TITLE: Power Hath
RATING: NC-17, to be on the safe side
FEEDBACK: Yes, please, at penumbra at clinched dot net.
SERIES: Not really, no.
DISCLAIMERS: Not mine. Don't sue.
SUMMARY: "Does your secretary pencil in these things for you? Tea, 2 pm. Break taboos, 2:30 pm."
NOTES: I direct you all to see Abbey's outfit when she talks to Josh in "Red Haven's on Fire" cuz that's what inspired me to this. Like CJ, I'm a sucker for quality clothing and women who can pull off that shade of red. Written September 2003.
Power Hath by Penumbra
The old adage of Social Darwinists says there are three things people seek in life: money, power, and sex.
With certainty, Abigail Bartlet knew that money was not her driving force; if it were, she would've stayed happily single and MD'd in the private sector, and made lots of money. Out of the sheer boredom, she would've probably snorted most of it up her nose, but it still would've been a helluva lot more money than she made as Mrs. Josiah Bartlet, which job paid the salary of exactly zero dollars. No, not money. It was always power for her. Sex and power, the twins separated at birth, the two sides of the same coin.
Balancing her gimlet with her thumb and index finger under the rim, Abbey turned. She could drink countless drinks and still turn gracefully. Self-control was part of it, too.
The air in the ballroom was thick with power, inevitably making her think of sex, and she needed to be thinking about sex as much as North Dakota needed more snow. Her husband was holding court off to the side, his hands punching holes into the air amidst his rapt admirers. His tux was immaculate, and Abbey smiled into her drink. The president was vain enough to care about such things, which was one of the many reasons why she loved and wanted him so. But tonight he was married to the United States of America, which invariably made Abbey's eyes wander.
Next to Jed, congresswoman Andrea Wyatt, her tall drink held in elegant hands. Abbey let her eyes linger on the expanse of pale skin revealed by the dress Andi Wyatt had chosen to wear. Or one of her stylists had chosen for her, Abbey amended in her mind, eyes tracking the trail of freckles that disappeared into the decolletage of the forest green dress. She knew Andi would never have worn that colour given a choice. It was a tad too dark for her New England skin.
And then, next to her, there was C.J. Cregg. All Givenchy, all the time.
CJ's eyes were as sharp as the gimlets served, and her shoulders spoke of practiced perfectionism at exclusive gyms, their shape making Abbey a bit weak in the knees. The junior congressman from Alabama was oozing in her general direction, and the smile on CJ's face was fascinating. It clearly spelled murder and mayhem to any veteran of political poker faces but only polite interest to the green politico, a vaguely amazing feat. CJ was good at such things.
Shifting her clutch under one arm, Abbey approached them. The sea of politicians parted before her, a swathe of calculating gazes and drunken smiles in her wake.
"Congressman Leyworth. CJ." Tone dark, light.
"Ma'am." The man had the eyes of someone drunk on power but not yet wielding it with care.
"Your wife was by the bar being supported by a quart of Bailey's." Abbey didn't need to say anything more. At his level, saving face was what mattered. She had long since surpassed that level herself, so she could afford being direct.
His grimace was uncouth. "I see. If you'll excuse me, ladies."
"By all means." As she spoke, Abbey looked CJ and dipped her tongue into her gimlet. The gin was sharp on her taste buds, but not even the scent of alcohol could block CJ's perfume.
"Thank you for the rescue, ma'am."
"Return the favour one of these days." Abbey glanced towards the sea of black and shimmering silk where the congressman had disappeared. "When that man opens his mouth, distant stars collapse."
CJ had the most wonderful laughter and it made Abbey turn her attention back to her. The watery blue of CJ's gown did wonderful things to her eyes, and she looked fifty feet tall and more regal than Abbey knew she could ever muster. The slit of her dress was generous, and Abbey had to suppress the urge to run her hands over the expanse of pale thigh. Instead, she rolled her cocktail glass between her palms.
"Have tea with me tomorrow."
"Tea. 2 pm, on the south lawn. I'll have someone fetch you, if necessary."
"I have a thing in the afternoon."
"It was not a request." Abbey smiled, but not to make a joke of it.
"Yes, ma'am." CJ winked and saluted her with her empty glass. "Right now, I need a refill."
Abbey ran her fingertips down CJ's arm to grasp her elbow. Her touch was light but it burned her fingertips. "Lead on, MacDuff."
The White House lawn was usually catered with tea for two hundred, but that day, there were only two chairs and no table. In the shade of the sycamores and oak trees dating back to single-digit presidents, Abbey sat, her teacup held over its saucer.
One of her Secret Service agents lifted his arm to whisper to his cufflinks. "Central, Greene. I have ten-four on Flamingo."
