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Another Shore, Some Further Range

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She is sitting at his front door when he gets home from the service, knees drawn up in front of her, scribbling in a notebook she's balanced precariously atop them. Her skirt is too bright, her hair is too loose and tangled in the sunglasses she's pushed up onto her head, and he is certain this is what passes for appropriate funereal garb in her world.

"We cannot name their names, or number their dates," she murmurs, without looking up. When she does, she squints against the sun. "I'm sorry for your loss, Toby. He seemed like a good man."

"He was."

He's tempted to ask her what she's doing here, but that's the sort of question she'll answer with obscure poetry, and he won't understand what she means by the answer anyway. Instead, he extends a hand and helps her to her feet.

Tabatha drops her hand on his shoulder and squeezes once, then again, before nodding at his door. "Are you inviting me in?"

"Do I have a chance in hell of keeping you out?"

She laughs, tilts her head to the side, and tucks a stray golden strand of hair behind her ear. "No."

"Then, by all means, welcome to my home." He layers his words with irony, but she is, as always, impervious. He doesn't know if Tabatha doesn't process sarcasm, or if she simply refuses to acknowledge it, and that's yet another thing he will not ask.

"It's not at all what I expected," she says, moving past him, trailing her fingers along the walls as she goes. "It's lovely."

"You thought I lived where," he asks, "in a dark, one-room hovel?"

"Of course not, Toby. I thought you lived in a cave, like all proper ogres do."

It takes him a few seconds to laugh. A few seconds less with her, he notes, than with anyone else, except the twins. It's because, like Huck and Molly, all she cares about is making him smile, not being applauded for her performance. Hell of a way to be an artist, he thinks, not seeking out accolades, but then he thinks about the people he's had as a surrogate family for years, thinks about his own reasons for getting up in the morning, and thinks that maybe they're not so different.

"Would you like a drink? I have milk, and, well, water comes out of the pipes." He reverses his motion and, instead of draping his coat over the back of a chair, brings it back up to his shoulders. "We should go out."

"We should stay in." She slips off her coat and drops it on the corner of his couch, dumps her bag on top of it. "Water comes out of the pipes in my house, too. It's one of my favorites."

In the kitchen he thinks about cutting up a lemon or something and putting it into her drink, but decides against it. She'd probably say she preferred plain water so she could be better in touch with nature, anyway. When he returns to the living room she's writing in the same notebook she had with her outside.

"Poem?"

"Letter," she says, marking her page with the pen and closing the notebook. "To my mother. She worries."

"Mothers do," he says, not wanting to talk about family with this woman. She understands too much, and he's never been one for sharing.

"How have you been, Toby?"

"Well, a good man died, I'm still a criminal, and I'm really not looking forward to prison."

"So you're the same happy-go-lucky man you ever were."

"Yeah."

"I've heard," she starts to say, then stops, looking down at her notebook. She slides the pen free, flips through the pages until she finds what she's looking for. "I've heard that outgoing presidents can give pardons." She looks up at him and she looks hopeful. "For anything."

"He won't."

"But he could."

"But he won't."

She nods, as if she's finally figuring something out. "And even if he wanted, you'd never ask."

"You're quick."

"You're proud," she fires back. "Too proud."

"I'm cognizant of my responsibilities, Tabatha! I know what I've done and I know how I have to pay."

"And pay, and pay," she murmurs, shaking her head. "Self-flagellation of the highest order. What if there were another way?"

"There's not."

"Humor me," she says. "A game for an afternoon. To avoid all those other things you never want to talk about."

He smiles, because every time he thinks she's no more than blonde hair and rhymes, she blindsides him with her shrewdness. "If there were another way…"

"What would you do?"

"With my life?" That's something he hasn't thought about since he was young. His life has been Bartlet For America and the Bartlet White House for eight years and, frankly, he has no idea what else there is. "I don't know. I've been reading a lot. I cook."

"Would you cook for me?"

"Yes." The speed of his answer surprises him.

She laughs. "So I'm staying for dinner?"

"Yes."

"The least little shove, Toby. The least little shove may land you there." She smiles at him as she stands.

"Where?"

"Another shore, some further range."

Right. Poetry again. Maybe he'll ask her to read it to him after dinner. Or maybe he'll just look it up later when he has the time to figure out what she's been talking about all day. "Chicken?" he asks.

"Perfect."

It almost is.