Set after "Bad Moon Rising" ~~ previous
Characters property of Aaron Sorkin and NBC. No infringement intended.

Easing Into It

"He told me to go to law school."

Zoey didn't look up. "I thought you were thinking about going to law school."

Charlie shrugged. "I am."

"Well, there you go."

"I might not go," Charlie said.

"That's fine. I'm sure he didn't mean -- Hang on. Who told you to go to law school?"

"Your father."

Zoey lifted her gaze from her 'Introductory Ukrainian' textbook and raised her eyebrows. "Why?"

Charlie avoided her gaze. "Just as a thing."

"That's three."

Charlie frowned. "Three what?"

"'Thing.' You've been around senior staff too long. You're starting to speak their language."

"He told me to go to law school."

She shrugged. "So you might go to law school. What's the problem?"

"I might do a lot of things."

"You *are* doing a lot of things."

Charlie sighed shortly. "You know what I mean."

"And *you* know what *I* mean."

"Yes, I do. You mean I'm doing everything except being the perfect boyfriend."

"I'm serious, Charles. Three dates."

"I know."

"In a row."

"I'm sorry."

"I know you're sorry," she said in a voice that lacked sympathy.

"Then why do you keep bringing it up?"

Zoey sat up on the dorm room bed and blew through her lips. "Okay."

"Oh, boy."

"It's like this."

"Here we go."

"I know you're sorry for skipping three dates in a row."

"I am."

"I know."

"I didn't skip them."

"Appointed Time - seven o'clock. Charlie Time - never."

Charlie skipped a beat. "Go on."

"I know you're sorry," Zoey repeated. "I've even forgiven you."

"I can tell."

"Are you mocking me?" Zoey protested.

"Why are you still bringing it up?" Charlie repeated.

"Because," Zoey said, sprawling out on her stomach and turning back to 'Introductory Ukranian.' "I don't want it to happen again."

"Well, then, by all means, let's wait to plan a date until your father's out of office."

Zoey rolled her eyes and mumbled something incoherent into the book's binding.

"I'm sorry; I didn't catch that."

"I didn't throw it."

"Zoey --"

"I'm saying, if you're going to misuse words --"

"It's a metaphor," Charlie protested.

"And a cliché," Zoey accused.

"Since when does cliché bother you?"

"Now, these Ukrainian speakers -- there's a people who can use metaphor."

"Do you even know what you're saying?"

"Sometimes."

"But in this case?"

Zoey shrugged. "It sounded good."

"Okay." Charlie grinned. But a moment later, he remembered his question. "What did you say?"

"When?"

"Into the book."

"It's not important."

"Okay."

"It isn't," she insisted.

"I said okay."

"It's just --"

"Yes?"

Zoey lifted her head and gazed at Charlie. "Do you know you've joined Leo McGarry and my father in one of their most frustrating habits?"

"What's that?"

"Assuming they're the busiest people in the world."

"'Presuming,'" Charlie corrected, and Zoey threw a sock at him.

"I hate you."

"For thinking I'm the busiest --"

"And the smartest, yes."

"You may have a point about me, but I think, at least in your father's case, that's a legitimate --"

"I know," she admitted.

"What I'm saying, Zoey --"

"In Leo's, too. I know," she said.

"But ... not mine," Charlie finished.

"You're an extremely busy man, Charlie."

"Yeah, I've noticed that." Charlie pretended to reflect.

"And I should be forgiving when you miss our dates."

"No," Charlie said, his face going serious. "You don't have to do that."

"But I should."

"I wouldn't mind."

"But I can't."

"Why not?"

Zoey shrugged. "'Cause I was there."

"Okay." Charlie sighed.

"I wasn't in the White House," Zoey said. "But I could have been at a Young Democrats meeting. I wasn't taking night classes in, I don't know, molecular biology --"

"It's closed."

"--or Introduction to Religious Literature, but I could have been polishing my history essay into something worthy of an A+ instead of an A."

"Zoey --"

"I got a B on it, Charlie."