"Hello, CJ," Abbey said without turning to look at her.
"Mrs. Bartlet." CJ came around and took the chair next to hers, her manner fidgety.
"Excellent timing, ma'am. In two minutes, Carol will be setting fire to the press bullpen."
"I always thought that place needed new furniture," Abbey said and set her cup down on its saucer. "The Darjeeling is excellent."
On the cue, a stewart appeared, bearing a tray cluttered with Wedgewood. He poured CJ a cup with practiced ease before retreating back to the discreet distance maintained by the Secret Servicemen and trees. It was not privacy, but it was private enough for Abbey. Pennsylvania Avenue was a hundred yards away and in an another world.
Running her finger around the rim of her bone china cup, Abbey tilted her head to look at CJ, sitting but two feet away. Her brow was marred by a faint frown as she sipped her tea, her eyes behind dark glasses and her hair ruffled by the breeze. As always, her severe suit was pressed and styled to the nines, the collar of her periwinkle blue blouse ironed to an inch of its life. Even sitting in a lawn chair and her thoughts obviously a million miles away, she practically oozed control and power of the subtle kind. A fabulous woman, a feline in Armani.
Under the scrutiny, CJ turned her head to look at Abbey.
"Whenever you break out the pinstripes, I know it's a bad day at the press room."
CJ's smile was a borderline grimace. "I wanted to add It's the End of the World as We Know It to my lip-synching repertoire."
"One and the same," CJ said, the words a sigh. "I feel a million shades of useless today."
"Hm," Abbey said and sipped her cooling tea. "Been there, done that."
"Got the t-shirt?"
Even though her eyes were trained on the fence separating them from Pennsylvania Avenue, Abbey could feel CJ's eyes on her. The dark ovals of her sunglasses were in her peripheral vision. Abbey smiled to the white fence. "Several."
One of the things she hated about being the First Lady was that she was always Mrs. this-and-that. Ma'am. Dr. Bartlet. Never just Abbey. The nomenclature came with the photo ops and the uncomfortable shoes and the frozen smiles that made her cheeks ache. But what other destiny could she have had, having been christened with the first name of Mrs. President John Adams and later on, matching that with the name of one of the signatures on the Declaration of Independence. Minus a T.
"Abbey. So why this?"
Abbey lifted her teacup and saucer. The stewart took it away, discretion incarnate. "I'm feeling morose. I'm also flaunting the fact that I'm the only one in this entire den of iniquity who can stop your world from rotating for a moment."
"Den of iniquity?" There was amusement in CJ's voice, and it was the first time in a long while that Abbey had heard that delighted tone.
"Den of iniquity, CJ."
"I might have to soften that to house of mediocre decadence for the four o'clock briefing."
Abbey cocked her head in puzzlement at CJ, who was busy smirking into her cup.
"The world not rotating any more, that's big news. Medicare will be banished below the fold in tomorrow's Post." CJ's three-finger grip on her cup was textbook. Abbey knew she was one of those people who grew up in a house that had grapefruit spoons and escargot clamps and crayfish knives that everyone knew how to use with negligent ease.
Abbey laughed, feeling the unfamiliar pull of spontaneous smile tighten her cheeks. It was a wonderful sensation, her heart inexplicably lighter.
"Thank you, by the way."
"This." CJ hefted her cup at her and pushed her sunglasses on top of her head. There were dark circles around her eyes.
"A little bit of civilisation can do wonders." Abbey rose and buttoned all but the lowest button of her jacket. Her eyes never left CJ as she stepped closer and bent down, hands on the armrests of CJ's chair.
"Abbey?" Not puzzled, mostly suspicious and deer in the headlights.
"In this town, everyone lives a lie. At least one lie. This is mine." CJ's lips were soft and still under hers. When Abbey broke the light kiss, there was a flush on CJ's cheeks. Their eyes were at level, breaths mingling, so close was Abbey.
"I'm..." A tad breathless, CJ's eyes were everywhere but on her. The lawn. The sycamores. The silent men in mediocre black suits.
Abbey smothered her smirk and brushed her cheek against CJ's before retreating a few inches. "They don't care because they can't care." She nodded towards the Secret Servicemen. "I did that because I could, Claudia Jean."
She left CJ there to flounder. The Secret Service agents following her back towards the East Wing exchanged glances when they thought she was not looking, and Abbey smiled to herself. Sometimes, joy was in the smallest things. The thrill of flirting with CJ and scandal, in this case.
"What the hell was that all about?"
Abbey swiveled her chair around, slow. The chair was antique and leather, the scent a mix of expensive cigars and animal musk, and she loved the masculinity of it. Fuming through the doorway to her office, CJ was resplendent in blues and blacks, her tall frame a study in confusion and ire. She really is a fabulous woman, Abbey thought and felt pleased that she had chosen so well.
