Title: The Red Room
Author: Exfilia
Genre: dark and slashy romantic comedy
Pairings: C.J./Abbey, C.J./Danny, Jed/Abbey
Rating: hard R for language and f/f slash
Distribution: Go ahead. Line your birdcage with it.
Feed Me: exfilia@tmail.com
Spoilers: nonspecific. takes place just before Manchester 1.
Summary: The President wants his wife back.
Unbeta'ed. All my fault.
Disclaimer: if I owned them, they'd get all the slashy cuddles of which they're being so cruelly deprived by the current production team.

The Red Room by Exfilia

6:30 AM.

Music drifted up the stairs. Abbey Bartlet stopped and listened for a second. She raised an eyebrow at her Secret Service escort, who shrugged.

He was right to shrug, of course. This was the White House. No one just walked in in the wee hours and cranked up their favorite music. The problems, the stresses in the White House were generated by people hardened and chilled by impossible jobs until they were beyond touching by any love or logic, and the people who cared about them were shut out in the dark. The White House's almost palpable depression wasn't caused by anyone outside the administration.

At least not living outsiders. There were meant to be at least a dozen ghosts in the White House, though. Abbey was a physician with a healthy respect for modern science, but she was still thrilled by the possibilities of an afterlife. Maybe that had something to do with her profession; she had seen a sizable number of people pass from this life in the past twenty years or so. As far as she knew, none of them had returned to play piano, but she wasn't ruling out any possibilities.

Maybe Abbey was just curious. At any rate, she followed the sound to the state rooms on the second floor. She had time. No one would miss her. Certainly her husband wouldn't know if she disappeared to Tasmania.

The music was coming from the East Room. Abbey's guardian stopped her at the door long enough to glance inside, then nodded.

The summer sun was up and flooding through the huge windows, bouncing off pale walls, golden drapes and scintillating chandeliers until the room was simply suffused with light. Abbey caught herself holding her breath. It was like being immersed in a smile, and in the center of it all, seated at the enormous Steinway grand, C.J. Cregg was playing Bach.

Abbey didn't know how long she could have stood and listened, but after a few bars C.J. must have felt Abbey's eyes on her. She stopped playing and turned around on the bench.

"Dr. Bartlet! I'm sorry. I didn't mean to disturb...."

"You didn't." Abbey crossed the room and stood beside C.J., almost close enough to feel the warmth of her through the cinnamon silk suit. Abbey brought that train of thought to a screeching halt. "Please," she told C.J., "feel free to play here whenever you like."

"Someone's doing a piece on musical antiques in the White House," C.J. babbled, "and they asked if this one was kept in tune. I couldn't find anyone last night who could actually say, so...."

Abbey couldn't have repeated what C.J. had said to save her life. She was lost in the light and the spicy perfume rising from the other woman's skin.

"It's wonderful, isn't it?" she stammered. Gods, she sounded like a teenager with a crush!

"Yes, it... it's in perfect tune."

"It's very nice."

Okay, Abbey could converse on a higher level than this. She absolutely was not getting tongue-tied looking down at her husband's press secretary and thinking C.J. could pass for a midsummer goddess with flaming hair and pure sky blue eyes... No. Abbey was not thinking any of this.

"Would you... do you have time to play something else?"

C.J. turned back to the keyboard and played something Chopinesque. Abbey watched her, watched the reflected sunlight turn wisps of auburn hair to glowing embers, watched glistening lips relax into a quiet smile as C.J. played, and felt herself warming for the first time in weeks.

And then the music finished, and there was applause from the doorway. Abbey spun around, feeling her cheeks flushed with guilty thoughts, and saw her husband standing just inside the room. C.J. jumped to her feet, scraping her shin on the enormous eagle that formed the piano's leg. They stood shoulder to shoulder like high school malefactors in the principal's office. Jed smiled one of his expansive smiles and strode across the parquet floor to them.

"C.J., that was magnificent!" he said. Trust Jed to find the words. "What a way to start the day! I'd forgotten you could do that!"

"I didn't mean to bother you, sir...."

"You didn't, you didn't, and even if you had, it would have been worth it to see this smile again." His finger traced Abbey's lips, and she blinked. Had she been smiling? And had Jed noticed?

"I'm expected downstairs," C.J. said. Jed nodded, and she walked away. Abbey tore her eyes away from C.J.'s retreat and looked up at her husband.

