Title: Bad Habits – Part IV

Author: Stinger (stangs@prodigy.net)

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

Rating: R – Adult Language, Sex

Description: Tanner's on the run and Toby knows just where to look

Category: Romance/Series

Disclaimer: all WW characters belong to Aaron Sorkin et al. This is the all Toby, all the time channel, 24/7. Cheers.

Parings: Toby and a new Character

 

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9:00 AM Sunday Morning Toby's Office

He's called her apartment six more times in the last twenty minutes. Each message he left was slightly more frantic than the last. He's been pacing his office with the ball in his hand but he can't stop moving long enough to toss it against the wall so he's just been squeezing it – and right now his hand is starting to ache. He's oscillating between being really pissed off at her and being scared that she's gonna disappear from his life, quicker than she came into it. The last four weeks have been a whirlwind experience that he's not ready to give up.

"C.J." he announces walking into her office. She's just finished the article for the fourth time. "I wanna know the source."

"I can't..." she starts but he cuts her off.

"Call Danny."

"Toby he's not gonna..."

"Just do it! This isn't Deep Throat, for Christ sakes, it's the goddamn Book World! Tell him it's a personal favor for me." Toby spins around and stalks back to his office before she can disagree with him again.

"I hope you know what you're doing," she says softly to herself as she picks up the phone.

He grabs his car keys from his desk and marches down the hall. "Call me on my cell phone when you have something," he shouts as he passes C.J.'s office. If she won't answer the phone, he'll just drive over there and make her talk to him.

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

9:30 AM outside Tanner's Apartment

Her car is still here. That's a good sign he thinks pulling up outside her apartment. He barely gets the car in park before he's out the door and charging up the steps. He knocks on the door. There's no answer. He knocks louder – actually banging would be a more appropriate explanation for all the noise he's making. Finally, he pulls out his keys and unlocks her door. He's had his own key for a week now. He never imagined having to use it under these circumstances. He opens the door and calls her name.

The newspaper is in a pile on the floor where she left it. The Book World section is open to the article on her. He moves into the bedroom calling her name again. He checks the bathroom. She's definitely not here. He checks the bedroom closet. He's looking for something. He knows it will be here. He finally finds it on the top shelf, on the left, pushed all the way in the back. He checks it carefully. It's loaded and the safety's on. He puts it back where he found it. Her suitcase is gone. He walks back into the living room. Now what?

There's a small note card lying on the coffee table with Toby's name on it. He moves over to the table and picks it up. Inside is says 'I'm so sorry. Love, T"

She has a blinking '9' on her answering machine. Toby knows he called seven times. He presses the button to listen to her messages.

First he hears Marty's conversation with Tanner from this morning. The machine must have picked up the same time she did. Then he hears Mary's message, and then the seven he left. Toby presses a button on the machine and erases everything. He stares silently at the empty apartment wondering where she might go if she was in trouble. It certainly looks as if she left in a hurry. Damn it, she should have come to him. He knows he can protect her. And if he can't, he knows an army of lawyers who can. Why did she run away from him?

Just then Toby's cell phone rings, disturbing the silence in the apartment and making him jump unexpectedly. He fishes it out of his pants pocket. "Yeah," he answers.

"Toby, Danny talked to the reporter. It was a woman named," C.J. checks her notes, "Marcia West, a copy editor at Doubleday." Toby writes the name down on the back of the note card. "She apparently had access to Tanner's file, and a subscription to the Washington Post. She saw Friday's photograph of you and Tanner and remembered seeing her in their offices. She called the Post with information she got from the file including a non-disclosure document Tanner apparently signed when she left the State Department. Danny's faxing a copy of it over now."

Toby put the pen down and the note card in his coat pocket. "Okay, thanks C.J., tell Danny I owe him one. Call Sam, and get him in. I want to know if that agreement's authentic, and if it's binding. I'll be back in about an hour." Toby hangs up.

