SPOILERS: Anything through The War at Home
DISCLAIMER: I don't own these characters.
SUMMARY: Josh ponders bonding.
THANKS: To Eve6, as always, for the all usual reasons. Da women. :)
DEDICATION: In memory of my friend, who lost her battle with cancer on Friday, thereby depriving the world of her smile, her kindness, and her considerable talent.
I have always liked the idea of noble gases.
I didn't really pay much attention in college chemistry and I don't remember much about the periodic table, except that the far right hand column is made up of the noble gases. These are elements that are balanced all by themselves, something about having the right amount of electrons.
All the hundred and something other elements are aspiring to be noble gases, but they're not there yet. Kind of reminds me of the notion of reincarnation, old souls, and nirvana. Can you imagine being balanced and whole within yourself?
What a wonderful goal.
So far, I seem to be one of the other elements. They're varying degrees of unstable on their own. Volatile, even. Constantly in search of something to balance them out, or make them whole.
The rest of the elements are what combine with each other to give us stuff like salt. Also water.
The elements react with each other too. A simple chemical reaction is capable of producing enough energy to launch a bullet out of a gun at six hundred feet per second.
I glance up from my desk, squinting into the darkness beyond the reaches of my desk lamp. "CJ, what's up?"
She takes a step into the office, and leans against the chalkboard. "Did you watch?"
I blink. "Watch what?"
"The briefing?" CJ raises an eyebrow. "Columbia? Nine dead soldiers?"
"Yeah," I grimace. "I missed the briefing. How'd it go?"
CJ rubs her forehead tiredly. "Fine. Chaotic." She shrugs. "It was fine."
"What's the matter?"
I frown at her. "What?"
CJ steps forward and sinks into one of the guest chairs, sliding off her heels with a small moan of relief. "You look like shit."
"I've been up since 5:30."
"Why have you been up since 5:30?"
I give her an incredulous look. "Kind of an important day, CJ."
"Yesterday was," she shrugs, "but it went fine. You should've slept like a baby last night."
"The speech went amazingly well," I agree, deliberately ignoring her assumptions about my ability to sleep without nightmares.
CJ grins. "Even without you there to will it so."
I can feel the corner of my mouth quirk upwards. "I was willing it so from across town."
"Worked," I point out.
"Yes, Merlin, your powers are astounding."
My mirth fades slowly. CJ and I sit in companionable silence for several long moments.
"It's 4 a.m."
"Yes, it is."
"Why are you still here?"
"Why are *you* still here?"
"You may remember me mentioning a briefing."
I drop a careless hand onto the sheaf of papers spread out in front of me. "Polling data. Early numbers from our internals."
CJ nods. "Gallup was great. So was MSNBC, the Post--"
"I don't care about the general stuff."
She gives me a piercing look. "How'd it go?"
"How'd what go?"
"In the five districts," she elaborates. "The waiting period."
My jaw tightens. "Not going to happen. Apparently even seeing the leader of the free world shot with handguns purchased legally two days beforehand isn't enough to convince some people that maybe guns shouldn't be quite so accessible."
CJ stares at me for a moment. "Josh--"
"You know," I interrupt, "Joey Lucas said some interesting stuff."
"Really?" She accepts the subject change without comment. "Like what?"
"Poor polling numbers mean we should yell louder."
"In those five districts?"
I nod. "Yeah, she thinks we can still convince some people; maybe get the numbers up to support the crime package the way it is. It was 58 percent nationwide, by the way."
"Good numbers," CJ nods, impressed. With a look daring me to say something, she props her feet on the corner of my desk. "God, I'm tired."
"So why are you still here?"
I smirk at her. "Didn't we already cover this?"
"Yeah, but you're lying."
"I'm not going over polling data?"
"No," CJ answers promptly. "You're brooding."
"What gives you the impression--"
"Josh, it's like a cave in here," CJ interrupts, gesturing towards the darkened edges of the office. "If you really were studying that report, you'd be ruining your eyes."
"I really am studying the report," I argue. "And I'm not ruining my eyes."
CJ's gaze slides over to the window. "Still raining."
