DISCLAIMER: The television series and its characters do not belong to me.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This installment begins at the very end of "No Exit" (5.20) and carries through to the very end of "A Change Is Gonna Come" (6.7), with snippets from every episode in between, including a few direct quotes from "Birnam Wood," "Liftoff," and "The Dover Test."
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To ceej4[at]yahoo.com
SERIES: Part of the Repetition series
C.J. collapsed on her sofa, her eyes closed before her body landed on the soft cushions, her shoes falling to the floor with a soft thud. She was exhausted, and she had ended her day at 7 because her afternoon and early evening had been a painful reminder of the current limitations of a man she respected.
When the doorbell rang, she ignored it, barely registering the sound. It wasn't until there was an incessant knocking that she opened her eyes. Glaring at the door, she slowly made her way to open it.
"This better be good," she growled. She was met by a muscular chest and had to look up to see the owner's face, recognizing the man as a Secret Service agent. She searched her memory for his name. "Is there a problem?"
"No, ma'am. Do you mind if I search your apartment?"
She moved to allow him entrance. "My agents have already searched the place," she told the other two agents who followed the first one.
Like magic, all three men appeared in front of her, the tallest speaking low into his cuff before he addressed her.
"I apologize, Ms. Cregg, but we have to be certain considering..."
"Considering what?" she interrupted.
"Considering I've forced them to make an impromptu visit with me tonight."
C.J. twirled at the sound of the voice, gaping at the woman standing in her doorway.
"Abbey," she said, her choice of greeting an indication of her surprise. The SS agents hovering near the door ignored her.
"Do you mind if I come in?" Abbey asked.
"No! Yes. Yeah, of course. I'm sorry. Please, come in."
C.J. took a step away from the door as Abbey walked into the apartment.
Abbey addressed the agent nearest to her, the big man who had knocked on C.J.'s door. "Jerry, I'll let you know when I'm ready to go."
He nodded. "I'll be right here, ma'am."
As he took his place in the hallway, followed by C.J.'s agents, Abbey closed the door, locking it quickly.
"I believe that's against regulations," C.J. said, motioning to the lock. "They need to be able to get to you as fast as possible in case something happens."
"And just what do you think is going to happen?" Abbey looked amused standing there inclined against the door. C.J. swallowed hard, uselessly biting back a decidedly un-ladylike comment. Abbey could read her mind anyway. "Besides," Abbey continued casually. "He could smash through this door with one finger. No need to worry."
"But, are you sure it's safe for you to be here?" C.J. asked, pushing the subject out of genuine concern, which Abbey recognized, her own expression softening.
"Between your protection and mine, we're in the second safest building in Washington."
"Speaking of which..."
"They have to be discrete, C.J. They know how to keep secrets. As far as they are concerned, I'm here to talk with the new White House chief of staff about a work-related matter. They have no reason to think any differently."
C.J. nodded. "So, why are you here?"
"Do you have feelings for Kate?" Abbey asked as she took off her coat, throwing it lazily across C.J.'s couch as she walked further into the apartment. C.J. was caught off guard by the question.
"You and Kate. You seem...close. Do you have feelings for her?"
"I like her. I think we're friends. I enjoy our time together."
"But I love you."
Abbey nodded once at C.J.'s firm response, turning to meet C.J.'s eyes with a sad smile. "You got to say it again," Abbey said.
"I yeah." C.J. shook her head as if to shake away her confusion and finally took a step forward. "You didn't answer my question."
"We've been home from China almost a week. I should have called you before now."
"About what? Things are getting better, aren't they?"
"They are, except between us. We always seem to be in a dance. One step forward, two steps back."
"Three steps forward still won't get us anywhere, Abbey. What's the use?"
"That's what I keep thinking. Maybe that's the point."
C.J.'s frustration and grief came through in one word: "Abbey."
"We can't stop the dance, C.J. Why try? It doesn't matter what happens tonight. Tomorrow, we're still going to be moving to the same music." Abbey looked away with a sigh. "You're dangerous because I want you more than I need you."
"Isn't that what love is?" C.J. asked.
And, that was it.
"I can't stay the night, only a few hours," Abbey said.
"I never thought I'd get that. I want to sweep you off your feet."
"You already have. You think I would be here otherwise?"
