DISCLAIMER: Abbey, CJ and the West Wing belong to Aaron Sorkin and Warner Bros. The title, “Magdalene Laundries”, was borrowed from the Joni Mitchell song of the same name. I’m just borrowing them for a while. Purely for pleasure, not for profit.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
By Sterling Sky
CJ knew that if she didn't stop her now, she never would.
Abbey stopped, turning to face her.
"I was just wondering if you'd heard -" CJ was pretty sure she'd left her nerve somewhere between the briefing room and her office. "If you'd heard that, ah, that "
"Oh for God's sake, Claudia Jean, would you just - " It was now or never, and as attractive as never was starting to sound
"If you'd heard that I was in love with you. Ma'am." The sound of the silence was crushing. Abbey dropped her gaze from CJ's eyes to some undefined spot on the office wall, pressing her hand to her face before dropping it back down to take a slow sip from her water bottle left sitting on CJ's desk. She let the condensation run down her wrist and into her sleeve, pretended not to notice how hard it was to keep her hand from shaking. She twisted the cap firmly into place, every move deliberate. Suddenly she spun around and sent it flying across the office; watched it ricochet off the opposite wall. Her first act of lost self control. Somewhere at the edges of her peripheral vision, she watched CJ desperately attempt not to look startled at the outburst. Her voice low and gruff, without turning to face the Press Secretary, she finally spoke.
"Goddamn it, CJ." She smoothed the roughness from her tone, but kept her voice just as quiet as she added, "What do you want me to do with that?"
"Ma'am," CJ failed to swallow back the catch in her own voice. "I'm sorry. I, that was - " She spoke quickly, trying to disguise the tremors in her words by covering them with speed. CJ dropped her gaze to the floor as the First Lady turned to face her.
"CJ." The soft, broken sound of her own initials brought her eyes back up to meet Abbey's. She hadn't expected the tenderness in the First Lady's voice, never mind the tears brimming along Abbey's lower lashes. Abbey stepped forward, closing the distance between them, raised her hand to CJ's hair, and ran her fingers down to CJ's jaw, leaving her thumb lingering dangerously close to CJ's lips. The cold damp of her fingertips from the forgotten water bottle beneath CJ's desk did nothing to stop the white hot rush reeling behind CJ's eyes.
"What do you want me to say to that, CJ?" The catch in Abbey's voice coupled with the sensation of her hand still resting on her cheek nearly undid CJ completely. Hoping childishly that time would somehow slow if she couldn't see it pass, CJ closed her eyes.
"What do you want me to say?" Abbey repeated, and even with eyes shut CJ could feel hazel eyes searching her face for some kind of emotional tell. CJ opened her eyes. That trick never stopped time when she was a kid, either. The silence scratched like wool at CJ's throat, catching the only words she wanted to say.
"I want you to say that you love me."
But in the end, CJ said the only thing she knew she would say all along, the only thing she ever could say.
"I- I don't know, Abbey. I don't know what I want you to say." Her false admission at least managed to chase the iron-willed silence and tension back to the corners of the room.
Abbey's hand fell to her side. "I have to go, the President will be sending out a search party for me. I'll see you later, Claudia Jean." With that, she walked past CJ and out of the office. Head down, she headed for the Residence as quickly as possible, sending her SSA detail scrambling. The fewer people to explain her tears to, the better.
I knew I was not bound for heaven/I'd be cast in shame/into the Magdalene Laundries.
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