TITLE: Metallic Luster
AUTHOR: Ellen Milholland [radiant@bluelikethat.com]
URL: http://www.bluelikethat.com/imagine.html
RATING: R
CODES: Pretender/West Wing crossover, Miss Parker/CJ
DISCLAIMERS: There are so very many people I do not own here. Deal.
SUMMARY: She can't even do this thing so that it's not a lie.

for Shana.

*

Metallic Luster by Ellen Milholland

Failure is cold metal under her tongue and ice down her spine.

It is nighttime again, and he has escaped again, and this is another city where he is so close she can almost smell him. He is gone, in New York or Anchorage or Reno by now, and her own cavalry never even came, and her mother is still as dead as ever.

Miss Parker doesn't know what to believe, and the only thing she knows for sure is that a sterile hotel room is no place for leather and silk. It's no place for lipstick the color of wine-grapes, eyeshadow like platinum, eyes like coffee and coal. She is watching herself in the mirror over the generic plyboard dresser, and she pushes her hair back from her face. She does not smile.

She looks too much like Catherine, and her throat closes. She looks so much like Catherine and nothing at all like herself. Catherine smiled more, had a softer voice, stood up for the weak, saved children, hid to save herself. She is nothing like Catherine. Her face is her mother's, except for the coldness where Catherine had been warm, the sharp edges where Catherine had been soft.

It makes her throat close.

She puts cinnamon-thick perfume behind her ears and smokes a cigarette out the window, closing her eyes against the bracing cold of the winter wind. Washington is not a beautiful city, is not as hard a city as it thinks it is. It is a place where you can hide in plain sight, and sometimes those cities are what she wants. Sometimes Jarod leads her to them, and sometimes she leads him there, a push-pull that she can't explain, not even to herself. Jarod is long gone, and she will have to face her father and Raines and Lyle soon enough, but for now, she touches up her lipstick and tells the cab driver exactly where she wants to go.

She's been here before, to this city and to this place, and it is dark tonight, oilslick black, and her jacket is leather, like her boots, and her sweater is cashmere the color of green tourmaline. She is hard in the darkness, like diamonds, crystalline lattice sharp around her eyes. In the club, the first thing the eyes that see her say is that they would like to break her. The tightness of her cheeks, the pull-back of her shoulders tell them that she isn't easily broken. She will not give them, any of them, the pleasure of seeing her come apart with razor-edged fractures. She is hard, like diamonds, and she glitters in the puddles of light that she passes through on her way to the bar.

People check the places her feet touch for the leftover shimmer from the tips of her stilettos. Her fingernails are black. She orders a tequila shot and doesn't flinch. She doesn't do it for courage.

Her mouth is wound-red in the half-dark, and afterwards, they will not believe she existed, will remember only the Cuervo on her breath and the way her hips moved to the pulse of the music. She is cinnamon-dark, a trick of mirrors, just reflection and refraction and misdirection like a fun-house. She is not in any of these directions where they look for her.

Jarod may be a Pretender, but at least he has a name, at least he can be anything he wants to be. Miss Parker tells a woman near the door her name is Mara, tells another it's Celia, tells a third it's Rachael. They believe her because none of it is a lie; she is no less Mara, Celia, Rachael, Brett, Isobel, is no less these people thank she is herself, than she is Catherine, than she is Jarod or Sydney or Raines. She is not everyone or anyone.

She has her father's ruthless eyes, and when she comes, she screams like she's in a porn movie. She acts the way she is expected to act, and she dances just as well to Ray of Light as she does to Like a Virgin, but she prefers Latin beats and the loud thrum of techno because if she's here to be someone new, this new girl should at least be able to dance like she means it. Should at least be able to do something so that it's not a lie.

Miss Parker leaves a smudge of lipstick on the cheek of a little Asian girl with blackened goth eyes and a real diamond stud in her navel. The girl says, "My name's Lai Kwan," and flicks her tongue out across her shiny bottom lip. Parker just shrugs.

