TITLE: All The King's Horses
AUTHOR: Ellen Milholland [email@example.com]
RATING: somewhere between R and NC-17, I suppose
CODES: girlslash, CJ/Joey Lucas.
ARCHIVE: Ask, please.
SPOILERS: Set, say, somewhere after TFGKY. No specific spoilers, but the timeframe might be helpful.
DISCLAIMERS: Standard. Lyric from Tori Amos' "Hey Jupiter."
SUMMARY: "And this is like a dream, not a nightmare but some strangely lit approximation of reality where actual people become strangers acting wholly out of character."
For Marie-Claude. It was her challenge, and I'm not sure I've done it justice.
All The King's Horses by Ellen Milholland
* "your apocalypse was fab for a girl who couldn't choose" *
"Josh Lyman is an asshole."
It's strange, because no matter how many drinks she's had, that phrase has managed to remain utterly understandable all night.
It is her mantra for the evening, because she has realized it again for the millionth time, and she's possibly angrier with him than she ever has been before. And because this is all really her fault, in some cliché sort of way, she is even angrier with herself, and she's never really known a better method of self-flagellation than overdrinking and looking foolish in front of total strangers.
She alternates between tequila shots and bottles of Dos Equis; probably, she muses incomprehensibly to the man at a neighboring barstool, the only two worthwhile things coming out of the great country of Mexico these days. Each shot of Cuervo makes her more nauseous, and, more than once, she considers just giving in and throwing up but decides that there's no reason to ruin a perfectly brilliant bout of drunkenness so messily. Besides, she reasons, these pants were just dry-cleaned, and there's every reason to think she would just get them dirty.
And so, instead, she sucks at slices of lime, trying to break the oily sourness coating her tongue, and she nurses a beer while deciding how she's going to get out of this mess, because as hard as she's tried, she has yet to get drunk enough to forget about the source of her current anger.
Go back to California, that's the most obvious and the least possible, because she's tied into her Washington position, back at the White House, and she knows that she wouldn't abandon Bartlet even if she could. She likes him, likes what he stands for, understands what it means to have this incomprehensible thing that makes him different. He is being eaten away from the inside, and that is, perhaps, something she can understand, as well.
And she likes Washington, despite the humidity and the business suits and the self-conscious garishness of the people and the memorials and the Washington Monument. She likes the sky during nor'easters, the sense of history and of importance wafting from every building, the feeling that they are changing things here.
She doesn't want to go back to hopeless senators and congressmen. She doesn't want to go back to the particular brand of boredom or snobbery or impotence that permeates Los Angeles like a fog.
But, still, she doesn't quite know how she's going to meet Josh Lyman's eyes over a conference table in the morning. Because she wanted him, or at least she wanted him to want her, and because he's out fucking Donna Moss instead.
And so, in the spirit of the evening, she turns to the person sitting next to her, and announces once again, gesturing with the neck of her beer bottle, "Josh Lyman is an asshole."
The woman next to her meets her eyes for the first time. "Joey, tell me something I don't know," the woman replies dryly, swirling her vodka-cranberry in its glass.
"What the hell are you doing here, CJ?" Joey asks, her voice over-loud and more muddled than usual.
"About what you're doing: getting drunk. Though, I'd venture to guess, for different reasons," she says. "Can I buy you a drink?"
Joey isn't sure why CJ offers, but her beer is empty and Josh Lyman is still an asshole, so she nods. "Tequila."
"Excuse me?" CJ asks, furrowing her brow. "Where's Kenny when you need him?"
Joey gestures expansively, "I am perfectly capable of communicating without--"
"Calm down, Joey. Calm down. The decimated lime there suggests to me that you've drunk pretty much an entire bottle of tequila," she says, eyebrows raised.
Joey nods. "Tequila," she says.
"And they told me I had no future as an interpreter," CJ shakes her head and turns to call over the bartender, who replies to her request with, "Maybe she should have a cup of coffee, instead."
CJ looks at Joey out of the corner of her eye, flicking across her rumpled clothes and the angry twist of her mouth, and she nods.
"I didn't want coffee, CJ," Joey says, leaning forward against the bar.
"Yes, and I didn't want to hold your hair back when we revisited those Dos Equis," CJ smiles, and Joey is struck by the way 'Dos Equis' plays over CJ's lips, strange and foreign. "And since I'm the one paying for this round, I made an executive decision."
"If you can still use words as long as 'executive decision,' you need that tequila more than me," Joey smirks, toying with a wet piece of lime peel. Her fingernails are short and painted an indiscriminate shade somewhere between rose and mauve, and when the bartender puts the coffee mug in front of her, she wrinkles her nose and looks towards CJ, who is playing a fingertip around the edge of her glass.
