TITLE: Irreparable Things
AUTHOR: Ellen Milholland
EMAIL/URL: radiant@bluelikethat.com, http://www.bluelikethat.com/radiance/imagine.html
RATING: R, for pseudo-sex and adult themes be forewarned.
CODES: CJ, really, but the plot is significantly CJ/Sam.
SPOILERS/SERIES: Sequel to my previous story, Center of Gravity, which can be found at http://www.bluelikethat.com/radiance/centerofgravity.html.
ARCHIVE: Ask, please.
DISCLAIMERS: Consider me disclaimed. Lyrics from 'Spark' by Tori Amos.
SUMMARY: "What if this is one of those irreparable things that just goes on broken forever?"

FOR: mousecarcass, most especially, because she was the one who started the idea rolling. For AJ and her poking, Marguerite for her impatience, Zo for her excitement at every stage of this writing.

*
she's convinced she could hold back a glacier
but she couldn't keep Baby alive
doubting if there's a woman in there somewhere
*

It has been the longest day of her entire life, and it is only three thirty in the afternoon.

Her hands shake so hard that she has difficulty getting the little silver key into the little bronze keyhole, but after a few deep breaths and a two-handed grip, she manages to let herself into her apartment.

She closes the door soundly behind her, turning the lock and the deadbolt and leaning hard against it. Her skin itches underneath her clothes, and she's struck by the faint scent of bleach in her hair.

She is startled at the clean normalcy of the space, in comparison to the deep turmoil that sits in the pit of her stomach and makes her eyes burn. Her apartment is just as she left it, the carpet newly vacuumed and the coffee table free of dust and year-old-magazines. There is still food in the cat's dish, milk in the refrigerator, and apples in the fruit bowl.

Everything is the same as she left it, except for her. Nothing has changed, except for her. The realization makes her suddenly cold, despite the fact that outside it's a 95-degree late August day, and all the windows are tightly shut.

She wraps her arms around her, slumps into her couch, the upholstery soft against her bare shoulders. She had called in sick to work, giving Carol an evasive description of her ailment, assuring her that she'd be back tomorrow extra-early to make up for all the work she was missing. She told Carol to call Henry, to tell him to pick up her morning briefing. And then she pulled on jeans and a tank top and a pair of cross-trainers and she had called the doctor's office.

She had turned off her cell phone after the seventh unanswered call from Sam. She hadn't been ready talk to him about this, not yet. She had hurt too much physically, emotionally to talk to him.

She doesn't want to share this with him, not yet. She will have to call him soon enough. He has left twelve messages on her home answering machine, but she presses the delete button without listening to any of them. She covers her face with her hands, and bright, creamy sunlight streams in through the miniblinds.

She toes off her tennis shoes under the coffee table and stands directionless in the middle of her living room. Her skin begins to itch again, and so she blinks her eyes slowly and heads towards the bathroom.

*

The bathroom door is ajar, and the light is off, and the late afternoon sun is straining through her bedroom window. She is sitting on the toilet seat, her hands in her lap, and her naked legs pressed tightly together. The bathroom is still steaming and her skin is numb from the scalding water.

She has scrubbed her breasts and stomach and thighs so hard and for so long that they are raw, and there are thin, red scratches where she dug her fingernails into her hips. She is ashamed of her body in a way she has not experienced since her adolescence, angry at all the strange angles she's bent at. She hates that she is not a woman, really.

There have been no tears, and she does not know whether or not to expect them. She does not know if she will mourn, does not know if she will ever feel anything but this hollowness, this empty place in her belly and in her chest. She never expected this, would not have believed she could feel this way. She is struck by the profound loneliness of a pristine bathroom and the blood underneath her fingernails.

No, she has not cried, but she has thrown up five times since she's gotten home, and even sitting on the cold porcelain, the sharp taste of acid coats her tongue and angry nausea eats through her. So she does not move, hoping that she will not have to go on retching and retching, her body trying to expel her heart through her mouth.

She wonders if she hasn't already lost it, her heart and its beating, and all that's left is the afterbirth, and that's what her body is so desperately trying to get rid of. The very idea makes her head spin and her stomach churn, and so instead she concentrates on taking an inventory of the items on her bathroom counter, anything to take her mind off of the low ache in her stomach.

She takes slow, careful stock of the contact lens case and the baby oil, the bottles of aspirin and Tylenol PM and Claritin and aftershave, the tubes of Colgate and Aquafresh, the box of condoms, the hairbrush and the hair gel and the hair spray, the electric razor, the tweezers, the multivitamins, the tube of lipstick and the eye shadow brush, the moisturizer and the perfume and the cologne, the aromatherapy candle, the pair of little gold earrings and the tiny gold ring she'd set aside before getting into the searing water.

They were almost a family, she thinks, and that sends her retching again, her hands gripping the edge of the bathtub and her back aching. And when her body is satisfied with its attempt to turn her inside out, she misses him, misses his hands on her back, and yet she knows she will not call him. And so she reaches out for the tiny ring and slips it onto her pinky because it reminds her of his eyes.

She stands up slowly, deciding to put on some clothes, to watch C-SPAN, to do something, anything to clear her mind. She cannot stand to think of this, of loss, of the blood any longer. Her thighs hurt when she walks, but not enough, and she catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror, frighteningly pale, eyes bloodshot.

She does not remember what it feels like to look like a woman, and so she closes the bathroom door behind her, locking the image of that wraith inside.

*

The little clock on the VCR reads 5:43 when she hears his keys in the lock, but she makes no move to get the door, merely sits on the couch watching a muted episode of CNN's Inside Politics. Her back is to the door, her shoulders slumped forward, the old Princeton sweatshirt she wears betraying the fact that somewhere inside she's inordinately relieved that he's home.

She hears him shut the door quickly, hears that he does not lock it, hears him drop his briefcase.

Hears his breath more than anything.

"CJ?" his voice is soft and tentative. He touches her hair from behind, but she does not turn to him, does not answer him, just breathes, slowly and deeply, trying to hold back the nausea.

"CJ?" he repeats, as if saying her name again will wake her from whatever trance she's in.

And so, to appease him, she says, "Hi, Sam."

"Are you alright, CJ?" he keeps saying her name, and she's not sure she likes being reminded. "I heard from Carol that you called in sick, but I... you weren't answering your cell phone, and you weren't home, and then your cell phone was off, and -- God, CJ, why didn't you call me back?"

