Title: Smoky Martini
Author: Elliott Silver
Timeline: August, before the presidential vote
Summary: Smoky martinis had always been his favorite drink, but he hadn't had one since before Leo had brought him into the Bartlet campaign. Now he couldn't imagine why: why he had stopped, why Leo had chosen him, and why he had switched that night and every night since to straight Scotch.
"And our leading news story tonight - President Bartlet cancels a crucial campaign stop in California - "
"Another," Toby growled to the idling waiter and his voice was all tetanus and rust as he helplessly watched CNN from the slick flat-screen hung like an autograph over the bar.
At 8:30 that morning, they had been fighting Ritchie for California's 47 electoral votes; at 8:53 a visibly shaken Charlie was dialing the First Lady from the residence where she had been packing for the Sacramento tour. It had taken the normally unflappable aide two tries to punch the right numbers.
67 days before November 6 and the President had collapsed again on the cerulean rug in the Oval Office. His wife stared them all in the eye and announced the verdict grimly, an attack of MS brought on by heightened stress.
The waiter tossed the drink carelessly down the corner table and slunk back behind the bar, leaving him dangerously alone. The dark place reminded him of Jigger Thomas and a bar in Panmunjom that served everything straight up in the stench of sweat and melting dreams.
Whiskey drown the taste of blood in his mouth.
They had done the best they could, making hurried and inane excuses to the Sacramento committee as CJ broke the news to the clustered press in glib tones. The draft of the party speech was still tucked into his left breast pocket; he could feel the daggered edges of the folded paper jabbing through his shirt into his skin. He felt the words the President would never say leaving nicks in his flesh.
The darkness of the DC bar stuck to his wounds like a tourniquet, the kind he'd tied in Korea when the Hueys were still twenty miles out and the bullets were rattling over his head and he felt the need to knot something as long as it was inseparably.
No one recognized him here, no one knew the President had succumbed to an attack of MS, and no one cared about his tempered sorrows, the ones that bled out in dark sticky arterial maroon the color of Jigger's blood. No one knew when he didn't sleep, he dreamt of knots unraveling and rope burn on his hands - no one until she walked in.
When she looked at him, he knew she'd been crying; he knew there would be crinkly waterspots on the papers at her desk and he knew she was bleeding out in front of him. Toby was certain Josh hadnít noticed and it was doubtful if he had noticed, he would have cared. He cared about the big things, like Ritchie and re-election; Toby knew those things weren't enough anymore, that you needed to know about blood and knots first to save the world.
Donna hung frozen for a minute and then came over and sat down next to him in the shadows. She was so thin now, he thought, too many raw angles and jutting bones. The hollows under her eyes seeped darkly like spilled ink. And Toby wondered if all the words that he should have written were pooled there in her fragile skin.
"What are you drinking?" she asked and her voice chipped roughly.
"Scotch," he answered as he held the finger-smudged tumbler in his hand. "Glenlivet, they don't have anything else."
He'd been drinking the amber liquid neat since he left the West Wing where the bald eagle on the carpet held the arrows of war in his outstretched talon. The tang of peat and weathered oak was warm against his tongue as he took another sip and let it burn all the way down.
When she reached for the tumbler, her fingers wrapped around his. And for a moment they stayed that way, as if they were fighting over the drink, not each other. He stared at her over the rim; her bright blue eyes met his gaze and he realized her eyes were the color of the words in the speech tucked in his pocket and stabbing him. Her flesh was cool and taut over his knuckles and he thought he might like to write with her hands.
Toby let go of the Scotch, sliding his hand out from under hers.
She didn't wince as she took a drink and he had to admire that. He didnít know any women who could snap back Scotch without shivering. Then again, as she handed the glass back to him and her fingertips brushed his, maybe she was shivering, or maybe he was too, and they both were.
"Can I get you something, ma'am?" The waiter was looking her up, and down her cleavage, and Toby suddenly wanted to ram a corkscrew up his nose for his condescending words as if she was just another Washington blonde.
The TV sputtered over them, announcing defeat and lies in slippery words of anchormen in Armani: "In so close a race for President, the loss of the Sacramento tour clearly throws advantage to Governor Ritchie."
Donna looked over at him and he never felt more relieved that her eyes were faded a lighter blue than the rug of the Oval Office.
"Martini," Toby ordered and whirled off a good gin. "And turn off the television."
"I'm not really a Martini girl," she told him as the waiter left them alone, but her voice was grateful as the room went silent.
Toby just nodded as the waiter came back and set the triangle-glassed drink down brusquely. The martini sat in the middle of them both; the clearness of it was utterly deceiving. They could see each other through it.
Donna pulled the drink to her; she fingered the icy stem and when she looked up at him, he read her thoughts.
Is he in pain, she had asked that day and she had been the only one to ask the most important question of all. Now, looking at him, she knew the answer to his question.
Silently, Toby lifted his tumbler and poured a mouthful of Scotch into the martini.
"What are you doing?" she asked and she was startled.
He was doing the only thing he knew.
"Two and a half ounces of dry gin, half ounce of vermouth, and a little Scotch," he told her and she looked into him with her big blue eyes that everyone else in DC found vacuous. It didn't surprise Toby that they couldn't see the words that really mattered in her.
"They call it a smoky martini."