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

10:15AM West Wing

C.J.'s called everyone in, not just Sam. They're in the Roosevelt Room, everyone with a copy of the Post. The last person to arrive is Josh, as usual. He called Donna after C.J. called him, and even she beat him.

"Okay," C.J. starts. "I assume you've all read the article by now." Everyone nods in agreement. "Has anyone read the book?" Donna's the only one who's actually read the book. "Okay Donna – give us the 30 second version. What are we dealing with here?"

"Well, see, it was last month's selection for the book club I'm in. We usually read...

"You're in a book club?" Josh asks.

"Yes Joshua, I'm in a book club, and you're point would be?"

"Nothing, it's just that...well that's so Oprah."

"People besides Oprah read books Josh, you should try it sometime. Anyway...we usually pick feminist authors, but this time around one of the women..."

"Are there any men in your book club Donna?" Josh interrupts again with a smirk. "I'm just asking because you said 'one of the women' like any of us could possibly believe there might be a 'man' in this club of yours."

"Stop interrupting me Josh, or I'll make you read this month's book," Donna says and knocks him upside the head with her hand.

"Owww!"

"This time we picked an unknown author to read. I had no idea that she was Toby's..." Donna stops not knowing what to refer to her as, Toby's date, or Toby's girlfriend, or Toby's 'lady friend', or what. That's an issue for C.J. to resolve before tomorrow morning's press briefing. Exactly what are they?

"Anyway," Donna continues "it's about an American woman working for a US relief organization in El Salvador. If the article is true, I'd definitely be worried. The book does not paint a pretty picture of the United States Government."

"Thank you Donna. Lemme ask you this. When you read the book, did any bells go off? Did you wonder if this was fictional or not?"

"Honestly, C.J., it never once occurred to me that it wasn't. Like I said, if this story is true...we've got some serious problems, and I don't mean 'we the people,' I mean 'we the White House.'"

"As far as the White House is concerned, we do not comment on the private lives of employees. That's the gist of tomorrow morning's comments to the press corps anyway. I can tell you all, that Toby didn't know any of this. Well, strike that. He knew she was the author, but he also thought the book was a work of fiction like the rest of the world. Until proven otherwise, that book is as much a fairytale as Peter Pan."

"Okay everyone, here's the plan. I want to know everything there is to know about T.C Vaughn before tomorrow's 9:00am briefing. Leave no stone unturned – I want no surprises. Josh, call Dick Stearns over at State, and if he's not there call him at home. See if you can find out what State's reaction is going to be and get a copy of her service record if you can, tour of duty, duty stations, when she started, when she left. I want it all. Donna, I want a book report from you. Carol, work with Donna and Josh, I want you to cross check the events and locations in the book with Tanner's State Dept. service record if we can get it. I want to know if it's even remotely possible that this article is true."

Everyone gets up to leave, "Sam, can I see you in my office?"

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

C.J.'s Office a few minutes later

C.J. sits down at her desk and passes a handful of papers to Sam.

"What's this?"

"That's what we want you to tell us." C.J. says. "It's been presented as a non-disclosure agreement between the State Department and Tanner."

"So the article is true."

"Not necessarily. State Department employees routinely sign these as a condition of employment. We need to know if this one is more than the boiler-plate variety." C.J. pauses for a moment then continues. "And Toby wants to know if it's binding legally."

"Meaning if it's challenged in court, who's going down? Tanner, or the State Department?

You know it might help to bring Ainsley in on this," Sam says as he gets up. "I'm good with Contracts, but she's a whiz on the Constitution. If it's contractually legal, it may still be unconstitutional."

"Okay give her a call. Just let me...and Toby know as soon as possible."

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

Toby's Office 1:00PM

Josh has been on the phone with various members of the State Department Foreign Intelligence Directorate for over an hour now. Jesus, State has more of a bureaucracy than the White House.