"Sorry."

"No, no. It's okay. I've just been so, so worried about you all day. I know you haven't been feeling well, but... my plane got in late, and I was going to take an earlier flight back from St. Louis, a commercial flight, but I couldn't get out of the thing, and I--"

"It's okay, Sam."

He only reluctantly removes his fingers from her hair, she can tell, stepping around the sofa and smiling faintly at the logo on the sweatshirt. He goes pale as he sees her face.

"God, CJ. What happened?"

"Oh, nothing." She cannot look at him, and so she stares at the talking heads on the television screen continuing to argue in silence. A commercial, then, for Merrill-Lynch. Smiling faces, and parents with children, and husbands with wives -- and CJ with Sam.

She looks up at him, and his brow is furrowed.

"I've been so worried about you, and you're so pale, and you're sick enough to stay home, and nothing's wrong?"

"It's not the pills, if that's what you're thinking." She cannot look at him as she says it, hates that she has gotten to a place where she needs to tell her boyfriend that no, she's not doing drugs. Not at the moment at least. She chokes back bile.

"No, I wasn't."

"I didn't even have a drink," she adds.

"Okay, good," he says slowly, touching her leg.

She jerks back from him, and she bites her tongue to keep from throwing up again. "Please, Sam."

"Look, CJ, it's okay. I'm sorry."

She stares blankly at the TV screen, a commercial for a sports car, silver and sleek.

He leans back, rubs his eyes with a hand. The little gold ring on his pinky finger glitters in the waning light, and he's dressed in her favorite suit, charcoal and perfectly tailored to his shoulders and his thighs. His tie is satin, and his shirt is perfectly, stunningly white.

She realizes a second too late that he is watching her.

"So, yeah. I guess I should tell you," she says slowly. She does not know how to put her loss into words, does not know how to put the pain or the blood or the anger or the guilt into words. She barely knows how to say anything unscripted.

He says nothing, just raises his eyebrows quizzically. She finds that she cannot breath, and she reaches out to touch his hand, just brushing her fingers over his knuckles in order to remind herself that he's just Sam.

"Sam, I... I mean, we..." Her throat is so dry. "Sam, I had a miscarriage."

He is perfectly, absolutely silent, and she realizes it is because he is holding his breath. He releases it in a long, hissing sigh. "Um, I didn't know you--"

"I didn't either, really. I suspected, but... I hadn't really gotten the chance to confirm it."

"How many--"

"Seven weeks."

"Jesus."

"Pretty much, yeah."

"Look, CJ. It's okay. How do you feel?"

"My stomach hurts. My throat, too. I've been, you know, throwing up." She can't lie to him, so she tells him the truth in its entirety. "And I've been sitting here, you know, not drinking, because I was waiting for you." She pauses, drops her head into her hands. "I'm sorry."

He reaches out slowly, and he touches her stomach through her sweatshirt. "This isn't your fault."

She is silent.

"We'll be okay, CJ."

"I know," she replies, and they sit like that, just like that, until the sun is gone from the sky.

*

When she wakes up, it is almost 5am, and the shower is running in the bathroom. She can hear Sam singing something from the Pirates of Penzance horribly off-key, and a trickle of steam sneaks through the cracked door.

Her stomach hurts, and her throat feels packed with cotton. She lies very still, warm minutes slipping by, until he emerges from the bathroom. The pre-dawn light is thin and watery, but there is enough for her to see him, standing with a pale blue towel around his waist, watching her.

"Hey," she says, stretching her legs out under the old sheets. The quiet hum of the air conditioner is loud in the silence.

"Good morning," he replies, pulling off the towel. She catches a glimpse of long white thighs, the thin curls at his groin, the shape of his hip, before he steps into a pair of dark paisley boxers.

"I think that may be an overstatement," she says, and her voice is thick and rough. She throws the sheets off and lets the cool air sweep across her naked body. They had not had sex the night before, had merely slept skin-to-skin, her back to his chest, one of his hands on her stomach. Safe and close.

She closes her eyes for a moment, yawning, and when she opens them, he's sitting next to her on the bed, touching her thigh. "How do you feel?"

"A little sore, still." She slowly sits up, tucking her calves beneath her. Her breasts are still red, and he runs a lazy finger across them. She is amazed that they have been together long enough that his hands on her nipples can be completely nonsexual.

"Maybe you should stay home," he says, after chewing on his lip for a moment and tracing an angry red mark down her abdomen.

"No, the doctor just told me to take some Advil. There's nothing that I can do now." Her voice catches, and she leans back onto her arms.

"You know, CJ. I meant what I said last night. I don't blame you for this," he touches the lowest part of her belly, "Not at all."

She wants to ask him what kind of woman can't even keep her own baby alive, but she knows he will just counter with the fact that thirty percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage. So instead of answering, she merely says, "Find me something to wear, Sam. I'm going to go shower."

"Do you want breakfast?"

"God, no." Just the thought of eating brings on a fresh bout of nausea, and she grimaces.

"You're going to eat today, right?"

His concern warms her fingertips and her palms. "Maybe," she says.

He runs a hand through her tangled hair, brushes her forehead. "CJ, remember--"

"I'll eat, yeah, okay," she says with a yawn. "Now go get dressed."

*

Her skin is still tender and thin underneath her clothes, and so she is wrapped up in the pale beige folds of Sam's favorite suit when she walks into Leo's office. She has a hand against her belly, the other clenched into a fist near her leg, and her eyes are down. She just wants to sleep, just wants to forget about all of this. Just wants to get out of here.

Margaret follows her in, and the younger woman's eyes are wide and her mouth tight. "Thank you, Margaret."

"CJ--"

"I'm fine, Margaret. It's okay," CJ soothes half-heartedly, patting her arm. Margaret nods bravely and slips out, closing the door behind her.

"CJ," Leo says warmly. "We missed you yesterday." He chooses his words slowly and carefully, setting his pen down and gesturing towards a seat.

She sinks gratefully into the plush chair, crumpling in on herself. "Yeah, I'm sorry about that."

He nods, clears his throat, rearranges a few papers on his desk, and finally sighs, visibly uncomfortable. "So--" He looks over her shoulder.

"Sam keeps saying that you want to talk to me." She can hear her own voice, raw and defeated. She thinks of baby clothes and basinets, pink and blue pastels. She feels nauseous.

