TITLE: Three Evenings and a Tomorrow
PAIRING: Mostly CJ/Abbey but also some Jed/Abbey, Jed/Leo
FEEDBACK: Yes, please, at penumbra at clinched dot net.
SERIES: Not really, no.
DISCLAIMERS: Not mine. Don't sue.
SUMMARY: My jealousy is so complicated I doubt it's jealousy at all; sometimes I think it's just the love I have for both of them, deep and devout.
NOTES: Follows right after my previous story "On the Importance of Proper Accessories", but it's an independent entity. For once, not inspired by anything red the First Lady wears on the show.
Three Evenings and a Tomorrow by Penumbra
Part I: Abbey
On this most ordinary Tuesday evening in this most extraordinary of places, I feel like a pint of Ben & Jerry's and the latest In Style magazine. The desire, I think, is far below my perceived position -- the First Lady of the United States is supposed to want world peace and cure for cancer and other grand things, not ice cream and fashion gossip. I can't be moved to such heights of altruism tonight, when all I can feel is delectable post-coital languor and hunger for Cherry Garcia. How mundane of me.
I'm unbuttoning my suit jacket even before I reach the Residence and once there, I take the jacket off and drape it over the nearest chair, sitting in another. My feet are killing me, as they tend to after a long day like this has been.
No reply, but I can hear water running in the bathroom. It does nothing to disguise the sound of him gurgling. I know what the mouthwash means and sigh in anticipation of the inevitable confrontation I can prevent no more than I can stop time. I'm too much of a doctor, still.
He emerges from the bathroom wearing tuxedo trousers and a white shirt ironed to an inch of its life. A starched linen napkin is stuck into his collar, hiding the front of his shirt and his bowtie. He has managed his cufflinks on his own.
"I see we are wearing a bib today."
He smiles, pacing closer in a way that screams pent-up energy. "And good evening to you, too, my Medea. I was eating."
"You were smoking and didn't want to get ash on your dress shirt."
"Why would I worry about my shirt? We have in-house dry-cleaning, remember?"
"You worry about your shirt because you know I'll slap you from here to next Thursday if I see ash on your shirt and realise you've been smoking on the Truman balcony."
"Oops." He's not looking at all repentant as he yanks the napkin off his collar.
"Josiah Bartlet." Some of my exasperation leaks into my voice, and he does not take it well. It is inevitable, as I thought; I'm just surprised it took us less than two minutes to degenerate into a conflict.
"What?" He flings the napkin on the coffee table in front of me and sticks his hands in his pockets. Petulance. So very unbecoming of a man in his age, but somehow endearing. "What, Abbey? I had a cigarette. It won't kill me."
I swallow the lecture on lung cancer and nicotine addiction. Instead, I just tilt my head in a manner calculated to drive him crazy, and look at him. Something is bothering him; he is suddenly standing still and it's unusual for a man as hyperactive as my husband -- always moving, mercurial, all shifting moods and fire in his glacier blue eyes. Jed, a storm on his brow, tension permeating his form.
"What's wrong with you today, Jed?"
He looks away but comes to stand in front of me, forcing me to crane my neck to look at him. I hate it when he does that, intimidating through proximity and posture. It rarely works, and it does not today.
"You weren't taking calls this afternoon."
Ah. Our familiar Potomac two-step. "No."
"Lilly said you were having tea and were not to be disturbed on the pain of death."
"Tea, with CJ?" His eyes focus on a point above my head and there is a note of anger in his voice, as misdirected as it is.
"You need to ask?"
"Abbey. Why do you insist on making my life so hard?"
"Your life, hard?" Of the two of us, I am the simmering, destructive vengeance; his mood is a modulated anger, reasonable and just. I can't stop the fury creeping into my voice and it makes him flinch, but at least he's looking at me now. "Your life? Explain to me exactly how I'm making your life hard, Jed. Because I sure as hell don't understand."
"You're sleeping with a member of my staff."
"A member of your staff. Sleeping." I snort at his oblique choice of words. "Euphemisms, Jed? She's the one who's fucking the boss's wife. How awkward do you think she finds all this?" My voice is gaining volume and it makes me angry with myself, too. How dare you, my tone says. Maybe I am Medea, but you are not my Jason. How dare you play the martyr card.
"I don't care."
