DISCLAIMER: As per all my work not mine, no money whatsoever, just some writing fun and hopefully reading pleasure
.they are all.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This was originally written for a Fragments of Sappho challenge. It assumes a working knowledge of the West Wing right through to the final episode.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Even War has Paperwork
As she strode through the White House, obediently signing here and scanning IDs there, CJ Cregg looked at the clocks she passed and felt decadent - it was a couple of minutes past eleven o'clock, and she was only just arriving at work...normally, she was at her desk by seven at the latest, six if she could manage it. As she dumped her bags on one of the chairs by her desk and shed her coat and gloves, CJ Cregg felt reckless - she was wearing jeans and a sweater...normally, it was a tailored suit. As she collapsed into her desk chair and turned on her computer, she felt...despondent: it was Sunday, and she'd just settled down to work.
Kate Harper used to struggle to walk in the White House, too used to the familiar pattern of a steady, relaxed march that was expected of Officers of the United States Navy. When she'd first been appointed to the Deputy National Security Adviser's post, she'd struggled to classify herself - was she Commander Harper? No, because, no matter how deep into military solutions and strategies she was forced to wade, ultimately, her job was a civilian one; was she Agent Harper, the chameleon who had slipped around the world unnoticed except for the trail of confusion she left behind, along with a string of 'used' aliases? No, because no matter how many operatives' reports she read and relied on when advising on those military solutions, the CIA had their own representatives to advise the President of the United States. Eventually, it had become easier, not just for her, but for the President too, when she'd just become 'Kate Harper', the slightly odd blonde woman, who seemed incapable of relaxing but knew her stuff. When that happened, it had become easier to walk through the White House...she knew what to do, what to say...most days
"CJ?" called out Kate, standing awkwardly in the doorway that was normally defended by Margaret, but not on a Sunday.
"Kate!" Surprised, CJ dropped her sock clad feet down from the corner of the desk that she'd propped them on and looked over her glasses at the blonde who was now hovering just inside the door.
"Hello..." Small talk had never been Kate's strength, whatever 'role' she was performing.
"Something happen?" asked CJ, slipping her feet into her shoes, fearing the worst. Kate was not known to arrive bearing good news...
"Yeah, I found the bottom of my 'in-tray'..." quipped Kate, coming fully into CJ's office and perching in her usual spot, on the very edge of the sofa, next to the second telephone, where she often had to sit and eavesdrop as CJ tried to talk down some upset foreign dignitary.
"On a Sunday?" asked CJ, amazed that there was another mad lunatic who preferred to come to work on a Sunday rather than do something else...
"I'll take any day that doesn't have a crisis in it for catching up on paperwork..."
"You have paperwork?" asked CJ, unable to stop sounding surprised. It wasn't something she'd ever thought about really, good, 'old-fashioned' paperwork, having not had it for years; files to read in a nanosecond so that she knew what she was about to have to talk about, sure, but paperwork...
"In triplicate?" she asked, vaguely remembering the expenses forms she'd had to fill out when she'd worked in LA.
"Yup...an act of war requires all manner of forms..."
"I never realized..."
"You didn't think that a bureaucracy that could invent the IRS would let something as interesting as National Security exist without a few mountains of paperwork?" asked Kate, enjoying seeing the normally so sharp CJ stumped by something so mundane as paperwork - a Georgian offering her weapons grade uranium? Second door on the left, be with you in a second, but paperwork?
"I'm surprised I didn't get a memo about it..." remarked CJ dryly, suddenly realizing that really, it had been rather odd that they'd done everything they'd done in the last eight years and she'd never had to do some 'proper' paperwork...except for the IRS....
"Actually, you did, do..." corrected Kate, returning her attention to the card file that she'd placed on her knees when she'd sat down.
"I do?" Intrigued, CJ came out from behind her desk to join Kate in the more informal seating area of her office. As long as the end of the world as most of the human race knew it wasn't at stake, chatting with Kate was always quite fun...
"Yeah...I, uh, should have given you a 'welcome to the White House, the fate of the world rests on your shoulders, these people want to kill you' briefing when you became Chief of Staff."
"And we skipped it?"
"Georgian uranium...kinda scrambled the admin..."
"It did?" CJ blinked as she tried to remember her first day as Chief of Staff.
"Interrupted our flow...by the time anyone remembered you hadn't had the NSA's briefing, it seemed kinda pointless..." explained Kate nervously.
