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The Memory-Keeper

by: Ygrawn

Character(s): CJ, Toby, Andie
Pairing(s): CJ/Toby, Toby/Andie
Category(s): Romance, Drama
Rating: R, for like, one swear-word.
Summary: She was wondering about it the other day, whilst she was waiting in line at Starbucks - she can’t remember why she’s in love with Toby.
Author's Note: General Season 4.

One of these days, CJ will sit down and attempt to remember why she’s in love with Toby.

It’s important that she remembers, because she is the memory-keeper in their relationship. Well, that’s not entirely true, because Toby remembers just as well as she does, only, CJ is the one who says it out loud. CJ is the one who tells their stories - about campaigns in California, plane flights across the country, being stuck in an elevator for seven hours in Chicago, evenings and early mornings in New York, Toby’s sisters, the disaster of the cake at his and Andie’s wedding, and the one time she saw Toby swim in a pool, a story none of the others believe.

CJ knows all these things and more and she is not afraid to share them. Sometimes, in fact, she shares them openly and unremittingly, simply because Toby does not.

But - and she was wondering about it the other day, whilst she was waiting in line for her grande, extra-strong espresso at Starbucks - she can’t remember why she’s in love with Toby.

There was a red-haired woman standing behind her, on her cell phone to a friend, talking as loudly as she possibly could about how outrageous her tax bill was this year, and the guy standing in front of her was reading an article about Leo, and CJ realized she can’t remember why she’s in love with Toby.

Which is fine, because Toby isn’t in love with her anymore. He was once, and it was one of things he never told her, but Toby doesn’t tell anybody anything important. He showed her, and CJ noticed, because she’s perceptive, and that was enough for them. She was in her late-twenties, naive and impassioned, and he was in his early-thirties, already balding, already brilliant, and her life was an enormous ocean and she couldn’t comprehend that her horizon would too quickly begin to lessen and contract, that it would diminish and leave her stranded.

She’s certain there are reasons. She knows there are reasons that she loves him. There were once, and are now. Reasons that gave her chills and butterflies, and made her laugh and ache simultaneously. Only, she can’t remember them. All she can remember are the number of times Toby has looked at her, and she’s known - absolutely known - that he wanted to fuck her, and she’s looked away, walked away, ignored him.

After collecting her coffee, CJ walks the rest of the way to work, and she passes a mother walking her children to school. The boy is dragging on his mother’s hand, and obviously wants to go home. He whines with a particular tone of petulance that sends shivers up CJ’s spine. She steps around them with her long legs and smiles at the hot dog vendor on the corner. She doesn’t know his name, and she’s never bought a hot dog from him, but she walks past him every day and they recognize each other.

She finishes her coffee as she walks through security and smiles at Kevin, the security guard on morning shift. She says hello to Ginger and they update each other on Sam’s campaign. It’s the last sane moment of her day.

Everyday is like this. Absolutely insane. Total chaos. And it’s her job to control it. The others fuel the chaos, move it around, add to it, subtract from it, and sidestep it, but ultimately, CJ is the one who has to control it.

She’s damn good at it. She’s damn good at her job, she is in the prime of her career, and that’s the only consolation for the memory of all those times she walked away from Toby. It’s a consolation for all those times they could have made love, but she didn’t let him.

Because she can point to things in her life - achievements and successes and the fact that she’s brilliant at her job - it doesn’t mean so much to say she let Toby slip through her fingers. It doesn’t hurt so much to think it. She can gag the voice in the back of her head, and shut it out. She’s getting damn good at that too.

Fifteen hours later, she’s sitting on her couch, drained and exhilarated by her last press conference. Her feet ache, her calves are seizing up, and her eyelids are sand. She can’t muster the energy to go home, and she’s hungry, but too tired to eat.

There’s movement in her doorway.

"Josh,” she says.

"Hey.” He sidles over to the couch, sits next to her.

CJ slides her shoes off and drops her feet into Josh’s lap.

"And I’m supposed to what with these?”

"Feet. They’re called feet, Joshua. You could try rubbing them.”

"Have you been taking to Donna?” he asks suspiciously.

"What? No.”

"Oh. Okay.”

