DISCLAIMER: The television series and its characters do not belong to me.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: After a sweet installment, there has to be angst. Thanks, as always, to rysler and janevok, who are both patient, helpful, and kind.
SERIES: The eighth part of the Repetition series following Broken Record, Habit, Deja Vu, Deja Vu Again, Consistent, Another, Over, Again, In Addition, After and Say It Again.
SPOILERS: "Twenty Five" (4.23), "Separation of Powers" (5.7), and "Shutdown" (5.8). This installment is set directly after the State Dinner in "Shutdown."
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
"I thought I'd find you here."
C.J. was grinning before she even looked up, but before she could acknowledge her visitor's presence, a young man appeared at Abbey's shoulder. She directed him to place the two large cups he was carrying on the low table in C.J.'s office. C.J. watched in silence, moving to lean against her desk without interrupting.
"Thank you, James," Abbey said, dismissing him with a gentle smile. She waited until after he was gone before she shut and locked the door. Turning back to C.J., she held up the plate-sized box in her hand. "I come bearing gifts," Abbey said, her smile becoming more feral as she came to stand in front of the taller woman. C.J. returned the smile as she bent down to meet Abbey's lips in a sweet, almost chaste, kiss.
"Hi yourself," C.J. said.
Abbey moved away, taking a seat on the couch and motioning for C.J. to join her.
"Are you trying to bribe me?" C.J. asked as she sat down next to Abbey, trying to conceal her surprise. She lifted the lid of the box Abbey had placed on the coffee table.
"No, not bribe." She shrugged, adding, "Seduce, maybe."
"I think we've already established you don't need cake for that."
"But it doesn't hurt, does it?"
"Depends on whether that cake is what I think it is."
"Triple fudge chocolate. Only the best for you."
"You made this?"
Abbey smiled. "The cook was off, remember? You only got your damn government back up today."
She lifted the cake from the box, followed by two plates, two forks, and a knife.
"You came prepared," C.J. said as she picked up a cup and inhaled the brew appreciatively.
"I was hoping to stay a while."
"I'd like that," C.J. responded before adding reluctantly, "Shouldn't you be in the Residence?"
Both women knew what C.J. was actually asking but neither wanted to answer it. Instead, Abbey offered the other woman a piece of cake.
After a long moment, Abbey said, "I told him I was visiting you."
"Two old friends catching up on their lives," C.J. said, sarcasm hiding any other emotions. She put her now-empty plate aside and picked up her coffee. "So, how's life?"
"Don't sulk. It's unbecoming of someone of your stature."
C.J.'s smile was obscured by her cup. "Was that a tall joke?"
"No. It was an importance joke."
"I usually don't feel all that important."
"None of us do. You didn't tell me you had been practicing your debating skills with Leo and Jed. I've heard you've had quite a tempter recently."
C.J. chuckled but didn't say anything, taking a sip of her coffee instead and avoiding Abbey's gaze.
"C.J.," Abbey finally said. "What's been going on?"
"Nothing, really. Just the same old same old."
"I know." At C.J.'s bemused expression, Abbey said, "I've been watching your briefings."
"Funny. I haven't seen you in almost a month."
"We've talked," Abbey said, clearly taken aback.
"You could have called."
"I didn't think you wanted me to."
"What ever gave you that idea?"
C.J. shook her head but said nothing else, watching as Abbey searched her memories from their last encounter. The younger woman knew the instant Abbey understood.
"You came to help Zoey, not to see me."
"Maybe I was doing both."
"You spent most of your time just doing your job, C.J. What was I supposed to think?"
"That I was doing my job."
"Which you can stop doing now. I'm not a reporter. Stop avoiding my questions."
"Ask me something I can answer."
"C.J., why didn't you tell me you wanted me to come back?"
"I had no right, Abbey."
"More than most. At least as much as anyone."
"He never asked."
"He never asked, C.J."
"And would you have returned if he had? If I had?"
Abbey didn't answer, the truth starting to settle in her chest.
"I didn't think so." C.J. shrugged. "Besides, you said you didn't miss me."
"I was lying, C.J. I did miss you, just not your job."
"How can they be separate to you?"
"How can they not?"
"Abbey," C.J. said, incredulously. "I am what I do. I spend too much time doing it to be anything else."
"So, it's the press secretary having late night visits with...Abbey Bartlet or the First Lady?"