"Now I've found the paperwork..." admitted Kate, picking the file up from her knees and putting it back down again.
"And you need to do the briefing?"
"You have something else you'd rather be doing?" asked Kate, not unreasonably.
"On a Sunday afternoon six days before the Inauguration of some other guy's Boss? Nothing pressing..." admitted CJ, surprised how easily she acknowledged that she'd be quite happy to ignore all the work on her desk. In six days, it would all be over...a little non-briefing with this fascinating woman was sounding actually rather relaxing...unconventional, but relaxing.
"Okay then..." began CJ, getting ready to head off to the situation room or something, only for Kate to open the file and start shuffling papers.
"We're going to do it here?"
"You were expecting somewhere else?"
"Isn't this classified or something?" Kate considered the question for a moment.
"A fictional how to..." clarified Kate, passing a piece of paper to CJ, who automatically read it.
"How to deal with a coded terrorist threat? Not a declaration of war?"
"That's example two..."
"You're kidding me?"
"Presidential kidnap is example three..." continued Kate, passing across more papers for CJ to read.
"We have people who write these?"
"What's the job description for that job?" asked CJ, deciding she'd possibly now, finally, come across the weirdest government job yet.
"A creative mind?" suggested Kate, focusing on the first page she'd passed across to CJ, prompting CJ to do the same,
"And a working knowledge of Greek poetry..." observed CJ automatically, scanning the first 'example'.
"Excuse me?" Kate's brain didn't quite have the same 'pinball machine quality' CJ had about being able to keep a conversation going by seemingly randomly bouncing from topic to topic.
"Your 'coded terrorist threat' - I didn't know lesbians were considered a potential threat..." joked CJ, reading the 'dummy' threat.
"Excuse me?" Kate's brain had officially stalled it always did when that word was mentioned .call it an extreme case of paranoia.
"There " explained CJ, showing the page to her friend, identifying the 'coded message' with her index finger, enabling Kate to read,
'yes! radiant lyre speak to me
become a voice'
"Unusual " admitted Kate finally, at a loss to know what else to say, though inwardly wondering if she'd have the courage to ask how the lesbians got involved.
"Makes for an interesting terrorist threat "
"It does?" Kate's brain was officially stalled now, requiring something major to restart it nuclear Armageddon would probably do it.
"Are you sure we've got the best 'creative minds' working on this?" continued CJ, oblivious to Kate's internal debate, and instead seeming to derive some amusement from the 'threat' she was studying.
"It's not the threat that's important " Kate found herself saying, attempting to continue with the conversation.
"It's just a talking point " a couple more deep breaths and she'd no longer need the resuscitation powers of an international crisis. The power of coherent thought .she still had it .
"Never thought I'd hear the Navy say that " teased CJ, enjoying what, as far as Kate was concerned, was some weird private joke.
"Say what? CJ " Kate couldn't stand it any longer, she had to confess to total confusion. Looking at CJ, her brow furrowed and lower lip caught between her teeth, Kate finally caught her friend's attention, " what are you talking about?"
"The quotation " began CJ, not yet looking at Kate, still amused by the paper.
"What about it?" It was the utter seriousness of Kate's tone, the tone CJ recognized all to well as being used to break news about impending international bloodshed, that made CJ look up at her friend and suddenly start reviewing everything she'd said, starting with
"Oh god I'm sorry .I " It was as if some higher being had transferred Kate's fluster and confusion to CJ since, as Kate became calmer and more rational, CJ's comments became more rushed and disjointed.
"CJ " tried Kate, tidying the papers up into the folder and putting them on the floor by her feet.
"Don't ask I'm sorry .Kate ." shooting to her feet, CJ intended to return to her desk, only to have her hand caught by Kate, holding her in place.
"CJ .relax " tried the blonde, standing so that there was some degree of parity between them: whilst she would never be as tall as CJ, at least having their heads reasonably level helped.
"Kate I " Looking at her friend, CJ found herself forgetting her own internal ramblings as she began to wonder what her friend's inner monologue was saying.
"This isn't about my Staff's inability to pretend to be terrorists, is it?" asked Kate softly, canting her head thoughtfully, forgetting that she was still holding onto CJ's hand for many, it wouldn't have been a moment of major concern, but for the normally hyper-aware and tense former spy
"No " admitted CJ shyly, sharply aware of every pressure point between their two hands, of how well together their hands fit, of how she could feel, despite Kate's time as a 'civilian', the faint hardness of calluses and scars on those long fingers for someone for whom physical contact was so instinctual and automatic, it was an interesting but unsurprising revelation
"But it has to do with lesbians?" asked Kate, hoping that she'd found a tone of voice and facial expression that conveyed warmth and understanding rather than interrogation. It was harder now, harder to trust herself to relax, she hadn't done so for too long.
