TITLE: Sweetness of Small Victories
AUTHOR: Ellen Milholland [radiant@bluelikethat.com]
URL: http://www.bluelikethat.com/radiance/imagine.html
RATING: R
CODES: CJ/Ann Stark, several months after my story "Ruthless."
ARCHIVE: Ask, please.
DISCLAIMERS: Standard disclaimers apply.
SUMMARY: Sometimes, the smallest victories are the sweetest.
For Another Juxtaposition, who was salivating. But that may've been the Novocain.

Sweetness of Small Victories by Ellen Milholland

She looks nothing short of incredible, and she is absolutely aware of the fact that a dozen pairs of eyes are following her across the room. The gazes make her smile, smug and self-satisfied, and when she reaches the bar she orders herself a glass of a six-year-old Riesling. The cold liquid is the color of pale gold, and it smells of apples and low notes of tropical fruit.

She holds the stem lightly between her thumb, fore, and middle fingers, the rim of the glass near to her mouth, as she scans the room surreptitiously. The wine is good, maybe too good, and very dry, and it fills her mouth with the distinct taste of France and apricots and maybe grapefruit. Her fingernails are painted a subtle shade of silver, and she is impressed that her hands do not even seem to shake.

She knows that Ann will be at this party, because anybody-who-is- anybody is at this party, dressed in the most uncomfortable evening gowns and finely tailored tuxedos, mingling and making truly mindless small talk, waiting until they are buzzed enough not to care. This is how bi-partisanship works best; if the Republicans and the Democrats are drunk enough, no one remembers what exactly they were attempting to argue about in the first place.

Ann never misses a chance to champion, usually arrogantly, the cause of bi-partisanship, and CJ is not quite sure if this is because she is attempting to lock up Shallick's nomination or because Ann truly enjoys making CJ incredibly uncomfortable. They see one another at meetings, press conferences, debates, dinners or breakfasts or luncheons or cocktail parties, and they see one another at least twice a month, and often more. They have never been in the other's apartment, and yet they have had more sex in the last three months than CJ's had in the past three years, in offices and in coatrooms and in stopped elevators. It is dangerous, ridiculously so, for both of them, and it is the fact that Ann still lets it happen that makes CJ suspect that perhaps, just maybe, Ann is in it for more than the fucking.

Not that CJ has any problem with the sex. Not at all.

And now she is standing, leaning back against an ugly chair with someone's jacket draped across it, sipping golden wine and hoping that she will manage to see Ann before Ann sees her. It hasn't happened yet - Ann always finds her first - but it is like a game, and CJ suspects that eventually she will triumph.

But not tonight.

"You've outdone yourself tonight, Claudia."

CJ turns slowly with the full knowledge that Ann is scrutinizing her, memorizing every centimeter of exposed flesh, preparing where her lips will touch. CJ likes this part, because she knows that she will pass this test with flying colors. "Annette, how many times have I asked you not to call me that?"

Ann's nose wrinkles a little. "But it's so adorable. And you certainly look much more of a Claudia than a masculine CJ in this dress."

"Do you like it?" CJ asks, hands on her hips. She knows, of course, that Ann likes it, from the way that Ann's nipples have hardened noticeably beneath her dress. But she asks, in any case, because Ann wants her to.

"I think I'd prefer you out of it," Ann smiles.

CJ leans forward, her hand on the chair back, and Ann is close enough that no one else heard her comment, but far enough away as to make it a distinct possibility. The table is small, but Ann keeps it between them, perhaps in order to assure that they will not do anything compromising in front of all of Washington's elite.

"I just bought it," CJ says, leaning forward far enough to offer Ann a full look at her cleavage.

"And you had your nails done," Ann nods and then takes a drink from her own glass. "You know, it's amazing how difficult it is to find a good red these days." She considers the ruby-colored liquid. "And then you find a perfectly lovely Shiraz right behind the bar."

"Plums," CJ nods. "Matches your dress."