"Don't do this. This isn't about you. This is between CJ and me."
"I. Do. Not. Care!" He enunciates each word carefully as he leans over me. "And this is about me, too."
The ire in his words is real, but his eyes shine with a mix of emotions ? envy, admiration, hate...want. Ah. I smile to that effect. "It isn't about you, and of course you care. You can't help but care." I run my hand over the curve of his chest and down the front of his trousers. Well well. It seems I have his complete and undivided attention.
"Your fault." His expensive cologne is sweet and masculine at the same time. His chest is heaving inside his starched tuxedo shirt and the line of his trousers is ruined by his erection that feels as urgent as his manner is short.
"Parts of you are in a caring mood, at least." My own words are somewhat breathless, too. Our sexuality is so much about the conflict; ours is a destructive, symbiotic relationship neither of us could fully live without.
He opens his mouth as if to object but says not a word as I run my fingers over the delicious bulge. He is very hard, straining against the fine, slick wool of his tuxedo trousers.
"You're upset because the thought of me fucking CJ turns you on," I say, my voice rough even to my own ears. His cock throbs under my hand and I grip the shaft through a handful of fabric. He makes a tight, impelling sound at the back of his throat. "And you think you shouldn't be having those kinds of thoughts about your Press Secretary."
"Thank you, Mrs. Freud." I do not need to look to see that his grip on my chair is white-knuckled.
A knock sounds from the door. "Mr. President?" asks Charlie's voice, muffled by the door.
"In a minute," he calls out, momentarily distracted. I get his attention back as I press my thumb over the sensitive glans. His head whips around towards me and he hisses words through his teeth. "Careful. I don't want to ruin my pants."
"Mmm," I murmur, delighted. "Maybe I want you to come right here."
"I'd rather not." He pauses, eyes closed, his will in obvious battle with his lower self as he steps back and out of my reach. He flips his jacket on and buttons it over his raging erection with utmost care. "And yes, it embarrasses me. If CJ is embarrassed, she hides it well."
I smile, knowing it to be vicious. "It's what she's good at. You'll get over it and so will she."
"I doubt it." His look is dour as he takes a deep breath. "It's awkward."
"I got over Leo, didn't I?"
"That was thirty years ago and I wasn't the President of the United States back then."
"All the better. This is not one of my flings, Jed."
"Yeah." He sounds somewhere between amused and resigned, all anger suddenly gone.
"I think she loves me."
His eyes narrow. "Will that be a problem?"
"I don't know," I answer honestly. "Love's strange that way."
To me, the whole notion of understanding love is a fool's errand. The Greek tried to shove love into neat boxes with their philios, eros, agape, storge nonsense, but it just makes no sense to me. Infinite permutations and ways, is how I see love. I love CJ, and it is different from all my other loves. No love diminishes another; none are less worthy. My devotion is not finite.
"I can't help myself." I can't tell whether he's talking about his jealousy or his physical response to our argument. Neither are unusual occurrences.
"Yeah." He pauses, again looking away from me. "I'm just afraid of complications."
"Not the publicity thing, we're too good for that. Cock-ups, break-ups, turmoil. The usual." He smiles at the wall sconce. "You're enough to inspire all these things in a person, Abbey. Your capability to love so much is a double-edged sword."
I lean back against the cushions and click my tongue at his words. He is right, of course. My affairs are as torrential and frequent as his are sedate and discreet. I describe with the f-word, he uses euphemisms like 'sleeping' and 'turmoil'. I fuck whomever I happen to fancy, he sleeps with no one but Leo and me. Night and day, we are, in this regard.
"I can't help myself either. And not all of us are lucky enough to have a Cardinal Richelieu like yours."
The sullen look on his face speaks volumes about such iminences grises and double-edged swords thereof, and it makes me regret the unintentional jealous tinge of my words.
"It must be awful, to be married to two people."
"Bigamy is having one spouse too many. Monogamy is the same."
I snort and tilt my head to look at Jed. Floundering by the door, he's tugging at his bowtie; he's tied it too tight again. "Paraphrasing Oscar Wilde. Have you no shame?"
"You should be one to talk about shame." There is a hint of a wry grin on his lips. "Yes. Two of the most headstrong, obstinate, stubborn people I know, and what do I do? I fall in love with both."