He walks into Toby's office with a big smile on his face. Toby's on the phone with someone and holds up a finger for Josh to hang on for a second. "I see, no that won't be necessary. Thank you." And Toby hangs up the phone.

"Okay Toby, here's the deal. State's gonna deny any involvement with Tanner to the press. They're not even going to confirm whether she worked for them or not. 'No Comment' is their only comment. Personnel records are not subject to FOIA requests. Given their reaction, I'd say we have a minor amount of damage control here, as long as they don't change their minds. You know it's funny though. They were so paranoid they kept transferring me from one low-level grunt to another, they didn't seem to want me to be able to reach Stearns. When I finally got him, fifteen minutes ago, he acted like the whole thing was no more than a nuisance, but I got the distinct feeling that he was ducking me all morning."

"Thanks Josh. Ginger!" Toby yells from his desk.

She sticks her head in his office. "I need a reservation on the 4:00 o'clock shuttle flight to NY. This is personal, so use my credit card."

"Aye, Aye boss" she salutes him and returns to her desk.

Two seconds later Bonnie sticks her head into his office "Toby, Leo wants to see you right now."

Toby knew this was coming. As he enters Leo's office suite Margaret is in watering the plants. She looks up and gives him a smile and a head nod to go on in. He tries to give her a smile in return, but it comes out more like a grimace.

"Toby, what the hell is going on?" Leo shouts at him as soon as he walks through the door.

"I'm sorry Leo," Toby takes a deep breath, "I don't know yet."

"Well, have you talked to her?"

"No." Toby clears his throat. "She left town this morning. But I'm going to see her tonight."

"Fix this."

"I'll try."

"Don't try, do. We do not need a senior White House aide involved with a potential security breech!"

"Yes sir." Toby starts to walk out.

"Is she worth all this Toby?" Leo asks his friend.

"More than anyone ever has been before," Toby answers back immediately.

As Toby leaves, Margaret's just finishing the plants. "They're meeting in the Roosevelt Room. C.J. just came by and asked me to let you know."

"Thanks Margaret. Your flowers are very pretty," he says and walks out.

"Margaret!" Leo shouts from inside his office. "Get Callahan over here now."

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

Roosevelt Room

Toby walks in and takes a seat.

C.J. is the first to speak. "Okay Josh, background first. Full name?"

"Tanner Christine Vaughn" Toby replies.

"Date and place of birth?" C.J. asks Josh.

"April 17, 1966, San Diego." Toby replies and before C.J. can ask her next question he continues... "She was graduated in 1988 with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from the University of Arizona, 2.97 GPA. She minored in Spanish. No siblings. Both parents are deceased. Her mother, Marian Christine Vaughn, was white and died in 1987 of breast cancer at the age of 45. Her father, Michael Tanner Vaughn, was African-American and died in 1997 of a heart attack at age 58. No known living relatives. Currently employed by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees in New York and Washington...And lest we forget, the author of Midnight Madness, currently number 9 on the New York Times Best Seller list."

"Do we have a full employment history between 1988 and now? This time Toby doesn't answer. "Josh?" C.J. looks directly at him, "do we have confirmation from..."

"Officially no. Officially State has no comment. Unofficially she started in August of 1988 and left sometime in January of 1996. That's all I could get out of them. They really really don't want to talk about her."

"Okay, that leaves roughly eight years of service to fill in with State. When did she start with the UN?"

"August 1997" Carol offers after consulting her notes.

"Alright, that's another missing year and a half we need to fill in. Donna, Carol, were you able to piece anything together from the book?"

"Not really C.J. We've triple-checked State Dept news releases for South and Central America between 1990 and 1999 looking for anything that might resemble events described in the book and can't find any similarities that stick out, beyond the obvious."

"The obvious being?" C.J. asks.

"That there are no events reported resembling those described in the book." Toby volunteers softly. He looks at his watch, it's 2:30 already, and rubs his forehead. "Sam tell me you've got some good news."

