DISCLAIMER: The television series and its characters do not belong to me.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I needed a bridge between the last installment and the next. This part is in third person point of view and is different than all that came before it. Although doesn't it seem Abbey and C.J. argue a lot? No matter. Sooner or later, they have to make up, right?
SERIES: The eighth part of the Repetition series following Broken Record, Habit, Deja Vu, Deja Vu Again, Consistent, Another, Over, Again and In Addition.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: "Red Haven's On Fire" (4.17)
It was after the fundraiser, after the $5,000 dresses and prepared remarks, after the end of the day and the meetings and the speeches. C.J. was tempted to believe it was just
"after." It needed no qualifier because it was never true. Nothing seemed to end.
She was on her way to the First Lady's suite, summoned by a note passed to her when she thought their night was over. Short and simple: Claudia Jean I would like to see you. There was no doubt who sent it. C.J. recognized the handwriting, could even hear the velvety voice saying her full name in the letters on the paper.
Besides, few would beckon her in such a manner.
She knocked on the door with authority. At least that's the way she hoped it sounded. She was apprehensive and tense, tired and uncertain. But she knocked with the authority of someone who knew she belonged in the coordinated-off hallway. It was, after all, expected.
The door opened with a whoosh, and C.J. was surprised to meet the eyes of the First Lady instead of one of the dozens of secretaries and assistants in her entourage. Abbey said nothing, just walked further into the room, and C.J. followed, allowing the door to shut behind them. They were completely alone.
"Mrs. Bartlet," she said respectfully, sensing the dour atmosphere surrounding the First Lady.
"Don't start with that. I'm in no mood."
C.J. paused, but then she smiled, electing for humor over anger. She was too exhausted for much of anything else.
"Well, Abigail, it seems you are in a mood."
If Abbey found the statement brash, she made no indication. C.J. did not expect her to. They had bypassed several levels of intimacy in the months following Simon's death, and the press secretary had learned to relax and enjoy taking personal freedoms with their growing relationship. Still, when Abbey took a position leaned against the back of a room chair, C.J. did not invade her space. Instead, she came to stand in front of her, sitting on the edge of a table, giving Abbey room to speak her mind. C.J. had an idea what was on it; she had spoken to Josh earlier in the afternoon.
"C.J., I've got both you and Josh telling me what to do, treating me like I don't know what the hell I'm doing, and insulting my decisions. When did I stop knowing how to operate in the political arena and when did I lose the respect of the President's staff?"
"You know we respect you, and you know we're just doing our jobs," C.J. said, her tone formal yet sincere and laced with weariness. "We're trying to protect you."
"The last time I checked I didn't need protection. Have you forgotten my approval rating is at 79%? Almost 30 points above the man you're supposed to be protecting."
"No, ma'am, I haven't forgotten, but that's not really a fair assessment "
Abbey ignored the fatigue she heard in the other woman's voice, interrupting C.J.'s halfhearted attempt at an explanation. "Why not? Because my numbers are higher?"
"Because you don't make the hard decisions," C.J. flashed. "You don't send troops to war. You don't determine what tax and education legislation will be passed or rejected. You don't make the phone calls when we lose someone to terrorist attacks."
"No, I just smile prettily and christen ships. Is that it?"
"You know that's not what I mean," C.J. relented, frustration coloring her every expression. Eventually, she just shook her head, and then laughed a soft, draining sound.
"What?" Abbey asked, her anger receding at C.J.'s growing mirth as she finally noticed just how tired the lanky press secretary looked.
"You do have a nice smile."
Abbey rolled her eyes but didn't try to stop her smirk, especially when C.J. moved closer, dropped her voice to almost a whisper, and touched the shorter woman's arm.
"Abbey, you make a difference in what you do. Health insurance, medical treatment, homeless shelters, research all are better because of you, because of your knowledge. You've done good work, but Josh is right. If you want to shape policy, then you need someone who understands policy leading your fight." Pausing, C.J. added, chiding gently, "And you know every member of our staff respects you, especially me. You shouldn't have to be reminded of that."
"It's just nice to hear," Abbey said, her own voice almost a hum. C.J. was too near, too much of a temptation, and the First Lady could not resist standing up straight, bringing them closer together, causing C.J.'s fingers to tighten around the brunette's bicep. "I've already told you I'm not going anywhere, C.J.," she teased softly, all traces of irritation gone.
"I'd rather not take any chances," the taller woman responded. "Besides, if I keep hold of you, I'm hoping you won't yell at me anymore."
"You would need a much tighter hold than what you've got for that."
C.J. beamed, genuine happiness lighting her eyes. "It's a tempting offer, but I think we need to talk."
"We talk too much," Abbey dismissed, her smile a bit too tantalizing.
"Abigail," C.J. warned, but her voice was rough and she had to take a step back, her hands falling to her sides. Abbey sighed.
