DISCLAIMER: We've heard it all before but in case someone wasn't listening, they don't belong to me. I wish they did but they don't. I'm just borrowing them so they can have a little fun outside of the politics of D.C.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Italics indicate a flashback -- VERY IMPORTANT!!! This is after Dead Irish Writers (3.16) but before Enemies Foreign and Domestic (3.20). The flashbacks are directly during or after TFGKY (2.20).
SERIES/SEQUEL: The fifth part of the Repetition series following Broken Record, Habit, Deja Vu and Deja Vu Again.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
C.J. takes her place at the podium in the half-full pressroom. She glances around at the bored looking reporters, noticing the lack of enthusiasm coming from the room. It's days like this, she muses, that makes her wonder why she loves her job so much.
"Good afternoon," she intones dryly. Various responses are muttered but she ignores them as she launches into her briefing. She begins to cover the news of the day, fielding questions easily. She is good at this, and she knows it, as she completely controls the chaos of the press corp.
"C.J., have the president's plans for the California trip changed?" a reporter from the Times asks.
"No, not at this stage but when or if they do, you'll be the fortieth to know about it."
She earns a few random chuckles from the reporters who are familiar with her sense of humor.
"Okay, moving on."
Sighing, the press secretary glares over the rim of her glasses at the reporter who interrupted her.
"Does the White House have a comment on Senator Chapman's recent announcement that he will not support the new amendment to the animal rights bill?"
Glancing toward the back of the room, she notices someone enter the glass-encased press box, but she keeps her attention on the Q and A session she is leading. Taking a moment she begins to answer the question posed. As she looks up, her gaze falls again on the press box and she is unprepared for the piercing brown eyes that meet her own. Her concentration wavers as she recognizes the warmth emanating from the other woman's stare. Allowing the familiar comfort to wash over her, she fights back the smile that wants to edge its way across her face. This is not the time or the place.
"I, uh, I..." she looks down at her notes quickly in an attempt to gather her focus. As she moves on, she mentally berates herself for the stumble. Her mind is filled with questions as she continues the briefing and she silently reminds herself to breath. She's not sure how they could explain the White House Press Secretary passing out in the middle of an interview.
In the press box, Abbey crosses her arms over her chest and allows her eyes to linger on the other woman's body, a tingling sensation sweeping her own. A smile slowly creeps onto her face as she catches C.J.'s hesitation when their eyes lock for a second.
Standing behind the podium, C.J.'s long legs are hidden from view and Abbey's disappointment at this becomes a sigh, turning her smile into a frown. Watching the press secretary distractedly tuck an errant strand of golden-brown hair behind her left ear, Abbey's attention is drawn to the other woman's neck, and she unconsciously licks her now dry lips.
Hearing the door open, she turns toward the sound. A young man sorting files enters, and, laying one stack on the table in the press box, turns to come face to face with the First Lady of the United States.
"I'm sorry, ma'am, I didn't realize anyone was in here."
She glances at him and flashes an amused smile.
"I'm just filling time while waiting for my husband to finish a phone call," she explains patiently. "I hope I'm not in the way."
"Of course not," he stammers and a flush rises to his cheeks. "I'm sorry," he says again. "I should have guessed, the agents outside. I..."
She laughs quietly.
"Henry," he quickly supplies.
"Henry. What is it that you do here?"
"I'm one of C.J.'s deputies." Abbey turns, giving him her full attention.
"Really. Do you enjoy your job?"
"Yes, ma'am," he answers enthusiastically. "I love it."
The first lady returns her attention to the window and Henry hesitantly comes to stand beside her. She absently notices how nervous he is and how young. She wonders if he will ever learn to keep his feelings out of his soft blue eyes. C.J. can do that she muses; she can hide her emotions so well. "This is the first live press conference I've seen her give in almost a year," she tells him to fill the silence that has descended.
"I watch as often as possible. It's how I learn." He continues after a pause. "She's always so in control, always so strong and consistent. She's only made one major mistake in her career as the president's press secretary, but she had so much on her mind it was understandable. It's the only time I've ever seen her that upset," he says almost distractedly, his eyes focused intently on his boss.
Abbey cringes imperceptibly at his words, knowing that she played a part in C.J.'s distress. Her heart aches for the pain she has caused the other woman and for the missed opportunities since then to offer and receive comfort. A silence blankets them once again as they both turn their attention back to the press conference. A long moment passes before a beep breaks the quietness.
"I'm sorry, ma'am. If you'll excuse me, duty calls," Henry says as he holds up his pager. She smiles politely and nods her understanding.
"Of course. It was nice to meet you, Henry." The blush returns to his cheeks as he grins brightly.
"The privilege was mine. Have a great day, ma'am." As he leaves, the first lady once again directs her concentration to the press secretary but Henry's words continue to haunt her. In her mind, she can remember the night almost a year ago that C.J. found out about the MS. It is their first conversation afterward that keeps her awake some nights and their parting words that put the gap between them that they had just recently started to close.
"When the president has his physical and I do the release, I only ever ask, 'is there anything else I need to know.'"
Abbey nodded when C.J. met her gaze but the press secretary couldn't hold her eyes. The first lady watched as the resignation and self-disgust passed over her friend's face. Losing her inner battle, she moved to stand in front of C.J. who was still sitting on the arm of the couch. For once, they were the same height and the first lady allowed herself the indulgence of enjoying C.J.'s warm breath on her neck before pulling the other woman close. The press secretary's arms immediately went about her companion's waist as Abbey tightened her hold. Neither said a word for a long moment, choosing, instead, to bask in the comfort of their physical contact. Abbey tangled her finger in CJ's hair and shut her eyes.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, suddenly feeling the crushing weight of regret fall upon her. "I didn't realize it would be this hard." Wanting more, Abbey began to trail her lips over C.J.'s forehead, softly placing harmless kisses on the skin she found there.