"About the budget? Because you're getting a copy of it just as soon as- -"

"Not the budget."

"Then?"

"About Thursdays, actually."

She hates asking for help, but she knows when she's been beaten. The feeling is like rocks in her lungs. She can't breathe, really, but she's relatively used to the feeling.

His eyes fly back to hers. "Ah, yes. Look, CJ, I'm not out to judge you or to tell you whether or not you're an--"

"Look, Leo. Don't do this. Don't be so careful with me. I'm asking for your help here. You of all people should appreciate how difficult this is for me." Her voice is hard and brittle.

"Good. I hate playing softball like that. Okay. CJ, we're all worried as hell about you. Josh freaks out at the very mention of your name, some days. Abbey's beside herself; the President doesn't know what to think. I'm not even going to start on Toby, but I'll tell you he's pretty difficult when he starts worrying. And Sam tells me about the drinking sometimes, because he's young, and he hasn't got a clue of how to help you."

She doesn't meet his eyes, looking instead at her shoes, dark brown against the floor. Her chest hurts.

"CJ, look at me a sec."

She feels her skin pull tight across her face as she looks up. "I barely have the heart to tell him that there's really nothing he can do to help you. Because you've got to help yourself on this one."

"I know," she says quietly.

"Good."

"I don't see how it could hurt to, oh, I don't know, learn a little more about this AA thing." She shrugs.

"Okay--"

For the first time in the conversation, her eyes pull him into focus. He is small against the backdrop of his wide chair. "Leo, I don't really want to go into everything that's going on right now with me, if you don't really mind."

"Yeah, don't worry. I respect your privacy, unless you think we need to know."

She ignores him. "But yesterday, I was in a bad spot, and I wanted a drink so badly I couldn't think clearly." She never admits these needs to anyone but Sam, who silences her with glasses of grapefruit juice and long, slow kisses, and sometimes thin, French cigarettes. The words hang strangely in the stagnant air.

"Did you have it?"

"No," she says, crossing her arms across her chest.

"Why not?"

"Because it's killing me, isn't it? Maybe not physically, not yet. But in every other way, it's killing me. And it's killing Sam. And it's it's killing." Her voice breaks, and she mentally curses her weakness. She is thinking of the blood, and of the fact that maybe if she hadn't drunk so much, she might've kept the baby.

"Well, it sure killed me." His eyes are dark and cloudy.

She nods slowly. "Sam couldn't bear it if I died." Her mouth has betrayed her; that wasn't what she wanted to say at all. Her hands are touching her stomach.

"I couldn't bear it either, CJ." His voice is gruff.

She stands abruptly. "I'm going to go... work. Yeah."

He seems relieved with the sudden change. She's breathing again, hitched half-breaths, and he's tapping the end of his pen against his blotter. "Did Carol catch you up with what happened yesterday?"

"Yeah, nothing big, right?"

"Nah, the usual. Nothing big. It was a good day."

"At least someone's was," she says with a wan smile. "Hey, will you get Carol to put the, the thing in my schedule?"

"Of course."

She leans back against the door. "Leo, I just--" She straightens up quickly, tugging her jacket back into its proper place. "Thanks. I'll see you later, then." She turns the knob and almost falls over Margaret, who is standing on the other side of the threshold.

"CJ?" he says, just as she's leaving. She turns back to look at him.

"Yes, Leo?"

"Maybe you should talk to some of the people around here. Let 'em know you haven't left us yet."

She nods slowly. "Yeah. Okay."

She leaves the door open behind her.

*

It takes her twenty minutes to get back to her desk because four different people stop to inquire about her health. After graciously assuring one of them that she was just fine, just a stomach virus, good as new, she would move on, and another would pop up.

She is exhausted by the time she dropped into her desk chair. Carol pokes her head in. "Hey."

"Mm?" CJ asks, laying her head down against her desk. "Please tell me that there's no one here to check on my health. Because I think I'm just going to snap."

"No, no. Not at the moment. I sent them all away." Carol makes a little 'go away' motion with her hand, as if acting the scene out.

"Thank God. Then, what?" CJ asks, picking her head up wearily and searching a drawer for a bottle of Advil, which she finds hidden under a box of highlighters and ten sheets of address labels.

"Sam he had to go meet with a senator, but he'd meet you for lunch about two, if you were available."

"Make me available," CJ says, not looking up as she struggles with a childproof cap.

Carol grins. "I already moved your one-thirty to four o'clock, and moved your four o'clock to tomorrow at 11:30. I thought since you were sick yesterday and all..."

CJ smiles for perhaps the first time all day. "When was the last time I gave you a raise, because, you know, you're amazing?"

"Well, it's been a while," Carol teases. She sticks her hand out, handing CJ a neatly organized folder, brightly adorned with blue, green, and fuchsia post-its. "Here you go. You've got a briefing in twenty. You need any help with that bottle there, CJ?"

"Okay, don't push your luck," CJ says lightly as she finally manages to fish out two pills. "See, I can do this all by myself. I don't need your help." She takes a drink from the Volvic bottle on her desk and swallows the two sugar-coated pills.

"Is that so?"

"Whoa, kidding there, Carol. Very kidding. Hey, could you let Josh and Toby know that I need to speak to them sometime soon?" She breathes in deeply, trying to feel some sort of immediate effect from the ibuprofen.

"Urgent?" Carol asks, her pen poised over her notepad. Her brow furrows in concern, and CJ smiles slightly.

"Just some personal stuff. They shouldn't worry." She smiles again, for the younger woman's benefit.

Carol nods sharply and looks down at her watch. "Briefing in eighteen," she says as she leaves.

CJ watches the door close behind her, and then sighs. It is only then that she notices that her desk is not exactly as she left it, that there is something new. Between the box of paperclips and the small ball of rubber bands, there is a roll of Lifesavers, cherry flavored. They're her favorite, the cherry ones, and she has to smile, if briefly, at the obvious irony.

"It's going to take more than candy..." she says aloud into her empty office, but unwraps one of the little red candies in any case and lets the sugar melt onto her tongue.

She knows it was Sam, and she wants to thank him for the gesture, but she knows he is gone, so instead she collects all the little papers and notes that she can find, not really pausing to check their importance before stuffing them in the folder.

