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: This switches from C.J.'s pov to Abbey's. In canon, this is directly after Dead Irish Writers but before Enemies Foreign and Domestic.
SERIES/SEQUEL: The seventh part of the Repetition series following Broken Record, Habit, Deja Vu, Deja Vu Again, Consistent and Another.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
"C.J., you'll be fine with the First Lady?" Leo asks as we're walking to Air Force One. It's an abrupt change from our political conversation in the car.
"Yeah," I answer him. At his skeptical look, I just smile, grateful for his understanding. "We'll be fine, Leo." He studies my face for a long moment before nodding, outwardly content with my assurances.
"Okay. We'll see you tomorrow. Keep an eye on the boys."
I wave to the President as he's getting on the plane before slipping back into one of the waiting limos. A few minutes later we're racing down Pennsylvania Avenue on the way back to the White House. Once we arrive, I head directly to my office.
"There you are," Carol says as soon as she sees me. "You have a meeting in five with the First Lady. I didn't think you were going with the motorcade?"
"I wasn't," I answer as I flip through a stack of messages she's just given me. "I'll be with the First Lady most of the afternoon, at least until the evening briefing. Page me if anything comes up."
I make my way through the halls to the East Wing, my confidence fading with each step. Although I've made this walk a hundred times before, I never know what to expect once I fully enter Abigail Bartlet's domain. Her power is prominent no matter where we are, but here it is showcased, draped across the halls like fine silk as a reminder that is she is more than a wife. I shudder at the thought of that particular role, one of many she plays, and try to keep back the envy tugging at the corner of my mind. The door to Abbey's office is open so I hear her before I see her, the unmistakable voice drawing me from my reflections. The secretary, whose name I don't remember, smiles at me but her attention is on her boss, an act that the First Lady seems to inspire. The woman in question appears a few seconds later, her glasses on, a folder in her hands.
"Claudia Jean," she greets warmly, and I don't try to stop the smile that forms at her timbre.
"Dr. Bartlet," I respond respectfully. She motions for me to follow her, throwing instructions at her assistant as we walk out. A moment later we're safely ensconced in the same room where we drank ourselves silly not long ago. Recent memories become even clearer in my mind, and I have to force myself not to close my eyes at the intensity of my longing.
"I've decided I like this closet," she says, pulling me out of my musings. I smile at the recurring joke from the night of her birthday party.
"It does have a certain quaint charm to it," I finally reply, my humor earning me a low chuckle. "Dr. Bartlet," I venture, moving closer to where she's standing at the back of the room busily looking at her date book, which was there waiting for her. "Were you looking for me earlier?"
She glances up at me, my uncertainty seemingly making her unsure of herself. But as I watch, a slow, almost seductive smile forms on her lips, and I know she's made a decision about a quandary I wasn't even aware she was experiencing.
"No," she answers. "Just walking through and thought I would stop to enjoy the scenery."
Before I realize she's moved, she's sitting in the same spot where she sat the last time we were here. I'm left wide-eyed and open-mouthed, staring at the back of her head. I can feel my temperature rising, the heat finding its way to my face and my blood finding its way to other locations.
"Abbey," I choke out, not sure what else to say. Our flirting is usually covert, done only in our secret language with a complete understanding of the restrictions that we long to disregard safe yet tempting.
"Come now, C.J., sit down. We have to work out a schedule for my appearances. You have to approve everything, so you might as well enjoy the power while you have it. How often do I allow for such a thing, hmm?"
"You seem to give it over easily in this room," I retort, my brain still trying to wrap around her previous statement. She turns to look at me then, all playfulness gone from her expression.
She gingerly takes a seat next to me, and I hear her sigh at causing such an abrupt alteration in the atmosphere. I knew better than to play games with her, especially such dangerous ones.
"I should have...Donna shouldn't have been the one," she finally says. Her tone is strained, a mixture of sad and angry. I want to tell her she's right, that she should have been the one whose candor forced me to choose the honorable decision in regards to my censure. But C.J. and I share only as much truth as our positions allow, always conscious of boundaries not sheltered by friendship.
"I seem to recall being fairly irate with you the last time you were honest with me," I tell her by way of an apology, both for outwardly flirting with her and my hateful behavior months earlier.
"Manchester," C.J. states.
I nod at the imaginary question. "You were angry with me after that."
"You had every right to be."
"I know," she answers, revealing more than obvious agreement. A long hush fills the room giving us both time to rejoice in things not said. Our downfall has always been the silence. "Before he left, Leo asked if I'd be okay."
I'm not surprised by the admission. I knew it was C.J.'s idea to have me introduce Jed at the announcement ceremony a couple of months ago. I also knew Leo had approached me about it as his way of asking for C.J.'s forgiveness. He was well aware she wouldn't want to face me again so soon after I had spoken so harshly to her. His worry, then and now, is a testament to how badly I hurt her. As regret once again settles into my chest, I also suffer the reoccurring ache of jealousy. Even though I understand Leo's reasoning for today's inquiry, I'm not comfortable with his concern.
"I'm not sure he had the right."
"As much as anyone else I suppose," she says lightly. I feel the sting of her words through her soft tone.
"He was hard on you after " I let the sentence trail off with a wave of my hand. I don't want any more reminders today.
"So were you," is her immediate reply, a bit of resentment around the edges.
"You forgave me."
"You offered me wine."
"What did Leo offer you?"
"Protection from you."
And with that she has forced another hole in my already crumbling defenses. It occurs to me that our entire relationship is dependent on a variety of three-word phrases, most of which we never say. I wonder, suddenly, why we have never made a declaration of our feelings, but just as swiftly as the thought emerges, it vanishes. Nothing is obvious with us and trying to describe what we are to each other is too complicated to explain. Instead, we hide behind what is safe and tell ourselves that we are not more than what we appear to be because we have never said the words that would make our lives a sin. At times like now, as I watch her fighting to regain control of her emotions, I curse the excuses which keep us together and apart.
"You should never be afraid of me," I tell her, but I know I'm lying. I want her to be just as afraid of me as I am of her.
"I know," she answers, sincere in her desire. I see a familiar shine in her eyes as she continues, "But you are the First Lady of the United States and a doctor. I don't want to take any chances of evoking your wrath. Been there; done that."
"I've heard almost the same about you," I reply, grateful that the tension is receding. "I know Josh is scared of you. Even Leo knows when not to push too hard."
"Speaking of which, Leo will be calling in a little while and we still haven't worked out your schedule."
Although I comprehend why and what she's doing, the jagged pain of being put back on track has the ability to suck the life from me.
"Have you looked at the list?" I ask.
At C.J.'s tender glance, I know she recognizes the hurt in my voice. She understands, and until today, that has always been enough for us.
"Yes, and these are the appearances I think you should make," she says as she hands me a slip of paper. We both settle into our assigned roles once again. "Skip the afternoon talk shows, at least for now, because they will focus more on getting a rise out of you than the topics at hand. Dateline would make a good interview but not for another couple of months. The morning shows and maybe even a few kids' shows would be good."
And so it goes for the next half hour. We talk only about what appearances I should make and which ones I should avoid. She offers simple justification for each decision and I easily agree with her. When she stands to leave, her pager sounding in her hand, I reach out to touch her arm.
Another long moment of silence joins with the dozens we've already had, and our eyes meet in thoughtful consideration of what we now know we will one day say. She nods before bidding me good-bye, and as I watch her leave the room, I know with inexpressible guilt and joy that our imaginary relationship is over.
Return to The West Wing Fiction
Return to Main Page