She felt C.J. nod against her chest then lift her head. Abbey opened her eyes to see C.J. staring at her. She let her fingers linger on the press secretary's cheek.
Somewhere in the haze of C.J.'s skin, Abbey's perfume, and leaning toward each other, a ring broke through. C.J.'s sigh tickled Abbey's neck as the press secretary dropped her head to rest on the other woman's shoulder.
"I'd better get that," she said resignedly. Untangling herself from Abbey's embrace, she crossed the room and angrily answered the phone. "C.J. Cregg." Picking up the pen she had thrown onto her desk earlier, she tapped it against a notebook as she impatiently listened to the caller. "Yeah. Okay. I'll be right there." She hung up the phone and faced her visitor, dropping the pen as she took in the first lady's slightly flushed appearance. Taking a deep breath, she prepared herself to walk away from the woman in front of her. "That was Babish's office. I have to go." Abbey merely nodded. Breaking eye contact, C.J. started toward the door.
"C.J.," Abbey huskily whispered. "We'll talk again." This time C.J. was the one who nodded, not trusting her own voice after hearing the tone of Abbey's. Walking out, she prayed the first lady was making her a promise.
Abbey stared out at the stars. She knew she should leave C.J.'s office but she had an intense desire to finish the conversation they had started before the press secretary had been called away. She allowed her mind to wander and it settled on the soft skin of the other woman's neck. Suddenly, she was forced back to reality when the door opened. She knew it was C.J. and the smile was automatic.
"I thought you would have left," C.J. said icily when she returned from a meeting with Babish to find Abbey staring out her office window. Turning toward the press secretary standing in the doorway, the first lady did not visibly flinch at the other woman's hostile demeanor.
"And I thought we still had things to discuss," she responded, surprised at the coldness in C.J.'s tone.
"Not unless there's something else you would like to apologize for not telling me? Anything else that could cost me my career and my credibility?" She paused but Abbey had no answer for her. "Oh, never mind. You're not here enough to know what's going on."
The press secretary's words hit Abbey hard and she closed her eyes for a moment. CJ continued anyway.
"You don't seem to realize, Abbey, that we go down with him. We're finished in politics, all of us. Our reputations are ruined." C.J. laughed bitterly. "And why? Because we're suppose to know about these things. We were supposed to be told so that we could do our jobs and protect him." Shaking her head, C.J. continued, "After this, you can go back to being a doctor, to what you love. We can't. This is what we love and it's been taken away from us. Damn it. You pretended to be my friend. You swore you would never lie to me."
"C.J...," Abbey began but the press secretary refused to listen.
"You promised. Do you remember the night you promised me that? I'll never forget it. The guys were playing poker in Josh's suite. We escaped, had too much to drink, and fell asleep in my room. I woke up to you staring at me. Do you remember?"
C.J. relived that moment in her mind. She could almost feel the cotton sheets tangled around her feet and the tingling sensation of Abbey close to her, drawing idle circles on her t-shirt clad side.
Abbey eyed her critically for a moment and wondered what had made the younger woman so upset. Taking a step closer to the press secretary, she was even more surprised when C.J. moved away from her.
"C.J., what did Babish say to you?"
"Nothing that I don't already know, which is unusual considering I'm normally the last to know everything."
C.J. caught the flash of hurt that passed over Abbey's features and almost stopped before causing either of them more pain. Her anger, however, had been building and it felt better than the betrayal coursing through her.
"You said that you had made me a promise and you wanted me to know you meant it. And then...you...we were so close when the phone rang. Story of our lives it seems." C.J.'s harsh voice softened to a whisper, the hurt shining through. "You were lying to me even as you made that promise, Abbey." A moment of silence settled around them before C.J. shook her head, her anger returning full force.
"Damn it, Abbey, I believed you." C.J. brushed passed the other woman to stand behind the desk before finally looking directly at her. She straightened to her full height, making the distance between them even greater.
"I won't make that mistake again," she continued, her voice demonstrating a strength she did not feel. "I serve at the pleasure of the president," she stated coolly, her tone becoming neutral, completely professional. "We should both remember that...ma'am."
Abbey began to argue, to tell her she was wrong. She knew what C.J. was insinuating, felt the pain of the other woman's words, but the truth in those words was what really hurt. She wondered what she should do next. Looking into C.J.'s hard eyes, she saw nothing of the warmth she had come to expect and the decision was made for her.
"Yes," she replied coldly. "I suppose we should." She turned and walked away, shutting the door behind her.
C.J. stared at the closed door before collapsing into her chair.
"What have I done?" she asked the now empty room. The silence was her only answer.
The beginning of the end Abbey muses as she thinks back to that night. She continues to watch C.J. control the pressroom and wonders briefly what would have happened if she had decided to argue with the press secretary instead of walking out on her. A knock on the press box door forces her to the present and she turns in time to see Lilly poke her head into the room.
"Ma'am, the president is free now."
She offers her chief-of-staff a smile and follows her out into the hallway, toward the Oval Office.
"By the way, Ron Erhlich left a message for you."
Abbey stops and turns her attention to her assistant.
"Really? What did he want?" she asks, her voice slightly betraying her.
"He just said to tell you hi."
Abbey hesitates before continuing down the hallway, her Secret Service agents clearing her path. She tries to keep her curiosity concerning Ron's visit from consuming her as she steps into the outer office of the Oval. Charlie stands as she enters.
"Go right in, ma'am, he's expecting you."
"Thank you, Charlie." She takes a deep breath and puts her thoughts on a different person as the SSA opens the door.
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