"That's fine."

Zoey faced him with a solid gaze. "Charlie."

"Yes?"

"I know you're busy."

"Yes."

"I just want you to --"

"You want me to acknowledge that you're busy, too."

"I wouldn't mind."

"Okay," Charlie said.

"Okay?"

"Okay. I acknowledge it."

"But you're not convinced?"

"Sure I'm convinced." Charlie's gaze slid away from hers.

"Don't lie to me."

"I wouldn't do that."

"Charlie." She waited.

Charlie sighed. "What's your major?" he finally asked.

"Undeclared."

"Are you anyone's guardian?"

"Not as such, no."

"Who's your employer?"

"I don't have a job."

"Who's paying your tuition?"

"Charlie --"

"Forget it." Charlie picked at the carpet from his seat on the floor.

"Go on," Zoey commanded, softly.

"No, forget it."

"Charlie --"

"Seriously, Zoey. I missed Date #1 because of a staff meeting that went till one a.m. I missed Date #2 the last time the White House was in lockdown because some idiot tried to fling himself over the outside gate. I missed Date #3 due to reasons I can't disclose, because, in case it hasn't been made clear to you, you're dating the personal aide to the President of the United States!"

Zoey slammed the textbook and, quite silently, slid off the bed.

"Where are you going?" Charlie asked.

"I'm going somewhere to sit idly and smell roses, Charlie."

Charlie closed his eyes. "I apologize if that sounded --"

"Obnoxious and narcissistic? Not at all."

"Zoey?"

"I'm going someplace to study."

"Ukrainian."

She stared him down. "That's right."

"Well, enjoy yourself. I'm going to go raise my sister." Charlie left the room before Zoey could.

Zoey stood perfectly still for about two seconds. Then she closed the door firmly behind him. Charlie made it about three steps away from the door and then let out a long sigh and stopped moving.

Zoey sprawled backward across the bed, knocking over a stack of books. Slowly, she rolled over and leaned off the edge of the bed to look at them.

"Introduction to Latin Themes," she read aloud. "History of Iceland. Marine Mammal Behavior." She sighed, and reached for the phone.

"CJ Cregg."

"CJ. It's Zoey."

CJ sounded surprised. "Wh - Hey, Zoey. Is something wrong?"

"Just ... no."

"Okay ..."

"Just Charlie."

"Mmm." CJ's 'mmm' was all-knowing.

"He thinks I'm lazy and that I have no work ethic."

"Well -- I don't think he does think that, Zoey."

"No. He does." Zoey sighed and rolled over again, tearing her gaze from her textbooks. "What should I do?"

CJ sighed briefly. "All right," she said, and Zoey heard the sound of papers rustling. "Why don't you start at the beginning?"

"Well. Charlie's missed three dates in a row."

"Ouch."

"He's a busy guy."

"Yes, he is."

"Still ..."

"You want to be mad at him," CJ guessed.

"Yeah."

"But he's a busy guy."

"Right."

"And you want to let him know you're not mad without letting him think you won't be mad next time he bails."

"Have you done this before?"

CJ laughed a little. "Have I dated someone who was totally involved in their work? I suppose. But usually, lately, it's the other way around."

"Because you're the press secretary," Zoey said.

"Yes."

"And that's an important job."

"Yes."

"And so is personal aide to the President."

"Well, yes, Zoey, it is," CJ said carefully.

"And he's busy, but so am I. And I make the time to ..." She sighed. "I don't know."

"No, it's okay," CJ encouraged. "Finish the thought."

"It's just ..."

"Zoey?" CJ prompted.

"I make the time!" Zoey cried in exhasperation. "And, no, I don't have a government job. Except that I do, because I'm the President's daughter! You don't think the Campus Democratic Women don't expect me there on time? Or maybe it's the Catholic Campus Crusade who thinks they can spare me! Meanwhile *I* want to be *doing* something! Maybe working somewhere interesting, instead of sleeping through this stuff, except, whoever heard of a First Daughter working at the Book & Bean? I *have* a busy schedule!"