"Cry me a river." I cast a judicious eye over him, humoured. "I need to keep you away from Merriam-Webster for a while. You just used three adjectives that all mean the same thing."
"So I did," he sighs theatrically. "Your mere presence is enough to drain my eloquence, m'lady Macbeth."
"You can be such an ass sometimes, Jed."
"Hm," he grunts and gives me the roguish, lopsided smile that he knows never fails to charm me. Mercurial, he is, and so predictable to me, the dear man.
"And so help me God, if you call me Medea, Cleopatra, or Lady Macbeth once more?"
He raises his hand in defeat. "As long as she makes you happy."
"She does." I can't help the imp in my voice. "Claudia Jean knows all my happy buttons."
"Don't start talking about happy buttons or I'm liable to jump you."
"You're having dinner with the Ambassador of China in a five minutes."
"His Excellency can damn well wait."
I rise from my chair with a sigh and go over to where he is glowering at me and the world in general. "Your ardour is as enchanting as your stubborn, Jed. God knows you're just going to natter interminably about The Great Molasses Surplus of 1902 or the history of macrame, so I don't even know why he wants to dine with you. But you still need to go."
"Yeah." He smiles and smoothes a hand down his lapel. "Are you staying here tonight?"
"I won't wait up."
"Yeah, you will." Attempting discretion and failing, he adjusts the front of his trousers. I can't help but smile, both in amusement and in anticipation, and concede to his small victory. The fevered look in his eyes tells me he'll fuck me blue tonight. I'll enjoy every heated second of it, I'm sure.
"Yes. I will."
He kisses my cheek and gives an odd, fond pat on my shoulder before exiting. I stare at the closed door for a while, inhaling the familiar scent of his cologne still lingering about, and close my eyes because the complexity of us makes me dizzy.
I often wonder why everything has to be so complicated. Everything has layers and obstacles I can't see before I stumble on them.
When Jed is tired, I can't think of anything else besides fatigue being one of the symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Whenever CJ kisses me, I wonder whether she loves the power or me. Whenever Jed is in a good mood, I can't tell whether it's because he has made the world a better place, or because he's gotten a blow job from Leo in the small foyer separating their offices. I don't want to look at these people and myself and see the layers before the whole, but I can't help myself.
This is our marriage, involved and inchoate and bleeding at the edges, but it's what time has shaped it to be. Its strength is in its unconventionality.
Part II: Jed
My Senior Staff meeting is so boring I'm anagramming 'euthanasia' in my head and even that fails to amuse me. So I occupy myself by gazing at my Press Secretary and thinking about my wife.
Abbey is not Medea or Lady Macbeth. She is my personal goddess ? maybe Shiva, the destroyer, with eyes for sun, moon, and fire ? and capable of everything, but there's one thing she never does. She doesn't lust for the unattainable. The wrong women, certainly, but they are never unattainable to her. On occasion, I grouse about it, but in my more honest moments I concede that there is more grudging admiration than despisement in my sentiment.
My admiration for her latest coup is undeniable.
"Amphetamine? Pilots high on speed dropping daisy cutters?"
She is sublime.
"That's what Time says and we all know how reliable they are," Toby answers CJ. She still looks incredulous.
"Gives a whole new meaning to 'joint chiefs', at least." Her wry murmur draws scattered laughter from the assembled senior staff.
"How does Mary Jane figure into this?" Josh is apparently so tired he doesn't remember it does not do one well to tempt fate or prod annoyed Press Secretaries.
"It was a joke, you addlebrain." Her glare is in the megawatt range. "And don't say Mary Jane, homeboy. You're dating yourself."
"How come you're the narcotics expert all of a sudden? And more importantly, don't I outrank you?"
"Outrank, piffle. And I went to Berkeley, remember? I had a life, unlike some other unnamed parties." CJ swats Josh on the arm so hard he jumps.
"Kids." Leo, exasperated. "You'll deal with it, CJ?"
"Yeah. No problem."
Yes, she is sublime. Self-assured, twelve feet tall in her crisp Armani and slingback mules I suspect cost more than my Italian wingtips. We are all killers in this room, political animals, but she is the sleekest, most suave, the proud predator in designer clothes. I watch her as they traipse down another tangent, this one on a failed satellite launch or maybe on the Mars probe. I'm not sure because my ears are full with the rush of my blood, thundering with my envy and my admiration for Abbey. Truly superb. It's an effort to drag my attention back to the meeting.