"It's good to see you smile again," he said. "You've been far away from us for a while."

Abbey looked away. "Maybe I have," she said. Hadn't she had a right?

"Well, I'm glad you're back for today, anyway. You want to get something to eat?"

"Does the President have the room in his schedule?"

"The President has all the time in the world. So what about it? You hungry, or not?"

"Yeah," said Abbey. "Yeah, I think I could eat something." Jed put his arm around her, and they walked out of the room.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

C.J. strode into the Oval Office just before noon.

"You wanted to see me, sir?"

"Yes, about this morning...."

"I'm very sorry, sir. I should have asked permission first, relative to which, O'Brien wants to photograph the piano in question...."

"So handle it; that's what I pay you for. No, I wanted to talk to you about my wife."

"Sir?"

Bartlet took a deep breath, then let it out and turned away from her. C.J. hadn't seen him this flustered since the sex education report.

"C.J., I met my wife in England."

Now they were into pointless, or else Bartlet was practicing his obfuscation skills.

"When you were students, sir?"

"Yes, yes, when we.... She was so bright, C.J., so alive, and now it's like she's gone. She's gone, and I did it. I broke a promise."

"I'm sure you only did what you had to do, sir."

"I think it almost killed her."

"She doesn't understand."

"Now that is the pure unvarnished truth. She lit up again for you, though, this morning."

"I think she liked the music. Not that I'm any good, of course...."

Bartlet turned away again, and stared out the window with his hands clasped behind him.

"She dated other people when we were in school."

"Yes, sir?" This was going into C.J.'s diary as the strangest conversation ever.

"Some of them were women."

C.J. felt her mouth moving, trying to form words, but no sound came out. This was probably a good thing, because she had no idea what to say to that. C.J. was out to Bartlet, of course, and to Leo and Toby. At least she said she was out. She felt like she should go back in every time she fell for some attractive male and caught herself lighting up when he entered the room, but she was out, so maybe the President thought she'd be sympathetic....

Oh, God. The First Lady had "lit up" for C.J.. Oh, God, no.

"Sir, I... I certainly... I never intended...."

"Of course you didn't!" Bartlet came away from the window, came and took C.J.'s hand in his. "Look, I only meant that if you chose to elicit a few more of those smiles, well, you're not going to have to deal with a jealous husband on a rampage."

This conversation was not going into C.J.'s diary. It was going to be expunged from her memory as soon as she walked out of this room. Maybe sooner.

"C.J.? Are you all right?"

"Yes, sir." Why wouldn't she be? The President of the United States had just invited her to fuck his wife. Didn't that happen every day?

"You sure? You look like hell."

"I just hadn't thought about... thought about her that way. I was really just trying the piano, and she came in, and...."

"I'm sorry. I guess I just want her back so much that I'm grasping at any straw that presents itself. I didn't mean to upset you."

"You didn't. I just I need to think about it, is all."

"Okay. You're not mad at me?"

"No, sir."

"And you're going to be okay? I mean, I've got that Educator's Association thing, but I could...."

"Change your schedule because of the Press Secretary's mood swing? No, sir, you couldn't."

"Okay, you're thinking again. That's a good thing."

"Yes, sir. You have the teachers, and I need to be in the Briefing Room."

He tugged at her wrists.

"Come here a minute." His arms wrapped around her, enfolded her in the briefest of hugs, and then he stepped away. "Okay," he said, "Come on out here, then. We have got a country to run."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Danny Concannon rapped his knuckles against the Press Secretary's open office door.

"C.J., I've got two page tens and no page twelve and my six through nine are bound in upside down."

"I'm sorry." she sobbed from the end of her sofa.

Uh-oh. Danny stepped inside and closed the door behind him.

"It's not a big deal, you know. I was just looking for an excuse to talk to you. It's not like you ran the copies personally."

"Sorry," she said again, and took his hand and let him pull her to her feet. "What did you want to talk to me about?"

"What's wrong?"

She turned away and wrapped her arms around her waist. "How did you know anything was wrong?"

"I didn't."

"You said you wanted to talk to me about...."

"Hey." He grasped her shoulders and turned her around to face him. "Come on, tell me! You've survived the press room mafia, flying bullets, death threats, and the president's chili. What else is there?"