"Zoey," CJ said.

"Sorry," Zoey muttered.

"No, it's fine," CJ reassured her. "That was all well-founded, and if you ever want to work somewhere or skip a meeting, your being the First Daughter shouldn't interfere, and your father would say the same thing, only he'd say it louder. Plus no one associated with Washington ever loses the privilege to rant. Only hang on." There was a silence. Then, "Okay, Toby just rocketed past my office. He looked kind of -- Can I call you back?"

"Yeah," Zoey said grudgingly, and CJ hung up.

Zoey sighed and picked up 'Intro to Ukrainian.' Then she looked from her textbook to the telephone.

On the other side of the dorm room door, Charlie sat against the wall, cell phone in hand.

"It's not that I don't see the logic in that," he told Sam. "I mean, I know she's busy. I do. It's just that --"

"It's just that you're busy, too, and you can't imagine anyone else being *that* busy."

"Or at least not anyone my age," Charlie admitted.

"Yeah," Sam said.

"The thing is," Charlie said. "I'm not as good at this as I lead people to believe."

"At being busy?"

"I missed three of Zoey's dates. All for White House activities -- none for Deena, whose last two tournaments I've missed."

"She plays a sport?"

"She's the coach of an academic team. They compete in algebra and language arts tournaments."

Sam's voice conveyed his grin. "That's great."

"Yeah." Charlie's voice conveyed his sullen expression.

"Was Deena mad?" Sam asked.

"No. She's never mad when I leave her alone at night or skip a tournament or forget a parent-teacher conference. She's 14 and she thinks she's 19, so it doesn't bother her at all to cook elaborate dinners that I'm never home to eat."

"You do a lot for Deena," Sam reassured Charlie.

"Not as much as a parent would do," Charlie said.

Sam was silent for a minute. Then he asked, "What happened with Zoey?"

"Nothing, really."

"Charlie --"

"We argued."

"About who's busier?"

"I guess."

"Come to a conclusion?"

Charlie sighed. "Nope."

"Why?"

Charlie repeated his sigh, and then took a deep breath. "Because I'm failing as a parent to a 14-year-old who needs one. Because I work long hours and something bad is about to happen, and every time I look at a financial aid form I start to panic. Do you realize how much school costs? And how much it's worth, and how different those two things are even when the numbers match up? It isn't about how much I'm willing to spend, it's about how little is left to be spent after buying the bare ingredients that make up Deena's elaborate dinners. And I can't change any of that because Zoey schedules a date, and even then, I *still* can't blame her for being angry with me."

There was a silence. And then, "Because it's impossible to reach a conclusion about who's busier when you're both so busy you're stressed out?" Sam suggested gently, and Charlie released the breath he'd been holding.

"Yeah."

"Charlie," Sam said.

"What?"

"What bad thing is about to happen?"

Charlie was eloquently silent.

"Okay. Listen. I understand where you're coming from. But at the risk of sounding insensitive -- which, come to think of it, I probably shouldn't concern myself with whether or not I sound insensitive -- do you think that's why people laugh at me?"

"Sam?"

"Sorry."

"You were --"

"I can see where she's coming from, Charlie. She's a sophomore at Georgetown, and that's no easy task."

"I know." Charlie waited, drumming his fingers along the edge of the wall. "So, what do I do?" he said at last.

But Sam wasn't listening. "Charlie, uh -- I'm sorry. CJ just went blasting by. That's often a sign of impending disaster. I should call you back."

"All right," Charlie sighed, and pocketed his cell phone. A moment later he took it out again.

On the other side of the door, Zoey was kicking her feet aimlessly against a misplaced Arabic Poetry book. "I guess I can see that," she was laughing into the receiver.

"Good," Donna said briskly. "Because it's really the only thing that'll get you through the day."

Zoey giggled. "Picturing Charlie with Mickey Mouse ears is the only thing that'll get me through the day? Just out of curiosity, how many more days do you think you'll get through before somebody has you committed?"

