TITLE: The Bastions of Men
AUTHOR: Julian Lee
SPOILERS: "The Women of Qumar," "Arctic Radar"
ARCHIVE: Yes, of course!
SUMMARY: A sheepdog, two tin whistles, and a bucket of popcorn.
NOTES: Originally written for the Bordello's Secret Santa challenge. I didn't know who I was writing for; all I knew was that they wanted it to hurt. I did my best. Stupendous thanks to Nomi for a beta faster than the speed of lint.
The Bastions of Men by Julian Lee
These are the bastions of men, halls of dark wood and aggression, offices of stale cigar smoke and empire.
CJ is in the White House, but she is not of the White House.
This morning she had ripped her glasses off her nose and all but howled, "Another one!"
Out at her desk, Carol had looked up and said, "Who now?"
"Chicago. 'Sun Times.'"
Dismissively, Carol had said, "They're substandard. Forget about them."
CJ had laughed, but the sting was not lessened. For the third time in a week, a journalist had referred to her as 'a powerful woman in Washington.' Just once, she'd like simply to be powerful. A powerful figure, maybe.
Looking around the Oval Office now, she thinks that no one would ever call Leo 'a powerful man in Washington,' because that would be redundant. Certainly they'd never call Josh or Toby 'powerful Jews,' because that would be crass and anti-Semitic, and they'd never call Sam 'a powerful Californian,' because that would be irrelevant. When she accepted this position, she'd hoped that she might do some good as the only woman in the senior staff. Now she thinks she could trade her second X chromosome for a sheepdog, two tin whistles, and a bucket of popcorn and still have the same leverage.
And at least she'd have a dog.
Sometimes, at moments just like this, she aches for Nancy. Nancy understands.
Far more than CJ's, even, Nancy's world is a bastion of men. It's funny; CJ *knows* there are other women in the Situation Room because she's met a few of them, but when she pictures the frantic, secret meetings that go on there, Nancy's the only one she can picture. And CJ does picture her, a sensuous body of unyielding curves, her hair piled on her head to keep it out of her eyes. But a single curling tendril has escaped and hangs low, tickling her neck softly, like the light brush of a lover's fingers. With that soft, lover's touch ghosting over her skin, Nancy orders thirty thousand more ground troops into Iraq.
There have been arguments. When the United States sold a suitcaseful of big guns to the Qumaris in exchange for the renewal of the lease on their airfield, there was an argument. Their words were bright and sharp as they stood in Nancy's kitchen. The words splintered and left tiny pieces beneath CJ's fingernails.
"They're beating the women, Nancy!" She'd already said this so many times, but she felt as though Nancy just wasn't *hearing* her. It tore her up, Nancy standing there, taking in her words and yet still not *hearing* her. And she's the press secretary; she should have had better words for this, better words for making her point, but all she could find were the ones that hadn't helped at all before. She wondered how many times she could repeat them.
"I *know* what they're doing, CJ. That's my job, to know."
"Yet you do nothing!"
"Could you explain to me, please, how to do my job? Because I'm confused."
CJ had slammed her hand onto the countertop, fragments of words driving up into her skin. "If you tell me your blood is not boiling, I'll know you're a liar. They are beating the women, and you're so mad you can hardly see."
"That's not my job, CJ! Protecting this country - *that* is my job. I take it very seriously, and I am very good at it. *That's* my job." And the look in Nancy's eyes, the one that said she was honestly going to look the other way on this, and that she was going to continue to insist that it was the right course of action that was the sharpest splinter of all, and CJ had thought someone could ram a pencil through her hand and it wouldn't feel much worse.
And when it had turned out that making the deal for the airfield *hadn't* been worth the pain Qumar was now causing the President, Nancy wouldn't even let CJ gloat.
"Say it once. Say your 'I told you so' and be done with it."
Deprived of her God-given right to revel in her victory, she had said only, "Next time your conscience throws up on your shoes in reaction to something you have planned, you should listen."
But she knows that Nancy has to be careful. Nothing she does can ever be accused of being an action or decision base on 'woman's intuition,' which Nancy doesn't believe in, anyway. When Admiral Fitzwallace goes with his gut, he gets another medal pinned to his chest. If Nancy tries to follow hers, she gets rolled eyes and second-guessing.
No intuition of any sort could've prepared them for Vicky Hilton.
Nancy agrees to see CJ right away. In Nancy's office, which she believes to contain bugs but not cameras, she reaches out and kisses CJ hungrily, her fingers finding skin beneath silk, brushing against CJ's stomach until CJ arches into her hand like a spoiled cat. CJ pushes away, comes back, lets Nancy devour her.
