DISCLAIMER: Not mine, not getting paid for this, just for fun et cetera.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Written for the International Day of Femslash's 2013 Revive a Fandom Challenge. Title is kind of from Micheal Penn's Strange Season.
FEEDBACK: To details.of.your.incompetence[at]gmail.com
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Past Tense Story
"So this is it, I guess."
C.J. is the first to leave the District. There's some sort of irony to it, Kate realizes, since in the past she has always made sure not to be the one left behind. Kate can't blame her, though, since it is less a matter of leaving Kate behind than of moving forward. With Danny, she adds to herself, but there are some things she does not want to think about right now.
C.J. nods, slightly, and there is a half smile pulling at the corner of her mouth. "This is it." The exhaustion around her eyes, multiplied over the last weeks of the Bartlet administration, seems already to alleviate; a few nights of sound sleep can work wonders, Kate knows. There are other things to do to unwind, but Kate doesn't want to think about that either. Instead, she pulls C.J. into a brief hug, somewhat awkward with neither of them knowing the right way to do this. She will remember this, she will remember the way C.J. almost relaxes against her, how the taller woman's jacket rustles under her hand, but most of all, she will remember the air of desperation accompanying this goodbye of sorts.
" and I've even considered moving, because Washington just isn't the same with all the new guys occupying the White House, and this morning, you know, at this small café off Dupont Circle, I heard a rumor that they're having a "
" Halloween party at the What? Who died?" Kate, furrowing her brow, tries to remember a woman named Gail but comes up empty. She pours more water into her whisky glass, adds one ice cube. August in D.C. has always been humid, but this year it is almost killing her. "Who is Gail?"
There is a soft sigh on the other end of the line, and C.J.'s reply is barely above a whisper. "Gail the goldfish. The one Danny gave me, back in You know, back in D.C." She sighs again, swallows, and Kate can almost see her straighten her spine. "Josh called yesterday; he found her floating upside down in the fishbowl."
Kate almost laughs then, because really, it's just a goldfish, and because she hasn't forgotten someone important named Gail, but she bites the inside of her cheek instead. She is sure that there is something that C.J. isn't telling her, but they are not close enough to being friends for her to keep prodding. So she stares out of the window of her apartment, holding the half-full glass against the inside of her wrists.
They remain silent like this for a few minutes, until C.J. speaks again.
"It wasn't a mistake, right? Leaving the White House, moving to Santa Monica, I mean. It's just that, I don't know, Gail has died, and this is, well, it's not D.C."
Kate was wrong, it seems, they obviously are close enough to keep talking about this, and maybe there really is more between them than just two years at the heart of the American government that unites them, more than the past that keeps them picking up the phone every other month. "Of course not, C.J.," Kate hurries, trying to keep the exhaustion out of her voice, again, and succeeding. It's not a lie if you've convinced yourself to believe it. "It's a good thing Santa Monica is not D.C.," she adds, "the District is melting."
They talk about costume parties at the White House for a while then, and before C.J. hangs up, she tells her, "Don't move, Kate. You belong there."
And Kate believes her, too.
C.J. calls about five hours after Kate has sent her an email with news on the book contract. "I told you so!"
Kate tries to focus at the red numbers of her alarm clock. 2.43 a.m., and even with the time difference between Washington and Santa Monica, it's still middle of the night in California. With a sigh, she turns on the lamp on her nightstand. And immediately moves her free hand, the one that is not busy holding her cell phone to her ear at 2.43 a.m., to cover her eyes. "C.J.?"
"Yes. Were you expecting someone else to call you three hours before sunrise?"
"No, but neither was I expecting you to call three hours before sunrise." She continues to glare at the back of her hand until she remembers that she shouldn't go back to sleep before trying to finish, or rather start, this conversation. "Is there a reason to your call other than to tell me you told me so?"
She can almost hear the other woman smile at that. "Yes. I called to congratulate you. Both on your imminent success as a non-fiction writer, and on scoring a contract with a major publishing house. I was also going to tell you that I am secretly proud of you, but somehow I think it might be a weird thing to say, so I'll, you know, stop talking now."
At that, Kate lets her lips curve into a smile, then stifles a yawn. "C.J.? Do you mind much if we continue this conversation tomorrow? Or rather later today?"
"Yes. Yes, I mean, no." There's a rustle of fabric on the other end of the line, and Kate pictures her moving the cell phone from one ear to the other, and almost dropping it. "Okay."
"I'm hanging up now, C.J."
"Okay." There's a brief pause, and for a few seconds, C.J. holds her breath, releases it slowly. "What I'm saying is, I'm awfully proud of you."
"I'm hanging up now, C.J.," Kate repeats.
It is 2.48 a.m. when Kate Harper puts the phone back onto the nightstand, switches off the lamp and pulls the blanket over her head. The sun will rise in three hours, and she has phone call to look forward to.
Her skin smells different now. It's not the first thing Kate notices when she meets C.J. for the first time after what has been two and a half years she notices her hair (it's lighter now at the tips), her skin (Californian sun does look good on her), her eyes (three years outside the White House have taken ten years off her age) but the scent of her skin is the one thing that sticks to Kate's brain. She notices when C.J. pulls her into an embrace the evening before the opening of the Presidential Library slightly less awkward than the last one they've shared two and a half years ago.
They skip the shallow pleasantries, the It's-good-to-see-yous and the You-look-greats, even though it is true, Kate comes to understand; it is good to finally see her again instead of only hearing her voice and staring the wall above her desk; and dear god, she does look great. C.J. compliments her book, instead, and has her promise to sign a copy later, "for Hogan, of course", but Kate entertains the idea that she might as well keep it for herself.
Two hours later, when they've talked about books and children and Californian summer and Washingtonian winter, carefully avoiding the past and future, when they are at the point of asking brief questions and giving mono-syllabic answers, C.J. is the first to get up to go back to her hotel.
"C.J." Kate's voice stops the other woman mid-movement. "It was a good time in D.C., wasn't it?"
C.J. smiles, and this time it's a full blown smile, and Kate can't keep herself from returning it. "It was a great time."
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