TITLE: Limelight and Slow-dancing
AUTHOR: Ellen Milholland
EMAIL/URL: radiant@bluelikethat.com, http://www.bluelikethat.com/radiance/imagine.html
RATING: PG
CODES: CJ/Ainsley (a little splash of Sam/Ainsley, too)
SPOILERS: None.
DISCLAIMERS: Standard. Lyric by Sting, 'Desert Rose.'
ARCHIVE: Ask, please.
SUMMARY: "In retrospect, she will think that it is amazing what exactly she will do after a few too many drinks."

* "This memory of Eden haunts us all ...This rare perfume Is the sweet intoxication of the fall." *

Limelight and Slow-dancing by Ellen Milholland

In retrospect, she will think that it is amazing what exactly she will do after a few too many drinks. She will be surprised that the bartender talked her into something called a limelight, bitter and sweet with vodka and melon liqueur. She will recall with delight and a touch of chagrin the feeling of smooth flesh under unsure hands.

And most of all, she will remember the moment in which they almost kissed.

She will, of course, blame it all on the alcohol and the fact that she hasn't eaten anything in a good twelve hours. She will blame it on the scent of the woman's perfume, on the fact that her dress is backless, on the fact that the moon is full.

It is true that preparing for any of these big, ostentatious parties is enough to exhaust any member of the White House staff, from the bottom rung up. Tensions start running high a few days before, as toasts and speeches and strides are perfected, dresses and boutonnieres chosen, shoes purchased, smiles honed. So, of course, by the time anyone actually arrives at the event, all they want is a drink and a seat in the back, away from the cameras, their feet and eyes aching but their outfits perfect.

Sam had invited her, but she thinks this is mostly because he hadn't thought to ask anyone until the day before. And so he'd sidled into her office none-too-subtly, and smiled at her, eyes glittering, and made her feel like the awkward step-sister being invited to the ball by the youngest prince. Her acceptance had made him smile even more brightly, and they'd made their arrangements for meeting, and he'd whisked back upstairs, leaving her with her law journals and her severe suit.

It's moments like that when she is glad she follows her mother's advice and stays prepared for every eventuality. This meant that in the back of her closet there was a fabulous, incredible black dress that would bare her neck and shoulders, that she owned perfect black heels, that in her jewelry box there was a pair of delicate Tiffany's gold-and- emerald earrings. A good southern girl was never unprepared.

He came to pick her up precisely on time, and she had delighted in the single moment when his eyes went unfocused as he saw her, her hair pulled up and away from her face, the earrings, the dusting of gold across her eyelids and her shoulders, the tiny emerald on her right index finger.

He was pretty himself, she had to admit. His finely tailored tux touched his body at all the right places and was evidence of his holed away wealth as much as her Tiffany's was. His fingernails were very clean, and his face was very smooth, and his lips lingered longer against the back of her hand than he had jokingly intended. She had surprised him by kissing him back, lightly and on the cheek, but she was secretly just attempting to figure out what scent he was wearing because it was something like bergamot and sandalwood. Givenchy, she had decided.

They had arrived the requisite ten minutes after the function's start, his hand against her hip as she hung on to the tiny, useless black clutch containing only her slick, clear Bourjois lip gloss, twenty dollars, and her cellphone. The best part of the entrance had been Josh's double take, and this bright, you-go-girl smile from Donna, who was fashionably enveloped up in watery citrine-colored silk. Women find ways of transcending speech when it comes to fashion.

It hadn't been long before Sam was bringing her the first drink, a Tanqueray and tonic that lingered at the back of her throat and the pit of her stomach. It made her smile more easily, helped her get up the courage to force Sam to the dance floor. His hands had been warm and dry against her cool palms, and she noticed his tiny breath-catch when their hips brushed. He danced in that overly refined way you picked up at country clubs, and he left her not a little breathless.

This was the perfect point for the second drink, which happened to be the insidious limelight, which left her laughing a little too long and walking in an imperfect line.

She was sitting in an uncomfortable chair, watching the swirl of pale- colors-against-black that the room had turned into, when she saw them dancing, the ugly man and CJ. She recognized him as Arthur Wakefield, an ornery Republican who found ways of making women miserable at large social functions. His moustache drooped, and he filled out his tuxedo all wrong.

And there was CJ, a brilliant flourish in sapphire satin. They'd had a tense few weeks, ever since she had made the very unfortunate decision of pissing CJ off. She had learned not to make mistakes like that any more, but things had never really fallen back into place between them, though there had been, before that, the tiny seeds of a fledgling friendship taking root. CJ's politics were relatively ambiguous, a point in the younger woman's favor, and in the dress she was wearing, her legs were a mile long.

She decided to do what any good friend would do in this situation. She stood, smoothed her dress against her hips, and walked right up to the pair, smiling radiantly and asking if Arthur wouldn't mind her breaking in.

CJ looked momentarily relieved just before she repaired her generous smile. She backed away a step, saying under her breath, "Feel free, Ainsley," just before the younger woman held her by the arm.

"Would you stay, CJ? Sorry to steal your dance partner, Arthur, but it appears Jennika McDonnell is standing over there looking particularly lonely. Go cheer her up," Ainsley drawled smoothly, pulling CJ away from the rather shocked looking little man.

