DISCLAIMER: The West Wing and its characters are the property of NBC, Aaron Sorkin and John Wells.
CHALLENGE: Written for the Dead of Winter ficathon.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Fairytaleaddict


"Josh?" Looking up from the paper in her hand, CJ suddenly stopped in the middle of the hallway, forcing people to side-step to avoid colliding into her.

"Yeah?" Josh turned as he noticed she wasn't walking beside him anymore and raised his eyebrows slightly.

"I'm quitting." She announced dejectedly before reluctantly starting to walk again, her long strides forcing the deputy chief of staff to jog a few steps to catch up with her.

"It's not that bad." He tried, but as she turned to glare at him he sighed and gave a single nod of his head. "Okay, it is."

"Where does he come off saying things like that?!" She slammed the paper against her leg, furiously increasing the pace of her steps. "Carol!" She bellowed as they reached her office and she noticed her assistant struggling to keep three binders and god knows how many folders and lose papers balanced on her left arm while she tried to open a drawer with her right one.

"Just a sec!" She yelled back in a forced voice.

"Catch you later." Josh hurriedly threw at CJ's back as he caught the eye of his own assistant down the hall. CJ nodded distractedly even though he was already gone before walking into her office, throwing the paper that she'd been reading onto her already over stacked desk. Someone could have painted the top of it puce without her even knowing it.

"Before you sit down-" Carol had poked her head in just in time to see her boss lunge into her desk chair. CJ sighed and buried her head in her arms.

"What?" Came the muffled reply from her arms.

"Toby's office called, he wants you to sit in on his meeting with…" She trailed off as she flipped through her papers. "With Ann Stark." Carol informed her with an apologetic expression. CJ looked up and starred at her assistant.

"Uhm… did he say why?" She asked and Carol shook her head.

"They're waiting in the Roosevelt room." She informed her with a hint of a smile.

"Right." CJ nodded before taking her time getting out of her chair. Two minutes, that was all she was asking for, just two minutes of doing absolutely nothing.

"I hear you're quitting?" Carol asked amusedly over her shoulder as she returned to her office just outside of CJ's. The press secretary sighed as she grabbed a paper from her desk and made her way across the room.

"Don't you start." She muttered as she walked past, turning in the hallway to point her finger at the brunette. "One day I really am quitting." She threatened, but her assistant just waved her off. CJ couldn't help but think that the people in this place just weren't taking her threats seriously anymore.

As if on cue, her cellphone went off and she couldn't help but wonder if the god's of whatever were pissed at her. Maybe Bast had finally caught up with her for that statue thing.

"CJ Cregg." She greeted curtly into the phone, because the called id showed her a number that was completely unknown to her.

The voice on the other end made her stop dead in her tracks, forcing a 20-something intern to do the same and take a few steps to his right as not to jab her in the back with the two brown boxes he was carrying.

"Are you sure?" Phone still to her ear, CJ turned on her heels and quickly made her way back to her office. She couldn't believe this! "I'm on my way." Snapping the phone shut, she strode past Carol who looked up and opened her mouth as if to protest but CJ just held up a hand.

"Call Toby and tell him I have an emergency, I'll be back as soon as I can." She explained while grabbing her coat off the hanger and her car keys off her desk.

"Of course." Carol stood and made her way to the doorway between her own office and CJ's. "What…?" She didn't finish her question, but CJ knew what she was referring too.

"I'm not sure." She sighed as she threw her coat on and rushed past Carol out the door.

She was so quitting… one of these days.

The afternoon traffic in downtown DC was insane and CJ was in a terrible mood when she finally arrived. She'd been stuck behind some hundred and fifty year old driver who seemed to have decided on making his way through the city in first gear.

The only good moment she'd had today was when she in sheer frustration searched through her over cluttered glove department and found a forgotten Hershey bar. Chocolate never failed to raise her spirits a little, and anything that could make her less grouchy was welcome right now.

Thankfully most people seemed to be on the road and not out shopping and she could easily find a parking space just outside the little clothing store. Thank heavens for small miracles.

Grabbing her purse and shoving the empty candy wrapper into her coat pocket, CJ made her way from her car and up to the little wooden door with the name of the store printed in large black metal letters overhead. One of the letters seemed to have loosened a little and was hanging crookedly, but it was the sharp sound of an old fashion brass bell ringing as she opened the door that caught CJ's attention.