Josh touches the ball of her left foot lightly, and CJ bites back her moan. He presses harder, longer, begins to massage her foot. There are these things about Josh - when you’re not paying attention or if you really pay close attention - he shows you how ridiculously kind and loving he is.

It’s rare, so CJ has learnt not to expect Josh’s affection but enjoy it when it appears, brief, fleeting and lovely. That’s why she loves Josh; because he is madly affectionate and caring, but he doesn’t show it, can’t show it; because he wanders around in circles and needs her to show him the straight line. Because he’s here even when he’s not; because there’s not a moment, even when she’s frustrated with him to the point of screaming, that he doesn’t make her smile.

"Where is Donna?” CJ asks, in a lower, more relaxed voice.

"Getting dinner,” Josh tells her.

"It’s like...” she flaps her hand in way of explanation. "Way past the time of eating dinner for normal people.”

"It’s nine-forty-five,” Josh supplies.

"See, way past the normal time.”

"She’s getting something for you,” he adds.

"Thanks.”

Josh flexes his thumbs up into the arch of her foot, and CJ can’t help it: she groans, loudly.

"Good God, Joshua. Run away with me now, and make me the happiest woman on earth.”

He chuckles. "Okay.”

"No, I’m not kidding...” She breaks off to groan again. "We could go to a little island in the Bahamas and drink fruity drinks and you could rub my feet all day.”

"Would there be beer?” he asks. "I’d prefer beer. Those fruity drinks give me reflux.”

"We could probably get beer and good food and people would hand it to us on silver platters. Well, maybe just wooden ones. But we would never have to move again.”

"Sounds perfect.”

Josh uses his knuckle under her toes. CJ moans again.

"Uh...I’ve got dinner, but I can come back, if you too want a little privacy.” It’s Donna, richly amused and not at all surprised.

CJ opens her eyes and lets her head fall back to see Donna, back-lit in the doorway, gold and silver and lovely. "No. Dinner and a foot-rub is my Holy Grail.”

"Huh.” The blonde steps into the room with her various bags and containers. "You’re easy.”

"What’s your Holy Grail, Donnatella?” Josh asks. His fingers move up to the balls of CJ’s feet and she groans again.

"A boss who takes me to Hawaii, has a punctual watch, and doesn’t randomly yell my name and expect me to appear in 2.5 seconds.” She grins. "And an endless supply of Jimmy Choo shoes.”

Josh moves to CJ’s other foot.

"You are seriously good at this,” CJ tells him.

"Mm,” Donna agrees and CJ wonders about that agreement. How would Donna know? But she’s tired and reading these two the riot act is pointless. "I got you okonomiyaki, CJ. We went Japanese.”

"Thanks.”

"Actually, Donna went Japanese. I would have preferred a burger and fries with a Coke on the side.”

"Not on my watch,” Donna retorts.

Donna sits at CJ’s desk, and CJ thinks, idly, that she looks good there. They eat their dinner in silence, trading udon noodles and yakitori and sushi. Josh, after he finishes his meal, returns to CJ’s feet and begins baiting Donna again.

CJ listens to their dance and wonders what she’ll wear to their inevitable wedding.

********

It’s a strange age, when you’re not longer young, but you’re not yet old.

CJ has been hovering at this age for a while now and whilst she would like to say that it’s made her reflect on her life choices, it’s mostly made her slightly irritated that she’s expected to do exactly that.

Her life choices have led her here, and it’s hard to question that, or regret it, even. You can’t pick and choose with regret - you either regret all the things that could have been, or you decide to get on with your life.

CJ belongs to the latter school because there’s so much to regret with Toby. It’s funny, because she doesn’t regret the others: Will with his gorgeous car; Jay who had revolting back hair but a fascinating mind; Lewis’ giant laugh and his giant heart; Nick who she really did love.

But she regrets Toby, who she thinks she might have once loved only she can’t remember why anymore, and the question is really beginning to haunt her. The question takes corporeal form and follows her around. It sits in the press room; perches on the edge of her chair in Senior Staff, dogs her steps in the hallways and bullpens of the White House. It’s not quite a shadow, but something of a different colour. It’s not quite menacing, but something of a different fear.