She looked up at him through tear-beads sparkling on her the ends of her lashes. She seemed about to speak, but instead she grasped his lapels and drew him into a kiss.

Kissing C.J. was not something to which Danny was adamantly opposed. It seemed like he had spent most of this administration's first term with the print of her body's warmth burning itself onto the inside of his arms. Her lips would brush his once, twice, and then settle against him in a sweet caress that drew him in like a whirlpool until his head was spinning and his pulse was pounding and the whole glorious moment burst apart into dozens of little kisslets like perfect fireworks on the Fourth of July. At least those were the moments he liked to remember. This wasn't going to be one of those moments.

"Stop it," he whispered.

"I thought you wanted me to kiss you."

"I want you to kiss me until we fog up every window in the White House, but you're not kissing me because you want to kiss me."

"Why am I kissing you?"

"Because you don't want to talk to me. Tell me what's wrong."

"This isn't a good idea."

"You've just figured that out? If you were a man and I were a woman the press corps would be calling me every name you can think of."

"They're not?"

"Not to my face, and you're evading the issue."

"It's what I get paid to do."

"C.J.!"

"Danny, I love... I love it when you hold me like this."

He pulled her closer to him and breathed in the citrusy scent of her hair. Her arms slid around him, and her head settled against his shoulder. When her breathing evened out, he started to sway from side to side, still holding her against him.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

"Dancing with you."

She raised her head and looked at him.

"Why?"

"Why not?" he said, and pulled her closer. C.J. stepped away from him.

"We can't do this any more," she said.

"I thought you liked it."

"I do. I... Danny, there may have to be someone else."

"Have to be?"

"That didn't come out right."

"God, I hope not! But you... there's somebody else, and you're crying about it?"

"I was not crying."

"You were crying. You're crying again now."

"All right, I might have been crying. But if I was crying, it's none of your business why, and it has nothing to do with anything, all right?"

"C.J., you're freaking me out, here. Let's talk some more, okay?"

"There's nothing to talk about. I'll get you a good copy of the report."

"C.J.!"

It was too late. She wiped her face and strode out of her office, and Danny had the sick feeling that his whole life swept out of the room with her.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The First Lady had chosen a midnight blue silk taffeta gown in a style reminiscent of the 1950's, C.J. thought to herself, and I absolutely never wanted to be a fashion writer. Dr. Bartlet looked good, though, quite regal with one hand resting on the President's arm, except that her eyes were as dull as broken bottles beside a dusty road. She caught C.J. looking at her, smiled a bit, glanced down at her hands and then turned back to the couple her husband was with.

At least she hadn't lit up or anything. The President said she lit up when she looked at C.J.. He implied... no, he'd said straight out that he wouldn't oppose... he'd said C.J. should have sex with his wife.

The President was as crazy as ice cubes in Helsinki.

The strange thing was that if C.J. had been looking for a woman, someone like Abbey Bartlet would have been perfect. Her moves were quick and deft, and her mind absolutely coruscated. Also she wore blue taffeta exceedingly well.

But she was C.J.'s boss's wife. And C.J. so should not have worn a gown that left her back bare. She could almost feel the blade of a knife against her unprotected skin. No way C.J. did this and got away with it. Somehow, somewhere, retribution would come.

Probably it would come from Abbey herself. She had been in a royal bitch of a mood for days. She didn't eat, supposedly didn't sleep, didn't do much of anything except go through the motions at scheduled appearances. Talk was that she was going back to New Hampshire to hibernate for the rest of the President's term. Less polite talk wished she'd get on with it.

Well, she was going somewhere. She'd slipped away from her husband and out the double doors. The President glanced around the room until he found C.J. and met her eyes.

Grown men in positions of power should not be able to do the Bambi-in-headlights eyes. It should not be allowed.

C.J. followed the First Lady into the hall. Abbey had disappeared, but a brace of Treasury Agents stood at attention outside the door to the Red Room. Inside Abbey sipped her drink and gazed into the empty fireplace, dark dress and dark hair blending into the dark room until all that was left was alabaster face and shoulders gleaming like moonlight.

"Is everything all right?" C.J. asked. Great. That was a great line. Things hadn't been all right since....

"Fine, why?"

"Fine? Freaked out, insecure, neurotic and emotional?"

"That's actually about right. How did you know?"