C.J. smiled and chuckled nervously, ducking her head to hide her eyes. Abbey came to stand in front of her, touching C.J.'s cheek before leaning forward to kiss her. C.J. returned the kiss, hesitantly at first but then more passionately, pulling Abbey closer.
"Abbey," C.J. breathed when they parted.
"I want this, C.J."
C.J. wasn't sure if it was the determination or the desire in Abbey's voice that made her kiss Abbey again, but the reasoning soon disappeared into a haze when she felt Abbey's hands on the skin of her back, cool fingers slipping underneath C.J.'s blouse.
C.J. gasped and then moaned, feeling Abbey smile against her lips. C.J. kissed her harder, surprising Abbey with the intensity.
"Abbey," C.J. said when they parted. "I never I don't...."
Abbey intertwined their fingers, holding C.J.'s hands tightly. "I know."
"I want to make love to you," C.J. said even as she blushed.
"And I want you to. Desperately." C.J. smiled, her nervousness vanishing as she tugged Abbey toward the bedroom.
Abbey dropped C.J.'s hands as they entered the darkened room, putting her arms around C.J.'s waist and drawing C.J. close to her.
"C.J., you have to be sure. We both have a lot to lose, so you have to be sure."
C.J. hugged her. "I know."
"I'm still going to be a wife when I walk away from you, and I will walk away."
C.J. closed her eyes and buried her face in Abbey's hair. "As long as it's not easy."
"Nothing about this is," Abbey said.
Instead of answering, C.J. kissed Abbey again, her hands pushing the steel-gray blazer from Abbey's shoulders, the think fabric falling helplessly to the floor to pool at Abbey's ankles. In response, Abbey smiled against C.J.'s mouth, slipping her fingers once again underneath C.J.'s blouse, pulling it all the way out of C.J.'s pants before beginning to undo the buttons on the front, her hands barely able to move because of the proximity of C.J.'s body.
The cool air hit C.J.'s shoulders first, and she closed her eyes as Abbey finally managed to get her blouse off, lips leaving a hot trail across her collarbone. C.J. suddenly needed more, her gaze burning as she began to pull Abbey's sweater up and over Abbey's stomach, Abbey helping by lifting her arms so the material easily slid over her head to join her suit jacket. Abbey reached for the clasp of C.J.'s pants, but C.J. pushed her hands away before guiding her back, her knees hitting the edge of the bed before she fell onto it. C.J. leaned over her, kissing her harshly, briefly rising to take off her own pants and Abbey's skirt and heels quickly. Then, C.J. was there, skin grazing skin, softer than the silk of the sheets or the lace of their only remaining clothing.
C.J. ghosted her mouth down Abbey's neck, not kissing, just barely touching, and Abbey shivered despite C.J.'s warm breath tickling her skin. Abbey wound her fingers through C.J.'s hair, tugging C.J. back up her body to meet her lips.
They both tried not to think of the clock sitting next to C.J.'s bed, its hands moving as slowly as their own with the same overwhelming effects.
Two and a half hours later, Abbey disappeared under the covers, pushing the sheets away from C.J.'s body as she went. She kissed the small of C.J.'s back, causing C.J. to moan, and then she followed the line of C.J.'s spine with her mouth, her hands on either side of C.J.'s body, her own body a blanket pushing C.J. further into the bed. C.J. sighed at the contact, Abbey's weight warming her already overheated skin. Abbey kissed C.J.'s neck and then her shoulder. Turning over, C.J.'s smile faded as she met Abbey's eyes. She leaned up, kissing Abbey tenderly before brushing Abbey's hair away from her forehead. Abbey smiled down at her, kissing C.J. again and laughing when C.J. rolled them so that C.J. was lying on top of Abbey.
C.J. kissed the other woman deeply, her fingers tangling in Abbey's hair almost painfully and her thigh situating itself between Abbey's legs. The kiss continued, and Abbey was breathless by the time they parted. She sighed as C.J. kissed her neck, and then she moaned as C.J.'s teeth raked over her skin.
"Claudia Jean," Abbey whispered. C.J. smiled against Abbey's throat.
"Say it again," C.J. said, her tongue following the same path her teeth had just taken.
"Claudia Jean, you're teasing me," Abbey said.
C.J.'s smile grew, but her hand traveled down Abbey's side to rest on Abbey's hip before her mouth began the same journey.