"So they don't know what precisely is wrong with the launch vehicle?"
CJ flips through her papers although I'm sure she knows her memos by heart now. "The NASA report has some ambiguities."
"What kind of ambiguities?"
She glances up from the papers, giving Josh a stare that could curdle milk. "Of the ambiguous kind, Joshua. Do I look like a rocket scientist to you?"
He leers and bounces on the balls of his feet. "Well, now--" Josh starts but his words die in his mouth as CJ steps closer to loom over him in a deceptively casual manner.
"Josh. Remember our talk about you preferring to eat solid foods?"
Wisely, he stays quiet, giving a quick look at Toby, who appears as close to amused as I've ever seen him, which is not very. No help is forthcoming from there, though; everyone else knows that it's wisest to plead Switzerland whenever CJ is in this vitriolic mood.
"I thought so," CJ says after a moment of utter silence and rustles her papers, back to her cool, collected self. "That's all I have. I'll be calling a full lid in fifteen, unless there's something else."
Seated in one of the chairs, Leo looks freshly ironed even at this late hour. "The DOD has scheduled three NMD tests for the next four months, so you could be getting a few questions today or tomorrow about the viability of the missile defence. The usual."
CJ scribbles on her notes. "The usual answer, too?" she asks without lifting her eyes from her writing.
"Okay. Got it."
"Anything you'd like to add, sir, before we call it a night?" Leo's tone is part respect, part dread.
I pause to what I hope to be a dramatic effect. "Rocket scientists we may not be, but I do know a thing or two about the nature of spatial physics." Glancing over my reading glasses, I see the Senior Staff are all sporting identical facial expressions of circumspect dismay. "It was, in fact, Johannes Kepler, who first suggested that planets move around the sun in elliptical orbits -- a crucial tenet in affirming the Copernican, or Heliocentric, view of the Universe."
Josh's eyes are already glazed. "Sir..."
"In 1609, this was controversial stuff," I say, warming up to my topic. For some reason, this always manifests in imperious gestures, such as the finger I'm now waving in Josh's direction. Ah well. It'll do him good to learn about the kind of courage these men exhibited.
"I'm sure it was, sir, but CJ has a briefing in twelve minutes."
"Yes, thank you, Leo," CJ says with altogether too much gratitude. "I do."
"I gotta help CJ." Josh.
"Speeches to write. The charity thing tomorrow needs a toast." Toby.
"And I'm helping Toby. Mostly by fetching bagels and coffee, but I believe my help, nutritionally sound or not, is invaluable. With the toast." Will, the youngest of the brood and still nervous.
In a chorus of 'Thank you, Mr. Presidents', the whole gaggle departs in the span of two seconds. Feeling somewhat inane, with what my pontificating finger still stuck in the air, I turn to Leo as he is standing up.
"Kepler, while being best known for his three laws of planetary motion, is also credited the discovery of two new regular polyhedra, in 1619."
Mid-rise, Leo pauses and sits back down with a sigh. "Sir, do you even know what a polyhedron is?"
"No, but I believe I have a firm grasp of ellipses, seeing as I reside in this office that is broadly elliptical in shape." I trace the shape of the Oval Office in the air with my finger. "Much can be said about the symbolism of the ovoid shape, as it is represented here in this highest seat of power in the country."
"Please stop, sir, before I make a bad joke about increasing eccentricity."
I eye him, my tangent on President Taft and the Oval momentarily forgotten. "I didn't know you were so proficient in the properties of ellipses, Leo."
"I paid attention in my mathematics classes, sir. Unlike some others I might mention."
"I did too go to my math classes."
"And then you went ahead and got into economics, the antithesis to mathematics as we know it." He smiles and tilts his head. "It was all downhill from there, Mr. President."
"Do you really want to go down this road, Leo?"
My unflappable Chief of Staff is completely, well, unflappable in the face of my threat. "I really don't, sir. Lord knows it'll only lead to a two-hour recap of the history of coin stamping."
"All right, all right," he says and waves his hand. His eyes are full of warmth as they meet mine, and I know he enjoys this affable familiarity as much as I do. He shifts in the chair. "So. CJ?"
I squint at him, surprised. "Your skills include ESP now?"