"Ah hem" Sam clears his throat and stands up. "I'm not sure it's good, but I don't think it's bad either – especially in light of the lid State's putting on this. Basically, when she started at State, they vetted her, she checked out, and received top secret clearance. Her security clearance included the standard confidentiality and national secrets clauses that all of ours did. Then Ainsley cuts in.

"But, her departure in 1996 was preceded two weeks by a signed affidavit augmenting the original non-disclosure agreement in her clearance. Which, I will point out only pertained to intelligence gathering information. The addition specifically prevents her from disclosing any and all 'operational knowledge' or selling such knowledge to any foreign or domestic buyer." Now Sam jumps back in.

"From a legal standpoint, the question is, would a judge interpret Doubleday as a domestic buyer of operational knowledge? Would royalties from a best seller be considered payment for secrets?"

"It seems to me," Josh jumps up out of his chair and now we have three people pacing the room, "that in order for State to prove she violated the agreement in court, they're going to have to disclose exactly what they want kept secret. We're home free. They don't want it out there, and we don't want it out there." Josh high fives Sam.

"Actually Josh, it really depends on what the press wants." C.J. responds. "If they want the story bad enough, they'll find someone at State to talk. The real question is how do I cut this off before it grows beyond a Book World article?"

"Actually C.J. there's another question that needs to be answered here." Ainsley too is up out of her chair and pacing the room. "She left two weeks after the affidavit was signed. If she was coerced into signing it, or signed it so she would be allowed to resign, she could have a strong case against State if they change their minds about a full denial. The real question is what happened before she left. Something started the ball rolling."

All eyes move to Toby. He looks up at everyone in the room and stands with them. "Well, I guess that's the $64,000 question. I just want to let you all know how much I appreciate everything you've done today for me...and for Tanner. I really do appreciate it. Now I have a plane to catch. Ginger, will you clear my schedule for tomorrow morning? I expect to be back here by noon."

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

4:08PM Reagan National Airport

After he left the White House he went home to shower and get cleaned up. He packed a small bag, and called a cab.

Finally, everyone is seated and they pull away from the gate. He's got a copy of Midnight Madness on his lap. He bought it at the newsstand in the Airport. He can't bring himself to open it. He's read it already. Reading it now would be different. Instead of reading it for style and entertainment, he'd be reading it for glimpses of her. Wondering what she was feeling while it happened, while she wrote it. While everyone else isn't sure of the Post's claims, Toby's convinced, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Midnight Madness is somehow, someway, autobiographical. And that knowledge makes him the saddest man on earth right now.

Once they're in the air, he reclines his seat and closes his eyes. She checked into the Hotel Intercontinental this morning. It's where she stays when she's in the city. The desk clerk confirmed that this afternoon and wanted to connect him to her room. He desperately wanted him to, just to hear her voice, but decided the best thing to do was to wait and talk to her in person.

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

6:00PM Hotel Intercontinental

Knock, knock, and knock.

Tanner nearly jumps out of her skin. She's been really jumpy all day. She crushes her cigarette out, crosses the suite, and looks through the peephole in the door.

"Go away Toby, you shouldn't be here," she shouts through the door.

"Open the door Tanner."

"No. Go away. You have to let me do this my way."

"If you don't open the door, I'm going to go downstairs to the desk, flash my White House ID, tell them I have reason to believe there is a felony taking place in this suite and they're going to send security up here to open the door for me. Now open the fucking door Tanner!" Toby is pissed off.

She unlocks the door and turns the handle just enough for him to do the rest. She practically runs to the other side of the room and lights up another cigarette. She can't be physically near him. She has to do this from as far away as possible. She inhales deeply and turns around to face him in the smoke-filled room.

"You know Toby, profanity doesn't suit you. It's for people like me. Us unfortunate souls who have difficulty expressing ourselves. Self-expression is not one of your shortcomings. You're far too eloquent for swearing." She exhales and taps her cigarette ash into the ashtray and he can see her hands are shaking.