"You've got a tough job." Uh-oh. Abbey had smiled. She hadn't lit up, but she had smiled, and turned toward C.J., champagne flute in hand, and the eyes were no longer bottle glass. Somehow, somewhere they'd become reflections of the twilight sky, just waiting for the stars to come out. "Anyone in your position would be upset," C.J. heard herself say, "but it comes with the job."

"No kidding," said Abbey. "What did you want to be when you grew up, C.J.?"

"Barbie."

Abbey laughed.

"You came a lot closer than most of us."

"Thank you, I think. What did you want to be?"

"Richard Chamberlain."

"Is the President aware of this?"

"Dr. Kildare?"

"Oh. You never thought you'd wind up in the White House?"

"Not on somebody else's nickel."

"Is that why you're not altogether one of us? Because it's not your...."

"I'm not one of you because no one elected me, and no one hired me. I'm the president's baggage."

"Bullshit."

"Does anyone want me here, C.J.?"

"I do." C.J. She strode across the room and took Abbey's free hand in hers. "I do, and so does the President, more than you know."

"No."

"Yes. You think of yourself as an outsider here, and so you've built this wall, this shield around yourself so no one can see you, no one can touch you and it sucks. It truly sucks."

"Do you want to touch me, C.J.?"

Somehow, in this moment when C.J. had thought she'd flinch, she looked down into enormous shining eyes, and the word that came out of her mouth was "Yes."

C.J. heard the glass click down on a table, and then Abbey was close to her, holding one of C.J.'s hands in each of hers. Oh, God, the door, the door behind C.J. was standing wide open and anyone could just walk in and see them standing like this, and the goddamned First Lady was trailing the backs of her fingers up the insides of C.J.'s bare arms and if they were seen....

"Look at me," Abbey whispered. "Look... at... me...."

And C.J. did, and Abbey's eyes were like a glowing mist that rose up and drew her in and wrapped her tight until she couldn't move, and the guys at the door must be getting an earful just of C.J.'s breathing. Fingers slid inside her bodice, moving just above the skin on the underside of her breasts so that she felt only the warmth of them between the silk and her skin. Her knees swayed and she grabbed Abbey's shoulders, and every touch left momentary marks on the perfect white flesh.

"Look at me!" Firm fingers homed on C.J.'s nipples and she pressed Abbey's body against her and buried her face against in all that dark hair to muffle the sound of a thunderous orgasm. When her legs would hold her up again, C.J. found her hands twined in inky black, crushing Abbey against her chest.

"Where did that come from?" Abbey asked when C.J. finally let go.

"Been a while," C.J. told her.

"I thought you were seeing that guy from the Post."

"How did you...?"

"Aren't you?"

"I never!"

"Why not?"

"'Cause he works for the Post!"

"I heard you kissed him. I heard you kiss him quite frequently."

"Yeah, but I never kissed him like that."

"Of course not. He works for the Post."

"I need to clean up."

"Yeah. Okay."

"Okay. I should do that now, then." C.J. took one step backwards, then another, and then turned and stumbled out the door and across the hall to the ladies' room.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Danny Concannon had been in the East Room for an hour and forty-five minutes, and he had possibly filled a quarter of a column inch. He could have done better in five minutes in the smoking area downstairs, and he wouldn't have needed a tux.

This was hopeless. Danny downed his drink and wandered out into the hall just in time to see C.J. Cregg almost run across to the ladies' room. Danny didn't know what was with her today, but then he never did. That was half the attraction. He never knew. He still didn't know, but what he suspected was chasing its tail around his brain until he felt dizzy, dizzy and sick. Certainly C.J. wasn't the type to be intimidated by any man, but she had been frazzled today. She'd acted like she was way out of her depth.

Danny awarded himself a mental kick in the pants for stupidity. Most of the men in this place were scared stiff of C.J. Cregg. This was all just wishful thinking. Wishful thinking? Wishing C.J. had a problem, so she'd need him? Wishing she were in trouble? That called for another virtual kick.

Even if something was going on, what could Danny do about it? Smear her name all over the front page of the Post when as far as he could tell, she was the victim? Hell, he couldn't even ask anyone the questions without ruining her life. Also, of course, it probably wasn't true. He'd told himself that once before, of course, but that had been a long time ago, and someone else entirely. C.J. wasn't a little girl. She could take care of herself, couldn't she?

