Characters belong to Aaron Sorkin, John Wells Productions, Warner Bros., & NBC. Standard disclaimers apply. Please send feedback. If The Fates Allow Violet & Cinnamon
"Chestnuts roasting on an open fire...."
Toby grimaced. "Annoying songs. Slush. Bad traffic. Also, don't sing."
"Holly," C.J. countered. "Colored lights. Mrs. Landingham's special cookies! You could use a little Christmas spirit, Toby."
"Aside from what's obviously wrong with that--"
"Holiday spirit in general," she amended quickly. "Another thing, quality time with your family."
He raised his eyebrows. "Quality time with your family, that's in the plus column?"
She thought for a moment. "I think we can both count that one."
Leo appeared in the open doorway of C.J.'s office. "Guys."
C.J. looked over his tuxedo and whistled. "You're very dapper."
"I clean up all right, huh?" He beamed and checked out her gold dress. "You're looking quite well yourself."
"Ready to go?"
"Good God, yes," Toby replied.
They followed Leo down the hall. "We've got a serious problem, Leo," C.J. complained.
"Toby's not jolly."
Leo chuckled. "I'd never have predicted that."
"We're going to spend the next four hours in the company of two hundred and fifty diplomats, lobbyists, and generally awful people," Toby grumbled. "You expect me to be jolly?"
"Two hundred and fifty awful people who are extremely pissed off that they're meeting us in a hotel instead of schmoozing the President in the White House," Leo reminded him. "Not to mention that we ought to be at the holiday address, and I haven't had time to eat today." C.J. looked at him with reproach. He shrugged apologetically, and added, "And yet, I'm jolly."
They walked on through the foyer of the West Wing. Toby touched C.J.'s arm. "Hey. Seasonal affectiveness disorder."
She looked up mischievously. "Is that mistletoe?"
Toby shot a disapproving glance at the ornament above the door. "No," he said, emphatically, and strode out.
C.J. smiled to herself as she trailed after him. "Good."
* * *
"Batra, Chawla, Kwaw, Gaut, Hattori. Batra, Chawla, Kwaw, Gaut, Hattori." C.J. repeated the names of diplomats as she walked up the hotel steps.
"Are you going to remember those?" Leo asked.
"Yeah. Batra, Chawla, Kwaw, Gaut, Hattori. Got it." She stopped suddenly and grabbed Leo's arm. "Gaut's the one with the mustache, right?"
He nodded. "Batra always looks angry, Chawla's a drinker, Kwaw will want to show you pictures of his grandkids, Gaut is the one with the mustache and--" Leo paused and motioned with his head. "That is Hattori."
"I'm sure Carol would have quizzed you with flashcards," Toby remarked. "Are we going in?"
"Yes, we are."
Leo watched C.J. ascend the stairs that led up to the stage and as she started to speak, he wandered back towards the bar.
"Good evening, sir." The bartender smiled. "What can I do for you?"
"Eggnog, please. Plain." Leo grabbed a handful of cookies from the bar and turned around to watch C.J.
Toby strode purposefully towards the bar. Taking a cookie, he asked, "When are we leaving?"
"Here you go, sir."
Leo took his eggnog from the bartender and drank it quickly. "Relax, Toby. It won't be that bad."
Toby grunted in disagreement before taking a second cookie and walking closer to the stage.
"Would you like another, sir?"
Leo glanced at his empty cup. "Please." Picking up his refill and taking a sip, he followed Toby.
C.J. joined them as she came down from the podium. "How'd I do?"
"Who cares?" Toby muttered.
"I thought I heard people grumbling while I was talking, or maybe that was just Toby." He ignored her pointedly. She continued, "Batra looked like he wanted to find a puppy to kick."
"Batra always looks like that," Leo commented. "You're fine."
"Salincourt's going to get on our case about tobacco," Toby said, watching the guests expertly. "Hattori's going to call us weak, and Marbury--"
"Hattori's all talk and no action, and Lord deliver us from Marbury," Leo cut in. "Hey, C.J., taste this eggnog. See if it doesn't taste funny to you."