"You know that's not what I meant."
"Then explain it to me because I don't understand how you can be the job but expect me to be something else."
"You are something else. You always have been."
"You've known that all along, C.J. What do you want me to do about it now?"
C.J. stood in agitation and walked over to her desk, putting as much distance between her and Abbey as possible.
"You abandoned all of us. You just left, with not so much as a goodbye. You wouldn't even return my phone calls until Zoey agreed to do that interview."
"I wouldn't return the phone calls of the press secretary. You said it yourself. You never called."
C.J. hated the pleading quality to her voice, but she hated more Abbey's silence, the other woman saying nothing after C.J.'s one-word warning. Now, she wished Abbey would argue with her or agree with her or something. Instead, C.J. was left with Abbey's sympathetic gaze, warm brown eyes making C.J. remember the months of separation she'd had to endure. C.J.'s irritation rose as she recalled her doubts.
"I know you were upset with all of us, that you blamed us for what happened to Zoey. Believe me, we all had the same thoughts. But pointing blame wasn't going to do anyone any good, especially after she was found safe. Instead of celebrating, you went into hiding. I..." C.J. stopped and then shook her head, her attention focusing on the wall opposite her, her anger draining from her to be replaced by sadness. "I never even got to tell you how glad I was Zoey was okay. You dismissed me like I wasn't even a part of your life."
"It was the exact opposite actually."
"What do you mean?" C.J. asked, frustration making her words sound harsher than she had intended. She leaned against her desk. She needed the support.
"I was so furious and so scared for so long that after Zoey was safe and I didn't have to be as scared, all I had left was the fury. Jed..." Abbey sighed. "Jed didn't understand. I didn't expect anyone to. I didn't really understand myself, but I did know I had to work through it." She looked up then, meeting C.J.'s eyes. "I didn't take your comfort, C.J., because I couldn't want it. It's such a struggle to stay away from you, and I know if I had allowed myself the leisure of having you, I wouldn't have been able to walk away when it was time for us to part. I...I had to make a decision."
For a long moment, the two women just stared at each other until C.J. analyzed the First Lady's words.
Laughing bitterly, she said, "And you made it. What was it exactly?" C.J. knew she was pushing, but she felt she had no choice. She had to understand.
"C.J. Please. Don't."
"No, Abbey. I want to hear it. What decision did you make?"
"You know, just like you know what this is," Abbey said, the softness gone from her voice. "You've known from the beginning. No matter how much I care for you, this is still an affair. No amount of chocolate cake or unqualified declarations are going to change that. My daughter was kidnapped and you're worried about how you felt. Are you that uncertain about what we're doing? Because if you are, then we need to stop right now. I'm not willing to risk everything for nothing. I've done that already and I almost lost."
"I know." C.J. turned her gaze away. "God, Abbey, I know."
Again, Abbey sighed and then stood, walking toward C.J., stopping a few feet away.
"Why don't you tell me why we're really arguing?"
C.J. laughed. "Hatred, as well as love, renders its votaries credulous."
"Rousseau? You know he experienced paranoid fantasies."
"Don't we all?"
"You don't hate me, C.J."
"I know," C.J. said, sobering at the change in tone, from light to dark to all shades of gray. Abbey took another step forward.
"And neither of us is naive."
"Oh that we were."
"At least we'd have an excuse."
C.J. closed her eyes, contentment winning over guilt as she felt Abbey's arms encircling her shoulders, pulling them closer.
"I like this arrangement," Abbey said, her breath warm against C.J.'s neck. "It's nice to be the same height as you."
C.J. chuckled, her own arms sneaking around Abbey's waist, settling them into a hug, squeezing gently before she pulled back to look Abbey in the eyes.
"That was a tall joke," C.J. said.
Abbey just smiled and then leaned forward, meeting C.J.'s lips for one kiss, then another. As C.J.'s tongue traced Abbey's bottom lip, Abbey opened her mouth, drawing C.J. nearer and deepening their connection.
As one of C.J.'s hands slipped under Abbey's jacket, Abbey pulled away, a tender smile lighting her expression.
"I have to go before I can't."
"What happens when you can't?" C.J. asked as Abbey buttoned her jacket, preparing to leave.
"I don't know, C.J."
"Abbey," C.J. said, stopping the First Lady before she could open the door. "Seduction complete."
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