"Josh Lyman's an asshole," she says again, because it seems appropriate enough a comment.
"What'd he do now?" CJ asks with the hint of a smile. She is used to him, used to his fuck-ups and his selfishness and the fact that he lives amazingly unaware of the people around him.
"He's out with Donna tonight, you know," Joey says, and then turns to look for sugar packets or anything to busy her hands. She reaches across in front of CJ to grab a little glass bowl of Equal packets, and CJ sets a palm against Joey's forearm.
Joey looks up, not precisely alarmed, but a little surprised when CJ doesn't move her hand.
"Why do you care if he's out with Donna?" CJ asks, and from the annoyance biting at the edge of her expression, she must be repeating it. Joey takes it as a compliment that people are so quick to forget the fact that she can't hear a word they're saying. She draws back, but her arm is still extended, CJ's hand against her wrist, fingers brushing the curve of CJ's ribcage. "In fact, if I recall correctly," CJ continues, "You've spent quite a bit of time encouraging them to do just that."
"But I didn't mean it!" Joey says, and she knows she's said it too loudly. "Okay, so maybe I should drink that coffee now." She pulls her arms back in towards her chest, hugging herself, and then she reluctantly reaches out to take hold of the too-hot coffee mug. CJ pushes her the bowl of Equal, and then touches a hand to her back in a way that's probably meant to be comforting, but feels anything but.
"I've had a lot to drink," Joey says, as if CJ didn't know. She says it, perhaps, as an explanation of the way she leans towards CJ's fingers or the way she licks her lips.
She keeps CJ in the corner of her eye, even as she makes a show of drinking the bitter brew, and so she looks up when CJ says, "He loves her, you know. And he likes you, likes you a lot, but--"
"I'm not a stupid woman," Joey interrupts with a slow smile. "It's not hard to tell where his heart is."
"Then, being angry right now? You've got nobody to blame but yourself," CJ says, and their eyes meet, and Joey laughs, because CJ's just said the most obvious thing in the world.
"Very perceptive," Joey says, still smiling. "There aren't exactly a lot of prospects out there for me. I live in two states, I love politics, I -- count things," she says, and CJ laughs, the corners of her eyes crinkling and her teeth showing, and touches Joey's back through the thin cotton of her blouse.
"Come on, Joey. I'll take you home," she says, and then she pulls a few bills from her pocket and smoothes them onto the counter. "I didn't drink that much, I promise," she says, and she stands, offering her hand.
And though somewhere in her mind, Joey's thinking, 'Call a cab, call a cab,' she decides that she might as well complete her self-destruction. CJ's hand is cool and dry and soft, and CJ's eyes smile just a moment before her mouth.
"Good choice," CJ says without releasing Joey's hand, leading her through the bar towards the door. The air outside is wet, and it's almost drizzling, and when they reach the car, CJ unlocks the passenger-side door. Joey reaches forward to brush a raindrop from CJ's cheek but somehow manages to brush her fingers across CJ's mouth instead, and it's wildly intimate, and CJ's eyes widen.
"So, what's your address?" CJ asks, backing away slightly, but letting her hand touch the small of Joey's back as she urges Joey into the car. It's raining harder, and when CJ's sitting in the driver's seat, Joey reaches over to touch the hair near CJ's ear.
"You're all wet," Joey says, and her fingers touch CJ's neck. She's not sure why she is doing this, but the jerk of CJ's shoulders as she gasps is not unattractive in the least.
CJ turns to her, licks her lips, says, "That happens when it rains. Water falling from the sky, and all." The interior light shuts off, and the sky is some strange sort of apocalyptic beige, glowing like radium, and the rain is falling in earnest, heavy drops splattering against the windshield.
CJ gets Joey's attention with her fingers against Joey's jaw. "Being angry isn't going to fix any of this." Lightning slashes the sky lengthwise, and the planes of CJ's face become a study in shadow and light. There is something trite about this, about the alcohol and the violence of the rain and of the way CJ's mouth is open and pale.
"I know," Joey says, and then, "You don't like thunder." She can tell this by the tightening of CJ's jaw just before the lightning, by the way she winces.
"No," CJ says, and that's all, no explanations, which might be foreshadowing or perhaps it just explains that CJ has not forgotten that there are things beyond her power. And they sit there, in that car, because the windshield wipers would never be able to combat this downpour. CJ fumbles with the radio, and then, after a moment, turns to Joey. She smiles a little sheepishly, "Sorry. I forget."
