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: In canon, this is directly after "Enemies Foreign and Domestic" (3.20).
SERIES/SEQUEL: The eighth part of the Repetition series following Broken Record, Habit, Deja Vu, Deja Vu Again, Consistent, Another and Over.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
"Hey, C.J." The voice, reluctant and soft, forced the press secretary's attention from her work, but it didn't matter. She hadn't accomplished anything since returning from the Oval Office a few hours earlier. Glancing up into the worried eyes of Josh, she tried to ignore the concern radiating from his tense smile.
"Come in, mi amour," she sighed. "What can I do for you?" She put away the file she had been pretending to read and turned in her chair to face him.
"I heard about...Are you okay?" he asked abruptly, coming into the office and sitting on the edge of C.J.'s couch. She laughed bitterly and fought the urge to yell.
"Did you lose the coin toss?" Josh's face fell even further at her acerbic tone, and C.J. instantly regretted her attitude. "I'm fine. A little annoyed at being put into the situation, but otherwise I'm fine."
"You wanna talk about it?"
She almost said yes but quickly changed her mind. The last thing she wanted was to feel any more fragile, especially in front of another man in her life. Shaking her head, she smiled in hopes of stemming his apprehension and adding credence to her claim.
"Thank you, but I'm fine."
"You can say that all you want, C.J., but I know from experience saying it doesn't make it true." He stood abruptly and made his way to the door but stopped in the frame. He said, "Despite the business we're in, it's not a sign of weakness to ask for help," and then he was gone.
C.J. watched after him for a long while, letting his words settle in her mind. Finally, she shut her office door and closed the blinds, conscious of the new presence outside her inner sanctum. Getting comfortable on the sofa, she hesitated, running reasons through her head before allowing her need to win over her discretion. Pulling out her cell phone, she dialed a seldom-used number and counted the rings. One, two, thr
Taking a deep breath, C.J. closed her eyes and permitted the rich, warm voice to wrap around her. Even with just one off-handed remark, she knew instantly she had made the right decision.
"C.J.? This is a surprise," she said, her tone mirroring her statement, happiness in every syllable.
"I hope I'm not bothering you. I " Suddenly, C.J. was at a loss of words.
Abbey sat up in bed, her smile fading into a frown as the silence continued. "C.J., honey, what's wrong?"
It was C.J.'s turn to smile. She recognized Abbey's slip into doctor mode, appreciated the worry she heard there, and wished she were in the other woman's presence.
"It's been a long day, and I just " She stumbled over the sentiments, the admission coming hard. "I just wanted to talk to you."
Abbey allowed the moment, enjoyed hearing the confession more than she cared to admit, but she was still unsure where C.J.'s honesty was coming from. It was a level new to them. But Abbey did know C.J., knew the other woman would not step so far outside of their established roles unless necessary. For now, however, she would just bask in the unexpected and wait until they were both ready to deal with whatever had caused the unprocessed ache she heard in C.J.'s voice.
"I'm glad you called," she said because it was what C.J. needed to hear and because it was the truth. "Tell me about your day?"
C.J.'s harsh laughter softened to a low chuckle as she felt the tension being released from her body. She pressed herself deeper into the couch cushions, effectively hiding from the shadows of her office and the dangers outside.
"I don't really want to talk about my day, but I'd love to hear about yours."
"Well, at the moment, I'm catching up on my reading 'Morbidity and Outcome after Mechanical Ventricular Support Using Thoratec, Novacor, and HeartMate for Bridging to Heart Transplantation.'"
"Sounds fascinating," C.J. said dryly, sounding more like herself than she had since she had called.
"It is, and it's a perfect end to an exciting day." C.J. smiled at the sarcasm, recalling an old joke from the early days in the White House.
"I take it you spent your day as First Lady."
"Meet and greets mostly; no world-saving measures today unless, of course, you count right now."
At the gentle tease, C.J. shook her head, not surprised Abbey could be supportive, flirtatious, and subtle all at once. She realized she should have been bothered about the surreal ease of their conversation. Instead, she decided to take the comfort being offered, to deal with her current life with the help of the voice on the other end of the phone.