CJ is still staring out into the night. "I wonder if the streets are freezing."
I wonder if Donna made it home all right.
"Hey, CJ, what're the elements called? You know, the ones that aren't noble gases?"
CJ shoots me an amused look. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"It's four in the morning and you're asking me to recall chemistry classes I took twenty years ago?"
"So I'm guessing you don't remember what they're called either."
"They're called elements, Josh."
"I know, but... Never mind."
"This isn't going to be like the physics thing, is it?"
"What physics thing?"
CJ rolls her eyes. "Josh, you lectured anyone who would stand still about the Theory of All Things for, like, six months."
"The Theory of Everything," I correct.
"Whatever. Don't do that with noble gases."
"Noble gases are interesting, CJ."
"If you say so."
"They are. They're independent and..." I shrug, "fulfilled."
CJ gives me an appraising look. "Fulfilled?"
I attempt a grin, but it's really late and I'm tired and it feels crooked. "Noble gases have just the right amount of marbles."
With a surprised laugh, CJ asks, "Marbles?"
I lean back in my chair and mimic her posture, propping my feet on the opposite corner of my desk. "We had to do this project--I think it was high school--and I used these little blue marbles as the electrons in the atoms."
"Ah," CJ nods. "So noble gases have the right amount of electrons?"
"And that's good?" she guesses.
"It allows them to, you know, be really stable and independent, and have their own cool section of the periodic table."
CJ is still grinning. "You missed your calling, Josh. You're a much more interesting teacher than the guy I had for Intro to Chem."
"So I've been told."
The silence settles around us again, until CJ gives me a curious look. "Why are you thinking about chemistry and noble gases?"
It's my turn to laugh. "I have no idea."
"If you say so," she repeats with a smirk.
"I'm just--I can't remember the rules for reactions."
"Chemical reactions? Like, don't mix ammonia and bleach?"
"No," I shake my head. "There's two kinds of bonding, I think. Ionic and..." I shrug helplessly. "I can't remember the other kind."
"The other kind of bonding?" CJ asks.
"Okay," she says, dropping her head to the back of the chair and rolling it towards me for a new angle. "Did you ask Joey Lucas out?"
"No!" I yelp, and nearly topple my chair by trying to sit upright without removing my feet from the desk.
When CJ stops laughing at my almost-accident, she asks, "Why not?"
"Why didn't I ask Joey Lucas out?"
"Did Donna talk to you?"
CJ grins and shakes her head. "Sam."
I groan. "Please tell me there's not an office pool or anything."
"Josh, don't be ridiculous," CJ scoffs. "This is the White House; we don't have better things to do than obsess over your complete lack of a personal life?"
My good mood leaves abruptly. "I don't."
CJ catches my tone and turns a little to face me more fully. "Josh, what's really wrong with you tonight?"
"You're a terrible liar."
"I'm a politician, CJ; I'm a wonderful liar."
"You just keep telling yourself that."
"You're brooding over chemical reactions," CJ points out. "You don't find that a bit strange?"
"We nearly ended up at war with Colombian drug lords tonight. I find that strange."
"And terrifying," CJ adds.
"That too." I stare intently at the wall.
CJ is silent for so long that I think she's fallen asleep sitting up. "Josh?"
"Yeah," I answer in a whisper.
"What are the two kinds of bonding?" she asks, matching her tone to mine.
"You're talking about chemistry now?"
I turn and study her for a moment, but she looks honestly interested. "Ionic is when two elements have something..." I pause as my mind tries to access data long since stored in the dark recesses of my mind. "It's when they have opposite charges. Like positive two and negative two."
CJ's brow furrows. "This sounds familiar. The charges cancel each other out, right?"
"Yeah," I nod. "Kind of."
"Kind of?" she prompts.
I wave one hand around in the air for no good reason. "They don't cancel each other out so much as... The combination of the two elements renders them neutral."
CJ digests this for a moment. "Okay. What's the other kind?"
"I don't remember," I admit after a moment. "It's just out of reach."
CJ nods. "Are you going to ask Joey Lucas out?"
I give her a surprised look. "No."