"I don't need ESP to recognise that look in your eyes, Jed."
"What look?" My tone is defensive so I decide to let it go that he switched to Jed. Right here in the Oval Office, no less.
"The Look." I can hear the capital letter in that word, and his amusement, too. "As if Abbey brands them and you're trying to divine where on her body the brand is."
"I didn't think I was that transparent."
"To me, you're as opaque as a twice-used Kleenex. But then again, I've known you for the better part of four decades. Nobody else notices."
"Except maybe her," I say. The feeling of tension between CJ and myself ebbs and flows. It's not jealousy, really. It's about the deadly secret we share, and a wordless affirmation of the love we hold for the same woman. What I feel has no name. "Yeah, Abbey's latest." My tone is tight even to my own ears and I'm certain Leo has caught on it.
"CJ probably thinks you're staring at her because you're jealous."
"Of her?" Leo's making no sense. I can tell my forehead is doing the confused wrinkling thing that I loathe.
"No, professor." His exasperation is affectionate. "Of Abbey."
"I'm not jealous of Abbey, and what you're suggesting is insane. CJ's like a daughter to me." It's a familiar defence, as obviously false to Leo's ears as it sounds to me coming out of my mouth.
"Oh, come now, Jed. You have a thing for her. You, me, half of DC, and lots of insomniacs stuck on C-SPAN have a thing for her." Leo shrugs, the fine wool of his suit rustling in the quiet. "She's like that. She's CJ."
"Well, I have no plans on CJ, I can assure you." I blink to clear my head of the visions of her and Abbey together. I can't help myself. I think it's a normal guy thing, but it still manages to somewhat embarrass me. "Abbey'd tan my hide, for one."
"After which I'd tan your hide."
"You don't need to remind me of The Rules," I say, clearly pronouncing the capital letters for his benefit.
"I wasn't going to."
I stall with a big, fake sigh and steeple my fingers over my stomach. "It's a tad awkward at times, is all I'm saying, Leo."
"I realise that. Isn't it always?"
"Yeah." I pause. Leo looks as if he has infinite patience, which I guess he has when it comes to me. No wonder I love him so much. "Usually, it's more awkward, though. Has been with the others."
"You'll live," he says without a shred of pity.
I twiddle my thumbs to bleed off some of my nervous energy. "It's rather unfair, I think. Abbey and you don't have to go through this song and dance."
"Give it thirty years. I also think Abbey's incapable of decorum when it comes to these things."
"Hmph." My petulant grunt amuses Leo and he rests his chin on his hand. I peer at him over my glasses and folders. "She's something else, my friend."
"Abigail? Sure. She got CJ, didn't she?"
I can almost swear there was a touch of regret in Leo's tone but I decide not to press it. I've got him in a good mood. "No, I meant CJ. Abbey got through to her, somehow. Not something many people do. I swear, if that missile defence shield of yours were half as deadly as the shield of sarcasm CJ has, I'd sign the check myself."
"Oh, God," Leo says and rolls his eyes. "Let's not go there, either. Today's Wednesday, we've got the evening to ourselves. What're you feeling like?"
I stand up and flip my coat on. A smile is tugging on my lips as Leo reflexively stands up, too. "I was thinking of a game of chess and a recap of the history of coin stamping."
He sighs. "Tell me again why I put up with you?"
"Because I'm your President and you're my First Curmudgeon." I cross the blue carpet to the portico door and gesture to him. "C'mon, the night is young and there's much to be learned about the fascinating world of minting. Just for you, I'll throw in a few words about the Smithsonian Institution Sesquicentennial Commemorative Coin Act of 1995, too."
"Well. Thank you, Mr. President." There's altogether too much sarcasm in Leo's voice for the words to be really deferential, but I let it slide. The night is young and I know a lot about mints and coins. I'll get my comeuppance. Leo knows it; his face is grim but his eyes are full of fondness and anticipation as we exit to the cool night air, side by side.
Part III: CJ
I wonder when $2.000 dinners became a normal way for me to spend a Thursday evening. Two thousand fucking dollars, Christ almighty, these people have no sense, absolutely none. I watch the hoity-toity waft across the room, a great sea of tailored tuxedoes and imported fine fabrics.