Toby can't believe this is how the conversation is starting. He's been scared shitless all day that she's gonna disappear, and now this. She's wearing tan cargo shorts and a t-shirt that says 'I Love NY' with a big read heart on it, and below that in smaller letters it says 'I just hate the Yankees.' They'll deal with that later.

"How's your arm?" He asks quietly setting his small carry-on bag on the floor. That's all it takes. 'My god' she thinks, 'how does he do this to me?' Her selfless plan to make him hate her and leave is all shot to hell with that one little question. In an instant she crosses the room and launches herself at him. She wraps herself around his body, her arms and her legs climbing him like a tree. Nothing feels better than touching him. She has a desire for him she's never felt for another man, and speculates she never will again. It almost like they can read each other's prurient thoughts.

He can't touch her enough, or taste her enough, or smell her enough. Every sense he has is heightened when he's with her. And that really sums it all up for him, when he's with her it's never enough. He used to think that he was the type of person who accepted what had been given to him and what had been taken away. He certainly accepted Andi leaving him. He's not that man anymore. He's going to start taking what he wants. She is absolutely worth it all and more Leo.

His hands are grasping at her, holding her up against him. He moves his hands up under her shirt to her bare back, and around to the front where he can feel her breasts heaving with her ragged breathing. His mouth is trying to devour her as he ravenously kisses her and she explores his mouth with her tongue. Her body is crushed against his. She's pulling his hips to hers with her legs wrapped around his waist. She wants him badly, pressing her sex against his through their clothing, which excites him beyond possibility. With her wrapped around him he maneuvers them through the doorway of the suite into the bedroom and sits down on the bed with her legs still wrapped around his waist. He practically rips the t-shirt off her body, and not just because he's a Yankees fan either. She's rocking back and forth on his lap as she pulls at the buttons on his shirt. She's being gentler with his shirt than he was with hers. Her rocking movement is driving him insane. He's moved his attention to the white lace bra she's wearing. He remembers this bra from that Friday night when he asked her out and she turned him down. God, that was a lifetime ago. He moves his hands down to her shorts and she moves hers quickly to the buttons on his well-worn button-fly jeans.

Quickly all clothing is discarded. They are just two bodies on a hard hotel bed with the same agenda. There's nothing slow or gentle about their coming together here and now in this smoke-filled hotel room, with about a thousand miles between them. They both need to feel each other as much as possible. He stands and pushes her back on the bed. She slides back and he crawls on top of her, his legs between her thighs pushing them outward. She accepts all of him greedily at once and begs for more her hands pulling at him. He makes the emptiness inside her disappear. She wonders if there's anyway for her to explain that to him. They quickly find a rhythm pounding at each other until neither of them can hold back any longer.

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

Sweating and breathless she's lying in his arms. He's behind her on the bed, spooning her. Just minutes before, both being driven by the thought that this might be their last time together.

 

"Why did you leave me?" He whispers in her ear.

"I didn't leave you Toby. I left DC. I knew you'd know where to find me."

"It took me a few hours to figure it out." He says smoothing her hair down, some of it has come out of her ponytail. Rather understandable given the aerobic workout they've just completed. "I went to your apartment this morning."

She instantly rolls over to look at him. "Had anyone been there yet?" She asks him immediately.

He looks confused. "Who would go there besides me? The Press? There wasn't anyone outside when I got there, it was a little after 9:30."

"Toby, you have to promise me you won't go back there, ever." She sits up in the bed her face a mask of seriousness. "Promise me Toby, right now."

He sighs and reaches up to touch her breasts swinging freely before him, tracing the outline of her darkened nipple with his index finger. "When are you going to tell me the truth? What this is really all about?"

"Now." She says and climbs out of bed. She starts looking for something to put on, and he watches her.