I shrug. "Because?"
"Nice answer, Josh."
I grin at her. "She's ionic."
CJ stares at me for a moment, then bursts into laughter. "She's ionic?" she repeats.
"Yeah. We're opposite charges."
Still grinning, CJ says, "So there's an attraction there, but you think it'll somehow end up neutral?"
"Not really," I answer. "The other thing about ionic bonds is that they're not as strong as... Damn, that is so annoying. They're not as strong as the other kind."
Suddenly, CJ is very serious. "Josh, is this about Donna?"
"No," I answer quickly.
CJ narrows her eyes at me. "Josh."
"Why would you bring up Donna?"
"Why did your voice go up five octaves when you answered me?" she counters.
"I'm beginning to get a picture here, Joshua," CJ says. "Let me see if I've got it right: Donna has suddenly and inexplicably been pestering you to ask out another woman--"
"*Another* woman, CJ?" I interrupt nervously. "Donna is my assistant."
"Right," she nods. "A woman, I might add, that you've shown considerable interest in before, and not only did you *not* ask her out, now you're sitting here in the dark, brooding about chemistry and different kinds of bonding."
"I do not have a considerable interest in Joey Lucas," I say, my tone defensive.
"You used to," CJ argues. "In L.A., and again when we brought her out last spring--Oh." CJ stops suddenly, her eyes wide.
I glare at her. "What the hell are you talking about, CJ?"
"You're not interested in Joey Lucas."
I frown at the apparent non-sequitur. "I already told you that."
"You were before, but now you're not."
CJ glances away for a moment, then back, a determined look on her face. "Before the shooting, Josh."
I am at a loss for several long seconds. "That's not true."
"Yes, it is." Sometimes I would swear that CJ is psychic. "It feels different now," she says quietly.
"What feels different?"
She gives me a level look. "Everything."
I stare at her. "Yeah," I manage.
Her eyes are suspiciously bright. "The world is a lot scarier than it was a year ago," she confesses.
I can't seem to speak, but I nod my agreement. Gun powder, a spark, and some oxygen is all it takes to launch a bullet on its way. So simple and so deadly.
We sit there, silent once more, and contemplate how completely a hail of bullets can change our lives.
CJ slides her feet to the edge of the desk, and they drop to the floor with a loud thump. I manage to control the familiar surge of panic.
She glances over at me. "I'm gonna..." she says, tilting her head towards the door.
"Sure," I say softly.
She watches me for another long moment, then unfolds herself from the chair. "Night, Josh."
She's at the door when I remember something else. "They share electrons," I say.
CJ turns back towards me, the light from my desk lamp barely illuminating her face. "What?"
"The elements," I explain. "The other kind of bond."
"Oh," she nods. "They share their marbles?"
"Yeah." The corner of my mouth turns up. "It's a much stronger bond. Their electrons mingle."
I can't read the expression on CJ's face. "Sounds codependent."
"No," I argue, "it's beautiful, CJ. They complement each other. They fill in each other's gaps."
"Josh," CJ whispers. "Be careful."
I shake my head. "What are you--?"
"Please, just be careful with this. Be careful with her."
"Be careful with what, CJ? I told you I'm not interested in Joey Lucas."
"I'm not talking about Joey Lucas, Josh," CJ answers. "And neither are you."
I can't seem to come up with a response to that.
CJ nods once. "Sweet dreams, mi amore."
I watch her absently until she disappears from view.
Mingling electrons. Such a beautiful concept. With one last baleful look at the polling numbers, I push myself out of my chair and arch my aching back. Mid-stretch, it comes to me with sudden clarity: Covalent bonding.
Elements share electrons when they form a covalent bond. CJ would be amused that it sounds so much like codependent. But that is a thought for another day.
Right now, I am going to go home, strip off the most restrictive of my clothes, and climb into bed. Then I am going to sleep through what's left of the night.
And I am absolutely, positively not going to dream about covalent bonding or Donna's marbles mingling with mine.
Feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
"That cynicism you refer to I acquired the day that I
discovered I was different from little boys."
--"Karen Richards" All About Eve
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