There isn't room for this at all, not in this cramped little space, and when the music shifts to some faghag ballad, she turns back towards the bar. Halfway there, she sees the other woman near the sidewall, caught up in conversation, hands moving and drink empty.

Miss Parker doesn't take no for an answer, and she orders two gin-and-juices and lights another cigarette. She wants the woman already. She doesn't tip well. She has silver rings on three of her fingers. She hasn't eaten today, and the alcohol goes straight to her head. She likes it.

She doesn't stumble, even on her stilettos, and when she reaches the woman, she offers the glass as if refusal was impossible to imagine. She is confident, if nothing else. Her hands don't shake, and she smiles a little cruelly.

"I'm CJ," the other woman says. "And this is Denise."

CJ is tall and pale, and her hair is somewhere between blonde and brown. She is wearing black pinstriped pants, a mostly unbuttoned men's dress shirt over a white tanktop, black eyeliner. She is wearing patent leather heels and a gold choker.

"I'm Catherine." Miss Parker says it without thinking, and as soon as it's out of her mouth, she wants it back. Her stomach clenches and she smiles wider and takes a drag off her cigarette.

Denise begs off gracefully enough, and CJ leans back against the wall, crossing her arms over her chest as if she's done this a hundred times before, though Parker doesn't think CJ is the club type. They are both here for the same reasons.

CJ asks, "What is it?" She's holding the glass between her palms, rolling it back and forth and never once looking away from Miss Parker's face.

"Gin and orange juice. Think I'm trying to poison you?"

"Stranger things have happened," CJ says, and she takes a long drink. She doesn't blink, and Miss Parker's breath catches. "Nice jacket."

"I'm so glad you think so," short, biting. Miss Parker doesn't collapse in under this, and if CJ had been expecting someone easy, the sharp twist of Parker's mouth will shatter all of her illusions. Nothing could make Parker ugly, but she looks vicious, angry, startlingly beautiful and radiating cold like dry ice. She'll burn you.

CJ face says she knows it, and she licks her lips. "Can I have a cigarette?"

"Terrible habit," Miss Parker says, but even as she reaches for her pack, CJ plucks the cigarette from Parker's mouth between two fingers, and she sucks on it like she's having a nicotine-induced orgasm. She leaves plum colored lipstick stains on the white paper, and when she hands it back to Miss Parker, their fingers touch, and it's hot as hell in the room.

Miss Parker holds the cigarette between her lips, pulls off her jacket, throws it over the back of the nearest chair, and she stands bare-shouldered and ghost-white soft in the pseudo-light. Her shoulders are flushed. She is a woman without a name.

"Who are you really?" CJ asks.

"I'm a private investigator. My quarry, unfortunately, has escaped. It'll take a few days to catch up with him again." Miss Parker has gotten used to lying about the Centre, as used to it as the Centre has gotten to lying about her.

"What'd he do?"

"Who?"

"The reporter, Mr. Tall-Dark-and-Handsome, that you were after. What're you chasing him for?" CJ is taut like an animal and pulled into slender lines. She looks ready to pounce or ready to scream or ready to hit something. Miss Parker isn't prepared to duck.

"I can't divulge my secrets, CJ. It would be bad form. And, of course, I'd have to kill you."

"Of course," CJ smiles. "And I wouldn't want you to have to get those nice clothes all dirty," she lies, and her voice is dark just below the surface.

"Jarod is an especially difficult case. I've been trying to catch up with him for--"

"Spare me your rationalizations." CJ drinks long and slow from her glass, but her hands shake just a little. "So he got away. What are you doing here?"

"Stuck in Washington until morning. It was the earliest flight."

"You didn't answer my question," CJ says, reaching for Miss Parker's jacket and pulling out the cigarettes and the lighter.