"At the beginning of my junior year I was recruited by the State Department at Arizona." She starts putting Toby's button-down shirt on instead of her t-shirt. "Typical stuff, on-campus interview, that sort of thing. That was the year my Mother got sick. I was at the hospital more than I was in class that year. I had a really shitty GPA for two semesters that totally racked my cum. I pretty much figured that the job offer they made would be rescinded after my GPA dropped and I really didn't care at the time. Dad and I were on our own and I couldn't imagine not being there for him. But as it turns out, I guess I had other qualities that outweighed my shitty grades." She finishes buttoning the shirt and looks around for her underwear.

"Such as?"

"Well, if you'd asked that question back then, I would have said that they obviously saw my raw talent and potential," she says smiling. "But the real answer is that I was a woman, and I was black – two things the wonder-bread, Viagra-popping, State Department needed back then. She can't find her underwear. It must be all tangled up in the sheets with Toby.

"What am I supposed to wear?" He asks indicating her appropriation of his shirt. She picks up her t-shirt and tosses it to him. "Not in a million years lady." He hands it back. He walks into the bathroom and returns wrapped in the warmth of a hotel bathrobe. She wishes he'd stayed naked on the bed. She loves to just look at his body. Hard where it should be, and soft where it should be – not hairless like a boy, but nicely fringed like a man should be.

He mixes a couple of drinks from the mini-bar and carries them back into the bedroom. He climbs back on the bed and she sits in a soft chair across from him, her legs folded underneath her, lighting another cigarette. "I graduated in '88 and moved to DC. I started in the Foreign Services Directorate translating documents and transcripts of telephone conversations. I followed that up six months later with a tour in the embassy in El Salvador."

"It's not fiction is it?" he asks her quietly taking a sip form his drink.

"Technically it is Toby. I think the proper term to use is 'based on actual events'. I based what I wrote on what really happened. It just didn't happen in El Salvador."

"Why?"

"Why what?

"Why did you write it?

"You'd have to ask my shrink that. Oh Toby, don't give me that look. Despite what C.J. thinks, I'm not a loon. Spending six months wishing I were dead, isn't the same thing as trying to kill myself. I never tried to kill myself. I was too weak for that. That would take a much stronger person than I am." Tanner gets up out of the chair and fishes around inside her laptop case for something. She pulls out a CD and turns back to him.

"I wrote it as therapy Toby. On the advice of my shrink, I wrote down what happened in excruciating detail so that I could stop remembering it every second of every day for the rest of my life."

"C.J. doesn't think you're crazy."

"Well, she doesn't like me very much Toby. It's okay, I understand why. She cares about you, and she knows that your getting involved with me is arguably one of the worst mistakes you've ever made."

He leaps up off the bed and closes the distance between them until he's standing right in front of her. He puts his hand on her chin and looks directly into her eyes, "Don't say that. Don't ever say that."

"It's true Toby, you just can't see it. Right now I'm a professional liability for you, and a political liability for the White House. Jesus, C.J. must be pulling her hair out over this. Leo McGarry too. They're afraid you're fucking the next Mata Hari."

He pulls away from her, wincing at her use of the term fucking as a descriptor for their relationship. "My judgement counts for something," he whispers staring at the space between them on the carpet.

"Toby, there are so many things I need to tell you. But so little time."

He looks up at her "I'm not going anywhere."

"But I am. I've got to be on a plane at 8:30 tomorrow morning."

He starts to speak but she steps forward and puts her fingers to his lips to silence his protests. "The only way I know how to protect you is to leave you. There are still so many things you don't know. But first, you need to read this," and she places the CD in his hands. "This is what really happened. I have to go out for a while. You read this while I'm gone. When I get back we'll talk some more." And she places a gentle kiss on his forehead.

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

9:30PM New York City

She returns from her outing with everything she needs for her extended vacation. She slips the keycard in the door and quietly opens it. He's sitting on the sofa with a drink in his hands, in the dark.