There had to have been some sort of misunderstanding as to why she was here. This store was certainly not her style, and she was sure the President's daughter had never stepped foot in the place in her life.

Looking around, she found a surprisingly wide range of styles hanging from unbalanced racks and shelves all around the obscenely pink walls. CJ was amazed at how such a small place could pull off selling flannel shirts next to sheer satin nighties and she wondered who in their right mind would put maroon pumps next to high-end rubber clad hiking boots.

This just wasn't right.

She was about to turn and leave as she heard an oddly serene voice from behind her.

"Are you looking for something in particular dear?" Turning around, CJ found herself standing two feet away from a very small, grey-haired lady, wearing the kind of thick glasses she'd only seen in bad comedies before. The woman looked oddly youthful for her grey hair, glasses and large multi-layered outfit and CJ had a hard time trying to pinpoint her age. She settled for something around 60.

Feeling like a giant next to the tiny five foot woman, CJ slouched her shoulders a bit out of habit more than anything else.

"My name is CJ Cregg; I was called down here on account of Ellie Bartlet?" She couldn't read the answer in the other woman's face, the sweet seemingly ever-present smile gave nothing away and CJ was starting to feel remarkably uncomfortable.

"Yes, of course." The woman looked almost happy to see her, and the press secretary was starting to think she'd crossed some sort of dimension border as she walked in through the peeling green wooden door. "Come, come, young Miss Bartlet is in the back." She explained and all but shoved CJ in front of her through the dimly lit and overly stocked room.

"Oh, where are my manners." The woman chuckled and made a gesture out of slapping her palm to her own forehead as she continued to usher the now quite reluctant and nervous CJ behind the register towards a thick dark red curtain. "I'm Marla." She introduced herself as she pulled the thick curtain out of the way to reveal an even less lit room with a faint scent of old cloth.

"Don't just stand there child, come on in." Marla told her briskly, but CJ was not about to move further in this room without some sort of confirmation there wasn't a lunatic with a baseball bat waiting for her on the other side of that curtain.

"Ellie dear, your friend is here." She heard Marla call out into the semi-lit room, and CJ half expected the woman to answer her own question in a slightly higher pitched voice. There was something very Norman Bates-esque about this whole situation.

"CJ?" She actually jumped as she recognised Ellie's voice from the other side of the velvety material and she could have sworn Marla gave her a knowing grin before she walked off towards the shelves of pastel coloured shirts. Maybe the old lady wasn't all that crazy after all.

"Ellie? What's going on?" Finally taking a step inside the room, CJ saw the middle Bartlet daughter sitting on a stack of boxes, a china cup filled with what looked like tea was standing on a slightly higher stack.

"I'm sorry about this; I just didn't want to call mom or dad." Ellie didn't look at her, but wrapped her arms around her waist and lowered her head so all CJ could see was her soft blonde curls.

"No, you did the right thing by calling me." CJ acknowledged, still not sure she was here for the reason she thought before she left. "The man on the phone…" She wasn't sure how to ask, if she was mistaken it would be disastrous.

"Marla's son-in-law." Ellie confirmed, still not looking up from the floor. "He wanted to call the police, but Marla told him not to." CJ sighed in relief before moving to stand in front of Ellie, stepping over a few boxes and some green fabric she thought could be scarves, as she went.

"So what he said, I mean…" She paused and took a deep breath, it was now or never. "He caught you shoplifting?" Her question was cautious, but by the lack of response from the young woman who seemed to have grown even smaller on top of the boxes, CJ got her answer.

"Ellie, are you... Jesus, what's gotten into you?!" This was just what she needed right now, a press scandal involving the President's daughter being caught stealing. Her reporters would have a field day with this, especially after the MS story and the assassination of Shareef.

For the first time since she'd stepped into the room, Ellie looked up at her and CJ could see she'd been crying.

"I messed up." She whispered.

"Yeah, I guess you could say that." CJ snorted and looked away to her side. This was just great.

"I didn't ask for this!" Her head snapped back and she saw Ellie was standing, her reddened eyes flaming in anger. It was something CJ had never seen before, the middle Bartlet had always been the shy and quiet one, the one who didn't get into trouble. "Do you have any idea what my life has been like?!" Ellie was furious, and CJ was so shocked she couldn't think of a single thing to reply.