"What's the song about?" Joey asks.
"What are most songs about? Love, or heartbreak, or men, or women. There's nothing new under the sun," CJ shrugs. "Some pissed off woman wailing about how the world has done her wrong."
"Don't make me a cliché, CJ. I've done a good enough job of that myself," Joey smiles, small and dark. "Me and the rain."
"You picked a good night for this," CJ nods. "I mean, if I were writing the script to this, I don't think I could've set it better than--"
"Shut up, CJ," Joey says, signing it for emphasis, and then she closes her eyes, leaning her head back. She feels the abrupt rumbling of the car beneath her, feels the pull as the car backs up, feels the brush of CJ's fingers against the outside of her thigh.
And this is like a dream, not a nightmare but some strangely lit approximation of reality where actual people become strangers acting wholly out of character. Joey finds herself asking, aloud, "Who are you?" but she keeps her eyes closed and so she does not get an answer, except in the way CJ's fingers trace the curve of her knee.
The car stops; Joey feels the jerking motions of parallel parking and cautiously opens her eyes, knowing that this will be CJ's apartment and that CJ will invite her inside for coffee. CJ will turn on the television - C-SPAN or CNN or MSNBC - because she's bad with the silences.
And then later, maybe or probably, it will become the touch of fingers against arms and shoulders and collarbones through silk and cotton. It will become the differences in their height when CJ leans down to kiss Joey's forehead, or when their mouths meet, clumsily at first, because nothing begins perfectly that ends well. It will be the juxtaposition between the woman who cannot hear and the woman who cannot stop talking, even when they are mouth to mouth, hip to hip.
Maybe they will be in CJ's kitchen, which is probably done in pastels or black-and-white or smudges of white and red, or maybe CJ's living room, awash in blues and greens. CJ will be bare-shouldered, her jacket safely draped over the back of the sofa, and Joey will be standing in shirtsleeves, and maybe Joey's hands will shake.
They will undress, and CJ might smile at the bows on Joey's lace bra or pluck at the thin strings on her panties. Joey will slowly uncover the black satin of CJ's underwear, contrasted against the dull, nude cotton of her bra. CJ's legs will have day-old stubble, but her back will be perfectly and absolutely smooth, dusted with freckles across her shoulder blades, almost invisible in the half-light.
Her bedroom will be white and blue, Joey can almost guarantee it, with a full-length mirror, and CJ will say she wants to be on top, but won't really. She will want Joey to watch her, might come under her own touch, might come with Joey's tongue in her mouth or with Joey's fingers on her clit.
And when CJ it happens, she'll vibrate, strung out like a live wire, and then she'll wrap her arms around Joey and clutch at her, because flesh is flesh and this is not necessarily more than that, but sometimes, everyone needs to feel the closeness of a heart that beats just as arrhythmically as their own.
This is how things will happen, Joey thinks as the alcohol thrums through her veins, and then CJ opens the passenger-side door, and Joey steps out onto the pavement. The rain has abated to a drizzle, and the light from the sodium street-lamps is too yellow and disquieting.
Joey looks at CJ's mouth, and CJ says, "I thought you might want to come in for another cup of coffee," and Joey laughs.
"I thought you might ask," Joey explains, and then she touches CJ's cheek and raises up on tiptoe, and they kiss, awkwardly, all teeth and saliva and how tequila and vodka don't mix. But CJ's fingertips graze the skin bared at Joey's waist, and there's the little thrill of new hands touching new skin.
And when they are safely inside, and MSNBC is showing Newsfront, Joey isn't at all surprised by the crimson dishtowels or the powder blue carpeting or the bright-white duvet. And because the world is like this, and because Josh Lyman is an asshole, and because CJ smells like baby powder and rose water and cigarette smoke, Joey reaches for the clasp at CJ's fly and says, "Let me help you with that."
Later, CJ puts an arm around Joey's waist and pulls her closer and whispers in her ear, despite - or because of - the fact that Joey can't understand anything except CJ's palm against the small of her back. It might be a minute, or an hour, or a lifetime before CJ lifts her head from Joey's shoulder, looks Joey in the eye and says, "You know, sometimes it happens like this."
"It's raining again," Joey says, without looking towards the window, and CJ blinks once, twice before replying.
"Sometimes things, raindrops included, just can't keep from falling." And then CJ kisses her, long and slow and hard, because it's true, because sometimes things can't help but fall and break.
And because sometimes, they can't be put back together again.
Written to strains of Tori Amos' Boys for Pele, and Fiona Apple's When the Pawn... Think of that as the soundtrack.
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