C.J. wanted to leave a mark, to sink her teeth into Abbey's flesh and watch the pale, unflawed skin turn to an uneven bruise. She wanted the world and everyone in it to know she had been here. No, she thought as she lavished the curve of Abbey's hip with attention. She wanted him to know.
But, she wouldn't do that. Instead, she slowed, taking a moment to enjoy the scent and the taste of the woman below her, her forehead resting against Abbey's thigh before kissing her way back up Abbey's body.
"I have to go," Abbey said when C.J. met her eyes.
"I know." She lay down beside Abbey, her hand finding its way to Abbey's stomach to draw words on the soft skin. "What will you tell him?"
"That I was here. That I had to see you. The partial truth. If he even asks." Abbey sat up, reaching for C.J.'s robe at the foot of the bed as C.J.'s hands fell from her body. "He probably doesn't realize I'm gone."
C.J. nodded. "Is that good or bad?" she asked, a hint of something that could be bitterness floating in her voice.
Abbey turned back to C.J., cupping the younger woman's face and kissing her roughly. "I am not here to spite him, C.J., like you didn't let me in for the same reason. We both have to look him in the eye and pretend we didn't just break his heart. It's better for all of us if he doesn't ask questions."
"I know," C.J. answered, closing her eyes and sighing softly. "I just " She looked up at Abbey. "We can never go back."
"We never could." Abbey ran a hand through C.J.'s hair, pushing a loose strand behind C.J.'s ear. She kissed C.J.'s forehead, fighting tears as C.J.'s breath tickled her throat. "My makeup is in the pocket of my coat," Abbey said as she pulled away from C.J. and stood.
"I'll get it," C.J. said, recognizing the request behind the statement and appreciating the opportunity to do something rather than watching Abbey preparing to leave.
Abbey nodded and entered the bathroom, letting C.J.'s robe drop from her shoulders and closing her eyes against the memory of C.J.'s blouse doing the same hours before. Putting on the shower cap to protect her hair, she hesitated before turning on the water of the shower, resisting erasing the remnants of their time together. A sob built in her chest, and she fought to keep it down but stepped into the shower quickly.
Safely hidden in the spray, Abbey finally let her tears fall, knowing they would mingle with the water and disappear with little trace of their existence. Unlike the memories that were now a part of Abbey's everyday life, her tears could be washed away with an almost unnatural ease.
She heard the door open and C.J. putting her things on the counter before leaving without a word. Neither of them was strong enough to say what needed to be said. They had to save their strength for the goodbye they knew was coming. The thought almost paralyzed Abbey. If she stayed in the shower forever, she would not be obliged to make a decision to choose between two loves. But then her own words from earlier echoed back to her: I will walk away. She knew she had to; it had to be her. She would not make C.J. suffer any more than necessary. She had already done that too much.
Getting out of the shower and dressing, Abbey forced herself to calm down. She had to think clearly if she was to survive the night. It was not even ten p.m. but Abbey could already feel a new day dawning.
Back in the living room, C.J. had put on her clothes and brushed her hair in an effort to appear presentable, but when Abbey emerged from the bathroom, she looked impeccable. C.J. scrutinized her and then met her eyes warily.
"You're perfect," she said wistfully and resisted reaching for the other woman.
"Hardly," Abbey responded and began putting on her coat.
C.J. stepped forward to help, smoothing away a wrinkle in Abbey's collar, her fingers lingering close to the heat of Abbey's skin. Abbey caressed C.J.'s cheek and then kissed C.J. tenderly.
"I'll talk to you tomorrow," she said as she pulled away from C.J. and walked backward toward the door.
C.J. nodded. "Be careful going home."
Abbey smiled and then turned, her hand on the doorknob as she squared her shoulders. It took only a moment, and then she was gone.
C.J. stood in the middle of the room staring at the door long after Abbey had left. Her thoughts were jumbled, and her heart was racing, but she refused to collapse. She would not fall apart now, not with Abbey's sacrifice so fresh in her mind, not with Abbey's presence so alive in her apartment.
Instead, she made her way to her bedroom, to the bed she and Abbey had just shared. Vaguely, she registered her SS agents returning, but she shut them out, intent on concentrating on her memories until she had to go back to work.
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