She turns on the lamp and he looks at her. He's been crying. She can see the tracks of his tears on his cheeks. He looks at her with so much pain in his eyes. She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. She knew this would happen. She told Mary this is what she feared the most. That he'd never be able to get past it. Well, now's the time to find out if he can. She puts her arms around him cradling his head to her breast, and whispers "it's alright Toby. I'm alright."

"No it's not alright," he whispers into her shirt. He stands up angrier than she's ever seen him. "How could we let this happen?"

"What do you mean 'we'?" She says looking at him. There is no 'we' in this Toby. There's only me, and them."

"You know what I mean." He's ranting now. "We covered this up and now we're all supposed to pretend that it never happened?"

"There you go again with the 'we', Toby. Just stop it. It happened long before Bartlett was elected. You can't let yourself get caught up in this. You have to let it go. And that's exactly what you're gonna do. You're gonna pretend that it never happened."

"I can't do that." He closes the distance between them and takes her face in his hands. "I need to make this right."

"You can't make it right Toby. This isn't about making it right anymore. This is about me ending something that I started. This afternoon, you asked me why I wrote it. I told you why I wrote that," she nods her head toward the computer he used to read the CD. "Not why I wrote Midnight Madness. I didn't tell you why I changed it all around and had it published." She sighs and sits down next to him on the couch.

"I was angry Toby. More angry than you could possibly imagine. I spent all this time in therapy trying to figure out why I survived. Why me and no one else. I changed the story and published it as a "fuck you" to the State Department. I was forced to sign the gag order before they'd let me leave. If I didn't sign it, they'd make me unemployable. So I signed. This was my way of getting even with them." She gives him a wry little laugh at that one. "Tanner Vaughn strikes again. I swear I'm my own worst enemy."

"Tanner, running away won't make this go away. I'm not gonna let you do it."

"First of all Toby, I'm not running away. I'm just putting a little distance between me and the problem for awhile. And second of all, what makes you think you can stop me?"

"I could call a press conference right now, right here in the lobby, and tell everything I know. Just put it all out there. Once it's out in the open, you're safe. They wouldn't dare touch you after that."

"And that makes you the next ex-White House Communications Director Toby. Be reasonable. I don't need you to fall on your sword for me. I'm a big girl. And it's not your story to tell. This is my life we're talking about – it's not for public consumption. I've survived by myself this long."

"That's exactly my point Tanner. You're not by yourself anymore. It's you and me now. Don't you think they should know that?"

"Oh I think they've pretty much figured that one out by now. I'm not worried about me Toby. I have a good lawyer. They're not gonna come after me. They can't. When they figure that out, they'll go after the people I love. I know how they work. I used to be one of them. I won't let them use you to get to me. You want to know what I've been doing in New York all day? I have a plan and I'd like to explain it to you, but you're making me dizzy doing all that pacing. Now just stop and sit for a minute.

"I need my ball," he says squeezing his hand.

"How about a bath instead? At least it will keep you in one place." She says moving to the bathroom. "Have you ever in your life seen a tub this big?"

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

Both Toby and Tanner are ensconced in bubbles. He hasn't taken a bubble bath in over forty years. His back is against the tub wall. Her back is against his chest.

"Okay Sherlock. Fill me in on your master plan to defeat the enemy and restore democracy to the free world."

"Well it's more like, my master plan to keep your job, and for us to live a long and uneventful life together. But hey, if in the process I can save the free world too... Seriously Toby, I resigned from my position at the UN this morning. I recommended they put Jules in the job. She doesn't play softball as well as I do, but she can probably do the job better than me. You know, from a professional standpoint, that one really hurt. For once in my life I had a job that actually made a difference. That helped people and now I've managed to let them take that away from me."

He kisses the top of her head softly, knowing how much that job meant to her.

"I spent most of the afternoon with Marty and my lawyer."

"What did Marty say?"

"He knows who leaked the story. An assistant editor..."

"Marcia West."

"How did you know?

"I've got my sources."