She slides the Lifesavers into her pocket and stands up, leaning heavily onto her desk, her wrists throbbing. She sighs, then opens the door to her office, and when she sees Carol, she knows what she should really do before her briefing.

"You need something, CJ?" Carol asks, after the older woman has stood next to her desk silently for a while, chewing on her lip.

"Look, I wanted to say--" She gestures helplessly.

Carol smiles knowingly. "Don't worry about it, CJ. I'm just glad you're back. Go forth and brief."

*
you say you don't want it
again and again
but you don't, you don't really mean it

*

"You know, Katie, I really don't know. If you want, you can ask me again, for the third time, but I really doubt I'll know the answer then, either." CJ's legs are tired, and she leans heavily against her lectern. She has ceased to be surprised that her mouth and her wit are still so quick and her voice so acerbic when she stands in front of the cameras. She is nothing if not good at her job.

"CJ!" ten voices call out in near-unison.

"Yes, Shaun?" she says, pointing at the most recognizable face in the group.

"I was just thumbing through what I've seen of the recent proposed budget--"

"Make for good bedtime reading?" CJ asks lightly.

"More than I can tell you, CJ; put me right to sleep. In any case, I was wondering if you could walk me through the $300 million allocated for, and I quote--"

"Yeah, I'm just going to head you off at the pass on that one. If you could hold off on that for a couple hours, 'til this afternoon, I'll have learned all you'd ever want to know about the budget, and then some." She considers the group for a second, then points to Danny.

"CJ, we heard you were ill yesterday."

"That would explain my absence, and my surprising lack of knowledge about budget-related matters, yes." She quirks an eyebrow, appraising him, begging him silently just to back off.

"I just, wondered if you were feeling better," he smiles breezily.

Her stomach hurts. "Better than ever, thanks for asking. And if that's all, I think it's time for me to bid you adieu." She blinks hard as she sweeps from the room through the door that Josh holds open for her.

It takes her a moment to register his presence, she is so wrapped up in the headache growing behind her eyes and in the effort it had taken to keep her voice light and a smile plastered across her features. She doesn't even see him until he is blocking her path down the corridor. She almost runs right into him until she looks up, sees his wide eyes and his thin-lipped smile, and she freezes.

"CJ," he starts.

"Josh, I--"

"You know, I'm sorry that it took so long today to get you that budget. I could've sworn someone handed a copy off to Carol for you..."

"Don't worry about it. With all of the other stuff, you know, like the potato farmers and the new ambassador to Luxembourg, I really wouldn't have had time to read it anyway." She shrugs, but she cannot meet his eyes.

"Oh, CJ. Why're you so good at that?"

"What?"

"Playing the part. Playing CJ Cregg and doing it well." He is standing close to her now, close enough that she can feel warmth rippling off his body. She feels cold.

"Um, I'm not sure what happened while I was away yesterday, but last time I checked I still am CJ Cregg."

He shakes his head. "No. Not for a long time."

"I don't know what--"

"CJ, come on. It's not like we haven't been friends for, you know, ever. Why have you all the sudden decided that you're fooling anybody?"

"I didn't... Yeah, I guess I did. I thought I was better at being me."

"Oh, you're good. If I didn't know you so well, I'd never have noticed the difference. But I do. Come on, walk with me. You have a few minutes?"

"Yeah, a few. I could use some Advil." She follows him as he moves off down the hallway.

"Advil, this is something I have in abundance. Advil and Halls cough drops, too," he whispers conspiratorially.

"You're a god, Josh."

"So I've been told."

*

She drops into a chair facing his desk. She is sick of feeling so tired, but she cannot think of the last time she felt awake. She wonders if she has been sleep walking, if all of this is somehow a twisted, demented nightmare.

But her stomach aches, and that reminds her of reality, and it reminds her that Josh's eyes are on her, appraising.

"So what's going on, CJ?" he asks, his voice sticky with deliberate levity.

"It's not so simple as that question," she chides, as if the complexities of her life are obvious to him.

"No?"

"No."

"Well then, what's happened to you? Is that simpler? Or just, where'd your sparkle go?"

"Sparkle? I don't sparkle." She wrinkles her noses as if she finds the idea repugnant. It makes her sound feminine, and she feels gangly and empty inside, not a woman at all. She doesn't sparkle.

He makes a vague gesture with his hands as if he's trying to collect strands of her essence from the air. "You used to sparkle all over, your hair, your teeth, your eyes, your fingers. But now, you're dull all over," he says, and his hands drop to his desk with a low thud.

"Gee, thanks. I'm not sure I want to sparkle."

"I'm just being honest."

She bites her lip, and says, "So, what's up?"

"I want to know what's up with you and Sam lately."

"Nothing's up with me and Sam," she replies, but she looks away as she says it.

"CJ--"

"There's nothing up. He spends the night at my place sometimes. It's nothing."

"Nothing?"

She shrugs. "It's just... it's just, you know... We don't really sleep." She says it because it sounds straightforward, because it's easier to use innuendo than to admit to him any of the feelings that sometimes escape from the careful little box she's constructed inside her chest.

"God, CJ. You make it sound so, so tawdry, when--"

"--When we occasionally have sex?" she smirks, "Of course, it's tawdry. What would make you think it wasn't?"

"It's strange, because Sam makes it sound so beautiful."

This makes her start. "Sam talks about me?" she asks, and her voice is smaller and less sure.

"All the time."

"What's he told you?" she asks, trying to make her voice sound normal again but only succeeding at a strange imitation.

"How beautiful you are right before you wake up in the morning." Josh's eyes are shining, and he looks down suddenly at the papers on his desk. "That you can't live in a house without Lucky Charms. That you hide your Enya CDs where you think he won't find them. That you only use Body Shop body wash. That he can't imagine, sometimes, waking up without you."

She considers Josh, focusing on his rumpled shirt and his crooked silk tie and his diamond cufflinks, trying to avoid the implications of what he's said. "I suppose he's talked about the drugs and all," she says after a long moment.

"Well, he didn't have to. But yeah, he told me."

"He wants to save me, you know," CJ says, a note of bitterness in her voice. It's just another weakness, and she hates it.

"He's very, um, valiant."

"Yeah, valiant. Like a white knight, out to save me from the dragons and to whisk me away to his castle."

"He just wants to help you, CJ," Josh says tiredly.