"I've hired Amy Gardner as my Chief of Staff."
"Oh," C.J. said, noticeably and surprisingly flustered by the rapid change of topic. "Okay."
"You don't like her?"
"No, I do. She's very perceptive."
"She's a player. She can get the job done."
"True, just make sure she doesn't alienate more people than she benefits."
"I'll keep that in mind, but I trust her to see to my agenda."
"As long as your agenda doesn't get lost in hers."
"They're almost the same, C.J., so unless you want to be my chief of staff, Amy is the best available choice."
"Okay. That's fine. When does she start?"
"She already has. I've put her to work on the immunization education funds I wanted. I imagine Josh is ready to explode by now."
"You do know how to make a statement." Humor had returned to C.J.'s voice, and she smiled when Abbey raised an eyebrow, a typical First Lady gesture. Her response, however, was purely Abbey.
"I know how to do a lot of things," she said, the flirtatious tone settling in the back of C.J.'s throat. She knew they were too close, had come too far to disregard the desire hidden in offhanded phrases and casual remarks. She was too tired to ignore how she felt, too tired to control it anymore that night.
Taking a step forward, C.J. invaded Abbey's personal space and had to close her eyes as she absorbed the First Lady's body heat. She felt Abbey's lips graze her neck, and C.J. sighed at the contact. Her hands found their way to Abbey's waist, her fingers grasping at the material of Abbey's shirt. When the brunette's tongue tickled C.J.'s upper lip, the press secretary gasped, an invitation to make the kiss deeper, to turn fantasy into reality. Abbey accepted. It had taken years to reach this point, yet C.J. knew the time did not matter. She was too drawn to this woman, had been too desperate for this illicit act for too long for it to be controlled by time. Abbey was soft and inviting, and C.J. wanted more of her, just as they wanted each other.
As the kiss lingered, Abbey held no resistance. She wanted to, wanted to have some regret, but as C.J.'s arms pulled them closer, Abbey knew this was no moment of weakness. The fear of being caught propelled their passion but not their intensity of longing. It was minutes later before they parted, reluctantly, and just stared at each other. Abbey's arms were around C.J. with C.J.'s hands resting in the small of Abbey's back a comfortable embrace.
There was a knock on the outer door and both turned their attention to the sound.
"Come in," Abbey finally said as she moved away from C.J. and smiled at the young staffer who entered the room holding a notebook and a key card. "Yes Julia?"
"Excuse me, ma'am, but you wanted your notes for tomorrow's schedule."
"Yes, thank you. Just leave them on the table. I'll look over them, and then I think I'll head to bed. Is there anything else?"
"No, ma'am. Your wakeup call is set for 6 a.m."
"Thank you. Good night."
"Good night, ma'am."
As the door closed behind Julia, Abbey smirked at C.J., who was still standing in the middle of the room disconcerted and self-conscious. But her smile did not remain. Although their moment was joyous, it was too painful to celebrate. Yet, Abbey's desire was still in control of her.
"You could stay here tonight. We could relive our campaign days," she said before she could censor her words.
C.J. paused, her face coloring with the blush she was sure her thoughts were causing.
"No, I can't. I, uh, I don't have the same restraint now as I did back then." It was an admission not to be taken lightly.
"That's what I was counting on," Abbey revealed, all traces of humor gone from her voice as she locked eyes with the younger woman. Neither knew if she was joking, and for a split second, C.J. almost gave in. She was grateful the First Lady was across the room from her, knew she would be weakened by the brunette's touch if she should come any nearer.
Her resolve returned when she finally glanced at the other woman. Through all of her bravado, C.J. could still see the disgrace in Abbey's eyes, could still feel the dishonor in what they were doing. They were past being loyal, had given that up after the first night they had fallen asleep together on the campaign trail. Even then, the craving for more had been there. It was enough to ruin them, to change their perspectives of their lives and choices, to turn innocent touches into an affair. And there, suddenly, with defining clarity, C.J. saw her downfall.
"I should go," she said, moving slowly and hesitantly toward the door. Part of her wanted the First Lady to stop her but the other part knew they both needed to deal with this step in their relationship before they could move on to the one after a thought both terrifying and exhilarating.
"I'll see you in the morning?" Abbey asked, her voice quiet and reflective. C.J. recognized both the hope and regret.
"Yes, first thing. If you want, we can have breakfast together. I can meet you downstairs before your morning staff meeting begins?"
Abbey smiled at the question, at the uncertainty in C.J.'s posture. They were in this together.
"I'd like that," she answered and smiled tenderly, which earned her a gentle smile in return. C.J. nodded and once again headed for the door.
"As hard as this is," she said, needing to offer emotion beyond desire, "I wish I felt guiltier." And then she opened them to the outside world and was gone.
"Me, too," Abbey murmured to no one. "Me, too."
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