"Why?" A simple question, such a complicated answer.
"The quotation it's an extract of a poem " began CJ, her mind filling with a chorus of voices singing all the snippets she could remember, snippets that had seemed so innocent to learn and shout, snippets she'd tried so hard to forget .
"Written by Sappho?" guessed Kate suddenly, feeling the need to take a leap of faith she hadn't taken in years, fastening all the pieces together to reveal a solution to the puzzle.
"How'd you ?" CJ trailed off as she found herself getting caught up in the new wave of emotions which were washing away the fear and anxiety she had been feeling, ushering in something new was it hope?
"I've never read any " began Kate, sitting down again, finally noticing she'd been holding CJ's hand all this time when she belatedly let go of it.
"But you know about it?" hazarded CJ, not sure how this conversation had turned around so quickly, but content to collapse into the soft embrace of the relatively comfortable chair and listen to whatever her friend wanted to say.
"I, uh, had an idealistic youth " explained Kate cryptically, resting her forearms on her knees and scrutinizing her fingernails intently, her blonde ponytail slipping over her shoulder to hang past her right ear, slightly shielding her face from CJ's curious gaze.
"If you went to Annapolis when I did " Kate trailed off, not sure how to express herself without CJ thinking she was bitter. She wasn't, in fact, it wasn't until some years later, after numerous missions she'd never be able to talk about, in places she could never admit to having been to, that she'd realized maybe she should or could have done things a little differently.
"It was before Don't Ask, Don't Tell " realized CJ, wanting to reach out and still those worrying fingers, craving feeling their unique combination of coarseness and softness once more, but knowing that she couldn't, at least, not yet.
"That was part of it " agreed Kate, recalling the intense scrutiny she'd been under as one of the few women in her year. Whilst she was after the 'trail-blazing' years, women wanting to do what she wanted to do were still regarded with suspicion and scrutiny.
"Is that why you froze?" asked CJ, wondering why it was something as simple as a word that had caused this woman, whose CV was classified beyond anything CJ could ever read even now, to lock up into nervous rigidity.
"Maybe " shrugged Kate, picking at her thumbnail with intense concentration.
"Does anyone else know?" asked CJ kindly, curious as to how precious this most precious of secrets that she'd just been entrusted with really was.
Kate thought for a moment, considering those that knew her now and comparing that list to those that knew her then, before before she'd joined, before she'd killed, before she'd been 'renamed'.
"No not any more " she decided finally, feeling her heart constrict once again as she remembered Fitz, the mentor who'd she relied on far more than she'd ever realized at the time, the man whose reassuring face she could now only ever conjure in her memory to the haunting refrain of 'Taps'.
"Oh Kate " the quiet admission that no one else knew was the trigger that released CJ from her chair, letting her move to the couch that Kate was perched on, allowing her to slip her hand over Kate's clasped ones.
"Don't pity me " came the matter of fact response. Pity she didn't want, couldn't afford.
"I won't " agreed CJ, relieved when Kate's hands relaxed enough for CJ to slip her hand between them and once more resume a gentle grasp.
"I didn't expect this to happen " muttered Kate humorlessly, biting back a harsh laugh when the silence finally stretched into what she thought CJ might be finding uncomfortable.
"Do you mind that it has?" asked CJ carefully, unable to comprehend how much of a moment this was for Kate for CJ, revealing herself to friends was always a minefield, something she'd considered with great care and thought, but for Kate? No one knew?
Kate considered CJ's question for a moment, surprising herself as she thought about it by reaching out to trace the veins on CJ's knuckles with her left index finger, using her right hand to tilt CJ's hand so she could follow the intricate paths that she knew with her eyes closed, knew how to push, to pull, to snap but never to caress, to 'feel'
"Kate?" prompted CJ finally, unwilling to break the moment, but unable to contain or suppress the panic that the long silence was creating.
"I'm glad it's you " was all Kate said, never ceasing from her exploration.
"I think I'm glad it's me too " replied CJ awkwardly, the strangely ineloquent phrase sounding sufficiently 'wrong' to break Kate from her thoughtful spell. The Chief of Staff had a reputation for being quick witted and eloquently phrased in any situation almost.
