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: I wanted to do an installment consisting mostly of dialog. Although every part starts out as a conversation between C.J. and Abbey, most of them evolve into an explanation and sharing of inner feelings. Considering the powerful episode this installment of Repetition is based upon, I decided not to explore any deeper aspects of these two women and just focus on how they interact with each other. I can only hope I've succeeded.
SPOILERS: Most definitely for (3.20) "Posse Comitatus." Minor spoilers for (3.1 & 3.2) "Manchester."
SERIES/SEQUEL: The eighth part of the Repetition series following Broken Record, Habit, Deja Vu, Deja Vu Again, Consistent, Another, Over and Again.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
C.J. noticed the Secret Service agents immediately. Slowing her step as she neared her office, she eyed the intimating figures without acknowledging their presence. She had a suspicious feeling they were there as a reminder of what she had lost but also of what she could not have - two sides of the same coin.
"How was the staff meeting?" Carol asked, drawing C.J.'s attention away from the shadowy pillars and the unmovable personality she suspected they were protecting.
"Long. Get me some information on the new educational agreement and make copies of the President's trip itinerary."
"Sure. Your morning briefing is in ten and the First Lady..."
"I know. Give us a minute."
C.J. took a breath before entering her office, not at all surprised to find Dr. Bartlet sitting on her sofa. Closing the door behind her, she spared only a cursory glance at the First Lady. Realizing she was comfortable with the intimacy of the personal visit despite the circumstances, the younger woman took her place behind her desk in order to resist the temptation Abigail Bartlet radiated. The press secretary mentally counted, waiting for Abbey's matter-of-fact approach. She only made it to the number three before Abbey threw out one of her customary non-sequitors. They were both good at fast conversation.
"Your couch is more comfortable than mine."
"I spend more time on mine than you do yours."
"Are you saying you work harder than I do?"
"No, but it helps to avoid sleeping in your office when your home is only 300 feet away."
"Granted, there are advantages to my position, but there are also disadvantages, as you know."
C.J. paused, taking a moment to study her guest over the rim of her glasses before putting down the briefing memo she was scanning. She was both wary of and grateful for the other woman's presence. She knew she could find solace in the First Lady's words, but she didn't want comfort, especially from the person she felt she was betraying with her grief. She wanted to remember only what she had to in order to survive and wanted to forget the rest, including how this woman sitting across from her now would be someone else's greatest love as soon as they parted.
"Abbey, please don't."
"So, you are capable of looking at me. I was beginning to wonder. You haven't made eye contact since you walked into this office."
"Are you going to have me bound and quartered for disrespect?"
"How are you?"
"I thought you were in Seattle," C.J. answered, purposely avoiding the actual question. She started gathering her folders, files of information she had memorized the night before on Air Force One while their subject was encased safely in the bowels of the plane.
"I came back." It was an announcement; they both knew it. Only C.J. felt the remorse the statement brought, a now familiar emotion. "You should have called me last night."
"Why? There was nothing you could have done."
"C.J." And there was the warning she had been expecting. No matter what they were or became to each other, Abigail Bartlet would always carry with her a threatening and irresistible confidence. The time for word play was over.
"I just left a two hour briefing where I sat surrounded by people who couldn't look at me. I've been in the building three hours and was met at the door by Sam who felt it was his responsibility to coddle me before my morning coffee. Twelve hours ago I watched as the corner put the man I've been quasi-dating in a body bag. How do you think I am?"
There was no menace in her voice, no anger or sadness. Abbey recognized the professional persona, had watched as it slid into place as they talked, but she could also see through it, had earned the honor with long nights and almost kisses.
"I've come close to being in the same situation," Abbey reminded C.J. gently.
"I never saw you cry."
"You had shut me out of your life by then."
"We were in our first year, Abbey, and then our second. After the election, after we won, everything changed."
"Not everything. I still wanted to see you, to spend time with you, but you started calling me ma'am and stopped talking to me like a person."
"I had to do that. I had to..."
"Separate us, put me in my place in your life? You don't see a lot of things, C.J., because you don't want to."
"What do you want from me?" Desperation was laced in her tone but not quite pity. Abbey was pleased for that at least.
"I want to be your friend. I want to help you."
Faltering, C.J. asked, "I...my friend? You don't want more than that?"
"I do, but I'm no longer sure what you want."
"Neither am I," C.J. sighed, a hallow sound edged by sadness. A knock disturbed their moment, C.J.'s voice small in the space. "Come in."
"I'm sorry to interrupt, but they're ready for you," Carol said, directing her apology to one woman and her reminder to the other.
"Yeah, I'll be right there," C.J. said even as her assistant was shutting the door. She turned her attention back to the woman sitting on the sofa, allowed them both a long moment of silent communication. Finally, "Just give me some time. Don't give up on me, but give me some time." Hopefulness.
"I'll be here."
Nodding, C.J. smiled - a touch of happiness hitting her eyes - before standing and making her way to her office door. She paused with her hand on the doorknob but didn't turn around.
"Abbey, I didn't feel for him like I do for you. I'm not sure I ever would have, but it hurts not knowing, hurts that I did that to myself."
With that admission, C.J. opened her door and walked through, leaving the First Lady in silence, her own voice already strong as she fell into her customary role.
Abbey bore witness as C.J. slipped into the armor she wore so comfortably, blending into her Chanel suit, silk and steel. She watched until she could no longer see the taller woman in the winding corridors of the West Wing, and then she picked up the remote and turned the sound up to listen to C.J.'s briefing. Taking her place behind her podium, the press secretary shuffled some papers before glancing at the representatives from assorted media franchises. Abbey saw the pain reflected in the blue eyes even as C.J. hid it, the last remnants of the woman becoming the job.
"Last night at approximately 10 p.m., Secret Service Agent Simon Donovan was shot while attempting to prevent an armed robbery at a local gas station. He had subdued one assailant when another pulled a .38 revolver, shooting him point blank in the chest. He died on the scene. Agent Donovan was born and raised in Chicago. He attended West Point on a full scholarship and graduated with honors. After serving six years in the Army, he was honorably discharged. Before joining the Secret Service, he was a Chicago police officer for nine years, earning commendations from his force, the major, and the governor. In addition..."
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