"I've been receiving threatening emails for the past two weeks," C.J. finally confessed, her explanation coming out in a rush. "The President has forced a Secret Service detail on me because Ron thinks there's something more to these latest letters than just someone blowing off steam. I didn't want to believe them, but the last email contained pictures of me." C.J. stopped to take a breath, to regain control of her emotions. "They were taken less than 20 feet away."
Worry swept through Abbey with C.J.'s every word, and the First Lady sat up straighter. The magazine she had been reading fell to the floor, forgotten in her growing sense of panic. Fighting to remain calm, she closed her eyes at the possibilities flashing through her mind, at the memories always just below the surface.
"Do they know who?" she asked, her voice strong despite her alarm.
"No. Or, if they do, they aren't telling me." C.J. sighed, the frustration evident, and Abbey quickly pushed aside her own feelings of helplessness and fear. C.J. had called her for security, not of her safety but of her perceptions. It was a warming thought to the brunette even then.
"Don't be angry. They may not know who's responsible yet, but I'm sure they'll figure it out soon. In the meantime, they'll keep you safe," she said, a note of conviction to her voice, before adding softly, "I would have pushed protection on you as well."
C.J. scoffed. "You hate having a SS detail being followed, never being alone, constantly hovering. How long did it take for you to get used to them?"
"A while, I admit," Abbey responded, and C.J. could hear the shrug in the other woman's tone. "But I've also learned the importance of having them around, and so have you."
C.J.'s growing irritation dissipated at the mention of Rosslyn, the second she'd heard that day.
"He called me family," she whispered. "When I refused to sign the papers, he told me he wouldn't allow another member of his family to be harmed."
Abbey immediately detected the awe in C.J.'s voice, yet she also heard the confusion and shame. She understood all three emotions, felt the sting of truth from C.J.'s disgrace, but she was disappointed their growing intimacy caused doubts of their closeness.
"You are family, C.J.," she said, trying not to let the hurt seep through her reassurances. "No matter what else you and I are to each other, you are a part of this family, just like Leo and Josh and Sam and Toby and Donna. You've been with us from the beginning, went with us through hell. You deserve your place."
"I'm sometimes not sure what my place is anymore," C.J. revealed, and Abbey knew she wasn't just talking about her job. The silence dragged on, neither woman wanting to placate with uncertain promises. They both knew it was useless to try to live a fairytale. Finally, C.J. sighed. "I'm not sure what to do next," she admitted.
"Go home. Get some sleep. Call me in the morning." C.J. laughed at the cliché, surprised at the lack of remorse in Abbey's demeanor. "C.J., it's okay to be afraid, but you're not alone. I ," Abbey took a deep breath. "We're going to figure this out together. We just need some time, which we'll have if you allow the Secret Service to do its job."
"So I should accept having an extra shadow following me around?"
"If it means you stay safe, yes," Abbey said with as much confidence as she possessed. "You travel with the President. You know the agents stay out of the way and won't interfere with your life. Your call to me tonight proves it."
C.J. cringed at the implication but did not defend her actions. Abbey was right; if C.J. had thought the Secret Service agent outside her office door could understand what she was saying, she would not have made the call.
"Now," Abbey continued lightheartedly. "Let the agents do their jobs so I won't worry as much."
"I will, but you'll worry anyway," C.J. bantered, feeling better about her predicament.
"I never said I would stop, just cut back a little." Both women laughed, the ease returning to their conversation, until C.J. yawned. "When was the last time you got more than a few hours sleep?"
"I can't remember back that far."
"Then you should go home, get some rest. You'll feel better tomorrow."
"I feel better tonight," C.J. responded, adding haltingly, "Thank you, Abbey."
"Good night, C.J. Sweet dreams."
Hanging up the phone, the First Lady glanced around her bedroom noticing the reminders of her life. She allowed her mind only a brief moment of worry for the future, knowing she could not afford to focus on the subject too long. She knew she was in a place she never thought she'd be, both figuratively and literally, yet she also knew she could no more stop what was happening between herself and C.J. then she could have stopped Jed from running for president. She settled under the blankets, but before turning out her light, she said a silent prayer for C.J.'s safety, for the safety of all those she loved, and hoped for a peaceful solution to the inner turmoil racking both her and the lanky press secretary. Lord knows, she thought, I never meant to fall in love again.
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