It is uncertainty and loneliness.

She talks to Sam, across the country. He’s distracted by everything going on around him, but she gives him some advice on his last press conference and he listens and thanks her and tells her, with a voice that makes her heart break, that he misses her.

Sam is beautiful and soft; Sam is the kind of guy every woman wishes she could be in love with, and Toby is the kind of guy every girl does fall in love with, against her will, without even realizing it, in an unusual, unromantic way. Josh is the kind of guy most women think they’re in love with, but only a few rare, particular women can actually go the distance.

The next day, Andie visits the White House for some meetings. She’s visibly pregnant now, and she’s doing the glowing thing that expectant mothers do. She looks incredible. She wanders through the halls and bullpens of the White House with Toby, and the two of them bicker about names, about their arrangement, about politics, about everything.

One of the twins kicks when they’re standing in the Communications bullpen, and Ginger tells Carol, who tells CJ, how Toby touched Andie’s stomach, reverently - cautiously - and jumped back when one of the babies kicked again.

Andie laughed and rested her hand over Toby’s.

CJ can picture it perfectly, even though the image of it comes to her third-hand. Her throat tightens and she has to read a memo three times before she takes any of it in.

It’s not because of Andie. CJ likes Andie. A lot. Andie Wyatt is a fabulous woman, an excellent Representative and a great person. She has a lot of time for Andie, for her passion, her fire, her patience, her humour, her intelligence, her commitment to doing the right thing, not the expedient thing.

A friend of hers, Janie, was once in love with a friend of theirs, Michael, who married another woman. Janie hated the wife, absolutely hated her. And she told CJ that hating the wife was harder than liking her. If she liked her, Jamie reasoned, she could be happy for Michael. She could be reasonable about the situation, because she would feel that Michael was married to a good woman.

That was six years ago, when Andie and Toby’s marriage was breaking up, and CJ knew that it would have been harder for Janie to love the wife, because then she would have had no claim to Michael. As long as she hated the other woman, Janie could hold out some hope that Michael would wake up and leave his wife for Janie.

But Andie, Toby and CJ are grown-ups, and they like each other individually, and respect each other, and enjoy working with each other. Under those dimensions is a different world: where Andie is pregnant, and CJ has never stopped loving Toby, but Toby has never stopped loving Andie and wanting CJ, and it’s all hollow and pointless.

So, when Andie comes to visit her later that afternoon, whilst Toby is in a meeting, CJ smiles happily and the two women go down to the Mess to have coffee and cake. They talk about the House, about Danny’s latest article, about the latest sex scandal that one of the FOX News anchors is embroiled in. They talk about Sam’s campaign, about Abby’s upcoming speech to NOW, about fashion and food and mutual friends and holiday locations and hair stylists and how much they love a good piece of cheesecake.

They do not once talk about Andie’s pregnancy.

Toby is the same. Aside from telling her, he hasn’t included her in this huge change to his life. He didn’t show her the sonogram; he hasn’t discussed names with her. He certainly hasn’t discussed his feelings over impending fatherhood with her. Before, he would have. He would have shared everything without reservation, because CJ and Toby pride themselves on really having an honest relationship.

With everyone else, CJ tells white lies, lies of omissions, lies of practicality, and even lies of malice because she knows that the truth always leaves a deeper wound, a wound that never heals, and always aches.

But with Toby she is true, and she’s never been more hurt in her life, than the two times Toby lied to her: the India/Pakistan thing, and the way he couldn’t look in her in the eye, after his meeting with the President and Leo, nearly two years ago. She isn’t sure which was worse.

He is withholding this from her. This new life he has - the idea that he will finally be a father - he is withholding it from her, and CJ realizes that she does mind. She wants to know how he feels, she wants to see the animation in his eyes, hear the fervour and excitement in his voice.

CJ realizes she’s angry. She takes the last bite of the cheesecake and realizes that she’s angry with Andie for getting pregnant, Toby for always loving his ex-wife and not sharing with her.

She’s angry at herself. Desperately, hopelessly angry at herself for something she can’t fix, the decisions she can’t take back, the time she cannot recapture. She’s angry at herself for never allowing herself to be angry.

