TITLE: Habits (sequel to Broken Record, which you'll need to have read to make sense of some of this one)
RATING: Not even PG-13, yet
FEEDBACK: I'm willing to beg. Really, I am. Pleassee..
DISCLAIMERS: 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.
ARCHIVE: I'd be honored. Just let me know. email@example.com
NOTES: The biggest, hugest, most enormous thanks to my friend and beta-reader, Jordan. Inspiration comes in many forms. Mine comes in an email.
Habits by Cj
The halls of the West Wing are almost silent as I make my way toward my destination. I'm surprised at the lack of noise. Normally, quiet doesn't descend on the West Wing until, at least, past midnight. I halt my escorts, two secret service agents, at the entrance to the cafeteria. The lights are off, except for one, but I can clearly see her lithe form in the shadows.
I watch her for a moment from the threshold between the dining room and the kitchen. She appears to be looking for something in the many cabinets lining the wall of the cooking area. She's barefoot, her long legs hidden by the beige pants she is wearing, the matching jacket nowhere in sight. The tan blouse is open, a dark red tank top showing through. I take a moment to enjoy the view before announcing my presence. After a minute more, I move closer and speak to her for the first time in weeks.
"Seems we're making a habit of late night visits," I say lightly. She visibly jumps at the sound of my voice and turns quickly to face me.
"Dr. Bartlet!" she gasps as she places a hand over her heart. Her eyes are wide and she takes a deep breath before continuing. "With all due respect, ma'am, please don't do that again." I try to hide my smile but fail miserably. She leans on one of the counters and crosses her arms over her chest. "Do they teach you how to sneak up on people in medical school?" she asks, her voice returning to normal. I rest against the wall of the cafeteria and mirror her stance.
"Yes," I answer dryly. "Right after how to make the English language sound foreign and right before how to write illegibly."
"Ah. Somehow that makes sense."
"There was a secret. To the handwriting class." I pause for effect and she raises an eyebrow as a gesture for me to continue. "I used a pen that kept running out of ink," I explain. "I would start a word and in the middle of it, the pen would fade. It looked like chicken scratch. The professor loved it." She eyes me critically before speaking.
"You're making all of this up, aren't you?"
"Every word of it." She laughs softly before meeting my eyes for the first time and her smile slowly fades. There's no need to clarify the subject of what she is about to say.
"I'm sorry." Her voice is truly apologetic and I feel a timid ache in my heart at the tone. I try to brush it off but, as always, with anything having to do with CJ Cregg and my emotions, it's not easy.
"No reason to be." I move from my position next to the wall to stand across from her, once again mirroring her pose. "I've been in the White House as long as you have. I learned rather quickly that things can come up."
"Yes ma'am," she agrees solemnly as she breaks eye contact with me. She seems to lose herself in thought for a moment before turning her attention back to me. Her voice, when she speaks, has taken on the now familiar polite tone so many use with me. "Did you get to enjoy the weather ma'am?" I instantly miss the warmth of the new relaxation I thought we had found.
"No," I reply softly. I shift in place then add, "I don't think it would have been as much fun alone anyway." I catch a glimpse of her smile before she lowers her head to hide it.
"I'm sorry we both missed out on it." I just nod my agreement and an easy silence overcomes us. "So," she says after a few minutes. "Not that I mind, but what are you doing out this late? Trouble sleeping again?" She meets my gaze, the familiar lilt back in her posture, and I fight a smile before answering.
"No, I've not been to bed yet. Jed was supposed to be home over an hour ago but he never showed up. I turned on CNN and didn't see people yelling questions at you," that earns me a smile, "so I figured there wasn't a national emergency. I took a leap of assumption and decided that he was abusing his power again by forcing his staff to endure another lecture. Turns out I was right."
"So you came to rescue us?"
"Yes. That's what I do; save people. I've never heard anyone dying of boredom but I don't want our administration to be the first to demonstrate it. We've been the first on too many things here lately." She smiles ruefully. "How did you escape?"
"I feigned a caffeine headache. I was excused to find coffee." I chuckle.
"Lying to your president?" I question playfully.
"Who said anything about lying? I was getting a headache. I didn't think it would be prudent to tell him it was because of the two and half-hours worth of trivial knowledge he had just shared with us." I laugh outright at that and hear her smooth chuckling joining in with my mirth. I take a second to really look at her and, as she notices, she shifts in place almost imperceptibly. "Did you come down here for a reason?" she questions, breaking eye contact with me once again.
"I came looking for you," I answer simply and she seems surprised.
"You came looking for me?" I catch a hint of something I've never heard before in her voice and instantly want to hear it again.
"Yeah. I thought I should tell you that you could go home. I didn't want him to catch you after I had taken the trouble to dismiss everyone else."
"I'm last out?"
"Another habit of yours," I tease. "Actually, they've not left yet. Jed's still talking to them right now. He's managed to convince the secret service agents to alert him when I'm on my way up so he can shoo everyone out. He'll be waiting on me, alone, and will say he had been waiting, alone, for awhile." She arches an eyebrow at that and I smirk. "He doesn't think I know he does that." She shakes her head and smiles, a twinkle lighting her eyes.
"Everyone knows that you hold all the real power."
"Wish someone would tell him that," I quip sarcastically.
"Oh, I know it," someone announces from the doorway. We both turn to face him, the owner of the voice instantly recognizable.
"You don't always show it," I retort. My control is unsteady as it tries to keep my disappointment at being interrupted from taking over my features.
"Don't have to, that's why I'm the president." He moves closer to me and I see C.J. straightening to full height out of the corner of my eye. Jed turns to her. "How's the headache?" he asks, amusement tingeing his question.
"Getting better, sir."
"Good. Well, my wife has informed me that I should let everyone go home, so I've very wisely accepted her suggestion. You should go before I change my mind."
"Yes, sir. I think I will. Goodnight." She turns to me and I can see a shadow of something in her eyes, but when she addresses me, the polite respectfulness has returned. "Ma'am." Before she walks out, I call to her.
"C.J." She stops and turns back to me. "We'll try again." She pauses then I'm graced with a full-fledged grin before she nods and disappears. I watch her leave before turning my attention back to my husband. He offers me his hand and, with one last glance in the direction of CJ's retreat, I take it.
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