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Absolution and Chinese Food
It was early by West Wing standards, just approaching 9:30 when C.J. walked into the lobby of the First Lady's office. Ally, the secretary normally on sentry duty, was nowhere to be seen, and C.J. suspected she was already gone for the day. The East Wing, though important for its work, was not the same never-ending force of the other side of the building. C.J. would never say the same about Abigail Bartlet, who C.J. knew to still be in residence.
Approaching the door to Abbey's office, C.J. stopped when she heard Abbey inside talking to someone. It took her a moment to recognize Abbey was on the telephone. She listened to Abbey's steady and soft voice, deep in timber and gentle in tone, rising and falling with the words to a well-known nursery rhyme. Although C.J. could not see Abbey, she knew the other woman was smiling, and C.J. smiled in reply. After a moment, Abbey said goodbye to the person on the other end of the phone, and C.J. stepped forward, knocking on the door to the office.
Abbey glanced up, her smile still in place. "C.J.," she greeted warmly. "What do I owe the pleasure?"
Abbey put on her earring, tilting her head in an innocuous manner, but C.J. could only think how the move allowed for easy access to Abbey's throat. It took her a second before she realized Abbey had spoken to her.
"I, uh, I wanted to bring you the updated information on the women's shelter that was burned down earlier today."
Abbey's smile gentled. "Not that I'm complaining, but you could have had that info delivered." C.J. tried not to look guilty. "What's on your mind, Claudia Jean?"
C.J.'s guilty expression threatened to become a blush, so she turned away from Abbey, closing the office door and locking it with a quick flick of her wrist. She leaned against it, the cool of the wood seeping into her back through her clothes.
"You were singing," C.J. said.
"To my grandson. Liz calls me when she can't get him to go to sleep."
"I haven't heard you sing since the first campaign."
Abbey laughed. "I remember that. We were playing that game. What was it? Trivial Pursuit or something."
"Yeah, the pop cultural edition. We won because you knew all the words to 'Hopelessly Devoted To You.'"
"Grease was popular when I was young. Every woman, despite her age, wanted to be Olivia Newton-John."
"Even an emerging doctor and mother of a precocious little girl?"
Abbey shrugged. "What can I say? John Travolta was hot."
C.J. laughed. "You're starting to sound like Annie."
"Happens after I talk to her." Abbey stood up from behind her desk and walked over to the couch, sitting down in a comfortable position so that she could face her guest. She looked at C.J., who was still reclining against the door, with an expression of curiosity. "You still haven't told me why you're here."
C.J. turned her focus to the wall opposite her, staring at it as if were a painting requiring her complete attention. "I felt bad. I mean, I...I just kept thinking about what you said about the women in that shelter not having anywhere to go tonight. I was sitting in my office in a Christian Dior suit that cost more than most of them will make in a week, and I felt bad."
"Did you come here for absolution?"
"No," C.J. said, a smile tugging at the corner of her mouth. "I came here because you always know how to make me feel better."
"Isn't that its own form of forgiveness?"
"Maybe, but the last time I checked you weren't a psychiatrist."
"Even as your friend, I can't offer what you won't give yourself."
"You're sounding like a fortune cookie tonight," C.J. said, her head hitting the wood softly as she craned her neck backward.
"I had Chinese for lunch. How long are you going to stand in front of that door?" C.J. glanced at Abbey, who smirked and patted the seat next to her. "I could make you feel much better if you were closer."
Flustered, C.J. slowly pushed away from the door and joined Abbey on the couch, close but not touching. "You say things like that, but then you lecture me."
"You enjoy my lectures," Abbey teased.
"Not as much as I could enjoy other things."
Abbey's smirk deepened. "Maybe later," she said. "First, you have to talk to me. Tragedies happen every day across the country. Why does this one bother you so much?"
C.J. shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe because I met several of them a few months ago when we did a photo op for the anti-abuse bill. I barely gave them a second glance. We were in the middle of trying to get the legislation passed and dealing with the leaked story about the interns who had sex in the mailroom. I didn't have time to...I brought them in, used them to further our agenda, and let them go. I didn't even really talk to them."
"C.J., there are dozens of groups and organizations in and out of the White House every week. You can't be expected to get to know all of them."
"But these women represented the issues I used to care about. I spent a great portion of my life fighting for their rights, and then they were right here, and I ignored them. I didn't even stop to think about their lives, to ask how they're getting along now that they have escaped whatever or whoever was trying to harm them. It was the least I could do, and I didn't even do that."
The self-incrimination in C.J.'s expression caused Abbey's heart to break. She reached out to the other woman, gently pulling C.J. away from the edge of the couch until C.J. relaxed against the back cushions, staring at the ceiling.
"They escaped, C.J.," Abbey said very softly so that C.J. had to strain to hear her. "I know there's more we can do for them and for others like them, but for now, they're safe. They don't care that you don't know their names."
"They've just been through so much. It's not fair that they finally find shelter only to have it burn down. I can't imagine what that feels like."
"I hope you never do." C.J. finally turned her gaze to Abbey, who sighed at the sadness she found there. "C.J., I don't have to remind you that sometimes life is not fair. Bad things happen to good people. Besides, something good always comes out of something bad."
C.J. laughed. "Are you finished spouting clichés at me?"
Abbey smirked. "No good deed goes unpunished."
"Hell is paved with good intentions," C.J. retorted, turning to face Abbey.
"A good heart is hard to find."
"All good things come to those who wait."
"There's no defense like a good offense," Abbey said.
C.J. groaned. "That's a political cliché if I've ever heard one."
"We work in politics, C.J. We both gave up a lot to be sitting where we are now."
"I know. I just sometimes forget why it's so important."
"Which is okay as long as you're reminded before it's too late." C.J. nodded but turned her attention to the wall.
"I just wish I could do more."
"You can and you will." Abbey touched C.J.'s hand resting on the couch between them. "I sent them a check, and I suspect you did as well. I know money is not the cure-all they need, but it will help. The Red Cross has gotten involved because of you, and those families are in a hotel safe and sound. The children will have gifts, the women will have jobs, and you can sleep easy knowing you fought the good fight for them." C.J. sighed, and Abbey caressed her cheek. "You did something good today, C.J., and I think that matters more than what you were wearing while you did it."
C.J. closed her eyes and leaned into Abbey's touch, her guilt once again being replaced with the desire she had felt when she first entered the First Lady's office.
"It's almost Christmas time, C.J.," Abbey whispered. "And you look beautiful." Opening her eyes, C.J. was met with Abbey's coffee-and-cream gaze, light and dark combining and becoming addictive. "So, am I making you feel better?" Abbey asked, her warm breath burning C.J.'s skin.
C.J. smiled as she leaned forward. "So far, so good," she answered against Abbey's lips. "But practice makes perfect."
Abbey laughed before C.J. kissed her.
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