He handed her the half-empty glass. "We're going to hear a lot of complaining about the Lindstrom Act," C.J. predicted. She took a swallow of the egg nog and froze. "You've been drinking this?"
"You think it tastes funny too? I thought it might be because of the cookies, but--"
"Leo--" Her voice wavered. "There's alcohol in this."
The two men stared at her.
"No, there isn't," Leo said, flatly. "I already had a glass."
C.J. nodded slowly. Toby took the drink from her hand and sipped it. He looked up at Leo for a second, turned on his heel, and stormed away.
"There can't be--" Leo broke off in the middle of his denial. After seven years, the familiar sensation was startling. He felt the building warmth in his veins, looked at C.J.'s stricken expression, and his own face fell. "I drank the first one really fast," he said, wretchedly.
"Oh, God, Leo." She stepped closer to him and touched his shoulder. "You should go."
"No." He swallowed hard. "It'll be okay. We can handle this."
"I'm going to call Margaret."
"No, you're not."
"Leo!" C.J. exclaimed, in disbelief.
"No." He spoke in a grim undertone. "I said we'll handle this, C.J. Tonight is important; it needs to go smoothly. We're professionals." His voice softened. "And I don't want Margaret to know."
"Then I'm calling Josh," she said, decidedly.
"Tell him to stay at the speech. We don't need him rushing in here like the Charge of the Light Brigade." C.J. seemed about to disagree, or to cry. Leo looked at her meaningfully. "It's really fine."
She shook her head as she took out her cell phone. "No, it's not."
He wished he didn't know she was right.
* * *
Toby stood still, frowning stonily at the bartender and anything else that crossed his field of vision. He was waiting for a quiet moment. It took a while, but eventually the middle-aged woman came to the end of the bar and stopped across from him.
"Can I help you, sir?"
"What's your name?"
"Corinne. Corinne Waltuck." She was slightly flustered by his steady glare. "What can I--"
"How long have you worked here?"
"Four years. I don't understand; is something wrong?"
"Did you serve Leo McGarry a drink a few minutes ago?"
"Yes," she said nervously. "I did."
Toby's voice was carefully modulated. "Are you a sadist, or are you an idiot?"
Corinne stepped back. "Excuse me?"
"It's certainly possible you're an idiot," he continued implacably. "I'm just not sure how, as someone in this country -- let alone this city -- you could be that ignorant. A year ago, every newspaper in this country ran the story that Leo McGarry is an alcoholic. You put brandy and bourbon in his drink."
Corinne gasped and pressed a hand to her mouth.
"Either you did it out of malice, in which case, I am going to make your life a living hell, and I certainly won't be alone in the effort..." Toby shrugged. "Or you're an idiot."
Her eyes moistened. "I've been working doubles all month. With the holidays, it gets so busy." Her voice caught, and tears rolled down her cheeks. "My daughter has the flu. My son fights with his stepfather all the time. I get home in the morning and the house is a mess. Sometimes at work I'm just running on empty, and--"
"I honestly don't give a damn," he informed her bitterly. He turned away and faced the room, his gaze scanning the various guests and flickering back to Leo and C.J.
"I'm sorry," Corinne whimpered behind him. "I'm so sorry."
"Go away," Toby growled without looking at her. She did.
* * *
C.J. took a few steps away from Leo and hastily dialed Josh's number.
"Hey, Josh." She paused, covering her ear with her free hand. "What's going on over there? I can barely hear you."
"This place is falling apart without you, as usual. What's up?"
"Something happened with Leo."
"He seemed jolly enough when you left."
"He's been drinking, Josh."
"Well, he didn't mean to, but--"
Josh shook his head. "Wait, explain this to me. How does one accidentally ingest alcohol?"
C.J. sighed. "I don't know how it happened." She looked around the room before resting her gaze back on Leo. "Toby's set up camp by the bar. The bartender will probably kill herself before the night is over."