She snorts, glad to have retrieved the upper hand in the conversation. "Josh, come on. It doesn't matter if it's Mother Earth or Ainsley Hayes, Sam is a sucker for a damsel in distress."

His eyes widen a little. "God, CJ. He's just... it's not like that, and you know it."

"It isn't like that? Sometimes, I think I'm just pathetic enough to make it to the top of his list of, you know, special cases." Her voice is sharp.

"I'm being serious, CJ."

"So am I, Josh." She shifts in her chair, rearranging her legs. "I mean, it's not like, I mean... It's not like we have so much as you try to make out."

"CJ, you two live together." His tone is exasperated.

"I resent the implication that the fact he has a toothbrush in my bathroom..."

"Yeah, and his suits in your closet, his tiepins in your jewelry box, his cereal bars in your cabinets."

"That doesn't mean--" she defends herself quickly.

"Of course, it does. CJ, I just totally refuse to believe that you are so oblivious to how much Sam cares about you, how much he genuinely cares about you."

"Jesus, Josh."

"Look, he's trying his hardest, bending over backwards for you so that you always have something to fall back on, if you haven't noticed. But one of these days, boom. You're gonna bend and he's going to break, and you're both going to tumble. And if you're really so goddamned blind that you're letting him," Josh gets flustered and starts pounding a hand against the desk, "letting him _love you_ like this without even noticing it, then there are much bigger problems here than I was led to believe."

"You make it sound like I need him." Even to her own ears, her voice sounds small and petulant.

"Well, how else would you explain it, CJ?"

"Explain what?"

"Oh, the look in his eyes when he sees you. The way you brush his hands when you pass each other in the hall. Or--" He makes tick marks in the air.

"Okay, Josh." She cuts him off with a sigh.

"I just care about you both too much to just sit back and watch you kill him like that."

She looks up at him suddenly, her eyes narrowed. "You act like I'm a murderer, or something. Like I'm out to hurt him." She feels like he knows her secret, like he can see the blood in her panties and the three missed days of Orthotricyclen seven weeks earlier.

"No, you aren't," he says, and she sighs. "You're just oblivious, I think. You're caught up in that blackness that just eats away at you from the inside."

"Yes," she says uncertainly.

"Look, CJ. I know where you're at. Maybe different reasons, different circumstances. Hell, maybe for you it's nothing like it was for me. _Is_ for me. But now we're all afraid that you're making yourself sick enough to start staying home, and none of us can explain that. That's not like you, even this unsparkling creature that's parading around in your body."

"I wasn't really sick, you know. Not from the pills or the drinking, at least," she says abruptly.

"Then, what?"

"Look, I... Does Sam ever talk to you about children?"

"I think he has names picked out, like he's a teenager or something," Josh smiles vacantly. "But no, he's not kid-obsessed. He's barely stopped being one himself."

"But don't you think he wants them? Don't you think he wants little babies with his eyes?" And my hair, the voice inside her head completes. She swallows hard.

"I'd be lying if I said I didn't think the thought had ever crossed his mind," Josh shrugs.

"Well, it's never going to happen that way, is it? Not with me, that's for sure." She chews on the edge of one of her fingernails.

"You mean, the whole deal? Two-story house in the suburbs, with the picket fence? You driving a minivan with the three little brats in the back, heading to soccer practice, and tap dancing, and cello lessons? The little wife and the little husband? No, CJ, it's not."

"I've never, you know, wanted them. Kids, I mean," she touches her stomach as she says it. "But he does. And, it's clear enough that it's not going to happen with me."

"You knew how long we'd be in here, in the White House."

"Eight years," she says without hesitation.

"Yeah, and since you and I were the same age back then... I mean, I'm feeling the fact that we're leaving this joint when we're forty-six. Forty-six. We're not kids anymore, CJ."

"But Sam is, right?"

"Nah, he's no kid. Not really. He's just aged more gracefully than some of us." He smiles self-deprecatingly.

"But come on, he's going to get out of here a pretty, suave 39. He'll still have time for a family, and I'll--" CJ is still trying to convince him that she's old and falling apart, and she can tell that Josh sees things differently.

Josh cuts her off sharply, "He doesn't want anybody but you."

"Ainsley--" she starts.

"Is a Republican," he says without malice, just a statement of fact. "I wish you'd stop obsessing over her. It annoys the hell out of him. And moreover, he's made it explicitly clear to her that he's not on the market. She's taken to going after one of the guys in the Counsel's office quite aggressively."

CJ frowns. "I don't obsess over her. I'm just saying. Still, there should be somebody."

"There is somebody, CJ. You. And look, it may be hard for him to come to grips with the fact that there may not be the pitter patter of little feet around, unless we're counting perhaps your cat. Yeah, it may be hard. But he'll get over it. You're enough for him, because he's so young and idealistic inside."

She touches her stomach. "You know, I had a miscarriage."

"He didn't tell me," Josh says quickly, but his hands turn into white- knuckled fists.

"So I'm telling you."

"All right--"

"I bled so much. It was awful, really. Pain like I couldn't describe, but not so much physical as the wrenching pain of knowing what was happening and knowing I couldn't stop it. I mean, what kind of woman..."

"A good woman, CJ. A beautiful, smart, intelligent, overstressed, amazing woman. And he knows that as well as I do."

"We're supposed to have lunch today," she says suddenly.

He nods. "I know. He told me before he left with--" His voice trails off into a shrug.

"Josh?"

"I was just going to say that he told me before he left for the Hill with Ainsley."

She looks away nervously. "What's he doing on the Hill with Ainsley?"

"They're meeting with Compton, Joyner, and Nazer."

"Budget stuff? Why'd Ainsley go?"

Josh shifts uncomfortably. "Liaison to the dark side, I suppose. I hear she's friends with Anja Nazer. Sam finally got Ainsley on board with the education thing, and he wants her to convince Nazer and the rest of them."

There is a long moment of silence. They look at one another, and neither one moves.

Then CJ shrugs, crosses her arms across her chest, and says, "I'm not his mother." But her mouth tastes sour, like jealousy.

*

She finds him at five 'til two, in Ainsley's office, and she feels the tingle of fear, and anger, and suspicion in the center of her chest. Their heads, dark and blonde, are close over a pile of papers, and Ainsley's touching the end of a pink highlighter to her bottom lip unconsciously.

