by tahlia

i. kyrie eleison

It's hot and stifling in New York City, and when she pushes Toby into her hotel room they are, briefly, remnants of people they once were. Younger people-- people who drank too much at political benefits and rented a hotel room upstairs. People who laughed the loudest and didn't care about who was in the next room.

"CJ?" he breathes, but she covers his mouth with hers and tugs at his tie and pushes his jacket off his shoulders-- God! she thinks as he slides his tongue into her mouth: the humidity is close to 96% and the man wears a suit.

She is playfully unbuttoning his collar and pressing kisses to his lips when he says it again. "CJ," he warns, but she doesn't want to hear the hundreds of excuses rushing to his lips, so she kisses him again, harder. Doesn't want to hear the sympathy, the condolences, the maybe-we-should-talk-about-this that she hears in his voice.

There's the remains of a party downstairs, and the quiet whisperings of a Presidential campaign in a suite down the hall. And this is her first time back since, since...she has to pretend it isn't bothering her the way it is.

His hands find their way to her waist, to the tiny hidden zipper on the side of her thin dress, and he fingers it in such a way that she thinks to herself-- maybe he doesn't want to hear it all again either.

Slowly, agonizingly slow, he tugs on the zipper until her slip dress is only loosely hanging off her shoulders. But he doesn't touch her skin, not yet, like maybe he's afraid of her or what comes next or the sheer force of the fact that this thing between them hasn't happened since that night in her office, after Iowa. Maybe she's afraid, too, of the implications of their self-enforced separation, after she's told herself how much she needs him. Suddenly, she feels guilty for the last five months.

The air conditioning unit in the window kicks in finally, but the thin layer of perspiration on her skin is an indication of its effectiveness. She knows if she opens the other window, something resembling a breeze might come in and move the stale air around, but if she moves from this spot without him, the atmosphere is going to come crashing down on them. The moment will be lost, and he'll sit down on the edge of the bed, and ask if she's coping as well as she appears. CJ can't come up with a decent way to lie, so she doesn't move.

She reaches for the hand that once rested on her waist, entwining her fingers with his, as if to say: I'm sorry, I'm sorry, please know that I'm sorry. If this thing were real, like he's claimed that it's not and she's grudgingly agreed with, if this were really something, it might have been a betrayal. She hates that when she stood on that sidewalk with him, she never once thought about Toby or this.

"CJ, I-" He looks down at his toes, nervous and unprepared. "I did something."

He finally looks up at her and she recognizes her own emotions, mirrored back at her: guilt. And suddenly she feels what's coming: the inevitable task in which she zips herself up and that actual talk about this, and the prospect is frightening because-- shit. It's so humid, she forgot.

He stares at her for a long while, his half-admission hanging heavy between them. Then, it seems, they make a mutual decision that the silence is too much to bear, and Toby pulls CJ close to him again, mouths meeting (colliding, fighting, offering a truce and passionately marking territory) to stop more silence from fermenting.

They fall almost ungracefully on the bed, the springs creaking despite their years of work at the very task of supporting the weight. He runs his fingers across her naked stomach, and the spark he creates is a memory: of a different time in a different hotel, in this same city and this same oppressive heat. The first time he pushes into her, a wave of bittersweet pleasure washes over her, the way Bartlet's words did when she tipped her head back in Toby's cluttered hotel room in New Hampshire that first night.

And a thousand apologies pour from his mouth when he comes, some spoken and some not, and when it's all over CJ doesn't want to contemplate what he feels so guilty about.


ii. mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa

She is twisted in the starched hotel sheets that have heard a thousand confessions, and they drape around her like the folds of cloth in a da Vinci sketch. There's a small, concentrated beam of light on the floor, from the small space where the blinds and the air conditioning meet. The art of rolling over and propping herself up just barely parts the thick, humid air clinging to her and everything else.

He is standing at the foot of the bed, slowly pulling on his pants. She blinks once, twice, and when she finally focuses on him, she tries not to see the guilt that makes his movements heavy and labored and his eyes cast down at the floor.

And there is still the taste of him on her lips when she wets them to speak (but what is left to say that they haven't been avoiding?), and she can't believe the words that tumble out.

"I kissed Simon."

He stops. There's nothing to feel ashamed about, or guilty, or whatever it is that she is feeling, but she feels the way the words lift the anvil off her chest (and subsequently transfer it to Toby's shoulders) and it feels good.

"I just..." She lets her hand fall limply on the mattress; words fail her temporarily. "I needed to say that."

He looks up finally, and she wishes she could see hurt or pain or something in his eyes, but there's nothing. Just a small crease in his forehead, like this wasn't what he was expecting at all. And maybe, she thinks, maybe in hindsight it was a stupid reason for acting the way she did last night.

"When?" Like it even matters.

Maybe she should have lied. Maybe she should have salved the wound and told him it was that night, on the sidewalk, outside of her apartment building, when half the Secret Service was watching and God knows how many reporters hiding in the bushes: a little white lie. Maybe that would have seemed better. But instead, she kamikazes into the flight deck and tells him it was here, outside the theater, beneath the raindrops and the glint of Broadway. Here, encroaching on his territory.

He mumbles something, holding her gaze for only a moment longer, and then something clicks the world resumes its former motion. With more noise than she expects, she swings her legs out of bed, still hugging the sheets like a protective blanket around her, despite the sweat. And despite everything else, it is a light and carefree motion.

"I slept with Andi."

It hits her that she doesn't know what time it is. Are Josh and Sam up? Donna? Charlie? Of course Charlie is probably up. Has the President been briefed on today's activities yet? Maybe she should be down the hall; maybe she should go and find out.


He wavers in place the way Toby does when he's nervous, and she thinks, maybe, he may have mumbled an apology a little bit ago.

"Yeah?" The hoarseness of her own voice startles her.

"Say something."

"When?" He doesn't answer. More forcefully, "When?"

There was a time when she wore the label, The Other Woman. She isn't proud of it. Now her role is reversed, and she hates to think about what that might make her.

"After...after the thing with Simon."

She thinks about what this means: after he sat down next to her on the bench, after he hugged her and helped collect the wilted pieces of herself; after he poured her into a taxicab and got her to the crime scene; after she cried and cried and cried, and after she ruined his tux; after he got her onto the red eye and somehow got her to her apartment; after he tried to kiss her and after she threw him out. After all that, he went searching for solace and found it.

"Oh." She takes it in, and tries to digest it; but slowly, though, so she doesn't choke. "Okay."

She excuses herself, moving to the bathroom quickly. (She can't miss the way he turns his head when the covers slip off of her, like it wasn't him that got her to this condition. It breaks her heart, if ever so slightly.) She locks the bathroom door, turns on the fan, and starts the water running for a cool shower to wash away the sweat and the revelations. And it doesn't take long before the cascading water sets off the trigger inside her and she begins to sob, a catharsis of sorts, and she is thankful for the way the water pressure makes the showerhead squeal. Her raw emotion is lost in the high pitch groaning and the low rumble of the fan.

When she emerges from the steam, towel wrapped loosely around her body, he is gone. It is just as well, she rationalizes, because she has run out of things to say that will prolong this dance they've been doing for so many months. With a resigned sigh, she pushes through the thick air and cranks up the air conditioning.

This thing, they'll weather it. She's sure of it.


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