"CJ?" questioned Kate, her eyes scrutinizing her friend's face for any hint of trouble or stress.
"I'd " CJ found her words sticking as her thoughts spilled out in a random jumbled order that she couldn't quite say, scared she might startle Kate again. Before she could work out how to talk through the lump in her throat, she felt a new sensation on her knuckles, soft, warm, the gentlest press of lips.
"Was that ok?" asked Kate nervously, looking at CJ, her anxiety clearly apparent. Once again, CJ found her words catching in her throat, as the automatic glib responses she'd thought of, bad jokes about the kiss not being long enough, or in the right place, they all suddenly felt so inadequate.
"More than ok " she finally settled on, breaking into a tentative smile as she watched Kate's over tense face muscles relax a fraction. Suddenly finding the confidence to give in to an urge she'd never thought she'd have, CJ reached out with her right hand, content to let Kate continue to gently hold on to her left one, and brushed her thumb over Kate's twitching lips, long fingers sweeping lightly down Kate's cheek, bringing up a light blush.
"Kate?" As much as she hated to interrupt the calmness that had settled over both of them, CJ knew that, realistically, at some point they were going to have to do something other than sit and hold hands in the Chief of Staff's Office, if for no other reason than in around fifteen hours Margaret would arrive, and that probably wasn't a good thing.
"Hmm?" Startled out of her thoughts and continued fascination with CJ's hands, CJ could feel the tension and alertness return to Kate.
"You ok?" asked CJ, inwardly marveling at the lameness of the question, but, having restarted their conversation, CJ found herself struggling to know what to say.
"What happens next?" asked Kate nervously, anticipating the answer to any question she asked being the brush off.
"I don't know " admitted CJ honestly, instinctively tightening her grip on Kate's hand when she felt the blonde's grasp slacken. She didn't want to let go not yet.
"Why were you here?" asked Kate suddenly, looking to the piles of work on CJ's desk, leaving CJ flat footed with the topic change.
"Excuse me?" It sounded formal and distant, but was actually just a conditioned reflex, honed from years in front of a microphone when surprised by a question, seek clarification.
"It's Sunday this becomes someone else's office on Friday why are you here?" CJ had been asked the question so many times since the election, whenever she was 'caught' in her office late at night or on a weekend. Every previous time she'd given a glib stock answer, about the world not stopping because of the American Constitution or something like that. It had been the right answer to those questions, satisfying those questioners: for some reason, she knew that wasn't the right answer now.
"I couldn't think of anywhere else to be " admitted CJ quietly, the admission coming so easily now she let herself acknowledge it. She'd probably known it had been the reason behind her not wanting to work for Santos, probably known it had been the reason why she'd refused to look seriously at any of the offers that Charlie had sorted for her but until she'd said it aloud she hadn't quite believed it to be true.
"Me either " admitted Kate honestly, recalling what had actually brought her to CJ's office.
"Did you really need to brief me?" asked CJ, curious.
"I needed the paperwork " admitted Kate nervously, tilting her head as she considered something.
"Ah so you don't have a thing?" asked CJ, deciding that maybe this day was going to finish in a suitably decadent way after all.
"No thing " confirmed Kate, inwardly relieved that CJ wasn't going to fixate on the fact that she'd come by for effectively an artificial reason.
"Do you want to ?"
"Out on a date?" asked Kate, brow furrowing as she considered this.
"Well, in on a date actually " clarified CJ, deciding it wouldn't be a good idea to start associating Kate's 'deep thought' expression with 'adorable'.
"In on a date?"
"Wine, food, my dining room table "
"Your place?" If Kate's question came out in a squeak, no one noticed.
"I was hoping we could avoid the Press " admitted CJ nervously, knowing that if she went out for dinner with Kate she'd want to hold her hand and maybe try to kiss her and both of those things would land them on the front page of something
"Can you cook?" Kate's question was open and honest, with no hidden spin or agenda, CJ's answer having been accepted for what it was the answer.
"Nine years ago I could make a good spaghetti ."
"Your pasta's probably stale " observed Kate logically.
"And in California " agreed CJ, having an idea. Reaching across Kate, she picked up the phone and dialed the Residence Kitchen. According to Leo, what she was about to try was one of the greatest perks the Chief of Staff had she'd never had the nerve to try it, until now.
