The sounds from the party are distant and muffled as CJ makes her way down the hall, past the Secret Service agents who stand like part of the decor. Her feet are killing her and a dull headache still throbs behind her eyes. She should know better by now, has attended more than enough of these functions to understand that the keys to survival are comfortable shoes and nursing a drink for as long as possible.
Pushing the heavy door open, CJ is relieved to see the stewards haven’t come through yet. The elegant sitting room is in slight disarray, throw pillows scattered about the rumpled furniture. Several bottles of expensive wine stand empty on the coffee table, beside the most useless corkscrew in history.
She starts to move the pillows, searching behind them, tossing them carelessly on the floor.
“Returning to the scene of the crime?”
CJ jumps with a yelp, has to steady herself against the sofa. “Jesus! Mrs. Bartlet, you nearly gave me a heart attack.”
“Good thing there’s a doctor in the house.” Abbey’s lips twist a little sourly. “Well, for now anyway.”
CJ straightens, heart pounding like a hummingbird in her chest, tries to tell herself it’s from the shock of being startled, and not the way Abbey looks in the low, warm light of the room. The fabric of her bronze dress makes a soft swishing noise as she walks further into the room.
“I thought you’d left for the night,” CJ asks.
“I had. Jed got pulled in to something and,” she pauses, swallows. “I guess I didn’t want to be alone.”
This close CJ can see the tiredness in Abbey’s eyes, the tightness around her mouth, and she has to push down the desire to take away the pain lingering there. She knows that, of anyone in the world, Abigail Bartlet doesn’t need her protection, but that doesn’t stop CJ from instinctively wanting to shield her.
“Shouldn’t you still be schmoozing?”
“Sam and Josh have it covered, and I need to work on the morning briefing.” CJ gestures vaguely around herself. “But I seem to have lost my purse.”
“Want some help?”
“Oh, Mrs. Bartlet, no. You don’t need to-”
“Nonsense.” Abbey brushes off her concern with a flip of the hand. “Two heads are better than one, right?” And really, CJ can’t argue with that. They have always made a good team.
They spend a few moments in silence, flipping cushions and moving furniture the only sounds.
Abbey is brandishing the small beaded clutch like a trophy, and CJ sighs gratefully as she crosses the room, reaches out to take it from her hand.
Their fingers brush lightly, a crackle of electricity between. CJ looks down at Abbey, wishes for a moment she could kick off her heels, bring them closer in height. The atmosphere between them thickens, stretches, and CJ finds she can’t look away from the intensity of Abbey’s dark eyes.
“I’m sorry,” she says, when the silence becomes too much. “About before. I was out of line.”
“No, you weren’t. You were honest.” Uncertainty creeps into Abbey’s expression, brow furrowing slightly. “I miss when we used to talk like that.”
CJ swallows hard, tries to hold back the tidal wave of memories that threatens to drown her. Memories of the campaign trail, of late nights spent holed up in nondescript hotel rooms, swigging cheap wine straight from the bottle and talking ‘til dawn about anything and everything. Falling asleep on accident, which somehow always led to waking up curled together, Abbey’s chestnut hair spilling across CJ’s chest.
Other memories. The ones she has to fight against in the dark, sleepless hours of the night. Of hot, trembling hands on her skin, moans muffled by soft lips, limbs tangled, sliding against too crisp sheets, the faint smell of bleach overlaid by expensive perfume and the tang of sex.
Guilt rises in CJ’s throat like bile, thick and hot, the ever present spectre in her mind. A part of her clings to the guilt, to the sharp pain of it, holds it up as a shield against the part of her that wants to reach out take Abbey’s hand, to trace the line where bronze silk meets soft skin. To hold her close and never let go again.
She knows she should walk away, that they’re far too close to the line the drew under this before the election, too close to breaking the promises they made to each other, to themselves. But Abbey is looking at her like that again, and all CJ has left is the truth.
“I miss it too.”
Abbey’s eyes soften, and she shifts closer, the vulnerability that she normally hides so clear it makes CJ’s heart clench painfully in her chest.
“I’m going to give up my license.”
“I don’t know what I am if I’m not a doctor.” Her husky voice is pitched low, as if she’s telling a secret. CJ thinks maybe she is.
She looks so lost, so young. Before CJ can even think she’s reaching out, curling her fingers around Abbey’s, her skin just as soft as she remembers.
“You’re Abbey,” CJ says simply, and Abbey lets out a wet-sounding laugh.
“I don’t think I know who that is anymore. I’m just the first lady. A figurehead on the prow of my husband’s career.”
The bitterness in her voice cuts at CJ, and all the reasons why this is a terrible idea fall away.
“You’ll always be Abbey to me.”
The press of Abbey’s lips is unexpected, short circuits CJ’s brain long enough that her body takes over, remembers how perfectly they fit together. The crisp silk of Abbey’s dress rustles as CJ clutches her close, opens eagerly to the swipe of Abbey’s tongue. She tastes of lipstick and champagne and CJ gets lost in the feeling.
She keeps her eyes closed as Abbey pulls away, wants to hold on to this feeling for just a moment longer, doesn’t want to let the real world back in. Fingers squeeze tights a moment, and she feels a brush of lips against her cheek, a swirl of spicy perfume enveloping her.
CJ stands, eyes closed, listens to the rustle of fabric as Abbey walks away.