DISCLAIMER: The West Wing and its characters are the property of NBC, Aaron Sorkin and John Wells.
CHALLENGE: Written for the Dead of Winter ficathon.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By bluflamingo


CJ's engrossed in the morning papers when she hears a noise. It's too early for Carol to be in, and too late for the cleaning staff, that's what makes her look up.

Abbey's standing in her doorway, dressed down in jeans and a Notre Dame sweatshirt, watching her.

CJ jumps to her feet, forgetting the paper in her hands, which goes flying then crumples as she tries to catch it, before giving up and letting it fall to the floor. "Mrs Bartlet!" she says, hearing her voice go shrill. She takes a deep breath and tries again. "Good morning, Mrs Bartlet. Can I help you?"

"CJ, I've told you it's fine to call me Abbey," she says, smiling and taking a step into the room.

"Yes, Mrs Bartlet," CJ says before she can stop herself, and smiles back, fighting not to blush. They're not even saying anything to be embarrassed or nervous about, but it seems to have become a habit whenever Abbey speaks to her.

Abbey raises her eyebrows slightly but doesn't say anything as she makes herself comfortable in the chair before CJ's desk. Somehow, she looks less out of place in casual clothes than she has the few times she's been in CJ's office in a suit. Like this, CJ can almost forget she's talking to the First Lady.

"Jed has an overnight engagement in New York tonight," Abbey announces, watching CJ reassemble the paper and sit down.

"At the Symphony Hall," CJ says. "You're not accompanying him?"

Abbey's face scrunches slightly in what CJ's come to recognise as something close to dismay. "It's Mahler," she says, as though this explains it all. CJ's never been a huge fan of classical music, so for all she knows, maybe it does. Abbey shrugs. "Anyway, I'm speaking at the hospital benefit tomorrow morning."

"Yes, of course." CJ still has trouble keeping the President's schedule straight in her head after only a few months in office, never mind the First Lady's as well. This, at least, is what she tells herself.

"Anyway -." Outside CJ's office, someone boots their computer up, the jingle loud in the quiet, and CJ's suddenly very aware of the open door. Abbey's voice drops. "I thought you might join me for dinner in the Residence, if you don't have other plans. We haven't seen much of each other since the campaign." She holds CJ's gaze as she speaks, her eyes dark. CJ swallows, hard, feeling her insides turning liquid with nerves and lust and excitement. The air over her desk shivers with nights in hotel rooms on advance trips and stay behinds during the campaign, and a handful of President-approved evenings in CJ's apartment, videos playing forgotten in the background as Abbey writhed beneath her on CJ's bed.

"I, er…" CJ clears her throat and blinks. When she looks at Abbey again, her expression is mild interest, till CJ wonders if she was imagining things. "No, I don't have any plans."

"Good." Abbey smoothes her hands over her jeans and stands. "I'll see you in the Residence at eight, then."

"Yes, Mrs Bartlet," CJ says, on purpose this time, and wishes she hadn't when Abbey's wicked gaze touches hers.

At five past eight, CJ makes her way to the Residence, grateful that for once everyone left at a reasonable hour, so there's no-one to see her, even if she does have a perfectly acceptable excuse for being here. She feels like she should be checking round corners for guards, except she'll be announced by the Secret Service agents anyway, which makes the whole endeavour a little pointless.

The agent nods her in before she can knock, turning away slightly to hide what CJ's sure is a grin when she runs her hands over her hair then her clothes before opening the door. She tells herself firmly that he doesn't suspect anything, takes a deep breath, and walks in.

Abbey's still casual, but she's changed into a shirt and slacks, so CJ feels less over-dressed than she might have, especially when Abbey tosses CJ's suit jacket on the back of a chair and hands her a glass of red wine.

"I thought I'd cook," Abbey says, waving at the closed kitchen door. "Zoey brought us some fresh pasta from her trip to Italy, and we need to eat it soon."

She doesn't say that, with the chef given the night off, they're alone together, but CJ hears it anyway. When they sit down on the sofa, she presses her leg against Abbey's and feels her press back.

"So." Abby turns slightly into CJ and sips her wine. "Tell me about your day."

It's just for a second, but Abbey slips into being the First Lady as she speaks, jerking CJ to a halt as she draws breath to answer. She's thought of the President's wife as Abbey for so long, even after it became habit to address her as Mrs Bartlet, that it's always a little surreal to see her being the First Lady. It's never been that way when they're alone together though, and CJ suddenly wonders which is the act and which is the real Abbey Bartlet. If both of them are just faces she puts on for the company she's in.

"CJ?" Abbey frowns slightly as she touches CJ's knee. "Is everything all right?"

"Of course," CJ says, and she knows her smile doesn't look as forced as it suddenly feels. She wants to want to leave, wants to feel filled with the urge to tell Abbey that this is a mistake, that she shouldn't be here, because Abbey's not just married, she's married to CJ's boss, to the President of the United States.

The trouble is, CJ doesn't want that, doesn't want to take the moral high ground, or even the emotional one, to be sensible and leave because she's just realised that she's sneaking around in front of the President's Secret Service with a mask, not the real version of the face she sees on TV. It doesn't matter, not like it should, not enough. If she only gets another face of Dr Abbey Bartlett, First Lady, she'll take the face, because it's more than she'll get any other way, and she can't give it up.

"Of course," she says again, sipping her wine, and the smile doesn't even feel forced this time. "I was just thinking of Josh and Toby in their meeting this morning…"

She tells Abbey about a disastrous meeting, about Josh and Toby bickering in front of the delegates from an environmental trust, something that actually happened a couple of weeks ago, until the worried look on Abbey's face fades and she's laughing.

The sound of her laugh makes CJ's skin feel warm, like a hug or her pool in California, and she wraps the feeling tighter and tighter around herself as they make dinner, the pasta boiling dry because they get distracted and end up panting and gasping against the kitchen counter, as they fall into bed in the spare room, and even as she sneaks out in the early hours, past the Secret Service agent who pretends not to notice the way her hair sticks up and the middle button of her blouse is missing.

She wraps the feeling of warmth around herself for days after, like a comforter when she walks into the Oval Office and sees the President kissing the First Lady, and tells herself this is enough.

This is love, and she can't help it.

The End

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