They go upstairs, and CJ heads off to do her last briefing of the day. It’s a slow day, and the reporters only have soft questions and enquiries to double-check their facts. CJ finds herself staring at the space at the back of the room, where Toby once stood and placed his hands on his chest, like the nervous flutter of a moth.

CJ’s halfway through a non-answer about the Budget when she remembers why she loves Toby.

He stood there and put his hand on his heart, his hand like a moth, hesitant, lovely and white. Toby stood there with an expression on his face that told her all the things she could ever want to know about love. He has always wanted her even though he’s always been in love with Andie, and that’s all there is to it.

He’s Toby, and she’s CJ, and that’s why she loves him, and CJ doesn’t care if that’s a non-answer.

It’s an answer that makes sense to her.

********

Three days later, CJ goes into Toby’s office. He’s clacking at the keyboard and his brow is furrowed in a familiar line of concentration and exasperation.

"Yes?” he says without looking up.

CJ shuts the door. "Do you...do you have the picture of the sonogram?”

His fingers pause over the keyboard. "Ah...”

"The one of the twins. I haven’t seen it.”

"I’m kind of...” but he trails off, and then reaches into his back pocket for his wallet. "Sure.”

CJ crosses the room and sits on the corner of the desk. Her hip bumps his elbow.

"That’s...that’s them.” He hands the picture over and points to various grey blobs against a grainy black-and-white background. "That’s the head...and the arms...and that line of white circles...there, is the spine.”

CJ tilts her head. "I can see two spines. This is amazing, Toby.”

"Yes.” The pride and love in his voice is incredible. "Andie...Andie has another appointment in a few weeks, so I’ll have a new picture.”

"It’s...they’re gorgeous, Toby.” CJ hands the picture back.

"Well, me procreating...it’s a strange thought.”

"Not so strange,” CJ says softly. Her throat is tight again, locked-up with the restraint of remaining silent. "Not very strange at all. They’re...you...I’m happy for you, Toby.”

"Thank you.”

"Andie looked amazing, the other day.”

"She said the two of you had coffee.”

That sentence doesn’t really mean anything, only it does to her. Andie doesn’t know about CJ and Toby. CJ knows that Andie doesn’t know, and Toby has always been a little wary about leaving the two women alone.

But there are things CJ knows that Toby doesn’t, so, really, of the three of them, she is still the only one who knows everything, who knew that Toby was always still in love with Andie even when was in love with her, and she knows how awful he felt about that. She knows that Toby still wants her now although he’s in love with Andie, and she knows how awful it feels about that, too.

She knows how much Toby wants children.

"We went down to the Mess,” CJ finally replies. "It was nice to catch up with her.” She stands up. "I just wanted to see the picture. You hadn’t shown me.”

Toby rubs his forehead. "It’s not that I don’t...CJ....”

"I know, Toby. I know.” She rests her hand over his for a brief moment. "You can share it with me. I want you to.”

"Are you...” Toby twines his fingers through hers. "You’re brilliant, CJ. Evanescent.”

"Thank you.”

"And I...I...”

CJ pulls her hand away. "I know you do, Toby.” She swallows with difficulty. "I forgot for a little while.”

His eyes are wide, limitless. "Did you remember?”

"Yes.”

She’s not going to tell him why she loves him; she’s not going to tell him that she’s angry, that she’s lonely; she’s going to store it all with the memories she has, that she’s going to tell herself it’s enough, even though she knows that it isn’t.

"Good,” Toby says, softly.

"You’ll show me the new photo? When you get it?”

He nods. CJ smiles, and leaves his office.

She walks through the Communications bullpen and over to Operations, because she needs to talk to Josh about something. He’s arguing with Donna, and the two of them are vivid, mesmerising, and alive.

CJ realizes, with a start, that had she not had the abortion, she and Toby’s child would be almost nine years old.

She walks over to Josh and Donna, and wonders, briefly, what they would have called her, because she is certain she and Toby would have had a daughter. CJ has wondered this many times over the years, and has finally settled on a name.

Hannah.

They would have called her Hannah, and she would be almost nine years old.

And only CJ knows this.

********

End

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