CJ leans against the doorjamb stiffly and clears her throat. Sam turns to look at her, and he is smiling until he sees her eyes. His face falls, and his forehead wrinkles.

"Hey, CJ," Ainsley says, too chipper. "Good to see you're, ah, back on your feet and all."

"Thanks, Ainsley," CJ says without looking at the young woman, though out the corner of her eye, she sees Ainsley leaning deliberately away from Sam. She wants to look innocent of whatever CJ is accusing Sam of with her eyes.

"Sam and I were just looking over--"

"The education thing," CJ finishes. "Josh told me. How'd it go with Nazer and the gang?"

Sam looks at her, confusion flitting across his features, because she's seething, somewhere below the surface, and he can tell, but her voice is intentionally airy. "About as well as could be expected, I suppose."

"They only laughed a little?" CJ asks.

"Well, there wasn't laughter, per se," Ainsley pipes up.

"Though I would say," Sam adds, his voice making him sound more casual than the stiffness of his spine would suggest, "that there was a significant amount of smirking."

"They'll come around," Ainsley shrugs. CJ still hasn't looked at her, and for a moment the older woman almost feels bad for trapping Ainsley like this. Almost.

"Lunch?"

Sam smiles carefully. "I was just about to come looking for you." He turns to Ainsley, and says, "So, we'll look at this more later. Thanks for your help."

She looks inordinately relieved, and she falls back into her desk chair. "My pleasure, Sam," she sighs. "Go eat."

Sam stands quickly and touches the small of CJ's back as they leave the awkward office. CJ doesn't look at him, just walks in a too-straight line down the center of the corridor.

"Are you mad at me, CJ?" Sam asks quietly.

"Why should I be mad at you?" she returns through clenched teeth.

"I, frankly, have no idea, and that's why I'm asking. If I thought I'd done something wrong, I'd be on my knees, here, and you know it." She glances at him out of the corner of her eye.

"You spent the morning with Ainsley."

"And three ornery Republican senators, yes," Sam says, annoyance creeping into his voice.

She shrinks a little, down into her clothing. "The education thing."

"Yes, exactly. The education thing I've spent weeks trying to re-master so that maybe, just maybe, we can haul a few Republicans onto the bandwagon. Ainsley's good friends with Nazer, known each other since law school. I thought we could utilize all of our assets here, and Toby agreed with me."

"Yeah," CJ says slowly.

"I didn't know I needed to check in with you before I went on official business with one of my colleagues."

She wants, more than anything in that moment, to apologize, but something in her will not relent. Her stomach hurts. "You don't. It caught me off guard."

Her voice must not be as convincing as she thinks it is, because he shrugs and puts a hand on her arm. "She's cute like a twelve-year-old, and she has the ability to speak an incredible number of words on one breath, but CJ..." He shakes his head. "She's dating Paul Gerald."

She nods slowly. "Where are you taking me to eat, Sam?"

"Are you going to eat at all?" he asks skeptically.

"Maybe." She chews on her lip. "I'm-- Sam, I--"

"I know." He pauses as they reach the elevator. "I want to go to Jean's."

She turns and looks at him with the barest hint of a smile. "You think they'll have that tart... thing, with the mango?"

"I almost guarantee it."

The elevator doors close behind them, and she intertwines her fingers in his. "Want a Lifesaver?" she asks, and it's almost an apology. Almost.

*
she's addicted to nicotine patches
she's afraid of a light in the dark
6:58 are you sure where my spark is?
here, here, here
*

Toby's sitting on her couch when she gets back, drumming his fingers against his leg. She had left Sam at his office door, assuring him that she ate enough and that she'll lay off the caffeine for the rest of the day.

The first thing she says to the haggard man on her couch is, "Toby, please tell me that you're hiding something caffeinated somewhere on you."

He arches his brow as she sweeps past him towards her desk much more confidently than she truly feels. "I'm a little afraid to tell you that I'm not, actually."

"Well, then why the hell are you here?" she asks, poking her head back out of her door and asking Carol to get her a soda or an iced coffee or something, but please without letting Sam see.

"Is he, ah, your babysitter these days?" Toby asks, pursing his lips a little and shifting uncomfortably.

"He thinks he is at least." CJ says, but her voice is a little unsure.

Toby's forehead furrows. "Well, isn't that precious?" The words would be hurtful except for the pained way they leave him. She wants to touch his hand, to tell him how transparent he is.

"Toby, this chatting thing is delightful, but did you have a specific reason for brightening my office with your presence?" She gestures with a flourish.

"I brought you the budget stuff," he says, looking down at his hands.

"You could've left it with Carol, so I could grab it when I got back," she replies. She is sitting on the edge of her desk, her hands against her thighs, and she's exhausted.

"I wanted to make sure you knew I brought it." He isn't going to make this easy on himself.

CJ is looking at him strangely and some part of her is sad for him, because he hates how things have turned out. He wishes that they were together, that she was losing his children, that they were having mango tarts at little bistros during their lunch breaks. She half-smiles and says to him, "I'm not angry with you. Though you should've gotten it to me sooner."

"Josh's fault," he defends himself quickly.

"Yeah, of course. Always." She picks up a pen and twirls it between her fingers.

There is a long beat during which he examines the opposite wall. And then he turns to look at her, and his skin is ashen, and his mouth moves but no words come out until suddenly, "CJ, is everything okay?" He looks at her hands, holding the pen too tightly.

"I feel much better," she lies, even though she wants to put her head in his lap and just cry for hours. They have known each other too long for deception, but she can't tell him, somehow. She is afraid of how he would look at her, afraid of losing his respect. Afraid that he would look at her and see less than a woman, see her for what she really is. So she lies. "Good as new, really." She wonders if he can see through her clothing straight through to her flesh.

"I, ah, wasn't exactly asking about your health. Though I'm glad you're better," he adds.

"So you were asking about me and Sam?" she asks bluntly as the pen falls to the carpet, and his head dips.

"Yeah, I guess."

She looks down at the glittering little ring on her left pinky, thinks of the blood and then of Sam's hands against her stomach through the sleepless night. "We're..." she shrugs. We're fucking, she imagines herself saying, we're fucking and we're maybe living together and we're not having babies and we're hiding everything and nothing from one another and he has a dark birthmark on the inside of his right thigh.

"We're trying," she says.