I don't exactly enjoy these parties. I've grown accustomed to them, of course -- I no longer worry about stepping on my dress or that I'll have too many glasses of champagne, because five years of this will harden anyone's ankles and liver. I grimace my way through these hours, and I bear it for two reasons: because I enjoy the shopping aspect of this dress-up game for adults and because I absolutely love seeing Abbey in eveningwear. She is a hit-and-miss dresser -- sometimes her stylists err on the side of Joan Collins -- but tonight, she is incandescent in her sleek Gucci dress.
I watch her from across the East Room.
Tonight, Abbey has that freshly fucked glow about her and I wish it'd been me who put it there, but no. It's her husband, the wily codger, the President, my hero. My jealousy is so complicated I doubt it's jealousy at all; sometimes I think it's just the love I have for both of them, deep and devout. It hurts to see them together, but it's a good hurt, because all it means is that they are both happy.
There are also things I haven't noticed before but am learning to look for. The affectionate looks President Bartlet shares with Leo, the predatory manner with which Abigail conducts herself with the powerful women flocking to her. He shares something age-old and intimately familiar with his Chief of Staff, while she eclipses his shine, stalking her prey with a gleam to her dark eyes and suggestion in her touches. She brushes her fingers across her generous dicolletage and everyone's eyes are on her breasts. She touches Andi Wyatt's arm and everyone around her is green with envy although they can't quite grasp why they are feeling that way.
I turn with a sudden grin. "My Lord John."
"How absolutely charming to see you, Miss Cregg! Your exquisite visage can brighten even this dullest of evenings." With a flourish, Lord John Marbury kisses my hand while managing not to spill his champagne -- an impressive feat in his state of intoxication. His breath is cool on my heated skin and I salute him with my glass.
"I'm sorry to hear you find these proceedings dull."
"Ah," he exclaims and waves his hand imperiously. "I shall make the sacrifice for the sake of world peace or whatever it is we are celebrating tonight."
"Free champagne works for me."
"And there is that," he admits with a small smile as he runs his eyes over me. "Are you taller than usual, my dear?"
I glance down at myself. "No, this is my normal height."
"Ah. It occurs to me that I would ask you to dance with me, but that would mean spending the requisite five minutes with my face in your admittedly beckoning cleavage."
I swat him with my clutch, glad of the distraction. "Really, now, my lord."
"My apologies," he says without a trace of repentance. "The must have done something to make the libation turn one libidinous."
"From what I hear, you don't need to drink for that, Your Excellency."
He purses his lips in tacit and genial agreement. "It does not help that the president is preening like a cock in a henhouse. It's quite enough to make one restless."
I make an involuntary snort of amusement into my champagne. The bubbles tickle my nose. "I would say that in this henhouse, the First Lady is the cock." My eyes drift to where they stand, he in his immaculate tuxedo, she in her Tom Ford creation that is as red as her nails.
"Mmm. I stand corrected."
I watch him watch Abbey and figure he might be seeing what I see. "Yeah." My lame answer draws his interest, but my eyes have already moved and see only Abbey as she radiates suave charm and sensuality from across the room.
"She is indeed singular." He gestures towards the first couple. "I do believe this is the most unorthodox White House since President Kennedy."
"How do you mean?" I try a light tone but fail.
"There are undercurrents," is all he says, but his knowledgeable tone carries all the information I need. He has seen how Abigail Bartlet looks at people, and how the President looks at his Chief of Staff. I nod in understanding.
"And to think he is the most devout ruler since Constantine the Great."
"The irony is staggering." His tone is dry as a bone.
"Your understatement is profound," I counter, and he turns to me with a wicked smile on his face.
"Claudia Jean, you are a delight." He lifts his glass again. "For you, and for Abigail -- who is indeed looking fetching this evening -- I am willing to suffer through this hellish evening of dull speeches and duller personae."
My cheeks feel warm at his praise and I lean closer. "Welcome to the Hellfire Club, Lord John," I say and touch his glass with mine.
He nods in vigorous agreement and drains his drink in one go. "Speaking of hellfire." His eyes focus somewhere behind me.
"Well, now. Two of my favourite people."
Almost giving myself whiplash, I turn and smile at Abbey. She speaks in a voice that hints of smoky backrooms and copious scotch and sex. It gives me goose bumps.
"Beloved Abigail," Lord John says and oozes in his elegant way in Abbey's general direction. "Where did you abandon that roguish husband of yours?"