"Yeah well, Marty fired her. You know, I didn't even know her. I gave him the first seven chapters of my new book. He read them and we negotiated an advance with my lawyer."

"How much?"

"Since it's almost a guarantee that Madness is going to number one now, and publicity will be strong after that for any follow up I write... three million."

Toby whistles.

"I had that transferred to my account in the Caymans this afternoon. Then I had my lawyer wire $150,000 to a bank in Tijuana."

"Who's your lawyer?"

"Warren Pace."

"Of Gage, Whitney, Pace?"

"Yeah, that's him. I know. Sam used to work for Gage Whitney. That was a complete surprise to me when he mentioned it this afternoon. Warren's been my lawyer for over a year now, and Sam's been gone for almost three – there's absolutely no connection." Tanner takes some of the bubbles in her hand and covers up Toby's right knee that's sticking up out of the bubbles.

"I've found a quiet little place to retreat to for a while until the smoke clears."

"Mexico?"

"Somewhere in Mexico, yes. But I won't tell you where. Only Warren knows where I'll be.

Toby shifts her in the tub, so that he's got Tanner facing him now where he can look at her. "Why does Pace get to know and I don't?"

"Because when they come and ask you where I am, you have to be able to convincingly tell them that you don't know, and you don't care. Warren is protected. Attorney-client privilege."

"When will I see you again?"

"That'll depend on how soon I can put the rest of my plan into action. I want them to underestimate me Toby. I want them to think that you dumped me, and that I'm running scared. It'll put them on the defensive."

"You amaze me." He says pulling her body to him. "Just when I think I've got you all figured out, you show me another side." Her breasts are covered in bubbles and he begins to slowly lick them off with his tongue. His hands moving to her back...and lower.

"What goes around comes around Ziegler. Remember when we first met, I said I know what you do, but I haven't got a clue who you are? You amaze me every day." And she touches his lips with hers, sending shock waves through them both.

She can feel him harden beneath her. She shifts her body ever so slightly in the water to accommodate him, and then settles back down slowly with him enveloped by her. This time, it's slow and controlled. She moves with him, and against him. His hands explore her slippery soapy body. Their eyes remain locked on one another as they move together in a rhythm all their own.

He's not thinking about what happened to her. His only thoughts are about what's happening right now, here in the tub. How can he live without this, without her, indefinitely?

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

8:30AM Laguardia Airport

They're saying their last good byes. They made love again this morning – one last time, then had to rush to the airport to make her flight.

"Remember Toby. Warren will get in touch with you. All you have to do is play your part. You go back to work and make sure everyone knows that I left the country and before I did, you broke up with me. We are history."

Toby's shaking his head, both hands jammed in his pockets. "I'm gonna tell you one more time that I think this is a bad idea. It makes us complicit in a monumental cover-up. And besides that, it just plain wrong."

"After-the-fact Toby, after-the-fact. We've been over this a dozen times. There is no other way. You are my moral compass, but you're just going to have to point someplace other than North for a while. We can't always do the right thing. Sometimes we have to do the prudent thing – and right be damned. I'll be in touch as soon as I can." She reaches up and kisses him gently on the lips one last time. It's a sweet goodbye kiss that says I love you, and I always will.

He moves his arms to encircle her and kisses her back tenderly. It's a kiss that says I love you more than you could possibly know. "You better be." His voice is ragged. "If I don't hear from you or Pace in the next 48 hours, I'm gonna come back here and camp outside his office until he tells me where you are."

"Ooohhh, I love it when you talk tough. That's a total turn-on, by the way. She winks at him and squeezes his hands in hers, then turns her back and walks to the gate. She hands her boarding pass to the agent. Then she turns back to look at him one last time with tears in her eyes.

He silently mouths the words, "Don't leave."

She wipes the tears from her eyes and mouths back "I love you Toby." And she disappears down the jetway.

He slowly bends to pick up his carry-on bag and heads toward his own gate. He too will be departing soon.

The End

 

 

 

 

 

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