"Are we sure it's her fault?"
"Well, it sure as hell isn't Leo's fault!"
"I didn't say it was." Josh slowly let out a breath. "I should come down there."
"No, you stay there and deal with whatever it is you're dealing with." C.J. rubbed her forehead. "He didn't do this on purpose, Josh."
"Okay. Call me back soon, let me know what's going on."
She promised she would, and hung up.
C.J. slid her phone into her handbag. "Mary."
The lobbyist smiled falsely. "I've been wanting to talk to you for some time about Congressman Divisadero. He's really been going against us this year and it would certainly help if we had the support of--"
C.J. cut her off. "Can we talk about this later?" Without waiting for a response, C.J. hurried off in Leo's direction.
* * *
It was taking all the powers of concentration he had, but Leo was paying attention.
"...And my granddaughter watches 'Dawson's Creek'," Kwaw said gravely. "I find the amount of sexuality being presented to youth in today's media disturbing. Doesn't the President find it disturbing?"
"No, he really doesn't," Leo calmly replied. "The President finds it disturbing that parents don't take the time to have open discussions with their children so that they learn to make responsible judgements about what they see in today's media. Also, the President finds it disturbing that the youth of today think 'Dawson's Creek' is a good show."
Kwaw smiled politely and drank some of his martini. Leo's eyes followed the glass automatically. God, that looks good, he thought.
C.J. approached, watching Leo's gaze with concern. "Ah, Ms. Cregg," Kwaw said. "We were just discussing today's television shows. Wouldn't you say we should be worried about violence on television?"
"I think we should be more worried about violence in reality," she answered distractedly. "Leo, if I could speak to you for a minute?"
They walked along the periphery of the room, greeting various people in passing. "It's refreshing," Leo remarked.
C.J. whipped her head around and stared at him. "What?"
"Talking to a lobbyist who isn't tied to Hollywood's purse strings." She was visibly relieved. He rolled his eyes. "For Christ's sake, I'm all right. I don't need a babysitter."
"You don't look so great," she said, truthfully.
Leo was tense, too keyed up. The eggnog hadn't been much, but he could feel the edge of it, could feel the old need pushing against his self-control. He clenched his jaw and started to make his way back into the crowd. "I can do this."
"I believe you," she assured him, but stayed close behind him anyway.
* * *
"Good evening, Mr. Hattori." Leo extended his hand and C.J. motioned Toby over.
"Did you call Josh?" Toby asked quietly.
"Yeah. I should probably call him again."
"And tell him what?"
"I don't know." C.J. studied Leo and Hattori.
"Be glad Danny Concannon isn't here."
"I'm always glad when Danny's not around."
"But it was good to see you, Leo," Hattori smiled warmly and shook Leo's hand again. "I'm heading over to the bar. Would you like something?"
Yes. Leo nodded, then expelled an exasperated sigh when he caught sight of C.J.'s face. "I'll come with you. I can get it myself."
Following Hattori, Leo noticed a different woman standing behind the bar. He helped himself to a handful of peanuts and tried not to think about all the bottles in front of him.
Leo took his glass from the bartender, and as he took a sip, he was both disappointed and relieved to find she had given him just what he asked for.
He swallowed quickly. "It was water," he said, waving the empty glass under C.J.'s nose.
"It's not that I don't trust you--" The shrill ring of her cell phone interrupted her. She pulled it out reluctantly. "Excuse me."
As she walked away, Leo leaned wearily against the bar. It's so close, he thought. It's so easy. He hated feeling tempted, hated having to restrain himself, and the thought of drinking himself into indifference was growing steadily more attractive.
"McGarry!" an altogether too merry voice saluted him.
Leo gritted his teeth. This was not going to make him feel any better. "Your Lordship."
Marbury dropped onto the stool to Leo's right. "It's a beautiful thing," he declared, gesturing with his whiskey glass.
Leo blinked. "I'm sorry, what?"