Ann looks down, as if she has forgotten the truly extraordinary piece of red satin she's somehow shimmied into. The neck is regal, and her arms are bare, and there is an impossibly high slit up the side, exposing a scandalous amount of her leg. Her fingernails are a close shade of crimson, and her lips, too, are the color of blood. "Well, look at that. You're absolutely right."

"Did you wear that dress for me?" CJ ventures, hiding a little behind her wine glass. Her eyelashes are slick with shiny mascara, and as she blinks, she can see the light sparkle back into her eyes.

Ann's mouth curves into a tiny smile. "You should be so lucky."

CJ laughs low in her throat. "I see how it is."

"Did you wear that dress for me?" Ann asks, her eyebrows raised, running a fingertip around the rim of her glass.

"Obviously," CJ smiles. "You think I'm fucking Sam Seaborn, or perhaps one of the many congressmen here? Though Andrea Wyatt is looking particularly--"

"Isn't she?" Ann breaks in, a little too sharply. CJ smiles more brightly, savoring the lingering sweetness of wine and small victories on her tongue. "I think my presence on the dance floor is being noticed, darling," Ann adds, the term of endearment almost a slur.

"I'm sure you're right. I owe a few dances, myself. And I would like to compliment the Congresswoman on her dress. She does look spectacular in green, doesn't she?"

Ann smiles vaguely as she passes CJ, reaching out to briefly touch her forearm. "I wore it for you," she murmurs, and then smiles delightedly at an approaching man. "CJ, Andrew Gordon."

"Senator, a pleasure, as always," CJ says, dipping her head demurely. He smiles and cups her hand in his.

Ann glows with satisfaction. "CJ and I were just discussing how delightful it is to see bi-partisanship at work."

"Oh, isn't it?" he says, his eyes flickering across CJ's bare shoulders and the smooth curves of her collarbone. She sees his gaze, and she blossoms under it, tilting her shoulders back and raising her head, her eyes darting briefly to meet Ann's.

"After weeks of arguing over the Patients' Bill of Rights, it's just nice to stand here amongst Republicans and not have to worry about someone making an attempt on my life," CJ smiles brilliantly.

The Senator's laugh rumbles through his wide chest, and CJ reaches out to adjust his bowtie. The gesture is intimate in a way that means almost nothing to the Senator and everything to Ann, who is suddenly grinning falsely.

"Andrew, CJ," she says, waving to someone across the room and putting up her index finger in a 'wait one second' motion, "I am being called away. It was lovely seeing you out of the office, Andrew." And then she is gone, and Sam appears to lead CJ to the dance floor.

As much as an hour later, or maybe more, Ann smiles at CJ from across the room and makes a tiny motion with her head towards the ladies' room. Her teeth are bright white, and a man's arm is wrapped around her waist, and CJ knows that Ann can't wait a single second longer.

And so she follows her.

The ladies' room turns out to be just as posh as the hall they've just left, but it is blessedly quiet in comparison to the dull roar of voices rippling out from the dance floor. Ann is leaning over the marble countertop, close to the mirror, reapplying her lipstick with a tiny brush. She looks at CJ's reflection and smiles as she twists the lid back on the little red pot.

"You're so obedient, Claudia. I like that," Ann purrs, tossing her purse onto the small sofa that these bathrooms always seem to have.

"I couldn't imagine what was so important that you'd call me away from Pauline Rosenthal," CJ says, resting back against the countertop, back to the mirror.

Ann's dress and lips shimmer in the warm, not-fluorescent light. Her hair is spun gold against her neck, and she is standing much too close to CJ walking two fingertips up CJ's thigh. "I'm territorial."

"What, you thought maybe she was going in for the proverbial kill?"

"If you're asking if I thought she wanted her head between your legs, then yes," Ann murmurs, her mouth close to CJ's ear. The taller woman shudders, leans towards Ann's hot breath and is rewarded only with a low chuckle.

