Danny's in Weimar, in one of the town's few hotels that hasn't yet been advised that East and West Germany were reunified a decade and a half ago and that commerce now flows like Liebfraumilch, when he catches sight of her on CNN, quite by coincidence, doing a briefing. C.J. looks more frazzled than he's ever seen her and when he hears her say "I think the President is relieved to be concentrating on something that matters," in response to a question about U.S. military operations in Haiti, he closes his eyes and groans. The story of President Barlet's Multiple Sclerosis broke while he was somewhere over the Atlantic and much of the White House's spin had already started by the time he landed. He's surprised that she hasn't regained her composure by now. But he also knows that C.J. regards Jed Bartlet as something of a second father and so he's not really all that surprised after all.
So despite the awkward way he left, he finds himself tapping out a short e-mail on his laptop:
He's completely taken by surprise when, after he spends the day at Buchenwald, and then the evening at Köstrizer Schwarzbierhaus trying to forget the day at Buchenwald, he returns to his dank hotel room to find a reply from her:
That's the last of their correspondence for a while, although he keeps tabs on the M.S. story through whatever means he has at his disposal, or more to the point, through Katie, who understands that he's not really all that concerned with domestic issues when he's halfway around the world, but doesn't mention C.J. once. Sometimes, he thinks that he really should lobby on Katie's behalf for a significant raise.
Danny tries to be a real-life Phileas Fogg in the weeks and months that follow, criss-crossing the globe from Fez to Santiago to Nagasaki to Sarajevo. When he's in Pretoria, his editor calls him and tells him that there are rumors that Abdul ibn Shareef, the defense minister from Qumar, has been assassinated. Nobody's saying it out loud, but there's suspicion about the U.S. government's involvement. Danny takes a late flight into Bermuda and pokes around for a few days, getting nowhere until he inadvertently stumbles across a man who tells him a story involving cricket and being given an extra day off in the middle of the week.
Danny knows he's on to something, and under normal circumstances, he'd be on the phone with his editor, or getting Katie to fact-check, but he can't bring himself to watch C.J. be blindsided again, so he books the first flight he can into Dulles and tries to figure out how he can get Briefing Room access without C.J.'s knowledge (okay, so he wouldn't mind seeing her be a little blindsided). In the end, he calls Toby Ziegler, even though he has no relationship to speak of with the man. But Toby and C.J. are close and Toby also happens to be the White House Communications Director, so Danny figures he's his best shot.
When he lands at Dulles, it's snowing and after he locates his luggage (last off, go figure) and hails a cab, he remembers that it's December 23rd and hatches a plan.
"Hey boss." She doesn't seem the least bit surprised to hear from him this morning.
"Listen, I'm back."
"Yeah. Appropriately enough for Washington."
"You know it."
"Can you do me a favor?"
"I live to do favors for you, Danny. What's up?"
Less than an hour later, he's sweating it out in red velvet (Katie really is some kind of miracle worker and the next time he meets with his editor, he's going to push for a raise for her), waiting to make his grand entrance.
C.J.'s face lights up when she sees "Santa" and she's as beautiful as he remembered and he can't help himself, he has to kiss her. So he does and he knows that it doesn't matter how many days it takes him to go around the world – 80 or 800 – he'll always come back to her.
And if it's possible, she looks even more overjoyed to see him than she did to see Santa and his heart swells so much that he wonders if it's physically possible for it to burst.
He almost forgets why he's come to see her in the first place, but after she let him come back to her office and he's discarded most of the Santa suit, he tells her about his strange encounter in Bermuda.
He wishes instead that he could tell her that he'd spotted Amelia Earhart, Anastasia Romanov, and Jimmy Hoffa having piña coladas on the beach.
Danny watches C.J. carefully while he recounts his story; he's afraid that she won't look the least bit surprised, all but confirming what he thinks he already knows. But there it is, and he's more relieved than he can say. Still, C.J. quickly adapts, shifting into her role as the guardian of the administration and all of their easy camaraderie dissipates. He feels a world of regret.