"Diplomacy. Right here in this room, my man, we have the oil that makes the world's gears turn, distilled down to its ultimate essence." Marbury took out a cigarette. "Some stunning women, too. Got a light?"
"I don't smoke."
"More's the pity." Marbury scanned the bar and found a book of matches. "The only thing that could be more perfectly political than this gathering would be a room full of unmarked bills."
"Maybe that's how you do things."
"It's how things have always been done. The Magi came to the cradle bearing gifts." He looked askance at Leo. "You don't seem to be enjoying this event."
"There are things I'd rather be doing," Leo admitted coolly.
"Oh, have some spirit, Leo!" Marbury drained his glass with gusto.
Leo brooded for a long moment, then stood up. "Excuse me."
He walked determinedly across the room. Toby abandoned a doomed conversation with a pair of insurance lobbyists and fell into step with him. "How's it going?"
"Spectacular," Leo snapped. "Is any actual work getting done here?"
"We're making some progress with the HMO people."
Leo walked faster, frustrated. "I'm going to the bathroom."
"I was headed that way myself. It's over this way." Toby steered him out of the room.
As the men's room door swung shut behind them, Leo whirled around, stopping Toby short. "Go away."
"No," Toby said, simply, watching as Leo paced back and forth.
"What is it that you think I'm going to do in here?" he snarled.
Toby clasped his hands behind his back. "I don't know, and I don't want to know."
"This is ridiculous," he snarled. "I'm a grown man."
"Act like one."
Leo glared at him. "What the hell did you just say?" Toby did not repeat himself, only met Leo's eyes impassively. Leo glared back at him. "You're supposed to be out there doing your job."
"I'm in here doing my job," Toby said, evenly. "I work for you, Leo. And it is ridiculous. It's ridiculous that such a monumentally stupid accident could happen. It's ridiculous that you're standing here trying to pretend it's not bothering you."
"I'm doing fine!" Leo protested angrily.
"I know you're fighting it, Leo." He furrowed his brow. "I think you already know better than to deny that. I think you already know why I'm standing here."
They studied each other intently. After a long time, Leo turned away, and caught sight of himself in the mirror. He looked like he felt -- sick and desperate. He let out a ragged breath, defeated. "You're right."
"Yes, I am."
Leo went to the sink, splashed some cold water over his hands, and ran them over his face. "Thank you for saying it."
"I'm doing my job," Toby replied. "You ready to go back?"
He nodded sadly. "I wasn't going to the bathroom in the first place."
Toby looked at the floor. "Yeah."
* * *
"Why haven't you called me?"
C.J. walked into the hall and took a seat on a padded bench. "Hi, Josh."
"What's going on down there?"
"Leo is walking around pretending that he doesn't want a drink, and Toby and I are following him everywhere he goes."
"I'm coming down there," Josh said firmly.
"You're not coming down here."
C.J. tried to peek into the ballroom without moving from her seat. "Well, for one, by the time you drive all the way here, this whole thing will be over."
"I want to be there."
"Josh, you can worry where you are just as well as you could worry down here."
Josh took a few steps forward and banged his head against a pillar in frustration. Without taking his eyes off the President, Sam leaned towards him and whispered, "Serenity now!"
"How's the President's speech going?" C.J. asked.
"About as well as we expected it to go. Amron and Gottlieb are being complete jackasses." He paused. "Let me come down there."
"The President would understand."
"Leo wouldn't. You're where you're supposed to be."
"How did it happen, C.J.?"
She looked at her shoes. "The bartender made a mistake. It was just -- the bartender made a mistake."
Josh sighed. "Am I telling the President?"
"Will you call me later?"
C.J. allowed herself to sit for a few minutes after she ended the phone call. Finally, she took a deep breath and walked back into the ballroom.
Glancing around the room, she saw a man with a mustache walking towards her. "Ms. Cregg!"
"Mr. Gaut. How do you do?"
He smiled broadly. "It's a pleasure to meet you."