Danny was still arguing with himself in the hallway when he saw a shadow move between the two Secret Service guys standing by the Red Room door. Behind them, almost lost in the darkness, the First Lady was watching him.

"Danny? Are you haunting my hallway?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Waiting for C.J.?"

"Uh, yes, ma'am." Okay, so he hadn't been, but he was now. Wait a minute. What made Abbey Bartlet think...?

"You're very fond of her, aren't you? Don't be embarrassed. So am I."

No kidding. Now there was an idea.

"Dr. Bartlet, could I speak to you a moment? Off the record?"

"Off the record?"

"So far off the record I'm not even going to remember it myself."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The lights in the Red Room were on when C.J. came back into the hall, and the Secret Service doorposts were still there. C.J. bobbed back inside, and stopped dead. Abbey was sitting on one of the red sofas beside Danny Concannon. She looked up at C.J., her face flushed and wet with tears.

"Had to?"

C.J. scooped up the half-finished champagne and tossed it into Danny's face, and ran from the room.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Beyond everything else, beyond greasy sycophants and midnight phone calls and dark hours in the Situation Room, Jed Bartlet had come to hate the whispers in his ear. Some earnest staffer would appear in the door of a crowded room, scan the assembly, dodge through the crowd and hiss dire news at his shoulder. It was always dire news. Just once he'd like a whisperer to tell him all was right with the world. These were the creme de la creme, the overeducated elite that his opponents were always sneering at. You'd think the elite could come up with good news once in a while.

His wife was in the Red Room crying on the shoulder of a reporter from the Washington Post.

Abbey had better sense than that. His staff had better sense than that, or he needed a new staff. He looked around for his Press Secretary to send her to break up the conclave, and then remembered that C.J.'d left with Abbey earlier that night. He'd thought it odd at the time that C.J. would get anywhere near his wife after he'd botched his second-hand proposition, but when Abbey had left the room, C.J. had been right behind. She wasn't in the Red Room now, though. The President whispered in the ear of the hovering aide.

"Page C.J."

In the meantime, he supposed he was allowed to investigate his wife's tears, particularly if she shed them in the company of another man, and especially if that man wrote for the Washington Post. He wandered into the hall, only to be sidetracked by his whispering satellite.

"In her office. We told her she was wanted. She's crying."

Now that was too much of a coincidence. He pondered for a moment. Get Abbey to talk sense, or C.J.? His wife had been his confidante, his co-conspirator, his best friend for more than thirty years.

His wife was crying, and talking to a reporter.

"Tell Leo to get those two out of sight," he told the staffer, nodding toward the Red Room. The aide vanished into the crowd, and the President stepped into an elevator.

When the doors opened, C.J. was waiting outside, sniffling into a Kleenex.

"Out," he told his escort. He pulled C.J. inside with him and closed the doors.

"Abbey's upstairs talking to Danny Concannon."

"Yes, sir."

"You knew?"

She nodded.

"And this didn't concern you?"

"I wasn't thinking."

"That is an understatement of monumental proportions!"

"I'm sorry," she sobbed. "I told him...."

"What? Oh, tell me you didn't...."

"I didn't give him any names! I had to tell him something, some reason why I couldn't... couldn't flirt with him any more."

"Other than the fact that it could and should cost both of you your jobs? Oh, Mother of God, C.J., stop it with the crying! Nobody has any problems with you smearing lipstick all over the idiot before a briefing. It diminishes his credibility."

"I never...."

"I saw the feed. He asked his question and it was all around his mouth like on a clown's face."

"You're kidding, right?"

He shook his head.

"Everyone in the office was trying not to laugh, except Sam. I think something like that must have happened to him at some point."

C.J. fought it, but eventually she succumbed to ripples of mirth that deepened first into waves and then an overwhelming torrent.

"Okay," he said when the flood had subsided. "Now let's think about this before we go upstairs."

"Okay. He didn't really have lipstick...?"

"Nah. Made you smile, though."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Danny fished his handkerchief out of his pocket, but instead of wiping the champagne from his face he gave it to the sobbing First Lady. She dabbed at her tears, then folded the fabric and cleaned his face with a dry part of it.

"I screwed up big time, didn't I?" he asked.

"No," she said. "I mean, you had to tell someone."

"Did I?"

"Of course you did." Her voice took on a more professional tone. "It's always all right to tell. Everyone has an emotional alarm that goes off when something is just wrong and when that happens... oh, God, listen to me!"