"They still call you Flamingo, don't they." Abbey nodded towards the Secret Serviceman trying to blend into the wainscot on the other side of the room.
"Wha-- call? Who? Flamingo?" Some of CJ's steam was taken out by the non sequitur.
"Flamingo. FLOTUS. Float-us. Float us where?" Abbey shook her head at her malapropism and set her pen down. "I need to do something about these code names. They're dreadful." She knew she shouldn't concern herself with such trivialities, but she didn't care if they demeaned her in someone's eyes. Their mistake.
"You are disseminating. Ma'am."
Abbey stood up and smoothed down her silk noil skirt and immaculate black blouse. In her improbable heels, she was at eye level to CJ's mouth. CJ's lipstick was a cold shade of nude, glossy and inviting. Abbey licked her lips, tasting her her own crimson colour that matched her suit.
Knowledge was just another form of power. Hers, like CJ's, was usually of the subtle kind. The weight of her voice, and the sharp cut of the fiery red skirt she wore, and knowing things others did not. She had done this before, many times over, but CJ didn't know that. Jed knew and didn't mind, and CJ didn't know that either. She knew how to work it, and CJ hadn't known that until twenty minutes ago.
"You want me to state the obvious, or use convenient double entendres to make my point?"
"Please. I've already had a life's fill of cunning linguist jokes."
"I don't doubt that," Abbey said and shifted so that she invaded CJ's personal space. Her scent was a mix of Chanel and talcum, and Abbey had a hard time breathing. "No mincing of words. I promise."
"No. Ma'am, what..."
Abbey laid two fingers on her chest, where the top three buttons of CJ's blouse were unbuttoned. Her skin was smooth as the silk of her shirt, the colour of polished copper in the wan light coming through the slatted windows, and Abbey was pleased that CJ made no move to back off or continue her sentence.
"It's Abbey. Fabulous dress yesterday," Abbey said and let her eyes roam.
"I know. You kept watching me all evening in it." Contrary to her brave words, there was a slight tremor in CJ's voice.
Abbey slid her fingers down CJ's sternum and looked up with her best smile. It was wicked and she knew it. "I didn't realise you noticed."
"Don't underestimate my powers of perception, Abbey."
CJ always did manage to use ten-dollar words when simple ones would have sufficed. "And what do you perceive this to mean?" Abbey's fingers had reached the fourth button, which opened with ease. She was satisfied at the hitch in CJ's breathing.
"I perceive that you didn't deny watching me." CJ's hand caught hers and held it against her chest, under the blue silk. Her fingers were lean and strong around her hand. "And that you want something from me."
"I want to peel this lovely blouse off your shoulders and kiss you on the sofa over there."
CJ's eyes flickered towards the Louis XVI sofa, where Abbey's suit jacket was busy clashing with the green velvet upholstery. "That's all?"
"I didn't say where I would kiss you."
"On the sofa, I thought."
"On you, I meant."
Abbey felt CJ's heartbeat pick up and she leaned in closer. The perfume scent was faint and fairly intoxicating. She wondered if the rest of CJ smelled as wonderful. The insides of her wrists, the backs of her knees, the small of her back.
"And I should let you?" It was all in CJ's question, the breathlessness and the lure of power and the unwillingness to leave. She had her. Such a predictable woman.
"I know you will." Abbey's correction was a whisper against their linked hands and CJ's chest, where a trail of goosebumps appeared in the wake of her breath. "Greene, please wait outside. Tell Lilly to hold my calls."
The Secret Serviceman exited in a cloud of confusion and cheap cologne, closing the door behind him with utmost care. Abbey didn't look after him; her eyes were on CJ's face and on her hand, resting where a sliver of CJ's cream bra had been revealed.
"Does your secretary pencil in these things for you? Tea, 2 pm. Break taboos, 2:30 pm."
Abbey pressed her lips into the hollow of CJ's throat. She mapped the path of the perfume scent with her mouth, the arterial pulse in CJ's neck trembling beneath her tongue.
"Tea, 2 pm." Abbey's lips were at CJ's ear. "Find out if Claudia Jean is a screamer, 2:30 pm." A dark shot of arousal went through her at CJ's startled exhalation. "Don't bother pretending. Chastity does not become you."
"And here I thought innocence was one of my charms." The words were a breathless, and the death grip CJ had on her fingers eased. Abbey slid her hand into the blue blouse. A flush rose on CJ's chest, the rush of blood hot on Abbey's palm.
"Innocence?" Abbey's voice was liquid smoke, and she looked up. "You've been giving me fuck-me eyes since the day we met."
