Title: Loyalty
Author: A. Magiluna Stormwriter
Author’s Email: stormwriter@shatterstorm.net
Rating: R-ish for language
Pairing: Carol/CJ
Category: "what if"/episode epilogue, angst
Date: 8-14 April 2006
Word Count: 1954
Short Summary: Who will take care of you when you've taken care of everyone else?
Rating/Warning: PG13, discussion of character death
Spoilers (if any): Up through "Election Day, Part II"

Disclaimer: “The West Wing”, the characters and situations depicted are the property of Warner Bros. Television, John Wells Productions, NBC, etc. They are borrowed without permission, but without the intent of infringement. This site is in no way affiliated with "The West Wing", NBC, or any representatives of Allison Janney or Melissa Fitzgerald. This site contains stories between two mature, consenting adult females.

Title Notes: The original concept behind this story was going to have sex. Basically your garden variety hurt/comfort sex in the wake of this surprising [for the characters] death. And that didn't work out. And all through the story, I kept seeing the theme of loyalty and support. And then I realized the title, and how well it just fit.

Author’s Notes: This story was written as a backup in the femslash06 ficathon for netgirl_y2k, whose requests were as follows:

Listed fandoms I request: (limit three, pairings optional):
Firefly (Inara/Kaylee, Inara/River)
Harry Potter (Luna/Hermione)
Wildcard fandoms I request: (limit three, pairings optional):
Star Trek Deep Space Nine (Jadzia Dax/Lenara Kahn)
Babylon 5 (Delenn/Lyta, Ivanova/Talia)
The West Wing (CJ/Carol)

Mosca asked me to fill in as a backup for the femslash06 ficathon. Of course, I jumped at the chance. I was given so many good options for pairings for this one. I was thrilled. And oddly enough, I've been having a serious thing for CJ Cregg and the whole situation of these final episodes of The West Wing. Plus? CJ/Carol is always a fun pairing to play around with, even with all of the angst that can happen…

I started writing this originally before seeing "Election Day, Part II." Got about 600 words written, too. And then it didn't feel right based on the episode itself. So it changed to what it is now. This was quite a trip to write, and I'm ever so glad I got the opportunity. Now I just hope my recipient likes it…

My apologies that it took this long to get this backup written. I wanted to make sure it sounded right…

Beta: ctorres

by A. Magiluna Stormwriter

She sits there, staring at the television without really seeing it. I suppose it would be better to say she's staring through the television. Margaret doesn't say a word when I walk past her, right into the office, and close the door firmly behind me. It isn't like Margaret hasn't learned her lesson, not after she accosted me a couple of years ago and asked about the nature of our relationship. If memory serves correctly, I very respectfully told the woman just where she could shove her polite curiosity.

I move slowly, carefully, toward the woman who looks utterly dwarfed behind that huge desk. If I hadn't already known that this was the indomitable CJ Cregg, I'd have sworn I'd walked in on a little girl playing dress up at her daddy's desk. This isn't the CJ I've known and worked with for the past how many years now?

"CJ?" I ask softly, resting a hand on her shoulder. She jumps at the contact, eyes skittishly darting around the room to rest briefly on me before returning to that same spot just above the television. "Come on, CJ, look at me."

Reluctantly her eyes swing to my face again. They're dulled with fatigue, pain, and resignation. "Why?" she mutters harshly.

"We need to get you home," I reply, gently doing my best to get her onto her feet. "You're in no shape to be here right now."

"Where the hell else am I supposed to go, Carol?" she snaps back. "I'm the damned Chief of Staff. I need to be here. There's so much work to be done. What if the President needs--"

"If the President needs anything, I'm sure he knows how to contact you."

She suddenly stands up, shrugging off my hand in the process. "No, I've got to stay here. I've got to prepare today's official statements for the press."

I grab at her arm, yanking harder than I probably need to, just to get her attention. "CJ! Stop! You're not the press secretary anymore. That's Will's job, and he's handling the situation admirably. You need to see if the President wants any assistance from you at this point, and if he doesn't, I'm taking you home."

She stares at me as if I've grown a third head, but I can see just enough of the CJ Cregg I know and adore shining through the grief in her eyes. "Carol, I swear to God, if you ever do that again…" She suddenly deflates again, swaying on her feet.

"You'll thank me for it in the long run," I cut in smoothly, wrapping an arm around her waist to help steady her. "I've already spoken to Debbie, who told me that the President has basically demanded you be sent home for the day."

"Carol, I can't-- The President wouldn't do that. This is Leo we're talking about here." As she says his name, stumbles over it actually, I can see the grief replace the numbed shock and truly set in.

"And that's all the more reason to send you home. The First Lady's already on her way here and has ordered the President to his quarters. You do realize that you've been up and running for well over twenty-four hours now, right? You're going to drop from exhaustion if you're not careful. You don't really think Mrs. Bartlet would leave you alone when she's going after the President, do you?" I ask, archly raising a brow at her. I can see the fevered workings of her mind, attempting to come up with a valid argument against my supposition. "CJ, let the country, the world, begin their mourning of this fabulous man. And let the President-Elect have his moment in the sun before he and the President begin to work out what will happen in January."

Without thought, I reach up to stroke my fingers across her brow in an attempt to smooth away her frustrations. The surprise in her eyes reminds me just where we are and what I'm doing. And in the next instant, as she leans into my touch, I just don't care. We've lost an incredible man that's shaped our lives in ways we may never understand. We deserve the right to cling to whatever hope we have.

"You know as well as I do that he's only going to heed her warnings for so long," she finally says in a low voice. "I'm going to need to be available when he needs me."