"His captive audience is being subjected to an anecdote regarding Abraham Lincoln and whittling." For a moment, Abbey's eyes shift from Lord John to me. "Claudia Jean."
"Ma'am." Under her gaze, I feel ungainly and underdressed, but that's nothing new.
"Is there no end to the tortures he puts one through?"
"It's his merry way," Abbey replies to Lord John and shifts her weight so that her hip brushes me. The roughness of the noil silk of her dress is a shock through the thin fabric of mine.
"I shall thus go and regal him with some anecdotes from your colonial masters." Lord John bows with entirely too much energy. "Also, to fill my regrettably dry glass. If you'll excuse me, ladies?"
"Certainly, Lord John."
"Tally-ho," he exclaims and disappears into the throng. I turn to Abbey.
"Lovely dress, ma'am." It is, managing decadent and demure at the same time.
"Mmm." She has heard the compliment many times tonight, no doubt. "Enjoying the party?"
"I'm tolerating it just fine," I say and smile to take the sting out of my words.
"It's for a good cause."
"After four hours in these shoes, not even that inspiring montage can restore my altruistic side." I nod towards the far wall, where uplifting images of cancer survivors are being projected, to remind everyone where their two grand are going. The champagne and her proximity have intoxicated me to the point of verbosity. "Besides, I didn't pay. All I'm contributing is grumpiness."
She laughs deep in her throat and leans closer. "I've been tempted to ditch this party since two hours ago." She pauses and licks her lips, and her gaze is burning holes into my dress. I feel naked. "If we weren't here, I'd have you screaming my name right now."
My grip on my glass is so tight I'm afraid I'll break it. Jesus H. Christ. "Abbey..." You sadist.
"A bit louder than that, I'd hope." She smiles and her hand is on my hip, probably feeling whether I'm wearing underwear. I'm not.
She is in that ferocious mood that makes me think she was the kind of doctor who kept her stethoscope in the fridge and as a private joke, gave cherry-flavoured lollipops to her patients because their colour is a dark, sinful red. She made more money than he did, back then, and wore clothes as red as those lollipops, red as the blood of her patients in the operating theatre. I have never seen her in an OR, but I can tell she enjoyed the skill her hands had, her sure fingers slick with blood, her strong arms elbow-deep in someone's chest. She has the steady gaze and graceful hands of a surgeon, and the thought of her hands on me sends blinding hot quicksilver through my veins.
The years have changed her, and I can't tell if it's for the better. She is harder, more alive, yet her arrogance is soft and almost seductive now. She's come far from Abbey Bartlet, MD, to Abigail A. Bartlet, the First Lady of the United States; I've had the privilege to know both. I have seen her so tired her skin is grey and the dark under her eyes looks like bruises, but tonight she is radiant, alive in her post-coital shine and expert make-up. I want her to touch me so badly my heart aches.
"I know," she says and does not bother to whisper like I did. Her hand is still on my hip, brushing trails of fire on my skin through the dress, and I desperately want her to slide her hand across my thigh and between my legs, where I'm already wet for her. But of course she doesn't.
"Abbey." I want to touch you where he did, before you came here. Smell his cologne on you, lick off the red marks of your garter belt and bra from your pale skin, feel your fingers inside me.
Her eyes narrow at my tempered need and unsaid words, and she smiles, the dark predator. "Tomorrow."
I nod in agreement and put my hand on hers, keeping it on my hip. She lets it be as she downs the rest of her champagne, her eyes roaming across the ballroom. She searches for her prey, the next victim to her whims, and her eyes linger on Ainsley Hayes longer than I would like them to.
"I have to go."
"Socialise. Break a few hearts."
"And you do that so well," I say and make an amused face at her.
"Charm people out of their money. Make a toast," she continues, humour threading her words. She pulls her hand away from me but not before brushing her knuckles across my abdomen. "I'll see you tomorrow, Claudia."
She looks at me, head tilted and biting her lower lip in a painfully erotic way. The look is sweet and cruel and it's just for me, and it stops my heart for a fraction of a second. Then she disappears into the crowd, towards the President and Ainsley and Andi and all the myriad of people who she can't help but charm. It's hard not to love her as much as I do when she's being like this, so desirable and mischievous at the same time. I smile to myself and roll my empty champagne flute between my palms.
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