There is a twinge of bitterness in Toby's voice when he asks, "Does he love you?" He doesn't ask if she loves him, and she wonders if that's because he doesn't want to know or because he already has an answer. She looks over at her computer screen, sees a new message in her email box from Seaborn, S. with the subject, "I Intercepted Carol Shame On You," feels the roll of Lifesavers against her hip.

"Yes," she answers after a pause. "He does."

"Are you sure?"

"More sure than I am of anything, _anything_ else that's going on right now."

He nods. "I knew that, you know."

"Yeah?" she asks, slowly crossing her arms across her chest. She opens her mouth, ready to tell him all the things that she's done wrong, all the ways she's hurt him, all the ways she's so, so sorry.

"You know, CJ, if you're about to apologize to me for something, I'd probably want to just ask you not to."

"Yeah, okay."

He stands up stiffly, and she can't look at him. "The reason I didn't ask how you were?"

"Yeah?" she says quietly.

He's facing the door, and his voice is barely loud enough to be heard over his shoulder. "Because he called me four times yesterday trying to figure out where you were, and if you were okay, and I had to threaten him with unemployment to keep him in St. Louis." He smiles to himself. "I don't have anything to compete with that."

She doesn't know how to tell him that this was never a competition, that Sam isn't a show dog who happened to win first place because of better grooming or his ability to sit on command. So she just nods and looks away. She can't bear this, can't deal with his pain and her own and Sam's and everyone else's, and all she wants is a drink. She's trembling, and that's the worst part.

"I'm going now," he says, and Carol slips in as he leaves.

"Oh, CJ," she breathes. CJ's perch on the desk is a little perilous, and she's swaying a little and she can feel that there's no blood left in her cheeks. She wonders which shade of ghostly pale she's turned this time, and she feels like she's going to just throw up, but she swallows it down.

Carol's hands are against her forearms, and she's holding CJ steady, urging her towards the couch. And when she's sitting, all of her weight is against Carol as the young woman wraps an arm around her, murmuring below her breath about how everything will be okay, how whatever's wrong can be fixed, she's sure.

"What if I can't fix this?" CJ asks, more to herself than to Carol, who's stroking her hair.

"Everything can be fixed, one way or another."

"But what if it can't? What if this is one of those irreparable things that just goes on broken forever?"

"Then you buy some superglue, and you figure out how to live with the pieces. Not everything that's perfect is whole, CJ."

*

She's read through the entire packet Toby left her by the time her afternoon briefing rolls around, and she marches up to the lectern prepared to be brilliant for the press.

She'd really rather tell them that the whole document is absolutely ludicrous. She'd like to tell them that she thinks all of the President's advisors have suddenly forgotten that there's a Republican controlled Congress, and that she wishes she could see the laugh Ann Stark is going to get when she reads what they're proposing, but she supposes this is politics.

She wants to tell them she forgets what idealism feels like, but instead she tells them that they're prepared to spend fourteen billion on NASA, and that the President is dedicated to improving education and reducing the national debt, all at the same time. She can't quite figure out how they're managing this, and she wants to tell them that she's seen the people whose job it is to figure these things out, and that frankly she advises people to hide their money in boxes under their beds.

Instead, she tells them that the treasury gets thirteen billion, as if they didn't have enough money to begin with. She earns a little ripple of laughter off the press corps, and that at least makes her hands a little warmer. She rattles off a few explanations of where this billion or that is headed, and all the while some part of her wonders how she can discuss these astronomical, unimaginable figures when the world is really, when it comes down to it, made up of tiny things.

She ends the briefing a little early, and Carol gives her a thumbs-up before rushing off to attend to other things. When CJ gets back to her office, this time there is Secret Service outside her door, and reclining on her couch is the First Lady, who is dressed in some indeterminate shade of something like maroon, something like blood, her hands folded in her lap.

"Okay, who put the Howard Johnson's sign outside my door?" CJ asks as Abbey looks up at her, eyes muddled with worry.

"I'm sorry for intruding, CJ," she answers with care, "I just didn't want to miss you. I suspected you'd try to leave early."

CJ shakes her head. "No, honestly, I like feeling so popular. It's really heartwarming."

Abbey smiles vaguely. "If you want me to go, CJ, tell me. I'm just here as a friend."

"I..." CJ sits down next to the older woman, maintaining a solid wall of personal space. This woman always knows how to get to the core of her, and so CJ hopes that the space will keep her safe. "No, I don't. I'm just losing control of a few things, and now I can't even open and close the door without finding somebody new. But I'm glad you came. I was going to look for you later."

"Were you?" Abbey raises her eyebrows, leaning back.

"No, probably not," CJ chuckles mirthlessly. "I was going to think about it, and I was probably going to walk out there, and then I was going to probably head back around the bullpen to my office to take another Advil." She shrugs.

"Well, I've always admired your honesty, CJ." Abbey smiles gently.

"And I, your tact," CJ concedes.

Abbey regards her coolly, looking at her ankles, and then her hands, and then their eyes meet. "How many weeks?" she asks without warning.

CJ jumps up, the blood rushing from her head. "Excuse me?" she asks, and her voice is shrill.

"How many weeks were you?" Abbey asks again, just as slowly.

CJ's backed up so that her legs brush the edge of her desk as she moves around it. She is trying to get as much distance between Abbey and herself, and blood pounds through her wrists. "What the hell are you talking about?" Her voice rises.

Abbey wrinkles her nose. "You don't need to yell, CJ. Just tell me I'm wrong."

CJ starts, "You're--" but she can't finish. Her mouth stays open, and her breath is uneven, and her stomach aches, and she's thinking of the pills and her doctor's face and bloody baby carriages.

"If I'm wrong, tell me," Abbey says. "If not, tell me how many weeks, CJ."

She deliberates for only a moment longer before sighing back into her desk chair. "Seven."

"Seven weeks." It doesn't sound like a question, just sounds like a low, dead weight on Abbey's vocal chords.

"Yeah." Her elbows are on her desk, hard against her blotter, and she's hiding her face in her hands.

"Your doctor?"

"Hannah Sbeglia." The worst thing is that she knows Hannah is the best there is.

"A cause?" Abbey asks, the hint of desolation somewhere under the words. Perhaps, CJ reasons, she had been hoping she was guessing wrong, that CJ would laugh and assure her that she had no idea what she meant and that it had just been a little stomach virus.

CJ's smile is brittle. "Pretty vague, but I probably didn't help things by taking birth control, or drinking too much."