"It's not like this is a helpless five year old, though. This is C.J.! She can take care of herself."

"No, she can't. She just stood there and...."

"Don't cry." Danny put an arm around her. "Please, none of this is your fault."

"Yes, it is. She is ridiculously vulnerable...."

"Yeah," Danny said, brushing champagne out of his hair and flicking droplets from his fingertips. "Vulnerable is exactly the word I was looking for, there."

"She does have a good aim."

"Yeah," he said, and looked down at his hands. "I am such a fool."

This time she was the one to hug Danny.

"Ahem."

Leo McGarry stood in the doorway, looking at them. They stood up, and Danny felt Abbey's hand quivering in his, very small and cool.

"The President wondered if you would like to wait for him upstairs, both of you." McGarry led them from the Red Room to the living quarters, where Danny sat on a different sofa in the dim light of a single lamp, still holding Abbey's hand. The hall door stood open, and now and again some silent member of staff padded by.

"Danny? There aren't a whole lot of people who could discomfit C.J.. There are very few who could convince her she... had to...."

"Hush. We said you weren't going to cry, remember?"

"What if it was Jed?"

"Yeah. I thought of that, too."

"Are you going to write about it?"

"If he did it, that'll only be the beginning. He's looking at impeachment."

"You don't play."

"Not when it's C.J." He felt her face against his arm, felt silent sobs shaking her body. "Has he ever done anything like this before?" he asked.

"Not that I know of. I wouldn't know, though, would I?"

"Wives usually do, don't they? Does he... I mean, how does he treat you? Does he ever...?"

"How do you know so much about this?"

"I spent a lot of time in a group home while my mom was in jail. A lot of the kids... there was this one girl I kind of liked, Josie. Every Christmas and every summer, she'd come in all beat up. Then her mom's boyfriend would get counseling, or her mom would get counseling, or the mom would get a new boyfriend, and they'd send Josie home until the next time. It got to be where we expected her to show up, you know? Anyway, one year I had her a Christmas present all wrapped and everything, and she never came."

"Did you ever find out what happened?"

"They let us go to her funeral."

"Danny...."

"So I write about battered women, and kids. People think it's weird for a guy to care about a womens' issue, but... does he push you around? Does he play power games, like this thing with C.J.?"

"He doesn't bother. He just does what he wants."

"He... whether you want to, or not? He hurts you?"

"No. Oh, no, he doesn't...ever, at all. He ignores me. He doesn't even talk to me any more."

"Any more?"

"Lately," she sniffed.

"And before that?"

"Before that we had three children and I supported the lot of us while he played small-state politics. He kept his mouth shut and... Danny, isn't it just his turn, now?"

"Even if that were so, it doesn't give him any right to hurt C.J."

"What are we going to do?"

'We,' she'd said. What were 'they' going to do? Before Danny processed the question, the elevator doors opened and C.J. and the President stepped into the hallway.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

They were sitting on the sofa in a dimly lit room, looking out into the hall. C.J. couldn't make herself meet either of their eyes, so she watched the back of the President's head as he and Leo whispered together.

Leo looked at C.J., winced and shook his head.

"We'll take care of it," the President said aloud. "Get back downstairs and... I don't know. Distract people."

"You want me to jump up on a table and sing?"

"At this point, no one would notice. Downstairs, now."

"Thank you, Mr. President." Leo brushed by C.J. without a word, but he squeezed her hand as he passed. The elevator doors closed behind him.

"You know if Leo decides you've been badly treated, he's going to dismember me?"

"Sir?"

"Leo's very fond of you, very protective."

"And of you. I've got to figure Danny's the one looking at bodily harm."

"Would that be a problem for you?"

"What do you want me to say?"

"I want you to be honest with me, and yourself, before we go in there and try to deal with Dennis and Margaret."

"Thatcher?"

"The Menace, C.J., Dennis the Menace."

She felt herself smile. "I think you may have him pegged, sir."

"So?"

"So I misled him, and he shouldn't be held responsible for my moment of panic. Avoidance of bodily harm would be good."

"But we could banish him to the middle of the Indian Ocean to cover naval maneuvers for the next decade, and you wouldn't care? Be honest."

C.J.'s arms wrapped themselves around her waist of their own accord, and her knees grew wobbly.

"You're cowering, C.J., and it doesn't become you."