When Nancy finally steps back, retreating behind the battlements of her desk, there is a look of wry resignation in her dark eyes. She must've heard Josh and Toby and Leo and the President whining about their 'women troubles,' and she knows she's next. "Have you heard about Vicky Hilton?"
CJ snorts. "I hear everything seventeen seconds after you do. What are you going to do about it?"
Nancy shrugs. "I'm going to leave it to the Chiefs."
"That's *it*?" You're not going to *do* anything?"
"It's out of my purview."
"You're the National Security Advisor, Nancy. There is no 'out of your purview.'"
"She's a fighter pilot, CJ. That's the Chiefs' headache and their call."
"But they listen to you. They respect your advice."
Nancy nods. "Which is why I'm going to advise them if they ask me to follow the Uniform Code."
"You're not serious." CJ wishes fervently that someone will take the situation seriously. That they'll help the woman out because it's the right thing to do, not because Amy and Andy and Jordan and Abbey are 'nagging them' about it.
"We don't break the law here."
CJ blinks. "Since when?"
"If she were a man-"
"She was given an order." Nancy stands and crosses to the small table at the back of her office though she's still, technically, hiding behind her desk.
CJ's out of her chair. "Which she never would have been given if she were a man." She points at Nancy. "You guys keep this up, you're going to have all sorts of problems with women. And *you,* Dr. McNally, are going to have all sorts of problems with *me.*"
Nodding, Nancy drops a couple of ice cubes into a glass and pours herself two fingers of scotch. "I kind of saw that coming."
That's when CJ realizes: she's one of the nags. Like Amy and Andy and Jordan and Abbey, she is one of the women whose opinion will be heeded not for its merit though its merit is great but to shut her up. She pictures Nancy sitting in a room with Josh and Toby and Leo and the President, feet propped on a chair, chomping on an enormous unlit cigar, scratching her stomach, and saying, "Yeah, CJ had me by the short ones on this. My God, that woman can *whine.*"
Of course this will not be, because, no matter what her detractors say, Nancy McNally is all woman, and these are the bastions of men.
She will have to come home to CJ, night after night, and listen to very wise words that will sound like nagging. She will come home later and later every night, and CJ, if she doesn't want to become a doormat, will yell at her about that, too, until the night that Nancy simply won't come home at all.
They won't discuss it. They will never officially break up, because, in the strictest sense of the word, they were never officially together. CJ will simply pack Nancy's things (that oh, so small number of things left behind in CJ's apartment) in a box and mail it to 'Dr. McNally' with no return address. They will still meet in the halls of the White House, and at meetings in the Oval Office. Toby will remark that things seem strained between them and ask if everything is okay, and she will say, "Sure." Because he never knew they were lovers and will therefore be able to see no reason why things should be strained between them, he will see no reason to disbelieve her. And if CJ loses a little weight, looks a little pale, has dark circles under her eyes, well, the refugee/waif look is in this year. After a while, she will begin to see Nancy around D.C. with one of the Situation Room women CJ could never picture, a woman who understands and believes in the Uniform Code, and CJ, maybe, will allow herself to lean on Carol more than she's been willing to in the past.
CJ understands all of this. If it will help Vicky Hilton, she'll do it anyway. Not because she feels noble, or inflamed to action by this cause. She feels sickened by this cause and thinks that Vicky Hilton should tell the United States Armed Forces exactly where to shove their Uniform Code. She does it because, after all, she is a powerful woman in Washington. "Doesn't the blatant double-standard here bother you at *all*?"
Laughing hoarsely, Nancy scrubs at her face with her hand and sets her glass on the desk. "It bothers me all over the place, CJ. But we have to apply the rules in the same manner to everyone-"
"And when you start to *do* that, I'll be the first in line to shake your hand. My God." CJ shakes her head. "The hypocrisy of the situation sets my teeth on edge. When you're ready to start following your own advice, you be sure come let me know."
They smile grimly at each other. "I have a lot of work to do," Nancy says.
CJ nods. "What time do you think I'll see you tonight?"
Frowning, Nancy looks down at her desk not at the pile of work, but at her drink. "Not until really late. In fact, you'll probably be asleep by the time I get out of here."
CJ blinks. "Tomorrow, then," she says. She stands and leaves the office, and neither one says good-bye.
She hasn't expected it to happen this soon, or this fast. She hasn't expected to be measuring the time remaining in her relationship against the melting time of ice cubes in a glass of scotch.
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