"Which is why I'm taking you home, where he'll be able to find you easily," I say with a smile. "Cook you something to eat, get you in the shower, tuck you in bed. And you can get some much-needed sleep."

She smiles and pulls me into a brief embrace. "What the hell would I do without you, Carol?" she mutters.

I can hear the fatigue and fear in her voice. "Work yourself into an early grave?" The minute the words are out of my mouth, I regret them. By her stiff posture, I can tell I've hit a nerve I shouldn't have. "I'm sorry, CJ. I wasn't thinking."

She shakes her head and pulls back to turn to her desk again. I watch as she busies herself with tidying up her desk and gathering up her briefcase. I lay a hand on hers as she tries to stuff some papers in her briefcase. "No work?" she asks redundantly. When I shake my head, she grins ruefully. "I kind of guessed…" Shaking her head again, she closes her briefcase, grabs her coat and purse, and heads toward the door. As I follow her out, I watch Margaret from the corner of my eye. "Margaret, I'm going home to get some sleep so I'll be useful to the President later on. Do not disturb me unless it's an absolute emergency. Do you understand me?"

"Yes, ma'am, CJ," she stammers and I bite back a smile at her being caught so off guard.

We head out to her blue convertible in silence. The early morning sun feels incredible, despite the devastating news with which we were all still coming to grips. I realize the old adage is true in that moment; life does go on, even when such an important person as Leo McGarry passes away. She pauses before getting in the car and tosses me the keys. "I'm not going to be safe behind the wheel, am I?"

Catching the keys easily, I grin back. "Not by a long shot. Which is why I'm glad I actually snuck in a catnap." The drive to her apartment is relatively peaceful, particularly since we're going against the morning commuter traffic. It's been a while since I've been here, but I can still navigate my way to her apartment building in my sleep if need be.

"So, Carol, what exactly are you going to be doing while I'm eating, showering, and sleeping?" CJ finally asks me as we head up the elevator to her apartment. When I glance over at her, she's leaning against the wall for support, though she is trying to make it look nonchalant, and her head is cocked to the side in curiosity.

"Probably much the same as you," I toss back, adopting the same casual stance. "But not necessarily at the same time."

"Why not?" Her question is quiet enough that I'm not even sure I've heard it until I see that same question burning in her eyes.

I study her for a long moment, debating the answer to that very question. "Would you rather have the easy answer or the honest answer?"

"Which one will have you spooned up against me when I'm sleeping?"

"CJ…" This is turning into something I wasn't intending. How to tell her that?

"I'm not asking you to sleep with me, Carol, but to sleep with me. Remind me that there's someone who is feeling the same loss I'm feeling. That's all."

I'm silent as we head into her apartment. "Take your shower, CJ. I'll start cooking something for breakfast. Eggs and bacon okay?"

I can feel her eyes on me for a moment as I begin puttering around her little kitchen. The clicking of her heels signals her heading out of the room. Scrubbing at my face, I take a deep breath and start looking for the ingredients for CJ's breakfast. Perhaps this really isn't as good an idea as I'd thought. But I'll do what I promised I would, and then I'll get a cab home.

By the time the shower turns off and CJ pads back into the room, I'm putting her omelet on her plate and setting it on the table. I glance up at her briefly, see the red-rimmed eyes, and smile. "You had some fresh veggies that were starting to get questionable, so I figured the omelet would be a better idea."

"It smells wonderful." Her words are accompanied by the loud gurgling of her stomach. I can't help chuckling at her embarrassment. "So I haven't eaten in a while, so sue me." She sits down, grabbing for the juice. "No coffee? What kind of breakfast is this?" she teases.

"The kind that will let you actually sleep," I retort, starting to wash up the prep dishes. "Now eat it before it gets cold."

We fall into a companionable silence as she eats. Twice I have to stop myself from making coffee, it feels so natural to do it. And when she's finished, I reach for her dishes to wash them up as well. She sits there for a moment, and I can feel her eyes on me again. Before I can formulate any further comment, I feel her get up and move to wrap her arms around me from behind.

"Carol?" She's using that tone of voice that first attracted me to her. "Why are you being so distant? I told you before, I don't want sex. I just want… I just want to know that I'm not alone."

I shift and turn to face her, my own arms going around her waist. "You're not alone, CJ. If I didn't care, you'd still be in your office, working on fumes." I pause for a moment, collecting my thoughts. Why am I having such conflicting feelings about this? Hasn't this been my intention from the start? Make her feel that sense of connection in the midst of all this disarray we're feeling? What kind of hypocrite am I if I turn her away when she most needs me? "About earlier, in the elevator…"

"It's okay, Carol, I understand," she says with a yawn.

"No, it's not okay. But it can wait until we've both had some sleep."

We head into the bedroom and I let CJ help me undress and slip into the t-shirt she gives me. It feels…comfortable as I slip under the covers with her. Like old times. Before Leo's first heart attack. Before CJ became Chief of Staff. Before…everything.

And then the tears start, and I'm lost to the overwhelming grief of Leo's death. I feel CJ's arms wrap around me, holding me close, encouraging me to let it all out. I don't know how long I'm crying, but eventually it tapers off.

"Feel any better now?" she asks, wry amusement tingeing her words.

"Thanks, CJ," I murmur, nodding.

"Good. We should get some sleep before we're called back to work." She leans in to press a warm kiss to my forehead. "No matter what happens, Carol, you're always a part of my life. Even if it seems like I've forgotten about you, I haven't. Thank you for making sure I got away, even for a few hours."