbs out, she leans over and says just barely loud enough for him to hear "Break that habit Toby, and I'll have diner with you in a heartbeat."

He walks into his building and she's not sure if he's heard her or not.

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Sunday 11:30 am Tanner's Apartment

She's trying to pack a suitcase in the bedroom. She's got the TV on in the living room and Meet-the-Press is just coming on.

"Today we have as our first guest White House Communications Director Toby Ziegler. Thank you for being with us this morning. Let's get right into it shall we Toby? Why is the Bartlet Administration opposed to posting the Ten Commandments in our schools? Certainly the first amendment right to free speech isn't something the Bartlet Administration is in favor of curtailing?"

"Sam – the Bartlet Administration feels the separation of church and state is just as important as the first amendment. This Adminis..."

She knows that voice. That voice was here two days ago. She moves into the living room staring at the TV. She thinks this is totally unbelievable and then suddenly she knows why his car didn't get towed. Oh my god...oh my god...oh my god...she's staring as he's gesticulating a point... his wedding band in gone. It's not there anymore. He took it off.

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There were five other people watching that interview with the exact same thought.

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After the show wraps, Toby walks from the station back to the White House. It is a beautiful spring day in DC, the humidity of summer has yet to arrive. He considers going into work for a few hours but decides instead to just pick up his car and go home.

When he arrives there are four new messages on his machine. He removes his coat and tie while listening to the inevitable questions from his closest friends.

1 – "Hey Toby – we need to talk. Call me." That one was from C.J.

2 – "Lucy – you've got some 'splaining to do." Typical Josh.

3 – "Uh Toby – call me if you want to get that drink now. I'll be home all night." From Sam.

4 – "Toby, it's about time. Good job on MTP." From Leo.

Toby presses the button and erases the messages. He sticks his hand in his pocket and pulls out the ring. It was an impulse – nothing more he tells himself. He thinks maybe he should just put it back on and save himself the hassle, but to be honest, it doesn't feel right anymore. It used to, but not any more. What Tanner said on Friday was true – he needs to let go. He walks into the bedroom and places the ring in the top drawer. He kicks off his shoes and lies down on the bed. And he does something he hasn't done in years – he takes a nap.

Knocking... knocking... knocking... he hears someone knocking on his door. He opens his eyes to peer at the clock. It's 6:30. He's been sleeping for almost four hours. More knocking... knocking...knocking. "Hold on a minute, I'm coming" he mumbles coming out of the bedroom. He looks through the peephole but all he can see is a pizza box. "I didn't order a pizza" he grumbles in typical Toby fashion as he opens the door.

"I know you didn't, I did." She says. "Hungry?"

He steps back from the door to let her in.

"I would have called first" she says stepping inside and looking around, "my mother always said never drop in on someone without calling first – she also said never give a dish back empty, but we can save that one for another time. "But Mr. Ziegler" and she looks at him pointedly, "when you withheld your last name, you also neglected to give me your phone number." She pauses to let that one sink in. He gives no response. It's almost maddening to get nothing from him. "Since I knew where you lived, I bought a pizza and came on over. Do you mind?"

Still nothing since he opened the door. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. "Or maybe this isn't the right time. I should just go." She says and moves back toward the door.

He can't let her leave now. He reaches a hand out to her arm and croaks "No." He clears his throat "stay...please." She looks at him and nods her head and smiles.

She's figured out how to get dressed by herself since Friday. She wearing a pair of flowered shorts, a pink tank top a la Calvin Klein (God Bless Calvin Klein again), and a camp shirt unbuttoned over that. She looks beautiful, and in this outfit, much too young for him he thinks.

He takes the pizza box from her and walks into the kitchen. "Can I get you a drink?" he asks. "Sure" she nods her head.

He mixes her drink and hands it to her. She takes it and downs it immediately and then hands it back when he turns around from having poured his own. He looks amused as he takes the glass back and turns to mix her another. "That was fast" he says over his shoulder.

"Courage in a glass" she says.

"What do you nee..." he starts to say as he turns around. She moves up against him and kisses him. And it's so much more than just a kiss. It's deeper and warmer than before, and combined with her pressing the length of her body against his, it almost equals foreplay in his mind. This time he immediately moves his hand behind her head, it applies some force to his kisses that are already fierce and wet. Their tongues are exploring one another, probing, reaching, retreating. His other hand is on her back. She's pressed so hard against him, even with the cast between them, she imagines she can feel his erection. He knows he's got an erection, he just hopes that she can't feel it through his slacks.

She can't breathe and she won't stop kissing him to try. Her breath catches in her throat and her knees buckle slightly and he pulls away from her to ask if she's all right. "Mmmmmm Toby, do you like mushrooms?" She asks.

