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Five Times C.J. Cregg Did Not Kiss Abbey Bartlet
They are at a bonfire on the campaign trail.
C.J. watches Abbey through wisps of smoke, the haze blurring C.J.'s world just enough that she allows herself the perusal she would normally be denied. The fire turns Abbey's hair to the color of dandelions and makes her smile feral. When they finally have a moment alone, C.J. touches the inside of Abbey's wrist. The skin is hot, reminding her that if she takes one step closer, they will both be burned. Abbey, the phoenix, will survive, but C.J., ash-flecked yet soigné, will have nothing left besides amber-tinted eyes and a memory of the taste of damnation.
She sits on the couch as Abbey stands next to the window. She is diaphanous, almost glowing against the shadowy night, and C.J. slows her breathing in fear she will disturb the peace which has settled around them. Secret Service agents are outside in the dark and inside in the light, protecting them all from unseen forces, but C.J. is more concerned about what is happening in this moment in the very room where she lounges seemingly indifferent to the sight before her eyes.
Her concentration, however, never wavers even though it is late and she is tired. After her long day, stumbling upon Abbey while taking a walk had been fate. The other woman's hushed request had tightened the knot in C.J.'s throat and brought her to the darkened room they now share. C.J. realizes too late her ruth is not why she accepted the invitation. It was Abbey's whetstone skin and inclement eyes, and C.J. is beginning to believe that perhaps the stars are hateful, crackling things that cause people to cross lines and challenge their own faithfulness.
She continues with these thoughts as she stands and makes her way to Abbey. They are close but not touching until C.J. sighs and Abbey's attention is suddenly on the woman at her side. C.J. reaches out to Abbey, pressing her palm to Abbey's face, hoping to leave an imprint, before smiling gently and leaving the room.
She is aware Abbey is standing behind her, watching her raptly in the mirror as she applies her lipstick. The pale, subfusc color disappears in the florescent light of the bathroom, and C.J. is momentarily jealous of the burgundy tint to Abbey's lips. She is sure they taste of the sharp flavor of love. Looking away from the eyes staring at her, C.J. takes a deep breath before turning to meet Abbey's questions. The First Lady just smiles, the deep red of her mouth making what could be a sweet gesture into a smirk. There is something hauteur, almost minatory, in the stillness of Abbey's gaze, and C.J. instinctively takes a step back. She knows, without reservation, she needs the distance.
Charlie ushers her into the Oval Office, explaining that the President will arrive shortly. C.J. is about to take a seat when she notices a figure on the patio. The shape of the body is familiar and heat-inducing, and C.J. takes a step closer to the door without opening it, watching Abbey while she has the chance. The storm which had raged earlier has finally calmed to a shower, but the wind is still cause for concern, whipping the precipitation against the building. Hesitantly, C.J. joins Abbey, nodding to the agents surrounding them, all trying to hide in plain sight.
Abbey's only acknowledgment is a tilt of her head, a sanctity of movement so slight that C.J. bows her head in return. Reverence turns C.J.'s lust to lead, but Abbey's velveteen skin, damp from the rain, melts C.J.'s resolve. She turns away before she can ask why Abbey wears the supercilious pout of the exhausted and what she can do to erase the sepia sorrow haunting Abbey's eyes.
The library is massive, the shelves filled with thousands of volumes of books, all hiding knowledge between their covers and all meant to be discovered a hundred times a day. C.J. gets lost in the stacks, willing away time to memories of the man whose name adorns the building. She was summoned to this place, the letter she received still warm from what she imagines to be the sumptuous touch of its writer.
When she turns a corner and sees Abbey's sapient eyes scanning the room, C.J. suddenly remembers the arrhythmic relationship she has always shared with this woman and is tempted to remain out of sight, concealed amid the shadows and dust. Instead, she steps into Abbey's line of vision and smiles the well-mannered smile required for public appearances. They greet each other with a hug, Abbey's hands trailing down C.J.'s arms to take hold of the younger woman's fingers, intertwining them connecting them for just a moment. A rush of conversation, polite and pedestrian, carries them until they are secure in a private office, unseen from everyone but themselves.
C.J. wants to ask why they are there, but she is shell-shocked by Abbey's soft voice. It becomes clear to C.J. then that in the time they have been apart, only months and not years, that the grief felt by them both when the man between them was finally laid to rest has settled into Abbey's bearing. She is not the same woman, but C.J. feels herself being caught in the irresistible pull of this new creation.
She knows it does not matter why she is here, only that she is and that Abbey's explanation is real enough to ground her in the foundation which Abbey wants to construct in tribute of her husband. It is a task which will put C.J. and Abbey in frequent contact, and C.J. wonders if her will is strong enough to resist the temptation which she is fighting in that moment. It is a battle she thought she had won, but time and distance are not enough to stop the war between her desire and her loyalty. Still, she agrees to help Abbey, knowing she cannot stop what will happen in the future but intent on honoring the past.
Maybe the ghosts of those who came before will keep C.J. from leaning forward to press her lips to Abbey's the next time Abbey smiles.
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