Title: Big Trouble in Little China
Fandom: The West Wing
Spoilers: mid-season 6, the aftermath of the China trip (so up to 6.10?)
Summary: It's been a long few days, and CJ could use a little comfort.
Written for the International Day of Slash Challenge at sorkinverse
The sheer effort of concealing the worry, of forcing professional smiles and adhering to diplomatic protocols would be exhausting enough, coupled with the long flights and jarring changes in timezones, but CJ has been tired for seven years and that's not what's pushing her over the edge tonight.
Maybe it's the panic in Abbey Bartlet's eyes, something CJ has never seen before. Maybe it's the memory of the President, one of the strongest and most vivid men she's ever known, being bodily carried from the plane by the new body man who isn't Charlie and never will be. Maybe she's just had enough and this job isn't getting any easier and the rewards are actually getting smaller.
None of which explains why she's sitting alone in her office, only one lamp lit as she cries into the Kleenex that until now has simply been a decorative touch on her desk. Margaret has gone home, the look on CJ's face apparently enough to avert the usual half hour of bartering about Margaret not leaving until her boss does. They're all tired; they all need to grab the rest while they can, because the end is coming and they won't want the time once they have it.
Kate knocks, because some rules cannot be broken, though she can see CJ from the outer office and the gesture isn't necessary. CJ didn't know what to make of the Deputy NSA at first, but she's starting to wonder how they survived six years without her. Nancy would have been great in a crisis too, of course, but there's something about Kate's less obviously intimidating demeanour that makes CJ simply like having her around. There's no baggage from unresolved fights about Qumar and Johannesburg, no simmering resentments pushed down beneath the professional veneers.
There's an awkwardness about Kate sometimes, and while CJ has every faith in the other woman's ability to switch languages five times in one conversation, or strip down explosives in seconds flat, she senses that Kate isn't entirely comfortable around other people. It's a rare weakness in her Marine Barbie facade and CJ clings to it sometimes when the conflicting job descriptions force them into disagreement. Still, all told, Kate is more of an asset than almost anyone else could be, and of all the people who might be disturbing her in a moment of weakness, CJ's pretty comfortable that it's Commander Harper doing the disturbing.
"Hey. Hell of a trip, huh?"
Kate sits without being asked, and CJ knows that forced casualness doesn't come easily. CJ is technically a superior, and it would have taken a lot for Kate to do so without waiting for permission. These little gestures have been increasing in recent weeks, from the late night Chinese food over an all-too-real game of Risk played out on CJ's overcrowded desk, to a casual brushing of hands in tense moments. There have been laughs amidst the ideological debates, and maybe it's presumptuous, but CJ thinks the two of them are developing a great working relationship, step by cautious step.
'I never thought I'd miss the days when he kept us up for eight hours on the plane discussing the fjords."
Kate nods in understanding, though the reference is before her time. Maybe there's a security briefing memo on it somewhere: the President's eclectic trivia questions that he's tormented the staff with since taking office.
The tears have stopped at least, whether from forcing a smile or just because she's cried out for now, CJ couldn't possibly say. She reaches for the coat and briefcase that she abandoned on the sofa cushion and stands to indicate that the day is over. Kate has no file in her hands, no sense of urgency about her, and CJ is reasonably confident that there won't be a last-minute crisis to keep her in the office. She misses her own bed more than usual tonight, not just because of the distance she's travelled, but the comfort of the familiar is calling to her pretty damn loudly.
So she doesn't notice at first that Kate is walking out with her. It's not unusual, after all. Frequently, they seem to be the last two leaving the building on any given evening, and its as close as they ever get to routine here in the circus that never ends, where no two days are ever close to being the same.
CJ doesn't think to question it when Kate nods at the Secret Service agents and doesn't head off towards her own car. There's a moment of hesitation, a question that CJ doesn't know how to ask. Her job for so long has been finding words for the unthinkable: divulging death, destruction, failure and deception. It's been too long since she could ask for anything for herself, anything she actually wanted. Kate, capable as ever, does it for her.
"Ask me over for a drink, CJ."
CJ smiles to cover her awkardness.
"Hey, Kate? Do you want to come to my place? Maybe have a glass of wine and say goodbye to this whole sorry week?"
Kate laughs, then nods. CJ would be hard pressed to explain why it pleases her so much, but it does. They slip into the back seat of the town car, briefcases and purses thrown haphazardly into the space between them. Usually, CJ would pull a briefing memo or two to read on the short journey home, but her eyes are tired and it would probably be rude. Kate doesn't fidget, or remove anything from her own bags.
All too soon, they're pulling up outside CJ's apartment building and the strangeness overwhelms the comfortable silence. The agents perform a perfunctory sweep, and then the two women are left standing in the hallway.
CJ reaches out to take Kate's coat from her, the offer of a spicy Merlot dying on her lips as she makes contact with the other woman's hand. It can't really be electricity that passes between them, but Kate's fingers feel so warm against her own, even in that fleeting second.
So when Kate steps forward to kiss her, CJ doesn't protest. Instead of pointing out that she hasn't kissed women since Berkeley, or that this is a potentially idiotic idea, she kisses Kate back. Hard, and like she means it.
Because Kate isn't married, and Kate won't complain when CJ's alarm goes off at five, even on a Saturday. Because Kate is here, and she's a really good kisser, and CJ feels a lot more alive than she has on the rare, stuffy dates she's managed to fit in over the past few years.