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7:15pm Toby's Apartment

They're just finishing with the pizza at the kitchen table. "Well, you obviously figured out who I am. Now, who are you Tanner Vaughn?" he says putting the last piece of crust in his mouth.

"Who you are Toby? I haven't got a clue who you are. I figured out what you do, which by the way wasn't that hard. All I had to do was turn on my TV. No Toby, I have a feeling it's going to be very hard to learn who you are."

"Be that as it may – you're still one up on me." he says as he gets up to mix more drinks.

"How do you figure that? You've driven my car where you've had access to my purse and could know my bank account numbers and how many credit cards I've got. If you looked at my drivers license then you know my birth date, my social security number, my height, and that I'm an organ donor."

"Huh. I missed the organ donor part – where do they put that, on the back? He says with a straight face.

He comes back over to the table with their drinks and gestures out into the living room where he knows they'll be more comfortable.

"You little sneak! You did look through my purse didn't you?" And she gives him a playful punch on the arm.

He holds both drinks up in the air in mock surrender – "No, no, I didn't. I was just teasing you. I didn't open your purse. Scouts honor" and he tries to hold up two fingers in a boy scout salute while still holding the drinks. "So I know a little trivia about you. That's not the part I'm interested in. I want the important parts."

"You think being an organ donor isn't important Toby?"

"Nice try – stop changing the subject."

"Which was?"

"You."

"Well let's see. I'm not a professional ball player -- I'm pretty sure you knew that. And I'm not a Doctor, I'm sure you figured that out too. And in this town, if I tell you I'm not a lawyer, what's left?

"Questions, questions... very mysterious" he says looking at her more closely. "That really only leaves three other professions: Drug dealer, lobbyist, or government worker."

"You're very good Toby" she says teasingly as they move into the living room to the couch. "If I said quasi-government" what would you come back with?

He finally admits after taking a long drink and pushing a few stands of hair away from her face and tucking them back behind her ear. "No idea. Spill it."

"Okay, you wanted to know. I'm the Special Liaison for the UNHCR with DOD and the International Red Cross."

"UNHCR is in New York, isn't it?"

"Yep, I'm in New York every Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday through Friday I'm here 'liaising' with the DOD and IRC."

"I can see why the IRC and the UNHCR might work together, but what's the DOD connection?"

"What's your security clearance Toby?"

"Don't tell me you're a spook." He says looking at her very closely again.

"No, I just work with them. What's your clearance?"

"Top Secret. What did you think it was?

"I don't know, maybe Super-Top Secret, or Uber-Secret. You do work in the White House." She says laughing. "The DOD connection is the easy part. UNHCR works indirectly with the PeaceKeeping forces. When we bring in humanitarian aide, we don't always have the transport for it. DOD provides the planes and the pilots. More often than not, we handle the logistics ourselves. It's only when were going into a hotspot that we use DOD. They can get some of their guys in on the ground if they come in with UNHCR and the opposition doesn't know it. Oh they know we use DOD equipment and pilots, they just don't know we sometimes have to trade with the devil to get in in the first place."

"I don't think I wanted to know all of that" Toby says mock seriously.

"So I guess we should put the conversation on a more personal level then?"

"How old are you Tanner?"

"You really didn't go through my purse?" She says and smiles. "What a gentleman."

"So?"

"So why do you want to know? I'm old enough to vote. I'm old enough to drink. How old are you Toby?"

"Old enough to know better" he says standing up and rubbing his hand over his forehead. He walks back into the kitchen to get another drink.

When he comes back into the living room she's got a piece of paper in her hand. "I wrote how old I am on this piece of paper. Now, before I tell you how old I am, you tell me how old I need to be." She says.

He's hedging his bets here. "Please be at least 30." he pleads.

"Ding...Ding...Ding...Gentlemen, we have a winner!" she announces and gives him the piece of paper. He opens it and heaves a sigh of relief – 33. It could have been a lot worse.

"You don't look 33" he says.

"Really?" she says taking a sip of her drink. "You don't look 65 either."

He gives a little laugh at that. "44" he says.

"See" she stands up next to him and takes his glass and sets it down on the coffee table "you're not old enough to be my father, just my babysitter" and she starts to kiss him again.

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11:15pm Tanner's Apartment

By the time she gets home, it's almost midnight. She's promised to call him when she gets back from NY on Tuesday. She usually takes the 7:30 shuttle flight back. Maybe she can catch an earlier one. Before she goes to bed she makes one phone call. Just to leave a message. "Hi Mary – it's Tanner. I know it's been a while, I just thought you might have some time next week to talk to me. I'll call you later in the week." She pauses before continuing "I met someone. I'm not sure what to tell him, or if I should tell him. Anyway, I'll call you." And she hangs up.

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