Parker smiles with all of her teeth, but her body is tight like a panther. "I'm just looking for the truth." CJ lights the cigarette and all of her features come into stark relief. She looks tired, and each of her eyelashes is momentarily distinct. Miss Parker swallows and takes a long drag off her cigarette before flicking it onto the floor and crushing it under her foot.

She wonders if this is how Jarod feels, if he feels freer because people don't know him, or if he feels trapped. CJ licks her lips. Parker wonders if Jarod thinks he owns her, because of the near misses and the time he pulled her by the hair and kissed her in that far flung tomato warehouse. She wonders if he knows that he doesn't.

She touches CJ's arm. "Dance with me," she says, but this isn't about CJ at all, not really. She just wants something of this to be true. CJ nods and blows a smoke ring.

CJ is all barely contained fury and slithering hips and lit cigarettes and wrists Miss Parker can encircle with her thumb and index finger. Her hands are at Parker's hips and arms and on Parker's cheeks when she asks, "What's your real name?"

Parker smirks. "It's a harder question than you think, CJ." They are near the edge of the dance floor, the music is quieter and they don't need to shout. CJ frowns at a techno-remix of a Sarah McLachlan song.

CJ says, "I don't kiss strangers."

"We don't have to kiss," Parker says low in her throat like a growl or a purr. She wants CJ because CJ is tall and beautiful and painfully in-focus. She is all lines, geometrically perfect, easily definable. She doesn't have to know of CJ to know CJ. She knows CJ doesn't lie about her name.

CJ pulls her forward with nails biting at the nape of Parker's neck. CJ's mouth is rainslick, and her lip is broken on the inside. Miss Parker doesn't breathe or do anything but believe in CJ's tongue. Lights flash, inside and outside. CJ's mouth tastes like gin and nicotine and Crest and oranges.

"Jacqueline," Miss Parker says against CJ's ear.

"I would've pegged you for a Diana, or a Caroline." CJ's voice is just shy of velvet and her breath is thick and uneven. Parker is wearing Gaultier, and her skirt is almost indecently short, and CJ's fingernails scrape up the inside of her stockinged thigh.

"Why are you doing this, CJ?" Miss Parker can't help herself.

"Because we all make mistakes. Sometimes, I'd just prefer to be in control of making them." When she says it, her voice says everything her words won't. It says she is good at what she does, possibly too good. It says she ruined something and is taking the blame. It says she isn't married, has never been married. It says she had older brothers, growing up. It says she only does this so that she can be someone she's not, when all it serves to do is make her more herself than she seems to think possible.

"And what makes you think you can trust me to make your mistakes around?" Miss Parker says, and then flicks her tongue out against CJ's earlobe.

"What makes you think I do?"

"I don't know who did this to you, CJ, but I could have them killed, if you asked me. I'd do it myself."

CJ leans away, holding Parker's wrist too tightly. "I'm a big girl, you know."

Miss Parker clicks her tongue. "Touché." She touches her free hand to CJ's stomach. "I was just trying to make sure I didn't take advantage of you in this time of vulnerability." Her words are like razor blades glinting in the half-dark, and CJ flinches. Parker could say, "I don't want to hurt you," but she doesn't. This is what is wrong with her, she thinks. She doesn't say it.

"You certainly think highly of yourself, rushing in, threatening murder and claiming to be worried about taking advantage of me. It's kind of shocking how weak you think I am." Parker is sliding her hand beneath CJ's button-down, her fingers brushing across CJ's hip and the ridges of her spine through her tanktop.

"No weaker than I am," Parker says without looking away, and CJ kisses her, hard and hot and wet, like she's trying to disappear or die from asphyxiation or remind herself of what it means to live in this world. Her mouth makes Parker think of all the contrasts of a coconut, sweet and smooth inside, all hardness and misdirection outside.

Miss Parker intends to crack her open. CJ touches the gun holstered to Parker's back, under her sweater. She leans back, licks her lips, nudges Parker's thighs apart with her knee and traces the outline of the gun against Parker's back. "You can't possibly be real," she says.

Parker smiles ferally. "I get that a lot."