She raised the glass to her barely-slicked lips and the Toby heard the slight ring as her teeth chittered against the rim. He knew she liked it before she ever tasted it.
A true martini required gin, vermouth, and the simplicity of perfection. Vodka counted only to the sniggery James Bond who liked his watered down. A Martinez was a martini with orange bitters; a Gibson a dry martini garnished with two Spanish onions; and a Vesper with Kina Lillet and an orange twist. But a smoky martini, that was the slick smoothness of peat and juniper like a midnight kiss, deep and full with just enough tongue to be sensual.
Toby sipped his Scotch.
Donna swirled the glass. "I like it," she said and her voice was breathless.
The drink was barely stained with the Scotch, the way he imagined her lipstick on his mouth.
She held the glass out to him.
And as they locked gazes over the rim of a bastard cocktail, his fingers, all ragged cuticles and bone-bitten nails, closed over hers.
He took the glass and swallowed; he hadn't had a smoky martini since Leo had offered him a position on the Bartlet campaign staff. Now as he tasted the mix, he couldn't imagine why. Smoky martinis had been his favorite drink back then, when he was a political campaign advisor that hadnít won a single candidate to office. Then suddenly everything changed because of the man from New Hampshire, and he had started drinking pure Scotch.
He set the glass back down on her napkin, where a ring of condensation had already formed a perfect, unbroken circle.
"Toby - " She wouldn't ask what was going to happen, to them, the President, or the country. She wouldn't do that to him, but she would call him by his name. And he would let his syllables roll over her tongue and let the sound wash over him gloriously.
They talked about small things.
When the glass was empty between them, they stood, just slightly unsteady enough to make the world seem straight again.
Toby held the door for her as they swept onto the street. It wasn't quite 1am and the Washington Monument glowed brilliantly like a huge obscene middle finger: fuck you, the stone slab bid them, fuck you all for your inconsequential hopes and vapid ambition. He had never liked the monument. The air was still humid and heavy without rain.
Donna stood in front of him and when he looked at her, he couldn't see the Capitol.
"Thank you," she said softly, the way only Donna could. "For the smoky martini."
And she leaned up against him, balancing against his body and shaken equilibrium. She had leaned against him the same way on the day he told her about the President's MS, reaching for him without ever touching him. Now, she rested on him and kissed his cheek just above his grizzled beard.
She moved away so slowly it seemed like she never moved at all.
"Donna," he said because he never whispered.
When he kissed her, all the words stopped. He forgot about the speech in his pocket that was cutting out his heart one unspoken word at a time. He forgot about the 38th parallel and the sound bullets made when they hit flesh, not a sound but a smell, because blood spilled and copper filled the air like poison. He forgot about Jigger Thomas who had been singing Dylan when he stepped on the landmine outside Pusan and when Toby opened his eyes, the world was red, Jigger was in pieces at his feet, and he tasted the salt-metal sting of blood and "Desolation Row" on his tongue.
The first sip of a smoky martini tasted of Scotch and wet fire. As the cocktail filled your mouth, the tang of vermouth hit, a whack of bitterness. Then the gin swirled in, the crisp melody of juniper like finding the perfect words.
When she kissed him, she tasted of smoky martinis and certainty.
"Donna - "
"Don't Toby," she said resolutely. "Don't ask me if I'm sure, don't ask me if it's the alcohol, don't ask me if it's because the President collapsed in the Oval Office today."
Her blonde hair was long around her shoulders and her eyes were clear, not like gin, but like the skies over Seoul when he boarded the plane with his discharge papers that fantastically brilliant Monday morning in August.
"Just take me home and hold me until it's over."
In her eyes of mourning, his dreams of peace began.
They walked down the dark paths of DC together. Somewhere in the distance, maybe two streets over, there were screams and police sirens and red flashing lights. But her hand was in his and they disappeared up the uneven stairs to his third floor apartment where he stripped off his suit jacket and let the folded paper drift like white ashes into his trashcan.
When he crawled into the creaking bed next to her, her hair had fanned out across his pillow and the long shirt he had given her rubbed softly across his chest as if she was blotting out the scabs from the perfect words of the Sacramento speech. Toby wrapped an arm over her waist and the other in the niche between shoulder and neck and she pulled him around her seamlessly, like a bandage, a tourniquet, an inseparable knot.
And as they folded together, he forgot about Jed Bartlet, recovering and gaining strength silently in the Residence with plaque strangling his spinal cord. Is he in pain, Donna had asked and it seemed like a century ago. She had been wearing red that day, he remembered that. And he had thought of Jigger singing.
But Jigger hadn't been singing that day, Toby remembered that now. Jigger had always been so serious, the meticulous dreamer that never should have been shipped over, the one that still believed in perfect, noble things as hell reigned over them and a mine blew him to pieces.
Jigger had been reciting Neruda, because in the midst of all darkness, he still believed in beauty and the simple perfection of smoky martinis.
Toby would wake with Donna in his arms and the aftertaste of Glenlivet and Tanqueray on his tongue and he too would believe. But it was all so late and the President was dying a breath at a time and the skin of her shoulder was so tender as he kissed her there, his beard ruffing her flesh. She murmured softly and it sounded like soft, sure metrics of Chilean poetry, but his eyes were so heavy and all he wanted was to breathe her like hope into his soul.
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