Never let it be said that Danny Concannon doesn't follow through on a story. Despite his affection (or is it love?) for C.J., he's like a dog with a bone with the Shareef story, even after Zoey Bartlet goes missing and C.J. and her colleagues look more distraught and stressed than he's ever seen them before. It's then that he wishes (not for the first time) that he had some other job, or maybe that he'd been content with his Pulitzer and had let someone else chase this story. He wants nothing more than to be there as C.J.'s friend (okay, maybe something more).
But the story is his now and he has to see it to its end.
When the house of cards is wobbling, C.J. very quietly alerts him to it and he runs the story just before it all comes crashing down. But he can see it on her face: a strong conviction that she's somehow compromised herself in leaking that they were about to release the story themselves. He can't bear that he was the reason for that and so he retreats once more, heading back to Africa where things are at once simpler and much more complex.
It's longer this time, his self-exile, but eased when out of the blue, he starts receiving regular e-mails from C.J. She tells him about her battle with the magazines, who have their noses out of joint because she's moved them back a couple of rows in the briefing room (yes, she did point out that he'd won a Pulitzer from the fourth row, thank you very much). He tells her about the Congo - about the cicadas that are annoying, but don't keep him up at night the way that the distended bellies of two-year-old children do. She tells him about her long-ago affair with John Hoynes; he fights the urge to fly back and punch the former Vice President in the face.
Danny's normally a harbor in the tempest and it's not jealousy, exactly. He just never could stand the man and now he knows why.
Danny calls C.J. when he hears about Leo's first heart attack and sends her Goldfish (the crackers this time) when he learns that she's been named the new Chief of Staff. And okay, so technically, he got Katie to find the Goldfish, but he sends a handwritten note, if that counts for anything. It says simply:
C.J. Cregg, White House Chief of Staff.
Dux femina facti.
Her new role briefly makes him reconsider living so far from her that day is night and night is day. There's no direct conflict of interest any more. But there is an ocean of hurt and fear and lost opportunity, not to mention the Atlantic, and so he stays put and falls more in love with her from across the world.
And then the e-mails stop, as suddenly as they began. He brushes off the disconnect and immerses himself in the articles he's writing and the life he's living. He figures that she must be busy helping to rule the world and that's okay. He loves her because she's her own person, and because she's the strongest woman he knows.
Danny extends an invitation to Katie to visit because she told him one day that it might help her appreciate his writing to know what the hell he was talking about. He pays for her airfare (it's the least he can do; he still hasn't managed to meet with his editor) and picks her up in Kinshasa.
"Am I crazy to be here?" Katie wonders aloud as he maneuvers the truck into the grooves he finds in the dirt road leading back to the place he now calls home.
"I've got nowhere better to be."
Katie gives him a look but says nothing.
Later, after they've eaten, Danny and Katie sit out on the porch steps and look up at the stars.
"That's amazing," she says, her voice full of awe. "You don't see stars like this in D.C."
"You don't," Danny agrees. "It's beautiful."
"Of course, D.C. has other beautiful things…" Katie's voice trails off and he can feel her watching him as he gazes up at the stars.
He sighs. "What?"
"When's the last time you talked to her, Danny?"
He doesn't take his eyes off the heavens. "Who?"
He swears that he can hear Katie roll her eyes.
"It's been a while," he admits, finally tearing his gaze away. He takes a pull from his beer bottle and then pushes it into the mound of dirt at his feet.
"Things have changed," Katie tells him cautiously.
Danny glares at her. "I don't want to know."
His assistant shakes her head. "No, she's not – she's not seeing anyone. Not as far as I know, anyway. It's just…"
She can't just leave it at that.
"Toby Ziegler was fired," Katie blurts out. "And you said that they were friends, so I guess I just thought…"
Danny is stunned. "What the hell happened?" he demands.
Katie shrugs. "Astronauts."
"Come on, Danny. You're not that cut off out here."
"No, I know about the astronauts, but… oh God. Toby leaked it to Greg Brock?"
"That's the rumor."
"No way. No."
"Well, who else?" Katie reasons. "C.J.?"