"You, too, sir."
"I was speaking with Sant Chawla earlier about holiday traditions and...."
C.J. tuned Gaut out as she scanned the room, looking for Toby and Leo. She was slightly alarmed not to see either one of them.
"...And that's how Chawla does it."
"I put photographs -- we're big with photographs of people that we love." Gaut smiled conspiratorially. "And even ones that we don't love."
"Hanging on the tree?" C.J. asked with surprise.
"Yeah, we put pictures of the people that we love. Family, mostly."
Searching the room again, C.J. spotted Toby; he motioned to her. "Excuse me." When she reached Toby's side, she asked, "Where's Leo?"
"Hattori snagged him." Toby motioned towards the men in the corner. "Leo's supposed to make some closing remarks."
Toby pulled a sheet of paper from his pocket and handed it to C.J. She scanned it quickly, handed it back to him, and walked onto the stage.
"Ladies and gentlemen, if I may have your attention. On behalf of the Bartlet administration, I would like to thank each of you for coming here tonight..."
Leo listened from the back of the room, absorbed both with what C.J. was saying and with his own thoughts.
"...Thank you again for coming, and to all, a good night."
In the midst of the laughter and applause, C.J. swiftly descended the stairs and followed Toby and Leo out of the ballroom. Once they were in the hallway, she dug around in her handbag and pulled out her phone. "Josh? It's C.J. We're headed back."
* * *
Leo walked heavily into the dimly lit Oval Office. "Sir."
Jed was sitting on the couch. He scoffed. "Really, Leo. This is a time when I'm not being your boss, and you don't have to call me--"
"We're in the Oval," he interrupted softly, sitting down across from the President.
"Well?" Jed demanded, obviously concerned.
"I'm..." Leo searched for a word. "Very tired."
"How bad is it?"
He spoke dismally and bluntly. "I want a drink."
"I know. I'm sorry."
"Seven years," Leo mused. "I never thought I'd have to start over."
"It isn't your fault." Jed reached out and rested a hand on Leo's shoulder. "Josh told me the bartender made a mistake?"
He looked miserable. "I don't understand how I didn't notice. Eggnog's thick, but... I drank it and I didn't think."
"It doesn't matter." Jed leaned closer. "You got through the night."
"If C.J. and Toby hadn't been--"
"But they were."
"You got through the night," he repeated in a sympathetic tone. "That proves a hell of a lot to me, my friend."
They sat together in companionable silence for some time. Leo spoke up. "I thought you were flying straight to New Hampshire after the address."
"I sent the girls on without me."
Leo raised his eyebrows. "I bet Abbey's not thrilled about that."
"Abbey understands." Jed regarded him meaningfully. "Go home, Leo. You need some sleep. You got through the night. You'll get through tomorrow."
He considered this, then nodded and stood up. "Yes. I will. Thank you."
"Goodnight, sir." Leo stepped into his office, took a beat and broke into a grin. "Planning a coup?"
Josh, Toby, C.J., and Sam were grouped by Leo's desk. Sam stepped forward and spoke anxiously. "Leo, is everything all right?"
"The night's over, guys," he told them. "C.J., Toby, take a walk with me."
They exchanged glances with the others and followed Leo down the hall. "Hattori's coming by on Thursday to work out some kinks," he told them.
"It won't go anywhere," Toby said.
"Probably not. I'm going to set up a meeting with Batra for after the holidays." He stopped by the door and turned to face both of them. "I need to thank both of you."
They looked bashful. "We didn't--" Toby began.
"You did, Toby." Leo tilted his head. "I think you know better than to deny it."
Toby shuffled his feet and Leo turned to C.J. "And you." He gave her a small smile. "You've been beautiful tonight in every sense of the word."
She blushed. Before she could speak, Leo leaned up and kissed her gently on the cheek. "Merry Christmas."
He left them quiet and thoughtful in the doorway. C.J. looked up and a whimsical expression played across her face. "I think that might be mistletoe after all."