"No, you probably didn't," Abbey agrees mildly.

"Well, now that I've so graciously confirmed your suspicions..." CJ attempts to reconstruct the wall of sarcasm.

"CJ, don't pretend you're the only woman ever to lose a baby." Abbey's voice is rough and telling.

"Thirty percent of pregnancies end on miscarriage." CJ shrugs.

"Yes. Many of us have lost children, CJ," and her eyes are hard and shining when their gazes meet. "When you look out over that pressroom tomorrow, think about the fact that a lot of those women in there have lost a baby. Look around the West Wing, and count every third woman you see, and maybe she's the one. Maybe it's her baby who's gone, like yours."

"I'm too old to be a mother anyway," CJ says abruptly.

"I don't know. I might say you're not nearly old enough to be a mother."

CJ laughs harshly. "How do you figure?"

"Look at you, CJ. You're having a hard enough time keeping your own life together, let's not even talk about adding a second one on there."

CJ nods.

"And have you looked at Sam lately? He looks about as ready to be a father as I do." Abbey laughs lightly. "CJ, we love you. You know that. We love you so much we're not going to put up with this self-pity anymore. We're not going to put up with the I'm-not-having-a-baby-so- I'm-less-than-a-woman you're projecting all over the West Wing."

"I don't know what you're--"

"CJ, don't lie to me. Don't lie to any of us. Sure, go out there on camera and be that other person, be so good at your job that we can't help but be impressed. But don't waltz in here after losing a child and delude yourself into thinking that nobody's going to notice."

CJ is silent.

"And on that note, I have things to do. If you need me, if you need me for anything, you know where to find me."

*

He is waiting for her when she gets home, opening the door as soon as her key hits the lock. He is there, just inside the threshold, his eyes big against his cheeks. He is there, locking the door behind her as she walks towards the kitchen.

He sits down across from her at the blue Formica table. He covers her hands with his own on the tabletop automatically, and it is real and normal.

"So I finally talked to Leo," she says without preamble.

"Yeah?" He is stroking her knuckles, and she's pressing the pads of her fingers against the table.

"And then Josh. And Toby. And Abbey."

"Oh, God, CJ..."

"It was quite a day." She smiles.

"Do you want to--?"

She cuts him off. "I told Leo to get the meetings on my schedule."

He is silent.

"Because I told him that this was killing me, but I didn't tell him what else it was killing."

"CJ, it's not your fault."

"Isn't it? My mistake got me pregnant, my mistake ruined it."

"A set of coincidences doesn't make you a murderer, CJ. And I refuse to let you believe that."

"Abbey was pretty upset with me, too. She says I'm self-pitying." CJ is looking at him, her gaze hard upon his cheeks and eyes, but she acts as if she cannot hear him.

"You are." He shrugs, but tucks strands of her hair behind her ear.

"Thanks, Sam. You really know how to pick me up right off the ground."

He traces the curve of her cheekbone. "I'm not going to patronize you. I'm trying to discuss this like adults. Adults discuss things, they tell each other things, they don't talk around things or pretend like the important things aren't happening. They don't pretend like you're okay, CJ."

"I'm not trying to pretend... I'm just trying to hold everything together."

"And you're doing such a good job of it."

"Well, you're not making it easy on me."

"Me? You're blaming me now?"

"I'm not--"

"Yeah, CJ. You are. You're trying to pretend like I'm making it this way for you."

She watches him, then drops her eyes. "Josh told me you talk to him about me."

"Why wouldn't I?"

And this is the moment, the moment when all the little things that have been building up inside her break loose. "Look at me, Sam! Look at me. I'm forty-one years old, I'm a goddamn alcoholic, I pretend not to pop pills, I smile too much and I cry too much, and I can't even... I can't even do this thing, this thing that every woman can do."

"Which is fine with me, because I'm clearly not looking for every woman, or I would've been sleeping with Ainsley, a year ago!" He flattens his hand loudly against the Formica.

"Don't play those word games with me, Sam. You're so young, and so beautiful, and so... so righteous." She puts her hand over his.

"And you're tall, and your eyes are perfect, and you dance better than anyone I've ever met." He half-smiles and shrugs.

"There aren't going to be any basinets here, Sam."

"CJ, don't pretend this thing is about children, because you know it's not."

She can't look at him. "Sam... Sam, I don't know if I can handle whatever this is. Don't know if I can handle--"

"Handle the fact that I'm in love with you?" He says, and his voice is like sudden ice.

"Sam, don't say that."

"Come on, CJ. It's not like you don't know it. It's not like I don't say it every time I touch you."

She shakes her head, "But Sam--"

"Allow me my banality for a moment here, okay? Because CJ, I love you for all of your faults, and all of your vices, and for, for the way your hair falls across the pillow when you're asleep. For the times you've forgiven me when I didn't deserve it, for the times you let me help you, for the fact you can't cook to save your life, for the fact you really wanted a child that was _ours_. Nothing's perfect in this world, CJ, and you know that as well as I do. We can't sit around waiting for perfection to knock us over on our way down the street, or we're suddenly going to realize that we've gotten old alone. I want you, CJ, and not Ainsley Hayes or the woman who ogled me at the supermarket the other day, or the girl who brings me extra ink for my printer." By the time he finishes, he is standing on her side of the table and his cheeks are flushed.

"Stop writing speeches like that for me, Sam." She stands to face him, and her eyes are wet, and she's wrapping her arms around his neck desperately.

"Oh, CJ," he says as he kisses her jaw. "We're all a little broken inside."

"You've been talking to Carol," CJ murmurs, and Sam looks confused for the split second before she's kissing him. The inside of her mouth tastes bitter, but his is as pure as water. And this is how she chooses to heal herself, inside, because it is genuine and immediate, her fingers hard against his neck and his tongue slick against hers.

She heals herself with sex on the kitchen table, with his tee shirt flung across the countertop, and her suit in pieces on the floor. She heals herself by gasping his name, by sucking his fingers, by arching her back, by holding onto his hips.

"I'm not dead, Sam," she says much later, when they're lying in bed together, and she sounds surprised. "And maybe this is real."

Because it is, almost maybe, and because even though there was blood and even though her stomach still aches and even though nothing makes sense, he knows how to find the sparkling, unshattered places inside her, and because that might be, just maybe, what love is supposed to be.

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