"Four years in the White House, eight years of Governor, twelve years in congress, a Nobel prize on the mantelpiece. I can't even remember what 'normal' is anymore!" She was ranting, her voice high pitched as she paced the room, anger steaming from her as smoke from a burning building. "Everything I do gets publicised, so I've lived my life making sure I never do anything to embarrass my family. I barley have any friends because they can't handle the scrutiny from the press, and I don't date because when I do the tabloids offer them boatloads of cash to tell the world what kind of kisser I am!" As she finally turned to face CJ, she'd calmed down a bit, but her face was still red from the intensity in her speech and the press secretary was trying to get a hold of the situation as well as her ability for constructive speech.

"And for the record, I'm a great kisser." Ellie added, much more quietly than the rest of her words.

"I bet." CJ replied with a smirk before even realising what she'd just said. The impact of her words didn't register until she saw the odd look on Ellie's face.

"I mean… No, I just…" She stuttered, wondering why the hell she felt so dumb around the 26 year old. But considering it was a very odd day, she decided to chuck it up to her entrance into the twilight zone that was Marla's store. "I'm sure you are." CJ tried to rectify the situation, only to realise she'd made an even bigger mess.

"CJ…" There was something about the way Ellie was looking at her, about the slightly different tone in her voice as she spoke her name.

"Ellie, I didn't, I mean…" Her confused efforts of apology were cut short as Eleanor took two steps forward and pulled CJ's head down by her shirt, crushing their lips together.

This wasn't happening. Not able to quite grasp what was happening, CJ just stood there, arms limp at her sides, head bowed down awkwardly with unmoving lips.

She could feel the soft texture of Ellie's lips on hers, the heat of her body as it pressed against her own. She knew what was happening, yet her body couldn't quite grasp the appropriate reactions. Before her mind had time to force her body into action, Ellie had pulled away, her face flushed with embarrassment from what had just transpired, refusing to meet the older woman's eyes.

"I'm sorry." She whispered before turning away, but CJ finally reacted to her screaming mind and grabbed a hold of the younger woman's arm before she could leave.

"Ellie…" She spoke her name; it was the only word she could really think of to say. Anything else just seemed cliché and fake. "I don't…" She trailed off as Ellie turned towards her, still not looking her in the eye.

"Yeah…" Plastering a fake smile on her face, Ellie grabbed her purse and coat from the improvised box-chair she'd been sitting on when CJ arrived. "Look, I should have known better, I'm sorry, just forget it, okay?" Her voice was hollow, but her forced chuckle was the thing that broke CJ's heart. "Marla promised not to press charges as long as someone from Dad's office came to get me. So, you know, it won't be a problem for you." She was getting ready to leave, looking anywhere else but at the woman desperately fighting for the right words to say to her.

"Look, maybe if we just talk… I'm sorry, I just don't…" She didn't finish any of her thoughts, there didn't seem to be anything in her mind that wasn't patronising or useless.

"Just forget it, ok?" It was the forced plea of someone holding tears at bay while clinging to the remains of their self-respect. "I'll see you back there." She said in a strained voice before pulling the curtain back and disappearing on the other side of it.

CJ just nodded her head in response at where Ellie had just stood. Sighing deeply, she slid down to sit on the closest box, needing to get her thoughts in check before she talked to Marla again.

Ellie Bartlet had just kissed her, and CJ wasn't sure if she's just bruised the girl's ego or battered her heart. Either way it was bad, so very, very bad.

For the time being, her thoughts had left the potential media circus of the shoplifting daughter of the President. If CJ was so transparent, even to Eleanor, then the next big media circus would probably be about the gay press secretary.

Right now there was only one thing in her mind, and it had nothing to do with the press. She needed to fix this, but for the life of her she just couldn't figure out a way that wouldn't involve deception.

She just couldn't understand it, she'd never thought of Ellie like this before. She'd just always been her boss's daughter, the hard working student, the sister she never had to worry about.

Eleanor Bartlet had just kissed her, and the thing that scared CJ the most was that she hadn't found the experience all that unpleasant. At all.

The End

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