"Settle down. I know that."
His head swims with this news and he's only partly there as Katie questions him about their safety here and then starts asking a million questions about what the day will bring. Finally, she gives up and gathers up their empty beer bottles before bidding him goodnight and disappearing inside. Danny stays where he's at, alternately aching for C.J. and sulking that she didn't trust him enough to tell him about Toby. It's only when the stars begin to disappear and the sun paints the sky with broad pink and orange strokes that he picks up his weary body and goes to bed.
Danny tries, over the next few days, to be a good host, but his mind is elsewhere, always with C.J. Katie is not oblivious to this and finally calls him on it.
"Because," he answers stubbornly.
"That's not an answer," Katie replies and she sounds so much like his mother and sister that he can't help but smile.
"It's complicated," he tells her.
"All of it. Us. Our relationship. Or non-relationship relationship."
Katie snorts derisively. "You're so full of it, you know that?"
"How are you full of it?"
"Yeah. How am I full of it?"
"You've been in love with C.J. Cregg for as long as I've known you. If there's the slightest possibility that she's hurting, it's killing you. That's how. Call her."
But he doesn't. He thinks about it for a few more days and then on the night that Katie leaves, he gets spectacularly drunk and writes C.J. an e-mail, but doesn't send it.
It's only the following morning when for the first time in a week, his emotional pain is diminished (due in large part, he knows, to the fact that the physical pain from his hangover dominates all else) that he is able to get some perspective and have some empathy for her. This motley assortment of fools is her family; she must be devastated by what Toby's done.
But it's not until he learns of Leo's death that he's able to take action. There are things that are more important than nursing his hurt feelings.
And so he tries again:
Can I see you?
And all he gets in return is:
It takes some time to make the arrangements, first to notify the journalist staying at his place in D.C. of his return, then to call his editor to sing Katie's praises and to suggest that they give her a shot at writing when Danny resigns in a few weeks, and then to travel from Africa. It's the middle of the night when he gets back to Washington, so his reunion with C.J. will have to be put on hold for a few hours more. Danny is wiped and sleeps for longer than he'd planned; when he wakes, it's late the following night and he's resigned to holding off again.
He's surprised when there is a knock on his door and as he crosses the room to answer it, he figures it's Katie come to kick his ass again. But when he opens the door, it's not Katie. It's a Secret Service agent, and behind him is C.J.
Danny blinks in surprise. "I, uh, how'd you know I was back already?"
"I'm the White House Chief of Staff, Daniel," she says lightly. "I know everything. In fact, the things I know would knock your socks off."
He smiles tentatively at C.J. and is relieved when she returns it.
They wait while the agent does his inspection and after he bids them goodnight, C.J. steps inside and closes the door behind her. She doesn't speak and neither does he; they just stand there looking at each other like they can't believe what they're seeing.
Danny studies her, taking in the dark circles beneath her eyes and the way she's clutching the fingers of her left hand with her right. Wordlessly, he moves into the kitchen and pours them both a drink, then hands her hers before taking a sip of his. C.J. sips too and watches him over the rim of her glass.
"I missed you," Danny says quietly. Oh, what the hell? He came all the way across the world to see her; he may as well not hold anything back.
For her part, C.J. just nods.
"I couldn't…" she starts. "I didn't know what to say."
"Yeah," Danny says. And he does.
C.J. looks relieved and contemplative and then suddenly, knowing. She sets the glass down on the counter and takes off her coat, her scarf, her blouse.
Danny watches her shed her layers and doesn't say a word.
Maybe there is nothing to say. At least, not tonight.
He's waited seven years and logged thousands of miles and none of it matters any more. Hurt, betrayal, and confusion are replaced by acceptance and forgiveness and it's all either of them was looking for.
Later, there will come a time when he will tell her, because although he makes a living as a writer, there are some things that need to be said in person and they are both here now and he's not going away ever again without telling her.
It's not as simple as that, of course. With C.J., he never really expected it to be. But he's not running again, not without her. This time, she's coming with him. And it won't be 80 days. He's thinking about 80 years this time. At least.