"You disappear, like he does? It must get tiring, all that chasing. All that being chased."

It hits Miss Parker like a blow. She thinks of all this time, from Centre golden child to this, angry and running away from everything as much as she's running towards it. Her lungs hurt. She smiles like it's hard to do, she wishes she was drunk. She wishes it hadn't been years of near-misses with Jarod. She wishes CJ could understand that this was more than Parker could ever explain.

"I'm not running anywhere, CJ."

CJ's mouth quirks at the corners -- the memory of smiling. "You're not even here now. You tell me your name like it's a secret. You carry a gun, and you keep looking over your shoulder like you're waiting for someone to catch you, like you're out past your curfew."

"There are a lot of things you don't know about me. A lot of things you don't understand, about my job, about Jarod, about my family--" Parker doesn't want to explain, don't want to be saying the things she hears herself saying, don't want to be admitting her own weaknesses. She wants to be made of steel so she doesn't have to feel any of these things anymore.

"You don't have to explain." CJ hides behind her cigarette. "You're beautiful, you know? And I'd give anything to touch you right now. But not if--"

"Spare me the melodrama. My mother's dead, my father isn't really my father, my brother wants to kill me, and all I've got to show for it is the fact that I could kill you right now, and no one would find out. So, just, spare me, okay?"

CJ smiles, a little coldly. "Of course." She flicks away her cigarette and reaches for Parker's face. She holds Parker's chin as she kisses the corner of Parker's mouth. "Forget I said anything."

They pull one another towards the bathroom, and it's as pseudo-chic as the rest of the bar, with its crystal chandelier and black-light bulbs and mirrors and a free-standing sink with bear claws. CJ locks the door behind them. There is a sign that says there should only be one person in the bathroom at a time.

CJ's hands are under Miss Parker's skirt, and Miss Parker is busy at the buttons of CJ's shirt, which is strange and bright in the black-light. They don't worry about the sign; this won't take long. CJ works Parker's stockings, silk and thin, down her hips, pulling them down as she kneels. Parker toes off her shoes, and CJ helps her step out of her stockings before she pushes Parker up against the door.

CJ's tongue is slick against the inside of Parker's thighs, and Miss Parker pulls the clip out of CJ's hair. CJ's hair falls across her shoulders, and she slips fingers into Miss Parker, touches her tongue to Parker's clit.

It doesn't take long. Miss Parker pulls CJ's hair as she comes, cries out a half-stifled shriek, possibly calls CJ Jarod, forgets everything, if only for that one second. She thinks CJ sees inside her. She isn't used to feeling like the hunted.

She stands barefooted, and CJ rises from the floor, and Miss Parker doesn't fumble as she undoes the button at CJ's fly. She pushes CJ's slacks and panties to the floor in a puddle of pinstripes, and her fingers are inside CJ before their lips meet. Miss Parker kisses like tongue-fucking and even as she thinks it's all meaningless, CJ says, "Please, Jacqueline," and it's honestly the first time anyone's used that name in months. CJ's eyes are closed, she bites her lip and throws her head back, pushes her hips forward.

Says again, "Jacqueline."

Miss Parker makes her come, and CJ moans and makes it worth it. She pushes off from the sink, where she'd been leaning, kisses Miss Parker again, sucks Miss Parker's fingers clean.

It's not exactly a game, but it's close enough, and Parker has told CJ enough of her secrets to make this feel like the first times, awkwardly trying to hide everything from a father who was everywhere. Parker grabs her stockings from the floor, slides back into her shoes.

CJ just adjusts her clothing, unlocks the door, kisses Parker's shoulder. "You don't look like a Jacqueline," CJ says.

Parker smiles half-way, looks at CJ's reflection in the mirror. She's alone and she's cold, and she'd rather be at home than standing here, trying to make excuses with the corners of her eyes.

"I know," she says, "I never really have."

-- end.

yours - ellen m. [http://www.bluelikethat.com/radiance]