"Yes, it's "
*What can we do for you Ms Cregg?* She'd worked in the White House for eight years and she still forgot that, as a Senior Staffer, her extension was identified to the caller in something akin to neon lights as Chief of Staff, there was probably a marching band too.
"Could I have some spaghetti?" she asked, smiling nervously at Kate, wondering if the blonde was now thinking she was crazy.
*Certainly pesto sauce with it Ma'am?* came the polite enquiry, prompting CJ to suddenly clarify in a panic.
"No, raw spaghetti .I'd like to cook "
"Once, before I'd ever met the President, I could cook spaghetti, with Bolognese sauce and garlic bread " began CJ, hoping she didn't sound as wistful as she suddenly felt.
*You'd like the ingredients?*
"For two people to take home and cook " explained CJ, looking at Kate who was shyly smiling and, on making eye contact, half nodded in agreement.
*It will be at the Gate for you in ten minutes Ma'am * came the polite response, her meaning now understood.
"Thank you .am I the first .?" CJ trailed off, not sure if she really wanted to know the answer to her half asked question was she the first Chief of Staff to suddenly have the urge to rediscover home cooking and use the White House kitchens as her food store.
*No Ma'am *
"Thank you ." By the time she'd finished thanking the faceless, nameless steward, the line had been carefully hung up, leaving CJ holding the handset like it might explode awkwardly, and at a distance from her body, before Kate eased the handset from her fingers and returned it to the cradle.
"And if you can't cook?" asked Kate, beginning to find the confidence to tease again.
"I think we're both experts at calling for take out " speculated CJ, smiling nervously at Kate, feeling almost giddy now. She had to be looking goofy, right?
"I've put it on my résumé " commented Kate lightly, deciding she was probably supposed to be making an effort to stand. Unfortunately, whilst the desire to stand seemed to be shared with CJ, the comment's lightness was missed by CJ.
"They haven't called you?" she asked, amazed.
"I made Josh feel an idiot " shrugged Kate, as if that explained everything. Weirdly, for CJ, it did.
"I'll maim him "
"Don't I'd I'd say no " Kate whispered, looking down at her feet, chewing her lip nervously. Not understanding Kate's reasons, but understanding her own desire to say 'no' to the next Administration, CJ relied on instinct, pressing a soft kiss to Kate's forehead which, judging by the gentle squeeze she felt Kate give her grasped hand, was welcomed.
"Hungry?" asked CJ tangentially, eager to find a new topic to talk about.
"Do you have stuff to get?" asked CJ, alluding to the fact that presumably, if for no other reason than it had been snowing this morning, Kate probably had a coat somewhere.
"I'll just " CJ trailed off to glance at her desk, hoping Kate understood.
"See you " Kate nodded in agreement and reluctantly slipped her hand from CJ's. Seconds later, she'd quietly gone leaving CJ to stand for a moment frozen in shock, before reality kicked back in in the form of a blind panic as she rushed to clear her desk and leave before someone found her or before she stopped and pinched herself, just to make sure no, this was definitely real.
Fifteen minutes later, the dark, anonymous sedan, favored by the Secret Service for its quiet dignity and armored plating slipped from the side gate of the White House, heading for CJ Cregg's apartment, carrying an important cargo. In the trunk was a small grocery bag, containing everything a reasonably talented chef could need to make spaghetti Bolognese for two people, with garlic bread. Yet to be discovered was the small dish of Tiramisu so perfect for desert.
"Hmm?" The gentle question from her traveling companion drew CJ's gaze back inside the car, away from the gentle flurries of snow which were their only company on the journey to CJ's apartment.
"I think I'd like to kiss you " whispered Kate nervously, taking CJ's left hand and lifting it carefully into her lap, confident that the Agents in the front of the car were neither obviously paying attention nor minded to share what they saw.
"I think I'd like that " confirmed CJ equally quietly, shifting in her seat so that her body was now angled towards Kate.
Carefully, Kate inched forwards, her eyes flickering up to look at CJ's face, noting every detail she could, her lower lip caught in her teeth until finally, at the last possible second, when there was no space left between them, Kate's eyes closed as lips touched.
"Ok?" whispered CJ softly, catching both Kate's hands gently in her own when the lips parted.
"Very ok " sighed Kate softly, before inching her head forwards again for another kiss, one this time that she nervously coaxed CJ into participating in.
In six days, it would all be over something new professionally would have to begin for both of them, but now, as the car slipped silently through an unseeing Washington D.C., something new had, perhaps, already begun.
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