"It works with Josh," Donna insisted. "When Josh starts making me crazy, gloating about how much work he does and how important his title is, if I don't have time to take him down a notch, I just visualize that he's some humiliating character. Keeps me from killing him. And anyway it isn't hard. He's got the hair for it."

*"Hey!"* Josh's voice could be heard in the background; then there was a slam, which Zoey presumed was Donna slamming Josh's door.

"Charlie doesn't gloat," Zoey said.

"Good for him," Donna replied.

They were silent for a minute.

"Donna," Zoey said at last. "What do you know about Ukrainian?"

"I know how to spell it."

"Donna, what do you know about marine biology?"

"If you give CJ Cregg a goldfish, it'll survive longer than any mortal goldfish."

"Donna, what do you know about the history of Iceland?"

"Well. Not enough to come up with a witty response."

Zoey sighed. "Okay."

"At least not right on the spot," Donna continued, suddenly concerned with her image. "Maybe if you give me a few --" Her voice trailed off.

"Take your time," Zoey offered.

"Hang on," Donna said. "Sam just ... Yes. Charged is the word. Sam just charged. I think I'd better check it out."

"'kay," Zoey lazily agreed, and dropped the receiver.

In the hall outside her door, Charlie had been having his own psychotic discussion.

"Tell her you love her."

"I do tell her that."

"Tell her that in the middle of an argument. See what she does."

"She keeps right on arguing."

"Really?"

"Yeah."

"Ask her to marry you."

"You think the Secret Service would keep a thing like that from the President?"

Josh wasn't listening; there was a short silence, and then he shouted, "Hey!" The shout was followed by the slamming of a door.

"Is this a bad time?" Charlie prompted.

"Donna was making fun of my hair," Josh whined.

"Josh, what should I --"

"You really think I'm the guy to ask?"

Charlie hesitated. "I see your point," he said.

"Yeah. Now, Sam. Sam would be your man on this one."

"I already talked to -- wait a minute. Sam?" Charlie repeated.

"Yeah."

"Seaborn?"

"What's wrong with Sam?"

"Nothing, except that between the call girl and his boss's daughter, I don't know when Sam would find the time to --"

"Ouch. Good point."

"Besides, he had to run off after CJ."

"And the scandal continues." Somehow, Josh wiggled his eyebrows audibly.

There was a silence, and then Josh continued. "Listen, Charlie. Sometimes you're going to fight with your girlfriend, and there's nothing you can do about it. Sometimes she's going to do things you just don't understand. For instance, my ..." Josh's voice slowed. "My assistant just deserted. I think she was following the rest of the crowd. Listen, I'm going to find out what's up, and I'll call you back."

"Yeah," Charlie said, and clicked off the cell phone.

He sat in the hall for a moment thinking about Josh's words.

And Sam's, and that's when it occurred to him that both men had ended the conversation the same way.

He would have thought more about it, but he became slowly aware that someone was sitting on the other side of the door.

"I know you're busy," she said. "But if you have a minute, I'd like to see you."

"I know you're busy," he countered, "But if you have an evening, I'd love to have you to dinner."

The door opened, and Zoey smiled a slow and happy smile.

Across town, in the west wing, the senior staff followed each other to the Oval Office. It was late, but they forgot. They were tired, but they ignored it. After all, most of them still had the energy to wonder why chief counsel always had some obsession with a dangerous and swingable object, and it was easier to wonder that than to wonder why he was here at all.

They were scared, and they knew not to mention that. Something was up, and it was time to find out what. So they all stopped thinking about Zoey and Charlie, and they all gave up on returning calls tonight. The kids would work it out; something else was about to happen here.

So why was the President smiling softly, and why did Toby look ready to cry? The President started to speak, slowly, and with as little inflection as possible. He was easing them into it.

Easing them into it. They each thought one last time about Charlie and Zoey, and then they turned their attention at last to this thing that was happening.

~Sary
4/26/01


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Set after "Bad Moon Rising" ~~ previous