"Oh, Ann. You and your sweet talk..." CJ says, with more confidence than she possesses.

"You're the one who scampered in here when you knew exactly what I was asking you for, CJ." CJ lifts her hips as Ann pulls down her nylons and her panties, barely a wisp of carnation pink cotton, down. CJ toes off her shoes and kicks off the offending garments.

"I thought maybe you just wanted to borrow my really fantastic eye shadow," CJ says breathily.

"You did, huh?" Ann says, her mouth close to CJ's. "Funny, because I think you're lying." CJ's legs are spread, and she is leaning hard back against the countertop.

"Me? Lying?"

Ann's nails are trimmed very short, and her fingertips are soft as they trace their way up the inside of CJ's thigh. "God, this is a great dress."

"I paid an arm and a leg for it. You'd better like it."

"It does incredible things for your eyes," Ann purrs. "And every other part of you."

"I haven't heard this much flattery out of your mouth in weeks. What is it that you want?" CJ asks, and her voice is sandpaper-rough as she grips the counter's edge.

"I can't just say I like your dress? I'm truly hurt," Ann says as one of her fingers slips into CJ, who gasps. "Jesus, CJ. You're so wet."

"I blame it on you," CJ says through clenched teeth as Ann's fingers slide into her. "What do you want?" CJ asks, and her eyes are open.

Ann grins, and CJ sees her gaze dart over CJ's shoulder. Ann's watching herself in the wide, clean mirror, CJ realizes, and it's all at once amusing and arousing. "I guess now would be a bad time to ask you to give me some inside information about the voucher bill?"

"Oh," CJ says on a sharp intake of breath, "You don't have to fuck me to get the dirt, Ann."

"Mm, but it's more fun this way, isn't it?" Ann murmurs, and she kisses the inside of CJ's wrist, leaving behind a smear of red lipstick.

"Good Lord, yes," CJ groans, and it's only a moment before she's shuddering and digging her nails into Ann's arms.

"Shush," Ann chides. "Honestly, you know you have to be quiet. They'll hear you." CJ knows that Ann gets her thrills out the fact that they might be heard by the gaggle of important people right outside the door.

"You can always call my office, you know," CJ says, as she readjusts her dress and tucks her stockings and panties into her clutch. "We can do work the way normal people do work."

Ann trails her fingers across the small of CJ's back. "You say this was normal?"

"Point taken," CJ smiles into the mirror, watching Ann's reflection. "But still, you could call me. At my office."

"I could."

"We could have meetings," CJ smiles, knowing full well that they probably couldn't. "Lunch meetings, even. Combine activities. You could ask me questions when I had notes to refer to."

"We could," Ann laughs. "You're absolutely right. I'll take it under advisement."

"Fantastic," CJ says, brushing her hair back into place.

Ann touches her hand to the door handle, fully prepared to go back to her friends on the dance floor. "Oh, and CJ?"

"Ann?"

"If you ever mention to me how attractive another woman is..." She smiles, but it is the slightest, just the slightest bit unsure. "I may have to have her killed."

"Understood," CJ chuckles. "Go, be the life of the party."

And as the door closes behind her, CJ hears Ann say, "I might call you." CJ smiles triumphantly, tosses her hair back, and decides to go find another glass of wine. Red, this time, and thick with plums.

She is not sure why, very long after, she is on her third glass of Shiraz, standing near Toby, and laughing full-throated. She is not sure why she is so happy, but she blames it on the wine and is very, very careful to keep her clutch latched shut.

"I might be meeting with Ann Stark," CJ mentions casually to Toby as his hand settles against her hip.

"Good luck. Don't let her kill you," Toby says bitterly.

"Oh, I'm pretty sure I can protect myself," she smiles. "She's pretty tame once you figure out her weak spots."

"Is that the secret?"

"Seems to be, Toby. Seems to be," CJ laughs. "Come on, let's dance."

-- end. feedback adored.

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