"I like him," she said. "I like him a lot. I know I'm not supposed to, but...."

"Okay. Come on; let's get this straightened out."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

He swept into the room with as much presidential presence as he could muster, knowing full well that his wife could dispel it all with one stroke of the verbal razor. Of course, if Abbey still had that much fire in her, none of this would have happened.

"Abigail? Is everything all right?"

"Yes." Her voice was leaden.

"Is she all right?" Jed asked Danny.

"No, sir," the reporter answered, shrugging off Abbey's protest. "She's very much not all right, and a part of that is due to an indiscretion on my part, but the rest...."

"The rest was me?" It came out like a whip cracking, and he wanted to bite it back. Danny's head jerked up, and the eyes that met Jed's were on the edge of explosion.

"Mr. President," he said, his voice low and professional and deadly, "did you order your Press Secretary to have sex with your wife?"

"No."

"Have you ever discussed the subject....?"

"Yes."

"And what was the gist of that discussion?"

"I told C.J. I had no objection to any relationship she chose to establish with my wife."

"Including a sexual relationship? That was mentioned specifically?"

"It was strongly implied, but there was no coercion involved."

"You're the President of the United States. You said something like that to a member of your staff and didn't expect it to be taken as an order?"

"Yes," said C.J., "he did, and once I got over the shock I knew that was what he meant. Danny, what you saw today was a panic attack. I get them when something throws me, but I get over them when I have to. I guess I just didn't think I had to with you. I thought you would understand, and I certainly never thought you'd betray a confidence where it would do the most harm."

"If you'd taken me into your confidence, I would have known who not to tell!"

"Did you really believe I'd let someone browbeat me into bed? Because let me tell you, everything I did tonight I did because I wanted to, and don't you dare try to say otherwise!"

"Did?" Danny's eyes met Jed's again, wide and blue and utterly at sea. The President opened his mouth, then closed it again. Did, huh? He shrugged.

"Is this an issue?" he asked.

Danny swallowed. "I guess not," he whispered, then pulled himself together and looked down at Abbey. "This was okay with you?"

"What's it to you?" she demanded.

"Huh?"

"What earthly right do you have to stick your nose into my sex life?"

Jed felt a smile dawning on his face, and it wasn't just from watching Danny squirm.

"And as for you," Abbey spat at C.J., "who do you think you are, contracting with my husband for my services? I can damned well get laid any time I want without any help from you and the Committee for the Sexual Satisfaction of the First Lady! Jed Bartlet, what are you grinning at?"

"You're back," he said. Abbey was herself again and spitting angry sparks to rival a naval bombardment.

"You're damned right, I'm back, and you can wipe that smile off your face and tell your co-conspirator to get her own girl because.... I said quit it! There is absolutely nothing here to be smirked at!"

But there was, and he couldn't help it. His smile broadened until he was very afraid he was beaming right through his tears.

"I love you," he said. "I don't think I knew until these last few weeks how very empty my life is when you aren't here to enjoy it with me."

"And you think that gets you off the hook for this?"

"No. I just can't think of anywhere I'd rather be right now than swinging from your hook."

He could see the anger drain out of her. She swayed on her feet, and Danny almost reached for her, but C.J. stopped him.

"You're a sick man, Jed Bartlet," Abbey said.

"I hope I never recover."

That did it; Abbey stepped forward and wrapped her arms around his waist. He buried his face in her hair, and it was a long moment before he remembered Danny and C.J. watching them. He looked up at the reporter.

"You were going to stand between me and C.J.?" he asked.

"I was going to be between you and both of them. God help anybody who ever hurts either one."

"Damned straight." They glowered at one another until Abbey's hand passed before her husband's eyes and broke the contact.

"Hey," she said, "crisis over, okay? C.J., I'm sorry."

"Yeah. It was great."

"Yeah. Go on, get him out of here before they start again."

"Okay, good night. Thank you, Mr. President."

"Have a good night," he said, and watched C.J. tow Danny out the door. When it closed again, he tilted Abbey's face up and brushed her lips with his.

"Hell of a fight," he said. "Are we okay, now?"

"For now," she said, "as long as you don't make a liar out of me."

"About what?"

"The need for a Committee for the Sexual Satisfaction...."

He cut her off with a kiss.

"I think that is one organization we can safely abolish right now."

The End

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