CJ's gaze was lucid on her. There was the ghost of a smile on her lips, brought there undoubtedly by the rarely heard f-word. CJ was smart, recognised the game and acknowledged as much.
"All these years?"
"On and off."
"I have no idea what you're talking about, Abbey." CJ's voice caught when Abbey slid her hand further, into her bra. Her nipple was already hard on Abbey's fingers and she rolled it between her thumb and index finger. The frisson that ran through CJ was very satisfactory.
"You keep telling yourself that." CJ didn't resist when Abbey steered her towards the sofa. "I like women who play hard to get."
"I don't think I'm doing a very good job."
And she was not talking about her job. As if to underline her words, CJ abruptly sat down on the sofa and took Abbey with her. They were a tangle of limbs in expensive fabrics and deadly footwear, and Abbey sucked on the smooth skin on CJ's neck. She left a mark and Abbey knew she'd enjoy seeing CJ for the next few days in turtlenecks and scarves. She'd be watching C-SPAN where CJ would be reporting on budget deficit and failed bills with the First Lady's teethmarks on her throat.
"No. You're not."
And there was no more question in her voice or in the way her fingers traced Abbey's spine through her blouse. She took her hand out of CJ's bra and brought both hands to slide down her sides, enjoying the feel of the silk and the heat of the woman under her on the uncomfortable sofa.
It was probably the power that did CJ in, Abbey thought with pleasure, and certainly that CJ liked women, and that she was most definitely a woman. The skirt was a dead giveaway. Abbey liked skirts for the easy access. When her hands found the fly of CJ's trousers, the rush of blood in her ears and between her legs was making her hands tremble in anticipation. The thrill of a new conquest was supposed to be savoured, but she had no patience for such things. She pulled the zipper down and slid her hand in between creamy satin and wet flesh shaved smooth.
"Abbey." CJ's hand was on her wrist that disappeared into the Armani, caressing, the other hand tangling into her hair.
"I know." Abbey smiled into CJ's chest, at the thickness of her own voice and because of the scent of arousal that mixed with CJ's perfume. She could feel the rapid heartbeat under her lips and on her fingers gliding through the slickness of CJ's sex.
Afterwards, Abbey didn't care that the Secret Servicemen outside knew Claudia Jean to be a screamer, or that CJ made a sea of wrinkles into her suit jacket she'd laid on, or that one of her stockings ripped, or that they made permanent stains on the antique sofa Eleanor Roosevelt had bought. She only cared about the memory of how long and strong CJ's fingers had felt in her, and how her screams had been swallowed by a mouth so hot it was like molten lead. Sex, like power, was all that mattered.
Two days later, a new charity ball, a new dress of glowing silk that matched her earrings and eye shadow. A new code name for CJ for the Secret Servicemen to whisper into their tuxedo cuffs.
Phoenix. It was a ridiculous metaphor. CJ rising from the ashes (podium) of her faux-torched press room, her tears (clever words) healing the wounds (spin-doctoring) of the injured (hopelessly optimistic bills) and the dead (budget constraints) she reports about. But it fit; she was their champion (queen bitch) in a hen-house of peacocks (vain reporters). CJ had laughed when Abbey had told her about it.
Abbey glanced at her image in the posh ladies' room mirror. Her image was framed by gilded wood and the dimly lit powder area, and her smile in the mirror was full of post-coital languor. She arched an eyebrow at the lingering lust obvious in her eyes. She knew there were traces of lipstick on her thighs and the pleasant throb of afterglow between them.
When she exited, she more felt than saw the Secret Servicemen fall into step behind her, her eternal shadows, now party to some of her secrets. She could not have cared less; all she cared about now was to wait for the specified five minutes to see CJ exit the powder room. They would share a heated, tense look and Abbey would trace the lingering flush on CJ's chest with her gaze. A vodka sour in a shared glass, a covert touch through the sheer silk of her dress, and then it would be time for CJ to entertain the press corps and for Abbey to dance the first waltz with her beloved husband.
"Ma'am." The stewart behind the bar bent from the waist like a jackknife.
Abbey watched him go scurry after the Belvedere and lemons, and turned to eye the intimate gathering of six hundred wealthy Democrats with more money than sense and pink ribbons pinned to their chests. She smoothed a finger down the ribbon on her dress. How appropriate that it was the exact same colour as CJ's sex.
Phoenix, she thought as she saw CJ emerge from the powder room, completely composed and as regal as the Statue of Liberty. Abbey licked her lips and smiled, fondly. It was the least she could do, for what CJ had done for her, first on Monday and again not ten minutes ago and would be doing more times in the near future.
Power hath its privileges.
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