The minute he was gone, CJ's face fell into a more normal approximation of itself. "I don't know how I am ever going to thank you for that, Ainsley, like, ever." She made as if to step away, pushing her hair back from her face with a familiar gesture.

"Dance with me, then."

CJ's eyes had widened in this particularly endearing way, and her shoulders had gone back. "Pardon?"

"Tell me, CJ, that you spent all those years at Berkeley and never danced with another girl," Ainsley said, smiling and dipping her chin.

"You went to Smith, didn't you?" CJ countered.

"And I accept that, CJ," Ainsley laughed. "I may have been the only straight girl in my dorm, but that didn't keep me from paying attention." She was still holding CJ's arm, but now the touch was just a gentle encircling of the woman's wrist, and there was a place where CJ's fingers were brushing her arm.

"You really aren't going to let me go unless I dance with you, are you?" CJ asked, but her body had relaxed, and her feet were at an angle that invited Ainsley closer. Her cheeks were bright from the wine still lingering on her breath, and their fingertips were touching.

"I'm really not, no."

"And you're probably going to insist on leading, aren't you?"

"Absolutely," Ainsley said, and her hand was already touching CJ's hip, the satin slippery against her touch.

"Well, at least the music's decent," CJ sighed, touching her hand to Ainsley's bare shoulder and leaving a decorous amount of space between their bodies. The music was all viola and cello, and CJ danced in the unselfconscious manner of a woman who'd studied dancing for years.

"CJ, I wanted to talk to you," Ainsley said. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Josh hitting Sam's shoulder, and Sam spinning around, looking annoyed until he caught sight of them. They said something to one another, and then she saw Donna hitting Josh and dragging him off. Sam was left alone, staring none-too-discreetly. "I wanted to apologize."

"Apologize?"

"For the way I've been acting lately."

"I wasn't asking what you were apologizing for. I was expressing disbelief that you were lowering yourself to make the apology," CJ replied, but she was smiling, and her fingers were touching the base of Ainsley's neck.

"See, I'm trying to be gracious, and you're not helping," Ainsley said as she pinched CJ's side. CJ squirmed, and there was a brief moment where their bodies met. A long, languid beat passed where they didn't move, just stood there, standing much too close, Ainsley incredibly aware of the soft curve of CJ's breasts and the delicate way CJ smelled of talcum and almond soap and vanilla and something much lower and darker and unexpected, like cinnamon and patchouli.

And then they were a step apart again, and CJ was looking everywhere that Ainsley wasn't, and her hand was suddenly a little warm. "But, ah, CJ," Ainsley said to break the silence, "It was my fault."

"I've been waiting to hear that from you all week."

"Well, it only took a few drinks to eke it out of me." Ainsley bit her lip. "I shouldn't have said what I said."

"No, you shouldn't have."

"So I'm sorry," Ainsley said carefully.

"Good." CJ smiled. "That wasn't so difficult, was it?"

"Oh, more than I can tell you," Ainsley said, and she was sliding her hand a little around CJ's body, until her fingertips were just brushing the naked skin of CJ's back. "Fantastic dress."

"Yours, too. I can't figure out why you spend so much time covering up that body," CJ said, and the moment it came out of her mouth, she flushed. "Okay, did I really just say that out loud? Because I'm pretty sure I'm not that drunk." She didn't protest when Ainsley's fingers crept farther onto her skin, lightly stroking the curve at the small of her back. CJ's fingers were in the hair at the base of Ainsley's neck, warm and deliberate.

"I think you said that out loud, yes. But I'll forget about it if you will," Ainsley said, directly contradicting the movement of her hands and the intoxicating feeling of CJ breathing just a little unevenly.

"Sounds like a plan to me," CJ murmured. They spent several long moments drifting closer to one another as Ainsley ignored the fact that Sam was openly gawking by this point from the other side of the room. Soon, they were close enough to feel the other's hips and thighs through thin layers of cool fabric, and CJ's eyes were a little closed.

And this moment comes, this moment that Ainsley will remember for an indeterminate amount of time, the moment that will send her searching for CJ late that night, the moment that will have them, later, against the wall in CJ's office, touching the skin that had been so very hot and so very obvious and so very clothed a few hours earlier.

They are too close and CJ smells of sweet white wine and cloves and her cheeks are as pink as her lipstick. And the song is ending, and CJ is leaning down a little, face to the side of Ainsley's head so that the tiny frizz of Ainsley's hair is brushing her cheek. And Ainsley's lips are almost touching CJ's jaw, and she blows a little breath into CJ's ear, and CJ gasps and does not try to hide it.

And that is the moment when they both realize where exactly they are standing, and how very, absolutely wrong they must look. CJ is smiling again, the false smile she has perfected, but she's blinking too rapidly and her hands are shaking a little. There is a moment where she seems to deliberate, and then she says under her breath, "I'll be in my office later tonight," as she moves away towards the bar.

Ainsley watches CJ order a drink that she swallows too quickly, and then Andrew Joss is approaching the young woman, and asking for a dance, and Ainsley's glittering like liquid gold and her stomach's in a knot, but she accepts so as not to hurt his feelings.

There is a moment when their eyes meet across the room, as Ainsley's dancing and CJ's talking with some diplomat or another. And CJ smiles, this tiny, intimate smile, and Ainsley's cheeks flush. In this glittering night of melon liqueur and chamber music and sweet perfume, it is the smile of a promise.

-- end. Feedback adored.

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